Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Safety tips for flying with a baby on American Airlines

Dr. Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean,
Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping
instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of
Dr Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip.
Thanks, Egon.

In general, our flights home to Mom's burial and memorial went well, from my many phone calls to shuffle our flights, which were a confusing mix of credit card points award fares and discount fares that weren't booked together and therefore not linked. Plus, we had 3B along for the ride, so we were more picky than usual about seat assignments. Fortunately, we had one great gate agent in D.C., who hooked us up with excellent seats for our flights to San Francisco, including a three-seat bulkhead row with the center seat blocked for 3B for the long leg between O'Hare and SFO. I wish I could have flown back and kissed him. I can't say the same about the gate agent at SFO for our return flights. For her, I wish a lifetime of ice cold lattes. And with that, I present my safety tips for parents flying with babies on American:

Safety Tips for American Airlines Staff:

  • Don't lose parents' Pack N' Play. Especially on the trip to their destination, which lacks any crib, playpen, or bassinet that was constructed in the last 40 years.
  • Don't ask passengers to get to airport two hours early if the security checkpoint--or Starbucks--won't be open at that time. Especially if that time is 4 a.m.
  • Don't lie to parents and tell them that you've put them in a bulkhead row with a seat blocked between them for their baby's car seat when they aren't in a bulkhead row and when they're going to have to gate-check their car seat and hold their baby for the whole flight. Especially if you do this at 4 a.m./b.c. (before coffee). Then again, as a gate agent, what do you care? By the time the parents figure it out, they're locked in the plane, while you're sipping your latte.
  • Don't attempt to deliver a lost bag at 4 a.m., even when you're trying to make up for losing two bags in one trip. The only calls that are acceptable at that hour are to announce that someone has died, and even though it wasn't at an ungodly hour, I've already had one more of those calls this year than I need.

Safety Tips for Parents:

  • Do nurse your baby for takeoff and landing. The milk coma is your friend.
  • Do indelibly label your Pack N' Play.
  • Don't get the huevos rancheros and only two hours of sleep the night before you fly.

At the end of the day, however, if your baby is happy when you fly, and if the plane goes up and comes down safely--even if it doesn't have all your bags on it--count your blessings.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Home is where you hang your hat

This is 3B during takeoff for the final leg of our homeward journey.

It's hard to grieve too long or too hard when faced with a future as bright as this.

I'm sure that I'll have more to write soon, but first I'm going to drag my weary bones into bed and curl up with Mama--yes, and Barky--for 17 days or so in an attempt to recover from the near totaal lack of sleep over the past two weeks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A life worth living

Seventy-four years ago in Los Angeles, a baby girl was born. The year was 1932, the Great Depression gripped the country, and while L.A. was no longer a sleepy town, it wasn't anything near the sprawling metropolis that it's become. This girl was taken home from the hospital to grow up in the low hills above Crenshaw that overlook the L.A. Coliseum, home to the1932 Summer Olympics. This girl later recalled that, from their home, her family would watch the 4th of July fireworks that were shot above the Coliseum, and that it wasn't until much later, when she was older and got to attend one of those ceremonies that she realized that the whole field inside, the whole inside of the Coliseum itself, was also ablaze with fireworks.

As she got older, her intellect, curiosity, and adventurous spirit took her off to many great adventures, starting at Stanford University in the town that she would later return to settle in with her husband and children, Palo Alto. After graduating from Stanford in 1952, she spent several months traveling through Europe with a college friend. Along the way, they saw a good friend of her brother, a professional photographer who had bought her one of her first cameras, a Leica, which was exceedingly difficult to find and purchase, but which he could get for her through the PX, being one of the many GI's stationed in Europe following the war. This allowed her to continue with her lifelong love of photography, through which she documented all of her adventures and those of her family. She and her friend also decided that they wanted to see some sights that their small bus--it seated 12 or so--wouldn't take them to, so they hitchhiked through Switzerland, meeting up with the bus
on the other side.

As a Dutch woman who loved blue, she brought home Delft pottery from their time in Holland. And when she came home, she had some decisions to make. While she grew up, the Depression had long ago given way to the fear and sacrifices of the war, then to the postwar boom. The company that her father had started was booming along with so many others, providing, among other products, parts for airplane manufacturers, whose expansion seemed to have no end in sight. But Northern California called to her. She had loved her time among the golden sandstone buildings of rough-hewn blocks and elegant carvings,where she would skip down the steps of the library, singing the symphonies she would study on the record players in the basement there. She loved the weather, the oaks on the hillsides, and the expanse of the San Francisco Bay.

But this was the early 1950s, when not so many women got college degrees--in political science, no less--and moved hundreds of miles from home to live on their own as do today. What was she to do? She was torn, but she knew that she needed to do something. So she set about knitting a sweater, declaring that when she was done making the sweater, her decision would be made as well.

