A Letter to My Daughter: On Mortality

Published May 2, 2012 by jay p laughlin

May 1, 2012

ZK,

You are growing much too fast. Sometimes I just want a few more moments with you at a couple of days or weeks old. Not because I think things were better then, or that you are difficult now. It’s been a thrill experiencing every single one of your milestones with you. And I am eager to experience those to come. In fact, you’ve given me the gift of seeing the world anew.

Instead, it’s because time has passed so quickly since your birth that I must constantly confront my own mortality, and yours. Reflect upon it and embrace it. It’s as sobering and humbling as it is exciting and electrifying. There is not a single night that passes that the enormity of our mortality does not haunt my thoughts. I want just a few more moments of the newness of you to assuage the breath-taking weight of knowing that, someday, we will be apart.

It’s not that I fear what is to come in death. I won’t feel it, or know that it has happened. In the sense of ‘non-existence,’ I was ‘dead’ in the aeons past and suffered not at all for it. Instead, I will return to the nothingness from which we are born, without you and your mom. But if I imagine a future you after I have passed, I miss rather than fear the loss of future experiences with the two of you. I miss, in advance, the loss of sharing our lives and your mother’s embrace. As I struggle with how fast you grow up, and the speed with which you develop into this wonderful person, I miss these things to come in much the same way that I miss those that have past: you as a tiny newborn, your first steps. I miss them, but am thrilled to be a part of you now and throughout our mortal existence.

But comfort comes. At some point in the aeons to come, the substance of our bodies will return, not just to this Earth but, to the cosmos itself. Perhaps we will then participate in the creation of another star, another world, another system of life. Or, perhaps, it will be all of them together. Though we won’t know it when it happens, we can contemplate it now and share that with each other and those around us. This is nothing short of remarkable. It is awe-inspiring, glorious, and beautiful. It is beauty. And, if beauty can be said to endure beyond all consciousness and minds to perceive it, it is a beauty that endures.

You are beautiful. And if I could, I would ensure that you endured as you are now for as long as beauty itself. Though the depth of human ability is profound, this is beyond anyone’s capacity. But know, when you look to the planets and the stars, that this beauty in eternity is our all-too-human destiny.

I love you always,

Papa

(Cross-posted here).

© 2012 Jay P Laughlin

Sucka-punched!

Published April 24, 2012 by jay p laughlin

Mean-muggin' like her Pop. (Well, workin' on it anyway).

It’s not always all fun and games for little kiddos. This is particularly true for lil’ zombie-slayers in training. But sometimes, temporary halts to the fun and games come at unpredictable moments.

Imagine, for example, being a spritely little doodle-hopper, minding your own business, occasionally squealing at new found objects to examine, and generally just basking in your joie de vivre. Then, quite suddenly and out of nowhere, the floor-mounted door stop grabs you by the foot and rips your brand new flowered sandals off of your foot. This is then followed by a double-team potshot: the floor giving you a sucka-punch in the nose. Trip-BAM! Just like that. The result is a crimson fountain from the nasal cavities and a sweater that looks like a murder scene.

Magnifying the insult of this cowardly sneak-attack is the fact that it happens in front of your favorite toy store. Touché, life.

Well, it’s not just a story to imagine but an exact re-telling of ZK’s morning. There were two bright spots to come out of the whole incident, however. First, after teaching her how to stanch a gushing wound, to get rid of the evidence, and to brush off the pain, we shared a warm molasses cookie.  Second, we reviewed the unexpected incident, slayer-style. Because when the Zombie-king returns, as prophesied, and the brain-eating dead ressurect from their graves in the coming Zombie-apocalypse, well, they just might try an underhanded sneak attack starting with a foot-grab while you’re walking past their interred hiding place. Cowards.

I couldn’t have planned the lesson any better. It is one of the marks of a Master-slayer to be able to turn the unexpected into a training moment.

Year 1.5

Published April 17, 2012 by jay p laughlin

It's your turn Mama.

I took this photo this morning and thought it was perfect to represent her 18 month mark. While ZK went through an earlier eat-the-books phase (what Jenni called early stages of content digestion), she now just loves to look at her books and have us read them to her. Repeatedly. When we finish the book she either taps it to signal another reading, takes it to the other parent to read, or gets another book. This photo was taken first thing in the morning, before we packed her up for her morning walk. Book in hand, and laughing, we couldn’t resist . As you can see, her hair is still fine enough that it can be lifted by even the slightest movement of air from the vents.

