Making the Cut; Labor Days; Upon Reflection; Leggo My Logo!; Sam I Am; Great Pumpkins; What a Difference

Making the Cut

Near my subway stop every morning is an small, bent man. He always has his hand out. He's bony, with white whiskers, hollow cheeks, and eyes both bright and empty. He mutters. He may be on drugs. I wonder how old he is.

I limped past him this morning. "We're getting older!" he said.

"Tripped on my kid's toy," I tell him. I sound almost cheerful, thinking about my little toe down there, wrapped and bandaged in the darkness of my sneaker. I pass the guy a quarter and hold up two fingers. "Twice."

"Too many toys around!" he calls as I hobble to work.

But this is the end of the story. The beginning was last night, when Ned's dinner was almost finished and the bath was about the begin. I ducked into the bathroom and turned off the taps, swiping my hand through the water. Perfect temperature. I glanced at the shape sorter Ned had left on the floor an hour ago and made a mental note not to step on it as I unstrapped him from his high chair and worked him out of his clothes. It was hot -- none of us was wearing shoes -- and I thought how the boys were going to enjoy their bath.

I lifted him out. His arms and legs felt like springs. Ned is getting longer: When I carry him in my arms, his feet come down to my waist now. I carried Ned to his bath. Only later did I realize that this violates one of the major rules of parenting toddlers: Eliminate all unnecessary tasks.

Ned's head blocked my vision at the moment when my foot came down on something weird and I realized that my knee was still bent. A second later, I realized that my foot was slithering out from beneath me and that Ned's skull and the wall were getting closer together. I lifted my foot and took another step while my other foot did something silly and on its own, and again my foot came down on the weird thing that I suddenly realized was SHAPE SORTER!

I pinwheeled for about 20 years and crashed against the wall. Ned was smart enough to have dad's body between him and wall. Nothing, however, sat between my little left toe and the metal baseboard.

Too many toys around! Out of the mouths of crazies. It's amazing how far you can drop-kick a shape sorter. I clutched Ned and pranced about, I believe the term is "grotesquely," until the desire subsided to have my left foot sawn off.

I noticed the smear of blood on the bathroom door. Bright blood, brighter than anyone else's. Ever. On the door and on the floor in drops and on my poor little piggy that goes wee wee wee all the way home.


Jill's good in these situations. First thing she did was order me to get the boys into the tub. Second thing was ask me to move my mangled foot so she could get to the bathroom sink. Third thing was to kick my good foot on the way to the sink. A moment later, she produced a stack of round white fuzzy cloths from the linen closet.

"What are those?" I demanded. "Are those some feminine thing?"

"They are not some feminine thing," she said. "Press this on it." She then produced a Band-Aid. Almost to my disappointment, it seemed to stop the bleeding.

That night, the normally delicious feeling of sliding into the sheets was stabbed by pain. "You have a straightforward cut. It hurts, but it will heal," said Pretend Doctor Jill.

I didn't look forward to pushing my foot into a sneaker next day. Jill asked if I had sandals. I don't. She dug up gauze bandage and hospital tape from the drawer we filled years ago by swiping stuff from Alex's bedside. I wrapped my two end toes in bandage and secured them with tape, feeling like an NFL player. How is it? Jill asked. Okay, I said, manfully.

All next day I limp, afraid to undo the laces and slip off the sneaker and see what walking concrete sidewalks on a 90-degree day has done to my little piggy down there in the darkness of the sneaker. Limp, limp, limp. Jill calls to say Ned had a good day.

Next morning, my foot is better, but because of the limping my calf is achy and stiff. I walk like a has-been NFL player. "Sometimes a limp also screws up your back," says my Pretend Doctor Boss. I don't tell my boss about my blossoming cold sore or my mysteriously aching eye.

I did try to tell the guy outside the subway station about them this morning. He was gone. (July 2002)

Labor Days

I had both the boys on my own for three days out of the four of this past Labor Day Weekend.

Saturday, okay, Saturday was my fault. Jill had early-morning grocery shopping, and had wanted to blow off the second supermarket of that chore and spend the afternoon grocery shopping with me and boys. Oh no, I said. I would rather take the boys on a day-long stroll that hits new playgrounds and keeps them out of Jill's hair for up to six hours.

Saturday: Weather was fine, so I bundled them into the double-stroller and struck off across Central Park to investigate playgrounds on the West Side. Prattle on about puppet shows and zoos: Nothing wears my boys to a nub like new playgrounds. I took the hills in the park to give myself a workout, my legs grinding beyond my sons' chariot as the joggers trotted past.

We hit one playground on Central Park West that has a shady, leafy trellis, two sets of swings, and a couple of climbing contraptions. "Swing, swing!" Alex said, picking the one attraction on the playground that won't let me sit down. Ned shoved his toy stroller around, then got himself soaked at the one working sprinkler. "Climb, Alex, go climb!" I said, propelling him toward the ladders. If he climbs, I can sit, swill bottled water, and daydream about how my sons have reached the "Fire And Forget" stage on playgrounds, and they're smart enough (I tell myself in the shade, cracking my water) not to try anything they can't handle. I watch the boys for a while and nothing much happens and then we leave. We hit McDonald's, where Alex loves the mozzarella sticks and both boys love the ice cream. This holiday weekend isn't about nutrition.

On the way back, we ducked into another playground. Large and urban, not too shady but with many climbing contraptions (what in hell are these called, anyway?). But this playground had a couple of entrances, which was tough with two monsters and one dad with aching hams, and it also sported two magnets for my sons: bathrooms in Alex's case, big boys' basketball courts in Ned's.

Put Alex in the swings and kept heading off Ned. Kept getting back just in time to find Alex hanging limp, all his swing long since gone. "Want me to give him a push?" one dad called. One more playground after that, where Alex road the bouncy horses and some idiot mom left the gate open and I dashed to grab Ned's arm about three feet before the roadway. "Swing, swing?" said Alex. "Want me to give him a push?" said some mom.

We buzzed two other playgrounds for future reference on the way back across the park. Finished up on a playground near our house. All went well there until Ned started walking a balancing act on a narrow line of logs. He was doing fine until some dad waved at him gaily and I watched him vanish in a flash of helpless little upraised arms and upturned little sneakers. He bit his lip upon impact. Cried and cried, while I reconsidered "fire and forget," the dad apologized, and Alex did his part by raiding somebody else's stroller for pretzels.

Sunday: We had a babysitter, took in a movie, and talked about Ikea and Coney Island for the next two days. Either day for either one. Both will be fun, we thought, until-

Monday: Jill woke up with a stomach bug. I figured I could handle that, hams willing, until I slid open the curtain and saw something New York hasn't had in four months. A rainy day.

Elmo. Every Elmo we can find. Plus Wee Sing Train and Mother Goose. I knew I should do more, but parents with bigger kids have trouble with snow days (didn't they make a movie?), and these kids may be Fire and Forget on the playground but they're strictly still semi-smart raccoons in the house. More Elmo. Ned didn't eat his mac and cheese for lunch, so I did, with a salad, while he napped and Alex munched Cheerios. Alex's appetite's gone to hell in the three weeks of vacation from school. Luckily, vacation was set to end on that mirage of a time known this week as Wednesday.

This was Monday. Four months!

The puddle on the roof across the street did eventually show fewer drops, however, and since Jill needed Imodium and my boys aren't made of sugar, I strapped them into the stroller and headed down to a pharmacy on 98th street. We got there soaked. As I struggled with the stroller in the dripping doorway, I could see the clerk inside, watching me and standing like the houseplant he was in the middle of the Imodium aisle. I brushed his foot with the wheels as I wiggled past. He watched Alex reach for things on the shelves. He watched me heave the stroller into the rain. He should need Imodium and not be able to get it and die.

I got home and asked Jill if we had any extra special toys tucked away. She said yes, thank god, and I rooted them out of the closets. The boys strewed the toys around the living room while Elmo wound down in the background, drilling into me with his themes of pets, getting dressed, weather (ha!), dogs, getting dressed, bedtime, telephones, pets, and dogs. Early dinner!

