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The Night Kitchen

22 May

Can we talk about In the Night Kitchen? When Maurice Sendak passed away a few weeks ago, we got a couple of his classic books – Wild Things and the Night Kitchen. And one reading of In the Night Kitchen was enough to hook baby, who made me read the thing half a dozen times between dinner time and bed time. It has garnered super-outsized interest from the little one.

This book is so weird. So. Weird. The illustrations are expressive and interesting, and the story is scary and exciting and fun. Basically, baby wakes up, hears a noise, shouts to keep it down, falls out of his clothes, gets baked into a cake, escapes, makes an airplane out of bread dough, flies to a giant milk bottle, pours milk down to giant bakers, and then falls back into his bed. There is, surreally enough, a short animated movie as well.

Here’s the thing: when you read Roald Dahl (James & the Giant Peach, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory), or Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), or even someone like Kurt Vonnegut, you get why they’re fascinating. Dahl, and Snicket, take the kid’s point of view against crazy, often villainous adults. The language is often more adult than you might expect to find, the scenes are sometimes gruesome. Kids are treated with sharp edges, sometimes they fail, often they are made to experience danger as well as joy.

What I mean is, I could write a story ‘like’ Dahl or Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s human alter ego). They wouldn’t be as good, but I get the rules they follow, and rules they break. Mine would be a pale comparison, sure. Parents often say to their kids about me (in a tone that I never really like), ‘Oh, Uncle’s being silly‘. The difference between me and these authors is that I’m silly and they sell a bajillion books that are well-loved by children forever.

But I could not even write a Maurice Sendak story. They just don’t make any sense to me. Why do the bakers all look like Oliver Hardy from Laurel and Hardy? What the hell is with the milk? The stories are just crazy. It’s eminently clear Sendak has a route to children’s hearts. But I don’t understand the pattern of that route at all. It’s like he’s speaking in tongues, to an audience that somehow understands him, leaving other adults with fond memories and vague recollections of what actually happens in the stories. I find the whole thing both fascinating and utterly incomprehensible.

And in the meantime, Baby B wants more more more. Milk for the morning cake!


Hooray for Tiffany Aching!

10 Oct

The closest description of myself to myself comes in the form of Tiffany Aching, the 9-year-old witch in the making from Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men:

“Yes,” said a voice, and Tiffany realized that it was hers again. The anger rose up, joyfully. “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”

This is some good-reading young adult fantasy, my friends. Plus, Nac Mac Feegles! Apparently I’m the last fantasy reader in the world who hasn’t read any of the Pratchett Discworld series.

And so it begins…

19 Aug

Apparently over her moment of anxiety over pre-natal testing, darling wife brought home City Baby New York: The Ultimate Guide for New York City Parents, from Pregnancy to Preschool. And already out of date no less – she bought the second edition, when the authors were just calling it City Baby. Now it’s apparently City Baby New York, with other cities no doubt in the pipeline. The book itself is specifically great, with actual resources rather than the normal ‘advice’ (where to sign up for babymama yoga, rather than just telling you to get your pregnant ass in shape).

However, I can feel a heady, toxic brew of crazy, lurking just below the surface here: “Many parents love extravagant birthday parties, especially their child’s first one…New York is full of places that organize parties for one-year-olds.” And I learn that a woman at Ivy Wise Kids specializes in privately helping parents through the nursery school and ongoing school selection/navigation process. Thanks, City Baby!

Daddy reading

6 Aug

I’ve basically read two books about fathering so far, one that fits the high-information high-crazy-factor category, and the other which is really fun, funny and readable. Thanks for that first one, Dr. D!

The truth is, it’s not the authors’ fault, Armin Brott and Jennifer Ash. The Expectant Father is a whole franchise, and the dude is Mr. Fucking Dad himself. Still, here’s what’s going on with my partner, emotionally, in month 4:

  • Great excitement when she sees the sonogram
  • Worries about miscarriage are beginning to fade
  • Concerned about what it really means to be a mother
  • Continuing forgetfulness and mood swings
  • Increasingly dependent on you – needs to know you’ll be there for her, that you still love her
  • She may get very depressed when her regular clothes stop fitting her and may become nearly obsessed with her appearance

These kinds of lists are, I know, meant to be helpful. But they are not just descriptive (what to expect), they are aggressively prescriptive (if she’s not experiencing these things, is something wrong?!?). I’m concerned if my partner becomes depressed, and now I’m also fucking concerned if she doesn’t become depressed.

Later, a two-page list of ‘Ways to Show Her You Care’, which includes such valuable tips as:

  • Smile and nod agreeably when she says, “You have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant”
  • Say “No” if she asks if she’s acting crazy; and my personal favorite
  • (and my personal favorite) Take the day off from work and hang around the house with her.

Otherwise, I’m supposed to focus on money. You know what, Mr. Dad? Go to hell.

On the other hand, I highly recommend Michael Lewis’ book Home Game. This book is basically a compilation of his articles written for Slate, a combination of his Dad Again series and his I see France series, so you can just read them online instead of buying the book. But I loved the book. It’s a super-easy read, and aside from the fact that Lewis has an immensely readable style, the stories are great. The one on chicken pox is great, and monsters is even better. A little excerpt:

I glare at my children, they glare back at me. They think I am weak, I decide. They want to play hardball; they don’t know what hardball is. They will now learn. Yet another generous neighbor has brought us yet another extravagant dessert: a ginger and molasses cake, topped with whipped cream. But they are grounded: no desserts for a week. In better times I might sympathize with their predicament. I might toss them a crumb. At the very least I would sneak my cake later, alone. Not now. I cut myself a large piece and crown it with whipped cream, all the while feeling two pairs of eyes tracking me around the kitchen. Heaping great dollops of molasses and whipped cream onto my plate, I sit back down. Their own sad plates are decorated with cold, half-eaten vegetables.

I coat the first bite in whipped cream, swipe it once through the molasses, and, slowly, raise the fork to my mouth. Then I see Dixie’s face. Her lower lip trembles and tears stream down her sweet little face. It’s an involuntary response to a horrible realization: Daddy doesn’t care. He’s going to inhale his yummy dessert even though he knows Dixie can’t have any. It takes a few seconds for the sobbing to kick in, as she runs from the room.

“See what you did, Daddy!” shouts Quinn, chasing after her.

So it seems that my sensibilities tend to be actively hostile to the high-information, high-anxiety books, and highly amenable to the ‘oops, we are screwing up the baby’ books. Go figure.