Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sorry - this is about poop. I won't make a habit of talking about it.

I try to refrain from frequent oversharing of medical, personal, or just gross things about my baby or family.  I also try to realize when things are boring or irrelevant to anyone other than my family.

This is not that.  Like the book says,

Not only does everyone poop, but nearly everyone will find themselves at a point in life when they will be responsible for someone else's poop, even if just once, and by accident.


Before I had a child, the only practical thing that worried me about being a parent was dealing with gross diapers.  I'd never changed a baby before, and I've almost thrown up on dogs when cleaning up their poop, so my track record wasn't too great.

As I found out (and shared), newborn poop is a wonderfully succint, odorless, tar-like substance not unlike marmite, the Aussie's preferred toast condiment.  Not much to look at, but comes in a neat little package, and above all, really easy.  After the first few days when the marmite poop goes away, it shifted color and consistency, but still not much odor to speak of, and even that was more like a musty attic than what I categorize as poop.  Weird, but still OK.

That blissful time in life is thanks to my lovely wife and her breasts.  Specifically, the milk from said breasts that fed my child a form of nutrition her body was able to nearly completely digest, thus leaving very little in her poop that might smell.

I love science.  At least when it works for me.

Sadly, supply and demand haven't been in lockstep over the last few weeks, and we had to add in baby formula to satisfy the hungry beast.  They say that stuff has gotten to be really good and nutritious, all that.  Awesome, glad to hear it.  Baby's growing like a weed, all is well.

Except, remember science?

Yeah, with the start of things-other-than-breastmilk comes poop-that-looks-and-smells-awful-and-like-poop.  With this experience, I feel like I have a little more insight into Adam & Eve's story, knowing what it was like to experience sin entering the world.

I've already thrown away outfits.  I've retched and scared my baby (no actual vomit yet, thankfully).

Yesterday's outing started out like this:

We were still out, however, when the floodgates opened.  In the back of the Subaru (which is thankfully made of rubber and can be hosed), we ran through all our wipes in the World Market parking lot.

People stopped and offered their knowing little "I've been there, but my foggy memory of 30 years ago makes me think I handled it sooo much better than you are" smiles and comments.  My favorite lady ended our little interaction with "Treasure all these moments!" to which I responded, "You're not the one cleaning this up!"

I ran back in the store to find some paper towels.  Not one to pass up a moment to use a funny pseudo-word, I quickly found an employee:

"Excuse me - I have a.....shituation, shall we say, in the parking lot, and need a bit of back-up."

Slightly confused, blank stare.  If my wife weren't elbow deep and trying to do damage control, I'd have waited for that statement to sink in a bit longer, but instead, I mumbled something about a baby and paper towels.  Came back, cleaned up what we needed to, and still went out for Chinese.

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

It's the end of an era.  The end of innocence, in a way.  I was right; diapers are awful.  The first six months lulled me into a false sense of security, and then it all came at me, hard and fast and awful.  I'm thinking, toilet trained by 9 months.  Tops.

After all, how hard could it be?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

We went out  this weekend to a restaurant Tori had been to recently and wanted me to try, The Continental.  There, you can have one of the more glorious restaurant oddities I know of: a reuben inside of a pancake, topped with Greek yogurt.  Known simply as a "Continental pancake," this takes the idea of an omelette, changes every ingredient, and makes for an awesome meal.

I digress.  Our food was great, the service was just fine, and the prices are pretty cheap.  A busy place, full of people in good moods, cheering on VCU basketball.  But I wouldn't call it a good time.

Walked in, found that we had a short wait to get a table.  There's not a lot of waiting space, so everywhere we were with a car seat was in someone's way.  Got a table in a few minutes, but it's a high-top deal, tucked into a little inset place in the wall.  We'll make it work, I said, and they brought us a high chair for the baby.  "High" is a relative term, as it turns out, it's about two feet less high than "high-top table,"  so it was about as useful as a car without keys.  So for the entire meal, one of us held Fiona.  Which also means one person holds and entertains, while the other one shovels food in, trying to finish before your mate's food gets cold so you can take the baby.

Going out to eat with a baby means you have to clear the area within arm's reach of silverware, glasses, and anything else that isn't attached, or it will be in the floor.  It means your menu is going to be used as a screen for all the other stuff you don't want chewed on or tossed around.  It means you're probably going to squeeze beside your high-top and chairs to pick up a pacifier and reach for the disinfecting wipes over and over.

Can you tell why there aren't any pictures from this little outing?

So no, I wouldn't really call it a relaxing night out with the family.  It's much easier to make something at home and eat there, where we know the high chair is the right height, we know we have toys she can play with, and we know when the floor was last cleaned.  We'll definitely do it again sometime soon, though.

