Conversations in My Head Using Words

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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.

It’s Happy Day, so I am Watching a Screen

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.

Tantrums

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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.

Don’t Try this at Home – Try it in a Playground

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.

Coffee Bar Review: Hipsterism

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.

The Efficiency of Our Systems

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

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

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

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

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Phoney Behavior Continues

This is how baby logic works. Mommy has a purple cover on her iPhone. A yoga block is purple. Therefore a yoga block will work as a phone. Surprisingly it does, and not only is the coverage good but there’s also a data plan.

Bet You Didn’t Know that Was a Telephone

Psychologists call this dramatic play, but we call it hilarious.

Strange Holiday Behavior

Bodhi-ChristmasTree-admiring-cropOkay, this is weird. My parents have gone out and brought a tree into the house. I understood completely why they brought a cat into the house. The point of the cat was to introduce a sense of wildness and nature into our highly domesticated and orderly environment, and also to have something fuzzy and scratchy and affectionate to clean up after, aside from me.

But a tree – that just crosses the line. Trees belong outside. Period.

Look, I know it’s Christmas and everything (and thank you everybody for all the trucks because I can never have enough toy trucks, and for the puzzles, because those pieces look really good under the couch right now).  I know enough about the history of this holiday to know that it originated in the desert, and pine trees and snow have nothing to do with the desert. But I also know enough not to get into philosophical discussions with people at this time of year, because they are drinking too much egg nog, or else they are cloudy of mind, flashing back to their own childhood holiday experiences, the bounty or lack of emotion thereof, and it’s really just a mess.  On a human, emotional level, I mean. So let it go, I say.  Let it go.

But I can’t.

They put lights and other stuff on the tree, lavishing a lot of attention on it, and then things only got stranger. They took me to this place that had snow.

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As you probably know, because you are an adult who can read, snow comes from a machine and is made solely for the amusement of children.

It is dangerous stuff because they rope it off and make a boundary of hay bales around it even as they permit children to frolic in it. Note in the photograph how carefully I am treading on it. You never know what can happen with snow! I’ve only seen snow once in the wild, although some people tell me that it falls from the sky, which is obviously nonsense. (I have a memory of this, snow falling from the sky, but I think it only was a dream.) I have to believe my own eyes on this one. Snow comes from a machine and that’s that.

The other thing I’ve done over this holiday is take some laps to prepare to enter the Indy 500. You can see me here in the time trials, roaring down the final lap and spewing a little oil out my rear. I have to do this on a tricycle, because I can’t drive.

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If you’d like a tip, the best way to ride a trike is backwards. It’s much more natural to push your feet forward so that the trike goes that way. Kierkegaard wrote that life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward, so I am getting a head start on understanding life. Try it sometime. You will achieve a deeper understanding of everything, even as you prepare backwards for the Indy 500, and you also bump into a lot of other people because you can’t see them.

Another strange thing my parents have been doing is preparing for something called the ‘new year.’

The only new year that matters to me is my birthday, which was back in the summer, so this New Year they’re getting all excited about makes little sense to me. Apparently it involves wearing funny hats and staying in with me. That works for me, anyway, but I don’t understand why they bought me a noisemaker to play with. I like it and everything, but I make enough noise already without it.

Well, I have to get back to my toy trucks now. See you in 2014. If you hear a lot of noise around midnight, that will be me.

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I’ve Been Fired From My Airline Pilot Job

baby-dinnerI thought I was doing a great job on the LA to Honolulu route and then turning around and doing the LA to JFK route with just a week’s rest.  You know how it goes, you clock in, settle in behind that thingie that looks like half a wheel, lean back, adjust your captain’s cap, move some levers around, call the tower, make small talk with the crew, couple of announcements in the deepest voice you can muster (for a baby) and then put the plane on autopilot. Then it’s Words With Friends for the rest of the flight.

I often enjoyed a fancy meal upon reaching my cosmopolitan destinations, with particular attention to the cheese plate, sometimes with a frisky little glass of Gamay. (Placed just out of frame in the picture above.) It looked like I was going to settle in for a long, profitable career in the skies.

Didn’t go that way, though. Shockingly, there were too many complaints about me kicking the passengers’ seats from behind, some adverse comments about my mingling with strangers and grabbing at their iPads, too much walking up and down the aisle sobbing. Hey, haven’t you felt like that sometimes? Just walking up and down an airplane for five hours at a time screaming your guts out? Try it sometime. I know I have.

Maybe you don’t realize that passenger safety is my priority on these long flights, so that’s why I have to test the integrity of the latch that secures the tray table more than a thousand times, flipping down the table and flipping it up again. I have to press all the buttons on the entertainment system. I have to check the integrity of the window shades at least five hundred times per flight. That’s important. What if the sun were in your eyes and the shade didn’t work? You’d want your money back, wouldn’t you? And you paid a lot of money for that flight.

It was, alas, all about money when my parents fired me from my big time airline job. They argued that people paid a lot for their seats. Despite flying the plane, despite all the entertainment I provided, despite testing the integrity of the systems, well, all that just wasn’t enough to make it work. Plus I was the highest paid toddler flying a jet, and we all know what happens to the highest paid and last hired.

I pleaded for the job, resorting to my most common argument: loud crying. Sadly, it didn’t matter that  on the last flight I took a quiet nap from Pennsylvania all the way till Kansas. It mattered that I raged from New York to Pennsylvania, and then through Arizona, Utah, and not to mention large stretches of the Great Lakes, and big parts of the Pacific Ocean on the Hawaii route.

Toddlers are just not that good at flying airplanes. Even though we try. We just can’t do it quietly.