Thursday, December 24, 2009


Grand Central Cathedral

We spent the day touring our own city, first adoring the skaters etching Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library, then up Fifth Ave. past the Saks windows to Rockefeller Center and the giant tree and still more skaters. The cold overtook the kids, and we headed east towards Grand Central, a snack, and the subway home.

On the way, just across Fifth, my lovely wife suggested we warm and rest ourselves for just a moment in St. Patrick's Cathedral. We haven't gone to church all that much, and Q and The Boy found themselves awed by the space, just like they're supposed to. (Q said, "I wonder who could touch the ceiling!") We picked a pew, and watched hundreds of people flow in and out. "They have books here," The Boy said. Q had just made a stained-glass-type artwork in school, and she was particularly drawn to the windows. "The windows are beautiful," I whispered to her. "They tell stories" — stories that I don't remember probably as well as I should.


Q and The Boy sleep now; we finish wrapping the last of their gifts. I don't think I believe much in divinities any more, and perhaps never did. I do, though, believe in belief. Watching those lighting candles in transepts for the loved or carting boxes under the constellations in Grand Central or the kids struggling to wait for a myth, I see what believing can do. For me, that is the greater wonder.

Happy Holidays, all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saints and thanks

October came to the door costumed and asking for candy, and it seems that I wasn't all that ready. School started, and Q and The Boy held our hands across the streets and rode on our shoulders to their new classrooms. Then we started to make those trips in long sleeves, then jackets, and then the classrooms weren't new. We've even unhangered the heavy coats a few times, left little of our faces for the wind to bother. I went back to work, part-time, here in the city, started over if not upward. And there were lessons in tennis and gymnastics and ballet and chess (which I'll no doubt have something to say about all of that at some point). We gained an hour. Somehow I lost a month.

Much happened, of course. We planned and re-planned costumes: Q went as the witch Kiki from the Miyazaki movie Kiki's Delivery Service, and she was a ringer for the role. The Boy, after no small amount of anguish, settled upon a traditional skeleton with a mask scary enough to make him lift it at the first mirror — just to check, I suppose, that he was still flesh under that menacing bone. The old costumes — like the old fears — usually prove the best. I'd say he made all those inevitable Jedis jealous.

We also fetched pumpkins and cut heads, and the day we did it rained cold. We first went out to a nearby restaurant to meet some old friends in town for the morning, and my lovely wife stayed and caught up while the kids and I went to a local market. We looked over the pumpkins while under our umbrellas. Q and The Boy each went with squat and round, while I picked an especially thick-stemmed one. The thirty pounds of pumpkin didn't go home easily, but we made it.

We've always loved Halloween, as most kids and parents do, and fall in New York tends to remind us why we put up with this city. But October is a tough month now, one I found myself wanting to let lie unwrapped in the bottom of my trick bag. I like to pretend, and I don't mind the company of ghosts. But sometimes it's enough to work the carving knife, to clear seeds and pulp, to make room for a candle.

With October behind us, here's to the month of saints and the week of thanks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On hiding

Though the evenings, with their low-slung suns and softening shadows, approach something like perfection, Q and The Boy wanted to be inside to hide things. We'd each take turns concealing something (one of many stuffed animals, a wallet, a butterfly clip) in their room while the other two waited in the kitchen eating chips. (Okay, so the chips were my idea.) The two would then hunt for whatever it was, while the hider coached the lookers with "warmer" or "colder." We did this for nearly an hour and a half, and would have kept going if it weren't for the calling beds.

Why do children love to hide?

For fun, I asked Q why she liked this game, and, in true Q fashion, she said that she really didn't find it that fun after all.* The Boy, too busy for the question, just offered an "I don't know" as an explanation.

But Q did say that she liked to hide herself, and I think that answer reveals a lot. It's not the hiding itself that makes the game so enjoyable — after all, it's a persistent nightmare that you'll hide so well that no one will ever find you. Instead, whether hiding themselves or their things, I think it's the knowing something that others don't. Q really starts to giggle when I come near her or to what she's hidden, as if to say "How can he not see me? He's so close but doesn't know that I'm right here."

Perhaps, then, it's that edge between knowing and not knowing — between hidden and found — that triggers the delight. Where did that delight go? When does hiding turn into wanting to disappear?

*Note: I do not, not for one second, believe this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Not quite done with 9/11, I suppose

I suppose I'm getting better about the September 11th attacks. I no longer pay much attention to low-banking planes overhead, and we didn't feel like braving the rain for the still-arresting Tribute in Light. I likely wasn't going to say anything about it here either; I've already turned things over in my head here, here, and here.

It's not that we've forgotten. We still think about the kids of the dead, the ones we knew and the ones we didn't. We still live in one big construction site that, from the looks of it, will always be one. We still see the parades — shorter every year — of fire trucks and hallowed slag. The memories are just more distant now, and with Q and The Boy growing right before our eyes, it's hard to look at much else.

But then Facebook (of all things) kicked me back. Last Friday morning, among all the quiz results and posted photos, I saw a status update from a childhood friend of mine that he was in Kuwait waiting to deploy to Iraq. We haven't been all that close for a while now, but we knew each other for many of the years that a lot of books call formative. He's an Army physician with seminary and philosophy training as well, and in the picture he stands in fatigues in a sun-blasted background, huge buses over his shoulder perhaps ready to take him somewhere that I can't quite fathom.

Yes, the wars are still going on, particularly the one that had nothing to do with the hole in this city. May it all end soon and safely, for him and for others. May there be fewer holes in lives.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Washed away

washing over

As I recently said, nothing much came of this past* summer, but my hope in September was not misplaced. Just one early September day at the Jersey shore was enough to scrub and buff us back to a healthy shine. Q and The Boy spent nearly four solid hours testing themselves against the waves, with the waves winning more than once.

Standing in the edge of a thing that might as well not have an end, we didn't have to think of anything but how our bodies made an edge with the world.

Tomorrow, it's back to school.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The end of a summer that never really was

This ship has sailed

August ended with a wet sigh and little else. The official end of summer supposedly arrives Labor Day Weekend, but even this first day of September feels like the end of something that never really happened.

It's not that the past two months were uneventful: The Boy lost some teeth, my lovely wife and I crept ever closer to forty (with my creeping becoming particularly close), we had our ten-year wedding anniversary, and we traveled to see family, the latter involving (among other things) the feeding of aggressive pygmy goats.

Much of what was supposed to happen — what usually happens — just didn't, however. The Boy was a kindergartner last year, and in New York that meant school through nearly the end of June. Then a little over two weeks out of classes, The Boy broke his arm, which (through no fault of his own, of course) kept our July beachless. He was really a good sport about it all despite being no good for any sports.

Our poor luck didn't come off with The Boy's cast, though. Work for me was, and is, a puzzle with too many missing pieces. We talked about getting away for a short trip, just the four of us, but we never followed through. And we had plans for a long weekend last week in which we'd reacquaint ourselves with the coast that is always so close to us, but Bill and Danny teamed up to close the Atlantic for nearly a week and to produce just enough rain to make being outside annoying. We did rearrange our house while the weather worked over the trees in the park, but that's about as exciting as my wife's three-day weekend got.

Danny irritated us the most. Along with two to three trips to the beach each summer, we also make a habit of Arthur Ashe Kids' Day at the U.S. Open. The Boy can play tennis pretty well, but he isn't the most motivated thing in the world. Taking him and Q out to the huge grounds for the kid activities (with prizes always donated by Hess Oil) makes him want to believe in himself. After Danny soaked all the fun out of a Coney Island trip we had planned,* it canceled everything at the Tennis Center but the stage show with all the tweens lip-synching poorly. We did attempt to squeeze a little life out of the butt of August with a Sunday trip to the Met (particularly the always cool Temple of Dendur), a Central Park playground, and Pop Burger. Q had a good time feeding the pigeons nearly half of her jumbo pretzel, but I'm sure she would have preferred Jersey sand crabs tickling her hands instead. But it is what it is.

There are so many metaphors that could ably stand in for this summer (broken arm, anyone?), but Bill and Danny let me be dramatic, so I'll let them serve. Large storms like those don't make land here in the city (thank goodness). Still, they bend our weather and waves enough to keep us inside with our faces on the glass. Throughout the summer it has seemed (and here comes the drama) like some enormous force has been spinning slowly somewhere too far away to be calamitous for us but close enough to remind us of our size, what we didn't and don't have.

I'd like to think, though, that September will remake us. Both Q and The Boy will soon go back to school, and I will be a bigger part of their lives in the months to come. There will be gymnastics (or ballet, if Q ever makes up her mind), and swimming and tennis and reading and — with the laziness of August behind me — writing. The days have already begun rolling down into fall, the most beautiful time in New York.

We can't wait for the change in the weather.

*And Coney Island was Plan B. We usually head for Robert Moses or the Jersey Shore, but both had been closed for a while.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gone fishin'

We're away in Kansas for a while visiting family. Reporting on minutiae of little lives will resume once we return and have finished digesting all the meat.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Birthday Break

My 39th birthday came and went last weekend. It was fairly uneventful for me, which is the way I like it. It was, unfortunately, much more eventful for The Boy. A week ago, he and his babysitter came suddenly home from his best friend's house with his arm held still. Apparently he fell while climbing around and down a bunk bed and landed on his left wrist. Now I'm no doctor (or at least no doctor that counts), but I could tell that his arm looked, well, wrong.

We left pretty much right away for the hospital. We rode nearly silently in the cab, his streaked face now dry, me trying to say something both soothing and believable. He'd been through this before more or less, and I assumed that he was thinking about what this trip likely meant. Which is to say a cast. Given our terrible experience with Q at NYU Med Center, we went back to the source this time — New York Hospital, where Q and The Boy were born.

