Tag Archives: parental guidance

Death Becomes Her

My daughter has become hung up on death, which is a common condition for people raised in Queens. It is not only the home to the Boulevard of Death, but it’s also the borough where you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone’s grave (just one more reason why you shouldn’t throw rocks around like that).

When she was still a tiny thing, I would often take her on strolls through a cemetery a block from our house. It was a quiet, shady, peaceful place in a neighborhood short on all those commodities. I’d push her around in her stroller up a steep hill, passing the graves off Civil War veterans, allegedly loving parents (no empirical evidence provided), and entreaties to the Great Hereafter in several dozen languages. At the cemetery’s highest point, you could see Manhattan flicker in the distance, a testament to all that mankind could accomplish, while we were surrounded by a reminder of where we all end up.

It could be this early exposure to headstones and such made her curious about The Grave. It could be she’s just inclined in a morbid direction; she already enjoys “scary” stuff and has a precociously completist fondness for Harry Potter. Or, perhaps she was marked sent scurrying in this direction by a sad scene we both witnessed nearly two years ago.

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The Hidden Shame of the Bouncy Castle

I have this love/hate thing going when it comes to Bouncy Castles. When I say “Bouncy Castles,” I’m referring to those inflatable cages that you often see at carnivals and street fairs, where kids take off their shoes and jump around like crazy inside. When I was a kid myself, I was simultaneously terrified and enthralled by them, but never set foot inside of one. Possibly because wherever we were, a bouncy castle cost extra dough, which we did not have at our disposal.

I recall going to a street fair in my grandparents’ neighborhood when I was maybe six years old, getting on line for the Bouncy Castle, then being turned away at the gate because I didn’t have the necessary tickets for admission. All I could do was watch the other kids bounce around inside like maniacs and envy their fun. Throughout my childhood, Bouncy Castles remained this distant, unattainable mystery, like the light across the bay at Daisy’s mansion, if it were made of reinforced rubber.

Now that I’m a dad, I often find myself at places that have Bouncy Castles accompanied by a child who desperately wants to play in them. More often than not, I’ll spring for a Bouncy Castle visit, while also anticipating horror. Because kids are always completely oblivious to the pain of others, but even more so in the confines of a Bouncy Castle. When my daughter goes to one of these things, I see her leap into the air, looking like she’s having more fun than anyone’s ever had in the history of time, and seeing that kind of pure childlike joy almost distracts from the fear that she will collide with another kid mid-air and break her neck.

Case in point: We went to a fair this weekend that I think was for wool? I remember lots of sheep and llamas trudging around, and ladies in waitress-y glasses with t-shirts that said KEEP CALM AND CARRY YARN. In any case, there was a kids’ section and this kids’ section had a bouncy castle. A little girl who was at least two years younger than my daughter hopped once, landed in a trench between bouncy chambers, and lay there like a turtle on its back. Meanwhile, my daughter bounced obliviously three centimeters to her right, while I screamed WATCH OUT FOR THE LITTLE GIRL! YOU’RE GOING TO CRUSH HER SKULL! Little girl’s parents nowhere to be found. Fun!

And then something caught my eye that I kind of wish hadn’t. This Bouncy Castle was done with a full castle motif. The walls were made to look vaguely like brick, the opening to get in had a curved archway, and the “ramparts” on each side were “guarded” by a pair of goofy looking knights. One of them had a decided “Lenny from Of Mice and Men” quality to him. But whoever painted this figure decided to strip him of his dignity even further.

Yup, full suit of armor apart from one very sensitive spot, a spot they made sure to paint the exact same color as his face, so we have to assume that this soldier is defending the castle commando style. Except not really, because they made the poor bastard Ken-doll smooth. Since he will never know the pleasures of the flesh, this eunuch has decided to vent his frustrations in the service of the king, beheading invaders and infidels with his sword, when all he really wants is a codpiece, so no one will have to know his secret shame.

Even more bizarre: I have to be the first person who’s ever noticed this. Because if even one panicky parent had, you know they would’ve screamed I CAN SEE HIS AREA! and this oversight would’ve been remedied in some fashion. Either they would’ve painted his junk silver to approximate the rest of his uniform, or they would’ve just taken the thing out of commission altogether. But no, judging from the style of the artwork, this thing has been in service at least since the mid-1970s, and NOT ONE PERSON thought Good Soldier Schweik need some goddamn pants until it caught my eye.

This is my curse: To notice weird/disturbing things that no one else does, then pay that sadness forward. I’m living in my own twisted remake of The Dead Zone.

Jim Henson’s Street Walkin’ Cheetah Babies

Last night, my daughter was very excited about the prospect of wolfing down some candy she’d been promised after dinner. (If you must know, it was a Kinder bar, a German confectionary whose creepy displays are ubiquitous in the Polish delis in our neighborhood.) The way she said “candy!” in an anxious cadence triggered something in my brain, and that something forced me to sing “Candy, candy, candy” a la the Iggy Pop tune of the same name that hit airwaves right around the time I started frequenting record stores as an almost-teen. I distinctly remember going to a local Strawberry’s and seeing the walls plastered with the Charles Burns artwork for Brick by Brick, and seeing that same artwork stay there for years.

Of course, I couldn’t sing “candy, candy, candy” just once. Thanks to several undiagnosed and serious mental illnesses, I felt compelled to sing it over and over, amusing no one except myself. Finally, The Kid asked me, “Is that a song?” By which she meant, Is that a real song or are you just singing it to drive us all insane?

Yes, I told her, it’s a real song by a guy named Iggy Pop. This name made her crack up, and I realized that to a 4 year old, “Iggy Pop” sounds like the dumbest, most hysterical name ever.

“Iggy Pop did songs?” she asked between the chuckles.

Yes, I told her. In fact, did she remember the commercial with the pirates in the boats? She did. I told her the song in that commercial was an Iggy Pop song, too. (Yes, I’m fully aware this is a Captain Morgan ad. It’s on TV all the time on every channel, guys. I’m pretty sure it’s in heavy rotation during A.N.T. Farm.)

“I like that song!” she said. “I like Iggy Pop. When I grow up, I want him to be my boyfriend.”

This last line has gone into heavy rotation lately. It’s been applied to virtually everyone she sees on TV and likes. Previous recipients of this honor include Daniel Radcliffe and Jose Reyes. She has eclectic tastes.

Normally, I would just laugh this off. But the idea of my daughter wanting to date Iggy Pop, no matter how hypothetical and far into the future, set off some primal Dad Warning in my brain. So I told her, You probably don’t want Iggy Pop to be your boyfriend. He’s old and kind of weird.

“Does he have good manners?” she asked. No, I said, he does not have good manners. He did lots of silly stuff on stage. I realize “silly” is not quite the adjective to describe someone who used to snap mic stands in half and carve up his chest with the broken ends. But silly is as close as we’re gonna get here.

Then I remembered that the quickest way to discourage someone from thinking they like Iggy Pop is to show them a picture of Iggy Pop. I have a book of glam/punk photos by Mick Rock, a large coffee table slab I snatched up for free when some philistine abandoned it at an old job. I pulled it down off a very high shelf and flipped to a pic of Iggy on stage, grasping the mic, shirtless and adorned with makeup. (Think the cover of Raw Power.)

That’s Iggy Pop, I said, and she immediately recoiled.

“Ew!” she said. “I don’t like Iggy Pop. Boys shouldn’t take off their shirts. Girls don’t wanna see that!”

Oh no, they definitely don’t, I said. I showed her a few more pics of Mr. Jim Osterberg, and she remained convinced that she didn’t like Iggy Pop. Crisis averted. Except, now she wanted to see the rest of this book, which contained many photos of things it’d probably be best a four-year-old not see. Like Lou Reed.

So I swapped the photo collection for another large, artsy book, this one on Tex Avery, and we spent the next several minutes looking at classic cells and sketches of cats getting their heads blown off.

A few minutes later, she said to me, unprompted, “You’re a good dad.”

Thank you, I said. Why am I a good dad?

“Because you’re not in jail.”

Can’t argue with that.

Kids Witness The Darnedest Political Actions

On Saturday, The Wife took The Kid into The City out for a good chunk of the day, which enabled me to get an enormous amount of work done on my various quixotic projects. I was very grateful for the chance to write uninterrupted, and I hope I can get these things that I’m working on into people’s hands before long. (/tease)

When they returned in the evening, The Kid wanted to tell me all about her adventures that day. First I was told that she had ridden on “seven boats!” over the course of her afternoon. In truth, it was the ferry to Governor’s Island and back. When it comes to a kid’s eyewitness account of something, you usually have to take whatever they say they saw and divide the stated quantity in half.

