Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Short #4

Opening presents on Christmas morning, The Boy comes to a large box wrapped in bright red paper:
Lovely Wife: This one's from Santa himself.
The Boy: [peeling back the end to reveal a scooter and shaking his head] He knows me. He knows me so well.
He certainly does. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas/Hanukkah Short #3

Q: Dray-dahl, dray-dahl, dray-dahl...
Lovely Wife: Is Q singing the dreidal song?
Me: Um, yes.
Q: Dray-dahl all the way...
Lovely Wife: With "Jingle Bells"?
Me: So it seems.
Lovely Wife: Interesting.
Me: Indeed.
(You can listen to a more official version of the dreidel song--usually sung for Hanukkah--here.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Short #2

Today was the last day our nanny stayed with Q & The Boy before Christmas proper, and though she certainly didn't need to, she brought them each a bag of presents. She comes in, and the kids rush to her to see what she has. Before giving them the presents, though, she tells them a sweet, elaborate story of how she ran into Santa Claus today on the way to our house and how he asked if she knew Q and The Boy who had been such good children over the past year. Yes she did know them, she said. Since Santa had so many gifts to deliver in New York City, he asked her to bring these special bags to Q & The Boy a little early. Of course she would, she said.

After listening rather patiently and intently to the story, The Boy asks, "What did you get me?"

(For what it's worth, I believed the story.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Short #1: Not his father's Santa--let alone my father's Santa

The Boy: Does Santa have a desk?
Me: A desk?
The Boy: Yes, a desk?
Me: [pause] Yes.
Boy: Does he have a computer? For his e-mail?
Me: Yes he does. And we sent him one saying that you were such a good boy this year.
Boy: Okay.
Boy: Where does he put his candy canes?
Me: He has a little cup on his desk where he keeps them.
Boy: What about when it's not Christmas?
Me: He puts them in a big closet.
Boy: No. I think he puts them in a drawer in his desk.
Me: Maybe that's right.
No doubt we'll soon have some interesting conversations about the Tooth Fairy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Catching Up

So it's been a while since I've put up an entry. Grading stole most of my time over the past two months, but a gap has opened up large enough to insert a few words. Here, therefore, are the major highlights of the recent past:

Gluttonous Holiday #1: Halloween

(click on the pictures above and below for the full-size versions)

Last year Q was too young to gather her own candy; this year she went pro like her older brother. She would stand at the door while we rang the doorbell. When the door swung wide she'd say "Trick or Treat" and then wait for the oversized mixing bowl or bucket to come down to her. Predictably, she and The Boy would hear "Oh how cute!" (And they were cute--Q and The Boy were dressed as a cowgirl and cowboy respectively, complete with fringy vest and skirt/chaps and cowboy hats. The Boy's hat was genuine felt from a western supply store in Wichita, Kansas, a lovely gift from his grandparents. And he even sported the blue Acme cowboy boots that I wore as a kid. No drugstore cowboys around here, folks.) Ignoring the compliment, she'd then reach in and grab a remarkably large haul for her tiny hands and drop it into her treat bag that my Lovely Wife had made for her. She'd say a recognizable "Thank you" and "Happy Halloween" and then drag her swollen bag down the hall with one hand while pushing her hair back out of her eyes with the other. The Boy took fewer pieces at each stop--but then again he's older and is supposed to wait for the host to invite him to take more. Which usually happens. Together, their candy score was enormous. Mom and dad ate most of it, though, as good parents should. Right?

Note about Trick-or-Treating in the City: Growing up in a small town, my brother and I used to have to go outside on Halloween, working the houses up and down both sides of nearby streets. Not us New Yorkers. Like last year, the four of us simply went from floor to floor in our 30-story building looking for apartments welcoming knocks and open bags. No coats necessary; no worries about errant traffic. A childhood in the city does have its advantages.

Gluttonous Holiday #2: Thanksgiving

Since I had only a day or two off from teaching and my Lovely Wife had even less time, we didn't travel or have visitors this year. So it was just the four of us. Nevertheless, we were determined to have a relatively traditional meal, turkey included. After much grocery store rummaging, my Lovely Wife located a 10 pounder the day before Thanksgiving. In all, the spread was respectable, and we did a respectable job of eating our way through it. We even had the neon fresh cranberry relish that my mother only tolerates at her table if my father makes it. (The kids love it, mom, by the way.) We outsourced the apple pie and wild mushroom stuffing; The Boy helped make the pumpkin pie and the mashed potatoes in the big red mixer. My Lovely Wife made the white bread stuffing that she thinks (and I'm right there with her) tastes best right before bed. We doused our desserts with fresh, homemade whipped cream, which really should be applied to all food at all times. The adults sipped red wine and the littler ones apple juice; glasses and cups were clinked. Repeatedly.

We spent time between bites saying what we were thankful for. My Lovely Wife and I expressed thanks for Q & The Boy--and we were (and are) thankful for them. The Boy said he was thankful for school and for new shirts. Q said "Goodbye, Moonie" and "How 'bout some pear" and laughed, as she often does. It was a powerfully wonderful time.

Over the next few days, per usual, my Lovely Wife got creative with the leftover turkey: turkey enchiladas, turkey stir fry, turkey fajitas, and (again per usual) Turkey Trash Soup. We even made rich broth from the bones. If they would have given us the feathers, we would have made something of them, too--fancy hats or those quill pens appearing in movies about colonial times. In the end, it was splendid, all of it.

