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. My Saturday include taking Cristian to My Gym class, getting the car serviced, before rushing home to wash several loads of laundry.

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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When Did I Become My Parents?

Like every parent I thought I’d be cooler and more laid back than my parents were.   33 months later, I’ve had to rethink that.  My parents weren’t always the strict, stressed couple I remember growing up.  I’ve seen old pictures — there was a time when they were young and energetic.  Raising two sons has a way of catching up with you.

Over the past months I’ve noticed changes, I’d like to say subtle changes, but I don’t do subtle .  I started morphing into my parents.  If you are a parent you’ve either experienced this or are in denial.

I’ve put together this list to see if you’ve become your parents.

Me explaining the family tantrum policy to Cristian

The Bulging Vein in My Forehead – I first noticed this during Mommy and Me Class.  I thought being the only Daddy in Mommy and Me class would have set the vein a popping.  Bringing a cooler of beer tucked under the baby stroller took care of that for me.  However spending most of the classes prying open Cristian’s mouth making sure he wasn’t eating Play Doh.  Stopping him from gobbling up other kids’ snacks, and keeping us both from looking like an old drop cloth while he played with paint and shaving cream made me twitchy.

Daddy Doesn’t Do Tantrums – I was born in the mid 60s before parenting books, websites—or even the internet.  In those days common sense was an essential component to parenting.  My Dad comes to mind, he had no tolerance for tantrums so he used an old-school approach — he ignored them.  Tantrums are Toddler Performance Art.  They work best in front of an engaged audience — the show ends quickly when there’s no audience entertaining them.

Heeding Dad’s wisdom, I adopted this policy on Day One.  Holding my crying one-hour old son, I whispered to him gently.  “Cristian, I love you but you need to know something, Daddy doesn’t do tantrums.  I’m going to let this one slide because it’s your birthday and you don’t know the rules yet, but going forward I want you to remember this little talk.”  To date, he’s been slow picking up on this one.

Parents Say No, Grandparents Say Yes – You know karma’s bitten you in the ass the first time this happens.  When I was a kid visiting my grandparents meant I’d get away with things I never could at home.  I remember my grandmother saving a six-year old me from a butt whipping or two.  These days Mom is the one spoiling the little one.  I usually find her chuckling as she sees my expression as she’s giving Cristian a sugary snack right before his bedtime.

Tunneling in My Gym classs

You’ve Become Your Child’s Personal Driver – Mom never learned to drive, so in addition to being the sole breadwinner, Dad sometimes had to drive a group of us home from soccer practice, or drop me off at a hockey game in Williamsburg.  After working on job sites as a carpenter, he preferred to relax with a beer or two and the evening news, but off we would go.

These days I take Cristian to play dates, My Gym classes, or to the park to play and burn off excess energy.  It’s inconvenient at times, especially after a nutty week at work but I knew this was part of becoming a Dad.

Of course it’s all a matter of perspective, one of my favorite memories  of my Dad was the two of us battling rush-hour traffic to get into Manhattan. Although he hated driving into Manhattan under most circumstances, he drove me and about 30 pounds of props in to a photo studio on 18th Street, because third-year photo majors rarely get access to a professor’s photo studio for a shoot. Hopefully when he grows up Cristian will have similar memories of me.

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The Last Days of a Stay at Home Dad

Enjoying my days as a SAHD

It’s been awhile since my last post—too long.  A lot’s changed in the four months since I posted about sore nipples—they’re still a little tender by the way.  Cristian turned two, an orange narcissist was elected President, and I’m no longer a Stay at Home Dad.

Shortly after Mommy and Me Class, (my last post), Esther and I discussed putting Cristian into daycare three days a week.  We figured spending time with kids his age is better for learning childlike-behavior, instead of spending days with his old man learning childish behavior.  We signed him up when he started throwing his sippy cup at the TV whenever CNN aired a Trump Rally.

Around the same time, I started receiving job offers.  A steady gig as a school photographer was a bit scary—not because of the workload but photographing elementary school kids was a sneak preview of the next few years of parenting.

Shortly afterwards I scored an interview for an academic advisor position at a college, my alma mater.  Since I was already working steadily as a freelancer with a possible full-time job lined up, we added two more days to Cristian’s schedule.  I had mixed emotions—I was excited at the challenge of a new job but was a little bummed too.

Getting his daily dose of CNN.

I’ve taken care of Cristian since Esther went back to work from maternity leave.  We’ve gone to MyGym classes, shopped at Costco, and he came along with me when I delivered documents for my medical billing job.

I knew I’d miss chasing him around the playground, watching him hit new developmental milestones, and miss the vein popping from my forehead as he tested Daddy’s patience time after time, (usually after the playground and hitting developmental milestones.  Life was changing yet again.

My mornings are different now.  Instead of taking Esther to work and Cristian to the playground, before settling into a few hours of spreadsheets and billing codes, my mornings are now a blur of shave, shower and get dressed.  Once again Esther and I are tag-team parents, one of us watching the baby while the other gets ready for work.  Sure my new job has nice perks like an office, but I still miss watching Cristian goofing on Wolf Blitzer after coming home from the playground

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Remembering Dad A Year Later

Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.
Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.

A year ago today my Dad passed away and I’ve spent the past week with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.  Whether it was driving past the nursing home where he spent his last days on the way to the baby’s My Gym Class or seeing images of him in a slide show at my niece’s Sweet 16 Party last weekend.  Last Friday night’s torrential rain awakened more memories than expected.

I remember a painful conversation with Mom as I drove her home from the nursing home in a heavy rain. I told her the doctor said Dad developed pneumonia, and probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend. That was the best case scenario—the worst case scenario was he wouldn’t make it through the night.  You would have thought a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer and three months of doctors and hospitals would have prepared us for this—it didn’t.

