A Gronking To Remember

In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio began the school year with more than double the amount of full-day pre-K slots for city toddlers the year before, serving nearly half of the city's pre-K population with a free full-day pre-K option. Our zoned school already provided free, full-day pre-K before that. On September 9, Mr. Kiddo started there.

Both Jen and I were kind of surprised — actually, very surprised — to learn that children enter pre-K in the calendar year they turn four. Which means that if a child is born on December 31, he or she will go to pre-K as a three-year-old. For me, a casual conversation at the playground turned into this weird realization that Mr. Monkey was entering the school system basically immediately. I gather that (focusing vast sociological powers) there exists a inequitable dynamic when families with means hold back children until they're very ready to kick ass at school. I was going to "cite" Malcolm Gladwell's hockey story, because I've heard it summarized over and over (or at least once), so I figured I'd look at it . . . and, oh well . . . but anyway, suffice it to say, there's this advantage for kids who are older and smarter when they start kindergarten.

All of which is to say, I've been in the company of Mr. Monkey for 99 percent, or probably well over 99 percent of his time on the earth (i.e., out of the womb, not to get prenatal about it). I don't say this to humblebrag or put myself in the running for a father-of-the-year prize or even to elicit sweet looks from elderly women around the neighborhood but rather to contextualize just how strange it is to not know what's going on with him. Also, this is what happens when you don't have budget for a babysitter or nanny or whatnot. Which also is to say, without me, I wouldn't be able to explain that those are not just books sitting sideways on top of other books but rather "pizzas" "cooking" in the "oven." It goes on like this; the smugly satisfying thrill of being able to interpret preschooler headspace. The first day or two I had grisly thoughts about what might happen when he was out of my sight; I sort of get how one can be an insane worrywart; it also passes very quickly, like probably the third day, but not before some other weird fantasies about how it'd probably be OK to homeschool children; that passes when you see actual homeschooled children — not that there's anything wrong with that, but the ones I see on cable just seem a little, I don't know, off or whatnot — like they've been at home with their parents too much.

Which also is to say, it is disconcerting, upsetting and disorienting — like you've blacked out or something and can't remember time — when you don't know or can't quickly figure out what he's been up to. Try figuring out, for example, what in God's name they ate; it's impossible. They have the menus online and nothing makes sense or lines up. It's hopeless. And that's stuff you can sort of factcheck: he came home that first full day and after hounding him for hours — literally, hours — about what they did at school, he finally allowed that the teacher talked about "applesauce." So I googled "applesauce saying" and pretty quickly discovered "criss cross applesauce."

"Do you mean 'criss cross applesauce'?" I asked. His eyes lit up.

"Yes! Yes, that's it: criss cross applesauce," he confirmed, and then proceeded to attempt to sit cross legged, except that he sat on one leg and then bent the other one awkwardly at a 90 degree angle over his knee. And I guess "Indian style" was excised somewhere along the way.

Later that weekend we googled it, and indeed, "Indian style" was ditched for "criss cross applesauce." For about 38 years I assumed that it had to do with Native Americans until I saw the image search for "criss cross applesauce" and saw a person doing some kind of yoga pose; duh, "Indian" meaning "India." I guess I don't understand the harm in "Indian style" except that it probably makes sense to just avoid ethnic anythings altogether. Thus, jaw harp or maybe even the police van. Fair enough. Then again, "sitting cross legged" or "cross your legs" seems pretty obvious, so . . .

Here's something: full-day pre-K in a public school is a great fucking deal and I don't totally understand why people who have the option to send their children to a full-day free public option would pay money — a lot of money — to opt for something that can't possibly be all that different. I actually feel guilty about it: they not only feed your kid lunch but breakfast, too; the only thing you have to do is deliver them there in the morning. (And you quickly get over the fact that they may or may not [not sure exactly what goes on yet] get stuff like skim chocolate milk or whatnot, and even though you've somehow convinced him that chocolate milk is for a special occasion he now knows this is total bullshit.) You go back to life with one child for two-thirds of the day and it feels luxurious and decadent and honestly a little lonely and disorienting — it's not so much that having one kiddo is "easy" but rather it's about relearning what it's like to relearn what it means to be present and parent-y and awesome with a one-and-a-half year-old. It's like rewinding time two years earlier: refreshing, strange, wonderful, lonely, guilty; like you blacked out and erased time.

Today there was mass hysteria at the dropoff — I don't say this lightly; heard from more than one person that the entire class was insane about being abandoned by their caregivers and parental figures. Mr. Monkey got caught up in it and began going on about not wanting to go back to school; we attribute it in part to figuring out that his lot in life now is to be a student. He says he wants me to be his teacher; I almost get sucked into the fiction (I can do this!) but then quickly recenter and come back with some platitudes that neither of us will remember. Ultimately, tomorrow's Friday and at the very, very least he now probably fully internalizes what "the weekend" means; son, don't tell me we never taught you anything.

Posted: September 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , ,

Pass The Ketchup

Before we revealed the news about Mr. Baby, Too to our families, we were convinced that they would be as beside themselves as they were about Mr. Baby. We assumed there would be cheers, high fives and all manner of hoots, hollers and huzzahs — whatever it was, at the very least it would approximate the reaction we got when we announced the news about Mr. Baby.

Uncle Goober, otherwise known as the second child, was convinced the response would be muted. We told Goober he was mistaken, that grandparents are cuckoo bananas for all manner of grandchildren, that once they start being grandparents, they can't stop themselves, sort of like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting: "Jist one more feckin' hit . . ."

And so we set out to tell them when we were all together, just past the twelve week mark. We were all out to dinner and after we got our drinks and appetizers, I dutifully stood up and said that we had some news, that at least one of us was pregnant again. And then one of the dads asked someone else at the table to pass the ketchup. And this pleased Goober greatly.

So yeah, it starts with the grandparents. From there it's an unrelenting trickle of slights large and small: Dad doesn't bother going to any of the doctor appointments, fewer in utero photographs, generally forgetting to tell people about the news. Not only is everything they say about second children is true but you immediately see exactly how it happens.

I will say this for Mr. Baby, Too — we didn't spread the word by saying something along the lines of, "Big news: So-and-so is going to be an older brother!"

And then when the second baby finally arrives it only gets worse: the birth itself is less the miracle of life than amazement at how much the second kid looks like the first one did — "It's the same shot, exactly!" you yell. "Oh, it's uncanny," they respond. You put the kid in the same outfit and take more of the same pictures. You pose the first with the second. The first is the main subject of those shots. Isn't it adorable the way he dotes on his little brother? It goes on and on.

There are subtle differences, too, that don't involve just taking the second one for granted. Just this morning I realized that we now start talking about "the kids" as opposed to just Mr. Kiddo. As in, "Maybe we'll take the kids to the park later?" It sounds weird, kind of like the first couple of times you say "my wife" — when you say "the kids," it's different — you're now a dude with "kids," for one. "The kids" just sounds like it's a big responsibility, you know?

Of course, the structural demands become clear quickly — we're attuned to not making the first one somehow uncomfortable or upset by this new addition. I don't think the second one is starting a shit list just yet, but at some point he'll probably start noticing this being some sort of tragic thing that has befallen him.

. . . . . . . . . .

When we mentioned the ketchup story to the grandparents just after Mr. Baby, Too was born they protested — they love all grandchildren the same, of course, and they were so happy to hear the news, and that they didn't remember anyone asking for ketchup but rather that everyone was very happy to get the news. But they did finally allow that maybe there's a slight difference between the first time and subsequent times.

Of course there is a difference between the first kid and subsequent kids. That's only normal: You're not like Guy Pearce in Memento (as opposed to infants, who sometimes do seem like Leonard Shelby, the character in the film who lacks a memory and who needs important stuff tattooed on his chest [which unfortunately you can't do to toddlers]).

I'm reminded of that old axiom about "parenting is about not letting on that the second child means less than the first." I'm going to turn that one on its head: good parenting is avoiding making the second child feel like an unloved afterthought. And so begins my next great quixotic project: "Second Best," in which the second child somehow receives even more specialized attention than the first. The details are fuzzy, and we're all adjusting to getting less sleep than usual, which may affect the outcomes, but I'll let everyone know how it turns out.

Posted: March 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: ,

Cakes Of Glop, Gruel, Gruel!

Sometime before Mr. Kiddo's second birthday passed I meant to note a few things and never got around to it, not because they weren't important but because there's not ever really a lot of time to note such things.

That's all too bad, because there's been a lot of fun stuff to note — not all of which interesting only to just a small circle of people, either. A slice's crust being a "pizza bone," for example — that will stick with us forever.

But really, the days meld together in this astonishing exponential rate of development that outpaces anyone's ability to reliably recall, let alone catalog. Most of the time it's like, "Dude, fuckin' A." We're super-fortunate. Mr. Kiddo is awesome. I'm not quite sure what we're doing to encourage it, but I'm pretty confident we're not doing anything to discourage it, either, which is probably not a bad place to begin.

