Dad Love 8 – I’m on drugs

June 30, 2016

This whole child havin’ thing is crazy making. You can bounce from bliss to panic in the blink of an eye. It’s not uncommon for me to have already diagnosed myself as bi-polar while most folks are still taking advantage of Happy Hour. I saw a guy at the grocery store today with a tiny baby strapped to his chest and I could tell he hadn’t had more than an hour of sleep in the last month. I laughed out loud. I was there, dude. Now I’ve got a 22-month-old who thinks she’s too big to ride in the baby seat of the grocery cart and attempts to eat all the strawberries before I’ve paid for them (saving me a few pennies over the months, I’m sure). And there’s not a single second that I’m not glad I’ve had every single second.

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People (meaning other parents) told me to hold on for the bridge between 18 months and 2 years. That’s the bridge between a toddling toddler and college prep student. There is a cognitive explosion as words develop meanings and meanings expand. A ball can be both a ball and red. “Out” can mean get me out of the high chair but also let’s outside and start a riot. You can see her brain developing behind her eyes as she starts to make connections. She knows I’m going to laugh when I put her in the carseat and she says, “Hot,” like she’s Eartha Kitt. (We’re in Portland, so 80 degrees is hot for us.) Some words she knows in English, Spanish, and sign language (and possibly robot). I can hardly keep up.

She’s already got a whole parlor act up her sleeve. Just ask her to do her animal sounds. Her elephant is a spot on imitation of a female Sumatran elephant in the mating season. And her pig will just have you rolling on the floor. She’s mastering the fist-bump and trying out word combinations. “All done,” means she equally divided her meal between her tummy and the floor. “Up down,” means she wants me to throw her in the air until I fall down and have a heart attack. And “How about,” means how about you pick out a different book to read, Dad. I’m tired of you massacring the poetic Spanish language of Buenas Noches, Luna.

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Through all this I just mostly stare at her and wonder where she came from. It’s like I’m in some strange dream state. And that’s dangerous because you can let your guard down. The other day we were at the playground and she was spinning around on the merry-go-round. I thought I’d take a Snapchat to send to Andrea at work.  I finished as Cozy was sliding off onto the ground. She seemed okay so I mailed the video away and when I looked up she was gone. As in gone girl gone. I quickly looked under the merry-go-round and she wasn’t there. For a split second I thought maybe she never existed in the first place and this whole “Cozy thing” was just a dream. Then I saw her climbing up the steps of the big slide. A great relief but suddenly I felt like the dad of the 2-year-old who got eaten by that alligator at Disney World. Lesson learned. No Snapchat is worth that terror.

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Our Cozy is already a scholar. She’s fasciated with all manner of flora and fauna. She is obsessed with bees and their love of flowers (which she shares). She will study the plants on our block and in our backyard like she is Meriwether Lewis chronicling each species in the Northwest for President Jefferson. And I just watch. Was I like that before I was 2? I’d like to think I was. I know by 5, I was alone in the woods looking for dinosaur fossils and tadpoles. I only know this kid is going places. How soon does Berkeley start doling out scholarships?

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I stare like I’m a NASA scientist discovering a new life form on Europa. I stare at new expressions on her face while she finds new ways to put her building blocks together. I stare at her smile when she wakes up ready for a new day. “Hi!” she says. I stare at her while she helps her mama with a new painting. I stare at her in the rearview mirror as she sings a little song that I know I’ve never played before. And I still stare at her while she sleeps to make sure she’s still breathing.

I’ve said several times that I didn’t expect to be home this long and the return to work is on the horizon. But this period, the second year, the great leap forward into personhood, is so filled with daily miracles that I’m glad I am here for it. I’m trying to chronicle the fears and joys as best as I can while not taking my eyes off her. Now if I could get her to not throw her lunch on the floor.

There are two points to this blogpost. First is to chart Cozy’s (and my) evolution and the second is just to post a lot of cute pictures of the kid.

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Gender – Nature vs. Nurture 6: Fierce fashionista for a fiercer world

June 22, 2016

Having a terrible two year-old is now less than two months away. Cozy has gone from a baby blob to a Munchkin who is off to join the Lollipop Gang. We finally got her birth video this week and it seems like another lifetime ago that she came flying out of mom’s hoo-haw with a look on her face that said, “What the hell is this reality you’ve pulled me into?” Now it seems like this character we lovingly call Bug has always been here.

