Tuesday, June 24, 2008

First Comes the Party, Then Come the Hangover

My family and I had a great weekend.

On Saturday afternoon we all traveled up to my wife's aunt's house in New Hampshire for a party. My wife's cousin just graduated from high school, and her Mom threw an enormous party for her. There was food and drink, a few sports games played, and finally fireworks and a bonfire. Quite a time.

And a quick aside - the family softball game was a heck of a lot of fun. It started out as a serious game, but then the kids wanted to get involved, and the adults began making multiple intentional comical and ridiculous errors to ensure that every kid at least got on base. My five year old hit a home run every time just by making contact with the ball and, having never really played before, she just kept running. The adults didn't want to tag her out, so they just kept dropping the ball, throwing it to the wrong player, missing the tag, etc. And she just kept running, sometimes tagging the base and sometimes not.

Also, when the graduation girl came up to bat, and I was pitching, I intentionally beaned her with the ball. It took her brother several minutes to stop laughing long enough to give me a high-five.

We didn't leave until very late, and the kids were so keyed up after everything that even then they didn't really fall asleep on the ride home.

The next day, Sunday, they were able to sleep in a little late, but then we had another party to go to, at the home of a current friend and former co-worker of mine. It had threatened to thunderstorm all afternoon, so he decided to cook indoors. He has an enormous, wall sized television as the central asset to his home theater, and for indoor entertainment we had a showing of the Jungle Book, followed by a rousing game of Monopoly.

It was quite a weekend, and Monday we paid the price.

Most kids, when they get too much activity and not enough sleep, are miserable. Mine are no exception. They all took up temper tantrums as a hobby, and getting into fights with each other as a profession.

But the queen was my five year old.

She was in the car seat behind my wife. She was throwing a knock down, drag out temper tantrum, and kicking her feet, when she accidentally took it too far. My wife, in her infinite benevolence, was trying to comfort her so she could calm down by reaching back and asking her to hold her hand. My daughter, eyes closed and kicking, ended up kicking the back of my wife's headrest, and only missed her head by and inch.

Life, like football, is a game of inches, and today my daughter is alive because of that inch. If she had actually connected with my wife's head, I would have killed her.

In the immortal words of Bill Cosby, "I brought you into this world, I'll take you out. And it don't make no difference to me, I'll make another one, look just like you."

I have never spanked any of my children, but it's not because I don't believe in it. It's just that none of the kids has ever done anything in my presence that has warranted it. My wife says that she does not believe in spanking, and that there are always better options. But more than once, she has been pushed to the edge of her tolerance and swatted someone on the behind. Not me. I always say that if you give me a good enough reason to unleash the "Ultimate Punishment", then it will arrive for you swiftly and surely, unencumbered by either hesitation or guilt. Perhaps because of this, they have yet to push the issue all the way.

But my daughter came awfully close. Within one inch, to be exact.

As it was, I pulled over the van, yanked her out, and sat her down on the curb for 15 minutes while my wife and I sorted it out and decided her fate.

Computer time is a big deal in our house. It is carefully measured and monitored, everyone has to take turns, only so much time is available. Therefore, having computer time taken away is a big deal, too. To have to quietly sit in the living room, only a few feet away from the precious computer, while some undeserving sibling is enjoying what should be your computer time, watching them as the revel in it; I'm sure that small some part of the children would almost rather get spanked than have to give up computer time.

I advocated for three full days of no computer. My wife (again with the benevolence...) vetoed anything over one full day. She said that the way I immediately pulled her out and sat her down certainly got her attention, and that a full day with no computer would make her remember.

Was I advocating too harsh a punishment? Did my wife end up being too lenient? My daughter is only five. It's difficult to find the path to follow, to strike the balance.

