Less is more and not following one’s own advice.

This is certainly not news for parents who have older kids, but with kids less is more. I say this premising that I do not follow my own advice. Add that to the long list of parenthood’s hypocrisies.

If I see a cool toy car or stickers at the checkout register I just cannot help myself and will get it for my son (and, no doubt, for my inner child). Sure, he loves getting an unexpected present, but most of the time he becomes most fascinated by the wrapper or the box or the piece of cardboard or the twisty tie. He loves playing with boxes whenever we get a delivery at home. He loves playing with coins. He loves playing with scotch tape (lots and lots of it). He will chase a fly around the house for hours. So why even bother buying “stuff’?

Part of it, as I said before, is my own inner child who is just looking for an excuse to regress. The other is just simply to see the smile on his face. That is certainly a selfish act since all I am doing is spoiling him, but it’s priceless. At the same time we follow a simple piece of advice that is not new, but is worth repeating. We cycle his toys in and out of site (using high shelf in a closet) so that he rediscovers them from time to time and learns to enjoy them. As soon as we notice a toy languishing in a corner or untouched for a week or so we just scoop it up and put it out of site. He usually does not seem to miss it or look for it, but when we put it out again for him to find 9 out of 10 times you see the same smile he flashed you when he saw it the first time. This way you can buy less stuff and once he is done playing with the box the stuff came in you will see that the stuff will be just as exciting and brand new each time it makes an appearance now and again.

I’m not your friend!

My son has recently started alternating calling me “Daddy” and using my first name. Uh, excuse me?! I’m not your friend. I’m your father! Maybe when you are in your thirties we can share a beer while grilling and laugh about some of the crazy stunts you pulled on me and your mother, but I still expect you to call me “Dad” or “Pops” or something along the lines of “Father”. I love you, but like a son and not my best friend.

So. So. So. I make rules. You break them. You want what you can’t have. I make sure it stays that way. Do as I say and not as I do – the sweet hypocrisy of parenthood. You are too young now to understand this, but there is no explanation beyond “because I say so!”

It’s hard when you are running around the playground laughing or snuggled watching a cartoon or dancing goofily to a song on the radio. To be a dad, that is, because it is only half of the equation. The other half is scolding, teaching, cajoling, wiping, comforting, cleaning, chasing, yelling and most of the things that you don’t need to deal with day in and day out with your friends (at least not with the more normal ones). You don’t confess yourself to your kids do you? Parents are supposed to be superheroes and superheroes can do it all without complaining. In exchange for these superpowers we are required to toe the line of parenthood which means watching our kids throw tantrums, roll their eyes at us, call us uncool, hate us and a plethora of other spur of the moment interjections aimed at letting us know that we are the meanest of meanies because we do not let them run amok.

I’m not complaining, but I don’t see how some parents can claim that their kids are their best friend and frankly why would you want that kind of relationship? The tough part of the job is perfectly balanced with all the satisfactions of watching them grow and learn and love you despite it all. Friends come and go with rare exceptions. My son is my body and soul – a rogue chip off the old block that tests my patience and simultaneously tugs at my heart strings each and everyday. I’ll take being his dad over being his BFF any day.

That’s a pretty big boo-boo…

The concept of pain is never easy to explain to a kid. My son understands the basic concept of the so-called “boo-boo”. We also try to teach him that by hitting or kicking or biting or throwing things he can cause others and most often his parents a great deal of boo-boo. He has also, unfortunately, made the connection between certain boo-boos and mommy and daddy pulling out some ice from the freezer so now he finds it quite amusing to cause a boo-boo so that he can run to the get ice the instant he has delivered the blow. It is also a great procrastination tool and smokescreen for him to use when delaying his bath time or covering up some form of mischief or other. He even has a very convincing fake cry and whimper down that he betrays by sneaking peaks through the cupped hands he puts in front of his face.

The other day, though, as we walked near home, we came upon a woman wreathing in pain on the sidewalk. We stopped and asked the two gentlemen who were attending to her if they needed help or if an ambulance had been called. The ambulance was on its way, but one of the two men turned out to be the elderly lady’s son and he seemed understandably distraught. We decided to wait with him until the ambulance arrived which thankfully we saw turn the corner a few minutes later. My son had been chatting away with everyone and asking the logical questions that a curious almost three year old would ask in such a situation. Because of the commotion, though, he was largely ignored. Once the paramedics had arrived, though, it was time for us to move on. My son, though, would not budge and was adamant about wanting to say goodbye to the woman and upset that she was not returning his waves and goodbyes. He started screaming that he wanted to say goodbye. I was at a loss. I try to explain things to my son even though some things are certainly still over his head. He had seen a relative carted off on a gurney already once and it had left him perplexed. Luckily in that instance he had seen that same relative again after a few days so he did not seem so worried that the ambulance had swallowed him. He must have felt the same seeing an ambulance “swallow” someone again and maybe he felt that this time he was going to make sure he said goodbye like he would to a stranger getting off the elevator. This time the explanation that the lady felt “boo-boo” and the ambulance was going to try to make her feel better since it was full of ice did not seem to convince him. I felt bad that I could not reassure him beyond those words. Of course, after a few minutes his tantrum subsided and he was busy with his next focal point. His reaction, though, caught me off guard since he had been innocently and naively talking to the woman (no matter that it was a one way conversation) moments earlier and he must have been jarred by the sudden appearance of the ambulance that took her away from him. Certainly a learning experience for him and one that he will witness all too often in an metropolis such as New York, but I wish I had been able to explain the situation better and reassure him that ambulances do not exist to take people away from him, but to try and help sick people get better. I am probably dwelling on this more than he did certainly, but even when you want your kids to toughen up and learn what life is really like you can never avoid the knee jerk reaction of trying to soften the blows each step of the way. It is just my wishful thinking that things such as ambulances remain, for my kid, just empty boxes with wheels that they can play with in the tub while making siren noises.

Snow in the City

The advent of snow, especially to the uninitiated child, is a treat for parents. It is also a curse. Let me explain what I mean. This is the first year that our son can truly enjoy snow and snow related activities. It also happens to be the first time in 80 years that New York City has seen this much snowfall. The combination means that there has been snow pretty much every week since mid-December and it looks like some more is on its way as I write.

The jumps of joy, the laughter and the twinkle in my son’s eyes are priceless and contagious. He loves touching the snow and marveling at how cold the white substance feels on his fingers. He asks where did it go when it inevitably melts. He loves how it cushions his fall and how his feet disappear from sight when he steps in a snow bank. From the time we get outside to when it is time to retreat to warmer quarters the family moments are endless.

That brings me to the flip side of snow. The planning around closed schools. The inevitable struggle to get snow pants and boots onto a fidgety kid. The ice and wind that envelopes you as you watch your kid running around. The mud and slush on boots and soaked outerwear. The sniffles and coughs that appear the morning after.

In the end, you will do anything to see your kid smile so you look at the good and grin and bear the bad. The winter season is not as long as spring, summer and fall so it playing in the snow is really a treat that comes around a few months a year compared to the much longer mild and warm weather months in which my son can run around the park and playground without looking like the Michelin Man. I am bracing myself for the next wave, but for my kid’s sake: let it snow!

Nearing Extinction: Restaurants that understand that family dining means bringing the kids.

Sitting down at the dining room table as a family is hard enough with our fidgety son (as discussed at length following SeattleDad’s post last week), a restaurant is a whole other ball of yarn. Every parent goes through the phase in which restaurants are just off limits. This holds especially true when multiple toddlers are involved. Boys certainly seem to make the experience that much less agreeable, but I have several friends with fidgety girls as well.

The issue is really about the restaurant’s attitude towards kids. Discipline aside (we are not Chinese so as the article by Prof. Amy Chua, and TechyDad points out, our kids cannot be disciplined), the problem is keeping toddlers focused enough to eat some food and play as quietly as possible amongst themselves in their seats. A smelly sticker goes to those parents who can pull that off on a regular basis.

We rarely go out to eat and not just because of our son, but occasionally we like to meet up with friends, most of whom have young children themselves. The choices in my neighborhood are not many due to the fact that there are many posh restaurants as well as pubs, fast food joints and squalid take-away holes-in-the-wall. The family friendly places are usually boisterous and oddly have stairs, so you really have to want it. That leaves very little choice. Luckily a tiny pizzeria just opened down the street. The owners are from Salerno and they do not speak a word of English. They have also imported the very laid back serving style that is typical in Italy, especially the South. The pizza, though, is better than most places in Naples or Rome. They built a wood burning brick oven. The pizza is not “Americanized”. There is no pepperoni (FYI… if you asked for that in Italy you would find Bell Peppers on your pizza), no pineapple, no meat lovers fest with thirty kinds of meat piled to the sky or shredded Kraft “cheese”. A Pizza Margherita with just dough, unadulterated tomatoes, the right amount of mozzarella di bufala and a couple of basil leaves. All this “authenticity”, down to the fact that they stubbornly refuse to deliver because the product would become “inedible” (their words not mine) once it becomes lukewarm in transit, does not bode well for their success, but I am really rooting for them – if for no other reason than their unconditional acceptance of rowdy family dining. The owners chuckle as my son crashes into them while chasing a friend around the cramped tables and they take your order over the din of cars crashing to the floor and toddlers imparting orders to their parents that inevitably start with “I want…” Although the adults wait quite some time for their food the owners instinctively serve the pizza you order for the kids first. This makes you not care that yours comes (often) much later or that in the States people expect to have more ice in their water than water – even when it’s -40°F outside. The kids are happy because they eat right away. You can cut up their pizza without sticking your elbow in your own pizza that is getting cold and you can then enjoy your pizza as the kids (pretty much) play with their cars or books on a full stomach. They don’t pressure you to leave and the few patrons who huff and puff about the ruckus are ignored. I am sure many of these folks will not be back, but we certainly do go back and actually enjoy the experience. Everyone rolls their eyes when there are kids in a restaurant and much like sitting with kids in an airplane you don’t know what it is really like until you have kids. I am not sure it is the best of business models in the demanding Manhattan restaurant-scape, but it does feel like a home away from home and for now we keep our fingers crossed that it stays the course. I am always impressed by places like this one that actually understand that dining means everyone sitting down together over a meal, kids included. I wish there were more such places, but I also understand that many people go out to dine in peace and quite. Other than the very rare date night, this is my limited choice for dining out as a parent, but restaurants such as this make it much more pleasant to treat the kids. I am sure each town and city has such places although all sadly en route to extinction.

New Year. Same Old Parents.

The New Year has started much like the old. My son still wakes up early – way too early. He still wants – nay, needs – his milk. It must be the perfect temperature in that green sippy cup or he sends it back. I am the lucky one who prepares this gourmet morning aperitif. It must be Daddy and no one else. My wife, of course, doesn’t argue this point.

The cars must be lined up with Lightning McQueen first and then the police car that is missing its lights and both doors. The fire engine with no ladder and with the tire that keeps coming off because it was broken off several months ago must be at the end of the line.

It still takes 30 minutes to get him into the tub and another 30 to get him out. Imploring and groveling only makes his eyes twinkle more and using force only amplifies the

His favorite teddy bear blanky is still his favorite as the missing eye and multiple gaps in the fabric can attest.

He will not approach an apple or strawberry unless milk and a blender are involved.

He still finds a quiet corner that is out of sight to poop in peace.

Thursday is still his favorite day to go to day care because there is music and dance.

He still calls red meat and tuna fish: “chicken”.

Peek-a-boo still gets him into fits of uncontrollable laughter that lead to the hiccups and even more laughter.

He still furrows his eyebrows and worries when they take Curious George away from the man with the yellow hat.

He still gets angry at the remote control car because he wants to push it himself.

He still insists that Alicia Keys sings “Julia, Julia” instead of “New York, New York”.

Getting him dressed and out of the door in the morning still requires a well thought out strategy that involves deception, make believe, candy trails and many more things that you read about in the original Brothers Grimm stories.

The word “Gelato” still implies ice cream, most liquid dairy, cupcake icing and smoothies.

The arrival of relatives during the holiday still means tossing an entire year of painstaking discipline and schedule building out the window.

“I want it!” still implies urgency.

“I need it!” still implies immediacy.

“No!” still means no. And it is still his favorite phrase.

The only thing different from last year is that my wife and I fell asleep before midnight on December 31st. I am not complaining. I like that there have not been any dramatic “changes”. They are inevitable, but for now I like where we are and hope to enjoy it while it lasts. We’ll see what the New Year brings.

I wish all of you and yours a wonderful 2011.

When Kids Are Kids And Parents Wish It Could Be Like That Forever

For those of you with older children I am sure what I am about to describe is nothing new. My two and a half year old has gotten his first full “year” of holidays and seasonal events starting with Halloween and now ending with Christmas. I feel that this may be the first and last year in which he is taken up by the excitement and the novelty as opposed to the gifts and the superficiality that is more obvious to older children and adults. I’m not here to say “Bah, Humbug!” I am really just grateful to see the true innocence of my son’s holiday cheer.

At Halloween he ran up and down the hallways in our building giving out the candy he had just received at one door to the next. He just wanted to shout “Happy Halloween!” and felt that this could only be done with a transaction made up of lollipops and chocolate bars. It was one of the few times that I have seen him only mildly interested in sweets. To him it was just a bunch of kids dressed in funny costumes running around playing a game.

Then it was a couple of Birthday parties at which he was the first to stand next to the cake with candles to sing Happy Birthday (actually Happy Bird-Day) and clap with glee when the candles were finally blown out. He would jump up and down and say “Again! Candles! Again!”

Thanksgiving resembled Halloween with its squashes and pumpkins and Autumn colors. He reverted to his tried and true “Happy Halloween!” to anyone who would give him the slightest bit of attention. His smile was contagious and many startled strangers found themselves saying “Happy Halloween!” back with an amused look on their face.

