Month: November 2007

As I walk a fine line discussing young men’s bodies

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No fat swimmers allowed!

Let me preface this blog by stating the following: I am woefully ignorant about the sport of swimming. I don’t know if there are weight classes and I don’t know what the age divisions are. All I know is that skinny, though usually muscular in the upper-body, people do things in the water that my frame was not designed for. 


Yesterday as I was changing clothes in the locker room at my local L.A. Fitness (folks, have you ever heard of cleaning the carpets and deodorizers?), there was a group of boys from a local high school in there. As I listened to them talk, it became apparent they were on some local swimming team and one of them was even wearing spandex shorts, which I didn’t know was standard swimming attire, but hey…different strokes for different folks. The boys appeared to range in age from 13 to perhaps 16. The youngest, was a tiny little fellow who couldn’t have been more than 4’ 7”. There was another boy in there who was probably 14 or 15 and he was pretty thin and close to my own height of 5′ 8″. Like I said, he was skinny; there were no telltale love handles…nothing to indicate that he was overweight in the slightest. 


As I was changing, each of these boys hopped up on the scales (one of the worst indicators of true health if I ever saw one) and when this one skinny kid got up there, he yelled out, “125 lbs!?”  Then, all his friends started jabbing him about his weight. One even went so far as to run back in the shower area blurting it out. 


Now as I mentioned, I’m no expert on anything related to swimming, but I am pretty smart when it comes to boys’ and mens’ health. I know for instance, that at 14 or 15 years of age, the male body is starting to put on weight in the form of increased bone density as it prepares for the onslaught of male hormones that will significantly increase the boy’s muscle mass. And I know that in order for any of this to happen as it should, the body needs energy. And unless there’s a new form of energy out there that I don’t know about, food is the only way for that energy to be made available to said young boy’s body. I also happen to know that swimming, especially when not combined with an adequate weight training program, can actually have an adverse effect on the body. Water is the closest simulation that normally people have to being in space, and when in space, the body loses both muscle mass and bone density due to the lack of demands on it. This combination of lack of adequate caloric intake, coupled with an activity that burns whatever energy is available to it, and which does not stimulate lower-body musculature, is a recipe for disaster in teenagers. 


Now, I know that girls have been told for years to stay thin and the media haven’t helped that, but truthfully, a young girl’s body doesn’t require the same caloric intake that a boy’s does (if you wanna argue this with me, just look up the caloric requirements of boys and girls of the same age). 


So I say all of this only to point out to parents that we need to make sure that we keep an eye on our sons as much as we do our daughters. Fathers especially tend to dote on their daughters while allowing their sons to just “be”, assuming they’ll take care of themselves. But I would say that the pressure to win and to look good (at any cost) is especially prevalent in teens and it’s important that we set the right attitude about nutrition and health when they are young.


Then, when they are older and decide to ruin their joints with weight training (like I have), it’ll be their own decision and they’ll at least have a solid foundation to start from.


Things you’d say if you could to the ones that you love

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I’m a sucker for a good sappy movie. Not the chick-flick kind where Hugh Grant plays some poor sot whose girlfriend dumped him and then comes running back. No, the kinds of movies I fall for are the ones that tug at the familial heartstrings. For instance, the movie Jerry McGuire always brings me to tears at the end. I know it’s the butt of many “you complete me” jokes, but there were some really great performances in that movie, once you quite seeing Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch in the back of your head.


Another one that I am a sucker for, is “The Family Man,” with Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni. If you haven’t seen it (and shame on you), it’s about a successful financial whiz (Cage) who is given a “glimpse” of what life could have been like had he not moved to Europe and become a wealthy banker, and instead stayed home and married his college sweetheart (Leoni). In this glimpse, he lives in a typical suburban rancher with his two kids. He’s a moderately successful tire company executive and his wife is a pro-bono lawyer. By the end of the movie, he’s acclimated to his new life and when it comes time for him to resume his old life as a wealthy playboy, he doesn’t want to go back. Back in his real life, he meets Leoni at the airport and convinces her to stay and talk to him about “what might have been” and they spend the night in the hotel coffee shop reminiscing and catching up. 


The obvious point here is that we never know what life would be like had we made different choices. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made a lot of choices in my life that have dramatically affected the way it’s turned out. For one, I joined the military instead of going to college first, no doubt changing the direction of my career. Another big decision of mine was leaving a girl I was engaged to (OK, she actually broke off the engagement first, but we kept seeing each other until I finally walked away). And of course the big one all of us married couples made, is the decision to get married. In this regard, I’ve often wondered about the big “what if.”


What if I’d never gotten married? What if I didn’t have these children that I complain about so much? This is where the movie “The Family Man” comes in. In it I see the possibilities of my life. Not that I would be even remotely as successful as Cage is in the movie, but I wonder where I would be and more importantly, if I’d be happy.


But then even as I watch it, I remember CareerMom and my first date. I remember how much I couldn’t wait to see her again. I remember the times that I’ve been sick or in the hospital and she’s been there to take care of me when none of my family could be bothered. Then I remember our children. I remember how, just when I didn’t think I could take any more crying or dirty diapers, my son looked up at me and smiled and snuggled his head against my chest. I remember how when he fell down the stairs under my watchful eye, I moved faster than any human could possibly move under his own power (actually beating him down the stairs), catching him just as his head would have hit the wood floor and I remember how, panicked, I held and rocked him until he stopped crying. 


I remember all of these things and I realize that this is my glimpse. My real life is the life I used to dream of before I had it. Sure, I didn’t have a few of the facts down, like the lack of sleep or how my free time would suffer, but overall it’s just as I dreamt it.


And I wouldn’t trade it for all the Quan in the world.

The $400 Health Club

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There are things that I love about the holidays; the cool weather, the food, the jolly mood everyone is in, and then there are things that I really don’t like; sweating over what to get the nine (yes, nine) people/couples in my life (not including the Secret Santa gift and the sibling gift on my wife’s side). With kids now, there are even more things to love and/or hate about the holidays.


For instance, our kids’ daycare is closed for all major holidays. In the case of Thanksgiving, they were closed understandably on Thursday and Friday, but of course we still have to pay for a full week. Regardless, this means that instead of the kids playing for nine hours with their friends at daycare, they are either strapped in a car on a long trip or stuck in a boring house with people they don’t know and only a handful of toys carefully selected for both portability and creativity, and unable to generally get out and burn off all that energy that keeps them the sane lovable children we all hope they are come the weekend.


As my friend pointed out over at Pantsfreesia, by Sunday afternoon I’ve got that twitchy eye thing going and if the weather is nice, my wife is urging me to get out-of-doors and go do something that doesn’t involve kids. So, long holiday weekends, such as what we just had for Thanksgiving, are especially trying for me even though I love my children with all my heart. 


I love em; I just don’t wanna play with them for 96 hours. And it’s not just the playing either. When my oldest son doesn’t go to daycare and burn off steam, he’s a different person. He talks back, he whines over piddly stuff and he just generally isn’t as well behaved as he is when he gets tons of exercise. And for whatever reason, riding bicycles and hitting the ball are poor substitutes for chasing each other around the playground pretending you’re Spider Man trying to knock down the Red Power Ranger. I know this because I played it for ten minutes and I was done, both because it’s physically demanding, and because it’s a tad humiliating for people to see you imitating a three year old making noises that you haven’t made since you were, well, three years old. 


And no, I never bought into that whole, “Dance as if no one were watching” idea. I mean, someone is always watching and even if they’re your parents, in the back of their head, behind the part of their brain that’s saying, “What a good father,” they are also thinking, “My goodness he looks like a total goober.”


Welcome to parenting.

Beach Trip Deja vu

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So my son and I are here on the outskirts of the country’s most popular destination spot—Pigeon Forge, TN. The house is a huge, three level affair perched precariously (I’m seriously here) on the side of a mountain. The grade is so steep in fact, that halfway below the bottom floor of each house, and the ground, which falls off dramatically, is a catwalk for maintenance people to use to get to the electrical closet located in what might generously be called a basement.


At any rate, the original plan was for my family to spend the night at my moms house a mere 20 miles away, but since it’s only my oldest son and I, my mom made such a fuss about our staying for the night that we did. However, this meant that we got last dibs on sleeping arrangements. In this case, last dibs included the top floor, loft area consisting of two twin beds in a “we’ve been married for 15 years and no longer want to be sleeping in the same room” kind of set up. Also sharing this loft is my aunt, and my niece, and then over a half wall is a bedroom where my cousin and her husband are sleeping. So basically, there are six of us sleeping in a loft together. 


Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that the house is made of all wood. I mean, there isn’t a stick of sheetrock anywhere. The walls are wood, the floor is wood and the ceilings are wood. What this amounts to is one giant cavernous noise funnel up to the top floor where we are all sleeping. Last night, when one of us turned over in our noisy bed, the rest of us heard it and were similarly disturbed.


Tonight, despite any arguments to the contrary, my son and I are making the twisty, turny trip over the mountain to my mom’s house where I will sleep in a queen bed, as will my son. We will walk around the house in near-nudity since we won’t have to worry about offending aunts and/or cousins, and we will not worry about snoring or tooting in our sleep, lest we offend those who might be offended. 


And then tomorrow morning, we may or may not come back—perhaps opting to rather say goodbye via telephone and loiter around Townsend, TN checking out the Apple Barn and the little train museum. And then, hopefully having worn out my son, I’ll strap him in the car and we’ll hit the road on the way home. 


Or, I might freeze my butt off in Gatlinburg tonight looking at the lights cuz I was too stupid to bring a coat. We’ll see.

To Grandmother’s House We Go…

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For the first time in about 8 years, my mom’s side of the family (well, one of my mom’s) decided to all get together this year. And they are doing it in a four bedroom cabin in Tennessee. This cabin is just over the river and literally through the woods from my mom’s house in Walland, TN and the cabin is located just this side of Gatlinburg, TN. So, from my mom’s house to the cabin, it’s about a 40 minute drive. 

Originally, CareerMom and I decided we’d go up there, stay at my mom’s house at night to give the boys better sleeping arrangements, and then drive over to the cabin each day and spend time with family. However, as the time has drawn nearer, this has seemed less and less like a great idea.  For one, my youngest slept almost straight through the night for four nights in a row. This is unprecedented thus far and it is believed by many that dragging him up to Tennessee, where he’d have to sleep in a hard pack-n-play, would ruin whatever miracle schedule we’ve stumbled on. (Author’s Note: Since that four night sleeping stretch, he’s had two nights of waking up twice, and then four times another night). Also, the car trip. If you’ll harken back with me to the Beach Trip of 2007, none of us were looking forward to spending 4 ½ hours up and down in the car, plus 45 minutes of gut twisting back and forth turns through the woods to get to the cabin. 

So as CareerMom and I lay by the fire the other night, we both confessed how little we were actually looking forward to this trip. Out of that came a plan: I would take our oldest son and go, while CareerMom stayed behind with the baby. There was really no way I could get out of going altogether given that the family made an effort to gather, but we both felt that taking the baby would only be a burden on everyone’s efforts at having fun considering the problems we have getting him to sleep in strange places. (Author’s Note: We took our oldest son down to the beach when he was four months old and despite constant admonishing while he was napping, people continued to yell and bang around and so he did not sleep and was miserable. Same bunch of people, same situation here). 

I called my mom to break the bad news and she was, as expected, disappointed. But as I dug deeper into her disappointment, it became clear to me that really all she wanted to do was show off the baby. It was pretty clear that the rest of us coming was secondary. See, she has this little competition with her youngest sister whose daughter has two children. It’s all about whose kid is the cutest see and she’s built up my youngest son to epic proportions of cuteness and now, she’ll have no proof.  She also didn’t seem to buy my excuses, which are very valid and since she’s never raised a child, not something she can relate to.

At one point, she compared my youngest’s traveling issues with her sister’s daughter’s children and pointed out that since they are “in church all the time” (pointing out that we aren’t) her children are used to it. I pointed out, quite annoyed at this point, that having a child around other people in no way compares to traveling with children. Our kids are in daycare all day. They get along with people fine; they just HATE car seats, and they don’t sleep well in strange places. If you’re in your fifties, and you raised children, you did so in the era of vans, during a time of built in beds and tables and no car seats. Traveling then was a breeze compared to now. Now, the poor kid has to remain tightly strapped into a nonmovable, hard plastic car seat, with sides that come around like blinders giving the child little to look at for hours on end. It was a different time and travelling today is just so vastly different from thirty years ago. 

Suffice it to say that I hung up the phone with absolutely no desire to go up there whatsoever. And what really steams me is that this will be the third time I/we’ve gone up there since spring and they haven’t come here once. But they have the nerve to question my complaints about travel.  

It’s the holidays folks. How about we just be happy to get to see each other huh?

Things Remembered

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CareerMom and I recently celebrated our 8th anniversary. No big milestone, but these days…8 years…kinda deserves something right? So, I booked us a night away from the house and the kids. We went to nearby Stone Mountain. They have a pretty nice Marriott and I got us a nice room for an evening and a massage treatment the next morning.


Since CareerMom is always fearful of asking her parents to watch the boys for us, I did it instead and it worked out beautifully. They came over and we gave them all the instructions for feeding and putting the boys to sleep and what to do when our youngest wakes up his usual two times. There were no tears (from either us or the boys), there was no sniffling…we just left. 


One of the first things you notice about not having kids with you in the car is that both adults get to ride in the front of the car rather than the way it is usually; me driving and her sitting in the back keeping the baby from screaming. And we actually got to have adult-like conversation. It was really nice.


I won’t bore you with a play-by-play of the entire weekend, but I will tell you that it was nice to re-discover my wife. As parents, we get into this “parent mode” mentality that, while fun for the kids, is very much geared for the kids. And even once the kids have gone to bed, that mentality sticks because being a parent is a 24×7 job and you can’t just turn it on and off. I suspect this is why many marriages struggle once children are in the mix. There’s just nothing sexy about bathing children or changing poopy diapers and you’re usually just so “done” by the time they’re in bed, that you’re lucky if you have time for a shower before you feel like crawling under the covers and calling it quits for the day. So, forget relationship building on most days.


But when you’re away, I mean really away and not just “at the grocery store” away, you find that you can actually let it all go and be yourself again. On more than one occasion, I found myself looking at my wife while she was talking and thinking, “Ah, there you are. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed that playful side of you that I was attracted to in the beginning.”


I don’t know that I’ve changed like that, but I suppose I have too. Certainly, I’m much more stressed now that we have kids and I’m equally sure that it’s reflected in my behavior. And while I mentally made a note to be more mindful of my behavior at home when the kids aren’t around, I know that within a couple of weeks, after getting up multiple times in the middle of the night (and eventually staying up after the 4:30 feeding as I did this morning) and after the constant entertainment that is required to keep everyone from crying, I’ll fall back into my old habits. I’ll try not to, but I know I will. It’s just too hard not too.


It’s a shame though that one has to spend $400 on a night away just to remember who he is.

Through the eyes of a child

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Rose Colored Glasses

In addition to all the physical changes that happen to us as we get older, our outlook about things changes too. We hear about older people who claim that the secret to longevity is keeping that childlike innocence, that joy of life. We’ve all heard that and I’m sure that like myself, most people nod along with it and make a promise to themselves that they’ll try a little harder next time.


But I wonder how many of us ever really reach that innocence. How many, I wonder, stop in the middle of doing something during the day and remember how doing that same thing as a child felt. 


Though I give them kudos, I’ve never understood how people can take jobs working with children. The crying and the whining just seems too much for me. And while my outlook, now that I have children, hasn’t really changed (I STILL don’t see how people can work with children all day), I have gotten a glimpse or two into the thinking behind the idea that surrounding yourself with children can help keep one young.


Halloween was one such event. As my oldest son came home from TorTing, his face was shining with excitement over the candy he had. As an adult, who can go out and buy as much candy as I want at any time, it’s easy for me to gloss over his excitement. But instead, what I did was sit down with him and tried to put myself in his place. And the funny thing is that for just a moment, I felt what my son felt. I remembered how exciting it was to come home with a pumpkin full of candy and spread it out on the floor and figure out what I wanted to eat first. For just a moment there, I was a child again with eyes full of shiny wrappers and the taste of sugary goodness in my mouth. Wonderful!


The second time this happened was one morning recently. My oldest (again) wakes up at about 5:45 every morning. By the time I get up and get a cup of coffee, he’s standing in our room holding his blanket asking to watch cartoons. As someone who’s traditionally been a morning guy, albeit one that likes to get up, drink coffee and watch the morning news, I’ve tried not to get annoyed at having a 5 a.m. shadow. But the other morning as he was standing there looking at me with those big hazel eyes, I remembered what it was like to be standing there. I remembered getting up early before anyone else in the house was awake, and getting my blanket and pillow and plopping down in front of the TV and watching early morning cartoons. Being up alone watching TV, doing whatever I wanted while the rest of the house was asleep was liberating, and enjoyable. As my childhood memories inevitably fade, memories of this time in my childhood remain crystallized.


A lot of things are different between then and now, but I suspect that children haven’t changed all that much. Watching cartoons is ten times more complicated now than it used to be thanks to a number of in-line electronic devices, but despite this, my son appears to enjoy his morning ritual every bit as much as I used to enjoy mine.


But the interesting thing is that for two brief moments in the last month, I’ve felt what it’s like to be a kid again. And you know what? It’s nice. It’s nice to shed the day to day craziness and cynicism and see the world through the eyes of someone who’s never been dumped, never lost a job, never bounced a check or any of the other dozen things that makes us adults. 


Being an adult has its perks, but every now and then, it’s nice to be a kid again.