I've known what I wanted Juniper to be this Halloween since last September, when we first knew that we would be moving to Detroit and I learned about the Nain Rouge from a friend well-versed in cryptozoological urban legends.
The Nain Rouge is a goblin that haunts downtown Detroit. Witnesses have described him as a small, child-sized creature with red hair, "blazing red eyes and rotten teeth." According to legend, the Nain Rouge is a harbinger of doom for the city; every one of the tragic moments faced by this beautiful city has been preceded by a sighting of the creature.
The evil imp's origins are said to precede the arrival of white folks to the Detroit area; before Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his lusty French fur-trapping camerados showed up to give him his snooty-sounding moniker, he was known as the "Demon of the Strait" to the Ottawa people. Legend has it that in 1710, Cadillac himself encountered and attacked the Nain Rouge, and within days he lost both his fame and fortune and took off for Montreal a broken man. Nearly sixty years later, during the French and Indian War, on the day before the battle of Bloody Run, the Nain Rouge was observed following a British captain on the banks of the Detroit River. The following day, that captain and 58 of his soldiers were ambushed by Chief Pontiac on the banks of a small tributary of the Detroit River that ran "rouge" with their blood for days.
The Nain Rouge was seen by several witnesses in the days before the massive fire of 1805 which destroyed the majority of Detroit. The American general William Hull claimed he saw the gremlin in the fog just just before his surrender of Detroit to the British during the War of 1812. The creature was seen before calamities throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and most recently was spotted before the 1967 riot that forever changed the city and the day before one of the worst ice storms in the city's history in 1976, two utility workers reported seeing "a child" climb a utility pole and then jump from the top of the pole and run swiftly away as they investigated. A few drunks have seen him here and there since.
The moment I heard about the Nain Rouge last September I knew what I wanted Juniper to be this Halloween. I have been on the lookout for a toddler-sized red wig for a year.
Detroit is a lovely city, but it is the only place where I have ever seen a real coffin for sale in a thrift store. It was right next to the Halloween costumes in a store located in a neighborhood where someone could foreseeably purchase it for non-decorative use. Hanging on the costume rack was a small Elmo costume Juniper's size. I knew I could easily adapt it to trick her into thinking she was Elmo for Halloween, when really she was the Nain Rouge, harbinger of doom.
But then I got to thinking: the Tigers were still in the World Series. The auto companies are lurching towards unheard-of losses. I just bought real estate here. Did I really want to tempt the fates?
I didn't buy the costume, and my wife ultimately convinced me it was the right decision. "Nobody will get it," she said. "And if you try to explain it, you'll sound like an asshole." The other thing: unlike last year, this year Juniper knows about Halloween. I asked her what she wanted to be, and she didn't say "a cryptozoological goblin that brings misfortune to my newly-adopted home." What she said, Wood made on her sewing machine. She's going to be what she wants to be for Halloween.
But when the Tigers lost the series to St. Louis Saturday night, I couldn't help but feel some regret. What worse calamity could my little Nain Rouge have inspired in this city? But a couple days after the world series loss, a study was released stating the St. Louis was the most dangerous city in America, with Detroit in second place.
Sometimes it's better to be in second place.
I've known what I wanted Juniper to be this Halloween since last September, when we first knew that we would be moving to Detroit and I learned about the Nain Rouge from a friend well-versed in cryptozoological urban legends.
That's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuating itself, down through the generationsPosted by jdg | Monday, October 30, 2006
I have discovered, now that I have a kid, that it's weird hanging out with my parents. We'll be sitting around, and I'll mention something Juniper has been doing that's a real pain in my ass, and my dad will sit there and nod his head and say, "I sure do remember that." It gives me a new connection to him that is surefooted and real, as if parenthood itself is a fraternity of tolerance. In such moments we might tap beer bottles with another, at the neck, if my dad were the kind of guy to drink beer in front of me rather than squirrel away an always-half-empty pint of Captain Morgan in a box at the top of his closet. As we sit and soberly commiserate about what a pain in the ass kids can be, I have a revelation: Hey, that's not cool, man: that pain in his ass he's talking about is me.
For example, I learned last night that Juniper's recent artistry was not without some genetic precedent. Turns out I painted bedroom walls with my own shit when I was her age. My dad laughed as he told the story, making Wood and my mom laugh, leaving everyone laughing but me. His tale of undirected ire and harried frustration in removing every fecal speck from the stucco was too familiar. And Wood suspected he felt there was some justice in the turnabout.
Some day, many years from now, perhaps Juniper will have a kid and bring memories of her own infancy back to me, and I'll crack a few beers and we can commiserate, but if I'm good I'll be sure to remind her that until she brought them up I'd forgotten every albatross of parenthood, all of them overwhelmed by her being the best thing that ever happened to me.
Even if I haven't forgotten.
When I was a kid, I loved October for the sophisticated reason that my birthday was in the middle of the month, and just when I was coming down from the presents and cake, two weeks later came the sugar-coma-inducing, best-holiday-EVER, Halloween.
