Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sacred Secrets of a Two Year Old

Hello Blogosphere, it's Shannon here so don't expect a masterpiece of writing on this one, but I had to share a little funny thing that happened between Michael and I today.

We were taking a little weekend trip to Fry's Electronics to purchase a birthday present for Michael's teacher at daycare. Once we arrived at our assigned cashier, Michael placed the present gently down on the counter, and he noticed the small number pad device to enter your pin number when paying via checkcard. He immediately asked, "That phone?" My reply was, "No, that's where mommy puts in her secret number." Michael's response, "Oh!"

Then as I'm completing my transaction, at the top of his little lungs Michael started yelling, "Secret Number, Secret Number, Secret Number!" The cashier got a kick out of my toddler's little outburst. Lesson learned: Secrets are not sacred with two year olds.

Side note: Mom-he doesn't know the new baby's name, I don't even know it yet...so don't even try to get him to talk!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy Friday + a "That's What He Said" Update

Welp, friends, we have made it through another week. I made some kick butt spreadsheets, sent the great American work e-mail, and boy howdy did I drink a lot of coffee. That's just how I roll, especially in a week that the Mad Dog has decided to be a bad sleeper again.

This week also marked Shannon and my 4th anniversary. I'm not sure exactly, but I'm guessing that the odd taxonomy that equates years of marriage with raw materials would mark year 4 as burlap or perhaps dish towel. Year 4 has been a wonderful and industrious time:  a year chock full of the prosaic work of building a household, making career moves, and parenting a rambunctious child.

I remember that whirlwind day 4 years ago. It was hot as the surface of the sun for our ceremony on the banks of Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Fortunately, we had the shortest ceremony in recorded history probably since some caveman officiant grunted "You married." Shannon was a beautiful bride, and I look back wistfully on the pure joy of that day.

As we sweated under the arbor that day, we both said vows. There was the usual stuff about pestilence and destitution, and we added one of our own about promising to go on adventures. I think we've hit the mark, even if it is a bit of a stretch to count wading knee-deep through a particularly horrific diaper as an adventure..It still counts.Anyway, love ya and I look forward to another 11 or so more of these 4 year marriage chunks (at which point my coffee and wine ravaged body will implode).

Moving right along, here is a bonus Friday "That's What He Said." I've been fighting off the remnants of a cold, and the final stages involve coughing up some gunk. I had just finished a spirited hacking cough this morning when Mikey chimed in, "Oh, daddy, that's juicy. That's icky."  He's getting more like his mom every day. Thanks for reading! See you next time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Let the Indoctrination Begin



Now that Michael's verbal and reasoning skills are getting up to speed, it's time for us to start indoctrinating him to like the things that we like. Sure, we'll take care of the stuff like reading books, enjoying healthy/locally grown/in-season food, and exercising. Yada, yada, yada. The important thing will be securing his allegiance to our sports teams of choice, the Texas Longhorns and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Clearly we have excellent taste in football teams, as these two programs are near the top of the heap every year. With awesome tradition, great looking uniforms, and fantastic fan support, Michael is very fortunate that we are choosing these teams for him. Even better, our rivals, Auburn, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M, make such juicy targets that the jokes practically write themselves.

Methods of indoctrination:
Passive exposure:
We will provide Michael with a huge supply of licensed logo clothing from each of the schools. He started out in tiny burnt orange onesies and I'm sure he'll be wearing some sort of Longhorn backpack when he heads off to kindergarten in a few years.

We will take him to each of the college campuses and show him how awesome they are. He will be posed for photographs in front of famous campus landmarks to set the ole nostalgia hooks and create a historic connection to the school. I will be sure to emphasize that walking through the Auburn or A&M campuses would involve dodging smelly cows and trying to avoid their leavings. "If you go to A&M, you have to wear overalls to class every day. You wouldn't want that, would you?"

Mikey's nursery features an Alabama pennant and a gigantic Bevo mascot growth chart poster. The idea is that the constant exposure to these images will create a permanent imprint on his malleable little proto-brain.

Active Support:
We watch Alabama and Texas games together, and role model excellent cheering for our teams. Mikey will begin to associate Longhorn touchdowns or Alabama sacks with outbursts of family joy and a sense of loving well-being. We will teach him to signal and yell "touchdown!", and he will be praised effusively for doing so. Some of my earliest and best memories of time with my dear sweet dad are during early 80's Bama games. I remember his maniacal screaming and hooting. "HE'S GOT THE BALL..WOOOOOOO!", etc. I hope Mikey will have his own fond memories of watching Texas and Bama games with Shannon and me. Here's hoping he can block out the naughty words and the periodic offensive coordinator rage that can bubble up.

We are also working on cheers and slogans. "Michael, what does the elephant say?" "Rooollllllllll Tide-dah," he sometimes replies. "Michael, what does Bevo say?" "Bevo's drinking the milk!," replies Michael. The above-mentioned Bevo poster in his room was sponsored by a Dairy company, and Bevo is indeed enjoying a fine glass of milk in the photograph. It's not perfect, but we'll take it.

Overall, we are confident that this strategy will result in a well-adjusted young man who has his college football rooting interests in good working order.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sorry, Dad

We all collaborated to select your grandfather name. You've always been referred to as Grumpaw or Grampaw. Michael has heard the correct name hundreds of times.

Toddlers have a way of sidetracking the best laid plans. There's a quirk somewhere in Michael's developing verbal skills. Some consonant sounds are just difficult to correctly speak at the tender age of 22 months. I'm sure that your grandfather name will be corrected as soon as Mikey's little mouth develops a bit more. We'll continue to work on it. Don't worry. We will not rest until your grandfather name reflects the respect and dignity that you deserve, dad.

Until then, our hands are tied. Before we conclude here, please be aware that we make no guarantee as to the ultimate disposition of your grandfather name. Sometimes the name chooses you, not the other way around. This one might stick.

Once again, we're sorry to be at this point, and we hope that your grandfather name is resolved very soon, Dad, I mean, Pee-Paw.

Monday, August 30, 2010

That's What He Said (Recurring Feature)

I'm going to try a new feature here. That's What He Said will be quick-hitters documenting funny things that Mad Dawg has said recently.

1. Michael has just moments ago woken up from a nap. As he's rubbing his eyes, he looks at me and says, "Daddy, I need airplane." Really? That's what you need right after waking up?

2. Scene: Mikey sitting in his high chair eating lunch. Bella is barking loudly at some dog or cat outside. Michael, in a mean, growled yell:  "SHUT UP, BELLA. SHUT UP, BELLA!"  Oops, I guess mom and dad need to choose our dog admonishing words a little more carefully. Please cease barking at once, you scurrilous canine!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Daddy, I want fireworks

When Mikey was a wee little newborn, I always wondered just what he was thinking. What did he think when he came sliding into the world under the bright lights of the delivery room? What exactly was he crying about all those late nights when he was well-fed and dry-diapered? Did he have fantastical daydreams about our gigantic heads floating above him or our strong hands always picking him up and moving him around?
Now that he's a talking 22 month-old, the mystery is pretty much demystified. Two simple words describe what a baby is thinking most of the time:  I WANT.  A toddler is a rapid-fire infinite wanting machine. 95% of voluntarily uttered sentences (excluding stuff that we always try to make him say by repeating, like "Bye, bye everybody" or "I love you") involve the expression of a want. Most are pretty reasonable and prosaic. You know, stuff like pacifiers, water, Thomas Train, juice (sigh), and even "Daddy's coffee."

Some things point out to us just how new and magical the world is to Mikey.

Let us rewind several months ago to the 4th of July. Shannon and I met up with Carl, JJ, and Grandma to watch the Georgetown fireworks display. Eschewing the main party area out of fear of the hellish post-show traffic, we wove our way through some winding back roads. Eventually we found a perfect spot with clear sight lines that we guessed would be close to the action. It was close, indeed. 

The shells were bursting almost directly overhead, filling the entire sky above us with brilliant light. We didn't hear the shells exploding. We felt the reports deep in our guts, as if a giant Taco Bell burrito had come to life and was fighting to escape.

Needless to say, it was pretty freaking sweet. I can't remember a more spectacular fireworks show.

