Wednesday, August 17, 2016

He's (Always) on the Move

My day starts like most people who've got a couple little kids I'd bet.

The alarm goes off and I fight it for as long as possible before finally relenting, rolling out of bed and beginning my day. It usually starts the same way it ends, with a quick check on the boys.

Wake up time and eating time elicit similarly
happy responses.
I go to the New Little Guy's room because more often than not, I can hear that he's up. Most days he's sitting up in his crib just squeaking, squealing and chattering away giving notice that he's awake.

When I crack open his door, I'll observe him on his own for a moment or two then I'll make a noise to draw his attention.

Invariably, he'll turn his head and smile and instantaneously wash away my early morning malaise. After all, when a kid greets you like that, you've got to at least pretend to be chipper.

In short order, I'll retrieve the guy from his crib, he'll pat my back with his closed hand as if to say, "Let's go old man, I've got things to do."

In no time at all I am indeed a little more chipper, no need to pretend.

Next up is The Boy and this is more of a crap shoot.

Some mornings he too is wearing an ear-to-ear grin while others he'll pull the covers over his face and say to me, "Would you like to leave you alone now?"

First-person, second-person confusion notwithstanding, his message is pretty clear: "Dad, leave me alone."

Just as frequently he's smiling and quick to suggest we go downstairs and make breakfast.

After these exchanges the routine loosens. I'll often head back to my room with the little guy. I'll play with him on the bed for a bit before realizing far more time has passed than I'd thought.

Sometimes The Boy quietly reads a book as we
we get ready. Other times he dances on
 the couch with his gigantic zucchini. 
Then Mrs. Blackwell and I begin the mad dash getting ourselves and a combination of the boys ready for the day ahead.

Outfits must be assembled.

Coffee must be brewed.

Lunches must be made and, somewhere in there, I've got to take a shower, as does Mrs. Blackwell.

In the midst of the madness the boy will often do his own thing; he'll sit on mom and dad's bed and play with a book or magnetic letters and, while the world swirls about him, the New Little Guy decides that he too wants to take part.

His goals however are not so multi-pronged as his parents'.

In fact, his goal is singular: whenever mom and dad aren't looking, get to the stairs as quickly as possible.

He's nine months old and while he can climb stairs, he's not equipped to descend them. And while we've got a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs, for a variety of reasons, we don't have one at the top.

So, we just have to be aware because he's clearly taken it as a deeply personal challenge to get to the stairs. It's to the point that, if Mrs. Blackwell or I catch him before he's made it, he'll accelerate his pace to a full-sprint crawl in the hopes that he'll outpace us.

It's equal parts hilarious and terrifying to watch your baby's chubby little legs and arms hustle as fast as they can toward a flight of stairs.

Caught! Moments before his next foray into
the shower.  
To combat this, we've taken to putting the New Little Guy on the floor in our bedroom — with the door closed — when we're showering or otherwise busy. He can crawl around in there while we do our thing and he's never a half-second out of sight.

So there are no stairs to concern us when he's confined to the bedroom but, God bless the little guy, that doesn't mean there isn't a way for him to keep the proceedings interesting.

Because he likes to be near the action, he's taken to staying in the bathroom while I shower.

He'll tug on the shower curtain and prop himself up on the tub. It's actually a further convenience for me because he's that much closer to me and that much further from trouble, or so I thought.

Earlier this week he negated this sense of security.

As I stood in the shower struggling to make myself presentable for the outside world, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the warm water for just a moment. That moment was — apparently — far too long.

When opened my eyes, the shower curtain was no longer fluttering under the little guy's grip. Instead the inside clear curtain fluttered inward toward me.

My gaze fell immediately to the shower floor and just as it did, I saw the little guy gently slide down into the tub with his big, blonde head leading the way.

When all else fails an orange Slinky provides about 30
seconds of distraction before he's again
trying to crawl into the tub. 
There was no thud. It was more like someone had slipped a wet fish over the edge of the tub and let its weight guide it down and through.

His upper body carried him clear through to the other side of the tub and the slick surface provided momentum enough for him to glide and rotate smoothly onto his back. I'm pretty sure the water didn't so much as ripple around his chubby, cherubic form.

My first reaction was a mixture of reflexive fear and shock. And, if the look on the little guy's face was any indication, he was equally shocked himself.

In a moment his eyes shifted, narrowed and his mouth started to turn downward. It seemed to me that he knew he'd bitten off a bit more than he could chew and with his bed time shirt and a — thankfully — fresh diaper getting soaked, he was getting less comfortable by the moment.

I got his clothes off, cut my losses and decided to continue the shower with the little guy in tow. Naturally, he agreed with that decision.

So, there we were taking an impromptu shower together. Me getting later for work by the moment and he, once again, grinning ear to ear pleased as punch to be part of the action.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Apology to the New Little Guy

I don't know how much my youngest son weighs now.

I don't know how tall he is and I couldn't tell you how big his head is around. For the uninitiated, these are the standard measurements medical folks use to gauge a baby's growth.

But, from a parent's perspective, when each of those measurements tops the 95th percentile, what difference does it make?

"Future's so bright...."
This kid is big. Now, just a week shy of the nine-month mark since his birth, he is wearing clothes for 18-month olds.

Based on his early proclivities, he's going to need every bit of that heft and padding to endure the regular crashes, falls, tumbles, slips, smacks and trips he puts himself through.

His future is likely to be one filled with bumps and bruises punctuated with the occasional trip to the emergency room.

He crawls quickly. Often he's just trying to keep up with me, his mom or his big brother but other times he's off on his own mission. Lately the stairs have been his destination of choice.

On those occasions when he is following us, he lets us know if we're getting too far away from him. He'll squeal and cry a little to remind us that he's there and that, whatever we're doing, he wants in.

He's taken to putting anything that fits into his mouth, in his mouth. When this scenario is at its best, it could be food that fell under the kitchen table hours before. When it's worse, it could be a butter knife his forgetful father left on his high chair tray.

Which brings me to the greater point here. I owe my Little Guy a deep, heartfelt apology.

I apologize to him because he's had a tougher road to hoe than his older brother. When The Boy came along he was the first — for everything.

Mrs. Blackwell and I were learning on the fly and to flatten that learning curve we consistently erred on the side of excessive caution.
Both boy's are able to drive at the grocery store.
From birth, justice as fairness! 

Food. The temperature of bath water. The cleanliness of the floors he was crawling on. The age-appropriateness of his toys.

We watched him like a hawk. When he went mobile one of his parents was always, always, always hovering nearby.

We surveilled and examined his world to a granular, case-by-case, moment-to-moment degree for the first couple years of his life.

"Is your pillow soft enough?"

"Is the tag on your pajamas bothering you?

"Is your bottle warm enough?

"Did you need your special blanket, your Mickey Mouse doll and your other special blanket?"

He was a baby, he was fragile and vulnerable and so we did what many parents do, we grossly overcompensated.

Flash forward to Saturday morning when I lost sight of New Little Guy for who knows how long. That moment of terror hit me like an electric shock and I ran a panicked lap around my kitchen and family room before locating him.

He was perched on the third step of the stairway toward our second floor chewing on God only knows what.

And sometimes he finds trumpets. 
He smiled and let out a giggle when I found him, which made liberating the contents of his mouth easier (I don't know what it was but, yes, it was soggy and gross, thanks for asking).

I'm not saying that this type of thing never happened with The Boy. It's just that it undoubtedly happens more with the New Little Guy.

Admitting this is a tad painful because you want everything to be equal for your kids. You don't want one kid to have more than the other, or to have it easier. But, the sad fact is there is no "equal." That's an ideal that doesn't exist and, frankly, aspiring toward it is a fool's errand.

I say this as the middle of three boys and the son of parents who fought this battle regularly. The reality is that kids who come after the first born are bound to have it a bit tougher, at least early on.

I think it boils down to the fact that once you see one kid go through life and survive you automatically adjust. So when the next kid comes along, you know they'll be okay. They don't get that  same allowance of patience, of coddling and sheltering that their older sibling got.

Your parental reflexes change by the time the second kid comes along.

That doesn't mean you don't feel bad about this as a parent. To the contrary, I feel bad about it all the time and, as a second born myself, I'd like to think I'm attuned to it more than most. But, at this point, I'm ready to accept reality and try my best to bend it toward a better ideal.

Later in the same trip to the grocery store, some how some
way the first born ends up with the Ben & Jerry's.
 Justice as subjective fairness.
I'm not sure how that effort manifests itself but, at its core, I know that the motivation is to ensure that neither of my kids feels shortchanged, regardless of what I might think of my own parenting.

If this approach works, when they grow old and reflect on my parenting, they'll resent me equally.

Up to this point I've accepted responsibility for my role in the New Little Guy's rougher road. Now, I'll divest myself of some.

The fact is, this fellow likes adventure more than either of his parents are accustomed to.

My parents have never expressed to me that I was a particularly adventurous little boy. On the other side of the parenting equation, I'm convinced Mrs. Blackwell was born with an actuary's guide in her hand and consulted with it before making even the most mundane decisions.

For his part, The Boy is a fun little dude but, he's more of a button pusher than a boundary tester.

So, it's particularly ironic that we've got this little creature of extremes skittering around our home attempting to scale our stairs and roll off our beds and treating the mere notion of gravity with disdain. And it's damn near incomprehensible how he greets each and every close call with a grin and, often, a giggle.

He possesses many of his parents traits and, as we've all learned (the hard way on a few occasions), a few that we don't.

Yes, we're in the midst of another ride and while it's not our first, in many ways it feels like it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Perspective: A Cure for the Summertime Blues

A meme making its way across the internet a while back went like this: "So often in life what screws us up in life is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be."

While this is food for serious thought and self-exploration I'll apply it to a less lofty purpose here. Specifically, my begrudging acceptance of the reality that summer bears no resemblance to the picture in my head of how it's supposed to be.
The boys taking a break from their new "park."

And that picture began to take shape many, many, many, many years ago when I was a kid looking forward to the end of the school year.

As the calendar marched through spring into May and June, the anticipation of a summer outside the confines of the classroom was practically unbearable.

Weeks in advance I could barely restrain my glee. Finally, all that waiting culminated in one final bell marking the end of another school year.

What awaited the littler version of me once class was dismissed for the year was a teacher-free summer filled with long, sunny days spent riding bikes to far-off creeks, ponds and parks.

When I was lucky enough to scrounge up enough loose change, I'd make the occasional trip to the convenience store to buy a coke and chips. It was simple but it was oh so good.

This was what I knew summers to be and, based on that ideal, I knew exactly what they'd look like when I grew up.

This picture included long, sunny days spent lazing by a pool or slowly swaying in a hammock bathed in shade. The only cause "grown-up me" might have to get his blood pressure up during this time of year would be the realization that he'd have to mow the lawn — sometime.
Pictured: how it's supposed to be.

It's pretty much a real-life version of Homer Simpson and, of course, completely unrealistic.

That's because when you get older you realize a few things, chief amongst them, it's never a good idea to emulate Homer Simpson.

Another huge point is that there are very few jobs in which one gets to take an entire summer off.

So, sure, you could spend your time in a hammock, or by the pool but eventually bills have to be paid and unless you're lifeguard or a highly skilled hammock quality inspector, you're probably out of luck.

I say "probably" because I happen to be married to a woman who is in fact setting herself up for just such a life.

You see, one day in the not-too-distant future, Mrs. Blackwell will be Professor Mrs. Blackwell, living in the lap of time-rich luxury the confines of the academic calendar provides.

As for me and the billions of others like me, well, it's a different kind of reality. And, while it's not the picture I had in my head, it's not a bad one as it turns out.

Recent experiments in which Mrs. Blackwell and the kids have been away for a couple days while I'm off work have revealed that I'm not especially good at sitting around.

About half way through the second day I've usually eaten no fewer than three fast-food meals and I've done little that could be described as productive, including change my clothes.

So, no wonder the ideal summer doesn't look the same. If it did, I'd be the creepy dude riding his BMX down to the creek and fishing through couch cushions so I could go buy a Coke.

Out and about. Concert-going
at the footsteps of the Capitol.
Instead what my summer looks like is this:

We put in a playground for the kids so, now everyday when I get home, I'm outside in short order pushing my boys in their swings. (Yes, even though he's just eight months old the New Little Guy likes to swing. He is after all wearing clothes meant for 18-24 month olds, so he's sturdy enough to handle the baby swing.)

In general this picture is busier than the winter months and the thoughts of short, dark days and cold, cold nights grows realer by the day.

The warm weather — and the slower pace of life it brings with it — only lasts so long here in Whizzkaahhnsin so you'd better make the most of it.

Doing this means going to concerts outside, taking day trips to nearby lakes and occasionally (thank God) the odd brewery. Ultimately this picture includes looking for any excuse to get out of the house and go somewhere different, even if it's to buy donuts and take the kids to a park they've never seen before.

And with that "seize the moment" mentality in mind it's pertinent to mention that the New Little Guy just got his first teeth this week. He's been crawling for months. He's pulling himself up on furniture and now this.

For whatever reason he's in a hurry to grow. Between that, the weather and the long days, I've got all the incentive I need to make the most out of these next few weeks.