Monday, May 18, 2009

Rights of Passage

Ella finally did it. She pooped in the potty this morning, thereby earning the right to wear her Elmo underwear, like a big girl. We couldn't have been more proud of this milestone in our little girl's life; you'd have thought she had graduated at the top of her class and gotten a full scholarship to Yale. She was proud, too, and ate up the attention (and the potty cookies) with the biggest smile I have ever seen on a toddler. The corners of her mouth actually touched her ears for a second or two, and I think I counted sixty-one teeth, which is amazing.

Of course the wife is convinced that this is the beginning of a new era for Ella. She's planning a pull-up burning ceremony to mark this right of passage. We'll call it a Pot-Mitzvah, for lack of a better word, and we'll all sing songs from "Go Potty, Go" and recite lengthy passages from "Potty Time With Elmo." Then we'll roast marshmallows over the flaming pull-ups and pray that the fumes aren't too very toxic.

I myself am a little more skeptical, and can't help but wonder whether this was just a happy accident. One poop, for me, does not make a toddler potty trained. Perhaps a re-poop, or even a three-poop would put my mind at ease and allow me to dream of cutting the diaper bill in half. Still, I must tell you that she managed to keep her big girl underwear clean and dry until lunchtime, which is no small feat in itself. And, we were out in public.

Another thing we established today is Ella's fear of public restrooms. She does not like to sit upon a public toilet, and turns into a writhing, slithering toddler snake when placed within a three foot radius of one. She probably would have run away had her pants not been around her ankles. I was thankful that the restroom was empty, because we did have a small amount of success going potty in the sink. Just a number one, mind you, and I did rinse thoroughly afterward. Isn't daddy resourceful?

So, hat's off to the big girl in the Elmo underwear. She's another step closer to breaking my heart. Each of these milestones reminds me that she will not always be my little girl, and that someday, I will have to let her go. But, until then, we will celebrate each day together and make memories that will last a lifetime. Hopefully, they will be less smelly memories from here on out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Those People

In the many years I have worked in the restaurant business, I have seen plenty of poorly behaved children. You know the ones. They dump the sugar packets all over the tables. They drool in the salt shakers. They throw everything within their grasp all over the floor. They shriek and howl and run about while their parents seem oblivious to their horrible behavior. And while some people would say that these are bad children, I would argue that these were bad parents. But I think we would all agree that nobody likes "those people."

So when we went to our favorite local pizza joint tonight for dinner, I never dreamed it would have gone so badly. The wife grabbed a booth with Jack, while Ella and I stood in line to order. Tired and overstimulated from the Renaissance Festival, Ella soon began crying for her mother, who was all the way back at the last booth, the farthest distance she could possibly get from the counter. Being tired, and not wanting to lose my place in line, I foolishly put Ella down and said, "Mommy's right there. Go get her." I watched as she ran, not in a straight line, but serpentine through the restaurant, laughing and making a scene the whole way. Then Jack decided to run to daddy, stopping to linger a little too long in front of the front door, ignoring his father who was repeatedly calling his name, each time with more volume than the last, drawing too much attention to himself.

After we ordered, we took turns playing a racing video game. That went badly as well, resulting in fits of temper when each one was required to give the other a turn at the steering wheel. Next we washed hands, and Ella became upset when I refused to let her wash up in the urinal. Then we went back to the booth and managed to get the salt, pepper, and parmesan shakers out of harm's way just before the pizza arrived.

Jack refused to eat. In fact, he refused to do anything but jump up and down in the seat of the booth. Ella was a little more sly. She acted like she was eating, then while our guards were down, she began smearing her pizza all over the plate glass window, creating a pizza Pollack. They both banged their forks on the table for awhile, until Ella dropped hers on the floor. Jack went after it, spending an unnecessary amount of time under the table doing who knows what. I was too afraid to look. Then, Ella made a break for it, running from her mother who was suddenly calling for a box and spanking Ella's butt simultaneously in true mother multitasking fashion.

And as we were leaving, some of us sobbing, and all of us exhausted, I could not deny the fact that we had become, "those people." I was a bit embarrassed to say the least. But, in my defense, I must point out that our twins are not bad children, and neither are the wife and I bad parents. We were just your average happy family, having a bad day.

Woah, Mule!

Today, the wife and I took the twins to the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Twice. The first time, we got rained out after about twenty minutes. So we went home to dry out, eat lunch, and put the kids down for a quick nap. After a couple of hours, the rain let up, so we ventured out again, this time with much better results, albeit with muddier shoes.

The festival is a sprawling village of period dressed merrymakers and merchants that want to separate you from your money. It's kind of like a 16th century mall, run by carnies. They have nothing you need, and they're screaming at you to come and have a look at their wares. Either we have less money than most, or we have more willpower, because we managed to make it out of there without a single corset, sword, wooden axe, pirate hat, lotion candle, or dragon portrait.

The shows were free and held the children's interest for awhile. They had a pretty good playground and petting zoo which were free also. The jousting was impressive, and the acting not that bad. Keanu Reeves would have been proud. And the people were friendly, although their period dialect was a little annoying after awhile. But they did offer me a new insight into the parent/toddler relationship.

Everywhere we went, the period players would address the twins as "beautiful princess", or "handsome prince", while referring to the wife and me as their "humble servants." This was a revelation, and quite true, too. We do, after all, wait on them hand and foot; they don't have to do anything for themselves. They cry, and we play the jester to make them laugh. They demand juice, and we rush to get it for them. The don't even wipe their own behinds! They live like royalty, while we live only to serve them.

