More Unhappy People Like Me Grudgingly Moving to the Suburbs and Writing All About It

I think I need to start a whole new section of the blog just to cover all the OTHER people who are writing about their own decision to move to the suburbs.  Here I am thinking I have some clever new angle — a blog all about moving from the city to the suburbs!!! — and I find that I am, in fact, legion.  Even worse, I’m pretty much the worst musician in the band, the guy they put on, you know, the triangle or something because he has a big moving van.

On the one hand, it’s nice to have the validation that I’m not alone in the world.  On the other, it explains why writing this stupid blog hasn’t made me rich.

Just to sum up some of our recent coverage:

Now, I’ve come across the very funny “Daddy Confidential” blog mourning his wife’s decision –he makes it clear that it was not his — to move to the suburbs.  And, as always, a kid is involved:

We are doing this, of course, for our son of 20 months. We’re figuring that instead of concrete, city lights and the honking of cabs, he’ll be better served by woods, stars and the sound of crickets.

Toddlers, it turns out, are not ideally suited to apartment life. My son doesn’t understand why banging a rolling pin on the floor is not an acceptable musical expression. He’s perplexed that sitting on the sidewalk is forbidden, on account of the neighborhood dogs vying for territorial supremacy.

None of this should imply that New York isn’t kid-friendly. It’s just not parent-friendly. Applying to preschool involves the effort, expense and statistical likelihood of finding a kidney donor. Our elementary school is so oversubscribed that its playground bears the aesthetic composition of a crowded prison yard. The whole business fills my wife with a dread that can only be banished by the sight of a Talbots.

Admittedly, I am starting to panic. The skills one acquires in New York do not translate well into the suburbs. The city has made me impatient, vulgar, and arrogant. (Though I was probably already vulgar.)

It’s good stuff.  The post was from about a month ago, and it’s actually entitled “Sex and the Suburbs, Part 1,” in what is probably a play on “Sex and the City,” since there doesn’t seem to be a Part 2.  Perhaps it’s still pending a trip to Abu Dhabi.  I’ll keep an eye out for it, as well as any further Daddy adventures in the suburbs.

Anyway, as the self-appointed driver of the Disaffected Urban Exile Welcome Wagon, I’m happy to say: “Welcome to the Suburbs!”

REVISITED: Does Having a Dog Prepare You For Having a Kid? The Answer — Not Really

About a year ago, before I ever had a kid, I wrote about how I thought that having a dog would prepare me, at least a little, for having a child.  After all, once you have a dog, you have to clean up after it, feed it, and you can’t go away for a weekend or something without taking care of it.  All true.

That said, now that I have a baby, I realize what a schmuck I was.  Babies are much tougher.  First of all, I never realized simply how stupid babies are. The dog is stupid, but at least has a survival instinct that keeps him, for example, from jumping off our deck.  The baby is not only stupid, but seems to have no interest in staying alive.  I spend a lot of time just trying to keep him from killing himself: babyproofing cabinets, putting up stair guards, etc.  Still, he keeps finding ways that could put himself in danger. Maybe he’s depressed.  Can babies get depressed?

Of course, there are other difference.  Having a dog didn’t prepare me for how needy a baby is.  The dog will usually just chill for a while, sitting in corner or in his crate.  Babies require a lot more attention.  I sort of knew that, but I sort of thought we could occasionally plop him down in a pack-n-play, away from all the dangerous things that he likes to sneak around to, and take a nap.  That doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

So, yeah, it’s a lot more work. But all that said, I do think that having a dog is one of those milestones on the road to maturity that you pass on the way to having a child.  That is, the “I am mature enough to care for others besides myself” continuum goes like this:
  • Get a plant.  Try to keep the plant alive.  If the plant dies, stop here. Don’t get any other living things that might depend on you for their survival. If the plant lives, though, then keep going.
  • Get a dog.  Try to keep the dog alive.  If the dog dies because you forgot to feed it for two weeks, stop here.  Go back to getting a plant and start over. If the dog lives, though, then keep going.
  • Have a baby.  Try to keep the baby alive.  Definitely do NOT kill the baby.  Practice is over.

So far, so good.  Most of my plants are still alive, the dog is doing well, and so far I have managed to keep the baby alive, despite all his best efforts to off himself.

First a Dog, Now a Baby: My Poop-Filled Life

I used to have a poop-free life.  Not completely poop-free, of course. I had to deal with my own poop.  Not a whole lot of fun there.  But at least it was only mine. One person’s pool.  Ahh, the good old days.

