Thursday, August 31, 2006

Only moderately obsessed

It's taken us almost six weeks to get our first video of the little guy online, so I don't think it's fair to say that we're totally obsessed.

Besides, we're doing this so the family can see him. Not that we've been playing it repeatedly ourselves, marveling at his cuteness, even though we have him right here to look at in person.

See, we're totally under control. We're not totally obsessed. Only moderately obsessed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

This sucks, let's do it again soon

Who knew you could do this, Dad?

Last night, while Mama took Barky out for his evening walk, I fed 3B for the first time. Although I'll never be able to have the complete experience that Mama does, from let down to the prolactin coma, it did give me a glimpse of what is so special about breastfeeding. That brief look at it from the inside has made me want to do it again--soon and often.

I've spent a fair amount of up-close time with 3B--at this point, there's really no other kind of time with him--but there is something tangibly different about that time and the time I spent feeding him. Perhaps it's because we're both focused on one task, one which consumes almost all of our attention.

At other times, his attention strays from this mobile to that light or to those pages that I keep turning in his face or to the discomfort of gas or even to the pangs of hunger, while my attention might shift from finding a comfortable position for him, to what Mama's saying to him, to keeping Barky from curling up on top of him, to keeping him from rolling off my chest, to finding a book that interests him, to staying awake, to folding back the NYTimes quietly enough so as not to wake him. At meal time, however, we both have but one focus.

The whole time he was eating, he stared into my eyes or examined my face closely, as though trying to divine my whole life from those few square inches of skin. I couldn't take my eyes off of him, marveling at his copper-colored hair, his cowlick sworl, his mysterious-colored eyes, his gossamer eyelashes, his tiny red ears, and his sweet, smooth skin. Just as he was, I was trying to figure out who he is, but I was wondering about who he will be: Where will he go? Who will he know? What will he do? I remembered when I was young, although older than 3B is, walking down the linoleum-tiled hall from my room in the morning, then lying between my parents in bed as they were waking, examining the skin of their hands, wondering how they got to look the way that they did: Dad's hands, with each cell outlined in sharp lines, and Mom's hands, so strong, with skin so supple, smooth, and soft.

As we looked at each other, I was aware as never before of the intense affection of his gaze. It is always apparent, especially now that he is responding to our voices, even smiling in response to them when he's in the mood, but there was something different about seeing it while feeding him. Perhaps it has to do with the tunnel-vision isolation of feeding him, or perhaps there is something different about his gaze when he's feeding, or perhaps it was that we were both seeing something different together--that I was seeing him anew, in greater clarity than before, and he was, as a result, not only seeing me differently than before, but also seeing a different me looking back at him.

Whatever it was, I can't wait to feed him again, even to give Mama a break for one of his night feedings. More than that, however, I can't wait to see him in my Mom's hands, the hands that held me as a baby; the hands that hold, carry, and soothe a baby with such ease and grace; the hands that are still so strong, with skin so supple, smooth, and soft.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

From the mouths of babes

I'd rather be thin than famous,
I don't wanna be fat.
And a woman throws me outta bed, callin me Gordo,
and every time I bend to pickup my suspenders from the davenport floor
I explode loud, huge grunt-o and disgust everyone in the familio.
I'd rather be thin than famous,
but I'm fat.
Paste that in your Broadway show.
--Jack Kerouac

At the rate that I'm eating, however, I have a better chance of being famous than thin. Last night I made Szechuan Noodles with Green Beans and Cashews from what is fast becoming my favorite cookbook. Per the title of the cookbook, it's a simple recipe that comes together with just the right amount of spice, texture, and surprise--the cool of the cucumbers--to make it delectable.

Too delectable, as it turns out. Although we were hungry by the time it was ready--8 p.m. or so, which is not that unusual with a newborn around--neither of us was famished. Until we started eating, that is. We were as bad as Barky; we just could not stop eating these delicious noodles until we were able to do nothing more strenuous than lay on the couch and groan at each other.

Unfortunately, there was still much to do, like feeding 3B and taking Barky for a walk. The former wasn't too difficult, since it didn't require staying vertical for any longer than it took to retrieve 3B from his swing and bring him to Mama. The latter, however, required a great deal of effort: first there was standing up, then there was bending over to put the leash on Barky (which put several buttons and seams throughout my wardrobe in peril), then there was the walking around.

It was a typical, late-summer evening in Northern Virginia, so by the end of the walk I had sweat out enough water that it seemed I wouldn't have to use paramedics' scissors to get my clothes off. (I know, gross, right? But what a relief that was.) But I had exploded some loud, huge grunt-os along the way, as my knees buckled under the weight of my distended belly. Those noises, however, were nothing compared to the cacophony that rose up after we returned home and attempted to go to sleep.

First, let me say about 3B that he can, at any time, fart as loud as though he'd shut down a kegger the night before. There is still some debate over which side of the family this trait comes from, but I think I'm fighting a losing battle on this one, since his belches seem similar to my operatic expressions of love for eating that often follow my meals, and the Philosopher Queen has determined that what goes up must be the same thing that goes down, ergo the farts come from the same side of the family as the belches--mine. I digress, however, because the farts weren't what was keeping us awake last night; it was the grunting.

Usually, the grunting precedes some gaseous or other emission from 3B, or is a protest against the inhumanity of swaddling, but there are times when the grunting is an end unto itself. Bedtime last night was such a time, but just briefly. After the grunting was done, Mama and I thought that we were safely on our way to Slumberville when 3B and Barky started performing their Fine Whine Concerto, which consists of alternating, wheezing exhalations from the opposite sides of the bed on which they sleep--3B on Mama's side for quick access for night feedings, Barky on my side as payment for my past sins. It was all we could do to not laugh out loud to keep from waking either of them.

Eventually they reached the dramatic cadence, which consisted of a few final grunts from 3B accompanied by Barky's mouth-closed, half-volume baying along with his paws-and-claws-on-crate-bars percussion, and we were all able to get to sleep.

This morning I read this Editor's Query in the WaPo about when a child said something freakishly grown up that made me grateful that all we have to deal with at this point is the grunting.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lower your blood pressure: Feed. Change. Nap. Repeat.

After waking up to the 3B alarm clock, Mama and I started the day with a fudge brownie with butterscotch chips from the batch that I made last night. They would have been a lovely dessert after our green salad and Mom's (mine) macaroni and cheese, but there wasn't enough time for the brownies to cool before we went to bed, so we had to have our first taste for breakfast this morning.


After that, it was time for Barky and 3B to have their breakfasts. Barky was done and ready to go out in about 23 seconds, but he had to wait for his brother to finish before we did. It was a nice day--warm, but not too humid, so we were able to stay out for awhile. Not as long as we did yesterday, when we got out early, thanks to 3B's early waking, stopped at Cameron Perks for iced coffee, scones, and brunch for 3B.

3B's schedule was similar today, with brunch coming after our walk. After that, there was much newspaper and book reading. Mama was engrossed in Kafka on the Shore, as she has been all week, while I was busy leafing through the Sunday NYTimes and WaPost. I'll be glad when she's done with Kafka, so I can find out what the deal is with Col. Sanders being a pimp, and so I can float through another Murakami book. For me, Murakami is in the same category as Paul Auster, more for the feeling that I get when I read their books--as if I've been able to walk a mile in someone else's mirage--than for any similarities of literary style or mechanics.

Speaking of dreams, that part of the day ended with my nap, while Mama fed and played with 3B. My nap was followed by Mama's nap, during which I reclined on the couch and continued to shuffle the pages of the papers, with 3B napping on my chest while Barky slept at, and on, my feet.

After that round of naps, it was time for another quick walk for Barky, in the gathering gloom, while 3B had an evening snack. We took a quick turn around the back of the bowling alley, where the chicory and summer weeds that used to wave their blossoms have died off and now just rattle in the breezes.
Dinner for Mama and me was leftovers from last night, which suited us just fine; we love Mom's mac and cheese--sour cream is the secret, although last night I splurged and sprinkled the top with bread crumbs soaked in olive oil to brown into a crunchy topping as it baked, so it was even better. And leftovers are the plan. Since 3B came along, we've been trying to both cook more meals at home and make larger meals, so we don't have to cook every night. We both like to cook and bake, and doing so tends to bring us together in the kitchen and around the table more often and for longer than microwaving a paper tray of frozen food does.

Don't get me wrong, just last night we had frozen pizza, and earlier this week we even had frozen burritos--albeit with Spanish rice and a salad, but still--so there's still a place on our plates for frozen foods. It's just that we're trying to indulge ourselves, feed 3B good foods, and enjoy our larger family every chance we get. It does take a bit more time, but when the rewards are Noodles with Cashews in Curried Coconut Sauce; Linguine with Roasted Red Peppers, Peas, and Pine Nuts; White Bean and Vegetable Gratin; Thai Fried Rice; White Beans with Spinach, Garlic, and Tomatoes; and Curried Rice Salad, the time is well spent.

Of course, there are nights when we eat in shifts because one is either feeding or soothing 3B while the other eats. Some nights we get him into his swing or bouncy seat for the duration of the meal, but sometimes that doesn't last through the meal. Regardless, the good food and good company and the fun we have cooking and eating make the time and effort of shopping and preparing these meals worthwhile.

That said, cooking those meals, along with the feed-change-nap-repeat cycle and the laundry cycle--wash, dry, fold, put away, take out, put on, take off, apply spot remover, repeat--does take up a fair amount of our days, leaving little time for what used to be central features in our lives, such as work, blogging, bad reality TV, and so on. But we find ourselves at a new peace in this new life, as if it were the life that we were meant to lead, and everything leading up to this point had been impatient rehearsals and frustrating delays. That's not the case, of course, we were happy before, but we've been pleasantly surprised by how much better life is now.

I wasn't aware of the physical effects of all these changes, other than the side effects of sleep cycle interruptions, until I went to give blood this week. I missed my regular appointment right after 3B was born and finally remembered this week to go in and donate. During the screening, they measure blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and blood iron level. I give every eight weeks and my blood pressure is always in a good range, but this time my blood pressure was down significantly from that range, causing even the phlebotomist to comment--and that's in spite of my having gone back to work for three days this week.

Turns out that brownies for breakfast are good for you after all.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Suburban flotsam and jetsam

Found under the pine trees on the lawn around the back of our building:

What about Mama?

MetroDad recently posed an interesting series of questions for bloggers about their spouses. I thought that I'd take a whack at them not only to answer his questions, but to perhaps answer some of my own questions about just what the hell I'm doing here.

