July 31, 2007

Another hard question to answer

Somewhere back around Father's Day, we were playing a game with Mark & Abbey where you answer personal questions. I don't remember the rules of this "game" exactly, but it was more or less Truth or Dare without the Dare option. At one point I was asked "what's the best thing and the worst thing about being a parent"? Or was it "hardest" and "easiest"? I don't quite remember.

My answer, pretty much, was that one best thing about being a father is the permission to love a thing as much as you want, as possessively, fiercely, and uncarefully as you want. Most of the time in our lives we have to be careful with our love -- doling emotion out, in order to respect boundaries, respect other people, respect propriety, observe timelines, and simply protect ourselves. Otherwise people might think you're crazy -- or you might drive yourself crazy. But a baby. . . . well, a baby doesn't mind. The baby will never think you're crazy. Or if it does, it will never tell.

The other part of my answer was that the infant is a hard, ruthless teacher, the hardest I've found. Even the strictest human teachers can give some slack, when slack is needed -- but the child is inhuman, & can give no slack. It's an egg balanced on a spoon for years on end, and it's still balanced there even as you're sleeping. So don't sleep too deeply.

Also, no one ever shows up and tells you you've won the prize. The prize is that the egg didn't fall off the spoon.

This puts me in mind of something I was told when I was in Boy Scouts -- there's this training exercise that Navy Seals have to undergo. Two Seals have to spend a night (or is it a week?) in the wilderness, finding and cooking food, making shelter, etc . . . . all while carrying between the two of them a large tree trunk which is never allowed to touch the ground at ANY time.

This story, whether or not it's true, made a deep impression on me. It's such an unreasonable test. Are people actually capable of facing a test like that? It's so fussy and delicate, yet so brutally physical, it's sort of insane.

Elliot is no tree trunk, but nevertheless I have a much keener sense, now, of just why the Seals would devise a test like that.

The thing about today is that after we got up at 5:30 AM and took a three hour flight, Elliot shat on the dining room floor.

But not only that. There is more to know about our day. For not only did our wee son shit upon our floor, he shat upon the floor three different times. In three different rooms. It was a veritable floor-shit medley -- a floor show, if you will. And in fact, even as I type this, Elliot is pausing mid-crawl to shit again, though this time, helpfully, not on the floor, because he is in fact wearing a diaper.

Why wasn't he wearing a diaper the other times? Well, the story is that he started things off with a substantial, long-awaited shit during the taxi ride home from the airport. We got home, changed that, washed him off, and gave him a chance to "air out" for a while, crawling around on the dining room floor nude and happy while we opened the mail. Because why would he need to go again? He's nearly 11 months old now, he's not a newborn.

This is exactly the kind of logic that can lead you to disaster three times in a row, because it looks just as reasonable the SECOND time, in fact, even more so! It's the kind of thinking that got Hitler invading Russia.

So to recap, Elliot scored five goals today -- he must have lost a couple of pounds, all told -- and three out of these five, as we said, went on the floor. And yet amazingly enough, we paid him back by taking him to the grocery store and spending many dollars on select organic fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and proteins . . . because we're planning on FEEDING him again. Can you imagine?

-sem & blwh


"Can I tell you something?"

ELLIOT (nude)
"Jervy verve."


"His back is . . . perfect."

ELLIOT (nude)
"Goove. Gnaugh. Boove."

July 20, 2007

I'm chatty today!

I know, shut up already, right? But I just finished rereading Harry Potter 6, in time for the last and final volume tomorrow. I had to throw out my predictions for how Rowling is going to wrap this all up.

Because thinking about genre and narrative pacing and readerly desire and expectation is more or less my job, I have a lot of thoughts about the challenges Rowling faces in this last volume. But I'll spare you my narrative-desire-redux and just say:

in my mind, CLEARLY Snape is going to be the innocent one here. I don't think there's any suspence about this at all. It seems obvious that Dumbledore and Snape had made a deal that, if Draco was in a position to kill Dumbledore, that Snape would do it instead. Because Dumbledore believes there is some good in Draco, that would be killed by doing such a nefarious act.

Which leads me to my second prediction, which is that the conclusion will involve Harry and Draco learning to, somehow work together. I think there will be some harry's-parents-are-dead-thus-he-empathizes-with-draco-trying-to-protect-his-own-parents rhetoric.

For a long time, I thought Dumbledore would come back to life. That's just sort of what happens in novels like this: think about Gandolf returning at the crux moment of the lord of the rings, or Aslan reappearing at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And I still think that it would make a certain amount of narrative sense for him to make a grand return, but now I don't think Rowling will do it. She's trying to make things darker, more serious; more epic and less children's lit.

Along those lines, since there's been so much talk about main characters dying--I think it will be Ron. If it's not Ron or Hermione, it would be a total let down after all this build up. And Rowling seems really aware of how compelling it is that poor Harry keeps losing all the men he respects.

What else? I guess nothing specific. But it will be interesting to see how the staple plot elements of the series--the comical introduction with the Dursleys, the relationship-advancing Quiditch game--will or won't be included in the final volume. So much of the series has been about Harry struggling with protective figures of authority. And now there are no authority figures left. I guess this novel will be about Harry becoming a figure of authority. Maybe he will end up Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts! Regardless, you know the novel can't really end without reestablishing Hogwarts as a safe mecca for the wizarding youth. The school itself is like the novel's other hero. If I were Rowling, I'd stage the final show down between Harry and Voldemort in the Great Hall.

Belated Response

So this weekend this really nice guy who we know only casually--we only bump into him about once a year, but always enjoy his company--asked us in a very casual, small talky kind of way, "So, how's parenthood?"

Now, this is a question which we, Brandon and I, have obviously thought about a lot. A lot. We have talked about it. We have written about it. We have pondered its nuances in the bright lakefront sun, and in the dark diaper-filled nights. What do we think about? We think about parenthood, and what it's like, and how it has changed us.

So it was interesting that when this friendly person (really, he's SO nice) posed the question to us, point-blank, we sort of started and looked at each other, and at Elliot paddling around on the grass in front of us, chewing on Brandon's cell phone, and said, "...well...you know....good...it's....good....?"

I mean, how do you answer a question like that? In that place--a park, in a crowd of people? He was interested, but he clearly didn't understand that his question is a very hard one and the answer lodged close to the bone. You just can't ask, "how's parenthood?" in the same way that you'd ask, "how's the new Of Montreal album?" or "how was your trip to Wisconsin?" The question is too intimate. You can give a casual answer--"Oh, great! The best thing I've ever done!"--but it feels so cheap to answer such an important question with a cliche. Sitting there, stymied, I felt like my only options were to be inappropriately confessional with someone I barely know, or to reduce the most transformative experience of my life to a platitude. Which, basically, I refuse to do. So I didn't answer at all.

It was an unfair, if unintentionally so, question. But ever since he asked it, I've been pondering my non-response. I realize that this is a question I will be asked again, by other well-meaning if non-comprehending folk. So I think I need to figure out some way to respond. I've been trying to think of a quick answer that still captures some of my ambivalence about the experience. But how do describe to someone on the outside an experience that changes such bizarre parts of you?

Imagine a world in which you would get poo smeared across your pants, and in which changing your poo-smeared pants would not be the most important thing you had to do. Imagine a dried puke stain on the floor that has been there for three days which you just haven't had time to clean. Imgaine knowing that if you stay up late tonight it will be years before you can really catch up on those lost hours of precious, precious sleep.

Imagine your body as the most comforting, most beloved, most nourishing, most perfect part of another person's world. Imagine spending your days with someone who is fully in the moment, always, who has no sense that this moment's pleasure, this moment's pain, will not last forever. Imagine watching that person sob, because you weren't careful enough, and he fell, and now blood is steaming down his perfectly in-the-moment face. Imagine being able to make that person laugh. Imagine watching him reach for you, with no knowledge that the way he loves you will ever change, and with no fear that your love for him will be anything less than perfect. Imagine wanting your love to be perfect, and knowing that no love ever is. Imagine knowing that you can only come to know this person as a person if you give him up as the baby who loves you, your body, so unconditionally.

Imagine knowing that like Siddartha, like Adam and Eve, your baby too must leave the garden. Imagine knowing, for the first time, what all those stories really mean.

I guess my shorthand answer is: I think parenthood is great, Dan. I just don't think it's to be taken lightly.


Friends, a new word!

Fussticular /fus.tic.u.lar/ adj. [N. Amer]

1: A mood comprising both "fussy" and "particular" elements; ie, wanting only very particular things, and being very fussy if they are not promptly delivered. "Elliot was a little fusticular about his dinner and would only eat sweet potato-coated cheerios."

2: A bad mood, evoking the word "funicular" and its conotations of escalation. "If we're not careful, Elliot is going to ride this fusticular mood all the way to the top."

July 18, 2007

news update

hello friends! despite the absence of posting, we're here and fine. And we have some concrete news to report, which is that Elliot is now officially sporting a fourth (yes, fourth) upper tooth! Very exciting; Julia and I discovered it yesterday afternoon. I'm curious to see what it's like when it comes in a little more. Thus far his upper teeth have been a little...i don't know, disproportionate. It's funny, because his two bottom teeth are so darling and dainty, and tidy--two straight little teeth there, of just the right size. By comparison, his upper teeth are a little, as I like to say, creature from the deep. They are large and textured and spaced oddly. Although I am of course convinced of my child's inherent darlingness...I've gotta keep it real and confess that they are not his most attractive feature.

What else to report? Elliot likes to stand up, now, a lot. As I type this, he's standing and leaning over his basket of toys, using both hands as a brace. But then he gets whipped up about something and grabs a toy with both hands and thunders down on his small bum. But he seems pretty cheerful about it, and gets right up again.

All the standing means that we are having to evaluate more carefully how we feel about child-proofing. Thus far we had gotten away with minimal but, we thought, effective measures--covered up all the really sharp corners, put child locks on anything toxic, etc. We were hoping to not have to put the locks on the rest of the cabinets. But Elliot has a huge fascination with doors and drawers--open! close! open! wham! fondle that hinge!--and though I'm not worried about him getting into any of the remaining cabinets, I am worried about him pinchings his delicate fingers.

Also, he is fascinated with technology, particularly any technology we are using, for instance this computer, which means i mut go...now!

July 09, 2007

I'm finding that it's hard to start blogging again after such a long absence.

We have so much to tell you. It would take oodles long to catch up, and who has the time? But the news just accumulates, like compound interest, and I guess we better start somewhere.

We had a great fourth, marked noticably by Elliot's entry into the world of rhythm. He has started dancing, bobbing frantically to the sound of music. (I must confess to being not only thrilled but a little relieved by this development; all Elliot's baby friends are already accomplished dancers and dancing is one skill I would be sorry for him not to gain.) Along with the frantic bobbing he has also started trying to snap his fingers (can't at all do it, but is thrilled by the attempt) and is also making a "ba-bsh" noise that is very beat-box of him. Just call him Blake Lewis.

Unrelated to the fourth, we went, Friday, to the fabulous and free Lincoln Park Zoo. Ever since I went there two years ago with Peter and Kati I have been yearning for the day when i could take my own small primate to the gorilla house. And we did! It was great, though Elliot is still too small and uncomprehending to notice an animal that is not in motion. Brandon and I stood transfixed by the lion and some small wierdly cat minx creature who reminded us of Ada, but Elliot was unmoved. What was most interesting about our trip was a small, vivid encounter with a chimpanzee. The chimp habitat is very sprawling and clever, and the chimps are very agile and clever, but while we were there all of the chimps were...napping. Complete repose, all over the chimpanzee habitat. So we were standing at the glass, watching the chimps sleep--looking particularly at a large male who was lying blissfully on his back, right by us on the other side of the wall. All of a sudden Elliot made one of his sweet twitchy little hoots and tapped his hand on the glass. And the napping chimp opened his eyes and looked right at Elliot. He totally did. Another woman who does not know us and who thus was unbiased by Elliotlove gasped and said, "Oh! Look! He hears the baby!" I turned to her and said, in a rush, "do you think so? I thought so! But did I just think that because I'm the mom?" And she said, "no! look!" And indeed, the Chimp was tracking Elliot with his eyes, considering his small infant self. "Look at that connection," the unknown woman said.

So, that is a bit of small news about our little ape. More updates to follow.