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.
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!”.
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:
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,
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.
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.
“It’s supposed to be a caterpillar ”
“A caterpillar – a kind of bug”
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.”
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
- & of course Boo Boo Head.
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?
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!
Conversation in the car on the way home:
Hugh: (oops) Hello.
Things I can’t believe I said this week:
- “Please, no. I hate Timmy Tiptoes”
- “No, it’s a boat not a dog. It looks like a dog, and it has a dog face but it’s a boat.”
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.
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
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)
- Mommy’s papers must be rifled: They are strangely flat, smooth and complete.
- Cat dishes must be checked for interesting surprises
- Everything on the floor must be tasted
- Attempts to reach the cat box must continue (What is so special that Mommy keeps it all for herself?)
- 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,
Boy is insane.
Thinking process seems to be “Must get up! Can’t get up. WhAAA. Good. Big Monkey holding me up. Must walk! Can’t walk! WhAAAA.What’s that on floor? Yummmm…Styrofoam.To hell with stupid toys, where are the heavy sharp things?”
Incredible new skills crawling squirming changing from sitting to lying down. He’s pretty much break dancing all day. Pappa is frazzled, as baby charges randomly around Momma’s house suddenly looks like The Zone of Death.
Sometimes he gets tired and pauses to look up as if to say “What in the world is happening to me?”
He waves. He says Hi. Mostly when we’re just hanging around.
Love to all.
Isaac is a big healthy boy at 22 in. long and nearly 20 lb.
He’s more truly here all the time – and that’s sort of the scary thing. We have to watch what we say and do more. The cat starts to destroy the couch and I yell with this big voice he hardly ever hears and I look down to see this tender little face big eyed, looking at me like I’m a little scary (picture Cindy Lou Who asking “Why are you taking our Christmas tree Santa Claus, Why?”). Yikes.
Love to all,