My toddler has flown the nest and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Nov. 3, 2016

Today is Cozy’s first day in daycare and I’ve come undone. We’ve been attached at the hip for the last two years, two months, and two weeks. Except for my work-related trips and her time with her family in Mexico and Salem, she’s never been out of my sight; maybe in the next room, fast asleep. Now I have actual child-free time and I’m not quite sure what to do. Write a novel, perhaps.

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My wise wife suggested we put our daughter in daycare a few days a week so I can get things done. I’m always complaining there’s not enough time to get things done. Things like writing, and cleaning, and working on the house, and getting a goddamn job. The day is spent entertaining the kid. Yesterday we spent an hour just in the sandbox at the OMSI “science playground.” Sand is pretty scientific, until you start dumping buckets of it on little boys’ heads. Well, that might be social scientific with a big enough sample.

There’s a great daycare place in our neighborhood that’s in an old church. The woman who runs it told me that the Black Panthers served meals to Portland families there in the 1960s. Pretty cool place for a radical toddler. We signed Cozy up and I began to fantasize about dropping her off when the doors opened and picking her up right before they locked up, and all the things I would do in the hours between. Hours! Get things done hours!

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I bought her new rain boots and a backpack and she was so excited when I told her she was going to “school.” She wouldn’t take her backpack off (or her bike helmet, for some reason). I wrote a little note for he teacher about Cozy. “She’s a little Leo lion who loves all the animals and making animal sounds. Just ask her what an elephant says.” This morning when Andrea and I dropped her off, she was so ready to go, in her pink dress and hat. (I tried to stop the pink thing, I really did.) And with a few besitos, that was it. She was out of the nest.

It’s only been a few hours but I just want to go and check on her. I should’ve asked if this place has streaming nanny-cams. Maybe an app. Did she take a nap, have a snack, pour a box of crayons on a baby? Where is my child???

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It’s been strange that, for the last year, my best friend has been a two-foot tall munchkin that likes to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle.” When she says, “Come, Daddy. Cubbies!” I just don’t really want to be with anyone else. We have a tight connection of the heart, as Bob Dylan once sang. There’s such a bond after two years of stay-at-home parenting. We’re like a synchronized bath tub swim team, in each others’ heads. I don’t know if she cares about the outcome of this election (although I did let her mail my ballot for Hillary Clinton so she could brag about it later). I do know that I care when The Count announces the number of the day on Sesame Street. (“Daddy, come! Count!”)

A friend of mine who left work to take care of her small children told me how it’s both joyous and depressing because you miss your “outside” work life. That’s exactly right. I do miss being a full-time full professor and having deep water-cooler conversations with my peers (often about how corrupt the administration was). I didn’t have to explain to anybody that Milk Duds were not “poop.” It was given that that was understood. Or time just to sit at the bar and shoot the shit with likeminded shit shooters. Andrea and I have amazing conversations, but child-time has seriously diminished my normal adult interaction. I might even drool, occasionally. Pudding!

So for these two days a week I should make a “get done” list. So many things. We’re turning the basement into an apartment and I need to get out an promote my new book and maybe fill out a few applications and… but if you see me in the coffee shop or/and the bar, please come talk to me.

Note: Okay, I just drove by the daycare facility and saw Cozy on the playground, with a teacher, pointing at a bird. She was probably translating.

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What drugs go well with a toddler?

October 26, 2016

I’ve learned that you need three things if you have a two-year-old. You need plenty of rags, a subscription to Netflix (for Beat Bugs), and lots of drugs. Lots of drugs if you want to survive even a day. My drug of choice is caffeine, but I’m in the market for something more appropriate for my needs as a stay-at-home dad.

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The first order of business in the morning, before I can even look my daughter in the face, is to get the pot dripping the black gold. Lately, my dealer has been a Portland roaster called Kobos. Their Ethiopia Yirgacheffe blend is like a spike in to my vein.I pour that first cup, half of it spills on the kitchen floor and I don’t even care. I’ll keep the java flowing through her breakfast in a high chair (with Cheerios hitting the kitchen floor in a Portland version of the fountain show at Bellagio), and the trip to take Mom into work. On good days, we’ll drive-through Starbucks on the way, where I’ll beg them not to put a plastic stopper in my latte and pray that no Stumptown Coffee loyalists spot me crouched behind the steering wheel like a junkie cheating on his supplier.

