Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Culture Club

As we drove slowly down the driveway this morning, Carrie glanced over at me and said, "Wow. Last night was amazing."
"It really was," I agreed, smiling back at her and reminiscing. I felt relaxed, upbeat, and ready to take on the world and I knew Carrie felt the same way.
"Remember when we used to say that about sex?" she added.
"What's sex?" I joked, trying to remember if it really compared with the long and deep sleep we'd both enjoyed.

I remember a vacation in Greece when I was lying beneath a cloudless sky, staring out at the Mediterranean as a gentle breeze rippled across the calm afternoon sea. The day felt bright and colorful, surreal - almost psychedelic. I realized that I'd spent so much time that summer drinking and getting high on that summer that this crisp moment of sobriety felt like an altered state of consciousness. That is exactly what sleep feels like now - novel and intoxicating. I feel energized, capable, optimistic, and confident. I feel like I did five months ago.

It's remarkable how quickly a child has changed my pleasures, my priorities, my focus, my depth, and my tolerance. Chores that were once meditative and satisfying have become an exciting challenge, a relay race against wind-up toys, singing bears, and mobiles. I'm still waiting to find a toy that actually has settings like "Dishes, Laundry, Phone Call, Temporary Nervous Breakdown," and so on. Even if it had the seemingly compulsory seizure lights and annoying music, I would still buy it. While exercise used to be a part of my regular routine, I now have to incorporate it into play time. I dance around Amari doing Tae Bo-like moves and making the craziest faces my oxygen deprivation will allow. I'm now convinced Amari's first word will be "Jab-cross," or "Hook-uppercut."

In an attempt to retain some semblance of normalcy, Carrie suggested we take Amari to her first play last Sunday - the local high school drama club's rendition of "Little Shop of Horrors." We decided it would be our first attempt at infusing some culture into her life while raising her in this isolated, coastal hamlet. We invited everyone we knew who had kids, hoping that at least one of them would foolishly join us for the potential disaster. Not a single taker - I guess they knew better - but Carrie and I were determined to go and were convinced Amari would be fine. As it turns out, she was fine - and adorable - and if we'd stayed for the whole show I'm pretty sure she would have been up on stage singing with the Doo Whop Girls.

The show was long and a little bit out of Amari's perceptual range. The lights and singing entertained her through most of the first act, but at a few minutes after two she glanced at her watch, then up at me and said, "Dad, the Baylor-Duke game just started. You wanna get out of here?" She is so sensitive to my passion for college basketball and my novice gambling habits.
"Absolutely," I said, and she immediately started fidgeting and whining to the point where I said to Carrie, "I think Amari's had enough," and we escaped at the intermission.

Unfortunately, on this particular evening, I've had enough, too. My energy has faded, taking with it some of the optimism and confidence. If I go to sleep now while Amari's sleeping - as I've been told to do by every parent I've met - perhaps they will both return to me in the morning.Good night all.

Happy April, Amari.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Madness Continues

March Madness that is - the greatest three weeks in all of sports (barring this year's SF Giants' World Series run). Tonight Amari attended her first Sweet Sixteen party, an eclectic gathering of teachers, administrators, lawyers, and some rabid, elderly college basketball fans. I'm pretty sure I saw one of them knitting a purple and gold sweater while simultaneously bidding hundreds of dollars on Northern Iowa. Go Panthers?

The gathering was centered around the sixteen teams remaining in this year's tournament. Beginning with the lowest seeds, teams were auctioned off to the highest bidders. When St. Mary's went first at $33, I had a feeling this party was going to be too rich for my blood. I had no interest in throwing good money at any Cinderella teams, but I did hope to get involved in at least one bidding war. I noticed Amari was wearing her Mama-made, mixed-green, hooded sweater, and decided that I would go after a Baylor team with solid senior leadership. I have them in the Final Four in another bracket and didn't want to confuse my loyalties too much. I considered the Spartan green of Michigan State, but I figured Noah might not forgive me for rooting hard against his beloved Buckeyes. When Baylor came on the block, the price quickly rose past my $40 cap. Sally Miller, who invited me, sensed my disappointment, offered to go halvesies, and together we captured the three-seeded Bears.

Amari and I stuck around just long enough to know that Baylor was a steal as Syracuse went for $130 and Kentucky went for over $200. Before we left, however, I decided to buy both of us into a much lower-impact draw pool where you pay $10 and pull a team out of a hat. As the youngest person there (by about thirty-eight and a half years behind me) Amari was allowed to draw first. She must have misunderstood and thought she was picking her future university because she grabbed Cornell. Now we really  need to win this pool. I, on the other hand, fortuitously drew Ohio State, so now Noah and I can finally root for the same team. And to think, all it took was money.

As for the parenting madness - that also continues. Consistent sleep continues to be as likely as a twelve seed making the Final Four, but the Big Red underdogs from Ithica give me hope that I will one day sleep through the night, and simultaneously win $24 for Amari's college fund. It feels like very little has happened since last I wrote and yet every day I marvel at how my little girl is growing, changing, gaining in strength and personality. Sometimes I feel guilty for writing so little, for not capturing all the beautiful moments and feelings, that perfection of lying on the couch last Sunday with Amari taking her longest nap ever right there on my chest while some asshole from Purdue made a game-winning lay-up to mess up the southern part of my bracket. Still, a very touching and meaningful.

Where I used to comment on each week that passed by, I'm now nearly three weeks late in celebrating Amari's fourth month. Nevertheless, the impossibility of doing it all and doing it well is a topic for another entry. Last week Amari had her four month check-up. She is now a robust thirteen pounds fourteen ounces, and twenty-six inches long. She's nearly forty percent of my height already, which is why I have her gambling on basketball at such a young age. The second round of vaccines went fairly smoothly, too. We had a bottle of formula prepared to pop into her mouth hoping to balance out the fact that she's older, more cognizant, and less forgiving than she was eight weeks ago. She screamed and cried, gave us a disappointed look through her tears, refused the bottle for a moment, then realized it was over and began eating. No negative effects that night or the next day. Some things are definitely getting easier.

In fact, I think most things are. Carrie and I have developed a natural rhythm to our co-parenting. With the exception of her sleeping habits, Amari is proving to be a very easy baby. She has a good temperament, endearing expressions, and I'm pretty sure we're getting the hang of what her cries mean. It's not rocket science when it's a list of five or six possibilities, but it still feels good when I respond to a need and get it right. I absolutely love being a dad - much more than I ever knew I would. I feel like I've finally figured out what I'm supposed to be when I grow up.

And maybe, just maybe, I'm actually growing up, too.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Almost Perfect

Road Trip!!

Last weekend I took Amari on her first overnight away from her Mom. My buddy Matt and I recently agreed to co-manage a fantasy baseball team this year and use the on-line draft as an excuse to get together for the first time in nearly a year. I was excited to see him, to see the life he's created for himself since graduate school, and to show off my own adorable little creation. I was a little nervous about the journey, because although Amari has been historically good both in and out of the car, this was about five times as long as she'd ever been car-seated and I didn't know what to expect. I'd cleared the trip weeks ago with Carrie who said she could use the time to catch up on grades and prep work, so Saturday morning Amari and I set out on our adventure.

The drive to Fairfield was smooth an uneventful. In fact, Amari probably would have slept the entire way had I not stopped in Cloverdale to pee and to make sure she was still alive. Not a peep for two hours had me a little worried. I fed her along with my caffeine addiction, then continued south towards Sonoma County. Traffic in Santa Rosa brought a few tears to Amari's cheeks, but to be honest I cried a little, too. It's very disconcerting when you live in a four traffic light town. After lunch with my friend Eric in Petaluma, we headed east and arrived at Matt's by mid-afternoon.

Matt was great with Amari. Although he is opting not to have kids, choosing instead to spend the quarter of a million dollars he will save on an indoor basketball court, I have no doubt that he would make an excellent father. He is an uncle to many and was incredibly comfortable holding, feeding, and soothing Amari. My hope is that he decides to go half court and have one small, uneducated child. Not everyone needs to go to college, Matt.

After catching up, Matt took me for a tour of his house and his neighborhood. His back yard looks out over a man-made lake and surrounding houses. As I descended into Fairfield I thought, "What a shit hole. Who would want to live here?" but an hour later I was looking out over a small lake saying, "Wow - this looks like Tahoe, or...Zurich." I decided then that Matt and I would take multiple pictures of different parts of his yard and tell Amari later that he and I had taken her to both the Sierras and Switzerland.

In touring Matt's neighborhood, he was able to point out a gated community where I could almost catch a glimpse of CC Sabathia's house. Amari was very impressed remembering how I'd almost cheered him on when she was in utero last October during the Yank's-Phill's Series. And by almost cheered, I mean boo-ed. I, on the other hand, remarked, "Wow. Almost being able to see a kind of famous person's house must really drive up the house values."  More interestingly, I was also able to see the location of Matt's on-line video debut, "No Cat," which I highly recommend. We walked right up to the bridge where you could almost see where they did some of the filming. This is now the adverb I use when I name and location drop. Check out the video.

That night, Matt, Amari, and I stayed up trying to figure out the best approach for Sunday's draft. While Matt and I came up with at least eight different strategies that ranged from "Studs and Duds" to "80% Value" to "Systematically Attacking the Integrity of Every Other GM During the Auction," Amari reeled us in with cries of hunger or fatigue and the occasional vocalization that sounded an awful lot like "Draft Joey Votto." She knows her sleepers, and when she finally became one herself around ten, Matt and I continued our fruitless pursuit of last minute fantasy secrets into the wee hours. By the end of the night our sides hurt from laughing, we made it half way through a Bill Burr stand-up routine, and we'd targeted five guys that we had to have on our team. Amari woke up at midnight, four, and seven for a formula refill, but other than that she slept peacefully.

