Tuesday, April 22, 2008

HealthAngle Launches!

HealthAngle -- www.healthangle.com -- has launched. The company's mission is to help patients, their families and their friends:

* Decrease stress associated with medical procedures
* Establish stronger connections between themselves and their medical caregivers
* Best navigate the healthcare system and maximize the quality of their results

HealthAngle’s core is a searchable database of first-person, professionally edited and physician-reviewed accounts of medical procedures. Prior to undergoing procedures, patients visit HealthAngle to learn about what to expect, get advice and connect with others who have gone through similar situations. A family member can also access information to share with a loved one to help manage health issues.

Check it out at www.healthangle.com

Monday, February 25, 2008

Act 7, Scene 1: “Magna Cum Loudly”

TRL comes to a magnificent and overwhelming realization: because the boys turned four, he now has eight years of child-rearing experience. That’s double college time. From his four years of college, TRL’s knowledge gain can be distilled as such: women love sex but you need to be bold to find out, David Letterman while mind altered is as it should be, existentialism sucks, life is balance management, and life after college is indeed a downhill road (dips and rises, to be sure, but the long view shows sloping: kudos to college roommate for pointing this out with smug knowing upon graduation). Oh, and hope does indeed spring eternal.

Eight years of child rearing has yielded: never get in the way of a boy and his desire to pee, child care is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent hyperventilation/indoctrination/salmon-swimming-upstream-in-support-of-the-next-generation/occasional-salvation/staring-at-the-TV-in-dead-tired-can’t-move-disbelief-at-the-depth-of-exhaustion-mental-and-physical-contemplation-of-your-body’s-ruination. Still, those kids are mighty cute, and they say the darndest things.

Act 6, Scene 12: "Little People Drinkies and Droll Conversation"

C and E celebrated their fourth birthdays over the weekend. A blow out bash for 20 of their closest friends. Superhero Training Camp was the theme (Spiderman (C) and Superman (E) are the boys' alter egos these days (TRL is, predictably, Exhausted Man, with occasional Disgruntled Man making appearances. S is maintaining her Super Woman status)).

The kids filed into the party room, and before the real heart of the party could begin – superhero dancing lead by a party person/dance teacher – the kids had some time to burn. It was like cocktail hour before the host calls dinnertime. S had wisely distributed coloring pages and crayons on tables, and TRL observed some of the kids, including C and E, running around like mad. But a good portion had made right for the crayons, like a partyhound entering a room and making a beeline for the bar. And TRL realized: coloring is cocktails for the preschool set.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Act 6, Scene 11: “The Vagaries of Memory”

It is said that a woman forgets the pain of childbirth – that the body is wired to not dwell on pain – so that she will get pregnant again. Instead, she has an emotional memory of holding her child for the first time, and lots of times to come. TRL senses that the opposite is true with four-year-olds. Because when people ask him how things are, how are the kids, his brain immediately dredges up C and E screaming and crying in the morning because they both want to sit at the same seat at the breakfast table. Or the “you are a bad daddy” that C shares when he doesn’t get something he wants. Or the timeouts, the timeouts for leaving a timeout, and then a timeout for the exact same infraction 15 minutes later. No wonder the criminal justice system is filled with repeat offenders.

But today TRL catches himself during his morning routine. Shaving, brushing teeth, getting ready for work. Because he is thinking about C & E, and can only focus on their bright smiles when they put on their brand new raincoats for the first time this morning. C has blue, E yellow. The have zippers, but also snaps to keep everything extra dry, and the boys insist on the full protection before walking with S out into the rain to go to daycare. They pose for a picture for S, and wrap their hands into each other’s, and smile proudly. It is that joy of expression, simple joy of ownership, pride at having a functional new thing, a smile for their mommy, holding each other’s hands, TRL stepping back so S could take the picture. This little nuclear family moment and the easy joy inherent in C and E’s happiness that TRL remembers this morning.

Act 6, Scene 10: “Your Little Boy”

It is pouring out, and C and E and TRL gaze out the upstairs window, watching the thick lines of rain hit the trees and rooftops of neighboring buildings and the pavement below.

C turns to TRL. “Happy birthday,” says TRL. “My little boy is four.”

“Will I be your little boy when I am seven?” asks C.


“Will I be your little boy when I am 20?”

“Yes, sweetheart. You will always be my little boy, no matter how old you are.”

C pauses. And then, “I love you, Daddy.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Act 6, Scene 9: “Tastes Like… Ass Chicken”

"Yum yum, you are so delicious, I need to eat you up," TRL says to C, and then begins to play bite him. C giggles.

"In fact, your butt is so delicious, I need to eat that, too."

"What does my butt taste like?" asks C.

TRL pauses. "Well, like chicken. Everything tastes like chicken. So what we have here..." TRL squeezes C's butt, "is ass chicken. Yum."

"Ass chicken, ass chicken," C gleefully sings.

E joins in, until a chorus of "Ass chicken" fills the living room.

Act 6, Scene 8: “Ouchy”

E bounces off the bed and lands on his chin on the floor. Bleeding and bruising ensue, but no stitches.

C runs into Andrew J. during gym time at daycare, bleeding ensues. But no lasting harm.

TRL's muscles are tight and his brain is tired. He's only bleeding on the inside.

S falls on her face on the sidewalk between meetings at work, bleeding ensues. She is shaken and stirred, but cognitively understands she is not a martini, so no lasting damage.

Fortune cookie investment machine says: buy Band-Aid stock.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Act 6, Scene 7: “The Little Things Writ Large”

E and C sit on the couch, reading. TRL finishes cleaning up breakfast.

E kicks C.

And kicks him again. C asks him to stop.

E kicks C.

TRL: “E! Stop kicking your brother.”

TRL returns to washing the dishes. C returns to reading a book.

TRL turns to see E's foot kicking again at his brother.

TRL is not a morning person. He doesn't want to be awake in the morning. If he has to be awake, he doesn't want to talk to anybody. He certainly doesn't want to have his blood pressure climbing as he washes the dishes in preparation to get the guys ready for the day in preparation to march them down the stairs in preparation to load them in the car in preparation to drive them to daycare in preparation to get them out of the car and into daycare and into their classrooms in preparation to driving back home to park the car to get on the T to walk to work to... begin the work day.

So TRL seizes E from over the couch, surprising him and lifting him into the air with one arm. E is then transported to a time-out on the stairs.

“You do not kick your brother, and you need to listen to me,” says TRL. He then walks away to finish the dishes as E wails in sorrow/anger/regret/merely pissed that he has a time-out.

Three minutes later, E is spoken to again about why he received the time-out, and he is repatriated with society.

TRL's morning is that much more unbalanced, but he does feel a small sense of pleasure at being able, still, to strike from on high and bring justice to an almost-four-year-old. Does TRL have a God complex? No, TRL is God.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Act 6, Scene 6: “Next to You”

S drags TRL to The Police concert in NYC over the summer. Growing up, TRL liked The Police, but he has no great need to see geriatrics forcing themselves together for the sake of money and/or a last gasp at soaking up the glory of playing arena rock. Sting doesn’t hit the high notes, the band is serviceable but not fun, and the audience is TRL’s age, i.e., old. Still, S loved The Police as a teenager. So much so that she also got tickets for a later show in Boston. Her logic: there would be less pressure to have a great time in NYC if she knew she would be seeing The Police again, and thus with less pressure, she would actually have more fun.

TRL bows out of the second concert, and S goes with her mom.

“How was it?” TRL asks when she gets back.

“OK, I guess. Not great,” admits S.

But then S has another concert, and three’s a charm.

S is upstairs sitting in the big leather chair in C & E’s play area. Both boys are just out of the bath and in their pajamas, and they have climbed into S’s lap. In the boom box is a Police CD, and Sting’s crisp voice fills the room. S hugs the boys to her.

This is the best Police concert,” she purrs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Act 6, Scene 5: “Medical Dumpster Diving”

TRL has a doctor’s appointment today. His left elbow has hurt since doing a yoga position two months ago. It has hurt before, on and off, but now it has been consistently on, the elbow and forearm hurting when he holds C or E, picks up a bag, or just opens a door. It is time to bring in the professionals.

C & E bounce around the examination room. They are all waiting for the doctor, and TRL reads them a Clifford story, attempts to test their reflexes with a rubber mallet to engage their interest, and takes their weight (31 and 33 pounds) and height (just shy of four feet). But the doctor is still not here. TRL bounces E on his knee, and turns to find C scurrying up a bright red garbage can marked BIOHAZARD.

