Saturday, July 14, 2012

Talking Eyeballs

[Editor's note: forgive any grammar/typos this week. I'm solo with the Tills this morning and her nap just ended but I was too close to done to not post.]

As much as I enjoy chatting with most anyone - particularly commiserating with fellow parents about kids and parenthood - I’m paranoid of becoming one dimensional in my reservoir of topics for random conversation. 

We were up in Vermont for a big party thrown by our friends last weekend.  It was a good opportunity to catch up with close buddies and their kids whom we hadn’t seen in a while.  The visit was also an occasion where we socialized with friends of the host family friends whom we never met before or did not know very well from prior interactions.  As I’ve reflected on my conversations with some of those less familiar faces, the video replay of my brain taunts me internally by saying that I was too lame, boring, and/or negative in my interactions with the masses.  In other words, I spoke or complained about my kids too much.

While I chalk up this paranoia most likely to just being out of the loop from shooting the shit with less familiar acquaintances, I so don’t want to be that guy who is only capable of discussing topics somehow related to their kids.  While I’m un-embarrassed and even proud to be a sort of “daddy blogger” – not to mention actually being a father – I still desire to simply being, well, at least nominally interesting I guess. 

So that’s my awkward transition and inspiration for the direction of this week’s post…

Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows that facial expressions alone can communicate sometimes even more effectively than a verbal exchange.  The longer the history with the significant other, of course the more extensive the non-verbal language. 

I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of these talking eyeball communiques, so feel free to supplement with any of the more common examples I’ve omitted. 

For starters, let’s go with a universal lay-up that everyone knows and employs.  You and your mate are across the room from each other at a group event.  Lots of chatter or other ambient noise deters you from just blurting out a loud “Hey, how are you?” inquiry that may suddenly focus unwanted attention on the both of you.  Instead, you exhibit the very simple smile acknowledgment in the direction of your partner along with a simultaneous backwards nod.  Essentially, you’re saying without saying: “whattup because I care?” 

The corresponding response to this question also speaks volumes.  You hope for the reciprocal smile back so you know all is well in their neck of the woods.  Less encouraging is the shoulder shrug with twisting open hands and the mouth contorting to one side.  That says “comme ci, comme ca.”  The worst response, though, is the wide open eyes and slow head side to side.  That of course means all is not good in the hood.

Now picture the two of you are attending a party hosted by your companion’s family or friend.  You’ve reached your limit and would really like to go, but you don’t want to be the guy or girl who’s conspicuously rushing to leave.  (This is especially true in the early period of dating when first impressions are still forming.)  An overt departure could easily invite gossipy speculation amongst those remaining behind.  No one wants to be the inspiration for the dreaded “I don’t think he/she was having a good time, so he/she shanghai’d the other into leaving early” whisper by the resident pot stirrer. 

The solution of course is the more subtle “are you ready to leave this party yet?” look, when the coast is clear.  Generally accompanied by raised eye brows and maybe even a twist of the head, it’s an expression that shouldn’t last more than three seconds so as to minimize risk of discovery by a passer-by.  If you’re getting this look at the party of your relative/amigo, but you’re still having a good time, you might ignore this look altogether and carry on.  (This is a textbook move by guys in particular who are on their sixth or seventh beer who are looking to double the intake by night’s end, and would prefer to do keg stands in the absence of their date.) 

The much wiser response is the ole private check-in when out of earshot to request a “ten more minutes” extension, which is always parlayed into at least another half hour minimum. 

Or maybe you too are ready to go, so you simply nod and announce “hey, we’ve got to hit the road because we’ve got that thing to go to.”  The resident pot stirrer of the group will still probably speculate that the new significant other was to blame for the early departure, but at least the cover story will stand.

What else?  Well, we certainly can’t overlook the “what-u-talking-bout’-Willis” glare.  Usually, this is just a playful gesture of dismay or perhaps a feigned display of dissatisfaction with one’s significant other.  Perhaps you’ve just openly criticized the other’s cooking or sense of fashion.  It’s kind of an assurance to any bystanders that “I’m just kidding about being annoyed right now, but I can’t let that comment pass without at least objecting publicly.”  Okay we’re losing steam.  Two to go.

This next one might just be unique to my experience, but who knows?  It’s the “did you seriously just fart right now at this most inappropriate moment – slash – is the carcass of a dead mammal decomposing in your colon because it smells so bad” glare and frown of disgust.  What?  Doesn’t look like I’m getting many amens on that one.  Truth be told, I’m the flatulent one in this example (shocked you are, I’m sure) that unfortunately occurs at an alarming frequency.  Elevators, small medical offices, cars, bed, phone booths (yes the two of us often enter one to make calls together – on a side note, is there anything more distracting than having a cell phone conversation at the same time as someone else five feet or less away), and generally any confined space with a dearth of air circulation are essentially like kryptonite to my sphincter.  Other than the “did you seriously just puke from drinking too much at a 3 year-old’s birthday party?” look of horror/shame, that ranks as one of the most dreaded expressions of all time. 

Last but not least, and perhaps not the smoothest departure point from a fart discussion, there’s the “I’m frenching/undressing/seducing you with my eyes right now, so don’t fall asleep” smirk and slow nod with smoldering (not Rene Zellweger) squint.  If all has gone well, this look will be followed by the “come hither because it’s time to get after it and we’ve got a hotel room so we’re sleeping late and not making the bed tomorrow” grin.  If all has not gone well, the look will transition into an exaggerated eye roll or possibly even the furrowed brow/scowl that nobody likes to inspire.  Here’s hoping you see the “come hither” next time opportunity knocks. 

There.  I am now leaning back in my chair with arms behind my head slowly rocking back and forth with self-satisfaction.  This week’s post is complete.  End of discussion.

Monday, July 2, 2012

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

As evidenced by the lack of posts lately, I’ve been in a funk the last month or so at Casa de Teravainen.  No one really likes to listen to a complainer so rather than write in a poopy pants state of mind, I figured it was better to just hunker down and wait out the storm.  On prior occasions when we were going through some kind of phase with the kids, THE WIFE and I have come together and picked up whomever was struggling the most.  To survive the storm, we just hunkered down, sucked it up, and got through it.  Eventually, once the inclement weather (a sick kid or kids, teething, no sleep, etc.) passed, the sun came out and birds finally began chirping again. 

This month, though, has felt like one of those nights from a Survivor episode when everyone is sleeping in a dilapidated bamboo hut and a typhoon suddenly strikes whatever remote island Mark Burnett have selected for that season.  No one can sleep because the gale-force winds are pelting each person’s face with giant rain drops flying sideways.  The contestants are huddled together to stay warm and cursing the one jackass who claimed he was in construction when the Wooteeny tribe entrusted him to design the suddenly very leaky hut.  Typically, this scene occurs at least once a season but is edited to last only half an episode at most.  Unfortunately for us, our family’s most recent tropical storm seems like it has lasted for four whole episodes – and feels like it may never end – much to the chagrin of the executive producers.

There is no particular issue going on.  It’s just the daily/weekly grind of handling three kids three years old and younger.  Every meal is a juggling act.  A trip in the F.U.V. to a pool party requires a Herculean effort.  Putting on clothes and/or diapers typically involve multiple crying fits and debates equivalent to health care reform.  The routine is exhausting and taxing on the psyche. 

Gradually, weeks passed without any post.  Instead of just ignoring the shit storm, it became clear that the blog needed updating if only to maintain the true integrity of our family’s chronicles.  In other words, I needed to write the bad not just the good.  Supposedly, these are the “good” years to treasure before the kids become teenagers and suddenly hate us because we don’t know anything. 

The resulting challenge evolved into a situation where I knew it would be a struggle to write honestly without alienating THE READERS who aren’t interested in hearing someone bitch and moan?  (See above – complaining is boring.)  Plus, I find nothing is worse than answering someone’s question during a coversation, then realizing they’ve stopped paying attention while you’re still half-way through a response.  Still, I much rather prefer to tell it like it truly is – at least to those who genuinely care. 

After many a family meal replete with whining, crying, food-throwing, clothes-stripping, meltdown-happenings, I’m-ready-to-peel-out-of-the-driveway-and-abandon-the-family-any-second, a solution manifested while scrubbing apple sauce off of our kitchen wall recently:  prepare two answers to the same question.  The first will be the fake and polite response to people who don’t really care/aren’t listening.  The second will be the true and blunt reply, particularly if that person is a prospective parent who might still be on the fence as to whether to have children. 

We kind of maintain this duality of communication in our regular life anyway, right?  If a co-worker asks how your weekend was as you wait your turn to use the photocopy machine, you generally don't tell them “by Sunday night, I wanted to lock all three of my children in a padded room so I could complete a sentence while speaking to my wife.  And to eat a taco without interruption.”  Instead, you’re likely to respond “Kinda quiet.  We just hung around the house.”  If your best friend asked the same question, however, you’d possibly ask them to come with you to Home Depot to buy supplies in preparation of building said padded room.

So here goes.  Again, I’ll pose a question, then answer it two ways.  The first response will be the politically correct, tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear answer.  The second response will be the knee jerk, I probably should not have said that out loud response.

Q: Hey Den, how are things at home?
A1: Great.  All good.  Peachy keen.  Couldn’t be better.
A2: When I wake up in the morning to go to work, I sing “Zippa-dee-do-da” and click my heels with glee as I jog to my car in the driveway because I’m so happy for my day pass from Alcatraz, I mean 20 Gawaine.  When it’s time to go home, I tear up and want to puke.  Other than that, I’m fine.

Q: How are those sweet children of yours?
A1: Wonderful.  They warm my heart every day.  It brings a tear to my eye just thinking of them.
A2: Could I actually give you one of my kids for a month or two?  Pick any one of them.  In fact, I will pay you.  How about my entire 401(k)?  I’ll kick in a mint condition rookie Rickey Henderson Topps card and a rubbish bin full of redeemable bottles and cans, too.  Deal?

Q: What is it like when you come home from work?
A1: Kind of like Mad Men minus the THE WIFE in a house coat smoking a butt.  I walk in the door and my oasis awaits.  THE WIFE hands me a scotch, I sit in my favorite chair with my feet up, and I do a crossword until dinner is ready.  After I’m done eating, I leave my plate at the table and watch television until I fall asleep in my easy chair.  I’m not even sure how many children I have but THE WIFE takes care of their baths and puts them to bed because that’s just how things are.
A2: Kind of like the end of Return of the Jedi when multiple battles are taking place simultaneously in three different locations.  The aerial assault on the Death Star is eerily similar to our family dinners.  Gus is launching food in all directions like the Millenium Falcon’s cannons engaging the enemy.  Greta and I cross our light sabers like Luke and Vader.  (ME: Greta, please put your clothes back on when you sit at the table. GRETA: Never!!!!!!!!!  ME: If you don’t put your clothes on, you’ll never see an episode of Olivia ever again.  GRETA: Nooooooo!!!!  And so on until Greta wins the duel and cuts off one of my arms.)  Tilly is an Ewok and I am a storm trooper.  Nuff said. 

Q: How long does it take to get in the minivan and drive somewhere with the kids?
A1: Oh, it’s not that bad.  Just a few minutes.  It’s really quite pleasant.
A2: Glaciers and erosion move faster than we do.  Peace in the Middle East moves faster than we do.  Legislation in the American Congress moves faster than we do.  A CVS cashier on her cell phone moves faster than we do.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

Q: How is sleeping going at the house?
A1: THE WIFE and I get something like twelve or thirteen hours of sleep a night.  Plus a nap during the day.  I’m very relaxed.
A2: Between the heat, my allergies and associated coughing fits, Tilly’s ability to roll over onto her stomach but inability to roll on to her back, and the occasional bad dream/bedwetting accident by Gigi, we are lucky to get six consecutive hours.  The rings around my eyes make me the perfect extra to be on the set of The Walking Dead.  If I’m walking around with my fly down, please tell me the barn is open. 

Q: Do I need to call the Department of Social Services?
A1: DSS?!  What are you talking about?  There’s nothing to see here folks.  Everything is fine.
A2: That depends.  Can I buy a tranquilizer dart gun for doses appropriate for children on the Internet?  Nevermind.

Q: Do you think your pity party has lasted long enough?
A1 and A2: Yes, sorry.

Q: Do you feel better?
A1 and A2: Yes.

Q: Do you need a Braveheart speech about the obligations you undertook before consciously deciding to become a dad and have three kids?
A1 and A2: No.  I’m ready.  Just needed to get that off my chest.  Thanks for the kick in the ass.

And there you have it.  I’m a terrible person and an awful human being.  I love my kids, but they drive me to the edge of insanity.  I feel like I’m yelling at them all the time and I just want to have fun with them.  I should stop now before I dig a hole any deeper.  Maybe it’s just me that needs the padded room.