Monday, July 20, 2009

Kids, eating out and bathrooms

I have fond memories of the days before kids. Lazy weekends spent on the couch eating pretzels, sipping a frosty Sierra Nevada, watching bad television, or a This Old House marathon. In between this glorious laziness were 15-minute power naps that were complete with heavy snoring, slobbering and the realization when I woke that another episode of Huell Howser is on. Sweet days. Days that are gone.

Kid number 1 came, then 2, now we are 7 months into number 3. Numbers that add up to beautiful days and long ones at the same time. While the world is full of schedule mongers and helicopter parents, our style is loose. When is nap time? When baby girl is tired. When is bath time? When they are dirty. When do they go to bed? When it's time. Why create a schedule when it functionally messes with your life? To each his/her own.

So our life continues, though in a much more chaotic manner compared to the glory days of doing whatever, whenever. Now there's a crew in tow. Simply going to the market whether normal or flea is a process. Cole (10) is self-sufficient, Luke (5) is getting there, and Hope (7 mos) is a baby nugget. Enough said. But we do it because we want to. Simple exposure to daily life unsheltered brings experiences that they may not remember completely, but exposes them to life unfiltered, unscheduled, uninhibited.

Same goes for going out to eat. It too is an adventure and we don't do the blue-plate special schedule of 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. We go when we go. When the crew is ready. When shirts are on right-side out, the diaper is refreshed, and toys are tucked away in the bag only to see the light of night when a possible meltdown may occur. Preparation is key of course for the excursion to the local haunt. Spare diapers, wipes? Check. Cash? Yep. Onward.

While it's always nice to actually go out to dinner with just mama and I, it's not always feasible so the army of 5 hit it. Wait for a booth. Sit down. Get the Chianti rolling, the milk, the Sprite, the formula too. All set. Order the pizza, get some bread, maybe a salad. Bingo! All ordered, time to look at each other, chat, people watch. Things are rolling along fine. Luke has his cars. Cole's drawing, baby girl is giggling at the old man in the next booth... The cheap Chianti tastes like a million bucks. Here comes the bread and salad. We dig in. The cheap salad tastes like a thousand bucks. Life at this very moment is off the charts. I have restaurant high. It's similar to a workout high where you have this feeling of levitation of maybe 1/2 inch off the floor. The sweaty, springless, naugahyde booth bench can't be felt. People watching is at its all-time high. "What did they order? Why is the middle-aged couple not talking to each other? Damn this cheap Chianti is good." Then the pizza comes. Eggplant, basil and tomato. The best pizza on earth made even better by my restaurant high. Scoop a piece out for each character, mama first of course. Then the boys, then me. "Oh sweet Jesus, this fruit you bring me renders me speechless," I think. One successful bite, washed down with Chianti interspersed with cold tap water that tastes like a hundred bucks... Restaurant high catapulted.

Then it happens. "I need to go poop," says a grimmacing 5-year-old. "Grunttttt, ughhhhh, errrrr," says baby nugget. Mama and I look at each other. Default is she handles nugget and I handle the pooper. The high drops a few levels back to where I began at the beginning of this adventure. The seating situation creates another drop in the "high" level. Luke scurries out from under the table. The "cool" family out late is now the center of attention, but we never let our guard down. We have experienced this before. It happens. Shit happens. The schedule folk don't know this because they are done with the bath, reading stories, sheets tucked tight. Our mojo has a slight dent, but nothing that can't be fixed with a slight tap. The goddess of patience (mama) takes nugget, taps on her back, flips her around, gives a few sweet "Shhhhhhhhsssss" and baby girl is back to her wide-eyed, dimple faced freshness.

Meanwhile I am off to the outhouse. Single toilet, paper on the floor, the john in need of a second flush. Little Champ climbs aboard the seat, telling me to look away. I do. The moment last a few minutes. I sense a lineup outside the door. Whatever. Hold up hipster, this little fella has some business to tend to. We're done. Hands washed, stomach cleared, back to pizza. At this point baby Hope is passed out on the naugahyde, Cole's playing cars and Luke crawls under the table to his spot. The restaurant high is still flat-lined, but another slice and gulp of the sweet juice will bring it up a notch. It does. Kids are in check, doing their thing, nibbling, sipping, playing. Chit-chat about life, things, work, travel, gardening, you name it. Another slice, more Chianti. I am back up to the level I was at before things slightly unfolded moments ago. Tables turn over. An old couple compliment us on our kids, things are good.