When the coffee pot is empty there’s always another on deck. And it tends to go quick. I think Cozy is stealing slurps from my Star Trek Enterprise mug when I’m not looking. It’s my fault. When she was a baby, I’d let her smell everything at the grocery store as we shopped, including the dark roast beans. Now, instead of screaming, “Cilantro!” she yells. “Coffee!” It’s really quite cute/embarrassing.

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In the beginning, it was out of necessity. Everyone knows new parents don’t get much sleep. When I was a punk rock teenager, we used to get coffee at an all-night diner in Atlanta called The Majestic, just to come down from a night of terrorizing the city. Same thing with a newborn. But it changed when Cozy turned two. Last August, about a week after her birthday she had a meltdown in the Mexico City airport. She wasn’t going anywhere. I remember thinking, “I need something stronger.” As Huey Lewis once horribly sang, “I want a new drug.

Just the “Do you need to poop or not?” question is enough to put me on prescription pain meds.

So I’m open to suggestions.

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I know five states are voting on recreational marijuana on Election Day. We’ve had that here in Oregon since last year and it’s been a huge success. I’m not much of a pot smoker but I went to my neighborhood weed shop and bought a bag just because I could. On the way home, I waved it at a cop and he just smiled. Edibles are more fun, but pot generally makes me sleepy and I wanna be ready if I have to do some kiddie CPR or find her always lost copy of The Cat in the Hat. Plus, I’m working off the baby weight and don’t need to be spending my days with the munchies, eating blocks of cheese or the corners off of The Cat in the Hat (Cozy’s already done that).

Methamphetamine seems more practical than heroin or LSD. There’s never enough time in the day to get the chores done and I’ve heard speed freaks have super clean houses. That might be because they’ve sold everything off. (Has anybody told people on that show Hoarders about this?) But I’m kinda vain and would like to keep as much hair on my head and as many teeth in my mouth as possible. On the plus side, we could probably cancel the diaper service because I would be washing them out myself, probably on our front porch in my underwear.

It seems like ecstasy makes the most sense. The Love Drug. You just want to give free hugs when you’re on X. But then I think I’m already on it. There is some endorphin wave that seeps out my brainstem into my entire body whenever I look at my daughter. Yesterday a worker at the gym asked her, “So what’s your name?” And she answered, “Cozy!” It was the first time she ever said she was her name. I melted in a puddle and could barely climb on the elliptical machine afterwards. When I put her to sleep we just lay on the floor, face to face, staring at each other. She smiles and I feel like I’m living in a psychedelic cartoon; the end of Yellow Submarine when the Blue Meanies have been defeated. “Beatles?” she’ll quietly ask. I exist on a plane of perfection.

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Maybe my daughter is the only drug I need. I know if either of us are down, there’s one word that brings things up. “Bubbles?” And if either of us are stressed out, we have total permission to shout, “ice cream!” and walk up to Salt & Straw for a cup of Chocolate Gooey Brownie. When it’s time to chill, “Hey Jude” always does the trick. She whispers the na-na-na-na-na-na-na part. And I’m high as a kite.

I hope you don’t mind if I bogart this kid.

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The Princess Problem

Sept. 15, 2016

As a dad and a feminist, I don’t really know what to make of this princess thing. It’s a huge industry. (It would be ironic if it was just a “cottage” industry.) I didn’t notice it until I became a parent, but there a princesses freaking everywhere!  Want to take you daughter on a “Disney Princess Cruise?” Your son probably will skip that one for a roll in the mud. But there is a pushback against the “princess narrative,” so I’m trying to figure out how to fit my daughter into it and still keep a smile on her face.

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I know that I never played “prince” as a little boy and all the storybook princesses I knew just waited around to be rescued by Prince Charming. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your damn hair!” One might guess the Brothers Grimm didn’t know many bad-ass chicas who could escape the castle on their own. Or maybe stories of heroines just didn’t sell in the early 1800s. The Nazis really loved those Grimm fairy tales, so that should tell you something.

The Brothers Grimm published Cinderella in 1812 so you’d think 204 years later this princess thing would be played out, right? Au contraire mon frère, it’s bigger than ever. Just take a trip to the “pink” isle at any toy store or the Help Wanted ads at Disneyland. “Help wanted: An anorexic girl to dress as Sleeping Beauty and smile for 8 hours a day in the Anaheim sun. Previous princess threw herself under a pumpkin.”

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This gets a mention because suddenly one of my daughter’s precious vocabulary words is “princess.” I was hoping “theoretician” would come first, or even “OBG/GYN.” But there it is. “Princess!” with a squeal of delight. She has a CD from the Disney TV show Sofia the First and the good thing is that she learned how to work the CD player in her room so she could play it. (It’s playing as I write this and Cozy is dancing in her Minnie Mouse dress.) The bad news is these are the lyrics:

There are many things princesses do

Like hosting balls and dancing too

Or Wearing gowns of pink and blue

That’s what we like to do

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There are many things that princes like

Jousting polo and taking hikes

Suits of armour with lots of spikes

That’s what we really like

We do princess things

And we do princely things

And no-one crosses in between

We stick with our routine

Not very gender queer. To be fair, Sofia believes that anything can be a “princess thing,” but it’s an uphill battle, not a given that she’s already liberated from her princess routine.

The princess tales seem to fall into two categories, one is the girl born into royalty but the more common version is the peasant girl who is “lucky” enough to be launched into royalty. What’s better than being rich? And they are all hyper-heteronormative. How many little girls grew up singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” from Snow White, thinking the story ends when he (or a reasonable facsimile of Prince Charming) shows up. The fairy tale leaves out the part that after the “happily ever after” part when he’s banging the milkmaid and won’t even think about letting his “queen” take night classes at the kingdom’s community college.

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Little girls seem to think the life of a princess is all peach pudding and party dresses. Bud Light pitch girl Amy Schumer has a brilliant skit about the reality of the medieval princess forced into arranged marriages with cousins so she can get busy birthing male heirs to the throne. Every girl should see it before asking for a princess party for her next birthday.

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Earlier this week, Andrea and I were at the Disney Studios in Burbank visiting a good friend and pretending that Hollywood was ready for us. We stopped by the employee store to pick up some Minnie Mouse swag for Cozy. (It’s just too cute when she says, “Minnie Moush.”) When I saw all the princess dresses from all the Disney films I could just imagine our daughter exploding in screams. I resisted the urge to buy her a Belle dress and bought her an Incredible Hulk t-shirt instead. (Disney owns Marvel now.) But I know what she would really want.

Let me say Disney princesses have come a long way since Snow White. There are princesses of every shade these days, including Elena, the Latina princess. And Merida, from Brave, isn’t exactly a damsel in distress and didn’t even have a romance with a brutish boy. But if you survey the list of Disney princesses, they pretty much are all teenage girls who are awarded with a dominant male at the end of the tale. They are less passive than Sleeping Beauty but their goal is still to end up like a Mrs. Trump.  I’m going to encourage Cozy to avoid all that. The princesses tale is exactly what not to wish for.

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We’re not raising a demure princess in this house, looking for her Beast. She’s not a kitten who needs to be rescued from a tree. (As Ani DiFranco once sang, “Don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down, whether or not you ever show up?”) If she wants to live in a palace, she can invent an app or something. But she can pretend to be whoever she wants to be. Who are we going to be today, Cozy? Ariel or Harriet Tubman? Oh, Princess Leia? We’re good.

 

My Unintended Gap Year: The humility of looking for work

Sept. 1, 2016

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I had my dream job. For twenty years I was an award winning sociology professor at Portland State University. My research on hate groups made me an internationally recognized expert on the subject and I did countless media appearances, from The O’Reilly Factor to Al Jazeera. I published and presented and diligently worked my way up the ranks: the young Assistant Professor, the tenured Associate Professor, and finally the stately Full Professor. Most importantly, I would walk out of every single class and feel privileged that I got to impact so many lives on crucial issues like race, gender, and power dynamics. Occasionally, I felt it was like a huge mistake that a punk like me ended up with such a wonderful career.

Then this career that meant something to the world was taken away from me because I fell in love.

In what seemed like a David Mamet play, a small group of powerful administrators teamed up with a racist skinhead incarcerated in an Oregon prison to purge me from campus. I was an officer in the faculty union and we had recently voted to go on strike so there were already battle lines drawn. My crime? My wife was taking an online Women’s Studies class at PSU. After numerous accusations generated by the inmate, all of which fell flat, they asked me, “Are you sleeping with any students at this university?” I responded, “Yes, I sleep with one every night. My wife.” Our child was in her carrier set next to me when I said it. And that was that. They had their technical violation.

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Andrea had been a student in one of my huge Intro Sociology classes and I never really even spoke to her during the class. After the class was over I ran into her at Dante’s bar and she bought me a shot of tequila and asked if I’d like to go out sometime. I told her I didn’t date students. She bought me another shot of tequila and I said maybe we could be friends. It wasn’t long after that that we fell madly in love, became travel companions, got married and had a beautiful daughter. Not once in this drama did I ever regret choosing to be with Andrea. She is the partner I’ve waited for all my life. Any regret is reserved for the trust I placed in university administrators to recognize that love is a gift to be celebrated, not punished.

The whole thing was pointless, yet emotionally devastating. I can’t speak to their true motives. I have my suspicions. They had discretion to weigh my contribution to the university against this supposed offense, so it’s hard for me to see their response as a rational action. Perhaps they saw my unconventionality as a liability. My only real regret in the matter is that I let the lawyers make all the decisions after that point. I should have fought harder against the rumor mongers and for my place at the school that I loved. But we had a new baby and I was afraid if I didn’t accept the settlement, I would have a hard time finding work in my field again.

So I walked away from my dream job.

I wanted to write and be a stay-at-home dad for a bit. I hoped I could land in something quickly, a visiting professorship, a publishing advance, an invitation to be on Dancing with the Stars. Turns out the market for full professors is pretty slim. Shrinking academic budgets have departments looking for cheap Assistant Professors just out of grad school. “I’ve already been through the tenure process,” I said to myself. “I’m not going through that hell again.” With my experience couldn’t I just hop over to Reed College or the University of Portland? I had guest lectured at both.

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In the meantime, the great health benefits I had at PSU ended and our baby needed health care. We went on to the Oregon Health Plan and signed up for WIC. These services for “poor people” I had lectured about since my grad school days at Emory were now a vital part of keeping my family going. I would take Cozy to the dental services with the other low income parents and thank the universe that Obamacare was actually a thing. But going to the bank to take out my unemployment funds or using the WIC vouchers to purchase milk and government cheese for my child was the first lesson in humility. “This is just temporary,” I would promise myself. My wife, who actually had a job would laugh. “You’re a white man with a PhD,” she’d say. “You’re gonna be fine.”

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I had plenty of irons in the fire. I was happy to have time to work on a new novel, partially inspired by what happened. Friends and fans of my last book fully funded a $10,000 Kickstarter project to back it. I developed a reality show about teachers that might have some legs. I sent off applications for jobs I seemed to be cut out for, including at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. I was flown out to interview for a professorship at a great university in NYC and then flown out again to meet with the Provost. When she asked me what salary I’d require, I answered with my last salary at PSU and hoped that would be enough to move my family to the very expensive Big Apple. They ended up giving the job to some kid straight out of Harvard who probably said he would work for half that,

All the money I had banked away over the years started to thin out. Andrea got a great job at a law firm but I had to start selling off my beloved comic book collection. My summer teaching position in Isla Mujeres meant we could live on pesos and stretch it out for a while. I had fashioned myself as a bohemian stay-at-home dad, writing, pouring wine while Andrea painted, and presenting on Portland’s civil rights history with the baby on my hip. As long as the mortgage was covered I got less and less interested in looking for a job that didn’t suit me. (Although, I worried I might end up working weekends at the Foot Locker.)

