Daily Operation

When You Can No Longer Call It Anything Than “a Screaming Toddler”

Night four of accelerated sleeplessness. Ellison’s waking up at midnight, two, four, five, six. She wakes up not crying, but screaming like there’s been a home invasion. As a parent enduring these trials of time, sound and stamina, you have to keep your wits about you. My lovely wife and I have been taking turns on the middle-of-the-night bouts. We don’t answer all of them. Sometimes they pass and sometimes they persist. There’s a method to knowing when they’re only going to intensify. I can’t quite tell you what that method is because it typically happens in a state of semi-awareness as you’re in between a dreamscape and a screaming baby. You’ll know when to get up and investigate, though.

Yesterday morning, I rocked little Ellison while wrapped up in Nanablankie, kissed on her forehead and “shhh’d” her back to sleep as she huffed and puffed in my arms. The old tricks used to work so well. They don’t work anymore. The five S’s no longer work. This screaming has evolved past the old tactics. This is a new, more powerful superscream. It’s like a new flu. A rash that doesn’t go away. Your approach has to change.

We used to call it “colic” and that was a sufficient diagnosis. Or it was gas. Or teething. Now, our best guess is hunger, but it could be anything. Could still be teething. Nightmares. Restlessness. Too much daytime sleep. Sensory issues. Allergies. The spirited toddler. When you’re in between pediatrician visits, armed with your thermometer, internet access and a little caffeine, you’re kinda left with figuring it out yourself.

This morning, I just called it “screaming toddler” and made my way to the kitchen to make some coffee closing all doors to contain the sound (except for the monitor which directly feeds into the kitchen). I went in at 5am this morning, she was sitting upright in her crib screaming. I picked her up, wrapped her in Nanablankie, rocked for a second and then she looked me in the eye and without warning screamed so loud my ears muffled the sound. I thought at this point, “Well, I can barely endure that for another five seconds without losing my sleep-deprived mind.” So I laid her back in the crib screaming her eyebrows off, turned on her little light-and-noise aquarium and walked out of the room. By the time I made it into the kitchen, it was silent back in the nursery. Pin. Drop. Silent.

Twenty minutes later, it’s still silent and I’m taking the first draw off a nice hot cup of coffee.

As parents, you’re not always gonna have the antidote. And it’s gonna make you feel completely inadequate and stupid when you don’t. Even by posting this, I’m putting myself out there where I could get ten to fifteen comments or suggestions on how I’m just not doing it right. I don’t care. I’m sure the screaming is not normal. But, then again, I’m sure it’s not hurting her much except for lack of sleep. It’s undoubtedly hurting us in that regard. We’ll continue to try and diagnose it. Trust me, the quicker we can, the sooner we all can get some decent sleep**. But as for this morning, it’s a little something called “screaming toddler.”

Ellison’s walking distances now. Extraordinary distances. And she’s pivoting and walking in the opposite direction. She’s got Kevin McHale’s 1.5 pivot feet. Usually, she’s faking left and then pivoting to the right. My favorite McHale move. We used to count steps. Then we estimated feet. Now, it’s like we’re measuring in minutes saying, “Tell me when she’s done.” Our house went from moderately sized to tiny box in her eyes just over the last three days. We like to play chase around the dining room table and island in the kitchen. More on all of this later as well as Ellison takes the “spirited toddler quiz.” But it’s Friday. Thank God. I made it to the weekend so now I can have sleepless nights with midday cat naps. Sox are back in first. Thanks, Texas Rangers for the batting practice and letting Sox hitters pad some stats over the last four days. The heat sucked so it was a good thing we were never having to run faster than a home run trot.

**When I walked into the kitchen this morning, the beagles, who are normally fast asleep on their bed in the utility room, were standing at the entry to the kitchen with this pained look on their long faces like, “Turn that damn monitor off.” For animals that sleep 85% of the day, they even look beat.

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Daily Operation

My Ongoing Obsession with Mickey Mouse Club House

We’ve been a little slow to letting Ellison watch television. Maybe me more than my lovely wife. I thought that it’d rot her brain out when she was first born. Or make her go blind. I mean, TVs these days are freaking five feet wide and can light up an entire zip code. Not sure what I thought. Maybe I just didn’t want her to spend her entire childhood sitting in front of the TV thinking it’s the world The Today Show broadcasts. We live in rur-ban Texas. It ain’t that scary out here. We watch frontal boundaries and home invasions. Some vandalism. Some guy goes on a tear and pokes holes in fifteen tires and then robs a Toot N Totum, later to be caught at drinking at a bar. That’s news. The Today Show has more violence, sex, lewdness and terror than most good screenwriters could feasibly write into a Hollywood script. They don’t hold any punches. And if  it’s not that, they’re warning you on how your child’s toys will kill them.

