Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Progress Towards Goal

Preface: Considering how little time I actually spend sleeping, I do an awful lot of writing about sleeping. We spend far more time talking about food, preparing meals, planning meals, and cleaning up after meals, but probably 40% of my writing is spent discussing an activity that is, maybe, 20% of my actual time spent.

I made some progress in my ability to soothe The Baby this weekend, which is welcome news. It's been very difficult for The Wife, for the first 18 months; I seem to remember Little Bear calming to me a bit earlier than The Baby. The only way The Baby's been able to get to sleep and stay asleep is by sleeping on top of my wife or by nursing himself to sleep.

The older boys have their thumb and fingers, respectively, on which to suck for comfort. They don't do it often, except when putting themselves to sleep, although The Boy still has the tendency to ask for belly, snuggle up, and stick his thumb in his mouth. It's very cute. The Baby stopped sucking his thumb after his teeth started to grow. I've wondered if he didn't replace his thumb with the breast for comfort, and it's been a concern to me.

So, long story short, I've had mixed success getting him to sleep. And then, the party on Sunday happened. The boys and The Wife were at the JCC early - they arrived around 9 o'clock for an 11 o'clock party - and they played in the aftercare playroom for a couple of hours. The Baby, who can only sometimes skip his morning nap, skipped his morning nap. He hadn't slept well the night before. Around 12:30 or so, he threw an absolute fit for some reason or another; the basic reason was, "I'm tired and need to sleep," regardless of the exact cause. I picked him up, put him on my shoulder, and walked around.

Daddy is baby tranquilizer.

After about five minutes of walking, he was absolutely asleep. It's a wonderful thing, feeling a baby settle himself to sleep. Their little body snuggles in to your body and relaxes utterly, and their breathing slows nicely. My children snore a bit when sleeping vertically, which is cute. After walking for a little while, I sat down at a table and played on my phone while the family cleaned up after the party.

The amazing thing? I got him in his car seat still asleep, and he was asleep for the first hour and a half of the trip back to Pittsburgh.

So, later that night, he was sleeping in bed. The Wife had settled him down and gone downstairs, and I was snuggled up with my iPad to do some reading. He woke up and started to fuss; I picked him up, walked around a bit, and he fell right back to sleep. I climbed back into bed with the baby on my chest, and he rolled off of me onto the matress, still asleep.

The next night, Monday night, he woke up around 1am, projectile vomiting the milk he'd eaten. The Wife ran to get some towels and a mattress cover, and I pulled him onto my chest, where he proceeded to continue puking. The Wife came back with the towel, which I put underneath him. He snuggled in and allowed me to comfort him while The Wife did some emergency cleanup. She kept him up for a little while to make sure that nothing bad happened, but they eventually settled back to sleep downstairs. Just a random puking event. Important bit: he let me comfort him instead of just screaming for Mom.

Then, last night, The Wife was getting ready for bed and he woke up. I brought him onto my chest, and he fell back asleep. I was already kind of asleep, so I went back to sleep. At some point in the night, he crawled off of me and back to The Wife, which is fine. Important bit: he slept right on top of me without an issue, even though he took a minute to squirm and find his comfortable spot. (I'm shaped a bit differently from The Wife.)

I'm very, very happy about this. I've been concerned about my ability to comfort The Baby - he's important, and very cute, and very snuggly, and I've been missing out on some of those snuggles. This is progress towards goal, and hopefully Daddy will become a bit more important for him.

In the meantime, here's a picture of him in a Superman cape watching the iPad. The Geek is strong with this one.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

REVIEW: Neato Burrito, 2nd Ave in Harrisburg

The very first time that I was ever in Harrisburg, to my knowledge, was Passover 2001. The Wife and I had been dating for about six months, and it was getting serious. Serious enough, in fact, that I was invited to spend Passover with Aunt M and family. We stayed in the Crown Plaza hotel at the corner of 2nd Ave and Chestnut. Aunt M's house is down 2nd Ave a few miles, which made it an extremely easy ride back and forth. Right down the block, about a quarter miles from the hotel, is the restaurant "Neato Burrito." They have a small neon side sticking out from the side of the restaurant with their name. I saw it and fell in love, immediately, with the name "Neato Burrito."

We uldn't eat at Neato Burrito because it was Passover, with the dietary restrictions. When I'm around my wife and family, I keep strict Passover eating conditions. Neato Burrito got put on the back burner, so to speak, for a non-Passover visiting time. The only problem? Stuff always came up: we weren't in Harrisburg long enough, we didn't have time, etc., etc., etc. There's always a reason. This past trip, for Princess P's baby party, there were no real plans in between our arrival in Harrisburg on Saturday afternoon and the party the next day, so we went to Neato Burrito for dinner.

The first thing that struck us was how neat the restaurant was. I'm not sure what we were expecting - probably your stereotypical hole-in-the-wall restaurant, with a reasonable amount of ground-in stuff and peeling paint. The restaurant was tastefully decorated with 1950's style advertising pictures and was trim and simple in its table arrangement. The queue for the counter was clearly and neatly set up. This is definitely not the standard hold-in-the-wall restaurant.

