Friday, July 25, 2014

Relentless Ridicule — That's What Friends Are For

In about two weeks I’ll be reuniting with some old friends. We’ll retreat to a cabin on a lake in the middle of nowhere, drink beer and in general be boring men recounting glory days that never existed while pretending we aren’t tired by 10 pm.

I’ve lived away from my childhood home for about ten years now so meeting up with old friends is always special and if we see each other every two years, I’m fortunate.
While there might be some more checkered incidents,
most of my youth is summed up here.

Reconnecting with people who’ve known you since you were a little kid playing road hockey in front of their house grounds you — quickly. For the most part, I’ve found that to be a good thing for me.

It’s also a good thing that this reunion is happening well away from the ears of my wife, my parents, even my son who wouldn’t understand and anyone else who has come to know me in recent years. While there are no skeletons in my closet (Mrs. Blackwell knows all of the mostly boring details of my life) there are those little anecdotes that even I might not remember.

And, when it comes to my history of embarrassing moments, two facts come to mind:

1) I can’t remember them all because, frankly, there’s just too many.

2) In an ironic twist, I surrounded myself with friends who have long, detailed memories and can in fact remember them all.

Fortunately, we’re an equal opportunity crew and everyone takes their share of abuse, their turn being the sole subject of ridicule if you will.

It’s been that way for years and it will continue to be so with us.
From left: me and two people who never let me forget
every mortifying, cringe-worthy moment of my youth.

I can only imagine what Master Blackwell’s life will look like when he’s my age. Never mind what the world will look like. Who knows? Miami could be under two feet of water and our phones could be driving our cars. We can’t be sure. 

I do however, feel safe predicting that good friends will still be in fashion and, if Mrs. Blackwell and I do our jobs, the boy will have a few buddies who’ve known him long enough to remember things about him even he’s forgotten — or wishes he could.

Having a group of friends who, no matter how long they’ve gone without seeing each other, can pick up where they left off is special and the older I get the more I see just how special.

One day when he’s older maybe I’ll bring my son with me on one of these trips so that he can learn firsthand that his father isn’t the sophisticated, cool cat he knows him to be.

I’m sure it will come as a shock to hear stories of his father being anything but cool and far from sophisticated and I know there’s a group of guys more than willing to fill him in. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Dinner Wars — Vol. I

Through his first two years and two-plus months on this planet, we've been fortunate that Master Blackwell has proven to be a great eater.

By "great eater" I mean only that the child eats whatever is put in front of him. 

The boy, preening after winning his
first dinnertime battle.

Ideally that definition would be broadened to include that the boy doesn't end up with his meal smeared to his face like some sort of deranged disguise. Ideally it would also mean that he didn't slop large chunks of food onto his clean outfits and the floor surrounding his chair. 

Yes, "ideally" that would be the standard of a "great eater" but, if he's anything like his father, that ideal isn't likely to be achieved until sometime after he turns 20. 

So, we apply the general standard of a great eater and, in all candor, that'll suffice. (Watching the kid eat sloppily is one of those good messes and frequently it means a cute photo op.) For now, the convenience of having a kid who eats what's put in front of him can't be overstated.

There's only so much time in a day. Devoting 30, 40, 50 minutes at a pop to cater to the breezy whims of a child's changing tastes doesn't work for most folks, Mrs. Blackwell and myself included. 

I've watched some parents struggle to find meals that their kid will eat. Having a picky eater is tough. What does a parent do to counter a kid who refuses to eat the food put in front of them? 

That's a question we've not been forced to answer — until recently. 

Yes, it appears our good fortune might be running out. Three evenings ago, Mrs. Blackwell made the boy a scrumptious meal that included baked chicken breast, sweet potato, broccoli and baked beans.

Like most of the boy's meals, it was served warm and with a heaping helping of his mother's fawning on the side. It was disconcerting then to see the boy deviate from the usual script. Instead of enthusiastically gobbling up the food in front of him, he shook his head no.

His mother's polite prodding (issued in a playful, baby-friendly voice) was met with stony, steel-like resolve in the negative. 

"You want some sweet potato?" Mrs. Blackwell asked, in a voice dripping with honey. 

"Nooouh," the boy retorted, though the inflection of his voice made his "no" sound like a question. Through his second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth "no" it became clear there was no question. 

The boy was not eating this food. 

We knew he'd eaten a fair amount for lunch, so it wasn't as if this was the meal that would tip the scales toward him being malnourished. It was nonetheless a disturbing development. 

Now, I know there are a few of you out there (guys mostly) who are thinking, "So what? Let him miss a meal and teach him a lesson."

I know that, because that's what I thought. I thought it before I became a parent and I was thinking it the other night too. 

"He'll eat the food that's put in front of him and that's that," I said to myself when this was just a hypothetical and again when it was reality. 

