Thank You

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(What appears below is something I originally wrote in the comments for this post. I didn’t want to have my voice be the focus on Memorial Day, but I did feel the need to add something in addition to the picture. The Wife suggested that I move it from the comments to the body of the post itself, now that Memorial Day is over. Since she’s always right, I have.)

 

So, why, on Memorial Day, did I put up a picture of a French war memorial? Well, lots of little reasons.

The first being that the Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun, France is the best war memorial I’ve seen for helping one contemplate the cost of war. It somehow translates into architecture, sculpture, and landscaping all of the somber, humbling, reflective feelings I associate with Memorial Day. I knew this was the picture I wanted to commemorate Memorial Day with — it just took me a while to find it. As soon as I did, I posted it.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that there are any American remains in the Ossuary. I was under the impression that there are — and since they just scooped up all the bones in the region and deposited them here, it’s not impossible. The crests on the outside of the building show the cities — including American ones — that contributed money to the building of it. Not, as I had thought, of the hometowns of the dead. The American cemetery is just a little ways northwest of here, so maybe there aren’t any American remains here, after all.

I decided not to change the picture, however, because Memorial Day isn’t just about remembering that American soldiers have died — it’s about remembering what they died for, and what their sacrifices have given our country and the world.

The Battle of Verdun lasted for almost the entire year of 1916 and claimed around 300,000 lives. Let that sink in for a few seconds and you’ll realize why the Douaumont Ossuary is what it is. In 1918, the American First Army pushed through Verdun with an Allied force under American command. World War I was now on its way towards being over. American soldiers would be back in France to push the Germans out again in 1944.

The Douaumont Ossuary is a monument to the horrors Europe visited upon itself in the 20th century… Until American fighting men saved Europe from itself. None of the war memorials or monuments I’ve been to here in my homeland have the same solemn grandeur as what you can find in Verdun because our country hasn’t suffered like that since the Civil War. Since then, our soldiers have fought and died in faraway places like France so that we won’t need to have a place like Douaumont on our own soil.

And our soldiers fought and died in faraway places because people Over There needed our help. So this Memorial Day, I suppose I’m mostly contemplating how American servicemen (and -women) have made the ultimate sacrifice not just for our safety and freedom, but a lot of the time for the safety and freedom of strangers in other lands, too. Which, I think, says a helluva lot about their character.

 

LEGOs!!!

I don’t want to speak too soon, but RU may be on her way to Master Builder status.

We’d gone to a LEGO event last month and picked up two free sets — little ones that just come in a plastic bag and are about a step up from what you’d get in a Happy Meal. We let the girls open them up the other day and play with them (at the table, away from the toy area so any lost parts are unlikely to get swallowed by Z). I must say that I was surprised at the results.

Now, we’ve had Duplo blocks for the girls for quite a while. They’ve got maybe two or three medium-sized sets and another two or three small ones, all integrated together now in a big tub. When the play area isn’t too cluttered with other toys, we get the tub of Duplo blocks down and MeToo will dump it all out into a big pile. They will build things, more or less at random, and two of the sets had a plethora of animal figures that get played with a little. Although the girls have fun with the Duplo blocks, they’ve never been a favorite. Which is too bad, because there are some good-looking Duplo sets out there these days. I’ve seen a few DC superhero ones and a couple of Jake and the Neverland Pirates sets that I’d be happy to get them. Even so, something about LEGO’s baby brother just fails to inspire the girls’ inner architects. I must confess that even when I sit down to play with them and try to demonstrate some building skillz, I have a difficult time generating a creative spark.

But they’ve never had actual LEGOs before.

The set we picked up (we got two copies of the same thing) seems to be from an “Elves” line which I hadn’t previously been aware of. The figurine that came with it isn’t built on the same model as all the LEGO men of my youth. They seem to be similar to the figures from the LEGO “Friends” line. RU calls them “LEGO Barbie,” which is accurate enough.

