Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Saga of Laurence

I first ran into Laurence1 at the playground about a week ago. He is a bright, happy, eight year old, and unusually friendly. He seemed to connect to my daughter, and to me as well, and told me all about his loves (basketball, his little brother) and hates (swimming class, third grade testing) and peppered me with questions ("how old are you? thirty? forty? fifty? Are you a photographer? Are you Japanese?") and about Aki, who he called Hockey, no matter how much I tried to correct him.

He seemed sweet, if a little annoying, very hyper but otherwise okay.  Before we left, he asked how often I came to the playground, and I mentioned that we usually came in the mornings. He asked if we could start coming on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and I demurred. Soon after that we took off.

This morning Aki and I headed to the playground, and who should we see on our way there, but Laurence and his little brother. He immediately ran up and said hi. He looked like he was about to jump into my arms, so I took a step back. "Hello Laurence, it's good to see you."

"You came! I didn't think I'd see you again, but you came!" he shouted. He then began filling me in on his week, and running around us, until his nanny finally found him, and without looking at me, shoed him off in the direction of the playground.

Aki and I made our way there, and when we arrived, Laurence was at the gate, waiting to meet us. I have to say that his enthusiasm made me a little uncomfortable. I turned down all of his offers to pick Aki up, or to carry her anywhere. But otherwise, I let Laurence, and eventually his little brother (who is six) play with, and around Aki. He told me a little about his mom, and nothing about his dad (I didn't ask) and it seemed to me that, whatever his home situation, he was clearly desperate for some adult male to talk to. So we chatted, and I kept an eye on Aki.

Eventually his nanny came nearby, and again without looking at or talking to me, called him over in an angry tone and began chastising him in Spanish. I could guess what she was saying by his posture and the tone of her voice.

Eventually he came by again. "I'm not supposed to talk to you anymore, because my nanny says you're a stranger."

"Well, she's right," I said. "I don't know your parents."

"Well, I'll still talk to you. I don't care," he said, and then his younger brother told me his mom's name, and their address, and his birthday. I continued to keep an eye on Aki, and speak to Lawrence or his brother when they snuck over to talk to me, but I also reminded them that their nanny wanted them to be safe. At one point I took some photos of Aki playing in the fountain. "Do you want to take pictures of me?" Lawrence asked. I told him that under no circumstances would I, or could I take any pictures of any of the other kids at the playground, because I don't have his or their parents' permission. I hoped he understood that that's not right, and not something an adult should do.

I do wish the nanny had come over to speak to me. I didn't feel like I had much right, or authority to approach her, given that none of this interest was coming from my side. After about half an hour, she decided they needed to leave, and gestured at Lawrence and his brother from about 20 feet away. Lawrence told me that this was his last day coming to the playground -- he only came after swim lessons at the nearby pool. They had just ended, and so he wouldn't be back until next summer.

"Next time I see Hockey, she'll be two!" he said. "See you then!" and ran off.

---

The quandary here, of course, is that on the one hand I'm a perfectly nice guy. There's no way that I would do anything to harm Lawrence. And he clearly wants/needs some adult companionship beyond his mom and his nanny. I was happy to chat with him and be friends while hanging out at the park.  Even for just a little while he seemed to relish having a grownup to talk to and to take him seriously. And I have no evidence, but I suspect if I was a SAHM instead of a SAHD, the nanny wouldn't have a problem with us hanging out.

On the other hand, I don't necessarily disagree with her. Lawrence probably shouldn't be nearly jumping into the arms of strange men that hang around the playground, regardless of how perfectly nice one or most of them may be. I don't want Aki to be that super-friendly with anyone I haven't met when she's eight. I absolutely get that.

Maybe if I'd been thinking it through I would have gone to the nanny, regardless of how awkward the situation, and suggested that Lawrence join a Big Brothers mentoring program. He clearly would love it. As it stands, I'll have to wait until next summer to bring it up. I hope he stays safe.


1. Not his real name, of course.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Other Ocean

It's picture time. K and The Cuteness and I visited K's sister who lives in L.A. We stayed right near Venice Beach, in Marina Del Rey. There were sea lions yelping all night outside our window, which K described as looking like a pile of wet overcoats. The Cuteness spent some time playing in the surf and eating sand. We watched the surfers do their thing, and ate at an Umami Burger, which I must say those Los Angeleans, for all their healthful aspirations, do up some pretty mean junk food.

















And that West Coast light does The Cuteness some good -- she looks extra glow-y to me, in these shots.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Begifted

Well The Cuteness has begun accepting offerings. This fan was given to her, along with a pretty high-quality umbrella, by a stranger on the subway. When I demurred (we already have an umbrella) the woman insisted in a Russian-inflected accent: No. You take. It is raining, and she knows everything.

Hard to argue with that.

Friday, August 03, 2012

In Which I Learn What I Am Worth


I bought the computer I'm currently typing this on, in May of 2006. It's a very-first-generation Macbook Pro. I was hoping to get seven years out of it. I'm glad to have gotten nearly that. I bought it when I was in grad school at Miami University of Ohio, and I used a generous school loan to pay for it — the cost got rolled up into my other student loans.

It still works, though it's becoming apparent that I'm going to need to update very soon. The latches that keep the computer closed (a feature they did away with in the next iteration) are bent, making it hard to open. The computer hasn't accepted power from a battery for more than two years; it shuts down a minute or two after the power cord is removed. These are livable problems: the killer is that it's hard to keep more than one or two programs open without the computer becoming almost unbearably slow, and as I make a little bit of money using photo editing software and doing web building, I need a computer that doesn't stall or crash, which it's started doing.

So it's time to buy a new computer. Since we don't have a lot of money saved up, I decided to finance it. I looked at Apple's financing program, but figured I could do better. I went to where we bank — Chase — and saw that they were offering credit cards with much more competitive offers. The application was so easy, and I was so delighted to get immediate approval, that I wrote this funny little piece on Facebook right after (you can skip if you've read it):

Lately whenever I open up my computer, it puts one hand on its knee, and holds up a finger while breathing heavily for a couple minutes. Since it seems the average computer has the life span of a gerbil, and mine's been spinning the ol' internet-wheel for seven (auspicious) years now, it's more or less time to put it out to digital pasture and give one of those glorious newfangled things with the decimal place moved over on all the numbers a shot. 
"But!" says the barely audible voice that maintains mental track of my finances, "you don't, as Chris B. says, got the scrilla." 
"This is America," I say. "We play with other people's money 'round these parts." So I go hunting around for a good zero-apr-for-many-months kind of thing to let me make a major purchase and pay it all off before I accidentally owe somebody something (I LISTEN to that quiet voice. It's just quiet is all. Quiet is a fine way to be sometimes)...
... and I find a good looking card that's all slick because the front's designed by like i.m. pei or something and the words are sideways, but it also has the right numbers in tiny font at the bottom of the screen, and I go ahead and click "apply." Now, it's been a short while since I've applied for a credit card. I was younger then. Banks maintained some level of discernment. I remember having to give hair and blood samples. I know things got easier for a bit, but I heard that crashed the economy, so I was expecting it would be something of a process. Instead it went like this: 
Credit Card Application: Hi There! We'd LOVE to put some of our money in your pocket! Can you answer a few questions?
Me: Sure.
CCA: Do you seem like a nice enough guy?
Me: I do seem like a nice enough guy.
CCA: You live somewhere, right?
Me: In a place, with a child and a wife.
CCA: You work?
Me: Nope. But my child is mighty cute.
CCA: Good enough! Have fun with all the things you are about to have! 
... All right then, America. Tomorrow may be a wall of fire, but tonight we shall dance. 

Ah, how wrong I was. When the card came, it had a credit limit of $300. I actually thought it was a typo. I haven't had a limit so low since I was in high school, if then. But when I looked at the fine print, it mentioned that my credit score was a full 150 points lower than it had been last year. I went online to check my credit scores and found that the agency Chase used had listed one of my other credit cards as closed, when it wasn't. I filed a dispute. Clearly, this was all just a big misunderstanding. I called Chase to explain and see if they could raise my credit to something that would allow me to make an actual purchase.

It was during my phone call with Chase when it began to dawn on me that there weren't any misunderstandings. The first thing the woman on the phone did was ask what my last year's income was. I explained that I'm a homemaker, but my wife — she cut me off. "I just need your income, not your wife's."

"But, well, you see, I'm a stay-at-home dad. So it's our household income that pays all the bills," I said.

"Well, we need to know that you'll be able to cover any bills in the event that.. well..."

"Are you saying that Chase Bank is worried that I won't be married soon?" I asked, astounded.

"We don't like to put it that way, but… yes." I didn't know what to say. The woman put me on hold and must have checked with a supervisor, because she came back and said they'd accept the household income. I was shaken. When my request for a higher credit limit was processed, they raised it from $300 to $500. That's it. There was nothing more they were willing to do. I hung up the phone.

I then went to my old credit card at Bank of America, the one that I thought had mistakenly been listed as closed. This one had a less-decent APR, but it also had a $10,000 line of credit on it. When I spoke to a rep I discovered that it had indeed been closed as of early July. Without notice. In fact, the website still showed it as open. This was a credit card that I'd had for at least ten years. So when they closed it, it just killed my credit score. It turned out that low score Chase was looking at was accurate. In desperation, I went to Apple's website and applied for their financing.

I was, of course, denied.

In all three of these instances of applying for credit, I had to tell the representative my occupation. In the little drop-down menu box of options, the technical term for what I do, apparently, is "homemaker." Saying this on the phone was always followed by a moment of awkward silence. It's clear this doesn't make credit card companies feel very secure about my ability to pay my debts, despite the fact that I am exceedingly good about paying on time, often above the minimum due, and have been for years. Until a year ago I enjoyed excellent credit. In fact BOA closed my account without stating a reason (the representative said it was listed as "at the bank's discretion"). If I had to guess, it was because I didn't use it enough. The last month that I carried a balance on it was April.

