The Noisy Toy Prerogative

We celebrated Erin’s first Christmas in December. To make it special we spent our holiday visiting her grandparents and her aunts. We expected that she would be loaded down with toys; so many, in fact, that we avoided buying her any ourselves.

We were not disappointed. And in full accord with the rule that says “If you don’t have any kids buy the loudest and most annoying toy for those who do”, Erin’s aunt bought her this little gem.

The Leapfrog AlphabetPal Caterpillar.

It has many settings, music, colours, letters, and it will make some kind of noise with each foot that is even looked at in too direct a manner. It also has a large button on its back which, when depressed, encourages it to burst into a full song. And, if you pull it by its string it will sing the Alphabet Song.

That’s a lot of noise for one little piece of plastic.

Because I knew this was a particularly obnoxious toy, with only marginal usefulness for my 10-month old daughter, I let her play with it only occasionally. But for some reason, perhaps because I’m evil, I turned it on tonight and let Erin go to town with it after her mom came home.

Erin poked it; it sang. Erin lifted it; it sang. Erin crawled around with it up on its side; it almost had a fit trying to figure out which of its many songs to sing (because many little feet were being crushed at once as Erin darted from room to room with it).

Erin’s mom warned, “You have 5 more minutes with that thing, kid.”

5 minutes passed. And a couple more. And the noise was maddening. I don’t know why I let it go on; I can tune things out better, I suppose. But eventually I noticed a change in my daughter’s play.

When she would drag the caterpillar around and it was quiet she was happy; but if it started singing she was getting upset. I imagined her inner monologue including several expletives and repeated exhortations for the plastic demon to “Just shut up! Shut up! Why can’t you just be quiet?!?”

The toy was so annoying that not even my daughter could tolerate it for more than ten minutes.
But I toughed it out; I outlasted her.

As I reached down to finally turn the thing off I sent a mental message to my sister, my loving, considerate sister who had gifted us with this excellent torture device:

“I win, sis.”

Parenting Superpowers

When I used to think about being a father, and think hard about the dangers my children would have to face, I would have imaginary battles with the forces of evil: Superdad strikes down another drunken hockey-dad! Superdad leaps into the air to catch child falling from tree! Superdad bakes amazing pie!

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In 2006, long before Erin was born, Emily and I were driving home on the 101 south out of San Francisco. It was late, and dark. I was driving in the number 2 (which is poo) lane, 2nd from the left, and we were just passing Daly City when I saw (No, I couldn’t be seeing that; that must be a trick of the curving of the road) headlights in the left lane up ahead.

(It must be headlights from the northbound side of the freeway.)
There was a car driving next to me in the left lane, a little ahead; going just a little bit faster than I was and I had been in his blind spot for a couple of seconds as I gently slowed to get out of it.
(Headlights growing brighter; no confusion now, it’s on our side of the freeway.)
I actually experienced time slowing down and freezing as the following mental sequence happened:
  1. I truly came to believe that there was a car going north in the southband fast lane.
  2. I realized that I was still in the blindspot of the car next to me.
  3. I knew I was going to be dangerously cut off, possibly with contact, possibly violently, if I stayed where I was.
  4. I knew I was possibly going to cut off, with contact, perhaps violently, any car in the lane to my right if I switched lanes
  5. I knew I was going to be rear-ended if I suddenly hit my brakes.

Time remained frozen and I was able, preturnaturally quickly, to look over my right shoulder and reassure myself that there was no car there to be cut off, turn my signal on anyway; and dart into the next lane over…

…just before the car in the fast lane noticed the oncoming vehicle and swerved into the space I had just vacated.

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It was 2001, and Emily and I had just returned from IKEA with a new bed frame. It was one of those simple looking, beech-laminate frames with the wooden apron running all around so that the mattress was held in the frame rather than just sitting on it.

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It was about one month ago and I was in bed, propped up on a pillow as I watched Emily play with Erin toward the foot of the bed. Erin had become quite the little crawler, and she was constantly in motion. She started crawling toward me, over my slightly-elevated knees, and then off to my right side where the comforter was bunched up in a down ridge. She rolled over onto her back and wiggled on the comforter a little.

