Sunday, December 05, 2010

A chomp off the old block

I picked up this life-changing book the other day. Well, I assume it’s life-changing, once the reader moves beyond the purchasing phase and into the “reading the actual book” phase, but I’m not quite there yet, due to circumstances entirely within my control. Namely, the circumstance of preferring video games to life improvement.

A life improvement seemed in order a couple of weeks ago, when our toddling son Evan buried his cute little face into my shoulder.

“Aw, hey Buddy, what’s going OW!” I shrieked (in a very manly way, of course). You probably wouldn’t know this unless you’ve had them sunk into your shoulder, but baby teeth are like miniature samurai swords, not yet dulled from years of slashing through McNuggets. I don’t understand how pacifiers withstand the onslaught without being made of diamonds or Kevlar.

As I pushed Evan away, he smiled at me, my stretched shirt still caught in his razor-sharp choppers. Then he opened his mouth wide and went in for a second helping of shoulder sushi.

“No!” I yelled, grabbing him by the arms and giving my best angry father face, which is an easy face to make when your child has just treated your shoulder like Evander Holyfield’s ear.

“Baby! You can’t yell at him like he’s the dog,” my wife Kara said.

I looked back at Evan, immediately sorry for the emotional scarring his first fatherly discipline had inflicted on his tender, developing psyche.

Evan threw back his head, drew in a great breath and squealed with delight, clapping his hands and dancing. (“Dancing” is a term I use loosely here to define a semi-rhythmic bouncing achieved by flexing the knees, which also describes what I do at weddings when hiding in the bathroom ceases to be an option.)

Kara was right. You can’t yell at a baby the same way you would a dog because as soon as you do, the baby thinks he’s just invented a hilarious new game, while the dog would mope around until you apologize and rub its tummy.

Clearly, I needed a new strategy for communicating with Evan. He had no idea that his actions had failed to live up to our household’s high standards of non-cannibalism. Stern words and angry faces weren’t doing the trick, so I turned to the Internet and ordered Dr. Haim Ginott’s “Between Parent and Child,” a book that received high marks for helping to keep your children from eating you alive, figuratively and otherwise.

Last Saturday night, after Evan went to sleep, I found myself faced with the choice between reading a book that would help me to have a richer relationship with my son and playing a game on my iPod that consisted entirely of shooting birds out of a slingshot. By about the 700th bird, I’d forgotten all about the guilt.

Another reason I have yet to crack the book is that Evan, for the time being, seems to have renounced his werewolfian ways. He hasn’t tried to make Dada-touille out of me since that one evening, but I think the episode officially marked the transition to a new phase of parenthood: the Age of Discipline.

Our neighbor with two elementary-school-aged kids had warned me that this day was coming.

“As they get older, parenthood becomes less physically trying, and more mentally so,” she said, standing beside her mailbox as her kids played in the yard. “You don’t have to carry them around and do everything for them anymore, but you always have to be thinking and steering them in the right direction.”

As if to emphasize the point, her daughter kneed her son in the crotch, functionally terminating the conversation, so I turned Evan’s stroller away and continued down the street.

Upon further reflection, I think I’ll buy an athletic cup when I go to pick up my new shoulder pads.

You can give Mike Todd a stern talking to at

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