Part of what is hard about this, for me, is that it represents a very literal, if not a very figurative estimation of my current worth. As a "homemaker," I can see that I have lost exactly $9,500 in hard-currency worth. This was worth I started building when I was a non-profit manager, and continued to enjoy while I was a graduate student and a Fulbright scholar. I no longer have access to it.

Now, there are several things I should be clear about: I realize that no one denied me credit because I am a homemaker. If anything, it was because I refused to be in debt often enough. And whether the banks know it, I know that none of this has anything to do with my ability to make regular payments. This is temporary. Karen has put a card in my name, and I will use it regularly to make small purchases, pay them off, and will rebuild my credit rating as a homemaker.  But right now, being technically jobless makes it much harder for me to get a line of credit on my own. I'm confident that $300 is far below what an employed person with even with my current credit rating would have been offered. Which is an incredibly frustrating side effect of being a stay-at-home dad. More frustrating even, than potty training.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An open letter to Mayor Bloomberg, about the cuts to library funding

The city of New York is looking to cut the budgets of its Public Library systems by up to a third. The following is an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg on the subject:

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,


This is a real letter.

My daughter is 19 months old, and we go to the library once or twice a month. We pick up books for her, and books for myself, and we take them home and read them, and then bring them back. These books are helping her learn to speak, and to recognize colors and shapes. They will eventually help her to learn stories, and to read. We visit three different branches near our house -- the Sunset Park branch, the Borough Park branch, and the Windsor Terrace branch.

The Brooklyn Public Library system isn't the best in the country. Ohio Public Libraries, where I went to high school, were much better. The public library in Princeton NJ, where my wife grew up, is fantastic. Even Brooklyn's main branch, which is both beautiful and impressive, doesn't come close to offering the range of books, videos and cds that those other two library systems have.

And the BPL and NYPL systems are expensive to run, I'm very sure. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use them. We must churn through a lot of books, to say nothing of magazines, cds, etc. So I'm not saying there aren't very just reasons that these library systems aren't the best. I'm sure it's costly to have a library that serves such a huge concentration of people.

But there's no doubt that these libraries are vital, to me personally, but also to this bright, vibrant city. Really, really vital. The library system here is an example of some of the best ideas that America has had about itself: that it is a place where everyone can come to learn, and to succeed. Everyone can and should have access to books, to knowledge, to information and entertainment, and most importantly to the entire ecosystem of ideas, from the dull to the dangerous. Because who knows who our next Tesla will be, or where s/he'll come from?

So New York's libraries shouldn't just be sufficient. They should be, like the rest of New York, the best in the nation. They should set examples for the rest of the country. They should be amazing, like the parks, the bridges, the police, the fire fighters.

I hear budget numbers and I'm not nearly informed enough to know what they mean, or how they fit into the history of the Brooklyn and New York Public Library systems. And I have no idea if BPL or NYPL can survive, or continue to meet the needs of its patrons with the new budget. I'm sure you think they can, and I'm sure they think they can't.

But I'm also sure that cutting the budget represents a serious lack of faith in the mission of the library systems, and a lack of will to see these libraries be the best. Which is a lack of faith in the people of New York City to be their best. For a mayor who, it seems, has prided himself on making the city a better place to live and grow (which in many ways, he's done), this seems to be sadly short-sighted.

My daughter will learn to read, even if the libraries shrivel up and die. But she won't learn that the government, or the city, believes in her. And she'll be that much less likely to believe in it back. What a shame.

Sincerely,

Christopher Michel

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh, Crap.

Well, we're potty training.

For the most part, when it comes to figuring out how to do all this stuff that we've never done before, we've referred to just a handful of books, one of them being our pediatrician's guidebook, The New Basics. What I like about this particular book is that it's pretty laissez-faire. Michel Cohen, who wrote the book, is French and his advice basically boils down to "don't worry so much." I like that.

The book's been super useful. When Aki started getting picky about eating, and we were worried that we'd be down to hot dogs and ketchup in no time, I picked up the book and looked up picky eating. It said "The best reasons for a toddler to eat are hunger and pleasure." When it's time to eat, you put the food you made in front of her. If she eats, great, if she pushes it away or starts throwing it, no problem. Take it away, wait until the next meal time, and serve it again.  No praise or pressure for either choice: you choose what she eats, and she chooses how much. She'll eat as much as she's hungry for, when she's hungry. And it worked like a charm. We had one rough meal, where she went to sleep without dinner because she didn't want it. And she woke up very hungry the next morning. And she saw the dinner. And she was very very sad. Then she got over it and started eating. Booya.

So when it came time for the potty training, I went back to the book, and looked up what to do.

