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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Like Elvis

In the eighth grade I was voted "Person Most Likely to Succeed Elvis". In part this great honour was given because I had all the girls' (moms) swooning with "Can't Help Falling In Love" at the year-end concert in the gym at my small farming community elementary school.

In part it was the sideburns. They weren't really sideburns, I just had really shaggy seventies-kid hair and the kids in my class hated me (because their moms loved me). To retaliate and establish my coolness for all time I tormented the foreign kid about his unholy relationship with his sister until he was driven insane and attacked me. It was completely unfair of me, and I deserved the shots he got in on me before the teachers broke it up. I just needed someone else to be weirder than I was for the little redneck kids' amusement; I wanted to be a big fish, even if it was in the world's smallest pond.

Anyway, in my own head for a while I was all about the King, his music, his movies, biopics, fictionalizations of his life. I've seen "Heartbreak Hotel". Twice. And right now what stands out for me is the scene in "Great Balls of Fire" in which a newly-enlisted Elvis stops by Sun Records where Jerry Lee Lewis is recording hits and he says: "Take it all."

While I'm on vacation this week please don't let Jerry Lee take it all. He is the foreign kid.

I'll be back, with a leather jacket and a tousled look.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pushing the Stroller

She moves like a bullet: straight, all of her momentum directing her at whatever target her sights were set on when she was fired.

She cannot be stopped, only deflected. Her momentum must be used rather than fought, and if it is used properly she can be turned completely around, forgetting her initial interest.

In a new place she deflects herself. And she does it with such regularity that it's a wonder she ever touches anything at all: "Ball, guys...ooohh kitty......wall?.....maMA!...trash...." She is dizzying to watch. There are so many new things in the world for her, every day, that she just can't choose: she is a living example of Buridan's Ass, the donkey faced with identical bales of hay who cannot choose, and starves. She doesn't starve, though. She spins.

All I can do for her is watch, wait, and occasionally offer something, anything that might tip the scales of her interest: "Hey kid, do you want this book? Well, you can't have it. It's my book."

Because if it goes on too long she'll grow frustrated and upset. My little Kierkegaard will despair of the infinite, and because she is too young yet to realize what finitude means, and so cannot yet despair of her lack of options, this is the only despair of choice she has: too much of it.

I don't want to limit her choices. I want her to see the world as wonderful and novel, and to be comfortable with that without needing someone to guide her. I am not Hobbes, to think that true freedom only exists with guidance, like water down twisting flue.

But she is wiser than I. When her frustration peaks she will focus all of her attention; she will limit herself, shut out the world, and push her stroller.

"Sometimes the world is too big, guys."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In which I write some Chick Lit

So, I told everyone that I was coerced into invited to write some Chick Lit over at ChapterBytes, right? Well, I wrote my chapter today and I sent it over. But because you are all loyal readers I thought I'd give you the first look at the chapter.

The story is called "Foodie", and so far it is about a woman named Malorie who enters a culinary school and is paired up with some uber-dude named Evan (the girls writing this story all really seem to like Evan for some reason or another). As the story progresses the romance grows (you'll have to read the chapters for the details), until in the prior chapter to mine we see Malorie totally peeved that some uber-chick named Celine seems to have taken a shine to Evan. Instant hatred, apparently.

So, my chapter follows this initial realization that Malorie hates Celine in a really insane kind of way.


Foodie: Chapter 6

That night she made some calls.

“Hello, Hiro?”


“This is Malorie. Do you remember a little promise you made to me after I pulled you out of the path of that runaway tank?”


“Well, I need that favor paid back. Can you meet me outside the Blue Agave restaurant at ten tonight?”


“Hey. Warner.”

“Oh, hi Malorie.”

“Warner I need some help. Can you meet me outside the Blue Agave restaurant at ten tonight?”

“Sure Malorie. Should I bring anything?”

“How about some arsenic?”

“You got it, babe.”

“Hey! Remember what happened the last time you called me “babe”. Do you want to lose your other kidney?”

“Sorry ma'am. I'll see you later.”


She waited in the dark, just outside the golden glow of the wall lamp outside the back door of the Blue Agave. At promptly ten she heard footsteps, and she called out: “Hi Warner.”

“How did you know it was me?” he asked.

“Because I'm only expecting two people here tonight and one of them makes no sound at all when he moves. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and guess that he's already here...aren't you Hiro?”


“Hiro, Warner. Warner, Hiro.”



“Gentleman. I have a problem. I would like you to help me solve this problem. Her name is Celine Richelieu...”

“I love her father's restaurant!” exclaimed Warner.

“You aren't making yourself any friends here, bub.”


"Anyway, Celine Richelieu thinks she can get any guy she wants, and she has aimed her grabby little hands and perky boobs at a guy I'm kind of interested in. So...Warner. I'd like you to slip into her father's....”

“I gotcha...poison the coq au vin, right?”

“Exactly. I want him ruined. When people hear the name 'Richelieu' I want them to remember gagging, gasping death. And Hiro...”


“I want you to....”

“Ninja the hell out of her?”


“You got it babe.”

“Thanks Hiro.”

“Hey!” Warner shouted, “why does Hiro get to call you 'babe' without you threatening to take his kidney?”

“Because Hiro is a time-traveling, time-stopping, super-ninja from NBC's hit show Heroes. He can get away with a lot of stuff that you can't, kidney-boy.”

“Gotcha babe. Aw, dammit!”


“It's too bad about Warner.”

“Yeah, but what was I supposed to do? Just let him call me 'babe' and not take his other kidney?”

“True, but now who's going to poison all of Richelieu's customers?”


A shadow slipped from rooftop to rooftop, eventually stopping at the edge of one grand New York palace. Flipping over the side it slithered into an opening no human ought to have been able to squeeze into.

Hiro pulled out his awesome ninja sword and crept along the hallway leading to Celine's apartment. He ninja'd his way past the locked door and into her bedroom. He raised his awesome ninja sword and brought it slicing down onto the Celine-shaped lump on the bed.


