Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sugar High

I've finally figured it out. Now I know why people have children. All the work and sacrifice finally seems worthwhile. It was the vision of my seventeen month old daughter in her ladybug costume clutching her pumpkin shaped candy bag that brought it all home for me. Actually she brought it home, it being candy. It's perfect. I walk around the neighborhood with an impossibly cute little girl, collect tons of candy, and when she's done taking it in and out of her pumpkin, I eat it. Some people let her go back in for extra pieces, and at one house she reached in and grabbed more. When you're seventeen months you can get away with that shit, but you can't eat candy. At least my seventeen month old can't eat candy. I don't want her to have my sugar obsession. I'm willing to feed my obsession, and put my health on the line, for my daughter. I'm just that kind of guy. And, to find out that my great and selfless parenting has a tangible, if temporary, reward is just icing on the cake ... er almonds in the coconut and chocolate. Until tonight I thought my motivation was limited to things like love, smiles, and the promise of housework. Now I know how scary good parenting can be.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Good Scare

Halloween is almost upon us. The days have finally turned cold. A hint of the winter that awaits blows about in the breeze. In two nights the streets will be crawling with little monsters and ghouls on sugar highs. Dipity will be among them. She'll be a ladybug. She even likes her costume. She likes it so much that I've hid it so that I don't have to dress her up every time someone says the word ladybug. Tomorrow, without Dipity, I'll watch It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Unfortunately, I'll watch it in our newly redone den/guest room, which for the first time in the year we've owned the house isn't the least bit scary. In fact, the only thing missing from this year's Halloween, other than a costume for mom and dad, is a good healthy Halloween related scare. I could always tune into one of the umpteen horror movies on television. But I'm not sure when. Mom doesn't like horror movies. My only time without mom is when she is sleeping (writing time) and when I feed Dipity, and it is bad enough that I watch Charmed when I give her the afternoon snack. So, I've decided that I should make a list of the most frightening moments of 2007, or at least the moments that were most frightening to me.

10) Earlier this month Drew Carey started hosting The Price is Right. For some reason that really scares me.

09) The ten times I crossed a bridge after the August 1 bridge collapse in Minneapolis

08) On July 21, 2007 Dick Cheney was Acting President for two and a half hours while W had a colonoscopy. It's never true that it couldn't get any worse."

07) Any day without a nap for Dipity.

06) Every moment that a Black American spoke out in support of Michael Vick. We have a race problem in this country and it's plenty scary.

05) On October 1st, Britney lost custody of the kids to K-Fed and I read and heard about it everywhere. The same could be said for the outing of Dumbledore, or any continuing mention of conspiracy surrounding Lady Di's death.

04) Some things never cease to be scary. It freaks me out to even think about the movie Final Destination. I love being alone at night in a sparsely populated area, for about ten seconds, and then I run like hell towards the nearest human habitation, keeping open the option of screaming like a teenage girl. I get at least a bit apprehensive every time Dipity climbs on anything. Whenever I fail to avoid a presidential address and actually look at and listen to our President I shudder uncontrollably for at least a good five minutes. That has happened at least twice this year, and those where damn scary moments.

03) The potential of Turkish raids into Iraqi territory. It ain't funny, but it's plenty scary.

02) On May 3, 2007 at a Republican presidential debate, three presidential candidates raised their hands to indicate that they didn't believe in evolution. There isn't much that's scarier than that.

01) Except being the parent of a child that walks. I couldn't wait to see Dipity walk. Before she could hold her head up I was 'walking' her around the room. And then, in an instant, I wanted her to keep crawling, or even better go back to that beautiful moment in time before she could move but after she could smile. But, there is no going back. It's not even possible to go forward slowly. Ready or not ...
No Sir, No Thank You Ma'am

A few Sundays ago, some of my wife's co-workers gathered with their families (including me and dipity) for a nice little mid afternoon brunch. There was one other father there. Up to this point I had only known him through my wife's stories, and the hand me down kids' clothing he passed on. Initially, he confirmed my second hand impression. He made a few jokes, brought home-brewed beer, and looked as if he could have come from Berkeley. I lost track of the general conversation as dipity engaged in some activity I assessed to be potentially dangerous. And then I heard Mr. Berkeley say that at some prior job he had been on a hiring committee, and that he had been against hiring one candidate because he had failed to address an older member of the committee as "sir." Apparently the omission was especially egregious because the applicant was from Texas and ought to have known better. I said nothing, which may be a later lesson for dipity (and me too). But my instant reaction was to think such a position rather antiquated, silly, and off the mark; not to mention a tad too regionally specific to be entirely logical. As I continued to think about it, I became more and more interested in why I felt the way I felt. I am ordinarily a big fan of common courtesy, and presumably proponents of "sir" and "ma'am" would identify them as essential elements of common courtesy. Why don't I do it or expect it?

Proponents of "sir" and "ma'am" assert that it is a show of respect to address an older person in this way. I'm all for respect, but why should it only be shown towards older people. Don't give me any older is wiser crap, I know plenty of older people who aren't wise and plenty more who haven't earned anyone's respect. Now, I don't greet people by spitting in their face until I know them well enough to know whether I respect them. I do everyone the courtesy of showing interest in them when I meet them. I do this by making eye contact with them, and listening to what they have to say. I try to greet everyone I meet this way, regardless of age or social position. I suffer from more than a touch of social anxiety, so I'm not one hundred percent successful, but I always try. I hope that that my wife and I are successful in training dipity to do the same.

I'm not interested in training her to adhere to too many vestiges of our traditional patriarchal power structures. To me, "sir" and "ma'am" are part and parcel of a traditional social structure that granted status to men and particularly older men, and deemphasized merit. I also see them as what they are: words. If you want to show respect to me, I would rather you do it with actions. That is why I think opening a door for someone, and I open them for everyone male or female, is different.

