Friday, June 17, 2016

My First Day as a Father

What am I going to do with a baby?

I always knew I’d wanted to have kids, and had been a very experienced uncle for years, but when the moment of truth was upon us, what would I do with my own child? How would I take care of him? Would he be OK? Would I be OK?

After 9 months of waiting eagerly, suddenly I found myself nervously observing in the operating/delivery room, sitting behind a draped cloth with my wife’s upper body, while doctors and nurses worked their magic scalpels and tools on her midsection. In 10 minutes, the anesthesiologist announced, “it’s a boy”, but I’d never considered otherwise. He was here, I had to be ready. Even if I didn’t think I was.

Are you ready to cut the cord?

I tend to overthink things, especially all of the possibilities of everything that could go wrong. What if I cut the cord too long or too short? What if I couldn’t even cut all the way through it? At that moment, as I watched my son on the table, just minutes old, I knew I had to jump in with both feet. I grabbed the scissors from the nurse and cut the cord swiftly, which freed my son from his only source of life up to that point and suddenly gave me a new one of my own.

We headed to the recovery room where my wife was able to rest for a bit. As adrenaline pumped through my body like a gallon of espresso, I watched this little miracle lay swaddled snugly and started to feel inklings of confidence return despite the enormous uncertainty squarely before me.     

After a while, we were given a room. My wife was understandably exhausted when the nurse came and examined my hours-old son. She asked if I wanted to give him a bath. As I pondered the joyous task, the feelings of doubt returned? How do I even give him a bath? He’s so little; I don’t want to break him.

She reassured me: “They’re hard to break”.  Whether that was true or not, who knows. But she seemed to know what she was doing, and mentioned that she’d been doing it for 20-something years, so I had to let go of my fear once again and literally get my hands dirty to clean my still somewhat goopy child. With each soft swab of the washcloth, he amazed me even more. Before I knew it, he was clean. What now?

“Are you ready to put on his diaper?”

Well, I’d attended the pregnancy class before he was born and strapped one on a plastic baby, knowing it was foolproof. Guess what: so is diapering a real baby. Sure, I may have ripped a couple straps pulling too hard, but my boy was fine. His scrawny little legs dangled out of the Pampers Newborn, a size he fit in for exactly one day. As I watched his body temperature even out after the bath as he lay upon the warming table, I knew he’d be OK. And so would I.

Later that night, as I watched my wife and son sleep in our hospital room, one day in the books, it finally occurred to me, as obvious as it had been all day to our gathered family and friends. I was a father. And had to be ready for whatever was coming next. Looking back, I’d read the baby books before he arrived but there is no parenting book as real, as honest and as true as the one you start to create upon becoming a father. It’s not an easy job and the benefits are crap, literally, but there is nothing better, nor more sleep depriving in life. Seven years, another child and yet another en route later, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Note: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion, but all ideas expressed above are mine and mine alone, for better or worse. I was compensated for this post, but I can assure you it was much less than I’ve spent on Pampers over the last almost-seven years.

Note 2.0: Pampers put together an amazing Father’s Day video, which I know you will want to check out. Spoiler alert: tears are looming that you may not anticipate.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why I Want to Move to Zootopia

Movie Viewed: Zootopia

Moviegoers: Dude, 40; Mrs. Dude, 40; Little Dude, 6 & Littler Dude, 3 

Family Fave Flicks: The Star Wars saga, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Lion King, Despicable Me and Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

Fave movies for grown-ups: The Dude’s Faves (that the kids aren’t ready for): Bull Durham, Goodfellas & Old School

What’s the story: Growing up in rural Bunnyburrow, Judy Hopps enjoyed her simple life, but influenced by a bullying incident she witnessed as a young bunny along with her parents’ slow-paced lives as carrot farmers, she yearned for more. Judy’s goal was to become the first rabbit police officer in mega metropolis Zootopia, and being an optimistic overachiever, she does it!

After moving to the big city and being assigned to the largest police division in Zootopia, Judy is quickly ostracized because she’s not a typically larger police animal, but she’s out to prove her worth, no matter the task assigned. One day while on her beat, Judy encounters a sly fox named Nick Wilde who teaches her a lesson or two about trust, friendship and hard work. Judy enlists Nick to help with the case of a missing otter and together they work to solve one of Zootopia’s biggest mysteries.

What parents may like about this movie: Zootopia is an inspiring tale of how optimism, dedication and determination, even at a young age, can lead to a great future. There were also some very strong messages that about bullying and prejudice that are important for kids to be exposed to in this day and age.

What kids will like: The myriad animals are entertaining, adorable and subtly educational, too. Kids will love the top-flight animation (and grown-ups will, too!)

