Fear Factor

I like writing about funny things.  Recalling the moment of humor and the setup for how it all transpired is incredibly satisfying when I can do it so that others find the funny, too.  Life, of course, isn’t always fun and games.  As a parent, the feeling I feel when looking at Cameron more often then anything else, second only to unbridled joy is abject terror.

Which, if you know me, isn’t like me.  I’m not really afraid of anything.  Snakes, spiders, the dark… even buying feminine hygiene products alone.  Nothing bothers me that much.  But I worry about Cameron.  I worry about him getting sick or injured.  I worry about his life and his future.  I worry about whether he’ll have good friends.  I worry about whether he’ll want to have a family of his own and whether, once he’s grown up, he’ll look back on his childhood with fondness.

I suppose these are the worries any parent has with regards to their children.  But with only a 16mo old, I don’t really hear anyone else talking about it.  Granted, that could be because I work out of my house and all of my coworkers are hundreds or thousands of miles away.  It could also be because Cam’s just too young for me to stress out about these things quite yet.

However, I don’t think I’m really stressing.  There’s a difference between stressing and worrying.  I don’t lay awake at night.  I don’t get cold sweats.  I don’t hyperventilate.  At least not yet.

I don’t stress because I know that he’s got a loving home.  He’s got 2 parents who will do anything for him.  He’s got 6 grandparents that love him, too.  He’s got a nanny who smiles as big as he does every morning she walks in the door.  And he’s got a large family and friend network that he doesn’t even yet realize is there, too.

On the other hand, I worry because I want to be a good dad.  Sure, I want to be the cool dad.  But I also want to be the dad that he can come to with serious questions and discuss deep topics without fear of judgement or ridicule.  I want to be the dad he wants to bring to show and tell.  I want to be the dad he wants to play with.  I want to be the dad and man he wants to eventually be.

When Cam was born, his grandma gave me a laminated poem.  It was written by John Wooden, late coach of the UCLA Bruins.  It’s a wonderful reminder for both dad’s and mom’s and sets a great expectation.  I hope I can meet it.

The Little Chap Who Follows Me
A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me,
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he’ll go the selfsame way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate’er he sees me do, he tries;
Like me, he says, he’s going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine
The base in me he must not see,
The little chap who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Through summer’s fun and winter’s snow,
In building for the years to be
The little chap who follows me!

Baby Crack

A few days ago, I wrote about Cameron and baby crack.  These are the talismans for every parent.  Things that they can do that will instantly affect their child’s behavior (usually to distract the kid from whatever has currently got them wound up).

For Cam, one baby crack item is Elmo.  He just loves the voice (the PoE).  Curiously, he hasn’t yet put together the voice and the image.  So when we took him to the mall a week or so ago and he saw a wall of Elmo’s – no reaction at all.  But press Elmo’s hand on one of these digitally-enhanced stuffed animals and poof: a smile on Cam’s face that simply beams.

But Cam has a few other items that are just as transformative.  And in our house, you can guess that it didn’t take long to figure out that the telephone is one of those things.

You all know that I’m a geek.  Including work-related numbers, there are five different phone numbers you can dial right now that will ring on either my left or right hip (no, please don’t try).  So it should be no surprise that I have my cell phones on me almost constantly.  Add in Tina to the mix and there are now several phones that tempt Cam with their bright buttons.

Cameron, of course, pays attention to them.  Almost from birth, he’s just a little more tan than any other child his age from the proximity to the glow of a Blackberry or iPhone.  We didn’t actually intend for this to happen, of course… but we use our phones a lot for work and I have my own addiction to my iPhone. The result is that he wants what we pay attention to… and besides, isn’t a Blackberry just a cool device to play with?

Now, Cameron greets most toys with an open mouth hug.  Phones are no exception, which is good for neither him nor the phone itself.  But after the initial desire to eat it comes the desire to push the buttons – especially on Blackberries (he is just now realizing the iPhone has a reactive screen).  And he does so with aplomb.

This is troublesome because phones aren’t cheap.  So I figured I’d get him his own to play with.  Visiting the local Verizon store, I was informed that they don’t have any old demo phones that they can give away.  Apparently all of theirs are real and have to be returned upon retirement.  But the Verizon rep said that he’d worked at Radio Shack and that they always had dozens of non-working examples in the store that were no longer on display.

Perfect.

So the next time I was near Radio Shack, I stopped in.  Unbelievably, the Verizon rep was right.  This store had more than 30 phones for me to choose from!  Picking a Blackberry that looked like mom and dad’s but wasn’t exactly the same color, I thought this would give Cam the best of both worlds:  something he could play with and something that wouldn’t use my cell phone minutes to dial Antarctica.

I brought it home and proceeded to bathe it with Clorox wipes.  Figuring that it had been held by hundreds of people who didn’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom, I almost decided to dunk it in bleach.  But I wiped it and let it dry about a dozen times (not exaggerating).  I then made sure that it was completely solid and nothing could come off it (the battery door was already glued shut).

Approaching Cam’s room where he was playing with his nanny, I called out “guess what Dad got you?” as I walked into the room holding the Blackberry in front of me.  Cam stopped what he was doing when he saw it.  Momentarily frozen in place with sheer excitement, I could see the facial transformation as his smile lit up.  In what I think was as close to a run as he could get, he charged.

Grabbing the Blackberry out of my hands, he proceeded to press the buttons with such rapidity, I thought for a moment that he was a crazed rat in a Skinner box looking for a food pellet from an empty chamber.

I let him have the Blackberry for about an hour before I decided that it was too much.  He wasn’t letting go.  He wasn’t playing with any other toys.  He wasn’t responding to verbal enticements from his nanny or me.  He appeared not to be interested in food, either.  All he wanted was to press the buttons.  Baby crack, indeed.

So now I’ve got Cameron’s Kryptonite.  I just don’t know how I can ethically use it.

Shibboleth

A few years ago, I blogged, asking for the secret password to get past Tier 0-level customer service “technicians”.  In fact, I’d even really forgotten about posting this request until I was revamping the site for my current return after a year+ hiatus.

Randall Munroe over at xkcd, as usual, read my mind:

Oh, and if you don’t understand the shibboleth reference, watch this clip from my favorite TV show, The West Wing (sorry, couldn’t embed).

Meltdown

There are a lot of things you do as a parent that, had someone told me I was going to do before Cameron was born, I would’ve never believed.  Singing, dancing and talking in a high-pitched voice are just the beginning.  Changing explosive diapers (you never saw poo like this before) is another.  But perhaps the most challenging thing as a parent is getting your child to be calm when they’re losing their cool.

Interestingly enough, most parents learn to tune out their own child’s particular brand of whining.  It’s a defense mechanism, I suppose.  If we weren’t able to ignore it, there would, unfortunately, be more incidents of infanticide.  Cruel?  Absolutely.  True?  You betcha’.

In fact, there was event a recent study done that whining is, in fact, the worst sound known to mankind.  Thankfully, it is at those moments when you also get to see parents at their absolute best.  The creativity can be astounding.  For the most part, though, they’ll cajole, convince and yes, even bribe.

So what can you do with a 16mo old who barely understands what you’re trying to tell him?  Well, you start with toys.  It’s ugly, but bribery is first on the list.  Core to this is the belief that the child’s frustration is centered on the desire for something they don’t currently have.  So you think it’s a toy and you’ll give them ANYTHING if they’d just stop screaming.

Driving down the highway with Cameron in his carseat today was no different.  He started to fuss and without taking both hands off the wheel (and without looking at him, either – a learned skill I never really thought I would need), I reached back, grabbed one of several “car toys” and placed it in his lap.  You could hear it a few seconds later, bouncing off the back of the seat in front of him.

Nope… that wasn’t the toy he wanted.

No problem – I’m prepared.  I have more.

Thud.

Crap.  Not that one either.

OK.  Maybe I can tickle him to take his mind off whatever’s got him frustrated.  Still driving one-handed… still always looking at the road, I reach back and start with his feet.  Tickling up his leg and onto his chest, I’m not getting any love in return.  In fact, the screaming is getting worse.

