December 11, 2015
The Man without Fingernails
Sushi in School
At School We Need a Robotics Class
Every Kid Should Have A Ball
Mutations and the Disabled
Freedom for All People (Stop Racist People)
Recipe for Alien Soup
What if I was a Penguin
My Little Owl Friend
Describe Your Shoe
Poseidon, Zeus, Hermes, Achilles, and Hercules (My Hermit Crabs): If they could speak
March 14, 2013
September 29, 2012
Gabriel: "At the end of the rainbow is an everything tree. It can make whatever you want. Cherries... Toys... Even little dogs... Just everything"
Me: "What does it look like?"
Gabriel: "You can't see it, that's why it's at the end of the rainbow. You can never find it."
Me: "Can you draw it?"
Gabriel: "I can draw it. Maybe you can. Maybe. I don't know, but most people can't."
Gabriel: "You know why... people get dusty in their mind."
May 23, 2012
Found at my kid's school:
Misery by Kyle Takuru
It was a nice spring day and I was
I had nothing to do
my brother had the
my dad had the
the cable was broken
my mom was texting
The day was
the next day was the playdate
and I woke up on the
February 4, 2012
On Friday Jason Kottke recommended the audio version of Charlotte's Web read by EB White himself. We happened to have a long drive that night and took it for a listen. The audiobook is simply produced without fussy music or sound effects, it's just White reading and it's wonderful.
To get a sense of White's voice, you can check out this Academy award nominated short The Family That Dwelt Apart; it's an adaptation of one of his New Yorker short stories and is also self-narrated.
And since we're on a White kick, fans might also enjoy this 1970's era form letter to his young readers.
I receive many letters from children and can't answer them all -- there wouldn't be time enough in a day. That is why I am sending you this printed reply to your letter. I'll try to answer some of the questions that are commonly asked.
Where did I get the idea for Stuart Little and for Charlotte's Web? Well, many years ago I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a mouse. That's how the story of Stuart Little got started.
As for Charlotte's Web, I like animals and my barn is a very pleasant place to be, at all hours. One day when I was on my way to feed the pig, I began feeling sorry for the pig because, like most pigs, he was doomed to die. This made me sad. So I started thinking of ways to save a pig's life. I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm. Three years after I started writing it, it was published. (I am not a fast worker, as you can see.)
Sometimes I'm asked how old I was when I started to write, and what made me want to write. I started early -- as soon as I could spell. In fact, I can't remember any time in my life when I wasn't busy writing. I don't know what caused me to do it, or why I enjoyed it, but I think children often find pleasure and satisfaction is trying to set their thoughts down on paper, either in words or in pictures. I was no good at drawing, so I used words instead. As I grew older, I found that writing can be a way of earning a living.
Some of my readers want me to visit their school. Some want me to send a picture, or an autograph, or a book. And some ask questions about my family and my animals and my pets. Much as I'd like to, I can't go visiting. I can't send books, either -- you can find them in a bookstore or a library. Many children assume that a writer owns (or even makes) his own books. This is not true -- books are made by the publisher. If a writer wants a copy, he must buy it. That's why I can't send books. And I do not send autographs -- I leave that to the movie stars. I live most of the year in the country, in New England. From our windows we can look out at the sea and the mountains. I live near my married son and three grandchildren.
Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn't have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn't blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.
January 30, 2012
1. "They should be fast."
2. "They should have something on them. Something pretty cool like rocket boosters or fire or bush babies or something."
3. "Maybe they should glow in the dark so you can see them when it is night... or you could have a light on them and a remote control."
4. "They should be faster than regular shoes."
5. "When your feet are in them, your legs should be really fast."
6. "They should not make sounds when you walk. I like to scare people."
7. "You have to make sure they are fast shoes. SUPER FAST!"
8. "They should be soft."
9. "They should never smell like feet."
10. "When you run in fast shoes you should always win."
Transcribed January 18, 2011
November 7, 2011
I went out on a walk with my 4 year old Gabriel yesterday. "Where are we going?" he asked as I helped him put on his shoes.
"Nowhere, "we're just walking."
"What do you mean?"
"We're going out to wander. It's a beautiful day."
"But where are we going?" he asked again suspiciously.
"Nowhere. Which way do you want to go?"
He pointed towards the river.
We walked and talked. And we talked and walked. We discussed ducks, Louis Armstrong, the nature of rocks, clouds, snowfall, wind, big brothers, blood, girls, trees and a few other things.
Gabriel directed me to take pictures of him standing on various rocks and benches.
At Brooklyn's Pier 1 park, we spread out on the empty lawn and looked at the blue sky. He ran up the hill, rolled down it. He put grass on my head. More talking. Then, a skinned knee after a second run down the hill ended up in the gravel. No. Big. Deal.
We circled back around by the Brooklyn Bridge and passed a neighborhood playground. "I used to go there when I was little." Gabriel looked through the fence, "We found a bone in there once. Maybe some kid died in there."
He wanted to walk by his school (Empty on a Sunday and deemed creepy. "I thought the teachers lived here... It is very quiet now.")
Soon we were back in familiar territory and then home. The four mile wander was over. He ran through the door to find his brother... they started playing/wrestling immediately. No talk of where we had been. No mention of the walk later at bedtime either.
But this morning on the way to school he asked, "Dad, can we take another walk soon? You know, one where we don't go anywhere."
October 24, 2011
I love this proclamation by children's book author Mac Barnett and signed by Brian Biggs, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Kevin Cornell, Carson Ellis, Isol, Laurie Keller, Jon Klassen, Matthew Myers, Tao Nyeu, Sean Qualls, Aaron Renier, Adam Rex, Christian Robinson, Jon Scieszka, Dan Santat, Lemony Snicket, Erin E. Stead, Philip C. Stead, Scott Teplin, and Maria van Lieshout.
October 4, 2011
Most nights with my kids after we read books we have question time. Question time is an open forum. The kids have to keep their eyes closed and they can ask any question about anything. It's the favorite part of my day.
Gabriel: Will you die if you don't have a brain?
Me: Yes. You have to have a brain and a heart to live.
Gabriel: What about other things like stomaches and arms and eyeballs.
Me: You can live without arms and eyeballs and even a stomach, but life is harder.
Gabriel: What if you have no arms and no legs and no eyeballs?
Me: Then you would need a lot of help.
Gabriel: What about a sore?
Me: A sore? Like if you're leg is sore?
Gabriel: No inside your body.
Me: A sore inside your body, like if you are sick?
Gabriel (frustrated with me):Not a sore, a soua.
Me: I don't understand.
Gabriel: You know a soua that makes you a person.
Me: Do you mean a soul?
Gabriel: Yes. That word is hard for me you know.
[Gabriel knocked out his two front teeth last year and has a problem with hard Rs and words that end in L]
Gabriel: Do you have to have one to live?
Me: Everyone has a soul.
Gabriel: But what if you didn't have one would be a vampire or zombie or something?
Me: Vampires and zombies aren't real, but that's what we imagine people would be like if they lost their souls, but we all have souls even if we forget sometimes.
Gabriel: Where is it? Is it in your head or your belly?
Me: It's just part of all of you. It's what makes you you.
Me: A soul is what lets you feel what other people are feeling. It's what lets you think about other people instead of yourself. People with good souls are kind. Real kindness is hard.
Gabriel: Not for me.
Gabriel: Even Darth Vader had a soul, you know.
Me: I know. Even terrible people have souls, but sometimes they shrink or are hard to find.
Gabriel: What about parrots? Do they have them? Parrots are confusing.
Me: Some people think only humans have souls, but I think animals have them too.
Gabriel: Even parrots? Because sometimes they just say mean things all day.
September 9, 2011
Over the past week I've twice heard twenty-somethings ponder whether kids growing up today—kids who were practically born with iPhones in hand—will still have the capacity for wonder.
Yesterday as a present for his first day of second grade I brought home an erasable gel pen for my iPhone savvy six year old. After a brief demonstration, he spontaneously hugged me, "I've been waiting for this pen my entire life!"
I think the kids are alright.
August 1, 2011
Found this recording of Raul Andres when he was three.
Love it too much:
June 20, 2011
I put my kids to sleep tonight with a story as I do most nights. Tonight's story was to be about a boy who finds a message in a bottle from a shipwrecked sea captain. I often wing stories making them up as I go along, but this one had been gestating for a few days... it was a good one. The kids were in their bunk beds eyes closed and ready.
Me: Once upon a time, before you were born, there was a boy who lived in a little white house on cliff overlooking the sea. Every morning before breakfast, he would walk down the stone steps carved into the wall of the cliff to the a small beach to search for treasures left by the tide.
Gabriel: Did he ever find sea snails? I found one once.
Raul Andres: What about sand dollars?
Me: Yes he found lots of sea snails and sand dollars and even a starfish or two.
Gabriel: Starfish look soft but the are really hard. It's true. Was the boy wearing shoes?
Me: Yes that's true, starfish feel hard and he found a few of those over the years, and no the boy never wore shoes in the summer. Now this boy was walking down the beach when...
Gabriel: Did the boy have a bucket?
Raul Andres: He had to have a bucket to collect all this stuff.
Gabriel: He could just hold everything in his hands.
Raul Andres: But the sea creatures would die.
Gabriel: Dad what was the bucket like?
Me: It was a metal bucket. Anyway, one day...
Gabriel: What color?
Me: It was blue. Do you have any more questions about the bucket?
Gabriel: Did it have any words on it or pictures or anything?
Raul Andres: Gabriel! Let dad finish the story.
Gabriel: But I want to know.
Me: The bucket had a moon on one side. No words.
Gabriel: Was it a big round moon with a face?
Me: Thin crescent. No face.
Gabriel: Did the moon glow in the dark?
Me: Yes, it glowed for when he would collect things by night.
Gabriel: What about stars? Did it have a few stars?
Me: Yes. it had lots. In fact the boy called this bucket his star bucket.
Gabriel: I like that bucket.
Raul Andres: It doesn't even exist Gabriel. It's just a story.
Gabriel: We could make one.... Dad can you make us a star bucket?
Me: I'll try.
Raul Andres: That's no fair. Can I get one too?
Me: Yes, you can get one too, but you have to help paint it...
[at this point the conversation veered in another direction.... but later...]
Gabriel: Remember you promised star buckets.
Me: I said I would try.
Raul Andres: I'll help you paint the stars.
Gabriel: The bucket glows in the dark. Those are my favorite buckets.
June 13, 2011
G: Does Louis Armstrong have strong arms?
Me: Yes. Very strong.
G: But not stronger than Superman.
G: But he sings better than Superman.
G: I love Louis Armstrong. He is dead though.
G on the bus w/ his mom, apropos of nothing.
G: Who is Louis Leakey?
Jenn: He was a famous researcher. Where did you learn about Louis Leakey?
G: What's a researcher?
Jenn: Someone who studies things.
G: Louis Leakey studied fossils.
Jenn: Well he looked for human fossils from people who lived a long time ago.
G: Only humans? No dinosaurs? Right?
Jenn: Only humans.
G: Louis Leakey is dead. He should study his own bones.
April 15, 2011
R: "Dad, you know that girl Mimi?"
R: "I used to HATE her. Really really hate her. And she HATED me. So much."
R: "But you know what's strange? Now we're in a secret club together. Now we're friends. Don't you think that's so weird."
R: "We're not allowed to have secret clubs in school, but everyone has them anyway."
Me: "What club are you in?"
R: "We're deciding on a name. It's a club I made. We study strange things like ghosts, and toys that move, and shadows that wave at you. Stuff like that. You know spooky stuff. We're writing notes down."
R: "Oh no. I just thought of something. What about vacation? How will we make meetings? I didn't think about that. It might be really bad."
