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Archive for October, 2008

We’ll all take a little breather from each other, and doubtless return wishing we could could get even more bloody time off!!!!!

Seriously, due to travels this week (which would mean I have little to say about parenting by next Tuesday because, err, my wife is doing that this week, and this is I AM FATHER not I AM MOTHER, although if she WANTS to, perhaps I can write an I AM FATHER – I AM MOTHER SPECIAL and she can get into it from her perspective via my vocabulary (which could be dangerous for all of us)…anyway…until then…

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BONUS: HAIKOU SPECIAL…

                                        Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee

                               You make me happy  throughout the draining day

                                      Fuck what “they” say about caffeine!

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“NO, not THAT pink coat, I want the OTHER pink coat!”

“But you said you wanted a pink coat, and this is pink.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Yes it is.”

“NO! I want that kind of pink coat, not THAT pink coat.”

…and later in the car.

“Can I hear ‘Mrs.Robinson’?”

“Sure. (puts ‘Mrs.Robinson’ on).”

“NO not THAT ‘Mrs. Robinson’, the OTHER ‘Mr.Robinson’!!!”

‘SIMON AND BLEEDIN’ GARFUNKEL ONLY WROTE ONE!”

“I MEAN THE LIVE VERSION, THE LIVE VERSION, I WANT THE LIVE VERSION OF ‘MRS. ROBINSON’, I DON’T LIKE THIS VERSION, I WANT THE LIVE VERSION!”

” ‘Two fives and two tens!’ ”

“What Dada?”

“Nothing, nothing (sighing)…”

When it comes to their relative heights, it’s tough to say whether the toddler or Dustin Hoffman is taller. Which allows me to wallow in the near-fact that these days, it is often the case that I feel as though I am living with Dustin Hoffman. Sometimes the toddler is running running running (“Marathon Man”), other times she’s nearly got her Dad in tears first thing in the morning (“Kramer vs Kramer”) whilst lately, her precise, finite and minute attention to even the smallest detail is undoubtably “Rain Man”…I’ve been tempted to drop a box of matches on the floor and see if she knows how many there are, except knowing my luck, she’d grab a handful of them and quickly start a fire.

She has also managed to perfect the nasal whine that Hoffman would unleash at certain times (although I think letting out this most annoying of sounds is wholly forgivable when a sadistic ex-Nazi is doing some dental work on your mouth, as opposed to when you don’t get the right flavor squeezy yo-yo) and even manages to attract enough dirt and grime during an average day to resemble Ratso Rizo from “Midnight Cowboy”…and then there is just the general propensity for drama. Her arms seem to move with over-dramatic propulsion, her complaints come laced with flounce and fervor, and as evidenced by her ability to force floods of tears at hearing the first consonant in the word ‘no’,  she is quite the little dramatist indeed. 

Not that the drama recently has been confined to toddlers.

I recently sat at a Halloween party being thrown by the rock band I work for. With me were the teenager, his teenager friend (who was then going to sleep over), and the toddler. She was off up a specially hired climbing wall for the 15th time, scaling two thirds of the thing in her Snow White costume with the help of her climbing buddy Kelly to the amazement of everyone watching, the teenager was explaining his torn ACL to everyone that asks (which is pretty much everyone) and his friend had his head bowed towards two of the fastest-working thumbs I’d ever seen, which were turn furiously rattling on what looked to these eyes like a T-Mobile sidekick. He had dropped into said – posture frequently during the afternoon, so naturally I had to chuckle.

“What are you looking at me like I’m a freak for?” he protested.

“I’m not,” I replied, “I just wonder why you can’t stop bloody texting for 5 minutes and enjoy life as it is happening right here, right now. Or just speak to the recipient of your texts for a few minutes.”

“Yeah, well Steff, this is what people do now, they text, and I’m just texting a friend OKAY?! JEEEEZ!!!”

He looked mortally, and I mean gravely-mortally, offended, like I had uttered a dark and dirty Sicilian curse about his family. Indeed, if his arms hadn’t been pinned in front of him by his thumbs, I’m sure they’d have flown up in consternation. 

“But you’re saying that like you think I’m stupid!”

“Not stupid but certainly perhaps missing something here. I mean Christ, there’s this thing called LIFE happening before your very eyes yet you’re chained to that thing like it’s an iron lung!”

“You’re just from another era.”