“C, off,” TRL barks.

C shimmies down with a smile.

“Guys, let’s read some Maisy!”

TRL sits on the exam table, with C & E once again on his lap, and they read.

Still no doctor.

The boys slide off the exam table and now TRL, too, is fidgety. He turns around the room and there is E on top of the BIOHAZARD garbage can, diving into another, higher garbage can with medical waste – gowns and tissues coated in slimy stuff – poking out.

“Off,” screams TRL, and grabs E.

“Both of you, stand here,” he exclaims.

As C & E line up, TRL pumps a mound of antiseptic gel into his hand and wipes both boys up to the elbow. Some of the gel squirts off. The boys giggle, TRL is flummoxed. And the doctor finally walks in.

Both his boys are standing at attention, their sleeves rolled up to the elbows. There is a mound of antiseptic gel under them all. TRL smiles.

"Hi, doc."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Act 6, Scene 4: “Not Mutually Exclusive”

TRL asks his friend why C & E pick this week of all weeks to pee in their pants twice (E), pee in their bed (E again), and take a crap in their underpants (C).

“Why, oh why when S is away for the week?” TRL questions.

“Ah, because S is away,” answers his friend.

It’s not the acts that bother him so much as the additional changing and laundry they necessitate. “This is a really bad use of time,” TRL lectures E as he changes his clothes again.

Plus C & E have been monsters the entire week, constantly fighting with each other and screaming and crying. TRL’s nerves are frazzled.

Is the peeing and pooping and overall bitchiness cosmic punishment for him, or merely the kids reacting to S being away? wonders TRL.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Act 6, Scene 3: “Stoned for Breakfast”

TRL fed his kids peanut butter this morning, and he feels like a criminal.

S is off to Europe on business, and TRL is busy feeding C & E breakfast, packing their lunch for preschool, and doing his best to get his caffeine requirements satisfied. After C & E finish their yogurt and Rice Krispies, he asks if they are still hungry.

“Yes, daddy,” comes the reply.

TRL reaches for two spoons and the jar of Jiffy. A hunk of peanut butter is the perfect breakfast accompaniment: high in protein, tasty, and quickly delivered.

But then TRL feels like a bad man: peanut butter is banned in preschool. And TRL saw some warning signs over the food area: “Andrew can not have nuts: he is highly allergic.”

TRL knows that even a few molecules theoretically have the potential to set off a food allergy.

“Guys, come on over,” he says after C & E finish sucking the peanut butter from the spoons.

TRL washes their mouths and hands carefully, and then wipes off their shirts least any peanut butter has been smeared on it. He then gives them water to drink, to get the peanut butter smell off their breaths. It is now time to go to school.

Is TRL a criminal covering up his misdeeds? Or merely both under-cautious (he gave them peanut butter before preschool!) and over-cautious (he just gave them peanut butter). TRL sees the other parents throwing big rocks at his head, stoning him while chanting “Allergy exposure-er, allergy exposure-er.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Act 6, Scene 2: “Crappy Copper”

C or E is turning the toilets into Trevi Fountain.

TRL saw his toilet do something he has never seen a toilet do before: it bubbled. First, it clogged. But then it actually bubbled, large spheres of air rising from the depths like an office water cooler.

And when TRL was finished plunging, he saw in the finally clear bottom something brown and shiny. Normally not one to go after such things in a toilet, he knew what this was; the second copper penny settled onto the porcelain this week.

The main suspect was E, who had a coin obsession at the moment. Though maybe it was his brother taking away E’s treasure. C had been loudly and wildly jealous when E happened upon a penny at the Star Market the previous evening.

TRL tosses the penny in the garbage can: a penny saved is a penny earned, but this toilet penny was earned the hard way and now had to be set free least it spread some intestinal bacteria.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Act 6, Scene 1: “Remembrance of Things Past”

TRL emails his old neighbor, the one across the street, the only one in the entire neighborhood with whom he had actually struck up a relationship. And the neighbor reports:

“The new neighbors are nice.”

TRL believes this is code for “boring.”

“They spend a ton of time outside with their kids and seem to have befriended the neighbors next to them with kids.”

TRL knows the next-door neighbors. Boring. So boring plus boring.

“They have a pool table”

No doubt for the basement, which they will call the rec room, decides TRL. The suburban cliché has resettled the house.

“and what seems like a lot of stuff...they had delivery pods in the driveway for a couple weeks.”

Over-materialized. And slow to stuff their house. The equivalent of shoving food down a goose to fatten its liver.

TRL grins in his fourth-floor brownstone home office, the sound of the T’s wheels braking below, and cars’ rubber eating the road. He feels like he just escaped the Turkish prison in Midnight Express.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Desperately Seeking Childcare

The fastest route to child care
Variation on speed dating hooks up parents and sitters in minutes
By Ken Wilan, Globe Correspondent | October 6, 2007, The Boston Globe


Lauren Kavanaugh, an attorney at Liberty Mutual in Boston, was out of the office and on a mission.

Kavanaugh, 38, had told colleagues, "I'm at a meeting." But what she was really doing at Red Sky Restaurant near Quincy Market, far from her Back Bay office, was meeting at five-minute intervals with a host of mostly younger women, getting to know them as quickly as possible to decide if she would call them later.

"I've had a very difficult time finding baby sitters," said Kavanaugh, who has a 1-year-old son. "It's a huge time suck, and my husband and I work full time."

So Kavanaugh joined 30 other parents and 40 baby sitters in a "Speedsitting" session, where a parent interviews a sitter for five minutes before moving on to the next sitter. The line of sitters and parents stretched along opposite sides of pushed-together tables running the length of the restaurant. During lunch hour, these parents, many with notepads in hand, grilled sitters and took names.

"What is the thing we can't supply parents right now?" asked Genevieve Thiers, CEO and founder of Sittercity .com, an online company that matches parents with baby sitters and was sponsoring the event. "We couldn't supply parents with face-to-face interaction." Speedsitting, she said, is "basically a speed date, but for parents and baby sitters."

Natalia Sarkisian, assistant professor of sociology at Boston College, said it should come as no surprise that such events are taking place. "Speed dating has created a fad - now it is speed-everything," she said.

The number of couples that both work and put a child in child care at an early age is increasing, said Fred Rothbaum, professor of child development at Tufts University and president of the Child & Family WebGuide, which screens parenting resources. The Speedsitting concept, Rothbaum said, is a natural extension of the Internet-fueled trend to deliver more information and goods faster.

"Given the time crunch, parents, and especially mothers, are trying to find top-quality child care and are trying to be more efficient and maximize their options. Parents want to survey as many child-care providers as possible to say, 'I have done my best,' " said Sarkisian. Speedsitting combines technology - the baby sitters are already registered on the sitter city.com database - with the no-tech approach.

"The benefit is face-to-face contact," said Anna Nivala, 31, of Somerville, holding 11-month-old Evie. "It's a first impression, and how do they look at my daughter?" Evie offered up bright smiles to just about everyone in the restaurant - baby sitters, bartenders, and a reporter included.

As the caregivers sipped baby-girl-pink nonalcoholic cocktails topped off with an orange wedge, parents shifted seats in five-minute spurts recalling musical chairs, in this case not wanting to be left out of finding the perfect sitter. Though there were more sitters than parents, competition for the best of the bunch can be stiff.

"It's supply and demand; there's more people looking for child care," and not necessarily a proportional rise in accessible child care out there, said Rothbaum.

"Once you find a good baby sitter, they're a very prized possession," said Scott Shannon, 48, who with his wife, Anne, was looking for a sitter for their 4-year-old son, Shane. "People don't share sitters, they don't want to lose them." And, he reasoned, the sitters at the event were the cream of the crop. Online, he said, sitters "don't always respond, or respond and say 'not interested.' Here, candidates are more mature and a lot more serious about being sitters or nannies. They're taking time out in their day" to be here.

The Shannons, of Dedham, were looking for a sitter because Scott was returning to the workforce as a construction project manager.

"He's currently a stay-at-home mom," said Anne, 45, who had taken the day off from work as director of energy programs at Quincy Community Action Programs to search for a sitter.

"Dad," Scott corrected.