It was the right choice. Whereas the folks at NYU looked at Q as if she were some kind of foreign object, New York hospital has a pediatric ER, with a waiting room (in which we barely waited) decorated with animal murals and a real fish tank. After checking in with a nurse (and not some grumpy lady behind bullet and largely soundproof glass), we were taken back to a bed to wait for an examination. As we sat on the gurney, a young woman came in to ask if we wanted to watch a movie while we waited. This ER had a waitress. The Boy and I settled upon The Polar Express, and by the time we made it home about five hours later, we had pretty much seen all of it. There were questions asked over and over by different doctors — "Did you ever black out?" — several x-rays that appeared magically on screens right after the beam switched off. He had, it turned out, a buckle fracture, and the bone needed to be reset. They used what they called "conscious sedation" so that he wouldn't be completely under while they realigned the fracture, but he wouldn't remember the procedure either. It all went quickly and without problem.

We went home tired and with his arm in a cast. (No purple this time; we weren't given a choice.) We also weren't given a lot of information about how long he'll need to keep the thing on. (We'll find that out next week.) We do know that his summer contracted in an instant — no more bike, scooter, beach, or pool. No tennis or soccer or basketball. Take it easy in the sandbox and on the slide, though he's probably better off staying away from both. Bathe, fittingly, with the arm in a trash bag. A week has passed, but he still says, every now and then, "I wished I didn't do it." He didn't do anything, of course. It's just one of those things.

Cast away

So that's a bit of context for my birthday, which, like I said, was much nicer for me than it was for him. I'll spare you many of the details, largely because some things I keep just for me. But I do have to share a bit of my great present from the kids. Q and The Boy (with a solid assist from my lovely wife) made me a book about them and me. On one page, for example, Q said:

Q's Birthday Thoughts

I am, in fact, on the tall side, and, if I do say so myself, good at giving slingshots. Note: Q colored the picture and wrote "100" herself.

And The Boy reminded me, among other things:

The Boy's birthday thoughts

Such a simple idea, this book. I have it here by me now, close, where I like it.

I'm not sure when it was exactly (maybe around 27 or so?) when I entered the middle stretch where birthdays don't seem to signify much of anything. At both ends of a life, they mark successful survival, which is certainly worth celebrating (with presents!). The middle is a little mundane, which is just fine with me.

Then again, thinking about that cab ride to the hospital last week lets me see a bit of how my middle-stretch birthdays matter. I'm still a puzzle to myself in many ways — and can't see what there is for me even a month out from now — but each year I get a little better at being a solid thing for the kids to lean and climb upon. I can be the person who gets The Boy to thinking how cool beds with wheels are and the one he looks to before the drugs take him under. And I can show Q how to twist the cutter on the counter to make a clean biscuit, which is the same as showing her how to make things to be proud of. (She figured out on her own how tasty the raw dough is.) Then I can be the one that she can be proud to.

There are other things, too, but some things I keep just for me.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Birthday Wishes for Mom

Best. Mom. Evar.

Today my lovely and talented wife turns — well, just a little bit older. This morning Q and The Boy proudly gave her cards they had made themselves. The Boy made a picture of her holding a cupcake and a balloon under a deep-red heart. Q drew herself and mom seated at a round table enjoying brownies. They were just perfect, and my wife took them to work with her today.

Later, after dinner, the kids and I made cupcakes and were right in the middle of making frosting when she came home from work. Q and The Boy cut their losses and each frosted one up for themselves and ate it in her honor.

I've been looking through our stash of digital photos (now well into the 30,000 range), and she's responsible for so many of them — what's pictured as well as the pictures themselves — that she doesn't appear herself that often. Rest assured that it's hard not to smile around her, even if you, out there in blogland, may not be fortunate enough to see her face. That is my present, I suppose.

Happy Birthday, Mom, from all of us. We love you.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Unlike the past two years, the skies remained pretty clear throughout the Fourth of July. Also different this year was the location of the Big Macy's Show: Usually things blow up over the East River and the heads of questionable celebrities, but this year the barges parked in the Hudson just a little north of our building.

Though Q and The Boy are older now, the 9:20 launch time was still on the late side, and they had little steam when the dark actually arrived. From our roofdeck, the snag of small boats seemed dense enough to make hopping to New Jersey almost possible.

waiting for fireworks

Q was (and is) still convinced that she's scared of fireworks, which meant that as soon as the explosions started up (just faint pops in the distance), she asserted, "They do not look like flowers, and I want to go inside." Though she sounded more tired than spooked, my lovely wife took her down to our couch to watch the festivities on NBC.

The Boy and I stayed up with the crowd (largely made up of people who don't live in our building) until the end, around 10 p.m. Sure, the display was spectacular and seemed to go on forever and all, but I found myself missing the humbler show that Jersey City puts on annually out by the Statue of Liberty. It was still on this year, too, but it's hard not to look at the other end of the river where 40,000+ fireworks were being flaunted (and set to questionable music) by a middling department store. We left right after only smoke was left and the boats started sounding off as thanks for the show. The Boy was so tired, he fell into bed face first like drunks do in movies.

That wasn't the best part of the long weekend, though. On Sunday, facing an open day and an unending Wimbledon final, we decided to take the ferry out to Governor's Island. Don't let the 90's-era website fool you; the little swatch of land just five minutes off the tip of Manhattan is a marvel. The city allows no cars on the grounds, and the place just feels still. Lush lawns framed by ancient trees and up-kept old buildings are everywhere, and we never felt obliged to stay on the paths. We spent time under the great branches feeling small and cooled.

