Boys are different

Bill Cosby once said that “all children have brain damage.” It’s true. However, boys are born with more. They come out underbaked. Girls do too – all babies could use a fourth trimester if it weren’t for their gigantic heads – but in my experience, the brains of girls were wired by an electrician who was getting paid by the hour, not by the job. He was an apprentice electrician, but still, you get my point. Baby girls are smarter. More careful. They learn from their mistakes and remember what they learn. They’re more empathetic and socially aware – immediately. By the time they’re towering over their 6th grade stick-weilding male counterparts in the back row of their class photos, the average 11 year-old girl probably has more social skills than I do as a 34 year-old man.

As an example, I’ll relate the following scene from last summer. I had taken Josie to the beach, which, thanks to the melee of boys whacking each other with sticks and leaping off logs, looked more like a scene from the beaches of Normandy than Port Townsend. We sat on a log, watching the boys, but to the left, ignoring the machine gun fire of the boy’s semi-automatic sticks, was a circle of girls, lying on their stomachs, facing in, quietly talking. Chronologically speaking, they appeared to be the same grade. From behind us a family approached from the parking lot. Like meerkats, all the girls raised their heads to ascertain the new girl. (The boys on the other hand, wouldn’t have noticed if a unicorn had galloped through the waves, ridden sidesaddle by a shimmering pink and turquoise mermaid.) One of the girls stood up, trotted over to the new girl, and after making her acquaintance, took her hand, and led her over to the circle of girls, where, I swear to god, she introduced her by saying, “Everyone, this is my friend Lindsay from music class.” The many outstretched legs of the circle moved like a caterpillar’s, scooting to make room, until the new girl was fully integrated into the group circle. To our right, two boys began arguing about who killed who, which, unresolved, devolved into an unholstered spray of spittle punctuated gunfire.

At the time my wife was pregnant, but we didn’t know if we were having another girl or a boy. Secretly, sitting on that log, I have to say, I hoped for another girl. Of course, the Universe has a funny sense of humor, so we got a baby boy. From 0-8 months, there’s not a lot of difference: just wobbly human larvae semi-fastened to your wife’s swollen milk bags. Then they start crawling. Now, if you’ve ever been in charge of a crawling infant male of our species for any amount of time you will agree with me on this point: although 30,000 years separates them from their cavebaby ancestors, developmentally, there hasn’t been much progress. If I gave my son a club, he would bash a hole in my sheetrock, laughing hysterically with every blow. If I gave my son a lighter, I have no doubt that he could somehow summon the fine motor skills to burn down my house in under two minutes. And the way he pulls at my dog’s fur any time they meet, you’d think he was getting her ready for the spit. But what continually amazes me, every day, about my son, is his unbreakable compulsion to put EVERY GODDAMN THING INTO HIS PIEHOLE.

If my son should crawl across the floor and encounter dirt, small rocks, dog hair, marbles, power cords, a domestic pet, a lit firecracker, open switchblades, of a rattlesnake…? Into the mouth it goes. I practice the choking-mouth-sweep maneuver from my first aid training about 1,723 times a day. My only theory on why this trait has persisted through the ages is that the immunity conferred by putting disgusting things into your mouth all day slightly outweighed the millions of cavebabies who must have silently choked to death on mammoth scraps in some shadowed corner of the cave while their exhausted parents tried to relax by watching the fire channel and eating some rotten fermented fruit.

My daughter never had this compulsion. By ten months I could leave her, unsupervised, with a gigantic bowl of marbles and when I came back out of the shower, she would have them all sorted by size and color. The thought that these small glass spheres might be food would have never crossed her functioning brain. When I finally took her binky away, I told myself never again. I never thought I’d need to use it as my mother-in-law (who also had a boy) refers to it: The Plug. It’s literally the only reason my son survives an afternoon in our yard.

Inside is safer, but not by much. When I get done writing this I am going to go down to the basement, haul up the fireplace surround, and reassemble it. Mind you, it is July. Why? Because my brain damaged son keeps throwing himself off of the bricks, face first, every time I turn my back for THREE GODDAMN SECONDS. Two minutes later, if left to it, he will do it again. Zero learning has occured between faceplants. I find myself wondering if he had brain damage to start with, or whether it’s just been the result of repeated head whacking.

