April 17, 2009


This evening I was telling my son about family history, about grandparents, and their parents, and their parents. I told him how those people had children who had children who had children who had us.

That was when he told me that the first person was all alone.

"Didn't the first person have parents?," I asked.

"No. Not until later."

"Why not?"

"Because the first person was a monkey. Everyone was a monkey."

Continue reading "First" »

March 08, 2009

On Eeyore

"Eeyore has a brain and he thinks no one else does, but they do."

(An observation by my son after I read him a chapter from The House at Pooh Corner.)

February 05, 2009

Yak, Yak

Tonight we were reading about how Sherpas live in Nepal, and I pointed to a picture of a large animal. "Do you know what that is?," I asked my son, expecting him to say "a cow."

"Yes, it's a yak," he said. He's four.

"A yak!?," I exclaimed. "That's right! How did you know that?"

He pointed to its horns: "the horns go back on its head. It's a yak."

"How do you know that?"

"I just do."

A little later we were saying good night. We have a tradition of each making up a new "don't let the ~ bite" each night, and this time I let him go first. I was wondering whether the yak would appear again.

"Good night, sleep tight, don't let the wildebeests bite," he said, giggling.

Edited to add: No, I don't think you can count on the horns. But it was certainly true of the yak in the picture.

September 10, 2008

Water to the Desert

My four-year-old son and I are reading Children Just Like Me, a book about children from all over the world, produced in collaboration with Unicef. We recently arrived at the African section, and tonight we read about a little girl who lives in Botswana. The book describes the hot, dry, weather there at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It shows the little girl's house, made of soil and cow dung and with a roof of dried grass.

My son didn't understand at first why the house was made of soil. I showed him how few trees there were in the pictures, and told him those few were important and couldn't be used for the house. He didn't understand at first that the roof was grass--he thought I might mean glass--and then pointed out that the roof was brown. It's dry, I told him.

When we finished reading about this child and her home he told me what he would do if he lived in that place:

"I would buy twenty bottle of water. And I would get a car one hundred and sixty feet long. Ok? And I would put the bottles in the car and I would drive there and I would pour the water on the ground, for twenty days. And I would pour some on the trees, because they need it too."

May 12, 2008

Daddy Breath

While J is going to sleep I'm sitting in the rocking chair across the room working on my computer and nibbling on a piece of "Mayan" chocolate. J gets up to have a sip of his water, and I offer to tuck him back into bed. When I give him a kiss he inhales deeply and tells me "you smell like cinnamon bun."

April 08, 2008

A Walk Before Nightfall

After dinner, and before his treat, I thought it would be nice to take J, my not-quite-four-year-old, on a short walk. Outside, we could hear birds singing in every tree. A bird perched on our chimney could be seen opening his beak. J told me the bird was singing, "it's spring!"

A short way up the road we saw robins picking at the grass. We stopped to watch, and J saw one pull up a worm. Climbing the hill we passed a culvert blocked with sand and debris and another in the ditch with water flowing in from a pipe under a storm drain's cover. Another bird watched us from a wire.

As we passed a house J spotted a neighbor emerging from the door to tend his grill. "Who's that," said J to me, and then, thinking better of it, shouted to the man, "what's your name?" We were introduced, and walked on.

Higher up we discovered that a stream had formed a pond beside a farm. Someone had placed a blue canoe by the water's edge. Rusted metal tanks and farm equipment lay in the grass nearby, and J spotted a huge tractor tire on its side. Pale barkless trunks placed at the bottom of the embankment marked the edge of this farm's meadow. J thought they might be birches, but then spotted some real birches further along. A boulder cut to build the road was pronounced the site of a quarry, and speculation ensued as to the dinosaurs who might have been found there. At the turnaround point we became aware of high ringing sounds from the pond, and I told J about peepers.

Walking back we looked at rocks, mosses, lichen, and new plants starting to grow from beneath last autumn's fallen leaves. Then a group of deer, five or six adults, the first I'd ever seen on our street in more than a year and a half of occupancy. They were feeding on grass in a large lawn and fled to the edge of the woods as we passed, white tails bobbing. We talked about deer being fearful, about deer eating food from gardens and farms, and about people eating deer. J told me that his friend B was the fastest runner, and could certainly catch a deer. Down the hill, the bird still watched from the wire above.

A recognized dog came to bark and greet us, and I cautioned J about calling her out to the road. Further along we stepped off the road to examine some barbed wire, and I explained what this was for and how to be careful of it (the lesson learned, I discovered later, was that barbed wire was to "protect from cows"). Then we were back in our yard. We looked up and J saw the buds in the old tree in our lawn, and in the sky beyond that, the new crescent moon, still a sliver. He told me the moon is usually bigger, but when I told him the moon was like a ball in the sky and asked where it got its light he told me it was lit by the sun, and showed me which side of the moon pointed the way to that source of light.

At home, back inside, for a treat, a bath, stories, and bed, and these experiences to remember. It's taking him a long time to fall asleep.

September 21, 2007

Rap to a Three-Year-Old

My son, who hasn't really listened to it before, attended curiously to a rap song on the radio for a minute or so today. After it was over he said "that wasn't a song, Daddy. That sounded like talking."

"That's true, it did sound sort of like talking," I said.

"It had drums, and guitar, and talking," he told me.

August 09, 2007

It's a Boy!


August 10, 2006


I drove into the city today. I usually take the train, but today I drove my wife's VW because I had a heavy box full of books to return to an old friend, and a number of things to carry home from the office. It takes an hour to drive in, through the Lincoln Tunnel, listening to dire news on NPR as I traversed the same stretch of road I took on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I arrived on 42nd Street, up Eighth Ave to 44th, east to Fifth, down to 43rd, and back west to the garage beneath my office building. Then: waiting in line to drop off the car, taking my backpack, my box of books (shouldered), my coffee, and the walk to the elevator as someone's strident car alarm started to go off. From behind I heard the garage attendent shouting to me.

Continue reading "Sputnik" »

August 04, 2006

Street Clothes (T-shirt edition)

T-shirts are clearly a big product these days. We've all seen them for sale online: retro shirts, "clever" shirts, geeky shirts, shirts for hipsters which somehow fail to fall into these previous categories, et cetera. But recently I've been surprised to see people actually wearing a few particular shirts as they wander through midtown Manhattan:

Exhibit A: A teenage girl whose brightly colored shirt happily displayed a tastefully altered Sanrio icon with the text "Hello T*tties."

Exhibit B: A slender woman who proudly bore upon her chest the declaration "THESE are my all-access pass."

Exhibits C and D: Two different men (seen on separate occasions), both rather unassuming looking, unassuming that is apart from their t-shirts which indicated (arrow up) "The Man" and (arrow down) "The Legend."

Exhibit E: An Asian man with thin graying Mr. Rogers hair, wearing board shorts and old running shoes and a T-shirt advertising "The Erogenous Zone: A playground for swingers."

July 20, 2006

Medical Plan

We just got a phone call at home. One of those calls where you can tell there's an autodialer at the other end and you have to wait impatiently to get to speak to the telemarketer who's calling you. Lately I've been answering these calls and asking to be taken off their list but this time the woman at the other end identified herself as representing a doctor's office, and asked to speak to my wife. After verifying, hand over the mouthpiece, that the doctor's name was not familiar in our home I asked the caller what the call concerned (knowing that they'd damn well better not tell me anything if it concerned someone else, even my wife). And what did it concern? "Well, he's doing a health awareness program and he's offering you and your family and two guests the opportunity to get a free physical, and ..."

Precisely what kind of doctor feels the need to do this? How can it be worth paying a marketing firm to attract those unfortunate patients who wouldn't see the doctor unless it was free? It's too "Hi, Dr.Nick!" for me, I can tell you that.

July 19, 2006

Overheard at the U.S. Post Office

The lady in line behind me was complaining about a co-worker. "He's such a woman," she said. That's odd, thought I, tuning out to mull this over. But I was drawn back into my eavesdropping a little later when she remarked "it's a fucking barbecue, not a fucking cotillion where you have to dress up like a fucking princess!" I didn't know people still used the word "cotillion," especially New Yorkers, and especially New Yorkers of this sort, but the world is full of surprises.

June 11, 2006

Junior Daredevil

During our recent trip to California we visited a place called Fairyland, in Oakland. Our son rode on a merry-go-round there on which parents were not allowed. He confidently insisted that he wanted to do this, but he looked a little uncertain before the ride, then rather dismayed after it started, but he's been happily describing the experience since the moment I lifted him off of his horse.

This morning we're getting ready to visit a local park where he might ride another carousel. "Do you want to ride on the merry-go-round?," I asked.

Continue reading "Junior Daredevil" »

May 24, 2006

Noted at a Starbucks

The cash register at a corner Starbucks bears a sticker with a wheelchair icon and a message declaring that servers will gladly assist in bringing orders to the table. It's certainly polite to offer, but there's one problem. This Starbucks barely has room to turn around (though we tired and thirsty try to clump into as many as three queues at counter and another at the bar); it has not a single table.

May 18, 2006

Think of a little boy

My sweet little son is having surgery in about eight and a half hours, and I'm extremely anxious about it. It's a very minor thing but I can't get over the plain fact that it's happening and that I chose to set it in motion. Please send kind thoughts his way in the early morning.

Update: He did great. Everything went smoothly and by the next day he was acting like himself. Thanks for the good wishes.

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