Tina finally decides that maybe he just needs to be entertained (Yeah, remember Tina?  She was sitting in the front passenger seat the whole time.  Would’ve been nice if she’d helped the driver.  But whatever.  She was helping now.).  Her idea?  A napkin.

Somewhere, in the distance, I heard a 1950’s comedic rim-shot.  A napkin.  Pshaw.

Do you know how many problems there are with giving a little boy a napkin?  The first place it’s going to go is into his mouth.  Then we’ve got wet napkin.  Wet napkin in the car, on his carseat, in his mouth.  Which leads to wet napkin in his hair, under his fingernails (yes, they have them), probably in his nose, too… in short, everywhere.  Tina realized this after a few seconds, too, and decided that perhaps she should use the napkin to entertain Cameron.

Her plan?  Napkin Ghost Puppet.

Napkin Ghost Puppet

Holy crap.  It worked.  I want to make fun of it, but I can’t because it solved the problem.  You don’t even need me to tell you it was successful – you can simply see it in Cameron’s face.

Flash forward a few hours later and we were back in the car.  As it was close to dinner time and Cam again started the slow burn to complete meltdown.  Given the time of day, we know this could get really ugly.  So, we went straight for the jugular.  We pulled out the baby crack and fed it to Cam like candy.  Of course, I’m talking about the little red monster himself:  Elmo.

I don’t know what it is about the voice, but Cam could be (and has been) in full temper tantrum mode and Elmo’s “la-la la-la” is the same as whipping out a Snausage in front of a golden retriever.

Crying?  Over.
Volume?  Silent.
Motion?  Still.

And apparently parents everywhere know the Power of Elmo (PoE).  From a recent episode of Cougar Town:

You just can’t argue with the PoE.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of Elmo on my iPhone.  It’s my one iDevice I didn’t have the full range of Elmo already installed and we really needed it.  Do you know what happens when you give a baby crack addict a taste of the good stuff and then don’t have any more?  Yeah, it’s not pretty.  Luckily we were close to home and got him fed and in bed just in the nick of time.

So I’m off to go load the rest of our Elmo collection onto my iPhone.  In the meantime, if you have other baby crack items that you’re willing to share, we’re willing to try them out.  Put them in the comments to share.

My kingdom for a seat

I’m flying a lot these days for work. I actually love to travel – and even love the “airport experience”. So it’s not the huge inconvenience that others find it to be. When I started traveling more, I purposefully chose Delta to be my air carrier of choice. I wanted to rack up frequent flyer miles and eventually achieve “status” – that little thing that helps get you upgrades and other perks for being seen as a truly “frequent” flyer.

Sho’ nuff, it only took a few months before I’d reached Gold Medallion status. This is the second of four tiers in the Delta Medallion program. I’ve got nothing on the folks who have Platinum or Diamond status, but getting a first-class upgrade every now and again is pretty nice. But it doesn’t always happen, and it surely doesn’t happen on planes where there is no first class, such as my flight the other day returning from St. Louis.
The plane was a CRJ-50. If you’ve ever been on one, you’d know. People over 6′ tall have to stoop to walk the aisle. People more than 2′ wide have to virtually walk sideways. The seats are all leather, which I suppose is alright… but they’re not exactly made for large individuals, either. It was with extreme fear that I saw a large gentleman moving towards my row and a confirmation of that fear as he pointed to the window seat next to me.
These days, that’s the indicator that you (the person in the aisle seat) has to move to make way. No “hey, I’m sitting there, can you please move?” or “Hi – looks like I have the seat next to you.” Rather – it’s just a point and a grunt. But ok. Whatever. I can understand traveler sign language (TSL).
As I stood up, I dropped the armrest between the seats. This is also TSL – it means: you stay on your side of the row and I’ll stay on mine. Or, in other words: DON’T TOUCH ME. I knew we were going to have a problem as he lifted it out of the way as he moved into his seat.
Actually, he didn’t have a choice. He was now using 100% of his seat… and 25% of mine. Ugh. This was going to suck. 2.25 hours from St. Louis to Raleigh. I wanted to move – and I thought about going up to the flight attendant and suggesting that I should get 100% of my seat for the price I paid for it. But remember those small aisles? Well, between the other passengers boarding and my desire to get home quickly, I simply didn’t want to make a stink. God knows that the person who complains is more likely to find themselves a guest of the TSA for a little while.
So I kept my seat – leaning into the aisle the whole trip home. I was getting more and more pissed off at each passing moment. Upon arrival at RDU, I found the gate agent and asked for the Station Manager. This is the person who has ultimate control of all things airline-related at your particular terminal. The gate agent informed me that the Station Manager wasn’t present (it was, after all, 9:30pm), but that they were a red-vest and could handle whatever issue I threw at them.
I said “ok” fine – I wanted compensation for the trip as a result of not getting the full seat that I’d paid for. I was forceful, but calm. Direct but not demanding. I simply indicated that I didn’t believe that I should have to pay for a full seat when I didn’t get one.
RedVest’s first response was that I should’ve let someone know before leaving STL.
“Wait. It’s MY responsibility to tell you when I clearly don’t have my seat to myself?”, I asked.
Well, he said… sorta’. He explained that I should’ve asked the flight attendant to reseat me and that had they been unable to do so, that they would’ve asked the other passenger to get off the plane or buy a second seat.
I was nonplussed. I again suggested compensation. RedVest offered a $50 travel voucher. I demurred and suggested that there was a) more that he could do for me; and, b) that I wasn’t going to leave until he was able to do something more – as I knew that while he suggested I call Delta Customer Service when I got home, that leaving the airport was giving up leverage. So I stayed put and started talking with him in a more collegial tone. Commiserating about the crowds, stupid travelers, “real” problems, etcetera.
Finally, he asked to look up my account to see what he could offer. I was a little shocked (though I shouldn’t have been) at the amount of data he had access to about me. He asked if I was going to be taking any more flights in the near future and I said I was, but I hadn’t booked them yet. So he pondered his navel for a little while and then suggested that he could offer me some frequent flyer miles.
In the Delta system, there are two types of miles. Miles you can use to redeem for future stuff… and miles that count towards your Medallion status level. I, as you can imagine, am not really interested in redeeming miles for more time on airplanes. So I asked him in a good natured way whether they were Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) – their official term for the “good” miles. He gently laughed in commiseration with my assessment of the situation as he indicated that they weren’t. Bummer.
Again, he went back to contemplating the nature of the universe and suggested that well, perhaps he could do miles plus something else. “Like what?”, I asked. He then told me that he could do a one-way class upgrade that I could redeem for any future flight – guarantying a first-class seat when my normal status didn’t/can’t get it for me (such as on virtually any flight from Atlanta). OK, now we’re getting somewhere.
So I said, ok… let’s do a package. Make it work for me. And he proceeded to print out the materials granting me the one-way upgrade.
Then we turned back to the miles. He offered 5,000. I said come on… how many miles does it take, at minimum, to get somewhere? 25,000. Right… so 5,000 gets me what? Nothing. He responded, ok… how about 7,500. I paused and said, point blank “We need to hit 5 digits. You can do 10,000.”
It was his turn to pause. “OK… 10,000. But I can’t do anymore.” He printed out the card granting me the 10,000 miles (which I think we’re going to use to go to London… but that’s a story for another day).
Right as he handed it to me, I said, “OK… now we can do that $50 travel voucher.”
He was taken aback. “What? I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can… we were talking about a package. I just spent 2.25 hours leaning into the aisle, getting hit by the flight attendant EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE WALKED BY. You can do the voucher. Give me the package.”, I said, almost invoking the Jerry Maguire “Show me the money.” tone.
And as it was printing, RedVest lamented that he was going to get a call about it in the morning. As I walked away, thanking him for his help, I just told him to tell his boss that he was dealing with a professional negotiator.
What I think I really need is a tagline I can say after I’ve gotten my way. “You’ve been negotiated…” just sounds too cheesy.