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I’ve had a great detour for the last year-and-a-half, away from regular work. I desperately miss my students and colleagues at PSU, but I’ve continued to teach classes at the University of Oregon and on Isla Mujeres. I’ve done dozens of important tours with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, worked as a grant evaluator at the National Institute of Justice in DC, and written a pretty damn good book that will be out in a month. But it’s time to get back to work. Cozy is 2 and Andrea has her eyes on law school.  I need to step back into the provider role.

The second stage of humility is the asking for help finding a job. My Pisces brain thought someone would just hand me a plum gig because I’m just so fabulous. I don’t think it works that way in the real world. It’s time to put myself out there and get my foot in a few doors. That might include swallowing my pride and taking a few steps back so I can compete with those kids right out of grad school. A friend messaged me, “Don’t be afraid to backtrack with teaching in Higher Ed. There is no need to be prideful. You had a great run in education and maybe you could have another great run.”

There are so many philosophies to job-seeking. Some think you should wait for the job you envision yourself in. I just want to be able to take care of my family and the world they live in. Also, I know Excel.

I’ve worked steadily since I was 15. I got a job putting up Christmas decorations at Northlake Mall. At 16, I was the youngest person hired at Turtles Records, a great local Atlanta music chain that is long gone. I’ve loved work all my life, making this “gap year” a strange experience. But raising a child is a full time job in itself and I think Cozy is a better person for hiring me.

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So here I am, passionate about seeing the human race evolve into a kinder species. Sometimes my sense of humor is questionable. I’m obsessed with music I haven’t heard yet. I’m completely devoted to my wife and child and making their dreams come true. I love to teach and write and sometimes forget where the comma goes. I have a lifetime of community involvement and thousands of former students that hopefully learned a thing or two about how the world works. I’m paper trained and I need a job.

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I found a 2-year-old!

August 22, 2016

I was thinking of Googling “quotes about time.” Maybe there was one that said something like, “Time is a baby cobra, waiting for the right moment to jab its poison fangs into your neck.” Cozy just turned two, so that might be fitting of the stabbing realization that our “baby” is a fairly formed little person now. Or maybe for the fact that she is now in complete realization of the power of the temper tantrum, ready to shut all forward motion down. She’s grown into this glorious child, charming the pantaloons off of everyone in Mexico, but she also learning the power of one word – no. And that’s probably a good thing.

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, Andrea and I came to Isla Mujeres alone, leaving Cozy in Morelia with Andrea’s family. After over two weeks apart, we were finally reunited last Tuesday. We were both so excited about her coming to Isla we could barely sleep. Cozy loves flowers so I bought her a bouquet and we hopped on the ferry to meet her on the Cancun side of the bay. When she and her abuela finally arrived at the port (transport from the Cancun airport can take a long time if your collectivo has to stop by a lot of tourist hotels first), she seemed a bit surprised to see us, like, “Oh, I sort of remember these two.” Then she looked out at the Caribbean and said, “Agua!” That’s my hija.

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Birthdays are a big deal in Mexico so we made a big deal about our little Bug turning two. She had a party in Morelia, with uncles and aunts and a cake. Here it became a two-day celebration. We started out at the beach building sandcastles, going to see the sea turtles at Tortugranja, and the iguanas at Punta Sur. We rented a golf cart to ride around the island and at one point, with the beautiful Caribbean rolling by on our right side, she put each arm around our necks and hugged us tightly with the biggest smile ever on her face. “I think she remembers us,” I thought. It was all worth it for that moment.

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Then to Café Mogagua for the second annual Café Mogagua birthday banana split. It’s a Mexican tradition to push a kid’s face in their birthday cake and Andrea is not one to pass up a good tradition. The white people in the café were probably shocked but the Latino family next to us thought it was hilarious. And so did Cozy. So much of this trip has been about connecting her to her Mexican heritage, why not a little whipped cream?