Then I got a dog, and that was the end of the poop-free life. I had to deal with poop pretty much every day. On a good day, it was a good poop: a poop on the grass, during our daily walks, while I was armed with a baggie. Or a poop on the wee-wee pad in my bathroom, which has become Kozy the Dog’s designated “inside poop zone.”  On a bad day, though, a bad poop: a poop, say, on the living room rug.  But good or bad, there was poop.  Every day.

Now I have a baby, and my life is nothing but poop. Bad poop. People warned me, but I never quite appreciated how babies are basically poop machines.  They’re amazing, these little tiny beautiful creatures, constantly pumping out an astounding flow of truly ghastly poop.

How do they do that? What kind of unholy alchemy is this? This transubstantiation of liquid into solid, or at least something that is partly solid.  You put in a little bit of harmless-looking formula, and you get back a noxious miasma of inhuman sludge.

People ask me what’s the biggest change now that I’ve moved to the suburbs.  That.  That’s the biggest change.

  • City = Poop Free
  • Suburbs = Poop Filled

Now, I know that I can’t blame it on the suburbs.  It’s really more correlation than causation.  I know that. But of the many things that I miss about living in the city, right at the top of what is a pretty long list is this: the loss of my poop-free life.

Advice for People Adopting a Baby: How NOT to Prepare for Your Home Study Interview

Now that we’re back in the states with our little boy, I can tell this story about the adoption process that I embargoed for reasons I’ll explain at the end.

So when you’re adopting a kid, you have to go through a whole screening process. They do criminal checks, take fingerprints, stuff like that. Makes sense, right?  Also, you have to complete a home study interview, where a social worker comes to your home for like three hours to ask you a bunch of questions about your childhood, your parenting philosophy, whether you’re ready to have a child, etc.

It’s not really an “interview” like a job interview. You already have the “referral” and are pretty far through the adoption process, so it’s really more like a final “red flag” check where the social worker just wants to make sure that you’re not living in filth, that you’re not raising baby-eating snakes, that you don’t have naked pictures of little boys adorning your walls, stuff like that. My guess is that the bar is pretty low — the social worker just wants to make sure that nothing jumps out that indicates that you’d put a child at risk.

I felt pretty confident.  We have a nice home, we’re nice people, we showed a commitment to raising a family by leaving the decadent urban Sodom and Gomorrah to come to the land of picket fences and play groups.  We’re model parents!

Of course, my wife is crazy.  So she treated the interview like it was a “make or break” moment for our adoption, as if we had to be absolutely PERFECT or they might take our baby away.  She was running around the house all week cleaning up and straightening out, basically scouring our condo to eliminate any potential sign that we’d be unsuitable parents.  Kozy the dog?  Groomed and cleaned.  Joe the husband?  Get a haircut!  Dying plant in the hallway?  Out you go!  No way we’re going to let the interviewer think that we can’t take care of a plant, or she might nix the adoption.  She was impossible to live with.

Later that week, we’re sitting down with this very nice woman answering some very predictable questions about us and our personal histories.  Essentially, you really only need to make a simple impression: I have no intention of beating my child.  Other than that, you pretty much can’t go wrong.

So what happens?  We get this question: what is your worst memory as a child? I go first, and I describe how I fell from a tree when I was about eight while I was picking apples with my father, and about how worried and upset he was. I thought it was a pretty good story, all about how much my father cared about me, worried about me, took good care of me, just like — hint! — I’ll take good care of this kid that you’re letting me adopt.

And then my wife starts answering the question, telling us about how her worst memory is about how she was fighting with her sister, and accidentally broke a closet door.  So far so good.  Then she explains how the bad part of the memory is that her mother spanked her.  Ummm, okay, but let’s try to stay away from that whole spanking thing, huh?  And THEN she goes on to say that, well, because she’d been so bad and disobeyed her mother, she probably DESERVED IT.

RED FLAG!  RED FLAG! RED FLAG!

Okay, it wasn’t that bad.  The social worker barely noticed.  It’s just that I was hyper-sensitive after watching my wife make our home a dying-plant-free-zone, telling me how important it was to make the right impression, now expressing the rather unorthodox opinion that you can’t blame parents who spank their kids because, you know, sometimes you JUST HAVE TO SMACK THAT KID AROUND A LITTLE TO KEEP HIM IN LINE!  It was hilarious. My guess is that if it was okay to say that, we probably could have kept the poor plants.

So my lesson for people adopting a child is simple: don’t do that.

