Friday, September 27, 2013

The Soundtrack of Your Life

A few mornings back I was doing what I often do for the boy, make breakfast. I'll slice up some banana, make scrambled eggs with cheese or maybe a waffle with apple butter. 

While I work on that, he prepares the coffee and we talk about politics, we're really developing a productive give and take — kidding. He's 17 months old folks. He just sits there and eats whatever I put in front of him. 

Mrs. Blackwell gets ready — and helps get the boy prepared for his day — while I make the breakfast. It's actually a calm way to ease into the day as the chatter of my son, or the sounds of his lips smacking, fills the air. For whatever reason on this particular morning I became a little wistful, thinking that these moments are few, far between and diminishing.

There are specifics that accompany this chain of thought but, suffice it to say, they amount to an overall sense of impending loss. My little guy will soon no longer be little and there is a great deal of dread attached to that reality. However, as we've discussed in this space before, there is no point dwelling on this. 

Growth is life. It's going to happen and stunting it is not a legal option — yet. (I'm working on that little detail though.)

Until those plans reach fruition I intend to follow Mrs. Blackwell's lead by being "glad that it happened, not sad because it's over."

However on this particular day, reality conspired to thwart these efforts and instead fuel my anguish. 

No sooner did I begin setting aside the sad thoughts than did the little guy start saying "Dah-dee. Dah-dee." 

Sure, he might have been sitting in his high chair, idly thumbing his way through a pile of strawberries while staring at the floor but I know, deep down, he was talking to me. 

It could have been anyone, but it was you Harry.
OK. So perhaps that's not a biggie. But, as I  continued shuffling about and getting ready he continued to be vocal and cute, making it tougher and tougher to leave.

Finally, as I approached the door and with Mrs. Blackwell at his side, he looked at me and said "Bye-bye. Dah-dee," as he walked toward me. This is movie stuff people. Movie stuff. 

And just like any good movie, it has to be accompanied by just the right song and, as I climbed in my car, it was there — in spades. 

Harry. Frickin. Chapin.

"And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man on the moon, when you comin' home Dad, I don't know when, but we'll get together then. You know we'll have a good time then."

It was so perfectly awful I had to laugh. It was sad. It was ironic and it was what mom and dads go through every time they walk out the door every day.  

This, is life. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Case for Quiet Time

There's enough built-in responsibility in being a parent that it's a wonder we find the motivation to look for more. But, God knows, we do.

Case and point: keeping your child occupied. Toddlers, we are so often reminded, need to be stimulated at all times. 

The malleable minds of our children must, must, must be consistently challenged and prodded. Toy chests should be overflowing with educational toys. Mentally stimulating pictures must fill educational books. Exchanges with mom and dad need to be fruitful in some long term, enduring fashion. In short, no moment shall ever be devoid of a clearly defined, developmentally oriented objective. 

In pursuing this impossible goal, we parents have attached gravity to every waking second of a baby's life.

And what should happen if we fail to conform with this new ideology? We can only imagine our child's future filled with bongs, lava lamps and a career that requires him or her to wear a hat made of tissue.

In speaking with my wife and some other parents it's painfully apparent to me that my feelings are shared by many. Now, we could take some time in this space to determine where this compulsion to keep our child occupied comes from but we know it's a predatory, morally bankrupt effort led by those demons at Fisher Price that's a separate conversation.

The fact is, we new parents are under the impression that we've got to keep our juniors and our little princesses occupied — lest they end up dim, uninterested drains on society. 

But, as it turns out, this "fact" might just be 100 percent wrong. 

A special thanks here to Mrs. Blackwell for forwarding the following article to me on my Facebook page and then nagging me to read it. 

In it, author Ashley Merryman, who co-wrote NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children makes the case for kids figuring it out and the value of alone time free from stimulation. 

The opposite of "quiet time."
Merryman suggests we let go of the pressure that "all kids must be occupied at all times with wall-to-wall distractions and interactions. In fact, the opposite is true: Imagination flourishes during those dull moments when you can't rush over to entertain your child. She cites research from the University of Oregon Imagination Lab, in Eugene, which shows that having imaginary friends when you're little predicts verbal skills in college. Besides, "a young brain literally can't handle a constant barrage of information, lights, and video," she adds. "It requires time for quiet. The reason babies sleep so much is because they need to process what they've learned."

(Did you read that? Even imaginary friends are a good thing! Take that, high school gym teacher.)

Of course there are lines here. You can't just leave you kid alone at all times. My son is barely talking, never mind ready for imaginary friends so he still needs his dad and mom to occasionally make silly noises and dance like idiots for him. 

But it's reassuring to be reminded that, for now, it's not just the adults who need to unplug, sit back and make the most of quiet time. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Duluth is for Lovers

Leaving your baby for a night is often a welcome relief. You plop him in your mom's lap, or your wife's mom's lap and you run for the door.

But you leave knowing that, in less than 24 hours, you'll be home. That said, if you're going to be gone longer than 24 hours, the situation changes — drastically. 

Suddenly a new set of worries creeps in, accompanied by the inevitable sense of guilt. What could be so important that you'd leave your beautiful baby? How selfish are you? Don't you love your child?

Such were the recriminations we were confronted with recently when Mrs. Blackwell and I took a six-hour drive north for three days in Duluth Minnesota for a friend's wedding. Leaving the house was difficult but, as it turns out, entirely necessary. 

Once you get a few miles down the road, home and all its responsibilities begin to fade into the rearview. In front, your destination grows larger and with it the exhilarating sense of anticipation that accompanies only the most exciting of journeys. (To recap, I am still talking about a trip to Duluth.)

Which brings me to my point. Only a married couple who hasn't been on vacation in four years, and now has a one-year old child could possibly view Duluth with such romantic eyes. 

The wife and I with one of Duluth's many romantic
freighters in the background. 
For while it has many attributes, Duluth is no vacation hotspot. Romance doesn't fill the air. You will find no salsa dancing bars, no hip enclaves where you need to know the doorman to gain entrance and no spots that serve as magnets to honeymooners. 

Nossir. This is Duluth. So, what you will find is one tough damn town sitting on the banks of one damn big, freezing-cold lake. And you'll hear the horns of 1,000-foot long freighters bellowing through the hills as they leave port. You'll see the vastness of Lake Superior and smell the scent of burning cigarettes because, if you live in Duluth, why not smoke?

But, a couple Saturdays ago, you'd have also found a man, his wife and a few good friends, standing high on a hill in one of Duluth's shadiest neighborhoods overlooking the wide industrial stretches of the city, while drinking cheap Minnesota beer and having the time of their lives.  

And so it is. Mrs. Blackwell and I have unwittingly adjusted our standards. Our first vacation was to Aruba and we've since travelled on shorter trips. And while I'm sure we've got a few more big vacations left in us, for now, Duluth — it turns out — will due.