I don't see Ma'am as connected to Miss, Mrs., or Dr. Dr. is earned. Last name versus first name is a different debate, and since a person's name is theirs and not mine, I'm more than happy to respect their wishes and say it any way they want me to.

I also don't see men and women who refuse to be called "sir" or Ma'am," as individuals who are denying their age. If my pants hang down around my knees, feel free to make fun of me. If I ask you to call me Sam, well you can laugh at that too, but I'm not trying to impress you. I'm also not practicing self deprecation. My self worth isn't tied up in a title.

I'm not sure what other reasons their would be for utilizing "ma'am" and "sir," unless you find yourself in basic training. Even there I find it antiquated, but since a butt kicking is all too contemporary, if I were a soldier "sir" would be a regular part of my vocabulary. Beyond that, it just doesn't make sense. If you want to use "sir" or Madam," more power to you. I don't think less of people who use them. I do think less of people who use them to judge others. If you dismiss someone because they fail to say "sir," well that's a reflection on you ... and not a good one.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Paying the Piper

American troops are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush has requested another $45.9 billion in war spending, which would bring the total spent since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to $650 billion. Closing in on 4,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq. That is nearly 1,000 more than died in the 9/11 attacks. Iraq Body Count estimates that between 75,00 and 82,00 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths since the 2003 invasion. Iraq is still in the throws of what has to be called a civil war. The scariest thing, is we haven't even begun to pay the piper. The true costs of this war are only starting to become apparent. With Turkey on the verge of invading Iraq to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the piper is on the doorstep.

Our mistake wasn't that we went to war. Sometimes war is necessary, and this may have been one of those times, although Iran or North Korea would have seemed to be more potent threats. The mistake, or mistakes, were in our preparation and execution of this war. No real effort was taken to include important regional and international states (think France, Russia, China, Iran, and Egypt rather than Albania, Bulgaria, and El Salvador). There was no realistic plan in place for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq. The administration seemed woefully unaware of the political realities of the region. Afghanistan seems to have become a messy afterthought. Etc. Etc. We made mistakes, and now we are starting to pay for them.

Turkish cross border raids would be only the beginning. Kurds are present in significant numbers in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Iran, isn't only a home to Kurds, with the fall of the Sunni government in Iraq it is now an even more powerful and important player in Iraq and in the region as a whole. And while it is not the axis, center, or even periphery of evil, it does pose more of a threat to American interests now than Iraq did in 2003. It also could have offered a unique opportunity; a way for America to influence and interact with a state that has a dynamic and rapidly modernizing culture and population. That opportunity is at least temporarily gone. Also gone is the goodwill we had immediately after 9/11. On the heels of the American failure to follow through n Sudan, the active avoidance of responsibility in Rwanda, and the blatant failure to act in Sudan, our failings in Iraq and what seems like our inevitable withdrawal will seriously limit our ability to influence world events for some time to come. Combine the lack of respect and cooperation we will face internationally with a totally predictable knee jerk retreat into isolationism, and you know what tune the kids will be humming as the piper leads them off. We might as well let them go, because what do we have left to pay the piper?

This mess will most certainly get worse, and there is little that can be done. Technically it isn't too late to commit to Iraq for the long haul, and avoid compounding our mistake. Realistically it probably is too late. The ordinary American will not be won over by talk of responsibility and long-term damage to America's reputation and ability to act in furtherance of it's own interests. It will never be too late for our leadership to learn something about the area of the world where it is spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives, but the longer we wait the more damage is done. And, the balance of power in Iraq and the region has been irrevocably changed, and perhaps thrown completely out of balance. The Bush administration was in a rush to flex their muscles, wright perceived wrongs, and seize a perceived opportunity to effectuate their worldview. In the heat of the moment, they neglected to proceed with the proper amount of caution, foresight, and and diplomacy. Now they, and really all of us, are paying the price for their haste and waste. On the bright side, it's a catchy tune.

Monday, October 22, 2007


My daughter loves phones. She loves my cell phone. She loves her mother's cell phone. She even likes the toy cell phone that Grammy bought her. If none of these are on hand, she has been known to make calls on calculators, combs, and remote controls. Today, as I was attempting to move us and all of our stuff out the door, she caught sight of her toy phone. Apparently it was ringing, because she stopped to pick it up. I didn't hear the first ring. I only heard the audible to adults ring, the one she had to squeeze the phone to produce. It was good that I had her around, because apparently the call was for me and without her toddler ears I would have walked right by it. Of course, without her toddler charms I wouldn't have had a stuffed cell phone, or been carrying fifty two bags out to the car for a half hour trip ... but these are contingencies that only adults can understand. I took the phone from her. Turns out it was Uncle John calling from Singapore. Good thing he called on his niece's phones, she has free long distance anywhere in the world except Africa. For my next trip to Africa, I'll have to switch toy companies. As I chatted to Uncle John, my practical little girl decided to fill the time with a call of her own. She had a dilemma, though. Mom's phone was at work with mom. Dad's phone was in dad's pocket. dad was on her phone long distance to Singapore. Actually, the problem with her phone had nothing to do with trepidation about interrupting a call and everything to do with dad being tall. Besides, she had a Guinea Pig puppet handy. I don't know what kind of connection you get on a rodent, but she was smiling a great big smile with the larger than life rodent's chin in her ear. It was way too funny, but it also brought a tear to my eye. It was while watching her holding that rodents butt to her mouth that I fully realized how successful my little girl will be. Anyone that can kiss ass while talking on the phone ... well the sky is the limit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lars Vilks drew a picture of the Prophet as a dog. Now he finds death threats by the hundreds on his answering machine at home, on his mobile phone's voice mail, and in his e-mail box. He may even find someone waiting for him at his home, hoping to collect on the $100,000 Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the de facto head of Al Qaeda in Iraq has offered to pay for Vilk's murder. Al Qaeda has offered a $50,000 bonus if his throat is cut. One Swedish Muslim woman, identifying herself as Amatullah and interviewed wearing a burqa, said she hopes to "do this in the name of Allah, and I will not fail. I could slaughter him in the name of Allah ... [i]f I get the opportunity. She lives only an hour and a half away from Vilks.

