January 18, 2008

The Natural Order ...

Men, by nature, are highly competitive. We don't like to lose anything, and we especially don't like to lose to our friends or family. If a friend eats 26 blazin' hot buffalo wings, we'll eat 27. If he burps the alphabet, we'll burp it faster. If he grows goatee, we'll grow a beard—and back hair. And so on.

You'd like to think that fatherhood would bring a certain level of maturity to men around the world and that we could put our Darwinian instincts to rest. But the truth is that we can't. Worse yet, fatherhood just amplifies the competitiveness. Sure, you no longer care if you can beat your buddy in a farting contest, but you do care if your baby beat his baby in a farting contest.

Which leads me to last weekend.

My nephew Christopher is three months old, which is three months younger than his cousin (my daughter), Ella. Up to this point, Ella has done everything first—smiled, rolled over, slept through the night, peed on Grandpa—and that makes sense. She's supposed to. She's older. It fits with the natural order of things. In fact, I like to think that she leads Christopher by example, and because of this he reaches goals at a slightly younger age than she did.

Then something disrupted the natural order. Christopher showed up at my dad's birthday party, took off his coat and gave his trademark grin. Although something was different. When he gave us that smile, something popped out. It was a tooth! One beautiful tooth. I couldn't believe it! Three months old and he is the proud owner of a gorgeous chomper. I turned to Ella and looked in her gummy mouth and found nothing but waterfall of drool.

Now don't get me wrong, I was incredibly excited for Christopher. But this wasn't how it was supposed to go. Ella was supposed to get teeth first. She was supposed to show them off. She was supposed to be the one to give Christopher a tooth-brushing demonstration. This wasn't the natural order.

The minute we got home from my folks' house I turned to Brittany and said, "We need to get those teeth to come on through. She's falling behind the curve!" Now my wife, typically the voice of reason, smacked me upside the head and pointed out that teeth come when they are good and ready and that I shouldn't be pressuring my daughter over something where she has no control.

Just like a woman—accepting defeat!

So like any good man I nodded in agreement, promised I'd leave well alone and gave both a kiss and went to bed—and then set my cell phone alarm for 6 in the morning, woke Ella up and brought her down to the living room to work on growing teeth.

"OK, Ella. Today's the day. Let's sprout a tooth!" I figured the most effective way to get teeth was to let her wear down her gums. I let her gnaw on my finger for about 45 minutes. Then I let her gnaw on a teething ring. Then the remote. Then the couch cushion. Then the leg to the coffee table. Then the other leg to the coffee table. Then the rubber ducky bath toy. Then the thingy we use to suck boogers out of her nose. She gnawed and she gnawed until her gnawer was sore, and yet still had no teeth to show for all that hard work.

Unwilling to give up, we switched gears to plan B: Encouragement. I sat Ella down in the middle of the room and started rooting her on. "Come on, you can do it! Grow those teeth! Grow those teeth! Soooooo big!" I admit, I sounded a little less like a dad and a little more like a high school cheerleader. Unfortunately, she only half-understood the concept and instead of pushing out teeth she pushed out something else.

Time to wake up mom.

When my wife made it downstairs, she was none too happy. I'm not sure what angered her the most—that I pressed my daughter to do an impossible task or that everything in our living room was dripping with slobber. She lectured me for the next hour about how we have to let nature take its course teeth will come when they're good and ready. I would have argued with her, but she was waving a dirty diaper in her hand—and you do not argue with a mom waving a dirty diaper in her hand.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized my wife had a point. Growing up isn't a competition, it's a celebration. We're always in a rush to see our kids walk and talk and throw a 90-MPH fastball that we don't take a moment to enjoy what they can do now. In my quest to follow my idea of the natural order, I failed to recognize that my daughter has developed her own.

So I apologized to Brittany and Ella and promised to ditch the competitive attitude and adopt one of lovingness and acceptance. It won't be easy; after all, I'm a guy. But I'm sure if I dig down deep I'll be able to set myself straight.

Minutes later, the phone rang. It was my sister.

"Christopher just sprouted his second tooth!"

"I bet Ella can fart louder than him."

I guess I need to dig a little deeper.

January 4, 2008

A Fresh Start ...

Every year I set nearly the same list of resolutions—write a book, lose weight, learn math—and by the end of the year I've not only failed at them all, I've gained 10 pounds. It's not like my goals are unreasonable, it's just that like most college-educated Americans I find it much easier to make excuses than extra trips to the gym. Thankfully, when the ball drops in NYC, I get a fresh start and a new chance to set goals I won't accomplish.

But when the clock struck midnight and we shook our noisemakers to ring in 2008, I spent less time thinking about my resolutions and more time wondering what kind of resolutions my five-month-old daughter would make. I know her mind doesn't currently work in goal-setting terms, but that doesn't mean she isn't ambitious. Take Christmas, for example. Santa meant very little to her, but her eyes lit up when presents were, well, present. And, without direction, she knew exactly what to do with them: grab present, unwrap present, eat wrapping paper. OK, so she may not have it 100% right, but she did show some cognition. Plus, as an added bonus, her poop came out gift-wrapped.

So the two of us sat down and had a heart to heart about our goals for the new year. I laid out my expectations of her physical and mental growth—including crawling, walking and talking—while she explained to me in no uncertain terms how she planned to pull off her sock and dunk it in my Mt. Dew.

After much posturing and negotiation, we agreed upon a list of 10 resolutions (each). They are as follows:

I promised to introduce healthier foods into my diet.
She promised to introduce solid foods into her diet.

I promised to keep my sense of humor.
She promised to keep her chubby cheeks.

I promised to learn all the lyrics to "The Farmer in the Dell."
She promised to learn all the lyrics to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."

I promised to work on my long division skills.
She promised to work on her crawling and walking skills.

I promised to keep my swearing to a minimum.
She promised that her first word would be "Dad."

I promised to watch "SportsCenter" a little less and "Dora the Explorer" a little more.
She promised to stop eating the remote.

I promised to stop poking fun at her huge noggin.
She promised to stop poking fun at my huge noggin.

I promised to give her alone time with her mom.
She promised to give me alone time with her mom.

I promised not to be too overprotective.
She promised not to date until she's 25.

And finally, the 10th resolution was not only the same for both of us, but also the most important: We promised to wake up with a smile each and every day. It's a resolution that should go without saying, but sometimes needs to be said. After all, no matter how difficult yesterday seemed, each morning the ball drops again and you get another chance at a fresh start.

I know that history is working against me, but if I work hard I think I can reach all my goals. I think Ella can too. Maybe this time next year instead of complaining about opportunities missed, we'll be celebrating our success.

Let's just hope I'm 10 pounds lighter when doing it.

The Life of Dad is updated most Fridays (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian