Thursday, June 30, 2011

Southern Comfort

This summer is flying by so fast! It has already been a couple of weeks since we returned from our vacation. We spent five days on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and two in Savannah, Georgia. The last time Stewart and I were away for a week was a year and a half ago, when Max was not yet in the picture. Obviously, a vacation with Max is much different than one with just the two of us. The biggest difference is in the type of vacation we chose to take. We enjoy the beach, but we usually tend to go on active vacations, where we do a lot of hiking and exploring. But with Max, we were more than happy to just chill out by the pool and visit the beach once in a while. We actually spent more time on the beach than we thought we would, because surprisingly Max wasn’t into eating the sand (as opposed to rocks, twigs, and leaves, all of which he’d stuff into his mouth with abandon if given the chance!)

Having just returned from a vacation in the South, many people have asked us about how our “alternative” family was perceived down there. We weren’t too concerned about it in planning our trip, or otherwise we wouldn’t have gone. Stewart and I try to be optimistic and not pre-judge strangers who come into contact with us as a family. Living in worry and fear of the worst is not a good way to live life, nor is it a good example to set for Max. And I was pleased to be able to tell those who asked that in both Hilton Head and Savannah everyone we encountered was very nice to our family. Not only that, but many of the people we met were very enthusiastic about Max (I hope it is not getting to his head!) For example, by the end of our stay in Hilton Head, practically everyone hanging out by the pool knew Max and wanted to interact with him.

Our "Big Squirt" on the hotel pool deck

There were a few awkward moments from the trip that jump out -- mainly (and thankfully) due to their rarity. These occurred when we encountered people who did not know what to make of our family structure, or perhaps were simply in denial about it. At the hotel breakfast buffet in Hilton Head, on two different mornings with two different waitresses, Stewart and I were asked if we needed separate checks. It wasn’t like one of us was solely taking care of Max during breakfast, while the other one read the paper or sat ten feet away; we were both clearly parenting Max throughout the breakfasts (mainly, imploring him to eat the banana and not to squish it between his fingers or throw it on the floor!) We never heard them ask any man and woman with a child if they wanted separate checks, and never in New York have we been asked that question when out at a restaurant with Max. So culture clash seems like the most likely explanation.

Another awkward -- but more funny -- moment came when one time our family was getting out of the hotel elevator and a woman with a strong Southern accent asked Stewart and me if: “y’all are brothers, because your noses look similar.” I replied that we are definitely not brothers! Besides both of us being white guys of approximately the same height, I don’t think we look that similar.

But perhaps the most bizarre encounter came in Savannah. Stewart, Max and I were at a park and Stewart was insisting on taking a photo (per usual). A batty old woman approached us and asked us if we would like her to take a photo with all three of us in it. I whispered to Stewart that maybe we should decline because the woman seemed a little off of her rocker, but Stewart said that he didn’t care: “a photo is a photo and getting one with all three of us in it isn’t always easy.” So we had the woman take the photo, and as she handed the camera back to us, she said, pointing first at Stewart, then at me, and lastly at Max: “Let me guess: grandfather, father, son.” A smile must have crept onto my face at her crazy proclamation, because the woman got excited and said: “I knew I was right!” and wandered off as we stood there in silent amazement. Despite my smile I felt a little bad. While Stewart is older than me, as I remind him of often, he is only older by eight months and hardly looks like anyone’s grandfather. I tried to console Stewart by telling him that the woman probably thought I looked about 20 years old, meaning she wouldn’t have been that far off in estimating his age if he had had kids young, as they are wont to do in the South. Stewart wasn’t buying it. I can’t say I blame him. If this had happened in reverse, and she thought I was the grandfather, I probably wouldn’t be blogging this story (or if I did I wouldn’t be laughing while typing it up!) Fortunately Stewart has a great sense of humor about it in retrospect.

