Signs of the Times

Or: Observational Evidence that the Worst of the Pandemic is Perhaps, Hopefully, Potentially Behind Us Notwithstanding Some Unforeseen Circumstances

Over the past couple of weeks, I have started to notice a few things that have put a smile on my face. And you actually know that I am smiling because I am fully vaccinated which means I’m now completely invincible to all viruses. It’s felt like a long, bleak winter trapped under an avalanche during the quarantine. But now finally there are signs, little flower buds pushing through the ice and snow to once again bloom in the warm sunlight.

You know that the worst of the pandemic is probably over when there is:

No More Plexiglass

Wawa took down some of their plexiglass barriers. I actually never minded the plexiglass. It made me feel more confident in the mornings when I had rushed out of the house without brushing my teeth wondering if my breath smelled bad. Nevertheless, it is nice to see my favorite quick stop for on-the-go beverages and snacks starting to loosen up and relax a little.

In-Store Dining

Dunkin’ Donuts has in-store dining available. We walk to our local Dunkin’ literally every week if not multiple times a week. It is our go-to coffee, donut, and just in general place. Our family loves Dunkin’ like a Winnie-the-Pooh loves honey or a sea cucumber loves algae or an infant koala loves its mother’s feces (good luck looking that up later). Now, we can once again enjoy our silky smooth cups of Joe and luscious Boston creams while being entertained by the sights and sounds of those patrons who run on Dunkin’. It’s like a free visit to the zoo but better because it doesn’t smell like manure.

Free Samples

Publix is handing out free cookies to kids again. Every other week or so when we’d roll our children down the aisles of our local grocery store in the rad two-seat carts that look like a race car, our kids would be disappointed as we passed by the bakery and there was no bubbly attendant to offer them a free cookie. But the cookies are BACK BABY! Now, the bakery is once again our first stop during a grocery run. It just makes the whole shopping experience much more pleasant when you have something to stuff your child’s face with to keep them from grabby, grabbing things and pointing and shouting at other customers who are wearing “alternative” clothing designs.

More Free Samples

Sam’s Club has free samples again. Albeit, they only put out one sample at a time, and the sample is covered by a plastic dome with a hand opening like some kind of sterile laboratory workstation. Nevertheless, the free food samples are basically why we have a membership. That, and we don’t have a Costco nearby… But whatever, I’ll take free food samples anytime, anyplace. My parents had a very difficult time teaching me not to take candy from strangers. I was always like, “Are you crazy‽ Why not‽ It’s candy! And it’s free! Of course I’ll have some!”

Even More Free Goodies

Our church recently began putting out the self-serve airpot pump thermal coffee carafe again. Basically, everything I’m excited about has to do with food in some way or another. Good riddance coronavirus. You’re kind of ugly and nobody likes you.

Some of My Greatest Fears as a Parent

(Or: The Return of a Flabbergasted Father’s Rants)

Sure, there are the typical fears of parenthood like your child getting hurt at the playground, lost at the store, or forever psychologically scarred and damaged by my ineptitude and bungling as a parent trying to explain things like where babies come from. But other than those big fears, I also have a few smaller, what some may consider petty concerns. Nevertheless, these are some of the things that keep me up at night. Terrors such as…

Milk

I’m pretty sure that it’s a normal thing for people to become more sensitive to dairy as they get older. And as such, I recently began complaining to my wife that milk products just aren’t settling well with me anymore. I told her, “I think I’m becoming lactose intolerant because it hurts my stomach now when I eat two large bowls of ice cream at midnight.” Her response was, “Umm, no, I think it’s because you’re eating an entire quart of ice cream in one sitting.”

So insensitive those wives.

Anyways, our kids pretty much survive on milk, cheese, and yogurt alone. It’s about all they’ll consume. Well, that and donuts. We’re pretty health-conscious parents. But all that means is lots of partially eaten, leftover lactose gleanings. My wife, again always the paragon of reason, tells me that I don’t have to eat everything. Silly wives. Of course I have to eat everything! But it doesn’t mean that I’m any less afraid at the end of every mealtime.