The check comes. Nugget is still asleep. The boys are tired. I'm full, as is mama. I scoop up baby girl, Cole takes the leftovers, Luke the toys and we're off. Into the car. Back home we go. A successful outing. Not unlike the hundred other times we've headed out. We don't fear meltdowns or scowls or situations. We confront them when they happen and remedy the situation. We are all on the same playing field. Our life is not determined or dictated by a schedule. This exposure is important, children are resilient and I think deep down they are truly enjoying the adventure.

So while those days of being kidless sitting on the couch watching Norm Abram rebuild an interior wall or Tom Silva frame-in a window, the deep naps and cold pizza are long gone, there's really nothing better than a posse of 2 kids sitting on naugahyde (1 in the high chair eating mashed bananas) chowing on pizza, a fresh-faced 10-year-old giddy about a Lesney Matchbox purchase for a bargain, or the deep-dimpled strawberry blond ball of fire with a blow up guitar impersonating Pete Townsend at the local concert in the park. These are priceless, unscheduled moments that will be brought up in conversation on the front porch days later and perhaps years down the line. "Remember that one time..."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Waiting for the moment my 10-year-old says...

While there are so many things I am anticipating my son Cole saying in the next few years, the one phrase I have thinking about constantly is this: "Umm yeah, I'm kinda done playing with my little brother." He's been the perfect brother (Cole), though he lives with us part-time. He has accommodated his little brother Luke and his baby sister Hope seamlessly. Certainly the boys have their moments, but Cole has dug deep and when he is with us has been the perfect playmate. While I see boys and girls Cole's age getting into more complex things, Cole has maintained this beautiful balance between becoming a tween and staying a little kid. He still finds playing cars with his little brother interesting and appealing. While he may not like the cartoons or shows that Luke likes, he still sucks it up and accompanies him most of the time in front of the television. He helps his brother accomplish things and fix things and get dressed if he needs the help. At the park he will pull his brother and his brothers' friends in a wagon, around the park, for hours.

In the small room they share it's clear they have their separate spaces, but they ultimately end up playing together on the rug in the middle of the room. And so all of this works, and aside from the normal turmoil that can be expected when a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old with different personalities clash, the living situation is pretty darn nice.

But the day will come when they separate. Not physically but mentally, emotionally. I can see when Cole is, say 13 and Luke will 8. What will Cole be into? Girls, sports, himself, all of it? What will Luke like? Video games, sports, his own friends? The age difference is significant enough to warrant this separation at some point. Maybe it comes later when Cole is 15 or 16. I fear the day that he may not want to come up from his mom's house in Dana Point because he may have a chick or his buddies want to go out. I hope it never gets to this point, but teenagers are teenagers.

For now I relish this time these two buds have together. They are like an old married couple in a way. Bicker, fight, separate followed by play, be pals, ride bikes, go nite-nite. I can sense the loyalty that Cole has toward Luke and the admiration that Luke has toward Cole. I know that in any given, uncomfortable situation at the park or wherever, that Cole will have his brother's back. I know that when they are out riding their bikes together, ahead of us, up the street, that Cole watches his brother's every move. Making sure he's safe and in line. I know that Luke is watching his brother and how he rides his bike, the turns he does, the way he stops, the sounds he may make and is storing it in his little head.

It's a beautiful thing to watch: two brothers growing up, in crazy times, together half the time. My hope is that this connection will maintain, that while both will grow and spread their wings, that they will still come back to the connection they have as brothers and roommates. I think they will keep this bond no matter what, through time, forever. There's something there that I can't necessarily see but can sense. Even through the tempers and attitude, they still come back to an innocent place that is blissful and accented with the sounds of Matchbox car horns and make believe security officers.

Meanwhile little sister Hope is sitting back with a binkie in her mouth thinking "What is wrong with these guys?" It's poetry in motion.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The little blue bike

My five-year-old is a mysterious boy. Forget the fact that he truly is an old soul or that his imagination is miles apart from most little kids I know. He has this trigger that will engage when he feels it's the absolute right time to pull it. Essentially he's that kid who likely knows how to do something but clearly wants to do it on his terms, at his pace, on his schedule. It has worked this way for everything, from letting go of his thumb sucking, wiping his own butt, riding his scooter, swimming, and now bicycling.

The journey begin with the wooden bike, the one with no pedals, made in Germany... The one I could sell the shit out of to local hipsters and Calabasas MILF's. Anyway, Luke never used the bike for a year. He looked at it, touched it, walked by it to get to his tricycle. The "cool" wooden bike that all the parents dig, was simply a wooden bike he didn't feel like riding. It went this way until finally the stubborn little man got on, coasted off and begin understanding the feel of the bike with no pedals. He did it for a short time, and now that I think back, I realize it was his intention. He likely thought the bike was cool all along, and probably wanted to jump right on that thing and take off, feet in the air, howling at the blue sky. But his "Cool Hand Luke" persona kicked in and he showed just enough to make me grin and kept the rest in the vault of his tiny little head until the day he was 100 percent fired-up to ride the wooden bike again. So he propped the bike back up where it belonged, pulled out the tricycle and screamed down the sidewalk.

This played out in the same manner for some time, little-by-little he would ride a bit longer, put it back, get in his big plastic car and zip down the street. I always wondered how the circuits were firing in his head. I was beginning to wonder if he would just never get it, not give in, be too fearful of crashing, whatever. Was he just thinking that he would just toy with me for a bit longer until I promised some plastic reward like a Playmobil character, Matchbox car or banana split at Fosselman's. Was this "hold-back" a calculated move on his part that will last his whole life. Will he be that kid who had his hands on his hips on the soccer field, but had talent in the end? Or that teenager who never studied for anything but somehow pulled it off? Perhaps he's that same guy in college who had the same study high school habits, but by sheer last minute will and a few Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Ales somehow wrote decent things. I don't think he will be that guy because I think he's smarter than that. He's witty and imaginative, compassionate and loving, outspoken and shy at the same time. He just does it on his own terms... everything.

So ultimately Luke got on the wooden bike, took off with his feet in the air, howling at the sky, full of life, piss and vinegar. He stopped at the corner, waited for me. We crossed together. He scooted over, made room for people walking by, imagined he was a motorcycle rider or policeman or security guard chasing down a bad guy. It was instant, in the moment, it was his method. I shook my head likely saying 'that little fucker!' and basked in the moment he made the little wooden bike look like a play toy. He went from unsure to certain in a glimpse, as with everything else. He went on to master the wooden bike and soon began to grow out of it. The seat was raised to its limit and it was clear it was time to move on.

My mom bought a 16-inch bike at a yard sale and my dad delivered it. Luke's eyes lit up when he saw the selfless grandma's purchase perched against the wall. It's a blue Trek with fenders, and padding and a coaster brake. It's the first real step to a traditional 20-inch bike. He wanted to ride it right off. So we pulled it down to the sidewalk, buckled his helmet to his head and perched him on top of the saddle. It was about the right height for his skinny-tall body and I grabbed on to the back of his shirt and away we went. I ran and he pedaled for about 10 feet all-the-while letting go to see where he stood. He was firm, assured with a slight wobble but nothing to fear. Back and forth we went several times, each pass with a longer "let-go" on my part. He understand the braking and steering and seemed comfortable with the feeling. Ten minutes went by and he stopped, dragged it up to where it was originally perched, took off his helmet and went inside. We exchanged "high-fives" and hugs and that was it.

Later in the day we revisited the little blue bike for a short trip/ride to the park up the street. We followed the same procedure, which consisted of me running next to him, letting go, grabbing back, letting go, braking, pushing, starting, riding. Within five minutes it was just him, the little blue bike, the sidewalk, the air. He braked, stopped at the corner, waited for me, then we crossed and he took off again. On the way back it was less of me helping and more of him riding, on his own, in his own head, imagination running wild as a police officer catching bad guys. He's now a true bike rider, skipping the training wheels, and doing it on his own terms.

For me I waffle between being proud of his quickness, and it not being enough of a struggle for him. Part of me wanted him to pick it up and take baby steps until he got it. I wanted him to have a tough time with it so he knows how great it is to accomplish something as complex as balancing on two wheels, while being aware of your surroundings, and steering at the same time. I vaguely remember learning to ride a two-wheeler but it couldn't have been this easy for me! At the same time, deep inside, I am doing back-flips, saying "fuck yeahs!" over and over, because of this grand achievement from a little boy who does things on his own terms with his feet in the air, howling at the sky, full of life, piss and vinegar.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tale of the clipboard

It's a typical evening in the 91030. Kids playing on the grass, couples walking by on the sidewalk, Jackaranda's dropping purple flowers. Americana through-and-through. Then the buzz is killed with a cute little red-haired hippie girl carrying a clipboard. You know the scene. It has happened to you. You see it coming but you don't. It's slow motion. You quickly try and exit stage right, behind the gate, under the car, act like your talking on the phone, whatever. I like using clipboards, but I hate seeing them appear 10 feet in front of me. Normally it's some droopy looking teen looking for magazine subscriptions, or a cute little munchkin selling candy bars or wrapping paper, but this time it's serious. The planet is in peril and I can be the touchstone for making the turnaround.

I'm standing there with a hose in my hand, a wet car, soap suds in the bucket yacking with my neighbor. We both saw her at the same time. I'm hoping, praying, that she corners him first, then I could prepare my exit strategy and land at the far reaches of my backyard pretending to clip a bush, trim a limb, feeding a California Condor. You get the point. But he has his dog on a leash and he's in the safety zone known as the sidewalk. Clipboard holders won't bother you if you are in that spot. It's off limits. Perhaps it's a policy. Somewhere in some conference hall when all the solicitors meet for their annual meeting, they ponder the sidewalk policy and always conclude it's not good to corner people on public property. So it's laid in stone, in writing in the manual of solicitation.

My neighbor says he's going to help me. He knows my past with solicitors. I've told him. It usually goes like this: Droopy teen knocks on door lightly. Tim (me) waits, freezes, drops to the ground. Droopy teen knocks more and louder. I stay frozen. Droopy teen now punches the door, annoyed, persistent. She's not leaving it seems, so I get to the door, act as if I just woke from a nap. She goes into her spiel. I stand frozen, contemplating how to get out of it. This inability to react in this situation makes the spiel continue to a point where I can't interrupt because A) I have nothing; and B) It's beyond the point because I will feel bad and she will be sad or mad or both. I am drawn in, but not. It's a tough spot so I let it play out. She gets to the end of the awkward presentation. I know what's coming. We all know what's coming. Droopy teen says "Would you uhh like to uhh donate a bajillion dollars to my youth group that will uhh allow me to do cool things like uhh get a job or something uhh or learn to type?" I say "Umm, I don't have any cash." "We take checks too and credit cards," says Droopy teen. In the end 70% of the time I give in with the minimum, get on some lame email list, kick myself, rehearse what I should have said, and urge my psyche to play it differently next time.

So that's what happens... usually. This time around with red-haired-hippie-girl (RHHG) things were going to be different. While my neighbor said he would help with the exit strategy, he froze rendering him useless. I blocked him out and focused on her. Slight red dreads showed me she was serious about the environment. Great. I start off first saying I already gave to a different guy a couple months ago. She asked what program he was from. "Uhh." RHHG is up 1-0. She starts in. I listen. She continues. I begin drying my car. My turn now: "I'm wasting water right now, right? I'm washing my own car when I hear I should be taking it to the car wash." RHHG comes back not buying it. She's quickly up 2-0. I continue on the car wash thing: "If I go to the car wash, I have to drive there, burning oil. The car wash says they recycle the water. I doubt that. The towels they use they have to dry, so they use energy. And the guys who work there have to drive their cars to get to work so they burn oil. You see my point?" RHHG is silent. I am on the board and bring the match to 2-1 with RHHG still in the lead. At this point she goes into Obama's policy, lobbyists outnumbering her organization, etc. Meanwhile my neighbor is glass-eyed wondering when this will end. I notice he's beginning to take steps back towards his house, which is next on RHHG's foot path. I just get to the point after 5 minutes and tell her "I am not giving you any money today." RHHG cocks her head and tells me "The guy down the street gave me a $100." She went there. My turn. "Well he's rich!," I say. It's clearly 2-2 now. Clipboard carriers should never reveal who gave what. It's an act of desperation.

The "discussion" is over and the clipboard reveals itself out from under her right arm. It's a beat looking board with plenty of miles. There's the typical environmental brochure. Looking to move ahead I say "That's printed on recycled paper right?" "Uhh, I think so," says RHHG. I move ahead 3-2. She should know this and she know what kind of ink is used. My next question would have been "Is it soy-based ink?" I didn't have to go that route but it would have put me up 4-2.

She asks if I could sign it. I do of course and near the end, confidence in hand, I pass over the phone number line. "I don't want you guys to call me, I hate that," I say. Now I am clearly up 4-2. Shit, I gave my email address. It's now 4-3. I better end this thing now before she asks for more. I sign it and quickly turn to my car to continue drying. My neighbor freezes. He knows she's heading to his place: the one with "No Soliciting" signs plastered on the windows and door. RHHG looks past the signs and begins her thumping on the door, then more, then harder, then punching. She gives up and moves to the next. Did I rattle her? Nope. Do I feel good about my performance? It's getting better.

IMAGE ABOVE_That's a tree growing sideways like that. It's massive and unreal.