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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Nine Things No One Tells You about Two Year Olds

Cristian taking off on the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk.

Once again it’s time for I’m Not Grandpa to provide valuable information for those considering having children.  Parenthood is pretty much a learn as you go proposition.  Sure you can pick up a parenting book or do a Google search but that’s time consuming.

In an effort to save time I compiled my list of Things No One Tells You about Two-Year Olds.

You Spend a Lot of Time Chasing Them – Remember how excited you were when the baby took his first steps?  The excitement fades when you’re chasing after him.  I coach running, I’ve lead many speed drills.  Few prepared me for a hyperactive toddler possessing the curiosity of an MIT student and the speed of Usain Bolt.  Over the past year, I’ve chased Cristian around playgrounds, up and down Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk, and through the aisles at Target. The cashiers at Key Food barely look up as I’m chasing him as he turns lap after lap, while my better half does the grocery shopping.

Projectile Vomit – You thought diaper blowouts were bad, wait until you’re cleaning puke.  I’ve heard my share of horror stories but figured they were like nightmarish stories of appendix and gall bladder removals—not something everyone experiences.  Then it happened.  It starts with a splashing sound, and you find the baby standing in a puddle of vomit.  It’s not just on the floor—it’s on the walls, the bedding, maybe even the ceiling.  Think it’s over, not a chance.  After changing the bedding and scrubbing the room with Fabuloso and bleach, he’ll puke again, just to keep you on your toes.

Tantrums are New and Improved – You thought those early tantrums were bad, wait until the baby turns two.  Those early toddler tantrums were mere tremors warning you of the full-fledged earthquake looming on the horizon.  Two-year old tantrums include screaming, tearless crying, kicking, banging his head on the floor, and Daddy rushing off to the bar so he could meet his tantrum-support group.

Don’t let the face fool you. Be afraid, be very afraid.


Establishing a Regular Bedtime
 Routine– Getting there takes work and differs from child to child.  Some only need a bottle and they’re good to go.  If this is you, I hate you. We turned Cristian’s bedroom into a sensory-deprivation chamber.   Soundproofing the walls, puttting blackout curtains on the windows, and tiptoed around like a submarine crew rigged for silent running.  Establishing a regular bedtime is important for a child’s development and his parents’ sanity.

The Consequences of Breaking the Bedtime Routine – There will be times when you break the baby’s routine. A word of warning, Keep this to an absolute minimum.  Life happens, friends visit, running errands took longer than planned, or he was so cute playing with blocks and puzzles you put him to bed an hour later than his regular bedtime.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Like in college, when you downed that fifth tequila shot, and hit on the tall girl with the Adam’s apple.  Waking up the next morning with a monster headache, and a massive sense of what did I do, is nothing compared to waking, dressing and dropping off a pissed off sleep-deprived baby at daycare.

Babies Have No Sense of Sleeping in on the Weekend – This runs counter to my last point.  Two-year olds haven’t grasped the concept of sleeping in on a weekend morning.  Call it Baby Logic.  You had a long week and decide keeping him up until 2am feeding him Coco Puffs and Cotton Candy washed down with three Red Bulls is the best way to get an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning.  Guess again.  I guarantee he’ll be chirping the alphabet and climbing out of his crib at 6:30 the next morning.

Mommyitis is not for the faint of heart.

Mommyitis 2.0 – In previous posts I described Mommyitis as: the baby emitting ear-piercing screams, similar to those an adult makes upon stepping in a bear trap.   Two-year olds scream just as loud, but now it takes less to trigger them. My son once became upset when he couldn’t find Mommy during a game of peek-a-boo.  Children are an extension of their parents, watching him clutched onto my better half, has convinced me of this.

You Spend Less Time Visiting Friends – Say goodbye to socializing with all but your closest and bravest friends—especially if their home isn’t childproofed. Much of the visit is spent eating in shifts.  My better half and I take turns chasing the baby, and keeping him from climbing furniture, cabinets and entertainment centers.  That’s just for starters.  We’ve been blacklisted from a few homes having small dogs that couldn’t defend themselves.

Two Year Olds are a Great Source of Birth Control – If you read this blog you noticed I’ve never mentioned having another child—not even once. I’m a responsible parent.  I’ve gone to great lengths educating those who think raising a child is just like taking care of a puppy.  I’ve taught, written and chased 19 year old employees at Costco, GNC and Target around the store, armed with words and a fully pissed off tantruming two-year old.  Sure the wife shakes her head, and pretends she doesn’t know me while I doing this, but it’s for the greater good.

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Baby 2.0 – Your Survival Guide

Congratulations you survived the first year of parenthood!  It was rough but worth it. This post is an INTERVENTION to any parent thinking it gets easier from here on out.  In the coming year your adorable little one will be hitting a new set of developmental milestones.

You thought the first year was rough?  The year ahead will have you longing for little annoyances like a diaper blowout.  Forget everything you learned—that was merely the warmup—you are about to embark on Baby 2.0.

Here are a few things you can expect:

Don't let the smile fool you. You are in for a rough time.
Don’t let the smile fool you. You are in for a rough ride.
Walking is about to commence
Walking is about to commence

Walking – You knew it would happen—you either looked forward to it with anxious anticipation or dreaded it like the plague. Walking is a game changer—it’s crawling on steroids.  A walking baby means now more than ever you and your partner must work as a team, keeping watch on, and chasing after your child.  Those teams on The Amazing Race have nothing on a set of parents chasing down an eager toddler headed for an open doorway or towards a flight of stairs.

Tantrums – I’m going to let you in on a secret, toddlers throw tantrums.  Boy do they throw tantrums.   Thought you had a year of tranquility before the Terrible-Twos tantrums kicked in.  Surprise!  Fear not, tantrum support groups exist—they meet at most local bars.

Curiosity – In addition to walking your toddler is developing a sense of curiosity, as in how much will it take to piss Mommy off, or what can I do to make the vein in Daddy’s forehead buldge?  I’m not talking about crawling under the kitchen sink or banging pots and pans—today’s toddler goes after the big ticket items.  Nothing stimulates the mind of a fifteen-month old baby more than an iPhone, iPad or Smart TV remote. They become adept swiping the iPhone from Daddy’s pocket or grabbing the unattended iPad or remote sitting on the end table.  See the previous paragraph on Tantrums when you try taking one these devices away.

Get the Red Bull Daddy, because tonight It's On!
Get the Red Bull Daddy, because tonight It’s On!

Mommyitis Also known as Daddyitis (if Mommy isn’t around) or Separation Anxiety.  Your adorable social-butterfly child, the one who smiles at anyone in supermarket checkout lines or the mall, now emits ear-piercing screams, similar to those an adult makes upon stepping in a bear trap.  This happens when Mommy tries handing him off to Daddy or anyone else.  Simple things like heading to work or even to the bathroom must now be handled with the same covert urgency Seal Team Six uses in planning its ops.

Bedtime/Sleep C’mon you didn’t think the sleep thing was going to improve did you?  Do you also believe in unicorns and the tooth fairy?  Besides being awakened several times a night, bedtime becomes a Darwinian survival of the fittest.  Who will outlast who?  We’ve held the upper hand, but more than once the last one standing put the baby in his crib before taking care of the sleeping spouse.  Who thought the baby’s bedtime required Red Bull or a strong cup of coffee?

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