The Cure for Francophilia

In July, the girl, the little man, and i spent over two weeks in France with much of her family. Since i was in second grade and was first introduced to the language in the otherwise dire public schools of Slidell, Louisiana, i’ve loved everything French.

In 2003, i was thrilled to visit Paris for the first time. It was another scorching hot, deadly summer, and my first experience was amazement, and joy at being finally immersed in it, but still kinda, you know, enduring it. A week later, passing through for another night on the way back to London, it was cool and pleasant and it was everything I ever wanted.

Since then, i’ve been back half a dozen times or so in all seasons, and always had a fantastic time just soaking in its Frenchness. In 2015 when i brought the girl there, she noted that i was uncharacteristically nervous that she wouldn’t like it as much as i did. It rained on us but i needn’t have worried. The food alone made it amazing.

This year, we planned an ambitious itinerary around the end of the Women’s World Cup, from Provence, to Paris, to Normandy.

And somehow, so many days on this trip felt like my favorite country was kicking me for loving it so.

June 30th, Boston: Before we even left, yes. We got on the Logan Express bus from the Back Bay T station, I wrestled our bags into the rack and went to pay the driver. The girl handed me her wallet with her Charliecard to show the driver. It wasn’t even needed anymore. I set her wallet down to watch the man look out the window and talk to the traffic, and i never picked it back up. We spent the remaining time before our departure frantically searching for it, then preparing for the reality that we didn’t have it anymore.

July 1st, TGV Station, CDG Terminal 2: Multiple of our party can’t walk, and between luggage and strollers, we sought an elevator down to the TGV platform. After a few trips in the wrong direction in the urine-scented box, it finally took some of us down to the platform, but would not go any further. At that point, ticket agents confronted the people down there, while upstairs, they weren’t yet taking tickets and letting the rest of us down. Shouting in French ensued, with me a hundred feet away and barely able to help.

Upon boarding the train, me and a bunch of other people were riding between cars in stifling heat upon a mountain of luggage that had nowhere to go. It took me roughly an hour to get all our luggage moved to the right car, and I rode most of the three hours to Avignon standing while our giant suitcases sat comfortably.

July 1st, Violès, France: When you have 10 adults, you can get one hell of an Airbnb for not so much money, divided so many ways. We did that. It was one hell of an Airbnb on paper—a vineyard, modern appliances and furniture, air conditioning, a million bedrooms, boxes of wine to drink… And an ant and fly infestation. Dozens of flies, hundreds of ants, and an all-hands battle against them.

July 2nd, Violès, France: When we arrived, the pool systems were off, and the pool was a bit messy with some not-so-clever cicadas. It was pushing 100˚ out, and an enterprising member of our crew started pushing buttons in a nearby room. At some point, i was summoned to help, being an engineer who actually speaks French. I flipped the relevant switch and we all hopped into a soon-to-be-perfect blue pool. But we’d also turned on the water for the whole vineyard. Our host was not pleased. Later that night, after a great dinner at a local restaurant where I basically got to order for everyone, the insects returned.

July 3rd, Lyon, France: We waited rather too long to book lodging in Lyon during the World Cup, and the last reasonable option was a $200 Airbnb. No air conditioning, stairs, whatever. It was one night. Accessibility concerns meant that we ditched our original plan to take the train into the city and park at the airport, and instead we’re now driving into the center of the city. Up and down steep one-way streets. Google Maps lied about the parking garage, but that was okay because the Airbnb was five stories up. We changed a diaper there, the baby man made a game attempt to trash the place in fifteen minutes, but this wasn’t going to work for some of us and a hotel was hastily booked for a large sum of money §. Having driven to this hotel, they realized they made a mistake and moved us to another. At this point, we’ve driven around the center of Lyon for over two hours, and are in danger of not making it far across town to the stadium for kickoff. After the game, it took us roughly two hours to get back to our hotel with all the taxis spoken for and Uber a bit of false advertising.

July 4th, Grenoble, France: We had no reason to think that a city at the foot of the Alps would be a crime capital. We spent a nice day playing at a playground, eating ice cream, sightseeing, and having dinner. Many of the rest of us had gotten lost, but we had a great day. Until we returned to a car with a broken window. With a bag and two iPads stolen from it. An expensive call to the rental car company. An expensive call to the local police. Who said to make an expensive call to the national police. Who said to go in person to the local police. Whose first office was closed. Finally we find a hot, sweaty police lobby for me to wait in, with disinterested desk officers slowly processing whatever they’re processing and an old second world war comedy on the TV on the wall. I’m under no illusions about obtaining any justice, but the rental car company says I need a police report. With thisª:

in hand a sweaty ninety minutes later, we cram dirty clothes in the broken window and begin our two hour drive home close to midnight.

