Archive for January 30th, 2007

January 30, 2007

Sometimes you get little sleep…… with pre-dawn tag!

by Rod Smith

It’s been a tag free-for-all in my house tonight. Not the traditional run-hide-and-find kind but the keep-dad-awake version. One child goes off to sleep; the other turns his head a fraction off the pillow to say he is “starving.” I think immediately how little we know in a land of plenty about starvation, but decide not to enter dialogue with a 4-year-old about this important matter, especially when my bedside clock says 3:16 a.m. 

Next thing, I am downstairs. I know I shouldn’t be but here I am, semi-comatose, boiling the kettle, throwing a bag of instant oatmeal into a bowl while my mother’s words from a quarter-century ago about no child ever needing to go to bed hungry reverberate in my head. Oatmeal and a spoon in one hand, a filled baby’s bottle in the other, I reach the landing, and Mr. Starving is fast asleep. I can eat the oatmeal or watch it coagulate like wallpaper glue since starvation got the better of him. He is sleeping so deeply I could swing him by his feet and he’d not waken. Not that I want to swing him by his feet, even though we’ve been through this routine a time or two before. I should be able to detect that “Dad, I am starving” might just as well have read, “Tag. You’re it.” 

Now I lay me down to sleep and all I can see in the darkened room is the clock’s obnoxious florescent glow on the baby’s white bottle. It is ready and waiting for his next eruption of hunger. Have you noticed? Very young babies are never just a little hungry. It is never minor progression along a gentle continuum. It is never, “Oh. I think I will awaken now. I am feeling a little peckish.” Babies do not do “hungry” like that. Babies erupt when they are hungry. It is a full-volume announcement, a blast, an emergency directive in a train station or sports arena. It’s fire-alarm urgency satisfied only with a full gob of rubber and the slow release of Simulac With Iron. 

I feel myself drifting off to sleep when Rhino the dog, with full knowledge of my condition, bumps the side of my bed. He smiles, tail wagging, to announce his need of a bio-break an hour earlier than usual. The clock is self-righteously announcing that it is 3:46 a.m. I prepare myself to stand in the yard watching Rhino do his thing in order to prevent his taking the opportunity to climb through the hole in the back of the fence, and visit a long list of neighborhood pals he befriended, when I have been more tired, less vigilant. 

Man and dog enter the house together. I am relieved no neighbors were out at this hour walking their dogs. I did not have to run for cover lest I be seen appearing on my lawn in boxer shorts. Rhino bounds up the stairs and I go to the crib’s edge knowing that any minute the baby will awaken. 

Nathanael is not stirring – not yet, anyway. So I tiptoe over the wooden floors, for the creaking has been known to awaken big brother, and ease myself into bed. I turn my head from the clock and its glib 4:06 a.m. and wonder what it is with the sixes tonight.

Grace has come and I will finally sleep. The baby, sensing the imminent presence of Mr. Sandman, reacts and now I am cuddling an infant who drinks deeply of the bottle while nestling against my chest. He searches for something in my eyes I hope he finds. At the very first burp, he has forgotten he’s hungry and drifted to sleep when big brother walks in, trailed by the dog. He asks, as he sees the baby asleep against my chest and climbs onto my lap, if we can have a “group hug.” 

As we hug, sleeping children draped over me like throw rugs, I thank God for women, two birth mothers, who in the great and heavenly game of tag, unselfishly and unreservedly declared me “it.”

January 30, 2007

The craziness and joy of bringing up children while flying solo….

by Rod Smith

If I were endowed with the power to award gold medals, mothers who stay at home with their young children day after day would be decorated for their bravery. Two days after the curtain closed on my son’s delightful Christmas pageant, and we took our children home for the holidays, I was already fried.

To be honest, it’s finally happened. I’ve gone over the top. Lost it. My entire identity has been dragged through the transforming challenge of sharing the holidays with a 3-year-old. Hook, line and sinker; nose ring; ball and chain — choose whichever metaphor gives you a picture of my being dragged hopelessly through scatterings of toys, buried under mounds of paper, lying on a bed of Legos, covered with dog hair, exhausted and muttering, “Oh where, Oh where has my adulthood gone. Oh where, Oh where can it be?”

These holidays, I’ve done everything I found ridiculous and amusing about other parents when I was a childless observer. For instance, I drove to four Walgreen drugstores covering a radius of about 20 miles from our home in search of a single $3 whoopee cushion, which, on delivery to my son’s grateful 4-year-old friend, burst immediately in their unified search of the ultimate whoop.

All the while, in an attempt to stretch my mind, I’ve been forming a list of the Most Ridiculous Things Adults Say to 3-year-olds. They include “Wait,” “Keep that on the table,” “Keep your shirt clean,” “Put the dog down,” “Lie still,” “Tomorrow,” “Where are your socks?” “Let me show you how to do that,” “Put the food in your mouth,” and “Don’t jump.”

Today, to illustrate just how far off the rails I have gone, I drove 9.5 miles for the sole purpose of picking up two, 2-inch plastic medieval men (one red, one blue) my son left at a Christmas party. Without them he will not launch the plastic bomb from his Lincoln Log castle to bomb the living room that has been perpetually bombed every day since the good reindeers delivered Santa to our rooftop.

Have you noticed that Legos, Lincoln Logs, jigsaw puzzles, Monopoly – the games and toys with lots and lots of pieces – require only the briefest little tug to open the box and you are knee-deep in a colorful mess of stuff? Toys with limited potential to be strewn afar, like Buzz Lightyear, are straddled into multiple packaging, twisted secure, limb by limb with wire, taped and screwed into box within box requiring at least a hammer, chisel and power saw to extricate them for play.

About music and videos: How many times can a 3-year-old watch Toy Story? There is no limit. How many times can he want to hear the Bananas in Pajamas sing about walking down the stairs? There is no limit. How many times can a 3-year-old want to jump off the dresser, onto the bed, onto the floor while shouting, “From here to infinity and beyond”? There is no limit.

I do have limits. There’s a limit to how much stuff I will pick up. This week, I have picked up stuff from morning to night. I pick up the same stuff every day, several times. I’ve packed and repacked drawers my son has, for no reason at all, unpacked.

Yesterday, I picked Legos out of the heating duct, the garbage disposal, the upstairs and downstairs toilets, the blender, the piano, the potted plants, the teapot, the dishwasher, the freezer and the VCR. As evidence of my personal growth, I can retrieve stuff using my bare hands out of toilets, sinks and sewers. These are places I could not even look in when I was a child without feeling squeamish. Now I go right ahead, put my hands in without holding my nose, turning my head or closing my eyes.

I’m holidayed out. I’m done. If my son’s preschool teacher wonders why I am so glad to see her, it’s because I have seen the slow process of my encroaching craziness. I have become irrational, unreasonable, overly emotional, irritable and illogical simply through the tiresome process of removing Legos, Logs and Lightyear from every imaginable, inconvenient place in our universe and I am ready to send my son back to school so I can build the castle, load its cannon with real fire power, aim it at Buzz, and the ridiculous singing, dancing bananas and be rid of them, once and for all.