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Morning? But we were still saying goodnight!

627 has long had a specific bedtime ritual. He heads up the stairs, brushes his teeth and gets into bed. He then gives me, in order, a kiss, a hug, and a bonk (a usually gentle headbutt), then a wave goodnight.

But over the last week or so, he’s doubled the number of steps. It’s gotten to the point that it’s the toddler equivalent of a complex jive handshake.

"Excuse me, stewardess, I speak 627."

Following the bonk, I then get a pat on the head, a poke in the eye, a honk of the nose, a fishhook, and then the wave goodbye.

At what point am I just going to cut this kid off? Both because of the time constraint, and for my own safety? It’s not what 2.0 used to do, which was find any excuse to keep me in the room so he could stay up a few minutes later; it’s genuinely affectionate. But he’s going to keep adding to it, and he’s started to repeat steps. I don’t think I can handle repeated Blade Runner-esque pokings in the eyes.

Girls who are toys who like toys to be girls…

Last week, the wife and I took son 2.0 to go see Toy Story 3. We were all looking forward to it, but my wife most of all. Last year, I took 2.0 to see Up, which was his first movie in a theater. Since then, he’s always called it “our special movie,” which is heartbreakingly adorable, but I think she felt left out.

Anyway, it’s been a week, and it’s had some time to percolate in my head. The movie itself was, of course, excellent. Pixar has yet to make a film that failed to appeal to me (or for the general viewing public), and this was no exception. It had the typical Toy Story charm (“I’m pretty sure I just came back from the doctor with life-changing news!”), and the animation was up to par.

Tthis isn’t really a complaint, but Pixar has come so far since the first Toy Story in 1995 that similar animation in 2010 looks like a step back. Of course, everything is more detailed now, but there’s only so much more detail you can add without changing the characters from their beloved, iconic appearance. The newer characters, such as villain Lotso, were clearly more advanced. But while it paled compared to 2008’s Wall-E, which was a masterpiece of detail, Toy Story 3 still did the job well.

The tone of the story was surprisingly dark. Not just the actual scary parts (of which there were a couple: a cymbal-crashing monkey henchman and incinerator scene frightened 2.0, and not without reason), but some of the themes. Andy, the owner of the toys, is on the verge of leaving for college, and the toys fear being abandoned. Rather than wait for the inevitable, the toys go to a local daycare center, where another story of abandonment awaits.

The entire story has a sense of staving off the inevitable. After all, no matter how much fun he had with his toys, Andy is not going to get younger and play with them again. In the end, during the aforementioned incinerator scene, the main characters give up hope, simply accepting their fate and resigning themselves to oblivion, with the only consolation that they are together at the end. They are saved by a literal deus ex machina, and they go on to another home, another appreciative child.

I find the emotional content of the movie is not really aimed at kids, but at their parents. The idea of a child growing older and not needing you anymore is a powerful one, and in my showing, there were more than a few teary-eyed adults (including myself), and at least one mother sobbing hysterically.

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but 2.0 has begun to ask about one of the topics I’ve always dreaded discussing: death. I personally find it very difficult to try to explain, because I’ve struggled my entire life with the loss of a loved one. He doesn’t really understand it, he just knows that eventually, you won’t be able to see people anymore. I’ve been trying to take the middle path, explaining that it’s okay to be nervous about it, but that it’s not going to happen to anyone he loves for a long time. He clams up and doesn’t want to discuss it further, and I don’t want to belabor the point, but I’m not sure what he’s thinking about it.

At any rate, the movie also got me thinking, what happens when Pixar finally has a bomb? They have a remarkable string of successes, and clearly have a culture set up to nurture success, but no one is perfect forever, right? I have to imagine that Disney pretty much just pencils in a hit movie every summer from them, so how would they react when a surefire revenue stream suddenly dries up for a year?

I don’t imagine we’ll find out next year, as Cars 2 is on the schedule. Pixar has two films scheduled for 2012: Brave and Monsters, Inc. 2. Interestingly, they did announce a movie, Newt, which has since been canceled. I was hoping for a sequel to Aliens focusing on Carrie Henn’s character, but it was actually a love story between two newts facing extinction, which sounded pretty good to me too. I find it interesting that they chose to cancel the project completely. I am pretty sure other studios would have forged ahead, doing rewrites and reworks to try to polish a turd.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is upon us.  My own father once described Mother’s Day as “amateur hour”, when people take their mothers or wives out for a nice dinner, and then get back to ignoring her like the other 364 days of the year. Father’s Day is kind of like that when it comes to gifts. If you don’t play golf, 50% of the advertising doesn’t really apply to you. The other 50% is for that automated tie rack from The Sharper Image. And you’re out of luck if you’re a smoker, because you can’t even get a new ashtray from your kids anymore.

Anyway, last week was my own father’s birthday, so I figured the week between was the perfect place for this. Not to sound conceited, but I think I’m a pretty good father. I love my children, I enjoy being around them, and I’m moderately to extremely patient. I would be none of these things without the example of my own father.

My dad spent most of my childhood working late afternoons and nights, so he was around during the day. I never realized it until years later how fortunate I was to have him around. He never spent late nights in his office. Instead, he’d spend the day teaching me the art of bidding on household good on The Price is Right (as an aside, I believe we should abolish all coinage and simply round everything to the nearest dollar). It was my dad who made me lunch during the summer. It was my dad who drove me everywhere I wanted to go.

It was my dad who cleaned the house with the devotion of the obsessive compulsive. No, really. He had a vacuum with his name and a screaming skull sticker on it. That vacuum eventually broke from overuse. The handle broke clean off. And like any good father, he duct-taped it back on.

When I decided to stay home with my son, it was my dad who made it feel normal to me. Not just because he felt I’d be good at it, although he did, but because growing up with a father taking care of a child felt completely normal to me.

When my son was born, I remember holding him and talking to my father. I laughed nervously and said that I was intimidated by the enormity of the task in front of me. I remember him chuckling and saying that this is the part that anyone can do. “This part is like taking care of a puppy. Feed him, change his diaper, make sure he’s safe, anyone can do that. It’s when you have to make them into decent human beings that it gets difficult.” Like most advice he’s ever given me, he was correct.

One of my favorite quotes by Mark Twain applies perfectly to my father. “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Progress, of a sort

I was playing outside with the boys the other day, and 2.0 found a stick. Of course, within minutes, it was being used to shoot imaginary enemies.

“You know, it doesn’t have to be a blaster. You could pretend it was something else.”

2.0 looked at me, confused. “You mean, like a… blaster?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Something other than a blaster.” I took it from his hands and held it up to my eye. “Look, it could be a telescope. Or a flute!” I held it against my nose. “Now I’m an elephant, and it’s my trunk.” I handed it back to him. “See, it could be lots of different things.”

He took it, a huge smile dawning on his face. “Yeah, like a sword! That I can use to fight skeletons!”

Dogs: A Must-Have Parenting Accessory

I don’t know how kids grow up without dogs. I’ve had 8 dogs in my life that I can remember, and at least a few I can’t. As a child, I can only remember a few days when I didn’t have a dog, when one had to be put to sleep, before we got another. To me, a family isn’t truly complete without a dog, as a pet and as a companion.

Now that I’m a parent, I appreciate my dogs even more. Not because they are protective and affectionate with my children, although they are. Not because they help keep my home secure, because they don’t. But because they do a chore I don’t particularly relish: they clean up after my children.

Without dogs, I would spend a not-insignificant portion of my day picking food off the floor. Just over the last 24 hours, they have eaten a cornucopia of ABC (Already Been Childrened) food off the floor: two types of cereal, crackers, grapes, pears, peaches, strawberries, bananas, cheese, bread, hamburger, pasta, carrots, green beans. We’ve even taken to calling one of the dogs “the Beagle-Shaped Roomba.”

I have two dogs now, both mutts adopted by my wife when we were both in college, over a decade ago.

They are no longer this lazy, believe it or not. Meka, the black-and-white mix, was so unnerved by the arrival of 2.0 that she had a stroke about 3 months after his birth. She recovered perfectly, earning the nickname “Strokey the Wonder Beagle,” which I consider an excellent recouping of our $3000 investment into her MRI.

Inky, the yellow lab mix, is, for all intents and purposes, Marley. So much so, that when I loaned my brother the book “Marley and Me,” he called me up to ask if I had written it under a pseudonym. The things he has eaten and destroyed reads like an IKEA catalog, plus everything in their cafe.

As I type this, Inky is lying next to me on the floor, keeping a watchful, if somewhat clouded, eye in the direction of the kids rooms. I have always said that love keeps a dog healthy, which, if true, ensures that at least some of my chores will be done for at least several more years.

The Deuce

Warning: This post is absolutely disgusting. Like many things related to my children, it’s about crap. Proceed at your own risk

A stay-at-home parent has a lot in common with the Eskimo stereotype. While I don’t have specific words for all of them, I can think of more than a dozen types of poop right off the top of my head. The dozens of rabbit pellets. The two-part epoxy. The out-of-nowhere explosion. The dreaded Vesuvius. The list goes on.

The worst, however, is the one that never comes. 2.0 is going through a withholding phase. For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon, let me explain it to you and at the same time terrify you into never having children.

Essentially, 2.0 has become so constipated, and is so afraid of the pain of using the toilet, that he has simply stopped trying. Whenever he feels the urge to go, he simply concentrates on holding it back. Eventually, there isn’t room for any more solid waste, so all the excess waste becomes liquid. So now, a weeks’ worth of solid feces is floating in an amniotic fluid of liquid feces.

Of course, he still has to go, but he continues to hold it. So a dozen times a day, he grunts and screams, clutching his stomach. He finally passes gas, and liquid feces that has been fermenting in his intestines for days leaks out. Every three to four days, he can’t hold it any more, so I have to hold him onto the toilet for 25 minutes while he screams like he’s giving birth, finally relieving himself of a turd the size of a baby’s arm.

Combine this with the fact that he won’t tell me when he needs to go, only when he’s done, and I end up having to change eight to ten of his diapers daily (he’s back in pull-ups, because I’m not going to do a load of a dozen pairs of stained underpants a day). Add those to the three or four BMs a day that experiment 627 has, and I’m literally up to my elbows in crap.

In fact, I’ve stopped keeping track of time by hours and minutes. Instead, I’ve been using ‘poops’, a variable period of time that is typically 35 to 45 minutes.

“How long since the dogs were out?” “Oh, about a poop and a half.”

“That was a long movie, about 4 poops.”

I’ve tried everything. Calm discourse, guilt, yelling, bribes, reward charts, dietary changes. A trip to the doctor last week has met with mixed results. I know it’s just a phase; he’s certainly not going to be doing this when he’s in his teens. But for now, it’s really wearing me out.

If you give a mouse a cookie, he will shoot you in the #%*;^!$@ face!

I like to think I’m a pretty middle-of-the-road guy on a lot of things. I don’t let my passions get a hold of me too often, and I try to remain fairly mellow. The same can be said for my parenting style. Everything in moderation, even moderation.

I liked guns growing up. Not real guns, of course, but I loved toy guns. Squirt guns, GI Joe guns, whatever. If it had a trigger and didn’t actually shoot bullets, I probably shot it at some point. I joined the Marine Corps after college, and while it wasn’t just for the M16A2, it certainly didn’t hurt.

However, my father was a police officer, and I was always taught how dangerous guns really were. I asked my brother once recently if he ever touched my father’s gun without permission. His answer was an aghast “No! Of course not.” Another afterschool special ruined.

So I’m not opposed to my boys playing with toy guns, in principle. But realistically? I wish he was at least able to comprehend what guns were before he started shooting me with them.

Dr. James Dobson, author of “Bringing Up Boys,” said, and I paraphrase, that it doesn’t matter how secluded you keep your boys, how little you let them watch violence. At some point, you will give him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and he will bite it into the shape of a pistol and try to shoot you with it.

2.0 doesn’t even own guns, but there’s only one shape he’s been building his LEGOs in lately. When he was being punished by having toys taken away, he took hangers from his closet and made them into “hanger blasters.”

It’s my own fault, in the end. I have Star Wars DVDs in my entertainment center and Marvel comics on the bookshelf. Practice what you preach, I guess. Maybe when he understands what guns actually do, he’ll see them in a different view. But then again, that’s a conversation I’m dreading even more.