July 5th, Les Baux-de-Provence: Five days into our vacation, nothing bad finally happened, other than the possibility that we had maybe cost our host thousands of Euros in fines for violating local water bans, which is probably better than ruining the year’s vintage, which had also seemed a possibility.

July 6th, Violès, France: We scarcely left the house, which is a good tip for avoiding anything bad happening. We drank, we swam, we drank some more. It’s pushing 100˚ still and people are probably dying because of it. Perspective is useful.

July 7th, Uzès, France: It’s a notch hotter and we leave the house, but barely leave the car until evening. We had a great dinner in a nice bar in a town that the girl and I really liked four years ago. It was a good day. When we returned, there were more insects than ever.

July 8th, Violès, France: I learned some entomology from a very enthusiastic exterminator in French. I don’t actually care what i’m talking about, i still love talking in French to people. We got a late start searching for lavender fields, which had mostly been harvested already, but it was still a perfectly okay day. At least we got really drunk late that night.

July 9th, Avignon TGV Station: The rental car company was not impressed with my police report. They told me that Grenoble was a bad place and that they were deeply unsurprised at what had happened. And that they were just gonna bill me for it and I’d have to take it up with my credit card company. At least getting everybody’s luggage on the train again went better.

July 10th, Paris: We had a nice morning getting the walking-averse onto a tour bus, which we rode far away to the Luxembourg gardens. With the man cooked both literally and figuratively, we were devastated to find that the snack bar was out of sandwiches for the day, and went home to get him a nap. As if that wasn’t bad enough, then i got pickpocketed on the Métro. Yeah, getting shoved onto the crowded train with my stroller tickled my spider sense enough to be looking, but not hard enough. According to my better half, who fought their attempts to shove her away from me and the stroller, there were five of them, and one of them took advantage of my attention on the baby to lift my wallet. They attempted over $10,000 of charges in half an hour, all but $667 of which were declined. Still, they got away with nearly $1000 between that and the cash. And, what with that and the events of June 30th, now we have no cash or credit cards, nor a way to rent the next car. I abruptly start being nicer to my in-laws for no particular reason.

July 11th, Paris: We did very little this day other than not spend any money (Pro tip: some credit card companies will immediately load your new card onto Apple Pay in this situation, which meant that we could pay for a lot of stuff like diapers and formula for the baby and cookies and wine for us) and take the man to a local playground. He took a long nap and i caught up on work email, which remained terrible, but less so compared to other events.

July 12th, Disneyland Paris: Ah, the refuge of Disneyland, which initially I rolled my eyes at as a waste of valuable being-in-Paris time, but now seemed like a needed two days of paid-for-months-ago and everything-taken-care-of. Anyway, even their standard let us down as we found our toilet pre-peed-in and other niceties:

July 13th, Disneyland Paris: In Disneyland Paris, they still attempt to serve proper three-course meals, just like everywhere else, but worse, slower, and more expensive. At least they were a bundled cost, but I was not sad when my small colleague demanded we leave the restaurant adjoining Pirates of the Caribbean. By this point he was wise to the length of typical meals, and if the food wasn’t meeting his standards, he’d be difficult to contain.

July 14th, CDG Airport: It took us an hour and a half to get a car rented, but at least since it was the same agency as before, they remembered a time (a time that to me, seemed so long ago) when I had a valid driver’s license and handed me the keys to an Alfa Romeo.

July 15th and 16th, Crépon, France: Nothing bad happened for the rest of the trip, actually. Normandy was beautiful and blessedly cool. Everyone had a good time. Disaster was held at bay. It was nearly relaxing.

July 16th, CDG Airport: After dropping off rental cars uneventfully and having difficulty finding the shuttle back to our hotel, we figured screw it and that we’d grab a cheap cab back and save time. The cabbies had seen us before, and as they talked amongst each other at the cab stand, while we walked to the car of the lucky winner, he said “Ils n’ont pas trouver la navette.†” and quoted us €20 for the trip. We walked away.

But i’m still not mad at France.

