Friday, January 31, 2014

My favorite posts of 2013

I posted my favorite blog posts of 2012 in January of last year, and as another January is nearing its conclusion, it's time for the 2013 edition.

Before the "favorites," I thought I'd recap just a few highlights in blogging for 2013. I kick-started things with a single guest post in 2012, but in the last year I've started showing up in a few more places on the internet. I was asked to participate on other blogs:

At Andrew Cardon's blog, Mommy's Busy, Go Ask Daddy

At Tommy Riles' blog, The Life of Dad

At Christopher Lewis' blog, Dad of Divas

At John Kinnear's blog, Ask Your Dad Blog

I've also had some of my posts re-published at a few sites, namely here and here at the National At-Home Dad Network blog, and at Comic Strip Mama.

And if you've seen any of my stick-man comics floating around, it's probably because they've been shared around a lot on Facebook and Pinterest. One of my comics was seen by over a million people. Crazy, right?

Without further ado, here's the round-up of my favorite blog posts of 2013, with commentary from both my soon-to-be four-year-old and myself:


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

My three-year-old: "I don't like this one because my head is kinda erased. I'm like an erased-head."

Me: It's a strange moment when your daughter starts channeling David Lynch . . .

This post involved me trying to put aside grown-up concerns and see with the eyes of an eraser-head child (Also, that's actually sunlight that she's reaching for, not her head being erased).

Brand new day


Me: Sometimes my daughter's exuberance is amazing and inspiring. Sometimes it's migraine-inducing. This post is mostly about the former, and my daughter's vehicular nostalgia is the latter.

Some thoughts on aliens and the meaning of life

My three-year-old: "Why don't they have any color? I wish everything was pink."

Me: Of course she does. The comic included in this post about motherhood is my most-shared comic. It also inspired a lot of (inexplicable) anger.

Hut, hut, hike! A birth story

My three-year old: "That baby is cute! That baby is sad because its parents are not giving it what it wants!"

Me: No, that baby is sad because it just squeezed its big 'ol head through the eye of needle. In this post I get real about how the birth of our daughter was both beautiful and traumatizing.

Fatherhood: A reason to make things right.

My three-year-old: "I sure wish those guys had hair. That little guy is me, and the big one is you, and we really don't have any hair. We need hair to be happy!"

Me: My daughter probably should have been born in the seventies, so she could have been a young woman in the Big Hair era of the 1980s. But this post isn't about hair. It's about dads who screw up, and the reasons they want to change.

Hand in hand, into the great unknown

My three-year-old: "The bigger one is helping the little guy walk because they are friends. Which means they say please and thank you. My bunny and I are friends. But sometimes he just hits me in the face. And kicks me. He needs to hold my hand and say sorry."

Me: Though I'd never hit her or kick her in the face, my daughter's on-again, off-again relationship with her bunny probably is a little like the relationship between a kid and a parent, what with all the disciplining and screaming fits and time-outs. But in the end, if you're doing it right, your kid's gonna remember you as the one who held her hand -- the one who gently supported her (and traveled with her!) on her greatest quests.

Tire swings and quiet moments

My three-year-old: "In this picture I am thinking about sad things like when Grammy and Gramps are far away. Also, getting bug bites makes me sad. And I think about that a lot."

Me: In this post I take some time to think about a quiet moment during the normally frenetic day of my three-year-old. Ah, quiet moments. I heart them.

A million splashes

My three-year-old: "I love throwing stuff! Rocks, little pieces of bread, snow, balls, fish, and telephones!"

Me: It's true, she never met a fish she didn't want to throw. In this post, I think about how throwing my daughter into a pond gets me right in the feels.

On falling down

My three-year-old: "They are so happy because they are building a palace. They are going to build them all the way to outer space!"

Me: Mine was a castle, actually, not a palace. 'Cause then I can sneak in this Thoreau quote: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

9-11 is a tough day for a lot of people. But it was easier to deal with when I was doing constructive things with my daughter.

The Raven

My three-year-old: "That's where I'm saying the poem! The poem where you say, "Never more, quoth the Raven! Nevermore! Nevermore!"

Me: This was an epic project, one I'm pretty proud of. We only intended to do the first verse of Poe's The Raven, but it just seemed a shame not to continue on. It took place over several nights and involved more than one lock of her hair being singed. But it was worth it.


My three-year-old: "Ooh, what am I reading? I think the story is about princesses who play musical instruments and climb trees."