My criticisms of today’s television have made me increasingly leery of letting Ellison watch anything other than Red Sox games (which are always fully permissible…basketball, however, is still on the banned list on account of Kevin Garnett’s colorful mouthing of a certain f-word and g.d.-word…and Chris Bosh’s ugly raptor-like mug). That was until my lovely wife insisted that I add back into our cable selection the kids’ stations that I deleted out when we first got satellite like certainly we’ll never need those stations in the same way I deleted out the Spanish channels and shopping networks. After adding them back in, my lovely wife quickly gravitated toward the Disney Channel, a brand you can always trust. It was a little program called “Mickey Mouse Club House.”

It really caught me open. For real. Mickey, Goofy and Daffy Duck knocked my whole world on its side. I wasn’t expecting it. Amazing how something can completely overtake you if you’re not ready for it. Last time that happened, it was Funkadelic’s first four records. Now it’s Mickey Mouse. I’ve become obsessed with this show and not necessarily out of enjoyment. More like I can’t take my eyes away. Like yesterday, a vendor was in and played a clip from Celtic Thunder and there were people dancing around like the video to “Safety Dance” with smoke machines, people in trees doing this weird arm dance, women in gypsy dresses, men fighting, more weird arm dances…I couldn’t look away. I was hypnotized. That’s kinda like what the Mickey Mouse Club House is to me.

It’s a sweet reunion, too. I was a Goofy fan growing up. You know, the awkwardly tall imbecile that always slouched and couldn’t play sports, that was me. Goofy was my boy. My eyes follow him around on the screen. He sets the show off. Mickey’s the star, but we all know who’s holding it down. I do find myself, though, a little disturbed by a newer character to the Disney family. Some dude named “Pete.” Now, at first he appears like a fat Goofy and then you determine that he’s not a dog, but a really large cat. Did a little research on Pete’s come-up after I swore I heard him say something about “a case of beer” on one broadcast. I’m not kidding. Turns out, you might be surprised to find out that this dude’s gotta pretty salty history. He’s not the kinda brotha you want hanging out with your kiddo. Pete’s gotta bit of a sinister side to him. Seems they cleaned him up a bit for the Club House gig. See Pete’s had a few different roles in his history, but Disney oldschoolers might know him from his days as “Peg Leg” Pete. Yep, dude’s hiding a peg leg. And that’s not all he’s hiding. Check out this terrifying photo.Here, as a swashbuckling pirate, we get a better idea of where ol’ Peg’s coming from. Heavy drinker, greasy womanizer, fat, unkept, unshaven. Want this guy watching your kids? Yeah, don’t think so. Let’s go a little deeper in Pete’s dark past. How about this gem from “Two Gun Mickey”:That’s our Pete about to put a knife through Mickey’s head while he chokes him out on the end of a cliff. What would’ve happened to the Disney legacy should he had succeeded that day, hmm? Pete’s a freaking murderer! It’s called Wikipedia, Pete. It’s all out there. You can’t hide. Wonder if he remembers these days when he first made an appearance in film in “Steamboat Willie.”

Or “Klondike Kid” as the gun-toting terrorizer. Check out this still. Far cry from the Pete we know today, yeah?Pete’s a bad man. They might try to dress him up in cute Hawaiian shirts or dignify him with a jacket and a tie.But we know his real history. Don’t believe the hype, kiddos. Pete has more aliases than a fifty-year fugitive. How about Peg-Leg Pete, Bad Pete, Black Pete (why’s he gotta be black?), Percy P. Percival, Peter Pete Sr., Bootleg Pete, Louie the Leg, Big Pete, Captain Pete, Colonel Pete, Mighty Pete, Dirty Pete, Pee Wee Pete, Pilot Pete, Pistol Pete, Sergeant Pete, King Pete, Emperor Pete, Lord Pete (seriously?), Baron Pete, Count Pete, Petey, Mr. Sylvester Macaroni (tell me that ain’t some mafia garbage right there), Tiny Tom, King Pete, Sneaky Pete, Round-the-Way Pete the Col’ Gangsta (okay, that’s my name for him). We know what time it is, Pete. I got my eye on you, son. Play it cool.Probably the most troubling part of the show is when they go into the “Hot Dog Show” which they do every episode. I’m telling you, once this gets in your head, you won’t shake it. You can’t shake it. I’ve played about eight hours of Bob Dylan trying to shake it loose and I can’t do it. And to prove it’s superior strength, check out the hits on YouTube:

