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.
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.
(rediscovered Cribsheet from age two – so out of sync)
Well, It’s Fall and the days have been beautiful cool jewels but they are growing foggy and soggy.
Isaac is a little sick today with a very minor temperature and he is droopy and sleepy as a result. I’m going to take advantage of nap time to say to you all and tell a couple of fresh stories.
It’s Thomas the – Goddamn -Tank Engine all day and night.
- That cheeky little engine and his minions have filled the house – and turned it into a rat’s nest of track and little grumpy trains. The Thomas stories are a little weird because they are full of grumbling and selfishness and frowny faces. There is one basic story line in Thomas series – they fall off the track or bump into something and there are dozens of these stories. As Isaac plays with the trains (He has two states of being right now, asleep or playing with the trains.) it becomes more and more about incredible disasters and pile ups.
- He comes and takes us by the hand and showing us the carnage says: “Are they OK? Are they OK?”
- Actually, I think I’m starting to understand Thomas better for a two year old – It’s full of adventures that go wrong and then “getting back on track”. It’s what he goes through all day.
- He isn’t two – he’s Very two. He’s violent and angry and tender and cuddly and that’s during a random 15 second period.
- He loves music and we play it a lot and sing a lot – he can sing all of the ABC’s and twinkle twinkle little star and Itsy bitsy spider – and lots of bits of other songs – I find it wonderful to hear him. I like a rather strange band called “They Might Be Giants” and frequently play a song called “Dr. Worm” and now I can occasionally hear Isaac singing quietly to himself: “They call me Doctor Worm, I’m not a real Doctor but I am a real worm, I am an actual worm…”
- I bought him a harmonica a while ago and we now and then do what I call the Strange Hillbilly Dance: He has me play what passes for a song on the harmonica while he does this weird little jerky dance. When I finish he says: “Yay!” and we return to whatever was happening before. For some reason we have to do it in the kitchen.
- Peanut of mystery: You know we look under rocks to find interesting bugs. Well I lifted up a big rock on our regular rounds and we found a fully intact peanut under there (where there had been no peanut before). Logic suggests it must be a squirrel who did it but this is a big, heavy rock half covered with earth. It would require 7 or 8 squirrels working as a team with a block and tackle to place that peanut under that rock and replace the soil around it. Or else a single seventy five pound squirrel lifted out the rock and daintily placed a peanut there before cleaning up and moving on. Either way I am disturbed.
- Isaac Ball: Some of you may remember Calvin ball from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes – kinda similar. When Isaac and his Mom went visit Isaac’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins. They introduced him to baseball which apparently Sam is really into and quite good at. At bat though, Isaac insisted on holding the bat by the fat end and tapping at the ball (on its T-ball perch) pool cue style.
- When they returned his Mom and I thought we better try to introduce him to sports a little more and bought some little guy baseball stuff. It’s a complete failure – the idea of rules everybody has to follow is clear to him it’s just that it means the rules as he see it – right now and subject to change when he sees it differently.
- I took him out in the backyard and set up bases and a batting post and Isaac tipped the ball of it’s perch with the skinny end of the bat – ran in a wacky ricochet pattern around the yard and back to where he started and shouted happily to me (as God is my witness)
- “Isaac a team player!” Which I’m thinking an amused relative might have told him back in Pittsburgh. All of our best to all of you,
Sooner next time,
So Mama & Papa are falling in love with baby all over again. We’re in the grip and we got it bad. Except for short excursions into raw and nasty toddler moods he’s just a tender, shining little person. We walk beside him trying to hold our guts in place.
Right now M is lying on the couch reading with Isaac completely zonked out across her, his head on her shoulder. It’s a strange communion when he sleeps on you, it’s like getting vitamins and warmth from sunshine after a long winter.
He is leaving certain baby words behind, Buttnee becomes button & Mimi becomes mouse and we are both impressed and suddenly wistful as another cute little stage waves goodbye in the rearview mirror dwindling out of sight. He’s undergone a growth spurt which makes him look more like a little boy and less like a baby though it’s hard to see what changed.
He is using full sentences at times now and picking up the alphabet and numbers with a particularly keen interest. When he wants to count things he points at them one by one while he says “five – six – five – six”. He loves to learn and it’s fascinating to get to be a teacher to him, watching him construct a universe piece by piece. He takes things in with such interest and attention to detail that I find I have to play the game better myself at times. He observes and talks about tiny details and I find myself looking hard at things he mentions and almost always finding his perceptions accurate. The other day he made a better word choice than I did. I took him out to Magnuson park to watch the kites flying at kite hill. As we were getting ready to go I saw an interesting kite with dozens of little dangly strips of cloth flying behind it and I pointed it out to him. I struggled for a word to describe it and I said “Look, octopus kite.” He looked and said “Jellyfish Kite!” and he was right, that was much closer to it.
The other day we took him out to a public playground in the park and suddenly came face to face with all the dark probing questions that arise from swings and slides and – those – other – kids. He has this odd, cautious quality I’ve mentioned before and to be fair he’s a little under the weather with another cold but at times he plays like a little Swedish philosopher. Swings leave him cold and slides are interesting but as worrisome as being asked to skydive. He walks over rough ground about as well as I roller skate which is to say uncertainly. We put him into this cool boat-like play structure where he carefully sifted and examined the tiny gray pebbles underfoot – moving them from hand to hand, throwing them over the side and dropping them through a little hole in the stern on the “ship”.
Another kid much bigger than Isaac came to play in the boat, spinning the tiller inches from his head. Cautioned by his Grandma to be careful he got mad at Isaac and when he thought nobody was looking he picked up a handful of pebbles and dirt and tossed them at his face. They missed, falling harmlessly but I yelled “Don’t do that!” and watched that kid like a hawk for the rest of our stay. I was thinking of that kid as a little monster when I remembered that Isaac has once or twice whapped a smaller baby at daycare.
I remember someone once said that children before they are socialized are 360 degree personalities radiating everything outward. Naturally and rightly we can’t stay that way. In a social world an adult radiating a 360 degree personality is a hour from prison or an insane asylum. It’s HOW that burning wick gets trimmed that concerns me. Isaac, keep as much of your fire and light and heat as you can while being a nice person, a trustworthy person.
Anyway, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon.
Talk to you soon.
He is vacuuming up information about everything as always, continuing to follow all the threads talked about in earlier crib sheets. He is getting very interested in letters and numbers. He knows many & points them out with excitement. Words become sentences. The first sentence I heard was a few days ago, looking at a picture on the computer screen “That’s a fish.”
He is more strong and agile and if he wants down and out of your arms it’s a little more powerful as an argument than it was. But he seems a little tentative about some physical stuff like walking on rough uneven terrain or getting down off M’s bed by himself. Neither of us knows what to make of it but we are just going to try to help him have more fun with rough-house play without making a thing out of it. He continues to be fascinated by bugs. Yesterday he found a little dead spider on a window sill and cheerily greeted it: “Hi Bug!” and pointed it out to me. I gently blew it away hoping he would think it just decided to leave. But he launched into calling out “Bug? Bug? Bug? Bug?” and after awhile sadly said:”Bye bye Bug.”We were at a coffee shop the next day, me having coffee and him cheerios when he noticed an ant on the floor and got very excited. We had dropped a cheerio (or ten) and the ant was inspecting it. He saw this and picked more cheerios out of the bag and dropped them deliberately around the ant. I’m sorry, coffeeshop employees, but in fairness, ants?
I give him something interesting to hold onto and look at when I’m changing a poopy diaper. I gave him a little shiny red “Hot Wheels” car and he was looking at it and said “Truck” so I said “Car” and he said “truck” so I leaned down at him and said “Car!” and he laughed and said “Truck!” and we went on and on getting more and more amused at our own silliness. When he says “No!” like a mad little toddler I find I can often change the tone just by being amused. Not mocking, just playful. Months ago we were watching an old movie with William Hurt on TV and Isaac looked at him and said “Daddy!” and I thought “Natural Mistake”. A week or two back I didn’t shave for a week and wore my glasses and my black baseball cap a lot. We were in the video store with him in my arms when he pointed at a video and said “Daddy, Daddy” I thought “Which handsome movie star has he mistaken for me this time?” He was pointing at a picture of Michael Moore on the cover of “Bowling for Columbine”. yOw.
He says “Please” but it’s pronounced “Peas” “Pick me up” is “UP-Peas”. He helps to put away toys and books at bedtime. It’s amazing.
I have to say I am proud of my storytelling self. I can extemporize a kid’s story that takes off, goes somewhere cool and lands on time. Some of my favorites: The Sunflower Seed Six about a bunch of jazz playing mice and their adventures.The Poo Poo Pirate Ship about well…um…just imagine. He came up with the name and idea. “The Bloops”, a race of round yellow aliens whose sun burns out so they go to the intergalactic hardware store to get another. These days because he loves 101 Dalmatians so much, he has me tell him stories about the Sunflower Seed Six saving the puppies from Cruella DeVil in a such a variety of places that I am now hard pressed to think of a single new location. We have saved puppies in the mountains, under the sea, in the desert, in deep underground bunkers, even on the moon! I’m sparing you the 15 or so others.Once in awhile when I’m telling stories I am so tired that I just start to drift off. What’s bizarre is that I continue to talk. The narrative thread gets a little shaky at these times however. Isaac will say “What?!” or I’ll sort of snap to attention and realize I’m doing the storytelling equivalent of driving off the road. It’s really weird.