P.S. My wife wouldn’t let me tell that story for the past four months until we were safely back in the states with our boy.  To the extent that someone in authority reads this blog, let me state very clearly that we would never, ever, under any circumstances hit a child. So please don’t take my kid away.

The Day I Met My Son

It happened suddenly.  After years of waiting our baby to be born, never knowing when our turn would finally come. And then, when it finally came, more months of waiting while all the paperwork was completed, torturous months where our only connection to the little boy who would be, already was, our son were the occasional pictures and short videos that we’d play over and over again. And then counting down the days while we took our last vacation in Hawaii, ultimately counting down the hours — 120 hours until we meet him, now 85, now 40, now 12 (tomorrow), now 3 (today!).

After all that waiting, it happened suddenly.

We arrived in Taiwan Sunday night, November 13, meeting up with my father-in-law, who lives right now in China and came to Taipei to meet his first grandson.  A pretty good deal for me, since now I had two Mandarin-speaking family members to help me get around in a country where I don’t speak the language.  Had dinner, tried to get some sleep, and in the morning piled into a car for the three hour drive south to where our son has been living with his foster mother for the past 10 months.

I was strangely calm.  I was expecting to be anxious, nervous about all the things that could go wrong. Maybe he would cry at the sight of us, something we’d been warned to expect. Maybe we’d suddenly realize that we had absolutely no idea what we’re doing when we actually got him back to the hotel and had to bathe him, clean him up, put him to bed.  But I wasn’t.  I was placid, relaxed, almost numb, just breathing in and out and trying to soak up the occasion.

But once we got to the town where he lived, things started to speed up as we went through a bunch of frustrating preliminaries. Go to the agency. Meet some people. Shake some hands. Accept congratulations. Fill out some more forms.  Then, for some reason, they take you out to a store to buy baby stuff.  We’d been told in our orientation meetings that this was the routine, and I guess it makes sense to do all that before you pick up the baby, but it seemed an unnecessary distraction.  I don’t need to go shopping. BRING ME MY BABY.

That’s when the movie started to really go in fast forward.  We finish shopping, and I’m expecting to go back to the car, put away our stuff, get in the car, and drive to wherever it is they are keeping my son.  Instead, we leave the store, walk down half a block, turn into a driveway, and there’s our car.  That’s the house.  We’re there.

We’re there.  This is where he lives.

What now?  I’m not ready. Totally not ready.  Months of waiting, YEARS of waiting, and it’s about to happen.  And I’m not ready.  I can see, out of the corner of my eye, a woman holding a baby about 30 feet from me, in the vestibule of his house.  That’s him. He’s right there. But I’m not ready yet. I have to savor the moment, put it in a box, store it away. And I need the camera!  We need pictures, we need to get the video.  So I don’t look at him. I look away, I focus on putting away the stuff, getting the camera. I turn to my wife. I ask her, “are you ready,” and she says yes, smiling, a nervous smile, a beautiful smile.

And so we turned to the house, and became parents.

 

Our Last Real Vacation for a While, our Last Stop on the Way to Parenthood

Well, this is it.  We’re heading off next week to Taiwan to pick up our little boy, having made it through the last six months of waiting.  The adoption is now final, so we’ve actually finalized the date when we’re going to meet him.  It’s really a big day.  I hear that when you adopt a baby, you get to celebrate not only the birthday, but the day you actually “became” a parent.  So good for him — more presents.

And because we’ve been told that being parents means that you don’t get to have any fun in your life ever again, we’re fitting in a little stayover in Hawaii on the way to Taiwan.  Now, I don’t want you to think we’re putting off picking up our little bundle of joy so we can sit on a beach drinking mai-tais.  I’d go get him today if I could, but the date is set by the court and the adoption agency.  So since we have a few weeks between now and then, we might as well spend it enjoying our last days of childlessness.

And enjoy it we will.  One of the nice things about adopting is that we’re only a few weeks away from becoming parents, but unlike most expectant mothers, my wife can do fun stuff like drink!  And comfortably sit on a beach! And swim! And drink!

So we shall.  See you in a few weeks. We’ll let you know how it goes…..

 

Does Having a Dog Prepare You For Having a Kid?

I’ve written before how all my parent friends are enjoying themselves right now at the news that we’re going to have a kid. Most of them had kids years ago, and they’re getting a lot of kicks out of the idea of me becoming a father at 44.  “Oh, it’s going to be so hard.”  “What a big change.”  Stuff like that.

So just to mess with them, I keep shrugging it off, telling them that it’s no big deal.  After all, I have a dog.  That’s pretty much the same thing.