Me: There's almost no sight I like better than watching my daughter read in a patch of sunlight. It makes our house feel like a home.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

An award for keeping my daughter alive (and writing about it)

So, I haven't announced it here on my blog yet, but I won an award recently. Not for my looks, but thank you for thinking it (I've always felt that my bald noggin was particularly well-shaped). And not for curing cancer or solving the global warming problem (I'm working on it, people, these things take time). I also did not beat anyone else in a high profile track event (unless you count races with my three-year-old high-profile, 'cause I can totally beat her some of the time) or release a critically acclaimed album (although I DID recently improvise a version of "This old man" replacing "this old man" with "Add-i-son" that was reasonably well-received by a single three-foot-tall groupie). I also also did not save another's life while under fire, unless you count the fact that my daughter is still alive after nearly four years of her believing that she is invincible. Actually, I think you should count that last one. That stuff ain't easy, folks. And I'm told keeping them alive involves cleaning them, and the messes they make, from time to time. Which I totally do. From time to time.

So, I received an award from the parenting web site, which is owned by Disney, for being one of 2013's Top 100 Bloggers, and one of 2013's Top 10 Parenting Bloggers. Which is basically an award for keeping my daughter alive and writing about it, sometimes with humor, sometimes with curmudgeonliness. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads what I write (or who just looks at the pictures), because without your support I might not write so much, though I'd probably still try to keep my daughter alive. And if you stick around, I promise to write/draw more things, and to continue keeping my daughter alive for years to come.

How's that for a New Year's Resolution?


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Workin' out our issues.

We pass this root every day walking to the park and the library. It'll be sad when she's too big to fit in it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Neverending Story


The public library, which is probably the largest structure in our little community, is about a four minute walk from us. We chose our rental with that distance in mind. We go several times per week, and at any given time, we've usually got both my card and my daughter's maxed out with library books (in the graphic above, see if you can determine the exactly two categories that are for me, and not my daughter. Hint: it's not Cats -- Drama).

Here at home, books authored by Bill Peet, Graeme Base, and Joanna Cole abound. Really, they're everywhere. They're the foundation of our home's obstacle course of clutter. But we're okay with that (at least until the stumbling midnight journey to the bathroom).

Although 'rithmatic is still a bit of a mystery, almost-four-year-old Addison is on the cusp of reading and writing. She's starting to do more than just look at the pictures in her books; she underlines those tiny black squiggly lines with her finger as she paraphrases stories to herself, and she's at the age of scrawling her name and creative approximations of her name all over the walls (don't tell our landlord).

We discipline her right quick after discovering her territorial markings (because you gotta be consistent, right?), but we haven't removed the offending graffiti, mainly because it's sweet at the same time that it's disobedient. This is my house, the markings say. This place is a part of me, and now I am a part of it. She wasn't sure that she wanted to live here at first, but clearly she's coming around. I like to think that having a cozy place to curl up and read a book helped win her over.

Watching Addison's blossoming bibliophilia inspired me to reminisce about my own relationship with reading growing up, and what follows is a nostalgic journey through my own past as a reader. Someday I think it might interest my daughter, too.

Our house was always overflowing with books. We had bookshelves everywhere. Books stacked on the stairs. Books piled at the front door. Books littering the floors of our car. People would trip on them, curse them, and then perhaps sit down and flip haphazardly through the pages. My parents read books to me and all my siblings growing up; but more than that, our house was just saturated in print material, and I’d have had to work really hard to not have a book within reach at all times.

Me, circa 1993, the life of the party

There were two kinds of books initially on my MUST! READ! THEM! ALL! list: anything space related and anything mythology related. Before I could even sound out the word “Universe,” the National Geographic Picture Atlas of our Universe was a frequent flier on my elementary school library account.

Dang, that’s an awesome cover.

And the mythology books — they set the tone for the rest of my life.

No, not this. This came later.

In college, I would dig into the significance of myth and legend, unearth and wrestle with the deep cultural significance of what Joseph Campbell called the “hero’s journey.” But at eight years old, all I really knew was that when Hercules held a creature’s neck in one hand and bashed its head with the other, something stirred in me. When Thor threw his hammer and the speed of its passage rent the air with a crack of thunder, I sensed that I, too, had heroic blood coursing through my veins, and the world held in store great monsters for me to vanquish.

These. Monsters are awesome.

My mom always hoped I’d get into biographies. She’d check out books about Andrew Jackson or Daniel Boone or Marie Curie, and slip them into my library check-out pile. And yeah, I read a few of those. And I pored over The Way Things Work, and I zipped through the Encyclopedia Brown series, and in my third grade classroom, the Boxcar Children was popular. I guess I was an above-average reader before I discovered the fantasy genre of children’s and young adult books. But once I dipped my toe into Lloyd Alexander, Edgar Eager, Roald Dahl — I was hooked. I went from reading just some of the time to reading nearly all of the time. I passed up playing with friends so I could finish a book; I gave up pool parties and sleep-overs and movie nights. I distinctly recall tears streaming down my face as Taran’s mentor and father-figure Coll dies next to him in battle, near the end of Alexander’s The High King. And then I cried again when I turned the last page of the book, and fully realized that this story was done.