You should read that link. You really, really should read it. In fact, here, I'll just repost it for you:


Okay, get ready for this. No matter what you may have heard or read, toilet training is unnecessary. Children learn to move on from diapers, not because they are run through drills but because they become sensitive to the increasing  discomfort of marinating in their own dirty diapers. Just like any other milestone, this occurs naturally as a normal part of a child’s development, and it does not require training. 
Oddly, modern technology delays the process somewhat; today’s diapers, which are super-absorbent and designed to fit perfectly, don’t cause the same discomfort that diapers did in years past. I bet one of the reasons you’re toilet trained is that you grew tired of walking around with a soggy, stinky diaper around your waist. Nowadays, children are less motivated to graduate from this phase as quickly. This delay may make you wonder if Jimmy is ever going to be out of his diapers. Compounding the issue, day-care centers and preschools often impose toilet-training ultimatums for enrolling children, not so much for your child’s benefit as for their own convenience 
The truth is that all children will be done with diapers eventually, some earlier than average, some later. But the child-care industry and certain behavioral psychologists have conspired to create a huge amount of pressure for children and parents alike. I recommend that you merely help Jimmy decide when he wants to be clean and offer a little assistance along the way. My laissez-faire toilet training method, scientifically tested on my own three children, goes something like this: 
  1. Once Jimmy becomes aware of his daily waste production, around eighteen months of age, he’ll start to let you know when his diaper is full. This is a fine time to start the process.
  2. Buy a potty, and set it on the floor in the bathroom next to the adult toilet. There’s no need to discuss the function of this new piece of furniture.
  3. Let him run around naked as often as you can and wherever it’s practical. Not only is this the best way to prevent diaper rashes, it will make him much more conscious of what comes out of him. Unless you have expensive carpeting, it makes little difference whether you swab the floor or swab his butt.
  4. Now let him go about his normal business. Occasionally, he’ll stop playing to go number one or two. The first few times, he’ll be surprised to see what comes out of him and may even enjoy the novelty, but that will wear off quickly when he slips in his own urine. Soon enough, when he feels the urge, he’ll look around for a place to satisfy his needs where he won’t be bothered by them later. That’s when he’ll remember the new piece of furniture.
  5. Because Jimmy vaguely remembers seeing you—his role model—sit on the toilet, he’ll mimic you.
  6. Before he has fully mastered his potty, he might ask you for a diaper when he feels the urge. Oblige without comment. This is just as good as going to the potty.
  7. If the process becomes too messy or starts to drag on, you may have started too early. Give it a few weeks and try again.
WHAT NOT TO DO
  • Don’t pressure Jimmy. Pressure can be as subtle as a suggestion. It is at best pointless and at worst can delay the process and even lead to stool retention, a dramatic situation wherein kids withhold their stools intentionally [See: Stool Retention]. If your child’s day-care center or preschool pressures you, just pay your tuition on time, tell the director that Jimmy’s almost there, and stand by him supportively.
  • Don’t reward or bribe him because he went to the potty. Jimmy is definitely smarter than a pet and will figure out that you have a major stake in his bladder and bowel elimination. As part of the toddler exploration stage, he’ll try to reverse the circuit and figure out what happens when he does not use the potty. Also, rewards become a form of pressure, because he will start to feel punished without them.
  • Don’t make him watch toilet-training videos or read toilet-training books. They are boring and unproductive.
  • Don’t suggest that Jimmy sit on the potty when he’s not feeling the urge. He won’t understand what he is doing there if he does not have the need.
  • Don’t rush him onto the potty if he starts urinating or defecating elsewhere in the house. You probably won’t get him there in time, and these mad dashes will introduce unnecessary commotion.
  • Don’t worry if he suffers occasional setbacks after achieving some control. It’s not always a perfect process. 
If you stick to this method, most kids will naturally achieve control between the second and the third years, first with urine and then with defecation. When they are comfortable with the potty, the transition to a real toilet happens relatively slowly but spontaneously. 

...Okay. So that stopped me in my tracks for a bit. Letting Aki shit on the floor felt a little too laissez-faire. I was half wondering if Cohen was playing a big joke on parents, and when we went in for our 18 month checkup, we'd get the real dirt (ahem) on how to potty train. But nope: the pediatrician asked if we were going diaper-less yet, and mentioned that since it's getting nice out, we should take the potty out to the park for a few hours and try it there. 

Well, hmm I thought. Maybe this is where I start losing my cool-parent cred. I'm okay with that. I bought a potty book with reward stickers (it's really insipid. You know a book is bad when there's no author) and I started putting Aki on the potty and reading it to her over and over, promising stickers if she pooped. I looked at her face for clues that she was pooping, and would rush her diaper off and then toss her onto the potty. She sat, compliant enough, listening to the potty book until she got bored, then she'd get up, and I'd put her diaper back on, and a few minutes later she'd poop.

Finally, earlier this week, we packed up the last two rugs in the bedroom and living room, and this morning, we took off her diaper, put the potty in the living room, and let her run around. She peed. Onto the floor. Three times. The third time she got upset about it, and I put her on the potty. But cleaning it up wasn't terrible. Our floors are a very resistant bamboo, and are very cleanable. But she also hasn't pooped yet.