And then launched her self from a supine position off the edge of the bed.

Time froze. I was able to hurl myself forward from my pillowy resting place just in time to reach out and snag her leg as her head and shoulders disappeared over the edge. Upon contact her body jacknifed like she had reached the end of a bungee cord.

Her trajectory had been toward the carpeted floor; suddenly her head and shoulders swung back and

Crack!

It was one of the loudest sounds my heart had ever heard. Erin’s head had swung at the laminated particle-board apron on our IKEA bed like McGwire swinging at number 62.

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Erin was, of course, fine. I was traumatized forever.

And I’ve learned, as so many before me who have discovered they have super-powers: Our great powers can be used for good or for evil, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with our intentions. We don’t automatically become heroes when we become parents. Being a hero requires work, focus, intention, and I think most of all: luck.

I’m going to try to use my powers for good. And maybe bake a pie.

Dadness Mortified

By way of introduction, here is one of my favourite recent stories:

(Originally posted on Livejournal, February 13th, 2008)

I took Erin to the park today to eat some sand. She one-upped me by chipmunking a leaf and gagging on it later.

It was her first solo playdate, with an adorable little girl, T. By default it was also my first solo playdate with T’s mom E. The girls have played lots of times, and E is one of Emily’s mom friends that I hijacked back in October when I started going to the playgroup. E and I have hung out frequently, but always in a group of people. She has quickly become a good friend of mine as well.

That today was our first solo playdate occurred to me while we were having the following conversation, which I’ll paraphrase because I don’t remember it exactly:

  • E: “Have you ever seen ‘The Little Children’? Kate Winslet? She’s a stay-at-home mom. Anyway, there are these moms who go to a park, and there’s this guy who is a stay-at-home dad, and the moms all call him The Prom King.”
  • Me: “Why do they call him ‘The Prom King’?”
  • E: “Because he’s really good-looking and they get all swoon-y. So, R (E’s husband) and I were watching it the other night, and I turned to him and said, “Don’t worry, we don’t say that about Shawn”.”
  • Me (after a pause): “Oh. Well, I was never the Prom King.”

Even though my immediate response could well have been “Ouch!”, it wasn’t, because I know her comment to R was about how the moms in the real group differ from the moms in the movie (not swooning, bored idiots, but awesome, professional women) rather than how I look (which is damned good all the time, thank you very much). And I never was the Prom King. But now I was conscious of being the dad in the group, and being out on a solo playdate now, and Hey, how am I perceived in this group of moms? But, that only preyed on my mind for the next hour, because I was about to be mortified.

The girls played for an hour, and we packed up to leave. Erin was in her backpack, and E was wheeling T over to their car in the stroller while Erin and I went to go in the opposite direction. And then, as I was turning to go E said something like “Oh wait [something unintelligible] kiss.”

My next thoughts were very quick: (Are we at the kiss on the cheek stage in our relationship? I think I remember giving her a hug last time I saw her; I don’t remember a kiss on the cheek. Who have I ever kissed on the cheek? Is E in that category now? Well, we’ve hung out a lot and I think we’re pretty good friends. Ok, why not?)

I leaned in on the right (my right) and gave her a hug and a kiss on her left cheek. And then I hear in my left ear, something like: “I can’t quite reach her.”

I froze for a quarter-second eternity (drawing out the kiss on the cheek a little longer than the peck I had intended) and then I unfroze long enough to lower the backpack a little over my left shoulder so that E could kiss Erin .

But now that I was lowering the backpack I became aware that I was still kind of half-hugging E; I had begun to un-hug her, but paused in mid-un-hug to bring Erin down to her level. So in this half-un-hug state my hands were drawing away from her back but were now more on her waist.

It was like we were dancing. At the Prom.

Oh. Nice. Jackass.

I finally pulled out of the hug (and the dancing cheek-to-cheek) and turned to leave for real this time, when E called out, waving: “Tell Emily that I love her and miss her!”

Not as much as I did, right then.

Someone just smack me.

This moment of embarrassing SAHD park hijinks brought to you by a 3 mile hike with 30 lbs on my back this morning and too much fencing last night.