Why is it rare that so few bloggers seem to write about their spouses?
OK, sometimes I can't stop the editor in me, so apologies for starting off by picking nits, but what I believe MD meant to ask is "Why is it that bloggers rarely write about their spouses?" or "Why is it that so few bloggers write about their spouses?" Since I can't speak for the other bloggers, I'll attempt to answer the former of these two options.

I rarely write about Mama primarily because I chose to write a blog and expose myself, however tentatively, to the world. She did not. While she is fascinating, funny, brilliant, compassionate, and beautiful, and while I would like to share all of that with all of you, it's not my place to do so. If she wants to do that, I would welcome it. In fact, ever since 3B's birth, I've been encouraging her, with assistance from Zygote Daddy, to write a post telling her side of the birth story. No luck yet, but I'm not giving up either. So, it's not that I don't want y'all to know about her, it's that I want to let her tell her own story, if she so desires.

Are some of your spouses even aware that you have a blog?
Yes. Oh yes, Mama knows. I often have to go out to the living room to write so she can get some sleep . . . or I did before 3B came along, back when I could stay up all night writing and still somehow stumble through the next day.

Do your spouses know about the blogs that you visit regularly?
Before 3B was born, back when I had spare time, I would often start sentences with, "So, I was reading this blog. . ." Yeah. She knows. I wouldn't say that she knows about all of them, just because I'm afraid of boring her with what may only be fascinating to me, but it's not like I keep them from her. As a matter of fact, she can cruise on over to my Bloglines account any time she likes on either of our computers to see what I read.

Do they know about your blog friends or do you keep it a secret?
Yes. She knows. Again, back when I had spare time, the other half of my sentences would start with, "So, I just got a comment/e-mail/reply from this other blogger, you know, the one who blah, blah, blah . . ." Judging from the relationships between other bloggers through comments and posts about one another, I think it's safe to say that I'm not the only blogger who has found good peeps who are witty, intelligent, helpful, and full of good advice through blogging. I have no idea why I would keep that a secret from Mama. I love to share good things with her, and my blog friends are a good thing.

Do they know that some of these blogs are written by members of the opposite sex?
Well, it wasn't a total shock to her that Liberal Banana is a woman, since she and BF came over for dinner, so yes, she knows. I trust that Mama's not threatened by them or any other women whose writing I may read or who I may converse with, because Mama will always be the most beautiful person to me. However, mostly because I can't stop myself from exclaiming it, but also because I'm prone to bouts of deep insecurity myself and never want to be the cause of them in others, I remind Mama every day that she is and always will be the most beautiful person.

Would they care at all about it if they did know?
She knows, and she doesn't care, although she sometimes wishes that I would come to bed earlier--mostly so I'm not such a cranky dope the next morning.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pickles the Fire Cat Has a Secret

Mama and I like to find those books to read to 3B that expose him to the diversity that we find so beautiful in life. He's growing up in the 'burbs right now, so we make sure to read him books about city life, small town life, and nature. He's growing up back east and down south right now, so we make sure to read him books about out west and up north. He's too young to have voiced his own gender and sexuality identity, so we make sure to read him books about boys, girls, and what lies between as well as books about being gay, straight, and what lies between--well, we would if we could find them, that is.

Our shelves have a fair number of books on gender and sexuality, especially those filled with Mama's books from the classes she took for her Women's Studies master's degree and from her nanosecond-long tenure at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, but there aren't many children's books on those topics. Rather, we thought that there weren't.

I'm sure that this news comes as no surprise to parents who have already read The Fire Cat, but as I was just reading it to 3B, it occurred to me that Pickles is gay, which is deliciously subversive for such a popular book that was written in 1960.

How do I know? Let's review what we learn about Pickles:

  • He chases all the pussies from his yard.
  • He starts off living all by himself in a barrel, but comes out of the barrel to live with a group of firemen. (This plot is not too surprising, since the initial title was "Pickles the YMCA Cat.")
  • Pickles loves firemen. Say what you want about stereotypes, but check with Steve at the Hygiene Chronicles before you do. (Also, you must check his compare-and-contrast photo essay about the trip to the firehouse, "The Fireman I Got vs. The Fireman I Wanted.")
  • Pickles has big paws. This may not make him a gay cat, but it will probably make him a popular gay cat.
And then there's this passage:
"My goodness, Pickles," said Joe [the fireman], "what big paws you have!"
Pickles looked at Joe and said the one word he could say: "MEOW!"
And Joe could see that Pickles wanted something very much.
Next we'll answer the age-old question: Is the Runaway Bunny a draft dodger? If so, does his mother represent an accomplice, helping him over the border into Canada; an authority figure, chasing down and busting him; or something else? Was this text the inspiration for Springsteen's Highway Patrolman, as is so often rumored?

Please read the whole text before the next class.

Friday, August 18, 2006

DVD players as effective as car seats for keeping kids safe?

Brother #2 forwarded me the news, via the SFGate baby blog, The Poop, that Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of Freakonomics, believe that car seats may be no more effective than seat belts for keeping kids over the age of two safe in accidents, and that if there is any difference between the two, it could be made up by DVD players.

