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Introduction

As a physician, one would think I should be pretty smart: using good judgement, calm deliberation and forethought, making the right decisions…that kind of thing. I can assure you that I do these things when taking care of patients, so don’t be alarmed if you happen to run into me in the hospital. But when it came to raising my kids, well—let’s just say these traits don’t always translate so naturally.

It’s not like I was totally unprepared for raising children. In medical school I studied some of the psychology behind children and adolescents. During my pediatric rotations, I watched how experienced pediatricians interacted with their little patients, noted how they got them to laugh and relax so they would cooperate for their physical exam. I also had plenty of opportunities to develop my interactive skills with kids on my own. Surely, I must have picked up some parenting skills from all this. They say nothing can truly prepare one to be a father, but in general, by the time my wife became pregnant when I turned thirty two years old, I felt ready to rear a child of my own. My wife even made sure that I read one of those baby/parenting books that teaches about baby psychology. But alas, none of this came close to preparing me for what was to come in fatherhood.

 Growing up, I had always imagined that I would be like a combination of my own dad and Mr. Brady from the ‘70’s television show: responsible, structured, understanding, and fun. I looked forward to the day when I would be head of my own household. While many teenage kids probably look ahead to their college years or their twenties, I couldn’t wait to be a thirty-five-year-old dad with a big house and a big yard in which to play with my kids. As it turns out, I am no Mr. Brady.

Now, as I reflect back on my early parenting days, I see my struggles with a sense of humor, as I suspect many other experienced parents do. While it didn’t always seem so at the time, the stories I tell people are really quite comical and worth sharing. Some of these stories were so outrageously funny and ridiculous even at the time that I actually shared them on emails the next day with my brothers and friends. I saved those emails, and when I went back to read them years later, I thought they might be entertaining enough to arrange into a book or blog format to share with a broader audience. 

I get mixed reactions when I tell some of these stories. Many people can relate and empathize to exactly what I was going through, whereas others (usually mothers) simply laugh in disbelief or are incredulous that I could even get myself into such an absurd situation. Don’t worry, this is not a just a collection of self-deprecating tales of parental mistakes, I will include some success stories and heart-warming ones as well.

Father’s Day Canoe Trip

For the summer of 2017, I was the victim to two entirely separate river disasters. I’ll save the second river story for next time; the first took place on Father’s Day weekend. Rob arranged a trip for the three Wojo brothers and our dad to drive down to Kentucky to see some historical sites from our ancestors, as well as a bar that my dad used to work security while stationed in the army at Fort Knox.

Chris arranged for us to stay two nights at a beautiful historic mansion nearby, and each of us had a room to ourselves. The lady that ran the mansion, told us some of the horror stories that took place there in the 1800’s. Legend has it that the owner’s daughter cut her wrists and bled all over one of the bedrooms before she died. She wouldn’t tell us which room, leaving each of us convinced that her ghost would slip out at night and cut our throat in our sleep. The other story involved burning a newborn baby in the fireplace. My dad slept in that room. He would have slept better if he didn’t keep waking himself up with intermittent bursts of screaming.

 The second day was supposed to include a bike ride to see more of the area, but of course my dad got injured again (his ankle this time), so we decided to go canoeing on the Green River instead. Four Wojtowich boys drinking beer in two canoes—what could go wrong?

We started out trying to outpace a bunch of kids and teenagers so we could reach some level of tranquility by ourselves and away from their obnoxious music. It was a lot of hard rowing at first, but it was worth the effort. Except for Rob complaining about the flies and constantly swatting them away with his oar, it was a perfect day on the river with green forest on both sides and a couple of beautiful waterfalls that we passed by as well. Apparently, that was enough to make Chris have to stop and take a leak himself.

Once he got back into the front of the canoe with my dad in the rear, Rob and I started off down-river again. For some reason they couldn’t seem to get going, so we called back to see what the hold up was. A sudden realization finally dawned on my dad. He looked up to Chris and said, “Don’t you think we might make better progress if you turned yourself around instead of facing me?” Chris looked up at him with this startled, confused look on his face before they both started cracking up, realizing that they were paddling against each other and just going around in circles.

After a couple more hours of rowing, one of them started wondering if we might have missed our exit point or took a wrong turn or something. I reminded them that we were on a river and definitely would have noticed if it forked into two different rivers. Besides, the guys at the desk told us to exit just after going under a bridge that we couldn’t miss, and we definitely hadn’t gone under any bridges yet. For some reason, they weren’t so sure and kept getting more anxious as time went on. I just kept laughing at them until we finally spotted the bridge about an hour later.

Chris and my dad arrived at the pier first. My dad had a tough time getting out of the canoe with his ankle brace, but Chris was able to safely pull him up to the pier. But then after sitting in the canoe under the hot sun for five hours, he felt really dizzy and unsteady when he stood up. Chris had to hold on to him as they walked off the pier.

As Rob and I made our approach, we noticed that the current began to pick up speed, so we had to aim and time it just right. We only had one shot, or we’d end up way further down on the bank with no way to haul up the canoe. As to why they decided to put the exit point at precisely the area where the current suddenly becomes faster that it had in the past five hours, I have no idea, but we were up for the challenge.

I steered from the back while Rob was supposed to reach out for the pier. Just as we got close enough, he suddenly popped up and, assuming it was as shallow as the bank he stepped out in earlier, sunk his entire leg into the river! Our canoe tipped over enough to start filling up with water as I yelled out, “Rob, what the hell are you doing!” He tried to balance himself and get back into the canoe, but it was too late. I felt it slowly careening into the water until it finally flipped over, dumping us into the rushing river along with everything in it. We tried to hold onto the canoe, but the strong current pulled it right out of our grip and drifted downstream.

We grabbed whatever else floated around us like the cooler and oars and seat cushions. Thankfully, the canoe got lodged on a shallow boulder not too far away, but one of the oars got away.

Rob took off to chase it down, swimming while he could and skimming over shallow rocks until he finally snagged it. He had trouble swimming back upstream against the current with an oar in his hand, and the banks were too steep and muddy to climb up. By grabbing hold of tree trunks and boulders in the river, he gradually made his way back. But then he had to tackle the canoe and wrestle it back to the pier as well, which actually proved to be easier than it looked.

My foot started hurting pretty badly from a sharp rock or something I stepped on in the river bottom. I was afraid it might get infected and wanted to get out of the cold, muddy water as soon as possible. With my hands full, I stepped onto the bank and spotted a wooden walkway up ahead. After about five minutes, I realized the walkway led to the opposite direction. I tried to walk back toward the pier but was hindered by a steep ravine that looked impassable in bare feet. I finally decided I would have to trudge back to the pier through the mucky river, against the current.

Meanwhile, Chris was dealing with our unsteady dad who said he felt like he was going to pass out as he walked him up the hill. Worried that Dad might be in trouble, he found a place for him to sit down and then returned to see what happened to us. But when he stepped onto the pier, we were nowhere to be seen—all he saw was our capsized canoe, jutting up vertically out of the water about hundred yards away. He stared silently out across the river with his hands on his hips, wondering what to do, feeling incredulous and helpless at this sudden turn of events. In that moment, he assumed the worst and thought to himself, “What the hell am I going to tell Mom who begged us not to go? That Rob and Scott drowned in the river, and Dad died walking up the hill from another heart attack!”  

After a couple minutes, he saw each of us beginning to slowly make our way back against the current. Thankfully, we all made it back to the car intact, and our dad gradually began to feel better after a while. Besides losing our shirts in the river, the only casualty was my waterlogged phone, along with all the pictures I took that day–again! We were supposed to call the crew and let them know we were done to haul back our canoes, but we couldn’t get reception. Rob took off down the road, hoping to find reception or a phone but after a half hour, he still hadn’t returned. Now we began to wonder if he got lost or murdered by some redneck along the way, but he eventually returned.

We were all starving by this time, but Rob and I had to buy new shirts first. We stopped at some local store that displayed racks out on the sidewalk. Rob picked out a vintage Hart County black tee, while I picked out some other cheap shirt that was too small for me with a flaming guitar on it. Off we went to the restaurant, like tourists with big smiles and proudly wearing our new souvenirs.

The best part of the trip was after we had a couple more drinks and some bread in our stomachs; we each told our perspectives on what just happened that day. We started laughing out loud seeing our dad in tears as he told us about their canoe going around in circles and Chris’s confused expression, and then we all lost it when Chris told us he walked back to the pier and thought he was the only survivor. We couldn’t stop laughing hysterically despite everyone in the restaurant staring at us and wondering what the hell was so damn funny. We didn’t care, it was Dad’s best Father’s Day ever.

Happy Father’s Day everyone!!!

European Vacation

I want to thank all of you for following my blog over past few months. Whether you read them all or just checked out a few, I truly hope you enjoyed them. I do believe it’s important not to take life too seriously or dwell on our mistakes, even if they involve our precious children. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes, so we might as well learn from them and laugh at them too. For my last few posts, I’d like to share a few of our vacations we took over the years. Believe me, there is still plenty of stupidity to come. I’ll start with a couple vacations to Europe, followed by some rugged adventure, and finally some domestic family trips to bring it home. Hopefully you can pick up some travel plans and tips too!

I had never been overseas and Pooneh had been dying to go to Europe for many years, but we wanted to wait until our kids were old enough to appreciate the culture and history. By the time they turned eleven and thirteen years old, we felt like we had waited long enough, and they seemed ready for some epic travel. For our eleven-day journey, we flew to Paris first and then on to Venice, Florence, and Rome. About halfway through the trip, we realized that perhaps we should have waited a couple more years.

They enjoyed Paris well enough, and I have to say I was totally blown away by the magnificence of the city. As soon as we checked into our hotel, we set off to see the Arc de Triomphe which was only a few blocks away, and then trudged up the countless steps of the Eiffel Tower, bumping into two of their friends from school on the observation deck of all places. (Incidentally, Kaveh also ran into my cousin at George Washington’s home during a school field trip that same year!)

Despite doing all this activity while jet-lagged, we had trouble falling asleep that first night and ended up sleeping until 11:00 am. After losing half our day and then walking about a mile to find the nearest bakery, we decided to take a cab to the Seine River and grab one of those public ferries to Notre Dame. In planning the trip, I picked out a popular spot on the map that I assumed was the location for the ferries but turned out to be a launch area for private yachts. The taxi driver even tried to tell me we should go to a different location, but I insisted since I already had it planned out and thought maybe he misunderstood me. We spent an extra hour walking to the place he told us to go which was on the other side of the Seine.

After touring the cathedral (thankfully we got to see it before the big fire), we discussed where to head next. I had a list of hot spots that I read online and one of them I really wanted to see was the Bastille district. I read a lot about the French Revolution and storming of the Bastille over the years, so I got excited when I read a post that claimed part of the historic prison was still intact. We walked about five miles to the Bastille district but didn’t see any sign of the old prison. I don’t know who the jerk was online that made this claim, but everyone we asked gave us a funny look, informing us there hasn’t been any remaining trace of it for hundreds of years. Anyhow, Kaveh and Kian actually enjoyed watching all the teenagers perform at the skatepark more than any old prison, and I can think of worse things to do than roaming the streets of Paris.

