23 June 2011

Language Arts

Our son is a genius.

No, really, it’s true.

I know many parents think and say such things about their offspring, but I have empirical proof that this is actually true in our case.

The Doozer invented a word.

Now, as it’s only a word that he uses and that I’ve never heard uttered by another human being, nor seen written down, I can only guess as to its spelling, which to me would be this: kindaly. It has recently cropped up in Doozer conversations and his use of it has been pretty consistent, leading me to derive an actual meaning and definition for this word.

It appears to be stronger than “kind of,” yet a bit shy of “probably.” Apparently, the Doozer saw some kind of gap or vagary in the English language there and took it upon himself to rectify this situation. I imagine the thought process went something like this:

“They do say kind of a lot, but it’s not exactly what I mean,” he muses silently. “And probably is way too committal for my taste, I’d rather leave my options open. I know! A mash-up of these two words is what’s needed. By jove, that’s it! The middle ground between kind of and probably. That’s exactly what I mean to say.”

Or something like that.

But then, he surpassed even this accomplishment. Not only has he begun to invent words (well, one word, anyway), he has now started inventing stories. Sadly, I was not there to witness his first, fledgling attempt at mastering the fine art of being a raconteur, but my wife reported back that the results were, predictably, amazing and hilarious. With a caveat.

“His work is a little derivative,” she admitted. “He was kind of just riffing on episodes of Dora the Explorer that we’ve seen. And his endings could use a little work.”

Obviously, I forced the Doozer to recount his opus to me later that same night. And so he told the story of a knight who went into a forest that was full of scary monsters who growled at him. “He didn’t know they were scary,” he added. And that was kind of it.

Ah, the terseness and simplicity of Hemingway, the imaginative flights of J.K. Rowling. Again, a mash-up of genres, styles, and voices that had come before. Like any great artist, he was stealing from the best and refurbishing the different parts to create something of his own.

Perhaps it is never too early to get the next generation started in the family business. As long as he stays an amateur and doesn’t start snaking gigs out from under me. I don’t want to have to go all Norman Mailer on his Gore Vidal ass and knock my own son’s lights out.

“Words fail the old man yet again,” he might say, paraphrasing (stealing) once again.

Who am I kidding? He’s already on the road to eclipsing me and he’s barely even begun. I might as well pack it all in right now and make way for this budding literary genius.

But I draw the line at giving him a blurb.

16 June 2011

Father's Day

When I was in high school, everybody called me by my last name, rather than my first. To the point where I’m not sure most people even knew my first name or that I had one. This trend faded a bit as I got older, my college friends called me by my first name, I’ve mostly been called by my first name in my professional life (though lately usage of my last name has started creeping back into fashion among my colleagues—I just have that sort of name). Recently, I was at the wedding of one of those high school friends and was asked what most people tend to call me these days. And I realized, again, that people mostly call me by my first name. And then it hit me. There’s another name I am called almost as frequently as my first name.


It’s almost equal. The word is on a constant rotation within the Doozer’s ever-expanding vocabulary. At any given time, it is only he, plus the wife and me, in a room together, so we always know who he’s talking to, it’s not as though there could be some real question. But he still peppers “Dada” and “Mama” into all conversations, questions, declarations, and even (perhaps especially) rants. “Umm, Dada?” he will usually start.

(Side note: It’s pretty shameful how often our son uses the word/sound “umm.” It means that we use it that regularly. We’re both highly educated, articulate individuals and yet we do this all the time. Great example we’re setting. Good parenting, guys.)

“Umm, Dada? Dada, I need to tell you something. Dada. Dada. Dada. I need to tell you something.” He says need as though there is the utmost sense of urgency around this particular utterance, as though his very life depends on sharing these words with me. I focus. “Dada. You haven’t eaten your meatballs yet.”

Oh, thank you. I would’ve forgotten if you weren’t here. This was vital.

Anyway, the proliferation of the word “Dada” in my house is a constant reminder of who I am now. Dada. This is me. This word has come to define my existence. There is this small human in my house, constantly looking up at me (to me?) as though I have the answers, as though I am in control of any given situation, as though I am the guy with the plan. As though I have it all figured out.

There’s a lot of pressure in those expectant, expressive eyes.

Of course, it’s not all love and adoration all the time. There are times when I come home to a greeting of “Don’t say hi to me.” Ladies and gentlemen, my son. 2 ½ going on 16 ½. Delightful. I figure he’s just doing his part to keep me in check, to remind me that I am human and fallible and imperfect even in his eyes. Lest I get too puffed up about this whole dad thing and start to think I really am a master of the universe—or even my own living room.