Monkey Swings

If you don’t know, monkey swings are these single-rope swings with a circular seat (why am I explaining this to you? Just look up a picture online). They seem like a fun idea, but so are many of the devil’s temptations. Basically, these swings are very difficult to control and not at all designed for most children. If your kid doesn’t fall off mid-swing, then they’re probably hitting a tree or another child. The random chaos is so prevalent that the term “monkey swing” has basically become a euphemism for all things that were “made” for children but clearly not “designed” for children. You definitely know when someone else doesn’t have kids of their own. Infamous examples include:

  • A waiter/waitress bringing a scalding hot plate of food and placing it directly in front of your grabby-hand child so that they burn off their fingerprints.
  • A dance recital that takes place right in the middle of dinner time, lasts three hours too long, requires that the whole family stays in attendance the entire time, and in which your child is only in one number towards the end of the second act.
  • Rubber bath toys that don’t allow air circulation and start to grow mold after just one bath time.
  • Slime. While we’re at it, let’s just add Play-Doh, Kinetic sand, and all molding clays in general.

These are all “monkey swings” and they are just the worst. Also, when I was a kid, I once got in a fight with a monkey swing. Don’t ask me about what was said. But the swing took a cheap-shot at me in the mouth as I was turning around. It chipped my tooth pretty badly and knocked it up out of alignment, so I had to get braces and the tooth synthetically filled. You may be tempted to think that now I’m simply projecting my own childhood trauma onto my kids and thus perpetuating a vicious, multi-generational cycle. To that, I would say, isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Barbies

WHY ARE THEY ALWAYS NAKED‽‽‽ Can someone, anyone, please explain to me why these humanoid dolls are all constantly laying around the house without any clothes on? It’s like I live inside some sort of weird plastic, twilight zoney, Korean bath house. I know when we bought these dolls, they had clothes on. Sometimes, they even have extra apparel items. But inevitably, all the garments come off, and the rooms and hallways and byways are filled and cluttered with nudist, sun-bathing Mattel models. I mean, does this make anyone else just a wee bit uncomfortable? Can these Barbies and Kens not be designed in a more modest affirming fashion way? The worst part is that my kids are constantly asking me to put the clothes back on the dolls. So, I do. I awkwardly dress those anatomically incorrect miniature mannequins, and then not one minute later, I inadvertently and painfully step on their naked, prostrate corpses again. Why so easy to undress, yet virtually impossible to redress by the known laws of physics. It’s like some sick, psychological power game inside a control vortex.

And when visitors come over, how am I supposed to explain the embarrassing life choices happening all around? My eighteen-month-old son seems to have picked up on these bad influences because he too just wants to constantly run around the house without any clothes on. Oh, what it would be like to feel no shame.

Still Yet More Rantings of a Flabbergasted Father

Car Seats

Both installing the car seat and buckling the child within the car seat are a literal pain in my back. You show me a car seat, and I will show an irritated parent ready to start throwing things. Car seats are meant to keep kids safe, but my experience has been that they are one of the single most dangerous obstacles that our family must overcome each and every day. First of all, good luck actually getting the seat snug and secured properly with those ridiculously placed straps and hooks that you can only tighten if you’re a contortionist for Cirque du Soleil. Secondly, you have to place your chubby toddler in the seat while bending over awkwardly on the verge of herniating every disc in your spine. And then, you’ve got to strap down that squirmy wormy, squishy meat tot with buckles that are clearly designed to pinch and tear away the flesh and fingers.

Mealtime

As babies, our kids seemed to eat anything. In fact, the trouble was getting them to not eat things such as socks and dirt. But as our oldest has grown, she’s become more and more picky. Right now, her one-year-old brother eats three times as much, consuming approximately his own body weight in food every four hours or so. She, on the other hand, has become quite the food aficionado of criticism. She will eat chicken nuggets but not tenders or strips. And I’m like, a chicken doesn’t have any of those things to begin with so why does it matter? She’ll eat mac ‘n cheese, but only that mac n’ cheese. Only this jelly on the PB&J. At this point, getting her to try something new is like trying to negotiate with D.B. Cooper who has already hijacked a plane full of hostages and parachuted out with all the money.

Peppa Pig

Don’t get me wrong. I love Peppa Pig. It’s easily one of the best kids shows out there, and it is just hilarious. There’s so much humor for parents, you can really tell the writers are all about using sarcasm to confuse their own children. But my one major gripe is this: Peppa’s favorite activity is jumping in muddy puddles. Seriously? Why would you do that to parents across the globe? Because if Peppa loves jumping in muddy puddles then you know what that means… it means my kid wants to jump in muddy puddles. But you know what? Muddy puddles are the worst. They seem like a cute, fun idea, like having an outdoor wedding. But in reality, they are a living nightmare. Puddles in a cartoon are clean and harmless. Real puddles in our city are not so much organic mud as they are an ungodly concoction of motor oil, tire shavings, bird droppings, tree pollen, and exhaust residue. What am I supposed to say to my kid when she wants to jump in that toxic sludge outside because Peppa does it? Either I crush her little dreams or I allow it at the risk of either someone calling child protective services or her gaining some special mutated powers.

