Tuesday, July 03, 2012

'Chicken on the Moon'

Kids are constant source of unintended humor. I don't mean when they run around in circles until they either fall down or run straight into the wall (as I've never been much a fan of slapstick). But if you spend even a few minutes with a youngster you're bound to hear some quality gems of true comedy. Maybe it's just that jaded adult perception looking condescendingly down on childhood innocence to laugh at the odd, off-the-wall things children often say out of the blue.

Typically, my four-year-old daughter is the queen of straight-faced, matter-of-fact, plainly stated oddities that you can't help but snicker at. But lately she is trying her hand at telling jokes, the kind that actually intended to be amusing, rather than the inadvertent sort preschoolers are famous for.

Witness the following recreated conversation from earlier today:
Kara:  Daddy, do you want to hear my joke?
Me:  OK. How does it go?
Kara:  Chicken on the moon!
Me:  I'm sorry, sweetheart. I don't get it.
Kara:  Oh, Daddy. You're silly.
She then plopped down on the floor, threw herself onto her back, kicked her feet up in the air, and yelled, "Chicken on the moon! Chicken on the moon!" several times before completely breaking down in a fit of hysterics.

While the whole ordeal itself is comedic gold, I have to admit that I still can't figure out if she was trying to tell a joke she heard from someone else or if she just finds the concept of lunar fowl humorous. Maybe you just have to be four years old to get it. My three-year-old son didn't get it either and stared at her blankly when she told it to him, too. But I have a strong suspicion it is one of those things that you just had to be there. And by "there" I mean there inside my daughter's head, where I am sure that the joke made sense. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

'No More Wire Hangers Ever'

Sometimes you have to pull out the ol' MacGyver skills when you've got young children, especially boys. Kids (especially boys) will do things with their toys an adult wouldn't think of doing, and it isn't necessarily because the adult just knows better.

I'm sure it is at least partly due to children's natural curiosity and drive to explore the world, to try something and see what may happen. Of course, that is actually a good thing, but it also means parents have to stay on their toes 25/8. You can teach them not to stick keys in the outlet and things that you know a kid might do, but there are other things kids do that it can be hard to predict.

In such instances, it helps to be at least part engineer. Like say, your three-year-old son decides to drop his favorite Hot Wheels down a pipe with no discernible way of retrieving it easily. Like say, when you're trying to get the kids all packed up for a trip to the grocery store and can only get one child strapped in at a time, so one of them wanders from the spot next to the car to elsewhere in the garage.

I have been letting the two older offspring each pick out a toy to bring in the car when we run errands, but from now on we may have certain items that just live in the family vehicle rather than bringing ones from the house. Also, in the future, I am going to be sure to buckle in the older two first. Every single time we go anywhere. Still, it could have been much worse.—he could've stuck his car in a slot in the furnace and tried to get it out himself.

Fortunately, we still had some old wire hangers, which go largely unused due to their tendency to leave shirts with odd shoulder points. (Coincidentally, Frema and I had very recently discussed cleaning them all out of our closets, but we had not done so.) With a little twisting, turning, and straightening of the wire, a toy-car-rescue apparatus was devised. I did take a whole semester of engineering classes back at my alma mater, after all. It was a simple problem that could be solved with just a little ingenuity, and I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with a viable strategy so quickly (as we still had errands to run and leaving with one of the kids already in poor spirits would not make anything easier).

My first attempt was unsuccessful despite a great deal of effort. The plan was to get the hooking instrument around the car in the right way and hold it steady against the inside of the pipe as I pulled the lost toy to safety. It took some doing to just get it to a point that I could start pulling it up, but I kept getting it part of the way up and losing it. No matter how hard I tried, the car would just end up right back down at the bottom. As such, my son was getting less and less patient in waiting to get his car back. Clearly, my plan was not working, so it was time to come up with a new one.

A way to ensure the car would stick to the wire was needed. I remembered recently fighting with a tangled roll of super-sticky packing tape in the junk drawer the day before. Thus, a new brilliant plan was born! I stuck one end of a longish strip of the tape to the hook, twisted it around to be sticky-side-out, and wrapped it around several times. I was now ready to try again, this time sure that it was going to work and be much easier.

