Monthly Archives: September 2010

What Is Your Major Malfunction?

Didn’t think I could draw a parallel between sports and potty training? Well here it comes…

In the 2004 AFC divisional playoffs, the Patriots played the Colts and no one thought there was any way the Pats defense could stop the high-octane passing attack of Peyton Manning. All week long leading up to the game people wondered how coach Bill Belichick would manage to slow down that offense. They talked of highly complicated defensive formations, bend but don’t break and countless other schemes Belichick might employ.

But in the end, he and the Patriots did it the old fashioned way.

My favorite player of all time in any sport is Tedy Bruschi. And in that game, Bruschi made a play I’ll never forget. Running back Dominic Rhodes  caught a short screen pass and tried to run with it. Instead of simply tackling Rhodes, Bruschi charged up to him and ripped the ball out of his hands. Fast forward to the 2:30 mark of this video to see the clip.

I’m not talking punched the ball out or anything like that. Tedy Bruschi took the ball from Rhodes. He walked up to him, grabbed it with both hands and took it with brute force and sheer strength. Nothing fancy, nothing cerebral, nothing touchy-feeling about it. He knew what he wanted, he wanted it more than the other guy, so he made it happen.

That’s the point I’m at with Will when it comes to potty training right now.

I’ve read the books and I’ve perused the Internet and parenting message boards. There are 1,001 ways parents can potty train their kids. And it seems the prevailing notion is not to rush them, make it as fun as possible and stay positive at all times.

I tried that bullshit. Never again.

So starting on Monday I chose a new method: drill instructor. This is problematic because I’ve never served in the armed forces and I’m a huge pansy. But compared to a 2.5-year-old, I’m only a slight pansy so I can get away with it. But basically I’m done with catering to my son and blowing sunshine up his ass even when he’s failing miserably and refusing to cooperate.

So now, when he wakes up in the morning, he goes to the potty. Or should I say, I lock him and myself in the bathroom and battle with him until he relents. He screams and cries and spits but I don’t care. He’s not leaving that bathroom until he’s pissed in the potty. And yes, I physically hold him down on the seat. I’d never hurt my child so there’s no physical harm involved, but he is not allowed to get up until he completes the mission at hand.

The first morning it took 25 minutes. Twenty-five minutes of screaming and wrestling the likes of which you can’t imagine. MJ was on the other side of the door in tears, but I forbade her from entering. It was a battle to be sure, but you know what? He did it. On Tuesday it took about 15 minutes. This morning he was done in less than five minutes.

And it’s not like I’m a total dictator about it. Each time he successfully goes in the potty, he has his choice of a treat. He can choose to have a blackberry (I love that he thinks of blackberries in the same category as candy!) or he can exercise his privilege to lay on mom and dad’s bed and watch TV. There’s your positive reinforcement.

I know some of you will disagree. You think we should tippy-toe around our offspring and wait until they have a spiritual movement to defecate in a plastic container. Well fuck that. Will has displayed all of the signs that he’s ready for potty training. He knows when he has to go. He can hold in pee and poop for hours at a time. He dislikes being in a soiled diaper. He’s ready. He’s been ready for months. The problem is (largely because of our negligent daycare provider I’m sure) he got lazy.

But that’s over with now.

Just as the Patriots needed the ball back, I need my money back and not buying diapers anymore will certainly help with that. Bruschi wanted to move on to the Super Bowl, I need my kid to poop in a bowl.  Like Tedy Bruschi in 2004, I’m taking this one by sheer force. And I too will be victorious.

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No Lingering

“Dada, please don’t leave me!”

That’s what Will was saying over and over again this morning as he began his first full day at his new daycare center/preschool. Tears streaming down his face, the sentence coming in sharp, punctuated bursts because he couldn’t catch his breath in between his miserable sobs. It was heart-breaking.

I’m the first one to condemn the helicopter, Velcro parents who are far too attached to their children. I can’t stand it when they linger at the drop-off area, give their kids 8,000 hugs goodbye and break down in hysterical tears before they leave. It’s so much easier if you treat it like ripping off a band-aid. Get your kid settled, give him a hug and walk away. The pain is quick and everyone can get on with their day a little faster.

I know this. And I practiced what I preached this morning. But it wasn’t easy.