Rubber Ducks

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m too lazy to look it up in the archives, and who cares because this one is a real doozy worth repeating. Not just rubber ducks, but bath toys in general: they all get disgusting and moldy inside no matter what you do. And don’t you try and message me with all that vinegar and baking soda and other homeopathic baloney. None of it works. It all gets moldy no matter what you do. Look people, we live in the 21st century. We have the entire world’s information at our fingertips. We put a man on the moon. We live in a day and age where science can craft a vaccine for a novel virus in less than a year. And yet, we can’t figure out how to design bath toys better? The rubber ducky has its own Sesame Street theme song, but they never talk about the short life expectancy of a rubber duck, and how mortifying it is as a parent when you kid accidently sucks out all the black gunk from the dirty ducky butt like it’s some kind of sippy cup juice. The horror. The absolute horror.

The moral of the story? I’ll let you come up with your own this time.

When Your “Favorite” Food Is Not What You Expected

Please enjoy this recent conversation between my wife and brother-in-law:

“Did Ella make lasagna at some point?”

“Yes. Andrew too.”

“Ok, well Gracie heard about this [lasagna luau party] or remembered it or something and she has been talking about wanting lasagna [literally every day for a week] because [she says] it’s her ‘favorite food’ and she ‘loves it,’ so we finally went to a restaurant where she could have some and she was so excited, and I was like [because we were thoroughly baffled by the whole scenario], ‘Gracie, do you know what lasagna is?” And she was like, “No, what is it?” And we put it [the lasagna] on her plate, and we’re like “Here’s your lasagna,” and she’s like “Where is it?” And I point to it, and she’s very confused [and disgusted] and says, “I don’t like it.”

Another perfect mealtime.

A Spoonful of Ginger Helps the Medicine Taste Even Worse

Step right up! Guess what’s in the jar, and win a prize!

My mother recently visited and was finally able to meet her grandson. It was a very special and loving time. But I know that none of you are really interested in all that mushy stuff. In regard to my dear old mum, what everyone is really always wondering is: what crazy thing did she stow away in her luggage this time

More chestnuts? More rocks with included botanical garden? A pumpkin for the fall? Small, endangered animals? What‽

Well, this most recent visit did not disappoint and included the pleasant surprise of a somewhat large, plastic grocery bag, doubled, and filled with some kind of liquid ginger root soup concoction… Yes, you read that right. A bag of liquefied ginger potion, the purpose for which witchery I can only have night terrors about.

She told us that it was this homemade healthy ginger tea and that it both prevents and cures the coronavirus. So, of course, she made us all drink it; me, my wife, my sister, even my in-laws. (Don’t worry, I did not allow her to give it to our children.)

What did it taste like? Hmm… let me try… how can you explain something that tastes like equal parts moonshine, herbal tea, hot burning coals, iceberg lettuce, and dirt with grass roots still attached? This stuff simultaneously clears out all your sinuses with the force of a fire hydrant, starts a bubbling party in your gut causing a chain-chemical reaction that makes you believe you can breathe fire, and feels like it is cremating your brain cells to the point that you start hallucinating pink, flying unicorns in tutus sliding down a rainbow of licorice. I mean come on, usually the unicorns are not wearing ballet clothes. That’s just ridiculous.

“But wait!” I hear you asking, “How did your mom get through security at the airport carrying a gallon of what looks like corrosive bomb-making material in her extra-large carry-on purse when you’re only allowed containers of around 3 ounces?” Well, my friend, you don’t know my mom. And neither do I apparently, because if I could answer that question, I would probably be a millionaire and one step closer to uncovering all the mysteries of the universe.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against ginger. I just hate the way it tastes. Oh, also I despise its texture and overall appearance—that ugly root rope thing—and everything else about it. But that’s all; it’s nothing personal really, and it’s not like I have anything against those who like ginger either. It’s a free country and everyone’s entitled to like whatever disgusting thing they want to. Savages.