We went to the Louvre the next day, which would have been awesome if Kian hadn’t gotten into one of his funky moods, literally groaning and complaining almost the entire time.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you really can’t appreciate the uniqueness, beauty, and history of Venice until you visit. The kids especially enjoyed the boat ride into the city and the gondola ride on the Grand Canal. The only problem was the heat and humidity. They kept making fun of me because I was always drenched in sweat all day that pretty much began the moment I stepped outside. I can remember hugging a huge bag of stinky laundry against my chest, trying to find the laundromat based off our map but getting lost its maze of walkways. My shorts kept falling down the wetter and heavier they got, so I had to keep stopping to pull them up and wipe the sweat dripping into my eyes, scowling and cussing like that day at Lake Irvine. I must have looked like one weary, pissed off tourist.

My favorite part was the Doge’s Palace. I didn’t realize how many rooms there were to see, and we ended up spending too much time in the first few areas looking at paintings and a World War I exhibit in the courtyard. After a while it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen them in the last ten minutes. I started looking around, going all the way back to the entrance but they were nowhere to be found. Figuring they must have gotten ahead of me, I went back to where I left off and breezed through the next several rooms. Still not finding them anywhere, I checked my phone and realized she texted me that she left already with the kids to get some gelato. Apparently, they had enough and dragged her out the way we came in. I told her I must be getting toward the end, but it just kept going. Passing through the Bridge of Sighs, I got stuck behind a tour group that blocked the narrow hallways while Pooneh grew increasingly bored and restless waiting for me in the hot sun. It took another half hour to pass through the prisons and weapons displays before I finally emerged. I felt really bad that she missed all the best parts and had to wait for so long, but at the same time I couldn’t understand why they all left through the entrance without even finding and telling me first.

By the time we got to Rome, Kaveh and Kian started getting tired of sight-seeing and walking through old cities every day, and they let us know it too. I practically had to drag them through the crowded streets to the Pantheon, which was worth it because it was absolutely stunning to see among the other modern buildings surrounding it, and then on to Trevi fountain, which wasn’t worth it because it was under construction when we arrived.

I’ve been fascinated by ancient Rome for most of my adult life, (Gladiator being one of my all-time favorite movies) so for me the highlight of the trip was The Roman Forum. We bought a two-day pass that included The Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Coliseum. From what I read online, most people recommended seeing Palatine Hill first because it offers an impressive overview as you descend into The Forum.

There was a lot more to see than I realized including Circus Maximus, views of the emperor’s palace, and a museum to cool off from the hot sun. We took our time walking through, despite our kids urging us along and complaining about the heat as the morning wore on. I remember telling Kian to appreciate how old and historic these buildings are, then he picked up a rock and explained his point of view. “Daddy, this rock is older than that stupid building, so why don’t you appreciate the rock? Just look at it, isn’t it cool?”

We finally arrived at The Forum around two in the afternoon, hungry, thirsty, hot, and exhausted. I was entranced by the sensation of finally standing right in the heart of ancient Rome and could have stayed a couple more hours, but after only about ten minutes Kian had enough and headed directly for the exit with Pooneh trailing after him. Kaveh was reading a young adult book series based on the mythology of Roman Gods and looked forward to seeing the ancient temples but was disappointed that they were in ruins.

Lunch actually sounded pretty good, so we headed out the gates to take a break and find a nearby restaurant. Since we had reservations for the Coliseum at 4:00, we decided to see the rest of The Forum the next day. But when we arrived at the gate, she told us that we had already used our tickets. I pointed out that our tickets are good for two days, but she clarified that we could have seen the Coliseum one day and then Forum/Palatine Hill the next, but we can’t see the same place both days. I tried arguing that nobody explained that to me, and I travelled halfway across the world to see The Forum most of all but she could care less. I felt scammed and wasn’t about to pay for a whole new set of tickets so we just left in disgust.

To top it all off, Kaveh and Kian weren’t being very cooperative with getting their picture taken so this is the best family picture we got from the entire trip!

A couple years later, I convinced Pooneh to take a trip to France, but without the kids this time. I wanted to visit the medieval town of Riquewihr in eastern France since I chose it for the setting of the book I was writing. The homes and buildings in Alsace look like gingerbread houses, which fits perfectly for my horror version of Hansel and Gretel. It also has a medieval prison called Thieves’ Tower, complete with a torture chamber that we can still visit—how cool is that?

We arranged a bicycle trip through a company that provided nice road bikes with Garmin trip computers, set us up in beautiful hotels, and mapped out an Alsace wine route through four different cities, starting in Strasburg and ending in Colmar. They collected our luggage in the morning and dropped it off for us at the next hotel we rode to. It’s a trip I will never forget but started off with a couple hiccups.

We flew into Paris and after checking in at the train station, I started heading toward the train until some of the people in line let me know the attendant was trying to get my attention. I turned around and heard him yell over the crowd that I left my luggage in front of the counter. I trudged back through the line of other travelers who either smirked in disbelief or expressed looks of patronizing pity at me while I muttered some excuse about being jet-lagged.

As soon as I stepped outside, Pooneh waved frantically at me to hurry up because the train had already arrived. I raced down the steps with two suitcases bumping behind me then sprinted across the concourse. I was only a few steps away, but as soon as Pooneh hopped inside, the doors slammed shut! We could only stare at each other through the window, stunned and helpless, as the train pulled away. Panicked, I looked to the attendant who suggested I wait for the next train which, fortunately, should arrive in less than ten minutes, and then meet up at the next stop.

After that, everything went smoothly the rest of the day: checking into our hotel, meeting up with the bike company, and setting everything up for the morning trek.

I connected my new GoPro camera to my helmet and got some nice videos, but the one I looked forward to seeing the most was riding through the cobblestone streets of Strasburg, teeming with jubilant soccer fans excited to watch France play in the World Cup that day. Apparently, I didn’t hit the record button when I tried to turn it on, leaving us with only the memory.

By far the worst part of the trip was when Pooneh had a bike accident that scraped her up pretty bad on the very first day of our ride. We turned into a driveway and either her wheel was too parallel and got stuck on the sharp curb, or the idiot in the car right behind her didn’t realize she slowed down and clipped her back wheel. It sucked because after riding for over thirty miles, we were nearly finished for the day. On the other hand, we were only five minutes away from our hotel in Obernai, so she didn’t have to suffer riding with fresh bleeding wounds and aching bruises all day. Knowing how miserable she felt, I offered to see if the company could drive us to the next town or even just cancel the rest of the trip altogether. She knew how badly I wanted to see Riquewihr and thought she could manage two more days on the bike.

Well, the next day included some very steep climbs, but she pushed on with sheer determination and grit. When we finally arrived at the medieval gates of Riquewihr, after pouring so much imagination into the few pictures I saw of this town, it made the whole surreal experience come alive. We walked through town, toured Thieves’ Tower and its torture chamber museum, and took well over a hundred pictures to enrich my story with fresh, accurate details of some of the major scenes for my book. We hiked to the nearby town of Kaysersberg and climbed steps to the top of its towering keep, overlooking incredible sweeping views of the nearby river, forest, hills, and vineyards. I swear I took some of the best pictures of my lifetime that day.

When we returned to the hotel that evening, I tried to share some of the pictures on Facebook, but my phone said I needed to free up space first. Whenever that message came up, I always deleted everything from my gallery since they are all backed up on Google Photos. But this time, I hadn’t connected onto the hotel wifi yet, which means none of the pictures that day were saved into Google Photos. I felt a leaden weight drop from my chest into my gut as I desperately tried to find them. I checked the trash files, installed some app to recover deleted photos, and even called the support service who literally searched in my phone; alas, they were completely and permanently obliterated. Pooneh took many nice pictures that day too but only a fraction of what I did, and only a couple in the museum. More importantly, she reminded me that our memories of the day, and of our little Tour de France, are what matters most.

After completing our bike journey in the colorful city of Colmar, also known as Little Venice, we traveled back to Paris for the final day of our trip. Free to choose what we wanted to see without kids slowing us down and knowing better where to go, we hardly took a break and probably saw more that day than all three days combined on our first visit to Paris!  

Pets

The boys started asking about getting a dog right after we moved into our new house in Rancho Cucamonga. They were only about three and five years old at the time, and we wanted to wait until they were a little older. Plus, we figured the dog would be lonely most days since we both worked full time and kids were in school all day. But I actually wanted a dog too and didn’t want time to pass me by without including one in the family.

I always loved animals and even considered becoming a veterinarian until I heard they had to “put them to sleep” sometimes. I grew up with an Irish Setter until I was about seven years old. I was still pretty young but still remember falling asleep and using her as my pillow, even the smell of her fur was a sense of comfort.

About five years later, my parents let us bring home a black kitten from their friends’ litter. We picked him because he won the most fights against the others in the litter as we paired them off two at a time. Cats don’t have the personality of a dog, but he was a cool little dude. We wanted to name him Panther, but my Dad thought that was cheesy and suggested Clancy. It was such an unusual name for a cat that we all decided to roll with it.

Rob and I thought it was so fascinating that cats always landed on their feet no matter in what position you dropped them. We even flipped him up into the air, but he always struck a perfect landing and didn’t seem to mind a bit. We wanted to take it to the next level, so we started launching him off our front porch, over the evergreen bushes and about ten feet into the yard! He seemed a bit distraught at first but after a little yelp upon letting him fly, he landed perfectly onto the grass, shook his head, and then trotted away. We showed his skills off to our friends and our cousins, Dave and Mary, who were equally impressed. Naturally, we wanted to take it one step further now that we had an audience: “Let’s see if he still lands on his feet if we flip him over the bushes!” Hooking our hands under his arms, we swung him back and forth a couple times to catch his rhythm, then with a mighty heave, tossed him high in the air. As his body arced over the bushes in a graceful backward flip, he let out a long meow that sounded more like “Begooowwww!” and nailed a perfect landing! We all cheered and threw our arms in the air with joy for our champion acrobat. We ran into the yard to congratulate Clancy, but he took off and didn’t return for several hours. We were pretty sure he had fun though.

Ok, enough about my cat. By the time Kian turned five we figured he was old enough to know how to handle a dog, and we had a fairly big back yard the dog could roam around in when we were gone. We even considered getting two dogs to keep each other company, but Kian was afraid they would always play with each other and not pay enough attention to him. We decided on a Golden Retriever since we heard they make the best family dogs. We picked out his name before we even bought him—Copper—based on their typical color. When we went to pick him up, he turned out to be cream colored, not copper at all. The kids were already set on the name though, so we kept it.