And there was little Mikey. He didn't cower or cry at the explosions. He just gaped, little eyes sparkling with his mouth hanging slightly open in astonishment. He had spent the last couple of hours playing frenetically with his beloved JJ. It was way past his bedtime, but he was not tired. This was too awesome to miss.

Fast forward a few months. We attended an outdoor play one evening in Zilker Park. Conditions were similar to the 4th of the July night. In other words, it was dark and hot as heck. This triggered a memory in Mikey's little brain.

"Daddy, I want fireworks."

It's touching that he thinks that I can just summon up the amazing fireworks he saw that night in July. That 15 minute show that cost thousands of dollars and took months to coordinate? Meh, just another little request for the toddler. Pacifier, milk, Thomas Train, go to playground, see spectacular fireworks display on demand. Gotta love him.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A True Modern Day Little Dude


Mikey, his Lightning McQueen Potty and the iPad

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ah, it's the little things..

Mikey went poopoo in the potty. Golly, I can't believe I just typed that disgusting and childish sentence, and I apologize for bringing the bathroom to this blog. This is apparently a monumental victory in the battle for potty training.

It means that the days of cartoon character underroos are upon us. Hint to all relatives who might be thinking about a 2nd birthday present. Mikey loves Thomas the Train, dinosaurs, and Lightning McQueen. Those might make nice underwear presents.

I remember the days when I was in themed underpants. My favorites were green and white Incredible Hulk ones. Remember the wonderful The Incredible Hulk television show? David Banner would get mad about something and suddenly transform into a giant green, uh, mad guy. All his clothes rip into shreds except his pants. It's like the old joke about the indestructible Black Box in an airplane. Why don't they make the whole plane out of the Black Box stuff? Why doesn't Hulk make his whole outfit out of the indestructible underwear cloth? If I were David Banner, I would buy all my clothes at Nordstrom and take advantage of their liberal return policy. "Uh, I'd like to make a return. I don't know what happened. I put them in the dryer, and they came out like this." [hands over a few tufts of fabric]

This wonderful development also means that the days of buying $40 jumbo packs of diapers at Costco will be soon behind us. No more stinking diaper genie (don't be fooled. Putting 'dirties' in there is one of the worst mistakes you can make. After a couple days, if you open the lid the smell is likely to knock you on your gluteus)

We'll soon have a little dude sitting on the john for his morning constitutional. I can picture him now, chilling out and reading his Winchell Cuts the Cheese book.

Good job, Mikey. We're proud of you, and we hope you keep up the good work! Why did I address this to you? You can't read, and you aren't that great at surfing the web.

Anyway, happy Friday to everyone. This rambling posting brought to you by sleep deprivation and 3 shots of espresso.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Newbie

We couldn't leave well enough alone, could we? Shannon and I find ourselves once again on that wonderful, miraculous journey to parenthood. Somewhere around Thanksgiving Day (the exact due date), we expect to welcome our new little addition to the family. Base on ultrasound confirmation of pre-natal baby junk, we know we are having another baby boy. Sorry Shannon. His nickname has quickly become Newbie. A shortening of the phrase "new baby", which we use frequently, this term is also fitting for a clean new person.

This whole pregnancy and pre-baby buildup couldn't be more different than the first time around. We spend so much time, energy, and attention on our precocious 21 month old that there is hardly any mindshare left to sit and ponder our future with the new little guy. Much is made of the difference between first and second children. here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

Pre-Natal Book Reading
  • 1st Baby: You run up hundreds of dollars of charges at Barnes and Noble acquiring every possible book about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. You read about What to Expect. You devour the Girlfriend's Guide. You debate all the way through naming books. You kind of enjoy the Jenny McCarthy belly laugh books. Basically, if it's out there, you've read it and pondered it at length.
  • 2nd Baby: Been there, done that, got the spit-up stained shirt. Besides, any attempt to read a book will be met by an attacking toddler shouting, "I wanna read Thomas Train book!"
Baby Showers and Congratulations:
  • 1st Baby: News of the pregnancy is met with universal glee. You attend a series of opulent baby showers where you receive generous gifts from distant relatives and random friends of your parents.
  • 2nd Baby:  News of the second baby is met with, "Oh cool. Congratulations. So, how about that hot weather?" There is no baby shower.
Nursery Preparation:
  • 1st Baby:  Months before the due date, the nursery is painted and fancy new furniture suite is assembled and ready to go.
  • 2nd Baby: Months before the due date, Newbie's nursery is still a play / entertainment room. We have some ideas about paint and some potential leads about some baby furniture
More to come on this soon. Happy Friday!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Thomas the Train

As evidenced by the appalling lack of content on this blog, I've suffered from some writer's block of late. Every time I try to sit down and write something, it comes back to the same themes:  changes and what Mikey has been doing lately. How many times do you want to read about what Mikey is saying or doing (wow, he asks for biteymans, i.e. vitamins, now. Stop the presses!)?

Feeling like I've been saying the same trivial stuff over and over again made it hard to come out here and write another posting. That said, I'm going to give another go at it. Just call me the Brett Favre of the blogosphere.

Now, onward with the blogging.

Let's just be frank here. Thomas the Train owns me right now. Some of you may be familiar Thomas already. You may be haunted by the creepy disembodied face pasted to the front of a blue steam locomotive engine. His ghoulish leer and his staring eyes, the eyes of a madman, might haunt you like they haunt me. Somehow this little anthropomorphic train is hero to millions of toddlers, ehem, young train engineers.

Mikey is absolutely obsessed, and we hear "I wanna watch Thomas Train!" about 15 times a day.

This leads us into our first parenting trap:  the high price of licensed toys from your kid's flavor of the month cartoon character. I always swore to myself that I wouldn't become "that parent" dropping mad cash to plaster cartoon characters all over my child. I guess I should have known better. Mikey loves Thomas, so away we go to Babies R Us or Target to browse. I stroll the aisles, gaping in disbelief at the prices. Hot Wheel-sized engines can hit $20 each. Simple buildings are generally $40 and up.
 
Take a gander at this set. Sure, it looks cool. But is it $400A worth of cool?  

Welcome to parenting school. We have many years of Star Wars, Cars, Toy Story, Lego, and whatever other cute, must-have characters that the marketers cook up to hook our toddler and siphon our cash. Wish us luck.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mad Dog Photos

We've been a little lazy lately with posting pictures so I thought I would throw in a few of our favorites over the last few months.

Mad Dog chillin' in his Grampy's Rat Rod.


Michael and Jonah having some deep conversation about something.


Michael, the poster child for the banana.


Mad Dog having fun at the splash park with his dad.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mikey Speech

Mikey is talking a lot lately. He mainly uses sentences, which clearly means that he will be an excellent orator when he is older. Recent utterances and common phrases from the little guy:

"I want that one" - General request, usually referring to food or some kind of toy

"Bella, No! Go away!" - Command used against a personal space invading Corgidor, looking for some food.

"Daddy, I got owwie." - Phrase accompanied by pointing at a bug bite of some kind.

"I wanna swing. I want outside. I wanna swing." - Request to go in the front yard to play on the infant swing. This is repeated ad nauseum.

"A-a-a-airplane!" - Mikey's response to most loud engine noises heard outside. This includes emphatic pointing skyward and looking around to see the plane in flight.

"Frain! (train)...Choo! Choo!" - The response to all train sightings, both real or imagined. Note that the "choo choo" utterance is made at a very high octave.

"I Booped!" - This utterance, usually accompanied by some knowing laughter, signifies the perfect time to hand the baby off to a significant other or grandparent.

Sorry for the weak blog post today. I guess it's better than nothing!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Rock Star

I'm a bad dude. Shannon has been asleep on the couch since about 6. Mikey and I played a long bout of throw the tennis ball, run around, and scream. We chased the dog around. We rolled a baseball on the floor. You know, guy stuff.

Next, Mikey got his bath and his standard lotion treatment. We then headed to his bedroom and popped in his lullaby c.d. We read though five books (Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See?, Searching for Aliens, Charlie the Ape, the Big Machines Picture Book, and, finally, What do Dinosaurs do at Bed Time?")

After all that, I completed a perfect transfer of the still awake baby into his crib. I said "night night, rubbed his head, then left the room. In the jungle the lion sleeps tonight. All without waking up Shannon. Someone get me a Pulitzer, a Wurlitzer, or some kind of prize.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Letter to the FCC

Dear Mr. Genachowski (Chairman, Federal Communications Commission):
I am writing you to request a radio policy change to protect parents from harm and emotional distress. I do believe in the concept of free speech and of the general right of radio stations to operate free of onerous censorship.There must, however, be limits.

