At 3:30 in the morning in a big boy bed

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I had a deal with my parents.  If I used the potty regularly I would get to sleep in the big boy bed. I have made enough deposits, so yesterday they made good on their part of the bargain.

A big boy bed is very comfortable. It has a railing so you don’t fall out.  My railing has a light on it, which is intended to be a night light so that the big boy is not scared.  It is a decent night light but functions much better as a reading light.

It was 3:30 in the morning. I wanted to get in a little light reading, perhaps Guess How Much I love You. I often don’t have time for reading during the day because I am too busy building things, asking for things without saying please, and running around trees in tight circles.  I got out of the big boy bed and walked into my parents room.  ‘Excuse me,’ I said.  I never say excuse me.  My parents didn’t answer.  They were asleep.  ‘Excuse me,’ I said again, ‘but you said one book in the bed.’

My father opened his eyes and said, ‘What?’ I thought that was a good start. He could have said what everyone says at 3:30 in the morning, which is, ‘Do you know that time it is?  It’s 3:30 in the morning.’

The line is customarily delivered with an acute sense of outrage, on a rising, slightly strangled inflection.  There was no tone of outrage in my dad’s voice, though. As he often tells anyone who will listen, he is a veteran parent, with two other children besides me who are now grown. I don’t think he should make so big a deal out of this, but he won’t stop referencing it.  From my perspective, having been in business for just three years now, experience is overrated. He got out of bed and we walked into my room and got a book.  I turned on my light to start reading.

Guess How Much I Love You is a wonderfully heartwarming book, but it is not the kind of page turner you need at 3:30 in the morning.  I needed a Nazi-chasing Ken Follett saga or Grisham, not a story of a bunny getting hugs from his daddy.  So I walked out of my room, because I can do that now, and started to play with my blocks.

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Construction is a noisy business.  There are city regulations preventing  it from being done at 3:45 in the morning, but I chose to ignore those laws, much like Uber ignores existing laws, or how Donald Trump speaks his mind.  When you are a truth teller, like Donald Trump, or a pre-schooler, or other part-time sociopath, you do not have to be politically correct. When you have a vision that happens to be illegal, and you are wealthy enough like Uber, you can get those laws fixed.

My father returned. He had word from the Ultimate Authority. ‘Mom says if you get out of the big boy bed again before the light comes, you have to go back in the crib.’ I was actually too sleepy to fight with him.  I was just awake enough, though, to bat back and forth his definition of ‘when the light comes’ like the Clintonesque lawyer that I am. ‘When the light comes?’ I asked, as though I had never before encountered the idea of dawn.

I slept through the dawn, and well past my usual breakfast time. But it had been a busy night, and a big boy bed is very comfortable.

Daddy Writing

The Be Careful Voice

As a parent, you are always telling your kid what to do. You hope that a particular kind of voice gets inside their head. It’s called the ‘be careful’ voice. It starts with ‘be careful not to run into the street,’ ‘be careful not to jump around on the couch and fall off,’ and ‘be careful not to play with that sharp object that you somehow got ahold of and that you are not allowed to have.’ Later on it becomes, ‘be careful to take a job where they value you, ‘be careful not to drink and drive,’ ‘be careful to use protection when you have sex’ and all kinds of other cautionary statements that you don’t know you will need to say, yet. But you will say them all, believe me, and often.

That is the science of this, the information, the facts. There is also an art to it. The be careful voice can never have anything negative about your child in it. You want that voice in their head to guide them when you’re not around any more, and it has to be a positive voice always.


I Work Hard to Stay Relevant

I work hard to stay relevant. When I go to a park, I seize the moment by creating sculpture using a traffic cone, eucalyptus leaves, branches and bark. Look out Louise Nevelson, because I might be more relevant than you already, and I am just two and a half. I am a seizer of moments.

At mealtimes with my parents, I repeat mommy mommy mommy over and over to break up the conversation when I can’t think of anything to say. I believe in staying on top of the conversation at mealtimes and this means talking a lot. My father refers to this as ‘sucking the oxygen out of the room,’ but I don’t know what he means. He talks about me being a blustery lobbyist or commentator on Fox, but I don’t think these would be good career choices for me.