"I want to give the boys a good day tomorrow," I said to Jill before bed that night. "They were very good today, and I want to give them a good day tomorrow."

"I hope I'll be there with you," she said, Coney Island and Ikea now looking as much like a fantasy as Wednesday.

Tuesday: Again, Jill woke up sick. Across the Park again, eventually turning them loose in one of the playgrounds we'd scouted on Saturday. Gave Alex five minutes on the swing, then steered him to more climbing and sliding. Ned took another kid's tricycle, then pushed his own toy stroller around and around until he took a header trying to maneuver it down some concrete stairs. Bit his lip, cried for a few seconds, then back in the game. Not so much "fire and forget," then, as "fire and stare at."

We spent maybe 90 minutes here, then again his McDonalds. Got Alex interested in the chicken planks. Ned ate fries. Neither finished their cone. Then we stopped in, oh Christ, a CVS and two grocery stores looking for raspberry and strawberry Jell-O for Jill. Couldn't get past the entryway of two grocers with the double stroller. Female customer shot me a dirty look. She should need Jell-O and be unable to get it and die. Had my best luck in Hispanic bodegas, where I could park the boys near the register while kindly owners watched them. Ned passed out somewhere in here.

Hit another playground. Alex did maybe 20 minutes in the swings, and we headed out. My hair was stiff with sweat; my hams howled. Had to stop twice crossing the Park and rest on a rock, Alex twisting around and rooting for pretzels in the diaper bag. Rubbed and rubbed my legs, and marveled at the good names they give some holidays. (September 2002)

Upon Reflection

Here are three things that happened to us. Jill and I torture ourselves re-playing them, now having had time to realize what we should have said.

--First Incident: About 10 in the morning on a weekday. The elevator bank of my building, on my floor. I have Alex by one hand and a car seat in the other. I'm off from work, Jill's parents are waiting downstairs to drive us to Coney Island, and Jill has asked me to take Alex and the car seat down and she'll follow with Ned. At the elevators, I see that the building maintenance guys are using one of the two elevators to collect the recyclables from each floor.

The door opens. Crowded, but people shuffle aside for us to move in. The seat is the bitch. And this is crummy luck: Any other day I wouldn't have had the car seat, probably wouldn't have had Alex in tow, and would've just waited for another elevator. I get in. Tight fit, and people shuffle. I hear a yip from the back of the car.

"Sorry," I hear a man say.

"Wasn't your fault," I hear a woman's voice reply. "Elevator's crowded."

I recognize this woman. She often broods by the mailboxes, and who came out of the building one recent Saturday and said to Jill, who had our stroller maybe too-near the door, "Excuse me!"

Wasn't your fault. Elevator's crowded. Excuse me. They don't read like comments that would motivate sass. Except this building old-timer has put a spin on your, on crowded, and a dilly on Excuse. I guess I just don't feel like listening to it.

"I'm sorry, but they're using the other elevator to haul garbage, and I don't think they should do that in mornings when people have to get somewhere!"

Ever see "Sanford and Son," when Redd Foxx gave lip to Aunt Esther? "IlivehereandIgotarighttosayanythingIwant!" the lady fires. She's still erupting when I get off the elevator.

Upon Reflection: I think this woman has lived in my building a long time. I don't know if she has children -- I am reasonably sure what she'd be like to mate with -- and I suspect that she has had years of being sick with one thing or another. Now she's seeing new people on her turf. These are, of course, more thoughts about her problems than she will ever give to mine.

What I Should Have Said: "Anybody remember 'Sanford and Son?'"

--Second Incident: Sunny, hot afternoon at a sidewalk bookseller. I again have Alex by the hand. He tugs and moans to head on as I fumble bills out of my pocket to pay for a paperback. He tugs and tugs. I'm sorting the money when I guy appears.

He has a crisp salt-and-pepper haircut, a button-down blue dress shirt that is neatly tucked in, and a cigar. "Count your money," he says.

I figure he's with the bookseller, who has just finished cluttering my head with stories about how he bleaches the sidewalk around his table for sanitation. I figure this new guy is really saying, "Count your money. I'll watch the boy." Stupid and bothered in the sun, I thank him.

