Posts Tagged ‘fun’

This morning when I opened the refrigerator and pulled out at carton of soy milk, a large container of feta cheese jumped off the top shelf, hit on the bottom edge of the frig, and emptied itself in a large mucky pile at my feet.  I wanted breakfast. I got to muck around in feta.

Stuff around my house seems to be making choices, and sometimes it is getting the better of me.  

Yesterday, I snaked the hose over to the edge of the backyard to water some flowers. It wiggled under a patio chair leg and then it kinked up so the water wouldn’t come through. After some coaxing we got going again, but only a few minutes later the hose was hung up on a sprinkler head, stubbornly refusing to move with me over to the pond. Ridiculous!

I’m  starting to get it. Things are animated, and I’m on to them. The evidence is overwhelming. Last week I saw my ink pen jump off the center console in my car and hide under my driver’s seat, by the seat track, in the hardest place possible to be retrieved. There is more. When I was going out the back door of my home, a loop on my jacket reached out and grabbed the  knob and jerked me back in the house. Things are leading me to reconsider the merits of animism.I think they may be alive; I suspect they have even talked among themselves, have entered into a pact —  to mess with me. 

I’m not crazy. Respectable people understand this.  In Piaget’s child psychology, he asserted that a child’s mind assumes all events are the product of intention or consciousness. I have always had a child’s mind. Really, we all do.  The feta meant to jump. The garden hose is playing games. Disney has it right; tea pots can sing, and want to, loudly and with joy. The mop can dance.

I am in good company on this. David Hume, a very fine and respected mind, writes in his Natural History of Religion, “There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious.”

I have made the transfer, and I’m wiser for it.  You should too.  If you know that the things in your house are just like you, you can manage them better. The TV wants to stay up at night; just like me.  That’s why when I press the “off” button the TV stays on, because it has switched over to cable mode and must be returned to TV mode to be turned off. Tricky TV.

I put my coffee cup down the other day. When I went back to get it, it was gone. I later found it hiding in the microwave. I know what happened. It got cold and went for a warmup. I understand these things now. And I’m on to their strategies. Things are not always going to stay where I put them so I must sometimes go looking for them in different places than I left them so that they know that they aren’t the only ones thinking. Aha!

And yet with all my new-found awareness and vigilance, I still sometimes get caught unawares, surprised by the resistance or the playfulness or the downright stubbornness of things. I put the bike in the back of the SUV the other day and it jumped back out so that the door wouldn’t close. I had a horse like that once — didn’t want to leave the barn. I get it. Sometimes I don’t want to head out for the day either.

A contact lens jumped out of my fingers recently and took off for the floor. I trapped it in a corner and got it safely back into its case. It gave me a blue glare as I dropped it back into the soaking solution.   

I’m in the game now, and I’m keeping score. This morning as I rounded up my breakfast,  the Splenda took off into the air and got onto the counter top. But the bowl and the spoon minded their manners, and the Wheat Chex, awash in soy milk, stayed nicely between my teeth. At the end of breakfast it was four to one, my favor.

I think it was a pretty good morning’s play. I’m getting ready for the day soon, and I’m wondering if my socks will attempt that sideways thing they sometimes do, where they twist around and get the sole of sock on the top of my toes.

Game on!

Good, I am ready, up for a fight, but there are other force at play. I’ve noticed recently that the game has tentacles that reach further than I first suspected. I have more to dread than flying buckets and dancing mops. I am beginning to think: fear the body.

The other day I was taking a shower when I suddenly caught sight of someone else’s midsection in the shower with me.  I usually bathe alone, but here I was with another person, soaking up soap and water  in my own shower. Upon a closer examination, I discovered that the girth was mine. Shocking!  How did this happen?  I don’t know. I didn’t notice things were going this way. I swear.  But how could that be, for I am myself and this waist is mine. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I usually shower without my contact lenses in. Perhaps, or not, but most likely, when I was asleep, my stomach expanded, without my approval.

What to do? Not stop eating.  In this game, the other sides’ moves can be countered, as most people know, and handled, by covering up, with the right clothes, with a shirt or a coat,  for several years. And I have covered up, but it has come out anyway — on all sides. Too many bowls of Wheat Chex, at night, for a snack, and peanuts, popcorn and cookies, for a treat.  Game on —  in me! 

 How bad it it? “Ten pounds, I’d say.”

My family and friends protest, “Quit whining. You don’t even know.”  But on me, with my skinny legs, and the room addition all on the front of the house, above the foundation, it shows.  The slide, the sag, the wrinkling, the fold, the bulge, I can see it, in the shower, under my shirt — winning. Others can see it too. My daughters named it, “loafy,” as in “He’s a cute little loafy.” How embarrassing! I have a body part, with a name. The toned, smooth, sculpted, skinny, young thing that used to be me, plus my amazing will-power and my youth — “going, going, gone!” It’s a home run, for the other side, and me running after the ball, hopping over the fence (barely), and running fast over the hill (finally), and beyond the dale —  permanently? Wow. Really?

