Monday, November 25, 2002

Chapter Six: In Which Daddy's Psyche Goes on an Expotition

Man, being Daddy to this complex and stupendously brilliant little creature is a trip. Mommy, too, of course. Hell, even more so, inasmuch as she's the one home all day bringing the kid up (and doing a beautiful job of it). But I can really only speak to my own experience and my own experience the past couple of days has been very intense.

On Sunday we met some friends at the playground. Niko doesn't play like most kids. He doesn't tear around furiously. He doesn't jet up the stairs and throw himself down the slide. He checks out the scene. He's interested in kids doing things. He sees a kid by himself playing, say, with dinosaurs and he runs up to the kid, sits down beside him, smiles hugely and tries to imagine a way to become part of the game, whatever the game might be.

On Sunday this kid playing dinosaurs had placed all four of his beastly beasts on the spine of the park's giant concrete lizard. One fell down. Niko picked it up and put it back. The kid knocked it down. Niko, standing behind the kid, took three soft, looping swipes at the kid's back. Only one brushed the kid. No big deal.

No big deal except to Nazi Daddy.

I rushed in, grabbed Niko, picked him up, darn near flung him over to his mom, and barked, "Niko hit that boy!" We were on our way home within minutes. Rebecca was trying to explain to me how she handles such scenes: stay cool to deescalate; firmly tell Niko that hitting is never acceptable; and ask him to say he's sorry to the other kid.

This made sense to me. It made perfect sense. It was so sensible, I took umbrage. Of course. But after a while Pride and Ego stepped aside. I cried a bit, feeling sorry for myself for being such a shitty dad. Rebecca at first felt as though I was questioning her commitment to discipline. Then she saw I was just being a fool. She softened up, gave me a little room to see the confusion of my ways, and everyone calmed down. A half-hour or so later, when the waters were placid, smooth as glass, she said, "You know you're a great dad, right?"

For her, it was a statement—one that by quirk of the vernacular included a question mark at the end. I knew that, but I couldn't help but ponder the question.

Am I a great dad? I think I'm pretty good most of the time. Too often, though, I push too hard for perfection from the wee lad and fear that unless each and every transgression is met by fierce scolding, he'll go bad on us.

To which you are saying, quite sagely: He's 3! Yep. He's 3 and he's going to do crazy and stupid and wrong things. He's going to lose his cool. Which is all the more reason for me not to.

Stay calm. Stay in control. Stay in charge. Stay in love.

Well heck, that sounds like the end of this entry. Can we all hug and take a break until next week's episode, same time, same channel? But I mentioned today being tough as well, so a quick word on that. Thinking about it a little more, today 'twas nothing—but for a while, we couldn't be sure. Every half hour or so Niko was running and doubling over in pain. It was clear he needed to poop, and he always runs before he poops. However, we'd never seen anything like this. I mean, he was in agony. Crying hysterically. Wailing. And in the intervals between these episodes he was slightly delirious, babbling, moving from topic to topic, unwinding strange and complex tales. Which, to be sure, is not too far removed from normal. And yet there was an emotional element to it all—tears were just an interjection or even suggestion away.

Is he coming down with something? Is there a fever? Is it his appendix? Is it merely constipation?

We called the doctor at two minutes till 5 (thank you Lord for getting that call in two minutes before 5 instead of two minutes after). Karen the nurse called back immediately. Karen the Greatest Nurse in the World, I mean. We went through the symptoms. She was neither dismissive nor alarmist. Some of the possibilities were serious, but the probability was he was just constipated. She told us what to look for over the next hour or so, asked that we call back if any alarming signals were sounded at any point, and insisted that we call back if things weren't better within two hours. She also recommended no food but clear liquids—water more than anything, with, maybe, a bit of apple juice mixed in.

Well, by the time I got back from the store with the Martinelli's, Niko had (as we used to say) Dropped the Chalupa. And a rather large clump of you-know-what it was. The delirium faded as evening turned to night, but he still seemed high strung. We eased him into bedtime mode, using every inflection and pat and prod we had learned over the years. Moo Cow (the hand-puppet cow) led the way upstairs, into the bedroom where the scary furnace lurks. Moo Cow was ready to get that furnace if it tried anything, I assured. Moo Cow bit Daddy's nose and Daddy's toes. Moo Cow helped turn the pages of the heffalump chapter. Moo Cow got into bed with Niko just before good-night kisses.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Be Careful What You Ask For (and Give)

When I was 7 years old I desperately wanted Electric Football. Remember it? Though pricey, Electric Football wasn't much more than a metal board painted to look like a gridiron. A motor made the board vibrate. The vibrations caused the players, who stood on plastic stands, to move.