Shannon was one of two fathers in a sea of mothers. The other was Malay Kundu, founder of StopLift Vision Systems in Bedford. He and his wife, who also works full time and had a full day of meetings, have a 4-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter.

"With my long hours, I certainly contribute to the need for baby sitters," Kundu said.

Did it make him feel awkward that he was one of the few men at the event?

"I don't really care, I just need to get a baby sitter," he replied, echoing the sentiment of most parents at the event. He then darted to an empty seat across from a sitter to begin his next interview before he had to get back to work.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

How to select a caregiver
The Boston Globe, October 6, 2007

Speedsitting may be "good as a quick screening procedure, but you shouldn't hire someone on the spot based on five minutes," said Thierry Guedj, professor of psychology with a focus on work-life issues at Boston University. After the initial screen, invite a sitter to your house for at least an hour interview with both parents and the child, said Guedj.

Here are interviewing tips from Guedj:

During an interview, observe how a baby sitter or nanny watches your children. Some nannies are more concerned with days off than interacting with your child.
Listen for tone of voice, see how she reacts to your child: Is she reactive or nurturing? "Some are quick to raise their voice or quick to anger, or someone may be completely passive and don't see themselves as having a role in child care. You need somebody assertive and nurturing. Somebody who can help explain to your child what good behavior is. A good nanny, like a good parent, is able to reason with a child, explain things."
Don't worry so much about the caregiver's education. "I am skeptical about whether degrees are a good thing. Basic nurturing of children has less to do with education than with the way the kids are raised. If you are raised nurturing, you will tend to pass that on, and this is more important than degrees."
How to win over a sitter

"I'm not just going to sit for any family," said Jessica Bennett, 22, of Boston. "If I'm going to take on a job, chemistry is important. In a sense, you're screening parents," too.
Some suggestions from sitters for making a good impression:

"Ask questions in a more casual way, not an analyzing, non-trusting way," said Mona Simmons, 40, of Belmont.
Don't just ask questions, but also share information about yourself and your family, said Hillary Richard, 21, of Boston.
Look the sitter in the eyes. "Some moms treat you like a thing, not like a person," said Giane Marques, 37, of Malden. "They don't look you in the eyes."
Share your value system. A good sitter is assessing "if their care is in line with what you think," said Bennett. "Everyone has different philosophies for rewards and punishments, timeouts or taking toys away," she said, and it's important to know if the sitter and parent can support each other's values.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Special Bulletin: We Moved!

Desperate Househusband has escaped the suburbs!


No more car culture.


Lots of excitement.


Kids and wife loving apartment-living, public transportation, fire engine sirens and semi-urban grit.

But not to worry. ... Desperate Househusband still desperate.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Act 5, Scene 8: “And We Really Liked the Ice Cream”

TRL and S take the boys to Vermont to their friend’s farm. They visit the chicken coop to see where eggs (and the evening dinner) come from, look at the turkeys, walk right up to cows, feed the rainbow trout in the pond, pick strawberries from the garden, pet Jr. the black-nosed sheep, and go wading in the nearby lake. That’s all on the first day. TRL and S also take them to a farm museum, where they see old farm implements and visit milk cows in their milk pens, say hi to prize-winning horses, and see ice cream being made the old-fashioned way: vanilla, cream and sugar are dumped into a metal tub, it is sealed and covered with ice and salt and hand-cranked for 20 minutes in the shade of a 200-year-old maple tree next to the old ice house. The boys get to sample the result.

Back in the burbs, TRL asks: “Guys, what was your favorite part of the whole weekend?”

“Eating the ice cream,” they announce in unison.

Tepidly flavored marginally cold too-soft ice cream wins out over the Real Farm Experience.

“We should have just spread some manure on the driveway and then gone to Friendly’s,” TRL grunts to S.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Act 5, Scene 7: “An Act of Illusion”

TRL walks into the kitchen. E is on the floor, pushing around some fallen Cheerios.

“Hey,” says TRL.

E looks up and smiles. Then picks up a Cheerio and slowly brings it towards his mouth.

“No,” says TRL firmly. “We don’t eat food off the floor. You know that.”

E looks up at TRL and then pops the cereal into his mouth.

TRL picks him up. “Spit it out,” he says. He inspects E’s mouth but the Cheerio is nowhere to be found.

“Did you just eat that after I said not to?”


“I just saw you put the cereal in your mouth. I told you not to. Did you just put it in your mouth?”

“No,” insists E. And for a second, TRL believes him. He doubts himself, even though he saw E put it in his mouth. TRL learns something about magic right then, the power of suggestion, that insisting upon something both parties know is not true can sometimes, at least momentarily, make it true.

E learns a little something, too. About the consequences of lying.

“You have just earned a time out,” says TRL.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Act 5, Scene 6: “Lost”

TRL wakes up, looks around and doesn’t know where he is. He is in a bed, but doesn’t know where. It is dark. Where is he?

He starts sweating and panicking. He lunges for a window and lifts the blinds. He still doesn’t know where he is. He sees another window and opens the blinds. It is dark outside. He is in a room. He grunts, terrified. He can’t seem to wake up, and he still is lost.

S opens her eyes. “What are you doing?”

TRL stumbles for a door, goes out into a hall. But what hall? He moves into a bathroom and flips on the light. He sees himself in a mirror. He is covered in sweat. He knows that it is himself staring back. But where is he?

In his bathroom, he slowly realizes. But then the realization flickers away and he panics again.

In his bathroom, he comes to realize once more. This time the understanding stays. He sweats profusely. He is shaking. What is wrong with him? Is this how someone with Alzheimer’s feels?

S walks in to go to the bathroom. “Are you OK?”

TRL grunts, now embarrassed that he was so confused. He feels vulnerable and frightened.

S goes back into their bedroom and TRL throws water onto his face. This was the first night back in their house since coming back from five days at the beach. It must have confused him, he tells himself. And while they were away, they had an offer on their house; they were moving. And the next day he had a job interview, an attempt to set his career straight.

All in all, TRL feels lost.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Act 5, Scene 5: “Tough Love”

TRL and C get into a little fight. TRL has constructed a really cool fort out of pillows and a sheet. E crawls inside and happily reads in the Cave of Excitement and Solitude. And then C comes in, stands up and twirls around, ripping the sheet off in the process.

“C,” whines TRL. “You ruined it.”

E happily reads on.

TRL repositions the pillows and puts the sheet back over the fort.

And C darts in, stands up and ruins it.

“Not nice,” growls TRL. C just looks up, smiles, and twirls around. E continues to read happily. TRL stomps away in a huff. He then busies himself by making a snack for the boys.

“Guys, snack,” he calls, and they clatter into their seats. TRL kisses C on the forehead. “Can we be friends?” he asks.

C levels a thoughtful gaze at TRL.

“Be my Daddy,” he responds.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Act 5, Scene 4: “And It’s Cold, Too”

The TRL family is at the beach, and C and E polish off ice cream cones after the long and sweaty work of building sand trenches, pits and mounds. To C and E, it is joyous beach fun. To TRL, who is the main earth mover and chief designer, it is the building of civilizations, the blooming of a grand vision of a better world, as well as the exercising of his suppressed-by-life God complex which held its full promise in his twenties. Plus it’s a damn fine work-out.

They are heading back to the house to shower, when C, who has finished his cone, turns to E, presenting him with an imaginary ice cream treat: “Would you like to try my ice cream? There’s no glass in it,” says C.

The ultimate product, guaranteeing something that everybody wants while implying that the competition may just have some unpleasantness waiting as a nasty surprise. It is the perfect product pitch.

Bloody tongues? Glass shards sticking out from your gums? Ben and Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs, Ciao Bella. Fine ice cream, but no guarantees. C’s Ice Cream - There’s No Glass In It. Because it says so right in the name.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Act 5, Scene 3: “Death by Kid Party (Plus a Business Opportunity)”

It’s time for more of the birthday party circuit, a trip to Noodle Noggin’ ‘N Bean. TRL leans against the birthday room wall, where every hour on the hour another joyous celebration cycles through. Fifteen minutes of arts and crafts which forces TRL to bend down to help C & E, TRL’s knees cracking and back hurting, glue rubbed on every garment and ultimately what is produced is a disfigured paper bag animal puppet that will last another 22 minutes before it is destroyed or forgotten. Then comes the cake, an over-the-top photo-realistic sugar bomb that will wire the kids for an hour-and-a-half and leave them angry sleepless shells by the time they are back home. Today’s cake eaters, tomorrow’s homeless junkies. After the cake, the ice cream and juice, because there just isn’t enough sugar in their systems yet.

