Little Black Fly

I’ve been having a hard time connecting with my daughter lately. She’s two and she’s been sick on and off for the last two weeks and she hasn’t exactly been the most pleasant person to be around. I say that as an observation not as a judgment. It’s not her fault. She might be thinking the same thing about me.

Still it’s difficult to take sometimes when she seems to not want to be with me and she’s asking for Mommy all day long even though I’ve told her over and over that Mommy is at work. And I ask her if Daddy can read the book, and if Daddy can put her shoes on, and if it’s okay if Daddy gets her milk.

And she screams and flails, and yells, “No, Mommy!” And being the adult I know that this behavior is just a manifestation of her age and of her being sick. Yet the fact remains that I still have to deal with these situations. I still have to responsibly interact with her, and I still have to treat her with kindness and understanding.

And it’s exhausting. Being with a sick two year old is possibly the most trying experience I have had as a parent. I feel like there is no way to win, that nothing I can do in all my wisdom and maturity will be able to improve the relationship. And the thought of having a sustained poor relationship with my daughter fills me with dread. And it exhausts me.

I wonder when it’s going to end. I try to conjure the image of my sweet, sweet little girl laughing and playing and saying nice things to me. And even though I know that it was just a few short weeks ago that this behavior was the norm, I have a hard time getting those images into my head.

And even though I know Daddy’s Little Girl will return eventually, possibly within a matter of days, the thought of any more of this current state of affairs is difficult to take. It worries and troubles me, and in the end it just makes me tired.

When I hear her screaming as she wakes up from her nap, I feel like I am stuck to the couch. I had tried to take a nap myself but it just didn’t happen. I was too tired and I had too may things preoccupying my mind to fall asleep. But just as I was drifting off, the screams awoke me with jilting clarity.

I almost cried. The thought of having to deal with this behavior for the rest of the day is enough to drive me insane. Not because of the behavior itself, but because I feel like there is nothing I can do to improve the situation.

Five minutes later, I’ve calmed her down. She’s sitting in my lap and we’re rocking gently in the rocking chair. We’re looking out the window watching the clouds move by and the rain drip off the telephone wires. The trees swirl around in the distance and directly in front of us one solitary fly is glued to the window outside.

“Widdle bwack fwy,” she says softly through her snot-covered binky. “Little black fly,” I repeat, leaning back in the chair and closing my eyes. My arms are around her and her head is resting against my chest and shoulders.

I’m enjoying this time, but I can’t help thinking that it’s going to end any minute with a violent wave of her arms and a squirming out of my lap and some impossible demands and repeated cries of “Mommy do it” to anything I offer her.

But those things don’t happen. We just sit in the chair rocking gently looking out the window at the trees and the clouds and the telephone wires and the little black fly on the window.

And I start to relax a little and I hold my girl tighter and she lets me. It is quiet and the only sound I hear is the sucking of her binky. And when I adjust a little so that I can lie back more comfortably and close my eyes, she doesn’t seem to mind.

When I open my eyes she is looking back over her shoulder at me. She sees me smile a little, an exhausted smile with just a hint of tears, that says, “I love you and I’m glad you’re my daughter.” She doesn’t say anything to me, but somehow it feels like she knows. She knows that we haven’t been getting along, and she knows that this is the beginning of a return to the way things used to be.

We sit in the chair for another half hour not saying anything. We are completely still except for the gentle rocking. My arms are around her and the weight of her body against mine is a clear reminder that it’s all worth it. It’s always worth it.

I nod off in my exhaustion and I think to myself, I’ve got my little girl back.

When I open my eyes my little girl is still lying on my chest and the little black fly is still glued to its spot on the window.

This One’s for All the Bouncers

Big. Big. Monkey Man!

And as soon as I start skanking the first chord, my kids instantly recognize the song. They start singing before the lyrics are supposed to begin because they’re only little kids and they have no sense of musical timing—yet. But they know the lyrics, because they’re nonsense lyrics, and they can relate to them. And so they start spouting off at different times and in different keys:

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye

And then I get to the part of the song where the lyrics are actually supposed to begin, still skanking away on a G chord, and then a quick C and then a quick D, then back to the G, imagining the bass line pushing me along—and I start singing:

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye
Them a tell me
Huggin’ up the big monkey man

And I start to think that maybe my kids are singing in key better than I am, but I ignore that thought, because my kids are going crazy, shaking their butts, rolling on the pillows, climbing on the couches, bouncing all around the room. It doesn’t matter if I’m in key. They love it. I’ve never seen a song elicit such joy in them.