Do you remember this scene from Parenthood? Rick Moranis’s character has a genius daughter. The choice of genders of the children wasn’t a casting accident.

I think of that scene often when my son engages in his new favorite activity, which is accessed via the aforementioned brick step of facial plantation. He was pretty tired in this clip, but this sound has become the soundtrack to my life. He comes back to it like a heroin addict – compulsively, unconsciously, and takes extreme joy in the sound, and then crashes. Literally. Looks pretty similar to the bucket doesn’t it?

Everyone says, boys are hard in the beginning, but they get easier. They say the opposite of girls. Or as Louis CK said, “Boys fuck things up. Girls are fucked up.” If you only have boys or you only have girls, you’ll only know what you know. Great, really, because you can’t compare. If you have both, though, you’ll compare genders constantly. Comparisons are relative of course, so there are two options by which you’ll compare: Older Boy/Younger Girl or Older Girl/Younger Boy.

The first is desirable, I would think, because a baby boy really lowers your intelligence expectations, so when the girl shows up, it’s like, Holy shit, she’s a fucking genius! She doesn’t lunge at outlet covers like those caged Velociraptors in Jurassic Park! I don’t have to helicopter parent her every encounter with a dandelion! Instead she’ll just sit there in the yard, humming the tune of some nursery rhyme, making a necklace out of them. But if, like me, you have a girl first, it’s absolutely confounding when you son engages in behavior that would draw stares from even the gorillas in the zoo if he were to, y’know, inexplicably crawl into their exhibit.

And trust me, if he could get into that exhibit, he would. I’ve seen the way he stares at them pooping. It’s the same way the gorillas stare at you from the other side of the glass, as you taunt them with your popcorn. My son would gladly trade them the popcorn for the opportunity to cruise the soiled faux-rock floor of their exhibit. Which just goes to prove my previous point: the popcorn would surely kill him, but if the ape shit didn’t, why even bother with the rest of his vaccination schedule, right? He’d be golden.



That Doll Ain’t No Lady

We have a lot of orchids. Thirteen in all, but we used to have more. Now their leaves emit more anxiety than oxygen, on account of them watching us give away their peers to Orchid-newbies (read: certain death. Or we’ve slowly killed the others out of neglect now that we have children. But somehow they bloom. I have a theory that by keeping them in a constant state of distress they bloom out of desperation in a futile effort to reproduce,kinda like the way salmon so selflessly do: laying their eggs and promptly keeling over. Unfortunately the long-nosed hawk moth of South Africa or whatever is never to be found fluttering inside our house at night so their flowers eventually drop, unfertilized, to the floor, waiting to be grabbed by the drooly hand of a passing baby and promptly gummed into oblivion. Fortunately none of them are poisonous…that I’m aware of.

I do have a favorite: Phragmipedium Sunset Glow 4N. Phragmipediums are the South American version of the more familiar Paphiopedilums native to southeast Asia. You probably know them better as lady slipper orchids, and indeed that is what they look like. So when this particular orchid, which has been reliably blooming for months, dropped its final bloom, I scooped it off the floor and gave it to my daughter. She asked me what it was, and in hindsight I don’t know why I didn’t tell her its latin name, since this is the three year-old who will drop “Pachycephalosaurs” or “Parasaurolophus” without blinking, but I said, “It’s a lady slipper orchid.”

She climbed out of her chair excitedly, and ran for her toy box. Confused, I watched her return and then realized what she was doing.


Adorable right?

But you don’t know this doll. If you knew this doll, you’d see one of Cinderella’s bitchy step-sisters – the one who skanks around in seedy clubs, goes home with the guy in the fishnet top, and is the bread and butter of Saturday morning cabbies – trying to fit her foot in a slipper, far too pretty for her cheap pedicure.

I smiled and, in my best, Clark Gable impersonation, made the comment, “I don’t know Josie. From what I know of that doll, she ain’t no lady.” And this is the problem with being a comedian to toddlers: they’re literalists, and even if they weren’t, they focus on words they’ve never heard their dad say before, like ain’t, and miss the punchline anyway.

I have my good friend Matthew Martz to thank for this and another doll’s personality, because one night he channeled their thoughts to the delight of Josie. Apparently they were quite catty that night, and ever since when I catch Josie playing with the two of them, they are just as evil as the night Matthew gave them voices. None of her other toys are like this. Every stuffed animal she has is an angel she loving tucks in at night with a napkin. These two though…they’re like the douchey spawn of Snooki and Kevin Federline. I have fears that someday Josie will catch a clip of Miley Cyrus twerking on TV and later that night, while I’m cleaning up the toy wreckage in the living room I’ll come upon one of these girls bent over, in front of her stuffed Eeyore, who for all intents and purposes, will appear to be giving it to her doggy style.

Thanks a lot Matthew.



I thought I would have a more masculine effect on my daughter being a stay-at-home dad, but after raising a girl who wants to be a ballerina, I’m not sure how much influence my gender is having.  I thought I’d be able to make some generalizations about children raised by stay-at-home mothers or father by now, but I can’t.  Kids come in all flavors and I honestly don’t think there’s much a parent can do to alter their fundamental personality.  I think I can say, given my wife’s numerous comments after coming home from work, that perhaps color coordination is not traditionally one of men’s strong  points.


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Toddlerhood: a Prescription for Anti-Psychotic Drugs

Living with a toddler is like living with a senile manic depressive.  You are a captive social worker belted into their emotional roller coaster.  They can deliver you, with a kiss and a “I really love you Dada,” to the clouds, and in quick succession they can send you hurtling toward the earth in a death spiral of banshee-like screaming at the back of your friend’s wedding.  When the ride stops, you are a crumpled emotional carcass while they are smiling like a cherub, handing the ticket man another token.

I heard someone once say that if an adult treated you the way a toddler does, you would probably punch them and call them a jerk.  You’d probably also swear at them, with the most common refrain being, “What the hell is wrong with you?”  There is a lot “wrong” with them from the adult perspective, so much so that if a toddler were treated as an adult by a psychiatrist, I think they could be prescribed the following four anti-psychotic drugs.  I will provided evidence for each of these drugs’ associated conditions using examples from our recent camping trip to Mt. Rainier National Park.

Lithium (for bipolar disorder). If I could choose only one drug for my toddler’s mental first aid kit it would be Lithium.  If toddlers were an emotional landscape they would look like the Himalaya.  Adults, on the other hand, mostly look like the Midwest.  This causes friction.  Iowans don’t acclimate well to being dragged up frigid 8,000 meter peaks and run back down to the sweltering Indian paddy fields over and over again.  It is exhausting and gives them severe headaches.  Lithium smooths things out.

Sarah and I like to hang onto the delusion that we are still hardened hikers without a two year-old on my shoulders and a baby growing in her tummy.  So we do not eat at picnic areas set up by the NPS.  No, we hike 0.3 miles up to a ridge, lugging our camp stove, water and noodles and cook our dinner like real thru-hikers on the trail.  While I’m boiling water, Josie tells Sarah she needs to go “poop poop.”  Uh oh.  Josie is not a seasoned outdoor pooper.  She is also tired and hungry.  It is a Saturday in July and there are literally hundreds of people on this trail.  Sarah valiantly scoops her up and departs for the small grove of alpine firs nearby.  As I’m stirring penne, I begin to hear screaming.  So do about 30 other people walking down this section trail.  It sounds like a cougar is mauling a small child in the woods.  I’m thrown back to a sociology class in college, learning about the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Five minutes pass, and Sarah emerges.  Aside for some reddened eyes and uncooperative sphincter, Josie has emotionally recovered completely.  Sarah and I, on the other hand, are a little ragged.


This is five minutes after the code red shitfest in the woods. Also note the hallucinatory behavior she is exhibiting, mistaking Sarah for a pot.

Valium/Xanax (for anxiety).  Traveling with toddlers is the worst.  The reason why is that change makes them anxious.  Routine is their friend, so in a way they’re a little autistic too.  Therefore, taking down the tent in the morning is a rife with trauma.  After a number of meltdowns, we finally got it right by having her “help” with undoing the clips and collapsing the tent poles.  Then again, she didn’t collapse the tent poles.  They became play things and I eventually had to take them away, which led to more banshee screaming.  Thirty seconds late she was fine.  Look – a squirrel!

