Performance reviews

Posted in 2012 Blogs with tags , , on June 21, 2012 by pinkeladad

So they we were, walking down the street with stroller at the ready when Oliver decided that he did not want to walk. Naturally, he also did not want to go into the stroller.

Ollie wanted up.

Actually, to be precise, he wanted “UPUPUPUPUPUPUP!!!!” There is nothing as concrete in life as a 2-year-old’s belief that anything worth saying is worth saying 100 times, and at high volume.

But in his defense, vast life experience has taught him that loud demands are difficult to ignore. They may not always garner the specific kind of attention he his craving, but they do reliably garner some kind of attention.

In this case, it was much easier, and expedient, simply to pick him up and keep walking. Which I did. And then the unexpected happened. Ollie hugged me, patted me on the back and said, “Good job, Daddy.”

This has recently become one of Ollie’s favorite expressions. Amazingly he almost always uses it in the correct context. But for some reason, this seemed like incredibly appropriate timing. And instantly I knew why — it was my performance review.

Nearly three years ago I embarked on my current career path, that of a stay-at-home Dad. In that time, one thing I have not missed is filling out yearly self-evaluations and then going into my boss’ office to hear what they thought of how I did my job. It was stressful, it was time-consuming, it was pointless, and it was often flat-out wrong.

But maybe it had a purpose. I remember virtually every review I have ever received. And I remember feeling motivated after every single one. Now, sometimes I was motivated to type up a letter of resignation and apply for a job at Target, but I was motivated.

And, I will admit, the positive reviews were hard to ignore. Especially back in the Jurassic Age when they came with the occasional raise. It was difficult not feel pride, or at least some pleasure that somebody noticed that you had some talent, or that you gave maximum effort.

Raises, of course, left the newspaper business long before I did. But I still managed to squeeze out a couple of complimentary reviews in my final years. So maybe I missed that rare, if formulaic, snippet of praise from those who controlled my work life.

And I thought that aspect was gone completely from new career.

Until Ollie’s pat on the back.

It made me realize that my situation has not changed that much — my career is still wildly out of my control and my bosses are still immature and difficult to handle. And I still need a little positive reinforcement.

Because unlike my previous career, I see a future on this path. I see job security, I see reachable goals and I enjoy setting out my five-year plan.

I certainly don’t need any extra motivation to keep trying my best with Oliver and Anastazya. Even the thought of letting them down for an instant preemptively breaks my heart.

Still, it’s nice to hear “Good job, Daddy.” Just one of those pats on the back can help me power through a couple of hundred diapers, or 27 loads of laundry, or one more sticky spill on the kitchen floor.

And, perhaps most importantly, it helps ease my sore back and my troubled mind as I watch an empty stroller roll down the sidewalk.

40 is the new 12

Posted in 2012 Blogs with tags , , on March 11, 2012 by pinkeladad

For my 40th birthday, my lovely and generous wife purchased me an electric guitar (with amp), and threw me a birthday party with balloons, cake, friends and family.

And people wonder why I act like a 12-year-old.

In truth, at least some of the party favors were for Oliver, who shares my birthday. But the point still stands — I feel young, immature and hopeful for the future.

I have never been a huge fan of growing up. I have no qualms about responsibility, I can manage my finances reasonably well and I don’t mind shopping around for car insurance. But I never saw the upside of getting too old to play with Legos, or giving up my dream of playing professional tennis. Why not start a rock band? The Rolling Stones are in their 90s for crying out loud.

Certainly there is an element of vanity in my “Carpe prepubescence” philosophy of living; if I’m perpetually 12 years old, then I certainly can’t have gray hair, wrinkles or an irretrievably massive gut. But I like to think it’s more about grasping the emotional highs of that stage of my life and riding them into my retirement years.

Because here’s the thing, now that I have reached 40, I don’t see it as the cresting of a hill, or the end of something, it’s very clearly a beginning. That may sound like a rationalization, but it’s truly how I feel. From where I sit, I can see dozens of things in the immediate, intermediate and distant future that are at least as exciting as what I have already experienced: vacations, recitals, games, competitions, graduations, births…the list seems virtually endless.

So forgive me if I skip the mid-life crisis, the depression or the regrets. From one day on the other side of the Big 4-0, all I see are good things. I am still a bit stuffed from the overindulgence but nothing that will stop me from playing some Legos, or plugging in my Fender Starcaster (in the coveted sunburst color!).

I think I’ll learn the riff to “Satisfaction.” The Stones could use a little young blood.

So you want to stay at home? (A cautionary tale)

Posted in 2012 Blogs with tags , , on January 24, 2012 by pinkeladad

So you want to be a stay-at-home Dad (and/or Mom)? I have a story that will punch you in the gut, curl your hair and make think twice.

WARNING: Not for the faint of stomach.

This morning Anastazya had the day off from school, so I decided it would be a good morning to run a few errands. On the agenda was a trip to Starbucks (naturally), a visit to the cable company (unfortunately), and quick stops at the post office and chiropractor. As with any morning jaunt, Starbucks was first on the slate.

Since it was pouring rain, I made the genius decision to go to the drive-through Starbucks a few miles from our house. This meant the kids could stay in their pajamas and not get wet. I know, brilliant. We made a generally successful foray through the coffee line and headed toward our other chores.

This is when the morning took a stomach-churning turn. From the back seat came a cry from Annie, something to the effect of, “Ewwwww! Ollie’s throwing up!” Sadly, for the protagonist of this story (that would be me) this was far from the worst moment. No my friends, this was only the beginning.

Against my better judgment, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw something I will not soon forget. What I saw was eggs. And ham. And cheese. In case you are not a detective, I had made Oliver scrambled eggs with ham and cheese for breakfast. What was most disturbing about the vomit was that it was not, for the most part, liquid. It looked almost exactly as it had when I scooped it from the pan at 8:15 a.m. It filled his mouth slowly and he had to force it out of his mouth and onto his pjs…and the car seat.

At this point, we were already on the freeway. With no exit in sight, I made a rash decision to pull over onto the shoulder. I put my hazard lights on and quickly searched the car for napkins or paper towels. I found nothing except my handkerchief. I jumped out of the car and flung open Ollie’s door as traffic flew by mere inches behind me. Once I saw the scene, I realized the carnage was even worse than I had thought.

With just a glance, I was able to determine that zero of his breakfast stayed in his stomach. This meant that my hanky was insufficient to the task. I tried to scoop up some of the effluence but only managed to destroy my handkerchief.

Clearly, I had failed and it was time for another quick decision. I briefly considered stopping at Target to clean Ollie, but rejected that idea. I asked Annie if she could hold out until we got home (about 15 minutes). I was concerned that we were about to have two vomit incidents since the smell was beginning to overpower the cabin of the car. I rolled down Annie’s window but that was a short-term solution.

I decided (with Annie’s approval) to make a break for home. The decision was both emotional (home sweet home) and practical (more cleaning products). So my poor son suffered with expelled ham and eggs all over his person, my poor daughter suffered with the putrid smell and I suffered because my kids were suffering. In case you doubt my sincerity, know this: I was unable to finish my coffee.

Miraculously, we made it home without further incident and that’s when my fun truly began. I kept Ollie buckled in while I fetched paper towels, cleaned him off as best I could and then tossed the nasty towels. Then I unbuckled him and attempted to remove him without spillage. I was mostly successful. I carried him directly to the washing machine where I undressed him and threw his pajamas directly into the washer.

Next we headed upstairs where I cleaned him off using no fewer than 4,000 baby wipes. That still did nothing to help his breath, however. Amazingly, he was in good spirits at this point, so I figured I was through the worst of things. As it turned out, Oliver was through the worst of his day but I was not.

I carried Ollie downstairs and let him play with Annie. I told her to let me know if anything went wrong and headed out to clean the car seat, car, and mine and Ollie’s clothes. The clothes were a piece of cake, the car was blessedly unmarred and the car seat was a little slice of hell on earth.

Apparently, we hadn’t removed the fabric cover of the car seat in quite some time. And, apparently, that’s something we should have done. Because as I peeled off the cover, then the padding, I felt like James Brolin hacking into his wall in “The Amityville Horror.” The worst part was a mysterious cavity located at the lowest point of seat. I don’t know what the intended purpose of the hole is, but it’s actual purpose is to create an intricate layer-cake sediment to document the life of the child who occupied the seat.

There is no possible way that I can overstate the disgusting nature of the blob that I blasted out of that hole. It was green even though there was nothing green in it. It had consumed a necklace that I don’t remember my children ever owning. The chain was deteriorated to the point that it broke apart like wet paper. There was a dime and — I think — a quarter inside the mass. It was the shape of a quarter but the raised markings were eroded. There was also organic material in there. Was it alive? Was it sentient? Call me heartless but I destroyed it before I could find out for sure.

In the end, I wiped the whole thing down with Clorox wipes, hosed it off several times and left all the parts to dry. It was an ordeal I shall not soon forgot, although I will definitely try.

So consider this a pass/fail final exam for stay-at-home parents. If at any time during this story you put down what you were eating, ran screaming from the room, cringed, groaned, or puked, then you may not be ready for full-time employment with your own children.

If, however, you smiled, laughed or had a flashback, then congratulations, you’re probably already a stay-at-home parent.

Now get to sleep. You’ve earned it.

Do you believe?

Posted in 2011 Blogs on December 12, 2011 by pinkeladad

Santa Claus is running out of time. Unfortunately for jolly old St. Nick, our daughter, Anastazya, is too observant, too smart and too close to learning the truth.

Anastazya and Oliver love Christmas, Jesus and Santa. But how long can it last?

To be clear, we are a family of believers. We foster belief in God, in magic, in miracles and in Santa. I’m not saying I equate our Christian beliefs with pulling a quarter out of my daughter’s ear, but they both take copious amounts of the same ingredients — faith and imagination.

Lately, though, Annie’s scientific brain is discovering that certain elements of belief do not hold up to rigorous scrutiny. It takes a lot of imagination to believe in anything where there is little to none first-hand information. We are a nation of doubters. We want hard data. Just because there are presents under a tree that weren’t there the night before doesn’t mean that some fat guy put them there in the middle of the night. Okay, bad example, it usually is a fat guy putting the presents under the tree the night before, just not that fat guy.

And Anastazya is on to the inconsistencies of the story. Three years ago, she caught me putting together her Big Wheel on Christmas Eve and she has never forgotten the sight. This year, she’s seen us buy all of Oliver’s Christmas presents, so it’s going to be kind of hard to have them be from “Santa.” And then there are the Santas everywhere you turn: in the mall, on a train, in the store, on the street. And all of the Christmas stories: the movies, the books, the legends, the myths. How can they all be true? And if they aren’t all true, then are any of them true?

I don’t know for a fact that she’s asking herself these particular questions, but she is asking questions. For example, she wanted to know if the story of Rudolph was real or pretend. Oh, boy. I did not know how to answer that one. I was close to giving the following pseudo-intellectual response: “In the paradigm of Christmas and ‘Santa,’ Rudolph is completely accurate.”

My father always taught me if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.

But I didn’t give that answer, or any answer. Part of the problem is that I detest lying. Hate it with a passion, I do. I don’t believe in white lies, lies of omission, or flat-out falsehoods. They’re overly complicated, they lead to even more lying and they make my tummy hurt.

So I’ve been toying with letting the Santa out of the bag. I’m right on the fence with this one. It’s tempting just to sit her down and have “the talk.” It would make me feel better, it will make sense to Annie and it will give me good practice for “The Talk.” But I can’t be the one to burst her bubble. I love when Annie believes in magic. I can’t stand when she’s cynical (and she is often cynical).

Anastazya has a great imagination and a great deal of faith. Gwen and I have been teaching Annie’s CCD class (for those who don’t know, CCD is basically bible study in the Catholic church). And she is really into all of it. She loves the stories, the prayer, the fun, and the miracles. And we just taught the kids about an actual historic figure named Saint Nicholas. He is the patron saint of children and was an extremely kind and generous man in his day. The whole class loved that lesson.

So where do we separate her belief in miracles from her belief in fairy tales? How do you divide Santa and Jesus when they have been so inexorably intertwined?

I don’t pretend to know. We’ll still leave cookies for Santa and I’ll eat them before I go to bed. We’ll still have some presents left out under the tree from the big man. And Annie will continue to mesh her belief with the facts before her eyes. Her imagination will help her greatly with this task.

And if she asks, well, I guess I will tell her the truth. I will explain that Christmas spirit is real, that Saint Nicholas was real, that Jesus was real, that giving is real, that kindness is real. And that Santa is our idea of what it would look if  you rolled all of the things that make Christmas great into one great big, red and white, furry ball and shoved it down a chimney.

I will also explain that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to not believe in an immortal being who can deliver three billion presents in one night.

And I will explain that we can still put up our giant inflatable Santa Claus every year. We can still watch the Christmas movies and sing songs about Rudolph and Frosty. I will tell her that’s okay to believe. It’s okay to enjoy the season and all of the things that go with it.

And I will definitely tell her to keep leaving cookies out on Christmas Eve. There may not be a Santa Claus, but there is definitely a jolly fat man. And he loves cookies.

Merry Christmas!

Busy work

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2011 by pinkeladad

Sometimes I can’t believe how busy we want to make ourselves. I’ve heard that nature abhors a vacuum and I think our schedule is the proof.

Between work, school, naps, extracurricular activities, dirty diapers, dirty dishes, fantasy football, and dance classes, there is barely a relaxed moment in any day. Of course, that’s a bit of overstatement. No matter what happens, I will always make time for fantasy football.

Actually, I’m not trying to whine. I’m not even really looking for a relaxed moment. What does concern me is attempting to stuff 10 pounds of living into a five-pound life.

Let me explain. Our general philosophy is that we want to give Anastazya every chance to be involved in whatever she enjoys. The thinking is that if she finds something she loves, something she is gifted at, or simply something fun, we want to encourage her.

It turns out, though, that our little Annie is a joiner. She has tried, at various times, virtually every kind of dance class, soccer, tennis, music classes, arts and crafts, Girl Scouts and more. She would rather try something and not like it than not try it at all. Which is an attitude we absolutely support. The other day, Anastazya actually asked to try mushrooms because, “I might like them now.” Shocking, right?

It turned out that she still doesn’t like mushrooms, but that was the exception to the rule. Chances are, if Annie tries it, she will like it. Really, it’s one of her best attributes. One of many.

As great as her open-minded approach is, it doesn’t leave much breathing room during the week. With Annie in first grade this year, school takes up two more hours each day. On top of that, in the next week we have Kindermusik, ballet and Irish dance classes starting. And Girl Scouts twice a month.

In case that didn’t fill the slate, first grade also means Catholic catechism classes as Annie heads toward First Communion next year. And, being the overextended brain-dead people we are, Gwen and I volunteered to teach a CCD class. And if this cake needs icing, I also tutor once a week, Gwen likes taking tap classes and I play tennis every chance I get.

I got winded just typing that schedule.

And we still have all the everyday things like chores, shopping, eating, work, sleeping, blah, blah-blah, etc.

It’s enough to make you lose sight of what’s important, to miss out on the little things, instead of enjoying the mundane, the minuscule, the precious.

Plus, we can’t forget about the really important little thing — Oliver. Before long, he may want to try his hand at class or two. The good news is that he isn’t quite as open minded as his sister. Ollie only likes singing, dancing, bikes, baseball, football, and tennis.

Looks like it’s time to clear some room on the schedule.

Photographs and memories

Posted in 2011 Blogs on August 2, 2011 by pinkeladad

How do you get rid of an old picture? Put it away? Throw it away? Shred it? Delete it?

I can’t bring myself to do any of those. To be fair, I’m not the most tidy person in the world (or even in the house). But I do like to keep the clutter to a bare minimum of mortgage statements, unused coupons and used tickets to sporting events. Hey, I’m a sentimental guy.

Could you throw this away? I didn't think so.

But I have never been good at getting rid of photographs. I enjoy photography and am, at times, a halfway decent photographer. But even when my photos are subpar, it rarely makes them easier to toss in the trash. I have more than 16,000 photos in my iPhoto library, even though we only started storing our photos there about five years ago.

We have boxes of printed pics in the garage, dozens on our refrigerator and even more floating around the house in junk drawers, as bookmarks, and lost in the margins of our world.

The problem is my kids. I know, shocking, right? I happen to find them adorable. And I find pictures of them equally adorable. Also, I tend to attach memories and feelings to photographs. They aren’t simply colors on a computer screen or ink on glossy paper, they are flesh and bone in my brain.

Case in point: the photos I found while cleaning out my wallet today. There were some incredibly cute ones of Anastazya in there. Well-worn pictures that I put in my wallet to show to people, but I’m not sure I ever did. There were two black-and-white pictures of Annie and I in a photo booth, including one where we were sticking our tongues out at the camera. I remember telling her to stick her tongue out for one of the pictures; how’s that for parental guidance? The other pictures in the wallet are two of my all-time favorites: one of Annie holding a flower in San Francisco and the other is her holding a football.

Both are great shots that I remember like they were yesterday, even though they were both taken more than three years ago. It’s hard not to be a little wistful when I look at the pictures now. And it’s really hard not to feel like I’m abandoning the memories when I decide to abandon the pictures.

But I also know that there are plenty more memories to come. And many more photographs, too.

I just don’t know where I’m going to put them.

Graduation Day

Posted in 2011 Blogs on June 11, 2011 by pinkeladad

Today is one of the happiest days of my life. Definitely in the top 10. There were absolutely tears in my eyes, which is my No. 1 indicator of important moments.

Tara, and the rest of us, jumped for joy on Saturday.

Off the top of my head, here are the top-10 happiest moments of my life, in no particular order: Anastazya’s birth, Oliver’s birth, marriage to Gwen, Tara’s graduation, Annie’s first day of school, when Annie and then Ollie first said “Daddy,” mine and Gwen’s college graduation, anytime I watch my girls in a dance recital.

Today is about Tara’s high school graduation. I never knew that this would be one of the happiest days of my life. Until two years ago, I didn’t even know it would be a part of my life. As a matter of fact, there was some question as to whether it would be a part of Tara’s life. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it isn’t. There was so much going in Tara’s life that school was not a priority. It was barely an option.

When Tara moved in with us, Gwen and I decided that the top goal, maybe the only goal, was to get Tara through high school. We wanted her to stay two years and get her diploma. Tara was not in favor of that plan. She wanted to stay with us one year and then return to her old school to graduate. That didn’t sound like even a remote possibility to me, much less a good idea.

But we took things as they came. We decided that once she was here, things would take the course we were supposed to take. Now seems like a good time to mention that God played a humongous role in this whole process. I don’t know where Tara is with her faith, but mine is an integral part of my daily life. I can say confidently that I couldn’t have made it through the past few months without prayer.

Now that the day is here, now that she’s in her cap and gown (what’s the emoticon for tear stains?), I find myself giddy. I’m ecstatic for Tara, I’m thrilled that I refrained from smothering her in her sleep, I’m happy that I can stop checking my e-mail for progress reports from school, and I’m overjoyed that Tara has one major building block under her feet.

Tara is not my daughter. Nothing that has happened, or will happen, can change that simple fact. Our uncle-niece relationship has changed in ways I could never have imagined. I have been angrier with her than with any person in my life, I have worked on a screenplay with her, I have literally held her hand through tough times, I have been tempted to do her homework for her, and I have cried for, and with, her.

As Tara received her diploma she looked beautiful, she looked happy, she looked confident. She looked awesome.

Tara is not my daughter. But even if she was, I could not be any prouder than I am today.