The Pursuit Of The Elusive Date Night

The last time it was easy to find someone to babysit.

As the father of a three-year old, the concept of a lazy weekend is distant memory.  Saturdays, are for chores and errands and Sundays are for family time.  A recent Saturday included Cristian’s My Gym class, and getting the car inspected, before rushing home where several loads of laundry were waiting for me.

Cristian sat next to me playing with his tablet, while I waited for the car.  While I waited, I started up a conversation with a guy named Barry, sitting across from me. We chatted about cars, and baseball and summer plans.  The conversation shifted to children once Cristian got up from his chair and started exploring his surroundings.  Soon he was, turning laps around the waiting room, climbing on chairs, and charming everyone with his 1000-watt smile.

Barry told me his wife was pregnant with their first child.  After offering congratulations, I told him, “Your life is going to change.”

Smiling like someone with no clue of what’s waiting for him he replied, “Everyone is saying that.”

Chuckling and shaking my head, I said, “No seriously.  Everyone told us too.   We thought we understood, but we had no clue.  It’s something you won’t truly appreciate until you’ve been there.”

While we waited for our cars, I brought Barry up to speed on Baby 101.  “The first night is overwhelming — it gets better once you get a system in place.  After a few days, your friends are going to want to stop by and see the baby.  Some will whip out iPhones and post selfies on Instagram, others will offer to bring dinner, and a few will want to help.  Don’t be shy about the help, accept any that’s offered,” pointing at Cristian, “those offers disappear long before they reach his age.”

“As new parents you are gonna to want to experience every moment.  I get it, I was there once too.  The most important thing I’ve learned in my three-plus years is not to forget to make time for you and your wife, just the two of you.”

He sat silent for a moment, processing what I said and smiled.  “I haven’t heard that one.  It’s the best advice I’ve gotten so far.”

In the days before they were called “Date Nights”

Later that day, while I was folding laundry, I replayed my conversation with Barry.  Giving advice is easy, following your own advice not so much.  Esther’s my best friend, we enjoy doing things together, but being raising a hyperactive three-year old isn’t easy.

Over the past year, we’ve offered the other a parenting break when the toddler-induced stress level became too much.  One of us goes for a run, while the other goes to the bar to pound tequila shots.  Scheduling date nights is more challenging.

Babysitting Cristian isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ve mentioned our adventures in babysitting and contributing to the GDP of a specific third-world country.  When our regular babysitter isn’t available, we’ve reached out to family and friends and found our support system crumbling faster than America’s infrastructure.

It doesn’t help that Cristian is getting stronger, smarter and harder to distract.  We used to drop him off and sneak out while he played with a toy.  That doesn’t work anymore.

On our last date night, he sensed something was up when the babysitter was already there when he got home from daycare.  I thought I made a clean break, slipping out while he worked on a puzzle in his room. When we got home we learned he threw a major tantrum when he couldn’t find Daddy.

Finding this out made me a little sad — and a little flattered too — he usually throws that kind of nuclear tantrum when he can’t find mommy, not me.

Weary parents on a rare Date Night at Citi Field.  Unlike the last picture, we look older and are exhausted.

Lately we’ve adopted the Marine credo of Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.  No we’re not distracting him by teaching him how to binge watch episodes of Teletubbies for a few moments peace — he does that already.  We’ve learned to make the most of opportunities

After our first parent-teacher night at Cristian’s preschool, we made the most of having the babysitter and checked out a local Asian-Fusion restaurant.  I don’t know what I enjoyed more, teriyaki chicken and a few innings of playoff baseball or that the Asian waitresses and bartenders we’re doing their hair and makeup like the women in this predominately Italian neighborhood, so they could blend in.

So if you are curious about parenthood and are feeling adventurous contact me and my better half and I will be happy to indulge your curiosity, while we enjoy dinner and a movie.  I’m not holding out hope though, Barry stopped returning my phone calls.

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Remembering The Man Who Made It Look Easy

 

Today is Father’s Day, I know this because for the past few weeks, my email accounts and social media feeds have been clogged with gift ideas for Dad, everything from Omaha Steaks, to tech toys, and an assortment of supplies from the Art of Shaving.  Thank you Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s my fourth Father’s Day as a dad, but my mind isn’t on the latest Cool Base baseball jersey or another pair of running shoes, it’s on my Dad.

Growing up my parents hosted a Father’s Day cookout in their backyard that was both simple and excessive – especially after joining Costco.  Year after year my Mom and Dad produced elaborated spreads of all sorts of mouth-watering grilled foods, sardines and shrimp, Italian sausages, pork chops, and steaks, paired with beer, or pitchers of homemade wine and sangria.

This family tradition wasn’t always elaborate — it grew over the years.  I remember when the four of us sat in the yard around a picnic table Dad built, as he grilled on a stone barbeque grill he built with my uncle.  As the family grew to include daughters-in law, grandchildren and others, so did the menu.  Besides the food, the other thing I remember about Father’s Day was never seeing Dad wear or use any gift we gave him, he put them into a draw or the back of the closet, never to be seen again.

Sadly, I never enjoyed this event as a father, we spent my First Father’s Day in a nursing home as Dad battled Pancreatic Cancer during his last days.

My Dad was a craftsman, one of a lost generation of finish carpenters, brought in to add a special touch to the corner offices and corporate boardrooms for Wall Street investment houses and Fortune 500 companies, and sometimes the homes of their top executives. I remember him being sent to work to in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco for a week of two.  Although he hated being away, it was the best way he knew to provide for his wife and family.

As a kid, I remember he had already left for work before my brother Bob and I had gotten up for school.  After work, he was always working around the house, or planning the next home improvement.  When Mom asked if he could put a stove next to the playroom Bob and I had in the basement, so she could keep an eye on us as she prepared dinner, he built her a kitchen.

Now that I’m a father one thought keeps coming back to me, he made it look easier than I do.  He worked full time, raised two sons, and maintained a house without breaking a sweat. Working full time and sharing the parenting duties of one three-year old and takes up most of my time and energy.  These days I barely get to sit at a keyboard and write.

A few months ago Cristian and I were out walking through the neighborhood when we saw Mrs. D.  She’s known me since I was a little older than Cristian is now, I grew up playing with her kids.  After catching up on how everyone has been and how old her grandkids are, we talked about my Dad.  I remember telling her, “I don’t know how he was able to do it, he made parenting look so easy. He raised two sons, I have my hands full with one.”

Shaking her head, she smiled and said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing more than you think.  You grew up in a different time and things are different now.”  She nodded at Cristian saying, “When you were his age, parents had defined roles and one paycheck supported a family, nowadays both parents have to work and need to share the parenting responsibilities.”

Mrs. D gave me a lot to think about and I kept coming back to the advice a friend gave me when my better half was pregnant.  He said, “Do what your parents did and fill in what’s missing.”  That’s a tall order.

Dad wasn’t a big speech guy—his actions spoke more clearly than his words did.  If he made a promise, he kept it.  He was an old-school father—he didn’t tolerate tantrums—he ignored them.  He seemed aloof when my brother Bob and I argued back and forth, but he wasn’t.  He was letting work things out on our own.

Another lesson he taught took me years to figure out. It drove the family nuts when Dad ignored the polo shirts, cologne, and power tools we gave him through the years.  In fact, he used to tell us, “Don’t waste your money on gifts, I don’t need anything.”  I used to think he was being proud, but he wasn’t.  For him spending the day with his children and grandchildren was the gift he wanted most.

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Finding A Babysitter — The Search Continues

Don’t let the smile fool you, the bib tells the story.

The past three years of parenthood has brought its share of challenges.  One of our bigger challenges is finding a reliable babysitter.

Like most first-time parents, we wanted to be involved in every little thing. I remember both of us watching him nap and changing those first diapers together.  Like most newbies, we wanted to be the perfect parents, forgetting you don’t achieve perfection, you strive for it.  Little things like that kept us from going out much those first months.

Esther’s aunt Titi Luisa, the original baby whisperer, instinctively called and offered to watch the baby.  The calls always came at the right time, giving us a chance to run a few errands or maybe go to Starbucks for a blissful hour in a baby-free environment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the perception of perfection—especially when you grew up watching Brady Bunch reruns.  I watch the Brady Bunch now and see Mike and Carol Brady knocking back a few cocktails and leaving the stressful stuff to Alice, the maid.

Looks like the babysitter loaded him up on Benadryl.

Titi Luisa wasn’t the only person who offered to watch Cristian during early days but as new parents we were a bit overprotective.  Maybe our expectations are a bit unrealistic—our ideal babysitter had the compassion of Mother Theresa and the strength and the resiliency of a Navy Seal.  We had a vetting process more stringent than the White House—but their vetting process has slipped a bit over the past year.

Watching a three-month old baby is easy, just give him a bottle and wait for him to take a nap.  It’s amazing how fast those initial babysitting offers dried up once Cristian started walking—of course posts like this didn’t help either.

Babysitting a hyperactive three-year old without using Benadryl isn’t for the faint of heart.  Your neighbor’s 13-year old daughter checking her Instagram page on her iPhone isn’t getting it done.  Try that with Cristian and the house will look like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria within 15 minutes.

We found an excellent babysitter who flew through our vetting process easily, a pleasant 30-something Central American woman.  She came highly recommended by family members, and was bilingual. She was incredibly energetic, taking Cristian to the park, playing with him at home, and bringing an iPad to keep him entertained.

Esther with the boys

Our Latina Mary Poppins was very pricey—the GDP of a third-world country pricey.  She was building her dream home in her country, babysitting Cristian allowed her to send home money to finance the construction.  She stepped up when my dad was sick, babysitting Cristian at a moment’s notice, sometimes staying with him until late into the night.  Rumor has it her waterfront villa has a wing in it named after him, paid for from with babysitting earnings.

We’re currently vetting her replacement, because we didn’t want to put up a kidney as collateral as she priced tennis courts and an olympic-sized pool.  Over the past months we’ve swapped babysitting chores with my in-laws—giving each other a breather by watching each other’s kids.  So far, it’s worked out pretty well, the boys get a chance to play together, the adults get a night out, and I get to keep my vital organs.

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The Quest For The Perfect Christmas Card

The 2017 Priegue Family Christmas Card – English Version.

It’s almost Christmas making it a perfect time to talk about holiday traditions.  A new one for us is family Christmas cards.  Back when I was single and happy, they were easy—I rarely sent out any.  After getting married, my wife sent out cards for both of us.  My contributions were limited to printing mailing labels and dropping the cards in the mailbox.

Our 2010 Christmas Card.

Becoming proud parents meant sending out family cards.  We weren’t going for the preppy central casting version of the family posed in front of a fireplace wearing matching Christmas sweaters with a golden retriever in the foreground.  We don’t have a fireplace, matching Christmas sweaters, or a dog.

I spent countless holiday seasons goofing on friends sending pictures of their kids that doubled as Christmas cards.  The cards either said “we successfully reproduced” or “here’s a picture of our precious child sitting on a creepy old man’s lap, what were we thinking.”

It’s amazing how becoming parents changes one’s perspective.

Before Cristian was born we sent out cards bearing the image of our practice child—Chico.  We even took him to the mall one year getting a picture of him sitting on Santa’s lap.  Looking back, Christmas came early for Chico that year as he humped Santa’s leg for a good ten minutes.  That was the card we should have sent out.

A few years later it was Cristian’s turn as we took our infant child to the mall to meet Santa.  It should have been a no-brainer.  Cristian was all smiles that day, Esther picked the perfect outfit and we timed his nap perfectly.  What could go wrong?

It started after leaving him in the hands of an old man smelling of Ben Gay and malt liquor then backing away.  He didn’t cry because mommy and daddy were nearby making silly faces, but the deer in the headlights look was not what we were going for.

Who is this creepy old man you’re leaving me with?

The following year Esther’s sister and son Justin met us at the mall.  They boys had a great time playing as the line slowly moved forward.  We hoped Justin flashing Santa a smile as he tried convincing Santa to leave an extra toy of two under the tree would motivate Cristian—it didn’t.  He threw a tantrum Mariah Carey would have been proud of.

Last year we skipped the mall and headed to Hicks, a garden center on Long Island.  Sure fertilizer, snow shovels and Santa Claus just screams Christmas, but our annual holiday tradition was like Wile E. Coyote unpacking the latest Acme product and chasing after the Road Runner, so what the hell.

Hicks was a pleasant surprise, it didn’t have the Home Depot feel I pictured.  Cristian entertained himself running between poinsettias, colorful displays, and a Christmas Village as Esther waited in line.  However, new year, new location, same result.  Cristian started wailing as soon as we put him on Santa’s lap, as if he told the baby he was getting coal in his stocking.  He ignored me when I tried soothing him by mentioning coal mining was a dying industry.

I still think this would have made a great Christmas card.

Although preschool taught Cristian about Santa and he now points him out whenever he sees him images of him, we set the bar low this year.  Once again, we dressed him up and headed to the mall but he wasn’t feeling it.  Esther and I decided to go with Plan B when he froze at the front of the line.

We spent the past year collecting a library of cute images of Cristian.  While it doesn’t exactly scream Christmas it did keep daddy from cracking open a tequila bottle when we got home from the mall.  I dropped the cards in the mail this morning.  Merry Christmas!

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Seven Things I Learned in Three Years As A Parent

A few weeks ago, Cristian celebrated his third birthday—how did that happen.  I still remember clicking my infant son’s car seat into its base so gently you’d thought I was handling a carton of eggs.  Time passed and we’ve grown as parents.  We don’t have it all figured out, but we aren’t tiptoeing into his room to see if he’s breathing anymore.

Parenting is on the job training.  Here’s what 3 years taught me:

The Difference Between A Fake Cry And A Tantrum – It takes time to figure this one out, so let me educate you.  Like its cousin, the tantrum, the fake cry is another one of those joyous ways toddlers communicate.  If you can’t tell the difference, watch your child the next time he or she is freaking out at the cash register at Toys R Us or the supermarket checkout when you try taking away a toy or box of Fruit Loops. If your child is smiling, smirking, or checking if there’s an audience, it’s a fake cry.  When fake cries are addressed quickly your adorable toddler soon returns to normal.  Ignoring the fake cry runs the risk of the kind of full-fledged tantrum ensuring parents a trip to the drug store to stock up on condoms.