Am I crazy for doing this? I don't know. I hope it works. We'll give it maybe a week and then try again later, I expect. It's weirdly nerve-wracking. But I think it's better than making her feel pressure to poop or pee, and I'm confident that she's smart enough to figure this out. So who knows. Maybe we'll be buying big-girl underwear this weekend. Maybe just an extra bottle of Murphy's.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anything is Possible

I've been performing magic tricks for Aki. Not good ones: standard kooky uncle fare: "grabbing" a small toy with one hand, and making it appear in another hand, juggling a little, making things appear from behind her ears. I do the wavy trick with a wooden spoon, where it looks like it's bending.

The thing is, this doesn't surprise her in the least. Why should it? She's eighteen months old. She recently began trying out three- and four-syllable words (she's got, like, 80% of "Happy Birthday" and it was momentous). She says there's no poo in her pants when there is clearly poo in her pants.

What I mean is she's still a long ways from the incessant "why" phase, which will be when she starts understanding what things should be. And that will be when she can be surprised by something that shouldn't be. But I have fun doing them, mostly because I like watching her reactions, or her non-reactions. Why shouldn't spoons be bendy? Why shouldn't toys hang in the air sometimes? The more I think about Aki, and what she's going through, and try to remember what my experiences were like when I was very young, what strikes me is how much growing is essentially a loss of magic. Not the bad-uncle magic (though that too), but the actual magic. The anything-is-possible kind. Growing up is understanding. It's having experiences, and using those experiences to form a sense of what is possible, and what is not. And hopefully it's buttressing those experiences with other people's experiences through books and radio and yes, even a little television.

Right now, eighteen months in, Aki has just started to figure out that some sounds mean things and others don't. She can walk, and she trusts that she won't fall off the planet when she goes down the slide. And she's trying lots of things out — grabbing them, tasting them, smelling them, banging them on other things. But the solidity of everything is still an open question. It's equally possible that I can juggle, and that I can make toys appear and disappear, or that a spoon is hard sometimes and bendy other times.

When I was five, I had an imaginary friend named Mr. Muckluck, who was from Alaska. When I was nine or ten, I read a book about a guy who walks on water because he believes he can walk on water. I spent months, every night, in my bathtub, trying to believe hard enough to walk on water too. When I was fourteen I still liked to bust clouds on nice days, because it worked often enough that I could still believe it.  Much of my childhood was spent interacting with magic, those kinds and other kinds. But slowly I learned what did and didn't work in terms of my world, if not always, at least most of the time.

It feels like growing up has been a long process of differentiating the possible from the impossible. And if my world feels surer, it's also that much less exciting because of what I understand.

But here's Aki. As I'm writing this, she just tried to stick her stuffed rabbit to the wall. It didn't work, but the sticker next to it stuck. So who knows. Anything is still possible.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Why We're Raising Our Kid Without TV

The short answer:

We're probably hippies I don't know.


The longer answer:

When people ask, and the short answer doesn't suffice, I tell them that Karen went to grade school in the Waldorf system, which has some great ideas, and some kind of loopy ones, but one of which was no television for kids. And we're considering sending Aki to Waldorf (which I'm not sure is even true, but we say it) and we like it and it works for us. So, hooray!

Which usually suffices. But that's not the whole truth. Generally, I avoid the whole truth, because I want to avoid sounding (or even being) judgmental. And TV is one of those weirdly hot-button issues, where every time it comes up, I get either the guilty-parent whisper: "I-know-it's-not-great-but-I-wouldn't-get-a-shower-otherwise-or-a-goddamn-half-second-to-myself-without-Dora." ...or I get the huffy stare and the unspoken reference to the short answer above. Once, when she thought I was out of earshot, I heard another mother exclaim "Well what is that poor child going talk to other kids about on the playground? How will she even know what a Pilgrim looks like?" (yeah. that one left me speechless).

But let me be clear: I am NOT making a judgment call for anyone else's kids. I think it's fine, (fine! really!) if you want to let your kids watch TV. Really. Raising a kid is tough. You do what you have to to get by. So I'm not pointing any fingers.

How


We're not being ├╝ber-strict about this: we don't hiss like vampires when a screen is on in her presence. She skypes with godparents and grandparents. We've eaten in diners with the TVs on. We even have a TV in our house (which goes on after she goes to bed). But here's where I draw the line: no half hour of Sesame Street. No Nick Jr. Not even the kids' stuff we love. It's not a part of our day. We play with toys, read books, visit the park... and when I need her to play quietly by herself (to write this post for instance), I surround her with blocks and dolls, and let her go wild.

Why

The American Pediatrics's Association recommends against it.  But I don't consult with them on other ways to raise my kid (maybe I should!), so that's more a matter of them agreeing with me (or at least us both agreeing) than me agreeing with them. And I'm not kidding about the Waldorf thing — it plays a part. I grew up with lots of television (albeit intermittent attempts to limit and control it by my parents) and Karen grew up sneaking TV at friends' houses, and not really participating in mass culture until middle or high school. Karen has a much better-developed ability to focus and work long-term on tasks, and while that's not the only difference between us, I think the limited tv during her formative years helped, or at least didn't hurt any.

