Monday, February 28, 2011

A Meager Handful

It is a meager handful of hours - the time I get home from work until the time Violet goes to bed, and it is all too brief.

 100 days old

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Milestone

Violet slept for eight hours last night - we've reached a milestone!

98 days old

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Way We Were

Linda and I went out to dinner with some friends tonight. As we were heading out the door, Linda grabbed Violet’s green giraffe, a stuffed animal that has become our go-to toy. Violet gnaws on the giraffe’s ears, nose, face, or whatever part is nearest her mouth. Linda commented, “I never thought I’d be carrying this kind of thing in my purse.”  On the way to the restaurant, Linda wondered aloud, “Is it wrong to hope that we’re the only ones there?” (It turns out that we were.) And while we were eating dinner and talking with our friends, Violet became fussy. We told our friends about what we’d hoped on our way there, and they felt that if someone else had been at the restaurant, Violet’s crying wouldn’t have been a big deal. But Linda and I had to admit, if we were the “other people” we would’ve been whispering to each other, “Why couldn’t those people have gotten a sitter?” It’s an interesting perspective. We’re on the other side, but we can still remember what it was like to be those people – the ones without the car seat and the diaper bag. I don’t miss it. Linda doesn’t, either, but I wonder if we’ll eventually forget what it was really like - being childless, or if it’s like losing a limb; even though it’s gone, sometimes it still itches.

97 days old

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sightings From the Field

I’m leading a hike in Zoar Valley this weekend, so yesterday, I went there to scout out trail conditions. I was hoping to see some signs of spring – maybe a skunk cabbage spathe poking through the melting snow or a chickadee belting out a musical, “yoo-hoo” territorial song instead of its usual, harsh “chick-a-dee-dee” call. No such luck. Despite bright sun and temps that left me sweaty while I hiked up the gorge trail, the wildlife proclaimed winter still held sway. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a good time, being down there -  the gorge walls laced with curtains of snow and the trails deserted, making for a quiet and solitary hike. I went from place to place, checking my usual stops to be sure they were accessible and safe, stopping now and then to follow a trackline across the snow or to examine an unfamiliar tree, figuring out what it was from the bark and the buds. Normally, I could spend hours going through those motions, lazily wandering with no regard for the time. Normally, it’s the lengthening shadows of late afternoon or an obligation that determines the time to leave, but yesterday, it was the nagging feeling that I was missing some new milestone at home. Every day, Violet gets a more knowing look in her eyes, her gaze lingers longer and longer on a toy, a book, or a face, as she seems to puzzle out the peculiarities of everything around her. She’s quicker to smile, to cry, and to recover, and the grip of her fingers feels more sure at every 4 am feeding. So, my scouting hike was more brief than usual. This year, and maybe for the next few years, I might miss the first sighting of skunk cabbage, but what's happening at home is ephemeral - sightings not to be seen again, no matter what the season. I have a lifetime of late winters ahead to see the first skunk cabbage. I’ll see it again when Violet is ready to come and see it, too.

96 days old

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I'm giving myself a break

I made Violet laugh today. A lot. I'm not going to analyze it. I'm just going to enjoy it.

95 days old

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This is not an indictment

Have you heard of Joyce Carol Oates? Some say she’s one of America’s greatest living writers. (Don’t feel guilty. I keep meaning to, but I’ve never read anything by her, either.) She recently completed a memoir – A Widow’s Story - about her relationship with her husband. In it, she tells how, after nearly 50 years of marriage, she found out that their relationship was not what she thought it was. His death was sudden, and in going through his things, she found notes about a relationship with another woman and a psychiatrist telling him that he was “love-starved.” Now, Oates questions how well she really knew her husband, and her recollections of their life together are altered.