An early-ish Hanukkah brought a typical New York moment to our lobby with my son singing “Happy Birthday!” to one of our very confused doormen who did not realize that he was sitting behind a menorah and its flickering candles. My son waited patiently after having finished singing for the doorman to blow out his candles so my son could clap. I tried to explain, but my son would have none of it and sang “Happy Birthday!” again with much more gusto hoping to spur the doorman into fulfilling what was the only and obvious thing to do when confronted with lit candles.

Finally the Christmas tree was up with all its lights and wooden baubles (to avoid the inevitable) which he fondly stares at for hours laughing each time the lights twinkle. Then there was the first close up encounter with a jolly (Santa is never fat) old man with a beard who asked my son what he wanted for Christmas and my son answered matter-of-factly “Christmas!” by which he meant the tree (I think). This was followed closely by the discovery of Frosty the Snowman and the many random acts of spontaneous singing that this jolly, happy soul evokes. He gets a twinkle in his eye and looks at us while saying “Mommy? Daddy? Frosty!” and that is our cue to start singing (the parts we know) and humming (the parts we don’t) and even dancing. He skips around and claps shouting “Again Frosty! Again! Thumpety Thump Thump!”

Not once does he worry about the toys and sweets that are on all of our minds this time of year. He even forgets his own possessive relationship with the material things (Mine! Mine!) that he has already mastered at such a young age. His holiday spirit is truly enviable and I fear that it is but a fleeting moment. As I smile fondly at all of these episodes, the cynic in me cringes at the thought that next year he, like the rest of us, will be more concerned about what’s under the tree than the tree itself. I will record every last moment of this 2010 season in hopes that it will not be the last one filled with unadulterated laughter and singing.

Happy Holidays to all and see you in the New Year!

Hello?! Is anybody there?!

I watched my 2-year-old son the other day as he managed to activate Skype on my laptop and call the first contact available which was luckily my wife who was in the other room. One the one hand I was pleasantly impressed at his budding hacker skills on the other I wondered if he was already overexposed to the computer and (whispering) “technology.”

The debate seems never ending these days as more and more gadgets “flood the market” and create great new ways to “entertain” our kids. I like to think, though, that there is a middle ground between pushing a tire down the street with a stick and watching Thomas the Tank Engine in the latest 3-D goggles while drooling like a zombie. One such example of the middle ground for me is the aforementioned Skype.

With all of our relatives overseas Skype is a lifesaver and wallet saver all rolled into one. We can call the grandparents and aunts and uncles without worrying how long we will be on “the phone” since we already have an Internet connection and, as you all probably know, using Skype from computer to computer is free. I realize, though, that we take it for granted that this is the way it should be today and it certain lends itself to the ongoing technology-yes and technology-no arguments. Skype is without a doubt a great thing for my family. We can see and hear our relatives and family members on a daily basis almost as if they were here. I know it is not the same thing, but growing up we spoke with my grandmother in Italy once a week on Sunday and it was a brief hello to hear her voice and quickly give a recap of the week. You could almost hear the nickels and dimes falling as the minutes went by. It was a family ritual and one that we all looked forward to each week, but it was certainly limiting with its “sit-by-the-phone” setup.

A negative, albeit entertaining, aspect of Skype is that my son often runs to the computer and talks to it as though he believes that his grandparents live inside (when they are not physically in New York visiting) and are just waiting for him to start talking to them. He tends to get upset when the computer (and therefore Nonna or Nonno) does not answer.

I am not worried that Skype will turn my son’s brain to mush or that he will grow up with an unhealthy social interaction mechanism because he talks to his relatives via video chat, but that is exactly the dilemma that Skype represents in the larger scheme of things. It symbolizes all of the pros and cons of what we, as parents, tend to define as “technology”. I cannot bring myself to condemn or worship it either way. I do feel, though, that as clichés go, moderation is the key, as many of us already know and by striking a balance you can really make the experience gratifying, practical and fun for the kids. Once they have finished talking with your folks on the computer they still have plenty of time to go out and break the neighbor’s windows playing stick ball in the street or backyard.

Don’t be shy. Just spit it out!

I have said my piece on why I like Thanksgiving over at New York Dad’s Blog a few days ago.  Today I wanted to talk more about the actual ritual that accompanies the holiday. My and my wife’s family both live in Italy and so were are “alone” here in New York. Each Thanksgiving, though, we are invited by my best friend’s family to their house so that we are “in the family.” The hospitality is always what you would expect from a Lebanese family – warm and doting. The bonus is that aside from the best cognac soaked yams I have ever tasted (granted they are the only ones, but they are just plain scrumptious) there is enough hummus, kibbeh and stuffed grape leaves to feed legions. Only in the U.S. would you find a table with mixed cuisine on such an important national holiday. That is the beauty of being a nation of immigrants.

I know not everyone is thrilled about the immigrants and here I am actually talking about native Americans and not the ones who take it upon themselves to patrol the borders in Arizona, but the ones who were here when the first immigrants landed many years ago first to explore and then for good. I am thankful nonetheless that despite the vicissitudes of this nation’s history we can sit down together and share each other’s traditions. We certainly may not agree or like everything that each other’s culture has to offer, but I like to think that we can cherry pick and enjoy all the things that we discover liking about our neighbor’s way of life. In these parts it is called tolerance and is the only way that all 8,391,881 don’t end up throttling each other and of course it makes for a pretty incredible cultural and culinary scene.

I am thrilled that my son will grow up in this environment. Of course, I expect and assume that he will look to his own heritage to form him, but I do not ever want him to close his eyes and ears on the mere mention that something is different. I hope that he will always give it a chance before deciding whether or not it is something that he likes or does not like.

The same struggle will happen on Thanksgiving as we sit at a table that is a microcosm of the world around us. A table set with known (turkey, potatoes, apple sauce, and even hummus) and unknown (kibbeh and babaghanoush) from which he will hopefully try a little bit of everything. I already know that he currently does not like hummus (“yucky”), although of course he may some day rediscover it. Our daily struggle to get him to eat new things will only be amplified by seeing new food which he has no idea how it will taste and feel once he puts it in his mouth. My wife and I hope that seeing so many people sitting together and enjoying the meal that he will dig in as well. I will not be upset if he decides to spit anything out (I know it happens to me from time to time – without the actual spitting part), but I will be upset if he does not even try.

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving, however you celebrate it, and if you see something new on the table this year just give it a try. Just make sure you keep a napkin handy in case you find that it was a bad idea.

The greatest casualty is being forgotten.

Today is my birthday. I don’t want you to sing Happy Birthday. I want to ask you to do me a favor and learn about the Wounded Warrior Project. I know this makes it two cause related posts in a row for me here at Dad Revolution, but this Thursday is Veteran’s Day.