(As an aside, the Wife is a little appalled by the “Friends” line of LEGO sets, and probably the “Elves,” too, by extension. They’re clearly meant for girls and the sets are full of pastel-colored bricks used to build, well,  Barbie-esque playsets that promise zero adventure. “Elves” seems more fantastic, naturally, but even the more dynamic sets (like a medium-sized boat) steer clear of any martial action (you’d have to bring in orcs from the Lord of the Rings LEGOs for that). The Wife also sneers at the large number of fancy pieces that seem customized for one particular set. Like giving you a single spiral staircase LEGO piece instead of requiring you to build one out of more standard parts. I did point out the plethora of such pieces in the Star Wars sets but I still think she detects a gender bias. Personally, if “girly” LEGO sets get more young ladies into LEGOs who otherwise would not be, I’m for it. No one’s keeping them away from the Pirates or Ninjago stuff. And in my day, if you wanted to build a dream castle out of pink bricks you were SOL no matter what your gender was.

But I do concede that if the “Friends” and “Elves” LEGOs are clearly meant for girls, that creates the suggestion — whether intended or not — that the other stuff isn’t. Which is crap.)

Anyway… After RU ripped open the bag and shook the pieces out with a hazardous lack of caution (clearly she’s used to hard-to-lose Duple blocks, not the vacuum fodder of the real thing), she said she wanted to follow the directions.

That may not seem like a big deal to you, but I almost never built anything by using the instructions. If there weren’t any cool pieces used in the first three steps, I tossed ‘em aside and did my own thing. But when I did want to build the spaceship shown on the front of the box, I would always screw up somewhere and either have to start over or give up. Seriously, when I was in Junior High and decided to finally put together my Blacktron Message Intercept Base I placed one of the main support struts wrong on, like, step two but didn’t realize it until things weren’t fitting together right at the very end. So when my four-year-old stepped up to the metaphorical plate, it seemed like a Big Deal to me.

Okaaay... Wanna build a spaceship with Daddy instead?
Okaaay… Wanna build a spaceship with Daddy instead?
RU only needed a little help in figuring out how to read the directions at one point and finding a few pieces (one seemed to be missing from the outset but we swiped a replacement from MeToo’s pile). Otherwise, she did it entirely on her own — and she constructed it exactly right on the first try! If I seem proud, it’s because I am.

The finished product, “Azari’s Magic Fire,” is an odd thing. Without any context for who these elves are or what they’re up to, it seems to suggest a kind of forge in the sylvan, one-with-nature mode. There’s a bench over what’s either a pit of flame or pool of lava. The bench itself is brown and seems to have a plant growing out of it — perhaps the whole thing is a living tree of some kind. Attached to this workspace is a long rod with… a red apple stuck on the end of it? I assumed this was some kind of mystical foundry, but instead of smithing weapons or armor or magical accessories, the elf is apparently toasting a red delicious like a Cub Scout with a marshmallow. I dunno, maybe it’s like the Golden Apple of Discord and she’s going to start a big war with it. That’d be kinda cool.

As she was admiring her work, RU picked up the elf figure and asked, “Dad, what’s her name?”

“Um… I think her name is Azari.”

“Azari?”

“Yeah, I think so. What do you think Azari does?”

“I don’t know,” RU admitted. “Maybe she drinks coffee all day.”

"Elf needs caffeine -- badly!"
“Elf needs caffeine — badly!”

Ten Tricks to Increase Your Distress Tolerance

Last time, I mentioned that parents of a fussy baby (which really means any baby, sooner or later) would do well to increase their distress tolerance. I mentioned having a glass of wine, taking a bubble bath, and watch a favorite TV show. Here’s a list of ten other ideas to help you calm down and repair your frayed nerves after a long, stressful bout of dealing with your wonderful child. By the way, as with the above examples, these assume you can get at least a few minutes to yourself. So, depending upon how many children you have and what all else is going on, you may need to wait until they’re all safely asleep. Or in college.

Go take a ten minute walk or bike ride. Heck, even get in the car and drive, just as long as you get out of the house for a few minutes. [The Wife: Driving and talking on the phone with all rodeo participants strapped down in their carseats i.e. safe from each other can be a good workaround.]

Listen to some relaxing music (can be combined with the above suggestion). Note that “relaxing” doesn’t necessarily mean those “Gentle Sounds of Nature” CDs they play in the background at the massage place. If you find speed metal soothing, by all means put some on.

Go to your Happy Place. Preferably during its Happy Hour.  [The Wife: If you frequently choose this as your go to destressor please look into other options.] [The Dad: I was thinking of Sonic. You know, sometimes you just need a half-price shake.]