When she put down her knitting needles, she decided to move in with a girlfriend in San Francisco, above a beauty salon on Filbert. She had a wonderful few years there, often walking through Chinatown to North Beach with friends to get drink after work. It was likely here that she had her first good, dry martini, a drink that she loved, although she had them rarely.

During the winters, she would go skiing with friends at Sugar Bowl, near Norden, in the Sierras. Usually they would all stay at Kiski Lodge, which had a small-town, family-run feeling to it. It was a small lodge by today's standards, and even if everyone who arrived for the weekend didn't know each other on Friday night, they often would by Sunday afternoon.

Until then, it was an amazing life, but it was about to get better. On one of those many weekend ski trips, this girl from L.A. met the best friend she didn't know she had, the best friend she would ever had. She met my father.

Before long--and by that, I mean it was a matter of months--he proposed marriage to her, and shortly after that, they were married. Within a year, they had their first of six children, of which I'm the last. They loved us with a devotion and focus rarely seen, creating what seems now an impossibly happy household. Sure, there were arguments and tempestuous times, but there was always love and laughter, especially around the dinner table, where all eight of us sat down to eat every night as soon as possible after Dad arrived home on his bike from the train station.

And her adventures continued with all of us as we grew up. There was the hike to the top of Half Dome with me; the family reunion that she organized--and hiked down to and up from--at the bottom of the Grand Canyon; there was a trip back to the Grand Canyon soon after to raft the length of the canyon with her brother, Brother #2, and other close relatives; and there was the whirlwind trip to Friesland to finally track down--thanks to Brother #2's sleuthing--where our ancestors (long thought to be Dutch) had grown up and left from to come to the New World in the 1600's. All of these were completed long after she had turned 50.

The fun of the great adventure that was Mom's life has come to an end, however. Brother #2 called me Wednesday to tell me that she had unexpectedly and apparently peacefully passed away. Mama, 3B, and I were going out to California on Friday, both for my high school reunion and so Mom could meet her newest grandchild, who she had only seen in pictures and a few short movies. So we moved our flights, and we're flying out today (Thursday--as I write this we're between Chicago and San Francisco, and I'm not sure when I'll be able to post it) instead and staying longer than we had originally planned.

While I've had my breakdowns here and there since getting the news, but I'm a literal person, so until we land and see my siblings, and home, and I get involved in making the arrangement for Mom's final trip and the final visits of her friends, it won't really hit me. That's not to say that I slept more than a few hours last night, my mind ticking through all the moments of my life, which until now, always included Mom, and the times of her life, so many of which will forever remain a mystery to me now. And that's not to say it's a hard time now, and it's a hard rain that's a'gonna fall soon, but I take no small amount of solace from my memories of Mom's life--the life that she shared with all of us--it was a full, happy life that was exciting and challenging and that will continue on as long as her spirit lives on, as it does in her children, grandchildren, and all those who follow her.

She would not want me to wallow, to become lost for even a moment in my grief. She wouldn't want me to forget for a moment that I'm still alive, and that I have much more living to do if I'm to have a hope of living a life as full as hers. She would want me to share my grief with my siblings, my wife, and my child, but also remind me to share my love and joy with them as well. And, as a mama's boy, I'll always do what Mom says--except that part years ago about "I forbid you to pierce your ears." Yeah, a late apology about that, Mom, but otherwise, whatever you say goes. Well, except maybe your wish that someday I'll shave my beard--sorry, I'm just too lazy to shave. OK, but other than that. . .oh hell, what did you expect from the son who you taught to jaywalk, and showed where to cut through fences, and laughed with over Johnny Cash's awful, wonderful version of Delia's Gone?

You would never want me to live someone else's idea of a life, or to shrink from an adventure; you would always have faith in me, and I promise that I'll always try to live up to that faith. And I'll always love and miss you, Mom. You're the best Mom a boy could hope for.


A postscript, if I may, that illustrates Mom in brief. Mama and I had been dating for some time before she finally came home to California to meet Mom and the rest of the family. As soon as we arrived home, we all settled into the living room to talk, as we're wont to do until the wee hours. Mama was a champ, and she settled right in and joined the conversation wherever she could. After some time we got to talking about language, a favorite topic, and talk turned to new or unusual phrases.

In a pause, I heard Mama saying, "I heard a phrase recently that I'd never heard before, I heard someone saying that someone 'Got a wild hair.' All I could picture was someone with a wild hare, you know, a rabbit."

And there it lay, out among us, like a turd in the punchbowl: A wild hair. Who was going to explain that one in front of Mom?

Nobody would have to. Without missing a beat, Mom said, "I believe the complete phrase is 'Got a wild hair up my ass.'"

Welcome to Mom's family, Mama.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

From Breakfast Club to Big Chill

As you probably know, we're off to my 20-year high school reunion soon, which is an exciting prospect because high school, in spite of the constant low-grade trauma of adolescence, was a fun time for me, mostly because of the people. I know that many people have a fear of reunions, but I figure that my adolescence is (mostly) gone, so this will be an event with none of the trauma, just the fun of the people.

We'll have plenty of simple questions to ask each other, no commitment to each other, and some common fuzzy memories to reminisce over. It'll be like MySpace for old people. Seriously, it will be better than that, but there were approximately 400 in our graduating class, so it's not like we were all best friends, even when we saw each other every day. A long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time, and while I felt close at the time to many of them, I also realize now how little I knew about them--or about myself, for that matter.

So it's not like there's going to be a chair-throwing fight, or even a break-dance battle on the floor--are you kidding? someone would blow a hip out--it's going to be a bunch of acquaintances getting together to reminisce with souls sympathetic to their love of all things 80's. But I won't lie to you, there is a bit of that giddy excitement, like there would be before a high school dance, fueled now as it was then by the nervousness: What's it going to be like? Who's going to be there? What will we talk about?

Just like then, it will be a large room, full of people, all kinds, and just like then, there's no way to know what will happen. But, with the invites going out by e-mail, it's possible to see who's on the list, and with Google, it's possible to see what (some) people have been up to. So let the pre-reunion stalking begin . . .

It turns out that my classmates have plenty to talk about. Speaking of Google, for example, one of them could talk about how Google started in her garage, which has led to articles in my now-local paper that feature quarter-page pictures of her. It's so cool to open up the paper on a Sunday and see that she's doing so well. Not that I had any doubt that she would. Then there are the people who, if they start talking about their work, will force me to go get drinks while Mama holds up the conversation, as she can do intelligently on any topic, including bioentrepreneurship, or high-powered research physics at a national lab, because Mama is inherently brilliant and I'm just some dude. There will be some kindred blogging spirits there, although at least one has taken her blog pro, publishing a book that's based on her blog.

As I was reading those bios to Mama, she interrupted and asked if I was intimidated by them. No. I was in class with these people--granted, I was the one playing gin rummy at the back of AP Physics while they were clearly paying closer attention--so I knew that these are the kinds of places that they were headed to. It's what I expected they, and all my classmates, would be doing. But intimidated? No. Like me, they're all just some dude or dudette; they've got kids, they've got dogs or cats, they have fascinating hobbies. They aren't just the lists of achievements in their bios.

Besides, it was the 80's and I know what clothes they used to wear and what music they used to listen to, as they do about me. With that in mind, we can't be expected to take each other that seriously. But I do have one question for all of them: When did we go from being a brain and an athlete and a basket case and a princess and a criminal to being these guys?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I would rather be anywhere than here without you

I try not to write about work here, but today a coworker's 21-month old baby died. It was all I could do to not walk out as soon as I heard and come straight home to Mama and 3B. I miss them enough on regular days. A reminder of how quickly things can change makes it almost unbearable.

All of the "what if's" creep in at times like this. I called immediately, but nobody answered. That's not unusual. As a matter of fact, I take it as a good sign under normal circumstances: they're napping, nursing, or out for a walk, I think. But today all manner of horrible "what if's" flew through my mind, and my practice of telling them both that I love them every time I leave the house because one never knows what the future brings was cold comfort to me, sitting at my desk, listening to the purr of the ringing, unanswered phone.

Of course, when I got home, everyone was fine. 3B had been napping on Mama's chest, so she couldn't get up to answer the phone, that's all. But before then, on the way home, Monopoly, by Shawn Colvin had been playing:

And I thought I could let you go in grace
I've gotta think again
Because right now I would be bought
and sold
To see your face somewhere
I would sell your sweet soul
Just to touch your crazy black gold hair . . .
I would rather be anywhere
Than here without you
I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me race home a little faster.

You've come a long way, puppy

Cleaning up our desk, I just found this note, which greeted me a little over a year ago when I got home:

"Hi Mama & Papa, When I came in today, there was a broken mirror & blood on the floor. I checked Barky & he seemed to be fine. . .I was also concerned because the TV was on & I think the door was unlocked. If you get a chance, let me know everything is OK or if you need any extra help with Barky. He was very good today and lay on the couch while I was cleaning up the mirror."
That was the report from our dog walker.

Why, pray tell, did we have a dog walker when we're both perfectly capable of walking Barky and in fact were walking him for two hours each day at the time? Because he went a little nuts for a little while, that's why.

But we're over that now, and back to living in a house ruled by the fuzzy red little dictator. Kind of like living with Castro, but without the fatigues and cigars. Again, however, it's our fault that our lives are being run by the mutt. Indeed, if our Barky husbandry skills are any guide, 3B should require therapy before he's seven months old.

