Monday, September 23, 2019

From the Archives - Journal for my Daughter


A few days before my first daughter was born, I started keeping a journal about her life. This was inspired by those baby books, where you put in footprints, stats about size and weight at birth, milestones, etc. As far as actual use goes, those baby books are surpassed only by exercise bikes and crock pots in unfulfilled good intentions. Usually the first couple of pages are diligently filled out, and then the new parents get overwhelmed and the rest of the book is blank. I vowed to do better. The result? A mammoth 450-page document, spanning my daughter’s entire life thus far, which I presented to her last week when dropping her off at college.

A note on the text: it’s written in the second person (i.e., “you”) because its real audience is my daughter. I’m just offering you albertnet readers a taste. Not because you care about my kid’s childhood, but because as a parent, or a recovering kid, you might relate to some of it.

December 11, 2002 (age 1)

It’s too early to tell for sure, but you may have your first word: No. You have said this many times when someone does something you don’t like, such as taking something away from you. You cry out, “No no no no no!” The problem is, it sounds a lot like generic baby babble, and “n” is one of your favorite consonants anyway, so it’s not for sure yet. Of course, given your willfulness it wouldn’t surprise us a bit for “no” to be your first word.

January 13, 2003 (age 1)

As I’d theorized long ago, you have settled on your official first word: No. You say it very clearly and distinctly, in proper context. You even point as you say it. For example, on New Year’s Eve, as your mom was nursing you with a bottle (an early foray toward weaning you), you kept pulling back from the bottle, pointing at her, and saying, “No. No. No.” After much wracking of my brain, I have finally figured out a) why this is your first word, and b) why you often point as you say it.

The “why” question arises because your mom and I seldom say “no” to you. We’re real pushovers, actually, reserving “no” for when you’re doing something dangerous that you need to be warned about. The rest of the time we just distract you (as from the ointment tube that you want to suck on, or the milk bottle you want to drag around with you to paint things with). The answer finally hit me when I saw you scolding Misha, our cat, pointing at her and bellowing “NO!” just like I always do. Ever since you were born, the poor cat is constantly misbehaving to get some attention. She shreds the sofa with her claws, jumps in your crib, or tries to reach your high chair. Something about scolding a cat requires pointing, because they’re so good at tuning out humans. So your “no,” like mine to the cat, means both “no” and “That’s right, buddy, I mean you!” You say it constantly. If your mom or I offer you something you don’t want, you push it away and say “No!” or “No no no no no!” If the cat is sitting there, minding her own business, and you want to assert your place in the family hierarchy, you point at her and say “No!” It’s practically a refrain for you. It’s really the perfect way for you to express the essence of your personality.

February 8, 2003 (age 1½)

You now use the word “no” with incredible skill, imparting myriad subtleties of meaning, just like how a Southern Californian can say “dude” to indicate alarm, surprise, pleasure, disappointment, and so on. Of course “no” always means no, but you can also convey a variety of other notions: “Aw, c’mon, get real, no”; “Absolutely not”; “Leave me alone!”; “No thank you”; “Get this out of here!” and so on.

November 15, 2003 (age 2)

You seem to love day care. Sometimes you protest when we announce we’re taking you, but I think that’s just an inertia thing: you don’t want to stop doing whatever you’re doing. It’s often hard to get you to leave there in the evening. I think in your perfect world I would stay there with you and play, because when I pick you up you often want to engage me in some toy or puzzle. But you clearly like the other kids there, and they seem to really like you.

Sometimes the other kids seem to revere you. For example, when we show up, they gather around you to say hello and good morning and to ask you questions. And the other day, everybody was watching “Sesame Street,” and Nahid [one of the nannies] asked you, “What color is Cookie Monster?” You always have an answer for everything, and it’s always delivered with complete confidence, even if you’re grasping at straws. “Green,” you said authoritatively. “No, he’s blue,” said Nahid. A moment later, she said, “Zachary, what color is Cookie Monster?” He instantly replied, “Green.” What are the odds that he made exactly the same mistake as you had? Pretty slim, I’d say. I think he simply trusted you over Nahid. So if you end up being the leader of a company, a platoon, or a country, we can track your leadership qualities and command presence all the way back to the beginning.