TRL knows this is all well and good for C & E. They like the arts and crafts, and the cake, and the ice cream and juice. And they love running around like, well, the wired three-and-a-half year olds that they are, going from room to room riding the bikes and fishing in the wet room and playing doctor in the nursery and playing store clerk in the grocery room. It’s a rave for the young set. It’s just that it bores the hell out of TRL, and inevitably gives him a headache. Other men, mostly with paunches, also lean against the wall, looking glum.

“I hate this stuff, there’s nobody for me to talk to, it’s boring, and it’s a beautiful sunny day out today and we are cooped into a windowless box,” TRL moans to S.

“Then leave,” says S. “The kids really love it.”

Which is true. TRL leans deeper against the wall and imagines the party as he would like to see it.

Alterna-party One: Au Natural
No cake. No ice cream. And no bending over sticks and glue for TRL. A farmer comes in and brings out carrots, passing them around to the kiddies and adults. These are sweet and crunchy, beautifully orange-yellow, smooth and delicious. The farmer tells the kids how they were planted and cared for and harvested on the organic farm. Corn comes next. And then cherry tomatoes. Apples, pears and honeydew melon follow. Lunch has been addressed, as has an educational component. A donkey ride follows out back, along with lessons in animal husbandry. The kids have a good time, the adults are engaged, everybody has good food in their bellies, and TRL doesn’t hate life.

Alterna-party Two: It’s All About the Parents
The kids get the arts and crafts and the high-sucrose speedball delight in the guise of a cute-clever cake and frozen and liquid sugar-delivery devices. But the kids also get two high-school helpers to walk them through the arts and crafts project and serve them their snacks and play delightedly with them afterwards. And TRL gets a barcalounger, a Hooters-moonlighting waitress to serve up hot wings and a cocktail, and in-party video monitor at the chair (think first-class on Singapore Airlines). A massage follows and everybody leaves feeling very happy indeed.

Alterna-party Three: The Business Opportunity
The kids love parties at the party factories, but what about the oldster set, parents of adult children? The baby boomer is not getting any younger, and soon these imminently diapered and drooling martini swilling movers and shakers will be moving in their pants and shaking from Parkinson’s, sure, but they still need a place to party. Which has TRL believing they need their own Chuck E. Cheese’s. Something a bit more sophisticated, of course. More of a Charles F. Gouda, or a Charlie S. Brie. Perhaps a Charlemagne Le Chevrot Blanc for the sophisticated set. But a place where adults can drop off their parents, let them rock and roll for an hour or two, have a great time and meet with friends, celebrate those octogenarian birthdays, and get all tuckered out for nap time. Sweet, sweet nap time. TRL considers this his business plan. Interested investors please send checks.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Act 5, Scene 2: “Fudged Again”

C and E bounce around their room, flinging stuffed animals.

“Guys, how about a book? How about the alligator book?” suggests TRL.

E stops for a moment and turns to TRL. “The alligator? The fucking alligator.”

TRL stares, at a temporary loss for words. His brain does a quick search for appropriate parental responses. He knows you want to discourage the use of the word, but by forbidding the use or registering heightened emotion the kid will be drawn to it like forbidding sex or liquor to teens.

‘Ding’ - TRL’s brain comes up with a response: “Ah, we don't say that word, we say ‘oh shucks’ instead,” says TRL. “Or ‘shoot.’”

“Oh shoot, the fucking alligator,” responds E.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Act 5, Scene 1: “Nice Aim! And Sorry About the Baby.”

C nails a mom holding a baby. Picks up a basketball (mini-sized) at Gymboree, and lets it rip. The mother is not happy. Extremely not happy.

“C, you need to apologize,” says TRL.




TRL sighs. The mother glares.

TRL tries a different tact. “C, why did you throw the ball?”

“I don’t want the baby here.”

TRL is secretly thrilled. It confirms that C was trying to hit the mom: C has great aim!

Both C and E have a thing about babies. E promises to put one in the oven should the opportunity arise.

“C, we don’t throw balls at people, especially babies.”

The mother stands glaring. TRL looks up. He is not happy that C threw the ball, but hey, they are at a place that encourages kids to throw balls. Basically the mother had walked into a war zone with a baby. Maybe she’s the one who’s been bad.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Act 4, Scene 20: “Lessons in Being a Man”

Fried salami, strippers, and a marathon TV session of Cops and The Family Guy…

It's boys' night!

S is away on business, and it's time for TRL to let loose and begin teaching C and E the gentle arts of manly sloth. And what says lazy man better than parking in front of the TV with a mound of crispy meat? The meat has already been slaughtered, prepared and packaged. It just needs a little heat. And the TV practically drives itself.

For exercise, there is the promise of college-age strippers knocking on the front door. The boys love meeting new people, and so does TRL. A short walk to let them in, and dessert is here, boys.

TRL believes parenting is not only about the easy things – loving and playing with your child – but also about teaching. If we don’t educate the next generation, who will?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Act 4, Scene 19: “Perfectly Happy”

C and E sit at the table, enjoying their macaroni and cheese lunch. E turns to TRL. “Daddy, I want to be just like you.”
Finally, after three years, after sleepless nights, near-constant clean-up mode, the illnesses, the arguing, the fits, the loading in cars and taking out, the food preparation, the incalculable energy expenditure, finally, finally, finally… the pay off. The kid wants to be just like his old man.

A warm feeling suffuses TRL. He is in love with his son, in love with parenthood, in love, let’s face it, with himself.

“Daddy, I want to be just like you.” TRL is on cloud nine. He has clearly done something right. Nobody before has ever wanted to be like him.

Certainly not ex girlfriends. In fact, many didn’t even want TRL to be like TRL.

Certainly not S, who loves TRL but certainly sees room for modification and improvement.

Even TRL has his doubts about himself.

Perhaps TRL’s mommy, who is a big fan of TRL, but TRL doesn’t feel like he earned that admiration. More like something he was born into.

But here was a little being who had his heart set on being just like TRL. Because TRL was perfect in his eyes. Physically, emotionally, intellectually. The whole package was there for E. And for this moment in time, at least, it made TRL feel perfect.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Act 4, Scene 18: “Coxsackie Anyone?”

TRL walks into daycare with C & E.

“Good morning C and E,” says their teacher Miss Betty.

And to TRL: “There has been a Coxsackie virus exposure.”

“Huh?” says TRL, who has not yet had his coffee and who has been driving behind school buses for the last 30 minutes. Has he just entered the Hot Zone?

“Coxsackie,” she repeats. “Hand and foot disease.”

Now TRL feels like a missionary entering some remote jungle station.

“They may get a fever, and white patches on their tongue and hands.”

“What?” exclaims TRL, hanging up C and E’s jackets as they run off to play with paints.

And then he sees a handwritten note above the sign-in sheet: “There has been a Coxsackie Virus exposure.”

“Who’s started this?” TRL peppers the teacher. He wants the dirty disease vector identified. And an explanation as to why his or her parents' could be so unclean and inconsiderate as to expose the whole school.

“Well, ahh,” she stammers, “once symptoms start it’s not contagious. So we don’t know, but it’s going around. But it only lasts for a few days.”

“Going around,” simmers TRL, who picks up a container of Purell he notices on a shelf and gives it a good squeeze to cover his hands.

“They may get a slight fever,” adds the teacher.

TRL growls. “What dirty little bugger has infested us all. Errrrrr.”

“Where’s Maya?” asks C. Maya is the boys' best friend at school.

“Yes, where is Maya?” says TRL.

“She’s out,” mutters the teacher.