Over the years, however, October lost its charm with me. Birthday celebrations in offices were pathetic disappointments compared to elementary school birthday parties, where instead of distributing cupcakes with sprinkles to all of your eager classmates, you get to eat cake at a staff meeting on a random day of the month co-celebrating your birthday with three other schlubby Libras. Halloween stopped being fun, too. Cute childhood costumes were replaced with slutty excuses, and when I got sick of slutty excuses, I was left with no choice but to opt out of Halloween. Living in San Francisco didn't help either; not only is the city completely devoid of seasons, but it is also extra full of sexiness at the end of October. Who has the energy to be that sexy?
But now we're in Michigan again. My birthday was over a week ago. I'm still not quite 30, so that alone is something worth celebrating. Even better, apparently my birthday made quite an impression on Juniper. Two days ago, as we sat eating a family dinner, she started to sing to herself quietly when she was finished eating. After a few seconds, Dutch and I realized that she was singing, "Happy Birthday Dear Mama." She now sings it for me on command, and each time I hear her garbled, nearly tuneless version and the way she squeaks out the "Maaaaama" at the end, my heart slides down the inside of my ribcage and starts leaking into my pancreas and my gall bladder. She has also recently started saying, "I love you" when I leave for work in the morning. These two things totally make up for the fact that on my birthday, she successfully refused to take any nap at all for the first time in her life, which meant that by 5:30 she was a hot mess of tears and exhaustion, forcing us to abandon our plan to go to a restaurant for dinner together.
And to top it all off, Halloween is once again something to forward to. Last year Dutch dressed Juniper up as a street urchin, and even though I was skeptical, it was a great costume. But the whole thing still had an element of farce to it -- Juniper was just a squishy, wobbly 9 month old who never noticed what she was wearing or the newspaper we safety-pinned to her sleeve, making her costume and our subsequent parading around the San Francisco dusk feel silly. This year, though, she gets it. She loves pumpkins and ghosts and witches. Thanks to Dutch's weekly pilgrimages to the zoo, Juniper recognizes a wide range of animals, giving me plenty of furry choices for her costume. She's also particular about what she wears, usually requesting each morning to put on her swim suit and dance around the house. She's a total ham, and I know she's going to love dressing up and walking around the neighborhood. The real challenge for me will be finishing her costume before I chuck the sewing machine out the window in frustration, and then preventing her and her accomplice (otherwise known as her dad) from walking away with all of our neighbors' pumpkins on Halloween night.
October is also great this year for all of the Michigan reasons we've missed: the beautiful leaves, the cool air, cider mills with local apples and homemade donuts, and the Tigers. Even though I get so nervous watching them that I can't look at the screen, and even though I ask Dutch dumb questions like,"why does that guy get to run after the other guy caught the ball in the outfield," I'm excited about professional sports for the first time in my life. Watching sports is what people do here, and rather than fight it, I've simply accepted it as an excellent excuse to drink another beer.
So far, this is the best October I've had in a long time. And we're not even to the best part yet.
I just found this story in the Wall Street Journal called Sending baby to the shrink: Infant psychotherapy gains favor among parents. It contained the following text:
Therapists are increasingly moving their treatments from the couch to the crib. While the field of infant mental health -- which encompasses the study of children from birth through age three -- has been around for decades, new research on everything from brain development to maternal depression is giving it a boost. A widely used mental health and development diagnostic manual for infants was revised last year for the first time since 1994 to include two new subsets of depression, five new subsets of anxiety disorders (including separation anxiety and social anxiety disorders) and six new subsets of feeding behavior disorders (including sensory food aversions and infantile anorexia).
Wow. I have nothing against therapy, I know a lot of people who have been helped by therapy and I know a lot of people who should be in therapy. But infant psychotherapy? The article describes psychotherapists working with 11-month olds. How does that even work? Seriously, do all these people on the Upper East Side have way too much time on their hands, or what?
I tried to imagine what psychotherapy and a 21-month old might look like:
Therapist: So, Juniper, tell me about your father.
Juniper: Snow monkeys!
Therapist: Your father is a snow monkey?
Therapist: Interesting. How does that make you feel?
Therapist: Happy, are you trying to say happy?
Juniper: Apple, apple apple!
Therapist: What do you think this "apple" represents to you? Do you dream about apples?
Juniper: Apple, peel!
Therapist: Why don't we talk about your mother.
Therapist: Yes, Juniper, tell me how you feel about your mother.
Juniper: Apple! Apple! APPLE!
Therapist [jotting down note: clearly the subject has projected her anxieties about weaning onto the nearest-available similarly sized fruit]: So, Juniper, do you miss your mama's booboobs?
Juniper: Dada boobobs.
Therapist: Are you saying your father has breasts, Juniper?