Me: How many people are in your club?
R: "Three. Our club is really really secret. We don't tell anybody. Other people could join, but it takes a special kind of person. Nobody knows about it."
April 8, 2011
R: Dad do you remember before I was born?
R: Was everything the same?
Me: You weren't here, so it was different. We were lonely but we didn't know it.
R: Where was I?
Me: You weren't made yet.
R: Sometimes I think I remember.
Me: Before you were born?
R: Yeah. It just was like space or something.
Me: What did it feel like?
R: Sad. I didn't know anything. I didn't even know what to think. Maybe I was lonely. I don't know. It's complicated to think about. I remember things from a long time ago.
R: Did you ever travel to a high mountain before I was born?
R: I remember that. The stars were beautiful.
January 29, 2011
When I was a kid I thought if I could memorize the encyclopedia that I could understand the whole world. Good old fashioned paper encyclopedias are almost extinct these days, but I recently discovered the Smithsonian Natural History visual reference. It's a visual encyclopedia for the natural world with 600 pages and thousands of photographs. In my house it's quickly become a favorite. My kids use it constantly, for projects or just to discover something new. Best of all it's only around $30. Easily the best $30 I've spent on my kids in ages.
Related: More books I recommend for kids
August 2, 2010
May 24, 2010
Each morning G recounts his dreams for me.
Mr. Yee has requested a transcription:
Gabriel: "I was walking in the forest and then... I got lost. I don't know which way I should go, so I went this way, but I saw a ghost in the forest saying, "Ewww I'm gonna get you."
Me: "What did the ghost look like?"
Gabriel: "This big. He was a daddy ghost he said, 'I'm gonna get that boy.'
Me: "And what happened"
Gabriel: "I flied way with my rocket ship on my back. I flied away. And then he he, went all the way up to the sky, but he saw me and I got all of my rockets in my head and on my feet and then I flied away like this. And then... that's the end of that dream."
April 4, 2010
Putting Gabriel (3) and Raul Andres (5) to sleep tonight, the topic of conversation turned to death. Note the person referred to as Haraboji is the kids' great grandfather. A slightly abbreviated transcript:
Gabriel: Where is Haraboji's wife?
Me: She died before you were born.
Raul Andres: How did she die?
Me: She was very sick.
Raul Andres: I got sick and didn't die.
Me: Well she was very old got very very sick.
Gabriel: Haraboji is sad. He misses her too much.
Raul Andres: Your abuelito and abuelita died.
Gabriel: Do you miss them?
Gabriel: Will you die?
Gabriel: I don't think that is a good idea.
Raul Andres: How would we live?
Me: I don't think it will happen for a long long time when I'm very old. You'll be men by then.
Raul Andres: Will everyone die? Everyone?
Gabriel: Then who will live in the world?
Me: Well, all the babies who are being born today. They'll grow up and have new babies.
Gabriel: But if we die, they'll never know us.
Raul Andres: I know what happens when you die. They put your body in the ground and cover it up.
Gabriel: So scientists can find you later?!
Raul Andres: And they put a rock with your name on top to remember.
Gabriel: But how can you remember everyone?
Me: Well, sometimes even after we die we give things to people. Like Gabriel even though you never met my Abuelito he gave you his ears, and Raul Andres, even though you never knew him, you have the same eyes. So I remember him every day when I look at you guys and you remember him even though you never knew him.
Gabriel: I have your Abulitos ears.
Raul Andres: I have your Abulitos eyes.
[The sound of two kids alseep.]
March 1, 2010
Related: Gabriel is one
January 3, 2010
Raul Andres [age 5]: [looking at a sticker book of planets] This is Earth! This is where we are.
Gabriel [age 2]: What's that one and that one?
Raul Andres: That's Saturn and that one is Mars. Jupiter is over here. And that's Venus. And there's Neptune, Uranus and Pluto. Pluto is so cold.
Gabriel: But where's Krypton?
December 7, 2009
Hard to believe it's been 5 years since this night.
November 18, 2009
While putting my kids to bed last night my four year old asked me to sing "that song about the moon I love." It's a Mexican lullaby I knew from my childhood. I sang it once and immediately received a terse demand from my two year old, "Again," he commanded. So I sang again. And again. And again. We sang the song over and over until everyone was singing it.
"Why do I love that song so much?" the four year old asked, "It's my favorite one." His question struck me, and in a flash, I was back with my grandparents on their red tiled porch on a hot August night watching lightning roll around in the clouds. My grandfather was on his green metal rocker singing the song. The crepe myrtle was full of fireflies and the air smelled of a storm. When my grandfather finished, I asked the same question, "Abuelito, why do I love that song so much?" He turned to me and said, "One day you won't have to ask why you like it so much, you'll know." Now some 38 odd years later, I did know. Now I was sitting in the dark watching my sons. Both had closed eyes. The two year old's breathing indicated sleep. It had been a long pause when Raul Andres asked "Dad?".
I leaned over and whispered to him, "I think you already know why you love that song. I think you've always known." That was explanation enough. Eyes still closed, he smiled, and drifted off to sleep.
November 14, 2009
Lately I've been finding copies featuring small hands and feet by the printer.
August 11, 2009
The mole men live in the subways.
The bird men live in the skies.
The monster doesn't actually live under the bed (he's hiding somewhere else nearby).
There are 71 flavors of snow, but only 63 flavors of water.
If you sing enough, you will never grow old.
Don't worry, I lock up bad dreams in little cages.
Every good room has a ghost.
When we made you, we left part of ourselves behind so you would never be lonely.
Your shadow knows your secrets.
Books hide when they don't want to be read.
Time moves faster when close your eyes.
You knew everything, but then you were born and forgot, and now you have to learn everything again.
Be nice to your brother, he will always be your best friend.
We're not lost.
Moms and Dads never really get lost.
We know exactly where we're going.
May 10, 2009
My wife was out of town this mother's day. For her card I asked my kids to close their eyes and tell me why they love their mom. As she was on their mind, the results I think were especially true. Here are the unedited results:
Raul Andres - Age 4
Happy Mother's Day.
I love you to not wear clothes. You are like a... like a... lamp. You make me feel happy.
I want you to go in the milk and the salt.
Love Raul Andres
Now go in the sugar.
Gabriel - Age 2
Yes. Yes. Yes. I love mommy. I love mommy, one, two, three, four, twelve!
I eat her all up.
March 4, 2009
For the last few weeks, the conversation I have with Gabriel (who turned 2 on Sunday) at bedtime goes like this:
Me: "What kind of story do you want tonight?'
Gabriel: "Rock story."
So I tell a story about a rock. If I try to tell a story twice I invariably hear the demand, "new one".
Anyway here are 3 new stories about rocks... more on the way...
THE LONELY ROCK
Once there was a rock.
As far as the rock knew, it was alone in the world — one rock sitting quietly by itself on a grassy field that spread out as far as the eye can see. But this rock had no eyes and it saw nothing, so it did the only thing it knew how to do, it rolled. It rolled through days and nights and rain and fog until it bumped up against another rock.
The two rocks enjoyed one other's company so there they stayed until they were bumped by a third rock and three was even nicer than two so they cuddled up for a very long time until along came another, and maybe a year later another, and another, and so on. After a more days than even I know how to count, where there had once been one rock in a field, there was now a great pile of rocks. Birds came and made their nests on the pile and grass grew up around the edges and the rocks forgot they were rocks and today they speak with one voice when they bother to speak at all, because they are happy bunch, happy to have found one another in such a wide world, happy to have found their place. And today they call themselves a mountain.
January 14, 2009
My son Gabriel who is 22 months old had growing pains last night. At some ungodly hour he started, began moaning, and then sobbing loudly. When we asked what was wrong he simply cried "hurts" and pointed down at his legs, a much simpler and direct diagnosis than is found in medical literature which describes these pains as "non-inflammatory musculoskeletal pain syndromes, non-articular, inter-mittent bilateral aches" (but so far provides no clues as to why they occur).
Holding Gabriel's legs tight made him feel better; his moans dissolved into whimpers, and he faded back into sleep. When we would let go of his his legs, even in slumber, he would guide our hands back. I have foggy memories of my own growing pains and I have no idea if someone held my legs, but I distinctly felt the rush of sense memory so I think it must have happened. And in those half remembered moments in the middle of the night you also get the impression that this memory will be passed on through some subterranean reptilian channel. And I wonder which is the deeper comfort: knowing on some primitive level that someone is there to hold your legs at night when they hurt, or being the person who was able to be there?
December 25, 2008
Dear Santa Claus,
I miss you. Why are your presents so beautiful? Why do you... why do you...why do you live in the North Pole? I want you to live closer so we can be friends. I had a very good idea, I would like to give you a Christmas present. Maybe a guitar. I hope you like it.
Age 4 and 17 days
Dec 24, 2008
a few hours later:
December 14, 2008
December 4, 2008
A little inside baseball here. On 20x200 today we released a super new set of five prints by one of my favorite local artists, Jason Polan. The set includes drawings of dinosaurs, birds, rocks, sea creatures, and bugs from the American Museum of Natural History. I think they're awesome and if my kids are any measure, they are perfect gifts for children. I got involved in creating 20x200 because this is the kind of thing I believe in getting out there in the world. With 20x200 it's sort of a hair club for men thing — "I'm also a client".
Also if you have kids in the under 8 set on your Christmas list, my wife's new little T-shirt shop has some really fun offerings based on our son's obsessions (think diggers, robots, garbage trucks, etc) and a few based on my obsessions (polaroid cameras, record players, foosball tables). The designs are from old technical and, instruction manuals, and so on and were essentially dictated by our kids. They didn't want "cute trucks" or "colorful trucks", they wanted their shirts to look "like a real thing".
The name by the way came from our son's first obsession: blue cars. After "momma","dadda", and "dog the first modified noun out of his mouth was "blue car". For months he would point out blue cars in the street. Eventually he began looking for "two blue cars" which gave him particular pleasure... hence the name. The kid above is not my son btw, it's a kid named Max.
November 21, 2008
A reader named Molly asked for "non-obvious" picture book buying suggestions for her nephew who will be turning 3 soon. I posted a list of great children's books about a year ago. Non obvious? Dunno. All are still in heavy rotation here. Here are a few more:
The Charles Addams Mother Goose - The classic Mother Goose rhymes told Addams style. My son loves this book and is terrified by it (in the best way possible).
Wonder Bear- Tao Nyeu - This book is a wordless visual delight.
Life Story - Virginia Lee Burton - Teach your 3 year olds about deep time, evolution, and the history of the world. You'll be amazed at how much they pick up from this one.
The Rooster Crows -Petersham - This is a book of classic American rhymes and songs. The rhymes seem archaic, but kids respond as if they've heard them forever.
The Whispering Rabbit - Margaret Wise Brown (Weekly Reader editions) - The editions of this book illustrated by Garth Williams are particularly super, beware of later editions which have been both edited and illustrated by some less talented artist.
When You Were Small - Sara O'Leary - You know you've stumbled on a good new book, when after the first read, your kid goes silent for a second and then shouts, "Again!"
Tim All Alone - Edward Ardizzone (series) - This series along with Tin Tin made me want to be an explorer.
Into the Forest - Anthony Browne - Kind of creepy/great. Not for everyone but my kids love it.
D'aulaires Book of Trolls - Ingri & Edgar Parin d'Aulaire - Do you love trolls? We love trolls.
The Two Cars - Ingri & Edgar Parin d'Aulaire - I could link to all the d'Aulaire books, but I hilight this one because it's often overlooked. It's a tortoise and hare story told with cars.
