Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Rules

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about our parenting experiences. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting happening, it’s just that everything is going so fast. Just as we get used to a set of routines (for instance, the five-to-eight month-old version of the rules, which I have to say we had down pat) the game completely changes. I’ve been trying to joke that as long as everybody in our house is clothed, fed, and somewhat happy, then we are doing okay, but here lately we’ve been lucky to feel like we’re getting any two out of the three right.

Maybe we should only be parents of a constant rotation of five-to-eight-month olds.

BWAHAHAHA, sorry, I think I lost my mind there for a second.

Calvinball is probably easier to figure out, actually.

Anyway, one good example of the shifting sands of time is Noah’s eating habits. If we could just feed him the same amount of formula forever, we’d be golden. I’ve gotten really, really good at making bottles, and he’s always been really, really good at drinking them. But of course, for some reason we have to introduce solid foods and try to teach him to pick up small chunks of stuff that don’t taste as good as his milk, or convince him that drinking out of a sippy cup is much better than shotgunning a bottle of formula. In essence, he’ll always have to work harder for his food from here on out, and there’s every indication from every other parent in the world that soon, after he fully transitions to “real” food, he won’t want to eat at all. So then we’ll have to worry about him starving to death. Cool.

These transitional problems are, of course, not insurmountable. But to solve them requires a certain creativity and imagination. When you factor in that we still have a basic level of exhaustion in all things, you can imagine that creativity takes a hit. Our poor brains are preoccupied with survival. For instance, it took us weeks if not months to figure out a way to give Noah his last bottle of the day without it counting as “giving him a bottle to go to sleep,” which we learned from our doctors is one of the first cardinal sins of parenting, beginning somewhere around six months. (The solution was just to rearrange the order of his nighttime routine and do the bottle before the bath.)

Another dangerous game of roulette as he gets older, we’ve found, is the process of slowly introducing him to new foods. These days, you never know what a kid is going to be allergic to, so it’s best to introduce only one new food at a time just so you can do some reverse engineering if things go sour in the aftermath.

So far we’ve been lucky, until recently. After a relatively normal breakfast where we let Noah nibble on some fragments of scrambled eggs, we went about our day and ended up going shopping for some babyproofing supplies. No sooner had we left the store than Noah, quietly and without warning, emptied the contents of his stomach all over himself. And the car seat. We rushed home, cleaned him up, and tried to give him some more food to make up for the “lost” meal, so to speak.  Three words: more projectile vomiting.

After some feverish racing around to clean him up, a quick debate about whether we should go straight to the ER, and a call to the after-hours on-call pediatrician, we finally settled in to a night of gradual doses of PediaLyte and general sleeplessness. By the next day, our little guy was fine, but we don’t know what caused the episode. We are tentatively chalking it up to an egg allergy, since that was the only new food he’d eaten that day, but we’re just not sure.

How do people survive to grow up to be adults again? I was hoping Noah would avoid the food allergy arena altogether, but is each new generation of humanity carrying us swiftly towards our ultimate destiny of just being allergic to everything?

Since there’s no way to answer those questions, I guess we’re stuck with a game of throw-up Russian roulette. Just add another chapter to the ever-changing rulebook of parenthood – which is, of course, printed backwards. In invisible ink.

The Reign of Pub Trivia

I’m not sure how or when, but somewhere along the timeline of human history, a genius realized that bars and trivia competitions could go as well together as ketchup and mustard, or fish and chips. The formula that filtered down through the ages is deceptively simple: simply take a weeknight at a bar when business is comparatively slow, add a host with some questions and a rudimentary PA system, toss in some drink specials and a few rules to keep things flowing, and boom – all trivia nerds in the immediate vicinity will get wind of it and swarm the bar in order to claim some share of the glory that comes with knowing more obscure facts than the people sitting around them.

I think this phenomenon is so pervasive, especially in a wonky city like DC, because so many young adults of bar-going age grew up with a love of trivia instilled by watching Jeopardy! Many of these adults, myself included, would die to go on the show. Many of us also know there’s very little chance we’ll ever get to say hi to Alex Trebek in person, so we make do the best we can by trying out our skills in real life when the opportunity arises.