Also, if you’re surprised by the ginger tea-n-tea my mom was packing then here’s a short list of the other essential items she brought along: dried anchovies, octopus jerky, pickled cabbage, hot chili paste, approximately 50 garbage bags, a half dozen cooking aprons, two dozen old-man plastic clip-on phone cases, multiple packages of Baby Shark face masks, an unnatural and confusing quantity of socks, wallets, and hair bows, what will now forever be known as “the infamous magical paper towel” (an item which defies the laws of physics that I persistently attempted to throw away in the garbage but my mom swore that it was reusable and ergo the soggy napkin continuously reemerged like a phoenix from the ashes or perhaps better compared to one of those movie monsters like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees that just won’t stay dead because there needs to be a hundred sequels), and also other assorted unknown herbs and spices (I’m pretty sure my mom stole Mary Poppin’s magical black hole hand-bag that can fit an infinite number of items).

Anyways, my mother drank this stuff every night like it was a religious matcha ceremony. She would say, “It’s good. It makes me healthy. Makes me strong.”

And I’m thinking, “Well yeah, of course, duh. You’d have to be superhumanly strong to consume and endure that stuff every day!” You see, my mom is actually She-Hulk. Soon to be available for streaming on Disney+. Subscribe today with this imaginary link and save nothing on your first purchase.

5ish Things Babies Do That Would Be Awkward If Adults Still Did Them

But first, a note about those diapers that I forgot to mention last time…

The other thing that I love about Huggies is that it’s called Huggies. So, it’s like a nice, warm hug for your most delicate regions. Especially during times like these with all the social distancing, it must be nice and comforting to be embraced by an absorbent cotton cloud 24/7.

Now on to other baby matters…

Listen, I know, pretty much everything a baby does is socially unacceptable for adults to do. But here are, I think, five uniquely and especially interesting baby habits that are total taboos for the all-grown-up:

1. Staring wide-eyed and never blinking

One of the most hilarious and creepiest things about babies is that they basically never blink. They just stare at everything like a deer in headlights. They stare at ceiling fans, lights, emptiness, and sometimes even you. When adults stare too much, the police are called. Also, babies will stare and study their own hands like some rare, archaeological treasure. But then hungrily try and devour their own fingers. Speaking of which…

2. Gnawing on… everything

Literally everything. Babies will go to town on whatever they can get their ravenous, unquenchable paws on. If they had teeth, they would gnaw your face right off. Yes, adorable, I know. But can you imagine if an adult came up to you and started chewing on your cheek bone like some kind of deranged zombie?

3. Laying around and waiting for someone else to tend to their every whim

Don’t take this the wrong way, but babies are sort of useless. Now I love babies, but still, they just lounge around like self-entitled royalty, ringing a bell so that their servants can come take care of all their needs and desires. They do this all while grabbing their toes, blowing bubbles, and rocking about in maniacal glee. Adults are typically encouraged to earn their keep; to actually do something and not just drool everywhere. Kid, get a job already. Child labor laws are ruining this country.

4. Randomly shouting, squealing, and squirming

With almost no perceivable provocation, a baby will start kicking and flailing about while screaming in ecstasy at the sound of their own vocal cords. What if when adults got so excited, they just started kicking everything? It’d be chaos. Insurance companies would have to create policies specifically designed for damages done by overly excited kicking fits and other emotional outbursts. The worst is when babies want to kick and roll while getting changed. What if adults did that while using the potty?

5. Falling asleep whenever wherever

Babies often fall asleep while eating like some kind of chronic narcoleptic. It’s like, yes please keep feeding me until I just pass out into a food coma. And then, while asleep, they splay out in starfish fashion with their little arms and hands that can’t quite reach the top of their heads. Restaurants would have an even more serious loitering problem if adults took involuntary naps after eating. Either that or they’d need to start charging a nap-booth rental fee.

Obviously, there are more baby antics that adults should avoid. Let me know of ones you’ve observed.

On Your Birthday

When you first opened your eyes,
The moment before I blinked
With vista full of tears,
I thought I saw
The galaxy swirling.
That a universe so incomprehensibly vast
Could be confined to such small vessels.

As hopes and
Dreams and
Wishes and
Prayers
All shot by at over eleven million miles per minute.

As you became,
I became something new under sun and moon.

Hope fulfilled.
More than dreams imagined.
Wishes turned truth.
Prayers answered
With a soft cry pushed into being by tiny lungs.

Miracles.

I thought I saw the galaxy be born.
I believe I heard the voice of God.

The Miracle of Toast

Okay, my little nugget, time to go into the oven.

