Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gratitude Schmatitude

I began last week feeling sentimental. Some of the parents with children around Amari's age have been talking about pre-school - which ones are good, which ones suck, which days does so-and-so go, etc. I realized I was only about six months away from researching these same questions, making a seemingly monumental decision, and ultimately bringing to an end my reign of terror as a full-time stay-at-home parent.

I decided that Monday morning that I would appreciate every single moment I had left with Amari - the relaxing, easy mornings, the long, lazy afternoons, and all the challenging, willful, whiny moments in between. Time moves fast, things change all the time, so I may as well enjoy it all. I was positive, hopeful, and determined.

Tuesday morning, Amari decided that 5:30 was the perfect time to start our day. Less than six hours of sleep under my belt, I grabbed my attitude of gratitude, and headed downstairs. "Wow," I said to myself somewhat unconvincingly, "This is awesome. The sun is starting to rise, there's mist over the coral, and I'm pretty sure that's a rooster crowing the dawn. This is awesome." Amari and I watched cartoons, read books, greeted Mom, and drank lots of coffee, and headed out for the morning. We went to The Gardens, met up with friends, picked blackberries, and did yard work. It was a great day, and by the afternoon I'd forgotten how early it started. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time with a daughter who was heading for school soon. Life was good.

Wednesday morning Amari upped the ante, deciding 4:00 felt like an even better time to wake up. This time gratitude was not the first feeling I had. I think my exact thought was, "Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? Go back to sleep. Jesus." Beaten down by a lack of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed and moped downstairs where I stared bitterly into the darkness. "This sucks," I thought sincerely, "This fucking blows. It's dark and I'm awake. And that goddamn rooster doesn't shut up all night. I wish Michael Vick had been into cock fighting." And other random angry thoughts. That morning also had cartoons, books, grumpier greetings to Mom, and an early nap where we both lay on the couch and slept for two hours.

The rest of the week was much smoother. I did appreciate things as much as I could and during the difficult moments I just convinced myself that she's preparing me to let go. Come January, pre-school won't seem so scary at all - to either of us.

Soon she'll be riding for real...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Happy Anniversary

Every now and again I am struck with an intoxicating feeling of gratitude and wonder. The moments sneak up on me, catching me on a quiet drive home from work, bleary-eyed first thing in the morning, or tucked in, cozy, and looking forward to sleep.

Here we are again. It's August and Carrie is returning to work tomorrow while I'm returning to perhaps my last six months as a full-time stay-at-home parent. Amari is growing and changing, reflecting us and becoming her own little person. There was a time Carrie cried because every milestone felt like Amari was crawling, walking, talking, and pooping her way farther away from us. Maybe there's some truth to that, but there is also an incredible depth to the relationship that comes with the passing of time.

Summer was simple and luxurious - nothing remarkable but more than enough. Sure there were challenges - Carrie's increasingly uncomfortable pregnancy along with my own physical challenges - but when it comes down to it, we have everything we need and most of the things we want. Except, perhaps, a little more time. We manage, though.

One of the drawbacks of parenting is the utter lack of down time. There were years when Carrie and I, a little indulgently, celebrated our anniversary every month with dinners or poems or at the very least a note on the other's windshield. We also had no kids, low rent, and part-time jobs. Now we're lucky if we can even remember the date.

Turns out it was ten days ago that Carrie I could have celebrated our 132nd month-a-versary of our first date at The Stanford Inn's Ravens restaurant in Mendocino. That's eleven years for those of you who don't want to do math. To give you an idea of how long ago it was, I still had a good amount of hair, Carrie still said "like" and "you know," and we were both so naive we actually thought the food on our date was good. With the wisdom of experience and taste, we now affectionately call the place The Blandford Inn.

Much like with Amari, I marvel at how much Carrie and I have changed and grown. Not in the fundamental ways that brought us together, but rather through the obstacles we've navigated together, that brought us closer together, and somehow managed to transform us along the way. Carrie was a girl when I met her and I was an adolescent thirty year-old. We had no idea what we wanted and for a while we weren't even sure we wanted it together. We certainly were never going to get married or have children. Yuck.

Now we're married with child. And although, we may not always know what we want, we're absolutely certain we want it together. Carrie is a woman now, still stunning and stronger than ever, while I'm a forty-year old adolescent but also self-reliant, confident, and even a little bit of a grown-up. I feel a deep and requited admiration and love for Carrie. With the exception of the rare moment of selfishness, I never feel like she's not doing enough nor do I ever worry she thinks that of me.

We work really hard and really well together. So much so, that sometimes twelve month-a-versaries pass without us pausing to celebrate.

I love you infinitely...all the way to Outerrrrr Spaaaace.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Early to Rise...

Without the early to bed part, there is nothing healthy, wealthy, or wise about waking up at 4:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, that's when Amari said, "I want to go downstairs." It was actually 5:15 by the time she made this proclamation, but the forty-five minutes before that were a frustrating exercise in futility, muttering "Go to sleep...Close your eyes...What the F, it's not even light," and so on.

When Carrie finally woke up around eight, Amari was starting to get a little tired. Cuddled up on the couch, Amari slumped onto a pillow and said, "Mama, lie down next to me."
"No thank you. I want to sit up."
"But we need to talk about something," Amari argued.
"What do we need to talk about," Carrie asked, giving me a quizzical look as to where she'd picked up that language.
"Ummmm...ummmm...we need to talk about butterflies."
Good one, I thought, but mom said, "I can talk about butterflies sitting up."
"No," Amari countered, "You need to lie down to talk about butterflies."

Maybe I'll remind her of that next time she's up at four freakin' thirty.

You're lucky you're cute, lady.

Friday, August 10, 2012

She's Crafty

When chocolates were handed out during a visit with friends this weekend, Amari showed exceptional taste by choosing the Dove over the god-knows-how-old-Costo-sized-bag of gold coins. A few minutes later, she outdid herself.

"I want another one," she announced.
"Sorry, sweetie, but we're going to have dinner soon. You can have another one after that."
Incomprehensible whining noise with perhaps some words ensued.
"Hey, hey, hey, you know that's not going to get you any chocolate, right? How about a grape? Do you want a grape?
"Yeah," she says somewhat normally, the whine fading towards the end of the affirmative.

I hand her a grape. She accepts it as a smile creeps back across her face. She holds it up and proclaims to me, "This will be my dinner."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Days of Whine and Roses

I've been reading a book this summer called "The Whole Brain Child," another collaborative effort by psychiatrist and pediatrician, Daniel Seigel. The hope of the authors is to give parents and educators some practical tools with which to help children integrate their emotional and rational brain hemispheres. The result of hemispheric integration is an increased capacity to deal with emotions and respond rather than impulsively react to them as they arise.

In one of the early chapters the authors differentiate children's tantrums using the terms upstairs and downstairs. An upstairs tantrum is one where a child's higher thinking is still available to them. Behaviorally they are probably trying to get or escape something, and a minor tantrum may have worked for them in the past or may merely be the easiest way for them to express themselves in that moment. A downstairs tantrum, however, is one where the amygdala - the part of the brain responsible for processing feelings - takes over. Cortisol is released and flood the higher thinking parts of the brain, causing the child to literally lose its mind.

The important difference between the types of tantrums is how we as parents respond once we've identified which one we're dealing with. The upstairs tantrums require us firm but loving boundaries to be set. The child's needs must not be met that way. The downstairs tantrums require a gentle, calming approach to bring the child back to equilibrium. Only then will they be able to have any kind of meaningful exchange. There is no point in trying to reason with a downstairs tantrum. As you probably know, these tantrums can look very similar on the outside, but I have faith that most parents can tell the difference when it comes to their own child.

The past couple of days it feels as though Amari has taken out a lease and is living comfortably in the mind-numbing, crazy-making world of upstairs tantrums. On top of that, her latest go-to move while expressing her dissatisfaction with the world is coupling the tears and whining with a physical complaint. Not just any complaint -  she bases the phantom pain in reality by conjuring up her latest owie. Recent nominees have included: Owie in My Throat, Owie in My Ear, Owie on My Head, with this week's Ridiculously Long-Lasting Owie Award going to Owie on My Knee, a mild abrasion she picked up a week ago on our last road trip.

Warning: Upstairs Tantrum Coming Soon

Here's an example of the dialogue and why it drives me a little batty:
"Hey Amari, do you want to go to the park and play with friends?
"Like Hunter?"
"Yeah. And Oscar."
"Me too, let's get dressed."
"IIIIII dooooooon't want toooooo," followed by a dramatic flopping down on something.
"Amari. Come on. We get dressed every day. Can't we do this without whining?"
"Owie, owie on my knee."

Maybe I need to better integrate my hemispheres.

Yesterday was like that all day. By late morning, I was beginning to get anxious about Carrie going back to school. "How the hell am I going to deal with this all by myself?" I thought. Usually it's Carrie who gets caught up in the moment, but this time it was me grumping and complaining and saying, "I don't know what the hell to do with that."