TRL kisses and hugs the boys. Maya, dirty little Typhoid Maya, he mutters as he swings through the doors into the sunshine. “Grrrrr.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Act 4, Scene 17: “Putting Doggy Daddy to Sleep”

Doggy Daddy licks the boys’ faces and gently bites at their soft lovely flesh. He rolls around with the boys and yelps with joy. But E nipped C on his hand yesterday, and today E bites C on the cheek, not drawing blood but leaving thick teeth marks and the beginning of a big bruise. For E has learned from Doggy Daddy that we bite when we are excited. But E’s control over bite depth is not as refined as Doggy Daddy’s. Puppy see, puppy do. So to Doggy Daddy’s sadness, it is time to be sent to the pound, never to nip, roll, lick and yelp with the boys, least they get the wrong message and continue to use each other as chew toys. Bark bark yelp yelp mrrrr mrrrrr Womp.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Act 4, Scene 16: “Your True Quest for Zen Starts Here”

In search of ultimate self knowledge? Pure peace and being? Stillness in a fast-moving world, patience in the middle of insanity? Forget a trek to the Dali Lama. Leave behind the notion of Japanese Zen monasteries. Bypass Shangri-La, and instead come to TRL’s house. Here, if you devote yourself to pure being with a pure heart, you will find the path to peace, your very own Himalaya Hilton in the very heart of a major metropolitan area easily reached by all transportation hubs. And close to a McDonalds and a Walmart.

C and E will throw obstacles of all kinds into your quest for peace. Don’t let them destroy your will in your journey to true balance.

Need to leave the house early? C will crap his pants, E will have a meltdown because his “chocolate” shirt is in the laundry, C will insist that it is not Cheerios that he has been eating every morning for the past year but in fact Rice Krispies, which TRL happens to be out of. It is now Rice Krispies, in fact, that are C’s life’s work, not unlike your quest for peace. His soul nourisher, the only thing on the planet that will appease him. Surround sound screaming will test your nerves, fire volleys of pain into your being and soul. But stay strong and focused, keep your eye on that nirvana prize of peace and understanding, equanimity in the face of hideous mental and emotional assault.

Need to do some domestic chores around the house, catch up on some work, and get to bed early after the boys are tucked in for the night? E will scream, and scream, and scream. Why? Because he wants the night light off. And then C will scream, and scream, and scream. Why? Because he wants the night light on. And once that discussion has played itself out, and has miraculously been dispersed with via logical contortions, appeals to pure emotion, and lots of deep breaths on your part, the boys will discover a thirst for cold water like no other, two parched desert wanders who need water, must have it from the orange cup sitting dirty at the bottom of the kitchen sink. And they NEED IT NOW. And once their whistles are wet, their throats moisturized, why they are not tired anymore. A book, a book, one more book before bed!

You see, India is for pussies. You want true Zen, come on over to TRL’s house. And if you make it through, peace will be yours. And if you don’t, you will be a destroyed shell that previous had cradled your hopes and ambitions, a mere husk now devoid of any balance or self worth, waiting to dry up, blow away and disappear for ever.

Call for reservations. TRL will pick you up at the airport.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Act 4, Scene 15: “Poo Are You?”

TRL’s dad begins to report his “BMs” to TRL. Granted, it is a big deal for TRL Senior because he just had surgery and a first crap is a milestone indicating that the body is getting back to normal. But somehow, hearing the word “BM” out of his dad’s mouth both catapulted TRL back to his youth, making him feel uncomfortably like a little boy again, and also sending him forward when he would be taking care of his old dad. The timing seemed cosmically inauspicious: the boys had just emerged from diapers and could take their own craps in the toilet. Why couldn’t TRL Senior have said “Just took a crap, all systems go,” or even “Pinched one off, no stopping me now.” But “BM” – gross. And not even acknowledging the nature of the event, assuming it was known that it was a big deal after the operation. Not couching it as an after effect of the surgery made it even more intimate. TRL felt both very young and very old. And, well, gross.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Act 4, Scene 14: “Thought Possession”

TRL struggles to clean up the yogurt spilled on the kitchen counter, scrap up the soggy Cheerios dispersed like minilife preservers under the kitchen table, dump laundry detergent over C’s underwear where he slid back into pretoilet-training days, get iron supplements and the follow-up prune (to kill the taste of the nasty iron supplement) into C and E’s mouths, brush his own teeth, and then get C and E cleaned up, in jackets and in the car to daycare. But there is screaming at the train table. Horrible, anguished, banshee yelling alerting TRL that though his headache, irregular breathing through his clogged nose, exhaustion from staying up late watching the pretty bad (but evidently not bad enough) movie Let’s Go to Prison while cleaning up his office, and his general disdain for life right now would indicate ignoring the issue, he just can’t. Making the noise stop is an imperative for calming his jangled nerves.

“What is going on,” TRL pronounces clearly and steadily.

All at once, C and E respond on their separate voice tracks. Track 1:

“E took my train.”

Track 2:

“My train. My train.”

Justice isn’t about truth, TRL knows by this time in his life. It is about making the noise go away.

TRL sees that C has the train car in question. “Did you have this?” he asks. C stops crying and nods.

“What’s your story?” TRL says, turning to E. “Did you have the car?”

There is a pause, and in that pause TRL knows the answer.

“I wanted the car,” E finally answers.

TRL is amused to recognize a new way of thinking about an old situation: in kiddie justice, thinking about possession is 9/10ths of the law.

“It’s nice that you want it,” says TRL, “but C was playing with it. You can have it later on.”

He levels a severe stare at E, who seems to have intellectually moved on to greener pastures. E picks up the trains in front of him, C inserts the train car in question into his train line-up, and TRL goes upstairs for his morning cocktail: three rust-colored Advils with a white Tylenol chaser. The aspirin will be a little something for later on.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Act 4, Scene 13: “Gravity’s Rainbow, of Pain”

TRL wants to abolish stairs. TRL needs to abolish stairs.

His knees hurt from going up the stairs because he is getting old.

He is bored by the stairs. Up/down, up/down, ten, fifteen times a day. With nothing to look at or engage him, only his brain generally remembering to signal his neck to bend least it crack the head against the ceiling on the descent. Otherwise, there is no stimulation going on in the stairwell. Nothing to look at, a passage too vertical for any meaningful interaction with anything that might be on the walls. No chance of bumping into anyone. The staircase is boring.

And the usual is not helped by C and E’s increasingly urgent need to transport their gaggle of animals, their very own roadies and hangers-on, from their upstairs bedroom to the kitchen/dining room/living room downstairs, and vice versa. C and E can’t do it alone, won’t do it alone. Which leaves TRL going up and down to avoid their increasingly shrill declarations of desire.

“I need minipuppy down here,” insists E.

“Moo Cow has to be on the chair,” bellows C.

Or Strawberry Doggie, Gussy the doll baby, Saul the (slightly older) doll baby, Hippo Puppet, Elephant Puppet, Monkey Puppet, Big Snoopy, Girl (aka Mommy’s) Snoopy, Muffy (the dog), Bunny Rabbit, Pigbear … TRL knows what he really needs is a shuttle service for these stuffed animals, and he also knows he is the shuttle service.

Other solutions would be impractical. A fire pole would be an accident waiting to happen. A gravity gun would wake the neighbors. A dumbwaiter too small and prone to breakdowns. An escalator with jazzy color fluorescent underlights an indulgence S would never permit.

So TRL dreams of an apartment. All horizontal, no stairs. The urban presenting a different interaction with gravity.

He also dreams of making all of C and E’s animals disappear.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Act 4, Scene 12: “Lose Weight, No Exercise, Guaranteed”

TRL has discovered the ultimate weight loss program for busy parents. Begin with twin three-year-olds (or substitute any combination of young children). Add the usual life pressures over money, work, home management. Now ratchet up the activity of the kids. Add a combination cold/flu you caught from your wife via your kids. And now the killer app (or more appropriately, app killer): a sinus infection.

You are smacking yourself on the head thinking “why didn’t I think of that?” Well, you didn’t. TRL did, when he realizes he lost three pounds over three days as he contemplates sawing his head off as the adorable and musically-inclined E insists on blow-screaming into his lovely plastic flute. And C, not to be outdone, keeps perfect beat with his plastic drum stick on the wood floor while shaking his big green maraca (special note to the in-laws: thanks for the musical instuments).

TRL croaks a “please stop” from his perch on the big chair. But S is making dinner and doesn’t hear. And to C and E, that is just audience appreciation.

TRL moans and holds his head in his arms. Tylenol, azithromycin, Afrin, and pseudoephedrine onboard. And still the pain. But, he realizes, he has eaten nothing but a saltine or two and a few scoops of Jell-O over the previous few days. And has lost weight. No exercise, no appetite, no effort, no problem.

He is calling his new diet book the South Beach Sinus Infection Diet. If you don’t have a sinus infection, he will send you one. And if you don’t have kids of your own, he will send you two.

