Category Archives: Journal

Me. My Life. Stuff that happens.

Minor Change; And Majors Unheralded

This is not an official blog post. I mean, I haven’t posted anything here in over a year, so it’s not like I have nothing to say. I had another daughter. She’s awesome. I lost my job at Yahoo, but got a new (and better) one at Workday. Our family of four just moved to a new apartment in a town we really love, and that’s been fantastic.

But, this is not a post about any of that. This is about how the site was down for a few … days? Weeks? I’m not sure. Because what broke it was a software upgrade on the server that made some of my custom theme code cease to function. As is apt to happen with code older than my daughter that isn’t maintained.

To restore the site, I’ve switched to a simple built-in theme. Some old features nobody cared about anyway are gone. I doubt a single person will notice.

I would direct you to my author presence site,, but honestly the blog over there hasn’t been updated much since I got laid off, either. I am keeping it updated with the latest publications of my fiction writing, though, so if you want to see what’s keeping me busy aside from a new job, raising two small daughters, and settling our family into a new home, there’s that. And maybe after life settles down a bit I will start posting more things … somewhere.

If you really want to keep up with me, follow me on Twitter. That’s about all I have the attention span for these days anyway.

On Disneyland and Magic

Vacations are not something my family has been great at coordinating. By “my family” I mean my little immediate family consisting of Nik and Callie and myself; as a kid I remember my parents loading my brother and I up in cars or RVs pretty regularly and taking jaunts to visit family in the Midwest or camping or some other exploratory excursion. Somehow as an adult a combination of financial concerns and a heavy demand on my limited vacation time due to three distinct extended family units has meant stringing a full week of days off together with some sort of plan has been a challenge. This year we made a pact that we were going to have a real family vacation no matter what, and I carefully rationed my PTO days so we could take Callie to Disneyland as our “big” gift to her for her third birthday.

Disneyland is, to Nik and I, one of the few vacation-y spots we’ve made trips to in the almost 13 years of our marriage, although again, we’ve never put a full week of vacation into one of these visits, usually lumping our returns in with some other event like a wedding or a concert or a convention. But whenever we’re in the neighborhood and can swing it, we try to make it a point to spend a little time in the parks because we both share a particular fondness for the Magic Kingdom. I know my enthusiasm for Disneyland originates from several of those family trips as a kid where my brother and parents and I would gamely brave the summer lines to experience Peter Pan’s Flight and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and The Jungle Cruise. Later, when Disneyland became a thing that I did more with friends or with Nik, the nostalgia buoyed the trips beyond the middling thrills offered me many of the rides compared to other destinations. It helped that while Nik enjoys the sort of safe-n-sane excitement of Space Mountain, she’s far more leery than I of the bigger/crazier/loopier rides and coasters at places like Six Flags. I may be a roller coaster nut, game for just about any steel-rail madness the engineers can devise, but a minimum of half the fun is experiencing it with someone else, so I’ll take any ride over no ride and Disney seems to offer the happiest middle ground between my wife and I.

Yet, nostalgia can carry you only so far. In one of the last trips Nik and I made to Anaheim prior to Callie being born, we paused at one point and wondered aloud if we had gotten to the point where Disneyland was no longer quite the same for people of our advancing age to do alone. Unsaid but understood was that it wasn’t Disneyland that was changing, it was us, and we made a half-joking, half-serious pact to make it a point to return only when we had children of our own to bring along.

Flash forward five years or so and after initially nixing a trip somewhere in Callie’s second year for fear of her being too little to really appreciate it (and, as usual, the time off/funding conundrums), we decided three was a good age to introduce our daughter to the magic we both felt from our trips early in our lives to Disneyland. I confess, this put a fair amount of pressure on me and, to an extent (although I hope she didn’t feel it at all) Callie to make the trip memorable, to instill that sense of awe and wonder present as a child in the park that had taken well over twenty years to completely shed.

There is a piece written by SF author Neal Stephenson called In The Beginning Was The Command Line, which is interesting in and of itself, but applicable here in that there is a digression within where Stephenson notes that among Disney’s principal characteristics is their ability to nail user interfaces. Which is to say, the facade of a place like Disneyland, the way the park presents itself to guests and the way the customers interact with the park, the rides, the queues, even just the visual presentation of information and experience is a huge part of what makes Disneyland (and other Disney theme parks, presumably) have that unique factor which makes it, and not, say, Magic Mountain, the most visited amusement park in the world. Six Flags’ close proximity might make it a stronger competitor, and on paper it may perhaps be even better with more rides and more exciting attractions (and shorter lines), but Six Flags isn’t a theme park, and the lack of theme is part of why it is a second run to the Disney mega-destination.  It’s not just that Disneyland seems better curated, it is a more engaging place to be, because even when you’re not on a ride you’re immersed in a place where the details matter, whether you notice it consciously or not.

The challenge became trying to get an energetic and strong-willed toddler to acknowledge and appreciate these details, or to appreciate much of anything beyond “what else you got?” I went in to the trip armed with apps and maps and game plans and strategies to hit the attractions that I considered to be the highlights, determined to depart the trip with a child who recognized what it was that made mommy and I so excited when we advertised (starting about two months before her birthday and three and a half months before the actual trip) our destination. I knew going in that some things were going to have to be deferred; I don’t know that I necessarily remember my very first visit to Disneyland. I think my parents took me when I was about Callie’s age, maybe a touch younger. I have a hazy memory of the Autopia ride and my mom being pregnant with my brother, though that could be a confabulation with a different park (possibly Great America which is local). I know that by the time my brother and I went during the 30th Anniversary event for the park (in 1985) I was already enraptured by the place and the possibilities inherent in a parent-sponsored trip. I would have been seven years old at the time, and it was probably the first time I was tall enough to go on all the “big kid” rides like Space Mountain and the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Point being, this early trip may not stick many details in my daughter’s mind about what it really means to be at Disneyland, but I think there is more than enough cognition to give her an overall sense of why going to Disneyland is more exciting than, say, going to an indoor jungle gym with themed rooms. Both are certainly fun, but there is an element present at Disneyland that you don’t get from just anywhere, an element that, at risk of sounding like some kind of shill or drone, is close enough to magic to be virtually indistinguishable in a child’s mind. As self-appointed tour guide for her, I went in feeling like it fell on me to ensure that she tasted that enough that if I were to come back to her in a year or two with, “Would you like to go back?” the answer would be as enthusiastic as I would be offering that to her. Presumptuous? Over-ambitious? Perhaps. But in context with the discussion of what it meant to be a childless thirtysomething at Disneyland trying to understand why that sparkle was fading from the experience, it felt significant to me to believe that there was a new element to a favored activity waiting to happen.

We decided to fly down rather than drive. A dull trek down I-5 with a kid in a rear-facing car seat didn’t sound quick or appealing for any of us so we had our flight out of SFO early on Monday morning. Sunday afternoon we traveled to the City to stay overnight; our flight wasn’t just early, it was crazy early for us so saving that little bit of time by waking up within spitting distance of the airport seemed smart. Sunday evening we took Callie to Pier 39, hit the aquarium there and showed Callie the sea lions before having dinner and then retiring very early. We were all up by 3:30 the next morning which might have felt more intense than it did if not for the vacation adrenaline, yet somehow despite our what-time-did-you-say-it-was morning and wise pre-planning our boarding experience was a little stressful, and we just squeaked on the plane with a hasty breakfast scarfed down at the gate. Our arrival at John Wayne airport was further frustrating in that the shuttle we had paid for ahead of time turned out to be more or less a regular passenger vehicle with no child seats. We confirmed with the booking agent that because it was registered as a public transportation vehicle it didn’t fall under the same guidelines as what I assume the exact same van would have if registered differently, but we weren’t at all comfortable with tossing our three year-old in the back of a van and hopping on the LA freeway system. With limited options we ended up paying for a rental car that came with a child seat, which we frustratingly used only to get to our hotel and back. I might have thought it an ill portent, but we were too focused on getting settled in and heading to the park.

As soon as we arrived, my notions of coordinating the trip carefully for maximum Callie-friendly exposure were tossed aside. Our solid-12-hour-sleeper was working on maybe seven hours of rest if you include the short nap she took during takeoff and though she gamely stood in line to meet Minnie Mouse (she was wearing a new Minnie t-shirt, some Minnie Mouse sneakers and sporting a temporary Minnie tattoo on her arm), she didn’t seem all that charmed by the silent, imposing form of the costumed character. I had wanted to stroll leisurely down Main Street and let Callie take in the sights and sounds and smells of that iconic entry point, but it was quickly agreed that we needed to get her on a ride to whet her appetite for the meat of the park. We chose Peter Pan’s Flight as it has been a long time favorite of mine and Nik’s, but in retrospect I think we might have gone a different direction: the line was sluggish and long, most of the switchbacks being positioned right under the unforgiving noonday sun and an already tired Callie was uninterested in anything but clinging to an adult. The resulting 45-minute wait was a sweaty, grueling ordeal that culminated in a ride that didn’t seem as vibrant as I remembered and which Callie declared upon exiting as “scary and too dark.” If she was going to be skittish about dark rides, we were potentially poised for a disappointing trip: a very large number of the attractions at the park are indoor rides with a heavy reliance on spot lighting.

For the rest of the morning session we relied on outdoor rides like Dumbo and The Jungle Cruise, but before long we realized we needed to get the little one some sort of nap so we hopped the shuttle back to the hotel and she promptly conked out on my shoulder during the ride, only to snap to vibrant alertness once we hit our room. Nik and I were dying for the planned nap so we slept fitfully while Callie kept half an eye on the TV and spent the rest of her time arranging our belongings into various drawers around the suite, which made for some fun rounds of Finders Keepers as we tried to interpret Callie’s organizational scheme. As we went back to the park and stayed as late as they would allow us (we ended up being the very tail end of the line for Autopia with a Cast member standing behind us the whole way to dissuade any after-hours sneakers, which afforded me a few opportunities to ask Stupid Guest Questions), something began to dawn on me but it took until later in the week to understand it.

To me, the thing about Disney is that they are integrated into my childhood which means they play a specific role in my formative years. For some time now I’ve shuffled my feet when confronted head on with the truth of my affection for the company and its intellectual property, especially as terms like “intellectual property” have crept into my vocabulary and the cynicism of adulthood has crowded out the blissful ignorance of youth. Disappointments along the way as well as just a pseudo-hipster posture of being sort of half annoyed by everything, particularly if it has intentionally broad commercial appeal had soured me somewhat on thinking of myself as a fan of any corporate entity. I catch myself doing this even with companies that my behavior would indicate places me squarely in the fanboy camp like Apple or Google or Marvel or TiVo or Fantasy Flight Games. It’s as if my smirking, shrugging adopted attitude of feigned nonchalance insulates me from the horrific outward impression of enthusiasm.

And yet I continue to wax philosophical about the aspects of favored enterprises. Case in point, when I think of Disney I dissect it down to the point where I acknowledge that I admire the way that Disney, when they’re being successful in my eyes, are a company that focuses on aesthetic. This harkens back to what Stephenson referred to when he talked about Disney as purveyors of excellence in interface design; it’s visible in the whimsical title animation, now updated from the stylized Disney castle logo of my childhood and beyond the reminiscent 3D one found on Disney/Pixar films, including a chugging train, a quiet dusk setting and a tranquil river leading to a triumphant castle, all towering spires and soft orange lighting. As fireworks light the sky above the waving banners, a sparkling arc of pixie dust hastens the fade in of the company logo and the orchestra swells with an overture of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” In these 30 seconds, Disney conveys a number of things about what they represent, or at least what they mostly try to embody: Hope, dreams, imagination, wonder, and a child-like innocence rooted firmly in a sanitized version of the past that—hopefully—still applies today.

Truth is, I like the concept, perhaps even the worldview, that Disney, to varying degrees of success, traffics in. Worlds where phrases such as “Happily Ever After” aren’t scoff-worthy, where fairies and princesses burst into catchy songs, where tough times are just obstacles to overcome on journeys of self-discovery (often with the comic relief of anthropomorphized animal companions), where wishes and dreams and books and imagination are virtuous, where love can happen with a glance and where magic just is. The adult in me knows there are issues with this perspective, and particularly in the way Disney has handled their own ouvre: The whitebread protagonist syndrome (even dipping into darker, overt racism in earlier work), the implied materialism, the sometimes conflicted role of women or the frequently one-dimensional male figure offering timely salvation, the simplistic moral reductionism and so on. Better minds than mine have and will continue to pick apart the stories and products Disney produces, but those grown-up critiques are separate from the point that on its best days, Disney resonates with kids and with adults who are  still able to divorce their world weariness from their inner child and find joy in movies about dreamers, attractions featuring singing bunnies and shorts about an affable talking mouse and his slapstick-happy pals.

Disney isn’t a charity enterprise, and money sullies everything, so naturally there will be problems inherent with blind acceptance; no one wants indoctrination or the creation of the Cult of Disney. Excessive merchandising, hasty direct-to-video sequels, and inflated premium-brand pricing exists to mine the pockets of exhausted parents. Even the very act of creating that Disney mythos leads to princess culture and pink femininity which can itself be worrisome. It’s easy to over think it. Ahem. Obviously.

It was probably during our second session on Tuesday that it started to dawn on me as I struggled to not burden Callie with a toddler’s incessant need for reassurance that she was, in fact, having a good time and was understanding how cool everything was. It started during a solo stint where Nik and her sister, Sam, and Sam’s husband Chase went off in search of lunch that Callie and I weren’t as interested in. We wandered through “a bug’s land” in California Adventure and she noted an elaborate water play area, one side designed like a giant outdoor water spigot with a concrete hose running and the leaky connector poured a fine mist of rain over an area; around the other side of the land the faux hose terminated with a giant sprinkler head that shot water in hops and jumps from both the functional head and several jets set into the ground. We weren’t fully prepared for a soaked child, but it was hot and Callie kept asking about it. At once I felt my mantle as responsible father, constantly worrying about safety and preparedness and mindful limits, slip off completely. “Yeah, buddy,” I heard myself say, “you can play in the water. We’ll figure it out afterward.”

At first she was timid, standing to the edges and looking wide-eyed at the delighted crowd of children drenching themselves in the irregular jets of water. Occasionally on the sprinkler head side all the jets would just go nuts at once and the chorus of squeals and laughter from the kids would drown out the rest of the din of the park. After one of these climactic events Callie finally began to edge her way around the perimeter of the arena, moving with her deliberate, semi-graceless half run in a regular circle that I noted was more of a slow spiral as she gained confidence with each lap and drifted closer and closer to the actual thrill of cool splashing water. When she finally miscalculated a jet and got nailed, water running down her full cheeks and onto her t-shirt in perfect defiance of every parental missive to “try not to get messy” the grin on her face was unforgettable. After ten minutes her hair clung in sopping strands to her forehead and her shoes squelched with squeezing water from the soles on each giddy step and I couldn’t stop laughing, nor could she save for the few stops to check in with me, grab a drink of non-chlorinated water from my bottle and then back into the cooling fray she’d dance.

It wasn’t a ride, it wasn’t necessarily a unique-to-Disneyland experience, but it triggered something in both my daughter and I that it took until the last hour we had at the park to really clarify. Wednesday was our last day and after two days of shortened hours for the park (open from 10-8 only) that were even shorter when you factored in the two-to-three hour round trip shuttle ride and nap break, we made the call to try and push through a full day with only cat naps in the stroller or on calmer rides and attractions. But Callie, perhaps sensing the end of the trip, seemed determined to not miss any more than was strictly required and she refused to sleep even during the dim and soothing 15-minute Enchanted Tiki Room show I took her to. She did fall asleep for a bit in the line for the kiddie thriller in Toontown, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and didn’t wake fully even once we sat down in the car, only finally coming around when the train took its first dip down the track. But for the most part she was committed. After dinner in Downtown Disney, Nik, Sam and Chase were exhausted from the long day and though there was still an hour left before the parks closed, they called it a night. Callie and I weren’t quite ready, so we headed back to California Adventure for one last round of fun before the trip was over.

The nighttime show, World Of Color, was just about to start as we re-entered, which put a damper on my plan to hit up the area we had least frequented, Paradise Pier, since during the show nearly all the rides in that section are closed down including the big Mickey Mouse ferris wheel that Callie and I really wanted to try out. We settled on Toy Story Midway Mania! which is kind of a ride, kind of a video game and then tried to fight our way through the throngs of people filing out as World Of Color came to an end. We went back to Cars Land where we had stopped earlier in the week and practically walked onto Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, a sort of updated Scrambler type ride. Time was drawing to a close by the time we walked off, laughing and smiling, and I hoped to find one last ride to catch before they shut it all down. We made it over to “a bug’s land” again and the guy at Flik’s Flyers, a spinning carriage ride, agreed to run it one last time for us, closing the line behind as we entered. Turned out we had the whole ride to ourselves and as we spun over the darkening park I watched the look on Callie’s face and reflected back on the things we’d done on this trip.

The list was drastically different from the last time Nik and I came alone: Dumbo, Mad Tea Party (x3), It’s A Small World (x2), Gadget’s Go Coaster (x2), Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Astro Orbiter, The Disneyland Railroad (x2), Flik’s Flyers (x2), Tuck N Roll’s Bumper Cars, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (x2), King Arthur’s Carousel (x2), Autopia, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Toy Story Midway Mania, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Very few of those were ridden by us in our grown-up only visits, and the only standards we hit were The Jungle Cruise and Peter Pan’s Flight plus Nik and I got to ride the updated Star Tours and the Halloween-themed Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy while Callie spent a bit of time with her aunt and/or uncle. By the standards of our pervious trips, this was a dull, thrill-less trip, lacking any of the must-sees like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, California Screamin’, Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Maliboomer, etc. Nik and her sister did make it on the New Orleans Square highlights and I got to do the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, but all told for a three-day visit it should have been a disappointment.

It was anything but. I had so much fun. I didn’t know the smaller, slower, less elaborate rides could be enjoyable ever again. But then I’d sit there, arm wrapped protectively around Callie, hearing the delirious squeals of sheer delight, watching her head drop back to feel the wind rush by her face or feeling her arm raise to point out a funny animatronic figure, and I saw what she saw. She made me feel what she felt, that sense of awe and excitement of watching characters come to life without thinking “I wonder how the robotics work under that plastic skin?” I grasped the simple pleasure of gently bounding off another “victim” in slow-moving bumper cars, understood the simple thrill of being able to ride a merry-go-round horse all by yourself for the first time. We stayed that last hour on Wednesday night because both of us, in at least equal parts, didn’t want it to end. We wanted to stay, to keep spinning and soaring and riding and seeing and sharing.

As we walked out to the snap of lights being shut off and rattle of chains being drawn across line entrances, Callie’s little bottom lip protruded and her soft eyebrows arced up and inward. “Daddy,” she said so softly I had to stop the stroller, lean down to hear, “I’m sad. I don’t want to go.”

I tried to force a brave smile. “I know, baby,” I said, “I don’t either.”

And at last I got it. Finally it was clear that I hadn’t needed to worry about making sure Callie loved Disneyland, that there was no need to go to extra lengths to expose her to everything the park had to offer. I wasn’t opening her eyes to anything at all. I wasn’t her guide. She was mine. This tiny three year-old, with sweetness and exuberance I’d long, long ago forgotten, re-introduced me to the place I’d been a dozen or more times, a place I’d sworn I knew inside and out, a place I was sure I fully understood. And she showed me I didn’t know it at all. I wanted to thank her, to hug her, to pay the price to push our flight back and buy one more day’s worth of tickets. Anything to keep it going, to retain that exact moment. But you can’t force the magic to happen, and it was time to apply the lesson my daughter had so effortlessly taught me.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” I said, feeling a last smile on my sore cheeks, “we’ll come back.”

She considered this for a moment, looking off at the near horizon and seeing the lights behind Mickey Mouse’s visage on the Paradise Pier ferris wheel. Her lip tucked itself back in and she smiled at me, the hint of tears still shining just so in her eyes, no longer needed but still lingering with the understanding that this small chapter was bittersweetly closing. “We’ll come back,” I said again, touching her hair.

“Yay!” she said, with all the genuine optimism only a small child can muster.