In most ways, it reminded me of a Subway restaurant: you order your bread first, then beans and rice, then meat, salsa, and veggies. The tortilla selection had simple (wheat or white) or "gourmet." I went with the jalapeno cheese tortilla, The Wife and boys went with wheat. They had a couple of different styles of beans and of rice, ranging again from the simple (black beans and white rice) to the complicated (refried beans, Mexican rice). They had the normal types of cheeses. They had beef, chicken, and vegetarian options for meat, and several different types of salsas, with hot sauces available as well. In short, there are many different combinations possible, many of them delicious.

My burrito came out huge - normally more than I eat in a single sitting. I hadn't had much lunch or breakfast (for no discernable reason), so I polished it off in moments. I got the black beans, Mexican rice, spicy beef, extra jalapenos, and medium-hot salsa. It was quite good - comparable to Qdoba, although waiting for ten years might have made the anticipation that much more delicious. The Wife had a plain chicken burrito that she shared with The Baby. She liked it, but The Baby had a bit of a problem picking up the shredded chicken. He was interested in the black beans ("Bean!" he said, showing me a single black bean he had picked up) and the chicken, not so much into the rice. Cheese is always good.

The older boys had a burrito each, but in retrospect, we should have gotten one bowl - without the wrap - and had them share it, as neither kid finished half of their burrito. The kids meals came with chips and a drink, and the chips were gone before the burritos were touched. The Boy did a quality job on his burrito and enjoyed it. Little Bear doesn't like tortillas right now, so he unwrapped his and ate the insides with a fork and spoon.

The prices were reasonable, particularly considering the amount of food that we got (and the fact that our dinner was heavily subsidized by Grandma). All told, our dinner came out to around $30 for all 4.5 of us (The Baby didn't get his own meal, and we got additional drinks for the grownups). I recommend Neato Burrito for anyone who like a nice place for a quick meal - it's not fast food, it's quickly prepared food, if you understand the difference.

I certainly hope that it's less than 12 years before my next trip!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Party Ettiquette

Yep, we did eat at Neato Burrito, and it was one of those rare occasions where the anticipation matched the reality. More on them in another post.
The trip out to Harrisburg was a nice trip. Grandma and Grandpa thought it would be fun to have The Boy and Little Bear ride with them, and the boys were into that, as well. They had an easy trip. The Baby, The Wife, and I left Pittsburgh after she got done with her services. We managed to time it perfectly, and The Baby slept about 2/3 of the way through the trip. It's nice to have the occasion to sit with your wife for a few hours and just talk, about everything and nothing and anything. It doesn't happen nearly often enough.

The party was wonderful. The caterers had a magnificant, simple spread: baked ziti, broccoli cheese quiche, salads, yummy cookies and brownies, fruit and veggie plate with dip, and a delicious and beautiful cake. The boys found plenty to eat. The crowd was a large mix of people from younger-than-our-baby to old folks. It was held in a gym, so there was plenty of room. The boys did what they usually do: walked around to examine everything and everyone in the room, hung around the food table until given a plate of food, sat and ate the food, then proceeded to find things with which to play.
The Boy had found a pop-up book in the playroom, and he sat at the table for a while. He read the book out loud to himself, then read to anyone who decided to sit with him. The Baby did what he usually does: wanders around the room, trying to snitch food or find something to play with or something to climb on. His favorite activity during the party was climbing up the stage at the front of the room, walking across, then climbing down the other side. Little Bear did similarly to both of his brothers - a little bit of reading, a little bit of playing and talking with whomever, and some stage work. His hitch? He had more fun jumping off the edge of the

stage than anything else.
Honestly, I really don't care if they're doing that. The stage is there, it's a family party, and the action for the party was a solid 50 feet or so from the stage. They weren't disturbing anyone. The one time when they were being too noisy was during the speeches / blessings - and The Wife and I removed The Baby and Little Bear from the room immediately. They went back inside the party after the blessings were concluded.