Years and years ago, when I was in high school, I found and read a book by an author, whose actual name is, delightfully, Jerry Mander. If he's known at all, it's for his book, the Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. That book went the furthest to convince me that tv -- not the content, but the medium is fundamentally troublesome. I don't want Aki to participate in it until she can at least understand some of the major complications (which is a whole separate post) with the way TV works at conveying information.

But most of all, maybe more than anything, I want Aki to have a fully developed imagination as early as possible. And TV is a storytelling device that we like because it does all the work -- it provides sound and image, narration and picture and noise all together. You don't have to imagine anything except, perhaps, how things smell or taste. 90% of the work is done, which limits the brain's need to develop its own imagination. Instead she'll get stories, and dolls, and blocks, and will have to make her own things up.  At least for a few years, she'll just have to imagine her own Pilgrims.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

May your poems never rest, Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich.  I have her Twenty Four Love Poems and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me Thus Far on my shelf -- two books that I bought when I was young enough to love a poetry (or a poet, or anything, for that matter) without hesitation or interest in codifying or pacifying that love.

I haven't read her books in years. Mostly I've been afraid to open them up and find that they are merely, as NPR so classily put it, Feminist.  But I think I know better.

I saw her read in Middlebury way back when. Even then her skin was papery and see-through, covered in a net of wrinkles. I thought she must be the oldest person I'd ever seen. She was probably in her early 70s, or late 60s. She was also beautiful.

Over at AVClub, Steve Hyden has been musing philosophical about what it means to be a fan: "you end up forming a weird, sacred, and irrational bond that’s entirely one-sided and exists only in your mind." It's true. I loved Adrienne Rich with the full understanding that I didn't know or necessarily understand her. It was complicated even more by the fact that I was (and still am) male -- which would have made any actual interaction with her tense, I suspect (at one point she was banning men from attending her readings. A professor I had once told me he stood outside the room just to hear her).

But her poems made me want to be a better person, and they made me want a better world, and more importantly, they made me love her and love language.

It's customary to wish that the dead have a peaceful rest. I don't know where Adrienne Rich is, now, or if she is. I don't know if she exists enough to rest. But I don't really know her anyway -- I know her poems. And I hope they don't rest. I hope they keep affecting and infecting readers for a long, long time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One Year Review

I began being a full-time dad when Akiko was just about three months old. Karen went back to work, and I began to settle into this new position -- wildly rewarding, terribly paying (actually, I'm kept quite well, thank you very much) and strangely hard to define.  Aki's not quite verbal enough to give me my one-year performance review, but I think I can be gimlet-eyed enough for the two of us. So here it is, my self-assessment of the SAHD performance so far, and some goals for the following year:

Feeding and Cleaning: On the basics, I'm scoring pretty high. It's a rare day that The Cuteness goes too long without being changed, and though we had some rough spots in the beginning, she took to eating as well as you'd expect, being raised by foodies like us. No choking, no major diaper rashes, she's eaten a wide variety of plants and animals, and has gained the right amounts of weight in the proper periods. Grade: A


Reading and Singing: I'm going to be straightforward here. I'm not much of a singer. But I've learned to belt out my tremulous lullabies without hesitation when needed. My repertoire is more or less the same three songs over and over (and one of them I keep making up different words to, even though it's a real song and I could just learn the lyrics dammit), which is definitely sub-par. Especially in this household of singers. But when she's sleepy, or upset, I can get the job done. As for the reading, you would think this would be where I shine, but it turns out that we like very different books. I've tried (oh, how I've tried) to expose her to materials more to my taste, but just taking Ted Hughes off the shelf can cause waterworks. I try to spice up the books she likes, but she mostly just wants to flip through as fast as possible, or gnaw on the pages.
Grade: B+


Dancing and Playing: This may be my weakest area. I can sustain maybe 1/2 hour or 45 minutes max, and then I tap out. The Cuteness, meanwhile is ready to keep going. So there's a lot of "Daddy needs a few minutes to ignore you and play with his phone now, honey" that doesn't go over so well. We started out strong, but as the fall has worn out, I've turned, increasingly, to wandering around after her, and watching her largely play by herself. No good!  We're going to start the new year with some more organized playtime, including a playgroup on Wednesdays, and that should help. But definitely, improvements could be made in this area.
Grade: B-

Naps: She gets a lot of these. Too many? Hard to say. But they keep her well-rested and young looking.
Grade: A-


General Performance and Goals: This was a tough year. All the books say it will be, and it was. But we've successfully transitioned from a tiny little critter, through crawling, to walking and talking (a little). This next year is going to be about building on those skills, as well as developing some basic socialization. I'm looking forward to building vocabulary, continuing to try to expose her to more complex and interesting reading materials, and focusing on manual dexterity, as well as running and treating the cat slightly better. We're also going to shift some paradigms and try to focus on our core processes in order to create a better customer experience.
Overall Grade: B+

Friday, December 09, 2011

Setbacks

I didn't write today. I don't want this blog to end up being a record of my setbacks, and to be fair, I wrote for 45 minutes to an hour every other day this week, so I don't feel like I've been set too far back. But I made plans to write this morning, I set everything up, and then I woke up in the middle of the night with a bit of a stomach ache, and made that my excuse to not get up. The alarm went off, I went and turned it off and got back into bed.

I mean, I'm only a week into this thing, but already I'm nervous about it. And my expectations aren't to knock Huck Finn off the bookshelf or anything. I just want to put a readable story together, that's relatively long.

But there's that word, "readable."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A year long goal

So The Cuteness is now older than a year. A year. Some time back in my own prehistory a year was a Forever kind of time. I counted my own age in half-years and a month was a nearly endless thing, instead of slipping by like they do now. There some evidence that this isn't just me, that we all experience it. But having The Cuteness around makes it harder to let time slip away. It slows you down, literally and figuratively. She changes and changes, and all those little milestones have a way of marking time, hour to hour, week to week, month to month.

She's walking now, and talking. I like to joke that the next step is getting a cell phone and asking for car keys, but it's true that, basically until she's 20, these milestones will keep happening. Which is to say until I'm 54. Which makes me think a lot about my own writing. In the past, I tended to write in fits and bursts, sprinting, as it were. But my life isn't really like that much right now. It's more like a marathon -- a long run, punctuated by many little milestones. So it feels right that I should try to write like that.

So this is my next year: I'm going to write a novel. I've come to some kind of resting-place, poetry wise, and sitting down to write more poems at the moment doesn't feel like it would be a step forward in any way. I'm going to put out a book, soon, to punctuate the poetry-writing (have a manuscript, and an amazing designer who is working on it.) It'll be a self-published thing, but a beautiful one, and I'm very proud of the work in it. And maybe (probably) I'll get back to poetry after next year. But I'm going to put it on hold for now.

As for the novel: I've no idea what it's going to be like. I know way, way too many novelists (yeah that last one's a brag) to think that this will be anything but a long and difficult journey. And I've never tried writing prose at anything close to this length. I've only taken a few stabs at short stories, and I wouldn't say I've had much of anything like publishable success. But I'm going to give myself a year, plus some. From now, until January 1, 2013, I'll compile a lot of words all together, in a single document, on a particular subject, and I'll give myself until then to see if I can make anything readable out of it. Most likely it won't be. But who knows? I've learned a lot by watching and reading the very, very excellent writers around me. What I've learned most is that it's a matter of putting one word after the other, without fear.

I know I'm scared. I've worked on it for three days now, and even though I'm trying to give myself an hour each day to do the work, I only made it 45 minutes before giving up. But I'll sit back down tomorrow and try again.

In the meantime, The Cuteness has started walking all over the place. She doesn't like being held anymore. She figured out how to put one foot in front of the other, and nothing holds her back. Every time she falls, she gets up, re-situates herself, and starts again.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Break

When I was thirteen years old R.E.M.'s Out of Time was released, and the music video to Losing My Religion came out on MTV, which still primarily played music videos. I watched a lot of tv then, especially after school, and whenever that video came out, I made sure to pay attention. The lyrics were unlike anything I'd ever heard before. I didn't know people could write like that, or sing like that. I didn't know words could mean like that. Part of it was the way Michael Stipe half-mumbled some of them, so that I had to lean in, listening, over and over, and try to understand and make sense of things. There wasn't an internet then, so I couldn't just look the lyrics up.

The album was released in March, the video came out sometime before that, and I asked for the CD (or tape, more likely) for my birthday in June. I already had the song memorized. I loved it. That summer a guy my step-dad worked for introduced me to the entire back catalogue of REM's music, and I began collecting everything I could. That fall, I went to high school, and, as typically happens around then, I began to listen to music more seriously, and to be introduced to cool new bands by older classmates and friends -- Morrisey, The Pixies, Nirvana, U2, Pearl Jam... these bands replaced Genesis, Paul Simon, and Bon Jovi as the new group of musicians that I listened to and talked about. And all of them were something that someone else told me I absolutely had to listen to.

Except R.E.M. They were all mine. I knew about them first. And I loved them -- loved their lyrics, especially off of Life's Rich Pageant and Reckoning. I loved their melodies, the way they reinvented themselves every time. The next year Automatic For The People came out, and my mind was blown. I would spend hours in my room listening to that cd over and over again. I got the special early-edition copy, which had clear yellow plastic instead of the basic black for the cd tray. I poured over the liner notes, and put Night Swimming on repeat. For a while I had every single song, single, b-side, and radio broadcast the band ever did, and was well on my way to collecting every bootleg I could find.

After Bill Berry left the band, a lot of my enthusiasm waned. I found myself no longer tracking down all the bsides and rarities. Then Up came out, and it was... kind of a disappointment. I didn't buy Reveal. I remember when Around The Sun came out, and a guy at a party went off about how R.E.M. was a total crap band that no one cared about, and they should just quit. And I thought about how, ten or even five years earlier, I would have leapt to their defense, would have jumped all over the guy. But I found myself agreeing with him. And it made me sad. R.E.M. was my favorite band in the whole world at one time -- a time when having a favorite band in the whole world was something one could do without any sense of shame or irony. But they were mine. I loved them. And I still love them.