The Three Robbers - Tomi Ungerer - Maybe my son's favorite book right now. It was a favorite of mine too.
Sylvester and The Magic Pebble - William Steig - Another favorite. We heart Steig.
Go Away Big Green Monster -Ed Emberly - This is a book Raul Andres reads at school. It's cleverly put together and you'll have fun shouting back at the book.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge - Swift and Ward - This is one of those classic Mike Mulligan/Little Toot type books from the 40's with knockout illustrations.
Katy and the Big Snow - Virginia Lee Burton - Having grown up in a place where snow was rare, this book always seemed exotic to me. As an adult I appreciate it as a tour deforce in the use of negative space for illustration.
I'll add these to my advice list from the previous post:
6. Don't buy junk books - novelizations of children's films, books about Disney or Pixar characters ect...
7. Don't underestimate your kid. If you read books to them regularly, even books that might seem a little advanced for them, they will absorb them like little sponges. In a few months you'll be shocked when they start reading the books back to you from memory.
July 23, 2008
1. Bite the apple.
2. Pass the apple.
3. Wait for a bite.
4. Receive the apple.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 until done.
6. Break open the core.
7. Consider each seed.
8. Go start the day.
June 28, 2008
While we were drawing monsters today, Raul Andres told me a story which I transcribed.
When You Talk To The Seaweed
A very long time ago when there were no dinasaurs there were people riding monsters. No, no, sitting on the monsters on their backs and they would help them with their arms. The people had no cars but a lot a lot of toys everywhere and they ate no monsters, just broccoli but when they were sick they ate vitamins. When they were hot they ate flies and dragonflies and when they were cold they ate bumblebees. When they were inside they ate straw but usually they ate food outside at nighttime like a picnic. But the monsters had no mouths and the people put food on their backs with their arms.
May 20, 2008
I want a book about all the trees.
And can you find me a book about volcanos?
And leaves. I like books with all the kinds of leaves.
Don't forget shark books. Tiger sharks and hammer heads and sharks with teeth that eat other sharks.
And volcanos! You never get me volcano books.
Also one about salad.
Daddy does it cost a lota money to get a book about train stations?
I want a book with the blue fish and one with brown fish and one with silver fish.
And a book about chimneys! And peacocks! And armadillos!
Do you have a book about the third rail?
Can you get me all these books?
I want one book about streetsweepers and.. and.. and... a concertina wire book!
And maybe one about giants with lotsa lotsa pictures. Three giants!
I will find books about rodeos.
Can we organize my books so we can see the spine?
Daddy do you love books too?
May 5, 2008
raul andres: I am Pirate Raul. This is my treasure chest. We will bury it.
me: What's in that treasure chest?
Pirate Raul: GOLD! SILVER!
me: anything else?
Pirate Raul: and... and...bones! and coins! and... peg legs!
Pirate Raul: rocks and shells and... chocolate!
Pirate Raul: and... and... Cucumbers! Lots and lots of cucumbers!
March 18, 2008
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.
February 8, 2008
One of the games I play with my 3 year old is to present him with images of family members when they were younger to see if he recognizes them. He recognizes his mother back into her childhood, his grandfather he sees only with a beard, and me he has no problem identifying after about the age of 16. Today I presented him with this image, a picture I found of myself circa 1992, taken while out backpacking.
I had a pretty full beard, was very skinny and to my eyes look barely unrecognizable, but my son was almost annoyed when I asked who was in the picture. "It's you daddy. You have a big beard, blue shirt, and a hat with a P. You are outside."
"Are you sure it's me" I asked.
"Yeah. Daddy it's you." Then he studied the picture a bit more, "But where am I?" he asked.
December 22, 2007
Years from now I look forward to torturing my kids with a collection of 'scared of Santa' pictures. This one is pretty good, but 2005's is my favorite.
December 11, 2007
A friend who's baby is still a few months away from being born asked me for some suggestions for children's books because she wants to start building a library. Assuming she has the basic classics covered, here's a list of slightly less well known books that my sons and I love. Many of these books are out of print but can easily be found on Amazon, ebay, or on bookfinder.com. Here are a few to get you started...
The Birthday Party - Maurice Sendak
Little Blue and Little Yellow - Lionni
May I Bring A Friend - de Regniers
Where Everyday Things Come From - Aldren Watson
Tall Book of Nursery Tales - Feodor Rojankovsky
The Tall Book of Make Believe - Garth Williams
A Tail is a Tail - Katherine Mace
Rotten Island - William Steig
Doctor Desoto - William Steig
Today's Basic Science - Navarra and Zafforoni
Henri's Walk to Paris - Saul Bass
The Wonderful House - Margert Wise Brown
Choo Choo - Virginia Lee Burton
The Dead Bird - Margaret Wise Brown
The Line Up Book - Marisabina Russo
What Makes A Shadow?- Clyde Robert Bulla
Tiny Nonsense Stories
Goodnight Gorilla - Peggy Rathman
My general advice on buying kids books:
1. Always buy hardcover. A used hardcover is usually better than a new softcover. If your kids loves a book, he will read it hundreds of times. Softcover books just don't hold up.
2. As a general rule avoid celebrity authors.
3. Avoid modern "message" books.
4. Love the politically incorrect. The Tiny Nonsense Stories feature gun wielding kittens, cigarette smoking ducks, and pig families that sneak around scaring the daylights out of each other. Kids of course love these stories.
5. For vintage books, never worry about finding a first edition if you plan on actually reading your children's books. Your kids will want to bring them to the dinner table, they will bend them, tear, them and so on. This is how children's books like to be read. Just find the cleanest cheapest copy you can find.
If you are looking for more book buying ideas, check out this japanese site which always has a well curated selection of vintage visually spectacular kid's books... (the little links that read A-C, D-F, and so on show thumbnails of the covers)
December 9, 2007
On Thursday a day shy of his 3rd birthday, my son and I turned a corner onto Prince street when we encountered a man who had just been hit by a car. His face was badly bloodied and his leg was twisted at a grotesque angle. We arrived just as he slumped over to the ground. The man driving of the car was also in distress, also bleeding. He was sitting in the driver's seat trying to adjust his broken glasses, stunned, and surrounded by smoke, presumably from the airbag. The car had jumped the curb and was pressed into a lamp pole. Although we arrived just seconds after the accident people on the street had already sprung into action. Two passersby were comforting the man on the ground. Another man sacrificed an overcoat to keep him warm. A husband and wife team in matching full length fur coats were attending to the driver. My son was still, outwardly impassive. Although my instinct had been to hurry him down the street he was transfixed. Hearing the ambulance siren he said, "The ambulance will take the man to the hospital and give him a big band aid and then he'll be better."
"Yes," I said, "We should go so the ambulance men can do their work."
"Ok," he said.
A few minutes later we were at a restaurant. "I want french fries and cauliflower", he announced and then went on to talk about robots, his mom, a girl he likes in school, his little brother, his upcoming birthday party, robots again, and trains.
In his second year of his life, our son's world has opened up to include all the things he reads in books. He has a sense that the world is round. He knows we live in Brooklyn and that winter follows fall. When it we got a dusting of snow the other day he first wanted to taste it, then build a snowman, then build an igloo. He calls his mom "my cutie pie" and loves to sing Amazing Grace and Clementine. And yet for all that knows and all that he can do at 3, there are still many traces lingering babydom. His parents are still his touchstones and too much time apart from us leave him somewhat undone. A blank face is often presented to strangers, a mask for a vague distrust. He falls asleep alone, but ends up in our bed every night. The upset over an apparently small thing can easily turn into tears.
Raul Andres' world has been turned upside down several times this year, most dramatically by the addition of a brother, later by the loss of a house.
I knew he would be a good big brother when he began asking me to include Gabriel in his bedtime stories just a few days after Gabriel was born. "One day a little boy, Raul Andres, went out for a walk..." I would start.
"And you too?"
"And Gabriel.... So Raul Andres, mommy, daddy, and Gabriel all went out on a walk..."
The old house, he still misses. We moved four blocks away so it's still painfully close for him. Last week we walked by the old place on the way home from school.
"This was our house," he declared, "we lived here for a long time. Can we go inside."
"No," I replied. "Someone else lives there now."
"I'm sad," he said.
"Me too," I said.
"Can we sit down?" he asked pointing to the stoop.
We had spent countless hours on the stoop during his first two years. Sitting there and watching people pass by was one of his favorite things to do."
"Of course. Let's sit."
We sat for a while in silence and then continued walking home. "I miss that house too much," he declared.
And so it was for much of the year—a wonderful economy in his words.
His terrible twos were miraculously short. We can count the number of limp-noodle-fall-on-the-ground-sobbing incidents on one hand. And that period seems to be long over.
Unlike a 2 year old whose his life is all about the here and now, the 3 year old anticipates events big and small Halloween, Christmas, or maybe just the next time we sit outside and eat peppermint. And after experiencing things he thinks about them. "Last Halloween I was a wolf, next Halloween I want to be a robot and a fireman."
The 3 year old is contemplative. Last night, or 'last night ago' as he would say, my son brought up the man who had been hit by the car. "Do you think that man will be ok?" he asked.
"I think so." I replied.
"We must be careful when we cross the street," he declared.
"Yes." I said, "We must be careful when we cross the street."
"Today is my birthday, tomorrow is my birthday party, just like in my book."
"Yes," I answered."
"Then I will be 3?"
"Yes," I said."
"And then 4?"
"And then 4," I replied.
related: On Turning Two
August 5, 2007
Almost every night when everyone is asleep, I'll rearrange my son's train tracks. We have wooden tracks, the kind I wish I had when I was a kid. (The secret to buying kids trains is to not worry so much about the trains themselves, but get a good variety of tracks). I sit on the floor in the semi-darkness and try to come up with an interesting design because I know in a few hours my son will wander in dragging me by the hand and the first thing he'll do is study the new tracks before sitting down and playing trains for a while. He's never asked why the tracks are always different, it's just how things are in his world. It's little my way of telling the kid I love him. Sometimes, like this morning, I'll fall asleep on the couch while he's there playing and when I wake up I'll be covered in carefully placed cars and trains covering me from head to toe. I figure that's his way of saying he loves me back.
July 13, 2007
This entry might be subtitled 'fun with coverflow':
May 23, 2007
He wakes up, takes a walk with dad, sees 2 rabbits, 1 beaver, 2 deer, 4 ducks, and several fish...asks if we are in a zoo.
He marvels at the lack of cars on the roads. Creates a song called, "'No car street. No car day."
He stands and ponders the expanse of grass. For the New York City kid a few hundred feet of unpeopled grass is unheard of. City two year olds are constantly being told not to run, not to go too far, not to touch, to look both ways, et-cetera. Two year olds are of course programmed to run, so an endless swath of grass looks like pure freedom. He pauses as the exhilaration builds, laughs and takes off at high speed for the top of the hill. Unlike older kids, the two year old does not modulate his speed. He runs as fast as he can as far as he can. Reaching the top of the hill and seeing nothing but more grass on the other side he runs down. Soon he falls and rolls but falling on grass doesn't hurt. This is novel. In the city when you fall it stings. Not so here. Giggling uncontrollably he rolls around some more, springs up and runs up another hill.
He sees a sky full of stars for the first time in his life and gets very quiet. After a while he asks, "Daddy, stars take home?"
May 14, 2007
Why is it that we dads, feel compelled to make home movies, even with crappy little digital cameras?
April 24, 2007
by Raul Andres, 2 years 5 months
2. "Shower not tub!"
3. "Under big rocks, under."
