Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mercury Retrograde?

Thank God for the arbitrary and culturally defined division of time. Be it days, weeks, months, lunar cycles, or equinoctal axis rotations (it's a thing), we always get a chance to start anew. Today it's a Sunday - and pretty darn close to the end of January - which marks the end of an extremely challenging week. It wasn't anything in particular, just one of those periods of time that I felt a little "off," a little reactive, a chronic sense of being beneath or behind and incapable of getting back on track. 

I tried all my old tricks - making lists, prioritizing, taking action, and even acknowledging that Murphy's laws were in effect and embracing the excitement of what mini-disaster lay just around the corner - but nothing seemed to work. If my mom were alive today, she would probably pull out her handy, dandy ephemeris and tell me Mercury is retrograde, which of course would explain everything. Just looked it up to make sure, and unfortunately I can't even blame Mercury this time. Retrograde was in December and post-retrograde ended like ten days ago. 

One of the drawbacks to getting older and cultivating a sense of responsibility and accountability for my feelings is that I no longer get to blame my moodiness on others. Oh man, how I used to love to find easy targets to blame for anything and everything I was feeling. Instead, I have to run with the my old mantra, "Everybody sucks, it must be me." If everyone's pissing me off a little, then chances are, I'm the problem. 

I think the primary source of my frustration is a complete and utter lack of time. I love being a dad, and I've created a schedule which allows me to spend as much time with her as possible, but there are other things I'd like to do, that I have to do.  Carrie works all day, I work nights, and both of our schedules wear us down from time to time. The moodiness, especially on Sundays, can be contagious. If parenting were a paid gig, we'd be the happiest people on the planet. 

Three more weeks until February break...

The cool thing is, we have an awesome, little girl who, with a smile, a giggle, a kiss, or a new word, makes every single sacrifice totally worth it. Teeth are popping in all over the place (including a couple of molars), and although Amari cries unexpectedly and sleeps inconsistently, I still think she's a trooper. Her vocabulary is slowly increasing, and I'm pretty sure she understands just about everything. Sometimes when we're hanging out in the morning I like to play a game I call, "Fetch the random item across the room." It tests her knowledge and allows me to watch a few uninterrupted sports highlights.

Last week, Amari also got her first taste of gardening - and dirt. She absolutely loved both. For nearly an hour, Granny C weeded the daffodil bed in front of the house while Amari placed bits of grass and dandelions into and out of a bucket, occasionally pausing to taste a rock or a clump of dirt. The next morning, when we were walking to the car, Amari took a detour to where she'd been working the day before, pointed, and said, "More, more." 

I also introduced Amari to bubbles this week. What a joy to re-experience the simpler pleasures in life. Although she hasn't mastered the art of blowing the bubbles herself, opting instead to suck the soapy liquid off the wand, when I blow the bubbles she squeals with delight, occasionally saying, "Hello bubs," while waving frantically. 

I'm sure there's a ton I'm forgetting, but once again time is my foe. If I intend to start anew tomorrow, I'd better try to get some sleep. 

 Gardening with Granny C
Gettin' Messy
 My new shirt from Aunt Jessica
 Just fitting in with the Locals
Soil Sample

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blue's Clues - Where Did Steve Go?

Martha Allen, senior year Humanities, was by far the best teacher I ever had. She was kind, passionate, encouraging, and devoted. I imagine she made every single student in her classes feel as though she cared about them. During my final semester we read excerpts from various authors and I started a journal of ideas and quotes that affected me or changed the way I saw the world. I have no idea where that journal is today, but I've recently rediscovered its contents through my parenting experiences.

For example, Rita Mae Brown once wrote that "people are like teabags - you can never tell how strong they are until they're in hot water." Over the past couple of months, Carrie and I have learned that we have different, albeit complimentary, perceptions of hot water. When Amari was learned to walk, pulled a kitchen drawer out, flopped on her butt, clipped her gum on the drawer handle, and started bleeding profusely - I panicked, racing her upstairs saying, "Shit, shit, shit. Carrie, Carrie, Carrie." She calmly asked what happened, told me to blend up some ice and fruit, and wrap it in a sock to ice her gum. Problem solved, bleeding stopped, dad feeling pretty lame.

