Monday, July 30, 2007

Danny Tyree Lassoes Stork!

This week’s column was supposed to be about wife Melissa’s misadventures with jury duty.

As fate would have it, she got out of jury duty -- because of morning sickness.

That’s right -- after 8 years of trying, we’re finally going to have our first child. (Due date is March 15.)

We were so weary of the monthly negative results on home pregnancy tests. Melissa has peed on more sticks than a disgruntled employee at a Popsicle factory.

We never gave up hope, but we did keep readjusting our expectations. The room we decorated so nicely eight years ago went from being referred to as “the nursery” to “the spare bedroom” to “the room we throw junk into when company comes.”

Of course Melissa has suffered maternal yearnings. And I felt an emptiness as well. Even total strangers could tell that something was missing. Okay, their exact words were, “You’re not all there,” but I know what they meant.

We couldn’t have made it this far without the prayers of our friends and readers. I even appreciate the non-spiritual good wishes, although you atheists and agnostics may be in trouble if the kid is less understanding and becomes a heart surgeon or traffic cop. (“So, you’re the one my daddy said didn’t want me to be born.”)

I will adore the child, no matter what. I’m not like Michael Jackson (“I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, just as long as it’s not normal”) or deposed University of Tennessee President John Shumaker (“What? The umbilical cord isn’t gold-plated? Send her back!”)

Several people have told us that the baby will change our whole lives. I’m ready to adjust. Instead of pretending to work, I’ll pretend to be sound asleep.

I asked a saleslady if one of books written for expectant fathers would help me understand what Melissa will be going through. (“Yes, if you soak it with five gallons of water and staple it inside your abdomen, you -- you man!!!!”) I think I’ll wait for the movie version.

We still have to decide about the gift registry. I’m leaning toward Home Depot instead of Baby Depot or Baby Barn. What’s the difference between crib mobiles and skill saws, anyway? Hand-eye coordination is hand-eye coordination.

I’m glad we can celebrate the unborn baby’s growth. Time enough in adulthood for those ridiculous height-weight charts. (“If you have strength enough to flip this chart, you’re too darn fat.”)

I’ve already seen the baby’s life flash before my eyes: the first step, first words (the kid will be taking high school Spanish by then because a new law will require “Dada” to be uttered bilingually), first bicycle, braces, etc. The funniest part is when the teen tells Melissa (who has spent more than enough time in the OB-Gyn’s stirrups), “You’re embarrassing me in front of my friends!”

Melissa will have to keep close watch on me as well as the baby. I’ll be just shy of my 44th birthday when the bundle of joy comes along, and I’ll probably be in my second childhood not long after. The kid and I will delight to indulge ourselves with cookies, candy, toys. But no Popsicles. Definitely no Popsicles.

Womb With A View

For those of you who have asked about our pregnancy: so far, so good.

I took off from work Oct. 8 to accompany wife Melissa to Maury RegionalHospital so we could see ultrasounds of our baby, who was 17 weeks and 2 daysold.

The baby was so active the ultrasound technician wrongly assumed that Melissamust have consumed a lot of caffeine. The kid was squirming like the insuranceagent having to pay for all this.

The baby's heartbeat was a healthy 152 times a minute. One-hundred-fifty-twotimes a minute? Sigh. In a few years, that's the frequency with which the kidwill be leaving the refrigerator door open.

I'll admit I wouldn't have known what I was looking at if the technicianhadn't pointed out the body parts. But better men than I have needed imagesclarified for them. ("Budget surplus, budget deficit. I never can keep themstraight, Cheney. They both start with 'B'.")

A father-to-be should maintain a little decorum, but when I saw theultrasounds, I had to restrain myself from blurting out a Steve Urkel-like "DidI do that?" Alternatives included "Aaaayyyy!," "Dyn-o-mite!," and "Shucks, youdrank enough water to fill the ce-ment pond!" ( I guess it's a good thing thatfatherhood will give me less time to watch TV.)

Ultrasounds are an incredible boon to mankind, in that they give parents andphysicians an advance notice of what to expect. Of course the wealth ofinformation would have been useless a couple of generations ago. Who caredwhether the nursery wallpaper was blue or pink when kids slept eight to the bed?And many birth defects could be handled with "Paw, put a tow sack over his haidso he don't scare the plow horses."

We jotted down a Web site for value-priced disposable diapers. No, they'renot environmentally friendly; but faced with washing a mountain of clothdiapers, Melissa and I wouldn't be very people-friendly.

This visit was a vindication of sorts. Three years ago, an infertilityspecialist assured us we would never be able to conceive without the in vitro"test-tube baby" process, at $10,000 for an attempt with no guarantee. We weredespondent at the notion of taking extreme measures to scrounge up the money andsomeday telling our child, "Don't listen to your classmates. Only special kidsget to live in a cave in a state park. And only special kids get to playhide-and-seek with the park ranger. Quick! Here he comes!"

Now that we're this far along, I thought Melissa would want to taunt thespecialist with the ultrasounds; but she doesn't ever want to see the quackagain. Can't blame her. He was probably the first doctor to sew a hospitalgurney inside a patient.

Everything seems normal so far, but I'm still not so certain I can relax.I've seen how Melissa reacts when I squeeze the toothpaste the wrong way, sowhen she says, "And your baby is going to squeeze all my internal organs likethis ...," I'm sure sleeping with one eye open.

Oh, I never did mention the sex of the baby. Well, Baby Tyree is going to be... born to a father who forgot how many words his editors allow him. Did I dothat? Stay tuned.

Gentlemen, Start Your Pacifiers

Since you asked, Melissa is still doing fine as we enter
the home stretch of impending parenthood.

The ladies at church overwhelmed us with love and
thoughtfulness at a recent baby shower. By "us" I mean
"Melissa and little Gideon," because I was politely warned
that I would be bored to death if I dared attend the
all-female get-together.

I'm sorry I missed the festivities, but perhaps by the time
Gideon is grown, social customs will have undergone a

Maybe someday expectant mothers will also be feted by
all-male groups. Here's what one could expect if men ran
baby showers:

* The baby monitor is perfectly attuned to tell whether
the baby is coughing, whether the baby is crying, whether
McNair scored a touchdown ...

* The Noah's
Ark decorations feature the animals' heads
mounted, two by two.

* Baby booties elicit a round of "Awwwwwwwww - think
how many butts he'll kick with those cute little feet!"

* Mentions of extreme bladder pain by the mother-to-be
are seen as a reminder to bring out another keg.

* The teddy bears on the cake are carefully arranged so
they won't be damaged when the stripper pops out.

* Tobacco-colored bibs are a hot item.

* Instead of keeping up with who gave what gift, the
guest of honor's brother is keeping up with bets on the
Monster Truck and Stroller Contest.

* The baby blanket comes with a charming card that
reads "May the angels watch over you while you nap -
because angels won't wake you up with a #$@# 'honey
do' list!"

* When the guest of honor tells about being able to work
two jobs while carrying the miracle of life, some guy
inevitably proclaims, "That's nice, but I can open this here jar..."

* Party games involve using baby thermometers as projectiles.
("Thanks for the bean dip, Bubba. Now pull my finger and stand

* When the mother-to-be mentions being "registered," someone
slips her a bunch of NRA pamphlets.

* Attendees debate whether high chair seat belts and electrical
outlet covers will turn the kid into a sissy.

