Today was Juniper's second birthday, and because her mother left for work before she had even woken up, I was prepared to let this be the kind of day where anything Juniper demanded, Juniper would get. I would ask her what she wanted to do, and we would do it. If she wanted to eat her birthday cake for breakfast, she would eat cake. This was my first mistake.

After wiping the chocolate frosting from her lips and forehead, I asked her what she wanted to do, and she answered, "go to zoo; see animals?" We go to the zoo almost every week, and it's one of three possible responses she could have given to that query. I actually prefer the zoo to the other two possibilities--- the playgroup where little white boys beat on her and the exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit where stuffed creatures urinate against a stuffed-animal shantytown (Juniper calls it "Babies Pee-pee!"---I'm sure this is what the artist was going for)---so we went to the zoo.

When we arrived, we quickly realized we were the only people there. I'm serious: there was not another soul at the zoo who was not either getting paid to be there or volunteering their time. I felt like a slave escorting a deified two-year-old Persian queen throughout her own private menagerie on the outskirts of ancient Persepolis. It was as though I'd I rented the entire zoo just for her birthday. Despite temperatures hovering around 17 degrees, it was pretty magical. As with so many things in Detroit, there is a certain post-apocalyptic joy to being the only ones. Juniper watched a zookeeper cram tiny fish down the gullets of penguins, then wandered around the penguinarium by herself like an emperor penguin: staccato steps with becoated arms flapping at her side. We wandered alone through the butterfly house, and another zookeeper allowed her feed mealworms directly to a bold Asian bluebird in the free-flight aviary. Almost all of the animals were out and easy to see in the snow. When the lion roared I told her he was wishing her a happy birthday. When the zebras ran up to where we were standing, I told her they wanted to see the birthday girl. When I told her the polar bear wanted to eat some of her birthday cake, she shouted, "no share birthday cake polar bear!"

The Detroit zoo is an old one. It is landscaped with a grand, quarter-mile-long concourse between the gate and all the worthwhile animals. In warm weather it is pleasant enough to stroll past the fountains and statuary, but even in warm weather that distance means that when your Joey pitches a fit in the kangaroo habitat, you've got a long walk back to your minivan, mate. Today, inside the giraffe house, Juniper decided to throw the worst tantrum I have ever seen from her. I sneaked a look at my cell phone. We had been at the zoo for nearly three hours, and we were at the furthest point possible from the car. She sat on the ground and kicked her feet. She wanted me to hold her. When I held her she wanted her mama. When I told her that her mama was at work, she screamed. Outside, her screaming roused a flock of flamingos huddled together for warmth. The chimpanzees wailed with her from inside the monkey house. Bison and antelope and wolverines ran for cover. The tigers cowered and howled with fear. Juniper's screaming reached a certain pitch optimal for agitating every wild animal for miles. Tonight, with a few hours between me and that tantrum, I can almost marvel at its scale. It was the closest I have ever come to experiencing something like what's described in the book of Revelations.

On one hand, I was glad we were the only patrons at the zoo, because there wasn't anybody there to judge my parenting. But eventually I did get a little scared. She had never screamed so relentlessly before. She had never seemed so immune to all my comforting. I suddenly imagined her appendix bursting inside her, or worse, some other, less-useless organ coming loose from its tubes, splashing blood and bile across her viscera, a source of pain that would cause her to emit such bloodcurdling screams that no animal in any kingdom is available for a convenient simile here: there they all were, with me, aghast at the display, frightened off to hide in their holes from the cold and the din surging from my daughter. None dared compete with a two-year old child.

