Monthly Archives: March 2011

Goodbye, Dear Friend

I wish my babies slept like this. But now they're 5 and almost 8. And who misses diapers and midnight feedings?

I realize it is completely preposterous both to think a five-year-old would still take an afternoon nap – and to mourn that she doesn’t. Yet I’m fully capable of holding all sorts of contradictory notions in my noggin simultaneously. Somewhere I once heard that that’s the definition of wisdom.

I figured out once upon a time that the length of my hair is inversely proportional to the level of stress in my life. When Eddie was born in 2003, my dark, curly hair was down past my shoulders. It was awesome. And a pain to take care of. But awesome. I was the long-haired guy I always wanted to be. I even owned a motorcycle.

But as the baby grew, the hair got shorter. When we moved from Brooklyn to Baltimore, I sold the motorcycle and became an at-home dad to a kid too young to talk or walk and who required a diaper, nap or food and cleanup every 37 minutes, I trimmed my hair shorter and shorter almost dispatched with it entirely. I used the clippers on their shortest setting and ended up with a head that felt like sandpaper.

It was liberating.

It hid the grey.

It was the new awesome.

It also made me look gaunt. Like I’d had mono, food poisoning and the flu all at once. I saw a picture of myself – egad! – and began growing it out immediately.

As I got my sea legs as an at-home dad, found a community, stopped listening to NPR constantly (the kid learned to talk), the hair grew longer – though it suffered a setback when Carla was born in 2006 and I had to figure out how to manage dueling nap schedules. Among other things.

Fast forward to the past year, when Carla was 4, and I was hanging on to her afternoon nap with all my might. I knew how it would end: no nap for the kiddo; no peace for Daddy. But I fought it nonetheless. I considered myself a seasoned nap-battle expert, after getting Eddie to nap until he turned 4, when all his contemporaries had shed the nap before they turned 2. (I told myself their parents just weren’t trying hard enough. Boy, am I judgmental sometimes – but then I think of how other people must judge me. Yikes.) Even then, I could give him a stack of books and tell him to stay on his bed for an hour. And he would. This gave me time to get Carla down for her nap, figure out what’s for supper and count the minutes until my Lovely Bride got home.

As Carla’s 5th birthday approached in January, however, the wheels came off the bus. I had to work harder and harder at the nap – reading more and more stories to wind her down and then singing the long versions of four or five or six songs as I stroked her hair or rubbed her back for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m so sleepy I’m slurring my words as a read to her.

It felt like betraying all the advice from books that tell you to have a clear and short naptime routine, such as two stories, two songs, lights out and leave the room. But it was so worth it. Any awake child in my house eats my brain, rendering me unable to gather a thought or compose a sentence. (Except for sending e-mails or posting Facebook updates.) A sleeping child is worth the effort. All through the fall I would have to forklift Sleeping Beauty out of her bed at 3:15 to go pick Eddie up from elementary school. Game on!

I’m not sure when exactly the nap finally died. Somewhere between Christmas traveling and family visits, followed by staying afternoons at preschool for “lunch bunch” when I had a freelance assignment. Now it’s all I can do to keep Carla from coming out of her room less than three minutes after I finish reading stories and leave the room.

“Dad-deeeee? May I be excused from my nap?” she sings down from the top of the stairs.

Nap? What nap?

My wife last night stroked the back of my recently shorn head. (I just bought new clipper guards and did it myself – a #4 attachment on the back and sides, leaving the curly part on top. It actually looks okay. It only makes the grey hairs more obvious, however.)

“So are we in a short hair kind of place right now?” she asks.

“Carla hasn’t napped in months,” I say.

Goodbye, dear friend.

Captain Clueless, Jr.

Once upon a time, I invented a chart to make the morning routine easier. Really, how hard is it to get dressed, make your bed and hang up your pajamas? I tried saying Eddie has to feed the dog in the morning before I feed him. No food for the pooch? No food for you! But these things require me to actually remember

Is it really that hard to remember to get dressed in the morning? When you're almost 8?!

my little edicts. I can be passive-aggressive (my strong suit) or I can nag (my second-strongest suit). Either way, it’s annoying for everyone in the house and is guaranteed to make Mommy suddenly remember some early meeting for which she should have left 10 minutes ago.

