May 31, 2011

An Interview with a One-Year-Old

Most of you have seen the transcripts of my recent interviews with Brady and Ellie; if you haven't seen them yet, you can check them out here and here. They're refreshingly sweet and funny, and definitely worth your time.

I didn't think I would have the opportunity to interview Riley for a few years, given that we thought he only knew four words and that it would be rather dull for you, but he had an opening in his schedule due to a cancelled engagement and was gracious enough to sit down with me for a surprisingly candid and hard-hitting exclusive interview that you'll only find here at The Used Diaper Salesman. As it turns out, not only does he have a very extensive vocabulary we knew nothing about, he has very well-formed opinions on a wide range of topics and really ups the ante on his brother and sister. He also has an IQ just north of 200. I was fascinated, and I think you will be, too.


Me: Well, thank you for taking the time to join me for a little chat, son.

Riley: Certainly! I'm glad I was able to make it.

Me: I understand you had another commitment fall through in order to make this possible. What was that?

R: Mensa. They're a little stodgy and tiresome anyway, so I wasn't terribly disappointed. I was to be the keynote speaker at their yearly conference, but I ran out of diapers and didn't have the means to get to the store for more, so I had to cancel. You may want to take care of that little oversight so that you don't end up with a mess on your hands, by the way.

Me: Duly noted, thank you. So who did they get to replace you?

R: A Korean physicist and civil engineer named Kim Ung-Yong. His IQ is registered at 210, so I guess he qualifies.

Me: Only 210, huh?

R: His work is groundbreaking, but I won't bore you with details.

Me: I'll take your word for it. So clear something up for me, if you would. I was under the mistaken impression that the most complex word you knew was "Dada". Why the charade and intrigue? Why not just come out with it and communicate? I have to tell you, it would have made everything easier for all of us around here.

R: (sighs) Well, truthfully, I didn't feel I needed the attention. I learned from our friend Kim Ung-Yong that a child prodigy is scrutinized, paraded for the world to see, showcased on Oprah (laughs). I felt that I would have more time to devote to my studies if I could maintain an image of normalcy. Sorry to have put you out.

Me: That makes sense, I guess. But did you really have to scream so loudly for your oatmeal at breakfast?

R: (smiles) Oh, I did. I thought it played very well. I've always enjoyed classic theater, and I confess I enjoyed acting the part. I guess it was a little over the top, huh?

Me: See these gray hairs? Here, and here?

R: Yes.

Me: That's what over the top does to me and your mom.

R: Sorry, dad. It really was fun, though.

Me: I'm so glad you were entertained. So, back on task. You mentioned your studies. What is it you've been studying?

R: Well, I've been doing some side work for NASA, helping improve their propulsion systems, but my passion is linguistics. Aside from the obvious English, I'm fluent in Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese. I'm currently working on Ancient Greek with an emphasis on the Mycenean dialect. It's fascinating, and a lot of fun.

Me: Cantonese, huh? I always had a hunch that wasn't just baby babble.

R: Well, I was only about seven months old at the time, so SOME of it really was babble.

Me: So with nap times and all, where do you find time to work on this stuff?

R: I can tell you, it hasn't been easy. You may have noticed that I'm only two feel tall and can only walk about three steps in a row, so getting up into your computer chair to work has been my biggest challenge. I had to bribe Brady with two bags of M&Ms per week to get him to lift me up into the chair. And I have to confess, dad...I wasn't really sleeping during all those naptimes. I have a laptop hidden under my crib mattress. Those child-protecting outlet covers really are a joke.

Me: Wow. Um, well, far be it from me to keep you from your work. Hey, tell me something. Has anyone ever told you that you remind them of Baby Stewie Griffin from the show "Family Guy"?

R: No, who's he?

Me: Never mind. So, since you seem to have a good grasp on astrophysics and linguistics, I'm sure you can handle politics. What are your thoughts on the way the 2012 elections are shaping up?

R: Well, President Obama has done some interesting things, but I'm not all that impressed. He hasn't lived up to so many of his campaign promises and his handling of those issues he has addressed has been questionable. I just don't know if the GOP has anyone who can do a better job or is polished enough to be electable. I was sad to see Mike Huckabee drop out of the race, but hardly sorry to see Donald Trump go. He's a joker.

