Signs of the Times

Or: Observational Evidence that the Worst of the Pandemic is Perhaps, Hopefully, Potentially Behind Us Notwithstanding Some Unforeseen Circumstances

Over the past couple of weeks, I have started to notice a few things that have put a smile on my face. And you actually know that I am smiling because I am fully vaccinated which means I’m now completely invincible to all viruses. It’s felt like a long, bleak winter trapped under an avalanche during the quarantine. But now finally there are signs, little flower buds pushing through the ice and snow to once again bloom in the warm sunlight.

You know that the worst of the pandemic is probably over when there is:

No More Plexiglass

Wawa took down some of their plexiglass barriers. I actually never minded the plexiglass. It made me feel more confident in the mornings when I had rushed out of the house without brushing my teeth wondering if my breath smelled bad. Nevertheless, it is nice to see my favorite quick stop for on-the-go beverages and snacks starting to loosen up and relax a little.

In-Store Dining

Dunkin’ Donuts has in-store dining available. We walk to our local Dunkin’ literally every week if not multiple times a week. It is our go-to coffee, donut, and just in general place. Our family loves Dunkin’ like a Winnie-the-Pooh loves honey or a sea cucumber loves algae or an infant koala loves its mother’s feces (good luck looking that up later). Now, we can once again enjoy our silky smooth cups of Joe and luscious Boston creams while being entertained by the sights and sounds of those patrons who run on Dunkin’. It’s like a free visit to the zoo but better because it doesn’t smell like manure.

Free Samples

Publix is handing out free cookies to kids again. Every other week or so when we’d roll our children down the aisles of our local grocery store in the rad two-seat carts that look like a race car, our kids would be disappointed as we passed by the bakery and there was no bubbly attendant to offer them a free cookie. But the cookies are BACK BABY! Now, the bakery is once again our first stop during a grocery run. It just makes the whole shopping experience much more pleasant when you have something to stuff your child’s face with to keep them from grabby, grabbing things and pointing and shouting at other customers who are wearing “alternative” clothing designs.

More Free Samples

Sam’s Club has free samples again. Albeit, they only put out one sample at a time, and the sample is covered by a plastic dome with a hand opening like some kind of sterile laboratory workstation. Nevertheless, the free food samples are basically why we have a membership. That, and we don’t have a Costco nearby… But whatever, I’ll take free food samples anytime, anyplace. My parents had a very difficult time teaching me not to take candy from strangers. I was always like, “Are you crazy‽ Why not‽ It’s candy! And it’s free! Of course I’ll have some!”

Even More Free Goodies

Our church recently began putting out the self-serve airpot pump thermal coffee carafe again. Basically, everything I’m excited about has to do with food in some way or another. Good riddance coronavirus. You’re kind of ugly and nobody likes you.

Still Yet More Rantings of a Flabbergasted Father

Car Seats

Both installing the car seat and buckling the child within the car seat are a literal pain in my back. You show me a car seat, and I will show an irritated parent ready to start throwing things. Car seats are meant to keep kids safe, but my experience has been that they are one of the single most dangerous obstacles that our family must overcome each and every day. First of all, good luck actually getting the seat snug and secured properly with those ridiculously placed straps and hooks that you can only tighten if you’re a contortionist for Cirque du Soleil. Secondly, you have to place your chubby toddler in the seat while bending over awkwardly on the verge of herniating every disc in your spine. And then, you’ve got to strap down that squirmy wormy, squishy meat tot with buckles that are clearly designed to pinch and tear away the flesh and fingers.

Mealtime

As babies, our kids seemed to eat anything. In fact, the trouble was getting them to not eat things such as socks and dirt. But as our oldest has grown, she’s become more and more picky. Right now, her one-year-old brother eats three times as much, consuming approximately his own body weight in food every four hours or so. She, on the other hand, has become quite the food aficionado of criticism. She will eat chicken nuggets but not tenders or strips. And I’m like, a chicken doesn’t have any of those things to begin with so why does it matter? She’ll eat mac ‘n cheese, but only that mac n’ cheese. Only this jelly on the PB&J. At this point, getting her to try something new is like trying to negotiate with D.B. Cooper who has already hijacked a plane full of hostages and parachuted out with all the money.

Peppa Pig

Don’t get me wrong. I love Peppa Pig. It’s easily one of the best kids shows out there, and it is just hilarious. There’s so much humor for parents, you can really tell the writers are all about using sarcasm to confuse their own children. But my one major gripe is this: Peppa’s favorite activity is jumping in muddy puddles. Seriously? Why would you do that to parents across the globe? Because if Peppa loves jumping in muddy puddles then you know what that means… it means my kid wants to jump in muddy puddles. But you know what? Muddy puddles are the worst. They seem like a cute, fun idea, like having an outdoor wedding. But in reality, they are a living nightmare. Puddles in a cartoon are clean and harmless. Real puddles in our city are not so much organic mud as they are an ungodly concoction of motor oil, tire shavings, bird droppings, tree pollen, and exhaust residue. What am I supposed to say to my kid when she wants to jump in that toxic sludge outside because Peppa does it? Either I crush her little dreams or I allow it at the risk of either someone calling child protective services or her gaining some special mutated powers.

Rubber Ducks

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m too lazy to look it up in the archives, and who cares because this one is a real doozy worth repeating. Not just rubber ducks, but bath toys in general: they all get disgusting and moldy inside no matter what you do. And don’t you try and message me with all that vinegar and baking soda and other homeopathic baloney. None of it works. It all gets moldy no matter what you do. Look people, we live in the 21st century. We have the entire world’s information at our fingertips. We put a man on the moon. We live in a day and age where science can craft a vaccine for a novel virus in less than a year. And yet, we can’t figure out how to design bath toys better? The rubber ducky has its own Sesame Street theme song, but they never talk about the short life expectancy of a rubber duck, and how mortifying it is as a parent when you kid accidently sucks out all the black gunk from the dirty ducky butt like it’s some kind of sippy cup juice. The horror. The absolute horror.

The moral of the story? I’ll let you come up with your own this time.

Interesting Things I Just Recently Learned

This whole time, our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter has thought that a grilled cheese sandwich is actually a “girl” cheese sandwich. I’m not sure what a “boy” cheese sandwich would be. Are dairy products sexist?

Speaking of sexism, did you know the reason we have so much pollen in America is because of a major, national movement several decades earlier to plant only male trees? City planners believed that female trees were undesirable because of all the fruits that would fall on the ground and rot. They thought that the pollen would just blow away in the wind. Obviously, it has not just blown away. Our collective allergies can all be blamed on a bunch of old, white dudes who thought male trees were better. Who knew that certain trees even had genders? Trees are definitely sexist, and my sinuses agree.

Speaking of nasally things, some dogs, and even humans, have the ability (and/or can be trained) to smell certain chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancers! They can detect these diseases years before a doctor’s diagnosis. I definitely need to get one of these dogs (or humans) for when my kids say they’re too sick to go to school.

Speaking of illnesses, did you know that the coronavirus is just a myth? I know because a bunch of my acquaintances from high school who flunked science class say that the virus just doesn’t add up. I didn’t even know viruses could do arithmetic. Obviously, I’m being sarcastic now. The virus is real. Science is real. My seasonal allergies are real, and the struggle is real.

Speaking of struggles, my wife is experiencing considerable nausea at the moment. We believe it is possibly a side effect of being pregnant. Or maybe a parasite. But maybe those things are the same? She didn’t know it at the time, but I had been praying for another baby. Our daughter had also been asking for a baby sister. So gotcha. This is our secondary, official joyful announcement by the way.

Keep keeping things interesting, and stay frosty my friends.

Even More Recent Rantings of a Flabbergasted Father

Yo, come at me bro…

What’s the deal with pickles?

Is there a kid who doesn’t love pickles? Seriously, why do kids like pickles so much? It would seem that the flavor would be too weird or intense, but no, given the opportunity they’ll devour an entire jar of fermented cucumbers. Is it because of all the pickles that women crave during pregnancy like some pre-birth, umbilical nourishment nostalgia? I don’t quite understand it, but at least it can make me feel better as a parent that I totally feed my children plenty of healthy “vegetables.”

How does the food even get there?

As I’ve mentioned before, my son has a natural talent and penchant for eating. He would score top marks on any appetizer aptitude test. And boy, can he shovel some macaroni like it’s going out of style; like he’s buying up subprime mortgages pre-2008; or like he’s collecting beanie babies and Pokémon cards before the nineties bubble popped. And yet, for as much food that he stuffs down his gullet, just as much ends up everywhere else. On the floor, walls, and ceiling. How does it even get up there? It’s behind his ears, up his nose, in his belly button, and down his pants. Cleaning up after mealtime, every time, feels like being held for detention to clean up the cafeteria after being unjustly blamed for starting that food fight—again.

Why do babies sleep with their butts up in the sky?

How is that even comfortable? Babies sleep like they are subconsciously practicing some ancient, Egyptian cat-yoga. Their derrieres in the air like some radio tower sending signals of flatulent grievances, or a lighthouse guiding salted, sea-weary sailors, or a flag, a proud, high-flying flag of glory to which we honor with an anthem of many fine, French horns. Can you imagine if adults still slept that way?

Why do kids ask for food they’re not going to eat?

I know it, they know it, we all know they’re not going to eat it. So why did I make another sandwich when I knew they weren’t going to eat it? Okay, so this one isn’t really a complaint or even a legitimate question. I know why. It’s so that I can have a reasonable excuse to eat a PB&J sandwich with a stringy cheese stick and a juice box.

Because this is the true secret to thriving in parenting: I always buy the 6-piece chicken nugget kids’ meal even when I know they won’t eat them all, so that I can have the leftovers.

Continued Recent Rantings of a Flabbergasted Father

You, sir, disgust me.

On practically a daily basis, I consciously take some time out of each day to connect with my wife by annoying her with my odd observations, random rants, mad monologues, and superfluous soliloquies.

For instance…

Our newly graduated one-year-old has recently mastered walking. By “mastered,” I mean like Jackie Chan kung-fu drunken boxing mastered kind of way. Sure, he’s more mobile than ever, but he’s also more dangerous than ever—a danger to himself and others, a menace to society. They require a license to drive on the roads. They should probably consider requiring a license to walk around. He’s like a waddling knee-capping ready to happen.

You know what else is a menace to society? Glitter.

I know I’ve complained ad nauseum about glitter before. But still. What demented, sadistic nihilist came up with this stuff? I take back every negative comment I’ve ever laid against stickers; just save me from glitter. Who can count them? For as the number of the stars of heaven and as the sand of the earth, so is the number of eye-irritating glitter specks in my house. If I’m cremated when I die, then the flames will probably sparkle from all the glitter I’ve inhaled and ingested over the years.

And one more thing…

Rubber duckies. I love the idea of rubber ducks. In theory, they work out great. You know what else sounds great in theory? Communism. In practice, both are dirty and fail miserably. But instead of the Red Scare and the threat of nuclear Armageddon, it is the Squeaky Scare and the threat of black moldageddon. All of those rubber bath toys get so disgusting even after one use. How hard is it to manufacture something that doesn’t grow the death plague inside of it and of which your children desperately want to gnaw on and suckle?

We’ve tried everything. Plugging the air hole, cutting out the bases, vinegar, blow torch, etc. All practices in futility; vanities of vanities. The only good rubber duckie is a dead rubber duckie. Sorry Ernie, but your friend makes bath time so much fun only as long as you have a hazmat suit and are fond of playing with weaponizable biological waste byproducts. It’s like some foreign intelligence agency’s (I won’t speculate as to which one) subversive scheme to undermine our citizen’s faith in bath time. Forget Covid conspiracies. This is the REAL plot to destroy America. Operation Duckie Dookie Drop.

Fair warning: if you ever got the bright idea of breaking into our home, prepare to be assaulted by an intoxicated baby, glitter bombs, and moldy rubber bath trinkets.

Kids Are Weird

Hmm… that’s odd…

What is it with kids?

They are so weird. Brain-scratchingly odd. And I have some questions:

What is it with kids and stickers?

We have a book with stickers, and our child loves it. But here is what she’ll do: she will take the stickers off one page, and then… simply put the stickers on the adjacent page. So now, it just looks like the previous sticker page except worse. Is it a metaphor for life? Sometimes, it feels like I’m just moving stickers from one page to another. Like in doing yardwork where I’m just moving dirt from one place to another, or at work where I’m moving paper from one pile to another. But let’s be honest, we all love stickers. They are the best even if we can’t explain why. Part of my reason for having is kids is so that I have a socially acceptable reason to still use and wear stickers.

Why do babies want to eat literally everything?

Seriously, how long should it take a baby to figure out that something is not food? I’m like, dude, haven’t you realized yet that those carpet fibers, that door post, and all those plastic doll faces aren’t food? No, those random specks of dried leaves are not food. No, those shoes are not food. And no, mommy’s earrings and daddy’s beard are not food. And yet, try, try again our child must. I have to give it to him; at least he’s not a quitter. Resilience is important. But so is recognizing when it’s time to let go and move on, like when it’s time to stop gnawing on electrical cables before you turn into a barbecued squirrel on a power line.

Why won’t kids just go to sleep?

The struggle is real. The FOMO is real. How can I possibly be so tired and want to sleep so badly, and yet, these kiddos are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, wide awake, and wired like they’re hooked up to a drip coffee IV? Just go to sleep; please, for the love of all that is good and sane in the world, please just go to sleep. Currently, our nighttime routine is roughly around 12 hours, and it begins at approximately the moment that they wake up in the morning. Woe to you if you do anything to upset the delicate balance of their sleeping schedule causing us to stay up an extra untold number of hours trying to get them to fall asleep. If anyone ever figures this one out please let the universe know.

Something Savory to Save the World

Hmm… what do I want for lunch…?

Ten months—our little guy has hit double digits (well, technically in four days, but I’m writing this now so whatever for technicalities)! Somehow, by the grace of God we’ve kept him breathing. And now that he’s crawling around the house even more, he is that much more like a puppy making little yelps, trying to eat off the floor, and drooling everywhere. He drools. A lot. He leaves a trail of drool everywhere he goes like some kind of abnormally large slimy slug in diapers. He’s a regular old honky tonky wonky donkey jibber jabber jocky slobber wockey.

You know what gets me drooling? Dunkin’ Donuts snackin’ bacon. I wish I could meet the employee that pitched selling a bag of nothing but bacon to the executive team. He or she is a genius and one of my heroes. That is what it means to make a difference in the world, and I want their autograph. Because the egg, cheese, and bread are really just garnishments and excuses to have more bacon on something. A bag of bacon is simply cutting out the middleman. It’s the most prudent and economical thing to do.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to state that I have a fondness for and close relationship with bacon. I grew up with bacon, and bacon has always been there through the highs and lows of life. Bacon is my spirit animal.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I just imagine that I’m being swaddled within a luxurious bacon weave quilt, nestling between the folds of salty grease and squishy fat, reminiscent of a warm hug and smooch from my great-aunt Bertha. Like licorice meat candy, it takes me to the gentler times of childhood as nostalgia washes over me with its equally crunchy and chewy gristle texture.

Bacon reminds me that there is still beauty and goodness in the world despite all the craziness happening. Bacon transcends culture, borders, and politics. In fact, I’m pretty sure the reason our son drools so much is simply that he is salivating over the future day when he can finally enjoy the simple pleasures of eating sodium-cured strips of pork belly and fatty back cuts.

