Monday, September 27, 2010

Cry of the velociraptor

Here is a partial index of the noises A makes:

1. The Ur-giggle -- My kid doesn't quite yet understand the tenets of comedy (irony, slapstick, wordplay, hypocrisy, despair, and existential angst), but she can sort of see them on the horizon.  Certain stimuli will elicit some kind of proto-laughter from her, a very special staccato grunt that you earn if you smooch on her arms from her wrists up to her shoulders, or if you pretend to chomp at her hands.  The Ur-giggle lacks all of the pitch and melodics of genuine laughter, but it has the rhythm about right.  It's like a happier version of an asthma attack, or the wheezing of a jolly long-term smoker.

2. The Velociraptor Cry -- This is a stranger one.  When you keep your face a few inches from hers, eventually her hands, in their semi-random flailing, will smack onto your skin, and find a grip in your cheeks or nose or eyelids.  This becomes a genuinely riotous occurrence, and she will express some mysterious emotion or thought (amusement? conquest? resentment?) with a single extended, shrill, piercing note.  Many times I am sitting there, letting her mangle my face, as she literally screams inches away from me.  I am so close to her that all I can see if her mouth and the little gems of saliva gathering at the corners of her lips during her high, strangely monotonous shriek.  If this was a horror movie, her skin would peel back and she would become a demon and eat my face off.  But so far she just expresses herself with the velociraptor cry.

3.  The Wail of the Dispossessed -- At least once a night, after she has been put to bed, A will cry because she has rolled over onto her stomach and now finds herself at a complete loss as to how she got there, and how she could possibly flip herself back over.  This is a comically pathetic noise.  She is crying, but her heart's not in it.  Then we just sneak back into her room, try to gently flip her over without either fully waking her up or breaking her arm, and then hightail it out of there.   Sadly, her learning curve on this particular issue has been a little disappointing. Here's a hint! Roll over again!

4.  The Woo -- We are reaching the really exciting phase of parenthood where it's okay to throw your child around.  We can toss her upwards and actually give her a fraction of a second to fly and fall in the air.  She just loves it, too.  She always seems to look at some nearby point, perhaps to ground her perception, but she just clasps her hands and offers a big wide smile.  She may grunt or chuckle but she will more likely just squeal happily, long ropes of saliva falling through the air like the massive payloads of fire retardant that airplanes drop to fight forest fires.  She is up in the air, weightless for a second at our outstretched fingertips, smiling at us as we brave the intermittent showers of spittle to laugh at her glee and to woo along with her, watching her fly above us from our place on the distant ground.

Friday, September 24, 2010

44th floor

The other night I attended a law firm cocktail party with some former colleagues of mine. I made sure to bring a tie to work to put on for the occasion. So around 5:30, instead of leaving the office and walking a few blocks north back home, I descended with the hordes into the subway and barreled into midtown. At Times Square I was walking against the mob to get to the shuttle to Grand Central; the throngs of people were jostling around me and literally twisting my bag around my body with their constant, thoughtless motion.

On Park Avenue, on the way to the right office building, I passed a few open-air bars where men in business casual attire stood holding their beers and looking boorish. When I found the right lobby I made my way through security and entered the high-speed elevator to zip upward 44 floors. The offices were beautiful and plush. From the wall of windows Park Avenue was an elegant stream of taillights, cabs moving smoothly below us. The southern view seemed strangely quiet and peaceful, an unexpected valley splayed out before us. From other vantage points I could see the lights of Brooklyn and Queens; the far-off sunset sinking into the western sky; and the Chrysler building, tantalizingly close, a friendly giant.

It was interesting to see my old colleagues again. Everything is more or less the same in that world. People I didn't know very well would ask me about my new job, and when I explained that I was now working in higher ed, I received a lot of quizzical, vaguely pitying looks. It was like I was answering their question by chirping back, "Oh, I'm a housewife now!" I felt like I was a complete visitor to that world, a world I was immersed in for a long time. I don't know if I had ever embraced it, though. I always felt weird about being yet another uniformed young man in midtown, off to my skyscraper perch to practice law or twiddle with spreadsheets or something.

