Changes

The average length of a six-month-old girl is 25 to 26 inches.  Skye is 28 inches long, putting her closer to a nine-month-old than to those in her age group.  I first notice this when Skye and I go on a play date.

The other girl, a cute 8-month-old, already stands on her own.  Skye, on the other hand, can barely hold herself up in a seated position. I hold Skye upright to introduce her to the other girl, and I’m shocked to see just how much taller Skye is.  At least 3-4 inches.

Later, Lori asks me about the play date.

“Did you ever watch those Godzilla movies when you were a kid?”

“No, why?”

“What about Toy Story 3?  Big Baby?”

“Who?”

“Never mind.  Ok, but you do know who Godzilla is, right?”

Lori levels me with a cold stare.

“Ok, so we’re on the play date, right?  And I’m introducing Skye to this kid, right?  So when I hold her up, and they’re, like, face-to-face, all I can think is I hope Skye doesn’t Godzilla smack her right now.  You know, like how she does when you’re holding her and she gets excited?  That’s how much bigger than this kid she was.”

Lori laughs, and I laugh, but I’m not really joking.  Skye’s Godzilla smacks hurt, all the more because she tends to giggle as she does it.  So I can’t begin to imagine the horror, the tears of shock and pain, if Skye, towering as she did over this little girl, got too excited, and, well, Godzilla smacked her.  Thank God she didn’t, and all’s well that ends well.

***

The other day I had a job interview.  After leaving my last job, I decided to take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do next.

I had enough in the coffers to survive for about a year, so, “why not?” I said. Now, approximately 9 months later (I’m a terrible budgeter), the coffers are empty and, alas, I must once again make my way into the working world.

I get a job interview for a teaching position in Dallas, which is about an hour away from Fort Worth, where we live.  As it’s generally not recommended that you bring a baby on an interview, I needed to put Skye in daycare for about 4 hours (2 hour round trip drive + 2 hours of interview/orientation/ etc.).  There’s a place just around the corner from our house called the SS Noah (get it?), which specializes in affordable hourly childcare.  I’d already check the place out beforehand, and, for the price, it’s not bad.  It’s really, really noisy, but I imagine all daycare centers are.

There’s just one thing.  I don’t want to leave her.  I’m afraid.

What if they don’t know what to do with her when she gets in one of her moods?  What if she cries all four hours?  What if one of the women, though generally caring and loving, had a really bad night last night and her head hurts and her husband’s an ass and the baby just won’t stop crying and…you get the point.

I was asked recently what the biggest surprise about parenthood has been for me.

“The fear,” I responded without hesitation.  The constant fear.  It recedes at times, seems to be gone, but it never really is gone, not really.  It just sort of lurks back there, waiting for the right moment to hop out and yell, “boo!”

It is of course not the first time that Skye’s been to daycare.  As I mentioned in an earlier post she spends about 2 hours a day at the LA Fitness Kids’ Club while I work out.  However, I’m still in the same building and seconds away should I be needed.  I can stick my head in from time to time and check on her.  Besides, the women who run the Kids’ Club are no longer strangers.  I’ve seen them interact with Skye, and she seems pretty happy to be with them.

I don’t know the crew (get it?) of the SS Noah.  Not yet.  Not really.  Still, it must be done.

We arrive at the front desk.  Skye, quiet and buckled into her car seat, is looking around, trying to find the source of the frantic sounds of glee (possibly terror; there’s a lot of screaming in these places).

I sign some papers, give instructions regarding feeding and nap time, which, in truth, is really whenever the hell she feels like it.  I give them approximate times for both, though it’s unlikely it will happen on schedule.  I kiss Skye on the forehead and hurry out before either she or I start to cry.

A quick statement of the obvious: I am a man.  I am also, I’d like to think, a very progressive one, a renaissance man if you will.  As such, I have no problem with men showing genuine emotions, other than anger and lust and 80’s action hero, in public.  Still, as a product of the eighties/nineties, man-tears in public still seem, progressive though I am, kinda weird.

Though I completely realize that this is a failing on my part—even James Bond cries these days—it’s one that’s likely here to stay. I shed man-tears, yes, but generally in the privacy of my own walk-in closet.  But as I walk out of the SS Noah, it takes all the eighties/nineties action hero in me not to.

I seriously consider going back in, telling the ladies at the deck (get it?) that I will not longer be needing their services, as I grab the child and speed off. Back home the not-so-tiny-anymore-one and I sit on the couch, sipping milk and tea, respectively.

“We sure dodged a bullet there, didn’t we, Chica?” I say.

And she smiled, and I smile, and life is once again as it has always been for the last six months.

Trouble is, as I said before, the coffers are low.   And since Lori refuses to pay me a decent wage for my childcare services—so much for progressive—the only way to replenish them is to go back to work.

Anyway, I got the job, which means in about 3 weeks, when the fall semester begins, we have to do this all over again.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.

***

Crawling for a child is, obviously, a big deal. The sudden—and it does seem so sudden—ability to transport one’s self from one point in three dimensional space to another without the aid of, from the child’s perspective, “the gangly ones,” has to be one of the great moments of childhood that we all, unfortunately, forget.

Skye is a master crawler, and we’ve laid down two thick blankets on the hardwood floors so she can do her thing without injury.

Until recently, however, the crawl could hardly be called that, resembling more the world’s cutest land-based butterfly stroke than an infant’s preferred—only, really—form of self-propulsion.

Skye performs the “crawl” by sticking (and keeping) her face in the blankets while furiously flailing her arms in search of traction.  It works.  She moves.  But she usually arrives about 2 to 3 feet north, south, east or west (depending on her point of origin) of her intended target, completely and totally exhausted.  (This, for some reason, makes me think of Christopher Columbus.)  She catches her breath, course corrects, and off she goes again.

These days she’s worked out the kinks in her mechanics, mostly (check out the video below), and can pretty much aim, execute and achieve whatever mobility goal she has in mind.  But I do miss the days of not so yore, when she cracked me up with the world’s cutest land-based butterfly stroke.