Our niece and nephew recently offered some interesting insight into the miracle of childbirth. As a little context, my wife is currently very pregnant—like within two weeks of delivery pregnant!

The conversation centered around the whole “got a bun in the oven” idiom, which they found rather perplexing. The discussion quickly turned to making toast, I suppose because they were more familiar with cooking bread in a toaster rather than an oven.

However, their toaster doesn’t quite work at the optimal level. The toast doesn’t just pop out when it’s ready. You have to manually push the lever in order to retrieve your warm, crispy wheat square. And sometimes, the lever gets stuck and it’s rather difficult to get the toast out.

At this point, my brother-in-law was able to point out to his children the meaning of this timely metaphor: getting toast out of the broken toaster is just like getting a baby out of the mommy… except without a lever, I guess?

So, when my wife is writhing in pain during the delivery, I’ll just need to remind her not to fret and that it’s just like making toast.

Well, now it’s time to grab some seasonal pumpkin butter and enjoy a slice of processed gluten with high fructose corn syrup.

Potty Humor

Coulda sworn I left something in here…

Welcome to another tickling tidbit of Thrilling Tales of Toddlerdom!

The other day I was sitting with our toddler (me on a stool, her on the potty) and waiting for the punctually scheduled morning bowel movement. After one-two-three little grunts and a squinched up face like a dehydrated lemon, I knew we had another successful fiber deposit.

Suddenly, she peeked down into the toilet bowl and exclaimed with astonishment, “Oh! There’s a mommy poop and a daddy poop and a baby poop—the baby poop goes ‘waahhh!’” A terrific example of transfer and application of knowledge. A truly laugh out loud moment.

No convoluted life metaphor this week. I’m not comparing poo portions to some deeper philosophical thought. Just: it’s good to take time to find and enjoy the funny moments in life. At work, over a meal, in bed, or on the potty; allow yourself a chortle or two. Enjoy the odd and comical and absurd, like warm soup for a sick soul.

This has been Thrilling Tales of Toddlerdom!

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Slippery Slope

We took the kids to this natural spring swimming area located in a national park. Overall, it was delightful experience. But there’s a couple of things about these parks that aren’t ideal. Specifically, I’m talking the slick algae and moss growing on all the rocks and steps and ladders. I always feel like I’m gonna slip and bust my head open while trying to get in the water.

But the real kicker is this: the park had installed these railings around the entire swimming area. They looked as if they would function both as safety rails (to prevent people from accidently falling in the water) and as hand rails (to help people safely enter and exit the water).

But if you thought that these rails were for helping people to not slide and tumble while getting in and out of the pool, then you would be so very wrong, and the livid lifeguards perched atop their judgment nests would surely let you know of your transgressions with the blowing of trumpets blasting forth from the clouds and with cups of wrath flooded out onto the earth as fire and brimstone from the grave.

“Stay off the rails!!!”

The shouts of condemnation would pierce into a person’s soul and then some would inevitably fall like lemmings to their demise (actually, the lemmings jumping off cliffs thing is a total myth).

One friendlier lifeguard approached us and said, “Hey guys, you can climb and jump off the rocks all you want, but you’ve got to stay off the rails please.”

And I’m thinking… wait, wait, wait a second here… First of all, there are no signs about staying off the rails. Maybe if there were signs, you wouldn’t have to scare people half to death with your four horses of the apocalypse war cries.

Secondly, maybe there were signs, but I don’t know because I wasn’t paying attention. Who has time to read when you’re too busy trying not to die while algae figure-skating?

But thirdly, seriously? We need to stay away from these securely mounted railings, but those super slippery, goo-covered rocks are fine‽ These rocks are by far the most dangerous thing out here! And what’s the point of all these rails in the first place if not to use them?

Sometimes, life doesn’t quite make sense. Like pineapple on pizza or pickles on peanut butter or hot sauce on mango… it can be difficult to rationalize the sanity of the world. But take heart, and do not lose hope! For to hope is to be human. That we can continue to imagine a better world and believe in a better future is a testament to the divine nature in all of us. At times I start to lose faith in humanity like I’ve lost faith in Sony’s ability to produce good a Spider-Man movie. But then I remember: Hey, chicken and waffles are delicious! What an unexpectedly great idea‽ Perhaps, truly, there is hope after all.

(By the way, if you happen to know why these park rail rules exist, then please don’t bother letting me know why; you can feel free to not email me at MySpace… is that still a thing? Don’t let me know. Not really interested.)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi