Saturday, December 3, 2011


Sometimes it takes a little trauma to shake off the cobwebs, dust of the keyboard, and do a little blogging. Last night provided just the right jolt to what had become - even during and in wake of family visits and holidays - a lovely, lilting pace in the Fishman household.

Carrie put it best at three o'clock in this morning when she said, "Oh my fucking god, this is like a horror film." And it was - the long awaited sequel to "Mmmba, Mmmba, Mmmba," which was inspired the timeless horror flick, "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah." All three were filmed on location at Fish Manor with a budget under $10 (not including the therapy and beer that were needed to recover).

Much like its prequels, "Downstairs" began innocently, disguised if you will like any other of the hundreds of nights we'd spent together. We played in the afternoon when mom got home, had a delicious shepherd's pie for dinner (although Amari wasn't very interested), and small dessert afterwards (very interested). At six-thirty, Mama called an audible to our normal routine and let Amari slide without a bath. She seemed tired and ready to go upstairs.

As usual, we took her upstairs together, bidding goodnight to all of Amari's toys, the hallway, her future room, and so on, then lay down in bed where Mama reads her a story and Dada goes downstairs to work. Fifteen minutes later, Amari strolls back into the living room - without Mama - and proudly proclaims, "Downstairs." Mama followed shortly after, telling me that she'd tried to bluff Amari by saying, "You can go downstairs, but Mama's sleeping." Apparently Amari might have a future as a poker player.

We decided to let her stay up. We watched an episode of "Royal Pains", she played an colored and tried to help me work from time to time - which was not really helpful at all. Towards the end of the episode, she began dumping out bags of puzzle pieces and moving dangerously close to our elevated Christmas tree. Already frustrated by her "help," I decided to put an end to her extended evening by snatching her up and taking her back upstairs. No sooner had I hit the landing than the tears began to flow and wails of "Downstairs, downstairs, downstairs," ensued.

We reached the bedroom and the haunting cries continued, "Downstairs, downstairs, downstairs!!!" We offered bedtime stories, bottles, pacifiers, hugs, rocks, etc., but they were all declined with a stern, "Downstairs, choke, sob, downstairs, huff puff, DOWNSTAIRS!!!" It took all of eight minutes for Carrie and I to look at each other, exasperated, as if to say, "Okay. Downstairs sounds awesome." So - not really knowing what else to do and very uncertain if it was a good idea - downstairs we went.

The faucet shut off immediately, tears continued to dribble down her face, but she was quiet, save the residual gasps of a long, hard cry. Her body took half breaths as she calmed down in my lap, snuggled against my chest. As the air left her lungs each time, however, I could have sworn I heard a faint whisper, "Downstairs...downstairs...downstairs..."

Much like other horror films, hindsight made it easy to find the mistakes we'd made along the way. Although we didn't have sex or say, "I'll be right back," or go out into the woods alone with a flashlight, we did let Amari have dessert without much dinner, we skipped her bath, and then I acted out of frustration and gave her little opportunity to transition. Live and learn.

Fifteen minutes and a bottle after our return downstairs, Amari was drifting off in Mama's arms, as sweet and innocent as a the pre-water gremlins. Finally, with our own little moguai curled up and sleeping between us on the couch, it was easy to pretend that the horrors we'd just survived had never really happened at all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mine and Geez Parties

Some days are just about surviving.

Although I love that my job allows me to be a full-time stay-at-home dad by working post-bedtime, the major drawback is the inverse relationship between income and sleep. Coupled with Amari's recent acquisition and extensive use of the possessive term "mine," and I end up being a tired, grumpy, impatient, relatively ineffective dad. 

I hate it. I remember fantasizing, just a few short weeks ago, that I would be able to magically keep that word out of Amari's vocabulary by modeling sharing, using the general ours, telling her that nothing belongs to anyone, and basically being an all-around communist dad. Fortunately (?), we do not raise our kids in a vacuum, nor am I positive I don't bark "No, that's my coffee" every morning before the caffeine makes me well again, and eventually Amari learns things from the world around her and makes them her own. Literally. By saying, "Mine." All the fucking time. 

Okay, I'm kind of exaggerating, but the sea is calm for so long, the sunset winds feel like a typhoon. I was talking to my buddy Noah about it this evening. He has an expression that he uses sometimes that recently started to get under my skin. He'd tell me about a challenge he was having with his daughter and add at the end of the story, "You'll see." I think he meant it as, "It's hard to know what you'll do until it's right in front of you," but I took it as a preemptive "I told you so," like he was assuring me that I would have the same experience.

Prior to Amari's birth, I believed him. What did I know? Since then, I've learned we have different kids with different temperaments and as a result different challenges. Reya is more of a fire cracker, independent and free. Amari is mellow, but much clingier and whinier. The similarity this weekend came when Amari started throwing the word mine around cavalierly as she clutched things to her breast whether they were hers or not. As the volume (amount and loudness) of the word increased throughout the day, all I could hear in the back of my head, chanting like the murdered twins in The Shining, was Noah's voice saying, "You'll see...You'll see...You'll see."

I definitely see. And it blows.

Anyone surprised Amari had her second birthday last weekend? Seems like only yesterday she was a sweet, innocent, mine-free toddler, running about, sharing shit, and not giving a damn what was who's. Seriously. Overnight - like a Mine Fairy came down and left a possessive pronoun pamphlet under her pillow. The sixty-four thousand dollar question now is how to find a balance between allowing her to assert herself and teaching her to share. I'm already getting some ideas from the books we have and from other parents who have suffered before me.

Prior to the fairy's arrival, Amari's birthday went well. She loved her presents - a baby doll, a tractor, a kite, a tool kit, a play dough set, and a sweater - and she loved everyone singing to her so much that she ended up singing to herself late into the evening. The end of this video shows her sugar-induced, American Toddler Idol audition:

Another quick story came a few days after Halloween. We've always been big on teaching Amari to say please and thank you, assuring her that she'll generally get what she wants when she does. Halloween upped the ante when she learned that saying "trick or treat" gets you candy. The next time she was at Granny C's house and wanted some of her chicken, Mama asked her "What do you say?" to which Amari replied, "Trick or treat."

And finally - demonstrating the truth that with great manners comes great responsibility - last week when I asked Amari if I could change her diapers she gave me her first, "No thanks," and walked away."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween

And happy first anniversary to the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The Day of the Dead will forever be yours.

Yesterday, however, belonged to Amari - and all the other little rascals running around being all cute and stuff. Last year Amari was a tiger, her best buddy was a dinosaur, and our families met in town for a brief moment and a photo opp.

Halloween 2010

As the day went on, the weather turned cold and rainy, wet enough for us to cancel our adventure to the Mendocino Village where there was rumored to be music and clowns and other circus acts. We never knew what we missed...

Until this year.

This year Amari was going to be a tiger again, but dad thought that was ridiculous and purchased alternative costumes at the local thrift stores blow-out sale. At the very least, Amari would have animals and  Disney characters to dress up like on casual Fridays. The tiger suit quickly became a tiger jacket, Winnie the Pooh was declined via hand gesture,

That means "No thank you."

a couple of hats (although equally cute and impractical) just missed the cut,

and ultimately the softest and cuddliest costume of all was chosen - the ladybug.

As ladybugs are wont to, this one liked to travel with her family.

This year the ladybugs managed to fly down to Mendocino and see the music, the clowns, and the other stuff for the themselves. 

It was fun and cold, with cold winning out in the end. There were awesome costumes including a DJ Lance and the Yo Gabba Gabba clan, an Alice in Wonderland family, and a very real looking construction crew with traveling Roundabout.