Therapist [jotting: clearly, the father's handling of traditionally feminine responsibilities has confused the subject with respect to male/female anatomy, that is, unless her father is quite a fat ass]: Let's delve into this a bit further, Juniper, perhaps your issue is not with your father's breasts, but with your own. Perhaps you are really talking about yourself?
Juniper: [holding copy of Elmo's Alphabet] Read! Read! Read!
Therapist: Ah, literature. What an excellent idea. Perhaps we should discuss what it is about this book you find meaningful. Is there a particular character in this novel you identify with?
Therapist: What it is about this "Elmo" that means something to you?
Juniper: Elmo, read!
Therapist: Ah, is it that this "Elmo" is capable of reciting his ABCs and 123s, and even on some rudimentary level capable of "reading," that bothers you, and do you perhaps find that this relates in some way to your parents pressuring you to recite such schoolyard rhymes yourself, and, also, their imploring you to imitate the sounds made by horses and sheep, thus dredging up anxieties related to your inability to meet their heightened expectations?
Juniper: Horseys! Horseys!
Therapist: Ah yes, horses and young girls. This is fabulous [jotting down notes for an article he is planning to publish in the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology], I've never encountered that primitive autoerotic desire in a patient so young before. Tell, me Juniper, what is it about horses that interests you? Is it the nurturing or care you provide the horse, or perhaps you enjoy the experience of mounting the horse to master it? Or is it merely the rhythmic pleasure of riding the horse that interests you?
Juniper: Horsey ride?
Therapist: Ah, yes, the riding, I see. Tell me, what is it about the riding that you like?
Juniper [visibly upset] Horsey ride! Horsey ride!
Therapist: Calm down, Juniper [jotting: patient visibly upset by delving into her obsession with equestrianism; indications of repressed desires; explore further next session] Juniper, please tell me a little bit more about your father.
Juniper: Snow monkeys!
Therapist: Yes, the snow monkey with man boobs. How do you feel about him?
Juniper: Apple, peel?
Therapist [jotting: patient expresses strange associate between her father, apples, and snow monkeys, explore further next time] Well, that's excellent, Juniper, I think we covered a lot of ground today, but there are a lot of questions I have that are still unanswered. That said, I think we've made a lot of progress. Please drop off a check for $280 with my secretary on your way out.
Therapist: I'm sorry, Juniper, but our time is up for today.
Let this be a warning to all you parents of eight-month olds out there: sure, they're plump and cuddly and can't do anything but smile and poop and cry a little and you can take them to the pumpkin patch and prop them up and take pictures and they're so adorable you buy a 64-oz tub of pumpkin butter you'll never eat from the pumpkin guy because you're just so grateful to be there taking pictures of your little princess among his pumpkins.
Then, you turn around and it's a year later, and you pull up to a pumpkin patch on the side of the road to take pictures, and before you know it your little princess is screaming, "PUMPKIN!" over and over at the top of her lungs and she won't get up without convulsing unless you bring a pumpkin with you, and then you find yourself scurrying along the road with a screaming child under one arm and a stolen pumpkin under the other. That's right, parents of eight-month olds. One day you'll find yourself driving through the autumn foliage with the orange glow of a pumpkin patch fading behind you, your child happily hugging a pumpkin in her car seat. And when you look at yourself in the rear-view mirror all you'll see is a pumpkin thief.
Apparently there's some C-list actress out there named Sienna Miller who is more famous for her outfits in Us Weekly and getting screwed by Jude Law than she is for any actual film she's ever been in. Miller was recently filming an adaptation of a Michael Chabon novel in Pittsburgh when, in an interview with Rolling Stone, she called the city "Shitsburgh" and complained to the reporter: "Can you believe this is my life? Will you pity me when you're back in your funky New York apartment and I'm still in Pittsburgh? I need to get more glamorous films and stop with my indie year."
I don't mean to be too hard on Sienna Miller. But she was staying at the Omni, not some flophouse in the hill district. And now, after her boyfriend cheated on her with a homely nanny, she also had this to say in the interview: "Monogamy [is] overrated because, let's face it, we're all fucking animals. The fact is, no one is perfect." It's hard to argue with that incredible logic, and I don't want to question the thinking of such an intellectual powerhouse. But I'm going to anyway.
We just spent part of the weekend in Sienna's "Shitsburgh," and I have to say it's one of my favorite cities. And I don't just mean that from the side of me that loves grungy post-industrial graffiti-covered cityscapes. From the most objective standpoint, Pittsburgh is a beautiful town. When you approach it from north 279 and come out of that tunnel and suddenly see the sunlight on the rivers and the skyscrapers and the hills and the metal bridges, I don't think there's any comparable approach to any other city in America. Instead of just the monotonous, depressing suburbs or industrial wastelands that pollute the outskirts of most cities, in the hills surrounding Pittsburgh and along the three rivers there are old steel towns riddled with old trestles and bridges and neighborhoods with true character supplied by multiple generations of various immigrant communities. There is a solid sense of culture in Pittsburgh that many faster-moving cities lack. Wood's dad lives in the South Side slopes, and for ten years we have visited him there, and I love walking those hills and the flats, seeing the statues of the virgin and the fake flowers in the windows of Edwardian row houses and walking past corner beer-and-a-shot dive bars. During the summer of 2002 Wood lived in Oakland (the Pittsburgh neighborhood, not the bay area city) and I spent a month there procrastinating studying for the bar exam, driving around to thrift stores in most of the boroughs and eating lots of sandwiches and salads inexplicably topped with french fries. I grew to love Oakland's drunken excesses, its mattresses smoldering in the streets and Italian grandmothers culling tomatoes from plants arching upwards among broken bottles of Yuengling. I loved the parks. The people. The Primanti brothers. I would live in Pittsburgh in a heartbeat.
