"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, July 14, 2014

11 Reasons to Read My Blog. You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

The interwebs sure have changed since I started blogging three and a half years ago. As I attempt to rebuild Building Castles on the Beach after basically bypassing 2013 and the first half of 2014, I notice that many of the sites I read and enjoyed before when I was a full tilt blogger haven't posted anything for months or even years, or have even discontinued their blogs altogether. A recent culling of the blogs I officially follow has shown that at least two of my formerly favorite websites have been co-opted by porn. These are blogs I had direct links to in the margins of my own posts. I would be embarrassed if I thought anyone was actually visiting my own site during the time those links would have been active.

The other major difference is the kind of writing that seems to get read on the interwebs. I'm reminded of the commotion in the 90's about the popularity of the "newspaper" (look it up, kids!) called USA Today. It was frequently criticized due to the nature of its short, snapshot articles and colorful infographics filled with empty calories. The "dumbing down" of America was not just Jim Carrey's fault.

USA Today still exists, of course, but now it's surrounded by even simpler sites and blogs and reddits and I don't even know what that last one is. But because I'm a quick study (it's only taken me twenty-some years) I've figured out what it takes to get read around here. And I'm going to start following these guidelines I've come up with all by myself--right after this post, of course. It's already too wordy.

14 Ingredients in Diet Soda That You Didn't Know Were There. Number 9 Will Make You Throw Up a Little in Your Mouth.

Titles: Titles require numbers. Any number, apparently. Those of you raised on Letterman's Top Ten Lists might think that you should use a good, round number, like 5 or 10 or 25 or 100 or, you know, 10. But any number works. Use 9. Or 27. Even 32. It doesn't matter, as long as the readers know how many items they will be exposed to before they click on that link.

Also, titles should indicate exactly what the article will tell readers, up to a point. No spoilers. In fact, the title should be a tease. A good title tells readers that if they click this link they will read about a man who had some really bad thing happen to him, but that something wonderful happened to him next. But DON'T TELL WHAT THAT WONDERFUL THING WAS! Not yet. Not in the title. If the title gave away the store, no one would ever click on the link.

A great title, incidentally, adds an emotional tease. Like how inspiring the thing was that happened next. Or how shocking. How much the reader will not believe what happens next. How much the writer cried. Or how speechless everyone is.

The Number of Words in This Article is Outrageous. Word 156 is the Absolute Worst.

Content: As stated above, I've already broken this rule, but I'm really counting on your discretion. Written content should never be too verbose. In fact, an article should not contain the word "verbose." Each item in the list indicated through your title should only include a few sentences of written language. For instance, this item I've called "Content" is now five sentences, and you've probably already stopped reading.

Something else vital to the written content are links. Lots of links. I'm not sure why, but maybe it's because the writer has written so little that the reader will require more information if they wish to learn anything at all.

A Bear Showed This Couple How to Care for Their Child. This is the Sweetest Video of a Mauling You'll See Today.

Visuals: Video is best. If an article isn't really an article, but just a conduit to someone else's previously published video, with perhaps a vague sentence explaining the grand import to how it has changed lives, then no one really has to read anything.

However, I've noticed that in lieu of a youtube or questionable news outlet video link, two other kinds of visuals will do the trick. Animated GIFs are fun and, best of all, animated. I don't know what a GIF is, actually, but when the dude on the skateboard won't stop hitting his groin on the railing until I scroll past the image, I think I've just seen a GIF.

And if you can't afford the bandwidth for animation, then a simple "meme" will suffice. Find a handsome picture of Ryan Gosling, type "Hey Girl," above his head, and there's no need to actually make a comment on the state of the union or how bad the new Transformers movie is because the meme is "So True."

You Won't Believe What They Allowed This Student to Say in Her Graduation Speech. Liberals Everywhere are Speechless. Some Conservatives Have Been Neutered.