Me: A good take. I think I've taken up just about enough of your time, but let me ask you one more question. With all the work you've done incognito in the last fifteen months, I can't imagine simple baby toys hold your interest much. You build with blocks but hardly touch most of the other toys. What do you do for fun?

R: I love the blocks because they help me with my spelling skills. You may not have noticed, but I build towers that spell words when read from bottom to top. Do you suppose you could get some of those with Cantonese characters for me?

Me: We'll see, buddy. Anything else?

R: Chess. It exercises the mind, keeps me sharp. I've been invited to play in the Junior World Championship in Chennai, India, but I'm not old enough to buy a plane ticket.

Me: Wow, I'm blown away. Now, about that Oprah appearance...

R: Not a chance, dad.


Who knew? Fifteen months old and a certified genius. It's pretty cool to have a potential future Nobel prize winner in the house, but I don't care. I'd be proud of him if he decided to be a garbage truck driver. He's my son, and that's all that needs to be said about that.

Nevertheless, I'll continue to work on him, try to get him to agree to go on Oprah. There's money in this somewhere.....

May 19, 2011

Diaper Rash, Volume 1: Shameful Shaming

A good friend of mine suggested to me that if I ever have a gripe about something and choose to share it here, I should call it "Diaper Rash". I thought this was a brilliant idea, so I'm gonna go with it. Thanks, Guy!

Not long ago, I wrote about about an incident in which I yelled at Brady and had to check myself in a big way so that I didn't do any lasting damage, and this inaugural edition of Diaper Rash has a similar theme: how not to crush your child's spirit.

Before I rant, please know that I fully understand how difficult young kids can be. I have three, and the slowly graying temples to prove it. As entertaining and endearing as my kids are, they can be exasperating in the extreme. Kids scream and yell when they don't get what they want. They often have very selective hearing, forcing us into broken record mode. They don't understand many of the verbal and body language cues intended to tell them that a conversation is over, that the answer is "no", no matter how many times we tell them so. They throw tantrums, and they often choose extremely inopportune moments to do so. There is a huge difference, however, between willful belligerence and simple childishness, and that's what many parents, myself included, have trouble with. We just want to change the behavior, not the attitude behind it, because it involves a heck of a lot less work. This is not a criticism, just a simple statement of fact. We're all guilty of it at one time or another.

But there are those who take it a step further, forgoing laziness for an outright verbal whipping that scars their kids' hearts. That is what has me on boil today.

My mom has told me about a particularly memorable nightmare trip to the grocery store she took with us kids when we were all pretty small. I don't recall all the details, but I do remember that we were the culprits in several "Clean-up in aisle nine!" incidents, and that was just the beginning. It sounds like it was Murphy's Law and The Twilight Zone all rolled into one, and I'm just grateful she allowed us to live.

The mom I saw in the store the other day with her son and daughter may have been experiencing a shopping trip similar to the one my mom endured all those years ago, or maybe she had something else on her mind, but whatever the case, it was her kids who were paying the price.

As I walked by, looking for the pretzel stix my kids love, I overheard her laying into her son, who was maybe three or four and wearing an Elmo shirt. "You are SUCH a brat," she spat, "I don't know why I even take you anywhere." The little guy, who had obviously been crying, looked pretty well cowed, but not shocked, which led me to believe this wasn't an unusual occurrence. "If you're going to be such a brat, I'm just going to leave you at home." she said, shaming him in front of anyone who happend to walk by. The more she said, the more his face and body drooped. I couldn't watch, and practically ran out the aisle while I threw the pretzel stix in my cart and ground my teeth.

I would've been okay with something as borderline as "You are acting like such a brat."; still not great, but there's an enormous difference there. This mom was telling her child she didn't approve of who he was, not how he was behaving, and this was what really steamed me, even though it was none of my business. As horrible as it sounds, I would have almost preferred that she spank him right there in aisle nine; a bruised spirit takes far longer to heal than a bruised bottom. If you tell someone what a horrible person they are enough times, they will eventually start to believe it, without fail. The boy in the Elmo shirt believed every word.

