Posts Tagged ‘figgy’

Liittle Jefe

20 March 2012

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Dear J-

The age of wonder is over to be replaced by the age of what-did-you-get-me. Yesterday the items that I’d ordered (admittedly a little late) for theVet’s birthday finally came and figgy was interested: what’s in the package, can we open it? We rushed out to dinner and came back where the interrogation continued until we finally did break them open to reveal the semi-arty stuff within: some writing pads of nice paper, a fountain pen, and a portable watercolor set which figgy immediately latched on to and would not surrender no matter the cost or bribe offered.

“But it’s mommy’s present.”
“We don’t have time.”
“How about a movie instead?” &tc.

She responded with a stubborn jut to her jaw and the same thing over and over: “I want to paint it for mommy.” Blame it on our weak hearts but at that point we ended up running to Target to get a little watercolor set and a pad of paper at a fraction of the cost that I’d spent on nicer gift things. We throw little disposable crafts her way when she’s around to occupy her — paint-by-number sets and velvet coloring cards — so it’s no wonder that when she saw what was in the box she assumed she’d get a crack at watercolors and sketching. The cost of the watercolors and paper for her was nominal and the time was minimal, but it was a little burble in the usual night time routine.

I suppose that saying what-did-you-get-me is too harsh; if it wasn’t such a big deal and it made her if not happy and ecstatic at least calm then why am I still thinking about it? When I was six or so I remember whining about going to the toy store or at least the Ben Franklin (five and dime) until my dad, fed up, went into the basement and grabbed some present from years back out of storage, handed it to me, and walked away (it was a baseball game played like pinball with a little manual plunger and flippers and holes in the plaing field would tell you if you’d scored a run or gotten a base hit). Time and effort expended on getting it must have been pretty low but still, it tasted like ashes in my mouth even then: I’ve whined my way into earning this. I ended up playing with it for maybe half an hour, total.

I’ve always looked at that as a lesson for me to be always careful in how I go about getting things; is it for the right reasons or have I just worn down the opposition? Today I believe there’s still lessons to be learned: if it’s such a small thing, why am I sweating it? I actually loved having the opportunity to take her out of the usual evening routine of snacks and yelling at her to hurry up, stop dragging around. And it made her happy enough, and the financial cost was low (though I wonder what sort of lesson it teaches) so why not, right? Right?

Mike

Growing Independence

13 December 2011

Dear J-

I pound down the slick streets on my bike hoping to beat the rain knowing that every so often that’s the pattern of the storm: when these breaks come they rarely last for more than half an hour. The rain was a holdover from the storm that pounded us all day yesterday. Last night despite the rain we went to and ate at Costco where you can purchase a three-foot-tall chocolate Santa for a hundred dollars. Serial gluttony aside, lately figgy has taken to Costco trips as an excuse to goggle over the selection in the (seasonal) toy aisle and rather than help (“do you think your cousin would like this?”) she runs and picks out stuff for herself.

All this is fine in the absence of us actually stopping to buy presents but as soon as we picked one up last night she immediately went into full-on begging mode, hoping to convince us to write a letter to Santa campaigning on her behalf. It has been more than a few years since I last wrote a letter to Santa and so I struggled with the phrasing (“hey, gimme doesn’t sound right, what should I say? Oh, yeah, BRING.”) a little. Bit by bit, though, she’s showing a strong interest in spelling and has started to recognize letters on the page so that’s progressing even as we have our eyes set on an immersion magnet school for her come fall.

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the point where we need to be considering schools and programs and it freaks me out a little when I see her stretched out asleep, impossibly big under the covers (wasn’t she just big enough to cradle in two arms?) and getting ready for school choices. She’s too little for letters to Santa already and the thousand other rituals of childhood. It’s not a question of holding her back now but pushing her forward and watching her walk on her own. We do a curious dance, pushing for independence yet regretting every distance she puts between us.