And they keep repeating, aye, aye, aye. . . aye, aye, aye. . . over and over again. It makes them feel special. It makes them feel connected. To me? To the music? To something. They’re clearly happy, and it’s plain to see that they wouldn’t mind this song being looped over and over and over and over.

Which I am happy to oblige as I’m trying to learn it well enough to introduce it to the band. It could be our closer. The crowd would love it. Those who knew the song would sing along, and try to remember who sang it, and when it was conjured up in their mind that it was The Specials, it would bring back positive memories.

They would say, “That’s right! The Specials. Remember that band? Awesome band!”

If they didn’t know the song, or the band, they would pick up on the lyrics soon enough. They would think it’s fun and lively, and it would make them laugh and dance, and bounce around the room. The crowd would go wild, the people who knew The Specials and the people who didn’t know The Specials. We’d get more and more people at our gigs. A&R men would show up. We’d sign a record deal. We’d be famous. We’d owe it to The Specials.

And I think back to when I first heard this song. My first CD player when I was twelve years old. Saved my allowance for weeks—months!—to get it. Techniques, top of the line. Sure, it cost more than was reasonable for a twelve-year-old boy to spend on a CD player at the time. But I had to have it. The 45s that I’d been collecting since I was eight were losing their appeal. Casey Kasem’s Top 40 wasn’t doing it for me anymore. And my first full length LP: Quiet Riot – Metal Health. Hadn’t listened to that in months.

I was in middle school now. I wasn’t a little kid. I had to be cool. Cool kids didn’t listen to Paul McCartney and Air Supply and The Dazz Band. Cool kids don’t listen to heavy metal. Cool kids listen to 91X. Alternative music. New wave as it was called in the eighties. The Cure. Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, The Clash.

And, the best of them all, and my first CD with my first CD player: The Specials. Message to You Rudy. Concrete Jungle. Little Bitch. The music I listen to has swear words in it. That’s how cool I am. And the song about the naked man and the naked woman. For a twelve year old boy it doesn’t get much cooler than that.

And the song that was the coolest of them all:

“This one’s for all the bouncers! Big! Big! Monkey Man!”

And the first chords hammer down—G several times, a quick C, a quick D, back to the G. It starts skanking real fast. I turn it up way loud in my apartment. Loud enough for my neighbor who never complains about anything to yell “turn it down!” through the open window.

I ignore her of course. I am twelve and I’m listening to The Specials. Over and over and over and over. I commit that entire CD to memory. Every spoken intro, every grunt, every bit of mid-song chatter and dialogue, every lyric. Even the lyrics I don’t understand because of the heavy British accents. Those I just make up, fake it like I know what they are. I sing those lyrics with as much confidence as the ones I do know. It doesn’t really matter. It is the music that matters. What matters is that I’m listening to the music. What matters is that the music is part of me.

And it’s the music that still matters twenty plus years later when I listen to that same CD. Somehow it has survived all these years. How many times it’s been played, I will never know. That doesn’t matter either. What matters now is not that I’m cool. Or that I can swear when I sing my favorite songs. Or that there are songs about nudity. None of that matters.

What matters now is seeing my kids bopping around like crazy teenage punks in a small underground club in Coventry. Skanking around the room looking for things to bounce into, people to mosh against, ideas to shape their identity. The joy on their faces clear to see.

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye
Huggin’ up the big monkey man.

Or as they say it, “Abicka, bicka, MUHNkee man!”

And I just keep skanking away on the guitar. A coupla G chords, a quick C, a quick D. I smile. They smile.

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye
Huggin’ up the big monkey man

We all sing in our different keys, our different time signatures, our different intervals. It’s chaotic. It’s random. It’s cacophonous. It’s energetic.

It’s something special.

Aye, aye, aye!

A Morning Without the Computer

Our computer is almost never turned off. There it sits on the dining room buffet with its white pulsing light and its quiet hum. It is always there for us when we need it.

And when we don’t.

It is a laptop and is always accessible. Checking email, browsing the Internet or looking through old photos can be done anywhere in the house at anytime of the day or night.

That is the beauty of technology. And the beast.

I rely on the computer for my writing—typing documents, posting to blogs, and promoting my work on Facebook, Twitter and via email. I use the computer to look for jobs, connect with potential work contacts, and send resumes and follow up emails.

I literally could not function without the computer. It is vital for much of what I do and who I am.

But not all of what I do and who I am.