 

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Day Two was a trip to Xcaret, an ecological amusement park between Cancun and Tulum. These people know how to make eco-tourism fun for the whole family. I thought Cozy would love seeing the birds, dolphins, monkeys, and butterflies (and she did). The most amazing part of the experience was the half-mile long underwater river that visitors get to float down. They give you a life jacket and flippers, and like a Mayan offering, you are thrown into the water. Cozy was apprehensive about the whole thing. It might have been the fact that two days before she fell into the hotel swimming pool and was rescued by one of my students. (I dove in too, but “first responder” Elaine was on it!) But once in the river, clinging to my neck, she started to go all wide-eyed. “Do you like this, Bug?” I asked. “Si!” she said.

Xcaret is essentially a water-park with animals (Cozy was fascinated by the stingrays and roared at a puma) with several all-you-can-eat buffets scattered through the park. Everyone is in their bathing suits all day so it’s an opportunity to be reminded of the wide variety of bodies in the world, all entitled to a good snorkel with a nurse shark.

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Then, at 7 pm, everyone dries off and heads to this giant arena for a two-hour spectacular. A cast of over 300 puts on an impressive show about the history of Mexico, complete with Mayan sports, mariachi bands, dances from Jalisco, the flying men of Papantla, parrots flying around, and ending with an ode to the diaspora of the Mexican people that would make Donald Trump caca in his foreign-made suit. It was great seeing Andrea’s mother sing along to every song and Cozy was just completely amazed by the whole spectacle. I watched her as much as the show. It’s been so important for her to be exposed to her Mexican culture and she got it in grand style that night.

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In the middle of all this excitement it became clear that we now have a two-year-old daughter. She’s a little social butterfly who loves to chat it up with the other chavos. She will wander off as far as we’ll let her, confident on her own path. (Don’t worry, I’m quite mindful of the horror stories of kids like her being snatched or falling into gorilla enclosures.) But she also has a new defiance. She can walk a mile, but if she wants to be carried all she needs to do is stage a noisy sit in. If she doesn’t want to eat in a restaurant, banging her head on the table and screaming bloody murder sends the message to everyone in earshot. “No!” works in both English and Spanish.

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Andrea figured out how to handle this fairly quickly. You’ve got to come on strong with a stern voice. For all my lecturing on raising children, I’m a complete wimp. I can’t yell at her just yet. I worry about her little flameouts after being away from her for two-and-a half-weeks. I worry about other people thinking I’m shitty parent because my kid is wailing in front of the flamingos. I worry that Super Nanny will judge me for not putting the kid on the naughty step. So I carry her through the jungles of Mexico. But Andrea’s way works and I know it’s important for parents to be on the same page. (“Yeah, I’m not wrapped around anybody’s finger,” he said.) Firm and supportive, like a Playtex brassiere.

We’re settling in to our new parenting role. I don’t know if the “terrible 2’s” is really a thing, but it feels like the junior member of this partnership is now testing her autonomy. Right now life is about enjoying our last week here in Mexico, swimming, eating as many street cart quesadillas as possible, and dancing to the Beatles in our air-conditioned room. The outside world still sneaks in, including sexism at the Olympics, the spectacle of Trump’s free fall, and kids like Cozy being endlessly bombed in Syria, but we’re happy to be a tight little gang of three isleños. I have a sneaking suspicion that the bilingual kid we will bring back to Portland is gonna have her own ideas about how to live in this world.

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Aug. 8, 2016

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Cozy is fine. She’s with her abuela in Morelia, Mexico in a serious Spanish-language immersion class, going to the park with her tia, and, by all video accounts, having a blast. Andrea and I came to Isla Mujeres without her so I could start teaching this anthropology field research course. Cozy joins us on August 16 and we will be the reunited island family.

Sounds great, right?

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I mean what couple with a toddler wouldn’t want to have a few child-free weeks on a tropical island? It is certainly great for Andrea and I. This is my second year teaching a summer course at the amazing Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School and to have our own time is a true godsend. We sleep in and stay out late and when we walk down Hidalgo, the main street, the merchants shout, “Hey, honeymooners!” as they try to sell us trinkets and Cuban cigars. It’s a trip in time that’s allowed us to remember who we were together before we were “parents.”

But the missing part. That part can be rough.