Mike

At Four You’re Right

6 December 2011

Dear J-

There are some days you just don’t want to listen to your parents and you’re pretty well convinced that you know everything there is. For me, documenting what happened twenty years ago has been humbling: I see the nascent beginnings of who I am today wrapped up in pride and uncertainty in what I’ve done and accomplished, and what I have projected before me. Were you to tell me then that I’d be making those thoughts freely available without a book deal or even some hint of fame I’d have laughed and told you that future-me wasn’t ambitious enough: fame was fate for being that guy — to crack the riddle of fusion, the professor that everyone liked.

At the time I still had my parents driving me on to be the very best I could be, or at least getting the most out of the opportunities that came my way. And I hated it. So much control they had over everything: where to go, what to do, reminders and discipline. When I’m on my own, I vowed twenty years ago, when I’m on my own I’ll make sure things are different. Indeed. Doritos for dinner? Why not? The only thing keeping me sane some of those late school nights after high school was pride: class standings and reputation: still more external measures of how I’m doing (are you proud enough now huh?).

I’m amused (bemused) when I look at figgy and think about what she has to look forward to and how much she’s dealing with now; she is possibly the bossiest creature I’ve ever met and convinced, stubbornly, that she’s right as rain, directing us in complex play schemes barely limited by imagination and imitation (“OK now you be Santa and put presents in the stockings. PUT THEM IN.”) These are things you lear on your own: crushing your dreams into something small to put in your pocket for later, swallowing ambition for stability, admitting you’re wrong once in a while. If life is a movie filmed inside our eyes (at twenty-four frames per second, in vivid surround sound) then we cast ourselves as star: it’s up to us to remember the plot right, or at least ad-lib our way through the intro. She’s doing fine and we laugh a lot which at four I think is completely right.

Mike

Doomed to History

3 November 2011

Dear J-

In a peculiar display that can only be called a first-world problem, our TiVo gave up the ghost earlier this week and so we’ve been without TV for a while. Which honestly has been fine for the evenings as we usually spend the time consuming content, but lately figgy has been very much into YouTube and what she calls cake videos — which at this point have grown to include pretty much anything people make in the kitchen. Certain characters have therefore become huge heroes of hers and I hear her pottering away in the bedroom, arranging the pretend-cakes just so on a plate and signing off on her broadcasts by saying who she is and who she works for (“I’m Liv Hansen for the Betty Crocker Kitchens.”)

When I was six I discovered my parents old tape recorder and armed with a blank tape I was encouraged to go ahead and record myself broadcasting the news as I’d hear on the kitchen radio every morning: this is CBS News, with Dan Rather or Bob Schiefffer. I cleverly concealed their parody identities by reordering the names: Rather Dan or Schieffer Bob, of course. I don’t recall what happened to the tape (let’s just say that if someone didn’t already throw it away, it could be decent fodder for the Star Wars Kid of 1981), but I do remember there were follow-up tapes and that we listened to it in the car maybe a few times before I only got interested in making the VU Meter jump in a crazy fashion until that tape recorder gave up as well.

I see tendencies from both of us in the kids, good and bad. There’s frustration when the world doesn’t bow down before us and just work right (I spent a day or two weighing the purchase of something like a Boxee Box versus another TiVo given how little we actually watch TV lately, and how all we seem to need is a YouTube connection to the TV … or, y’know, an XBox would do just as well, wouldn’t it?). There’s the dead-on imitation of adult life and habits, at turns both funny and uncomfortable. I wonder if they’ll make the same mistakes and struggle through to the other side stronger for it or if I should find a way to teach those lessons more gently and realize that it’s quickly becoming not my life to lead for them. And I wonder if we shouldn’t move someplace smaller, or if the ego of big fish little pond is at work again. Do we escape the appeal of the past or are we doomed to history?

Mike

All Hallows

31 October 2011

Dear J-

Well, this is it: the last day of October and of course the night to go trick-or-treating. I woke up late this morning, whether because of oversnoozing or overexertion yesterday with the little saws and punches that are the pumpkin carver’s tools. I’m starting to realize just how little physical activity I actually get in the course of a typical day, and it’s fairly sobering; at least by driving today, I reason, I’ll get home a litle earlier and we’ll be able to prepare for tonight a little better, right? It’s a curious mix of trepidation and anticipation I have tonight as our plans are to meet up and go to a strange enighborhood so that figgy can go trick-or-treating with some of her classmates.

By now we’ve all been to enough birthday parties and activities to be able to gauge how the kids will be and how they’ll react tonight; I have some questions about how Calcifer will take the later-than-usual night but I think about how our social life has in short order come to revolve around this core group of friends. For me it feels like a constant balancing act: is my natural tendency towards taciturn shyness offset by the excuse I have hiding behind a camera? Should I instead be making more of an effort to speak or is that the role I’m in now? Is there that much that we should know about each other or is the casual nature of facebook and occasional encounters at school sufficient? So many questions, so much doubt every time we meet.

I’m looking forward to it as they’ve promised that last year there were a ton of decorations and it’s an easy couple of blocks. No pressure, just a mission in to extract candy from a strange neighborhood and we’re done. I can dig it. And it gets us out of the house for the evening though I wonder if we should go to the mall like the last couple of years too, even though there’s no particular inclination or tradition to hold up. We have good kids and it’s fun to have them head out together in a little mob, even if they seem to be inseparable we all know that entering kindergarten next year will likely scatter their social group to the winds, so it’s maybe the first and last time with this particular social network.

Mike

Stubborn Way

19 October 2011

Dear J-

Everyone always blames changes in the weather for the colds that they get but since our vacation, it’s been raiining, then hot, and now foggy again. Naturally we have been sick in some mild form or another but I’m chalking that up to having the kids in daycare and being able to freely swap viruses back and forth. Because of finances (or lack thereof) we’re pulling Calcifer out of daycare later: the double hit of another kid with the loss of the second income has meant that certain measures have to be adopted: belt-tightening is not unreasonable but I wonder about the social lessons so early on, already.

It’s interesting but not especially instructive to compare the two kids as they grow up as there are similarities — these two look remarkably like each other, as expected — and differences — how they deal with things. Calcifer has been unhappy with us lately which means either that he’s cutting more teeth or going through a growth spurt: you can tell by the way he hoovers up his food, and the frequency of his meals. He’s also very much more bonded to theVet, and calms down almost immediately once she picks him up, whereas he’ll rigidly arch away from me and, if necessary, twist as well. So having figgy in daycare has been good for her — she is a social rockstar in the way only four-year-olds can be, various classmates exclaiming her name excitedly as she shows up or when we run into them at stores and restaurants.

It’s a world that theVet and I don’t necessarily understand, as our first contacts with the outside world were preschool at four and I remember sitting around feeling lonely and hotly embarrassed at times by the attention that only “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” could bring, not precisely knowing or trusting what I did in front of the other kids.yesterday she came up to me and declared that we had forgotten a bouncy house and pinata for her last birthday party, and could we remember for next time, please. It’s hard to put a personality on Calcifer now because he’s mute and we don’t know what’s going on inside, necessarily, but I see signs of the same stubborn insistence already.

Mike

Talk Skills

23 July 2011

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Dear J-

At one point today I had a strange prescient moment: I saw figgy twenty years on as a newly minted lawyer cords standing prominent and spittle flying, flecks of rage and crazy in her voice and eyes daring you to keep negotiating unfavorably. If she was in charge there would be no debt crisis, no political posturing. The moment passed and I saw her again, trying to futilely bargain down the wages of bad behavior: mom had declared that she had crossed over the line sufficiently in public that there’d be a time-out waiting for her at the house.

She continues to push and push. And then she’ll push a little more for good measure: you’re not consistent enough, your threats are empty. When we were growing up we never believed that spankings would materialize but for one day, caught in a particularly hurtful lie, we had to submit. theVet and I aren’t going to resort to corporal punishment but denying privileges and taking toys away? Oh yes. And the more effective punishments are the ones that leave her reduced to tears sometimes: they come out so frequently that you learn to distinguish her working herself up versus real trauma, or can we?

There’s a scene towards the end of Lilo and Stitch where Stitch is able to convince Jumba to help him rescue Lilo. It is an unbelievable moment, both in how fast and how completely Jumba changes his mind so he explains that “[Stitch] is very persuasive.” I understand. We went to SeaWorld — in the summer, fighting traffic, lines, crowds, and heat — because she mentioned that she wanted to go. You don’t get there without some pretty impressive skills, after all.

Mike

Short Time

20 July 2011

Dear J-

Consider this: I spend maybe at most three hours a day during the weekdays with figgy. She’s in daycare so I pick her up between 5:30 and 6, bring her home to eat dinner (where I tune everyone out while reading the newspaper distractedly), give her a bath, then we watch maybe half an hour of some show (she’s been on a Wallace & Gromit kick lately; they are the perfect length and I will nap sometimes) and I brush her teeth and read her stories for another half an hour until theVet takes over to sing (let’s just say that no one would be soothed by my tuneless croaking). Repeat. That’s been our pattern for four years come October.

Put it that way, line the numbers up baldly like that and it’s clear that I spend less time with figgy than at work or even (almost) the commute (4:45-6 in the morning and 3-4:45 in the afternoon = 3 hours commute time). And after she goes to bed I stay up late thinking I need the time to update pictures, online status, go through my Google Reader articles, maybe play a game or two and decompress. Because, you know, it’s so stressful to not spend time with your daughter and ignore her until she falls asleep (she has started holding it until after bedtime so that she has an excuse to bound up and use the restroom, which does show a surprising level of craftiness: how can you say no to the restroom break?).

I don’t stop being a parent once she goes to sleep but I also can’t spend your fraction of a day together and call that adequate. When we’re on vacation or the weekends the intensity level doesn’t drop. We have the whole day when usually we have to compress the crazy laughter and play into those three hours and yet it feels unbalanced, that we instead need to spread ourselves thin across activities and busy times to compensate for th skimpy amount of total hours. I remember what it was like to have to entertain yourself and I know she’ll get there sooner or later but for now we make the best of it and I promise that our three hours, short as they may be, need to have more quality and less distraction.

Mike

Review Session

9 July 2011

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Dear J-

The trip and contact with other kids makes me think that figgy is an unusual one. Her cousin asked at one point if she was always this loud. And later, if she was always this angry. There is some truth to those observations. I thought that she would grow out of it but as she grows I fear that these ways are becoming more engrained instead: the shouting, the commands, the imperious unflinching nature. These things that are admirable in leaders and statesmen are tough to deal with in a four-year-old body. I look back on the two days in Disney and found that we consulted the figgy oracle to the point of making deals and cajoling her through lines — the whole agenda was set on her stomach and desires.

You may perhaps rightly deride us as overly malleable parents who give in at the first sign of trouble seeking harmony above discipline. And maybe we have been at first but we keep hammering and believe it or not the unyielding stone keeps breaking tools: time-outs, rewards, taking toys away, everything short of corporal punishment. Is this really all we can do? I think the most important tools in the arsenal are patience and a short memory: be willing to keep applying and forget that you’ve done this before because if you stop to concentrate on it and believe it’s part of a recurring trend you’ll never bother to stop escalating.

At four she has a world that’s not yet fully formed. Yet reasons and consequences are starting to make easy appearances too: it gets easier. I would not trade this kid for the world, still. The changes she’s brought to our lives has been uniformly positive and amazing. We are all still learning, but at least we’re all learning together.

Mike

First Land

6 July 2011

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Dear J-

Short on time today so let it be mercifully brief: almost more photo than words.

1. Let’s not forget who was scared of Chewbacca growing up.

2. Thank God for these older kids who are actually helping hands. Calcifer still wants the ice cream but he’ll have to work for it.

3. Anaheim (or maybe just this South Harbor Drive area) feels like Las Vegas to me but instead of a slot machine in every store there’s some Disneyana kiosk behind the register.

Good night — sleep now as figgy is still well wired past ten.

Mike


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