Thanks to public school kindergarten, which has whetted my child's appetite for writing her own stories and gags, that whole pall of minor controversy that hangs over the parental blog -- How much should one draw from the life of one's child to provide material for your writing? -- has been deftly resolved by simply putting the responsibility for my blog's content directly into the hands of my daughter.
We had been talking a few weeks ago about the New Yorker cartoon caption contest and she decided to try her hand at a couple. She has not yet won anything, but we have had some productive conversations about the theoretical underpinnings of humor -- ambiguity, irony (dramatic, Socratic), the juxtaposition of disparate rhetorical elements, etc. -- and she has proven a quick study. In some cases she even sees beyond the constrictions of convention, as with the dialog she proposed as a caption for the first cartoon included here:
"What, Hairy Man?"
"You're so hairy, I can't see where you're going."
The ambiguity of language is also handled nicely (though perhaps owing a small debt of inspiration to the winning caption) in her proposal for the Mr. Potato Head walks into a bar piece included here:
"If I start looking too funny, just take off my eyes."
[i.e., "Af I s[t]or locan to fane jas tac of my izs."]
I am happy that she takes the task of humor seriously, though as with many five-year-old kids it is unintended humor that sometimes proves more satisfying, viz. this example collected in the field from one of our neighbor kids:
"Knock knock!" he said.
"Who's there?" I answered.
"A ghost who?!"
"You don't have to cry about it!"
"Uh, wait!" he said. "I mean 'Boo!'"
Pseudo-rationalist that I am, I have always been strangely susceptible to fretting about the jinx, portents and the evil eye; I was for example unable to mention any aspect of my wife's pregnancy back when we were expecting the kid without touching wood and, given how well that talismanic little bit of ritual turned out, I continue to engage in a few minor contortions to insure moderate good fortune. Chief among these of course is the fairly simple practice of what you might call activist absit omen, in which I am loathe to mention projects underway until they have reached a some relatively safe conclusion.
Thus my silence in this space owes itself, in part, to what has been the ongoing project of moving my antiquarian book shop into a commercial warehouse and processing space adjacent to a wine and specialty grocery business in our neighborhood. I have the majority of my inventory up onto shelves and with the arrival today by freight handler of my new book truck, I am perhaps ready to declare myself moved in. And while I am not equipped to handle much in the way of walk-in traffic, my stock will continue to be available for perusal by chance or appointment. (One is invited to contact me through my bookselling persona for further detail.)
One might argue that given the fact that I now work outside the home and my child attends kindergarten, I am no longer technically a stay-home father. Perhaps you make a relevant point. This gives me further reason to fret no longer about keeping my updates in this space regular or of patriarchal intention. No doubt I will touch base from time to time, at least as opportunities for the stomach flu present themselves. (Touch wood.)
On the way home from Illinois after Thanksgiving we stopped for lunch in Peru, Indiana. I noticed a sign at a restaurant advertising t-shirts for sale. We stopped in and the kid and I got matching father-daughter Mr. Weenie t-shirts.
"No thanks," said my wife. "I don't want one. The only consolation I take from this whole thing is that by the time her classmates are all old enough to want to beat her up because of a shirt like this it will be too small for her to wear."
And from the back seat came the dulcet tones of a five-year-old singing the phrase "It's Mister Weenie time! It's Mister Weenie time!" in a manner well-suited to suggest a few of the orchestral works of Philip Glass.
The thought of that impromptu song inspires me to recount a fun fact! Did you know it's a nearly four-hour drive from Peru, Indiana, to Ann Arbor? And that at times it seems much longer?
"What kind of monster is white and walks around?" asked the kid.
"Uhhh, I don't know," I said after a period of judicious consideration. "What kind of monster is white and walks around?"
"A sheep!" she said.
"Wha . . . ? Wait. A sheep isn't a monster!"
"No. I put that part in to fool you."
Everyone seems to have reached the point where alimentation has become less problematic. Though I will admit that I am no longer quite so cavalier about sleeping on the floor as once I was. And between one sleepless night on the kid's floor and a couple nights sleeping on the couch, and carrying my perhaps dwindling but still strapping 45-pound daughter around, I have strained my back. I am hobbling around the house, doubled up and lightly stoned on Wiggles videos. My wife has managed to suck it up sufficiently to go into work today and deliver a talk, while I am uncertain that I would trust the acuity of any business decision trusted to my care at this point.
We did manage to get in a viewing a couple of days back of the 1983 animated version of the Wind in the Willows and this perked up the kid somewhat on her sick bed. "Poop poop!" she was heard to exclaim happily from the wheel of her imaginary roadster. I imagine A.A. Milne would consider it a step in the right direction.
Giving up the blog would also deny me an outlet to mention that it's 1:00 AM and that since 9:00 PM my wife and my daughter have both been throwing up in a series of relentless spasmodic gut-flushing heaves. What my wife lacks in frequency (my daughter has been clocking in with incidents every quarter hour to twenty minutes) she more than makes up for in utter misery, in part because she has not realized (as her daughter has) that all this throwing up means tomorrow is a day we get to stay home and watch Barbie videos. And in part, I guess, because she is sick as a dog.
To add some moderate complication to this miasma of misery settling down around our household, every 60 to 75 minutes or so the two of them synchronize their vomiting and I'm poised between the two bedrooms like the fabled donkey between two bales of hay, uncertain which head to lave with the damp washcloth I've got clutched in my palsied hand.
I had best grab a nap before the next round. More updates once the expected meteorite strikes our house or I succumb to the chestnut blight or something.
OK, I'm really going to leave this blog alone, but the kid got her first pet this afternoon after school and it was a goldfish she named Belle. We all loved Belle. My daughter was heard to comment, "I appreciate the extra responsibility I get from having a pet."
Well, Belle was found dead from unknown causes at about 7:30 PM this evening. It's been tears pretty much non-stop since then and the kid went so far as to hide the fish food (in the bathroom) and the fish net (on the steps going upstairs) and made me put the fish bowl out on the front porch so as to avoid the emotional stress of being reminded of the late lamented Belle.
My kid spent the day telling everyone we encountered about her new pet and it was quite engaging -- nearly everyone loves having a conversation with a kid who is excited about a new pet. Now she's going to have to tell everyone she sees tomorrow that the fish is pushing up the peppermint. (I buried Belle in the garden so as to avoid the terrors of association mentioned above.) We'll see how willing everyone is to discuss issues of mortality and grief. This is the kid's first significant brush with grief, and certainly with the health of at least some of my extended family members being dicey at best it's all I can do to keep from telling her that it isn't going to be her last. But rarely have I met with unqualified success when I've attempted to assuage my misery by shifting the thanatopsian burden onto the shoulders of a young child, so likely I will simply continue my ad hoc approach to inuring her to the manifold sucker punches of grief.
Anyway -- hey! We're all feeling pretty lousy around here! Thanks for de-lurking where relevant! I just signed a commercial lease for a book shop this afternoon. So that (I hope) puts the dead pet thing into some kind of counterpoint. How are you?
The kid comes dashing into the kitchen.
"Where's Mom?" she asks.
"I'm right here," she answers, coming into the kitchen.
"Mom! I need a shovel! You do, too! Come on!" The kid turned around and went dashing back outside.
I am afraid my child has joined the neighborhood chapter of the cosa nostra and has just been "made." Or that she's started a rock collection. Either way, I'm a little worried.