Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why don't we all go out for dinner? and other sources of comedy.

My Wife and I love food.  More precisely, we love good food (although we have been known to disagree on the definition of "good" from time to time).  Before Sidney, we would go out to dinner at least twice a week to indulge our taste buds in the outrageously fantastic fare available in NYC, and that's not to mention the breakfasts, brunches and lunches we could be easily talked into as well.  We went out with Abuela and Abeulo, we went out with Nana and the Admiral, we went out with friends ... hell, friendly enough strangers could talk us into a meal out.  However, once Sidney was born, predictably the gastronomical outings became distinctly fewer and further apart, but our love for the tasty remained.  Now, My Wife happens to be a fantastic cook, and thus we have outrageously good meals at home ... but that means clean up.  My point?  We love food and not having to clean up after.  No wonder, then, the aforementioned affinity for the NYC restaurant/diner/gastro-truck/guy-selling-meat-on-a-stick scene.  Rambling story short, Sidney needed to learn to eat at restaurants.  Who are we kidding, it's actually that we were needed to learn how to handle Sidney at restaurants.  To this end, we try to go out at least once a week for a family meal, and there have been some definite ups and downs along the way.  What have we learned?  I'm glad you (or, more accurately, I) asked.

With considerably further ado, I give you the guaranteed partially effective checklist for having a moderately successful meal at a restaurant with Sidney (so long as by successful you mean "getting to finish a majority of the meal" ... and by "majority" you mean "got to shove 2/3 of your food into your mouth without [excessively] choking").  With me so far?  Good:

1) Get to the restaurant at an "off-hour" for the desired meal.  Basically, this means "get there before the rush."  So, for weekend breakfasts we're talking at or before 8am (hey, this is NYC, who the hell is up before noon on a weekend other than parents of young children? That's right, nobody ... unless Nana and the Admiral are visiting, then them), for a lunch 11ish or 2ish,  and for dinner 5.  Notice something?  Yep, we're talking early bird hours.  Babies and Geriatrics; cue Sunrise/Sunset, flowery circle of life cliché, et al.  There will be more room, the wait-staff will be happy to have a tipping table during the off time (more later) and you'll feel less bad about ruining someone else's meal in the event of a MeltDown™.

2) Pick a restaurant that is not quiet.  Sidney is, thankfully, very expressive.  He babbles, he uses the words he does know (often), and when he gets bored of that he just makes noise.  At 15 months, this is a great developmental thing.  Sure, as he grows we'll (hopefully) be able to teach him proper volume control, but for now it means we bring what amounts to a foreign language color commentator wherever we go; you understand a few scattered words, you know he's describing some on-going thing and every now and then he enthusiastically declares a scoring play.  In a loud restaurant, this all just blends into the noise; bonus points at places actually showing sports.  We've found establishments that play music are ideal, with large boisterous establishments coming in a close second.  This brings us to

3) Learn to spot "kid friendly" restaurants.  Aside from the blaring advertisements for the obvious "kid party-places" (which, really ... no.  Sorry Mr. E. Cheese [HA, pun], I'd rather pass), how does one know a restaurant is kid-friendly?  First, look for strollers.  Easy give-away.  Be wary of too many strollers, however, because this can mean either a private party is going on, or you have merely stumbled into a less obviously advertised ring of hel ... I mean "kid party-place".  Next, look for other families.  The kids may be out of strollers, but having one or two other families there likely means the place passes kid-muster.  Finally, and this one is key, ask if they have high-chairs.  My Wife and I have come to the conclusion that if your establishment has even a single high-chair, you contemplate young-ins as patrons.  Side note, you'd be surprised how many pubs in NYC have high-chairs ... rules 2 and 3 satisfied in one swoop!  Bonus: pubs showing soccer and/or rugby matches.  Everyone is pretty much expecting random exclamations in something vaguely reminiscent of English ... not to mention patrons possibly puking and/or peeing at the tables.