Now, I’m no statistician, but I gotta think that one hundred and eighteen million freaking people is a pretty magnificent number. And that’s the number of people who didn’t get enough of the song hearing it everyday as they close out the show. These addicted people had to, then, go online to listen to it again and again. I account of the last 300 hits on YouTube, shamefully. Tell me you don’t lay down for the sheer magnetism of this song. Click on the link below and tell me you don’t see Goofy doing his little up-and-down dance in your head as “hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog” loops over and over and over and over again in your skull until you fall asleep. Today marks my third day rising out of bed to the song playing on repeat right behind my right ear.

Click below if you so dare.

You can thank me later. Have a good weekend.

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Daily Operation

You Were Just Searching for a Rocking Horse…

I’m sorry I’ve been so distant lately. Busy getting ready for this birthday party, finishing touches on the video before we rip out DVDs, watching Mickey Mouse Club House (which is so very gangsta) and trying to get back on a running schedule of four outings a week. That’s not to mention dropping elbows on anything in my way, watching with one eye as the Boston Red Sox all get hurt (Adrian Gonzalez’s neck, Youkilis’ back, Buckholz’s arm, Ortiz’s heel…meanwhile one article discusses Ellsbury’s trade value…wait, the Sox were whooping the ass of every team in the league just six days ago, now the sky’s falling?), trying to keep two beagles out of trouble, compiling the fifty greatest funk recordings ever (The Funkiest Fifty at IKnowYouGotSole…beginning September 12th), doing a bible study on the book of Daniel and, oh yeah, putting food on the table with a paying gig.

But I’m sorry. I’ve failed you. Sporadic posting is not my style and you should expect better of Raising Elle. So, for now, I leave you with the above image promising more…better…more better.

And I love you. Each in a different and special way.

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Daily Operation

Return of the Product: The Heartbeat Bear

He might not be as good looking as Teddy Ruxpin or as cheap as those $5.00 Malaysian plush bears you can buy at Wal-Mart (that lose all their fur like some sick zoo animal and become dog toys) but the heartbeat bear puts in serious work.

The basic principle here is, at the time of birth, a baby is so synchronized to the sound of her mother’s heart that when she enters the world and first lays down in her crib, the silence is absolutely deafening. Terrifying. The heartbeat bear plays back a sound intended to replicate what the mother’s heartbeat sounds like to a baby in the womb. I’m not sure how scientific this really is, I mean, who really knows precisely what a mother’s heartbeat sounds like to a baby swimming around in amniotic fluid? Apparently the makers of heartbeat bear, in their research, found that it sounds much like an asthmatic Darth Vader just after being chased by a pack of pit bulls.

I can play dumb enough to say, “Yes, that’s definitely a mother’s heartbeat,” because I know it works in putting Ellison down. And, like her, I can sympathize with not being able to sleep unless there’s some sort of white noise. And, like her, the hum or drone of a fan, air conditioner, low-level FM radio playing “Deliliah Overnight” (nothing brings on sleep like listening to a computerized radio personality play Michael Bolton to weeping, sobbing callers), is necessary to masking the sounds of loud, insensitive neighbors carrying on, their annoying little yippie dogs, the roar of passing trucks or booms of someone’s car stereo passing through the neighborhood in the middle of the night.

As a product, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what kind of animal it is or that it’s an animal at all. What makes it go is this small battery-operated device which situates in the belly of the bear with a small knob on it that adjusts the volume of the heart beat. The bear outfit just makes it look cute and marketable. Nothing really sexy about the coaster-like noisemaker that the bear swallowed. Plus, I would imagine the plush is a cheap exterior that helps pad the margins for the manufacturer. The contraption alone probably only costs $3.00, but so that they can charge $20.00 for it, they put it in a cheap, ugly teddy bear, put a velcro strap on the back so that you can tie it to the crib and, voila, the heartbeat bear is born.

Ellison lived with this thing in her crib for the last eleven months and we’re just now weening her off of it’s soothing effects and, it appears, that the weening off is fairly easy. Not quite as easy as weening off mommy. The sound of the heartbeat bear through a baby monitor apparently has soothing effects for adults too.

I’m not crazy about buying another plush animal because, you’ll find, there’s no shortage of plush for a newborn. Every uncle, co-worker or neighbor defaults to plush for a newborn because they don’t know what else to get a newborn. It’s alright…I was there too, at one time. And, I’d rather just buy the device inside the bear for $10 than have to invest twice that for an ugly bear. In the middle of the night when your baby’s is levitating in some sort of colicky possession, there’s no points for sexy. I’d just want whatever was going to do the trick. That being said, heartbeat bear’s winning percentage bettered the ’96 Bulls and never met a baby that he couldn’t soothe and that’s priceless as a sleepless new parent. Five Black Elvises for the heartbeat bear.

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Daily Operation

City League Softy Ball

I was talking to my Uncle Phil a few weeks back about fatherhood and the general gist of the conversation was how, when you become a father, you lose some of that edge. You take less risks. Things that you generally would do without even blinking come with great contemplation. You weigh out the risk and reward of seemingly chancy propositions. You go soft.

Last night was an interesting night. I arrive at the ballpark for a 7:30 game of Bruise Bros. softball. Primarily a church team with a revolving door of cameos. It’s how most city league teams in the lower level leagues. You do your best to scrap together a team. All we need is, like last night, Texas Music Educators Association to be holding their annual convention in San Antonio and that knocks out our middle infield. Yeah, we gangsta like that. No offense to our wonderful choir directors on the team, Brandon and Billy, it’s just I can guarantee that you can’t find another team out there with a single choir director on it and we got two of ’em. With the two of them out and then getting stood up like an ugly date by Nick and Brooks (thanks, fellas), we were left with fielding a team of nine guys which, in city league softball means that every time through the line up, you get an automatic out for where the tenth batter should be because you are required to play at least ten guys. So, we got four infielders, three outfielders, pitcher and catcher. If it weren’t for Lance showing up, we wouldn’t even be playing.

First game went as I would’ve expected. The team was flat. Three outfielders never looked more sparse in covering that huge outfield. The infield was playing stiff. I was put on third base and I hadn’t played in any real action in close to a year since I had Ellison. I’ll tell you this, I’m a freaking softy now. One night at the ballpark becomes a constant head game where internal conversations are continuously played out in your head. You trash talk yourself into performance. “Now get in there, you pansy, and whoop…their…ass!” You like your own drill sergeant. I let a couple of ground balls go through me like a wet sheet of toilet paper and I’m wondering what in the world happened to my game. I was noncommittal in my motions, slow off the bat. I looked like I was eighty years old out there. In one sequence, I go for a ground ball and come up to early, run into a baserunner and apologize about five times as he rounds third and heads home and then apologize again between innings like I was scared that he was gonna find me later and donkey kick me in the teeth. Softy. Later, I take a ground ball in the shin and it hurt so bad, the first thing I think is, “Will I ever walk again?” So soft softy.

After going down hard early, we managed to scrap a few runs together to pull it within one run at 10-11 and then they just obliterated us in the final inning of the game to win 23-10. We were flattened. Lousy. Hot. We got run-ruled by some team called “Do Work” which is the hardest way to go out. Not that Bruise Bros. is tremendously better as a name, but “Do Work” is such a terrible name. I don’t mind getting beat by a team named The James Browns or The Travis Bickles. “Do Work” is such a terrible name and we got our asses handed to us on a TV tray. And we watched “Golden Girls” while it happened.

The unwritten rule of city league softball is this, though, if you get whooped, you get right back up, turn around and deal the same card on the next team on the same field. It’s kinda like prison life in that way. In your first week, you take your lumps. Someone guy beats you senseless in front of everyone in the rec yard. All you can do is find someone to return the favor to in a very public place to tell everyone, “I ain’t no softy.” Or so I imagine. Sure my lovely wife finds great comfort that I’m typing on a blog about the ins-and-outs of prison life. That’s what we were out for, though, in the second game. Put a prison beating on a team. We had to prove we were no slouch. Make someone cry.

As a father now (and already a pretty loose competitor), I find myself in a tough place in between games. After getting whooped, you certainly don’t feel good about yourself. You know you wouldn’t be proud if, say, Ellison was out there watching her loser dad take ground balls off the shin. You’d want to do your family proud, but at the same time, it’s just a freaking game. But then if it’s just a game, then why do you show up to play? You show up to lose? No way. You show up to be a freaking warrior. Even if just for 55 minutes at a time. You show up for glory. You show up for victory. You show up for that sweet taste of competition. I hyped myself up for the second game. Fresh start. Do the family proud even though they were both at home sleeping. The game didn’t change from before Ellison was here. It’s played by the same rules. Same circumstances. Many of the same players. It was my mindset that changed. I was playing scared. Fearful. You still wanna be careful. You don’t want to take a line drive off the face leaving you disfigured and unrecognizable to your daughter, but you don’t wanna loose noodle the game either. Swing your sword.

The second game was dynamically different from the get go. Our first time up to bat, we went through the lineup and, still with our automatic out, the game you play when you get to the ninth batter in the lineup with two outs (and an automatic out and end of the inning after that) is you just keep running. There’s very little harm that can come of it. Just keep running until you get to home plate. I’m on first and the bases are loaded with two outs, we’re up 2-0 in the first inning and John gets up behind me. Everyone knew the game plan. Run like hell and don’t stop until you score. John smacks a ball into the outfield and I put my head down and barrel toward second and without even looking at where the ball was, I’m heading into third. I’m watching the third baseman and he prepares himself for a play at the base. Ball pulls him to the right of the bag and I dance into base. Safe at third. Then, out of nowhere, I just start running home. Sam said that I looked like I was going only about five miles an hour when I was heading home. That’s a marathon pace. Just…keep…running. The third baseman, in a moment of complete confusion, tosses it wildly home. Catcher scurries off the plate and I score without even a play. John’s hauling in behind and he scores too. Inside-the-infield grandslam single. Tenth man’s the third out of the inning. We’re up 6-0. Plan worked like a gem.

The game would continue with very little of a contest from the Century 21 team. We were up 13-0 after another grand slam (this one actually leaving the park) and pulling out another round of the ol’ two-out ninth batter “run to the hills” strategy successfully for three runs. This Century 21 team was pathetic. No denim either. They were just bad.

The “no denim” thing began when I had concluded that, in city league softball, your chances of victory become almost 98% when anyone on the opposing team is wearing denim of any kind. Chances are greatly increased if they’re wearing jean shorts, or “jorts.” You pretty much can’t lose when someone on the other team is wearing denim. The thought being that your team really sucks if there’s anyone on your team under the mindset that they can play softball (or any sport for that matter) in jeans. And the standards of a team that would let a player show up unprepared to play like that, wearing denim, is generally so low that their level of play is often pathetic and uninspired. Century 21 had all players in athletic shorts. They just played flat-footed.

At a pivotal point, though, in my evening. I’m on first base after a walk and standing there taking in the beautiful evening (total dad thing, there…mind just drifting away from the game…thinking about Ellison, butterflies). I look at the first baseman on the other team and I see him peek over to the stands and blow a kiss and wave. What the? Dude’s getting killed and he’s over here blowing kisses into the stands. I glance quickly over to where he’s motioning and see his little daughter with her face up against the fence smiling at her daddy.

“Aw.”

Say it with me…”Aaaaawwwww.”

Wait…so we’re out here pounding these guys into oblivion and their freaking kids are witnessing it?! Then I notice that there’s like fifteen to twenty people watching them get just whooped. We’re killing these guys and we don’t have one person there rooting for us and they got entire families there to watch dad get owned in prison rec yard fashion. It would’ve meant more to me to get beaten anonymously then to rub their noses in it like a dog that just crapped on the carpet in front of their sons and daughters. But as someone said on the way out, better to beat someone like that then get to get beaten like that. I guess so.

City league softball…where scared dads beat soft dads and fearless beer-swiggling rednecks beat all dads because dads are softies. I’m one too. Even in victory, I’m a softy. I don’t even know how to win without feeling sorry for winning. I felt like apologizing to the families that witnessed that second game. Real classy, Bruise Bros.

Wednesday…hump day. Make someone cry today and prove you’re no slouch.

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