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So I have a kid running round my ankles looking up to me asking me to tell him this is a nice world – “Tell me the spiders aren’t scary …that they are nice sometimes. Why do cats chase mice – why do dogs chase cats? There was a ghost in that video, what is a ghost? Why don’t the big kids want to play with me?”

My Dad is slowly dying. It’s a degenerative disease and there isn’t anything to be done except take good care of him and try to make him comfortable and lessen his fear and discomfort. They figure he has 6 months to a year. I know these estimates can be wrong but I also know he is eighty years old and not feeling well.

When I was small he was the big angry one. And yet I remember adoring him. My love for Dad was always a little scared. He was huge and powerful and seemed angry a lot but I think there was a period where I was his little guy and he loved me too. I remember him lying on the bed and me (as a tiny little guy) pounding on his back. Just wailing away like a crazy thing and him laughing like it was charming. I always got a feeling like he loved whatever was fierce in me. We played soccer, my Dad, my brother and I in Central Park in New York and I would fling myself after the ball like a madman because he laughed with such pleasure at my intensity.

Then I lost him to fear. He drifted off into the fear of financial failure – and the rest of my childhood he was the worried drinking man who never had any fun with us. I think I learned that the adult world was a very bad idea from my Dad. As a kid I remember looking up at the building he was working in in New York and shuddering thinking about what he was living out. I remember trying to stay out of his way. I remember concocting ten thousand ways to make him laugh because he so badly needed to. I remember his wit flashing like a sword and trying to stay close but just a little out of reach. My Mom seemed like such a reasonable presence my but Dad seemed like a force of nature that you could only warily try to predict. I told him later how he seemed when I was a kid and he said: “You’ve got to be kidding, I was a pussycat!”

As time passed as an adult I came to see his inner pussycat – he really has a very tender and shy heart but it was masked by fear all those years – things hit him really hard and he gets shaken to his core by worry and worry makes him growl. In his cups when I was young he would tell me that when my brother and I were all grown up he would do himself in – as in “his work would be done and he could go”. I realized with a start one day in my twenties that that message equaled “If you grow up I’ll die.” Alcoholics say incredibly stupid things.

I don’t much blame him now. He was caught in a bad dream and he didn’t know how to climb out – and much to his credit, a couple of years later he did. He turned his life entirely around. I love my Dad very much though always with the wistfulness that I wish I’d had more of him.

I struggle to make grown up decisions. I tried to play an eccentric game nobody else was playing so that the rules and the outcome were up to me. I tried to dive between the cracks in the world and not get sucked into terminal adulthood and it turns out there is a terrible price to pay for it. It was an attempt to slip past mortality and limitation and the entire point of life in this strange world seems to be informed by mortality and limitation. If there is a spiritual equivalent for waste in this world I think it is the thing not used up: The spiritual virgin who will not be touched by life. We are fires and we are here to burn up with loving each other and exploring the mysterious world till there’s nothing left of us.

I never really understood love till Isaac came into my life.

I always knew too well what an ordinary, flawed person I was inside and how prone to disappoint. Anyone who was losing sleep over me looked like someone who needed cool compresses and maybe an aspirin. I think I knew when they were in love with me that it was a sort of dream and dreams seem far too unstable to invest in. I don’t know what I thought the alternative was: A cool headed love affair? A rational decision to love another person? I could never have done that but I think I was partly scared of the prison of the particular. What if this particular relationship isn’t really it? How do you know? How can you ever really know?

It’s not that loving a child is like romantic love but it is a state of being in love helplessly and truly and until I felt it I didn’t understand that loving isn’t at all about things making sense.

It isn’t even about truth exactly, – It’s about giving it up and surrendering to being a human animal and living out the mortal and imperfect life we have received with all the intensity we can give to it. If I could have learned it earlier I would have been a happier person. As it is, I’m grateful simply to know it and have an opportunity to experience loving someone this much. From the first time Isaac’s tiny finger wrapped around mine in the neonatal ward I have been wrapped around his finger. This tiny person knocked down the walls I couldn’t touch simply because he was mine unquestionably and I was his and it exploded any reason I might have sought to argue it or rationalize it.