The next morning, we took photos of Zurich, Tahoe, and Matt's yard before casting all of our strategies into the lake in favor of the "We Need Joey Votto" approach. As it turns out, not only did we get Votto, but we also got almost everyone else we'd targeted. I think we might almost win this thing. Amari slept through much of the draft, which had me concerned about how she would fair on the drive home. As soon as the draft ended, I packed up and hit the road.





                 Matt's Yard

On a weekend full of "almost's" it makes perfect sense that Amari and I almost made it all the way home without a melt down. In fact, the first three hours she was awake, making sucking noises, and babbling incessantly. I stopped to feed her and she immediately picked up where she'd left off once we were back in the car. I called Carrie to let her know that we'd be home in forty-five minutes when Amari began to cry. Just a little at first, but enough to get me to stop and offer her more food. She took it and fell asleep an ounce in. We continued and she slept for another fifteen miles, but when she woke up she began shrieking. I stopped where I could to offer her more food, then again a few minutes later to change her diaper. Each time I began driving again, the shrieks grew louder. I tried the white noise on the radio trick. Louder shrieks. I tried singing. Even louder. This is not an uncommon response to my voice. I stopped and held her for a while, but it was getting dark - bedtime - and it felt sketchy to be sitting in my car in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, I put her in her seat and said, "Listen, Amari. I'll pay for the therapy later, but we need to get home now." I hoped that she would cry herself to sleep, but she outlasted the sixteen miles of winding road and carried her tears right up to the front door where Carrie greeted her with tears of her own. All the while I tried to remain calm, saying, "Daddy loves Amari. Almost home. Mommy's there" over and over while occasionally muttering, "Are you fucking kidding? It's been twenty minutes. Jesus." Even though Amari was nearly perfect for 350 of 370 miles, that last leg of the journey will make me think twice driving anywhere anytime soon.

Carrie will also make me think twice. Although she was on board with the road trip in theory, by the time we'd arrived in Fairfield on Saturday she was lonely, depressed, and missed Amari terribly. When I called to let her know we'd arrived safely, not only did she want to catch up on everything as though we were dating again, but she also said I wasn't allowed to do this again until Amari is older and more annoying.

Fair enough, Mom. I wouldn't want to be away from her either. I'm glad we're home.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Love is the Seventh Wave

When it comes to the common cold, however, the Second Wave turns out to be identical to the first wave only more depressing and less predictable. When Carrie and I started to feel better, Amari was at her worst, but by the time she cleared  up we had both relapsed. It's been like a sick game of disease volleyball and we're all down a couple sets. I'm afraid to say I'm feeling better now because I'm pretty sure I said that last Sunday.

Fortunately for you, there's no real glamorizing this sickness. They don't call it "common:" for nothing, and even though Amari is still adorable with snot running down her face, red circles beneath her eyes, and an insatiable taste for tears, I will not bore you with more details. On the plus side, she has really developed vocally with all her discomfort this week. Throughout the week, I had been using the aspirator bulb to "snork" out her nose, and unless she was asleep or there was a bottle in her mouth, this intervention was generally greeted with some neck Tae Kwon Do and loud screeches. Eventually, when she started to recognize the bulb, she would simply open her mouth, say, "Ahhhhhh," and more casually move her head away. I would withdraw the bulb, but when I approached again she repeated the , "Ahhhhh" and the movement. I tried several more times with the same result. I put the bulb aside and approached her nose with my finger. Nothing. Silence. I picked up the bulb again, and repeated her protest once again. Somehow this contingent learning felt like small breakthrough for my little genius. Tomorrow - geometry.

Aside from that Amari's neck is getting stronger and she enjoys lying on her side more often than not. She is increasingly engaged by her little play area and likes to grab everything and pull it towards her mouth. Her hands are like a Star Ship Enterprise tractor beam pulling everything within arm's length towards her testing dock. She loves music and can sit quietly for ages while Carrie or I play guitar. Sometimes she'll jump in on the chorus of "All My Loving," but I think that's just because she likes to put on an English accent. I think she's also developing song recognition - not only with the ones we play, but with ones she's heard me play repeatedly in the car. A few days back I watched her get really excited by a Jason Mraz son I was playing on the guitar, and then I remembered I'd been replaying it repeatedly in the car the day before in an attempt to learn all the words.

Even in sickness, Amari is a delight. I am increasingly grateful to have been blessed with the opportunity to be her father. As I paced back and forth in the kitchen last night, secretly worrying that Amari's might stop breathing, I realized this was only the beginning of my fears as a parent. Although I was afraid on the inside, I whispered calmly into her ear and took deep breaths to model them for her. With time, her breathing deepened, her eyes closed, and she slept peacefully on my shoulder as a walked.

Amari is my seventh wave.