October 8, 2009

My best advice for parents to be:

Always be careful to lift with your arms.

July 8, 2009

In Which I Am a Giant

I've been keeping very long hours lately have been bone tired pretty much all the time.

My 4 year old to me tonight: Dad you look tired.

Me: Yeah.

Raul Andres: I could tell you a story so you could take a nap.

Me: I like that idea.

Raul Andres: Once upon a time there was a daddy who was a giant.

[I close my eyes.]

Raul Andres: You can't sleep yet. I have to get to the best part. The giant was you! Wouldn't it be so much fun to be a giant?

Me: Why would it be so much fun?

Raul Andres: Because if you are a big giant everything is the size of a toy. The whole world. That's the story.

Me: I like that story.

Raul Andres: You can sleep now, but not too long because we have to play hide and go seek. Ok dream you are a giant now.

September 14, 2008

Madeline and the Bad Hat Summarized or Why We Love Madeline

Plot summary of Madeline and the Bad Hat:

-The Spanish Ambassador and his family move in next to Madeline's boarding school.
-The son of the Spanish Ambassador, Pepito, starts to terrorize small animals (and the girls) with his slingshot.
-Pepito dresses up as a bullfighter and invites the girls to see the animals he has trapped from around the neighborhood.
-The girls refuse his invite. This sets him off on a mini rampage.
-The headmaster of the the girls school gives Pepito a toolkit in the hopes it will calm him down.
-He builds a guillotine and starts beheading chickens.
-Later he puts a cat in a bag and takes it out into the countryside so the cat can be attacked by a pack of dogs.
-Pepitio manages to get mauled himself but is saved in the nick of time by Madeline (she also saves the cat).
-A bandaged and repentant Pepito becomes a vegetarian and is so reformed he starts freeing animals from the zoo.
-The girls all love Pepito now and they watch him in his pajamas (and he them) through their adjoining windows.

Children's books are better weird.

Related: Babar Summarized or Why We Love Babar, Freeing the Elephants

March 18, 2008

Lies I've told my 3 year old recently

Trees talk to each other at night.

All fish are named either Lorna or Jack.

Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose.

Tiny bears live in drain pipes.

If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky.

The moon and the sun had a fight a long time ago.

Everyone knows at least one secret language.

When nobody is looking, I can fly.

We are all held together by invisible threads.

Books get lonely too.

Sadness can be eaten.

I will always be there.

March 1, 2008

To Gabriel on his first birthday

September 22, 2007

Bedtime Story

You never know what you'll miss about a house until you've been gone a while— sometimes it takes years to know what was important about a place. But I know when I think about this particular house, I'll miss the pattern of lights that play across the living room ceiling as seen from the foot of my son's bed when it's my turn to tell the bedtime stories.

Related: Pepper's Ghost

June 25, 2006


Even a year and a half into fatherhood, it is sometimes easy to forget you are a dad. You will be driving through a mangrove swamp somewhere in Florida at night and just be a guy driving with the windows down keeping the radio spinning through stations on scan waiting for just the right music come up and enjoying the long periods of static... That invisible tether that connects you to wife and child is slack and you are momentarily unaware of it. Mosquitoes buzz around outside and are being killed on the windshield at an alarming rate but you figure at 85mph what are the odds of one making it into the car. And then one does and lands on your arm, puncturing your flesh discretely but leaving an immediate welt so itchy and painful you feel compelled, to roll up the windows, pull over and punish the beast for it’s transgression. The splatter of blood left on inside of the passenger’s side window, while impressive, leaves you less satisfied than you might think, so you roll on. But as your arm itches you remember you wife’s email about your son being attacked by mosquitoes, and the monster itchy welts they left all over his body and suddenly the tether goes taught and all you want in the world is to be back with your family, battling mosquitoes and doing the things that dad’s do.

April 25, 2006

In which I am a bad parent...

It was raining yesterday so I headed to the Brooklyn Museum with my son. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and happen to have a toddler this is a good outing as the Brooklyn Museum is a) kind of empty b) full of interesting objects, and c) a large enclosed space in which to roam. Raul Andres delights in veering from room to room checking out the art along the way. He is particularly attracted to the European Renaissance paintings and African sculpture. The draw in both cases is simple: boobs. He pointed out each and every pair (actually triples on some of the African sculptures) for me over and over again.

At one point in the museum we encountered an escalator and something caught his eye. Right away I knew what fascinated him, not the stairs themselves, but a big red button on the bottom labeled 'push in case of emergency'. I am well acquainted with this particular class of button. When I was a 3 or 4 we lived in Houston. Mothers in 1970s Houston did not go to parks (Houston is unbearably hot, unbearably humid), they went to air conditioned department stores: Foleys, Joske's, Sakowitz or they walked around the ice skating rink in the then new Galleria. All these stores had escalators and all the escalators had those friendly red buttons labeled "Push in case of emergency".