Before I had a child, my impression of parenthood was that your life is over.  No more doing anything that you want to do, no more fun, no more nice nights out, etc.  So maybe my determination to continue going out like this is in defiance of my own pre-conceived notions of what my life has become.  And really, I think that's a good enough reason in itself.  More than that, though, I want to spend time with my wife and daughter, and I want to do things like this because that's what families do.  As she gets older, we'll go out as a means of teaching her how to act in various situations...right now, it's for us, and it's sort of Dylan Thomas-ish...

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

For the record, I was wrong: you can still do a lot of things you used to do before being a parent.  Sometimes that means you do it less often, sometimes it means you do it to a lesser extent, but often it just means you bring your child with you and do it together.  Which is cool.  Kind of.  It will be cool, eventually.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fragility Cycles, Bach, and the Whisk

I'm not sure I ever had a specific goal of blogging daily, weekly, or at any other regular interval, but I think I'll steal the blogging goal of a teacher from high school, Phil Sanderson: "Could I have something to say, once a month, for a year?...My promise to you: when I've got nothing more to say, I quit."  Sounds good, dad.

FRAGILITY CYCLES is a hauntingly beautiful, semi-improvised piece by minimalist composer Ingram Marshall.  In this recording, the composer performed it solo, using a Balinese bamboo flute called a "gambuh," some synthesizers, tape loops, voice, a delay system, and a few percussion instruments. Sounds like a lot of work for something whose product is so serene.

For me, listening to this sort of music is an act of defiance, against myself and my society.  Life moves so fast: we live in a world where we can't believe we have to wait nearly two whole years before we can finally upgrade our piece-of-crap, 'ancient' smartphones.  We answer emails on the toilet, drive across parking lots, and can't believe Redbox doesn't have the movie that came out today.

I love that world.  I think technology is pretty damn cool, and I love to figure out how to make it do things I want even faster or more efficiently.  I choose my route home based on whether or not I think I'll make it through a certain stoplight in one cycle.  As soon as a match is over, I want to be able to read a summary and analysis within five minutes.

Fragility Cycles is 15 minutes long.  There are no words; no melody to speak of; no pulse to catch, recognizable harmonic progression - nothing to immediately tell me what's happening and where it's going.  Which is precisely why it's so important to me.  It doesn't happen every day, but when I find that moment, I need things like Fragility Cycles to remind me to slow down.  It's also why I prefer the inconvenience of making my coffee in a french press, and carrying a pocket watch.

At some point in your day, take 15 minutes to listen to this.  Think of it as meditation, if you like.  It's a wonderful exercise in slowing life down, and a great exploration of musical texture besides.


You may recall my mention of a computer networking course I began via Coursera.  Though I still love its egalitarian approach to knowledge, I've discovered a drawback: because anyone can sign up, you can take courses that assume you know more than you do.  Shortly into Week 3, I realized that this course assumed I knew a lot more about computers than I do, so I ended up dropping it.

Not satisfied with just not learning, I decided that I'd stick to a realm I do know about, and deepen my knowledge instead.  So, I'm planning to spend this year getting to know J.S. Bach better.

Wait, you already know about that guy?  No, you don't.  You know about him like I know about wireless routers.  Sure, you've heard of him - some of you have even played or sung some of his stuff, maybe.  But almost none of you have any more than a passing familiarity with his existence.  If you studied music in college, you might even know that his harmonic language was really important to the development of Western music, but I bet you couldn't really articulate why.

As a vocalist, I have performed precious little of his music, much to my own detriment.  In college, I liked a bass player who played the 2nd cello suite in d minor on her recital.  She graduated and we lost touch, but I kept the interest in the cello suites and have been listening to them ever since, so I feel like I know them passingly well for a non-cellist.  But that's about it.  So, I've put together a list of music that will take up most of my listening for this year (hopefully some score study to accompany it!).  If you're interested, my listening syllabus looks like this (all of this is on spotify, by the way):

The Well-Tempered Clavier: Glenn Gould (book I); Masaaki Suzuki (book II)
Goldberg Variations: Glenn Gould
The Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello: Yo-Yo Ma and Pablo Casals (VERY different - try it!)
Brandenburg Concertos: Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium Japan
Various Cantatas, including nos. 82, 199, 227, and 228: Masaaki Suzuki
Mass in B Minor (John Eliot Gardiner and also Masaaki Suzuki)
Magnificat (JEG/Suzuki)
St. Matthew Passion (JEG/Suzuki)
St. John Passion (JEG/Bach Choir of Bethlehem, featuring my former voice teacher!)
Christmas Oratorio (JEG/Suzuki)

Since it's Lent, I've started in with St. Matthew Passion, but my life doesn't always allot many extended periods of time where I can follow a score or translation while listening to a multi-hour work.  For those times where my eyes and hands are occupied, I'm also listening to Casals on the cello, or the Mass in B Minor, since I know the words already.  By Advent, the Christmas Oratorio will probably replace my annual listening to Messiah.

In addition, I've also gotten Christoph Wolff's biography, "Bach, the Learned Musician," and with any luck, I'll also get through Albert Schweitzer's biography of the man.  We'll see how all that goes - it's taken me nearly two months to read a single 600-page book so far, so I'll take them one at a time.

So, what about the Whisk, you say?  Fiona's new favorite toy.  Don't spend money on baby things, just find cool stuff you already own. 

Which toy is she actually holding?  I rest my case.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I'm Going To Be A Terrible Parent

A friend reminded me that in one of my last posts (it's a bit too stale to call it "recent"), I said that I'd probably be posting more often, now that I'm done with the Master's degree and all.


Instead, I've had a lovely time in my living room floor, tossing around some tupperware containers.  I've been keeping a house running.  I've been singing, playing, teaching, and reflecting upon music.  And I've been baking bread.

That last one has given me reason to worry about my fitness to parent, after a little incident last week involving a drunk dog and rising dough:

What I didn't say at the time is that my dog "found" it because I left it at nose level in Fiona's bedroom floor.  The recipe said to let it rise in a warm place, and that room gets warm.  Didn't even occur to me that the dog could easily push the door open and eat it all.

And that's my problem: I didn't consider what might happen.  Fast forward a few months, and my daughter is mobile.  What's lying around my house that could send her to the hospital when she eats it?  Who knows?  I don't.  And even when I do eventually do the initial "baby-proofing" as she starts getting into stuff, I'm sure there will be things like that bowl of dough that seem perfectly benign that send her into some sort of altered reality, like my drunk dog.

This is not an "oh no, the big bad world is going to get my little girl" sort of thing.  I know you can't protect them from every skinned knee, creepy stranger, broken heart, stolen car, school bully, etc.  This is my painfully real observation that I don't know what the hell I'm doing, and if I almost killed my dog with alcohol poisoning FROM BREAD, who knows what I'm accidentally capable of doing to my child?


Monday, January 7, 2013

What Glenn Gould Taught Me About Parenting

I can't exactly remember what sparked my renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach - I think it has something to do with hearing the cello suites playing on my daughter's night time playlist all the time.

I have listened to and loved the cello suites for about eight years now but Bach was such a prolific composer, and was exceptionally important as a composer of keyboard works, that I wanted to spend more time with some of those.  Anyone who knows Bach and the piano would immediately point me to the recordings of Glenn Gould.  Though I've heard of him for years, and spent time in college working in the music library, consuming recordings of everything I could find, I don't think I'd ever listened to one of the most famous classical pianists, known especially for his interpretations of Bach.  You should listen to him.  Here's his famous 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations:
Even if you're not too interested, watch a few points in this video, because he's quite the character.  His friend and biographer speculated that he may well have been on the autism spectrum; indeed, his eccentricities lend credence to that theory.  You'll see him sitting on an ancient-looking chair with no cushion: his father built that chair, and he only performed sitting on it, long after its cushion wore through.  He specified temperature settings for his studio sessions, did not like to be touched, and limited his contact with people.  His movements while playing definitely fall outside of what's typical.  And my favorite thing: listen closely, and you'll hear him humming along while he plays.

This is how I knew I'd never listened to Glenn Gould before.  I had his Well-Tempered Clavier recording in headphones yesterday, and thought I must be imagining things, because I heard a sort of groan/hum along with the music.  And it's not subtle.  He claimed it was subconscious, and the volume at which he sang varied based on how much he needed to compensate for a given piano's lack of ability to create the sounds he desired.  In some recordings he's louder than others; in this 1981 Goldberg one, critics said many listeners would "find the groans and croons intolerable."

I love it.

Autism or no, Glenn Gould did what he loved, and didn't care what people thought.  His gyrating stage presence might have been a novelty that drew a large crowd, but groaning and humming on a professional recording?  No one does that, and I'm sure it turned people off.  But he was so focused and consumed with his craft that he did what he saw as necessary and good.  I love experiencing other people in love with their craft, and Glenn Gould was unabashedly in love with playing the music of Bach.

I'd like to parent that way.  There's a combination of real and perceived stigma around my current almost-stay-at-home lifestyle, and though I am glad we're doing this, I often find myself playing up the meager hours I spend as a teacher, and mentioning the time I spend at home as an afterthought.  I love teaching, and I love making music, but I also love being a dad, and I want to be just as unabashed about playing in the floor or reading the Belly Button Book as Glenn Gould was about singing on his piano recordings.  Because of his reckless abandon of social norms, Gould created really profound and special music, and I like to think that, given some dose of that, I'll help to foster a profound and special relationship with my little girl.