It looked awesome in the commercials, where some incredibly lucky bunch of kids were duking it out, gleefully guiding their teams in pitched battle.

In reality, it sucked.

The players moved aimlessly. Guards were liable to head out on post routes and wide receivers were as likely to dive straight into the mass around the center as they were to go out for a pass. Not that it matter. The quarterback, when he let fly with the little "ball," was as accurate as your great aunt after too many glasses of wine on Turkey Day.

Apparently, a shitload of kids liked Electric Football because you never heard a bad word about it. Me? I thought it was ridiculous. From Day One. I used it several times, trying hard to get over the shock at how stupid the whole thing was. Then it found a place under my bad and there it stayed … for months … and years.

Somewhere along the way, my Electric Football game disappeared—probably at one of our periodic garage sales. But the heartache at wanting and getting something that was clearly outside the usual Christmas-gift price range, well, that only grew. And amazingly, it's still there. What kind of ungrateful son rejects the generous gifts of his hard-working parents? Me. I do. Loathsome piece of dog poop. What kind of son doesn't know better than to want such an asinine gift? Me. I don't. Wretched louse.

Now Rebecca and I are buying gifts for Niko after receiving his input. Earlier this fall birthday money from grandparents resulted in purchase of a little box with four musicians atop it. The box plays a few tunes and asks, repetitively, a short set of far too simple questions about who among the characters is playing what instrument. The minute I saw it, my heart sank. I knew it would fall by the wayside within weeks. And it has. I worried. Was this the beginning of a trend? How do we navigate between his toddler wanna-gotta-have wishes and our adult no-its-a-clunker wisdom?

"But it's what he wanted," Rebecca said, and a pain shot through my heart. I explained my fractured psychology and Rebecca, wise as ever, said that the important thing was that I never let Niko feel bad about not liking a gift he asked for. I said I wouldn't, but thinking about it now, I'm not sure that will safeguard the lad against emotional damage. After all, my parents never said a peep about me not liking Electric Football. All the guilt was self-inflicted, and not just after the gift was revealed to be so idiotic.

No, I think I overreached in ever asking for Electric Football. A new football—a real genuine NFL imitation rubberized-material football—would have been worn to its inner liner before it was discarded. Much joy would have been derived from it. But I wanted something fancy. Something cool. That was the problem. Fancy and cool, where simple would have done the trick. Now, all we have to do is get Niko to understand why he NEVER gets anything that's fancy and cool.

I'm sure "It's for your own good, son" will do the trick.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

The Good Kind of Graft

We're planning on putting a small vineyard in at my parents' house. They have a huge backyard that's rather empty, I love to make wine, so what's to stop us? (Oh, about a thousand technical and logistical matters, but we're going ahead anyway.) In preparation, I've been bopping around grapevine nursery sites, most of which aren't too hot. But the folks down at Tablas Creek, in the Paso Robles area, have tons of cool info. If you're into wine or horticulture (or both), you'll enjoy the page that explains how they produce their plant material.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

Fire It Up

Now that the warm season is officially and utterly over, we're using the stove again. Sure feels good. Roasted stuff, boy oh boy. Chickens, sweet potatoes, fingerlings, beets, carrots. Sweet and savory stuff. Tonight we veered in a slightly different direction, to pizza. The best pizza, ultimately, remains one consisting of a thin crust, a lightly (or not-even) cooked tomato sauce, whole-milk mozzarella, some basil and maybe a touch of reggiano and fresh oregano scattered on top after it's out of the 475 degree oven. But that doesn't mean this is the pizza you want to make on a dramatically cloudy, spitting Saturday in the fall. Pizza's greatest charm—to the guy at home having fun, the CD player cranked, the wine flowing—is its ability to succeed no matter what you put on it. I mentioned fingerlings. I love fingerlings. I am on a fingerling rampage. So of course fingerlings went on one of the two pizzas I made tonight. Roasted fingerlings cut lengthwise and salted. Mild Italian sausage bursting with sweet, luscious fennel. Then the white cheeses and a drizzle of olive oil. Done. Pizza 2 was caramelized onion and the cheeses. Niko wasn't too fond of these oddities, really, but Rebecca and I sat in the kitchen while the lad hopped about to Exile on Main Street and we loved 'em. Tomorrow we'll find another reason to crank the oven well above 400 degrees for several hours, I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Say it Ain't So

This morning's story in the Chronicle gave every suggestion that Dusty Baker would not return as Giants manager. The week-plus of time that had passed since the Giants' Orange County Fade Away hadn't left the skipper feeling warm and cuddly toward the ol' gang. The only way to phrase Dusty's posture is to say he continued to whine. It's painful to put things so bluntly, because for ten years Dusty was the heart and soul of the Giants, but honestly: It is difficult to think of another prominent professional so frequently and powerfully shaken by ungenerous critiques (and so unable to separate that minority of viewpoints from the mammoth tide of praise that regularly washes over him). So on one hand, the news tonight that Dusty is officially history here brings a shrug and a "whatever." On the other hand: that's the pain speaking, lashing back, shielding the hurt. Yep, it hurts to see Dusty leave. He is thin-skinned, to be sure. His big-game calls were sometimes suspect. But when we shovel away all the talk-radio BS we find a man of tremendous character and charisma, a man with a peculiar ability to keep and maintain respect and order in a time when shoddy behavior and chaos rule sports. We see one exceptionally cool mo-fo. Damn. No Dusty. I had convinced myself that after the shared agony of Game 6, Dusty couldn't abandoned us. But apparently he did not believe the agony was shared. 'Tis a pity. Good luck, Bake—and keep a close eye on Darren, OK?
Storm Clouds Gathering

If you live anywhere but the arid southwest (which, in my book, extends as far north as the Mendocino-Sonoma county line), this entry will strike you as puzzling. I mean, what the hell, it's going to rain, big deal. But it is a big deal! We haven't had rain since mid-May. I have the vague recollection of a few episodes of heavy fog that could possibly have earned the title "drizzle." But measurable precipitation? Uhn-uh and pshaw. No picnics scrapped, no ballgames washed out, no bike rides cancelled; doesn't happen here in the May through October period. 'Splains, partly, why thirty-whatever million people live in California….


The thing we don't know about this storm is if it'll kick off an extended period of sogginess, or if it will dump and run, followed by weeks of cool, glorious, late-fall-tinted sunshine, the kind that leaves me wanly peering out the office window about 2 p.m. each day, longing to have my softening ass on my bike saddle rather than in the chair it calls home Monday through Friday. Three years ago December was bone dry, not a drop, low 60s and sunny every day. Last year, we got 15 inches of rain in December, spread out over two dozen days such that folks began to get edgy and gripey (except when they were talking to their Seattle and Portland friends, colleagues and relations). You just don't know.

Just to be sure, after work today we picked up all the summer toys and tossed 'em in the shed or the winery (yeah, yeah: garage), and Rebecca and Niko finished their long job of shoveling ten yards of recently delivered topsoil off the driveway and into place around the yard. Seed of a native grass was scattered. As evening fell we found ourselves sitting in the backyard, partially illuminated by a lone light, the big oak brooding overhead, a thick carpet of soft leaves from the eastern oak still reflecting a warm glow. The air was mild and so still you didn't want to breathe for fear of disturbing the holy equilibrium. We talked about some dreams and Niko babbled brilliantly, as he is wont to do, and looked customarily cuter than any living thing in the world in his red Osh Kosh b'Gosh overalls, and we got ready for the new season that was, beyond the hills and beyond our view, pushing toward us.
Day After

We won one! We being the Democrats, who I insist on identifying with despite the debacle. The one was South Dakota, where Johnson outpolled Thune by, like, a few hundred votes out of 325,000 cast. The people have spoken. Prairie wisdom to the fore...

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Election Report

The chatterers on the tube are so uniformly uninteresting that I'm at the computer, getting what I really want anyway: numbers. Or at least, I'm getting numbers from the states that know how to run a website, a group that unfortunately does not include my home state of California. Aren't we the wired capital of the universe? Then why is our server struggling to put out pages—while piddly South Dakota serves up results in a flash? Missouri does well, too. And Minnesota ain't half bad.

I mention SD, MO and MN, by the way, because they are the only states where we Dems have any hope left. And yes, I still care, even if the party sucks and has no vision. I tinkered with the idea of voting Green but frankly, that social and economic justice message strikes me as a too paternalistic, too group-identity fixated. At this point, anybody without a D or an R after their name is just whistling Dixie.

Results as of 10:36 p.m. Pacific Standard Time: It's a complete wipeout. Talent is going to eke out a less-than-1-percent win in MO; Thune is overtaking Johnson in SD and will win by an equally small margin; and Coleman appears headed toward a 3-4 point win in MN. Not unreasonably, Bush is going to see this as a mandate. Which is scary.

Update: Carnahan concedes in MO (margin of defeat will actually be about 1.5 percent), and Coleman maintaining lead in MN. Only the Johnson-Thune race is outstanding, and it's going right down to the wire: with less than 15 percent of the precincts remaining to report, Thune's lead is 1,000 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

Last update: Johnson is toast in SD, behind by 2,000 votes with probably only 10,000 votes to count. So EVERY competitive race went to the Republicans, and they will hold a 52-46 margin in the Senate, pending the Lousiana runoff and with one independent.