Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Happy birthday Dear Alex

The cupcake on her face says it all. She had a great day.

Dear Alex dances to the blues at pier 54

After all of that, this: it seems like forever, but it also goes by so fast - the screaming lump of bottomless neediness now walks and talks and tells stories and gives the best hugs in the world.

Three years ago today:

Dear Alex was pulled into the world, kicking and screaming. She's been screaming ever since - and our world is a better place for it.

Three years ago tonight:

Beautiful Wife went to bed feeling a little funny, and got up a few minutes later to tell me that her water broke. We weren't quite ready*, thinking that we still had at least a week to go before the big day... At this moment all I can remember is the overwhelming sense of panic, and then forcing myself to be absolutely calm and seemingly ready for anything so as not to panic BW. We managed to get some things together, and out the door and into the late-night lower-east-side Stuy-Town darkness. We lived a good block, one way or another, from any kind of taxi traffic, but we needed to go uptown, fast. There really was only one way to go, heading towards First Avenue and hoping for the best. Providence provided, and I chased down a cab that had just dropped someone off in the loop that winds into the buildings of Stuy-Town, saving us at least a half a block of running. The ride to the hospital was like something out of a bad TV sitcom, with everyone a classic stereotype - anxious father-to-be, stoic cab driver of indeterminate foreign origin, tense and cranky but clear-headed wife, offering advice and commentary between contractions. BW, ever the producer, had a stopwatch with her, and was timing the contractions and grunting while gripping me hard enough to hurt. From what I'd remembered from the classes it seemed that the contractions were close enough together that we weren't going to make it to the hospital - a classic New York story, but one I think no one would actually care to experience for real. We made it to the hospital in what seemed to be the nick of time, then everything went into slow motion... A shot or two and into a hospital bed and then time stood still. The epidural slowed everything down, and the baby** that was seemingly so eager to enter the world suddenly wasn't.
I vaguely remember three shift changes, a lot of holding BW, and a lot of supportive words and the three really great nurses that saw us through the night - coaching, holding and urging BW on, but it was all to no avail - we finally got to that point of full dilation*** and beyond, and then it was over - the good (and I mean it, seriously) doctor determined that there was no way that the baby was going to come out the way it went in, so-to-speak. It was stuck. There was an impressive flurry of activity as arrangements were made for an operating room, and the rest is history...

* No matter what they tell you, there's absolutely nothing you can actually do to be ready, but there are things you can do to make it easier for everyone involved. We weren't quite there.

** The baby was still a baby - we really didn't want to know which kind. We'd sort of talked about names, but... I was genuinely hoping for a girl, but I didn't know.

*** Okay, Yay! it's the top of my baby's head! But seeing your loved one turned practically inside out and covered with gore is nature's way of desensitizing you to anything that baby-to-come can dish out, gross-out-wise.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another day, another sculpture

A different kind of sculpture, in a very different place - the end of a rail line in Port Jervis, New York, where we went to pick up Beautiful Wife from the train - Dear Alex and I travelled ahead without BW for an early start to the weekend. We found a magnificent piece of industrial art - an artifact from a time when rail was big - parked for the public in the weeds at a once-busy rail yard. I'm a huge fan of big technology and abandoned industry, so we really had no choice but to explore and expose Dear Alex to what a real train engine was like - not quite as cute as Thomas the Tank Engine, but it definitely got her attention. I'm sort of proud of the fact that she was interested in climbing up onto the giant black thing, and walking along the sides and seeing where the wheel was for the driver (there isn't any, by the way - no steering needed) and talking about the tracks (thank you Thomas) and just hanging out with this bit of history. When mommy's train arrived, she was duly impressed to see from ground level a real train with passenger cars arrive with the roar of the diesel and brakes and bell. "THATS A BIG BIG TRAIN!" Indeed.
As before, I love showing the kid the world and all of the magnificent stuff in it. It's fun, and her awe and delight constantly reminds me to appreciate the things we take for granted.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why I (still) love the city

Dear Alex is explaining the Giant Hello Kitty to me - She's a little bit excited.

Dear Alex was very comfortable with Hello Kitty's puppy friend.

