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July 22, 2013

[If any of you are about to eat, or are actually eating, I would invite you to revisit this post later. You have been warned.]

As I’ve alluded to before, much of my expectations about parenting were grounded in what I saw on tv. Television, however, tends to romanticize parenthood, focusing much of its attention on parental clichés: being there for their first words, being there for their first steps, being there for the first time they clock the cat in the head with a sippy cup... As wonderful as all these things are, they make up only a fraction of what a parent really does. In fact, the most important aspects of being a mother or a father go largely un-advertised…

…like potty training. [See, I told you… Don’t blame me if you can’t finish your lunch now.]

Few things scream “parenting” like potty training but you likely won’t see it discussed anywhere on this week’s “must-see tv.” Frankly, considering the number of kids that made their way through the Huxtable household, I can’t say I remember Cliff, from the Cosby Show, teaching any of them to pee and poo in the potty.... and yet each of them presumably went.

Regardless of the picture the television or Hollywood studios might paint of parenthood, for me, it will likely forever be symbolized as getting up with the boy at 6:20 on a sleeping Saturday morning, walking him, hand-in-hand, to the bathroom, and encouraging him to be a “big boy and go pee pee.” It encapsulates every aspect of parenthood: waking early; making every moment into a learning experience; pee and poo.

The trifecta of being a daddy.

No one will ever romanticize this like they do the first time their kids eat solid food, and, in truth, it wasn’t something I dreamed about after Megan first told me she was pregnant. (Interesting fact, I find myself drinking alone at a bar in most of my dreams now… Not completely sure what that means. I’m sure it’s fine.) But that being said, these are the critically-important things that parents do every day, even if the Cosby Show glossed over it in favour of a pudding pop commercial.

For a month or so now, Owen has been “telling” us when he’s soiled himself. He’d point to his diaper and lament, “poo!” Sadly, it probably took me longer than it should to realize that he was talking about feces and not Winnie. At any rate, once Megan and I put two and two together, we realized that this was actually a good thing: it’s an important development milestone for toddlers to recognize their bowel movements. Of course, this meant we needed to take the next step and go from “Daddy, poo!” to “Father, I feel pressure in my lower stomach. I think it would be wise if I used the facilities to evacuate my bowels.”

Or, y’know, something like that.

We’ve spoken with a few parents about potty training. It seems everyone has a different theory about how you go about it. One person told us to wake Owen from a deep sleep, put him on the potty, and then marvel at what happened next. Others have said that you need to develop a series of set times and, like clockwork, place the boy on the potty at those specific times in order to engrain within him the concept of going on the toilet. Everyone, no matter how proud they are of their potty-training theories, ends their recommendations with, “but it’s not easy.”

That last bit kinda sucks, so I’m jonesing for the “easy-as-pie theory of potty training.” As many of you know, I don’t have an appetite for difficult things, so I initially decided that it would be best if I were to teach the boy complex calculus and advanced philosophy and instead let Megan handle the potty training. As a completely unrelated aside, Megan can toss a wickedly-strong punch to the Solar plexus.

We have a potty insert for the toilet. It sits on the regular seat and keeps the boy from falling in. Once installed, and as soon as he woke one morning, Meg burst into Owen's room and told him he was going to the potty. She took off his diaper, placed him on the seat, and then waited anxiously.

…..

She sang him a song. She ran the water. She stalled. She smiled. She waited.

Finally, success!!! Tinkle!!!

…..

Perhaps nothing has signaled just how life has changed for me than the fact that, at the sound of Megan’s enthusiasm, I ran to the bathroom, discovered that my son had peed in “the big-boy toilet” and, in sheer unbridled excitement, high-fived Owen and hugged Megan. Were this 15 years ago, such joy would have been reserved for finding loose change in the couch.

I must have missed the Leave it to Beaver episode where Ward hugged June after the Beaver tinkled one morning. But this is real life, and I’m a real father — I was stoked that my son peed in the toilet.

In total, the boy peed in the potty three times last week, and each came with a requisite amount of joy and a sticker reward for Owen. There have been some bumps in the road. Late last week, the boy said, “Poo! Potty!” I rushed him to the toilet and, after he sat there playing with his penis for a while, he smiled and said, “All done!” He then, about a minute after I dressed him, pooed in his diaper. “Poo, daddy! Poo!”

(Again, any “easy-as-pie theory of potty training” suggestions would be most appreciated. You will be handsomely rewarded. I will even name a tree in your honour, and I will do my best to keep Hoppy from eating it.)