As my third Father’s Day approaches (soon followed by the Doozer’s third birthday—already?), there is still a disconnect between my reality and my perception of that reality. I wasn’t always somebody’s Dada, but now I always will be. That’s a seriously big deal. This is who I am now. And sure, I have a miniature reminder of this fact on a daily basis, running rampant in my house, screaming, giggling, crying, talking, questioning, exploring, being ridiculously sweet and adorable when not cranky and insane, constantly referring to me as “Dada” and yet, it’s still a difficult concept to entirely adjust to, to accept, to identify with.

When my wife asked me recently what I wanted to do for Father’s Day, I immediately thought of making plans with my dad (never mind the fact that he is on vacation and won’t be in town for Father’s Day this year). He loves to go out to breakfast and that’s the first thing that popped into my head. And then I realized what the question actually was: What did I want to do? Me.

Holy crap. She’s talking about me. This day is actually about me now. That’s weird. And I have no idea what I want to do. Being a dad is still a crazy notion that throws me off sometimes. Celebrating the fact that I’m a dad? This holiday that I spent years and years celebrating with someone else entirely is now suddenly being held in my honor? How did that happen?

Of course, every day is really Father’s Day when you think about it. Because, after all, this is who you are now. Dada. This word defines your existence. It’s so much more than a name, it’s an identity and a feeling and a huge responsibility and an entire character arc. It’s kind of extraordinary and special and wonderful and terrifying and amazing all at the same time.

Who knew two simple syllables could express so much?

Happy father’s day.

09 June 2011


You do your best. You try to set a good example. Encourage weirdness, try to make life interesting and unique, let them fly their freak flag. And then, you realize your efforts have been in vain, as your kid starts becoming a prototypical little boy, just like all the others.

Our son is a cliché.

I made this observation to my wife recently and was promptly chastised for it. Not only for the denigration of our child, but also the misinformed inanity of the remark. After all, how could a 2 1/2 year old, his personality development in its nascent stages, possibly be a cliché?

Well, our kid is into dinosaurs. No, like, really into dinosaurs.

Yes, this particular observation was directly related to the Doozer's ever-growing fondness for all things dinosaur-related. There's the incredibly bizarre Nickelodeon show called Dino Dan that he loves to watch, a live-action/animation hybrid in which the titular Dan (an elementary-aged schoolboy) sees dinosaurs everywhere: the school playground, his neighborhood, his backyard. Nobody else sees the dinosaurs. They are figments of his imagination. Or something.

I must confess I've never fully engaged with an entire episode of this show, it might very well be a great advocate for using one's imagination, but my initial reaction is that this kid is weird and I think that there is something wrong him.

Is this where the Doozer's headed? Bizarre, hallucinatory visions of dinosaurs all around? Seriously, it's like a more kid-friendly version of the scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Duke sees reptiles prowling around and getting blitzed in the hotel bar. Weird scene, man.

Anyway, his constant companions are three rubber dinosaur toys (which is my fault, I bought the first two of those damn things), the tyrannosaurs rex (yes, the Doozer can say this name in its entirety) and stegosaurus and what Internet research has led us to believe is something called a dilophosaurus. And sure, hearing him say these names aloud is a hugely entertaining experience. Or can be. In moderation.

He also attempts to live in a dinosaur T-shirt he got, in the style of a boxing match poster, featuring the T-rex versus the Triceratops. Almost daily he asks to wear this shirt. Conversely (and depressingly), the kid staunchly refuses to wear the totally awesome, toddler-sized Beatles T-shirt that we got for him.

Such a nerd.

One recent day at the playground, while he was running around in this favorite dinosaur T-shirt, a slightly older boy ran up to the Doozer, complimented him on his shirt and began a Joycean stream-of-consciousness monologue (directed ostensibly at our son, but essentially at no one in particular) about his own love of dinosaurs.

What nerds, I thought. Then: Oh, wait. That one's mine.

And I suppose nerdiness is one thing. He could grow up to be a brilliant innovator who changes the world (or amasses a small fortune with all his braininess). But being a cliché is something else entirely.

And so to go along with the dinosaur obsession, the Doozer has discovered the joy of playing in the dirt. I say "joy," because that appears to be how he feels about it, although I do not concur. Could there be a bigger little boy cliché than this? I don't think so.

He is also black-and-blue everywhere, the result of an unsteady, volatile mix of aggression, enthusiasm, and general clumsiness that defines his constant movement through the world.

Sure, he loves the Beatles and is a bit of a budding Francophile. Let's channel our energy there, shall we, kid? It's been so long now that my own childhood is a bit of a blur, but I find it difficult to believe there was ever a time in my life (even as a toddler) when I wasn't striving for something a bit more than dirt and dinosaurs. I imagine my five year-old self, reading the New Yorker and discussing Woody Allen and listening to Dylan.

Why can't he be more like that?

Oh well, I must stop now. I've got to strip the kid's dinosaur T-shirt off and hose the dirt off him. Again.

Oh, Doozer. You're better than this.