Unexpected Thanksgiving Carryover: Q & The Boy so enjoyed the candles for Thanksgiving dinner that now we eat nearly every dinner by candlelight. It does certainly make macaroni & cheese or quesadillas and cucumbers seem much more elegant.

We're a young family, still crafting some of our own traditions to frame the holidays. The firmest frames will no doubt be the memories of occasions like these. We will tell stories and click through pictures and smile at being new and undefined. We will join family and miss and talk about those who are no longer with us.

We will give thanks.

Monday, September 11, 2006

By accident

Early on in Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes:
"When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night."
The striking thing about this passage is that Thoreau essentially declares his independence from America on the day that America celebrates its own independence, and that he notes this was "by accident." He didn't, in other words, make the date of his leaving anything particularly auspiscious, and in doing so encourages his reader to think that our country's own independence was, in an important sense, equally accidental.

It's the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers today, and it's impossible not to think and rethink about that day. When I do, the Thoreau passage keeps creeping back into my head, usually from the side. My wife and I have lived in New York for about twelve years now (and, for what it's worth, it sometimes still seems as though our house is like Thoreau's--merely a defense against the rain). We lived in Greenwich Village in 2001, a historic neighborhood about a mile or so north of what's now called Ground Zero. From a corner of Sixth Avenue, I watched a tower collapse into itself while my wife glided to work underground as usual on the 2 subway train. She had to walk home with thousands of others not long after arriving in Midtown. The entire landscape of the city had become a target; every set of stairs had become a racetrack.

We're still here, five years later, now living a few blocks from where the towers stood and from where construction has finally begun to make something of that place. I think about what happened there often enough, I suppose--sometimes of my wife's law school roommate who died and his young son who can only remember him, sometimes of those who chose to leap from the broken windows 80 stories up instead of waiting for what was coming for them, whatever it was. Sometimes when I'm pushing Q and The Boy on the swings outside our building, I catch myself being suspicious of an airliner that seems to hang, just for a moment longer than I think it should, over the Hudson on approach to LaGuardia Airport.

As for bigger changes, I don't know. We have a discussion with all our babysitters as to what to do in case of an attack, which, thankfully, my brother and his wife who live in the Midwest don't have to have with those who watch their boys. I do worry (probably less than I should) whether we're breathing little bits of the towers even now and what that means for the kids. I don't know. If we had Q and The Boy five years ago, we may very well have left the city like several of our friends. But in those days following the attacks, as we walked by the walls covered with posters for the missing and the quiet lines of people waiting to give blood, we decided not to let go of New York. Not yet.

We were not alone. Perhaps ironically, our neighborhood--five years ago nothing more than broken windows and debris under otherworldly dust--is thriving. It's one of the greenest areas in the city, and one of the fastest growing. We've seen at least five new apartment buildings rise up and sell out since moving down here. A public library will soon be built across the street from us (sharing space with luxury condos, of course), as will a high-end bakery and coffee shop. Here comes the neighborhood, as we like to say.

More generally, the date 9/11 has become a name for something that was inevitable--or at least a shorthand for the moment when everything suddenly became profoundly different. Some even believe that those who planned the attacks chose that particular day because it's the number we dial in emergencies. (That's unlikely, though, given that we're one of the few countries that write our dates with the month first.) To put it a little differently, I can understand why someone might think that day was inevitable. Fated.

But it's worth pausing for a moment--perhaps on this day more than another--to think about what it means for something to be accidental or to happen by accident. Philosophers like to make the distinction between something's being accidental or extrinsic and something's being essential or intrinsic. Intrinsic features determine what a thing is. In this sense, 9/11 is an accidental event, one arising from a galaxy of factors, internal and external, American and otherwise. It's not of our American essence, I think, that we should be attacked. I'd like to think that a single day, however horrific, cannot determine us.

We have a life here, and in many ways a good one. We see the Statue of Liberty each time we fall out into the parks close by; we fit pretty neatly in this amazingly international city that statue overlooks. Perhaps I naively comfort myself by thinking, though so many made so many choices that blue-skied September morning, any day and no day could be just like that one.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Frustrating Fajitas

Okay, so sometimes we'll try just about anything to get The Boy to eat. (He's the good sleeper, whereas Q fights sleep relentlessly; she eats, he stalls and avoids food.) My wife is especially good at coming up with ways to get him to take bites.

Recently, though, her strategy came back at her. We were having chicken fajitas, and though he really likes them, he started off very slowly (as usual) on his. He's a neat eater, however slow, and my wife saw an opening:
Mama: My fajita is all messy. Can you show me how you eat yours without spilling?
The Boy picks up his fajita and takes a big, proud bite without spilling even a sliver of onion.
Mama: That's great. Mine keeps spilling all over. Can you show me again?
The Boy again takes a clean bite, adding a little flourish as he puts it down.
Mama: I don't know how you do it. Look at my plate. Show me again how you do it without your fajita falling apart.
The Boy: Mama, I don't think that we should have fajitas anymore. They make you too frustrated.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Moving On and Up--In Style

No longer behind bars.

Today is my wife's last day at one of the best law firms in the world. She's been practicing her profession at its top, with and among its very best, for nine years. She made her way well despite the atmosphere of the place, which, like that of nearly all law firms, tends to select against women, minorities, and (perhaps most of all) mothers.

Being all three has been hard. She would take the kids in the morning after I head off to the train and to my students, and I take them from the babysitter when I return just before dinner. Each night she'd call after Q and The Boy had polished off noodles or strips of tortillas, and give a status report. Some nights she'd be on her way out the door, but just as many times I'd be putting them--and myself--to bed before she crept in. Work came on Friday afternoons and flooded the weekends; it pulled her out of town to Texas and to Idaho and to North Carolina. They put a lock on her office door for privacy when she pumped milk for both her children; they took it away the moment she retired the pump. They pitted her against her male coevals who either had no families or were free enough from them to always work--anytime and for any amount of time.

After all this, and she's changed so little. Wiser no doubt, a little more cynical about the law perhaps. And tired. Otherwise, though, she has survived with little scarring.

The time has come to leave on her own terms. After a week off, she'll begin showing up to a new, bigger office at a luxury clothing company that you've probably heard of.

I haven't written that much about her as such since I've started this little distraction. The kids are always doing remarkable things, which makes them easy to remark upon. And becoming often makes for a better story than simply being. Our lives often seem like the scenery in which their lives unfold.

This is her becoming. Congratulations, love.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Pictures from the past

My wife encouraged me to post all the graphics that have appeared at the top of the blog. You can find them here in the order that they appeared on the site. (Nearly all the pictures used for them--or anywhere else on the blog--were taken by her, by the way.)

I've also put a permanent link to the headers page on the side bar to the left.

Hope that you're keeping cool today.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Where's Q (and how much does she weigh)?

We always knew that Q would be a star.

(Okay. Bad joke. But irresistible.)

Q went for her 15-month checkup this past week. As expected, she's a little on the thin side (at least as far as the standard graph goes). She came in at 20 1/4 lbs., gaining roughly two pounds in three months. That still has her, as my wife says, "rocking the 12th percentile." Height wise she's up to 30 inches or around the 50th percentile. The numbers don't in any way bother our doctor. After small starts, the 12th percentile sounds solid.

And there's no denying that she's healthy. The examination room couldn't hold her; she kept wanting to go for a walk up and down the hall, smiling at nurses (including the one who would eventually make her cry from two shots), peeking into other rooms at other kids. She's as irresistible as she is irrepressible. She's so much more confident than she was at her last visit just three months ago. How much more confident can this girl get?

That's our Big Stuff, as we like to call her.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Yes, today is my birthday. And, yes, I'm old.

I even managed to do something to my back; forget about feeling young.

Ah well. At least I get cake and lots of hugs.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Mom" gets older

My unbridledly lovely wife has a birthday today. Happy birthday, my love.

For nine sweet days, she and I are the same age. Though I’ve not been as vigilant this year in reminding her of this fact as in the past, The Boy has taken up the slack. Our son, himself just out of a birthday (his third--and more about that later), decided for some reason to switch from calling her “mama” to “mom.” After two kids and nine years at a demanding job, she's still beautiful, tough, and tender, but The Boy has managed to find the most effective way to make her feel older: "Watch this, mom"; "Can I have something to drink please, mom?" He might as well have just come home from a junior-high sleepover.

(Note: Though he also drifts between “daddy” and “dad,” he hasn’t committed yet. My guess is because he hasn't yet figured out how to whine with one syllable.)

Still, when my wife comes through the door each evening, when Q and The Boy are burning through their last bits of energy for the day, they drop their blocks and trucks and balloons and books to free their arms to hold her. And The Boy always says through a huge smile, "mama!" Not bad at all.

Now let’s have some cake.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Boy Turns 3

So we’ve been a little busy. After about four weeks of visitors and a week out of the country myself, the summer has finally something like settled in. Which means that I can catch up a bit on what’s been occupying us lately. Here's the latest:

The big news is The Boy’s third birthday. The usual suspects came to his party (including good friends who have left our building for pastures outside the city or uptown), and unfortunately an aggressive wind drove us out of a nearby sandbox and into the playroom for pizza and cake. The shovels and construction hats we gave out as goodies didn't make as much sense inside, but the weather won out. Inside or out, the chocolate cake with green buttercream frosting (and toys)--made from scratch by my unbridlely lovely wife--was fantastic.

But the most interesting thing about this birthday was the presents. After happily receiving new trucks, trains, and books from both sets of grandparents, we expected more of the same to be hidden beneath all that crisp paper and sticky tape. There was indeed one truck (which he liked very much), but the gifts were largely, well, adult--mainly for his brain as well as his hands. He received, for example, a game that quizzes shapes, colors, numbers, and letters, a set of flashcards, a dinosaur backpack and umbrella just his size. Our good friends from The Boy's NICU days gave him an original Colorfoms set--vinyl shapes in various colors that you can combine on a background to build boats, airplanes, cities, cheese, or anything really.

Unrapping these gifts upstairs after kisses and thank yous, he was visibly disappointed. He fell asleep holding his single new truck that night.

Then something happened. He still played with the trucks and trains during the day, but that next night we took out the flash cards and went through the questions. He did extremely well on the set for 2-3 year olds, and he then wanted the questions for 4-5 year-olds. Now we do them nearly every night.

Or we do Colorforms. After Q goes to sleep, The Boy gets half an hour of Just Him Time with mama and daddy, and he often wants to spend it making firetrucks or rockets out of red circles and triangles and rectangles. He now wants to make trucks as much as get them. Despite knowing a thing or two about human psychological development, I'm still always amazed when I see it unfolding.

