This blog is old. You don't want to read an old blog, do you?

If you are not redirected to the fancy new blog in about 6 seconds visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feeling Raw Because of Facebook, Part 2: Do Over

Continuing my "I don't want to write anything new" week, here is another guest post from ME.

I was 14. I was at a new school, in a new city, and my classmates had all been in middle school together before moving across the street to the high school. So, once again, I was starting over.

This time, though I was starting over and I was a teenager. And because I have always been crazy I developed a maddening crush on the smartest girl in class. She also happened to be the least-interested-in-me girl in class. I would try to get, and keep, her attention, but it never worked. She seemed genuinely contemptuous, and really just wanted me to leave her alone, I think.

But the not-secret crush was entertaining to the rest of the kids, and having even that kind of attention was attractive to the new kid; it was a way to fit in, though very dysfunctionally.

Because it was high school, and because I had been raised on television and movie versions of life (I hate you a little, Degrassi. But only a little.) I could recognize the narrative that was playing out around me. The elements of a great teen romance were all in place: new kid, having a tough time cracking into the established group; smart girl, pushing the guys away  because she is too mature or insecure to play the game of casual romance that the rest of the girls seemed to play; a supporting cast of watchers, and goaders-on, who could be both audience and writing staff for the drama unfolding before them.

There was the scene at the musical, where the new kid worked up the nerve to perform on stage; and the girl showed up and sat in the front row, endlessly distracting him from what he was doing.

There was the cross-country running team the new kid joined so that he might, possibly, work up the nerve to talk to the girl directly.

There were the dances, and the narrative demanded that at these special times, when romance was scripted, that he walk up to her while “November Rain” was beginning because this time she would agree to dance with him, and the world would change.

There was the last chance, the brief period after the final exam of the year when he saw that he could speak to her alone, and tell her how he felt. He raced out to the bike rack to catch her before she left for the summer; he called out. But with one glance over her shoulder she hopped onto her bike and dashed off. The last chance, wasn't.

And there was the surreal moment, after the summer break, when she approached him. Caught off guard by the reversal of roles he couldn't let the old story end amicably and maturely; afraid of trading the known discomfort of daily life for some unknown where they were friends he responded to her friendliness with disinterest and brusqueness.

Returning to normal for the rest of that semester, the momentary role reversal was just a Fourth Act twist, quickly turned tragic by his behavior; his disinterest was belied by his recidivism, his seeking out her attention once again, and once again being greeted by her disdain.

But unlike movies, this narrative didn't end with some sudden, dramatic moment of mutual appreciation and a recognition of deeper feelings. Instead, I left the school. When I looked into the future, the three and a half years that remained, I didn't like the person who I was going to become, and who I had already been to a certain extent. So, I decided to go be the new kid somewhere else, and pretend as though that first year and a half had never happened.

I rebuilt fairly successfully, I think, but I was still wounded. Disdain hurt, and to be held in contempt by someone whose opinion was so important did make me wonder, sometimes, if all of my confidence was fraudulent.

There was a show on tv briefly a few years ago called “Do Over”, in which the main character, a 34 year-old man, is transported back to his 14 year-old self, to go through high school with all of his adult knowledge. In my “wish I had a time machine” moments I've often wished for a do over of the first year and a half of high school. It was pretty scarring, and I was the perpetrator of my own insecurities as much as I was the victim of other peoples' attitudes. And there was the girl...

This girl who affected me so deeply at an age where we are built to be affected deeply and forever. She left me in tatters, and I fled.

And 15 years later I saw her on Facebook; and I worked up the nerve to send her a note, the 2008 version of “Do you remember me? Check “yes” or “no”.” We've been in contact for a while now, and because she is more mature than I am, and probably always has been, she extended an apology for her behavior as an adolescent.

I assured her that it wasn't necessary; that it was no big deal; that I was long recovered.

That was a complete and total fabrication. It actually meant a lot to me. It was as though that year and a half meant something, again; as though I needn't flinch anymore when I recalled my first days of high school. Thank you for that, smart girl.

It's like my very own “Do Over”.


Jeremy Adam Smith's posts are always smart. But he's written one today that just floors me. The moral, the obvious, but too often-submerged, necessary thought that parents ought always to have is this one:

For me, for all of us responsible for nurturing life, nihilism is not an option

Go. Read it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Feeling Raw Because of Facebook, Part 1: The Wonder Years

I'm not going to write anything new for the next few days, I think. But since I posted a story the other day about what may have been my first crush I was reminded of some other stories that I posted on another blog that has been inactive for a while. If you've read these stories before, well, you've been reading this blog for a long time then and that makes you awesome. Also, don't spoil them for everyone else :}

Like most adolescent boys I was a more than a bit girl-crazy when I was a kid. No, that's too mild. I was obsessive, fascinated, and thrown completely off balance by girls. I was also always always always the new kid, and in each new place there was another girl to throw me for a loop.

One of my first crushes, and certainly my puppiest crush, was on a girl in grade school. She was a year older than I, but we were in a split grades 5-6 class. It was my first year in a new town, and she was pretty, and popular, and energetic, and the leader of the girl-pack at that school. I was in whatever passes for love in a 10 year old, and surprisingly enough she managed to not ignore me. In fact, through the various pairings-off that happened in that first romanticized pre-teen year she and I were a couple at least once. Who knows how long these relationships lasted? They felt like moments and years both.

But she was in the 6th grade, and our school only went to 6, so at the end of the year she moved on to a middle school, 7-8, and I stayed behind. Partly because of her attention, and partly because it was such a small school, I got over feeling like the "new kid" by the time 6th grade began. I remember thinking about her a lot during that year, though. And by 7th grade we were again at the same school. She seemed even more popular and pretty and social, but she was also long past going out with younger guys. That was a long year, and the occasional phone call from her (or to her) was only enough to keep me enthralled, but never enough to bring us really close again.

The next year she went to high school and I saw her maybe once in that time. A final teasing phone call and then we were done: I moved again.

We had lived in a small place in Eastern Ontario; I moved to a smaller to finish out 8th grade. Then I moved west and went to high school, graduating a year early and eventually going to the University of Toronto, a school with more students than our town had residents. And on my first day of university, sitting on a grassy knoll at an orientation bbq, I met her again. We lived 4 floors apart in our college residence, and we were in the same history class. Despite our proximity we didn't see each other that often. I had gained a lot of confidence since those timid days in the 5th grade, and I had plenty to keep me occupied; and she had a full life of her own, and I only saw her sporadically. But here was this girl, this woman now, whom I had known as a child and who used to hold my heart in her unknowing hands. I admit it; she made me feel shy and awkward all over again. So I never really asked her out (I don't think potatoes at Futures counts as any kind of date), and just before Christmas she left school and never came back.

12 years after we saw each other last, probably in that history class she would sleep through, we met again, on Facebook.

It feels a little bit, from my side, like Kevin Arnold meeting Winnie Cooper at the plane in the final episode of "The Wonder Years." And once again I feel awkward and shy: how did she ever find this guy interesting?

There is someone on Facebook who is not a member of my family whom I have known for 20 years. That's a little bit humbling.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

How to Abuse a Friendship in 500 Words or Less

Like a Vegas lounge singer I'd like to "take the room down" a little and get serious on you for a moment.

I want to tell you all about a dear friend of mine who is having a bit of a rough time. Her name is Tanis, otherwise known as The Redneck Mommy. You've probably heard of her; hell, you're probably only here because you read her blog and she linked to me once.

Tanis is very special to me, and not only because she went above and beyond the call of duty in making a dad-out-of-water feel comfortable and welcome at BlogHer. She also tells wonderful, hilarious and heartbreaking stories, and she puts up with dad-bloggers and other pervs of their ilk and their constant requests for pictures of her boobs.

So, what is the rough time she is having? Well, today is Tanis' birthday. And it's a very special birthday for her because she is finally, finally, out of her 30s.

Yep, Tanis turns 40 today, and she is having a little trouble accepting it. I'm not sure why. As someone significantly younger than she is I can assure her that the 30s aren't that great and I can hardly wait to be as aged and wise as she is.

And even though she's a little older today than she was yesterday I'd like her to know that if her personality is any indication, 40 is the new "12-year-old boy". And if everyone could go visit her blog and let her know that 40 isn't old at all and nothing to be ashamed of, I think she would really appreciate it. Eventually.

Happy Birthday, Tanis. Your friends love you very much.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Mad Minute

When I was in the first grade my family lived in Carp, Ontario. Or, more specifically, we lived in an old farmhouse across the road from the O.P.P. station outside of Carp. It was dramatically rural, and I have lots of those soft-lens memories of fields and treehouses that every kid should have.

I attended Huntley Centennial Public School. I've no idea who "Huntley" was. Huntley had different wings, with coloured doors marking off areas that certain grades were supposed to stick to. When I was in the first grade my wing was the Blue Wing (the cool older kids were in the Gold Wing) so all of my doors were blue.

My first grade teacher was Ms. Barr. I still remember her name. She would have us do math drills just about every day called Mad Minutes. She would pass out a piece of paper and on it would be printed between 20 and 30 math questions: simple addition or subtraction problems. We would be timed for one minute and we tried to finish them as quickly as possible.

I was fast.

I was very fast.

But I wasn't the fastest.

The fastest student in our class was a little brunette named Sara. She blazed through the problems. No matter which version of the Mad Minute (the teacher didn't make them up; they came pre-printed) the teacher put down in front of us Sara owned it.

Sara may have been my first crush. I don't remember if she was pretty or not, but that doesn't matter: she was smart. I've always been a sucker for smart girls. She was the only kid in the class who was faster than I was at those Mad Minutes, and she inspired me to do better every day until I closed the speed gap between us. Eventually she wasn't beating me by much, and I remember being very pleased with myself while also still being a little annoyed that I couldn't catch up to her.

She knew I was trying to catch her; I think I was pretty obvious with my disgust for myself whenever she'd put her pencil down and stick her hand up to announce her completion. And I think she liked the attention in some strange six-year-old way.

As the year wore on Ms. Barr would rotate us around the desks in the classroom. The desks were arranged in pairs, and each student at one time or another sat next to each other student. So eventually Sara and I were seated next to each other, and the game was soon afoot. The pressure to finally win that Mad Minute race against her, especially if I could do it while sitting next to her, was enormous.

But Sara wasn't nearly as petty in her competitiveness as I was. So, as that first Mad Minute was about to begin, our first head-to-head race, she nudged me with her elbow and directed my attention to a sheet of paper she was sliding out of her desk onto her lap.

It was a Mad Minute worksheet, filled out in its entirety.

My nemesis, my crush, my rival, had been cheating all year long. And knowing how badly I wanted to improve my speed, and perhaps as a way to convert my overt animosity and competitive drive into friendship she was willing to share her secret with me. Because she mistook my drive for a drive to merely be fast, and not to excel. I wanted to excel: to be good enough that the speed followed naturally.

I was so stunned that all I could do in the time between her showing me the paper and Ms. Barr blowing her little whistle to start the Mad Minute was shake my hide and mutter "no" as my eyes grew wide.

That day, because I was angry, or she was suddenly nervous, or for whatever reason, I destroyed Sara's time.

It may have been the fastest I had ever worked. Because I knew I wasn't competing against someone who was taking any time to calculate, but someone who was just copying numbers. I knew that she would take less time to do it, and so I just let my brain guide my pencil with very little direction. The marks on the paper followed almost immediately from lightning calculations.

I was a tiny John Henry, up against the a Mad Minute Machine. But unlike John Henry my heart didn't give out after the race.

My heart had been shattered before the race even began.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Grocery Aisle Karma (GAK)

I was GAK'd.

Ever been GAK'd?

Are you confused?

Let me help.

GAK, Grocery Aisle Karma, is a noun. As I learned in my Latin class today, nouns are parts of speech. In addition to nouns there are pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. A pronoun takes the place of a noun, yes, but it is also a more general term: "we" can mean anyone, while "Backpacking Dad" can pretty much only mean me. Unless there's another Backpacking Dad out there.

I would fight that dude.

Verbs are words. Fine, they are some kind of action word. But the word "verb" comes from the Latin word "verbum" which, as Latin words go, is probably the most self-reflective, because it just means "word."

Prepositions, I discovered, are awesome. Despite my perverse desire to end every sentence with a preposition, I finally know why prepositions are inappropriate for ending sentences with. Because prepositions don't really do anything, apart from beginning prepositional phrases; beginning prepositional phrases. So if a preposition is at the end of a sentence it isn't beginning a damned thing.

Adjectives are awesome. Adverbs are even more awesome. And conjunctions are great unifiers. But, hell, interjections are probably my favourite parts of speech.

So. Now that you know everything I know about English and Latin grammar...

GAK. A noun meaning "the particular kind of karma that sneaks up on someone, like me, who is insufferably superior while grocery shopping."

Erin has been jonesing to ride in one of the fancy shopping carts at the Safeway: the carts with the little car attached to the front. They are rare, and I don't know what fantastic confluence of events occurred last week, but for whatever reason there was one in the cart return area right next to my parking space when we pulled in, so I immediately claimed it and buckled Erin inside.

She squealed and started steering her little car and beeping her horn and then I died from the cuteness of it all. (That's what us mommy-bloggers are supposed to say about stuff like that, right? That we died from the cuteness of it all? I don't know how a dad-blogger would describe it. Maybe "My kid did something and then I farted and threw a bunch of crap in the cart so I could get home to watch the football game while my wife made me some nachos.")

Everyone here knows I'm joking, right? Right? And that it's all awesomely self-referential and twisted and you can't really figure out what's going on with it, right? Hmm. Well, now do you know?

Back to the story (because this blog, more than anything else, is about stories, no matter how often I go off and tell you something about grammar you didn't want to know, or throw myself at children's show hosts (who, seriously, crush on me in a major way. I mean, she's undoubtedly reading this right now and showing her mom while she whispers "Where has he been my whole life?" and I just have to keep reminding her that I'm married and in love with my wife and also that FADKOG claimed me first. That's just an historical fact. So, although I'm totally flattered, and I really am, it's just never going to happen. I'm sorry. No, no. Shhh. Don't say anything else. It's better this way.), I think I tell stories more often than anything else) at hand: I was pushing Erin's huge RV/Shopping Cart down the canned vegetables aisle and a familiar face approached me.

"Hi Shawn."

Beat. Beat. Beat. Crap. Who is this? She looks way familiar. I think Emily knows her. Why can't I place her?

"Hi! How are you?"

Still no idea. No, wait. Imagine she has a toddler with her: Got it!!

See, she works with Emily and had a baby shortly after Erin was born and we knew each other through our neat little new parents center in town. But I could hardly ever remember seeing her without a kid. And as that thought struck me, another, more evil thought struck me.

"No kid today?" I asked, and then, mentally: No kid today, at the grocery store? Look at me, I'm a breaking-down-the-stereotypes DAD and I have MY kid with me at the grocery store. I'm not afraid to shop with her. Pffft. Amateur.

