Bang, bang, bang on the door

IMG_1586A door slams once, twice, three times.

The fifth time the door slams I open my eyes. I walk into the guest bedroom where my wife is listening to the NPR One app and fixing her hair. I ask the question, and she says:

“Harry is letting me know he’s upset about losing TV privileges.”

A little background. We went to Winston-Salem this past weekend to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, and Harry behaved poorly. He threw toys, books, and food. He whined. He swung his stuffed monkey at us whenever his every whim wasn’t catered to immediately. In short, he acted like a spoiled diva, making me feel like a terrible failure as a parent. My revenge: no TV for a week.

“Great,” I say and wander into the kitchen to make English Breakfast and Eggos.

As I’m eating, Harry walks in. On a positive note, the kid has gotten into the habit of dressing himself without any threats from me. This morning he wears skinny jeans (my wife bought those, not me), a neon yellow soccer shirt, and an Under Armour fitted golf hat that, lately, he even wears to bed. Clutching his monkey, he sticks his lower lip out and tucks his chin to his chest.

“Hungry?” I ask.

Without a word, he walks into the kitchen and removes leftovers from the night before: half of a pepperoni, pickle, and spicy cheese sandwich.  Balancing the plate on his free arm like an experienced waiter, he carries the food into the dining room and sits down.

“You want something to drink? Tea like me?” I hoist my mug into the air, black tea steaming.

“I’m not old enough for old man tea. I’m not an old daddy yet.” He spends a few seconds dismembering his sandwich, and he comes away with a trophy from the killing: a soggy bit of pickle slathered in mayonnaise. He pops it into his mouth.

“Daddy, when I get old like you do I have to get a tattoo?”

“‘Fraid so, Harry Man. It’s the law.”

“Really?”

“It goes back to Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.” I clear my throat.  In my best sartorial voice, I say, “‘Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth a new, um, country where all men were equal and stuff and they had to get at least one tattoo.'”

“You’re weird, Daddy.” He frowns.  “And you’re joking.”

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“I’m joking, buddy. You don’t have to get a tattoo.”  It takes some serious restraint on my part, but I refrain from jumping for joy and explaining to him how tattoos, in my opinion, are too in vogue nowadays, and that some people–not all, but some people–seem to get them because they are desperate for a ready-made identity, something that might make them if not cooler at least more noticeable and artistic and (ew!) profound. On this subject my wife says I’m both wrong and a jerk, and she’s usually right about most things. Still, I have strong opinions on the matter, and if I, an introvert who prefers to observe rather than engage with people and the world they inhabit, could do it over again, I wouldn’t get any tattoos, primarily because I forget I have them until some well-meaning stranger asks me why I have a spork on my arm, and I have to explain himself. I hate explaining myself; therefore, I hate having tattoos.

“No,” I say again, “you definitely do not have to get a tattoo.”

“Good because I don’t like pokey things.” (Pokey things, in Harry Speak, mean needles.)

He finishes his sandwich, throws his trash away, and dives into the couch headfirst. “I want to watch TV,” he says, his voice muffled because his face is buried in my wife’s butt pillow (literally, the pillow is covered with cartoon butts of all shapes, sizes, and colors.)

“No TV today,” I say.

“Then what are we going to do?”

“Chores.”

He sighs.  “Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Maybe I will get a tattoo.”

 

 

 

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Pitch Perfect 3: Why I Am An Awful Parent, and I Don’t Care

Harry, dressed in a red bandana, a skeleton jacket, and firemen boots, enters the kitchen, where my wife and I are talking.

“I want cereal,” he says. “And milk. Cereal in a bowl. Milk in a cup. You got it?”

My wife flashes confusion. I translate Harry English to Standard English, and she nods, comprehending. As she prepares the boy’s segregated breakfast, I look at my son.

“How about I take you to see Ferdinand today? The movie about the bull?”

“No Ferdinand.” He says Ferdinand with an adorable lisp. “I want to see Pitch Perfect 3.” 

My heart leaps with joy, and I hug my son.

IMG_1331Quick aside. I am an un-ironic fan of the Pitch Perfect movies. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t even particularly like the kind of pop music the Barden Bellas, the all-girl a cappella group in the movie which features the cute-as-a-button Anna Kendrick, sing. But I’ve watched this film at least forty times, and enjoyed it every time. So, too, has my son Harry. We have had several Pitch Perfect Pizza Parties, complete with Little Casear’s and singing and dancing. Maybe I shouldn’t have shown the lad this movie, with its occasional bad language and off-color humor, but I did. And I’m glad I did. We bonded over it. We had fun. We have inside jokes based off of the movie.  We, on occasion, debate over which group is better: Barden Bellas or Treble Makers. (I’m Team Bella; he likes Bumper, that uncool dork.)