This woman’s sad story wedged itself in my head today because lately, I’ve thought about how the presence of a child can change and strain the relationship between a husband and wife. I don’t know if Oates and her husband had children, but I know it’s tough – some say impossible – to ever truly know another person, no matter how much time you spend together, no matter how much you live through together. Every one of us harbors thoughts that we share with no one, and the width and breadth of those thoughts can make a big difference in a marriage – even more so when children are in the picture. Children take up so much space – physically, mentally, emotionally – that it can seem easier to set a perceived slight – sometimes just an annoyance, other times some event or thoughts that need to be dealt with – aside because there are other, more pressing matters – diapers, a feeding, a sink full of dishes – that require attention. We ignore it in the present in the name of keeping the peace or just getting things done, but it doesn’t go away. Other people are more prone to this than others, or at least it seems that way to me the older I get. I’m especially prone to it, as Linda can tell you.

And now we’ve arrived at the real reason for this post. There have been times over the past weeks when Linda has suggested that I do this or that with Violet, and some of her suggestions have left me feeling provoked. This past Saturday, for example, I was heading downstairs to do schoolwork, just as I do every Saturday, and Linda stopped me, saying, “Violet’s in a good mood. Hold off on your work for 10 minutes and spend it with her.” Now, I know this was an innocent comment on her part, but some small part of me couldn’t help but hear her words this way: “If you walk downstairs and choose work over your daughter, you’re a bad father.” I did want to spend that time with Violet, but I also know me, and I know that if I have something pressing to do, it’s hard for me to relax and enjoy doing something else. I told Linda as much, and I went downstairs, trying to get to work but really just stewing about her perceived judgment about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Eventually, my annoyance faded, but obviously I didn’t forget about it because here I am writing about it. This isn’t the only time it’s happened, either, she has made similar comments, and the ironic part is that I caught myself making similar comments to her, too, but there never seems to be the right time to bring this stuff up. Why ruin a good night with a potentially explosive conversation? But I read that story about Joyce Carol Oates, and it was like a bucket of cold water being dumped on my head; there but for the courage to open my mouth go I.

So I’m putting it down here because most nights I read my post to Linda, and when she’s listening, she’s in a very receptive state of mind (at least she seems to be). I know I can do all the right things, be as open and honest with my mate as possible, and still find out after she’s dead that she was a polygamist Russian spy, but I figure if I try to put most of the things on the table that need to see the light of day, then I can find some comfort in the fact that I tried. Wish me luck.

94 days old

Monday, February 21, 2011

Violet Speaking to Our Ghost...or Whatever

“My friend has a baby. I'm recording all the noises he makes so later I can ask him what he meant.”
Actor and Writer, Stephen Wright

video
93 days old

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Second Time Changing Violet in a Public Restroom

I took Violet into the bathroom at the grocery store today. It was a nice bathroom; one with a changing station that included wipes and diapers. After 35 years of having a single, solo mission in public restrooms, it’s odd going into one with something - and someone - else on the agenda. Violet let loose with a loud, choking cry after I set her on the cold, hard plastic of the changing shelf, and I couldn’t help but get sweaty, thinking that everyone in the bathroom either wanted me to leave, felt I was abusing my daughter, or thought I didn’t know what I was doing. I finished changing her, and then, as I was putting Violet – still screaming – back into her carrier, an older man paused on his way to the sinks and asked if she was a newborn, and I stared at him – probably for a moment too long – wanting to say, “We’re in the bathroom, and I don’t know you. There’s no talking.” Instead, I said, “Uhhh…three months. Three months old.” He looked at me askance, and I shoved everything back into the diaper bag and picked up Violet in her carrier before he could ask if she was really my child.

92 days old

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Family Time

We went over to my brother’s house for dinner tonight. He, his wife, and his girls all went out of their way to make a lovely and delicious vegan / gluten-free dinner. It was wonderful catching up and it was even more wonderful to watch our nieces with Violet, especially the five-year-old, who was particularly smitten. It was also disquieting to hear how much louder Violet’s cries seem in someone else’s house and to realize that taking the baby out into the world leaves both Linda and me, by the time we get back home, feeling like we just ran a marathon. Is this something we get used to?