Isaac is almost 5. It’s amazing. He was a baby just a minute ago. You’ve heard everyone else say such things, now it’s my turn. He is sort of tall and thin. His attitude is grumpy and sweet and playful and manipulative. I cannot believe the guilt inducing things he pulls on me at times. The other day he whacked me with a sword (small, plastic) and I read him the riot act about doing such things. He sobbed: “I thought my Daddy LOVED ME!”. I have never in my life voiced anything like this to him and I doubt his Mom has either (though I snarkily think it sounds more like her) . I think he came up with this entirely on his own. More and more I think people just are what they are from the very beginning and our stories about how “This happened and it changed me” are just fancy ways of rationalizing our peculiar and frustrating natures. He is sort of too clever in some ways. He forgets nothing, asks test questions to check my memory – makes up alternate words and answers with them waiting for me to translate. we read chapter books at bedtime and he loves them and lives very deeply in stories. 101 Dalmatians is a very big story for him. He is still challenged by large motor skill stuff (from his preemie days) and I can see him working these limits into how he does things and how he defines himself. I am doing what I can but I don’t know how much I can do. I get him out kicking the soccer ball – climbing hills – wrestling. He was sort of delicate about anything happening to him – one of those kids who says “ow” more often than they really should. I bought us some of those big foam “Noodles” the swimming flotation toys – and we whack each other over the head with them all time, we joust and quarterstaff with them and I am proud to say that my son can now be whacked in the head without becoming whiny and upset.
Well anyway, I just wanted to reach out to those of you I care about and hardly ever talk to, just to catch up a little. I guess I’ll finish with a lovely thing that happened with Isaac a couple of weeks ago. We had had a great day together and I told him that his Mom was coming to get him in a couple of hours. He said “Can I keep this day?” I said “I guess you can keep any day that you remember.”He said, “I keep all my days with you.”
Talk to you soon,Hugh
He’s 4 and a half and he’s like an optical illusion that changes with the angle of view. He’s still just such a little boy and yet he’s way way way past toddler. He’s thin with little baby fat in his face. He’s still small and so innocent and crazy scared of little things but he’s determined to be tough and the urge to fight is strong in him.
The other night, playing with cars and tinker toys we built (following his instructions all the way) the… car wash of pain! It had features to spray the cars with cold water, beat them, smush them and chase after them to bring them back when they ran off.
He really has an intense and strong personality and he is far from a push over. He’s like a cat you love. You say “You’re such a good cat” but you are under no illusion that the cat is “good” (ie: thoughtful, kind or ethical) merely that he’s his own perfect thing and he’s cuddly. What a good Isaac! He tells me he’s bigger and tougher and stronger than me. We rough-house and I toss him around and flip him and spin him, we wrestle and I let him win by dancing on my belly. The poet Robert Haas once wrote of “the poppa body” the Dad who gets climbed on, tread upon, smushed, piled on, etc. It’s delightful to be and I will miss it when It’s not my role anymore.
For some reason, either my influence or just inborn, he has a powerful drive to be funny. About half the time this works and about half the time it’s anywhere from neutral to awful. The best funny stuff he does is out of a clear blue sky.
I brought him in from the car one day and went back to unload some more things. When I came back in he was holding my telephone up to his ear and talking, saying something like:
“This is Isaac, Is everything ready? OK, thanks, goodbye”. I said “what are you doing?” Isaac: “Making a phone call”Me: “Who are you calling?”Isaac: “The officials.”
He’s also got a lovely way of seeing connections and a gift for metaphor. We were putting up glowing stars in his bedroom. He put two stars side by side and he said “This is you and me.” he put one a little off to the side and said “this is Mommy” and put two up above and said “this is Grandma and Grandpa” he put a few more stars up here and there with names for the people and pets they represented and stood back to look at it and said. “I’m making a star map of my people.”
He also made up a good rhyme about the holidays, it came out so perfectly that I can’t believe it’s really an accidental rhyme.
Isaac Compares the Holidays:
“Halloween is better than Christmas
scary is better than sweet
and it’s also better than Thanksgiving
because on Thanksgiving all you do is eat”
As long as he’s been able to really follow stories I’ve been making them up for him and lately our storytelling is team based which involves a certain amount of sacrifice of quality control on my part but some of his story ideas are great. Sometimes we cooperate on bedtime stories, both of us wandering forward through unknown territory nudging the other in the direction we want to go. The problem is that when you are a parent you tell the story like an airplane trip. That is, it gets itself organized, lifts off, has some excitement and comes in for a landing. When Isaac sees a shared story coming in for a landing he grabs the controls and sends it off on another trajectory. “Suddenly they saw a light under another door!” Until at last the Dad packs his parachute and bails out somewhere over Omaha.
Boy is busy trying to catch up on the physical side.