4. "Scary tree, scary scary tree"*
5. "Big big lobsters"
*The scary tree:
March 30, 2007
In literature the witching hour happens around midnight, but for the infants my wife and I produce, it's 6PM. At that hour Gabriel like his brother before him, regardless of being well fed, held by someone who loves him, and otherwise comfortable, begins to cry. But not just any crying, it's desperate crying, as if all sadness in the world were wrapped up in that little 12 pound bundle. He's inconsolable for about 90 minutes. Then as suddenly as it starts, it ends. The kid sleeps. Our first son outgrew this in a few months and we trust the second will follow. Of course we try all the standard calming techniques, but they have limited effect. [The only things that take a bit of the edge off are a mechanical swing, the one horrible baby device that passed through our 'no plastic baby crap' filter, and a pacifier. We are new to pacifiers (Raul Andres spit them out as if we had put garbage in his mouth), and Jenn doesn't like them either ("Yikes, makes him look like a little Hannibal Lector."), but whatever works, right? ]
Jenn blames the daily crying session on the baby's new and undeveloped digestive system, but my grandmother would have had another explanation were she alive. For her an inconsolable baby was obviously the work of someone who had given the child "mal ojo" (the evil eye). "It happened to you once," she would always tell me with a laugh.
Then she would explain that once she had forgotten to cover my face when we went out and the neighborhood fortune teller peeked and hated my blue gringo eyes. "You started to cry right there," my grandmother would recount, "and you cried through the night and into the next day and we couldn't do anything to help you."
The next day she ran into the fortune teller who asked, "that baby cried all night didn't he?" My grandmother said yes and getting angry told the woman that neither she nor the baby had done the woman wrong and demanded a cure. The woman (my grandmother always called her una brujita feisima) led my grandmother to her garden and pulled 3 fresh brown eggs from a chicken coop. "Rub these gently over the baby's head when the moon is out. Then break the egg carefully. If the yolk is whole and looks like an eye, the spell will be broken. Throw the eggs out into the dirt. If the yolk will not stay together, you might be in for a lifetime of worry." While the eggs were rubbed on my head I am told I screamed bloody murder. Immediately afterwards the eggs were dropped in water, and eye was formed on the first try. "You stopped crying instantly" and if my grandmother is to be believed, "the crying never returned."
Maybe we need to break out some eggs.
March 7, 2007
Sometimes when I am very tired as I was today, I will lie on my belly, put my arm under my head, bump up against a pillow, cross my feet at the ankles, and fall instantly, blissfully, asleep. I've been doing this all my life although I've never really thought about it until today. It's one of my most primal behaviors. My wife's sister Becky sleeps while holding onto the corners of pillowcases, eventually wearing them threadbare. An electrician in LA, a guy named Joe who spoke in whispers, claimed no matter where he slept he would wake with his head facing north. This trait while comforting was something of an embarrassment, "I'm a human compass," he admitted sheepishly, "my wife hates it, especially on trips. My mother said I did it in the crib." All of us have some primal behaviors we retreat to, and sleep being one of the most basic and misunderstood needs of all things with brains, happens to be one place where these behaviors reveal themselves easily.
During my wife's first pregnancy we spent a great deal of the time speculating on our future (and at that point somewhat theoretical) child. We discussed smarts and looks and so on and so on. I don't think we discussed personality once. He was born and from the beginning his personality clear... obvious and often unexpected. Immediately after his birth we practiced parenting techniques based on our own lives and various books, but until we started modifying them through the filter of his personality many approaches failed miserably. Now personality takes priority over dogma (with much more success). It is almost the one thing around which most of our understanding of him is based. The idea that your personality is well formed at birth is a weird concept because most of us like to think we arrived at our present state through a series of formative events. But more and more I tend to believe those formative events influence us only within a range determined by our particular personalities. Of course family perceptions have a multiplying effect. If we see a child and consider him to be kind, or selfish, or sensitive, or sad or whatever we will tend to treat him accordingly, so perhaps over time personalities become more hard coded than they would have naturally.
Even though our second son has been with us for only 7 days, we are developing theories about what kind of person he might become. Ridiculous as it might seem for a little piglet-like human being who suckles, sleeps, and poops, it seems so obvious after 2 years of experience with our first child that understanding his personality is one of our most important jobs as parents.
Ask someone you have known your entire life to tell you three stories about your early childhood. I'll bet they'll tell you stories that reveal their understanding of your most raw personality, the unvarnished you, and like primal ways of finding comfort in sleep, these traits are inescapable, revealed when we are most unguarded. They are the filters through which we see the world and sometimes the instincts we work hardest to supress. Noble or ignoble, there might be some comfort in knowing that through all our iterations as human beings there are some things about us that never change.
semi-related: Wikipedia on personality psychology, 9 traits of infant personality, Clotaire Rapaille on reducing culture to primal codes (and using those codes for base, but nevertheless ingenious, marketing campaigns)
March 2, 2007
Close readers of this blog will notice that I made a post about my wife being in labor at 6:24PM on Thursday and that the baby was born a little over 2 hours later. This is the story of those 2 hours:
Earlier that Thursday afternoon Jenn had been in a light pre-labor, "I think I’m having contractions" she had announced nonchalantly. They aren’t that bad." Then she went about her day and we guessed we might have to go to the hospital in the morning. I was writing that blog post when I was called into the laundry room, so I finished up and hit send. Downstairs my wife was crouched down on the floor, "We have to go now," she announced. I was asking a follow-up question when she put up her hand to stop me and started making a low non-human noise I recognized from the birth of our first son. It was a noise that had preceded the actual birth by only an hour or so just before she went into transition. It was time to GO.
I sprinted down the street to the garage only to find it backed up. "Calm down" I kept telling myself... "Everything will be fine." A few minutes later driving up my own street, I was almost sideswiped by a truck running a very red light. "Inauspicious." It took a full 4 minutes to get Jenn from the door of the house to the door of the car. The contractions would release, she would walk a few steps, and then they would come again. At this point the contractions were coming about every 2 minutes. Not ideal, but not critical yet.. I briefly considered running over to the emergency room of a nearby hospital instead of our assigned birthing center, but the contractions seemed steady so I headed across the Brooklyn Bridge and onto FDR for the drive uptown. A little geography for non New Yorkers: We live in Brooklyn which is across the river from Manhattan. Our birthing center is at St. Lukes Roosevelt on 10th Avenue and 58th Street on the west side..... It’s an 8.4 mile drive but traffic is unavoidable. I was counting on a 30 minute ride. The FDR is an aging highway up the eastern edge of Manhattan. It has no shoulders. Traffic is heavy, and exits are few. Once you hit the FDR, you’re committed. Of course just as we hit the FDR Jenn’s contractions started coming faster... about every 45 seconds. Now if you’ve never been in a Mini Cooper on the FDR with a woman in full labor, screaming bloody murder with each contraction, whimpering and breathing heavily with each release, and holding your arm so tight it’s bruising, well... um...I don’t recommend it. I was trying to focus on driving, speaking in platitudes, giving Jenn updates on our location, and quite frankly, saying a few silent prayers. But platitudes were not what my wife wanted. "JUST SHUT UP!" she bellowed. At about 22nd street traffic stopped dead. We were inching forward. Jenn was banging the windows with each contraction. I realized we could become one of those stories on the evening news. Woman Gives Birth on FDR. I didn’t want to be on the news. I thought about the opening scene in Wings of Desire where the angels float over a highway peeking in on the small self-contained worlds contained in each vehicle... The Punjabi cab driver two lanes over might be thinking of his wife's curry. I noticed a guy talking to his girlfriend who was staring out the window at the city beyond—what was she thinking, and what about the trucker smoking and singing to himself... they were all unaware... I willed them to move. Didn't they realize what was going on? Just as I was losing hope traffic began to move. I decided as long as Jenn was saying, "I can’t do this. I can’t do this" we were fine, but the minute she said, "We’re not going to make", I was going to veer off and find a closer hospital. If she mentioned pushing it would be time to stop the car. I make the mistake of asking if she wanted music. "MUSIC?!!" she responded. Ok my bad. Finally exiting the FDR we made it to 57th street which is littered with red lights (all unbearably long), was clogged with traffic, and was busy with pedestrians... At each stoplight crowds of people hearing the long howls and stop dead in their tracks. At 57th and 5th we drew a crowd. Jenn was completely obvious, she was going internal. One guy gave us a thumbs up. A woman wearing a fur coat blew a kiss. An old lady crossed herself. One guy shouted "She's having a baby!"
A few eternal minutes later we finally screeched into the hospital driveway we were almost rear ended by another car. It was our midwife whose scramble had been just as frantic as ours. She took one look at my wife and said, "We might have to deliver in the lobby."
We did not deliver in the lobby. After much heaving and ho-ing we manuvered Jenn into a wheelchair and rushed her up to the birthing center. Minutes later she was in a large tub of warm water which sent her straight into transition. A few minutes later the midwife, myself, and a labor nurse were all on the bed holding onto legs and arms as she pushed the baby out in what seemed like record time. The midwife caught the baby and put in on jenn’s breast complete with cord. Jenn was sobbing. I was drenched in sweat and viscera... but the moment was oddly quiet almost silent. We were there with this brand new kid, still steaming from the womb. He was blinking and alert, turning toward his mother whenever she spoke. The shadow of death which hangs over all births had passed, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. It was at this point that I realized in the rush I had left my camera bag in the car—a final ironic twist. The moment would be undocumented. I'll just have to put my brain on record," I thought.
This birth was completely unlike the birth of our first son who was delivered in the same hospital, but in a standard hospital labor & delivery room. In that birth, mother and child were both connected to a tangle of monitors and tubes. Doctors and nurses were running in and out of the room, and right after birth the baby was taken away to a nursery for a battery of hospital tests. It was noisy and chaotic and anything but private. At the birth center it was just the four of us (well eventually 5). There were no beeping monitors or needles or anything else. Minimal tests were done and mother and baby were both alert and sharp afterwards. Physically the natural birth took less of a toll even though it was exponentially more intense. Jenn said the hardest thing was the total submission to pain without modulation. She and another fresh-from-labor mom were comparing notes this morning... "There are no words," said my wife. "There are no words," echoed the woman. Later when we discussed things, Jenn said couldn’t outright recommend one type of birth over the other. The lack of relief in this birth was terrifying... She missed the epidural induced pause of the last one. And all those monitors and tubes and needles that had bothered me so much about about the first birth... she had never noticed them, so they weren’t really a factor with her. Of course in this particular birth we wouldn't have had a choice anyway. The wouldn't have been time for an epidural. She did appreciate that I was allowed to stay overnight in the birthcenter, and that the room was our own. No roommates, no nurses interrupting us every few minutes hours. We even had a decent view down 10th Avenue. It was like being in a hotel room.
Late in the evening, lying on the bed with newborn Gabriel between us, we heard another woman in heavy labor—the familiar deep moans, curses and cries penetrating the walls. During lulls we heard her husband saying things, like "just relax, it will be ok. Breath. Try to relax honey" and it sounded so... so... impotent and ridiculous... he sounded like he wasn't even convincing himself... "he should just shut up" Jenn said. "True true," I agreed. We both laughed.
February 17, 2007
Before your first child is born, if you are like most of us, you tell yourself lies.
You say, "We won’t change our lives."
You say, "We’ll won’t be like those other parents."
You say, "We won’t be like our parents."
But of course your lives change. Of course you’re like those other parents, obsessing over every burp and gurgle. And maybe not initially, but after a bit, you find yourself doing and saying things that remind you of your own parents. That much is inevitable. It happens to everybody.
When preparing for the first you have this illusion that you can make things perfect, or almost perfect. "If I just plan everything in advance," you think... So you buy too much gear, you paint and prep and read too many baby books. You develop plans to avoid the sleep deprivation everyone talks about.