While less enthusiastic, Mrs. Blackwell agreed that we weren't going to cave into the boy by offering him a long list of culinary options until he decided on one he'd like. Not a chance that we were going to open that can of worms. 

Neither Mrs. Blackwell nor I wants to try to live a life where the boy's menu consists of one item called "whatever the hell he wants." 

So, we stayed resolute. The boy said "No" to dinner and off he went. We let him down from his seat at the kitchen table; he began playing with Grover and Elmo and didn't seem bothered by the lack of food. 
Skondra's. It sounds like a car company from the
Soviet Bloc but don't let that name fool you.
This folks, is damn fine ice cream. Just ask my son.

About two hours later, I had a bit of a sweet tooth and decided on having some ice cream. And wouldn't you know it, the boy decided he was hungry.

Being the astute fellow that I am, I had no idea what had happened until Mrs. Blackwell walked in the room where she found the boy sitting on my lap while I enthusiastically spooned vast amounts of butter pecan into his mouth. 

Upon taking in this scene, she quickly laid it bare for me. I wasn't just sharing a bowl of ice cream big enough to satisfy a couple of offensive linemen. No sir. I was in fact, rewarding the boy's dinner holdout and sending the message that refusal to eat a healthy meal will be met with swift justice — in the form of a bowl of sweets two hours thereafter. 

It's been a couple of nights since this incident and we've been fortunate in that my lack of focus seems to have been forgotten about. Or, he's just waiting until we've got a flavor of ice cream more to his liking. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tantrums and the Technology Option

As Master Blackwell continues to grow and develop opinions and tastes he's being forced to form the corresponding tools to see that said opinions and tastes are met with the desired outcomes. 

For now, his ability to articulate that which he desires is lagging behind his emerging sense of what he does and doesn't want. 

In some cases he has developed workarounds that hit the mark for him.
Pictured: the #2 result of a Google Image search for the word "tantrum."
It makes no sense but, it's a panda standing in front of a Commodore 64
and, if that doesn't make you chuckle, what will?

For instance, he might not know how to say "I want to listen to 'All You Need is Love' by the Beatles." So, instead he says, "Beeels?! Love, Love, Love! "

One of his favorite foods is cottage cheese but he can't say that yet so he says "Kaah-chee! Kaah-chee!" when he sees the fridge door open. 

While he can say the word "No," he just as frequently makes an "essss" sound instead. 

To be clear, if he doesn't want something he'll reply like an enthusiastic snake shaking his head from left to right. 

"Hey buddy! You want eggs?"

"Esss! Essss!"

Some of these workarounds perform perfectly. The boy gets what he's looking for and mom and dad deliver with minimal fuss. 

And, like any toddler, his response to not getting his way is measured, well-reasoned and steeped in logic. 

When he wants to listen to a song, but it's time for dinner, the boy calmly nods at his mother or myself and willingly accepts his music-less fate. 

Which is to say, he would do this if he wasn't so busy turning as red as a beet, or kicking his feet, or screaming "No! No! No!" or simply dropping to the ground and sobbing — loudly. More often than not it's some combination of these. 

So, it seems our perfectly reasonable little toddler isn't perfect and is far from reasonable.

This, as we are told by experts and numerous parenting books, is very normal behavior. So, all we can do is cope and attempt to not enable or reinforce any bad behavior.

For us, these strategies and tactics are completely determined by location. 

If we're at home, we've got an expanded playbook that includes anything from ignoring the tantrum to mockery. (Kidding, I don't mock the boy. That would be cruel, though I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind. Maybe he'd find the humor in it? Probably not.)

When we're out in public, the pool of available mitigation tactics shrinks considerably.

Let's say we're at Target and there's heavy foot traffic, which goes without saying because everyone — for reasons I don't understand but am nonetheless subject to — loves Target. 

I don't know if he knows how to play
this yet and, given how many people
profess to being addicted, I'd rather
not find out. 

Let's further say that we've got ten more minutes before we're ready to leave but the boy decides that's ten minutes too late and starts screaming bloody murder. 

The first fixer we employ is picking the boy up. This usually quiets him down and, frankly, we enjoy walking and holding him, though his 30 pounds can start to get heavy. 

If this doesn't work, we attempt to put technology on our side and out come the smart phones. Mrs. Blackwell's phone is equipped with kid friendly apps while mine has just about nothing he'd like on it, though he doesn't seem to agree as either phone will suffice.

Should all of these measures fail, we just pull the chute on the whole mission and get the hell out of Dodge. No one wants to hear a screaming, crying child when they're trying to absorb the majestic splendor of Target. 

So, one of us (usually Mrs. Blackwell) will retreat to the car with the crying and frequently flailing boy while the other wraps up the shopping solo. 

To be fair, this doesn't happen often. So far he's a mostly happy little boy and tantrums are infrequent. But when it's time to freak out, all bet's are off and Mrs. Blackwell and I are left shaking our heads from left to right muttering to ourselves, "Esss! Esss! Esss!"