“Coward!” came Celine's voice from above. Hiro looked up and there she was, dressed in her wizard's robes and floating above him. A fireball lanced out from her hands “Ha-do-ken!” she yelled.

Hiro immediately teleported back to Malorie.

“What happened? Why do you smell like baby-back ribs?”

“She knew I was coming. She is too powerful. She is a wizard!”

“Oh, fuck her.”

Malorie pondered for a second. “Okay, now she knows we're up to something, so you'd better go stand watch over Evan. I don't want her getting anywhere near him.”

“Hai. But what will you do?”

“I'm going to go get my troll-powered laser tank out of storage. Then I'm going to blast her into oblivion, and then I'm going to marry Evan and we're going to have lots of perfect babies. You can be the ring-bearer.”



Oh, of course that isn't the real chapter (although I really did send that one in first.)

For the real chapter go on over to ChapterBytes and read my very first attempt at Chick Lit. It may not be up yet, but it should be up soon.


Monday, June 23, 2008

If you're creepy and you know it write a post

I have decided that blogging has made me creepy as hell.

No, not blogging. Commenting on blogs. Tweeting. Facebooking.

If you are one of the people who has been thinking to themselves (woohoo! ill-considered plural-for-unknown-gender pronoun!):

"Selves, Backpacking Dad is creeping me out a little bit. He keeps showing up at my cyber-house and leaving notes on the fridge. Then he stops by my cyber-office and puts up a picture of himself on my whiteboard. And he's started leaving messages on my cyber-answering machine. Oh, and he's called my parents to see if I was 'around anywhere or doing anything he could help out with, or watch'."

then I apologize.

I'm gonna go ahead and stop now.

I'm done commenting on your blogs and Tweeting at you and tracking you down on Facebook. I need to meet some people out in the real world. I need to come face to face with people that I can talk to about life, the universe, and the rest (two references in one passage here...I'm waiting for Badass Geek to get both of these).

I'm going to take a little break in July. A couple of days off, out in the real world, talking to real people. So, for at least one weekend in July, around the 18th and 19th or so, I'm going to go up to the City, San Francisco to you non-Californians, and I'm going to get it together.

I'm going to hang around Union Square and talk to real live folks. Maybe I'll hang out at the Fancy Hotel down there, the Westin St. Francis. I hear there will be something going on there and maybe some people will be there who I can talk to.

It'll be nice to just get out of the apartment and not think about blogging, or the bloggers who read this blog, or the bloggers whose blogs I read, or the Tweeps I tweet at or any of those people who I stalk in cyber-space and who I make really really uncomfortable in cyber-life.

*******************Warning. Asterisk Tone Reversal Wall*******************

In case any of that was too subtle, I'm going to BlogHer. You can buy me free drinks there and I can pretend that I totally don't stalk you in a creepy way.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon...

The heavens exsanguinated, perforated by a trillion tiny tines.

Cool droplets did what cool droplets do when they meet a hot sidewalk: they exploded, water molecules racing to see which would go the fastest and farthest. As reinforcements arrived the event ceased to be a meteorological Gallipoli and became instead an aquatic Waterloo: small pockets, French squares, of pavement still untouched were surrounded by an ever-advancing tide of soggy English doom. Eventually, all of these pockets surrendered, and the concrete became a uniformly dull shade of grey where once it had been a brilliant ivory.

Accompanying the visual victory of the damp over the dry was a temperature transformation: once-arid air was now as sodden a sponge (a wet sponge of course; that ought to have gone without saying).

The day became bearable. Walking outside after the rain was experiencing the world as it could only have been imagined just a few hours before, when the heat was stifling activity and driving everyone indoors.

A short walk became, with little effort, a long walk. That long walk turned into a lunch outside a downtown cafe. That lunch transformed into trip to the office to convince her to come play outside: the weather was fine and shouldn't be wasted sitting inside. This mission accomplished, we went for a hike in the freshened forest. Just after a rain the trees, plants, and flowers in a forest all present themselves first to the nose. Next they inform the ears of their location with a gentle dripping that can be heard when the heart is muffled. We could have navigated safely from our car to the now-rushing creek with our eyes closed, so powerful were the smells and sounds surrounding us, locating every living thing within an olfactory and auditory field.

Once arrived at the creek we laid out our water-proof blanket and let the diminutive one discover moss and harmless insects. We coaxed her away from the running water, and diverted her attention to those few ladybugs that hadn't yet flown from her exuberance.

A long hike back to the car, a short drive back home, and a late afternoon nap for all of us before a dinner prepared on the grill in the thankfully tolerable evening air.


All of this, and other fantasies that never happened to me, can be found at In Shawn's Dreams.Com*. It has been ass-boiling hot here. So hot, in fact, that we had to get a hotel room last night just to sleep comfortably. The thermostat in the apartment has been pinned at 99 (flashing) during the day, and it stays at 95 until 3 in the morning. We sit next to floor fans hoping that we wont' die of dehydration before we get a chance to smack whoever is responsible for the weather.

Thankfully, it has cooled off now, but not before we actually fled into a McDonald's just for the air-conditioning. Erin has never been to McDonald's before, and we were deliberately avoiding it. But, thanks to whomever decided 100 was an acceptable number for a temperature in Menlo Park in June I gave my daughter chicken McNuggets. I will blame them for her now impossibly high cholesterol and her obsession with Kung Fu Panda toys.

*In Shawn's Dreams.Com is not an actual website. Well, perhaps it is, but if it is it has nothing to do with me and I don't know what those women are doing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On Writing, Part 2





Now. Now I tell you what the hell all the writing has been about.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a certain website that shan't be named again because said website acted, possibly, like an ass-hat.

Somebody really liked that post. And other posts. And tweets.

And so it came to pass on one sunny afternoon as I was sitting at home during one of Erin's naps, that City Mama contacted me to ask if I'd like to join a ton of other bloggers in writing about our cities and navigating these burghs with pre-schoolers.