91 days old

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Hot Knife

I usually read my posts to my wife before sending them out for the world to read. When I read last night’s to her, she did okay until I got to the part about imagining 5-year old Violet climbing onto the bus. She said picturing it felt like “…a hot knife through my heart. I’ll be a quivering mass on the sidewalk. That’s what you can get me then - a trip to the psychiatrist.”
 
90 days old

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Kid Will Be Alright

So the subject of Violet riding the bus to school came up last night (I know, a little premature). I mentioned how some parents religiously drop their kids off each morning and pick them up because they don’t want them riding the bus. Linda surprised me by agreeing with their behavior. “Violet could get picked on if she rides the bus. And all those big kids…and all the other bad things she could hear and pick up on the bus.” I responded that Violet will need to learn how to deal with these things on her own sooner or later – that I rode the bus and I learned how to do it. As I said the words, I pictured a five-year old Violet, tiny backpack on her back, lifting her little legs high to step up onto the bus while leering middle schoolers stared from the windows at the back of the bus, waiting, and part of me could very much see my wife’s point. But the rest of me – the part that includes the second grade teacher – wants to see Violet develop coping skills and independence – because bullies and bad words aren’t just on the bus. And from what my students tell me, the ones on the bus are – usually – age appropriate, if that makes sense. In the end, Linda and I decided to leave the conversation for later. Violet’s first day is a long way off, and both of us could change our minds by then. Maybe we’ll home school…

89 days old

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Pledge

Each morning at my school begins with the students standing for the pledge of allegiance, followed by the singing of a patriotic song. One of the kids in my class belts out the songs with such gusto that some of the other students stare open-mouthed at her. I don’t know if she loves her country that much or if she’s trying to impress me, but her enthusiasm is a beautiful thing, and it makes me smile. Recently, I told a friend about our school’s morning routine, and he said that he could never do it; that he has a problem with the idea of the daily pledge and the jingoism inherent in such songs as “Proud to Be an American.” On a certain level, I can see his point. The irony of compelling children to pledge allegiance to a free nation is not lost on me, but the world isn’t that cut and dry. These kids will hopefully grow up to be free thinkers – people who can decide for themselves what they believe and when they’re being manipulated. For now, I think it’s important for them to have this idealized view of America to believe in – the land of the free and the home of the brave where everyone is truly treated equally, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, political party, or zip code. It's a good frame of mind to start from. As with most things, age will reveal to these kids the cracks in the fa├žade, and they will come to realize that the ideal presented in the pledge and those songs is something to work toward, that what we have is good, but it can be so much better and we’re not there yet. Maybe that’s just my rationalization that gets me through each morning, but I hope it’s not. I’ve said before on this blog that I plan to shelter Violet from the horrors of the real world for as long as I can. It’s the idealized illusions of childhood that make childhood so wonderful, the belief that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real, that Mom and Dad know everything, that you can go through life without lying, and that the America we live in is the same one we sing about each morning.

88 days old

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Future Desperation

While listening to a recent report on the wars being fought overseas, this thought worked itself out in my head:

The decision to go to war is one made by
desperate men who are out of good ideas.

The next day, I told a friend how I was not ruling out spanking as a future form of discipline for Violet, and the same thought about war popped into my head, followed by the realization that the words "go to war" could be replaced with "spank a child."


87 days old

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

Dear Violet,

Your first Valentine’s Day, and my first in a long time with a Valentine other than your mommy. When I tried to think about what to write about, I just kept coming back to how lucky – how very fortunate – I am to have the love of your mom, and how I hope you can find a love like we have. So, how about each Valentine’s Day, I’ll give you some advice on love? This year’s advice: find someone who inspires you to be a better person. Your mom does that for me – she is strong in ways I am not; she stands up for what she believes in and isn’t afraid to tell people what she thinks. That’s how I want to be, and seeing her in action pushes me to be more like her – more like the person I want to be. More importantly, your mom is compassionate when it comes to people who need help. When most people would turn away or say, “That person should help themselves out of the mess they’re in,” your mom steps in. I want to be more like that, too.