Call now for your copy. Operators are standing by.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Act 4, Scene 11: “The American Dream Updated: A Chicken in Every Pot, a Sweatpant for Every Occasion”

TRL has fully integrated into suburbia. It’s not that he wears sweatpants everywhere, it’s that he now has different sweatpants for different occasions. Like Mister Rogers changing his shoes, TRL wakes up and takes off his sleeping sweatpants to put on his ‘driving the kids to daycare’ sweatpants: A subtle but important change from basic blue gym sweats to white-stripped adidas work-out pants. And later, he just may change into his black REI ‘working at the computer and about the house’ mid-weight fleece pants. These are his favorites, and S has banned them from her sight.

“I am so sick of these,” she exclaims. “I’m taking you shopping for a different pair.”

Which may be the most disturbing part. S is TRL’s enabler. The suburbs, he knows, are killing them both.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Act 4, Scene 10: “Desperately Clichéd”

TRL is feeling like he is living Icarus and Daedalus. Only he is the one that is falling. For C and E have clear open skies ahead. TRL, however, has tried to touch the sun, and at 40, feels like a failure. And utlimately, in doing so, he has also failed his sons.

TRL is stunned about what is happening to him, that his life is subject to the same clichés as everyone else’s. Stunned like the first bad break up with a girlfriend that left him an emotional cripple; this was supposed to happen to other people, but not him. Stunned that after working so hard, he still hasn’t achieved his goals, like his parents promised him he would. He was the Sun Prince in their eyes, and he is now suffering from a bad burn. For TRL has flown towards his dreams but forgot to put on life’s sunblock: a steady job, a growing 401K, a grip on finances and concern for the future, and some semblance of measuring career success and happiness that he can emotionally invest in.

In a word, TRL is suffering a mid-life crisis. And sadly, a red Miata, an affair, or a hair transplant hold no attraction for him, no balm for his life burn. What is frustrating, perhaps even more than the crisis itself, is that there is no clear path out. Which probably defines a mid-life crisis, and thus makes him even more clichéd than he realizes. He needs something radical. A neuticle implant to give him balls the size of beach balls to hypermasculinize his torn and wounded self. Or an investment in a condo high atop Miami Beach, a hot tub perched on the balcony, bimbos and beer littered about, a flunky to yell at. Or maybe he needs a trek to the Himalayas to seek enlightenment, to do good deeds. A rest cure with Richard Gere.

TRL toys with pressing the reset button, to start working in a pizzeria, be a park ranger, or doing something where he gets to shoot alligators. He needs a change.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Act 4, Scene 9: “200 Baht”

TRL is wrestling with E, trying to get him into his socks and pants at 7:30 a.m. as E’s elephant puppet Ely bites at TRL’s legs.

“You know guys, I had a very big elephant try and eat me when I was riding him in Thailand.”

C pauses climbing up TRL’s back and Ely stops nipping for a moment.

“I was in the jungle of Thailand, riding on the neck of an elephant.”

“Why you ride on an elephant?” asks C.

“Well, because we were traveling through the jungle, and the elephants provided our transportation. And this one elephant kept thinking my legs were bamboo, which was his favorite food. He would grab a bamboo stick on the trail with his trunk, curl it into his mouth, and crack it in two while chewing it.”

TRL grabs E’s leg. “Like this.” E screams.

“He thought my leg was his food, and I kept having to pull my leg out of his trunk before he shoved it into his mouth.”

TRL grabs at C and E’s legs and they squeal with laughter.

“When you guys are older, I’ll tell you about other things Daddy rode in Thailand.”

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Act 4, Scene 8: “I Slept with Sarah Silverman”

S goes to New York City for the week to frolic with friends, leaving TRL alone with C and E. Or, perhaps more frighteningly, C and E alone with TRL.

“No baths, no making beds, no crying, no fighting,” TRL announces to C and E after S has left. “Pizza, Steak-Ums and French fries, boys, every night for dinner.” TRL rubs his hands together. “OK, let’s party.”

S needs a vacation. She was between jobs, had been running at 110 percent working her job, looking for a new job, and keeping the household purring along. And now, before she starts her new job, she needs a release. And for TRL, S being away meant a reversion back to Lord of the Flies. Mommy had left, and he was in charge.

Well, one thing led to another, and he ended up in bed with Sarah Silverman.

Who, to TRL’s annoyance, S says looks like a monkey.

“Well, maybe, but a hot, nasty-talking, cute, horny, Jewish girl monkey,” says TRL. But TRL knew he would not be able to get S to understand Sarah’s draw on men. Basically, she was a guy. Crude-talking, annoying, focused on poo and piss and sex, but in the body of a hot chick. Which made her perfect.

TRL gets the boys in their pajamas – the same pajamas they have been wearing all week. S insists on giving them new pajamas every two days, if not daily. That just meant more laundry, knows TRL. But he was in charge now.

They also had the same socks. It wasn’t like a little smell was going to rot their feet. And they didn’t mind.

And having their beds unmade just made it ready for the boys to climb right back in and resume sleep. Which was how TRL felt about his own bed: an unmade bed was an invitation. An acknowledgement that life – the work and drudgery – was merely a pause in climbing back under the sheets, sighing and relaxing. Plus not making the bed meant less work.

The boys were asleep, some of the dishes were clean, and TRL is ready. He grabs his iPod, jumps into bed, pulls the covers over his body, wiggles his neck and head around the pillow to get comfortable, and props the iPod onto another pillow sitting on his chest. He hits “play” and there is Sarah Silverman, the horny little Jewish monkey, dancing around on his chest, introducing her big gay friends, her tasty cute sister, the dumb mustached boyfriend cop. Sarah in all her tasty-thigh, swaying breasts, ultra cute relaxed-look boy clothes, vagina and poo words spewing from her adorable simian mouth. Life is good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Act 4, Scene 7: “Daddy of the Year”

TRL is looking to cut costs because he quit his staff job and now money is tight. So finally, after S has been urging him for months, he gets a gmail account so he can cancel his old email which comes attached to a service provider charging a monthly fee. But TRL has been reluctant: the email address fits like an old slipper. But faced with the prospect of needing to save money as he does freelance writing, he makes the move.

“Why give $12 a month to pay for an email address when the money could be going in my pocket for tequila and pills,” he says to his friend G.

He pauses.

“Oh yeah, and milk for the kids,” he adds.

“Father of the Year,” says G. “And you already have a slogan for your campaign.”

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Act 4, Scene 6: “An Old Friend”

The boys are watching Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And suddenly TRL sees someone he knows. Or at least he thinks he knows. He hits pause and walks closer to the screen.

“Can’t see,” scream the boys.

“In a minute,” says TRL, who is studying the picture. “It is her,” he mutters. Younger than when he knew her, a mere girl, but there’s no mistaking it. It’s Cindy Louwho. Or Cindy Louhot, as the guys called her. Funny he never made the connection, although he had known she came from a far-away town, Whosville or something. TRL had gone out with her for a month in college. She was a heroin addict and coke whore. She was very fun, recalls TRL, but messed up. Into bondage, had a goth phase. Smart and wild, but emotionally fucked up.

“Can’t see, daddy,” the boys scream again. TRL hits play.

A little digging from friends and TRL finds Cindy has cleaned herself up, is an editor with a small avant-garde Soho publisher. Or possibly married, two kids, living in San Francisco. Who knew?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Act 4, Scene 5: “Anthro-poo- morphic”

“I made a poo,” screams C.

Like volunteer firemen hearing the fire whistle, E and TRL drop everything and run into the bathroom to share in the glory.

“Excellent poo,” praises TRL.

“It’s a gold fish,” says E.

TRL looks a bit closer at the blondish dark poo sitting in the toilet; it does indeed look like a goldfish, it’s head aiming for the drain, it’s tail pointing up and swaying in the water.

“Nice poo fish,” says TRL. He knows he is supposed to praise the boys during this key juncture in their toilet training and Freudian development of control issues. Having poo animals adds a nice bit of creativity to the entire self-toileting/socialization process.

C leans on the flusher and the poo fish begins its long journey to the ocean.

“Bye bye,” says TRL.

“Bye bye,” chorus C and E.

“God’s speed to you, Goldie.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Act 4, Scene 4: “William Wants a Doll ”

“C really likes his doll,” S tells TRL. S has been going through old boxes and found her Saul and Gusie dolls from her youth. The one with curly blonde string hair has been taken in by E, while C gravitates to the younger bald one, which E promptly denounced as a “bowling ball.”

