Friday, February 29, 2008
When he was about 14 months old, as I sat beside him on the sofa, reading and listening to VH1 Classic in the background, something changed. U2's, I Will Follow, popped up. The formerly quiet and disinterested little boy suddenly got perky. He began to throw himself backwards against couch in time with the music, an enormous grin betraying absolute delight. He continued for the entire song to the point of panting, sweat plastering his short hair to his head. When the song ended, transitioning to another oldie, he stopped and pulled himself together. He returned to disinterest. As an experiment I rewound to the U2 video and sure enough, he began anew. I hit the record button and saved that half hour of programming. When my wife came home I showed her the little mad man in all his glory, delighting in Bono's mullet. We would for a month or so, when we were bored, just turn it on and watch the kid go. He loved it. Nothing else got his interest.
He has since moved past U2. His taste is more varied and not driven by the visual aspect of videos, but he still likes a good beat.
There are many songs he dislikes, but I won't embarass the artists, as he can be quite scathing in his reviews. One example: "That song like the diaper. Yuch!"
Today we present the Boy's latest top 12; the songs that are piquing his interest, with his commentary (such as it is). They're not new songs except, in most cases, to him. Although the video links are offered to you, he made his reviews by listening only.
12) Street Fighting Man - The Rolling Stones - Sparks immediate stomping and head tossing. Enjoys the ringing room sound of the recording. "It about clocks - lots of clocks."
11) Us V Them - LCD Soundsystem - Frantic dancing and then, even more inspired dancing. Strangely led to an attempt to harmonize. "This song about cameras. Cameras go click." Cowbell was a big hit. The song's more than 8:00 minute length exhausted our reviewer, but when it ended he demanded to know where the camera song went.
10) O Superman - Laurie Anderson - Happily calming. I believe he actually got it. Led to sitting cross-legged on the floor nodding in time. "This song like a leaf falling from a tree, floating."
9) The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott Heron - Reviewer usually cocks his head but likes it. Becomes distracted but always complains when it ends. "That man is mad."
8) Greener Pastures - Little Barrie - Immediately led to Grateful Dead dance moves. Liked the guitar accents a lot. "This song about so many monkeys that get into everything and make a mess."
7) New Girl - The Long Winters - It went straight to the reviewer's unashamedly pure pop heart. He dances with delight singing along to the best of his abilities and with loads of volume. "There turtles in that song and turtles are good."
6) Love and Happines - Al Green - "Who that?!" Inspires smooth as silk dancing interrupted by serious reflection. "This song about being happy. It make me happy."
5) Blue Train - John Coltrane - "This great! Play more like that." Had a hard time moving on from this. (ed note: there was a great deal of Coltrane prenatally. But for his mother's damned objections the kid would have been named Coltrane. Hey it beats Rusty. Ever notice how there's no chinese guys named Rusty? But I digress...)
4) I Know, I Know, I Know - Tegan and Sara - More pure pop takes him to the zone. When I asked why he looked so concerned he said, "Why she so sad? She soooo sad and that make me sad for her."
3) Ooh La - The Kooks - The Boy lives for pop and I thought he was going to hurt himself with this one. He danced with such a lack of self-preservation he had to be calmed. When asked what the song was about he responded, "Who cares!"
2) It Beats 4 U - My Morning Jacket - This almost made it to number 1. Much swaying and demands for repeat plays. "That the prettiest song I ever hear about dinosaurs."
And the number one song, still sitting in this spot after several months...
1) Punk Rocker -Teddybears (featuring Iggy Pop) - From the opening synth note he is spastic. This may be the greatest song in his world and the only one where he plays air guitar, which is strange since the guitar is only used for rhythmic accent. "Don't ever stop this song, daddy."
Addendum: The Boy, after reviewing this list wanted to know where the shoes were. I was blank, but he was insistent. After much back and forth I realized what he was talking about. So here is an addition to his list. Consider it number 13.
13) One More Time - Joe Jackson - What can I say - more pure pop. He digs Jackson's shoes. Actually screamed in delight when it started. "Play it so loud it hurt, daddy!"
THE LAST ADDENDUM: He demanded this one as well. Call it number 14.
14) I Bet It Stung - Tegan and Sara - As raucous as the Boy gets. The only chorus he knows entirely. "How they do that?!" (ed note: Not a bad call on his part.)
Thursday, February 28, 2008
For the next poll, please vote for your choice to play Skipper to your Gilligan.
My mother claims she just liked the name. My mother's mother, however, says I was named after Lex Barker, the B-movie actor who had a brief stint playing Tarzan. I suppose I could have a worse namesake, and sadly, I do. Mr. Barker, it seems, allegedly molested and raped Lana Turner's daughter. Gee, thanks. A good portion of my life has been spent offering the obligatory smile when, after introducing myself, the new acquaitance says laughingly, "Oh, like Lex Luthor. Seen Superman?" Ha, ha, yeah, that's fresh. And during roll call on the first day of my junior year in high school, due to an apparent typo, my homeroom teacher called me Tex, a mistake that haunted me for the remainder of the year. All in all, however, I am pleased with my name. It has allowed me to feel special with no effort on my part and I have never wondered if the person hollering my name from down the block was referring to anyone other than me.
If the enormous quantity of websites and books on the subject are any indication, the names we bestow upon our offspring are the most important prenatal choices we will confront. Considering they'll be stuck with the thing for the rest of their lives, that's a distinct possiblity. The risk of bitterness and a lifetime of psychological suffering haunt our decision making. Every possible name is put through a battery of tests for rhyming foulness, playground creativity and anagramic disasters. The Simpson's episode where Homer recounts the naming of their son featured him discarding name after name for their potentially disastrous consequences; Eddie "Spaghetti" being but one. He finally settles on, "Bart, yeah, what could go wrong with that?"
My mother's family is a fountain of cautionary tales. Her mother's given name is Floybelle, which, even when one considers the earlier time, is still unforgivable. As a result, my grandmother has spent her entire adult life known only as Mer, a shortening of Mother, which she much preferred, even as young woman, to her true name. My mom's cousin is Trellis, whose late husband was, for as long as I can remember, known as Brub, a nickname that I can only presume protected him from a given name that was worse. One can only wonder what their parents had in mind for the children when they settled on those appellations.
When I was young and my mother worked, my brother and I would spend the days being babysat by a woman with five sons of her own. Though those boys' names were not anything out of the ordinary, their alliterative quality in combination was, even at my young age, disturbing. Randy, Robbie, Ricky, Rusty and Ronnie, seemed not to notice which was probably for the best. Once you start down that road you are committed, I guess - wouldn't it have been worse as Randy, Robbie, Ricky, Rusty and Ned? The same thing showed up in my cousins; Jerome, Jarrod, Jemaine and Jacobi. I've often said it's too bad they aren't a law firm.
When we named our son we pondered, as all parents do, the infinite possibilites. Wanting to avoid the more common or popular choices, I offered my partner a variety of interesting alternatives. One morning over bagels, after several months of my curious potential monikers I offered up to her the, to my mind, delightful, "Pilot". Without looking up from her breakfast, she countered dryly, "Why don't you cut to the chase and just name the kid, "Punching Bag". That put a stop to my flights of naming fancy.
Eventually it was the beginning of the twentieth century that offered the best list of options; names that functioned well but were still surprising. We found the Social Security name site to be quite helpful, allowing us to look at the popularity of names for the past 120 years. The Baby Name Wizard offered a graphical look with which to track the rise and fall of virtually any name. We finally settled on Arlo, certain that others woud be rare. After he was born prematurely and had to spend some time in the NICU, one of the nurses there told us he was the third Arlo she had had as patient that week. We were shocked until she added that she moonlighted at a nursing home and the other two were in their 80's. Strangers when informed of his name invariably ask, quite diplomaticaly, "Uh, is that a family name?" It will, we're sure, invite some torture throughout his childhood but not much more than others. For now he seems comfortable with our choice, although I think he still needs to grow into it.
Our daughter was even more of a quandry and required substantial negotiations between her mother and myself. Late one evening halfway through the pregnancy, while my wife was working I was plodding my way through Woody Allen's, Interiors. The three daughters in the movie all had interesting names, but the middle one, played by Kristin Griffith, caught my ear. I called my wife and told her I had found the perfect name for our daughter. It took my wife a little time to hear the poetry and accept its simplicity, but by the time she gave birth it was long decided. Our little girl would be called, Flyn.
These are, after all is said and done, just names. They don't confer upon their bearers special abilities or, in most cases, substantial discrimination. They are just the things we call the people we most love. Any name we parents saddle our children with will surely bring them grief at one point or another, but they'll survive anything the world can throw at them. Well, just as long as you don't name them Bart or Floybelle.
Before the kids, the dogs would frequently use the opportunity to catch up on scratches, petting, and the like. As I was trapped, they would seat themselves in front of me and place their chins upon my knees to expess their demands - a sit-in, if you will. The problem could be prevented by shutting the door.
With the kids - not so much. The girl screams at the top of her lungs when doors are closed and the boy can open them, anyway. So I am left with an audience, a menagerie of troublesome interlopers who crowd around me on my throne making my moments of repose a group hug. The girl bangs my feet with whatever toy she has dragged along with her. The boy will often climb into my lap with a book that requires my oratory. The dogs, noting an open door, return to their attentive ways. Even the cat has seen this as the perfect opportunity to seat herself on the windowsill above my head and bang against me in situ. One would think, to put it delicately, they would be driven from the room by the less than appealing features that accompany the act, but the dogs, of course, live for odor and the kids seem not to care at all, probably because portions of their day include a substantially more malodorous lingering of their own making. So, they will not go away.
When my wife goes out with the children, instead of doing something productive, I will just slip into my retreat. It may not be time for a visit, but at least I feel alone. I relax and sometimes just spin the TP on its roller. Ahh, bliss.
I'm hoping they'll grow out of this stage... soon. But until then, I will do my best to enjoy the adoration of my fans. After all, this too, shall pass.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Before I ever had kids, I swore I would do things a certain way; that no earthly force would move me from the standards I set for myself. "I will not fail," was the oath. My children would not be plunked in front of videos to get them out of my hair. My children would only eat healthy foods. My children would never hear me raise my voice at them (I must have been seriously medicated for that one). Dinner would be a family affair, all of us gathered at the table for the evening meal. When seeking attention, my children would never hear the words, "not right now". My children's lives would be idyllic and I would always be there for their emotional needs. I would be a pillar of patience and understanding. I would be perfect. In retrospect, I believe the medical term for that is delusional.
It isn't as if we've abandoned all our oaths. The kids eat well, very well. With very few exceptions all their food is healthy, organic and homemade. Dinner remains the family meal. Television is limited to no more than two hours daily... usually. But that pillar of patience I promised has been eroded away. "Not right now" slips too easily from my lips and my admonitions have, too often, been more reminiscent of Sam Kinison than Ghandi.
Two nights ago, after putting the kids to bed, my wife and I heard sobbing coming from the boy's room. When I went in he was sitting up in his bed with tears streaming from his face. I asked him what was wrong, but he could not get the words out through the sobs. Taking him in my arms, I held him until he calmed enough to explain. When he finally forced out the words I was horrified. His sudden explosion, that I assumed had been the result of a nightmare, was instead, my fault.
For some reason that neither my wife nor I could completely discern he had come to believe I was mad at him; that I no longer loved him. The best explanation we could reach was that he had requested that his mother read him his bedtime story and I had seen that as my escape. I had kissed him good night and left the room to clean the kitchen. Although my wife said he'd enjoyed the story and had laid down happily, apparently my failure to stay had been interpreted as a rejection of some kind. As he rested in his bed reviewing the day, or whatever it is that not-quite-three year olds do before they go to sleep, the idea must have taken hold. I had been abrupt with him for the entire day. A load of tasks and my resulting lack of patience had contributed to his idea that he had somehow done something wrong. It had all been too much, I assume, and his world caved in.
As I rocked him I could do nothing but attempt to reassure him that I was not angry; that I did and always would love him; that he had done nothing wrong. It took some time but eventually he felt relieved. You could see the fear and pain ease from his face. He slipped under the covers and sleep took him. I wish I could say the same for me.
They are so fragile. Their entire emotional lives are in our hands and to them all the tasks and problems we have are meaningless beyond how shortchanged they feel. In performing our day-to-day tasks - the cleaning, the cooking, the necessities of any functioning home - we can let the kids' most basic desires slip down the list. No parent is perfect and there will always be days - mornings - like this one, where the promises of perfection lie in ruins below the remote control. These things can lead to more navel-gazing than anyone can tolerate, but my children deserve more from me than I have offered of late; more time, more attention, more patience, more me. I won't swear an oath for this - I know how that turns out - oaths are words, and ultimately it's my deeds that will make me the father I, and my children, so desperately want me to be.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Dining out with kids is the best.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Cock - to embody or display enormous and occasionally enviable amounts of masculinity, but never to the point of self-parody.
While the counterpoint or extreme is...
Sam Shepard cocks and Steven Seagal fires.
Bullitt cocked; Dirty Harry fired.
Due to its subjective nature and changes regarding the ideal of manhood, someone or something that at one time cocked may, upon later review, be determined to have fired.
There is something both frightening and awe-inspiring about a toddler's ability to dismantle or destroy anything they come across. It isn't just the occasional magic marker incident or broken objet. No, it's the things they can do that you never imagined possible before having kids. Innate curiousity, total disregard for form or function and tiny hands must be the ideal conjugation for perfect annhilation.
Our son at the age of two dismantled a rocking chair. Held together with classic mortice work, the vintage rocker had been a gift from me to my wife before the boy was born. In beat up condition when I purchased it, I had it repaired and restained. It sits at the end of the boy's bed and has been used to rock him to sleep too many times to count. One afternoon I was delivering a load of clean clothes to his dresser and when I entered his room both arms of the chair and their respective posts were sitting in the chair's seat. I asked the boy what had happened and he told me, without guilt, remorse, or fear, "Oh, I break it." "How?!" "I pull," he said, patronizingly. No further explanation. I'm still baffled. Ultimately, I fixed the chair, the damage wasn't substantial; it had only been dismantled. But I watch him like a hawk.
The remains of safety latches for our cabinets and drawers stand witness to his destructive powers and dedicated perseverance. Very few exist in their original form, either utterly destroyed or tinkered into uselessness by his intrepid ways. He once took a Tivo remote apart in a way that took me two days to repair and he did this in less than two minutes. That too, was baffling. He does these things with no apparent tools other than his own hands and leaves no doubt in my mind of the instinctive nature of Homo Faber.
He seems, thankfully, to be outgrowing this phase, or at least developing a conscience as regards that which is not his to destroy. But every now and then, when something interests him, you can see the wheels turning, which is the cue to put the item in a safe place; safe, that is, until he figures out how to access it. I love my kid but it makes me wonder about our choice for spawned housemates. At least with a bear you can dart it and return it to the wild.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Special note to Curry: when it comes to backing you up, I don't think Butch has anything on this guy's hyena.
If the original link to Mr. Hugo's website (above) is down, try this one to get a few in the series.
Carol Blymire has a great blog entry on her French Laundry at Home blog about making doughnuts. Ms. Blymire is attempting, in her own kitchen, to work her way through The French Laundry Cookbook, the finest cookbook of the last 25 years, making every recipe in the book. That is no small task in either time or effort. I recommend her blog, but in particular the doughnut entry.
Oh, and The French Laundry Cookbook? If you love food, even if you never make anything from it, get it. It is more than recipes. It is kitchen philosphy of the highest order.
If you can get a reservation at The French Laundry - and can afford the price (neither of which are within my abilities), do that too.