Exercise. Personally, I find exercise to be like physical labor that doesn’t result in any sort of finished product, but it releases endorphins — those chemicals in your brain that make you feel good — and can even help you live longer and healthier. Or so I’m told. [The Wife- A gym membership with childcare included can really incentivize working out.]

Go to the field out behind your house and shoot up a bunch of glass bottles. If you want to plan ahead and be classy, use molds to make targets out of ice — it shatters just as satisfyingly but the pieces melt rather than clogging up your lawn mower. [The Wife- Check your local gun laws please.]

Light stuff on fire. [The Wife- Sorry to be Debbie Downer again but, uh, check your local arson laws please.]

Run around screaming. Try it, it works! Especially if you windmill your arms around.  [The Wife- Not in front of the children dear!]

Engage the analytical part of your brain by doing a puzzle or other fun intellectual challenge.

Try counting or doing math in your head — stuff like long division or counting down from 100 by threes. An additional benefit to this is that if you get good enough, you can shield your thoughts from Jedi telepathy. Unfortunately, it makes you more predictable to everyone else.

Have sex. Since this involves another participant, it can be an efficient way to de-stress both parents. Be sure to get spousal approval before you start, and be aware that this can lead to needing to de-stress over another crying infant about 40 weeks down the road. [The Wife- No comment.]

Wonder Weeks 2: Electric Boogaloo 

Right on schedule, Z has entered another big wonder week. Although, this “week” lasts about a month. He’s definitely experiencing the three C’s of a big developmental leap: he’s crying, clingy, and cranky. Looks like I became a stay-at-home dad just in time!

This leap lets him understand the world of relationships. Mostly, this means spatial relationships. His little baby brain is now noticing how things can be near or far, and how objects can be positioned relative to each other. I can hear him being fussy now, probably because I am too far away for his comfort.

[Brief interlude.]

Z is a very different baby already since the last time I wrote about Wonder Weeks. He’s not really crawling yet, but he’s clearly working on it. He can roll and twist and kick himself enough that we can’t just put him down and go do something for a minute. Like a killer from those old slasher movies, while you’re watching him it seems like he’s barely moving but he can get all over the damn place once your back is turned. He’s like a tiny Michael Meyers* but instead of wanting to kill Jamie Lee Curtis he keeps trying to toss himself over the edge of the bed.

He’s able to grip and grab things now. He likes to shake a rattle or hold a ball. Most of the time, though, he uses this skill to pull the pacifier out of his mouth and then gets upset.

These and other skills and interests have developed over the past month; Z’s earlier wonder weeks have borne fruit!

Unfortunately, I think the little guy is also teething on top of everything else. He’s drooling more than a hungry St. Bernard. He’s been getting congested — which could be due to teething or just all the pollen in the air — which can make it hard for him to sleep at night, even when he’s a super-tired mess. And for a little while today it seemed like he was wanting or needing to nurse more frequently than his normal two-hour intervals, so he could be hitting a physical growth spurt, to boot.

We’ve got more growing pains around here than Nick at Night!

Fortunately, this is not our first rodeo (it’s our third rodeo, if you’re counting). Being an experienced parent doesn’t give you any secret way to soothe a baby going through this stuff. The process of transforming from a cute-but-immobile lump to a little person who can toddle around and makes talky noises and has teeth is one that involves periods of discomfort, no two ways about it. Having done this before, I know that this is normal and nothing is wrong with Z. That helps some.

What helps a lot more is to develop ways to help calm yourself down when your little one is going through one of these phases. Hearing a baby cry and scream is intensely distressing. In fact, it’s hard-wired into human beings for that sound to be the most stressful thing you can hear. Prolonged exposure to it, especially when you’re failing to soothe the baby and get that noise to stop, will make you upset, angry, irritable, burned-out, or depressed. To get through that, you’ve got to increase your distress tolerance.

What’s distress tolerance, you ask? Why, that’s just a fancy term for the things you think about or tell yourself to help calm down.  The things you promise yourself you will do as soon as this baby is sleeping, whether that’s have a glass of wine, take a bubble bath, or watch an episode of “The Walking Dead.” (Wait — don’t they have a baby on that show? Maybe that wouldn’t be very calming, after all. Perhaps it would be better to watch a show that doesn’t routinely involve children being in danger. I hear “Game of Thrones” is good.) People are able to soothe themselves in upsetting situations (you know, like having a screaming baby an inch or so from your ear for an hour or two) are less likely act irrationally, snap at their spouses and children, or have blood shoot from their eyeballs.