Will managed to climb up and look out the window as I was making my way to my car. His little red face, screaming incessantly, with one hand flat on the window pane begging me to come back. It tugged mightily at my heart strings, I won’t lie. But I waved once, got in the car and drove away.

Because that’s by far the best thing to do.

This is Will’s third daycare in three months. That’s a lot to ask of a kid. Plus he’s potty training, which frankly isn’t going so well. He was doing FANTASTIC before our former daycare provider started leaving him in his own piss and shit. Now he constantly soils himself and refuses to tell us when he has to go, whereas before he was 100% on peeing. I had to completely change his outfit just before we left this morning because he exploded all over himself without warning.

I hope this is the beginning of some stability for the little guy. Our adult lives are anything but stable right now and I worry everyday that he can sense it. That it negatively affects him. I know kids aren’t stupid. My parents had a rough go of it for a few years when I was younger and I remember every bit of it. My brother and I both knew what was going on, no matter how hard my parents nobly attempted to shield us from it. I just want him to be a happy kid, free of all the bullshit that saddles us as adults and parents.

Hopefully by ponying up and emptying our wallets on this primo daycare facility, it’ll give him the continuity and stability he needs. New friends, lots of time with other kids, teachers who are actually qualified to be around children. He’s a good kid and I’d really like to see him make some positive strides in the next few months.

Which is why as much as my heart was telling me to go back inside and cuddle him, my head knew that would only make things worse. In two weeks he’ll be racing inside to play with everyone and he won’t even look back at me or realize I’ve left.

I wonder if I’ll be pining for that first day of daycare when he begged me to stay?

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Hanging On Too Tight?

“When are you gonna get rid of this thing?”

MJ was on the computer when she growled the previous sentence at me. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I assumed it was something of little consequence or just a mild annoyance that was eating at her. But when she turned the laptop toward me and pointed to what was bugging her, I was blown away.

With a scowl on her face and genuine pissiness in her voice, she pointed to this:

I was shocked.

I explained that a very thoughtful blogging friend made that specifically for us in remembrance of Alex. And from there, dozens of other bloggers put it on their sites in support of what we went through. But all of that aside, I told her I like it. Sure it makes me a little sad sometimes, but I told MJ I also think it’s important for us to always remember Alex. And this button helps with that.

She disagreed. Big time.

She wants it gone. In fact she wants all traces of that incident erased. She told me remembering it just makes things more difficult. She told me hanging on makes me unable to move on. And it didn’t stop with Alex. She also took the opportunity to tell me it’s ridiculous that I’m still upset about my friend’s suicide 10 years ago. Just for good measure, she said she thinks it’s stupid to visit graveyards at all.

OK. First of all, I will admit I do dwell in the past somewhat. I know I come across as an insensitive prick most of the time, but I’m actually very sentimental.  I have ticket stubs from meaningful sporting events littering the recesses of my house. The Patriots bottle opener on my keychain is 9 years old and I keep it because I found it on the ground after the St. Louis Rams game, after which the Patriots didn’t lose another game on their way to the Super Bowl. I even kept the shirt I was wearing the day I lost my virginity. So yeah, I get it. Sometimes I cling to things from the past.

But I will not take that badge down. Ever.

MJ has the uncanny ability to turn off all emotion and move on. Quickly. And good for her. Sometimes I wish I could be more like that. But what caused the real argument between is is that she’s mad at me for naming Alex. For turning her into a real person, because MJ doesn’t think she was one.  I disagree. I am moving on from what happened, but unlike my wife I don’t want to forget. In fact, I refuse to forget. That whole ordeal changed me, for better or worse, and to pretend it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t real is not a viable option for me.

I find the whole thing ironic because MJ is a history major. And from what I remember in those classes, future success hinges largely on recalling past events. As long as people don’t get so bogged down in ancient history that they can’t function in the present, I see nothing wrong with remembering something/someone worthy of being remembered.

I would never do anything to intentionally hurt my wife or cause her pain. But that badge is staying there. And I refuse to apologize or feel guilty about that.

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“Aaron, I don’t know what to do. Felissa’s dead.”