Then she told me she a “big parade for a contest!” What kind of contest? “I don’t know, but everybody was yelling and singing and waving signs and puppets!” Oh, that sounds like fun. “They were singing, ‘This is denockasee looks like!’”

I asked her to repeat this last part, and she did, but it was no clearer than the first time. She was repeating what she thought she heard–This is denockasee looks like–even if she didn’t understand it.

And then it hit me: She must have seen one of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, since the Governor’s Island ferry terminal isn’t too far from the center of the whole thing. I assume The Wife told her it was a protest, but since she had no idea what a protest is, her brain interpreted the word as contest. And what she heard people “singing” was the old standby chant This is what democracy looks like.

Sometimes I correct The Kid when she mispronounces words because I want her to the right way of doing things, and sometimes I don’t because her misinterpretation is so adorable and she’ll only be this little for so long. This clearly should have been one of the latter instances, and yet I corrected her anyway. That led to her asking me, “What’s democracy?”, a moment that would have been too precious and on the nose for a Family Circus cartoon. All I needed was little squiggles charting her course back from Manhattan with a ghost-grampa watching on.

Democracy, I said, was the kind of government we have, where we elect people to represent us, like senators, or the president.

If this were a TV show or a movie, she would have had some follow-up question that would expose the hypocrisy and helplessness that all of us feel when we resign ourselves to the harsh realities of adult life. Instead, she said, “Oh,” and asked to watch a Harry Potter movie.

Our Declaration of Independence from Horrible Questions

I’ve noticed a trend among a small sample size of me and my wife (roughly twice the number of people needed to warrant a New York Times trend piece). The trend is, people asking us if we’re going to have another kid and us looking at each other awkwardly wondering what to say.

I’ve noticed that the frequency with which people ask us this question has increased as our daughter gets older. My best guess is people used to see we had a baby and were like, “Oh no, you don’t want another baby right now because you have a baby,” but once our baby became a toddler and then a little kid people were like, “Hey, you don’t have a baby anymore. What’s the deal with not having a baby?”

Our respective families, for the most part, do not ask us this question. Our single/childless friends sure as hell don’t ask us this question. It only comes from other couples with kids, and not couples we know well, either. In fact, it seems the more casually I know these other couples, the more likely they are to ask if we’re planning to add to our brood. The chance of being asked the question decreases exponentially with the amount of time it’s been since I’ve met you.

As a human being with a modicum of self respect, one’s first inclination when getting asked this question is to respond, “None of your business, person I barely know.” And yet, we always demur and struggle awkwardly for a response, as if we’re the people who should feel awkward in this situation. “I knew we shouldn’t have gone to this Share Your Reproductive Plans Party–also known as Daring To Leave The House–with only one lousy kid. What a social faux pas!”

Legendary kid-punching football coach Woody Hayes once said of the forward pass, it has three potential outcomes, and two are bad. Similarly, the question “Are you going to have any more kids?” has a million potential answers. Only one of them is not fraught with awkwardness; i.e., “Yes, in fact my wife is pregnant right now.” Every single other answer is a minefield.

Maybe the couple wants another child but can’t for medical reasons. Maybe they can’t for financial reasons. (I know another kid would certainly break my bank, unless Congress finally legalizes organ selling, and I’m sure they will any day now.) Maybe they’re trying to have another child but have been unsuccessful and are feeling really demoralized about it. Maybe they have reason to think they might be pregnant and are stressed out–either in anticipation or fear. Maybe husband and wife have been tensely debating this issue for months and are at the brink of breakup over the strain this is putting on their marriage. Maybe their first kid has some disease or disorder that has them wondering if another kid from the same gene pool is a good idea. Maybe one of the parents has just received bad medical news that has made them rethink their plans.

I’m barely scratching the surface here. I’m sure you can imagine variations on any of these themes that range from uncomfortable to horrifying. The kind of details that you wouldn’t want to know about anyone, really. So why do people ask?

