The Cat In The Motherfucker In The Hat

In the last week or two our baby turned one, which, you know, is kind of a big deal. One, it means we did it — we actually kept a child alive for a year. Two, it means we won't have to do this delicate ballet every four weeks or so where we try to take a picture of Mr. Baby without him looking too blurry or before he destroys the placard noting how many months he is. Three, it means I'll finally fully internalize how old a child is when they are 14 months (one-and-one-sixth years old) or 18 months (one-and-a-half years old) or 21 months (one-and-three-quarters-years) or whatever.

And I guess the other thing that will happen is that eventually Mr. Baby's development will be less mysterious and mystical and more, I don't know, is "banal" too terrible sounding a word? I'm kidding. But seriously, first word versus mastering times tables? It's no contest.

It's funny how fast some of these milestones are coming. Time was, we spent a lot of time wondering whether the kid could smile. Now things just cascade, one after another, and it's all we can do to remember what came when.

Like the first time he toasted with his sippy cup, for example. No kidding, he did this the other day. Fortunately our Child Protective Services caseworker was nowhere near the bar we were hanging out at, but I have to say, it was hilarious. Then I realized we did this three times in one day this past weekend and sort of figured, well of course he learns this before he can walk. And, well, what do you do? But look, he also seemed to blow his nose a few days ago — pretty cool, right? No, not nearly as awesome as toasting with a sippy. Duh.

But if you're not going to start walking — and really son, it's not something your mother or I are really looking forward to — then you have to look at talking as being the real big deal.

Is The Simpsons still on? OK, disingenuous, because I actually know the answer (yes) and I know this because I had football on this past weekend and Mr. Baby was suddenly transfixed by a spot for whatever latest Simpsons episode was showing later that day. It's not The Simpsons that he likes but rather the fact that it's a cartoon, period, which is probably because of the colors or something like that but which I always think is a really bizarre and probably really obvious fact about babies: They're, like, hardwired to watch cartoons.

The part about babies being seemingly hardwired to respond in a sort of narcotic stupor at the sight of goofy hand-drawn figures isn't really what I am interested in, though I am. Actually, it's the character of Maggie in The Simpsons that I started thinking about, the joke with Maggie (and I felt like I needed to look it up because I haven't seen an episode in a long time) being that she never does learn to talk (except, apparently, for small parts in little-watched late-model episodes).

Anyway, I think of Maggie Simpson's muteness sometimes when I watch Mr. Baby. For some time I assumed that at some point Mr. Baby's transition from flour sack to toddler would strike quickly, like an epiphany, and he would suddenly speak using a word in its proper context. And then there would be this mystical moment — like when construction crews tunneling on either side of the English Channel somehow met in the middle — when we would start communicating with him.

But the truth is that — like so much of child development — acquiring language is gradual. If we were to be honest, his first word was "ba-ba," the definition of which is not important except which to say that Dr. Sears would be pleased.

But ultimately, "ba-ba" is some meaningless bullshit babble that may or may not have meant what we thought it meant. So then the next candidate for first word was, if memory serves, "Up." As in, Mr. Baby would crawl over to your feet and demand to be lifted: "Up!" Of course, Mr. Baby seemed to use "up" in situations where "up" would not apply, most notably when he wanted to go "down," so . . . word? I don't know. 75 percent of the time, yes.

Then there's a word that he uses that we think we understand the provenance of: "Hot." "Hot" refers to food, and we figure he probably heard us say "It's hot" when we handed him some food. Thus, "hot." Does that count as a word? Probably not.

So that leaves what could be definitively Mr. Baby's first word: "Hat." As in, I'll put on a hat and he calls it a hat. I could quibble and say that Mr. Baby's use of "hat" occurred around the same time as something that sounds like a cross between "hat" and "cat," used when housecats appear, and that "cat" is his first word, but the "h" sound sounds more, uh, intentional.

Perhaps you notice a few words missing here. I guess a lot of parents hope that first word is either "mama" or "dada." And I'm sure when that happens those folks probably feel rather chuffed. But, really, that's kind of fucked up and narcissistic, isn't it? Of course, when I say "fucked up and narcissistic" I really mean, "You bet I'd be excited if his first word was 'dada.'"

And don't get me wrong — there were many times we heard him say "mama" or "dada" — sometimes even while looking at one of us. But then he'd go and call a lot of other things "mama" or "dada": the remote control, a cocktail shaker, the model advertising leggings on a poster in the window at Mandee. So I don't know, between "mama" and "up" or "dada" and "hat," I guess I have to be honest.

I guess it's just as well, given some of the language we use/continue to use around the child. I'll take "hat" any day over, say, "motherfucker." Then again, if it had been "the motherfucker with the hat," I'd probably call up the local news, but I guess that's just how things go.

Posted: January 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , , ,

Passing The First Test Of Fatherhood: Returning Home On One's Own Volition

I had to go into "the city" for a work meeting this evening. I haven't been in Manhattan for over seven weeks, since before Animal was born.

The good news is that it still looks the same. This is what I saw when I popped out of the subway at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street:

Sixth Avenue and 15th Street, February 16, 2012, 5:53 p.m.

It wasn't until this past Friday that we even left the neighborhood, when we took Squeak on his first subway ride. Part of our reticence is not knowing what we would do if things went wrong along the way — How to change a diaper without a changing table? What if he won't take a bottle? — and part of it was not knowing where to go in the first place. I don't know about going to a restaurant yet, for example. So we've been at home, learning how to manage fussiness in our bathrobes and with an ample supply of baby wipes at hand.

Leaving the meeting — which lasted less than two hours, mind you — I had this feeling, or a conflicted feeling. I clearly couldn't just hang out and walk around or go see a movie (early on I joked about heading out to see a movie) or smoke crack down at the riverfront. At the same time, I wanted to get back to see how Jen and Monkey were getting on. I wasn't worried about them — Jen has an advantage in that she is able to serve him food on demand — but we haven't really been separated from each other for more than a half-hour since we had come home.

But a tiny part of me thought that it might be fun to take a little stroll somewhere. It was like Rabbit, Run except I didn't have a car . . . and I wasn't going to run anywhere . . . and I didn't really want to run anywhere . . . and without Rabbit's annoying "drama" . . . and . . . maybe it really wasn't like an Updike novel at all, come to think of it. I looked at the intersection, marveled at how nimble and fearless the gentlemen making a wide turn onto Sixth Avenue on skateboards were, feared a little bit for the bicyclists riding in the dark and ducked into the subway entrance. My sojourn lasted all of a block, meaning directly from the restaurant to the subway.

What I did do was somehow end up on the L platform when a Brooklyn-bound train was rolling into the station, which worked out well in that I could take it one stop over to Union Square and switch to the N or the Q. It was funny to be on the L among so many people who I'm sure didn't have a two-month-old. They looked so . . . well rested — and this was after work even. Of course nothing puts your life in focus like realizing that some of your fellow passengers could easily be 15 years younger than you. Fifteen years? How did that happen? And do I look 15 years older than them? As Goober would say, "Take it to heart."

Jen and Monkey were doing fine when I got home, though I was slightly happy to hear Jen sound a little bit relieved that I was home.

Posted: February 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , ,