Camo Shirts and Tomato Soup

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I like to think I’m a pretty easy-going guy when it comes to how my kids dress. I’ve mentioned before that I have no problem if my son wants to wear a dress, or paint his fingernails or put on a tutu to play soccer. Feel like wearing a skirt today, buddy? Good idea. Me too.

That “open mindedness” was tested today when he woke up before dawn to get himself dressed for picture day and put on a camouflage shirt. He looks like the youngest member of Duck Dynasty.

Crazy princess fairy in a Spiderman mask is fine, but junior NRA member? That’s a bit much. I know, I’m being ridiculous, so I let it go. If he wants to wear camouflage and get his picture taken with a deer carcass, so be it. I’ll send Ted Nugent a wallet sized picture.

But the camo shirt is emblematic of a blossoming trend of independence within my kids that I’m not quite ready for. My son puts on a camo shirt and it hits me: I’m losing my babies.

On the one hand, it’s great that my kids will get themselves dressed (every once in a while, but never when I really need them to). On the other hand, that newfound independence often bites me in the ass. Like the time my son decided to get himself dressed before going to the pediatrician. I didn’t find out he was “free balling” it until we’re sitting in the waiting room and he said, giggling, “daddy, I’m not wearing any underwear.”

And of course, they’re completely incapable of putting their clothes on the correct way. Buttons are askew, zippers are in the back, they only have one sock on…You would think that they would emerge from their room with their shirts right side out or not backwards at least half of the time. Statistically, that seems like a possibility, but apparently statistics are bullshit. I’d say 99% of the time, they have their damned shirts on backwards and apparently, I’m not allowed to say, “hey sweetie, can your turn your shirt around?” because that would kill their independent spirit and squelch their will to live, so we have to walk around all day long like some suburban version of Kris Kross.

It’s like they have the desire to take care of themselves, but not the fine motor skills to pull it off. Don’t get me started on the time they decided to make tomato soup (yesterday) for breakfast on their own. We have to move now because of the mess they made.

I guess my son has always had that independent streak. When he was a toddler, I’d wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of the microwave buttons beeping. I’d sprint out to the kitchen to find him naked, standing on a chair, trying to cook himself breakfast in the microwave.

My daughter had her own drama this morning with Picture Day. She was “too depressed to eat breakfast” because her hair wasn’t quite right. She wanted a bun, but her mom gave her some sort of Mormon-wife up-do (see the girls in Big Love if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here).

Sadly, my wife left for work before my daughter realized her hair was “all wrong.” I was no help because I’m a man and all I can do with my daughter’s hair is put it in a “low pony.”

Do they ever ask me for help with things I know about? Like how to catch a fly ball or strip club etiquette? No. Whenever they need my help, it’s always for fixing fancy hair or baking muffins. I don’t know shit about baking muffins. No wonder they’re ready to start taking care of themselves and seeking comfort in camouflage shirts. Their dad is useless.

And me and Ted Nugent will always have their Pre-School Graduation pictures as a reminder.

 

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A World Where Vomit Floats

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The great thing about excessive vomiting is that it gives you the chance to reinforce lessons about gravity. My daughter stayed home sick from preschool recently. We kicked off the day watching The Little Mermaid. She was lying on the couch and asked me to lie down beside her on the floor. I obliged because I’m always looking for an excuse to take a nap, but I told her to let me know if she was going to throw up so I could move.

“I don’t want you throwing up on my face,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. Then she had a light bulb moment. “Hey, throw up doesn’t float because of gravity!”

I was so proud. We went into a five-minute rant about how weird it would be if throw up could float. Like, if the rest of the world was bound by the laws of gravity, but not vomit. You’d have people regurgitating all kinds of things just to make them float. We decided it would be cool. Disgusting, but cool.

Because I’m a dad, I was proud that I had the opportunity to use her sickness as a way to reinforce the basic laws of physics that we’re all bound by. You never want to let a teaching opportunity slip through your fingers. My father knew this better than anyone. At any given moment, he could go all Father Knows Best and break out some sage advice, using our surroundings to teach his kids the importance of never buying cheap batteries, or how the key to frying a proper egg was patience. Those were his two main nuggets of wisdom that he wanted to pass on to his children. Buy good batteries and use low heat when frying an egg. They’re solid pieces of advice, but they didn’t always apply to the situation at hand, like in the dugout during a baseball game, or when I was getting ready for prom.

My daughter also understands the importance of teaching lessons. In the afternoon of her sick day, she started feeling better so she decided we should play school. I’d be the student, she’d be the teacher. She grabbed a ruler, tapped it on the table and said, “every time I do this, you have to listen.”

She tapped the ruler on the table a lot, then dropped nuggets of wisdom like, “if there’s a giant spider crawling over your house, you should tell an adult.” Then we started trading off lessons. She’d say, “When you’re in love, you get married.” And I’d say, “In the United States, you’re not allowed to get married until after you go to college. In some states, you have to go to graduate school first.”

I think we both came out of that sick day a little wiser.

The Twirl Factor (and other things I know nothing about)

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It’s safe to say I had no idea what I was doing as a parent when the kids were born. Changing diapers, burping, feeding them, even holding them was completely foreign to me. I’m happy to say that five years later, I still don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. You would think that after being a stay at home dad for almost three years, I’d have this parenting thing on auto pilot, but my kids still throw me curveballs on a daily basis.

For instance, at this point in my parenting career, I should know that it’s going to take my daughter 45 minutes to get dressed in the morning because she has to test out the “twirl factor” of each dress in her closet before deciding what to wear. Yeah. “Twirl factor.” Apparently, she has a closet full of dresses that are low on the ITS (International Twirl Scale). “Skinny dresses don’t twirl,” she says. “I don’t have any dresses that twirl,” she says.

And you’d think by now, I’d be prepared for unprompted tantrums of all kind. When one of my kids throws a fit because I won’t let him have marshmallow Peeps for breakfast, I’m prepared for the backlash. But when my kid loses his shit because I tell him that, no, he didn’t invent the game of “punch buggy,” that people have been hitting each other whenever they see Volkswagen Bugs since Biblical Times, I’m caught off guard. Why would he scream his head off and throw his shoes against the window because he didn’t invent Punch Buggy? Why, lord, why?

And why does it surprise me when my kids aren’t perfect 24 hours a day? Am I too much of an optimist? Or too naive? Or just an idiot? Maybe it’s a little of all three.

There are good surprises too. The other night at dinner, my daughter said, “I love chicken nuggets,” and then I said, “then why don’t you marry them,” and they both fell out of their chairs laughing, like it was the first time they heard that joke. Because it was the first time they heard that joke. How amazing is that? I had no idea that being a parent would allow me to recycle tired jokes from my childhood, so I guess it all evens out in the end.