That’s the news I got from my friend John — exactly 10 years ago to the day — late at night on a nearly deserted North Adams street corner. I had just started my senior  year at college, and having turned 21 the previous month I was enjoying my new found freedom to legally imbibe alcohol. Which is a roundabout way of saying I was shitfaced and staggering home from the bar as John dropped this surreal bombshell on me.

He was near hysterics and I had to slow him down to figure out what the hell he was talking about. When he calmed down enough to speak, he told me a whole slew of things. But the only things I remember are 1) Felissa’s dead and 2) she killed herself.

Felissa was a sweet girl from Dedham who I met the first week of freshman year because she was on the same floor as the girl I started dating. I’d love to be a little more classy here, but if I’m being honest I have to say the first thing I noticed about Felissa was that she was hot. Beautiful even. She had a pretty face with sharp, crisp features. Her hair was long and usually in beautiful, tight curls. Felissa was always dressed to the nines and I have very few memories of her without make up. She had an athletic figure because she was a swimmer, and a damn good one at that.

But as beautiful as Felissa was, her personality was her magnetic quality.

She was so kind. And not the perfunctory or superficial kindness either. Hers was genuine and she would’ve helped anyone who needed it. I remember immediately getting the feeling she wasn’t used to taking a lot of ribbing from people, because when we all got to know each other well enough, we started making fun of each other. And she would always act so shocked when we began tearing into each other. Which of course just made us target her more.

Not in a mean way. It’s just that we elicited such a reaction from her that it was hard to resist the urge not to mess with her. So we’d rag on her about being a Rainbow Girl, which we constantly referred to as a cult. But that was nothing compared to the Sunny Bunny antics.

She had a stuffed rabbit she loved more than anything in the world. A beloved childhood plaything she just couldn’t give up, so it tagged along with her to college. It was a perfect symbol of innocence for a truly innocent person. But unfortunately for Sunny Bunny, Felissa lived with some sadistic bastards. That’s why Sunny Bunny would constantly end up missing. Nay, kidnapped is a better word. Felissa would receive pictures of Sunny Bunny blindfolded, in gang colors, with weapons and booze in the picture. Or hanging from a noose in the stairwell. I know it sounds mean, but Felissa would feign fury for a minute and then grudgingly smirk and laugh about it all.

She also dated my good friend Joe, who loved her deeply. The pairing was an odd couple deal because Joe was about as messy a guy as you can imagine. Not only that, but Felissa was a Type A personality. She studied like crazy, making herself nuts over every exam and paper. It couldn’t just be a good result, it had to be great. Joe, on the other hand, seldom woke up before noon and didn’t go to bed until 5 a.m. He got pretty good grades, but like me he’s the kind of person who can coast and still do well. Needless to say they were quite a pair.

Felissa was a very good friend for two years, and since we grew up 35 minutes from each other we were able to hang out during the summer as well.

Then Felissa spent a semester in Florida. When she came back second semester junior year, everything was different. At least to me. Felissa had a life-changing experience down there. She met new friends, had a blast and didn’t hesitate to voice her displeasure over being back in Massachusetts. She’d comment on how cold the weather was, how much she missed her Florida friends, how she wished she could be back there. Blah blah blah.

It went up my ass sideways.

In my eyes she was being incredibly snotty and holier than thou. I felt like all of a sudden we weren’t good enough for her anymore and it stung. But instead of talking to her about it, I pouted. Then I talked behind her back, tried to turn people against her and bad-mouthed her to all my other friends.

We grew distant. Our old gang was broken up, and Felissa transferred the next year opting to stay home and go to school while commuting. I never saw her again, and I hadn’t talked to her in months when she reportedly took a bottle of pills, waded into the waters off Wollaston Beach in Quincy and drowned. Some doubted whether or not it was suicide, but Felissa was the strongest swimmer I knew.

By the time Felissa decided to take her own life I’m certain I wasn’t even a speck on her radar screen. Yet I have harbored a lot of guilt this past decade for potentially contributing to her death. What if I had just talked with her? What if, instead of back-stabbing her like an 8th grade girl, I had just reached out to her and been open and honest? Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. With suicide, people seldom have the answers they need. This is no exception.

I took Will to the cemetery where Felissa is buried. Armed with a vase of flowers and a heart full of guilt and trepidation, I tried to remember which portion of the cemetery her plot was located. After several minutes of wandering and searching, I was frustrated because I just couldn’t find her stone. I know it sounds crazy because dead people are dead and they don’t hang around cemeteries, but I wanted her to “meet” Will. And I wanted to apologize.