They make their case in this column from a long-ago issue of the NY Times Magazine, in which they posit that
  • car seats are no safer than seat belts for kids over the age of two
  • booster seats may do more harm than good in an accident
  • the only benefit of car seats is to make kids sit still, meaning that they could be replaced by seat-back DVD players (no, I didn't make that up)
They warn that consumers may be needlessly spending millions of dollars--and probably millions of hours--every year on devices which have not been proven to provide the sole benefit that they are designed for. According to Stephen and Steven, complicit in this waste are the government agencies that mandate car seat use without proof of their efficacy, making it a crime for parents to save some money without putting their kids in any greater jeopardy.

For my money, if the only benefit is to keep the kids in one place, I think that this is another problem that a little duct tape could fix. Or perhaps someone could make a onesie out of Velcro; then, all that car manufacturers would have to do is add some Velcro patches to seat belts.

What do you think?

(Oh, and full disclosure: Stephen Dubner is a distant cousin of Mama's, although they've never met.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fast food, speed dating, and now this

And since this is at your own risk, you might want to bring your own midwife or doctor.

But you get all the free live bait that you want.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thoughts of Unusual Daring

I feel the need to write a post that has less than my usual 25,000 words, and I figured that perhaps this could help me do that.

But I'm not holding my breath.

1. One book that changed your life: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. As a Wonder Bread kid who grew up in a suburbia filled with tree-shaded lanes and lots and lots of white folks, this book scraped the scales from my eyes about race and urban life in the U.S. Just the story of Malcolm's life was a journey into a world as foreign and unreal to me as Narnia. Whenever I believe that I know how the world works, or where someone else comes from, or what life is like elsewhere and for others, I remind myself of how humbled I felt when reading this book, and remember just how little I know.

2. One book that you've read more than once: I'm with Zygote Daddy on this one. There are so many books, so little time, and so much to do in this world that I'd rather not read books more than once. That said, there are several volumes of poetry as well as philosophical works, such as Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, that I've read repeatedly, although generally not from cover to cover as I would a novel.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: Lonely Planet's Guide to a Desert Island.

4. One book that made you laugh: The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. Although I haven't finished it yet, Five Million Words Later, the autobiography of a relative who, by the time I had the good fortune to know him was a warm, charming old man, who would come to holiday dinners at our house along with his lovely wife, Rosie. Dogs Are from Jupiter (any Peanuts collection, for that matter). Also, anything by Ogden Nash. Is that more than one? What can I say? I like to laugh.

5. One book that made you cry: Fatherloss. Despite the 22 years that have passed since I lost my father, not a day goes by that I don't miss him in some way.

6. One book that you wish had been written: Make Millions As a House Husband.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Oh, there are some crappy books out there that have caused the demise of many an innocent tree, but I don't wish that they had never been written, just that I had never been exposed to them.

8. The book that you are currently reading: I'll leave out any book with "parent," "child," "baby," "mother," or "father" in the title because there are far too many to list here. That leaves me with the one nonparenting book that I'm reading right now, A Crack in the Edge of the World, a birthday gift from my Mom that reminds me of my roots. Unstable, shifting, calamitous roots, sure, but they're mine.

9. One book that you've been meaning to read: The next book in the stack on my bedside table, not to mention those stacked in the drawers of my beside table.

10. Five people to tag: Like Hanes, I'm supporting a tag-free world. For the record, nobody tagged me with this one, although Zygote Daddy and Anthromama could have. So, yes, I would still jump off a bridge if all my friends did. Will I never learn?

Monday, August 14, 2006

One more thing 3B will blame me for when he's a teenager

Here's the thing about having a baby: I want nothing more than to be perfect for him, but I'm not.

I want to always do exactly what he needs, if it's rocking, holding, swaddling, or simply paying him the attention he needs--but sometimes I find that I fail. Of course, there's are the obvious failures that I can't overcome--for example, I can't feed him. I've lost count of how many times he's been fussing and rooting and, on our way to Mama for a meal, he has given me that look of betrayal and anger, as if it were my fault that I don't have lactating breasts, then let loose with a bloodcurdling screech.

And, although I still feel bad--almost pained--when I just can't figure out what is upsetting him, I've largely gotten over my feelings of guilt. I know that I'll probably eventually figure it out, and I take solace in the fact that I'll try almost anything to comfort him when he's upset. Almost anything . . . you know, short of fixing him a dry, clean martini to help him relax after his hard day napping. Perhaps that's just because we're out of olives right now, or perhaps that's because he'll have to fight me for it if he wants it.

The failures that pain me the most, especially when I look back on them, are the times when I feel that I haven't tried as hard as I can for the little guy. Most--no, all--of these times have come in the middle of the night, when I'm trying to soothe him back to sleep after he's eaten or gotten changed. As much as possible, I try to take care of him after he eats at night to let Mama get back to sleep as soon as possible, since he just sucked a bunch of energy out of her. Although, I have to admit that she's much better than I am at staying awake long enough to get him back to sleep.

So I find myself, after midnight, in the glider-rocker, with the little guy on my lap, in my arms, on my chest, or over my shoulder. While he's not crying, he's still fussing--definitely not going back to sleep soon. Now, perhaps if this was during the day, and I was fully rested, I would get up and walk him around a bit. But these episodes take place in that groggy, head-full-of-tar time when Hypnos' cement boots are still trying to pull me under the waves of sleep washing over me, making my legs and feet heavy and my thoughts slow and stupid. So I stay in the rocker, struggling to stay awake.

