Archive for the ‘Myowndaughter’ Category


Verbal misuse

February 13, 2007

It’s 3:30 this morning. Myowndaughter had a tough time going to bed, finally nodding off around 8:30. She woke up at midnight. She woke up again at 3. Her sexy mom has gone to check on her each time, staying a little while until Mod drifts off again. She’s there now.

I walk into Mod’s room to see if there’s anything I can do (as if).

That’s when I hear it. It makes me cringe. At 3:30 in the morning it makes me cringe.

“Lay down, Mommie. Lay down. No, Mommie, lay down.”

Lay down?!

Lay down?!

Lay?! Down?!
Where does this kid pick up this kind of language? She’s not in child care. She doesn’t hang out with the playground thugs. She’s not whiling away the hours in front of a TV, ever. She reads books … well, you know. We read books to her. She loves books. She’s very literary. She’s very language-oriented. She used sign language before she could talk. When she started talking she very creatively linked words together, like a lot of kids, to make her point: “Abby. … mmmm Biiiiig. Happy.” “You want to throw Abby the dog a birthday party with a great big cake?” “Yes.” (She speaks English like I speak Spanish.)

Her father’s a writer! Hello?

Lay down? I can’t believe it. It took all I had to keep from shouting, “Lie down. Lie down. Say it with me now, lie.” I knew that would have kept the kid awake, maybe even startled her, and could have landed her in our bed, and all sleep goes out the window when that happens.

She gets it from her mother. From Sexymom. Sexymom, sexy as she is, was not reared in a family that scrutinizes every spoken syllable. As a young boy, if I slipped and, say, forgot to use a possessive pronoun preceding the gerand form of a verb, a wrath of criticism flew from my father’s mouth, damning me to a life in the gutter if I kept up that talk. At dinner we would diagram, aloud, with our fingers in the air, the sentences of entire arguments about the influence of cultural identity on late-20th century residential architecture, communal behavior and domestic norms and the increasingly urgent need to erect legal and social barriers around the commonwealth and all that is Southern and good from northern invaders (my step-mother is Virginian).

Sexymom’s father was not an immigrant. My old man was born in Mexico. When his parents arrived in Houston they quickly began the process of assimilation. English was part of my dad’s ticket into Anglicanism, part of the mannerly and intellectual uniform he wore to distinguish himself from the common Mexican. Mastering English meant my father could talk his way into or out of anything — ask any one of his three ex-wives.

My father-in-law, however, was American, born and bred. He didn’t need the English language as an identity crutch. He grew up on a farm in western Kentucky, growing tobacco and corn and raising hogs. He earned a master’s degree and had a very successful career that’s provided a comfortable retirement … he worked with farmers.

Child development researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered recently that fathers influence their children’s language development — vocabulary, complexity of language, etc. — more than mothers do, despite the parents having similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

This offered some comfort at the time. I can’t even understand my Sexywife half the time, she talks in sentence fragments that might or might not be interrelated. And, she says “lay down.”

As a teen I rebelled from perfect English skills. I can’t spell worth a dam. I started to notice that despite some people’s language skills, they still survive, even thrive, in society.But even now the old man takes me down a notch if I dare to dangle a modifier.

But I did become a writer, and not by accident. Too much of this heretical linguistic influence could endanger my work (there’s probably examples crept into this post!). But even more harmful, it could corrupt my child, turn her against me, in the wee hours of the morning, looking for parental comfort from someone who’ll lay by her side.

I can’t take it! Lay! Lay! Why can’t I say “lay down?!” All I want is to talk good and have someone love me!
I take all this in, take a few deep breaths. I back away down the hall, make my way back to bed, and feel the callow emotions rapidly rise from their shallowly submersed subconscience shelf and linger long enough to prick like a thorn the tender trills of longing and let bleed these tiny drops of sorrow.



February 7, 2007

I’ve been avoiding this post. That usually means something’s trying to come out, and I should just settle down and let it come.

One night last week Myowndaughter had a difficult time going to sleep. It was different from her usual recalcitrance. She was crying, but not out of fear. She was in pain. Believe it or not, dads can also distinguish their children’s cries. I shouldn’t be suggestive; this is something I was surprised to learn about myself, that I could be so emotionally attune to a little person so as to read the subtleties of similar sounds.

Sexymom was already with Mod, but I went into the bedroom to see why my baby’s cries communicated urgency and pain, and fear.

I was having a Tobin moment.

Myowndaughter’s knees were pulled up to her chest and she clutched her stomach. She wouldn’t stop until her mom picked her up and held her. She might have had gas, might have eaten something that didn’t agree with her, maybe she was feeling a pain for the first time and couldn’t understand it.

But in the first few moments, in the dark room, seeing a beautiful, energetic, sweet little child in pain, I was carried back to a hospital room in San Antonio in 1998. A 2-year-old little boy named Tobin was dying of cancer, a neuroblastoma. I was a medical reporter, and had found Tobin’s story while mining for a Christmas feature about kids in the hospital. I was freelancing, but I had a regular gig with the Express-News, and my editors quickly latched onto Tobin. I was to take as much time as I needed. They would play Tobin on 1A in several stories, first an introduction, then a New Year’s day story about the bone marrow transplant the boy would recieve from his brother on New Year’s Eve, then follow-ups about the boy’s progress.

I wrote three stories. In the first story I introduced South Texas to the family — Tobin, a sweet little boy with a big round face; his considerate, mannerly older brother, all of 8; their infant sister, curly blonde; the dad, big and sloppy, cheerfull, loud and always smiling; and the mother, small, quiet, attractive. The family had just moved to town from Southern California so the dad could take a new job. They had never even been to Texas, they hadn’t seen house they were moving into, they knew nobody. Somewhere along New Mexico Tobin started crying. Crying in pain. The next day he had a lump in his belly. They stopped at the first doctor they could find, out in the West Texas plains. The doctor urged them to hurry to San Antonio, where there was a children’s hospital and two cancer centers. Scared out of their wits, they drove non-stop, pushing the U-Haul to its limits, and arrived at the children’s hospital.

Tobin’s tumor was deadly, but only because of the very short window of time in which it appeared. Neuroblastoma is a common childhood cancer; children who are diagnosed with the mass recover quickly, sometimes almost spontaneously — if they’re younger or older than 2. For reasons the oncologist could not explain, the 2-year mark was an especially vulnerable time when the cancer wreaks havoc. Informational sidebars explained the diagnosis and treatment.

The second story was to run on New Year’s day, the least-read paper of the year. I didn’t know that at the time. I was a young reporter and excited to be given a shot at the front page. At 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 I went to the hospital, donned scrubs and went into the OR. Two physicians inserted large-gauge needles into Tobin’s brother’s hips, one on each side, and plunged out deep red marrow. One doctor stood on a stool for the extraction, to get better leverage because he was short. The collected stem cells went right into an IV drip threaded into Tobin’s arm.

Around 10 p.m. I went to the newspaper and wrote probably the worst story I’ve ever written. Over the past few weeks I had gotten to know this little boy and his family, the oncologist and several of the nurses. I stood at the bedside while his brother gave of himself — and had volunteered to do it — to save his brother’s life. Inside I was an emotional wreck, but I didn’t let that spill out onto newsprint, and it showed. The story came off as cliche, simple.

To be brief, Tobin’s body didn’t respond well to his brother’s marrow. He underwent radiation therapy, which is designed to take the entire body as close to death as possible in order to kill the raging cancer, a physiological battle of attrition. I visited Tobin often. On one of his worst days he lay on the bed in an isolation room, naked because his skin was so tender, literally burned a deep orange color, that to clothe the child would have been to inflict wounds across his body. He was heavily sedated. His mother was stoic. His father was in pieces.

Weeks later, I wrote a story about the boy’s funeral, about how the hospital staff and new-found friends, strangers even, had pitched in for a small casket and the use of a dimly lit room at the back of a church in a poor part of town. The father never started his job; the family was almost penniless. Afterward, everyone walked outside and released balloons. The piece ran on the local section front, under a story about the livestock show and a photo of a boy with a pig. A few weeks later I went to dinner with the family, now just four of them. The dad was a loud, emotional, trying to come to terms with his son’s death. We drank Scotch far past my limit, and I smoked his cigars, and I said good-bye to them; they were going back to California. I went home and threw up, purged myself of the experience.

Reporters have tremendous opportunities to view people’s lives as they’re being lived. It’s a voyeuristic profession, to be present during the most vulnerable moments of someone’s lives, then tell millions of people about it. I cherished the opportunity, and at the same time it’s a responsibility that weighed on me.

There are times when I can’t shake the visions that I wish I’d never seen Tobin splayed out in that hospital room. I wish I couldn’t remember how sweet he was when I fist met him, how he talked about “HoHo” at Christmas. I wish, sometimes, that I’d never met that family or written those stories. I wish I’d stayed away from the funeral. Tobin’s death brought to life in me emotions that sometimes still feel raw. I don’t remember ever hearing Tobin cry, but the sound is familiar.

Sometimes my wife doesn’t understand my reactions, doesn’t understand how these memories awaken deep empathies, or personal fears. I don’t, either. The lessons I learned from Tobin and his family I couldn’t have learned from anyone else. Amost 10 years later I’m still parsing the details. Some are just now making sense as my life evolves, and new dimensions are added, like having a daughter. Some lessons might remain mysteries, or never surface. But they’re there, whether I’m conscious of them or not. I’m getting better at recognizing them.


Hoho, ‘noman go over the edge

February 6, 2007

This is old, but it’s too funny to forget to write about it.

Back around Christmas Myowndaughter, who turned 2 in November, loved this big stuffed Santa and a big snowman, each as tall as she was and much more rotund.

One day I walk out of the bedroom to see that she’s dragged both characters out of her room and onto the second-floor landing (we have one of those two-story foyers that eats up the heating bill). Just as I walk out I see her push Santa over the rail, and she’s laughing hysterically. She grabs snowman and starts to hoist him up. Who is this evil child?! She pushed him up, shoved him over and watched as he went splat! down below, bouncing off Santa’s head.

Of course I watched. It was pretty funny. For a few times. Then I started worrying it might be me one day she’s shoving over the edge.


This never happened to Rob and Laura

January 31, 2007

The other morning, it happened.
You know. … It!
The moment I’ve tried to hard to avoid. The moment I’ve been terrified of since Myowndaughter has been mobile. Since she’s been able to climb out of bed and walk into … our bedroom … in the morning … first thing.
I don’t want to awaken any pervs trolling the internet for material.
But, you know, this is a big deal. It is for me, anyway. It scared the bejeezus out of me!
I mean, come on, Myowndaughter, walking in!
She’s impressionable! She’s fragile! And if she has my long-term memory she’ll have vivid images of traumatic moments during her third year of life!
Well, I don’t have those memories. But I do remember times when I was two that I wish I didn’t, like that time when my brother pushed my Big Wheel into the street, right in front of a car, when I was still in the damn thing. I need to remind him of that.
I should have known it was going to happen.
It was just a matter of time.
I mean, come on, for more than two years either the Sexywife, or myself, or both of us, have been exhausted seventy-five percent of the time. There have been random — RANDOM (read — few and bitterly far between) — times that we’ve capitalized on the first quick few minutes of one of Mod’s rare naps. Some mornings … three maybe … no, four … no, maybe three … that Mod’s slept late.
But a majority of the time we’re on the fringe of Mod’s dozing or waking, and we’re on the fringe of something ourselves, and we get interrupted. Many a times there’s come a wail at the most inopportune time! But every time we’ve pulled things together before Mod actually arrived on the scene.
But Sunday morning. Sunday! Of all days. Lord help us.
We thought she was sound asleep, but in retrospect it was after seven, we could have known. Honestly, I think we both didn’t care. It had come to this. And after a minute or two — no, more like five or ten … really — nothing could have stopped us, nothing in this world could have distracted us, nothing imaginable could have pulled us apart … except Ourowndaughter.

It was one of those wailing cries, with the first syllable carrying the full intent of the distress and the second syllable just hanging on
She stood … right … beside … the bed.
Whoa! Where’d she come from?!?!
I might as well have been a savage intruder … bad metaphor … an axe murderer. I might as well have tied up Sexywife … no, wait … I might as well have … been something really terrible, doing something unforgivable. Mod was horrified!
I felt shame! Shame!!!!!
Hey, as a kid in small-minded East Texas I was forced into attending Bethlehem United Methodist Church every time the doors were open. Know the difference between Methodists and Baptists? Methodists can read. (Stole that from “A River Runs Through It”). Point is, I got enough fire-and-brimstone by the time I was 12 to build my own bully pulpit. Thank Heaven I moved away from that … far, far away … my freshman year in college.

I suppose this happens to every couple. Maybe it’s not such big deal. I mean, what do they do in Europe? Everyone’s naked all the time, right? I’ve watched Mr. Bean, and Benny Hill. Don’t they all bathe together until the kids are ready for college? Modesty is not a problem there. Shame is not a problem there. But something in my reptilian brain, or mammalian brain, whatever, some instinct told me “BAD! WRONG!”

And even if it wasn’t, to have such focused concentration broken by a wailing little voice just a few feet away. I mean, man! Everything was going well. All the signs were clear. Surely if Sexywife had been concerned she would have said something. And we always hear the kid, pushing open the door, padding across the piled carpet in her footie PJs. Not this time.

Might as well have thrown a bucket of ice water on me.

I jumped the seven or eight feet from the far side of the bed — the scene of the crime — to the bathroom at the speed of light. And I made sure I stayed in there for a good long while. Finally, with all the lights on and everything in order, I emerged.

I wonder if guys must make a bigger deal out of this than women. Sexywife acted as if nothing had happened. And why not? The woman is sacred. The woman is to be cherished. And the woman is the mother (most of the time). Just ask Freud how messed up a kid could be by walking in. Sometimes a cigar isn’t a cigar. The man is dirty, he’s the perpetrator, weilding a weapon of psychological destruction. It wasn’t Oedipus’s sister who caused all the problems! Thank god Myowndaughter is not Myownson.

Anyway, the kid seemed to be fine. I guess we’ll really find out in eighteen, twenty years if she starts sending us her therapy bills.

The Jan. 29 New Yorker cover shows a little kid in footie pajamas standing at his parents’ bedroom door using a camera phone to catch a conjugal moment. I can’t find the covers archived, but if you run across it, block it out of your mind!


Kid in the dark

January 31, 2007

You know Myowndaughter doesn’t like to go to sleep.
Well, I figured something out.
Her Sexymom and I had been parenting like our parents parented when parenting was considered a phase people had to go through to get to a mid-life crisis. The kid should go to sleep because we told her to go to sleep. Right?
Eureka! I thought, as I often do.
Myowndaughter is a smart kid. She learns well. In fact … I haven’t figured out how to tell my parents this about their granddaughter … she has a brain! We tell her something, and it might take a little while, but she learns.
So why not tell her how we plan to train her to go to sleep without our being in the room. Aha! Brilliant!
Sexywife, being a woman of wisdom, experience, expressed a little doubt. “Right,” she says. “Uh-huh.”
But I tried it. I told Mod the other night, “we’ll stay in the room with you as long as you stay in your bed, stay quiet and go to sleep. But if you get out of your bed and start playing, we’re going to drag you naked from the house, strap you onto Abby’s back, turn her loose and let the rabid cats chase you through the cold dark night, then they’ll lick off your ears, and the evil beasts will slink out of the shadows to give you diaper wedgies before eating you alive!”
Or, maybe I said, … “we’re not going to stay in your room.” Then I topped it off with my signature signal of seriousness, “this … is not … a game.”
Then I kissed her on her head and made her swallow a Valium.
Or, maybe I just said goodnight.
Either way, it seemed to soak in.
You might be surprised — I sure as hell am — to know that it’s worked since then. No throwing herself from her bed to her floor like a demented seal. No begging for water or a ‘neenex.
Of course, there was the other night …
I finish reading to her and I say, “I’m going to be quiet now. I’ll turn off the light and you go to sleep.”
Then I sit on her bed for a few minutes.
This was Sunday night. She wasn’t rambunctious, she just wasn’t ready to give up the ghost.
So I’m sitting there in the dark, silently, and she’s fidgeting, and she says, “Daddy?”
It’s a trap. I stay quiet.
She sits up, crawls out of the covers and stares at me.
Not gonna do it.
She leans forward, turns her head, studies me. I am not making a move. Now she thinks I’m really asleep. She can’t see that my eyes are slightly open. I’m watching her as she slooooooowly gets closer.
Ever been in a pitch-dark room? Or a cavern, like Carlsbad, and the guide turns off the ligths? You can’t see nothin. Hold your hand in front of your face and it’s as if it’s not even there. Or ever try to find the right sock early in the morning without turning on the lights, and you can’t tell if the one in your hand is blue or black? This kid’s examing me like that. Am I blue? Black? Am I even there?
She’s moving in slow motion and a ball of hilariarity starts to grown inside me. I can see her head tilt back and forth. She’s just a foot away. Closer she comes. Closer. Second by second, in the dark, thinking I’m asleep. Six inches away and she still can’t believe that I’m sitting there asleep. Three inches, and she’s aiming right for my eyeballs! Surely she’s goofing off! Surely she’s going to stop! Stop! Stop before I die laughing!
I bite my lip. I clinch my mouth shut. I’ve been leaning on my hand and I’m pushing my mouth closed.
Two inches! She’s two inches from my face!
One inch from my face! and she keeps getting closer! She’s trying to stare into my soul!
I can’t stand this anymore! I totally lose it.
BBBBuuuuupppphhhhhhhhh!!!!!! snortsnortsnortsnort
Quick! Recover!
She still doesn’t move! What’s with this kid? Beats me but it’s funnier than hell.
A second or two after I snort, totally unfazed, she slowy reaches her hand toward me … and pokes me! Like, hey, are you awake? You alive over there?
I break into pieces. I roar with laughter.
Mod never laughed, never said anything else.
I compose myself after a few seconds. Mod lies down, I lean over and tuck her in. A few minutes later, she’s out.
I’m still laughing.


You said it, baby!

January 28, 2007

Yesterday morning the Sexywife is attending to Myowndaughter while Mod sat on the toilet.
“She had a very serious look on her face, like she was straining,” Sexywife told me last night.
“So I told her, ‘It’s OK, relax. Take a deep breath. Poop will come out when it’s ready.’
“So she looks down and shouts, ‘Come ooooouuuttt! Come ooooouuuttt!'”


Something very significant happend last night while we dined in the home of one of my co-workers, we’ll call her “Gladys,” and her geological, professorial husband, “Lavaboy.”

After dinner I’m looking at some of Lavaboy’s cool artifacts — two or three different kinds of lava (turd-like or loogie-lava and lava that results as a sort of oozing zit) and I realize Mod and Sexymom aren’t there.
I wonder off to the guest room to see if, by some weird stroke of luck, Sexymom has convinced Mod to go to sleep, maybe with the help of a little chloroform.
They’re in the bathroom.
“What’s going on?” say I.
“A poop,” says Sexymom.
Whoa. OK. See ya.
Later, Sexymom asks me, “Did you hear Mod say ‘poop’ at the dinner table?”
“She was practically grunting it, ‘poooooop, pooooooop.'”
This was the first time we were guests in someone’s house and Mod, who’s every stinkin bit of 2, dumps in their toilet. A foreign dump. A guest dump.
Let’s review the highlights:
1. Mod recognizes that she has to poop
2. Mod tells her Sexymom that she has to poop, without being shy or embarrassed, or, evidently, completely stopping adult conversation
3. Mod successfully poops
This is a big deal to me because I was raised to believe you don’t go to a friend’s house and bomb it. It’s unfriendly. Disgusting.
My older brother taught me this. He taught me a lot about poop, this farmer who was deathly afraid of germs as a kid. Many a times out in public I held it because the seat would give me germs. What kinds of germs, I had no idea. I mean, I had to dump! Dumpage usually isn’t germ-free. I can usually find a public toilet (except in movie theaters) that’s not covered in something worse than my own excrement. (Here’s a little tip — when on the road and you feel like you’re going to overflow, a gas station’s not the spot, pull into a hotel lot and walk past through the lobby like you’re staying there, a clean bathroom’s always near).
So I held it. Or, if worse came to worse, he showed me how to use about half a roll of toilet paper as a protective barrier.
Some of this was my brother’s own freakiness, some of it was messing with my head. He told me that a girl could get pregnant from a toilet seat. For some reason, this scared me. I’m almost certain now that he was lying.
It’s a wonder I wasn’t scarred for life.
Now, I love to poop! I poop all the time!
And, with Myowndaughter, I make up songs about poop. They’re not only fun, they’re educational.
This morning, it went like this (alternate bass and alto, like a chorus in a tragic opera): Daddy poops Daddy poops! Daddy poops Daddy poops! Daddy poops Daddy poops! Daddy poops Daddy poops! (now the bass voices, with real feeling, like in “Steamboat”) Daaaaaaddy poops ev’ry dA-AAYYY! and it stinnnnnnnnks.
In subsequent verses, substitute names of everyone in the family, including the dogs’.

“‘Gin, Daddy.”
“OK, but sing along with me this time.”

These crappy stories are especially apros po of Doooce’s recent blog.
I’ve never seen so many people speak out in support of one mother’s efforts to get her daughter to poop.
Dooce has a way with words. Mostly she’s wicked funny. Acerbic. Sophomoric in a very familiar way, a way my 30-something self appreciates.
But when this Catherine broad starts giving her shit about … shit — specifically, Dooce’s 2-year-old’s not being potty trained — Dooce’s response seemed very sincere, almost vulnerable. She described, painfully, her daughter’s very emotional and physically challenging trials.
More than 800 people responded to that post within a couple of days. Everyone came to Dooce’s defense; everyone told Catherine to eat shit and die.
Beware, those who flirt miliciously with condemning earnest, sincere maternal instincts! There’s got to be a Greek parable about this, in which one mom insults another and turns into salt that gets snorted up by a seamonster and blown all over Crete, but I can’t think of one.
Carry on, Dooce, and all the Dooces out there!
And best of luck, Leta (Dooce’s daughter)! I’m pulling for you!


Update to the sleep post

January 25, 2007

Last night, Myowndaughter threw a huge fit, which spawned the Audrey Hepburn post, right at bedtime.

Then she slept all night, about 11 hours.