Me, Max and "Grandpa" in Savannah

When the most awkward family situations are the funny, innocuous ones I’ve just described, you know we had a great vacation among great people. Who knows what prior beliefs some of the people we met had about gay people, or about gay people getting married and having kids. But I’d like to think that their experience of having met us and Max, and seeing that we are just another young(ish) family trying to enjoy a nice vacation, either made them realize -- or solidified their pre-existing belief -- that we should be welcomed into their tourist towns with the same famed Southern hospitality they offer up to everybody else. That’s how we felt when down there and we’d go back to both spots.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chucking the Checklist

Max is at an intermediate stage of his development, stuck between being a baby and a toddler, and therefore the people we meet out and about are no longer satisfied just by learning Max’s age. They also want to know what developmental milestones he’s reached. So after they ask how old he is, the next question (usually one of several) is “Is he walking yet?” And I know I’m not alone in getting this question. My friend who has a kid three days older than Max complains that her doorman asks every other day if her kid is walking yet. My advice to her is: threaten to withhold his holiday tip if he asks again! In all seriousness, the questioners are usually well-intentioned, and I don’t think they mean to be annoying to the parent who has to respond to the same inquiries time and again . . . but, let’s face it, the questions do get tiresome.

So I try to get over the topic as soon as possible, getting all the info out to them in one fell swoop -- something like: “Nope. My kid is not walking yet, not saying any words yet, or recognizing any parts of his body yet; but . . . he is truly advanced in the teeth department!” My response is intended to be informative, but also, by bringing up Max’s dental accomplishments, hopefully hints at how silly I think the whole comparison game is for kids whose ages are still measured in months. Basically I’m saying to these people in a joking way: Unless your kid, grandkid, or whoever else you’re comparing my Maxxie to, has or had four front and bottom teeth, plus two molars, already in at 13 months old, you’re no one to talk comparisons with my child!

While I like to think of myself as pretty mellow when it comes to assessing whether Max’s development is keeping up with that of his friends’, I do have my slip-ups when my competitive streak slips out. One of Max’s playmates, who is six weeks older than Max and seems advanced in all of the main developmental yardsticks, for several months now has been able to point to his nose and ears when prompted. So, shortly before Max’s birthday, I couldn’t help myself but to test him for this skill . . . with no success. At Max’s 12 month visit with his pediatrician, I casually mentioned to him that Max is not able to recognize his body parts. The pediatrician responded by looking straight at Max and asking: “Max, you are not a trained seal, are you?” Point made, and naturally that humbled me and reminded me that my instincts about how silly all these developmental comparisons can be was spot on in the first place.

A couple of weeks later, my same friend with the inquisitive doorman mentioned that she visited the American Academy of Pediatrics website to look up developmental milestones for one year olds. As is human nature, she immediately focused only on the ones that her kid wasn’t doing yet:

• Says “dada” and “mama”

• Uses exclamations, such as “oh-oh!”

• Tries to imitate words

Of course Max wasn’t doing any of these things either. And, unfortunately, the number of teeth that a child has did not make the Academy’s list! To try to reassure my friend, I told her that Max was in the same boat as her kid. I was all nonchalant, like: “Why are you looking these things up? You are only setting yourself up for disappointment. These developmental steps will happen when they happen.” I truly believe that to be the right attitude to take -- but of course in my pep talk to her I omitted the part about my own recent neuroses in this area that I had displayed in my nervous questioning of Max’s pediatrician about his nose-pointing deficiencies.

All this said, I’m not trying to downplay the enjoyment parents do and should feel when kids reach developmental milestones. I am enjoying watching each of Max’s friends develop on their own time. It’s exciting to see the ones that have begun to take their first steps. It’s like they are drunken soldiers! Of course, I enjoy seeing Max develop the most, and he is truly at a great age for it. At the moment, Max is standing up on his own for up to 15 to 20 seconds (at the longest) before he topples over or sits himself down. It’s really cute to watch, and particularly because he is so proud of himself when he does it!

Max standing (daddy method)

And, as an example that most babies eventually do develop the skills set forth for them on all the checklists out there -- sort of -- in just the past week, when I ask Max where his nose is . . . he points to mine. It is so adorable, and at least he is pointing to someone’s nose when prompted! Needless to say, I’ll take it. Max is pretty perfect in my book and it’s very easy for me to be proud of whatever he accomplishes, whenever it happens and whether or not it is on somebody else’s checklist.

Max standing (chair method)