Once upon a time, I opined on getting my kids to make their beds each day. People’s comments told me that like my children, they missed the point, too. It’s not about making the bed. It’s about doing what Daddy says so he doesn’t have to nag nag nag. And it continues to absolutely baffle me how to motivate my almost 8-year-old son to do almost anything, except play Wii, eat sausage or sass his sister.

Some folks told me they never had to make the bed, and that’s fine. Me, I’m a bed-maker. It makes the room look tidier and says that you’re ready for your day. Eddie tells me it’s a waste of time because he’ll just unmake it at the end of the day when he gets in it again. (Future career: lawyer.) But my mom is a bed-maker, so I’m a bed-maker. And the point is not whether you are or aren’t, but that Mom or Dad said to do it. So you did.

If my mom said to wash your hands and come for supper when I was a kid, you washed your hands and came to supper. If dad said to collect up the trash to take to the dump, you collected the trash. No confusion or backtalk. I’ve checked with my folks occasionally on this, and they said I was a pretty obedient kid. Although my mom still recalls my selective deafness. She would holler for me from all over the house, but I wouldn’t hear her because I was so engrossed in whatever I was doing. But sneak up behind me and whisper, “Will, would you like a cookie?” and I’d turn around so fast I ought to get whiplash.

Eddie is just like that.

Poor kid.

My Lovely Bride once revealed that in our early days, because of my missteps and screwups, she called me Captain Clueless. I admit, it was well deserved, especially after I forgot her birthday and bought some lame useless-tiny vase and a Vonda Shepard CD as a makeup present. (And she married me anyway!) I don’t want my son to grow into a similar doom.

I figure that because his personality is so like mine that I’d know how to deal with it. After all, it takes one to know one. But in fact, it’s the opposite. Our similarities only make it worse because it heightens my resolve to stamp my own negative traits out of him.

One week at my men’s Bible study, a verse seemed as if it were written exclusively for me: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). I know all I do every day is exasperate my son. I nag, I peck, I nag some more. If he wanted it to stop, wouldn’t he just do whatever I ask before I tell him for the 637th time? His pediatrician once told me that after you say their name twice, kids don’t really hear you. But rather than stop fixing supper and go get Eddie’s attention first, I prefer to shout loud enough for people to hear me three counties away.

A woman at church who taught first through third grades asked if I had tried a rewards chart. Stickers lead to prizes and so on. We did that with potty training and later in other incarnations. But these things take more management and attention to detail than Daddy’s willing to put in, and they usually fall by the wayside.

The same church woman said sometimes we make our biggest parenting mistakes when we try to correct our own faults in our children (tell me about it), and we’ve got to figure out what works for the child, not for the parent. I took that not to mean to kowtow and mollycoddle, but to actually expend the brainpower to figure out what motivates your child.

When it comes to punishment, that’s a snap. I can find my kids’ Vulcan Death Grip spot in an instant. For Eddie, we take away the Wii. For 5-year-old Carla, takes more creativity. After she behaved badly for the babysitter one night, I took away a grocery bag’s worth of her dolls. Big deal – she has 400 others to play with. Then when she used marker on her rug (and made a really cute smiley face) and wrote on the toilet, we took away all markers, crayons and pens. She knew we meant business.

Actually motivating the kids is much harder. But I realized that Eddie loves dessert, again like me. (Don’t leave cookies alone with me and hope there will be any left when you come back.) I told him that each morning he gets his jobs done by 8 a.m., I will put dessert in his lunch. And if he does it five days in a row, we’ll go for ice cream after school. No nagging allowed. Victory was guaranteed.

But the first day was a scratch. He said he brushed his teeth, but the breath-sniff test was inconclusive. The second day he made it. The third day, after I admonished Lovely Bride for reminding him the day before, he flamed out and sobbed. Today, he got his things done once again.

My mother reminds me that this too shall pass. And that he’ll be able to do things on his own by the time he leaves for college.

Let’s hope.