Soon, my son. Soon.

5ish Things Babies Do That Would Be Awkward If Adults Still Did Them

But first, a note about those diapers that I forgot to mention last time…

The other thing that I love about Huggies is that it’s called Huggies. So, it’s like a nice, warm hug for your most delicate regions. Especially during times like these with all the social distancing, it must be nice and comforting to be embraced by an absorbent cotton cloud 24/7.

Now on to other baby matters…

Listen, I know, pretty much everything a baby does is socially unacceptable for adults to do. But here are, I think, five uniquely and especially interesting baby habits that are total taboos for the all-grown-up:

1. Staring wide-eyed and never blinking

One of the most hilarious and creepiest things about babies is that they basically never blink. They just stare at everything like a deer in headlights. They stare at ceiling fans, lights, emptiness, and sometimes even you. When adults stare too much, the police are called. Also, babies will stare and study their own hands like some rare, archaeological treasure. But then hungrily try and devour their own fingers. Speaking of which…

2. Gnawing on… everything

Literally everything. Babies will go to town on whatever they can get their ravenous, unquenchable paws on. If they had teeth, they would gnaw your face right off. Yes, adorable, I know. But can you imagine if an adult came up to you and started chewing on your cheek bone like some kind of deranged zombie?

3. Laying around and waiting for someone else to tend to their every whim

Don’t take this the wrong way, but babies are sort of useless. Now I love babies, but still, they just lounge around like self-entitled royalty, ringing a bell so that their servants can come take care of all their needs and desires. They do this all while grabbing their toes, blowing bubbles, and rocking about in maniacal glee. Adults are typically encouraged to earn their keep; to actually do something and not just drool everywhere. Kid, get a job already. Child labor laws are ruining this country.

4. Randomly shouting, squealing, and squirming

With almost no perceivable provocation, a baby will start kicking and flailing about while screaming in ecstasy at the sound of their own vocal cords. What if when adults got so excited, they just started kicking everything? It’d be chaos. Insurance companies would have to create policies specifically designed for damages done by overly excited kicking fits and other emotional outbursts. The worst is when babies want to kick and roll while getting changed. What if adults did that while using the potty?

5. Falling asleep whenever wherever

Babies often fall asleep while eating like some kind of chronic narcoleptic. It’s like, yes please keep feeding me until I just pass out into a food coma. And then, while asleep, they splay out in starfish fashion with their little arms and hands that can’t quite reach the top of their heads. Restaurants would have an even more serious loitering problem if adults took involuntary naps after eating. Either that or they’d need to start charging a nap-booth rental fee.

Obviously, there are more baby antics that adults should avoid. Let me know of ones you’ve observed.

Double Entendre Diapers

Don’t judge—we all have our regressive states during a crisis!

Now that we’re on our second child, we’ve obviously become baby-rearing champions. We know basically everything there is to know. Just don’t ask us any specific questions.

However, if there’s one thing we have learned over the past few years, it’s this: Huggies “Little Snugglers” are literally the only diaper worth it (by it, I mean your money, your carpets, your laundry, and your sanity. [Also, Huggies company, feel free to pay in diapers for this unsolicited endorsement!]).

Look, we’ve tried them all. Every variation of protective baby-bottom wear that you can imagine. We’ve done all the major and minor manufacturers. We’ve tried reusable and all-natural. And by the end of it all, only the Little Snugglers worked consistently at keeping the floodgates at bay and secured within the fluffy, absorbent folds of the package. In other words, they’re not as prone to leaking out everywhere.

There are few things more frustrating than going to all the trouble of putting a diaper on a spastic baby just for that diaper to not do its job. Our first child was like trying change a tornado. She squirmed, rolled, and rotated throughout the entire process. Our second, now he is like a broncing, bucking bull. He kicks and flares like he’s playing in the World Cup. Changing a diaper is like performing a medical procedure on a patient without anesthesia. Like playing the game “Operation” but if you lose, instead of a red buzzer going off, you get poo everywhere. It’s like disarming a bomb rotating in three-dimensions that even after you think you’re safe, it can still go off again.