* Nine out of 10 guys think the "up to 14 pounds" line on the box
of diapers means they can go for several days without changing

Doggone it!

I've sold myself on the idea.

Fellows, I'm going to host an all-male baby shower for Melissa.
If you don't know where I live, just ask directions and ...

Oops. I forgot the gender to whom I was talking. Never mind.
I could just kick myself.

Awwwwwwww .

The Tyrees Take "Crib" Notes

The arrival of our son is fast approaching, so Melissa and I have taken Breastfeeding and Labor & Delivery classes at Maury Regional Hospital.

I attended the classes with Melissa because of a natural curiosity and because it’s my husbandly duty. Remember in the wedding vows about “I promise to love, honor, cherish, and discuss the relative merits of breastfed stools and formula stools”?

But I’m not going to pat myself on the back too much. You could say that taking the classes gives the father an appreciation of what the mother goes through; but after hearing about epidurals, episiotomies, and the like, I’d say that’s like claiming that attending a pillow fight gives you an appreciation of what O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole went through.

Discussion of babymaking elicits giggles among carefree high school students; but for more mature pupils, the accelerated childbirth courses are serious business. For the husband of a pregnant woman, talk of sex is like Health, Biology, and Ancient History all rolled into one.

Participants in the classes soon learn the warning signs that it’s time to drop everything and rush to the hospital. Of course men already know that the surest sign is “the score is tied with 30 seconds left to play.”

Students learn that the timing of contractions requires a whole new way of measuring time. The way some people define “just a minute” while applying makeup or hogging the bathroom, the baby could be shaving during the course of a “five-minute contraction.”

The classes are valuable for showing expectant parents just how little they know; without the class, their total ignorance would go undiscovered until the happy day the kid became a teenager. Aren’t we lucky that newborns just cry, instead of copping a teenage attitude like “A whole new world? But there’s nothing to doooooo!” or “But all my friends have umbilical cords!”

Expectant mothers are advised to pack a “goody bag” containing items such as extra socks, camera film, and chewing gum, to cut down on last-minute pandemonium when labor begins. In many cases, the baby’s conception was a comically disorganized event, with the father forgetting to mention his name, address, or real phone number. (“I promise I’ll call you…uh…Cindy?”)

The instructors are quick to dispel old wives’ tales and other myths: the baby’s sex can be determined by fetal heart rate; a mother can induce labor with castor oil; great uncle Percival will be cast into the fiery pits of hell if the baby isn’t saddled with the name “Percival,” etc.

Just like most people never use iambic pentameter or quadratic equations after high school, participants in the childbirth classes will retain only key points. Mere months after learning ten-dollar terms such as “cephalopelvic disproportion” and “placental abruption,” their vocabulary seldom stretches beyond, “Come on – open wide. Choo choo! . Num num!”

The lectures we attended were greatly enhanced by the use of appropriate videos. I’ll never forget the heavy breathing, grunting, straining, pushing, and abandonment of all modesty in one of the videos. And that was just the part about getting the baby into a good preschool.

My favorite video was the one with the “Roots”-inspired scene that will haunt me for the next 18 years: the newborn is held high and told, “Behold the only thing greater than yourself -- the HMO rule book!”

A Letter To My Son

Note: Gideon Lewis Tyree was born to Danny and Melissa Tyree on Saturday, March 6, at 5:12 p.m. Place: Maury Regional Hospital in Columbia, Tennessee. He weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces and was 21 inches long.

Dear Gideon:

Daddy is being more serious than usual, but I wanted to share some thoughts with my precious boy.

I know you’ll soon forget the limitations of being a newborn, but trust me -- you’re dependent on others for everything. So when you’re older, promise me you’ll always show some compassion for those less powerful or less fortunate than yourself.

Grow up to be open-minded -but open-minded because of fairness and a thirst for knowledge. Some people are “open-minded” just so they can show off. (“Look at me! See how open-minded I am!”)

I want you to understand that there’s a lot of junk you just have to put up with in life -- and a lot of junk you don’t have to put up with. I hope you will learn to tell the difference.

I hope you’ll learn to distinguish between actual rules (“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”) and self-serving slogans that the mysterious “They” conjure up (“All’s fair in love and war,” “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” etc.)

I hope you’ll learn the proper time to blush. Don’t be embarrassed by things you have no control over, like your name or your parents or a physical attribute. Show a little healthy shame over selfish, malicious things you may do. Then dust yourself off and get on with your life.

As you learn about emergency rooms, cemeteries, jails, and the like, understand that there are worse things in life than being bored or being teased.

Don’t go cruising through life thinking nothing will ever change in regards to work, health, or relationships. Practice preventive measures and have contingency plans. Where would we be if God hadn’t had a backup plan when sin entered the world?

I hope that most of your dreams come true. Yes, most, -- not all. All of us have some shiny yearnings that aren’t in our ultimate best interests. If I had accomplished all the grandiose schemes I envisioned when I was 18, I would probably have never met your Mommy.

Robert Browning said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should always exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” A person needs a few setbacks to develop humility, character, and patience. Patience can change your whole life.. Did you know that it took me two years to get a second date with Mommy? Or that it took us eight years of trying to get our little bundle of joy? But a truly wise person can always tell the difference between perseverance and plain contrariness.

People see me coming and identify me as a “proud papa.” But it’s not time for pride yet., Gideon. What has either of us done so great at this point? It’s just biology. I’m excited and hopeful and full of love for you, but pride will come in its own time as you develop into a fine young man.

Perhaps someday that young man will pass on his own life experiences, so I can be equally proud of my grandchildren.



You Oughtta Be In Pictures -- Pretty Please!

On May 6 Melissa and I took baby Gideon to the mall to have his eight-week portraits made.

We have enjoyed snapping impromptu pictures of him at home, but every child deserves a professional portrait. If you rely entirely on amateur photography, you wind up ensnared in a web of lies when the child gets older. (“Yes, son, you were born with a giant thumb on your face. We, uh, had it surgically removed when you were five. This same brilliant Austrian surgeon stopped you from being so fuzzy, too.”)

Of course professional studios are just as bad as parents at perpetuating gender stereotypes. In addition to seeing the traditional male blues and female pinks, you’ll hear comments such as “Smile big for me, honey. Then make me a pot of coffee.”

Gideon himself behaved in a thoroughly unprofessional manner at the studio. He squirmed, pouted, and caterwauled. He was about as cooperative as Donald Trump’s hair.

It’s easy to make older kids smile, giggle, and guffaw. All you need is patented, outrageous humorous patter like “Do you think money grows on trees?,” “Put the lid back on the milk jug,” and “What are your intentions?”

Babies are subjected to a cascade of dumbed down utterances, such as “Who’s a pretty baby?,” “Kissy, kissy” and “Smile for the birdie.” The poor kid is probably thinking, “Wading pool? I’m in more danger from my gene pool!”

Of course an uncooperative baby is an embarrassment to his parents. Even though the photography studio staff dismisses the shenanigans as “all in a day’s work,” you still imagine a photographer dragging home at the end of the day, propping his feet up, opening a cold brew, and searching 500 channels for an infomercial about Learn Vasectomies At Home.

But parents should enjoy it while they can. If they misuse the photos, they may never have grandchildren to enjoy. Showing off the bearskin rug series to Junior’s girlfriend may just send the kid packing to the monastery.