Our favorite mall has a floor-style chess board for public games. The pieces are large and some of them are nearly as tall as ZK. Undeterred, she still likes to play with them. She patiently waits for an opponent but none seem willing. Is it the ice-cold stare? or perhaps that she insists on playing by her own rules, ‘slayer-style’, which pretty much just means she takes the pieces that she chooses and removes them at her fancy? I’m not sure…but I think the ice-cold toddler stare-down might be it.

Is this yours? Because I think it's mine now.

Ice-cold!

These really are the days…you know those times when squealing 2 octaves over high C when you are excited is a completely normal thing to do. Or, when you think the food you are eating is soo good that it deserves to be worn as a mask. Speaking of food…this girl loves it, as in, everything. Pickled-ginger, sushi, avocado, wilted greens, you name it and she likes it. There’s even a photograph of a large hamburger on a poster in the mall that every time we pass it by ZK says MMMMM. We don’t feed her hamburgers, she just inherently knows that it’s food.

New words are also in the works. She doesn’t use a lot of them independently (with the exception of ‘side as she pats the front door to go outside) but she’s getting better at articulating what she repeats. Our favorite at the moment is her new-found ability to say her name. She can say it pretty clearly but sometimes she pronounces it like Zoo-way, and othertimes it’s Zoo-zoo. This is particularly funny to us because of the origin of her name. We named her after one of the title characters in JD Salinger’s novel Franny and Zooey. However, we didn’t want to spell her name with two o’s because Jenni thought some people might pronounce it Zoo-ee. And here she is, calling herself Zoo-way and Zoo-zoo.

Still a budding comedienne, ZK somehow picked up on the “psyche” jokes. It starts innocently when she offers to give us a piece of her food. However, about the second or third bite that she offers, she withdraws very quickly, Psyche!, and laughs with delight. I have no idea where she got this idea from. We’d never done that to her before but now sometimes return the favor. She likes that too.

On the romance front, she couldn’t care less about her first kiss. They see each other regularly at the play gym but it’s as if nothing happened. He’s a nice enough kid, but I think ZK has picked up on something…he’s not training to be a slayer. Unfortunately, this means that, when the Zombie-king returns – as prophesied – and starts the graveyard clearing Zombie-apocalypse, this guy will be toast. Brain-toast, that is. ZK knows that you just can’t have a romance with someone with no survival skillz.

Word-Power!

Published March 19, 2012 by jay p laughlin

ZK was starting to walk but she kept swinging her right leg out. To confirm that nothing was wrong, our pediatrician referred us to a gait specialist. Of course, by the time I took ZK to see the specialist her rightward swing had stopped. ZK still wasn’t walking on her own (at 16 months) and always wanted to hold someone’s hand. The gait specialist reassured us that this was probably just some trepidation on ZK’s part.

I took her to the play area in the mall one day after this visit. It was 7:30am so there were no other kids around. When I placed ZK on the ground something happened. She broke loose from her timid shell and started walking on her own, a lot. And she also started to climb the play equipment. From that point forward, she has been quite a go-getter.

This new and improved, independently mobile ZK also coincided with another upgrade. Word-power. She has, for some time now, been able to comprehend a lot of what we say to her. She even understands a lot of the French that I use. (For example, Ou sont tes singes? Les fées sont cachées dans la boite). But it wasn’t until after her break-out walking moment that she really started trying to say words other than mama, bark-bark, Zat? (What’s that?) and Hi!

The first to arrive was Bye. Shortly after 16 months, she started using it. Though, at first, she sometimes used it in place of Hi we were able to model correct use for her and she caught on by the third day. A week later we were again at the play area in the mall when she pointed to the letter D. I said “Dee, duh” and she responded “Dee, duh.” I was excited and we kept repeating it for a while. Uh-oh followed soon after. But my favorite thus far is that she can now say Papa…okay, so she still calls me mama and she pronounces it a bit more closely to baba (which isn’t too shabby given that the sounds “p” and “b” are articulated the same way but the former is unvoiced while the latter is voiced). So close.