I don't remember the first time gave into temptation, but I remember the effect. One punch and the escalator stopped short. Everyone riding up made synchronized "oooh" sounds and rumbling motor went silent... I remember a feeling washing over me--exaggerated joy coupled with fear. Nobody noticed my crime so I quickly stepped away and became very interested in my shoes. Soon every chance I could slip away from my mom (which wasn't difficult as there were 3 of us), I would scurry over to an escalator (always the up escalators so as to not be seen by people coming down) and make my move. Eventually of course, I was caught. Eventually we were all banned from Foley's. Eventually the fear of god was put into me should I ever again push one of those buttons. And one day I stopped caring passing the bottoms of escalators with only the slightest of downward glances.

So yesterday I found myself, a good 35 years later looking at my son, recognizing the want and glee in his eyes as he studied the button. Seeing him circle the obviously forbidden object I thought to myself, "Just go for it. I'll pretend I didn't see."

March 27, 2006

We've got a climber...

March 23, 2006

Other Lives

Most of us have led other lives. I do not have to roll back the years too far to see myself as another person, standing in another house, thinking thoughts that would be foreign to me now. I am always amazed when I meet people whose paths are orderly-in which one dot leads to the next in a straight line-and I am almost offended when someone from my childhood tells me, "you know, you haven't changed one bit." I suppress the urge to to curse, and tell them the lie they expect to hear, "you know, you haven't changed either."

Sometimes in dreams I am transported to one time or another. I will be back in Rajastan sitting on the roof of an overcrowded train, watching the monsoon sweep across the desert, waiting for the men who sit cross-legged on elephants to raise their umbrellas one by one. I will remember what it was to be a shaggy haired nomad detached from the world experiencing that moment: the smell of the rushing hot air, the blue holy man, immobile, his hair whipping around his face, the roar of the train, and those umbrellas going up. I will forget I am asleep in my bed next to my wife and child. Except for a lingering feeling akin to deja vu I do not remember what will come, so I will lose myself in the rain, and feel all joy and sadness I felt back then.

Sometimes these dreams go on for eons, but invariably I will be pulled back, startled by my smiling son with a poke to the face and a burst of speech in strange toddler language best described as a Gallic yodel. In the seconds that make up that post-liminial eternity I cross the divide. I am that guy on that train and I am this guy now. Soon... by the time I am fully awake the other lives fade back to their proper place and I am ready to start the day. My one lingering sadness: knowing this moment, this day, will be one that someday I return to in dreams for I will be someone else, in some other house, in some other place.

March 20, 2006

missing the beach

About half of our beach snapshots look something like this.

February 13, 2006

Dark Waters

Do you have a metaphor for sleep? For most of my life I thought of sleep as a dark flowing river. I would often dream of being swept far and fast in the powerful enveloping current eventually finding myself on the banks of some foreign land always a moment before waking.

But last year my wife introduced me to a new metaphor. When our son was falling to sleep she would say she imagined tucking him into a small boat and pushing him out to sea. This is the shorthand we use around the house: "Has the boat launched?" I will ask, and then she will shush me and say, "The boat is on shore, but the tide is coming in and we can walk it to the deep water."

My wife's image took hold and I dream of rivers no longer, now I see a starlit sea with groups of parents standing in pairs on the beaches gently pushing sailboats, kayaks, and canoes into the inky depths.

Sleep is one of the unspoken fears of new parents. When our children sleep we put our hands to their chests to check their breathing. Night is when sickness strikes. And there is always the terror that one day you will wake and your child will be gone. In my new dreams the sight of the boats disappearing into the night is chilling, but I know it is a fear we must accept. Then in my dream, stars fall from the sky and in the shadows we parents hold each other and sleep on the beach waiting for dawn. By morning the children are back from their night's journey, changed by degrees, poking us, and watching us stir. And that's where the dream pushes into the reality of the new day.

I wake up each morning and look at my son and wonder if this is a day he will remember. For a long time, I found it unspeakably sad knowing none of days of the last year would hold. He would not remember the unfettered joy of playing ball for the first time, he would not remember the discovery of oranges, and if something were to happen to his mother or myself, he would not remember us.

Each night we push him out into the deep and each morning he returns a slightly more complex human being. Our relationship changes as his personality grows. He is learning to say "no". One day something we do will disappoint him and he us. Things will change. And I've realized that these first years without memory are for us, the parents. The utter sweetness of these days is necessary not only to face the dread of that dark sea but because love is an abyss, and these days give us the courage to dive in.