We were told we could drive back to the mall another day, but with today’s exorbitant gasoline prices, I wasn’t going to vacate the premises, even if I had to make a tent from the “plus” sizes at Sears.

After killing an hour elsewhere in the mall, we returned to the studio. Gideon was more manageable. We got a beautiful closeup and a picture of him in a basket (although by this time, his parents were the real basket cases.)

We even got a family portrait. But by that time Melissa and I were so disheveled that Glen Campbell came by and offered to let us use the makeup artist he used for his DUI mug shot.

Even without a high pressure sales pitch, you feel guilty about not purchasing the entire package of photos. (“Children are our future -- and so are MasterCard bills.”) Parents splurging for the whole deal often leave an apology in their last will and testament. (“I know you were expecting my 401(k), but all I have is 8-by-10 glossies.”)

We finally got home with our photos. We had such grandiose plans for them, but we’re so far behind schedule, we’ll probably wind up sending them with Gideon’s graduation invitations. (“Go ahead and send bibs as graduation gifts. He’s drooling over redheads now.”)

Dad To The Bone

I spent four consecutive Father’s Days in limbo.

My father passed away in February of 2000 and I had no children of my own, so I had a rather “Bah, humbug!” attitude about the holiday.

Now that baby Gideon is here, I’m playing fatherhood for all its worth.

Right now I’m doting on every cute little grunt of Gideon’s. At least now they don’t require much work on my part. In a few years I’ll have to earn the grunts, with stupid questions such as “Where are you going?,” “What time will you be home?,” and “Did Jimmy ever get that electronic tracking bracelet removed from his ankle?”

I’ve developed an insufferable habit of inserting “my son” into every conversation. (“Marcus Aurelius? Surely when that Roman emperor conquered the Marcomanni in 168 A.D., he didn’t enslave any babies as cute as MY SON.”)

Before “my son,” my big phrase was “my wife.” Before that, it was “my girlfriend.” For some reason, all of them met with a better response than the old “my inflatable doll.”

I love pushing Gideon around in his stroller and having complete strangers make a fuss over him. I never tire of answering all the standard questions, such as “How old is he?,” “What’s his name?,” “Is he on solid food yet?,” and “Has he ever considered a lucrative career in Amway?”

Certainly we keep up with the milestones in Gideon’s development: “Baby rolls over for the first time,” “Baby holds his rattle for the first time,” “Baby sleeps through the sound of the hospital bills toppling over for the first time,” etc.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of aiding and abetting Melissa in going overboard on recording Gideon’s antics for posterity. (“Say, is that the Lord of the Rings trilogy on your videotape shelf?” “No, that’s the Gideon’s Naps, May 24th, trilogy.”)

Although Gideon takes features from both sides of the family , I still revel in it when people point out how much he resembles me. I’m especially proud of his blue eyes.. I’m glad my genes are being put to use. As I approached my 44th birthday, I was afraid the genes were on the verge of moving to Boca Raton to play shuffleboard and hit the “early bird” dinner special.

I’m proud of the set of lungs on Gideon. Someday he’ll benefit mankind in a profession such as preaching, opera singing, or Yelling Helpfully At You When You’re Backed Up By A Two-Mile Traffic Jam.

I don’t want to raise Gideon in a plastic bubble; but I do want to warn him about the things that could spill innocent Tyree blood, like wasps, broken glass, stove burners, “My dad can beat up your dad” T-shirts, etc.

I have to take things one day at a time with Gideon. In my father’s generation, a person had to be more of a “jack of all trades.” But I don’t really know what to teach Gideon about knot-tying, fishing, swimming, and other activities. All I can give him is love and attention. I just hope my parenting skills grow and develop as Gideon does. Otherwise, it might be embarrassing if I ever have to coach Little League. (“Uh, there’s a runner on second with two men out. Why don’t you, uh… show ‘em who’s a pretty boy!”)

Young Blue Eyes Is Back!

Forgive me for taking so long to update you on the exploits of baby Gideon Tyree.

Our pride and joy turned 6 months old on Labor Day. He’s happy, healthy, 20-plus pounds, above average in length, and the life of the party.

Gideon still has reddish hair, a testament to his Scots-Irish heritage. You should see the “Riverdance” routine he does when he gets excited. Just don’t stand too close, as he makes his own “river.”

As first-time parents, Melissa and I were unprepared for how much Gideon dominates our time and space. I thought the living room floor was crowded even before we added his swing, bouncy seat, playpen, and ExerSaucer. I’ve decided that athletes with kids have an unfair advantage in the Olympic pole vault.

Spare time? I used to think I had it rough when I dragged in from work only to be presented with a “Honey Do” list. Now it’s a “Honey Do List That Gideon Threw Up On.”

But I’m not complaining. I forget about all my problems when I hear Gideon’s squeals of delight as I hoist him into the air, kiss his ears, or give him the “raspberry.” There’s nothing like that squeal of delight -- except for the squeals from sales clerks when they see another sucker about to pay NBA prices for teeny, tiny shoes.

Gideon watches everything, but right now he’s particularly fascinated by ceiling fans. Yes, he likes to see something going around in circles and dealing with hot air all day. I hope he’s that enthusiastic for the concept when he gets his first job.

Some childhood interests will define a career while others fade away. One must decide which interests are most appropriate for the grown-up world. (“If it pleases the court, I submit that the germane precedent can be found in the case of Pooh vs. Tigger.”)

Gideon loves books. He knows they can take him to exotic places – like the emergency room, if he doesn’t quit chewing them. (“The New York Times says ‘My Pet Duck’ is riveting, provocative, and goes great with strained carrots.”)

For the sake of his eyes and attention span, we’re not letting Gideon watch TV until he’s at least two years old. We want to focus on more educational pursuits, like seeing how tadpoles turn to frogs, how caterpillars turn to butterflies, how Daddy’s brains turn to mush after hearing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain” for the 475th time…

Gideon shows signs of being a collector, like his dear old Dad. I just hope he isn’t too disappointed if he ever goes on “Antiques Roadshow.” (“Uh, I’m sorry, but there’s not really a market value for big clumps of fur yanked off of Dodsey the cat.”)

Melissa and I are trying to enjoy Gideon while he’s just rolling and crawling. He’s already plotting his priority list of things to grab once he can walk: scissors, fragile glassware, butcher knives, credit card numbers, thermonuclear devices, etc.

We’re trying not to obsess over possible telltale signs of a gifted child. Although… Gideon does show a talent for throwing things in the floor, being helpless by himself, and sticking his foot in his mouth.

Yes, you guessed it. He’s already ahead of the curve on making someone a fine husband someday!

Baby Gideon's First Christmas

Baby Gideon Lewis Tyree turned nine months old on December 6. We didn’t get to dwell on that milestone because he’s already in high gear for his first Christmas.

I know it’s a cliché, but having a child around the house (after 13 years of a two-person household) helps me see Christmas in a different light. For instance, I wonder if the Wise Men started out as Wise Babies. (“How wise is baby Balthazar? Soooooo wise!!”)

As a pre-toddler, Gideon gets to coast on the “naughty or nice” stuff this year. The bar is set pretty low, sort of like for Cabinet-level positions. (“I soiled myself and don’t know what I’m talking about —but at least I didn’t hire an illegal nanny.” “Good, you’re nominated.”)