Staying relevant means that everyone is looking at you. The best way to do this is to shout, ‘Mama, play with me’ when you want your mama to stop reading The New York Times Week in Review and come over and build a block tower right away. I have seen the Week in Review, and it is filled with fluff. Maureen Dowd is off for the holiday, so there is nothing to read there. Nick Kristof is okay, but David Brooks is a one-percenter apologist blowhard. Joe Nocera is a sophisticated complainer, nothing more. My mama will get a lot more out of making a block tower with me, trust me.

Sometimes staying relevant is challenging. There are moments, as impossible as it is to believe, during which I have nothing to say. At those times, I make buzzing noises to simulate words. There are times when I disagree with my parents’ choices for me but don’t want to hurt their feelings by saying their logic is outmoded, their morality bankrupt, and their creative impulses derivative. So in those instances I just say ‘woof.’ I mean, literally, ‘woof.’ It is easier to become a puppy in the moments when somebody in authority is mouthing an inanity like: ‘Two more minutes of playtime, and then we will be putting away the blocks!’ The only response to a statement like that is ‘woof.’ I use this technique often.

Staying relevant means creating drawings with my parents, but I do it Huck Finn style, getting them to do most of the drawing, while I direct them, telling them what to draw, and in what color.

Staying relevant means listening carefully to when my parents get up at 6:30 AM to do yoga and meditation, and then calling out ‘Mama come in here now’ to stay top of mind during their sessions.

Staying relevant means skipping or shortening my naps so that I can continue to build block towers and seize moments.

Adopt some of these techniques, and you too will stay relevant.


My Book Reviews

I love to read, and I love my parents to read books to me. Here are some reviews of my favorite books right now.

I Love Trucks

From the cheery optimism of its opening line, ‘Trucks, trucks, trucks, I like trucks!’ to its insightful character arc and shocking plot twist at the end, ‘Trucks, trucks, trucks, I love trucks,’ (italics added),  I can only describe this book as wheely, wheely good.  Not only can I not put it down (because it is stuck to my hands with apricot jam) but I have also literally devoured it. My copy has been repaired with tape, but it shows its history of repeated readings and chewing. No other book has as compelling a collection of trailer trucks, tow trucks and trucks that sweep the street.  There is also a haunting appearance of a clown riding a white horse, which will require a graduate degree in English to interpret. Since that is a few years off for me, I will content myself with the book’s charm, its relentless focus on trucks, and its deep understanding of trucks in all possible contexts.

If you seek an introduction to trucks and are anticipating forming a deep love for trucks and related vehicles, this is your book. You will never think of skid steers in the same way again.

Goodnight Moon

Originally conceived as propaganda by a desperate parent needing a story simplistic enough to lull her child into a stupor, and I believe used avidly now by Putin as a brainwashing tool, I admit that I enjoyed Goodnight Moon’s  linear approach at first: (‘Good night kittens, good night socks’ and all that). But it quickly loses its way like a truck without GPS. Telling ‘nobody’ good night is nonsense, and the story is completely lacking in trucks. You can have your parents read it all the way through to you a thousand times, and there will be no trucks in it, which is a ripoff.

The Little Red Hen

This tale of a hen defying all odds to make a loaf of bread lacks emotional punch because there is no truck character, and therefore, utterly fails.  I still like reading it, though, because I think of all bread as pizza, and I like pizza.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
I question the ‘very’ in the title. Would it not be more concise if it were simply The Hungry Caterpillar? The one good thing about this book is that it has introduced me to many different kinds of food my parents will never let me have, like chocolate cake and sausage. There are no trucks, but the contraband foods make it a guilty pleasure.  Worth reading 10 or 20  times (as opposed to I Love Trucks which deserves a thousand readings, and even then you are just scratching the surface of its haunting, eternal story. Still trying to figure out why there is a clown on a white horse in this book.)
Who Will Tuck Me In Tonight?