After a few attempts at getting the car to adhere to my ingenious device, I felt it catch and carefully pulled it out. Just I was about to announce my triumph to my son, I discovered that my plan had actually failed. The tape slipped off the hoook and up the wire, so I accidentally hooked the toy by the wheel well—a feat I don't think I could have accomplished if I tried.

Still, the car was freed from its narrow-pipe prison and reunited with its rightful owner, who was mighty happy to hold it in his hand again (after it had been scrubbed down a bit). The moral? Perseverance and pure luck are sometimes greater allies than ingenuity. Unless, that is, if you actually are part MacGyver. I am obviously not, but my son was just glad to have his favorite Hot Wheels back. That's all that really matters anyway.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Modern Dads and Antiquated Biddies

I realize that as a stay-at-home dad, I am in a somewhat small demographic. But I don't think that being the at-home parent in our family makes me a better dad than anyone else. I may have a better idea of what my children's daily schedules/routines are than some other fathers, but that doesn't give me an automatic boost ahead of my fellow pops.

In fact, most other fathers I know are fairly well involved in their children's lives from early on. They aren't just the guy who waits around for when the kids are old enough to play catch in the backyard; they change diapers, go to doctor's appointments, and know how to kiss and bandage boo-boos. Yet in the minds of some people, the image of the bumbling dad who puts the diaper on backwards, feeds the kids chocolate cake for breakfast, and can't even boil water to make the macaroni if Mom is working late. Even if I wasn't the at-home parent in our family, I would have stepped up and did my part with each of our babies, just as many of peers have done.

But I frequently encounter those who seem to think that a man can't take care of his children when left to his own devices. For instance, say I'm out grocery shopping with all three offspring and the baby starts crying, almost immediately, someone will come up to me and start offering advice.

"Oh, he probably just needs a bottle and a nap. You need to get that baby home and put him to bed."

Really? That's why babies cry? Because they're hungry and/or tired? I never knew that! Thank you so much for the wonderful tip! 

I never actually say any of that, but I am often tempted. I hold my tongue. Partly because it's not worth the trouble, and I know that they mean well for the most part. In actuality, I try to plan such errands to take place after a recent nap and feeding, but sometimes babies cry anyway. People with older children often forget that. He probably just wanted attention since the shopping trip was taking a bit too long because I had to keep stopping for nosy busybodies to stick their faces in my parenting.

It's even worse if the baby is drooling a little, as babies sometimes do. Then I also get advice on teething. Or worse, the random stranger may try to stick their fingers in the baby's mouth to actually check for teeth. Seriously, it happens. At the very least, you get all sorts of people trying to pat, rub, or tickle an upset child. Does this happen to mothers when they are out and about with their young children? I know that Frema has taken the children out, and if this sort of thing is happening to her she's keeping it to herself. (But I know my wife, and if it did happen I would have heard about it and there would most likely have been an entry or two about it on her own blog.)

Maybe I am being overly sensitive about the whole matter, but I feel offended and not just on my own behalf. Modern dads everywhere are looked at too much like clumsy and forgetful buffoons who don't know a pacifier from a hole in the ground. In movies and television, the father is still often portrayed as a pack mules who carries all the baby gear but rarely carries the baby. Or he is a distant, faceless figure who smokes a pipes and reads the newspaper in a beat-up armchair while the mother does all she can to keep the kids occupied while simultaneously cooking dinner and ironing his shirts.

Now I am not saying that modern mothers are slacking off in any way. Almost every mother I've ever met deserves a medal for all they do for their family. I am just saying that many of today's fathers are more than the image of the household jester who is good for a laugh but is undependable when it comes to child care. They are not going to mix up the diaper cream with the training toothpaste or feed an infant leftover pepperoni pizza because they can't find the baby food in the pantry.

Most of the other dads I know are present and active parts of their children's lives and have been from the beginning. Maybe the image of father-as-buffoon been ingrained so well because many fathers did leave too much up to their better halves for so long and maybe some still do just that. Sure mothers and fathers are going to do things differently whether at home or out in the world. But I don't think I'm being naive to think that many of my peers are doing their part as parents. It's time to ease up on that old stereotype and cut dads some slack.

Or at the very least, keep your dirty, old fingers away from my baby's mouth. I know if he's teething or not. And if he was, I also know what aisle the Orajel is down.