Part of the idea of this blog was to have a place to chart the evolution of my daughter in a patriarchal world that has a very clear place for “sugar and spice” girls. As someone who used to assign Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, I know that gender is a performance that we learn to perform it differently at different times and in different places. If Cozy had been born in Chad, Africa or in Portland, Oregon in 1914, her idea of how girls act (act being the key word) would be very different. People can say, “girls are just different,” but they are different because they are taught to be different from day one. That’s the sociological party-line and I’m sticking to it.

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So, here we are at 22 months and this girl, with her working mom and stay-at-home dad, is still, to me, is without gender. But it’s funny how much of her behavior could be assigned gender. For example, she loves to play with blocks, scream, knock things down, build forts in her crib, and chase the cat. If she had a penis, we’d be told, “Well Cozy is just being a boy. Boys are different.” But she’s just being Cozy. She likes to shop but goes for gender-neutral belts and hats. She hasn’t learned that “her” clothes are in a different section of the store.

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Similarly, on occasion she gets into Mom’s make up and clothes and has a mean obsession with shoes that could be written as “feminine” if there weren’t endless stories of little boys who did the same thing. (I’m sure a toddler Bruno Magli was a shoe hound as well). Cozy is now starting to pick out outfits that tend toward the post-modern clash. The Minnie Mouse dress with the rubber Wellies are go-to daywear. Maybe that’s the influence of her old punk dad. But she’s not leaving her room unless she’s got her fake pearls on. That might be a bit of the Old South creeping in.

She has a baby doll that came from somewhere and she never bothers with it. Elmo, Baby Elmo, and Bunny are her constant companions. The damn baby can raise itself. She parades around the house with her blanket like Linus, looking for her red monster. “The Elmo!” she yells. Then we bounce the soccer ball and dance to Queen Latifah CDs.

So much of early gender socialization is just attribution to the popular gender norms of the time. “Oh, he’s acting like a boy! Good! Do more of that!” The converse is, “Oh, he’s acting like a girl. You better put the breaks on that shit!” Girls get a bit more freedom in the early days until they hit double digits and start to get slammed with the message that their primary objective is supposed to be attracting boys. Everybody sing, “Someday my Prince will come…” But it’s always struck me as funny that we give little girls baby dolls to start the mom training and we don’t think little boys might need one for some dad training. Cozy is more interested in art than babies. (But she will say “hi” to every baby she meets.)

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It’s not hard to raise a child as a child instead of as a “boy” or a “girl.” (Those quotation marks carry a lot of sociological weight.) But at some point the outside world will have a lot more sway than Mom and Dad. She might start wondering where that baby doll is hiding.

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 5: Elmo is queer

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 2: Ain’t I a black girl?

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture: Round 1

Saying “No” to Elmo: The Superego vs. the red monster

May 12, 2016

I regularly ask myself about the motives of whoever created Elmo. The little red monster from Sesame Street may be a friend to every toddler and just wants to be tickled. Or Elmo (he/she/it) might be a plot by pint-sized aliens to undermine the very socialization that makes us a civilized race that cares about important things like what to wear to a job interview and/or Tinder date.

I’ve written plenty about how, according to Dr. Freud, kids get a full two years for being raging little monsters, driven by their impulsive Ids, before the expectations of society kick in in the form of the Superego. This is represented by the shift from the oral phase to the anal phase. What goes in must come out and potty training represents (perhaps too figuratively) the collective restraint on the individual pleasure-seeking principle. Basically, it’s time to stop being a selfish little prick.

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Cozy is turning 21 months-old in a few days and you can really see the superego arriving. The theme song at the moment is the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Cozy is learning that just because you want it, you can’t have ice cream for every meal (or any meal). You can’t always play with crayons (or mom’s make up). You can’t always put your hands on mom’s boobs. (That one is a bitter fucking pill.) And soon she’ll learn that you can’t always crap in your pants (unless you are Ted Nugent trying to get out of serving in the military).

This news has not been welcomed by our precious daughter. The first time I tried to stop her from hitting the cat she looked me like, “What the fuck, Dad? What else is this cat good for?” A valid question, but still. Often her response will be a complete meltdown, banging her head against the wall. Or on her hands and knees, banging her head on the floor, yelling “No! No! No!” I just laugh. Is that wrong?

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Where this really plays out is with her worship of Elmo. Now that she can actually say, “Elmo,” it’s clear how important this muppet is to her. (Why couldn’t it be the ever emo Mr. Snuffleupagus?) When the “Elmo’s World” theme song comes on Sesame Street her absolute joy is contagious. It’s hard to not smile as she dances and claps and shouts hosannahs to her little god. But part of me wonders if Jonestown started this way.