Gideon is still at the age where we can take him along shopping for his own gifts. It’s an emotional trip, filled with separation anxiety. No, not about getting lost in the department store -- about getting separated from my paycheck. (Remember the popular Christmas song “I Saw Mommy Overdrafting Santa Claus”?)

Gideon enjoys the Christmas lights and decorations, but to be completely honest, he could also spend long stretches amusing himself with my jacket zipper, the Spider-Man slippers he got for Halloween, or a postcard of paint drying. He hasn’t been particularly impressed by the “five-foot dancing Santa” at a major retailer. As the jolly old elf gyrates and thrashes about, Gideon seems to be thinking, “Someone get this patient an epidural!”

Gideon should be quite the conversationalist by the time he meets his little cousins at Christmas dinner. His vocabulary already includes “Mama,” “Dada,” “good,” “bye-bye,” “cat,” “cookie,” “button,” and “Barbara” (his babysitter’s name). Of course the rest of it is gibberish, bearing a striking resemblance to the instructions that come with “some assembly required” toys.

Sometimes babies grasp just enough of Christmas traditions to be confused. Especially breastfed babies. (“Okay, which one dispenses eggnog, and which one dispenses boiled custard?”)

We still aren’t letting Gideon watch TV, so he has yet to make the acquaintance of Rudolph, The Grinch, or Frosty. But he’s being exposed to a wide range of Christmas carols. Right now the most appropriate one for him seems to be “All I Want For Christmas Is My Tube of Teething Gel.”

We hope to add to Gideon’s book collection this Christmas. And not necessarily just with books written specifically for children. There are also adult books adapted for youngsters, such as Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Spit Up On In Heaven.”

Some of my childless friends wonder why we’re so excited about this Christmas, why we’re going to so much trouble over an event Gideon won’t even remember. (Of course some of them have taken expensive Vegas vacations with nothing to show for it except a mysterious wedding ring and a hangover.)

Well, someday Gideon will be able to watch the videotapes of his first Christmas -- and the 8 millimeter films of his Mommy’s early Christmases. And if he visits the Smithsonian, he can see the drawings of Daddy fighting off the saber-tooth tigers to open his packages.

Maybe Gideon can even visit the Secretary of Huggies Security for a rousing rendition of “I Saw Mommy Resuscitating Dick Cheney.”

How desperate is Danny Tyree for a punchline? Sooooo desperate!

Gideon's First Birthday

Our baby isn’t a baby anymore.

Gideon Lewis Tyree celebrated his first birthday on March 6.

I’m sure there will be much eager anticipation for his second birthday, but this year the party and gifts came as a complete surprise to the guest of honor. One-year-olds are so easy to bamboozle. They could see an assemblage of relatives, playmates, balloons, clowns, and ponies and think, “Wow! What a coincidence! Someone call Ripley.” They have the wide-eyed innocence of parents who let their kids stay overnight at the Neverland Ranch. (“What? Michael Jackson is a weirdo? Well, who’d have thunk it???”)

Gideon has been recovering from a slight rash, so when he saw the camcorder come out at his party, he was probably thinking, “This must be one of those disease-of-the-week TV movies. I wonder if they’ll get Blythe Danner to play Grandma?”

One of Gideon’s birthday gifts was the Mega Blocks “Three Little Pigs” set. This is the modernized version, because before the Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and blows the house down, he checks for radon.

Gideon also received a baseball uniform and tee ball set. Given the activities of Major Leaguers, it’s a wonder they didn’t come with chewable steroids, Gerber broccoli-and-tobacco, and crotch-scratching Pampers.

One of Gideon’s favorite gifts is the big red metal “Engine No. 7 Fire & Rescue Truck” that my mother bought him. He loves to sit in the seat and clang the bell. But he’s a bit disappointed by the fact that it’s pedal-powered. (“Great! If Fred Flintstone’s house catches on fire, I’ve got it covered. Anybody else is up the creek without a paddle.”)

Yes, Gideon received enough toys to keep him busy for a long time; but we could’ve bought even more gifts, if not for the money invested in “baby-proofing” the house. “Baby-proofing”? Can any mere adult manage to stay one step ahead of baby logic? ( “We know that the Marquis de Sade invented toothpaste and washcloths…therefore, broken glass is…yummy!”)

Gideon tasted his first ice cream on his birthday. And on his way to church, he got to ride in a forward-facing car seat for the first time. Now he’s a big boy (2T clothes, size 6 shoes), set for all the life adventures that occur between the time everyone asks “Does he walk yet?” and the time they whisper, “Has he made out his will yet?”

Since I brought up the subject, no, he’s not walking yet. He hasn’t found the right incentive. But, boy, can he climb! His reason for climbing echoes that of George Leigh Mallory about scaling Mt. Everest. (“Why climb? Because the emergency room is there.”)

People often comment on Gideon’s sunny, outgoing disposition. Well, Gideon’s philosophy about misfortune is “When life hands you a lemon – eat dead ladybugs.” Granted, that’s his philosophy about everything.

Perhaps next year Gideon can report to you himself. He already talks up a storm. In addition to the standard infant gibberish, he also utters such clearly intelligible phrases as “Where’s Dada?,” “Night-night,” “I want some of that,” and “Mother dear, I believe it would be advantageous for you to let father continue his slumber and tend to my caterwauling yourself.”

Well, they’re clearly intelligible to me. Can I help it if I’m an overachiever? Like son, like father.

Halloween 2005: Gideon's "Sting" Operation

19-month-old Gideon Tyree’s second Halloween is coming up, and while he’s not at the stage of counting the days until big events, he’s getting in the mood nonetheless.

He throws a fit when he can’t find his “pump-jack” (jack-o-lantern) books, and he shrieks with delight when I feign fright at his shouts of “Boo!” (I just hope nothing gets lost in the translation. It would be embarrassing if he told the preacher, “Daddy gets boos and falls down.”)

Gideon will go trick-or-treating this year, but only to a select group of homes, mostly people we know from church.. I guess traditionalists will bemoan this trend and bombard us with heartwarming cards that admonish, “Extorting candy from total strangers is the reason for the season.”

Gideon will show off his bee costume, which he picked out himself. Costumes inspire kids to fantasize about interstellar adventures, magical kingdoms, and the Old West. They inspire adults to fantasize about the apparel actually being manufactured in the U.S.A.

Gideon will also show off his math skills when he goes visiting. He can count up to 288. No, really. When he stuck his finger up his nose, the babysitter exclaimed, “Gross!” Gideon stuck both fingers up his nose and replied, “Two gross!”

Despite all the ghosts, witches, and goblins on the prowl October 31, I think Gideon will take everything in stride. He did okay meeting Smokey the Bear earlier in October. I’m the one who gets freaked out at this time of year, by nightmares about all candy suddenly carrying the disclaimer “Some assembly required” or “Batteries not included.”

I think the reason the day after Halloween is called All Saints’ Day is that it would take a saint not to punch out a neighbor who sends kids bouncing off the wall with sugar.

I’m glad that Gideon is still blissfully ignorant of Halloween vandalism and the urban legends about fiends inserting sharp foreign objects into goodies. You know, the reports that get hospitals to volunteer to x-ray bags of Halloween treats. (“Sorry. This candy contains nougat. I’ll have to refer you to a specialist.”)