"No, not today," she said as she wandered past me, her child-free arms swinging as she walked.

I turned my head to watch her walk away, and like a big cosmic joke the universe opened up and dumped all over me.

Because there, coming up behind me was another RV/Shopping cart. This one also had a toddler inside steering the thing and beeping the horn so that you'd want to die of the cuteness. And mom was pushing the cart, happily strolling down the aisle and pausing for a second to go around the obstacle, me, that was taking up so much space. And strapped to her chest, sleeping as only a newborn can sleep, was my comeuppance.

I swear I heard her whisper "Amateur" as she walked by.

Monday, September 22, 2008


When Emily went back to work last September I began a new career: I became an at-home dad. I was reluctant to even consider it as an option when Erin was born, because I feared derailing my academic career, interrupting my pursuit of my vocation. But in the weeks leading up to Emily's return to the workforce I came to like the idea more and more, and I embraced it by the time her first day arrived.

It has been one of the least-regretted, most joyous and rewarding decisions I've ever made. My doubts seem ridiculous now.

Not because my career hasn't been derailed, the pursuit of my vocation interrupted, because this has absolutely happened. But I don't feel the tragedy of it.

On Emily's first day of work I began writing e-mails to Erin. At first I'd write them every day, just short or long notes, summing up a day or letting her know about what new milestone she reached, or just using her as a sounding board for whatever was in my head. Eventually many of those thoughts were turned into other kinds of writing, and the pace of e-mails slowed. But it never stopped. In this past year I've written two hundred and eighteen e-mails to Erin: Mundane, inane, boring, silly, sappy, funny, advisory, confessional e-mails.

And now I bookend them.

Not because I'll cease writing them. But because I'll no longer be writing them from the same place.

My year is up. And today (because I'm up after midnight, unable to sleep for thinking about it) I resume my former life, insofar as any life can be resumed in any form resembling itself once your child makes her presence known and felt. In a few short, too short, hours I will be heading back to campus, back to classes, and papers, and advisors and students and professors and bureaucrats and textbooks and ancient thoughts.

Erin won't be going into full-time daycare for another week and half. I'll be keeping my days on campus short this week, and Emily will be staying home for a couple of hours in the morning until I return. But today is the official end of my year as a stay at home dad.

Here is the final part of Number 218:

I am not ready to go back to school. I'm not ready to shift gears from full-time dad, or Stay-At-Home-Dad, as we SAHDs call ourselves :}, to student. I've been away a long time, and I'm not sure I have the enthusiasm or the academic chops for this anymore.

But I'm going back to finish what I started. I have a vocation, a calling, to be a teacher. To teach philosophy to kids who are ready to ask those questions, and to incorporate the philosophical method into their lives as a way of holding the insufferable, agonizing stupidity of much of the world at bay. Your tota, and your grandfather both want me to go back and finish. Your mom wants me to go back and finish. And I want to go back, even though I don't feel up to it.

You will probably run into a situation like this in your own life, in which you feel inadequate to a challenge, or that you don't have the stamina for an especially long task or commitment. So I'm going back for you, too. So that you will always have that example in your life of someone who did finish what he started, even when he doubted himself. I'm Luke, returning to Dagobah (I hope you understand this reference, because if you don't I have utterly failed you as a Geek Dad.)

Good night, folks. I'll see you in the morning. After class.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I have a confession to make. I've been spending a lot of time in the company of another woman. A lot of time. And no, this isn't a cutesy way of saying that I've been spending all of my time with my daughter, ha ha boy don't you have egg on your face for falling for my joke.

No. I'm dead serious. Every day, after Emily goes to work I let this woman into my home and...


...the details aren't important. But she makes me happy. She smiles at me, and dances a little, and serenades me.

Even better, she always brings a couple of kids with her to distract Erin while we enjoy our special, stolen time together.

Recently, though, she's been acting a bit, I don't know, is clingy the right word? No, maybe not. Just, insistent. She's had friends try to talk to me on her behalf; she's sent gifts; and she's even left a little note lying around where I'd be sure to find it. She's reckless though; Emily could have found the note first and then I'd be in a mess of trouble. I feel like she just wants to let the whole world in on our secret, and I don't know if I can fight her anymore. She has me wrapped around her finger like a piece of coloured tape.

Oh, Rachel. You win. Let's tell the world.


Rachel sent me a preview copy of the Baby Signing Time DVDs. (I say Rachel sent it even though, in fact, Lindsey her communications manager sent it, but let's not confuse the story, ok? Rachel sent me a gift, and it came with a note handwritten by her and she put hearts over her "i"s and winks throughout.)  Erin has been more than a little addicted to Signing Time for, oh, half of her life. I've mentioned that fact here on the blog a couple of times and, because the internet really is a small, infinite space, I found myself in possession of episodes of the new series.

For those unfamiliar with Signing Time, it is a pre-schooler show starring Rachel "Backpacking Dad's Other Wife" Coleman, and her daughter Leah and nephew Alex. And a frog. It is a live-action show with the occasional animation and lots of songs and montages that teach some basic American Sign Language to young children. Erin demands that we put it on, even when I'm watching something else like "Yes, Dear" and learning the secrets of parenting from Hollywood writers. The songs are the kind of "get stuck in your head" tunes that you'd expect from a good children's program, without, in most cases being the kind of "make you want to stab pencils through your eardrums" tunes that you'd expect from most average children's programs. Each episode features a theme, and a barrage of signs are taught and demonstrated, and Erin has woken up some mornings and just started showing us new signs that I swear I've never taught her: she learned them straight from Rachel (and Alex; Erin swoons for Alex, and could sign his name almost before "daddy").

Watching the Baby Signing Time episodes is a little bit like going to Main Street in Disneyworld, Orlando, after having spent your whole life walking down Main Street in Disneyland, Anaheim. Or, as Vincent Vega might say: "It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same {bleep} over there that they got here, but it's just--it's just there it's a little different."


All right. Well, you can watch a whole episode of Baby Signing Time and not see Alex and Leah. And I don't mean just like in no cut scenes, I'm talking about not even once. And in the episode where you do see them, they are in montage footage. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Baby Signing Time isn't Signing Time, which even in its theme song announces the presence of Rachel's two sidekicks. Their characters are in the new DVDs, as cartoons, but Erin wasn't making any googly eyes at the cartoon version of Alex. Baby Signing Time is all Rachel. And that's okay with me.

The animations in the new DVDs are much slicker, though, and they do grab and hold Erin's attention. As do the songs, which feel significantly longer while at the same time being less densely packed with signs. This is probably what child-development folks would call a "good thing": fewer quick-cuts and more emphasis helps build those little neural networks, helps maintain attention span, and permanent-ifies (new word!) what the kids are learning. This is probably why the Teletubbies, which is inexplicably both laconic and prolix, is such a hit with the under-two crowd. But it also means that the songs are just a little bit less memorable for the adults watching the show. (I know, right? It's all about me.) Because after a while the songs just get tuned out as background instead of engaged as communication.

This is true of many of the songs, but there are exceptions. In Episode 3: Revenge of the Signs A New Day, "Strolling, Strolling" is particularly memorable for its poppy rhythm. And the show-closing "Tiny Hands" song is just pure sappy goodness chock-full (who says that?) of signs.

In Episode 4: Let's Be Friends, the "Opposites" song has lots of signs, which makes paying attention a lot easier for the older kids, like me. And once again the show closer, this time "Show Me a Sign", stands out as a pop-ballad that is not insane-making in the least. It is also full of signs.

I think I just used the term "pop-ballad" and the phrase "not insane-making" right next to each other. Whatever happened to my cynical youth?


Erin's Review: Erin didn't budge from her seat or make a peep for the 50+ minutes (yes, I let my daughter watch tv for that long; what of it? she can also tell me exactly what she wants or sees and rarely spazzes out, so I'll take the trade-off) we were watching these episodes. That should tell you something. Even without live versions of Alex and Leah, the longer songs and less talk-time really grabbed her attention. She's right in the middle of the targeted age-range (3 months to 36 months), and the show works perfectly for her.

Backpacking Dad's Review: Rachel is sporting a new hairdo (shoulder-length, flipped out) and what appears to be a slightly more form-fitting orange sweater, and that works just perfectly for me.

Kids and dads alike will love Baby Signing Time.


And before you type that e-mail to me that says "Dude, you have got to control yourself, it is utterly creepy and inappropriate to be talking about a children's program host in the way you've been doing," just know that I've read what some of you have written about The Wiggles. So I'm making no apologies for my not-so-secret crush anymore. Rachel + Backpacking Dad 4 Ever.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fun with Math

Emily and I are enjoying a nice evening at home, watching Last Holiday. It's a tolerable movie, starring Queen Latifah and L.L. Cool J.

We've seen it before, more than once, and we pretty much watch it just because I have a little bit of a crush on Queen Latifah and she has a huge crush on L.L. Cool J.

Something has always bothered me about it, though: the roulette table. At one point Queen Latifah's "dying from a mysterious illness and blowing all of her cash on an insane trip" character attends a charity casino night and plays some roulette. She bets on black 17, and wins. She lets her winnings ride and wins again. She lets her winnings ride a third time and wins yet again. She then cashes in her chips and one of her companions does the conversion for her: "That's about a hundred thousand dollars!"

Pretty impressive, right? Not bad for five minutes at the roulette table.

But the math doesn't add up, not unless Queen Latifah is playing at a particularly low-limit roulette table at a charity auction with her rich companions.

Because roulette usually pays 35:1 on straight numbers, like black 17. So if she has a hundred thousand dollars after her third win, she was letting $2857.14 ride. If she had $2857.14 after her second win, she was letting $81.63 ride. And if she had $81.63 after her first win, then she bet a mere $2.33 initially.

Who is going to go into a charity casino night in a ridiculously posh resort with fancy companions and then bet two dollars? It doesn't add up.

But Queen Latifah can be forgiven a lot of things.

Do you know what this is? This is a filler post, just to kick the O'Reilly video down a page. I'd rather be writing about my crush on Queen Latifah.

Fun with Bill

Bill O'Reilly is a blowhard. He knows he's in the entertainment business, and, like every other entertainer out there he gets by on his act and personality. He is not a journalist, and this has never been more evident than in the following clip where he gets into an on-air tiffle with one of Fox's own and tries to convince her, and everyone in the audience, that the First Amendment is irrelevant. What journalist would take this ridiculous position? He also fails miserably and his interlocutor cannot help but make a fool of him, just by virtue of explaining the way the law, and Constitution, work.

Nice job.

from Boing Boing

Friday, September 19, 2008


As she scampered from the Ikea Poang chair to the Ikea side table she looked like a little monkey. I know, they all look like monkeys. That's why we call them little monkeys so often. But really, there is no other, better metaphor. A monkey moved hand-over-hand, butt high in the air, from the chair to the table, and then evolved and stood erect.

Table-standing champion.

She had just finished a long bout of "climb onto the back of the high chair in a way that will make her mother freak out", and for some reason I was more nervous about her standing on the side table than I was about her using the high chair as a jungle gym.





Why yes, that is a medal around her neck. She is the champion furniture climber 'round here.

"Erin. Sit down." And I flashed the sign for 'sit'.

A blank stare at me, a look over at the television to see if I was still watching the Nine Inch Nails concert on Palladia HD, and she continued to stand upright. Uncaring. As though I hadn't spoken at all.

"E-rin. Sit down!" And again I flashed the sign.

Once again she ignored me. A brief glance, a moment, but she was more interested in the near-bald Reznor on the screen.

I was a little exasperated. How dare she? Was I going to have to get up from my comfortable chair to let her know that I was Dad and I was to be obeyed in all things? How was I ever going to train her to go get beers for me by the time hockey season began if she wouldn't even sit when I told her to?

One last time. Reaching deep into my bag of tricks, my near-forgotten lore, old stories about training wild monkeys and soothing savage beasts bubbling to the surface of my brain and connecting me to the long line of parents who had gone before me, embarking on this perilous journey through obedience and respect...

"Erin. Sit down...please?"

And she plopped down immediately, grinned at me, repeated "please" and showed me how to sign it properly.

It was like magic.


She was so gooey.

I knew babies involved goo, and that you kind of signed on for that as soon as you scribbled on the dotted "unprotected sex" line at the bottom of the Doin' It contract.

And I'd seen plenty of movies in which someone, for the sake of their filmic "art", had hosed one down with chicken-jello or something and tried to convince the audience that "Hey, this is a newborn, and not in fact a 2-year-old child that we've spray-painted with chicken-jello!" And there was goo everywhere.

But still, I was a little underprepared for the gooey-ness. She was balling, and wailing, and she didn't quite know what was going on, and she was covered in goo.

She still is, really: Every time her daughter looks up at her and says "ha-ppy" with a great big smile on her face.

Erin's First Six Months (Selection) 011

My wife: a gooey mess.


In my travels around the blog world tonight I noticed that I could enter to win some gift baskets or something. I've been looking for someplace to keep my testicles since I'm clearly not using them, and I thought "Hey, a basket would be perfect. Then I could line it with some of that Easter grass and toss some jellybeans down too so my marbles would look huge."

Well, wonder of wonders, the requirement for winning one of these gift baskets (which actually have stuff in them already, Bonus!) was that I write a post "reminiscing about those new baby days." Hey, I can do that. I can "reminisce" like nobody's business. I reminisce all the time. Like that one time, when I had that sword and invaded two countries in the same night.

But why? Why reminisce at all? I mean, apart from the obvious reason that I can finally have a place to store my balls?

Oh, because some other ladies (I say "other" not because they are "other than my wife" but because I am again comparing my de-testicled self to a woman; and of course I know that there is a lot more to being a woman than merely lacking something that a man has, and no, I'm not going to insert a lame/awesome "like common sense!" joke here, although some people might expect me to and those people are appalling/awesome) are getting ready to get all gooey. Like my wife they will be balling, wailing messes, and some asshat is going to take pictures of them while they're all vulnerable like that. So, to make up for the lack of consideration that husbands everywhere have when it comes to taking pictures in the delivery room, I'd like to participate in the Virtual Shower for Kristen and Rebecca.

Get ready for some goo, ladies.'snotwhatImeant.

Congratulations, ladies. Or, as my wife would say: "I'm not in the panther cage. You're in the panther cage."

But she's ridiculous now that her brains have been replaced by goo. No common sense whatsoever.

(Editor's Note: As my goo-brained wife has so delicately pointed out to me, I don't know the difference between "balling" and "bawling." Or, rather, I don't know how to spell "bawling" when I mean "bawling" and instead I write "balling" which means something different entirely and just isn't appropriate at all for this post here. Gah. Smart wives are the bane of every stupid husband's existence.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rez Stories: Runaway

While we lived on the rez my father attended law school in Kingston, about an hour and a half away. He hated the rez and would usually stay in Kingston all week long and come home on the weekends. I got into trouble one day when I was eleven years old: I missed the bus back to the rez from town after school and instead of calling my mother I just went off with one of my townie friends. We went to the mall for a while and after a couple of hours of frantic searching my mother and her twin sister found me in the mall arcade: a little bit of luck and a little bit of just plain knowing me.

My mother was livid, and she let me know it. But as impressive as her righteous rage was, I was much more terrified of my father's imminent return: my father lectured. He could lecture for minutes.

I was grounded, of course, and I had a couple of days to wait for my father to get home; I stewed in my own panicked juices until Friday night. While "Wait until your father gets home," never made its way into the the air from my mother's lips, it was on a continuous loop in my head.

Finally, I couldn't stand it any more. The future was too bleak to face: a lecture the likes of which I would never forget. So after dark on Friday night, before my father came home, I slipped away.

I knew that if I was going to get away successfully I'd need money. Enough for, say, a bus ticket from upstate New York to Louisiana (which in my mind was going to have to cost something less than $60, because that's all I had from my paper route). Never mind that I had no idea where to catch a bus that would take me where I wanted to go.

I also knew that the world out there could be a dangerous, scary place for an eleven-year-old kid. So, being the resourceful lad that I was, and ever-practical, I grabbed an old cavalry saber that my father had hanging in the living room and I tied its scabbard to a waist-seam cord from an old pair of jogging pants, and then I fastened the cord through the belt loops on my jeans.

I was so ninja.

I dressed mostly in black so I'd be less conspicuous in the dark (or as inconspicuous as an eleven-year-old with a cavalry saber tied to a string around his waist could be). I had a tough row to hoe, since I decided that my best chance for getting away lay in a southern route rather than northern. North would take me from the island, across the great Seaway International Bridge, into Canada and the small industrial town I had disappeared into once already only to be found a couple of hours later. North also meant lights, and traffic, and "easily-spotted-juvenile-with-a-sword". South, on the other hand, meant farms, rural upstate New York, and no lights, which meant easy access to the warmer southern states where, in my mind, I'd be more likely to survive on my own even if winter set in while on my travels. But the difficulty with going south was that after crossing the southern bridge from the island I'd have to somehow get by the U.S. Customs and Immigration checkpoint guarding the border.

I suppose I thought that I would just walk through Customs and announce, as everyone I knew did when they went through, that I lived on the rez and I was just going to the U.S. side of the rez. There's an old treaty, the Jay Treaty, that enshrines the Mohawk right to freely cross the border, and for my entire life until that point the U.S. border was just a glorified toll booth, but one that didn't require an actual toll. So, despite carrying an actual weapon with me I was just going to brazenly walk through Customs and no one was going to say anything about it.

You know what happens next, right?

No. You have no idea.

My father had a dog, a black German shepherd bitch he had perversely named "Whoopie". She was a very loyal dog. So when I slipped away from home to make my way slowly south to New Orleans or Alabama or Orlando (Disneyworld!!) she trailed along, asking me with her doggy eyes to let her in on the joke. Every five minutes I'd wave at her and tell her to go home, but she was very good at ignoring the eleven-year-old with the sword sneaking through ditches on the island at night.

She followed me to the bridge. And she followed me over the bridge. And I thought, finally, practically, realistically, "They are never going to let me through with a dog. They are going to ask questions. She is making me look suspicious despite my innocuous black outfit and harmless-looking cavalry saber."

So at the foot of the bridge I came to a crisis point. I had been a runaway for about 45 minutes, and I was pretty committed. But I also didn't want to get caught and sent home, and I didn't want Whoopie following me all the way to Texarkana. It was one thing to steal my father's cavalry saber; quite another to steal his dog. I might get two lectures. But in the end I was still itching to see the world.

I decided to use my stealthy ninja skills to try to hide both myself and my dog from the vigilant eyes of the U.S. Border guards and circumvent the great northern boundary keeping all of the despicable Canadians out of the U.S.. There were no ditches to hide in, and the southbound side of the road led straight into the floodlight-illuminated station. So I crossed the road onto the northbound side and sneakily went south along the shoulder.

They had no contingency plans in place for such a brilliant invasion tactic. Their resources weren't nearly up to dealing with the likes of an eleven-year-old ninja with a cavalry saber and a vicious guard dog.

I made it through without so much as a "Hey, Jim? Was that a kid with a sword?" tossed into the air behind me.

I walked along a road I'd never been on, in a direction I'd never been in, passing houses I'd never seen, cloaked in the darkness. Whoopie trailed along beside me, happy to be away from home perhaps; happy to just see what the insane little person was doing out so late at night, since it was bound to be interesting.

I walked, and walked, and passed a house with a woman standing at her door, peering out, and she was so motionless and standing in such an awkward way that my overactive imagination convinced me that she was dead and hanging from her door frame, her corpse preventing the screen door from closing all the way. So I drew my sword and crept forward, ready to deal with whatever villain had left her there, swinging. There was a floodlamp lighting up her driveway, and it ruined my night vision enough that I couldn't make out her face. So I was startled out of my wits when this corpse-woman who had been motionless for minutes as I walked closer and closer to her driveway suddenly challenged me: "What the hell do you want??"

I hypered out of there, ninja skills forgotten as adrenaline saturated my system and powered me through my flight away from the zombie. Finally at a safe distance I sheathed my weapon and settled back into my mile-eating stride, Whoopie beside me.

Eventually, the fact that Whoopie was still with me began to niggle. Surely I had no business trying to bring her along. She was an innocent, and my life was going to be a harsh one of zombie-fighting (or fleeing) and walking the roads. Plus, I was pretty sure they weren't going to let her on the bus if I ever found one (I thought if I kept walking long enough I'd find a bus station, because that's just how it worked in Montreal, where I'd spend a week or two every summer when I was a kid). So I turned back toward home.

I never really admitted to myself that I was going home because I'd been gone for two hours and I didn't really want to run away after all and I was really doubting by that point that I'd ever find a bus station somewhere among the farms. No, I turned back home because I wanted to protect the dog. I'm sure I even told myself that once I'd figured out a way to get Whoopie to stay home I'd be off again, alone.

I made it back to the bridge, and once again used the little-known "walk on the other side of the road from the Customs building" trick to remain unnoticed by the U.S. agents, although since I was going north they could not have cared less even if they had noticed me.

But on the north side of the bridge I faced an even greater challenge. Because on the north side, on the island itself, Canada maintained its own Customs and Immigration station, and they were always on the lookout for smugglers bringing goods across the border. They were always the more aggressive of the agents when I was a kid. I'd seen cars pulled over and practically torn apart as the agents looked for drugs or contraband cigarettes. They were formidable, and I feared getting caught so close to home. It's just embarrassing to be caught running to home, especially with a cavalry saber and a stealthy black German Shepherd. I concocted a plan to get by, and then I took a deep breath.

And I walked around the building, on the southbound side of the road going north. Ninja. So ninja.

I stepped onto the main road on the island and I hadn't gone a hundred yards when my father's white Ford Mustang Cobra (with a red cobra painted on the hood) pulled up alongside me.

"Get in."

And we all lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dad's Car

My car, which isn't my car, really, since I don't have a car but instead have a truck that I don't have because I sold it but in my heart I'm still a truck driving guy and the car is my wife's car but it's the only vehicle we have now that we sold the truck and we couldn't put a car seat in the truck anyway so maybe I'll get an SUV or a minivan or a station wagon or a Corvette, is a mess.

It has lots of Goldfish crackers (which I stealthily keep in a Cheerios container so that people will think I'm a good dad and am not, in fact, giving my daughter baked cheese every hour on the hour), and raisins, and Gorilla Munch (which only costs four times as much as regular corn puffs but it's organic and I totally fall for that scam) on the floor and stuffed away somewhere in Erin's car seat. She is a messy eater.

Today when I picked up the mail I had two presents. One was a DVD preview of the new Signing Time series that I was totally asked to review and I totally said yes because Erin is totally addicted to Signing Time and I figure if I say yes often enough to their marketing people they will send Erin an autographed picture of Alex and maybe Rachel will dedicate an episode to "Backpacking Dad Signs" and they will mostly involve winks at the camera that I know will just be for me.

The other was a sample of Multi-grain Cheerios that I received because Safeway peeks in my windows at night, or is monitoring my every cereal purchase and they know about the Gorilla Munch and they thought "this guy is totally a sucker and he's totally going to fall for this 'multi-grain' and 'weight-management' crap the same way he falls for the 'organic' crap so let's send him a little something and then we'll be like the Dealer who gives you the first one free and soon he'll be peeking in our windows at night wondering where we're hiding his Cheerios."

I don't eat Cheerios, but I looked at the floor of my car and at the raisins and Gorilla Munch and Goldfish crackers scattered about and I thought "well, just because she's thrown everything else on the floor doesn't mean that she'll throw these on the floor, because as Hume noted the only proof we have that the future will resemble the past is that the future has always resembled that past, but that's a fact about the past and not the future so maybe this time things will be different, so I'm going to go ahead and open this small box and give the entire thing to Erin while she sits in her car seat and she'll eat them very patiently and not scatter them all over the floor and this will give me some time to read the mail before we go home and I put her down for a nap and jump online to avoid cleaning all of the raisins and Gorilla Munch and Goldfish crackers out of my car" so I handed them over to Erin and I read the mail and then wouldn't you know it she didn't spill a single one.

I was about to start the car and I thought "she is going to spill them all over if I start driving because she has great timing and she'll know I won't pull over to take away the Cheerios if she starts flinging them around once the car is in motion" so I asked for the box and she gave it over very reluctantly because she thought "dude, that is the only thing making me happy right now so you'd better have a good replacement for that multi-grain goodness, because I totally fell for that crap" and I didn't have a replacement so she started demanding that I give the Cheerios back to her and after a dialogue with myself that involved myself saying "Self, she's going to make a mess" and myself replying "Yeah, she's totally going to make a mess" and Erin interjecting "Just give me the flippin' Cheerios already," I relented and told Erin to ask for them politely and she said "Please" and signed "Please" and so I turned with the box in my hand to give them back to her and bumped them against headrest of the passenger seat and

spilled the damned Cheerios all over my car.

The End.


Oh hi. Remember me? I used to write here in this blog. Sometimes I was funny. Mostly not. Sometimes I'd write posts that were all serious. Mostly not.

Sometimes I'd write sweet posts that were calculatedly designed to get all of my mom readers to cyber-throw their cyber-mom-jeans at me up on my cyber-stage. And to get Will to hit on me. Although that wasn't on purpose. That's just a bonus.

This post is an empty space. I just feel liking typing before I go to sleep. I don't have anything earth-shattering to say. I don't have any stories to tell (although, as you'd suppose from the title of this post I ought to be telling the story of our four-day weekend in Seattle). Even if I had a story I'm not sure I'd be telling it right now.

This space is for typing, tonight. Not for shaping.

Did you know that I played the baritone in the school band for six years? I was pretty good at it. No, no more details. That would make it look like a story. I'm just laying out some facts here.

My favourite president is President Sheridan from Babylon 5. That's a lie. But it's the answer that occurred to me first when I thought "do I have a favourite president?"

I deliberately spell words with an extra "u" sometimes, just to mess with you. Yo.

I have no observations to make right now; not about being a dad, not about being a dad in a mom's world; not about being a dad-blogger in a mom-blogger's cyberworld.

I'm not fond of the word "cyber", but I use it like sugar in my coffee.

I don't drink coffee. But when I do, I like it sweet.

You will find no deliberate messages in the words of this post. You might find some subconsciously-inspired ones, though.

I had a wicked crush on a Greek girl for four years, and for another four months five years later.

When Erin was five months old I started carrying her around in the backpack. I didn't start this blog until she was almost eleven months old. That's a lot of mysterious Backpacking Dad time lost. Not forever. There is a lame Livejournal out there that I used to write in but I don't anymore because it never captured my attention the way this blog does. It's even called "Backpacking Dad" at the moment. It used to be called "Thoughts from Suburbia" because I'm an asshole.

Can I just type and type and watch the words fall out? I think so.

I'm getting tired though. Is this what journal writing is like?

"Dear Diary: I hate Johnny Ratface. I don't know what his last name is, but he sits at the back of the bus with his hillbilly friends and he thinks he can grow a moustache but he can't and I'm pretty sure he just wants to go out with my girlfriend and doesn't understand why she's seeing me when she should be going out with a good ol' boy like him. Johnny Ratface, who jokes to his friends, loudly enough for me to hear, "Know what my dad says Indians are? Prairie niggers." I'm pretty sure that if I come back to this town on this little hillbilly island he'll be here, working at the autoshop and wondering whether whiskey or gin reeks less when you roll down your window to talk to the cop who just pulled you over."

See what happens? I try to just let the words come out and instead a story falls out. I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell a story.

One summer, on that island, my summer job was to get a tan and ask the tourists if they wanted to rent a jetski. Every hour I'd hop on one and go buzz the ferry so they could all see what fun it was. I loved jumping the huge wake. I was really bad at selling it, though, because I'm pretty sure my boss, who owned the diner across the street from the dock and who sold smuggled cigarettes from his counter, lost a bunch of money that summer. I don't remember making a lot of money either. I think I bought a book. I was really tanned though.

I have to go to bed now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Contest Winner: Worst Road Trip Story

Wow. I'm never going on a road trip with any of you.

There were some really horrific stories, and I don't think I'll ever be able to quite erase the images of all of the bodily fluids being evacuated by someone or another in or around a car or on someone's shoe.

And disgusting and mortifying as those moments were, I really couldn't choose any of them as the Worst Road Trip Story. Because they were moments; I needed something a little more...lingering; a little more spectacularly road-trippy.

So, in light of that random, arbitrary, and dictatorial condition, the winner of Worst Road Trip Story and an autographed (by me) copy of Stefanie Wilder Taylor's Naptime is the New Happy Hour is:



Her story involved not only pets, children, an impatient partner, getting lost, tears, dramatic phone calls, the car breaking down and unexpectedly overnighting and sneaking pets into a motel, but also Texas. Plain View Texas. It was a National Lampoon kind of road trip. It has that perfect combination of Road, and Trip, and it lasted for days.

So congratulations Stacie. As soon as I finish reading and annotating Stefanie's book I will send it on to you. I will also take requests for personal notes to be left on the pages (although this is a family show, so, no, I will not include a picture of my moobs).

For the rest of you. Yeah. No book for you. You can buy your own copy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Road Trip

In 2003 we took a road trip up the coast. We rented a Mustang convertible and drove it from San Diego to Vancouver, ferried over to Victoria, ferried down to Washington to drive to Seattle, then drove over the mountains to Boise, down through Nevada to Reno and back over the mountains to Sacramento, into Napa, and back to San Diego.

It was a lot of fun, and there was a lot of wine involved.

Now that we have Erin we've been missing those kind of footloose vacations. All of our trips in the last year and a half have involved visits to family to one extent or another. But this weekend we are going back to one of our favourite spots from that roadtrip oh so many years ago: Back to Seattle again. We have no family there, so there is no pressure to visit with anyone. We are going with one carry-on and the backpack. No stroller, no carseat, no crib.

It's a bit liberating.

We'll be back on Monday.

But, so you have something to do this weekend (besides, you know, spending time with family or other things that are way less important than reading blogs), I give you a homework assignment: Tell me your worst road trip memory.

I'll start. On the first day we had the convertible we drove out of San Diego, all the way through L.A., through the Grapevine and the central valley to San Jose. With the top down. It was nice and sunny. And I was nice and stupid and didn't wear any sunscreen.

I woke up the next morning with the left side of my body a bright lobster red. I could hardly move. For the next couple of days I was spraying that side down with aloe just so I could hold the steering wheel.

Your turn.

Worst story wins an autographed copy of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's Naptime is the New Happy Hour. Well, autographed by me, anyway. I will also annotate it, marking it with the whatever thoughts strike me as I go through it. Stefanie has graciously permitted me to, in effect, deface her art: think of a high school punk tagging the Mona Lisa. She is fantastic.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back in the knickers again

I've finally managed to get myself back to the fencing salle. Oh. Did I never mention that I fence? Not well. But better Tuesday than I did last week. And better last week than over the summer (which was not at all, which equals 'horribly'). I tried, and failed to qualify for the summer nationals held right here in San Jose in July, and I haven't really fenced since those qualifiers in the spring.

I'm an intermittent, below-average, fencer. I get beaten very badly by very good fencers, and I beat very bad fencers very badly, and I get lucky sometimes against very good fencers, when they don't know anything about me or how I fence: a lot of beginner's luck is "beginner's unpredictability".

I had a coach in San Diego who would drive this lesson home in spectacular fashion. He would tell the story of a fencing tournament he entered in college, back in the late 50's. His team was fantastic, and his coach scouted their NYU opponents pretty thoroughly. So he knew who he'd be going up against and how to exploit his weaknesses, what to be wary of, and generally how good he needed to be. But at the last minute there was a roster change and a newcomer, an unknown, a young skinny kid he knew nothing about stepped up on the strip against him. And my coach got beaten. He lost a bout he was supposed to have won easily, and he was knocked out of the tournament. It was so humiliating and embarrassing for him that he never forgot that punk kid, and his hatred for him, and his warning against being comfortable in assumptions was passed down to his students with the name whispered, never uttered with a full breath...

....Neil Diamond....

Neil Diamond, folks. Taught my coach all about songs sung blue.

And now my fencing is all mixed up with Neil Diamond. I secretly want to be Neil Diamond. Not the singing Anti-Christ (as Emily calls him); but the dark horse epee fencer who breezes into a tournament, unknown and unheralded, and takes down some arrogant snot.

And then I'll give it all up for a singing career.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rez Stories: Bumper Pool

I tell people that I spent my "formative years" living on a reservation along the St. Lawrence River, where Ontario, Quebec, and New York meet in an insane patchwork of jurisdictions.

This is not a lie.

But it's not quite the truth either. I didn't spend time there, as one might spend money, exchanging it for something desired or necessary. I didn't really give over my time at all.

I let my time wither, desiccate, grow infected.

I didn't like to be there. We moved to the rez when I was ten, into an old family home that had a swamp (complete with frogs) where an in-ground pool used to be. The house was on an island: one bridge went to a smelly little industrial town in Ontario; the other went to upstate New York and the American side of the border-straddling reservation.

I had family on the rez. I had friends in Ontario, where I went to school. But summertime, and weekends, meant no free rides into town. So no getting into mild urban trouble with the blue collar kids I went to school with. No going to the mall to pretend we weren't there to be noticed by the girls. No wandering around downtown and slipping into the arcade. No going to the library or bookstore to let Tolkien show me what the real world was like.

What was a boy to do? Develop habits, that's what. Form. Be formed.

I had one friend on the rez. His name was Chris. He died stupidly a few years ago, long after we had stopped being friends. When he was a kid he lived stupidly, and I lived stupidly right alongside him. At eleven years old I was wandering around the island with him, looking for bottles to break, or to return to the gas station for the deposit so that we could accumulate enough recycling wealth to buy a can of Skoal.

Do you know what Skoal is? Chewing tobacco, folks. I didn't quite have a can ring in the back pocket of my jeans, but it was a near thing.

We'd buy a can and sit around his house dipping Skoal while his mom drank and ignored us. His youngest brother cut his toes off in the lawn mower one day. Life went on. We dipped, and dared each other to piss on the electric fence across the road. We broke bottles and set things on fire and played bumper pool at the place down the road.

I didn't have a can ring because I had several pairs of jeans; Chris had a can ring.

I learned how to play pool from my father and my grandfather, on the rez, in basements and in bars when I was a kid. I learned how to play bumper pool with a can of Skoal in my back pocket, being stupid with a stupid friend on weekends and during the summer when I couldn't get a ride into town.

Is there a memoir here? If so the next chapter begins, "When I was twelve I quit dipping and took up smoking. For the ladies."

Dr. Courageous

"You can just take this and hide it in your pocket."

That is what the pediatric urgent care doctor, whose last name is an ironic synonym for "courageous", told me as she slipped me a card with the name of an over-the-counter remedy for yeast infections written on it.

Erin had been complaining for a day or so about pain down in her *redacted to avoid pervy Google searches that will make me want to throw up*. She'd been making the sign for "ouch" and pointing down there when Emily would change her diaper. Emily suspected either a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection. I deferred to her judgment about it, since I have no idea what either would be like, and I brought Erin to the urgent care at her medical center.

Dr. Courageous, who, as these stories almost always ought to go, looked no older than 23, asked me somewhat embarrassedly what the symptoms were. I explained, and included a blunt description of "discharge". I'm all about putting my daughter's doctors at ease.

Yes, doc, I'm a father and I can use words like "discharge" and "vag*na" (though not on the blog because of aforementioned pervy searches that I get enough of just by being a dad with a daughter). It's ok. You can talk to me. I have permission. Here's a note from my wife: "Dear doctor, my husband has permission to take care of our daughter today. Please feel free to discuss things with him as you would with me or with anyone else who isn't a man. Thanks."

The doc performed the exam, and concluded somewhat uncertainly that Erin had neither a UTI nor a yeast infection, and I learned a new word:

Vaginitis. I can't wait for these Google searches.

Vaginitis is a bacterial infection around and within the vaginal canal that can most often result from washing with soapy water in the years before puberty. Or so says the sheet of paper the doctor dug out from another room; I'll take its word for it.

"So, definitely not a UTI or yeast infection?" I asked her.

"Probably not a UTI, but if she complains of abdomen pain in a couple of days or if her skin looks infected then we'll check. And it's probably not a yeast infection, but if it is...."

And that's when she scribbled "Lotrimin" on a card and put me at my ease by telling me that I could hide the card in my pocket. You know, so none of my guy friends would see it and mock me for needing "Lotrimin".

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Four Fathers

On Saturday I met four fathers.

In the morning I met The Swimmer. At the baby pool, with his son in tow, he towered over the toddlers in the water, a frame toned by a lifelong dedication to swimming; evidence that he continued to swim regularly. His son, months older than Erin, took wobbly steps in the pool and then threatened to drown; he confessed that he'd never really tried swimming lessons for his son, who choked and sputtered on the chlorinated water while Erin bounced around him, dunking herself under and popping back up, launching herself at me as I hid my waistline beneath the water.