One of the other kids at the party was a boy a little bit older than Little Bear. He climbed up the stage and started across the stage to the other side. His mother came over, grabbed him off the stage, and scolded him while they walked away. That lead me to think: was I doing something wrong by letting the younger boys run around like that? I was right there the whole time, within arms' reach - I wasn't convinced that The Baby wasn't going to try to jump off the stage, too, and wind up flopping facefirst on the floor from 3 feet in the air. As a matter of fact, I caught Little Bear a couple of times, just for fun. That's how close I was.
What, exactly, is family party ettiquette, in regards to little boys running around? I feel like we did nothing wrong - this wasn't a fancy dinner party with religious significance and ceremony. This was a party, in a gym, for a joyous and non-wedding circumstance (meaning, not a formal ritual).
It's interesting to see the difference in how people receive you, when you go from being the parent of one or two kids to three kids. It's a huge, huge difference, because you become a pack of people instead of a small, controllable group. It's a difference when you visit people - can't really stay in a guest room at somebody's house, you need a couple of guest rooms minimum. It's a difference when you go to a restaurant or a party - five people is a table, pretty much.
My kids are, in general, quite polite and good-natured. They listen to the important stuff (know not to run around / make noise in temple, for instance) and are willing to dress in nice clothes without too much coercion. But, at this point, there is just so MANY of them (no disrespect intended to my friends who have 4 or more children, because I'm sure you know exactly what I mean). It's a gang of a family whenever we go anywhere, and we have a tendency to descend upon a place rather than arrive, particularly somebody else's home.
Who knew zone defense (as opposed to man-to-man) would make that much of a difference?
I suppose that we probably should have worked to try to get the kids to sit at a table and make nice conversation, except that is entirely missing the genetic predisposition to little boys. Little boys' first preference of activity is not sit-down-and-talk. It's run around and play with toys, or look to touch everything that is new or strange, or try find any other kids of a similar size and engage them in games. My kids do a great job of sitting down when they eat; they're focused eaters and quite delightful dinner companions, for their age. But, before and after? They can be challenging. Little boys don't like to sit except on their terms.

Particularly my kids, who are intelligent, entirely too creative, and need some brain stimulation to be happy. Or a ledge to jump off of. Whichever is good. Besides, there's something insanely cute about a happy toddler waving his hands in the air, running as fast as he can, yelling, "Ib ib ib ib ib ib!" (Intentional Gregory reference is intentional.)
Any thoughts, here, lovely readers? Did we violate party protocol?
Last picture is The Baby, who fell asleep on my shoulder at the party. He's cute.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Baby Naming

This weekend, we're going to head out to Harrisburg. Aunt M's daughter had a baby girl a couple of weeks ago, and her religious baby naming is Sunday morning. Grandma and Grandpa are funding a hotel room for us (wonder if it'll be a problem to sleep all five in one hotel room... ha ha ha). It should be a fun weekend - the car trip is not long (only 3 hours) but long enough to be exciting, and it's be nice to travel to Harrisburg when there isn't a major religious holiday.

Side note: I'm really hoping to eat at Neato Burrito, finally! I don't know if it's any good - as a matter of fact, I'm sure that it can't possibly be as good as I'm expecting. But, with a name like "Neato Burrito," it's worth a shot.

I'd like to say we're lucky because the boys travel well, but there really isn't that much luck involved. I know that I, for one, travel poorly: poor span of attention, constant need for media stimulation, and a dislike of being cooped up in a car. The kids, on the other hand, have been ported around since birth, particularly heading to Harrisburg. We make multi-hour car trips multiple times per year, so it isn't a strange thing for them. We try to actively engage their imaginations: sing songs, talk, play the games that the carseats allow, listen to audiobooks, and try to start travelling close to naptime.

I'm sure that it'll be different when they're older and more independent, with their own friends and interests and activities; it's tough to travel when a kid is in high school and has stacks of homework, sports and musical events, and friends / girlfriends / boyfriends (hey, it's 2013, could be either girlfriends or boyfriends) to juggle. But, while they're a captive audience and still REALLY INTO their parents, we're going to set a precendent.

We're steadfast against putting the tv screen in the car. They don't need to ALWAYS have a tv show playing. We have tv-type stuff for them to listen to: Sesame Street's "Silly Songs" video is one that plays very well without seeing the pictures, in particular. Same thing with Disney's "Singalong Songs" series. We do not want to train them that travel always means watching tv.

(Having said that, we did watch an episode or two of Batman: The Brave and the Bold when I was travelling solo with the two older boys, on the iPad. But, it was around 8 o'clock at night, on route 78 in eastern Pennsylvania, when there was nothing to see outside of the car. Different situation. With a second adult in the car, there is someone to engage bored and potentially cranky / mischievious children.)

The time in Harrisburg should be nice. I like babies, particularly when I can hand them back when they start to cry (which, with the notable exception of sons #2 and 3, rarely happens with me). The ceremony is at the JCC, which I know has an awesome playset in the back of the building - we spent a couple of hours there during one of the last religious holidays, while we were waiting for the Orthodox services to end. It might be too cold to play for long, but something tells me that we'll spend some time there. The Boy is just like me and doesn't really get cold; Little Bear, who takes after my wife and has a bodyfat percentage in the negative numbers, tends to freeze into a block of ice fairly quickly. The Baby is also indifferent to the cold, as evidence by the fact that he's wandered outside in bare feet in under-50-degree weather without complaining several times.

Can't wait for the trip.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


So, here I sit, at 10:30 at night. I'm tired - more mentally than physically - but I don't really want to go to sleep right now. I know I really should, because I have a full day at work tomorrow and the kids went to bed early, which means they'll likely be awake at 6am or so. But, I still don't want to go to sleep.

