Monday, March 30, 2015

Mickey, Minnie and Idiot Pedestrians

Mrs. Blackwell was out of town this weekend, leaving me to look after the boy, solo style.

We did a fine job of keeping each other busy and, along the way a few lessons were taught. To no one's surprise, it was Master Blackwell doing the teaching.

Friday night we enjoyed pizza, cherry cola and we watched Mickey Mouse and some college basketball; in general, we relaxed. When it comes to this important life lesson the boy will never find a finer mentor than his dear, old dad.

Given my propensity to lapse into a sedentary state if given the opportunity, I sought to make some plans for Saturday morning, lest I fall into the trap of watching six hours of pre-game coverage of yet more college basketball.

So it was my plan to take the boy to the children's museum the next morning and I told him so as I got him ready for bed Friday night.
The boy and his accomplices.

"You want to go to the museum tomorrow?"

"Yeah, we go to the museum tomorrow."

The next morning the boy woke up before me and, good little sport that he is, amused himself in his bed with his stuffed toys, an activity that is beginning to take on a life of its own.

The boy grabs his Mickey and Minnie dolls (some times Pluto makes the cut too) and proceeds to talk with them and make them talk to each other.

"Oh, Minnie, yo, sooo beauwtee-fo."

"Yes Mickey. That's OK. It's OK."

"Now, let's go."

It makes as little sense in the written form as it does to hear it firsthand. That said, the boy is turning into quite the narrator.

So I woke as he proceeded to weave some tale that involved Mickey, Minnie and verses from the song, "Cupid Shuffle." But, unlike most days, I determined to follow his lead.

It's not often I enjoy a quiet morning, so I took advantage of this rare opportunity and read the news from the comfort of my warm, snugly bed.

Right you are son. This is a great idea.

Once caught up on the news and reminded that humanity is holding on by the thinnest of threads, we went downstairs and enjoyed breakfast.

A few minutes after we'd eaten, it was time for another lesson.

I'd finished cleaning the dishes while the boy enjoyed his Mickey Mouse cartoons. Afterward, I sat down to turn on something I'd enjoy (say, college basketball pregame shows for instance).

My PJs had barely made contact with the recliner when the boy, piped up: "Come on daddy. We to to the museum."

He'd actually been listening when I told him about the museum the night before.

Nothing halts a descent into "relax mode" quicker than a reminder of one's paternal obligations. This is particularly so when that reminder comes from one's child.

Shared DNA notwithstanding, I'd made a commitment and, as the boy reminded me, it was time to deliver. So, we got ready and, as is the norm now, the boy wore a cool outfit while I looked like it was laundry day.

Naturally, I didn't realize this until I saw myself reflected in the glass doors of the museum.

I shutter to think of what others thought of me as I followed the boy around that place.

Drifter?

Strange uncle?

Undercover narcotics investigator?

There are hundreds of exhibits in the museum, yet we always
manage to find ourselves at a giant-sized
version of Atari's "Pong." 

I could have been any of these things and, no doubt, if it wasn't clear that I was with my son, I'd have been escorted from the premises.

So, maybe not a lesson so much as a reminder to have a look at yourself in the mirror before going outside — and always, always, bring a hat with you.

After the museum, we toured around the square in downtown Madison and landed in a toy shop where I spent $32 on things the boy neither wants, nor needs and will in all likelihood never remember having.

It made me feel good to buy it so, he's got a new T-shirt and triangle. On the way home, he returned the favor with yet another lesson.

While stopped at an intersection, I watched a pedestrian walk against the light. It wasn't a bright move, she slowed vehicle traffic, making it dangerous for cars to turn and instead forced them to slow down to accommodate her. To make it more obnoxious, she walked quite slowly.

A frustrated motorist waited, waited and waited some more for this woman to move before offering a dirty look and an exaggerated acceleration through his turn. In response, the pedestrian shot a look of total indignation as if she somehow should be allowed to walk against the light while others should make time for her.

At least, that's how I saw it.

In response to the final act from the pedestrian, I voiced my displeasure saying under my breath (or so I thought), "You're the one walking against the light, you idiot."

And, from the back seat I heard: "No daddy. Stop it!"

His words were loud and clear and, once I stopped being so surprised, I told the boy, "Good job. You're right pal."

That lady was no doubt being an idiot but I wasn't any better and the boy called me out on it.

As I drove home, I wondered how much longer until he starts sharing more of that knowledge with me, instead of Mickey and Minnie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Never Bargain with a Toddler

Before we became parents, Mrs. Blackwell and I agreed that, under no circumstances would our child become a picky eater.

The way we saw it, this was one trait we had the ability to control.

I've known parents who feed their kids mac and cheese, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because, well, that's all little Johnny or little Sally will eat.

The grand bargain. 
Even while the boy was eating baby food, Mrs. Blackwell and I resolved that if push ever came to shove and the boy decided he wasn't going to eat what we'd prepared him, well, he just wasn't going to eat.

If he dug in, Mrs. Blackwell and I would dig in deeper. We knew there'd be some foods he didn't like. After all, even the most adventurous eaters have some items that they just can't stomach.

I'll eat just about anything — except turnip.

I just can't do it.

It's just the worst food and my mom, God bless her, insists on making it every Thanksgiving and every Christmas dinner.

So, we'd allow the boy to have a food or two that he wouldn't eat. But, barring that, whatever was on the menu, was what he'd be eating.

Which brings us to Sunday night and a standoff that I could never have predicted and one that still has me shaking my head in disbelief.

Mrs. Blackwell has a habit of getting online and finding recipes to try out. She's found great ones like enchiladas, crusted chicken, stir fry and many others.

This past Sunday, she found what I thought could be a new favorite: muffin-sized chicken pot pies.

They're just little pot pies made with Pillsbury biscuits, freshly cut chicken breast, vegetables and cream of chicken soup. A cute presentation of one of the all-time best comfort foods.

Now, it's worth noting that the boy has consumed each of these ingredients on their own. He's had chicken and he's had cream of chicken soup, and he's had vegetables and he's had biscuits.

On Sunday, he wasn't having any of it. Not individually. Not together. Not in a house, with a mouse, in a box, with a fox, here, there or anywhere.

The meal began with the three of us seated at the dinner table, a hot meal in front of each of us.

Without so much as sniffing the meal in front of him, the boy summarily dismissed it. We've seen this before but usually he can be coaxed to try a few bites. This approach frequently results in him eating most of his meal.

Not this time.

He wasn't having any of it. And, when I say "any," I mean any. Not one, single bite.

He whined. He cried. He even slapped and shoved whenever we attempted to get a forkful of food close to his mouth.

At one point he mentioned that, in lieu of one, single, solitary bite of chicken pot pie, he'd prefer to have an Oreo cookie. Well, who wouldn't?

Sensing a moment to do what seemed to be the right thing, I suggested that, if the boy ate five bites of his dinner, he could have an Oreo.

Slowly but surely, my resolve crumbled and five bites of pot pie became one sad, measly bite in exchange for an entire Oreo.

Well, all this did was two things:

  • give the boy hope that, come hell or high water, he was getting an Oreo
  • prove conclusively to me what experts have said for years: never bargain with a toddler and most certainly never bargain with them over food. 

As this process proceeded, the boy's frustration turned to anger.

In at least one respect, the boy and Will Hunting
are quite similar. 
"No! I don't want pahtt pieee."

He'd wail for a bit, then quiet down before pleading "Wann, Oreo!" or "How bout, umm, Oreo?"

"No buddy," I'd reply. "Give me one bite and you can have an Oreo."

"NOOO!" Followed by more crying.

Strangely, he didn't make an effort to leave the table. He was committed to the fight and, by extension, so were we.

All told, this episode went on for an hour. At about the 45-minute mark I began to think of the scene from the film 'Good Will Hunting,' when the title character, in a demonstration of supreme obstinance, sits through an entire court-mandated session with a counselor without saying a word.

And, like Robin Williams from that movie, my response is the same: "Pretty impressive, actually."

About the only bit of credit we can give ourselves here is that we never gave the boy the Oreo. Ultimately, we had to take him to his bedroom for what Mrs. Blackwell has termed a "reset." It's basically a time-out but, he's got free reign of his room.

We leave him alone for a bit and, in short order, he stops crying, starts playing with a toy and returns to his normally congenial self.

So, we did this. He got a bath and, when he was done (about two hours after we initially sat down for dinner) he got some spaghetti.

I'm not sure what lesson he took from all of this, though I'm confident that he didn't come away feeling he "got his way."

And after the tears, wailing and bawling, I am equally confident in saying we didn't get ours.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Life Slows Down When You're Sick, Right?

Until recently the Blackwell clan has enjoyed a nice run of sustained good health.

When we first put the boy in Day Care, heretofore known as the world's Petri dish, our entire family was battling some form of illness for about a year. But, since then, our immune systems have been well-tuned machines, fighting off serious illness— aside from the occasional case of the sniffles.

Then, I came home from Florida earlier this month and, in short order, contracted food poisoning or stomach flu and, a week, later got the other flu.
If mom and dad are sick or not, the little blur slows down
for no one.

It was a one-two punch the likes of which I've never before suffered but, thankfully, life slowed down. Work at the office lightened up and the boy spontaneously learned how to prepare meals and do his own laundry.

Or, not.

You know this didn't happen because you too live on planet Earth where, when you fall ill, so does your wife. And, when you're so sick you're unable to make it to work, every client you have decides it's time to ramp up the output.

And last, but certainly, inevitably and invariably, not least, when you're sick, your child decides that then is the time to seek out new boundaries, and test the intractable bonds of gravity while simultaneously imperiling anything that might remotely be considered fragile.

In our living room this refers specifically to one big, beautiful red lamp made out of glass that sits on an end table next to our couch. Lately, junior has taken to sitting or standing on the table, next to the lamp, before and either jumping or somersaulting onto the cushy, comfy couch.

There's no shortage of places for the boy to play, but what fun would it be to jump around without the threat of breaking something that's irreplaceable?

And what's even more fun than that? How about watching your maladroit father, struggle to stop you.

The way the table is situated it's just out of my periphery if I'm watching television, thus offering the boy the perfect space to operate.

What could go wrong?
He tries to move quietly but, as any parent knows, the absence of sound is more alarming than sound itself. So I often see him before he makes his jump, but it's usually to no avail as the boy frequently giggles and begins his decent to the couch.

He gets a stern "no" but, after enough time passes, he goes for it again. And while I'm sure it's funny to watch me struggle out of my chair and attempt to hurdle the coffee table in a vain attempt to stop the boy, it's not so much fun to be part of the process — especially when you're sick.

So for a couple of days the boy might have had a wider berth than normal, if only because mom and dad physically couldn't do it.

Toddlers are always pushing, pushing and pushing some more.

Ultimately, they're just waiting for the moment that parents let their guard down or are weakened. In this respect, having toddler is like having an exotic pet. Sure it's cool to have a puma and it might really like you but turn away for a moment and suddenly your back is missing its skin.

It's an exercise in constant containment and you better have the energy to be up to the task because they always do.