We saw a similar difference in The Boy's three-year checkup. We began with the usuals: weight (28 lbs./12th percentile) and height (38 3/4 inches/75th percentile). But during previous visits, the nurses and doctor spoke with us while he fiddled with things in the room and gnawed on tongue depressors. This time, though, the nurse spoke directly with him almost from the moment she entered the room. She began, for example, by giving him an eye exam, asking him to read the lines of a chart from a distance. He read off a rather small line of shapes without a problem. On the next smaller line, however, he started guessing. I'm the one with the glasses and the eyes worked over by too many books, but I could read the row that he missed. (She did say that his vision was 20/20. Odd.)

But then again, in other ways I could see more clearly his age limitations than the limitations of his eyes. Next the nurse said that though he might be a little young for it, she would try to test his hearing. She put a little device into his ear and instructed him to raise his hand when he heard a beep. He dutifully said “Okay.” The test went something like this:
Nurse: [Plays the sound.]
Boy: [Silence.]
Nurse: Did you hear a sound?
Boy: Yes.
Nurse: Okay, this time raise your hand if you hear the beep. [Plays sound.]
Boy: [Still nothing.]
Nurse: Did you hear something?
Boy: Yes.
Nurse: Okay, this time, squeeze your daddy's hand if you hear the beep. [Plays sound.]
Boy: [He holds my hand but doesn't squeeze.]
Nurse: Did you hear a sound that time?
Boy: Yes.
Nurse: I guess he's still too young.
How could he not respond in the right way? What was he not grasping?

To be fair to The Boy, though, when I told grandpa this story he pointed out right away that the nurse was too loose in her instructions. The boy didn’t, after all, hear the word ‘beep’ but instead simply heard different tones. And during the test the nurse only asked him if he heard a sound, not a word, which he obviously did. The Boy can be achingly precise about things--we've been told many times that something is light brown instead of just brown--so I'm siding with grandpa. (This is, by the way, why clean and clear psychology experiments are so difficult to devise. Humans may be much easier to instruct than, say, dolphins, but misunderstandings are always lurking about. And, again by the way, perhaps grandpa should consider lurking about psychology labs to help clear up some of the messy work that goes on in too many of them.)

Even the doctor spent more time talking with The Boy than with me, including trying to get him to promise to work more on potty training. He wouldn't promise her anything, however. I'm probably bragging a little to say this, but his doctor did tell me that she found his unwillingness to promise rather smart. Most kids, she said, usually just go along with her request to promise when she brings out her Doctor Voice. The Boy, however, seemed to know that even to say the words would commit him to something he wasn't ready for. I was proud and not proud at the same time--a common parental stance, I suppose.

I am proud of what he's becoming. He's a climber, a digger, a maker, a cook's helper, a comedian, a generous dispenser of hugs and kisses, a rhymer, a gum chewer, a tennis player, a dancer, a builder, a lollipop lover, a good big brother, a painter, a driver of trucks and trains, a thinker.

Happy birthday, my son. You are becoming a fine little man, and I love you very much.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Jets & Guns

It’s funny how things can connect, if you look at them in a certain way.

Working our way through our pancakes a couple of days ago, we hear something fast and low roar down the river right outside our building. The boy turns to look out the window, mouth open and fork hanging, but whatever it is is gone before we can catch a glimpse. Helicopters are routine, and passenger jets on approach to Laguardia Airport usually go upriver at a few thousand feet, barely audible. But this sound reaches down deep, making me (and quite a few others) nervous for obvious 9/11 reasons.

The dread doesn't last, though; I remember that just Wednesday Q, The Boy, and I watched a line of warships glide up the Hudson for Fleet Week (a week of shore leave for sailors). And it’s Memorial Day this weekend, which means the military always makes a point to be visible and showy in the City around this time.

We hear the roar again and since we're watching, we see six blue jets in tight formation zip by, and then a large prop plane. We declare breakfast finished and head up to the roofdeck for a better view. We're not disappointed.

I grew up around guns. My father taught me how to shoot, how to respect a rifle and a pistol, to squeeze and not jerk a trigger to keep your shot true. Though we shot (or at least shot at) the occasional prairie dog, we were shooters and not hunters. The act of shooting was what we were trying to perfect, not the object.

Which means that though I'm for a reasonable amount of gun control, I don't mind guns in principle. This turns out to be good. Wednesday, The Boy and Q and I were working our way around the Penny Park, and a boy came in with two squirt guns. He even came up to The Boy and handed him one for just a moment before taking it back. We were soon off to a local drugstore to buy one of our own.

We come back to the park to "Squirt the grass so that it can grow taller," and the marines on leave have just filed off the ferry for some calisthenics. We fill the gun from the drinking fountain as the marines count loudly off. The Boy is kind (and smart) enough not to soak his sister. Later, in the elevator up to lunches and to naps, a stranger from our building will see The Boy's gun and hold up his hands, mock-robbery style, and say "Don't shoot!" The Boy will just smile, not yet sure how to play along.

The holiday being what it is, the papers mainly front stories about soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the families dealing with the losses. Oddly, the most difficult one for me is a New York Times piece about soldiers who do come home to their kids. I can't seem to locate the article on their website, but (as I remember it) it includes this photograph of a man in fatigues down on one knee drawing his young son, probably not more than two, close. Neither of their faces are visible. They are both so, so still--not so much with relief but with what comes just before that, before the thinking. I have family who fought and flew in the military. I can't imagine holding my son like that.

As we wait on the roofdeck for the jets to come by again, Q sifts through the rocks and The Boy pokes just about everything with a long stick he's turned up by a vent. They do come by again, gliding slowly toward the Statue of Liberty at about 200 feet above the Hudson. I know this because our roofdeck is on the 19th floor, and I can practically look straight into the cockpits of the F-18s. It's the Blue Angels. Their precision is amazing as they bank hard together over the harbor to circle Manhattan. The boy even stops with the poking to watch. Q points, as always.

Will they fly jets? Will they witness them fly into buildings? Will they take up guns for war? Who and what will they be silent for at the end of their Mays?

The Blue Angels finish their runs, and we head back down from the roof for Q's nap. She sleeps and forgets; The Boy and I talk so that we will remember. I pretend for the rest of the day that they--and I--will be just like this.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Q's one-year checkup (finally)

After much wrangling, we finally manage to get Q in for her one-year visit to the pediatrician. She’s been officially one for some time now, already downing the whole milk and finding strawberries a revelation. (We now buy them in the two-pound box).

This is to say that we now know her current official stats. They are:
Height: 29“ (50th percentile)
Weight: 18 lb. 6 oz. (12th percentile)
The surprising one, of course, is the weight percentile. Q doesn’t look crazy thin, so we were caught a bit off guard. But since the boy didn’t even make it onto the charts at all for the first several months--and has yet to break through the 20th-percentile barrier--the number doesn’t begin to scare us. And after seeing her tour the room in full-on Q babble, her doctor wasn't worried either. She walks like a pro now and has for a while, which probably explains her svelte toddler figure.

The pediatrician looks her all the way over, and Q looks back hard. She gets two shots (one in each arm now that she's walking), and her head goes purple with crying. (Later, the boy will be jealous of her Band-Aids.) As I settle the co-pay, my wife calms Q with her new favorite toy, her little doll from Vietnam that we've named "Cup be" (pronounced COOP-bay), which is 'doll' in Vietnamese. It works. On the subway home, she devours nearly all of a cinnamon raison bagel and smiles at strangers. Thin and friendly and voracious and healthy--just like her brother.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Power of Shaving

The (actual, I swear, true) conversation the boy and I have this morning:

Boy: What are you doing, daddy?
Me: I'm shaving.
Boy: Can I see the cream cheese can, please?
Me: You mean the shaving cream can? Sure.
Boy: Why are you doing that, daddy?
Me: My face gets scruffy. When you get older, hair will grow out of your face, too, and then you'll have to shave.
Boy: [with a big grin] Then I'll get everything I want.

Ah, if only that were true.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I don't normally do this, but...

First, let me say that I am in no way associated with any bib manufacturer. I'm just a parent of a messy, messy eater.

Like most new parents, when our boy made the move to solids we fitted him with the cloth bibs that we received as gifts from family and friends. We quickly learned that those that tie can fit better around the neck, but they can be pulled off rather easily. Velcro works well--easy on, easy off--but the sweet potatoes and the peas never really come out.

Then, a revelation. Good friends in our building use a plastic bib when feeding their daughter roughly Q's age. It's a red one with a bottom that turns up to make a little trough to catch what doesn't go (or stay) in. I'd made a loose mental note of it before, but when it came time for the grandparents to shower Q with first-birthday presents, my brilliant wife suggested similar, soft plastic bibs (among other things) for our little food tornado.

We noticed a difference right from the beginning. No more soggy piles of neckware at the end of the day. More important, Q could actually wear her outfit past a meal. And right away she liked the little trough--she still puts cereal and noodles and little bits of sliced pear in there herself to hoard for later.

Thanks again, Grandma & Grandpa. Great gift.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Q = 1

Today Q turns 1. She has made it. And so have we.

We have a party for her consisting of her friends from the building and from rather close by in distance and in age. The adults nurse mimosas, and the little ones simply nurse. The new parents in the small crowd look more than a bit dazed, and my wife and I make a point to tell each other how happy we are that this is the last first birthday that we’ll ever have to celebrate.

First birthdays are actually rather fun to celebrate, though, since they’re basically about the parents. We eat exotic things like quiche and blueberry scones and bagels with full-on cream cheese, things way beyond the “dairy & berry” line that most of the invited kids can’t touch. Not to mention the champagne.

Many pictures are taken.

Q walks well now--has for a month--and incredibly self-possessed she works the room. She wears a deep red corduroy dress and looks good. She tastes cake for the first time and, as expected, doesn’t like it, preferring the balloon plate it arrived on instead. Her brother plays loudly in the corner with a friend from the building, exclaiming at one point through a laugh and a teetering spin in the middle of the room,“Everything is so funny!”

With much energetic support from the boy, we’ve practiced the candle and singing part of the ceremony, but when the real moment arrives Q responds more or less as we expected, looking to bury her face in her mother’s neck by the time we've finished the song and clapped for her. (Her brother broke into outright sobs when facing his first cake and lit candle, for what it’s worth.) The boy gladly blows out the candle on her behalf, and we light it again and again for him and for a few others who want their own turns at making wishes. We distribute the exquisite cake from a local bakery, eating around and under the "Q" in the center. The boy has two pieces.

Though we've requested that no one bring presents, everyone comes with bags and boxes, which give way, up in our apartment after short naps, to dolls and stuffed animals and a music player that she loves to play with and dance to.