It's been a pretty good week. I had off on work on Monday, so we had a great family kind of day. We had a nice breakfast at home and played superheroes for a nice chunk of the early morning. (Belay that - that's what I did. The Wife also let me sleep until a little after 9, which gave me a solid 10-plus hours of sleep.) We took the kids to Jumpzone, which is a play place up in Alison Park. It's basically a large warehouse full of those inflatable things that the kids climb up and slide down. The children sprinted around like maniacs for about three hours. It was all kinds of awesome: they had a Batman obstacle course and slide, a slide shaped like a fire truck,and a couple of similar things.

The Boy played air hockey against a couple of different kids, which was pretty cool to see. The first game, he got creamed by a boy who was about nine. The second game, he played a girl who was probably about six - maybe five. He lost that one, too, but it was 6 to 5 and close all the way through. I can honestly say that I've never rooted harder for a game of air hockey. I think I was supportive for both kids - complimentary when either kid made a nice shot or a nice block - but, inside, I was pulling hard for The Boy.

Afterwards, we went to the Original Pancake House for lunch. It made me happy because they had short stack options on the menus, which meant that the portion sizes were actually reasonable and appropriate instead of three meals' worth. The boys kind of drowsed their way home in the car and dozed their way through Kung Fu Panda. At night, Little Bear and I made an emergency trip to Dunkin Donuts before my quartet rehearsal.

The weekend was good, but a little rough. The Wife was working for most of the weekend, which left a lot of parenting on my plate. (Remember, boys and girls: if they're your kids, it's not babysitting. It's parenting.) Nobody was sleeping at night at all, and Saturday and Sunday had 5:30am wakeup calls by the children. Thankfully, Grandma and Grandpa let the older boys and I nap while they watched The Baby on Saturday while The Wife had rehearsal, which was probably the single event that allowed us to survive the weekend.

Work has been pretty great this week. I won "associate of the year" for my team, which is a pretty cool honor. High honor, too, because we have the best team in our department (we've won top team honors six of the last seven months). After having been there for a year, I'm still thrilled by the people with whom I work. Nice people and smart people, which are the types of people with whom I like to associate.

I think I just heard The Boy wake up, use the bathroom, and climb into my bed. Sigh. Five in a bed night again, I think.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Love St,Pittsburgh,United States

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Good Parenting Moment

The Boy was playing with a toy up here in the JCC playroom. The Baby came over and tried to wrestle it out of his hands.

"Daddy, I have a problem!"

"The Boy, what's one way to get The Baby to stop trying to get your toy?"

"Give him something else to play with." He thought about it for a second, then gave a football to the baby. The Baby then stood up and walked away.

"Daddy! It worked! I distracted him."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Forbes Ave,Pittsburgh,United States

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blue Slide Park

This past weekend was an amazing weekend out here in Pittsburgh. Jack Frost fell asleep at the wheel, and it was a solid 50-60 degrees outside. I was at work from 9 until 3, so I didn't get to enjoy the beautiful weather until late in the day.
When I got home from work, The Wife was absolutely finished. She was exhausted and not feeling well; somehow, she managed to gut her way through singing the morning services. I left her home to rest, threw the kids in the car, and met Grandpa at the Blue Slide Park.

We love the Blue Slide Park - I've blogged about it quite a bit since we got out to Pittsburgh. The only downer? The blue slide itself was slightly damp and not enough of a smooth surface to slide down. Other than that, it was a pretty amazing afternoon.

The older boys, physically, are not as far apart as the 22-month age difference; we know that's because of the chemo and side effects. We were fortunate in finding a caring and patient physical therapist who helped The Boy a lot, but he has the athletic abilities of his mother's side of the family (not much). Little Bear, on the other hand, seems to have inherited my athletic ability (still not much, but I'm above average in terms of strength and speed). Watching the boys climb and run and slide and play was interesting.

The Boy definitely runs faster and is stronger than his brother; he's just not quite as coordinated as Little Bear. The Boy also has a better idea of strategy than his brother: he is able to plan pursuit / evasion a little bit better.

The Baby, meanwhile, doesn't see a difference between his brothers and himself. He thinks he's three years old, so he runs right along after them, tries to climb the same things, and plays the same games. It's very cute. He spent most of his time with Grandpa; he's too young not to have somebody stationed on him. The other two are acceptable in zone defense; as long as I'm aware of where they are, they're usually pretty good.

We were there for an hour and a half before they started to melt down. The Boy, as a final thing, wanted to go for a walk in the woods. We couldn't really do that because of the mud, but we did go walking down the jogging/bicycling path for a quarter mile or so.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zoo Day

This weekend, I worked on Saturday from 9-3. When I work Saturdays, it does weird things to the entire weekend; I know that I'm a little off kilter for Sunday and for the next couple of days afterwards. For me, the weekends are my only real chance to rest my body; during the week, it's go-go-go-go-go from 6am until 11:30pm most days. Weekends, I can do things like nap.

Saturday afternoon, after work, we had a great afternoon with Grandpa at the Blue Slide Park. After dinner, I did exercise while the kids were taking a bath, which had the amazingly cute consequence of The Boy coming downstairs and lifting weights with me in bare feet and pajamas. That was pretty cool. That was also a group-going-to-bed-early kind of night.

Sunday, The Wife had her normal Sunday school teaching. I met Grandpa for breakfast at The Bagel Factory (which is becoming a tradition that I welcome - breakfast with Grandpa!) with the boys, but we did not go to the JCC like we usually do on Sunday mornings. The weather in Pittsburgh was right around sixty degrees, and I had read that the Zoo had a really cool thing happening on Sunday: PICTURES WITH AN ELEPHANT.

Capitalization added for emphasis. I mean, c'mon - it's pictures. With a freaking ELEPHANT. That is so many shades of awesome, I don't even know where to begin. AN ELEPHANT!

So, around the normal time we'd leave for the JCC, I threw the kids in the car, and we went to the zoo. We've bought memberships to zoo each year we've been here - we get a discount because we're on public assistance, and Grandma does tend to subsidize things like this. (Plus, it pays for itself in, like, 2 visits.) We took the long way to the elephants area, because the pictures didn't start until after 11 and we arrived at the zoo gates a little after 10.

The Boy brought his "Tigee" doll - a small stuffed tiger, that he's named after Daniel Tiger's stuffed toy. He wanted to show a real tiger to Tigee. Both Tigee and Boy were amused.

One never quite knows what to expect at situations like this. I was honestly expected a long wait time - I refer you to the above PICTURES WITH AN ELEPHANT paragraph. It was shocking when there were only 2 families ahead of us in line! Quick wait, quick $10, quick and easy pictures.

The elephant, named Victoria, just placidly stood there and chewed on her lunch, pretending that we weren't even there. There was a handler, a photographer (who used our phones), and an assistant. The boys were really excited - even The Baby said, "L-fen!"

The Boy wanted nothing to do with the elephant - you can see his body language in the pictures. He thought it was cool but kind of intimidated by the massive size. Little Bear was enchanted and was very gentle and nice when given the opportunity to pat the elephant's leg. The Baby looked and smiled at the elephant but didn't feel a particular need to touch her.

The rest of the zoo trip went pretty well, with the exception that most of the food places were closed. By the time we got to Kids' Kingdom, we were pretty hungry, and we were starved by the time we got to the exit. We stopped at Panera Bread on the way home and got the best service we've ever gotten: the guy behind the counter brought out waters for the kids and a high chair for the baby, and the manager brought out the kids' food.

We had a family nap when we got home - we were all a little keyed up and exhausted. It was a really, really good day.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friends and Adult Time

Last night, we returned the favor from the friends we met a week or two ago, and we hosted them for dinner. It was the three of them - mother, daughter (who is, I believe, in The Boy's class), and stepfather - and the five of us. The Wife cooked a wonderful, simple meal of chicken and rice, spinach salad, homemade chicken soup, and some steamed vegetables. It was utterly delicious (I like simple and tasty). Our guests brought some candy treats - the mom runs a local candy business in town, so we got the "leftovers" from her day: the stuff that didn't look as pretty as it should, so she didn't send out.
Side note: chocolate covered barbeque chips are far, far more delicious than they should be.
One interesting thing about the style of our new friends: they are firmly in the camp of, "provide a safe environment in which the children can play, let them play, and have conversation like grownups." It's wonderfully refreshing from our normal style, which is a more benign form of helicopter parenting. Then again, when you have one child (a little girl), it's a bit easier.
Don't get me wrong; I have every intention of doing that more often, once The Baby is old enough to play without direct supervision. The older boys are perfectly fine if they are upstairs by themselves. There isn't anything that is immediately available to them that is harmful or dangerous, other than Little Bear's continued insistence to try to eat the ear plugs with which I sleep at night. (I've solved that problem, mostly, by hiding the ear plugs. They can't reach the new hiding place yet, and I'm hoping that the ear plugs will be less delicious when they've grown enough to reach it.) We don't want to leave the children alone for TOO long without somebody checking on them; Little Bear is far, far too intelligent and creative to be given free reign for that long. But, they can play while the grownups finish dinner and actually talk about stuff like movies, and books, and politics (not so much), and other unimportant grownup things.

Nobody expects - or should expect - The Baby to be able to play independently. He's way too little, and he doesn't have a lick of common sense developed yet. (Having said this, I've stopped Little Bear - the smart one in the house - from sticking things in the light socket in the kitchen on at least three occasions since yesterday.) He's still liable to climb on tables, pull things he can't really see, and hit things that shouldn't be hit. So, somebody needs to keep him in sight at all times. At our friends' house, I chased after the children; at our house, The Wife did. No real reason why; that's just how it worked out.

The differences between kids and their preferences: Z, the little girl, wanted to play games on the iPad. After perusing the options, she wanted something that wasn't a letter game or a superhero. There wasn't much there for her. Entertainingly enough, she did ask her mother if "The Boy would have only boy toys." Most everything we have is devoted, in some way, to letters or to superheroes.
Similarities between children: she wanted to be swung around and flipped like I do with the boys. She also had a good time playing with the Wii upstairs - I think they made a Mii figure with her name on it.

And, to Guru: we did use the good China for dinner with our friends... we're determined not to let it gather dust, even if - as it eventually will - it costs us a couple of plates to breakage!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nostalgia and Decisions

As you know, I'm kind of thorough about how I keep track of the music to which I listen. I have a playlist, called "Top Rated," which keeps all of the tracks that are marked 4-star (best of a particular genre of music) or 5-star (best performance / musical work / sentimental meaning) only. Each January, I spend a month or so listening to my favorite pieces of music. Most years, that list has remained unchanged; I've knocked out a few that have lost their meaning or added a few that have gained some meaning.

Many of the performances that arise are performances of a band I directed, or chorus I directed, or works that I performed either as a band or chorus member. This year, I completed my first year of 50-weeks working - no summer break, no Christmas break, straight through with the two week vacation time that most of America has. So, it wasn't surprising that I felt a bit of nostalgia as some of those numbers scrolled through the playlist.

Last month, I spoke with one of my friends, who is a teacher. This person told me that they were envious that I had left the teaching profession and seem to have found a niche for myself: a job where I'm valued, with measurable standards, and colleagues that have some respect for what I do. This person has been trying to figure out a way out of a dying profession (and make no mistake: education, as we know it, is a dying profession) without losing everything. It's hard to do, with a spouse and children and a mortgage. Look at what it took for me! Granted, this person and I have had this discussion many times before, and I had this discussion with my wife back when we were still living in Michigan. This isn't news.

I look back on my time teaching with fondness and some regret: the regret that things didn't work out better, that circumstances became so unmanageable, that I wasn't a little more mature and a little more professional when those around me were immature and unprofessional. I am very, very proud of my former students and their accomplishments; if I can be considered a small help to most of them, then I'm ecstatic about that and know that I really made a difference. I know there are some music teachers that wouldn't have been music teachers or musicians if it wasn't for me. This isn't news, though.

I finally was able to put a name on my nostalgia: the end of a relationship. I look back at my time teaching like I might look back at an ex-girlfriend.
(Caveat: I don't really remember what an ex-girlfriend is like, considering that
its been more than 12 years since I had any kind of a date with anybody else other than my beautiful and wonderful wife. I'm kind of going by muscle memory, here.)

I look back at my teaching career, and I look back at my woodwinds career like that ex-girlfriend. She's beautiful and sexy and alluring, and you know why you fell in love with her at the beginning. But, you also remember the immense work it took to maintain, and you remember how awful the breakup and end times were. So, while you can enjoy your memories and enjoy the aesthetics involved, you know that you've moved on to the next place in life.
I definitely don't want to teach anymore. I don't want to be in a classroom in front of kids on an every day basis. I don't want to have to deal with principals, and parents, and curriculum supervisors, and boards of education, and standardized testing, and the other extraneous crap that's dragging down the profession. But I appreciate its beauty: how wonderful the relationships with the students are, how wonderful the relationships with those special parents (talking to you, Patsy), how those colleagues that got into the trenches with you are friends for life.

The door isn't necessarily closed. Maybe I'll help out my sons' music programs as we're going through; maybe I'll get the itch to play my woodwinds again; maybe I'll help the high school marching band, if they need an extra body on the field for band camp. The next time I walk through it, though, it won't be as a professional. It'll be as an amateur - you know, one who does it from love.

I like the sound of that. Teaching and playing from love. I can get used to that. Imagine: a banker who makes music in the off hours.

Over the next couple of weeks, I have some decisions to make at my job - decisions that can take me down one oath or another. The good part? Either way, I'll be working with some neat people, learning some cool stuff, and getting to stretch my skills further. That's a good thing. The future is bright for us right now. There is a lot of hope going forwards, and that's a good thing. I think 2013 is going to be a great year for The Musical Family.

Here's The Boy playing with some superheroes:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Losing the Bedtime Wars

Last night was a true oddity for us: the only people in our bed, when we went to sleep, were The Wife, The Baby, and me. It was quite luxurious! The Boy joined us at 3-something, which was fine. What wasn't fine was Little Bear joining us at 5. His cough has gone to the next level, even with his inhaler!

The Wife had to take The Baby downstairs to rest after just a minute or two. The coughing woke the baby, the baby saw his brothers, and he decided it was play time. I couldn't get back to sleep because of the coughing. After fifteen minutes of trying, I finally left the two bigger boys in our bed and went to sleep in the playroom for the 45 minutes until my alarm woke me. Not fun.

The Boy woke up when I finished getting dressed for work, and he decided that he wanted to come have breakfast with me. He came downstairs and we had a nice, little chat about nothing in specific while I made breakfast for him and for me. His cough was bothering him a bit, as well.

(You know, I used to make the joke "sounds like a TB ward in here." I don't really make medical humor jokes anymore. I also used to say, in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger, "It is not a toooo-mah!", but that seems somehow WAY less funny now than it did years ago.)

I found out, after I left for work, that The Boy was kind of a whiny little person today. I don't think he slept particularly well last night. He did wind up going to school, but it was a little iffy for a while.

Tuesday's a tough day - I go right from work to chorus practice and don't get home until 10:15 or 10:30pm. This means that I spend the entire day without seeing anyone in my family. If I catch the family's sleep patterns correctly, I can go my entire Tuesday without seeing awake children. Not too cool, but likely much harder on my wife. Dealing with the children is difficult. It takes constant energy and attention and planning.

I'm working Saturday, which means that she's got them, by herself, for another day this week. There's a conversation there, but I'm not sure where to go with it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


My wife and I are two very different people when it comes to being affectionate. In what is the reversal of traditional gender roles, I'm the mushy, touchy-feely one in the relationship. When I see my friends, I prefer hugs to handshakes, and I prefer to touch the people with whom I speak.

(There's no really good way to type that sentence that doesn't sound creepy. I'm not some kind of serial groper; I just like physical contact.)

The Boy takes after me, in terms of affection. Little Bear trends towards his mother. The Baby hasn't come to a conclusion yet, although I think he's trending more towards me than her in that regards. Tough to tell, so far, because he's still a baby. Babies are all over their mothers, regardless.

I've watched The Boy quite intently over a couple of years, and I see that the thumb-sucking thing is working its way out. I can't remember the last time I've seen it at school, and he doesn't do it when he's playing games or with his brothers. Pretty much, the only time he's sucking his thumb is when he's relaxing and snuggling while watching television or settling in to sleep.

When he snuggles for comfort, he'll tell me, "I want some belly!" He still loves touching his parents' and grandma's stomach while he relaxes. The skin-to-skin contact is very reassuring to him. Frequently, when he stirs from sleep, he'll reach over to me or to Mum and touch our skin to relax himself.

Isn't it funny, how things work out? If you had told me six years ago that getting groped by my 5-year old son would be relaxing and reassuring to ME, then I would have told you that you were crazy. No way would I put up with that, much less having him sleep in our bed.... and yet, here he is, in my bed most nights. It's very cute.

The Wife, on the other hand, doesn't so much like it. She would prefer - all things being equal - to have a night or two where nobody is actively touching her or trying to nurse. She'd love a night or two where she could sleep undisturbed. I can buy that: I'm sure that, at some point (college?), all three boys will spend their nights in their own beds.

Little Bear doesn't so much go in for that. He's started enjoying sleeping in our bed quite a lot, but he doesn't necessarily want to be snuggled. He just wants company.

Last night, we had dinner with friends - a former classmate of The Boy's at Rodef and his family. It was a lot of fun. I left early to go sing with my quartet, and when I got home (at 9:15), all four were asleep in our bed. It was a situation, I discovered later, where "one more show" turned into all four falling asleep. It happens. The only problem was that they had left me a spot about four inches wide. Sigh.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We Has Met The Enemy

Our children are us. Particularly at such a young age, where Mommy and Daddy are their entire world, our children are us. It's a little frightening to see, because our fondest hopes as parents involve our children transcending some or all of our personality issues and quirks. You know, improving the next generation. Sometimes it doesn't work that way.

The Boy has discovered his first real video game: something he can play independently and for no educational or exercise (Nintendo Wii) reason. It's a platform game similar to Sonic the Hedgehog based around Lightning McQueen and the Cars 2 movie. He played the game this weekend for an hour or so, and I was listening to him while he played. He made the exact same exclamations and expressions of frustration that I have when I'm playing the games. My wife spent the weekend laughing at me.

Good news? He wasn't cursing at the game. Yet. That'll come, I'm sure. He's got my temper.

We took down the Christmas decorations, and everyone was a little sad. On the good news front, The Boy helped me carry the boxes of decorations upstairs to be placed in the attic! He can't carry the full-sized boxes; the plastic bins are about half his height, which makes stairs tricky and a bit dangerous. He still helped, enthusiastically.

Last night, while the kids were taking their bath, I was lifting weights. The Boy came downstairs and announced that he was going to exercise with me. It was very cute. I was doing squats / bench press / military press last night, which was a little tricky to do with him. So, I taught him deadlifts, with reasonable form. We used my curling bar - a 15 pound curvy-bar. When he remembered to keep his tushy down and to stand up straight at the end, he did them quite well.

I told him he'd be the strongest boy in his class, and he appreciated that. Next trick: teaching him that it takes years of continuous work to make significant progress in strength. I know that I've been a weightlifter, more on than off, since 1999. I also know that I basically stopped lifting when Little Bear was born because of the difficulty of juggling The Boy's treatment. I started and stopped a bit over the three years previous, but this is the most sustained lifting I've done since then.

It's amazing how quickly you lose it and how quickly the overall strength levels deteriorate. I was doing 300 pound bench presses for multiple reps when Little Bear was born; now, I feel great if I'm doing 175 pound presses. I'll get most of it back, I think, but I'm not sure if 300 pounds is going to be in the mix without some significant increase in my lifting time.

Still, it's very cute to see him do that. I'd love to lift weights with the boys as they grow up. We already train them to eat well and prepare simple, healthy meals for them. Next step: if exercise is a part of the regular lives at a young age, I'm hopeful that they'll keep that throughout adulthood.