“That’s nice,” replies TRL, happy that C is enjoying a doll.
The tune from Free To Be You and Me flashes through his head: “A doll, a doll, William wants a doll. A doll for William to love and hold... ” TRL loved that record as a kid, and seeing it on video with his kids has only reinforced that love. Still, was it normal for a little boy to be so into playing with a doll?

“But he started banging it against the wall,” continues S. “I asked him what he was doing. He said he was ‘giving it boo boos.”

TRL laughs, relieved. Sensitive, but not too sensitive. Everything was alright.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Act 4, Scene 3: “The Cycle of Life”

TRL and S take the boys to the Children’s Museum. And in the first room, you get to learn about animals. Cats and dogs, mainly. There are benches and cages and stuffed animals and tweezers and stethoscopes and animal adoption pages and little white coats with VET stitched over the front pocket in natty blue.

C puts on the white coat and proceeds to diligently fill out an animal adoption form, making random marks and circles where he sees fit. He then gets down to the serious business of stuffing a plush doggy into a cage better suited for a mouse. TRL sits on one of the benches, swinging his legs, and starts talking with the husband of a friend of S’s. The husband has the couple’s gurgling 5-month-old daughter bound to his chest.

“He really is going at it,” the man remarks as C leans into the puppy to get its head into the cage.

“Are you a doctor?” TRL calls to C.

“ No. A doctor for animules,” says C. “A vetnarian.”

“Excellent,” says TRL.

“They really have quite a set up,” says New Dad, taking in the real cat X-rays and play cages, the white coats and long tweezers.

“They should have the kids learn to put down the animals, too,” says TRL.

New Dad looks puzzled.

“Really teach them the cycle of life,” adds TRL helpfully.

New Dad smiles and nods. And wraps his arms protectively across his daughter. He starts backing away.

TRL continues to swing his feet, happy to be sitting down, happy that C is engaged in an activity which is safe, will keep him within sight of TRL, and will likely last for at least ten minutes. For TRL is finally beginning to understand the cycle of life himself. That he is a salmon who has reproduced, and is now swimming upstream, to die. When he can find a cool relaxing place from which to perch, like now, he is happy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Act 4, Scene 2: “Genie is Not Magic”

A statuesque piece of plastic sits majestically in TRL’s garage. Long and tapered at the end, shiny white, waiting for transportation to the dump. Which is ironic. And not like rain on your wedding day.

It is TRL’s arch nemesis: the Diaper Genie. Repository for all things stinky, broken five weeks into C&E’s lives, necessitating an extra twist and the use of scissors to detach its shit-stained inner plastic from the container. The boys are now in underpants, and the Diaper Genie has served its usefulness. But unlike the changing table, pack-and-plays, cribs, and even the number 4 Huggies, all fine tools forging a partnership with TRL to keep C and E happy and dry, the Diaper Genie was always at odds with its mission. First, it broke. Then it stank. And it had to be constantly emptied. A function of its service, you might say, but if Genie is in a name, TRL wants to see magic. As in stinky diaper goes in, and disappears. Forever. No cutting, no prying, no brown-smeared plastic to wrestle with. TRL wants David Crapperfield. Harry Poo-dini. Now you see (and smell) it, now you don’t. But the Genie was all name, no magic. So it is with great excitement that TRL banishes it to the garage. And next stop, the dump. The last one for this Genie.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Act 4, Scene 1: “Missed Ya”

Well, TRL fell into the Parent Crevice. That deep seemingly bottomless pit of “to do” lists, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, cooking, feeding, bathing, and working. He lay dazed and confused at the near bottom, scrapped and demoralized, cut-up and lonely. But he took out his Parenting Ice Ax – beer, wine, valium, obsessive exercise, Snickers and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, whatever gets you by – and inched his way up, and back into the light. Back into domestic near-balance. Time probably also helped, because C and E are now almost 3 years-old and are in “big boy underwear” and “big boy beds.” Gone are the diapers (“not diapers, these are pull-ups” says C) and gone are the cribs (“cribs are for babies,” says E). So maybe things have gotten easier, or maybe TRL has just pulled himself out of one crevice only to slide around in the open for a while before skidding into a brand new drop.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Act 3, Scene 16: “Stop and Smell the Flowers”

And stop and pick up a rock.

And stop and watch an ant.

And stop and scoop up pebbles.

And stop and tug at a blade of grass.

TRL takes a walk with C and E before dinner. A nice saunter down the block. C and E insist on holding TRL’s hands, and the entire unit moves at a reasonable pace. TRL is loving it. A nice walk outside with his boys. Maybe the boys have finally gotten to an age where TRL can share some of his pleasures with them. Maybe this marks the beginning of the Father-Son(s) thing.

But then the boys decide that they don’t want to hold dad’s hands.

OK, no problem.

They get to the end of the block and turn around. Let’s go home for dinner, announces TRL.

Dinner, repeat the boys.

And then E becomes enchanted with his shadow, the falling early summer sun stretching his body image along the sidewalk.


Yes, shadow, says TRL.



And C sits down and begins scratching at the edges of the sidewalk at the grass line for really good pebbles.

Guys, mommy is coming home, and it’s dinner time, TRL announces. Guys, come on, please get up. Walk.

And they do. A whole five feet before a dandelion captivates them.

And then a bird sitting on a front lawn.

Guys, either you walk or I carry you.

No carry, walk, E responds.

Then walk, says TRL.

Another five feet. And another fascinating must-see event unfolding before them. The sharp needles on a pine tree. A smushed bug on a tree stump. Another rock.

TRL’s predinner constitutional has turned into The Never Ending Journey. And he has gone from happy-go-lucky dad sharing a special time with his sons to a drill sergeant barking instructions every 20 seconds: Walk. Walk.

After another ten minutes and 20 feet, TRL can see their house.

Look guys, home.

C and E’s house, they respond in unison.

Mom will be home soon, and it’s dinner time, says TRL. Come on guys, let’s go.

But like the mathematical construct of choosing two points along a line, and by continually halving the distance between them, you never actually arrive at the farther point, home gets closer but to TRL it seems they will never actually arrive.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Act 3, Scene 15: “Chef School”

TRL has always been a good cook. He remembers proudly making a crepe for his mom a few days after learning the craft in seventh grade home economics class. He loves taking an hour to extra-virgin-olive-oil sauté garlic and begin his base of homemade tomato sauce, layering on the anchovy paste, canned plum tomatoes, canned chopped tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, Italian parsley, and miscellaneous other ingredients, and then stir occasionally over a three-hour period as it reduces. Or make elaborately flavored chicken dishes out of simple ingredients like chicken breast, white wine, balsamic vinegar, and spices. Or pan frying steaks. Or making elaborate fresh salads. He loves food porn: TRL dreams of a Viking stove, Sub-Zero refrigerator, long marble container tops and built in cutting boards.

He has the ingredients and cooking and intuition parts down, and also the most important part: the pride of making and serving food to people he cares about. He has come to understand why his grandma fluttered between the kitchen and the table during family gatherings, cooking and serving but rarely sitting: you are the cook, you are in the zone, people are hungry and food must be prepared. But TRL never really got the timing down. People would wait for the first course, or wait too long between courses. TRL romanticizes going to cooking school to learn how to be a pro. And he and S did take various cooking classes in the hills of Chianti, Oaxaca, Mexico, and New York City. But TRL still hadn’t worked out the timing issues. Until recently, when he unwittingly enrolled in the toughest restaurant school there is: Le Cordon Twins.

When C and E are hungry, they want their food. Not in ten minutes, or two minutes, or even thirty seconds. Because C and E have no concept of time. They know only NOW. And that is when they want food on their plates. And if they don’t get it NOW, you can not send a drink out to placate them, or offer them a free dessert, or send apologies from the chef. Because They Don’t Care. They Want Their Food NOW.

They won’t smear you in a restaurant review. Or tell their friends not to go to you for dinner. Or refuse to pay the check. Worse. Much worse. They will whine. For maybe 20 seconds. And then they will scream, shout and cry. Les enfants terribles d’cuisine.

Which will raise TRL’s blood pressure as he scrambles to get dinner ready.

And piss S off, who is hungry after a long day at work. She will make some unwelcome comment. Which will further raise TRL’s blood pressure.

Focus, steam, grill, plate, TRL repeats to himself.

But the screaming continues. And the temperature rises. And no matter how good the food is, if it is delayed, it is worth nothing.

