Monday, August 23, 2010

Swimming at the club

(3 years 11 months)

Dear Trevor,

Sunday night showed just how silly a set of parents can be—we didn’t get much sleep. Mommy decided to stay home from work on Monday so she could spend your first ever day of summer camp with you at the Nyack Field Club. We have concerns about your ability to take care of yourself. The children at the club are not all darlings, and you have no unchaperoned experience with peers. In the sandbox you encountered many boys, a little older, a little bigger, who would have gladly left tractor tracks across your little body had I not dissuaded them. The voice and gestures you use with Mommy and me when you strongly disagree with us would be sufficient to avoid harm in all but the most violent encounters, but you lack training in their proper use. It’s interesting that the forceful expression of your needs and wants to us seems to have come to you naturally, but you do not seem to detect approaching danger in the form of a malevolent kid. Both your mommy and me are hyper alert, as are most of the people I treat in therapy. People raised without violence in their childhood are different.

Something just occurred to me: Right from the beginning people have responded to you differently than they do to most children. Every adult in whose care we have left you, even for a few hours, has commented positively on your deportment in a way that implicitly includes comparison to other children they have experienced. If I put this next to my recent musings about the perception of innocence as beauty, to which we are all drawn, and which I’m coming to think is the lure of the pedophile, I wonder if this isn’t a hidden factor of your effortless charm.
Anyway, so there we are in bed Sunday night chatting away to dispel our fear. I start to drift off and your mommy just starts speaking as if I am wide awake, which, of course, I become. I finally resort to a vodka and soda, but I think your mommy didn’t sleep all night.

I drop you both off at the club Monday morning and pick you up at noon. Watching you walk away through the parking lot holding hands, the little tennis racquet swinging at your side, was a charming moment.

Yesterday was my turn. Mommy gave me a favorable report about yesterday, and I especially wanted to watch your swimming lesson, hoping to pick up ideas about how to teach. I was late getting up and we had to fly through Brush-Teeth, Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, and Get-Dressed. But we made it on time, just.

Your swimming lesson surprised by being an organized, professional presentation of a well thought out technique. I was impressed. At one end of the pool the water is three feet deep, but quickly gets deeper. A wide staircase of deep, shallow steps is set into each corner like a fan. There you sit, ten of you, facing your instructors who are standing in water up to their waists. First thing to learn is how to blow bubbles. To do this you must put your face in the water. You pick your head up to inhale, and put your face in the water to exhale. After practicing that for a while you add wind-milling arms. And then it gets fun. Your teacher stands off about five feet, and says, Come to me Trevor, and you leap forward toward her. Before you need to take a stroke, she scoops you up with all the appropriate squealing and congratulatory sounds that let you know you’ve just pleased her beyond her wildest expectations. She then turns you around and launches you back to the steps. The names of these sweet eighteens, your teachers, are Dawn and Jessica, and they are a couple of clever lasses.

In conversation Dawn refers to you as an angel. Jessica calls you angelic. As your swimming instructors they have a close, personal relationship with you. Now I’m not saying you run a number on these sweet things, but how do you manage not to show them any of you other facets? Are you never cantankerous with them? Aggressive? Obstreperous? Furious? Stubborn? Obdurate? Uncooperative? Utterly selfish? Well, not yet anyway.

We eat lunch in the shade of some oak trees, and then you have your tennis lesson. It’s a group lesson. And it resembles nothing so much as a Laurel and Hardy routine. There are four contiguous courts in the practice area. This is where the pro gives lessons, or a person can use the ball throwing machine, or a large number of kids can run around like positively and negatively charged sub-atomic particles careening off each other in a hilarious dance of tennis wand waving—to the goddess I assume.

After that we go swimming for an hour. Then we play in the sandbox till four. We then go home, take a shower together, which is always a hilarious time, and prepare supper. You’re an ace at peeling and chopping garlic. Not a bad day!

Three Weeks Later:
I'm blown away by the progress you've made in swimming. The fact is that you have learned to swim in three weeks. When, at the end of the first week you were still unwilling to put your head under water, I was concerned. Then suddenly, toward the end of the second week, we went into the big pool and you swam to me under water. This is how they teach all the children to swim. I was absolutely delighted. You launched yourself off the stairs and swam to me as if you'd been doing it all your life. But equally impressive, was your delight. You were thrilled with your ability.

The water is just deep enough at the end of the pool that by squatting I can form a shelf with my thighs. You swim to me, pull yourself up, turn, and launch back toward the stairs. Then, on Friday, you showed me you could swim all by yourself by coming off the stairs on one side of the pool and swimming in an arc to other side.