April 5, 2004 (age 2½)

On Saturday we went to a Mexican restaurant in Alameda. We set you up in a high chair—you’re always excited to sit in a high chair, probably for no other reason than you associate it with tasty food—and then I went off to wash my hands. I came back and, on a lark, decided to sit next to your mom, across from you. This was the first time you’d ever eaten in a restaurant without one of us sitting right next to you. It was a busy, loud place, and it was a big table (I seem to remember it was a picnic-style table, though the precise memory is already fading), and you looked very far away. Frankly, it was kind of a bittersweet moment, seeing you all the way over there and yet knowing it was okay. I asked you if you liked sitting all by yourself, just in case you didn’t. But you did, and in fact seemed to relish your independence. You behaved beautifully throughout the meal. You carefully drank your water through a straw, didn’t play in it like usual, and didn’t spill it even after the waiter refilled it to the brim. Your mom made you a burrito, which you carefully ate, like a burrito, instead of dissecting it on the table and scattering its innards to the four winds. Between bites, you even wiped your mouth with a napkin. And perhaps the most heartachingly diligent thing you did was to periodically rearrange, with great care, your fork and knife on a pristine, folded paper napkin. The pleasure you were getting from your “big girl” behavior was quite evident. As pleased as I am with your new abilities—of which I’m suddenly keenly aware, as if for the first time, since it’s been such a gradual progression—it heightens my awareness of how quickly you’re growing up, and I want to cling to you just as you are. As much as I look forward to every new development, every new phase of your life, I can already tell that every new minute will be packed with longing for every minute of your past. The emotional impact of raising you is difficult to describe.

June 1, 2004 (age 2¾ )

Some time ago, I was lying in the bunk bed waiting for you to take to your nap (you’d begged me to stay: “Bunk bed five minutes!”) and you asked for a song. So on a whim, I trotted out an old Bruce Springsteen number from the eighties that I’d somehow inadvertently memorized. It’s from “Born in the USA,” an album your Grandma Judy bought shortly after she divorced my dad. I always interpreted that act as an attempt to suddenly become younger and more hip, more date-worthy. After that phase was over, my mom stopped listening to the tape, and I kept it, even though I’d never really liked it much (finding it embarrassing, frankly).

Anyway, I started singing “Downbound Train,” adjusting some of the lyrics. I figured it has a train, a car wash, and crying in it, all of which are things you have strong feelings about, and sure enough, as soon as I was done, you asked for it again, and it’s become a staple. Your mom has pointed out that just about all of the lyrics in that song (indeed, the entire Springsteen canon) are simple enough for a two-year-old to understand. There isn’t a single complicated word in there. So you can sing along now. Mainly what we do is this: I get to the end of a line, and pause to let you fill in the last word:
              “I had a ...”
              “I had a ...”
              “I had things going, mister, in this ...”
              “I got laid off, down at the ...”
              “Lumber yard.” (Note that through this song, you now have a general sense of what layoffs are, so you can relate somewhat when I talk to your mom about the massive layoffs my employer is perpetrating.)
              “Then I’ll admit, things got...”
And so it goes in this vain, until the climactic scene, where I sing, “And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and...”
              “Cried!” You deliver this word with the depth of feeling that can only come from a literal crybaby. You even hang your head as you utter it. It’s a beautiful thing.

August 10, 2004 (age almost-3)

Your force of will continues to amaze me. Whatever we want, you instinctively go for the opposite. For example, a bit ago I tried to put a diaper on you before bed. “No want the horsey!” you screamed. This was in regard to the animal depicted on the diaper. To what extent should we indulge you? I err on the side of indulgence, having had my own wishes routinely ignored as a kid. “What kind of diaper do you want?” I asked. “Um . . . how about a . . . raccoon diaper,” you replied. I grabbed a raccoon diaper, then theorized that you’d change your mind again, and grabbed a squirrel diaper. I finished putting it on you, and sure enough, you cried, “No want a raccoon diaper, I want a squirrel diaper!” I replied, “Well look, Alexa, that’s what I put on you!” You craned your neck to check. You looked at me in disbelief, unable to fathom my sleight-of-hand.

December 15, 2004 (age 3)

I got a nasty electric shock from the Christmas tree lights the other day. I’d been lying on my back, lazily lolling, [our cat] Misha on my chest, while your mom was getting out the ornaments and lights and such. I started unraveling two twisted-together strands of lights, which were plugged in and showing signs of defectiveness: half of each strand was out. Suddenly it seemed as though the cat were attacking me, sinking a claw deep into my neck. Even after she jumped off my chest, I could still feel her claw in my neck; sometimes a cat’s claw gets stuck. But when she was at least four feet away and I could still feel that claw, I realized something else was going on. A bulb was stuck to my neck, shocking me! Your mom pulled the lights off of me, and I jumped up, cursing. You started bawling. It really shook you up! You comforted me for awhile, continually asking what happened. Very compassionate. A day or two later, you asked who shocked me. “It was an accident,” I said. You replied sternly, “A shock is never an accident.” So I guess you’ll grow up to be a personal injury lawyer! (I realized later that you were paraphrasing your mom telling you, “Hitting is never an accident!”)