Amari ended up getting her first taste of trick or treating - an experience (albeit brief) which perfectly demonstrated the reinforcing power of chocolate. At our first stop Amari was too shy to recite the line we'd been practicing for days. "Trick or treat," I modeled, and the woman gave me a handful of candy. Amari became immediately interested and out-going. At the next house, she managed to get the words out and say thank you for the Butterfinger. By the third house she was knocking on the door, holding out her bag, and by the last house we went to when the gentleman opened the door, Amari pushed it from the outside and started to walk right in as if to say, "Where's the candy at, dude?"

By sunset, the ladybug clan was tired and ready for some ladybug mac 'n cheese. For live action shots of the evening, enjoy this video. 

Happy Halloween, Amari.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We Make Babies the Old-Fashioned Way...

We spurn them. Good old John Houseman. I loved that guy - had a philosophy professor in college who was a dead ringer for him. He would ramble poetically about one theory or another, have us all eating out of his hands, hanging on every word, agreeing with every thought, then would invariably end his lectures by saying (a la Houseman), "You may all think this theory is absolutely correct (unanimous nods), but in fact you will soon see that it is (pause) totally wrooong."

For months now I've wanted to start a second blog called, to which I'm absolutely certain I'd be submitting to more often than this one. On a daily basis she reveals new phobias or cautions me with catastrophic, worst-case scenarios in response to completely innocuous situations. If she catches me giving Amari - god forbid - a piece of paper to crumple up, she might say, "You should really be careful about paper cuts," then add, "there are lots of arteries near the hands," and conclude with, "she could get infected and die." Thank you, Dr. Becker.

Tonight, however, it was not her irrational fear of the world that pissed us off, but rather the unsolicited parenting advice that she felt compelled to walk all the way over to our house and yell at Carrie. I came home to similar sides of the story which can be summed up as follows: Carrie was stressed, Amari was tired, and Carol was frustrated. The details are irrelevant, but the skinny is that Carrie changed her mind about asking her mom to watch Amari because Amari was being very needy and clingy. Carol got upset that Carrie was responding to Amari's tears and changing the plan and felt so strongly about it that she came over to our house a few minutes later to give Carrie a piece of her mind.

Carol proceeded to tell Carrie that we are spoiling Amari, that Amari is manipulating us, and that we need to just let her cry sometimes or else we're going to end up with a little brat...probably some etcetera and some "you listen to me" and some "I've lived a lot longer than you" and some "blah, blah, blah." When I spoke with Carol later I was very diplomatic. I said, "Carol, if you I weren't completely confident in the job I'm doing, I might take what you said personally. Do I have blind spots as a dad? I'm sure I do, but I don't think you're describing one of them. I do let Amari cry, but I also let her know that when she's done she can come talk to me or if she wants to cry and be held I'm happy to do that, too."

I went on to explain the transition Amari is going through - that gap between understanding everything but not yet having all the words at her fingertips. It takes time, patience, and in my opinion, love. I don't really care if I spoil Amari by picking her up, holding her, giving her attention, and letting her know that she's safe. What else do kids really need? Discipline, guidance, boundaries - for sure - but all of those things will come more easily when a child feels safe and loved.

Manipulating us? Please. Amari is as much a behaviorist as I am. She knows that she gets a response when she whines or cries. Until the recent development of her language it was her go to move, so she still reverts to it in a pinch. Our responsibility as parents becomes encouraging her to elicit the same response (our attention to her needs) through different means such as talking, being patient, asking, helping, etc. I know I sound like some kind of robot, but I'm not. I'm just saying that although Carol thinks Carrie and I are haphazardly responding to Amari's every whim, there is a lot of consciousness in what we're doing and how we're doing it.

Are we immune to mistakes? Hell no. Are we perfect parents? Not even close. Do we know for certain the impact our actions will have on Amari's development? Of course not. But we are raising Amari with a philosophy that makes sense to us, that we believe in, and that we hope will help Amari develop healthy, secure relationships with us and the other important people in her life.

As always, more will be revealed. In the meantime, Carol, please take your unsolicited parenting advice back to your place, and the next time your dogs are whimpering, whining, or barking for no apparent reason, I encourage you to ignore their evil and manipulative ways, and just let them cry it out.

Manipulative Little B-Word

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Amari's Favorite Foods

Time is passing in a hurry. Carrie's fall break has come and gone, Thanksgiving is less than a month away, and between then and now Amari will be two years old. This birthday feels monumental - I'm sure they all will - and I've already begun feeling the alchemy of sadness/excitement of moving forward into the next stage of our lives. In lieu of anything that resembles consistency with my writing, I am going to countdown to Amari's second birthday with Top Ten lists to remind me of things that may soon no longer be...

Amari has been a good eater her so far. She tries new things and surprises us by enjoying things like Wasabi Seaweed. Although she initially made faces at it and tried to wipe her tongue clean, after a few moments she said, "More. More," ate some and said, "Tickles."

Honestly, to anyone still reading, this is really just for me. Feel free to read on, but I can't promise you'll find much interesting. I've realized recently that part of the reason I take so many pictures and videos is because I want to have cues that will help me remember things, have stories to pass along to Amari when she's older and hopefully curious.

In this spirit, I present this list of the top ten foods (in some particular order) Amari  has most enjoyed in her first two years of eating.

1. Cottage cheese - this was an early favorite and has held its number one ranking almost as long as Tiger Woods held his.
2. Miso Soup - salty, noodley, what's not to like?
3. Ribs - go figure.
4. Rice (and beans)
5. Popsicles
6. M & M's
7. Waffles
8. Pasta - not just mac 'n cheese, but almost any pasta
9. Strawberries - blackberries and blueberries, too, but not raspberries at all
10. Coffee - I know, not a food, but she really loves the stuff

It's crazy how much she loves coffee. And yes, I do monitor her intake, but if I didn't she might live on that and cottage cheese. On time, when I was driving Carrie to work about six months ago, we passed Starbucks and Amari said, "Mmmm. This one," and pointed at the building. Also, when she was just learning to talk, she would point at the Starbuck's logo and say, "Mama," to which I'd say, "I wish. We'd be loaded."

One last item that should also be on that list is apples - a late addition that made the cut recently when our trees began bearing fruit and Amari and I created a daily ritual of sitting on the porch enjoying their harvest.


Hunter and Amari keep the doctor away

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Zen and the Art of Napping

Thanks to a gentle nudge from a friend and fellow parent who likes to vicariously feel like an attentive and loving father by reading my blog, I am returning from my hiatus as a - and I quote - total f-ing slacker.

It's not that I don't want to write, that I've run out of things to say, that there aren't at least a half a dozen moments every day I wish I could lasso up with words and remember forever. It's finding the time. And not just any time - I do have some time - but rather those rare moments when I'm not either knee deep in parenting, housekeeping, working, or stealing a few precious minutes for myself. Lately, the latter have come fewer and farther between.

I don't know if Amari is beginning the process of - god forbid - phasing out the nap, but recently her sleep patterns have been a bit erratic. Some days the nap is non-existent, others mandate a car-induced coma with a silent prayer that CC's dogs have gone to heaven as I try to quietly transfer her into the house and onto the couch. Even then, the naps have been light and my workouts have been cut short by the cries that come through the baby monitor. On the afternoons when I concede completely to the universe, I rush into the living room, pick Amari up, and place her gently on my chest where she'll often sleep even longer than I would have imagined in the first place.

On one such occasion, I was so exhausted I drifted off to sleep for almost an hour. Upon awakening, eyes still have closed, I recalled a vague image of those early weeks, lying on the same couch with a much smaller, much lighter, and to be honest much less interesting model of the same daughter. Oh sure, I loved and adored her then, absolutely and completely, more deeply than I'd ever felt in my life, but now I know I was only scratching the surface. I also remembered thinking that a co-sleeper shaped like the belly of a middle-aged man would be my first of many million dollar parenting ideas.

The interesting thing was, although I could remember a semblance of something similar and familiar to that moment, I couldn't remember anything else. "What the hell did I used to write about?" I thought. "What the hell did Amari and I used to do all day? How did I pass eight to ten hours a day when she couldn't crawl, walk, or talk? What did we do this morning?" It was some sort of parenting fugue state, and although it disturbed me at first, when I looked down at Amari - completely still and peaceful - it made perfect sense. "There is nothing more important," I thought, "not in the past nor in the future, as this moment right now.

"And, oh yeah," I added, "She used to nap a lot more."

To be continued...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Forget Me Not's

Seems like every day now I get to experience something new with my daughter, something that thrills me, takes my breath way, amazes me, frustrates me to no end, and always reminds me that there is nothing more important in the world than what is right in front of me. Prior to Amari's arrival, I was almost always plagued by thoughts and feelings and feelings that I was supposed to be doing something else - something bigger, better, more useful. I never did anything about it - just used it as an excuse to put down the book I was reading, quit the job I had, or break up with the girlfriend I was wasting my time with.

Today I live in the blissful state that is now, no longer incarcerated by doubt or worry, somehow soothed even in the most challenging of moments by the certainty that there is nowhere else I need to be right now. I recently watched a documentary on Buddhism in which the narrator described the tenet that life in life we suffer because people and things die or leave us. He went on to say that if we could just realize that everything we love and are attached to is already gone, then we could better appreciate each moment we have together.

It reminds me not to take this precious and brief time with Amari for granted. Here are a few notes I took on her development over the course of the past two weeks.

* Out of the blue Amari changed her standard "No" response to a more surprising and definitely cuter, "No way." I'm pretty sure she got that one from Mama.

* Earlier this week, Amari composed her first song on the piano. I didn't manage to catch it on film, but it went a little something like this, "This, this, this...(pause). Up Mama, up Dada. This, this, this...up Mama, up Dada." Also, whenever I decide to play guitar and strum a few chords, she runs across the house screaming, "Piano...Amari, piano. Piano," then climbs up on the stool and starts hammering on the key.

* Amari is still not a big fan of the diaper change. She is, however, a big fan of putting diapers on anything she has access to. Generally, she will spend twenty minutes or so repositioning Kermit, Dragon, or Sid the Science Kid, then try to wrap them snugly in the diaper. I've also caught her trying to put a diaper on an Indian statue, our cat Penny, and most recently a fork. Not sure where those last two came from.

I'm sure there are more already and will certianly be at least one tomorrow, but for now...g'night all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Yes Problem!

Where to begin? My toddler roller coaster is finally in full effect. I've spent so much time the past two years gushing about how much I love being a dad that I actually started toning it down because I'm certain it's annoying. It's probably like listening to your serial dating college roommate talk about how amazing their new  boy/girlfriend is, and then going into excruciatingly boring detail about how they finish each others...yup sentences and how they would totally date the same character on Friends. For reals.

So convinced my unadulterated joy was annoying, I sometimes resorted to exaggeration or straight up fiction so I could relate to random parents I'd meet throughout my day. "Yeah, totally, Amari only napped for like an hour today," or "I know, Amari never cleans up her toys either," or "I keep telling her she can only smoke light cigarettes or menthols" (when bonding at the Giggly Wiggly).

Much like everything else, parenting is relative to whatever we've experienced up to that point. That being said, to some the beginning of my week might have felt like a vacation from the norm, but to me it felt like the end of the honeymoon. I was exhausted from working late nights and Amari was intense and demanding. With Hunter she was bossy and when she didn't get her way she dramatically whined and even produced the old insta-tears. By Tuesday afternoon, I found myself muttering "Wait 'til we get to Carla's this afternoon, then you'll have something to cry about," referring to our booster vaccine appointment.

Language development is a double-edged sword. While Amari was on the brink, she would demonstrate her needs with whines and pantomime. I always interrupted saying, "Stop. What do you want? Do you want up? Then say, 'Up Dada.'" It's behaviorism 101. Identify the need being expressed and teach the kid a more appropriate way to ask that it be met.
"Up Dada," she'd whimper, and with time and repetition she said it more confidently and without prompting. We did that routine a hundred times and whenever she managed to express her needs with words, I obliged immediately and said "No problem."
"No trouble," she mimicked, and I'm not sure how that happened, but I like the way she says it better.

The double edge, however, now that she knows what she wants and knows how to say it is that I don't always want to oblige. For example, "Outside, Dada," Okay. Pack up towel, sippy cup, sunblock, Popsicle, etc., and outside we go. No problem. No trouble. Five minutes later, "Inside Dada." Fuck. Really? "No. Outside," I'd argue, then start pointing out all the advantages.
"Inside Dada. Inside Dada. Inside Dada, waaaaaah" and it's my own damn fault for being so freakin' responsive in the first place. It's probably confusing as hell to her. What happened to Dada? Is he broken? I say what I want, he says no problem, I say no trouble, and everyone's happy.

All the way through Wednesday I wanted to pull what's left of my hair out, and just when I thought it couldn't get worse, it mercifully didn't. It got better. I got more sleep. I had some deep, meaningful talks with Amari and pretended she understood everything I had to say. I like to think the latter had something to do with it, but I'm pretty sure it was the former coupled with the ebb and flow that is parenting a blossoming toddler.

Who could stay mad at a face like this?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Bite to Remember

If a child bites in the forest and there's no one around to receive that bite, does it make a sound? The answer quite simply is no. 

A couple of months ago I wrote about Amari's go to defensive move - the bite - including pictures of the mark she left on Hunter's back before he went to Rochester for the summer. While he was away, however, not a single incidence of biting. Granted, she does like to shove Oscar Magee around from time to time, but somehow that never seemed quite as bad. You can't take a finger off with a shove. Now that Hunter's back, Amari's bite is once again worse than her bark. 

Jim writes it off as payback for months of Hunter abuse, but I can't stand it. Behaviorally, I know that kids (and grown ups, too) do things for two simple reasons: to gain something or to escape something. The times Amari goes to the bite, she is sending a message to Hunter that says, "I want what you have...that's my stuff...or your in my personal space." Regardless of the motivation, however, I'm determined to nip it in the bud. 

According to what I've learned, the secret to successful discipline - outside of reinforcing positive behaviors as often as possible - is not only to interrupt the undesirable behavior immediately but also to offer your child other, more acceptable ways to get their needs met. This week, Amari has had three time outs ranging between 1-2 minutes followed by suggestions on how to ask Hunter to share toys or how to move when someone's crowding you. 

The first time out was very traumatic for both of us. I was stern, loud, and direct. Initially, I think she thought it was some kind of game, because she smiled at me as if to say, "Yeah, let's play the Don't Bite Hunter Game." She looked proud and for a brief moment sociopathic. Then came the remorse or the separation anxiety when I sat her down in a chair in the corner, said one last, "NO BITE," and left her to sit by herself. Oh the tears and the wailing, but she sat there until she saw me glance back, and then she put her arms out and said, "Up Dada." I quizzed her briefly about biting, but I couldn't stay mad. 

As the week progressed, her behavior improved, but each time I saw her open her mouth and lean in towards Hunter, I snatched her up and returned her to the chair. Yesterday morning marked a small improvement when Amari saw Hunter riding her wooden rocking horse and let him know she wanted a turn by leaning in and biting the horse as hard as she could. 

Now what the hell do you do with that?

                                                                      NO BITE!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Speaking Words of Wisdom

Me - not so much. The Beatles - a lot. Although love may not be all we need and happiness may not always be a warm gun, Let It Be is both a beautiful song and useful, time-tested mantra. It's also no surprise that this song always reminds me of my mother, Mary, who passed away five years ago today.