So when your bundle of joy becomes a shrieking ball of tears just remember: this, too, shall pass. That tooth will come in. This wonder week won’t last forever. In the meantime, take care of yourself.

*The one from the Halloween movies, not the one who ruined The Cat in the Hat.

”Don’t Quit Your Day Job”

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Yesterday was my last day at the job I’ve had for the past six years. I was quite happy to quit — sad to leave my coworkers but thrilled to leave the job. I’ll still be working, but from now on, I’ll be “working differently,” as they say. I am become a stay at home dad, upender of worlds.

I don’t throw around the word “blessing” a lot because I try to save it for big things like this. We are very fortunate that this makes sense for us. More and more, it has become increasingly clear that the Wife needs me to pick up the reins at home so she can devote sufficient attention to her work. And I’m elated to do it.

That said, I’m also the kind of person who has a lot of emotional inertia. Change, even change for the better, even change that I absolutely want, is difficult and nerve-wracking and an awful lot of work. I’d rather rest in the comfortable rut that I’m in. It’s cozy and predictable, even if I’m not all that fond of it. This is just the beginning of what I expect will be a crazy, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, terrifying year of incredible potential.

Oh, sure I was home for a nice long while at the beginning of the year thanks to baby Z being born. That wasn’t a normal time, however. That was a great big vacation, with trips and stuff. Now that I have become Michael Keaton* in Mr. Mom, we will need to craft new schedules and routines for ourselves. Taking care of the kids will be my job. It is glorious. It is the stuff of nightmares.

The upshot for you, Dear Reader, is that I will also be devoting more time to writing and to this blog. I expect the posting rate will be able to return to something more like the first couple of months were here, with more posts of real length. I could write a whole post on the backlog of posts that I hadn’t had time to write since I went back to work.

So, come with me, friends, on this wild adventure I’m about to embark on. You know, the same wild adventure that every stay-at-home parent has had before me. The one with poopy diapers.

*I always say you should base your life on Michael Keaton’s career. After all, once you kick the alcoholism, insanity, and being a bug-eating ghost you get to be Batman.

Too, Too Much

RU (from the back of the van): “There are four eyes in this drawing. Two eyes and two eyes, that makes four. And I’m four.”

Me (driving): “Mm-hm.”

RU: “And! And! There are two eyes and two eyes, and MeToo is two, too.”

Me: “MeToo is two, two? Doesn’t two and two make four? MeToo’s not four.”

RU: “No… When you have two of something and a person is two, you can say, ‘That person is two, too.’ It’s not two, two. When you have something that is two of that thing next to someone who is two it doesn’t make them four.”

Me: “…”

RU: “When someone is two, to be with a thing that you have two of them, you can say that you have two and they are two. You can say that the person is two, too. But it’s not two, two. It’s not four.”

Is it just me, or does this “new math” they teach kids these days not make any sense?

RU the Penitent

RU took something that didn’t belong to her last week.

The Wife had dropped the girls off at a play-care place we frequent and I picked them up after I got off work. There’s a low wall that separates booking the place where you drop kids off at from the big, open play room. Frequently, if there’s an item the kids need to take with them — an art project they made or a sweater they took off during the day — the workers will just lay it on that wall so you’ll see it when you’re retrieving your progeny. On that wall, when I arrived to pick up RU and MeToo, was a grey stuffed bunny.

Now, RU has just such a bunny at home. Other than MeToo’s bunny, which is the same model in pink, I’ve never seen one like it. Oh, I’m not saying it’s rare or unique, just uncommon enough that I’ve never come across one whenever I’ve encountered stuffed animals out in the wild. I immediately assumed it was RU’s own Cottontail, and was mildly surprised that the Wife had let her bring it here.

Which is why I didn’t think anything was amiss when RU grabbed it as we were leaving.