Last week, dad got some redemption. Arriving home after Carrie's bedtime, I was surprised to see the living room lights on, troubled to find her pacing and crying with a screaming Amari in her arms.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"She's been crying for almost an hour, she won't stop..."
"She has an earache. She needs to go to the ER," blurts Granny C from the rocking chair.
Annoyed, I snapped, "Did you go to medical school while I was out? Don't diagnose my daughter."

Granny C proceeded to share the "battery" of tests they'd conducted which included taking her temperature and yanking on her ears. Conclusion - earache. Prognosis - apparently not good.
"Let me take her," I said calmly and she continued to cry in my arms for a few seconds until I said, "Do you want to watch an episode of Blue's Clues?" Silence.
"Yeah," Amari uttered her latest and most awesome word. It's muffled and shortened, but it's definitely a 'yeah.' Alleged earache gone, ER and other catastrophes averted. Carrie went to sleep and Amari sat silently on the couch with me, tooth pain numbed by her love of Steve, Blue, Salt & Pepper, and maybe even the warm arm of her dad. She stayed up much too late that night, but eventually she leaned over on my side, closed her eyes, and slipped into a peaceful, vertical sleep.

Last weekend, I got another opportunity to demonstrate the strength of my teabag (don't worry this isn't a prison story). On Sunday, Carrie and I enjoyed a delicious brunch which included poached duck eggs, sweet potato hash, and pork sausages. Amari ate everything. Tons of it. Then she wanted to play in infant swing hanging from the ceiling. She was smiling and laughing and swinging and eventually spinning herself around in circles. She did this until we left twenty minutes later, and neither one of us gave it a second thought when we strapped her into her car seat. Less than a mile down the road we heard a cough followed by a little cry and when Carrie reached back to offer Amari a pacifier, she came back with wet fingers and the wonderful hypothesis, "Oh crap, I think she threw up."

Sure enough, upon pulling over, we discovered poor little Amari looking quite pale and exhausted by the volcanic ooze of eggs, sausage, and orange slime dripping down her chest and seemingly into every crevasse in the car seat. Carrie kind of freaked out a little - mostly grossed out, but also a little bit of what-the-hell-are-we-going-to-do-with-no-change-of-clothes-and-a-car-seat-full-of vomit panic. Without so much as a word - probably because I was holding my breath - pulled Amari from her brunch soup, stripped her down on the side of the road, put her jacked on her naked upper body and wrapped the rest of her in a blanket. "You sit in the back with Amari and we'll drive illegally." Any cop that had kids would either understand completely or throw the book at us. It was a risk I was willing to take.

Back to the work 'yeah' for a minute. Last week, Jim was lamenting the fact that both of our kids had mastered the universal head shake "No," but neither was able to say yes, except by process of elimination. Do you want this? Head shake. This? Head shake. This? Head shake - sometimes coupled with a disgusted look like, "Are you fucking kidding? I only like cottage cheese five minutes ago and five minutes from now." Amari is, moment to moment, extremely fickle. And yet she likes a lot of things provided you have a lot of patience.

Anyway, while the Calverts were away last weekend, Amari fulfilled Jim's wishes that one of the kids learn to say yes. I don't know how or when exactly it happened, but she suddenly started answering a very quick, abbreviated, "yeh," when we ask her questions. Are you hungry? Yeh. Do you want to go upstairs, outside, inside, etc.? Yeh. It's awesome. It opens up a whole new line of questioning possibilities. I've already caught myself saying things like, "Do you love dada?" Yeh. "Is dada the coolest guy ever?" Yeh. "Does dada deserve an award from a prestigious parenting society..." and so on. There is definitely a certain momentum to her use of the word.