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A Month of Firsts

Quick note:  The last post was called, “Moving Day: Part one,” suggesting a part two…and there is one.  However, after re-reading it, I realized that Skye disappears from it about a quarter of the way through—she gets overstimulated and Lori takes her in a back room while I finish coordinating the move.  The remaining three-quarters are really just about the movers and me.  In the interest of keeping this blog about Skye, I’ve scrapped part two, making part one something of a misnomer.  Anyway, sorry for the delay.  Here’s the new one.

We had four “firsts” this past month.  Here they are in chronological order:

First Time at a Restaurant (June 2nd, 2012)

I’m reading “Mockingjay” in our bedroom, trying to figure out just what it is about this bland heroine that’s causing all the hype, when Lori walks in.

“We should go to the Mellow Mushroom,” she says.

I’m excited.  “I love the Mellow Mushroom!” I say.  “But what about Skye?”

“What do you mean what about Skye?”

“I mean what are we going to do with her while we’re experiencing the ecstasy that is the Kosmic Karma Pizza made especially for us by the fine, lovely staff of the Mellow Mushroom?”

I intentionally fattened up that sentence to make it as confusing as possible, because I want Lori to forget why she came in the room.

I want her to forget because I’ve been dreading this day for some time now.  Though I know Karma—like the pizza I would like to enjoy at the Mellow Mushroom—is much more complicated than do good get good, do bad get bad, in times of distress I, like most people I suppose, tend to default to this simplistic view.  Within this view, in regards to screaming children in restaurants, I’ve got a whole lot of bad karma coming my way.

I’ve never said anything mean or nasty to a family with a screaming child/children, but I have made my fair share of in-group comments (“what the hell?”), and given my fair share of the look that’s supposed to inform them that I am not pleased at all. Now it’s my turn.

I carefully explain all of this to Lori, including the parts about Karma and the U-turn it is now, as we speak, making across the universe just so it can arrive on time at the Mellow Mushroom to f*** me up.

“We’re going,” she says.  “With or without you.”  My taste buds desire for Kosmic Karma outweighs my fear of Cosmic Karma so…off we go.

I step gingerly into the restaurant, shrugging the child seat, all the while feeling like a leper who has just escaped the colony. But when I finally lift mine eyes from the floor and look around the restaurant, I find that half the patrons have kids.  They even have a special “Mellow Bus” (which, of course, looks like one of those old Volkswagen vans from the sixties, painted in psychedelic colors) set up at the front of the restaurant, directly behind the hostess’s station, just for families with kids.  I’m feeling much better now.

I feel even better when I spy the outside patio.

“We should sit outside,” I say.

It’s Texas in June, which means it ain’t cool, but it’s ain’t hot either (just a little Texan for you there). Lori agrees and we head outside where, to my further delight, most of the people out there also have young children.  Karma either missed her turn at Jupiter, or she’s letting bygones be bygones. Either way, I’m not complaining.

I look around and make eye contact with the other parents.  Here, beneath the noisy ceiling fans and the ambient sounds of excited children, we are One, parents united in our isolation.  Yay!

Skye—why did I ever doubt?—is a champ.  The only time she cries is to inform us that she has not been fed in some time, and even then it’s just a minor series of coos that are more cute than annoying.  We fetch the bottle from the bag, feed her, and within 10 minutes she’s fast asleep and stays that way for the rest of the outing.

I enjoy my pizza and the cool breeze blowing down on us from the patio fans.  I see Karma in the corner, and she winks.  I smile and bite into the delicious pizza named after her by the genius pizza bakers of the Mellow Mushroom.  This is bliss.

First Solids (June 4th, 2012)

It’s time for the little one to be gradually introduced to solid foods for which I am—and I’m sure Lori is too—pretty grateful.  It’s easier to produce and prepare the meal that, at this point in time, qualifies as solid though I, hater of all foods without some bite, would consider more of a soupy mash.

We go to Wal-Mart and buy the Gerber brand cereal, the one with the picture of the terrified baby as its icon.  I know it supposed to be a happy, excited baby, but looked again.  Go ahead, I’ll wait. It’s below this paragraph.  The kid, cute as she is, looks like she’s trying to bridge the gap between her world and ours in a desperate attempt to beg for amnesty (“They keep trying to make me eat this stuff!”).  That’s what it looks like to me anyway.

The Gerber Baby.

The Gerber Baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Skye wants no part of the solids, and why would she?  She has no idea what it is.  It’d be like me going to a restaurant, ordering a meal I expect to come on a plate, and being handed a bottle with, yes, all the essential ingredients, but blended together into a mushy liquid I’m supposed to suck through a straw.  It would violate my expectation of mealtime, and I, having the vocabulary to protest, would do so.

Skye doesn’t have the vocabulary. Her protest takes the form of allowing every spoonful entered into her mouth, to dribble back out in a sticky mixture of mash and spittle, which then gets into the folds of her skin and clothes, forcing—late hour though it is—a nice, warm bath.  This is how she gets back at us for violating her expectations.

“Bring my bottle!” she seems to be saying.  “What is this crap anyway?  What is it…oats?  I’ll oat you if you keep trying to feed me this crap.  What?  Oat is not a verb?  See how it’s dripping down my chin, getting into every fold?  That’s how you oat someone.  Now bring me my bottle!  Or would you like me to keep oating you?

After a few more minutes of trying to get her to swallow the lukewarm oat mash, we give up and get her bottle.  She gladly accepts this, even holding it herself as she gleefully sucks down the delicious and familiar contents.

I get it.  Change can be tough. We’ll try again tomorrow.

First Fever (June 5th, 2012)

In the surprisingly short yet incredibly detailed form I must sign before the clinic will vaccinate my child, I’m told that Skye might develop a fever after the shots.  I’m also told this as the nurse prepares the shots, as she jabs them into Skye thighs (that’s plural), and even as she Band-Aids the leaking holes she’s just created.

