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Sunday, March 29, 2009


I think it’s possible for the very same person to be “the marrying type” and “a commitment-phobe”.

For instance, I moved across the continent for some girl when I was nineteen, married her at twenty-one, and didn’t blink when we found out Erin would be making her presence known.

But for the life of me, I can’t commit to bringing the free yellow pages in off the stoop. I walk past it at least twice every day and can neither bring it to the recycling with me, nor pick it up and put it next to the phone.

It’s too much pressure.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I’m not as weird as this makes me seem.

I can’t always think of things to do with my time. But thankfully, Jenny the Bloggess is doing some of my thinking for me. I ripped off her idea for time-wasting and made a movie.

I’m not really as interested in ritual suicide as you might think, though.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I don't care what you say. I get to see the most adorable girl in the world every day.

Photo courtesy of Disneyland Grandma, who graciously babysat for an entire weekend in January as we ran away for our 10th anniversary. Also, I totally edited out the huge snot trail coming out of her right nostril.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Party Politics

Erin is turning two years old next month.

Now she can enter the Terrible Twos. I’m looking forward to comparing the Terrible Twos with the Whiny One-and-a-Halfs, the Tantrumy Twenty-Month-Olds, and the No-No-No-Nineteen-Month-Olds.

Erin’s second birthday will be both more and less outlandish than her first. Her first, the actual day, was spent at Disneyland. The day before she had a small “here, smash a cupcake” party with her baby bff and a small group of baby friends who have been a circle of friends forever. (Not their choice, of course. But until she moves out I’m going to be choosing her friends based on how cool the parents are. Dad has a golf cart to run errands? Sorry, you can’t be friends with Jane. Mom has an Iroc-Z that she stole from an ex-boyfriend in high school when he dumped her at a Weezer concert? Yes, yes you can play with Dark Galadriel.)

Her actual party was a family event held down in SoCal, apart from her baby friends, and mostly attended by people she had to crane her neck to see properly. There were jellyfish decorations everywhere, and a jellyfish cake, and I made some jellyfish trivia game and…I don’t even remember what else. I think there were jellyfish toys to go home with for the kids who were there.

That shirt says "Party Like a Jellyfish"

It was elaborate. But the effort and guest list made sense. Just family and old family friends.

This year we are staying home and we are having a park party. We have booked some picnic tables and we are co-hosting the party with the family of Erin’s closest baby friend, a little girl who is one day older than Erin. And now the logistics get crazy.

Not only because of the “how many from your side?” kind of arrangements (which I don’t really care about), but also the “Who, in our wide realm of toddler acquaintances do we invite?” kind of questions.

Of course all of the baby friends who were at her first not-party. And some family who can make the trip up north. And who else?

There are people with kids who we’ve spent a lot of time with, and whose parties we’ve attended. Last year we didn’t have to wonder if we should invite them, because we were out of town. Now, do we keep it low-key? Do we make it a broader toddler-community event? Our two families overlap with a lot of acquaintances and maybe-friends (like, we’d be friends if the opportunity allowed, but opportunity never does…), so does sharing a maybe-friend between two families elevate that person to friend-friend status and demand an invitation? Further, most of the people who are definitely getting invitations also know a lot of the same people, and might even be closer to them than we are, and now it’s all political.

That will probably sort itself out. I’m leaning toward sending out invitations to everyone whose e-mail address I can track down and who we have spent significant time with, even if it’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen them. I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t want to have at the party. Is that too liberal?

(Oh, crap. What do we do about gifts? Will this just seem like I’m trying to get more crap for Erin? Trying to get invites to more parties so that we can remain in the “scene”? Hell, this really is political.)

But you know what? Erin hasn’t spent a ton of time with a lot of those kids in a long while. She has spent a ton of time with her friends at “school”. Two months ago I’d have just said “hell no” to school invites, because I don’t really know many of the parents at all well, and it’s not as though Erin would be wondering where her classmates were. But we do kind of know a couple of the parents. Do we just invite them? I might think “Of course” and that there would be no further discussion about it. But some of the parents passed out “hand made” valentines last month.

Hand made. They cut out little hearts and cards and dragged their child’s hand through paint and glitter and whatever else and dropped the cards in the cubbies at school. Come on. That’s not about the kids at all.

Is it?

But if it isn’t about the kids, then it’s about the parents, wanting to build a group or live vicariously or keep up with the Joneses or whatever but the end result of all of the wondering about “Why valentines?” is that not inviting everyone in the class, especially someone who dished out a valentine, is controversy if we invite anyone at all. It’s “not participating in the community”, or the game, or the fantasy or whatever and that means opinions and talk and gossiping and…then Erin doesn’t get into Stanford after high school because one of these parents will turn out to be the Dean of Admissions in a dozen years. Or Erin won’t get a job at Google because one of the parents will have become CEO between now and then. Or she won’t get accepted into nun school because the head nun is the aunt of one of the snubbed kids. Or she won’t be the lead guitarist of Copperhead Death Kabob because the bassist didn’t get to eat cupcakes at the park with her when he was two, and his mom is fronting all of the band’s touring expenses.

I may be letting my imagination get the better of me here.

Further complicating the matter is that the co-host parents, Erin’s little bff’s parents, are thinking about inviting kids from their daycare, because, quite reasonably, those are the kids their daughter knows best. And they know the parents to some extent, or are at least part of a community with those parents (it’s a sort of work-specific daycare) that would be benefited or harmed to an even greater extent depending on whether the kids were invited or not.

What. In the hell. Am I. Going. To do?

Who doesn’t get invited? How did you decide?

Because, frankly, I don’t want to make a hundred cupcakes. With butterflies on them. (It’s a whole butterfly thing this time around. I promise: lasers and dinosaurs next year.)

I need some help.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Academic Success

I don’t know what the secret is.

But I may be the only person in history to write his dissertation the night before it is due. I seem to be constitutionally incapable of starting a paper early.

I’d rather Erin not use her father as a model for success in school.

Study hard. (Do not watch Battlestar Galactica while you should be reading papers.)

Prepare thoroughly. (Do not figure out at the last minute what your research topic is going to be, and then hope the books you checked out are in any way relevant.)

Ask for help. (Do not pretend that only the professor is smart enough to understand what you are saying.)

Take lots of notes. (Do not underline phrases in books without noting what is important to you about them. “Purple rutabaga” will make no sense to you out of context.)

Review all of those notes. (Or else, what’s the point?)

Pay attention. (Knowing the plot to every Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, while valuable, is usually not going to help you do long division. So maybe you shouldn’t try to reconstruct the episode where Buffy’s mom is dating John Ritter while you are supposed to be learning about the difference between determinism, fatalism, and pre-destination.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Still Have A Sense of Humour

While I wilily while, Erin stubbornly stubs.

I think I hit my head on some low, overhanging, dark matter the other day.

Erin, Erin, quite contrarian, how does your garden grow?

I no like it, garden!!!”

“Ok, kid. I’ll take it away.”

Garden?? Garden?? I. Want. Garden?”

“Kid, you just said you didn’t want it.”

I want garden!”

Not really about a garden. But it is about a garden, in the sense that it’s about any damned thing, any arbitrary thing; it’s a general truth that Erin love-hates everything right now. So it could be a garden.


“Kid, I’m telling you. There’s a ‘g’ in that word. Also, you just threw your food across the room, so I don’t believe you.”

Hung-y? I want dinner?”

“I’m not falling for it again.”

At bedtime it’s a struggle into pajamas, then some quiet time with some milk that she doesn’t drink; she just holds the cup tightly against her chest, pretending to sip every few minutes. Half an hour later and she knows it’s time for bed.

But I’m not finished with the milk, guys. You can’t put me to bed until I’m finished with the milk.

