Sausage, Eggos, And Team Umizoomi: Daddy’s Parenting Philosophy Over Breakfast

Day 16: Sausage…No, Eggos…No, TV

Dressed in pinstripe baseball pjs that are getting tighter and tighter every day, Harry wanders into the living room and points at the TV.

“Speak,” I say.

More pointing.

“Pretend I am blind, but I can hear. Use your words, please.”

stop-doing-that-for-your-kids-To drive home the point of my rather pointless scenario, I close my eyes. I wait. I wait some more. I hope. I hope some more.  When I open my eyes, Harry is still pointing at the television, so I return my focus where it belongs: to the cup of English Breakfast tea cooling on the table before me. I glance out the window at the breaking sunlight, wondering two things simultaneously: how quickly is global warming going to wipe out our planet, and is Harry, a mercurial but, for the most part, fun four-year old, going to break my balls today from sun up to sun down. Who knows? I need a Magic 8 Ball. And a vacation. After only three short weeks of being a stay-at-home dad.

Harry makes a sound like a baby velociraptor who’s just been given a flu shot directly in the eyeball. He scrunches up his face, and then buries said face into the side of the Lazy Boy.

“Just speak,” I say. “I want you to speak, Harry.”

He sits up. Slowly. With a grimace on his face. As if sitting up is causing exquisite pain.

“I want to watch TV,” he says with the same expression on his face that the neglected hqdefaultkittens and abused doggies on the SPCA commercial have.

Unlucky for my son, I have developed an immunity to his charms and his whining.  And, despite my many faults as a parent, I always have my primary parenting goal in mind, which is to teach this little narcissist that he isn’t the center of the universe, so I cup my hand behind my ear, a gesture the boy knows and despises.

“What do you say?” I ask.

Pouting. Sneering.

“Daddy’s not a servant,” I say calmly. “What’s the magic word?”

“Please.”

“I didn’t like that tone. Try it again. Softer. Nicer.”

Lower lip comes out. “Please.”

To reinforce the idea that I, not he, is in charge, I nod, take another sip of tea, and then casually stroll into the living room to fulfill his request, but not before I stop to sweep up some dust bunnies along the way, which causes Harry to fidget and whine a bit.

“Daddy.”

“Yes,” I respond and wait for him to remove the menace from his eyes before I turn on Team Umizoomi for him.

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Harry doing chores. He doesn’t like doing them. I don’t care. 

Quick rant about parenting.  I’m not trying to be a jerk by deliberately frustrating my son. I’m just trying to maintain a semblance of balance, a modicum of calmness in my own house because to me, parenting isn’t about yelling and screaming and spanking and threatening.  Parenting isn’t about coddling and complimenting and constantly inflating our little one’s self-esteem, either. Parenting, to me, is simple: if you remain calm, compassionate, and consistent, things, generally speaking, turn out well. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I have no illusions that I can make my son (or anyone else) do anything. All I can do is set a precedent, a straightforward cause-and-effect situation, whereby Harry learns consequences. Harry, you throw food against the wall, you clean it up. Harry, you hit Daddy in the leg with your plastic ninja sword, Daddy locks you in your room for five minutes.

As Harry watches his show, I suggest sausage for breakfast, and he shakes his head.

“What I want you won’t give me because you’re a Dad and you’re mean.”

“Tell me what you want.”

“Marshmallows.”

I feel like a million bucks. I feel like the Father of the Year people are in the next room waiting to hand me a big trophy and a gigantic cake. But I refrain from gloating, from saying, “You’re damn right you can’t have marshmallows for breakfast. And guess what, you’re getting a job when you turn sixteen.”

“No marshmallows,” I say, attempting to tamp down the pleasant wave of schadenfreude flooding my body. “But what else?”

He asks for Eggos, and, feeling on top of my game, I say, “Sounds good. You come in here make them.”

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Harry making his Eggo. Me reminding him why I am making him make his own Eggo, while I take a bad picture with my iPhone.

Then, without argument, he turns off the TV, walks into the kitchen, and pushes his step stool up to the counter. “Eggo,” he says like a no-nonsense surgeon asking for a scalpel. I hand him one, and he puts it into the toaster and turns the dial to BAKE. He watches the waffle toast, and after exactly thirteen seconds, he says, “This is boring.”

“Only boring people get bored,” I say, and he says I’m weird and continues staring at the toaster. When it dings, he drowns the waffle in syrup and carries his breakfast to the dining room table. “Come on, Daddy. Let’s eat.”

After he makes sure every square inch of his Eggo is covered in sticky syrup, he aims his fork at me and says, “Tell me stories about you when you were a kid. And not the one where you shaved your jersey number into the back of your head because you’ve told me that one like a million zillion times, and I don’t want to hear it again.”

So as he eats, I tell him about how I used to trim the carpet in our living room with scissors because I thought the carpet grew like grass, and I had to cut it once a week like I had to cut the grass.

Harry, laughing so hard I can see chunks of waffle in his teeth, says, “That’s a good one!”

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy——————9

Harry——————5.5

 

 

 

 

 

Culinary Kindness: A Scene From A Satirical Movie About Parenting

FADE IN:

INT- -DINING ROOM, DAY

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Harry at the corn maze with my much better half. I was at home watching soccer at the time. 

Wearing a neon orange Fila soccer outfit, Harry sits at the dining room table carefully removing the crust from a strawberry Pop Tart.  He arranges the crust pieces in a kind of semi-circle on his plate. After his work is done, he looks up and smiles like a Bond villain.

MY WIFE: What are you doing with the crust, Harry?

HARRY: I need to whisper something in your ear.

MY WIFE: Okay.

I’m sitting across the table from Harry, who keeps a mischievous eye on me as he climbs onto my wife’s lap.

HARRY (loudly whispering): I’m going to give Daddy the crumbs.

MY WIFE: You mean the crust?

HARRY (no longer whispering, but talking loudly, while glaring in my direction): No, the crumbs. Daddy gets the crumbs because I don’t like them, and Daddy’ll eat them.

ME: I get the table scraps like a dog.

Everything-Pop-Food-Court-Pop-Tart-Breakfast-Sandwich
Pop Tart breakfast sandwich=pleasure overload.

Harry nuzzles into my wife’s neck, so she can’t see his face.  But I can tell you that, although he doesn’t actually speak, the message coming from his eyes is quite clear: “Eat it, old man. Just eat it.”

ME: I wonder if I could mix these Pop Tart crumbs in with some scrambled eggs.

MY WIFE (with a horrified expression on her face): That’s disgusting.

 

 

 

“Lego Grits!”: Breakfast Negotiations with Harry

Day 15: Legos, Instant Grits, and Jetpacks

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Harry forcing me to play Legos. Again. Really early in the morning. 

Harry sits at his whiteboard desk covered with Legos, none of which I actually bought, but why I’ve spent maybe a total of $20 on toys for my only son is a long story involving my fiscally conservative nature and the years between 1997 through 2001 when I, a broke and marginally employed twentysomething, lived in Asheville, North Carolina, and had virtually no money and often ate only one meal a day at a bootleg Chinese restaurant that, if memory serves, had a C+ sanitation grade.

To pre-empt any negotiations and/or potential arguments, I sit down in the tiny chair across from the boy, look him in the eyes, and calmly say:

“Respectfully, I’m not playing Legos or anything else, until you eat some breakfast.”

“What will you do?” Harry asks.

“Stare.”

“At what?”

“Not what. How. I will stare blankly ahead until you eat a reasonable breakfast.”

Harry, whose tank top is on inside out, holds up my favorite Lego guy, a silver-haired ninja named Silverado, and says, “I want Lego grits.”

I retreat to the kitchen, make instant butter grits, and sit the bowl down beside the assembled ninjas and their Puppet Master, a floppy-haired, Bambi-eyed, four-year old with a wonderful imagination.

“I won’t eat unless you play with me,” he proclaims and then makes Silverado do an aerial move that breaks off a piece of the roof of one of the buildings my poor wife spent hours (literally) constructing last weekend.

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Harry as a spaceman with a jetpack.

As I consider my options, I stare blankly ahead. After several seconds, Harry enquires as to my general well-being, specifically, my state of mind, and I don’t have a ready answer for the boy. I am, in truth, a bit sleepy and frustrated, mostly because the Washington Nationals’ catcher decided to single-handedly lose last night’s win-or-go-home game against the Chicago Cubs, but I guess I’m also ill-at-ease being a stay-at-home dad.  I make no money, which worries me and chips away at my fragile male ego.  And I spend most of my time at home with Harry, who I love more than anything, but who is also just a four-year old with no interest in American literature, English Premier League soccer, and/or the craft of writing.

“I’m good,” I say and mean it because Harry’s smiling at me at this point. “How ’bout this?  For every two bites you eat, I’ll play with you for two minutes. Deal?”

Harry closes one eye, thinking. “You got it, sir,” he says and holds out his hand, which I shake, while trying not to cry at how f-ing cute my son is.

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Harry in my bed. Farting on my sheets. Watching my iPad.

He eats the grits as we play Legos, and I feel much better because Harry, for the moment, is happy and has a full stomach, and we have enough money and a decent house to live in, and I put aside my stupid male pride (momentarily) and feel gratitude–and a bit of hunger as well.

“I’m going to make bacon,” I say, to which Harry replies:

“After we play Legos.”

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy————-8

Harry————-5.5.

 

5 Questions for Harry: A Short Interview Over Breakfast

Day 13: A Boo Radley Moment

boo radley
Harry was uncharactertistically taciturn this morning a la Boo Radley. 

Harry sits at the dining room table dipping Cheez Its into the nuclear-yellow egg yoke on his plate.  He sips green juice and runs a hand through his hair, leaving a smattering of Cheez It crumbs around his right temple. He points at me, which is my son’s way of saying it is time to play the dreaded Dinner Game. About to select a card from the little box, I think of the famous (infamous?) Frost/Nixon interviews, and I wonder if my son, a tough customer in his own right, would be easier or harder to crack during a Q&A than Tricky Dick.

“I have a better idea,” I say. “How about I interview you, Harry? Just five questions.”

Finger wag.

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Harry and I have played this game during every meal eaten at home for the last three months. I hate this game. Really. 

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I say, and he shakes his head and points at the Dinner Game. “Can you speak, or are you having a Boo Radley moment?”

More insistent pointing.

Crossing my arms, I say, “If you don’t answer my questions, I won’t take you to the park today.”

Weighing his options, he dips another Cheez It into the yoke, licks the yellow stuff off, and drops the cracker, now sopping wet with Harry saliva, onto the floor. He then aims a challenging expression in my direction.

“Okay,” he says. “Ask your questions.”

“As soon as you pick up that Cheez It.”

He takes his sweet time about it, but he does obey, dropping the cheesy cracker in the trash can and sitting back down at the dinning room table.

“Ready,” he says.

5 Questions for Harry: A Transcript

If you were in charge, how would things at our house be different?  

Nobody would do what they want.

Give me a brief justification for why you like the TV show Fuller House, and Bob Saget, international sex symbol, can’t be part of your answer.

Because they’re funny. Because they’re cool. And because when they went behind each other, that was funny. (Editorial note: I have no clue what he’s talking about here as I, thank god, have never seen this horrible show.)

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Harry and me found these nasty worms yesterday. They were very sticky and slimy. He loved them. I was grossed out. 

If you could be invisible or be able to fly, which would you choose? 

Be able to fly and be invisible. I am invisible. Write a little bit, and then look back at my chair. Daddy, put the pen down and look at me! I’m invisible! (Editorial note: when I look back at his chair, Harry is gone…invisible.)  

What is the most annoying thing about Daddy?

That you’re mean. Crazy mean around me sometimes. I can’t remember why. I’m not telling you why you’re mean. Speaking of weiners, let’s go get some weiners. 

What is the most annoying thing about Mommy?

Nothing. Only about you. (Editorial note: my son is inferring that I am annoying, and Mommy is perfect.)

Bonus question: Do you love Daddy? 

Even when you’re mean. 

Good because I love you more than anything, Harry. 

I want to watch TV. 

No Pop Tart, No Hash Browns, Green Juice Only: A “Pharmacy” Breakfast

Day 12: Going to the “Pharmacy”

cartboxart
Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Select, Start. Now give me my extra lives, yo. 

I wake up from another bad dream, this one involving the old video game Contra and me being stuck in said old video game, naked and dehydrated and in the throws of an episode of atrial fibrillation, which, regrettably, I suffer from in real life and take medication for, prescribed for me by a cardiologist with a trim goatee and stylish glasses and a sneaky good sense of humor.

Right, so, my eyes open, and there’s my wife looking lovely in full make up and business attire, her big brown eyes twinkling with excitement as she says:

“Getting up early is the best. I had a shower and made hash browns, and if you fry up some bacon and an egg and throw it on top of the hash browns”- – -she winks and gives me the thumbs up- – -“that’s some good mess!”

“Harry?”

“Asleep. Love you, bye.”

I check my heart rate–normal, thank god–and I walk into the kitchen. I eat two Eggos, drink English Breakfast, and swallow 25mg of Metoprolol and a Magnesium pill to help ward off palpitations. I check on Harry. His head is hanging off the side of the top bunk, and he has a death grip on his stuffed monkey.  Not wanting to awaken the beast, I tip-toe away.

To the living room. Just as I turn on Sportscaster and plop down into the Lazy Boy, Harry (sans pants) appears and squeezes in beside me.

Torode-Beef-Steak-Tartare-main“Hash Browns?” I ask.

Head shake.

“Pop Tart.”

“We don’t have the frosted kind I like.” Accusatory tone. Undercurrents of deep resentment and subconscious Oedipal rage.

“Steak tartare?”

He sniffs. “What’s that?”

“Raw steak, more or less.”

He whines, settles down, whines some more. As he turns on the TV to Barbie’s Spy Squad, he says, “I want green juice.”

Here’s an interesting contradiction: the “green juice” has kale, apples, carrots, and other veggies and fruits in it. No artificial flavors whatsoever. So, while a bit sugary, it does provide my progeny with at least a few servings of something other than carbs.

“Done.”

NKDR07626117_Green_Machine_Hug_SI
This is about the only green thing Harry eats. Unless you count green candy. 

Harry drinks green juice in the car on the way to the farm school, where he will now go on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a few hours to a) get some social interaction with other children and, most importantly, b) so Daddy can pretend to write the new novel he’s contractually obligated to turn in in nine months, but he’s really going to spend those precious one-hundred eighty minutes writing for a gossip website under a pseudonym and geeking out on Tottenham Hotspur passing efficiency stats.

“I’m going to the pharmacy!” From the backseat, this is what Harry says. Pharmacy meaning, the farm school. Don’t ask. I’ve tried to correct him, but he’s not listening. “I’m going to the pharmacy!”

“Yes, you are going to the pharmacy.” And Daddy is going on YouTube to watch old Harry Kane soccer goal highlights. Win-win.

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy————-7.5

Harry————–5.5 (We both got half a point today. The green juice=compromise.)

 

Frosted Mini Wheats: Breakfast of Toddler Champions

Day 11: Daddy’s Double Nightmare

So it’s dark out, and I’m in bed half asleep. I’m dreaming about playing rhythm guitar for AC/DC at one of their concerts, and I’m totally blowing it because I don’t know all the chord changes and Angus Young keeps aiming that menacing Australian sneer in my direction, and when I look away from the guitar hero and out into the crowd, I see my ex girlfriend and Nathaniel Hairston, the kid who used to bully me at Old Richmond Elementary, in the front row, and they’re laughing and pointing and I’m sweating and my heart’s pounding and. . .

“Mommy,” I hear a familiar voice say, “I want to watch TV.”

I hear more noises, bed squeaks and toddler giggling and little feet padding down the hallway.

fuller house
My son watches this. I have a failed.

Then, just as I’m about to drift back off to sleep, I hear the most horrifying sound ever: the theme music to Fuller House featuring the eternal sex symbol Bob Saget. 

I walk into the living room, and there I see the most horrifying thing ever: my four-year old son, who I  love more than anything in the world, actually singing along to the Fuller House theme music.

“Why?” I say. “How? When?”

Harry, grinning, says, “I love this show.”

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Cereal: check. Monkey: check. Paw Patrol spoon: check. Adorably floppy hair: double check.

Then, he asks for Frosted Mini Wheats, which I pour and allow him to eat in front of the television because, obviously, I have failed as a man, a father, and a role model. That’s it. Game over. He’s won. I’ve lost. Period.

By the time you read this, it’s possible that I could be at the local Baskin & Robbins, drowning my sorrows with orange sherbet, while smoking French cigarettes and muttering at the other happy customers, “You people make my ass twitch.”

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy——————7

Harry——————5.5 (Even though Harry voluntarily has eaten a decent breakfast, I gave him two points for the whole Fuller House debacle. It’s almost as if he knows exactly what to do to really hurt me.)

Culinary Catastrophe: A Scene From a Psychological Thriller

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Harry hiding

FADE IN:

INT — DINING ROOM, NIGHT

Dressed to be adored in my oversized Avengers T-shirt and a pair of blue boxer briefs, Harry sits at the dining room table. He’s grimacing at what I’ve put in his Paw Patrol bowl: approximately three small spoonfuls of vegetable beef soup. He has already eaten two butter rolls, but the prospect of having to actually consume a vegetable and the tiniest bit of protein is causing the boy to twitch and fidget. He directs a scowl toward the living room, where my wife and I are sitting side by side on the couch.

HARRY: I want chocolate cake!

MY WIFE: Eat three bites and we’ll give you some.

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This book could be brilliant, but I ain’t reading it. Like I always say, “Sweet potatoes could be the key to eternal happiness, but it don’t mean I’m eating the nasty things.” 

For reasons that completely elude me, my wife, an otherwise intelligent and successful woman, is reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and if our son wasn’t making a face right now that I’m sure Kim Jong-Un makes whenever one of his servants/slaves screws up his lunch order, I would ridicule the woman to whom I’m related by marriage for voluntarily reading such fluff.  But instead of succumbing to my Inner Literary Snob, I continue reading A Legacy of Spiesthe latest John Le Carre, while I keep a dispassionate eye on Harry’s dinner progress.

HARRY: I want chocolate cake, and you’re going to give it to me!

MY WIFE: Don’t talk to us that way.

It is an act of generosity and solidarity that she says “us” because, quite clearly, the kid hates my not our guts at the moment, but I have it coming. After all, I have sacrificed thirty minutes of my Saturday to make a semi-homemade, reasonably nutritious meal when, if there was any justice in this world, I would have been watching the MLB playoffs and re-watching the Oasis documentary Supersonic on Amazon Prime for a fourth time. Instead, I’m reading (attempting to read, actually) page 112 of my spy book, while Harry throws his spoon across the room.

MY WIFE: Hey! Don’t do that!

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Harry at the Frets N Necks Music Festival on Saturday. 

HARRY: I want chocolate cake!

MY WIFE (whispering, to me): He’s got the spoon and he’s scratching up my table.

I put my hand on her arm as she grinds her teeth.

ME: Harry, we’re not going to talk about it anymore.

MY WIFE: Three bites. That’s it. It’s not hard, you can do it.

Crying. Banging of tiny fists. Squeezing of stuffed monkey. Then, sweet silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as our son eats one kernel of corn, one green been, and one potato.

HARRY (sweetly and calmly, as if he hasn’t just put us through an emotional meat grinder for over an hour): I ate three bites. I want chocolate cake now.

 

Day 10: Bagel with Cream Cheese, Part III of the Trilogy

 

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Harry, Halloween Night, 2014. Man, he was cute. 

Breakfast Prologue

Harry came into our bedroom three times last night, each time saying, “Mommy, I need you.” All three times, my wife, calm as you like, followed him into his bedroom, tucked him in, turned on his Christmas lights, and wished him a pleasant slumber with sweet dreams.

On the fourth breach of our bedroom’s perimeter, Harry, tired of making the nine foot walk from his bedroom to ours, just climbed in between my wife and I, right after he insisted on leaving the door open and the hallway light on, so that the harsh glow of a 60 Watt bulb burned into my retinas. Then, for the next thirty minutes or so, I endured kicks, elbows, and random swipes of a stuffed monkey that smelled of syrup and saliva, all while I gazed, with heavy lids and crushed spirit, at the darkness outside. I figured it was 4 in the morning, you know, a time when only joggers and psychopaths are up, but wait, I just repeated myself.

When the alarm went off, my wife kissed Harry and headed toward the shower, and before the bedroom door shut behind her, the kid was up and trailing after her like a lost puppy.  I tried to go back to sleep, but I kept hearing Harry squealing and singing and stomping around the house, so I got up and entered the kitchen.

Wearing boxer briefs and a Paw Patrol T-shirt, Harry was standing behind my wife, trying, I think, to convince her to give him some leftover chocolate cake.

“Go away,” Harry said and hid in the folds of my wife’s bathrobe.

“Don’t be mean to your Daddy,” she says. “Be a sweet boy.”

“I don’t want him here.”

And good morning to you, too, I thought. Fully in the mood to go check when the nearest flight to Antartica was, or, short of that, search the Internet for reputable yet discount finishing schools, where I could ship my only son, so that he might learn to at least tolerate the presence of the guy who not only made him, but also spent several hours the previous afternoon with a flimsy net attempting to catch minnows in a local pond, I asked why Harry was upset.

“I don’t like you,” he said.

Rather than doing the civilized thing and changing the little squirt to a spelling competition, the winner receiving the title Lord of the Manor, I turned and walked back into the bedroom.

Back to the present

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Harry, post bagel, getting annoyed with me. . .again. 

I’m in the kitchen with Harry doing our version of Groundhog Day.  

“I want a bagel with cream cheese,” he says.

“Okay. I toast it. You spread the cream cheese.”

“You’re stupid!”

“Maybe you’ll appreciate your food more if you have to help make it.”

“You’re rude! You’re not taking care of me!”

I scream. On the inside. As well as cry and curse and stamp my feet in the same way that Harry is stamping his feet at this very moment. Even in a rage, the boy is a perfect looking physical specimen. Although caked with last night’s toothpaste, his hair is wavy and floppy and styled, even though I rarely comb it. His eyes, slightly bloodshot and bulging with frustration, are quite easy to get lost in. But I no longer think of our relationship in such an emotional way, and this allows me to observe his behavior, to absorb his blows, both literal and figurative, without reacting. Sure, in private, I cry sometimes, ask myself why the kid dislikes me so much whenever I would gladly give him one of my kidneys and my favorite Boston Red Sox T-shirt and let him win every single time we play soccer in the backyard.

I get out the bagels and cream cheese and say, “Whenever you’re ready to help make your breakfast, I’m ready, okay?”

His lower lip comes out. He cries genuine tears, and before I start crying, I remind myself that if Harry Huckleberry Everhart liked me all the time, I would be a bad parent. And I would rather be dead than be a bad parent. Just sucks sometimes that trying to do the right thing hurts so much.

“Calm down, buddy,” I say on the verge of tears myself. “Calm down.”

He does calm down. Almost an hour later. After my wife leaves for work. And after I remind him that I don’t yell at him or call him names, and that he should return the favor. I tell him that being nice is just easier than being mean, and, in fact, being nice is, in an odd way, kind of selfish.

“Think about it,” I say as we stand next to the kitchen counter, him on his step stool, me talking fast in a weird Midwestern accent in a desperate attempt to make him laugh, “if you’re nice, people are more likely to be nice back, which means they are more likely to do what you want. Translation: being nice is both selfish and the “right thing” to do. Isn’t that fascinating? The dichotomy of it, I mean?”

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We made these yesterday. According to Harry, they are robot dancers who dance fight and do ninja stuff. 

Harry furrows his brow. “You’re weird, Daddy.” Then, he spreads cream cheese on the bagel, which he eats in the dining room while I make fart noises and bask in his glorious laughter.

“You’re funny, Daddy!”

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy———–7

Harry————3.5 (I gave the boy half a point because, whoa, today’s breakfast campaign was a war of attrition).

Dinner Game
Harry makes me play the Dinner Game during every meal. This is one of the cards in the game. My favorite of Harry’s answers to this question: “Mrs. Paghetti likes her spaghetti with squirrel farts on top.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 9: Cheese Grits (mine, not Harry’s)

Sandy Lerner, the legendary founder of Cisco once said, “First rule of any game is to know you’re in one.”

And parenting, I have learned over time, is a game.

With Lerner’s useful maxim in mind, I go into the living room this morning, and there’s Harry laying on the couch watching a cartoon that I almost don’t approve it.

I say, “I’m making myself a round egg, and you can’t have one.”

“I don’t care. I don’t even like round eggs, anymore.”

“I’m having cheese grits, too. With spicy cheese.”

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Harry making a soup containing pancake mix, oregano, berries, coffee grounds, Cheyenne pepper, water, twigs, sand, and salt.

His gorgeous brown eyes widen at the possibility of consuming processed cheese with chunks of jalapeño in it.  The boy, I’m sad to report, is a cheese addict. Really, my son’s pupils are so big and round right now I could serve Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings on them.

“I want cheese grits,” he says.

“Only big boys need cheese grits. I’m a big boy.”

“You’re not a big boy,” he says.  “You’re an old dad. I’m a big boy. I need cheese grits because I’m growing, and you’re not.”

Without taking his eyes off of the screen, he swings his stuffed monkey at my head, which, in a flash, reminds me of the way a grouchy old woman in the movies uses her purse as a weapon against some immoral punk who tries to cut the line at the grocery store. I’m pushing hard at forty, so my reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and I can’t duck out of the way in time to avoid getting hit in the back of the head by the stuffed monkey’s hard plastic eyes.

Pitch Perfect
One of my favorite movies. And no, I don’t mean that ironically.

Head smarting now, I keep my eye on the prize: if Harry thinks the cheese grits are mine, he will want to eat them, and that is what I want to happen. Understand, he doesn’t want the cheese grits simply because they are delicious. He wants them because I want them.  He wants them specifically so I, his father, can’t have them. Because if he takes my food, I will, eventually, die of starvation, and then he and my wife can live happily ever after, at least until he realizes that, unlike his father, his mother will not allow him to jump on the couch and wipe his hands on his pants and pee behind the garage and use my framed college degrees as Frisbees and/or race car steering wheels and/or surfboards and/or ninja weapons. The irony of the whole situation is he will also stand to inherit my worldly goods, which means upon my death he’ll become the proud owner of my ever-mounting stack of unpublished manuscripts, my prized DVD collection including personal favorites Point Break, Pitch Perfect, and Dr. Strangelove, and a signed hardback copy of James Crumley’s mystery Bordersnakes.  In short: joke’s on you, son.

I make the cheese grits and sit down at the dining room table. I pick up the spoon, and Harry whines.

“Don’t, Daddy!”

Now, I do my best Robert DeNiro impression.  Scowling, I take a sip of my tea, glare out the window for a three count. Then, after a long exhale, I say:

Harry's 1st Birthday Party
I’m the ugly one.

“Harry, do you want my cheese grits?” Notice, dear readers, I use the first person possessive pronoun “my,” because if I say “some” or “your own” cheese grits, he will not be interested. Like I say, it’s Oedipal, Freudian, subconscious. And I don’t take it personally. Truly. Besides, I love the kid, and, what’s more, I understand completely: with her twinkly brown eyes and soft skin and infectious laugh and high income earning potential, my wife is much more likable than I am, so it makes sense that he prefers her to me, a grumpy, middle-aged man who watches soccer and listens to weird music.

“Yeah! I want your cheese grits!”

Harry is in such a hurry to take what’s rightfully mine he even leaves behind his stuffed monkey as he runs into the dining room, grabs my spoon, and chows down.

Well, almost.

He eats about half of what’s in the bowl. Close enough for me. I’m claiming victory. I play the game, baby!

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy———–6

Harry————3.

IMG_1027
After he ate my cheese grits this morning, he selected this outfit to wear.

 

 

Day 8: Tater Tots

New day, new breakfast tactic.

Instead of asking what Harry wants for breakfast and then going through a grueling tug-of-war with the boy, I’m just going to make something he likes (and I approve of) and serve it to him. Here you go, kid. Eat it, or don’t. No more arguing for this dad. No more tit-a-tat dialogue that belongs in an Aaron Sorkin film and not in my kitchen first thing in the morning.

So, today, I’m making tater tots. Not homemade or anything because, well, I’m not crazy. No, I spent my pre-dawn, Harry-still-sleeping hours walking the neighborhood listening to the Talking Heads and then, refreshed and exercised, catching the first half of last weekend’s Liverpool versus Newcastle match. And I don’t regret a single moment of it. Not sure what it says about me as a parent, but I’d much rather sing “Found a Job” in semi-darkness and watch Philip Coutinho curl a twenty-yard strike into the corner of the goal than peel and season potatoes in order to make homemade tater tots.  Sorry, but not sorry.

So, I throw frozen tater tots into the oven at 425 degrees. I wait.

Harry’s up now and pointing at the TV.  I set my iPhone alarm for thirty minutes, turn on Super Why, a PBS kids show, and tell him when the buzzer goes off, it’ll be time to eat. I go back to the kitchen.

“I’m hungry now,” Harry says.

I return to the living room. Harry’s laying on his back on the couch, doing bicycle kicks, and as I move closer he swipes at me like a kitty batting a ball of yarn. I want to get mad, but his floppy hair is obscuring one of his eyes, and he’s wearing a surfer dude tank top, totally embracing the whole sun’s out, guns out phenomanon, which I don’t understand, probably because my “guns” are pale and skinny and, at the moment, dotted with poison ivy, even though I NEVER go into the woods.

As I’m about to ask (demand?) that we cut his hair, I quickly realize that I don’t want to a) incur my wife’s wrath and b) sound like a PG-version of the Marine drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket (btw, the actor’s name is R. Lee Ermey and here’s his IMDb page.)

“I want something now,” Harry says.

Grabbing my hand, he leads me into the kitchen, where he pulls down the Kix off of the shelf.  The box falls to ground. He points at it.

“Put some Kix in a bowl and put good milk in it.”  Then he disappears, like the last remnants of my parental authority.

I obey his orders, serve him the Kix, and retreat back to the oven. I watch the tater tots bake through the glass. This is what passes for pleasure at this point in my life: watching potatoes brown and crisp, while my four-year old calls out new demands.

“I need someone to pour the milk,” he says. “I need someone to get me a spoon. I need someone to get me a napkin.”

Hilarious to me how my own flesh and blood cannot simply say, “Daddy, I need this, or Daddy, I need that.” The boy uses the indefinite pronoun “someone,” which, back when I was a community college English instructor, was a pet peeve of mine. “Come on, people,” I used to say, “Use a proper noun. Indefinite pronouns are imprecise, lazy, and, most importantly apropos your grade, they annoy me.” Yeah, regrettably, I actually speak that way in public.

“I need someone to clean this up,” Harry calls out.

Feeling frantic, wondering what type of diary-themed mess he’s made in the living room, a space that my wife has forbade him from eating in, I grab a napkin, a spoon, and a moment to calm my nerves. And in that moment, I think, Wait a second. I’m not this boy’s butler. I’m not a servant. I’m his dad.

I put down the napkin, the spoon, and the considerable bag of metaphorical bricks I’ve been carrying around regarding my son and his so-called needs.

“Harry?” I call out.

“What?”

“You want those things come get them yourself. I’m cooking your breakfast.”

A grunt. Then silence.

Then Harry walks into the kitchen and gets the spoon and the napkin himself. He looks into the oven and says, “Tater tots. Yummy.” Back into the living room he goes to enjoy singing along with Super Why and making milk messes, which I’ll make him (not me) clean up.

As for the tater tots, he eats them (with ketchup, unfortunately), but I don’t care. . .this is a win for me. . .in more ways than one.

The breakfast scoreboard now reads:

Daddy———-5

Harry———–3.

IMG_1023
Harry and his mom cheesing it up before she goes to work and Harry begins his daily torturing of Daddy.