And then the kid arrives and those first few weeks almost kill you because while your kid is booting up all his systems nothing goes according to plan. Nothing happens the way it’s "supposed to". There is always some crisis you can’t solve. There are never enough hands around to help and of course, you never get enough sleep. Your life changes, fundamentally and irrevocably.
And then, if you are like many of us, after about eighteen months or so you start having so much fun, you forget those first hard months and go for a second. During the second pregnancy you are so busy with the first child so you don’t think about the pregnancy much at all. You don’t plan or read books, it just kind of progresses on it’s own until the last few weeks when you realize "holy cow we’re having a another whole kid" and fear begins to creep over you as you remember those first hard weeks. "We’re not ready yet, we need more time. How did 9 months pass?" you ask yourself. You worry about how the first child will accept the second. You worry that you won’t have enough time for the second, and you worry about how life will change again just as you were starting to figure things out and become yourselves again. But there a line of thought that provides deep comfort at what lies ahead, "Things will not be perfect. We’ll fail just as we did before. It’s going to be hard. We’re not going to sleep. Nothing will go as planned. But everything will be ok. Just as we did the first time we’ll ride things out. Make things up. Break a few rules, and it will all be just fine. We know it will."
. . . . .
p.s. This evening Jenn turned to me and said, 'We can't have this baby yet, we still have too much to do.'
'Like what', I asked.
'We don't have enough onesies.'
'You aren't going to have the baby because we're low on onesies?'
'What's he going to wear?'
apropos of nothing she turned to me and said:
"When I'm in labor nobody is allowed to say to me, I'm opening like a flower."
"Did anyone say that last time?"
"No. But If I hear it I'm going to hit someone."
January 13, 2007
Last week I noticed my two year old son staring out the window with his face pressed against the glass. I came over and he pointed out to the curb. "Tree," he said.
I had worried about this. The night before we had undecorated the Christmas tree while he was sleeping. Now it was 6:30 in the morning and it was the first thing he noticed.
He had been pretty excited about the tree. The night we put it up he kept disappearing and reappearing from the living room as we arranged the lights. We thought he wasn't interested and was getting cars or something. He was actually hauling his pillows and blankets into the room so he could go to sleep in view of the tree. For the month it was up, turning on the Christmas lights was the first order of the day.
And now the tree was out on the street with the garbage. He insisted on an inspection, so we went outside. There it was on the curb wet from rain and with a single ornament dangling from it's lower branch. He immediately ran over and began a valiant attempt to drag the 7 foot tree back to the house. He's less than 3 feet tall. I explained the tree had spent a long time with us making us happy but now it was time for it to go away to be with the other trees. I pointed out the many trees scattered on the curb up and down the block. He paused, considered the explanation, and solemnly waved goodbye to the tree. We removed the ornament. Then, grabbing my hand he led me down the street and with real gravitas said goodbye to each and every tree.
Other than my own dim memories I knew nothing of the world of toddlers until I had one of my own, but I've come to believe that our early years are the ones in which we are the truest versions of ourselves. In those years we are without the accumulated layers of knowledge, the cruft of life, that gives our world boundaries. The truth was I was sad too and at that moment it felt unfair we couldn't keep trees in the house all year long. I almost believed my own white lie about the trees returning to the forest. Comforting. And of course that's how it starts, one day you realize the trees are just going to mulched and sent to the dump and you wonder why your father lied to you. You don't realize until much later that this is the lie he had heard from his father.
Afterwards we returned home and my son searched through the house until he found his Christmas book featuring a tree. Again, he said "bye bye," and then, satisfied, he threw the book aside and bounded upstairs ready for the next thing.
December 29, 2006
I was driving down Flushing Avenue near the Brooklyn Navy Yard tonight when I passed a friend biking down the other side of the street. If you don't know it, the Navy Yard is sort of a semi-abandoned walled off industrial area. It features ruined mansions, the parking lot where police tow cars with too many delinquent tickets, and some sort of sewage treatment plant. Anyway, at night whole area is pretty deserted so I slowed down and shouted over to my friend as he pedaled along at a furious pace. I yelled hello and drove off but he soon caught up to me at a red light. Through the open window I asked after his wife who is pregnant and he said he thought she might give birth tonight or tomorrow... He said he looked at her this morning and was just staggered. We forget what those last days of pregnancy look like. She's due. Overdue probably. He was rushing home and after that brief exchange he zoomed off at full speed not bothering to stop for the lights...
It's a very specific feeling— knowing your wife is on the cusp of giving birth. I used to use the analogy of being in an airport, heading off for a big adventure, but being on hold, waiting for a flight that you know will come, but that keeps being rescheduled or sometimes I would use the analogy of being a kid waiting for Christmas... But these descriptions are thin soup compared to the complexity of the actual emotions. And for the woman the physicality of pregnancy and birth adds dense layers of hard to define feelings to the whole thing. My wife Jenn isn't due until the end of February but already tiny hands, feet, and elbows push out from her belly. That supreme intimacy with another human being can be profound and overwhelming all at once. She's ready to have the baby tomorrow. That's the thing with the second baby. Jenn is ready. Enough already she says.
We dads have it easy. We worry a little. We try to keep things under control. But mainly we ride our bikes in the dark as fast as we can hoping for the best.
related: a post titled circling from before our son was born (note: at that time we thought we were having a girl). It would be another week before he was actually born.
December 15, 2006
When my childless friends ask what it's like to be parent, I often say that it's like being in a boat lost in fog, but then you figure some tiny thing and the fog clears to reveal a full moon over a calm sea.
Tonight was one of those nights.
Our son fell asleep normally, but kept waking up and crying for his mom. After the 3rd or 4th trip downstairs for my very pregnant, very tired wife, I volunteered to take a shift. The minute our son saw me instead of his mom, he started crying inconsolably.
Now if you've never seen a 2 year old cry, especially a kid like ours who is pure sugar, it's like watching all the sadness in the world poured into this little pup of a human being. There is no anger, no reproach, just pure unfiltered sorrow. So I try to hold him and he just turns away, giant tears streaming down his cheeks. "No daddy. Noooo..."
There is one school of parenting that says, offering comfort in these situations is exactly the wrong thing to do, that you need to steel yourself and be hard and that by going cold turkey the child will learn to sleep by himself. We tried that once or twice and our son sobbed so hard he started throwing up. He was a headbanger as an infant until we brought him to our bed. The headbanging stopped immediately. The kid is just a people person.
Anyway he was sobbing, crying for his mom, and I told him if he felt sad to hold my hand. His hand reached out, grabbed my finger and squeezed it hard. I asked him if he felt better, and he nodded. He turned to me and through a stream of alligator tears said, "Up. Up. Momma. Momma." I told him his mother needed to rest and eat dinner which led to more gulping heaving sobs. He turned away again. He was trying to keep it together, but not doing a very good job of it, with cycles of crying and wails. This went on for a long time and I was about to break down and call for Jenn. Then I whispered, "Hey, I'll hold you until your mom comes to bed, however long it takes. You can hold me too." He turned to me, gave me the tightest hug a kid his size can give, rested his forehead against mine, and held my face with both his hands. The tears stopped, he gave me a kiss, closed his eyes, and fell into deep slumber. That was all there was too it. He didn't want to be alone tonight. And who does really?
December 7, 2006
There is a moment during great concerts after last note has played out, but before the applause starts, of lingering clarity. The music trails in your head, the musician waits expectantly for the audience reaction, the crowd recoils silently with palpable tension. The quiet is delicious and I always want it to go on forever. But then, usually too soon, people leap to their feet spontaneously, applauding and cheering. The artist relaxes, smiles and the moment has passed.
That in-between moment is the best way I know to describe the experience of seeing of seeing my son for the first time. After the drama of being born he was lying in an incubator squalling under the attention of a small battery of nurses and doctors. They parted allowing me in and there was a sudden quiet. My son's eyes opened for the first time and we looked at each other. He held my finger. Everything fell away. Lingering clarity... and then of course it was time to bring him to his mother who worked so hard to get him into this world and things got noisy again.
With a first child you spend nine months speculating. What will he look like? Will he have a sense of humor? Will he hate eggs like I do? Will he have my toes or yours? But when the child is actually born, sitting there blinking, still steaming from the womb, holding your finger with his entire hand, you realize, you don't know anything, you have no idea what to do, and the only thought in your head is, "What have we done?"
Fast forward two years to this morning. My son is hiding under a blanket. When I peek underneath he says in his scariest voice, "Boo" and pulls down a corner. From my perspective I see a blanket covered mound shaking with giggles. He refers to watermelon as "mmmmmmmmmm" as in "yummmmmmmmm". He is moved by music of all kinds, finding it impossible not to sway his entire body from side to side when hears something he digs. He insists we join in his rapture so if you see the Gutierrez family at an Indian restaurant and they are playing Bollywood tunes (he loves Hindi music), you will see all of us chair dancing in unison and a huge smile on my son's face. He loves the moon and wants me to grab it for him. None of this would I have imagined.
Of course it hasn't all been fun. Sleep has never been our son's strong suit... All the clichés about not knowing vulnerability until you have a kid are true... wait until your 3 month old has a raging fever, or you watch your 6 month old topple from a chair, or witness a 4 year old sucker punch your kid in the playground. Each incident stops your heart for a second, but while these things hurt our parental minds, the kids are, for the most part, oblivious. They're hard to break. It is a necessary trait of the very young, to shake things off and to keep moving forward without looking back.
Time has a different meaning for a 2 year old. He can spend an afternoon chasing ants and have it pass in a second, but 5 minutes in a car seat can stretch out to eternity. For us parents days flicker by with blinding speed. We look at pictures from 3 months ago and say to each other, "My god he was such a baby."
Life is full of so many firsts. First smile. First steps. First time seeing the ocean. First ice cream. First stars. First time wearing waders in the rain. First time playing in a pile of leaves. First scar. Maybe first memories.
And for this particular two year old life has been full of people who love him, and he expresses love in return with an almost heartbreaking openness. If only things could always be this sweet...
December 6, 2006
December 1, 2006
When you walk to the corner deli having conversations with neighbors along the way completely forgetting you have a zebra stickers on your forehead.
November 6, 2006
Today, like so many days with a spent with a young child, sort of drifted away. We played cars. We ran in the park. We went to a birthday party. We read books. He saw the moon for the first time though (not seeing the moon until you are almost 2 is a hazard for the early to bed). That was something. He was impressed. I was too.
related: mira la luna
October 31, 2006
Our contemplative skunk cheered up once the candy started flowing but of course we have no pictures of that...
October 30, 2006
Say no, not because you mean it, but because it's funny.
Repeat: Noooo. Noohhhhh. No.
Be delighted by small things.
Spontaneously kiss the ones you love.
Refuse to look at those who disappoint.
Be wary of the wind.
Hide. Be found. Hide again.
Walk bottomless throughout the house.
Practice closing your eyes remembering to squeeze them tight.
Giggle until you roll over.
Read books about alligators or cars or better, alligators AND cars.
Live for today.
Run. Whenever possible, run.
October 16, 2006
....is a boy if sonograms are to be believed. The lady technician didn't announce the news but rather typed it on the monitor over a shadowy picture of a gently rolling fetus dropping the letters one by one, "i t ' s a . . .", and then a dramatic pause. I looked up and noticed the technician studying my wife's face before typing the next letter, perhaps she was looking for tale-tell signs of joy, or disappointment or even grief knowing our reality would turn on it's axis at that moment. For a few seconds she held the secret of our future life in limbo. A lifetime with 2 boys is so different from that with a boy and a girl. I noticed my wife literally holding her breath. The technician takes 15 sonograms a day so this was a practiced flourish. She half-smiled, typed a "b", and my wife exhaled. Jenn had sort of been hoping for a girl. Her reaction was not disappointment exactly but was not what she had imagined. Perhaps our last experience of being told we were having a girl, expecting a girl, and then having a boy, made her feel we were owed a girl. That girl lived in our imagination for so many months she become real to us. But just as our reality shifted the moment Raul Andres was born when our shocked doctor exclaimed, "it's a...boy? a very big boy," by the time the technician had finished typing "oy!!!" those exclamation points were justified... as for the girl... well, perhaps she will be #3.
October 3, 2006
My son doesn't talk in his sleep, he makes siren sounds.They always startle me awake-the imitation is getting good. Sirens are his shorthand for ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. My wife rarely sleep-talks but through the baby monitor I swear I just heard her sigh and say, "No joy for the scullery maid."
September 19, 2006
After 22 months, finally a haircut. He wasn't happy about it at first, but a gummy bear made things better. Afterwards.
September 14, 2006
Most mornings these days I am woken up by son's plaintive plea "Cars! Cars. Cars. Cars!" I seek out the two cars from the night before (he falls asleep holding them) and put one in each hand. He pees on his kid potty leaning over to roll the cars on the floor and when he's finished we head upstairs. I pour some milk as he seeks out his favorite vehicles. Today's favorite a green truck. We sit on the rug together and push cars around the floor. He announces each one. "Blue car. Digger. Red truck!" Police cars, ambulances and fire trucks are introduced with a serious look and a siren sound. Eventually he will throw himself on his belly car in each hand pushing them under chairs, over pillows, and around over his own arm totally engrossed. This is my cue to check email, write a blog post, and catch up on the news on my computer. He will gravitate to me ending up under my desk moving cars and trucks round and round my feet waiting for the moment when I'll be done so we can take a walk around the block looking at for more cars.
August 26, 2006
A few notes about sonograms for those of you who have never seen one live.
1. Normal sonograms are cross sections (imagine a slice of an apple) so you are looking at the outline... it's all fairly murky when you view them live until you see the beating heart. Usually the doctor will also include an audio monitor so you can hear the heartbeat. Seeing this is all fairly interesting in a cerebral sort of way until you see a turn of the head or the appearance of a hand. Then it gets dramatic, none of this can be captured by a still image. This sonogram was taken fairly early on so there isn't much definition. The baby is the size of a large avocado. Later on the outline of the features becomes much clearer.
2. Most hospitals don't let you take pictures (i did anyway).
3. The doctors give you little printouts... which are invariably illegible smudges. These printouts are on low quality thermal paper which fades, so scan them if you want to preserve the image...
4. There are now 3D sonograms, but the images they produce are a little creepy.
July 28, 2006
July 25, 2006
Hey, from Portugal.
Things are good. Here's why:
I go nuts over a good castle and Obidos has a great castle. It looks exactly like the ones I drew as a kid (I preferred towers to battlements).
The Portuguese don't look at you like you're crazy if you want to eat dinner at 8 (as opposed to the Spanish 11).
Portuguese restaurants often feature outdoor bbqs. (Did I mention we are a bbq loving family.)
A pair of turtles named Dulce and Ernesto who live at this hotel amuse my son.
Our #2 child in my wife's belly is fluttering. Jenn describes it alternately as being brushed by butterfly wings or little bursts of bubbles. Hard to believe our son who has been merrily dropping rocks and sticks into road grates all over Spain and Portugal and who no longer sings EIEIO but demands our new car song was once also a flutterer.
I am happy.
. . .
The Car Song*
Red cars, blue cars, yellow cars, and green ones.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Vroom. Vroom. Vroom.
We drive the car.
Cars, cars, cars.
I like cars.
Big cars, small cars. New ones and old ones.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Cars all around.
Let's go to town.
Let's go drive.
We like cars.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Bear cars. Fox cars. Hippo cars and weasel cars.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Why is the bear in the car?
I don't know.
But I like cars.
Bears like cars.
We like cars.
So do bears.
Bears really like cars.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Bears drive away.
Maybe looking for honey.
I don't know.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
What about the weasel?
I've never seen a weasel in a car.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
It doesn't matter.
It's a fact.
Weasels like cars.
That's kind of silly.
Weasels are unlikely drivers.
Shut up and drive.
Weasels like cars.
The weasels drive away.
So do the hippos.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Cars on the road.
Cars in the rain.
Cars on the turnpike.
Cars in the brain.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
But what about bikes?
Bikes are good too.
Especially with banana seats.
I miss my stingray.
But this song is about cars.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Let's start over again.
Not again please.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
You have no choice.
Sing the song.
The kid loves the song.
He loves cars.
Cars. Cars. Cars.
Vroom. Vroom. Vroom.
Here we again.
Back to the beginning.
June 16, 2006
June 9, 2006
June 2, 2006
My friend Frederick once said his goal in life was not to be a parent, but a grandparent. Here's why:
May 24, 2006
Here is the thing nobody tells you about being a parent... well at least no one told me: One morning you will be up at the grim hour of 5:43AM and through a miasma of sleep you will see your smiling son pick up an apple with both hands and begin to eat it.
It is the detail of the hands that, in an instant, triggers a concentrated rush of memory. In a wink you are not some groggy 39 year old guy standing in his boxers in the middle of his kitchen watching his son eat an apple, you are a kid excited to be holding that sticky apple, turning it round and round with both hands as you nibble away the bitter skin to extract the sweetness inside. You are inside this moment and it conjures up an entire era you had long forgotten. The smell of your mother's kitchen. The brown carpets of the 70's. How you used to start eating apples standing up, but would eventually plop down cross-legged concentrating on the task at hand. Suddenly stingingly awake and awash in an extreme almost overwhelming empathy you feel very much alive. It is 5:46AM.
These leaps in time happen with discombobulating regularity and are always triggered by the tiniest things: our son waving his fingers against the fading light at bedtime just before he slips into a dream and the hand falls to the pillow, two kids on the playground crouched down over a fallen pigeon's egg, the collection of pine cones, or the way his mother holds his head comforting him when the world is not going his way. Each little flashback not only connects you to your kid reminding you to be a little more patient and a little less harried, it connects you to yourself, and that is the most surprising thing of all.
May 15, 2006
May 15, 2006
I love Babar as much as the next guy, but when Jean de Brunhoff stopped illustrating after 7 boooks and his son Laurent took over, the series went downhill. Babar's Cousin: That Rascal Arthur?! Come on. Please.
Now I know where the idea for cousin Oliver was hatched.
April 30, 2006
April 27, 2006
5:45 I am poked gently in the fleshy parts of the face. I ignore this and keep my eyes closed. A small body climbs all over me.
5:55 Two tiny fingers are shoved in my nostrils.... Ok already I am awake.
5:57 We wave goodbye to mommy who disappears into the blankets, we close the door, and head upstairs.
6:02 My son has selected an apple. He is still a sleepy and keeps resting his head on me. We sit on the floor upstairs in the dim early light. Wordlessly I bite the apple and hand it to him. He bites the apple and hands it back. This continues until we are gnawing at the core. We watch the sky outside change from purple to red to orange to blue. By the time we are finished the sun has risen.
6:13 My son crawls over to a large cardboard box we have over in the corner of the room and he scoots himself in backwards. His hands reach out and close the flaps sealing it all up. He is waiting for me inside the dark box. A hand emerges from a hole in the top of the box. The fingers wave. I hear the smallest of chuckles as he detects the approach of my my footsteps.
6:20 We read. Previous favorites like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Animal Alphabet are ignored. Goodnight Gorilla is still at the top of the rotation (and why not as it keeps me amused even after a thousand reads), Polar Bear Polar Bear What Do You Hear is still a fav (the secret to effectively reading this one is to whisper what the animals are hearing). We're Going on a Bear Hunt and the simply titled Trucks are gaining favor fast.
6:36 While sitting on my shoulders Raul Andres likes to bounce a ball to the floor so that I will run and catch it. This is usually followed by a healthy bout of spinning around until everyone is dizzy.
6:45 My son plays quietly with his trucks on the floor allowing me to catch up on the news. Occasionally he'll run over to show me a particular feature of a particular truck and will then go back to zooming them around (double fisted) on the ground. We're having fun. Happy Times.
April 24, 2006
April 18, 2006
April 13, 2006
Our son is (finally) starting to walk on his own, but he's fairly stealthy about it all. For example I'll catch him in the mirror and turn from brushing my teeth. Like a wild animal caught in the highbeams he will freeze and quickly drop to the floor. Jenn says seeing him walking is like spotting a unicorn.
February 27, 2006
February 26, 2006
I've had a couple of dogs in my lifetime although I don't have one now. New York despite it's abundance of smells is a cruel place to keep an animal who's great love is roaming around in the woods. I am thinking of a particular dog from my childhood. He's been gone for a while now. I was wondering if he ever dreamed of me and if so was I me or was I just some friendly anonymous human. Did he dream in color as I sometimes dream in black and white?
Often if I see a tourist taking a picture of something, I will step into frame just as he puts the camera to his face. Sometimes if it's a group shot and I'll step behind the group while the camera is being adjusted, step out quickly for the shot, and then head off before anyone notices. Over the years I've done this hundreds, maybe thousands of times. I've never told anyone. My wife will learn this small secret when she reads this post. I think of those pictures sometimes... I imagine them pasted in albums, lost in Parisian shoeboxes, and perhaps even hung by magnets on a few Japanese refrigerators... out there... somewhere. Do they wonder about the guy standing there with the slight grin?
My son is into bellybuttons right now. He likes to poke them and explore their depth. If you meet him don't be shocked if he goes for yours and gives it a good poke. Watch out.
February 20, 2006
February 7, 2006
January 29, 2006
January 27, 2006
Bears in the kitchen
Bears in the den
Bears take over
Now and again.
Bears love honey
Bears love trout
Bears day in
Bears day out.
Bears Bears Bears
Bears on the subway
Bears in the tree
Bears in traffic
On the BQE,
Bears Bears Bears
Bears on their tummies
Bears on the phone
Bears on safari
In the land unknown.
Bears got rhythm
Bears got game
Bear in the mirror
One and the same.
Bears Bears Bears
Bears slip away
Bears gotta sleep
Until next year.
Sleep sleep sleep.
The bears go to sleep.
Snuggle up. Snuggle up.
Zzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzz. Zzzzzz.
January 8, 2006
December 27, 2005
December 14, 2005
I've always claimed Santa is more than a little scary... a big chubby guy in a red felt suit with an unkempt beard and rubber boots. Chills.
Witness my son (who seems to love everyone and is generally all smiles when he meets new people) encountering old St. Nick for the first time:
December 7, 2005
Hard to believe in a few hours it will have been a year since our son's dramatic entry into this world. Noting the date early this morning the dizzying speed which time reels us through life felt overwhelming, but the room was still dark, Jenn and the baby were still asleep, breathing in unison, and I was reminded that this year has also taught me to appreciate the slowness of things .
Even though he was large as far as newborns go, in looking back at 12 months of pictures I ask myself that phrase that comes to all parents at some point, "Was he really ever that small?"
One per month.
November 26, 2005
November 12, 2005
What's he thinking about?
November 4, 2005
October 8, 2005
October 1, 2005
One of the most fascinating things about being a first time parent is watching things click in your kid's head. One day they they are trying to eat the pages of the book... then one day they start turning pages... then pointing out people and animals in pictures... and then, finally, sitting quietly and turning all the pages and going back to the beginning to see everything again.
July 11, 2005
March 25, 2005
I got 3 emails about baby pictures today...
Here are 2 from a few hours ago.