Just such an opportunity arose recently. My friend Gerritt is moving away soon, which has launched a cavalcade of going-away festivities. Gerritt and I met in college, and while we became friends for many reasons, it was apparent early on that our combined trivia knowledge was formidable. It wasn’t long before we were forbidden to be on the same team for any board game involving the faintest hint of trivia rules. But for all that, we never joined forces in a “real world” trivia challenge throughout our whole “adult” lives.

Until now.

The idea really got started with Gerritt and two of my other friends, Matt and Steve, in the early stages of the going-away get-togethers. They realized there was both a convenient venue and a large gap in our lives that could only be filled by forming a trivia team, and they knew that I would be interested.

And so we descended on an unsuspecting bar in DC one fateful Wednesday night in late August, not knowing whether we would live up to our own expectations or suffer an ego-bruising setback as had happened in the past.

I learned a few things during that prototypical outing. First, I learned that choosing a trivia team name is almost as important as answering your questions wisely. We struggled a bit on this score, deciding on a name that fit the supposed weekly theme of Jeff Goldblum movies. However, we quickly realized that to gain the respect of other teams and to make our host laugh, our name would need to hew closer to a political or current events pun with a side order of sexual innuendo. I filed that away for future reference.

Second, I learned that our individual knowledge sets complemented the others’ nicely. The team became more than the sum of its parts, with each of us having an area that proved to be a strength, such as Matt’s memorization of sports championships or Gerritt’s deep music game. We also overlapped enough in other areas that if one of us wasn’t sure of an answer, we could often back them up with words of encouragement ranging from “that sounds right” to “YES, that’s it” to “I have no idea, just put anything down.” In the end, this worked out to our advantage more often than not – we certainly talked ourselves out of a couple of correct answers, but not many, and being honest about our own senses of certainty proved useful.

Third, I learned that hey, this trivia thing is pretty fun!

The fourth thing I learned is that we finished the night victorious, besting teams that were mainstays and full of trivia vets. I was admittedly surprised. We led after a few rounds but fell behind in a couple of mid-game slumps. We agreed that we owed our come-from-behind victory to a conservative betting style and the honesty with ourselves that I mentioned above, since some questions involved wagering points and we did not “go big” when we didn’t feel good about an answer. We strolled out of the bar one $30 gift certificate richer.

Standing out on the streets of DC on that warm summer night, the four of us realized we were really onto something and that we should get the team together at least one more time before Gerritt left town. There’s something to be said for going out on top, but we had to prove that this one particular week was not a fluke, that we weren’t just lightning in a bottle.

It took some serious planning, but we made it happen a few weeks later. Having one successful outing under our belts, we acted like pros this time. We chose our very fitting team name using equal parts punmanship and lasciviousness. We used our gift certificate to offset the cost of dinner. We didn’t stray from the strategy that worked well for us the first time.

And dang us if we didn’t win again! Two time international world champs! Two for two!

Despite the euphoria over trouncing all the other teams, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. I knew that there wasn’t enough time left for all four of us to manage to get together for another round before Gerritt left. As we were paying our tab, the trivia host announced that this session was to be the last for that particular bar. It seemed fitting.
And so ended the shortened, but perfect, season of our pub trivia team. I won’t say I’ll never try out trivia again, but losing an irreplaceable player means that this version of the team is at an end. Indeed, we shall not see its like again.
As for Gerritt himself, well, this is just a parting of the ways. Moving across the country isn’t as big of an impasse as it used to be. Until next time!

10 Years Later

This month marks the ten-year anniversary of my moving to Northern Virginia. I remember unpacking my stuff with my family on what seemed like the hottest weekend in August, giving us our first full-force introduction to DC summer humidity. From that first apartment in Oakton with my roommate Josh, a ten-years-and-counting residency of mystery and excitement began.

One of the few surviving pictures from the first year of mystery and excitement.

A decade is certainly long enough to say that I’m a resident of this place and that Alexandria is my hometown, but even considering that I’ve started a family here, it still doesn’t quite feel that way. It’s hard to describe, but maybe it’s because compared to my small town childhood, I’ll always be a small cog in the giant DMV machine. I doubt I’ll ever affect the area in any significant way, and I’m okay with that.

I will say, though, that ten years is a long enough time to have some fascinating experiences and to learn a great deal. Let’s go to the highlight reel! I’m going to try to keep this list in the vein of things that could have only happened here – personal stuff aside, since I’ve got enough amazing highlights on that front to fill a dozen posts.