Lately he’s been getting a wind in his sails and wanting to move more like a normal kid. I know that sounds terrible, like I don’t think he’s a normal kid but the fact is, he’s got his issues and they all go back to being a preemie. He is what the docs call “Low tone” or hypotonic which means his muscles are a little weak and it affects his coordination and motor skills. His balance isn’t very good, and he’s always been a strangely careful kid – feeling his way up and down stairs – carefully navigating bumps in the sidewalk I can hardly notice. His run has been an awkward fast walk and he doesn’t like challenges to the status quo – he has never been a kid who liked riding on shoulders or getting tossed in the air, at least not much or for long. He has always (of course) been this way but I didn’t think HE had much noticed it, he seemed so confident about who he was and what he wanted to do. He seemed like the poster child for sensitive-little-verbal-kids-who-just-aren’t-that-into-it. But lately I have this feeling like he’s thinking about and even worrying about it a little. We’ll be doing something together and he’ll say “I’m really strong” or “I’m going really fast!” We feed him images about being a big strong fast boy and believe me we are fairly stealthy about it – just trying drop in a lot of positive stuff about having fun using his body. But it’s dawning on him that he isn’t as easy in his body as kids who are even younger. He’s starting to notice and it bothers him.
He’ll say things like “I love riding my tricycle!” or “I like to go fast on my tricycle” but the fact is, I bought him this stupid little cheap tricycle a long time ago and he was really excited about it and hopped on it and went around the block pedaling (but with me pushing – killing myself bent over pushing this thing and remembering all the way that I didn’t buy the one with the big pushing stick attached to the back) and that was about it. He’s been out on it once or twice since then with really minor results and now almost always turns down any chance to get on it. When he does he just paddles along with his feet on the ground. So today with a whole day together, I was tossing about for something to do – and it’s always too easy to let the kid just hang around the house playing which is what he says he wants to do because to tell you the truth, I kind of feel like hanging around the house playing too. But damn it it’s a beautiful day and how many are left in this season? And for now it’s my job to get him out and moving. So I get this idea – “Let’s go back to Patty’s house and grab your tricycle and we’ll go to the park” and he was for it so we took off.
The park I had in mind is Magnussen, a former Naval base by Lake Washington with a couple of miles of flat walkways and tall poplar trees and abandoned sealed up military buildings and weeds up to your stomach. One of my favorites – I love scrubby old places with ruins, especially if they are down by the water. Now we get to the park and get his tricycle out and put his great silly helmet on and he sits on the trike & bursts into tears and says with this oddly confessional tone as if he was owning up to a crime: “I don’t know how to ride my tricycle! I don’t know how to go fast on my tricycle!”
He wasn’t angry, he was sad. He was acting like he’d let everybody down.
“You can learn, sweetie” I said “nobody knows how to ride till they learn.”
“But I can’t learn!” He wailed with huge tears falling “I can’t learn.”
For a moment I sort of blanched because I was shocked that this playful little guy I know so well had such complicated and dark feelings about anything: “I can’t learn?”
“You can learn” I brilliantly suggested.
“I can’t” he sobbed.
So instantly and intuitively I decided that the best thing I could do would be to lie to my son.
So I picked him up and cuddled him and I said, “Can I tell you a secret? When I was your age I felt exactly the way you do – I didn’t think I could learn to ride my tricycle and I felt terrible but my Mommy and Daddy worked with me and taught me and I learned to ride – it was a lot of work and I had to try really hard but I was so happy when I learned!” Maybe it wasn’t a lie, I have no idea.
Grimly and still crying he accompanied me to a very gentle little hill nearby and I put him on the tricycle and put his feet on the pedals and told him to push and he went downhill suddenly laughing happily – “I DO know how to ride my tricycle!”
Until he got to the bottom where gravity forced him to a stop again and the tears started all over. And this is the kind of moment where you just want to say “The hell with it” and let the kid off the hook – You see two roads – One where you are dragging a miserable kid through some big lesson because it’s “good for him” and another where you shrug off the implications of giving up and just tell him he doesn’t have to do it. And they both sort of suck.
But you DO have to do something.
So I talked him into going back 4 more times – each time at the bottom he was mad and frustrated – each time he was rolling downhill he was pedaling and happy – The last time he hopped off the tricycle happily called out “I’m all done!” and started to run off down the walkway. I shouldered the diaper bag, camera and discarded helmet and and tricycle and set off after him. Watching his little figure prancing along under the blue sky thinking about how he was meeting up with a new kind of problem – a conflict with himself.
The rest of the afternoon was very nice. I caught up with him and we reached a scrubby little apple orchard at the moment that an apple thunked to the ground. He was delighted and we practiced throwing fallen apples and chasing them – then to my surprise he got back on the tricycle again and practiced some more – he was so beat when we were done that he conked out in the car and stayed asleep even as I carried him inside and laid him on the bed.
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.
from American Primitive
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:
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”.
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,