Gideon has an analytical mind, so he’ll probably brainstorm better uses for the x-ray. Someday he’ll be charging other kids to use a portable x-ray to determine which houses are harboring fruit, wheat germ, and other yucky non-candy snacks.

Perhaps someday I’ll tell Gideon about Daddy’s Halloweens during the Cold War. Sure, you could avail yourself of the x-ray, but the real answer to suspicious candy was to hide under your school desk. (“Incoming missiles? Hide under the desk. Marauding hippies? Hide under your desk. Arsenic in the wood the desks are made of? You’re up the creek without a paddle!”)

We’ve been allowing Gideon only small amounts of sweets. But I think his exposure to TV coverage of childhood obesity would make him behave prudently even if offered a cornucopia of “forbidden fruit.” (“Do you know how to say ‘Thank you,’ little boy?” “Do you know how to say ‘enabler,’ old woman?”)

Melissa and I are enjoying Gideon’s Halloween to the max. I’m living vicariously through him, since I don’t go to many parties myself. I do have a great costume, though. If I receive an invitation, I won’t show up at the house at all. Yes, I’ll be “going” as an independent contractor!

Gideon's Second Christmas

Christmas time’s a comin’ for the Tyree household.

Melissa and I have a lot to celebrate. Gideon (who turned 21 months old on December 6) is happy and healthy. He weighs 30 pounds, is at least 35 inches long, and still has eye-catching curls in his strawberry blonde hair.

Gideon has learned many words and phrases, such as “I’ll fly away,” “Paint it black,” and “delightful cat.”. He can count to 10, knows most of his letters, and is mastering the concept of opposites, such as up/down, in/out, off/on, easy/payments, etc.

For several months, we’ve been reading Gideon a children’s book about the Nativity. Of course it’s a cleaned up version, omitting all the scenes of tripping over scattered frankincense and myrrh during midnight feedings.

We’re still limiting the amount of television that Gideon watches, but he did get to see the holiday classic “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” (the one with Burgermeister Meisterburger). That show answers the question “How did Santa Claus get to be Santa Claus?” (Before the show, Gideon probably assumed that Kris Kringle got where he is by contributing to the governor’s reelection campaign.)

Gideon has yet to see Daddy’s favorite holiday movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” More and more each year, I realize that Frank Capra was the perfect person to direct the movie. We would have lost too much of the sentimentality with the Ivan Pavlov version. (“Teacher says, every time a bell rings, a dog salivates.”)

As far as seasonal advertising goes, Gideon is fascinated by the Coca-Cola commercial featuring the penguins and polar bears. In a brilliant move, Coke has forever intertwined its products with thoughts of home, thoughts of family, thoughts of bird flu…What will they do for an encore next year -- sponsor the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning On Ice Spectacular?

Gideon had a wary encounter with the “right jolly old elf” who gave him a lollipop at a local retail outlet. To avoid confusion from multiple mall Santas, we’ve decided to tell Gideon, “There goes a man pretending to be Santa Claus.” Sort of like when we see Sen. Bill Frist and explain, “There goes a man pretending to put his stocks in a blind trust.”

Gideon delights in playing with the ornaments when we encounter a Christmas tree. Yes, a Christmas tree – not a “holiday tree.” I fear that by the time Gideon is grown, we’ll be calling the thing a “whatchamacallit,” because the Politically Correct Police think the word “tree” will offend the poor losers who live in the desert.

As for retailers who shun “Merry Christmas,” if they’re worried about offending shoppers, they should think twice about the 21 percent interest on their charge accounts!!!

Ah, there will be time enough later for giving Gideon pompous lectures about The True Meaning Of Christmas. Right now we’re busy with The True Meaning of “Let go of the cat’s tail right this minute, and I mean it this time!”

Gideon gets into the spirit of the season, caring about the less fortunate. Of course with his limited worldview, the less fortunate consists of Scuffy The Tugboat, Charlie The Train, Winnie the Pooh when he gets stuck in Rabbit’s hole, etc.

May you experience Christmas with newfound innocence. May you renew your inner child. May you put down that B-B gun before you put an eye out…

Gideon's Second Birthday

Gideon Lewis Tyree turned two years old on March 6 and celebrated with a party at CiCi’s Pizza in Columbia, Tennessee.

Gideon appreciated the “Thomas The Tank Engine” theme; but in general he was distracted and unwilling to count to five in Spanish, chirp “Come on, baby, let’s do the twist,” or otherwise perform on command. I think he kept waiting for the restaurant TV to show his favorite commercial: the one in which orange traffic cones come to life and chase a Toyota. He could watch it 20 times in a row. It was a rather traumatic day in his young life when he discovered that “CSI” doesn’t stand for “Cone Shenanigans Investigations.”

Gideon didn’t even launch into his morning routine of telling us about seeing elephants. Those pachyderm events have convinced us that (a) Gideon is having a vivid dream life or (b) we need to start paying the exterminator a whole lot more.

With just a little help, Gideon was able to extinguish his candles. Soon enough the highlight of his birthdays will shift from “blow out the candles” to “turn your head and cough.”

Gideon certainly toddles to the beat of a different drum. Most kids would rip into their gifts with gusto. Gideon meticulously tore off one little square of wrapping paper at a time and watched it flutter into the gift bag. If Oliver North did such a painstaking job of shredding documents, he’d still be working on Iran-Contra. (“Just a few more papers, Fawn, and President Reagan will be spared going to jail. Huh??? Reagan did what??? Awww, and I didn’t even send flowers!”)

Gideon enjoyed his Sesame Street dictionary, his shopping cart, and all the other gifts. He received the regular “Bob The Builder” toys for innocent toddlers. In a few more years, he can work his way up to the more cynical version. (“Can we build it? Yes, we can – if we grease enough palms at the building codes office.”)

Gideon is thrilled with the racecar bed that his babysitter gave him. He probably thinks he’s the only boy in the world with such a bed. Later on, I’ll explain to him that lots of people sleep in their cars. According to the Census Bureau, they’re classified as Parents Who Charged One Too Many Toys For Their Kids.

I enjoyed the party, but my biggest regret was that Gideon’s long, curly locks had been shorn just in time for the event. As someone who lives vicariously through his son’s ability to keep his dome covered, I don’t take a lot of comfort in the well-wishers who say, “Now he looks like a little boy!” Somehow I doubt that having a few curls is going to make him the star of “Brokeback Sandbox.”

Friends, relatives, and total strangers have greeted Gideon’s milestone with dire warnings about “the terrible twos.” There are two different philosophies about “the terrible twos.” To some, the designation is a stereotype, the moral equivalent of racial profiling. To others, seeing their little angels suddenly start acting up is God’s way of saying, “Ha! Maybe next time you’ll buy the extended warranty, smart guy!”

Melissa and I put a lot of work into Gideon’s birthday, but he’ll never really know just how much we love him – until he has a two-year-old bundle of joy of his own.

Gideon Goes To The Zoo

When you’re po’ folks with no cable TV, obviously you miss out on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. All you can offer your child is looking at the rabbit ears.

So to keep Gideon from being culturally deprived, Melissa and I took him to the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere for the first time. It was an educational experience for all of us.