The proprietor of the hotel in Normandy stayed up late for us and moved around our rooms so we could be near each other. The waitstaff at a dozen different restaurants were solicitous of my little man and his cousins, and patient with the demands of the rest of our unruly party (which I couldn’t always intercept and translate into polite French). Our Airbnb host forgave us our literal trespasses. The last police officer I spoke with in Grenoble was kind and helpful and sympathetic. The fury on the face of the lady at the front desk at Disneyland when I showed her pictures of our room and her swiftness in finally fixing it (by moving us to the nice part of the hotel). The late-night gas station clerk who joked along with me while I guessed at the size of our car’s fuel tank and had to come back and pay for more. The nice pot-smoking cyclist who declared himself the mayor of the TGV baggage compartment and helped me and countless others inch our way to the right place while we mutilated each other’s languages. Or the nice cab driver who took a cash fare at 1am across Lyon probably right after he put out his light. The manager of a rest stop sandwich place got our man a little travel bag with goodies that easily bought us a few hours of happy car seat time.

Even in a scorching summer in one of the most tourist-infested parts of the world, you’re still going to find nice people, and have good experiences. Even if our luck on this trip was objectively rotten, an awful reward for a huge amount of effort put into planning it, and no respite whatsoever* from strenuous work at home**, we were still lucky to get to do it, and will always remember it. Maybe even especially the bad parts.

Footnotes:

ª Later, we noticed that the police report describes a green Ford Fiesta, not the large minivan we were driving, but on the other hand, the rental agreement says I was driving a VW Polo. Good job, everyone.

§ It was probably only available because some large fanbases had seen their teams be upset.

† “They didn’t find the shuttle.”

* Let’s face it, being the sole French speaker in a dozen neophyte travelers was never going to be a relaxing job.

** We’re not even going to talk about work right now other than that I count it as an accomplishment that i only billed eight hours during my vacation.

The Man and the Mouse, and other tales of Florida

Upon planning a trip to visit the little guy’s mom’s parents, we made it pretty clear that a 7-month-old did not have a burning need to go to Disneyworld, considering how excited he is by: leaves, cats, buses, the MBTA, mirrors, office lobbies, and other activities that do not cost $114 for admission. Knowing the little man’s grandmother as we do, though, and proud as we knew she was of her resident pass, we penciled in a day there and acted surprised when she said that’s where we were going.

And you know what? The man really liked it. Sure, what he liked most was riding around at knee level amongst the throngs of people laughing maniacally in his stroller every time he saw other small children. But he also liked rides! (Also: they just let you bring a 7-month-old on most of the rides, which admittedly i hadn’t given any thought to, but had kind of assumed wasn’t a thing). So there he was riding flying carpets, carousels, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. And looking around wide-eyed, even smiling. The idea of how new and exciting everything is to him is so invigorating, and better than that, you never know, with him—any place might be the next happiest place on earth™.

Other things we learned:

  • The diaper changing room near Main Street at Disneyworld is amazing. Cushy beds, table liners, a kiosk to buy crap you forgot. As it’s probably likely that i’ll be back there before the man is out of diapers, i can tell you i will be looking forward to it next time.
  • Disney’s reputation for experience design is deserved and well-documented, but i thought it was interesting how the barnacle-like growth of strollers on and around pathways clogged the arteries so thoroughly and in such a disorderly way. Immediately, i thought of redesigning it, realizing that like midtown Manhattan, the Magic Kingdom is, in some ways, some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. It deserves an expensive, well-designed solution, don’t you think?
      • Could you do an underground parking elevator-vending machine system like in high-density parking garages? It would have to be extremely fast and foolproof (their existing wristband tech would solve a lot of UI problems), but there would remain the issue of needing to not forget anything on your stroller lest you have to do it all over again.
      • Or what about an underground, self-serve parking area? Naturally, any underground solution would encroach on existing underground infrastructure.
      • Maybe this can be accomplished with policy solutions? Stroller-free zones, or congestion charging? Perhaps a valet service would do the trick, with the human element allowing for efficiency based on knowledge of how soon you’ll be back for it and trust that it’s well taken care of.
      • Stroller standardization could be another way to go. Maybe providing one, well-designed, compact, modular stroller at the parking lot would be a means to de-clutter the random agglomerations of compact (like ours), giant, double, and quadruple strollers.
      • Anyway, on the off chance they read this, and want to hire me and my day job to work on it, this is the sort of shit we rule at.
  • The Haunted Mansion is objectively the best ride at Disneyworld.
  • Experiencing big crowds with the little man is a little bit unnerving, considering he and his stroller are always pointed headlong into it, and i can’t see him. Fortunately, as i mentioned, he sort of loves that. But unsurprisingly, people walking around the Magic Kingdom, particularly at busy times, are badly behaved in the way that Connecticut drivers are. One wonders how many stroller fender-benders occur at brisk speeds.
  • Counterpoint: we spent the day walking so slowly that i barely budged my green ring on my Apple Watch, and not because of my wife’s parents’ slow amble, either.