I've been thinking about my mom a lot lately. My close friend Melissa lost a parent to cancer recently, which brought up some feelings and questions as to whether it's better for death to come suddenly - as it did with my mother - or slowly as it did with hers. I imagine initially it is better to know, to be able to say the things you want to say - I love you, I'm sorry, thank you, whatever - but after that, as death grows closer and more painful, I imagine a quick end would be best for everyone.

In my case, I received a phone call at four in the morning from my sister Rebecca who lived a few miles from our mother in India. A call from my sister at this hour was not that uncommon. Even though the time difference is a nice, round, twelve hours, she still managed to call at all sorts of ungodly times to report nothing in particular.

"I can never remember if I should add or subtract," she'd say, lounging about in the mid-day sun.
"How about neither?" I'd remind her, explaining the simple system for the umpteenth time.

Much like in the past, I was annoyed when I answered the phone. This time Rebecca skipped the pleasantries and apologies. She was crying and having a difficult time speaking. Finally, she managed to get out, "I think Mom's dead."
That annoyed me more and I replied, "You think Mom's dead. You can't do that. You can't call me up and say you think Mom's dead. Find out for sure and call me back." Who does that? Who calls at four in the morning with a guess, a phone call from my Mom's driver alerted Rebecca that my mom might not be breathing and that's when Rebecca called me with the possible news.

I sat by the phone for several minutes, trying not to think about anything at all. I'm sure I failed, and when the phone rang again, my sister gave me the definitive news. I called my brother immediately, then went into my bedroom to tell Carrie. For several minutes I tried to wake her up, but each time I reached out to touch her, I imagined saying the words, "My mom is dead," and I started crying. Finally, she woke up on her own, and finally I managed to actually say the words. The tears continued for quite some time.

Another reason I've been thinking about my mom is Amari. I see my mother in her - not physically, but in her being. She is sweet and kind and loving. I also know that the intuitive side of my parenting comes from the way my mother raised me. She was fair even when life wasn't, and she was loving when we needed it the most. I wish she could have met Carrie and Amari, and I wish she could have seen me become a man through the experience of being a husband and a father. I know she always had the faith in me that I lacked in myself.

I love you, Mom. And thank you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Super Babies

I read in Sports Illustrated today that nine year-old, Kayla Parsons, qualified for a World Amateur golf tournament at Myrtle Beach, S.C. breaking the record for youngest to qualify by a staggering four years. Meanwhile, Argentinian soccer phenom Leonel Angel Coira makes Kayla look like an old lady, signing a contract with European powerhouse Real Madrid at the ripe age of seven. The article then went on to describe a new movement in the field of genetics where parents can send a sample of their child's double helix and find out which sport(s) they might have a propensity towards.

A few things came to mind as I read the tongue and cheek article describing the author's own hopes that his five year-old daughter would become a famous etymologist (words) or entomologist (insects) when she brilliantly described a butterfly as a flutter-by. First of all, I wondered if children like Kayla and Leonel developed an interest in their gifts naturally, or if they were driven/supported/encouraged/forced by the vision of a parent or guardian? Maybe a little bit of both. Maybe it doesn't matter if there's love and a big fat paycheck at the end of all the hard work.

It certainly made me fee better about drilling Amari with the numbers and alphabet, and making her run laps around the house and do push-ups when she mispronounces words. Hey, it's what you've got to do if you want an under-four's spelling be champ. In all honesty, I hope Amari finds something she loves to do and excels at, but with the exception of an uncanny ability to melt my heart and pretty solid fine motor skills, I don't see any professional sports teams knocking on our door anytime soon.

That being said, however, here's a recent video of Amari enjoying herself at Reya's soccer practice. Although the practice was a joke, with parents other than Noah and Nicole showing up no earlier than twenty minutes late, the kids were all pretty cute. Amari is also very good at turning things into hats if that ever becomes a valued spectator sport.

Today, in her heart melting workout routine, Amari added a new move. She loves repetition. In, out, up, down, open, close, anything and everything over and over again until she masters it. Today it was the swinging screen door at the front of our house, followed by the steps down into the yard. Open, close, down, up, open, close, turn and start again. I always take advantage and try to get stuff done while she's focused. When I finished up, I caught her at the  beginning of her cycle just outside and heading towards the stairs.
"Whatchya doin'?" I asked.
She turned around, looked up at me through the screen and said, "Bye bye, Dada. Miss you?"
I thought I was hearing things, because I'd never said that to her explicitly. "What?" I asked, and she repeated it perfectly and sweetly.

C'mon Reebok, Adidas, Nike - that's gotta be worth somthing.

Could this face sell shoes or what?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Thought...

Our small, coastal hamlet was rocked this weekend by the murder of its former mayor and current city councilman Jere Melo. The news broke this morning and it came in the wake of a similarly grisly murder that took place just over two weeks ago. It is purported that both victims stumbled upon marijuana grow scenes and both were shot and killed as a result. There is more information about Melo's murder, including a suspect and local transient who is considered armed, dangerous, and hiding out somewhere nearby.

I'm writing this because I feel unsettled. Everything changes to some degree when you have children, a family, people in your life whom you care for deeply. There were years in my early twenties when the thought of being a killer's next victim would have been a welcome relief - an end to the useless existence I was living. I'm sure people cared for me just as much as they do now, but I didn't care at all.

Now I feel concerned for the safety of my daughter, my wife, my mother-in-law, the countless people in our community who have become extended family to me. It takes a unique kind of crazy person to actually point guns at people and kill them, and it is not the kind of person I want roaming around while we're going about our daily business.

That's all. When things like this strike so close to home, it's hard not to feel affected. I hope they catch the asshole soon.

Blessings to the Melo family.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Piece Out

We made it. The first week of our transitions back to work and solo daytime parenting is over. The key to success - rolling with the unpredictability and reminding myself to be extra patient with Amari because these major changes must feel confusing.

For her part, Amari kept me on my toes. Monday was a breeze - busy, fast-paced, and gone before I knew it. After that, it was anyone's guess when Amari was going to turn from a cave toddler into a whine-o-saurus. Tuesday she was an angel all morning, but a nightmare when she woke up from her nap. And by nightmare, I mean a mildly bad dream where you've been attacked by one of those koala bears with the Velcro hands or a piece of fabric softener that didn't work. Wednesday, however, she switched it up, finally returning from her morning visit to planet Cling-On in the afternoon. Thanks to the sun and a $20 Rite-Aid swimming pool, we spent a good chunk of Thursday and Friday in the back yard.

Amari's language develop continues in leaps and bounds, surprising me daily, and reminding to both watch what I say, and say whatever it is I'm watching. The more we give our children a narrative for our shared experience the more quickly they understand the world we live in. I want to mention a couple of the moments I've found most endearing.

1. Wednesday morning, when everything that could go wrong did, left me without telephone, Internet, and patience. Late nights of work had caught up with me, and when I not only couldn't solve the technology problems without assistance but somehow managed to make them worse, I muttered "Fuck. Fuck," to myself within earshot of Amari. Keen on saying the first and last words of my sentences, she jumped at the opportunity to mimic this very short one by saying, "Fook. Fook."

2. I love it when Amari uses words in context that she learned on another occasion. The other day, as I placed her in her car seat, I asked aloud, "Where's your binky?" She promptly responded, "Pocket." I don't even remember teaching her that word. It's pretty cool.

3. One time, while sharing a carbonated beverage with Amari, I let out a little burp, said "burp," as it escaped, and then giggled. It became Amari's favorite game for the next ten minutes as she took sips of the drink, said "burk," and then instructed me to do the same again...and again. A week later, with the game a distant memory to me, Amari took a sip of my juice spritzer, smiled at me and said, "Burk."