To add to the list, she can sometimes say Z, says baby, and tries to say diaper but really just manages to mimic the cadence. There is too much to cover everything, but the list grows regularly. It’s exciting times because soon I will be able to teach her fire-ball and magic-missile spells of sufficient strength to put a serious wrench in an ogre’s day.

In other news, she had a boyfriend for a day. They met at the play gym in the mall. He walked up to her and gave her a hug. She responded by giving him a kiss. Yup, her first kiss was at 17…months not years. When she’s older and looks fondly upon her life, and reminisces about her first kiss, she’ll have to add the qualification “the first that I can remember” because I doubt this one was impactful (yes, I used that word) enough to have won a place in her long-term memory.

Slayer-Dragon Peace? Never!

Published February 3, 2012 by jay p laughlin

Wesley, meet ZK

…and by “never,” I mean OK.

So one day ZK says to me, not in words, but in that special kind of way that pre-verbal kiddos “say” to their adoring moms and pops, “Papa, I don’t want to be a dragon-slayer anymore. I want to hug them.” Needless to say, I choked when I “heard” those “words.” The daughter of a renowned, buckle-swashing, dragon-slayer proposing peace between slayers and dragons? This cannot be! My little unadulterated awesomeness…hugging dragons?…no white stuffing strewn about the house, hanging from chair and lamp, some lost behind the ears post-slaughter? I blame those meddling fairies!

I’ve always said that there’re only three things that would make ZK not “my daughter:” attending Washington State University, attending University of Oregon, and hugging dragons. Well, now I have to amend that statement to two things because, while she convinced me that dragons are for hugging and not slaying (I’m watching you, you rascally fairies), no daughter of mine will ever be a Coug or a Duck. These are just things that cannot be.

Watching ZK grow is often frightening because of the speed with which she moved from baby to toddler. She’s able to walk now but is very timid about it. Which means she often limits her bipedal locomotion to locations within arms reach of support. Of course, Pops fill this role perfectly because, not only are they experienced in the intricacies of this whole lifting-and-differentially-placing the foot thing, they are also highly portable. And lets face it, my enjoyment of this role as walking coach is without measure. It means that she wants to place her tiny little hand in mind and just walk around for a bit…always with a smile on her face. Probably sooner than I’d like to imagine, or admit, holding her Papa’s hand while walking down the street isn’t going to be as awesome for her as it is now. Yeah, those tears are already tugging at the floodgate, but I’m fighting those suckers back. Their time will come.

ZK is now becoming a bit of a comedienne and has caught on to the idea that making others laugh is funny. For example, yesterday she finished her bottle but wanted to play with it instead of giving it back to me. As she was playing she bonked herself in the head with it. This made me laugh…and she noticed. She displayed her mischievous grin and proceeded to bonk herself in the head with it again. I laughed…she did it again…and again. The grown-up in me suddenly thought better of this situation and ended it. My thought was “if this type of humor sticks with her, I hope it develops more along the lines of Charlie Chaplin than Jackass.”

“Au revoir,” says ZK. “J’adore les dragons. J’adore les grands dents de dragons.”

Hugs for Dragons

A Holiday Spectacle (of sorts) and Other Stuff

Published December 12, 2011 by jay p laughlin

Me and My Lovely Ladies

Two facts: 1) I needed a Santa Claus hat. Since this is my first year as the jolly ol’gifter I wanted to do it in style…you know, cookies, Jenni in a Santa’s helper outfit, and a hat. 2) It was cold that day and I left my “go-to” hat at home.

So after ZK’s first Christmas concert, we walked to lunch and passed a hat shop. I found the perfect Santa hat; just the right combination of festive red, fluffy white, and my kinda whimsy. My intention was to wear it out of the store but ZK loved it and wanted to hold it for a while. When she was finished, however, I paraded it down the street in a place of honor.

Sure, we got a few smiles, but it wasn’t until we hit the market that I realized we were causing a stir. Mom, Pat, and Jenni were looking at necklaces. ZK and I walked down to a more open space to get out of the way. She was pointing at EVERYTHING saying “what’s that?” (which sounds more like “Zat?” at the moment) and getting me to tell her. Engrossed in this beautiful girl, I gradually noticed that not many people were passing by. When I stopped to look up, a large semi-circle had formed around us with many people taking pictures. ZK, ever the flirt and ham, ate it up. Some people continued on, others stopped for a few words, others joked with me…

Them: “Nice hat.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Them: “No, I was talking about HER hat.”

Me: “Good one!” <nudge, nudge> “I’ve heard that three times already, joker.”

Somewhere out there, in the electronic cloud of info and pixelled memories, are images of ZK and me in our holiday best. (If you stumble upon any of them, let me know).

In other news:

I enjoy having my assumptions challenged and am, more or less, constantly on the look-out for those surprising moments of enlightenment that change my perception of things. One of these moments occurred recently while entering ZK’s favorite watering-hole, our local Starbucks.

We used to visit this particular Starbucks everyday, just ZK and me during the week, all three (sometimes four) of us on weekends. Needless to say, ZK is a big hit there. The staff and many of the customers know her by name and come to talk to us frequently. Many customers have been going there as long as we have (ZK since 3 days old) and have gotten to watch her grow. One group of retired gentlemen, however, never seemed very friendly. They never smiled and sometimes seemed to scowl when looking our way. I assumed that they, perhaps, did not approve of me being a stay-at-home dad. This went on for over a year.

Not long ago, this assumption was challenged…and I was humbled. As I was pushing the stroller into the store, one of the gentlemen was approaching at the same time. He jumped forward to open it for me and I thanked him. He replied, “It’s the least I could do for someone with your job. You deserve it.” I was simultaneously proud, shocked, embarrassed, and humbled. After thanking him for that compliment I thought about how much I needed it. Not so much for the recognition, but for the metaphorical blow to my assumption. I was projecting some of my own doubts onto these men without warrant and after a year of became complacent in my judgement. (Jay, eat your humble pie).

After this interaction, the first words exchanged with any of them, a couple of them now come up to me regularly to see ZK, tell me how lucky I am that she’s so well-mannered, and chat for a spell. Perhaps what I saw as scowls was really fear of my mean-mug. I do, after all, put the laughter in “slaughter.” It comes with the territory of being a zombie-killin’, dragon-slayin’ extraordinaire.

Year One!

Published November 7, 2011 by jay p laughlin

I'm 1 year old now...

ZK is now a year old and is just as delightful as ever. It still shocks us that a year has already passed since she was born. If the next 10, or 20, pass as quickly as the first I’ll be a decrepit, former-slayer faster than I’d like to believe.

In the week leading up to her birthday, we were taken off guard by an invisible foe. Those of you keeping up with ZK’s training will be familiar with her new dragon-slaying training (she’s progressing splendidly!), but I failed to account for the micro-dragons, the intestinal variety.

During this week I half-wished that ZK cried more often than she does. On day one of the micro-dragon attack, she cried more than she had in her entire first year. Emotionally, I was unprepared. On the one hand, I just went about my normal parenting duties — changing diapers, feeding, comforting her, playing with her (in the oh-so-brief calms) — and presented an air of normalcy. On the other hand, on the inside I was a wreck and felt like a failure as a parent. To make matters worse, the nature of this attack was such that I had to change ZK’s diapers…OFTEN. This led to a severe case of diaper rash.

And the diaper rash was the true emotional sucker-punch. With every diaper change, with every wipe, I was causing ZK more pain than I had ever caused anyone in my life. Granted, it wasn’t intentional, I know. But at the time that just didn’t matter. Forget her crying…the pain was so great that her body would go rigid and her legs would convulse with just the slightest touch of the cloth. (Aren’t I supposed to be the one that fixes all the hurts and takes away all the pain? I very definitely think that that is the rule. Ok, maybe it’s an unwritten rule, but it’s a rule damn-it!).  I called the doctor to see if there was anything we could do but, unfortunately, other than the things we were already doing to treat the diaper rash and keep her hydrated, they said we just had to let it run its course. (Oh, and it should be cleared up in 7-10 days!).

Sigh! Eight days and it was done.

...and I like swings.

The bright side of her twelfth month is that ZK has discovered a new joy…swing sets. I suspected that she’d like them when she was big enough to sit in the swing unsupported and, sure enough, she loves it. Swing…swing…swing…thirty minutes of swinging and she’s still not had enough.

Next step: working in some proper sword wielding techniques while in mid-swing. Followed by an off-hand, dragon-slayin’, coup de grâce (of the epic sort).