There are lots of ways to react to this story. Some will point out that the people threatening Vilks' life are only a minority of the world's Muslims, and that there is an equally reprehensible fringe in Christianity that gets nowhere near the same press. Christians might assert that the Christian reaction to Vilk's cartoon depicting Jesus as a pedophile didn't involve Vilk's looking under his car for bombs. Muslims might counter that the combination of a portrait of the Prophet, which is itself forbidden, and a dog, which is seen as unclean. I could, is unusually provocative. Of course, the depiction of the Prophet is forbidden as part of a prohibition on idol worship. There is ample historical evidence for the reality of that threat, but neither Sweden nor cartoonists are a part of the record. In fact, the threat is much more real from Sufis and Ahmadis, who consider themselves to be Muslims. 'Progressive' Muslims, who wouldn't want to be called 'progressive,' would assert that sets Islam apart from other monotheistic faiths is the closer relationship posited between man and God. In Islam there are fewer intermediaries and more direct responsibilities. Thus, it is up to each individual to be responsible for their own behavior and it is up to God to hand out rewards and punishments. It could also be asserted that the Prophet meant for Islam to be more flexible, that he had goals for freedoms and rights beyond what could be achieved in seventh century Arabia, and that were he here to lead Muslims he would be leading them into a more fruitful and reciprocal relationship with 'Western' culture and values. In this view, the Prophet would see no contradiction, for example, in being an American and a Muslim, and would not seek to execute people for utilizing their freedom of expression to insult Muslims. All of the above and more could be pulled out, but I've already spent more energy on those arguments than they merit, yet not enough to fully explain them.

So, let me say this. Lars set out to insult Muslims, and he succeeded. It sucks for Muslims to have to read it, but sometimes life sucks. Lars has every right to draw the Prophet's head on a dog. We all aren't Muslims, and we don't have to agree with or even respect Islam. Muslims don't get to kill us if we disrespect them. Those of us who have respect for Islam, and Muslims, do have a responsibility to counter statements like the one Lars has made. The most effective counter is to lay out the reasons why this is offensive, and be ready to engage in dialogue about Islam. This should be merely one part of a long-term strategy to argue for and publicize a more adaptive and egalitarian Islam that is much truer to the vision of the Prophet than what is being trumpeted by a radical minority, publicized out of proportion to it's support or theoretical legitimacy by the Western Press, and allowed to exist without much challenge by the majority of Muslims. Muslims need to educate one another and the rest of us about what Islam has been, is, and could be. Now, this is happening, but not on the scale it needs to. It will never get the initial press that an extra $50,000 for a slit throat will, but it in the long run it could push that kind of story into the realm of Fred Phelps and the picketing of military funerals. That won't happen as long as cartoons books and beauty pageants lead to riots and death threats.

Amatullah means female servant of Allah. Until Allah has better and more attentive servants, Islam will be in crisis, and ignorance and prejudice will dominate the Western attitude towards it. The forces of moderation and reason must aggressively counter radicals in Islam, and in Christianity. If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.
Mike Huckabee

I can't vote for someone who is willing to publicly say that evolution doesn't exist. Has he ever been to a natural history museum? Has he been barked at by a pug-a-poo? Doesn't be realize that there is no way that God could have rested on the seventh day and still created the whole world and everything in, on, and above it? He may be stupid, in which case I can't vote for him. It's time we had someone smart again. He may be physically unable to engage in analytical thought, in which case I can't understand him. I'm an American, and thus I have only blind hatred for that which I don't understand. He may simply be manipulating the religious right, in which case I can't vote for him. People who have exorcised the demons of compassion, caring, and understanding from Christianity shouldn't be pandered to. Any way you cut it, I can't vote for Mike, Tom, or Sam.

Which means, my choices now consist of: Hillary, Barack, John, Bill, Dennis, Joe, Mike, Chris, Fred, John, Mitt, Duncan, and Ron.
Tom Tancredo

Tom, say hi to Rudy and Sam. You at home can raise your hand if you know why.
Sam Brownback

Sam has a great name and the support of Tom Monaghan (the orphan who founded Domino's Pizza) and Steven Baldwin (not an orphan). Hell, Michael W. Smith and Pat Boone also support him. Despite all that however, we'll have to say goodbye to Mr. Sam. I could write an in-depth analysis of Sam's opinions, statements, and plans. I could, but I won't. It would just be a waste of time. The man indicated on national television that he did not believe in evolution. That's all I need. He was one of three candidates who raised their hands during a Republican debate, so there's a clue to who might be next. For now, it's just Rudy and Sam sitting on the outside looking in at my vote.
Presidential Elimination

It's nearly November, and I suppose I'm ready to start paying close attention to the Presidential hubbub. I'd prefer waiting until next November, but I'm beginning to find it embarrassing to be more knowledgeable about NASCAR than I am about the Presidential candidates and issues. I wonder if Dale Jr. has considered running? Hell, Dale Sr. might be able to carry Illinois. Alas, neither of them is running, and neither are Jimmy Johnson or Jeff Gordon, so I need to do some research to see who is running. This time I'll start by pretending that every candidate is a qualified one. I will then slowly and methodically eliminate them as I run across evidence that there is no way in hell I can vote for them. If I am left with two candidates, I may flip a coin. If I eliminate everybody, as is more likely since I live in the real United States of America as opposed to the fictional one portrayed in West Wing (why doesn't Alan Alda run for real, I'd vote for him), I will start over again. If someone withdraws before I eliminate him or Hillary, I will devote an entry to noting their passing from the election.