  • Some wild weather: A few weeks after I moved here, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was forever changed. I remember watching the coverage on the Weather Channel with Josh on our little TV in the first apartment. Since then, I’ve experienced firsthand a derecho and the outskirts of a few hurricanes, including Superstorm Sandy. I shivered my way through Snowmaggeddon and some interesting ice storms. I’ve seen the Beltway closed down due to mudslides, fallen trees, and power outages. But the most memorable experience was being on one of the top floors of an Arlington office building when the Great Virginia Earthquake of 2011 hit. It’s one of those stories to tell my grandkids when I’m old and they won’t believe anything I say.
  • Baseball: my third-ever major league game (behind the Pirates and Orioles, respectively) was at RFK Stadium in August 2005, watching the Nationals losing to the Padres 3-0. The team had moved to DC only that year, opening their first season as the Nats just a few months prior to me showing up. For my first couple of years of work, I got to see the brand-new stadium being built day by day. Since then, my interest in baseball has grown, I’ve been to many games including Bryce Harper’s home debut and the first playoff game at Nationals Park, and I’ve learned the ups and downs of watching a playoff-calibre team that doesn’t always play like one and can’t always string more than one win together (see their current mid-August collapse).
  • Traffic: To work is to commute, and in a region that consistently ranks in the top three for “worst traffic in America,” I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in my car. The trusty Altima has braved many of the region’s worst chokepoints (the only one I haven’t had to use on a daily basis is I-95, thank God). I’ve also used four of the Metro lines to a lesser extent and endured the Orange Line crush. Through it all, I’ve learned that creativity and flexibility help keep you sane, and if you’re lucky they can usually buy you back a few minutes. Apps like Waze help discover alternate routes that may not save me much time, but at least they help me feel like I’m outsmarting someone. In the end, though, there are some days when I just have to resign myself to the fact that I’m going to be stuck in a standstill for an hour. Those are the days where I hope I’ve got a good playlist lined up on my phone.
  • Politics: This is a double-edged sword for me, and I almost left it off my list, but you can’t live here without picking up at least some understanding of national politics, even if just by osmosis. And so I’ve lived through two presidential elections and two presidents so far, learning a little more about the function and dysfunction of the American political system all the while. This affected me most directly during the government shutdown in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, I basically loathe politics and try to avoid talking about it whenever possible, but at least I can say I’m more aware of the issues since I live here, and I can form my own opinions as a result. I suppose I respect the implications of politics from a distance, and I suppose that also makes me a better citizen. Or something.
  • The beauty of the area: DC is a beautiful city for the most part, and the surrounding areas are equally amazing. All the lures of the urban jungle and historical sites are just a short ride away for me, but mountains and farms and orchards are within an hour or two’s drive as well. My love of the outdoors usually manifests itself in discovering new trails and parks in which to run, but I also took it upon myself early on to learn the lay of the land so I could play tour guide to out-of-town visitors. And so the Mall with its museums and monuments gradually became more familiar to me, and I slowly added outer-lying and lesser-known landmarks to my repertoire as all my family members grew tired of the same old stuff. Every year I try to go a few new places either by myself or with family or friends, whether in DC or nearby, but I could do that every day until I die and still not see it all. And that’s a cool thing.

And then of course there are the smaller, miscellaneous details. From witnessing a space shuttle flyover to picking apples in a Virginia orchard, from running the Marine Corps Marathon to enjoying the Cherry Blossom festival, from discovering the deliciousness of District Taco to shopping the Old Town farmer’s market, Gina and I have enjoyed this area’s less famous offerings all in our own way. Despite all of these wonderful and interesting things, I have still barely scratched the surface when it comes to experiencing all that this area has to offer. And although through the rest of 2015 I won’t have too much extra time to explore, I know it won’t be that way forever. So, here’s to the next ten years and all the promise they have to offer!

The Ides of July

Wow! It’s been a while, mainly because July has been an unusual month of firsts since I last posted. Join me for another wild and wooly trip into the parenting arena!

Noah started daycare, which has gone well. I’ve only forgotten his stuff when I’ve gone to pick him up once, and I’ve never forgotten him, so I count that as a win. Everyone seems to love him there, as random adults will shout “Hi, Noah!” when we arrive, while ignoring us. He’s the only boy in his room. I guess he’s kind of a big deal? As for us, we’ve settled into the new drop-off, pick-up, and getting-ready-for-school-every-night routine without incident.

