Friday, December 25, 2009

What Love Looks Like

In case you were wondering, this is what love looks like.

If you are painting your daughter’s nails and she asks if she can paint yours, what can you say? That you’re afraid? That your manhood is too insecure?

Pfft! No! You damned well let her paint them. And you let her take a picture. Because that, my friends, is true love.

(And then you bloody well sneak into the bathroom quietly remove it when she isn’t looking)

Pax Moiyana

So many firsts in the past several months: Moiya moved into “big kid school” for the first time, we lost our first tooth (first two, actually), and we got our first adult tooth – of which we are very proud.

And somewhere along the way, The Troubles that I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog – the great screaming rages in response to the upheavals in her young life – seem to have ended almost as suddenly as they began two years ago.

There are still isolated events; the night before Moiya transitions from one household to another she will usually push and push and push until we finally have to come down hard on her (because, I suppose, she can then get mad at us – and mad is a much easier emotion to process). But these flare-ups compare to The Troubles in much the same way that a firecracker compares to a propane tank explosion.

Astonishingly, the thing that seems to have started the process was a simple, wind-up kitchen timer from Wal-Mart.

I got tired of the constant fighting with Moiya over when we had to stop playing, when she had to get out of the tub, when it was time to stop reading and get into bed, etc. So I went out and bought a timer and set it for 30 minutes. “When that dings” I said “We’re done.” It’s very old-school, makes a nice tick-tock noise, and has a real bell (rather than some damned electronic beep).

And it worked. From the very first time.

Moiya likes that she can see how much time she has left, and immediately started asking if she could set the timer herself. It isn’t cut and dried: If Moiya’s been bad at school, she loses five minutes off the 30. If Mommy calls, I stop the clock till they’re done talking. But it’s dead simple and for whatever reason, it works. Hell, at this point if I forget to set the timer, Moiya reminds me. And all for under two dollars.

We’ve also made accommodations in bedding. One night Moiya asked if she could just sleep on the floor. I agreed, thinking it would eventually turn into another ploy to start a screaming row. So we prepared the little foam Winnie the Pooh sofa that sits on the floor next to her bed. We arranged her pillow (with newly purchased Disney Princess pillowcase) and cover the couch with her new Disney Princess blanket (softest side up, princesses facing out, edges tucked under). And lastly I covered Moiya with the blue blanket we borrowed from her Nonny (which also had to face correctly, though it has no discernable pattern) tucked securely under her feet at the end – with her Disney Princess swim towel over her toes.

With her thus bedded, I lay on the floor next to her, holding hands and playing rhyming word games in the dark till she got sleepy.

Then she went to sleep.

Just like that. No psychotic rages. No screaming. No kicking and throwing. She just went to sleep. And she did it again the next night. And the next.

And so The Troubles passed and a period of relative calm has begun. It isn’t absolute. There were two weekends in November when she decided to conduct a five-year-old’s version of a scorched earth campaign. Contrary to her Mom’s belief that Moiya would soon come to think of her two homes as “natural”, she has not. “I remember our old house Daddy,” she said one day with a glare. “I remember us together. I remember everything.

And for better or worse, I’m the one who’s going to be the outlet for her sadness. Moiya even told her Mom one day that she was mad at her so she beat up on me. Go figure. (And bless her Mom for telling me.. it helps somehow).

But it isn’t every day like it used to be. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Desk Love

As I’ve posted before, I’ve had to learn that expressions of love often come in curious disguises. I got Moiya a little desk for Christmas a few years back, and to my enormous gratification, she uses it constantly. It can stand as an easel or lay flat as a desk and when she isn’t coloring on it she’s using the whiteboard surface to practice her letters. It has it’s own little three-legged stool and I put it in a nice, uncluttered corner of her room.

But over time, I found that Moiya’s desk tended to migrate to my room. I’d get up in the night, trip over it, and move it back to her room. I’d try to vacuum (the litter box is in my room – I have to vacuum often) and it would be in my way until I moved it back to her room. More than once I’ve crashed into it whilst carrying a full basket of laundry and bellowed (from the floor) for my daughter to get her !@!#! desk and put it in her room.

Why” I would ask in exasperation “is it always in MY room?

And then I noticed that it wasn’t just in my room. It was next to the desk in my room. Next to the old roll-top desk which had been my Dad’s and where I do most of my work. Next to the desk at which I am presently writing this. Moiya was placing her desk next to my desk, and her chair next to my chair.

And when we sit at our respective desks, we sit together, side by side.

And so that has become the official spot for Moiya’s desk. When I check my email or am sending out job applications, she sits next to me and draws or practices her letters. Sometimes we chat while we work. It's nice.

I can’t imagine how I ever thought it was in the way.

Minutiae

    Short memories, apropos of nothing. I record them here so that I do not forget:

  • As we looked at a book on the Nativity, Moiya began telling me the story of Baby Jesus and His mama, Maryhadalittlelamb.

  • Moiya retrieves the quarter deposit when we return our cart at the local grocery (some of the locals do this as a stop loss measure). One day when she got in the car I asked for my quarter back, but was told that she was busy with her seatbelt. After her belt was fastened, I asked for my quarter again, and was met with another excuse.. and another... and another.

    Finally I told my daughter that if I didn’t get my quarter back, we weren’t going anywhere. Moiya handed me my quarter, put her hands on her hips and demanded “What sort of man ARE you?” I have no idea where that came from, but it cracked me up. So it turns up with some frequency now as her shorthand token of humorous disgust.

  • Moiya frequently, with the mangled logic of the young, refers to her habits as “Like I always do sometimes.”

Magicadabra

"Magicadabra" is our magic word.

Moiya used to bring me her child-proof bottle of children's vitamins after having failed to open them herself. I would wave my hands, mutter, tap the lid three times and say "ABRACADABRA!" Then I'd open the bottle with a flourish.

