Before I had a kid, I couldn’t fathom why my friends who did would turn down a good tailgating party or perfect waves to “spend some quality time with the fam.” I mean, where was their sense of priorities? Then I had a little girl of my own and seemingly overnight, everything I had despised B.C. (Before Child) made me absolutely giddy A.D. (After Daughter).
BC: Okay, I didn’t actually hate my mom, but I seemed to feel better when she was on the opposite side of the world. This is a woman who rushed me to the doctor’s office because she was worried about a new spot on my nose. The doctor saw it from five feet away and labeled it a blackhead. My mom still demanded a biopsy. “And some antibiotics. Just in case,” she said before we were ushered out. To this day, lunch with my mom goes something like this: We meet, and as we look over the menu, she asks me if I have enough sunscreen on. “It’s December. I’m in a parka.” “Just in case,” she says. I order a burger. “Oh, Terry, the sodium, the fat…” “Mom, I’m 40.” “All the more reason to eat right.” The burger comes. My mom whips out one of three Purell hand sanitizing bottles that she wears like jewelry. “Mom, I washed right before I got here.” “You touched your chair and the elevator button and—” “Can I have a knife and fork, please,” I ask the waitress. Finally, I order dessert. “Oh, Terry, your teeth.” “Mom, I’m 40!” I yell. “You know, aggression is the first sign of sugar addiction.”
AD: My mom lives exactly 2.6 miles away and I now consider her a godsend. Every Friday night, my daughter spends the night at her “grandma Riri’s” and my wife and I revisit that corner booth – where we pass out from exhaustion due to our marathon week – and sleep in past dawn. And the true beauty is that I never have to check up on them, because I know that every piece of organic fruit has been scrubbed with two kinds of soap, as will be my daughter’s hands, and dessert will not be let near the building. “You know, just in case.”
BC: I ask you now, “Oh, what fun?” Because Christmas is no sleigh ride and those jingling bells only mean a fat guy in a red suit wants my loose change. And spending $65 on a dead tree is not my idea of holiday spirit. Nor is dressing it up in lightbulbs, thus ensuring four hours of repacking everything in the back of the garage. Sure, I got a few days off of work and a handful of presents, but both came at an extreme price: namely, time with my extended family, who lived in three different far-off places and all insisted on being host to Christmas dinner despite the fact that no one but my wife can cook. So my three days “off” were spent mostly in traffic, followed by choking down burnt turkey roll while Uncle Ralph recounted his latest hospital “procedure” in excruciating detail. Picture The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Groundhog Day. Then, of course, there were the presents, which, thanks to the extraordinary reproductive powers of my wife’s family, generated monthly reminders of my generosity courtesy of Visa. In return, I usually got a pair of candy cane boxers, a fruit cake and nose hair clippers. I’d pray that just once it was truly better to receive than to give. I mean, really, where is the Grinch when you need him?
AD: There is nothing like one’s own child to completely cure the bah-humbug. Now, Christmas comes early to my house and I lead the charge like Terry the Hairless-Nosed Reindad. Tree? Make it that big expensive one in the corner. And we better drop by Ace for some extra lights – we’ll want them to twinkle off that new bike and toy kitchen, which I’ll secretly assemble from midnight until 4 a.m. on Christmas morning. Oh, and tune up the Volvo, we have a lot of driving to do. But that’s great; it’ll give us some time to practice all those carols. I just can’t wait to unwrap those boxers – the little one loves when I wear them on my head and pretend to pluck my nose. And just imagine the stack of presents she’ll be showered with. I almost feel bad for all those bills the family incurred. Almost. After all, revenge is a dish best served by Visa.
BC: Someone please tell me what is so great about a band that can march. I mean, I get it, they’re playing and they’re walking. Call me when they learn to balance my checkbook. And let’s see them stand in the sun for three hours trying to see around the bald, sweaty head in front of me just to get a glimpse of a banner that reads “5th Grade Stamp Club.” And floats? I get a better view on my 52-inch plasma. So walk on, I say, walk on.
AD: I’m still not up for the biggies like the Rose Parade; frankly, I just don’t have the back to camp out on a sidewalk for a good spot. But stick my daughter in the line and I’m there with two cameras. Hey, maybe I can even be in the thing. Just not the band part. How does that guy simultaneously bang a drum and walk? I think he’s even chewing gum!