Noah got his first two teeth! This was quite a surprise when we first noticed. They’re the bottom two front teeth, and while very nice and very cute teeth, they also mean he’s growing up too fast, so they’re frightening.  Anyway, we trick him into showing us his teeth by letting him chew on one of his bottle lids, which leaves a nice clear plastic window to the bottom of his mouth. That’s pure Gina parenting ingenuity right there.

Noah got his first cold from daycare! This was less exciting and happened nearly the same day we discovered his teeth, so for a while we thought it was just a “teething fever.” It turns out, through medical research on the Internet, that there really is no such thing as a teething fever (even though many parents swear it’s a real thing). Whatever the truth is, we definitely confirmed with the pediatrician that this was a full-fledged, sneezy, snotty, coughing summer cold. (See, he’s already catching cooties from all the girls at school!)

We got our first shared illness brought home from daycare! This was even less exciting. In fact, it downright sucked, because we’re still fighting our way out of it almost 10 days later. Gina and her Mom were hit the hardest, as they juggled days taking care of the little guy while he was banned from daycare, and so were exposed the most. Gina still has the signs of a viral infection. I somehow dodged the virus bullet but managed to wear myself down enough to get a massive allergy attack in the middle of July. Supposedly there’s a lot of mold floating around these parts? Anyway, our house has been nothing but coughs and sniffles for a week.

But the final first, though dampened a little bit by our various illnesses, was Noah taking his first trip to West Virginia and meeting a good grouping of my family. He traveled like a champion, only getting cranky in the last half hour or so of the nine-hour drive. Noah finally meeting my brother was a big deal. Letting Mom hold him again was a lot of fun, especially since she’s been going through an illness of her own recently. Seeing Dad fawn over his grandson again while carrying Noah up and down the hillside was worth the long drive. Watching my aunts, uncles, and cousins interact with him was surely worth the incessant coughing, though I sincerely hope we all feel better for the second visit.

So really, it’s been all I could do just to keep up with all the changes around here, not to mention getting on the mend and actually writing about them. The ups and downs make me wonder what August has lying in wait for us. The hottest month in Northern Virginia has certainly been a time of change for me several times over – will this one live up to the hype?

The Diaper Games

In the early months of parenthood, I likened the diapering process to some sort of lasso and rodeo ordeal. That, my friends, was a much simpler time. I didn’t know that the difficulty curve for diapering was actually somewhere between level 8-3 in Super Mario Bros. and playing through Contra without the unlimited lives cheat code.

The main reason for this difficulty is that in recent weeks, Noah has picked up some extra mobility tricks. He can roll over pretty much at will and pull himself toward anything he can grab. He rolls himself into a ball when he sleeps. He can do the baby equivalent of push-ups all day long. For his size, I’d say he has roughly the same upper body strength as a Russian boxing bear. All of this is great and normal for his development, and it’s usually a lot of fun to watch.

However, when you add those tricks to the changing table, it makes for a doggone circus.

These days, as soon as his butt hits the changing pad, Noah must think to himself, “at last.” He instantly begins reaching for whatever he can find, which in this case includes various lotion bottles, the Noah’s Ark wall hanging that he’s always loved so much, a container of wipes, or maybe even his poop-filled diaper. All of these items, except the wall hanging, have gone crashing to the floor either as a direct result of his reaching or a panicky grab by a parent trying to keep their newly-agile baby from also crashing to the floor.

And so I’ve resorted many times to holding down my son with one arm while negotiating the flaps of the diaper using one free hand, along with whichever fingers aren’t occupied with preventing certain injury and head trauma to my blissfully unaware baby boy. Usually, this results in one of us getting poop all over himself.

I haven’t even touched on how enjoyable it is to attempt putting pajamas on Noah while he’s turning, reaching, and flopping around. For your sake, just imagine that it’s pretty close to docking an unmaneuverable spaceship to an airlock that’s spinning violently.

I know there’s no way around this and that it’s only going to get worse. And I know this is just another prime moment for you veteran parents reading this to smile knowingly and laugh at our misadventures (you’re welcome). But seriously, at this rate we might as well hang a trapeze above the changing pad and just let Noah go to town.

I doubt that would really work, but I know that he would love every second of it.