8 November 2008 to 17 March 2007 · tagged child/photo
It is a small, powerful thing to rescue small truths hidden in seas of numbers. It is an even smaller and unfathomably deeper joy to hover, enraptured, in the countless endless instants between when some tiny thing happens to her for the first time, and when she shrieks with the joy of a universe expanding.
What Muybridge did for horses galloping, I will become famous by doing for tiny children sneezing.
My parents report, and I vaguely remember this myself, that for the first few years of my being allowed to go to movie theaters and see real (i.e., non-"family") movies, I would invariably come home after each one and deliver some epic panegyric insisting that whatever it was was the best movie I had ever seen. The only specific movies I recall thinking this of as an impressionable early movie-goer are The Eagle Has Landed, Capricorn One and Clash of the Titans, and I submit that it is not unreasonable to consider this an ascending order of quality, albeit in the last case maybe only if one was a 14-year-old boy in 1981 and hadn't seen pointedly naked movie-breasts in anything else yet.
You will eventually get to the age where we begin worrying about how to stage your exposure to adult concepts, too, and before that the age where we start having to negotiate with your own loopily underinformed idea of your personal tastes. But for now your comprehension is blissfully abstract, and pretty much anything is likely to be the greatest thing ever, or close enough for us to amuse ourselves by inferring the nuances of your reactions from the gradually-less-random expressions that flicker across your face.
I have been taking advantage of this state by attempting to give you a sweepingly unguarded pre-self-consciousness grounding in modern rock music. I realize this might sound suspiciously like me just listening to music while I'm holding you, but your reactions are both surprisingly organized and not what I claimed I thought they were going to be, so I feel like the experiments are at least marginally non-solipsistic. Later, no doubt, you will turn out to mostly like some new kind of music B and I fundamentally fail to grasp, but at least you'll have the benefit of some Manic Street Preachers b-sides buried deep in your psyche.
One of my favorite dopey anticipatory theories, developed a while ago after reading an evocative article about the sonic harshness of the womb, was that babies are naturally intuitive fans of deeply textural black metal. The coursing blood all around you, the sudden tumbling motions, the frantic gnashing hum of your own brain growing. Might as well call it birth metal.
This idea proves to have some limited sense to it, at least, in that churning noise at high volume has some undeniable visceral effect. There's a long stretch of the middle of Part II of Metal Machine Music that puts you to sleep approximately as effectively as the "ocean" loop on the sound-module that came with your pack-and-play. Likewise a few carefully-selected sections of Aube's Aqua Syndrome. The ocean noises also kind of work on Bethany, though, whereas Reed and Aube kind of make her want to encase her head in cement, so given the open format of our house, and our affection for her head, the ocean sounds usually seem like the better option in practice.
Little Tiggers do not turn out to like death metal at all, to my mild surprise and pro-forma-ly brooding disappointment. Even the Leviathan and Xasthur pieces I holistically experience as most textural prove to have far too many dynamic and tonal shifts at the second-by-second scale, and you're perpetually either getting restless during a quiet part or being startled when the noise blasts in again. Sad. Statistically this was the most likely age at which you'd appreciate death metal, in that there's not even the outside danger of your accidentally figuring out any of the words. Later you'll realize it's another silly thing that only boys like, and thus yet another thing for which I might as well apologize in advance.
What you like best, by far, is steady, propulsive, fast, opportunistically rock-inflected pop songs. Four minutes at most, three is better. No long intros or outros. Female singers more than men (but James Bradfield and Paul Smith are OK), and big bonus points for any break where everything drops out except the drums and vocals. B thinks this is all about how I dance with you during those kinds of songs, but you and I know it's more than that. Fefe Dobson's "Rock It Till You Drop It" is, after all, a very fine song about perseverance, or maybe equanimity, and I'm only dancing the way anybody should feel inspired to. The Go-Go's are cultural icons, and give us a way to understand how the Spice Girls embody the dangerous nominality of post-ironic identity. Shakira represents both the emotional vitality of culture and the insistent triumph over it of individuality and hair. Tommy heavenly6 is, I agree, universally charming, and by the time you're old enough to wonder what she's singing, maybe I'll again have enough spare time to translate it.
But in case you're ever really curious, your favorite song for your first two months has been, unquestionably, "U & Ur Hand" by Pink. I don't remember how I discovered this. You like "Who Knew" and "Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)" fairly well, too, but "U & Ur Hand" is clearly special. We have a special dance we've invented for it, you and I, and it has never, ever failed to please you. Once you went from beet-red squalling to fast asleep before it even got to the two-minute mark, but usually you just dance with me. Or, anyway, I dance, and you lie in my arms with your head nestled into my left armpit, gazing up at me with love. Or past me towards the nearest skylight, or lamp, or faint diagonal shadow, but I collect the love en passant.
As you'll appreciate when you're considerably older, "U & Ur Hand" is not exactly intended for children. I usually sing along, anyway. It's a song of aggressive feminine self-affirmation, mostly, so even if its specific defiance and injunctions aren't really age-appropriate for you, or gender-appropriate for me, I think it's healthy for you to be exposed to its energy.
And if B is right, and it's really only me you're responding to, then you're learning about how my goofy tastes in music and defiance become manifest in my body's movements and my heart's resonances, and although I don't need you to love exactly what I love, I want desperately for you to love what you love at least as jubilantly as I love what I love.
I've long since seen a lot of movies I liked more than Capricorn One, but more than a few I liked less. "U & Ur Hand" probably won't always be your favorite song, and it'll probably save your mom and me some tense parent-teacher conferences along the way if it isn't. But not everything always has to change, and your first intuitions aren't necessarily wrong. I'll play this for you again someday, when you've forgotten, and we'll see what we think. And, maybe, remember what this felt like, when every next minute with you was so amazingly likely to be the best one yet.
B asked me whether, now that I see how much work you are, I'm more appreciative of what my own parents did for me. I definitely understand what they went through more than I ever did before having you, but appreciative isn't exactly right, for either what I feel for my parents or what I expect you to eventually feel for us. I don't remember or identify with myself as an infant. This baby we're bathing in the sink, because it's funny to try once even though you're basically already too big, is not really you. Not yet. So these pictures can't haunt you. This stuff we're doing for you can't exactly be for you. You didn't ask for it, you can't be consulted for your informed consent, and you'll have to live with the countless mistakes we're undoubtably already making. Asking you to be grateful for all this, in any meaningful sense, seems to me to be tantamount to imposing original sin. At most, maybe, one day you'll do this for somebody else who won't really exist yet. But only if you choose to for your own reasons, not because you owe anybody any kind of debt. You do not owe us your life, we are merely holding it for you in trust. Having you makes me more aware than ever that gratitude for one's own birth is a footstep into an emotional minefield. We, your parents, must be able to unequivocally forgive you for whatever it takes to get you to the point where you become you, for everything you require before you are able to take responsibility for your own commitments and responses. Until then, this work we do cannot and must not be measured in any kind of currency, it must be a gift given freely to the world.
Mostly you sleep. "Mostly" in a statistical sense, at least, although somehow we are mostly not sleeping, so there's something subtly wrong with that term. When you aren't sleeping you are usually eating, or at least circling curiously around the possibility of eating. You have quickly settled on a terse, vigorous vocabulary of two exclamations: "Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh" means that you are hungry; "LLLLA!" means that you are uncomfortable. We are hoping you decide to specialize this latter complaint a little further before too long, because at the moment it is used whether the discomfort is amenable to external correction or not, which leads to your father churning through diapers at an ecologically alarming rate.
You're sleeping right now, and we're listening to songs we like because the only Mozart we have is violin concertos, and for B's sake we try to avoid pairing violins and sleep deprivation. They aren't sure about those Mozart studies, anyway. Basically, we discover the more we read, "they" aren't really sure about much of anything. So I guess we're mostly going to improvise. B is reading up on Montessori schools, even though she should be sleeping or showering or eating. I am taking nearly forever to write this short, bleary blog entry when I should be sleeping or showering or making us some lunch. It's hard to imagine paying somebody $17k to facilitate your self-directed growth, given that you haven't quite figured out how to self-directedly not smack yourself in the eye while you're trying to eat and poop at the same time. It's hard to say much about the process without violating the rule against describing the consistency of individual poops to anybody who hasn't explicitly enquired.
I think we are probably going to survive these first few weeks. I might not have said this so confidently six hours ago, but six hours ago I was too incoherent to say much of anything, so that's just a guess. Since then B and I have both slept about an hour. B has fed you twice. I've changed five diapers and washed my hands fourteen times and made breakfast and started some laundry and forgotten about the laundry and washed up from breakfast and looked up the causes of post-cesarian abdominal pain and taken B's temperature and checked the real-estate listings for a bigger house and made cryptic notations on my chart of your inputs and outputs and chased the cats around a little and cleaned up the glass one of them knocked off the table where I forgot it and made a grocery list whose contents and then location I have also subsequently forgotten. So you see that B has the far harder role.
In some ways, bringing you along into the world is easier than I expected. I had somehow not grasped that you would be so specific, right from the outset. I didn't want to say anything before, but in the ultrasounds you always looked a little generalized. Taking care of an infant abstraction sounded really stressful and difficult. Taking care of an incapacitatingly adorable miniature human is exhausting and mind-emptying, but basically simple. Doing so without sleep, of course, is still really stressful and difficult, but on this little sleep even counting to 24 by 4s is really stressful and difficult. Later, when you learn to count, this will mean something to you.
In the meantime, we are mostly just watching you learn to exist. "LLLLA!", you object. True enough. But it's worth it. You'll see.
My daughter Lyra was born last night, 1 May 2007, at 8:33pm. She weighed 9 lbs 2 oz at birth, and 4140 grams after instinctively going metric as her first official act. Her birthday is exactly 27 days after mine and 27 days before B's, and 27 is three to the third, and she is the third of the three of us, so you see that her well-being is numerologically preordained.
I have changed the first (two) of a million diapers (and have not quite yet lost count).
We are no longer waiting.
Today we hung Cory's vines above the closet doors in your room, and wound little light-up butterflies through them. We also have a turtle that makes stars shine out of his back. There are small parts of your world that we can control, at least for a few moments at a time, for a little while, and they should be wonderful.