4) Bring stuff for the kid to do.  This one was all My Wife (and she gives credit to Nana), but it is dead on: a bored kid is a noisy fidgety kid, so bring thinks to keep them occupied.  For Sidney this means coloring books, a toy or two and Daddy's KindleFire (loaded with Bubble Guppies).  You start with the coloring book, he draws for a bit, throws the crayon, you switch to the toy, he plays with that for a bit, throws that, hopefully by then your food has arrived and you put on Bubble Guppies and that buys you the final few minutes to get your meal down.  Somewhere in there you feed him, which means hand him various foods that he either eats (GREAT) or throws (damnit).  The most successful meal we have had to date involved Sidney chewing on a lemon while watching Bubble Guppies for a full 15 minutes.  Hey, don't look the gift-horse in the mouth, just saddle up and ride it out.  Bonus: vitamin C.

5) Tip commensurate with the mess.  Had a relatively decent meal and want to be able to come back and not be told the high-chair mysteriously went missing?  Tip the poor people that now have to clean up the child-dining ground zero.  Kids in general make a mess, toddlers whom have a penchant for simply dropping (or tossing) food they are "done" with make spectacular messes.  So, leave a little extra for the trouble.  Think of it as an investment in future pleasant meals, your dining karma if you will.

Tune in next time when we cover packing for a family vacation.  No, really, we have to pack this week for a vacation and there is no way this isn't going to end in comedy.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Babysitters. Or, how we realized we are irrevocably now grown ups.

Babysitters.  One undoubtedly took care of you, at least occasionally, when you were a child.  Babysitters.  It is incredibly likely that during high school and college you either were or dated one (or, for some of you, both).  Babysitters.  You've heard the word for a good chunk of your life, and I do not presume to speak for all parents, but for at least My Wife and I the word now carries all manner of new meaning.  One of the banal realities of having children is that they need to be watched.  Whether it be a simple "keep them fed, changed and from obvious dangers", or the more involved "keep them in the line of sight at all times because they are walking mayhem", children need to be watched.  Although we want to be the ones doing all the watching, at certain times we need to be relieved of duty for short stints.  Doctor's appointments, emergencies, special events, mental health breaks (trust me), etc.  So who watches when the watchers need a break (quis custodiet pro custodes, if you will)?  Babysitters.

As first time parents, we predictably turned to Abuela and Nana for babysitting needs when Sidney was still in the "newborn" phase, and as new parents we defined that as until he hit around 8/9 months; although, if anecdotal evidence bears weight, for the next kid we will define that as "until My Wife and the baby are discharged from the hospital."  But, of course, we could not only use Sidney's grandparents (or other family) for our babysitting as there would be plenty of times that the need would arise because they were not available, or they too would be attending whatever event that called for the babysitter in the first place.  And with this came the first new meaning for "babysitter": a person that needs to be vetted.  

With thoughts of backgrounds checks that would make Secret Service agents nervous running through my mind, My Wife discovered that there were, thankfully, already a few networks in place for us to tap that had "pre-vetted" the candidates.  One was word of mouth from mommies she trusted (hold on that one for a second) and the other was a babysitting service run by Barnard College.  At the least, these gave us places from which to start the interviews; plural, because you are going to need to keep a roster of babysitters, not everyone will be available at all times, so have a deep bench.  As for the babysitting service (there are others similarly run all over the place it turns out), the babysitters submit for a background check by the service and list all of their references, etc, so you have a bit less legwork to do.  You get a list of qualified and vetted candidates to bring in to try out.  It is a bit like the drafts in professional sports.  You can concentrate on a smaller pool of known talent.  On the word of mouth, I was informed, other parents will give you their "back-up" babysitters in order to hoard the "first stringers" for themselves ... I do not blame them.  You go through a lot of trial and error before you find a sitter that is reliable, available and your kid likes (see, below).  Think of it as declaring franchise players vs. leaving players in unprotected free-agency (it's physics or sports metaphors people, deal).  So, the pools of available sitters are established, we meet them, we (and by "we" I mean "My Wife", who am I kidding) ask them all manner of questions and then we create our short list.  And with candidates being narrowed, we come to the next new meaning: a person Sidney has to interview.