We started with the best of intentions: we wanted Barky to be able to understand--and perhaps obey--a few commands. He pretty much has "sit" and "stay" down, which is about as far as some beagles can ever hope to get, but we also wanted to get some control at certain times of the day that can be rather hectic.

So we started telling him to go to his bed as soon as we arrived home, and giving him a treat for doing so. This prevents the endless milling underfoot and subsequent neck-breaking trips and falls, which aren't so funny when you want to, say, walk somewhere. It also prevented his dog-as-pogo-stick begging that would begin the moment we returned home from a walk.

We also gave him treats for getting in his crate at bedtime to keep him from becoming an insufferable whinger while we're trying to go to sleep. He was always keening at the foot of the bed, asking to be allowed to jump up with us because, you know, there's nothing that you'd rather have in your bed than a whinging pooch that steals the blankets, curls up with his fuzzy butt in your face, and kicks and scratches you while he dreams. Oh, and leaves pools of drool on your pillow.

And, to reinforce both getting in his bed and his crate, whenever he got near or in either one at any other time, we would tell him to stay and bring him a treat. It didn't take him long to figure this out.

Now he plays Pavlov, to our Pavlov's dog, hopping into his bed or crate whenever he is in the mood for a snack, which he will grab from our hands and trot across the room to munch on wherever he was previously reclined without so much as a "Thank you."

On the other hand, none of us wants to go back to the days of
  • two hours walks, to make him too tired to get into trouble
  • plus doggy walker
  • plus doggy daycare
  • plus the Pupzac (technically Clomicalm)
  • plus all the behavioral training whenever we were home, which wasn't often, given our work schedules and the two hour walks
All of those efforts did eventually pay off in a relatively stable dog who, in spite of some recent episodes, is much happier staying at home alone, so we'll keep this system of little bribes going in return for his, and our, happiness. He has come a long way from that day last year.

Oh, and about that note--somehow the bedroom door had closed when he was in the room. In his desperate efforts to dig his way out through the door, he shattered the full length mirror on the back of the door. As for the TV, we left it on as background noise for him, at the suggestion of his behaviorist. Yeah, behaviorist; that's another whole story. The front door wasn't unlocked either, we had just adjusted it so the locks worked more smoothly.

By the time we got home, the doggy walker had long since cleaned everything up, and all that was left was a garbage bag full of broken glass, and Barky asleep on the couch in front of a softly murmuring TV.

UPDATE: Fixed a typo, per Dear Wife's comment. Hey, pet owners are saying all the time how having a pet is just like having a child. Maybe they are right. Maybe instead of teaching 3B to read and write, we should be teaching him to sit and stay. Come to think of it, 3B already has those tricks down. It would make toilet training easier too--when he's old enough, 3B can even let himself in and out of the building, unlike Barky. Hell, he could even take Barky with him, while Mama and I lounge about, eating bon bons . . . now that I think more about this, perhaps that wasn't a typo, but a Freudian slip.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What good am I?

Recently I was talking with a friend about a dog that I'd seen and mentioned that it was a "Rick Springfield dog," meaning that it looked like Springfield's dog that he put on all his album covers. A friend of this friend, who was standing nearby, in his pressed-as-though-disheveled Urban Outfitters ensemble, with perfectly mussed hair, adjusted his Lisa Loeb glasses--oh, I'm sorry, those are indie hipster glasses . . . my bad--and scoffed, "I wouldn't know what kind of dog that is. I never bought a Rick Springfield album."

Finally, someone more mainstream-impaired than I am, but what an arrogant ass about it. Then I got to thinking about emails I swapped with some of my loyal six readers about what music to request for my upcoming 20-year high school reunion. Both of them suggested that I go with REO Speedwagon, and I sorta dissed REO in my replies to them.

But who am I kidding? I know all the words to those REO songs that I dissed, so it's not like I never listened to them. Or sang along with them. Or maybe even turned them up on the AM radio in the Moosemobile, late at night, all by myself. I'm also the one who introduced (subjected) Brother #2 to Styx. Yes, even during the Mr. Roboto days, I stood by Styx. And, since you know that Enya made me cry during pregnancy, you know that I have it on hand to listen to. This makes my emails about REO as snotty as my hipper-than-thou friend's comments, and hypocritical to boot.

I got to thinking about all of this while I drove in to work today, listening to the radio shows replaying snippets of live coverage from 9/11/01. I couldn't take too much of it, and found myself flipping around, looking for some comforting music, which I couldn't find because everyone was talking about 9/11. It made me wish for CDs other than what I had in the car, specifically the mix that I put together after getting an email from my best friend in NYC after 9/11 that simply read, "Where was Superman when we needed him most?"

That led me to listen to a few songs differently, and then to compile those with some others that both dredged up and soothed my sadness about that day. It's a mix of songs that's, by turns, maudlin and obscure. On a day when I'd like to remember not how awful and sad this world can be, but how strong, good, and kind people can be, even when confronted with unspeakable tragedy, I offer up this playlist as penance for my transgressions. At the end of the day, who cares if it's REO Speedwagon or R.E.M.? Whatever gets you through the night, as a wise man once said.

So, yeah, it's not all the time, but I do listen to Rick Springfield, and REO Speedwagon, and Enya still makes me cry sometimes, as do most of these songs, especially when I think of that day when Superman abandoned us. But I'm comforted to know that we didn't abandon each other in our times of greatest need, that we held onto each other and held each other up, even as each of us was stripped to the bone.

  1. Fanfare for the Common Man-Copland
    Because that's who we all are and that's who we lost. Common men and women.
  2. Hold On-Sarah McLachlan
    Because this is going to hurt like hell. This did hurt like hell. It still hurts like hell.
  3. Pale September-Fiona Apple
    Because it became a pale September in a matter of minutes.
  4. Superman-R.E.M.
    Because sometimes nobody is Superman. Sometimes nobody knows what is happening here.
  5. O Superman-Laurie Anderson
    Because "when love is gone, there's always justice. And when justice is gone, there's always force. And when force is gone, there's always mom. Hi mom. So hold me, mom."
  6. Recycled Air-Postal Service
    Because every time we fly away from my home in California, "I watch the patchwork farms' slow fade into the ocean's arms."
  7. From the Air-Laurie Anderson
    Because it's hard not to hear this as a horrible prophecy. It's hard to hear this song at all, anymore.
  8. Dies Irae-W. A. Mozart
    Because it was "Heaven and earth to ash consuming."
  9. Stay (Faraway, So Close)-U2
    Because there were so many angels who hit the ground that day.
  10. Crash-Dave Matthews Band
    Because we all crashed into each other that day, because we all need to be forgiven for our haste, because we all held each other so close.
  11. Clocks-Coldplay
    Because "Confusion never stops, closing walls and ticking clocks . . . home, where I wanted to go."
  12. Superman-Five for Fighting
    Because "I can't stand to fly. I'm not that naive. I'm just out to find the better part of me. I'm more than a bird. I'm more than a plane. . . . I wish that I could cry, fall upon my knees . . ."
  13. Superman's Song-Crash Test Dummies
    Because "I despair the world will never see another man like him."
  14. What Good Am I-Bob Dylan
    Because "what good am I, if I'm just like all the rest? If I just turn away when I see how you're dressed? . . . If I turn a deaf ear to the thunder in the sky. . . . And I freeze in the moment, like the rest who don't try. . . . And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings, and I just turn my back while you silently die. What good am I?"
  15. Walk Away-Ben Harper
    Because we all had to walk away. From those who we lost. From our cities. From the past.
  16. Stop All the Clocks-W.H. Auden
    Because all the clocks might as well have stopped.
  17. Only Time-Enya
    Because it was used as a soundtrack to a riveting and horrifying slideshow of 9/11 photos that someone sent me a link to long ago. And that I had to watch, but could never watch again.
  18. Lacrimosa-W.A. Mozart
    Because "Tearful that day, on which will rise from ashes guilty man for judgment. So have mercy, O God, on this man."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Midweek melange . . . or Friday fricassee

Yes, I know, we're past the middle of the week, but we're finding that on time is not nearly as important these days as happy, well fed, and well rested. Wednesday I was sick, and I didn't have a chance to write anything last night because I had a company softball game, which 3B came to. Despite my getting four hits, including one to the fence, and digging out an extra base a coupla' times (OK, OK--and dropping two easy fly balls. Two stinkin' easy freakin' fly balls.), guess who the star of the show was?

Right. The boy was.

As it should be.

Sorry, no pictures of his royal cuteness at the ballgame. I was too busy hitting the oxygen tank between innings and Mama was too busy passing 3B from one fan of his to another. I think most people who came to the game actually came out based on the rumors that 3B would be there. If he wasn't only seven weeks old, I think they would have demanded that he throw out the first pitch of the season. And yes, we did have them all sanitize their hands before touching the little bean.

3B performed like the rock star that he is, staying fairly mellow, despite going a little past a meal time and not getting much good sleep during the game, due to all the handling. He did signal his desire to depart by having a blowout on a friend from the other team who came over to hold him after the game. So we headed out, feeding him in the car before driving the 15 minutes it takes to get home, where we could change him, walk Barky, soothe 3B to bed, clean up Papa's skinned shin (sliding in shorts has disadvantages), and try to get some fast sleep ourselves.

