Not All Fish Die. Right, Daddy?

sullyanddolos2There’s something particularly disturbing about being on vacation with your family, getting a cell phone call and looking down and seeing that it’s coming from your house.

In this case, it was our cleaning lady, and she had some bad news.

“Jerry, Sutton’s fish is dead,” she told me, sadly. We’d left a 7-day gradual-release food pellet in his tank to cover our absence, but either something had gone wrong with it or it was just his time to go. She graciously offered to run out to the pet store and buy a replacement for us. Drew and I talked it over, then decided we’d handle the arrangements when we got home.

Thanks to some advice I got on Facebook, we decided to be honest with the kids. We also decided to wait until vacation was over.

We managed to put it out of our minds for the rest of the week, unsure how our sensitive, loving little girl would handle her first direct experience with death. Tonight, as we pulled into our driveway, I started to feel sick. It was time to face it.

I can’t claim that my fear of death is more intense than anyone else’s. You all think about it pretty much every single second, right? Right?? I’ve written before how worried I am about my kids finding out about it. Death is one thing I can’t protect them from. I’m not a religious person, so I don’t plan to tell them about Heaven or Nirvana or the idea that hey, things are actually even better when you die!

Death happens. It sucks. Everything else is a mystery.

It’s taken me 42 years to achieve that much acceptance of death, and I’m still terrified of it, of all the ways it could strike me, my family or anyone else I love, at any freaking time.

Bennett named his fish Sulley, after the character from Monsters, Inc. Sutton called hers Dolos, because… well, who the hell knows. After her phase of naming all her dolls Sutton, she’d moved onto a stage where she made up the most batshit names her little mind could concoct.

Punaniñas

Popocitas

Aliberias

Gatsos

Aspatilia

I don’t know why so many of them sounded Spanish. I’m sure I’ll find out someday that these are all the names of Dora’s woodland friends or something. Until then, I’m going to keep believing she’s some kind of twisted genius.

We didn’t wait long after we got home before we took her in the room and showed her the fishtank. I really think this was the right thing to do. It was pretty obvious from looking at Dolos’ belly-up body that he’d changed, that he was gone.

“Dolos died, Honey,” we explained.

She started to tear up. Through sniffles, she asked, “Can I still feed him tonight?”

“No. He doesn’t need to eat any more.”

“Do you want to go to the pet store tomorrow, so we can replace him?” Drew asked.

She smiled, instantly happy again. “Yes!” Then, she calmed down and asked, “What does replace mean?”

Bennett got choked up, too. We all moved into the bathroom, where we reenacted the Cosby Show fish funeral scene as well as I could remember it.

“Do you know what a funeral is?” I asked the kids. “When someone dies, we gather to remember them and talk about how much we love them.” I suggested we all say something we loved about Dolos. “I’ll go first. I loved how colorful he was.”

Sutton hung her head. “I loved watching him swim.”

A minute later, we flushed him. I’m not sure anyone was as emotional as I was, because I couldn’t focus much on them. I was too busy thinking of all the other funerals I’d been to, of everyone I’d cared about who’d died and of all the funerals my kids would go to in their lives. Of mine, someday, who knows when.

I gathered the kids for one more memorial. They’ve been really fond of the movie version of “James and the Giant Peach” lately. We’d watched it in the car on our way home from the trip. They knew all the words to all the songs, and through them, I had come to as well. I realized the movie provided a perfect elegy for our departed pet, so I played the song “Family” on my iPhone, and we all sat silently and listened to it.

“Do you kids want to play with the iPad now?” I asked when the song ended.

“Yeah!” they shouted. And that was the end of our funeral.

At dinner, the topic came up again. “Not all fish die, right, Daddy?” Sutton asked.

“No, they all die eventually.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Only some fish die.”

“Sulley is never going to die!” Bennett said.

“No, Sulley will die, too,” I told him. “But we hope it won’t be for a long time. That’s why it’s important to show him how much we love him while he’s here.”

As we tucked Sutton into bed a few hours later, still unsure how much she understood about death, she got sad again for a moment. “Daddy, do you know who died?” she said. “My fish, Dolos.”

“I know, Honey.”

She thought for a second. “And do you know what’s another word for burp? Belch. Just like you have around your waist.”

“No, Honey, that’s a belt.”

“Oh.”