I learned that one of the best ways to develop carpal tunnel syndrome is to try pointing at things a two-and-a-half-year-old should find of interest. (“Look at the giraffe! No! The giraffe! Not that cigarette butt -- the giraffe!”) It’s a little like trying to get the attention of Congress. (“Look at the health care issue over here. No, over here. No, not the gay flag burner -- the health care issue!”)

Gideon learned that he could make Daddy turn different shades of color by ignoring the Bengal tigers and stomping on the storm drains. Can you imagine what today’s biological diversity would be like if Noah’s sons had been toddlers when he constructed the ark? Noah would have been preoccupied with bringing plumbing fixtures onto the ark two by two. And he would have sent out a dove to pick up a Home Depot circular.

I learned the futility of trying to snap a picture of the animals with Gideon The Human Blur in the foreground. I could almost hear Marlin Perkins sending Jim in with the tranquilizer gun in an episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Caffeinated Kingdom.”

Gideon learned many screeches and howls of the animals. Of course one of the most blood-curdling screeches turned out to be Daddy seeing the $3 hot dogs and $2 vending machine soft drinks. It was then that I dispensed with the standard advice (“Don’t pet the animals. You don’t know what diseases they might have”) and went with the more practical (“Buddy up with the red panda and see if you can score us some of those bamboo shoots. It’s either that, or nibble the rabbit ears when we get home.”)

Gideon did pay rapt attention when two rhino hornbill birds got into a fight. One hornbill was enjoying a salt lick when the other sneaked up and bit it on the neck. A pity we didn’t get Kofi Annan’s autograph when he showed up to scold the first bird for provoking the confrontation.

We didn’t want the trip to be too oppressively educational, so we stayed away from the binomial nomenclature (you know, Tropidoclonion lineatum and the like) and went with familiar bite-size terms such as “fishie” and “birdie.” We did share with Gideon an amusing fact about Swedish botanist/physician Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), inventor of the highfalutin Latin-based binomial nomenclature. Linnaeus’ mechanic swears he would always bring in his Volvo with a complaint like “The thingamabob makes a funny noise when the whatchamacallit lights up.”)

I learned to be specific when talking to Gideon. I told him that Batman lives with bats, and he though I meant the specific bats in the Unseen New World exhibit at Grassmere. I suppose its plausible in this era of eminent domain. A shopping mall would bring Gotham City a heck of a lot more tax revenue than the Batcave.

Even though it looked like things weren’t sinking in, Gideon kept babbling about his trip after we got home. He took his zoo map to bed and kept rehearsing the day’s events (seeing the cheetah, riding the kangaroo on the carousel, etc.) . I think this will make a permanent impression on him. Perhaps someday he’ll have children of us own and regale them with the events of July 29, 2006. (“This is the story of the elephant savannah. No, not the story of the cigarette butt. The elephant savannah! Pay attention!”)

False-Facing The Facts

Halloween costumes and I go way back – even before the 1967 Dr. Doom outfit that still hangs in my mother’s garage.

(Dr. Doom, for the uninitiated, is the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four. He’s capable of ruling the nation of Latveria with an iron fist, wreaking havoc on all super-heroes who stand in the way of his ambitions, and toilet-papering the houses of those cretins who turn off the lights and pretend not to be home on Halloween.)

Yes, I can remember when a joyous cry of “let’s look at the young boy pages” meant you were perusing the new Halloween catalog, not that a congressman was getting ready for a “closed doors session.”

Mass-produced Halloween costumes weren’t even introduced until the 1950s, but they’ve become a huge business. boasts 10,000 different designs. I suppose so many are needed because proud parents want their children to be unique. This way each neighborhood can be visited by Ethan the Power Ranger, Ethan the Penguin, Ethan the Spongebob Squarepants…

This Halloween, across the land, millions of parents will break out their Kodaks and camcorders to record their adorable tikes extorting candy from complete strangers. How quickly the warm memories fade! Within 15 years the parents will be complaining to the kids, “Why have you always got your hand out? Get a job, you bum!”

Of course some stick-in-the-mud people would like to do away with the whole trick-or-treating phenomenon, based on the premise that October 31 should not be reserved for dressing up and pretending to be something you’re not. (“We have Sundays for that, thank you very much.”)

I know pirates are big this year, but if the manufacturers had been given more lead time, I’m sure the smash of the season would be North Korean Madman. (“You serve fruit instead of Snickers Bars? This is declaration of war!”)

My son Gideon has chosen to celebrate his third Halloween by dressing as a green skeleton. (It’s a wonder he didn’t choose to go as a “ghostie,” or as“bandage man,” as he calls The Mummy.) It’s cute that children can be so innocent and so oblivious to the morbid nature of skeletons. Soon enough they’ll be adults; then they can be oblivious to the cardiovascular system. (“Forget this quack and his diet. Roll me down the hallway for a second opinion.”)

Halloween costumes have gotten really expensive, and it’s hard to economize. You can buy used costumes at summer yard sales, but how can you gauge the number of growth spurts between then and autumn? (“Thanks for the kindergarten wardrobe, Mom, but I’ve just been drafted by the NBA.”)

Sure, some insufferable artsy-craftsy parents cut down costs by making costumes at home. This is a time-consuming process, because first they have to bake brownies, pose for Norman Rockwell, deflect Eddie Haskell’s flattery, etc.

Making your own costumes supposedly stimulates the imagination of the youngsters. I guess it does in a way. (“Okay, honey, imagine this process without the part where you spill glue on the sofa and mommy uses naughty words.”)

I fear that these “homemade costume” children may learn their lesson too well. Someday they’ll be advising, “No, you don’t need store-bought cataract surgery, Dad. Look, we’ve got construction paper and glitter and…”

Who Turned Three? Gideon Tyree!

If some spendthrifts want to fork over $2500 for 30 seconds with Michael Jackson, that’s their business. The time I spent with son Gideon at his third birthday party (watching him unwrap his “presnits”) was priceless.

Superman was the theme of the party, not surprisingly. For months, Gideon has been obsessed with super-heroes, rattling off names like Wolverine, Moon Knight, Batman, and Wonder Woman. During his shower last night Gideon revealed, “They call me a super-hero, because I hold the pipe (for the showerhead) while they’re rinsing me.” (Hey, people have become celebrities for less.)

Super-hero or not, the party was a celebration of what a remarkable young man Gideon has become in the past year. He loves books (he throws a fit when we turn off the light at bedtime and he can’t “read”), displays showmanship (waving his arms and announcing, “We’re going to have a grand adventure!”), has a vivid imagination (he has learned to “make movies” by closing his eyes, and regales us with dreams about “happy skeletons working in their workshop”), shows an understanding of adult motivations (“You tease me because you love me”), and adapts the speed of saying grace according to whether something good is on TV. (I wonder if this would work for sermons? “Hey, preacher, if you don’t want to miss Scooby Doo unmasking the culprit, you’d better cut it to Six Deadly Sins.”)

He has also shown an egalitarian view that the rules should apply to everyone equally. When the librarian told him that he had entered a restricted area, he responded with “Shhhhhhh!”

Gideon has become adept at bluffing to cover some shortfall of knowledge. I can ask him if he knows the meaning of a certain word. He answers, “Uh huh. (Pause) Tell me.” One night at bedtime he kept answering all my questions with grunts. When I asked, “Gideon, what has become of your vocabulary tonight?,” he got a deer-in-the-headlights look and whimpered, “I put it SOMEWHERE.”