Let's face it, the babysitter and your kid have to get along in order for the relationship to work.  Sidney, much like his father, figures out whether he likes people within the first few minutes of meeting.  He might warm up a bit after a while, but for the most part it's a read/react situation.  You can see him working through his feelings on the person.  He looks them up and down, waits to see what they have to say, gives them a good stare in the eye ... and then either smiles or starts bawling.  Someday he'll replace that last bit with something more subtle (I hope), but it is good to see he has the mechanics of it down.  To be fair, my reactions tend to be along similar lines, except instead of bawling at people I am not fond of I tend to just make small talk and nod until I can escape their presence (although, to think of it, bawling might be the way to go as it ends the conversation considerably sooner).  We've been very lucky and Sidney has taken to several of the babysitters quickly.  He has his favorites and those are the ones we always try to go to first, but they are all great young ladies.  Which brings us to the last new meaning: someone that makes you feel really old.

It is not so much that the babysitters tend to be from their very late teens to their early 20s (although, let's face it, that alone can make you feel old), it is that they refer to us as Mr. and Mrs. [Redacted] (you people know too much about us already, no way you are getting the surname).  Now, professionally I am quite used to being called Mr. [Redacted], but when done in a personal setting it always makes me spin around and look for my father; Abuelo is Mr. [Redacted], damnit, I'm the young buck.  But, alas, I am no longer.  I am now also Mr. [Redacted], Sidney is the young buck.  My Wife reacts similarly, although for her it is the memory of how she thought of the Mrs. So-and-Sos she'd babysit for, ie, "Grown Ups."  Her reaction upon having our first sitter call her Mrs. [Redacted] was along the lines of: "Oh my god, I'm the mom ... I'm the old one ... she's the young one ... shoot me."  You'd think having the kid would have been enough to make us feel old, but no, it took an innocent, and very respectful, third-party to hammer the reality home.

In the end, all that matters is that we have people we are comfortable with to watch Sidney on those rare occasions that we need to be out.  It is good for him to be exposed to new people and it is good for us to continue to have adult corners of our lives.  Ostensibly it is good for the babysitters too, as it is a (relatively) easy way to make a few extra dollars and Sidney is a great kid, but someday a babysitter will call them Mrs. So-and-so and they'll think "she's the young one ... crap."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pre-School Interviews? Pre-School Interviews.

I have recently (and by "recently", I actually mean "since she was 3 months pregnant") been informed by my Wife that in order for a Sidney to get into a private pre-school in NYC, there is a rigorous and very competitive interview process that must be navigated.  If you are anything like me, that sentence is tantamount to abject madness.  Forget the fact that we have to start the process almost 2 years before he's even old enough to be matriculated (dead serious), this is pre-school we are discussing.  Finger painting, paste eating, basic socialization and the daily nap.  How, exactly, does one interview, much less competitively, for pre-school?  Would Sidney be forced to sit for a Pre-Pre-Pre-Pre-SAT?  Would we need to get letters of recommendation from his baby-sitters?  Does he have to submit his best crayon-scribbles-in-lieu-of-personal-essay?  Should he be doing extra ... wait, he isn't even doing curriculars, how the hell are we supposed to get him extra-curriculars!?  He's not even on toddler student-government ...

Realizing that I was approaching this from the entirely wrong direction (one premised upon the notion that the process made sense), my Wife broke the news to me that the whole thing is rigorous and competitive because it is the parents that are being interviewed.  Oh, sure, the schools want to meet the kids, but I am convinced this is just to make sure they are not dealing with some uncontrollable hellion, hopped up on sugar and lugging blueprints for mischief.  The core of the process, its unapologetic sine qua non, is the parent interviews.  In a nutshell, the Wife and I would have to fill out long applications listing all sorts of information about ourselves.  Our education, our income, our hobbies, our jobs.  Then, after all this, we'd need to sit through personal interviews with the schools.  Let that sink in.  A pre-school administrator would interview me, and the outcome of that interview would dictate whether our bouncing boy got into the pre-school.  That's right folks, Sidney's screwed.

It's not that I don't interview well, indeed my academic and professional careers would dictate the contrary.  No, it's that my consternation with being, ostensibly, interviewed so that my son could attend a pre-school would permeate my every answer.  Remember, we're already filling out questionnaires on Sidney (and ourselves), and they are meeting him.  What questions, specifically for me, other than "is that your son?", "can you pay the tuition?" and "will your son cause our casualty insurance rates to go up?" are actually relevant?  Sure, my Wife would undoubtedly (and rightfully) have me killed in some creative manner or another if I didn't play nice with the "interviewer" asking me about some wholly irrelevant thing  ... but let's be realistic here, this is me.

Please understand, my cognitive dissonance on the topic is triggered not by them wanting to meet us, this makes perfect sense (the "what are we getting into with these people" factor), but by the declared competitive and extensive nature of the parents' interviews.  Some answer I give makes Sidney a better pre-schooler?  An answer given by someone else's parent means Sidney is a less worthy pre-school candidate?  Asking me what books on parenting I have read (actual application query) is going to determine whether Sidney will be able to handle the rigors of free-play time?  Of course these don't make sense, and things that don't make sense make me ask questions.  Mostly, questions that force the person attempting to feed me the nonsense to reflect on the abject inanity of their position; and thus we have me being murdered in my sleep (ok, there are other steps involved, mostly variations on my Wife screaming at me that I knew what the game was, so why did I have to make the interviewer cry, but that's not important).

However, I may have been spared a gruesome demise (temporarily), as my Wife has decided that the exorbitant costs of pre-schools in NYC makes the entire endeavor possibly a poor ROI proposition (translation: we looked up tuition and choked).  Instead, she's trying to find us an apartment in a neighborhood zoned for a really good public school.  In NYC, this means either a condo or co-op building ... which means we'll have to go through a Board-of-Managers interview to buy the apartment.  That's right folks, we're screwed.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bath Time (Revisited).

When Sidney was just over a month old, we discussed the ins and outs of bathing an infant. As you may recall (translation: I needed a transitional opening), the "ins" were having a clean baby, and the "outs" included wedging the baby-bathtub in the sink, water splashing all over you, him peeing everywhere and the ever-present threat of poop in the baby-bathtub.  It's been over a year now, and I thought it might be time to report in on how bath time goes these days.  The biggest change is that we no longer use a baby-bathtub.  Once Sidney started sitting up on his own, we pretty much had to move the baby-bathtub from the sink to inside one of our bathtubs out of sheer fear that the now sitting/leaning soaped-up child would manage to fall out of the thing and tumble from sink to kitchen floor.  The baby-tub in the big-tub didn't last very long, as our boy went from sitting to pulling himself up very quickly (not to mention getting too tall to even fit in the baby-tub).  So with the worry advancing to him tripping out of the baby-tub and going face/head first into the big tub, he graduated to just the big tub.  End of story?  HA.

How do you keep a very active child relatively (key word) still in a huge bath tub long enough to bathe him?  Toys.  Lots of toys.  With his graduation to the full tub came filling the tub with water friendly toys.  Foam letters, bath-time friends, bubble makers (who are we kidding, these should just be called "child re-soapers") and anything else remotely water-proof.  Heck, Nana was crazy enough to put a water-table in one of her showers for him (more on this shortly).  Bathtub full of toys, bathing is now a snap, right?  HA AGAIN!

As I have mentioned previously, Sidney is a full on standing, walking, mobile platform of mayhem.  Putting him in the bathtub changes none of this.  You sit him in the tub, he stands up.  By a miracle he sits back down and you pour water over him to start the actual bathing ... he stands up.  You start lathering his hair ... he stands up and tries to grab something.  You try to wash his body ... he stands up, actually grabs something and then throws it out of the tub.  Basically, at any given moment you have a wet, soapy, slippery child trying his best to wriggle his way around, across and/or out of the bathtub for no other reason than he can.  The phrase "Sidney please sit down.  SIT!" is uttered so often during bath time that our neighbors must think we have a recalcitrant dog in the apartment that is only awake between 7 and 7:30pm.  My Wife does her best to wash him, essentially one-handed, but on several occasions we've had to work together to get the job done.  That's right, the answer to the question "how many college educated adults does it take to give a toddler a bath" is "at least two."  

When he isn't playing one-man Marco Polo in the tub, he is usually trying his damndest to get everything that is inside the tub out.  Toys, wash cloths (this one is fun), cups, the water.  All of it flying over the side.  It is no surprise that once he's been soaped and rinsed My Wife generally announces "ok, you're on Daddy's watch now"; this is usually immediately followed by him throwing a soaking wet washcloth at me and splashing at me until I am as soaked as he.  This, or he stands up and proceeds to pee into the bathtub.  I comfort myself with the notion that he's practicing for potty-training.  Which brings us to Nana's water table.  Just when we thought "poop in the tub" was a thing of the past, as Sidney stood in Nana's shower during a recent visit, playing merrily with his water table, he pooped.  Just standing there.  He stopped what he was doing for a second and pooped right in her shower.  The next night?  He did it again.  The third night?  We put him in the shower with his diaper.  Hey, poop in the shower once, shame on you ... third time you're in a diaper; or something.

I guess the takeaway from all of this is that the "ins" of bathing a toddler are having a clean toddler, and the "outs" include a soaped up child trying to escape your grasp, water going everywhere, him peeing in the bathtub and a turd in Nana's shower.  Progress!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Flying Food (and happy dogs)

I am not quite sure of the evolutionary advantage provided by the behavior, but from the fact that so many toddlers fling their food, there must be something I am missing.  Pretty quickly after making the transition from "baby food" to "real food", essentially from pureed pastes to stuff that needs chewing, Sidney also made the transition from "being fed" to "eating some, throwing the rest".  To be fair, he also does a good share of "grab and put in mouth" (sometimes his mouth, sometimes Mommy's, sometimes inanimate objects ... you get the picture), but not a meal goes by without something going flying.  Things get really interesting when he gets a hold of a spoon (wet-food catapult), fork (meat flinger) or spork (the perfect storm).  He does not even need to be feeding himself, mind you, as he is more than happy to grab the utensil full of food out of your hand and fling whatever is on it.  When he is feeling particularly creative, he will grab the utensil, wait for you to start pulling back and then just let go.  That's right, he gets you to effectively throw the food for him.  To punctuate the exchange, he'll usually laugh at this point.

But, I digress.  For the most part, Sidney uses the Food Fling(tm) to indicate he is done with the meal, and this despite Mommy's (and the rest of the supporting cast's) constant reminders to the wee lad that "we do not throw our food."  When we are home or visiting Abuela and Abuelo, this leads to a lot of vacuuming, clean-up and occasional "yeah, this is still good" munch by Dad (don't judge me, some of this stuff is tasty ... you have no idea what you are missing).  However, when we are visiting Nana and the Admiral, it means that the puppies get snacks.  So this leads to two Havanese being front and center for every Sidney meal, waiting patiently by the high chair.  Sidney throws a piece of chicken nugget, mad dash by the dogs to get it.  Sidney throws a piece of waffle, mad dash by the dogs.  Sidney throws a piece of cracker, mad dash.  You get the picture.  

The downside is that having the dogs respond so positively to him throwing the food is that it "encourages" the behavior, despite the parental (and grand-parental) admonitions against his Tater Tosses. Actually, now that I think about it, kids throwing food at family animals would seriously ingratiate the tots to the pets ... leading to an extra set of eyes on the wandering infants.  A rather elegant solution to the evolutionary question; a symbiotic development.  Then again, the kid throws everything he gets his hands on eventually, so odds are the dogs just benefit.  Also, 9 times out of 10 a Havanese will beat you to a flung chicken nugget ... in case you were curious.