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: http://www.vimeo.com/25542857

Animal noises with Hunter: http://www.vimeo.com/23531586

Welcome to Serena: http://www.vimeo.com/25461697

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