I assume it’s because lots of first time parents probably freak out when, later at home, they pick up their infant and she feels like she’s just crawled out of an oven.  Which is exactly what I do despite all the warnings.   Skye went to bed with a normal temperature, and now she feels like she’s been playing prayer warriors with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The last time Skye was vaccinated, they’d said the same thing about fevers, but it didn’t happen.  And since this was pretty much the exact same vaccination, a booster if you will, I saw no reason to believe she would develop a fever this time around either.  But she did…and much more than a single degree.

I break out the oral thermometer, the only one I’d ever used and had ever hoped to use, but the damned paper from the clinic says that a rectal measurement is the most accurate. I really don’t want to.  It’s seems wrong somehow; a violation of a very personal space.  But what can I do?  The kid’s sweating and crying and I need an accurate number for the nurse when I call the clinic.

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” I say to Skye, hoping to soothe her with the cliché.   Then I slide it in.  I can tell from her reaction that she doesn’t like this at all.  She’s on her stomach, and her head jerks up in a pantomime of, “what the deuce!? (No pun intended).  She wiggles from side to side like a fish trying to shake a hook, but I hold on tight, keeping the cheeks firmly together as I wait for the thermometer to beep and inform me that the measurement is complete.

It’s taking its time, and the kid is trying to crane her neck around to see what malicious being would do such a thing—certainly not Papa.  But it is Papa, and I feel terrible, but it’s gotta be done.

“Just five more seconds,” I say to reassure her. The thermometer beeps and I am glad to pull it out.  The digital display reads, “101.”  Oh boy…

The clinic has provided a guide for what to do should your child develop a fever as a result of the vaccine.

Step 1: take her temperature.  Step 2: if it’s less than 102 degree, administer children’s Tylenol, ½ teaspoon of 160 mg.  Step 2b: if higher than a 102 degree, immediately call doctor’s office.

Technically, I’m supposed to choose Step 2, but I round up and skip to Step 2b. After all, why wait until it gets to 102 to find out what to do?

I call the doctor’s office and, to my great consternation, I get the answering machine. Seriously?  The emergency line is unmanned?  What kind of bull**** is this?  But I am nothing if not polite to a fault, all that Gandhi/MLK/Bible stuff I read as a kid I guess.  I leave a terse but polite message. This, however, is the text I sent to Lori:

“She’s got a fever of 101, and those dumbasses aren’t even there!”

To the clinic’s credit they call back within minutes, and the nurse is very nice and helpful.  I am appeased, and delighted to learn that Skye’s fever, despite the high temperature, is nothing to worry about.  The nurse tells me to take Skye’s temperature every hour, and call her again if it stays high.  She also reminds me about the children’s Tylenol and the proper dosage, and that’s that.

I take her temperature again, and I’m glad to see that it’s going down; 101…then 100…then 99…By the time Lori arrives about an hour later with the Tylenol, the kid’s feeling a lot better, and smiling and gurgling like nothing happened.

Least favorite “first” ever.

First Daycare Experience (June 7th, 2012)

I need to be active.  It’s in my nature.  After Skye was born, I had to make due with whatever I could do at home—exercise bike, exercise video games for Kinect, etc.—but I miss the communal aspects of exercising outside of the house.  Now that Skye is old enough to be admitted into most Kid’s Zones, I’m heading back to the gym for the first time in a long while.

I pay my first and last month dues along with the additional ten dollars a month for childcare, and off to LA Fitness we go for our first day.  I drop Skye off at the childcare center and head off to get my workout done.  She seems okay when I leave, and I’m pretty impressed.

According to my parents—and I vaguely remember it—the first time I was dropped off at daycare, I cried the entire time, and the nanny told them to never bring me back.   I just figured Chiquita (as I call Skye sometimes) was made of sturdier stuff than her Old Man.

Not so.  Not so.

Fifteen minutes into my workout, I hear my name over the intercom system.

“Mr. Togun, please report to the childcare area.  Mr. Togun, please report to the childcare area.”

I walk in the door of the Kids Zone, and see my little red-faced, screaming Chiquita.  Not just crying, mind you, screaming.  The lady at the front desk informs me that she’d started crying the moment I walked out and hasn’t stopped since.

I take her from the woman, and after a few beating about my face to voice her displeasure about being abandoned with strangers, she settles into my chest where she sniffles and shakes her way to calm.   It makes me smile.  Not that I’m glad she was screaming and crying, but that it wasn’t as easy for her to let go as it had seemed.  I guess a part of me still sort of wants her to be sad to see me go, that it’s not just any kind face, any warm hands, and any nice smile that will sooth and keep her happy.  It’s my kind face, my warm hands, and my nice smile that do it. Sure, there’ll come a time soon enough when she can’t wait to get away from me, but for now, she’s my girl.  My little, sniffling, mucus dripping, glad to see me girl.

I thank the kind ladies of the LA Fitness Kid’s Zone, bundle up Skye’s stuff, and head home.  Despite the fact that the gym is less than a mile from the house, she’s so exhausted from all the crying, she falls asleep before I make it back to the house

She’ll need to be able to stay with other people without my presence, I know, but not today. Soon enough. We’ll try again next week.

Bonus Video:

Moving Day: Part One

It’s 9:35.  Lori’s already left for work and I’m sitting at my desk, writing.  Skye wakes up, starts to cry, and the day as I have come to know and live it for the last 4 weeks begins…except today is moving day.  We bought the new house a couple of months back, finalized the deal about a month ago, and now it’s time to actually live in it.

The movers are coming sometime between 2 pm and 4pm.  I’m hoping they arrive closer to 4, if not a little bit after, because I promised Lori the night before—so that we could go to bed at a reasonable hour—that I’d have everything packed and ready to go before they arrived.  Lori has a three-punch plan for the move. Punch one: move everything out of the old apartment and into the new house on Friday.  Punch two: set it all back up in its entirety in the new house before bedtime on Saturday.  And punch three: scour the old apartment to make sure we get out deposit back.