The opposite is also true. If you tell your kids how precious they are to you on a regular basis, then your occasional outbursts and lapses are the exception, not the rule, and as they grow up to learn that you're not the infallible superhuman they saw in you when they were small, this distinction makes all the difference, both for their confidence and their relationship with you. As I said in my earlier post about yelling at Brady, we are the architects of our kids' self-image, and the care and quality with which we build it when they're young is the basis for their identity for the rest of their lives. Building well is not optional, it's our duty.

As the source of my Diaper Rash, I had the irrational urge to smear Butt Paste on this woman's face and see how she liked being publicly humiliated, if only to give her son something to laugh about, but I didn't have any in my back pocket and thought I would get in slightly less trouble if I used her behavior as a cautionary tale instead of an actual object lesson. Please, I wanted to say. Don't you see what you're doing to your son? Do you even CARE? I wanted to educate her harshly on the difference between belligerence and childishness, between scolding him for who she says he is and for how he acts, but sermons and supermarkets don't mix well, and who am I, an awfully imperfect parent myself, to preach to anyone? And yet here I am. Here endeth the lesson.

So, parents, know the difference. Someday, your kids won't care a bit what you think. For now, you are their whole world.

May 18, 2011

Stuff You Hope Your Kids Don't Say Or Do In Public

We spend a lot of time explaining to our kids that just because we have a word or action in our repertoire, it's not always appropriate to use outside of our house. That's our rule. Potty words and certain anatomical terms are A-ok to use in our house around our family, but not around other people. Some examples:

-Ellie is currently obsessed with breasts. She frequently says, "I like your boobs, mommy." I'm not really sure where she learned the term, but there it is. She'll sometimes follow that up with, "They're not funbags!", which might be appalling if it weren't so dang funny coming from the mouth of a dainty little blonde cutie.  She'll also sometimes tell us, "I like to say 'boobs'." Thanks, honey, I gathered that.

-Bodily functions. You have to admit, they're highly intriguing, and incredibly fun to talk about. Let's be honest - everyone secretly enjoys a good fart joke, but no one more so than kids. They are the highest form of humor at our house. When baby Riley is sitting on the floor and rips a good toot that reverberates on the hardwood, this is usually good for a solid five minutes of laughter from the older two. Riley isn't sure what he's laughing at, but he joins right in. The contents of the toilet after a successful potty trip are scrutinized and discussed in great detail. "Poopy" has become both the prefix and suffix of choice, as in "I have to go poopy-potty." or "I love my Poohie-poopy." These statements don't always exactly make any sense, but when you know a word you really love, I guess that doesn't really matter. You just throw it in.

-Anatomy is a constant topic of conversation around here, as I've told you before. Ellie is particularly intrigued right now, because she has not only discovered the terms (slang and otherwise) for male and female anatomy, she's discovered that mommies and daddies are girls and boys, too. It's a little weird when your daughter asks you if you have a penis, but I get it. She's curious. I'd rather she learn these things from my wife and I than anyone else. The trick is to normalize all of this before she decides to go ask random people about their equipment.

-Modesty is not innate. It's kind of cute when a little girl lifts her dress to check out her belly button, showing off her Disney princesses in the process, but it's another matter when your son sees no problem dropping the whole works to his ankles in the back yard in full view of four houses because he doesn't feel like going all the way inside to pee. We're working on this one.

Whatever. Kids will be kids, and in retrospect, it'll always be funny to think back to the time Ellie grabbed grandma's chest because she was curious about boobs. My job is to make sure she doesn't give someone else's grandma the same treatment. That could be awkward.

May 6, 2011

Chocolate Chip Awesomeness

Mother's Day. The day we celebrate moms everywhere who make the world a better place with nothing more or less than the immense power of chocolate chip cookies.

I'm celebrating two wonder women, my wife and my mom, each of whom have a PhD in baking, so between the two of them, my kids, my love handles, and I reside in a happy world of epic cookie awesomeness. Who could ask for more?

And yet there is more. Moms give more, always, whatever it takes. I'm pretty good at at seeing the big picture but usually not very good at managing little details; it's just how I'm wired, and I know a lot of guys are like me. We do our best to keep the family train on the tracks and moving in the right direction, but the little details of the day to day can sometimes baffle us, and that's where mom comes in. She can simultaneously curl her hair, put on makeup, set up two doctor appointments and feed the kids lunch while baking those chocolate chip cookies and planning what to wear on her night out with her girlfriends. I am awestruck.