“Good night, sweetheart. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

My Two Daddies… The Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy, and the Other One

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

There was nothing I wanted to inherit from my father more than the name “Dad.” I loved my dad, and in my mind, he was indelibly tied to that particular sobriquet. “Dad” was a term of love and respect for me, a part of all my memories of childhood and a crucial element of how I defined my family. The problem, when I actually became a dad, was that my partner Drew wanted to be called “Dad,” too — or, in the early years, “Daddy.”

“You can’t both be Dad,” a million people warned us. “That’ll be so confusing for your kids.”

They suggested we go by “Daddy” and “Papa,” which seem to be the go-to designations for gay dads these days. No matter how much we considered it, though, “Papa” felt like the consolation prize, and neither of us would agree to settle for it. We both grew up with dads whom we loved very much, so that’s what we wanted to be. Finally, we found someone who gave us the answer we were looking for.

“We’ve never had a problem,” a business associate of Drew’s told us one day. He and his partner had an eight-year-old son who called them both “Dad.”

“Is it ever confusing?”

He shrugged. “When it is, he finds ways to differentiate.”

So we went for it. Before they could even understand speech, our twins heard the word “Daddy” thousands of times. To them, “Daddy” came to mean two different men and one common function. They called for Daddy to kiss their boo-boos and to break up their disputes, not knowing for sure whether the tall guy or the short guy would walk through the door. When they didn’t get the Daddy they were hoping for, they made their displeasure known.

My kids will turn 4 this summer, and already, they’re pros at differentiating between their two dads. Their favorite way is to use modifiers like “Silly Daddy” or “Funny Daddy”, and in those cases, we all know instantly who they mean — not me. When they take the extra effort to throw in a compliment like that, they’re always talking about Drew. I’m just plain old “Daddy.” Some days, Papa doesn’t sound so bad to me anymore.

I want to plead my case: “Remember when I sang Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, but I changed every word to ‘poop’? Didn’t we have a lot of laughs then?” But I don’t want to end up as “Desperate Daddy,” so I keep my hurt feelings to myself.

I’m the stay-home parent, so while the kids and I do have fun together, I’m also the guy who enforces naptime and who makes them take off their dress-up clothes while they eat their healthy dinners. At night, when Silly Daddy is at his most uproarious, I’m groaning and trying to rush them to bed, because I’m exhausted from all the unfunny things I do all day.

… which brings me to the one distinction that hurts more than Silly Daddy vs. Just Daddy. At some point, my kids started calling my partner “The Daddy Who Goes To Work” and I became “The Daddy Who Stays Home”. Was that how they saw things? Drew was defined by his job, but I was defined by my location, by the fact that you could usually find me within 20 feet of the bed where I slept last night?

These kids didn’t know me before I was Daddy. I used to have a career, too, one that I enjoyed, and that allowed me to live a lot more comfortably than I do now. I took vacations. I saved for my retirement. I saw movies in the theater.

I thought I was trading that in for something better, a more interesting and adventurous life path. I was going to be a dad — a professional dad — and a gay dad at that. Take that, status quo!

Instead, I’ve ended up like most stay-home parents, the clichéd unappreciated house-spouse. I’ll find myself cracking privately to friends, “You know what they should be calling me? The Daddy Who Gave Up His Life for Us!”

It turns out that deciding who I would be to my kids wasn’t as simple as choosing what they would call me. I still love being referred to as “Daddy,” but I’ve come to accept that that term doesn’t mean the same to them as it did to me when I was growing up. For my kids, “Daddy” is an ever-evolving designation, one that requires adjustment at times, complete overhaul at others.

Recently, they decided that “The Daddy Who Stays Home” wasn’t quite working for them anymore. Without notice, they gave it a subtle twist, one that probably seemed minor to them but which brought me instantly out of my funk. It materialized as my daughter drew pictures of two men’s faces, which looked very similar except that one had spiky purple hair and one had a red crew cut. “This is the Daddy Who Goes to Work,” she said, pointing to the first one.

“And this,” she said, holding up the other picture proudly, “is the Daddy Who Takes Care of Us.”

"The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us"

“The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us”

*****

OK, you saw the asterisks. You know what that means. This is the part of the post where I shamelessly ask you to share this post (or my blog in general) on your social networks. Facebook me, tweet me, surprise me. If you like something I wrote here, help me out by spreading the word. If you hate it, then you can still share it, because hey, traffic is traffic, and your friends might have better taste than you. Also, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else you can find me. I’m not the type of guy who plays hard to find.

