My sister is six months pregnant and she has asked me about what parenting classes she should take at the hospital and I did not hesitate to tell her that she shouldn't take any of them. In my opinion, parenting classes offered by hospitals do little more than lay the groundwork for developing tolerance of future PTA meetings and birthday parties for the kids of your annoying neighbors.

After nearly nine months of this parenting business, there is only one thing that is truly clear to me: none of the so-called experts know what the fuck they are talking about. I swear half of the books were written after a parent/pediatrician made it through the first few years of parenthood, realized that none of the books they read applied to their kids or provided the methods that ultimately worked for them, and so they decided that "their way must be the best way" and so freakin' great they just had to write a book about it. And they always write with such superlative-laden confidence, as if their method is finally going to work for every child that claws its way out of a vagina for the rest of eternity. What narcissism. Every kid is different and few methods and techniques are universal across the board.

This problem is only amplified in the "parenting classes" taught in birthing hospitals. As if folks on the cusp of parenthood need anything more to stress about, these classes have become a virtual battleground of ideas from all these conflicting authorities, marshaled together and dumped into your lap by some poor moonlighter just looking to score a few hundred extra bucks twice a month.

It starts with the actual hospital birthing class. Should they teach the Lamaze method? Bradley? Hypnobirth? Ours sort of skirted that dilemma by teaching none of them explicitly. Our class description should have simply said: "Partner to massage mother-to-be for six hours. Mother to breath as though in extreme pain. Bring a pillow."

I had some hopes of maybe meeting some cool parents at these classes. Wow, was I disappointed. The timing of the class meant that a lot of due dates would be in early February. When we went around the room to talk about our feelings (this was San Francisco), the timing issue seemed to cause a lot of stress among the fathers. Many were worried that their babies would be born during the Super Bowl. And that meant they were going to have to make a CHOICE between learning firsthand whether the bottles of "lite" piss beer would beat the bottles of "regular" piss beer in Bud Bowl 2005, or supporting their wives through their most painful day. I could see the gears churning in their meaty heads: "but what if the Bud Lite wide receiver bottle does a really cool touchdown dance after catching the winning pass?" Four or five of my classmates seemed stricken with this dilemma. One of them asked if the delivery rooms would have television sets.

About ten minutes after the class started, an Irish couple walked in. These two had taken the "dress comfortably" thing to an extreme. They weren't wearing traditional Ballymun track suits, but straight-up dirty sweatpants with denim jackets and oversized t-shirts. I swear, halfway through the class, the Irish dude pulled out a tinny of Heineken and popped it like he was sitting in a Londonderry living room watching some really boring sport involving jerseyed hirsute men kicking a ball back and forth to each other. These two were easily my favorite couple there.

When we got to about the fourth hour of panting, blowing and massaging, the meathead sitting next to us started taking things a little too far. His wife (wearing a velour J-Lo tracksuit) was on her knees practicing a position the teacher had explained would help back labor. He started kneading her ass cheeks, taking full chunks of butt flesh and just pressing into it with his fingers over and over. I started freaking out. I felt somehow implicated in this, as I myself massaged Wood's lower back as instructed. There were a lot of Judds in the class acting as though this was a sensitivity competition to determine who could massage their wife the best, and the whole pantomime of touching and heavy breathing made me feel like I had been involuntarily recruited into the world's most boring porn movie.

There was just something so demoralizing about the general lameness of the questions that spewed forth from our fellow first-time parents. There were questions about scheduling your C-Section without medical need and inducing labor to ensure that you would not miss your epidural window. The class took a detour when discussing umbilical cords, as one of the fathers just so happened to be the marketing director for one of those companies that collect and store cord blood. I sat there doing the math for how much I paid to sit and listen to this asshole's fifteen minute spiel. I started to wonder if he really was the baby's father, or if he just drags some pregnant woman around with him to all of the area parenting classes so he could pitch the miracle of cord blood retention to hapless first-time parents on the condition she gets six hours' worth of massage.

And don't even get me started about the circumcision questions.

My favorite moment came when the teacher started discussing vaginal tearing and the issue of how long most couples wait to have intercourse after the birth of the baby. "Most couples usually wait about four to six months," she said. "But I have talked to some who have gone as long as a year and a half."

The butt-kneader next to us blurted out: "A year and a half? Fuck that!"

Our six-hour birthing class was followed by six-hour parenting class the next weekend. Our instructor for this class was a post-partum doula so hippy-dippy she made our doula look like Harriet Miers. This instructor spent three hours discussing which baby products have artificial flavors and preservatives and the other three hours on the oh-so-useful skill of installing cloth diapers on a plastic infant. When she started modeling African-print slings for us, I realized I had seen this woman wearing unflattering pants and doing the noodle dance near the drumming circle at the foot of hippie hill in Golden Gate Park. She was the kind of woman who listens to spoken word and who could talk your fucking ear off about Leonard Peltier. Five minutes into the class I wrote Wood a note:

"I am not taking any parenting advice from that."

Even though her attachment parenting/no scent/no artificial anything teachings were so extreme, the Marina girls and even the gay couple took copious notes and asked her all kinds of annoying questions. They asked her opinion about the "expert" parenting books they received at their baby showers. You could trust she hated any book that didn't involve nurturing your infant's inner wood sprite or something she called the "marsupial method." It is amazing what soon-to-be parents will tolerate in the thrall of perceived authority. It felt like a college freshman seminar full of eager students oblivious of what a putz the washed-up professor is. I did get a laugh imagining the yuppie couple who asked the most questions and filled a notebook with their scrawlings actually raising their child based on the philosophy of this crunchy windbag.

Our third and final class was a three-hour breastfeeding seminar. And I have nothing to complain about there. The teacher simply showed a movie demonstrating proper latch techniques projected onto a ten-foot screen. Who in their right mind would complain about three hours worth of gigantic naked boobies? I may not give a shit about the Super Bowl, but I'm still a man.

Certainly there are hospital-based parenting classes that are better than the ones we attended, but the basic problems with these must be inherent in all. Face it, you just can't teach this stuff. They make you think you need to take classes because you want to feel prepared, but nothing in the world can prepare you for this. And that's okay. We may sometimes feel like conquistadors in a strange, savage land; but these paths are well-worn by others with less resources than we have who did just fine. Sometimes the paths created by others lead to dead-ends, sometimes to El Dorado. But most of the time you just have to hack your way through the jungle. It may be that it's even more rewarding that way. To quote Uncle Walt, the old homo bachelor, though a true teacher through and through:

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
. . .
Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and laughingly dash
with your hair.

I'll give my younger sister my aforementioned advice, but she probably won't listen. In a year or so we'll bond over the regret that those fifteen hours would have been better spent in movie theaters or fine restaurants or any other place you can no longer go once your hours are spent installing disposable diapers on a real live squirming kid. But she is just going to have to find that out for herself.

a birthday for wood

Posted by jdg | Saturday, October 15, 2005 | ,

I determined today while walking under tall buildings that I am a man who prefers ruins.

I looked up at the building where I work every day, where I spend all of the hours that I am away from you, and I imagined someday in the distant future when all the glass will be broken and the wind will blow through my office and only the unstoppable steel frame will hold what's left of the cement up against the sky. That is who I am, a man comfortable with that idea. A man who sometimes prefers the idea of ruins to the vibrancy of everyday life. I majored in classics at college because it was the study of what remained of the birth of the world as we know it. It was about not letting it die. I felt I owed such things my understanding. I spent a month without you in 1997 wandering through the ruins at Delphi, at Olympia, Mikenes and Athens, my hands touching rocks carved with words thousands of years ago. I do this still, in places of ruin, because I feel such places are owed our respect. They were built and used by men and women whose lives meant something but now have no story beyond what the stones tell, beyond their blood diluted in us all. Driving with you in Detroit brought out those old feelings in me again, seeing the city that San Francisco will one day be, the great city tattered through eight decades of decline, brought down by a shift in the global economies rather than a shift of the earth. Living here in all the bustle and activity is too much for me. There is too much noise. I am ready to move on to some place that is a little more dead. If anything, moving to such a place will allow me to remember the vibrancy of these years we had together here, the vibrancy of the years we brought an amazing little person into the world and lived with her in a tiny apartment and all we had was each other and everything seemed so perfect, nobody we knew died or got sick and we never struggled with anything. I will remember these years, as I do all of them in their own way, with a particularly intense fondness.