Regarding the rest of Florida:

  • It’s still terrible. Traffic lights that take hours. Weaving drivers around people doing ten under in the left lane. We saw an American flag with he-who-must-not-be-named’s face on it. Their toll road arrangements, particularly as intersected with what your rental car is set up for are inconsistent and difficult and leave you scared of giant fines.

A Review of Assorted Baby Products

  • Considering that my better half and i live in a tiny basement apartment in a city not known for large… anything, we were accustomed to living our lives with careful consideration of any objects brought into the house.  Readers who’ve known me a for a long time know that this is a substantial change from my impulse-buy bachelor days.  
  • Change, however, is a thing that’s said to happen when babies are involved, and suddenly we find ourselves host to all manner of new products, some we’ve sweated the purchase of, others we’ve clicked buy on and hoped for the best.  
  • Consider this an addendum to my corporate-friendly thoughts posted earlier.  Highlights and commentary on design choices follow*:
    • Ergobaby 360 Carrier: This replaced the other carrier below, and everything about its construction reflects well on its higher cost; the materials and features are excellent and well-considered.  That’s not, however, the same as saying i agree with their choices.  

      In particular, the lift-the-baby-then-secure-the-carrier method is uncomfortable at first, and maybe something that not everybody can even do.  Basically you lift the baby onto your chest, ideally leaning back a little while standing (it’s awkward while sitting), support them with one arm, don one strap, switch arms, do the other strap.  Then, let go of the baby (!) and reach to connect a buckle at your shoulder blades.  Now, the baby can’t go anywhere at that point—the straps can’t go back over your arms if they’re raised—but this is more of a high-wire act than i’d like, and beyond that simply lacks the convenience of front access.  It seems to me that it would be easy enough to design an accessible fastener that only releases when the weight of the payload is held by your hands.  

      Apart from that, for a $150 carrier, charging $20 extra for multiple locations of washable drool covers is a bit ridiculous.  Despite all that, it’s comfortable for both of us for long walks or subway rides or bouts of xmas shopping, and his legs are well-supported with a clever forward-swung sling portion of the carrier.  His considerable weight is distributed partially to the waist, which helps as well.
       
    • Infantino Carrier: We bought this almost on impulse at Target, because it was so inexpensive and it served us extremely well while he was little.  People with smaller babies probably would get longer use out of it.  Ultimately, worn front-facing, it provided inadequate support to his giant fat thighs as he reached the 15-20lb mark.  The four-buckles-for-him, two-for-me system was easy to put on, though, and we miss being able to be securely wearing the carrier before inserting the baby into a stable location.  The downside was (again as he got heavier), the weight was all on the shoulders, which required better posture than i have and meant it got uncomfortable after an hour.  
    • Munchkin Diaper Pail: This has a fun little gear mechanism that operates the sphinctering of the tubular diaper baggie. It sometimes skips due to too much torque on account of being too full, but in general, the sphincter twists shut very effectively, which means that our tiny bedroom with like, half a window, does not smell like diaper. It doesn’t consume consumables excessively, either.  Here is where i say ‘sphincter’ one more time for fun.  At work, i frequently describe mechanisms or concepts using this word, because it’s both funny and scatological and extremely descriptive.
    • Fisher-Price Jungle Gym: A hand-me-down, and a lifesaver of one.  We don’t have this version, and there are clearly a few out there, but there was a good two month period where he couldn’t help but burst out laughing every time those butterflies fluttered overhead. Moreover, it’s a solid framework upon which to hang whichever little toy he’s most into, as he’s progressed from staring at it to beating the crap out of it. It’s on its second use, and as he wrestles it and i trip over it, it is slowly losing some of its rigidity.
    • Thule Urban Glide 2.0 jogging stroller: This is our only stroller, which is a decision we are mostly good with, except when we find ourselves in a tiny store or café, or on an orange line car at too busy an hour (read: we really prefer to keep our stroller off the T).  Put another way, it’s deceptively huge.  It’s long, obviously, but the wheelbase sneaks up on you, and it’s the thing that snags, or runs over strangers’ toes.  Someday we’ll have a cheap smaller one for stuff like that.  

