Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Making masks

It probably started the Halloween my parents made my brother his Ace Frehley costume. I can't pinpoint the year precisely, but it had to be the late 70's, when his then-favorite band KISS rose to prominence, penetrating even our remote Midwest with their makeup and blood-spitting and smoking guitars. The band was more or less a troupe of trick-or-treaters from the beginning, so it's not surprising that kids would eventually show up at their neighbors' doors ready to Shout It Out Loud. I suppose it's also not surprising why my brother chose the band member he did. Paul Stanley, with his aggressively hairy chest, would have been a bold choice in those days, and, as far as I can tell, nobody really wanted to be Gene Simmons, battle-axe bass notwithstanding. Frehley (like cat-faced drummer Peter Criss) hardly ever spoke, but he had a spaceman ("Space Ace") theme to his getup, which made him a prime target of boy-emulation.

My brother's Ace Frehley was, not to oversell it or anything, simply awesome. My parents glittered huge swoops of paper to make a triangle for his shoulders and huge cuffs for his wrists, and they converted his off-brand moonboots into platform shoes truly worthy of moons. Most importantly, they painted his face white with silver star-things exploding around each eye.* I'm sure he had some sort of guitar, too, probably cardboard but with actual strings, and no doubt a wig. I don't remember the actual trick-or-treating or party going or whatever it was he did while he was Ace; I only remember the making and what he looked like.

My lovely wife and I love making costumes, too. There was the first Halloween with both Q and The Boy, when they went as a Dalmatian and firefighter respectively. My wife sewed black spots to an old white onesie and black flaps for ears to an old hat. (Q supplied the smile.) For The Boy, she turned a plastic bottle, clothespin, and some red paint into a remarkably realistic fire extinguisher. Then there was the robot year, with the suit made out of boxes and brass brads and lights that really flashed. Even lately, when the kids have favored off-the-rack options like skeleton, witch, Egyptian princess, and ninja, we embellish. Though you can't really tell from the picture above, my wife made shockingly realistic shuriken out of some silver paper and ten minutes on the internet.

I'm not exactly sure why we do this, why we bother for a day of dress up, perhaps because there are too many reasons: a rare creative opportunity, dissatisfaction with store costumes, or just to make ourselves into makers of things.

It's hard to think about why we make masks without thinking a little about why we wear them. That's a bigger question, of course, one draped in a host of tropes. Myself, I've never really been that convinced by the common claim that most wear masks to hide themselves. Kids, after all, love to dress up, and they are only beginning to have something of the required sort to hide. Instead, I think it's the chance to become something else altogether — some nights, dressing as a 70's rock star is enough to be a 70's rock star.

There's an old story about the particular why of Halloween, of course. Like many of our traditions, this one seems to have been handed down (or up) by pagans** by way of Catholics, though it's all pretty nebulous. Anyway, it's believed that ghosts and ghouls arrived on the last day of the year to revisit their former homes, and steps had to be taken to scare or fool them back under. Funny, then, that we dress up our children and shove them out into the night to deal with the dead. Then again, maybe we make masks for children (and ourselves) because through them we might mix again with the dead, catching a bit of those who we can now see only in ourselves.

We have lost so many, and we don't know where they've gone.

*Like so.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Big Four-Oh

I think I remember someone telling me that someone once said something like, "I only write when the pain of not writing outweighs the pain of writing."* I've been a collector of writing — particularly writing about writing — longer than I've been something like a writer, and this is one of my favorite bits of pith. I used to think it was true, but now I'm pretty sure it's false.

I took the summer and part of the fall largely off writing wise, not because of one kind of pain and another. If anything, we were too occupied, too much happened, and I simply enjoyed our making memories without my hanging them up.

But back to the pleasure of writing outweighing the not writing. Here's a somewhat big thing that happened during my summer vacation: I turned 40 (back in July). At first I wasn't going to say much of anything about it, then I was but couldn't think of anything useful or interesting to say.

Largely because I find the size of the thing a little puzzling. Nearly everyone who ended up hearing about this new number of mine asked what I was going to do to mark it. Nothing much, I answered — an unusual plan, apparently. Nearly everyone had stories of big celebrations they'd heard or been part of, from a triathlon on the edge of Long Island to weeks spent lolling in Tuscany.**

A bit much.  Still, I am somewhat sympathetic to what's driving the big-ticket parties — namely, the feeling that 40 marks a new phase, officially around the time of Starting To Get Old. It's not really old, of course. I've got a mix of longevity and early demise in my family (both from nature and from active engagement with it), so it's hard to sit down and do the math.  Nevertheless, I'd like to think that I'm not even half done.