Today, I must reluctantly eliminate Rudy Giuliani. I'm reluctant, because there is a lot to like about Rudy. He is pro-choice and pro-gun control, so I can overlook the fact he cheated on his wife (I would overlook this regardless), has no foreign policy experience, wasn't a great mayor of New York before 9/11, may be at least partially responsible for the number of lives lost on 9/11 (failure to improve fire department radios -, command center placement, command center humidor, etc.), and may not have been that spectacular on and after 9/11 (see Grand Illusion, by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins). What I can't overlook is that Daniel Pipes is giving him foreign policy advice. Pipes immediately blamed the Oklahoma City Bombing on Muslims. In 2002 his Campus Watch website encouraged students to report professors of middle Eastern studies for "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students." He told the American Jewish Congress "[The] increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims...will present true dangers to American Jews." He wrote on his website this September that, "In a Jerusalem Post piece six years ago, 'Preventing war: Israel’s options,' I called for shutting off utilities to the Palestinian Authority as well as a host of other measures, such as permitting no transportation in the PA of people or goods beyond basic necessities, implementing the death penalty against murderers, and razing villages from which attacks are launched. Then and now, such responses have two benefits: First, they send a strong deterrent signal “Hit us and we will hit you back much harder” thereby reducing the number of attacks in the short term. Second, they impress Palestinians with the Israeli will to survive, and so bring closer their eventual acceptance of the Jewish state. Christopher Hitchens, who has himself been called a neo-conservative (or at least an ally of the neo-conservatives), called Pipes a "person who confuses scholarship with propaganda and who pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity." Daniel Pipes' inclusion as an advisor isn't the only sign that Rudy's foreign policy might just be a continuation of whatever it is we have now, but it's the only one I need to see.

So, Rudy is off the island. Here is who is still in: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, Fred Thompson, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, and Ron Paul. Tune in next time to see who else should be sent home.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Collage Girl"

I didn't find any good job leads on Craig's List Friday. I did find this add: "Need collage girl to help with homework." At first I snickered at the typo. Then I wrote it down and forgot about it. Later, I wrote a few quotes from the movie Garden State on the same piece of paper. When I returned to the Garden State quotes in order to weave them into my novel, I saw the collage girl ad and suddenly it struck me in a new way. Why did it have to be a typo? Who wouldn't want to employ a collage girl? Wikipedia defines collage as "a work of visual arts made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole." Who wouldn't want their child to learn from someone who was a new whole made up of disparate parts. I suppose it might depend on the parts, but I'd rather Seren learn every subject, even math and science, from someone who boasted diverse skills, experiences, and influences. Diverse personalities might not be as great. Schizophrenic teachers, though, might be the key to making math and science more attractive to kids.

Ideally, we would all be and give birth to collage girls (or boys). I certainly hope Seren becomes a collage girl, like her mother before her. A world of collage people might not be a consistent and predictable place, but if you ask me that's a positive. I hope that I can always be a collage boy. I'm willing to work at it. I think it has to be worked at. I'd be willing to work at being a collage girl, but that's a part of the assemblage I'd rather save for private exhibition.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"I can't wait till Ramadan is over."

Tonight my wife said something to me at dinner that put a big smile on my face. Now, if you know my wife, you know that this isn't unusual. She is genetically pre-disposed to be intentionally and unintentionally hilarious. This time, though I wasn't smiling at a funny face, dinner table fart or a slip of the tongue. My wife turned to me and said, "I can't wait until Ramadan is over." Two of her lunch buddies are Muslims who are observing Ramadan, and thus not eating lunch. She misses them. It's not bizarre, unexplainable, or funny. It's really not at all unusual, or at least it shouldn't be. It shouldn't be any more unusual than a non-Jew commenting on someone's absence on account of Yom Kippur. Millions of Muslims live in the United States, and they have friends who aren't Muslims. They interact with these friends in the same way as Christians and Jews, or Catholics and Methodists. We don't hear enough about those kinds of interactions, though. And, not enough of us have them. Otherwise, no one would assume that all Muslim women are oppressed, or see a Muslim man praying on a plane and ask the flight attendant to remove him. There is just no substitute for personal experience. A lunch buddy is always going to be more effective in breaking down people's prejudices and misconceptions than an article in the New York Times. And it's happening. This country would be a hell of a lot better off if more people's lunch plans were being ruined by Ramadan.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


A few hours ago I was typing what I thought was a witty and tempered response to what I considered to be a thoughtless comment/critique made in response to yesterday's blog. I don't always respond well to criticism. Usually I become angry. The more justified I suspect the criticism to be, the angrier I am. I wasn't too angry this morning. I was actually excited to respond. I had the perfect answer, and it was rolling through my fingers and onto the screen like magic. I was almost done, and I'd managed to fit it in before I had to feed Seren. I was a super efficient, super cool, super dad. And I was showing great maturity in keeping to the moral high ground, and offering up a good natured clarification of my intent. Just as I was looking over the response quickly to make sure it made sense and had some sort of flow, and congratulating myself, the post disappeared. The website disappeared. Everything disappeared. The computer was turning itself off. I couldn't understand why the computer would be turning itself off, and then I remembered that I wasn't alone. Sure enough, staring up at me from directly in front of the computer (which is on the floor under my desk) was my support staff of one. Seren actually smiled and pointed to the on/off button.