Copper was an amazing dog, even for a Golden: easy to train, good temperament, and very playful. We could always tell what he wanted because his body language made it so obvious. He even seemed to learn a few words! When we called him to go out to the garage as we were leaving, he shook his head and growled “Noooo.” He always greeted us with a pleasant low grumbling sound in the mornings, but if we were gone too long and hadn’t had his walk yet, he grumbled louder and dramatically waved his head back and forth for about a minute like he was giving us a good tongue-lashing.

As a puppy, Pooneh thought he was the most adorable creature that had ever existed (aside from babies that is). She took him outside and watched him learn to climb steps and play with his toys. At one point, she looked over and noticed that one of his little toys seemed to be moving on its own. She walked closer and as soon as she realized it was a little mouse trying to scurry away, Copper scooped it up into his mouth and started chewing. She yelled out in horror and Copper looked up at her so innocently with the tail hanging out of his mouth like a wriggling worm. With a final crunch, the tail dropped down and he swallowed it in one disgustingly audible gulp. Pooneh wretched a few times and wouldn’t go near Copper for the rest of the day. She literally almost started gagging as she told me this story again today!

We had a blast playing with him outside, but even if we were playing basketball, he always had to compete for the ball and try to knock us out of the way. He used to steal the kids nerf football they were tossing to each other, then break into a sprint and flop all over the yard. He wasn’t very good at playing fetch though. I guess he thought it was more fun for me to chase him down and wrestle the toy out of his mouth. One of his toys was a rope attached to a tennis ball. He would come up to me with his playful growl to see if I could take it from him. As soon as I’d reach for it, he’d dart away until I caught him. Once I got hold of the rope, he wouldn’t let go, so I had to wrest it back and forth until it came loose, then give a quick tug just as he reset his teeth for a better grip. Well, apparently, I tugged too hard one time and broke off one of his puppy teeth. They had to surgically remove it which cost me a few hundred dollars, and we had to feed him stuff like yogurt for a while.

We were pretty good about taking him for walks at least once a day around the horse trails in our neighborhood. He got really pissed if we didn’t—after groaning and waving his head all around for a while, he would eventually turn his back to us to show just how upset he really was. Once he grew out of the puppy stage, I brought him out with me for a run. I figured dogs could run all day and be happy so went my usual route of four miles. He did really well until the final mile when he kept slowing down and wanting to rest. He usually jumped out of the back of my car when I opened the hatch, but this time he just sat there until I lifted him out, then he limped gingerly inside and layed down the rest of the evening. Pooneh even noticed him walking funny and laying around for the next two days after that. “What did you do to our poor doggy?”

         Unfortunately, about five years after we adopted him, we decided to sell our house and move to Irvine. We had to live in an apartment until our new house was built. That meant we couldn’t keep Copper with us. Pooneh’s parents kept him for a few months, but when we realized we wouldn’t be able to move into our new house for another year, it was just too much to ask. To be honest, we both thought it was pretty nice not having to take him for a walk every day. We also didn’t want to have a dog scratching up our new hardwood floors, shedding around the house, and pooping all over our yard. We ultimately made the tough decision to sell him. The last day before giving him away, Pooneh brought the kids and their two cousins over to her parents where they all cried and hugged him at the same time, even Pooneh and her mom were crying.

         We had long talks with them leading up to it, and they seemed to understand the reasons that we gave them. We figured they would forgive us and eventually get over having to give him away, but this just didn’t happen. They kept asking if we could go visit him and hoping there was still a chance that we could take him back once we moved into our new house.

While we were in the apartment, I bought them a Betta fish, as though that could possibly make up for a dog. The biggest thrill they got was putting a mirror in front of him and watch him flare up with fury, otherwise he just floated with no purpose or hid in his little house. Somehow, this insignificant little creature managed to live in perpetual monotony for about two years until one fateful day. I forgot to add conditioner to the water when I changed it and probably didn’t let the tap water sit long enough before plopping him back in, rendering him completely dead by morning. Kaveh and Kian actually laughed as we flushed him down his watery grave.

One day, I came home from work to see Kian looking at all of the pictures of Copper that we had saved on our computer. He would laugh excitedly as he recalled his memories of when a picture was taken and then turn to sadness with others. Then it happened. He came across this picture of him hugging big fluffy Copper and broke down in tears. I felt so bad for him and didn’t know what to say except how sorry I was and just gave him a hug.

         I myself was starting to have dreams almost every night about Copper. Pooneh remained adamant that she wanted to enjoy her clean, new home without the smells and scratches and fur that comes with a dog, but the kids eventually wore her down over time. We told them that since they were older now, they would have to take the dog for walks, clean up the poop, and play with her which they said they would do without hesitation. We figured we would milk this for all it was worth and told them they had to make their beds every morning and get good grades too.

         Then came a series of misfortunes and bad luck. They said they wanted a dog that was big and fluffy that they could put their arms around. I did some research and the biggest, fluffiest dog I could find was a Great Pyrenees. They are said to be extremely loyal and protective and make excellent guard dogs. I found a rescue shelter nearby specifically for Pyrenees about forty-five minutes away. We spotted the most beautiful pure white dog we’d ever seen, not as large as the other Pyrenees we saw, and appeared much more graceful and athletic than the others when she ran. The lady at the rescue said she was extremely smart and confident and acted like the alpha towards all the other dogs. The only catch was that she was quite willful and strong and confrontational around other dogs, so she recommended that we hire a trainer.

We were so impressed it was almost love at first sight. We talked about it for the next few days and unanimously decided to bring her home to our family and name her Crystal. I’ll never forget the look on Pooneh’s face when Crystal shook herself for the first time on our patio. So much fur billowed off of her that it looked like it was snowing. Pooneh held her arms out as it drifted downward onto her palms and half whimpered, half laughed at the absurd amount of fur that would soon be covering our floors and furniture.

         We managed to arrange for the trainer to come on that first day. They charged about $800 and gave us some decent advice—most of which I already knew from training Copper. The shelter lady recommended that we get a dog cage for her to sleep in at night since that is what she was used to doing at the shelter and supposedly gives them a sense of comfort. She ended up barking really loudly all night long (another trait of Great Pyrenees), so I had to keep getting up to try to calm her down for the next few nights and even took her out for a walks in the middle of the night.

I had to work twelve hour shifts that first week and wouldn’t be around to train her much. I told Kaveh that he was in charge of her since she was definitely too big and strong for Kian to manage at his age. He invited his friend, Joey, over to play with her. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, so Pooneh went out for a couple hours. We gave them clear instructions not to allow Crystal upstairs so that at least our bedrooms would stay fur-free. Well, after they tired of playing with her, Kaveh and Joey started playing PS4 upstairs. Naturally, Crystal didn’t want to be left alone and followed them up. They both picked her up and carried her back down, but she kept following them back up. Finally, they let her out in the yard while they went back upstairs to play PS4 uninterrupted. Now on this of all days, someone had left the side gate wide open, leaving her free to roam around our neighborhood. I got a call from Pooneh who was worried she might attack other dogs who were out on walks, or God forbid, any children. I couldn’t believe they could be so careless and that PS4 was more important than our new dog that they had been begging to have for months. On top of that, I didn’t really want them to take her for walks because even I had trouble holding onto the leash. We quickly realized that Crystal was too big and strong for our kids to manage on their own, and she just wasn’t a good fit for our new house and relatively small yard. It was another painful decision but ended up bringing her back to the shelter after only three days. The owner was understandably upset and reminded me of the no refund policy on the $400 we paid.

Kaveh and Kian immediately started pleading for another dog. They said they really just wanted another Golden Retriever like Copper in the first place. We found a cute little white puppy from a breeder but had to wait a couple more weeks until he had all his shots. Unfortunately, he became really sick from a virus and admitted to the vet hospital. They said the only way we could still have the puppy is if we paid all of the hospital bills which amounted to over $2000, which I promptly declined.  

They were getting really disappointed after all this, and I wanted to make it up to them so kept searching. I wanted to get them a puppy for their birthdays which were only a month apart. I finally found one for a reasonable price but was the last of the litter. When we brought her home, Pooneh immediately recognized she didn’t look like a typical Golden Retriever puppy; in fact, she said she looked kind of ugly. We thought she looked cute enough, but over the next few weeks we noticed that she was really hyper and never really calmed down unless she was sleeping. She even growled at me for no reason when I was petting her on my lap! We have a video of her jumping wildly from one kid to another when Kaveh and Kian had their friends over. It reminded me of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the feral rabbit killed and beheaded about a dozen knights in one bloody minute until they shouted, “Run away, Run away!” All you could hear on the video was loud screaming and yelling as she jumped onto their necks and bit their hair and nipped their ankles.

We forked out another $800 on a trainer and I don’t even remember why. I just remember we were desperate, and the trainer we hired for Crystal said we had to pay full price again since it’s a different dog. I only went to a puppy training class with Copper and never had any problems at all with him.

Besides her anxiety and wild behavior, she had to be the dumbest dog I’d ever met. As I was driving home with her in the back seat, I left the window open so she could “eat the wind” like I see all dogs do with so much enthusiasm. Instead of just sticking her head out the window, I noticed she was trying to climb out! I reached back to grab her, but she lurched out as I was driving about 40 miles an hour! I watched her flip and skid across the pavement in utter disbelief before she limped safely off the road. Fortunately, no cars were behind me and she survived with only a few scrapes on her face and paws.

Then the diarrhea began. Almost every night she woke up barking in the middle of the night from her cage for me to let her out. She immediately darted for the back door, did her business, and came back in. The vet said puppies often have soft stools and should firm up over time. We tried changing her food and getting the highest quality but seemed to keep getting worse. All of the tests came back unremarkable so they kept telling us she would outgrow it. Over six months, her size remained fairly small for a Golden and her fur never really grew out either.

I can’t even count the number of mornings where I came down for work to find a soft lump of poop or puddle of diarrhea in her cage. Sometimes it seemed like it would go away for a while but eventually came back within days or weeks. I tried leashing her in the garage with the door open, but she just shit on the floor instead of outside and then somehow rubbed it into her fur and all over the leash! One time she made a mess on the garage floor as I was late for an appointment. I cleaned up the worst of it with paper towels and tossed them into the garbage. When I got back home, I was horrified to see that she actually got into the trash and started eating the crap-ridden paper towels! This was right after her spading and had to wear that plastic ring around her neck. I remember how enraged I became when I saw her stupid face looking at me with diarrhea smeared all over her and the plastic ring. What kind of a dog eats their own crap? I spent over an hour giving her a bath, cleaning all the little tabs and tiny holes in her plastic ring, and then cleaning and disinfecting the floor.

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told Kaveh and Kian that if they want to keep Waffles then they have to clean up her diarrhea from now on. Kaveh had enough already and didn’t even care about having a dog anymore, but Kian wasn’t ready to let her go and agreed to help. After about two more weeks of this complete nonsense, Kian finally agreed to give her away. He became so disgusted by her and the smell she always generated that he didn’t even want to go to the shelter and say his goodbye. The lady who accepted Waffles at the shelter said she looked like she was probably the runt of the litter since they tend to be anxious and smaller than other dogs.  