In any event, it's not the worry of oblivion and schemes of overcoming it that move me; it's more like what the leading edge of oblivion means.  I tell my kids, as I was told, that they could do and be anything if they set themselves to it.  I still believe it of them, as I believed it of myself a while ago.  But coming to be things takes time, and each year a little less of that remains for remaking myself. Or so it seems sometimes.

It turns out I did do something remarkable for The Big Four-Oh — or rather my lovely wife did something remarkable for me.  Just a day or two before my birthday, my wife told me that just she and I would be enjoying dinner and jazz at Dizzy's Club that night.  The club is affiliated with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the music was, as expected, fantastic — almost as fantastic as the seats she got for us: 

We were close enough to map the constellations of sweat on the drummer's head.  And before the musicians came out, someone taped down a thick square of wood on our side of the stage. That square eventually became the tap floor for two young dancers who did things with their feet that had us all accompanying them with our rhythms of amazement.  (To get on stage, they had to bend around our table.)  Such a wonderful night.

As we sat there, the club's window framing the lush canopy of Central Park, my beautiful wife's bare shoulder its own kind of song in the soft dark, I thought:  If this is what getting old is like, I'll take it and more besides.

*To this day I've been unable to locate the source of this expression. It does sound like something that someone might say, so if you happen to know who, certainly let me know.
**Of course, I'm completely prepared to admit that this could say more about the people I happen to hang out with than about turning 40 in general.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


September days in New York recapitulate a year of seasons: mornings cool and dark giving way to afternoons bright and hot. Today will be as clear and blue and usual as that day—or maybe more so, it's hard to trust the memory now that so many have handled it.

Burn the buildings, burn the books. Read out the names again.

Today we celebrate our bodies without really meaning to, Q at gymnastics and The Boy at soccer. My lovely wife and Q make their way uptown to the gym on scooters; The Boy and I kick around our nerves out in the park until game time. Then swimming in the afternoon around the time of the protests, new this year.  The mind always trailing the body, getting in its way. Ground Zero lies just a block off, and I see the new building finally rising. Rumor has it they found an old ship at the site—what you find when you dig.

This morning my daughter asks me how we're made.*  It's not the awkward and inevitable question of conception. No, she's taken by the larger mystery of how we as things that see, that hear, that think have come to be at all. This is my kind of question, and we begin the long story that goes back before all tellers, the one that has the shape of magic.

But however great the incantations, we can't seem to stop the stories of our unmaking.

*Seriously. Not kidding.

9/11 Archive:

Friday, August 20, 2010


Cutting a wood floor

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary (or the steel anniversary, for those who like made-up things).  It's cliche to say, of course, but we seem as young and new as we once were.

More important, I think our marriage thus far has been transcendental in the old, Kantian, sense, which is to say necessary for the actual to be possible.  To be a little less fancy:  To be just the way we are now in this place, with Q & The Boy made as they are, would not be possible without that Friday night eleven years ago.

Congratulations to us, then, for what we have made and what has made us.

And just listen—they're playing our song:

Nina Simone, "My Baby Just Cares for Me"

Sunday, July 25, 2010



Been on a break for a little while (Okay, for July actually), and I'm still enjoying the sounds of waves.

We shall resume normal-ish broadcasting shortly.

Look, Q. A big one's coming. Get ready. Ready—

Wave jumping

Meantime, feel free to revisit an earlier picture of what it's like to play with the ocean.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World's Best Dad?

Father's Day was a treat this year, as always. With the help of my lovely wife, Q and The Boy conspired to make a special breakfast for me that included sneaking out for coffee from a local shop where I go to treat myself. ("We're going to get the MAIL now, dad," Q announced in a particular vigorous attempt at misdirection, as they left early that morning.) My lovely wife made cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I made four or five or more of them quickly disappear — a luxury of these special days is not having to keep count. The kids presented me with lovely drawings, nicely framed, telling me what they appreciated about me, and my lovely wife gave me some nice shirts. I am well loved and loved well, is what I'm saying.