"You didn't have a ten?" he asks.

I don't know. Alex is tugging. Later I will tell myself that Alex is worth more than 10 dollars.

"I- No."

"Okay!" he chirps and walks away, and then I spot the unfolded $10 bill in his hand.

Upon Reflection: I should stop trying to figure out what people are trying to say, and just listen to them. This guy could have obviously afforded to give my errant 10 bucks back, and he asked enough questions to convince himself he wasn't mugging a frantic dad.

What I Should Have Said: "I dropped a ten, a cheap cigar, and your morals."

--Third Incident: Jill looks up when I come through the door at the end of the day and says, "Boy, we had an ugly incident in the elevator today. A lot uglier than yours."

She'd been coming in with Alex, who was pushing Ned's toy stroller and who, as he sometimes does lately, screamed. I'm no fan of screaming kids, especially my own. Apparently neither was another building old-timer who was on the elevator at the same time.

Jill claims the ("FAT!") woman said, "Can't you control your kid?!" Jill reportedly explained that Alex has special problems.

"I can see that!" the woman replied. Then Alex, working in an oblivion I wish I could visit sometimes, brushed the toy stroller against the (FAT!) woman's foot.

"I got diabetes!" the woman exploded. "I don't want anybody messin' with my feet!"

Upon Reflection: I think the past four years have taught me that when I am old -- even if I'm FAT and people try to mess with my feet -- I'll be able to see that some little boys scream because they have special problems.

What Jill Should Have Said: "Sometimes the world makes parents want to scream, too." (September 2002)

Leggo My Logo!

"Elmo is only one example of a rising concern that corporate underwriting in public TV has gone too far." -- The Wall Street Journal

I am raising two little Americans. They saw logos before they were born: "GE" on the screens of the fetal monitors, "3M" on the sterile surgical wrap, "Sony" on the operating room boom box. I looked around at the masks and the blood and wondered if these corporations had washed their hands.

Alex knows logos. "Don't take him by there!" Jill warned one day as we were all walking down East 42nd Street. She was pointing to a red and yellow McDonalds banner, flapping over the sidewalk like a flag over enemy headquarters. "If Alex sees that he'll want to go in, and I don't want him eating that stuff again today!"

For months, we've been taking Alex to McDonalds. There his eating disorders have melted before the world-famous fries. It became a regular stop after chilly afternoons on the playgrounds; once he ate a whole Filet O'Fish. After swimming class one Saturday afternoon, I broke his cheese barrier with McD's mozzarella sticks. This summer McD's and Mister Softee finally helped get some ice cream into him. It's the only restaurant where we're guaranteed to please him.

A "logo" to a kid used to be Snoopy or the Cat In the Hat: They made money for somebody, and were commercialized, but the kid didn't care. I grew up when TV programs ran commercials only 15 minutes apart, during rigidly scheduled bathroom breaks, and they didn't besmirch the corner of the screen with their logo during the whole program like our PBS station does during "Sesame Street." If Elmo's a corporate figure, he's more palatable than most -- though I did notice, when Alex first started watching him, that Elmo's computer did in fact say AOL's "You've got mail!" just like the WSJ reported. Alex loves him. "Elmo" was one of Alex's first words, before "mommy," "daddy," or "water."

Corporations seem to hit children harder today, and special needs families encounter corporations and logos more than most. Enfamil makes it clear that they provide the most nutritious glop to drip into your kid with a feeding pump. The Nelcor name blazed across the front of every pulse-ox we owned, including the piece of crap that consistently told us Alex was satting in the low 30s for hours at a time the first week he was home. Integra, I think, trumpeted its name on the oxygen concentrator that blew our apartment's circuits for much of July, 1999.

My friend Jon thinks corporations are pernicious, without exception. I merely wonder when the low-end retail corporation became the paragon of human organization, how Wal-Mart somehow got New York City subway conductors to call passengers "customers." I also don't believe corporations have wormed into my family's medical life just for the warm fuzzy of it. Research by drug companies categorically supports use of drugs and equipment made by that company. Nelcor conveniently makes the probes for its own pulse-oximeter, contraptions of sticky gauze that last about two nights on the average active baby. Enfamil happens to make a growth chart to help doctors tell when a kid needs more Enfamil.

