When you sit down to dinner with a toddler there is actually not that much sitting down involved.
I love to read, and I love my parents to read books to me. Here are some reviews of my favorite books right now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m working on words now. Using them to get things, I mean. I know I want some apricots, and I can say want, which is a pretty short sentence. Sometimes I’ve lengthened the sentence to want apricot. When I need to make it the sentence a little longer longer, I just say:
want want want want want want want wantwantwantwantwantwantwantwantwant, and end it with a sinus-clearing scream. This is effective. It’s not the scream. It’s the repetition that does the trick.
Like pets, parents require repetition in order to learn. You wouldn’t expect your dog to sit or heel upon hearing those commands only one time. It’s the same with parents. You must repeat the commands in a loud voice so they will understand, accompanied by clear hand gestures.
If I am throwing a flashlight on the bare wood floor, making a tremendous racket at 7:45 in the morning and waking the neighbors, I have to do it six or eight times to make my point before my parents understand they are to take the flashlight away from me and hide it somewhere. My mother, who is very kind, will give me back the flashlight even after I’ve thrown it on the floor ten times, infuriating my father for some reason. My father has filled a large plastic container with blocks, plastic spoons and hard-edged toys and hidden it in the closet because he was, he claims, being driven insane by the racket. Don’t think I don’t know where it is. I am just waiting to grow tall enough or get strong enough to drag a chair over so that I can retrieve the racket-making items and resume my work with them.
I like watching his right eyelid twitch with repressed rage as he considers that plastic container of sturm und drang. He knows he is not supposed to yell at me. It’s fascinating to see him turn all that anger inward. I wonder what will happen next.
Words are interesting. You can learn a lot about people by the way they use words. My cat spends a lot of time threatening the birds outside the window, shouting the same word to them over and over. (‘Meow.’) I think he might have OCD. My father spends a lot of time seething, simmering, hissing words about the WiFi when it is not working. My mother never raises her voice to use any kind of word. She has a very tasteful way of sobbing words quietly when she has had enough of my tantrums. She is very kind.
Have you ever read any books written for children? The way they use words, I can only conclude that children’s book writers must have old diapers for brains. They write repetitious words about cats who are friends with little red hens. The only reason a cat would befriend a red hen would be to eat it, and there is no sense at all to saying goodnight to a moon, or to a pair of mittens, or to clocks. It’s inane as hell. Yet it is also a classic of the genre, like any John Grisham novel. Go figure. I have a book that is about red dogs on top of things and blue dogs under things. I like making my father read it to me again and again and watching his eyelid twitch become more pronounced. I just want to see what happens.
Most books for kids have poor story development and shallow characters. Exception: The Very Hungry Caterpillar. That sucker is a page turner. You never know what the caterpillar’s going to eat next, and it took me a while to see that each page added a higher number for counting purposes. (I’m not yet two, okay? Give me a break.) It gave me a lot of ideas about eating cupcakes and ice cream, which so far I have only seen in books, never in real life. If you have any ice cream, see if you can smuggle some over here. I hear it’s good.
Also, any book about trucks deserves a close look. Have I mentioned yet how fascinating trucks are? And books about trucks? Those are the best books. Any book about trucks has a fascinating story and deep character development, and the nuanced shades of difference between a big rig and a forage harvester – it quickens my pulse. When I hear my parents read a sentence like ‘How do you climb into this tall tractor?’ the mind spins with possibilities. I have had my parents read descriptions of dump trucks that take my breath away. Half the fun of this is training my mother to read books about trucks, and notice trucks in real life, and say things like ‘hey, isn’t that a skid steer over there?’ Or ‘did you notice that giant excavator?’ I just love hearing those words come out of her mouth. She is really learning her trucks! It’s gratifying to see her catch on so fast, but a lot of the fun of being a kid is training your parents.
They tell me that it’s Happy Day today and we all should be dancing. You can see somebody behind me dancing in the video. But I want to call your attention to something else. There is a rectangle in front of me, just out of the frame, with a man on it, and he is singing. If anybody can explain this to me, other than saying it is some kind of weird magic, I would appreciate it.
I just realized that the person dancing around me is my mom, and she is busting some of her best moves and even diving in for some closeups, but apparently she hasn’t heard that this is the age of screens, and that is what we all should be paying attention to, even on Happy Day, and even when your own mommy is putting on quite a show. If anybody says the video goes on a little too long, I would take issue with that. If I were just able to watch it for a little longer I would get to the bottom of how and why that man is in the rectangle.
You wouldn’t think you’d be able to have a tantrum about lemon water. After all, the primary consumers of lemon water are spiritual women in their mid-40s and early 50s, and they’re not really prone to tantrums. Meltdowns and, you know, crying jags, but not tantrums.
We are solidly in the tantrum zone these days. Our nearly-21-month-old child has conceived a great passion for lemon water, and he’s added it to his list of things to have a tantrum about. It’s a growing list, and it includes noticing and not being able to have any product that is present on a supermarket shelf, and most things in the larder at home, including figs, apricots, apricot jam, waffles, eggs, and even water in a glass. If mommy is eating or drinking anything, it is worth having a tantrum about if it can’t be instantly shared, especially if it is lemon water. Many things that are invisible to the adult eye are good tantrum material. He can whip up a good tantrum about subtle temperature changes in the air or electromagnetic shifts that it would take an expensive machine to measure. He measures them and has a tantrum about them. If he is shushed, it’s cause for a renewed tantrum. Shoes on, or shoes off. Keeping the screen door open, or closed. Getting dressed, changing a diaper, being told not to throw things are all on the tantrum list.
We have read some books about this, and we’re told to be supportive, make eye contact, and let him work through it. This is especially useful advice to take in Whole Foods, while squeezing a screaming madman through narrow aisles, and people are staring. I generally give them a stupid smile, add an idiodic shrug to say ‘hey, what can do you do?’ and it’s clear to anyone in a four-aisle span in every direction that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, am out of my depth, and really should get into another line of work besides pushing angry toddlers around in strollers.
I am certainly ready to circulate a resume that does not include my vast and deep experience wheeling hysterically sobbing children around in public places, but I know, from my experience being a dad before, that this may very well go on for a while. If you have a sensitive child, like we do, he’s going to lose it for reasons that will be a mystery to his parents. All we can offer is big-eyed compassion, and when that fails, I offer distraction. Today, a vanilla Italian ice worked fairly well. Just don’t tell his mother I gave him one.
In his defense (and there always shall be a defense, especially after these words are read by mothers and grandmothers) he is forming thoughts in his mind faster than he can form words to express them, and he is getting a big honking molar coming in the size of Lake Michigan, and that’s good reason to think that your world is blowing apart, a molar like that, and if somebody can’t get you some lemon water fast enough that’s more than enough reason to ratchet up a window-rattling cry to rip parents’ souls out of their guts and stomp them flat with your little $50-shoe-clad feet. But now I’m probably being oversensitive, probably in the aftermath of paying $25 each foot for shoes that are barely three inches long and two inches wide.
Tiny shoes should not cost $25 each, but don’t get me going into my own tantrum about that, especially when I will need to buy new ones in about two months.
Please, please I beg you to wear a seatbelt when you watch this video. After you watch, do not go out and try something like this without the close supervision of your mommy. I mean it. Now take a deep breath and press play.
When your breathing has slowed down enough to concentrate, you can keep reading. Ready? Ok.
Was that a frickin’ cliffhanger, or what? No special effects required! No stunt double. It was a first take and I nailed it. You probably know that I do all my own stunts, including this one, and also I do all stunts involving throwing stuffed animals out of my crib. I do my own pratfalls. I have a stunt that involves running, not looking where I am going, and crashing into the corner of the couch and bouncing off. No harm, no foul. Nobody can throw food better than I, and nobody can ‘accidentally’ drop a bowl of cereal on the floor like I can and make it seem completely spontaneous.
It was a huge leap of faith for me to work up the courage to do the playground slide. I’d say it took about a year and half to work up the courage, the entire span of my time on Earth, not counting the time I was inside my mommy, but there are no slides in there I am fairly sure, although there are slippery surfaces.
Editor’s note: From time to time this blog veers off the baby track to cover reviews of coffee bars. This is one of those times. If you’re not interested in coffee, wait. There will be another baby blog soon.
Let’s get this out of the way: suspenders have their place during enticingly cross-dressy stagings of Cabaret, but otherwise, when worn by anybody over the age of six, they are annoying. Suspenders, alas, are a central prop in the fussy hipster ethos of Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea.
One thing about Intelligentsia is that the coffee is good. The baristas can pull a shot as good as they come, with lots of nuances. But when the line is out the door and I inch forward waiting for caffeine, I realize they are selling attitude here as much as coffee. It hits me like a bag of over-roasted Sumatra – I am experiencing the scourge of coffee hipsterism.
I tend to like my caffeine delivery systems on the unpretentious side. There is an Italian restaurant nearby that pulls an old school espresso that’s like the kind you find in Rome. I will spend more time with my Hario hand grinder and Aeropress making a double espresso than it takes to drink one. I like the process and the ritual.
These days, just getting out of the house is an exact science governed by the needs and schedule of a small human, and whether or not anybody remembered to do laundry. I shouldn’t be railing against suspenders. I should be grateful to see suspenders, to stand in a line among hipsters. I should revel in hipsterism.
I do not. I just don’t have time.
I realize, at this third round of fatherhood, that it will be a while before I fully rejoin the world I once inhabited, of lively semi-intellectual chatter, of people reading books on iPads, of people having conversations that don’t involve what snacks to bring, and preschools that cost more than $10,000 a year, and sippy cups. It will change, I know. It all changes.
All I can do now is simmer about it silently, working under pressure like a well-pulled shot.
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.