The Boy's tennis lessons have ended for the time being, so after the morning's surprises he and I went out to the park to hit baseballs while Q went to yoga. Then we all went to Yankee Stadium for the afternoon's game. Though it happened on Father's Day, the game was really for The Boy's birthday. It was his very first major league game, and what a game it was — punishing heat, a grand slam, a rain delay, a brief appearance on the jumbotron, a Yankees win. He loved it all, especially the wildly overpriced fan/spritzer thing shaped like a baseball, and I enjoyed sharing it with him. Q made it until the fifth inning before the seats far too hot to sit in and the slow pace got to her, and she jumped at the chance to leave when my wife offered it to her. But though I gave him a similar offer, he wanted us to stay all the way through Sinatra's "New York, New York." On the subway home, we even saw a guy with a hook for a hand, which somehow completed the day for me.

A few weeks ago I was paging through one of the thousands of catalogs we get from a place called Oriental Trading,* an outlet that specializes in bulk orders of craft and party supplies. If your kids have left a birthday party recently with a goody bag, I bet that at least some of the disposable dreck** dumped out on the couch has come from Oriental Trading.

Anyway, times being what they were, I saw lots of opportunities to pick up some chintzy stuff of the No. 1/World's Best Dad variety. Q was sitting beside me, so I casually asked her if she was going to get me a "World's Best Dad" mug (or whatever) for this Father's Day. No, she said. Didn't she think that I was the World's Best Dad, I asked? Nope.

Okay, but here's the interesting part: She's right. I asked her why she thought as she did, and she said that she really didn't know all the dads in the world, but even so I probably wasn't the best one. And, you know, I can't argue with that logic. Come to think of it, there are and have been quite a few dads,*** and, though I think I'm a decent one, odds are that at least someone is better at the parenting thing than I am.

It's an odd claim to stake anyway. I'm not sure what makes a best parent, though I have some idea of what makes for better and worse ones, and I'm not sure that if I did know, I'd want to be one. Why would I want to deny my kids the chance to improve on what I did and could do for them? (Or would the World's Best Dad realize this and make noticeable, lesson-worthy mistakes?)

In any event, I love being a father, and I love thinking about being a father. And if I've learned one thing this Father's Day, it's don't ever ask your kids how you're doing.

Happy Father's Day, all.

*I would very much like someone to explain the existence and history of this place to me. Not only is the company named "Oriental" Trading—an adjective that has long since stopped being acceptable geographically or racial-sensitivity-wise—it's located in Omaha, NE. I've been to the, um, Orient, and I've been to Nebraska, and one does not make a person think of the other. Also, Oriental Trading offers quite a bit of Christian-themed merchandise (e.g.), which doesn't really honor the majority traditions of most Far Eastern societies. All this adds up to one big ball of why.
**I'm looking at you, balloon-powered race cars.
***Abraham, e.g., or the Big Man Himself (if you're into that sort of thing)? Tough competition, admittedly.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Boy at 7 (Or there's a problem with the robot)

The Boy turned seven last Sunday. Unlike his sister, whose trip from four to five seemed like a slow, multi-stop cruise, The Boy's birthday was more bullet train. My lovely wife made cupcakes for his classmates the Friday before, but the handing out and eating of them during school snack time for the most part involved being outside and devouring and yelling. And then it was Saturday, with its little league game and swimming lessons and growing feeling that we were not quite ready. Then it was Saturday night, with my wife out rounding up the rest of the books for takeaway gifts while I soldered the last of the wire. Then Sunday morning tennis lessons and yoga for kids. Then the party.

Given the success and fun of Q's party, we decided to again have a small number of kids over to our apartment to celebrate The Boy. We whittled his list until together we settled on inviting eight kids, which meant (given siblings), we'd be looking at 13 kids total. Doable. Probably.

The main activity was mainly my idea. I'm a fan of the maker's movement and had seen in some post or other an idea for building a simple robot, called a vibrabot, out of household stuff. It consists of a small motor (from one of those small plastic fans) attached to a tin box of some sort, supported by thin metal legs. When attached to a AA battery, it spins an offset paper clip or bobby pin and "walks" around a reasonably smooth surface. It's pretty cool to bring something like this to life, and The Boy, who enjoys designing and making things in general, really loved making a prototype. It seemed like a good project for a room of seven-year-old boys.

