Monday, March 28, 2011

Stranger Danger or Twelve Down Eight To Go

I've been thinking a lot about my mortality lately. The fact that new pains seem to find their way into random parts of my body on a daily basis coupled with my fortieth birthday fast approaching and you've got a slightly hypochondriacal daddy. Unfortunately, I also have a low pain tolerance and an irrational fear of doctors, which just makes for whiny comments like, "Ouch. I should really go get that checked out," or "if that doesn't go away by my birthday..." or "Is there such thing as hangnail cancer?" Those really hurt.

Now I've been through bouts of existential thinking before - a war of attrition between meaningful and meaninglessness during my adolescence, the uncertainty of whether I wanted to live when I was drinking my life away in my late twenties and early thirties - but this feels different because I've grown very attached to my life, to my family, to my daughter. Although I'm still very much a teenager emotionally, there is no doubt left in my heart as to what in life is truly meaningful. The consequence of my certainty - the occasional bout of cognitive morbidity. If that doesn't go away by my birthday, I promise to...

start another paragraph. And another subject.

Amari's bottom left molar finally broke through last night. For the past month we've been anxiously monitoring her ever-swelling gum wondering when the hell it would finally happen. In the interim, countless tears, sleepless nights, and doses of Tylenol later, not only did the molar pop, but two others we hadn't noticed came in up above. I'm pretty sure that's twelve now, and if my Googling skills serve me correctly, that leaves only eight to go. Can I get an amen? Can I get a hallelujah? Never mind. I'll do it.

I went away this weekend to visit my buddy Matt from grad school. Matt and I used to spend every Thursday night watching TNT basketball double-headers and playing video games late into the night. Save the occasional Wii bowling at the Calverts, I honestly never play video games, but with Matt it became a ritual. When basketball season ended, we'd switch to baseball, and when the World Cup came around in 2006, Matt purchased the PS2 video game and we played and played and played until Portugal found their rightful place on the championship podium.

This time I arrived Friday afternoon, just in time for the last four Sweet Sixteen basketball games. The first two were routs, but the last two were nail-biters - in both cases coming down to the final shot. To unwind, we played eighteen holes of Wii golf, but promised to go shopping for a March Madness college basketball the next morning. The next day we palled around, made a short film about fantasy baseball (coming soon to a blog near you), and found an inexpensive used copy of March Madness '07. After Shelvin Mack hit a clutch three-pointer to complete Butler's comeback from nine points down against Florida, after the clock wound down to zero securing their improbable return trip to the Final Four, after both Matt and I developed man crushes on Bulldog's coach, Brad Steven's, we played the Madness video game (as Butler), and took them to their first national championship.

Note: Although Portugal did not win the 2006 World Cup, when Matt and I playeed again and took Spain to the title in the spring of 2010, the Spanish squad did in fact win the World Cup that summer, bringing us up to an astonishing 50% accuracy at Video Game Prophecies. Looks like Butler's bringing home the gold.

During our movie making, Matt and I each played two characters. He was an obsessed Boston Red Sox fan and a fantasy baseball Sabermetrics nerd and I was a dumb (albeit serious) player and a goofy British guy who didn't really know what he was talking about. Attempting to look different, I gave myself some lamb chop sideburns and a chin goatee, but not wanting to freak Carrie or Amari out I shaved them off before I came home. I did the same thing last time I was at Matt's, but Amari was only about six month's old, so she just tripped out on my face and touched my smooth cheeks. This time she wouldn't come near me for an hour. I'd say, "It's me, Dada," and she would look at Carrie or Granny C and roll her eyes as if to say, "Who's this guy trying to fool? I wasn't born seventeen months ago."

From the rest of the peanut gallery, I got comments like, "What happened to your face?" (Carrie) or "Ohhh, you look so...young" (Granny C with a very disappointed tone) and "Oh my God." (Siobhan) followed by an agreement with Carrie that I look better with a beard. I'm kind of used to it now because I've shaved a few times and been received with comparable warmth since I grew my beard a few years ago, but I can't say that it's entirely heart-warming that everyone thinks my face looks better covered with hair. How come nobody said anything the first 35 years of my life. Will I be getting a burka for my fortieth birthday?

I'm sure they just really love the rugged handsomeness of my beard. Either way, I won't be shaving it off in the near future unless Amari is right there to witness the transformation. It was only an hour, but it was sad to see her looking so suspicious of me. Kind of like this:

Who are you and where's my Dada?

