Daddy Writing

One more minute

We say ‘one more minute’ a hell of a lot around here. One more minute, and we will be leaving the playground. One more minute and we will be changing your diaper. One more minute and we will be going out. One more minute and we will be coming back. Mama texted to say she will be home in one more minute. We are staying in the bath for one more minute. We are reading for one more minute and then it will be bedtime. I will stay here for one minute to help you fall asleep. When you wake up and repeatedly shout, ‘Mama come in here right now,’ you will need to wait one more minute for me to get the almond milk from the refrigerator, put it in your sippy cup, and bring it to you.

With all this talk of one more minute, you’d think that kids would become excellent timekeepers. Well, they certainly value each moment, expanding a walk around the neighborhood that takes 10 minutes into a 45-minute adventure where everything is examined and everything commented upon, especially if it is a fire truck. Most of the time, however, they are at war with time. There’s no other explanation for the tears that flow when that ‘one minute’ is up. When it is time to go, if you are two, you fight it, even if you have been given a one-minute warning. When it is time to sleep, to eat, to clean up, to put away, to wash off, to change clothes, to come inside, to go outside, to leave, to stay, you fight it. You fight it all.

We say ‘one more minute’ so much because it is our clueless way to negotiate with master negotiators who will not budge. Therefore, they are not really negotiators at all, are they? We refuse to see that. In our parental wisdom and with boundless compassion, we think our timekeeping smooths the path, wedging an inch of reason into the toddler mind. What we fail to apprehend is that the toddler mind is pissed off, really pissed off, because the toddler has been passed over for the position of running the household. Their intractability is sharper than our compassion. There is no negotiation that will work. The only tool we have is time. Not one more minute, of course, but patience for a longer time, until they are older and can be reasoned with, at least a little.

For now, the best unit of measurement we can offer is ‘one more minute.’

Below, a recording of our toddler practicing his negotiation skills a few weeks ago. He goes to school with a few German-speaking children, so he is working through his ‘nein.’

Daddy Writing

When walking home, everything merits further study

When walking home on our quiet streets, everything merits further study. Every blade of grass is worth picking, every plant identified, every post-rain mushroom examined.

The child’s dialogue goes like this: ‘That’s a fire hydrant. That’s agave. That’s a crescent moon. That’s dog poop. That’s a mail truck. That’s a mailman. That’s a U-Haul. That’s a big truck. What’s that sound? That’s a fire engine. That’s a car. That’s a car coming this way. That’s a doggie. The dog says woof. That’s a bird. That’s a fountain. That’s a driveway. Where did mommy go? What’s that over there?’

The parent’s dialogue goes like this: ’Stay on the sidewalk, that’s dog poop, or is it a pine cone? No, it is a mushroom, but don’t touch it, and don’t eat it. Those look like blueberries, you can touch them, but don’t eat them, they are probably poisonous. What’s poisonous? It means don’t eat it. Yes, we sometimes eat mushrooms, but they are the right kind. Stay on the sidewalk. Hold my hand when we cross the street. That’s an alley, you have to hold my hand. If you wipe your hand along that dirty car, you hand will get greasy.  Okay, I will wash it when we get home.  Stay on the sidewalk. Stay close to me. Your hand is dirty, but we will clean it off when we get home. Mommy is waiting for us when we get home. Don’t walk in the neighbor’s plants. Stay on the sidewalk.’

For a child, I suppose, there is great comfort in hearing one’s father say ‘stay on the sidewalk.’ Why else would he make me repeat it often? Surely a child’s memory is not short. I know precisely the opposite to be the case: Like his vision and hearing, his memory is sharp and flawless.  Tell him what kind of plant is an agave, and he always remembers. Point out a crescent moon, and he remembers. Tell him that is a telephone line repair truck, and he remembers. Skip a page In a book accidently, and he makes you go back. Tell him mommy is waiting for us when we get home, and he asks, ‘Where did mommy go?’ six or eight times during a 40-minute walk.

The puzzle is solved with this, I think:  With a two-and-a-half year old, fact-memory is strong. He is amassing facts every moment, focusing on a mastery of things. He is building a catalogue to describe the outward workings of the world.

When it comes to emotional memory, however, the opposite is true. Emotional memory is slippery. It is porous. The answer to ‘Where did mommy go?’ always changes. It therefore merits endless asking. A mail truck is a mail truck. There is a fact to be absorbed and there is nothing to be worried about. Where mommy is merits further study, is worth worrying about, is worth refreshing your knowledge about, is worth hitting reset on until you see mommy and verify that she is indeed waiting for us at home.

Babies

My East Coast Tour

From time to time you have to reach out to your base. You know, touch the grass roots. Give a listen to the vox popoli. Press the flesh, smile at people you’ve never met before, and squeeze a few cheeks.

No, I am not declaring for Mayor of New York even though I know I can beat Anthony Weiner. (Note to self: do not open a Twitter account.) I do know, however, that a lot of east coasters read this blog, and I told my parents it was time to put in an appearance over there. (I don’t know where the East Coast is but we took a plane to get here.)

I already met my grandpa Al and sister Carolyn on previous occasions, so it was nice to check in with them again. My mommy took me over to meet the Hudson River, which in my view closely resembles other rivers. (I’m trying to impress you, but I’m faking it. I’ve never actually seen any other rivers.)

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New York is a high-power city and I had to struggle a little to keep up the pace. Here I am enjoying a quick shot of espresso under my mommy’s loving eye.

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We took a long drive up to Rhode Island, which for some reason involves arguing over directions and which road to take. I told my parents to turn on the GPS but they didn’t listen until they’d already missed the connection from the Merritt Parkway back to I-95. It’s hard, but sometimes I have to just let them make these mistakes so they’ll learn.

In Rhode Island I checked in with my grandma who calls herself Bopie. I looked at Wikipedia but there isn’t anything for a Bopie there, so I will have to ask her about that. Then I met my other granddad for the first time soon after we arrived in Jamestown. I’d say detente was immediate and there was a frank exchange of ideas.

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I think if I do run for mayor he would vote for me.

We are staying in a nice house and I am learning to sleep in a Pack n Play no matter where it is placed. On the coffee table there was a magazine about something called golf. The cover showed a shot of a man using a stick to hit a defenseless little white ball. The headline on the cover said, ‘Long, Straight and Hard.’ From this, I have determined that reading about golf is not suitable for young children.

Later, at night, way past my usual bedtime, we went to someplace called a Yacht Club to celebrate my granddad’s birthday. I think it is nice that yachts have a place to gather and have a cocktail. My granddad is way into the double digits, but I don’t know how old because I haven’t tried counting that high. It was an exciting evening, so exciting that they gave me my own Secret Service detail.
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Toward the end of the night I broke away to get in some reading about boats. I realize I like boats. That must be why they named me Boat-y.

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Babies

Getting Stuck

baby

Here’s the thing. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to pull myself up on things. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to stand up in my crib. But nobody – and I mean nobody – tells you how to get down again.

Have you ever had this happen? It’s three-thirty in the morning. You’re alone in your crib. You decide to pull yourself up and have a look around, you know, to see what’s shaking at three-thirty in the morning in your room. It could be exciting outside your crib – you have no way of knowing until you stand up. Mel Gibson could be trying to resurrect his career, right in your room. Tom Cruise might be climbing up something, because he does all his own stunts, and if he’s doing them in your room, you won’t want to miss that. Jodie Foster could be announcing something really personal, or bizarrely defending Mel Gibson – does anybody know why she defends Mel Gibson? Seinfeld could be working out new material in your room – you don’t know till you see. So you pull yourself up to your full height – which at ten months is getting to be impressive – and you look around.

Unfortunately, there’s not much going on in your room at that hour, no movie stars, no Seinfeld, no anti-Semitic outbursts, nothing, but now there you are standing in your crib, grasping the bars tightly with your little hands – and you get stuck. I’m talking STUCK. As in can’t get down. Can’t lower yourself because that’s too complicated, can’t just let go because you’ll fall on your ass, which is softly wrapped in a diaper, but it’s an inelegant way to get down, and nobody has told you yet how to remove one hand, then the other and slowly lower yourself back to your expensive, soft cocoa-mat mattress. Has that ever happened to you?

Of course not. Because you’re not a baby. It has never happened to you. But it happens to me every night, and when it does, I scream my bloody head off for help.  My legs get weaker and weaker, steadily bowing under my now impressive weight, my little arms tire, my fingers go white gripping the crib, all trying to prevent a potentially injurious drop of, well, it must be eight or ten inches on to that soft mattress. But I can’t count, so I don’t know that isn’t dangerous. Tears run down my chubby little chin as I howl louder and louder for assistance. And wouldn’t you know it? The only people who can help me are fast asleep. What are they doing asleep at three-thirty in the morning? Don’t they cover each other’s shifts, propping their chin in weary hand, eyes fluttering closed, popping open, hearing the cry of a child in distress, and making a heroic rescue?

It never happens like that, but eventually somebody comes in and talks me down off the ledge.

By the way, I hear my parents talking about something called teething a lot. If anybody knows what that is, would you drop me an email or comment?  Thanks.

Babies

On the Fallacy of Finger Foods

baby-lean-inThe people who take care of me, otherwise known as my parents, have gone off their rockers. They keep offering me what they call ‘finger foods.’ There are many things wrong with this, more than I can count on my fingers, of which I believe I have about ten.

I know I am supposed to eat table legs and cats. But when they put a rice crispy in front of me, I really have to question their judgement. I know I will never, ever choke on a table leg. It’s so big, eating a table leg is as safe as can be. I will never catch the cat, so trying to eat him is not a problem. But a rice crispy? A little piece of soft sweet potato? Or a tiny little piece of cooked carrot?  What are they thinking?? They are willing to risk a lot when they put those things on my high chair tray and expect that I transfer them into my mouth.

I’ve tried telling them they have to stop wasting time cutting cooked carrots into pieces and get to the real work of clearing all the furniture out of this place. I mean everything – I have no need for furniture and I need room to crawl and climb. I can crawl really fast now, and I can climb up anything. I have scaled couches like they are Everest. I have made my bedroom Annapurna base camp for my treks. I have tossed my lunch on their rug so often as to change the color scheme. You don’t need rugs with a baby in the house, and you don’t want furniture in the way of the baby when he is crawling.

Of course, they have not cleared away any of the furniture. They still use it for sitting on, to give themselves a break from cutting up carrots. When I speak to them as articulately as possible about the pointlessness of this they always say, ‘Oh isn’t he cute, he’s saying mama mama and da da da da.’ But I am not saying those things at all. I am saying they need to stop cutting things into small pieces and get to work clearing away all the plants, all the tall objects that might tip over, all the wires – anything that might get in my way.

Oh, you say, but if they take away all the wires they will have no lights. Not a problem, I say. At this time of year it is still light when I go to bed. If they went to bed at the same time as me they wouldn’t need lights anyway. Oh, you say, if they remove the furniture they will have no place to sit and watch television. I say television sucks. The rickety stand the TV sits on is too tall anyway, and I will be tipping it over soon enough. Oh, you say, if they remove everything from the house that isn’t baby-proof then they will have nothing to do all day but watch you crawl around.

Ah, now you’re catching on.

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Daddy Writing

chain reactions

At one point he was simply a photo op, someone you saw a lot on Facebook or Instagram. When included in any photograph he made the situation immeasurably more cute. Now that has all changed. He has become a person who has created his first chain reaction, a cascading series of circumstances that portends what will be.

Here is how the chain reaction happened. His mother was carrying him past a potted plant. He grabbed a leaf. Both plant and pot toppled from their high shelf, ricocheted off a rare, discontinued Kovacs lamp, and banged to the floor, launching potting soil like a spray of blood at a crime scene. The lamp suffered a scar but was not broken.

And what of the baby? The baby has been exonerated, pardoned of plant-smashing and deadly intent to kill a lamp. He has been declared innocent by judge and jury. That’s because he has the best defense lawyer in the business – his mother. I can’t forget the chain reaction, however, because it has set the past in motion.

Today my older son brought by boxes and bags of my old writing: stories, novels, screenplays, all smelling of mold, fungus, and paying my dues. His mother is moving from the house we’d lived in for decades. It was time for me to reclaim the pages of the past, the typewriter I’d used to write plays on, and a mysterious box with film in it.

Some of those stories from long ago are spooky, some are good, and all of them pull me back into the tac tac sound of a typewriter late at night as a baby slept in the other room. I stood tall then among imaginary people in an extraordinary world. I wrote fiction for money, I wrote fiction for love, but mostly for the latter, which is why I stopped writing fiction. Sometimes, when you use fiction writing to make money, it is too easy for other people to take away your power. They don’t buy your script, decline to publish your story, and you have to find another way to buy food. It pretty much sucks, and it can suck the love out of the writing. This is what happened to me, I think. This is a pattern I plan to break this time around.