      Having said that, this thing is awesome.  It bounces cheerfully over the uneven brick and cobble sidewalks of the South End and up and over mismatched, nonexistent, or blocked curb cuts, without jostling the (probably sleeping) passenger, thanks to pretty nice, simple shock-absorbing and big, forgiving wheels.  It drives great while running, too, rolls extremely smoothly, but that’s not the same as it requiring no effort; up hills, and especially into Boston’s inescapable winter wind, it’s an additional burden.  Good.  

      The adapter for the (see next) car seat was simple and robust, and also led too short a life.  Now that he’s out of that, though, it’s a lot more fun for him, as he’s got more to see than just the sky (not that he doesn’t love the sky), although he’d probably still prefer it if the stroller had 10-15˚ more uprightness available.  The wind/rain cover is also excellent and means that we can go out on the coldest days with just the (amazing) LL Bean sleeping bag thing that my mom got him and don’t have to coax him into more garments.  

      The wheels come off easily to fit in our car, in addition to the nice folding mechanism (one quibble—the closure latch is just a cheap plastic hasp and tooth that is sometimes a wrestling match.  It seems to me a swinging, detented hook might be better on release.
    • Chicco KeyFit car seat: We got nearly five months out of it, and i’ll always remember it as the thing we brought him home from the hospital in.  He was straining against it almost from that day.   It was a matter of weeks before we were pulling out the inserts for newborns, he was confined and overheated through the hot, humid summer, and practically bursting out of it when we switched to the next car seat.  We used the snuggly winter cover thing exactly once.  It is, however, extremely robust and well-designed, and one of many things we feel extremely wasteful about for having used so little.  

      In general, infant car seats should be easier to carry one-handed (they probably are with lighter babies).  The handle needs to get closer to your body, and there needs to be a way to not be bouncing it off your knees as you walk down the block.  Perhaps i’d be willing to move the handle left or right and trade an addition of ballast for a more convenient center-of-mass.  In smaller cars like ours, some help in clicking the seat in, visual aids, detents/feel features would be nice.  It’s not hard, but sometimes, due to the long cramped reach with an extended heavy object, the insertion-and-click winds up being heavy and jarring for the dude.  
    • Graco 4-in-1 car-seat: He was content for 45 minutes in the old one, provided the car was moving steadily.  With this one, its maybe up to an hour. It’s definitely more comfortable for him to get in and out of, a lot less yelling.  This is a heavily, heavily upholstered thing that i haven’t spent enough time with yet to truly understand.  It is worth mentioning that it’s huge, and that it’s cost me a click of my seat in our Mini Countryman.  The buckles are a little chintzier than the Chicco one too, and get lost and twisted a bit more easily.
    • Qooc Food Processor: This is a relatively new addition, which is fun for me to play with, because someone clearly put some effort into the product design on it.  Especially noticeable is the big, blue, lightpiped, rubberized control knob.  It’s a good, simple UI feature, even if the ‘power’ glyph on the front is maybe not the right choice, given its function (left = steam on, right = blender momentary-on).  i’m more disappointed on their behalf that they almost got the light pipe right, but there’s some LED bleed out the side of the knob.  Bummer.

      The retention of the blade on the bottom of the pitcher is sufficient, but unconvincing—the nut holding it should have a light detent.  Other than that, they did a good job implementing proper food-processor-type safety interlocks with simple, inexpensive parts (i have some experience with this (whaat, it comes in purple now!)).  If it were me designing it, i might have put thru-hole drains in the bottom base under the pitcher for cleaning purposes, too. Chopped-up carrots, especially, are pernicious little bits of debris.  The material chosen for the included spatula discolored almost immediately against carrots.  This thing comes with a lot of parts, too.  It’d be nice to have some means of storing some of them.  Cribbing off our shop at work, i am organizing it (as well as our bottle+formula station) using cheap cafeteria trays.   
    • Baby Einstein Take-Along-Tunes music box: Our better fake child bought this for him based on her extensive babysitting experience, and she was not kidding.  This simple, cheap little thing has comparable effectiveness to a pacifier.  Push the button, music and lights, calm baby.  It’s hard to believe that seven classical-music tunes played with probably the firmware equivalent of .MOD files (look it up if you’re not enough of a nerd) work so well on little folk.  The scant downside is that it consumes AA batteries surprisingly quickly.