I prefer this look:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Beware the Ides of March Madness

I like titles. I always have. When they say you can't judge a book by its cover what they're really saying is you shouldn't, because everyone does. Show me a person who is judgment free and I'll show you a corpse. Reminds me of the joke where a crowd of people has gathered at town square to stone a woman for infidelity. Fortunately, Jesus steps between the woman and crowd and pleads, "Let he who has never sinned throw the first stone." The crowd is stunned, silent, motionless, until a single rock sails over their heads and pelts Jesus right in the face. "God damnit," Jesus cries, "you can be such a bitch, mom."

I also like Shakespeare. And basketball. And what better way to celebrate both than to write on the day after the anniversary of Julius Caesar's assassination and the eve of the greatest three weeks in all of sports? The Ides of March, the fifteenth, was made famous in William Shakespeare's tragedy of Julius Caesar when a soothsayer cautioned the emperor to beware its impending arrival. Sure enough, he was murdered that day in 44 BC by his good buddy, Brutus, and the envious senator, Cassius. March Madness, on the other hand, was made famous by being the greatest three weeks in all of sports - domestic and international. Some might argue that the World Cup or the NFL playoffs hold this title, but to them I say, "Beware the Ides of Being Wrong, Suckers."

March Madness is the end-of-the-year tournament for the top 64 Division I basketball programs (technically 68 but I won't get into that). Each of the first two weekends the field is reduced by 75%, first to sixteen, then to four. Last year, I took Amari to her first Sweet Sixteen party - a gathering where fans can come and bid on teams they think will survive the next weekend. This year, I let her fill out her first bracket, placing it her writing desk and giving her several crayons to choose from. Since she can't write yet, I had to come up with a system to interpret her choices. For example, when she carefully placed each crayon on the floor beneath the desk and squealed loudly with delight, I assumed she was picking top seeds to advance (straight chalk as the experts say), and when she crumpled up the bracket and tried to draw on our cat, I picked twelfth seeded Clemson to upset West Virginia.

Amari may not actually be capable of filling out her own bracket yet, but by next year this time I guarantee she'll be able to pronounce - if not spell - Krzyzewski (coach of the highly favored Duke Blue Devils). Lately, she's been developing extremely rapidly in all sorts of cool AND not-so-cool ways. On the cool side, she's mimicking us more and more, and she's taking risks with language.


For a while now it's been clear that Amari understands most things - she follows directions, retrieves things, takes items from one place to another, identifies correctly, and so on - but when it comes to saying words, she shies away. Can you say..., I'll ask, and she'll shake her head. The past few days, however, she's sounding things like ball, doll, book, and other words that sound similar. I've found that when I get her into a rhythm of words she knows, "Dada, mama, more," and then throw in a new one, it will slip out of her mouth before she has time to think about it and shake her head. It's pretty freakin' cool to watch her learn, and I'm really excited to have conversations with her in the future.

Not So Cool

On the not-so-cool end of the spectrum, Amari has started hitting Hunter without provocation. Granted he spent months poking, hitting, grabbing, taking, pulling, but to see her do it now without concern for reprimand is kind of a bummer. Hunter isn't phased in the least, but I still get her attention with a loud no, sometimes coupled with removing her from proximity. Unfortunately, her response to my attempts at discipline as been to develop greater speed and sneakiness. Towards the end of our visit this morning, I saw Amari sitting with Hunter, appearing to play quite nicely with a pile of his stuffed animals. Suddenly, like a Mr. Miagi-trained karate master, she reached up with an open palm, slapped the side of Hunter's face and returned the palm to its resting position. I might not have believed what I'd seen had she not glanced back smugly at me to see if I was watching. I shook my head in disbelief before reiterating my loud, "No." What the hell happened to my sweet, little Amari.

The good news is Hunter's parents actually believe he deserves the retaliation, that it's about freakin' time,  and they actually prefer the play dates where he gets his ass kicked. The bad news is, I don't like it at all - and I hope it doesn't last. The best news of all is neither of their hitting or poking or taking or pulling last very long and they almost always get quickly back to the business of being adorable little toddlers. Here's one of the latest music videos I put together as a tribute to their growing friendship.

That's all for tonight.

Hail Caesar and go UCLA Bruins (even though I picked you to lose in the first round)


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rembrandt! Van Gough! Fishman?

Amari went to her first play group last Friday - a gathering of parents and children at the local community center in Elk. After our daily dose of Hunter and Jim, Amari and I picked up Nicole and Reya and made the windy journey south for rest of the morning.

We arrived early and volunteered to help the director, Diana, set up the stations - everything a kid could want,  including a play dough table, crafts, building blocks, painting, tumbling mats, balls, and so on. At about a quarter past ten parents began to trickle in with their tots ranging from the ages of about 1 to 5 years old. Amari was the second youngest there, but what she lacked in age she made up for in ambition.

Amari's favorite stops on the circuit were the tumbling mats and the water colors. Amari has been wanting to go up and down stairs, but still needs our help with both directions. On the mats, she was able to step off the mat onto the wood floor - a drop of about two inches - and she took immense pleasure in her success, quickly turning around, stepping back up onto the mat, and descending once again. The look on her face each time she stepped off the mat was sheer delight, coupled with the occasional chuckle. On top of the mats were other objects she could climb, and she did so with reckless abandon, not once crying after a fall or a collision with the other kids.

The water colors, however, had her attention the most. As we stood at the table, I tried to demonstrate the technique t her, dipping the brush in water, then paint, then paper. Amari jumped right in, but itstead went paint, water, paper, which is apparently a technique called a wash. Her color choice was mostly black in the first painting, and when I tried to correct her technique, she grew angry and pushed my hand away as if to say, "Dude, I'm sixteen months old, okay? Back the f--k off, Dada." After two such implications, I backed the f--k off. I know when I'm beat.

All in all, I loved the plaIy group and will definitely go back. I met a couple of moms and a couple of dad, and I learned that the uniqueness of Amari's name depends on whom you're spending time with. She was the like the Bob of the play group down there with other kids named Usi and Kaira and what-not. Kind of reminded me of my upbringing..

The coolest thing of all was taking home the finished product of Amari's first water coloring experience. I know I'm her dad, but I think she might have some talent already. Having had a long talk/mocking session about the paintings Jim enjoys and has paid good money for, I told Nicole I was going to frame Amari's work and try to get a few thousand dollars for them.

You be the judge

Amari's Dark Period

Amari's work after the Beatles took LSD

The best part of all - the epic three hour nap Amari took when we got home. It was so sound I had vacuum  to wake her ass up so we could pick up Maba (Mama).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Charlie Sheen Does Cocaine During Interview

Am I soliciting traffic again with fake headlines? Absolutely. Why not? I'm celebrating my 100th blog entry today and I'm seventy-one cents shy of earning my first hundred Adsense dollars, which - like Charlie Sheen - makes me feel very "bi-winning." For those of you who have not seen this interview, enjoy the hell out of it.

And then, if you're like me, marvel sincerely at the following miracles:

a) Charlie Sheen is still alive.
b) People still talk to him.
c) "Two and a Half Men" has been on the air for EIGHT seasons.

It's amazing what having an unlimited supply of cocaine can do for your social and vocational networks. 


In celebration of my 100th blog entry, I fell fast and hard from my pink cloud of parenting. In a conspiracy of forces that included a return to work for Mama, a 48 hour bug for Dada, and a bursting bottom left molar for Amari, Monday through Wednesday felt like some twisted initiation into toddlerhood. My patience and tolerance and energy level all drop dramatically when I'm sick, and although I think I'm pretty good at containing my complete exasperation, I secretly want to scream things like "Learn some fucking words," when Amari is whining incoherently and vaguely pointing at things while saying, "Mo, mo, mo." Mo what? Jesus. Instead, I just pick her up and say, "I'm sorry you're hurting," blah, blah, blah. 

I used to think "Mo" was pretty much the best word Amari could learn, defining the world by things she does and does not want additional amounts of. Especially when she learned the reinforcement word, "Yeah." I figured we had it made. I'm feeding her, I pause, she says, "Mo," I ask, "This?" she says, "Yeah," life's pretty sweet. Now I see very clearly that "Mo" without a pointer stick or a mood ring that lets  me know if she's talking about food, music, videos, etc. I know vocabulary is coming son, but according to this dad during this week - not soon enough. 

In addition, Amari is becoming aware of workday mornings mean, and is increasingly clingy with Carrie as we approach our departure time. This, of course, breaks Carrie's heart - and she's already an emotional wreck trying to teach the bottom of the barrel seniors who are failing at about an eighty percent clip. Scary what our future holds. Moral of the story - tensions have been a little high here at FishManor

It's funny, here I am complaining about how clingy Amari has been, but over the weekend I was lamenting how fast she is growing up. At my friend's 40th birthday, there were kids between the ages of three and eight running around without a care as to who or where their parents were. Amari was interested, stepping close to the action from time to time, but maintained a pretty close distance to Carrie or me at all times. It occurred to me that at Bodhi's 41st birthday, she'll be running around with the rest of them. It made me kind of sad. 


On a side note, before I close this entry - it freakin' snowed on the Mendocino Coast. Inland sure, a little every year on the ridges, but here - at sea level? Hasn't happened in twenty-five years. In fact, a woman at the Botanical Gardens told me that the last time it snowed here there wasn't a single roll of film left in town. Here's the exciting video footage. It's almost as crazy as Charlie Sheen.