Logorrhea

I know what it sounds like, but to assure you that I haven’t fallen into a literary rut of feces, here is a definition:

Logorrheaˌlôgəˈrēə,ˌlägə-/ noun. 1. a tendency to extreme loquacity.

One year ago, a friend of mine was over who has a son. He was three at the time and I remember very distinctly my friend watching my daughter playing quietly with some of her toys. He turned to me with a knowing expression and simply said, “Enjoy the silence.” Of course, at the time Josie was two and I was blissfully living downstream from the dam and had yet to notice its cracks. Back then, my wife and I were getting, maybe, three word phrases from Josie – simple sentences that we delighted in recounting to one another, which only parents could take delight in.

“You’ll never guess what she said today,” I would say to my wife upon arriving home.

“What?” she would say breathlessly, as if I had just returned from the reading of my rich dead uncle’s will.

“Ducks…fly…sky,” I would recount slowly, like a poet reciting halting lines of verse.

One year later, and that little speech center in her brain has gone supernovae. Before it happens to your two year-old, you never really think it’s possible – like when they were a baby, and you could never imagine them with teeth. But it happens. Oh does it happen. And I’m not saying that it always feels like drowning in a deluge of verbal vomit. Like yesterday, she said the sweetest thing, I honest to god wrote it down and read it to my wife when she came home: “One day, when I’m bigger, I will fly up to the moon. Not with one spaceships. With my wings.”

Adorable, right? Except that the other 99% of the time what comes out of her mouth is a stream of consciousness. But from a toddler’s consciousness, so it’s just a bunch of random words and ideas rattling around a garbage disposal and what comes out looks like what happens when I connect my shop-vac’s hose to the exhaust port by accident.

To give you an idea – a tiny taste of the endless train of mangled verbs and nouns I listen to all day – here is a transcript of a video I took today. She was reading a dinosaur book while playing with a T-Rex figure, and I just set the video camera on the table and walked away. This took the time it took me to make a cup of coffee, spiked with an unmentionable amount of Bailey’s. I added punctuation to make it intelligible, but I regret doing so now. There should really be no punctuation at all.

“…mouth this the beak of the triceratops mouth you ate the whoooole beak the whole triceratops you needed this you ate the tail to grow your tail you ate his mouth to grow your mouth you ate his eye to grow your two eyes you growed your feet for his feet you ate mate you ate yourself. Pretty sad to ate himself him just lay down and another one came and say, “What you doing laying on ground?”
“I’m just laying on the ground,” he say.
“I’m been talking something.”
“What you talking?”
“I don’t know. I’m talking another one of my friends.”
“Why?”
“You talking one swimming dino?”
“Yeah. I’m talking with triceratops. Right over there. (in pirate accent). I’m talking…I’m talking…um um um um um um uh um saying that they ate all meat this guy knocked hisself right over by the tail of this big dino and this dino will fell right down and this volcano erupt last time trannafaur rex last time him erupting. this dino died last year pretty sad your friend this guy flow then the volcano erupted then this guy had to five um I’m wanting to give one…(inaudible gibberish)…I’m pretending you get one shoot this dino you have a longer tail that you want I show you you grow this much.

This will melt your brain.

Not that I’m advocating the use of torture, but the U.S. government could save itself a lot of hassle from the likes of aggrieved death metal bands by recording toddlers talking to themselves and broadcasting that instead to the prisoners in Guantanamo. Better yet, ship a barge of toddlers over there. I hear they already play the theme song from Barney over and over and over and I bet the food is really bland too, probably a lot of plain pasta and white bread. They’d fit right in!

I realize this post sounds tantamount to a cry for help. It is not. It’s simply a birthday wish for noise cancelling Bose headphones.

Or, at the very least, a lock on the bathroom door.

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Fashio(not)ista

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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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.

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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)
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Demolition

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Bear Spray

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Beaters

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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.

Cursing like a sailor

The other day Josie and I were driving around, and I found myself following behind a dump truck.  Josie loves big trucks.  She got excited.

“Dada! Dumb f#@k! Dumb f#@k Dada!”

It’s terribly hard to not to laugh at times like these.  And you don’t laugh, because if you do the next day you will be pushing her in the grocery cart and you’ll be that dad whose kid is calling everyone in the produce aisle a dumb f#@k.  And she’ll be laughing like the devil as she says it.  So I stared into the rear view and said, as calmly as I could, “Yes Josie that’s a Dump Truck.”

“Guy.  Guy in drive dumb f#@k.  Guy dumb f#@k.  Guy dumb f#@k.”