      If i were so bold as to redesign this perfect product, i suppose i might spread out the flashing lights so they’re more visible from more places. And maybe scallop the bottom so that it’s harder to inadvertently mute the speaker on carpets and blankets and things.
    • Car back seat mirrors. We’ve tried two, neither of which have done that great a job of hanging onto the Mini’s center headrest. Currently it’s this one, which is fine except the logo on it is deeply hideous. All of the strap arrangements on these are varying degrees of horrible, though. Feels like it could be done with more of a sleeve or sack sort of arrangement, or even bendable hooks.
    More likely to come later.
  • *These are Amazon affiliate links, for the lulz.  Doubt that works out for me.
  • The Tale of a Hobo and his Son

    A long time ago when my better half and i were first dating, i up and quit my job, because it didn’t satisfy me.  It paid well, but i was finding myself bored and frustrated.  Since i was planning on doing some traveling anyway, i just up and quit, and explained to her that i would just become a hobo.  The unemployment didn’t last very long, really, but the epithet stuck.

    Years later, i find myself away from my job again, embracing my former hobo ways and teaching them to my infant son with varying degrees of success.  Put another way, being on paternity leave is weird.  It’s weird to be sitting at home in the middle of a workday, knowing my desk, my job, and my colleagues are all chugging along, but feeling no pressure to deal with any of it.  Very happily, i don’t have to, and have instead this brief opportunity to just have this one thing to do, to take care of the little guy.

    So what do we do with our days?  They fill up, that’s for sure.

    • It seems likely that anyone who watched a video of me playing with the man would probably wind up questioning my sanity.  Actually i’m pretty sure that if i saw myself, i’d wonder just what the hell i was thinking.  It becomes quite literally anything-for-a-laugh.  During the morning, it doesn’t take much, and as the meter runs low toward the end of the day things become a bit more desperate.

      roger_rabbit

      Not that he’s remotely difficult, but i guess there’s a natural tendency towards being  eager to please your little guy, so i find myself jumping up and down, hiding, crawling, singing songs (both correctly and with made-up lyrics that go increasingly off the rails with every passing verse), making faces, making noises, wandering the house, staring at the sky, waggling toys, picking him up, moving him around…

      Whatever works.

    • We spend a decent amount of time exploring the city, too.  Lately there’s been a pretty marked increase in the time it takes us to get us out of the house, what with our little man needing an increasing number of layers which he doesn’t want and tiny hats and gloves which he doesn’t want.  In general though we try to be prepared to bounce, to go out and bring the man to his mom for lunch, to go to the North End to get more coffee (because someone tried to murder our coffee maker and someone decided to try being nocturnal for a night), to go meet friends playing hooky, go protest the end of the republic, or systematically walk down streets we’ve never been on, or go hit up all those lunch spots that i never get to while working because i just don’t spare the time.  He’s got the time, i’ve got the time.  Until days like today, where the howling winter winds were not his favorite thing.  Maybe our exploring will just be the Copley mall from now on and he’ll grow up having expensive, horrible taste.
    • Napping.  My assignment for these weeks is to get the kid from being a lap sleeper to being actually put down for naps.  Reckon i probably get a C+ on this right now, in that i get him down, but he sleeps shittily.  So to make amends for this we are back on the lap later in the day where he sleeps soundly and adorably.  And i read Twitter or something.  But we’re working on it, grudgingly.  Even though he’s enormous, there are worse things than having a little dude snuggle on you.
    • The nice thing is, cleaning and other household mundanity passes for entertainment for him.  So long as i’m talking about what i’m doing, he is fascinated by it.  Especially if there are moving things, lights, noises, a change of setting.  He doesn’t know it’s work.  Also he’s great at home improvement:
      IMG_0564
    • Lifting.  Dude is 22 pounds at just over four months. You spend a lot of time picking him up, putting him down, holding him up to let him try standing (the sooner the better,  man, except don’t), lifting him up to play with you.  It’s a lot to ask of a busted shoulder.
    • Watching the cat has also become a thing in the last week or so, and the feeling is mutual.  Our selectively-aloof cat has become very invested in our little man’s well-being.  If he’s yelling, you can bet she’s either checking on him, visibly concerned, or coming to let me know i’m a lousy parent, often both.  She looks in on his bassinet, curls up on his toys (and i don’t think it’s just territoriality anymore), and gently sniffs him when he’s not flailing.  This, at long last, is a good kitty.
    • And then of course there is troubleshooting.  Does that grunting mean he’s pooping or has he learned to fake it (yes, he has) for some reason?  If we’re stuck on 93 for a further 15 minutes and he’s blowing up and i can’t get off, just what can be done (i don’t dare try plugging in the pacifier in motion, but playing with the car’s interior lights moves him away from redlining for a little bit)?  Is he cold in the carrier or just twitchy because he wants out (it’s always the latter)?  Is he bored with this toy (possibly) and is a change of setting needed (a reliable tactic)?