On Saturday afternoon, Wood's father drove us through a new development on the South Side, down by the hot metal bridge, and it was with a certain sense of dread that I drove past the bustling storefronts of the type of familiar chain stores that clutter strip malls everywhere and even Fifth Avenue and lower Broadway in Manhattan. They were the kind of places a girl like Sienna Miller might shop if she wasn't so rich. Part of me thought it was wonderful that the money was being spent on development in the city, and not in some strip mall somewhere in a suburb. Part of me wished that someone would have that kind of confidence to develop in Detroit. Part of me disliked how the "edgier" chain stores like H&M and Urban Outfitters were obviously sold on the project because they could feed off the long-established "punk" atmosphere of Carson street. I was conflicted. The place was hopping. Clearly, this was where people want to spend their money.
I have to curb my pretention and remember that to locals, these kind of developments may feel like progress, you know: "We finally got an H&M, just like New York!" whereas an outsider like me sees the potential demise of a certain sense of culture with the gentrification, knowing that for every yuppie like me who will move into the existing housing stock, some old Ukrainian woman whose family has lived there for generations will have to find somewhere else to go. As an outsider, it is that sense of culture that I think makes Pittsburgh so damn wonderful, so damn different than any other city I've ever visited.
The people of Pittsburgh are fiercely proud and needed no apology from Sienna Miller. But one of her handlers wrote an apology for her eventually. As someone who recently moved from San Francisco to Detroit, I am sensitive about remarks like those made by Miller. I hear that kind of thing all the time about Detroit, and feel that it is such an unattractive thing to discuss a place where so many people live as though it were intolerable. I wondered this weekend what it was about Pittsburgh that Miller found so unappealing. I suppose it's no London, no Manhattan. It makes me realize how far away I am from a woman like that, how unappealing I find people like her. Sure, she is probably physically attractive. It's her job, after all, to be desirable. Wanting to fuck Sienna Miller is probably easy, just like "hearting" N.Y. is easy, just like, if you are water, flowing downhill is easy. But I don't really want to fuck Sienna Miller. See, I'm in a monogomous relationship, and besides, she probably smells like Dexatrim and cocaine and would refuse to take her ugly-ass boots off. But even worse, she's kind of sad. Pathetic. Kind of like that cheerleader in all the eighties movies at the end, after they have given the "nerdy" girl a makeover to win the prom queen tiera and sash and everyone has learned the lesson that it's really what's inside that counts. People like Miller are so blinded by their own sense of self-importance that they can't see the beauty of the world around them. And that's sad.
Juniper is a dainty child. She doesn't like getting shit on her hands. When she lands on her butt at the bottom of a slide, she will sit there for several minutes picking the woodchip particles off her palms. She won't even go near sand. Last weekend I bought her some fingerpaint, thinking we could paint a picture for her mother to put on the wall in her office.
Yesterday morning, after I set down plenty of newspaper and stripped her down to her diaper, I removed the cover of the paint and showed Juniper how to do it. "Nooooooo," she wailed, and ran across the room, burying herself in couch pillows. I dragged her over again, screaming, so I basically had to strongarm my daughter into doing some actual fingerpainting. But the second she got a dab of the red paint on the tip of her index finger she frowned and told me it was "dirty" and demanded a "wipey."
Now I feel I have an obligation to share with you the rest of what happened yesterday, if only because around here I tend to paint my parental experiences with rose-colored hues and the occasional opacity. Our days are not always the idyllic times I portray them to be, with the two of us walking along sewage-clogged canals outside of auto factories and playing in lead-paint covered 1960s playgrounds overgrown with weeds and ancient crack pipes. Sometimes, in truth, Juniper is a handful.
Yesterday I put Juniper down for her nap at 1:30, and proceeded to check my e-mail, when a few minutes later I heard her yelling at me from the next room. Let me back up: for the last two weeks Juniper has chosen to take her daily shit right when I put her down for her nap, so inevitably I have to interrupt naptime to change a disgusting diaper, its smell lingering in the room while I try to put her to bed all over again. And lately Juniper has been showing me that she knows how to take off her own diaper. You can tell, by now, where this is leading.