Your teacher is impressed with your progress. She told me that it is unusual for a child still short of four to use his arms like you do. I think you will be swimming on top of the water very soon.

Love, Daddy

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How I Met Your Mom

How I Met Your Mom

(in situ)
Dear Trevor,

This is the story my sisters and I begged our parents to tell. Just a few years ago I was fine with the idea of not having any children, relieved in fact, that the question was no longer pertinent; it just didn’t arise with the women I dated.

At age nineteen I had decided it would not be a good thing for me to have children. I met a guy one year older than me, who became my friend, who had three children. It was a shock to realize that I was now old enough to be a father. That was different from being old enough to make a girl pregnant, very different.

My new friend taught me how to dive with scuba gear. On my first dive we just flopped over the side and followed the anchor rope down one hundred feet to a coral reef where we shot black snapper. He also taught me how to water-ski. I stood up on my first try and was on a slalom before the day was over. We ate a lot of deep fried fish and hush puppies together, and drank a lot of beer. He was just another young man, and yet he was a father. I thought there was something profound about this guy that I didn't understand, and all the time we spent together I was studying him. I also studied his wife, who I fell in love with, and I studied his children, the first I'd ever known. The main purpose of all this study was trying to understand how I felt about being a father.

I'd only been away from home a couple of years, and what education I had came from reading in the base library. But I had already done enough reading to know that my path was fractured, and that I was out of step with mainstream society. I had no idea why this should be so. When I thought of my father I got only the most vague of images. Not that I couldn't visualize him, but I had no idea what his life was about, why he'd had children, no less four of us. I thought of him as a kind man who had done his best for me. And I thought that if I was the best he could do, what chance did I have of doing better? I concluded none, and settled the issue of having children for the next thirty-eight years.

Even after I met your mother it was a while before the idea arose. And when it did it arrived in a kind of backhanded way. I remember walking up Main Street toward my office, and I remember the sun was shining, and I remember being happy. And then, out of the wild blue yonder, riding into my brain came this thought: Well, if she hasn't gotten pregnant by now, it’s got to be at least four to one that she never will—what a shame that all the things I’ve learned about life, that I have paid so dearly for, will end with me.

Up to that moment I wasn’t even aware of what I was thinking. And then I was, aware that is, of my thoughts, and that stopped me dead in the middle of the sidewalk. I was stunned. I understood that what had surfaced I must have been thinking about on a level I’d hidden from myself for quite some time, perhaps since I'd met your mother. Why not? She was all woman and very juicy.
To discover that I wanted a child, that I'd finally found a woman I wanted to have a child with, and to conclude that we would not have a child, was a terrible moment. I didn't want to cry, and above all I didn't want to be bitter, I'd been though that. Letting go of bitterness had enabled me to restart my life by going to graduate school. And so I let go of that sadness right then, before it could wreck the best thing I'd ever had, the joy and deep healing your mommy brought to me.

There were also some facts: she'd had two operations to remove cysts from her ovaries and she was going on forty. Also, your mom-to-be and happiness were my close companions. My practice was growing, my yoga classes were growing, I had a great woman, and we tripped the light fantastic.
We had such a happy, complete, comfortable little life.

We met while I was studying for a Masters degree at the Columbia University School of Social Work. I was fifty-three. Mommy was thirty-eight. I was taking classes two days a week, doing a clinical internship three days a week, and teaching Hatha Yoga three nights a week at the New Age Center in Nyack.

Mommy remembers our first encounter in the lobby of the New Age Center. I was checking the bulletin board when she came through the entrance and hit me in the back with the door. She was startled, apologized, and says she got such a shock from our exchange that she told a co-worker, That man is going to play a role in my life.

My first memory is seeing her in the studio in the spot furthest away from me. She wore tights and a leotard, and I remember thinking she was in great condition, strong and shapely. I was attracted to her, but didn't do anything about it for months. Had she been a little older I might have moved sooner. I was finding that my major research interest in school was the field of child sexual abuse. I identified with the children and my reading of the professional literature was confirming effects I had discovered in my own psychotherapy. Also, I was keenly aware that every type and level of the Eastern religious movement in the United States was being racked with sexual scandals where teachers had taken advantage of students. I hated the teachers for their treacherousness. I understood the power of the teacher. After all, if I told my students to stand on their heads, they would do it. So I was scared. And I waited.

