Friday, June 17, 2011

By the Numbers

Day one: 16 pots, 6 nots.

Day two: 12 pots, 2 nots.

Day three: 10 pots, 2 nots.

Day four: 8 pots, one not.

Yes: we have begun potty training Tyler, officially and with the resolve to not turn back to the species-saving invention of the diaper. (Or, at least, the at-home daddy saving invention.)

We've got a flowchart going on our refrigerator, tallying up the times and substances of what was released by Tyler's bowels and when. It's reminiscent of a March Madness bracket, but with a bit more madness, more disgusting consequences for the loser, too.

Upstairs, the Potty Chart holds a number of birds that Jennifer cut out of wrapping paper, which Tyler is able to place one at a time on the chart each time he sits on the pot and does his business.

The process has been the journey from babyhood to boyhood--especially considering that I recently gave Tyler his first "big boy" haircut--one which shortens his hair with a clipper, rather than scissors which maintain the longish, babyhood feel. Now, when I look at my son, it's hard not to think, Don't go to college yet! and Whoa, curfew is still 6:45 buddy, I don't care if this is your fourth date and that you think this could be the one.

I know. Hold on, Luke! It's a far leap to go from applauding as I would at a Nobel Prize ceremony for every poop's plop to saying goodbye as Tyler heads off to college, but I'm not kidding: it's all fast. And in the moments where Tyler's banter carries me away from any semblance of my own life and engulfs me totally in his world, I want to freeze time and keep that conversation going forever. (Alternately, in the moments where he fights sleep like it's some kind of obscene human rights violation, I say, bring on teenagerhood!)

By the numbers, it does go fast.

Nine months ago, we moved to England. It feels like two.

32 months ago, Tyler was born. It feels like ten.

71 months ago, Jennifer and I were married. It feels like 15.

366 months ago, I was born. It fells like, well, 366 months.

When I was a public school teacher, numbers were important. Crucial, some administrators might say. CAPT and MCAS standardized scores for my students: were they strong? Grade point averages for those students heading off to college: were they high enough? Was each student getting enough one-on-one writing conference time? How many pages should I be challenging them to write?

As a writer, the number again play their crucial role. How many words am I crafting per day? How many manuscripts have I got with viable options to forge lives of their own, outside my safe little study? How many rejections has this manuscript garnered?

The number swarm almost every human endeavor we undertake, from novel writing to potty training to challenging young minds.

But as Tyler has forged ahead in his transition into boyhood, leaving behind the numbers of babydom, I am confronted, too, with another number: one.

As a dad, as a teacher, as a writer, one thing alone really matters: the authenticity of love I give in each of those roles, each of those journeys. No amount of numbers--whether indicating success or failure by the world's standards--can replace that very first number, that one.

It's nothing original, of course, my realization of the one thing that counts--Jesus was saying it to ears that refused to hear a couple of thousand years ago. I'm saying it now to myself as deeply as I'm sharing it with you. Amidst all the numbers that assert themselves everyday, may I remember the most important one.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Maybe We Can Try

Optimism rocks. Hoping that stuff will be okay, somehow, and doing what we can to work towards things being okay, somehow, is beautiful to me.

So when our toddler, Tyler, started using his developing mental capacity to wield optimism in support of his desire to follow his own inclinations, I must admit: I have caved often.

Just a couple of days ago, Tyler and I were making the twenty-minute walk to Fulford Library. (Actually, we were making the one hour walk to Fulford, as I have recently been letting Tyler walk rather than take the stroller, which gives him some great exercise and also allows us to point out the colors of every single car we pass, read all of the road signs, say hello to every person we pass, and touch nearly ever bush, tree, rock, and stick that rests between Lesley Avenue and the library.)

En route, it started raining. Hard. We popped open our massive umbrella, and we continued our trek onwards. After a bit, Tyler asked to hold the heavy umbrella.

"Daddy will hold the umbrella. It's very heavy. VERY heavy." I made a bending motion with my knees and pretended that the sheer weight of the umbrella was about to crush even me.

"Maybe I can try."

And, yes, I caved.

"Of course you can try! Yes! Let's have you try Tyler"

And he held the umbrella for about ten seconds, then said, "You can hold this one, Daddy."

About ten minutes later, Tyler: "I can jump in the puddles, Daddy?"

"Well, if we jump in the puddles, then your socks and shoes will get all wet."

"Maybe we can try."

I look at him, his eyes focused, believing that somehow we will, indeed, be able to jump and splash in a puddle the size of a paddling pool and somehow emerge dry. And I have to say yes. "Sure, let's jump."

In we go, splashing like a couple of toddlers. Or, like a toddler and his thirty-year old dad who hasn't quite given up hope that, maybe, when we try, crazy results emerge.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Listening to Motion

Last night, I walked into the University of York to hear a reading given by previous UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. Jennifer had reserved a ticket for me to attend the reading, and as I walked in, I felt a fun poetic thrill travel around my head and shoulders.

Okay, it could have been that I was getting a little itchy given I was walkign so fast, rushing to make an evening of calm poetry.

Or it could have been that a totally-adult activity, during which no one in the audience or Motion himself, I could be sure, would ask if somebody had to do poops on the pot, or wanted to go do some swing high! at the local playground.

(But I still think it was predominantly the poetic thrill stuff. After all, poetry was my doorway into writing--my first love of words and the thing that continualloy brings me back to why I keep loving words.)

The auditorium at the Ron Cooke Hub at Heslington East campus (read: really coolm super-sweet state-of-the-art facility with loads of modern looking wood structures) was packed. As Motion began reading poems about conflict, war, and then from the voice of a great Blue Whale, I feel into that kind of reverioe  where you're thinking and listening at the same time.

During the Q & A, someone asked him about his goals for his poems, and Motion shared a powerful line which I'm unlikely to forget: "I want my poems to look like water and taste like gin."  he shared about how simplicity, for him, rules the day, and yet he wants there to be emotional complexity and truth in his work. I found the line insightfully inspiring.

Afterwards, there was a row of computer son the balcony of the building, and I logged onto one, opened up a novel I'd recently started, and began writing. When I stopped, the sky had grown dim, and I made the long walk home to my love.

In his book Writing from the Inside Out, Dennis Palumbo says that "writing begets writing." In other words, the more we write, the more we'll keep writing. We get into a habit. It becomes a way of life. I find the rule of thumb to be powerfully true. And, I'd add, the more we hear and read what others have written, engaging outselves with themes and ideas that become universal through the very small spaces of our own experience, the more we crave to create, too.

Thank you Jennifer, for the gift of a beautiful night of poetry. And thanks, Mr. Motion, for the words that call forth more words.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Two Ways of Looking at the Event of a Bird Pooping on Your Head

1) Ugh.

2) You leave for the library with your son in his stroller, eating a homemade, completely-real-fruit popsicle but, as you are just about to shut and lock the door, you decide that you should bring along your baseball cap with you. Just in case, you think. Just in case of exactly what, you aren't sure, but it is worth pushing the door back open, craning over your son in the stroller to reach your cap, grab it, and put it on before making the fifteen minute walk to the tiny, one-room library. En route, you hear it before you feel it atop your head. The slight squirt, then the splash landing. You take off your cap, check out the white poop, and then replace your cap. It hasn't gone through, and you'll wash it off later when you return home, a few picture books heavier. You smile.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jock, or Jacque, or Joc, or Jok

He has a dog.

Dog's name is Roger.

Jock, or Jacque, or Joc, or Jok (hereafter referred to as simply "J" to prevent incredibly frustrating redundancy) walks with Roger everywhere. J must clock at least ten miles a day, maybe more.

Originally from Scotland, his accent is thick, his laugh is hearty, and he spits just a touch when he talks, so that after a conversation, you know you've been in his company.

But you're smiling.

Because J is the kind of man who walks through life looking for connections. He stops and talks to everyone--no matter if you're a 95-year old woman or a two-year old boy, like my son Tyler. As soon as we moved into our home on Lesley, J started chatting us up every time he happened to pass by with Roger while we were in the front yard dancing, singing, tip-toeing, or being silly in some other kind of silly way.

Then, at Christmastime, we came home one day to find a massive yellow Caterpillar digger in front of our door. In a plastic bag, waiting. Tyler's head just about fell off in excitement.

Later, a bag of books appeared, after J had heard that I loved reading MG and YA novels.

Now, whenever we see J walking when we're out and about, he has a pound coin for Tyler. Now, with the exchange rate at 1.64 from pounds to dollars (as of today), and with J giving Tyler a pound coin at a very high frequency (at least one every few days), J is seriously investing in our family, and in Tyler's Gingerbreadman-purchasing ability.

In other words: J is a remarkably generous guy--with his time, with his money, with his concern for other people.

I don't know his whole story, but the snippets he has shared with me encourage me to believe that he is, like most of us, a person whom tragedy has touched in various ways, but one who has chosen to grow more loving and kind in the face of struggle, rather than to become more cynical and bitter.

For J, life is about connecting with people in every way possible--and the 12 kids who live on our street and get Christmas and birthday presents every year from him (as well as pound coins whenever he sees them playing out and about on his walks) will tell you the same.

J is a guy who lives through what all of us live through, and he finds a way to love in the midst of it. To care for people with total disregard for what they can do for him, how they can repay him. I think J is the kind of person who operates under an older concept than those currently advised by so many business, self-help, winning-friends-and-influencing people kind of books.

Instead, J simply cares. For people. Come what may.

He's the kind of guy that can tend to make a person see what really matters at the end of the day. Thanks, J.