Apparently she doesn’t think too highly of drivers of dump trucks.

She also curses like a sailor when she tries to say “Sit.”  God help me if I am ever walking by a church full of Sunday school children on a nice day with the windows open and Josie should see a dump truck driver climb into his rig and sit down.  Especially if she thinks he sat down just a “bit.”

You start to conjure up wildly unlikely scenarios in your mind that could ignite a sitstorm of inadvertent swear words from your child.  I haven’t had the chance to use the word “lasso” yet, given that where we live the chance of seeing a cowboy throw a rope around a bull is pretty small.  Josie can sometimes  mix up the order of sounds in some of her words, so I’m pretty sure that if she ever saw a mother jump out of a dump truck to lasso a bull until it sat down a bit, there would be an clustertruck of obscenities worthy of landing her a bit in any Quentin Tarantino movie, whose role in the credits would simply read “Swearing girl: Josephine Axling.”

And I would excitedly point out her name and declare to strangers in the theater, “There she is, that’s my girl!”

 

 

 

Fostering Creativity

If you haven’t read ‘The 5 Best Toys of All Time‘ from Wired yet, you should.  As Jonathan Liu lists, in no particular order, they are:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tube
  5. Dirt

I’m a big fan of this list, because I believe one of my big goals as a parent of a young child is to foster a healthy and creative imagination.  None of these understated objects are intrinsically fun.  They are, however, wildly popular with little kids because they are a canvas for their imaginations to run wild.  I spent hundreds of hours as a kid in my wooded backyard swashbuckling bracken ferns down to the ground with a sharp stick whose handle was wrapped with twine.  I also can’t remember a Halloween costume that I wore in elementary school that didn’t involve at least a box or cardboard tube.

Now that she’s a little older and beginning to play with versions of toys I remember as a kid, I’m a little disappointed by these new versions.  Take Legos for example.  Like me, you probably remember your Legos looking like this: Mine lived in a cardboard box – a rainbow of thousands of random pieces my mom would dump out on a sheet and I’d spend a rainy afternoon assembling them into cities, castles, towers etc.  Not so anymore.  Now each Legos set you buy is often tied in with a Hollywood franchise like Harry Potter or Star Wars.  God forbid you should mix up Legos from different sets.  Kids interacting with these sets are less like architects and more like carpenters following blueprints.

Playdough is the same way.  You probably remember making this salty stuff with your mom too, wondering what color food coloring might be in the drawer this time.  It looked like this and you didn’t dare forget to keep it covered in a plastic tub.

This is what kids play with now:

It’s like Henry Ford got into the toy business.  I also like how their lawyers had to tack on at the end that the “candy” is not to eat.  I made Josie play dough awhile back and we would sit at the table for a long time, her telling me what to make with animal sounds, which I was happy to do since she was still mastering ‘snake.’  Then we were gifted a Play-doh farm set, and now all she wants to do is stuff the commercial Play-doh into these little plastic molds of chickens.  I know her brain is learning some fine motor skills, and cause and effect, etc., but there’s no opening for imaginative play to go along with them anymore.

Here’s why I think all this is important: I believe that there is a brief window of time for people’s imaginations to develop, and it closes around the third or fourth grade.  Just ask yourself this – when did your drawing skills stagnate?  Unless you took a high school elective in the arts, for most of us, around 8 or 9 years old, right?  Imaginative play is vitally important to a workforce that increasingly demands the skills of creative people, yet we are failing to encourage these skills in school.

Since we were in school the focus on standardized testing has reduced the focus on individual expression and creative problem solving many of us enjoyed.  In fact a one study found that the creativity of schoolchildren, particularly kindergarteners through third grade, has decreased significantly since 1990.  It seems it’s up to parents to turn off the television when children come home and help cultivate creativity through play.  School will teach them how to crunch numbers, write essays, and memorize historical dates.  Sure, if your kid does these well, they’ll get into a good college, and from there they’ll get a job.  But after that it will be the creative problem solvers who produce new innovative things, not the worker drones, who are recognized for their talents.

So play with your kid and let your kid play.  Build a fort out of the couch cushions, or just take a stick and cover their crib with blankets.

Take some aluminum foil and let them make robot masks.  Play dress up and have a tea party.  Make a kite together.  Hand them some sidewalk chalk.  Play ‘pirates.’ Have Grandma make them a teepee like this one:
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I say let them play in the dirt, or shoot marbles down through a cardboard tube all over the floor.  Don’t freak out if your son ties two sticks together with string and calls them “numbchunks.”  Make a stop on your way home to dumpster dive a bunch of cardboard boxes from the back of a McDonalds, and go home and make a box maze.  I stayed up the night before Josie’s first Christmas taping this thing together, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to give a gift before or since.  Next time, though, I’m definitely going to be on the hunt for some really big cardboard tubes.

Josie and Lucian’s Treehouse

I know I don’t really talk about it in this blog, but in my prior life to being a stay at home dad, I was/am a carpenter.  Among my my more interesting jobs, early in my learning curve, was a stint with Pete Nelson at TreeHouse Workshop, a company that builds high-end treehouses all over the country.  Think five figure houses in trees for dot com millionaires.  After helping build a few of these beautiful things, I always thought it would be fun to build one of my own.  Like a fat guy in a pastry shop, how could I resist their siren call?

Unfortunately the house we bought doesn’t really have any treehouse worthy trees.  Fortunately though, my parents cleared out some cedars next to their deck and uncovered a perfect tree for a treehouse that had been buried in the green.  Trees should want a treehouse to be built in them, and this one is screaming for it.

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So after some clearing, I spent a couple days hoisting two long 4×8’s into its many trunks and securing them with the biggest lag bolts I could find (3/4″ x 12″).  I spaced them off the tree with a countersunk plumbing pipe nipple, to allow for tree growth, and sandwiched the beam with washers.  To allow for lateral movement, I cut 6″ slots in the beams instead of just holes for the lagbolts.  To take some of the pressure off the cantilevered lag bolts (and to provide for a fail safe) the beams have chain wrapped around their ends, which is cabled to an eye bolt or limb higher up.

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 ImageThere is more flexibility in what gets built on top of the beams than where the beams go, so at this point in the game it’s time to do a lot of standing around in different spots, scratching your chin.  This is what I came up with.  It looks big but the actual treehouse will only be around 5 1/2 feet wide and 6 1/2 feet long.  It’s big enough that two adults will be able to sleep on the floor, while two little ones will be able to sleep in a fold down cot platforms, or when they are older, a sleeping loft.  There will be just enough room for two adults to stretch their legs out in two chairs on the deck.  The deck railing will be made of cedar log posts, with cedar branches sandwiched between cedar 2x4s between them.  A steep ship’s ladder will descend off the SW side.  It will have single pane recycled windows and doors, a swooped roof, and sidewall cedar shingles.  Other fun things will be a secret compartment beneath the treehouse floor, and of course a bucket and pulley for hoisting up important things like water balloons from below.  Most of the cedar I hoped to have milled up on site from the other down cedars with the help of a friend of mine who has a portable sawmill.

I’ve got the joists and blocking cut and stained.  Now I just need some spare time to go over and nail them in.  Ha!

More to come on this project.

Why stay at home dads stay at home

Men and women are fundamentally different.  I remember when I first learned about sociobiology in college.  I found it abhorrent to think that nature might trump nurture.  Men and women were simply results of the greater culture, and to suggest otherwise in a liberal arts college was heresy.  While I’m not coming down on the side of a purely biological determinism (after all I am a man who is the primary caregiver for a 16 month-old girl and cooks, does dishes, sweeps, does laundry, and and washes diapers all day), but deep down, men and women are programmed differently.

Like everything, of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but since becoming a stay at home dad for while, our many differences have become pretty clear.  Namely, the way we interact with one another outside of mixed gender groups is very different.  When we are in groups of our own gender, we talk very differently.  While the erroneous study showing that women talk more than men has been disproved, it’s what we talk about that is different.

When my Dad retired from 30 years of being an elementary school teacher, I asked him what he’d miss.  I don’t remember what he said, but I remember what he said he wouldn’t miss: the meetings.  Like being a stay at home dad, a male elementary school teacher finds himself in a pretty female dominated peer group.  And as such, meetings in the teacher’s conference room were conducted in particularly female way – namely that a group of people sat around a table and talked – a lot, often about how students in their classrooms made them feel.  My dad said he would just sit there, doodling, waiting it out.  Eventually it would end, and he would go home.  He did this for 30 years.

Sitting in a circle with a group of your peers talking about your feelings and your relationships is not a male activity.  For many women, like my wife, it’s not their scene either, but the percentage of men who enjoy commiserating about their relationships in a group of strangers is far lower.  In fact, it is about as likely that a man in a group of his male peers would spontaneously bring up an issue  between himself and his wife for group discussion, than a woman would sit un-ladylike in a chair, scratch her crotch and curse loudly at a basketball player on television.