She just put her shoes on and took it down, cool as you please. Maybe I did ask her if it was hers, or maybe while we were headed out the door I said something like, “Make sure you still have your bunny.” I’m sure I said something, but I no longer recall whether it was a direct question or something that actually reinforced the idea that she could take it. In any case, I freely admit that I could have halted my daughter’s descent into a life of crime right there, if only I’d been a bit more vigilant. Of course the Wife wouldn’t have let her take a toy to play care. Of course I shouldn’t just assume that no one else would have a bunny exactly like RU’s. After all, you know what happens when you assume something: you make a petty criminal out of your preschooler.

We didn’t discover that RU had committed Grand Theft Rabbit until she mentioned it herself that night. She had brought it upstairs with her and wanted to sleep with it, which I allowed (contrary to my normal “no toys in the bed, now lie down and go night-nights” policy). Once she’d snuggled up with it, RU said she was a little upset that she didn’t know where her bunny was.

“What do you mean? You have your bunny right there”

“No, I mean my bunny. I think it’s downstairs but I don’t know where.”

This turned into an Abbot and Costello routine for a few minutes before it finally got through to me what she meant. This bunny wasn’t her bunny. The Wife and I then spent several minutes trying to convince RU that she has Capgras syndrome until it came out that, no, RU didn’t take her stuffed bunny to play care. So the Wife went downstairs to find Cottontail, still convinced there was only one grey bunny in the house.

She came back with RU’s rabbit in her hand and a stern look on her face.

When asked if she had known that the bunny wasn’t hers when she took it, RU nodded. The closest thing to an explanation she could give was that she took it because she didn’t know whose it was. Well, that’s a 4-year-old’s logic for you.

This is not a problem we’ve had with RU before. MeToo, yes, but not RU. When MeToo was a little younger, she tended to grab things and, being low to the ground, was often able to carry her prize around for quite a while before an adult noticed. You might just write this off as a toddler’s tendency to reach for things, but there was a definite air of pilferage about it. And once at a restaurant she knocked something off the table and while I bent down to get it — I swear — she stuffed some silverware into her sweater.

I will pause here and say that having kids this young has helped me to recall some of my own very distant memories from previously unreachable sections of my memory bank. I can remember being about RU’s age and being confronted by an adult about something that I hadn’t done, or perhaps they had greatly misunderstood what had happened. Adults were the supreme authority figures, and if they had the facts wrong I often couldn’t find the words to straighten them out. I just went along with their version of things because my preschool-aged brain couldn’t fathom that a grown-up could be so far out of tune with reality. One time, in particular, I recall poking a kid with my finger when he wasn’t looking and I somehow got accused of biting him. When asked why I’d done it, the only thing I could think to say was, “My little brother bites me a lot.” Which wasn’t an admission of guilt, mind you, but I didn’t exactly stand up for myself, either.

What I suppose I’m trying to say is that I understand how it’s possible for RU to have taken the bunny without meaning to steal it, even while knowing that it wasn’t hers. She may have said, “I took it because I didn’t know who it belonged to” because it’s beyond her to say, “I saw a bunny that looked exactly like mine I got a little confused and took it. I knew I hadn’t brought my bunny to play-care and I knew my bunny had no reason to be there, but I’m only four years old and stuff happens around me all the time that I don’t understand and don’t pay attention to. So it wouldn’t be that weird, from my perspective, if my Cottontail were to show up at play-care without my knowledge. To me, it was bizarre that the exact same carseats which had been in the van when Mom dropped me off were now in the car that Dad picked us up in — but you got annoyed when I kept questioning that.

Or… maybe she just wanted to take it. Who knows?

So here’s how we’ve dealt with it. First, RU had to explain to the bunny what has happened. We pointed out to her that the bunny she took doesn’t know where it is and is surely missing its owner. It was probably frightened and confused. You’d better believe that pushed all of RU’s buttons. Sobbing, RU apologized to the stuffed animal she had rabbitnapped and promised it that she was going to set things right.

The next day, she had to write a letter of apology to the child whose bunny she had stolen. When I asked her what she thought she ought to say, RU replied, “I took your bunny but it didn’t belong to me. I’m sorry.” Which was almost word-for-word what the Wife had already typed up, so RU copied that out letter by letter. She’s been appropriately contrite and I believe the lesson has been learned.

Of course, it’s been a week and we adults have yet to actually go back out to the play-care place to return the thing…