Thursday, August 18, 2011

Touchstone

When the school year ended and it was time for Moiya to begin attending YMCA camp for the summer, she began showing signs of nervousness. This tends to take the forms of periods of silence alternating with picking deliberate quarrels with me. Finally she admitted one night as I was tucking her in that she was nervous about going into an unfamiliar environment and meeting new people. We talked about it and I told her that fear of new people and new situations was something with which her Daddy was – unfortunately – intimately familiar. So we got out of bed and I carefully wrote out her Mother’s cell phone number (though she knows it) and her Step-Father’s number, and my number, telling her that no matter what happened, if she needed to she could always contact one of us. Then I gave her a talisman. Once upon a time she had a locket with pictures of her Mom and I, but it surrendered to the rough handling of childhood years ago. And she has a picture of me by her bed at her Mom’s house, and a picture of her Mom and Step-Dad by her bed at my house so that no matter where she is, the people she’s missing won’t seem so far away.

So I hunted around for something of mine to give her to keep close to hand. At that hour of the night, all I could come up with was my spare pair of glasses. (On the other hand, for someone as nearsighted as I am, glasses are a very personal item). I tucked the numbers and the glasses into the pocket of her backpack with instructions that if she was nervous, all she would have to do was to touch them and she’d know that part of me was close by. And with that we went to bed.

Moiya assures me that it worked. As she put it, “I only felt scared for a little while. But then I remembered and it was better.”

And so some weeks later, when I had to transition from classroom training to web-based and was deeply insecure at the prospect of sitting in a room with a microphone and lecturing to people around the country that I cannot see (bear in mind that I’ve had a pathological terror of telephones for 58 years), Moiya gave me a talisman. She made me a beaded bracelet to take with me, so that “you won’t be scared.”

And son-of-a-gun – it works.

In days gone by, a touchstone was used to distinguish precious metals like gold, from base ones. So this is my touchstone . When I get nervous I can look at it and it reminds me all over again what is real and important – and what is not.

Wearing it also marks me as a very confident male. But that’s another matter.

Das Boot



The internet is great if you’re trying to find new things to do with your child. I trawl the net every week and make lists of events. Some are scheduled for times when I don’t have Moiya. Some are too expensive. Others (like the Doctor Seuss celebration and the puppet shows at our local library) are free. Some are regular events - we have season tickets for the local dinner theatre’s children’s venue, and we’ll be making ourselves sick at our annual trip to the State Fair this weekend.


And then some come straight out of left field without warning. Like finding that the last vintage steamboat still in operation is planning a picnic cruise on Labor Day.


I pondered it for awhile wondering if a seven year old would really enjoy it – and then booked us anyway. I can never tell what may strike a spark with her – I didn’t think she would like the local art museum, but she still refers to it and has asked to go back. And as Moiya herself said when I shied off from taking her to the Frasier Arms Museum “Maybe I’ll like it, and even if I’m bored, it’s ok.”



So one fine, hot, sunny day, Moiya and I found ourselves cruising up the Ohio River on the Belle of Louisville.


We sat on the hurricane deck and watched the people on the shore glide by. We ate a rather wonderful luncheon of traditional American picnic fare. We got the see the steam engine (which was surprisingly silent – and turned Daddy into a gibbering eight-year-old boy) and the great paddle wheel, churning the waters and sending us surging against the current. And we almost danced the hokey-pokey in the ballroom with the rest of the passengers, but at the last minute I failed to convince my daughter that dancing with her old Dad in public would be a laugh. So we watched the other poor souls floundering around and had a laugh anyway


And I think – as best I can tell – we had a good time.

Camp Moiya


This was how our living room looked for about a week. Moiya had been asking for me to set up her tent for several weeks and one weekend I finally got around to it so we could use it as the base of operations for Popcorn Night. We moved in her sleeping bag, her pillow-pets, and several stuffed animals. And then as I had just purchased a box of safety pins for a wholly unrelated purpose, Moiya brought down several of her baby blankets (which are usually used for tucking in her dolls) and pinned them over the opening (the tent is open on one side) to make doors. Thus was Camp Moiya established and there we spent the night playing cards, watching movies, playing Mario Kart, reading library books and (of course) eating popcorn. As I have some trouble fitting my whole self inside unless I’m sitting up, I placed my sleeping bag outside (on the “front porch”) and slept there. Moiya pulled her two main “doors” closed but left a small corner blanket pulled back to we could talk and hold hands while she fell asleep.