On the morning of June 2nd, I dropped my infant son off at his daycare provider and began the drive to my place of employment. Everything was fine until KGSR (93.3 FM) of Austin callously broadcast a deeply troubling song. I had just left my son, so I was in a vulnerable frame of mind. Numerous dust particles apparently got into my eyeballs, as they became quite watery.

This song was "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin. This cautionary tale excorciates a dad for neglectful parenting. It implies that the neglectful dad will wither and die alone in an abusive nursing home with only a congealed cup of lukewarm tapioca pudding for comfort. He will name the pudding "Tappy" and carry on long conversations with it just to have some human interaction.If only he had played that game of catch with his son all those years ago!

This song should be outlawed during the morning commute! During this time, the roads are full of parents who have just handed over their children to caretakers. We must do this so we can work and pay our bills. We already feel guilty enough as we head to our cubicles without having some radio station stick a dagger in our hearts. I would love to play a game of catch with my son, but these spreadsheets aren't going to validate themselves!

"Cat's in the Cradle" has its place, and that place is not the morning commute. Think of the danger posed by thousands of distracted melancholy drivers who suddenly find dust and irritants in their eyes. Think of the risk to our economy if thousands of parents suddenly quit working to play catch and fingerpaint!

I beg your office to take action by banning the broadcast of this hurtful song between 7 and 9 a.m. Thank you for your understanding.

Regards,

Chris Sieber

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bathtime

The evening started off peacefully. I ran a warm bath for the little guy, just like I do every night. It cleans the caked on applesauce and gets him calmed down for bedtime. This is an enjoyable ritual, and Mikey plays, splashes, and sings with great aplomb.

It is a fact that an undiapered baby poses risk to life and property. Even a novice caretaker knows to be aware of his surroundings and of the status and bearing of all baby orifices. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a surprise stream to the eye.

On this night, I let my guard down. I had no reason to believe that calamity would strike. After months of nightly baths, our routine is a finely tuned machine.

It might have been the warm and relaxing water that set events in motion. Perhaps the fiber-rich dinner of grapes, edamame, and cheerios helped things along. Either way, I was about to be subjected to another great parenting indignity.

I looked down at my book for a couple of moments (a riveting account of the D-Day invasion by Stephen Ambrose). When I looked back up at Michael, something was amiss.

My inner dialogue unfolded thusly: “What is that in his hand? Wait, there’s something in the water. No. It can’t be. Why! Oh the humanity! Oh the humanity! NooOOooOOoo!” This was not a drill. This was no Baby Ruth in the swimming pool. This was a Barf-Con 5 tactical emergency.

Recovery efforts began immediately to contain the toxic spill. Mikey got to take a big boy shower, and I had to clean up the ecological disaster in the bath tub. I don’t remember reading about this in any “What to Expect” guide book, and it certainly never came up at any baby shower.

This was the real stuff of parenting: confronting a shocking and disgusting situation while keeping the little one happy, safe, and clean. I won’t lie. There was some serious gagging going on, and I felt like giving up and just boarding over the bathtub forever. I pushed through and accomplished the mission.  I’m no hero. I was just doing my job.

Mikey emerged from his shower clean and a little confused. Despite all the excitement and revulsion I experienced, this was just another day at the office for him. He was sound asleep in his crib within 15 minutes.

The experience in photos:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Swagger Wagon

Happy Friday, everyone. Here's a video that's too good not to share. I'm a little sad that I'm now so easily amused and manipulated by 'parenting' advertisements. Madison Avenue knows what it is doing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Update on the stupid Cozy Coupe

I recently blogged about the Cozy Coupe, my mortal enemy of molded plastic.

If Michael didn't have a serious baby crush on his precious car, that thing would have been a smoldering slag pile ages ago. As it stands, the car is getting some heavy use, and Mikey's even figured out how to lift his feet up so that they don't get mangled by dragging in the undercarriage.

Sadly, his car drives like a full-size Dodge Ram van running on rims with a narcoleptic goat at the helm. It wobbles and swerves, and the wheels constantly rotate the wrong direction. The reason for this? I installed the wheel axles backward. And I can't get them out to fix it. Sorry, Mikey. You get a busted ride. Don't feel bad. My first car was a 1981 Isuzu I-mark with a top speed of 45 mph. This car broke down once in an automatic car wash. That was fun.

Making matters worse, Mikey was steering his car tonight when the steering wheel pulled right off in his hands. It was positively Yugo-esque. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to reinstall correctly, so the steering wheel pulls out at the least provocation.

During my failed repair, the wheel came out again, and little Mikey opined, "You broke it." I didn't even know he knew those words, and I didn't appreciate the accusation.

Just another day in the life of mediocre handyman dad. I just can't wait for Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Theory on Mad Dog's Health

Yesterday was an extremely typical day for the Sieber household.

We got word from daycare that Mikey was showing exceptional aptitude at coughing and that he appeared to be sick. By that evening, the dude was lethargic and couch-bound (common behavior for me but not him). Unsurprisingly, his body temperature ran up to 102.2 F, and he started coughing more and more frequently.

Here we go again.

The night was a long and exhausting blur. Our delirious baby spent the evening coughing, tossing, turning, getting out of bed to play, crying, demanding food and water, angrily throwing the proffered food away, and just plain being sick.

When morning arrived, we implemented the all-too-familar shuffling of work schedules and duties to get him in to see the pediatrician. I don't know why we even bothered. The diagnosis, general upper respiratory cold or virus, was obviously what was coming, and there is no real treatment.

This latest illness comes on the heels of a sinus infection treated by 10 days of disgusting antibiotics. That was following a nearly continuous stream of ear infections, colds, coughs, and flus.

Our child is sick so often that I have developed a theory.

I believe that Michael has a reversed immune system. His natural baseline state is to suffer from a runny nose, a cough, and an ear infection. This baseline state occasionally veers into fever territory for brief intervals.

I theorize that every few weeks or so, Michael comes into contact with some antibodies or some other substance that affects him. He might accidentally inhale something or eat something that causes his body to react. In this anomalous state, the standard runny nose, cough, and ear troubles are temporarily disrupted. A bizarre, unnatural period sets in. It is like the illusory calm that lies in the eye of a hurricane. The symptoms are troubling and alien to us: a pronounced lack of cough, a disturbingly dry nose, ears that seem to feel comfortable, and a body temperature that stays around 98.6.

We are nervous and on edge during these times. Something is amiss. The cough, nose, and ear problems quickly return, and we return to life as we know it. All the data I have supports my theory, even as it contradicts the so-called educated opinions of the medical establishment. I do wonder if there are others out there like us who live with a child who has a reversed immune system..

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Books and Bedtime

In the frenetic early days of parenting, my biggest battles were against uncontrollable newborn crying fits and dirty and wet diapers. Our little crying, pooping bundle of joy sat still and gazed out at the world. Our job was to keep the baby alive, fed, safe, and clean. Education was an afterthought.

Parenting books advised us to constantly read books and teach our baby. This does not work well in the early months. It’s just too early. We would read some books, but the kiddo was just too young. The stories and pictures didn’t resonate, and he was more interested in clumsily grabbing and ripping at the pages.

That has all changed. We are in the midst of a of a golden age of learning and language development for Mikey. New sentences come bubbling forth, and Mikey is constantly pointing at objects and naming them. After months and months of frustrated crying, grunting, and squealing, Mikey is able to finally use his words to ask for objects. He spews forth a constant stream of sentences structured like “I want ______”

I want out
I want down
I want nana
I want shassy (pacifier
I want up
I want apple
I want apple sauce
I want dada
I want mama
I want cracker
I want baba (bottle)
I want wawa (water)
I want milk
I want a bass (bath
I want to sing (swing)
I want book.

Oh how he wants books! I’ve worried for years that this era of I-phones, internet, high-powered video games, and television shows would create generations of young people who just don’t read. I worried that Michael might become one of those sad souls with his head so buried in a Nintendo DS or so fixated on Fox News that he can’t be bothered to read. I imagined him churning out thousands of instant messages and facebook wall posts while his ability to write, spell, and structure coherent messages withered and died.