I showed Gideon a photo of a 1970 Webelos Scout campout that “Daddy and Uncle Dwight” attended. He immediately chimed in with, “I was there. I helped you.” Forget astronaut or cowboy – this credit hog is cut out to work in an office someday.

Gideon recently decided to rename his big doll “Belly Button.” He then announced, “I have three sons: Belly Button, Barbie, and Ken.” Where is Sigmund Freud when you need him?

“I’m behaving NOW,” has become one of Gideon’s most-repeated phrases. I think that’s what Saddam Hussein said when dragged out of that hole in the ground.

I often find myself gazing down in awe at this sweet, innocent child. If he ever did pursue a life of crime, he would probably be the first prisoner to somehow lose a shoe while in solitary confinement.

The night before Gideon’s birthday, I remarked, “You’re growing up so fast. You’ll be in school before you know it.” He beamed, “Then I will teach you things instead of you teaching me.”

As Louis Armstrong sang, “You will learn much more/ than I will ever know/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world!”

Tricks Are For (Having) Kids?

According to Agence France Presse news service, thousands of couples from around the world are flocking to the United States to spend $19,000 a pop on a groundbreaking gender selection treatment that gives a 99 percent certainty of choosing a baby’s sex.

Most couples using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) cite the desire for “balance” in their families. Hmph! I have one brother, no sisters. My wife has two sisters, no brothers. We both have plenty to keep us occupied without wasting time sighing over “What might have been.” Trying to outthink God never works. A couple trying to force equilibrium between macho and frills could easily find their two red-blooded boys dangled out the window by two even rougher tomboys.

Most families are already pretty well balanced as far as the children’s talents and personalities are concerned.. For instance, you’ll find one child who is eager to have another sibling of the same sex, as well as one who thinks $19,000 would buy a really kick-butt home entertainment system.

Still, some parents just don’t want to risk surprises. They want to enter the delivery room with confidence. Of course they may be surprised when big sister announces, “Oh, the baby sister I screamed for? That’s so ‘five minutes ago.’ I’m into my pony phase now…”

21st Century technology is great, but I miss the more idealistic times of the Sixties, when “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz could say, “Happiness is a warm puppy,” not “happiness is a boy or girl preselected through DNA analysis of embryos.”

It shouldn’t matter whether a child is a boy or a girl. The important thing is that he or she be strong enough to put up a defense when classmates discover the geeky middle name the parents picked out.

Bioethicists are concerned that we’ll be starting down a slippery slope if parents are allowed to determine the sex of a child. They won’t stop there. Parents will be tempted to produce “designer children,” who have just the right hair color, just the right color of eyes, and just enough of a sense of shame not to use clichés like “slippery slope.”

Armed with PGD, some parents will feel obligated to micromanage the entire future of their offspring. (“Honey, better set some money aside. Johnny will be having a visit from the Tooth Fairy on June 12 of 2009.”)

Critics of PGD think the procedure will widen the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” even more. Only the poor would be bald or fat. Supporters of the procedure, however, say, “These charges of creating a master race are ludicrous and libelous. You’d better heil when you say that. Uh…smile! You’d better smile when you say that.”

Nature has done a good job of carrying on the species and providing the right people for society’s roles. As Garth Brooks sang in “The Dance,” our lives are better left to chance. Can you imagine a world in which an entire generation of trendy parents suddenly favored one sex over another? For instance, what if every home was controlled by a gender that said things like, “Whoa! A perfectly acceptable TV show with just the first click of the remote”? The earth would flip on its axis!!

Trying To "Stirrup" Some Trouble

Ladies, do you really need a whole cheering section shouting “Push!”?

According to the New York Times News Service, there is a growing trend toward allowing multiple guests in the delivery room during labor. Some women even move their baby showers to the delivery room.

Rejecting privacy and modesty, proponents of this cultural shift insist that a circle of family and friends can make a birth even more wondrous than it already is. Yeah, so can hiring David Copperfield to help the baby make its escape, but ya gotta draw the line somewhere.

Contemporary mothers squeeze more and more guests into the delivery room because they can’t stand to slight anyone. Then, once they’re back on their feet, they resume playing tennis at their all-white country club.

Hospitals use the trend as a marketing tool. Visitors who get a warm, fuzzy vibe from the delivery room experience will turn to that hospital in the future, whenever they’re considering elective surgery, or just have a hankering for five dollar tongue depressors. (“Jim, I saw your kid today and it reminded me of my ‘roid troubles…”)

Be that as it may, some people just don’t belong in the delivery room. Grandmothers-to-be would have a captive audience for their nagging. (“Hmph! If you had married that nice young doctor instead of What’s His Name, I’ll bet we’d be in the hospital Express Lane now, instead of waiting 12 hours for delivery!”)

Invite your best friend to the delivery? Sure. Just don’t expect a moratorium on catty comments. (“Judy was really brave during her entire delivery. She kept a stiff upper lip. If only she had thought to wax her lip…”)

A bunch of typically rowdy male spectators can ruin the blessed event. (“Hey, you gonna let him slap you on the rear end like that, ya little wuss? Lay one upside his head, Junior!”)

Some women even invite their bosses to the birth. This can really blow the boss’s mind. (“It’s like I’m looking in a mirror! That’s the same expression I make when I grant a five-cent raise!”)

Why stop with the boss? Why not go for broke and invite the president? (“How was I supposed to know the pregnant woman’s water would break? Besides, this is a local issue, not a federal one!”)

There are just too many variables in childbirth for a woman to invite all her friends and acquaintances. What if there’s a breech birth? The baby would get off to a bad start in life if his first official act was “mooning” the preacher.

Do we really want childbirth to be a community event on the order of funerals? What puffy-faced, stringy-haired, groaning woman wants well-wishers commenting, “My, doesn’t she look natural?”

Those glamour photos for Christmas cards become sort of pointless after everyone on your list has seen you in labor, don’t they? It’s like installing a home security system and then leaving a neon sign that announces, “Here’s the pass code, and a can of ether for the guard dog.”

You’re entitled to your own opinion, but I’ll point out the simplicity of the most famous childbirth in history. The “Wise Men” were wise enough to show up long after the action. It might have been ugly otherwise. (“Frankincense? Myrrh? I want Demerol! Surely there’s room at the inn for Demerol!”)

Get Off My Lower Case!

It doesn’t seem possible, but the starting of the 2006-2007 school year marks 40 years since I entered first grade.

First grade was more of a milestone back then. Many of us had not attended kindergarten, and the idea of preschool and pre-preschool was alien to us. The obsession with ever earlier education/socialization was in its infancy. I wonder just how far the trend can go. (“I don’t care whether you let me play with your jump rope or not, Suzie Jane. I’ll just use my umbilical cord. Nyahh nyahh!”)

I did not give in easily to the academic experience. I worried that the regimentation would cramp my style. I still have my old notebook from the summer of 1966, in which I envisioned using a flying saucer loaded with anti-matter to annihilate the Hardison School building. Yes, it was my way of sticking it to The Man, as well as, um, igniting the atmosphere, and ending life as we know it.

Although I didn’t like having to learn the lower case alphabet (all my comic books and comic strips used all capitals!), and resisted having Mrs. Cummings look at my work over my shoulder (intellectual property rights, and all that), I adapted to school.