For money. For non-Monopoly money.

I immediately said "woohoo!" and then I read the list of other bloggers who would be writing and I said "woohoo!!" and then she told me how much I would be making and I said "oh. well, money isn't everything." And then she told me that I was going to be the City Editor for Being Savvy Silicon Valley, just one of the many awesome Savvy Source pre-schooler blogs, and I said "resume-woohoo!!!" I should be up and live at some point today, but I couldn't hold in the announcement any longer, so just go ahead and save the link for later perusal if it's not active yet.

I would get to write about local dadventures, and dadventures-to-be. I would get to help parents of pre-schoolers in the Silicon Valley make the area their own.

I was thrilled. And, just like the Oscars, or the invite to the cool high school party, it was an honour just to be nominated. Because, as I've said before, I'm not a writer.

I'm a City Editor. :}

So, please welcome me to the weird world of professional blogging over at Being Savvy Silicon Valley. And while you're at it, go ahead and click over to some of the other city blogs. Learn about your own town from the likes of

Kim Mordecai (Sacramento)

Jonathan Morgan (Austin)

Caitlin Giles (Chicago)

Mike Adamick (San Francisco)

Christina Mack (Columbus)

Leticia (DC Metro)

Rachel Mosteller (Houston)

Casey (Indianapolis)

Colleen (San Antonio)

Aimee (Denver)

Rita Arens (Kansas City)

Jenny Ciampa (San Diego)

Bethany Dunn (Seattle)

Kelly Leahy (New Orleans)

Amy Kuras (Detroit)

Nicole Teed (Charleston)

Meredith Pelham (Nashville)

Julie Woo Yang (Honolulu)

Amy Davis (Atlanta)

Becky (Tampa)

Heather Gibbs Flett (Berkeley/East Bay)

Whitney Moss (Berkeley/East Bay)

Kim Prince (San Fernando Valley)

Amelia Sprout (Minneapolis/St. Paul)

Jill Notkin (Boston)

Nina Moon (Los Angeles)

Gwendolyn Floyd (Vancouver)

Katie (Toronto)

Also, if you'd like to show your support for Backpacking Dad and his pre-schooling Silicon Valley blog I have blog buttons that you can have. If you would like a button for any of the other blogs I can arrange that too (although you can always, of course, ask them :} ).

So go check out my Savvy-blogger friends and Have a Savvy Day.

Say "Savvy" again.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Theft of a Quill (A Promissory Note Fulfilled)

We arose, her and I, glacial. Because she is smaller, her tiny heart pumped her brain full of bloody brilliance at a faster pace than my overgrown engine. Despite the extra neural-nutrition, she pronounced "Mama?" I replied "Dada." She insisted, incorrectly: "Mama?" And I corrected: "Dada."

"Mi, mi, mi, mi," she said aloud. "Give over my morning heifer hallucinogen, cad," she projected at me in my still near-defenseless state.

"Surely this morning we can forgo your usual cloudy concoction and instead partake of a genuine juice. Or some water. How about some water, kid?"

"Mi, mi, mi, mi." "Lookee, sir. Pour the moo-juice or you risk your earlobe the next time you seek a sweet embrace."

"Very well, you win." I alit from my nocturnal nest to procure her blanche bottle.

"Miiiiii......," she offered with a sigh, sinking back into her pillow and puffy pink pig.

Next stop on the Early Express: breakfast.

"Eggs, kid?"

"Are you hungry?"


"Yes. Food. But why must you always seek after a more precise idea of what we do here? Rather than, when I inquire as to your stomach-state, ask if I am going to provide some food, why don't you just say "Yes, father, I am indeed hungry and will be happy to ingest whatever vittle you volunteer"?"


"You win. Here's some food."

After a wipe-bath we resumed our journey toward noon.

"What do you want to wear today, kid?"


"Ah. Your diaper. Your pouch for poo. Your purse for pee. Need it changed, do you?"

"doot-doo?" "Do not try my patience sir. Exchange this soiled anchor for a clean 'mallowy wrap and you shall earn my eternal gratitude. Betray me, and I will offer you nothing beyond The Littlest Pinch."

"There, diaper: changed. Pants: panted. Shirt: buttoned."

"Wa? Wa? Wa?"

"Ah, now that we are near departing you wish some water, do you?"

"WaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaa......". "Yes."

"Ok, kid. Drink up, for I plan on dehydrating you for the rest of the day. I can only tolerate one sanitary switch, and you've already cashed in your shit chit and pee penny."

"Ready to go, kid?"


"What are you eating?"


"Come back."


"Success! I have you now! You are trapped, locked and secured in our dorsal device, and here, I lift, and slip straps and buckle belts. Keys. Door, open. Exuent!"


"We're just staying in today aren't we?"

"I win, guys."

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Writing, Part 1

So, last week (or the week before that, or some other time in the distant, misty past) I mentioned that I was very tired and had been doing a lot of writing.

Some of you were really excited about this, and I can only say "Thanks" and "Don't get your hopes up". Yes, you will all be able to read what I've been writing. No, it won't be any better than what I do over here on a near-daily basis. I'm not a writer. I'm a dad who has a computer. If you want to read a writer go read Black Hockey Jesus. Sheesh. As if that guy needs a plug from me after getting talked up by Stefanie and Jenny the Blogess. Deservedly so, because even though he broke out onto the blogging scene just a few weeks ago, and even though all of my readers are going to cruise over and celebrate him as the champion daddy blogger, and even though I am whatever-is-greener-than-envy, I just have to tip my hat to the guy. If all dad bloggers were as good as he no one would need television.

Anyway, back to me.

So, what's the deal?

M'not telling.


Of course I'm telling. In two parts. First, the first part, and the one that came along first and which I have done nothing about at all (because I like to take things in the reverse order in which they appear):

I was asked by a reader (either of this blog or just of comments I leave on other blogs, where, honestly, my best work really is...I'm at my best in 20 words or less...or silent) if I ever wrote any fiction.

No. No I don't.

Would you like to?

Well, I don't know......

Because, you see, I've been reading your stuff and I think you have a perfect voice for this project I have going over here.

Well...let me check it out. Hang on. What the hell made you think I'd have a perfect voice for Chick Lit?


I mean, come on. I'm all manly as hell with my huge pecs (man boobs) and rockin' abs (beergut) and my sappy poetry.



Well.....sure. Sounds like fun. But I get to write about tanks and swords and stuff.




*Sigh*. Kittens and puppies?

Why don't you just write a chapter in the freakin' book and have it further along this story that we're collaborating on about a woman in a culinary school and the guy who shows up to be her partner?



It's a project called Chapterbytes, and I'll be writing my chapter in a couple of weeks. By then hopefully my co-authors will have killed off the guy and he'll need some revenging (Heroine grabs sword and stabs it through the heart of the ninja robot tank). Or, I'll get the chance to find out if I can write humorous romantic...stuff...

So, I am officially a Chapterbytes author:

Take that, world who always said I'd never amount to anything in the Chick Lit Fiction area. I showed you.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

She has to top this forever

Today I will enjoy my second Father's Day. I have decided, after much pressuring to just make up my frickin' mind already, that I will have breakfast with Erin and Emily, take a long bike ride in the hills behind Menlo Park and Redwood City, and then take Erin to some farmzooment park called Happy Hollow.

I'm supposed to be relaxing all day, right? No.

For a lot of dads Father's Day means a day off, which means more time spent with family. I can't really take a day off, because if I did that would mean less time spent with my family.

And there are other people involved in making me a father: Emily, of course, who stayed married to me for a long time, deciding every day whether or not she still liked me enough to keep me around (I always squeaked by); and Erin.

I've been listening to that Barenaked Ladies CD a lot over the last few days, and there is one song in particular that stays in my head. It's the short one, and it goes:

There are things that make me mad

You are not one of them.

There are things that make me sad

You are not one of them.

There are things that make me Dad

You seem to be all of them.

As I said, I'm pretty sure Emily had a lot to do with it, but the song tells a heart-truth.

So, because Erin plays as big a role in my being a father as I do, I'm pretty sure that making sure that she has a great day is just as important as basking in the adoration of my family. On Father's Day least of all can I choose to not be a father.

So we're going to Happy Hollow and she'll pet some goats or something; make friends with a chicken, then eat it.

And I'll carry her around like I do every day, and I'll tell her that I love her over and over again, and I'll laugh at how cute she is when she says "Moooooo!"

I do get some time, just for me, though. I don't need the whole day, but I'll take part of it. That's a little gift for me.

Erin will be very hard pressed to ever top her very first Father's Day present to me, however.

We were somewhere between the Grapevine and Gilroy on I-5 on the night before Father's Day last year. We thought we'd make it home, but we ate something unfortunate and just had to lay low for the night. So we found a highway hotel and settled in.

It was the end of Erin's first trip to Disneyland; she was seven and half weeks old, and I was seven and a half weeks new as a dad. As we readied ourselves for bed I played with Erin as I had been doing for about 53 days. I prompted her to say "Hi Daddy" as I had been doing since she began babbling a few weeks earlier: Every sound she made was a word, so I thought. "She's going to be talking any day now, self," I said frequently to myself.

"Hi da-ee."

Wha? Gah! Holy crap!

I looked up at Emily and she stared back, absolutely stunned.

"I would never have believed you if you told me she said that and I hadn't been here."

No kidding.

So, Erin's first Father's Day present to me was to look me straight in the eye and say "Hi da-ee".

I then used up an hour and a half of space on the camcorder trying to catch her saying it again. She didn't repeat it until six months later, at Christmas. Again, when I didn't have the camera on her, although Emily Coda'd her previous statement.

It was great hearing it the second time. But, that's the last time I let her get me the same thing for two gift-giving holidays in the same year.

Two presents, kid. My birthday is in there too. I like books.

"Happy Father's Day, guys."

You said it, baby girl.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Mommy Pope is going to excommunicate me

I took a call from one of my mom friends today (aside: took a call? really? ought I to have had my assistant check to see if I was available?) and she told me that Barenaked Ladies were promoting their Snacktime CD at the Barnes & Noble at the Hillsdale shopping center.


Sweet because I'm so Canadian, and so Ontarian, that I had a copy of their demo in high school; not a demo tape, but a copy of a demo tape. My friend made it for me and we listened to it on a drive to Toronto to go watch the Victoria Cup game at Skydome. Those were the years during which geeky pop-folk groups like BNL and Moxy Fruvous and The Arrogant Worms were just about to break, and I had demo tapes (or copies of demo tapes) for all of them. They were like memes, passed from friend to friend, and you were definitely paying attention to the music scene if you knew who they were before they popped up on Much Music. (another aside: Mike from the Arrogant Worms used to tend bar at the Grad Club at Queens and the Worms were campus folk heroes on par in Kingston with The Tragically Hip, okay, that's an exaggeration, but they were big for a couple of years (an aside within an aside: The Hip went to my high school....a couple of years before I got there...dammit) and I had a couple of good nights underaged at the Grad Club watching them play because my dad's girlfriend was friends with him.)

So, fast forward, oh, fifteen or sixteen years (holy crap) and there I was, with Erin on my back, my Californian wife standing by my side as we bopped along to BNL as they played "If I had $1 000 000". Emily remarked that (a) they could have sold tickets and done an actual show instead of a 30 minute spot at a bookstore, and (b) it was kind of sad that they were doing a 30 minute spot at a bookstore instead of selling out a concert venue somewhere like the goddamned Wiggles. I chose to see them as completely in love with performing for small groups.

Erin was rocking out, dancing from side to side in the backpack, making faces at her baby friends who were there with us. It was a perfect little family moment, and I felt like a pretty good dad.

This was the closest we got, and the best picture I could take on my Blackberry with the freakin' window in the background saturating the screen:


We went downstairs. One of our mom friends left, the other jumped into the cashier line, holding her son while pushing the stroller, and we grabbed a CD from a box at Information and went to check out. There was a woman with a stroller and a walking kid behind our friend, so we lined up behind her (actually, kind of at a right angle to her). Mom-friend saw that I had a CD already and asked where I found it. I pointed back at Information; she looked torn. I asked her if she wanted to go grab one, and she said "sure" and walked over.

She left her stroller in line (I had kind of moved toward it when I asked if she wanted to grab a CD), so I pushed it through until we were up front. We were just at the register when she came back, sans CD, and I noticed that they had a box of them at the register, so she picked one up at the front. We paid for our purchases and walked toward the entrance.

Wow. Exciting right? This is, so far, the best story I've ever told, yes?No? Fine.

How about if I tell you that while I was pushing the stroller toward the register I looked back at the woman we had originally lined up behind, and noticed that she was not, in fact, pushing a stroller.

She was pushing a wheelchair, and in the wheelchair was her severely disabled nine or ten year-old daughter.

Yeah, I noticed. And I continued through the line, all the way up to the register, paid for my CD, and joined Emily at the exit.

"So, I totally line-jumped that woman we were standing behind."

"Yeah you did."

"I swear I didn't realize it until we were almost at the register."

"Well, the point at which you realized it would have been a great moment to let her go ahead of you."

"Yeah, but..."


There is no but. Except for me, and I'm more of an ass.

I turned around and caught the woman before she reached the exit.

"Ma'am? I'm so sorry; I completely stole your place in line. It was pretty rude and I'd like to apologize."

She played it off casually, pretending to be surprised that I had anything to apologize for: "Oh, that's ok. I didn't even notice. More time in the air-conditioned building anyway."

I walked back to Emily, feeling very proud of myself. I had manned up and apologized for being a total ass-hat. I had done it with nothing to gain except self-respect and the respect of my loving wife. A big grin started to break across my face as I saw Emily smiling at me.

I should have realized that it wasn't her loving smile; it was her "I'm on to you" smile.

"Well, now you're not going straight to hell."


Good concert. They could have sold tickets.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Something MereCat said in response to my sign language post has really stuck with me for the last couple of days.

My kids will know some French and they will know some of a lot of other things. I'm going for well-rounded here.

I think I agree with the idea that knowing "some of a lot of other things" is good. But in looking back at my own life I really worry about finding the right combination of focus and breadth for Erin. She's bound to find her own balance, but if she is too much like her father then she won't find it until she is an adult.

Actually, even then she might not find it.

You see, I'm a dilettante. I really do know some of a lot of other things. I know some French, but grew bored and didn't stick with it in high school. I fence, but sporadically. I ride my bike, again sporadically. I had to get two BA's because I couldn't stand the idea of using all of my classes for a single major. I bounce from minor-obsession to minor-obsession, hobby to hobby, job to job, and place to place. I win at trivia games, because I know a lot of trivial things.

I may be well-rounded, but so is a superball.

I'll let the historian side of me take over for a second (one of my two BA's): back in the olden days, kids were shackled to a livelihood very early on, and apprenticeships, if they could be found, lasted for years from before puberty to long after. Broader, liberal education was a luxury (for the rich) or a necessity (for the clergy), and was nowhere to be found for anyone else.

Now, here comes the philosopher: Few would argue, I think, that we ought to end formal public liberal education early and send kids off to apprentice somewhere. We like the cuddly idea of letting our children grow up and then decide what they want to do. That order is pretty significant, I think, since it dictates how kids are educated: they are taught about as many different subjects as possible early on, continue to fill breadth requirements in college if they continue their education, and it isn't even really until graduate school that education becomes almost singularly focused instead of general.

We are preparing our kids for the World, we say; the world is huge, and so too must their knowledge base be. As I typed that sentence I reflected again on my own knowledge base: I'm smart, but clearly unfocused. I don't know how much that has to do with the program of education I've had (and shared with everyone else) and how much of it has to do with my parents just letting me hold off figuring out what I was going to do until I was old enough to make that decision on my own.

When I think about the people I know who are focused, I have the distinct intuition that these are the people who felt, figured out, or were pressured into, their callings really early on in life. The Geeks, Artists, and Athletes, who felt in their hearts what they wanted to do with their lives and who treated general education like  a necessary evil rather than preparation. Because they were preparing themselves, even in high school; even younger than that: always tinkering with code, drawing and writing, outrunning everyone else.

Is their focus a result of pressure from their parents? Is it a reaction against their parents and peers? Is it part of a desire to 'show everyone' what they could do?

So, as a parent, I know I have an obligation to worry about this stuff. I get to wonder if focus or breadth is best, and if encouraging Erin in whatever she shows an early interest in ("Marine biology, guys.") will have the effect I want or the effect she needs. I get to wonder if, when I find myself in one of those "I know best" moments if I really do know best.

Do I want to raise her as a dilettante, like her old man? Is there anything wrong with that? Will it matter what I do?

I wish I were already a world renowned marine biologist, living on Nim's Island with Emily and Erin, so that she could be apprenticed to someone who was an expert in what she liked and who also had the benefit of a general, liberal education, and whose vocation was teaching. Instead, the best I can do for her in that regard is to teach her some history and philosophy early on and hope she doesn't piss off her teachers too much.

Because with me as her father, and Emily as her mother, she is going to grow up absolutely certain she is right all the time, and consider it her duty to stand up to those petty injustices students have to endure for the benefit of the group.

I guess I ought to just hope for now that she doesn't get kicked out of school. Because she needs to be in school first for me to get to worry about all the other things.

Like boys. Argh argh argh.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Language Moms

My perspective is bound to be skewed. I don't meet a lot of dads, except through their wives, hurriedly, between bites of some kind of skewered meat at a birthday party. So I don't know how other dads feel about trying to teach an infant another language.

It's pretty clear that there is a powerful subset of moms around here who are absolutely committed to teaching a second language, going so far as to refuse to speak anything but their chosen language in the home, completely confident that their child will learn English by osmosis.

Emily and I toyed with a similar idea in our younger years. We imagined a household where I spoke only French, and she spoke only Spanish, and our children ended up speaking seven or eight languages by the time they were four. When I say "toyed with a similar idea" I really do mean that: we played with it, didn't take it seriously, laughed about it, used it to while away the time. The closest I've come to making a program of that idea is to read some books to Erin in French, every now and then.

I don't think I could keep up the effort of making her fluent very young, especially since my French has atrophied; I used to be in immersion classes and now I can barely ask someone how to find the subway.

But there are some moms I know who do make that effort, and that's pretty impressive to me. At the same time I find myself a little jealous, and can see that jealousy curdling into cynical derision. I keep it to myself, but I know the feeling is there, and I know it is born of jealousy.

I am friendly with, I believe, three different mommy groups. When I characterize them as groups I might be being a bit unfair, since I have seen overlap. But I think that there is a center of gravity for each of them, and whoever that person is generally sends initial e-mail invites and inquiries to a few people. That core, to me, constitutes the group.

The Language Moms are one such group. And last week I was finally included in their group. I think my inclusion comes in part because Erin and I participate in a signing playgroup, something we've also done in the past with the same instructor. For most of the moms this is their first time around with signing, so Erin seems absolutely brilliant and I seem totally at ease with ASL; the instructor has joked that I am going to be called on to sub for him at some point. That's all practice. But a side-effect of that competence is that I think I am unofficially a Language Mom.

Despite failing to teach my daughter French in my spare time, I think I actually am realizing that long-abandoned idea to introduce a second language early on. It's not the way I had planned, but that's hardly surprising: Dad proposes and Erin disposes.

Not possible

Sometimes when Erin really likes what she is eating she'll crack a big smile then jut her chin forward and let out an "mmmMMMMM".

But how am I supposed to tell the difference between those sincere exclamations and what I'm certain are the formalities she's learned: even with a disgusted, scrunched up face, or lemon sour-puss, she'll still give us "mmmMMMMM".

Is it possible she has already learned how to humour us?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The depths of her eyes

We sit at dinner, she across from I, she beside her, she demanding, her obliging, I laughing.

We sit, I staring, she laughing, her wondering.

We sit, I gazing, her adoring, she existing.

We sit, she glancing, her peeking, I falling.

We sit, I descending, she embracing, her indulging.

We sit, and I am lost forever in the depths of her eyes.


There are some times that I look at Erin and I have to wrench myself back to the world, so absorbed am I, trying to mold my consciousness into something resembling hers so that I can experience what she does. She is like a point of infinite mass, drawing everything to it with an irresistible force, and I am carried along.

She stands out against the background of the world; she glows in the dark; her colours, brighter, and her laughter, clarion.

Such is her intensity, dimming the backdrop behind her, that it dims even my memory of her past.

How can she not always have been just as she is?

I remember, but as I look at her I don't believe. I have known her, as she is, always. I am lost forever in the depths of her eyes.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tired now...where's the wine?

I just finished a ton of writing. More writing in one sitting than I've done in a long, since last summer when I had to write a rough dissertation proposal. This wasn't nearly as long, but I'm still tired.

I won't tell you why, just yet. You'll just have to suffer--because I know you are all dying to know my every move. Could my head be any bigger? Don't answer that. Especially not you, AEA.

I'll explain later. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe Sunday. It all depends on how much time Erin gives me over the next couple of days.

Erin tried to put on her mom's shoes yesterday. I about died of cuteness.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Twitter Rules

One of my blogging friends saw that I had added a Twitter account over there on the sidebar. I admit it, I caved to the peer pressure; I didn't want to be left out of the loop; I wanted to play where the cool kids play. Anyway, this blogging friend, who shall remain anonymous unless he/she wants to own up to it, expressed some worries about Twitter:

"I got started on it, and it quickly snowballed, in terms of time spent on it. I do get a bit of traffic from it, but not a ton. I'm confused about whether I should be posting personal stuff or [professional] stuff. and how do you follow a ton of people? Where do you jump in? How often should you check and update? These are some of my questions. -- and then, there's the annoying outages that have been happening recently."

I thought these questions, posed to me, were hilarious, because I had literally only been on Twitter for a few hours...I was a very very very n00by n00b. It hadn't even occurred to me to ask any of them. But to help out, because I'm helpful, I sent a list of Twitter rules that I, uh, made up:

1. tweet, or don't.

2. you can easily overthink 140 characters, so if you are thinking too hard about it, don't post.

3. you need have no shame on Twitter: feel free to post about new blog posts at your site.

4. you need have no shame on Twitter: feel free to post about how awesome your new shoes are

5. you need have no shame on Twitter.

6. you can easily overthink 140 characters, so if you are thinking too hard about it, post immediately.

7. Twitter is a firehose: don't try to keep up.

8. Twitter is like a snowstorm: open your mouth and see what lands on your tongue, but don't try to eat the drifts.

That's all I can think of right now. As for following a ton of people, I don't imagine I will. Or rather, as I start to follow more people I'll realize even more that I can't keep up, so I'll stop beating myself up about missing a tweet. They're tweets, not essays. Ah, I've found another:

9. Like little candies to gourmet meals, so do tweets stand to blog posts. You don't really want to miss too many meals, but who cares if you only eat one candy a week.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to go to the movies with your infant.

Now that Erin is a big, tough, 1-year old...

"Almost 14 months, guys."

...yes, almost 14 months. that Erin is a big toddler it is becoming increasingly difficult, and almost impossible, to bring her to the movies.

This is a real tragedy for me, because for her first year we went to a ton of movies. In fact, I probably saw more movies in the last year than in any other year.