It’s fun, going on like this, playing the game, surviving another round, taking up arms or against powerful enemies, fighting back, against things, with the body, like that. But really, all things considered; this is an issue, important and real, this thing about who or what is in control. It’s a philosophical issue, a scientific issue, a theological issue, a literary issue, long-debated, not agreed on, still-out-there issue. I’m trying to figure it out.

I remember in college, taking a class in psychology. I encountered a world view  new to me — behaviorism. I bridled under the idea of life reduced to stimulus and response formulas, all behavior conditioned, no choices, just reactions. I argued with my professor and wrote a paper on the power of our choices in shaping our environment. Of course I wasn’t the only one arguing, and the cognitive revolution, with its interest in meaning-making process provided plenty of challenges to the behaviorist model.

But despite the opposition, of course behavioral mechanisms are at works, some of the time. This morning, my daughter Rosalind told me her throat hurt. I gave her a bit of post-Christmas candy cane to suck. “Why will that help?” she asked. “It will make you salivate,” I said, as I handed her a broken piece of stripes, “and the  saliva will sooth your throat.” She put it in her mouth and salivated, just like all of  us  thus stimulated, Pavlov’s slobbering canines, simple responses to simple environmental stimuli. I’m a believer, in a qualified behaviorism. Sometimes, stuff around us rules us, but sometimes not, because  our responses are often not simple, and we are not simple and the enviroment around us, not simple. Brains think, and make very important, self-actualizing choices.

Last year a friend of mine quit drinking. “You’re done,” a voice in his brain explained to him. He was, and he quit, and it was a very conscious choice, and highly unlikely. Nothing in his environment had changed. He had been drunk, downtown, homeless, for years, and he still was. It was a lifestyle. But he came to, as recovery people put it, “a moment of clarity,” and stopped. Yesterday, I was talking to another friend who quit drinking, probably ten years ago, and he explained it this way, “You have to want to.” I buy that; I respect that, the exercise of the will, to stop, and start,something new.

It comes down, really to how we see the world. Is it under our control, or is it out of control. Is it guided, or is it random, or is it under its own control, following its own rules, or perhaps someone elses, from the outside, so to speak?

My thoughts go off, fire alarms and siren in the night. I hear voices of researchers in laboratories; I hear the planets turning in orderly fashion; I hear kings commanding and armies rattling their shock and awe and slaughter, and I hear the medics bending over the wounded and asking them, “Can you raise your right hand for me? I need to see if you can lift your hand.”

Dan Ariely, in his book, Predictably Irrational explains a bit of it based on his research. We get stuck in“anchor decisions,” he claims,  and  our initial choices, for instance to buy or not at a certain cost, determine our later decisions. Once we go a way, for instance, we pay a certain price for something, that initial decision dominates our thinking. It becomes our anchor, one that we arbitrarily adhere to, and break away from only with great effort, by an intentional rethink.

Examples come to my mind easily, assuring me that Dan is onto something here. If we grew up on cars getting 15 miles per gallon, we may well think 28 mpg is good. If grew up on 28, then 40 mpg is good. Good is what we know. But when gas goes to $5 a gallon, then it might be wise to think this through again, and come to  see 50 as the new anchor, the acceptable standard, or to come to the conclusion that no gas burned, ruining the earth, is the standard.

I like it, the rethinking things, being astute.  By my own observations, I can clearly see that we all get stuck in arbitrary mindsets, at times, and I think we can rethink that think and then think a new, more rational thinking thought. I’m for rationality, and I’m for choice. I’m not a behaviorist; too pathetic, “We are the products of our environments.” It doesn’t work for me. My environment is not in charge of me:  “En garde, marche, balestra, froissement!”

It’s a fight, against things, and to decide, how we view our world.  Points of view, models of nature, our sense of  objects  — these have, as we can see in the past, operated as hugely powerful historical frameworks, dominating nations, cultures, an era, millions of minds. Consider the Elizabethan world view and the idea of the great chain of being.  In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare poetically summarizes the perspective of an era: “The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre/Observe degree priority and place/ Insisture course proportions season form/Office and custom, in all line of order.” The view here is that there is a hierarchical ordering of existence in the heavens, every thing in order and in place, in the heavens and on earth. The chain of being had the divine monarch at the head, like the sun,  and men descending downward on the social ladder, like the planets, all in order, and meant to stay in order.

Scholar E. M. W. Tillyard explains further, “If the Elizabethans believed in an ideal order, animating earthly order, they were terrified lest it should be upset, and appalled by the visible tokens of disorder that suggested its upsetting. They were obsessed by the fear of chaos and the fact of mutability; and the obsession was powerful in proportion as their faith in the cosmic order was strong … to an Elizabethan [chaos] meant the cosmic anarchy before creation and the wholesale dissolution that would result if the pressure of Providence relaxed and allowed the law of nature to cease functioning.”

We see this view in Macbeth. When the king is  killed, nature is undone After Duncan’s murder,  Ross cries, “Ha, good father, Thou seest the heavens, as troubled with man’s act,/Threatens his bloody stage. By th’ clock ’tis day,/And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp./ Is ’t night’s predominance or the day’s shame/That darkness does the face of Earth entomb/When living light should kiss it?”

And more, “Duncan’s horses—a thing most strange and certain—/ Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,/ Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,/ Contending ‘gainst obedience, as they would/ Make war with mankind.”

Wow and wow again! They had it all figured out, with God and king on top, and nature troubled when men upset this order, nature responding, disordering and attacking. And yet, this mindset  didn’t work out all that well for the Elizabethans, the great chain  became a bit of a chain for the monarchs and the people, not so great, more chain. Think the War of the Roses. Think Charles the I, beheaded.

 And yet such ideas, the sense that nature responds to the world of men, was not new to the English people. Consider Isaiah, the ancient Jewish prophet writings: “You will go out in joy/and be led forth in peace;/the mountains and hills/will burst into song before you,/ and all the trees of the field/will clap their hands.” It sounds like Shakespeare, and game on, with a positive twist. Those Hebrews, so fun! How cool is that, singing mountains, clapping trees, all that wild-nature, joyful clapping and singing for us. Sounds like the trees are on the move, shades of Tolkein and The Lord of the Rings. What? Is this anthropomorphism, or reality; is it poetic device, or, what?

Jesus, the Jewish prophet, was schooled in the Hebrew line of thinking. When the crowds of miracle followers called him “king,” the legal experts told his disciples to shut them up. Jesus responded, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will  cry out.” Hyperbole?  Maybe not. Really? Perhaps, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We have our philosophical anchors, every age does, and our traditional, of the first order, main stream, educated mind-sets dominate, and then change, with the passing of an era and our passing from the scene. Think the geocentric view of the universe. Gone.  

So what is it? J. D. Watson, Shakespeare, Jesus, Ariely, nature, God, me? Is it what we think it is or what it is, is, is and then is again, despite what we think? Is it game on or game off or just game?

I find it arrogant of folks to act like they can give a final answer to such questions on how it all works, the nature of reality, our relationship to the environment, although I understand the impulse to babble on like one has an inside track; I’ve done it. But it’s a humbug and its quackery, too confident; we don’t know yet, the deep structure of reality, how it all works.  Who knows very much at all? I don’t. 

I love science, and theology, and I read both, but I don’t have to choose between them as if one knows, the other doesn’t. Each one knows part of what there is to know.  I respect validity of the scientific process. I respect the position that there is more here than science has charted and modeled.  I believe our responses are conditioned, and I believe we make choices that break free from powerful influencing factors, and I perceive, in the universe, the presence of  motivating factors, unseen and powerful. The truth is that, just like the Elizabethans or the ancient Hebrews, we live with a mindset, and it doesn’t have a final corner on the truth, and it is really smart to be open, to change, to rethink our current think. I’ve  never heard the rocks cry out, or seen the sun darken when a king died, but it is reported that it got dark in the daytime when Jesus died.

About ten years ago I had a surgery that didn’t turn out well; a nerve was damaged, and I ended up in chronic, daily, mind crushing pain. Under stress from that, and just by coincidence, I’d say, other things unfortunate things went down. My ears began to ring; a nerve in  my foot became pinched; part of my foot went permanently tingley and numb. I developed a severe rash, that resisted all treatment.That was crazy hard. My shoulder began to ache horribly from a pinched nerve in my neck. Then it froze, through lack of use, so that I couldn’t lift it above my chest. My stomach began to swell up when I ate, which acutally is normal, I;ve now discovered, “poor loafy,” but not acceptable. Then mother-in-law died, that hurt, and my wife and I inherited a estate with a whole new set of responsibilities; anxiety set in, and depression. I was comprehensively sick.

Game on! And I was knocked off my game.  “Wow, it was a bad spell there, buddy. I’m sorry.” Yeah. I didn’t kill King Duncan, but the natural order of things was upset — my stomach and all the rest of me.

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

“Thanks, but, I’m not, very much.”

I am more given to say “I’m glad it happened,” although I wouldn’t want to go through it again, and to add, “I’m changed.” Unlike the Elizabethans, I’m good with mutablity, on pretty much every level of reality. As a result of that tough season, “It’s not so much that I know something different; I am something different,” and I’m really grateful for that, and I have chosen to use what happended to me as a new anchor by which I measure difficulty. I also use what happened as nuclear fuel, because it is, and I’m energized by it now.

“Is it a coincidence that all this happened at once?”

“I’m not sure on that one.” I do think somethings are planned for us.  It seems to me, that the game was on, and plays were being made, to prepare me for something that was to come later, or for someone, other people who have come to me lately. I look them in the eyes and say, “I know.” And I do. And that helps our conversations go well, very well.

I have recovered from being sick, pretty much, or not. We all eventually live with some stuff,  but now I think differently about a lot of things. And I think, that we can rethink, pretty much everything and should from time to time, as the game moves on. 

Perhaps –just perhaps — more is going on than sometimes suspected, our sense of this anchored in our past decisions and their attendant mindsets, but then, that is for us to figure out today.

I say, game, and, on, and I can hardly wait to observe, the next move. 

 

Men chiefly miss the most important criteria for picking a wife — the thermal factor. Before marrying my wife, Linda, I checked her radiation level. They were high, so I proceeded toward the ceremony. Since the vows, I’ve only had warm nights.

My wife always keeps me cozy, and I usually try to keep her laughing. The two go well together.

In one season of our life, when I wasn’t coming home from work on time, I told her I had a solution. I would hire a husband named Brad to come home each night at five o’clock. He would say “hi,” listen to her day, pick up the house, do any dishes in the sink or any other small chore she asked him to do, and then he would slip out the back when I arrived. One rule – Brad wasn’t allowed upstairs in the bedroom.

I haven’t seen Brad lately. I think she fired him. I’m expected home again at night. It’s probably better.

I have a deeply held belief: laughing is esential to good living, and a husband and a father should do anything for a laugh. So I pretty much do.

When Linda and I first married I made her cry, once or maybe more. But I didn’t panic. When the tears came out, I took my fingers and gently pushed them back up toward her eyes. “Go back,” I commanded, and she laughed as she cried. Laughing and crying have actually gone together for us, in tandem so to speak, through our whole marriage.

I’ve worked at it. Trying is at least worth something.  If I want to convince one of my daughters to do something they don’t want to do, I often begin, “I read a study that said…” and they begin to holler and hoot. “I read a study that children who rub their father’s back, tended to live 10.5 years longer than those who don’t.” It doesn’t work, and yet it does. They laugh.

But it’s hard to be droll, all the time, so we got pets.

Last week, I kicked the small chip of ice that fell from my cup across the tile and into breakfast nook. It skidded along the floor like an ice hockey puck and came to a stop in the corner. Before it could even think about melting it was had.

Into the corner my black cat, Shanaynay, bounced. Up on to the wall she went with all four paws, off the wall she glanced, onto a second wall of the corner she bounced, then twisting in the air she landed facing and swatting the ice with a velvet paw. Nice!

Playful!  It is an excellent way to live. To fly through the air, to bounce off the walls, to spin on the way down, to swat at life between your paws, to have a little fun, to make someone else laugh – it’s good. Even the cats know that.

My daughter Laurel skyped me from Spain yesterday. She told me that she had a fine salad that day sitting at an outdoors café with a friend. The local feral cats provided the entertainment.  Two kittens wandered into the patio; the waiter threw one a wine cork, and the game was on with some skittering, some back arching, some stiff-legged bouncing and some super cute, kittenesque, mock fighting.

Nothing like a wine cork and a kitten to liven up the place. Who needs to have a home to have fun?

One makes the best of it pretty much everywhere, in Spain, in California, everywhere,  by some bouncing, swatting and a bit of jesting. I try to live a life of wit, but I’m not sure how I came by any skill in the therapeutic art of humor. I grew up in a home where jokes didn’t win many accolades. We were a bit of a serious crowd, we white, Germanic, Protestant, displaced Californian Haspers. There was a lot of religious devotion, hard work, serious book reading and a good bit of discipline, but not many witticisms in my family.

I only remember my father telling one joke. “What happened to the general who went in all directions?  A bomb hit him.” At the punch line my dad would burst out laughing, every time, just the same, as if it were the first time he’d heard this, and we would laugh too, at him, laughing at the exploding general.  If a person isn’t funny but they think they are, they are, a bit. Laugh, and at least part of the whole world might laugh at you.

A good family collects and stores humor. It is stored in the form of family stories, family jokes, famous family phrases, favorite movie quotes, favorite children’s books, family noises and family smells.

 It often begins with, “Remember the time when …”  The other day to my mom I  said, “Remember the time we went camping and the storm came up and we threw everything back in the trailer and it wasn’t properly hooked up to the car and it the tail tipped down to the ground from the weight and everything slid out in the mud.”

She remembered and we chuckled a little. While it was tragic at the time; later in the retelling, it has became part of our family’s comic history.

But there wasn’t enough of those comic moments for me within the context of family outings, so I went out on my own or with my two brothers for additional play and fun. We found a tree that had fallen down in the woods across the road from our house. It was lying on the ground but still alive, its branches now growing up vertically from the trunk. It became our fort, the “fallen tree fort.” There was something magical about walking on the trunk of the tree with ease, swinging around a branch strolling blissfully to the top of the tree and back. Adults didn’t know about it. It was our secret, and we acted out a fantasy life there in this hidden home.

 We found another tree closer to the house with a net of grape vines in the top. It was a crow’s nest of vines, and once up inside it, you could lay down, in the top of the tree, and no one walking by knew you were there. It was a safe spot, lying in the sky, peaceful, free from intrusion, a lazy boy’sworld. And so in this way, by means of trees, we achieved another world for ourselves, a playful, free, happy world away from adult concern with clean bodies, neat rooms, and finished homework.

It was a bunch of fooling around.

Growing up my brothers and I loved to fool around. We fooled around with clay and made red clay rocket ships and put little yellow clay men inside and then threw them against the floor with all our strengthm and then opened them up to see if the rocket men had survived the flight and the hard landing on Mars. We were thrilled when they were squished, and if they were not we threw them hard again until they either were or they achieved the status of hero for surviving so much.  Were were simply mimicking and expanding upon reality. On the morning of February 20, 1962, John Glen rocketed 100 miles into space in Friendship 7, a tiny 9 by 6 foot space capsule. I was twelve years old.

 Boyhood play is often just a bunch of reality-based fooling around.

We also fooled around with little plastic, green soldiers, WWII soldiers with green carbines and green bayonets and green grenades in their green hands. We built trenches in the dirt for them and little shacks of twigs and we posed them on their flat green bottoms in battle positions. Then we threw fire crackers in to the trenches, Black Cat firecrackers, and then like medics we went back down to the fields see the devastated huts and blackened little green men.

To us it was fun, it was play, it was reenactment, it was living the life of the men in of our time. My dad was in World War II. Play mimics reality, minus danger, sort of. I remember the day I picked up unexploded ordnance. It was curious, inspecting the thing, until it went off between my fingers. My fingers were still there, but they were so interesting at that point with the powder burns and the tingling tips.  But that was part of the fun; the play wasn’t entirely safe. In fact our  best fun never was entirely safe, jumping out of trees and riding our bikes crazy fast, like the day I hit a rock coming home on my bike and pitched hard over the handle bars and took a beating in the dirt and came away with some serious road rash. It was scary and painful and later, it was fun to recount.

Fooling around, I grew up with it, and then found it again as an adult when my wife brought home a brilliant children’s story from the library where she worked, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen. In this story, Tom’s Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong tires of young Tom’s fooling around and brings her friend Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen to challenge Tom to three rounds of womble, muck, and sneedball to teach him  a lesson. It’s great fun as Tom wins every contest against the serious adults by doing what he is best at — fooling around.

The story is full of good fodder for home fun. Like Tom, at home we like to do some fooling around, to “womble and muck” a bit, and tell each other at the table, like Tom’s Aunt commanded him, “Eat your greasy bloaters.”

It has always seemed to me, and it still does, that serious things go down smoothest with a joke wrapped around them. And it seems to me that when we are thinking at our best, we are laughing at our most. Horace Walpole got the sense of this when he wrote that, “The world is a tragedy for those who feel, but a comedy for those who think.”

I like a droll bit of sarcastic and insightful humor, sometimes. It’s great commentary on life.  Cats are like humans; they are both born blind, but different too; in a few weeks cats recover their sight.

Mr. Mark Twain was good at feline humor and dark sarcasm. In his notebook in 1894, he penned the memorable quip, “Of all God’s creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”  But if Mark Twain were crossed with a cat, it might improve the cat, a least it might come out witty-sarcastic.  I would like to have sat with Twain when he was alive and in good spirits and laughed a bit. We all need a wry friend.

One of my best friends in earlier years, Pat Chism, was Mark Twainian. He once told me, “Don’t do anything for your kids, then they won’t expect anything from you.” He could get away with this, because he was a pretty decent father. I used to tell him, “I like you; I’m my worst self around you.” He took it as a compliment. His humor was contagious, and I always caught it in his presence. At his funeral I was one of the speakers and I mostly told jokes, stuff from his life. This honored him and everyone knew it. I told him just before he died, “When you go, I want you to look back, like Elijah did on Elisha, and cast a double portion of humor upon me.” He either didn’t, or he did, and it bounced off.

Religion needn’t leave the laugh line out, for God himself is, I think, the grand jester. Someone told me recently, “I think that God is whatever we want him to be.” Shortly after hearing that, I am almost sure I also heard God’s characteristically contented and unflappable chuckle.

God has a sense of humor; consider the zebra, the baboon, the giraffe, the slime molds and all the jellies in the oceans. Consider you; what a crack up!

God thought up all the things that make us laugh – the physical humor found in all the ridiculous shapes, the hilarious ways of falling down, the cartoonish faces, the stiff legged mock fighting, the playful biting, the fake boxing. God invented all the verbal humor,  the endless plays on words, the syntactical ploys, the catchy punch lines, the unexpected juxtapositions. There is more fun from God. Consider sex, that fresh spring of a good deal of the humor of the world. God thought it up. It’s funny; jokes about it are pretty much universal.

Once, on a family outing to the San Diego Zoo, we walked up on a giraffe doing the unthinkable in public. He butted his wife in a place on her body that he really shouldn’t have been touching in public, and she let loose a steady stream, and he took a long sip as if from a drinking fountain, and then he raised his mouth and fashioned an expression that combined serious scientific analysis and pure, erotic ecstasy. It was a moment. Several families stopped and watched with us, in shocked embarrassment, and then we all snickered and muttered things like, “Stop it,” and “Don’t do it,” and “Hide the children’s eyes,” and “Wow, what was he thinking?” It was hilarious. I went home and googled it. Normal, for a giraffe; he was testing her fertility. In all actuality, God made him do it.

Jimmy Demarets remarked about our passions, “Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at.” Billy Crystal quipped, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” It goes on and on. I think God is laughing at it a good deal too.

Some religious men act like God is uptight about sex all the time, against it, not amused at our romantic antics. God must have a good laugh about that too. God doesn’t want sex misused, for harm, us going at it outside of marriage, but this is the same way any moral inventor wouldn’t want her or his invention to be turned to something that would damage the very people it was intended to benefit.  

Really, humor is a great protection. One can only survive being human and having religion, and going to church, by laughing a lot. Once Christmas Eve, during a candle light communion, I was passing the bread, a gold plate filled with broken crackers, the body of Christ, when the event happened. The music was playing softly, the candles flickering beautifully, and then a little, old lady near the end of the row, instead of taking a piece of cracker from the bread plate, instead dumped a whole fist full of change into it.  Her husband elbowed her and whispered, “It’s not the offering!”  But she was clueless. And after that, instead of receiving the body of Christ, people were picking dimes out of the communion plate all the way to the back of the church.

I just kept smiling; it was one of my favorite Christmas communions ever. She had the right idea. Christmas is best celebrated by giving. Whatever the reality for her, church is always a good place for laughing.

Truthfully, my favorite spot in church is either up front, making people laugh a little or sitting back with my wife doing some gentle quipping so as to make her laugh.  When we dabble in humor in a public setting, we refer to it as some “mocking and scorning,” but it’s really just some gentle punning to keep from being bored out of our minds.

For good mental health each institution of society should store up a repository of idiosyncratic humor, laughing at itself, laughing with itself in order to survive the boredom and even perhaps the toxic politics and dangerous personalities.

In one season at work I took to hiding my trash can from the janitor. He’d find it and then hide it from me. We got creative, the best spots above the dropped ceiling tiles and nested inside another trash can of the same size, with the bag over the top edge. Only by the weight, could you tell there were two. That was the best hide, and when my secretary and I found my can in another can, after weeks of looking, we had a good hoot over the whole thing. Survival, and fooling around – fun.

Work, home, family, church – they are all best served up with a laugh. This isn’t always possible, but I’ve come to think that as much as it’s possible we will do well to giggle, snort and guffaw as much as we can, and to fool around with reality the best we can.

We’ll be better for it. If not, we will have at least had some fun.

babies

Posted: August 21, 2010 in babies
Tags: , , , , , ,

“When we got to the hospital, my eyes were dilated to five. When my very pregnant wife got on the scales, my eyes dilated to nine. The nurse came into the delivery room and asked if we wanted an epidural. I said, ‘Yes,’ I’ll take one at the base of my skull.’ ”

“When our first baby, Rosalind was born, I cried. I really did.  And that’s the part Rosalind likes to hear. She always wants me to tell that. I cried because she was a girl, and I wanted a girl because I was sick of boy children, having grown up with too many of them, and having been hit way to many times on the arms by them. And maybe I cried too, thinking of all the loads of diapers headed our way.”

This is my first baby’s birth story, and it’s true, well some of it. Some of it is just my trying to act like a Bill Cosby dad,  because I admire him so much as a dad, well, as a TV dad, because on TV he was so funny and cool and had money — and a smokin’ hot wife.

But if you have a baby you have a story and you tell it to other parents, to your children and to whoever will listen all your life. As a new dad, I watched my wife with other moms, telling our babies birth stories, reliving the glory, the hours of labor, listening to the other mom’s hospital stories.  I felt left out. I didn’t seem to have a labor and delivery story because I hadn’t been in labor. Duh! Enough of that, I made a story up, well kind of, because I really was there, even if I didn’t have to pant and push and suffer. But I went through it; I had pain in the delivery room; I had bruises on my arms, and the birth of our baby was my story too.

We waited seven years after we were married to have babies. I was about to start a PhD in literature and my wife said, “It’s now, my clock is ticking, and the alarm is ringing and it’s saying, “Babies!”

I was faced with a decision, to go for the degree, and win knowledge, wealth and influence  or have children and live in ignorance, disease and poverty. I choose children, and I have never, ever regretted that. Well, once or twice, I did, but not now. I am the proud farther of Rosalind and Laurel Hasper.

 I needed them and I found out that they needed me too.  It’s a wild claim, I know,  but I have proof.

So many times when my little daughters, Rosalind and Laurel, reached their little hands up to me, fingers and arms and eyes all saying so very clearly what they wanted. I picked them up and then they were  good, there, in the right place, with me, their dad

Last week my mom told me that Ruby, her great grand-daughter from my brother Steve’s oldest son and his wife, woke up in church in her lap to a huge, high cathedral-like ceiling over her head. Her little lower lip trembled. Her eyes began to tear. My mom told me that she pulled Ruby to herself and held her tight and then little Ruby’s lower lip calmed and her eyes closed again. Good, all good.

They need us, and we need them too.

Last Wednesday, Aryah, a friend’s little daughter ran over to me and threw her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek with all the three year-old innocence in her little brown arms and silky, soft cheeks and fuzzy pulled-up hair, as cute as cute can ever be.  I couldn’t have felt more honored.  She is so adorable that her momma took her out recently and a modeling agency representative asked if she could be brought to the studio for pictures. Her mom said, “No.  Aryah doesn’t need more of that kind of attention.” She is already well on her way to a princess syndrome, thinking she is all that, having perhaps too many times overheard, “She is so cute.”

Babies , we love them — madly, instantly, unmitigatingly, and they love us back. We love holding them, looking at them, feeding them, taking pictures of them, comforting them. Babies – we even love the ones we have just seen for the first time and whose names we don’t even know. The cute ones in commercials, the sweet ones passing us in their mother’s arms on the street, the funny looking eighteen month ones, hand-held, staggering like drunks alongside their mom’s in the malls – we adore them all. They turn our heads; they get our second looks. Their little bald heads and beady eyes stop traffic in the grocery store and bring people together in little huddles on the street. “Ah, he is so adorable.”

When babies aren’t so loved, most of us are pretty much undone. When Ceausescu fell from power in Romania in 1989, and the scale of his social experiment to increase the population came light we were stunned — babies with no doting parents! “No!” According to NGO estimates, more than 170,000 orphans were languishing in orphanages under appalling conditions. The plight of the unheld, the unkissed, and the unfussed over shocked us and broke our hearts. It broke theirs too.

All babies should be brought home, even though it is a fearsome decision.  Bringing Rosalind home was a thrill and a scare. It was like Christmas and Halloween combined. It was Christmas because we brought her home, like a wrapped and beribboned gift; it was Halloween because we were afraid a scary problem would come to our door that we couldn’t get rid  of even with “phone” advice from the on-call nurse.  And it happened. She cried, at night, late, and into the night. But we had to figure it out for ourselves. They said she had “colic,” which basically meant she cried and they didn’t know why. So we figured out or were told about a “colic hold,” or football hold, as we came to think of it. We tucked Roz under an arm in much the way a running back carries a football, lying on her stomach, head toward the arm pit, keeping her in place along the arm by getting a firm grip on one of her ankles. This hold is very handy, as the baby then just kind of rides along with you, near your body, and you have one hand free to do other things, like eat, hold a book, run the remote and other essentials of good living.

As you can see from this, babies aren’t always fun. Take diapers, for instance – not fun. Before we had our first baby, I was told that we would need about ninety diapers a week. I was num-chucked, floored, down because of the count . “Ninety diapers a week! What would a person do with ninety diapers?”  I was to find out. But even hearing it pronounced like that, like some terrible, negative prophesy, scared me. That would mean that there would be a whole lot of something around my house that I preferred to not keep around the house, but to consign to a private, discrete, proper porcelain place.

I threatened to move to the garage. I was told that if I didn’t stop it and step up I would be banished to the garage.  It was not to be, the garage, a way out. Flat, smashed, runny – we took turns managing it. It was only fair. “Gag me. It’s your turn.”  We had friends with a rule about this, “Finders, keepers.” You do what you have to do, but you don’t like it. I used to give Rosalind “Giraffe Man to play with,” a little stuffed orange giraffe, while I changed her diaper. At least this could be fun for somebody.

But there was also the good stuff, the other end. Both our girls were both bald for the first year, with that nice soft layer of fuzz topping them off.  We loved it, the fuzzification, the fuzzosity, the fuzzitude of their tops. Male pattern baldness doesn’t attract much attention, but total baby baldness is a big hit and people instinctively run their fingers over this soft warmth. With our babies, we teased that we were rubbing vitamins on their little, bald heads to make the hair grow. We weren’t. We were rubbing our lips on their sweet heads and kissing the stuffing out of them every chance we got. That is what eventually made their hair grow.

To compensate for not having hair, we got our girls cheeks — big, fat, sweet, rosy, downy cheeks. I like to say, “Love some cheeks.” It came from a time when one of them said, “Want some cake,” or something like that, and then in our family, post that, we say, “Love some cake, love some kitties, love some… “whatever it is that we love. We pointed out the cheeks to other people, and we told people we paid extra for them, as if cheeks were an upgrade, like a sunroof or leather seats that we could brag about.

Sum it up for yourself; do the math, fat soft cheeks, bright eyes, oversized, fuzzy topped heads, short and chubby arms and legs, miniature fingers and toes – these things pretty much avalanched us down the slope of total baby adoration.

Take baby toes. Baby toes are an instant hit everywhere. “Look, they are so perfect,” we gush. Baby toes are a miracle to most people, like the appearance of the virgin, or like bread and fish multiplied. They are so small and fresh, but exactly like ours, well, not quite. I was recently standing around with some young adults who were all wearing flip-flops. Their toes weren’t perfect, but instead, even in their mid twenties many of their toes were already bent to the side, headed toward old age and perhaps a hobble.

But the babies, in miniature, the toes, the fingers, the silky soft skin, it is so often so good, so right, so fun. Fun, fun, fun – babies are so fun, some of the time. You can see that they aren’t always when you see their sleep-deprived moms and dads just trying to get through the next day.

I remember being a baby; I don’t. It’s surprising, our brains are growing so fast then, learning so much, but remembering so little. But my mom remembers and I remember through her. I woke in the morning hungry, starving, begging, “Circee, circee, mama circee.” I so I got my Cheerios and I was so grateful that I dropped some over the edge of my chair to the dog, and they picked me up and let me out and I turned around and I was shoveling Cheerios into my babies mouths and sitting on the floor playing with their toys with them. And I’m still eating “circee.” I love my Wheat Checks and Honey Nut Cheerios and Shredded Wheat with soy milk and Splenda.

One of the best things about having babies around the house is having their toys around the house. Adults love the toys — nothing new here. In the Indus Valley Civilization, (c 3000-2,500 BCE to c1500 BCE), at the ancient site of Mohenjo-Daro, archeologists found children’s toys, small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and toy monkeys which could slide down a string. We have long loved miniature, and we have loved the motions that make our babies laugh.

The first mobile we bought was as much for us as for baby Rosalind. When we had a room with a crib and a mobile, we got smug and knew it was for real.  We were parents. I was particularly thrilled with “Discovery Cottage.” When we put the little cylindrical guy down the chimney of the plastic house and out the slide he came, Rosalind laughed and laughed with delight, and we laughed too watching her laugh, this little slice of laughing reality reprising all the laughs of the ancient children, the ancient Indian child pointing and delighting in the monkey flying down the string or the ancient Greek child tossing her yo yo’s out from her little person with joyful abandon.  

As the girls got older, early grade school, we took them to the pool.  At that point we had moved to a master-planned community for all the usual reasons: the good schools, the walk around the block without crossing any major streets to get to school and the pools. The pools were worth the mortgage payment alone. The girls grew up in the water, as all kids should. Water and kids mix really well.  We played bucking bronco. The girls sat on a bogey board, wrapped their little fat legs and finger around the edges and held on for the wild ride. Back and forth, up and down, twisting and bucking and rearing back and diving forward, then the flip. I’d flip the board upside-down, their heads pointed to the bottom of the pool, then on through the spin and back up to air and sun again, and then back under and back up, fifteen, twenty twenty-five times. I forget the record, but it was high, over thirty times under water without falling off, the screaming and laughing and water flying and high-fives at the end. Babies and big babies are fun to play with.

Besides toys, the other entertainment was language. The fun and the cuteness of big babies is the fun found on their lips and tongues. The first smiles blew us away. The first “dada” and “mama” melted our hearts. And then they really talked —  funny-cute. Laurel loved a, “Yion” (lion) and had an “owie” on her “yeg” (leg). When we were driving Rosalind would often shout out “Gog, gog,” and sure enough ten cars away, hanging out the window, there was a dog. She was never wrong. Rosalind wanted to go on a walk and see “naturous” things, and so we did.  It’s hard to remember all the cute things said and done. We don’t, but when we are again around babies, some of the special moments and movements come back.

Audrey came to our house last week. Audrey is eight months. She is all eyes and she misses nothing. She crawls fast, throws a leg under herself and sits out and up like a college wrestler making a move on his opponent. She smiles and claps and everybody wants to hold her which she doesn’t mind at all. At the end of the night, as the celebrity in the house, she didn’t want to leave. She arched her back and had to be bent into her car seat. Babies are strong and strong-willed–  sometimes. Odd, how similar Audrey is to me, to adults everywhere; we never grow out of not liking being pushed down. And so we understand her when she doesn’t want to go in her seat; sometimes when the party has been fun, and she has been the center, a girl just doesn’t want to go home. Audrey is writing her story.

When you have a baby, you get stories, and the stories just happen to you, you don’t have to make them up, but they shape and change and define too. One day we went up to the mountains for a hike.  A bicycler crashed along of the road. A Life Flight Helicopter came for the rescue. People gathered in a dirt parking lot nearby. It was exciting to us, but not too little Laurel. She reached up, eyes up, hands up, I took her up, she clutched me with the tightest grip ever and said,  “Scared of dat, daddy, scared of dat.”

I took her to the car. We sat there through the chopper loudness and dust-churning craziness. She didn’t quickly forget it. For several years thereafter, when a helicopter would fly over the house, she was wild-eyed with fear that it would fly in the window.  This is it; calming our children’s fears, trying to make clear to them what is dangerous and what is not.  But a good childhood is not much fear, more fun than fear.  It was for us.

The first smile, the first time sitting up, the first clap, the first crawl, the first step,  the first word, the first party – whew the fun is nonstop.

I remember our first vacation that required a flight. We flew to Kauai, a good place to take kids, because it is surrounded by warm, clear, beautiful water with bright fish in it, and turtles. We snorkeled with them, nonstop. I remember snorkeling with Laurel, at tunnels, a reef very close to shore, very shallow, but with an edge. We were swimming together, and suddenly we came to the outer edge of the reef, and a cliff, and deep, darker blue water. Out over the edge of the nothingness we swam, and Laurel looked down with me, floating with her floaties and she grabbed my arm hard with her little fingers.

I pulled her close and we cruised in a little circle and back over the safety of the beautiful reef, with its little fish and plants, her size.

This is it, the swim together, the fingers grabbing us tightly when they are afraid, the arm circling, the guided tour back to safety.

We love our babies, and when it works out the way it should, they so love us back. We need them. They need us. You can tell from the red finger marks pressed into your arm when you take them out into the wonders.