Don’t move just one more picture.

We’re Not Wrapping Him In Bubble Wrap – Esther and I approach playdates and playground days differently. We both want to wear him out but approach how we get there differently.  Cristian is a super energetic toddler who is totally fearless when it comes to climbing things.  He’s also clumsy, he gets that from me—sorry son.   Wiping out, falling on his face, or crashing into things again and again is business as usual.  He just smiles and continues playing before falling again.  The difference is mom sees a trip to the emergency room, while I’ll laugh and take a few pictures before he gets up.

Converting from Crib to Toddler Bed is Game Changer – I miss the days when Cristian slept in a crib. It’s not me being sentimental—it’s purely practical—cribs form natural barriers.  Once upon a time putting Cristian to bed was as simple as putting him down with a stuffed animal and a bottle and he was sleeping within 20 minutes.

After his second birthday, he became adventurous, staking out his bedroom they way convicts plan prison breaks.  Then one morning, we were awakened by the sound of little feet running across his bedroom floor.  Before long he was climbing in and out of his crib like a ninja, forcing us to convert the crib to a toddler bed and changing his bedtime dynamic for the three of us.  More than once Esther or I have fallen asleep on the bedroom floor keeping Cristian in his crib-less environment.

Cristian and his stuffed animals in his crib planning their next break.

Find Your Tupperware Party – Growing up in the early 70s Tupperware parties were all the rage among the neighborhood moms.  Becoming a parent some forty-years later, I have a fresh perspective on what they were about—a chance to socialize.  Sure a few plastic containers were purchased here and there but that was secondary to emptying a few bottles of semi-fancy wine they couldn’t pronounce with the other moms while the kids were at school.

DIY projects were the dad’s equivalent of the Tupperware Party.  Many of my friend’s dads spent countless hours planning and replanning projects around the house.  Translation, hiding in the garage with a six pack and hidden stash of nuddie magazines.  A new kitchen counter was eventually installed but the time away from their whiny kids was priceless.

Esther isn’t a big drinker and I’m all thumbs with power tools so we’ve had to find our own equivilent.  On Sunday mornings, I’ll distract Cristian with breakfast and cartoons while Esther sneaks out for a morning run.  (See the section on fake cries and tantrums if you are wondering why she’s sneaks out for her run).  Later in the day, she takes over giving me some quiet time to write or go to the gym.  It’s all about maintaing one’s sanity.

Couple Time is Important –  We’ve come a long way since our first date night as parents.  Esther’s sister watched the baby giving us a Valentine-ish date a few months after Cristian was born.  It was just dinner and a movie, but we didn’t make it that far.  When the movie ended, we went straight to the drive-through window, instead of a local restaurant, calling for my sister-in-law and nephew’s order before heading home.

At first, we were over protective but finding reliable babysitters remains a challenge.  Lately we’ve gotten lucky, a friend or relative offering to watch our little guy giving us a chance to go out to dinner and not talk about preschool, daycare or developmental milestones.

Some Friends Will Disappear – Learning this one was rough.  Everything starts out great when you’re new parents and the little one has the new baby smell but slowly things change.  Friends slowly disappear, not all of them, but patterns develop.  You hear things like, “we need to get together more often,” but they are never available when you try making plans.  They’re always “busy” or “things are always crazy at work.” Then you see them out and about in numerous Facebook posts.

Felipe the Goat and I after pounding down a few Patron shots.

It’s A Kid’s Birthday Party Not A Coronation – I’m not a big fan of birthdays, I don’t make a big deal about mine, in fact only a few friends know the actual date—I prefer it that way.  That said I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to Cristian’s birthday.

I believe a child’s birthday party should be simple and about the child.  Places like Chuck E. Cheese and Funtopia where kids run, play and have a slice of bad pizza and a piece of birthday cake are all you need.  The guest list should be simple, parents, godparents, aunts and uncles actual aunts and uncles not the family friend claiming aunt or uncle rights and significant others, maybe a friend or two and their kids.  That’s all you need.  Isn’t it?  Silly me.

My better half believes it takes a village to raise a child.  I just didn’t think it meant inviting the entire village.  Guests arriving at this year’s party reminded me of clowns spilling out that little car at the circus.  It wasn’t just family, it was friends, neighbors and their pet goat Felipe. “Just because the barista at Starbucks puts a perfect foam on your latte doesn’t mean you have to invite her to Cristian’s party.  One positive note was Felipe the Goat and I had a great time pounding Coronas down chased with chilled Patron shots.

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