Later, when Harry’s older, I’ll show him my other favorite movies like All the President’s Men and Goodfellas and Point Break and Casablanca. But for now, though, we’ll stick to light-hearted PG-13 movies like Pitch Perfect.

“Mommy,” I say to my wife, “can we please go see Pitch Perfect 3?” 

After she checks the Internet to make sure there is nothing too bad in the movie (there isn’t), she agrees, and now we have a plan: eat an unhealthy lunch and then go see the movie.

Harry gives me a hug. He looks at me. “Are we really gonna go see Pitch Perfect 3?” 

“Hell yeah, we are,” I say. “It’ll be aca-awesome.”

 

 

Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

IMG_1339Over the holiday, Harry behaved poorly.  He tried to rip open presents before Christmas. He refused to eat anything but pepperoni and candy.  He stayed up late, which was awful because we shared a hotel room for four days and nights, meaning I had to endure nightly viewings of the Disney Channel, Nick Jr., and A Christmas Story, and now the kid is asking about BB guns. . .thanks a million, Peter Billingsley! Also, he defied his mother every chance he got (and me, too), and he whined, cried, pouted, yelled, and stamped his way through the so-called Season of Giving. Normally, he doesn’t act this way, and it made me feel like an abject failure as a parent. Pissed me off, too, if I’m being honest.

So now that we are back home, and the lad is walking into my kitchen at 7:45am and whispering hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry I’m tempted to make him a goat cheese and peanut butter sandwich on sourdough bread. But, chronologically speaking, I am an adult, and the kid’s father and, therefore, responsible for not only his well-being, but for setting a good example, which, at the moment, sounds about as appealing as going in for a root canal, getting drilled on for two hours, and then being told, “We’re sorry, we can’t do this, we’re sending you to a specialist, but here’s our bill, have a nice day” (note: this happened to me two weeks ago).

“What,” I say as cheerily as the pounding in my head will allow, “may I make you for breakfast?” Mentally, I am preparing a comprehensive list of chores and projects that dwarf what I used to make him do every day before he showed his ass at my parents’ house on Christmas. #ParentalPayBack

IMG_1340Harry, dressed in a soccer outfit and wearing a Bruce Springsteen-esque bandana, does not speak. Instead, he picks up the Gibson SG guitar magnet from the refrigerator, declares that he is a “rock-n-roll person,” and begins a solo that would make Angus Young scratch his head.

“Waffles?” I ask as the boy dances and thrashes around the kitchen, bumping into the cabinets and the refrigerator and the trashcan.

“Cereal?” No answer. I snatch the bandana off of his head, wave it around tauntingly. “Answer me, please. Do you want cereal?”

He nods and snatches the bandana back and puts it on. Little punk is fast…too fast.

I make his cereal and serve it to him. I settle back down with my English Breakfast and Fahrenheit 451, a book I stole from my Dad’s house over the break.

“Daddy, I don’t want cereal.”

I move my eyes away from Montag and his kerosene soaked guilt to my only son. “What do you want?”

“Waffles,” he says.

And just like that, the holiday season (mercifully) is over, and everything is back to normal again. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

 

 

Harry and Me are on Parent.com!

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Hello, if you’re so inclined, please click here and read an essay of mine that Parent.com was good enough to publish this week. “Love by Numbers” is about Harry tearing open a bunch of the 277 letters I’ve spent years writing to him, and how I, a lifelong OCD sufferer, handle that. I’m pretty proud of the writing, and I think it has a “message,” but I’ll let you (potential reader) decide want it is.

Oh, if you enjoy “Love by Numbers,” do me a favor, and share it on social media. If the piece gets enough shares, I get a cash bonus.

End of shameless self-promotion.

Max

Harry Makes Breakfast for Me…Sort Of

IMG_1023According to my wife, I spend too much time playing with Harry, and as a result, he’s never really learned to play by himself, something that all kids need. Normally, I don’t make it a habit of agreeing or disagreeing with my better half; I simply do what she asks, but in this instance, I happen to think she’s 100 percent correct: I do play with Harry way too much, even whenever he’s being a real toad and I’d rather get a root canal than pretend to be a bad guy who gets sent to prison by Super Harry, AGAIN.

So this morning, I seek to remedy the situation.

How?

Here’s the best part: by watching soccer.

By watching the replay of Manchester United versus Manchester City, to be specific.  It’s a little after 9am, and I’m in the living room watching the game on my iPad when Harry strolls in.  He’s wearing a Paw Patrol T-shirt and soccer pants and a red bandana that he made out of an Avengers T-shirt I gave him a few months back. He wears this bandana every day now; last night, he wore it into the bath tub, and I had to threaten to take away his TV privileges if he didn’t remove the filthy piece of cloth so I could wash the cracker crumbs and snot out of his hair (yes, regrettably, the kid will wipe snot in his own hair).