That brings us up-to-date. Without further ado, let the fricassee begin . . .

Pregnant with Humor
No matter what this study found, I still don't think that a clown suit in bed is going to become a turn on.

A Father's Ode to His Lost Son
As the new father of a son, who lost his father at 16 and spoke at his memorial service, it's hard for me to believe the strength of this father, to not only write this eloquent eulogy, but to deliver it as well. Then again, I find that as a parent, I summon the strength, drawing on the energy of my love, to do whatever I must for my son. Still, I am amazed by this father, who has my respect.

Discovering a World Beyond the Front Yard
As Cat Stevens asked, where do the children play? Increasingly, they play under the watchful eye of parents. Gone are the days of my youth, when I would yell, "I'm going outside to play!" as I ran out of the house, often with my last words getting cut off by the door slamming behind me (or when my mother would ask, "Why don't you go outside and play?"). However, some parents think that, given that statistics show it's about as safe as it ever was for kids to play unsupervised, it's safe to go back to the future.

Too Often, Family Leave Leaves Much To Be Desired
On the other hand, who can afford to have and raise a family these days? While the government is willing to give paltry tax breaks to parents, the government won't provide any support to parents in the form of time. Apparently, we're supposed to have kids who, like animals, can walk in a few days, fend for themselves in a few months, and start on their most important duty to society--increasing the GDP---soon after that. A waste of your tax money, you say? Ah, yes, and who's going to pay your Social Security bills when you're older if these kids aren't smart or stable enough to find gainful employment? For that matter, aren't you going to end up paying their welfare bills if that's the case? So, wouldn't you rather spend a little now to get a lot later? I know, I know . . . you'd love to, but not in an election year. Is it just me, or is there something about becoming a parent that reduces tolerance for this kind of myopic BS?

It's All Chinese to Your Toddler

OK, yeah, there's this whole fad now to get Chinese-speaking nannies for babies, so that they'll have an advantage getting jobs in the new, flat world. A few years ago, the fad was Spanish-speaking nannies. I'm thinking that perhaps education shouldn't be driven by fads. As it turns out, your baby may already speak Chinese anyway.

Cutting Where It Hurts
And, as a new father, and as one who does believe in education--even one driven by fads is better than none at all--I'm dismayed that the state I live in (I can't call it "my state") is willing to cut so many parents and kids loose without a second thought for the personal and long-term repercussions.

School Fundraising? Phooey!
Then again, it seems that many people aren't so concerned about proper funding for education. To be fair, she does support her kids' schools, but I feel that she's dreadfully remiss for not mentioning that schools wouldn't be forced to beg for money if they were properly funded, and even to exhort her readers to put some pressure on politicians to do so. Of all people, she should be pushing for it because it ends up saving her tax money since it's far cheaper to put a kid through school than to house them in prison, which is where so many kids who don't get a good education end up. [UPDATE: There are people who are concerned about how schools are funded and who are interested in finding ways to better fund them. That is, there are those people in New Jersey.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The unbearable cuteness of being 3B

I woke up this morning feeling like someone had stuffed a dirty sock into my left sinus cavity and that the sweat draining from it was running down my throat, causing the gland on the left side of my throat to swell to the size of an avocado pit. All of this combined to make breathing and swallowing as comfortable as if my throat were a flattened straw full of sand.

Do I need to tell you that I wasn't in this kind of mood when I woke up?

So I'm at home, taking a sick day, trying to prove the stereotype of bloggers, writing this in my pajamas, between naps--both mine and 3B's. Yes, Mama and Barky are here, both looking after 3B in their own way, but I'm trying to help out where I can (read: if I'm awake) since I don't think my ailment is an illness, but rather allergies.

I've got a few half-written posts kicking around here that I've never had the chance to finish, so perhaps later I'll stir those together into a midweek melange. It doesn't seem like I'm going to be getting to sleep anytime soon, since our upstairs neighbor appears to performing a ritual dance in steel clogs while dragging steel ingots about on her concrete terrace, which is directly above our bedroom--also, conveniently, the bedroom in which 3B is attempting to nap.

Did I mention that I woke up in a foul mood?

Monday, September 04, 2006

What are words for?

Calvin: I like to verb words.
Hobbes: What?
Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now, it's something you do. It got verbed. Verbing weirds language.
Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.
Go, Dog. Go! v. Paris Hilton
Both Mama's and my family have been overwhelmingly supportive of us since 3B was born. I have always known that my family loved me in spite of my many foibles, such as my inability to call anyone on a regular basis, which I will heretofore chalk up to my desire to avoid addiction to the Amish gateway drug (thanks for the explanation, Anthromama).