It took Moiya's awhile to figure out the trick, but eventually she came to me, proud as punch and after suitable theatrics, announced "MAGICADABRA!" and opened the bottle. We try magic card tricks as well, though I've never been good at them, with or without Magicadabra. And recently, my con artist daughter has begun trying to convince her old Dad that she has psychic powers.

“Daddy?”

“Uh-huh?”

“I can read your mind!”

We were whipping down the highway on the way back from a day of kindergarten for Moiya and fruitless job searching for me. I was not entirely living in the moment, having my mind on “serious matters”

“Ok,” I said with a sigh. “I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10. If you can read my mind, tell me what number I’m thinking of.”

“Ok,” said Moiya. “Are you thinking real hard?” I assured her that I was and she screwed up her little face in concentration.

“Is it two?”

“No”

(pause) “Is it seven?”

“No.”

“Is it three?”

“Nope” I said, trying not to laugh.

“Is it one?”

“No.” By now we’re both giggling.”

“Is it six?”

“Oh! Let me think. Hmmmmm.. No.”

“Eight?”

“No”

“Nine?”

“No.”

“Four?”

“Yes, it’s four.”

AHA!!” Moiya shouted. “I TOLD YOU I COULD READ YOUR MIND!!
And we both fell about laughing.

I love my kid.

Silent Night

I don’t mind sharing Moiya. My ex and I try to be considerate of one another and of Moiya and I’m thankful to have that in a co-parent. If we can’t give Moiya an unbroken home we can certainly give her a life without friction between the people who love her. A girl needs her Mama, and I don’t begrudge a second of the time Moiya spends there.

But it does get creepy quiet around here, after the giggles and the jumping and the running have gone.

The thing that gets to me most are Moiya’s “babies’, scattered here and there throughout every room in the apartment, all carefully and lovingly tucked in and waiting silently for their little Momma to return. It’s a constant reminder of what’s missing. I should put the bloody things away. But somehow I just don’t have the heart to move them.

Holidays are the worst. I’ve surrendered my claim on holidays in my daughter’s interest. Holidays are about family. Moiya’s Mom has lots of family and mostly nearby. I have very little, and all far away. So holidays are spent with Mommy’s family where - as it should be - there is noise and life and lots of little cousins to play with.

But it’s... odd... here, especially now at Christmas. It’s been three years since I got to see my daughter’s anticipation of the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve night. And I miss that. And the knowledge that I’m unlikely to see it again stings.

Okay. Enough self pity. I think I’ll go to bed now. Tomorrow is another day.

The Return of the Flying Mermaid

I apologize to the simply tens of… tens… of people who read this blog for not having posted in such a long time. Life got a little interesting.

Years of poor management left my employer more or less defunct and me out of a job. (It’s simply bundles of fun, looking for work at 56 years of age in the middle of a massive recession when all the HR people consider you washed up at 30). And Moiya started school - which was almost certainly more stressful on her Mother and I than it was on her. The long and the short of it is that I fell behind.

But as I always do, I jotted the occasional text note to myself as things occurred and now that I’m back I’ll use them to gradually fill in the blanks. (At least I will for those notes whose meaning I can devine. A few of them I have no idea what I meant). Thus chronology for the next several posts will have little of no actual bearing on when the events occurred. “Sometime between August and December 2009” will just have to do.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

On The Inexplicable Humor Of Children

I love you, Daddy
"I love you too, sweetheart.”
You know how much I love you?
“How much?”
I love you more than a rock and a piece of soap.
(much childish laughter)

Okay. Truth to tell, I thought it was just as funny as she did. Not sure why.. it just was. Of course a few days ago, I told her I loved her as much as a rock and a piece of soap and she gave me a look which said “Old man, you have lost your damned mind.” So it goes.

Songs

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress
~Yeats~

I record these things not because I think anyone will be particularly interested, but because I don’t want to forget. Moiya changes so swiftly and already, looking over these entries, I’m finding little behaviors that are long gone and which I had almost forgotten. Moiya no longer sits (or lays) on the kitchen and watches while I make dinner. She no longer has me collect “coffee crumbs” so she can “cook” with them (though I still do. I’m very trainable). And she no longer wants to shave with me in the mornings. Change is the way of life, I know. And I accept that I have to constantly be saying goodbye to the faces she leaves behind. But I don’t have to forget any of them. Not unless I want to. And I don’t.

We do still talk to imaginary people on our car rides, though the preferred cast keeps changing. Handy and Fred are seldom seen, except to translate for Duck. Pirate Dog only gets the occasional look-in. Though Mr. Sun remains a primary character. And Simon (cat) and Wicker (dog), both of whom are real still get a lot of play. There are new folks now: During the winter months, we created Mr. Cold (who sounds like a nasally Lawrence Welk) who is responsible for the change in the weather and who thinks everything can be made better by lowering its temperature. “Hellooo!” he will say “Ah am MEESTER COLD! You need me to make sometheeng cooold for you? Ah can do that because.. ah am MEESTER COLD!” For a longtime, the game was to trick Mr. Cold into saying the word “warm”, which cause him great distress. That was good for miles and miles of travel time, but has pretty much faded now.

And there’s Good Gorilla and Bad Gorilla. Good Gorilla was born when we went past a billboard for the Louisville Zoo. The series of ads featured animals Photoshopped segueing into other animals. This particular billboard featured a gorilla with the hindquarters of a zebra. “Look Moiya,” I said. “That gorilla has a zebra butt!” At which point Moiya began talking to the gorilla.

I’m still quite proud of my gorilla voice. I’m constantly having to invent new voices out of the blue whilst travelling at 65 mph, and after awhile, I run out of ideas. But I nailed the gorilla. Stick your lower jaw as far forward as you can manage and try to impersonate Winston Churchill, and you’ve about got it.

So for months afterwards, till the zoo changed its ad campaign and the billboards came down, we had our daily conversation with Mr. Gorilla, which consisted mostly of Moiya asking him if he knew he had a zebra butt, and Mr. Gorilla expressing various levels of shock, outrage and surprise. Fortunately Moiya always had a spare gorilla butt she could lend, for which Mr. gorilla was abjectly grateful. Occasionally, there would be conversations about where he slept and what he ate, but mostly it was an endless series of different animals who kept sneaking in and swapping their hindquarters with Mr. Gorilla (occasionally with unfortunate consequences. A gorilla front and a snake rear was not a happy pairing). Then somewhere along the way we acquired Bad Gorilla. I’m not sure where or how. Suddenly he just sprang into being. His shtick is (of course) that he doesn’t like anything good, only really revolting things. I’m not that wild about Bad Gorilla, but Moiya seems to prefer him.

My car’s CD player died some years back. Then the radio went as well, and I can’t afford to have either one fixed or repaired. I’ve missed their loss greatly, as one of my real pleasures after our home broke up was driving around with Moiya (around three), looking for cows and listening to music. And I especially miss it now, as Moiya has suddenly gotten very interested in music. I managed to put together a collection of her favorite songs from our Disney movies and burned them to a CD which she plays (and dances to) all hours of the day. Then I had the happy idea of digging out an old, outmoded MP3 player, refurbished it, and loaded her music onto it along with anything else from my collection she fancied.

It’s an odd mix, as besides the Disney stuff we have the Beatles, Queen, and Gilbert and Sullivan. And since in the car Moiya can’t dance to it, she sings instead. So some mornings I would drive to work listening to fairly recognizable warblings of “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” and “With a Little Help From My Friends” coming from the back seat. As with the dancing, it wasn’t long before Moiya required an audience for her singing. And so our morning drive sounds something like this:

Mr. Sun?
“Good Morning, Moiya!”
Would you like to hear me sing?
“Oh, I always love to hear you sing!”
Ok.. .sit down. Luna?
“Hello Moiya!”
Would you like to hear me sing?
“Moiya, I would love it.”
Ok. Sit down next to Mr. Sun. Duck?
“Quack!”
Would you like to hear me sing?
“Quack!”
What did he say, puppet?
“He say ‘Oh yeah, that’s be verra nice.”
Ok. You two can sit next to Luna. Wicker Dog?
“Woof!”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Rrr.. do I get a treat?”
Yes.
“Rrr.. okay.”
Ok. You can sit down next to Puppet. Mr Cold?
“Yeasss. That is mee. MR. COL..”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Um. You know any cold songs?”
Yes. Sit down next to Wicker dog. Bad Gorilla?
“Hmmmyeas?”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Do you sing badly? I only like bad songs.”
Well, I’m going to sing good songs. But maybe I’ll sing a bad one later.
“Hmmmokay”
Sit down next to Mr. Cold. Pirate Dog?
“ARR MATEY!”
Do you want to hear me sing?
ARR. ALL US PIRATES LOVE TA HEAR SINGIN’ WE DOES!”
Okay, sit down next to Bad Gorilla. Bunny
“Yeth?”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Do you know a..”
No, I don’t know any songs about carrots. But they’ll be nice songs.
“That would be thplendid!”

And so on. Sometimes we have Baby Sun and Mrs. Sun. Sometimes we have Mama Rabbit. Sometimes we have James Bear and Soft Bear. Recently it has included our cat, Simon. The list varies. But it is important to ask everyone she can think of and get them all properly seated and ready. Then the actual singing can begin.

I love this part of my life, and I’m going to miss all this so very much when she outgrows it.

So I’ll come back here and read this. And I will remember.

Daddy, You Are Gonna Be SO A-MAZED

Moiya frequently says this to me in preface to whatever leaping, dancing, or climbing feat she is about to demonstrate. But the greatest joy I’ve had in these past five years’ adventure, what has “a-MAZED” me most has been seeing my daughter’s mind develop. I watch in fascination not just as she learns to do things, but as her comprehension and thought processes grow deeper and richer over time.

People get so worked up over the “sanctity of life”. Ok.. nothing wrong with that. But in fact life itself is common as dirt on this planet. Every amoeba and sand flea has life. “What’s so special about life?” The 9th Doctor asked. “It’s just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh.” As Dickinson less snarkily observes, death (and consequently life) is the “common right of toads and men/Of earl and midge the privilege.” What’s rare in the cosmos is not life, but intelligence. And as much as a cherish and celebrate my daughter’s life, it is her growing capacity for observation and thought that delights me.

Once I could report and record each week on the new word she had acquired. Then it grew to several new words per day. And then, in about a two-week period she suddenly began acquiring language faster than I could track it, in seemingly quantum leaps and from sources which I could not even begin to indentify. Without warning she was using asking questions about concepts that I did not even know she was cognizant of.

And those questions have progressed from simple identification of the items around her. We’ve gone from the basic “What dat? What dat call’d Daddy?” to the more esoteric “Were there any cities before there were people?” (and my favorite, “What do you think Mary Poppins smells like?”)

Some questions betray anxiety going on below the surface (“Daddy, do they have bathrooms in Big Kid School?”) And some – some I’m not sure about. Moiya frequently asks me part way through a movie “Daddy, is this like magic?” which I interpret to mean “Is this a fantasy/pretend event, or can I take this as an accurate representation of how things outside my experience work?” At least that interpretation seems to work. Dr. Who and Disney are magic. The Railway Children is not.

Some higher elements of thought have been there from the beginning. Moiya has always had an excellent memory, and as soon as she could talk we discovered that she has an amazing sense of direction. Even today she can identify places she saw only once in infancy. Considering I can get lost on the way to my own bathroom, this ability impresses her old Dad greatly.

Time seems to be the last real conceptual hurdle. Until recently ‘yesterday’ was used to denote any period of time in the past, from 24 hours to a week, to several months. Early on when she referred to things we had done a year earlier as having been ‘yesterday’ I would correct her. “Well, Sweetheart.. actually that was several months ago.” And she would look at me for a minute, then nod to herself in some internal confirmation and say “Uh-huh. Yesterday.” And it finally dawned on me that Moiya was not misremembering. She simply did not physically have the neural pathways laid down in her brain in whatever segment processes time. Like the book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” it was a fascinating look into the processes of human intelligence.

The concept of time has become more sophisticated since then (though I never did figure out how the answer the oft-repeated question “Daddy.. is it tomorrow today?”) I’ve put up a white board calendar and we count out the days to important events, and there are icons for regular weekly events at home and school. And we (mostly) know the names of the days, even if we are still vague on their order.

Two years ago, Moiya’s drawings were undifferentiated scribbles. Then one day about a year ago, she picked up a form from my office, and when I looked up, she had filled the form in with tiny, parallel, vertical lines. She knew that the forms were usually filled with writing and so she attempted to imitate writing as it appeared to her. From that point forward she would always use looping shapes when she was drawing, but angular shapes when she was ‘writing’. As she actually learned to make letters in school and began writing in a readable form, so also her drawings of people rather suddenly morphed from squiggles to recognizable stick figures.

And language. Always there is the wonder of language. Moiya’s vocabulary is extensive by now, and where she doesn’t know a word, she makes her own, which endlessly delights the Lewis Carrol streak in her Daddy’s soul. When there are tickle wars, one of the places that she’s most vulnerable is her “leg pits” – which is the area behind the knee. And sometimes she just wholesale makes things up. “That’s Bentwancha.” She will say. “Do you know what that means? It means getting your cat to eat her food.” We’ve stopped giving all the dolls the names of the other children at daycare, and instead have begun making up new names (perhaps the daycare didn’t have enough kids).

Green Eggs and Hand
Sometimes I confess that I let my fascination with my daughters inner workings run away with me. Sometimes she’ll “act like a real person” and do things like – I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere – getting all her books together and the tapes rewound for return to the library on Saturday morning without being asked. Or on using the last of the toilet paper, removing the cardboard tube, getting a fresh roll from the cabinet under the sink and putting in into the holder.

One of her chores is collecting the trash from the upstairs wastepaper baskets and putting new plastic bags back back into the empty cans. I went into my room one night after Moiya had gone to bed to find that she had apparently not been happy with the tendency of the bags to fall into the can. And so she had gone to my desk, found the box of rubber bands, and used one to secure the bag more tightly.

After such displays of intelligence, I am completely blindsided when she returns to the real world and acts like a five year old (i.e. insane). If took only a second of me turning my back while we were dying Easter eggs for her to plunge her hands into the green dye. By the time I turned back around she was admiring her vivid green skin, and for several days I was the father of the Daughter from the Black Lagoon. And as recently as a few weeks ago, she proudly showed me how she had organized her room by taking all of the pieces from her seven or eight jigsaw puzzles and putting them all in one box. I have to constantly remind myself that, no matter how excited I get at the glimpses into her expanding consciousness, brain isn’t really dry yet. Perhaps some sort of “WET PAINT” sign would be nice, so that I’m braced for such oddities and don’t hurt her feelings unintentionally by yelping “You did WHAT?

And it would have helped me last week. Moiya has developed a sudden passion for playing hide and seek. Indoors. In a small apartment. And it took me as very long time to learn how to play this game, because I was forgetting that her brain isn’t dry yet. As it turns out, the object appears not to be to find her. She will hide over and over and over behind the chair in her room, where she is plainly visible. And she will continue to talk to me from behind said chair whilst I am “looking” for her. But she usually prefers to hide in my room, which has only a bed, a small bookcase, and a desk in it. “Okay” she will call from under my desk, her legs sticking out. “Come and find me. But you can’t look near your bed or the desk” Which usually leaves daddy blinking in confusion and faux-looking in another room. “NO, DADDY! In YOUR room. Just don’t look near the bed or the desk”

Like I said.. brain hasn’t quite gelled yet. But dear Lord how much fun it is to watch it grow.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Grave Matters

On the way back from St. Louis after visiting Mom over the July 4th weekend, I decided to stop off at the cemetery to visit Dad’s grave. I hadn’t done so in awhile, not wanting to confuse my little daughter. But I’d been missing Dad especially keenly of late and decided that, at the ripe old age of five Moiya was mature enough to face life’s Great Mystery.

When we arrived at the cemetery I asked Moiya if she wanted to wait in the car while I paid my respects. But she said no, that she’d like to come with. So hand-in-hand, we walked up the gentle green slope to visit “Gran’pa Jerry.” At the grave, I knelt and traced my fingers over the lettering on the stone and helped Moiya sound out the words. She looked around with mild puzzlement and asked where Gran’pa Jerry was. I said “You’re standing on him, baby. He was buried right where we are standing.”

I was expecting questions or puzzlement. After all, coming to terms with the ultimate fate of us all is not something one deals with every day. Moiya looked down at the ground in thought for a very long time, small brow furrowed, toying at the blades of grass with her toe. Finally, after a prolonged silence, she looked up at me.

“Can we pull off the grass and look at him?”

She seemed quite disappointed when I said no and tried several times to talk me into it.

Finally we got back into the car and returned home.

You can’t make this stuff up. You really can’t.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Clever


I love my daughter’s sense of humor, which varies wildly from the silly to the sophisticated. There’s always poop and fart jokes, naturally (though I’ve explained that not everybody thinks such things are funny and therefore they should probably be reserved for Daddy. I need to blog about poopcookies at some point before that game is outgrown)

But Moiya’s also developed a dry wit that cracks me up when it appears suddenly in the midst of all the rollicking silliness. We’ve practiced ‘serious face’ for years (I thought it was a useful skill for her to have) and she’s gotten pretty good a looking solemn on demand. So that now she can deliver jokes with an absolute deadpan expression when she deems it appropriate. (see the episode of the flying mermaid)

A few weeks back we’d spent the day together and, as I hadn’t gotten to se her in awhile I had made up my mind to giver her my undivided attention for the day. We roughhoused and fly kites (well.. one kite, and Daddy had some trouble sharing). We made cookies and got movies from the library and played Go Fish and Candy Land. And we were getting the sleeping bags out for Popcorn Night when I noticed Moiya sitting on the sofa and looking forlorn. At first I got not response reproachful looks when I asked what was wrong. Finally Moiya sighed and said “I’m sad, Daddy” And when I asked why she said “You’re just not giving me any attention

My jaw dropped open and I stammered a few times before yelping “WHAT?!?”
And then realized when my child erupted in helpless laughter that I’d been had again. Now periodically, when we’re deep into a game of Old Maid, Moiya will look up from her cards and say deadpan “You’re not giving me enough attention”

“I’m clever” has slipped into use in our household as an after effect of the last season of Dr. Who.”Aha!” I’ll exclaim as I effect some miraculous repair on a toy which I really hadn’t thought could be saved.”Oh, your Daddy is a clever man indeed!” And when Moiya asks, as I hem her pants, how I ‘know how to do so many things’ (a naiveté I’m sure won’t last much longer) I’ll reply “Because I’m clever.”

So it was that one day, after Moiya had done something certifiably insane, whilst Daddy was spluttering and having seizures and exclaiming “WHY? What on EARTH were you thinking? WHY DID YOU DO THIS!?” Moiya looked me in the eye and said solemnly “Because I’m clever, Daddy.” And I lost it.

I love my daughter’s sense of humor.

The Nose Knows

My daughter and I sniff books.

I meant that literally. I’m not sure when it started. I think we had a newly printed glossy color book from the library which still had it’s new book smell. Moiya picked it up, stuck her face in it and inhaled deeply.

So I did too. And I admitted I liked the smell of old books too. So we got some more books and sniffed them all. Now during story time, often as not we stop and smell the books before we read them. This puts me in mind of the fact the centers of the brain which control smell are closely linked with the areas controlling memory. Nothing will call a memory back with the visceral suddenness of smell. There’s a certain musty, sun-heated wood odor I’ll catch every now and again which catapults me across time into my grandparents garage in Dallas in July. There’s another similar one which puts me on the ground next to my Dad as he closed the doors on his Mom’s garage in Kansas city in the fall. I don’t have a clue what the difference is in the two odors, but me brain does.

And since I’ve been a Dad, I’ve discovered (or rediscovered) other smells which evoke powerful memories of childhood to me. Some I would have expected, but others are a little surprising. In no particular order then, these are the smells which access the dormant areas of my brain where childhood’s summer lives:

a. Ballpoint pen ink
b. Hot vinyl
c. Sunscreen
d. Insect repellant
e. Crayons
f. Playdough

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stretching Exercises

So I was putting training wheels on Moiya’s first two-wheeler (aka the “Big Girl Bike”) the night before her birthday, and it occurred to me how much alike we both were. Not Moiya and I… me and the training wheels.

Moiya is still very much in the “fotch me” phase which, while tiring, is deeply pleasing to me. I’m constantly answering calls to witness a whole host of things – dances, leaps, and feats of dexterity. I watch silly faces and funny walks, painting and coloring, hopping, skipping, twirling and running. “See what I can do, Daddy? Aren’t you just so very proud of me?” And I am. I so very much am.

And I love that she is mentally and physically active. I love that she reaches and explores. I love that she still wants to share it with me. And increasingly, it is not only that I observe, but my physical vantage point which is important. As often as not if we are outdoors, Moiya will indicate a spot with her foot. “You stand HERE, Daddy,” she will say. “So I can show you this.” When I work in the garden (aka the patch of dirt outside the apartment) Moiya will pick up a leaf or twig and ask if she can throw it in the dumpster which sits about 60 feet from our door. It isn’t about the ‘trash’ of course, but about the exhilaration feeling of walking out of Daddy’s immediate orbit and just a bit into the wide world.

At first I watched her every step of the way, there and back. Now I very deliberately keep on with my weeding and let her make the journey on her own. Daddy’s need to stretch their comfort levels now and again.


A month or so back, Moiya and I were playing in the apartment complex’s playground; There’s a swing set and a slide, lots of sand – and a jungle gym. The jungle gym is an unusual design, being mostly vertical, 10 or 12 feet straight up. There are sections of u-shaped tubes, extending out from a central axis in stepped rows, with each row being slightly offset from it’s neighbors to form and asymmetrical ladder. Moiya had been too timid to climb it the last time I encouraged her to, and this time did not seem to be shaping up any differently. “I don’t think I’m old enough to climb that, Daddy” she said, eying the height apprehensively.

But as she played on the swings, Moiya kept looking over at the jungle gym, and after awhile she went over and began to climb the lowest rung. “Fotch me, Daddy! Stand there” she said, indicating a spot directly beneath her. I stood where indicated and held up my arms to offer assistance if needed. After a few false starts, Moiya made the second rung. And the idea that she *could* do this began to compete in her head with the apprehension. And so she climbed that morning until she was at the top and looking out over the apartment complex, the queen of all she surveyed. “LOOK at me, Daddy! Look how HIGH I am! Did you think I could climb so high? Aren’t you AMAZED?”

Aren’t you so very proud of me?

After she came carefully down, we played on the swings for awhile longer and then went back for another climb. But this time “You stand here now” she said and drew a line in the sand about ten feet further back. And halfway up, she decided that I needed to move to the other side of the chain link fence that surrounds the play yard. As Moiya’s confidence grew, her need to demonstrate it in terms of distance from Daddy grew as well.

Like I said – training wheels.

And so last Sunday, as she was practicing riding her bike – learning to steer and stop, building leg strength and speed, Daddy no longer had to walk alongside as he had the previous week. First we raced (“You go that way and I’ll go this way and you’ll see how I can beat you”). And finally I was instructed to wait in the other side of the parking lot – sidelined whilst my little girl rode here and there – her speed and confidence increasing in tandem. “Look at me, Daddy!”
And I was suddenly struck, as one so often is when viewing the familiar from a slightly different perspective. This child who had lain in my arms for so long, who has loomed so large in my visual field since her birth – seeing her riding on the other side of the lot I was suddenly acutely aware of how tiny.. how unutterably fragile and tiny was my little madly-peddling bundle of pink and gold.

And I was once again seized with the age-old twin terrors of letting go, and holding on too tightly.

"All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them"
~J.D. Salinger – “The Catcher in the Rye”~


“Aren’t you just so amazed, Daddy?”
Yes, my darling girl. Oh my, yes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lazy

I was feeling guilty about not having enough time to blog the things that have been going on and thinking what a shame it is that blogging isn't as comparatively easy as posting a facebook status update. And then it hit me: I could collect some facebook status updates and pretend they're a blog entry.

Lazy? Sure. But my whole point in keeping this blog is to preserve the ephemeral memories of my daughter's early life. And those memories - like life - are far more made up of myriad tiny moments than great events.

So.. here's our life, told through insignificant moments:



Now that was weird. Walked in to find my daughter playing cards with the cat. Asked who was winning and Moiya said that she was "'Cause kitty can't count very well."
6/14/2007 5:34pm

I couldn't figure out why after we made zucchini bread all the preschool teachers were giggling and asking if I enjoyed baking. Then I learned that for two days Moiya has been telling everybody that Daddy made 'bikini bread'
June 11 at 11:05pm

loves it when his daughter asks "Daddy, can we turn off the TV?"
June 11 at 7:11pm

is spreading the sleeping bags on the living room floor for popcorn night. Popcorn made: check. Big pile of new library books: check. Crazy child: check. Life is difficult, but good.
June 6 at 8:16pm

is hemming his daughter's pants and thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same...
May 31 at 4:46pm

is getting sick. Funny how all that hand washing is less effective when a five-year-old sneezes in your face.
May 28 at 10:39am

made cupcakes with his daughter, let her lick the bowl, and now remembers why his ex called sugar "crack for babies"
May 24 at 4:52pm

is listening to "The Little Drummer Boy" for the 4000th time. But this time I get to watch my daughter's impromptu dance, so that alleviates the pain :)
May 17 at 11:05am

wonders what it is about the sound of the word "no" that renders it inaudible to children.
May 16 at 8:56pm

is dealing with a grumpy, whiny, disobedient child.
May 16 at 11:11am

followed by...

Ah.. so few things a good nap can't resolve.
May 16 at 3:15pm

I love my daughter's sense of humor :)
May 14 at 5:45pm

Yea for youthful enthusiasms. Thanks to my daughter, I've now heard "The Little Drummer Boy" 47 times in the last 12 hours.
May 10 at 12:37am

is all 'where, God.. WHERE do they get all their energy??'
May 9 at 9:47am

is nursing an aching back after playing "camp out" on the living room floor all night.
May 3 at 9:20am

is watching Lilo and Stitch with Moiya. Ohana.
May 2 at 10:38am

Ref. my earlier question about insanity and small girls: yesterday my daughter "cleaned" her room by dumping all the pieces from 5 different jigsaw puzzles into one box.
April 27 at 11:54am

had a lovely morning with Moiya, standing in a field flying kites :)
April 26 at 12:11pm

Wonders if all four-year-old girls are insane -- or just his.
April 26 at 8:26am

Cleaned up wet bed (and wet daughter) at 3 a.m. and now can't get back to sleep. We leads the glamorous life, we does...
April 14 at 4:17am

is somewhat dismayed to find that Easter Egg dye is capable of staining linoleum. Does the FDA know about this stuff??
April 11 at 10:50am

Later...

is more dismayed to find that Easter egg dye works far better on four-year- old hands than it does on eggs. Specifically the green dye.. up to the wrists. I'm the father of the Toddler from the Black Lagoon.
April 11 at 5:40pm

is helping his daughter make "panny-cakes" for breakfast :)
April 5 at 9:08am

wishes sometimes it was more socially acceptable to drug children out of their tiny minds.
April 4 at 7:02pm

finally learned to put his daughter's hair up in pigtails. Not perfect, but pretty fair for a novice. And he is quite absurdly proud and happy about it.
April 3 at 6:16pm

Ah.. there's nothing that makes you feel quite so glad to be alive as waking bright and early on a Monday morning to find that your cat's been sick all over the floor.
March 30 at 7:20am

Ah, the joys of parenthood. The first time they walk. The first time they talk. The first time they tell you that they hate you...
March 27 at 5:59am

is amazed at the wealth of childhood memories brought to life from something so simple as the smell of Crayola crayons.
March 26 at 1:24pm

is sitting on the swings with his daughter at the local park, having long silly conversations, enjoying the sunshine, and singing "Sumer is icomin in"
March 22 at 12:59pm

is astonished at his power to kiss away boo-boos on little arms and legs.
March 21 at 8:36am

just had to watch Stuart Little 2 but couldn't hear much of the dialogue over the "vroom" sound of E.B. White spinning in his grave.
March 14 at 6:04pm

is learning not to let his daughter shuffle the cards..
March 8 at 3:28pm

is wondering if he has the only cat that snores...
March 8 at 10:15am

is trying to put !@#$! ponytails on his daughter's !@#$! doll. !@#$!
February 21 at 9:27am

saw Hannah Montana for the first time yesterday, but was distracted by the plaintive cry of his brain cells dying, one by one
February 17 at 9:48am

is sitting on the floor, surrounded by Littlest Pet Shop figures and wondering where his brain went.
February 7 at 11:11am

is experiencing newfound respect for his parents after this weekend, remembering the thousands of board games they played with him as a child.
February 1 at 11:02am

is watching Mary Poppins for the 1,342nd time this week.
January 31 at 4:21pm

is loving teaching his daughter board games
January 23 at 8:04pm

is eating gingerbread with his daughter, enjoying the smell of home-made soup and fresh bread, and feeling unaccustomedly content.
January 18 at 3:17pm

is losing at Candyland.. again.
January 17 at 9:57am

is wishing there was a Flintstones Chewable Valium for Children
December 13, 2008 at 8:56am

is in Christmas Tree light hell. Who invented these damned things?
December 10, 2008 at 8:19pm

is helping little hands decorate the Christmas tree
December 7, 2008 at 8:17pm

is making his daughters hand puppet sing selections from Pirates of Penzance
December 1, 2008 at 7:38pm

is playing dress-up dolls with his daughter (and enjoying the fact that dolls don't complain – unlike actors)
November 22, 2008 at 10:34am

is spending Saturday night sitting on the floor with his daughter, eating popcorn, watching videos and coloring.
November 8, 2008 at 8:55pm

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hide and Seek

Moiya has discovered Hide and Seek and can't seem to get enough of it. However in a small apartment, there really aren't that many places to hide.

Which is ok, given the way Moiya plays it; she hides while I'm standing there watching (usually in the same place she hide the previous twewlve times), and then I have to go off count to eight (I don't know why, but she always specifies eight). Then I'm supposed to com and 'find' her.

Finding other places to look other than the one her feet arer sticking out of so that the game deosn't end too early is taxing Daddy's imagination.

I must be missing something here...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not So Far From The Tree

So last night I was balancing the accounts and could hear Moiya in her room playing. Her scenarios with her dolls tend to involve high drama, and she'll wander in from time to time to give me an update:

Moiya: (Big sigh) "I don't know *what* I'm going to do with Soft Bear. He's been hitting the other students again!"

Me: "Oh dear".

Moiya: (Another big sigh) "And that's not all.. he's been spitting!"

Me: "Mmm.."

Moiya: "And biting. I need you to have a talk with him ‘cause you're the teacher. Then I'm going to have to call his parents. Maybe the police".

Me: "I don't want to be the teacher. I'm busy. You be the teacher".

Moiya: (Sigh) "I just don't know what to do with him! I put him in Time Out. And yesterday he hit James! And then he *kicked* him..."

And so on... and on. I usually just make "um-hmm" noises (being married three time has taught me a few things). And it's pretty funny listening to Moiya on the phone with her grandma. She'll rattle on and on about one traumatic event with her babies after the other until I finally take pity on my Mum and take the phone back. (It reminds me of the time during a visit when Moiya went on for hours about an imaginary girl who lived in the plumbing. I think we all passed out before that one ended).

Anyway.. I could hear Moiya issuing correctives to her misbehaving children and playing with the pots and pans on her "stove". And eventually she brought me a plastic dish and a fork and asked me if I wanted to eat dinner. She "cooks" a lot and I'm used to sampling imaginary foods. So I said yes and asked what dish I was eating.

Moiya looked at me deadpan and said "It's my baby, Keely. She wouldn't stop misbehaving, so I just gave up and cooked her."

I not only ate Keely (at last count, we have four baby dolls and one monkey named Keely) but asked for seconds and complimented the chef.

This morning, Moiya was singing songs to Mr. Sun. She likes to read to Mr. Sun and sometimes makes up songs which last almost as long as her stories do.. usually about whatever is passing by the car windows at the time. (Earlier in the drive she had been humming "With Cat Like Tread" from Pirates of Penzance to Keely, which made her Daddy strangely cheerful for the remainder of the day).

This morning’s song went (As nearly as I can recall):

Little duckie is fluffy and yellow.
Little duckie goes quack quack.
Little duckie swims in the pond.
Little duckie eats your head....


I laughed out loud at that point and that ended the song (sadly).

I suppose I should be worried, but since it's pretty much the same twisted sense of humor I have, I really can't.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sumer is Icumen In


Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!

~anon. circa 1260~

Living in an urban apartment there is not such a sense of the quickening of seasonal life as I was used to in my slogs around our woods.

But even here, life stirs. I was suprised this week to find that my three hibiscus which I brought indoors before the freezes hit, and which have dropped most of their foliage from lack of light, are suddenly producing blooms again, straining against the kitchen window towards the sun.

So, the weather reports may still be predicting cold and rain and misery, but change is coming. I have it on good authority.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fotch Me!

There are words that Moiya either cannot or chooses not to pronounce correctly. This bothers me not at all, as she’s always been very verbal and has quite a good vocabulary otherwise. Some things, like calling hand sanitizer “hanitizer” I suspect are simply because she prefers the sound. I tend to agree and I will miss them when they evolve away in the fullness of time.

Other mispronunciations are more problematic. When she was two years old or so, her mispronunciation of “watch” caused some embarrassment when, in the middle of Wal-Mart, she bellowed (with the volume of which only very young children and jet engines are capable) “F*ck me, Daddy!!

I don’t mean to suggest that her mangling of the word “watch” sounded vaguely like ‘the F word’. No.. It was spot on. People three aisle away would turn their heads and begin whispering to one another.

Heh.. Yes Moiya” I said in a stage voice, “I’ll WATCH you.
By this time, Moiya would be bouncing up and down in the cart hooting “F*ck me f*ck me f*ck me..”