How I Accidentally Walked Thirteen Miles Pushing A Stroller

Nik decided at the beginning of the year to set some goals for herself. Among them was “Train For And Finish A Marathon.” This is a lofty goal for a girl whose doctors have told her the congenital herniated disc in her spine prohibits her from running. I like to tease her that this should pave the way for an awesome nickname like “Zombie Bait.” Not out loud, to her face, of course. That would be suicide. What I say to her face is, “It’s okay that you can’t run. If the zombie apocalypse is ever upon us, I will stay with you and we’ll be devoured together.”

I say this because by decree of a loving, sensitive wife she has to reply, “No! I’d have to be the bait so you could get our daughter to safety!” Then I can just look at her like I’m unconvinced but inside I know I’d totally hand her the shotgun and flee to the super awesome treehouse fortress Callie and I set up and I’d look back to see Nik taking down two, three dozen zombies in a really badass way with that shotgun and a tear of pride would slide down my face because let’s face it, shotguns are really loud and she hates loud noises. But she’d brave it out. For me. For us.

But I was talking about marathons. The vague goal that Nik set out to accomplish turned out to be vague enough to permit her to accomplish it with a few added specifics: namely, she would only do a half-marathon because full marathons are the same punishing distance as half marathons, twice. Also she would walk it because she doesn’t frequently adhere to doctor’s orders but when they say, “The next time you run you may snap your spine in half and spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair,” Nik is moderately more likely to take them seriously. It does pain me a little that her doctors know the only way to get her to listen is to over-exaggerate like that (at least, I assume it’s an over-exaggeration because a weakness like that sounds like the kind of thing that would offset a super-power, such as the ability to melt steel with her eyeballs or draw a perfectly straight line without the aid of a ruler).

Still, walking a half-marathon isn’t a watered-down goal. I realize some of you may be thinking, “Dude, that is totally a watered down goal,” which is fine, no one is policing your thoughts. But if you actually come right out and say that to me, I will devise a sinister contraption that forces you to walk and I will use it on you for thirteen point one miles and you will have no choice but to agree with me that walking a half-marathon is Serious Business.

I know this because I walked the half-marathon, too, albeit accidentally.

What happened was that Nik spent weeks training for this thing. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that at one point she walked nine miles in driving, icy wind and rain. She came home that day soaked to the bone and took the hottest shower I’ve ever conceived of (I know this because the steam alone in the bathroom when I went in to check on her an hour later scalded me). She walked up a hill so steep that its several hundred yard length was specifically designed by the training directors to equate to an entire mile of the course that week. She got out of bed before nine in the morning. On Saturdays. She was devoted.

As for me, I slept in and hung out with Callie. You want to know what we were doing while Nik was fighting the sleet and hypothermia and possible ankle ligament damage? Wait, did I mention that the week before the training began, Nik sprained her ankle? Yeah, that totally happened. She was on crutches with an air cast the week before she started training. It didn’t stop her. But while she was fighting with the elements and her body to achieve her goals, Callie and I were eating Cocoa Puffs and watching cartoons. In a way, I felt like I was showing support. I have no idea what way that was, looking back. It probably seemed like I was showing the opposite of support. I really seems now like I was showing… I dunno, what’s the opposite of support? Neglect. Yes, I was showing neglect. Although I wasn’t neglecting our daughter. Maybe that’s where I was coming from? It seems really fuzzy now. You know how it is when you get too much sleep.

Anyway, Nik trained and I watched cartoons with Callie. And then the big day arrived and we all got up early and drove over to the course where the marathon would take place. I knew Nik was nervous and it didn’t help that I decided to be a colossal jerk the night before. What happened was that we were in Target, which is a store that I… well I don’t hate it. I don’t like it, either. I mean, it’s a store. I can’t really direct strong emotions toward it. But let’s say this: It’s a store that Nik thinks of as a kind of second home, like a combination of Mecca and Disneyland. She can spend hours there. Days. I think the highlight of her year to date (and I’m including meeting this lofty marathon goal in the equation) was when they opened a new Target, a few exits down the highway from the old Target. She was so excited when she walked in she was buzzing. She made plans—plans!—to visit a Target in San Diego when she went down there. This is a town that boasts one of the most famous zoos and waterpark/aquariums in the country, and she’s made sure to put, in ink, Target on the itinerary. My point is that she takes her Target shopping very seriously. So we were in Target so she could get some appropriate marathon-walking pants. And I got cranky.

I always get pretty cranky when I’m shopping. I just don’t like it. I don’t like spending money, I don’t like not knowing exactly what needs to be purchased when I step into the store, I don’t like the fact that shopping with a toddler is kind of like going to the DMV with a rabid wolverine tucked under your arm. It bugs me, and Nik and I shop in completely different ways. By that I mean, Nik shops and I walk into a store and scowl at everything. So I was in a bad mood and Nik was stressed and nervous because it was getting late and she still hadn’t found the perfect pair of marathon-walking pants so we started quarreling and didn’t stop until long after Callie had gone to sleep and the clock was saying ridiculous things like, “Hey, Nikki, you have four hours until you’re supposed to trek 13.1 miles and you aren’t asleep yet, and in fact you’re still arguing about whether or not it is perfectly reasonable to spend $13 on a tarp to keep the neighborhood cats from pooping in your daughter’s sandbox!” Our clock is pretty much a punk.

We had sort of kind of smoothed it over at some obscene hour and we were all kind of under rested and tense but we got to the park on time. Nik had her cool little number bib on and her time-marker strip laced into her shoe and her new (admittedly very fetching) marathon-walking pants. Callie was blearily rubbing her eyes while I looked on proudly. Then the announcer guy got everyone started and Nik took off. We watched the crowd disappear and hung out for a few extra minutes before I told Callie, “Okay! Let’s go get some breakfast and then we can go find a spot down the path to watch Mommy go by and cheer her on!”

To which Callie replied, “No!”

I laughed and walked out to the parking lot. She’s two, so her answer to most things is, “No!” It’s actually cute the way this is such a default setting for her that you can ask her something where the answer is clearly yes, like “Hey Callie, do you want to eat candy for dinner?” And she’ll say, “No—um, yes!” So I didn’t think much of it. Until I got to the car.

“Okay, up you go!” I said, trying to get Callie out of her stroller and into the car seat.

“No! No drive! No car! No!”

I tried to reason with her. “Well you can’t stay in your stroller all day!”

“No drive! No leave Mama!”

I kind of understood her concern, since her mother had just wandered away with a crowd of strangers, but it’s not like she’s so attached that she has some kind of crippling separation anxiety, so I tried to explain again the concept of a marathon, of Mommy doing something important for herself and to raise money for the American Heart Association. And I tried to reiterate the idea of breakfast, which was really where my heart was at  in the initial plan. She was steadfast, and she broke down in tears.

True, saying a toddler broke down in tears when she didn’t get her way isn’t exactly headline news. But amid her blubbering, snotty, red-faced and mostly incomprehensible fit, I caught the notion that she felt she would be abandoning her mother if we left. It didn’t matter how much I tried to explain that we were actually going to go ahead in the route so we could do the opposite of abandonment and could in fact cheer for her and encourage her to keep going, she was steadfast.

Now, I outweigh my daughter by some hundred and (murfle murble) pounds, so I could have forced the issue then and there, plunking her down in her car seat, trying to block out the wailing protestations and gone and gotten breakfast. This was my first inclination. But I try to be reasonable with her, try to encourage her to feel like she’s a part of the decision making process so she can take pride in her choices and we can all live together a little more harmoniously. So, looking for opportunities like that, I made a terrible miscalculation. I said, “Honey, our only option is to go try to find a spot to see her pass by, or try to catch up with her.”

Sometimes it’s freaky how a child who will ask, “What you say?” as if she is a foreign exchange student who has memorized but a single phrase in an English dictionary when you tell her to clean her room or get into bed or brush her teeth, will suddenly have a very comprehensive grasp of diction and implication when it serves her purposes. “Yes,” she said enthusiastically, “catch up with Mama!”

I laughed, because that was absurd. Nik had been gone for well over thirty minutes at this point and I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Plus, Callie was in her umbrella stroller which I had already had to fight to push across a three-foot stretch of recently mowed grass. “Anyway,” I said, “we’d have to get in the car just to go home and get the stuff we need to try and catch up with her.” A couple of things should be pointed out here. It had been discussed previously, the possibility of me doing the half-marathon in an unofficial capacity. I didn’t really want to bother registering or fundraising. Wait. That sounds bad. It’s not that I didn’t want to raise money for a good cause. But Nik and I have been together for so long that we don’t really have social circles that don’t overlap. So if I had to try to raise a certain amount of money on top of what Nik was raising, we’d be double dipping into our same friends and family. The point is, this wasn’t something I needed to check off my bucket list, but it was possible I could support Nik in a direct way by going along with her. In the end we had decided not to because Nik had plan A which was to walk with a person she met through a friend who was also in the half-marathon and she had plan B which was to enjoy her carefully crafted playlist as she went head down and got into the zone for the whole course. Besides, we didn’t find anyone to watch Callie and we weren’t sure how she’d do for hours in her stroller.

So the idea of me going on the walk itself wasn’t fully out of the question, it was just that it didn’t make sense at the time.

And then I saw my gym bag.

It’s significant to note that my gym bag is never in the car. As in, this was probably the first time it had been in there since I brought the bag home from the store (Target, natch). It is also worth noting that it was improbable that not only was the bag there, and fully packed, but the workout clothes inside were unused. The bag was there because Nik had picked me up from work the day before and the items were still laundered and usable because I had brought the bag to work intending to go to the gym but hadn’t made it due to some work crisis or another. And by work crisis I mean that when I got to work Friday morning I threw the bag on my desk and walked upstairs to the rest room and took a nap.

I should clarify that the “rest room” is distinct from the “restroom” because the latter suggests that I took a nap in a public toilet. That’s actually maybe not all that out of character for me to sleep while sitting on the can, but in this case my work has this room with a fully reclining leather chair that has no windows and can therefore be made pitch black. It’s called the rest room and it’s awesome. Way better than the gym, that’s for sure.

So it turned out that just by happenstance, I have a fresh set of workout clothes (ideal for walking a half-marathon) and a jogging stroller. Now, I make it a point not to lie to my daughter. About anything, really. I know that it makes my life more difficult, especially when you get to the grey area of half-truths and make-believe. For example, it makes Christmas particularly dicey because Nik insists that Christmas isn’t Christmas for a kid unless Santa Claus is involved. However, I refuse to go through the theatrics of perpetuating the illusion of the existence of Santa for some nebulous benefit of my daughter. My thought is, how can I tell her down the road to believe me when I say that promiscuous sex and drug use are bad and she just has to take my word for it when she could say, “Yeah, like I took your word for it that some fat guy could bypass the sanctuary of our home security to eat our snacks and drop off some unknown packages? This was a post-9/11 world, Dad! Anything could have been in those boxes!” It makes it difficult because I see the appeal of a happy holiday tradition but I don’t want to set a bad precedent. And here I was again, facing the choice of whether to admit to my daughter that we didn’t actually have a valid reason anymore to get into the car, and could actually do what I had suggested, even though at the time I hadn’t really meant it as a viable option.

In the end, I did what any reasonable parent faced with the prospect of changing their pants in a parking lot and then walking thirteen miles pushing a jogging stroller would do: I tried to talk her out of it. The crux of my argument was this: If we started down this path, if we actually tried to catch up with Mommy, she would be stuck in her stroller for hours. Literally, stuck. For hours. Because we have one car, which would be back at the starting line, and once we got to about the five mile mark, it would be functionally no different to us to simply finish the entire looping course as it would be to turn around and head back. Plus, I reminded her, that would be cheating and against the spirit of what Nik was trying to accomplish. It was a solid argument, I think. But she was unswayed. “Yes,” she decreed, “catch Mama.”

So I took off my pants in the parking lot, transferred Callie to her jogging stroller, collected as many bottles of water and random snack food as I could find in the trunk (which was actually a lot because Nik is like a super mom wrapped in a Boy Scout with all her preparedness… and I just now heard that simile the way most of you probably heard it and realized how icky it sounds so let’s just move on and forget I ever said that), and set off. Now, it should be noted that by this time Nik had a forty-five minute head start and it took me quite a while to figure out exactly where the course was because they had altered it to accommodate the fact that the starting line is also the finish line. So I wandered around a bit lost for another fifteen minutes or so and finally got on course about an hour behind Nik.

My thought was to run as much as possible until I caught up, but I had also forgotten an inhaler and for whatever reason the primary triggers for my asthma are (in order): running, laughing, cats. I love laughing and we own a cat, so the only one I can usually ever really avoid is running. In this case though I felt it important to at least make the effort to try and catch up with Nik before she reached the halfway point and turned around. Even still, I assumed I would probably just meet her coming back and since I wasn’t wearing one of those timer loops on my shoelaces, it wouldn’t matter if I went the full distance or not. But then as I was half-walking, half-jogging the trail, I sent a text message to Nik and after a few status updates on my progress, she decided to stop at a rest station around mile four and wait for me.

It still took me close to an hour to catch up with her, even with my half-jog, which she explained by saying that she had been in power-walk mode until I told her I was coming up behind her. I mostly took it to mean that I am a really slow runner, although I got to blame a lot of it on having to push Callie.

Once reunited, we started walking together and although Nik kept saying how glad she was that I decided to join her, I wasn’t so sure. I mean, I was afraid that I was kind of trampling on her accomplishment, you know? Like, she trains for this thing for weeks while I watch cartoons and eat cereal and then on the whim of a persuasive two year-old I decide to just do a half-marathon for no real reason as if it were the kind of thing I randomly decide to do all the time. Like, “Oh, hey, I have eight hours to kill, why don’t I just swim to Petaluma?” Let me tell you something: That has never happened. Actually, I don’t even know if that could happen. I’m surprisingly dense about my regional geography. Also, I’m pretty sure that the coastal areas near me are all marshy, salt ponds. But I’m getting off the point. The point is, deciding to do feats of physical endurance—unless you count eating three bags of Fritos in one sitting or playing World of Warcraft for sixteen hours straight physical endurance feats—is not my modus operandi.

I’ll spare you the step-by-step re-enactment of the trek, but let’s just hit the highlights:

  • Callie did get bored and sick of the walk, as I feared. All told, she did pretty good although I think we were aided by the fact that she got up really early and for a long stretch in the middle of the walk, she napped in her stroller. Nik and I were brutally envious of her and if we could have devised a way for us both to fit in the stroller, or even to take turns, I think we would have done it.
  • Callie’s favorite part was the “candy stations” where they passed out water and M&Ms or Skittles to give runners a small carbo-boost, or toddlers a mini sugar high to hold them over on the repetitive walk.
  • The biggest physical challenge mid-walk was our hip flexors. My right one was pretty sore most of the time (but not my left, suggesting I have a goofy, asymmetrical stride) but both of Nik’s were killing her and on the second half of the journey she had to make stops about once every half mile or so to stretch them out.
  • The biggest physical challenge post-walk for me was the ruthless sunburn I got. For all of Nik’s preparedness, she didn’t have any sunblock in the car and I underestimated the amount of shade that would be available along the route. The walk was three weekends ago and I’m still peeling. For Nik the biggest issue afterward I think was the incredible number of blisters she had on her feet. Somehow I didn’t get any, but she ended up with a dozen I think. It’s kind of a wonder she doesn’t resent me more.
  • The very end was incredibly difficult. Around mile 10, novelty is long gone and yet the finish feels painfully far away. Three miles isn’t really a nothing distance to walk to begin with, but when you’ve put three plus of those walks behind you already, you kind of want to stab whoever it is that forced you to undertake this torture. Then you realize it was you who chose to do this and you kind of want to stab yourself. Then you think that self-stabbing is probably less painful than walking thirteen miles and you resolve that the next time you get the bright idea to do something for charity, you’ll just have a stab-a-thon instead.
  • It does feel pretty good to finish it, though. The smile on Nik’s face as I took a weary picture of her wearing her completion medal is genuine and justifiably proud.

The absolute best part about walking a half-marathon though is that it burns like 1600 calories, which means that even if you account for the several hundred calories in carbs and granola and stuff that you have to eat along the way to avoid collapse, you can basically eat a huge meal that day for free. Also, you don’t even have to feel the least bit bad about taking a lengthy nap when you get home. We did both of those things.

The one thing I will say for Nik is that, as proud as she is of her accomplishment—and she is proud of herself, which I’m happy to see, because I’m used to being proud of her but she seems to not always find it easy to take pride in what she does—she’s incredibly honest. Having crossed the item off her list of goals for this year, she told me, “Now that I did it, I don’t think I ever have to do that again. I don’t think I’m the kind of person who just does marathons.” And that sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Of course, then she followed it up with, “However, I could see myself doing something like a 10K…”

Callie shot me a look that I interpreted as, “You start the cartoons; I’ll get the cereal.”


It was just one of those impromptu trips, the result of a round of “What should we do today?” The air was crisp and cold, a turn toward the seasonal from the spring preview that had hung over the Bay Area the previous week. There was some good-natured grumbling about, lamenting the lack of gumption on display by the warm front to hang in through the weekend proper. Our chosen destination was a book store Nik had heard about up north where they accepted donations and allowed patrons to walk off with up to 100 books, free of charge.

We’re not a book-deprived family. When we downsized six months ago to our current one-bedroom apartment, we put boxes and boxes of books into storage, but we still had enough to warrant bringing our gigantic Ikea bookcase (Billy, if you’re wondering). Since books are basically the only purchase we always seem to have room for in the budget, six months of bargain hunting and ooh-gotta-have-its have re-filled and then over-filled even that “pared down” selection that we couldn’t bear to be separated from. Even my Kindle, which has accounted for perhaps a quarter to a third of the books I’ve picked up over the last year or so, hasn’t done much to stop the steady flow of books into our home. It should be noted that this is all on top of regular trips to the library.

But a road trip and an investigative stop with the promise of free books was too much to pass up. In the end, the book shop was great. They had an unfortunate five book limit on children’s books (per family, even) but Nik and I came home with about fifty books between us. Some were true treasures (I found a massive old volume called The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer and a copy of Sue Grafton’s A is For Alibi, which I had been seconds from buying the previous week), others were cost saving measures (I picked up about five future volumes of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series), and still others were picked up because they were free and interesting so why not? (Nik got a copy of the Maureen McCormick memoir Here’s The Story on a whim; I picked up a book of poetry and a hardcover Stephen King novella collection, Full Dark No Stars that is in brand new condition except it’s missing a dust jacket).

The shop was small, though half the available floor space was taken up for administrative work by the staff of volunteers and stacks of unprocessed donations in big plastic bins, making the shelving space even more cramped. Most of the books were on a dozen or so nondescript bookshelves but a large number were stacked into cardboard boxes that lined the walls and were stacked on folding banquet tables. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived and it took us nearly an hour and a half to look through it all; as it was I’m sure I missed some finds.

Callie was amazing throughout. Some shopping excursions are easy to manage with an energetic toddler. As long as you plan ahead and don’t peruse aisles but surgically approach a list of items, department stores and grocery stores can be managed single-handedly. As full-family outings, plenty of other retail adventures can be managed by dividing and conquering: one parent essentially runs interference on the child while the other looks for what they need. Since shopping is a functional activity to me and not a pastime, I’m usually content to lurk in the toy section or let Callie explore while Nik browses. But book stores are a unique challenge because, at least to me, they demand a dedicated attention to the rows of potential purchases, relatively few of which are uniformly out of the question. The hazard is that Nik loves bookstores as well, which means there is no ready volunteer for toddler duty. But here we were able to find that as long as one parent was stooped over and searching through boxes within arms’ reach of the stacks of children’s books, Callie entertained herself by flipping through picture books for a good half hour or more. She did eventually get restless but I retrieved the stroller from the car and let her play games and watch videos on my phone while Nik and I took turns pushing her around the few aisles wide enough to accommodate our oversized jogging stroller while the other ventured deeper into the piles of cost-free literary treasures.

On the way home Nik and I chatted while Callie played with stuffed animals in the back seat. The sun was low on the horizon but there was still some lingering, silvery light left by the time we stopped by our mailbox before heading back out to get some dinner. As I hopped back into the car, Callie casually lifted her small arm up over her head and said, “Hand?” It was a simple gesture, a not-unique query in search of just some comfort and reassurance after a long time spent amusing herself in the relative solitude of the second row of seating. Nik said, “I can’t hold your hand right now, honey, I’m driving.” I turned a bit awkwardly in my seat and my daughter hooked a small, soft fist around my index finger and squeezed. I wrapped my comparatively massive hand around hers and we just sat for a bit and held hands.

I looked back over the rear-facing seat to see how she was positioned. She’s getting big, now, her legs now forced into a relaxed bend where they meet the seat back. Her straw-colored hair is long and gets in her face so we fight with her to pull it up into a ponytail, which she claims to dislike but I think provides her relief from sweeping her bangs out of her eyes all day. Her feet are growing and her little velcro tennis shoes that a grandma bought her need to find their way to the storage bin very soon. She had her arm raised way up over her head, a position that seemed a bit awkward to me but she gave no indication of discomfort as she leaned her cheek against her own shoulder and just held on.

I tried to take a snapshot with my mind, to just remember this simple, innocent, inconsequential moment where our small family drove off to find something to eat on a Saturday night and my little girl reached out to make a connection with a parent, a sweet girl looking to express her need for love and affection from the people she trusts and relies upon the most. I saw the momentary drift of a dust mote through a slanting beam of setting sunlight just before it lighted on a stuffed Snoopy toy that is Callie’s flavor of the week in plush companionship. I felt the uncommon softness of her tender skin, the lithe plumpness of her still-small but no longer toy-like fingers embracing my own. The radio played a morose tune about lost love and I squeezed a little bit tighter.

The agony of parenthood is the knowledge of inevitability. This small, vivacious, veracious girl will one day know heartache. She will find the dark corners of the Earth that I can’t hide from her, the places from which flow things that I have vowed to protect her against to my dying breath, to the best of my ability. The light that dances in her eyes, the light of trust and careless enthusiasm, may one day dim as war and poverty and hate manifest themselves to her. I resent the world for not being as idyllic as she is, for not meeting her perfectly reasonable expectations for comfort and joy and love. We speak of sheltered children as if they were broken in some way but the mad, frenzied instinct for me is to shelter her up, to block out the hard, harsh truth and take the brunt of the world against my back while I hold her in an unending embrace.

It’s foolishness, I know. I can’t possibly fight off the world. I wouldn’t, even if I could. Within the confines of that embrace, she would smother. Yes, there is darkness. Yes, there is pain. But there is also light. And there is also beauty. My gift to her should not be a protective shell but a toolbox, full of whatever she may need to fight the world or champion the meek all by herself. But still it hurts. She deserves better; better than me and better than this place.

She gave a little sigh. Just a small puff of contented air pushed past her lips that swirled the invisible dust in the air. Her hand loosened on mine, the reassurance she sought now found and she retrieved her small hand to focus back on her toys or a sip of water from the cup we keep on hand in case she gets thirsty while we drive. For an extra moment I just looked at her, peering over the car seat from the awkward angle that allowed only an outline of her full, ruddy cheek and her little button nose. I saw the pleasant bulge of her little toddler belly, pressing against the fabric of her t-shirt as she took another breath and began a stream-of-conscious monologue that was mostly about puppies and mamas and daddies and how they liked to play and eat. I smiled around a thick tongue and turned back, rubbing my fingers against each other where there was still the warm, lingering sense of contact, left by her tiny hand.

In Another Ten

Lots of writers, even unpublished ones, like to dispense writing advice. I know this because I’ve been actively seeking it out for the past six months and… yeah. There’s a lot of it. I’m guessing much of it is dubious, because many of these people seem to write more about writing than they do about anything else and with so much advice out there, for free, there can’t possibly be much of a market for all this. But, as with all advice, the more you hear the more likely you will hear something useful which is why I keep listening.

That said, I’m about to drop what might be construed as writing advice. Oh, I’ve taken great pains to disguise it as a series of personal revelations, but if you don’t see through it as a kind of redirected offering to other people, then you don’t really understand how this whole blogging thing works, do you? But whether you decide this counts as advice or a cautionary tale or just the inane ramblings of a madman with nothing better to do at five o’clock in the morning than type words and then follow them up with more words until they either make sense and I delete them or I get sick of them and post them online for the world to mock, well. That’s up to you.

Basically what I have here are a short(ish) series of revelations I’ve learned about writing in the last 34 years. They amount to precisely nothing because I have had nothing published and have received only a few pennies for my writing in all that time. But they serve to remind me that there is a process to writing and it is ongoing. It goes back, for me, a very long way.

Lesson #1: Surprise Is In The Context

When I was in fifth grade (I think), I wrote a story for school. Maybe it was for school, maybe it was for a project put on by the library? I’m not sure. In any case, we were supposed to write and illustrate a story and, unlike a lot of our other assigned creative writing projects, I remember this one being pretty open-ended. I wrote a story about a gallant knight named Sir Lightfoot. There was a princess and a dragon. I don’t remember much about the plot (although I believe the book still exists somewhere, I think I’ve seen it floating around in some box or chest or something since becoming an “adult”) but I do remember that at one point the dragon has the princess held captive and Sir Lightfoot shows up and says some intimidating things to the dragon. In response, the dragon breathes fire on the princess.

I think I intended for it to be funny, the way morbidity strikes a ten year-old boy with a weird imagination as amusing. But I recall a lot of people were pretty shocked by this turn of events in my story. At the time, I recall trying to explain to someone (maybe a teacher, maybe a parent) that it seemed pretty natural for the princess to get cooked because if I were the dragon and I’d already lured the knight I wanted to confront to my layer with the captured princess, her purpose had been served. Why, I wondered, did the bad guys always leave the bait lying around to come distract them at a later, often pivotal, moment when they didn’t need it anymore? So in my story, the dragon kills the princess straightaway.

Now, for a more sophisticated storyteller, this would be a pivotal, possibly even subversive plot decision. But for me it was just how the story ought to go. I didn’t expect people to be shocked. Finally (and this revelation may have come much later), I figured out that it wasn’t so much that people were surprised the princess didn’t live to the end of the story, it was that a ten year-old was—somewhat dimly—introducing a pretty dark ironic twist to an otherwise classic narrative. In other words, it wasn’t that the dragon killed the princess when he had the opportunity, it was that I killed the princess.

Later on, in high school, I wrote (longhand) a serial story just for kicks about a vampire lady who seduces a teenage boy. In it, the boy’s chaste and pleasant girlfriend dies in what I thought was an exceptionally clever twist. Someone I showed the story to read past that part without a pause. I asked them if they had been shocked by the death scene.

“Not really,” came the reply.

“Why not?”

“Well,” they said, “for one: it’s you. You always kill everybody. And also, it’s a vampire story, so I figured everyone was going to die anyway.”

A jack in the box may startle a child once, but after they know the “Monkey Chased the Weasel” song gets to the part about “POP!” the clown shoots out of the lid, they don’t get startled anymore, because the context is lost.

The lesson here is one M. Night Shyamalan really needs to learn.

Lesson #2: Writers May Be Lazy, But Lazy Writers Invite Disaster

When I was in high school, I worked (well, “worked”) on the school newspaper. I was more than a bit of a tool back then. Shocking, right? Anyway, I did a bunch of stuff in that class that I now look back on and think, “What? Who was that idiot? Me? Really? Gah.” For example, I was given the opportunity to work on the humor section, which our instructor said was to be satirical. Honestly, I had no idea how to write satire. Still, don’t for that matter. But if I had been smart, and not criminally lazy, I would have researched satire and read classic examples (Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift) to get a sense of it. In fact, that’s precisely what our teacher recommended. I ignored him.

Instead, I spent a lot of time coming up with clever responses to the fact that one of my classmates got to put in his byline, “Editor-in-Chief,” while I had to put “Staff Writer.” I was technically the Managing Editor, something I thought should be reflected on everything I wrote. I comprehend entirely (now) that no one cares what business role you fill at the paper in a byline but at the time it seemed very unfair. So I put “Not Just A Staff Writer Anymore” as my byline. What wit! What a thumb on the nose to the authorities! I got away with it because the Editor-in-Chief (a guy I admired—and still admire, as a matter of fact) knew he could shove my piece in the satire section and no one would care because, let’s face it, the satire section was pretty sad. I realize now that I could have contributed to a teenage version of The Onion or The Daily Show, but again, that whole research thing got in the way. It should be noted, also, that I was possibly the worst Managing Editor in the history of school newspapers. Whatever managing I was supposed to do, I did none of it.

But that same laziness also got me into some hot water later on. I was helping with a piece for the entertainment section about local stuff for teens to do. I think we had little blurby reviews of arcades and hangouts and such and I decided to do a short bit about the local bowling alley. Now, let’s just pause to reflect that I was saved a heap of scorn in this by mere chance: While it was me who wrote the paragraphs in question, the bowling alley featured was owned by a guy whose son was both my friend and on the newspaper staff. Plus, there were a couple other writers on the byline since it was a collaborative article. So while the problem was entirely my fault, the blame got diluted a little. What happened was: I hadn’t been to the bowling alley in a while, probably something like eight to ten months at least. But I figured it didn’t matter because the place didn’t change that much with time—it couldn’t, right? So I wrote my review based on memory. And I wasn’t exactly flattering, either.

I could try to explain it by saying we were on a deadline (true) or that I didn’t have time to visit the bowling alley (not true) or that I meant to fact-check it later but forgot (partially true). It doesn’t matter. The point is, I never should have assumed anything and I never should have let the other authors put their names on something that I wasn’t fully confident about. I should have pulled my section, at least. What I really should have done was gotten off my lazy butt and done the real research.

Now, again, the owner’s son was on staff (possibly he had even collaborated on the story, I don’t remember for sure now) and it was more embarrassing for him that he had let it slip by than it was for the rest to be associated with me and my story. But the owner (my friend’s dad) wrote a letter to the editor saying that my bit was full of factual inaccuracies. They had upgraded the arcades, fixed some of the fees and improved other areas I criticized. Had we been there recently? the letter asked. Our instructor asked us point blank. Had we done the research? I had to admit, I had not.

We issued a retraction and felt bad and wiped the egg off our faces and ultimately it didn’t matter because no one read the paper anyway, but I won’t ever forget the vengeful creeping sense of shame and regret that came—and this is key—not with having written the piece, but in having been caught and called out on it. I recognized even then, as dumb as I was, that the only way to avoid having that kind of revealing insight into your human failings broadcast for all to see, was to not try to pass off fiction as fact. Perhaps if I’d learned a bit about passing off fact as fiction, I might have been a better satire writer, but that lesson would never come in time to be of any use.

 Lesson #3: Art May Be Subjective, But Writing Still Has To Make Sense

In my junior college days, when I was directionless and unwilling to grow up but felt like I wanted to achieve greater heights than my teenage idiocy had permitted, I carried around a notebook that I would fill with scribbles and poems and freestyle verse and handwritten lectures about the kinds of things that a guy who listens to too much Bob Marley and reads too much Stephen King thinks are really, really deep. I felt then that the words in the poems were only there to provide contextual clues to the theme of the poem, which was further conveyed by my hand-drawn typography experiments. In short, it was half the words and half the way the words appeared on the page that made the poems work.

Let me save you some time: The poems didn’t work.

I showed a few of them to my friends who were prone to being dazzled by “art” in the sense that we all felt if it was vague or incomprehensible but even hinted at depth or meaning, it must be mind-expanding and hold value. But then again, we listened to Metallica for the lyrics, if that tells you anything about the sophistication of our art appreciation. They liked it, said it was great stuff, man. Around this time I started noodling in a speed metal band with a guy I thought of and still believe to be a genuine genius. Now, he’s a tortured artist type in the classic sense but he’s also incredibly grounded in a reality that is more at home with the hard facts of life than I hope I will ever fully understand. At the time, he was writing all the music and lyrics and I was just chugging out power chords as a rhythm guitarist. I showed him one of my poems, saying it might make for some good lyrics. He read them and then handed back the notebook.

“What does it mean?” he asked.

“You don’t get it?” I replied. Protip: Whenever someone shows you something and then asks this question if you request an explanation, what they mean is, “I don’t know, either.

“Uh, no,” he said frankly. I like that about him: he has always been completely frank. “It just seems like a bunch of words randomly put together.”

“Did you take into account the way they appear on the page, man?” I asked.

“Who cares?” he said.

I didn’t have an answer.

And this was what I really learned: You have to be able to answer the question, “Who cares?” Even if the answer is simply, “Me! I care!” But the truth was (and is), even I didn’t care about my dumb, one-draft-only art poems. And if I didn’t, no one else was going to care about them for me.

A little aside about that notebook: I kept it for a long, long time. Part of me had a very hard time accepting this lesson, even years after I had learned it. I have found stuff I wrote in the past, later on down the line, and thought “You know, there’s a core of something interesting here,” or “Well, at least it’s got a decent couple of phrase turns in it.” I kept thinking that if I revisited that notebook often enough, eventually I’d find it to be full of hidden insight. What I finally realized a few years ago was that the insight wasn’t coming because it wasn’t there. I threw the notebook away. Maybe someday I’ll get a new notebook and try poetry again. But when I do, it will be because it matters to someone, even if it’s just me. Until then, I need to work on making words make sense.

Lesson #4: Writing Doesn’t Better Itself

There was a semi-recent period where I was a very prolific writer. When I first started, for example, I wrote every day. That was my goal: Write every day. I achieved the goal and thought riches and fame and writerly superiority would follow close at hand.

It didn’t.

I wrote on this site then in fits and starts for the next few years, always thinking that if I could just write every day I’d eventually be an amazing writer. That was how it worked, so I thought. But I found some things weren’t really clicking. It was hard to come up with stuff to write about. It was hard when I accidentally wrote something good to maintain the quality. And it was hard to stick with it.

Two days ago turned ten years old. If I’d decided to have a baby instead of start a website, that child would be as old now as when I learned my first lesson on writing. And in all that time, the time I was supposed to be using to become a phenomenal writer, I’ve only learned one thing: Just writing may be the key to being a writer, but writing alone does not improve your writing. Improving writing takes effort. The word I’m reluctant to say is “work.”

I’m allergic to effort. I seriously take a pill every day to combat this allergy (some people call it “coffee”). But in the last six months I’ve started dedicating myself to improving as a writer. Little steps, that’s what I’m working to take. I read grammar sites and listen to a grammar podcast. I research tips pro writers offer (and they loooove to offer tips). I read books about writing. I read books. I edit my work (that this is novel to me should tell you a lot about my “progress” as a writer thus far). I try to stay away from the TV. I keep notes of the ideas that pop into my head (thanks, Evernote!) and I try to keep an eye out for new ideas (sometimes you have to look for them if they aren’t just landing in your lap). I think it’s working. I have more ideas than time. I’ve finished a novel, a few short stories, and I completed NaNoWriMo last month (during the busiest month at work I’ve had in probably seven years, no less) which means I have 50,000+ words in a brand new story that I’m still developing.

And, amazingly, I now write every day. Oh, I don’t do it here. Not always. It’s scattered around. Some of it I’m even keeping, because maybe it’s worth more than a jettison into the void of the Internet. As in, maybe I could sell it some day, if I put some more elbow grease into it. But don’t get all jumpity for joy on me. I’m not a success. I’m not even a decent writer yet. But what it took me 34 years to learn is that if I want this to work, I have to work for this, allergy or no. Writing ability doesn’t happen (for me; I’m not trying to tell you what you can do) by magic, but for a long time I thought it would.

I guess I thought that having a blog and keeping it updated was the magic formula for becoming a great writer. It turns out, I was wrong; it took me longer than I wish it had to realize the truth of that. The formula for being great at anything, I suspect, is to work really hard at being great and when it seems like you never will be and you want to quit, redouble your efforts instead and work even harder.

Honestly, I kind of hate this lesson.

Ten Years On

Fifteen years after learning a valuable lesson about not being lazy, I still struggle to put some work ethic into my passion. One of my best novel ideas is one that requires a mountainous amount of  research work to pull off, which has prevented me from starting on it. I still hate editing and proofreading and rewriting. But: one step at a time, because the writing doesn’t make itself better, but the writer must. On the cusp of official middle age (at least by US Census standards), I examine my life and realize that the one constant, unflagging desire throughout it has been to write. That I haven’t spent the time in pursuit of that goal particularly wisely is frustrating, I admit. But I can either waste more time moping about it, or start now.

This isn’t some “good-by and thanks for all the fish” scenario. I’m not abandoning Having a blog is a nice outlet for dropping brain emissions now and then. But even if I did close up shop, I’d be happy with the ten years in here. I think my Time Machine experiment earlier this year revealed that I didn’t output a ton of worthy content in the good ol’ days, but that’s fine. I haven’t generated much worthy content in just shy of 35 years. Ideally, the good stuff is yet to come. If you’ve been here for the last decade: Thanks. The occasional comment and complimentary (or contrarian in some cases) response has made it worthwhile. If you’re newer: Sorry I’m not one of those daily bloggers that fills your newsreader with procrastination material, but I hope you stick around.

Who knows. Maybe the best is yet to come.

Christmas Blessings

My family and I are incredibly blessed. I’m employed and make enough that Nik doesn’t have to work—even in the two-income-mandatory Bay Area; we have a nice place to live, money for food, clothes, and a few modern conveniences; generally we’re all more or less healthy. I like to think I’m aware of how good we have it, and hopefully I express my gratitude for our good fortune sufficiently. I clearly understand that despite it feeling sometimes like we don’t have much extra, we don’t want for much, which I suppose is excess enough.

But I do know that I’m not really all that great about giving back. I want to give back, I desire to be a more charitable person, it just feels like a challenge when there is a growing toddler who needs new clothes every few months (in spite of regular infusions from generous family members), various debts that need paying off, future plans that involve additional children and maybe someday a down payment on a house and all those other first-world, middle-class things that seem very important when you sit in front of a spreadsheet and a checkbook and wonder how it’s all going to fit together in the end. Put it this way, it’s a work in progress.

And then, at various intervals, we come to holidays like Christmas or my birthday and I clench my molars together and stare at the numbers and think about trying to fit gifts and trinkets and tchotchkes into a budget so we can experience the magic of a holiday season that is somehow left over from a childhood it’s been frankly hard to leave behind. Then I think of other families doing that same routine, staring at my name on a gift list and wondering if getting me a DVD is worth not having a zero balance on a credit card or is worth making that jacket with the hole in the elbow last another month or two. It disturbs me, a whole lot. I think about the materialism of a season that should be about anything but trinkets and gadgets and I get a little angry.

It’s not that I dislike gifts, despite what Nik may tell you. I actually love giving and receiving gifts. I love the spirit of them, in that pure and idealized way that everyone talks about when gifts go awry: “It’s the thought that counts!” True. But what thoughts are we counting? Societal pressure to reciprocate? Eeny-meeny-miney-moe from an Amazon list? Gratitude that someone cared enough to brave the shopping mobs? There’s nothing inherently evil in any of this, it’s just—icky. I don’t want anyone to feel obligation to me. I don’t need any of the gifty things people could bestow on me. I used to look at my haul at the end of the Christmas season with a childish, greedy pride (we’re not talking decades past here, we’re talking in the last few years) but slowly I’ve started looking at those material things with a sense of sadness and guilt. Why am I getting so much—and so much I don’t even need—when others have actual wants? Why am I okay with people being generous just because it’s what’s supposed to happen? And, really, is it what’s supposed to happen?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a “Jesus is the reason for the season” kind of person or not, the notion of Christmas spirit as tied to materialism and gifting is regularly scorned but scarcely actually railed against in a meaningful way. I think in part this is because the idea of Christmases we hold as treasured memories in our minds from childhood revolve around those derided ideals of mountains of gifts. We can look at them from a child’s perspective and say, “There’s nothing wrong with a kid getting a little spoiled on Christmas.” I’d agree with that to a degree, but what’s our excuse as adults, then? I’m at a loss. Something in us maybe thinks the cognitive dissonance of deciding its okay for kids to get heaps of presents but at some point you outgrow it is a bit too much to take. Then again, no one thinks its weird to age past the idea of Santa Claus (actually, don’t even get me started on that mess).

The point is, the whole scene is uncomfortable to me in a way that I can’t even fully unravel. But I’ve decided something this year, and it requires some help on your part, dear reader. I don’t want any gifts this year. I’m dead serious about this. My wishlist this year consists of nothing and I don’t mean that in the “I don’t know what I want, so whatever is fine.” I mean, “Please don’t buy me anything.” I have enough stuff. I have enough videos and games and books and gadgets. I have enough material goods. I don’t need any more and I don’t want you spending your money on me. The best gift you can give to me is to keep your money. This extends to my birthday as well. Whatever it is you think I’m going to love, I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t want you to buy it for me. Tell me about it, if you must. But I’ll make the purchasing decision on my own. I don’t want gift cards, I don’t want cash, I don’t want baked goods or promises to spend your time and talents on me. I don’t want any of those things not because I don’t appreciate it, but because that’s not what matters to me. Think of it this way, loved ones, I have almost 35 years of experience in seeing how incredibly generous and wonderful all the people in my life are, I know it full well. And I’m grateful. So very grateful. But I’m letting you off the hook this year. So please, for me, this year—make mine nothing.

Okay, alright, I know what’s coming next. Doing nothing isn’t Christmas either. Fair enough. Here’s what you can do for me, if you insist. I’m talking to you die-hard Christmasers, here, you know who you are. The ones who can’t let it go, who think you’ll be betraying the very spirit of the season itself if you let me get away with this holiday void. Here’s what you can do for me: Send me an email and tell me one short story about something that happened this past year that made you feel blessed. Don’t go nuts, I’m not looking for a dissertation. Just a quick note. “I felt blessed this year because I was able to lose ten pounds,” or “I felt blessed this year because my kid gave me a hug and said, ‘thank you’ after their birthday party.” Tell me about the time you found a job after looking for months. Tell me how a friend came over to feed your dog while you were on vacation and cleaned your house for you, too. Tell me how you finally dinged level 85 in World of Warcraft, I don’t care, whatever it is, however you want to describe it. That’s what I want. Also, if you can tell me whether or not you mind if I repost your story and, if I can, whether you want your name attributed to it. Because if I get enough of these, I’ll collect them into a big blog post and put them up here after Christmas Day. Maybe it will make everyone feel that Christmas spirit a little without any of that icky materialism getting in the way.

Now, if you insist—if you absolutely cannot be swayed and are about to have a conniption if you can’t spend your money on something for me, here’s what I need you to do. Step away from the retail outlets, look away from the online stores and find a charity. Any charity will do, although if you want it to be something that is important to me: Children’s Hospitals, programs that focus on providing basic needs for children in poor countries and charities that use technology in clever ways to help those in need are the kinds I look to first. Then take whatever amount of money you were going to spend on some doo-dad for me and give it to that charity instead. Please don’t bring my name into it. I don’t need the donation to be made on my behalf, just make the donation. You don’t even have to tell me about it, although you can if you want. Please note this option is only for those who insist on making money a part of the holiday. What I really, really want? Those stories. Or nothing.

I’ve talked about this with Nik as well and she’s completely on board with the same routine. That means neither of us want anything this year, because we both feel we have plenty. But she does like the stories idea so you can forward your stories to her as well as me (same permission to post applies) and the email address provided below goes to both of us. If you want to share a story just for her, use her Facebook page or use ncfollett -at-

You can send stories using the following methods:

Email: (this goes to both Nik and I).
Facebook Message: or
Twitter Direct Message (if you’re into pithiness): @ironsoap
Or leave a comment below (this implies permission to post).

Or, of course, if you’re a Christmas card type of person, you could also include your tale of thankfulness in your card, as well.

The Case of the Too-Good Photograph

Callie turned two about a week ago and though I’ve been somewhat slack in keeping up with regular picture-taking of her with my good camera (I’m much better at capturing her with my phone, a device I’ve come to think of as my point-and-shoot), I did take the time before we took her to the zoo as part of her celebration day to snap a few shots of her in her very cute sailor outfit purchased by Nik specifically for the occasion. It came with a miniature version of the same dress, I suppose intended to be used on a doll, which we put on her favorite teddy bear.

As a side note, the teddy bear is named B.B., which stands for “Bear’s Bear.” We kind of cribbed a pet name for Calliope from my brother and sister-in-law who called my nephew “Joel Bear” when he was a baby; the context felt a little different when we began to use the term “Callie Bear” because it’s connotation seemed more synonymous with the sonically similar “Teddy Bear,” notably soft and innocent and sweet. “Joel Bear” was more boyish to my ears, highlighting his rolly-polly humor and conveying what I can best describe as a playful growl. At least that’s what they meant to me, although I did (and still do) feel a little twinge of guilt in using the moniker—not that even Scott and Sara’s usage was particularly novel—because I never wanted them to think we were copying intentionally, it was just one of those things that stuck, like when we were kids and we used to call the family dog (nee Sparky) “Stupid,” because it fit better than his actual name. Not that Joel and Callie are stupid! I’m digging a hole here. The point is, we’d often shorten “Callie Bear” to simply, “Bear.” Hence, “Bear’s Bear” or B.B. As with most very young sounding terms of endearment, I notice that Joel doesn’t get called “Joel Bear” all that often and even “Callie Bear” is starting to phase out of favor as she enters toddlerhood.

Pardon my digress. Anyway, of the lot of perhaps 15 photos I got before Callie lost interest, a couple were possibly usable but one was clearly the best of the bunch:

Happy Birthday!

Now, it’s not stellar. I forgot to comb her hair so I had to crop the picture closely and add a black halo to the image to hide the flyaway hairs, which also served to mask the fact that the top of the chair she’s sitting in was pretty obviously in need of a good dusting. But I fiddled with it a bit in iPhoto (man, I miss Photoshop!) and it came out pretty good. Mostly it works because Callie is incredibly photogenic, when she chooses to be, and she was downright cooperative that morning. I posted the picture on Flickr, linked to it on Facebook and we carried on with the rest of the day.

Nik, unsurprisingly, loved the picture. She decided to get some prints made of it to distribute to some friends and family commemorating Callie’s second anniversary. She used Snapfish, an online photo printing service, to order some prints for pickup at a local drugstore, hereafter referred to by the uncrackable codename of “Galwreens.” A day or two passed, and she was informed the prints were ready to be paid for and picked up. Bully so far.

It so happened that after a couple of conflicting doctors’ appointments yesterday which required me to come home from work a bit early, I had Callie with me while Nik was off taking a well-deserved break, getting pedicures with a friend and she had some errands that needed to be run: Pick up some prescriptions, grab a few items at the grocery store, and acquire the prints from Galwreens. Happy to help and spend time with Callie, I volunteered.

When we got to Galwreens though, the courtesy clerk (who was already frazzled from what I presume was a number of co-worker call-ins leaving the store understaffed plus an incredibly picky customer ahead of me in line who had her running laps to the store room looking for a very specific flavor of Starbucks brand iced coffee beverages) at first couldn’t locate the prints. I was about to leave, annoyed that I must have gotten the wrong branch or location or something, when she called me back. “Oh, here they are. I found them,” she said, a quizzical tone to her voice, pulling them from a side area closer to the register than the buckets of ready prints. She read a lengthy note attached to the envelope.

“Okay, great,” I said, pulling my wallet from my pocket.

“Do you have the release form, then?”

I paused. “The what?”

“The release form from the photographer. We can’t sell these to you without them.”

I laughed. “Dude, I’m the photographer.” She scowled.

“Okay, do you have the negatives?” she said.

More laughter from me: “No, these were taken on a digital camera.” I paused for a moment. “Does anyone actually bring in film negatives anymore?” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she ignored me.

“Okay, do you have the memory stick with the pictures on it?”

“Well, not on me,” I said.

She nodded with a particular smirk on her face that read, my but you’re a stupid one, aren’t you. What she said was, “Well if you go get that, I can sell these to you.”

“But it’s at home—and anyway, I don’t know that I kept the pictures on the card.”

She looked aghast. “You don’t have a backup stick!?”

My sarcasm gland was draining cynicine (that’s the serum that causes sarcastic people to descend into that fugue state where everything they say is tinged with contempt and derision; it’s the substance that is referred to when someone says a phrase was “dripping” with sarcasm) into my brain. “No, I have a 500 GB hard drive and a 2 GB memory card: My hard drive is my backup.” Mentally, I added, “You incompetent, judgmental grub.” After a second’s thought I added, “I can show you the picture on my computer.” My laptop was sitting in my bag out in the car. She shook her head.

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to take this up with my manager.”

“Okay fine.”

“He’ll be in tomorrow at eight.”

I sighed. “So he’s not here now.”

She shook her head again, firmly. “Let me give you his number.”

“Listen,” I began, “I’m the photographer here.”

She interrupted, “But it looks professional!”

Now, I could have been flattered. In retrospect, I kinda guess I am, but my annoyance was overpowering that. In the age of relatively cheap digital camera equipment, post-processing software that is affordable and often bundled with PC hardware, a wealth of information online about professional photography technique and no cost barrier to snapping away until you get the one good shot in dozens, how does one not come up with a picture that could perhaps be professional? Who gauges this anyway? Some random service clerk at a drugstore? Would they know professional photography from a set of photocopied buttcheeks? The clerk, who was also getting annoyed at this point, continued, “Look, we could get sued for thousands of dollars if we sold this to you and the copyright belonged to someone else. I could lose my job and frankly, I’m not doing that for you.” It was her turn to pause. “For the record, I believe you, but my hands are tied.”

I drew a deep breath and implored Callie to stop systematically dismantling a display shelf. She was remarkably patient and well-behaved throughout the entire exchange, which is more than I could say for myself.

“Okay,” I said, “Here’s the problem: I took this picture and you won’t sell the prints to me. But normally you wouldn’t be talking to me, you’d be talking to my wife. And she didn’t actually take the picture. So if she comes down here tomorrow morning and asks for our pictures from your manager, is there any way she’s going to be successful?”

The clerk looked me square in the face with cold eyes. “You’d have to discuss that with my manager.”

I moistened my lips and stopped Callie from opening several expensive “value” packs of AA batteries. “Alright, I guess I’ll leave without my own pictures then.” Atta boy! That showed her!

“Wait,” she said without a hint of enthusiasm. “Don’t you want the phone number?”

“Sure,” I said. For all the good I expected of it. She scrawled a number and name on the back of a discarded receipt and handed it to me. “He’ll be in at eight.”

I thanked her without sincerity and collected Callie before she could tip over an out of order self-serve photo printing kiosk. As I began to walk away I paused, remembering something. I made a few gestures on my phone, pulled up a website and called her back before she disappeared into the back room. “Look,” I said feeling this was my last chance, “this is my Flickr account. See? This is the same picture, and this is my account,” I clicked a link to show my profile page, featuring a picture of myself from a few years ago. Close enough, I hoped. She nodded but tempered it with a shrug.

“I’m sorry. Like I said, I believe you, but I just can’t help you.”

“Yeah,” I said pointedly.

Afterward I was pretty heated about the whole thing. I posted a short version of the story on Twitter and several people responded, appalled. A couple of people complimented the photo. Dr. Mac said he could understand how it would look like a studio shot requiring a release. Later, when I recounted the tale to Nik I ranted that it didn’t even make sense: If I had stolen someone’s copyrighted photo (which I didn’t, since I own the copyright) and was intending to make money off of it, isn’t that my liability for publishing copyrighted content and Galwreens is just a middleman? I mean, do we really want drugstore employees—no disrespect intended, my point is they are not trained in the incomprehensible warren of copyright law or they wouldn’t be working there—to be the gatekeepers of ownership rights?

This morning I did a little bit of research and it turns out that… well, I can’t actually tell you how it turns out. The rabbit-hole is deeper than I imagined and I already had a pretty good clue about how messy copyright laws are. The bottom line, from what I can gather, is that Galwreens and other places I haven’t dealt with like Wal-Mart are engaging in a bit of excessive CYA with their “don’t sell it without a release if it looks professional.” Despite a mention I found in a thread about a previous lawsuit leveled at Wal-Mart, I couldn’t actually find mention of such a case (though it could be because there is a lot more reporting on a case in which a family was reported for child endangerment when trying to get the ubiquitous “bathtub” photos printed, and all my search terms seemed to be too common with those stories). Some people made a reasonable case that reproducing copyrighted works is illegal and could open a door for lawsuits against photo labs who do so unknowingly, but again, the fear ought to be low there especially for photographs since Kinko’s entire business model operates on the principle that customers are responsible for what they duplicate, not the service provider who enables it. I doubt you’d have an easy time arguing that it’s less likely someone would violate copyright laws at Kinko’s than at Galwreens or Target’s photo kiosk.

A couple of articles on Techdirt mention the phenomenon, saying basically it’s hard to blame the employees who are probably threatened with loss of their job for not following a paranoid company policy and of course there are two sides to any contentious issue, as seen in this Flickr thread (dissenting comment starts here). And it probably shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that it’s mostly all about the money since printing photos is big business, one which everyone involved with wants to protect.

I should note that I don’t really hold Snapfish liable in any of this since they were merely the transport mechanism which provided Galwreens with our digital file. I suppose they get a cut of the profits from the drugstore for this service and perhaps they could have assisted by providing some kind of legally binding copyright form along with the submission which would have released the prints automatically, but that’s more a feature request and I’m reasonably certain they don’t have any influence over how protective the deliverers choose to be—even at the expense of their own profits. Because at this point it’s coming down to this: Galwreens will give me my photographs without forcing me to jump through ridiculous hoops to prove I took them or I’ll take my business elsewhere, right after I’m 100% satisfied that they’ve destroyed the prints in their possession. Because I am the copyright holder, and I get to say what happens with them.

Because I Said So, And Other Reasons

The more experience I get as a parent, the more sympathy I have for my own forebears. I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t make it a habit to default to generic parental clichés too terribly often, but I heard the phrase “Because I said so!” often enough (possibly from other kids’ parents) that I formed a distinct disdain for it early on. It’s annoying as a kid because it’s a conversation stopper: You get chastised for something, you question the motivation and the response you get is a circular reference to logic by way of authority. Well excuse me for trying to understand you, parent! My suspicion as a child was always that adults didn’t actually even have a reason why something was forbidden or disallowed, their directives were based on an unknowable algorithm of random chance, whim and some inexplicable currency system on my part involving chores, cuteness and consideration for my sibling.

But as parenthood for me approaches its second anniversary, I realize that the problem isn’t that parent’s lack motive. In fact, the problem is quite the opposite: We have too many reasons, and they are too complex to describe in situ for each and every infraction. If we parents were to recount the entirety of our rationale for our various sand-drawn lines, we’d never get anything else done.

My daughter, for instance, has a bad habit of pushing back from the dinner table when she’s done (her high chair has wheels) and then propping her typically bare feet on the table. Since she stopped sitting at a tray-bearing chair some nine or ten months ago this has been an ongoing, near nightly battle. Now, my daughter has yet to master the plaintive “But whyyyyy?” Don’t think for a second though that when she drops her feet in response to a sharp directive from me and then immediately, before I even turn my head back to my meal, replaces her feet exactly where they were when I admonished her nanoseconds before that the message isn’t “Your instruction does not contain sufficient rationale to modify my behavior. Dad.”

Now, I suppose I could in theory offer her the following explanation:

Callie, sweetheart, you need to put your feet down because the table is a surface we eat off of and your frequently bare feet are typically dirty and therefore unsanitary which could potentially cause an entirely avoidable illness. But furthermore, even if the threat of disease weren’t sufficient reason, there is a base level of decorum and politeness which your foot-propping undermines, a sort of social malaise that indicates you have no respect for the meal, the others you share the table with or the effort that was put into the preparation of the food you just enjoyed. I’m instructing you to remove your feet from the table because it’s part of a broader effort to instill in you the notion of politeness, consideration for others and class which, ideally, will prevent you from growing into a horrific boor, a savage in conventional social settings who embarrasses yourself, those around you and not least of all us as your mother and father. We are tasked with imparting these principles on you and there is a broad range of general guidelines as well as specific rules our culture has developed which fall under the heading “manners:” They help to establish parameters of respect for your fellow humans and demonstrate that you are civilized, ascended from the bestial state that may, at this stage in your life, come more naturally. Right now you may not realize that us asking you to say “please” and “thank you,” that our insistence that we all sit down together and eat as a collective and remain at the table until everyone has finished their food, that our concern over where you put your unwanted food particles (i.e. not on the floor) and this oh-so-frequent request to keep your feet off the dining surface are all part of a much higher level project. But trust me when I say that you need to keep your feet off the table because no daughter of mine is going to be thirteen and at a friend’s house for dinner where that child’s parents—our contemporaries—watch in open-mouthed horror as you wolf down your food with your fingers as if it were some sort of feeding trough, loose a trumpeting blast of flatulence and a soul-rattling belch, kick off your shoes and cross your sweaty sock-funky feet on their rosewood dining table and demand dessert before this hypothetical host family has even settled in their seats. It is equal parts concern for your personal reputation and ability to normalize within society and deep-set desire to never have to receive a phone call (or telepathic hyperlink or whatever we’re using in the year 2022) from a fellow parent with that sort of reporting attached that causes me, here and now, to tell you for the six hundredth time to get. Your. Feet. Off. The. Table!

But let’s face it, I’d get about two sentences in and her gigantic blue eyes would puddle up with uncomprehending tears and I’d trail off and scoop her into my arms and whisper into her straw-colored hair that it was alright, everything was okay and Daddy would always love her. In moments where my frustration bubbles over she feels my angst and she expresses her remorse in the most pitiful fashion. In these moments I want to tell her: “Forget it, sweetness. Put your feet on the table. Drop those 118-decibel burps. Some cultures think that means the food was great! Toss your food wherever you like. Hey a food fight or two never hurt anyone, right? We could all stand to lighten up a little! Whatever you do, don’t look at me like I’ve broken your tiny, fragile heart with my words, okay?” I don’t want the puppet strings to show too brazenly in front of Nikki, after all. I usually settle on cradling her in my arms until the sniffles stop.

Then ever so gently, I set her back in her high chair, kiss her lightly on the forehead, and return to my seat where the next glance in her direction reveals that she’s propped ten small, filthy toes right on top of her plate and is grinning at me like Al Pacino playing Satan in The Devil’s Advocate with her hands folded behind her reclined head. And I swear her incomplete set of teeth are sharp.

Daddy and Daughter Sunday: A Photo Essay

Nik wasn’t feeling great on Sunday and spent most of the day in bed. In an effort to give her some peace and quiet—and because I’ve been working so much lately I thought it would be a great opportunity to spend some time with Callie—I took the munchkin out for a played-by-ear afternoon outing.

Lately Callie has discovered the unparalleled joy of the out of doors. So much so that she actually spends most of her time indoors indicating that she would very much like to go out. It’s kind of like having a dog, if the dog could grunt and point at every point of egress the house possesses, over and over and over. So my first thought was that whatever we did needed to be outside and thankfully the weather was cooperating nicely. I also knew we’d want to have lunch sometime so I eventually settled on a downtown area a couple towns over which I thought I recalled having a nice park right next to the main strip with all the standard overpriced boutiques and kitschy little restaurants.

The first park I found wasn’t the one I had been thinking of, but it was kind of what I was hoping for, with a slide and toddler swings and stuff for Callie to climb around on, but I realized as I was driving that I’d failed to apply or bring any sunscreen. With the jungle gym equipment parked directly in the blazing sun I figured it may not be the ideal location so I followed my original instinct and went to the closer park only to find it was more of a bandstand area and while it had a nice little strolling trail, it lacked any actual equipment. Still, I didn’t want to waste the whole day wandering around looking for the ideal park so we got out and, in keeping with the theme, tried to roll with it and see how Callie did. She actually seemed to have a pretty good time.

If you have met her at all, you’ll know how fascinated Calliope is by dogs. The thing that I think made her the most excited, other than just the thrill of being in a new environment (and an outdoor one at that) was the plethora of pet dogs parading around, each of which Callie had to stop and admire or wave to. As we leisurely strolled across the bridge over the largely dry creekbed we came up to the bandstand area where, in the summer, the city puts on regular concerts. Callie seemed to like stomping around on the hollow-sounding wood and after a few moments she took a bit of a rest on the step before some kind ladies stopped by to be charmed by Callie’s magical grin.

Next I let her stomp through the grass, which she thought was pretty funny and we walked around, picking up sticks, examining leaves and—from a certain point onward—trying to convince Callie that just parking it in the grass wasn’t a long-term prospect.

At last I convinced her to continue along the path and we strolled around to the other bridge over the creek and around into the courtyard of an art museum that appeared to be closed. Outside though we found a statue of an artist on a bench that Callie found to be hysterical. I thought she was laughing at it so hard that it would be a great picture to sit her next to the statue on the bench. Of course, by the time I got her situated a woman walked into the courtyard with a small dog on a leash and Calliope completely forgot about the funny statue. Such is life with a toddler.

Next we gathered our belongings and took the stroller out of the car so we could wander up and down the main commercial drag looking for somewhere to have lunch. I’m such a fan of trying new restaurants but Nik’s choosy palate shies her away from branching out beyond the well-known unless she’s in a particular mood so when she can’t be with me I tend to make it a point to try something different. Maybe when she’s older Callie will be more of an adventurous eater like me and that can be something we share (signs indicate that, at least so far, she’s pretty open-minded about food). Or maybe not. But for now, since she’s beholden to my decision-making, I try to still go with something new to me without forcing my one year-old to endure Thai cuisine or Indian food with an unfamiliar culinary dictator (she’s too little to make her own ordering decisions). In this case I happened across an East Coast style pizza place I hadn’t tried and ordered us a slice to share. It was massive.

The pizza was delicious and we enjoyed people watching and making goofy faces at each other around bites of crust. When we left it was getting a bit late but I still wanted to give Nik a little more time to rest so we bumbled around a bit, checking out a little book store and enjoying the (indirect) warmth of the sun. After about an hour of window shopping and exploring we headed back and saw a little candy shop on a side street near our parking spot which we checked out. It was a pretty nice place if a bit pricey; we settled on a mini-Moon Pie (vanilla) for Callie and I got a Bounty bar which is pretty much a Mounds only with milk chocolate (in other words, an Almond Joy with no nuts).

The Moon Pie went over pretty well at first but she got tired of it fairly quickly and fixated instead on my candy bar, which was fine because I had basically the same reaction to the Moon Pie (which was the first time I’d ever tried one as well). As we headed out I reflected that in a real sense these are the experiences that parenthood is all about. It’s easy to think that the highlights of this lunatic endeavor are the big marquee events: Birthdays, “Firsts,” vacations, and so on. But in fact those coordinated and planned happenings tend to drown out the simple awe found in just being together with these amazing people materializing day by day, minute by minute before our eyes.

It was a day to treasure, and treasure I shall.

Wonder in Winterland

One of the few things I dislike about living in the Bay Area is that Christmas time never really seems to have quite the same punch and magic here as is described by non-classical Christmas songs. Perhaps it is the preponderance of Godless heathens clustered together or maybe it’s just age and an accompanying cynicism puncturing the delight of innocent, youthful greed but honestly I think it boils down to the lack of relatively inclement weather. With the relatively mild winter of coastal California, there seems to be less of an obvious requirement to stay indoors, avoid roads and thus dedicate time to cozy firesides and spiked nogs and craft projects.

Or whatever that means. I don’t know why craft projects remind me of Christmas spirit, but there you are. The point is it seems like the—at worst—inconvenient annoyance of Bay Area December weather isn’t sufficient to prevent the season from descending into commercialized excess of gaudy strip malls and Black Friday sales. So I was feeling kind of glum about the season in general, wishing impotently that I could demonstrate to my 16-month old daughter that Christmas was more than just counting boxes under the tree.

Then Nik somehow heard about this event in downtown San Jose called Christmas in the Park, held in the small public space between the Tech Museum, the Art Museum and tons of high-rise office buildings and even higher-priced restaurants. The plan was to pick me up from work and grab some dinner before we took Callie over there. As I tend to do when Nik suggests family activities I shrugged and said, “Sure, sounds fun.” I’m trying to make these words mean something other than “Okay: I probably won’t hate it,” although I do better some days with that than others.

We actually tried to go earlier when a work issue resulted in me having to stay later than usual and miss my shuttle so Nik drove out to pick me up and we thought we might go after that, but by the time I was done and Nik had a chance to make it to my office and we fought through rush hour traffic on 101 South it was approaching 6:30. Given an hour for dinner and we’d be arriving when Callie’s bedtime routine typically begins and it seemed like less than responsible parenting to keep her up hours just to take advantage of an unexpected car trip. So we made arrangements to do as we originally intended and went on Thursday after I got off work (at the normal time). We had dinner at a retro themed diner which I thought was excellent but Nik was quite unimpressed by and then crossed the street again to check out the spread which we had only seen in passing on our way in.

The marvelous thing about Christmas in the Park is that it’s donation-run so admission is completely free. The bulk of the set up is a series of donated Christmas trees decorated by local groups. As you might predict a huge number of these end up being Boy and Girl Scout troops, but that’s actually fine and many of them were very cleverly put together. Around the perimeter of the park are a series of dioramas, some fairly elaborate with mechanical bits and musical accompaniment, which depict whimsical scenes that are very kid-friendly: Silly elves, friendly looking woodland creatures and so forth.  Because Nik didn’t care for dinner she stopped and got a snack to munch on while we perused the aisles of trees and displays.

Throughout this initial sequence Calliope seemed a little overwhelmed: Her eyes were as big and round as saucers but she didn’t seem to react much to anything. I’m not sure if the lights were too much or if it was packed too tightly into the space for her little mind to process, but while I wouldn’t describe her as having anything but a good time it was as if she didn’t quite know what to make of it all.

By the time we reached the center of the park where they had erected a huge display tree out of light strings Callie seemed to be appreciating what was going on a little more. She got excited about a teddy bear statue that was under the tree and offered to share bites of her gummy churro with passing strangers. Just to one side of the big tree they has set up a gazeebo and stage with some benches in front and a horn ensemble was playing brassy renditions of popular Christmas tunes. For the first time that I can recall, despite being exposed almost daily to a variety of musical stylings via iPod and radio, she lit up about the band and got this huge grin on her face as they bleated their way through “Frosty the Snowman” and “Carol of the Bells” and others. We sat and watched them play through three or four songs and then moved on to keep Callie from getting bored.

Just behind the stage they had set up a snow-maker using soap bubbles and Nik bravely carried Callie into the shower where she laughed and squealed while the shower of suds swirled through the night sky. They were both fairly covered in soap by the time the shower stopped (it seemed to be set to “snow” in about three minute intervals) and Callie was so delighted she made Nik stand through another storm. It was very cool to see her getting so excited, enough that Nik and I wondered afterward if she might enjoy a trip to the actual snow.

In the center of the park was a sort of gift shop/visitor’s center, and Nik poked her head in to see if there was a map or a listing perhaps of all the groups that had donated a tree (she seemed to get into her head that the San Jose Sharks should have made a tree and was fairly convinced there was a Sharks tree we just weren’t able to find). I guess they didn’t have anything like that but she did emerge with a set of jingle bells that had been a display. Apparently she’d had to talk the cashiers into selling it to her. To understand why she went to extremes to buy some bells, I should mention that we had tried the previous week to take Calliope to get her picture taken with Santa in the mall. We did it last year and the pictures came out pretty well (in spite of a diaper incident that resulted in a last minute outfit change) so we figured it would be a kind of tradition. But this year when Nik went to hand Callie to Santa she flipped out and wouldn’t relax until Nik agreed to hold her in the pictures. Needless to say none of them came out well and we didn’t really want to fight her on it so we left empty-handed excepting a little jingle bell on a red string.

I can’t explain why but Callie absolutely fell in love with that cheesy little bell and held it and jingled it and played with it until it basically disintegrated. I guess the free bell was worth the waste of time standing in the line but Nik felt bad that it hadn’t held up so she was willing to really make it happen with this new set of bells. I velcroed the new bells onto Callie’s arm and she shook them enthusiastically for the remainder of our visit to the park, boldly announcing her presence, though at least in a very seasonally appropriate manner.

At the far end of the park they do in fact have a structure set up with your typical Santa/picture ordeal and I think this was ultimately Nik’s aim, to get a re-try on the Santa thing. I confess I don’t really have the Santa-picture nostalgia she does and there is something rather unnerving to me about what amounts to having our child pose with a disguised stranger so I wasn’t really all that thrilled about the notion of another epic line which ended at best with an expensive and poorly compressed digital photo printout and at worst another meltdown so I may have steered us toward skipping the Santa house. Fortunately while our winter is nothing like the ones depicted in song and verse, it was pretty cold for this old California native and I hadn’t really prepared with sufficient layers so I suggested we check out the Nutcracker display and then start making our way home. Fortunately for me it was already well past the little one’s bedtime and Nik was tired and hungry enough not to put up a fight.

As we drove home I marveled at the joy that was etched onto my daughter’s face the whole night. It occurred to me that she didn’t really need to have the marvel of Christmas explained in great detail to her, she felt the magic simply by viewing the spectacle through fresh eyes: The sweet refrains of carols heralding Jesus’ arrival on Earth, the festive glow of brightly colored lights everywhere, the focused attention on whimsical fairy tales like elves and flying sleighs. To her it seemed so vibrant and exciting, just by its nature. Sure, she’ll probably be beside herself when Christmas morning comes as well, buried under a mound of loot and the thrill of getting will begin the slow descent into and/or lifelong struggle against consumerism and greed, but for now she’s just as likely to be enchanted by the bright paper, silky bows and fort-friendly boxes as any amount of toys within, a testament to the innocence of her delight with the whole charade.

Reflecting on this I realized that maybe at some point I just outgrew Christmas, but for me the vicarious experience of watching the season work its way into my daughter’s heart was softening this crusty old shell of angst and… what was that I felt there for a moment? The thirst for egg nog and a refrain from the Nutcracker buzzing in a hum in the back of my throat; it felt suspiciously like Christmas spirit again. I guess I didn’t need postcard-friendly winter landscapes or manufactured nostalgia after all, just the perspective of a receptive little girl who seems to be teaching her daddy more than he’s taught her.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

At a Funeral

To understand it, I think you have to go back many years, even before High School. I met a kid when I first moved to the place that would eventually be counted as my hometown. He got tasked somehow with introducing me around to people, partially I think because he was also tasked with showing off my brother, who was sort of a reading wünderkind in Kindergarten, able to read at least as well as most fourth graders. They brought him into the third- and fourth-grade classes so he could read for them as if to say, “See what you could do, too, if you applied yourself?” Anyway, this kid, D, sort of befriended me because he was outgoing and personable and I was new, but probably not because he thought I was anything special. Well, other than “the guy with the whiz-kid little brother.”

D and I ended up in the same class the next year. I honestly don’t remember much about that first half year, I guess the whirl of change and turmoil overwhelmed me and I didn’t have time to think about who I was going to hang out with at lunch and recess. But fourth grade was different. D and I were buddies that year. We played at each others’ houses. We chose desks near each other. We rode bikes together and bounced tennis balls off of his garage door.

It was significant that I was switched to a different program the year after—that would have been fifth grade—because without D as my in- and out-of-class companion, I was lonely. The first few months of that year were tough as I tried to transition to a higher-expectation curriculum and dealt with the fact that I really didn’t have any friends. It was there that I met AB and Dr. Mac. I don’t think I realized at the time that Dr. Mac and D had been friends in an earlier grade, before I’d arrived at the school. But like myself, Dr. Mac had moved into the alternate program and D was off making other friends.

AB and Dr. Mac were very close friends already, going back to the third grade, the year I had arrived. When I realized they were into the same things as I was, the three of us formed a bond that lasted us the rest of elementary school, and I felt secure enough socially to allow myself to deal with the new pressure of the class structure and I ended up doing okay. I recall at one point the three of us started a game in which we would hurl insults at each other, jesting barbs that were supposed to be funny but were often in fact hurtful and mean. Dr. Mac, sarcastic and witty by nature, typically won these contests, and with my thick skull came a fairly thick hide so for the two of us it was largely understood to be no big deal. AB was always a bit more sensitive, perhaps I might have described him as artistically emotional if I’d been observant enough to pay attention. I didn’t know we were really hurting him, so it wasn’t until Dr. Mac and AB’s folks sat the three of us down to discuss our little game that I comprehended something was wrong.

I specifically recall part of the parents’ speech in which they pointed out that we were supposed to be friends. We were good friends; close friends. The kind of friends we were going to need as we entered adolescence and found along our way a new kind of struggle and an alien sort of torment at the hands of other kids. Older kids. Now was not the time to devour each other. Being insolent and stupid, I remember thinking the adults were completely missing the point and that I wasn’t going to be told what games not to play. Thankfully Dr. Mac had enough sense to recognize the danger of the game and without his wit the whole thing was more or less discarded in favor of some other, more constructive activity. While I still don’t remember why we thought insulting each other was fun or funny, I do recall clearly the prescience the parents showed us that day, knowing what I know now about what was to come.

When we all moved on to Junior High, the scattered class schedule meant that spending an hour here or there without a specific clique member was no great social impediment so D joined (perhaps re-joined) our trio making us a group of four. It was a good number. A safe number. Here and there we picked up an extra person or two for a period of time. The core of us, the four of us, remained pretty steadfast. That’s how I remember it anyway. We carried through into high school.

In the meantime we did what young friends do: We played together. We spent time with each other’s families. We got to know each other. We worked together. We learned in tandem. We explored new ideas, new passions, new hobbies. We introduced each other to our individual backgrounds so that we could see a wider view of the world. We cheered for each other. We didn’t let ourselves get away with being stupid. We watched out for each other. Some of us did these things better than others. All three of them executed better than I. Of the four of us, I know I was the lucky one to have had them. Maybe they could have done better at choosing a friend, but I’m glad they didn’t.

It really was the three of them that kept me sane in high school. There was something about each of them that I admired—still admire. D’s boundless energy and enthusiasm, his unwillingness to do anything half-hearted. He would succeed because “no” or “impossible” don’t exist in his world. He taught me about not giving up. AB’s thirst for new experiences, the casual way he granted me a passion for music and beauty and that magical moment when you see something from a fresh perspective for the first time. He would succeed because he knew tomorrow was one more chance to begin the search again. He taught me about the intangibles in life, the things you can’t hold but that frequently are even more precious. Dr. Mac’s analytical steadfastness, the way he never stops asking how and why. He would succeed because he figured out the way to get it all was to give everything it’s season and leave just enough flexibility to withstand the sudden storm. He would teach me that being smart wasn’t about having a lot of brains, but using them, all the time.

Time passed from the early days in high school where all we had was one another, huddled close in hidden areas of the school to avoid devastating scrutiny, into the more carefree years of the upperclassmen when the older aggressors were all gone and the peers who may have hassled us at one point lost their appetite for conflict in a dawning realization that our youths were ending in the present tense and they hoped for some selective amnesia if not outright forgiveness under the unspoken pact of the shared-experience survivor clause. New friends would come, girls would (finally) come around, and our protective four-sided shield would no longer be necessary. I know I didn’t recognize the significance of the moment when that happened.

After the tour of duty we shared in the public education trenches, our paths would diverge. They always do. In some cases the divides would be physical, as geographic miles separated us. In others, it was just life, where distant colleges and separate paces to key post-high school events staggered our common ground. Perhaps there were some grievances that went un-aired, a slight or misunderstanding. I’ve struggled to grow past that know-it-all brat in fifth grade who still thinks it’s funny to tease a friend (but would certainly lack the courage to tease an enemy), still trying to quash the snooty punk who declares with a scowl that no one is going to tell him how to act, still working to rid myself of the blind fool behind my eyes who never sees the value of what I have until long after the point is moot. I wish I knew if I needed to apologize. I wish I knew what to apologize for. I could say I’m sorry for not being a better friend, if only I knew how to try harder. Maybe it’s just me that misses them. Maybe I always needed them more than they needed me. Maybe there’s nothing to it, there’s no divide, there’s no misunderstanding. Maybe this is just the way it goes. You win some, you lose some. Friends drift in, friends drift out.

AB’s father passed away recently. I hadn’t spoken to him in maybe five years. It wasn’t a cold silence. It wasn’t a heated, angry silence. It was just silence. D contacted Dr. Mac and told him the sad news. Dr. Mac told me about it, said he wanted to try and make it back. Turned out he couldn’t do it. But I could. The physical separation isn’t there. It only feels like a canyon.

I was trembling as I made my way through the dark-clad throng of people. Mr. B was a very well-liked man. I myself had liked him a whole lot. He taught me what very little I know about fishing. He let me help run drills at little league practice for AB’s younger brothers. He had an opinion about everything and he was always right, as far as I ever heard. He was outgoing and funny. The chapel was crowded, which I expected. I had butterflies in my gut, which I didn’t expect. What if AB was mad at me for some reason? What if he didn’t want me to be there? I knew I was drowning in my own stupid antisocial baloney, but I couldn’t stop. Nik was there, but I didn’t know how to let her help me not be miserable. We finally waded through the line and paused at the chapel doorway.

AB was right inside the door and when he saw me he didn’t hesitate. He grabbed my hand in his and yanked me into a giant hug. He told me he was glad I was there. I was suddenly glad I was there, too. I told him, “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t just referring to his dad. AB introduced me to his fianceé, and framed her round belly with his hands, introducing me to his daughter. She’ll be born in the fall. My eyes burned and I wished him congratulations. Nik hugged AB and then squeezed my hand as we found some seats near the back. I wanted to linger, to monopolize his time. It wasn’t appropriate. I knew that.

During the service I kept running over memories of Mr. B. I remembered AB’s family went to Disneyland on vacation and they took me with them so AB would be able to have fun with a friend instead of having to babysit his younger brothers. I was honored to go. I thought about Mr. B coming up to AB and describing a hand signal he had devised, like a third base coach giving the steal gesture to the runner. I don’t even remember what it was supposed to signify now. AB seemed a little embarrassed at the time, as if he didn’t want me to think he was a dork for having a bunch of encoded gestures as part of a secret language he shared with his dad. I didn’t think it was dorky. I thought it was cool. AB and his dad, they had a bond. They were buddies. They had their own little world. I wanted to tell AB about that. I wanted to tell AB about a lot of things. Music I had found. Games I had played. I wanted to show him pictures of Callie and ask about his baby. I wanted to find out where he’d met his fianceé, when they were getting married and what kind of work he was doing. It wasn’t the right time.

The service was, as these things go, beautiful. AB stood up and spoke quickly, trying to get through a couple of prepared notes, one he’d written, another his mom had put together. His rapid-fire delivery was peppered with deep, heaving breaths as he struggled to stay in control of his surfacing emotions. I felt for him, but I was proud of him. He did a wonderful job paying tribute to his dad. The minister stumbled through the benedictions, clearly unfamiliar with the man he was trying in vain to honor. It wasn’t appropriate to feel so, but I was angry with the man for mispronouncing AB’s gestating daughter’s name. I didn’t care for the way he said things like “I guess he fell in love.” I didn’t think the pastor should be guessing. I felt he should have done some more research. The least he could do was worked to understand the man he was soon to bury. I wondered if AB even noticed.

After the service we stood around, waiting for a chance to meet up with the family. I had to get back to work, which I thought was a crummy excuse for leaving so soon. But part of me didn’t want to stay, to wear out my welcome. I hugged AB again when the coast was clear. I babbled about the few memories that had come up during the service. AB seemed to humor me, but here I was monopolizing his time. I was trying to be supportive, to let him know that his dad had impacted my life, perhaps in a small way, but not an insignificant one. I don’t know how it came across. He smiled at me, and there was pain in his eyes. He said he missed me. I assured him I felt the same way. He suggested I contact him on Facebook and I told him I would. Some other people got tired of having me overstay my welcome with AB and shouldered me aside. I understood.

I lurked uncomfortably near AB’s mom, and finally got a chance to speak to her. I said hello and she asked, “And you are…?” It should have been expected, after all I had hardly recognized AB’s brothers. Time, kind or unkind, has an effect on people. I told her my name and her eyes widened, but she smiled and there was some pain in her eyes, too. I tried to tell myself it was just normal: She had lost a husband, AB had lost a dad. There was perhaps something in the way she said, “It’s been a long time,” though, that I thought maybe meant some tiny part of that pain was meant for me. I told myself to stop being so narcissistic and offered my limp condolences, and introduced her to my wife. She thanked us for coming in that robotic way people do at weddings and funerals because they don’t have much else to say but blithe politeness. We drifted away as others moved in to be more comforting, more supportive, more welcome. I didn’t care that there was a certain misery brewing in my guts, suggesting that I had more than I wanted to admit to do with the long period of silence that had grown into a gaping chasm of communication and distance between the family I once knew and the relative strangers that we were now. After all, what’s some guilt over poor relationship management compared to the loss of a father, of a spouse?

We ran into D on the way out. He looks basically the same, fit and trim with a fashionable suit that made my wardrobe-by-Target slacks and dress shirt feel crass and inappropriate by comparison. The crow’s feet webbing away from the corners of his eyes suggest the years since I’ve seen him have been kind, filled with enough smiles and laughter to keep his fiery spirit nourished and thriving. But the conversation was stilted, stiff. We talked small about kids and parenthood, neighborhoods and commutes. We laughed nervously and I tried to resist casting my eyes down at my shoes. “You have to get back to work?” he asked, and it stung like an accusation though his tone was neutral. I mumbled something affirmative and felt chastened. I’m still doing it, I thought, still making excuses. Still finding reasons to not be around. We finally broke away and headed out for the car.

As the summer sun warmed me back up from the relative chill of the air-conditioned chapel, I finished sorting through the bitter introspection that made me feel like I hadn’t done a good job at memorializing AB’s father. It was part of the parcel, I guessed. My problem, universally, is me. No one dislikes me as much as I think they do. Very few people like me as much as I hope they would, either. My social anxieties are rooted in my inability to accept that being social is just a matter of being social. There’s no magic trick to it, no secret that can be taught. My daughter knows how to do it already and she’s so fresh in the world still the new baby scent hasn’t rubbed off of her yet. She smiles at people. She shows an interest in them. She gets delighted when they show an interest back. She spends some time by herself, but not so much that she has learned to prefer it. It’s practically instinctive, and I haven’t spontaneously developed some aversion to it or been afflicted with some kind of block against it. I’ve fostered this isolation. I’ve groomed it. I’ve taught myself to adore the terrifying solitude of talking to myself as the only audience who gets it, who appreciates the me I imagine myself to be. I’ve pushed everyone out and aside and away and sprayed these ill-fitting words into the light of the world of human beings so far away now it’s a tiny dot of light above my head.

The sound echoes and fades and resonates only with the grubs and worms and scarcely reaches the few who keep lowering their ears closer to the bottom of the well while I dig ever further from them and shake my fist that I’m not heard.

So no, I’m not the victim of unfortunate disorders. I’m not the afflicted with a short straw in my dirty fingers who lost the lottery of mystical or genetic ability to simply speak and listen with other human beings. I’m out of excuses.

I know I mourn the loss of a man I once knew and admired. I don’t think there will be mourning for the death of a foolish hermit, the portion of my self who let cowardice and selfishness deny the growth of a well-adjusted person. The slaying of that facet, shearing it from my personality, may be gruesome and painful, but there will be no tears. At the funeral we’ll never hold for the unlovable persona I loathe there will be only this eulogy:

“Spoken once in only whispers,
This self-imposed impostor lies
It gave birth to winged drifter
On firey wings of fellows flies.”

First Father’s Day

Posted by Nikki

Paul has been a dad for almost a year now, and yet by watching him, you’d think he’d been doing this forever.

He wasn’t always sure he wanted kids. For years it was a source of tension in our marriage as we decided what our future would hold. Eventually he came around and we got pregnant. Sadly, we had a miscarriage with our first pregnancy, but all this did was solidify Paul’s conviction that he wanted to be a father. We were fortunate to get pregnant again about a year later, and were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. For all of his doubts about his ability to be a good father, Paul was a pro at it, from day one. I had a rough labor that ended in a c-section, so I was unable to do a lot of the caring for our baby, initially. Paul stepped in without pause. Within the first 24 hours of her life, I could tell that my husband would exceed my expectations as her dad. It was love at first sight for him – and she was equally smitten.

From the beginning Paul has has been an equal partner when it comes to caring for Callie, with the obvious exception of nursing. Changing diapers? Check. (I don’t think I changed a diaper until we’d been home for several days.) Middle-of-the-night feedings? Check. Bath time? Check. Comforting a tired/sad/cranky baby? Check, check, check. He goes to (almost) every doctor’s appointment, no matter how minor the issue. He rocks her, sings to her, plays with her, and reads to her. He steps in to give me a break when he knows that I’ve had a long day or am reaching my limit. He teaches her about life, and nurtures her imagination.

I’ve always known that I won the lottery when it came to finding a life partner. Paul is loyal, caring, sensitive, hilarious, level-headed, and handsome to boot. He is my best friend in the world, and I can’t imagine my life without him. And now my daughter is going to grow up with the best dad she could ever ask for. I can’t wait to watch their relationship develop and change as she blossoms into a young child, a teenager, and eventually a young woman. He will teach her what to expect from a mate, and what kind of treatment she deserves. He will be her biggest fan and most loyal supporter. He will challenge her to reach her fullest potential, and will teach her morals to help guide and shape her life. He will love her more than she will ever know.

Happy Father’s Day, Honey. You are the man I would choose to be Callie’s father, if I wasn’t already lucky enough to have you as my husband.

As These Pass From Routine

My life moves in tides formed from temporary routines that feel, as they settle momentarily, far more permanent than they remain. For a time, the chaos of change will recede in one area or another and I’ll find mild comfort in a regimen. Usually I only have anything approaching a true appreciation for them in retrospect. Here are a few of my favorites, and two from the present, which I actually can identify as they happen.

The Lunch Workout

Working at the City, at that time, was ridiculously easy. The workload was light, the atmosphere was loose and, to sully a term, municipal. I ultimately left that job for the sole reason that it was devoid of challenge and, after three years of what sometimes felt like vacation, I was surprised to find I felt trapped by the lack of pressure.

I guess we made up for the atrophy of our trade skills by joining the gym. When you feel like you have a lot of time, I guess you start to go down that list of things you always said you’d do if you had more of it. I was as surprised as anyone. There were three of us—you know, work buddies. We didn’t interact in a whole lot of social scenarios but we’d spend some amount of time most days chatting idly. It started with the two of them, I’m sure, some kind of mutual whinging about the lack of self-esteem or a sense of slipping health common in early middle aged Americans. Somehow they decided to do something about it, and they joined the local gym. I think they’d only gone a few weeks when they invited me, and I made excuses for a few days before finally trying it out.

Our routine was to break for lunch, hit the gym and then stop and grab something semi-healthy to eat back at our desks. It was supposed to match our granted hour long break we were approved to use, but in practice we regularly found ourselves absent for ninety minutes, sometimes even longer, especially as our circuits became more complex. We did very well at the gym, and we stuck with it using each other as motivators, which meant we lost weight, got stronger, became more athletic. It was hard to keep the workouts short. They became the highlights of the day, and when the office is so dull and dreary it’s easy to justify a few more reps or another five minutes. In between sets we’d shoot the breeze as we spotted each other. Later we began frequenting a different facility that had racquetball courts and the lunch breaks stretched even longer, as it wasn’t even just the joy of doing something positive but now it was a game, spending time with friends.

When I decided to move on, to seek higher salaries and better working environments, I added a commute to my day. I didn’t have in-town gym access during lunch. We tried to keep meeting up. For a while we switched to tennis at night, and that was fun, too. My schedule switched again as I got yet another job. Working nights was hard enough, there wasn’t much energy for workouts anyway. Schedules were hard to sync up. Sometimes this happens with people. Eventually I had to quit the gym. I wasn’t going often enough to justify the expense. Finally we moved away, back toward where my jobs had been for a couple of years at that point and it was looking like hitting the gym with my friends wasn’t going to be a reality any more. I still miss the ease of how those workouts fit into my schedule. I chat occasionally with my friends still, but all of our interactions happen online. I don’t know if either of them still work out. I like to think that at some point I’ll find a way to get focused, regular exercise back into my life, but it’s a challenge. I miss the old routine.

Lightbox Drawing

One of my shorter, happier routines settled in as I was in the process of graduating from trade school. One of the instructors at the school and a couple of students had formed a multimedia production house called The site is long since defunct, the domain registered now to an anonymous squatter, but this was in 1999, and Silicon Valley was in the height of the dotcom boom. I was interning there, basically just squinting my eyes and hoping a lucrative degree would land in my lap. I was less than six months away from getting married and after over a year of practical unemployment as I pursued my education, I really needed a paycheck.

Spotbox didn’t pay me, they could barely keep the lights on as I recall. They were basically a contract design firm who, in their spare time, were being spectacularly creative with what was at the time a very uncharted new medium. I was asked to create tweens: Basically an animator would draw several keyframes of an animation, maybe one of every six to ten frames necessary to create a moving cartoon. The grunt work of animation is the tweens (well, it was before computers took over everything; get off my lawn) where you just draw the transitional images that go between the keyframes. That was me.

What it involves is taking the keyframe drawing, putting it on a box with a diffused glass surface and a light inside. It’s called, naturally, a lightbox. You then place a new sheet of paper on top of the old so some light shines through and you can see the original drawing beneath and then you copy the drawing. Almost. What you actually do is make almost the same drawing only with a slight adjustment toward the next keyframe. Eventually you’re closer to copying the next keyframe and when you’re done, the rapid succession of each image creates the animation.

We did these animations by hand, on paper, and then scanned them into the computer and used a program called Adobe Streamline (now discontinued since the functionality was duplicated as part of Adobe Illustrator CS2) to convert the line art into vector format for coloring in Illustrator. It was a process that probably could have been done more efficiently, but like I said, we were experimental and we were broke. My lightbox was actually homemade out of an old drawer and was really too tall for me to sit at comfortably. I’d come home with deep grooves worn into my arms from resting them heavily on the edges of the box.

For maybe a month I would go to school in the morning, then drive a few blocks over to the Spotbox office which was on the top floor of a disgusting tenement that I can only presume was selected because the rent was practically nothing owing to the fact that there were residential apartments mixed in with the leased office space. Or maybe Spotbox just leased a regular apartment and used it as an office, I don’t know for sure. I don’t recall there being a kitchen, but I spent most of my time in the back of the side room (maybe a bedroom?) hunched over the lightbox while the rest of the people worked nearly 16 hour days on the handful of Macintoshes trying to finish design projects for Apple and Daimler Chrysler so they could pad out the portfolio.

I worked mostly on some of the side projects Spotbox was hoping would eventually become their stock and trade: These were basically webisodes and animated web series before those were actual things. We were using Macromedia Flash 2 for heaven’s sake. We did things like Yo-Yo Ninja Boy (which I did the original design and animations for, although the far more talented Scott Lewis would eventually go back and re-do all my work to make it look, you know, good; my contribution to the project will forever be lost to history which is probably for the best) and some very odd cartoons about drive-thrus.

What stands out to me most about this time was that I was spending my days in the company of creative people just being creative. We’d riff various ideas, someone would start telling a story about how they got inspired by something, maybe a run-in with a waiter or a quip by their toddler that cracked them up. There would be a joke told in response, and we’d all laugh. Then someone would take the idea and add on, doing the “What if instead of this, it was like…” thing until everyone was laughing and throwing around ideas. The sound guy (a fellow named Fred I believe) would stop by and play a riff he’d come up with and you could see the wheels turning in everyone’s head as they tried to come up with where it might fit. There was a lot of, “Hey everyone! Come check this out!” and we’d all huddle over a monitor and see what someone had whipped up. People slept under the tables when deadlines loomed. We talked about books we read or movies we wanted to see and what we would do if we were going to make Star Wars Episode I (before the horrible truth about the prequels was revealed).

Eventually I had to find something that paid. I landed a job building corporate training programs in Flash and announced I was leaving Spotbox the same day they were going to offer me a small wage (I had to turn it down; like I said, I was about to get married). I’ve often wondered if my career might have gone in a different direction if I’d decided to stick with Spotbox, maybe more along the lines I envisioned when I graduated: Commercial art peppered in my off time by creative personal projects until leading eventually to LucasArts or Weta or Pixar. I suppose I’ll never know, but I miss the creative atmosphere.

Regularly Visiting

Early in Nik’s pregnancy she was very sick. Morning sickness was a big concern of hers going in because she loathes feeling nauseated. Sadly for her it turned out to be a valid concern and the first trimester saw her spending an awful lot of time in bed, trying to keep from losing the small amounts of pretzels and buttered noodles she could force down. She was also tired a lot, and while she was going to school and I was working, her class work was mostly manageable during my working hours which were clearly demarcated so we had a lot of shared leisure time.

For several months we mostly just hung out in our room. She watched TV back there, trashy reality shows and re-runs of Friends. Since a lot of the TV she was watching didn’t interest me that much I could have spent the time away from her, doing my own thing in the other room. But I wanted to spend time with her. She was carrying my child, after all. We compromised by having me hang out with her, playing World of Warcraft on my laptop and half-watching whatever show she was engrossed in. We spent countless hours this way: I grinded my way through Azeroth while Nik controlled the remote. I’d show her silly things that were happening in the game; she’d back the TiVo up if I missed anything crazy on the tube.

I don’t think at the time that I recognized the significance of this quiet, low key leisure time we shared. I knew, conceptually, that things would change once the baby arrived but I didn’t have a frame of reference for how long it might be once a child entered the picture before a lazy evening spent in bed would be a possibility again. From the outside it may have seemed like we were in separate worlds, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt close to her, comfortable that we were enjoying each others’ company in that way that happily married couples can do with non-interactive diversions like two people reading separate books in the same room. In many ways it’s the pleasure of company itself that fills the need for companionship and interaction isn’t always mandatory.

In the intervening months the time we’ve had to sit in relative silence has been minimal. Stolen moments when Callie is asleep or occupied by someone else feel like opportunities that simply must be taken advantage of with the kinds of interaction we used to take for granted: Adult conversation, chore completion, shared meals, etc. Our together time seems like it is necessarily directly shared because so much of the rest of our lives right now are defined by the divide-and-conquer approach. The rewards that come from caring for our beautiful daughter cannot be overstated, and I’d never trade back down, not even for a second. But still. I miss the contented quiet.

The Cafeteria Breakfast

My normal morning routine goes like this: I’m up sometime between 5:15 and 5:30 am so I can be at the shuttle stop by 6:30. 0500 hours is excessively early for me to begin with but when you factor in a chronically sleepless little baby, that’s a very short window. Because of this I usually sleep on the shuttle as it travels to work. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world, but sleep comfort is a forgotten luxury anyway so I take what I can get. When the shuttle drops off at work around 7:40 I don’t go straight to my cube and start working. Instead I go to the cafeteria and get a hot breakfast.

Unlike the lunch provided by the on-campus food service, the breakfast menu is reasonably priced and I like almost everything they offer. This gives me a wide variety of options every day and while I don’t often vary too far from the toast/fruit/hot cereal routine, I occasionally select the weekly healthy entree (whole wheat french toast with berries for example, or egg white scramble with spinach and bell peppers on a wheat tortilla perhaps) and I’ve been known to get a croissant instead or get a small scoop of scrambled eggs or yogurt instead of diced fruit. Then I grab a glass of milk and a small mug of coffee (both free) and I find a quiet corner of the typically vacant seating area and sit down to a solitary breakfast.

Sometimes I do a little work on my laptop to get a head start. Often I’ll read the book I carry around as my afternoon shuttle ride entertainment. Occasionally I’ll play a game on my phone or just sit and enjoy some alone time. It’s usually a big breakfast and it takes me until eight o’clock or slightly after to finish, but that’s just fine with me.

I don’t feel lonely eating my breakfast alone in the cafeteria. Mornings to me have always been—when they aren’t being reviled—the domain of quiet introspection. I love the sleepy optimism that accompanies the first part of he day: Most people have yet to find time to get their irritable dispositions into full swing, and the few who have, by choice or by turn of fortune, found themselves up before the bulk of their geographic contemporaries are typically reserved but present a quiet show of solidarity with each other in the form of slow smiles over the brims of steaming coffee mugs.

Maybe it’s the orderly way in which every day starts almost exactly the same that appeals to me. Schedules don’t get disrupted prior to the first appointments. The birds are almost always up before the people. The same parking spots are emptied at homes and the same ones are filled at work at roughly the same time every day. You can’t pinpoint when a day’s plan goes off the rails all the time, but you can be sure that starting tomorrow, you’ll have a second chance to keep it on track again. Or it could be that the weather patterns in the morning always seem a little more welcome. Even blustery, rain-soaked days seem beautiful for a moment when viewed through a kitchen window while the house remains dark and still. You move slower and more carefully to not disturb the family. Mornings contain warm showers and fresh clothes, sleepy good-bye kisses and wishes for happy days. Mornings contain scrambled eggs and cold milk and a few stolen moments to yourself.

Yeah, a lot of people—myself included—like to complain about mornings. But, I’ll miss the chance to relish them.

The Bucket of Toys

I don’t remember, even though it was only a few months ago, how my daughter transitioned into having an actual playtime. When she had crossed out of the newborn stage where she was mostly a drowsy little lump she would lie on her play mat and stare dumbfounded at the crazy lights and repetitive warbling tunes it emitted electronically. At some point she began reaching for the dangling tchochkes and tugging on them and feeling their varied fabric textures. But I don’t recall when she acquired the equivalent of a Toys “R” Us inventory stock or when she began to interact with them on some sort of self-directed schedule.

I suppose it was around the time she began sitting on her own, but I know that even as her collection of distractions was growing I would prop her up and play with her by waving the toys in front of her and acting out silly stories and nonsensical puppet skits, singing songs and giving her little tickles now and then to keep her attention. That, though, was more me playing and her staring at me as if to say, “Dude, lay off the paint thinner.”

But now she plays for real, with her own itinerary and preferential toy du jour. She pushes the buttons on her electronic whizbangs of her own accord, claps along to the warbling tunes and laughs when she amuses herself with something.

Most evenings when I get home from work she’s just gotten up from her final nap of the day and there’s a bit of time before Nik or I needs to start dinner. So I put down my stuff, kiss my wife hello and chat for a moment and then I crawl down on the floor and watch my little girl play with her big bucket of toys. Sometimes I’ll build little towers of the soft blocks and colorful plastic whatnots for her to knock over. Now and then I’ll encourage her to push different buttons on her battery-operated toys to relieve her mother and I of a tiny bit of the mind-numbing repetition. When her interest wanes I may roll a ball back and forth between us. But often I’m simply a casual observer of her own discovery, reading her board books out loud to her while she busies herself with some trinket or another, clapping along with her, or just providing her with a dad-shaped jungle gym to pull up on, climb over and cover with well-intentioned slobber.

I know that eventually my role will be more active in playtime. I’m already starting to recite colors of the objects she chooses to stick in her mouth. I sing along with the counting songs and make the few sign language motions that I know which represent the lyrics or the toys she’s reaching for. I’m here to guide, to prevent egregious accidents, to provide some educational context, to be a presence for whatever she may need. It’s not the most thrilling thing in the world. Soon enough her and I can sing together, enjoy more complex games of roughhouse or hide-and-seek or tea parties or dollhouses. For now, it’s a simple time of letting go a little bit and watching the way she discovers life. It may not be the most daring or exotic way to end a day, but it’s one of my favorite parts. And I’ll miss the wonder.

Parent’s Log

I present to you a chronicle of our first eight months with a baby, as told via Twitter and Facebook status updates. Minor spelling and grammatical edits have been made, marked with brackets for full disclosure. Analysis follows the list.