When the weekend had passed, Moiya wanted to know if we couldn’t sleep there Monday night. I opened my mouth to say the “no” she was expecting and to explain how we couldn’t possibly leave such a mess in the middle of the living room floor. And then I realized that I didn’t really have any sort of a convincing argument for saying no. It wasn't like anyone ever comes to visit. And the floor is actually less painful when my back is bothering me (which it was). So I brought down my alarm clock and Moiya brought down her night light. We had our dinner on trays in Camp Moiya and then turned in.

Living rooms are for living, after all.

Poop Cookies

Nobody cares about this stuff but me. And someday Moiya is going to be horrified to find that I’ve written it all down. But damn it, she changes so quickly – I don’t realize it until I look at pictures I’ve taken as recently as six months ago and see how different Moiya looks. And the games that are an intimate part of our lives one week will be gone and forgotten in the next. (Just now, I've realized that the large cast of imaginary individuals whose voices I used to have to provide when we traveled are no longer a part of the playscape). This is the best time of my life. It will never come again. I want to remember.

And so I sit down from time to time and write things like this. Things about poop cookies.

I get to learn all sorts of games that Moiya brings home from school and the Y: card games ('War', 'Trash') playground games ('Doggy, Doggy, Where’s Your Bone', 'Blue Shoe'), and singing games ('Dog, Cat, Mouse', 'Calamine Lotion'). But my favorite (and the most ephemeral) games are the ones that spring from trivial occurrences. Moiya will sometimes reference (months after the fact) some passing silliness we engaged in. Daddy, remember that game where you’re asleep and I wake you and you tell me to stay there and then I disappear and then there’s two of me?” Sometimes it takes some prodding, but usually I can dredge it out of my brain and another afternoon will past pleasantly.

Some games we revisit so many times that they actually earn regular names… like 'Poop Cookies', or the closely related 'Cutting Things Up'.

Back when Moiya was first potty-trained, she used to like company while she was attending to business. I suppose most children do. At some point along the way we began playing a game in which I would mime drawing a cookie out of hiding, exclaim at it’s magnificence, and then as I closed my eyes to savor the first bite, have it snatched away by my daughter who would regard my frantic searching for the purloined cookie with feigned innocence. Cookies came from everywhere – my pockets, from being the bath towels, even from an imaginary chest which was opened – slowly – with an imaginary key worn on an imaginary chain around my neck.

For whatever reason, this game continues to last. Long after others have been forgotten, I still get the call to “come and eat your cookies.”

From time to time, there have been variations. One day, after Moiya had snatched and eaten my “best and favorite cookie,” I asked her if it was good and receiving an affirmative, informed her that it was a “rat-poop cookie.” And a new game was born. From then on cookies were exchanged and eaten and then various revolting ingredients revealed – bird heads, cat poop, rabbit poop, snot, etc. (Well really.. what did you think a game called "Poop Cookies" would be about?).

A third variant appeared a few months back, generally only referred to as “Cutting Up Things.” It’s rather like rock, paper, scissors. You have to decide (privately) on the object ahead of time and hand it to the other player who may then either pet it, cut it in half, eat it, or throw it away. Only after the action has been taken is the nature of the object revealed. We’ve cut up bunnies, petted eyeballs, and thrown refrigerators. (Also thrown bunnies, cut up refrigerators and eaten eyeballs).

And all this for a quick visit to the toilet. Like I said – I know this is a weird entry. Only a parent finds their child’s bathroom habits interesting. But then – I keep this journal for me. To remember.

It is often inconvenient when Moiya suddenly runs for the bathroom and calls over her shoulder on her way up the stairs “Daddy, come and eat your cookies.” But I try to go when she asks, while she still wants me there. Like bubble baths and me holding her hand as we walk into school, I know that the time is approaching when, in the natural course of things, I will no longer be welcome. And as nice as it is to enjoy these things in memory – it is far, far better to enjoy them in the present.

This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long”.

Even poop cookies.

Yes, Virginia.

I have been remiss. Well, I’ve been remiss about LOTS of things, God knows – not the least of which has been my failure to blog more frequently. So many things have passed into our lives and out again without my noting them for my memory. But specifically I have been remiss in not mentioning last Christmas.

Since the divorce, one of the more painful elements of life has been the fact that I’ve never again gotten to be Santa or to see Moiya’s face on Christmas morning when she scrambles downstairs to see what magic has occurred in the night.

And this is with my consent. Jacquelyn has a large and boisterous family within easy travel distance and I have virtually none. A child should be surrounded by family at Christmas and Moiya is and for that I am grateful. But Christmas morning is one of the great joys of parenthood and I’ve not been able to see my daughter’s Christmas mornings since she was three.

Until this past year when Jacquelyn and Larry invited me to come and share Christmas morning with them and Moiya. It was an act of breathtaking kindness and generosity which absolutely needed recording here. That I did not do so then is not an indication of lack of gratitude, but just distraction.

And that oversight has now been remedied.

Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus.

Imaginarium

Last week Moiya’s Step-Dad and I took her to her school’s Orientation Night, getting ready for the start of second grade. Towards the end of the evening, Moiya insisted on going back to visit her first grade teacher, who made the wry observation that the only discipline problem she’d had with Moiya was that, given her imagination literally ANY object could be transformed into a toy.

And classroom discipline to the contrary, that is one of the things I love most about my daughter. She has very few expensive or trendy toys, and the few she does have rarely get played with. When we play, she’ll grab whatever is at hand and go with it. I’ve written on these pages about making swords from political flyers (which we still have, and still play with).

One afternoon Moiya wanted to see if her watercolor set could be used as face paint. I assured her that it could not but gave her my blessing to try. And son-of-a-gun, yes it can. The first night she painted straight up both my arms, covering them with Christmas trees, Pumpkins, cats, and more than a few things I was unable to identify. The following week she decided that we would both be rabbits (we started out as cats but experienced a mysterious transmogrification half-way through). We had a blast.

Let weeks Moiya’s big entertainment need was a deck of playing cards. I bought her two for the princely sum of $2.00 and she’s been playing with them ever since. When she ran out of games to teach me, she began making up new ones.

So I’m not really sure why, when we go visit my Mom, I bother to haul every amusement we possess along with us… basic parental insecurity I guess. Last time we went, before I had even managed to haul everything out of the car and up to Mom’s apartment, she and Moiya had broken out a pack of construction paper and were making headdresses for all the stuffed animals.

Shortly after that, Moiya wanted to know if I could teach her to make a mask. Specifically, she wanted a “scary vampire mask”. So I traced around her face, got out the scissors and crayons, and sacrificed one of Nonny’s rubber bands to make a mask. Then we made construction paper fingernails (red, because they’re bloody) and a construction paper sword. And then Moiya swept from room to room as a scary monster, wreaking havoc and repeatedly cutting off my head.

As a somewhat conservative Daddy, I suggested that Moiya might want to stop being a monster and try being something “nice.” “How about a Princess?” I asked. “I could make you a Princess mask.” Moiya grudgingly agreed to this and watched intently as I drew what I felt was a pretty good Princess mask, complete with crown and long golden curls. Then I asked what else her Princess should have.


“Fangs.”

“Wha.. ??”

“Big, pointy fangs, dripping blood.”

“On a Princess?”

“Uh-huh.”

“But why??”

“Because she’s a vampire Princess.”

Moiya did not add the “DUH!” but it was fairly obvious.

So Daddy sighed, grumbled, and added bloody fangs. After playing with those for awhile and having seen how I attached the rubber bands, Moiya took over and began what she called her “mask factory.” She’d take a piece of construction paper and using the initial mask as a template, trace around it to create new ones which she then cut out and colored. Before I knew it she had created and entire “monster family” of about seven masks, complete with a vampire dog. And as I practiced my “watching without watching” she proceeded to weave an entire Kabuki performance for her Grandmother, swapping masks to become the different characters in a long and wildly complex narrative. I’d have given anything to have been able to film it, but I knew that if I once reached for the camera, self-consciousness would break the spell.

And age will do that soon enough.

But in the meanwhile - though we have video and movies, electronic games and internet, our favorite, most engaging, and most complex form of entertainment is still play.