Concerns: No major concerns as Disney never gets too controversial, though there are some bullying scenes (with a positive spin) and metaphors for racial bias that could resonate with older kids. Also, a key storyline about some of the animals’ ferocious behavior might frighten some younger kids.

Bottom Line: Movie elements ranked on a scale from 1-5, with 1/5 being the least and 5/5 being the highest.

Positive themes: Overwhelmingly positive look at setting goals, achieving and overcoming obstacles on the road to success. Living up to your dreams is a great message for kids, even though Judy’s parents tried to temper hers. Thankfully for everyone, she didn’t let them stop her. Great messages about right vs. wrong and friendship permeate this cuddly flick. (5/5)

Violence/scare factor: There was no real violence in this movie beyond the typical cartoon variety. That being said, one storyline revolves around seemingly domesticated predators reverting to their savage nature. A couple scenes featuring some of these wild animals probably won’t scare kids, but might make them briefly squeeze your hand a little tighter, which isn’t always a bad thing. (1 ½ /5)

Sex/Romance: None. Though a relationship was briefly hinted at. (0/5)

Bad language: It’s Disney, so the closest thing was the word “butt” once or twice. (0/5)

Final thought: Zootopia is classic Disney and sure to entertain kids of all ages. The morals and lessons in this movie are applicable to everyone, including adults. The animation is excellent and there are a slew of jokes purely for the adults, including the sloth-run DMV vignette you’ve surely seen in the trailers.  I can’t recommend Zootopia highly enough. It’s a must see for all ages and my early prediction for next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar.

I was compensated by Fandango Family for this review, though all opinions contained within are solely mine, for better or worse. Also, my family really wants to go to Zootopia now.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Turning Mozzarella Sticks into Merry Poopins

When I was new to LA after matriculating in Ohio, going out was a way of life. I was young and naïve and the Sunset Strip was just a few blocks away. Going out on the town was the best, and the worst. And being a young single guy, the winter holiday season was always filled with festive nights out filled with no shortage of flowing beverages and hors d’oeuvres. I remember one particular New Years Eve spent with a group of pals at a spicy cantina called Senorita’s. Back then my patience for crowds was thick and my stomach was eager to sample my newly discovered passion for Mexican cuisine. Those nights, and their subsequent mornings after, weren’t as painless as in college, but were still manageable for a youngish dude. Perhaps that’s because that era, around the turn of the millennium, was when I began seeking comfort with a tasty little pink darling who was always ready and waiting for my call, morning, noon or night.

Now, years later, I’m older and wiser. There’s no chance I’d go to a Hollywood joint like Senorita’s (RIP) on New Years Eve. Clubs, lines and unnecessary crowds are as foreign to me now as babysitters, Nick Jr. and the Valley were to me then. Hell, there’s minimal chance I’d go anywhere on NYE without a great reason, like being invited to drop the ball at midnight from Mars.
New Years Eve Appetizers

As of a few years ago, likely coinciding with becoming parents, Mrs. Dude and I adopted a low-key approach to the New Years holiday. We usually have a family activity during the day (i.e. something that will wear the kids out and make them want to go to bed early) followed by Mrs. Dude’s famous Appetizer Dinner as our oxymoronic main course.

Every December 31st now, as our oven readies an array of bubbling oozy mozzarella sticks, fried mushrooms that erupt like a volcano when you bite into them, crunchy chewy taquitos AND my wife’s famous homemade pigs in blankets, I can feel my stomach percolating in eager anticipation of the fiesta it’s about to ingest-a. And with each passing year, I tell myself that I can still down this stuff like I did 20 years ago in my off-campus apartment on any given Tuesday night a mere 6 hours before a big exam. The truth is I realize that I need a head exam to think I can make it through this big tasty night without a wingman by my side. So I look back to that little pink lady who’s always been there for me through both good times and stuffed crust pizza: Pepto-Bismol.

Unlike the comparative ease of my college and mid-20’s adventures, I now face New Years with a new crew and my Little Dudes don’t show the same mercy my professors usually did. I have to be up and ready to move on January 1st long before noon, sadly, on some family adventure or another. That means I don’t have time for my digestive tract to go on strike from our previous night’s holiday excess, relatively low key as it may have been. So I keep a bottle of the classic pink tummy-fixer elixir chilling’ in the fridge, ensuring that I’m always ready to counterattack my intestinal distress, call it Mozzarella’s Revenge, caused by my exposure to a few of my favorite things*, head on. Plus, if I’m not home, I can carry chewables in my pocket, making it even easier to stop the need to go when I’m on the go.