    But anyway have i learned anything?  Sure.

    Things he likes*:

    • Standing and walking directly on my chest
    • Watching raindrops in puddles
    • Drooling
    • Flirting with strangers
    • Fish-hooking his pacifier out of his mouth and cursing its sudden absence
    • Swiveling his head wildly while eating and wondering why the food is everywhere but his mouth, shouting something to the effect of it being everyone’s fault but his
    • The sky
    • Our (i have to share it now) stuffed talking Porg
    • Bricks and other sharply-defined patterns
    • Watching the kitty
    • The TV (so we rarely have it on just yet (except we both watch soccer on the weekend))
    • Watching videos of himself on the phone
    • His reflection
    • Most electronic music, Hall & Oates, Bowie, James Brown, They Might Be Giants, ‘Brass Bonanza‘ (you can add a lot of stupid lyrics to that tune), and the Trololo song.
    • Putting the incoming clean diaper on his face (okay, at first he didn’t like it but i wore him down)

    Things he dislikes*:

    • The wind
    • The sun
    • Sleeves
    • Pants
    • Republicans (i can’t prove that)
    • His car seat, which he is now bigger than
    *subject to change

    The Flag of My Enemy

    It’s a pretty typical sight on suburban highways, even here in liberal Massachusetts.  Sometimes you even see them intrude on the streets of Boston.  An oversized, shiny, clean pickup, the soft-hands kind of truck, not the sort that’s ever done a day’s work in its life, its spotless bed sporting only two things, side-by-side American flags set to wave in the breeze as they head out to haul a heavy load of nothing.  And something dawned on me the last time i saw one, something that kinda curdled in my brain and bugged me; when i see this type of thing, the first thing i think is, “That man* is my enemy.”

    Which is a pretty awful thing to think, for a couple of reasons:

    First, let’s consider the fact that it’s gotten to the point where someone that disagrees with me qualifies as an enemy.

    Secondly, let’s think about how much it sucks that the flag of my own country has been stolen from me to the point where i’m stirred to anger by people that wave it.

    It’s a pretty depressing thing, but this is the place that we are in.  It works kinda like this.  Anyone in 2018 so moved to ostentatiously fly the American flag is overwhelmingly likely to be a Republican.  From 2001 on, the Republican Party and its followers deftly moved to equate their views on everything from counterterrorism to taking healthcare from kids, to taking kids from their parents, to rooting for the Yankees with patriotism, and with the flag.  You show the flag**, you’re on their side, almost by definition. And in 2001, we certainly weren’t going to upgrade disagreement to enmity, but by 2003, you could at least understand how we might someday get there.  In 2018, i’m pretty comfortable saying that Republicans are my enemy, in that to the extent that they are fighting for their side, i believe they are fighting for evil, full stop.

    So it surprised me not when one of those trucks roared down a city street after the Womens March and shouted slurs at us.  It’s merely a more overt way of saying what they’ve stolen the flag and made it say.  They took my flag and made it say that it hates gays, that immigrants aren’t Americans, that poor people should go uncared for, and that the wealthy should have dominion over us all.

    It’s going to say that until we take it back, and we’re only going to take it back by defeating…  that’s right, our enemies.

     

    *of course it’s a man, why would you think otherwise?
    **an exception: when you’re at the World Cup, you can get away with wearing your flag as a cape, belting out the Star Spangled Banner and drinking Budweiser unironically, and you get it back for just that one month.  The Olympics are also probably okay.