Believe medical corporations long and willingly enough, and you might be right back in that little room reading "GE" and "3M."

Still, it's going to be especially hard to dynamite Alex off his love of corporations. The other day, for instance, I bought him a can of Pringles. He spied them in the store and they were at eye height, and that was that. They do him no good, and sometimes it takes several meals to get him back to real food after one of us (me) breaks down and buys him a can.

A few days later, he darted into the kitchen before dinner, saw the red canister in the pantry, and said, "Pingles! Pleeeze!" He had never said "please" unasked before.

"He said 'please.' He said a brand name..." said Jill, handing him a few.

I tell myself that my kids just want what they want, that they don't understand there's a corporation involved. Ned doesn't care who makes the ball. Alex doesn't care what division of Alcoa forged the steel of the playground ladder. They're just things for fun along a path of milestones. Like the one passed just last night, in the bath, when Ned said one of his first words. He said, "Elmo." (October 2002)

Sam I Am

Green Eggs and Ham was a classic when I was in elementary school, but I rarely looked into it. I preferred the sophistication of "Peanuts" to the sing-song of Dr. Seuss. From the heights of first grade sophistication, I dismissed Seuss's drawings as too curvy, overblown, and ridiculous.

Alex and Ned disagree.

"Who wants to read?" I call, and from all corners of their bedroom there comes a rush of toddler. Alex usually scrambles up with a binkie in his mouth and holding his stuffed Elmo and one of my T shirts. Ned just bounces up hard enough to make a tired dad jump at the end of another day.

"'That Sam I am, That Sam I am, I do not like that Sam I am!'"

Ned's head spins like Linda Blair's as I take up our copy, a well-thumbed orange hardcover, soft at the corners and chipped at the spine (much like tired dad). Some sort of Dr. Seuss Library order form has been ripped out in the front. The "Not on a train!" page is scotch-taped. The "They are so good, so good, you see!" page has a scribble of black pen.

Not in a box, not with a fox, not in a car, not in a tree. At that point I whisper a private joke into Alex's ear -- "The leopard sleeps in the tree," a line from a book from his second year, and he laughs politely -- and we're off.

"Do you like green eggs and ham?"

That line used to make me sick. As a grade-schooler of the late Sixties, I was taught to trust the Food and Drug Administration and my Health textbook, both of which maintained that green was the color of rot in all foods except vegetables and sour lime gum.

"Would you like them here or there?"

This line is the first of what has made Green Eggs an engaging book for more kids than will ever grow up to read me, no matter how sophisticated I become. At "here" and "there," I give a little poke to Alex's ribs or the nape of Ned's neck and feel them double up in tight joy.

I've learned to appreciate the classic sing-song of the book; it's not just lilting gibberish. "Would you" and "Could you," for instance, are positioned to provide clues for when for precisely when a kid should pipe up "box," "fox," "boat," and "goat." Alex likes the blue of the pages in the tunnel, and after the boat sinks. "Wah-ta," he always says. "A train! A train! A train! A train!" sets the guys off, too.

Some nights, I like to read it like Or John F. Kennedy ("Do you, ah, like, ah, green eggs and, ah, ham?") or William Shatner ("Do you ... like ...greeneggsandham ... I ... donotlikethem ... Sam I am. Would you ... could you ... onaboat?"). Ned likes William Shatner. Sometimes I read like my brother, who drags out his vowels especially long when responding to nagging, in a weary, go-home-you-outastate-a, Maine drawl:

"I do not like them, Sam. I. Am!"

The book contains a number of classic lines, including the one heard countless Saturday nights at co-ed colleges ("Would you, could you, in the dark?") and another heard moments later on countless Saturday nights at co-ed colleges ("I would not, could not, in the dark!"). What else are we supposed to think about a book that contains the line, "Would you, could you, with a goat?"? Seuss must have put this stuff in to keep parents smirking long past the billionth reading, long past the point where a parent simply could not, would not, read this thing again.