What 3B probably needs most at this time is more attention from me. If I could just focus on him a bit, I could probably figure out from his fussing what it was he needed, but all the neurons that I can muster are working on how to maintain my consciousness, leaving none for his worries. Their work is not made any easier by my constant rocking which is having the effect on me that I want it to have on 3B--it puts me right to sleep.

As I was slouched there, early one morning, after a spectacular change-feed-change-feed-change cycle, which seemed to take longer than Wagner's Ring Cycle, I went through my list of options:

  • reading, which is right out because that requires too much light, which would wake up 3B
  • talking to myself, which is right out because it makes too much noise, which would wake up 3B
  • rubbing Tabasco sauce on my eyelids, which, according to a reliable source, works for Marines in Iraq, is right out for what I hope are obvious reasons
  • trying to find a movie or show to watch on TV among all the infomercials in the wee hours of the morning
Right. So I flipped on the tube and came almost immediately to VH1 Classics, which was replaying the videos from the first day that MTV was on the air. How could I not look, especially given that I'm still trying to figure out what songs to request at my upcoming reunion? I was already feeling guilty for not being able to stay awake to help soothe 3B to sleep, and now I was adding to that my guilt for exposing him to TV and bad 80's music all at once, but I was desperate.

It turned out OK in the end, however. The light and the noise didn't bother him, and they helped me wake up enough to pay attention to his needs, shift his position when he needed it, and even walk him around the room a bit, until he was sound asleep. Unfortunately, it was so effective on me that by the time I took him back and put him in his bassinet, I was wide awake and hooked on the beauty and the horror of what I was seeing:
  • Split Enz "One Step Ahead," with unbelievably bad white-man-in-the-80's dancing (it takes one to know one)
  • Kate Bush "Wuthering Heights," in which she really does a horrible mime-stuck-in-a-glass-box act in addition to all the spooky overacting
  • Phil Collins "Turn It On," which apparently not only required no jacket but also required no shirt--leaving enough room in the wardrobe budget for his two lovely red terry cloth wristbands . . . for the record, Phil Collins clad only in wristbands is as much of a turn-on as watching milk curdle
  • REO Speedwagon "Don't Let Him Go," proving that there were so few videos, MTV would play anything, no matter if the lead singer was wearing a horrible, white, skintight jumpsuit with zig-zags drawn all over it
  • Some Lee Ritenour video, which must have been the last one on the shelf . . . I'm not sure how else they could justify playing it
It turns out that there were videos that held up over time, even if the effects were a bit cheesy. Both Pat Benetar's rockin' "I'm Gonna Follow You" and the Pretenders' apropos and badass "Kid" kept my hope alive that better songs would come along until I finally started to drift off myself.

But I'm still haunted with the thought that 3B may have absorbed this experience as he drifted off, and that I may have have again failed my son by dooming him to a life of loving skinny ties, big hair, and cheesy lyrics.

Yes, my wife is related to my mother

Growing up, my Mom took so many pictures of us that my first words were "Just one more."

The result was mountains of photos and slides that are precious to me not only because Mom is such a good photographer, particularly skilled at composition and capturing the essence of her subjects, but also because they are an inheritance of his own history for 3B.

I can show him myself and his aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, and so on as they grew up, as they gathered, as they laughed with and loved each other. For all the times that I whined, "Not just one more." I'm now glad that Mom always persisted.

That persistence, and the constant presence of the monocular lens observing us, ready to capture our images, had its effects on us. One was my desire to emulate Mom's photography skills, although I certainly lack the discipline to come close to her level. Another effect was shifting my view of the world from, "Look, something pretty." to "That would make a good picture." or even "That's pretty, but it would be a terrible photo."

I often won't bring a camera along because I can't stop looking at the world as a series of opportunitites for pictures and just let it wash over me. However, this then frustrates me when I see something particularly picturesque and think, "If only I had my camera." All my life, I've thought that this is an affliction that only affects my mother's children. Until tonight.

Mama and I were walking 3B and Barky down the street on our evening constitutional when a bird suddenly fluttered down from a nearby tree, landing haphazardly in the basket of our stroller. And I mean haphazardly. This little tweeter tumbled down out of the tree with no more stable direction than Woodstock flying in a hurricane. It's rather amazing that he ended up shooting through all the hoops and handles to get into that basket.

While I'm standing there, trying to process all of this--in a split second, wondering how to get this bird away from 3B before it passes him the West Nile or Avian Flu virus, or before it hops up into the stroller seat and starts making like 3B is Tippi Hedren--Mama calmly turns back to me and asks, "Do you have your camera?"

Clearly, Mama is related in some way to my Mom. Who else would ask that, when confronted with the peril of a puffy, fluffy little tweetie perched so near their newborn son?

But then again, I am still my mother's son, so of course I had a camera:

3B and Bird

In the time it took me to pull my phone from my pocket, the little bastard had already pooped on 3B's burp diaper.

3B and Bird

I know that the bird brings disease and danger to you, but hold on 3B, you were waving your arm in that first one . . . let me get . . . wait for it . . . just one more.

Bye Bye Birdie

Oh, and then let me get one of the bird trying to escape. (Don't birds look up before they take off? Apparently, not all of them do. This one flew straight up into the bottom of 3B's seat.)