After this, everyone we knew looked us straight in the eyes and told us to never get a dog again. We figured we were cursed since Copper was the best dog in the world and we let him go. I came up with the idea of getting a cat since they don’t require much of a time commitment and don’t demand so much of your attention. We agreed on this little guy named Pashmak, which means cotton candy in Farsi.

Pooneh loved him so much that she bought another one for her parents, but they became tired of all the shedding, so we ended up taking her in; now we have two. As much as they love their cats, Kaveh and Kian never stopped asking if we can try our luck with another Golden.  

Fishing

The time had come: Kaveh was now eleven years old and asking to go fishing. I went on several fishing trips as a teenager but never really considered myself much of a fisherman. The last trip I went on was about thirty years ago. My Dad and my Uncle John took Rob, my cousin Dave and me to Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada for a canoe trip. The first few days was really fun despite rowing all day and portaging the canoes over land to the next lake over and over again. Then it started raining like every day, and we couldn’t seem to catch a single fish. Uncle John was the most avid outdoorsman among us, but our brains hadn’t really matured enough to heed his firm recommendations like not touching the waterproof spray on the tent ceiling. Well, this was hard to do when having a massive pillow fight between three teenagers, but of course we didn’t stop complaining about it later when our tent leaked on us as we tried to sleep.

But it wasn’t just us—even my Dad didn’t listen to him. Uncle John strongly advised him not to go out and brush his teeth one night because the mosquitoes were out in force. Well, he dashed out anyhow saying, “I’ll be really quick,” leaving the tent flap open. Just as my uncle fell asleep, he was startled awake by a loud yelp and a splash followed by a lot of cussing, “God dammit, son of a bitch!” A minute later my soaking wet dad came charging back and practically dove into the tent along with about a hundred bird-sized mosquitoes. He said he lost his footing on a slippery rock while bending over to rinse his mouth and swatting mosquitoes. Uncle John just laughed and said, “I told you not to go out there!” We ended up heading back a few days early and cutting our trip short because of the constant rain.

Even though I hadn’t fished since that trip, it seemed like something every dad should do with his kids. I figured I should buck up to my fatherly duties and give it a try. We headed out to Lake Irvine in the sweltering month of August on a 90-degree day. We rented 3 poles and I asked the guy at the desk what kind of bait to use. He recommended mackerel because we’d really only be catching catfish this time of year. I groaned because the last time I caught a catfish as a teenager, it stung my hand trying to take it off the line, so I basically wanted to catch anything but catfish. I thought the mackerel would be better than squishy worms or other live bait because it’s just chunks of fish that you stick on the hook. Unfortunately, it was so greasy and smelly that I couldn’t get the goo and stink off my hands even after scrubbing with seaweed. 

I figured out the fishing pole pretty quickly and taught the kids how to do it, but every time they would cast the line, the mackerel flew off before it hit the water. This happened about four or five times in a row, even though I made sure to hook it through the thick skin. I didn’t seem to have any problem with it, so I tried showing them how to cast smoother instead of jerking the pole forward but to no avail. Given our rapidly depleting bait supply, I just ended up casting for them which defeated the whole purpose.

We got snagged on seaweed a bunch of times, but the fish weren’t biting. Meanwhile, with the sun blazing down from a cloudless sky, it kept getting hotter, and I couldn’t stop the sweat that was constantly running into my eyes. I didn’t want to take my sunglasses off to rub my eyes with my shirt because my hands were so greasy and stinky, but my eyeballs began to really sting like they were bleeding. I finally gave in and snatched them off my face with a grimace, rubbing the sweat off with my shoulder sleeves as best I could. Now my sunglasses stunk like rotting mackerel which was even closer to my nose and I almost gagged. I still can’t get the memory of that smell out of my head. 

We saw a pier off in the distance that Kaveh insisted on fishing from, so we walked and sweated for half a mile and as soon as we arrived, the sign said nobody is permitted on the pier. I couldn’t see the harm in it and since we walked all the way over here, I told them to just follow me onto the pier. Less than a minute later, a rancher came out of nowhere and told us to get off the pier as he pointed out the large sign. I didn’t bother to ask why, just herded the boys off with my tail between my legs.

We walked back along the shore trying to find a place that looked decent enough to fish from that wasn’t covered with seaweed. Kian was lagging behind us and then suddenly I heard him call out for help. His shoe got stuck and came off in a puddle of muck about a foot deep. I had to run back and trudge in after him because he thought he was sinking in quicksand. I rescued him and his shoe, only to see Kaveh mindlessly following behind me into the muck as well. So now we all had muddy shoes to wear back into my freshly detailed car. We tried fishing again with no luck at all. The kids never really got the hang of casting and their lines kept tangling up and it kept getting hotter and I couldn’t stop sweating into my bleeding eyeballs and our mackerel kept flying off until I finally blurted out, “That’s it, I quit! We’re leaving! I’m never going fishing again!”

Kaveh and Kian weren’t quite ready to go home yet so they kept casting, but I couldn’t take it anymore so started walking back ahead of them. They finally saw that I meant business so grudgingly followed along behind me. I turned my pole in and promptly went to the restroom to scrub the disgusting fish grease off my hands and sunglasses. During this time, my kids arrived to return their poles, but somehow Kaveh’s reel was completely empty of line. The guy behind the desk gave him a confused look but didn’t say anything else about it. He had apparently been dragging his hook on the ground because when we walked outside, I noticed his line stretched out hundreds of feet out the door and down the path! I asked him how in the world he didn’t realize his line was spinning out, but he just shrugged his shoulders. Years later, he admitted that he knew it was coming out but just hoped he wouldn’t get caught so didn’t say anything.

Now I don’t pretend to understand how my mind works, but I hadn’t given up on fishing after that epic fail of a day. Just because that day sucked, doesn’t mean we wouldn’t enjoy it the next time. We could try again when it’s cooler and just use a different bait! For Christmas, I surprised them with shiny new fishing poles and a tackle box.

Pooneh laughed her head off, saying how it was the dumbest Christmas gift I ever bought and a waste of money, almost as bad as the snow skis I got for everyone the year before. She made me return the skis for the obvious reason that they would grow out of them in a year, and she doesn’t ski often enough to own a pair. I remained obstinate that I would make good use them, but ten years later I used them a total of two times.

Kian had enough that first day and never wanted to fish again, but Kaveh was willing to give it another go. Off we went back to Irvine Lake, walking toward the shore like Andy Griffith and Opie with our new poles resting back atop our shoulders. I even tried whistling but never really developed the knack. I gave up after making the same monotone sound that could barely be heard over Kaveh laughing about pursing my lips the wrong way.

Believe it or not, we actually had an enjoyable day. We used a much cleaner bait this time and the weather was perfect. The lady next to us got a bite and was kind enough to let Kaveh reel it in for his first fish ever, and then we each caught a few more after that. I guess I just had to knock that off my bucket list because we never went fishing again after that.

Sports

As they grew older, we encouraged our boys to engage in sports which of course they enjoyed immensely. As a kid, I played Little League baseball and was happy that my dad stayed involved by helping to coach my teams. I also played football and mushball at the park with my friends and occasional basketball but didn’t really join any other organized sports until I started swimming in eighth grade and high school. I am glad I did because it’s one of those sports that you can continue throughout life. I still enjoy swimming laps a few times per week just to stay in shape and train for triathlons.

My dad swam for his high school team and taught me how to swim when I was about five years old, so naturally I couldn’t wait to teach my own kids how to swim. For some reason, they were both very apprehensive about learning anytime I was in a pool with them, no matter what approach I tried to take. They weren’t afraid of going in the water as long as they had their floaties on or stayed in the shallow end. I do remember taking Kaveh to Mexico when he was one year old. When we brought him down to the beach, we weren’t sure if he was scared by the waves or what, but he kept pointing and waving his finger at them with attitude, yelling, “No ocean! No ocean!” as though he could stop the waves just because he said so. I guess it wasn’t much different from the time I politely told the bear to go away with a rock in my hand.  

One weekend afternoon, we went swimming at Pooneh’s uncle’s pool, and it seemed like as good a time as any to try teaching them again. But as soon as I came toward Kaveh with that well-intentioned but determined look in my eyes, he started whining again, “No Daddy, I don’t want you to teach me to swim!” I didn’t want to put it off any longer, so I told him he would be fine and proceeded to take those stupid floaties off his arms. Even though I never let go of him, the more I tried, the more he screamed and yelled. After a few minutes of this, I realized everyone was staring at me like I was torturing the poor kid. Pooneh came running outside, clearly alarmed. “What are you doing to him? I can hear him screaming from inside the house. That’s enough!” At this point, I turned toward Kian only to see him frantically scrabbling out of the pool already with a panicked look on his face.

I was totally frustrated and couldn’t understand why they were so afraid of learning how to swim. Feeling like a complete failure, I decided they were going to have to learn from a formal instructor. Kaveh did much better with the instructor, but Kian screamed for the entire half hour lesson. I was completely disgusted with his relentless screaming, but the instructor was very patient and finally able to calm him down after a couple of lessons. Even after overcoming their fear of learning how to swim on their own, they still never showed any interest in joining a swim club, so it was time to seek out another sport.

We enrolled them in Karate because we figured this would teach them discipline, coordination, balance, and courage—all skills that should carry over to any sport they choose going forward. Kaveh was six but Kian was only four years old. He was the littlest kid in the class, and he had grown out this really awesome curly hair around that time. Tucked into his white “gi” (robe) like a jedi youngling, it was adorable but also impressive to see such a little guy execute these “punch and kick” routines with such focus, fluency, and speed.

Kaveh was getting especially athletic since he was a couple years older, so it was really exciting to watch him spar with the other kids. In his age group, they were allowed to strike at the head, so they wore protective, padded helmets. During one tournament that I’ll never forget, he made it to the final match and was sparring for first place against a boy whose father works with me at the hospital. They were pretty evenly matched and were tied up two to two. Next strike wins. I was sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation as they squared up for the final match. It felt like I was watching my own son in the Karate Kid movie. I even pictured his “combatant” to be the mean guy Johnny from the movie for dramatic effect, even though he was probably the nicest boy I’d ever met. They exchanged some punches a few times but so far no clean blows. I started cheering him on, “Come on Kaveh!” Then he landed a spectacular roundhouse kick to the side of his head, knocking him to the ground to win the tournament! I thrust my fist into the air and roared, “Oh Yeah! Nice!”—perhaps a little too enthusiastically. Rising half-way out of my chair with elation, I quickly remembered that his mom and dad were sitting right next to me. The poor kid had tears in his eyes and a small bruise next to his eye. Nevertheless, he stood right back up, shook Kaveh’s hand and said, “Good job.” I tried to make it up to his parents by saying I was sorry he kicked their son in the head.