It's hard to bring a baby to the movies, and knowing this some theaters in some cities have begun offering Diaper Days, showings during which parents can bring their infants and young children to see movies that aren't kids' movies. Everyone knows those showings are baby-friendly, so no one has to feel intimidated into leaving the theater if their kid is making noise.

Because that's really what keeps parents away from the movies when they have a baby: the theater is a special house of silence; there is even a crying baby in the "please shut the hell up" blurb before the movie starts. Message to parents: You are not welcome with your baby. So it's no wonder that parents stay away unless they are offered a special viewing. Also, it's not a whole lot of fun to watch a movie while your own baby is crying and demanding attention, and if you are any kind of movie lover, as I am, you don't really want to be too distracted for your $10 admission.

I have never gone to a Diaper Days showing of any film, and I'm kind of proud of that. They are an excellent concept, but I figure I'll avoid them for as long as I can get away with it.

A big part of my success has been luck. Erin has never been all that fussy, and she can sleep in some ridiculously noisy environments and seemingly uncomfortable situations. She took a 45 minute nap once in the middle of a huge party; she sleeps in the backpack as we walk. Unfortunately, your baby mileage may vary, so what follows is (obviously) not a prescription for success in any case. Honestly, these tips don't even guarantee that we'll be able to sit through an entire movie; I've had to walk out of a few. But maybe some of these tips will help make going to the movies with an infant less intimidating a prospect.

An Old Friend is a New Friend.

While your baby is really young (under 5 months) it is really hard to predict when she will sleep. So getting her to sit quietly in a theater for two hours is probably not going to work. However, there is a newfangled invention that you may not have heard about that is perfect for those unpredictable sleepers: The Drive-In is your friend.

That's right, the old staple of date-night from your parents' and grandparents' heyday is the perfect place to see a movie with your young, spotty sleeper. Even though the shows start later, with a young baby you probably aren't enforcing a bedtime anyway. If you're going to be awake with your baby at 11 or 12 anyway you might as well take advantage of that couple of hours beforehand while she sleeps to catch a flick. Also, any crying or fussing your baby might do will be confined to your own vehicle; your neighbors probably won't hear a peep. Emily and I saw every summer blockbuster of 2007 at the drive-in, while our daughter slept in the infant car seat in the back or had a bottle with us in the front seat.

On nights when we were especially lucky the drive down to the drive-in on Capitol Expressway in San Jose was just long enough to knock her out, and then she'd stay asleep for the entire movie. Those nights were awesome.

For the Nappers

When Erin arrived at 5 months or so I started carrying her around in the backpack. This was also around the time that she started taking pretty regular naps. Also, I found that she would take her naps anywhere (a necessity, because I was always trying to go somewhere and I did my best to put her on my own schedule; I'm a bad, selfish parent :} ). So, being able to predict naps came in handy when going to the movies.

I'd arrive about 10 minutes before the previews began, and about 15 or 20 minutes past when I would normally put her down for a nap if we were at home. I would get a bottle ready and once the previews started I would pop it in her mouth. More often than not by the time the film itself started Erin was sacked out. Being a predictable napper I could usually count on an hour and half of sleep, though this could vary.

Now, apart from the bottle tip (which isn't much of a tip now, is it? "Hey, my daughter would sleep really well, so I could take her to the movies. You should too" :} ) I actually do have some helpful suggestions:

  1. The Multiplex is where it's at: Even if your baby is a great napper there is always a chance that she will wake up in the middle of the movie and start crying. If this happens you most certainly do not want to be in an art house theater. Chances are those places manage to stay in business because they get a minimum number of people into even their afternoon shows, and with their operating costs their minimum is probably more than you would be comfortable with overhearing your babbler.
  2. Timing is Everything: At a big multiplex they always have a movie playing on every single screen once they open their doors, but guess what? They need a certain minimum of people to make it worthwhile to open the doors, but they are going to calculate this minimum as an average over the whole week and open at the same time every weekday. This means that even though, for example, Wednesdays might be really packed even in the afternoon, Mondays might be almost totally empty. Erin and I always go to the showing that begins after 1pm or 3pm. 1pm is late enough at our Multiplex that they've been open for a while and the early bird moviegoers have filtered into other screens. 3pm at our theater is late enough to miss the Lunch & Movie crowd without picking up the after school crowd. Wednesday is the best day at our theater, especially now that the Multiplex near us began Senior Monday, which draws people in like flies to honey on Monday afternoons. With the right timing you could end up in an entirely empty theater, and then who cares if your baby wakes up?
  3. Screen Clutter=Good Times: Erin and I live in an area where there are a lot of people who speak Spanish. The huge Multiplex knows this, and in an attempt to snag some more diverse dollars they will target some screens at this segment of the population. But it's too much work to dub movies into Spanish, so usually the Multiplex will show the movie in English with Spanish subtitles. And they will tell everyone that they are doing so. This probably draws people in very well for the evening shows, but during the middle of the day these screens are all but empty. The mid-day movie-goers around here don't want to see anything else on top of the screen, so they will actually choose to go to another showing just to avoid seeing writing. Not this guy. I have seen movies in entirely empty theaters in the middle of the day because I've figured out which were subtitled in Spanish.
  4. The Stroller is Like a Pantry on Wheels: If you do bring your napper to the movies, and you bring a stroller, make sure it's one of the huge SUVs of strollers. The little McLaren umbrella stroller that is so compact and awesome and lightweight also doesn't recline enough for a good nap, and your baby's legs will hang down in front in a position just uncomfortable enough to keep her awake. At least, this is what happens with Erin. If I don't take the backpack and let her sleep in it (which is an awesome trick if you can get it to work :} ), then I bring the huge stroller. Not only for it's more dramatic recline and more comfortable leg positioning, but because I can smuggle a ton of crap into the theater with me in the storage compartment. So, if I don't feel like spending $10 on popcorn and a drink I can spend $2 and bring my own snacks. Some places don't care if you bring food in (the AMC in Santa Clara let's you bring in whatever you want...including pizzas), but some places are staffed by food nazis, so the stroller is a must.
  5. Don't Get Too Comfortable: I know, you are trying to relax at the movies. But if there are other people in the theater and your little monster darling child wakes up you want to be able to beat a hasty retreat to the hallway. And this means not having things strewn about around you. Unpack as little as possible at a time, and put things back in the stroller (or backpack) after you use them. Don't get caught having to pack things up while also shushing your baby and maneuvering the stroller one-handed.
  6. Patience is Key: I know you want to see that new teen comedy with the eggplant-fellatio and the fart jokes as soon as it hits theaters. But give it a week or two. Chances are fewer people are going to be in the theater with you if you wait to see something than if you go during opening week, even if you are going during the day.
  7. It's Just Like Buying a Car: You have to be willing to walk away. This means not investing so much in the movie that you feel like you can't leave without seeing the entire thing. Early shows are cheaper than later shows. Weekday shows are cheaper than weekend shows. And bringing your own snacks and drinks cuts your movie investment in half. So if it comes right down to it you have, maybe, spent $7 or $8 and you can just get up and leave if it really comes to it.
  8. Don't see any movie with Paul Giamatti in it: Erin hates Paul Giamatti. His voice is so grating that it woke her up no fewer than three times and eventually I had to leave the theater. It was my first unsuccessful movie-watching experience. (All right, I admit it. I spent money to see Fred Clause. You can all de-friend me now.) A more general lesson here is to try to guess beforehand how even the sound in the movie will be. Even frantic sounds can be soothing or turn to background noise for babies. It's the sudden changes in volume (or Giamatti's sandpaper voicebox) that will jar your kid out of her slumber. Unfortunately, this means that most action movies are probably not going to be good bets for Multiplex viewing (save these for the drive-in, where you control the volume).
  9. Avoid Senior Days: Not only will there be more people in the theater on Senior Days, but you'll be less likely to snag one of the wheelchair companion seats on Senior Day. This is an important spot, because these seats are not too close or too far away, have a space next to them perfect for your stroller, and also provide easy access to the exit if you have to beat a hasty retreat. Another reason to prefer the Multiplex for our purposes is that they generally have several of these seats, so you don't need to feel too guilty about taking one for yourself.
  10. Have Your Distractions Ready: Even though you should keep things pretty well-packed for the purposes of a quick exit, you also want to be able to access some things very quickly if your baby wakes up. So keep any dolls, blankets, baby-snacks, or pre-mixed formula within easy reach. Pack them on the top of the diaper bag; keep a pre-mixed bottle in the cup-holder of your SUV stroller (it will be fine for a couple of hours, so the most you're out is some formula if you don't end up needing it).

Now that Erin is older it's harder to get her to fall asleep in the theater. There was a brief period during which even if she was awake she would sit quietly and just watch what was going on, but at one year ("14 months, guys") she talks, laughs, and screeches when she is awake. So, now that summer movie season is upon us, and Erin has a bedtime that she usually zonks out at pretty well, we have started going back to the drive-in. The shows start after her bed-time, so we jammie her up after dinner and then drive down to San Jose.

Having a baby doesn't mean you can't give hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year to the movie studios. You just have to be willing to put in the effort to do your part for Hollywood.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


It takes a village to raise a child. Or so the Germans would have us believe. (If you get the joke you are awesome.)

Back in the day, yo, we could rely on our parents, and our grandparents, and our neighbors and our neighbors' grandparents, to pass along any little tidbits of wisdom they had acquired throughout years of living and raising children. It's a lot more difficult to engage those elder voices now. We live too far away (and we never call), and we discount oral tradition wisdom in favor of new and well-footnoted research into child development.

Usually this research just confirms what the elders would have told us a century ago; tried telling us fifty years ago; and was ignored thirty years ago when we were born. The legacy of that shift away from elder wisdom was, I opine, a gap in our knowledge: a mythical time in which we forgot what we knew before, but we were pretty sure it was bogus anyway because the new science was going to replace just hadn't managed to do so yet.

And so: Us. A floundering group of parents who have had their elders stripped from them to be replaced by experts. Experts who write books. Experts who appear on television and tell you that you are stupid.

I can't get into the parenting books that are out there. Not that I know anything about them to dismiss them so easily; I don't know why I've always been so stubborn about this one field of book-learnin'. But I have been. Emily bought all the pregnancy books, and I skimmed some. She bought all the new dad books for me, and I shelved them.

So. Anyone know what the definition of "chagrin" is? Whatever it means, I have it in spades right now. Recently, as part of my continuing effort to rock the bloggy world with my awesome body, I've actually started going back to the gym. I can almost do a chin up. I think. I haven't tried real hard.

But I ran into a little problem a few weeks ago that kept me from really hitting the gym hard this past month. It had to do with Erin. And I had no idea what to do. Because I have moved away from all of my elders, and hardly call them, and find it easy to dismiss what they would tell me anyway as being old-fashioned and ignorant. But I also hadn't read any books by the professional-elders of parenting, the child-psychologists.

So, there I was, floundering. Until I remembered that I have an awesome bloggy friend, Heather. Heather is the Baby Shrink, and she gives excellent advice that doesn't make you feel like you've been beaten with the "neglectful, stupid, hopeless parent" stick.

I sent an e-mail to Heather asking her what to do, and she responded with an excellent message. She has posted the exchange over at her site, and if you are curious to see this woman in action it is well worth checking out. Learn how to deal with that sudden, shocking separation anxiety your one year old might be going through.

I really want to thank Heather for her great advice. She is a great resource, and much easier to interact with than one of those books. She has no index or table of contents. Just an e-mail address that she is very easily contacted at. (Editor's Note: She actually does have an index and table of contents: her archives and categories list on her website. And being clickable they're a lot easier to use than a book. Still, she's so good over e-mail that I use that as my first option.)

Plus, I don't have to wade through mounds of "bad son" guilt to talk to her.