BC: Remember the times before you had kids, when a book spine protruding an inch further than the others would have you leaping off the couch? Even the junk drawer had little labeled bins for tape, notepads and pens. Your home was a virtual museum, with fine art, organized closets and actual floor space. You’d have soirées with good friends, fine wine and finger food while being entertained by surround sound stereo. You were a Better Homes & Gardens cover.
AD: Now, it’s kind of like reliving college, only the empty beer bottles on the floor have been replaced by Elmo dolls, Legos and little toys that seem hell-bent on attacking any foot bigger than size nine. But clean up? C’mon. It’ll take an hour and if you’re lucky you’ll get three minutes of tidiness. That would also require finding a place to put it all; the garage is full, as are all the closets, and every drawer in the house is filled with junk. Besides, she’ll get sick of pulling out new stuff soon, she still has four paintings to destroy with the permanent markers she grabbed from junk drawer number 12. But that’s okay, she’s being creative, and isn’t that more priceless than the painting? And think how much you’re saving in fine wine and hors d’oeuvres now that all your single friends avoid your house like the DMV. Yes, just kick back, have a beer and enjoy Shrek 2 for the 103rd time. There’s even a sliver of couch free.
BC: Until I had a daughter, Disneyland was the most miserable place on earth short of Iraq. Maybe. I mean, just think of describing Disneyland to an alien: “It’s this place where nothing is real and you stand in line for an hour for a chance to get whiplash while being vomited on by a grown man wearing $26 mouse ears. Oh, and very freaky tall characters accost you while a smiling guy takes a picture – that will cost $26. Finally, if you are really lucky, you’ll forget where you parked the car and wander around the football-sized Goofy section for your car, which is of course two levels down on the Donald Duck section. All for just $119 after the $26 serve-yourself lunch and new shirt. So, are you in?”
AD: Definitely. In fact, I’m such a believer in the place, I am a proud Annual Passport holder and have no need for a park map anymore. Lines? No worries. Just another chance to sacrifice an hour of my life for my daughter while her mom takes her to get those $26 mouse ears. And while you’re at it, grab me some – the big ones. The parking structure being a mile from the entrance only means a chance to enjoy the first ride: the tram. Or better yet, walk through Downtown Disney so we can pick up a 368th Shrek doll. And that guy who can’t hold his hot dogs? He’s merely a good excuse to get that new Pluto T-shirt I’ve been eyeing. Yes, definitely the happiest place on earth, where, if I’m really lucky, I’ll forget where I parked and have to stay even longer!
BC: Back in my childless days, going out to dinner meant reserving a quiet booth in a corner away from the kitchen, ordering filet mignon in a delicate balsamic reduction and a nice bottle of wine. I enjoyed paying big prices for small plates and lingering in the booth for hours discussing travel, literature and the movie my wife and I just saw. It was a calming, romantic affair in every sense of the word, before, during and after the meal.
AD: Now, that corner booth – if the maître d’ would ever stoop to awarding it to us – promises not romance but an hour of “shushes” and evil eyes from the romantic couples around us trying to enjoy their evening while my daughter plays “How loud can I sing my ABCs?” Yes, give me an Islands or El Torito, where I have to shout our order to the waiter and I can get the huge booth right next to the margarita blender. Then, my daughter can laugh and sing and spill anything she pleases. In fact, I encourage it, since here, unlike at my house, a nice man with a name tag and hair net will race in to clean it all up. And that little boy in the booth behind me who keeps whacking me in the head with the complimentary Crayons? Hey, it’s all good, because every time I wince with pain it really makes my daughter laugh. It also gives us something to talk about besides the thematic devices of the latest Winnie the Pooh book. Besides, just look at the size of this Belly Buster Burger for only $10! Pass that plastic bottle of ketchup! And wine? No sir, it’s a tall Coke for me. I’ll need the sugar for the night of bath-giving, piano practice and fairy tale reading ahead – for which my daughter will serve up plenty of whine.
BC: There was a time when I was literate. I regularly read books with words longer than three letters and no pictures. I read as many hours as the average American watches TV. Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Joyce… and if I felt like a page-turning, simpler tome, I dusted off my favorite Hemingway. In short, I had an abundance of what these authors demand: time and brain cells.
AD: The Brothers Karamazov? Are you insane? Maybe, just maybe, if I had two brothers helping with the bathing, the feeding, the taxiing, maybe I could read it by 2016. But currently, if I’m lucky I’ve got seven minutes of quality reading time before I pass out from sheer exhaustion. No, give me Star or People, for which I have a new appreciation. These are made for people like me now – people without a brain. And when I do get a bit nostalgic for those old days with the greats, hand over the latest Harry Potter. I should be able to finish it by summer… of ’09.
BC: This was a biggie. I did not like girls, I did not like boys. I did not like them at the pool; I did not like them at the park. I did not like them in the light; I did not like them in the dark. I did not like them on my street; I did not like them at the beach. I simply did not like them within reach. No, oh no, I did not like them here or there; I did not like them anywhere… Anywhere I was trying to relax, that is, which was pretty much everywhere. And my definition of relaxation did not include screaming, running, splashing, sand-kicking, germ-spreading, or playing “Let’s hit the cranky guy in the crotch again and see what happens. He can’t fight back, we’re kids!”
AD: Now, other kids at pools and parks and beaches are my only chance to relax… a little, anyway. Because if I actually find that secluded kid-free beach, it means a day of non-stop sandcastle building, catching (and releasing) sand crabs and zero surfing. Don’t get me wrong. I love to build sandcastles and throw my back out swinging my daughter over waves while watching other guys get barreled, but the stoke wears off within a few hours. And there’s the back thing. So bring on the new friends, runny noses and all. Screaming and sand-kicking? Work it out kids; I’m a page away from getting the latest Britney scoop.
BC: Pretty much everything I said about kids can be amplified when it comes to babies. All the drooling, the crying, their ability to reduce grown men to smiling and saying things like “pookins” and “poopy diaper.” And, dad, do not ask me for my honest opinion, because, frankly, your six-month-old is not cute; to me, he looks like Mini-me with hair.
AD: Is my new daughter the cutest little poopy diaper making pookins on planet earth or what? Seriously, be honest.
Family Fun Centers
BC: You know the ones I mean, where there are bouncy houses and toxic food and miniature golf courses with those creepy lawn dwarfs and slurpy-stained, gum-covered video games that eat $46 worth of quarters before a dad can say “game over,” and everyone seems to be from planet weird…
AD: Actually, I still hate family fun centers. Next.
Small Waves and Big Boards
BC: Before I had a daughter, I was rich in time and energy, so I lived for days spent in pounding surf. I was never a great surfer, but I’d still rip (or try to), carve up the shoulder, attack the trough, and bash the lip as if I were carrying out an oceanic blitzkrieg. I never rode a longboard, and when I saw a guy on one, I’d deride him as a greybeard or kook, in the same category as the vile boogieboarders I labeled speed bumps.
AD: For the first few years of my daughter’s life, I was simply too exhausted from the weeks of poopy diapers and baby talk to do any real damage in the off chance that I got a free hour to surf. So my surf session usually involved few turns and a lot of getting drilled by sets. The waves were punching back. Then, my daughter learned to swim and showed interest in wave riding. Suddenly, I craved a day when the surf report advised staying in bed: “Ankle-high and weak” was my new idea of pumping. Finally, when she was four, I rented a soft-top 10-footer (basically, a longboard and boogieboard combined), stuck her on the nose and paddled out at one-foot Doheny (a.k.a. Beginner’s Break). After just the first wave, on which I slid across an ankle-slapper with my daughter gripping the nose and hooting like a pro, it was the best surfing day of my life. Now Old Man’s is my favored break, where I ride a 12-footer that’s just shy of being a canoe, but has the best little nose ornament a surfing dad could ask for.
Trick or Treaters
BC: Halloween was my favorite holiday in college. There are zero family obligations (unless you’re Herman Munster), odd behavior was not only accepted but encouraged and there were enough raging parties to keep even Keith Richards-costumed folk happy. Then, I graduated, and Halloween became the holiday that did not include a day off. It also meant putting up with that certain co-worker who liked to declare it “Fairy Tale Day” and got up at 5 a.m. to transform herself into Cinderella, then denigrated me for not dressing up like Price Charming. You know the type – the ones whose main job it seems is to run around all bubbly and pump the “team” up to “produce” and “take the company to the next level” but who have also never, ever been seen actually producing anything. Then, after a day fighting that demon in a winged blue dress, I’d come home to find my house egged and toilet papered. This was followed by the final nail in the coffin: a continual parade of kids forcing me to leave the couch to answer my door 582 times and insisting I give them stuff I like to eat myself.
AD: Now the glass slipper is on another foot – my five-year-old daughter’s foot, to be precise. I have become a proud expert on all things princess, pirate and pranks. Now, adorned in my own costume, I happily escort her up to every door in the neighborhood and flash a picture of her getting goods from the poor schlep missing his favorite rerun of “Monk.” Yes, Halloween totally rocks again.