There’s a lot of work to be done to complete punch one in time, and I quickly realize that the promise should not have been made.  My estimation of success, while not entirely flawed, failed to consider one very important factor—Skye.  I suppose I left her out of the equation not because I forgot that I have a child, but because I’ve never had to move with a child before and, as such, her existence within the context of the move just, well…slipped my mind.  But she is here, and ensuring that I never forget again.

Perhaps it’s the changes in her familiar landscape, now overrun by the large brown boxes rising up around her like miniature skyscrapers; or maybe it’s just the change in routine; whatever it is, she is especially grumpy this morning.  Every time I try to step away, it’s as if a proximity sensor is activated, an alarm sounds, and I have to turn around to shut it off.

The alarm, of course, is Skye’s cries, and it has three stages.  The first stage is a series of light coos separated by approximately 5-7 seconds.  It is a repetitive and fairly benign, “eh, eh, eh” sound.  It’s not too grating, and is unlike to produce more than a quick look around to make sure nothing is amiss.

Stage 2 is a bit more noxious, and can produce a slight feeling of vertigo along with a minor discomfort in the stomach.  It’s a throaty, “wah” sound, produced by relaxing the tongue and then forcing air along its surface to cause it to vibrate.  The effect of the vibration is to twist the molecules in the space between her mouth and your ears into a skull bruising wave.  Some people may find themselves bleeding from the nose and perhaps the ears at stage two.

If you should somehow manage to defy all self-preservation programming, and find yourself in stage 3 of the alarm, then you are made of some hearty stuff. Stage 3 is produce in much the same way as stage two, but the force and frequency of the air being pushed along the tongue is greatly increased.  The resulting sound wave is therefore much more powerful than before.  The previous wave may bruise the skull and cause bleeding from the minor orifices, this wave will blind you if you are subjected to it for too long.  Therefore, it is in your best interest to scoop the child up as quickly as possible and offer succor before madness—yours, not hers—overtakes you.   Stage 3 is not to be taken lightly

I pick Skye up despite the voluminous amount of work I still have to do to keep the promise, but I don’t entirely mind. I hate packing and pretty much everything  associated with moving. And, I ask, is there a better excuse than the sad face above to take a break?  I think not. Besides, even if I fail and must later explain myself, I can put on a sad face like a lovesick squirrel and say, “but she needed me.” Forgiveness attained.  I may not need it though. It’s still pretty earlier, and there is time enough yet to keep the promise.

Skye falls asleep about an hour later, and I go back to bagging, boxing and tagging. It becomes increasingly apparent that the three-punch plan is a failure.  There is just too much stuff for one man, dedicated to packing though he may be (ha!), to pack.  Still, I plow ahead, determined to do the impossible.  I don’t take promises lightly.

Then Skye wakes up…

I try to dodge the sensor.  If she doesn’t see me she’ll usually stay quiet for while, playing with her hands and her toes until hunger or boredom force her to sound the alarm.  I fail.  She sees me and smiles.  It’s a cute smile, but I am not fooled.  It is a warning: pick me up or else…

Something is wrong here, terribly wrong, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is.  My hands, as I hold her, are immersed in something that had the viscosity of pudding, tapioca to be more specific. My brain knows why, but keeps it from my conscious awareness as long it can, like Morgan Freeman refusing to tell Brad Pitt what’s in the box.  Then it happens.  Understanding dawns, and the horror is complete. I turn the child around to verify my suspicions, and, yes, the diaper has exploded.

I look into her chair and reel in horror.  (“Oh, the humanity!”).  It’s everywhere, like some escaped fluid-like mutant from a government facility  terrorizing the countryside. I’m the countryside!  I’m terrorized!  And on moving day!

My self-preservation instincts kicking in, and above the din of my retching, yell for me to discard every and all things that have been touched by the mutant creature, including my hands.

“Into the cleansing fires!”  It bellows like a 13th century manic preacher.  “The cleansing fires!”

I don’t know what to do.  I haven’t been trained for this!  Dear God, I haven’t been trained for this!

Fortunately, my brain grabs me around the throat and slaps me across my screaming face.

“Get it together, man!”  It hollers like an actor from an old black and white thriller. “You’re the adult!  God helps us all, you’re the adult!”

“Yes, yes, I’m the adult,” I say despite the roiling in my stomach.  I grab a thick towel from the bathroom and lay it on the bed.  I place the kid—who is now more goo than human—on it and proceed to perform the necessary surgery.  I toss the outer layer of her chair in the washing machine, and turn on the hottest cycle it’s got.  Five minutes later, my heart rate is back to normal and the kid is almost human again.

I pick up the eco-diaper which Lori bought in an effort to be “greener,” the same diaper that has had multiple, though previously minor, leaks through out its inaugural week, and head for the trash.

“You may be eco-friendly,”  I say to the diaper,  “but you are no friend of mine.”

“But where will I go,” says the eco-diaper in a thin, scared voice as I hold it over the yawing mouth of the trashcan.

“To hell if you don’t pray,” I say, and drop it in.

And that’s that.  But the kid still smells like, well, poo.  It is not by any stretch of the imagination a manageable smell, therefore a bath is needed.  The promise, at this point, is unlikely to be kept. After the battle with the diaper mutant and the bath, I’m exhausted.  I rename the “three-punch plan” the “3 and a half punch plan,” which just means I’ll come back on Saturday and finish the move.  Besides, it’s story time.

Story time is something Lori and I recently incorporated into Skye’s intellectual diet.  I don’t know if she has a clue what I’m talking about three-quarters of the time, or if it stimulates her neurological development, but it sure is fun.

We read Winnie the Pooh, the greatest of the fictional bears.   I never got Yogi; the Berenstein bears always seemed a bit silly; and Paddington never blew me away, not like Pooh did.  Pooh was, is, beautiful, and he had the best friends.  Tigger, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Rabbit, Roo, Eeyore, Owl, even the imaginary (or are they?) heffalumps who, I guess, were no friends of Pooh’s.

Story time with Skye isn’t just about story time.  It’s an opportunity to visit old friends from a time not so long gone, when your biggest worry was learning how to pronounce the letter “Z.”  I get to be a child again, if only for 30 or so minutes a day.  I love story time.

We read the story where Pooh tries to steal some honey by tying a blue balloon to his back, hoping the bees will think he’s a black cloud beneath a clear blue sky.  Silly old bear.

I’m laughing hard, and after a moment of bemusement, Skye tries to emulate the sound.  What comes out is a cross between Donald Duck and a sputtering Model T (see the video below).  I love it.  I’m laughing, she’s “laughing,” and were both having a gay old time.  No one is packing.

Just as we really get going, there’s a knock on the door.  The movers have arrived.  It is moving day after all.

To be continued…

Alone Together

It’s 7:45.  I wake up not because I’m done sleeping, but because Lori just kissed me.  She hadn’t meant to wake me, but she’s on her way to work and she just wanted to say goodbye.  It’s her first day back after 8 weeks of maternity leave, and I can tell it’s hard for her to leave the little one, especially with an only slighter bigger “little” one—me.  She stands over Skye’s bassinet, watching her sleep for a while longer before she finally breaks herself away and leaves.  I replant my weary face in my memory foam pillow and go back to sleep.

When I wake up again, the Zen Clock by the bed tells me that it’s 9:45. (It’s a Zen Clock because it pings softly instead of buzzing, and not because the clock itself has attained enlightenment, though it would be pretty cool to have an enlightened clock.)  I’m ecstatic because this is the most sleep I’ve gotten in weeks.  I look at the still sleeping child and send her a telepathic, “thank you.”

Perhaps I should have kept my telepathic message to myself, because at just that moment she stirs and sees me staring at her.  Her eyes are wide as they tend to be when she just wakes up, as if she’s utterly confused by where she is and how she got here…which is understandable.  Imagine this scenario.  You go to sleep in one place, but when you wake up the next morning you’re in another.  It’d be a bit freaky, right?  Well that’s what a baby has to deal with pretty much every morning—fall asleep staring at Momma’s face, wake up in a bassinet with a plush pink elephant bumping against your head.  Then again, some people pay good money for experiences like that so maybe it’s not all bad.

I pick Skye up and go into the living room.  It’s littered with all sorts of baby related materials: plush toys, onesies, used feeding bottles, unused diapers and wipes, hand sanitizers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  I kick some out of the way and sit on the couch.

The plan, as the last blog stated, is to play all day.  Skye has other plans of which play is only a tiny fraction.  Turns out newborns don’t want to play all day.  Sure they giggle and coo at your antics at first, smiling for a while at your one-man shenanigans. But pretty soon they get bored or tired or hungry, and insult your performance with a round of tears where you had expected applause, or the uncoordinated infant equivalent.  This leaves you feeling less than the great baby pleasing thespian you thought you were going to be.  You try to explain your performance, the subtleties, the nuances that make it gold:

“You see…”

“Wah!”

“If you’d just let me…”

“Wah!”

“I just want to show…”

“Wah!”

“But I’ve prepared…”

“WAH!  WAH! WAH!”

I acquiesce and grab a bottle of breast milk from the fridge, left there with loving care by her most gracious mother who had to rise early to pump it.  I warm it under some hot water, pop it in her mouth, and within five minutes she’s asleep again, belly full of lactic goodness.  So much for play.

Now I am alone, maybe a bit lonely.  I go to my computer to write, but nothing wants to come out.  Not unusual given that I’ve broken my habit of rising early.  When it comes to writing I am a staunch creature of habit.  If I break my routine for any reason, while I can certainly still string words together, they never really feel right.  I make a mental note to go to sleep early, get up early and get my writing done before the little one wakes up.  That’s the plan anyway.

After 30 minutes of writing and deleting and writing and deleting some more, I decide that it’s hopeless for the day.  I give up and play Xbox Kinect Sports 2 Tennis.

I’m one set into an Xbox live match with an easily excitable (I believe) 5th grader from Mexico when Skye wakes up and starts to wails.  I have a dilemma.  I’m winning, and this little Mexican girl’s taunts have got me all riled up.  I’m in my zone; I’m definitely in my zone!  Judging by how long it took me to win the first set, it would take another 5 minutes to close out the match, maybe ten.  Can’t do it.  I throw the match to the Mexican girl’s delight, and hear her wicked laughter through my Xbox as I hurry to the back room to pick up Skye.  I note her username, and vow like an ancient and shamed samurai to avenge my defeat.

Skye and I repeat the previous cycle of sleep, play, eat, only this time it’s play, eat, sleep.  She’s out again within 15 minutes and I am once again alone.  This time I don’t lay her down.  I place her on my lap and stare down at her peaceful, sleeping face.  My imagination takes over and I try to determine where babies go when they sleep (do babies dream of electric pacifiers?)

I decide that babies at rest astral project to some distant, ethereal plane where no one over the age of one can go.  To gain access, to even remember its existence, your conception of the world must be entirely rudimentary.  The moment a single concept coalesces and you understand it, you’ll never be able to find your way back.  It’s like baby Shangri-La, but with an expiration date.

I imagine babies from all over the million galaxies walking down cloud lined streets, arms crossed behind their backs, discussing the merits and detractions of their varied worlds as they try to make sense of their experiences in the abstract manner in which their minds work.

“I live in a place of total darkness,” says one golden-skinned, fur heavy baby with three eyes.  “There is no one there but me. I don’t know how I know, but I know that when the time is right, I must break through the shell of ice that covers me and into the light, where I will meet my mother for the first time.”

“I’m from a place called Detroit,” says another kid with a head shaped like an unripe melon.  “They make something called “American Cars” there, and they seem to be having something known as a ‘comeback.’”