It's a sweet story, proving we should all keep an open mind, at least until after first grade, about important things like food and books. Some nights, I'm glad the guy gives in and discovers he likes green eggs and ham (Jill continues to hope for a similar breakthrough with me regarding olives.). Other nights, I hope he doesn't give in. But he always does, he enjoys his discovery, and my boys go to sleep thinking that tomorrow, if you just nag people enough, anything will be possible. (October 2002)

Great Pumpkins

The Sunday before Halloween, I'm even sicker than normal of another rerun of "CinderElmo" and I decide it's time Alex and Ned broaden their horizons. I reach for the orange video box on my bookshelf. "Now this isn't Elmo," I warn them, mostly Alex.

I fast-forward through the coming attractions until I finally get Lucy and Linus emerging from their house. The boys watch in silence as the cartoon siblings walk to the pumpkin patch. As Linus starts rolling the giant pumpkin home and the music kicks in, Ned is staring with a drop of drool on his lip. Alex twitches into a small smile. The music gets stronger. Dadada-DUM, dadadadadadada-DUM, dadadada, do dooo...

I'm a dad. It's Halloween, and I know what to do. "It's Charlie Brown!" I tell them. Either Ned needs a diaper change or he's starting to dance. Dadada-DUM! I pretend to play the piano across Alex's chest and back, and he laughs. By the last "da," they're both pretending to play the piano themselves. When the ghosts and black cats appear to scare the trick-or-treaters, I make elaborate scary noises. Ned says, "Ooooooo." Then he goes, "Whoooo" when the owl flies into the camera. This is parenthood.

This is going to be their first real Halloween. Alex was sick last year. Ned was still kind of a blob. This year, we've got a cape for Alex and a kitty suit for Ned, with ears. Neither boy can say, "Trick or treat!", but we've been working on Ned's meow. Alex hates the cape ("Have Jeff try it on," grandma advises, "have Elmo try it on."). Last night, Jill was sampling lipsticks to fix what color would look most like blood on Alex's chin. This afternoon, I added a little plastic bat to pin to Alex's shirt.

This is going to be Halloween.

On the afternoon of the 31st, I run Alex's cape and some treats over to his school, where they will be trick-or-treating classroom to classroom. I find Alex over his morning snack. He keeps shrugging off the cape -- even though Elmo did model it -- and I try to slip a little pair of sunglasses over his eyes. He's also wearing his black, white, and orange sweater. Someone hands us a plastic jack-o-lantern (Alex quickly drops the sunglasses in it), and I've been drafted for trick-or-treating. Alex and I join the rest of his class (a clown, a fireman, a princess, a tiger), and the teachers, and go from doorway to doorway.

The halls are crowded with other classes. Some doorways are draped with orange and black crepe paper. Alex spends a lot of the event staring at the ceiling and turning his body from side to side. He follows the teachers sort of out of habit. When we pose for pictures, he doesn't look at the camera. The school nurse, other teachers, and therapists drop candy into the buckets. Alex says "thank you" when I prompt him.

People drop in chocolate, gum, a little tissue-paper lollypop ghost. Nobody drops in a rock. "Do we have any allergies?" one teacher asks in a doorway, reaching into her bucket of candy. "No," I reply. "Alex's mother and I have no allergies to candy."

At quarter to five that afternoon, Jill calls to say Alex has a raging fever. I rush home with memories of last Halloween, and find him happily watching Elmo. Ned is already bedecked in his cat costume; some of Jill's playdate friends and their little pirate have also joined us.

"Alex?" I call. "Cape?" No way. He shrugs it off. Ditto the bat.

"Jill has been happy all afternoon," our babysitter says. "She should have a holiday like this every day."

We set out with a kitty and a pirate, and with me in the cape. Alex is wearing dark pants and a black Old Navy T shirt. At every door, I explain that his costume is that of a little boy who won't wear his cape. Ned wants to go into every apartment. Instead of "trick-or-treat," we get him to meow. The boys carry plastic jack-o-lanterns. Mostly, Jill and I carry them. Little candies hit the bottom with a plunk. Ned soon finds the red licorice stick and gets started on his first cavity.