Which is why hearing that they've called it quits feels more or less okay. These guys rewrote rock and roll. They put poetry into their music. They wrote dense, weird, complicated things, and they got huge off of it, and had millions of fans, and sold out arenas. And they sang songs like this:



also, hearing that Michael Stipe has started doing things like this makes me feel like putting my fingers in my ears and going "la la la" whenever anyone describes them after, like, 1998.

(ps if the video link is garbage and you're reading this on facebook, you can find it on the website: http://heyitsgogi.blogspot.com)

Oh right, I have a blog

So this last week or so, The Mom has been out of town (off of the continent, actually, about 8 timezones to the right). Which has meant that I've had The Cuteness all to myself, more or less. Add to this the simultaneous facts that 1. We're moving apartments in two and a half weeks, and 2. I've been having some extremely stressful personal extended family issues that has pushed me into counseling, and it's been quite a time.

I have to say I was seriously worried about what this week would hold. How quickly, and how often would The Cuteness push me to my edge? How many times would we both break down? Would her first words be "Where the $%@# is mom?"

Truth is, it's been blessedly low-key. She's turning into a real joy to interact with. She's totally chill, and is mostly into exploring. We've gone for a few long walks, took a trip to the local zoo (otters and porcupines, not so much with larger animals). And her biggest freak-out so far was when she climbed under the giant plastic bin where we keep her toys and couldn't quite figure out how to get back out again. More cute!

The biggest deal was with the food. The Mom is still breastfeeding, which is a part of the bargain I can't really uphold. So we're doing the formula thing. But at night, she mostly wants to skip the real food dinner and has been sucking down like three times more formula than typical. Which means that she wakes up super hungry (cause milk isn't a meal for her anymore). But it's a comfort thing, I get it. So we're dealing with it for now, and she'll get mom back tomorrow night. We both will.

Oh, right, and she started walking about, with one hand on something. She circles the room like this. It's pretty awesome:



video

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brooklyn Rail

Shameless self promotion time: I've got a review in the Brooklyn Rail that just came out. Three graphic novel memoirs: Are they true? Are they good? Does the first question matter?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

It never ends

So I’m talking with my buddy Matt the other day. Matt is also a new parent, with a child just a little older than Aki. And so he is also exhausted. And he says: “The thing they don’t tell you about parenting is how it just doesn’t ever end.”

I mean, sure, you can take breaks — get a babysitter, go to the movies. The baby goes down for naps and you can hurry up and shave or try to get, say, a blog post written. But for the last eight and a half months, even at my absolute farthest away from the babe, she’s in the back of my mind. I feel responsible for something — someone — like I never knew was possible. And it’s a pretty wrenching adjustment into the encumbered life, to be sure.

Not that long ago one of my favorite activies was to stare down a long Sunday afternoon and wonder what I was going to do with it. I’d contemplate which of several books to read, or noodle through the entrails of a poem, or just perch out on my porch with a beer, and consider my miniscule place in the universe. I’m a goddamned poet. It’s what I’m trained for. But I’m not alone. Most everyone has cherished, at some point, that kind of still-time in their lives. Maybe it’s the 5am sunrise after a Friday night out. Or the muffled solitude at the top floor of a library. But you take a breath, you note the momentary stillness, and you think “freedom.”

But I haven’t had that in eight months, and I don’t see a time where I’m likely to have that again for a while. And this is because I’m constantly on the verge of being needed. And not just needed, but NEEDED. There are barely enough hours in the day to get Aki fed (three solids, plus a couple bottles) napped, changed, socialized (have we spend time with other babies lately?) played-with (she’s learning to pass things from one hand to the other. We practice), nevermind grocery shopping (low on diapers!), house cleaning (yep, that’s a wad of cat hair in her hand), or the part-time data entry and editing I’ve actually been paid to do. And whatever it is I’m working on, I drop it all in a heartbeat as soon as I’m NEEDED again. It’s exhausting. It never ends.

On the other hand, (and how do I put this) … I’m needed. And not just needed, but NEEDED. It’s a particularly quotidian joy to be depended on like this, but it is absolutely a joy. Absolutely. And it comes fraught with the knowledge that I will always and forever be letting Aki down. Because I can’t be there for her the way she expects me to. I can’t catch her every single time she falls. I can’t immediately tell if the cry means “food now, kplsthnks” or “this teething thing sucks” or “how in God’s name do you not notice that awful smell in my pants.” But wow, is it actually very nice to be NEEDED. I have no worries about whether what I’m doing has purpose. I have, at this moment, no existential concerns.

It’ll be a joy - truly - to have free time again, when she’s older, and carving out a life that’s separate from mine, and no longer expects me to catch her every time she falls. But it’s pretty great right now when she wakes up and, looking for me, sees that I’m there and knows that everything is all right.