I wondered how we would instill in him a love for reading. How could we get him as excited about picking up a new book as he might be about going to the opening of the newest superhero blockbuster movie?

Based on our experiences over the last few months, my worries have been overblown. Mikey naturally gravitates toward books. He points at the pictures and names the animals he can recognize. He stretches his limbs, wipes his chin, and farts right along with Winchell. He roars when he sees a bear or a monster, and he “Toot toots” when he sees a train. When it’s bed time, we read book after book after book after book. I’m sure it’s just a stalling tactic against the inevitable advance of horrible, cruel bedtime…but I don’t care.

This brings up an unexpected problem. Most children’s books truly suck. The pictures are flat, colorless, and not interactive (ie nothing interesting to point at). The stories are completely inane, lacking in humor to keep a parent interested through thousands of readings. The few books that are spot on get so much reading that we poor bleary-eyed parents can recite all of them by memory.

I can tell you everything that Brown Bear, Brown Bear has seen. I can tell you all the different ways that Winchell cuts the cheese. I can recite the life story of Walter the Farting Dog by rote, all the things that the very Hungry Caterpillar had to eat, and all the various ways that Sam I am is pimping his green eggs and ham. I yearn for new material to memorize.

There are some nights, as the pile of books we have read through grows closer to the ceiling, that I get antsy. A little voice inside (possibly the last vestiges of my young, stupid, "free", bachelor former self) rebels against all the reading and pointing at different animals. It says, “This is taking forever. My neck is getting sore. I’ve got other stuff to do tonight. If I have to read about another talking animal learning a valuable life lesson, I am going to scream. How quickly can I get this guy in his bed?”

I hate to admit that this selfish side exists, but even the best parent doesn’t always want to be on the clock parenting. Just as soon as the selfish little voice arrives, it is washed away. I can feel the warm little body in my lap, radiating that indescribable baby smell with hints of fragrant shampoo and recently applied milk and honey lotion. He sits quiet and still, except when I ask him to point at the duck, the cat, the dog, or the moon. He is content, except when a book ends, and he briefly withdraws his pacifier to ask for another book.

I realize that this chore, this drudgery of plowing through books, is actually filling me with joy. I start to get that floating heart feeling of love for my little guy. I think most parents will recognize that feeling of love that it is both so heavy and light that it almost hurts.

We finally both grow tired, and the yawns come more and more frequently. It is finally time to put the little guy in his crib. While it is a relief to finally be nearing the end of the all-important “BED TIME ROUTINE”, my heart aches to be breaking away from this little ritual. Tempus fugit. Life is short, and time flies by. How long until he doesn’t want to sit in my lap reading books? How quickly will that day come that he heads out to college? How many more nights like this do we have left?

I reluctantly shut the door and hope that he settles down without crying for me. It’s after nine-o-clock. There’s a backlog of chores, and I really need to work out. It’s quiet, so he must be asleep. My melancholy dissipates quickly as I pick up my life again. Besides, there’s always tomorrow night. The books and Mikey will be there waiting for me.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Say it ain't so, Mad Dog

With the exception of some stories here about sleep, I've written overwhelmingly positively about the Mad Dog. Parents are wired this way. I am compelled to believe that my kid is dashingly handsome, physically gifted, well-mannered, way ahead on all his milestones, exceptionally sweet, and a saintly friend to all at his day care.

I concede that Mikey throws the occasional tantrum. Bystanders would be prudent to watch out for flying food. I have heard the sentence, "NO, MINE!" followed by ear-splitting screams more than once. Mad Dog is not afraid to flop on to the floor if he doesn't like the direction he is being herded in.

I'm OK with periodic tantrums. They make sense, even to me, a parent of the best kid in the world.

Imagine my surprise when I hear that is a bit of a tough-guy at day care. He's apparently served some hard time in the time-out lockup. I'm assured that what he has been doing is completely normal and common for a day-care setting where kids squabble over scarce resources like Lightning McQueen cars and such. Apparently, Mad Dog is not afraid to mix it up a bit when things start getting ugly.

Here are a few of Mad Dog's toddler fighting moves:
  • The Stiff-Arm, aka The Toddler Tumbler: Encroach into Mikey's personal space or try to snatch a toy, and you just might find yourself on the receiving end of little chubby baby arm delivering a vigorous shove. This move is ineffective against high-mass beings like adults. Applied to a poorly balanced 30 pound toddler, the results are typically "Down goes Frazier."
  • The Hair Pull:  Mikey's sometimes nemesis Omar is a specialist in this move, and Michael has been dabbling in it. Grab, pull, and listen to the lamentation of your enemy has he screams and cries while clutching his stricken scalp.
  • The Slap:  The slap is a mainstay in any classically trained toddler fighter's repertoire. It couldn't be simpler. Crank your hand back using the elbow as a force increasing fulcrum. Apply hand liberally to adversary. Prepare for a counter-attack, because it's about to get real up in this day care.
  • The Bludgeon:  A relatively innocuous toy becomes a deadly blunt force weapon in the right hands. It's all fun and games till someone takes a sippy cup upside the head.
Michael is a pretty big little guy, and he's not afraid to get in a scrape. That said, his cellmates are not exactly pushovers. They have a few tricks up their onesies:
  • The Talon:  A favorite of the females, a practitioner of The Talon grabs delicate, pliable baby skin in a vicious pinching attack. The resulting bruising and crying sends a stern message that says "I am woman, feel me pinch!"
  • The Take-Down aka The Deadliest Hug:  What initially appears to be a loving hug takes a sinister turn as the attacker throws the hugged victim down to the ground. The Slap or The Talon are often deployed on the now defenseless adversary.
  • The Bite:  The dreaded bite attack is the most lethal weapon that a toddler can deploy. It is the nuclear option that will end almost any altercation, leaving teeth marks, bruising, and a defeated enemy in its wake. Biters are not to be trifled with.
A day care is not for sissies. The whole situation is a powder keg, rife with potential territorial disputes, tense diplomatic relations, and unstable toddlers in the throes of the terrible twos. It would be nice to hear that Michael is a sweet angel and pacifist, but that's not the world that he lives in. A toddler's got to do what a toddler's got to do to defend his way of life. We'll just keep working with him to make sure that he applies force justly and only in self defense.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tiny Tikes, Inc.: You are on Notice

Given the malleable nature of a toddler's brain and a propensity to repeat anything said by a parent, cursing is generally not a a great parenting behavior. The 'oh $h__' daycare incident at daycare drove this point home for us in a big way.

Fine, I can cut back on the bad words. I've had some success until today. That's when the Cozy Coupe manufactured by the sadistic folks at Tiny Tikes entered my life.

If ever there were a device designed for the maximally efficient extraction of curse words from a parent, it is the Cozy Coupe. This big plastic car mesmerizes children, and it is in its 30th anniversary year. My heart shudders to think of the thousands of parents over the last thirty years who faced assembling this hellish contraption. How many tears of rage and how much misery has this one company created? When does it end?

One wouldn't think that a goofy molded plastic car would need 700 parts to piece together. One would be wrong. There are so many parts ranging from stupid little screws to incorrigible plastic bits that just wont snap together to downright evil axles that require the coordination of a brain surgeon who is also a carpenter to hammer into place. My blood pressure began to rise. Red mist entered the periphery of my vision. I think a vein on my head began to pulse ominously. Seeing Michael eagerly playing with the partially assembled chassis motivated me to press on.

Let's discuss the instructions, shall we? The Cozy Coupe is a classic toy, popular the world over. Well, isn't that just great for us! This means that our instructions feature no words, just infuriatingly vague pictograms that would be better suited as Rorshach tests. They actually wouldn't be great Rorshach tests because all the responses would probably be along the lines of "I see Tiny Tikes factory burning down, and I like it." or "I see this heap of dastardly plastic in my garage standing as a monument to follies of industrial engineering, never to be assembled". Every psychiatric diagnosis would be Tourett's syndrome or deep depression.

Then comes the process of piecing this thing together. I swear that each component part had a natural enmity for its supposed partner in assembly. Priscilla Presley and Michael Jackson made a better match than these plastic parts. As I tried to jam the front "A" pillar into place, the stream of profanity began to flow. I was like the dad in "Christmas Story." I was like that stupid oil rig in the Gulf. I just couldn't stop. When I wrenched my shoulder, accidentally bonked Mikey on the head, and then twisted my neck, I reached a crescendo.