The Boy and I did the difficult and dangerous stuff beforehand. I held the Phillips screwdriver as he hammered holes in the tin boxes to thread wire through. He held the solder spool as I joined wires to motors and batteries, and alligator clips to wires. At the party, then, kids would just have to attach motors to the boxes with cable ties, tape batteries to the inside, connect up the wires, and attach the legs with small nuts and bolts.

Okay, that meant we still had to get from this:

to this:

in something like an hour. With 13 kids. In our apartment. Sure, it was a lot, but I wanted each kid to enjoy the making as much as the having.

It almost worked. Some kids were able to get their bots together with just a little instruction, but several couldn't. A few played with their wires until the solder or the wire broke, or they worked newly attached legs until the bolts came loose. While cake was being eaten, I worked so that all but two kids (I think) left with working machines, and those two left with promises to get theirs working sometime soon.

Speaking of cake, it was, as usual, crafted by my lovely wife and (as usual) awesome:

circuit board cake

(Note the actual working lights on either side of the "M7.")  My wife continues to impress and amaze, and the kids have noticed. When she expressed worry about getting the cake to look like a circuit board, my son said, "You can do it, mom. You can do anything." And she can, I swear.

Growing up, my father and I shared a language of work, spoken in hands and tools. Some of my favorite moments with him were spent looking over the underside of a lawnmower or re-screening a door. Though I'm sure I often came along to fetch and hold (that's what kids are for, after all), he honored me with these quiet conversations. I probably talk too much when my son or daughter and I make and do things together — I'm pretty sure I think too much — but I want them to learn the grammar of work, to have their hands become familiar with a vocabulary of tools. And I want to have another thing in common between us that goes without saying.

After everyone had left and The Boy had opened his presents, the wind picked up from the west, and a mean-looking bank of clouds unfurled toward us over the river. The phone rang, and I answered it, but the line seemed empty. Then a boy from the party softly said, "There's a problem with the robot."

That's okay. We can fix it.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wanting you

My lovely wife was away in California all weekend helping her sister and brother-in-law with their new baby. Having your first newborn is a little like staying up for a week solid and then having some stranger throw everything you own into the air at once.* To maximize both the time with her sister and her own children, my wife flew back to New York through Sunday night. She didn't sleep much on the plane,** and after four days of nights up she was too exhausted to walk an aircraft carrier.

Yes, an aircraft carrier. Each fleet week, military ships glide up the Hudson and open themselves up for free tours. Visitors can climb on trucks and tanks, sit in cockpits, slide the bolts on rifles. The four of us went last year, but Q has been quite mom-centric these days, and she elected to stay home with her tired mother.

It was just The Boy and I, then, two men out doing men stuff. Or something. The Boy, like nearly all American males, has a fascination with military hardware, one that I had*** myself. Unlike most American males (whatever the age) we live in a place where we actually get to see some of it.

The Boy is big now and makes for great company. He doesn't tire easily, and we walked every civilian-accessible foot of the USS Iwo Jima in a couple of hours, which is a lot of ground to cover. We headed first up to the flight deck to look over the aircraft before the crowds g0t crushing, and he was particularly excited to see the Cobra. Chinooks have been powering up and down the Hudson for the past few days, escorted menacingly by a pair of Cobras. It's hard not to want to see such things up close, and he loved sitting at the Cobra's baffling controls. We then went back down the steep grade ("Use low gear," a sign advised) to the belly of the ship, passing service men and women posing for photos with tourists holding guns. The Boy sat at the wheel of a giant cargo truck, then an amphibious assault vehicle of some sort. The longest line was for the M1A1 tank, but we waited. When our turn arrived, we scaled up to the turret, and The Boy asked me to take a picture of him in a helmet. He even slid into the tight driver's seat and asked for a photo of that, too. Later, he asked his mother to print out photos of him doing all this to put up somewhere important.

Back before we begin this day, The Boy and I get bagels to keep our heads out of our stomachs until we get back from the ships. He likes poppy seed with scallion cream cheese, and I spread what smooshes out of his onto mine. We sit at the window. Across the street, I see the "U.S. Army Career Center," and then he sees it and reads the awning. He asks what it means, and I tell him. Before I finish, he says "I know, dad."

But I don't know how to tell him both that the people who make up the military do an important job and deserve our respect and that I don't want him to do that job. I want him to understand the absurdly real risk these people take on — to understand the gravity of their commitment. And with that commitment comes, I think, a moral glow (for lack of better term) that I take no issue with. How, then, to let him know that here's something really really good (in the moral sense) that I don't want him to do?
Me: ...
Me: People in the military do important things.
The Boy: I know, dad.
Me: They help to keep us safe, and they deserve our respect.
The Boy: I know, dad.
Me: They risk a lot to do what they do. It's not like playing video games.
The Boy: I know, dad.
Me: [long pause] You know, I really don't want you to—
The Boy: —I know, dad.
I think he does understand, even better than I.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.
*Except it's not like that, or anything besides just what it is.
**JetBlue charges 8 bucks for pillow and blanket. Sheesh.
***Okay, and still have a little, though it's strictly man professional.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Okay, so just a little more on stopping and quitting

At the end of my previous post about stopping and quitting, I said that there was more to say about all of it and that I'd stop there. Well, at least the first was true.

I've been ruminating about stopping and quitting a fair amount more since then, mainly due to the excellent reactions and commiserations I received.* Seems I'm not alone in struggling both with not quitting and with failing to make much sense of why that is. All signs might point to giving up (jobs, habits, marriages, whatever), but a lot of us don't and don't exactly know why.

As I said before, I do think honest, straightforward reasons do explain some of the resistance to quitting—heavy investment (of time, money), say, and the general cultural conditioning against ever quitting anything. (We're told pretty much right away that nobody likes a quitter). Enjoyment might even have been derived from the thing, whatever it is.

But what about when the straightforward reasons just don't sufficiently justify sticking something out? And what about the not understanding? Part of what stalls me at this point, I think, has to do with not really knowing how to take my own reasoning about quitting.

Let me try to be a little clearer. I'm not the hugest fan of Malcom Gladwell,** but a recent article of his on espionage for The New Yorker nicely gets at the problem here. He begins with the story of "Operation Mincemeat," a bold and successful plan by the British in World War II to leak false information to the Germans about a pending Allied invasion. It's a fantastic tale told exceptionally well, and with a powerful lesson. Gladwell writes:
It is not just that secrets themselves are hard to fact-check; it's that their interpretation is inherently ambiguous. Any party to an intelligence transaction is trapped in what the sociologist Erving Goffman called an "expression game." I'm trying to fool you. You realize that I'm trying to fool you, and I—realizing that—try to fool you into thinking that I don't realize that you have realized that I am trying to fool you.
Oddly enough, we spy on and fool ourselves, too. I'm sitting right here, so I'll use myself as an example. Why don't I just give up my academic research, such as it is, and get seriously going on some of the writing projects I've been meekly pecking away at for a while now? When I put myself on the couch I get to thinking that I probably fear what might happen if I actually made a real run at writing—that I might not get beyond sucking badly or (worse?) that I might not suck all that much but can't get anyone much to notice my not sucking. But then I think that these worries (that I might always suck or be always outside) is really me fooling myself into finding a way to stay between everything, to have more "could haves" to console myself when I get to wondering, in the end, about what happened. And then again, maybe I'm fooling myself with that, too.

However fractal-like this gets, I've learned that quitting can lead to good. I have seen a few of those close to me bloom after divorce, and others make themselves new when time demanded it. But anyway like just about every parent ever, I worry over what my kids see when they observe me (which they, like all kids, scarily do), even more so than what I say. I'd like them to use more "dids" than "should haves" if they wonder about me.

Will they know when to quit?  Will I?

*Thanks Twitter, Facebook, and blog-reading folk. I really appreciate the thoughts.
**The guy can tell a good story, but Blink was just awful.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Stopping and quitting

Turns out I'm very good at stopping things, less so at quitting them.

The distinction is an important one, actually. Take, for example, my academic career. My trajectory past graduate school was a little nontraditional in that after (finally) graduating, my first jobs were not really in my field. I did teach philosophy courses more or less and lucked* my way into two of the best universities in the world, but I was mainly a faculty member in writing programs and not in Philosophy Departments. My plan was to fill out my list of publications and courses taught while earning (very little) money until I hit the academic job market lottery.