Like Elvis, Elmo is everywhere; on the TV, the laptop, the iPad, the smartphone. There are two Elmos in her room and one on her toothbrush. She knows with a swipe or a voice command, she can call up a YouTube video like a prophet calling upon a burning bush. Actually it’s much easier than being a prophet. If only Abraham had had Siri. You don’t have to patiently wait for your god to return “some day.” It’s instant gratification with Lord Elmo.

That’s why it’s even harder to say no. “Elmo is sleeping, dear.” “Elmo will be back later, honey.” “Elmo is off with The Count, tallying broken dreams, pumpkin.” “Elmo has childhood leukemia and can’t get better until you take a fucking nap, sweet pea.” Oh, the holy hell when Elmo is briefly banished. But Cozy gets it. After the obligatory #toddlerlivesmatter protest, she’s on to something else, like taking the peaches out of the peach yogurt.

Freud urged great caution in this transition. Without enough superego training (the “You can’t do that” admonishment), you end up with a little psychopath who will become a serial killer or a Trump supporter. But too much superego training and you end up with a kid who has a neurotic personality. (I see Woody Allen is back in the news.) Since Cozy’s dad has a touch of this affliction, I hope to spare her the worry.

The other day Cozy spilled something and put her hands on her face and yelled, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!” like she had just accidentally deleted her dissertation. The look of horror on her face. Andrea turned to me and asked, “Gee, where did she learn that from?” Being slightly neurotic, I felt slightly guilty.

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So maybe I should give her a bit more Elmo time for now. We’ve got three months before the anal phase officially starts. That should be a real joy.

Me and My Shadow: More baby brain fun

March 17, 2016

I read in one of my baby books that at around 18 months old, babies go through a cognitive growth spurt as language skills start to come on line. Today is Cozy’s 19-month birthday and the last month has been fascinating. Andrea and I are living with someone who, seemingly a few weeks ago, was just a fetus the size of a kumquat and is now pretty much a fully functioning alien, ready to pick out an outfit or climb the stares to go dive into the beanbag chair.

It’s incredible to watch this little creature learn how to make sense of the world. Our Cozette has a very real personality now, full of humor and bravery. Freud argues that the personality forms when the pleasure-seeking id is balanced by the external demands of society, which he called the superego. It’s the balance of “I” with “they.” “I want an Elmo cookie but they won’t give me one.” I know there’s a lot of this ahead when the potty training becomes more of a focus, but you can see the wheels in Cozy’s head turning. “What can I get away with?”

One of her favorite words of the moment is cracker. Ritz Crackers are her crack. She’ll point to the kitchen (where the goodies are) and say, “Cracker?” And I’ll say no because she’s already eaten half a box. So she’ll cry loudly like she’s on fire and then, with a sly smile and her head cocked to the side, say, “Cracker?” It gets me every time. She already knows how to manipulate her dad.

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The language boom is intense. She’s only got about a dozen words in her vocabulary but, “Uh oh!” has now been joined with, “Oh no!” and she knows when to use each. Cozy understands plenty of words, like “Spit it out” and “That’s mommy’s.” The second one comes in handy on a daily basis because she is a bit obsessed with Andrea’s make up and has already ruined a few Mac lipsticks. I don’t know if that’s gendered behavior or she just wants to run off with the circus, but it’s pretty funny. Until mom finds out, that is.

Being a stay-at-home dad gives me lots-of-time to help her cranium along. She’s still clueless about colors but on body parts she’s a valedictorian. Ask her to show you her ears or her toes and she’ll do it with a smile. If she shows you her bellybutton, there will be an expectation of tickling and a “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?” look if you don’t.

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Today was a rare sunny day in Portland so we took a walk in the neighborhood. (Strollers are for babies.) We met flowers and cats and a guy remolding a hundred-year-old house. She stopped at the first sight of her shadow. Then she raised her hands and realized that this odd phantom was connected to her. Hopping and giggling and dancing, Cozy and her shadow. What must have been going through her mind at that moment. I can’t wait until she has enough words to tell me.

It’s an odd thing how we start out life these completely dependent, relatively inert beings, slightly above sea anemones, and day by day we begin to see ourselves; in a mirror, in a shadow, in our parents eyes, in society’s expectations. I don’t know how any parent can’t be glued to that process. Maybe it’s a “first child” thing. It’s like the first time you have sushi and you wonder why everybody doesn’t know about this amazing thing. All I know is that Cozy’s evolution is the best binge-watching I can imagine.

