Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beyond 4 Walls

Before I was a parent I used to joke: "That's how Chinese people show love." I made that joke every time my friend complained about how critical her mother was of her. We were in our 20s then. It is curious just how much impact "mother" has on a person. I am just over 40 and my mother still knows which buttons to press to upset me.

I also used to joke the difference between a Chinese parent and other parents is when a Chinese parent sees their toddler run and then fall, her first words are: "Aiiyah! Are you kidding me? Two-years old and you still don't know how to run?" or "See I told you not to run! I told you you would fall!" A non-Chinese parent would run over to her fallen toddler and coo, "Are you OK baby? It's OK at least you tried."

It was OK for me to want to be an astronaut when I grew up. It was OK for me to be a baseball player, a rock-n-roll star, a cowboy, a Kung Fu hero like Hung Hei-Gun. It was OK for me to dream about traveling to far off places, invent amazing machines, rescue damsels and whole worlds. My potential seemed limitless. And then I grew up.

And when I grew up what seemed limitless had become very narrow and very specific and frankly very boring. I was made aware of my maturity in the last years of middle school. My maturity was my sentence in high school. Where I once could be anybody or do anything I imagined, my choices now had been limited to a very specific criteria and bound together by a dingy band of what I was told was pragmaticism.

It wasn't until I was in college and away from home for the first time that I would unbind myself. With my regained freedom I forsook my math and business classes for poetry and film making courses. I exploded cognitively and socially. At times, it seemed I would never get myself together again. But I did eventually.

Now a parent having gone through what I went through I understand my own parents' binds as being well intentioned but ill advised. As a parent I understand it is my responsibility to give my children the strategies they need to deal with disappointment and the chores of living in the "real world." However, as a parent I also understand I have a responsibility to inspire my children to do great things.

Talking the neighbors, friends, and family, I know that the times ahead will be tough. On the morning news, it seems the great motivator is not "things will get better" but "be thankful you've got what you got." A historical precedent has been overshadowed by old societal ills.

While I need to provide my children with the skills to tend to the practical realities of life, in lieu of current events as a parent now more than ever my children need to dream. They need to know that they may live in a time of great improbability but not the dead ends of impossibility. In looking towards the New Year, my one resolution as a father is to give my kids the skills and strategies they need to fulfill the dreams that expand beyond the four walls of their bedroom.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holiday Eats!

photo: Latkes? oh yes, latkes, in the Thisislarry household.

Pony Princess has been going on about latkes and Hanukkah for the last several weeks. At the bookstore the other day, they had dreidels at the front counter, and both kids had to have one. Finally, on the first night of Hanukkah, Pony Princess managed to turn the end of a playdate with one of her buddies into an invitation from said buddy to Hanukkah dinner, and she returned with not only a story about she got to help choose the menorah, but a fistful of chocolate coins!

I could take it no more.

Finally, I had reach out to fellow RD Daddy in a Strange Land and the NY Times: Must. Have. Latkes. Fortunately, Mark Bittman's recipes seemed easy enough to follow, and my bar was pretty low, being that the last time I had something labelled "latkes" they were frozen triangular hash brown patties from Fedco.

DIASL's dear wife La Dra had this sage advice to add: it's all in the technique--be sure to squeeze out all the liquid from your grated potatoes and onions. and for those now about to whip out the taters and shredder, I used Bittman's recipe #1.

I don't know how authentic they were, these latkes, but they were gooood.

Monday, December 15, 2008

3 is the New 12

Wifey and I were commenting the other night how age 3 is such a fun year. He’s running around, playing elaborate games with his cars, reciting books, singing songs (Aquabats, above) eating well, fully potty trained and saying ridiculously cute and profane things. Currently, his favorite retort to any question usually includes “poo-poo” and “shi-shi” (a.k.a. #’s 2 and 1, respectively). I’ve become a regular straight man in a dirty, juvenile comedy duo.

Me: What would you like for breakfast?
A: “Poo-poo!”
Me: What color is that jacket?
A: “Shi-Shi orange!!”
(cue peals of laughter)

I walk into these answers frequently. But when I enjoy a bowl of natto and rice, and ask what it smells like, he is locked and loaded with a correct answer.

I’m not overlooking the other stuff — the penchant to want to do everything himself, the shyness, the flip-floppery on sharing and brushing teeth — it can be a struggle. But overall, it’s all good and for all those people who said, “Wait until they turn 3-4, they’re a lot of fun” you’re absolutely right. When he refused to get out of the car until the song playing on the radio (the B-52’s “Butterbean”) finished, I was so proud I almost shed a tear.

Excuse me, but I got to prepare a Poo-Poo smoothie…


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pumpkin Come Home

I was a little too young for the Lassie movies. I was more the generation of Run Joe Run on Saturday mornings. While Pumpkin was not accused of a crime, he loves to play and he did run away. Despite his age, he still has a lot of puppy in him. All you need is a bouncy ball or a squeaky toy to lure him away from his designated spot. He's not a stupid dog. He's a smart dog with a weakness (and don't you dare say otherwise).

Pumpkin went missing over the Thanksgiving holiday. As soon as we realized he was gone, we sought him feverishly. We emailed (through HomeAgain) and faxed (through a friend) local veterinarians, pet shops, and shelters. We covered the neighborhood where he was lost with over 200 flyers.

This is not the first time he has run away. This is the third. With each time it is more and more devastating. With each time, hindsight punishes us for our carelessness and negligence. Each time, we don hair shirts cut from the knowledge that the situation was avoidable with just a few simple precautions. Simple precautions which for no other reason than sloth are not observed. So instead we jump every time the phone rings, hoping some good Samaritan has found Pumpkin and is eager to see us reunited.

We fall among those in the Harris Interactive Poll who consider their pets as members of their family - something unheard of to our own respective families. They wanted us to put our pets down when our eldest was born. My wife and I empathize with Lauren Slater. My wife calls Pumpkin her "baby." It was uncomfortable for me at first, but being an animal lover also, my adjustment was quick. People's strong negative reactions to Lauren's article surprised us. I reread her article thinking I had missed something. I couldn't find anything. It seemed like a sweet reminiscence brought about by the passing of a cherished pet.

The developmental benefits to children of pet ownership are well documented. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides a pithy list of these benefits. But Pumpkin is more to us than that. Pumpkin is a living record of my wife's and my bond. He entered our lives just slightly larger than her hand. He has grown as my wife's and my union has grown. From a puppy who was too little to jump up on the bed in our Brooklyn apartment to a peculiarly playful dog in our Manhattan apartment, Pumpkin has been witness and consul to our celebrations and our observances. To deny him his place in our family would simply be negligent.

There are many appropriations of the phrase: "Society is measured by how it treats its weakest members." The phrase has been attributed to a broad menu of historical figures, humanitarians and social dignitaries. In a Quoteland forum I found this one: "you can judge a nation by how it treats its animals." It had been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

I would like to add my own: "A family's bonds are judged by how it treats its pets." I believe it is the care and feeding of the most overlooked "members" of our family that best reveals how we relate and value to each other. We need to get better.

P8150270Happily, a good Samaritan did find Pumpkin. He has been returned to us and our family is whole again.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lost Weekend

Drove up to the in-laws the day after Thanksgiving. Ate both mandu soup and radish soup (pictured above). Watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall with in-laws present (awwwkward!). Took the kids to the huge playground in Redding. But the highlight had to have been SLAPPING DOWN A 7-TILE, 70-POINT BINGO ON THE LAST PLAY TO BEAT MY FATHER-IN-LAW IN SCRABBLE.

God that felt good.

Carry on,