Bye Bye Birdie. . .no, really

And just one more of just the bird. (I believe I actually said, "Hold it right there little guy, while I frame this." As if I'm the Ansel Adams of camera phones.)

Finally, the bird just wobbled off across the street, bumbling through the air about eight inches above the pavement, rolling to a landing on the median.

As we walked away, I called my Mom and related Mama's reaction to a bird landing in her son's stroller.

Mom just laughed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Goin' back to Cali

I just booked our flights, confirming that Mama, Solomon, and I will be goin' back to California for my high school's 20-year reunion, and we could use your help. We have two big questions:

  1. Got any tips for traveling with an infant? 3B will be about eight weeks old at the time and we have concerns from all the mechanics--What do we take? How do we carry it? What about security checks with strollers, slings, and a car seat?--to health and safety--Anything we can do to make it safer for him when we take him into a plane filled with 100 strangers' breath, germs, and foot stink?

  2. Got any suggestions for music at the reunion? We're setting the wayback machine to 1986 for the reunion, and the invitation solicits song requests. I figure that anything from the years we were in high school are fair game, which means 1982-86. The only catch is that they limit it to five songs. So there's your challenge: which five songs from 1982-86 should I request?
Here are some reminders, to help jog your memory:

1986 Grammy Awards
  • Record of the Year: We Are the World (subtitle: We Are the Western Northern Hemisphere, whose egos--and hair--are as big as the world)
  • Album of the Year: No Jacket Required (subtitle: No Music Required, just bring that drum loop and some insipid lyrics . . . although I shouldn't be so hard on this on, since we know that Dutch will be voting for it)
  • Song of the Year: We Are the World (ferchrissakes, we get it already . . . all you pop stars are so generous and moral--did I mention that Michael Jackson cowrote this?--not to mention good at following pop trends, although not so good at writing songs as the Brits)
  • Best New Artist: Sade (OK, I got nuthin' here. I actually like her. Then again, Enya makes me cry, so who am I to judge?)
  • Best Music Video, Short Form: "We Are the World - The Video Event" ("Video Event"? It's a freakin' video-- mass-produced magnetic particle sculptures on cheap plastic. Proof that it didn't take nearly as long as I thought for music videos to develop self-conceit.)
  • Best Music Video, Long Form: Huey Lewis & the News - The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll (Later, this video was at the heart of the Guantanamo Bay controversy, when the U.N. declared that forcing prisoners to watch it was inhumane treatment.)
  • Best Polka Recording: Frank Yancovic - 70 Years of Hits (Do I really need to say anything here?)
  • Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female: Whitney Houston (See comment for Best Polka Recording)
  • Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male: Phil-Freakin'-Collins (Is there nothing we can do to stop him?)
  • Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal: We Are the World (Again with the egos like hairdos . . . hey, that's a good title . . . oh, wait, Ani's already got it.)
  • Best Pop Instrumental Performance: Miami Vice Theme (Jan Hammer! Jai alai! Cigarette boats! Cops wearing Italian waiters' jackets! It's all so cool! We're all so cool for watching it! Then again, "everybody knows you'll live forever, when you've done a line or two.")
  • Best Reggae Recording: Jimmy Cliff - Cliff Hanger (Now I have to admit that I agree with Grammy voters on something. Bummer.)
Seriously? That's the best they could do? Those are all reasons why we all made mix tapes and avoided the radio. Where's The Cure? Elvis Costello? Dead Kennedys? Depeche Mode? The B-52's? The Smiths? Joy Division? The Psychedelic Furs? Black Flag? Talking Heads? Tears for Fears? The Art of Noise?

While I'm going through all of my mix tapes, taking a trip back to the future, send me your top-five lists to make sure I don't miss anything. Next week, I'll let you know which five I picked; and, of course, after the reunion, there will be a full report.

Oh yeah, and those tips about traveling with a baby--don't forget those.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Vita interruptus

Possibly the weirdest job I ever had involved spending six hours a day watching AARP members dance, half-naked, half clothed in feathers and sequins, to deafeningly peppy music from the 30's and 40's. Actually, only half the show was musical numbers. The other half was variety acts, like Mr. Moore's Amazing Mongrels, Miss Magda and Her Trained Pigeons--sorry, "Doves" . . . I always forget because we just referred to them as squab--and that one woman who balanced a sword on her face while swaying around 20 feet above the stage.

Yeah, the variety acts make it seem much more normal.

Anyway, the part of that job that I miss was that for two three-hour periods each day, I got almost no job interruptions. Almost none, because the producer could, and did, call up to the booth to comment, ask questions, request changes, and so forth while the show was running. Also because I sat in the booth with two of the most talented electricians ever to grace the theatre, DWH and Vinkman, and we constantly talked during the show; while most of our conversations were about the show itself, the topic did occasionally wander.

Why was I so focused?

Because I had to call over 1,000 cues in 180 minutes to ensure that the music played, the lights came on and off and tracked the performers, the sets moved, the curtains came in and out, the lift rose and fell, and so forth--all in sync with all of the other elements and the performers--in other words, to ensure that the show went on. After all, if all of that wasn't synchronized, it wouldn't be long before the lights went out in the middle of a number as the lift dropped in the middle of the stage and Grandma dancer would plunge into the orchestra pit.