As it is, we have had a few exciting days here. First comes the party, then comes the hangover.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

It's been a while since I have made a post. I have been as sick as the proverbial dog, and I just didn't have the energy to spend on anything beyond basic functions. Several of my friends had the same bug. It left me almost completely debilitated. Even when I began to get better, all I had to do was climb a flight of stairs and, as soon as I reached the top, I would have to stop for a spell of spastic coughing, followed by the production of things better left to the imagination.

Last Wednesday night I tried going out for a walk at the park, adn that worked well enough. So last night, Monday, I actually went back to the gym. I got in 4 miles on the treadmill, followed by a couple of hard rounds hitting the punching bag, and I felt good. For a change.

This brings me around, interestingly enough, to my real topic - marital conflict.

Every married couple has to fight about something. I think it's actually in the rulebook. It's not the same thing with every couple, but everyone has something. If you don't, either your spouse is actually a paid employee who puts up with you for the money, or one of you is the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandi. For my wife and I, it's my desire to exercise. Or, perhaps more precisely, my desire to train.

And there is a difference.

On just about every other aspect of our lives, we use one of three models that pretty much works everything out for the best: compromise, delegation, or assumption of responsibility.

Compromise is easy to explain. On some things, we work it out and come to an agreement. Disciplining the kids. Meals. Extra curricular activities. Do we or don't we ride up to Canobie Lake Park this weekend.

Delegation is easy to explain, too. For some things, one of us is just better at it that the other, or cares more, or has more time to do it. I already wrote about how much better my wife is at monitoring the kids' health and wellness. On my side, I have an economics and mathematics background, so she told me that she would feel better if I handled our finances and investments.

And as far as Assumption of Responsibility goes, we have a rule in our house that has solved many an argument before it started: if you don't like the way I do it, feel free to do it yourself. Earlier tonight I was putting my 5 year old daughter to bed and telling her one of my famous "Blue Monkey" stories. These are loud, raucus tales involving a nerdy college student who spontaneously turns into a giant blue monkey in conditions of stress, and then proceeds to do all kinds of bizarre, socially unacceptable, and sometimes disgusting things. They are very entertaining to a 5 year old. My wife doesn't think they are the best thing before bed - they might get the kids too riled up. Maybe she's right, but she never says anything. If she asks me to put the kids to bed, she knows there will often be a "blue Monkey" story. If she doesn't want the story, then she puts them to bed herself. On my side, my wife doesn't always do things around the house the way I would do them, but I'll be darned if I am going to say anything about it. She has a lot to do, and if I don't like it, I am welcome to go do some of it myself - any time I want.

I love going to the gym and training hard. Before I got married, I used to run about 30 miles per week, plus martial arts, boxing, swimming, and weight lifting. I took enormous pride in what I could do physically - how strong I was, how fast I could run, how far I could run; how tough I was, both mentally and physically. Then I got married and, more importantly, had kids. Especially my five year old. I know you have heard of sympathy weight. Well, when my wife got pregnant, something flicked a switch in my head. After work, instead of going to the gym, I wanted to come home and cuddle with my wife, rub her tummy, and go out for ice cream.

And that's the insideous part. I wanted to do it. I was happy skipping my workouts and coming home.

I don't even like ice cream!

The diet and exercise industry in the US is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry. I can sum up the entire combined wisdom and efforts of this entire industry in on equation. Ready?

"Eat Less" + "Do More" = "Lose Weight"

See? Very simple. My problem was that this equation has an equal and opposite equation.

"Eat More" + "Do Less" = "Gain Weight"

I was eating all the regular meals I had always eaten, plus taking her out for ice cream sundaes all the time, and I went from about 1500 calories per day of caloric expenditure from exercise on average to 0. In the 9 months she was pregnant, I put on 90 pounds and 14 inches on my waist.

I'm not as heavy as that now, but I'm still fat. My wife just doesn't understand why I want to get back into "fighting" shape. She was never a big exerciser. The only reason she can rationally understand for why a person might want to run is if they were in a building that was on fire. She loves me just the way that I am, she just doesn't understand why I am unhappy. In a sense, she is right. It's one thing to just want to be healthier, it's quite another to want to be able to run a marathon - or step into the ring and fight for 6 rounds.