And he wasn’t wrong. I was. And am. I do text fairly regularly, but nothing like the modern young teenage communicators of today. And let me be very clear; he is not alone. They’re all at it (the teenager here being every single bit as involved as any other of his spotty, grotty tribe), heads down, thumbs going like the clappers, jesus, it makes me concerned as to how they’ll ever find time to give their parents grandkids as they surely won’t even be able to carve the time to  MEET anyone who might be able to help (that would involve s-p-e-a-k-i-n-g   w-i-t-h a   h-u-m-a-n)!

So imagine my surprise the next day when I found out that ol’ superthumbs had left the building without letting anyone know! The teenager and I had stepped across the street to the neighbors to watch football, his friend still sleeping, and I for one felt comfortable in the knowledge that the teenager’s phone would vibrate with an incoming text message the moment his buddy woke up. Instead, when the clock struck 1 pm, and we were worried that perhaps something was wrong with him, the teenager called.

“He’s just been picked up from our house by his parents,” he’d said to me.

“WHAT?” I’d responded, incredulously, “NO TEXT MESSAGE ASKING WHERE WE WERE? THE GUY COULDN’T STOP INSTANT MESSAGING YESTERDAY, YET TODAY NOT ONE SINGLE TEXT? OR EVEN, GOD FORBID, A PHONE CALL???? I MUST speak with him!!!”

I mean, yes, we could’ve left a message, but I was so sure that the Bionic Thumb Chum would locate the teenager via text within seconds of rising that I honestly hadn’t felt it necessary (especially as the cars were outside and it was obvious we hadn’t gone far). And so I’d called him. And asked him why he hadn’t texted or called. And THIS was the honest answer.

“I’m sorry Steff, but my texting phone ran out of power and then, well, I just didn’t THINK about using my other calling phone, it just didn’t cross my mind.”

And thus I finally received the news bulletin. That the telephone as we know it has ceased to function as a speaking unit for an entire generation, that it is about everything BUT speaking, and that the reason these buggers are so grumpy whenever you CALL them is because they are FORCED to raise it to their ear, to listen to you and to EXCHANGE VERBAL PLATITUDES.  I couldn’t get angry at him. It was clearly a very simple oversight on his part, not even thinking that he might be able to call, not even registering that a quick phone call would’ve found us less than 60 seconds away. A generation gap or a synaptic collapse? You choose. 

And as you sort that one out, can I burden you with one more question? Is it appropriate to be at dinner with the teenager and toddler, and to laugh loudly as you watch the teenager wipe her ice-cream covered face clean and leave one small yet prominent ice-cream ‘Hitler’ moustache right under her nose and above her grinning mouth?

Perhaps you had to be there…

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…as the title says, normal service will be resumed in 24 hours. We apologize for any inconvenience caused. And we thank you.

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It’s late, maybe 10pm, and I’m driving back from dropping off the teenager’s friend. He came over to visit. I have Freestylers ‘Punks’ (from their excellent “Raw As F**k” EP*) blasting loud, and I’m slung low in my seat, eyes at half-mast, mouth fixed in a stern frown, driving faster than I should on the freeway. I cut off at an exit and roll around the dark streets, sort of crusing, sort of zoning out. I’m loving the attitude of this extremely urban-soaked electro sound, proper night music, proper ‘bad-boy’ sound, the sort of underground noise that makes you feel invincible, impregnable and tough. It reminds me of London, of Brixton maybe, of the East End, maybe of the West End at 3 am where the wild things are. Yeah, I’m playing out 45 minutes of tough-guy right now, an escape into invulnerability by virtue of the accelerator and Freestylers. I need to feel it right now. I need some moments where I feel like the toughest, hardest motherfucker on the block. I’ll get another on October 29th when Spurs go to Arsenal. It’s all social theatre, it’s all simian behavior, it’s all monkeys on parade, jibber-jabbing at each other, and it’s all bullshit really because come 9 am tomorrow I’ll doubtless be holding the door open at the coffee shop for people with a big smile on my face. But I don’t care, I’ll need it, I’ll need the tribal escape, the expenditure of tensions and frustration, the liberation and freedom such moments bring from, well, being responsible I suppose. Come to think of it, reading that back, it sounds a bit like church on a Sunday too, but live and let live eh?