*Speaking of my favorite things, unlike virtually every third other person in LA, I don’t fancy myself a songwriter, but the memories conjured while writing this post and some seasonal movie watching inspired me to pen some alternate lyrics to a classic tune from one of my wife's favorite movies about singing Austrian families. Thanks to Pepto-Bismol whose #PinkRelief helps me avoid being a self-induced member of the Von Crapp family, and for more Merry Poopins.

Here's a little poem I wrote, to the tune of one of my favorite songs: 

Fresh fried veg-tables with dips straight from Ranches
Taste great but cause me belly ava-lanches

Bubbling hot pizza dripping with oil
Makes my chest feel like it’s going to boil

Buttered hot pretzels are a wonderful lot
But usually tie my gut in a big salty knot

Holidays lead to delicious binges
Rescued by Pepto with its bright pink tinges…


I was compensated for this post, but all opinions contained within are entirely mine, for better or worse, like the fact that mozzarella sticks might be the greatest food ever invented. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Force Awakens IS the Star Wars Movie You're Looking For

Moviegoers: Dude, 40; Mrs. Dude, 40; Little Dude, 6 & Littler Dude, 3

Family Fave Flicks: Beyond the original Star Wars films, some of our favorites to watch together are Toy Story, The Lion King, Despicable Me and most other modern animation flicks.

Fave movies for grown-ups: The Dude’s Faves (that the kids aren’t ready for): Bull Durham, Goodfellas & Old School

What’s the story: A few decades have passed since Luke Skywalker and the Rebels defeated the Empire in Return of the Jedi and a new band of enemies have arisen in the galaxy. The First Order is led by the mysteriously masked Kylo Ren and their mission is to find the now-in-hiding last remaining Jedi Luke Skywalker. Thanks to some old friends and SW-universe newcomers like the rugged scavenger Rey, conflicted Stormtrooper Finn, fighter pilot Poe and next-gen droid BB-8, the battle to defeat the First Order and Kylo Ren has begun.

My group of Star Wars aficionados loved the 3-D effects, updated lightsaber battles and, of course, the lovable BB-8, heir apparent to the iconic R2-D2. My 6 year old was on the edge of his seat for most of the 2+ hours from the opening scroll until the final familiar theme outro. This is definitely the movie Star Wars fans have been looking for and it will leave you yearning for Episode VIII, due in May 2017.

What parents may like about this movie: As a big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, I appreciated the way this film quickly led us into a totally refreshed universe of exciting new heroes. It was wonderful to see both male and female positive role models that all kids can relate to. The classic Star Wars dilemma of good vs. evil was present, but it’s not too deep to be off-putting to a younger audience and will hopefully be thought provoking and a dialogue starter for older kids/tweens/teens.

What kids will like: BB-8, no question. My boys loved the movie as a whole, but BB-8 was the real deal for them, aided in part by being so familiar with him in advance from the trailers and retail toy departments.

Concerns: This was definitely a much more graphic Star Wars film than all of the previous iterations, except possibly Episode III, containing some epic battle sequences, however, true gore was virtually nonexistent. Intensity might be a concern for some younger kids, or those who haven’t been exposed to other films in the series, so one trick I like to implement before seeing movies that might contain is reinforcing with my kids that what they see on the screen is all pretend.  Humanizing the experience for them seems to help ease any concerns they might have during intense scenes.

Bottom Line: Movie elements ranked on a scale from 1-5, with 1/5 being the least and 5/5 being the highest.

Positive themes: The movie featured several key characters seeking to conquer various hardships without necessarily knowing why they were in those positions. There were also friendships forged among characters who might otherwise have not been connected if not for these adverse conditions. (5/5)

Violence/scare factor: There was a fair amount of violence in this film, though a majority of it was Stormtroopers using their laser blasters so it mostly looks like people getting knocked over. However, for the first time I can remember in a Star Wars film there was a little visible blood (albeit briefly) during one battle scene. Beyond that there was a large monster that captured a character and some other intense scenes involving essentially hand-to-hand combat. There was also a brief dream sequence which was both trippy and surprisingly intense. (3/5)

Sex/Romance: None. Two former paramours briefly embraced and there appeared to be another budding romance, but no action was taken. (0/5)

Bad language: None. Not even anyone being called a half-witted scruffy looking nerf herder. (0/5)

Another parent’s view: Click here for a Fandango mom’s take and another Mom's Movie Minute

Final thought: My wife, who had never seen a single Star Wars movie until we started watching them with the boys less than six months ago, said this just after our screening ended: “I really think we need to see it again, there are so many details I want to rewatch!” Enough said.

This post was written as part of my partnership with Fandango's Fandango Family team. I was compensated for this post, but the opinions contained within are entirely mine and my family's, for better or worse and light side or dark.

Spoiler Alert: If you aren't following @DudeOfTheHouse on Instagram, you might as well go pick up some power converters at Tosche Station.