Since you are your mother’s daughter, you’ll probably already be strong in those ways, but for the ways that you’re not, go out and find someone who will inspire you to become more like the person you want to be. Your mom does that for me, and it’s one of the many, many reasons I love her. And nothing would make me happier than for you to find a love that’s good and true.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Daddy

86 days old

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No, wait...don't go

It’s in the morning. I put Violet in her vibrating chair while I get her bottle ready. It goes into the warmer, and I turn around to see Violet batting at one of the toys suspended over her chair. She’s staring so hard at it and pushing out her shaking arm, as if she’s working out this new idea - this notion that she has power over the things around her. She’s never done this before. Maybe it’s not what I think, but her movements appear so purposeful. If she’s doing what I think she’s doing, she’s crossed a threshold. I watch and realize it’s possible to feel pride and disappointment simultaneously.

85 days old

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Linda says, "One year."

How old will Violet be before I can look at her sleeping peacefully and not wonder, “Is she still breathing?”

84 days old

Friday, February 11, 2011

Breastfed Schizophrenia

Did you know that breast pumps say things? Turn one on and the motor churns a repeating cycle. Many people hear words within the rhythmic pump and whirr. I thought it was just me, but when I mentioned it to Linda, she heard the same phrase coming from our pump that I heard. Other people have told me that their breast pumps each have their own, individual phrases. Ours seems to say, over and over; “Rock the party…rock the party…rock the party.”

83 days old

Thursday, February 10, 2011

They're heeeeere...but the house is not that clean

When Violet sits on the couch, she stares intently at the space in front of our bookshelf on the other side of our coffee table. She coos and jabbers, smiles and waves her arms. This goes on for minutes at a time. If we turn her to face away from the bookshelf, she cranes her head to look back. The only things on the shelf are DVDs and our receiver. We’d like to think there’s some benevolent ghost entertaining our daughter– maybe my friend Herb who passed away a few years ago (He would’ve loved Violet and he was very entertaining). Or maybe she’s messing with us. Whatever it is, I’m jealous.

82 days old

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cloth Diaper Report

Back when we were just parents-to-be, Linda and I made the decision to use cloth diapers. With Linda taking time off work and with us lucky enough to have a washer and drier at home, we figured, “Why not?” We also had friends offering to give us sets of their cloth diapers, so it was an easy decision. Once made, however, the decision led more than one person to say to us, “Let me know how that goes,” or, “Good luck with that.” I even had someone tell me, “Oh, you’ll change your mind after a few weeks of that business.” It left me wondering if they were right. But after 80 days of changing cloth diapers, I have to say that it’s no big deal. We do a few (2-3) extra loads of laundry a week, Linda found an easy, homemade recipe for natural detergent online (10 min. to make, 8 cents(!) a load, and good for grownup clothes, too. The link’s below…), and we don’t even think twice about the whole process. I should point out that today's cloth diapers have come a long way from the thin cloth diapers of the past, and there are no pins to deal with (ours have snaps). It also helps that we installed a sprayer on our toilet (a “personal” cleaner, basically a hand held bidet) that allows us to clean the diapers quickly and easily before putting them into the diaper pail. I never thought I'd be spraying someone's else's poop into the toilet, but here I am and it's fine. It's amazing how quickly you become accustomed to it. I had a mom-to-be ask me about cloth diapers a few weeks ago. It was nice to be able to tell her how it has worked out for us, and another plus? Violet’s diapers won’t be in a landfill when her grandchildren are around.

81 days old
Link to make your own detergent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfEJHb5lfds (Tips: Use a food processor, if you have one, to grate the soap (We used a bar of Dr. Bronner's), and add essential oils if you want it to smell like something besides soap)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tonight...a quote

Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other.