Politics: I've deemed this a very important aspect of internet writing today. When writing an article that will be in any way political, you must be sure to first and foremost alienate anyone who may disagree with you. Begin with an insulting title about those thin-lipped liberals or those stringy-haired conservatives. The insults continue throughout the article, of course, but don't make any kind of coherent, rational argument because that's not what the interwebs are for. You just want to inflame opinions. There is no changing minds. Make your partisan point and get the hell out of there. Let the facebook comments do the talking for you.

Lesson Learned: You won't believe your eyes when you see what's in store for the future of Building Castles on the Beach. Post number 18 will take your breath away.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

World Cup Soccer Explained. Finally!

I'm still not over my disappointment in Brasil's sleep walk of a performance against Germany. So I'm not going to talk about that. Instead, with the finals looming, this might be my last chance for four years to defend some aspects of the World Cup that neophytes and ardent fans alike don't seem to appreciate.

This is funny. But patently untrue. 

The first thing I want to mention is that soccer is a contact sport. I don't share this now to make some tired comparison about how American football requires all kinds of pads and aren't soccer players tough and such. I say this to direct your focus as a viewer away from the sprawling green field the television camera shows you for most of the game. The pitch is long and wide (I won't say it's the longest and widest of all the sports because I don't know all the sports, but it's got to be close), and if you tend to get bored when one team passes the ball around for an interminable amount of time, back and forth between two or three players then all the way back to the goalie then up the sideline almost to the penalty box then back again when the player finds his way blocked--well, then perhaps you're neglecting the skill inherent in such accuracy. The opposition, for their part, isn't just standing there or even walking (well, maybe Lionel Messi is). It might casually appear that way momentarily, but these moments are rare and really happen quite quickly. The vast majority of a soccer game is played in close quarters, with players on either side hacking away at each other's lower appendages as they attempt to gain some semblance of control over the ball. 

In other words, in soccer you run in to each other. A lot. 

It's just a jump to the left...
Imagine what would happen if there were someone standing near the finish line of a 100-meter dash, and as Usain Bolt reaches his top speed, he's tapped on the shoulder. What might such a minor, slight touch do to his balance and trajectory? Now imagine the push comes from a linebacker (not wearing pads) who has timed his hit exactly so that he will knock Usain Bolt off of the track entirely.

You see, it's all about physics and slow motion. The soccer pitch is really just a containment field for a bunch of atoms spun around the Large Hadron Collider and made to smash into each other. 
This isn't a time machine. Or is it?

If that metaphor doesn't work for you, I'll put it simply: those blokes are really fast and really strong. I mean, have you seen their thighs? You probably haven't since, like, 1990, but before then soccer shorts were built to allow the thigh muscles all the freedom they needed. Anyway, when they come in contact with one another, it's mini-Big Bangs all over the place. Who needs CERN?
In 1986, your shirt had to be tucked in, too.

So physics means that players fall down. It's true. Sometimes it's on purpose. Sometimes it's not. I know well the satisfaction of taking down a sprinting forward with a graceful slide tackle, the ball knocked away, the forward sprawled out with his face in the grass. I haven't really experienced that since high school, of course. The indoor league I play with these days doesn't even allow your knee to touch the ground. And what would it look like if I went around slide tackling my own players as a coach at practice? Weird. That's what. Anyhoo, sometimes as you slide, you lift your foot at the last minute on purpose. Sometimes that happens whether you want it to or not. Sometimes the forward just falls whether you made any contact with him or not. And sometimes he falls on purpose, but sometimes not.
I liked Robben. He's clearly one of the fastest, strongest forwards.
Then he did this. Lame.

Professional soccer players take dives. It's pretty clear that Arjen Robben took a dive against Mexico in the final seconds of the game, and the Netherlands won with a penalty kick. Diving is probably the most ubiquitous complaint against the game. It gives soccer a bad rap, certainly, but I think many World Cup viewers think that diving is the norm. And my point begins and ends with "soccer is a contact sport."