February 5, 2005
January 21, 2005
Jenn keeps making me crop her... I might have to disobey her orders soon.
December 30, 2004
Whatever works right?
December 30, 2004
Several of my friends had babies within a month of us... and it seems that right now we are all dealing with a period of newborn development that happens between 2 and 6 weeks called the adaptive stage in which they fuss often, cry loudly, and are hard to put to sleep. The only thing that soothes the child is his mom. So what to do. In our case we have been going through a small library of books and asking friends with older kids for advice. But frustratingly the books (and our friends) have a range of suggestions often contrary to one another. On one end of the spectrum you have those who say that you should stop jumping ever time the baby cries, establish a routine stick to it, and let the baby cry it out; at the other end you have those who say the baby wants what it wants and for now your job is to fulfill those needs as much as possible. Particularly troublesome for us and most of our friends is the child's tendency to snack... ie to have small feeds and fall asleep at the boob only to wake and appear to be hungry 45 minutes later only to have another tiny snack. The snacking seems to leave the baby more gassy than when he has a big spaced out feeds (and of course the gas leads to more crying). This is particularly hard on the wives who barely have a moment for themselves.
These are the general solutions suggested both by friends and in the books:
Method 1: Don't "reward" the baby for crying by running to him each time he gets hysterical. Establish a fairly strict routine of sleep and feeding with at least 3 hours between feeds. Hold and comfort the baby only when he is not crying, and otherwise let him cry it out. Train the baby, don't let him train you.
Method 2: Map your babies habits fairly rigorously and establish a flexible routine based on his needs. Try to space out feedings as much as possible but don't let the boy get to the shrieking level. The baby is probably using the boob for comfort because he is over-stimulated. A good portion of his crying is not because he's hungry, but because he's tired. Try to get him to sleep much more than you are doing by limiting stimuli, putting him in a darkened room with some white noise. Also limit visitors and trips out. Try wrapping him tightly and allowing him to calm down before the crying gets into the crazy phase. Try having him sleep in a bassinet. Also make sure to put him down before he starts fussing and try soothing him to sleep in the crib (as opposed to in your arms rocking and stimulating him). The more he sleeps the less he will cry and more time you will have between feedings.
Method 3. The baby is in the 4th trimester. It's not even really human yet and in survival mode. It's brain is only 20% functional and what you need to do is simulate the womb environment where he is rocked, fed, warm and comfortable all the time. If he wants the boob, give him the boob. If he wants to feed for 10 minutes let him feed for 10 minutes. The child doesn't understand cause and effect yet. Comfort him by simulating the womb with gentle rocking, by swaddling tightly, and by using white noise. Just know that this phase will end in about 6 weeks and then you can start establishing routines.
#1 doesn't work for us. Neither of us has the ability to just let the kid cry. Also from what I understand about newborn development they don't understand causality so any Pavlovian training you might achieve might also leave the kid with a sense that world isn't secure... I understand why this technique might work later but for newborns...well, not for ours.
Method #2 makes the most sense to me, and I do believe newborns are generally overstimulated (all those new nerve endings are firing at once). Jenn tends towards Method #3 and that's generally what we've been doing, but we're being flexible in trying to figure things out. Ultimately #3 does work for us. The baby does calm down when he feeds and does sleep in Jenn's arms. But the burden is all on Jenn. Other than taking the baby out for stroller rides (which put him right to sleep), method 3 is very mom-centric.
In the meantime. I've created this handy chart for tracking sleep/wake/diaper. In the sleep column I just X out the blocks where he's asleep and use a A for agitated. C for crying. Q for quiet. L for Alert. G for hysterical. In the Feed column I draw boobs with numbers in them for the number of minutes on each. You can probably figure out the diaper column on your own. The chart really helps you get a sense of what's going on and where you might be able to tweak things. For example yesterday we realized the baby had gone almost 7 hours without a decent sleep. That's bad news for a newborn.
Update on the previous post.
Peter's body was not identified, but might have been one of the ones found and quickly buried on Wednesday (there were few foreigners in Kahawa). Peter's wife Alva is apparently on a flight scheduled for later this week and is staying with friends near Colombo. The house was seriously damaged and later looted. Alva is considering leaving Sri Lanka permanently. I have heard all this 2nd hand, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information. The family will probably set up some sort of of charity based fund in Peter's name. I'll admit I've been thinking about this all day...
December 20, 2004
I looked at this picture of the baby on the changing table and realized, "We've become what we hate." We're dressing up the kid in bizarre outfits, just like our parents did to us. Hard to believe the little guy has been on this side of the womb for less than 2 weeks.
Jenn's family is set to descend on our house Christmas day. They will be horrified by our Christmas tree. The older Korean family members are strict artificial tree kind of people. A live tree is considered extravagant, wasteful, perhaps even foolish. Last year I told Jenn's mom I was going to buy a live tree for her house like it or not. The modest tree eventually ended up in grandfather's house. All the aunts came around, took a good look, and concluded that plastic trees were more practical and less messy. This tree was huge they said (it was about 5 feet). They tend to prefer tabletop models. At least their plastic trees are green. My grandparents in Mexico always had a silver tree made of hammered tin. It was lit by a little light in the shape of a fan with a rotating red, green, blue and yellow filter...
It was always hot down in Mexico and we would have to pretend it was cold, wearing sweaters until the sweat made the charade unbearable. My brothers favored Christmas music which they played in agonizing loops not seeming to recognize the dissonance of Johnny Mathis singing about Frosty the Snowman when everyone was in shorts barbecuing carne asada out back. Christmases in Texas were not much better, although at least it was often overcast and rainy (we would turn up the air conditioning and light the fireplace). I always dreamed of Christmases... well, like this. Bracingly cold weather. A nice Vermont pine inside. Warm fire. Perhaps as a consequence of all those Christmases, you will rarely hear me complain about cold weather, and I don't think I've ever said a bad word about snow. I wonder if the boy, who will have "real" winters weaved into his life, will get that small rush when looking out into the night to the sight of snowflakes falling through the pool of a street lamp or if he will grumble about the cold and pass the window without notice.
December 15, 2004
The one week mark passed uneventfully...
December 9, 2004
I'm preparing a long post with the gritty details...
In the meantime more parent-into-his kid pix:
Answers to 5 frequently asked questions.
Question: What is the name? (alternately do you have a Korean name yet?)
Answer: Raul Andres Min Gutierrez
Re Min: Korean names generally have 1 to 3 syllables (most commonly 2). Each syllable stands for a Chinese character. Most brothers and sisters have the same first syllable... family of Korean kids might have names like Ji-hyon, Ji-ho, Ji-moon. As we had reserved Min-Ok when we thought the baby was a girl, we decided to stick with with Min theme. We played around with several second characters, but liked Min on it's own. It's unusual to have a one character name, but it works for us... sort of like he's the leader of the rest of the Mins to come. There are a couple of characters for Min. We will use the one that means 'clever' over the one that means 'democratic"... not knocking democracy, but we prefer cleverness....
Question: Does the fact that he is a boy when you were told the baby was a girl freak you out or make you sad?
Answer: No. Not at all. It was love at first site. Practically speaking it's a drag to have a closet full of girl stuff and gifts, but we'll save those for our future girl... or they will eventually be re-gifted! We did put lots of thought into a future little girl (just scroll down this blog to read some of the yammering), but we originally thought this kid was a boy and went through the reverse sensation when we were told it was a girl. Also always in the back of my head I thought this was a possibility. In fact just 2 nights ago at a deli a woman told me not to say the baby was a girl with such confidence....
Question: How is Jenn?
Answer: She's doing great... physically she's back on her feet and recovering nicely. Emotionally, she made the transition to momhood seemingly instantly. Practically she's amazing, (how does she know how to do all this baby stuff that vexes me so...)
Question: What are his eyes like?
Answer: In most of the pictures here, his eyes are shut and he looks quite Asian. But when he opens them his eyes are large and with a fold, so they are much more western looking. So he's a real mix. Hard to pin down.
Question: Are you tired?
yes. I'm hanging up now.
December 8, 2004
After yesterday's shock and awe. Sleep and eat. Sleep and eat.
December 8, 2004
a boy... a 10 pound 10 ounce, BOY!
Jenn showed true toughness today. Much more on the labor later.
Our son, yes son, is so perfect... At conception we had thought this baby was a boy, but 2 OBs and a couple of fuzzy ultrasounds convinced us otherwise.... so a closet full of girls clothes will have to go into storage awaiting #2 or 3. We know Olivia Magalene Min-Ok is out there waiting to be born... and I think we have to miss her just a bit... In the meantime, please say hello to Raul Andres. The boy entered the world to a roomful of amazed delivery nurses and doctors not to mention two impossibly proud parents.
Raul Andres is the name I was supposed to have before a mixup between Monterrey and Vietnam left me Raul Antonio. We are lacking a Korean name just yet, but that will be settled in a day or two. 'Raul' is because Mexicans name their firstborn after the dads; 'Andres' is for my great great grandfather. We had chosen the name in the first few weeks of pregnancy before doctors thought they had determined the sex.
The boy spent his first hours calmy looking at the faces of his family who had gathered round and then taking a healthy feed. He barely cried, remarkably comfortable in this world. His first major facial expression was a yawn. The baby's eyes are dark and penetrating and remarkably present. Both parents are vaguely terrified. In size alone this kid seems like a handful.
I have been up 24 hours. Must get a few hours shut eye. Much love to both our families, and everyone who was so great in supporting us today.
December 8, 2004
4am Dec 7
Jenn's labor began quietly enough... Tuesday morning at around 4 am I heard her moaning in her sleep every couple of minutes. The thought "Oh she's in labor" crossed my mind, and I fell back asleep, a weird reaction considering all the anticipation building up to the labor. We had just passed the 41 week mark and people were starting to worry. The OB was ordering lots of new tests and exams, I was worried about Jenn's discomfort. Our families were antsy. But perhaps I knew I had to get my rest too, so I slept.
5:57 Jenn woke up thinking she was having cramps. The day before she had been examined and a midwife in our OB practice. The midwife did something called "stripping the membrane: in which she used her finger to slough off some of the outer membranes of the placenta by reaching through the cervix. Painful? God, I can only imagine. This is supposed to stimulate labor and perhaps it did, but Jenn didn't recognize it as labor. She was upset because she was in a kind of pain that she hadn't experienced the entire pregnancy and was cramping. In retrospect those cramps might have been the uterus getting warmed up.
So Jenn woke up and headed to the bathroom with a bout of intense nausea. My wife can dislocate her shoulder without a wimper, but she doesn't do well with nausea. She began shaking like a leaf. I felt a pang of panic, but we were fairly well prepared. I already called our doula, made sure the bags were in order, made sure I had cash, phone, phone numbers, etc. The contractions were coming about every 5 minutes and were a minute long... in other words everything seemed normal. But within a few minutes the intensity increased and Jenn wasn't getting the sensation of release in-between. The release is what is supposed to make labor bearable, but it wasn't happening. This scared both of us.
The doula, Terry Richmond, arrived promptly and went right into trying a number of positions to ease the pain. Some were working, but the nausea and the shaking were getting worse. Also the contractions were speeding up. We tried the tub for a while which helped, but again there was no sense of release. By 9:15 we were headed to the hospital.
I had been dreading the drive to the hospital thinking that I would be so stressed that I wouldn't be able to focus, but I felt oddly relaxed and in control. Rush hour traffic was not that bad and more importantly the ride seemed to settle my wife a bit. The pain felt bearable she said.