My number never came up — at least for a tenure-track job. I did, though, manage to take a small step into university administration (again more or less through luck). I found myself with much more time and less stress than as a "pure academic," or someone whose livelihood depends upon scholarly production and the glacial peer review process.** I could read what I wanted, write for whomever I pleased.

But for some reason, even though I stopped my academic research, I couldn't quite quit it. I'd find myself browsing the on-line article databases, collecting PDFs to read on the train home, starting fresh Word files with titles heavy on clever. Those Word files usually stayed short while the pile of unread articles grew, as did the list of non-academic writing projects that I wanted to pursue.

Okay, sure, it's understandably hard to quit the career I spent over a decade preparing and striving for, particularly since I'm still part of a university, still showing up in classrooms to talk about ideas. At this point, however, I will have no professor position — the job market is too tight and my resume is too anemic. The life of an academic isn't as glorious as it used to be, too, given the terrible pay and ridiculous politics inevitable with groups of people who can't be fired. I have every reason to quit entirely.

Quitting can be glorious. The Boy had been a solid member of his school's chess club, which meant going nearly an hour early to school each Thursday and Friday for lessons and scrimmages. Then there were the three-hour practices one Saturday afternoon a month, and frequent tournaments. He only ended up competing in two of them (he was snowed out once), and the second he won first place in his division. (He even brought the first-place trophy for his first show-and-tell turn.) He liked chess. He wanted to play chess.

And then he didn't. About a month ago or so, The Boy no longer sped out of the house on Thursdays and Fridays, even though his best friend kept at it. Each time we asked him whether he wanted to go to lessons or practice, he answered with a firm "No." That was it; he was done. Space in his head once reserved for chess is now occupied by baseball, and he's the freer for it.

Why is quitting so hard? Perhaps for the same reasons that ending things are hard. As a friend of mine once nicely put it:
For me, however, starting is fairly easy; the drama of writer’s block is largely alien to me. To the extent that starting is mysterious, that’s more-or-less okay, because, even if you can’t dial it up at will, the whole process is one of getting from nothing to something. Starting is a practical problem, easily overcome, if it’s a problem at all. Finishing is a metaphysical problem, full of subtleties and abysses. Finishing involves knowing –knowing!—when something is enough (for what?), when something that hasn’t existed before is finally wholly and completely itself.

Well, that’s enough of that.
He's talking here about academic writing in particular, but the lesson applies wider, I think. Knowing when something is enough is the hard part, and merely stopping without quitting only causes the commitment part to accrue. The commitment outstanding means being haunted by something else I should be doing, regardless of what I'm doing at any particular moment. I've got to figure out how to finally quit some things and free myself for others.

There's more to say about all of this, of course, but I'll stop here.

*Luck had everything to do with it, but I'm pretty sure that I deserved and earned my right to be at those fancy schmancy places.
**I once submitted an article to a journal for publication, and the editor held on to it for a year before finally telling me that he didn't think he'd send it out for review. The article eventually found a home, but since sending work out to multiple journals at the same time is considered poor form, I was put back quite a bit. And everyone in academia has similar stories.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Let them make cake

Two days before Q's party, a classmate of hers asked how many birthdays Q has. I know the feeling: First it was her birthday proper, with gifts wrapped in Amazon boxes and (from us anyway) in the New York Times.* Then my wife made blue-frosted cupcakes for Q's Pre-K class, enjoyed by all except for that inevitable classmate with the egg allergy.

And then there was Q's actual party. My wife has earned a solid reputation in the neighborhood for executing great parties, and this one wasn't unusual. What was unusual, though, is that unlike past years, we decided to have the thing in our (little) house instead of in our apartment building's playroom. This meant having fewer kids than usual, but some sacrifices just had to be made.**

A smaller guest list made more intensive activities possible. Q liked the idea of a cooking party, and so did we. Each guest was greeted with a paper chef's hat (individually sized and stapled) and an apron to decorate. Instead of ordering pizza, we gave them their own ball of dough to stretch and roll and sauce. While their early dinners browned in the oven, the kids made animal cupcakes to accompany the barn cake my wife had made. The results were, as you can see, lovely.

Cupcakes done and corralled, everyone ate the pizza they made. Interestingly, almost everyone had leftovers—and everyone wanted to take them home. (As far as we can remember, that's a first for any party.) Guests also took away their cupcake in a special box, their hat and apron, and a cake and cookie recipe book. Little was left.

Q smiled the whole time.

Until that night. After opening all the wonderful presents from those who came to celebrate with her, she slowly slid into tears. Q almost never cries about anything. My wife and I asked her why she was sad. She said she didn’t know, and I believed her (and I don’t always believe her). The day had meant a lot to her, but, unlike her brother, she struggles with attention. It’s as if she can feel the weight of all those thoughts of her, and they finally got too heavy. Or at least I think that's what it was; it's hard to say.

I suppose it's now an old story—at least 300 years older than the philosophers who first told it (and as new as the newest science)—that we arrive blank and are written on by the world until we leave. This picture suggests that the longer we go, the more we're taught, the more we understand. But I think it's something like a half-truth. Childhood has all sorts of knowingness—of cruelties in particular—and adults often find themselves bothered and saved by mysteries. No matter how old one gets, there are always puzzles, and the pieces keep getting smaller. I hope that I can help her appreciate not understanding, and that she can do the same for me.

Happy birthday, Q. We love you.

*Never too early to introduce a little liberal bias, right?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

America's — and The Boy's — game

All of a sudden, The Boy is into baseball. He walks around the house swinging at imaginary pitches, rises early on game days.

We've never been huge baseball fans in our house (despite my wife's attempts to anchor our appreciation of the sport). But however mysterious, it's fun to watch him love the game, especially before all the knowing comes in. He gets to have moments like this:

I may have slowed things down a bit and added a little soundtrack (thank you, Aaron Copeland), but it does feel just like this.

Even Q is slowly coming around, I think.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Q turns 5

NOTE: Sweetest thing not pictured above.

Today Q, our little one (who's never really seemed all that little), turns 5. We will celebrate her in a week or so with a house full of her friends, and therefore with madness. She sleeps now, after a day of wishes, and we wonder what the next year means for and to her.

I'm sure she'll let us know.

Happy birthday, Q. We love you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Happy New Year, New Decade, Valentine's Day, Lunar New Year,* and President's Day Eve.** I hope this finds you all well. It's been a little while.

New Year thoughts are things that I get around to eventually. Perhaps I wanted to dip a toe into the fresh year — wait for two New Year's to arrive — before easing into it. The water over here seems fine, and I suppose it's time to get wet.

Going forward usually triggers looking back. Networks love to soften their shows the days up to the ball dropping in Times Square with a string of tape capturing the highlights of the year (a major celebrity death, a shot of soldiers and an explosion, an unknown birth). My wife and I love montages,*** too, so here's a little one from me to you.

First, the blog: Looking over the past year of posts, here are the ones I don't mind recommending:
Here are a few of my favorite 2009/Year of the Water Buffalo things:
  • The photos my wife takes. Most of the headers and pics that appear on this site come from her, such as:

Many of the best she takes flout my No Faces Rule, which means you'll just have to trust me. And then there's:
  • The sound of my son reading.
  • Q, excited, the day of her gymnastic lessons, and how hard she works to be better.
There is more than this, of course; we always forget more than we remember. But the more I thought about it, about what I found myself drawn to in the year that's just passed, I lingered not on moments but on changes. My son reads now, and he will more or less forever; the world is now a named place for him. Q has found what passion and strength can do for her, and in so doing has found an exemplar of self-perfection that will remain with her long after she's stepped down from the beam and let loose of the bar. And my lovely wife will (among a vast many other things) continue to see us for us better than we can on our own.

But perhaps the change I've enjoyed most of all is the one that can't last. The job and career shifts I've had this year have given me two full days a week with Q and The Boy. I've hatched schemes with dolls and made cookies in the afternoon. I've built LEGO ships and lobbed balls when I would have been dead on the train. Eventually, however, there will be new and more work (there already is), more school, more after school.

This I will take as a moment and remember it just as it is.

Happy New Everything, all.

*And DO NOT CALL IT CHINESE NEW YEAR. We will correct you—in school, at work, even in the elevator.
**Okay, so that's not a real thing. But you do have to admit that these few days is quite the convergence of holidays.
***Perhaps it was all of those 80's films during our formative years. Kids these days are, I think, undernourished montage-wise. Have they seen this? HAVE THEY?