I don’t care if you are pacifist, an orthodox, a hippie, a libertarian, an aetheist, a hawk, an anarchist or a card carrying NRA member. This is not about race, religion, politics or worldviews. This is about men and women who have made an enormous physical and mental sacrifice to serve their country by land, air and sea, in foreign lands and right here at home. They do not ask why or how come or what if. Some do it for patriotism, some do it because it is a steady job and some do it just because. That too does not matter. Ultimately they go and do the heavy lifting or the dirty work, if you prefer. It is one of those jobs that we glorify, but then no one raises their hand to actually do it. We do not have a draft in this country and it may be one of the reasons that in the past couple of decades we tend to lose interest in the wars that we fight almost instantly while we recline comfortably in our lazy boys watching the game. Raise your hand if you even read about what is happening abroad these days? No you don’t. You care about the economy and not losing your job. And I get that because I do to. Fact is that we are still engaged on two active war fronts (despite what press releases from DC say), whether you agree with it or not. As a nation, though, we are complacent. It always seems to be someone else’s problem and shockingly never our greatest concern (did you hear any of the politicians leading up to the mid-terms even mention the wars or our returning soldiers and veterans?). It is disgraceful how nonchalant we are about something so serious.

It does not matter if you are for war, against war or completely apathetic towards it. Our elected officials made a decision to send our kids over seas and put them in harms way. They all too often return injured and it is our job not to forget about them. The government does not do enough and has never done enough since the GI Bill. This is an ongoing bi-partisan failure. The military community that I have only recently (in the last 5 years) come to know has taken it upon themselves to care for their own (as always) and that is just not right.

What does this have to do with dads and fatherhood and why am I bothering you with this seemingly unrelated post? I’ll answer that with a series of questions: What would you think and do if tomorrow they reinstate the draft for men and women (as is the case in many countries) and your kid has to go off to war? What if you were told tomorrow that you had to ship off to another country to fight for at least a year and leave your kids and husband or wife behind?

There are many parents that are separated for years from their families to go do this job. Put all the patriotism and flag waving aside and understand that where they are going there are no anthems, no parades, no pomp and none of the theatrics that we all too often commercialize at home just to sell some concessions and cheap flags on a stick. Even the most fervent “patriot” cannot understand, if they are not a soldier or a military family, what that sacrifice entails. I certainly cannot imagine.

I am not a soldier. The closest I came to serving my country was volunteering as an EMT with an ambulance in college and it’s not even close to what a soldier does (granted that police officers and fireman risk their lives everyday, but they do so always within their own community). What I cannot stand is to see these men and women come home and find themselves abandoned by our government and the rest of the nation that has moved on to the next political squabble or jailed celebrity or tabloid headline as soon as they realize that war is an ugly and often protracted affair that is actually not entertainment, but real people fighting a very real war. This nation and its media unfortunately suffer from severe ADD and when it stops being all fun and games, they move on.

The concept of the Wounded Warrior Project is simple, yet effective. Provide the injured service men and women with some basic tangible necessities as soon as they arrive at hospitals to start their recovery process. Their motto is appropriate and to the point: “The greatest casualty is being forgotten.”

I leave you with this testimonial from a USAF Nurse who writes: “We are forever grateful for all the WWP packs you’ve donated for our wounded warriors that come through here to recover! I wish I could capture the expressions on their faces when we give them a Wounded Warrior Project pack with the basic necessities inside…it truly is priceless! Some of them come with only the clothes on their back and may be here for weeks. So, to have some personal items to make them feel like a “normal” person, makes a world of difference. Again, a thousand thank yous could never cover the gratitude and appreciation from us and the wounded warriors.”

Do not forget our soldiers and take a moment to think about them if not each and every day at least this Thursday when hopefully their stories will make it once again to the front page where they belong. It is not about pride, patriotism or honor – it is about gratitude. The Wounded Warrior Project is just one of the many equally worthy causes related to our soldiers. If you contribute great, if you have gained even a bit more insight great and if you are a soldier take this as my virtual hug and handshake for what you do. It’s a thankless job and know that I do not take you for granted.

P.S. I donated a Wounded Warrior Project backpack directly through the Under Armor website, but you can also donate directly to the project on the WWP website. There are other great organizations that look out for veteran’s and I encourage you to look into them as well.

Think Pink

I am on the road for work (or on vacation as my wife would say) and I needed my coffee fix so I ducked into a Caribou Coffee (no I did not get a free latte for mentioning them). My mind was elsewhere as I distractedly ordered coffee and settled down at a corner table to hop on the free wifi so I did not notice how pink my coffee cup was until I took a sip. In the back of my mind I knew this was significant and as I looked for more clues I had a “smack-your-forehead-duh!” moment: Breast Cancer Awareness. I felt stupid for not remembering right away. Not because it is not a great cause, but because it is one that I am intimately aware of since my mother is a survivor.
I will never (and hope to never have to) truly understand what it is like to do battle with your own body. What I can tell you about is what it is like to be near someone who is fighting for their life. There are many phases you go through and they do not always mirror those of the person who is suffering the most. There are many phases and those who witnessed a loved one go through this ordeal know what I mean.
I can only speak for myself and tell you what I felt and thought. At first I was in shock. So much so that I was not even fazed by the news. My attitude was “women beat breast cancer ALL the time” and so will my mom. My mom is a tough cookie so she did not outwardly betray any fear when she delivered the news nonchalantly, so I felt that my lax attitude was validated. We then sat down with the oncologist and he gave us the run down on all the things that my mom had to do such as surgery, chemo, radiation treatment, the works. I sat in the meeting a bit deflated even as I watched my mom asking questions and even joking with the doctor. It didn’t hit me until we walked into the reception area on a very early November morning in 2001. I tried to stay calm, but I was totally freaked out. It was all true. My mother had cancer – for real. World events that were particularly near and dear did not matter to me in that moment. I felt very lost as my sister and I kissed my mom and squeezed her hand as they rolled her through the double doors to the OR, just like in the movies.
The next thing I remember is standing behind my mom shaving her head after the first couple of rounds of chemo made it impractical to keep what was left of her hair. I also remember how thirsty the chemo made her. The blisters in her mouth and throat that made it almost impossible for her to swallow anything. The shivers. The ashen skin. There was terrible suffering in her eyes, but never in her voice.
Her hair grew back and she is back to playing tennis and bridge as if nothing ever happened to her. For this I am eternally grateful. She does not really talk about it much, but I cannot imagine how much strength and determination it takes to confront the beast. One wishes that the ending to these stories was always a happy one as in my mom’s case. This is just one of the many worthy causes that I urge everyone to keep in mind especially if they are lucky enough not to encounter anything like it in their life. I’m sorry if I bummed anyone out, but as much as I like keeping things “lite” it is part of my story and one that I hope brings even a small amount of awareness to cancer and a virtual hug to those going through a similar moment. And to those who are fighting, keep fighting!

What’s the secret to single parenthood?

