Thursday, February 28, 2013

Innocent children and demonic art

That red stuff is crayon, right? Why is it dripping...?
We've already established that my daughter's drawing skills tend towards Dali or Francis Bacon. Perhaps we could throw in Edvard Munch for good measure. And pictures like these probably fit in with her recent assertions about her dead stuffed animals.

You give your kid a chance to express her artistic skills in the bathtub, and the only thing missing is a blood-dripping RED RUM. Should have seen it coming. Oh well, at least she's consistent.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On imaginative play and remembering the dead

Conversations with my daughter this week, from the Facebook Page:

We weren't able to find Addison's bunny for a few days. So I finally told her,
Me: Your bunny is on vacation. Visiting his family.  
Her: But...his family is dead.  
Me: It is? 
Her: Yes. They died three weeks ago. 
Me: Well . . . I guess he's just on vacation by himself. 
Addison (whispered): We are his family now. 
 It was either sweet or creepy. Or both. You may recall that Addison is pretty good at the creepy.
Addison: What is my nipple name? 
Me: ? 
Addison: My nipple name! You understand me?! 
Me: Your...middle name? 
Addison: That is what I said. 
Me: Sage. It's Sage.  
Addison (huffily): Thank you.

Addison climbed onto the couch, then over the back of it, and her Gramps asked her what she was doing.
Addison (a little breathless): Here's the deal. 
A pause to collect her thoughts. 
Addison: Wolves are coming. I need to hide in the curtains. 
I suppose hiding from wolves in a flimsy curtain is her version of the duck and cover drill for nuclear attack. Luck with that, kiddo.

Me: Who is my favorite little girl? 
My wife raises her hand. Addison crosses her arms belligerently, but then sees her mom raising her hand and shoots hers up in the air too. You can always count on her sense of competition.
Me: Oh, so you're both my little girls? 
Addison: Yes. 
Me: And who am I? 
Addison: Your name is Neal and you are a gentleman. 
 And you, little girl, will get a pony someday if you keep up this kind of talk. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Conversations with my daughter: An evolution

When Addison turned three last week, I spent some time looking through old movies and audio files we have of the little monkey (you can find some here, here, here, and here). If you're a long-time reader of my blog or if you follow my Facebook Page, you know that I think a lot about the conversations that we have, and I came across a few that got me thinking about how much Addison has grown since we moved to California half her life ago.

This is a message that Addison and her Grammy left us on our first overnight getaway after moving in with Lindsay's parents. She was not quite two years old:

Cute, right? And I wanted to be really diligent about helping her vocabulary grow, because I just knew that we'd be having some really important discussions soon. This was a few months later, just after she turned two:

I take my dadding responsibilities seriously, you know? Her fondness for calling "blue shirt" when she sees it prompted the comic for this post about her loud, totally awesome exclamations at church (I didn't prompt her, I swear).

A couple of months after that, in July, Addison had her first nightmare. I blame Sandra Boynton for the bovine paranoia.

Then, last year, just in time for Halloween, Addison started having conversations with us about death.

And now, while we're cleaning up around the house, or when she's in the tub or doing her quiet time, she'll bust out stories to help pass the time. And she's totally figured out the dramatic arc of storytelling; she sets the scene in context, she gives us rising tension, and then she resolves it all with a cheery rainbow at the end:

If you couldn't discern it, this was a story about elephants. Or, Effants. She does say they live in the sun, so maybe it's some sort of alien race. I've been really working to get her interested in science fiction.

And here are some of my favorite conversations with Addison this last week. They weren't all super lengthy, but a few really surprised me.

Brought Addison in for her three year check-up today. Among other things, they did a finger-prick blood test to check lead levels. 'Cause of all the dirt she eats.  
Also, after her flu shot, as she's sniffling and with tears rolling down her cheeks, I ask her if she wants to say anything to the receptionists. 
"Have a nice a day," she calls out, before burying her head in my shoulder again. 
"Can we take a elevator," she whispers to me. "Because I'm a yittle sensitive right now." 
No problem, kid.

At church today Addison was playing with a Buzz Lightyear toy. She noticed that one of his hands was in a fist. So she started punching me with his fist. 
Me: Be nice, Addison. 
Addison: But he is just a toy. It is only pretend hitting. I am only pretend hurting you. 
Me: And I'm going to pretend put you in time-out. I'll need you to pretend to be very quiet while you pretend to sit against the wall without moving. And then you can pretend to think about the consequences of your actions. 
Addison: Okay.

Addison just clapped her hands over her mouth in surprise. 
Addison: I can't talk! 
Me: Are you sure about that? 
Addison: Mm hmm. 
Me: What happened? 
Addison (hissed with a mad face): Ursula.

Last night Addison had her first ear ache. Or at least it was the first time she was able to express it to us.  
At some vague middle-of-the-night hour I was just coaxing her back into bed and we were having a mostly cheerful conversation about Monsters, Inc. And she says as though suddenly experiencing an epiphany:

"Monsters don't have gynas or bums! Only humans have gynas and bums."

And with that, my poor, clingy, sick little girl appeared to have achieved a powerful peace with the universe. She said:

"You can go now, dad. You can go."

It wasn't the last time last night that I held her on my shoulder as she cried, but I'm still thinking of that thoughtful dismissal she gave me. There's a tough young woman in my little girl, preparing herself for the world.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day, Part Three

Today Addison and I made Valentine cards.

I wrote "To" and "From," but "Mom" and "Addison" were all her, with a little coaching. The hairy looking things outside the heart are "pretty decorations," in case you were wondering. And here's the front of the card:

I modeled "You" to Addison several times, but it came out like this. "Pou." So it's possible that Addison  loves "Poo" the most (despite the trauma it's caused her), although I'm sure she also loves "You." She's so sweet.

Then she drew a picture of Mom and Dad:

That's me on the left, and Lindsay on the right. We're holding hands. Addison appears to have given my eyeballs arms and legs. And she drew nightmare eyelashes all over Lindsay's. She comes from the Francis Bacon school of creepiness, I think. I've thought so ever since she started drawing these. Also, though it might be hard to discern, she drew a Baby Addison in Lindsay's tummy, and the baby is crying tears because she needs her bottle. Addison kept repeating to herself, "Tears, tears, tears, tears," with each stroke of the marker. All in all, though, not too bad a likeness of our family (this is from back when I had hair):

And here's the card I made Lindsay. Addison helped me color it:

I'd intended it to be heartfelt and at some point I succumbed to delusions of grandeur. Which probably represents me pretty well, too. Happy Valentine's Day, honey.

Read Part One
Read Part Two

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day, Part Two

It was February 14, 2007. I'd already told Lindsay I had something secret I wanted to show her, so she should be prepared to spend the afternoon and evening with me.

It might seem obvious what was about to go down, but I'd punked Lindsay before. She'd gone on a trip earlier in January and had been eagerly anticipating the "surprise" I kept telling her about on the phone. It was a planter. I made a planter out of scraps of wood to hold a row of bamboo plants, and I was very proud of it. Lindsay's enthusiasm, however, was underwhelming. Actually, I think she was pretty ticked. I believe her exact words were, "That better be an engagement planter." And I was like, "huh?"

But on Valentine's Day I had a whole day of activities planned. This was going to be the day. Unfortunately, at our first stop, in which we were going to wander around some beautiful gardens, she said,
Lindsay: It's really cold. Are you cold? 
Me: It's like sixty-five degrees. And you're wearing a jacket. 
Lindsay: Wow, I feel cold. I'm shivering.
Me: Weird. Your teeth are chattering. 
Lindsay: I need to sit down.
After a bit resting on the bench, we got up and Lindsay gamely limped around for a minute, clinging to me for support. This wasn't going quite as I'd hoped. We gave up on the gardens and headed back to the car. I debated saving the proposal up for another, more auspicious day, but decided to just go through with it, sick girlfriend or not. If I punked her again she might say no the next time.

I ended up giving her a long letter to read, and popped the question in the car as we sat in the parking lot. She said, "Yes." We both cried. She said she might throw up. Exactly the reaction I was looking for.

But she didn't actually want to go back home right away. Her shakes and nausea notwithstanding, my very non-traditionalist girl suddenly wanted to go look at rings. "Because people are going to ask to see one," she said. We'd already hypothetically agreed that expensive rings didn't make any sense, so I didn't even think about it. But she wanted to go look, so we tried to think of a jewelry store, and ended up heading to the mall.

At the mall, a polite young clerk asked us how she could help.
Clerk: What can I help you with today? 
Me: Um, we're looking for rings. 
Clerk: What kind? 
Me: Um. 
Lindsay: Like, an engagement ring? We just got engaged. 
Clerk: Yeah, an engagement ring would make sense. Here are some options . . . do you know what kind of stone or cut you want? A diamond? 
Lindsay: I don't know. How much is this one? 
Clerk: Let's see. $1100. 
Lindsay: Wow. Um, what about this one? 
Clerk: Oh, lots of people like this one. 
Me: Uh oh. 
Clerk: This one's $2,400. 
Me: Do you have anything for, like, under $100? 
Clerk: Engagement rings? 
Lindsay: Just a sec. I'm feeling sick. I need to go sit down.
Me (just before going to check on Lindsay): So, what's the return policy like on these?" 
I wonder what the clerk thought. What a bunch of cheapskates. Also: maybe this girl was having second thoughts about the whole thing, and too upset to go through with ring shopping. Or maybe I'd knocked her up, and we needed a quick wedding before the morning sickness started giving her away.

But the main problem was that I have a sicky for a wife. She's got a lot of things going for her, but her immune system is not one of them. And the other problem is that Lindsay handles shopping about as well as Indiana Jones in a pit full of snakes. Honestly, she's got a real phobia. This girl gets upset when I buy an unnecessary box of pop-tarts, much less a $2,000 ring.

We left the clerk hanging, and I brought Lindsay home. I put her in bed, made her soup, stroked her hair, held her. A week or two later, we went out together and bought her a $15 ring at Shopko. For anyone who knows Lindsay or me very well, it was a real splurge. But, you know. Only the best for my bride.

Read Part One
Read Part Three

Valentine's Day, Part One

I actually proposed to my wife on Valentine's day six years ago. I think. Five years? Pretty sure it wasn't seven years ago. I'm going with six. My math regarding significant life events is not the best.

Yeah, it's kind of a cliche, I know. But I'd been putting off proposing for so long that when I finally made up my mind to pop the question, and it was already February, it seemed silly to purposefully avoid that day. Plus, I figured I'd be unlikely to forget the date I proposed given that the entire nation and all its commercial resources would be working together to remind me about that blessed day, every single year.

So, thanks, silly Jared's commercials, for inviting our country to celebrate the day I professed love and commitment to my wife with advertisements for useless, mind-bogglingly expensive jewelry, which I will never, ever buy for her.

But since I didn't spend money on a ring (anyone else avoid that rite of passage?), and we had a really inexpensive wedding, I now point out to my wife that every time we pass a shopping center encrusted with Valentine's decorations that the decorations are really ours, a decadent ritual commemoration of the day she said "yes."
"Happy Valentine's Day! All of this is for you."
You're welcome, honey.

Read Part Two

Monday, February 11, 2013

On feats of strength and not recognizing money

We celebrated Addison's third birthday with family over the weekend. The morning of the party, Lindsay gave me a scolding for not being enthusiastic enough about the party plans (which is silly, by the way, because I was surly when she married me. My baseline attitude should not be a surprise). Addison heard a few key phrases and then pointed at me and repeated them cheerfully:
Addison: You're making it stupid! My birthday party! You're making it stupid!
Hey, we're making memories here, right? Does it matter whether they're good ones or bad ones? Also, I'd like to emphasize, for future arguments' sake, that she did not learn "stupid" from me.

The theme for the party was "Feats of Strength," after the Seinfeld bit on Festivus. Though you might have expected it from me, the "feats of strength" theme was actually my wife's idea. During the years in which she was bedridden, it was re-runs of Seinfeld that kept her afloat. And though at a certain point both Grammy and Gramps lay gasping on the floor, moaning in pain, everyone still seemed to enjoy themselves. After all, what fun is an athletic event in which no one pulls up gasping, clutching a limb? Thanks for taking a hit for the team, Sharon and Steve.

It's not a party 'till I break out the pull-up bar
Let me just note that Addison performed a standing long jump of 22 inches. Nice job, kid. This was the "feat of strength" that I was most excited about, because I knew I could win. 98.5 inches, baby. That's only two feet shorter than the biggest, fattest dudes in the NFL combine. Next year, I'm goin' pro.

After the kids had worked up a sweat (Push it! Feel the burn!), we finally let Addison open her presents. The highlight was when her cousins gave her a package holding three dollar bills to represent her three years of life, to which she exclaimed:
Addison: Wow! Tickets!
So, our three-year-old doesn't actually know what money is. It kind of surprised us, too, but I'm pretty okay with that.

Note Gramps still cradling his useless arm in the background.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's gonna be cold.

So, we got a hail storm near L.A. yesterday. Which got me thinking about all y'all in colder climes. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My daughter's hair and my new artistic medium

I did it. I took the (mostly) final step in cutting my daughter's hair. You'll recall that I took a big first step, snipping those wispy golden locks shorter than pigtail length, a cause for much weeping and gnashing of teeth around these parts (just kidding, Grammy, I know you're supportive of my visionary artistic efforts). And I basically liked it, but I just kept wondering: did I chicken out? Should I have gone all the way? I mean, what I ended up with wasn't exactly the Audrey Hepburn cut I'd been envisioning. It ended up more Twiggy than anything else, which is okay, I guess. I'd stopped short because I wanted to give everyone a chance to get used to moderately short hair (Addison was fine with it; I'm talking about everyone else) before I got to honest-to-goodness really short hair. Also, I was kind of doubting my abilities. But I just kept looking at her hair and wondering what the next step would be.