            At the end of their karate sessions the instructors would play different games such as dodge ball with the kids. They used a soft spongy ball but really whipped it at each other, especially the older kids and coaches, and they had a blast. I always wanted to join in because it looked like so much fun, but parents weren’t allowed for obvious reasons. Instead, we would play it in our backyard, usually the two of them against me or Kaveh against Kian and me. We used a half-deflated Mickey Mouse mini soccerball, still soft but a little heavier than the one they used at karate. Kian had this unlucky misfortune of accidentally getting repeatedly struck in the head with balls, whether we played catch with football or basketball or whatever. It happened so often that I told him he must have a “ball magnet” in his head. I remember picking the dodgeball up from the far end of the yard against the wall and when I charged toward them, they quickly ran back to escape my range. Before they could get any further away, I launched it all the way across the yard, and I could see the perfect trajectory, almost in slow motion, as it approached Kian’s unsuspecting head as he tried his hardest to outrun it. Of course, this was ultimately futile for him because he had a magnet in his head. It struck him right in the back of his poor little curly head, knocking him forward onto the ground. He was understandably upset and lied on the ground crying while Kaveh laughed at him. It was so unbelievable that it actually happened again in such dramatic fashion that I couldn’t stop laughing while I hugged him and apologized at the same time. This just made him more upset, so he stormed into the house with an angry red face and that was the end of the game. Note to self: Never laugh at your child when he is hurt or upset, it doesn’t cheer him up.

            They moved on from karate after a few years and started soccer which they played for years as their primary sport, along with flag football a few years after that. In my opinion, soccer is the best sport for young kids to play since they are always moving, always get a chance at kicking the ball, and they develop skills to play together as a team. If anyone makes a mistake, it is quickly forgotten, and they move on to the next opportunity to make a play. I can still remember how I would feel when I struck out or missed an easy fly ball in baseball or dropped an easy catch in football at that age. All action stopped, all attention seemed to be focused on me, and then I had to wait a while for the next opportunity to make up for it, leaving me to dwell on my error.

Pooneh was very familiar with soccer since she grew up in Iran and her brother played a lot so she suggested they try it. I never played or watched it when I was younger, so it was all very new to me. It took me a while to figure out when to take a corner kick and when to take a goal kick, and I still haven’t completely figured out the off-sides rule. Hardly a game would go by without me complaining and debating with somebody about how stupid I thought that rule was. Shouldn’t the defense just stay back and guard so that nobody passes them up on the way to the goal? Anyhow, they all just shook their heads and laughed at my apparently baseless argument.

One evening after practice, I made Kaveh laugh out loud for about ten minutes straight by trying to juggle the stupid ball up and down on my foot. I never got the hang of hacky sack as a teenager and certainly couldn’t get the hang of this either. One of his teammates was incredulous that Kaveh was such a good soccer player while I looked so uncoordinated and hopeless. He stared at me for a while, then looked back at Kaveh and asked him earnestly, “Is that really your dad? Are you adopted or something?”

I would strongly recommend getting kids started in organized sports early on. Not only do they meet new friends with each team they play on, but we got to meet new friends as well by talking to other parents along the sidelines and hanging out at team parties. Sports also build confidence and motivation, develop skills like strength, coordination and stamina, cultivate an environment for kids to socialize and work together as a team, and keeps them busy and out of trouble. I can definitely say it helped in all these areas and more with my own kids.

Now this is the part where I get to brag a little bit! Kian, who has grown up from that cute little four-year-old body to a towering six foot four, played tight end for his high school football team, bounced back quickly from repairing a tendon in his knee, and is currently starting at middle on his varsity volleyball team, blocking and hammering spikes down onto the opposing team’s heads. He also enjoys coaching younger kids in flag football.

Kaveh went on to play four sports including track, soccer, volleyball, and football where he was named MVP and scholar athlete of the year, as well as player of the year on offense (receiver), defense (safety/cornerback), and special teams (kicker, punter, and returner) through the years. For a new high school in only their second varsity season, they went on to sweep the competition in Irvine, becoming the Pacific Coast League champions. He is now playing wide receiver for Carnegie Mellon where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer.

Holidays

These are my sentimental favorite stories from my parenting years. Beginning with a series of bone-headed missteps that reach near epic proportions, I finally earn a bit of success and redemption.

Based on my good memories of Easter as a child, I looked forward to carrying on the tradition for my kids. Every year, we went to my grandparents’ home the night before Easter for dinner and colored the eggs with them. My aunts were older teenagers at the time that showed us little tricks on egg coloring to make them more beautiful and unique. Rob and I would wake up early the next morning and head downstairs in our pajamas to begin the hunt for the eggs, candy kisses, jellybeans, and the giant Easter baskets for each of us. My mom would even add the “magic touch” by dipping her thumb and two or three fingers in flour and dab the Easter Bunny’s “footprints” along the rug throughout the house.

After the hunt, we all sat down for breakfast before going to church. My dad always cracked open his hard-boiled eggs on his forehead just for fun, and we thought that was pretty damn funny for some reason. Since then, I started cracking them open the same way, and my kids got a good laugh out of it too.

One Monday morning after Easter, we got ready for work while Kaveh and Kian showered and dressed up for picture day at school. During breakfast, I grabbed an egg out of the refrigerator that looked like a failed coloring experiment because it turned out an ugly brown instead of brightly colored red or yellow. I told Kaveh to crack it open on his head to see what it feels like. He said he didn’t want to because he thought it would hurt. I reassured him that it wouldn’t hurt because the shell gets softer when you boil it, but he still wouldn’t give it a try. I figured that once he had one cracked on his head, he would see that it doesn’t really hurt, so I impulsively reached across the table and bonked it on his head. Of all times, this egg seemed to have had a harder shell and didn’t break open. It just hurt him like he thought it would. He looked up at me with surprise and exasperation and yelled out “Hey!”

I felt sorry for him as he sat there with his eyes scrunched tight and holding his hands over his sore forehead. I figured I must have had a bad angle on it, so when he least suspected, I snuck behind him and cracked it open right on the top of his head. To my disbelief, raw egg and yoke spilled all over the top of his freshly shampooed hair! Oh, so that was why it didn’t crack open the first time, I realized. It wasn’t a hardboiled easter egg after all, just an organic egg with a brown shell.

“Daddy, why did you do that!” he cried out. I told him I was so sorry, that I didn’t know it hadn’t been boiled, but he didn’t believe me. He ran upstairs to tell Mommy with the egg matted all over his hair and dripping into his face on picture day.

These damn brown eggs became an issue on the following Easter when I went to the store and absent-mindedly bought the organic ones out of force of habit. Pooneh took them out of the grocery bag and looked at me like I was an idiot. “How do you expect the kids to color brown eggs?” Back to the store I went, shaking my head without even saying a word.

It wasn’t always easy being the Easter bunny. Kaveh caught me red-handed hiding the eggs one night when he snuck out of the room and spied on me from the top of the stairs. Luckily, he was only two years old, so I made up some story like I was just pretending until the real Easter Bunny came. He bought it and completely forgot about it afterwards.

Since the Persian New Year usually fell around the same time as Easter, and the No Ruz parties were always on a Saturday night, we often drove home late the night before Easter Sunday, feeling totally exhausted and sleepy. Nevertheless, I would dutifully stay up as long as it took to hide the eggs, candy, and Easter baskets. One April Saturday night when Kaveh was about seven years old, he said he wanted to go to bed early because the Easter Bunny was coming. My eyeballs just about bulged out of their sockets because I had completely spaced it. “Are you sure tomorrow is Easter already?”

“Yes Daddy, all the kids and teachers at school were talking about it,” he replied.

I asked Pooneh, but she wasn’t sure either.

I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten Easter! I didn’t have any eggs colored, Easter baskets, or even any candy to hide. After we put the kids to bed, I ran out to the store hoping they hadn’t closed yet. I bought the Easter baskets and candy, but it was too late to boil and color the eggs. I improvised by buying colored plastic eggs instead and filled them with jellybeans, candy kisses, and dollar bills. I went to bed feeling satisfied and relieved that I didn’t spoil their Easter Sunday. I would never have forgiven myself for that lapse because Kaveh would have started disbelieving in the Easter Bunny and the magic would be lost.

The next morning, we all had a blast finding the eggs and candy, and to my surprise, they even liked the plastic eggs better than real eggs because they each had a different surprise in them. In fact, Kaveh had become a little apprehensive when breaking open the hard-boiled colored eggs after that incident the year before. I called my parents to wish them a Happy Easter, but my mom laughed and said “What do you mean? Easter isn’t today, it’s next Sunday!”

I was dumbfounded. I just sat in stunned silence for a few seconds before I could reply. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I didn’t know what to say to the kids, so I didn’t say anything at all.

When I picked them up from school the next day, they had very perplexed expressions on their faces. I asked what was wrong and they explained, “Our friends at school and even our teacher said Easter wasn’t yesterday, it is next Sunday. So why did the Easter Bunny come to our house yesterday and hide everything a week early?”

I had a day to think about my reply, so I had a ready response, “Because the Easter Bunny has so many houses to go to on Easter that goes to some houses early.”

They didn’t seem to be satisfied with my answer but let it go for the moment. On the way home, Kaveh asked, “Daddy?” Uh-oh, I knew what was coming. I looked at him through my rearview mirror and saw him staring back at me with a cute little know-it-all grin. “You’re the Easter Bunny, aren’t you?” I denied it until we got home and then pulled him aside. I admitted that I was, but that I didn’t want to say it in front of Kian because it is more fun for him to believe in the Easter Bunny at his age. He kept his word, so at least the magic of Easter would live on in Kian’s mind for another year or two.

Now that Kaveh knew there was no Easter Bunny, he began having his doubts about Santa Claus too. He wrote a letter to Santa and told me to mail it to the North Pole. It read: “Dear Santa, are you real or not?” It broke my heart, because as much as I liked pretending to be the Easter Bunny, he was no comparison to the “Big Man in Red,” and I wasn’t ready to give him up just yet. Especially for Kian’s sake, who was still only five years old, I really wanted them to believe in the magic of Santa for couple more years.

Several days later, one of my portly patients with a big white beard came to see me in clinic. I joked with him that he should still be busy in the North Pole this time of year, and he replied with a proud smile that, in fact, he has been dressing up as a hired Santa Claus for many years. I explained my situation and he agreed to come by our house on Christmas Eve to surprise my kids. Pooneh became so excited that she invited our friends and their young daughter, Ava, over for dinner. I told him to call me when he arrived so that I could sneak out to give him the letter that Kaveh wrote. I also gave him three gifts to personally hand out to each child. I told Pooneh to be sure to have all three kids open the door when he rang the doorbell. Meanwhile, I strategically positioned myself on the porch so that I could get a picture of their surprised expressions when they answered the door.

They couldn’t believe what they were seeing! Here was Santa at our home, dressed in the most magnificent Santa suit I had ever seen. He had Kaveh’s letter in his hand and held it out to him. “Is this your letter I have in my hand?”

Kaveh let out a sheepish whisper, “Yes.”

Santa stooped forward, casting his gaze directly into his eyes and asked him to touch his beard. “Tell me, is this real?”

“Yes, Santa.”

“Well, what do you think of me now?” Santa asked earnestly as a smile slowly crept across his cheeks.

Kaveh didn’t say another word but flashed a beaming smile and lurched in for a great big hug around his waist with Kian and Ava quickly joining in.

He sat down on the couch with them and began to read from his own authentic looking tome of Christmas stories. Then he put the book aside and recited the poem “T’was the night before Christmas” from memory while they gazed upon him with reverence and adoration, as if in a dream. He wasn’t finished yet as he went on to eloquently explain what he felt the magic of Christmas and “believing” was all about, and summarized by saying, “As long as you believe in me, I will always be real, no matter how old you are. Don’t ever forget that.”

He finished up the visit by sitting each child on his lap in turn and handing them the gift that they had asked for, while we took lots of pictures. As he was leaving, we walked him out to the porch to thank him and say our last goodbye. Kaveh looked around and asked him where his sleigh and reindeer were. Santa said he had to park them in the nearby mountains because they get scared by the noisy cars. Wow, quick thinking and nice answer, I thought to myself. I couldn’t have been more impressed with my hired Santa, and Kaveh was once again a true believer. In fact, his whole class became believers after he told them that Santa actually came to his house, and Kaveh himself became somewhat of a school celebrity!

Unfortunately, it only lasted until a year or two later when he found the wrapping paper that Santa had brought his gifts in, hidden in the guest room closet.

Danger

A couple of years later, we moved into our new house. It had a big backyard that was still just dirt, so we got to design it how we liked and that included a pool. I always wanted a pool of my own, especially now that I had kids, because some of my fondest memories were swimming in my grandparents’ pool every summer. Safety was obviously a big concern since our kids were only three and five years old at the time, so we had them put a fence around it, and anytime they were near the pool, we wouldn’t take our eyes off of them, not even for a second. We waited all summer long with great anticipation as they slowly built our pool, and I couldn’t wait to take my first dip.

As circumstances would have it, the first day we could finally swim turned out to be a cold, overcast day with the temperatures in the fifties, whereas the rest of the week was in the eighties. I wasn’t about to wait another day though since I had to go back to work the next day. “Kids, let’s go swimming!” They were more excited than I was, so we all put on our suits, grabbed some towels, and headed out. The water was fresh out of the hose only a couple days ago, so it was about as cold as the weather. Our excitement overruled any discomfort, and besides we had a shallow area that was just a couple inches above my ankles.

I brought out the video camera to film the kids’ first foray into the pool. As they were splashing around, I looked down at the camera which I figured was not even for a second to turn it on and to see if it was recording. Suddenly, I heard Kaveh yelling, “DADDY, DADDY!” I looked up and saw that Kian had wandered too far out and fallen off the step into the deeper part of the pool. His head was bobbing up and down, gulping for air and struggling to keep afloat. I was standing only about three steps away from him, so I dropped the camera and was able to grab him quickly out of the water. He didn’t even cry, and we told him how impressed we were that he was able to keep himself up like he did.

Pooneh came home a few minutes later, hustled us all inside, and wondered what had inspired me to take these kids out in the cold pool on such a blustery, gloomy day so they can get sick. I’m just glad she didn’t have to witness his head bobbing up and down in the water. I learned a hard lesson: what may seem like “not even a second” when you are distracted by something else, can easily become longer than you think.

A couple months later I went out with the kids to the pool after a windy day to clean out the leaves with a skimmer. I remember thinking how relaxed I was and lost in my thoughts as they sat on the deck playing and watching me do what dads do. I was standing on the fire pit and went to step down to the deck level. Instead of watching where I was stepping, I had my eyes on the kids so that I didn’t whack them with the long skimmer I was holding. The next thing I knew my foot never touched the deck; it plunged about three feet straight down into the pool, and I was helpless to catch myself from falling. My head and face slammed down onto the flagstone border with such impact that it broke my sunglasses and I nearly passed out. I started moaning and groaning and bleeding profusely from somewhere on my face. I got up but had to sit right back down again for a few minutes because my head was throbbing, and I also felt pretty dizzy. Kaveh and Kian looked worried and kept asking if I was ok. I just knew I had to get back inside to get the kids away from the pool.

I looked in the mirror to see what damage had been done and saw that I was bleeding from my upper cheek next to my eye. I sat down on the couch with ice on my face in agonizing pain to collect my thoughts. By this time, my kids weren’t too concerned about me anymore. They were running all over the place, chasing and fighting each other, and generally just being really annoying. I kept telling them to stay inside but they wouldn’t listen.

I called Pooneh at work to tell her what happened and to see if she could get off early to watch the kids while I went to lie down. She heard all of the chaotic yelling from the kids and my voice was pretty shaky, so she got really worried. She said she would come home as soon as she can. She called back about five minutes later to check on me and let me know she was leaving, but things had finally settled down, and I didn’t feel like getting up again to answer the phone. She tried again and finally Kaveh answered. She asked him what we were doing and why I wasn’t answering the phone. He said I was laying down on the couch and Kian was playing outside (even though he was actually in the bathroom). I asked him who was on the phone but she already hung up. Figuring I had been rendered unconscious, she called 911 to check on me and the kids.

About two minutes later, five big strapping paramedics and firemen showed up at my doorstep. They sat me down and assessed how I was doing with questions and brief exam. This really freaked the kids out, and they both started crying and calling out to me from across the room, “Daddy, are you going to be ok?” The paramedics were really great with talking to them and provided them both with plastic fireman hats which they thought were the coolest thing ever, so they quickly forgot about me again and started playing firemen.

Pooneh came home just as they were leaving and took me to the emergency room for a CT scan. The doctor told me there was no bleeding into my brain, but that I broke my face in two places and probably had a concussion. He put a couple stitches in the gaping wound next to my eye and referred me to a specialist. I guess one could say I was lucky because it could easily have been much worse. I could have passed out and rolled into the pool, and I don’t think my kids would have been strong enough to pull me out or even lift my head out of the water.

            Another episode that nearly took my life and left my kids fatherless was when I went hiking by myself on a trail called Bear Canyon near Mount Baldy. I was on my way back and decided to put on my headphones and listen to a Furthur concert that I had just been to and downloaded. I thought it would enhance the atmosphere to hike with music in the background, but instead it just distracted me from my Zen state of mind that I like to maintain when hiking in beautiful nature. As I was taking off the headphones and fiddling with my phone, I happened to glance ahead and saw a humongous black bear climbing up the hill and stopped on the trail just ten feet in front of me, effectively blocking my path home. She didn’t look aggressive or agitated, but rather just calmly stared at me without moving.

I remembered back to the last time I encountered a bear at Kings Canyon National Park. A couple of experience hikers started banging two big sticks together to scare it away and shouted, “Go away bear!” This worked and the poor frightened bear sauntered back up the mountain. With this in mind, I backed up a couple steps and uttered the same phrase, “Go away bear.” However, seeing how close she was, I didn’t want to alarm her, so I didn’t shout it in a threatening manner like the hikers; I just kind of suggested it. Needless to say, she didn’t budge and just kept staring at me like I was an idiot. Then I heard some more rustling coming up the hill, and to my horror, her cub arrived to join her.

Knowing how aggressive and protective a mother bear could be when her cub is threatened, I figured I was probably going to be dead and torn apart within a couple minutes. I vividly recall a sinking sensation in my chest and thinking that God wasn’t being fair. I felt that I didn’t deserve to die so young with a loving family at home wondering where I was. I searched around for anything I could use to defend myself which was a big rock on the ground. As they both continued to stare at me, I picked it up and repeated my warning to them, “Go away bear.” I realized that I was probably doing the one thing I shouldn’t be doing, which was threatening the bears with a stupid rock and warning them with words that bears couldn’t possibly comprehend. Therefore, I decided to take a different approach. I turned my back to them and walked away without looking back, literally entrusting my life to blind faith. I got about ten feet before I turned around to look, and to my relief they continued their trek up the mountainside. I thanked God and apologized for being too judgy towards Him. Nevertheless, the whole way home I kept freaking out and jumping like a schoolgirl by every creeping, scurrying, or rustling sound I heard around me.

Poop stories

A dad’s memoir would not be complete without a couple of good poop stories. 

Diaper changing was something that I never had any experience with and wasn’t looking forward to at all. Of course, I got used to it like everybody else does, and it turned out not to be such a big deal after all…. well, most of the time. You see, Kaveh had this habit of always double pooping, so if you changed him too soon, then he just pooped again within a few minutes into his clean diaper and the fun begins again. He would also decide to poop as soon as we brought him home from daycare. I often grumbled and complained about his poor timing. “Why can’t he poop before he leaves daycare, so they can change him, and we can at least get our money’s worth?” Pooneh thought all this was because he was cute, “Awe, he just likes to poop in the comfort of home,” or “He just likes to poop in a clean diaper.” To me, however, this became quite annoying after a while since I hate doing double work. Therefore, I developed a strategy to wait about five to ten minutes after I first detected the odor so that I wouldn’t have to change him twice. Pooneh reminded me that his skin could get irritated and inflamed if I let him sit in his poop for too long, and then I’d have to be the one to apply that soothing cream or baby powder every few hours, so that strategy didn’t work out. Later on, after he was potty-trained, he would always say he had to go to the restroom just as my hot dinner was placed in front of me at a restaurant, which meant that I had to stand and wait for five minutes in the bathroom for him until he finished.

            One day, Pooneh had to be at work earlier than me, so I had the duty of getting the kids ready for daycare. I was already running late for work because of my own toilet commitment but had the kids fed and dressed, their bottles ready and diaper bag restocked, and I was ready to go. I proceeded to carry Kian, who was only a few months old, into the car but smelled that familiar odor that I really didn’t have time to deal with that morning. I thought about just leaving it and having them change him at the daycare by claiming he pooped along the way, but I couldn’t bring myself to stoop so low. Besides, his butt might turn bright red by then and I’d be to blame.

I figured what’s another few minutes late, so I dropped everything and began to change him. I got him all cleaned up and placed a fresh diaper underneath. I was just about to close the diaper when I was startled by his grunt. What followed happened so fast, but I remember it as if it were in slow motion, as a stream of diarrhea shot out of his butt and straight at my face! With a quick reaction (one that I attribute to my 3 months of kung-fu training twenty years before), I held up my hand to block the incoming assault, such that my entire palm was covered and dripping with his warm, smelly diarrhea. The velocity of the impact against my palm caused a splatter effect all over him and the changing table. I looked from my hand, back to Kian, and back to my hand again in disbelief. Then it struck me that my quick actions spared me from getting any on my clothes or the Persian rug beneath me, “Oh, great!” I exclaimed in triumph. Kian was sporting a big smile, and I could swear he was laughing at me. I didn’t know where to begin at this point since it was such an unmitigated disaster but started by cleaning my gooey brown hand with baby wipes. After I got him cleaned and changed, I had to rinse off the soiled blanket, throw it in the washer, and then wash my hands. I double checked my shirt and tie to be sure nothing spattered on me, and finally made it out to the car about twenty minutes later. Now Kaveh had this strange habit of regurgitating fairly easily as a baby, especially if he leaned forward. Sure enough, as soon as I placed him into the car seat, he vomited all over his shirt and my hands. “Come on, that’s enough!” All I could do at that point was wipe it off as best I could and dropped him off at daycare with a big puke stain on his shirt. Oh well, I figured it would dry off soon enough.

We had another airplane incident on the way back from Hawaii, this time it was Kian when he was about one year old. Kian had wet himself just as we were getting seated so Pooneh went to change him. She came back with a look of consternation on her face. I asked what was wrong and she said that was the last diaper in the bag. We had just bought a new pack before we left, unfortunately I packed it in our suitcase which we checked at the gate, without thinking to restock the diaper bag. It was a five-hour flight, but we were hopeful that since we just changed him, we might be able to make it to the next airport before needing to change him again.

            Naturally, it didn’t work out that way because five minutes later he pooped. We had to go around the plane to spot any mommies with babies and humbly beg one of them for a diaper. It was certainly embarrassing but also comical in a way, and luckily some obliging woman provided one for us. She got him cleaned and changed again just in time to get back in her seat for takeoff. About a half hour into the flight, we smelled exactly what we didn’t want to smell once again. We held out a brief hope that it was just a fart, but the dense smell was unmistakable and unyielding in its potency. We had a heated and tense debate about whether or not to go asking around for yet another diaper. In the end, we came up with a more subdued solution. After she cleaned him, she wrapped him up in a huge wad of paper towels from the bathroom. As an added touch, the stewardess provided her with duct tape to secure in place, which incidentally adds to the endless list of uses for this most handy of items! When she brought him back to the seat she couldn’t stop laughing. Kian was wrapped with so many paper towels that he was puffed out to twice his usual size. Thankfully, we made it the rest of the way to the airport without having another accident or a red butt. We understood without saying that either of us could have checked the diaper bag before we left, so for once I didn’t have to shoulder all of the blame for this particular blunder…and it felt pretty good.

Another funny little story is when Kian was getting potty trained. He was only two years old, but we knew he was ready the night he put on a performance for the whole family on camera and changed his diaper on his own. Sometime later, we were all seated at the dinner table when he said he had to go potty. We both smiled at him and said, “Ok, go on to the potty! You can do it!” He got up like a big boy, dropped his diaper, stood in front of the toilet, and peed without making any mess. We could see him down the hall from where we were sitting, and we congratulated him for such a good job. Then his eyes got big and said he had to go poopy too.

I said, “That’s ok, you can do it, just go right ahead.”

“Ok, Daddy” he said, then lets out a little grunt and plops a big soft pile of slop right on the bathroom floor as he’s standing there facing the toilet. I guess we should have reminded him to sit down for that part.

Baby Kian

For the birth of our second son, we wanted to be sure we were fresh and not sleep deprived like we were when Kaveh was born. Pooneh’s doctor scheduled her C-section two full weeks before the due date and first thing in the morning. About a week before that, I was working an overnight on-call shift in the hospital, while Pooneh’s parents stayed with her and Kaveh for the night. Back in 2004, we hadn’t really used our primitive cell phones very much (texting wasn’t even invented yet), so we just paged each other when we wanted to talk. (Yes, old-fashioned pagers, and if you can believe it, we still use them at work.) Anyhow, Pooneh and I had a system when paging each other. Instead of typing in our whole phone number, we simply typed in a bunch of 5’s which just meant to call home. At about 1:30 in the morning I got a page to 5555, which ironically is the extension to our obstetrics department. I figured they were calling me for a consult, but when I called back, they said that nobody paged me. I didn’t think anything about it since we get paged a lot with nobody owning up to it. But seriously, even if I didn’t recognize the 5’s, you would think talking to the OB department might have tipped me off. Nope, fell right back asleep. A bit later I got a page with a bunch of numbers jumbled together that didn’t look like an extension at our hospital, so I figured it was another nonsense page we sometimes get with no way to dial it. Well, unbeknownst to me, this time it happened to be my father-in-law’s cell phone number. Then I got another page that woke me from a deep sleep with a different area code from my hospital (actually the area code that we live in), so I figured someone was paging the wrong number and promptly fell back to sleep again. We were still three weeks from the due date, so it never occurred to me that she might actually go into labor this early. Finally, I got a page from an ICU nurse, her voice stern and direct, “Dr. Wojtowich, your wife has been trying to page you, she’s about to deliver your baby at Lakeview Hospital!” 

I jumped out of bed and cussed myself out for being so prodigiously stupid, handed off my pager to an obliging colleague, and raced thirty miles to the other hospital at over 100 mph. For the entire drive over there, I kept wondering to myself how in the hell I could be such an undeniable and extraordinary idiot. At the same time, I kept wondering why she is in labor so early. And why did it have to be at 3:00 in the morning again? No fair, we planned this!

Anyhow, I got to the hospital just in time to see the birth of our second beautiful boy, Kian.

I videotaped the birth, but accidentally filmed something inappropriate that Pooneh wasn’t fond of, so we never watched it with family or our kids once they grew up. His name comes from a mythological dynasty of Persian kings from The Shahnameh, the same epic poem that Kaveh’s name comes from. It is not the same evil king that Kaveh vanquished with his axe though—that wouldn’t be good. I like the name Kian because it is easy to pronounce and sounds cute, but it also conveys strength and elegance. 

Kaveh was so adorable when he first met Kian. At two years old we thought he would be jealous and try to hurt him or distract our attention from him. On the way up the elevator, Kaveh kept asking to hold the little stuffed animal I bought for Kian at the gift store. I handed it over, realizing that I should have bought two of them. I figured he would never want to give it up, instead he walked up to Kian with a big smile and gave him his first little stuffed animal without anyone asking him to. We were all very impressed and applauded what a nice thing he had done.

I didn’t think he would want to stay in the hospital room all day with us because he might get bored or too loud, but when I took him back to the daycare, he started crying that he wanted to be with Baby Kian. He sounded so cute saying his name over and over too, “Baby Keeeeaaaaan.” After about five minutes of trying to console him along with his teacher, he remained adamant. I didn’t want him to think we were abandoning him for the new baby, so I gave in and brought him back to the hospital room where he behaved like a perfect happy little angel. During the ride home, Kaveh wouldn’t stop talking and singing to him from his car seat next to him. And there was no drama about a loose car seat. By this time, I was a veteran at installing them and made sure they were both properly secured.

A few weeks later when I had babysitting duties, Kian was sleeping in his crib and Kaveh was playing quietly in his room with his stuffed animals. I figured it was a good time to go to the bathroom. Like usual, it took a little longer than expected, and I became engrossed in some magazine article, enjoying the peace and quiet for a change. Pooneh came home from shopping and went to check on her sweet, new baby but didn’t see him in his crib. What she saw was about thirty stuffed animals piled up on top of him! Suddenly breaking the silence of my tranquility, I heard her call out from the other room, “Oh My God, what happened in here?!” I quickly finished up and came out to see Pooneh whipping stuffed animals across the room from his crowded crib. Apparently, Kaveh had decided that giving him one stuffed animal wasn’t enough, so he kept throwing more and more into his crib until you couldn’t even see poor Kian anymore. As a consequence of my inattentiveness, I wasn’t allowed to poop anymore during babysitting duties.

Kian had a completely different personality than Kaveh did as a baby. Kaveh rarely cried for anything; he just made a cute little gurgling or cooing sound when he wanted something. Kian, on the other hand, would cry when he was hungry, when he was sleepy, when his diaper needed to be changed, or seemingly for no reason at all. We figured he must have colic because he would cry almost every night, sometimes for a half hour straight. We had to hold him with his right side down when he cried because this was the only position that seemed to calm him down. We found out about a year later when he had to get a chest x-ray for some reason that he had what appeared to be a healed fracture of one of his ribs. They said it probably happened during birth. We felt so bad for the poor little guy.

Kaveh was very difficult to get to sleep; it was as if he just didn’t want to stop playing, but once asleep he tended to stay asleep. I couldn’t shake the conviction that the best way to put a baby to sleep was to stimulate him until he was worn out. I used to bring him back downstairs and put him in his play station where he bounced up and down over and over and beat his hands on the cute little animals spread out in a circular tray around him. I patiently let him get this out of his system for a half hour and then try to put him back in his crib again. As to why I didn’t just sit with him in his dark, quiet room until he got bored and sleepy, I cannot say; except that maybe I just got so mind-numbingly bored while waiting in that dark, quiet room for so long that I just became impatient to try something else. One time he woke up at 4:00 in the morning and wouldn’t go back to sleep which was unusual for him. I decided to take him for a walk in the stroller outside since that always worked during the day. It didn’t work of course. When he eventually did fall asleep an hour later, I was too wide awake to go back to sleep which made for an exhausting day at work.

For Kian, we decided to try a pacifier for him because we had friends that told us it should help to calm him down. One of those parenting books recommended to avoid the pacifier, so we never used one for Kaveh and we regretted it. Kian went to sleep pretty early and easily and we attributed this blessing to his pacifier. We also had another trick that we used. He liked to hold onto our finger until he fell asleep which we thought was really precious. But then this became a routine after a while, so every night one of us had to sit on the floor next to his crib with our arm up in the air so he could hold onto our finger. Sometimes it took him a while to fall asleep and if we took our finger back too early, he would wake up all over again, so we really had to be sure he was in a deep sleep. Meanwhile, our shoulders became sore and our arms became numb from holding it up for so long.

I give him credit for falling asleep much easier than Kaveh, but he woke up about every one to two hours, crying about absolutely nothing. This wasn’t just while he was an infant; it went on until he was over three years old, just not quite as frequent. If he had to go to the bathroom, he would cry out for Mommy to take him across the hall. He quit asking for me because I was too crabby waking up in the middle of the night.

I read in one of those parenting books that if you just let babies cry it out for thirty minutes, they eventually learn to put themselves back to sleep, and it should only take about three days. Pooneh didn’t want to try this because she read in a different book that the child feels abandoned if you don’t go and comfort them within a few minutes. I didn’t know who was interviewing these babies or how we could possibly know whose theory was right, but if this strategy would put an end to his interrupted sleeping patterns, I was all for it.

I decided to try this experiment on a night when Pooneh was on call. Sure enough, around midnight, he woke up crying again for no good reason. I made sure he didn’t need to be changed, provided some gentle reassurance, and went back to bed. About five minutes later, he started crying again. I checked the clock and it was 12:03. I never realized how long a half hour could be. I tried calling to him from my bed to let him know that I was nearby, but it didn’t do any good. I kept staring at the clock. By 12:20 I figured this was getting ridiculous but since I had only ten more minutes to complete my experiment, I let it ride. Finally, 12:33 arrived and I climbed out of bed to go to his room when he suddenly stopped. I couldn’t believe that it actually worked! I lied back down and to my sweet relief, he slept soundly for the rest of the night.