May 15, 2005 (age 3½)

I asked you if you were hungry. “Yeah, my stomach is a bit low,” you said.

June 8, 2006 (age 4¾)

Yesterday evening I was very tired and lay down on my back on the floor of the living room. Lindsay [age 2] lay down next to me for awhile, and then (in my half-asleep state) I came to realize she was now up, standing near me, arguing with you about a toy. I was trying to wake the rest of the way up and will myself upright when I heard you exclaim, excitedly, “Look, Lindsay’s vomiting!” I thought you must have been joking, but you weren’t. She was vomiting on the rug, making bright pink puddles in three or four different places. I told her to try to vomit on the wood floor, not the rug. Hearing this, you immediately ran off. I became aware of what you were doing when you asked me how to spell “vomit.” You had drawn a picture of a child, and with yellow ink had added a bunch of scribbles down her front. “That yellow stuff, that’s vomit,” you explained. You wrote “NO VOMIT” and then (after getting the spelling from me), “ON RUG.” Then you asked how to spell “allowed.” I pointed out that you didn’t have much room to write it. To my surprise, you recovered from having started in the wrong place by writing backward, from the right edge of the page back toward the left. Not only did you spell the word backward— “DEWOLLA”—but you wrote each letter backward. I held it up to the mirror: “ALLOWED.” Perfect. You finished the picture by circling the vomit-covered child and putting a slash through the circle.

February 13, 2007 (age 5)

I have only recently noticed you saying “animal” correctly. I think I’ll sort of miss “aminal.” Eventually you’ll say everything correctly, and next thing I know you’ll be out of the house, grown up, and on your own. Sniff.

September 5, 2007 (age almost-6)

This morning I took you to school, with Lindsay in the stroller. We got a bit of a late start (surprise, surprise!) and it didn’t help that we fell in behind a pair of chatty moms who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that it was almost 8:30 already and we still had a pretty long stretch of Santa Fe Street to go. One of the kids was in your class, and seemed as oblivious to the time as his mom. Eventually I decided we had to pass them. This was tricky because one of the moms was also pushing a stroller. I saw a patch of navigable land next to the sidewalk and said, “Okay Alexa, now!” You busted a move down the side and I followed you. To Lindsay’s delight, I was running behind with the stroller (front wheels popped up so it wouldn’t get speed-wobble). The mothers must have thought I was absurd, or insane, or perhaps rude, but hey, it’s not good to be late, especially when your kid already seems a bit anxious about school. Anyway, to my delight, your classmate (the one with the chatty mom) construed this as a race and started running. He’d almost gone by you when I yelled, “Go, Alexa!”

Nothing like a race to get your kids to school on time. Now, here’s the remarkable part: you dug deep, and ran really fricking fast. And you took the guy! You didn’t even resort to the weaving you used to do, instinctively trying to take your opponent into the gutter. It was fair and square, and you really opened up your lead on the school’s wheelchair ramp toward the end. You’d shrugged your backpack off—I half expected you to ditch it entirely, but you hung onto it—and you cruised around the corner pretty nonchalantly. We got there right as the bell rang. You got in line, and as I scanned down it for a familiar face I thought, wait, what if we’re at the wrong door? Of course I know what the right door is, but I guess those old childhood anxieties die hard. I recognized one of your classmates and was reassured.

May 7, 2009 (age 7½)

I have a BlackBerry, which is a “smart phone” that does e-mail and stuff. You seem quite intrigued by it. I was riding you to school on my bike recently and could hear it beeping in my pocket, and I commented that it was probably going to phone somebody up by accident. You replied, “Daddy, which BlackBerry do you like better: the kind you have, or the touch-screen kind?” Much surprised, I asked you how you know about the touch-screen kind. “You know, from those ... bulletins along the highway.” (You meant billboards, of course.) As much attention as you pay to advertising, I’m really glad we don’t have TV at home.

September 6, 2011 (age almost-10)

Your mom and I have considered putting you in Girl Scouts, and you’ve gone to a couple of their camps, but there is no troop with any places left. Your mom has taken some steps to help start up a Brownie troop, and we’ll see where that goes. Anyway, on the way to a camping trip this past weekend I said to your mom, “You should learn how to pitch our tent without my help, given your new Den Mother role.” I had a cold at the time, and what you and Lindsay heard was “dead mother role.” After the predictable surprise, confusion, and clarification, you commented, “‘Dead mother roll sounds like a new kind of sushi.’”

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