January 21, 2006

The Undivided World

They say a child doesn't realize he is a separate being from his mother until a few months after birth. And considering the child lived inside her, his brain bathed in hormones that produce a constant state of ecstasy, this makes perfect sense. There is no time in there--just the dimmest twilight, the loud machinery of the mother's body, muffled noise from outside, and the occasional poke. For the longest time, she is everything. And then the world divides.

Suddenly cold and bright and in pain, outside is too much, so the newborn reverts to the one source of comfort, warmth, and food he knows. He has eyes only for his mother and he stay like this while his body and brain catch up to the endless want... Want with a capital W.... He notices little, smiles little, but his brain is crackling with activity. Eventually after what seems like an eternity of sleep his eyes, ears, and brain are ready, and then one day, suddenly, he notices there are other people and the child smiles.

Later there are animals and plants and the hundred hundred other things that must be noticed and cataloged for the first time: the smell of snow, lizards on the windowsill, asparagus. With each classification the known universe cleaves. The impossible becomes possible. One day he is immobile, the next he is crawling. By the end of the first year he is naming things and testing every corner of his world. (Our son has just become aware of of the concept of "underneath" so as he makes his way around the house he now throws himself on his belly and checks the below each and every couch, chair, and desk because you never know what might be under there.)

In college one summer I worked for a professor of Ethology. He had names for so many things. Bumblebees were bombus terrestris, Honeybees were apis florea, and leafcutting bees were megachile rotundata. A monkey was not a monkey, but a marmoset, a tamarin, or a Barbary ape. An unknown bug would cause him to stop in his tracks like a pointer, his brain running furiously in the search for the unnamed. I was thinking about the professor today and about how he was always looking to destroy his previous understanding and redefine his field. I think as we grow older it becomes harder and harder to do this. We get comfortable with our knowledge and stop naming new things.

My wife studied hermeneutics in graduate school and as is common with people of that discipline she occasionally gets into moods where we discuss the "so what's" of life. I don't know what the answer is for her. But for me it's not terribly complicated. Being a traveler I know the first time I step foot on some unexplored territory will also most likely be my last. And even if I visit again everything will have changed in the interim. This is true of so many things, of friendship, of love, of death... So the important thing is not to hold onto that moment, but to be in it and let it change you, to let the world divide.

January 16, 2006

Photobooth 13 Months

November 23, 2005

balloon man

This is the season of birthday parties for my son's little buddies-many of the parents we hang out with have kids who were born plus or minus a month of our kid, so the tide of fiestas has begun.

Birthday parties for one year olds are strange as the kids themselves have no concept of time. A friend of mine, half of a childless couple, on hearing of the party, snorted, "If you ever find me at a birthday party for a one year old take me out in the back and shoot me..." While I was never quite that cynical, as I navigated the line of strollers to get up to the apartment I heard David Byrne in my head "How did I get here..".

The scene was surreal... 15 or so kids and twice as many adults mostly crawling around on the floor. As is usual at any party I found myself in the corner observing the scene (apparently I was bouncing a balloon off my head and according to my wife "looked like a crazy person"). Anyway at these parties kids crawl over each other and touch each others faces, as the parents ever watchful compare their relative progress ("my kid eats peas and broccoli!" "Well my kid eats asparagus!") and swap tips on sleeping problems and baby gear. There was one little girl who called all men "dada" and all women "mama" (well except for the short haired woman who was taken for a dada) and there was a boy who called everything "cat" or "not cat" and one boy who spent the whole time on his back staring at the balloons on the ceiling. Some kids clung to their parents for dear life whereas others explored everything, invariably seeking out the things that could potentially electrocute, maim, or smother them. I played peek-a-boo with my son who was across the room but still checking in on me. And I with my balloon was thinking how good it was to be one of these kids, in a world that is divided into cat and not cat and ma's and dada's and where a guy hiding his eyes with a blanket brings so much unencumbered joy.

October 19, 2005

Another Day Older

August 29, 2005


August 27, 2005


Most new parents I know will tell you that their number one issue during the first year of their kid's life is sleep. My wife is obsessed. She has a small library of books and a deep nuanced understanding of our babies sleep patterns. Usually when she hands me a book or article to read I sort of glaze over, but this piece originally in the New Yorker hit the spot. It helps that his experience mirrors ours and that we have landed in his camp.

June 19, 2005

Father's Day

March 18, 2005

35 years ago

This Kodachrome slide was marked "March 18, 1970. It's me and my dad in a park in Houston... my guess is it's the park near the art museum. The bonnet is embarrassing, but give me a break. I was 3.

January 10, 2005

dreams before words

My wife went out today to make a quick appearance at a good friend's birthday party leaving me alone with the baby for a bit. This might not seem like a big thing, but most new dads of breastfed kids will empathize because ultimately there is not much we can do if the kid wakes up hungry. A timer is set when the mom leaves... could be an hour, could be three hours, could five minutes. I found myself not wanting to move for fear of waking him so I watched him dream. He was in deep REM sleep and full of activity.

What do they dream about at this age? Sometimes the dreams are good with smiles and even the beginnings of a laugh, sometimes they seem to be very very bad with startles and pained yelps of panic. At this age they are generally in REM about 5-6 hours a day. In the womb it was 10 hours. Some people suggest the dreams are the babies way of forming connections, making sense of the day, and learning, but new studies suggest deep low wave sleep is more important for development and REM is just random firings of neurons that allow the brain circuitry time to recharge. Still,some part of me doesn't accept the scientific explanation and believes the his dreams take him far outside the confines of our small house to the places he visited while still in the womb in the manner of the blind experiencing the world in sounds and movements. Perhaps he's even inherited a few of our dreams. I know some of my own dreams do not always seem to be my own and would more likely belong to my grandfather or one of my many uncles. Sometimes it would make more sense if the logical world did not apply.

He of course did wake up hungry and inconsolable, but a few minutes later mom appeared and the sound of her voice alone calmed him.

. . . . . . .

Thinking about these things brought to mind this story.

Once when I when was in Rajasthan on a desert road between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer I came upon a group of children being prepared as fire eaters for a circus. It was twilight and the kids would stand by the road blowing fire from their mouths at the passing cars hoping for a few rupees. Over and over they would shoot out flames into the air projecting a circle of yellow light around them and onto the desert floor. While there were few cars on this deserted road , almost all who passed threw out some small token. Occasionally a truck would stop, the driver would negotiate a price, and the kids would gather round with their limca soda bottles full of gasoline for a show. An older boy collected the money and gave it to their boss, a Fagin-like character named Hrishikesh. The younger boys would compete for the longest brightest flame. One played a flute. The scene was terrible and beautiful and it comes back to me in my own dreams sometime--the darkness of the desert, the indigo sky, the boys many irreparably dulled by the constant breathing of gas and kerosene with their burned mouths and odd laughter, and of course the flames lighting the dark. I wanted to leave that place quickly, but Hrishikesh invited me to tea and some part of me was fascinated. We sat outside his hut in front of a burning oil drum and talked of many things. I asked him about his dreams meaning what did he dream of doing, but he took my question literally. "I have only one dream. All my life one dream. I dream of ice and a world without fire." After the tea I excused myself feeling I was about to be robbed, he protested but let me hitch a ride to Shaitrawa with a trucker. Before I left he looked me in the eyes and said, "You will not forget this amazing thing" he said, "You will dream this night."

December 7, 2004

12/7/04 11:17 PM

10 seconds after birth.

December 1, 2004


For whatever reason neither of us think the child will be born today. Right now I feel it will be tomorrow night, Jenn has been cagey.

We keep wanting to do things, but it's hard to make plans in more than 6 hour chunks of time, especially when our doctor keeps telling us it could be any minute.

Still we try not to think too much about the actual timing, because if we do, we become like kids waiting for a Christmas that never comes.

In some ways these last days have been the hardest of an otherwise easy pregnancy. Balance is an issue. Clothes don't fit. The belly is itchy. Stuff like that. All that said, Jenn has been calm and productive. We've been cracking each other up. The mood is light.

My dad just told me when my mom was pregant with my youngest brother, she went out and cut the grass which threw her right into labor. Jenn with a lawnmower would be quite a site. Sadly we have no yard.

It's windy and sunny after a night of rain. The house has been quiet except for my tunes playing in the attic office and the sound of the whirlybird on the roof.

I've been informed we are going out for a walk.

stay tuned..

November 30, 2004

the right metaphor

Everyone keeps asking how we are feeling... obviously things are very different for me than they are for my wife. She's about to go through an experience that is physical, possibly frightening, and deeply emotional. Actually she's calm as a cucumber. For me, well of course it could never be as intense in the same way, but we both have full knowledge that in a few days (hell, possibly today) everything will be transformed (the truth is I've been a bit agitated). So it's one of those funny inflection points in life where you know that you'll be on the other side of the mountain soon, but you don't know what it looks like over on the other side, you don't know where the path is yet, you don't know how long it will take, and there are all sorts of hidden dangers on the way. So right now we stand there looking at it in the distance, contemplating it, and heading inexorably towards it, knowing that one way or another we'll get to the other side as long as we keep going..

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