About Last Weekend

Last weekend was a typical one for my family. My husband, son and I ran errands, cleaned our house, baked cookies, played with Legos, created masterpieces in finger paint, and did considerable amount of lounging in pajamas. There were baths, temper tantrums, goldfish crackers and Blue’s Clues. It was a weekend like any other; except for those moments when the world seeped in and we were reminded of the horrific events that transpired in Newtown, CT last Friday. Grief stealthily and repeatedly breached the suspended-reality of our weekend bliss, quickly and without warning. We temporarily forgot, because we had the luxury of forgetting, until some seemingly mundane moment would remind us of what another family had lost.

This was one facet of parenthood for which I was ill prepared: the profound, visceral way you hurt for those you’ve never met. Decades of cynicism left me stunned by the realization that knowing what it is to love a child permanently binds you to everyone who has ever known that feeling. You’re inextricably tied to all others who know that love, terrifying and beautiful in its intensity. It’s the kind of love that turns you into an exposed nerve, likely to collapse at any jolt the world delivers. After my son was born, I couldn’t watch the news for six months. The instinct to protect this tiny, helpless little person was so new, and so overwhelming, I simply could not acknowledge what I was up against. I had to close my eyes, cover my ears, and shut out all the cruelty and horror that exists in this world. I had to ignore everything I couldn’t control.

On Friday, there were 20 families who lost their children in one inconceivably horrible act of violence. Children whose parents held them as newborns and felt the same weight of responsibility as I. Children whose parents would have moved heaven and earth to make sure they never felt an ounce of sadness, or pain, or fear. The pain those families are feeling is a reminder of just how little control we have; that, as parents, our hearts can be ripped away from us in an instant. And you grieve, not only because it could happen to any of us, but because it happened to them.

As I sat awake writing this, my son woke up. For some reason, he refused to get back into his bed, so we curled up together on the floor of his room. As I held his hand, I thought about what it would be like to find out I’d never hold that hand again. That I’d never smell his hair, or kiss his cheek, or see him smile and crinkle his nose in that certain way he does when he just knows he’s said something really funny. I thought about those things until it felt as though the oxygen had been sucked out of my lungs, and all I could do was lie next to him and sob. My son is my air, and my heart breaks for all those families that will spend the rest of their lives trying to catch their breath.

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Beware the DBD

It’s summertime – time for BBQ’s, fireworks and all things aquatic!  In addition to sunburn, there is another potential danger lurking, just waiting for the opportunity to ruin your warm weather fun.  I’m referring, of course, to that most irritating and invasive of species, the Douchebag Dad.  There’s one in every lake, pool and pond;  running a little too fast, yelling a little too loud, and taking good-natured roughhousing to dickish new heights.

Who’s that blasting other people’s children in the face with a Super Soaker at point blank range?  Why it’s Douchebag Dad, of course!

A playful little toss into the air may be enough to delight your average toddler, but Douchebag Dad will launch that little sucker 30 feet in the air and shotgun a Coors Light before catching them.

Playful dunking or simulated drowning?  Tomato – tomahto!  Douchebag Dad will almost always make sure to let them up before the bubbles stop.

While there is no marking rendering the Douchebag Dad instantly identifiable, be on the lookout for wrap-around sunglasses and Looney Tunes-themed tattoos.  If you encounter a Douchebag Dad, do not provoke them.  They are not above administering a wedgie or an unwelcomed barrage of fart jokes to an unsuspecting adult.  If you are approached, it is advisable to play dead.  Or pretend to read a book – unless printed on a beer koozie, the written word acts as a natural repellent to the Douchebag Dad.  Much like the common mosquito, the Douchebag Dad is an unavoidable summer pest.  But armed with the proper education, we can greatly reduce their nuisance.  Look sharp, and stay safe out there!

Plywood Jungle

As I become increasingly familiar with the special brand of insanity that is toddler behavior, I try my best to abide by a “judge not, lest ye be…” attitude toward others’ parenting styles.  Most of the time.  Okay, some of the time.  Hey, I’m working on it, okay?!  I truly have no room to cast aspersions, given my own proclivity toward hovering like a neurotic basket case, desperate to shield my delicate little flower from anything with sharper edges than a down pillow.  However, there are situations where one simply cannot help but feel like you’re the only one who possesses any measure of sanity; the lone zoo keeper in a cage full of crap-flinging monkeys.  Case in point: the cross section of human behavior that is Ikea on a busy Sunday afternoon.  What is it about modular furniture at low, low prices that brings out the absolute worst in parental behavior?