Here’s my theory: When you have a kid, you are assumed by certain other people to have no life. Namely, other parents–not all parents, but in general, only parents see you this way. The more kids these other parents have, the less of a life they assume you possess. If you have no life, ipso facto, there are no details about that non-life that can be kept secret. You are seen as a mere life-giver to your succubus spawn, because that is how they see themselves.

This type knows no class (in all senses of the word). It is found in overachieving Park Slope-ian helicopter moms or harried suburban types. When you talk to these kinds of parents, everything’s on the table. Did you breastfeed? How about immunizations? How difficult was your pregnancy, did you get an epidural, and would you like to hear my feelings on why you were horrible if you did? And those are questions women ask me, a dude whose role in the pregnancy was limited to DNA contribution and moral support. My wife has to sit through way, way worse.

I am officially declaring my independence from feeling bad about responding with anger and disgust to such questions. But my question to you is, What would be the best response, if said response is intended to shame the questioner? Please post your nominees in the comments.

Girly Stuff

Julie Klausner recently wrote a great piece begging grown women not to be so girly, which I agree with wholeheartedly. If I can get on a Grampa Simpson soapbox for a moment, I think nearly everyone in my generation and younger, regardless of gender, needs to grow the eff up a little bit. C’mon, guys. We can go a day without playing kickball. Let’s do this.

On top of that, there are some particularly thorny issues when it comes to the ladies acting like kids. Such infantalizing reintroduces an element that I thought was dead, the “what do I know? I’m just a girl!” idiocy, a sort of no-wave feminism. Not to mention the creeptacular implications of women acting girly-but-sexy, which we don’t even need to get into. Naturally, Katy Perry is at the forefront of this nonsense, a personality whose schizophrenic sexuality makes Britney Spears seem like Andrea Dworkin.

However, I wonder if, in the case of women, the Girly Thing is something of a reaction to not having much of a girlhood. Boys can remain boys for a long time. Entire industries rely on it. If men couldn’t act like kids–if they weren’t almost expected to–it’d be the end of Hooters, Dave & Busters, Judd Apatow’s filmography, and every light beer ad campaign of the last 20 years. I doubt there’s a female equivalent of the Mancation, at least as a business model. Dudes feel entitled to have breaks from family life–from adulthood, really. Women rarely have this option.

I hope all of this doesn’t come off as Mansplaining. Women don’t need any dude to detail their plight to the world, least of all me. But now that I’m the father of a girl, one that gets older every day (that’s how the aging process works, apparently), I’m constantly confronted by unfairness like this that I was only vaguely aware of before. Abstractly, I knew all of these things already. Now I get to see it act on my four-year-old, see little bits of kid-dom taken away from her day by day.

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The Kid Who Knew Too Much

This may be the saddest and most glorious thing I’ve ever seen.

I’ve just gotten off the L train at Grand Street. As I run through the turnstiles and begin climbing the stairs, I see a mother carrying her child 10 steps above me. What caught my eye was the way she was doing it. She was carrying this boy in his stroller. I’m sure you’ve seen moms in the subway do this, but not the same way this mom was doing it.

This mom was holding the stroller parallel to the ground, hard against her stomach. It was an umbrella style stroller, meaning it was relatively light. (As opposed to those huge baby carriages for newborns. Try lugging that thing on a subway some time.) Even so, the ease with which she scaled the stairs while holding this thing so tightly against her body was amazing. She had the grit and determination of The Mom Alone. I need to get out of this station so I can catch the bus, because if I miss the bus I will not get to X on time and I will be screwed.

But the real kicker was the kid. He looked to be three years old, maybe four at the oldest. His head stuck out from his mother’s side at a right angle, as if he’d been screwed into place. And the look on his face was not one of fear, as he probably should have had, or one of kiddish “whee!”-type excitement, as some kids might.

His expression was one of resignation. Not sad, just a look of guess we’re doing this now. A look far too world weary and wan for a three year old. It was chilling in some ways, and in others hilarious, almost admirable. A child who had no illusions about what to expect from this world, who had no illusions to shatter. He knew at any moment, he would be hoisted aloft, hovered two feet above the ground, placed flat against his mother’s stomach, perpendicular to her, and then finally placed on the pavement when back in the light of day.

Part of me wanted to catch up to them and offer help. But the mom was too fast and already at the surface before I could get close. And anyway, what kind of help could I really offer? Maybe this kid had already figured it all out.