In the afternoon I met The Club Rat. Standing at the snack table at Baby Loves Disco while the DJ dropped phat beats for the kids on the dancefloor, "YMCA" began to play: "Great song," he muttered, sincerely, to no one in particular, but I was the only one there, so he must have meant it for me. "I'm out of my element; there are too many moms here," his stance and offer said. I grabbed a handful of crackers, smiled at him perfunctorily and gave him a little nod as I turned to go back to the dancefloor where Erin was bopping along. "I can't help you," I telepathized at him, "You used the worst pickup line ever." 

Later that afternoon, still at the nightclub where they were serving juice boxes and liquor, I met The Liar. Standing at the bottom of the short staircase leading from the bar to the dancefloor, he waited for his three year old son to descend; his wife was next to him, but facing toward the stage. He watched his son take the top step aggressively, then catch his toe on the next step and tumble, head first, down the remaining stairs and land on his face and hands on the floor. Erin descended the stairs behind him, grabbing the rails all the way down until she reached the bottom. His wails had attracted his mother's attention; she turned and, shocked, righted him and asked his father what had happened. "Oh, well, nothing. Don't worry. He just stood up there on that top step and jumped all the way down. He's fine. He's a great jumper."

And in the early evening, sitting once again at the Mosh Pit,  I met The Lost Boy. Emily and I watched as Erin climbed up and slid down the play bridge in the Mosh Pit. We sat next to the father of a boy who pushed her down once; he typed away on his laptop, looking up occasionally to note his son's location. "I'm a stay at home dad," he said to Emily as they chatted briefly. "Oh? My husband's a stay at home dad too." "Really?" He extended his hand and I gripped it in mine. He smiled widely, and he maintained the handshake a little too long, caught off-guard and grateful that he had met someone else in the fraternity. "Have you used any of the online resources for at-home dads?" I asked, "Meetup groups and online forums?" "No," he replied, "there used to be a San Jose at-home dad meetup group, but they folded. It's too bad, because I can't hang out with the moms, you know?"

"No," I said, "I hang out with moms all the time."

Come to think of it, I suppose I met a fifth father yesterday: The Judgmental Father. He thinks his shit doesn't stink.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

It was an honour just to be nominated

Well folks. The votes are in over at the Hottest Blogger Calendar Contest. I was beaten out by some pretty Hot Bloggers, including my fellow dad-in-blog, Busy Dad. I'm disappointed that I lost to Wil Wheaton, but hardly surprised: dude was on tv.

Oh well. A trip to New York with the flimsy excuse that I was going to a photoshoot to be in a calendar would have been fun.



What the hell? There are twelve months in the year?

Aw yeah!

I'm totally in the calendar.

I squeaked in thanks to a steady trickle of votes and Jamie Oliver's reluctance to acknowledge that he was nominated or to solicit votes from everyone who ought to have voted for him instead of me.

Thank you, folks. You've been cracking my wife up for days now as the votes came in. Plus, she's been greeting me with "Hey Hottest Blogger Calendar Husband" all weekend.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Death Race 2008

The original Death Race 2000 (1975) is a bit of a classic dystopian critique: future America is a financial wasteland, run by a fascist government that sponsors gladiatorial games, in this case a violent car race in which the drivers kill each other and bystanders for the entertainment of the inured public.

Death Race (2008) shifts the political critique. As a sign of the times the dystopian backdrop painted in this updated version is one in which corporations run much of the public infrastructure, including the penal system. It joins Robocop and The Running Man in that particular genre of futuristic cautionary tales. The government is weak enough, or incompetent enough, to have permitted the financial collapse of the country and although it behaves fascistically, sending riot police in to stomp on riots that don't happen until the police show up to inspire them, the real villains are the amoral corporations. Running prisons and selling death to the unemployed public, the corporations at one and the same time distract the public from their plight and inspire them to spend their paltry incomes on corporate products.

The goals of the protagonists in the two films are also different. In the original, the "hero" has as his goal the destruction of the political structure of the country. In the remake, the hero's only goal is to reclaim his infant daughter from the people she has been fostered with after he is framed for murdering his wife: attacking the villain, the corporation, doesn't serve this end at all so his method of achieving his end is to escape.

At one point Joan Allen, the warden of the prison and face of the corporation for the purposes of the film, asks the hero if he is sure that his daughter isn't better off with her foster family than with him, a twice (now) incarcerated dreg whose wife was the only one who saw any good in him. She suggests that by giving his daughter up (and staying to race for the corporation) he would be performing one of the greatest, most selfless acts of love she can imagine. He rejects this without any notable conflict, remarking at the end of the film that since no one could love his daughter more than he does he is obviously the right person to raise her. Even if it's in a junkyard in Mexico.

Ignoring for the moment that I, once again went to see a movie on my own in which the main character is separated from his family (I'm such an idiot), I want to say a little self-consciously that I have a hard time agreeing with the hero about his decision.

I want it to be the case that love alone can inspire parents to be parents, and to raise children who are happy and healthy. But I find myself siding with the evil, corporate warden on this one: certainly there are cases in which the greater act of love is to give your child over into the care of someone else.

Like, perhaps, your mother.

A lot has been said in the last day and a half about Sarah Palin's fifth child, and the rumour that he is in fact her grandson, born to her seventeen year old daughter Bristol four months ago. And a lot has been said today about the announcement that Bristol is herself, currently, five months pregnant (which, if true, would mean that Trig, the infant, could not possibly be hers).

Cynics, myself included, await the announcement at some point in the future that Bristol has mysteriously 'lost' the baby (because we not-so-secretly believe that she isn't pregnant now).

But I am not so hardened that I think, as some seem to, that Palin is unequivocally stealing something from her daughter by (allegedly) raising her grandson as her son. Because the decision to keep a baby or give him up cannot be an easy one. Supportive parents, willing to step in and step up, ought to be lauded. And children in crisis shouldn't be exposed to the sneers of the jaded. I have no idea what the dynamic is in the Palin household. But I am willing to assume that if Palin has been raising her grandson that this decision was made out of love, and not out of political ambition. Further, I am willing to extend to Bristol Palin the benefit of the doubt and assume that her decisions, too, are made out of love. And to note that no matter what she shouldn't be used as a political tool by anybody.

It will be pointed out, and rightly, I think, that no matter what's been said above that doesn't change the fact that someone's judgment can be called into question about something, and that can be referenced in political discussions. For instance, McCain's decision to nominate Palin without knowing (or caring) about the effect these rumours would have on her candidacy and his run for the White House, can be examined and criticized. But Bristol's decisions about her life, and about her child or children, are not on the table. Not unless there is some definitive evidence that Sarah Palin herself has been strong-arming her daughter for her own political gain. And I'm enough of a parent that I can't make that kind of leap just because I don't like politicians.

So back off of Bristol, and if you must talk about Sarah Palin as a mother then be careful to not confuse the relevant with the irrelevant: flying with leaking amniotic fluid and selecting an inferior care center in which to give birth is poor judgment, the kind of judgment that becomes an issue if she ever holds the office of Vice President. Lying about being pregnant is questionable, but what it says about her character is ambiguous, and might not be relevant at all politically: a lie to protect her daughter says good things about her character; a lie to protect her career says some pretty sinister things about her character.

I think that sacrifice is heroic. And unlike the protagonist of Death Race I do not think that love alone makes one a superior guardian for a child. Sometimes love requires a very difficult choice. Like the choice to lie, or the choice to give up a child.

Or to vote Green in November.