“Wanna play to ninjas?” Harry asks.

“No, thanks,” I say and mutter a curse word because Marcus Rashford scores an equalizing goal for Manchester United, tying the game up at 1-1.

“Okay,” Harry says and runs into his bedroom.

Removing my earbuds, I listen as he sings the Ninjago Movie theme song again and throws Lego pieces around his room. After a second or two, he starts narrating a sinister but entertaining story about Lord Garmadon (a bad guy) and Lloyd (a good guy). The narrative involves lava, Chinese throwing stars, super-fast cars that can also fly and serve as boats, and a gigantic shark with vampire fangs.  Kids.

IMG_1320I watch soccer. For I don’t know how long. Five minutes? Twenty? Occasionally, Harry comes into the room to ask if I’ll pull apart Lego pieces, and each time he appears he’s wearing something different. A Superman cape. A new soccer shirt. A fisherman’s hat I’d had for twenty years until my son confiscated it one day this summer while we were playing in the kiddie pool out back, Harry snatching the hat from my head, putting it on, and decreeing, “This is mine now, old man.”

Around the 73rd minute of the match, Manchester City is ahead 2-1, and that’s when Harry comes back into the living room. His eyes are wide. He holds up a finger and says, “Light bulb.”

“I can’t play with you until the game ends, Harry Man.”

“I don’t want to play. I have an idea. I’m going to make us breakfast.”

I pause the game and look at my son. “Come again?”

“Just wait here,” he says excitedly, “I’m the chef. Not you. Me. Chef Harry.”

He skips into the kitchen. I listen. I hear noises but nothing like broken glass or pots of water boiling over. What I hear is him narrating what he’s doing as if he has his own cooking show. After several minutes, he reappears, grinning widely.

“Come look, Daddy. I made us breakfast.”

For a brief moment, I hold an internal debate. Does this count as playing with him, walking into the kitchen to bare witness to whatever culinary monstrosity he’s concocted? And if it does, should I tell my wife that I broke my promise? Because I don’t lie to my wife (I’m lazy and the truth is usually the easiest thing to remember), I opt for asking a clarifying question before committing myself.

“Harry, is this a game?”

He stomps his foot. “No, Daddy! I’m a chef and I made food and you have to come see it and eat all of it or I’ll take away your soccer privileges forever.”

“Seems like a $50,000 punishment for a 5 buck crime to me, kid.”

“Get in here!”

IMG_1324Stifling a laugh, I put down my iPad and walk into the kitchen. There, on the counter is a plate with five Ritz crackers, each topped with chocolate yogurt and fruit gummies. The counter, surprisingly, is not a total wreck. The kid, apparently, had been cleaning a bit as he went, which makes my heart swell with pride. As a neat freak myself, I can’t help but pull him close and smother his chocolate-yogurt streaked cheek with kisses.

“I’m so stinking proud of you,” I say as he fights me off.

“I made breakfast!”

“Yeah,” I say taking a second look at the food, “that’s great, too.”

“Try it,” he says and hands me a cracker. I take a bite. It tastes like a near-dizzying mixture of fake fruit made of gelatin and, weirdly, cough syrup. I chew, swallow, smile. Yogurt, to me, is a desert island, last resort, we’re-gonna-starve-unless-we-eat-this-shit food.

“Good job, Harry,” I say hoping like hell I don’t throw up. I finish the cracker and suggest we go to the park. “One thing though?”

“What, Daddy?”

“Don’t tell your Mom, okay?”

 

 

More Stories About People Falling Off of Boats

Harry has his hand on his left cheek. His mouth is full of peanut butter crackers. He has a milk mustache. His hair is greasy, probably because he has begun a disturbing habit of deliberately wiping his food-stained fingers on his hair, telling me “It feels good” every time I ask him to knock it off and use a napkin.

IMG_1318As he takes a sip of milk, he sloshes some on the table, and then rubs more cracker crumbs into his hair. “Let’s tell stories about people falling off of boats, Daddy.”

“Again?”

“Yes, again.”

I stare into my English Breakfast tea long enough to see if reciting state capitals still works as a means of soothing my unquiet mind. Boise, Idaho. Lincoln, Nebraska. Juneau, Alaska. I stop reciting and listen to what my chemically-imbalanced brain has to say. Your only son, your flesh and blood, is happily spreading germs, bacteria, and God knows what else into his hair, the very same hair your better half loves at least as much as she loves you, if not more, and you’re just going to sit there drinking tepid black tea and staring at squirrels on power lines while wondering if you should make a pot of vegetable beef soup since this is the first sub-forty degree day of the dreaded winter? 

I look at Harry. I force a smile. “Okay. People on boats. I’m ready. Give me an old guy name.”

“Bootsie.”

“Bootsie Collins? Bassist from Parliament Funkadelic?”

