She has calculated, correctly, that if great-grandma can die, anyone she loves is fair game.
Sometimes Ava defies the inescapable logic. She’ll tell a stranger, “My great-grandma died, but my grandma is never going to die.”
At other times, she plea bargains: “Mama,” she says, cuddling on the couch, “I don’t want you to leave me.”
She knows the happy part is that great-grandma is in heaven, but the sad part is that we don’t get to see her any more. And that she can’t talk. Or write letters. Or go to church. Or anything.
In short, she knows that dead is dead. And while she accepts the heaven part, the consolation is abstract.
Novelist Anne Rice lost her daughter in 1972. From the pain of this infinitely unfolding tragedy, she conceived a series of works about vampires, whom she portrays as god-like, immortal beings. In Rice’s vampire novels, a vampire seeking companionship in the dark night of eternity can confer “the dark gift” of immortality on a mortal by biting them just so. The series resonates in part because it darkly mirrors normal human experience. Life itself is a dark gift: every parent knows their child will suffer and die.
Our daughter is not yet on intimate terms with death, but the two have now met and exchanged a few words.
At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.
Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.
If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.
That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.
On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).
I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.
It all happened here.
This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.
Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.
When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.
I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.
I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.
And that is all.
This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.
“We’ll have to work on that with mommy and daddy magic.”
“Make mommy and daddy magic now?”
“Not right now.”
“We’ll do it before Christmas.”
Early this morning, in my last deep sleep, I was tormented by a nightmare concerning our three-year-old. In my dream, she was chasing some happy bauble. Call it a big floating bubble filled with sunshine. The bubble blew out of the park. She ran after it. I ran after her.
The bubble floated above a big street filled with speeding cars. I called her name and shouted stop, but she did not hear me or would not listen. Giggling and burbling, all young enthusiasm for the chase, she ran into the street of speeding cars. I ran into it after her.
The pursuit continued, block after block. The oblivious bubble. The excited child, dashing into street after street of speeding cars. Me behind, never able to catch up, never able to protect her, never able to make her stop.
Happy Father’s Day.
[tags]dreams, family, glamorous, parenting[/tags]
Hope is the daughter of dawn
Awake at 4:30 AM at the end of a four-day heat wave. Sweating, but not from the weather. Running a business during a recession gets you out of bed with the chickens.
I have always moved counter to my time. I started Happy Cog as the dot-com boom went bust. We bought our first home in December 2007, as the U.S. mortgage crisis flared to full incandescence. And as the U.S. falls into economic narcolepsy, Happy Cog New York and Happy Cog Philadelphia are moving to newer, bigger, better, more beautiful, more perfectly located, and more expensive offices.
By daylight I hustle and count my blessings. We retire early, tired and contented. But at the first pale light of dawn, I’m awake and wired and already on the mental treadmill.
This morning as I lay there fretting over design and personnel questions, I heard our daughter cry out. I was at her side a moment later. She was dreaming; dreaming about bath time. Talking in her sleep, she gave voice to her nightmare:
“No, Mama, no hair wash. Let me skip it, Mama.”
I put my hand on her shoulder and told her she could skip the hair wash, and she instantly subsided to calm sleep.
If I learned one thing at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival, it was this: you can’t bring your three-year-old to SXSW Interactive and expect to actually participate in SXSW Interactive.
Don’t get me wrong: Trading parenting duties with your spouse enables you to see or contribute to at least some of the show’s panels and parties.
Don’t get me wronger: SXSW Interactive is foremost about the stuff that happens in halls, the chance meetings with your web heroes on Congress, the small gatherings and compressed conversations at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These mini-gatherings are the best thing at SXSW, and, with the exception of an occasional meal cancelled on account of meltdown, you don’t have to miss out.
Don’t get me wrongest: Traveling with your young child is a privilege, and the memories you make are more precious than the panels you miss.
Still, there is the problem. SXSW Interactive is the annual gathering of the tribes. Many of the tribes now have younguns. Attending a two-day educational conference without your kids is not a huge deal, but SXSW lasts a week. The choices are not good: See the whole show but miss your kids for a week? Bring your kids and miss practically the whole show? Attend for only a couple of days, missing your kids and most of the show?