Nobody ever warns you about these things. Diapers, smallpox, child molesters.. these they warn you about. You child getting you hauled out of Wal-Mart by Child Protective Services nobody ever mentions.

I thought we were past all of this until two weeks ago, when wee were coming back from our weekly visit to the public library. Moiya spotted one of our neighbors, Mitch, out walking his big and improbably shaggy dog. So as I opened the door she bellowed “Look, daddy. It’s that Bitch!”

I closed the car door again.

Umm. Baby, where did you learn that word?” Moiya has heard Daddy say a number of unfortunate things, but not that one. Moiya looked puzzled.

“You mean Bitch?

Yes honey. Bitch is a bad word.

But… Bitch is his name!”

The light dawned. “No baby.. his name is ‘MITCH’. With an ‘M’. Can you say that?”

Moiya pondered. “Bitch” she said.

And so it goes. Mom ran into this at New Years when she tried to correct Moiya’s pronunciation of “watch”, which has now morphed into “fotch.” Every time Moiya would say “fotch” Mom would try to correct her:

What sound does “W” make?” she would prompt. Moiya would respond with “Whuh! Whuh!” as they’ve taught her in preschool.

That’s good! Now say ‘watch’”

“Fotch”

I just smiled happily and said nothing. When you’ve beaten your head against a child-wall as many time as I have, it’s fun to fotch somebody else do it.

And so one day Moiya and I were in the kitchen. I was making dinner, and Moiya was playing with the ‘coffee crumbs’. Each day when I take the coffee filter and old grounds out of the coffee maker, I have to set them neatly in the sink so that when they dry, Moiya can gather them up, drag out bowls and cups and measuring spoons and begin to ‘cook’. She makes soup usually, though sometimes the bowls full of brown gruel are other things: cakes, and sometime meatloaf. Occasionally they are even coffee.

And Moiya kept insisting that I sit and watch her play. She does this with some regularity, and it has always confused me. I understand her wanting me to play with her, but just watching her play has always struck me as silly. And so I opened my mouth to explain for the 42nd time that I had other things to do and was right near by.. she didn’t need my undivided attention.

And then I recalled my Dad and Grandfather. When I was a child, to me those men were gods. And I remembered how it felt when they paid attention to me. It’s hard to put into words fifty years after the fact, but I remember the sensation as though it were yesterday. I glowed. When you are little and powerless in a big world, surrounded by gods and giants, having them pay attention to you and only you was the greatest sensation in the world.

But they were gods, for so I’ve regarded them all my life (and perhaps ever more so now that they are gone). I’m not a god. I’m just me. And 'me' is just a screw-up and a failure.

And I wondered, as I looked at Moiya and her dribbly pots of brown water, if my Dad ever felt like this. Did he, who was so like me in his shyness and insularity, regard himself with the same cold eyes? Did he berate himself in the long nights with his inability to measure up to his father?

Did he ever know he was a god? Does anybody? Probably not.

I think that the popular press has got it wrong. Armchair shrinks keep telling us that we don’t spend enough time with our kids because they aren’t important enough in our busy lives. I think we don’t spend enough time with them because we don’t consider ourselves important enough. When we want to show love, we spend ourselves into debt buying things. Nobody shows love by giving things valueless.

All of this flashed through me head as my mouth opened and then closed. And when it opened again, I said “Okay. I’ll fotch.

And I did. I stood for a good half-hour doing nothing more than watching my daughter concoct revolting things with coffee grounds. And we had a blast. Every once in a while, she’s glance over to see if I was still watching. And on seeing that I was, she glowed.

Maybe” I thought, “we can go out later and say ‘hi’ to Bitch.”

Lord, what fools these mortals be

My child is a perfectly normal four-year-old. Which means that she is a joy and a wonder. And it means that periodically she’s just maddening as hell, usually when Daddy is trying to hurry us somewhere. I don’t know what it is about little kids, but the concepts of time just don’t appear to be part of their neurological equipment yet. Tell a young child to hurry and they will – if they react at all – slow down.

So on occasions when we are running late for work/school and I am trying to hurry Moiya along (with mounting levels of desperation) she will dawdle, getting distracted by anything and everything in her path. She’ll pause to study a bug, despite that fact that it is dead, has been dead for months, and the fact that she looks at the same bug every damned day. Why? Is she expecting it to re-animate? Is she expecting to find the face of the Madonna? Who knows? She’ll pick at lint, pet the kitty, brush her hair, dress her doll, pet the kitty again… all on the way to put on her shoes, which are all of three feet away. And all this while Daddy tears his thinning hair, writhes like a child needing to pee, and exhorts her to come ON already!

But really, it’s just pointless getting upset. Trying to get a child to understand the concept of haste is like trying to explain the concept of red to a blind person; do what you will, it’s going to be an imperfect understanding at best.

On this particular day, Moiya was being particularly annoying. I was having a bad day to begin with, and my child seemed bent on making every little frustration infinitely worse. No matter what ongoing disaster I tried to address, there was Moiya right in the middle of it, doing stupid things: she was making faces, tugging at my shirt, crawling on all fours and pretending to be a kitty, running into me and falling down. Finally after hours of this I exploded. “What in the HELL is WRONG with you? Are you out of you mind, or are you TRYING to be annoying??”

And I’ll remember it to my dying day. Her little face just crumpled.“But Daddy.. I was just trying to cheer you up. I was trying to make you laugh.”

I just stood there a gaped for what seemed like an eternity. Then I scooped her up and hugged her just as hard as I could. Like I said – how can I be so smart until it comes to my own child. And then how can I be oh so stupid?

So now when Moiya is being a goof, suddenly stopping in front of me, hanging off my leg,or any other inexplicably silly, infuriating thing – Daddy remembers to laugh (even if he has to take a deep breath first).

Because now he knows that ‘I love you’ can come in some obscure guises indeed.