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

birthdaycakeYou want to make a 3 1/2-year-old laugh? Tell them you’re turning 42.

My kids are convinced I’m screwing with them.

“How old do you think I am, guys?”

They’ll think for a minute. “4?”

They’ve heard of kids who are 6 or even — gasp — 7, but they can’t imagine an age as big as 42. It wasn’t until very recently that I could imagine turning 42 myself, like in the last few weeks. When I was a kid, I used to imagine myself in high school, or in college… and that was about it. In part, it’s because I was convinced back then that there would be a nuclear war that would, at best, leave me hairlessly wandering a scorched hellscape where age had no relevance. So at least we dodged that bullet.

But today’s the day. I’ve lived 42 years on this planet. Laugh if you must.

In my head, I haven’t changed much from when I was a teenager. I still have a lot of the same insecurities and fears. I still judge myself by the aspirations I had when I was 16, even though I’m nothing like the person I was then. I want to smack that kid, seriously.

And I don’t believe that bullshit that you’re as young as you feel. I’m 42. Check my driver’s license and you’ll see.

I’ve given up on being celebrated for my youth. I was never on anybody’s list of Top 20 Under 20 or Top 30 Under 30, and nobody does a list of the Top 43 Under 43, so screw it all to Hell.

I’m not trying to say that I feel bad about getting older. What do I look like? Some kind of asshole?

Whenever I actually feel bad about getting older, I try to remember two people. One is Future Jerry. Future Jerry is a guy who means a lot to me, and he hates when I call myself “old”, because Future Jerry is always going to be older than I am. “You think you’re old now?” he says to me. “Just wait!”

I’ve been as guilty of prematurely feeling old as everyone else. I think back now on how I felt when I turned 30, with a mixture of disbelief and dread. How could I ever have thought 30 was old? I was so lucky to be 30. Then I realize that someday, I’m going to feel that way about being 42. And by then, maybe we’ll have invented time travel, so I can actually travel back in time and smack myself. 42 is a whippersnapper by many people’s standards. Why wait until it’s gone to appreciate it? I’m 42. Yeehaw!

The other person I try to think of when I fear growing older is Heather O’Rourke. You may not remember her name, but she’s the little girl who said, “They’re heeeeeeeere!” in Poltergeist. Then in Poltergeist 2, she said, “They’re baaaaaaaack!” Then, while she was filming Poltergeist 3, she died.

Bummer, huh? Heather O’Rourke lived to be 12 years old. That’s it. That’s as far as she got, and you know what she says to me from inside my television whenever I complain about turning 42?

heatherorourke“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooou!”

Heather O’Rourke never learned to drive. Never got to waste six years of her life watching Lost. And she never got to whine about turning 42. She has my permission to complain about her age.

Then, if I’m feeling really morbid, I think about the billions of others who never made it as far as she did and never got to meet Steven Spielberg either.

There are places on this planet where the average life expectancy is 12, and here in America, people blush and insist they’re still 29 because they’re embarrassed to say how old they really are. Embarrassed? You should be wearing a freaking badge. “I made it to 50!” You’d be the envy of everyone in Zambia.

Age is a gift. That’s why we don’t count backwards from death. Well, that and the fact that we don’t know when we’re going to die, and that’s another reason to appreciate the time we get. Every birthday I make it to signifies one more year I didn’t get run over by a truck or get cancer, that I wasn’t killed by some asshole’s homemade bomb or didn’t fall victim to depression, drugs or alcohol abuse. It’s one more year I got to play XBox, waste money on sneakers endorsed by professional skateboarders and watch my kids learn to sass me with increasing cleverness.

After they’re done laughing at me, my kids will ask, “Am I going to be 42 someday?”

“Yes,” I say, and then I’ll think to myself, “… if you’re lucky.”

42 years. Happy birthday to me.

*****

Hey, you know what makes a great birthday present? When you like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the upper right corner of the page. (No solicitations, I promise. You just get an email every time I post something new. It’s like a birthday gift for YOU!)

Shamelessly yours,

Jerry

5 Ways My Kids Have It Better — and My New Twitter Account!

kidshaveitbetterMy new post at Lifetime Moms was inspired by the last time my kids got sick. It was awful, of course, because it’s always awful when kids are sick. But it wasn’t nearly as awful as it was supposed to be, because their medicine came in delicious candy flavors. (I guess someone at the drug companies finally took Mary Poppins to heart.)