It's because of who I am. It's not that physical things came hard for me, but it's that anything intellectual was always so easy for me by comparison. I could give a 50% effort in school, and still be #1 - so I never valued my accomplishments there. I never took pride in them. But in sports, my talents were only a little better than average, so if I wanted to excel I had devote myself with a passion. When I boxed and kickboxed, I often fought somebody who was naturally stronger, faster, or more agile than I was. The only way that I could win was by trying harder, preparing better, working harder on technique, and having better conditioning. When I won, it meant something to me. I was proud of myself, and what I had accomplished.

Today, it's sad to say, I really lack any pride in myself, because when it comes to my physical self now, I am really very average. Mediocrity isn't cause for pride, it's cause for shame or embarrassment. It's very difficult to do anything about, because training takes time - time to run 8 miles instead of just 2, time to hit the puching bag, and the speed bag, and to spar, and jump rope, and lift weights. Time to do it 4 or 5 days per week, not 1 or 2. Time away from my wife and kids who love me, and need me, and have the right to have me around. And my wife just can't understand why I'm not that guy who was content to sit on the couch and eat ice cream with her while she was pregnant, any more than she can flap her arms and fly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Sunday, June 1st, was my Birthday. Without giving away an exact number, I'll say that I'm a LOT closer to 40 than I would like...

What can I say? It was one HECK of a day. I started off with an old stand by - I took my son to the Home Depot. That is ALWAYS a thrill.

After that, my wife and I and all four kids met my parents at a local restaurant.

Have you ever seen National Lampoon's: Christmas Vacation?

EVERYTHING went wrong. The poor waiter was brand new, and really didn't know what the heck he was doing. It was still early enough on a Sunday that the after-church crowd was still around, and it was very busy. He had nobody to help him, and he mixed EVERYTHING up. My father and I couldn't stop laughing. He mixed up the drinks. Then he spilled one on the birthday cards the girls had spent all morning making for me. He brought us the wrong appetizers. Then he forgot to bring one of my daughters' meals entirely. Finally, when it was time for ice cream, he brought it for the adults and forgot all of the kids. It was a disaster.

But what can you do? He was just a kid himself, he was obviously very new, and he was overwhelmed. My Dad and I just kept laughing at everything, and tried to get him to laugh along with us.

Afterwards, my wife and I took the kids to the park and, wouldn't you know it, the water pump in my van cracked open like an egg JUST as I was pulling into my parking space. It drained all of the coolant out of my radiator, all over the parking lot. By this time, I just couldn't stop laughing.

We had a WONDERFUL time at the park. We visited war memorial and walked along all of the trails there, then went up the hill to the petting zoo (the worker there was nice enough to fill up a water jug for me to pour into my radiator, just so I could get the van home safely) and pet the goats/sheep/horses/etc. The peacocks were putting on a show for the females, and all the kids were amazed by their beautiful plumage. And they had two new pigs in the pigpen. Pigs are ALWAYS a big hit with the kids, because they are totally gross and disgusting.

(Brief Aside: I had alway been told that it was a myth that pigs were dirty animals. For anyone who hasn't been to the zoo in a while, you may be surprised to find that THAT'S the myth. Pigs are actually unspeakably dirty. They revel in projectile defecation.)

Perpective counts. If you get wrapped up in the ups and downs of daily existence, it can certainly wear on you. But both of my parents are still alive, thank G-d. Not everyone my age gets to say that. I have a beautiful and wonderful wife, and we both love each other very much. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to say that, either. And I have four smart, healthy, well-adjusted kids. And I got to spend my birthday with all of them. I am a VERY lucky guy, and I REALLY enjoyed my birthday.

(Special thanks to one of my wife's dearest friends; she invited everyone over and threw a birthday dinner-party for me later that night. The London Broil was perfect).

Happy Birthday to Me!