4. I love how she says coffee - Foffee - and waffle - Faffle. I love how she loves coffee, but I don't love how much she'll drink it if I let her.

5. Potty Training: I can't even call it training. As Carrie pointed out, it's more like Potty Availability or Potty Opportunity. Amari gets it, she likes it, and now she has added pooping to her repertoire. Two things amaze me: how quickly it has happened and how quickly we as parents get accustomed to these amazing accomplishments.

I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shitting For the Cycle

When we started potty training last week, the Giants were slumping terribly, slipping into second place behind the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks. I was in full-swing, August baseball mode and began equating Amari's learning curve to a batting average. The first two days, the similarities were remarkable.

Early in a season, when a hitter gets off to a hot start, you might see his average as high as .400, which means getting a hit four times in every ten at bats. Only thirty-five times since the origin of baseball has a hitter maintained an average above .400 for an entire season, and only once (Ted Williams in 1941) has it been accomplished in past seventy years. Generally, the law of averages, regression to the mean, BABIP, whatever you want to call it, will pull a hitter's average down into a more normal range of .250 to .280. Maybe 15-20 players each year will hit above .300.

Similarly, I imagine a good average for early potty training is also about a forty percent success rate. Amari's first day, she went two for three - twice in the potty and once on the rug for a healthy .667. Day two, she went one for four and saw her average plummet to .429. Unlike baseball, however, the hope for a successful potty training season is to get that average up to one thousand.

After the first two days I was optimistic. We showered Amari with cheers and love and stickers for her chart when she succeeded and downplayed the swings and misses, even when it meant tiny pellets of poop on the living room carpet. She proudly carried her little pool of pee or poop to the main bathroom, bid them farewell with a melodic, "Bye, bye pee pee," and flushed the toilet (often more than once). The stickers have gotten a little out of hand, but we do our best to limit them to three per pee. The chart is much more decorative than organized.

Now, a week into the process, I am completely amazed. If Amari were a baseball player, she would be signed a multi-million dollar long-term contract. Yesterday morning I watched as she was playing by herself across the room. Suddenly she interrupted her conversation with her stuffed donkey, stood up, and said, "Pee pee. Potty," walked over, and did her business. The rest of the day was mistake free until I returned in the evening when she got distracted by a video of herself on the way to the potty and peed in front of the television. Nonetheless, a five for six showing which foreshadowed today's six for six performance.

She's not always diaper-free, but when she is she appears to be into the potty training process. Even when I put her overnight diaper on, right before bedtime she went over to her potty, sat down, and did her thing. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Things like no more loud, whiny, diaper changes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Designer Poop

About two and a half months ago I excitedly wrote an entry titled "Poop Goes in the Potty" after the creepy song on the For the Kids Three album. It felt like the beginning of an era which, when followed immediately by an excited dad chasing his kid around saying, "Do you have to potty now? How about now? Now do you? Potty? No?" fizzled into an aberration...and perhaps a future personality disorder or at the very least a phobia.

Now, with the help of good old Father Time, the infinitely wise (and totally rich) Dr. Sears, and your friendly neighborhood acid trip - I mean Walmart - we have decided once again to embark upon the road to diaper-freedom. The journey began last Saturday in aisle six thousand something, a distant corner of WM's massive Ukiah complex lined with everything you never imagined your child could possibly need - and then six more of each of those things designed by everyone from Disney to John Deere.

After picking up a twelve pack of Dora the Explorer underwear, we headed over the to Tower of Potties located ironically right across from the Mountain of Diapers. It was as though they were taunting or daring or perhaps just quietly whispering, "C'mon. It's much easier to change a diaper than to clean shit off a carpet." With the exception of a case of overnight Huggies, we resisted their charms and stayed focused on our mission.

Carrie had read in one of our Sears books that getting kids involved in choosing their beds and their potties helps them to become invested in the transitions. Although the number of choices was daunting, I was on board, Carrie was excited, and Amari was about twenty feet away looking at a shovel shaped like a frog. Carrie and I discussed our options and the only suggestion I made was choosing one with a softer seat than the cheapo we had at home. Initially ignoring this suggestion, Carrie began pulling potties off the shelves and placing them on the floor. Eventually, she'd barricaded our aisle and summoned Amari, who had now discovered a turtle that doubled as a drum or a bowl, over to choose her potty.

Let me quickly mention that her choices included a bright pink princess potty complete with magic wand flush sounds, a Cars potty with contrasting vroom vroom soundtrack, and a Fisher Price potty that had different sounds for different potty activities. It's shocking how early the gender role imprinting begins - girls poop is magic and boys poop is like cars driving really fast. Fun. There were other choices without soft seats, but when Carrie realized Amari was much more interested in shitting on her frog or turtle, she narrowed the selection down to three. Amari then narrowed it down to one - a bright, pink, princess potty.

So, stage one complete. Success - except for the pink and the princess part. On the way home, however, Carrie said she doesn't want her contempt for those things to influence Amari either. I appreciated her open-mindedness both in the moment and afterwards, because my first reaction was, "Are you sure you don't want this one?" Vroom, vroom?

Tomorrow, I will submit my first report on stage two.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

F$ck, Sh*t, Moth$r F#@ker

It's nothing really, just the beginning of my new blog, "Swearing from the Outside In." I don't really have much of a potty mouth unless I'm trying to make a point or upset religious people, but the days of cavalierly shouting out a Goddammit or a Shit or a Fuckin' A are now behind us.

The short but sweet story is this. Yesterday Carrie was lovingly holding Amari in her arms when a brick planter box appeared from its stationary position it had been resting in for the past twenty years and stubbed her on the toe. Her reaction, much like mine would have been, was an emotional, "Oww, son of a bitch." Amari immediately echoed her sentiments by saying, " chh."

Time to teach her how to rap.


What you lookin' at bi chh?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Key In the Hand...


is worth about a million in the car - especially when it's locked. 

I don't believe in coincidence anymore. Too many experiences in my life, when honestly reflected upon, have come with signs/omens/seemingly random thoughts, and today's was no different. Last week, at the end of one of our adventure walks, I flashed on how horrible it would be to arrive back at the car only to discover the keys had dropped out of the pocket of the stroller at some point during the past three hours of trekking around logging roads. It occurred to me almost simultaneously that it would be really smart to have a hide-a-key tucked away somewhere under the car. I wondered for a moment if they were obsolete - like fanny packs or walkmans - and then I wondered where we might go for lunch before, never returning to the practicality of hidden spare keys. 

Until today. 

This morning I drove to my employers with Amari napping in the back has I have done countless times since her birth. Upon arriving, I popped the trunk, clicked the unlock bottom to open all the doors, and simultaneously rolled up my windows because there were a couple of guys in the driveway swinging golf clubs and kicking up dust. I made small talk, declined a morning beer, unloaded my boxes, bid farewell, and closed the trunk. When I got to my door, however, it wouldn't open. Locked. I checked my pockets. Empty. I looked in the car. Bingo. And by bingo I mean shit, fuck, piss, goddammit. 

Luckily, Amari was sleeping, unaware that her dad had made his first really big parenting boo boo. Thankfully, some of her favorite tunes were playing softly on the stereo. Mercifully, the fog had only just rolled out, so the sealed car was still comfortably cool. These factors combined stopped me from panicking, and I quickly started to make phone calls. Carrie - no answer. Melissa - dead phone. AAA Road Side Assistance - forty-five minutes and a promise they would try to hurry. 

Meanwhile, Chris's slightly buzzed buddy, Brian ("with and I") said, "I've got a Slim Jim in the car." Weird right? "I don't know why. It came with my truck," he added. He proceeded to go to work on the driver's side door, but with very little success. Fueled perhaps by the Keystone Light in his other hand, Brian persisted until Chris suggested they try a different approach.  Chris pried open the top of the driver's side door, and slid the Slim Jim in to manually unlock the door. This went on for several minutes and with each failed attempt Amari began to stir slightly until she was wide awake staring at this long, metal blade poking around where her dad was when she'd drifted off to sleep. 
s thi
"You'd better hurry up, Chris," I urged him, ducking out of site to avoid Amari realizing this wasn't just a dream. Less than two minutes later - click, clack, open, and Chris and Brian saved the day. I was completely relieved, especially that Amari will never know what happened until she reads this blog and realizes why she has an irrational fear of snakes breaking into our car. 

For the rest of the day, I washed my shame and stupidity away by telling as many people as I could about what happened. I felt terrible, but if there's one thing I've learned as a parent it's that the severity of a mistake is not measured by its action but rather by its outcome. Although I doubt I'll make that same mistake again - tomorrow, Hide-A-Key.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter and the Disappointing Ending

This afternoon Carrie and I enjoyed the rare treat of going out to a movie together. I think this may be our fourth movie in twenty plus months, and only the second one I can actually remember because I wasn't sleep deprived. The other one was was Pirates IV, which did not have a disappointing ending because that would imply the rest of the movie provided a non-disappointing contrast. I guess I'm just over sword fighting and slurring.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, has been a memorable part of my life for nearly a decade now. Carrie and I read all the books and anxiously awaited each movie release. The books grew longer, darker, and more complex with each volume, and the movies did their best to keep up, including the executive decision to split the final chapter into two parts. Having now watched both parts, I can honestly say that I would have preferred either some major editing of the first part and a single volume three and a half hour, Lord of the Rings-like movie, or just a plot summary that stated, "Previously, at Hogwarts...," or "Previously, in what we decided wasn't worth filming..." 

The Deathly Hallows Part I was the weakest HP link in the series, and although it left you wanting more (i.e. the rest of the book), it was mostly because it was just starting to pick up speed. Yes, I fell asleep a little in Part I, but much like the books, the movies seem to get darker, too. Part II, however, be it a popcorn-induced sugar rush or the novelty of Amari-freedom, had me riveted the entire time. With the long lag between the final book and the final movie, I barely remembered what was going to happen next. What ensued was two hours of dramatic, magical fight scenes, epic battles, dragons, horcruxes, surprising heroes, and...AND...a disappointing ending. 

Spoiler alert!

I felt the same way about the book when the author - probably coaxed by the publishers - added a final chapter nineteen years in the future where Harry, Hermoine, and Ron are dropping their kids off at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters to catch the Hogwarts Express. I didn't need it when I was reading, and I didn't need it when I was watching. What made it worse on the screen was the complete and utter lack of energy put into trying to make any of the characters look any older. 

I mean seriously - they can make Ralph Fiennes look like a snake and bring Jerry Garcia back from the dead to play a wizard, but they can't add a few years to kids?  Ginny looked younger at 37, Harry had what wanted to be a five o'clock shadow, and I think Ron shoved a pillow under his shirt. It was laughable, which is why Carrie and I burst out laughing the minute we saw them. I hope the characters got a kick out of it because it was ridiculous. Maybe they all took some polyjuice potion with the hair of their own adolescence or something. I guess it's a weird place for me to stop suspending disbelief...

Other than that, however, awesome move. A+ finish to an all-time classic series.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Day at the Beach

One of the joys of parenting is getting do-overs, getting to re-experience the novelties of life through the eyes of your child. Whether those experiences were joyous or difficult, memorable or non-existent, they have the opportunity to be remembered, shared, and recreated.

I spent a good chunk (pun intended) of my childhood overweight and uncomfortable in my own, and those feelings were amplified in surroundings such as public swimming pools, beaches, and the 1980's where neither pegged pants nor my Flock of Seagulls hairdo made me feel any better about myself. Carrie dealt with similar issues in her childhood, though her fashion sense probably served as a stronger protective factor than mine. Nonetheless, we got each other and support each other's silent boycott of uncomfortable settings.

Now that Amari's here, I realize I have to get over it. I know the way I feel about myself is incongruous with the way I look, but more importantly I can't deprive Amari of experiences that she will no doubt enjoy just because I'm self-conscious. In Tahoe I began the journey of not giving a shit, and took Amari to the community pool in my dad's neighborhood. We had a blast, and I succeeded at feeling comfortable, even confident and proud as my little girl braved the novelty of the biggest pool she'd ever seen.

Today, back at home, we had our first family beach day. Carrie was reticent, but agreed to go. The Gold's joined us and we all enjoyed splashing around in the water, walking on the sand, soaking up the sun, and watching our little people take it all in.

Amari had been to the beach a few times as a pre-walking infant, and she loved it, but since she started walking the sand kind of freaks her out a little. Initially, this time was no different, and she wanted to be carried down to the water. When I tried to put her down on the firm sand, she would raise her feet up and squeal. She had me carry her into a little river by the ocean and walk around for quite some time before she got the courage up to walk along its shore. By the end of the afternoon, however, she was traipsing through streams, climbing up sand banks, and thoroughly exhausting herself.

Besides watching Amari overcome her fears, the highlight of the afternoon was building drip castles with Noah by the water. He's a better architect than I am, but it was nice reminiscing about our early beach days - his in Hawaii and mine thousands of miles away on the west coast of India. It's pretty cool how life brings up together with the people we love.


About a year ago today

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Assertiveness Training at Tot Town

It's actually called Tahoe Tot Spot, and it happens to be where I've spent the last two mornings re-acclimating to daytime single-parenting. Carrie has an AP English training this week, so we've combined a vacation visit to my dad's in South Lake Tahoe with her professional obligation on north shore. Tahoe Tot Spot is a super fun indoor playground I wrote about in April where there is open playtime for toddlers from 10 - 2 almost every day. It's about a thousand square feet of gym mats, trampolines, balls (an entire pool of balls pictured above), scooters, dolls, toys, and other kids. And best of all, it's a prelude to long-assed afternoon naps - which I happen to be enjoying right now.

It's also a great venue for other parents to get adult contact. I've been pleasantly surprised by how candid both the moms and dads I've met there are. Parenting is truly an experience that can unite total strangers - like surviving natural disasters or war. There is also the common thread of pride and joy we all experience and there is no better audience than another parent dying to share their story.

Yesterday's visit at "The Spot" was relatively uneventful. The owner's daughter, Daisy showed Amari the ropes and invited her to play a game of make believe family where (I know it's a stretch) I was The Dad, Amari was The Kid, and she was The Big Sister. Very Cute. I learned later that she has a big sister of her own and wants more than anything to be one herself. According to her mom, she's SOL outside the realm of make believe. I don't blame mom, two seems like plenty.

Today, however, there was another (much less adorable) little sister longing to be big. I should preface by telling you that she also had some weird skin condition all over her legs and arms that made me uncomfortable in a protective parenting kind of way. I'm sure it wasn't contagious, but that didn't stop me from tracking where the kid had sat and what she had touched.

In the kitchen area Amari was playing her third round of fill the shopping cart with fake fruits and veggies when Scabby decided to join in and help with the shopping. Amari didn't mind the girl filling the cart for her, but when she tried to help push the cart Amari (sort of) gently removed her hand. The girl persisted, and the second time, Amari grabbed her by the wrist, removed her hand from the cart, and then backed the girl up to the closest wall and placed her arm against it. Had I not seen the events leading up to her acts, I might have worried Amari was bullying the three year-old, but having witnessed the whole thing I felt a little pride mixed with some serious worry that she'd touched a very rashy, disgusting wrist for much, much too long.