It was a relief to me as a parent, because who wants to deal with giving their kids medicine? But as a former kid, I was kind of pissed off. Lucky little squirts don’t know how good they have it! So I came up with a few other ways my kids are living the sweet life, at the risk of being labeled a grumpy old man. Check the Lifetime Moms site to read the whole thing.

And as always, if you have any of your own to add, leave me a comment over there.

Also, I’ve started a second twitter account, @MommyManBlog. In theory, it’s going to be the place where I post anything specific to the blog, so it’ll be lighter on my personal “jokes” and observations. (I’ll still link my blog posts on both accounts, though. I’m no slacker when it comes to self-promotion.)

If you want to choose one to follow, stick with @WhyJerryWhy. That won’t be changing. The big difference is that I’m going to follow all the @MommyManBlog followers back. I’ve seen enough of these “I follow back!” people to wonder if I’m the douchebag who’s been twittering wrong all this time, because I’ve tried to keep my feed to a level I can actually keep up with.

So now I have one feed I’ll actually keep up with and one where I just follow whoever is nice enough to give me a follow. Hey, I get it. I like getting that “new follower” email notification, too.

I started writing a whole blog post about my impressions of Twitter etiquette, but I decided to scrap it, because trust me, that one really made me sound like a grumpy old man.

My Son is Special

bennettmonalisaI had originally planned to call this post, “Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Are Freaking Geniuses,” because any parent knows that their #1 responsibility in raising their children is to brag about them, even when privately the kids are driving them close to a nervous breakdown. Not my kids, of course. Other people’s. So I’ve heard.

My kids really are geniuses, and I was going to lay out all the evidence in this post so you could decide for yourself if I had a couple of Stephen Hawkings on my hands or merely Einsteins. I was going to lead the whole thing off with this picture:

solarbennett

That’s Bennett completing a puzzle of the solar system, for the first time, by himself, without looking at the box. Um, yeah. And he was 3 years, 4 months old when this was taken. Did I mention he had no idea what the solar system even was? (He does now. He’s learned a lot in the last 4 months.)

As I started composing the post in my head, though, I had an “Uh-oh” moment. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “Some people might see this a little differently.”

See, a few months ago, I put up a post that showed Bennett doing one of his favorite activities, lining up whatever objects he has handy and imagining them as trains. I thought it showed a pretty creative mind, or at the very least, a snapshot of a little boy who really liked trains.

Most people did see it that way, but there was a minority that wrote with concern. It turns out a nagging attention to detail and repetitive behavior can be red flags in kids this age.

It wasn’t the first time I’d had those fears myself. Who doesn’t? We all know there’s an epidemic, and early intervention is key, so any half-aware parent is going to take note of their kid’s unusual behavior.

The problem is, everything about my kid is unusual.

eyerollWhen Bennett was a baby, he started doing this thing where he would roll his eyes back in his head. It could’ve been a neurological tic, but I swear it seemed more like a sarcastic eye-roll. His timing with deploying it was impeccable. It really seemed like he was mocking me, which I loved. But he was way too young for that… wasn’t he?

Bennett also has a very mechanical mind. He loves toys that turn when you move a crank. He loves to check out all their moving parts. One day, Drew was running on the treadmill, and Bennett got down on the floor to inspect it. “It goes around!” he said, in a eureka moment. “You’re not moving!” At 3, he understands that a constantly rotating belt is what makes a treadmill work. Personally, if you’d asked me, my first guess would’ve been “magic”.

Bennett also likes to wear his sister’s dresses. He was planning to be Thomas the Train for Halloween, but at the last minute, he changed his mind and went as Sleeping Beauty. He’s told me that when he grows up, he plans to marry a boy. Other times, he says he’s going to marry his sister or one of his daddies. (And yes, it stings when he picks the other daddy over me. “Why, Bennett? Don’t you think I can provide for you?”) On a side note, it’s nice living at a time and in a state where my son can tell me he wants to marry a boy someday, and I can respond with a simple, “Okay!”