We return home about 6:20, having hit about half a dozen floors of our building. It's bedtime for the pirate, and the boys have to get a last bit of video before bath and bed.

Ned hoots again at the owl. Alex busts a gut when Lucy pulls the football from Charlie Brown. Dadada-DUM. It's been Halloween. And tomorrow, when it's November and the spooky decorations suddenly look morbid, another tape will be waiting on the bookshelf. In a couple of months, you'll find out what Christmas is all about, Alex and Ned. (November 2002)

What A Difference

Yesterday, December 7th, Jill had some stuff to do for the holidays and I kept the boys busy by letting them crawl all over me in the living room. They're young and frighteningly energetic, like very smart cats, and they wore me down until I turned to Jill and said, "Somebody's had a poop. I think it's me." She laughed and laughed, and I did too once I'd confirmed it was Alex who'd had the poop.

Wondering about the control of my own bowels is only one of the changes to wrack my life since having kids. Among others:

-"Poop" means more than it used to.

-Tickling has become my primary means of social interaction.

-I brought the boys home from the park one recent Sunday at 4 p.m. That hour used to be the switchover valley between NFL games; now it's about 75 minutes before the earliest I can responsibly present my sons with their dinner. Since I'd given them two runs in the park that day, I was thinking dinner and bath would be followed by peace and quiet by 7 p.m. I turned on the TV and reached for an Elmo tape, but not before I made one grab at my past and tried to catch the score of what PK (Pre Kids) had been my favorite football team. And lo, the game was on! Twenty-seven seconds to go, my Redskins by three, Rams with the ball on the Washington 30. "Hey guys, look!" I said to my sons. "El-MO," replied Alex. Then the Rams ripped up the middle to the Washington 5. "Uh-oh," said Ned. I put on Elmo. Later, in the sweet quiet that blankets our home after 7 p.m., I learned the Redskins had in fact won, but didn't think about it much.

-I do not watch Elmo after 7 p.m. A Dancing Elmo commercial came on the other night, and I changed the channel.

-While my boys are awake, there is nothing on TV but Elmo. I don't know why the networks do this.

-Once, I didn't know who "Elmo" was. I thought the head Muppet was Kermit. Now I find Kermit has been mothballed, like Buster Keaton, to cameos in Elmo videos.

-New York used to be the city that never slept. New Yorkers used to watch TV, mingle in bars and restaurants, and roam the streets until the wee hours. Now, however, New Yorkers get home at 5:45 p.m. They're steadily more drowsy by the end of bath time at about 6:30, and are positively relieved when their house goes quiet by 8 o'clock. New York will not wake up again until about 7 a.m., unless somebody has a cold.

-I own a high chair, two booster seats, two car seats, and a bottle of "Goo Gone." I own a toddler bed, a crib, a changing table, and a bottle of "Crayon Gone." I no longer own a cat carrier, though some weekend afternoons I think one might be handy. My home is filled with bright-colored plastic objects that 20 years from now will be worth a fortune on eBay, but that will all be broken. They all have sharp edges which, if dropped, never miss my toes.

-I should have said, when dropped.

-I've learned that Crayon Gone is dynamite on a TV screen.

-At family parties, I have to eat more rapidly.

-Once a week I bring home two big clips of diapers from CVS, and the bags fit our kitchen garbage cans perfectly.

-Jill and I recently took a plane trip to a parenting conference. In the airport, I heard a baby crying. The baby wouldn't stop. Some travelers looked annoyed. I wondered what the baby needed. On the plane, I noticed what toys kids had on their fold-down trays, and how soon they fell asleep after takeoff.

-At one point, Jill was jammed into a coach seat with a book open on her lap and her purse wedged under feet. We'd left the boys home with our babysitter. Our plane was stuck on the tarmac for an hour, awaiting takeoff. "This is no problem!" Jill said.

-Our babysitter is named Stacy. Our baby is named Ned. Once, one of our favorite shows was "Ned and Stacy," starring Debra Messing. Wouldn't it be cool if someday our grandkids were named Will and Grace?

-I'm thinking about a will.

-The "wee hours" begin at 11:30 p.m. (December 2002)


Go to Chapter VI.

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