My first reaction was to worry about the long term implications of this act. Seren and I spend a few minutes in the office on most days as daddy deals with whatever can't wait until nap. I count on being able to sit her on the floor with a few toys for five minutes or so. Next, I mourned the loss of my witty response. Then I told the poor girl "no," like she had any idea that she'd done anything wrong. So my next move was to hug her, and feed her ... kind of. I prepared the food, put her in her high chair, put some food on her tray, and ran into the office to type. I figured I could put a few pieces of food on her tray, run in and type, sprint back and replace the eaten food, sprint back and type ... and that kind of worked. I sprinted in and out like a life sized Muppet, which Seren thought was funny. Seren also thought it was funny to pour milk all over her tray. So, I waited until lunch was over to finish the response. An hour later I found myself responding to the response to my response. And then, upon reading a nasty little response to the original version of this story, it finally occurred to me that Seren might actually have been trying to do me a favor when she turned off that computer.

I like to think that as the parent I have some control. I like to joke that I have no control. The truth (stop me if you've heard this before) is probably somewhere in between. It is easy and funny to say you have no control. I can certainly provide many examples. I can't stop Seren from taking books off of the shelf, throwing her food, or screaming. She does, however, wave her hand to signal that food is too hot. It turns out I do the same thing. Seren does sit ups. Her mom does sit ups every night. Whatever the balance of control and influence, my wife an I have a responsibility. Everything we do might impact who our daughter becomes and what she does with her life. If you believe some of the parenting books, not cutting the umbilical cord in the right way can lead to drug use and abusive behavior towards animals. I think that that is exaggerated, but not so much that it doesn't scare me. My wife and I don't have control over Seren in the strict sense of the word. We do have tremendous influence. That influence, however, can seem terribly indirect and requires a great deal of patience and foresight to wield. It is also a family endeavor. Even now, Seren collaborates in our parenting. She turns off the computer. She mimics the sound of the donkey after hearing it only twice. She stands in the middle of her room and signs "more," when she and I have finished cleaning up her room. She rushes across the room to us and showers us with hugs and kisses.

Seren has never failed to let me cut ahead of her in line at Lowes, and she has never made nasty little comments on my blog. But the people who have are just as much my partners, albeit in a more diffuse collaborative effort. I have even less control over them, regardless of how eloquent or righteous I think myself. This doesn't mean that I don't try to change their minds on particular issues, or challenge them when I think their out of line. It does mean, that I need to learn to recognize when I'm effectively scolding a 17 month old for turning off a computer. It also means that I have to be open to be contradicted, proven wrong, told to %$#@ off, have food thrown at me, and have my belly jumped on after dinner.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Common Courtesy

I have found common courtesy to be none too common, and it pisses me off. Is it so hard to hold open a door? Does English language instruction no longer include please and thank you? Has the Internet caused people to believe they are alone in the world? Today, Seren and I were in Lowes. Most days find Seren and I in Lowes at least once. And most days the people in Lowes know we're there. Seren has taken to spontaneous screaming, usually when she is in a good mood but, a little bored. Seren has not yet been won over by the charms of Lowes, with the exception of the ceiling fan aisle, so unless I am shopping for ceiling fans, we are putting on some variation of our two man (man being used in its broadest incarnations) show. Today was no exception. Instead of shopping for ceiling fans, I bought paint from a trainee (we were rolling around on the paint counter by the time my paint was ready) and wallpaper remover, which was hiding in the wallpaper aisle. I had two or three other items on my list, but I am a realist. Besides, if I bought every item on my list today, what would I look for tomorrow? Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), by the time we made it to the cashier we were acting out a scene from King Kong (I was the skyscraper). We were third in line. Directly in front of me were a rather plump couple with a cart full of stuff, lots of little stuff. It turns out they were in the midst of putting together a bedroom for their daughter. They smiled at Seren, and then proceeded to take their turn at the cashier. Seren smiled back, and then resumed swatting at the planes which apparently were circling rather close to my ears. Apparently they were raised by wolves; wolves with really well stocked hunting grounds. It never occurred to them to let the man being climbed by a toddler and purchasing two items go first. In my charitable moment, which was long after I loudly instructed Seren on the importance of common courtesy, I concluded that they were either deaf or victims of some doctor that was nostalgic for the era of the lobotomy. Maybe people are just so self-centered, that other people and their needs just never occur to them. It just strikes me as so easy to acknowledge that there are people sharing the world with you, and to treat those people with a modicum of respect and generosity. I don't have textual support for this contention. I don't need it. It just seems to be something I can do that makes the world a nicer place for me and my children to inhabit. Really it's selfish. I want to be let into the flow of traffic when I'm merging in from a side street, so I let other people in. I wish there was some way I could make America a more considerate place. I can teach Seren how to behave, but that would seem to have a limited impact. Yelling and cursing at people, while satisfying, is almost always completely ineffective. Maybe there is nothing I can do but be pissed. That I do really well.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Leaving Footprints

I like to sit in the back at Church. I liked to sit in the back at class. Occasionally I even sat in the back of class while I was teaching. I'm not keen on being the first or the last to do something. I don't wear loud colors. I don't listen to the radio in my wife's car, because the antenna is broken and if you have the radio on and turn it off it makes a very loud noise for a very long time. Whenever possible, I like to maintain a low profile.