Dear Alex sneaking up behind "watering bunny"

Despite the obvious and ceaseless density of urban life and it's challenges, there's a lot to be said for bringing up Dear Alex in such a high-energy and wonderfully engaging place. Last week we had a day together that sums it up nicely, with a trip to the Lever House - a building with public art on Park Avenue - the installation by the artist Tom Sachs of giant painted bronze sculptures of Hello Kitty and a few of her crew. Dear Alex was amazed - when we got to the plaza I turned her loose and she ran screaming "IT'S HELLO KITTY! HELLO KITTY!" I didn't know that she was such a big fan. All she wanted to do was run in circles yelling "HELLO KITTY!" until she decided that it would be fun to simply park her little butt on the steps at the base of the sculpture. The other part of the installation had a puppy, (which was a little smaller in scale and didn't blow her mind - as much) a superb sculpture/fountain of Hello Kitty's bunny friend Miffy - with water streaming from her eyes that terrified Dear Alex to the point that she couldn't look at it directly, but had to sneak up on it from behind. After a little while Dear Alex decided that "the bunny isn't crying, she's watering." So, Miffy has become "watering bunny," and the other sculpture/fountain of Hello Kitty shooting streams of water from her eyes is "watering kitty." Funny kid.

We had a great time - and we've been back a few more times since then, because it's an easy walk and Dear Alex wants to see it again, and again and again - and that special part of the walk where you can stand on a certain street corner and look down the Avenue and see her favorite building in the city - the Chrysler building. I didn't tell her to like the Chrysler building - she decided that on her own, and if you ask her, she'll tell you. I want to give her as much of the world as I can, and share the joy of discovery and experience. It's a plus for me that she's a great little kid who will react positively to almost anything. It also gives us something to talk about later at bedtime when Dear Alex wants to "talk about the day..." yet again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What I know about parenting

Baby Olivia and Dear Alex on the sliding board.
It's scary how big Dear Alex has gotten.

(I remember when she was just a peanut...)

This weekend we had guests in the country, a crazy great couple with their sweet Baby Olivia, and we had a fine time with the kids and talking over the joys and trials of parenting. It occurred to me that we were the putative experts, having ourselves survived the early months relatively unscathed, and having Dear Alex alive and well and mostly unharmed by us so far. Looking back, it's a little hard to believe that it's almost three years now that Dear Alex has been with us, and how completely our lives have changed. That really is what kids do - whatever you had planned or thought about changes forever and what we spent the most time talking about was how little that mattered, and how there is really nothing to do but relax and ride it out. After a while you forget the anxieties and terrors of that tiny age. It may be that the sleeplessness and the constant worry about whether you're doing the right thing simply strikes the tough stuff from your memory as it's constantly being replaced by the next challenge and the little triumphs of first steps, laughs and words.

From my own experience, I can recall the feelings of how incredibly one-sided my relationship with Dear Alex felt - she was a black hole of constant neediness, without any emotional return-on-investment, so to speak. Babies don't really care - as long as someone changes the diaper or supplies the bottle there isn't going to be a thank you for a very long time - but the gratification comes later with a smile, or the feel of a tiny hand in yours and the feeling of amazing responsibility and capability for simply keeping them whole and happy. Baby Olivia reminded me of how sturdy and resilient (and cute) little babies are - the better to survive the inept ministrations of parents like me, who are constantly learning on the job, which is all any of us can ever do.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Just a moment...

Beautiful Wife is with Dear Alex, BW is in the process of entertaining the kid and putting her hair up in a ponytail - Dear Alex asks, "is that a ponytail?" BW says "yes, that's a pony tail." Dear Alex follows quickly and sweetly with "where's the pony?" She makes these knowing little jokes all the time - and she knows what she's doing. She's got a funny and subtle sense of humor, and that's a good thing, I think. A great survival skill that can take her from serious and about to have a meltdown to laughing at some dumb joke that she's making or that I'm trying to make. Of course there are other times when she's unintentionally hilarious, like when she's trying to explain something to you that she's seen or done that she doesn't yet have all of the words for - and it sputters out in a combination of half sentences and randomly strung together words as she thinks a lot faster than she can actually talk. It leads to some great combinations of sentences and analogies that continually make me wish I had that filterless sense of creativity and abandon with the language.