AN AMERICAN MEMORY
by Eric Larsen
How much anger there was in my father: something in him made him wish to destroy himself, to destroy others as well, to pull down the world around him and trample it in angry spite. Throughout his life he wrestled with this desire, sought to contain the terrible impulse of rage, yet at the same time fed on it secretly as if from a silent pool of irresistable liquor that lay hidden deeply inside himself. My father's life was a short circuit, a trip-valve, a contradiction: he must be in a rage, yet he must not be in a rage; he must rise in the world, yet he must not rise in the world; he must exist, yet he must not exist. My father agonistes: his emotional life a ganglionlike bondage of knots that grew tighter and more unrelieving with the struggle. There were times - in winter, on the farm, in the bottom of despair - when I imagine, had my father been an animal, that he would have devoured us one at a time, then shrunk into his lair to gnaw slowly with sullen and furious spite at his own limbs and flesh.
My grandfather was a man who went through his life without grace of imagination. Stolid, purposeful, sternly comforting as he may have seemed on the outside, the wind blew through my grandfather’s bones.
When he was inside his office, the door would stand open; a shaft of light from his desk lamp would fall across the red carpeting of the mezzanine where the staircase turned up toward the darkness of the balcony seats. In the auditorium, two cleaning ladies would vacuum between the rows of seats, their machines attached to long black cords plugged in under the skirt of the stage. They would sweep up spilled popcorn, pieces of candy, crumpled wrappers of various kinds. Under the seats they would find lost coins, dropped scarves, gloves, handkerchiefs, sometimes wallets or valued personal objects, necklaces, trinkets, jeweled rings, sometimes dollar bills.
There is a memory that stays with me in which it seems always to be February or March, the months of chill gray light, and in which the time seems always to be the same vacant, slow hour of midmorning. Outdoors, the snow is turning to slush; it falls in wet clumps from the black branches of trees, and, in the streets, the tires of cars leave deep ruts in the slush, which then fill with icy water. In this memory there is a cold buffeting wind, heavy and strong with a cutting dampness, under a sky that is low and gray.
Inside the theater, I feel aimless and confined, burdened with empty time. I embark upon a circular pattern, which compulsively I trace over and over. I climb up the stairway past my grandfather’s open door, then continue along the muffled carpeting up into the chill emptiness of the balcony. I cross through the darkness of the balcony; descend the opposite staircase; move through the wan gray daylight of the main lobby; then re-ascend silently past my grandfather’s open door. I make this identical journey six, eight, perhaps ten or a dozen times, running as quickly as I am able without breaking my silence or alerting my grandfather, traveling circles through the darkness of the hollow old theater.
When I am exhausted, I climb to the top row of the balcony and find my way into a center seat, beneath the square holes cut into the wall of the projectionist’s booth. The auditorium is dark, illuminated only by the dim glow of the exit signs over the doors. Waiting for my breath to calm, I gaze down through this great volume of historical emptiness, able to see only vaguely the pale image of the screen standing behind its thin translucent curtain. As my wild heartbeat slowly quiets, silence closes in around me. I am enclosed inside a vast dark space free of sound, of motion, perhaps even of time. I wait. I seem to sense only a great silence. Then at last I begin to hear the sounds of the wind from outdoors. There is a dull buffet against the wooden roof. From somewhere backstage comes a subdued, hesitant moan. Then the wind gets caught under a roofboard, or tries to come in at a barred doorway, and I hear a high rising whistle, a small voice thin with unspeakable weariness, a sound that comes from the far distance of the dead past, palely wavering, tenuous, as frail as a thread.
Copyright © 1988 by Eric Larsen
Coincidently, an old friend shares my daughter's birthday. I won't post a pic of her as most of them were taken many, many years ago, when she was in her mid-twenties. Nonetheless, happy birthday, RC. You look great for 29.
In his evening bath a couple of weeks ago, singing and splashing as is his routine, he called out to me. I was listening for potential disasters while rocking his sister to sleep in her bouncy. "Daddy? Daddy," he called quietly. I let the bouncy's momentum degrade to nothing and then slipped into the bathroom.
He was sitting in the tub, the soapy bubbles that surrounded him a half hour earlier nearly gone. Floating next to him were soft foam letters and numbers (72 of them), part of splendid bath-toy set. Behind him, stuck to the tiles, was the queue; all of the sea life included in the foam set in a swooping line over the wall. "Look, daddy, I made a mixture," he beamed. "Wow, little man, that's great, but do you mean you made a picture?" I asked. "No, it not a picture. It a mixture."
It has remained there in one form or another for a couple of weeks. Pieces fall or get knocked off by errant towels, but they are replaced and the entire concoction is reworked. It is art in progress, changing its wave and position, nightly. Some evenings he tweaks, some evenings he rebuilds from scratch. Numbers and letters are never used, only the sea life. It has moved from one side to the other, snaking from top to bottom. Individuals are shifted throughout the line randomly, none ever getting preference; socialism in action.
After it had been up for a week or so I went to get him out and dry him off. "Daddy, know what I want to do when I grow up?" I was taken aback. That wasn't a subject we'd ever discussed. "No, what do you want to do when you grow up," I asked. "I grow up, I make big, BIG mixtures," he said with confidence.
Every parent at one point or another imagines their children becoming artistic geniuses. It's fueled by love and pride. The boy may never go beyond his mixture, instead choosing something more mundane for his life's purpose. But his acute and natural sense of poetry and his extraordinary vision of the world around him, of which the mixture is but one example, will always be able to drive me into spasms of adoration. That's saying something, considering that foam sea life and a three year old are the two biggest components that, so far, have gone into the mixture.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Our daughter sleeps between us, or more accurately, she thrashes, kicks and claws between us. It's been going on for a couple of months now. We are in that transition phase; from our bed, to her... anything but our bed. Sadly, the transition has become mired, so that what began as a happy pair of parents and their peaceful infant daughter has become two exhausted adults and a vicious nocturnal beast.
The boy slept in our bed until he was fourteen months old. Our pediatrician, an otherwise kind, caring, perfectly sympathetic, health care provider for our children, had laid down the law at his one year appointment; "Get him out of your bed." Her adamance was, I suppose, based on years of experience and amplified by a handout she gave us. That reading material provided instructions and justifications for dropping your transitioning infant into a crib and ignoring their pathetic, loud, unceasing cries for a return to your bed. It was written by a doctor frequently referred to as "the Sleep Nazi". It was horrifying. We could not imagine doing that to our beloved little boy. So we tried all the other methods; putting him down in the crib and returning to comfort him every two minutes or so, confirming our presence and reassurring him; rocking and singing him to sleep and quietly putting him down once certain he was out of it; sleeping in the same room as his crib to maintain a sense of continuity and, once again, reassurance. Those methods, as sane and gentle as they seemed, all failed over the course of two months. He would not be moved.
Finally, out of desperation, I returned to the Sleep Nazi. Feeling as evil as any parent ever has, I dumped the boy into his crib, kissed him good night and hauled my guilty ass out of his room as the wailing began. The wailing continued... for an hour and a half... and I ignored it. As the screaming went on and on, I sat in my living room running my hands over my head in imitation of Brando in Apocalypse Now, "The horror. The horror." I called my wife at work and told her what I'd done. Supportive as she was, she was glad not to have been the one. The next night I did it again, with the same results. And the next night. And the one after that. At the end of the first week, the wailing had been trimmed to forty-five minutes. At the end of two weeks it was down to twenty. At the end of a month he was going to sleep after only a few minutes of protest. The method had worked with only a few scars on our respective psyche. Now, at nearly three, he has his bedtime routine, happily saying his good nights and offering kisses before nodding off with greater ease than I, all courtesy of the Mengele of REM. It all worked out - no real fuss, no real muss - and, oh yeah, I never wanted to do that again.
And yet, here we are. Resentment for lost sleep, the need for her to move toward independence, and an impending one year appointment with the pediatrician where we can expect the same, "Get her out of your bed," are all forcing the issue. This time, however, things are a bit more complicated. We have a two bedroom home. A planned bedroom addition has been put on hold thanks to a plummeting real estate market, so the kids will be sharing. That isn't so bad. My little brother and I shared for many years, but I don't remember him screaming, at least not screaming to the degree that my little girl can. She's got herself a set of lungs. My son will suffer; suffer the earsplitting wails of his tortured sister; suffer the bitterness of sleep deprivation; suffer the same Brandoesque moments as I, but much closer to the action. Thus, we are procrastinating, putting off the inevitable in the hopes of a miracle.
It's coming, however. My kidneys can't take the kicks and those early morning rabbit punches are making me stupid. It will be an assault on the senses but that can't be any worse than the ones I have been suffering nightly. Of course, it will all work out in the end. Most parental worries are overblown and kids are more resilient than we imagine. The worst of it will, in all likelihood, be over in a month, but how I hate the thought of that month, and the evil I will do. Get ready girl, cause I'm hanging that horrible sign on the door; the one that says, The Sleep Nazi is in.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The slightest bump or brush with an immovable object requires an entire covering of protection. Every possible injury, visible or not, must receive a bandage. He will brook no denial. Temper flares, fits are thrown, screaming ensues if it is even hinted that perhaps a bandaid is unneeded. Frequently, the boy will, when at last we throw our hands in the air and agree to his demands, be unable to locate the original injury. He'll scan himself from toe to nose, shoulder to wrist desperately trying to find the damage he had so recently suffered. When he finally settles on a spot he's certain is the one that caused him pain it's usually unmarked and nowhere near the original insult. Of course, the mere application of the bandaid immediately relieves his misery and he toddles off, pleased beyond belief at the miraculous healing powers of that sticky piece of plastic.
Originally we were enormously grateful for the placebo effect. A tearful, hurting little boy with a bloody, scraped knee could be satisfied quickly and efficiently, which is a good thing. Those bandaids served their purpose well. Soon, however, he began to require more and more. Old wounds, completely healed remained bandaged as new ones were added. If per chance, a bandaid slips from his skin while in the bathtub, prepare to meet the apocalypse; "AHHHHHH! My bandaid! It gone!! AHHHHHHHHH!" The promise of a new clean one barely comforts him, and the wound - the completely healed, bandaged for two weeks, wound - explodes into fresh pain without the magical properties of a bandage. This is not a pleasant phase and its one that none of the books have bothered to address.
It's costing us a fortune in bandages - like he cares - and to be honest, he is becoming rather unattractive. Our great fear is that he will get noticed by someone from Child Protective Services; "Uh, he just likes bandaids... really." So far we've refused all requests to apply them to his hair or his mouth. He, at least for the moment, accepts our arguments for that, but who know how long it will last.
The other night, as we got him into his pajamas, I noticed an old dirty bandaid that had covered a legitimate scrape he'd gotten two weeks earlier. The bandage was nasty, the wound was long healed; it was time to come off. The trouble was, it had been there so long it was stuck. It ended up leaving a couple of marks on his skin and, of course, hurt him when it was removed. He screamed. Yeah, you can see it coming, can't you? He has two new bandaids.
I hope this passes soon.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Playgrounds are like labs where all manner of interesting observations can be made regarding childhood development. How do kids learn to navigate obstacles? How long can a particular activity hold their interest? What is the average time between booboos? How much sand can a two year old eat? All interesting things to study, mind you, but it's the parents that really need to be looked at; specifically the differences between how men and women, fathers and mothers, react to their children.
A couple of months back San Francisco Magazine had an article about SAHDs, the Bay Area being home to more freethinking, gender-myth-busting folk than most places - or just more unemployed dudes. In the piece several dads were interviewed and they discussed all the basics; how they love the time they can spend with their kids, how the outside world can still be a little unaccepting of this choice, how little support there is for them, ad infinitum. I enjoyed reading it, if only to get a sense of comraderie, even at a distance. There was, one portion that I found particularly interesting, however. The dads profiled pointed out something I had been thinking about every time I went to the playground. Men and women raise kids differently.
Yeah, I know, stop the presses - but here's the gist...
If a child falls down out there in the playpit and their resulting cry grabs every adults' attention, the reactions are very different depending on the gender of the parent. The mothers, whether or not it's their child tend to move toward the child, prepared to comfort them and check for wounds. Dads on the other hand, tend to watch from a distance making certain it isn't serious and then letting the kid get up, dust themselves off and go on. If crying persists, fathers will offer up encouragement, "you're alright", or "go on, get up." It's not as if they don't care. They just seem to expect the kid to deal with it. Surprisingly, the kids do. They just get over it and get back to business.
The flipside to that is a situation of conflict. Two tots get into a beef and it's the moms who now watch, waiting for the kids to work it out. If it escalates into something really ugly, mom will step in, but the preferred method is to let the tykes settle it themselves. Dads, however, at the first hint of disagreement will invariably step into the fray, especially if their kid appears to be getting the worst of it. Pop inserts himself into the mix and dictates a resolution - "Timeout - both of you, " or "Give her back the toy before I potato-sack you back to the car." Daddy makes the call.
In the article the dads all wondered as I have, what that all means. With more fathers becoming the primary caregiver are there upsides and downsides? It seems, at least anecdotally, that stay-at-home-dads may be responsible for more self-confident, better problem-solving kids. All that "dust yourself off" business could be teaching the offspring to fend for themselves, giving them the skills to solve problems. An entire generation of kids that fearlessly attack all manner of hardship and effortlessly cope with any circumstance. Yeah, dad's got it goin' on!
Not so fast, daddy-o. You see, papas could also be on the hook for boys and girls who have no conflict-resolution skills. Those playground interventions and dictated peace accords mean baby never works it out. We (daddies) impose our will and neither party learns the virtue of compromise and agreement reached through negotiation; they just look to somebody else to settle it. We're creating a bunch of monsters with no personal skills. Daddy ain't all that, after all.
Of course, all this is just the musings of a few dads with too much time on their hands, but it's worth a study or two. I mean if we can fund research about whether or not kids think clowns are scary (surprise, they do), we can certainly take a gander at what dads' and moms' influence is on kids.
I'm sure I'll go to the park one day and, somewhere behind the swings will be a camouflaged blind, within which lab-coated grad students will scribble away on clipboards. They'll observe me and my burgeoning ilk as we struggle to raise kids just as moms have done over the years (and quite well, thank you very much). In the end, who knows, maybe they'll find something and someone will write a book and we can all learn a new way or be frightened about what we've done. I only know that if I see one of those grad students I'm going to ask them if they wouldn't mind putting down the clipboard and watching my kid for a bit. I really want to catch up on some reading.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
click dat title
The Blues And The Abstract Truth - Oliver Nelson, 1961
An easy target of jokes and parodies over the years (how could he not be), Fred Rogers continued, unconcerned. He wasn't talking to jaded adults and cynics, anyway. He was talking to the kids and over the years the kids, millions of them, loved him. They knew he was there for them everyday and was always willing to talk; about the things they were interested in, about things worth knowing, but most of all about how they felt. That was the guy's inside track. He talked about their confusing array of emotions and gave them methods of coping, methods that sadly, as evidenced by anti-depressant usage, many couldn't carry over to their adult lives.
Forty years ago this week on NET, the predecessor to PBS, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood premiered. His program showed up when there was little else that spoke to children and certainly nothing that could be described as educational. Many others would follow, but none would remain truer to the vision; television can and should do more than sell beer and deodorant. In celebration of the anniversary, PBS is rerunning some special episodes this week having to do with dance. If you have some time, sit down and watch one with your kids or just watch it with the kid that still lives in you. It's nice, sometimes, to just have someone who cares.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Sunday, February 17, 2008
"If that kid derders one more time I'll kill him."
"You can tell by the wet cardboard, it's been derdered."
