Tag Archives: family

Fair Thee Well: A Trip to Walla Walla’s Frontier Days

Every Labor Day weekend, Walla Walla hosts “Frontier Days,” a combination of agricultural fair and a sanctioned rodeo. While the fairgrounds are mostly empty most of the year, in late August they begin filling up with hundreds of horse trailers, pickups filled with crafts and food, and truck after truck of carnival ride equipment. White fences are cleaned, exhibit halls swept out and dusted, food stalls prepped with supplies, and power cords dragged every which way to light up the evening hours with seasonal entertainment. Living here since the late summer of 2008, Susanne and I have never gone to Frontier Days, usually because that’s also when the national political science association’s conference is held, far from Walla Walla. But this year I stayed behind with Emile, and bought some passes for us to the see fair and the rodeo.

Walla Walla Frontier Days 2013 US flag and horsesNow then, before people balk at the idea of the city boy and his offspring venturing into such a rural experience, I am no noob to the rodeo. I went to Girl Scout horse camp in South Jersey twice, sleeping in two-week stints in an overgrown tent, and I’ve gone to at least a dozen rodeos in the Northeast—though truth be told, my favorite is the Atlantic Gay Rodeo, in which, among other events, cowboys and cowgirls chase goats around the arena to get pink underwear on their butts. Read More…

Conversations with Emile

Emile in cowboy hatThe following are excerpts from actual conversations with my kid.

EMILE: I having a baby.

ME: You are? You’ll be a big brother and a daddy?

EMILE: No dad, I be a big brudder, a daddy AND a mommy.

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“Daddy?”
“Yeah, buddy?”
“I saw a horse.”
“You saw a horse today? What else did you see?”
“Tennis. And a horse.”
“You did, yes. Did you see a cow?”
“Uhh, no.”
“You didn’t see a cow? Did you see a sheep?”
“Uhh, no. No sheep.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m pretty sure we saw horses, and cows, and sheep, and goats. What sound did the sheep make?”
“Oink.”
“Come on, the sheep said ‘oink’?”
“No. Emile funny.”

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EMILE: (after waking up an hour beyond bedtime and looking outside) It’s dark outside.

ME: Yes, the sun went down.

EMILE: Is bedtime outside.

ME: Yes. And it’s bedtime inside, too.

EMILE: Daddy, why so dark outside?

ME: (I grab a piece of cereal and hold it up close to the dining room overhead light) We are on a planet out in space, and we move around the sun, but we also rotate, so sometimes the bright light is on the other side of us. (I move the cereal around deftly, rotating and revolving at the same time) When it’s on the other side, we are in nighttime and it is dark outside.

EMILE: That’s a Cheerio.

ME: Yes. It’s a Cheerio. It’s a metaphor.

EMILE: Emile have it?

ME: It’s stale.

EMILE: Emile want it, daddy. Daddy please.

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[LATER THAT EVENING]

ME: Okay, it’s time for bed.

EMILE: I want some milk and cracker. I want some milk and cracker, Daddy.

ME: Okay, I’ll get some for you.

EMILE: Daddy be right back.

ME: Yes. (exits to kitchen, returns with a fresh bottle of milk and one round cracker. hands them to EMILE.)

EMILE: Thank you, Daddy.

ME: You’re welcome, buddy.

EMILE: I eat in crib.

ME: Okay.

EMILE: Daddy sit in chair.

ME: You want me to sit in the chair?

EMILE: Daddy rock.

ME: You want me to rock myself in the chair?

EMILE: Yes.

ME: Okay. (starts rocking)

EMILE: I lost the binky.

ME: It’s right next to you.

EMILE: Where binky go? Where binky at?

ME: (stands up, goes to crib) Emile, it’s right here. (picks up binky and hands it to EMILE.)

EMILE: Thank you, Daddy.

ME: (sitting back down) Okay, buddy. Drink your milk.

EMILE: I lost the cracker. Where cracker go?

ME: You cannot have lost the cracker. You just had the cracker.

EMILE: Where cracker go?

ME: Emile, I am not going to hunt for things all night.

EMILE: It’s a game, Daddy.

ME: Oh (laughs)

Susanne tells me I have made a very cute monster.

Father’s Day, 2013

Emile in a swingLike many people, I have mixed feelings about Father’s Day. Sure, there are lots of tweets and Facebook posts that go something like “to all the Dad’s [sic] out there,” obliterating that actually, there are better and worse examples of those who parent from the masculine zones of gender. A few years ago I joked with at least four other individuals in the room that we should start a “I Had a Shitty Father” club. We could emboss t-shirts and stamp out buttons and make zines. Why not turn personal trauma and angst into fun? Misery loves a good zine. But there are definitely moments I shared with my father that I carry with me today, like the Sundays after church when he and I would feed the ducks at the local pond (we didn’t know in the 1970s that it was bad for the ecology of it all), or his love of bygone music, or the thoughtful way he’d lay out my cereal choices in the morning before school, with the newspaper opened up to the comics section. I think I got a better dad than he shared with his older kids, and I do appreciate that.

These days I chase after a little boy reminding him to be careful when climbing on the tippy ottoman. Or the big steps that lead to our front door. Or the strangely busy residential road where we live. I was picking smashed raisins out of the one tiny carpet we own at some point last week when a wave of giggles hit me. This is full circle. I’m sure my mother had to pull all kinds of detritus out of the flooring when I stamped it on the linoleum, or shag-covered stairwell, and so on.  Read More…

Everett Versus Bird

At first I wasn’t sure that what I was hearing existed in the outside world. It could have been an echo of a dream, or a misinterpretation of a real sound by a sleepy, 5AM brain.

And then it happened again. And again. I strained to figure out the identity of the sound. My mind compared it, I suppose, to every other sound that came in striking distance of this one. It was a rap. No. It was a wham. No. The sound, skipping like a record player but slower, was somehow tamped down. It had multiple parts that chimed at once–it was like a sharp thud. What the hell is a sharp thud? How could anything sound like that?

When deconstructing a sound, there is complexity. The start of the sound, the middle (this is optional) and the finish. Every sound pushes against air, creates something from nothing and then travels out in all available directions until a fraction of that creation reaches our ears, where it is funneled down to our eardrums. And then when our tiniest bones rattle our experienced brains quickly sort through our dendrite-supported memory and label those sound waves. A dog barking. Glass shattering. A soda can opening. There may be individual differences among those canines, windows, and pops, but they’re similar enough that it doesn’t take us very long to assess and categorize what we hear. All things being equal, of course.

But here I was, the clock relaying the early hour to me, and the sound. The sound. The sound.

It’s unusual for someone in their 40s to hear a completely brand new wave. (Ha. I wrote new wave.) And yet, I couldn’t place this on listening alone. So I got up–clad in boxers and a faded t-shirt. My hair was pillow-conformed. I forgot my eyeglasses on the bedside table, so I wasn’t great at seeing anything in front of me, either. (Rookie mistake.) I stood in the dining room, swaying a little, waiting for the next eruption. Read More…

Parental Skill Sets: Action Interpretation

Our 17-month-old has been babbling since before his first birthday, with the initial declaration of “Hi!” one day when I went to greet him in the morning, the both of us freshly awake. He’d been standing in the corner of his crib, and he gave me a wave as he said it, which made me think that I know plenty of 30-somethings who never achieve the synchronicity of those two actions, and here he’s doing it at ten months.

Emile touching a playground bouncy horse

Since then his verbiage has unleashed on us like a wide pipe, flowing out during nearly ever waking moment. Often the words are garbled or an approximation of the words adults use — his tongue and mouth have some more forming to do, so things like Ss, the “th” sound in English, and words that end in “age” or “ege” are his biggest challenges. One of Emile’s favorite objects is a black spatula, which he pronounces as “zhezhi,” and the only reason I know zhezhi means “spatula” is because he’ll hold up the object and say the word, and point. Yes, I’ve tried repeating the word “spatula” to him, but he has yet to get that enunciation under his belt. Read More…

Some Enchanted Plane Ride

DSC_0011I have a shortish bucket list of places to visit in my lifetime, because I’ve read about different corners of the globe and I’ve always had a hankering for seeing them up close. Patagonia. Paris. Senegal. Lebanon. Hawaii. The trick is, getting there takes some doing. I imagine that for millennia, most people stayed pretty much where they started, with some nomadic peoples making long treks, or some specific folks earning a reputation for exploration and such. Perhaps there’s a wisdom in nesting, because with all of our technological prowess and transportation advancement, venturing from Point A to Point B is still a total pain in the keister.

Ever since we moved to Walla Walla, one of our quieter gripes has been that it takes 2-3 flights and 12 hours or more to get to the East Coast, usually at an expense of $500+ per traveler. At some point Susanne and I toyed with the idea of going to Hawaii instead of making multiple trips home for the holidays. Once we assessed that the prices really were similar, coming here shifted from a tongue-in-cheek thought experiment to a plan. And because we’ve struggled with getting in and out of Eastern Washington so many times now, seeing a three-legged airplane journey didn’t feel like a big deal. What price to pay for paradise, we asked ourselves.

Turns out, a 6-hour flight is no small feat for a toddler. The entire ride, we listened to wailing like I’ve never heard come out of any human being, much less a small child. Thank goodness it wasn’t Emile having the extended purple scream. Sure, he fussed, asking for “down,” and saying “all done” with the jaunt just 20 minutes after takeoff. But he held it together for the most part. Getting to the big island, Emile notched his 12th, 13th, and 14th flights in his new existence. A couple of bouts with turbulence notwithstanding, Hawaii Airlines gave us a smooth ride and a strange meal box. But hey, they have a meal box. It was a step up from the pretzel bag from Delta, and 10 light years better from the three sips of flat cold soda that they serve on United. (I think we all know I will never again breathe a friendly word about United Airlines.) Read More…

Lighting the Uh-Oh

Emile has lived through a holiday season once before, but last go around, he didn’t notice much of it. Holding up a 14-month-old to a Christmas tree bursting with colored lights is a bit like holding a moth up to the sun, except for the lack of fluttering. For me it just isn’t December if there’s not a tree bedecked with garland and sentimental ornaments, but we worried about setting anything up in the same space as our new walker of the household. I hatched a plan to hide the tree behind our click-clack futon so that until Emile learns to climb, direct access would be prevented. This also means that the lowest third of the tree is obscured by black vinyl, but whatever, for the wee one this Kmart brand 6.5-foot tree is like an amazing magical fortress.

Now then, for the sake of context, let me point out that for a 14-month-old, Emile is quite verbal. His vocabulary now includes the following:

  • Ow
  • Mama
  • Dada
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Woof (usually said to dogs or puppies)
  • Meow (usually said to cats or dogs)
  • Hi (his actual first word)
  • ‘Lo (short for hello, usually said to anything resembling an electronic device, always positioned in his hand at the back of his skull where naturally these devices reside)
  • Uncle
  • Apple (used for apples but also oranges and pears)
  • ‘Nana (for bananas, not grandmothers)
  • Bye-bye
  • Mwah (said in conjunction with a blown kiss)
  • No, or no-no-no (said with increasing frequency)
  • Yesh (often said with a nod that makes my heart explode because cynics like me can’t handle the cute)
  • Uh-oh Read More…

How to Get Through Thanksgiving Without Overly Gendering Everything

It’s one thing to recognize I’ve reached adulthood, but it’s quite another to be able to look back over many, many years and see that the threshold was crossed quite a long time ago. I’ve now got under my belt a large swath of experiences that have pointed in the direction of today. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve learned to perfect my turkey preparation, just one of many aspects to the day that are now part and parcel of the holiday for me.

I’ve also gotten attached to a certain table setting for Thanksgiving, and to having the Macy’s Day Parade on in the background as I cook, which let me just say really sucks for people in the Pacific Time Zone. For those of us who grow up with Thanksgiving through our childhood and into adulthood, we have expectations around something that happens in that day. Eating the crappy green bean casserole, or at least having it on the table, arguing about who sits where, making a particular holiday cookie, there’s always something.

Also in my personal history is the need to dress up. It’s a formalish dinner, with the special china laid out and the polished silver on the fancy schmancy tablecloth. Mom would even enlist me in ironing the napkins, which of course I hated but which of course she hated worse. Which is why the job fell on me. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the enormous Jabba the Hut pile of ironing in the downstairs laundry.)

Now then, dress up often meant dress, which by the time I’d reached adolescence was more often a clean sweater and khakis, but my point, as obtuse as I’ve made it, is this: Thanksgiving is a gendered experience. Who sits on the couch, yelling at the football game, and who is in the kitchen prepping the meal. Who does the dishes afterward, who carves the turkey, there are many moments throughout the day that tell us something about gender roles and expectations.

Now that Emile is more aware of his surroundings and the relationships of the adults around him, it’s occurred to me that there are things I can do–as the adult that I am now–to help dial down some of the more sexist traditions that my culture has handed to me. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but maybe if we can make it through the next 15 Thanksgivings with less emphasis on sexist ideology, we’ll have made a small difference in the experience for our family and friends. Some of the ideas that come to mind are: Read More…

Explosion in the Produce Aisle

Several scientist type people insist that between our first and second years, humans set up their palates for the rest of their lives. Give your toddler too much sugary stuff and it’s all she’ll eat later on. Lean toward too many processed foods and you’ll have trouble getting him to eat macrobiotic, more nutritious food when he’s entering grade school. Nothing beats the tension of worrying that during those exhausting days after the infant stage you’re merely preparing for culinary disaster. Thus I attempt to balance the following when figuring out not only each and every meal for the baby, but my overall nutritional and taste goals for Emile:

  • Include whole grain and fiber, protein, vegetables, and fruit
  • Put out a melange of shapes and colors, some finger foods that he can wrestle on his own, and some spoon-fed
  • Keep everything in rotation so he doesn’t get bored by the same stuff
  • Make each piece of food easy to swallow so he doesn’t die
  • Ensure only organic, homemade, or all-natural food passes his tender lips

Above all else, however, is this:

Show no stress about trying to remember all of the above rules. Read More…

A Better Dad Letter

Dear Child of Mine,

I have loved you since the moment I saw you pass before my eyes, right before the doctor placed you on your mother’s chest. In truth, I loved you before then, and since we’re on the subject, I would say I was in deep, deep like with the very possibility of you, but certainly having the actual you around is much better.

I read a horrible letter the other day from a father who was cutting ties with his son only because his child had asserted he was gay. I’ve known people like this, who wielded their ignorance against their own families, and yes, it is astonishing how human beings can revolt against their own kin. But it does remind me that this is why we have chosen families, dear confidants, and supportive systems of loved ones that may or may not share DNA with us.

That man is misguided. It’s clear to me after only 11 months of knowing you, that my mission as your parent is to help you grow into the best person you can be, and I ought not attempt to control who you become–it’s folly, for one thing, and mean to boot. Yes, I should expose you to ideas, talk with you as you sort through your place in the world and what to make of this great big mess, and tell you I love you, but your path is your own. If you tell me tomorrow that you want to be known as Priscilla Queen of Splendiferousness, I’ll simply be astonished that you’re talking this soon. I won’t worry that it’s because we dressed you up like Liberace for Halloween last year–you did look fabulous, by the way. Read More…

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