After several months of this, TRL feels something happening. His movements between sink and cutting board and stove became more fluid. He learns to cut the number of steps in a preparation and remove unnecessary equipment from the process. He values preparation: getting everything cut, chopped, diced and measured ahead of time. He coordinates the pasta boiling and the sauce making, the steak grilling and the asparagus blanching. He understands timing. Forced by a pair of screaming two-and-a-half-year olds, the world’s harshest critics of food service, TRL finally graduates from cook to chef.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Act 3, Scene 14: “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

It tolls for TRL. That sweet, sweet jingle-jingle-jingle announcing the ice cream truck is here. The boys are too small, and S and TRL don't encourage them eating ice cream anyway (that's what the grandparents are for). But the excitement of the music, a sing-song tinkling breaking into TRL's consciousness as he labors away at the computer upstairs, is a real treat. TRL's ears perk up and his heart accelerates, priming his body for the run to the truck even before TRL is fully aware of the truck. It is a vestigial response from his youth.

Out of the corner of his eye through the window he sees the Insane Clown Posse Truck slowly winding its way towards him. He runs to the front window and reads "Juniper Farms" on the side of the white truck, just above the window where the treats are dispensed. Red, white and blue rocket pops, eclairs stuffed with a chocolate bar, Italian ices, creamsicles, they are all there, and more. But TRL, petting his stomach, knows he cannot chase this dream, not right now, anyway. He would look ridiculous chasing the truck, a grown man in sweat shorts and cheap clogs tearing across the lawn and barreling down the sidewalk in an attempt to flag down the ice cream man. The neighbors would be disturbed. But just to have it reappear in his life is something unexpected and refreshing.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Act 3, Scene 13: “Drive Through”

S’s friend Ami just had a little baby girl, and S, mindful of all the help TRL and S got from friends after they took C&E home from the hospital, told Ami they would be delivering dinner to her, her husband, mother, and their 2-year old daughter. In San Francisco, TRL and S initially had their families helping them as they adjusted to life with two tiny howling bundles of children. But the families soon left back for the East Coast, and that is when the friends stepped in, organizing different days when different friends would deliver food to the house. They wouldn’t stay long, just a hi, some words of encouragement, and the meal. After TRL and S had been up for hours and hours performing all the duties of new parenthood – the diapers and feeding and bathing and holding and rocking and soothing and cleaning up, with little or no time for their own feeding or showering or sleeping – these meals from friends were emotional life savers. So S, being S, wanted to do the same for her friends.

Let’s just go to Trader Joe’s and pick something up, suggests TRL, because they needed to go to Trader Joe’s anyway to do their own shopping.

Pick something up, like a frozen pizza or something, S responds acidly. Come on. That’s not dinner. I’ll call Bertucci’s.

Thirty minutes later, TRL pulls the Volvo wagon into Bertucci’s, an upscalish Italian chain.

They said to park in the marked spots, says S, as she points TRL into a parking spot marked “For Pick-up Only.”

They said they’ll come out to us, she adds.

TRL puts the car in park and immediately puts his hand above the horn, ready to pounce.

No, says S. They said they will be able to see us.

Yeah, right, says TRL, his hand perched over the horn, itching to press into it. But 10 seconds later a smiling teenager in a black waiter outfit comes outside and walks up to the car. TRL rolls down the window.

Order for S?

Yes, says TRL, shocked at the apparent efficiency.

The teenager smiles again and hands over a check. S offers a credit card and the waiter goes back inside.

See, says S.

Hmmm, mutters TRL, thrilled but also still cynical. He slides down in the seat, getting ready to enjoy the down time waiting for the food to come out. The boys in the back are quiet, and the sun is out. But almost immediately the waiter comes out again holding two bags and that smile. TRL sits up.

Ahhh, we should put it in the back, TRL says as the waiter comes to the car. S prepares to hop out but stops at the waiter’s insistence. He then pops open the rear door and slides in the food. He comes around to the front and through the open window hands in the credit card and check. S signs, the waiter smiles and walks back inside, and then stillness. In two minutes, the entire transaction has been completed. And TRL didn’t have to leave his seat. He wonders if for a further service charge the restaurant might chew the food for them as well as drop it down their throats. This was the car hop in the 21st century. Brutally efficient, one didn’t have to leave the comfort of one’s car or have any social or physical interaction with the world beyond the environmentally-controlled auto bubble. TRL had already decided to come back on his own to order dinner. Maybe he would bring a portable DVD player and he could have a little drive-in experience. He wondered if the management might get pissy if he sat in the “For Pick-up Only” parking spot for two hours.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Act 3, Scene 12: “End of Innocence”

How do we know we like something unless we try it? The only way to judge if something works is to try it yourself. Chefs know this as they experiment with the ratios and ingredients of a new dish, artists understand this as they try different mediums and style in pursuit of something they can call their own, and E knows this. In fact, perhaps E knows this better than anyone. He is willing to sample everything life offers because he has no preconceptions of what things he should and should not like, or even what maybe he should take on faith as not working. With experience comes the ability to guess at wrong combinations. Any chef worth his salt would instinctively understand that putting a big scoop of chopped liver on top of vanilla ice cream is a no-no. And even the most brash experimentalist who might just try this out of curiosity would forgo a fish sauce to top it off. With a loss of innocence – the unmitigated enthusiasm to try literally anything – comes also the wisdom to avoid mistakes as well as the knowledge to focus on potentially successful ideas. You leave the Garden of Eden, but at least you have learned to avoid snakes.

E lost his innocence. And it is TRL’s fault.

E lies on the changing pad, feet in the air, his monumentally messy poo in the process of being cleaned up. TRL tosses a wipe in the garbage bag when he sees E do a fast swipe of his hand into his bottom. And just as fast the hand enters the mouth. Things then move in slow motion for TRL. He sees the little hand with the brown smudge perched at the entrance to the open mouth. And he screams “Nooo” while lunging for the hand. TRL grabs it and extracts it before the brown makes contact with the soft pink insides. E stares at TRL, wide-eyed and confused and scared. The pause, and then E starts crying, tears pouring down his cheeks.

It’s OK, says TRL, but you can’t eat your poo. It’s not good for you.

He then whisks E to the sink and washes his hands thoroughly with soap and water, and for good measure flushes his mouth with water.

You didn’t need to wash him down so forcefully, exclaims S after watching and then hearing what happened. He didn’t get any in his mouth. He was just trying something new.

Generally speaking, eating poo is bad, says TRL. Feces is bad for you. E coli.

But he would have learned this on his on, retorts S.

TRL shakes with disgust. He answers: It was a visceral reaction to watching him scoop his ass and about to chomp down on his poo. I never ate my crap, he adds, making a mental note never to ask his parents if this was true.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Act 3, Scene 11: “Squish”

TRL and C & E are playing in the front yard.

Guys, don’t play in the dirt, TRL cautions, not wanting to give them a bath later on.

S waves from the front porch where she is sweeping the pollen, leaves and other drippy and dry things which the trees have been exuding constantly all over the lawn.

Guys, look! TRL exclaims, spotting a large toad trying to hop into the crevice of a tree. TRL scoops up the toad, which promptly lets loose a black liquid all over his hands. Ewwwww, screams TRL dropping the toad. It pooed on me.

The boys stare at the toad, which sits in the grass, catching its breath.

Cool, huh guys, says TRL. It’s a toad.

And then C raises his knee and with the bottom of his foot stomps on the animal.

Nooooo, cries TRL, but too late. When C brings his foot up, the toad is mushed. It has deflated and it is still.

S, screams TRL, S! S, take the boys away.

S comes off the porch. What?

Take the boys away, he says. C stepped on the toad. It’s not good.

E wanders up the lawn and S grabs C to take him away. Ewwww, says S, catching a glimpse of the flattened toad.

TRL feels terrible. He pokes the toad with a stick. He should turn it over, and then dispose of it, he thinks. And suddenly it reinflates and starts breathing. And begins hopping away.

It’s OK, it’s OK shouts TRL, immensely relieved. He turns to C. You gave the toad a booboo, he explains. C immediately begins bawling.

It’s OK, says TRL, but we don’t step on toads. Or any other animals.

TRL stands up, the toad goo all over his hands and the residual horror of watching an animal gets mushed and seemingly killed filling his body. C continues to cry.

It’s OK, S soothes. Toad is alright.