Arriving at the hospital we found it easier to walk upstairs than to use a wheelchair. We were brought into a triage/examination area outside labor & delivery. The place was busy. 6 babies had already been born that day and it was early still. Jenn was put behind a curtain with an external monitor. A few minutes later our doctor came in did an internal exam and everyone was surprised to learn that Jenn was still at 4cm. This was the same dilation she had in the days before labor. Babies are generally delivered at 9 or 10 cms so this was disheartening. Also a second bit of bad news. The baby was very high, it hadn't even begun to descend. Our doctor, Dr Paka, a good natured MD from Hyderabad with a habit of calling my wife by the wrong name, shook her head and clucked, "I think this baby is very big." Then she went away to attend to other deliveries. An IV drip was inserted into Jenn's wrist and a saline drip was started. She was dehydrated and quickly absorbed 2 full bags of saline.
Privately a resident told me he had expected Jenn to be at 8cm based on the strength of her contractions and her general demeanor. This resident kept filling out forms with lots of repetitive questions. I thought it odd that he kept asking Jenn the questions as opposed to me, but I know they have procedure to follow. At this point we had a choice, get an epidural to ease the shaking and the pain, or go down to the birth center to try to deliver totally naturally.
Our plan had been to use the birth center. It's rooms are bigger, quieter, just in general nicer (relatively speaking). The birth center at St. Lukes Roosevelt has the feel of a two star hotel while the hospital rooms are, well, hospital rooms. The birth center has very different set of procedures than in Labor & Delivery. There is much less monitoring, fewer contraptions, no epidurals, and etc. It's an approach that trusts the woman's body to do the right thing. The idea is to put couples comfortable room with a whirlpool where the woman can get into any position that works for her without too much medical intervention. By most accounts with normal deliveries, and with women who are prepared for birth without an epidural, the birth center is one of the best bets in New York City for a satisfying birth experience with the safety net of being near a hospital. Also after the birth, the couple and child are pretty much guaranteed a private room. In Labor and Delivery you must ask for a private room and they are doled out as available. Husbands aren't allowed to spend the night in shared rooms. So the decision was upon us, birth center or labor and delivery (and epidural)? The decision was easy: labor wasn't progressing normally, and we all felt Jenn's shaking and nausea were side effects of the pain. She was laboring with high pitched non-productive squeaks as opposed to the productive deep moans we were looking for, and she was throwing up. So we decided on the epidural in the hopes it would relax her and allow labor to progress. My concern as that she would feel upset, because she had invested so much in the idea of a totally natural childbirth, but at this point she was just looking for relief. But even after we put in the request we had to wait... All the anesthesiologists were tied up.
The triage area was extremely noisy with other laboring women and people coming and going, there were 2 people ahead of us for a delivery room... so we waited. This probably was the most agonizing part of the entire day. We spent almost 90 minutes in the holding area but it seemed like an eternity. I kept re-assuring Jenn that a room was coming, but kept getting word that the room wasn't ready. Annoyed by the noise and clatter, I said, "It will be quiet, you'll get some relief and you can rest". Jenn, much to the amusement of the doula, the resident and myself, said, "oh it's nice and quiet in here..." She was going internal.
We were wheeled to a room in labor and delivery. The room was small a phalanx of machines. Despite 2 broken chairs, and a large wall clock stuck at 12:05 the room was comfortable. Outside we had a fairly decent view of the city. An anesthesiologist, the head resident arrived at 12:50. He had a firm calming manner (and he was wearing the cleanest chucks I've ever seen) and went to work. The epidural procedure which involves a needle in the spine was performed with merciful speed.
Within 20 minutes Jenn started becoming her normal self again, even cracking a few jokes. Now we just had to wait. The plan was for her to try to get some sleep and see if contractions would start again, if not Pitocin, an artificial form of Oxytocin to stimulate contractions would be delivered. Despite the reprieve from the pain, Jenn was upset. This was exactly what we had been trying to avoid, she said she felt like she had failed. I did my best to let her know how proud I was of her and how I thought this was the right decision given the slow progression of labor, but she was having none of it. Pitocin was delivered via IV and the contractions, which had been calmed by the the anesthesia started again on charts. Finally she simply slept.
I took a break for lunch.
Dr. Paka examined Jennifer. No progress, so she decided to break the bag of water. I wasn't in the room for this, but apparently the procedure was painless.
On the way back from lunch, I ran into the doctor. She had told me she thought the baby was big and might need a c-section. I tried to make her promise that as long as there was progress she would hold off. While she wouldn't promise, I think she heard me...
In the meantime Jenn's sister Becky arrived. In typical Becky fashion she bopped into the room in good spirits, took a flash picture of Jenn and then held the camera out and took a picture of herself. "So will the baby be here soon?" she asked. She was unaware of the drama of the morning.
Dr. Paka returned. "Let's see how Judy is doing."
"Jennifer," I said.
"Let's see how Jennifer is doing."
The results of the exam were disheartening. 5cm. But it was progress. The doula and I kept emphasizing the point. Dr. Paka looked worried and said she would be back soon. Also a fever had started. Fevers after epidurals are common, so antibiotics were added to the saline drip.
Hours passed without much progress. Outside, the scene was a chaotic with babies being delivered every hour. Q nervous Pakistani man, a tough looking man with a scar from the Bronx, and an Orthodox man and assorted soon-to-be grandparents paced the hall.. The respective wives were making incredibly varied noises from sing-songy sounds, wolf howls, to something that sounded like a yodeler being strangled. None of this was particularly calming. The noise bothered Jenn and I had to keep closing the door. I admit I also kept closing the doors to the other room. By 6pm, twelve babies were born. The clock on the wall still stuck at noon was beginning to really bug me. Luckily Jenn couldn't see it.
And inside our room, Jenn's epidural started wearing off. She began to feel everything again. The shakes returned and the nausea.
The epidural was "topped off" and Jenn instantly began to feel better again.And the second epidural had kicked up the fever. At 6:00 it was 101.9. More antibiotics were ordered as well as two internal monitors. One for the baby, one for the mom. The baby monitor involves inserting a long thin tube with a tiny wire inside. This wire is actually screwed into the baby's head. At this point Jenn had these monitors, a catheter in her elbow for saline/pitocin/antibiotics, the epidural in her back, another tube connected to the sphygmomanometer on her arm... All this was scary for me, but for Jenn it was disheartening. Again we had invested so much in doing all this naturally that she kept saying that she felt like she had failed. I'll admit hearing her say this got me choked up because I was so darned proud of her. She had been working so hard, and had been so calm. At one point we kicked everyone out of the room and just talked it out. I don't know if I said anything helpful, but afterwards she was more focused and calm.
The epidural was wearing off again. Again Jenn was feeling everything.An anesthesiologist was called in. She performed a series of simple tests. "Do you feel something sharp on this leg? How about this leg? What about here?" Her conclusion was the epidural was in properly but that for whatever reason the nerves to the pelvis were not being saturated and that the only possible solution was to remove the current epidural and insert a new one. She left the room to call in another doctor. A second doctor confirmed the analysis of the first. A new epidural would be required.
A new labor nurse was on call, Jaye. Jaye is super cool, with lots of arm ink. She told us not to worry.
And at this point a small miracle: as pain increased, Jenn began letting out low sonorous sounds with the contractions... she started laboring productively, ie the baby started moving. We could see it on the chart. With every group of contractions, an inverse blip on the baby's chart, let that let us know the kid was on the move. It was obvious to everyone that the pain was shattering but Jenn was working with it. Later she would say the feeling of the baby moving meant everything in the world. She was dealing... all the while letting out long operatic moans that seemed to come from the base of her soul. The anesthesiologist showed up to redo the epidural. Amazingly she turned him down saying simply, "don't worry, I can deal." All the while, the encouraging blips showing were showing the baby moving. We each one we let her know what was going on. At one point Jenn actually smiled between contractions. During all of this, our doctor had been called away to attend an emergency delivery which gave us about an hour... Jenn told the labor nurse she was feeling the urge to push and the delivery nurse paged in a doctor for an evaluation. As Dr. Paka was busy, another OB came in and did a quick exam. She was at 8cm, almost through transition to the pushing stage. This was an intense time. Jenn's mom was in the room praying. I was letting Jenn know what was going on with the contractions based on the charts, and Terry was providing comfort by cooling Jenn's head, giving us all water and generally keeping things on track.
Dr. Paka was paged. She seemed shocked find Jenn fully dilated, as she had been preparing for a c-section and had already ordered a us a room. The news kicked everyone into action. Dr. Paka was still worried about the babies size. As a precaution she brought in a full team of residents and nurses. There were 8 or 9 people in the room in addition to the doula and myself. The bed was broken so the doctor could have better access. I was given the job of holding one of Jenn's feet. The pushing part of labor is athletic and extremely focused. Jenn did not need any help here. She was pushing beautifully. The thought I kept having was that if anyone ever doubted the power of women they needed to witness a this. When the head appeared Jenn was told to push as hard as she could. With one great concentrated effort an arm appeared. One of the nurses shouted that he was coming out hands up. I did not know it at the time, but this was a small gracenote because with one arm up the shoulders are narrower and the baby can move through the birth canal easier. With large babies the danger is that they get stuck and the doctors are forced to break their shoulders to remove them. The doctor would later call our situation her worst nightmare. Hence the large team, hence all the worry. So with the hand, the entire room visibly relaxed.
A second or two later the rest of the body slipped right out. Dr. Paka stood their holding the baby for a moment clipping the umbilical cord. The baby lay there eyes blinking, covered in blood hands up in the air. "This is a very big child," she said softly and quickly handed the child to a pediatrician so that meconium could be suctioned from the babies mouth. I think it was a delivery nurse who said, "It's a boy." Dr. Paka I don't think had noticed as she was so focused on just getting the baby out and on dealing with the umbilical cord. I think everyone in the room repeated "A boy?" to themselves at least once. I ran over to the warmer as the boy was cleaned and checked. He let out sharp cries as he was poked and prodded but was otherwise quiet and alert.
I was literally speechless. Jenn was calm, a bit stunned, but looking surprisingly relaxed given that she was still in the middle of delivering placenta. "A boy?" she kept repeating. Then the weight was announced. 10 pounds 10 ounces. Even the doctor seemed flabbergasted. Later Jenn would say she was also shocked by the number of people in the room. She hadn't been aware of anyone other than myself, the doctor, the nurse, and the doula.
I stood by the warmer holding the boy's hand with my finger and snapping pictures. I was checking to make sure everything was in the right place. 10 toes. 10 fingers etc. It was all there.
Soon Raul Andres' eyes were open and calm. I was anxious to get him to his mother. After a few mintues which stretched like an eternity he was on Jenn's breast for a first feeding. Jenn's mom came in. She had been peeking into the birth and was, I'm afraid a bit traumatized. The baby calmed her. I called my parents and Becky. All were at bedside within thirty minutes.
The family stayed around for about an hour. The whole time, the Raul Andres was calm and alert. Jenn was feeling as well as could be expected. Everyone was happy, a bit dazed, full of emotion,but quiet. Surprisingly no tears were shed. We also exhausted. Soon was time for everyone to go. Jenn was wheeled to her recovery room. The baby was wheeled over to the nursery for some tests.
No private rooms were available so we had to share with a girl who kept the TV on seemingly all day long. After about an hour the baby was returned to us (everything normal) and Jenn and baby finally went to sleep. I was kicked out at around 3:30am. As I walked out of the hospital onto the quiet rainy streets of New York City I certainly didn't feel like a dad yet, but the tug on my heart was strong, and it took everything I had not to try to go up and sneak back into the room with my wife and child. The streets were empty. I didn't have an umbrella but I didn't care. I walked all the way over to my parents place on 5th and 60th full of wordless emotion.
November 17, 2004
Jenn as an infant. Me as an infant. It's a genetic crap shoot.