For a girl who doesn't like to get shit on her hands, she sure does know how to fingerpaint with it. The wall above her bed looked like Jackson Pollock had painted it with digested macaroni and ginger carrot soup. And there's my little germaphobe, smiling up at me in what had been a white t-shirt that is now a dinghy brown smock: "poo poo!" she said.
Poo poo, indeed.
Juniper is still crazy for her Carl the Dog books, a continued interest fueled perhaps by our failure to buy her a real dog as we once promised. If we're at home, she approaches me with one of these stupid books three or four times an hour. I decided to create another book just to show her what happens in the real world to parents who leave their children unsupervised for extended period of time. And it had to include pruno and shanks.
Next month I am definitely going to do another song-based book. And as always, I love suggestions/requests.
Oh, and I should have a new Children's Book post up later this afternoon.
Last week, the height of the post-weaning period, was all about early mornings with Juniper and I sitting at the kitchen table staring at each other through crusty, grumpy eyes over cheerios and coffee before 6:00 a.m. This week has been so much calmer, because for the first time in Juniper's life, she has begun sleeping 12 hour, wholly uninterrupted and completely cry-free nights. She doesn't get up until the downright slovenly hour of 8:00 a.m., proving that we were a little hasty when we tossed out our alarm clock during the mass decluttering of August 06, assuming we'd never need it again because our daughter always insisted on rising before the sun. I've been late for work every day this week, both because we lack an alarm clock, and also because I just can't walk out the door after only getting 20 minutes with a baby who every day wakes up even sweeter and chattier than the morning before.
I am officially jealous of Dutch. A few days ago Dutch called my work phone from an apple orchard, and after he told me where he and Juniper were, I felt an unexpected pang and nearly had to staple the palms of my hands to my desk in order to keep from jumping up from my chair to go join them. Fortunately, the simple fact that we only have one car saved my flesh from the stapler, since there aren't exactly any buses from downtown Detroit to apple orchards. But still, that day I truly understood for the first time the depth of longing Dutch was always talking about while he was at work last year and Juniper and I were off somewhere sitting in the sun.
We get 2-3 e-mails per week asking us where we get Juniper's clothes. I always have to be a bit sheepish with the answer. Her clothes are not all lovingly hand-crafted by a collective of hipsters sewing on antique Domestic sewing machines while listening to the new Joanna Newsom album in their Brooklyn studio space and then donating 75 percent of their profits to Guatemalan orphanages. Nor are most of her clothes from fancy San Francisco boutiques, unless they were on the clearance racks or Stefania bought them there. Almost everything she wears is a hand-me-down. Or something I found on eBay. See, I was never above bringing a notepad into those fancy boutiques, writing down the names of the best labels and then scouring eBay for the same clothes at a fraction of the price. Remember: I'm cheap.
In the past, we have also taken some heat for how we dress Juniper, one reader even telling me that she's going to be "a freak" because of our imposition of such a ridiculous wardrobe on her fragile little identity. But generally, the response has been positive.
But I have discovered a new source for Juniper's clothes that is keeping our child-sized hanger supply at perilously low levels: thrift stores. I am no stranger to thrift stores. I spent more time in law school shopping at Ann Arbor-area thrift stores than I did studying. But I never had any reason to look at the kids' clothes then, and let me tell you: kids' clothes at thrift stores are awesome. See, there aren't a lot of 18-24 month old hipsters around here to take all the good shit. That means I have a virtually unlimited supply of early-eighties Montgomery Ward sweaters, handmade dresses from the sixties, urchin pants and vintage polyester jumpers. I love reading her books that I remember having read to me in my childhood, and I love dressing her in clothes from the early eighties. And even better, they're all $1.00 each.
The other day I took Juniper to my favorite thrift store of all time, and just like her dad she was in heaven. The first thing she saw was a giant plastic rocking crocodile, which I let her play on for a few minutes while I looked at old un-PC children's books called Roberto the Mexican Boy & such. She rocked that crocodile with such a fervor that even the haughty transexual stockgirl was moved to crack a smile with his heavily-painted lips. It was hard to drag her off the filthy thing, but she was even more impressed by the aisle of dirty broken toys at the back of the store. Naked dolls, grubby playskool musical instruments, mangy giant sideshow prizes, they all looked just right to Juniper. I was so proud of her.
Generally, babies at thrift stores aren't even held to the same standards as babies at Wal-Mart. Whining babies at Wal-Mart are like stoic Buddhist monks compared to the venomous, tantrum-throwing Beelzebubs you see sitting in the seats of thrift store shopping carts. Juniper behaved like a champ. She even let me try some sweaters on her that looked like they might be too small. My only complaint was that when we were in the girls' dress aisle, she caught sight of the crocodile rocker at the front of the store, and started shouting, "Cock! Juney want cock!" over and over. I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "not now, Juney."
We shopped some more, but the presence of that rocking croc up front kept Juniper's outbursts R-rated to the point where I decided it would be best to check out before the Washtenaw County Sheriff showed up and started asking questions. On our way towards the register, with a shopping cart full of kids' clothes and kid screaming for cock in the seat, I nearly mowed down a total hipster and his hipster girlfriend perusing the mitten selection. "Sorry," I said, but they snarled and looked me up and down, dismissing me as some poor schlub who buys his kid's clothes at the thrift store. I wanted to give them a signal that I was actually there for the cool stuff, that I, too, liked ironic one-armed gospel preacher LPs and macramed beer cozies but who was I kidding? They were right about me. That's exactly who I am now.
A week or two ago I drove my daughter practically down to the state line for the last county fair in the state of Michigan this year.
Walking there among the 4-H barns, smelling the long-forgotten musk of cowshit and hay, I felt like what all the farmers thought I was: a city slicker who didn't know a steer from a heifer. I am sensitive about this. I respect farmers a great deal; I appreciate people who know exactly where their meat comes from. In fact, I idealize these people so much that I tend to see nothing of their backwards, troop supporting, nu-country-listening ways. And the County Fair is like pornography that feeds this idealism. I always leave plotting out the hobby farm where Wood and I will raise Juniper once we've grown tired of city life. It's really a sickness.
It's a lifelong sickness that once drove me to indentured servitude on an Irish cattle farm for three months. Back in the summer of 1998 I received free room and board on a farm in County Clare in exchange for work. When I signed up, the work was supposed to involve clearing cattle yards and piling rocks to form those lovely old walls you see in the west of Ireland, you know: hearty, rain-drenched honest work, the kind of work that would give me callouses and muscles and let me go to bed proud and smelling faintly of manure and Guinness. Unfortunately, the farm I signed up to work for doubled as a bed and breakfast, so in the mornings I was a chambermaid: changing linens, wiping pubic hairs down the drain in the shower, and emptying the wastebins of condoms that the hot German tourists had used to efficiently fuck their hot German women while I slept in the barn, my room partitioned off from the paid help, an ageless devout Catholic woman with fifteen brothers and sisters who was the most hideous creature to crawl out from under the burren since Neolithic times, and whose guilt-ridden sobbing masturbation sessions chilled me to the bone three nights a week. During the day she complained about our work incessantly, but the moment I chimed in to agree with her she told me to shut my mouth because I was lucky: her last job was at a pub in Ennistymon cleaning up the puke in the men's bathroom every night. I was like "Dude, your economy sucks."
In the afternoon I would go out and literally herd cows, moving them on the narrow back roads from tiny stone-walled field to tiny stone-walled field, counting them constantly, mending the walls, and sneaking off to drink with the staff at the hotel down the road from the fields. It was my most pretentious summer among many pretentious summers. I would wear knee-high Wellington boots and swat the giant castles of flesh with a stick when they strayed to eat grass on the side of the road. One time some German tourists even stopped to take my picture. I wished at the time I'd given them my camera, snug in my pocket, for a snapshot or two.
The 80-year-old lady who ran the farm while her daughter-in-law was off somewhere on a bender told me she thought it was a scandal what her daughter-in-law was doing with me, and that she considered it slavery. Every week she slipped me a twenty pound note, which I promptly spent at the pub. Her name was Tessie. She was obsessed with the belief that Cancer hid and crept everywhere. I once heard her scolding a young guest for picking at a pimple:
"Don't be picking at those spots now, sure that will give you the Cancer."
While I was in the vegetable garden she showed me a particular weed: "They call that the horse's mane; 'tis awful, will give you the Cancer for sure."
Tessie was as round as she was tall. She stumbled around the farmhouse all day, complaining about the guests or the weather, which was always Irish and always the same. Never in my life, though, had I heard so many discussions about the weather and the moon as I did when I lived among these farmers. Tessie's room was decorated with thousands of images of the saints. She was like the Martha Stewart of haggiography. She had a chronic ulcer on her left calf that needed to be cleaned and wrapped in Dublin every two weeks, and she had to take the bus from Galway. One time she tried to clean it herself. When I walked in she shouted at me to get out of her room. It smelled like roadkill.
Tessie made my breakfast every day: three eggs, two pieces of thickly-sliced bacon, rashers, blood pudding and baked beans, all served with tea and her fresh-baked soda bread with blackcurrant jam. Apparently she was more concerned with the Cancer than the heart disease.
One day early in my tenure I was relieved of my chambermaid duties and told to unclog the slurry. The slurry was a deep pit under the barn where the cowshit fell through grates in the floor. The cows were kept inside all winter, and the shit had been drying under a thick crust since the previous May. It was like a shit-flavored Creme Brulee. I held a hose over the slurry and used a long pipe to plunge in and out of the gurgling stew. I would occasionally bend over and peer into the depths to see if I was making any progress. The methane from the agitated slop made my head heavy. Tessie yelled at me from the window, "Mind yourself, crater. The gases from in there will give you the Cancer."
When I was unable to unclog the slurry, a guy named Lawrence Shaloo came to suck it all out. Lawrence Shaloo was a young man in his early twenties, committed to a career in emptying slurries. I never asked him how he spelled his last name. He's not the kind of guy you'd ask. In response to a suggestion that he was an eligible bachelor, another girl who worked on the farm said the only beautiful thing about Lawrence Shaloo was his name. He drove his dirty truck into the barnyard, pulled out a big hose and dropped it in the slurry. If he's lucky all he has to do is flip a switch and, after it's empty, drive away. In most cases, though, he has to put on waders and jump in himself. This was one of those times. In my attempts to loosen the shit, I had filled the slurry with hundreds of gallons of water, and he was able to slosh around down there pretty good. He told me to keep the water running and keep plunging.
At night sometimes I would sit in the kitchen and watch television, but there was only one spliced cable jack for the house and everybody was subject to the whim of old Tessie up in the all-saints room with her remote control. I would helplessly watch horrible Irish cooking programs get switched over to the Galway races for a few seconds until she flipped to the news and then settled on some melodramatic movie. She loved talking to the characters as if they could heed her advice. One night I returned from shoveling shit somewhere and she had cabbage soaking and she was sitting entranced in front of the kitchen television. She was watching the 1976 King Kong remake with the Dude and Jessica Lange. "What are you watching, Tessie?" I asked her.
"Sure it's a fi-lim about a big monkey, climbing up this yoke or another."
"Is it King-Kong?"
"Hmm. He's a terrible monkey. They're trying to kill 'em."
"Who's that woman?"
"Sure that's his girlfriend. Oh she found him in the jungle and he saved her. She and that monkey are best friends. He loves her." King-Kong climbed the building, swatting at planes. Tessie's eyes never left the screen. She tersely ordered the monkey to put that woman down, to run back to the jungle.
Tessie's middle-aged daughter-in-law, who ran the farm's day to day business, came home from her bender a couple weeks after I first arrived. Irish benders, it turns out, are considerably longer than American ones. The first thing I saw when she returned was her red key chain hanging by the door. It read: Sexy bitches carry red key chains.
But she's another story altogether, along with the guy who helped me break up a fight between two old Hereford bulls and the time I stuck my arm up to its elbow in cow vagina. Yep, those stories are for another day.
Despite my general disinterest in all things sport, this afternoon we walked over to Comerica Park to check out the scene during the last few innings of the final division series game against the Yankees, and from the street urchin seats we watched them build their lead from four runs to eight, finally sending the Yankees back to their $17 million Park Avenue condos, and causing the pitcher from last night's game (Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers) to stand on top of the dugout spraying champagne on hundreds of fans who were all taking pictures of him with their camera phones. Sorry New York, despite your $200 million worth of hunky ethnically-ambiguous all-stars you just couldn't defeat this guy, or even get a hit against him until the top of the seventh. Before that, a homeless guy with a googly eye walked up to us and asked what the score was and I said "6-0 and the Yankees haven't gotten any hits yet," and he said back to me, "Well they don't deserve any motherfucking hits."
We didn't get to see much of the actual field, but we were standing next to this guy, so that totally made up for it. Would you rather hang out with guys from Warren wearing berets and drinking $9 beers? I just can't help but get swept up in the joy of all this victory, and my heart surged when the Tigers won each of the last three games. Even though we're home now, we can still hear the roar of the crowd in downtown Detroit when we open our back door. And Juniper has been running around our house naked shouting "yay Tigers!" It's easy to get her to love a team whose stadium is covered with dozens of giant versions of her favorite animal at the zoo, as it was for me in 1984 when my dad took me to my first Tigers game.
On this past Monday, October 2, two days after Juniper turned 20 months old, I stopped breastfeeding her.
For the last 4 months, the only time Juniper nursed was during the still-dark hours of the morning. She would wake at 5:00 or 5:30 and call for me, requesting "booboobs." After twenty minutes of breastfeeding in our bed, I'd return her to her crib or, more recently, her big girl bed. Then she'd sleep for another hour or two, and when I finally got up for the day, our early morning nursing session seemed shrouded in exhaustion, like a distant dream.
I was barely conscious during these last months of nursing. I also rarely admitted to anyone that Juniper wasn't completely weaned. It wasn't that I feared judgment from childless friends who said, the way I sometimes did before I was pregnant, that breastfeeding a toddler when she's "old enough to ask for it" was gross, it was that I really felt like she had weaned. My breasts were never engorged anymore and had returned to their pre-pregnancy (or an even smaller) size, I didn't even know where my breast pump was, and I hadn't breastfed in public or worn a nursing bra in months. Nursing no longer regimented our days like it did for the first year of Juniper's life, and since I was only half-awake when she breastfed every morning, it just seemed easier to tell people that she wasn't doing it. I was a closet extended breastfeeder.
On Monday, I decided that the early morning nursing session, which on Sunday took place at 3:45 a.m., was getting in the way of her sleep. For weeks, she'd been waking early and sleeping poorly after breastfeeding, and it seemed as though the morning nurse was no longer making it easier for her to sleep, but instead making it more difficult for both of us. I had been hoping that Juniper would one day just sleep through until 7:00, and I pictured myself rolling over one morning, glancing at the clock in surprise, and walking into her room to find her still sleeping peacefully after the sun had risen. On Monday I had to admit to myself that was never going to happen, and that's just not the kind of kid Juniper is. Instead, by becoming a total pain in the ass from the hours between 4:00 and 7:00 a.m., she was letting me know that she was ready move on.
Monday we went cold turkey. I told her on Sunday night that we were "all done" with "booboobs," and she repeated me and said "yeah," over and over. That night she had the worst night of sleep she's had in six months, even worse than the nights spent sleeping in cars and transferred to hotel beds in Nevada and Nebraska on our cross-country drive in August. I have to think that she understood, and that she was troubled and worried. When the morning came on Monday and she wanted to nurse and I didn't let her, she was pissed and screamed like a feral mongoose while I held her and tried to tell her that everything was okay, that I was there, that I loved her. When she finally fell asleep again that morning, she slept through my departure for work and I arrived at the office with aching boobs and a broken heart.
The mornings since then have gotten a little easier every day, but this morning at 5:45 she still said, "booboobs," pointed out the door of her room towards our bedroom, and plunged her warm, sticky hand down my shirt. My breasts are more engorged than they've been since December, and knowing that there is milk in there after months of forgetting about it makes it nearly impossible for me not to rip my shirt in two and nurse her just so I can watch her fall asleep on my breast one last time.
I know that Juniper was ready to wean and I'm confident that in a few weeks, she'll be sleeping better than ever. Now that it's over, however, I'm not sure that I was prepared for that fact that I'll never nurse this baby again. So here I sit at my desk, staring at this picture of us that Dutch took in March, on a flight from Detroit to San Francisco.
It strikes me that the bulk of one's toddlerhood is spent in restraint. From the moment we are plucked screaming from behind the bars of our cribs in the morning to the second we are left to listlessly console ourselves to sleep at night behind those very bars again, we are shuttled between various snap-button harnesses and four-walled mesh apparati and rooms barricaded by safety gates. All of this is done in the name of "safety," but it strikes me that every modern child is given a healthy dose of the penal experience before they hit the age of three.
Should it really be a surprise then, that upon occasion a child is born with the same impish fire in her eyes and singleminded desire for freedom that Steve McQueen's character exhibited in The Great Escape? Over the course of the last 20 months I have played the evil Teutonic commandant to her wily prisoner-of-war, thwarting her ever-increasing efforts to escape various contexts of restraint, from bedroom to high chair to stroller to car seat. I have uncovered escape tunnels, discovered contraband bolt and wire cutters under her crib mattress, and found various disguises and forged documents she was clearly planning to use to blend in with the adult population before making a dash for the Canadian border, where babies are treated with respect and dignity. But I don't think that fake mustache and monocle would have fooled the Canadian customs agents. They're craftier than that. I'm just grateful her legs are too short to reach the pedals of a Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle.
As I have thwarted her escape plans time and time again, Juniper has turned to her old tactics of protest, from the banging of tin cups against the door to her cell, to dumping urine and feces-soaked rags in my lap every three to four hours. But when I got into the car this morning and smelled the pungent odor of fermenting fruit I knew Juniper had taken things one step too far. She was manufacturing pruno under her car seat. For you delicate readers who may never have served any time in a state or federal prison, pruno is a handcrafted distilled beverage common in our nation's prisons whereby an incarcerated vintner stuffs a dirty sock with as much fresh fruit, sugarcubes, ketchup packets, fruit cocktail, and moldy bread, and then leaves it to ferment behind his cell's radiator for a few weeks in a plastic bag. The end product, filtered through the sock, has been described as a "vomit-flavored wine cooler."
It has been my wife's idea to have Juniper on a consistent diet of fresh fruit to keep her regular in the shitting department. That means when I pack up the day's snacks, I often include some fresh pineapple chunks, carefully-halved grapes, peeled mango and apple slices. When I took Juniper on the two-hour car trip to the Hillsdale County Fair last Wednesday, I found that by frequently reaching behind my back and handing her a grape or a pineapple chunk she would stop screaming about being strapped into the damn car seat. I thought she was eating them, but instead, upon inspection of her car seat this morning, it appears she was hoarding them under the seat cushion, stuffing them under a mash of cheerios, goldfish crackers and pirate's booty. She apparently planned to distill all this into a nice batch of pruno by the heat of her little farts. The car already smelled of fermented fruit cocktail.
So Herr Commandant shoveled up the contraband pruno into a garbage bag and hauled it into the house. He and the Mrs. recently entered into a little wager with details too sordid for public airing, but they have already decided that a fitting result will be the loser trying three spoonfuls of Juniper's baby-prison pruno.