I did what any nerd in this day and age would do: I Googled it. My first search was: "bastard tiny tikes piece of crap is impossible to assemble. About to go all Jack Nicholson in the Overlook Hotel." That is a slight exaggeration. My actual search was "cozy coupe impossible." This yielded a plethora of assenting opinions. Eventually, I found some gems that saved the day. It turns out that one must strategically apply cooking spray to the recalcitrant parts to get them actually pop into place. Son of a biscuit.

Armed with this knowledge and a can of Pam, I slogged through the rest of the assembly, cursing all the while. Shannon, I am truly sorry for my language and rage. I was provoked. And to Mikey's caretakers, I am truly sorry if he ends up repeating even 1% of what I said or if he calls you a "red plastic son of a motherless yak vomit pile of moldering cat yuck"
This man just tried to assemble a Cozy Coupe

So, to Tiny Tikes, Inc:  Shame on you for your sadistic design that pairs an irresistible toy with Sisyphusian assembly. Why do you hate parents? Why do you hate our freedom and puppies? What did we ever do to you aside from forking over 30 years of our hard-earned dollars? And to any potential parents: if you must acquire a Cozy Coupe for your progeny, do yourself a favor and request it already assembled or not at all. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The $150 Sock

This little bugger somehow worked itself into a tiny drain hole. It eventually lodged in the electric drain pump of our washing machine. This led to a very friendly appliance guy coming to kick it at our crib on Monday. That Hanes 2T toddler sock turned out to cost us about $150.

Here's the offending foot covering, still wet from its big adventure:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Sleep

Sleep is a commodity wasted on the young. Oh, sweet sleep! I remember long bouts with you through the lazy, school-free summers of my youth. I miss that feeling of nowhere to be and nothing to do. To wallow in pure laziness until only biological needs or lunchtime hunger forced me to finally roll out of bed. I remember scheduling my college courseload so that I could sleep till 10 a.m. every morning.

As I grew older and I started working, we only saw each other on the weekends. But those Saturday and Sunday mornings were like no time had passed at all. I slept effortlessly...heavily. I would awake refreshed and ready to go.

Things are different now.What happened to us? I hardly ever see you any more. I've got bags under my eyes. There are some gray hairs. I'm awake at 7 a.m. every single day.

I'm sorry that things haven't worked out. You see, we have this baby named Mad Dog. He's spectacular in almost every way. My heart is so full of love for him that I think I'm going to need an angioplasty just to scrape it all out some day. He's smart, fun, kind, and really cute.

Something happens to him when the sun goes down. An evil demon enters his body. This demon doesn't like you, sleep, very much. You make him very angry. Mad Dog rages through the night. He coughs and shrieks. He gets sweaty and bangs his little fists on the rail of his crib. He throws every toy, pacifier, stuffed animal, or blanket out his crib. Nothing will soothe his primal rage except to join his parents in bed.

We tried the no-cry sleep solution, the plenty of cry sleep solution, and wishful thinking. We consulted the Oracle at Delphi, our pediatrician, and the people at coffee shop. Finally, after my eye bags got charged an extra $25 to fly on our vacation, it was time to get serious and rebuild our relationship.

Out came the Ferber book, aka "Cry it Out" or "Just shut the door and go to sleep, that'll teach the little brat." We actually discovered there is some serious science behind Ferberizing, and it's not just about crying it out. We helped Mad Dog to learn how to fall asleep without us in the room coddling and rocking him. That way, when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he'll know what to do.

It was miraculous. On the second day, Mikey fell asleep within 5 minutes. He stayed asleep the whole night. Oh, sleep, I was so relieved to see you again. Last night, he slept the whole night again. I think we are back in business. Here's to making up for lost time, Sleep. I'm sorry we were ever apart.

P.S. If this celebratory blog posting jinxes us, and Michael regresses, I will be jumping off a bridge. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Moment Frozen in Time

We were on vacation in scenic and hideous Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This hill billy mecca that serves the dual role as gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and as a leading provider of themed miniature golf courses.

It is a time-honored tradition in these parts to put a personal stamp on your vacation, to capture these fleeting moments of travel bliss. You can find all manner of souveneirs to bring home and muck up your home. There is also a tradition of artisanal craftsman creating objects of beauty and utility with their bare hands. You have your broom makers, your wood carvers, your glass-blowers, and, best of all, your air brush t-shirt artists.

You can't mistake an airbrush t-shirt. You have the gentle lines, the ephemeral colors blending together into a harmonious hazey scene. The half-cursive script says, "Heck yeah, I'm on vacation. Pass me a Buddweiser." And, unlike the mullet, it is all party up front with nothing on the back.

An airbrush t-shirt captures the essence of the wearer.Whether you want to convey your political beliefs about medical "herb" usage, extoll the virtues of your southern heritage, or announce that you do indeed enjoy hunting the most dangerous game, deer, this is much more than a simple souveneir.

The airbrush t-shirt does not come cheaply. This is a commissioned piece of artwork from a trained expert. Hold on to your wallet because buying the plain shirt and compensating the artist for his supplies and work can exceed $25. You obviously wouldnt' want every item in your wardrobe to be an airbrush t-shirt, mainly due to the cost, but splurging every once in a while is a good idea.

That brings us back to our vacation. We were happy to commission little Mikey (known to some as Mad Dog) his very first precious, custom-made airbrush t-shirt. The shirt is spectacular, and you don't see too many like it around these parts. Most Austinites are content with their mass-produced Chinese factory apparrel. Pffft. Now, if I can just figure out how to wash the darn thing.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from AFV

America's Funniest Videos (AFV) one of the funniest programs on television. Most people don't appreciate the nuanced layers of humors here. I will admit the Bob Saget years were an abomination, but the show now rocks. I've seen almost every episode and every clip multiple times. I've learned valuable lessons about the fragility of life, the capriciousness of fate, and the depths of stupidity. Here area  few of them:

1. Never menace a bird with pseudo-Kung Fu moves. You will end up with an angry fowl chasing you until you are out of frame.

2. Beware of monkeys. It's all fun and games until someone gets his eyeglasses stolen or shirt all stretched out by a grabbing little paw.

3. Conventional wisdom says that walking under a ladder is bad luck. Phooey, I say. Climbing a ladder seems to be a very unfortunate undertaking. From what I can gather, you want to be the guy with the video camera.

4. If you are over thirty years old and over 225 pounds, you should never attempt to ride a child's bicycle, skateboard, or pogo stick. Recapturing lost youth and having fun are good things, but so are maintaining the structural integrity of one's body and not making medical insurance claims.

5. If you are a woman of a certain age who might be a few pounds from ideal:  please do not try to jump on a trampoline, swing on a rope swing, or jump across a narrow stream.

6. To any fathers out there. Wear a cup at all times while playing catch or wiffle ball with the kids.

7. Never, ever hold an infant up above your face. If you must, please make sure that your mouth is closed, because the spitup is coming.

8. If you are water skiing, pausing to smile and wave at the camera is a one-way ticket to Davey Jones' Locker. Just focus on keeping your balance.

9. Children will destroy everything that you love and hold dear. Those fine new kitchen cabinets? Food coloring hand prints. Matching furniture set? painted over.

10. If a wild animal gets into your home. Do not remain calm. Grab a video camera and get lots of shots of the people screaming maniacally. This baby could win you $10,000

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Hill Country

"There she blows!-there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!"
— Herman Melville (Moby Dick)



A two hour journey through rolling hills west of Austin had brought us to this moment. Looming ahead, shockingly bare and pink like a giant granite bosom, was Enchanted Rock.


After two hours packed into family hauler, our crew (Shannon, Mikey, friend Maura, and her kiddos) was definitely ready to enjoy the stunning spring day by hiking and goofing off at "The Rock." Mikey was particularly ready to go, and only a steady stream of Goldfish and pretzels kept the demon baby of doom from emerging.


Then we got our first sign that this might be an ill-fated spring break day trip. It was literally a sign announcing that the park was closed for two hours. What the velcro is this?