Then it’s Skye’s turn.  She gets a far off look in her eyes before she speaks, like she trying to wrangle an uncooperative thought.

“There’s a man,” she finally says, “Or I think that’s what it is.  I’m not sure.  Its face is brown, its eyes too.  When I’m hungry, it feeds me.  When I’m wet or dirty, it bathes me.  And when I’m cold, it clothes me.  I think its name is ‘dad.’  I think I love it…”

Back on this earthly plane I smile.  It’s been a good imaginary trip.  What would life be without imagination?  Pointless is the answer you’re looking for.  Utterly pointless.

I am however getting very bored.  My imaginings have managed to shave off, oh, about 15 minutes of the 8-9 hours we must wait for Lori to return, and it’s not even the afternoon yet.  I decide I need to get out of the house.  I have errands to run and now is as good a time as any.

I bundle Skye up, strap her into her car seat and away we go.

I hate driving with Skye, not because of anything she does, but because of the stress of having to be that much more aware of potential, life threatening a**holes drivers.  Take for example the 60 year old man who seems to think if he can just gun his brand new Corvette’s engine to 88 miles per hour or higher, he’ll get the opportunity to relive his youth.  Never mind that he doesn’t even have a flux capacitor, let alone the nuclear materials and the actual Delorean necessary to make it work.

(“Running everywhere at such a speed, ‘til they find that there’s no need.  Please don’t spoil my day…”)

There are a few of these idiots on the road today—as always—but we arrive safely at the art supply store where I purchase some sketchpads.  I don’t draw in them; I write in them. They’re like large black journals, but cost a lot less.  Plus they’re unlined.  I despise lined paper.  Lined paper is the stationary equivalent of a fascist regime, telling you where and how you may write.  I prefer the more democratic unlined page, thank you very much.

Next stop, grocery store.

It’s my first time with Skye in a grocery store and I’m not really sure how this works.  Do I hook the car seat up to the grocery cart?  Or do I put her in a stroller while dragging the cart behind me?  Or…what?  I use my phone to go online and check.  Turns out it’s a bad idea to hook the car seat to the grocery cart.  Apparently, a number of children tip over each year.  It’s not a terribly large number, but it’s enough to help me decide against it.   I could do the stroller thing, which I have in the back of the car, but that seems like too much work.  So I decide to just shrug the car seat in one arm and a grocery basket in the other. It hurts like hell, but it works. I’ll have to figure out a better system for the next time. Still, I get all the groceries and a mini shoulder workout at the same time.

As I move up and down the aisles, I feel eyes on me.  It’s likely because of my odd shrugging motion, but did I mention that I have a very active imagination?  I decide that they are looking at me because they think I’ve stolen some poor, frightened white woman’s baby.  They look from me to Skye to me to Skye and back at me again.  Skye’s skin is damn near translucent relative to my opaque, onyx colored outer layer.  Fortunately, she has my nose, the flat, rounded shape that the women who recently cleaned our house referred to as, “the African nose.” They look away and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I don’t have to worry about anyone “standing their ground” to rescue the—as they perceived and later explained it to the homicide detective—poor, frightened, white baby.  This is not Florida.  I will not die today.

It’s the middle of the day and only one checkout aisle is open.  There’s a woman in front of me with a grocery cart full of enough junk food to keep an army  of sugar-fueled tots going for at least 2 months.  I’ve only got ten items.  I wait for her to say, as I usually do in such situations, “You can go ahead if you like.  You’ve only got a few things.”  She doesn’t.  She looks from Skye to me to Skye to me, and then proceeds to unload her food onto the conveyor belt.  I sigh at the rudeness of some people and make my way to the self-checkout machine.  I hate self-checkout.  It’s so impersonal and prone to error.

I set Skye on the floor and start the checkout process.  There’s a young high school girl working the area, and she can’t stop smiling at the little one.  The little one is awake, and alert, and staring right back at her in that intense way she does, like she wants to say “what the hell ya looking at?” but doesn’t have the words yet.”

I scan, I bag, I pay, and as I’m leaving the girl says:  “She soooooooooo cute,” in that way that only high school age girls can.  I say, “thank you,” re-shrug the car seat and groceries, and head for the car.  One last stop before we go home.

My new exercise bike is in the apartment office.  It’s hard to get out and exercise these days, thus, the exercise bike.  I really need it.  I am a mesomorph, and if I don’t get my heart rate higher than 170 for at least 30 minutes each day, depression can set in.  Not even joking.

As soon as we enter the office, it’s as if some electromagnetic signal is sent out to the four corners of the room, and all the women gather around Skye.  Skye again, is awake, and takes in each person with a cool aplomb that makes me proud.

The women can’t get over her red hair.  I tell them it’s from my side of the family, a very lame joke indeed.  Fortunately, no one hears me.  Few people hear me when Skye’s around.  I am a daddy ghost.  I leave Skye with them for a moment as I toss the heavy package into my car, and when I return all three women are still gathered around the child.  It’s like they’re entranced, like the little green aliens staring at “The Claw” in “Toy Story.”  I pick her up slowly to avoid startling them.  I say my goodbyes and hurry out of the room.

Back home, Skye and I sit down on the couch.  It’s about 3 o’clock and we’ve managed to kill most of the day. Only another hour or so before Lori comes home.

“What do you want to do now?”  I say.

Skye just stares at me and sucks on her fingers.

“You wanna eat? Sleep?  Play?”

It doesn’t really matter which.  There’ll be time enough for it tomorrow, or the day after that, or in the years to come before she abandons me for preschool. Until then, here we are, alone together.

Play

Starting on Monday, April 2nd, 2012, Skye and I will be alone for an extended period of time for the very first time.  Sure we’ve had a couple of hours here and there to ourselves, mainly whenever Lori goes grocery shopping or to yoga or to get a pedicure.  But for the most part, it’s usually the three of us, intricately linked at all hours of the days, for better or worse, till death do us part.

However, on this fast approaching day it will be just Skye and I for the larger part of the day, starting from around 8am, when Lori leaves for work, until around 5pm, when she returns.  That’s approximately 9 hours a day in which I, Ifeoluwa Olumuyiwa Togun, will have free reign to shape this child into whatever I please (insert maniacal laugh here).

So what do I intend to do with this head start, this opportunity to mold and shape one of the future minds of the New World?  Play. I intend to play. That’s it.

I know that I’m suppose to stimulate her brain through Baby Mozart DVDs or the reading of foreign language fairy tales or by engaging her in conversations about the current political climate.  I’m supposed to do all this in the hopes of getting her into the Harvard graduating class of 2034.  But there’ll be time enough for that later.

(Besides, what’s wrong with state school?  I went to state school twice and I turned out okay…I think.)

For now, we play and we play hard!  This is our manifesto!  Okay, manifesto is a bit strong.  It is our pledge.  There, that’s better.  Besides, I’m pretty sure there’s a strong correlation between play and intelligence.

 

I plan to make her laugh so hard, so many times that I end up changing at least 25 to 30 diapers a day, though the smell will likely gag me; I plan to make her stare in wonder as I slowly emerge from a large cardboard box like an afro-topped leviathan from the depths of the ocean; I plan to disappear on one side of her bassinet and reappear on the other to gleeful vibrating arms and legs; I plan to sing and perform skits and, yes, throw random fits of interpretive dance, all in the name of play.  We will play, we will play, and we will play.

Anyway, stay tuned next week for the adventures of Skye and Ife in a world totally fabricated from our imaginations.

Here’s to play.  Hip hip hooray!

By the way, the cricket and the elephant in the second picture aren’t really there.  That’s right, you guessed it, they’re both wonderful figments of our shared imagination, Skye’s and mine that is.  We decided to share them with you.  You’re welcome.

Balancing The Force

After last week’s blog, Lori feels that I’ve given too much weight to the “negative” aspects of raising Skye.  I agree.  In the interest of restoring balance to The Force, here are 5 things I love about Skye.

Number 1: That old Skye Smile

Smiling is what separates us from the animals…and that we wear clothes…and cook our food…ok, there’s a lot that separates us from the animals, but smiling is the greatest of them.

(I’m not saying animals don’t smile, but it’s really hard for me to tell if and when they do, and it would probably freak me out if cute, fluffy Barkley hopped up on my chest one morning and repeatedly attempted to flashed me a winning smile by turning up the corners of his little doggie lips… but I digress.)

When I kiss Skye right at the point where her lips meet on either side of her face, I’m initially greeted by a “what the hell!” bemused stare.   However, about two second later (maybe that’s the speed of a newborn’s neurotransmission), her face lights up in a smile so infectious I end up smiling, giggling and chuckling like a mad clown from a Stephen King novel.

“Lori!  Lori!” I tend to scream.  “She’s smiling!”  The apartment shakes as Lori’s charges in from wherever she was, hurdling living room furniture like an Olympic champion, just so she can arrive in time to catch the tail end of it.  It’s always gone too soon.

I’m sure a time will come when these smiles will become as common as peach fuzz on a teenager boy’s chin, but for now their sheer randomness makes them pretty exciting.

Number 2 (hehe): She is the only one who’ll watch “Community” with me.

Community is one of my favorite TV shows.  Lori hates it, and everyone knows a show is just better if you have someone to share it with (sigh). Enter Skye.  Skye has no problem watching them with me, and is more than willing to follow me on the crazy misadventures of Jeff, Abed, Troy, Annie, Britta, Shirley, and Pierce.

Sure, yeah, you might say, “But, Ife, she’s only two months old.  She has no idea what’s going on.”  Well, you know what I say?  I say…you’re probably right…but I still appreciate the company.

Number 3: The ”O” before the Storm

Right before Skye starts to cry, her mouth takes on an “O” shape as the muscles around her mouth and eyes tighten in anticipation. It’s like finding yourself standing in the eye of the storm, watching as the edges move towards you.  You’re in the greatest danger of your life.  Yet, something about that momentary silence, the kinetic energy in the air, is…beautiful.  Skye’s “O” causes you to forget the storm of tears on the way.

You can’t help but be moved by this moment of complete helplessness and dependence in the face of a—from her perspective—strange and confusing world.  The “O” is her way of letting me know that she needs me.  Maybe not forever, but right now, she needs me.  I’m happy to oblige.

Number 4: She allows me to pet her like a supervillain’s cat whenever I get in one of my silly skit moods

Morning is my favorite time of day.  I get more work done between the hours of 6 and 11:59 than at any other time of the day.  I wake up with tons of energy, and I feel like I’m going to explode unless I find an outlet.  One outlet is reenacting movie scenes with as many props as I can find for the benefit of my captive and usually unamused and groggy audience—Lori.

I’ve done North by Northwest, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix and many others—all in the confines of our miniscule bedroom.  Then there’s the greatest James Bond villain of them all, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a skit made possible only by the birth of Skye.  Well, technically, I suppose I could have done it without her but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

By the way, in case you don’t know, Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the Bond villain who likes to stroke a white cat while talking about his nefarious plans.  He’s been parodied in a number of films, most notable the Austin Powers trilogy.

In my reenactments—homages if you will—I hold Skye in my arms and proceed to stroke her hair as I take on a slight German accent and say: “you only live twice, Mr. Bond,” to a fatigued and exhausted Lori who has been unwittingly (perhaps unwillingly) co-opted into playing the part of James Bond.  Lori groans.  I laugh maniacally.  Skye could care less, but she’s happy to play along.

Number 5: Her name

I am now only slightly ashamed to admit that I wanted to name the little one, “Skye Walker” (first and middle name), which was a great step up from, “Gamma Ray.”  Fortunately, rational heads prevailed, and I have a daughter with an appropriate and beautiful name—even if it does veer pretty close to the borders of Flower Power land.