Baby Brain Wonders 2 – Pickles the Cat

Baby Brain Wonders 1 – My baby is smarter than you (and me)

Twoofus

I’m in charge of your butthole: The intimate world of parenting

January 20, 2016

This is a piece I’ve tried to figure out how to write for a while. It could simply be a meditation on something that every parent has thought about. Or it could be just plain icky. This could go either way. Here is something that every parent of a young child can relate to or here is something that screams for state intervention. Okay, here goes. There is a sensual element to parenting a child.

Before you get on the horn to DHSS, there is a difference between sensual and sexual. If fact, as I’ve written about before, being a parent can really interrupt the sexual. We’ve come to refer to our wonderful daughter as the “great cock blocker,” as we reminisce about the good old days when we were crazed weasels who, well, you can guess. All the time.

There’s still weasel action but there is also this other thing. Someday I will write about the increase in connection with a person you’ve had a child with, but this is the trickier area of the relationship between father and child. I was thinking about what to write about today when Cozy, now 17 months, started stroking my hair. I don’t know if she was doing it to be nice to her stressed-out dad or she was assessing how much conditioner I needed, but it felt nice. And I realized how many moments we have like that. Moments where we just snuggle or give kisses or just look into each other’s eyes and I wonder how bizarre it is that I’ve played a role in the existence of this beautiful creature.

It shouldn’t be creepy to be routinely humbled by how soft baby skin is. It’s like as if there was a freaking baby panda that was actually a cloud. I feel like like a chewed up piece of 80 grit sandpaper compared to even the bottom of her feet. There’s a whole industrial machine that sells “baby soft” products, but they can’t even approach my baby’s bottom. Since much of the time is spent holding or changing my daughter there’s a lot of skin to skin contact. Sometimes that’s depressing (“Honey, your father is not the Crypt Keeper, he just grew up in Georgia.”) but often it’s awe inspiring. Did we all start off so perfect and unblemished?

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My ethnic heritage on my father’s side is Czech. Czechs tend to be moley people. Cozy was born this wonderful Czech-Mex mix. Her blue eyes turned brown after about a week. And a week after that she got a little mole on her butt. It just appeared like a message from my ancestors. Every time I change her, I’m reminded of that genetic line. Also when she runs around the house bottomless. Hey, sometimes you’ve gotta air your business out.

I grew up in a weird time and space, the South in the 1970s. On one hand it was the Bible Belt so there were plenty of people who thought bodies were dirty things to be covered (because of that bitch, Eve). On the other hand, it was the height of sexual liberation and people were walking around their homes naked with copies of Playboy and Our Bodies, Our Selves on the coffee table. (My parents were from Ohio and midwesterners just ignore anything sexual.) I have to think those mixed messages didn’t do the psyche of my generation any good.

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Cozy bathes with her parents fairly regularly. She and I had a shower together this morning. It’s really just a way to be efficient. I can watch her if she’s in the tub with me and we can save water on the probably much-needed booty hose down. It is perfectly innocent but I am aware there are some very uptight people who would see it as inappropriate. I know at some point one of us will grow out it, but it’s a nice thing we share. I’ve got friends that showered with their kids into the double digits (in Georgia!), so maybe I’m too worried about the Bible thumpers and their cousins in ISIS.

It is funny when she waddles into the bathroom when I’m standing there peeing. She has this confused look on her face as she tries to figure out what my penis is. I always feel uncomfortable and sing this little song I made up.

What are you looking at Baby B?

What are you looking at, what do you see?

What are you looking at, you’re looking at me.

You better not be looking at my pee pee.

You can’t not have an intimate relationship with a child after you’ve changed thousands of diapers. I know her vagina better than I know most of my family members. And that thing is as clean as a field hockey coach’s whistle. (Wait, that sounds rather dirty.) As a stay-at-home dad, I am the primary agent of her undercarriage management. I often joke that I am on “Butthole Patrol,” because you don’t want to let a kid sit in a dirty diaper too long or you’re gonna need a power sprayer to do the job. (How I envy the French and their clever bidets.) As much as I want the kiddie potty to take over my job, their is something bonding about the diaper change ritual. Eye contact and mutual trust, and a song from dad. (This week it’s been David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”)

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Freud, Foucault and Judith Butler all have written about the psychic damage done to boys who have to be weened from their mothers and switch their identification to their fathers. In this new age of stay-at-home dads there is the interesting question about daughters who have similar intimate connection to their fathers. How will Cozy’s psycho-sexual identity be affected by all this time we spend together, including the showers and diaper changes? Perhaps not at all, or perhaps she’ll have a solid sense of self that is not defined by one idea of gender or genders.