“No, just Bootsie. He’s a fat guy.”

“Fat’s not nice. Let’s say Bootsie is corpulent instead. Now give me the name of a food.”

He holds up the crackers. “Peanut butter.”

“Very well.” I clear my throat and affect the worst British accent in human history. “There once was an enormous man named Bootsie Farnsworth, who lived on a gigantic boat on the ocean. All day long Bootsie, who made his fortune manufacturing and selling peanut butter, sat on the deck of his enormous boat and ate Extra Chunky Bootsie Butter from Real Peanuts with his very large fingers. Bootsie wore a gold cape and a joker’s cap. He weighed well over nine hundred pounds and was shaped like a gigantic bowling ball.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, “and Bootsie had two holes in his face like a bowling ball.”

“Of course. Two holes instead of eyes. So one day Bootsie was sitting on the deck of his boat called My Spread, and he was gorging himself on peanut butter when a very large wave came along and knocked him into the ocean. Bootsie, naturally buoyant, didn’t sink, he just floated to the surface, and before too long a Great White Shark swam by and took a bite out of the rotund peanut butter billionaire. The shark immediately spat out the bite and said, ‘You taste like peanut butter. I hate peanut butter!’

“Did Bootsie die?” Harry asks.

“No, Bootsie did not die. Do you know what happened to him?”

Harry thinks a moment.  “He goes to college with a whale?”

nervous-shark-meme“That’s right, Harry.  Bootsie, floating in the ocean while bleeding, met a whale named Frank Fern, who mistook Bootsie for a fellow Beluga Whale. Frank thought Bootsie was in his Freshman class at Whale State Polytechnic University of the North Atlantic. ‘Come on, new guy,’ Frank said and tugged on Bootsie’s gold cape. ‘We need to get to Statistics 101. Professor Blubber is a real stickler.’ So Bootsie followed Frank under the water, and after a few minutes, Bootsie shot out of the water, went flying up into the sky, and then landed on the deck of his boat with a massive thud. Frank the whale came up to the surface, and do you know what he said to Bootsie?”

Harry holds up a finger, thinks a moment. “Frank said, ‘Bootsie, you’re not big enough for whale college. You have to go to regular fish college.”

In mock surprise, I say, “How did you know that, Harry? How could you possibly have known that Bootsie didn’t meet the minimum weight requirement for Whale State and, instead, had to enroll at Fish Technical Underwater College?”

“Easy,” Harry says crunching another cracked, “I used my baby magic.”

 

Love by Numbers

I’m pleased to announce that Parent.com is going to publish “Love by Numbers,” an essay I wrote about the 277 letters I’ve written to Harry since he was born. I’ll post again when the piece goes live; if my essay gets a certain number of hits and shares, I get a bonus! The money is cool (it’s always nice when you actually get paid to do something you love), but I’m gonna get a little Chicken Soup for the Soul on ya here: I care more about sharing my struggles with OCD and parenting than anything else; I care more about getting anyone suffering with chronic anxiety to stop feeling so ashamed, and my essay attempts to do that.

End of sappy rant.

Thanks,

Max

 

 

Where Rain Comes From: A Monologue by Harry

IMG_1305Harry is eating Goldfish and drinking ginger ale when he says the following:

“Daddy, when some of the water off of lakes evaporates the water turns into moisture and goes up. . .” Frantic gestures with his hands, cheddar cheese crackers fall into the A/C vent nearby.  “. . .way, way up into the air. . .all the way into the clouds, and then the moisture turns into rain and falls back down to the Earth.”  Simulates rain falling by wiggling his fingers. “That’s where rain comes from.”

“Is that true?” I ask.

“Yup,” he says. “It’s true.”

“I didn’t know that,” I say and mean it because my education, particularly the STEM side of it, has Grand Canyon-sized holes in it. “Where did you learn about rain?”

“On TV,” he says. And then he burps.

Really, Really Old Dudes

While eating generic Cheerios and drinking green juice, Harry says, “Daddy, do you want to talk about things?”

“Sure,” I say. “You pick the topic.”

After scratching his crotch, he says, “I want to talk about old people falling off of boats.”

“Again?”

“Yes again.”

“I think you’re obsessed with talking about old people falling off of boats, Harry. Can you tell me why?”

IMG_2177He crunches another Cheerio, sips green juice, and wipes his mouth on the couch, something his mother has told him a minimum of 637 times not to do. “I think it’s funny talking about old people falling off of boats,” he says.

Then, my only son tells me a comical yet poignant story about “a really, really old dude” who goes fishing for “mean sharks and gets bitten by an alien and falls in the lava.”

“He’s fishing in a lava lake?” I ask after the boy is finished.

“Yeah,” he says, “the really, really old dude is weird.”

News flash, son: he ain’t the only one.