I wouldn't call toddlers monsters, but then again they do seem to possess an innate fear of fire.

I wouldn’t call toddlers monsters, but then again they do seem to possess an innate fear of fire.

Haldol (for megalomania)  Megalomania is characterized by four conditions, where individuals believe themselves omnipotent, have a deluded sense of possessing extraordinary power, or exhibit grandiosity, which is a view of personal superiority and disdain for others.

Mt. Rainier is a massive stratovolcano 14,411 feet high, and possess more glacial mass than all the rest of the glaciers in the continental United States combined.  When Josie first saw it up close from her car seat she declared it “My mountain” and referred to it in this way for the rest of the trip.  Enough said.

Narcissism is also a marker of megalomania.

Narcissism is also a marker of megalomania.

Of course I wouldn’t recommend giving a toddler Valium.  If, however, I could get Josie a prescription I can’t say I wouldn’t pilfer her stash the next time she devolved into a convulsing jelly of screaming.  Just to smooth things out a little.  Then again maybe I’ll just break out that ear protection again – probably less habit forming.

Month one. 2:30am. 120 decibels.

Josie with Gigantic Fruit and Vegetables

Like many parents, it’s important to me that my kid understands where her food comes from.  There’s not a day that goes by during the growing season when Josephine doesn’t pick and eat something from our backyard.  One of my proudest moments as a new father happened when Josie was one year-old and still signing for most of her language.  She went to the door that leads to the garden and gave me the sign for “food.”  She was hungry, so I let her out to feast upon the strawberries.  Success.

A year has passed and the strawberries and and now the cherries are waning.  I’ve turned the snap peas under, but soon the raspberries will peak, and then it it will be carrots, gooseberries, currants, blackberries, tomatoes, pears, apples, and grapes.  She’s two and a half-years old and may not be able to count past four, but she can identify the difference between a garlic and an onion, spinach and lettuce, or kale and swiss chard.  I’ve also tricked her into thinking that she’s playing with water by watering the raised beds

Like a fisherman with his catch, it is hard not to fall into the temptation to glorify your blue-ribbon winners with photos.  Being a fisherman, as well as a grower of vegetables, I know a thing or two about how to pose with a two-pound trout: namely at arm’s length toward my buddy’s camera to make it look like an 18-pound steelhead.  So I’ll admit it: posing my diminutive daughter beside these fruits and veggies does flatter my gardening prowess with an optical illusion of gigantism.  But seriously folks: those bunny ears of hers are spinach, not swiss chard.  And that turnip-induced hernia of hers?  I’ve never heard such screaming.

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Top ten things that happen in your thirties that you thought happened in your fifties

10.  You begin to say ridiculous things like, “When I was your age you didn’t have to cut english muffins, they just tore apart!”

9.  When you push your kid on the swing, you’re the one who gets queasy.

8.  Switching sides of the bed with your wife is CRAAAAAZZZZZZYYYYY.

7.  To your wife at a party you utter the sentence, “I don’t know, I’d rather get home before it gets dark.”

6.  A friend at work has a genuine conversation with you about prostate health.

5.  You see a pair of New Balance shoes in a store and think to yourself, “Huh, those look pretty cool.”

4.  You brag to a friend about how you fell asleep the night before at 9:15pm.

3.  You’re still at the bar when you start to feel hungover.

2.  You buy a half-day ski ticket at 9am.

1. You look at a picture of yourself from before having kids and think to yourself, “Damn, I looked GOOD back then!”  The picture is from two years ago.

Josephine “Danger” Axling Volume II

If you missed the first one, this is part two of a photo essay where I try to have perfect strangers (or my mother-in-law) call Child Protective Services on me.  For the first volume click here.


Traversing a Sharp Field of Lava

Band Saw

Playing with a Rod of Plutonium

Hanging Out on Top of a CliffNew York trip 159
Jumping Off the Roof (thank God I was there to catch her)



Bear Spray




and finally my favorite…

Playing with the Garbage Disposal Switch* Underneath the Thickness Planer, While Holding a Box of Rat Poison

041*The planer stand doubles as our apple grinding station during the fall when we press cider, and a garbage disposal makes easy work out of crushing apples into sauce prior to pressing – just to head off all the questions.