Seren is 17 months old and doesn't give a shit about low profiles. She points at strangers. She waves at strangers. She throws stuff at strangers. She pulls things off of shelves if you foolishly let her get too close. She screams at the top of her lungs for no particular reason. Strangers walk up to her and touch her, and occasionally me. (This is one of the biggest problems with parenthood. Low profile or not, I hate it when people violate my space. Before Seren, all I had to worry about was the occasional heel stomp or shove from behind. Now people grab my arm, pinch her cheek, and pat me on the back.)

Not only is Seren a full fledged toddler, I'm a man. For whatever reason, stay at home dads are still a novelty. In my experience a stay at home dad is kind of like Siamese Twins or really hairy women. People stare, give judgemental looks, and jump to erroneous conclusions. More than once I've been told how nice it is that I'm taking a day off of work. When I enter the territory of the stay at home mom, it can be even worse. Most of the moms are nice, and many are even comfortable enough to complain about their husbands and their boobs in front of me. But it's still uncomfortable, and I am eager to do everything I can , short of shaving (When this gig starts paying benefits I'll shave), to blend in. I make sure Seren is dressed in clean and matching clothing. I periodically take my voice up an octave. I sing mainly in the alto range. I don't talk any sports. I use my child as a prop and conversational crutch just like everybody else.

Largely this strategy has worked, but Music Together Class might prove to be too big of a challenge. First of all, I have to sing. Second, with only two other parents (both women and neither of them thirty year smokers or butch lesbians), my voice stands out, even if I whisper. Third, the teacher made a point of saying that my participation was of particularly great importance because male voices are so rare in these situations. Fourth, Seren is a complete ham and loves music. Now, for the record (and off the record), I enjoy the class. I have also managed to remain rather anonymous, at least until today. I have sweaty feet. I don't wear socks in the summer. My shoes stink. Shoes have to come off at Music Together. This has worried me from day one. I have pretty ugly feet even when they're not smelly. So, I don't want to subject young children to them. After the first class I cut my nails and pulled away all of the dead skin. During the second class I got a whiff of my feet, and proceeded to keep them as far away from everybody as I could. This week, I got a whiff of my shoes before I left the house, so I sprinkled them with baby powder. OK, to be honest, I don't sprinkle baby powder. I pour it on. When I am first walking around, I kick up white clouds. It's actually a lot of fun, and Seren likes it. I made a mental note to wipe my feet off before I walked in to Music Together, but somewhere between having to wait in a long line for a slow cashier at TJ-Max and realizing I would be late and we'd miss the "Hello everybody" song that Seren loves and I was hoping she would be demonstrative and impressive during I forgot to wipe off my feet. We walked into class in the middle of Sandpiper (another of Seren's faves). When the music ended, the instructor turned to Seren and said, "your daddy has big feet." I knew instantly I was in trouble. Sure enough, a long trail of white footprints connected the scene of my late entry to the powder blot I was sitting in.

As a stay-at-home dad, I'm not very stealthy. I'm actually starting to think I might be OK with that. The view from the back is good, but good views are only fleetingly satisfying. Besides, I'm not going to even pretend that I have any say in the matter. I'm going to be leaving footprints, the bigger set, whether I like it or not.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

J is for Jump

S is for Seren. Lately, S is also for spontaneity. So far, I've concluded that toddlers are a walking set of contradictions and confusions. You can pick up a toddler and carry them wherever you want. A toddler can go limp and scream like a banshee in any of those places. You can make any sartorial statement you want with your toddler, and they can stain any outfit in just about any way one can imagine. And, oh by the way, there comes a time she can take off her clothes much more easily than you can put them on her. You can explain the world to them, but they don't have to listen and for a long time you're not sure they're understanding you.

Without a routine, you and your toddler are up shits creek without a paddle, a motor, any water, any wipes, and any toys or music. And without a routine, she won't be able to moo and baa for the next person who meets her. Routines are mandatory, if any of my goals are to be accomplished and my sanity is to be retained. She actually needs routines. Spontaneity, however, is impossible for even the most anal organizer to stamp out. It's just a part of a toddler's nature. It's actually pretty cool too. A kiss from out of nowhere is a dad melter. A sudden decision to bounce on dad's stomach and laugh hysterically can be a day maker.

Today, Seren and I cleaned up her room in anticipation of her mother's arrival home from work, as we always do. We started with the task that we almost always start with: putting the alphabet blocks back in their bucket. Seren loves cleaning up her room, and particularly loves putting the blocks in the bucket. Today I let her do the task largely on her own, only helping out when she held out a block in my direction. When that happened, I would take it from her, tell her what the letter was, and out it in the bucket. When she handed me a "J," I told her it was "J" as in "Jump." Seren looked at me, smiled, stood up, and commenced jumping. She jumped for maybe ten seconds before she sat back down, replaced the smile with her face of intense concentration, and resumed the task of placing the blocks in the bucket. And the day was made. I was so content, that I failed to take the bucket away when the lid went on. Of course the lid came off, and out came the blocks. Oh well, it gave us another chance to perform our little routine, er improv number.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Maybe Myanmar?

In the last week or so, monks have taken to the streets to challenge the government of Burma. The impetus for these protests was economic: the government raised the price of diesel oil by 500%. The underlying cause is an oppressive military government. The monks haven't brought about change in Burma yet, but it is encouraging to see people fighting against corrupt governments and illegitimate elections.