Again, some people want to put labels on these behaviors, but he’s 3 years old. Do I think he’s confused about his gender? Probably not. He’s always been very clear in labeling himself a boy. I just think in a family with two dads, you have to work extra hard to be subversive. Maybe he senses our family is different than most, and he wears it as a badge of honor. Plus, dresses are fun to twirl around in.

notcornholioBennett’s laugh is the single greatest sound in the world, a high-pitched titter that conveys nothing but pure joy. There’s a smile that goes with it that I won’t even try to describe. You just have to see it, and if you spend five seconds with him, you will. His favorite meal is a grilled cheese sandwich, followed closely by two peanut butter half-sandwiches. His third favorite meal is walking away from the table to play with his trains.

He has a couple of catch phrases. One is, “That can’t be right!” He says it whenever something unexpected happens. While watching Beauty & the Beast, he might say, “A talking candlestick? That can’t be right!” He also says it when he thinks you’re trying to fool him, even if you aren’t. “You mix yellow and blue to make green? That can’t be right!”

His other catch phrase is, “I gotta tell you something.” He says this every single time he begins a conversation, even if he’s not sure what he wants to talk about yet.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, pal?”

“I gotta tell you something.”

“OK. What?”

(pause) “Hi.”

Speaking of trains, he knows every single friend Thomas the Tank Engine has. All their smushy faces look exactly the same to me, but one quick glance is all he needs to say, “That’s Gordon” or “That’s Skarloey”. He can play trains quietly by himself for half an hour. That may not sound like long, but at this age, it’s an ETERNITY. He can get 7 different engines going at once on the same track. He spaces them out perfectly so they won’t crash into each other. When we got him a kiddie mp3 player, he wanted us to load it up with nothing but Thomas the Tank Engine songs. (There are more than you’d imagine, and some of them aren’t half bad.)

He’s a better athlete than I ever was. A better dancer, too. He loves to invent games with names like “Run With a Balloon” or “Run Around the Trampoline,” or my favorite, which is simply called “Run!”

bennettclimbsHe’s off-the-charts skinny, literally below the first percentile in weight. He’s the only kid I’ve ever known who’ll stop eating dessert when he feels he’s had enough. Seriously, the kid can take two nibbles of an Oreo, shrug and say, “I’m done” and then just walk away. (That’s when his sister and I rush in and fight over the part he left behind.)

One of his favorite pastimes is to walk around with his eyes closed. At first we warned him he was going to get hurt, but then we realized stumbling into things was part of the fun for him. Maybe he just likes experimenting, seeing the world in a different way. He has gotten hurt, of course, but right after that, he’ll close his eyes and stumble into something else.

There are a million things about this kid that some people might see as odd, but whenever that voice in my head says, “Something’s wrong,” it gets shouted down by an even louder voice that tells me, “He’s perfect.” Not one of those million unique things about my kid is bad. So he’s good at math? Great. He has a silly sense of humor? Awesome. He likes machines? Swell.

What matters more to me than anything is that Bennett is the happiest kid I’ve ever known. One of the things he says the most is, “This is the best ____ ever!” You can insert virtually any word into that blank. “day,” “episode of ‘Dora’,” “peanut butter sandwich.” I’ve heard them all.

Quirkiness is a gift. So many people struggle to develop it in their teens and 20s, and my kid was lucky enough to born with it, in spades. Maybe it was growing up gay that made me realize not every idiosyncrasy is a problem to be solved. As a teenager, I always felt the need to hide from who I was. It took me half a lifetime to accept that there was nothing wrong with me. When it comes to my kids, I want to teach them that from the very start.

Sometimes, things Bennett does stand out to me, or to other people. But I’m not concerned. If there’s a technical term for whatever’s made him the way it is, it still won’t bother me, because what he is, is perfect.

My son is special, and I wouldn’t change a thing about him.

Image

The 5 Most Amazing Things In The Whole World!!! (to a 3 1/2-year-old)

1. Eating under the table dinnerundertable

2. Dressing like Daddy dresslikedaddy

3. Automatic hand dryers*handdryer

4. Traffic cones

trafficcone

5. Putting an Angry Birds Easter basket on your head

angrybirdeasterbasket

or just improvising with whatever you’ve gotcornholio

* two weeks ago, these were TERRIFYING

Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Kids are Junkies

popface2-1If there’s one thing that always makes me feel like a failure as a parent, it’s when someone asks me what my kids’ first words were.

Seriously, I’m supposed to know that?