Later on, back in the Ball Pool, Amari was gaining confidence, sliding off the edge and into the pool and eventually letting me toss her in from the edge. Towards the end of our time, a grandma showed up with two boys - probably about two and four years old. I don't usually believe in coincidence and this was no exception, because at approximately the same time as the two boys showed up, the Pool of Balls started smelling like poo. And by approximately, I mean exactly, and by started smelling like poo, I mean really started smelling like poo. As a subtle gesture, I said, "Amari, did you make poo poo?" then picked her up and checked her pants. The other parents ignored my hint. I rinsed, repeated, and said out loud, "Let me double check. Nope. No poo poo here." Nothing. Finally, I said, "I think somebody in this pool has a doo doo." The mom and grandma checked and both said they'd found nothing. Later on in the kitchen area, same grandma, same boys, same smell. Mercifully, it was noon and time to head home for this glorious nap...

When Amari wakes up, we'll have lunch and head down to the community pool. So far on this vacation she has graduated from her four inches of water at home to Jess's two foot pool to my dad's hot tub to full immersion in a nice outdoor pool by the lake. Video and pictures coming soon. For now, here are some more action shots from Tot Town.


Protective Gear

Ahhhh, balls of poo...

Sunday, July 10, 2011



During tonight's ritual of postponing sleep by naming parts of my face, I asked Amari if she wanted to count with me. She'd surprised me earlier in the week by saying the number "two" while I was counting, and then yesterday Carrie said she'd uttered other random numbers all the way up to ten. 

I started us off with "one," she said "two," I said "three," 
"What about eight?" I asked, and she just giggled. I imagine she will continue to blow my mind on a daily basis for years to come.

What did happen to eight?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Love is the Underside of Leaves

I can't remember who wrote it or why it meant so much to me, but there was a time when "Love is the underside of leaves" was, in my opinion, just about the best thing ever written. It was actually on a short list of names for this blog. It moved me, it made perfect sense, and it was exactly what I needed at the time. That's what parenting has become these past weeks - a series of moments, one after another, each dethroning its predecessor as the perfect memory - the new queen of the cutest things ever. I imagine it's like pausing at breathtaking views on the long journey up Mt. Everest thinking, "Wow. It doesn't get any better than this," and then finding an even better view just around the corner.

I honestly can't keep up anymore. I had a fantasy that I would keep track of every word Amari ever said in a little journal and be able to tell her later, "And the six hundred and tenth through twentieth words you said were Why the fuck is Dada always writing in that stupid journal. So adorable." Instead, I struggle to get my own words out twice a month. In the spirit of re-commitment and never being caught dead with a Word Journal, however, I will now try to write more often and more briefly about the cute shit Amari does. I would probably call it, "Love is the Cute Shit Amari Does," and it would mean everything to me.

Here are a few catch up stories:

1. HOT!!

Hot is a good word to teach your kid. Long before any words came out of her mouth, Carrie and I agreed that it would be funny to teach Amari the meaning of the word hot (as it pertains to a stove because that's a powerful lesson), and then use the word freely to keep Amari away from things like electric sockets, our television, and food we don't want to share.

This never happened, but Amari did eventually learn the correct meaning of hot and cold and is able to use them correctly and contextually. The other night during dinner, however, I gave Amari a piece of chicken with some hidden hot sauce on it. Amari immediatly began whining her protests, so I went to the sink to get her some cold water. She followed me with her tongue sticking out of her mouth saying, "Hot, hot, hot..." and before I could fill a cup up for her she began licking the fridge door, which she'd already learned was just about the coldest place in our house.


About a week ago, Amari's language development took off. She went from yeah, no, kay, more, etc. to surprising the hell out of us at every turn. During a family meal with Granny C, we let one of her dogs, Emma, into the dinning room to clean up the food around Amari's high chair. Amari can say Emma clear as day and loves doing it whenever she gets a chance, often yelling "Emma! Emma!" when Emma is nowhere to be seen. Yesterday, on a walk in Marin, we passed a black lab on our way down to Phoenix lake. A very silent Amari suddenly perked up and began yelling, "Emma! Emma!"

On this occasion, however, after Emma had licked up all of Amari's fallen pasta, I said, "Amari can you give her a pat?" She obliged, and I added, "Good girl, Emma," and Amari immediately mimicked, "Goo gir, Emma," and gave her another pat. Wow, that's a freakin' sentence we all marveled.

A couple of days and a few timely "Goo gir's" later, Amari had done something I appreciated, so I signed and said, "Thank you, Amari." She smiled, patted herself on the chest and said, "Goo gir." Yes you are, I agreed.


A couple of mornings ago I was so grateful that I no longer smoke cigarettes, drink, or do drugs when Amari picked up my little bottle of nasal spray and began imitating a sniffing sound as she stuck the pointy end up each of her nostrils. Time to start being very conscious of what I say and do.


We're on the road at Babaji's house in Tahoe now. We spent two lovely days in Marin where Amari grew more comfortable with both Jessica and her swimming pool. When I put her to bed tonight, after her ritual bottle she wasn't quite tired enough so she engaged me in a game of Which Part of Your Face is That? She points and says things like, "Nose," "Eye," "Che," until we've covered all the ones she knows and the ones she wants to know. After that, she said, "Bye Dad," expecting Mama to come and take over as she usually does at home. I happened to know that wasn't going to happen, so I said, "No, Dada stay." She looked at me for a moment, then patted my arm and said, "Goo gir, Dada," and snuggled up to sleep.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Words, words, words...

Last week my buddy Noah turned me on to a new comedian named Bo Burnham who has a one hour special called "Words, words, words." Burnham is a nineteen year-old, self-made YouTube star, who plays the guitar and the piano, sings, pushes the comedic envelop, and is an incredible wordsmith. At one point in his show, in response to traditional comedians who frown upon the use of instruments or props, Burnham claims, "I don't need that stuff. I can do straight comedy," standing very still in front of his mic he continues, "What do you call a guy with no arms or legs and an eye patch?"

"Names," he blurts and throws confetti he'd pulled from his pants into the audience. That still makes me giggle.

On the home front, Amari is also all about words, words, words. She comes out with new ones every day, and she appears to be gaining confidence and momentum. A couple of weeks ago she finally came out with the word "No." Although we've been saying it to her for months, she never said it back. She used words like "Yeah," and "Kay," often, decisively, even enthusiastically, but the head shake was her go to rejection move. Now she the word.

As are many things with toddlers, "No" was initially adorable. "Watch this we'd boast," asking Amari if she wanted to change her diaper or take a nap. I even managed to train her to respond to the question "What does Dada say?" with a confident "No, no, no." She would even sing the word sometimes, making whatever she was saying no to completely and utterly meaningless. "Do you want to brush your teeth?" Singing melodically (sort of), "Noooooo."

Okay, whatever you want, sweetie.

More recently, however, no has taken on a life of its own. While she used to be perfectly happy with most songs we listen to in the car, she's now like a veteran pitcher shaking off the signs from their rookie catcher. "No," next song, "No," fast forward, "No," and so on until I get the merciful "Yeah/Kay," which invariably leads to listening to that song six or seven times. If her no is ignored, she lets me hear about it. Same goes with the home movies she used to watch indiscriminately. The Power of No is strong with this one.

Other times, the words aren't so clear. A couple of mornings ago Amari woke up and started pointing above our bed and saying what sounded like "Ele-plan." We have a giant, Indian, hanging with Ganesh on the wall directly above our pillows, so I assumed and was very impressed that she was saying, "Elephant." Carrie, my English teaching wife, thought she was pointing at our ceiling fan and saying, "Air-o-plane." This, of course, led to an elaborate argument on my part as to why that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. Why on earth would she suddenly think fans are airplanes? Blah, blah, blah. Later that very day, however, Amari pointed to the ceiling fan at my brother's house and very clearly said, "Eloplan."