Nonetheless, the day will come when Owen will poo in the toilet, and I’ll be right there, jumping around like an idiot that just found a loonie in the couch. Sorry Dr. Huxtable, that’s what parenting is supposed to be about.


July 18, 2013

An interesting, but little-known fact about The Vaughan: It’s chalk full of spiders.

Seriously… a lot of them.

I looked it up and, if the Internet is to be believed, The Vaughan is home to 54 different types of spiders (55 if you include the Spider 458 at the Ferrari dealership down the street). I’ve stumbled across big ones, little ones, shiny ones and dark ones. I honestly think I’ve seen most of them around the house at one time or another. Their webs are everywhere: the garage, the bushes, the fences, the deck…  They’re even starting to string them along the grass. It’s likely best that arachnophobes to keep their distance.

Another interesting fact about The Vaughan: An inordinate number of the kids here think they live in the ‘hood.

It’s true.

I saw yet another little gang of them on my way home the other night. There really is nothing quite like a bunch of affluent Caucasian teenagers cruising the pristine parks of suburban Vaughan, mean-muggin’ the SUVs, BMWs and Lexus convertibles that drive by. This “gang,” in particular, had claimed the Toddler park as its turf. (“This my teeter-totter, yo.”)

I must admit, they had the costumes right: hats backwards; pants down to their knees; heck, a few of them even had the obligatory bliing around their necks. I’m not sure how much street cred’ they really have when you consider they would have needed Daddy’s Amex to pay for most of it. They were showing off their mad rap skillz, spittin’ lyrics to one another, no doubt before they each had to get home and make curfew.

The sheer size of The Vaughan makes street gangsterism  a tough endevour. The  Vaughan is a textbook case of urban sprawl — blocks here are huge, so it’s hard to effectively protect their respective ‘hoods. This is a problem for local hoodlums. And, since their bicycles typically cost as much as a small car, they can’t be seen riding them (“That ain’t street, yo”), so you’ll instead see them hustlin’ a ride from their parents. Nothing says “Thug Life” like Mommy driving Brandon and Zachary to their “gang activity” in the family’s Ford Windstar.

And so they sit, telling each other about how many “bitches and hos” they have and about how many “caps” they’re gonna put in some cop’s ass. Then they sit and explain that they missed last week’s meeting because they were on a family trip to Orlando — “Disney World, yo! Goofy’s da bomb!”

Not many know this, but I grew up in a tough neighborhood in Toronto. Mom and I didn’t have much and we had little choice but to make our home amongst gangsters — real gangsters. Growing up, I knew drug dealers, I bore witness to gang fights and, from time to time, I even saw my building on the news as some tv reporter discussed the city’s latest murder.

The Vaughan, it was not.

It was a place where people tried to make an honest go of things, but it was a place that you didn’t walk at night — certainly not alone. You hid your nice things. You kept your head down, and your eyes straight ahead. These kids in The Vaughan walk the streets pretending to be the people I grew up around. I was lucky, I was able to steer clear of my neighbourhood’s influence. I wanted better and worked hard to make a life for myself — a life far away from the one where I grew up. I knew what it was like to be poor and what it was like to go without. These thugs in The Vaughan scratch their iPhone and they run home and make their Daddy buy them a new one.

I have such respect for so many of the people that struggled to eke out a life in my old ‘hood. They made do with so little and most were still able to avoid the negative temptations that surrounded them. There’s hardly a kid in The Vaughan that could have lived where I did.

I have so little respect for any of them.

I look at Owen and I look at these kids, these wannabes. They come from such privilege. They take their chains off at night and sleep in a level of comfort that no one from my old neighbourhood could fathom even existed. My friends and I had to fight and work for everything we had. These kids are given everything and pretend instead that they have nothing and are owed everything.

I look at Owen and can only hope he doesn’t end up like them. I hope he appreciates what he has and what his parents have provided him. I hope he understands the opportunities he has been afforded — the same ones that other people will need to work twice as hard to achieve. I often find myself staring  at the boy and I’m left hoping Megan and I are able to instill enough sense into him that he’ll steer clear of these wanna-be thugs.

I’d be happy if, one day, he’s content to spend his time with the spiders… all 54 of them.


July 15, 2013

The past few days have been a whirlwind. I’ve spent most every waking moment trying to balance a hectic work schedule with taking in the Honda Indy Toronto, and with my valiant, ongoing struggle against a nasty Summer cold.

