These were originally chatty emails sent to family and friends but I wanted to gather them together to not forget the stories. My reconstruction of the order is less than perfect so there’s at least a little back and forth. His (very good) mom is invisible in these simply to protect her privacy. I’ll add more as I find them.
It’s just a snippet out of context and it won’t mean much to you, but for me, this is like finding a shred of an ancient scroll in a clay pot: Thrilling, but poignantly incomplete.
I love bedtime stories. Listening to the voice of someone I love telling me a story at bedtime carries me along like a gentle river, and the moment of drifting off is exquisitely easy. It’s unburdened by the thornbush of anxious thoughts where we so often find ourselves after turning off the light. I also love reading bedtime stories. If there was some way that 17 year old Isaac would allow it, I’d be happy doing it now. It’s a very sweet way of being together and sharing a world. I always found it relaxed him into naturally talking about what was happening in his world. This was never the reason for reading, just a very nice side effect. Nothing else allowed him to confide his feelings and concerns so easily. We’d pause the story and explore his situation for a while.
Between the days of reading baby books and the days of reading novels, I nightly made up stories out of thin air. He was very small, but old enough to understand and love a detailed, wide ranging story. He initiated it with a passionate request that I make up a story. I suppose it went on for two or three years ( I didn’t have him full time, but often). If you imagine doing this it feels daunting and doomed to failure. Waiting for a story to collect in your head is useless. The opposite of telling a story is worrying about what story to tell. The secret is to simply begin. Obviously you need a character or situation as the first domino but you can grab one off the endless racks surrounding us and just jump.
How intelligent he looks!
on his back
both feet caught in my one hand
his glance set sideways,
on a giant poster of Geronimo
with a Sharp’s repeating rifle by his knee.
I open, wipe, he doesn’t even notice
nor do I.
Baby legs and knees
toes like little peas
little wrinkles, good-to-eat,
eyes bright, shiny ears
chest swelling drawing air,
No trouble, friend,
you and me and Geronimo
As Boy comes up to his 4th birthday I have to marvel at how fast it has all gone. Of course, that is exactly what veteran parents always say. As my friend Walt told me; “Remember, you can’t go back and take pictures.”
As Mindy lay recovering on his first night the nurses escorted me to his incubator. I have to strain to remember what he looked like at first: That tiny little red person left high and dry in an incubator. He looked like a little old man in a nursing home but he still felt like a vibrant little person. He was so delicate but I could hear life humming in him. He had to be tough to hold on as he did. My wordy mind just sort of shut down as I watched him. Inside I heard a strange machinery coming fully online. It wasn’t verbal or conceptual, it was just a new fact of my life. Translated it would have said: “This is mine. This is my job. I’m your guy.”
I reached my hand through the little window and touched his hand. His hand closed around my index finger and held on warm and solid.
(rediscovered – out of sync Cribsheet)
Well Isaac continues to amaze us in so many ways. Those of you who are about to get to see him will notice right away how much more he is like a little boy than a toddler now. He is temperamentally much the same little person we’ve been keeping company with for going on three years but the articulate and funny expressions of that person pull me up short sometimes – I love where we’re at but I find I already miss the little baby and the tiny toddler of yesterday, I know his Mom does too.
- Here are some tiny little word snapshots of Isaac, recently.
We were at the park in the playground. As usual, we were playing with pebbles in this boat like structure. He was gathering piles of pebbles on the bench seat sides of the thing and pretending they were food and he was cooking them. He named and offered them as he cooked:
“These are chingosans – would you like some?”
Oh yes, Isaac they’re delicious. And so on – he is remarkably comfortable making up crazy words and just using them in conversation. There were things like glernytibs and wimbledimps -sort of like a Dr. Seuss restaurant menu.
- Anyway, I told you all that to tell you this – he picked up handful of pebbles and looked at me sweetly -“Sorry, Daddy” He said. I got out something like: “Oh Isaac, you have nothing to be sorry -” before he whapped me right in the face with the handful of pebbles. He had an impulse, knew it was wrong, very thoughtfully apologized and then went ahead and did it! I should have been mad or corrected him but I laughed till I fell down.
- Around the same time he took to asking me where the *********** was? With “**********” standing for a noise that really sounds like a word but you can’t quite make it out – the first few times I said stuff like “I can’t really understand what you’re saying” and asking for clarification but I suddenly realized he was just having me on – and when he’d ask I’d say “It’s over there in the corner” or “it’s right behind you” and he would be perfectly satisfied!
I taught him the Banana-fana song and he loves it, you know like: “Isaac Isaac bo-bisaac
banana fana fo fisaac
He made me sing it with the name of every person we know (granpa granpa bo banpa) and then on to every kids show character – (Thomas Thomas bo bomas) and all was well till we got to a Bob the Builder character named Muck. I started in confidently Muck, Muck bo buck
banana fana fo – UH OH
you see the second line always uses F instead of the person’s proper initial.
So I said it – I said it as simply and nonchalantly as I could so it wouldn’t stand out as anything special that he would home in on and start repeating loudly in public somewhere – to my knowledge we’ve both been pretty good about not cursing in front him (someone almost smashed into us in traffic the other day and I called him a fool) and he didn’t seem to notice anything special about it so I thought I was off the hook.
Till he said “sing penis!”
That’s a bit of segue, isn’t it. He clearly has a reference point for “naughty stuff’ even though I never see any sign of self consciousness in him or awareness of naughty things.
So I sang it – You might think I’m stupid but I was trying to keep it simple and light -ordinary and no big deal:
“Penis Penis bo benis banafana fo fenis
me-mi-mo menis PENIS!”
And thought I was clear till he said “Sing Chuck!”