On the flip side, however, the word 'yeh' also allowed Amari to inadvertently tell her first lie. I'm not sure that it was a lie as much as she was telling me how she felt, but two days ago when I smelled a distinctively full diaper, I asked Amari, "Did you make a poo poo?" In the past, she could just shake her head "No" and I would have just thought, "Well, that's all she knows how to do." But now that I know she can 'yeh' with the best, her head shake felt like a little stab in our unblemished bond.

On the fun and goofy side of parenting, I took a field trip last weekend and met my buddy Matt at my brother's house in Cloverdale. I think I mentioned last week that Amari has become a fan of the show Blue's Clues, which has been a blessing first thing in the morning when we're trying to make coffee, unload the dishwasher, start a fire, and just plain wake our asses up. Feeling a little guilty about putting her in front of the TV, I decided it would be cool to create interactive parent-child videos that I could put on instead. Me saying and doing things that she and I do together - reading books, singing Little Bunny Foo Foo, high-fiving, and so on. I started to script an episode of Blue's Clues which incorporates some of my favorite songs from childhood.

I also hoped that by including Matt and Jacob, Amari would feel close to them even though she doesn't see them very often. The result of the fun, goofy, creative afternoon was a two-part, almost thirty minute episode of Blue's Clues (including outtakes). If you have kids, screen it first, but I'm pretty sure it's G rated.

I really do love this job...

G'night all.

Part One:

Part Two:


Monday, January 10, 2011

Uh Oh...


With increasing frequency, Amari is determined to do things on her own. Although her independent eating challenges the last stronghold on any sense of order I had prior to parenting, watching the delight with which she pinches things between her fingers, clasps them in her palms, and eventually navigates them into her mouth is worth all the sticky surfaces, the hours of vacuuming, and the surprise treats left between cushions and beneath tables.

One of Amari's favorite toy is, I've learned, called a Shape O Ball - that many-sided ball with pieces that fit into a variety of shapes. She's liked it for ages now, and although we've transitioned it upstairs for a while, she manages to find Hunter's every time we visit the Calverts. She has excellent fine motor skills and a pretty good eye for circles. After that, it's a team effort - with me rotating the ball as quickly as she snatches up the next piece. I marvel at Amari's persistence and determination as she tries to put a triangle into a circle, then a square, a star, and finally its rightful place - across the living room with deserved frustration. Anger expressed, she presses on, and when all the pieces are in the ball or appropriately tossed aside (i.e. pentagon, cross, trapezoid), she quickly says, "Mo, mo." 

Similarly, now that she's walking, and now that she sees Hunter and Reya navigate their worlds with reckless abandon, she is challenging herself to do new things every day. At the bottom of the ramp that leads to Granny C's, there's a three inch drop off that is tricky for her tiny legs and feet. The first few dismounts, she fell forward onto her hands and knees with a loud grunt. Each time, she picked herself up, turned around, climbed up the ramp, turned around, and tried again. Face plant, face plant, face plant, and finally a success - after which she walked away and headed back home. 

Even language has become an endlessly adorable practice. Tonight, as we were putting Amari to bed she curled up between us, and began saying, "Dada, mapa, dada, mapa, dada, mapa," Every now and again she would look back at me as though to make sure I knew she was talking about me. One of our recent concessions (translation: necessities for mental health) has been introducing Amari to a show called "Blue's Clues." The main character is Steve, and a couple of days ago when he came on the TV, Amari ran up to the screen, waving her hand excitedly, and saying, "Hi St...Hi St..." not quite able to get the "-eve" out. Now that the charms of Jason Mraz have worn off, it's good to have Steve around. When Amari had a toothing meltdown earlier this week, he was the only one would could really calm her down. 

Matt and I are actually planning to make our own episode of Blue's Clues this weekend in hopes of giving Amari something to watch while maintaining that interpersonal connection when  dad needs to do get shit done. I'm curious to see how it works, because so far it's really just the videos of her that have her transfixed. 