On the third day I found myself in a costly hotel room across from the conference center, skipping a keynote to play with Barbie dolls, it occurred to me that groups of parents could band together to create a more optimal experience.
Here’s how SXSW Parents Cooperatives could work: You and six other families bring your kids. An Austin nanny provides knowledge of local activities and primary child care. Parents pool their money to pay the nanny. Each day a different parent accompanies the nanny and kids to the playroom or museum or park. (That way there is always one parent present.) Everyone has each other’s mobile phone numbers; there are strict rules about drop-off and pick-up. Each participating parent misses one day of the conference, but gets to attend all the other days without worry or guilt.
It beats missing the conference—or your family.
Variations are possible. Maybe two parents hang with the nanny each day. Maybe one parent does the morning and another does the afternoon.
You start your co-op and I’ll start mine. For reasons of child safety and privacy, we can’t organize our co-ops on public-facing websites. But we can pool our experiences after next year’s show. Maybe several co-ops can start a wiki. Or a bowling tournament. Or a kid-friendly party or two.
Catch you ’round the jungle gym.
SXSW Interactive Video
Respect! Panel Excerpt featuring Douglas Bowman of Stopdesign and Google, and Happy Cogs Erin Kissane, Liz Danzico, and Jason Santa Maria. Moderated by Jeffrey Zeldman. The panel’s title gets mangled, and the name “Santa Monica” is shown when I talk, but interesting things are said about getting buy-in on design.
Two homeless men have taken up residence in the temporary supply hut of the Chinese Embassy construction on the corner.
One man, who may be Colombian, sleeps sitting up in the hut. The other, who could be Australian, sleeps on a folding chair facing the hut, his long legs extended so that his boots just cross the hut’s threshold.
In a pretty, almost calligraphic hand, one of the men has decorated the hut with sayings such as, “Life really sucks.”
Besides the hut, the advantages of the site are a temporary roof that blocks some rain and snow, and the presence of three working Port-a-Potties.
Everyone, including the neighborhood residents, appears to have decided to treat the temporary encampment as a private residence. When the homeless men are off somewhere foraging for food or money, their possessions (mainly, blankets) sit unmolested by the supply hut.
In the morning, the Chinese construction site bosses ignore the two homeless men while inspecting the efforts of their African American construction workers.
A few blocks north, the Secretariat of the United Nations is clearly visible.
It is snowing again in New York City. I’ll wait while you verify.
Presently the precipitation is recorded as 0.11 inches. But if you venture out, you may notice snow piles that are several inches high. How can we account for this discrepancy between the recorded height of snowfall and the actual height of some snow piles?
In this city, custodians and superintendents salted and shoveled sidewalks before 7:00 AM.
When people shovel, they push the snow into curbside banks that reach inches or even feet higher than the recorded snowfall level.
To see this, walk outside and look. The fresh air may do you good.
Sometimes after a snowfall, the temperature drops. Then those high banks of snow stick around.
Sometimes it warms just enough to rain into those frozen banks of snow. Then you get cold wetness that can reach into a toddler’s shoes (if she’s not wearing boots). And banks of old snow at the edges of curbs that, combined with freezing rain, can wet a small, bootless child halfway to the knees.
If you spent less time fact-checking other people’s blog posts and more time living, you would know these things about snow, and children, and weather reports.
And even if “halfway up to A—’s knees” were off by an inch or more, a person who is alive would say to themselves, “A father, worried about his child’s exposure to weather, sees conditions as somewhat worse than they are.”
A person who understands people might seek further evidence of hyperbole, and would find it: “My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.”
A parent, or a non-parent alive enough to imagine the anxieties of parenting, would recognize that this an exaggeration, intended to convey (and through the catharsis or writing, alleviate) parental guilt and anxiety.
Trying to prove strangers liars is no substitute for lived experience. You missed the point of what I shared, and attacked the reality of my story on petty (and false) grounds.
Let me tell you how your anonymous attack made me feel:
Blessed to have a meaningful life.
Blessed not to have to fill my hours poking around, looking for inaccuracies in other people’s websites, hoping to embarrass strangers.
Whoever you are, I hope your life grows richer than it is today.
Lord of the Rains
Relentless winter rain was turning last night’s snow to slush as I with my head cold and A— with her wooly hat left the lobby of our apartment building, headed for the nearby crosstown bus.
From home to preschool is a mile uphill, and we always walk it. But today was no day for pedestrianism. Even the dog could barely be persuaded to lift his leg.
And taking the bus was a form of bribery. A— did not want to go to school today, but she loves to ride the bus.
“We’ll ride the bus to school!” we proposed, and this enticement sufficed to get the girl dressed and downstairs—where we spied the bus, half a block away, accepting passengers and about to leave.
We ran through the slush, holding hands, my office bag bouncing off my left shoulder, the diaper bag bouncing off my right, the stroller sliding ahead of us, guided by my free hand.
You must fold a stroller before boarding a New York City bus. At the bus doors, I had trouble folding. The stroller would not collapse. The driver and the wet passengers inside stared down at me like bison on a nature show, blinking impassively while contemplating my destruction.
A woman in front of me took A—’s hand, to help the little girl onto the bus while her father wrestled with a child carrying appliance.
I saw myself stuck in the slush. I saw the bus doors closing. I saw a strange lady taking my daughter away.
I grabbed A—’s hand, pulled her away from the stranger.
“I’m sorry, thank you, I appreciate it, but my daughter has to stay with me,” I said. At which point, blessedly, the stroller collapsed. I scooped daughter, stroller, diaper bag and office bag into my arms, ascended the bus steps, and placed my Metro card into the card reader.
The bus driver looked at me and said something incomprehensible. The bus beeped; the card reader blinked red and ejected my card.
I reinserted the card, smiling, already soaked, my daughter and possessions balanced against my chest. Again the red, the beeping, the ejection.
This time I understood what the bus driver was saying.
“Your card’s empty.”
“Oh,” I said, the whole bus watching me and my daughter, every face wondering what refugee camp we had escaped from, and whether the bus driver would show mercy and let us ride on this most miserable of cold wet rainy days.
The bus driver blinked at me.
“Um,” I said.
“Pay or get off” the bus driver said.
Buses accept Metrocards and coins only. You need $2 in coins. I don’t carry $2 in coins.
“Can I give you two dollars in bills?” I said.
“No,” the bus driver said.
So the girl and I plunged back into the slush and began the mile uphill walk in the rain.
“Why can’t we ride the bus?” my three-year-old asked through trembling lips.
Her whole world was now about the bus ride she’d been promised, and the promise I was inexplicably breaking.
“I’ll let you walk,” I said, since walking, instead of riding in the stroller, is also a perk.
I took out her Dora the Explorer umbrella, which we bought two weeks ago at a premium price.
It was broken, I discovered. The umbrella offered no protection whatever from the rain. On the plus side, you could still read the Dora the Explorer logo, so the licensee was getting his money’s worth.
Umbrellaless, toddling along, we made it to a major avenue where the deep, melting ice and snow came halfway up to A—’s knees, and women stared at the idiot father letting his beautiful innocent child flounder about in wetness.
“There’s too much ice, now; you’ve got to get in the stroller,” I said.
“No!” she said.
There was nothing else for it. “I’ll give you candy,” I said.
In the Duane Reade on Third Avenue, I let her pick the candy—she selected something pink and disgusting—while I unpacked the stroller to get at a plastic sheet at the bottom. The plastic sheet is supposed to snap over the top of the stroller, protecting children from rain, snow, and oxygen. I could not get it to snap or stay or even cover the stroller. Strike three.
So we walked the rest of the way uphill, uncovered, rain-battered, she with her candy and I with silent curses.
We reached the school and climbed the steps in the usual way—the girl refusing to climb the steps, me carrying her in one hand and the stroller in the other.
We were both soaked through and I realized I was the worst father walking the earth. All the other kids came in wearing rain boots. My kid was wearing pretty little black Maryjanes. The other kids were damp. My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.
What saved me was this:
In the library at the top of the stairs, preparing to read a Curious George book before school began, the girl sat by the radiator and said, “Look, Dad. This hot stuff will get me dry.”