And then I realized that Ella had refused to walk the whole day. Not only was I carrying all of her necessities in a backpack, like a pack animal weighed down with heavy saddlebags, but she had also been riding me around all day. It's a sobering moment when you realize your two year old has spent an entire afternoon literally making an ass out of you.

Still it was fun. Jack gathered rocks, ate dirt, and laughed out loud at jugglers and acrobats. Ella hugged a goose, almost joined a Shakespearean comedy troupe, and adopted an overweight grandfather in an attempt to steal his beer. And the best part? They were both so worn out that they went to sleep almost as soon as their royal heads hit their pillows. "Thank thee, lords and ladies of the Renaissance Festival, for thy gift of tired toddlers! Fare thee well, until next year."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Although I consider myself to be a pretty good father and husband, I have to be honest with myself and admit that I am still, at heart, a flawed human being, just like everybody else. I have always struggled with living in the present, enjoying the moment, and being content with the blessings bestowed upon me. I am, like most Americans, a consumer, and assume that a bigger house, or a nicer car, or a better vacation will bring more joy and happiness to me and my family. Perhaps this is primarily a male trait, but, for me, the thrill of the hunt is always more satisfying than the kill itself.

This poses a unique dilemma upon my marriage, for there is nothing left for me to conquer there. The hunt is over, and although my trophy fills me with pride, I tend to take her for granted, and I seldom let her know just how much she means to me anymore. And to make matters worse, I flaunt my love for my daughter in her face, in an effort to prevent Ella from ever suffering from low self esteem, hoping that she will never settle for less than she is worth. I have moved on from making sure my wife feels appreciated, shifting that focus instead upon my daughter. This is, perhaps, my deepest regret.

The truth is that my wife is a wonderful mother. She has lived up to my every expectation in that regard. I knew watching her with my nieces and nephews that she would make an ideal parent. And this is no easy task. She is consumed with guilt that she spends all of her time yelling at our children. "No, don't touch that. It's hot!". "Don't jump on your sister!". "Do you want to go to time out?". But children need parents to teach them their boundaries. And compared to the kids I see at the restaurant on a regular basis, our kids are very well behaved, indeed. She deserves all of the credit for our wonderful children. I was just the guy in the room at the time of conception. How lucky was that?

We entered into parenthood knowing that this would not be an easy task. But I don't think that either of us knew just how hard it would be. So on the heels of Mother's Day, I need to tell my wife just how much she means to me. Sure, we say "I love you" every day, but that's just as insignificant as "How was your day?", or "Can you take out the trash?". So the following is an open love letter to my wife. I don't care who reads it. I only hope you can find a fraction of the love that she gives to me on a regular basis.

My dearest Jodie,

Happy late Mother's Day. I can't help but feel like the gifts I gave you don't do you justice. I could never repay you for the gifts you have given me in the form of our beautiful twins, Jack and Ella. They are the embodiment of our love for each other, and they are perfect in each and every way, and I have you to thank for that.

I am well aware of the sacrifices that you have made for our family, and they will not go unappreciated. Even in hard times, and raising children without the help of our families is hard, indeed, you have been there to guide all of us. Although I could never repay you for what you have given me, I can assure you that I will always be there beside you. Even when raising twins brings out the worst in us, I have never entertained the thought of leaving you. You provide me with unparalleled comfort and stability when I need it most. You are the backbone of this family, and I am eternally grateful to you for all of your contributions.

I could never imagine my life without you in it. You have changed me for the better, and I am a better man because of you. I say these words proudly, and for all to see. And if pride is a sin, well then, I am a sinner of great magnitude. I want the world to know that I love you more than I love myself, and I never thought that was possible, because I am pretty damn good if I do say so myself. Please be at my side always...


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Potty Training

We've been potty training the twins with varying degrees of success. Ella will pee on the potty almost every time she sits on one, but Jack just wants to play with his doober whenever his pull-ups are removed. And although neither of them will poop on the potty, Jack will almost always remove his pull-ups immediately after a bowel movement, usually making a terrible mess in the process, while Ella seems to be ashamed of her accidents, and refuses to acknowledge the mess under her dress.

There are certain aspects of this rigorous process that I expected to find disgusting, but as it turns out, these incidents aren't as gross as I would have imagined. Getting peed on three times in one hour isn't nearly as painful as spending the same amount of time in a doctor's waiting room, for instance. And the smell of poop is now just an affirmation that I'm home at last, my workday finished.

But it's the blending of activities that I find to be truly unsettling. We spend so much time in the bathroom trying to potty, that all of our daily rituals must now take place there. We read on the potty. We play on the potty. We sing on the potty. We learn on the potty. But I find that my morning coffee doesn't taste the same in the claustrophobic confines of our hallway bathroom. And the sight of sippy cups and bananas abandoned on the bathroom floor is just too much for me. What's that old saying that even a dog knows better than to poop where it eats? I guess my children will never run the Iditarod.

Still, we celebrate the small victories and draw encouragement where we can find it. Recently, we found the twins awakening in the nude, their pajamas and pull-ups discarded in the night, scattered among the half eaten books and broken toys, and shrouded in the foul stench of baby poop. We searched the room, but found only a sock that Jack had turned into toilet paper. After more searching, we decided on the direct approach. "Jack? Where's the poop?" we asked. Beaming with pride, he pointed to the top of the dresser and proclaimed, "There it is!". And behold, there it was. Reminds me of the Polish fellow who said "Look what I almost stepped in!".