The slightly lesser criticism of how much pain the player actually suffers is only exacerbated by slow motion video and high definition broadcast technology. On TV, of course, it sure doesn't look like those little taps on the shin would make a grown man cry. But, trust me, the pain in the moment is real. Crashed shins. Cleats at the knee or on the foot. Heads knocking like coconuts. That's a common occurrence in the World Cup. When two incredibly determined athletes leap into the air in order to be the first to reach a ball with their heads, skulls will crack, arms will flail, elbows will jab. I've been on the receiving end of one of those headbutts. Concussion put me out for two games.

This is what happens every time
there's a foul during a soccer game.
But let's return for a moment to the analogy of the Large Hadron Collider. It wouldn't mean anything to run atoms into each other if we couldn't take pictures of every single nano-moment of the collision and the resulting explosion to see if anything actually happened. That slo-mo video is essential to the discovery.

So, too, it is with the slo-mo instant replays of not only every shot ad nauseum, but every foul. But these players have got to be kidding, right? These virile chaps contort their faces into the most ridiculous expressions. Nowadays only to be caught on an HD recording to relive in all it's grimacing glory. But that's just it. I mean, what expression you would make if you were minding your own business, one minute just out for a jog, then the next minute you're on your butt through no fault of you own? And what would people say if they saw a picture of it?

To be honest, I don't like how they take so much time. Even players who are fouled and get the call stay on the ground and arrange their socks and shin guards and tie their shoes again. They give the other team all the time they need to form a wall and set their defense. I don't quite understand why they don't just bounce up and walk it off without taking their time first. I know when I've felt that jolt of pain, the fastest way to get over it is to keep moving, not stop and pout. Or fix your clothes. I dunno. Maybe they're all worried that every time they get knocked over, their livelihood is on the line, which is entirely probable. One wrong step, one missed tackle, one swollen ankle or bruised kneecap (not to mention fractured vertebrae), and your career may be over.
Seriously. Ow.

Then there's the on-field complaining. When you don't get the call your way, apparently in World Cup play it's okay for several players to approach the referee, heatedly plead your case, then walk away shaking your head. That, of course, would earn each of those players yellow cards in a high school soccer match. But I get it. Yell at the refs. Complain about calls. It's understandable. As a coach, my communication on the field is a good 90% yelling at refs, with only ten percent of the time left to work with my own players. I don't expect the refs to change their calls. I have never once in ever seen a ref change his mind about a call. I can't imagine these professional players, who've seen much more soccer than I ever will, might think that the ref will change his mind if they get up in his face after a call. Besides, they've probably got at least three different languages being tossed around out there. How does anyone know what anyone else is saying?
Notice the smirk on the ref's face. He doesn't understand a word.

Still, I believe in making the officials aware of what they missed. For the next time. I've seen it work. Say a certain player is repeatedly evading calls for fouls. If I point it out to the referees, that player is not likely to keep getting away with it. And though I've never witnessed an official change his mind, I've seen refs deliberately make up for a bad call by making a bad call the other way. Maybe that's why players like Robben get calls their way just for pretending to be kicked in the shin.  

Perhaps the most grievous grievance about soccer (by Americans, at least) is the low scores. But I like how a goal in soccer actually means something. You have to admit that for most basketball games, nothing really matters until the last five minutes, right? Basketball players might as well just sprint up and down a court for about 35 minutes, then take five minutes to see who can make the most baskets. In soccer, each time the ball goes into the net, it's a big deal. That's why they run around crazy after scoring, doing dogpiles and dances. That's why (all but the demure dudes they get on ESPN) announcers scream "Goooooooooool!" for about four minutes. Because it matters. Because it's rare.
After this, the player who scored was injured for three games.

Germany's 7-1 victory over Brasil the other day has served at least to show that points can add up on the board, but that's not the kind of game we like (and not just because Brasil was on the short end of that one). The drama in soccer happens as tension mounts. A couple of goals here and there just make it that much more important to play well, defending your lead or coming from behind. Every second counts. Every touch, every foul, every shot matters. That's the beauty of the game.

End of sermon. Amen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Father's Day and the World Cup

I don't follow sports. I don't watch the Super Bowl, not even for the commercials. I don't know who's in the NBA finals right now, though I am mindful of professional sports seasons and don't quite understand why the basketball season extends into the summer. And while I coach soccer and even play it myself (old man, coed rec league), the last time I watched a soccer game on TV was four years ago when Spain beat the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final.

Only the guy on the right is supposed to use his hands.

Growing up, I loved soccer but was only vaguely aware of something called the World Cup. I guess I have a memory of Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in 1986, but I can't recall if I watched it live or just heard about it later. I don't know if any TV station in the United States would have even broadcast the World Cup final at that time. In 1990, I was in Brazil, and suddenly the World Cup actually meant something. As a missionary, I wasn't supposed to be watching soccer, but literally everyone we would talk to was engaged with the World Cup, and during the games (especially the matches the Brazilian team played), it was no use trying to find someone to teach the gospel. "Hi, we have a message about Jesus Christ. Oh, Pele's your personal savior? Okay. Talk to you in three weeks." Instead, we missionaries spent time in member's homes and--this sounds much worse than it is--at the bar next door, watching futebol, and catching the fever. 

I thought graphic design was better in the 90's.

Then, for some reason, in 1994, the World Cup was held in the United States. I began to become obsessed with watching the games, even changing my schedule around for the first time ever just to be a part of televised sporting events. I received much grief from my first wife for suggesting that she find herself a ride to the airport when she had to fly to her mother's at the same time that the US team was to play Brazil. I only caught the last part of that match because I did wind up taking her to the airport myself, though hindsight says I probably could have stayed home to watch the entire game and my marriage would have ended the same.

In '98 and '02, my fascination for the World Cup percolated over low heat. I'd watch what games I could, but it remained difficult to find the time or the channel. Especially in 2002, when the games were played in Korea in the middle of the night. I mean, that's pretty inconsiderate. Because of this, any inclination to continue to watch the World Cup at all might have ended there if it weren't for TiVo.

Miracle drug? or Gateway drug? 

By 2006, I had a new wife who had come fully stocked with the miracle of satellite TV and the DVR. That year, I recorded every World Cup game and was thus able to fully realize my World Cup mania. I didn't watch every match (I mean, who wants to sit through Angola vs. Iran?), but most of the games passed before my eyes. I spent many mucho hours in front of the TV in the basement, mostly by myself because I had no friends and my wife and daughters had no interest, sometimes watching entire games, sometimes forwarding through at double or triple speed, only stopping to watch a goal or a major foul. The TiVo fast forward was to me the most brilliant contrivance since the VCR. It was like I needed to view as much as I could. Like the experience wouldn't be complete by just watching one or two games here and there. And fast forwarding through some of the games makes that possible.

The 2010 World Cup sped by in much the same manner.

But I almost didn't get to see anything this year. After the first boy was born three and a half years ago, we had little time for television had discontinued paying for cable and TiVo. I thought, maybe, I would be able to find the games streaming for free online, but the legit sites like ESPN need cable passwords and the unlegit sights scare me. I actually clicked a link for one site that was supposed to stream all kinds of live sporting events, and it opened to an FCC warning stating that the government had taken over that web address. Not only did I not need viruses and the FCC infecting my computer, but I didn't think I wanted to sit at my kitchen table and watch hours of soccer on my laptop screen.  

Instead, for Father's Day my wife solved my World Cup dilemma. We splurged and reinstated the TiVo, but without the cable or satellite TV. Realizing that Univision would broadcast every single game, I have been able to record the whole Cup without having to pay for cable. It's more fun to watch the games in Spanish, after all. 

The following is a classic, but oh, so true. 


Fortunately, my passion for World Cup soccer has not branched out to a desire to watch any other sports, including the MLS. But I'm pleased that every four years my wife bestows unto me a month-long Father's Day. Next time, I'm not going to skimp on the cost. My plan for World Cup 2018 is to watch it on my brand new holographic television with 22 point stadium sound system and available Smell-O-Vision package to really experience that balmy Russian summer.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Respect is good, but latinum's better.