People ask me, ‘What’s it like being a dad again?’ It’s completely different this time. I see the future and I see the past, and I see how they mingle. The baby is teething now, so we are back to getting little sleep, just as it was when he first arrived. But that will change. He is eating a lot more, so we need more money, reminding me of the desperate tac tac of a typewriter in the night, tapping out a story to sell.

Being a parent is like water. So much is in motion, moving back on itself. He is climbing on things, encouraging us to baby proof as he reaches for electrical plugs and wobbly tables.  Suddenly, he has become a thinking, desiring entity, more than a miracle machine of life force. You can feel the consciousness of him. This is no small achievement.

People say he has his mother’s hair color, his grandfather’s blue eyes, his brother’s height. I say these qualities are all him, intrinsically his, alone. Being a parent is like water, but there is a quality to our baby that is like a rock. We parents must flow around the steadiness of his personality. He has become formed in a way that will remain for a hundred years should he live that long, and he probably will because he will be living in the future.

You know how you can look at somebody who is quite old and then look at their baby picture and see the same person? The same glint of the eyes, set of the jaw, the crooked smile?  Today, I can turn that time machine the other way. I look at him and see him at twenty, at thirty, even at seventy if I squint to de-focus my eyes. This is the chain reaction he has set in motion.

The mysterious box with film in it that my son brought over today contained my first film made in high school. I wrote a careful script for it, blocking out every move. The day we were to shoot it – in Super 8 – the script was lost. We had to improvise all the dialogue. The effect on the movie was that it made little or no sense. Like scenes from a marriage or memories of laboring to birth a baby, it washed over you, a series of disconnected situations flowing from moment to moment, like water. Later, of course, we found the script, but it was too late. We’d already made the movie by our best instincts.

Babies

The Baby Society of Over-Dramatic Arts

baby3Don’t tell my dad, but I took his iPad and signed up for something.  It’s called the Baby Society of Over-Dramatic Arts. It’s a webinar series that I can watch in my crib while my parents are trying to sleep. The teachers are fantastic! Al Pacino is lecturing on scenery chewing. Christopher Walken is covering menacing glares. Scarlett Johansson has a segment on ennui and quiet crying. Carrie Fisher is doing screaming.  (She’s a pro – did some horror films early on in her career.) Paul Rudd does an hour just on soulful looks.

We babies, I don’t have to tell you, really need to work our parents and acting is a key survival skill. To get what we want requires the highest emotive ability, since we don’t yet have any words to express ourselves. I have really, really worked hard at my acting. I am proud to say I go one better than Pacino. He is often accused of scenery chewing (otherwise known as overacting), but I actually chew the scenery. I eat table legs and suck on strollers – anything to express my craft. I’ve gained 20 pounds for the role I’m playing now (I play a baby). I’m working on learning English. And I already speak Babble. Sometimes I do three costume changes a day, depending on how well my diapers are fastened.

My dedication to the craft of acting is complete. I yell like DeNiro when the people who take care of me don’t feed me right away. When being rolled about in my stroller like a little prince I have perfected a far-away look of subtle sadness that would be at home on stage in any Chekov play. Waiting for Godot? Try waiting for your parents to get up and feed you in the morning if you want to sample true emptiness. I can do snappy, rapid-fire dialogue that would work in any Howard Hawks film like The Philadelphia Story, but for now it’s all in Gibberish, another language I speak.

I believe there is no such thing as holding back for rehearsal. I give 100% in every performance, even if there are no cameras present. I cry a bitter river of tears every time my mommy leaves the house. I want her to hear me when she is halfway down the street. I think she can!  But I save the best fireworks for the nighttime, when my mommy gives me a 10 or 11pm nursing. She comes in, I have a snack, she cuddles me, and when she sets me back in my crib, I let loose. After studying my webinar lessons carefully I am able to release a heart-tearing scream that rips at her soul. I really relish the emotions I can bring up in her.

My father, sadly, seems immune to my acting skill. When I sit in my highchair, spoon in hand, moaning in hunger and looking like those actors in Les Miserables, he usually breaks out laughing. He has no appreciation for the craft of the Over-Dramatic Arts. But he will be wondering soon about the charge I put on his credit card to pay for the webinar. I hope he doesn’t notice it until I absorb enough of these lessons to achieve my greatest goal.

I am going for the Oscar for Best Baby in an Over-Dramatic Role. Winning would be nice. But even being nominated would be an honor.