[Update: 4/8/2010 08:32] Looks like I missed about half of Nik’s Facebook updates, so I’m adding them in now. Plus, I bumped the starting point back to the beginning of the delivery day and also updated the analysis at the bottom.

ironsoap Re: Water breaking. @DixieGirl: “No one talks about how gross this part is!”
Tuesday, August 4th 08:33
Nikki Hamilton Water broke this morning. Admitted to hospital. Started pitocin. Having a baby today!!
Tuesday, August 4th 09:37
ironsoap We have multiple IV bags, pitocin being administered, some irregular contractions but no active labor. The waiting begins.
Tuesday, August 4th 10:42
ironsoap Contractions are getting pretty painful for @DixieGirl. Giving it another 20 minutes or so before we pester the nurses.
Tuesday, August 4th 11:40
ironsoap So at last check, 3cm with epidural installed and feeling good. Epidural was an ordeal though. They went for the pin-the-tail approach.
Tuesday, August 4th 13:19
Nikki Hamilton I heart epidurals.
Tuesday, August 4th 14:01
ironsoap OH @DixieGirl: “Seriously, I’m going to need a Western Bacon Cheeseburger after this is all done.”
Tuesday, August 4th 14:27
ironsoap Halfway there.
Tuesday, August 4th 15:47
ironsoap They’ve decided not to check the progress this hour after all. Everything’s still going well but they’re worried about GBS risk.
Tuesday, August 4th 17:04
ironsoap Medication is wearing off, they just checked and there’s been no progress. Sending in the drug reinforcements and hoping for a late rally.
Tuesday, August 4th 17:45
ironsoap Going in for c-section.
Tuesday, August 4th 18:25
ironsoap Calliope Faith Hamilton. Born 8/4/09 at 6:41pm. 7 lbs. 7oz. 19 inches.
Tuesday, August 4th 20:26
Nikki Hamilton Calliope Faith has arrived! 7lbs. 7oz, 19 inches at 6:41pm. She is beautiful and we are so in love with her!
Tuesday, August 4th 22:36
DixieGirl Exhausted but too uncomfortable to sleep. So ready to get some of these tubes out of me and walk around.
Wednesday, August 5th 00:30
Nikki Hamilton Paul has only been a dad for a little over 8 hours and he is already the best dad ever.
Wednesday, August 5th 02:48
ironsoap The cutest/saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a one-day-old with hiccups.
Wednesday, August 5th 14:38
ironsoap Maybe it’s the lack of sleep talking, but I’ve yet to hear something from hospital staff that wasn’t useless or contradictory. Bah.
Thursday, August 6th 02:51
Nikki Hamilton Terrified to get the staples removed tomorrow.
Thursday, August 6th 14:11
ironsoap I never thought that four hours sleep and a hot shower would be all I wanted for myself in the whole world.
Thursday, August 6th 15:28
ironsoap Ready to be discharged from the hospital. @DixieGirl grabbing one last free ice cream and poking the spoon thru the bottom in her zeal.
Friday, August 7th 11:04
Paul Hamilton is home from the hospital. Really wanting to catch up on email, FB, etc. but too exhausted right now.
Friday, August 7th 13:37
Nikki Hamilton Home from the hospital. Exhausted and overwhelmed, but happy. Trying to catch up with emails and comments. Thank you everyone for your congratulations and well wishes! Callie is the most wonderful baby ever!
Saturday, August 8th 00:23
Paul Hamilton Made it through the first night at home, just the three of us. Perhaps not surprisingly, everyone got far more sleep than we did at the hospital.
Saturday, August 8th 10:23
Paul Hamilton Thankful that the in-laws stopped by this evening. I was able to get some much-needed chores done while they fawned over Callie.
Saturday, August 8th 22:13
DixieGirl 20 minutes between one explosive diaper and the next. A new record for Callie at only 5 days old.
Sunday, August 9th 01:48
DixieGirl I have porn star boobs and the scariest looking belly ever. So want my old figure back.
Sunday, August 9th 23:31
Nikki Hamilton thinks the most beautiful thing in the world is watching her husband with her daughter.
Sunday, August 9th 23:39
ironsoap Had a pretty good night last night, with minimal meltdowns and what I suppose can be classified as sufficient sleep.
Monday, August 10th 12:04
Nikki Hamilton Calliope is one week old today! She went to her first check-up and has gained 10 oz since leaving the hospital last Friday!
Tuesday, August 11th 14:29
ironsoap We had a great night last night. Of course, we have an appointment tomorrow morning so tonight we’re boycotting sleep.
Tuesday, August 11th 04:26
DixieGirl Already tired of being told we are pronouncing our own daughter’s name incorrectly.
Tuesday, August 11th 14:30
Nikki Hamilton Sleep deprivation is no joke. Experienced parents: please, please tell me that one day I will sleep more than two hours at a time again. I’m actually jealous of all of the “going to bed now” updates on facebook.
Tuesday, August 11th 23:55
Paul Hamilton You know all those advertisements you see where a baby gets a bath and she comes out all happy and glowing and adorable? DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIES.
Wednesday, August 12th 11:16
DixieGirl Learning how to eat quickly. Can almost keep up with @ironsoap these days.
Thursday, August 13th 16:35
ironsoap Yeah. There was a projectile pooping incident.
Friday, August 14th 13:05
Nikki Hamilton Learning how to do everything one-handed.
Friday, August 14th 13:37
ironsoap What? Huh? There’s a world going on out there?
Tuesday, August 18th 14:23
DixieGirl Overwhelmed, emotional and exhausted. Caring for a newborn is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Tuesday, August 18th 20:51
Nikki Hamilton Not a fan of cluster feedings. Especially when they occur between 3am-7am.
Wednesday, August 19th 19:52
ironsoap Today’s shocking development: The pediatrician appointment frustrated and annoyed me. Bonus: We have to [be] back later today.
Friday, August 21st 10:26
Paul Hamilton It is safe to assume that my status will be “is exhausted” until further notice. Expect this notice in or around 2027.
Friday, August 21st 11:45
Nikki Hamilton Agenda for today: Pediatrician, lactation consultant, back to Pediatrician. I hope sleep factors in somewhere, but I’m not counting on it.
Friday, August 21st 15:03
DixieGirl Thoughts of sleep consume my life these days. I would make a deal with the devil if it meant I could get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Friday, August 21st 15:14
ironsoap I didn’t anticipate all the assembly that was involved in fatherhood.
Saturday, August 22nd 22:48
DixieGirl It is amazing (amazing!) what a couple hours of sleep can do for your mood. The day she sleeps through the night I will do a dance!
Saturday, August 22nd 11:31
ironsoap I think the past three weeks have caught up to us and are making @DixieGirl and I delirious and giggly at the drive-thru.
Monday, August 24th 16:35
Nikki Hamilton Switched pediatricians and LOVE our new one!
Monday, August 24th 17:12
Nikki Hamilton Venturing out by myself for the first time since having Callie to go to a doctor appointment. Hoping I’m ready for this…
Tuesday, August 25th 13:31
Paul Hamilton Getting ready for an appointment at the pediatric cardiologist to get Calliope’s heart murmur checked out.
Friday, August 28th 09:54
DixieGirl On our way to the pediatric cardiologist to get Callie’s heart murmur checked out.
Friday, August 28th 10:44
DixieGirl Doctor says Callie’s heart is perfect! The heart murmur was just normal background noise. :)
Friday, August 28th 12:21
Nikki Hamilton My kid is a super champ when it comes to eating. She’s averaging 5 ounces of weight gain every three days!
Friday, August 28th 12:22
ironsoap Dear Leave Management Contractors: It makes my leave feel less leave-y if I have to talk to you every other day about it.
Friday, August 28th 12:29
Nikki Hamilton Going on 48 hours of Callie only sleeping for an hour at a time. Delirious with exhaustion.
Sunday, August 30th 03:23
Nikki Hamilton Callie already loves being read to by her daddy. Listening to Paul read to her and watching her stare at him in wonder is quickly becoming my favorite time of day.
Tuesday, September 1st 22:11
ironsoap Coordinating sleeping schedules. In purely theoretical terms, naturally.
Tuesday, September 1st 19:17
ironsoap Taking a walk with the family on a warm summer evening.
Wednesday, September 2nd 19:56
ironsoap The baby just gave Nikki a pretty good left cross on the chin, but she did drop her shoulder a little and left herself open for the jab.
Wednesday, September 2nd 23:41
Nikki Hamilton Callie had her one-month check-up today. In her first month of life she’s grown almost 2 inches and gained over 2 pounds. The doctor says she’s doing great and is a healthy baby!
Wednesday, September 2nd 15:36
Nikki Hamilton Isn’t sleep deprivation used as a form of torture?
Thursday, September 3rd 02:42
Nikki Hamilton is secretly proud of herself for sticking with breastfeeding even though it has been difficult.
Friday, September 4th 21:47
Nikki Hamilton For the past week Callie has cried on and off (and refused to sleep) from 11pm to 4am. Just in time for Paul to go back to work next week.
Monday, September 7th 13:18
DixieGirl 5 weeks after her arrival, Calliope’s birth announcements have been ordered.
Thursday, September 10th 15:20
ironsoap Aaaaand the baby spit up in my face. Was my mouth open? You betcha.
Thursday, September 10th 17:13
Nikki Hamilton Sad that Paul has to go back to work on Monday. :( It has been so awesome to have him at home with us.
Saturday, September 12th 14:43
ironsoap Trying to enjoy the last day of my paternity leave. I’m going to miss it.
Sunday, September 13th 16:25
Paul Hamilton hopes that if he’s been distant or unreliable or unresponsive or cranky with anyone over the last six weeks that they can forgive him. It’s been… surreal.
Sunday, September 13th 18:27
Nikki Hamilton The night before Paul has to go back to work Callie is refusing to sleep.
Monday, September 14th 02:05
DixieGirl First day at my new job and I have the world’s most demanding client. Also, I don’t think I ever get to clock out.
Monday, September 14th 11:47
Nikki Hamilton Ready for bed… too bad I never know when that time will be.
Monday, September 14th 16:21
Nikki Hamilton Did not shower or change out of my PJ’s today, however I managed to brush my teeth. I’ll consider my first day as a stay-at-home mom a success.
Monday, September 14th 18:54
Paul Hamilton Every single electronic white noise or music player Calliope has (at least 4) features an auto-shutoff that cannot be overridden or even adjusted past what I must assume is the industry standard of five minutes. Unable to comprehend the logic of this.
Tuesday, September 15th 11:44
ironsoap Fairly certain @DixieGirl just got Callie to laugh. Either way, an adorable sound.
Tuesday, September 15th 11:52
Nikki Hamilton I think Callie laughed for the first time today!
Tuesday, September 15th 12:32
ironsoap Nikki: “Come on, kid, poop or get off the pot.” Callie: *FRNT*
Wednesday, September 16th 19:42
Paul Hamilton Nik: “What’s higher than major?” Me: “Corporal?” Nik: “Dude, that was Corporal poop.”
Friday, September 18th 11:13
ironsoap I didn’t sleep well last night, but not because of my newborn. There must be some kind of law against that.
Friday, September 18th 11:31
Nikki Hamilton It is only 12:30 and we have already had two poop blowouts that required an emergency load of laundry.
Friday, September 18th 12:35
DixieGirl Things we should buy stock in: laundry detergent, diapers, wipes and burp cloths.
Friday, September 18th 13:05
DixieGirl My husband is encouraging me to relax in the bath with a glass of wine while he takes care of the baby. Because he is awesome.
Friday, September 18th 23:20
Nikki Hamilton It’s always a nice surprise when rubbing your daughter’s back to stick your hand in poop. Today’s incident resulted in an immediate bath.
Saturday, September 19th 17:55
Nikki Hamilton The phrase “No use crying over spilled milk” is clearly in reference to dropping 6 oz. of freshly pumped breastmilk on the floor.
Sunday, September 20th 10:29
ironsoap I know I’m through the looking glass because I’m relieved they’re _only_ using a chainsaw at 8:00 in the morning.
Monday, September 21st 08:29
Paul Hamilton The cat discovered the comfort of the baby’s crib last night. That straw may not have been the metaphorically terminal one for the camel, but feeling that Nik may view it as the one that slipped the disc between L4 and L5.
Wednesday, September 23rd 11:24
DixieGirl Available to good home: Baby-repellent cat that sleeps in cribs and wakes up peaceful infants. Must love fur on everything you own.
Wednesday, September 23rd 12:06
Nikki Hamilton wishes it wasn’t so warm out so she could go on a walk with the baby.
Wednesday, September 23rd 15:07
Nikki Hamilton Callie has discovered her thumb. It’s pretty cute.
Thursday, September 24th 13:08
DixieGirl I’m having trouble staying awake and Callie is having trouble falling asleep. Not a good combo.
Friday, September 25th 16:18
DixieGirl Trying to figure out why the library doesn’t allow strollers.
Saturday, September 26th 14:21
ironsoap Hey cashier lady: You know what’s more helpful for my crying baby than telling the same stupid story about cheese twice? Doing your job.
Saturday, September 26th 21:02
Nikki Hamilton is feeling sad today. Not sure if it’s the result of a night full of nightmares or the fact that Paul has to start going into the office tomorrow and I will be on my own with the baby.
Sunday, September 27th 10:47
DixieGirl Starving, but baby is snoring on me and Hubs is snoring next to me on the couch. Hoping everyone wakes up soon!
Sunday, September 27th 14:04
Nikki Hamilton wonders how to get her 8-week-old baby to take better naps.
Monday, September 28th 11:47
DixieGirl When my child is hungry, you feed her NOW. Or there will be hell to pay.
Monday, September 28th 16:38
Nikki Hamilton First day alone with the baby and I went on my first outing without Paul. Thanks to the help of my awesome sister I braved Babies R Us!
Monday, September 28th 16:47
Nikki Hamilton Trying to scarf down lunch before the baby decides she’s sick of the playmat.
Wednesday, September 30th 14:40
Paul Hamilton Last night the offspring slept for seven hours, woke up peacefully to gulp down a meal, then went quietly back to sleep for three more hours. There was much parental giddiness this morning.
Thursday, October 1st 11:38
Nikki Hamilton Callie’s newest way of signaling she’s finished with her meal is to blow a raspberry at me, ensuring I am covered in milk.
Thursday, October 1st 11:56
ironsoap Hoping The Pixies, Wilco, T.Rex, Dead Kennedys, etc can loosen the children’s songs from their barnacle-like grip on my brain.
Thursday, October 1st 16:36
Nikki Hamilton I love that it cracks Callie up everytime she sneezes.
Thursday, October 1st 18:58
Nikki Hamilton You know you’re suffering from sleep deprivation when you spray your outfit with Shout rather than Downy Wrinkle Release.
Friday, October 2nd 08:03
DixieGirl Not looking forward to Callie’s 2 month checkup this morning. Many shots will be involved. And not the kind involving alcohol.
Friday, October 2nd 08:06
Nikki Hamilton Sitting in the waiting room while Callie gets her vaccinations. Paul thought this was best.
Friday, October 2nd 10:14
Paul Hamilton Wife says, “Can you watch the baby real quick? I’ll get you some breakfast.” Expecting toast, maybe oatmeal. She comes back with eggs, toast, bacon and coffee.
Friday, October 2nd 11:19
Nikki Hamilton Calliope spends a lot of time grinning up at the ceiling. We like to think she’s smiling at her Great-Grandpa Follett and Great-Grandma Yoder.
Saturday, October 3rd 13:05
Paul Hamilton Ugh. Got rear-ended by some jerk in a Mercedes because some other jerk made an illegal U-Turn. Nik was driving, Calliope and I were in the back seat. Spent the afternoon in the ER making sure everyone is okay. We all got a pass; even the car escaped surprisingly unscathed.
Saturday, October 3rd 18:57
Nikki Hamilton Callie is two months old today!
Sunday, October 4th 16:50
Nikki Hamilton Walked by Callie’s bed this morning just as she rolled over for the first time!
Monday, October 5th 05:54
Nikki Hamilton When did getting up at 7am become sleeping in[?]
Tuesday, October 6th 10:50
Nikki Hamilton It is a cruel irony that even if the baby sleeps through the night you still have to get up to pump.
Wednesday, October 7th 11:34
Paul Hamilton heard himself ask, “Did you just drop pie on the baby?”
Wednesday, October 7th 15:49
Nikki Hamilton really, really wishes her baby liked slings or carriers so she could do baby wearing.
Thursday, October 8th 14:31
DixieGirl Day 3 of a very fussy baby.
Thursday, October 8th 14:49
Nikki Hamilton The thing that made the baby stop fussing and squ[eal] in de[li]ght? Sitting in her boppy on the floor watching “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”. Paul will be horrified.
Thursday, October 8th 18:53
Nikki Hamilton needs her crabby little girl to take a nap.
Monday, October 12th 12:49
Nikki Hamilton cannot wait for Callie to be old enough to go to Disneyland.
Monday, October 12th 18:19
Nikki Hamilton Rain falling outside, stew cooking inside, cozy baby sleeping = perfect day!
Tuesday, October 13th 11:32
Paul Hamilton Four unwelcome words: “We have a poo-mergency.”
Tuesday, October 13th 13:02
Nikki Hamilton It took 10 weeks, but I finally took my first completely solo trip out with the baby!
Thursday, October 15th 16:47
ironsoap The baby steadfastly refuses to take her prescription so she spits it out onto her blanket. Naturally the cat is happy to lap it up. Rad.
Thursday, October 15th 18:59
DixieGirl Cracking @ironsoap up with the crazy sounds I’m making at the baby.
Friday, October 16th 15:59
Nikki Hamilton does not like pumping.
Saturday, October 17th 17:03
DixieGirl I’m learning that one of the most difficult things about parenthood is that someone is always ready to tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Saturday, October 17th 19:24
Nikki Hamilton I think my growling stomach just startled the sleeping baby.
Monday, October 19th 11:57
Paul Hamilton In the span of five minutes the cat barfed all over the place, the baby spit up on me, Nik had a make-up incident and I gashed my finger open on a pencil sharpener. I can’t explain how exactly, but the end result of this is: We’re ordering a pizza.
Tuesday, October 20th 19:49
Nikki Hamilton I spent the year leading up to Callie’s birth looking for a job to no avail. In the last week I’ve had two different people call me about a job opportunity. I suspect Murphy was involved.
Wednesday, October 21st 10:35
Nikki Hamilton I don’t understand how I could have slept as long as I did last night and still be tired. In an unrelated note: I did it again. I made coffee minus the coffee grounds. :/
Thursday, October 22nd 09:56
ironsoap Did a solo mish to the library with the baby this morning. It was almost—almost—disappointingly uneventful.
Friday, October 23rd 11:54
Nikki Hamilton I’m wearing sweat pants with spit-up on them and I fully intend to go to the grocery store like this. Who says new moms aren’t hot?
Friday, October 23rd 19:29
Nikki Hamilton is not a fan of growth spurts.
Saturday, October 24th 06:58
Paul Hamilton Enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon with my wife and daughter.
Sunday, October 25th 18:01
Nikki Hamilton My child sounds like she is being tortured when she does tummy time.
Tuesday, October 27th 12:58
Nikki Hamilton Callie is taking a much-needed nap and I am going in search of some much-needed chocolate.
Wednesday, October 28th 19:52
Nikki Hamilton Callie decided she’d rather play than sleep last night.
Friday, October 30th 10:04
Nikki Hamilton Callie really wants to be upset but she keeps getting distracted by the sheep hanging over her swing.
Friday, October 30th 15:23
DixieGirl I have never seen someone have this much dedication to fighting sleep. Why can’t babies understand naps are a *good* thing?
Friday, October 30th 16:47
Nikki Hamilton Callie aimed wrong and missed her mouth with her thumb. She decided that sticking it in her cheek would be the same concept.
Friday, October 30th 16:52
Nikki Hamilton How long do growth spurts last? What I thought was one last weekend began again this weekend. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s something else?
Saturday, October 31st 15:24
DixieGirl Trying to stay awake while rocking a baby is a losing battle.
Monday, November 2nd 14:51
Nikki Hamilton can’t believe her baby is 3 months old today
Wednesday, November 4th 08:12
Nikki Hamilton The baby had a poop blowout that was so severe the onesie could not be saved. RIP Lucky Duck shirt. Guess you weren’t so lucky.
Wednesday, November 4th 12:52
Nikki Hamilton is getting pretty quick at typing one-handed.
Friday, November 6th 16:02
DixieGirl Relaxing in comfy sweats, watching guilty-pleasure TV with a sleepy baby in my arms. Life is good.
Monday, November 9th 18:22
Paul Hamilton Overheard at the Hamilton’s: “Changing your diaper is like a rodeo.”
Tuesday, November 10th 12:05
DixieGirl The baby makes noises like a zombie. I’m sure @ironsoap is so proud.
Tuesday, November 10th 15:12
Nikki Hamilton is wondering when the growling will stop and the napping will begin.
Tuesday, November 10th 15:42
Nikki Hamilton is really hoping the little one sleeps through the night tonight. It was a cruel trick to get us used to it and then take it away these past two weeks!
Tuesday, November 10th 22:32
DixieGirl It appears my daughter enjoys it when you sing novelty rap to her.
Thursday, November 12th 12:40
Nikki Hamilton Sick mom and (possibly) teething baby makes for an unhappy household. Luckily Paul is awesome and is keeping it together for all of us.
Saturday, November 14th 19:58
Nikki Hamilton wishes she could make her baby feel better.
Monday, November 16th 13:12
Nikki Hamilton Turns out you can’t bribe a baby. If it did work she’d have a pony and a car by now, all in exchange for sleep.
Wednesday, November 18th 22:01
Nikki Hamilton Turned around after throwing something in the garbage and Callie had flipped onto her stomach. She’s slowly getting the hang of the rolling over thing.
Monday, November 23rd 18:22
Nikki Hamilton Wow, that was intense. Three hours of screaming and she’s finally asleep. I’m not counting on it lasting long. Hopefully I get at least a few hours of sleep…
Tuesday, December 1st 00:36
Paul Hamilton Despite taking an extra month to complete it, I’m disappointed that Callie’s “Zombie Baby” Halloween costume turned out badly. Once again the creativity I see in my brain and the creativity I can produce with my hands does not sync.
Tuesday, December 1st 15:42
Nikki Hamilton was planning on making homemade banana bread today, but Callie is having a rough day. Not sure how one becomes a supermom that does it all.
Tuesday, December 1st 16:32
DixieGirl I want to go back in time and punch [P]ast Nikki for ever complaining about lack of sleep. She had no idea.
Wednesday, December 2nd 08:48
Nikki Hamilton Thinking Callie will be braver tomorrow when she gets her 4-month shots than I was today getting my ingrown toenails removed.
Thursday, December 3rd 15:42
Nikki Hamilton Has it really been 4 months already?
Friday, December 4th 07:37
ironsoap Heading out with @DixieGirl for our first date sans baby. Fairly excited.
Saturday, December 5th 18:12
Nikki Hamilton 4 month stats (a few days late): 13 lbs. 14.5 oz and 24.5 inches long. She’s grown almost 6 inches in 4 months!
Monday, December 7th 13:49
DixieGirl I should be cleaning while the baby sleeps, but after the difficult morning we’ve had I just want to relax for awhile.
Monday, December 7th 13:50
DixieGirl You know what really helps a baby that has trouble napping? Construction on your apartment building.
Monday, December 7th 14:33
DixieGirl I want to stay in a warm, cozy bed all day. Callie does not.
Tuesday, December 8th 09:52
ironsoap We’re out of clean drinking glasses. For a minute, I seriously considered drinking out of a baby bottle.
Tuesday, December 15th 19:59
Nikki Hamilton Experienced my first out-in-public diaper blow-out complete with poop caked on baby’s leg and matching stain on my lap. So, so awesome. :/
Wednesday, December 16th 15:26
Nikki Hamilton Rough day in the Hamilton household. Baby is definetly cutting her first tooth and is NOT happy about it.
Wednesday, December 16th 17:08
DixieGirl Enjoying some time with the baby and Paul before he leaves for Missouri.
Sunday, December 20th 15:02
Nikki Hamilton is sad Callie and I won’t be able to accompany Paul to Missouri for his Grandpa’s funeral.
Sunday, December 20th 20:55
Nikki Hamilton All I want for Christmas is sleep.
Tuesday, December 22nd 07:49
Nikki Hamilton Callie is suddenly mobile. She is rolling all over the place. I believe it is time to childproof the house.
Wednesday, December 23rd 18:12
Nikki Hamilton Attempting to get Callie’s picture taken with Santa.
Thursday, December 24th 13:30
Nikki Hamilton is thinking Christmas Eve is probably the one night during the year that kids go to bed without a fight. Unless, of course, your kid is 4 1/2 months old.
Thursday, December 24th 23:17
Nikki Hamilton Paul let me sleep in this morning while he watched a recorded Sharks game with the baby. Can’t wait to experience Callie’s first Christmas after we all eat some breakfast. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Friday, December 25th 10:19
Nikki Hamilton wonders if it makes more sense to go to bed now and try to get some sleep before the baby inevitably wakes up, or just stay up until she does.
Sunday, December 27th 00:38
DixieGirl I remember a time when Tool would be stuck in my head, now it’s The Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Tuesday, December 29th 11:37
Nikki Hamilton Sigh. What we thought was a tooth (and even had confirmed by several parents) has disappeared. Now I have no reason for Callie’s behavior lately.
Wednesday, December 30th 11:52
Nikki Hamilton Everyone have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve! 2009 was one of the best years of my life (second only to 1999 – the year that started it all). :)
Thursday, December 31st 15:09
Nikki Hamilton Happy New Year!! 2010 started off with the baby sleeping until 9:30. A sign of good things to come?
Friday, January 1st 09:59
DixieGirl Bedtime is becoming more difficult the older Callie gets.
Saturday, January 2nd 22:13
Nikki Hamilton Callie is one month away from being halfway through her first year of life!
Monday, January 4th 11:31
ironsoap Drank a 5 Hour Energy and then kissed the baby. She’s been really intense ever since. That stuff is potent!
Monday, January 4th 12:03
Nikki Hamilton Paul and I started watching the sign language dvds my friend gave me. I can’t wait to teach Callie all of the signs.
Monday, January 4th 16:46
Nikki Hamilton Listening to the baby blow raspberries at herself instead of sleeping. I’m guessing her face is somewhat damp.
Tuesday, January 5th 21:14
DixieGirl Overheard at the Hamiltons[‘]: “Babies are damp”.
Wednesday, January 6th 18:50
ironsoap Having a coughing fit does not make rocking a baby to sleep easier.
Thursday, January 7th 22:13
ironsoap Much earlier morning than usual due to doctor appointment for the baby. At least I have the day off.
Friday, January 8th 08:02
DixieGirl You know who is a good candidate for vaccines? A crabby baby that’s overdue for a nap.
Friday, January 8th 14:56
ironsoap Baby had a rashy, wailing reaction to a vaccine shot today. So naturally it was the first time @DixieGirl decided to stay in the room.
Friday, January 8th 18:51
Nikki Hamilton Callie had a rough time with her vaccinations today. She ended up having a reaction to one of them and now has to get them one at a time.
Friday, January 8th 18:57
Nikki Hamilton has a cranky baby that doesn’t feel good.
Saturday, January 9th 15:18
Nikki Hamilton I love that my daughter saves the majority of her poop blow outs for when we’re out in public.
Monday, January 11th 17:16
ironsoap Today’s Patience Mid-Term: Try to get a reluctant baby to take a nap while a gang of obnoxious morons tears the siding off your building.
Tuesday, January 12th 10:51
Paul Hamilton Nik and the baby’s communication technique has devolved into growling at one another. Interestingly, this seems to be more effective than their previous efforts.
Tuesday, January 12th 14:37
DixieGirl Feeling really bad for the baby and the cat right now.
Wednesday, January 13th 10:48
Nikki Hamilton My child does not want to eat today. I never have that problem.
Wednesday, January 13th 16:11
ironsoap Dinner with friends was great. Fearing we will pay the price for disrupting the baby’s bedtime routine, though.
Saturday, January 16th 20:36
ironsoap Well hello there, pre-dawn morning! It’s been, what? …24 hours? You haven’t changed a bit.
Sunday, January 17th 06:36
ironsoap Hitting the workout room for the first time since the baby arrived. Future Paul is sure to curse my/our name.
Sunday, January 17th 12:05
ironsoap Waiting at the fish counter, wearing a five month old with questionable intestinal control. It creates an interesting bouquet.
Sunday, January 17th 16:30
ironsoap Turns out I don’t know the lyrics to very many lullabies. I’m sure my audience is indifferent, but I still kind of feel like an ignoramus.
Monday, January 18th 18:09
DixieGirl Big thanks to the dude that watched me struggle to get in the door with a stroller and didn’t offer to help.
Tuesday, January 19th 10:13
Nikki Hamilton thinks it’s going to be (another) long night. Callie has been having an exceptionally rough time sleeping this week. Both Paul and I are exhausted.
Wednesday, January 20th 22:30
Paul Hamilton Snuggly babies may just be the perfect compliment to cold, wet mornings.
Thursday, January 21st 10:10
DixieGirl Why does my child hate sleep SO much?!
Thursday, January 21st 22:00
Nikki Hamilton My toes are still throbbing after kicking Callie’s bouncer this morning. Found out upon inspection that one of them is a pretty shade of purple.
Friday, January 22nd 00:42
ironsoap It would be a lot easier if getting up ridiculously early with a baby was energizing, like getting up to exercise.
Sunday, January 24th 05:41
DixieGirl PSA: Please do not give sleep deprived parents your parenting tips based on any experiences you have had with your dog.
Sunday, January 24th 16:01
ironsoap Huh. Forgot to eat this morning. You’ll have to excuse me, it’s been a long time since I saw this side of 09:00 without rocking a baby.
Monday, January 25th 08:26
Nikki Hamilton The construction workers have the uncanny ability to begin all of their noisest work the second Callie falls asleep. Nap fail. Repeatedly.
Tuesday, January 26th 11:17
Nikki Hamilton I could watch Paul play with Callie for hours. Not sure if me or the baby is more entertained by him.
Tuesday, January 26th 19:20
DixieGirl How does one keep their child’s head warm if the child knows how to remove hats (and hates wearing them)?
Thursday, January 28th 09:25
ironsoap New pet peeve: Establishments without changing tables in both lavatories. I’m not in the situation, but what about single dads? C’mon.
Thursday, January 28th 18:51
DixieGirl It’s funny to me that sometimes Callie can sleep through an amazing amount of noise and other times the cat meowing wakes her up.
Friday, January 29th 13:57
Nikki Hamilton Of course the construction guys are going to bang on the bedroom wall as soon as Callie fell asleep. Why wouldn’t they start work on the opposite end of the house that they were working on prior to her sleeping?
Friday, January 29th 14:06
ironsoap I feel like the theme from “Cheers” ought to play everytime I walk into Babies R Us.
Sunday, January 31st 16:26
ironsoap Tried to go to a new Me[x]ican restaurant tonight. Left hurriedly after asking, “Did we just bring our baby to a bar?”
Sunday, January 31st 19:00
Nikki Hamilton Going to Oakland with my sister to pick up Callie’s birth certificate.
Monday, February 1st 08:23
DixieGirl How do I time it to have Callie try to sleep at the same time as they’re working on our bedroom walls EVERY SINGLE DAY?
Monday, February 1st 15:02
Nikki Hamilton Need ideas for free or inexpensive activities outside of the house. Callie and I are going a little stir crazy these days.
Tuesday, February 2nd 15:34
DixieGirl In fur[t]her bad news: no public restroom in said coffee shop and baby with poopy diaper.
Tuesday, February 2nd 15:42
DixieGirl There could be big money in a line of medicine safe for breastfeeding moms. Specifically cold and flu remedies.
Wednesday, February 3rd 14:43
Nikki Hamilton Callie is six months old today! Time is flying by!
Thursday, February 4th 05:17
DixieGirl Accidentally took the baby to another bar. But who ever expects Togo’s to have a bar in it?
Thursday, February 4th 14:00
DixieGirl Really not looking forward to 6 month vaccinations today, especially after our last experience.
Friday, February 5th 10:38
ironsoap Extreme sports for parents: Four hour outings with no diaper bag.
Friday, February 5th 10:53
Nikki Hamilton Trying to figure out what Callie and I are going to do all day on Friday. We have to be out of the apartment from 8am-5pm while the construction team installs new stairs. :/
Sunday, February 7th 20:39
DixieGirl Amused that I cannot tell if that is Paul or Callie I am listening to snore over the baby monitor.
Thursday, February 11th 23:18
Nikki Hamilton Pumping in the car is not easy.
Friday, February 12th 07:32
Nikki Hamilton Callie has lost her baby scent. :(
Tuesday, February 16th 22:59
DixieGirl Cannot believe I walked out of the house without a single burp cloth.
Wednesday, February 17th 14:24
DixieGirl Disappointed that a large chain like @Starbucks does not have changing stations in the restrooms.
Thursday, February 18th 16:33
ironsoap Actually considering a pre-22:00 bedtime.
Thursday, February 18th 21:34
Nikki Hamilton Dinner at Harry’s Hofbrau with my two favorite people. The perfect way to end the week.
Friday, February 19th 19:14
Nikki Hamilton We have started child-proofing the apartment. I can no longer open anything.
Saturday, February 20th 23:55
DixieGirl Can’t decide if it makes more sense to stay up until the baby wakes up or go to bed and try to get *some* sleep.
Sunday, February 21st 00:10
ironsoap Three guesses why the whole family is still awake with four hours left before alarm clocks start going off. I’ll spot you the first two.
Monday, February 22nd 01:25
DixieGirl Running errands with my mini-sidekick.
Monday, February 22nd 13:37
Nikki Hamilton Doesn’t remember the last time she ate a meal at a normal pace. No, wait, it was about 6 1/2 months ago.
Tuesday, February 23rd 13:10
DixieGirl Callie learned how to wave today. Now she waves at anyone that makes eye contact with her.
Tuesday, February 23rd 13:55
DixieGirl My daughter has the habit of peeing all over the exam table everytime she goes to the doctor.
Wednesday, February 24th 11:18
Nikki Hamilton Experience[d] parents, when did your kids start sleeping through the night? Did you do anything to help them along, or did they just start sleeping well on their own? Callie will be 7 months old next week and I need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am so deliriously tired I am no longer thinking straight.
Wednesday, February 24th 13:07
ironsoap In retrospect, taking a cranky, under-napped baby to a restaurant on a busy Friday night wasn’t our best idea. We made it happen, though.
Friday, February 26th 19:30
ironsoap Somehow got bamboozled into “professional” portraits for the baby. Fully anticipating the hard sell in 5… 4… 3…
Saturday, February 27th 14:44
ironsoap 7 month-old slept from 22:00 until after I left for work at 06:30, a first in weeks. #sleeptraining #lullababy
Wednesday, March 3rd 06:58
Nikki Hamilton Callie has decided her favorite form of communication is blowing raspberries. While completely amusing to us, it is slightly awkward when we tell her to say “hi” to strangers and she spits at them.
Wednesday, March 3rd 10:21
Nikki Hamilton Exactly 7 months ago we decided we should go to the hospital “just in case” and returned home a party of 3.
Thursday, March 4th 06:28
ironsoap It only took 45 minutes to get the baby to sleep last night–half the time as the night before–and she slept through again! #sleeptraining
Thursday, March 4th 08:50
DixieGirl It would be awesome if the cat and the baby could both agree to stop spitting things up.
Friday, March 5th 09:04
ironsoap Baby mohawks are the best part of bathtime.
Friday, March 5th 20:47
Paul Hamilton Nik to the baby: “I’m going to look for your money while you eat your hot dog, okay?” Me: “Can I hear that sentence one more time, please?”
Friday, March 5th 20:59
ironsoap Had a bit of a setback last night, but tonight baby fell asleep in under 15 minutes with practically no fussing. #sleeptraining #lullababy
Friday, March 5th 21:40
Nikki Hamilton Really wanted to workout while Callie took her nap, but it has been so long since I worked out last I cannot remember where the DVDs are. :/ Guess I’m rocking the post-pregnancy flab for at least one more day.
Monday, March 8th 15:58
ironsoap After a week of steady improvement, the last two nights have been very difficult. #sleeptraining #lullababy #wellidontneedanytrainingkid
Tuesday, March 9th 22:21
Nikki Hamilton Took a nap while cuddling with Callie this morning. Even with the loud constuction on the roof going on, it was still the best nap ever.
Wednesday, March 10th 12:43
DixieGirl Baby is asleep. Husband is asleep. Why am I still awake?
Saturday, March 13th 01:39
Nikki Hamilton We took Callie to her first Sharks game on Saturday and found out the hard way that it scares her when they score. :(
Monday, March 15th 00:14
Nikki Hamilton Signed Callie up for swim lessons. I guess this means I have to get into a bathing suit soon…. does a wetsuit count?
Tuesday, March 16th 13:19
Nikki Hamilton The weather was so nice today we decided to have an impromtu picnic at the park for dinner. Callie was a bigger fan of the grass than the bubbles Paul was blowing.
Wednesday, March 17th 22:01
DixieGirl Bedtime is not going smoothly tonight. :(
Wednesday, March 17th 22:01
Nikki Hamilton Daylight savings has turned Callie into a late bird. She gets up later every day. 10:45 and still asleep…
Thursday, March 18th 10:42
Paul Hamilton Me: “How about that spot right there? Is that some pee?” Nik: (Sticks her hand right in it) “Nope, it’s dry.” Me: “…Dude. That was some pretty savage super mom action right there.”
Sunday, March 21st 22:19
ironsoap Worst night yet. #sleeptraining #failure
Monday, March 22nd 00:09
Paul Hamilton Aaand that’s why super savage mom action is not the way to go. On a related subject, what’s the best way to disinfect skin?
Monday, March 22nd 20:01
ironsoap It’s hard to concentrate on this training while a cute baby is trying to play hide-and-seek with me. #workfromhomepitfalls
Wednesday, March 24th 09:54
ironsoap They said it couldn’t be done but I totally got the baby’s onesie off without undoing her highchair harness.
Wednesday, March 24th 19:01
ironsoap Trying to fill a weird amount of time between the day’s various activities. Settling on trying to lull baby to sleep while @DixieGirl shops.
Sunday, March 28th 12:09
DixieGirl You know you’re exhausted when you use a CT scan as an excuse to take a 30 second nap.
Tuesday, March 30th 12:33
ironsoap Trying a different approach to our sleep strategy tonight. Last couple of nights have been pretty brutal. #sleeptraining
Tuesday, March 30th 20:51
Nikki Hamilton Eight months of awesomeness!
Sunday, April 4th 14:34