I ran with her. I held her in my arms like a firefighter bursting from a building collapsing in flames behind him, only less manly (but that's a given: plus, I was singing Happy Birthday). Eventually we found ourselves at the otter house, a building with radiated heat coming from a long sheath of metal slung across the ceiling. She screamed as I unbundled her, setting her layers like matryoshki halves next to us, my tiny 23-lb toddler emerging from her warm winter clothes to climb into my coat and rest her wet cheek against the skin of my neck, still sobbing, and I patted her back and sang her a song and I took off her socks and rubbed her cold, bare feet in my hands and she stopped. I stood and danced with her like I did two years ago when we first brought her home from the hospital, still learning how to show her she was safe with us, that we were warmth and that her silent breathing on our chest was all we wanted from the world. I sat back down and rocked her and wondered what the mystery was. All the cold? All that cake? The fear that a polar bear would eat the rest of it before she could? I felt her breathing on my chest and I knew she wasn't in pain. I felt her fingers fumble with the zipper of my coat, and she swung her head back and she looked up at me and shouted "Name!" This is what she does when she doesn't know the word for something. "Zipper," I said, and she repeated it. "Where'd otter go?" she asked, and I pointed to the creature who had been sleeping in a hollow log this whole time. "Otter wake up!" she exclaimed, and then whimpered a bit while I put her clothes back on her.

She was two now. She showed me with her fingers once they slipped through the sleeve of her sweatshirt. She was just letting me know.

Original comment stream here

By Jove, it's so cold here I haven't left the house in three days.

Original comments here

Thursday Morning Wood

Posted by jdg | Thursday, January 25, 2007 |

I went out for a couple of beers last night with a friend. As we settled into our first beer, I told her that I had two pieces of good news: (1) my stepfather's first round of chemotherapy went as well as it possibly could, eradicating all of the leukemic cells in his bone marrow; and (2) Juniper pooped in the potty!

That second bit I said just like that, except that the single exclamation point at the end might not accurately convey how enthusiastically I said it. This might be one of those rare occasions where two or three exclamation points are necessary to show just how much glee was in my voice. And I usually hate exclamation points.

Luckily, my friend is also a mom, so she responded with the perfect amount of excitement, and didn't even glance over her shoulder to see if any of the hipsters at the bar heard me use the word "potty" followed by exclamation points.

Unfortunately, we're all sick. Here's a video Dutch shot the other day while confined to the house due to the freezing weather and the cold that Juniper must have picked up at playgroup. Although Juniper is wearing her pajamas, I'm pretty sure it was late afternoon. Also, you'll notice that she calls herself "Minnie," which as far as we can tell, is a combination of "me" and "Juney." We often call her that, too.

I'm sending this video to my parents in the hospital to give them even more reason to smile today, and since I have no doubt that all of your thoughts, prayers and good wishes had a part in bringing the score to Doug: 1, Leukemia: 0, I'd like thank everyone who commented or sent us kind words. Anyway, here's Juniper reciting her version of the alphabet:



The alphabet magnets she is pointing at on the fridge are these ones, available at Mahar Dry Goods. Please forgive that bubble of snot that flares up at the end.

Original comments here

The Art of Mommy War

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, January 23, 2007 | ,

While making our way across the country last August, we stopped in Salt Lake City for a couple of days. From the baby-changing facilities everywhere we went to the quality of the playgrounds, it quickly became evident that the residents of the Utah territory consider baby-rearing a serious enterprise. At a particularly huge park with an amazing playground, we pushed Juniper on a cool swing like we had never seen in swinging San Francisco. A few swings down from us, a comely young Molly was was pushing her 4-year-old daughter. She couldn't have been a day over 23. Suddenly a little girl ran right in front of the swings. Wood dove and grabbed our swing, narrowly preventing a major collision. Molly's much-larger daughter, however, was already near the end of her downward arc and her feet struck the other little girl directly in her head, and the other little girl went flying. Both started screaming. The mother of the girl who had been struck ran over to her daughter. Like the prim mother who was already comforting her daughter on the swing, this woman was young, blond, and attractive, but she had multiple facial piercings and distinctly bare shoulders. We'll call her Apostate Mama.

While they comforted their children, Molly said to her daughter in a voice loud enough for Apostate Mama to hear: "You'll be okay Oleatha, it's not your fault. That other mother wasn't watching where her little girl was running." Apostate Mama, with her arms around her own sobbing daughter, then said in a voice loud enough for Molly to hear: "Shhhh, I know, I know, Shalee, you're okay. That girl's mama wasn't watching where her daughter was swinging."

I really don't like talking to other parents at the playground. I just don't want to get involved in the Machiavellian politics of whose child is best or whose child hit who. I suppose I come off as standoffish with my anti-social playground attitude, but I really don't care. Luckily, in Detroit, Juniper and I are usually the only people at the playground. We spend a lot of time alone at the huge playground on Belle Isle, which Juniper calls "Playground Island." Sometimes there are some black parents at whatever playground we go to, but they and their kids are usually so busy treating us like we are a rare species of migrating birds that we never get into any of the bullshit. Occasionally, when the playgrounds are completely empty, I think Juniper might like to play with some other kids, and I take her to a public playgroup in a close suburb where a bunch of white people just let their kids loose on a room full of broken and mismatched toys. I usually bring a book. It's the only time I get to read. Have I ever mentioned how much I miss having the time and space to concentrate on a book? Juniper usually sits playing quietly a few feet away from me, so I can get a lot of reading done there, plus it exposes Juniper to white kids. Diversity, they say, is important.

Yesterday, Juniper was feeding a baby doll in a little plastic high chair when some boy about two years older than her came up and punched her right in gut. Juniper did not cry or scream, she just looked up at me with a face that seemed to say, "Father, what cruelty is this? What kind of world did you usher me into, where a lad can just walk right up and punch you in the gut?" I gave her a look back that said, "Welcome to the real world, kid." But then she started crying ferociously, and I comforted her. By then the kid who hit her was already on the other side of the room whacking some other kid on the head with a toy broomstick. A few minutes later I looked up from my book to see the perpetrator barreling towards us, pushing one of those wheeled toys designed for kids three years younger than he was. He rammed it right against the high chair where Juniper's baby doll was enjoying a quiet meal of Salisbury Steak and pickles. The Salisbury Steak went flying, the baby doll was vertical for a few seconds, and Juniper landed right on her butt. It was at this point that I employed the glare.

I have this really nasty glare I give people who cross me. It belies a certain degree of physical toughness that I certainly lack. Case in point: while walking past a San Francisco housing project several years ago, I gave the glare to a bunch of teenagers who were yelling nasty things at me. I subsequently found myself on the ground getting the shit kicked out of me. Nonetheless, I was comfortable enough that I wouldn't face a similar fate from a four-year-old bully, so I gave him a nice strong glare, 5 or 6 seconds of serious eye contact, after which he ran to his mother, crying. "Mama, Mama, that man made a mean face at me."

His mother responded in a voice I could hear from the other side of the room, despite the conversation some of the other parents were having about their favorite menu items at Panera Bread ("I like the turkey and artichoke sandwich!"): "I saw him, Otto. I don't know why he made that mean face at you. Maybe because he was reading and you bothered him by playing around him. Sometimes people who are reading don't like to be bothered by little kids." I nearly said something to her right then, but I remembered my Sun Tzu: "If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him." If I said something to this woman, I would be falling right into her trap. I said nothing.

Later, on the drive home, I realized that the rules of this type of combat are simple. "Never directly engage the parent of the kid who just punched your baby in the gut. Just tell your baby in a voice loud enough for her to hear what a little shit her kid is."

Original comments here

My mom started dating Doug in early 1986, when I was eight years old. They were married that November. 1986 was also the year that my half-brother, my dad's son, was born. One afternoon that year, I remember sitting in an empty cubicle in the strip mall computer store called Microage in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, waiting for my mom to finish work so we could go home. I was bored, probably, so I drew a picture of a new baby, a broken heart, and the words "my dad doesn't love me anymore" underneath them.

As I knew it would, that drawing got an immediate reaction from my mom, who called my dad in Pennsylvania to talk about it as soon as we got home. I remember feeling guilty even as I drew the picture, because I didn't really have any doubts that my dad loved me, and I couldn't have been more excited about my new brother --- I'd included "baby sister or brother" on my lists for Santa for the previous 3 years. I drew the picture because it seemed like I should be upset. It seemed like the sort of thing a kid in an after-school special about divorce would do in a desperate attempt to tell her parents how she felt, and after she did it her parents would comfort her and assure her that divorce and remarriage have nothing to do with the kids. I knew all of that and believed it, but I still drew the picture anyway.

If I was nervous about anything that year, it was probably my mom's remarriage. My dad lived in Pittsburgh, a good eight-hour drive away, and I only got to see him during school vacations. Each vacation, though, was an adventure. At age 8, my dad embodied everything fun that my mom wasn't: each time I visited him, he lived in a new house, he had a motorcycle and a leather motorcycle jacket, he could do push-ups with me and my two friends sitting on his back, and he always lived right in the middle of a big city.

When my mom got ready to marry Doug, I tried, in tiny little passive-aggressive ways to make it clear to him that there was no empty father-space in my life for him to fill. Around Halloween, he bought my friends and I pumpkin shaped cookies with orange frosting, and I refused to eat mine for at least twenty minutes. Ho ho, I thought, I've seen this on TV. You're trying to buy my love. Not so fast, mister.

It was hard to make it clear to Doug that I didn't want him to be my dad because he never tried to do that. Instead, he supported me without ever trying to replace my dad. He respected my relationship with my father, but he didn't let that stop him from stepping in and making me chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast every Saturday, or doing any of the mundane little tasks that a parent in the home needs to do to support a growing kid. When I was in middle school, he spent all his weekends with my mom and I, driving across Michigan to sit on bleacher seats for six-hour gymnastics meets, only to spend the evening eating wretched meals of lukewarm fettucine alfredo with seven other sets of gymnastics parents in awful hotel restaurants, while 8 twelve-year old girls sat at the next table over, making a mess with the paper wrappers from their straws and daring each other to run out to the pool and back, wearing only a leotard. You know, because that would be so embarrassing. A leotard! at the pool! It doesn't get much crazier than that.

I got even more territorial about the dad stuff when I was a teenager, and I'm not proud of it. I don't remember saying or doing anything cruel, but I'm sure I acted like a typical high school stepdaughter: standoffish, cold, and ungrateful. Doug never acted like the stereotypical stepparent, all pushy and annoying. He certainly never acted like I would act if I was confronted with a snotty 14 year-old: he didn't demand that I love him, and he didn't even demand that I act more respectful towards my mother when I acted like a punk. He just cooked a lot for me. It wasn't until I was in college that I realized that for years, he'd been carefully watching what I left sitting on the side of my plate, and that he had a running list in his head of vegetables my picky teenage self didn't like to eat but wouldn't admit, like mushrooms, tomatoes, and green peppers. I didn't know he was keeping track, because he never mentioned it, he just stopped including those vegetables in everything he made for me.

Now that I'm an adult, I have become aware of a great many more things that Doug did for me beyond cooking, but like his recognition of my picky eating, they were silent things. They were not done for attention or recognition. They were done simply because he was a good man who loved my mother. I may be a child of divorce, but I did not grow up in a household without a model of a healthy relationship. Doug has always loved my mother deeply, and whether I was aware of it or not, that taught me a lot about how good relationships work. My mom and Doug celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary last fall. When my mom told me over the phone a little over a week ago that he'd been diagnosed with leukemia, it wasn't until she said, "I just want another thirty years with him," that she started to sob.

I sobbed along with her, but not just because I loved my mother and she was hurting. I cried because I realized I wanted another thirty years with this wonderful man, too.

Hospital stories

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, January 16, 2007 |

Juniper's latest favorite nag is to ask us to tell the story of her birth. "Dada, tell story Juney in Mama's tummy?" she asks over and over. It is a story she seeks out when scared, or uncomfortable, that question a default query whenever she is nervous. Her favorite part is when we get to the hospital; she listens very carefully and wants all the details about the doctor who tugged at her pulpy skull. She wants to know about all the nurses. When Juniper had the opportunity to go to a hospital last week she was excited. She knows nothing of hospitals beyond that it was a hospital where she first entered the light of this world.