The cursor keeps blinking at me. The rest of this clichéd image includes a half eaten bag of Snyder’s pretzels – the stick kind (gotta love market research). I would get the original shape if deli’s still had them, but I guess I’ll just have to wait for retro pretzel shapes to become fashionable again. On the floor next to me – safe and sound on a coaster – is a room temperature Boylan Seltzer (lemon flavored). The cursor is not taunting me, as you would imagine, from watching You’ve Got Mail to many times as I have, because I do not what to write, but rather it taunts my indecision to post what I just wrote. It’s certainly not a masterpiece, but I beat the crap out of the keyboard for the first couple of paragraphs as I continued to lament the societal meltdown I first pointed out on my personal blog. It was one of those rare posts started a week in advance and started with gusto only to peter out in the days that followed because of too much tinkering and a cooler head. The deadline took me completely by surprise this fine autumn evening and so here I am staring at the cursor blinking at me.

I always work best under the pressure of imminent calamity, which come to think of it is the only true requirement to survive as a parent. So with the post hitting the streets tomorrow bright and early I figured I would hit the new button and work from scratch to get something truly hot off the press to all of you. This is usually when you get that Home Alone not-so-pleasant-feeling that you’re forgetting something. Cue my son screaming for me from his bedroom. I look around and realize that I am the only one home because my wife is on a business trip. A four-day business trip. This will be the nth trek to my son’s bedroom only to find him standing like Celine Deon in Vegas with his head cocked backwards to give him maximum aperture and his right hand holding the baby monitor’s microphone at the perfect distance from his mouth to capture the full vibrato of his shrieks. This is, in brief, the reason for the aforementioned clichéd scene.

Now this may seem run of the mill to most and it is to a certain extent for me, but it got me thinking about what it must be like to be a single parent. I frankly can only get an ephemeral taste of it on days like today and I only have one kid so I really shouldn’t complain. It’s that moment when you have finally gathered the mental energy to complete a task and your concentration is broken because the little one needs you and there is no one else around who is going to step in and take care of business. That is what I cannot fathom. I read some blogs written by single dads like Sex and the Single Dad (although he does not reveal the secret of how single parents change stinky diapers with one hand while pouring some Jack Daniels with the other) and single moms like Single Mama NYC and you never feel that they are not in control. They talk about their kids, their life, the crap they put up with, their jobs, great causes we should all be aware of and some of their thoughts on everyday life, but never in a tone that betrays any hysteria. And I admire that because I know that right now after only two days with the little one there are moments where I would love nothing more than to bash my head in with one of those wooden mallets that Woody Woodpecker uses. Maybe they have more super-parenting-like qualities in them like super-patience? The cursor is still blinking at me, but at least I have asked my question. I know there are many great single parents who blog and/or single parent bloggers out there and I would love to hear from them and hear what makes them tick. Oh and, of course, Chapeau!

My boring life as a dad

Dear Diary,

Today was more of the same old things. I fear that boredom has started to spread its tentacles across my subconscious making it difficult to focus on anything worthy of causing synapses to fire. The mornings are the worst. Dull to the point of seeking ways to physically stimulate my brain using blunt force trauma. I remember the days when each morning brought new challenges and invigorating scenarios. My body, in tune with my mind, used to work out by running and lifting backbreaking weights repeatedly. I would run cross-country and leap fallen logs without breaking my stride or losing my balance. Then I would go to work and multi-task all day. I could carry on multiple conversations at once even while I walked down bustling streets with sirens wailing and buses screeching to a halt. And most of all I could pull all nighters no problem. A pot of coffee and I was good to go. I could even take a power nap and then get right back up and keep working. The only time I would really let my guard down and relax was the weekend. Sleep in late. Watch some TV. Read the paper while having brunch at a corner café. Meet friends and talk about politics and global social issues. Now I really just lie around and stare at the wall. I miss how much I could accomplish in just one day. To prove my point here is a typical lazy Saturday at home these days for us old folks:

Weblog for Saturday September 25, 2010

5:00 – Baby monitor crackles. It’s my son. He’s whining. “Daddy?! Daddy?!… Milk… Pleeeeasssse!”. Roll over and look at my wife. I can tell she is looking at me through her closed eyes. I’m the milkman so she’s not moving. “Daaaaaaaddy!!!!”

5:15 – Burn my hand. Need to make coffee before I bare hand the pot that’s heating the milk.

5:16 – Burn my hand. Again.

5:17 – My son has inhaled his milk. Looks at me like Oliver Twist… “More?!”

5:19 – Burn my hand. Again.

5:30 – Bump into my wife who has silently entered the kitchen and spill boiling coffee on my bare feet. Step on random toy.

5:45 – “What’s that smell?”

5:50 – “Hey buddy let’s change your diaper…” “Nooooooooooooo! I don’t want it!” “You may not, but daddy and mommy are about to pass out so…” “Noooooooo!”

5:55 – Using Navy SEAL hand signals and fiber optic cameras my wife and I corner our son in a remote hard to reach location. Rocks, scissors, paper for who goes in.

6:00 – Ice pack for daddy who threw paper to mommy’s scissor and made the mistake of entering remote location headfirst. Rookie mistake.

6:15 – I remember when Jimmy “Jumbo” Taylor pinned me in 5 seconds during 8th grade PE with a move called “The Cowboy”. Daddy tries to pull it off on the 2 year old to get him onto the changing pad and throws his back.

6:16 – Mommy shakes her head in disgust. Rolls daddy to the side and wrangles son, losing a clump of hair in the struggle.

6:30 – Daddy recovers as diaper is finally secured and high-pitched screaming has subsided to a whimper. Daddy and mommy hear a distinct ringing sound coming from inside their heads.

6:40 – While mommy showers, I am attempting to dress my son. I manage to get his right sock on.

6:45 – Mommy checks in on daddy who has managed to get the left sock on with one hand (I use the other to shield my body from my son’s wind milling arms). I’m fine.

7:15 – My son is fully clothed. I grab a water bottle and head for the shower. I hear my son tearing by the bathroom with my wife in hot pursuit.

7:20 – My son bursts into the bathroom. He is naked and laughing (cackling?).

7:21 – He pees on the floor and laughs (cackles?).

7:40 – We get his clothes back on.

8:00 – Temporarily distracted by an episode of Curious George (and taking copious notes with Crayons) my wife and I are able to get dressed. Very, very quietly.

8:15 – A first attempt is made to coax our son out of the door.

8:16 – “Nooooooooooooo! I don’t want it!”

8:20 – A trail of cars is placed outside my son’s room and ends with his favorite strategically placed on the stroller that is in the hallway.

8:30 – Sensing a trap my son has used his Thomas The Tank Train umbrella to hook the stroller from inside the door and pull it to him. He snags his favorite car and is gone. I step on a car barefoot.

8:50 – Mommy and daddy break open the emergency kit. A trail of muffin crumbs is put in place of the cars. Daddy makes himself really small and crouches behind the stroller. Mommy slides behind the front door.

9:05 – My son is dazed by the sugar rush and makes the fatal greedy mistake of going for the wrapper. Daddy pounces and quickly ties him down. Mommy flings him the diaper bag and shuts the door behind her. Daddy sprints to the elevator. Mom is close behind.