So thank you, Super Moms of the world, for all you do and for all you sacrifice. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves to your families. Thank you for caring about your kids' lives, no matter how old we are. And thank you, thank you, thank you for those comforting cookies. Without you, we'd be stuck with Chips Ahoy.

Happy Mother's Day!

May 3, 2011

An Interview with a Two-Year-Old

Ever notice how hard it is to get your kids to stay in one place for any period of time? It's like trying to get a squirrel with ADD to sit still. It's not their fault. They're simply trying to process massive amounts of information while learning how to interact with the world, and the world is a distracting place. Here's a rare photo of Ellie doing one of the few things that keep her occupied long enough to sit still:

I tried to get Ellie to sit down for a little interview similar to the one I did with Brady, but two-year-old little girls can only sit still for so long before their minds go back to pink butterflies and dollies, so I'll give you what I was able to get in between interjections from Brady and breaks to go potty.


Me: Sweetie, I'm going to ask you some questions now, OK?

Ellie: Brady, no! Daddy, Brady hit me!

Me: No, honey, he's just sitting next to you. (Brady smiles knowingly, and I give him a look.)

E: Can you read my Dora book, daddy?

Me: Sure, in just a minute. Is that your favorite book?

E: Yeah, my like Boots and Dora and Tico and Isa, and here's the Big Red Chicken! But Swiper wants to steal the yellow tickets.

Me: Wow, I can't wait to read it. So tell me something - have you ever kissed a boy?

E: No.

Me: Are you sure? Tell the truth!

E: Brady, and just my baby. And aaaaall my brothers. Daddy, are you a boy?

Me: Yes, and you've kissed me. What about Riley?

E: Yep, like this. (Mimes kissing very loudly and giggles)

Me: You're funny. Do you know how old Riley is?

E: He's one. Him a toddler.

Me: I thought you were a toddler.

E: No, dad, my a KID. (looks at me like I'm an idiot)

Me: OK, KID, and how do you feel about not dating 'til you're thirty?

E: (gives me a funny look) Huh?

Me: Never mind. So how many dollies do you have?

E: Two

Me: Just two? (the actual number is more like fifteen, at last count)

E: (holds up four fingers, then holds up both pointer fingers) Yep.

Me: Which one do you like best?

E: My princess one, and my Poohie. My LITTLE Poohie, not the big one. He's Brady's

Brady: Yeah, it's my Poohie-poopy! (they both laugh)

Me: Ha-ha, very funny, bud. (then, to Ellie) But your little Poohie has a rip in his side right now, doesn't he? Who did that?

E: Me. I wanted to see (what was inside). Daddy, my have to go potty.

Me: OK, honey, let's go.

(-five minutes later-)

Me: (Ellie is sucking her thumb) Why do you suck your thumb, honey?

E: (pops her thumb out of her mouth and looks at it) Because my want my Poohie.

Me: Oh, we'll get him fixed for you. So here's another question. Do you know why the sky is blue?

Brady: (laughing) Because it has toot clouds!

Ellie: (laughing along) Because it has toots!

(-they talk and laugh about toots for a few minutes-)

Me: All right, guys, we're almost done. We can talk about tooty-clouds later. (more giggles) So, Ellie, when we move into a new house, how much do you think it will cost?

E: Ummm...two.

Me: Two what?

E: I think just two, daddy.

Me: Wouldn't that be nice? Ok, sweets, last question. Which would you like better: an ice cream cone or a Coach purse?

E: (looks at her little white and pink purse, which she's been holding the whole time, along with her pink blankie) Ice cream! Can I have it now?!?!

Me: Oh no, you've already brushed your teeth, so maybe tomorrow. What's your favorite kind of ice cream?

E: Hmmm...malilla.

Me: Oh, I like vanilla too. Thanks for answering my questions, honey.

E: You're welcome, daddy. Can you read my Dora now?

Me: Sure!


Whew. What you don't see here are the 16 or so breaks in the conversation which were spent trying to wrangle my little squirrels back onto the couch so we could finish this thing, and when we were done, they weren't the only ones who were ready for bed. Oh, and the dating thing. I would never really make Ellie wait until she's thirty to start dating. Even though I only have one precious daughter and she's one in a gazillion, I'm not that kind of dad.

Twenty-eight should be just fine.