Somehow we survived without camera phones, calculators, PlayStations, iPods, and shoes that light up. We had one thing today’s kids don’t: determination, imagination, and respect. (Okay, and the “New Math.”)

We started school in a time when “Show And Tell” meant bringing your father’s Korean War canteen from home. Now it means the teacher invites, “Show me your prescription and I’ll tell you how many meds you get today.”

We started to school when a note asking, “Do you love me? Check yes or no” came on a sheet of Blue Horse tablet paper, not on official faculty stationery.

We were preoccupied enough with paddlings and dunce caps that we didn’t have time to worry that saying “Thank you God for our food” and “one nation under God” put us in violation of the Geneva Convention.

We weren’t health nuts by any means, but at least we were trim enough to play on the teeter-totter and not the slowly-sinks-into-the-ground-under-our-weight.

At least we could enjoy nap time without the pressures of today’s hectic world. The feds weren’t shaming us by enumerating how many algorithms a Japanese first grader was solving while we snoozed. You know, the oft-cited Japanese student who attends class 400 days a year and twice on the day of Grandma’s funeral.

Our primers were insipid (and lily-white), but at least they weren’t as preachy as today’s books. (“See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. See Dick test positive for steroids and lose his medal.”)

I can’t imagine my generation’s heroes making anti-Semitic statements at a traffic stop. Well, maybe Batman. (“Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed, Jews to the back of the bus.”)

I extend my best wishes to the Class of 2018. Looking over my own first grade group photo, I see those innocent, eager youngsters totally unaware of all the frustrations, failures, rivalries, and betrayals awaiting them.

If I could have forecast and prepared for even 10 percent of the crises ahead of us, well, I guess Donald Rumsfeld would have labeled me a show off . (“Thanks for the anti-matter idea, though. Hey, CNN building, get a load of this!”)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Spare The Rod, Spoil The Campaign Issue

Children are our greatest natural resource. And apparently California legislators are our greatest unnatural resource.

By now you’ve probably heard of the crusade of California assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who has drafted legislation to criminalize the spanking of children under four years of age. Although first-time offenders might get away with a simple brainwashing session, they theoretically face a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.

Among the words people have used to describe Lieber’s idea: “absurd,” “intrusive,” unenforceable,” “a blatant violation of parental rights.” To those of us some distance from the “Left Coast,” California’s innovations seem to be a mixture of good intentions and good weed.

Yes, there are alternatives to spanking. Sometimes you can reason with a child. But don’t get your hopes up about negotiations. Remember, this is the kid who can’t reliably articulate when he needs to use the potty. You ain’t gettin’ the dadblamed Treaty of Versailles out of him.

And, yes, you can always withhold privileges instead of giving the little darling a whack on the seat. That works really well with the brat who is about to run out into traffic. (“Okay, James, there goes your open casket ceremony!”)

Lieber and her ilk regard corporal punishment as barbaric. Sure, I remember my history lessons: when the unwashed hordes invaded the civilized countries, they raped and pillaged as a last resort, if they couldn’t find any little tushies to smack.

Lieber considers spanking to be morally indistinguishable from wife beating. Hey, I’m no male chauvinist pig, but if your wife has made a habit of willfully throwing the silverware in the toilet or running the cat’s tail through the sewing machine, maybe she needs a little more than a “time out.”

Lieber (who has no children of her own – only cats) accepts as incontrovertible fact the premise that spanking teaches kids to use violence – or at least to hack up a hairball on the new carpet. Yup, even the mildest and most infrequent applications of spanking supposedly teach children that it’s okay to bully and dominate weaker people. Especially weaker people who are trying to jam a fork into the electrical outlet.

Ten European countries have banned spanking, and of course Lieber wants California to emulate them. (“But, Ma, all the cool countries are staying up until 4 a.m. on school nights and hanging out with 30-year-old escaped convicts.”).

Good liberal that she is, I’m sure Lieber will write some common sense exemptions into the law. Although there will be a ban on corporal punishment for something trivial like decorating a motel room with permanent markers, parents will probably be allowed to tackle the child and give him a full Nelson if he’s doing something self-destructive like eating red meat or reciting “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

The law supposedly targets parents and other caregivers applying physical discipline, but once the camel’s nose is under the tent, you can look for siblings to be under scrutiny for causing emotional scars. NBC may soon be airing “Law And Order: ‘Suzie Looked At Me!’ Unit.”

* Sigh* Don’t bother trying to reason with Lieber about different personalities and different situations. Just get in line for a campaign T-shirt. (“C’mon, quit clowning around and pretending to trip on the shirt hem. You know one size fits all!”)

The County That Weighs Together...

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to aerobicize you.”

That may be the new catch phrase as some Rutherford County (Tennessee) employees prepare for the second series of their own weight loss/fitness program inspired by NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.”

Rutherford County is going all out to make the program a success, tapping the expertise of nutritionists, physicians, and motivational speakers. The county seems to be doing better than one mercifully unnamed town, which made the mistake of going with the low bidder to run a similar program. (“Okay, judge, you’ll need to ditch the black robes and go with these vertical stripes…”)

“The Biggest Loser” seems to be a winning formula. Rutherford County is lucky to have missed out on earlier reality show-based competitions, such as “Tap Dancing With The Budget Figures,” “Supervisory Nanny,” and “Garbage Route Swap.”

The county benefits from the program because physical fitness makes the employees more productive, but productivity has its downside. Perhaps only certain departments should be allowed to participate. I don’t think anyone wants to hear, “I’m from the Codes Department, I’ve been living on carrot sticks for three days, and you look like red meat to me!”

Furthermore, healthier employees will stimulate the economy via job growth. Insurance companies will have to hire extra personnel to concoct new reasons to keep premiums up. (“Let’s see, if the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars…”)

If the anti-obesity campaign enjoys continued success, the county may expand to help its employees by discouraging other potentially harmful behavior, such as smoking, drug abuse, skydiving, whistle blowing, etc.

It takes a lot of guts for the participants to post their “before” photographs on the Internet for the world to see. Not many people can bear to display their physical shortcomings on the Web, unlike the tens of millions who have no qualms about displaying their mental shortcomings. (“There was no Holocaust. The Trilateral Commission and the Knights Templar staged it out in the desert somewhere.”)

Be prepared for stress from the diet regimen may take its toll on the dignity of even the strongest public servants. (“We intend to uphold government of the people, by the people, and for the luvva Mike will you get those carbs out of here!?!”)

Taxpayers face a stressful situation as well. This is a real paradigm shift for them to get used to. After years of wrangling over “separation of church and state,” it’s now “separation of employee and doughnuts.” Cornered government figures will now wag their fingers and insist, “I did not have chocolate éclairs with that woman.”

Citizens will have to get used to the sheriff climbing out of his patrol car at a traffic stop and drawling, “You in a heap of triglycerides, boy!” Instead of scheduling government debate, the calendar committee will focus on employee pin-ups. ( Actually, it’s nice to have government employees all buff and glowing. They’ll look better in photos for the ribbon-cutting of the latest Lardburger franchise.)

In spite of the culture shock, voters should show their support for the government employees’ weight reduction. Maybe someday we’ll see politicians competing for prizes in other reductions. (“It’s only January, and I’ve already taken down 22 percent of my November campaign posters, on the way to my goal of 60 percent. I approve removing part of my message.”)