9:20 – I send my wife ahead to peer around the corner and make sure that there are no ice cream trucks ready to ambush us as we head towards the neutral zone (aka Central Park). She signals the all clear.

9:35 – Just as we enter the last crosswalk before the park the familiar Mister Softee jingle invades the relative silence as an ice cream truck emerges from the side street to our left. I see the driver’s beady eyes looking straight at us as his mouth breaks into an evil grin. I pick up the pace as my wife starts standard evasive maneuvers such as “Look an airplane!” or “Look a dinosaur!”.

9:36 – My son smells the ice cream truck. Daddy forgot to move upwind. Another rookie mistake.

9:50 – The sobbing has subsided and a giant pout camps dead center on my son’s face. It says: “You are the meanest people in the universe!”

9:51 – A dog prances by and sniffs my son. “Ooooooh doggie! I want it!” The pout is gone. “I waaaaant it!”

9:52 – The dog leaves. The pout returns.

10:00 – We reach the swings. “Ooooooh swings!” The pout is gone.

10:45 – As my arms start to go numb there is a first attempt at removing my son from the swings which catches the attention of the mounted policemen in the vicinity. They are about to call in a 211. I assure them that we are in fact the little rabble rouser’s parents as my son screams “Noooooo! No! Noooooo!” at the top of his lungs while kicking me repeatedly in my (rather soft) belly and my groin. The cops look doubtful and remain in the area until we finally get our son away from the swings.

11:15 – My son plays and laughs with his cars on the grass. And old lady walks by and comments on how cute and well behaved my son is.

11:16 – I offer my son to the old lady much to my wife’s dismay. She points out that offering some money would probably help convince the lady. The lady surprisingly turns down the offer.

11:20 – The mounted police officers pass within a few feet and smile and wave to our son. They then glare at us and carry on.

12:00 – Our son falls asleep exhausted.

12:01 – My wife and I weep. These are tears of joy. We have gotten through half the day without major incidents and with most of our sanity intact.

As you can see a parent’s life is rather boring. Life is so much easier now that I have a kid and I worry that if we have a second kid it might become unbearably slow. I worry that my wife and I will find ourselves sitting around with little else to do but watch the younger generation getting so much accomplished in their daily lives full of ideas on how to conquer the world and get things done. I wonder what tomorrow will bring? Probably more of the same old things. Ho hum.

Sharing and Denial: A True Story.

EXT. – NEW YORK PLAYGROUND – DAY

A sunny and clear day.

The playground is still fairly empty as the City is still waiting to embrace the Labor Day throngs that are still abroad.

DAD#1 leans on fence and looks on smiling as SON#1 plays with cars in a sandbox bathed by the sunlight. A slight breeze carries a scent of autumn.

SON#1

Vroom Vroom! Beep Beep! Bulldozer! Bus! Police Car!

 

DAD#1

Hey Buddy, you almost ready to go home?

 

SON#1

No! Don’t wanna!

 

DAD#1

OK. 5 more minutes and then we have to go. Mommy is waiting.

 

SON#1

No! Don’t wanna!

 

DAD#1

Right. Of course not.

 

DAD#2 and SON#2 arrive at the sandbox and DAD#2 plops SON#2 in the sandbox empty handed. SON#2 looks around and sees SON#1 has cars. He waddles over and helps himself.


SON#1

Nooooo! Daddy?!

 

DAD#1

That’s OK little man, you can share your cars. You have a couple and he can play with some too.

 

SON#1

Noooooo! I don’t wanna!

 

DAD#1

C’mon little man. You have cars in both your hands. You don’t need the others right now.

 

SON#1 looks distraught, but grudgingly turns back to the cars he has in his hands and continues to play. SON#2 waddles back and grabs the remaining cars from SON#1. DAD#2 looks on smiling.


SON#1

Daaaaaaaaaaady?! Noooooooo!!!!

 

SON#1 proceeds to throw a tantrum.

 

SON#1

Caaaaaaarrrrrs!!! I want!!! Noooooooooo!!!!

 

DAD#1

OK. Relax we’ll ask him to give you the cars back.

 

DAD#2 (while just standing there)

Hey, Johnny give one of the cars back, the boy seems upset. (sideways to DAD#1) It’s always hard for them to learn to share. It took me a while to get him to do it.

 

DAD#1

That’s OK. I’m sure he’ll give them back.

 

DAD#2 (puzzled)

No, I meant your son.

 

DAD#1 (mouth agape)

Huh?

 

THE END

 

NB: DAD#1 is still trying to decide if DAD#2 was actually being serious.

I’m leaving on a jet plane…

I will be back in NYC by the time this is read. We are preparing our bags on a breezy and sunny morning about a hundred kilometers south of Rome. My inspiration this morning is the slightly choppy sea right in front of my in-laws’ house. They have already kidnapped my son to spend every minute of the last day we are here in Italy with him. It is always a melancholy dawn – the day before our departure. It seems that just as they get used to enjoying all his quirks and pouts and giggles we whisk him away again until the next vacation. Yesterday, we were just a few miles away at my parent’s house where my sister and her family are staying. We were celebrating my niece’s birthday and my son running around the garden like crazy, chasing and being chased by the other kids and his cousins. There the mood was festive, but in an end of the summer kind of way. The time we spend here always feels like the time I spent cramming for tests and exams at school – desperately trying to get through everything you did not get to do during the rest of the year.

We always wish we had more time or that we could find a way to make more time. The reality of parenthood is that you hardly have time for your wife and kids let alone for your siblings and parents and relatives especially when they live so far away. Even in the moments we are together you try as much as possible to make it just lie any other day for the kids, but inevitably you end up having to explain to them what it means to get on an airplane or train or take a long car ride leaving behind grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (this must be done each time the child repeats the question: “Why?”).

Today you can “see” each other more often thanks to technology, but watching my son interact with his cousins in person is priceless. Of course, we will come home and boot up the computer and call everyone on Skype and exchange all the pictures we took and the fun moments we had and then we will have to dive back into the daily grind until the next holiday or vacation.

Despite the stress that it can certainly cause, I always envy those who live fairly close together. The visits are never “use it or lose it” time where you feel guilty if you miss even an hour together knowing that it will be another year probably before you see each other again. Then again I live in New York and have not been to the Empire State Building since I was a little boy just because I think, “It’s right there so I can go whenever I want.” So I might end up doing the same if I lived in the same city as my sister or my parents or in-laws.

These are some of my random thoughts as I start to gather our things for tomorrow’s trip back to New York. In the good and the bad of having to “schedule” time with the relatives I have had a great few weeks of fun and relaxation with my wife and son and “the folks”. I can’t complain. And now back to my regular programming.