Earlier today we visited the specialist about the teenager’s knee, and he confirmed what my gut had told me the moment he’d hit the turf a week or so ago; he’d torn his ACL and chipped off some cartilage. He’d done a number on the knee. A large number. And so we learned that he would get an operation in a few weeks (the knee needs to get as strong as it can right now so as it will rehab quicker post-op), that he will be walking again a few weeks after that surgery, that he will play contact sports again about 6-7 months after that surgery (so next April or May – hey, his 17th birthday’s on May 25th and I think for that birthday I’m going to hire a field and throw a party out there for him) and that providing he rehabs diligently, he will return stronger. Trust me, there’s nothing like hearing that sort of news to remind you how vulnerable you feel and responsible you need to be more than ever.

“We’ll give you the same knee Jerry Rice got,” said his specialist/surgeon, a fine man who works with the local basketball team and who was part of the Jerry Rice knee club. This man knows knees. I trust him, and more importantly, the teenager trusts him.

And so I took him to the swimming pool to begin some non-weight bearing exercises. I know the pool to be a great place for rehabing and building muscles up again, and the doc agreed, so in we went. He slowly jogged up and down the lane, did motion movements specifically for the knee, stretched…then we went to the sauna. Then he showered. He was able to bear weight on the injured leg, plus he was able to put on his own shoes. Trust me when I tell you this is progress. 

We’re all locked in on this. And the toddler has thankfully hit a graceful descending curve in her development/mood-swings. Her level of empathy for her brother is extraordinary. She hugs him, hangs with him, jokes with him, pets his knee even. Perhaps because she herself instinctually remembers her own period of immobility, she can relate. I sometimes laugh about it; will she think that fucking up your leg is part of childhood? Something which immediately happens to all youth? ‘Hi kids, Larry the Leg Clown here, have you fucked your leg up yet? No? Weeeeeell you just haven’t been a PROPER kid then, so hurry on up and get to it will you? Skateboards, soccer, even just pulling an object from height onto your leg will alllllll do the trick so have at it NOW!’

She did find time to throw a fit the size of Uganda when I dared to tell her she couldn’t do something at the end of a long day for both of us (call me old fashioned, but I think putting the power cord of a computer towards your open mouth is a bit of a ‘no-no’ but she just didn’t understand). And as she screamed and roared and shook with visible toddler tantrum anger, I just held her, very tight, stroked her back, found myself physically draining the energy from her, letting the strength pour into my body directly from hers, hoping that my calm, firm grasp would break the tantrum. “She’s like The Exorcist!” exclaimed the teenager helpfully, but you know? She was. In fact, the only thing stopping her head rotating was my chest. 

She did, of course, calm down. But for all her beauty and charm and fun and niceness, I can see that she will carry a temper and a stubborn-streak to boot. Good for her in the bigger picture. She won’t allow anyone to walk on her, or even step close to it. In fact, I pity the fool who tries (in this case, half the time that fool is me, but it’s my job).

“At this rate you won’t be able to use that wheelchair sign I bought you!” I laughed as the teenager deftly hopped up and started crutching around the place at considerable speed.

“No, no, seriously, you should get a temporary parking permit, might as well get some fucking use out of this fucking injury!”

We laugh. We’ve done a lot of that to be fair. I mean, what else are you meant to do? Piss? Moan? What’s the point? I’ve learnt in this past year, from my toddler breaking her leg and getting that pressure sore from the cast, from my Mum getting cancer again and now from this, that there is no point. You get on with it. And you savor the small moments. The 40 minutes in a car where you can feel young and impregnable again. The night on the terraces at your biggest rival’s ground where you can feel untouchable and feral, a night where frankly you can expend some anger and tension verbally without reprisal. Jesus, I have to tell you, even when I’m here at home, those absurdly early morning kick-offs at Danny Coyle’s with the rest of the SF Spurs Supporters Club are manna for the steam vents, no alcohol required, just Spurs and the rest of the crew. And don’t be fooled. 90% of Dads do it, and need it. My buddy across the street, as erudite and mellow and kind a man as I’ve met for many a year, routinely stand in-front of his TV on Sunday mornings during a third down play against his beloved Bears either clutching a photo of Mike Ditka or chanting ‘fuck you fuck you’ with two fingers in the air. I understand. In fact I try to make it a point to remain quiet at these moments. Because as a father, you need every second those moments bring. It’s actually the most literal interpretation of the Buddhist’s ‘in the moment’ mantra you could find. So your husband/father/friend’s a part time Buddhist. Do not disturb!

And if you happen to see a middle-aged man driving late at night, head bobbing slowly to loud, dark, urban dance music, mouthing words like ‘punks on the left, punks on the right’ or ‘new badness’,don’t judge him, simply understand that he’s just indulging in a 40 minute escape-vacation. OK? Thank you…

*Freestylers track ‘Punks’ can be found on the “Raw As F**k” album, released by the label Against The Grain. Either download the single track or the entire album. You can find it on itunes or at http://www.beatport.com.

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 I am seriously considering a curly black wig, blouse, skirt and high heels. Actually, come to think of it, I could probably get away with just a blouse, a pair of jeans and some dark red lip-stick plus a dash of mascara. Jeez! Now I think a little further, sneakers would be fine too! Because all I have to do here, my only aim, the pinnacle of my achievement, would be to try and look like a passing resemblance of my wife for a short period of time. We are, of course, different sizes, which could cause a problem, but I’m hoping that toddler-vision doesn’t always extend to such details as being clearly much much fatter than your other half. I could certainly copy the voice, I’m sure of that as I find voicework comes easily to me, so I suppose it comes down to that whole ‘size’ issue, and whether I believe the toddler works with such distinctions or not.

 I’m sure you’re wondering why I find myself explaining such theories on cross-dressing, pontificating on the potential necessities of a t-shirt that doesn’t clash with lip-stick, deliberating on how many times I’d have to re-apply mascara…is it because I WANT to be a cross-dresser? No. It is most certainly NOT because I want to be a cross-dresser. I have no interest in wearing women’s clothes, and when it comes to make-up, well, let’s just say I thought Max Factor was a body-building protein shake. No, i am seriously contemplating cross-dressing because as I sit here, typing away, the toddler is staging her now daily post-nap ‘Mama’ wail. This involves sounding like she’s pushing out a particularly obnoxious stool whilst running a river of snot and tears as she says ‘Mamaa a a a a a.”

Any attempts I make to cuddle her, soothe her, take her to the zoo or offer to read to her are met with a stuttering, snuffling ‘no’ accompanied by an ‘I don’t want you’ and (in case I forget who she really likes!) ‘Mamaa a a a a a a…’

 There is no point getting angry. There is no point taking it personally, She is three and this is the territory. I know this because I’ve asked some experts. Like Leslie from the sandwich shop. She told me it was a phase. And I trust her. And I think it’s a phase to, even though it never happened with he teenager, partially because he is a boy and partly because, well, he just isn’t wired like the toddler. He’s got enduring strengths, a loyalty and deep deep warmth that means you feel he’s your trusty companion for life, a person who would help others in need at all times not because he’s a goody-good but because that’s just who he is, a person who enjoys leisurely pace and leisurely times. The toddler, meanwhile, is a firecracker, the sort of child that gets lab geeks excited with their wires and electrodes, the sort of child who lives to be faster and more dramatic and just ‘more’…

 So, as you can see, there’s not much point getting angry. Even though that’s like saying ‘don’t laugh and show respect’ when Sarah Palin is on live television. Even though that’s like saying ‘don’t get angry’ when your toddler repeatedly says she doesn’t like you and doesn’t want you. Indeed, at such times I have come to contemplate the following question (complete with toothy-grinned beaming face image)…what would the Dali Lama do? Not a very good question as it so happens, because I’m sure the Dali Lama has as much experience with toddlers as I do with the Himalayas, and as such he would simply hire people to take care of the situation and piss off to some quiet corner for a spot of meditation. No, it’s best at such moments to simply draw on some deeply-trusted reserve of even deeper-buried faith that so long as you keep your wits and temper inside, as long as you remain calm and UNDER – STAND that this is NOT- ABOUT -YOU that she is a TODD-L-ER and that THIS-TOO-SHALL-PASS, then it all works out. 

So, as she continued to wail and as she continued to hollar and as she continued to dribbe snot and tears and ‘mamas’, I picked up my freshly delivered opy of Entertainment Weekly with Paul Newman on the cover, went into her room and sat in the rocking chair.

“I-DON’T-WANT-YOU!” she cried. And I told her she didn’t have to have me. That I was simply going to sit in the chair and read my magazine. That when she was ready, she could let me know.

“N-N-NO! GET OUT!”

And I took another deep breath, and I suggested that should she not want to see me, she could cover her head with her blankets, or look the other way, or read a book…but that the fact remained that I simply wasn’t going to go anywhere. Nowhere. At all.

 20 minutes passed. 20 long, snotty, tear-stuffed minutes, complete with a quite stupendous tantrum for good toddler measure. And I marveled at just what handsome young man Paul Newman was, I started to remember some of his fine work, I started to remember that he was, in fact, every bit the actor that Brando was but (possibly due to his friendly demeanor and lack of mystic) never got the thespian respect he deserved. And it gradually got better. Gradually. I saw a glimmer of a smile. And then I saw a real smile. 

“Are you ready to see me?”

“Do you remember giving me rocket rides (this involves toddler perched on huge cushion shaped like a rocket from Little Einsteins)?”

“Of course!”

“Could I have one please?”

“Absolutely. And any girl who wants one rocket ride would surely want two?!!!”

“Or eleven!!!!!!”

“Or eleven!!!!!”

And so we laughed.

And we hugged each other.

And I wiped the snots off her face.

And she had chocolate milk.

And she started singing ‘Dada Dada Dada Dada’ over and over.

It had been a victory…and make no mistake, this had been a small but silent war.

Thankfully now I had learnt how to get through the fight with a smile on all our faces and no bloody noses…this can only be good.

(This was to have been where this week’s column ended, but then came Saturday…)

Saturday afternoon…it was about 4.40pm. The teenager went in for a tackle near the end of the game, and as he clashed with the other player, his leg stuck in the turf and his knee went against itself as he fell. His hand shot up in the air. I watched from the sidelines, a sudden chill oozing through me. I knew it was not good. I’ve played, watched and coached enough soccer over the decades to know that this was not good. He wasn’t rolling around. It was no stinger. Immediately my mind went into a slow, steady cruise. I even managed to mostly ignore the laughter of the player with whom he’d clashed, this dirty little punk bitch telling the referee that he should give my son a yellow card, this dirty little punk-ass bitch laughing as my son clutched his knee. The game had started to get ugly in the second-half, and the opposition had already had a man sent off for throwing an elbow in someone’s face. But no matter. I had more important places to direct my energy. And so I helped him off the pitch with his coach. And so I took him to the emergency room. And so I got him a wheelchair and we got an x-ray to be sure there was no bone damage, and we got a prognosis that said he’d probably escaped ACL rupture, that this could be a torn meniscus, and so we left with our instructions and crutches and an immoblizer and a prescription for vicodin. And we laughed in the car and we made spastic jokes at his expense, and we got home and I rigged up the shower with two chairs so as he could rest his leg and shower. And I settled him as much as possible. And I sat with him until he got tired and I got him into bed.

And then I went upstairs. And then I cried. Because he’s worked so hard, so damn hard, to get to where he is. He’s been on a self-enforced eating plan/diet which together with his training has helped him lose 35lbs. And he was playing well. And he loved it, and he was so happy playing and training. All his friends were soccer related. We even still played together sometimes, and his passing was fantastic, his crosses accurate, his ability to use both feet marvelous. He found me with two great passes the last time we played together and it was harder to miss than score. I beamed about it for hours…me and him, in our Spurs shirts, playing on the same team, him setting me up, me scoring…it was beautiful to me.

And now this. At 16. I talked myself off the ledge of worry, off the ledge that he might’ve fucked the whole knee. I clung to the words of the ER doc who said the knee did not look loose, that the ligaments still felt OK. And I counted on the fact that maybe, once the swelling went down and the MRI could be done, that perhaps it would only be 6-8 weeks and not 6-8 months. And I realized that I would need to be very, very strong for him, because as stoic, cheerful and brave as he was now, if there was pro-longed rehab and no playing there would be a few tough times ahead. And I realized that I would thus have to support him twice as much, and be there for him more than ever. And I said to myself that even if he couldn’t ever play properly again, at least he’d proved to everyone that he could get fit and exploit his ability. And I knew that I would need to make sure he had a great rehab program and I knew I would support his dietary needs 110% (he had already insisted on keeping is diet even tighter than before).

But you know what? It was still sad. And I still cried. And I still got angry (angrier than him). And I still screamed, alone, in the car last night WHY HIM, WHY FUCKING HIM, HES A GOOD FUCKING KID, WHY HIM as loud as I could, and it still hurts even as I write. Because you expect to help bathe your toddler, to help her in and out, but you don’t expect to be helping bathe your teenager. He’s too young for this but he’s going to have to go through it. Tomorrow he sees the specialist who will hopefully tell him what exactly has happened. And tomorrow will hopefully tell us how the next few weeks, months or year is going to be for the teenager.

Wish him luck, would you? Please?

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