Thursday, September 18, 2014

Big Rigs & Little Kids

Last Saturday was gorgeous. There were no clouds. No humidity and the temperature hovered right around 70 degrees.

After a week of unseasonably cold weather and another long, frigid winter staring us right in the face, it was a day for the good people of Madison, Wisconsin to get outside and absorb the last shards of summer while they still can. 

The boy enjoyed the articulated steering apparatus on the front
end loader, while its 4-foot-tall, 12-foot wide reinforced steel
shovel really agreed with my inflated sense of power. 
It was also just the kind of day I might be inclined to waste by not getting outside. 

There's a lot of football on Saturdays and while I enjoy taking advantage of beautiful weather, my lazier instincts could just as easily take over and I could find myself on my recliner at 5 pm, the sun setting and me in the midst of my third football game of the day. 

I am able to luxuriate in these moments and embrace the slothfulness of my existence. But, nowadays, there is frequently a guilt attached to these Saturdays — even if I gain the presence to cram in some measure of productivity by the end of the day.

Add in the presence of the boy and his propensity to absorb, digest and frequently regurgitate everything he witnesses and I have reason to be self conscious. 

That's where Mrs. Blackwell comes in. She's frequently got a plan of some kind and, last Saturday was no different.

So it was that we found ourselves a 30-minute drive from our home climbing atop gigantic motorized machines at an event sponsored by the city.  

There were back hoes, buses, front loaders, fire trucks, armored police SWAT vehicles, ambulances, bulldozers and dump trucks. 

The event was called "Big Rigs" and the name fit. Some of these machines were huge, many required six or seven-step ladders just to climb into the driver's seat. There were also lawnmowers that only required one step; so a complete spectrum was on display. 

Like his dad, the boy wasn't in the best spirits when we arrived but it didn't take long for him to warm up. And like any of these events, kids were everywhere, as were waiting lines.  
OK, so if your house was burning down this might not be the
two people you'd want at the wheel of the responding fire
truck. But, they're pretty cute nonetheless.

It was a noisy, happy zoo, punctuated by the inevitable loud noises. One in particular stood out. 

Stop for a moment if you will and think of how loud a fire truck horn is. It's bowel-shaking, ear-rattling and life stopping. In its own way, a fire truck horn is a very real form of power. 

Now picture with me, if you will, that power being enthusiastically and frequently exercised by any four-year who escapes mom and dad for just long enough to get behind the wheel and reach the horn. 

One of the funnier moments we ran into was thanks to Mrs. Blackwell. While the three of us were patiently waiting our turn to put the boy in the driver's seat of a city bus, a girl just skipped in front of us and sat down in the seat.

She was probably eight to ten years old — old enough to know better — and Mrs. Blackwell wasn't having it. That girl got maybe 30 seconds behind the wheel before Mrs. Blackwell, with the help of another mom who was waiting in line, let her know, it was ovah!

My wife is an extremely happy person and her face conveys this. She smiles frequently and in general exudes a sense of gentile serenity. It's a bit alarming then to see that look twisted and contorted into one of thorough displeasure. 

But, for sheer comedy, it was fantastic to see the catalyst of this transformation was a rude little girl (and not her husband). 

So, we'll be going to Big Rigs again next year, assuming there isn't a great game on TV.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Picky or Just Persnickety

We've been fortunate in many ways with how the boy has grown and the traits he's acquired in his 2.5 years. 

He's mostly a happy fellow. He smiles a lot. He plays a lot. He likes to joke and, in general, be silly. He has a decent sense of adventure, as evidenced by his love of sitting in the laundry basket as I lift and twirl him around in it. 

I suppose I could sum up his disposition by simply saying he likes to laugh.

He enjoys napping too. But, like his old man, he's not too keen on the whole waking up process. And he tends to follow a pretty tight sleep schedule. 

And he's a great eater. He'll eat just about anything.....or at least he did up until just recently. 
The boy's ultimate standby food. Has its time past? 

Now that I've hopefully sufficiently acknowledged some of the boy's many virtues, I am free to point out an emerging flaw. One glaring, terrifying, praying-to-God-it-doesn't-come-to-fruition, flaw.

Without warning, the boy has introduced "fussy" into the list of adjectives that could occasionally be used to describe his eating habits. 

It used to be that, whatever we'd put in front of him he ate, with one exception — meat. Frankly, Mrs. Blackwell and I have always been cool with that. If the boy's built-in appetites don't include meat, we're not going to force it on him. 

I think we both wish we were vegetarians and, if pork wasn't so darn good, I would be.


So no meat was just fine, especially in light of the fact that he was eating everything else. 


And I mean everything. 

We've taken the boy out for Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Afghani, Indian and just about any other type of food we can find, and he's eaten it all. He didn't necessarily love it all but he gave everything a chance. 

Along the way, Mrs. Blackwell and I developed a few trusted standby foods that we could always count on when time was running tight and we just needed him to eat. 

Bananas, oatmeal and (the fail safe) cottage cheese, are some that come to mind.  

The boy too, has developed a few food-related habits of his own. When he doesn't want a food he's being offered he raises a hand in the direction of the offending dish, turns his head and says, "Esss. Essss." 

Lately he's been using this little hiss with greater frequency. 

There are occasions where it's clear he is simply asserting free will. He'll say "No," to a food and then seconds later he'll return to eat it. 

That's not too worrisome. But, when he just flat out doesn't want to eat what's in front of him, it's a problem. 

This is happening more often and we know it's not because he's unhungry. Rather it's because he doesn't like the menu. (To this end, he overplayed his hand recently by saying "Esss! Esss!" to cottage cheese and then 45 seconds later requesting a Kit Kat.)

He didn't get the Kit Kat and he did eventually eat the cottage cheese but, you'll forgive me if I feel the ground under my feet shifting and that, at any moment, the rug could be yanked out. 

What if the boy just starts saying "Esss! Esss!" as a matter of course?

In this scenario, I envision myself running frantically through our kitchen, looking for sweets to placate him, while the boy laughs maniacally, half-chewed pancakes and chocolate milk falling from his mouth. 

"More!" he'd bellow, from his throne/booster seat. "More of what I want!!!"

Before he was born, Mrs. Blackwell and I had this figured out: if the boy decided he didn't want to eat something, we'd use tough love. 

"Sorry buddy," we thought we'd say, "This is what's to eat. That's all there is." 
"This meal of greens and life-sustaining vitamins will not
suffice. Take it back from whence it came!"

This hard-ass logic of ours was underpinned by the idea that, eventually the the desire to eat would take over and the boy would come around.

I'm sure the parents of every picky eater who ever lived thought the same thing. My lovely niece spent the first few years of her life eating macaroni and cheese for every other meal. 

That said, I still hold to this and I believe that if there is but one meal in front of a child, he or she will eventually eat it. But is it worth it? What are you teaching the kid? What is the kid teaching you?

For that matter, it's not always as simple as putting food in front of your kid and out waiting them until they eat it. Every moment can't be a teaching moment; eventually the real world intrudes and reminds us that time waits for no one.

Transporting a hungry, cranky toddler around with you does not mesh with this reality. 

If nothing else, the boy's foray into pickiness has served as a reminder of how fortunate we've been and how tough it can be.

So, we might be on borrowed time or, we might not. And, if the switch is flipped, so be it. Until then, here's hoping. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What's Routine About Routine?

Not long after the boy was born, his daily routine slowly emerged. 

Two years and four months later that routine has evolved but the central elements remain anchored in place. 


He goes to sleep at about the same time, eats at about the same time, leaves the house at the same time and sees familiar people, every day. At this stage, it's clear that this routine is good for the boy — and Mrs. Blackwell and myself. 

It's interesting and appalling that so little routine has worked its way into how I manage my life. For purposes of this discussion, I'll focus on the morning routine as I think it's the most important; it sets the tone for the day. 

Establishing a morning routine has been a bitter, bitter struggle and one I've yet to win. 

As a kid I remember getting reprimanded by both my parents, my family members and my pedantic grandfather to always, always, always put things back where I got them from. 

And, now firmly in my mid-30's I finally, truly and wholly understand why. 
The President says he only owns blue or gray suits to save time by avoiding
unimportant decisions.  I get to wear jeans to work so, what's my excuse?

Complete command of one's personal effects is the central tenant of routine. One must know where items are placed in order to execute the tasks that comprise a routine. 

Because, when it's 6:27 in the morning and you need to get to work early, you don't need to be wondering — and wandering — in search of a hairbrush. It needs to be there. 

When you are under the impression that you need coffee every morning and you "need" cream in that coffee then you'd better know exactly where you've stashed the cream in the fridge. Ditto for your favorite coffee cup (all the other cups have lids that drip, or spill, or just don't feel right. Aaammigh right?).

Clothing is whole different matter and represents a slate of small decisions that can mount into a minutes-long ordeal that can mean the difference between a drive to work or a ferocious, teeth-gnashing, foul-mouthed race against any commuter or pedestrian misfortunate enough to pass between you and the door to your office. 

Oh and what about breakfast? What is there to eat? ( A quick glance at the clock.) Welp, too late for breakfast. Meh. I'm sure someone at work will have donuts; someone always does. (Wash those sweets down with a heaping helping of guilt and, TAH-DAH! you've got yourself a breakfast fit for chronic depression.) 

Look back at the clock. And, wait, dear God, what's that sound? Is the boy waking up? Couldn't possibly be. Better go check.  

Ninety precious seconds later, you've determined that your kid is still indeed asleep.

Here I'll digress to say that Mrs. Blackwell and I are mostly peas in a pod in that we're both disorganized. But there is one crucial difference. Somehow, some way, the disorganization doesn't bother her — ever. 

She does this primarily by not caring at all and, in some instances, I make it easier for her. For instance, she never brings a debit or credit card when we go out, because I do. And, even if she finds herself in a situation where she needs her purse and she doesn't have it (and I'm not there), she takes it in stride whereas I do not. 

Nope, in this case, what is water off Mrs. Blackwell's back is, for me, cause for self-flagellation and much introspection into all the ways I've derailed and led myself into this debit card-less  state. 

Back to the morning routine. With the clothing dilemma presumably now resolved and breakfast figured out, attention turns to the coffee. 
Taking a cue from the President, the boy saves time with clothes too —
by dressing like dad.

Perhaps the favorite cup has been located and some cream has too. Maybe it's not the cream you were looking for and who knows how old it is but, hey, why not take a chance? What's the worst that can happen with spoiled dairy? 

Now, just grab the car keys and your wallet and hit the road. Ahh, yes. Your keys and your wallet (AKA the crown jewels of every morning gone awry ever). If there are any two items more dependent upon routine I don't know what they are. 

Some might be inclined to put their cell phone into this exclusive category but, to my mind, it loses out because one can call a cell phone to help locate it. 


Lost car keys? Missing wallet? There's no calling them. And, most of the time, if you don't have them, you ain't going anywhere. Women have an advantage here if they keep their wallet in their purse. And, if that purse also has their cell phone in it? Forget about it. That's barely an inconvenience compared to the frantic, frenzied search for a lonely, old wallet. 

At this point, keys and wallet are the only two items I've managed to successfully work into my routine. I'm pretty good at getting coffee ready to be brewed the night before, though I occasionally find myself without a mug. Clothes are always a touch-and-go proposition. Ditto for meal preparation, housework, errands and the general maintenance of daily life. 

As for the boy? His routine remains stable. As for Mrs. Blackwell? Hers remains practically nonexistant. Routine. No routine. Either way, they remain completely calm and cool most mornings. Remind me again how routine makes life so much easier for everyone.