Pooneh couldn’t believe that I could actually lay in bed for that long with my poor baby crying out for me. Even colleagues and friends of mine that were mommies said they could never let their baby cry for that long. The dads, on the other hand, were all very enthusiastic about it and wanted to try it out themselves! Pooneh wouldn’t let me do it three nights in a row, so we never got to see if it would really work.

As Kaveh and Kian grew older, their personalities and their looks continued to diverge. Kaveh had straight hair and looked more like Pooneh with a pointed chin and angled jaw. Even as a toddler, Kaveh seemed to have a mature demeanor about him and had a good sense of awareness. Pooneh’s cousin joked that he looked like a “little person” instead of a kid. He loved to be outside and was constantly looking for something to climb and jump off.

Kian had a round face with huge droopy cheeks as a baby, and he eventually grew out an awesome curly head of hair. Everyone said he looked a little more like me than Kaveh did, although I can say I don’t have curly hair, a round face, or droopy cheeks. Whereas Kaveh had kind of a shy smile, Kian’s was big and bold, and he loved to laugh and show it off. He had a way of telling stories and saying things that made his brother laugh just as hard as he did. These caricatures really capture their personalities.

Kian was also more impulsive with getting into things, and he was never shy about expressing himself. He must have heard me call someone an idiot while I was driving or something because that became his favorite word for a while. Any time he got angry or even a little perturbed at someone, he called them an idiot. It sounded funny though because he was not even a year old yet, especially when he yelled it at me with full fury. My parents came to visit around this grumpy phase of his, and we warned them so they wouldn’t take it personal. The first morning after they arrived, my mom woke up early and made breakfast for the kids. As Kian slowly walked down the stairs, she noticed that he didn’t look too happy. She tried to brighten his mood, smiling cheerfully and saying “Good morning Sunshine! How are you today?” He just muttered quietly to himself, thinking she didn’t hear, but the word was clear: “Idiot.” She couldn’t stop laughing and said that was the cutest and funniest thing she ever heard!

Fear

               For all of the Kian fans out there wondering when you’ll get to read his stories, please hang in there for one last post about Kaveh and how I managed to scared him half to death. Then I’ll tell you what happened the night Pooneh went into labor– I promise my stupidity will simply astound you.

              When Kaveh was about two years old, I took him to Disneyland by myself one day while Pooneh was working, and somehow got it into my head that taking him on “Pirates of the Caribbean” would be a good idea. On a hot summer day, I figured it’s a nice cool boat ride out of the sun with funny pirates to look at. I wanted to take him on it before but Pooneh and others thought he was still much too young since “Pirates” can be frightening for kids that age. Well, to be honest, I was tired of the same wimpy rides like “Small World” and “Winnie the “Pooh,” and didn’t want my son growing up to be too “soft.” Since it was just him and me that day, I made an executive decision and boldly stepped onto the pirate boat. When we plunged into darkness under the ominous parting words from the talking skull, “Dead men tell no tales,” Kaveh said it was scary and climbed up on my lap for the duration of the ride, while maintaining a tight grip on my arms. I felt bad that I took him on the ride, but afterwards he acted very excited and became obsessed with pirates. He picked out the costume of Captain Hook for Halloween, sang along with Captain Feathersword from The Wiggles, and kept choosing pirate stories for me to read to him at night.

               The next time we went to Disneyland I decided to take him on “Pirates of the Caribbean” again. He didn’t look frightened in line, so I figured his fear was conquered and pirates were now his friends. As we plunged into darkness once again, he said in a soft voice as if mesmerized: “Sscaaarrryyy” and climbed right back on my lap again.  Uh Oh, bad idea, I thought. I remember thinking how cute he looked when he covered up his eyes with his hands in certain parts, but I still felt like a guilty schmuck. 

               Everything for the next few months became scary for him. He didn’t want us to read any more stories about pirates, and before going to sleep at night he asked us to take one of his storybooks out of his room. He wouldn’t tell us why, so after a few nights of this, I decided to browse through the book–lo and behold, I found a story about Captain Hook. Aha! I asked him if this was why he didn’t want the book in his room, and he meekly nodded his head. I was actually impressed that he remembered me reading Captain Hook to him from that particular book since he had about ten different storybooks that all appeared basically the same to me. Besides this, we couldn’t leave the closet door open because he saw pirates in the shadows. It took at least an extra half hour to put him to sleep at night, not to mention calling us to his room in the middle of the night. Of course, I took the blame from a distressed and sleepless Pooneh. “I told you not to take him on that ride again!” 

               Besides getting emotional in the “terrible twos,” the other characteristic that all parents are familiar with is disobedience. I know you’re not supposed to discipline a child in their twos because it’s just their emerging personality. The “Parenting” books instruct us to reason with them, offer them limited choices, distract them from annoying habits, and so forth which I tried hard to follow.

               At Christmas we set out our two “nutcrackers” as a decoration at the bottom of our stairs. They are about two feet tall and one holds a staff, the other holds a sword. I was a little worried that they might look imposing to Kaveh since he was only a little taller than they were, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by them. In fact, he spent a lot of time moving them around the room, dropping them, taking out the staff and playing drums on the nutcrackers’ heads, and so forth. We kept trying to tell him to stop fooling around with them because they were getting marked up from all the drumming and also one of their heads had fallen off after he dropped it.

               Finally, I’d had enough because he would completely ignore me as he continued to beat on nutcracker’s head with the staff. I tried to think of something that would get his attention and bring his maltreatment of the poor nutcrackers to an end. Impulsively, I blurted out, “Kaveh, if you keep doing that he’s going to sneak into your room at night and crack you over the head with that thing!” Pooneh shot me a look like I was a maniac. She stared at me for a few seconds and then told me I was sick. I knew immediately after saying it that it was the wrong thing to do, especially since fear was such an issue with him. Anyhow, it seemed to pass right through his ears, because he continued to beat on his stupid head. Once I became assured that I didn’t scare him after-all, I had to leave the room because I couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous and brutal that sounded, as though I invoked a curse on my own son!

Not long after the nutcracker incident, I asked Pooneh and her dad (Baba) if they wanted to take Kaveh and drive up Mount Baldy to the ski lifts. It is a beautiful drive up the mountain towards the eye-popping snowcapped peaks. Then we’d hop on the ski lifts for a fun ride up to the top of the mountain where he can play in the snow and build a snowman. Pooneh is not a big fan of cold weather and didn’t think it was a very good idea for a two-year-old, but Baba thought it sounded fun, so off we went.

It was fairly cold when we arrived at the lifts, but not too bad. We had Kaveh bundled up tight with gloves and a hat as well as a hood from his exceptionally puffy winter jacket to keep him warm. Kaveh wanted to ride up with Baba, so I went first and they went in the lift behind me. I was kind of worried about them getting onto the lift because they looked kind of anxious. I had a vision of them falling out and tumbling down into the snow with me helpless to do anything. Fortunately, Baba was very familiar with ski lifts; they hopped right on and settled in.

I was so entranced by the majestic beauty of the mountains around me, and the tall pine trees covered with glistening white snow beneath me. The only sound was the creaking of the cables and the soft patter of icicles and snow melting off the trees. I remember thinking to myself that this was such a good idea and Pooneh really missed out. I kept looking back and waving to Kaveh and Baba; they looked like they were enjoying themselves too.

After about ten minutes of climbing it began to get very cold, and there was a constant frigid wind hitting me in the face. The higher we ascended, the temperature kept dropping…and we still had a long way to go. The quiet serenity was broken by a faint, but familiar cry of distress behind me. I knew how miserable he must be from the cold, but he was also starting to freak out, probably because the poor kid didn’t know when this ride would end. Baba had his arm around him, and we did our best to distract and encourage him, saying we were almost at the top. But that just wasn’t the case. We kept ascending with no end in sight. It kept growing colder and windier, biting at my face, burning my fingers and toes. I couldn’t even imagine how his tiny body must feel. When the snow began to fall, he really started bawling like a full blown panic. “I want to go home! Let’s go back down right now! I WANT MY MOMMY!”

I was really getting worried but continued in vain to try to cheer him up. “Kaveh, look at the snow. Isn’t this beautiful? Pretty soon you can make a snowman!” I don’t even know why I said that because there was no way in hell we were going to stay out in this bitter, bone-chilling wasteland any longer than we had to in order to get back down. My face was so numb and frozen that I couldn’t get my words out right.

When we finally arrived at the top, I scooped him up and hugged him close. He wanted to get right back on the lift to head down and go home. I told him that we need to warm up in the restaurant where we can order some hot chocolate and relax before going on the lift again. It was only a short distance, so we trudged through the snow toward the shelter. I was sure he would calm down once safely inside the warmth of the restaurant, but he still wouldn’t stop crying. I’m sure he just saw a bunch of strangers in a dimly lit and unfamiliar tavern, and the only thing he wanted to do was go home to Mommy. There were no tables available, only some chairs at the bar. After a few minutes of deciding what we should do in the midst of his unrelenting cries and protests, we decided to abort and make our escape from this God-forsaken mountain top. It wasn’t until our faces finally began to thaw about halfway down that he finally stopped crying.

I thought of this day last week when we dropped him off to attend his first semester on campus in Pittsburgh. We froze our asses off checking out the Fort Pitt area and rode the Duquesne Incline up Mount Washington. Thankfully, the trolley was enclosed, but it was a stark reminder of those lifts since the temperature was in the low 20’s, and the poor California boy’s toes were freezing numb while taking pictures of the view from the top.

Since I’m on the subject of fear, I’ll recollect the story of the “Monster Tree.” We were at my brother-in-laws house for a Persian holiday called Char Shambeh Soori. It is really a celebration of spring, and one of the rituals they do for fun is to jump over a fire and make a wish to ward off bad spirits. Since we had little kids, we just put out some candles in the back yard instead of a fire and jumped over them. Kaveh and his cousin Tara, who is a year older than Kaveh, were watching from behind the screen door and didn’t want to go out in the dark. I supposed the candles made it look pretty creepy for them.

Later that night, I heard Tara telling Kaveh that there was a monster tree that she pointed to in the back, and that was why she didn’t like to go out in her yard at night. I stepped past them and walked toward the tree, saying “Look kids, there is nothing to be afraid of.” But I had a few beers in me, so instead I thought I would have a little fun with them. As they peered out from the screen door, I went under the tree and shook the branches vigorously while yelling “Help! It got me; I’m being attacked by the monster tree!” Instead of getting a rise out of Tara (who didn’t seem to care), I heard this loud, shrill, shrieking sound coming from my poor little Kaveh. When he was able to catch his breath, he started yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” over and over and crying hysterically! Oops, I did it again. I went over to console him and say I was just having fun, but the room quickly swarmed with everyone in the house coming to investigate. Alarm and concern widened everyone’s eyes as they looked at Kaveh’s terrified face and then at me for an explanation. I told them I went to the tree to show them it wasn’t a monster, but he got scared anyhow. Luckily none of the other adults were nearby at the time to see what really happened and spill the beans on me.