Josie and I recently went to a playschool for kids 9 months – 3 years to check it out.  A friend said that Tuesdays had a lot of other dads, but only one other showed up – a guy named Tupper whose son Owen I had met before at library lapsit.  After group play and snack time, the parents go in one room, while the kids who will let their parents leave, stay in another room with a facilitator.  Since Josie has never been in a room with a bunch of strange kids on her own before, I kept my eye on her as I slowly backed toward the door.  She was probably so overstimulated that she didn’t notice, but I slipped behind the door and watched from the crack to see how she would do.  She seemed fine, which made me proud and sad at the same time.

So I joined the eight moms around the table.  Since I was new we did introductions.  During one mom’s introduction, after her name and informing me which little boy was hers, she let me know that she was anxious about leaving her son in the other room, and that it was probably her anxiety, which he could sense, which is really what was probably causing his anxiety.  Nice to meet you.  The rest of the conversation was facilitated, and focused on a handout based on the book, “The Five Love Languages.”

Suddenly we were doing couples therapy, specifically the moms were providing examples for each of the ways their husbands weren’t making them feel loved.  Surprisingly I learned, that most just wanted their husbands to do laundry once in awhile.  Wow, did I feel like a catch!  I do laundry EVERY day!  It’s times like these that I either feel like a spy, a girl’s gay best friend, or a character on the Twilight Zone inexplicably cast into Opposite World.

I know there are a lot of deadbeat partners out there, but I love my wife, and since she works all day, I consider it my job to make sure when she comes home the house is clean, Josie is still alive, and I’ve at least got an idea in my head on what to cook for dinner.  Men are brought up to be financial providers, so when we’re not, we’ll be damned if we complain that our partners aren’t doing enough dishes.  Sarah get’s four precious hours with Josephine every evening before bedtime, and the only reason it’s not three, is because she puts in another hour on the computer after 8 o’clock.

I began to watch the clock.  Tupper was noticeably absent from the table, playing with Owen in the other room.  I began to wonder if Owen would be perfectly okay if his father left him, or whether Tupper had sat in my chair before.

This is why stay at home dads stay at home.  I know there are many more dad’s at home these days with the economy hitting men harder than women.  You wouldn’t know it though, because early childhood development activities are traditionally run by women.  And these activities often make us uncomfortable or feel like idiots.  Trust me when I say this: although you might see a smiling guy in a circle of women and toddlers doing the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with is fingers, he’s only doing it because A) he fears that if his son or daughter never leaves the fours wall of their lad house, that he or she will become that awkward kid on the playground who doesn’t know how to play with others, ultimately develops into a goth clad teenager, culminating in a regrettable tattoo like ‘Juggalo 4 Life,’ or that B) his wife makes him go and peer pressure is a powerful thing.  I started out as the latter, and now lean toward the former.

Sarah tells me a that I should start a ‘Dad’s Group.’  I keep telling her that this is antithetical to male behavior.  As evidence of this, when I type in “Dad’s playgroup” into Google, I get a sad FB page for a Portland based group that had eight posts last year and only one this year that reads “Hi, just wondering if the group is still meeting together. I don’t see much recent activity here, so just wanted to know before I try to make it to a meeting. Thanks!”  On Athomedad.org a search in Washington for Dad’s playgroups comes up with three groups, with a total of 6 members, and the Seattle one lists one member and is ‘closed.’

I think men in general are wary of formalized groups of their male peers that don’t involve sports, the military or the Elks club.  If there is a chance that they will end up sitting in a circle, introducing themselves and talking about their problems and feelings they will generally avoid it, unless their participation is court-mandated or the result of a surprise family intervention.  We prefer smaller, less formal groups made up of our friends.  Name tags are a red flag.

So if you’re a dad in the neighborhood who wants to bring your kid over and hang out while our kids play together I’ll make you these six promises:

1.  We won’t sing any songs.
2.  I won’t ask you about your relationship with your partner.
3.  You won’t get a handout, schedule or name tag.
4.  If it’s after noon, you will be offered a homebrew.
5.  If it’s not raining, we will likely spend time outside with our kids.
6.  And when you come home and your wife asks you what I was like, you will be able to give her an unsatisfying answer on what woodworking projects I’m currently working on, how my beer tasted, and what I have planted in my garden.

And you know what?  I think our kids will turn out okay.  Though from the looks of teenagers these days, they’ll probably get a tattoo when they turn 18, and the best we can do is raise them well enough to hope that they just get a tramp stamp of a sun or something.