I do know it has affected me. Besides the protective “papa bear” mandate it fuels, I also feel more like an actual human being. This is a true connection between two people. She might not remember any of it, but I’ll never forget any of it. Before I put her to bed, we have a little dance to some soft music and she puts her head on my shoulder and I make a wish that this dance never ends.

More Baby Brain Wonders – What separates us from the apes? Pickles the Cat.

June 6, 2015

The baby brain freak out continues. When they say, “Every day it’s something new,” get ready, because it’s true. Their brains grow like a California wildfire and eat up data like it’s Cheerios. A baby’s brain doubles in size the first year and the cerebellum, which controls motor functions triples in size. At birth, their brains have all the neurons they will ever have and grow more synapses than they will ever need. This is why the environment the kid grows up in is so important to their brain development. If they had a good pre-natal environment, they are on their way to MIT. But a bad baby environment can sabotage the whole thing.

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Baby’s Brain Begins Now: Conception to Age 3

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Cozy never ceases to amaze me. Last night I was reading The Fire Cat to her. (It’s one of my childhood books that my mom saved.) It’s the story of Pickles, the yellow cat, and each time I turned the page, Cozy would point to Pickles with her tiny index finger without any prompting from me. This may not mean much to you, but for a 9 month-old baby to be able to distinguish the pictures from the words on a page and know which image is Pickles is a BFD. She didn’t point to Mrs. Goodkind, just Pickles. I was blown away.

All this started very early. I noticed it the first time when she was just a few months old. I went to pull her up after changing a diaper. She knew what was going to happen and pushed her head forward to brace her neck. I thought that was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. How did she know to do that? There have been so many moments like that since then. Of course, now she likes to crawl, stand, and make a face that says, “Whatever you’re eating, you better share it.” She loves to point and if you wave at her, she’ll wave back. That was a big one.

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There’s also a lot of pre-talking. I think early on parents learn which cry means I’m hungry and which cry means I would like it it you remove the crapola from my butt. But there are other sounds. The first bit of laughter. The grunt of desire. The sigh of frustration. The morning babble. But my favorite is the singing. Cozy sings little songs to herself. She’s completely in her own zone, looking at her favorite Picasso book, or strumming the guitar strings (Yep) and singing a little melody. La la la la la. She sounds like if Lady Gaga had joined the Teletubbies. I don’t think she’s singing “Bad Romance,” so I really want to know what she IS singing. A little song that means a lot to her.

As a criminologist, I spend a lot of time looking at all the things that can go wrong with a kid’s brain development that can put them on a path towards delinquency. Everything from lead paint chips to Shaken Baby Syndrome can send the baby brain going in the wrong direction. I have a lecture on Minimal Brain Dysfunction, when a blow to the back of the head weakens the connection between the brain and spinal column, making people more impulsive. I have a good friend who is a criminal defense attorney and one of the first questions he asks is if the defendant was hit in the head as a child. Add to that the scary theories about food additives, GMOs and air pollution, and it seems like their a million things that can turn your Baby Einstein into a knuckle dragging Philistine.

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When you look at Cozy, she often seems like she has something deep going on in her head. She’s thinking about the world and her role in it. I’m a bit biased when it comes to my daughter but I’m betting she’ll go to Emory on a full ride. Maybe I’m just thinking of reasons not to start a college fund. Of course, she could develop an addiction to Mountain Dew in middle school or start huffing gas at summer camp or get hit in the head when’s she’s at bat in the 2025 Little League World Series. But the bigger risk is that she likes strumming that guitar too much and decides school is for “sell-outs to the Man.” If I can prevent her from becoming the next Honey Boo Boo, I’ll consider that a win.

Of course, one the major pitfalls ahead is the big 1 3. Carol Gilligan, in her landmark 1982 book, In A Different Voice, found that at around age 13 patriarchy pulls the rug out from under girls by telling them to stop being smart and focus on attracting boys. “Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” But we’ve got some time to prepare her for that wall of bullshit. She doesn’t have to be Doogie Howser. She just needs an environment that keeps that beautiful brain growing. She’ll probably be reading Gillagan herself at 13. But for now, we’ll do The Fire Cat one more time.

Baby Brain Freak Our Part 1

The following books were mentioned in this post and can be bought at Powell’s by clicking the covers below: