Sunday, June 28, 2009

Letter to Hedgehog: Month Four

Dear Hedgehog,

Sometime this month you added laughter to the smiling. It was a fantastic addition to your repertoire, let me tell you. Because it's a cool, hearty laugh. All of the sounds you make are hearty. My dad, your grandpa, first heard you cry over the phone on your first day of existence and stated it was "a lusty cry." It remains so. But you skipped the giggles and went straight to guffaws. Deep-voiced (for you) haw-haws over your favorite things: chin tickles, gwotoms (that's a word your Uncle Dan invented for a five-fingered squeeze, the Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes game, nose touching, and beeping my nose are on the list.

And you develop like a house on fire. My mom, your grandma, saw you roll from back to front for the first couple of times (and dammit, I missed it...I was out of the house). You don't seem to get frustrated about just kind of take it at your pace and try to remember what caused you to do such a cool thing.

All parents think their kids are attractive, but I can't help but think of you as attractive in a surprising sort of traditional-Gerber way. I'm sure there's not any studies indicating whether good-looking infants become good-looking adults, but if you stay in the 95th percentile in height (I'm above that, so you might) and remain slender, and if you flash those satellite-dish uber-focused blue eyes that you inherited from your mom, you've got a shot at being a damned attractive adult. I hope that we raise you in a way that you have the confidence to go with it.

This month will be fact, this week we're taking you on the first of many July 4th Minor League Baseball Road Trips. We'll see if our itinerary was too optimistic. I bet it's're almost always a joy to travel. Only on the trip home from Seattle last week were you trouble. You would yell and even scream whenever we moved, but when we stopped (which was nearly every exit!), you'd chill out as soon as we got you out of the car seat. We were worried you'd suddenly decided you hated travel...but then, outside the Subway at exit 57, you let loose with the absolute mother of all poops. It was that, combined with some kind of strange pressure from the car seat, that was troubling you, and not travel. Thank goodness...because we'll have a LOT of travel in your near future! You'll have been to 11 states before you turn 7 months old. How many people can say that?

You're so immensely cool to hang out with. I know that parents can't exactly be friends with their kids, but until you learn how to sin (probably only a year or so off), I feel like we're buds. And I like it.


State Memories Project: Montana

My oldest nephew, Matthew, was born on 10/4/92, three months premature and at a pound and 11 ounces, if memory serves. He was a member of the first generation to survive at that level of prematurity since they had just invented the drug that enhances lung development, which they gave my sister in the few critical days of bed rest before the emergency C-section. It obviously was touch-and-go for a while as to Matt’s survival, but he made it. So when I was invited up for Matt’s baptism--to serve as his godfather--over my Spring Break of 1993, it was even more joyous than most baptisms.

My parents picked me up at the Great Falls airport and drove me up to my sister and brother-in-law’s place in East Glacier Park (my brother-in-law was paying off his medical school debt by working on the nearby Blackfeet reservation). As a baptism gift, I had written a poem for Matt, and my mom asked me to read it as my dad drove. I did, and Mom cried. It surprised me a whole lot that my words had that kind of power. It started a gorgeous few days in Montana feeling immense joy with family as sunshine reflected off the snow.

State Memories Project: Missouri

The decision to transfer out of the University of Missouri was a pretty clear one for me. I wasn’t being challenged in the slightest, getting a 4.0 while putting in almost no effort...constantly playing Spades and Outburst in the lounge, putting in no more time studying than I had in high school. But it was still a horrible experience buying all of those college guides again, mostly because somewhere deep inside I had a horrible, nagging fear of bungling my second college choice as badly as I had bungled the first. Thankfully, and in a bizarre coincidence, my academic advisor at Mizzou was my big sister, and my parents blessedly said that they knew I had made a big error, and that they would support my transfer wherever I wanted to go.

Still, I was a wreck. At 18, the college choice was the most important choice I had ever made on my own, and I’d failed it. Those who told (and tell) me—accurately, I think—that Missouri was a necessary part of figuring out who I was, that I obviously needed to make that mistake to mature, that I wouldn’t be who I am without it, that I probably never would have landed at Kenyon without...Mizzou…well, they didn’t (and don’t) make me feel any less stupid about making the mistake of going to a college that didn’t have a prayer at stimulating me intellectually as an undergrad.

I was in that mindset one morning—probably mid-October—when I walked back to my dorm from my Junior Honors Shakespeare class (Mizzou was so stunned to have me at all that they broke all the rules and let me cut in front of a large waiting list to take it). I was transported by the discussion of whatever play we were working on, but as soon as I was back on Conley Avenue, my head was spinning again. Do I go small school, or large? Would majoring in English screw up my desire to be a sportscaster? Should I transfer at semester and abandon my budding Missouri friendships or tough it out for a year and do an easier, after-one-year switch? And, most scarily, how would I know I wasn’t screwing up again?

I may have been shaking. It was that stressful.

Back in 628 Mark Twain Hall, I fell asleep and had a dream. In this dream, my beloved AP English teacher from high school stood before me. She simply told me to calm down, and that everything would be all right. Big school or small, English or something else, end of year or at semester…I remember her saying “You’ll be fine. You’ll be great.”

I wasn’t shaking when I woke up. Breathing had normalized, and my notoriously overactive mind had calmed quite a bit.

By the end of the day, I’d written my old teacher a letter saying that, although she didn’t know she did it, she traveled 700 miles into my consciousness that afternoon to make what was a cataclysmic life crisis into something I could handle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In which I solve two health mysteries

When asked my weight, I usually say 185. That's about where I leveled out in my late 20s. I've been as high as 215 (after vocal problems kept me from refereeing for three years) and as low as 135 (that'd be my sophomore year of HS...I'd more or less reached my current height by then...seriously, I should put a picture up here someday; it was freaky-scary).

To be sure, over the course of a year, 185 is usually my best-case scenario. I'm that at the end of the basketball season, and head up to 190-195 for the rest of the year.

I was 185 at the end of the most recent basketball season, and I began my usual 9-month regiment of not-exercising-much...I prepared for the usual 5-10 pound gain.

About a month ago, I hopped on the scale.


That ain't right.

About the same time, my wife hopped on the scale. She proclaimed that she had lost a bunch of weight lately. Although she has been looking pretty damn good even by her standards lately, I had to tell her that I believed the scale had given up the ghost.

We bought a new scale.


WTF? I now weigh less than I have since 1994.

While wife has me eating fairly decently, I still go to Burgerville and Moxie's a little more often than I probably should (mostly during paper-grading binges). And I haven't exercised much since basketball season ended four months ago. Yeah, I dance with the boy at nights, and I've gone on maybe a half-dozen walks with him, but that's not enough to explain a 10-pound downturn.

I couldn't come up with anything unusual to cause weight loss until today, when I think I figured it out.

The only thing I've done differently these last few months is the Month Without Cheese. (My wife's weight-loss explanation is more obvious--all of her weight is exiting through her boobs.)

Could I possibly have lost 10 pounds just through that stunt? (And then managed to keep it off by being a little more thoughtful about unnecessary cheese consumptions since?

I know that correlation is not causation, but nonetheless, I think so. Nothing else adds up.

On the negative side, I've been having some vocal troubles. Not as serious as the really bad ones back in 2001, but I've been really vocally fatigued at the end of teaching days--even conversations.


I first noticed this back in March. I figured it was after a couple of weeks of library teaching, or the fact that I now teach in a room with a higher ceiling was finally catching up to me.

But then this morning, on the first of many morning constitutionals with my son, I noticed me talking to him, telling him what a good guy he was and giving a play-by-play of the things we were passing.

Due to Hedgehog's presence, not only am I talking more than I used to (as if this is possible!), but my "talking to Hedgehog" voice is very low, unsupported, and kind of gravelly.

Time to change that!

So, this summer:

--I have a goal to eat fruits or veggies every time I eat. This is not to say that I will eat nothing but fruits and veggies. It is to force me to eat them. When I want chips and salsa (which is often), I will have them, but I will eat a handful of carrots or an apple first.

--I will talk to the boy with vocal support.

--I will continue to watch my cheese intake.

--I will enjoy daily morning constitutionals with the boy.

If this works for a month or so, I may even add--gasp!--some weight training to do something about my rather pathetic upper body.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

State Memories Project: Mississippi

The only time I’ve been in Mississippi as a destination (I’d driven across previously) was for some kind of Teach for America pow-wow at a state park in Mississippi in early March of 1994.

I went with my teacher buddies Chris and Dan, who drank beer the whole way. I’m pretty sure that I must have driven, because I remember we made repeated attempts to set the American outdoor record for Longest Sustained Urination along the way. They beat me handily because they were drinking a lot of beer and I was not. But most of those attempts at the record were en route and therefore in Louisiana.

I remember sitting around a campfire chatting with friends and learning about John Candy’s death (It is in looking up the date of his death that I determined that I went to Mississippi on the first weekend of March, 1994). And then Chris, Dan and I found a spot to set up our tent, when Chris suggested that it was such a gorgeous night, and there weren’t any bugs…why not just put our sleeping bags on the mattress pads, forgo the tent, and sleep outside?

That’s what we did. I remember falling asleep in a state park under the stars with two friends. That’s Mississippi for me.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

If I don't make it, I won't be alone

The New York Times examines the demise of so very many blogs.

I'm still slogging away--at least until the State Memories project ends in December--but one blogger puts my difficulties into words perfectly:

“The Internet is different now,” she said over a cup of tea in Midtown. “I was too Web 1.0. You want to be anonymous, you want to write, like, long entries, and no one wants to read that stuff.”

I'm not ready for Twitter, but I can see me getting there from here.

Thanks to Joe, man with one of my favorite dead blogs, for pointing me in this direction.

Monday, June 08, 2009

To the people who make instructional videos for infant-related products and activities

Dear people who make instructional videos for infant-related products and activities,

I hate you.

When I attempt to use you as a resource to figure out how to do something with my baby, I always leave with a complex.

I think it all started with Harvey Karp. You know, the Happiest Baby on the Block guy. Swankette brought home his video when Hedgehog was about a week or two old, and I watched it carefully. Harvey, I watched you swaddle a million babies. I watched you crook baby after baby in your forearm and balance and jiggle their heads in your hands. Without fail, you took them from demon-child level screeching to completely calm and chilling in about 2.03 seconds.

It was impressive...until I tried it.

First of all, it took me damn near forever to figure out that damn swaddle. By the time I could reasonably burrito the baby, the fourth trimester was damn near over. But now that I've got it down, you can rest assured that I'll be swaddling the boy right up to his high school graduation. I don't want to waste this new talent.

But the jiggling...well, I never did quite get it right. Or, more accurately, I think I may have figured it out once or twice before forgetting exactly what worked and how. It just never looked like yours do. I think you filmed the babies in your video with some kind of weird baby-stop-action photography, or else somehow snuck some melatonin into your hands and rubbed it into the infants' scalps.

The point being, you make me feel like a complete remedial case, both mentally and physically.

But you are not alone, Harvey. I have to include the instructions for the Moby and the Beco baby carriers in this pissed-off rant as well.

The Moby instructions I used were on YouTube. They, without fail, show women patiently explaining the origami they're doing with their Moby (which is basically a massive scarf). There are at least 6 folds in a Moby, all of which must be done JUST SO for your baby's safety. Furthermore, how to get Hedgehog into those folds is something that I never got close to figuring out. The babies in the videos do the most beautiful swan dives into the cloth and fall instantly asleep (unless they're gazing perfectly into their mothers' eyes (and by the way, there are NEVER dads in the Moby or Beco videos, at least not that I've seen).

In real life, babies don't usually care to go into the Moby so easily. I have to balance the baby on my left hand/shoulder, spinning him on one finger like I'm Meadowlark Lemon, while I figure out if I've put the right-shoulder sash in the right position, if I've got it loose enough to allow the baby to breathe, or if I've done all the steps right. If I lose focus on the balancing baby while checking the sash, or if I've forgotten one of the steps, or if I've done the Moby just a smidge too tight or too loose...well, then, my baby splatters his brains on the ground. One time, when Hedgehog decided he didn't want to be in the stroller anymore, I tried to negotiate the Moby while on the side of the road...and that asphalt down there did not look too forgiving while I held the baby up over shoulder level in one arm (a necessary move to get him in the Moby).

My point: Your damn videos and instruction manuals do not show the contortions and balance I need to use your product. They do not show failure. They do not show pissed-off babies wriggling to prevent entry into the Moby.

Worse than the Moby are the DVD instructions for the Beco. God, I hated those. We had bought a Beco only because I failed so miserably with the Moby (which Swankette still uses and loves, by the way).

I gathered the baby, got out the Beco, and watched this video.

The video had several problems that really pissed me off.

First of all, the model (who is clearly on nitrous oxide) is using a DOLL for part of the video. A DOLL. Not my son, who is yelling and screaming and trying to figure out what kind of medieval torture device I'm springing on him. She's cheating and using a damn doll.

Second, she's on a couch that is about fifteen feet away from the camera. Is the baby's arm beneath or above the straps? Is he/she hooked into the front part of the Beco's interior or the back? Where exactly are those buckles? How can I possibly see any of this?

And--perhaps most importantly--why is the baby (once they switched from the doll to a baby) drugged? Is it necessary for me to feed my baby barbiturates before placing him in the Beco?

I have to rewind several times. Meanwhile, my son, who is getting no attention because I have to focus on the video, gets angrier and angrier, yelling more and more. Because of the noise, I miss several instructions, causing me to have to rewind again. I consider using Swankette's old Cabbage Patch doll, but it's not large enough, and it also won't wriggle, writhe, and flail like my son does. I consider using the cat, but he'd probably just pee all over the new Beco. And it's not like I can just set my son down and repeatedly watch the DVD until I get everything figured out.

I get more and more frustrated...but I also have an epiphany. I see the conspiracy.

I realize that Harvey Karp has teamed up with the glassy-eyed Moby and Beco instructional models to crush my spirit. They have come together exclusively to make me feel like a drooling incompetent idiot who can't follow simple instructions even when his son's happiness and safety are at stake.

There's a happy ending to this, thankfully...I now can swaddle the baby with a reasonable success rate, and, after paying a visit to the Beco store to have an actual human being coach me to use it with my actual baby, I have mastered the Beco so thoroughly that I go on walks with Hedgehog in it to get him to sleep.

But I've done all this in spite of, not because of, Harvey and the models. Whatever they have taught me was, for a while, anyway, entirely invisible over the rubble of what was once my fatherly self-esteem.

So, people who make instructional videos for infant-related products and activities, please heed these simple suggestions:

1. Show actual babies. Under no circumstances are you to use dolls.
2. Don't have your models smile so damn much. A look of concentration would be nice, since that's the look I've got on my face. The smile is a form of taunting...a "Look how easy this is for me!" face. By the way, Beco and Moby people...dads wear these things too. A token male or two would help a lot--I wouldn't feel like I'm crashing some estrogen-and-nitrous-oxide party.
3. Do not drug the babies before putting them on camera, nor take them directly out of milk-coma naps. Show what it looks like to put in a baby who is actually struggling against the parents' wishes, as almost all surely will struggle at first.

And finally, most importantly,

4. Show failures. Show people who did NOT manage to get their babies into the carrier or who did NOT manage to get their babies swaddled or to sleep. Explain what they're doing wrong. Troubleshoot. Because without this step, I am left with absolutely no idea what I'm doing wrong, and will have to head to the store where I can ask an actual human being actual questions. More importantly, without this step, I will feel like a complete spaz and an inadequate parent, and I will blame you.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I am available to critique your next video before you make some other dad feel like a moron.

But until then, I hate you.

All the best,


State Memories Project: Minnesota

The HHH Metrodome served as the first major league ballpark on 1993's Love and Baseball Stadium Tour. Mostly to anesthetize myself from the pain of a recent breakup, I decided I’d drive to 11 different major league ballparks and sleep on (mostly female, often romantic-interest) friends’ floors. I got started that afternoon at a fairly crappy indoor ballpark. The game was quite good—Oakland beat Minnesota 8-7, coming back from a 5-0 deficit to do so. Twin Shane Mack had two homers.

My seat was on an aisle in the second row, shaded just a tiny notch to the third-base side of home plate--just a few feet behind the Twins’ on-deck circle. When one buys single seats to meaningless games well in advance, one often gets very, very lucky.

I had my glove on, hoping for a foul ball. And I stayed alert…except once. Between innings…the 6th or so, I don’t remember exactly--there was a pitching change. I filled in my scorecard with the stats of the outgoing pitcher, focusing hard, when…BAM! I jerked my neck up. Something hit the side of my seat.

It was a ball. I guess there was either an errant throw in infield warmups or (more likely) a player decided to toss one into the stands as a souvenir. But I was so carefully doing my stats that I didn’t see it coming. I’m fortunate it didn’t hit me in the head. As it is, I’m not even sure where it wound up. It must have ricocheted across the aisle to someone in the next section.

In spite of that misadventure, I still score every game I’ve been to.