So I finally bit the bullet. I decided that I'd better get it out of my system before she gets too much older and people make fun of her for a ridiculous, she-did-it-herself haircut. At almost-three, her peers couldn't care less what her hair looks like, so it's the ideal time for experimentation. I'm pretty committed to cutting her hair for the next ten years, or however long it takes for her to decide that I'm ruining her life. But maybe, if I can get good enough, she'll let me cut it until we kick her out of the house. I'm doing a quick calculation with a google search and . . . wait a minute . . . HOLY CRAP.

Are there women out there routinely paying upwards of $100 to get their hair done? 

Okay, so if she got the cheapest $20 cut every two months until she was 18, that would be . . . $1800. But if she went high-end, we're talking $10,000, or more! I am a freaking hero. I'm gonna go tell Lindsay I just earned us $10,000, and see if she lets me play parent-hooky tonight and go see a movie at the dollar theater.

So, at the first public unveiling of my kid's new 'do, my wife was immediately asked by our friend, "So, did Addison cut her own hair this week?" And Lindsay sort of gleefully replied, "No, but I'll tell Neal you said that!"

It's fine, I don't feel bad. I knew what the risks were. And it certainly wasn't a perfect cut. I can look from every angle and see something I should have done differently, something I should have smoothed out or cut less aggressively. But no big deal. Another month, and I can fix that stuff right up (crossing my fingers). Here are some cherry-picked photos using some filters to mask mistakes. I gotta admit that some of the time now her hair just looks weird, but in these photos, doesn't she look kinda edgy and punk-rock?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Seeing things new, or how the important things punctuate all the rest

It's Facebook Monday. On the Facebook page this past week, I recorded a quick note before my thoughts about it left my head. Here it is:
Had some late night escapades with the daughter last night, so we all slept in, and when she woke up, she was a little bit sensitive. I asked if she wanted to come cuddle in bed. Usually she'd be like, "No!" and off like a shot, bouncing off the walls. 
But today she quietly said yes, got under the covers, and put her head next to mine on the pillow. We talked about why she woke up so much, about her dreams about mean cows, about how she thought she lost her bunny in the dark but it turned out it was right next to her.

And for a long five or ten seconds, we just lay there without talking, and I watched her. She was probably thinking about Dora or eating cookies or something . . . but the way she was so soberly staring into the distance, I could imagine she was thinking about love, or about what it means to grow older, or about how in a few years we'll be scrambling to get ready for school with no time for a morning cuddle, with no time in the morning to gaze thoughtfully into the distance.

She's got so much energy, she rarely sits in one place long enough for me to really look into her eyes. While she was staring up into space, I watched her. I traced the colorful patterns blooming out from a small black center into her brilliant irises.

It's no new thing to marvel over a loved one's eyes. I've spent plenty of time doing that with my wife (perhaps more in the past than the present . . . note to self: I need to get on that). But there's something about pondering a child's eyes, about imagining what's going through her head, the connections she's just starting to make, the infinite possibilities not yet weighed down by "real life," that's both beautiful and overwhelming.

When I imagine the object of her gaze, it's the entirety of the universe; it's the smallest particle and the largest galaxy. Because she's too young to even know that there are some things we can't comprehend. She matter-of-factly considers it all, each thought bound tentatively, magically together with the last, too new to be hardened into the rigid pathways of adulthood. She's just broken out of the seed, a green sprout testing the air. Everything's still growing inside her, tendrils and shoots reaching wildly, experimentally towards the light.

It's cool to see. That's all.
It actually got more positive feedback than anything else I've posted on Facebook. It appears that the people have voted, and they'd like me to stop having scatological conversations (or arguments) with my daughter, and replace them with more sweet meditative moments. Unfortunately for the people, there are a lot more of the former than the latter around here (Addison is washing off in the tub, again, as we speak). And I'm a fan of truth in advertising.

Still, it IS for those sweet little moments that I'm writing on this blog at all, even if they merely punctuate the greater volume of the gross and mundane. Lindsay said I should make something I can print out to hang over the potty, to provide solace when things get rough:

But as I read that last line, all I can think is that if plants need fertilizer to grow big and strong, my daughter's going to be a giant.