Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi via Red Mars

"We say a bedtime prayer from the Persian poet Rumi Jalaluddin,” the old woman told him, and recited it:

I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal.
I died as animal and I was human.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die human,
To soar with angels blessed above.
And when I sacrifice my angel soul,
I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

“Sleep well,” she said into his drowsing mind. “This is all our path.”

                        - Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Shrimp on the Town

With The Shrimp now four months old, my wife and I figured it was time to revisit a pre-baby Saturday ritual, especially given how successful we were revisiting a pre-baby Sunday ritual. For us, a perfect Saturday used to involve a nice long walk along the water into town, where we would eat some lunch, do a little shopping, stop in at a nice bar, and stroll home (or take a cab, or the bus, depending on how things went). We had taken The Shrimp out with us on many occasions, but never had we made a full day of it, where there would be feedings and changings to manage. Plus, we would be on foot, without a car, and therefore without a convenient way to abort the mission should things go wrong. We suited her up, plopped her in the stroller and set off.

Traveling around with a young kid can be fun. Fun in the way going to Mexico can be fun; you know something is going to go horribly wrong, but it will probably be so inconceivably ridiculous you have to laugh before you start crying. Like that time we rode a bus in Mexico and it rained inside the bus.

There’s a new pizza place in town we've had our eye on since the first days of my wife’s pregnancy. It seemed like just the right kind of place to take a little kid for lunch. It’s big and spacious, loud, full of children, reasonably priced. And there's a nice beer selection. I've been trying to nail down exactly why I've gained fifteen pounds since my daughter was born. This has to be reason #254: I only feel comfortable drinking in public with my daughter if there is food on the table in front of me. Without the food on the table, I’m just a guy who brought his four-month old kid to a bar. With the food on the table, I’m a responsible father spending time with his darling daughter, socializing her, including her in all aspects of his life. So given that the impetus for the excursion was to reclaim that pre-baby Saturday euphoria, I wanted a beer, maybe two, maybe four. Which meant ordering an appetizer. Then a beer. Then a salad. Then a beer. Then a pizza. And sure, why not another beer? Who’s going to judge a man drinking beer with his pizza, even if he does have baby on his lap? Maybe people care about this sort of thing, maybe they don’t. And maybe I shouldn't care what other people think about my parenting. But I do. Sue me. And I know myself too well. If I get even the slightest little cross-eyed look, it’ll set me off into an indignant internal rage. Like the time the woman in IKEA pointed out that my daughter wasn't wearing her seat belt while I pushed her around in a stroller. My at-the-time eight-week old daughter, who could barely move, much less crawl out of her stroller. But I ruminate on these things, these observations made by complete strangers, these intrusions into my ways and means and methods. I don’t forget them. Maybe inwardly I’m being defensive because I know I’m in the wrong (I can think of ten good reasons to buckle an eight-week old into her stroller). I don’t know. But the emotion is pure anger. I try to keep a “go fuck yourself” chambered, to fire it off unconsciously at moments like these. But I always forget to keep a “go fuck yourself” chambered. In other words, I don't take criticism very well.

Of course, nobody’s really even paying attention to my little family sitting in the corner, eating and drinking, and enjoying a sunny Saturday excursion. We eat as the little girl naps, wakes up, looks around, naps some more. The waitress, as she's required to do if she expects a tip, tells us how adorable and well-behaved our son is. I make a face and ready a protest, but my wife reminds me that babies are supposed to be color-coded so these gender mistakes don't get made. That's what the pink socks are for, I tell her. It's an honest mistake, so I spare the waitress my recently-chambered "go fuck yourself." We eat pizza. The baby bounces on my wife's leg. My wife dips a slice of pepperoni into a puddle of ranch dressing and takes a bite. The baby coughs. We talk. Drink some more. The baby goes back to sleep. You've got ranch on your leg, I tell her. She dips her finger, puts it in her mouth. She freezes. What? I ask. That's not ranch, that's puke, she tells me. We laugh. Three months ago my wife would not have found that funny at all. 

Meal completed. Check paid. We should take The Shrimp into the bathroom and get her changed. But for some reason we don't. We're out on the street. The baby's getting fussy. And I'm suddenly unhappy too, because I’m full now, but I want more beer, and that unexpectedly ridiculous moment I've been expecting hasn't happened yet, so that’s out there too, waiting for me.

We decide to go next to Starbucks. It hadn't occurred to me to consume anything non-alcoholic on a weekend, but okay. I can get behind this decision. It’s a good safe place for a guy to bottle-feed his daughter, which I know I will have to do, and which I dread doing. Why? Why do I have to do it and why do I dread it? It’s complicated. My wife has convinced me that she cannot bottle-feed The Shrimp because The Shrimp (hey, at least we don’t call her The Little Terrorist anymore) gets angry if mom feeds her anything other than a boob. This hasn't actually been verified to my satisfaction, but okay, fine. I need to make my wife happy and not bottle feeding the baby makes her happy, so that’s that. One does not push one’s luck when one is having a nice Saturday such as this. Things can go south all too quickly and we must protect the happiness. But I hate bottle-feeding in public and here’s why: generally, I don’t get weird about gender roles and child rearing. But this is an exception. I live in a place – slash - come from a community – slash - have been indoctrinated by my associates to believe that men and women should share all baby-related responsibilities evenly. Because men cannot breastfeed, they do the diapers. Even Steve. Fine. However, in some circles this sharing of duties is a point of pride, or is seen as evidence of progressive enlightenment. The pendulum can swing too far the other way, where you get the overcompensating daddy, who equates his level of involvement with his level of personal awesomeness. This guy cries himself to sleep every night because in his heart of hearts he knows he will never lactate. The point is, whenever I bottle-feed The Shrimp in public I become that guy just a little bit. Again, this comes down to public perceptions I shouldn't even care about (and probably don’t even exist), but I do care at least a little bit, as most people do. And are we really going to let the women monopolize all the irrational insanity? Can’t we save some for the guys too? Basically, when I feed my daughter in public it feels like I’m doing in on purpose, to make a point. Which I’m not. And I can’t abide being misunderstood. She’s fucking hungry! Stop looking at me like I'm some kind of Prairie Home Companion Naderite. But honestly, that not even really it. I don't like bottle-feeding in public because I used to sneer at people when they did it. Which makes me a huge hypocrite. I was indignant the way I'm still indignant about people who bring their dogs everywhere. If your baby's hungry, go home! I used to think. Don't crash our party with your mature adult behavior.

So, yes, there I am  bottle-feeding a baby in a Starbucks, drinking a skinny vanilla latte. All I needed was a good fecal blowout so I could take the little girl into the restroom for a change and thereby complete the trifecta of emasculation. We take pictures, we…are having fun. Yes. It’s wonderful. But I want to leave and get another beer. But we already ate and we can’t have beer without food, right? So…so…so let’s eat again!

We crossed the road and headed into our second restaurant. We hadn't scoped this place out, like we did the first place. This one was cramped and crowded, with no children about, and very little room for our stroller. Plus, the only available seats were at a high-top table in the bar area. But the waitress complimented our baby so all was good and right with the world. I'm not really hungry, my wife said. I'm not really either, I said. So nachos then? Obviously. With chicken? Why not? Guacamole? Sure. Sour cream? Sure. We ordered a couple drinks as well. I picked up The Shrimp and realized her diaper was wet. My wife offered to take her to the lady's room, but I was already on my feet with the freezer bag of supplies in hand. I got this. I wanted my wife to enjoy herself. I wanted everything to go smoothly so future excursions would be possible. Walking to the bathroom, all the college football girls make smiley faces at my daughter. This is it, I'm thinking. Here come the absurdity. Should I just drop her in the toilet and get it over with? I'm expecting a gross bathroom, and am pleasantly surprised. The stall is empty, spacious, and clean. Cradling my daughter in one arm, I somehow manage to get her wet diaper off, clean her up, and get a clean one back on in a flawlessly executed series of careful quick maneuvers. I check our supplies and see we still have two diapers remaining. Then we're back  at the table. My beer has arrived, my wife is impressed, and we're all good. The nachos arrive. We both reiterate how not hungry we are and then devour the entire massive plate in ten minutes flat. Then there's a blowout in the stroller. I can sense it the way dogs sense earthquakes. I've had pizza and beer and nachos on this day, and shared it all with my two favorite people on earth. I'm thrilled. I would be happy to change our daughter in the bathroom, I tell my wife. You sit here, get another glass of wine. Relax. I have forgotten that nothing has gone wrong yet. Back in the bathroom I quickly realize the logistics of changing a dirty diaper are far more complex. I put the changing pad down on top of the toilet tank, and am immediately aware that I am violating several tenets of sound parenting. One good twitch and she might really end up in the toilet. I picture myself returning to our table with a soaking wet baby. Focus, I tell myself. You can do this. The supply bag is between my legs. I get the dirty diaper off, put the diaper bag in my mouth, hold the kid with one hand and fish out a baby wipe with the other. I get her cleaned up and then grab a clean diaper, which is stuck to another (the last) clean diaper. There’s a mix up. The baby moves. I lose my focus and drop both clean diapers into the toilet. My first thought is the Five Second Rule. I quickly realize it doesn't apply to diapers dropped in toilets at bars. What do I do? Do I build a diaper out of toilet pap… There is no toilet paper. And, wait, asshole, build a diaper? I get the little girl dressed, fish the diapers out of the toilet and toss them in the trash, and then we go back to our table. I am grimacing when my wife catches sight of me. Something has gone wrong. But what? She is wondering. Oh, to be able to read her mind at that moment. How he could have fucked this up, let me count the ways…

So we pay the check and hightail it home, The Shrimp going commando, which is no big deal, but it feels like a big deal. It feels like we’re dancing on the rim of an active volcano. But she’s got us covered. We make it home and her pants are dry as a bone.

We could have just gone to a market and bought some diapers, my wife says.

That had not occurred to me, dude.

But all in all it was a big success. Though I do feel weird. I made a scene at that bar, even if nobody noticed it. The top of a toilet tank is no place for my precious little girl. I won’t repeat that.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Smoke Monkey International is Available in Paperback

SMOKE MONKEY INTERNATIONAL is now available in a paperback edition as well as a Kindle edition!