Tuesday, March 29, 2011


There was nothing to do while Number Two dawdled over his dinner plate but look at him. I studied a face that had thinned out in the pattern following babies to boyhood. He ate sweetly. He's the only one who makes chewing sounds I don't mind listening to.

He watched me watching him. "I love your eyes," he said, his mouth a green gape of broccoli.

The unexpected compliment drew a smile from my lips. I laughed a little, my grin growing.

"And your big teeth," he added.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Second Child

The morning was cold and quiet. The Boss busied herself getting dressed. The Partner set out cereal. I took a shower. In the midst of the footsteps, the clank of the bowl, and the running water, there was silence.

Number Two was away at the paternal grandparents'. I imagined he had no idea what to do with all the attention. Here, at home, he is swept up in the day-to-day of our four person household. He is carried in The Boss's wake. At least that's what I thought until his absence indicated otherwise.

On that silent Sunday I realized Number Two has his own drive. His feet pound the floor with distinct energy. He labels everything loudly. He's no bystander. He's on the cusp of three and I never knew this about him.

It's not that I don't see my two children apart. The Boss goes to school every day. From 8:30 to 3, it's me and Number Two. But it's so fast. There are errands to run and playgroups to attend and toddler "'nastics" classes to get to. Somehow he always seems to be in the shadow of activity. At the school parking lot, The Boss's huge aura swallows him up again. The fact that he's large and lively inside of it is not as apparent as it otherwise could be.

At home, at night, Number Two was still away. The Boss was perplexed. "It's so weird," she said. "This morning I wished he was in my room waking me up like always. But I don't like it when he does that! I want to sleep and he says 'wake up!' I don't like it, but I miss it. That's so weird." She shook her head at the opposition of these emotions. It was new to her.

The evening routine went smoothly. It was mostly self-directed by The Boss. There were no diapers to change, no extra stories to read, no peripheral obligations. There was no din.

I shook my head. This was new to me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


First there was The Boss. She sucked up undiluted attention for almost three years. The arrival of Number Two did little to alter our firstborn's theatrical bid for the eye of everyone around her. I could almost see the thought bubble swirling around her blond, straight-haired head: "If I ignore him, it's like he doesn't even exist!"

It's been three more years. The Boss has been a sibling for half her life but she won't admit it. She is only now beginning to accept her brother's existence as a little playmate, a little laugher, a little stealer and pooper and parrot.

There was a form to fill out yesterday that asked for my children's ages. "3 and 5," I wrote. 3 and 5? I thought. Is that all there is between them? Well, not really. There's only a two month span during which their ages will indicate such closeness. Come July, and The Boss's 6th birthday, they will spread out again. 3 and 6. Two years and nine months simplified. Distance.

Last night The Partner and I huddled at the bottom of the stairs, trying to go unnoticed, as The Boss told a story to Number Two up on the second floor. Using the illustrations from a Clifford's Puppy Days book as her guide, she wove a personalized tale for her brother. Number Two chortled in all the right places. I heard him flop around. This one-on-one time with his sister-hero was a shock to each extremity. He listened with spastic glee.

Soon enough three years won't mean much. It will be like there's no distance at all; like there never was. But right now three years divides The Boss's life in two. Three years is Number Two's entire existence. Right here, right now--this is where they meet in the middle.

Number Two sneaks up behind The Boss and throws his tiny arms around her waist. He laughs maniacally. The Boss tries to shake him off. Then she begins to run, dragging his red-Kedded feet behind her.

"Mo-om! Da-ad! Get him off me!" It's a half-laugh, half-scream. "I can't get him to let go!"

I cross my arms and lean back against the kitchen counter. The Partner settles in beside me. We're both smiling.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pole Dancing for Jesus

From the "Only in Texas" files comes Pole Dancing for Jesus.

It seems to me that some things should remain sacred. And some things that aren't, shouldn't. Regardless of your views on Jesus--mortal or immortal--he just doesn't seem like the type of guy that anyone should be polishing chrome for. Isn't it the life-long goal of most fathers to keep their daughter's off the pole?

Don't get me wrong. I think pole dancing can be fun, sexy and great for a wide range of muscle groups. But it's a sad state of affairs if the only way you can rationalize studio time is by declaring Jesus your sanctioning body.

As Americans, we need to do a lot more work toward embracing sexuality. What I'm questioning is the productivity of wrapping the pole in the shroud of Jesus.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Some Songs for Your Sunday

In an unexpected turn of events, I have become quite enamored of Simon & Garfunkel. I mean, I've always liked them well enough, but I tuned in to Sirius Satellite Radio's "all Simon & Garfunkel, all the time" special station not thinking I would get as caught up as I did in the lyrics and harmonies of old favorites as well as songs I'd never heard before.