They've been calling, sending gifts, and forwarding all manner of helpful information, such as this CNN article on the joy of reading that Brother #2 forwarded, which includes this passage:
Babies and toddlers
What they love about books:
  • Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Open. Shut.
  • Bright colors
  • Cool pictures

I don't know why they limit it to babies and toddlers. This is a perfect description of what appeals to most adults about music videos, if you replace "Open. Shut." with "Quick cut." Of course, there are probably more big words in Go, Dog. Go! than in Paris Hilton's new video, so I guess we'll stick with books over MTV for building 3B's literacy. No, I'm not linking to her video. Google it yourself, you knob.

Besides, if it's smut that you're after, why don't you try something a little more rewarding than watching a vapid heiress whining and preening her way through rehashed dance tracks. Try some hot library smut.

That's me in the corner, losing my syntax
It's a terrible confession for me to make, since I'm an editor and all, but I never really paid much attention when they were teaching grammar in school. Sure, I liked reading, and this blog is evidence of my continuing affection for writing, but grammar? Teaching me about progressive tenses would just make me progressively more tense.

I figure that the goal of grammar rules is to generate clear communication in writing, which they are generally successful at. But somewhere along the way, that intention got lost, and making and enforcing the rules became and end to itself. This led to quirks of individual grammarians like Robert Lowth (see the section on ending a sentence with a preposition) becoming codified into rules that go against the normal flow of language and do nothing to advance the goal of clear written communication.

Also, grammarians devised their own jargon, which became a language within a language that any student had to master to properly apply any of the rules being handed down to them. As an editor, rather than starting with an enforcement mindset, which tends to lead to an "I'm right. You're wrong." mindset that's generally irritating in English teachers and editors, I start with two basic questions: Do I understand this? Do I think that the target audience will understand it? After I have edited the piece, if necessary, so that I can answer both questions in the affirmative, I find that I've generally fixed any grammar rule transgressions as well.

Sometimes, however, there is writing that can only be sorted out by applying the rules of grammar. Fortunately, for those of us too dense to memorize what an intransitive verb is (it must not be proper to say "objectless verb"), there are voices of reason who speak plainly about clear communication, Strunk and White being the classic example. I've now found a blog for us: the Language Log, where they parse soup can slogans, and explain how a linguist helped DeLorean get acquitted, and even muse on the words in the recent Snickers ad campaign.

Meddling with the theodolites
And then there are those grammarians who do communicate clearly, who can explain grammar to slobs like me in a way that I can understand--using small words helps--and who take the time to offer their skills to the masses for free, so that it's clear to everyone who reads their edited version why that blockhead shouldn't have let that woman in there to meddle with the theodolites.

What was that blockhead thinking?

[UPDATE: Speaking of blockheads, this one fixed the typo that s@bd pointed out. Proof that everyone, even editors--perhaps especially editors--needs an editor.]

Sunday, September 03, 2006

No cars? No phones? Now what?

As an avid cyclist--albeit one who hasn't turned a pedal in nine months and six weeks as of today--I loved seeing Michelle Singletary's column, Contentment Without a Car, in the WaPo today. I'm a big fan of life without cars, and I've only become more convinced of that since 3B's arrival, when we've gone on more family walks than before.

Previously, Mama or I would take Barky for a walk alone, but now all four of us go for walks whenever possible, during which we've attempted to cross the street many times, always celebrating when all of us make it to the other side alive. I know from my many years riding a bike--especially the year in which a woman ran me down in her car, wrapping my bike around her front wheel and dragging it thirty feet into the street after I just leaped off--that cars are deadly and that drivers are stupid. Having what was my sturdy bike wrapped into a pretzel in 10 seconds by a careless driver has always served as a reminder to me when I get behind the wheel to be careful, signal, look twice, and be polite.

Not that my driving record is sterling. There was that O-turn-and-a-half in the underpass that ended only when a fender or two bounced off the guard rails. . .another lesson learned by a 16-year old boy. But, despite my foibles, I feel like I try hard to be alert and polite, lest someone get killed because I really wanted to make it through this one yellow light. I wish that I could say the same about any other driver in the greater DC area--particularly this one. Most of them appear to have gotten licenses by sending in collected box tops rather than displaying any driving skill or common sense.

So, as someone who likes to take walks and bike rides and see a white--not smog-orange--moon rise in a sky full of stars, I'm all for a world with fewer cars. That said, I'm still a technology geek--after the blog, what was your second clue?--and I do love what phones have brought us, even if I don't use the phone as often as some would like (just ask my Mom about how often I call).

Perhaps that's because I'm my father's son--his career was with AT&T--or because I spent half of my time at home during high school with one plastered to my ear, or because phone lines and phone technology, such as cell phones, bring us the internet and email which have supplanted phone calls as my favorite means of communicating. That's not because they create more distance, or I don't like talking to people, or any other social doomsday scenario, it's because for some time now, I've either worked difficult schedules or lived in different time zones from most of the people who I would call. Asynchronous communication like email is a perfect fit for me, and the ability to share pictures and videos from a distance is a godsend, especially with a new baby.