As many told me during my quest to give Skye a super cool name (like Gamma Ray), I am not famous enough or rich enough to get away with naming my kid Pilot Inspektor or Moon Unit.  Fair enough.  As cool as it would have been (mostly for me) to have a child named after the particle that turns a mild-mannered scientist into an out of control green hulk, I love Skye.  It rolls off the tongue and has a hint of hippie without being pretentious, while simultaneously calling to mine bright, sunny, flower-filled summer days.  Who could ask for anything more?

But I still like to think that at some point in the future, when I sit her down and show her the cinematic majesty that is the original Star Wars trilogy, and tell her my initial naming intentions, she’ll turn to her mother (who has no interest whatsoever in sci-fi) and say, “you blocked a beautiful thing here, Mother.  A beautiful thing.”  To which I’ll add, “Indubitably.”

Expectation v. Reality

There’s a great scene from the movie, “500 days of Summer,” in which Tom, the protagonist, is on his way to his ex-girlfriend’s party.  He still loves her and the plan is to be cool, suave, and debonair so he can win her back.  As he climbs the stairs, the screen splits into two.  On the left side is what Tom expects to happen; on the right is what is actually happening.

We watch scene after scene of the often painful divide between Tom’s expectations and his reality.  This goes on for a few minutes until an unexpected event causes the two screens to merge in favor of reality.  Reality won.  Reality always wins.

Before Skye was born, like any expectant father I suppose, I had expectations of what would happen once she arrived.  Some are clearly unrealistic, engendered by a lifelong passion for science fiction and fantasy novels.  One such fantastical notion was that Skye would pop out of her mother singing and dancing like Michigan J. Frog.

However, some of my expectations, I thought, were a bit more reasonable.  However, Like Tom, my expectations have been dashed, absorbed into a reality that is, at times, quite brutal.  Here are my top three expectations and the realities that consumed them.

Expectation 1:

It’s midnight. Skye, Lori and I have been asleep for a while now.  We’re all having technicolored dreams about technicolored things, which, in the morning will result in a technicolored conversation using technicolored words.  We’re well rested and, as such, we hold hands and giggle gloriously as we discuss the wondrous dreams we had the night before.  Even Skye chimes in with a series of coos and babble which, miraculously, Lori and I fully understand due to our brains being enhanced by our technicolored dreams.  We marvel at the depth and complexity of Skye’s dreams, the rich symbolism and the implications for resolving the problems of our troubled world.

Reality 1:

It is midnight. Skye, Lori and I are wide-awake.  In fact, we haven’t slept in days.  When we do sleep, our dreams are weird and twisted and have the stink of a Dante-esque nightmare.  Skye oscillates between smiling and wailing but defaults more to the wails than the smiles.  It’s almost as if the smiles, like the scent of a Venus Flytrap, are there to lure us in, get us off our guards, and then…SNAP!  In the morning, I stumble out of bed to my computer where I’m supposed to put words together to make a living.  Words no want to play today.  Words no likey when brain no sleeping enough.  Words be go away quick quick.  I iz a pen word paper maker man.

Expectation 2:

Skye’s crying but that’s ok.  I’ve got the magic touch, the strong daddy arms that rock her gently into a state of bliss so deep some mistake it for Nirvana.  Her body is completely relaxed in my arms.  As her eyes begin to droop, she looks at me with those deep brown eyes as if to say, “Thank you, saint among fathers, I thank whatever gods may be that the stork left me upon your doorstep.  I shall see you on the ‘morrow.”  “Sweet dreams, little one,” I say, as I kiss her on the forehead.  That is all it takes.  Her woes are soothed.  The child is happy.

Reality 2:

Skye’s crying and it is not okay.  I pick her up and rock her in my arms as I’ve seen people do on TV, but it’s not working.  Her back is as rigid as an oaken tabletop, and her little arms are slapping me about the face with ferocious frequency.  Tears sting my eyes from the blows.  Not to be left out of the action, her small feet kick against my chest like a tiny swimmer trying to push off an uncooperative wall.  I am the wall (coo coo ca choo), but unlike a wall I hurt, physically and emotionally.  Her eyes lock on me, but it is rage not bliss I see, rage because I am failing to understand what to her is very clear communication.  She bludgeons my mind with her “communications,” which are really shrieks and wails that would make a direwolf run for cover.  I wish I could run for cover, just for a few minutes, a few minutes and I’ll be right as rain.

Expectation 3:

There is a sudden infusion of the scent of lilacs and daffodils in the air I breathe.  I turn to Lori and say, “do you smell that?  It smells like Heaven in here.  I wonder where it’s coming from?”  We both look down at Skye who is cooing softly in her little chair, giving us that “I’m afraid it’s me” look.  I pick her up and lay her down on the changing table.  I open her diaper and I am showered with flower petals of all sorts—roses, tulips, lilies, especially lilies.  It’s like a scene from “American Beauty“.  “Where did all these come from?” I ask her.  Skye giggles and kicks her legs up high over her head as if to say, “Me!”  “Yay, yay, yay,” I say.  “Yay!”

Reality 3:

There’s a sudden and grotesque smell in the air.  I’m choking.  I might be dying, but not fast enough.  “Did you…you know?” I ask Lori.  She’s horrified.  She is a lady, ladies do not…you know.  We both turn to Skye.  She is not smiling.  In fact, the scowl on her face seems to say, “Well what are you waiting for, an invitation?  This diaper is not going to change itself, and I do not, I repeat, do not, want to get a rash.  Let’s go!”  I pick her up and lay her down on the changing table.  I’m gagging.  My tongue is trying to swan dive down my throat in a desperate attempt to free itself in the roiling acid of my stomach.  I open the diaper and immediately lose 10 years off my life expectancy.  My hair turns white, as does my pallor.  I swoon.  Lori catches me and lays me on the ground.  “Being a bit dramatic, don’t you think?” she says as she moves in to finish the job.  I pout.  I am not.

So there you have it,  my reality…. send reinforcements.

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