Although words present a whole new range of challenges, I'm really looking forward to having long and ridiculous conversations with my daughter...

Here are a few of the videos I made recently. Soon I'll have to turn down the music  so we can hear what she's saying.

Amari and friends ride our horse:

Animal noises with Hunter:

Welcome to Serena:

There are lots on the site once you get there, so feel free to look around.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The End of an Era

For Siobhan...

Yesterday we said good-bye to my niece, Siobhan, who has been living with us for the past ten months. She arrived last August, suddenly displaced from the boarding school home she'd lived in for the past six years, thrust into a new school in a new country with a family she barely knew. She was brave...for a while, but once the novelty had worn off she became homesick and lonely. She isolated and withdrew from our family. She became invisible - only invisible people don't leave dishes in the sink or wake up twenty minutes before it's time to go to school. She was never a bad kid, never defiant or disrespectful - I don't even think she ever intentionally did things to aggravate me. It was more passive - an unwillingness to participate in her life, in our family, and eventually that became unacceptable.

The last time I wrote about Siobhan my buddy Jim expected the entry to end with a homicide and a hidden corpse. I was frustrated, sad, guilty that I might not being doing a good enough job as Siobhan's part-time parent, and I had to vent somewhere. Eventually, when things came to a head, I talked to Siobhan about it up in Tahoe over our spring break. I suggested she might do well to go home for while, see what she was missing so much, spend time with mom and dad and friends, and if she wanted to, come back next February for her last semester of school. I needed a break, Carrie needed a break, and I believe Siobhan needed to feel like she could go home.

When spring break ended and we returned home, Siobhan was a completely different person. She seemed happy, comfortable in her skin, more like the teenager I imagined she would become. She did her chores, said please and thank you, helped out with Amari, kept her bedroom door open, and quickly became a part of our family. At school her social calendar suddenly filled up, she went to prom, and I'm pretty sure she even started studying for her SAT and AP exams. It was as complete a one-eighty as a temporary, part-time parent could hope for. Even Carrie said, "If she were like this all the time, I'd beg her to stay."

By the end of May I knew I would miss Siobhan. Not because she emptied the dishwasher every night, but because I was proud her - proud of her courage for coming here, proud of her ability to overcome the emotional and psychological challenges of such an enormous change, and proud of her willingness to do what it took to right the course when she strayed away.

I spent my entire childhood bouncing back and forth between India and America. It became a part of who I was have two separate lives. I had friends and family on both sides of the world, and eventually saying good-bye just became "See ya later." I never really missed things for very long, because they would eventually be right in front of me again. For Siobhan, this was different. Everything she knew and loved, the family of friends she'd cultivated over years, was swept out from under her. She was given unappealing choices and made a decision based on family politics and perhaps the perceived lesser of two evils. I imagine she missed everything and didn't know what to do with all of those feelings.

I learned a lot from having her here. I learned that I'm probably difficult to live with in some ways. I've learned to pick my battles and think carefully before responding. I've learned to ask open-ended questions, lest I get very closed-ended answers. I've learned that feeling like an asshole is an unavoidable experience in parenting. I've learned that it takes more than patience to inspire change. And most importantly, I've learned that I definitely need another fifteen years to get these lessons down before Amari is Siobhan's age.

All in all, I'm glad she came. When I asked her yesterday what she'd learned about herself in the last year, she gave me a very typical Siobhan answer, "I've learned lots of things." Even open-ended questions don't get you very far sometimes.

Happy travels, Siobhan. I hope you'll stay in touch and believe us when we say you're welcome to come back.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What It Means...

I'd like to say I spent the past four weeks mastering the art of potty training, basking in a diaper-free cloud of pride and euphoria, and inventing clever ways to slip said mission accomplished into every day conversation.
"Room for cream? I haven't had time to think about it with all the successful potty training I've been doing." But alas, poop in the potty was achieved merely as often as it was used as a blog title.

Instead, I turn my thoughts to Father's Day. I read a couple of articles in the newspaper this weekend describing the importance of fathers in our children's lives and lauding the recent increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. In fact, one source stated that women in our country finally outnumber men in the work force, which means dads are finally getting the opportunity to appreciate first-hand what women have known since the beginning of time: parenting is the most difficult and most rewarding job there is.

Having just survived my first year as a stay-at-home dad, Father's Day took on a new meaning. What felt, in the past, like another Hallmark holiday or an excuse of dad to sleep off his hangover, was now a day I'd earned, a day of my own, a day to sit for a moment and reflect upon what it means to be a father.

Being a father means so many things.

It means being a teacher, guiding my daughter with my hands, my words, my tolerance, my love, and my adoration.

It means being a coach, encouraging her to try new things, to practice, to master, to persevere through adversity, and to take breaks.

It means being a scientist, observing as she tests her boundaries, taking note of things that work, things that don't work, and realizing the experimental results may be completely different tomorrow.

It means being a story-teller, describing the world to her, giving her a narrative for her experience and  inviting her to create her own.

It means being a doctor, tending to her boo-boo's, physical and emotional, making sure she gets plenty of food, rest, and especially understanding.

It means being a historian, taking pictures, writing down milestones, chronicling defining moments and stories, exaggerating them with each telling as they blossom into embarrassments of adolescence.

Being a father means being a negotiator, a chauffeur, a pillow, a punching bag, a transition object, and a beacon of infinite patience and flexibility.

And most often and most importantly it just means being there...

Happy Father's Day Everyone!

Amari and Mama in the corral 

Happy Father's Day, Dada!

Post-bath Bundle

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Poop Goes In the Potty

Ahh, milestones. Those generally broad standards upon which we parents get to hang our hats of pride or our heads in shame; that pediatrician approved window within which we can stand up tall and say, "My kid is perfectly average."

I remember when I used to have time to read parenting books (or anything for that matter), and I would sneak a peak at the beginning of each month to see which developmental records Amari would be breaking that month. When she rolled over from her stomach to her back at the precocious age of two months, I knew she was not only a genius and the best looking baby on the planet, but she was also practically bionic. I'm pretty sure that was the last milestone she achieved early.

Today, at the completely average and expected age of eighteen and a half months, Amari took her very first poop in her very own potty. You might recall that diaper changes have been historically traumatic (or more accurately dramatic) for Amari. Just the mention of the D Word incites tears - probably because a cold wipe on a warm ass is totally unpleasant. I get it - I'm glad my toilet paper is dry and neutral fe

Fortunately for us, Amari does not have a poker face when it comes to taking a dump. Again, probably because large poops coming out of a small hole is totally unpleasant. In the past, when she's in the crouch, making the face and/or grunting, she'll shake her head vehemently when I ask if she's pooping. Today, however, she appeared to be particularly uncomfortable, so I asked, "Amari, are you pooping?" and she looked up at me in despair and managed to say, "Yeah," with tears in her eyes. I picked her up and asked, "Do you want to make poop in your potty?" to which she squeaked out the same, "Yeah."

So off we went and by the time we got to the potty, pants down, diaper off, she was ready to go. She cried a bit, but when I pulled her off and showed her what she'd done she marveled and pointed and then began crying again. I sat her back down and she cried and I held her and just a few moments later, a much larger reward awaited her. She appeared to very proud of herself, and after I cleaned her up, I took her to Granny C's for a high five while Mama finished her shower. When Mama was done Amari and I showed off her accomplishment, Mama and I sang the chorus of the Poop in the Potty song, and Amari ceremoniously dumped her milestone into the toilet and flushed.

For those who haven't heard the song, check it out:

No pictures of the poop, but here's a peak at the happy conquering heroine.