It would be more encouraging to see American people fighting against corrupt governments and illegitimate elections ... namely their own. A revolution is probably out of the question, but I'm not sure that revolutionary change isn't needed. We have an antiquated electoral system that no longer operates to provide accurate or adequate representation for most Americans. Economic and social inequalities are as or more extreme than ever before. The reality is that we have a caste system here in America that is every bit as real as the caste system present in India. In America, we are mired in a unfortunate situations in Iraq and Afghanistan (yes we're still there), caused by inadequate preparation, more than adequate hubris, and startling ignorance of the political dynamics of the part of the world in question, and soon to be exacerbated by a lack of imagination, sense of responsibility, and ability to address war weariness on the part of the American people with anything other than talk of immediate withdrawal. Oh, we also have a mortgage mess. And don't forget environmental irresponsibility, a frighteningly powerful and connected Christian Evangelical movement, a woefully inadequate public school system, medicine dictated by insurance companies, and more than enough hopelessness to fuel a revolution. America is sick. It is as far from the ideal set forward at independence as it has ever been. Unfortunately, it is a durable system. Americans often continue to insist that our country is the greatest, and as evidence they inevitable invoke the f-word: freedom. We are free here in the USA. We can do whatever we want. We can become whatever we want. We are free to believe whatever we want, even if it has absolutely no basis in fact. We are even free to believe that American prosperity will include us. For most, however, the truth is that prosperity will never be a part of their American experience. They will always, however, be aware of the possibility for wild success. How could any of us not be aware of it. We are informed of the American dream at every turn. And most of us buy in. I had pictures of Lamborghinis on my walls. This dream, and the riches and recognition it promises, has proven enough to justify many many 'temporary' injustices. All it is now is sacrosanct enough to avoid real scrutiny. The United States is a super power, but it is an old and sick one that exaggerates its successes, tries to forget it's defeats, and is slowly watching its strengths ebb away.

Americans need someone to take to the streets here. Someone who has the standing of the monks in Burma. It will be an unpopular and uphill fight, but we need it. So, good luck to the monks, and to my fellow disenchanted Americans, all I can leave you with is "maybe Myanamar."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Embrace the Chaos

This is one of those mornings that I'll look back on with great fondness ... in twenty years or so. I'm sick. I've been sick since Friday. A sore throat became a cold became a fever became a worse cold became a milder cold with a nasty cough, and that's where I am now. The cough emerged last night at 11:30, after I decided I felt better and stayed up late for the first time in several days so that I could chip away at a few of the many tasks that had accumulated. My daughter is just emerging from a cold, hopefully. She is feeling good enough to wake up at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. My wife may have an ear infection. The cats were fighting sometime in the early a.m., and left fur and a few drops of urine on the kitchen floor. And I almost forgot, last night was pay the bills night, or pay as many of the bills as possible night. Right now it is all just a little overwhelming, but in thirty or forty years, this is the kind of morning I will look back on with fondness. We're right in the middle of it now. As I write this, my daughter is in my lap playing with my cell phone and trying to help me type. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it won't take me twenty years to appreciate this. I'll have to ponder all of this another time, though. I think one of us needs a new diaper. Thankfully I'm still at that stage where it's not likely to be me.

Monday, October 01, 2007


There is no me without her. And I don't mean just in the strict biological sense, or even in the subtle or not so subtle influence of parenting way. I mean on a day to day basis way. I don't call every day and run all the little day to day decisions by her. I don't even run all the big ones by her, that's what dad is for. Unfortunately, I can't even say that I call her every day, or sometimes even every other. I have been on the more than once a week plan for a while though. Even so, once a week or even once a month phone conversations wouldn't need to take place for my original statement to be true. I could say that she was my strength, but that's not quite right. I think if I would describe anyone that way, it would be my wife. My mother is more like one of those organs whose functioning is automatic. She's just there. Likely a day will come when she's not, but I can't even imagine it. When I try, it's just as if I was trying to carve a hole out of my center. I don't know how it came to be that way. It just is. It's always been that way. I think the same is true of my dad, but I haven't always felt that way. I really hope that my daughter can say the same someday about my wife and I. Of course I want her to be her own person, in the same way that I am my own person. I just want her to be a part of something bigger than herself from beginning to end, regardless of where her life goes. I want her to feel how I have felt. If she does, one of her thank you cards should go to her Grandma. Maybe I'll mail it for her now, along with mine.

I'm hoping we did her a favor giving her that name. Her mother wanted her to have a more 'normal' name. I was hoping for Rhianwen, Caltha, or Seasaidh (Shay-see). Seren was our compromise. It is a beautiful name, with a great meaning (star) that is easily pronounced (think serendipity). And now it is so her. She is Seren. The question is, what will that mean for her? She will definitely be called Sarah a few times in her life. Sharon and Karen may also make appearances. Surely someone will at least mention that Sarin, of poisonous gas fame, is pronounced the same way. It will, however, give her a better chance of leaving an impression. Unless she moves to Wales (where it has been among the top ten baby names), she won't run into a lot of Serens. Every advantage helps. Combined with my intelligence, good looks, modesty, and rapier sharp wit, she's a cinch to be a great success. Maybe she'll break free of the reserved/shy/stoic/tendency to miss out on stuff thing that I inherited. The name, plus a dose of muppetesque friendliness handed down from her mother, may be enough to free her. I came close to being Luke Dylan (rather than Samuel David), but my Grandmother famously (at least in familial circles) declared that if that was the name on the birth certificate she'd call me baby. And so I was yanked back into the safety of innocuousness. As many have done before me, I wanted better for my offspring. I held out, and I got it. Seren. If it was a mistake, it hasn't been the last one of those. If I receive blame for it from her, it won't be the first time that happens. If later I apologize, well that will have happened before, and after, too. But, she'll still be Seren. Or Seren will still be her. Maybe it's Seren the name that we have really done the favor for. If you see it around, give it the address for my blog and tell it to drop a line.
"Built for Boyhood"

Tonka Trucks are "Built for Boyhood." It makes sense, after all "Boys, dirt, and trucks" are a natural combination. "From the word go, [boys] are all about loading, dumping, and zooming around with the mightiest trucks they can get their hands on." "Boys are built different," and luckily for us "Tonka's got the blueprint." "Give a boy a Tonka brand truck and a big pile of dirt to drive it over, and he's good to go for hours." What a blueprint! I wonder what that says for us boys. "When it comes to trucks, boys want real action and real performance! And for generations of boys, that's just what the Tonka brand has provided." I wonder what that says for boys? "Real action and performance?" That may be apropos beyond boyhood.