When my phone rang at 6am the next morning, Esther and I knew it was bad news.  How many early-morning calls are good news?  I felt numb calling Mom, my brother Bob and various aunts and uncles, informing them of Dad’s passing as I walked Chico.  The conversations were short and quick, the numbness stayed with me a few months.

We spent the weekend after Dad’s passing decluttering Mom’s house, devouring cold cut platters, and reliving memories.  I’ve always been amazed how people achieve saint-like status simply by dying.  I’ve written about my Dad several times he was a good man with many wonderful traits—but he was no saint.  We lightened the mood, spending parts of the weekend reliving stories of our favorite meltdowns or Mom and Dad bickering like George Costanza’s parents on Seinfeld.  Fifty plus years of marriage will do that.

Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980
Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980

A lot’s changed in the past year, Esther, Cristian and I moved in with Mom to help out with the house and dealing with losing Dad.  Esther and I do much of the former, Cristian handles the latter.  The numbness is gone—it’s been replaced with sadness and regret.

I regret not asking him more about the Spanish side of my family tree, about his dad and his brothers.   I never met them—they all died too young.  I regret being a stubborn child who didn’t pay enough attention when he tried teaching me basic carpentry and household projects.  I regret not thanking him for all he gave me, did for me, and for not saying I love you.

Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.
Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.

These days many people are concerned with their legacy.  Once considered the domain of athletes and politicians it’s now a concern among many average people.  Maybe it’s a product of the age we live in.  I doubt Dad put any thought into his legacy, but he did leave one behind.

To the many carpenters, electricians and other skilled laborers, most from Galicia, the part of Spain he was from, Dad’s legacy was helping them with a well-placed phone call to an employer or union rep finding them a job or a union card shortly after arriving in this country.  To him it was paying forward the kindness extended to him by a friend named Viña many years before.

Before writing this piece I thought about Dad’s legacy.  Was it fulfilling the American Dream?  He arrived in this country in 1956 with little more than the clothes on his back, a few dollars in his pocket, and a trade—he was a skilled carpenter.  Over the next 60 years, he married, raised a family, built a home, saved a few dollars, and gave his children a better life than the one he knew as a child.

Although impressive it’s incomplete.  As a father he taught me more by his actions and examples than his words.  He and Mom were married for 56 years and sure they bickered a bit as they got older—show me an old married couple that doesn’t—but it was his genuine concern for her in his last days that touched me.  He insisted I keep him up to date her latest doctor’s appointments, making sure she was taken care of.

Ever the doting grandfather, he waited 88 years for his elusive grandson.  Seeing his hazel eyes light up whenever I brought Cristian to the nursing home was one of the few bright spots for me during his last days–but there were sad memories too.  I’ll never forget him playing with his nine-month old grandson saying, “You’re beautiful!  What a shame I won’t be able to see you grow up.”

Today we’ll honor Dad’s memory, with a memorial mass for him and Esther’s Mom Maria—she lost her fight with Pancreatic Cancer three years ago this week.  After paying respects at the cemetery, I’m firing up the grill, serving up sardines and other grilled meats along with wine and beer just like Dad would do on any Sunday afternoon in July.  I can’t think of a better way of keeping his memory alive.

 

Grandpa's Stone

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Five Signs You Need a Night Out

We all love our kids but being locked up with your little booger monster takes a toll over the long haul  A blizzard, ear infection, and daily bombardment of the Donald-Marco-Ted three-way is enough to make the strongest among us scream for a night out.

If you aren’t sure if you a night away from the baby I created this guide.  Helpful hint nicknaming your pride and joy Godzilla thins out the baby sitting pool quickly.

Playdates Dominate Your Social Calendar– Playdates and Children’s Fitness Centers like Gymboree and MyGym are great for socializing your child.  New parents compare notes on sleep patterns, developmental milestones, and the strangest place you’ve found poop and puke. As helpful as they are an evening spent with a different circle of friends will make a huge difference. Suggestion – Double date with another couple.  Bonus points if their child is old enough to babysit.

Hamming it up at his MyGym Class
Hamming it up at his MyGym Class

You’re Watching Too Many Kiddie Shows –When PBS Kids and Nick Jr are your go-to channels it’s only a matter of time until you get caught up in Elmo’s latest adventures.  Waking up humming the Pepa Pig theme is a sign you need a night out.  Suggestion – Beer and Wings with the guys at a Sports Bar.

The Last Movie We Saw Was Um…– Having young kids in the house means they determine what’s on TV.  It makes you long for the nights when you and the wife battled it out for the remote.  If the last movie you saw was the first Hunger Games you’re overdue for a movie night.  Suggestion –Dinner and a Movie.

Playdate in the park
Playdate in the park

Funerals Become Date Nights – It’s gotten pretty bad when attending a wake or sitting shiva is the highlight of your social calendar. Although wearing something other than the stained sweatshirt and pajama pants will score points with your better half, sharing a meal of brisket and rugelach with your fellow mourners is not a date night. Exceptions may be granted for an Irish Wake.  Suggestion – Make Reservations for two at a steak house because nothing says love like porterhouse.

Some Private Time Please Keeping up with a toddler requires the patience of a monk and the energy of an extreme athlete.  Sometimes that’s not enough. Working all day and trying to outlast a wired baby late into the night is exhausting.  It usually results in one parent falling asleep before the baby.  You know it’s gotten pretty bad when you start comparing who’s better looking Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble.  Suggestion – Call in a huge favor and have someone to watch the baby while you book a romantic weekend, a three-day weekend if possible in case one of you passes out the first night.

Disclaimer- No Cartoon Characters were hurt during that last joke.

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