It's been two weeks of immersion in S&G studies. I now consider myself qualified to release a Top Ten* list of my favorite songs performed by Paul and Art. Without further a-duo...

12. El Condor Pasa

11. Feuilles-O

10. A Hazy Shade Of Winter

9. The Boxer

8. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

7. Keep the Customer Satisfied

6. Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard

5. Mrs. Robinson

4. Slip Slidin' Away

3. He Was My Brother

2. Cecilia

1. Bridge Over Troubled Waters

*Upon deeper reflection, I was unable to narrow down the list to only ten favorites.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Mommy No Cry

Today fists were raised through wide open car windows in solidarity with spring. The blue above was brighter in the warmth. On a tree across the street from Number Two's pre-pre-school building, three shirts--one each in red, blue and green--waved with the current and proclaimed "No nuclear nothing! Never! Ban it from the planet!"

Number Two and I exited the school close to noon. He ran ahead, enjoying the feel of his feet on the non-icy surface. "Hold my hand, please?" I asked.

"I run!" he shouted, blazing ahead.

I put on a melodramatic pout which was probably more enjoyable than it should have been. I threw in a gratuitous shoulder heave as if sobbing. "But I want to you hold your hand!"

He slowed.

"I know! I'll hold your hand and we can run together!" I grabbed his tiny fingers and we padded off toward sun that layered itself hotly over the salt-film of my car. We dislodged at a bumper that was worse for the wear after a season of rock-hard snow banks. I threw his backpack into the backseat and stepped back only to find him standing next to me with his hand held out for the taking. I clasped it in mine.

"Hold hands," he said. "Mommy no cry."

The Faux Fevered Fives

The Boss has taken to exploiting our sick leave policy. At first I didn't think anything of it; throat cultures at the doctor's office confirmed strep throat in two separate instances earlier this winter, so there was no question about the validity of her claims. Then I began getting phone calls from school with reports that The Boss was not acting like herself and was sporting a 99 degree temperature. I'd pick her up early only to see a radical transformation as soon as we got home.

It took me an entire season of cases, both confirmed and questionable, to start looking a little more deeply at the situation. It was just this week, after the assistant teacher at The Boss's school told me that my daughter had been complaining about an earache and an upset stomach, that I sat down for a talk with The Boss.

"So how exactly do you feel?" I asked.

"My stomach hurts," she said.

"What does it feel like?"

"Like hot, bubbly goo," she said. "Like my insides are burning my bones."

I sighed. Then I launched into the line of questioning that would either confirm or invalidate my hypothesis. "Did anything bad happen at school today?"



"Well, something might have happened."


"J. kept pushing me and he wouldn't stop when I asked him to."

More questioning of the "yes?" and "like?" kind drew out a clearer explanation of the event. After her schoolmate J. had repeatedly ignored The Boss's requests, she went to the teacher for help. In the Montessori manner of conflict resolution, the teacher facilitated another conversation between the two children. The Boss stated her case. Then, she told me, J. gave a perfunctory "sorry." What led to the stomachache, it seems, was J's lack of remorse. The Boss felt sad and maybe a bit afraid because she knew J didn't really care about her feelings.

The Boss is hysterically funny. She's smart. She knows her audience. But underneath it all, the sensitivity she's been hiding so well is beginning to seep out. Tears of a clown, they say. A clown with irritable bowels, anyway.

I'm sure it's all terribly predictable from a developmental standpoint, but watching The Boss--the unflappable Boss--operating from a place of sadness and fear is disconcerting to a parent experiencing this all for the first time.

It's also a reminder that I have to step up my game. As solid and as capable as my daughter is--and despite the fact that she sometimes seems more 25 than 5--the truth is that The Boss isn't going to raise herself. Left to her own devices, I fear for a future in which she becomes a stand-up comedian climbing the ladder to either SNL cast member status or that of a professional Friars' Club roaster. And we all know what happens after that.

At least now I have an inkling about what's going on. I don't claim any more insight than that, but it's something to work with. I can start trying to make sure that the Boss doesn't feel the need to waste sick days on growing pains.

Monday, March 14, 2011

24/7 News

The Partner feels about cable news the same way he feels about reality television and speed limits. They exist because people are not willing--or in some cases, able--to think for themselves. Also, they have bad taste.

I used to have a compulsive cable news habit. At work, I could be found at any given time on either the CNN.com, Foxnews.com or MSNBC.com exit of the Information Superhighway. At home, the themed breaking-news beat of the second Iraq war was a soundtrack to life in the small beige and white apartment (with pink bathroom) where I resided as a recent college graduate.

The Partner married me despite this character flaw and was heartened to see that the birth of our first child brought to an abrupt end my interest in the world around me. I could no longer endure stories about death, terror and/or global warming. I retreated under the rock of new parenthood to the place where many others in similar circumstances navigated dark, labyrinthine passages that reverberated with infant cries and reeked of shit.