As a teenager he will probably wake up from it and realize what an ordinary person I am, he will realize with horror what a flawed ninny I can be and recoil from the knowledge that he’s made of the same stuff. But it won’t matter much because he’ll likely discover another view of me later – I’ll just have to live with the exile when it comes.He’s a cub right now and he must grow up and he will and someday he will look back and know as a grown up person that he was loved as much as a child can be loved: That he brought so much delight – that we exulted in being together exploring the world…that being a tightly bonded baby and parent is as automatic as gravity if you let it happen. And I feel so sorry for the many Dads didn’t let it happen. Until he has kids of his own he won’t have a clear idea of how much it meant to me.

When my Mom was alive her love for me was like the sun shining on my life & I was so acclimated to it that I didn’t realize till she was gone the little extra bit of warmth that had always been there – it clicked off like a light when she died and a cold wind I had never felt before began to blow. What Isaac gave me was the chance as a sort of grown up to feel that sunshine again by giving it to another.

To live in this world
You must be able
do three things:

To love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to
let it go,
to let go.

-Mary Oliver
from American Primitive
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The big negativity shows up at times now, mostly when he’s tired or hungry and manifests as a kind of furious contrariness. A desperate need for mutual exclusives.
“Up Up Up “ till he’s up…then ”Down! Down! Down!”

He’s still his sweet self a lot of the time. But at times he seems like the biggest victim of his own mood (I guess that’s true for all of us really). Toddler moods look like a nightmare where you lack the skills to comfort yourself and cool down from any little thing. He looks like he is infused with more power then he knows how to handle and just rattles with the stress of it. He’s in a growth spurt and gobbling up knowledge like mad and it demands a lot of him. At times he is provoking but we do our best to keep cool and steady. There are advantages to being somewhat geezerly.

The physical caution I talked about before is still there but he’s having more fun scampering around. We go out in the back yard and I blow bubbles and goes after them and pops them. He runs and dances and talks about it. “Running!” “Dancing!”

He sings “shake your booty’. Only that line thankfully. No, I can’t imagine where he learned that.

He is SO verbal! He surprises us with something he says almost everyday.
We were in the backyard yesterday and he pointed to a patch of moss and said:
“Grows…moss”
At daycare he started calling people by each others names then laughed and said: “Joke!”
Another day he turned a book upside down and pretended to read it, then he put it down and said “Isaac funny!”

I’ve had what I guess must be a sinus infection for the last two months – this is like being on day six of a cold for eight weeks. One of his phrases is “Daddy coughing”. Great. My Doctor said “The only people who get it worse than day care parents are teachers”.
Perfect.

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Sorry it’s been so long.

Well, two years ago most of us were running around a hospital in Seattle and trying to get some traction under the idea that M was seriously sick and a baby was immanent. Of course we didn’t know anything about how well most of the next steps would go so it was like awaiting a crash and not knowing how bad a blow to expect. Would the baby be alright? Would M be OK? Would her Dad hunt me remorselessly over the surface of the earth while wearing a long black trench coat? It certainly wasn’t obvious at that moment.

Two years later we have all dodged the bullet – all three of us alive and well. Although for some reason everytime I see Isaac’s maternal Grandpa he finds a moment alone to say in a Clint Eastwood whisper: “You feel lucky punk?”

Little Isaac stories from recent days:

  • The other night we looked at a book about babies with a baby on the cover. He pointed at the picture. He said: “Dat guy’s a baby!”
  • We were shopping in the grocery store and an older lady working behind a counter smiled at him very sweetly. He smiled back and called out “Hey pal!”
  • We saw the larval form of a ladybug and I explained to him it was a baby lady bug. He smiled broadly and said “Baby bug!”
  • Doodle bugs (also known as potato bugs and roly poly bugs and pill bugs) instantly became “Noodle bugs”.

I made a huge stupid mistake today. I gave him a snack of grapes and cheese and crackers and when he left a bunch of grapes on the table I started tossing them high into the air and catching them in my mouth. He became hysterical with laughter which only encouraged me. I kept going and in a minute he was throwing grapes up in the air and then at my mouth. I calmed him down and he said “Daddy is silly!”.
Too Right.