Over the last year it's sort of like a fog has been lifting, and this miraculous monkey has come into focus. He's joyful, playful, willful, manipulative, talkative, energetic and impulsive; even the "bad" qualities are good signs for us. He's gentle, focused, inquisitive, bright and empathetic. Oh, and he's really fucking cute. Like I said, I have no idea how any of this happened.

I want to believe diet is a key factor in all this. I happen to think Mr. Kiddo eats pretty well. I feed him, of course, so it could be a bit of circular logic, but whatever. To that end, I would like to share my recipes for glopcake and gruel — otherwise known as "breakfast" and "lunch."

"Glopcake" is basically an inartful term for what is basically a quasi-frittata. The difference, as I understand it, is that where frittata ingredients are folded into the raw egg mixture, the ingredients in glopcake are pulverized into a sort of slurry. Both are cooked the same way.

Glopcake started as a way to incorporate calcium-rich collard greens into eggs. It took off from there. A good glop, I found, incorporates vegetables — whatever you can cram in there — with a small amount of protein. You don't need a lot of protein, but even just a little something helps it not taste like a strange Chinese take-out dish. (I've used many proteins — beef, pork, lamb, chicken, chicken liver, shrimp, mild fish, even leftover sushi — almost anything works.) Add some milk, then pulverize into a thick slurry with an immersion blender. Add one egg per person, pulverize some more, then cook over medium heat in a skillet with olive oil until slurry is firm. Eat with sliced avocado. Milk for child, some kind of caffeinated beverage for adult.

Most who try glopcake enjoy glopcake. They dislike the name. At one point I suggested "skillet-cooked vegetable-protein slurry," but that never quite stuck. So "glopcake" it is.

Continuing the tradition of off-putting names, gruel is what's for lunch, and it's another winner, if I do say so myself. That said, it's a good thing Mr. Kiddo has little context for language. But look, the way I see it, if you're going to spend any amount of time wiping crap out of a human's butt, you owe it to yourself to make that crap as non-offensive as possible. Most people know the blunt-force calculus inherent in consuming too much fatty, junky food: Ensuring a child's diet has sufficient fiber is a gift to everyone. The less said about that the better.

So anyway, gruel is comprised of equal parts quinoa, red lentils and bulgur wheat. Well, not totally equal — usually a little more lentils and a little less quinoa, but that's only because I'm being cheap about it. You add seasoning, then serve. It's in the category of foods we refer to as "S.L.A.K." — "shit like a king." It works. Recipe follows — adjust measurements as necessary.

2 cups water
1/4 cup quinoa
1/4 cup red lentils (replace equal amount of quinoa with red lentils, if cheap)
1/4 cup extra fine bulgur wheat (can use oats or other grain, if desired)
1 tsp garam masala powder (or some such spice) (somewhat optional)
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cider or rice vinegar
Several pinches garlic powder
Several pinches dried herbs such as basil, oregano or thyme
Pinch ginger powder
Several dashes Sriracha or other hot sauce
2 tbsp cheese such as cheddar or ricotta (optional)
Meat and/or bone (optional)

Add quinoa and red lentils to two cups water. Add leftover bones with meat, if desired. Turn on heat to high, bring to boil, then lower to simmer for five or six minutes.

Add bulgur wheat and garam masala powder and stir, let cook for nine minutes.

In bowls divide soy sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, herbs, ginger powder, hot sauce and cheese.

When gruel is finished, spoon into bowls, mix, let cool and serve.

Some notes: Don't get distracted by the subordinate ingredients — the main thing here are the three grains. The rest of it just adds salt, sweet, sour and protein flavors; use whatever you want. Bulgur is supposed to have a low glycemic index (for a grain). The garam masala powder happened because we amassed a ton of it for some reason; before I was using up a big thing of curry powder; neither is necessary; that said, garam masala powder lends a sweet flavor, almost like brown sugar and it's good. I don't know that I can even discern the ginger powder but I began using it in gruels back when Jen was pregnant because ginger is supposed to be good for morning sickness, or something. Ricotta cheese began because it's really high in calcium; it also mixes easily. Adding something like a chicken bone with meat on it adds flavor. Mr. Kiddo likes meat in his gruel, too.

Oh, and for Pete's sake, if you're able to do so, eat with your kid. One, it's awesome. Two, it makes it easier when everyone eats the same thing. Three, you eat healthier if you eat the same stuff as a toddler.

Now that Mr. Kiddo is firmly in the realm of "toddler," it all becomes a little different. And once you feel comfortable with things, it's time to change them up again. This time, I feel confident enough to admit that I'm scared about what happens next. And so it all begins again.

Posted: December 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,