The haircut has turned her into a little girl, almost erasing her pleasant androgyny, a trait not uncommon to babies. Her face is now framed, her eyes unblocked. The back of her hair, merely trimmed yesterday, has become much more curly and wavy than either her mother's or mine when we were infants. Her hair is changing. Though not remarkably long as yet, she no longer has the look of Mia Farrow, circa 1967, of which I had grown so fond.
Since my wife has made it clear to me that I'm not to touch their hair, the haircut was accomplished at a salon that caters only to kids. Seated in a firetruck or an airplane and with any number of Pixar flicks or video games for distraction, the squirmers move little enough that the threat of drawing blood is kept to a minimum. It's cheap, fast and adequate. Considering the quantities of semi-chewed foodstuffs, snot, and general filth with which infants and toddlers accent their coifs, it's not as if her hair needs a stylish cut.
While the scissors snipped and my wife recorded the moment for the photo albums I looked around. I had been there before with our son, but my daughter's presence made the scene more acute. In addition to haircuts, the salon specializes in princess glamour parties - "ideal for birthdays". Little girls can gather together to get manicures, ultra hairstyling, and all manner of Jon Benet feminizing. A separate space was dedicated to these events with loudspeakers, pink streamers, feather boas, make-up and of course, a throne where I imagine the girl of honor is feted. As a result, while my little girl sat happily ringing the bell of the the fire engine, her hair drifting to the floor, I found myself fearful for her.
She wears her brother's cast-off clothing; the blue shirts, denim overalls and onsies with cowboy prints, that simple economics demanded we use again. They amplify her gender ambiguity. Though I hate most of the choices offered by the princess-industrial complex, she has, of course, more girlish clothing. Her pink jumper, the grey felt dress with the little bunnies, the peasant blouse with giant embroidered tulips, and all the other more feminine ensembles tend to be used when she is going out of the house. They help strangers avoid the discomfort of gender mis-identification, I suppose.
I had always wanted a girl. I'm determined to raise a strong, self-confident young woman, one who will not feel cut off from any options in life; not trapped in someone else's idea about her possibilities. I want her to know that her gender defines part of who she is, but not what she can be; that pink is just one choice among many. More and more however, I wonder how effective I can expect to be in the face of a cultural onslaught.
My wife is unconcerned, or at least less concerned than I. She says she enjoyed those things as well and she never felt limited. She is a highly educated professional. In contrast to more typical gender scenarios, my wife is the family's sole financial support. I could not find a better role-model for our daughter. So why am I still afraid for her? Why do I hate the pink so much? And what will I do when the inevitable glamour party invitiation arrives? As if I don't have enough to keep me awake at night.
Before we left the salon yesterday, I picked up a curling lock of her hair from the floor, a typical keepsake. It has the fine qualities of her initial baby hair; soft, light as a feather. I don't know what I'll do with it yet; slip it in an envelope or the album. As I felt the strands between my fingers it dawned on me that, like her hair, she will become what she becomes, and for much of it, it seems, I will worry.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
It's not as if his Kreskin moment was at all likely. My wife is still nursing. She is on the pill and with the demands of cleaning, laundry, feeding, laundry, cooking, laundry, diaper changes, laundry, bathtimes, laundry, bedtimes, laundry, playtimes and laundry there is little opportunity for intimacy, let alone the energy. Nonetheless, his prediction momentarily terrorized me. Bin Laden's an amateur compared to my kid.
We have two children, the boy, almost three, and the girl, who turns one next week. They are the lights of our lives. We adore them. Every day is joyous. Happiness fills our home. Mornings bring revelations of delight. We live in a state of bliss, blah, blah, blah. I'm done reproducing. We have filled our world allotment; a replacement for me, a replacement for my wife. Raising kids is expensive. Besides, I'm getting old. I'm frickin' tired. These little blessings are killing me.
My wife would, I think, like one more. At one point her argument consisted of the bleak, "If something happened to one of them then they would still have an extra sibling." "What if something happened to two of them," I countered. "What a depressing thing to say," she admonished. Other than putting my head in my hands, I still don't have a response for that.
We tried for several months to get pregnant the first time. We got a little gizmo that tested her urine every morning to determine how close she was to ovulation. My wife kept a careful log of the results. There was a little cartoon egg that would show up on the gizmo's screen when fertility was optimum, which meant it was time to get busy. Our term was, gettin eggy wid it.
After five or six months of gettin eggy with no success, I was sitting on the sofa one evening with my leg propped up when my wife got home. Earlier that day I had been informed by an orthopedic surgeon that I would need to have my trashed ACL replaced. I was in a funk. My wife plopped down next to me and handed me a card, a thoughtful get well gesture to cheer me up. The card simply read, "You're going to make a great daddy." It was a hallmark moment.
Aside from an already scheduled anniversary getaway a couple of weeks later that consisted of my hobbling and her throwing up, it was a wonderful pregnancy. A giddy, excited, perfect lead-up to our first child. We wanted. We planned. We got.
A couple of years later, in the middle of a frustrating morning futilely battling cables for the TV and the DVD and the Tivo and the cable box, I looked up to see my wife, hovering. She had this guilty sort of smile on her face; the kind that says, "Remember those six hundred dollar shoes I liked so much..." She was holding our son, probably as a shield. "What?" I asked impatiently, struggling to keep from being strangled by an errant cable. She lifted her shoulders in a sort of shrug and cocked her head, which only amplified that damned smile. "Honey, what!?," I repeated. In a sheepish voice and pushing the boy a little closer, she said, "I'm pregnant."
Apparently, the noise I made was otherworldly. I don't know. I don't remember it. I only know that the next sound out of my mouth was the rather panicked, "How do you know?"
"I just took a test," she offered.
"Go back and take another. Right now!"
"I don't have to pee."
"Drink some water. I'll get you a glass."
"I'm pretty sure about this," she said.
I repeated the otherworldly noise.
It wasn't exactly a textbook example of the supportive husband.
Of course, I came around. It only took me a week or so to get over the shock of unexpected familial enlargement. We had talked about having a second, but thought that another year would be better timing. It wasn't the perfectly planned and executed expansion of before. It didn't matter, though. I ended up just as excited as I had been for the first, maybe more so since the doubts that go with first time fatherhood were absent. After the birth I adapted and found the energy (barely) for the doubled workload. We moved on with our larger household, happy in the knowledge that we, or at least I, had completed the mission.
On the day before Valentine's Day, two days after my son had made his "baby prediction", I was reading the news, relaxing as the kids napped. My wife had just finished getting ready for work. She came over and stood behind me, reading over my shoulder. She leaned down, snuggling her head against mine, kissing me on the ear. "I love you," she said softly. "I love you, too," I replied, remembering she can be a romantic as Valentine's Day nears. She stayed close, her head pressed against mine and purred again, "I love you." I turned to look at her and it hit me. "Are you pregnant," I asked very slowly. She winced, "Yes."
Believing perhaps in our boy's oracular abilities, she had taken an EPT. It was positive. It was a strange moment, filled with dread for me, and I suppose for her, though her dread had more to do with my reaction than the actual pregnancy. I hugged her and said it was ok, that we'd work it out, without having any idea how. She said she was not ready for another, not yet. I said I wasn't ready for another, at all. "Who knows," I added optimistically, "maybe it was a false positive." I'm whistling in the dark. Our OB has told us those are very rare.
That night I couldn't sleep. How will we afford this child? How will I find the energy to raise three all under the age of four? Where will they all sleep (our home, though large, is only two bedrooms)? Infinite issues and so few answers. This is not what we, what I, wanted.
Today, she had a blood test; a more accurate determination, especially considering she couldn't be more than a week and a half along. They put a rush on it so we could get the results this afternoon. She called a little while ago. It was negative. She was crying, not sobbing, just sad.
I started writing this before we had the results of the blood test. I had two endings; the doom of the impending third child, and the dodged-a-bullet climax of no new baby, but neither one works now. They don't work because I feel sad too, and not just for my wife.
It's strange because it's not as if we lost a baby. There wasn't a baby to begin with; just a little stick that said she was pregnant when she wasn't. There was no conception.
Or, perhaps there was. Perhaps something was conceived in me because in the last 48 hours, wedged in between the worry and stress about it all, I had begun to warm to the idea. One more? I don't know anymore and not knowing is something, considering three days I ago I was certain I didn't want another. It was easier, I think, to not have a choice about it.
Funny how these things can turn you upside down. Perhaps, in a couple of days when our heads clear, she and I will talk... talk about, maybe, maybe one more.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
My wife is beautiful. From her flawless, alabaster skin to her big easy smile; from her warm blue eyes to her long, but childlike fingers, everything about her says, "heaven, right this way." Even if she weren't so lovely she would still win you over. She is sweetness incarnate. Gentleness, understanding, caring and thoughtfulness, are all facets of her being and as natural to her as blinking to me. She can make my worst day seem silly with a pat on the back. Yeah, she's that good.
Then there is that laugh; that easy, unjaded, welcoming laugh that perfectly complements my rather ham-like qualities. It isn't just me upon whom that warm laughter is bestowed. No, she can find humor in the kids even on those occasions when all I glean is annoyance. I roll my eyes, but she laughs with no reservations. She laughs at herself, recognizing the silly or the foolish in her actions and racing with it. She doesn't fear her own childishness, a trait not a few of us could benefit from acquiring.
She supports us; tramps off to work everyday to earn our daily bread. When we had children we decided that one of us would stay home and the other would not. Her profession, more lucrative than mine, gave her the wage-earner slot. That is hard on her. I take nothing away from myself, as raising kids is the hardest thing I have ever done, but her lot is harder still. She must tear herself away each day from the children she adores, knowing that some little miracle will invariably occur while she is gone. On her days off she will often excitedly point out some task or achievement by the boy or girl and, insensitive fool that I am, I will reply, "Yeah, he/she did that the other day." And still, she takes a clod like me in stride and thinks nothing of it.
Younger than I by quite a bit, she seems unconcerned with the prospect that, not long after we have ferried the last of the kids out of the house some twenty years hence, she will face an aging spouse who will probably be in need of care, himself. She accepts that - it was part of the package. It's another unselfish part of her character - another reason she is wonderful.
My life is so much better with her than it would have been without that I can not measure the difference. There isn't a device to quantify it, only the acute sense that I was fortunate beyond what I probably deserved and will remain so as long as she will have me.
The word love will get tossed around a lot today. I won't toss it for fear of losing it. Instead, I hold it aloft, a boast, I suppose, that I have it and she is grand.