Juniper's grandmother called us in a panic last Tuesday night. Her husband was being transferred in an ambulance from their small-town hospital to a larger one in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was to begin induction chemotherapy almost immediately. After some small-town hospital bumbling, he was diagnosed with acute myelogeneous leukemia, a swift-working cancer that causes rapid proliferation of dangerous cells which accumulate in the bone marrow and blood. The next day we left Detroit for Grand Rapids.

Hospitals are such theaters of human frailty. From the new mamas you see carrying their two-day-old infants out into the cold, bundled in their car seats, to the bald somnambulists you see dragging their IVs around the cancer ward, no quarter is given to those trying to avoid just how serious the business of life is. People who work in hospitals must become dulled to the gravity of it all. For those of us who don't, what goes on inside hospitals gets pushed out of our brains as much as possible so that we might go on thinking that so many of the things we think are important are actually as important as we think they are. I don't mean we fail to consider the witty banter of hunky residents wrist-deep in the open abdomen of an unknown actor or fail to find a sympathetic voice when someone we know must visit someone that means something to them in a hospital; I mean it is hard to live with the knowledge that fate will drag each of us to a hospital inevitably, perhaps when we least expect it, and then we'll sit there and stare at peach-colored walls and men and women wearing paper garments in various states of repose, all arching towards the afterlife. We'll all sit there and be reminded that sometimes life is just shit. In the cancer ward, it is hard not to think about the vacancy of the room you're sitting in, what the sudden vacancy next door means, or even the one down the hall. The cancer ward has the same desperate hopefulness of a second-rate casino: sure, the house always wins, but just this once you might get lucky.

I will let Wood write about what she is going through, when she is ready to do so. By the way these things naturally work, this whole situation has been much harder on her than it has been on me, just as it has been catastrophically harder for her mother than it is for her. God only knows how hard it is for her stepfather. We have been sitting in a hospital room for much of the past five days, Juniper keeping her grandfather busy with books, though he could only read her two before we had to lift her off due to his shortness of breath. She was not frightened by all the tubes sticking out of his arm, filling his blood with chemicals that have the power to both kill and save him. We smiled and tried to talk about things as though everything were normal, feeling warmed whenever we could get him to be all crotchety about the food or the broken key on the laptop we loaned him, because that felt more like normal. We stared at the peach-colored walls, Juniper and I ducking out of the room when the oncologist dropped by to discuss platelets and prognosis, walking past the rooms of other adult leukemia patients in various stages of chemotherapy, their guests standing proudly and sadly by, a grim vision of our own future.

Juniper could not nap at the hospital, so I wore her in a sling and walked around downtown Grand Rapids, singing to her until she fell asleep on my chest. It occurred to me how things can change so fast, how long it had been since she'd slept on me as she so often had when she was just a few months old, and how in that silent sleeping face I could still see the baby she would never be again. Wood and I lived in Grand Rapids many years ago. It was where we moved in together for the first time, and despite the circumstances it was nice to see the city that we once thought was so big and serious with eyes that had seven more years of experience. When Juniper woke up she told me she wanted to return to the hospital to see her grandpa, so we did. Her innocence and the purity of her love for him made the whole thing all the more heartbreaking.

On Saturday, we stayed with my parents in Kalamazoo. Wood went to the hospital, but because of some immune system concerns and because she was becoming a bit of a terror in the limited confines of the cancer ward, Juniper and I stayed behind. I could not help but look at my own parents with new eyes that day. My mother played with Juniper all afternoon while my dad and I worked side-by-side down in his shop---something I had wanted to do for years but which I had never found the time to do. He showed me how to work his machines, told me stories about his cars and his buddies. We built this together over the course of several hours, though it would have taken much less time if he hadn't shown me what every one of his tools could do to each piece. He has been building metalworking tools that allow him to turn a sheet of steel into a perfect fender for a 1937 Auburn when he can find no real part on the market, and he was eager to show me what each of them could do to the leaves of the mobile we were building. I'm sure I frustrated him with my poor welding skills and my miserable spray-can technique. He just kept doing what he always does, telling me stories about how he made each tool and how when he retires he might stop working on cars altogether and just make metalworking tools. At other times, I might have grown frustrated with all those stories, but this time I didn't mind at all.

Juniper, the Elmoslayer

Posted by jdg | Thursday, January 11, 2007 | ,

Last weekend, Max Summers gave Juniper his giant Elmo, because, in his own words, he was "so over Elmo."

Yesterday afternoon, I heard Juniper "cooking" at her new stove, and when I walked in I discovered Elmo's bloated corpse sitting on her bedroom floor, his gaping maw stuffed with innumerable plastic frankfurters. Apparently she stuffed them down his gullet one by one until the poor creature could no longer refer to himself in third person or harass that pothead family that lives behind his window shade. I did not know whether I should be disturbed that my child had committed such a sadistic act of savagery, or whether I should be proud of her.

Either way, considering the way she once longed for his presence in her life when denied it, I have to think this is proof that compromising my elitist attitude about things like old Elmo might not be such a bad idea after all.

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, January 10, 2007 |

The days are finally getting longer, you can tell. But I don't know about the sunrise. Wood is playing the game I played all last year: she usually lets me sleep until around 8:00 a.m. when she and Juniper have already spent an hour or more talking over oatmeal and a single cup of coffee; Wood now knows the darkness of the early morning when whatever godforsaken bit of our daughter's dysfunctional physiology informs her that it's time to rise before the sun. I know parents who want to teach their toddlers good manners or how to recite the goddamn quadratic equation, but the only thing I really want my daughter to learn is how much pleasure there is in closing your eyes again with one temple resting against a warm pillow despite the morning light and drift quietly back into a cozy morning sleep, an act for which she seems to have absolutely no appreciation.

* * * * *

Juniper has always hated riding in the car, but now that she can really talk the whining is getting worse and worse. We usually agree to let it plateau at a low drone in the backseat as we drive off to the zoo or the store for more diapers. I occasionally find myself locked in epic battles of impossible, shrieking logic with her as we drive and there are no cheerios to be found when the only snack I've packed is cheese, or no cheese to be found when the only snack I've packed is cheerios. Today, the "low oil" light went on while we were in a desolate area and Juniper had a fit while I coasted towards the nearest post-apocalyptic gas station. We took one look at the post-apocalyptic gas station and the crack whore who was smiling at the loosey she just bought there and we both wished it was a little nicer. Juniper stopped crying and said, "No Dada, Juney not like it." I didn't like the looks of it either, but a crack whore is a far cry from a guy with a mohawk, football shoulder pads, and a wrist crossbow. While trying to do my manly duty and check the oil, I had to go search the floor of the car for the goddamn straw from her juice box for the third freakin' time to stop her hollering, and somewhere among all that there might have been a moment when I wished I was in a nice office somewhere; a clean, quiet, carpeted office where the only foul smell was some distant secretary's microwaved lean cuisine. I even thought, for a moment, that I would rather face the wrath of an angry senior partner than try to explain to Juniper one more time that the song she wanted to hear was on the other side of the cassette tape and that I couldn't just snap my fingers and make it start. And then the middle eastern man behind the bulletproof plexiglas and the cash-turnstile at the post-apocalyptic gas station laughed at me when I asked if I could pay for my three quarts of 10W40 with a credit card, so I returned to the car to dig among the crevices of the seat for enough loose change to buy one quart of oil just to get us to a goddamn service center without bulletproof plexiglas between me and the guy there who would steamroll my wallet. There have to be safer jobs in Beirut, heck, even Baghdad, I thought as I slid $1.50 worth of nickels and dimes into the bulletproof cash turnstile: nickels and dimes that I'd dug for among stray pirate's booty and discarded Trader Joe's apple bar chunks slowly disintegrating in the deepest and darkest parts of our Volkswagen's interior.

* * * * *

Among the many now-broken promises I made to myself before I had a kid was that I would never let my car or my home smell like I had a kid. I remember visiting Wood's friend who had a baby when we were all relatively young and thinking, "Dear God, how do they live with that diaper stench!" that hovered in the air above the diaper genie in her McMansion's nursery. In the squalor of our San Francisco apartment I would have purchased a Glade Plug-in of that very smell, just to cover up the actual stench of living with a 15-lb pooping machine in a few hundred square feet of living space. But even that smell was nothing compared to the interior of our car right now. If you took a short ride with us, you'd think I was getting a commission from the county to pick up fresh roadkill, and that our trunk was filled with the necrotic flesh of a few dozen flattened raccoons. Like anything, I have come to think of the smell in positive terms. It's simply the best theft deterrent in the city of Detroit. No 13-year old joyrider is going to spend the time to pick the lock off a club in a car that smells like that.

* * * * *

With $1.50 worth of generic oil finally lubricating our German engine, we drove on through the Motor City, and the faint burning smell of the few drops that fell on the top of the engine came in through the heating vents, smothering the smell of rotten food like a match to a fart. I thought, for a moment, I might have glimpsed why all that Mommy Wars crap from last year was such a big deal: even without the pressures of feminism, putting one's ambitions on the shelf is frightening, despite how easy the decision was for me and how certain I am it was the right one. But I could not help thinking about how a cocky punk version of me had once stood as a finalist before the Rhodes scholarship panel and told them he was going to do something great with his life, and how he certainly didn't envision that something to be spending his days in a stinky car arguing with a two-year-old about whether or not he does, in fact, have any cheerios.

Saturday Morning Wood

Posted by jdg | Saturday, January 06, 2007 |

Juniper turns two this month. Over the course of the past year, we watched her transform from a crawling infant into a running and jumping toddler. I'd always heard that the first 12 months of a child's life were the most awe-inspiring, but no one ever told me much about the second year, when your kid goes from grunts and haphazard fingerpointing to being able to tell you what she's thinking about, or that you'd grab your chest in mock pain over the unbearable cuteness at least twice as often. This year, I think we got glimpses of what Juniper's personality will be like once she completely sheds her babyhood. Let me say it here first so that I have a record that I can point to when it is confirmed 10 or 20 years from now that I called it early: this kid is a whole lot like her dad. It may have something to do with the fact that their birthdays are only six days apart, meaning that I share my house with two water-bearers. It might also be because Dutch is way more stubborn than I am, and his stubborn genes just beat my easygoing ones down in the negotiations, forcing them into submission. Either way, it means that this kid is intense. And willful. Also: precocious and clever. I predict that 2007 will be the first of many years to see more of this trend.

For the new year, I wrote down some resolutions for the first time since high school. I spent New Year's Eve at home, with Juniper sleeping upstairs, while Dutch relived his college days with his best friends. I figured that as long as I was at home, I might as well reflect on the past year and my hopes for the new one. I even got out a pen and paper. I'll spare you the details, and just say that they have a lot to do with being more creative, more productive, and healthier.

One thing I didn't write down was being more fun, but maybe I should have. Instead, I rang in the new year fasting, thus officially making myself the least fun person to be around for the majority of the week. I can occasionally be easily-influenced, and being in the near-constant daily presence of my cancer-surviving, uber-fit health-food junkie secretary I was convinced that fasting was the way to cleanse myself of the sorts of toxins that might be giving me migraines. I can hardly write these words without gagging on my own patchouli stench. But I did it anyway: until I devoured an entire can of British Heinz baked beans this morning, I hadn't consumed anything that requires chewing since Tuesday.

The hard thing about fasting isn't not eating. It's telling people why you can't have a bite of that chocolate cake, or go out for a latte run, or meet for a beer after work. Telling someone that you're fasting is pretty lame. Everyone assumes you're trying to lose weight, and to convince them otherwise, you have to talk about toxins and cleansing. That's a little too close to telling someone about your last visit to the proctologist. It's also the sort of thing that makes your husband eat a bowl of Honeycombs for dinner because he feels bad for you (and also maybe because he's a little lazy).

It's true what they say: when you fast, your body isn't hungry so much as you are bored and your brain is tantalized with thoughts of food. I genuinely missed it. The only solution is to go to bed at 9:00 p.m. just to stop thinking about it. Watching Top Chef on Bravo, as I unwisely did on Wednesday night, is a really bad idea.

Now that I have broken my fast, I am hereby resolving to be more fun for the rest of 2007. Besides, my only hope that my daughter will ever take after me lies in my ability to be the fun one.

I have a new post up at Babble today. Does it count as satire when the subject is yourself?

She really loves all the hideous crap her grandparents gave her and she just bitches and moans when I take it all away from her. It's just like the time that Tibetan nanny we had for awhile allowed her to watch that show with the "TubbyTellies" or whatever they're called and then she wouldn't stop screaming for them every time I allowed her to watch the Baby James Joyce videos I'd bought for her. "Really, darling, don't you prefer the soothing visualization of the metaphysical journey of Stephen Dedalus on Sandymount Strand with the Stravinsky soundtrack to those stupid pudgy dancing British hill gophers?" I shouted at her to no avail. It took a great many weeks to wean her off those cursed TubbyTellies.

Where I've been

Posted by jdg | Thursday, January 04, 2007 |

During my last year of college, I lived with five other guys in a house that was falling apart. One day we returned from class and the ceiling in one room had collapsed completely onto the floor. When we moved into that house there were already cockroaches there and when we moved out there were many more. For half of the year a sixth guy lived with us, but he slept in the attic and didn't pay any rent. He was the kind of guy who could disappear into the wilderness for weeks at a time and when he returned to find himself locked out of the house, rather than knock he'd just go across the street and bury himself in leaves and sleep on a hill. While trying to sleep I used to hear him up above me in the attic practicing making fires by rubbing elderberry spindles against dry-mullen stalks. There were always fun people around that house. We threw a lot of parties. At one party everyone got naked and played hungry-hungry hippos.

We once spent hours plotting out the funniest way to re-arrange the letter board of the Lutheran church down the street. Originally it stated the title of the week's sermon and the time of church services. My two favorites alternatives were, "Homos: holier than Christ?" and "Nun titty show: 11:00." In the end, we only had the balls to make it say this. For years after graduation I felt an emptiness in my life, a conflicted wistfulness for those days of debauchery and spontaneous fun. You never knew when a Sunday night would turn into a silly four-hour movie shoot or when it was time to throw a bike from the roof of a six-story building or break into the football team's equipment shed and steal all their tackle dummies. After graduation, my friends and I vacillated between asserting that we needed to move on with our lives, and gut-wrenching reunions where we realized things were never again going to be like they'd once been. It was all very St. Elmo's Fire/Fandango, except, you know, in 1999. We eventually moved to different corners of the country, but every year as many of us as possible would get together on New Year's Eve for a drunken elegy to the past.

I hadn't been to one of those parties in more than three years; but this year we got together in Detroit. I hadn't seen one of these former roommates since his wedding, and now his marriage is ending after two and a half years and the birth of a beautiful daughter. When you build your life around the commitment to another person, when you make all the compromises required by that series of acts, and then you find one day that it has all been washed away, what can you do? Where can you go when you find yourself shattered back into one person, like who you were before? This friend got in his car and drove to Michigan. I don't know if it was good medicine to be around us, but I hope it was. We knew and loved him before, and still.

If I have not been writing, it is because I have been with these guys, either in real life, or in my head, traveling back to who I was then and reflecting on how I got here now. It is strange to see receding hairlines and the marks of age on your beloved friends, knowing that they must see similar changes in the face you look at every day in the mirror. And it was so wonderful to see Juniper playing with the children of old friends. She stayed up until nearly 10:30 on New Year's Eve, deciding for the third time that week that she wanted to get naked around all my old friends. She does this thing where she looks at me and nods her head vigorously to reinforce that she should be, "Juney baby naked!" So we relented and allowed her to run around the party in nothing but her baby legs, and upon seeing Juniper's bare flesh, the 3-year-old daughter of a girl who once played hungry-hungry hippos naked in my living room stripped off her clothes and ran around the party squealing with her.