As she's standing there, pointing to the new things in the house (and then the old), I think about how we will still mark her time in months for a while longer. But soon she will talk, and one candle will become two; she will acquire a taste for cake. I see so much of my wife in her--her tenacity, her beauty, her self-possession--that I want to tell her stories of who she can be.

For now, though, we celebrate who she is. Happy birthday, Q, little one. We are proud of you. We love you.

P.S. I've been keeping this blog more or less for a year, and for what it's worth I enjoyed revisiting my groggy take on Q's arrival in April 2005.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spring in New York

Spring has finally arrived--even the protective scaffolding is blue.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Taking Steps

Q, our eleven-month-old daughter, is walking.

Personally, I've never gotten that excited about milestones--the baby manuals are full of them. These books pitch clapping and stacking blocks as both important measures of child development and abilities that crop up on wildly idiosyncratic timetables. Moreover, you can actually “teach to the test,” as it were. Supposedly kids can stand on one foot for a short period of time around age two, but mastery can come pretty quickly with a little practice. The boy never really liked to throw balls around, which made him appear behind in the normal boy trajectory. From our experience, first words are a little vague, too. The boy began with “da” for nearly everything — buses, dogs — and Q works with “ba” — “bye, bye,” baby, etc. When did their babble become talking? Who knows? And according to the books, at age two the boy should have had a vocabulary of about 50 words; my lovely wife and I tired of counting when we passed 150 (including oddities like “steep” and “crescent moon”). This is not to brag (okay not just to brag), but to inject a little skepticism into milestone scorekeeping. Oh yes, and since the boy was born two months early, the math on all of that was fuzzy to begin with.

Some milestones really do matter, though, and walking is one of them. The house looks like a deathtrap now, all those sharp edges leaning out toward her. She now views our sitting her down in the middle of the floor as an invitation to stand up on her own and to move about freely. Which she does. Just last night I put her in front of the toy box that I could almost see from the kitchen as I started dinner. After a few minutes of washing and chopping, I look up to her rooting around in the plant on the other side of the room. More than once lately I've seen her somehow magically appear at our shiny silver trash can, about  to lick it.

She also uses her new mobility to terrorize her brother. After they both woke up from their naps yesterday, I threw together a train track out of his IKEA collection of wooden track pieces (thank you again, Ong/Ba Ngoai), and he proceeded to make a long train that would make the Thomas folks at HIT blush with pride and profit. Q, seated nearby, slowly worked herself up to standing, made her way over to the track, and promptly began to violently disassemble it. The boy rolled over into a cry. I knew this kind of exchange was on the way, I just didn’t think that it would happen so quickly. (We also thought that he would be the one to terrorize her. Wrong.)

Walking matters in a good way as well, of course. Beyond earning several pairs of beautiful shoes, it vividly represents the move from infant to toddler. She'll soon thin out, get those ropy toddler legs. She'll soon splash in the tiny fountains out front, all on her own, when the weather finally warms for good. She'll walk over to you, with a smile that dispels all clouds, and fall into a hug that she has brought to you herself.

In the end, I suppose those are the true milestones, the little but large steps we all take on the way to becoming persons. She’s just taken another one. Congrats, Q.

Monday, April 03, 2006

In her own words (so to speak)

I was thinking how I might capture Q's wonderful laugh. She does this gurgle thing...

Perhaps I should just let Q speak for herself. Click here to listen.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Absurd Conversation #7,439

Conversation between the boy and myself as shoes were going on everyone to head out to the Truck Playground this beautiful morning:

Boy: The shoe goes on my "foot" [pronounced like "food"]
Daddy: On your what?
Boy: J [our nanny] says "foot" [again like "food" and pointing this time for emphasis]
Daddy: She says it like that because she speaks Polish as her first language. We speak English. And Momma speaks Vietnamese, too.
Boy: I speak Firetruck!
Daddy: Firetruck? What do you say in Firetruck?
Boy: WooOOOOOoooo. WoooOOOOOoooo. [other siren sounds]
Daddy: What does that mean?
Boy: It means we’re going to the Truck Playground. [brief pause] I don’t know what it means.
Daddy: Okay. What language does Q [little sister] speak?
Boy: She doesn’t speak anything. She’s just a baby.

Can't argue with that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

City Nature

When rummaging through the laundry yesterday, a cricket leapt out of the socks and sweatpants. I called the boy over right away to have a look. We’re unaccustomed to bugs in and around the house, so he didn't quite know what to make of it. My own childhood was full of things like crickets and skunks and snakes and the fascination that goes along with them. When I was a bit older than he is now, I checked out the same spider book from the public library at least twelve times in a row. I spent hours understanding the ant lions that waited in their little craters around my babysitter’s porch.

“It’s a real cricket,” he said, taking a few steps back.

A few months ago, a (different?) cricket began chirping in our bathroom just before the boy was to brush his teeth. I ushered him slowly in since we have to go far away to hear such things. He insisted on touching me the whole time, and we talked through the what and the why. He managed to convince himself that the cricket was friendly and the sound was pleasant, and I think he actually missed it when it finally went quiet. He even held his breath to listen.

But the real, live cricket heading for his room required a bigger backstory to tame. My wife, as always, was ready.

Momma: What’s his name?
Boy: Cricket.
Momma: Does the cricket have a little sister?
Boy: Yes!
Momma: What’s her name?
Boy: “Little Cricket.”
Momma: Does he have a daddy?
Boy: Yes!
Momma: What’s his name?
Boy: His name is cricket, too.
Momma: What’s his mommy’s name?
Boy: Her name is cricket, too. And he’s got a brown balloon. Q [our daughter] doesn't want to eat him.

[For the record: We went for balloons earlier that day; the boy’s was orange and Q’s was green. And Q most likely did want to eat him.]

We agreed that Cricket’s parents were probably worried, so we herded him uneasily into a plastic cup to take outside.

Cricket in a cup
Out back in the park, the cold wind working against us, the boy and I found a suitably leafy spot to make the drop. It felt, just for a moment, oddly like a funeral. The feeling obviously wasn’t mutual, though--he quickly popped off the lid and turned over the cup, sending the bug kicking into the brown grass. I could see it head deep.

Heading in, we talked about seeing him again when the weather warmed and what he will have for breakfast when he gets home. Turns out that crickets like french toast, too.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"I hope the scoops are working today"

We're all basically still coming back from a stomach bug that ran through our house quickly but meanly. My wife has managed to avoid actually getting sick, but she has had to play nurse to the rest of us--first my son throwing up into her lap, then me (not on her, thankfully), then the girl (on her again). Even our nanny can't avoid it, and she has to take a day off. The food stays down after about two days, but during that time eating still feels like a dare.

Once we're feeling up to it, the boy and I head outside just to be outside, to exchange the old air around us with some fresher stuff. The air certainly is brisk; winter has returned with a vengeance after a teasing shock of spring melted the record snow in a couple of days. He wears his new blue coat that keeps him "toasty," and we walk along the empty playground with nowhere in particular to go.

We end up in the Irish Hunger Memorial, an interesting exhibit (for lack of a better word) that sits right across from the Mercantile Exchange and the Embassy Suites. It consists of a ramp up into a roofless replica of an Irish farmhouse and then up further still to an overlook where you can see the Hudson, wide and probably a little salty from the close ocean, stretch in both directions. The ramp into the memorial is more like a tunnel, with glowing quotes on the wall and voices telling stories about famine and death. It's a bit of a mystery to me why he likes it so much (particularly this tunnel), but it's close and has a nice view, so we're regulars.

When the cold starts to make us forget our fingers, I suggest that we go into the local movie theater building and watch the construction of yet another luxury high rise. He's been into trains for some time now, but big machines that dig and haul and lift still capture his wonder, and we can ride the escalators up (which he's extremely good at now by himself) to the big window and the heater where we can stay as long as we want. He likes this idea (we've done it quite a bit these cold days), and says, "I hope the big excavator scoops are working today."

I know a little about child development, and his response catches me a bit. There's this big cognitive leap that happens around age three and a half or four when kids grasp that other people can have their own beliefs--and in particular can have false beliefs. Prior to that leap, children fail what's often called the false belief task. A common test goes like this: A kid sees mommy and daddy put, say, candy in a drawer. After daddy leaves, the kid then sees mommy move the candy to a cupboard. When daddy returns, the kid will almost always say that daddy believes the candy is in the cupboard. Around age four, though, the kid will almost always say (correctly) that daddy mistakenly believes the candy is in the drawer. The change really is profound--it's the point at which kids become their own thinkers and when they begin to recognize the faults that we're all prone to.

But back to hoping. At not quite three, the boy hasn't yet made this leap, of course, but he's on his way. He's been using the word 'hope' a lot these days, and as a parent it makes me a little nervous. To hope for something is to want something to happen, to anticipate that the world will be wonderful when the right time or place arrives. Adults know all too well, though, that hopes have a way of going unfulfilled--we even tend to say that they've been "dashed," a rather violent end to something so powerfully happy. I worry, then, now that he's hoping, about my son's running into this blunt fact.

We're lucky. At the top of the escalators we find a big wheel loader scooping dirt into a dumptruck, and the tall red crane pulls a towering steel beam up into place while a bunch of men guide its base with a thick rope. This is the other side of hope that I want him to know, that hopes can be met. Transfixed and smiling, he watches the work below until it's time for lunch, and we bundle back up for the windy walk home. I carry him part of the way because I still can (he still wants me to), and I think to myself that I have to tell my wife about this when we get home. I wonder also what he's thinking, and though I'm not sure, I hope that it's of good things to come.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Record Snow Day

The record-breaking snow begins for us when the boy notices a garbage truck wearing a plow.

When the snow actually comes hard and fast, the garbage men get their revenge by burying the trash cans on every New York City street corner in lumpy piles of snow. And the snow certainly does come--the storm dropped the most snow on us since whoever does it started keeping records (about 1847, I think they said on the news), which is to say around 27 inches. At one point, it falls at 5 inches an hour, about as fast as snow can fall. I know as much as I do about this because the television is awash with this story where everyone knows the plot and few if anyone gets hurt.

We have these big windows in our living/dining room looking out on a park behind our building, and both the boy and the girl love to press their faces to the glass, waiting for something to catch their attention. (Grandpa and grandma seem to rather like just looking out, too, whenever they visit.) On Saturday morning before the storm, the possibility of snow is too abstract to be distracting, and so they content themselves with passing birds or the dogs pulling their owners along the pavers. But by the time we go up for dinner at our friends on the 14th floor that afternoon, we can't see across the Hudson river. And by the time we get home that evening, before baths and books and stories, the park below has become a fuzzy memory.

They both get up pretty early Sunday, and nobody is immune from the wonder of the footprintless snow. The Parks Department has fenced off the grass for the winter, turning the park into a luscious tray of cupcakes. The boy can't wait to get outside so that he can throw snowballs at me (so he tells me), and we pile on the layers and head out, including momma and the girl. The wind is brisk and the girl is tired, so my wife takes her in after big flakes get caught in her long eyelashes for the first time.

Some of the sidewalks have been scooped but some haven't. It's too cold to pack for throwing, and the boy instead leaps into the fresh piles, coming up with a smile and a face full of snow. Everywhere I turn I can step knee-deep into the stuff. He gets me to sit down in a tall drift to make a chair, and I'm right there in his joy. We soon go around to the front of the building and cross the street to the playground. It's inundated, but that doesn't stop us from going down all the slides and across the bridges. The concrete elephant that will spray him in May is now only a hint of trunk poking out of a cloud. Slogging up the stairs to go down the yellow slide, my son tells me, "Take a big step, daddy. You can do it, daddy."

And he's right.

When the cold insinuates its way past all our layers, we go inside. It's a struggle to get him in, despite his having mittens filling up with snow. I'm able, somehow, to convince him that it will all still be around later and that we can come back outside to make more "prints." Inside we drink hot cocoa and talk with momma and the girl about our pink cheeks and our artic adventures. He says, while gazing tiredly out the large window, "I hope that it's winter for a long time."

By the end of the week, the weather will warm and the snow will disappear rather quickly--so warm and so quickly, in fact, that even he will be dreaming instead of the possibilities of spring.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy "Tet"!

We wake up this morning to a gray sky and wet sidewalks running through the park. Wonderfully, it's after 7 a.m., now that the girl has settled into sleeping right up until--or even past--sunrise. This development is rather new, and I'm beginning to look forward to the day when my eyes no longer burn when I blink.

Today is "Tet" or New Year, probably the most important holiday in Vietnam. The year is new (roughly) according to the Chinese calendar, which begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice. It's a pretty loud day across Asia--fireworks for days and much, much eating--but we intend to observe it with the usual amount of house noise. The girl, now nine months, has learned to make this sound where she sings a note and then wobbles the back of her hand in her mouth to make it go up and down. She gets a kick out of it, and it does trigger smiles around the room. The boy has his own chorus of sounds, though most of them are quirky statements and performances. Yesterday, he looked out our big windows and sighed, "I don't see Poland." This is completely understandable, of course; Poland is rather far away. We can't even see Brooklyn, in fact, what with all the recent apartment buildings being thrown up around our neighborhood. Oh, yes, and his babysitter is Polish.

This Tet brings in the year of the dog--my year. Supposedly dogs embody loyalty, stubbornness, and honesty, and they're known to keep secrets. Tradition has it (I think) that when a year of your sign arrives your year reverses--that is, if you've just come off a bad year, you're due for success. I consider this good news since we've just come through a hard year, an unfair year, a year seemingly eager to teach us the surprisingly many ways in which we can't quite have what we want. That said, our girl did arrive all big and true in 2005, breaking through what my family (and especially the women who have married into it) call "The Curse of Boys." Child after child, all male--my brother and his wife have three--but somehow our little one made it through.

We head out for a walk and eventually to the grocery store. My wife makes pho for the Big Events such as Tet and the Fall of Saigon, and the boy loves it. Not long after he left the jar and the bottle behind, he would eat as much pho as you would put in front of him. He still goes through two bowls, even on the days when he decides that eating really is optional and realizes what kind of rise he can get out of daddy when he leaves his plate full. Anyway, we have this double stroller called a Phil & Ted, and the kids ride together bunk-bed style. The girl usually rides on the bottom, but these days the boy wants to walk, which means she gets to ride up top, all smiles and kicking legs. The groceries have to go below.

Back home, we realize that somehow the sliver of ginger didn't make it, so the boy and I decide to head back out to a small local grocery. We need ginger, and now the boy informs us that we need Tet treats as well. He's been interested in this book about Tet that we gave him for Christmas (ironic, I suppose), in which mice go to the market for good things to eat during the fireworks. He's decided that this day's treat should be a "Thomas the Tank Engine Cake," but I tell him that however wonderful that might be, we'll be lucky to find one of those delicious but pre-packaged cakes in the cardboard box with the little teasing cellophane window. We put on his yellow slicker and his boots, anticipating some swell puddles. Outside, the water hasn't pooled like we thought it would, but the walk still does us both some good. I open the door for him, and he gives me a "Thank you, daddy." He shows me the tomatoes ("you squeeze, squeeze, squeeze them to make pizza pie"), wants me to smell the limes. They have ginger but no cakes to speak of, so we settle for a soft mango.

Back home, the warm house itself smells good enough to eat. The girl is already working through some rice noodles, my wife is busy over the broth steaming on the stove. She ladles it over the glassy white noodles flecked with cilantro and onion. We all sit. We each work to the bottom of a bowl, then another, the girl can't get enough of the noodles she picks up herself. The soup loosens me, and the year ahead begins to seem like it might have room for us. This will be a year of change--the girl will walk and talk, the boy will likely start school, and our careers, such as they are, may take on radically new shapes. The year, if only for a meal, truly seems new.

Happy Tet!