Sunday, October 25, 2009

Letter to Hedgehog: Months Seven and Eight

Dear Hedgehog,

I write this during morning boy duty. Your mom and I invented this over the summer so that she could get some approximation of sleep after waking up multiple times overnight to feed you. That's right: a teacher got up at 6 to 7 AM every day over the summer to hang out with you. Remember this when you're a teenager for two reasons: one, it will prevent the "you never did anything for me" teenage attitude, and two, if you know this is a consequence of fatherhood, it will make it FAR LESS LIKELY you'll have unprotected sex.

I'm actually kidding. Because while I don't spend every second of the mornings mooning over you (as this moment on the computer shows), it has become among my favorite times to hang out with you. It's nice and quiet and you're usually in a good mood fresh off your overnight sleep. I just put you on the floor and let you roll around, checking out a bunch of toys and the cat. This morning, you're working hard on the letter D. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da. Is this indicating an affection for me or for surrealism? Probably neither...probably just phonics practice. Now you eye the cat. now you grab your links and do a 360 roll over towards your mom's old Tigger.

Sounds have become wonderful in the last month. You're a fan of blowing raspberries, which your mom and I enthusiastically join in on. And there's the motoroboat noise at all pitches. That can't be easy to do. A friend reminded me yesterday that the motorboat is a good singing warmup, so I'm starting to harbor fantasies of you singing down the road. We shall see.

Hold on. You've backed yourself into a corner. Have to go save you.

Yeah, that's another thing--you're far more mobile than you were even a couple of weeks ago. You're RIGHT on the edge of crawling...for the past 72 hours or so, you've been getting up on your hands and knees and thinking very intently about what comes next, but rather than moving forward, you sort of do a pelvic rocking. Not that you need to're moving around very nicely via rolling and pivoting on your belly. That gets you darned near anywhere you want to go. And the sitting...LOVE the sitting! We put a few toys around you and watch it happen.

You're just grabbed a cup and are talking into it. I'm not sure you understand acoustics yet, but you're into the echo.

I know I've said this before, but NOTHING beats a baby laugh. I'm often surprised at what you find funny. The other day, while your mom slept (never, EVER wake a sleeping mommy), I took you downstairs. We have old lighting down there, with a string-pull to turn on lights. The previous owners have tied up a shoulder-pad on one of the strings to make it easier to grab. While you laid underneath it, I started punching it like it was the heavy bag. You watched it bounce off the ceiling and swing around, and you laughed uproariously. Needless to say, I gave myself quite a workout on that shoulder pad.

Your biggest physical change is that bottom tooth. It now just out a ways, so your smile has this one white bump in it. Awesome.

The challenge is to really, really focus on the way you look and act every day because it's guaranteed to be totally different within a few days. I do think you're more adorable than any baby ever, and it's entirely possible I'd think that even if you weren't mine.

You keep on developing like a good boy. My new goal for you is that you'll win all of the Nobel Prizes in the same year. That'd be awesome.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

State Memories Project: Rhode Island

I was reading a book as I traveled by train from Boston to New York on one of my baseball trips. When the train came to a stop, I looked up and saw the signs indicating we were at the Providence train station. “Huh,” I thought. “Looks like I’m in Rhode Island.” I then resumed reading.

State Memories Project: Pennsylvania

My most vivid memory of Pennsylvania is a bit of a downer. It’s the reason that I quit my MFA in poetry writing and is related to some of my darker moments of the soul. I can recall the 15-minutes-or-so that most rocked my world, but I fear it would take too long—too much backstory. Ask me about it sometime if you'd like. I can give the unabridged version.

So, for this one-page synopsis, I’ll focus on a positive memory…my first poetry reading in December of 1994. Hemingway's, a restaurant on Forbes Street, hosted readings by MFA students—one poet and one fiction writer for each reading. When I heard about it at the start of the year, I signed up for the last date possible (if memory serves, it was Monday, December 5, 1994, but memory may not serve). The goal was to give myself a chance to write as much cool stuff as I could that semester.

A good buddy came down from State College, and I expected a small crowd--just him and a gathering of my friends in the program. Much to my astonishment, the joint was PACKED. Not a seat was empty…and most of the people were strangers. I later learned why: the TAs of intro-to-poetry-writing and intro-to-fiction-writing courses required their students to attend and review one reading during the semester. Since mine was the last reading of the semester, I had every procrastinating creative writing undergraduate at the university watching me at Hemingway’s that night.

In the weeks leading up to my reading, I decided the best route for me to go was to read all of my funny stuff and all of my sex stuff. It was a cheap out, but it was my first reading and I DESPERATELY wanted to be liked. My work paid off. They laughed when they needed to laugh, focused when they needed to focus. If I have any talent, it’s the ability to own a room. My little anecdotes between poems went over nicely. The last poem, “How to Dance,” was an especially big hit, as was one called “Overheard at Harvard.” Some of the poetry was good, some not-so-good, but the fact is, I took a room full of mostly-strangers and had them in the palm of my hand for a half hour. My friends gave me many handshakes and back-slaps. The TAs of the intro-to-poetry classes told me that their students universally liked my reading. I know I liked it too, and I loved—LOVED—the feeling of being in the spotlight with just my poetry to hold attention. I liked it even more than I like singing, acting, or teaching—and that is saying something.

State Memories Project: Oregon

I think the day I decided to marry Swankette is the day that I told her that I wasn’t asking her to marry me. Let me explain.

We took a huge trip down the Oregon coast in 2004—our second annual 4th of July Minor League Road Trip. After games in Seattle and Tacoma, Michelle drove me down the Oregon Coast to the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Lincoln City. That’s a hotel where each room is decorated in honor of an author. She got the Hemingway room, where we had a romantic evening surrounded by many, many dead animals. We then hit ballparks in Eugene and Portland. My memory is of the Lincoln City day.

We stopped at Mo’s to have cheap fish sticks over the ocean, and my nerves got the best of me. I knew that, after two and a half years of dating, Swankette and I were approaching the point of no return. I was pretty sure I wanted to marry her, but hadn’t yet worked through the deep, intense analysis that I give all decisions (let alone the most important one of my life). I was worried that Swankette was expecting a ring that trip; a ring I didn’t have. So, as we waited for our fish sandwiches, I sort of blurted out: “Swankette, I’m not going to be asking you to marry me on this trip. Just so you know.” Yeah, I really was that smooth.

Her response: She laughed. Sweetly. That oh-that-is-so-typical-of-you-to-worry-like-that laugh. It was splendid. It was precisely what I needed. It relaxed me for the rest of the trip, and relaxed me in the relationship. In retrospect, I think that was the moment that I knew it would happen. Her calmness is a really good ballast for my intensity, and that moment proved it.

So I didn’t propose on that trip at the start of July. I proposed at the end of August instead.