This is an interesting story about a mother who abandons her child at bedtime, assigning first a pig, then a chicken and, I think, a beached whale to put her child to bed in her absence. It doesn’t go well. The mother finally returns, smelling of a barn (well, she is a sheep) and cheap beer. Her child forgives her in this touching testament to parental irresponsibility and her child’s wisdom to let it go and just move on. Where is the father in this story? He’s probably in worse shape than the mother.

There’s a movie version in the works with Julia Roberts as the mother and Emma Watson as the sheep daughter. There will be a lot of good acting involved, because Emma Watson will have to play younger than she is, and she will be a sheep.  If they can get Alec Baldwin as the absent father I think that would be good, or Adam Sandler, but then this would become just another Adam Sandler movie, and I would never see it.

Listening Time
Basically this book hasn’t got a leg, or a tire, to stand on, as it’s a riff on teaching children to be quiet when a story is being read to them. For some reason I love it and make my parents read it almost as often as I make them sing the Wheels on the Bus song.
Slide and Find Trucks

This is an interactive book that lets you slide a door and reveal a truck, learn about the colors of trucks, and about who drives trucks. It is absolutely fascinating. Do not read it just before bedtime, however, as your mind will be spinning with the different possibilities of trucks, their colors, and their drivers, and your daddy will have to come in, change your diaper because he doesn’t know what else to do, tell you to be quiet, and bump into the door on his way out because it is 3:15 in the morning.

Good luck with your own reading! If you can’t find a book about trucks, let me know. I have lots of them.

Daddy Writing

The Efficiency of Our Systems

If you value the efficiency of your systems, do not bring children into your life. If you value love, invite them in. If you focus on the tick of your days, the measure of your hours, the things ordered on life’s list, you won’t want little people around. They interfere with the efficiency of your systems.

Mental agility and a talent for abstraction won’t help you restore order, because puke is real, full diaper pails cannot be reasoned away, fluids and fluid situations are widespread, and spreading like a stain. Intellect won’t cut a deal with a tantrum, but making silly faces can work. When your child’s emotional buttons light up in Whole Foods and the produce section melts into an inferno of thwarted desire for a Fuji, you have no choice but to steer toward intuition, reach into the bag of unconditional love you brought along, quickly construct patience from the materials at hand. It’s messy. Not efficient.

If you don’t happen to have a child, or it’s been a while since you lived with one, think of the fierce love of an animal. A dog or a cat will beam a laser of unconditional love at you, warming you with their constancy and loyalty. That’s what being a parent is like, only bigger and louder.

The efficiency of our systems is totally shot, but we have something else. We have messy, fluid, constant love.


Daddy Writing

It’s all so real now

The small moments speak most eloquently. He rests his tired head on my leg when he wants comfort. He raises his hands in the child’s universal gesture of asking to be picked up. He slaps a sweaty mitt on my shoulder and presents me with the ready smile of a conspirator. He points at something he wants and says its name. With great grace and aplomb he removes a scrap of apple from his plastic bib and lets it drop subtly to the floor.

He is stringing gibberish into complex, incomprehensible sentences, but they are nonetheless sentences, fully formed, thoughts chained together in a structure only he can apprehend. He pulls himself up to his full height, reaches into the cat food bowl on the counter and snacks on fishy kibble by the handful. (Yes, we try to stop him from doing this.)

At baby school he already has a life of his own. Reports come back that he has tried a new food or made a new friend.

He is certainly not formed; he is in formation; but he is so real now. As he totters across the room holding his bright yellow lunchbox like a working man, simultaneously as stable and unstable as any skateboarder on the sidewalk, you get the hell out of his way, you make room for him. He commands … something.

It is a little unnerving to witness the force of his personality as he flirts with women twenty times his age, discussing the size of dogs relative to cats, complimenting them on their smile, asking if there are any good yoga classes in the vicinity.

He insists on drinking his mother’s fresh-squeezed orange juice when she orders some. He recognizes the espresso places I frequent, the library’s reading room, the street where he lives.

This is all simply growing up, of course, the texture of small things weaving into something much larger. I like to isolate each one. I look at each one like a drop of water. They won’t last. Yet they are also everlasting.