Yes. During the nicest weekend of the year, and coinciding with the Indycar race that traditionally marks the highlight of my summer, I had a cold.

I’m told the correct term is a "Man-cold.”
Or, more specifically, a "Summer Man-cold.”

The boy had a cold recently. I have one now and, unfortunately, as of this writing, it looks like Megan is getting a cold too… Apparently, a woman’s cold is completely different from a Man-cold. The way it was explained to me, when the family collectively suffers through a cold, one family member acts like a baby; one suffers through it, and bravely carries on; and the other stoically fights the good fight, while ceaselessly ensuring that the family unit carries on like clockwork. (In case my subtlety was too subtle, I’m the “whining baby” in my adroit, heretofore allusion.)

Regardless, Friday morning rolled around and I certainly didn’t feel tip-top. But there was auto racing to be had (!!!) so I stifled my sniffles and stuffed any thoughts of “cold” and “I feel God-awful” to the furthest recesses of my being, and hauled my Man-cold to the Honda Indy Toronto for three days of rip-roaring good fun!

For anyone that has yet to experience upper-echelon auto racing live, and in person, you must get yourself to an event.

It is simply indescribable. (But, umm, I’ll try and describe it, anyway.)

The sight of a fully tricked-out racecar at speed is like nothing imaginable. You feel the car scream past you as it marshals every ounce of power from the 12,000 rpms the 2.2L V6 turbocharged engine is straining to produce. Your hair stands on edge as the driver, strapped into the cockpit, kicks the brake, slowing the car from 300 km/h to less than 80 km/h in three seconds, only to then stand on the throttle and see it explode through a tight, off-camber turn — gone before you even knew it was there. The concrete canyons encapsulate the field. Some of the most accomplished drivers in the world skim the apex, missing the walls by fractions of an inch at speeds that would otherwise shred a normal car apart. One missed braking point, or one lapse in concentration will end a driver’s day, if not more. Today’s drivers are forever chasing speed. Ghosts that never took the final checkered flag are never more than a whisper away.

Auto racing is a rush.
It is adrenaline. It is power.

Auto racing is also ungodly loud and pure Hell when you have a cold.

The only thing faster than the cars themselves is the throbbing you feel behind your left eye each time a car rips the air from you. And, between the macho power and the barking adrenaline, my head felt like it was in an ever-tightening vice; a very powerful, adrenaline-filled vice. Every car, on every lap, ratcheted the pain. And there are a lot of cars and a lot of laps, meaning there’s a lot of noise and a lot of eye throbbing. Between practice, qualifying and the two races, there was an awful lot of Man-cold/racing agony. And I won’t even mention how toasty this past weekend was — medicinal, I hear, for a fever.

Most of you know of all the jokes about men and colds. TV programs make fun of men. Television commercials pillory the Man-cold. Hollywood apparently thinks men collectively curl up in little balls and ask our wives and our Moms to come take care of us. One would think our world ends when our noses get a little red and stuffy. Frankly, and in all seriousness, such suggestions are more than a little insulting. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve been around enough women, each of whom have suffered through many colds, to say that most men are no better or worse than any sick woman. Frankly, I’d submit that estrogen and ovaries are not mythical armour and magical elixirs against a cold’s ill effects. So it’s with a great sense of righteousness then that I do my utmost to always display a level of calm and reassurance when I’m sick: I will do what needs to be done, I will finish what I have started, and I’ll keep the whining to an absolute minimum.

And to set the record straight, I did not have a Man-cold, I had a cold. Period.

But geez, this cold was bad. I really felt awful on the way home from the track. And, I was supposed to mow the lawn that night, and I just wasn’t sure I was up to it. Frankly, to even suggest that I felt “awful” with this Man-cold of mine would be a disservice to all the awful-feeling people of the world, certainly those of The Vaughan.

As I drove home, all I could think of was whether Meg would gently massage my sinuses… That always makes me feel so good when I'm sick. It was such a loooong drive too! I certainly wasn’t an Indycar driver on my way home. I didn’t want to rip the air as I took an apex. No, I was pulling 3,000 rpm, doing 60 km/h in the Corolla and I just wanted to lay down.

So, finally, when I got home, I meekly asked, “Meeeeeeeegan. I fell yucky. Will you get me some juice and sing ‘Soft Kitty’ to me?”

Screw righteousness. Screw you all. My head hurt.