This weekend, the coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan brought me out from under the rock. My two children--not babies anymore--crawled with me, their eyes unaccustomed to the glare. The Boss's ears perked up and her eyebrows raised at radio reports. Number Two ran in circles around the coffee table as he screamed about trucks and trains.

I went down to the garage at one point to update The Partner on the apparent meltdown occurring in one (or two, or three, or four) of the reactors at the Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan.

"I know," he said. "I got that from reading one article. I didn't need to sit in front of the TV all night listening to the same facts over and over. Not to mention a bunch of talking heads who have no idea what's going on."

I look at it differently. In this day and age, I acknowledge the need to search through a lot of bullshit--on television, Web sites, social networking venues an even local telephone trees--to unshelf a nugget of truth. Diverse perspectives can enhance a story as much as they can muddle it. You have to be a media savvy consumer; you can't just buy everything. The difference between me and The Partner is that I enjoy a shopping spree while he'd rather grab the staples and exit through the self checkout.

I've been without news, relatively speaking, for almost six years now. Maybe this zeal I'm exhibiting comes from repression. Maybe in a few months I'll start to agree with The Partner that it's just too much--the expert commentary, the videos, the Tweeting, and the Facebook updates. Or maybe I'll start to tune out his declarations about right and wrong in favor of coming to my own conclusions.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Give Him a Break

Number Two, like the rest of childkind, is on his own schedule. Like many parents, however, The Partner and I decided we wanted him on our timeline. We brought in professionals of the state-sanctioned child-development kind to assess his progress when he was 18 months old. They found him significantly delayed in several areas including those of expressive and receptive speech. Fast-forward one year (because that's how time travels): our formerly delayed son has been diagnosed "normal."

Sometimes the words come so fast they are barely intelligible. Some of them seem disconnected both to each other and to a overriding thought process. Other times a few key phrases hint at the fact that he knows much more than he's saying.

Yesterday Number Two was in his car seat on our way to a friend's house when he reacted to something I told him with obvious displeasure.

"That's stupid," he said.

"What did you say?" I demanded. I wasn't sure, or didn't want to believe, that the garbled words I heard were actually what I thought they might be. We don't allow talk like that in our house. On the other hand, he had to learn it somewhere--and it was probably here.

"Kiss!" he said, puckering up in deflection of the matter as he always does when a conversation is heading somewhere he doesn't want it to.

"What did you say?" I repeated.

He sighed. "I just talkin'. Give break."

I had to smile. He offered a valid point. Isn't that what we wanted? After all the effort we put into getting him to a place that I now think he would've arrived at without our intercession, maybe it's time to give the kid a break.

Sometimes it's just talk.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Appropriate Behavior

The Boss is now 5 1/2 years old. I'm sorry if I've blogged in such a woefully inconsistent manner that this is a surprise to you. I find it pretty shocking myself.

Yesterday there was ROFLing in the aisles of TJ Maxx as my daughter regaled everyone in the store with her perspective on life, liberty and the pursuit of the clearance rack. Her voice was clear and confident beyond her years; her observations carried. Whether she was talking to me or to strangers, everyone within five racks got the gist. And appreciated it. I think most people left that store in better spirits than they arrived.

In the fitting room, where we both tried on an array of clothes that--based on previous experience--was bound to disappoint, a voice carried over the veneered partition from another stall: "Your daughter is very entertaining!" Every so often, a chortle from the attendant reinforced that fact as The Boss was holding sway over the entire fitting room from behind her red curtain.

The last dress in my pile was made of silvery lace. Thick straps secured it over my shoulders, at which point the dress just hung there. "It looks so...straight," I complained as I pivoted on socked feet to better view the different angles.

"That dress has no boobs," The Boss said.

"Yeah," I sighed. "That would be the problem."

The Boss, however, did not see this as an obstacle to overcome. Her eyes and cheeks were vivid. "You should wear that to my birthday party!" she declared. "It's very appropriate."

I raised my eyebrows--not at my 5 year old's use of the word "appropriate," since I'd long become accustomed to her vocabulary--but at the very idea. "Why is it 'appropriate' not to have boobs at your birthday party?"

"I don't have boobs." Her look was like, duh. "Nobody else will either. Well, except daddy. He has big boobs. Big, hairy ones." She drew out each word into an expansive descriptor and added hand gestures for my benefit.

Suddenly laughter was a chorus in the fitting room of TJ Maxx. In our mirrored microcosm, I could see fluorescent lighting intensify the flush of my cheeks; I saw the reflection of my budding comedian watching me for a reaction. Big, hairy ones. I was practically crying. The Boss nodded, satisfied.

For now she is still 5 1/2 years old, and I am the only audience she needs.