Green Island

We only wandered along one side of the small island but found plenty to busy us. We discovered sculptures inserted here and there, including a giant wind chime with a cord for making yourself into the wind. And there were retired cannons here and there that The Boy could pretend to shoot and could think out loud about.

But the most fun thirty minutes of the weekend weren't spent looking at a lit-up sky, but rather rolling in a hammock. Q and The Boy had never seen one before, and they couldn't get enough of using themselves to send it tipping in all sorts of ways.


My wife and I sat smiling nearby on the grass. No crowds, nothing loud except explosions of laughter. No need for a show; we made our own. And it was better.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Time to open the door. Time to leave. Time to get better.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Boy is 6

carrier cake

Like Q, The Boy celebrated his birth this year at least three times:
  1. On his official birthday, which was June 6th,* he opened his presents from Ong Ngoai, Grandpa & Grandma, his cousins in Minnesota, Q, and us. And we spent that Saturday and Sunday assembling large, wondrous Lego and Bionicle sets.
  2. Receiving a gift from his babysitter, also Legos (which he assembled, proudly, all by himself).
  3. Blue frosted cupcakes with a '6' piped on them at school, the tops licked clean by his classmates.
  4. At his party proper on Sunday, 6/14.
Though he turned 6 on the 6th, we set aside the 14th for his party so that his friends could all make it. And what a party it was. After Q's fairly girly celebration just a few months ago, we found it only fitting to go All Boy for The Boy's 6th. We decided to keep it small but go big, inviting six of his guy friends and Q to the Intrepid Museum and then back to our apartment for pizza and cake.

We all met at the Intrepid right as the doors opened, and headed up to the flight deck to check out the fighter jets and attack helicopters.

Don't touch the aircraft

The Boy had been there before, and he happily served as informal tour guide for his friends (even the ones who themselves had already toured the museum). Among so many other things, he showed them where to sit on the large anti-aircraft guns and how to fire up the fans that demonstrate how a wing creates lift, and nearly lifted off himself. We were there for about two hours and probably could have made a day of it.

We then came back to the roof deck of our apartment building for pizza. The adults, good friends all, caught up a bit while the kids chased each other along the pavers or, fingers hooked in the fence, spied the boats 200 feet below. The wind being what it was, we all went down to our apartment for the singing and the candle-blowing and delicious aircraft carrier birthday cake. (My lovely wife did an amazing job on the cake, right? Certainly one of her best, and The Boy loved it. You better thank your mother.) As his friends and their parents forked aircraft carrier into their mouths, The Boy took time to get everyone cups of water.

It's funny, but I sometimes have trouble writing about him. Here's more or less how he began:

Little The Boy

(That's Ba Ngoai doing the soothing, by the way.)

He's long now — has to fold himself up now to sit on my lap — but I can remember holding him in a single hand. Why he came early will remain a puzzle, as will what that's done to him, if anything.**

Also, I think of Q as part of Einstein's universe, like a heavy ball lying on a sheet, curving space and time and light around her. The Boy's pull, though, reminds me of Newton's gravity — a mysterious force, unexplainable action at a distance.

Some mysteries improve in their dispelling; others are more precious just the way they are.

Happy Birthday, son. We're proud of you, and we love you.

*Yes, he was 6 on the 6th day of the 6th month. I expected either the devil or Dan Brown to drop by that Saturday, but I guess neither was ultimately interested.
**I know, I know, but it's hard to stop thinking about.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Breakfast for dad

In our house, we tend to praise each other with food. And so it was on Father's Day, when Q and The Boy together carried in a tray with homemade cinnamon rolls, juice, hot coffee, a crisp white napkin, and a flower they sneakily picked from the park moments before. As I held the tray, Q combed my hair* while The Boy scratched my back with a backscratcher we've had hanging behind the bathroom door for something like forever. I brought the wonderful breakfast spread out of our bedroom to the table, though, so that I could sit by both of them as we all dismantled the sweet rolls.

Later, my lovely wife made delicious enchiladas while the kids and I were outside on the swings in the light rain. After we all ate too much for lunch, we took in Pixar's "UP" in 3D.** Which, by the way, was one of their finest films, and that's saying something. It was a wonderful day, just the kind I like.

I love being a dad. Among other things, I get to be the fixer, the assembler, the tosser-in-the-air, the paper airplane maker, the highest shoulders upon which to sit. (It does help, of course, that I've got a fantastic wife and two swell kids to make my role so much easier to realize.)

Unlike so many other roles (jobs, e.g.), I will never stop being a father, long past the years where I'll embarrass them and then won't again, past their own marriages (should they have them), past their parenthoods (again, should they have them), past when I'll need plates brought to me, past me. All along I will be proud.

Happy Father's Day, all.

*The hair combing was The Boy's idea. Not sure where it came from, but I must say that I rather enjoyed it.
**Unexpected bonus: The heavy, black-framed 3D glasses made us each look like Martin Scorsese, particularly (for some unknown reason), Q. Probably has something to do with her being about the same height as him.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Not well heeled

The good folks at SlateV go to a convention for baby, toddler, and tween products. Yes, you will make one of those uncomfortable laughs, especially if you have a daughter:

Monday, June 01, 2009

Tour and Duty

Memorial Day in the City is usually somewhat of a big deal, for two reasons. First, lots of people leave, which opens up lots more space (physically and psychologically) for those of us who stay. And second, it coincides with Fleet Week, where various branches of the military glide into the city, on water or air, for a yearly exchange: They open their boats and planes and tanks; New York opens itself to them.

We took advantage of the emptiness (as we usually do) by going out for lunch on Sunday, after a morning spent burning our breakfast in the park. Tables were, as expected, plentiful. We ate outside even, in praise of the excellent weather, and between courses Q and The Boy shot their hands into the waterfall/fountain just outside the Winter Garden, as if after fish. It seemed very much like summertime, and, as the old song goes, the living did seem easy.

On Monday, we first honored the military side of the holiday. The Boy, as many boys his age do, has become interested in military hardware. We’ve been to the Intrepid Museum here in New York, a WW II-era aircraft carrier repurposed as an exhibit, complete with a flight deck full of decommissioned jets and helicopters. During Fleet Week, the military and Coast Guard open a few ships for free tours, so we take advantage.

We’re up early, as we usually are on bright mornings thanks to The Boy, and we make it to the ships early, too. Past the metal detectors and lines of rigid but friendly soldiers, everything stands amazingly open. A steep ramp leads up into the cavernous hold of the aircraft carrier USS Iwo Jima, where we can hold the weapons currently in use by Marines on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can feel the weight of mortar shells and sniper rifles. We can climb into tanks and troop transports and assault craft meant for land or water or both. And military personnel stand everywhere in crisp camouflage, happy to answer questions or to pose for all manner of photos.

We climb onto some amphibious vehicle with large weapons mounted in all directions. Q, her hair in pigtails and wearing a bright-red butterfly dress, draws smiles and some cameras when she pretends to point the heavy guns at nothing in particular.* The Boy wonders what some oddly shaped canisters on the truck/boat’s stern are for, and I encourage him to ask the young marine. He’s too shy, so I ask for him. Turns out they’re smoke flares for evading pursuers. I also ask, for myself this time, about a particularly thick-necked gun guarding one side. The young marine tells me that it’s an MK 19 automatic grenade launcher, capable of shooting 325+ rounds a minute. He adds, with more than a little relish, that having it is like “playing a game with all the cheat codes.”

We keep going up the ship’s insides, from the main hold to a level where Navy sailors in their anti-camouflage display their branch’s firearms. Then up a longer and steeper grade to the flight deck, from which we can see miles of Hudson, including the Intrepid just to the south.

flight deck

About a dozen aircraft, helicopters mostly, have been opened up for anyone to walk through. The Boy turns shy again, but Q convinces her brother to go inside them all, and they do.


Q plays this game with my lovely wife where she goes in one end of an aircraft while my wife stays outside, only to come out the other to surprise her. My wife is all too happy to play along.

After nearly two hours, we leave as the really big crowds begin to come in. Q and The Boy impress, as always, with their easy behavior.

Later, after lunch, we travel up to Connecticut for another Memorial Day tradition — a barbecue with friends by a swimming pool. As my wife and I eat jerk chicken and Q and The Boy and our friends' son splash in the shallows, it's hard not to notice the gap between where we spent our morning and where we spent our afternoon. Here in the sun, everything still seems possible; less so in the dark of the ship. I sometimes think of my kids' futures as arcs that shoot out from them, curving up and out beyond where anyone, including themselves, can see. To think about them and war is to imagine a bullet or a bomb tracing those arcs back in, erasing the paths as they work. I don't even want to do this kind of thinking, but I do. Sometimes.

Many thanks to those, like many in my own family, who have and do risk themselves. We do remember.
*Look for her on the next brochure for the Marines; the "tip of the spear" never looked so cute.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Who's your favorite princess?

nails it

When Q told us that she wanted a princess birthday party, we were of two minds. We want to make her happy, of course, and pretty much every store everywhere makes something princess related, making it pretty easy to pull off. On the other hand, we're not huge fans of the main princess narratives, which usually have to do with some preternaturally beautiful girl giving up a central part of herself for some guy (see Ariel) or waiting for some guy to come rescue them (see pretty much the rest of the Disney Royalty).

We're also not sure where her princess fascination comes from. My lovely wife embodies the strong, contemporary woman — much more Queen Rania than Sleeping Beauty on the monarchy scale. My wife rarely wears dresses (or color, for that matter), is always beautiful but not girly. But we suppose princess is in the air around all little girls and is therefore unavoidable — at least until she grows up into an atmosphere with less pink. Anyway, we have no doubt that it will make her happy, and since that's our ultimate goal, we go with it.

As usual, my wife has been thinking about/researching this for a long time. Our party ideas tend to start with the cake and then expand outward, and my wife has decided to make a jewelry-box confection, complete with a lid and separate compartments filled with candy bracelets and ring pops. She made some even more amazing sweet sushi appetizers out of rice crispy treats, Swedish Fish candy, and fruit roll ups:

sweet sushi

As for activities, we borrow fancy dresses for dressing up from good friends next door — though it turns out that each girl has and brings her own ensemble. For Q, my wife scoured the Easter Dress sales and found a rather beautiful cream number with soft flowers and a silk, pink ribbon on the waist, which Q inhabits with grace. My wife also had the idea of cutting out paper dolls, affixing them to sticks, and adding a photo of each girl so that she could dress herself up in a gown she colored herself.

Princesses on a Stick

As you might expect, these were definitely a hit with parents and kids alike. My lovely wife again does a great job of making the party our own. (You better thank your mother, Q.)

The party itself is small. In asking who she wants to celebrate with, we settle on ten girls. And it will be only girls — The Boy and his friend are somewhat invited, though they willingly exclude themselves from the dressing up and general prettification. Unfortunately, two girls had to cancel at the last minute — two that Q definitely looks up to — because of illness.* The eight girls get their hair pulled up and done, and suddenly, their faces so revealed, I can see more clearly than I have in a while our friends re-mixed and re-made in their children. Then the girls get glittered nails and generally just move around the room on clickety heels. Because summer seems to have arrived, it's nearly 90 degrees in fact, we go outside to the full park for some sun and photos. The girls draw all sorts of looks and cameras from people lolling on the grass, particularly when they decide to take a stroll (best way to describe it) along the path that rings the lawn in back.

After just a little while, Q abandons her plastic shoes to race down the hill in her bare feet and smiles.

Princess Q

Myself, I like princesses when they run.

Then it's back inside for pizza and for cake. While they eat, a good friend of ours asks everyone in turn who her favorite princess is. We hear all the regulars — Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, etc. When it comes to me, I say "Princess Q, of course," and I mean it.

We always forget more than we remember. But for her much of her remembering starts about now, a long ribbon of being unrolling out behind her that she makes and that makes her. The person** who savors her cake now is the same as the one who yesterday fashioned a contraption out of a jump rope and fruit bowl, and she will be the same as the one who tonight will link hands behind her mom's neck, asking for just a little more time before she must call it sleep.

As she grows and goes, I will hold that ribbon, use it to make a gift of everything.

Happy Birthday, Q. We love you.

*Not swine flu related, if you must know.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Q at 4

Q steps

Q turned 4 today.

Because my lovely wife had an absurdly early meeting this morning, I was the engine that cranked out breakfast, snack, lunch, and (eventually) dressed and brushed children. Which also meant that I got to wish Q a happy birthday at the very beginning of her fourth year. A few hours later, my wife left her work to bring cupcakes for Q's class, which Q passed out proudly and without assistance.

And in a little taste of what is no doubt to come, my wife and I both came home from work to an empty house. Q and The Boy have what they call Date Night each week with their close friends where they eat dinner and watch a movie, usually at their friends' house, and tonight happened to be Date Night. We busied ourselves with pictures from the day and by fielding calls from her aunt in California, her uncle and aunt and cousins in Minnesota, and her grandparents, until word came that our kids were ready to be retrieved. After the door swung open from my knock, Q practically floated out of their building and into ours. After her bath, she opened presents from us, from grandpa and grandma, her babysitter, and her aunt, and she showed us all how to enjoy ourselves.

We're having a party for her this weekend (princess-related, natch), so more to follow. In the meantime, I leave you with some words from her. When asked by her teacher today what she wanted to learn now that she's four, she replied:
I'm going to work on my letters and numbers and I'm going to learn to read.
If you ever read this, Q, you will see the size of your story.

Happy Birthday, Big Stuff. We love you and are proud of you.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Q Bits

Sweet ride

I've come to really like Twitter.* (You can follow us on Twitter here, by the way.) It's got all the jazz of social media/Web 2.0 (or whatever) without all that "friendship" business imposed by Facebook or Myspace. And the added trick/benefit is that posts can be at most 140 characters, which makes it a challenge to do well.

Q and The Boy say so many wonderfully odd things, so I particularly like to use Twitter as a kind of online memory for their bite sized bits of funny. Looking back over my timeline, I see several great Q quotes in particular worth passing along.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

Q tweet






Bonus: Here's a great one from The Boy:


Now if you excuse me, I've got to mention this post on Twitter.
*For some reason, many people seem to enjoy worrying about what Twitter is exactly. I'm happy to provide a fairly straightforward answer for the curious.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Family Friday: The Boy in Action

Youtube Boy

The Boy's school dedicates at least one Friday a month to what they call "Family Friday." On these Days, parents are encouraged to come into their child's classroom and join in on a project with their child, whether building something, artwork, reading, etc. — basically whatever their current curriculum consists in. My lovely wife and I work (a lot) so we take turns going, and my wife went to last Friday's festivities. Which was good, because the topic was (ostensibly) math, and that's squarely within her wheelhouse.*

Not long after she arrived at her work, my lovely wife sent me the following description of the morning.
Kid 1: "Is your dad coming to make paper planes today?"
The Boy: "No, he's not here today but my mom is here and she's really good at art and math."