I was coaching a soccer game last week and something happened that has stuck with me enough to kick-start my long-neglected blog. (Just don't expect this to become a habit again.)

Okay, so the other team was leading 1-0. But that's not the thing that happened.

This is what it feels like when doves cry.
When your opponent scores first, things get tense. Your players on the field get anxious and start fouling more. On the sideline, your players on the bench start grousing more and want to tell the referee what to do. And you, the coach, yell a lot more, as if anyone on the field can actually hear what you're saying. There's this burden that wasn't there just a moment before: a weight on your shoulders or a wall to climb or a monkey on your back, and with every minute that passes without a reciprocal goal, the weight gets heavier and the wall gets taller and the monkey gets angrier.

One of the opposing team's captains was this bigger kid whose mere presence on the field controlled a lot of the game. At one point he was fouled and went down loudly, maybe in pain, maybe just to get attention, and he stayed on the ground longer than necessary, as soccer players around the world are wont to do. The bench on our side began to murmur in earnest, commenting on this player's acting and whining skills. But he got up and play resumed and within moments the ball was out of bounds near our bench. The muttering about the other team hadn't petered out yet, and one of our managers (a young lady who takes down stats like shots and goals and yellow cards) said, clearly but not loudly, probably to no one, "That kid just whines about everything."

A defender from the other side had picked up the ball, just to the right of our bench. He seemed ready to throw it in, but instead he turned around, glared right at this girl manager and jeered, "Can you tell me what the score is?"

I immediately said, "Hey!"--like, what else am I going to say? "Screw you, kid!"? I did use my most outraged tone, and I physically stepped towards him, cutting off as much visual access to my bench as possible, like a mother bear protecting his cubs. I knew that he had heard what the manager had said, got offended himself, and decided the clever retort was to counter by reiterating the score, the only thing that mattered in the long run. A logical move, to be sure, but still a taunt, and despite it happening quietly on the field between players all the time in every game, taunting is one of the taboos in high school soccer (indeed, in all high school sports) that could lead directly to a red card and possible further action against playing in the future.

I promptly recuperated from my "Hey" and lobbed a "No one's talking to you" and then a "You can't talk to the players on my bench." This kid just smugly turned away, but before he threw the ball in, called back over his shoulder, "You respect me, I respect you."

That's it. That lame, self-serving, know-it-all saying. That's what stuck with me.

I've heard this before. Many students in my classroom make similar, if not exact, statements: "If you don't respect me, I don't respect you."


I can't count how many of my students have employed this notion in order to give me attitude about any little thing, whether I ask them to focus on work in class or I take away a distracting cell phone. Just this week, a girl in class was blaring music through her headphones so loudly she didn't even notice I was asking for her phone, so when I grew riled and reached to take the phone away (I knew she wasn't going to give it over willingly), she jerked her hand away and said, "You don't pay my phone bill. My own dad doesn't get to take my phone away." And while I contemplated the kind of parent who wouldn't take away his daughter's phone when she deserved it, no matter who was paying the bill, she added, "You can't disrespect me and snatch away my phone." The rest was chaos and the class laughed and the bell rang and she walked away, having saved face in the wake of my overwhelming disrespect.

I'm not sure how much of that story is just me needing to rant at how inconsiderate the KIDS TODAY are, but at least some of it has to do with my point.

The licence implied by such a philosophy (Respect Me, Respect You--isn't that a Lionel Richie song?) allows me to react callously at the slightest provocation. If you don't show me respect, then I can say and do anything I want to you because you were mean to me first. I mean, it seems like so many kids--is it just kids?--are walking around locked and loaded, angry at the world, at their circumstance and misfortune, expecting at any moment, someone, some adult, will disrespect them. How else are they supposed to react?

Their default is not to begin in a position of respect, despite the station or rank of the other person. There is no automatic respect given to teachers or police officers or parents or Presidents of the United States. No, the default position is to wait to until they are disrespected, because, ultimately, it's going to happen, isn't it?