After an extremely pleasant evening with the two old friends I had come to see, the elevator gently plummeted me back down to earth. Outside I loosened my tie and chucked the name tag I had received. I walked through some old familiar streets, from Rockefeller Center to my old stop on the 1 train. I felt very lucky to be the beneficiary of corporate largess, at least for an evening, and then for the freedom to return home unburdened by unbilled hours and demanding partners. Sometimes I feel like a genius for escaping that world, or a rogue, or a thief. I still can't believe I got away with it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Morning sprint

L's alarm goes off at 6:15, but chances are she's already awake. I may stir when I hear the soft morning voices of NPR float from her nightstand, but L is probably sitting on the couch half-asleep nursing A. Some mornings I find L and A asleep together, L's neck arched to rest her head on the couch and the baby lying still in her lap. On occasional mornings the alarm actually wakes her up, as the baby has deigned to let us sleep -- but these mornings are rare.

My alarm goes off at 6:45, but I am usually awake by then. Once I have showered and dressed I find out how A has dealt with her morning; whether she is placid or fiery, whether she slept soundly or battled through the night. L leaves around 7:30, propelled by currents of unconditional love and professional ambition and a subtle but unrelenting guilt; these are the forces that drive us.

If I am lucky A will let me eat my cereal and read the paper. A happy compromise is to hold her in my lap and let her wreak havoc on the bottom half of the paper while I read something on the top. I always worry about her ink-smeared hands but apparently her constant coat of saliva repels the stain. At 7:55 we are out the door; the baby is in the stroller, my work bag is stuffed underneath her seat, the baby bag (my old backpack, which has seen me from college through Asia to A) is draped over the handlebars with my lunch sack. If I am smart I have remembered the daily log to be completed by the nanny, and A's food. Then the apartment is silent.

We walk up Tiemann to Riverside, heading forcefully up the hill that flattens out around Grant's Tomb, near 120th Street. At this point I have broken in a sweat. The walk to our friends' is about a mile from this point; it's a mile and quarter from door to door. I walk quickly through Riverside Park, under the canopy of leaves and over the uneven paving stones. I pass a few joggers, a few kids in strollers staring outwards with a look of tired perplexity, a man doing some kind of martial art in the middle of the way, and dog-walkers. Today one woman informed me that A's blanket was dragging along the ground with an unnecessary measure of spite. I don't listen to any music, but I do make inane comments to my daughter occasionally to remind her that I'm still there. She is content to stare at her surroundings and feast on her blanket, or perhaps her hand. There is an unexpected measure of balance and companionship.

We cut over on 108th Street and head down Broadway for a couple of blocks, and then we have arrived. After visiting with our friends and passing A, who is aware yet compliant, to the nanny, the dash continues. I walked ten more blocks north and arrive in my office. Despite my efforts to pace myself I am sweaty by the time I get to work; damp under my shirt, the occasional bead trickling down my neck. The back of my hair is wet. Compose yourself. You have arrived at work.

In the evening, on a good day, L will pick up A and continue walking north to retrieve me from work. The three of us stroll home together, enjoying the slow pace and temperate breeze that is an unattainable luxury in the morning. If we are smart and diligent, A is in bed by seven. Then L is still working to make us dinner. In the evening we watch television, because it asks nothing of us. L will pump more milk. At eleven we shut down the apartment. L sleeps immediately, and I try to read a few pages before I can't even remember the words on the page. At some point A will wake herself up by rolling over, or she will interrupt the quiet with a piercing cry that must represent a nightmare. Her eyes won't open, yet she is inconsolable.

And then, after whatever kind of night we have, it will all start again. This is how a home becomes a household.