Books can be so needy.

A sampling of the authors I devoured before the start of fifth grade, ’cause the nostalgia is fun: John Christopher (The White Mountains), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising), Lynn Reid Banks (The Indian in the Cupboard), Jane Yolen (Dragon’s Blood), Madeleine L’Engle (A Swiftly Turning Planet), Brian Jacques (Mossflower), Patricia A. McKillip (The Riddle-Master of Hed) and of course, anything by Bruce Coville (My Teacher is an Alien). I recall a few non-fantasy books that stood out; Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee really impressed me, for instance. But it wasn’t long before I was browsing the adult fantasy section for new material.

Before the end of sixth grade, I’d plowed through everything I could find by Robert Aspirin (Another Fine Myth), Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara), David Eddings (Pawn of Prophecy), Richard Adams (Watership Down), J. R. R. Tolkien (what did he write again?), Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game). And I became a bit of a missionary for the sff cause. My sister agreed to read Ender’s Game if I read the ballet-themed Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden. Bold exploration for both of us, really.

Run away! Run away!

By the time I hit high school, I’d maxed out a lot of the science fiction and fantasy authors whose book covers looked interesting. So, grudgingly, I took a breather  and picked up some of the less awesome books that were always lying about our house. ‘Cause you’ve gotta read something while you eat your cereal in the morning. Only in retrospect do I really recognize how significantly these way-awesome “less awesome” books shaped me. I made my way through Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, and then Cancer Ward; I’d eventually write a term paper on Solzhenitsyn. Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. Heller’s Catch-22. Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Lewis’Arrowsmith.

I wasn’t particularly discerning as a reader up until high school. I gravitated to fantasy and science fiction, but mostly, if it was a book and had words in it, I’d pick it up and give it a shot. Lucky for me my parents had a lot of intelligent stuff around the house. I think I was in tenth grade, reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, when I realized for the very first time that what I was reading was really high-quality prose. Like, it wasn’t just entertaining or a good story. I was starting to discern artistry in literature. It was a big moment for me.

Going into eleventh grade, I was asked to be the Editor-in-Chief of our high school literary magazine. I began fancying myself a thinker; it became more likely that I’d have Whitman or Emerson under my arm than Robert Jordan or Mercedes Lackey.

Reading Thoreau while backpacking with high school friends

College was a bit of a jumble for me. I started my freshman year on a full-tuition scholarship for ROTC. I did EMT training at the same time, with the sort of strange thought that participation in one would atone for the other. While many of my fellow cadets were majoring in computer science or international affairs, I decided on philosophy and studio art. I fell hard for some of the rarified academic stuff that I encountered; stuff like Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and most anything by Roland Barthes. And once again, was asked to be the Editor-in-Chief and illustrator of the college literary magazine.

Ultimately overwhelmed by my varied responsibilities, and I dropped out of school for a few years. I comforted myself by reading the sff of my youth, watching a lot of movies, and dabbling in video production. When I returned back to school, I decided on a double major in English and media arts studies. Much as I loved studio art, it didn’t seem a viable career choice. My new wife prodded me all the way through to graduation. With a year left to go, my daughter was born. I’d push her in a stroller around the neighborhood reading critical studies of Moby-Dick, or to counter my constant fear of burn-out, novelizations of HALO and Doom.

I thought I might try to become a professor; I received funding for academic papers and was asked to submit to professional journals. But as much as I loved poring over obscure texts, I could. not. finish. papers. There was always more to read! With every new source I found, the endeavor expanded. I’m glad that I came to terms with my paper-writing anxieties before deciding to go to grad school. In the end, I identify with something Michel de Montaigne said: “If I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retention.” Although I loved the research, it wasn’t worth the pressure of trying to master it all.

Today, I exercise my writing muscles chronicling the ups and downs of being a stay-at-home dad. I still make “art,” if by art you mean stick-figure comics made in Microsoft Paint. And I’ve combined my critical English major eye with my love for science fiction and fantasy in my book review blog, English Major versus the World. I dream of writing novels, and in the meantime, during nap-time and at the gym, I read them. One of my primary goals for the future is to have a really, really kick-awesome library in my home, with bookshelves on every wall, and maybe ladders and a special stand for a really gargantuan dictionary. I’m told that children’s educational outcomes are highly correlated with the number of books in a home. Just having tons of them around appears to be enough to make a big difference. So, until we get those fancy full-wall bookshelves, my daughter’s going to spend a lot of time stubbing her toes on books.

A version of this post first appeared here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Devourer of worlds

Her: "Dad, I'm so hungry I could eat the solar system!"

Me: "As you wish."