It's the self-satisfaction that gets me the most. Our children have learned that this behavior is totally expected. That they need to be tough and not take any crap from anyone. That they have the right--nay, the duty--to be nasty if someone is nasty to them first.

I don't think I'd wake up Jake the Dog.
One obvious problem with this knee-jerk reaction is, what if there is no disrespect intended? What if you've misinterpreted the situation entirely, but you react like a jerk anyway? I don't go around asking myself how I can disrespect my students every day. But lots of them seem to think I do. How dare Mr. Wescott interrupt my nap time and ask me to write a stupid college application essay? Who does he think he is? Maybe if I just ask him what the score is....

Of course, my soccer manager meant the disrespect. She was being mean. So was the whole bench. So was I, for that matter, because even though I said nothing, it sure seemed to me that other team captain was being a bit of a baby. Therefore, the player who spoke to my bench had every right to taunt them with the simple fact of the score, right?

Except, why can't he simply be content knowing that the complaints from the opposing team come from the frustration of being beat by his team's superiority? What does it take for my students to get past the automatic defenses and understand that no matter how I treat them or how they perceive I treat them, their education is more important than saving face?

I know this sounds largely naive to a lot of people, youthful soccer players, high school students, and upstanding adults alike. I know this is like harassment, that perception matters as much as, if not more than, intention. But what if our young people learned not that if someone shows you disrespect, then you get to disrespect them back, but instead that if someone shows you disrespect, then you should just continue to show that person respect anyway? Isn't it more respectful to understand that the person insulting you is merely frustrated, not personally hateful toward you and your soccer team? Isn't it more respectful to see that your teacher is just doing his job and doesn't want you to fail and drop out and live in a ditch because you can't distinguish between a simile and a synonym?

I know at the very least we'd save a lot of time.

Now, watch the video for "Say You, Say Me" and marvel at the wonder that is Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines dancing. Respect.


Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Tree and Other Irritations

So, mostly I just gush about the boy all the time around here.

But I'm noticing our Christmas tree over in the corner and it's looking sad. In the past, dozens of different kinds of ornaments have adorned its branches. We don't follow any certain style; over the years, we've collected a variety of flavors. Some fancy crystal, some homemade felt. Some green and red balls, some tourist souvenirs. But place them all overlapping the festive blinking lights, fill the room with more eclectic tastes of the season, and the tree appears downright elegant.

Here's what it looks like this year:
That looks even worse than in real life. Here. It looks slightly better with the lights on, but you can't really tell how the ornaments are distributed. It's just such a mess, I'm embarrassed to even post these pictures.

Any guesses why it looks this way?

Generally, Xander's pretty great. But the fact that he's turned our Christmas tree into this mockery of a Christmas tree is distressing. I understand I shouldn't expect much else. He's a precocious toddler with nothing else to do but run amok throughout the house. But he's broken at least four of the ornaments and I've punctured my foot on an ornament hook when he generously distributed a bunch around the floor. It hurt.

So I'm in a mood to discuss a few other annoying aspects of the toddler and his ways.

I wear glasses. Always have. My wife, too. If you're blessed with infallible eyes, I won't be able to explain in words the importance of fitting a pair of spectacles so well that you forget they're on your face. Seriously, when that child doesn't want to be held and he reaches up to grab your glasses when he knows how much it infuriates you...I can't even end that sentence. But once he has the temple in his little vice grip, you can't just move your head or he'll snap the little plastic piece in two. You can't reach up to stop him; your hands are full and busy holding on to his wiggles and squirms. He knows very well he has the advantage. You just have to let it happen. He takes the glasses off your head, and depending on his own level of frustration, might send them flying across the room or restaurant or holds them away from you, smiling broadly, a game of keep away at full tilt.

