The Big “Three”

Today is my son, Short Stack’s birthday. The whopping big “three” has been achieved and with the messily devoured cake and ice cream, the presents and family, our son has enjoyed himself thoroughly.

Three years seems like such a short time to me now, but for him, it’s been his whole life and I try to remember that when I have the opportunity to do something with him or by my self. It’s so easy to put off playing when there are things to do, but as the old chestnut goes, “He’ll only be this age once.”

I try hard to make time for the playing.

It’s been an amazing time over these last three years. I’d wanted a family for a long time and waiting for things to come together financially and domestically before starting one was hard. I may be an only child, but I’ve always loved the idea of having children of my own. Short Stack was the perfect way to start off. He’s sweet by nature, smiles by default and is relentless in his quest to find out “why.” He makes us laugh almost daily. He may have only been part of our lives for a brief time, but I can’t quite remember what it was like before he joined us and I look forward to each day I have with him and his sister.

That’s not to say that he was easy on us in the beginning. Oh, no.

It’s funny how the horror shows of infancy fade from memory or morph into funny stories to be related to friends over the dinner table. It’s like showing off your scars long after the wound that made them has long since stopped causing you pain. You laugh, nod knowingly compare war stories and have another glass of wine. It all makes for good conversation, but when it was actually happening, you would have happily slept in the unfurnished basement in an effort to escape the six month old who refused to stop screaming no matter how far you bent your will to making them happy.

Short Stack has turned into a great little kiddo, but as a baby, he was tough. During the day, he was almost always a peach. He’s smile and burble. He’d playa and laugh. He’d fool just about anyone into thinking that we’d hit the easy kid lottery.

Then, the “witching hour” would arrive.

The witching hour was right about dinnertime and from that moment on, all bets were off. Our sweet little baby boy would turn into the fussiest baby on the planet and there were damn few things you could do to placate him. Usually, it was just me, alone in the evenings. Action Girl often works second shift and that left me with my dream come true, strapped to my chest and screaming like an air raid siren as I paced through the neighborhood, drying to get him to calm down. Being outside had two benefits. Firstly, he loved being out in the fresh air. He still does. About three quarters of the time it would get him calmed down and possibly even asleep. The other benefit was that if he didn’t calm down and continued shrieking and carrying on, it didn’t bounce off the walls like it did in the house. I doubt that the neighbors liked listening to it much, but I was in pure survival mode at this point. I’m willing to bet that our cats appreciated he being gone for an hour or so.

Then there was getting him to bed. This was an exercise worthy of any martial arts dojo. Everything was laid out in preparation for bed and followed a perfect trajectory. Deviation in any way spelled doom. The last step of the rigmarole was laying him in his crib, whereupon he would grab my arm and pull it to his tiny chest. My job was to not move and pretend that the top of the crib was not cutting off the blood flow to the rest of my arm. Then, I’d wait.

Pull the arm out too soon, and he’d wake up and scream.

Pull the arm out too fast, and he’d wake up and scream.

Try to wiggle fingers in a hope to keep the blood from pooling and the arm from going numb, and he’d wake up and scream.

If the screaming started, the only thing to do was to start the entire night time rigmarole form step one and be on the job for another twenty minutes to a half hour.

As I slowly, oh ever so slowly extracted my arm from my son’s snoozing grasp, I’d work hard at pacing my self. I was the ninja. I was imperceptibly slow in my movement. For extra entertainment, I usually also had to pee as well. To slow my self down to mitigate the risk of upset my tiny but loud applecart, I’d turn on my internal music collection and mentally play back every single note of the Beatles, “A day in the life.” The entire time, my hand was slowly, slowly pulling away. When the song was done, I would be free, but not a second before.

This worked, right up until it didn’t. That was the breaking point.

The fateful evening when I had stood on my head and done all my tricks to no avail, I had had it. I kissed him, told him I loved him and when down stairs. All I can say is “thank God for head phones.” The screaming for “DADDDDDY!” went on for over an hour. He got hoarser and hoarser and I ground my teeth down lower and lower. When he finally stopped, I waited another good hour before venturing up to check on him. My nerves were shot and though it was murderous to go through alone, I was happy that Action Girl wasn’t home. She’s tough in a lot of ways, but I seriously doubt that she could have lived through the tidal wave of guilt that had been thundering down the stairs at me that night.

As I carefully crept into Short Stack’s room, the sight the appeared to me was somewhere between heart breaking and hilarious. There he was in his crib on his knees. Both hands were over his head grasping the vertical bars that held him at bay while his tiny noggin sagged down like that of prisoner who had lost all hope of escape. He was fast asleep. With great trepidation, I carefully uncurled his hands from their grip and laid him down. Much to my relief, he didn’t even stir.

This was not the only night of these shenanigans, but it was the most memorable. Eventually, he got better at falling to sleep and just about the time of his second birthday, he consistently was sleeping through the night. Then, Lulu Belle came along…

It’s been a log time since we’ve had a full night’s sleep on anything like a consistent basis but that’s all right though. To quote my Grandma, “ I’ll have plenty of time to sit still when I’m dead.” I knew the work load of having children was going to be epic and I also knew that I had no real idea of how hard it was going to be until I got there, and I was right on both accounts! I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

These days, my hobbies gather dust and my “to-do” list gets longer and longer as I fail to accomplish items faster than new ones accumulate and yet, I’m happier now than I could have ever imagined. I have two of the most wonderful kids in the world and a moment spent with them trumps a year doing just about anything else.

I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next and I’ll do my best to savor each and every moment at is passes us by forever. They’re only this age once, after all.

Happy Birthday, Short Stack! We love you more that we could ever put into words. What adventures we have to look forward to together! I can’t wait!

But I will.

Happy Birthday, buddy.

dad-and-john

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Season to Taste…

I have no idea what makes us like the foods we like. To some degree, it must be cultural or at least, environmental. North American kids learn to love and live by the peanut butter sandwich. French kids develop a long lasting relationship with the baguette. Hawaiian kids make a staple out of Spam and British Commonwealth children somehow overcome the reaction to recoil in horror at the sight of Marmite. I have no idea how.

My son, Short Stack is, to understate things, a picky eater. He is, in fact, an epically picky eater. To some degree, I can forgive him that. When I was young, I too have an extensive “no go” list when it came to food. It was mostly what you’d expect a kid to eschew, with a few oddities tossed in. Strawberries, for instance, I could no abide. Yes, I know. It was weird.

At one point in my young adulthood, I decided that it was all just too much and I decided to wipe the slate clean and start over. The impetus for this was two fold. First, was my introduction to international travel. When I was abroad, I ate pretty much what ever there was. I was raised to be polite and didn’t turn down food when offered by a kindly resident of wherever I happened to be at the time. The second reason was a rather obvious… inconsistency in my list of foods that I would not touch. Much of what I deemed, “no thank you” food, was either unpleasant to look at or icky in texture. Something like liver? You must be joking. Not a chance.

But… I had a love of muscles. Not the kind that you flex, but the blue muscles, picked fresh that morning and served in a butter and garlic sauce. That was something simply exquisite and I’d would happily use my elbows to make room at a table that included them in its spread. How could I bring my self to eat something that essentially looks like a buttery human ear and pronounce it delicious and then turn my nose up at anything else?

muscles

So eventually, I changed. I decided to eat everything that I came across and give it a fair shake. My only hard and fast rule was that whatever it was, it needed to be dead. I don’t think that’s asking too much from a meal. As it turns out, I like almost everything.

I have become a proud omnivore.

Short Stack is getting truly maddening to feed, however. What you can get to pass his lips is a very short list of food. He’ll eat breaded, fried chicken. He’ll eat breaded fried fish sticks. He does love most fruits and vegetables, so that’s good and makes us worry less about what’s going through his tiny system but then there are the bizarre foods that make no sense.

He won’t touch macaroni and cheese, and yet with happily scarf down a home made white pizza topped with feta, caramelized onion and, anchovies. EH? There is no chance of getting him to touch noodles in any form and yet if you cube up some extra firm tofu and give him a little saucer of soy sauce, he will scarf the stuff down like it was Turkish delight. “Would you like a bite of shepard’s pie? No? Oh, but you would like to have the bratwurst and spicy mustard.” ARG!

One time when he was still eating baby food, I was having a devil of a time to get him to eat the mashed up sweet potato that Gerber Baby Foods thought he should like. He had taken a few bites but then had clamed up and steadfastly refused to touch any more of the stuff. My wife happed to pass through the kitchen and watched as I valiantly tried to squish some more past his pursed lips. With a look of, “I wonder…” she took the jar of mush from me, opened the cupboard and added a good pinch of… curry powder. As you might guess, the rest of the sweet potato was vacuumed up in no time. I looked on in disbelief.

Now that he’s pushing three years old, there are more and more inconsistencies that have shown up. In the drinks category, there is Moxie. This is a regional soda that is loved only by a select, hard-core bunch of New Englanders. The taste starts off a bit like root beer, but then quickly turns bitter in your mouth. I know it sound awful, and to many folks out there, it is, but to me, it tastes great. Naturally, Short Stack loves it and if he catches me with an open bottle, will plead share it with me. He’ll take a sip, wince, and then take another.

Then, this morning, Action Girl called me at work. She has the day off and was home with the kids. One of the things that the two of us love about being home in the morning is the ritual of coffee drinking. Luckily for our marriage, we both like the same coffee, the same way. Black, no sugar, hot and very, very strong. The brand we buy is roasted locally and is called “Blackout”. It’s the type of brew that completely obscures the bottom of your mug even if it’s just a shallow puddle. When the mug is full, it looks like ancient motor oil. It is BLACK.

The phone message started, “Our son is weird.” What she then related was how he had wondered aloud what she had in her mug. When she told him that it was coffee, he had asked if it was very hot.

“No.” she replied. “It’s gotten quite cool now.” She had almost finished her cup and the half-inch at the bottom was not only cool, but also very, very concentrated.

“Can I have a sip?”

Perhaps it was a bad idea, but his food list is so small, and he so often turns his nose up with out ever trying anything that we never turn him away when he wants something new (booze, excluded naturally). He took a drink and immediately, pronounced it delicious. Oh, crap.

So now, I have an almost three year old who wants his own mug of black coffee. Obviously, we’ll have to figure out a way out of this one, regardless of how awesome the mental picture is of him turning up for daycare with a travel mug of freshly brewed joe. Not only that, but the idea of a preschooler with a belly full of caffeine is not a pretty one, to put it mildly.

“Nap time? What nap time? LETS RUN! AAAAAAAAAAH!”

So, to the list gets a new oddity added to it. I’m preying for the day that he’ll go through the same gastronomic metamorphosis that I did and will decide that most foods are in fact, pretty darned good. Tonight though, I know that he’ll be dining on chicken nuggets and peas, just like five of the last ten nights. Either that or Action Girl might decide to make a pizza, in which case, he’ll be eating with us. I’m hoping for mushrooms, turkey sausage and oil cured, kalamata olives.

Short Stuff should love that.

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