Some of us may look at the above and wonder how we've slipped back into the 1950s. Tonka was prescient enough to know that women and wussy men like me who stay at home with their children rather than working at a real manly job would be coming to their website for answers, so they provided a guide for us.

"Just For Moms: Being a mom to a boy can sometimes be quite a challenge. [being a mom to a girl, however, is a piece of cake ... maybe even literally] Although many experiences growing up are universal, regardless of whether you're a girl or a boy, let's face it - boys are way more into dirt! [The brilliant advertising gurus who thought this up haven't met my daughter. Last month she offended an older boy by covering herself and him with dirt. She must be a lesbian. That boy must be gay. I'll have to tell his parents] And that can be a good thing, really! One way you can help your son do what he loves most [should you really help with that?] - like covering himself in sand, soil and mud - is to give him a special place of his own in the backyard. [What will the neighbors say? Where do I send my daughter for a special place of her own?] Stake out a little plot of land that he can use as his own construction yard where he can keep his Tonka Trucks and build his dream system of roads, bridges and tunnels. Then just sit back and let him enjoy it! For your own peace of mind, you can establish some boundaries yourself - such as setting up a little wash station by the back door or in the mud room where he can wipe his feet, clean his hands and hang up his little hard hat when it's time to come in. [If the house is clean, you'll be happy ... what else would you concern your little head about?] It's also a good idea to have "indoor" and "outdoor" Tonka Trucks - keep a few inside for those rainy days when the drive to play takes over! [You know boys and their drives!"

I also looked at the dad's instructions, even though I probably shouldn't have. I did, however, take off my apron and lace panties. "Just for Dads: Playing with Tonka Trucks is a big part of every boy's childhood. There's nothing like it - they're rugged, realistic & guaranteed for life! It's a great idea to create a special construction yard. [Wait a second, mom's were allowed to do this too!]But half the fun is planning the site and setting it up. Get your kid involved. Let him help with the planning stage and clearing the site. [Oh, we get more details. You were just keeping the little woman informed. It's still dangerous, but it's not as bad as I suspected] Set up boundaries with beach stones, rocks, pavers, railroad ties and whatever materials you have on hand to create a vegetable or flower garden. That’s sure to make mom happy! [That could be dangerous too. Watch it with the flower talk.] Get real! Dirt's great, but it's not the only thing you need - you need sand, gravel, and all kinds of materials to really make the coolest, most realistic construction yard in the neighborhood. Take your son with you to a landscapers supply yard and get a bag or two of different materials [clearly a job that mom couldn't handle]. And while you're there, you might want to pick up some flowers for your son to plant outside the yard - for even more bonus points with Mom. [OK. Mom will need to be involved with this. The whole flower things is really freaking me out. I wouldn't want any son of mine to be involved with flowers. The next things you know, he'll be a florist. Besides, what's left for the girl to do if the boy is doing flowers?]"

So what do I do with my daughter? What is built for girlhood? Easy bake ovens? What happens if I give my daughter a Tonka truck, or (gasp) a tool set. What kind of %&$# is this? Who thought of this? Who approved this? Who is OK with this? Can we ship them all a copy or two of Free To Be ... You and Me. If William can have a doll, my Seren can have a Tonka Truck. If you think trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls, then ... well you're wrong and I don't have energy to waste on you, even though I am only raising a girl.

I have included William's Doll, from Free To Be ... You and Me. Obviously it was much further ahead of its time than I'd ever imagined.

Aland Alda: When my friend William was five years old He wanted a doll to hug and hold
Marlo Thomas: "A doll ..."
Alan Alda: ... said William
Marlo Thomas: "... is what I need To wash and clean and dress and feed A doll to give a bottle to And put to bed when day is through And any time my doll gets ill I'll take good care of it"
Alan Alda: ... said my friend Bill
Both: "A doll! A doll! William wants a doll! Don't be a sissy!" Said his best friend Ed "Why should a boy want to play with a doll? Dolls are for girls!" Said his cousin Fred "Don't be a jerk!" Said his older brother
Alan Alda: "I know what to do," said his father to his mother. So his father bought him a basketball A badminton set, and that's not all A bag of marbles, a baseball glove And all the things a boy would love And Bill was good at every game Enjoyed them all but, all the same When Billy's father praised his skill
Marlo Thomas: "Can I please have a doll now?"
Alan Alda: ... said my friend Bill
Both: "A doll! A doll! William wants a doll! A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!"
Alan Alda: Then William's grandma arrived one day And wanted to know what he liked to play And Bill said:
Marlo Thomas: "Baseball's my favorite game I like to play but, all the same I'd give my bat and ball and glove To have a doll that I could love."
Alan Alda: "How very wise," his grandma said. Said Bill:
Marlo Thomas: "But everyone says this instead"
Both: "'A doll! A doll! William wants a doll! A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!'"
Alan Alda: So William's grandma, as I've been told Bought William a doll to hug and hold And William's father began to frown But Grandma smiled and calmed him down Explaining:
Both: "William wants a doll So, when he has a baby someday He'll know how to dress it Put diapers on double And gently caress it To bring up a bubble And care for his baby As every good father should learn to do William has a doll, William has a doll 'Cause someday he is gonna be a father, too!"