This happened to me once.
But it was a soccer ball, not a toddler's foot.
The whole issue is aggravated when he accidentally smacks his face or foot or something else into your glasses. Right there on the corner of the frame where the joints are so precariously fitted, so perfectly formed that the glasses stay comfortably on your nose without slipping, without pinching your ears. And when you collect them and put them back on, the chances of them being slightly askew, which means infinitely maddening, are so high that you almost just want to throw them in the trash and start over at America's Best in the morning. Of course, how would you get there if you couldn't see?

And you already know my feelings about the detritus that gathers on our hardwood floors. As the boy gets older and has graduated from a high chair to a booster seat at the kitchen table, the detritus has only gotten worse. He's still strapped down because if he weren't he would hardly eat anything before slipping under the table and running away with a curt "bye-bye" and a wave. So when he's through eating what's on his plate, he simply grabs it and dumps the remaining contents on the floor. It happens so quickly, no amount of watchful hovering can stop it. There is no defense. The food ends up on the floor, and whatever is left on the table is then brushed off with his hands, quick like a bunny, because he's anything if not courteous enough to clear his entire place from the dinner table.

He knows how to say "I'm done," or at least "Down." But he doesn't. Then he runs off and leaves the sweeping to Daddy.

The last item on my list today is the "No" as first response. Throughout the day, your questions might go something like this:

"Xander, do you want some cookies for dinner?" "No."

"Is it time to play with your trains?" "No."

"Do you want to wear your monster jammies or your monkey jammies?" "No."

Xander also does a smashing "Ka-Chow!"
And then all you can do is giggle.
"How about some Cars 2 tonight?" "No...Yes, my daddy." He says "My daddy" and "My mommy." Like, I say, "Say thank you, Xander," and he says, "Denk oo, my daddy." It's pretty freakin cute.


But I digress. What was I saying?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Big Boy Bed

I don't know where my son is right now.

I'm pretty sure he's in his room. I'd have heard the door open if he'd escaped. But exactly where he is in that room? That's a mystery. I could check. A good inch-wide gap separates his bedroom door from the floor, the result of wall-to-wall carpeting however long ago. These days we go with naked hardwood. If I lie on the floor a little ways down the hall, I can get something of a view inside the room. But right now, I think all I'd see is blankets piled on the floor, tossed off the bed.

Not long ago, a monkey foot wrapped in footie pajamas forced its way under the door in an effort to escape the confines of the room then got stuck there. I had no choice but to open the door and replace the monkey boy back into his big boy bed.

Thus began Xander's first night sleeping without a crib.

A couple of days ago, the boy was committing some random terrorism around the house and ended up in time out. His mother and I put him in his crib while we went to clean up whatever mess he had made. We returned not more than 30 seconds later and entered his room to find him smiling proudly, lounging in the armchair we'd put in there a few days ago while he was up all night coughing his lungs out and not sleeping much. The plushy armchair is more comfortable for a parent sitting up with a sick child, but apparently we'd left it too close to the crib because he'd figured out he could use it to his advantage and stage a prison break.

It was a watershed moment.

I removed the chair, all the while knowing any day now the boy would discover another way out of the crib. After all, a handy rocking chair had sat next to his crib for two years now. It was a much shorter drop than to the floor.

Then today at 1:59 p.m., I received a text from my wife declaring the following:

Put Xan in his crib for a nap. A few minutes later he opened the door and ran out to give me a hug. Huge grin on his face. Guess what we're doing tonight?


I laughed out loud. When I got home the first thing the boy did was show me how he could climb out of his crib by balancing precariously over the corner and dropping kind of sideways onto the rocking chair. Easy peasy. How proud he was.

So we turned the crib into a big boy bed. Four walls no more, the cage is gone, replaced by a guard rail that's supposed to keep the child from rolling onto the floor, but which facilitates an easy climb in and out of bed.

"Are you ready for what's going to happen tonight?" I asked my wife when the bed was complete again.

"No," she answered, but didn't offer any words of wisdom. Please refer to the Great Sleep Debate of 2012 to remind yourself of what we went through to get the boy to go down and sleep all night in the first place. Now I was worried the debate was about to start up all anew.