"And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he'd tell you to your face, man you're some kinda sinner"



-"Signs" by Five Man Electrical Band


I'm gonna go all Earth Father Hippy Lebowski here and say that there's something really wrong when you journey hours to commune with nature at a gigantic rock, and "The Man" turns you away at the gate because of arbitrary capacity rules.

We were not happy. The situation got even worse when we returned two hours later, only to be turned away yet again. DisEnchanted Rock has earned a spot on my lifetime ban list (the first geological formation to earn this honor), and I am in favor of chopping it up to make beautiful and easy to maintain countertops.

So, what do you do when life gives you lemons? That's right, you put them aside and go looking for some good fruit. Thus began our hopefully meandering Hill Country Consolation Prize Trip of Shame. We worked our way up through Llano and visited the bustling metropolises of Burnet and Liberty Hill.

 In the end, we had a great time together. We saw ancient cabins, raging rapids, picturesque bridges, scenic lake vistas, and a family of wild bald eagles. A day of disappointment and rage against a bathysphere formation transformed into a chilled out journey of friendship and mini-destinations.

Here are some pictures of the adventure:





















We are posing with super friendly bird watchers at the bald eagle nest site near Burnet, TX
This was a pretty cool bridge at Llano

Mikey and I are enjoying an extremely safe photo location

Friday, April 09, 2010

My Unambitious Bucket List

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying!
--excerpt from Robert Herrick's 17th century poem

I spend many hours plunked in front of my computer in lovely cubicle #RR3-G246. I fight with spreadsheets, get some neck pain, and maybe drink a cup of coffee or two. When I get home, I chase the Mad Dog around, do some cleaning, and cook dinner. After all this, I find it all too easy to be a lazy Jabba the Hut, sunken into the couch watching episodes of Lost or The Office.

The problem with this state of affairs is that life is short, and there's cool stuff out there that needs to be experienced. I constantly feel the tension between what is possible in my life, and what I'm actually out there living and accomplishing. How much potential am I wasting sitting on my ass? One of the cruelest cuts of all in growing older is the steady dimunation of one's potential and the inexorable cementing of who you have become. I'll never be a doctor, an astronaut, or President, and that's ok.

Allow me now to turn the wheel of the USS Emo and motor into brighter waters. Life is short. Everyone has wasted some potential and accumulated some regrets. But, it ain't over till it's over. Here we go again with the Dime Store Philosophy. Remember that Jack Nicholson movie about terminally ill old guys doing  cool stuff on their bucket list? It's actually not a bad idea!

I would like to tone down the television watching and attack my own version of the bucket list. I'm intentionally making mine pretty easy because I don't need another unachieved goal at this time, thank you very much. If I knock these out, then I'll move up to Bucket List 301: Intermediate Life Experiences (pre Req: Bucket List 101 - Elementary Adventures).

Without further ado, here they be:

1. Visit the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower. This thing was closed during my undergrad years, as a result of the bad mojo of the Tower shootings and a string of suicides. It's now open for business, and I've never been. Bucket Difficulty: 1.5 out of 10.

2. Visit the Hill Country Wineries: I've wanted to do this forever, but I've been too busy eating bon bons and wondering if the Lost smoke monster just might be a good guy. 

3. Go visit my friend Dan in California

4. Take Mikey to his first UT football game.

5. Write a book of some kind. Basically, I need to have a bunch of words on paper, and that paper should be bound in some fashion. I'll probably shoot for something as incredibly simple as a child's book for my boy. Then, I'll try something one step up from there: a sci-fi short story.

6. Visit my friends and coworkers in Slovakia, preferably on my employer's dime.

7. Become reasonably proficient in a foreign language. Spanish would be a good start. This one's been bothering me for a long time, but it ain't easy.

8. Have a daughter who will melt my heart and bring home potential suitors for me to menace.

9. Take my whole immediate family to Europe and reenact the Griswold European vacation. I kid, but a romp through Italy for some coffee, wine, pizza, and history would be fantastic.

10. Trek down to Lockhart and hit up the world famous barbeque joints. I life a short road trip away from these Food Network fixtures, and yet I've never been. Tsk. Tsk.

That's all I've got for now. Any readers have a bucket list?

Monday, March 22, 2010

What If.

Children are a miracle and a gift. This boring old worn out platitude doesn’t really resonate with me. Then I start thinking about the series of insane coincidences and miracles it has taken to get to this point. My apologies for the dime store amateur philosophizing here, but it boggles my mind to step back and consider just how unlikely my good fortune and wonderful life really is.

What if I had chosen to go to Cornell in New York instead of UT in Austin? Would I have ever met Shannon? Would the timing have been the same? What if I had taken that investment banking job in Dallas? I’m sure I would be wealthier, but at what cost?

What if my dad had never relocated from Alabama to Houston in the 1980’s? Where would I have ended up, and who would my friends have been?

What if my dad had never met my mom in the first place? What if the Sieber family line was wiped out in the Civil War, and ole Absalom Sieber didn’t make it through? What if Ogg Sieber, the cave man, had a lapse of attention one fine day, and a pterodactyl swooped down and pecked him to oblivion?

There are literally millions of tiny coincidences, bits of good fortune, and strange quirks of fate that have all combined and conspired to bring my little family together. Change even the smallest detail, and our unique and precocious little Mad Dawg is not here with us. Just think of the infinite number of never-conceived children who never get their day in the sun because someone didn’t meet the right person, someone fell asleep too early one night, or some cave man became a dino-snack? Everything is always hanging by a thread, and, yet, here we are.

What are the lessons in this?

First, playing ‘what if’ has completely changed. I can wonder about job choices or what I might have studied in college, but changing any of that would just ‘poof’ away my family, and it would never be worth it.

Secondly, I would advise anyone considering time travel to reconsider. Sure, I’ve thought about travelling back in time to warn Colt McCoy not to run that speed option play against Alabama, but the risk to the space time continuum is just too great. I recall the cautionary tale of the Back to the Future movies.

Finally, some might see the hand of divine intervention while others might see a nearly infinite combination of incredibly fortunate coincidences that conspired to give us our very lives and our precious loved ones. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I do know enough to appreciate and try to never take for granted what I have. It’s surprisingly easy when I walk in the door and hear that little voice scream “DADAA”.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The further adventures of....

This posting covers a potentially impolite topic. This is not a tale for the dinner table or the squeamish of heart. It is, however, a perfectly plausible occurrence in the grossed out world of the parent.

Although this happened almost a week ago, I can remember it like it was yesterday.

It was a dark and not very stormy night. Little Mikey was struggling against sleep, as is his way. Shannon nobly battled him with cuddles, with pacifiers, with blankets, and with songs. Nothing would work. This was one pissed off baby, and she was defeated under the relentless onslaught of toddler squirms and cries. Shannon summoned me off of the couch to take over.

Mikey greeted me with his usual, “ DA DAAAAaaa!” and held up his arms in the universal sign for "pick me up now." I should have noticed that his belly looked a little distended, like an overripe watermelon. I figured this would be a sleigh ride: a few minutes chilling on the couch and he would be sleeping like a baby. Little did I know the hell he would soon unleash.

It started with a cough. One cough became two, and two became four. We had a complete and total Cough-a-rama on our hands. Without warning, the cough changed into a sustained grunt. I could hear this perfectly because Mikey’s head was inches from mine.

Then came the deluge.

I was struck about the face and neck by a jet of projectile baby vomit. It entered the neck opening of my shirt. Yes, it was down my shirt. I shudder to recall the feeling.. A second aftershock struck, plastering the right side of my body and splattering onto the carpet.

I would like to think that I’m a mentally tough person, that in a crisis I would remain calm and move quickly. I was wrong. I was transfixed…in horror, surprise, and confusion. “What the Velcro do I do now?” A few seconds felt like an eternity until I was snapped back to reality by Mikey’s plaintive cries. I hustled into his room to start disaster recovery proceedings while Shannon went to work on the carpet. Several towels and a whole lot of gagging later, the baby was cleaned up and looking good in his diaper. Only then could I clean myself up. I was numb to the point that my gross out meter didn’t even register a blip.

Mikey must have been feeling better, because he started getting his groove on in the hall. A dancing baby clad only in a diaper can really lift one’s spirits after a crisis.