He seems more present and involved with every day. He hears lines in songs on the stereo and repeats them. He sings a little. He saw a candle on a table and sang (tunefully) “Happy birthday to youoo”.

There are a thousand lessons of the last two or three years and I can’t claim to have processed or understood even half of them, there are many ways in which I am aware of my ongoing failure to come through with all that I ought to be and all that I ought to do. That aside though I am aware that I spent most of my life before Isaac only flirting with change afraid of what any real change would mean. Real change only happens when something is sufficiently important or undeniable that it pulls you on and on down a different road than caution or convenience would advise. It’s a burden which is gift to carry. Not to be a sugar coated Pollyanna – it’s not always fun and parts of my life feel like they are wilting on the vine but I can’t imagine my life without him.

I talked to my Dad today and he was a bit confused and spoke calmly about death and release – he is almost 80 and he and my step mom have had an awful lot of health problems. It freaks me out but I guess it’s a little relief to hear his lack of fear. Oddly, one thing that is completely clear to me since Isaac’s birth is my own mortality. Sometimes I feel it sitting on my shoulder, not in any big hurry but utterly real. There is a classic story of a man asking a monk what is happiness? The monk relied:

Grandfather dies
Father dies
Son dies

And what is clear is that any variation from this is the kind of story that haunts a family. We are lucky to have dodged so many falling anvils and slippery stairs and in the time we are allotted we should love loudly and bravely and drink deep of all good things.

Blessings on you all – thanks for listening,
Hugh

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A couple of years ago my Mom died and something in my life broke. Some of you know all too well what it’s like. Like driving with a flat tire or maybe with a strange metallic whine coming from the engine and a creeping sense that the outcome of the trip is in more doubt than you guessed. I think of her every day and the way I miss her rises and falls, now gentle, now fierce. It is a force of loss.

Isaac has come into my life as a corresponding force of connection. I am bound to this world as I have never been before. The force of a kind of river is at my back pushing me on through my stupidity and despair. My weakness is still very much in the game but it is not an “out”. I know a kind of love I never knew. My life is too simple & boring, even lonely. But somehow it has a knitting together force that is new in my experience. Becoming a parent locks you in a world of little necessities and circumscribes your choices and freedom all the while deepening the quality of your relationship to life itself.
Weird.

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 Cows are not scary but they say “Boo” What does the cow say? Boo.

We played hide and seek yesterday and when he popped out from under the blanket he would say “Bo” I finally figured out this must be “Boo” learned at daycare as kids did halloween things. I like to picture him hearing this and thinking “Well that’s just silly. They must be saying Bo.”

He got another of those goddamn hard plastic toys that look like a cartoon animal and go off like a car alarm playing the same damn six little kid songs if you bump them.

 This one was disturbing to him. It’s supposed to be a caterpillar with a long undulating green body but it also has little wobbly wheels and antennae on it’s head and all down it’s body in the form of bright balls on flexible springs. He looked at it and was fascinated and then obviously disturbed. The unmistakable look on his face was: “What the hell IS that?” For a couple of hours there was a degree of toy tension not seen since the “Big Red Ball of Death” episode.
He pointed at it every couple of minutes and said “Dat?”
“It’s supposed to be a caterpillar ”
“Dat?”
“A caterpillar – a kind of bug”
“Dat?”
I found a picture of a green caterpillar and showed him and pointed at the toy.
“It’s a caterpillar, a kind of bug.”
a few minutes later he looked at it and in a relaxed way said “Bug.” like you might say “Well alright then.”
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He’s walking “hands free”. His cautious temperament finally felt ready to let go and he just started strolling across the living room. Now he often walks in odd patterns that are unmistakably about fine tuning the controls. He walks in little circles and stoops to picks things up and keeps on cruising. It’s a careful little waddle with his hands in the air but he’s making a break for it.

He is obsessively gathering data about the universe. His most common phrase is “Dat” meaning “what is that?” And we go through every book naming names and qualifying definitions. “That’s a baby bear” “That’s called a dinosaur, it’s like a lizard but very big” “That’s a truck it’s like a car but bigger”. For a long time we lived in a one word world meaning what we heard was kitty (Ki), doggie, birdie, etc. The most exciting thing verbally is that he is starting to hook up little things that go together. We have a tourist guide to Florida with herons on the cover and he looked at it and called out “birdie” which is obviously nothing new but I walked us over to it and picked it up to look at it and he said “bird book”. We count things on the pages of his books (one two three four) and when we ask him to count he goes like this: “One hoo dum hmmm buh” or “One One One One”.

He points at zero and says “None.” I can’t figure out what this means, he’s either parroting us talking about numbers or he is recapitulating the discovery of zero itself, one of the critical scientific revolutions leading to all the science and technology of our modern world. I think probably that’s what it is.

The other night at dinner he was talking in gibberish paragraphs that were like listening to a slightly familiar foreign language being spoken.

“Ribula norgo blahbiddy bodly pa dinku mor atoffa Birdie. Norbhd a bindu ohsa bladdiby Mommy and Daddy.”

To us this is pretty spectacular.

Things we call Isaac:

  • Cutie Pattootie
  • Sweetie Petitey
  • Tiny Whiny
  • Tiny McWhiny
  • Zoomy Kabboomy
  • Zoomy
  • Zoom
  • I
  • I-Boy
  • Little
  • & of course Boo Boo Head.

 

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Toddlers are passionate and frequently negative. The books say this is the beginning of them carving out their individual identity. It makes sense to me that you have to be able to say No or your Yes is always going to be weak. So part of me that is fine with him uttering his offended little denials of this food or that book but it isn’t altogether easy to say goodbye to the relaxed kid who took what he was offered and enjoyed every book.

He is a sweet and really good kid but he feels more frustration and sadness and it’s strange knowing how much more lies inevitably, ahead. As a parent I sometimes have the heartbreaking feeling of having gotten him into such a terrible mess and yet I know that the being game is the only game in town. If you don’t exist you don’t cry but you don’t laugh or love either.

When he wants a book read to him (450 times in an average day) he makes a noise like the music during the shower scene in “Psycho”. How does one respond to this?

Isaac: “RE – RE – RE -RE!” (Spider cracks form in all glass objects.)
Daddy or Mommy: “Of course sweetie” or “For Gods sake, cut that out” or simply “AiYEEEEEE!”He is still wild for birdies. He goes to bed calling out to them and wakes up asking after them. When he recognizes one in a drawing or photo he has to shout it out with the satisfaction of seeing something very important. Buses and trucks also hit this sweet spot as well as dogs and cats but without the edge of sheer intensity that birdies bring.
I took him to Green Lake yesterday and we walked into a wild wind. Whitecaps were leaping and leaves flying but strangely it wasn’t very cold. I wanted to walk him to where the birds are but didn’t find them at the usual spots we walked on and on around the lake and finally found a collection of ducks. They looked us over and watched expectantly. I threw them some cheerios and they came closer. Now lately when showing Isaac pictures of ducks we say:” Quack quack quack” as duckily as we can. His rendering of this is “Gaga”: He calls them gaga birdies. Now meanwhile, seagulls and grebes and geese and crows had all gathered with that sixth sense for handouts. Isaac became incredibly excited, laughing and after telling every single one that it was in fact, a birdie, he began to yell at them in what I guess he figures is their language.Ga Ga GAGAGAGAGAGA! GAGAGGA! GAGGAGA! Ga Ga GAGAGAGAGAGA! GAGAGGA! GAGGAGA! GAGAGAGAGAGA! GAGAGGA! GAGGAGA!

For at my best guess, around a minute and a half. He looked like a tiny little Mussolini yelling at a crowd of fascist ducks. He got so worked up that I started to realize I had gotten us into something tricky to get out of. Here he was communing with his “people” at last and it was getting on to time to leave. As I pulled the stroller back from the lake and started to roll away he bust into tears and deep throated sobs. Good going Hugh. He is a baby though, and within a few hundred feet started to notice other birds and dogs such and grew quiet. But he’s now old enough that he’s getting his feet caught in the glue of wanting and needing and not wanting to let go. You’re welcome kid.

Conversation in the car on the way home:
Isaac: Hewo.

Hugh: Hewo.
Isaac: Hewo.
Hugh: Hewo.
Isaac: Hewo.
Hugh: (oops) Hello.
Isaac: Hewo.
Hugh: Hello.
Isaac: Hello.
Hugh: Hello.
Isaac: Hello.
(Silence)
Isaac: Hewo.