Bedtime rolled around tonight. Mommy conveniently found a way to leave the house. I read him a few books, watched some of an episode of The Last Airbender until he was sleepy, then put him down in his new big boy bed. He curled up in his blanky like he does, turned over, and seemed to get right to sleep. We've trained him well, I thought. Mom will come home and be so impressed. No debate necessary.

I exited the room, closed the door tightly so he couldn't open it. The door jam is sticky, so even if he could turn the knob, he couldn't open the door. I figure that's our next hurdle.

Is this so terrible? With my oldest daughter, we strapped her into her bed until she would request it before we left the room at night. Otherwise she never would have stayed in bed long enough to fall asleep. But her mother and I hadn't trained her like we've trained the boy, so I figure only a few nights of blockade will be necessary for him to learn that sleep happens in bed, not on the floor at the door breathing the radiance creeping in from whatever party Mommy and Daddy have going for the rest of the night.

So, after sticking one foot under the door, emptying out several of his dresser drawers, crying the dark because he'd turned off his own nightlight, sitting with Mommy after all because she came home and couldn't stand him crying in the dark, he has chosen this:
Atta boy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trains and the Two-Year-Old Boy

At two-years-old, Xander can't get enough out of trains.

He wakes up in the morning calling out, "Choo choo!" Mom and Dad hear it through the baby monitor, and it's enough to make me want to ditch the whole system. If he wants me to wake up, he can climb out of the crib and say "choo choo!" at me in person. I don't think Mom is there yet, though.

When we finally pull him from the crib, then, he runs to wherever he was last night with his trains before being forced to give them up in favor of a pacifier and cup of milk. He carries at least three trains in his arms, wanders around the house, sometimes putting the trains on a track, sometimes just pushing them around the floor or couch or table or bathtub, always with the mantra, "Trains. Choo choo. Trains. Choo choo" on his lips.

And the perpetual smile is kinda creepy.
He watches a variety of train-related videos during the day. Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the favorites, much to my chagrin. At least it's changed from earlier incarnations. Even with George Carlin or Ringo Starr narrating, I could never get past the soulless faces on these engines and the plastic humans, standing in place, as if someone were literally filming a train run around someone's model track in the garage. Now it's computer animated, so the trains actually speak their lines and the background doesn't look like it was built by Radio Shack, but it's not like they now produce Pixar-quality stories. It's still just an excuse for a toddler to watch trains chuff their way down the tracks.

"Chuff," by the way, is a word I've only recently learned. It's the sound the train makes as it goes, as in, "Thomas chuffed around the tracks, showing he was a very useful engine." We found a book called Choo Choo by Petr Horacek at the library, and it demonstrates that there are several interesting synonyms for train noises that a young boy might want to know.

Lately, though, the boy wants to watch a movie called The Little Engine That Could. Wildly original, I know. But it's a new movie, computer animated, and Whoopi does a voice, and so does Patrick Warburton, so it could be worse. Xander will watch this movie over and over and over. He calls it "Train" and Thomas and Friends is called "Choo Choo."

When we want to feel like good parents and limit his TV time to a mere several hours a day, we have train-based iPhone apps that he fiddles with. They're mostly Thomas puzzles and interactive books, and some are just train pictures with train noises, but the boy can't get enough. He'll sit on the couch touching the screen in the same place to see the same picture or hear the same chuffing, again while holding three trains in his other hand against his chest, like if he drops them or even lets them out of his sight for a minute, the train might go away, his fascination might require some other diversion.


Then last week, he turned two, and he got the gift of even more trains. Trains of different sizes to go on different tracks. It's a racket, but we willingly bought into it. He now has trains more fancy than the blocky, plastic ones he used to carry around. It's Thomas and Percy, wooden, metal, and even electric. He doesn't really like the one that has an "on" switch to make it go by itself. It's loud and creaky. Perhaps it reminds him of the nasty hair clippers. Or perhaps it just takes away his own fantasy of moving his own engine by his own power, hauling some kind of precious cargo over the hill because he knew he could.