Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bloggers Block

Writer's block. I'm familiar with it. But, over the years, I've gotten pretty good at just saying "who cares" and writing something, anything and then moving on. It does wonders, really, to take a half hour and write down some utter shit and kind of free up the mechanisms. But with a blog, well, it's different isn't it?

Mainly because when I write something for myself at home nobody has to see it and I don't have to show it to anybody, so no matter what absolute tripe comes out I can be comfortable with it and just let it slide and no one need be the wiser. But with a blog, well, the entire frigging world could theoretically stop by to take a gander at it the moment I hit "publish" AND continue to do so for all foreseeable eons until the frigging power grid somehow collapses or, less likely, Google clears out its cache servers.

Part of the theory behind the whole "blog more" plan that I started with this summer was to get over that nonsense. I mean, for one thing, the entire internet connected world has way better things to do with its time than mock my humble postings (there's a LOT of pornography out there, you know) and it's far more likely that the only people who stand to see them are my five loyal followers and assorted family members who have already outed themselves as hardly possessing discriminating taste simply by electing to check this blog out on a regular basis. So screw it, here's a post that more or less sucks because it's my blog and sometimes things I do just kind of suck.

Now, with that out of the way, maybe I can find the wherewithal to finish some of the partial posts that are stuck in editing limbo. I wonder what horrors I could find if I went back a few years?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blog Rodeo

Just some blogs that I've been reading. If you'd like, you can pretend that you're witnessing an exciting rodeo, except that instead of broncos and bulls you have blogs and instead of bucking and goring you have interesting subject matter and enjoyable writing styles, and instead of cowboys you have authors, and instead of clowns you have google ads.

Playground of Doom- Albuquerque film-maker and writer Dusty McGowan (whose most recent film, Mickey, you should definitely check out,) writes about "film, pop culture, and existential dread" in an entertaining, introspective manner. It also looks like he's going to be devoting space to reviews of trashy, dvd-discount-bin cinema on a regular basis.

Zone 8- Mike and Miranda, formerly of Seattle and Albuquerque, document their experiences as recent arrivals on the Isle of Yap. Read along as they battle against continuous home invasions by an insurgent wildlife and insect population, struggle to find their place in the baroque and inscrutable Yapese social hierarchy, and drown their sorrows at Yap's best and only karaoke bar!

Regislacher.com- Regis, former editor in chief of the Seattlest, former 'Burque resident and all around elitist intellectual, offers his slightly askew observations and pontifications of The Big Issues (for instance, is that toddler frowning cutely, or "contemplating killing you without consequence or guilt"?) via his new Tumblr blog.

Yee Haw!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why the Papa is tired

I recently had an email conversation with a friend of mine where he expressed an inability to understand what, exactly, is so tiring about being a stay-at-home father. Since this is one of my most consistent excuses for various procrastinations, and, in the interest of, ahem, educating the world, I'm going to try and explain it as best I can, even though I think it's something that really must be experienced to really get.

Let's just make no bones about it: life as a stay-at-home parent is hard . One of the most taxing things I've ever done, as a matter of fact. Not physically taxing, mind you, but mentally. There is, first of all, the constant and unrelenting fact of being in demand. When Bryce is awake, he wants as close to my undivided attention focused on him as possible until he goes to sleep, simple as that. We're talking every second of every minute of every hour that we're sharing space. And there are consequences for not agreeing to his demands, namely, whining. And maybe it's evolution or something, but hearing Bryce's whining has exactly the same effect on me as hearing teeth scraped across a chalkboard (don't ask me how I know, that's a story for the bar). But, the thing is, I'm not physically or mentally capable of devoting all of my energy to him throughout the day. I need to do things like, oh, go to the bathroom, make lunch, catch up on phone calls, that sort of thing at the bare minimum, and he's not always willing to grant that without a fight. So, there's this constant tug of war going on throughout the day, with me trying to give him enough attention and play-time and so forth (not to mention the unavoidable needs like diaper changes, meal times and keeping an ever watchful eye to prevent dangerous situations like paperclips finding their way into wall sockets) while making sure that I'm able to Get Things Done That Need To Be Done, AND maintain a vestige of my own sanity. The last being important because the adult brain WILL begin to turn to mush if fully focused on baby/toddler activities for too long.

Now, as he's grown up, things have generally gotten easier with this tug-of-war. When I think about how he was at t about 9 months old, I'm kind of amazed that I survived. He was even needier than he is now, but incapable of really communicating what, exactly, he wanted, resulting in a great deal of frustration on both of our parts. These days, he can tell me what he wants AND understand my answer as to whether or not it's possible to grant that request, and this has really opened up a whole new world in our interaction. For instance, I can now say "We'll play trains in just a second, Bryce, right after I'm done talking on the phone", and chances are that he'll be willing to hold out for a few more minutes before the whining begins. Overall, in fact, we've adapted to each other's needs and reached a point of more-or-less equilibrium, where he feels that he gets enough play-time with Papa, and I'm able to get Stuff Done and even do a little bit of low-focus activities like face booking or reading Salon articles or something like that, as long as it's nothing too involved.

However, there's a second aspect to the whole stay-at-home father thing that is tiring in its own right, but very sneaky in how it goes about draining energy. Babies require Constant Vigilance. And not just when they're awake, either. It's like, you know how when you have a big trip planned the next day, and even though everything is all packed and you're ready to go and there's literally nothing else you can do to prepare until the time that you're actually on the plane, but you can't really concentrate on your day-to-day tasks because you're constantly thinking about making sure you get to the airport on time and should we take a cab and I hope the plane's not late and what should we do when we get there? Like, there's nothing out-of-the-oridinary actually happening for you on the day before, but a significant portion of your brain power is constantly preoccupied with the trip anyway? Having a kid, and being responsible for the kid's well being and happiness, is pretty much just like that, but every single day. For instance, right now, Bryce is asleep in his bed and safe and there's nothing to worry about regarding him at all. But still, a significant amount of my attention is firmly fixed on his door: my ears are hyper alert to any sound of movement that might come from within, part of my brain is wondering whether I should open the door to make sure he's breathing, another part is wondering whether I should turn the fan off in case he gets too cold, another is monitoring for any loud sounds that might wake him up. It's like my brain has been split, and half is able to work on writing this, or whatever naptime task I choose to pursue, but the other half is totally occupied with thoughts of him. This is how it is all day long; there is literally no second where I am not evaluating the environment in relation to him, even if he's happily playing by himself and I've got a spare second to finish reading an article I'd started, or do the dishes or take a leak or whatever. And, just like an application running in the background on your computer while you browse the internet, this takes energy and, frankly, compromises my other functions. By the time Courtney comes home, even if it has been a good, easy day with no surprises like skipped naps or extended visits to the car rental outlet (and yesterday, I had both,) or anything else out of the ordinary, I'm pretty damned tired. And if, heaven forbid, it has been "one of those days", then I'm exhausted to the point of uselessness.

My guess is that this comes as a surprise to a lot of men who find themselves in a similar situation to mine (and a few that I know might be reading this, so if you have something to add or disagree with, please drop a comment). It certainly did to me, especially right around that 6-9 month mark when I could literally get nothing done during the day, and by the time evening rolled around I had zero energy for any personal projects or the like. At that point,I felt like my life was completely subjugated to a pre-toddler's will. Fortunately, I adapted and he grew more capable of communicating, so by this point we've got it pretty much figured out. But still, it's a constant drain on energy, and sometimes I'm amazed that I get anything done outside of papa-time at all.

So, to all the ladies who've been stuck with this since time immemorial, I salute you and your hard, under appreciated work.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

But it's a dry heat

It. Is. Hot.

Why is it so hot? Why is it so, and please, pardon my usage of filthy, filthy frenc, why is it so goddamned hot!?

I mean, I live in a desert, I get it. But STILL it's not supposed to be this hot so early in the summer. I literally just got my swamp cooler (or, for those of you who prefer their no de a/c more descriptive than romantically accurate, evaporative cooler) turned on a week and a half ago! It's not fair! It's not right!

So, here I sit, in the basement of the Press Club, sipping away on an Old Fashioned as the raging sun begins its descent. And blogging about the weather on my iPad. I guess things could be worse.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Love of the Inanimate

The Little Engine That Could, my favorite of Bryce's trains.

Bryce likes trains.

This is an understatement.

Bryce lives trains.

In fact, over the past year and a half, one of the few consistencies in his ever-shifting identity and interests has been a near obsession with trains. It began on his first birthday, when my sister gave him a battery powered engine and a set of cars for it to pull. He wanted desperately to push it around on its blue plastic track, but it was little too large and awkward for him to manipulate well. Seeing his frustration, I picked up a set of wooden tracks and a small, red engine that fit into his hand. He still had trouble putting the tracks together, but once they were down, he was able to push the engine around the figure eight pattern with ease. Even better, the red engine was small enough that he could take it with him in his little hands, to the dining table, to bed. It immediately became a prized toy.

But it was nothing compared to the trains with faces.

One of the original Thomas illustrations.

Once Thomas entered our house, all other toys were forced aside. If you are the parent of a child born in the last decade, then you need no explanation as to who Thomas is. If you’re not a parent, there’s at least a chance you haven’t heard of him, although his near ubiquity is such that I think it’s unlikely that even the childless can escape his influence. But, for the sake of the ignorant, Thomas the Tank Engine is a marketing juggernaut that began life as a series of charming stories authored by an Anglican vicar in the 1940s. Not that anybody really remembers those original stories (seriously, just TRY to request a copy of the books at Barnes and Noble, just try it!) because in the last 20 years (and especially the last 10), the Thomas “brand” has well and truly eclipsed them. Thomas now lives through computer animated cartoons, poorly written films, cheaply made pajamas. And cute little wooden trains.

Most importantly, Thomas and his ilk have faces. Wide open, grinning and friendly, their faces are just this side of creepy for an adult, but for a toddler the features are perfectly positioned and proportioned to cut a path straight through the brain and trigger the neurons in charge of social response.

Or, at least, that's how it seems to have gone with Bryce. Because once Thomas arrived, the trains were no longer toys, but rather, they became peers. Suddenly, Bryce and the trains were inseparable. He carried at least one around the house with him at all times, would demand one for every car trip, slept with one at night in place of a teddy bear. We gave him several more in light of his obvious passion, some of the Thomas brand and others from elsewhere, some with faces, some without. Whatever switch was flipped with the Thomas acquisition remained on for the other trains as well, whether they had faces or not. He began to speak to them, then speak through them. "What is Thomas doing?" "Thomas is hungry for toast!" "The Black Engine wants to pick up Mama from work!"

I don't know a whole lot about child development, and even less about child psychology, but I don't think that this behavior is unusual. Typically, I suppose the kids latch on to teddy bears and dolls and the like, but a train with a friendly face isn't so far away from those. I suppose that this signals a deeper change inside, an element of who he will become building itself inside his ever-expanding brain. He is just at the age where his interactions with other children will begin to become more sophisticated, where "parallel play" (two children amusing themselves side-by-side, more or less independently) gradually gives way to actual interaction with others in his age group. My guess is that by making Thomas and his retinue into ersatz peers, Bryce is essentially practicing for these deeper social experiences. The specifics of his play often bear this theory out- with Bryce offering a running commentary on Thomas' supposed actions ("Thomas is being silly! Oh, Thomas, you're running away!"), issuing commands ("Oh, Thomas, stop it! Thomas, don't fall off the table!"), and, in perhaps an early sign of actual empathy development, making requests on the behalf of the trains ("Thomas wants to be on the table. Thomas wants to eat pancakes").

Bryce cleans Rosie the train after supper.

It's an interesting idea, and one that I'd never really considered before. I'd always thought of my own solitary play in childhood as more or less pure fantasy, but it makes sense that a growing social awareness would necessitate some testing. It might be an awfully detached and, hmm, technical way to look at a child shouting orders to his smiling trains, but I must admit that I find the idea comforting that there are no idle actions in childhood, and that play is especially important work.