Kid 2: "Can you make one of those cool paper planes for me?"
The Boy: "Watch me so that I can teach you how to make it and you don't always have to ask me to make you one."
Kid 2's grandfather to The Boy: "Is your dad a plane engineer?"
The Boy: "No, my dad teaches but he teaches me lots of things. Now watch me — this is the tricky part of the plane."

Mom 1: "Did you hear the "B" word was used yesterday during recess? Yes, two boys were fighting and one called the other the "B" word. The teacher had a talk with the whole class telling them it was a bad word and disciplinary action was taken."
Mom 2: "Gasp."
Mom 3: "Oh my god."
Mom 4: "Well, that happens."
Mom 5: "We know it's probably not [The Boy]; he won't even eat McDonald's without calling his mom."
Lovely Wife: "This coffee is good."
*I mainly stick to making the most awesome paper airplanes I can, thereby solidifying my Cool Dad status with all the five-year-olds.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I lic school

Though it contained little spring, last week was officially Spring Break. I earned a little time off from teaching, and Q and The Boy were intermittently off for parent-teacher conferences. (My lovely wife, as always, soldiered on in the Real World.)

Parent-teacher conferences for preschool always strike me as a little odd, and not just because we all sit on and around undersized furniture. What is there to talk about, really? And why do the report cards always have to be printed in Comic Sans?

Turns out, a lot — or at least in the little bit of talking much is revealed. Q has always been quick* to pick up just about anything, but she's a pretty solitary soul. As we learned in our conferences last fall, Q has grown more comfortable working with others, and this time around we hear that she's opened further still. (We did notice, though, that The Boy's first "high mark" at Montessori was in "Greeting" whereas Q still is "Working toward" this skill. Typical. Also typical, though, is her eclipsing his scores in just about everything else.) Overall, she's just so solid — she tries all the projects available to her, and will work them until she achieves something like mastery. She has even started to write the letters and numbers. And she's proud of herself and likes school, which is all that we're really going for at this point.

The Boy also continues to astonish. As I said before, his Kindergarten actually delivers academically, and since neither my wife nor I had similar experiences, we don't really know what he should be capable of. We also mainly see him at the end of a long day when he's tired all the way through and not particularly interested in reading. It turns out, according to his teacher (whom we like a great deal), that he's reading (above grade level) and doing all sorts of math. And he's writing so much.

My wife and I love the writing in no small part for selfish reasons. I fancy myself an author of sorts, so I like to see how words come out of his head. There's that time where my wife was joking around with The Boy, and he jetted away, wrote a little something on a piece of paper, rolled it up, and handed it to her. She unrolled a message that read: "I love the Red Sox," which, since my wife is a Yankees fan (or used to be, anyway) is about the funniest/cruelest thing her child could write. And then we find ourselves coming home to things like this:

To translate for those of you who don't easily read Kindergarten: "Stuff I like to do with my mom and dad. I love my mom and dad. I love to play with my mom and dad. I like to build with my mom and dad. I like to go on the train, sit on the train. I like to go to the park. I like to go to the zoo and look at the animals. I love the Star Wars Wii."

I haven't got much to add to that.

Sometimes I think we forget how much we ask of them. Writing, Thoreau once himself wrote, is our "father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak." Not all that long ago, very few could read and write, and now we have our three-year olds muscle-memorizing the shapes of letters. How amazing that is.

Their bodies and brains constitute and confound them (though that doesn't really go away, I suppose). As they spurt and stretch in countless ways, we set walls to press them into pleasant shapes. I'm not sure how they do it — or how we'll do our part — but I'm glad that I get to watch and to participate. They make me want to be better.

*Sometimes we think that's what the 'Q' stands for. Goodness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yeah, I'm scared of this

but probably powerless to resist. And don't get me started on the new Dora.

In any event, SlateV does a good job.

(And what was with all the hair in the 80's? I mean, I lived through it and all, but really.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Now that's definitely spreading the love

Valentine's Day isn't quite over at our house. We're still enjoying a wonderful, homemade card from Monkey & Roo (and Nadine). It actually arrived on Valentine's Day proper, which was so nice.

A very big thanks to the crew over at Hello world it's me, and hugs from us, all the way across an ocean.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Same to you

Dad Card
Card I received from The Boy today.

Dadship card
My "dadship" (instead of "friendship") card from Q today.
(Click on the image above to see the card at flickr with notes.)

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

You go, little plastic girl!

A new movement is afoot, and you can be part of it. Just ask yourself: Can female Duplo dolls do anything male Duplo dolls can do? The answer is, of course, yes. But not everyone thinks so, as Nadine has clearly shown.

Add your voice to the cause!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The real reason why we do Legos with the kids

These are the long days of winter, which means lots of time inside. Which means lots of Legos and K'Nex and paper airplanes and tiny, self-stapled books for letters and numbers. It's a lot of fun for us, too, which is why we sometimes find ourselves gluing together paper fish or coloring inside the lines even after the kids turn in for the night.

Guess I'm not the only one. Christopher Neimann has some excellent fun with Legos and NYC on his NY Times blog Abstract City. Some of my favorites:

Check out the whole post here. So very, very clever.

He also did a great series of coffee-stained napkins. (It's much better than it sounds.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009



Our Saturdays now largely belong to lessons.

Though The Boy is only 5, we've been resisting organized lessons/activities for some time now. Our kids' friends and acquaintances from the building and the neighborhood have been in music and tumbling and ballet and pottery and Taekwondo for years now, but my wife and I have kept Q & The Boy mainly to the loose activities that we can think up. We've got lots of reasons for that, I suppose. My wife and I are both a little stubborn (wonder where Q gets it?), and so we're constitutionally primed to resist the New York City Parent Pressure to turn our kids into highlighted calendars. We're also both not that loose with the buck, and classes can really set you back in the City: taking Taekwondo in our neighborhood costs around $700 a month. You can go as much as you want, they say, but come on. Add to all this the simple difficulty of signing up for something. With all the kids and all the money around here (at least until the recent Wall Street implosion), most slots for most things get filled six months out.

Besides, it's not as if Q and The Boy have been totally free range. Both of them joined in the excellent free summer soccer program sponsored by the Parks Department. At age 3, The Boy enjoyed his music class, and we kept him in it until he went off to Montessori. (Q not so much; she only made it through two music sessions until none of us could put up with the pain of it all.) We've also encouraged both of them to like some sport or other and not tried to foist our own likes upon them.

But The Boy has changed, and we want to endorse it. Not that long ago we struggled with getting him to try new things, primarily because of a chronic perfectionism (again, thanks mom and dad!) that pretty much choked anything new he went into. He's worked through a lot of that somehow since starting Kindergarten.

Perhaps it has something to do with his body finally catching up a fair amount with his mind. Philosophers of mind often talk about "direction of fit" when it comes to beliefs and desires. We (usually) aim to have our beliefs "fit" the world as it is — be accurate or true, in other words. Desires, though, are the other way around — they represent the way we want the world to be at some future time. (Hopes lie somewhere in between, I'd say.) Desires are usually the things that make us get off the couch or off jelly doughnuts (or onto either, for that matter). Perfectionists, though, run into problems because they want perfection, which doesn't come easy or at all. Sometimes this amounts to expecting to produce or do something beyond what's possible right now, and I think that was The Boy's problem.

Nowadays, The Boy seems fine with meeting his mind halfway a lot of the time. For example, we make a lot of paper airplanes these days, and he can fold just about any shape on his own after just one or two tries. Then he designs his own, working through different combinations of creases, launching them from the table and noting their distance and grace. Most don't make it that far and look pretty ugly coming down. A year ago he probably would have dissolved into sobs, but now he just asks for more paper.


So our Saturdays now belong to lessons, and The Boy loves it. When he finishes tennis in the morning, he wants to keep hitting. After an hour of intense swim class, he still wants to jump into the 12-foot end of the pool and swim on his own to the side. Now Q talks about which lessons she wants (ballet, predictably), and we're looking into something for her. We do, after all, have an hour or two free on the weekend.

I suppose this is the part of the post where I talk about lessons I've learned from all this. There are some to report, of course. That stuff about perfectionism above counts, I think. And I continue to be surprised and amazed by how growing older simply changes the landscape of possibility, slowly and imperceptibly like some ancient glacier. Which I suppose it is.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Tet (New Year) — Year of the Ox/Water Buffalo Edition

After incense

Today is Lunar New Year,* celebrated across Asia and across Asians. We, too, note the day (as we have before), by eating our weight in pho and by giving Q & The Boy little red envelopes filled with lucky money. We also asked them to each put on their áo dài for some pictures, and we lit incense for Ba Ngoai and for others who won't see the year of the Ox (or the year of the water buffalo, according to the Vietnamese zodiac).

What's in store for this year? Well, according to the Great Wikipedia, the year of the water buffalo:
The BUFFALO symbolizes industriousness and patience. The year is one of slow, steady progress and patient strength; traits suitable for a scientist. He is the traditional symbol of spring and agriculture because of his association with the plow and his pleasure in wallowing in mud. People of that year are thought to possess the characteristics of that animal: steady, placid, but stubborn when crossed. The buffalo hours are from 1am-3am when buffalo are feeding and the day's farm work begins.
I suppose this symbol fits the tough times ahead that we'll need to plow through, but I'm not sure about this 1-3 a.m. business. Can't we make slow, steady progress during the day?

Most (if not all?) American holidays don't have much edge to them, particularly when compared with Eastern traditions. Our New Year provides a clean slate, a chance to rededicate oneself to messy closets and exercise. Lunar New Year has its negatives as well as positives, as indicated by the entry on the Year of the Ox:
Positive traits: Responsible, dependable, honest, caring, honorable, intelligent, artistic, industrious, practical.

Negative traits: Petty, inflexible, possessive, dogmatic, gullible, stubborn, critical, intolerant, materialistic.
In any event, chúc mừng năm mới, or Happy New Year! to you and yours. Eat too much, light a candle or incense in memory. Enjoy.

*Note: It is not simply "Chinese New Year." Sure, the Chinese celebrate New Year today, but they're not the only ones.