That might be a bit of a roundabout lesson, but that's how I look at things right now, through a paternal lens.  If you read all that and are still dissatisfied, just listen to him play.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Checking In

If you read this blog on the regular, you will have noticed that I've fallen off a bit on writing.  Well, I've essentially stopped writing for the past few weeks, really.  I haven't given up on the idea of it, but writing in this space has simply slipped my mind, with all the other things happening around me.  Often when I do think about it, it's at a time when I'm busy with some task or another, or Fiona is up and about.  Since I've got that rare moment when she's asleep and I remembered the blog, I thought I'd check in.

Two things I like about this blog:
(1) People hear about and see pictures of my baby, which means when I see people face-to-face, they're often up to date on what's new in her life already, and I can avoid the same small talk dozens of times.
(2) It affords me an opportunity to reflect, rather than simply recount.  This advantage has been largely untapped so far, but I see the potential, and perhaps will use it a bit more in the coming months.

I've been told that people prefer several shorter blog posts over one long one, so I'll leave you with a bit of an overview, of what's been taking my time instead of blogging.

In my last post, I celebrated/ruminated on finishing my Master's in Music Education.  Since then...

I've decided to start learning a bit about computer languages.  We use them so often, and so many of us have absolutely no idea what makes them do what they do - it's like driving a car without knowing anything about combustion or how to change your oil.  I doubt my skills will progress much beyond what an oil change does for the car, but it's a nice start.  I've decided to focus on things found on the web, beginning with HTML and CSS, and hope also to play with Javascript and Python.  Perhaps soon this blog will get a little facelift - stay tuned!

How am I learning this?  Code Academy!  It's free, and so far I'm very pleased.  Check it out!

With both sides of the family in one town, we always travel for holidays.  This is much harder with a child.  I think my next post will talk about Christmas a little, but for now, I can say that it was good to see family, I successfully cooked my first turkey, and I discovered why people make such a big deal about their baby's schedule.

Living Room 2.0
We spent most of last year buying the odd Home Depot gift card and tossing them in a drawer, as a way of saving money towards replacing the carpet in the one room of our house without hardwood floors.  This picture doesn't show the stains too well, but you can see pretty clearly what animal claws do to berber carpet:

We finally got enough cards, ordered our carpet, and after Home Depot did an ungainly dance with our paperwork, someone else's credit card (the first time I went to pay my order was already paid for, by a card we don't own - they couldn't figure out the owner), and someone showing up to measure unannounced, after they'd already measured and ordered...we got carpet yesterday!  Also replaced the equally stained couches in that room.  They were $100 on craigslist six years ago, so they served us well.  We upgraded this time to a whole $250 on craigslist for a new pair...moving on up!
If you have pets, get this kind of carpet.

So that's a taste of what's been going on.  Yesterday was the big four months for Fiona: besides another terrible trip to the doctor (4 more shots), she's great.  And cute:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Master of The House

Well, I can cross one more thing off that "to-do" list:
Get a Master's Degree.
I guess technically I won't 'graduate' until next month, but it's all over except the paperwork.  I turned in my thesis last week, and now I wait for everything to be official.

Woo hoo!  At last, the long hours of reading scholarly journals and tweaking my APA citations is past. I'm so glad I've done all of that, it's finally cleared the way for...what was that, again?

At least so far, the biggest change I've experienced by finishing this degree program is that I'm not entirely sure what I should do with my spare time (not that I always used that time to study or write before, mind you, I just knew I should be doing that).  So two years and thousands of dollars later, I can say that I have precisely one extra (impending) piece of vellum to show for it.  Oh, and working about 30 less hours a week.  And one article that hasn't been picked up for publication.  And many more years of paying student loans.

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed the degree program I just completed.  I was definitely challenged in ways that my undergrad music education lacked, and I have undoubtedly emerged a better teacher because of what I just did.  There's real value in that.  And I might be able to use this new academic credential to land some work in higher ed...maybe.  It may prove to be just another step on the way to one MORE piece of vellum, a few MORE years of student loan debt...but we're not thinking about that part just yet.  Right now, it's nice to have the degree, and it's very good to have had the philosophical, intellectual, and critical experiences of Boston University to shape me into a better music educator.

In the end, though, being at home so much more than being in a classroom does sort of attenuate those feelings of usefulness and excitement to teach.  I just spent two years and over $25K on a degree, and I'm a stay-at-home dad?  If someone else told me they were in that scenario, I might judge them.

As you can see, I have mixed feelings.  That's true about a great many things these days, so I guess it's fitting.  In practical terms, though, finishing this degree means I need to create more structure in my life, now that one element of structure has been removed.  Stay tuned for how that's going.