Came Christmas, the class your mommy was in bought me a gold chain for the jade Buddha I hadn't been wearing because the necklace broke and my jeweler wouldn't repair it, saying it was too stretched out and he was afraid I'd lose the jewel if it broke again. And then a few days after Christmas I got a gift certificate from the Columbia bookstore signed by your mommy. I was even more scared.

I talked things over with my psychotherapist and decided a movie and right home couldn't hurt anything. When I picked your Mommy up she was wearing a fancy sports warm-up suit of a type that was fashionable at the time, in bright teal and cream, and white sneakers. I was flabbergasted. Fashionable, yes, that was my type of woman, but sports! Lord, I thought, she's an athlete, this is going to go nowhere. But it was a pleasant evening, we had some laughs and I was still attracted to her when we said good night.

So a week later, after class at Columbia, I drove down to 52nd Street and Third Avenue to pick her up. This time she climbs into the car sporting a power suit with padded shoulders, corporate jewelry, stockings, heels, and a stylish coif. She's carrying a maroon leather briefcase and I'm wondering just what the hell did I expect. I'm in dirty jeans, a jeans jacket and boots. I have in mind to take her down to The Fish in SoHo, a scruffy bar for young artists and dissidents that's all leather and puncture wounds and weirdness that I enjoy because it reminds me of some of my old hangouts in North Beach in San Francisco when I was a student. I see it's all wrong for mommy, but I'm geared for that place and I can't think of where else to go. So I take her anyway. It's a big mistake.

We have a quick drink, and at her suggestion we're on our way to the South Street Seaport. Ye gods, I'm thinking as we walk around this fast food haven that used to be a dock. We settle on a second floor restaurant with tables on a deck overlooking the East River. The food is terrible and the service is worse. Only later, much later, does she tell me it was a mistake. The ground floor of this place is a hundred bars jammed during the week by young professionals, and it was a place she’d hung when she was in her twenties, when she worked for a hot young publishing house. She hadn't been there in years.

Well, that made us even. We bumbled along like this, and the odd part was that the glue got stronger. After I don't know how many months she invites me to dinner at her place. I bring a bottle of champagne because I know she likes it. I'm drinking very little during this time, so after a bottle, I'm high, but I'm still unsure if I should make a move. I can't remember being so nervous. I don't think I ever was. Mommy solves the impasse by opening a bottle of Perrier Jouet she tells me she's had in the refrigerator for a long time.

It's a warm night and her terrace overlooks the Tappan Zee and we're having a roaring good time. We're telling stories and laughing and I'm thinking maybe. I'm really enjoying this woman, but when the bottle runs out, I'm still scared. If I'm mistaken it will be a disaster--I lose a woman that I like, a budding friendship, a good student. And I become the thing I hate most, a predator.

Mommy to the rescue again. She finds a lonely split of champagne in the fridge. By the time that's dead we're plastered and fall wildly in to each other’s arms, laughing and stumbling and pawing and way too far gone for anything but serious giggling. The great thing is that we fall asleep laughing with relief, with ourselves, and with each other. Also because we know tomorrow morning is going to be one great morning.

Love, Daddy

Monday, August 16, 2010

Counting Buses

(2 years 9 months)

Dear Trevor,

We had a wonderful time in Nyack’s Memorial Park this morning. You love to bury things in the sand box. Today it was your dump truck. Then, for the first time you ask me to get on the seesaw with you. I'm going up and down, you say. We're playing see-saw.

We leave the park, and you spot a school bus on the corner of Broadway and DePew. Further up the block, in front of the Child Care Center, you say, There are two buses.

I say, We saw one on the corner, and then two more. That makes three. One plus two equals three.

Then, crossing Franklin, you hail another one.

We saw three, and now one more, I say. Three plus one equals four. We've seen four buses since we left the park.

A few blocks later, turning on to Route 9W, another bus appears and you call it out. Wow, I say. We saw four buses and now one more, how many does that make.

I look in the rear view mirror and you are holding out your right hand, fingers extended, and you count, One, two, three, four, five. You say five with a ringing finality.

We swing onto the Thruway and you spot still another bus. I go through the routine again and you come up with six.

Then on Route 59 in Spring Valley you call out another bus. I acknowledge the bus but forget we’re counting. Probably because I'm always cautious navigating that complicated intersection where we make four turns and change lanes several times to get to Pascack Road. So I was surprised when you called out, That makes seven buses.

I think that's pretty good going for a guy your age. I say, Good job.

Love, Daddy