You will complain that I don't live enough in the present. That I romanticize the past or concern myself too much about futures that might never come to pass. I will tell you that I am scared of death, but only because its inevitable nature means that one day I will have to part from you. That our story will be over. But I am not afraid to grow old. The funny thing about romaticizing the past is that you keep getting more and more of it to work with. It is something I have learned from the old people who talk about the past; it is a sign that someone has had a good life, I think, that they are so filled with fine memories that can't match up to the present. Having grown up in love with you I see no sense in viewing the past with bitterness or regret. I cannot imagine what would have happened to me if it weren't for you.

It's funny, I know we're growing older, but I don't see anything in you that has changed from the way you looked when I was falling madly in love with you ten years ago. So radiant then and now. The only changes I see are for the better, the grooves we have in each other, the steady comfort of knowing that we have a reprieve from being denied each others's presence for the time being. I don't have to fly to Dublin in two weeks. We don't have to wait another six days before you can call me from Phnom Phen. We can sit right here in the living room with each other in the afternoon and not have that anguish. We can sleep together every night. Without all those other commitments constantly tearing us apart, we are only growing closer and closer together. And then there's our baby, who in her very existence seems to represent that closeness, that melding of the two of us into something perfect, growing now so quickly on her own.

This life we're living now may not be glamorous but it's all I could possibly want for the present. Yeah we're getting older and some of our friends are entering their third decade and spending thousands of dollars on snake oils to keep their faces looking young. I have some sense that people start to think these things are a big deal. You still don't even need makeup in the morning. You're 28 today and you look even better than you did at eighteen. If there are changes I just can't see them.

We're still young and I'm so goddamned lucky to have you. I don't see the years that pass as a bad thing, I see them as only giving me more history with you, more perspective on our past and future together. I'm looking forward to moving with you to a new place and starting a life there. I'm looking forward to growing old with you, to watching my hair fall out and yours turn gray and for our skin to grow cavernous and loose. I'll take half a century more with you. I'll take more than that if we're lucky. I'll take dementia. I'll take stubbornness. I'll take all the kooky old lady clothes I know you're going to wear. The thing about loving ruins is the perspective it gives, the shifting, sympathetic sense of beauty. And you married a man who loves ruins. We're not there yet, kid, but I'll be with you when we are, smiling at how beautiful you are just like I am today, ten years since I first saw you and still in love with you as I ever was.

Daycare Report

Posted by Wood | Friday, October 07, 2005 |

Juniper's daycare provider left me these notes yesterday:

Juniper very cuddling when I hold her.

Juniper was sitting on the floor & she grab the ball w/ both hands & she raise the ball up high while sitting, she raise up so high that her body was curving.

Another child was babling & Juniper look at him & he looked at Juniper & Juniper make a funny face.

When I clap my hands give my hands out to her & she would raise her two hands up & let me hold her.

Please clip her nails for me.

Last night was our tenth flight with Junebug in our arms, and over those ten flights we've learned a lot of tricks about flying that we'd like to share:

1. Never, never, never select two seats right next to each other on a three-seat-per-row aircraft. Always leave the middle seat empty. Those are the last ones that johnny-come-lately ticket buyers want. If the flight isn't full, there's a good chance the seat will stay empty. Also, don't be tempted by the seats at the front of the plane. If you choose them, you increase the possibility of having between you and your spouse a fat Chinese man who insists on keeping a large, mysterious box under the seat in front of him, requiring him to "borrow" the area under the seat in front of YOU to put HIS feet when he falls asleep. Always offer to let said fat Chinese man have the window seat if he'll take it. They always do.

The back of the plane is the best. No one behind you to hear the crying! Last night, we did the "empty seat in the middle" thing in the last row and it stayed open while the rest of the plane filled up. Funny how having one empty seat in your row can make you feel like a Raj in his palace compared to those stuffed three in a row like untouchables in a Calcutta slum.

If the plane is full, you're fucked.

2. Get on the plane last. Who are all those masochistic vultures hovering around the gate just waiting for their row to get called so they can get on the plane and sit in misery while the rest of us get on? Generally I find people in airports to be pretty logical with their selfishness, but this makes no sense. With a squirmy baby in tow, I don't get on the plane until they're about to drag my ass down the jetway.

3. There are times to respectfully acknowledge that no one else in the world gives a crap about how hard it is to juggle your parenting responsibilities and there are times to act like a totally self-righteous prick. Airports and airplanes are theaters of human misery, nothing more. No one is really happy. No one expects you to be anything but a selfish jerk, so why dissapoint them? Don't bother with politeness and courtesy, particularly if you are flying Southwest Airlines, which long ago instituted a "survival-of-the-fittest" approach for general boarding, meaning no seats are assigned and it's first come, first served (though three "classes" of passenger board one at a time, with your class assigned based on how early you checked in). A remarkable exception to Southwest's policy are people with "issues": the handicapped, the elderly, and PARENTS with small children. That's right: Parents get to board first. Do not hesitate to shove an old lady out of a way or walk faster down the jetway than the guy dragging his oxygen tank. Your goal is to get on that plane first to grab the bulkhead seats up front. Sit with an empty seat between you and your partner, and put the child in the middle seat as though it were an unaccompanied minor. Ignore the baby while it cries. Costumes may also be in order. Women should wear muslim head scarves if they really want to avoid sitting next to a pharmaceutical salesman from New Jersey. Get one for the baby, too, for effect. Breastfeeding, for some reason, makes a vast majority of the American populace uncomfortable. A woman in a burqa breastfeeding a baby will make EVERYONE uncomfortable. Men, dress as though you have nothing to do with the kid. Wear a Haggar suit with a soupstained tie and read USA Today, coughing loud wet coughs every time a new passenger emerges from the jetway. In a pinch, simply wearing a bowtie might work. No one wants to sit next to a guy wearing a bowtie.

Remember how when riding your elementary school bus, you would avoid making eye contact with the kid with the two gigantic hearing aids and the tick problem when he got on the bus and you had a empty seat next to you? Just pretend that everyone getting on the plane has two gigantic hearing aids and that tick problem.

4. There is no better sound than hearing the aircraft door shut with an empty seat between you and your partner holding the baby. Remove burqas and bowties, stretch out and enjoy yourself. We call this Dutch first class.

5. Make friends with the stewardess. Make sure she gets plenty of the face time with the baby before the plane takes off. If you order a beer, she may bring you an extra one later because the kid is so darn cute. And that brings us to getting drunk. We highly recommend it.

6. When your baby is screaming and there seems like nothing you can do and the guy who looks like Donald Rumsfeld in the next row is scowling and shaking his head, remember that half the people on the plane have probably gone through it themselves and the other half are probably fucking assholes anyway.

7. Be prepared for the pilot to drunkenly announce halfway through the flight that you just flew over the world's biggest ball of twine or those on the left side of the plane can look down and see what Canyonlands National Park looks like from 38,000 feet (rocks). This announcement will wake your child. There is nothing you can do. I always find it disconcerting, with all the aviation technology onboard that's supposed to keep us safe, how all the airlines keep the same P.A. system in their 737s that Arby's saw fit to replace in its drive-thru windows during the Nixon Administration.

8. If you have an irrational fear of flying (like me), don't show your baby the various charms and amulets you keep in your hands while chanting during take off and landing. She will want to chew them.

9. If the guy in front of you reclines his seat the whole way, let your baby stand on the tray table and play with his hair. That'll teach him.

10. Don't sweat it too much. Babies want to sleep just as much when they're circumnavigating the skies as they do in their cribs. Just figure out a creative way to get them to that place in limited space. If all else fails, breastfeeding combined with a scrupulous application of Rule #5 (above) works wonders.