She understands this pattern, but not the reason for it. She has mistaken a correlation for a cause. You do it too. Don’t pretend you don’t. Toddlers reason fallaciously.

A fanatical protest against bedtime, and I hold her in my arms as I click the light off all by myself. Tonight she doesn’t offer to help, so I have to figure it out on my own.

Milk? Milk? I want milk?”

“No, kid. You so didn’t want that milk two minutes ago.”

Thirsty? Milk? Water? Water?” Anything? Can I have anything, guys?

I admit, I cave a little. Maybe she is parched. I give her a sippy cup with some water in it, and lay her down in her crib.

“Goodnight Erin.”

“Daddy! Daddy? I want out? Mommy? I want owuht!”

“Goodnight, baby girl. I love you.”

I close the door behind me, then endure a fifteen minute list of demands from the leprechaun-sized terrorist in the next room.

No milk! No water! Water? Yes? Daddy? I want piggy! I want bunny? I want lion. Want giraffe.”

Most of the items on her list are, in fact, in the crib with her. I hold out.

I stay silent throughout the self-destruction happening, the embittered, overtired cries for attention.

Then I hear, I swear I hear, I swear I hear my frustrated, darling daughter, my overtired offspring, complain:

Fucking bunny.”

Then silence.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Family Guy, Maturity, and Conscience

Something has changed.

I was a happy Adult Swim viewer a few years ago, discovering Family Guy for the first time during the stoner hour on Cartoon Network every night, when Fox Television rejects were resurrected like Lazarus by a geeky Jesus. And I was a happy Fox Television viewer when Family Guy was resurrected like Jesus, seemingly out of its own being, because of the good it had contributed to the world, the sacrifice it had made for the cultural benefit of us all: the satirical lens focused on everyone, and actions or trends were ridiculed with the fierceness Christ displayed in the Temple when he discovered the unconscionable practices going on behind those doors.

The show has appeared to lose something in its new incarnation, as though instead of being happy with the time it was given to do more good works it is desperate to prove that it deserves more than a short coda. The new jokes are concentrated stoner-joy, but at an hour the stoners aren’t paying attention to. And I think desperation has sunk in. Like South Park, which decided that it wasn’t enough to push arbitrary cultural and political boundaries and instead began trying to trigger America’s gag reflex with a Paris Hilton-Mister Slave gross off, Family Guy has become too hard to watch.

I’m not talking about the extended Conway Twitty performance on tonight’s episode (either a desperate time-fill for a show whose writers are dry, or a genuine joke for a show whose writers are boring). I didn’t even see that part of tonight’s episode, because I had already turned the show off.

Tonight Seth McFarlane decided that it would be great (hilarious? controversial? thought-provoking? satirical?) to joke about Peter shaking his first son, Peter Jr., to death because he wanted the baby to be quiet.

I couldn’t watch any more of it after that.

Although I’ve been writing this as though what’s changed is the show, really it’s me. I doubt that three years ago I’d have seen that segment and reacted at all severely. But it’s clear that I am no longer Family Guy’s audience. Because Seth McFarlane and his writers don’t have respect for the same things that I do. Maybe we agree about a wide range of cultural practices that can be mocked or satirized. Maybe we agree about politicians and entertainers being fair game for ridicule. But I can’t hear a shaken-baby joke and think “hilarious!” or “yeah, stick it to those parents, taking infant mortality so seriously! Lighten up.” It’s clear that I don’t have the same sense of humour anymore.

This isn’t a “come boycott Family Guy” with me message. It’s not a “Family Guy needs to change!” message. I don’t care, at all, what Seth McFarlane has to say on his show anymore; I’m not starting a crusade to get it off the air. I’m not even sure that the joke itself is unconscionable or anything so dramatic. It just occurs to me, now, that I am a different person and this is part of what it means to have a child of my own.

It means I laugh when my daughter says “ribbit!” for no reason whatsoever.

Discount Ice Cream

For some reason I owned a copy of humourist P.J. O’Rourke’s Modern Manners when I was in high school. I read it. I read it more than once. I laughed, because he’s kind of funny. (Recently he’s become hilarious and turned his eye on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, if I’m remembering that Daily Show interview correctly.)

One chapter/lesson in the book, and the only one I remember with any clarity, was entitled “Never Give Your Cat Cocaine.”

Tonight, because we had a 2-for-1 coupon for Baskin & Robbins we learned “Never Give Your Toddler Ice Cream At Night.” It’s not that Erin didn’t love the Oreo Cookie ice cream she ate (all by her going-away-to-college-soon self), because she did. And it’s not that she scratched the hell out of the drapes (as a cocained cat might do). But she transformed, in the space of four bites, from mildly “hey-this-is-interesting-and-this-is-interesting-and-this-is-interesting Erin” into “Dad-I-can’t-believe-you’re-eating-my-ice-cream-o-m-g-O-M-G-Waaaaaaaah Erin”. She calmed down almost immediately, but then she became ridiculous.

The entire car ride home from the ice cream parlour (I’m not certain there’s a “u” in there for Canadians, but I like to err on the side of caution. Word up, Canada.) was one long staccato monologue from my suddenly completely wired tweaker daughter.

“Yes? Yes no. No nap. No. Yes. Doggy. Doggy. Doggy. Mickey Mouse. Mickey. Doggy. Woof. Woof. Woof. Dinosaur!!”

And I thought “Didn’t I just read somewhere that the whole “don’t give your kids sweets before bed” thing was bogus? That the time of day didn’t matter, it was something to do with over-sugaring your kids overall that would wire them?”

I’m no scientist, but this sure seemed like pretty good evidence against. My daughter was incapable of thinking still, much less sitting still.

Erin has always been excellent about bedtime. I think since the third night we put her down on her own (she cried for the first 20 minutes or so the first couple of nights, but adjusted stunningly quickly) she’s been falling asleep all on her own. She’s demanded on several occasions that we “just put me to bed already, guys. I’m exhausted!”

But it sure looked like ice cream before bed was going to be our undoing.

We arrived home, and changed her into her pajamas, gave her some milk, and sat down to watch some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She calmed immediately, then cuddled in with Emily in the chair. Calm as could be.

Hmm. So much for my debunking of that thing I read on the internet at some point last week.

“Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit!!!!”

Ah, that’s more like it. Time to hide the drapes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Orange County Road Trip: part two

We left Anaheim late in the afternoon, skipping Erin’s normal nap because she was having fun with grandma and her cousins and because we’re not stupid: Why waste naptime in the hotel when we could enjoy a blissful drive through L.A. that didn’t involve repeated demands for Finding Nemo?

Erin did sleep through most of the stupid Orange Crush traffic (on a Sunday? People are crazy. Where are you going? Stop going to my house.), but she woke up twice, dreamily:

“Big hug Mickey Mouse? Fun Disneyland? Hug?” Oh, dear child, I didn’t think you could be any more adorable.

“I love Elmo? I love Nemo? I love Marlin? I love Mickey Mouse? I love Daddy? I love Mommy?” I’m glad that we made the list, kid.

I wish I had dreams like hers. Although she was so sad when she woke up, knowing that Disneyland was retreating into the past, that grandma and Mickey hugs were done with, for now, that if I had been driving I might have turned the car around.

But I wasn’t driving. I made my pregnant wife drive through L.A. traffic. In fact, I made her drive the entire way home. Because I’m a feminist.

Erin eventually woke up for good just in time for a Denny’s dinner, during which she revealed even more hidden adorableness. When my sliders arrived, with their cellophane toothpicks embedded through the buns, Erin took one look at the plate and shouted “HAPPY CAKE TO YOU!!!!!”

She likes to think about birthdays.

She was so convinced that I was eating cake that Emily had to give her a piece of one of the buns just to calm her down.

“Here. Have some cake.”

She tasted it, then gave Emily one of her “what the hell, mom?” looks: “Bread?” I could hear her calling us both bastards under her breath.

After dinner Erin settled in with her borrowed portable DVD player and some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and just zoned for the rest of the way home.

Look, I know. Toddler! Zoning! Evil! It’s not like I made her eat a bunny.

Driving through Pacheco Pass we put on some Pink Floyd, because “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is the best night driving music ever written.

We arrived home just before 1am. Erin was passed out, victim of Dad’s playlist and the pulse of the tar road seams thunking gently under our tires. We got into bed and dreamt Orange County dreams.

Monday, March 9, 2009

This Year Will Be Better

I posted here in this space for the first time one year ago today.

What started as a time-waste turned into an obsession, and then matured into a complicated relationship. I just wanted to tell stories and work out what my opinions were about parenting, and fatherhood, and being a dad in a predominantly moms' world.

I also wanted to leave little traces of myself around so that I wouldn't forget, so that Erin would see her dad the way he thought himself.

This was never really a "keep the family up to date" kind of blog, although it works as such, indirectly, at times. It was just this place I could write, I could imprint on culture a little, I could figure out how to get better at manipulating words in order to transform minds.

Before this identity, this Backpacking Dad thing, developed I was always very secretive about my thoughts. This hampered me a lot in academics, because I would turn in papers that had only ever been seen by one person, containing ideas only ever discussed with one person, and I had no desire to participate in the vast feedback loop of academic development. So another thing I planned to get out of this space was to get over my reluctance to share my deliberate thoughts with people and to let them tell me what, if anything, they were worth outside of my own head.

That was a long paragraph about, oh my god, how shy I am, really, no really, I swear I am really. But this activity has really been life-altering, and I came to it not thinking very much of the endeavor.

But I read. And I was read. And I met people. And I argued with people. And I agreed with people. And I made friends. And I made enemies. And I embarrassed myself. And I embarrassed other people. And I became entangled in other lives, just as strangers were getting entangled in mine.

I told Emily once that I don't like people in my house. That's still true, to a certain extent. But I think I have all of you to thank for being willing to consider having houseguests.

This year will see a lot more changes. I no longer write about my experience as an at-home dad, because I'm not really one anymore. I will very shortly no longer be able to write about being the parent of a single child. I don't know whether what seems to be my trademark sappiness will endure, or if being the exhausted father of two will make me want to dive into a six-pack and just watch the game instead of waxing about how much I love my kids. I suppose I'll just keep writing whatever I feel like writing. Mostly I just like to tell the stories that are laying around. I'm not good at fiction.

I am a dad. I have a backpack. My daughter rides around in the backpack (occasionally....). My son will ride around in the backpack. And you will get to read all about it during the second year.

Thanks for reading. You have made an unforseeable difference.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Orange County Road Trip: part one

We left the tree peninsula at 10:30am on a Friday. We drove through garlic and apricot blossoms and grapevines and more cowbell please, trying to hit the old orange groves before dark, before the doormouse donned his cap and robe.

The timebomb ticked, delayed by stickers and books and snacks. After lunch the ticking stopped; stopped until the incline of the car flipped the switch back to "on" as we started up the mountains.

But it never went off. Coming down out of the mountains into the valley and into the holly it threatened again, but a portable DVD player, reserved for emergencies, fixed attention on moving pictures and happy music.

But the valley and the holly were densely overgrown, over-RUN, with beetles and beemers choking the life out of the body, congealing its arterial blood.

The doormouse went to sleep while we were still squishing bugs.

But family was awake, and grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins erased all the tense memories, the worries about the bomb going off, the stress of getting to the old orange grove in time.

We stayed up too late, but the bomb never went off.

It slept like the happiest baby in the world and let everyone sleep in the next morning.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What's That You Say? It Was Raining This Weekend?

Erin has rainboots.

Erin has a raincoat.

Erin has mad puddle jumping skillz.

I can't take credit for the director of photography's choice of angle near the end of the video, however.