Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Ridiculously Long Toy Edition

Alison and I have recently been on a toy-buying binge. We somehow got it into our heads that Zoe’s childhood would not only be lacking without certain toys, but that she could possibly become developmentally stunted. However, being the cheapskates that we are we would not buy any of these ‘necessary’ toys new, so whenever we had a moment we would do a quick search of Craigslist. Unfortunately the items we were determined to find are hot items (reinforcing our belief that Zoe would suffer without them). Our binge was initially triggered by a couple of lucky finds at yard sales, a small, slightly wobbly trampoline that Zoe uses almost daily (and has only fallen off of once) that cost us only ten dollars, and a three dollar, sturdy metal toy stroller that replaced the cheap ten dollar one that she played with constantly (and broke when she sat in it). It was almost like a challenge; let’s find the toys Zoe needs as cheap as possible. First on the list was a water table. A water table, for those non-parents out there, is a basically a large basin on legs, and almost exclusively plastic. The non-parent might ask why not just fill a bucket with water? Because, it is the design itself--as is true of most children’s toys--that aids in their development. The large, molded slab of plastic actually makes your child smarter. After an exhaustive search Alison found a posting for a water table in the final seconds before we rushed out the door to pick up our sister-in-law from the airport (Alison was scanning Craigslist as she nursed Calder). It had been put out on the sidewalk, and it was FREE! We had to make a decision; a free water table or our sister-in-law. Long story short, we now have a water table, and have been heartened to see our little girl make daily trips out to the yard to frolic (or whatever one does with ones hands) in the water.

Next on our list was a small kitchen. All of Zoe’s friends have one, and Zoe will play at them for hours (or at least twenty minutes) at a stretch. Any toy that she will play with by herself is worth its weight in living room real estate. We automatically eliminated the plastic models that inundate Craigslist, and can be found for peanuts.* What we wanted was a tasteful, wooden model, and better still, a kitchen that came loaded with all the paraphernalia that is required in a toy kitchen (small pots and pans, plastic food, miniature jars of condiments and boxes of pantry staples, etc.). These kitchens can run into the hundreds of dollars when new, and we came to the conclusion, after many hours of searching, that a decent kitchen in good condition--and not painted some garish color--was going to cost us. But no matter how diligent we were we would often be the third of fourth caller. Also, for some reason everyone that is selling one of these kitchens lives an hour away from us. There’s probably some hidden Berkeley tax on these kiddy kitchens. Finally we were the first caller, so after Zoe’s swim class the entire family piled into the car and we made the trip to Marin County (we crossed a toll bridge, so you know it was a schlep getting there), were I was able to keenly negotiate the price of a three-year old Pottery Barn Kids kitchen down to only ninety dollars, and that low price included all the small pots and pans, plastic food, miniature jars of condiments and boxes of pantry staples that a child needs to make a fake gourmet meal.

There are some small signs that Zoe is a little overwhelmed with her recent bounty. We considered saving some of these recent finds for a birthday or holiday gift, but worried that she might quickly outgrow these items, but also we would have needed to seal off a room just to store them. There is the risk that she will not have any lasting interest in any of these things, and she will instead just ask us to read to her, as she did before we bought her all this stuff. We cannot let this happen. We must remain diligent in our search of Craigslist for good, cheap stuff, and steadfast in our efforts to fill every usable inch of space in our living room with crap developmental toys.

* My use of peanuts in the clichéd currency reference is an intentional, paradoxical reference, since peanuts are almost taboo in the universe of children these days.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Daddy is in Control

You might find this hard to believe, but sometimes Zoe does not do as I ask. Even if I use my most authoritative, parental voice she may still not do as I ask. In fact she will periodically fall down on the floor and scream in direct opposition to some request I might make of her. Here are some things I’ve tried in addition to simply asking something of her. Reason; usually fails, or in some cases will appear to work as she will say yes and nod in the affirmative, yet seconds after completing a lengthy and passionate speech she will do the exact opposite of what we had just been discussing and what I thought we were in complete agreement on. Firmness; you’d think a loud voice would cow her into submission, but it usual fails as quickly as using a rock to save a drowning man. Then there’s the ‘you’re a big girl so just…’ method; I’m actually trying to bluff her with that one, but usually she won’t fall for it, and will demonstrate that she is not really a big girl by having a tantrum. And lastly there is the ‘use candy as a bargaining tool’ method. I haven’t tried this one myself, although I expect it won’t be too long before I give in.

I’ve said this before (and I will say it again), but I prefer to use the bathroom alone. However, Zoe has a special radar that lets her know when I have snuck off to use the potty, no matter how quiet I am, and she will come looking for me. Up until very recently I could expect her to push the bathroom door open and busy herself in the small room while I am doing my business. I’m not sure what the appeal is to small children of being in a small bathroom while a full-grown man sits on a toilet, but I understand I am not the first father to comment on this phenomenon. Recently, however, I have discovered that Zoe aware of and averse to unpleasant smells, so I’ve learned a little trick that is allowing me to begin reclaiming my privacy in the bathroom. When she arrives at the bathroom door and tries to get in I now tell her it is very stinky. There is a moment of silence and I can visualize her thinking about the options available, then she, miraculously, wanders off. I will hear her talking to herself as she sets off down the hall looking for other rooms to dismantle.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rhymes with Calder

There are only two steps to feeding Calder. Bringing him to a b**b and burping him when he is done. Zoe was a quick eater and an easy burper. Calder likes to savor his meals and take his time getting a burp out. In fact, in the time it takes me to burp him I could probably read a couple of chapters in a book, if both my hands weren’t in use. In fact, my right arm is visibly larger than my left from the extra workout it’s getting. Calder finds the rhythmic patting of his back very relaxing, and will sometimes fall asleep before we can get a burp out of him. But beware; if you think that you can just lay him down without getting that burp out, he will most likely throw up. Which raises the question, why is it that infants need to be burped? I know that they are not able to burp on their own, but don’t you think evolution would have resolved that small shortcoming? I mean really, they come straight from the womb knowing how to eat. How hard is it to burp? I think it is simply a mechanism put in place so the dads can have some part in the baby feeding process. Men = burping. I guess that sounds right.

When you read the Big Book of Rules for Parent, chapter ten talks about how it is forbidden to call your infant simply by his (or her) name. You must create some cutesy derivative, and use it whenever you are leaning over your child, making stupid faces and speaking in a saccharine baby voice in an attempt to make them smile. (In some states you are actually forbidden by law to say their name normally, unless you are referring to said child while calling the wife to take charge of some heinous diaper incident.) But I have a small problem when it comes to Calder; I can’t think of any words that rhyme with Calder except for ‘balder’. (Okay, there’s Gibraltar but not so cute.) So I’ve come to calling him Calder Balder, which is cute only because it rhymes. Now I have Alison calling him Calder Balder, and before you know it his nickname will be Baldy. He will be Baldy like six foot ten, three hundred pound guys are called Tiny (e.g. he is not bald in the least). So please, if you can come up with some other cutesy name that rhymes with Calder, please let me know.

I seem to recollect that we waited an intolerably long time for Zoe to learn how to smile. It could be that she smiled at about the same time Calder started smiling, but with Zoe we were completely focused on every nuance of her development, whereas with Calder it seems that we don’t pay as close attention to how he is coming along (sorry Calder). It’s not that we aren’t just as excited when Calder smiles at us as when Zoe first learned, but I think with Zoe we assumed something was wrong with her until she demonstrated her grasp of each skill on the developmental ladder. With Calder we are more patient—perhaps more relaxed would be a better description—and since he seems to have picked up on the smiling thing early, we are not too worried about his development; yet. I think smiling is an evolutionary survival response. I mean we spend all day changing, feeding, burping, carrying, soothing, and otherwise catering to his every need, and if we didn’t get something back we would get tired of the whole ordeal and possibly trade him in for something more fun, like an iPhone or a large pizza. Fortunately he is smiling almost all the time, so he is safe for now, even though I would really like a pizza.

Calder has a sister. Check out her website at LifeWithZoe.com

Daddy Made me Cry (sort of)

Zoe was in her first car accident a few weeks ago. Here’s how it went down. The entire family drove to downtown Berkeley for the big Saturday farmers market. Alison decided she needed a walk so she and Calder set off for home with the stroller, and Zoe and I climbed into the Highlander (our big car) and started for home. Halfway back I stopped for a woman at a crosswalk (it’s not just polite, it’s the law!). However, a few seconds after I had come to a full stop, my car was rudely pushed across the crosswalk by a Honda Element that hadn’t noticed I had stopped. Zoe seemed baffled by the sudden movement, was briefly scared, but was completely unharmed (as was everyone else involved). Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of car activity, and whenever I mention my car now she will swing her arm and say, “Bump.” I will nod yes. Then she will say, “Wah, wah,” because she cried briefly. I will tell her that yes, she cried, but only a little. So, from this point forward, whenever anything having to do with my car is mentioned, she will remind me that I was in an accident that made her cry.

I tried to teach Zoe jumping jacks recently. It was very cute, with all her limbs flailing about somewhat randomly. And while Zoe is generally pretty coordinated, jumping jacks are the exercise equivalent of patting your head while rubbing your tummy. Zoe balances in all sorts of uneven spots, such as on top of me, and she can’t walk down a set up steps without hopping on the last step (it’s a rule that she can only hop on the last step—the steps to our house meander, so there are seven last steps). However, sometimes the smallest thing will trip her up. Tonight she landed face down after tripping on an empty (and crushed) egg carton (that she had pulled out of the recycle bag and left in the middle of the floor). And although she can almost walk across the length of a balance beam at gymnastics, she can’t walk across our living room floor without tripping on one of her toys. Actually, the more I think about it, I can’t walk cross our living room floor with tripping. Maybe ‘Traversing a Toy Strewn Floor’ should be an Olympic event?

Zoe’s most recent phrase is, “Daddy, see me,” often followed by, “See more.” She will then do a little dance, or hop, or do a summersault, or throw a ball, or bounce on her new yard sale acquired trampoline (a subject of a future injury-related blog I’m sure). Basically ‘see me’ is her method of grabbing me away from whatever I happen to be doing at the moment that is not Zoe related. If I’m playing with her, but briefly turn to say something to Alison, I will hear ‘see me’. When Zoe says ‘see me’ it mean right now, or risk her repeating it ad nauseum, and at an increasing volume. If I were performing CPR on the President, who just happened to stop by and has a heart attack in my living room, I would have to pause to watch Zoe do a little jig if she chose that moment to say see me. So to all you people out there, see me write this blog!

Visit the Calder Chronicle for more exciting stories from the home front.