Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wally World

Thirsty Third Thursdays may sound like a happy hour advertising scheme for a bar, but I know it better as TTT. THE WIFE is a loyal and proud member of this distinguished group of ladies. TTT has gathered almost every third Thursday of the month since around 1998, which means they've known each other for about 13 years longer than any of the "real wives" on a Real Housewives episode. The TTT meeting spot varies monthly, but it's usually at someone's home [minus the husband/kid(s)] or a bar/restaurant located somewhat equidistantly for all.

Back in the day pre-marriages and motherhood, TTT nights were often followed by Friday-morning absentee calls to work or adventures possibly inspiring Sex in the City episodes. But nowadays, the ladies are more likely to discuss homeopathic remedies for diaper rash or possibly even order a non-alcoholic drink - GASP - with dinner - at the risk of inviting whispers and murmurs speculating about whether the teetotaler is preggo.

On special occasions other than the third Thursday of the month, the TTT husbands and kids are eligible to participate in group activities and random family adventures. For example, last weekend, many TTT families ventured north to Storyland in New Hampshire. It would be the T family's first amusement park experience.

Nana and Pep volunteered to watch Augey since he is too small for any rides, so THE WIFE and I went back to a 2 v. 1 zone and brought Gigi solo. Easy, right?

Well, our morning got off to a rough start. The GPS took us around Maine or Canada until we got help from a helpful convenience store cashier during her smoke break. Possibly spent from the awful commute out of Boston the day before, Greta was cranky and whining as we finally saw the park entrance beckoning from afar. Naturally, THE WIFE and I started to imitate our daughter's complaining, which only made Greta more annoyed. As we literally pulled into the parking lot, Gigi showed us whose boss and projectile vomitted about a gallon of milk and mostly-chewed Goldfish crackers like a rotating sprinkler head throughout and around the backseat.

We parked as I dropped F-bombs. Horrified, THE WIFE sprinted out of the front seat and grabbed Greta from her car seat. I started working on the back seat while suppressing my gag instinct from the rancid odor. Eventually, I checked on Greta's status. THE WIFE was scrubbing furiously. But upon closer inspection, it wasn't our little girl she was cleaning with a vengeance - it was Greta's shirt with her name on it, the one all of the kids were supposed to be wearing that day.

ME: What are you doing?
WIFE: I'm cleaning her shirt.
ME: You are not making her wear that shirt. It smells like hot stinky cheese.
WIFE: She is NOT missing out on the group kid photo!
ME: That's cruel and unusual.
WIFE: (flashing a death stare)
ME: As long as it's just for the photo, she'll be fine.

And so we passed through the maze of minivans and station wagons with white silhouette stickers of family member caricatures on rear windows that are apparently all the bumper sticker rage these days, entered through the turnstyles, and finally met up with the crew.

It was a blast. Gigi loved the rides, which kinda shocked me because she's such a scaredy cat right now. She especially enjoyed just hanging and playing with the other 17 kids in our crew who were all impressively well-behaved and sweet to each other.

I realized there are three major benefits to group adventures like this with fellow parents:

1) Total lack of worry for an unforeseen meltdown. In the company of single or childless friends, it's kinda difficult to convince them that your kid really is awesome if he/she is sobbing uncontrollably while running around the house naked because they "don't want to wear a diaper." Moments like that are pretty effective birth control, actually. But in the company of fellow parents still in the trenches of tantrums out of nowhere themselves, they hear a kid freak out, turn to see if it's one of theirs, and continue with their conversation as if nothing happened once they see it's someone else's. Safety in numbers, I suppose.

2) A surplus of surrogate parents. All parents have the green light to discipline and supervise as necessary. So, if Gigi tries to walk on the railroad tracks or into the swan boat pond because mom or dad are asleep at the switch, Auntie Jess or Uncle Ryan have a free pass to grab her by whatever body part they can catch to prevent catastrophe. No questions asked. Again, safety in numbers.

3) Collective amusement from humor appropriate only among your contemporaries. For example, one mom was really bent out of shape that Humpty Dumpty had hair. We agreed it was most likely a toupee and concluded that even nursery rhyme characters were not above the difficulties of vanity and aging, which led another dad to conclude that Humpty was in all likelihood wearing a merkin. Great stuff.

By the end of the day, we all managed to avoid any catastrophes at the park. The big hits for Greta were meeting Cinderella in person and driving in the pumpkin carriage to get to the castle, riding in the flying fish, and drinking a juice box. By contrast, she is probably scarred forever by the talking tree that has given her nightmares since.

As for the family truckster, the 80-degree heat and closed windows unsurprisingly did little to improve the scent situation of our back seat. I febreezed excessively that night and fortunately all was forgotten by the next day. As we headed back south towards home, still reveling in our collective buzz from the overall success of the joint family adventure, THE WIFE and I smiled at each other in agreement. "That was fun." "Yeah," I agreed, "we had a great -" and then Greta puked one more time for good measure. As I was saying, great weekend.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Alphabet Soup

Over the last two years, THE WIFE and I have read our fair share of children’s books to the kids. The most common book we’ve read to the kids are the ABC books. We’re pros now. Basically, all you need to tell me is the theme of the book and whatever letter happens to be on the page you’re viewing, and I can predict with good probability what word matches the letter described.

For example, E is rarely anything but an elephant or an egg, the O is almost uncannily an octopus, and the Z is either a zebra or a zipper. A is almost always an apple, B is often a ball, and Y is a yo-yo 99% of the time. X is mostly an x-ray, though xylophones and “x” marks the spot are making strong showings as of late.

The other night, Gigi snagged “A is for Annabelle” by Tasha Tudor, which happens to be an ABC book that totally throws a knuckler at my ability to predict the word for each letter. The original copyright is 1954, which gives some perspective. This book just intrigues me every time it’s in the night reading rotation.

First of all, the dedication just sets the tone. It makes me chuckle like Beavis and Butthead. “To dearest Muff…” I make sure I read that clearly every time just to put a little adolescent smirk on my face.

A, as one may suspect, is for Annabelle. From here, I’ll just touch on the words that will in all likelihood never appear again in future ABC books.

C is for cloak. Unless you’re Nina Garcia’s niece or a really big Harry Potter fan, this word is not likely to be in the 2011 child’s early vocabulary.

K is for kerchiefs. Whenever I think of this word, it reminds me of sitting in a pew during mass one Sunday as a kid with a runny nose. My dad, of course, was prepared and had a handkerchief in his pocket to help me out. The hankie, though, was crusty and hurt my nose when I placed my nostrils to it, so the thoughtful gesture actually worsened the loose mucus situation on my face and I should have just used my sleeve in the first place. Anyway, that was probably 1983 and officially the last time I ever put a man tissue on my nose.

M is for – yes again(!) – muff. Spectacularly, this euphemism for pubic hair that triggers suppressed giggles in adolescent boys and immature 36 year-old men alike, appears for the second time in the book. I can guarantee you will never find that occurrence in any book published in the 21st century. By the way, a muff is a brown, furry uni-mitten that “is so warm and so cosy.” Great stuff.

N is for nosegay. Hmm, you say? Oh, it’s a “bright fragrant posy.” Of course.

O is for overskirt. As if it’s not difficult enough to dress my daughter in a t-shirt and shorts, I couldn’t fathom having to put this seemingly superfluous piece of material on top of a dress. Thankfully, we live in 2011 Southeastern Massachusetts and not south of the Mason-Dixon line in the 1860's.

P is a parasol. Again, unless a toddler happens to catch a Project Runway repeat featuring one as a runway accessory, “parasol” isn’t making a kid’s top 1000 most frequently spoken words. First of all, umbrellas clearly own this product’s market share. Second of all, tan is in – fair skin is out. See Snookie/Jersey Shore and spray tanning.

T is for tippet, or some kind of a shawl I think. Saying the word out loud reminds me of whip-its. Also known as hippie crack. You know, five bucks a nitrous balloon at Phish concerts. Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa. So lightheaded and funky for like ten seconds. You feel like you’re on the verge of passing out. Right? I mean, not that I’ve ever tried. Just heard about it – from my buddy. George Glass. He’s not from around here so you don’t want to waste your time tracking him down. Anyways, moving on.

Last, but not least, Z is not for zebra. Z is for zither. A stringed instrument that lies flat on a table. Strangely, this IS something I could see becoming more commonplace in the 21st century. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lady Gaga had a zither player on the payroll for her Monster Ball tour.

That concludes my first official children’s book review. Based on Gigi’s impressions to “A is for Annabelle” combined with my muffled amusement, I give this a final rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Gus sits perched on his throne, bib around his neck, maneuvering his last mouth full of apple-raspberry puree spoon fed by his mama from a translucent plastic rectangular cube. The little old man bangs his hand like a gavel occasionally on the tray, either to demonstrate his approval of the last spoonful, or possibly to cue his mommy who lost her rhythm while relating an anecdote from the past day’s activities.

I cheer my little prince on approvingly as he eagerly accepts another spoonful. My princess, perceptively, notices this sudden shift in my attention away from her to her brother, and calculates.

Moments before, Gigi was reluctantly chewing a bite of something she says she “can’t like” with her mouth wide open. She chomped obnoxiously to demonstrate her compliance with my request that she please “chew, chew, chew” so as not to choke. As is the case in any meal, I’ve begged, bribed, and pleaded that my daughter eat something, or at least anything not named ice cream, pretzel, Cheerio, or Goldfish. After she swallowed, I smiled towards her and nodded with a “Nice job.” But then my focus switched to her brother.

As THE WIFE and I attempt to resurrect a conversation already disjointed from interruptions while fielding requests for milk or retrieving spoons flung on the floor, we burst into applause after Gus’ latest gulp. It’s been twenty whole seconds since we last glanced in Greta’s direction. She’s been ignored long enough.

Gigi somehow plants a foot spitefully on the table edge, waiting and hoping for a reaction. We’ve been here before. The first time she pulled this stunt, I surprised myself by taking as strong a stand as I did. I actually raised my voice, which I hardly ever do, and spontaneously proclaimed the imposition of a new household edict while uttering the almost one-word: “GRETA-JANE- TERAVAINEN, DON’T-YOU-DARE-PUT-A-SINGLE-TOE-ON-THIS-KITCHEN-TABLE-AGAIN-OR-YOU-WILL-BE-IN-A-TIMEOUT-IMMEDITATELY!” as my eyes bulged and I breathed heavily. She sheepishly withdrew her foot, and I felt ashamed at what was probably an overreaction. Why was I getting so worked up?

On one hand, I of course know that I don’t want to be in a restaurant with Greta in ten years when she suddenly kicks back in the middle of an entrĂ©e with her Manolo Blahniks or Nikes (who the hell knows what’ll be in for twelve year-olds then) in my salad. But on the other hand, what probably bothered me more, was my imposition of a new rule that would compel enforcement with regular consistency or otherwise risk undermining my authority as co-CEO of the family henceforth. The prospect made me uncomfortable.

Since the time I was a teenager, I bristled whenever I sensed an adult’s imposition of an arbitrary or seemingly pointless rule. (The “no hat” in school bullshit, for example, always struck me as ludicrous.) College, therefore, was a most welcome emancipation. I spent the next decade and a half reveling in not being told what to do. No accountability to anyone but myself. Spontaneous drunken adventures with buddies that occurred without the need of four weeks’ notice and 57 e-mails debating over dates and locations. Entire Saturdays spent on a couch in my underwear recovering from the previous night’s follies.

Then I began dating THE WIFE and a new order of rules gradually ensnared me like a pumpkin’s ivy tentacles. By the time we were married, I was back to living under a Taliban-like rule. (Here’s one for you – we can’t listen to classical music because it reminds THE WIFE of horror movies and scares her – seriously.)

Fast forward back to today, and suddenly I’m yelling at Greta for putting her feet on the table. I feel like such a hypocrite. If this was ten years ago, we’d both place our feet in the pizza box we were eating around and pull cheese out from the cracks. But instead, I’m scanning the table like a hawk to ensure that no sparkly rhinestoned sneaker graze the vicinity of the Dora place mat. What has my world come to?

Gigi, I hope we can laugh about this twenty years from now. It’s just one of those things I have to do, which I swore I’d never do, but I feel compelled to make you suffer through it, as your loving father. Hopefully, we’ll clink our wine glasses and chuckle, which would be sweet – so long as your feet are not on the table.