Look. We don’t even know a Chuck – I wouldn’t have felt confident that had ever even heard the name “Chuck” but this kid seemed to know what would happen to it on the second line of the banafana song. I told him I wanted to do something else. Scary clever.
The other night I had a dinner for some old friends here and Isaac was in attendance -as dinner wound down Isaac decided to start handing out little golden tomatoes to everyone – we all played along and ate them because he was giddy with pleasure running around feeding us – his joy was so palpable – he ran out of sight into the kitchen for a moment and then ran to see us all smiling at him – he said:
“This is FANTASTIC, people!”
I came upstairs the other morning as Xxxxy was changing Isaac’s diaper – She was laughing and said “What are you doing?”
His little hand was cupped over his mouth and nose and he was babbling quietly in some completely made up language.
“I’m talking to my nose.” He said calmly.
He’s adopted this goofy little baby bonnet at day care and it’s his hat now – It’s so odd and like beyond not stylish but I’ve started to love it on him.
I’m including a particularly goofy pic of wearing reading glasses and the bonnet – he looks like an 18th century farm wife. (real time: Can’t find it)
warm thoughts to you all – Much love, Hugh
(rediscovered Cribsheet – out of sync)
We’re hitting an especially high tone this time, eh?
Greetings to all and sorry to be out of touch so very long. All our well established patterns were broken up by Isaac’s Mom moving to her friend’s house. So now even simple tasks like taking pictures and getting at the computer are more complicated than they were. Isaac and his Mom are upstairs at P’s house and it’s a sweet little space and a nice home. I come in as usual at 7 in the morning to watch Isaac. We go downstairs to play and run into the problem of P’s sweet very old dog Maggie.
Every morning at 7:26 I step in a puddle of dog pee on a once exquisite Persian carpet. Many days worse things lie in wait. Maggie is sweet natured but half out of her mind. She asks to be let out of the back door to go pee in the yard (well OK, not in so many words) and I let her out and she takes care of business – except that lately she has taken to asking to go outside when she doesn’t need to and then she stands around out there looking sort of confused before barking to be let back in.
Then she forgets that she just asked and asks again – and again – and again – and again – and because I am trying to cut down on profound grossness in the living room I am afraid not to let her out. I spend my mornings being ordered about by a 400 year old dog and a two year old boy.
Maggie’s other quirk is The-Look-Of-Profound-Sadness which she nails me with every time I happen to look her way. When she catches your eye you feel a vertiginous drop toward an infinite horizon of ever deepening despair. It is a look of such woe and sorrow that the complete works of Ingmar Bergman on DVD would help you cheer up afterwards.
We generally head for my house about 8 o’clock for Sesame Street and other vehicles of the gay liberal satanic agenda. One show that Isaac likes that completely baffles me is called “Boobah” a show which makes “Teletubbies” look edgy and concerns itself with six primary colored dancing, flying and apparently farting extraterrestrials who make children dance. When they fly or dance the sound track plays “whoopee cushion” noises so frankly, I don’t know what else to think. Isaac thinks they look like penguins. To my eye they resemble brightly colored penguins as much as they resemble some sort of ambiguous genitalia. They name their characters as they leave their UFO style sleeping quarters to dance and I cover ears and make noise so I won’t learn their names. I know the names of everyone on Sesame street – everyone on Mister Rogers – everyone in Thomas the Tank Engine and even, God help me, everyone on Teletubbies. I will be damned if I will learn the names of the multicolored genital-oid dancing flatulent penguins of Boobah!
Isaac has been great. Very dear and funny and we have to constantly revise our sense of what to expect from him. He is braver physically which is a nice thing to watch happen but he still has this odd way of noticing any mention of things to be cautious of and talking about them a lot. Apparently he heard someone say the phrase “pissed her off’ because he randomly shouts of “Pister Offer” with glee and intensity. We pretend nothing happened. It could have been me, but I don’t remember. He babbles a kind of jibbity jabbitty blibbity blabbity scat jazz jabber which is interesting because he also using really complete articulate sentences much of the time. The scat jabber rhymes and he is really getting into things that rhyme – a friend of XXXXX’s gave him a little toy beaver and he was playing with it – because my head is full of nonsense I said:
“Beaver B. Bumpkin.” Isaac laughed and said “Beaver B. Bumpkin, sitting on a pumpkin. ”
Tonight he said:” Mommy, I have a very good book downstairs which I think you’ll like.”
I’ll send more sooner – love and good thoughts to you all, Hugh
Like most parents Isaac’s Mom and I struggle with the question of weapon toys. Boys are drawn to them like crows to shiny pebbles or celebrities to cocaine. My intuition tells me that it’s healthy and natural for boys to play at fighting. Hell, not just my intuition, my memory. It was a tremendously powerful drive, a longing and a need. Playing war was one of the most deeply satisfying games I can remember. If I could run in the streets with friends pretending to shoot at each other without actually being hospitalized or jailed I would be doing it this moment. I believe playing with weapon toys is a way boys express aggression but that’s only a piece of what they are doing. They also learn restraint, teamwork, dealing with peck order, storytelling, and possibly nobility.
Isaac and I have fights as the centerpieces of all our stories. He demands it. Always we are good guys, always we show mercy and look for ways to mitigate damage. But always, we fight. I think he needs to explore this to figure out how to be good and strong at the same time. I think the Mommies and Daddies who shame kids away from fighting toys are doing harm – it’s as if they simply disapprove of this developmental stage and in the name of being responsible shrug off responsibility. They want their boys to be good but I think they overlook how much the boy needs to feel strong in order to feel like being good. I think they are turning their backs on the the animal soul of their boys because it offends their delicate sensibilities. Isaac’s Mom struggles with this more than I do but she fundamentally gets it – that it’s a part of boy nature that is inseparable from the boys inner life.