A big city kid in the middle of nowhere…

I grew up a big city kid. I loved it because you had access to everyone and everything. Multi-lingual and multi-cultural. There was always something different to try and to choose from each and everyday. Even Rome where I spent most of my time away from New York is a big city and although not as cosmopolitan it retains a great deal of the big city vibe. I am happy my son is growing up in a big city despite the sacrifices one must make to bring a kid up in a city like New York. I do, though, wonder what it would be like to live in a small town?

I am writing these words from exactly that kind of a small town. This is not a sleepy American burg on the outskirts of a larger urban center. This town is down in the heart of Italy’s deep South. At night I can see the giant lighthouses that guard the Straight of Messina which separate Sicily from the mainland and one of it’s southern most cities – Reggio Calabria. Directly in front of us are the beautiful Eolie islands and a twenty minute car ride away is the ancient sea cliff town of Tropea. This is as far away from it all as you can get in the so-called civilized world. The sun is fierce and the sea is crystal clear. Figs and prickly pears abound and weigh down the trees and cacti that host them along the winding country roads. Stores still close here for two hours at lunch. Sunday everything is closed. There is no rush here. A tough thing to get used to coming from the big city. And yet they live longer and healthier in these parts.
This is where my wife’s grandparents grew up before they moved to Rome. She still has tons of relatives and the older generations all seem to be in their late 90’s and have no intention of going anywhere any time soon. The old ladies still chat to each other from one balcony to the next. It sounds like a movie, but I assure you this is a first hand account.
The parents around here are worried because the kids do not want to stick around. There are certainly many problems around not least of which is the tight control that certain families have over business dealings and life in general. To the outsider it is always hard to understand why anyone would allow themselves to be bullied this way, but all too often the lack of attention from the bureaucrats leads to people organizing themselves in other ways just so that things can get done. But I digress.
The big city allows you to choose from so much for your kid each and every day and yet the frenetic lifestyle you lead also forces many genuine and authentic things to drop by the wayside to make way for convenience. Food is the best example, at least from where I sit now writing these paragraphs.
Food here is not something you have to think about. No one around here says,”What can I make for dinner that doesn’t take too long? What can I just pop in the microwave?” Certainly, they do not lead the chaotic lifestyle that is typical in the big cities, but this part of the day comes naturally to them. It is an important part that must be done and yet it is not viewed as a burden as most of us do in the urban setting. Everything is grown locally, seasonally and consumed fresh. No CSAs needed because to them it is normal that you eat this way. Needless to say, my son who has become a picky eater as of late has been eating pretty much everything they have around here. He is also enjoying the fact that his parents have been infected by the laid back attitude of the locals and are no longer tapping their foot impatiently at the local store while the person in front chats with the store owner about their kids for a half hour or search for a better wireless connection by holding the cell phone over their heads while leaning way out over the balcony like lunatics. Maybe all we really need is a few weeks of this (i.e. real food, sea breeze, sun etc.) to recharge ourselves?
I am pretty sure I would go crazy if I lived here full time and it is always difficult to judge a place when you are vacationing there for a short period of time, but there must be a reason folks around here live well (and well) into their 90s.

Yoda and Heartburn

I cannot for the life of me remember the last time I felt in complete control of my life. Actually, it has been a little over two years that I fall asleep with the uneasy sensation that I have forgotten to do something very important each and every night. Given that parenting years feel much longer than dog years that’s quite a bit of worrying. Maybe after years of practice I will have perfected some sort of breathing technique that allows me to enter a Zen-like state that even Yoda would envy. I hope I get there sooner rather than later.

The anxiety does not consume my thoughts round-the-clock, but it is annoying. It lingers like a sour stomach after a night of spicy food and beer. You can do things to quell the burning sensation, but it comes back hovering just below your tolerance threshold. The thoughts that bring on this state of apprehension, I have found talking to other dads, are fairly universal: Am I providing for my family? Am I pulling my weight as a parent? Am I teaching my son right from wrong? Am I too strict? Am I too soft? And so on and so forth. None of the questions, you will notice, have to do with other aspects of my life in which I feel very much in control (i.e. work, marriage, what am I going to eat for breakfast etc.) albeit, to a certain extent, overly confident.

The thoughts themselves seem more in control than I am. When I was still childless the thoughts were organized as I wished them to be and my life had priorities that I had set even with regards to a family (then again what does anyone really know about having kids until you actually have them). Now, of course, I have only one priority – my son. This should make things much easier since other decisions ultimately are means to that end and yet it wreaks havoc on my psyche. I am always second-guessing those decisions because I feel that unlike with my own life, I cannot afford to make mistakes in my son’s.

The veteran’s say it is normal and that you adjust and adapt, but I always felt that I could control my life since I was the only one living it. Now, though, I find I am responsible for someone else’s life, a life that I value more than my own, and so I toss and I turn a few times right before exhaustion takes over and the snoring begins.

“What the… Get your… I’ll put a… Get out of my face!”

When you’re a father you censor yourself. You get just as angry with a child but you don’t want to say, “What the filth and foul and I’ll filth and foul, filth and foul and, yeah, ya filth and foul face, and I’ll filth and foul, foul, filth!” You don’t want to say that to a child so you censor yourself and you sound like an idiot: “What the… Get your… I’ll put a… Get out of my face!”

– Bill Cosby (Bill Cosby Himself)

I used to laugh until I cried when I listened to Bill Cosby’s routine when I was growing up. I was not a parent, yet, but as a child his portrayal of parent’s was dead on. Now that I have a kid I still laugh until I cry because everything he describes about parenthood matches my experience thus far. All the contradictions and all the moments in which you have to remind yourself that you are dealing with a child and not with another adult are described down to the detail the same way I have gone through the initial stages of daddyhood.

The way a child can infuriate you and melt your heart into putty all in the span of a split second is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed and experienced in my life. Whether it is a genetic coping mechanism that children have hard wired into them or a gift they pick up in a very short time period right after they are born is not something I am privy to knowing. I find myself often exasperated with my son’s stubbornness in any given situation and close to tearing my hair out and screaming bloody murder (see above quote) when he’ll throw his arms around my leg or give me one of his gleeful giggles – and I’m toast. So what if the couch was turned into a Jackson Pollock, I never liked that mug anyway, we really needed a new clock radio and so on and so forth.

For now the excuse is always, “he’s still too young to know any better…”, but that will not fly for much longer. Already my wife and I have adopted the accusatory adjective “your” as in: “Do you know what your son just did?” So before we go down that slippery slope we should probably starting making sure he learns who’s boss (yeah right!). It is really hard to discipline a toddler, though, when he is making funny faces and hugging you or worse laughing (at you?). The “innocence” of the young is so disarming that for a novice like myself it really rattles your game. Even when two parents are actually coordinated and are working in tandem on teaching a child “wrong from right” breakdowns are common and as one parent falls the other is often close behind.

The restraint and infinite patience that is necessary makes “cracking” even more unnerving to me because there are moments in which the tantrum or the “no, no, no” is so grating that I just want to roar at him like in the cartoons with all the air coming out of my mouth making my son whimper into submission. Instead, much like in the cartoons that I remember, it’s as if by batting his eyes or smiling lovingly at me he takes out a huge pacifier and sticks it in my mouth.