So I'm pretty sure that I'll never convert to being Amish (Amishism?), because I'm not sure that they'd let me hook up DSL to their phone in an old oil tank, much less run power out there for our iMac so we could videochat with the family. (Discussion question: Would it be cheating to set up WiFi network between the phone shanty and the house and use Skype through a solar-powered laptop back in the house to make calls?)

On the other hand--which makes for three hands, for those of you counting--there is Anthromama's recent apocalyptic thought that perhaps the time of peak oil, otherwise known as the day of reckoning for car and technology addicts, is upon us and that cars, phones, and most of our creature comforts will soon be gone. If that's the case, then we'd all better learn how to do something useful with our hands rather than spend our days, as I do, editing web pages. 'Cause that's not going to be so handy when the lights go out. "No, I can't splice rope, or even splice fruit-bearing trees, but I can fix comma splices. Does that help?"

On the other hand--crap, we're up to four hands now--my bike will still work even if we're out of oil, although I'm not sure if the town blacksmith would be able to forge me a new chain and cassette for it when the old ones wear out. Of course, I could just lubricate them to prevent wear, but that would require oil. D'oh! The ankle bone is ultimately connected to the neck bone, I suppose.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife baby, edgy and dull,
and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul
--The Boss

As you may already know, I'm back at work again--for what reason, I don't know. I'm best with what's tangible; I'm not that good at imagining how I'll feel about something in the future, so I didn't know just how much it would suck to walk out the door that first time. And, although I've gotten more used to it, it's no easier now to leave or to be at work than it was that first day. I miss Mama and 3B so badly that I have a physical sensation as if something is missing from inside of me. Something big, that leaves me a little empty, weak, and hungry.

But, hey, baby needs new shoes. Actually, at the rate the little bean is growing, he's already out of his 3 month onesies. We tried to shoehorn him into them for a day or so more, but he was getting these terrible wedgies because he's just too long for them. A diaper wedgie seemed like a bad thing to Mama and me, so we're starting to set those aside (for the next baby, perhaps? did I just write that? for real?) and move on to the 3-6 month set.

But about work . . . I came back last week, and for the last two weeks I've worked three days a week, but next week I'll have to work full time again. That will be a drag, although Labor Day makes it a short week, so it's not too bad. And while I admit to moderately dissing my coworkers for repeatedly asking the same question prebirth, they have been wonderful before, during, and since 3B's birth. When I came back, they had papered my cube with all the pictures of 3B that I had sent in, plus draped rolls of streamers around the place. I have, of course, left the pictures up--how could I take them down--so I always can see him, and also to remind me of how much my coworkers care for and support me.

Although I suspect that it doesn't have anything to do with me. I believe that it's all about how cute 3B is.

While my coworkers seemed mostly the same at first, and while the work hasn't changed a bit, I find that I'm much different now. I'm more focused on work and on getting things done and moving on, so I can get home on time every day. Not that I used to fruit my days away, but there's much less fruiting around now than before.

That said, I find myself more fascinated than ever by everyone around me, and so engaging in longer conversations with them. I think this is in part because I see everyone anew as someone's growing child, rather than as a fully-formed, complete person. I'm more aware that none of us is ever a finished person--we're all constantly growing and changing as we wade through life and as it washes over us. 3B, through his constant growth and development, reminds me that none of us is ever a static being--we are all constantly growing in one way or another.

Beyond that, I've been taking better care of myself, aware that I need to take care of myself during the day so that I can enjoy hanging with 3B and Mama at night--and so I can give Mama a break to do anything that she can't do with her attention split between herself and 3B. That means that I've been sure to eat lunch every day, and take a lunch break too, neither of which I could be sure to do before 3B came along. Often, since I get up so early these days--hm, wonder why?--I'm hungry before noon, which works out perfectly, since I can eat at my desk while working, then take a walk through the nature preserve behind our building at lunchtime--during which I usually call Mama.

I know, how can I enjoy nature with a phone glued to my ear? But, you must understand, this is a nature preserve with installed sprinklers and a man-made lake with a pump-driven waterfall. So, while I'm sure that something of nature is preserved in there, it's not like walking through one of my favorite wildernesses. After all, one of the borders of the preserve is Interstate 395, so that's not the soughing of the wind in the trees, that's the exodus from DC to the burbs, murmuring along in the background.

Whether I'm talking on the phone or just walking--sometimes it's naptime back at home when I'm out walking--it's a tangible reminder to myself that there is a world outside my gray cube, a reminder that at the end of the day, no matter how rewarding my work, or how much I like my coworkers, I walk away from work and out into the world, which is where I live.