We'll know soon.

Isaac Fishman

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Insert Clever Title Here

My dad spent Christmas here again this year, and every time he visits I get more excited about the possibility of him moving to the coast. This time we even looked at a few houses and found both the prices and availability promising. It's sad how many people are selling their homes - unless of course you're buying, in which case - awesome. Do it soon.

One night during the visit I told my dad I was going to stay up to do some writing, and he asked, very sincerely, "How do you do that? How do you start?" It was a good question, but there was no single answer. Sometimes it's obvious - a milestone, a birthday, a challenging experience- while other times it's more subtle - a feeling, a reflection, a compulsion to capture something that might otherwise slip away forever.

Today it's this...

How quickly becoming a parent has changed me. Twenty years ago, just six months out of high school, I left California holding the possibility that I may never return. My dad's alcoholism was culminating in failed relationships, legal problems, and a seemingly inevitable inertia towards something awful, while my mother was married to a drug addict/manufacturer/dealer and was cultivating a lethal relationship with cocaine. My brother was in his room with his bong almost as much as I was out of the house, and my sister was living in the San Francisco drinking away the pain of her first love's incarceration in England for trafficking drugs.

Good times. Good times. Life was pretty sweet back then.

The moral of the paragraph is that I wanted out. Badly. I worked twelve hour days, six days a week for almost seven months and saved enough money to get out of dodge for a year. I headed to Thailand then India and consequentially Europe. At first I felt guilty about leaving my dad, but the first taste of the liberation from family roles and obligations dissolved those feelings like and ice cubes in hot water. In the words of MLK, I was free at last.

When I landed in Amsterdam eleven months later, heart-broken from my first love affair, I found two jobs, an apartment, and started to imagine a permanent life abroad. My dad wanted/expected me to go to college and leaving to travel was the only form of rebellion I knew. He had gone to Spain for a summer after his first year of law school and returned seven years later with a wife, three kids, and a proclivity towards all things opiate. I think he feared I might do the same. In some ways I did.

My mother didn't pile the same expectations on me. Her hopes and guidance were more ambiguous and and even less helpful. According to her I was going to be a "very special person." According to her astrological charts I was going to pursue knowledge over wealth while my brother was going to be a millionaire. According to me, that kind of sucked, so I remained skeptical and took knowledge like I took everything else back then - with grain of salt and a shot of something strong. Instead of expecting me to return to college, my mom and her boyfriend decided to move to Amsterdam, too, throwing a wrench in my "as far away as possible" plan and prompting me to start researching other continents.

Ultimately, I returned to the States, to college, and in many ways to my family roles and obligations. My dad got better, got sober, got himself relocated and started a new life. Seven years later, when my life was falling apart, I ended up moving back in with him. I'm pretty sure it wasn't what he wanted in his life at the time, but he did it without hesitation, with love, and of course with a towel on the floor whenever I dared eat in the living room. I still wanted to be on the other side of the world somewhere, but I drank and used instead and struggled to find any direction in my life. Being close to my dad was probably what kept me alive.

A decade later and we're in different parts of the world again. I finally found what I was looking for and I no longer need to escape. I started a family and so did my dad. Now, although I can still relate to that anxious, itchy-footed teenager, I've become a very serene and sedentary adult. And now, I can't think of anything better than my dad spending the rest of his life here on the coast, here in our town, and even here on our street.

So, Dad. There you have it. That's how I write.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Calverts and we were discussing abstract art - specifically a piece in their bedroom that I think looks like it was drawn by their sixteen month-old son, Hunter. The question I asked, which Noah applauded was, "How does this guy know when he's done?" Melissa answered, "It's probably like you with your writing. He just knows."

I don't think that makes any sense at

How's that?

PS: I have the holiday video ready. It's set to a synth-pop version of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." I hope you all enjoy it. More videos coming soon.

PSS: I found an old photo of me with my dad where I could finally see that Amari looks a little like me. Or at least like I used to.