End note: the baby sitting on the potty, which he dragged into the hallway for some reason.

Friday, January 4, 2013


For some reason, the posts that I input using Blogspot's text editor aren't containing the enter-key hits at the ends of paragraphs. Sigh. That's unfortunate, because I use that as a timing and a pausing tool in my storytelling. Comedy (and what I write is, very loosely, a form of light comedy) relies heavily on timing. That's hard to do when writing - the only way to show timing, that I've discovered, is space. Sigh.

Last night, I met The Wife at Grandma's house. She had a rehearsal, so Grandma and Grandpa were watching the boys. The Wife wanted me to snag a wooden bookcase to bring to the house, and I needed her help with the car seats in the car. I put the bookshelf in the car; The Boy helped me a little bit, by opening the doors in front of me and closing them behind me. He did a really good job, and he didn't need me to tell him what to do once I asked for his help. That's a nice feeling.

Little Bear was in the midst of an epic meltdown. I'm not entirely sure what triggered it; I think he might have fallen down and hurt himself. He screamed for about ten minutes at Grandma's house, screamed all the drive home, and screamed all the way through a bath and changing into his pajamas. He calmed down when he played The Simpsons: Tapped Out with me on my iPad, which was kind of funny. I'm glad I know my children well enough to know how to distract them from an issue.

He spent the entire night with us. During the freakout, he was complaining of ear pain in one of his ears: "Daddy, this ear hurts. Not this one - this ear doesn't hurt. But this ear hurts." He still has that awful, dreadful cough that he's had for weeks. He'll probably go to the doctor's office today to get it checked out; he doesn't complain of pain often (besides a boo-boo on his finger or knee that he'll discuss for weeks, but that's entirely different).

The Boy started developing a similar kind of cough as Little Bear has, which is concerning. They both stayed home from school today. There's a Tot Shabbat tonight, and we're hoping to bring whichever healthy boys to the fun. I'm not sure how optimistic I am about those prospects, but we'll see.

I showed The Boy the first couple minutes of the Rankin-Bass "The Hobbit" from 1977. Growing up, I think I must have watched that a hundred times if I watched it once. I'll show him a little more tonight at bedtime and see what he thinks. It's scary, but in a 1970's kind of way, which is very different from today.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Little Boys

Before I had children, I never liked using public bathrooms. I'd always go into the farthest stall from anybody else. Since having children, I've become a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. There's something about an infant or toddler staring intently at your junk, waiting for some potty-type action to begin, that can reduce one's inate shy feelings. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but that's how their world works. Since they've had someone up their junk since birth, they're a lot more relaxed about private moments (for the time being, anyway); they assume you feel similarly.

This morning, I was doing my normal morning ablutions when The Baby stuck himself into the bathroom to watch. "Daddy!" he said. "Um... um... um... ... ... DADDDY!" at that, he turned around and scampered away. His latest thing? Singing along with the radio. I listen to a lot of barbershop quartet music, and most of them end with somebody singing a high note for a long time. He's started singing the last note, "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" It's very cute.

Little Bear has been very reluctant to go to the downstairs bathroom in our house. I think he's a little freaked out because there's no window and because he has to go past the washing machine to get there. He prefers to use our bathroom upstairs when he has a choice. He, too, likes singing along with the radio, although he generally prefers singing the songs he learns at school and temple.

Last week, The Wife was singing at the adult services. He went with Grandma and stayed all the way until the end! He sang with every song he knew. She took him out during the sermon (not the finest part of the service, from a 3 year old's perspective) and brought him back for the end. A couple from the congregation did the kiddush blessing at the end; right after they finished, Little Bear asked loudly, "Are we done yet?" Little Bear wasn't being disrespectful; because he had sat so well and participated so thoroughly, the general public thought it was funny.

That boy is way, way more patient with that stuff than I am.

The Boy and I, during that same time, went to the gaming store and bought some paint. Grandpa bought us a wooden train model, and we painted the parts on Friday night and Saturday night. Sunday, we put it together. It was a small child's model - the whole thing is held together with little screws, and it's very easily assembled. We had a really, really good time painting and assembling it. He did 85% of the whole painting; I just finished it off and did some of the delicate edges.

I'm very proud of him for that.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Year In Review

Let's see... on December 31, 2011, we had just gotten back from a week-long trip into paradise, otherwise known as the Make-A-Wish trip. I was a temp employee at my bank. We were still living with our in-laws. I was singing with Emeritus Quartet. On December 31, 2012, I had a fulltime job at my bank, at which I'm succeeding far more than I had thought I would. We have our own home, which has been modified and repaired brilliantly by Dave W, and 98% of our stuff is moved and unpacked. My in-laws can now "worry" only about being grandparents and spoiling the children, which is what they SHOULD be doing (instead of supporting us fully). I'm singing with the A4 Quartet, which is a group that seems to have some significant growth potential. In short, there is no aspect of my life that isn't better than a year ago. 2012 was a great year and an important step in our recovery from cancer. May 2013 be almost as good!