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I wasn’t listening for their first words every day of their babyhood. It’s just that those first two years were full of so many loony squeaks and noises, some totally random and some parroting grown-up speech. Mixed in there occasionally were various sounds which I gradually came to understand were communicating something specific. But even those weren’t always words. It’s not like one day something crystal clear arose from my kids’ babble, like this:

Goo gaa foo daa daduh baba iPhone fee fum poopoo Ke$ha

The closest thing I can identify to a first word is “pop”, and really that’s just because it was their most commonly used word as far back as I can remember. More than “Daddy”, more than “Why? Why? Why?”, even slightly more than “Ke$ha”. Have I mentioned my kids love Ke$ha?

So what’s a pop?

A pop is my arch nemesis. My Moriarty. The Tom to my Jerry. It’s a vile plastic narcotic that’s been my childrens’ master since they first wrapped their tiny, toothless gums around one. You know, one of these:

Pop, Pacifier, Nuk, Binky (Shudder.)

Sure, at first pops were cute. I mean, look at this. This is cute:

babypopface-1

You know what’s not as cute? This:popface

OK, it’s a little cute, so maybe you can understand my dilemma.

It all started so sweetly. One day, baby Sutton pointed at a pacifier that was just out of reach and pluckily chirped, “Pop!” Drew and I let out our biggest-ever “Awwwww…” and knew immediately that “pop” was our new term for pacifier, forever.

I never expected “forever” would last three and a half years.

I used to cringe when I would see anyone over the age of zero walking around with a pacifier in his or her mouth. Pacifiers are for babies, Childless Me insisted. Why didn’t that kid’s parents take it away? Were they A) not ready to accept that their kids were growing up, or B) completely incapable of standing up to the little tyrants?

The answer, I now know, is B.

Totally B.

Back when my kids were zero years old, we would scatter a dozen pacifiers around their cribs at night, because if they woke up and couldn’t find one, there would be hell to pay. I developed a unique superpower, the ability to locate a pacifier in the dark at 2 a.m. amid a tangle of bedsheets and Muppet dolls with only the light of my iPhone to guide me.

The only reason we stopped giving them so many pops is that they developed favorites, and they could tell the difference even in complete darkness. My kids had become pop connoisseurs.

So they got to be one year old, and they still used their pops. Big deal. Pops calmed them down, and keeping them calm was my #1 daily challenge. What was the harm?

Pacifiers Are Not Forever, PopagandaThen, they got to be two years old…

Two and a half…

People started telling me to poke holes in the pops so they wouldn’t be as fulfilling to suck on. My mom told me how she finally got me to give up my pacifier when I was too old for it. She simply held it up in one hand, picked up a pair of scissors in the other, then la la la repressed memory la la la childhood trauma la la la.

I couldn’t do that to my kids. They were in love. How would I handle this if they were dating someone I didn’t like? I would never just forbid them from seeing each other. Likewise, a scissor attack seemed a bit drastic.

I would have to orchestrate this breakup gently.

Drew and I quietly began to roll back the availability of the pops. First, we restricted pops to inside the home or the car. No more sucking in restaurants or at playgrounds. That way, at least no one else had to know about our secret shame. A few months after that, we ruled that pops could only be used in the car or at bedtime, the places where we most wanted the kids to be quiet.

We started reading them books about how awesome it is to give up pacifiers. Pop-aganda. No less an authority than Elmo told them it was time.

Elmo, Bye-Bye Pacifier, Bye Bye Binky“Are you guys ready to give up your pops?” we’d ask.

“Yeah!!!”

“Today?”

“No!!!”

Pops quietly took over our lives. I learned to drive on the freeway with one hand on the steering wheel and one permanently arched over the center console, fishing around in the back seat for one kid or the other’s dropped pop. It was safer than the alternative — listening to them scream for the whole ride because they’d lost it.

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem For a DreamFinally, I faced the harsh truth about these ringed plastic menaces. Pops weren’t keeping my kids calm. It was more like the absence of pops was driving my kids crazy. This was an addiction. While I’d quietly enabled them, my toddlers had degenerated into Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream.

I put my foot down.

No pops. Anymore. Ever.

In the car.

I mean, I still let them use pops at bedtime. I’m not crazy. Do you have any idea what kind of fight that would’ve been?

At first, the new rule went over smoothly. They didn’t even protest. It took a day or two before they started playing dumb. “Where’s my pop?” they’d ask as I pulled out of the driveway.