Every parent has these stories. Just ask any of our friends, who are probably weary of all the poop and bodily function stories. We parents are part of an elite fraternity. We bear the slings and arrows of outrageous toddler fortunes, from ear infections, to disgusting diapers, to sleep deprivation, to being vomited upon Exorcist-style. This is one club that I am overjoyed to be a part of, gross-outs and all.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Food Review: Justine's in Austin

I would like to share a food review I wrote at Yelp.com for Justine's, a French brasserie in east Austin. I like food, and I like writing, so Yelp competes for some of my mind share and time. Here's the review!

Justine's Review Link

We headed east on our quest for hyped and acclaimed French goodness. It was not so far east as Paris, but it was the kind of east that made us feel like we were on an adventure in a far-away land.

Our large party arrived for the early dinner seating. The little house featured expansive grounds, sparsely furnished and juxtaposed with the tiny dining room, claustrophobically furnished. In the light of day, the room was warm and airy and not yet crowded. I could feel a happy buzz in the air and in my head as a well-mixed Sidecar began to do its work.

What's not to like about classic French peasant food? French onion soup, duck leg, steak frites. Salt, butter, fat. Red wine. More salt and fat. The evening became a blur. I remember the conversation and mirth reaching a near roar as more and more people packed into the restaurant and bar. This was the place to be, and I expected to see one of those white-gloved Japanese subway attendants cramming more people through the front door.

The red wine flowed like water, aided by a generously cheap markup. Though we we're shoe-horned in to an impossibly small table, conversation was difficult above the rising din of wine-soaked bar-goers and diners. We found a way, and I remember laughing a lot. I remember being jealous of my brother's steak and and my wife's pork chop, but I had the last laugh. They neglected to order the French Onion soup, a gaudy soup that was almost too rich, but not.

I don't know how the waitstaff manages to actually service tables. The dining room is a like Bombay rush hour, and these waiters must be able to read lips to take orders. But they got it done for us with a minimum of fuss or errors.

I wouldn't say it was the best food I've ever eaten. My duck leg was perhaps a bit dry and over salted. Dishes were not complex or elegant. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Maybe it was the wine? Maybe it was the boisterous joyful ambience? Was it the good company? I don't know exactly, but it was good. And I'll be back.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Eyes of Me Premier on PBS

It sure is nice to see friends doing big things in the world. Last night, Shannon and I trekked down to the world-famous Austin City Limits studio to watch the national television broadcast of Keith Maitland and Patrick Floyd's documentary, The Eyes of Me.

First, it was just cool to be in Studio 6A. I've seen the Austin skyline set in the background of dozens of televised concerts, so I enjoyed seeing it in person. Secondly, it is so satisfying to see this film garnering national attention after the insane amount of toil, sweat, and tears that went into shooting, editing, and launching this movie.

More importantly, the Eyes of Me is actually really good. It is equal parts entertaining, touching, and enlightening. Watching these four blind teenagers navigate a year at the Texas School for the Blind helped me actually feel and gain some understanding about what it is like to live with a visual disability.

Some scenes are absolutely harrowing. It's scary as hell for me, a sighted person, to cross a bustling street like Guadalupe. Imagine stepping out into traffic with nothing but a cane to guide you as cars, trucks, and busses roar in your ears. This film beautifully captured this little piece of reality (among many others).

A 1 hour cut of the film aired last night nationwide on PBS, and there should be re-runs. I hope everyone out there takes a look.

The Eyes of Me PBS Website

Monday, March 01, 2010

Why wasn't I informed of this?! (PART 1)

After 16 months with the baby (aka Mad Dog, Mikey, or Michael), I never cease to be surprised at the new challenges and, ehem, adventures that crop up. I have to ask, why wasn't I informed of this???!! Some things that have surprised me (part I):

1. It’s not the diapers that get you. It’s the sleep.

2. That said, ever heard of rogue waves? Those are the massive, unexpectedly huge waves that suddenly crash into ocean-going ships. Even huge cruise ships suffer severe damage and risk of capsize. Sometimes a rogue diaper comes along, and it shakes me to the core. I wish I could figure out what food items cause rogue diapers, because they are so unspeakably terrible. Right now, scrambled eggs and edamame are on the watch list.

3. Babies in day care are sick so often that the well days that stand out as remarkable. I wish our pediatrician gave frequent flier miles, because we’d be getting a free toaster or stethoscope at this point.

4. Baby fevers are intense. They are hotter than adult fevers, and they last longer. On the plus side, a strategically placed feverish baby in the bed can help you with lower utility bills in the winter.

5. There’s no getting away from the booty thermometer. The other ones just don’t work right. This one is not fun for anyone involved. Disturbing the ‘well’ can activate geothermal forces, and all heck can break loose.

6. Keeping a toddler’s nose wiped is absurdly Sisyphusian. The crust is relentless. It’s like those lava flows in Hawaii that constantly harden and form more land. The flow never stops, and any attempts to wipe with Boogie Wipes are considered an act of war by the sovereign infant. It gets really bad when you see lint, dog hair, or a passing dragonfly caught and frozen into the amber-like slime.

7. Babies have a radar that unfailingly draws them toward the most dangerous or messy objects in any room. Left a pair of scissors sitting within reach? Guess who is going to find them? Half finished glass of ice water on the coffee table? Baby will be dumping it on his face in seconds. Extremely dangerous brick fireplace or wooden staircase? Those are the only places he wants to go, ever.

8. Toddlers plus downward sloping hills are a terrible combination. It’s like a runaway mine car, and the resulting crash is spectacularly sad. Babies don’t seem to understand the concept of speed and momentum. In accordance with #7, Michael is obsessed with hurtling down any hill he can find.

9. I’ve been sick more times in the last 16 months than the previous 10 years combined.

10. Shots suck. The nurse has you pin your baby down so that his cherubic thighs are laid out and ready for plunder. After 2-4 rapid-fire shots, you can see the look of shock appear as little cheeks flush to bright red. A huge intake of breath is followed the scream of a thousand banshees. His eyes are saying, “Why have you betrayed me?” At least he gets a scooby doo sticker afterward. My theory is that teenage rebelliousness and anger has its roots in deep-seated memories of fear and betrayal from those early shot appointments. Oh, and Jenny McCarthy just accused you of exposing your kid to Autism.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Helicopters and Scraped Faces

Helicopters are cool.

In “Apocalypse Now, in one of the most awesome scenes in cinema history, a group of Army helicopters roars over the Vietnamese countryside in a raid on a beach village. The lead copter blares “The Ride of the Valkryies” as the squadron rushes into battle. In the midst of the chaos, Robert Duval as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore growls, “I love smell of napalm in the morning.” With the explosions and the rousing score, this was manly stuff way beyond all the horrifying Old Spice commercials that haunt every bloomin’ channel on the television now. Don’t even get me started on the Russian gunships in Rambo and Red Dawn.

When I was a little kid, my friend Clint and I would ride our bicycles around the old Plano neighborhood. Clint, on his Huffy, assumed the role of uber-car KIT from Knight Rider. My Schwinn became the derivative helicopter version, Air Wolf. My handlebars bristled with gatling guns and ferocious missile launchers. It sounds silly now, but I had a great time pedaling around pretending to be a goofy sentient attack helicopter.

Fast forward about 25 years. There’s a new helicopter in town, and this one doesn’t have machine guns, napalm, or a rousing score. This helicopter prowls the edges of playscapes vigilantly watching for signs of danger. This helicopter doesn’t strafe enemy positions or drop commando teams. It prevents wood-chip face plants, the ingesting of disgusting things, and attacks from rowdy children. I have become Helicopter Parent, the least cool helicopter in the world.

I hover over Michael to help him play without getting hurt. His ambition outweighs his balance and judgment at 16 months old. Yet I always swore that I would not become one of those overprotective hovering parents. In the cozy world of theoretical parenting, my child would be free to play rough, take risks, trick or treat, walk to school by himself, and *gasp* maybe even ride a bicycle without wearing a full suit of Kevlar body armor! Now that the actual baby is here, it's really tough.

How do I not become the hovering helicopter after witnessing face-first falls into a piles of woodchips? The tears and the little bruised and scraped face can throw the best-laid plans of the theoretical parent right out the window. Maybe my new philosophy can be the unobtrusive just-in-case copter. Sort of like a news channel chopper.