Though I was there only 45 minutes, I witnessed scads of wayward tots using the sofa section as their own personal moon bounce, flogging each other with assorted bargain priced kitchen utensils, and scaling piles of shag rugs like sugared-up mountain goats.  When I passed the lighting section, I would not have been surprised to find unattended crawling babies gnawing through electrical cords like the Persian cat in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  In a stunning example of saving the best for last, the absolute horror of all horrors occurred when I was within spitting distance of the checkout lines.  As I weaved through crowds in the self-serve warehouse, I stopped short when an overloaded flatbed cart rolled by me.  Pushed by a frazzled looking mother, the contents of said cart included the following:  no less than ten flat pack furniture items, assorted lamps and throw pillows, three children under the age of five, and teetering on the very top of the pile was a car seat occupied by a dozing newborn.  Wait…what?!  What is Swedish for “Have you lost your fucking mind?  That’s a BABY!”  Doesn’t Ikea issue informative pictorial directions that caution against this?  Surely there must be a drawing explaining that you do not place infant seats atop precariously stacked boxes of furniture?  Or at very least an 800 number you can call if you aren’t sure.  At least chuck him in the ball pit, woman!  The nice Smaland attendants will help you fish him out when you’ve finished picking out a new toothbrush holder.  Not exactly certain how to respond to this game of baby Jenga unfolding before my eyes, I defaulted to sarcasm.  A “gee, THAT seems safe” coupled with the most menacing stink eye I could muster.  I didn’t stick around to see if passive-aggressive conflict resolution 101 had any effect on her; it was time to get the hell out of dodge.  That was the Swedish meatball that broke the camel’s back.  So long Ikea, it’s been real.  I’ll be back the next time I need reassurance I’m not the worst parent around.

Urban Sprawl

On an otherwise lovely day last fall I encountered this most obnoxious specimen of parental douchery while waiting to board a return flight to Minneapolis.  Ah, the business trip!  Three childless days in New York City?  Yes please, don’t mind if I do!  Note, if you will, the couple in the foreground.  Observe their two regulation size human children accompanied by standard travel equipment.  And note in addition to said children and accoutrements, the sense of entitlement so large that it required the ENTIRE row of accessible seating to accommodate.  Aghast, I thought “Surely there must be something I’m missing here.  No conscientious adult couple would intentionally treat provisions for the handicapped like their own personal Gymboree class – would they?”  I scanned the area to see if perhaps a valet was retrieving a rascal scooter or iron lung.  My faith in humanity took a haymaker to the groin when I realized that was not the case.

Attention sprawlers:  YOU ARE NOT DISABLED!  While toting toddlers about may limit one’s ability to complete a cross stitch or sip a martini without spilling, this particular infirmity does not warrant federally mandated accessible seating.  Simply having children implies that you have agreed to a lifetime of inconvenience.  Schlepping absurd amounts of tackle wherever you go is part of the deal.  Amateur Sherpa, it’s right there in the job description.  You read the contract and signed it – no takesies-backsies.  I resented their brazen disregard of this treaty.  So there I stood, rage growing by the second while hoping like hell for an actual disabled person to happen along.  Praying they might be taken to task on their thoughtlessness and taught a sorely needed lesson.  Preferably by way of a wheelchair vs. stroller showdown, a la Ben Hur or The Fast and the Furious.  Sadly, the moment never came and we boarded the plane with nary a Tokyo Drift.  Sigh.  Where is Stephen Hawking when you really need him?  Probably at JFK, dealing with the exact same shit.

Playdateless in MSP

The following is a transcript of an overheard (read: eavesdropped) cell phone conversation in the rec center lobby following swimming lessons.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Certain details may or may not have been slightly altered for dramatic effect.

Well, we really must get a play date on the schedule soon.  Lester and Barnabas haven’t played together in weeks!

Tuesday mornings aren’t good, Barnabas has a standing date with Oprah.  Then in the afternoon there is Gymboree with Zelda and Brutus. 

No, sorry, Wednesdays are water polo with Thor and Mittens. 

Thursdays are fantastic!  He has macramé with Simba and Buick Skylark at 4 a.m., but the rest of the day is wide open.

Great!  We’ll meet at the rifle range Thursday at 9:17.  I’ll call Voldemort’s mommy and see if she’d like to join us too.  See you then.     

These are the types of mothers that cause me to immediately snort at how balls out ridiculous they sound, and seconds later wonder if I’m a horrible parent for not following suit.  I don’t know that I can say my son has ever had what would qualify as an official “play date”.  Sure, he’s raised a juice box with a shorty or two.  But these were children of OUR friends, the focus of those outings was more centered around the raising of adult juice boxes.  I’m left wondering if I’m doing him a disservice by not helping him to seek out his own social circle.

To me, play dates seem like the arranged marriages of babyhood.  The parents take care of the logistics, and then hope the two form a lifelong relationship based on a mutual hatred of strained peas.  How do these things even happen?  We don’t take him to daycare and I certainly don’t recall seeing any fliers about upcoming toddler singles mixers.  Is there a baby eHarmony somewhere out there?  “Antonio – 22 month old male seeking casual play dates.  Open to the possibility of something more serious.  Loves long stroller rides, fine apple juice, and eating lint off the floor.”

Obviously he is in swimming lessons.  Also art class and open gym whenever schedule allows.  Oh, he’s out there!  Never once have we been approached for a play date.  Oh god, are we not cool enough?  Do Igor and Mildred’s mommies not like us?  Is our stroller too dorky?  I’m instantly transported back to middle school, just substitute designer diaper bags for Girbaud jeans.  None of this bodes well for my fragile self-esteem.  Since I’m no good to my son wandering the house anxiously muttering nonsense about 6th period algebra, I’d better just stick with the current system.  Here’s hoping none of my friends’ children force him to eat their boogers or set off on multi-state crime sprees.  Until then, I think we may be okay.