I figure I better start practicing for the inevitably harder challenges that lie ahead that will need discipline for things that go beyond spilt milk. In the meantime, my wife and I should think of using a coin toss to determine if he is my son or hers on a case-to-case basis or we could to alternate.

Sunday In The Park

Sunday in the park is the only place one can really survive in Manhattan when the sun starts to literally melt the asphalt. We pack the stroller with plenty of water and toys and head out to the Great Lawn in the heart of Central Park. I am very grateful that plans to turn this vital patch of green into more city blocks was scuttled in the mid-1800s. As a parent, I realize how important this resource is for surviving with kids in the city.
I also would like to take a smidgen of credit for Central Park as you see it today. When I was just a wee lad growing up in a New York City that had barely survived the 70s and was trying to hang on in the 80s, a few volunteers decided that it was time to reclaim Central Park from its sad state of degradation. Although it was used much the same way it is used today, as a way to escape the din and chaos of the city streets, it was more dustbowl than oasis. I was recruited to volunteer with a new city parks initiative called “You’ve Gotta Have Park!” (a nod to the song “You’ve Gotta Have Heart!”). We were stationed next to the now beautifully restored promenade that leads to the Bethesda Fountain and we asked, using the cutest kid faces we could muster, each passerby to contribute a dollar to help rebuild the park which was not receiving much, if any, city funding. To make a long story short, over the next few years, slowly but surely, and thanks to so many great volunteers and patrons, Central Park got a sorely needed makeover and now is a case study in grassroots local community efforts to pick up the slack from underfunded and disorganized municipalities.
Now my wife and I can setup shop in the shade and play until my son conks out for a couple of hours lulled and cooled by a fairly constant breeze even on the most humid days. Lying on my back I see blue skies through the trees (OK so I also see the occasional jet or helicopter, but you know what I mean) and listen to the sounds of the nearby softball games or children chasing each other on the lawn, no cars honking or buses kneeling, just New Yorkers enjoying the park. Not bad for a tiny island crammed with concrete, steel, glass and one and a half million people!
My son will grow up assuming that this incredible park that allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle has always been this inviting and stocked with swings and jungle gyms and lush green mantles to run on and kick, throw and catch balls on. I dealt with dirt fields with broken glass and early curfews (thanks also to the occasional Houdini act pulled by one of the big cats in the then decrepit zoo) so I am more than happy that he can just enjoy the transformation. I, on the other hand, cannot begin to tell you how much easier my life is by having such an incredible getaway within walking distance of our apartment. Sometimes, when I’m there, I can can even hear myself think.

Plan? What Plan?!

As summer officially gets underway so do plans for a family vacation. Please keep in mind that our vacation falls into the category of “bring your child on tour so everyone can see him”. This entails, flying to Italy (yes, I know, boo-freakin’-hoo) and cramming ourselves into a car the size of a stamp and chauffeuring our son around for two weeks to meet every single relative of mine and my wife. This includes of course the grandparents (my folks and the in-laws), aunts and uncles and cousins 5 times removed. Maybe I’m exaggerating, it’s not that bad since for two weeks we practically hand over our son to doting relatives and get to sleep late and nap – as in, afternoon naps. I still think it’s easier (albeit possibly more annoying) to have all your family members in the same city (i.e. free babysitting anytime), but when you are forced to cram a year of “missed” family time into a couple of weeks it really is not much of a vacation.

The first order of business is getting through the flight from New York to Rome in one piece – physically and mentally. The former is easier; the latter takes some practice and well executed breathing exercises. For those of you who have yet to take a flight lasting more than a few hours are in for a treat when your kid (I try not to think of when the family may expand) is old enough to wriggle out of your arms and run up and down the aisles or, more endearingly, repeatedly kick the seat in front of you. Yes, indeed, you have become that family. The one no one wants to sit near. You can see the terror in people’s eyes, the same expression you once had when childless, as you walk down the plane’s aisle looking for your seat (please not next to me, please not next to me…). Entertainment is the key to survival so either you are a performance artist that can do a 7-hour show without taking a break or you need to sedate your kid with mind controlling technology (Oh please, as if you never do it!) because after the first hours of crayons and books our son is utterly bored and wants to hit the aisle. In our case, it’s Curious George that does the trick until he mercifully falls asleep on the flight over. On the way back it’s another story, or rather nightmare, altogether. And to think that when he was a newborn he would sleep the entire flight.

Let’s skip to when we land at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, the most disorganized place on planet Earth (with the exception of the Frankfurt and Milan airports). Luckily we are natives so we can curse everybody out using local dialect and cadence (yes, it also involves hands) while a very grumpy child screams into our ear almost as if to egg us on in our lively debate with the baggage handlers. Once we recover our luggage, which we were told took two hours to get from the plane to the terminal because it was snowing in Moscow, we hurry through customs and get to the curb looking for whichever relative came to pick us up. They are, inevitably, arguing with a traffic cop over the nuances of “pick up only” and “short term” parking. I get behind the wheel and start the car as my wife tries to coax said relative into the car while they continue to argue with the cop.

Every hour of the day is scheduled for a visit with a relative and missing any appointment is viewed as a major slight. Once we arrive and are greeted our son is taken from us and if we are lucky we get a glass of water to keep us hydrated. As all parents know, you presence is necessary only because you give sustenance and clothing to the apple of everyone’s eye – nobody really cares how you are doing. We get him back for diaper changes and feedings and by nightfall we are dead tired, but our son, who is still on New York time, somehow gets his second wind and refuses to sleep. Luckily for us, he remembers to wake up at 5:30am local Rome time suddenly forgetting that he is jet lagged only to get it back again in the evening.

Summer, though, does give us one very good excuse for trying to shirk our duty to most of the relatives (something that in the winter time is impossible). If we are smart we try to get to the beach as quickly as possible. We cram the stroller and suitcases into the final fourth of the stamp sized car and don’t stop driving until we smell saline and hear cicadas. With only the grandparents to deal with it starts to feel much more like a vacation. Meals are cooked without our having to lift a finger and our son is whisked away at the first sign of waking up for a long walk with grandma and grandpa on the beach (see photo) while we get to hit, figuratively speaking, the snooze button while our son frolics in a gorgeous sandbox with plenty of clear blue “acqua” – as he puts it – to splash in.

I’ll tell you about the return trip some other time, but just imagine that the flight takes longer on the way back and that it is during the day – so you can imagine the fun.

The reason I bored you with some of the details of my upcoming summer travels is to warn you that no matter how much you plan for it, no one I know has ever had a trip with the kids go according to plan (especially the getting from point A to B). I don’t care what the self-proclaimed gurus say in their books, if their kids are sticking to the “plan” it must have something to with duct tape and restraints. So good luck with all your summer plans and make sure to take deep breaths and count to ten before reacting to any situation. Also, make sure you let me know if it helps because it has never worked for me, so I’m curious.