If you see us on the playground, I’ll be the dad who is hovering nearby, but not too close. Little Mikey will climb his ladders, slide down slides, explore gravity, test limits, and, yes, occasionally fall. I’ll try to be near enough to mitigate the worst faceplants without suppressing the best of his experiences. This is why I’m getting some gray hair. This is why going to the Central Market playground, where I can get a glass of soothing red wine while he plays seems so essential. Now I understand so much. Mom and Dad, I am really sorry for all the emergency room visits when I was growing up.

This semi-cheesy coming of age parenting posting was brought to you by our sponsors Neosporin, Aetna Insurance, and Band-Aids.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What did you just say?

I think the 80/20 rule applies to baby speech. 20 percent of Mikey's words make up at least 80 percent of his talking. Those words are: nana, dada, bella, mama, yeah, and no. He generally just repeats the word he is thinking about until he has a fresh banana in his little mitts or some other desired outcome.

That's why what happened Saturday morning surprised us. I'm still not sure I heard what I did.

Chris Floyd stopped by in the morning so we could play a round of disc golf at Brushy Creek. While I was getting my discs and shoes together to leave, he was playing with Mikey. Chris asked Mikey, "Where's your ball?" The little guy immediately swiveled and headed over to the fireplace where his toys are stowed. He spotted his quarry, the goofy rubber ball with a puppy photo screened on to it.

"I wanna see the ball," said Mikey as he reached for it.

Jaws hit the floor. Was that what we thought it was? How could a complete sentence just come out like that? Surely it was a perfectly random confluence of basic sounds which, combined with our preconceived notions and context, sounded like a by golly sentence. 

He hasn't spoken like that since, but those of us in the room know what we heard. Our little Mikey is all grows up. I can't wait till he's telling me all about dinosaurs and asking crazy questions about the world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Awwww...


Just look at this little face; the rosy cheeks, the big eyes, the pure innocence.
Looks can be quite deceiving. Take a closer look.
The stare is piercing and unwavering. The eyes are unblinking. His jaw is set defiantly.
Mikey can string together a few words, typically covering his favorite subject matter topics: the dog or food. In this case, however, no words are necessary.
"So, you want me to sleep in my crib tonight, eh? I thought we had a good thing going with the little I sleep in the bed with you guys arrangement. I fall asleep quickly, and I don't kick you too much. I'll admit that I do go all Professional Wrestling on you when I wake up, but I'm just happy to see you."
"Let me warn you that I can make things very difficult should you try to keep me in my crib. Let's just say that you won't need a baby monitor to hear what I'll have to say. Did you know that anything above 85 decibels can cause damage to hearing? You ever heard a jumbo jet take off...in your house? The captain has turned on the seat belt light, because it's going to be a bumpy ride. In the unlikely event of a water landing, your pillow can be used as a flotation device. I'll be right there with you, floating on a pillow and screaming bloody murder till you give in."
"Got anything important planned for work tomorrow? It would be a shame if you had to wake up every hour, and the sleep deprivation began to affect your job performance. I hear there have been a lot of layoffs in this economy. What would happen to me if you lost your jobs, and we lost our house? Velcro sure can't survive on the streets. He would last 2 hours out there. All that over something so trivial as where I sleep."
"I see where you're coming from. You want to make a stand and be the parents. This ain't Cesar Milan, and no amount of whispering is going to make me sleep stay in that crib. I'm sure you'll see things reasonably and do the right thing."
"I'm glad we had this little imaginary talk. My, look at the time! Is it 7:45 already? Let's go take care of this diaper and get my moose pajamas on. I'll see you guys upstairs in the bed. The one without rails and bars. Right?"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy V-Day


It's V-day. Not the day of cheesy lizard alien invading dopplegangers. It's Valentine's Day,the day of love, chocolate, and hastily shopped-for greeting cards and plants. It's never been a huge day for me, as I guess I'm a pretty lousy romantic. I always envision big romantic ideals like a hot air balloon, champagne, and some delicious lobster. Unfortunately, my practical side kicks in. I rationalize that a balloon would be a horrifying waste of money and that going out to a fine dinner would be a total cluster on Valentine's Day. The day usually turns out a bit blah.

Now that the Mad Dog has arrived, our romantic dinner capabilities are seriously limited. We did have a recent 'fancy' dinner at Jasper's in the Domain (special thanks to Grampy and Nana). And, last night we enjoyed bleu cheese burgers with grilled garlic and rosemary potatoes. All was prepared on my shiny new Weber Spirit e-210 grill.

There we go again with the unromantic stuff.

Anyway, this posting is dedicated to my lovely wife Shannon. Today might have been a pretty regular day. Homeslice Pizza with the baby was pretty great, but it was no ride in a hot air balloon.So, I want to use this blog to share my love. Please read this next section in the baritone voice of Barry White, for the correct effect.

When we swore our vows on the shore of Ladybird Lake, we agreed to always keep our passion for adventures, and I think we've done great. Every day, whether it is reading Mikey's farting book, playing Super Mario together, or hosting a cooking challenge has been better than the last. I can't ever remember being happier. I love you!

How much you might ask? How about a series of similes?
Like Velcro loves cat food and like Bella loves Velcro's cat food and Meditterranean chicken pizza.
Like Keith Olbermann loves his thesaurus, and like Grampy loves Sarah Palin
Like Mikey loves his 'nanas and his Nana.

That literary device ran out of steam, so I'll just say I love my sweet wife! I'm looking forward to growing old with you, and I'm excited that we've already made so much progress at it so far :). Thanks for putting up with me and my fast walking, cranky, unreasonable ways :D In the next year, I promise to walk slower, not make us late to everything, and always hang your car keys on the hook.

Have a wonderful day, and sorry you didn't get lobster this year :). Love, Christopher

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Confession...

I’m a bad parent. I’m here to beg forgiveness. I would like to thank the Academy for this honor, my induction into the 2010 Parent Hall of Shame (hat tip to Sarah).

Every morning when we arrive at day care, Mikey’s hair is horrible. Oh, it's still cute, but he has bed-head. The back sticks up like a demented cockatoo or like David Beckham on a really bad day. He also has chunks of dried banana caked in his hair. Why he insists on rubbing banana slices on his head during breakfast, I’ll never know. Let’s just assume that banana slime nourishes his hair, making it shiny and full of body.

Then there’s the nose. Snot-nosed kid is not an insult, it’s a daily reality. I can barely get myself ready for work in the sluggish, groggy early weekday mornings. It’s still dark outside, and Mikey looks a-ok to my bleary eyes. Then we arrive at day care, and I truly see his face up close in the light of day. His nose is a horrifying dried green snotscape. It’s like a topographical map of the Hill country drawn in green. So, here I am with a banana-crusted, bedhead, booger-enameled pitiful child specimen. Please don’t turn me in to CPS.

It gets worse. One of my other responsibilities in the morning is putting clothes on this child. This is nearly impossible. Children grow so darn fast that at least 90% of the clothing we have is too small. The stuff that fits must still be boxed up somewhere, because I ain't seeing it. My objective is simply to find clothes that fit and get them on the baby as efficiently as possible. Details such as style and matching colors are secondary. I see the other kids at daycare (mainly the girls) wearing their cute-as-a-button matching outfits with everything from hair bow to frilly socks in perfect harmony. Then, Mikey comes strutting in looking like a nightmare version of a Bill Cosby sweater. Oh well. If there's ever an open casting call for extra street Ragamuffins for an Oliver Twist show, then we're golden.

On other mornings, Mikey gets to be Shoeless Joe Baby. I beg for forgiveness here. I also beg for forgiveness when I don’t bring him wearing a jacket on a cold day. See also the laundry passage above.

How could I possibly forget the animal hair? We have a gigantic tabby and a corgidor that can shed enough white hairs daily to reconstitute an entire new dog or maybe a Betty White. Pet hair is omnipresent. Shannon goes through several cases of those fly-paper lint rollers trying to stay presentable. No matter how diligent our efforts, there are some mornings that Mikey shows up at daycare looking like he’s wearing a Mohair sweater. Our banana-crusted, snot-nosed, mismatched, shoeless, jacketless little Dickensian street urchin baby also appears to live in a filthy animal barn.

Please forgive me. I promise to do better. I’m sure Mikey will be fine too, after a few years of therapy.