But I couldn’t fucking find her. Just then I heard Will chirp “Dada, I jump.” I looked over and realized, in a panic, that Will had climbed on top of a flat gravestone and was jumping up and down. I raced over and picked him up, horrified and trying to explain to him that he can’t jump on these “rocks.” But as I scooped him up something caught my eye.

Will was jumping on Felissa’s stone.

I’m not sure what that means. Probably nothing. But then again, maybe the universe works in ways I’ll never understand.

When Felissa came back from Disney World, she gave presents to all the guys I lived with in my townhouse. Dave, Sean, Mike and Joe. She got them all a really nice glass mug, and it was laser-etched with their first names and “69” because we lived in Townhouse #69. But she never gave me one. Probably because I had already started distancing myself from her. I remember being so hurt that she didn’t give a shit about me.

A year after her death, I received a package in the mail with an unfamiliar return address. When I opened it my heart nearly climbed into my throat. The bubble wrap revealed a Walt Disney World glass mug with my name emblazoned across it. A handwritten note from Felissa’s mom said that she would’ve wanted me to have it.

I wasn’t a very good friend back then. If I had been a good friend to Felissa, maybe — just maybe — she’d have a family of her own today. Even if we didn’t remain friends, perhaps I’d see her out somewhere and our kids would say hi to each other instead of my son inadvertently jumping on her grave.

I still have that glass but I’ve never drank from it. It will always remain empty. It is my personal reminder that there is nothing in this world sadder than unrealized potential.

And I hope this story reminds at least one person to never give up on a friend. The people who need the most help are the ones who never ask for it, so never stop reaching out. It could make all the difference in the world.

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Nature’s Call

“Why is it so great for guys to pee outside?”

This question, recently posed to me by my wife, caught me off guard. What’s so great about peeing outside? Is she kidding?? The real question is what’s bad about peeing outside? I just looked at her as if she had just asked why oxygen is so important to breathing. But since she’s a girl, I launched into an explanation.

You see, Will peed outside for the first time a couple of weeks ago. And since then he’s been dying to use Nature as a toilet instead of his potty. As a guy, I love this and I totally get it. The two of us never discussed it, it’s just an unspoken understanding and appreciation. Peeing outside is cool. And fun. It’s because of our anatomical make up, so I guess I really can’t blame MJ for not understanding. So I tried to explain it to her as best I could.

Men are often bored and easily amused. We’re also competitive and turn everything into a sport. This includes bathroom breaks. Peeing in the toilet is all fine and good and you can make do with a few tried and true games. You can stand back and go for distance. You can do a ring around the bowl while you’re peeing. If there’s a bug in the toilet you can aim at it and try to drown it. All fine and dandy ways to go #1.

But it’s nothing compared to peeing outdoors.

First of all there’s a certain thrill to being outside where other people might see you. You need to find a tree or some other barrier that will shield you from the general public. Second, there are so many more things at which to aim. Plants, leaves, insects, trees. Mother Nature provides a plethora of urinary targets.

And honestly, we just love the mere fact that we’re built to rock a squirt wherever we are at any given time. There’s no waiting in long bathroom lines at crowded parties for a guy. We just step outside, find an isolated corner and take care of business.

And of course, nothing gives a guy more pleasure than peeing outdoors in the snow. You can write your name, draw a design, or — my personal favorite — pick one spot and keep peeing there in an effort to drill a hole all the way down to the ground. But the possibilities are limited only by the boundaries of one’s imagination.

MJ lamely tried to counter this argument by saying that women can pee outside as well. This is technically true, but have you ever watched a woman try to pee outside. It’s just sad. They need to pull their pants and panties all the way down, squat and then try like hell not to pee on themselves. And the only way they can write their names in the snow is if they do that weird crab-like crawl. But I imagine they would end up with their girl parts inadvertently landing in the snow at least once or twice, which has to be unpleasant. So let’s face it, when it comes to outdoor urination men are kings.

I’m not saying our outside peeing skills are the sole reason men have historically run this country. But I’m pretty sure it’s a contributing factor.

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