But the real reason why the Little Snugglers are my favorite? Because they’re the Winnie the Pooh brand. Winnie, his friends, some balloons and clouds, and other happy designs decorate the plump potty pockets. The pun possibilities are just too perfect. The wordplay is whimsical. The innuendo is ingenious. The snuggly suggestiveness is simply stupendous. A paradox of pint-sized people-pollution packets.

In case you missed it. Let me spell it out. There are pictures of Pooh Bear on the diapers which are meant to contain baby poo. Pooh on poo. I can’t help but giggle like an immature middle schooler. For Huggies to obtain the rights to print Pooh on their poo pouches has got to be one of the best investments a company has ever made. It’s just the best.

It’s also, potentially, very philosophical. Where does one Pooh start and the other poo end?

So, whenever life feels weighed down by excrement, don’t be an Eeyore, be a Pooh.

For those that are familiar with the story: I now want to play Pooh Sticks. For everyone else, I leave you to the Internet.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. – A. A. Milne (aka Winnie-the-Pooh)

The Great Equalizer (aka The Big Mac)

Da, da, da, da, da… I’m in love.

Many have called the new strain of coronavirus “the great equalizer.” Historically, that title has been reserved mostly for death, as the true, ultimate equalizer.

But I’m not here to wax poetic and spew esoteric, philosophical jargon. No, I’m here to argue and advocate nonsense on the Internet.

You know what the real equalizer is?

McDonald’s.

Yes, McDonald’s—the world’s largest fast food chain, a behemoth of an industry and a poster child for capitalism with its nearly universally recognizable golden arches (arches that probably resemble the erratic bleeps on a heart monitor after eating too many of those eternally durable fries).

I know what you’re thinking: “How dare you sir, I would never be caught dead at such a place.” Maybe. It might kill you. But most of us are just deceiving ourselves. Look, the place serves something like 70 million people a day in over 100 countries; they bun up over 75 burgers a second. So… someone is lying. Someone is definitely eating it up at that joint. Some few million someones.

Hey, whatever, it’s ok. Judgment free zone. Like I was saying, Micky D’s is totally “the great equalizer.” It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, young, old, foreign, domestic, male, female, big, small, republican, democrat, or imaginary. You probably have a McDonald’s on your block. I have literally witnessed every shape, size, color, affinity, and temperament of humanity imaginable over the years patronize the establishment. The Big Macualizer. They’re even more ubiquitous than memes and political ads.

Seriously, we once inadvertently exited off the interstate near Disney World into one of those high-class, ritzy neighborhoods to discover perfectly manicured shrubs and a pristine, towering yellow “M.” A McDonald’s where you have the choice of having gold dust sprinkled on your fries instead of salt, your soda comes in an exquisite chalice, and your burgers are tenderly swaddled in fine imported silk linen. Contrast this with our McDonald’s around the corner which hasn’t changed out its grease pan since the days of horseback postage, your seasonings are most likely to come from human sweat, and you need to bring your own toilet paper if you want a napkin.

And then there’s the infamous Thailand trip in which when we first landed in Bangkok, and there was some sort of mix-up with our hotel reservation so that our first night was spent in the “red light” district, and the only place we felt safe enough to take a bunch of high school teens was the city square McDonald’s (a run-on sentence I know, but I’m in a hurry so give me a break, and this is obviously not some grammar blog, and who made you the grammar sheriff anyways?).

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and delicious artery-clogging, fried potato sticks that never decompose. When I eat them, I feel like I absorb their preservative powers of longevity and immortality. Or maybe that’s just indigestion.

We may not be able to agree on politics, the economy, or how to handle this global crisis. But there’s one thing I think we can all agree on: the Oreo McFlurry should receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Maybe we’d all be a little bit nicer to each other if we just got a daily Happy Meal.