There are countless evenings when I sit down in front of the computer and read the same soccer stories over and over again, or repeatedly check my blog stats, or look to see if there’s going to be a change in the weather. I don’t need to do these things, yet I do them regularly and habitually.

Instead of reading a book, I’m on the computer. Instead of chatting with my wife, I’m on the computer. The laundry sits unfolded because I’m on the computer. Many nights I stay up far too late because I’m on the computer.

I crave the computer and loathe that I crave the computer. It has become the cure-all to even the slightest bit of boredom and first signs of laziness. I rarely seek other medicines any more.

But more destructive than spending idle time on the computer in the evenings after hours is when I am on the computer in the same addictive fashion during the day when I am with my kids.

I know my kids don’t get the full attention they deserve because I’m constantly going over to the computer to do some unnecessary mundane task. It’s not that I don’t want to hang out with my kids all day. I do. It’s just that they are at the age—two year old twins—when they constantly want my attention, yet aren’t able to engage in activities that keep my attention for long periods of time.

Yes, I get bored sometimes. And I look for opportunities to break away and let them play by themselves. After all, there are two of them, and there is only one of me. I just want a few minutes’ break before we move on to the next activity.

But sometimes those few minutes turn into a few more minutes and then into a few more minutes. And this repeated breaking away adds up to quite a bit of time being on the computer throughout the course of the day.

And almost every time, those breaks are met with screams and cries from my kids. I could rationalize all I want about my need for short breaks and the reasons why they won’t let me take them. But the bottom line is my kids want to be with their daddy, and when daddy’s constantly breaking away to the computer, that is time that we are not spending together.

This morning—a Sunday—I woke up and went over to the computer and turned it off. I didn’t check email. I didn’t browse the web. I just shut it down. And even though turning the computer back on and booting it back up take only a few short moments, those moments seem like years compared to the immediacy of when the computer is already on. And that lack of immediacy is enough to deter me from turning the computer back on.

The difference in my morning was clear to see. My kids got their daddy back. I was engaged with them, and they were less whiney. And, you know, I didn’t really miss the computer.

I think I’m going to start doing this more often.

This post originally appeared at GoodBlogs on March 13, 2011.

Daddy Is a Hero

I’m not a hero. A hero regularly does spectacular things that others cannot do. I’ve never done anything spectacular. I’ve never found a cure for a disease. I’ve never saved someone from danger. I’ve never invented an everyday necessity. I’ve never done anything that has elevated me to the status of hero. I do the same ordinary things that a million other people do every day of their lives.

But Daddy, on the other hand, he’s a hero. Daddy does hundreds of spectacular things every day of his life. Ask Daddy’s kids what they think of Daddy, and they reply with enthusiasm, “Daddy doing!” Yes, Daddy, he’s a hero. He does lots of spectacular things.

Daddy shaves the hair off his face with a sharp razor, and he wipes the cream off with a towel when he’s done. Daddy puts deodorant on his armpits, and he brushes his teeth.

Daddy puts on his own shoes and ties his laces. He wears beanies and baseball caps and jackets and glasses and a watch. He walks up and down stairs without holding the handrail and he unlocks doors. He vacuums the carpet and swiffers the hardwood.

Daddy scrambles eggs and pours milk in sippy cups. He puts empty cartons into the recycling. He peels apples and pears and steams carrots and microwaves meatballs. He wipes the counter and puts dishes in the dishwasher. He takes the trash downstairs.

Daddy talks on the phone and sends texts and checks email and uses the computer. He takes photographs and videos. He kicks a soccer ball in the yard and opens the gate and walks up the front steps. He empties the outside toy bin onto the lawn.

Daddy raises the blinds and dusts the coffee table and rocks in the rocking chair. He turns the TV on and he plays the guitar. He gets the toys off the top shelf and he draws circles with the crayons on the paper.

Daddy rolls the play-do into snakes and circles and balls and snowmen. He turns the lights on and off. He flushes the toilet and stands up when he pees. He reads books without pictures and he writes with a pen. He puts dirty clothes in the hamper and clean clothes in the dryer. He folds the laundry.

Daddy drives a car and turns on the radio and buckles up all the seatbelts. He goes grocery shopping and he drinks out of a cup without a lid. He uses a big fork and a sharp knife. He drinks beer and “apple juice.”

Daddy does all these things any many more. Daddy’s kids cannot do these things. Looking at all the spectacular things that Daddy can do it is clear that Daddy is a hero. Perhaps someday I will be a hero like Daddy.