“I think Jack is working on a shit,” my friend said as my son Jack tensed up his face, arms, and hands while letting out a noise of growling frustration. “Ainsley likes to make those noises too,” he continued, offering up a pretty hilarious mental picture of his cute little baby daughter squeezing one out. She’s going to hate you some day when I tell her about this conversation, I thought, as I watched my son tense up his body again, shake his fists, and make the same noise but with more spitting.
I had taken Jack over to my friend’s place in Omaha to watch some playoff football, but we ended up paying more attention to how our kids, only nine days apart, would interact now that they were both mobile. I’m not quite sure what either of us expected, but I’m sure it was slightly different than the slow motion, invalid wrestling match that it turned out to be. She sat on his back, he tackled her and crawled on top of her, and they both tried to pet each other’s faces and grab each other’s eyeballs. Then they pretty much ignored each other unless they were trying to climb on the same thing at the same time. At that moment, the same thing they were both trying to climb on was my friend Dan sitting on his couch.
“Nope, that’s just his monster face,” I responded, “Though, he does tend to make noises when he takes a dump too. That, however, was just his monster face. He’s weird.” Dan chuckled and the look on his face made it clear that his daughter did not have a monster face. I actually thought Jack was over his, but in the past week or so, it appeared that the monster face had returned. It was even more hilarious than ever.
Over the holidays, Jack had started all of this monster face nonsense. He’d clench his fists, straighten his arms and legs, scrunch up his face into a hilariously stressed look, and growl or scream with his mouth closed and fists shaking. He would do it while you were trying to feed him. He would do it while playing. He would do it to get a laugh out of you.
My family came up with a variety of reasons why I did it: he liked the way it felt, he was entertaining us, he was showing his infamous Miller family temper, or he was displaying signs of a mental problem. The paranoid father inside of me was convinced it was the latter. But, then my friends told me that their son used to do it all the time too and they called it his “strong-face” because he looked like he was trying to lift heavy weights. Seeing as their little guy turned out better than okay, I dropped my worry, dubbed my Jack’s antics the “monster face,” and chalked it all up to a phase. A completely odd and hilarious phase that had everyone laughing for a week. Then he just stopped doing it; until a few days ago. Now we are officially in Monster Phase 2: The Return of Monster Face.
It’s hasn’t even been nine months and Jack has already gone through a variety of phases that have come and gone and some, like the monster face, come back again. Other things, like his obsession with electrical wires and outlets, I can only hope are just a phase. I spent a frustrating week trying to feed him while he went through his spitting phase. During said phase, he would allow you to put food into his mouth for the express purpose of making a high pitched squeal while spitting it all over the place like he was a rotating sprinkler. He spent a week doing raspberries during every waking moment, including meals. He stopped for two or three weeks, and then rekindled that phase after seeing my friend’s daughter doing it. That led to mouth raspberries for a solid two weeks again. He spent another week clicking non-stop, night and day. Another, he spent smacking himself in the face. When that didn’t suffice, he prodded us to smack him in the face with stuff.
He went through a week or two where all he wanted to do was sit in the kitchen and play with onions. The week after that, he was only happy when you held him upside down. The most fun phase was when he refused to let anyone put a diaper on him without a twenty minute struggle. He would lay on the changing table naked and completely stretched out, muscles clenched, refusing to bend a single joint to allow a diaper to be fastened. There was the no eating phase, the no sleeping phase, and the much celebrated four naps a day phase. Then there was his choking phase where he would try to stick everything that he picked up as far down his throat as possible. He would gag, laugh, and then do it again, and again, and again. His “no socks” phase is still going strong. Same for his beard grabbing phase, which has unfortunately returned after a three week hiatus. This time, I swear he’s doing it with a vengeance.
The worst part is that these phases, though sometimes frustrating, are just a taste of what my wife and I are in store for as the days, weeks, months, years, and countless new phases come and go. Luckily, I’m a veteran of many phases as well, and I’ll have been there from the beginning. Eventually we’ll get to his trouble-making phase, or his talking back phase, or his “I don’t want to do my homework” phase. I’m sure there will be a lazy teenager phase, a smart ass teenager phase, and a dumbass teenager phase. I’m ready for the goth phase, the vegan phase, and the professional wrestling phase. I’m ready for the cigarette phase, the piercing phase, and the atrocious haircut phase. I’m ready for the less than desirable friends phase, the older girlfriend phase, and the loner phase. I’m ready for the karate class, the bass lessons, and the improv group. I’m ready to buy the sports equipment, the musical instruments, and the art supplies that may or may not ever be used before they end up in the garage or the basement collecting dust. I’ll support the death metal band, the hip-hop career, and the poetry readings. You want to be a dancer? Okay Michael Flatley, dance, dance, dance! You want to be a Republican? Go live with your Grandmother.
Why am I so optimistic about the phases? How can I be ready? Well, phases were a part of my life, and they are already a part of his. They are a part of who we are. We all go through phases. Sometimes they last for a week, sometimes close to a lifetime. Either way, my son will go through them whether I understand them or not, whether I agree with them or not, and whether I want him to or not. There’s no point in getting so worked up about them. There’s no point in being afraid of them. Instead, I will cherish them when I can, learn from them when I can’t, and support him 100% when appropriate. When it all seems like too much, I will remember what my Mom has said to me many times since Jack was born, “this too shall pass.”
At the last radio station that I worked for, there was an advertising sales manager that offered up what I believe will eventually go down as the best parenting advice I have ever heard. It didn’t really mean much at the time, but I still haven’t forgotten it and I now know that I never will. He was telling some of my coworkers a story about his teenage son and relating some of his feelings about the trials of being a parent. I noticed the moment for what it was and listened in on the conversation from one of the production studios.
He walked in between two cubicles, sat his tall frame awkwardly into an office chair, leaned back with his hands folded behind his head, and said, “I always have to remember that it’s just a phase. Everything is a phase. From the moment they are born until the moment you die, whatever they do that might disturb you, annoy you, anger you, or confuse you, is most likely just a phase. Everything else is a phase too. Everything is a phase. If you don’t like it, soon enough, they’ll be on to the next one. It’s just a phase. I remind myself of that every day. It’s the only thing that has kept me sane as a father.”
Having been a dad for a mere fraction of the time he had, I knew that I needed to remember what he said. His words would ring true someday. It was like Obi-Wan talking to Luke if Luke was a radio deejay with a two-month old at home. I will hear his voice forever in my new life as a father, “Luuuuke, it’s just a phase, Luke.” Weirdly, the monster face is definitely one phase I will miss when he finally moves on from it…again. I will be sad to see that face and this phase go. But I know there will be others.