Now, by my count 30% of those were about sleep, napping, sleep deprivation or exhaustion. 22% are elated, contented, excited or relieved. 13% involve diapers, spit-up, going to the bathroom or changing a baby. The rest are assorted observations, anecdotes or announcements and honestly, that sounds just about right in terms of mapping to the amount of your waking thought is devoted to the various topics.

I also found it interesting that when referred to by name, we call our daughter “Callie” 64 times in these posts. By contrast we use her full name, “Calliope,” eight times. We use the generic term “baby” 82 times.

It’s Untenable

So I’m not sure it was clear considering the backdating of the previous post, but I tried to write an entry about the first six months of Callie’s life and it ended up taking me two months to finish.

To avoid having people assume I was really that bad at math I set the date for the post to February 4th, which was when I first started writing, but I guess that throws off some various mechanisms that work to distribute my postings to places like Facebook and Twitter. It’s probably just as well; the final result in my opinion is not indicative of two months of work.

It’s actually gotten me thinking about my posting habits quite a bit because even before the intended-for-February post my previous effort was October or something. But then again I look at my Drafts folder and see entries that were begun on September 29, December 8, January 7 and so on, none of which were ever completed.

Long time readers will recognize this cycle: I write a couple of long-form articles that accidentally resemble half-decent writing and one person says, “You’re a good writer!” Then I start thinking I have an audience and I have to meet expectations which results in me thinking that nothing I write is worth the minimal effort it takes to parse my fourth-grade-level prose.

I’m also coming to realize the impact that short-form self expression has on my desire to write lengthy blog entries. A quick scan of the archives will confirm that few humans—on this planet or off—are as capable of taking a simple thought and expounding on it to the point where written words are actually capable of rending brain cells into a fine paste not unlike single-grain oatmeal. Which is why the by-design restrictions of Twitter and Facebook statuses are nice because they demand that I be pithy. But since I’m speaking my mind and getting to the point, the temptation to take that small passing thought and extrapolating from it reams of text is lessened. I’m sure you’re in agreement with me that this is by and large a good thing.

So my choices are either continue to nitpick longer pieces until I finally squeeze out something that meets some invisible criteria or I can try to get back to what ironSoap was supposed to be in the first place which is an online journal detailing some of the semi-daily events and activities to keep people who either care or have a heavy masochistic streak enlightened.

I think I need to simply learn how to lighten up about it and get to the point a little more. I avoid making promises about updating schedules because they are, simply by virtue of being made, destined to become bald faced lies. However, journal or no, the underlying intent of ironSoap was to encourage me to write regularly and that ain’t happening. So something needs to change. I know the bar for “quality” around here is fairly low but don’t be surprised if I sacrifice a little of it in the coming weeks in favor of quantity as part of an effort to avoid multi-month droughts.