Getting all of those cues spit out in order required a little bit of concentration, given that I was talking to two electricians, two audio technicians, and a deck crew of nine or so. Sure, there were crises that required talking to the producer on one phone, the company manager on my cell phone, answering my pager, and calling cues to the crew through my headset, but there were times when I couldn't do anything except look at the stage and I couldn't talk to anybody except the crew. Especially during sequences like the train number, when it was my responsibility to get the billowing smoke around the train to hit its mark for every show.

Ever tried to get smoke to billow just so? How about just so, the exact same way, twice a day? How about 10 times a week for 10 months of the year? It sounds funny now that my job doesn't depend on the whims of the wind.

For the smoke, I even roped in the house manager, giving him cues to turn on and off the air conditioning and open or close various doors throughout the theatre. Maddening to get critiqued for smoke that happened to drift off its marks? Sure. But what a relief it was to be able to completely focus on one task: doing what I was paid for.

In the theatre, if someone wanted to talk to me or one of the crew, they had to take a number and wait until the show was over. Nobody dropped by the booth as we were bringing up the finale set piece on the lift and firing the air cannons to ask me if they could play second base in this week's company softball game, or to tell me that there's cake in the break room, or to ask me if I saw that email they just sent me.

They certainly do that in the cube farm, however.

I have to admit that I'm occasionally guilty of interrupting someone at work just because it's more convenient for me to drop in than call or send an email, but it still irks me when someone stops by to ask if I saw the latest clip on YouTube that they sent me three seconds ago. Are you kidding?

Maybe it's because people think that because I'm an editor--which, of course, means that all that I do is read--that I have all the time in the world to watch asinine Flash cartoons. Or perhaps they believe that because I'm an online editor--I only edit our website and online products--that my job consists of nothing more than surfing the web, looking at cool stuff and that, therefore, their brother's cousin's first "music video," which he patched together in under 12 minutes, is somehow relevant to my work.

Sure, some of the distractions are interesting, but editing, like calling a musical revue, requires intense concentration. Every time I'm interrupted at work, I have to find my place again, remind myself of the task at hand, and refocus.

After I return from paternity leave, however, I think that I might be better able to handle my work environment, given that my life will have been nothing but interruptions for the previous month:

  • I'm going to walk the dog now. Oops. After I change 3B.
  • I'm going to make breakfast now. Oops. After I find a burp diaper for Mama, who's nursing in the other room.
  • I'm going to bring you that diaper now. Oops. After I turn off the tea kettle.
  • I'm going to lay down for a nap now. Oops. After I reswaddle 3B and soothe him back to sleep.
  • I'm going to make breakfast now. Oops. After I change my shirt that 3B's pee soaked while I was soothing him (after changing 3B, of course).
  • I'm going to make coffee now. Oops. After I turn on the tea kettle.
  • I'm going to call my Mom now. Oops. After I walk the dog.
  • I'm going to read this section in Dr. Spock now. Oops. After I change 3B's outfit that he just burped on.
  • I'm going to go shopping now. Oops. After I find a pacifier.
  • I'm going to put in a load of laundry. Oops. After I add to the load this second shirt that 3B peed on today (after changing 3B, of course).
  • I'm going to wake up now. Oops. After I scrape this tar out of my head.
Then again, unless my coworkers are as adorable as 3B or Barky, their interruptions may not be so tolerable.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Beat the heat with a nice piece of grass

It's hot, so take your clothes off
and get in your drawers.

Now that the heat wave that seared the rest of the country has made its way to those of us here in the swamplands of the East Coast (of the U.S., that is, that's the Colonies to you Brits out there), we're enjoying what we've been hearing about from everyone else, but with 135 percent more humidity. Today, for example, immediately after we returned home from another 3B checkup, the power went out--sort of.

Twice now, in our building, we've had not a complete blackout, but what the power company calls a "phase problem," which means that one of the three legs of power coming into the building goes out--this is according to them. I'm no electrician, although if Vinkman is lurking out there, he is an electrician, and he could confirm or deny this. The result is that some of our sockets and appliances work, some don't--even those on the same circuit. For example, in the kitchen, the fridge and microwave didn't work, but the range did. For the fridge, I just drag out an extension cord and plug it into an outlet that has power, so that's not too bad. The main appliance that doesn't work in these circumstances is the air conditioner.

I was out walking Barky at the time, and heard a tremendous boom, then birds chirping. Turns out that when every air conditioner in the neighborhood goes out, it's a lot quieter outside. After Barky and I made our way up a stairwell that was about as brightly lit as a coal mine filled with tar at midnight under a new moon, Mama and I turned on the fans and all four of us settled in for a short summer's nap.

Fortunately, the power was only out for two hours. When we all awoke, the a/c was running again, and the condo was starting to cool down again--a bit. By then, however, it was past noon, which means that our west-facing condo was starting to be baked by the sun, so it will probably be evening before it's coolish in here again, but it's much more tolerable now than with the power out.

While this is the hottest place that Mama's ever lived, I'm somewhat used to the heat because I lived in Palm Springs for a number of years. Even though I was always smart enough to bug out to Montana during the summer, it wasn't unusual to see temperatures well over 100 F there. "Summer" itself is a loose concept in a place where it can hit 90 F in January.