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When we started on this experiment, I thought we’d have regular video hookups with Cozy via FaceTime. That’s how we did it last year when I came to Isla first and Andrea and Cozy stayed in Morelia for a few weeks. Technology has often been our link when I am out of town. I love seeing my daughter make goofy faces at me on her mom’s laptop.

A lot of therapy over the years helped me learn that some of my core relationship issues revolved around attachment and fear of being abandoned. Good therapy can take you way back to things that happened to you early in life, before you thought much about the world other than, “Wow.” My big “breakthrough” happened when I suddenly remembered how my parents would drop with an elderly neighbor when they went out of town for Amway conventions in the 1960s. I was maybe 3. I remembered thinking they would never come back and then being overwhelmed with emotion when they actually did come to get me. My apologies to all subsequent relationships. I’m better now.

So you can guess I don’t want to inflict that stress on my own daughter. This situation is different. She’s with family who spoil her to death. Andrea’s mother came to Portland from Mexico for the birth and was one of the first people on Earth to hold Cozy. She guards her like the most precious child. She is well fed and entertained and fortunately was out of the path of Hurricane Earl that almost hit our island last week.

We got to the island on July 29th and after a few days organized a FaceTime chat. Andrea’s sister, Viri, rang in with Cozy on her lap. We were so thrilled to see her and Cozy tried to kiss the screen. We were singing and hearing her new words and all smiles. Then I think she suddenly realized that we weren’t actually there and started crying with a horribly stressed look on her face. Her wise aunt just hung up. It was the right thing to do but I could feel a Mayan dagger plunged into my heart. And that was that. She won’t see us until we’re standing on the docks at Puerto Jaurez on the 16th, the day before her second birthday. (We plan to welcome her back with a big celebration.)

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We’re on “Island of Women,” but it’s really “Isla Niños.” There are so many little kids here, it’s hard not to be reminded of ours at every turn. Kids at the beach, kids riding with their family on motorcycles, a gang of four little girls who play in the alleyway of our hotel. Last year when we had Cozy’s first birthday party here, it was not hard to round up the local rug rats to have a go at the piñata. They are all stand-ins for our Bug.

So that’s the challenge. I want to enjoy every second with my beautiful, brilliant wife and not think my child is “gone.” I’m trying not to worry that she’s unsafe or that she’s forgetting about us or preferring the attention she’s getting to our less exotic life in Portland. Will she have grown so much I don’t recognize her? Just don’t think about it.

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I don’t need to string up Christmas lights to get messages from her in the upside down (OK, we just burned through all 8 episodes of Stranger Things). It not time to go mental. But missing your child is a powerful thing. Looking forward to hugging her is like all the Christmas Advent calendars I had as a kid rolled into one. One day closer.

I’ve been writing a lot about empathy in this blog and I’m getting a bite size chunk of the struggle of parents in the military or in prison who are far from their children. It’s got to be rough for parents who are separated and have work out custody arrangements. And we are not even touching the experience of actually losing a child. Lord. We probably grow more than our kids through all this. Letting go just a little bit. Not so easy. And it’s only sixteen years until she heads off to college. Help!

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For now it’s only eight days until Cozy and I are building castles in the sand and then watching them melt into the sea.

Dad Love 1: Dad Love

Dad Love 2: A Star is Born

Dad Love 3: Death and U2

Dad Love 4: You’re So Far Away

Dad Love 5: Flash, Ah! He’ll Save Every One of Us!

Dad Love 6: First Steps

Dad Love 7: I Need a Pep Talk

Dad Love 8: I’m on Drugs

 

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

The Millennial Effect: Here comes Generation Z

May 18, 2016

As a sociologist of youth culture, I spend a lot of time trying to explain what makes generations unique. The easy answer is – nothing. Broad generalizations are meaningless and teens in 2016 probably face many of the same issues that teens did in 2016 BC. Some things are eternal, like when do you get the keys to the hybrid or chariot?

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But there is a social science of generations, looking at a cohorts born in a similar time and place. The parameters are usually based on changes in birthrates. The Baby Boom Generation begins about 9 months after the end of World War 2. In 1946, with the world safe for democracy, the birth rate in the US exploded and finally began to drop in the early 1960s. Nearly a third of the U.S. population are Baby Boomers and it’s pretty much explained nearly every cultural trend since. The sixties were the “Sixties” because you had so many college-age kids. (Bad time to throw a war.) And now all those boomers are retiring and there’s a Viagra commercial on TV every 60 seconds.

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Then came Generation X, the relatively small generation that I’m part of the first wave. The birthrate bottomed out in 1974, so a lot of of the 1980s “kids in America” had to live in the shadow of the massive Boom. Next came Generation Y, or the “Millennials,” that ended the century. The birthrate jumped up in 1981 as boomers (finally) started settling down, AIDS killed “free love” and they invented the SUV (with a “Baby On Board” window sign).

This 1981-2001 “echo wave” ended up being even bigger than the baby boom generation. They were not only the brats of Boomers who had finally found their way out of the disco. The population of first generation immigrants also got considerably younger. The Millennials became the most diverse generation in American history. They represent the browning of America. Over 35% were born outside of the country, another 26% are first or second generation immigrants and 38% are bilingual. This is my wife’s, story. She is the new face of America.

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These three generations, Baby Boom, Generation X, and Millennial, have some real markers. Baby Boomers watched Star Trek on Friday nights on NBC. Gen Xers watched the reruns after school as latchkey kids (and Star Trek: The Next Generation). And Millennials stream old episodes on Hulu between J.J. Abrams reboots. They are marked by different historical moments; the assassination of the Kennedys, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11. Boomers bought Beatles albums, Gen Xers bought U2 CDs, and Millennials may never have bought music on a physical format, preferring to download it instead. Baby Boomers got sent off to Vietnam, Gen Xers mostly avoided war and many Millennials volunteered for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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In reality, there is an incredible variation within generations (including Millennials who buy Beatles albums – on vinyl). Usually when the term “generation” gets used it’s primarily referring to the experiences of middle class white males and what they do with their disposable income. The Great Recession of 2008 and the ethnic demographic shift makes the experience of the Millennials even less homogenous, but the one thing that makes them unique is their reliance on social media technology. Where Boomers hung out at the malt shop, the love-in, and the disco, and Gen Xers hung out at the all-ages punk club, the mall, and the rave, Millennials just hang out on line. The skate park gang is now a multiple-player online Tony Hawk game. The youth are no longer wild in the streets (unless there is a Bernie Sanders rally in town).

But these generations shape culture and not just hairstyles and popular dances. The Baby Boom gave us the second wave feminist movement. Gen X birthed Alex P. Keaton conservatism and Madonna sex-positivism and the Millennials gave us social networking. The great contribution of the Millennial generation is the recognition that you are not your job. They’ve seen their parents, painfully loyal to companies and careers, stabbed in the back, downsized and outsourced. Work is now something to provide you an income while you follow your bliss. Why commit to a profession that is just going to be replaced by a computer or Chinese child labor? As a Gen X’er who recently experienced this betrayal first-hand, this way of living sounds pretty good.

The oldest Millennials are 35 and the youngest are 15. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 also marked another shift in the birthrates. So here comes Generation Z, those born after 2001. This includes my daughter, born in 2014. The first Generation Zs turn 18 in 2019. What will their world be like?

It’s exciting to imagine what the 2020s will look like for them. We know there will be more non-white people in the U.S. and a declining pool of old white guys who want to make America “great” again. Z’ers will probably be even more immersed in technology (unless President Trump causes a global economic collapse and we have to revive the Pony Express). Between rising sea-levels and China repossessing the United States treasury, they will have plenty of issues to bring them together. We can hope that by then that whatever wave of feminism that’s happening is just tweaking the finer details of gender equality and expression.  In 2026, Cozy will be 12 and I can imagine her doing a report for a 7th grade class about how her father used to have to explain what feminism was and why it was ever needed.

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The Who played here in Portland last night and when they played their anthem, “My Generation,” I have to think 72-year-old Roger Daltrey grimaced a bit when he sang, “I hope I die before I get old.” But whatever your generation is, you’re going to have to stick around that long to figure what it all meant.

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.