“We don’t use pops in the car anymore. Remember?”

“But where’s my pop?”

“We don’t use –”

“I want my POPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!”

nomorepacifiersWithdrawal was agony for all of us, but we made it. Within a week, they stopped asking for pops in the car.

Bedtime became the new battleground. Every night, I awoke at least once to one kid or the other screaming over the baby monitor, “Daddy! I can’t find my pop!!!”

Slowly, I planted the seeds for the final phase.

“You know who could really use these pops? Your cousin, Grace.”

“Yeah, she’s a baby! Babies love pops!”

“So, the next time we see her, we’re going to leave the pops with her. And then, as a reward, we’ll go to Toys R Us, and you guys can pick out any toy you want!”

“Yay!”

Yes, I bribed them — not because bribing is good parenting, but because bribing works, and sometimes that’s more important.

For months, it went on like this. We talked about giving up the pops, and they loved the idea, because when we discussed it, it always occurred in the future. I could almost hear them assuring me, “I can quit anytime I want to, Daddy.”

Then, finally, this past weekend, we made the trip to my in-laws’ house, where the kids would see their baby cousin.

“Are you guys going to give Grace your pops when we see her?”

“Yes! And then we’ll go to Toys R Us!”

I didn’t even have to remind the kids when we got there. They were eager to do it, as soon as they saw Grace. Still, I knew the real test would come at night. They had never slept popless before.

Once again, though, they surprised me. They were actually excited. “Sleeping without pops is fun!” Sutton announced. They went to bed without pacifiers, and without a fight. They slept, ironically, like babies.

For three days.

We cheered like lunatics for them. “You did it! You slept without pops! You’re big kids now!”

“Can we go to Toys R Us?”

“Yes! The day after we get home, we’ll go!”

“Yay!!!”

Zelda Rubenstein, Poltergeist, This House is CleanStill, something didn’t seem right. It was like the scene in Poltergeist after Zelda Rubenstein proclaims, “This house is clean!” and you just know the worst shit yet is about to go down.

The climactic showdown happened as soon as we returned home.

If Drew and I had thought ahead, we would’ve swept our house of pops before we left, but we didn’t, and ten seconds after we walked in the door, Bennett found an old one behind his bed and shoved it in his mouth.

“Bennett, we’re done with pops, remember?”

Bennett shoved his face in his pillow to hide from us.

“Bennett, give me the pop!”

“WAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

It was worse than ever, and while we fought with him, Sutton demanded her pop, too. All that progress, erased in an instant.

Drew and I gathered all the pops and put them out of the kids’ reach. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t give in, no matter how bad things got. And they got pretty bad.

We fought with the kids all night long. They wouldn’t stay in bed. They wouldn’t stop crying. They played on our emotions. “Daddy,” Bennett wailed. “I miss my pop SOOOOO MUCH!!!”

“You can do it!” we told them. “The first night will be hard, but then it’ll get easier. I promise!”

“POPPPPPPPPPPP!!!”

“Stay strong!”

This was rock bottom, but we didn’t cave. We made those kids face their demons. They stared into the abyss, tore their minds apart then built themselves anew.

It was one of the longest nights of our lives, but we made it, all of us. Dawn arrived, and nary a pop had touched anyone’s lips. Success.

I can’t say it was easy for any of us. I can’t say we’ll ever be the same again. But after our agonizing trek to the thundering gullet of Hell and back, we all agreed on one thing.

It had been worth it.

toysrus

My Little Mean Girl

sutton1

“If a baby came to my house, I would hit it so that it would leave my house.”

That’s a direct quote from my 3-year-old daughter, Sutton, whom I’ve previously declared to be the sweetest little girl in the world. I don’t say that as much anymore, and when I do say it, she’s quick to correct me.

“No,” she’ll insist. “I’m a mean girl!”

snow white, evil witch, apple

(l., what most little girls want to be; r., my daughter)

She’ll say it with the wicked delight of a Disney villainess. Speaking of those, she’s endlessly fascinated by them. “Just take onnnnnnne biiiiiiiiite,” she cackles constantly, in a creepily uncanny impersonation of the evil queen tempting Snow White with her poison apple. She went as Ariel from the Little Mermaid last Halloween, but only after we struggled in vain to find her an Ursula costume. One of her favorite YouTube clips of late is an edit someone did of Sleeping Beauty with only Maleficent’s dialogue included. Why waste time with anything else, right?

I think she’s doing research.

How did this happen to my delightful little angel? Well, the baby thing can be explained with some backstory. She said it right after a baby took a toy away from her, and everyone defended the baby. “She doesn’t know any better!” grown-ups (like me) assured her. Sutton just glared at this tiny, adorable little creature everybody loved who did something selfish and got away with it. That’s the origin story of an evil queen if I’ve ever heard one.

It wasn’t her resentment of the baby that bothered me. It was the ferocity with which she clung to it. “I don’t like babies!” she swore. “Babies should all go away!” Replace “baby” with any racial epithet and it might’ve been a Strom Thurmond speech from the 1950s. One baby wronged her, one time, and she became a raging baby racist.

sutton2By all appearances, Sutton is more of a Cinderella than a Wicked Stepsister. She’s a beautiful little girl with a sense of style far beyond anything she inherited from her dads. She knows how to pick out just the right shoes to complement each of her favorite dresses. She’s self-assured and funny, even if her favorite joke at this age is just to reply “Poopy!” to everything. She’s also ridiculously smart. A few weeks ago, we read in a book that a character’s feelings were “fragile”. She asked what that meant, and I said, “Fragile means something breaks easily.” The next day, her brother was playing with a snow globe, and I warned him to be careful with it. “It’s fragile!” Sutton shouted.

Her teacher described her as the Mayor of her preschool class, because she’s a born leader who bounces from one group to another to see how everyone’s doing. She’s incredibly chatty, and when she wants to start a conversation, she’ll just sit across from me, cock her head thoughtfully to one side and ask, “So… what’s your interesting?” (It’s become her catch phrase.) She has every quality you could ask for in a daughter. She’s smart, charming, self-confident and totally fearless.

I’ve seen “Mean Girls”. This is a recipe for disaster.

Already, she’s built up an unheard-of immunity to discipline. I might tell her to pick up her toys or she’ll lose dessert. Rather than pick up her toys, she’ll scream her head off and accuse me of being unfair. I’ll tell her if she doesn’t stop screaming, then I’ll take away one of her YouTube videos at bedtime (part of our nightly routine). She’ll scream louder, and I’ll say, “OK, you lost one video. You want to lose another one?” Scream. “OK, that’s two videos you’ve lost. Want to go for all three?”

john-benderIt’s like John Bender racking up Saturday detentions in the Breakfast Club. I can’t win. The only punishment that has any impact is the first one, but then I’m burdened with enforcing an endless string of post-punishment punishments because she was too stubborn to back down. I admit it. I can’t compete on her level. And now she’s made me identify with Mr. Vernon. Curses!

I’ve been telling the kids a lot about Harry Potter lately, and guess who’s piqued Sutton’s interest? That’s right. He Who Shall Not Be Named, Whose Name My Daughter Won’t Stop Saying. She pleaded with me to show her a picture of him, even though I warned her he was very scary looking. Bennett covered his eyes while I did the Google Image search, but Sutton was riveted.I told her about the four houses at Hogwarts that the Sorting Hat can send you to, and guess where she begged to go?

“Slytherin! The one with the mean guys!”

LordvoldemortLook, I love my daughter no matter what. Just because I’m worried she might end up as Cruella de Vil, it doesn’t mean I won’t teach her how to count to 101. I’ll probably even tip her off where she can score some Dalmatians. (Psst, firehouses!) I just want for my kids what every parent wants, for them to be cooler than I was at their age. (Granted, this sets the bar pretty low.) In Sutton’s case, I have no worries whatsoever. Who’s cooler than the villain?

Sutton’s preschool teacher also called her “The nicest thief in the world” because she likes to take toys from other kids, and then when the kid complains, she’ll drip false sincerity and reply, “Oh, I’m so sorry! Here you go!”

That’s another thing she does really well — apologies. (It helps when you’ve had as much practice as she’s had.) On some level, my daughter is still the sweetest girl in the world. She loves to dance, play and laugh, she loves to give hugs and kisses, and she tells me all the time, totally unprompted, how much she loves me. I’ve never actually seen her hit a baby — or anyone, in fact. She’s a darling little girl, honestly, a total angel.

I’m keeping an eye on her, though. Consider yourself warned.

2012Yearbook-148

“So… what’s your interesting?”