Oh, how they hate that.  They start sputtering: “Outrageous!  How can you compare having a dog to having a kid?!?”  Okay, people don’t exclaim “Outrageous!” anymore, but you catch my drift.

And I really am just messing with them.  I don’t think it’s the same thing, but I actually think that having a dog is good preparation for having a kid.  Just hear me out.

  • First, having a dog means that you get used to cleaning up someone’s poop. That’s a big step in a man’s life.  Once you’ve broken the seal on that, a little more poop isn’t going to make a difference.
  • Second, having a dog means that you have to feed something every day if you want to keep it alive. Plants? You can water them once in a while, whenever you remember.  Plants will deal.  You have to remember to feed the dog, just like you’ll have to remember to feed the baby.
  • Third, having a dog means that you’ve already lost your freedom, anyway.  It used to be we could decide to just go away for the weekend, literally at the last minute. Those days are done.  Can’t leave a dog alone at home for the weekend.

You see my point?  Same thing!  Piece of cake.

Okay, yes, I understand that a baby has a much higher degree of difficulty.  But I do think that any couple thinking of having kids should first think about getting a dog.  At the very least, if you find that you actually can’t keep a dog alive — if, for example, you run off to Atlantic City for the weekend and only remember that you have a dog when you smell his rotting carcass upon your return — then you probably should keep practicing good birth control.

Why Do Parents Want You to Have Kids, Then Laugh at You When You Do?

Now that we’ve announced we’re going to be having a baby,  friends of ours keep giving us that whole, “oh boy, you don’t know what you’re in for” speech.

Have you ever noticed that?  When you don’t have kids, you can’t escape parents who constantly tell you about all the wonderful things you’re missing.  Picture after picture posted on Facebook, all those Christmas cards of the happy family, the occasional awkward question about whether you’re ever going to have kids.

But once you announce you’re having a kid, the tune changes.  Now, all they want to do is gloat about how miserable you’re going to be.  They laugh and laugh like hyenas — “oh, all that nice furniture you bought for you new condo, THAT’S all over,” “enjoy your nights out while you still can,” stuff like that.  Like the vampire at your window trying to seduce you into going outside, or the the old joke about the devil:

John arrives at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter tells John that he has arrived at a moment where the balance between Heaven and Hell is exactly equal. This event allows him the unique opportunity to take a look around at Heaven AND Hell and decide where he wants to spend eternity.

John takes a little stroll around Heaven … nice puffy clouds…people hanging around playing harps…smiling…peaceful. He thinks that looks pretty nice. Could be a good choice. With that he hops in the elevator down to Hell…

The doors open and the devil shows him into a big room….WOW…. What a party! People dancing, drinking up a storm, singing, laughing, having an amazing time. “Now,” he shouts, “THIS is the way to spend eternity!”

He jumps back on the elevator and runs to tell St. Peter that while Heaven is certainly lovely, Hell is simply an awesome party and that is his choice. John jumps back on the elevator and when the doors open he is shocked to see flames shooting everywhere, people screaming with fear and pain, etc….

John quickly runs to find the Devil and says, “What happened? I was just here and it was a giant party.. how could this be?”

“Simple,” replies The Devil .“Before you were a prospect… now you’re a client!”

Essentially, that’s what happens.  When you don’t have kids, you’re a prospect — all these parents want you to join the team, so they try to make it as appealing as possible. Then once you sign up, they can let it all hang out.  Jackals. Oh, how I hate them.

The Ultimate Suburban Rite of Passage: We’re Having a Baby! Or, At Least, We Will Be Having One

So we’re having a baby.  To be more precise, the baby has actually already been had.  He was born back in January to a young woman in Taiwan, someone I’m hoping doesn’t change her mind or anything in the next few months while we complete the adoption process.  His name is Tien-Yu, he goes by “Yo-Yo,” he’s absolutely gorgeous, and in a few months that will be unbearable to endure, he will be ours.

I’ve written before that one of the reasons we moved to the suburbs was that we were planning on having kids.  I didn’t mention that we’d been in the adoption process for the past few years, impatiently waiting for our name to get called.  It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever had to do, sitting and waiting and filling out forms and waiting and checking in and waiting and listening to conference calls and waiting — it just drives you crazy.  You want to be a parent, you’re ready to be a parent, you moved yourself out of your comfortable home in the city so that you could have a home better suited to being a parent, and you’re not yet a parent.  Drives me nuts.

So now that we have a “referral,” it’s more waiting while the adoption paperwork gets processed. More forms, more money, more interviews to make sure we’re not pedophiles.  You would think that it would get easier now, since at least we can see the endgame approaching, a trip to Taiwan to meet him and pick him up.

But it’s actually even more brutal. It’s amazing how quickly the bonding process starts for parents who have been waiting years for a child.  You get a picture of that baby, you get told that he’s going to be yours, and he immediately becomes your son.  That’s the good part.  The bad part is the torture of having a son who is right now being cared for by someone else.  I know it’s crazy, because I haven’t even met him, and all I have right now is three baby pictures and a report on his medical condition, but HE IS MY SON.  And he’s in someone else’s care. Someone else is feeding him, bathing him, taking care of him if he gets sick, putting him to sleep at night.

Imagine having your baby in the hospital, and then being unable to see him for six months while he sat in foster care.  That’s how I feel right now.  I have to sit and wait for probably the next six months while Taiwanese bureaucrats process a bunch of papers that will allow me to take my son home.  To paraphrase Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally,” when you realize that you are going to spend the rest of your life as a parent, you want the rest of your life to start RIGHT NOW.”

So I’m going a little crazy here, even while I exult in this new feeling of being a father.  This is, after all, what I signed up for.  Six months.

Why Everyone Should Own a Dog, Including and Especially Single Men

We’ve had the Kozy dog for a little over a year now, and I will say without reservation that it is the best decision that I have every made, other than marrying my wife, a clarification I feel obligated to make because I do enjoy the occasional sexy time that I would almost certainly never have again if I said that buying a dog was a better decision than getting married. Not to mention that, with the real estate market struggling like it has, I don’t quite have the wherewithal to give up half my money.  So the wife is the best decision, no question.  But the dog was a pretty good one, too.

Here’s why: no one has ever been as happy to see me, at any point in my life, as that dog is every single time I come home.  I’ve never seen such joy. It’s at a level of Times Square at the end of World War II, but EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I come home, and he’s practically quivering with joy, shaking his tail so vigorously that he basically is shaking his whole body.  My wife? She might rouse herself from the couch to give me a kiss hello.  But my dog loses his mind.

So far, that’s really the best part about living in the suburbs. I never wanted a dog in the city, because I could not bear the thought of having to climb up and down those stupid stairs every day to walk him all the time.  But in retrospect, I was wrong.  I should have gotten a dog years ago, although that would mean I wouldn’t have THIS dog, and I honestly can’t imagine having any dog than Kozy.  Yes, I know that if I’d gotten a dog five years ago, before Kozy was ever born, I’d love that dog too and be unable to imagine owning any other dog.  But that hypothetical imaginary version of me is simple wrong: THIS dog is the best.

So I should have gotten a dog back when I lived in the city.  Frankly, everyone should have a dog: urbanist, suburbanite, people living on the moon.  Get a dog.

In fact, I’d particularly recommend my single male friends looking for female companionship to get a dog.  First of all, having a dog is a signal to women that you have at least some basic nurturing skills, which women find sexy.  Nothing turns a woman off more than to come back to your apartment and find some long-dead plant festering in the corner, a sign that you’re so incapable of taking care of anything that you couldn’t even manage to WATER A PLANT.  You bring that young lady back up to your place, and show her that you’ve actually managed to keep a dog alive, and you’re well on your way to Sexy Time.

Second, having a dog is a pretty well-known way to meet women. You don’t realize how many other people have dogs until you have one yourself.  It’s like how when you buy a car, you start to notice all the other people who have the same car.  So now that I have a dog, I’ve started to notice all the people walking their dogs when I’m in the city, something to which I was completely oblivious back in my ignorant dog-free days.  And a lot of those people are young, attractive women who have clearly recognized the value of unqualified adoration, something they apparently aren’t getting so much of from the likes of you.  They’re out there, walking their dogs, waiting for you.  Not to mention how cute dogs, and my dog is awfully cute are like catnip (okay, mixing animal metaphors a bit here) to women.  Walk a dog, meet a woman. It’s that simple, and a lot easier than trolling bars.

Third, dogs are great for screening out women that you probably shouldn’t be dating or marrying.  If you’re dating a woman who doesn’t like dogs, that’s a really bad sign.  If she likes cats, that’s even worse, because cats are terrible, awful, evil things.  A woman who loves dogs has an appreciation for mindless, stupid creatures who give unbounded affection but make a lot of messes, which is exactly what men are. A woman who hates dogs is probably not going to like living with you, especially you, because you’re a pig.

Of course, all that wisdom comes too late for me, already happily married.  But it’s not too late for you.  You married people?  Get a dog.  Single people.  Get a dog.  Everyone should get a dog.