The heat led people to take measures which, viewed from outside Palm Springs, must have seemed extreme, like outdoor air conditioning. Most people from colder climes are used to seeing the tall gas heaters that restaurants will put out on their patios in the spring and fall to extend their outdoor dining season, but in Palm Springs they have the opposite problem: how to cool dining terraces to allow people to eat al fresco through more of the summer. Outdoor air conditioning was a brilliant solution to the problem (thanks, Brits!).

As extreme as Palm Springs denizens were about keeping cool, however, one activity would always get them outside, no matter the temperature: taking their dogs out to pee and poop. Now, thanks to some industrious Californians, there's no longer the need. You can now keep a piece of the outdoors inside your house, in the form of a lawn in a box, for your dog to pee and poop on whenever he wants. Even better, it's on casters, so you can roll the poop-filled lawn from room to room. Imagine how convenient it would be to put toilets on wheels--poop while you cook, while you vacuum, while you play the piano!

So we owe thanks for this new way to beat the heat to those creative Californians, who already so generously gave us the popsicle, the Frisbee, and the beer keg tap. Let's just hope that when the lights go out, Barky won't mistake the Persian rug in the living room for his piece of grass.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The horror. . .the horror. . .

Everybody has his breaking point. You, me, Walt Kurtz, even Barky.

I don't know, and I hope to never find out, but I believe that Barky might reach his if we should ever attempt to put him in a carrier like this.

What is it? According to the PetSmart promotional email that I got with a special offer just for me and my pet, it's

A chic, designer bag to tote your pooch around in. Dog carrier has a faux crocodile exterior and a plush interior with removable carpet, ventilated mesh insets, collar snap hook, and inner and outer zippered accessory pockets. Also features a cellphone holder.
Hell, that's got more features than our new car.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Losing my religion, my wallet, my glasses, my phone. . .

There have been questions from some of the loyal six readers of this blog about how exhausted we are here at the Bradstein Household and how we're coping with it. Let me start off by reminding you that two Bradsteins are getting all the rest they need:

This is Barky's idea of what to do at a dog park. Yes, once you're off leash, find a comfortable patch of dirt and make like it's the couch. That's exactly why I drove down here, took you off your leash, and am standing here parboiling my brain in the oppressive heat: so you could take a nap. And, way to get the dirt inside your ear, too.

Someone else is getting all the rest that he needs:

(Yes, we know that he should only be sleeping on his back, and not in the same zip code with any stuffed toys or pillows or . . . yes, we know all about SIDS. He wasn't in this position for more than about 30 seconds, and I was watching him the whole time. Just a few seconds before I took this, 3B had been curled up against Mama, nursing. When he fell asleep, she stepped out of the room to get something, telling me to watch him for a moment, until she came back to try nursing on the other side. He was so cute, and Puff was lying close by, I just couldn't resist. Besides, every baby needs a dragon to watch over them. It's amazing that Mama doesn't leave me alone with 3B more often, huh?)

The other two of us, however, are getting enough sleep, but never in the straight eight hours--OK, five or six--that we used to get before 3B came along. Now we get an hour here, two hours there, maybe another hour there, or some quiet time reading the paper with 3B snoozing on our chest or lap. When he's sleeping on one of us, we're struggle not to doze off ourselves because we know from all of the books that we've read that as soon as we fall asleep with him, we'll flip like a pancake and smother the little guy.

No, we don't really believe that, but we do try to be careful; usually one of us is actively awake while the other is soothing 3B to sleep.

Fortunately, our names aren't Homer and Marge, so all of this sleep cycle interruption hasn't led to any nuclear disasters, but there have been some side effects, such as losing anything that isn't an integral part of our bodies. Sure, we--OK, I--had that problem during pregnancy, but it seemed to accelerate in the three or four days after birth. For example, this is a picture of what we took to the doctor's office with us two days after birth:

We also had a fully stocked diaper bag, Mama's purse, and the camera. Why the camera? Hey, you never know when they're going to do a cute little swab or something. Anyway, want to guess how many of these items made it into the examining room with us?

  • Baby? Check.
  • Receiving blanket? Check.
  • Diaper bag? Check.
  • Mama's purse? Check.
  • Camera? Check.
Anything else? Bueller? Bueller?
Right, so we're listening to the doctor who is saying something with words, making little gestures, and prodding 3B as he lays on the examining table. Meanwhile, that's me in the corner, thinking, "This would all be much easier to follow if there had been more time before the appointment to drink some more coffee. Mmm. . .coffee. . .yes, we brought some. . .that's right. . .it was in the travel mug, which we put in. . .the diaper bag? It wasn't in Mama's purse. . .it wasn't with the camera. . .did we put it in the car seat?"

Car seat.

So, in the middle of the doctor's explanation of. . .something, I blurt out, "The car seat's in the waiting room." At which everyone looked at me like I was Rain Man, announcing how many toothpicks were on the floor.

Way to go, Papa. Way to show that you're paying attention.

Eventually, everything has turned up, including 3B's proof of birth letter, the reimbursement check from the insurance company for the manzanita, pacifiers, reminder notes we wrote, books, glasses, and even the car seat, which we found right where we left it in the waiting room. I'm sure that most of those items have come back to us thank to the St. Anne figurine that our fellow new parents sent us when they heard of 3B's arrival.

I'm just glad we didn't lose St. Anne.