Firm boundaries, I remind myself, knowing these are upstairs tantrums because Amari can shut them off as quickly as they begin, sometimes appearing to have the unique capability of sucking tears right back into her cheeks. It's amazing. So I try not to reinforce, try not to give in, while trying to get both of our needs met. It's tricky stuff to say the least. Yesterday, I did a lot of, "I'll be right over there on the couch when you're ready to calm down and talk to me." Instantly she would be on the couch with me, but mostly just asking for a hug.

Occasionally, and I'm pretty sure she knows this is a soft spot for me, she will repeat an expression we taught her by saying, "Owie in my heart." Gets me every time.

I guess the days like yesterday serve as a reminder not to take the days like today for granted. Ten plus hours of sleep, a warm, delicious breakfast of oatmeal with dinosaur eggs, and the conversation ended more like this:

"Me, too. Let's get dressed."
"Okay, I want to put my shirt on first."

Maybe today will end up smelling like a rose after all...

Or will it?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Perfect Game...

it was not

Not in the traditional sense, although I did have the good fortune of witnessing - from the comfort of my living room - Matt Cain spin the first one in Giants history a little over a month ago. When fully appreciated, pitching is an art form, and witnessing a perfect game - let alone one with five full counts, fourteen strikeouts, and two physics-defying plays in the outfield - is like standing in the Sistine Chapel during its transformation. By games end, I imagine even the Houston Astros fans were swept up by rare beauty they were witnessing unfold at AT & T Park that chilly, June evening.

This Sunday afternoon's game, however, a disappointing 4-0 loss to their rival Dodgers, was more like one of those abstract paintings at my buddy Jim's house. Beautiful to the questionably unintelligent Dodger fan base, but to the discerning eye of the Giants fan it just looks like a few scattered hits, mediocre defense, and pedestrian pitching thrown together on a big, lawn-green, canvas. Once again, however, the Houston Astros fans were likely swept up, only this time it was with the rare demonstration that a team can play worse than they do. 

Sure, I know, reigning Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw was pitching, and when all's said and done he may be recollected as one of his era's masters, but with this being Amari's second game ever, it's disappointing to say the least that the Giants have amassed a two-game total of five hits and zero runs. 

Aside from the result, however, the day and even the game were truly perfect. Carrie bought six tickets in April as a birthday present, so we invited my brother (Dodger fan, boooo), his wife (first game ever, crush on Ryan Vogelsong, so Giant potential), and one of my BFFs, Jessica (highly intelligent Giants fan). With uncertainty about the crowded Giants' ferry and the possible traffic from a marathon in San Francisco, we left early and drove into the city. There ended up being no traffic at all, so we ended up getting to the park early enough for me to witness batting practice for the first time. 

A little back story: The San Francisco Giants have a team full of characters and fan clubs for each one. Pablo Sandoval lovers wear Panda hats, Lincecum fans dangle hair extensions from their hats, fake beards honor Brian Wilson, and most recently a growing contingent is coming to the yard dressed as Milkmen for the hot-hitting Melky Cabrera. Having seen many of these fans on TV, I decided I would start a small fan base for Angel Pagan - aptly called Pagan's Angels - so I made a sign and bought a halo for my daughter to wear with her Giants shirt.

In front of our seats at the center field wall, we tried to get Pagan's attention, maybe have him toss us a game ball during batting practice. The only person, however, whom we caught the attention of was another Giants fan garnering a long pole with a grabby contraption designed for changing light bulbs on high ceilings. He was using it to grab balls that rolled to the outfield wall. When he finally managed to grab one, he turned back to see if Amari and I were still around and graciously gave us the ball. 

The game started, and Angel Pagan go the Giants' first hit, legging out an infield single. I raised my sign in the bleachers hoping to catch a camera, even though Amari had long since given her halo to her mother. I'm pretty sure I got nothing. By the third inning, a napless Amari was beginning to fade, so I took her for a walk on the promenade, making her wear the halo again with the promise of taking her to the slides. That's when the magic happened.

Walking along, weaving in and out of the crowd, we were stopped by a woman who said to Amari, "Hey, I'm an Angel Pagan fan, too. Give me a high five." Amari obliged, we chatted for a moment, and as we were about to walk away, a CSN Bay Area employee with a giant camera zoomed in on us. Amari and I both said our "Go Giants," the camera man lingered much too long, and on the way  home we got confirmation from Carrie's mom that she'd seen us on TV. Mike Krukow even said, "There's an Angel fan."

It may not have been a perfect game, but eventually it turned into a perfect day. 

And the re-recorded TV appearance. Express written consent from major league baseball still pending