Edgar Watson Howe

and

A yawn, in 4 pictures:

80 days old

Monday, February 7, 2011

Control Yourself

Way back in August, in my second post on this blog, I wondered if I would have some control over how my kid behaves or if it all comes down to genes. Yesterday, I read about a recent study that sheds some light on that very question. Researchers followed a group of children from birth to age 32 and found that those children who showed high levels of self control at a young age, and even those children who developed greater self-control at a later age, fared better as adults. They were:
“...less likely than children with low self-control to develop common physical health problems, abuse drugs, or experience difficulties with credit and money-management. They were also less likely to raise a child in a single-parent household or be convicted of a crime as adults.”
Now, all I need is some advice on good ways to instill self-control in Violet. You’d be shocked at how little she possesses at the moment…

79 days old

Here's a link to an article on the study: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/self-control-at-an-early-age-helps-avoid-pitfalls-study/article1881494/

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Pill

I sat in the rocking chair today, Violet sleeping against my chest, and thought of two things. The first was the movie, The Matrix. If you haven’t seen it, it tells the story of the human race enslaved by machines, turned into biological batteries and encased in pods that power our technological masters. The machines construct a computer program and plug it into our minds, giving us the perception that we’re going about our normal lives. In one scene, the main character has to choose between two pills – one will cause him to forget what he’s learned and go back to living within the computer program, the fabricated life, when in reality he’ll continue to be a prisoner. Or, he can take the other pill and “wake up,” liberating his body from the pod, and experiencing life as it really is, in all of its harshness. It was a point of debate between Linda and me ever since we saw it – which would be the better choice? I always said it would be better to live the difficult life in the real world because it would be the truth, but she contended that, at least in terms of the movie, the real world of the future was too bleak. Better to live a “normal” life within the computer program. You wouldn’t know it was a construct, so why would it matter?

The second thing on my mind was a radio story I heard last year, a true story. From what I can remember, it concerned a man who had to undergo hormone therapy; due to a rare condition, he had to take a drug that limited the supply of testosterone in his body. He described how the removal of that one element from his system completely changed his personality. He went from a strong-willed, type-A person to someone who struggled with even the simplest decision, a person who could barely get out of bed in the morning, or if he could, he didn’t make it much farther than the couch. His entire personality shifted, and he found it unnerving how much of who we are, or who we think we are, is based entirely on chemistry.

So those were the thoughts going through my head as I rocked back and forth with my daughter, wondering why I feel so strongly for this little mass of muscle, bone, and onesie. We all read in books and tell each other in real life that you can’t love a person without getting to know them first, so does that mean what I feel for Violet, what I felt when I first watched her emerge from my wife’s body like clowns from a clown car, isn’t really love? Is it merely the chemical reaction designed by thousands of years of evolution to make sure that I care for my offspring? Am I, like the character in The Matrix and the guy on the radio, a kind of slave? Does it matter? Even if I could know the answer – take a pill and see where my fatherly instincts really come from – it wouldn’t change anything. Every dad makes a decision when that baby slides out into the world and wails hello – a decision about what kind of dad they’ll be, and they keep making that decision every day. The wiring behind those decisions has some foundation in chemistry and evolution, I’m sure, but more wires are put down by life experience, too.

Part of me wonders all of this, but sitting in the rocking chair, Violet’s head cocked in what looks to me like a very uncomfortable sleeping position, I know the questions in my head will invariably grow quieter every time our eyes lock, every time she smiles at me, and as her personality forms into someone knowable. Everyday, the links in the chain that binds me to her will grow thicker, and it will matter less and less why I feel for my daughter the way I do. I just hope I can make it through her teenage years.

78 days old

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Everyone's A Critic

Linda went out with her mom this afternoon, so it was just Violet and me. Inspired by the YouTube link my buddy Nate sent to me (see below) – a hands-down adorable clip of a father and young daughter singing together, I got out my guitar, propped Violet up on the couch, and started to sing her a song. Her bottom lip immediately shot out and the crying started. I asked her if I should stop. She smiled.

77 days old

Jorge and Alexa sing "Home" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L64c5vT3NBw

Also, many thanks to the friends and relatives who sent us their good thoughts, best wishes, and offers to let us use their showers! We appreciate it more than you know. Thankfully, our water is flowing once again. We can't drink it for the time being, but we can bathe and flush the toilet, which makes a big, big difference. And Violet took a bottle today like a champ!

Friday, February 4, 2011

We Got You, Babe

We’ve had a rough 7-10 days. Last week, Linda found out she had no job to go back to at the end of the month. This week, our water stopped working and we’re still not sure when we can stop drinking and washing ourselves and our dishes out of 5 gallon buckets. Violet is rejecting the bottle and Linda’s milk seems to be drying up for some unknown reason. Last night, to top it off, our computer was infected with a virus. Still, we don't feel put upon. How can we when we can look at this...

76 days old

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Top Ten

Top Ten Songs That (For Me) Are About Violet...in no particular order...

1. Wonder – Colin Meloy

2. Happy Birthday - Clem Snide

3. Forever Young - Bob Dylan

4. Wake Up - Arcade Fire

5. No Lies, Just Love - Bright Eyes

6. My Girls - Animal Collective

7. Loves Me Like A Rock - Simon, Paul

8. Untitled - R.E.M. (from the Green album)

9. Blake's View - Ward, M.

10. When You Dream - Barenaked Ladies

Any other suggestions?
 
75 days old

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The White Silence

Every other year it seems, I get the urge to head into the woods for two or three days of wintry solitude. Most people find the idea strange or irresponsible or just plain stupid and I do not argue with them. I imagine there are actually two layers to the idea that seem foreign – there’s the idea of tenting it alone, compounded by the notion of doing in the winter. I once had a relative tell me that she couldn’t understand why I would purposely put myself in harm’s way, why I would be so reckless – that I should consider the loved ones worrying about me, depending on me. (A more nimble mind than mine would have pointed to the pack of cigarettes sticking out of her purse and said, “Let’s talk about those.”) Now, I know to a certain degree, she has a point, but my winter outings are relatively tame; no ice climbing or hunting grizzlies. With the right gear, it’s not a big deal. I might backpack on skis for a few days or hike up a small mountain on snowshoes. I’m not a thrill-seeker, I try to find some seclusion and silence. The cold, the snow – they don’t just keep most of the people out of the woods, the keep the noise out, too. Lying bundled in a sleeping bag, the cold resting on your face, you can hear what Jack London called the White Silence, and it sends your mind to places it would never travel in day-to-day life. In his story of the same name, London portrayed the Silence as something humbling and frightening, but it's not - or at least it doesn't have to be. The Silence is simple, still, and restorative. It clears away the clutter and sends you back to the world with a sliver of that stillness. Maybe that sounds a little too touchy-feely, but I think it comes down to a simple question, “Can you see a difference between loneliness and solitude?” because there is one, and if you understand it, then you probably can understand the need for the latter. Time spent alone is time well spent, and I worry for the people who can’t or won’t give it to themselves, even though it's not required to be spent in remote places. I plan to show Violet the benefits of time by herself – whether she finds it in the woods, in her room, or on the street. If she chooses to go off into the wild to find it, sure, I’ll worry, but I’d worry more if she didn’t go, if she didn’t feel or understand the need. I feel it right now, and although I know I will be staying home this winter - Violet’s first, I know there will be days in future winters when I’ll be saying farewell to her and Linda, telling them not to worry, telling them that I’ll be back soon. Maybe some would say that doing so makes me less of a father, less of a husband, but I don’t believe it. Every time I go away, the drive home is always too long. More than anything, solitude reminds me of what’s waiting for me when I leave it behind.

74 days old

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Too Whiny?

I finished Violet's late night feeding and slipped her into her bassinet. She stared at me, wide-eyed and kicking, so I started rocking her. Ten minutes later, her eyes closed, her arms fell to her side, and I slowed the rocking to a stop. I washed out her bottle, trying not to make too much noise. I rinsed out the diaper and climbed into bed at 5:29 AM. My alarm was set for 6:00.

73 days old