Things I can’t believe I said this week:

  1. “Please, no. I hate Timmy Tiptoes”
  2. “No, it’s a boat not a dog. It looks like a dog, and it has a dog face but it’s a boat.”
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Well it’s been too long since a crib sheet went to press (or to “press send” at any rate).

Most of you getting this already have a pretty good idea how our marathon trip went but if you don’t…it went fine, thanks. We all got along well. Isaac was a trooper generally and it was fantastic to see the grand parental units in Florida and Colorado.

Isaac is grumbling his was through the arrival of molars but especially with a little ibuprofen on board still dazzles us with sweetness on a regular basis. He is very, very close to walking without help and I suppose we should savor this golden brief moment before we have to run our butts off for the next several years. What happens is that after acting very cautious about walking or standing alone he suddenly just seems to forget to hold onto anything at times. Just the absence of any support makes him look at those moments, more grown up.

He knows many many more words that he can say. He absorbs books like there was something in them that might explain everything and so we keep delving into the mysteries of books like “Go, Dog. Go!” and especially any picture and word books that touch upon his favorite subjects. He grabs a book out of the pile (they didn’t start in a pile but they end up there every single day – life with a baby is like making those Tibetan sand paintings) and waves it at us insistently saying something like “Yagadi!” Which apparently means “Your king commands you. Read!”

The Isaac Hot and Not list:
Hot: Buses, birdies, kitties, cars. planes, doggies, playing.
Not: Molars, vegetables, denial of any whim no matter how small, falling.

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Well…I’m all at sea. I don’t know where I left off but I know it was a while ago.

Isaac is Six feet tall and taking pre-med at UW.OK not quite, he’s fat and small and still a baby though a big strong smart one.

As my earlier email to most of you this week mentioned, the word “birdie” is filling in for well, all the other words. It could be summed up by this phrase: “If you don’t have something birdie to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Except bye bye and cat).He is still using his parental slave units to hold his hands while walking across open rooms but he is round pink lightning along walls, off couches and beds and after rolling toys and cats.Some of the cool stuff I could tell you doesn’t fit well into anecdotes because it’s about the little things he notices by listening and looking and the ways he tries to communicate. No example really rates a story to you (I have some self respect left) but he is more observant and involved and relating in deeper ways.

When he was really an infant and he put his head down on my shoulder it was sweet but it meant he was going to sleep. When he does it now it means “you’re my person” and it is to die for. He’s very grumpy when he’s grumpy and he’s very sweet when he’s sweet. We play “I’m Gonna Get You” and he laughs and squeals with a purity of joy that makes me feel less cynical about life, the universe and everything.Here’s to you all

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That’s what he has turned into. A little shiny pink and golden monkey.
Life is a series of wild workout sessions involving getting up and walking (along things or with adult hands) and sitting down and crawling at speeds approaching 30 mph.
Isaac’s list of things to do today (and everyday)

  1. Mommy’s papers must be rifled: They are strangely flat, smooth and complete.
  2. Cat dishes must be checked for interesting surprises
  3. Everything on the floor must be tasted
  4. Attempts to reach the cat box must continue (What is so special that Mommy keeps it all for herself?)
  5. Touching electric outlets makes parents run and scream. What else can they do? Possible flight or dancing?

He is very bright and sweet. He isn’t that sweet while teething but who would be? Interesting vocalizing; he calls me (and other things) “Danya” adding this odd “ya” to various sounds. We think he may be Russian.
He impressed the heck out of us by learning something very interesting. He had a tendency to try to plunge head first over the side of anything he was on and wanted off of. This scared me and I would stop him and rotate him around and slide him down feet first till his feet caught under him and took his weight.
Yesterday he did this all by himself. We applauded and told him how smart he is and he applauded too and looked thrilled!

Projects: I am trying to teach him to howl like a wolf. My dream scenario is this: He is at daycare and another parent who doesn’t know him well comes to pick up their kid. Following some internal gut sense of timing Isaac tilts back his head and comes out with a long haunting blood chilling howl.

Yours for good mental health,
Hugh

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