Saturday, August 11, 2012


Our healthy, gorgeous, delicious second son was born two months ago this Tuesday. I imagined then that his arrival would perform some sort of long division in our lives, that the sum of knowledge we acquired in the first two years of his brother's life might at least halve the anxiety and exhaustion we would feel this time around. In fact, my calculations were roundly off. Two boys under the age of two makes a healthy multiplier of everything. Shared parenting duties have become exclusive and singular. I spend most of the day with our older son, while my wife tends the baby round the clock. On the scorecards we do not keep, I come out well ahead on nighttime sleep and habits. She gets the better of dependence and naps. Like the arrival of the Internet interconnecting everything, our world is suddenly flat and more diverse than we might ever have imagined. Synapses diverge and converge within our family and marriage. We are blessed, overwhelmed, thrilled, and exhausted, as we were two years ago, and if the quality of everything seems both richer and more complicated, then it's also pretty freaking wonderful to be a family and parents of two.

It's new and strange to spend most of each day alone with a toddler. I've noticed that Harry Chapin song, "Circles," stuck in my head:

A particular vacuity of mental processes accompanies my filial vigilance. Was it Harry Chapin or Cat Stevens who recorded "Cats in the Cradle"? Norman Mailer or Gore Vidal who played the high-minded Senator in "Bob Roberts"? Why do I suddenly have the urge to search "Matthew Lillard" on IMDB? No matter. The mind clarifies instantly to anticipate the unsteady playground bridge, the petting zoo viper, the crippling ball-return mechanism. It plans ahead in ten-minute increments to sequence the diaper change and carseat fight. Is the sippy cup filled and did I leave it upright in the backpack? If not, did I put the plastic thing in the lid so it doesn't leak all over everything? Did I leave the plastic thing upstairs or did I take it downstairs last night to wash with the bottles? Does a quick jabbing motion into my son's mouth really qualify as tooth-brushing? An iPhone is a magnificent and vital device at this stage in my life. It holds the promise of 3-15 seconds of distraction: email programs, news apps, Words With Friends. Matthew Lillard played Shaggy in a movie version of Scooby-Doo that I never saw. He's in an upcoming baseball movie with Clint Eastwood that looks awful. Some mornings, I am the terrible parent you see walking around the children's museum, holding my son's hand, black-and-white headphones dangling from my ears. Outside of the little door that closes with stars on the inside, I need something concrete that resembles adult interaction. I listen to NPR podcasts.

We are coming out of the hunker-down mentality. It's great to find time to write again. It's strange to find myself returning when I do to the same topics, themes, etc., that have sustained my writing since Katie's death. In her autobiographical essay, "Nothing Has Been Used in the Manufacture of This Poetry That Could Have Been Used in the Manufacture of Bread," Jane Cooper locates within a political anxiety about exclusion in poetry a personal anxiety about the compromises that a writing life seems to require. How does any writing life accommodate a project across several decades? It seems too easy to say that the absence of complication simplifies a life, any more than a writing life. I suppose the interruption of any routine has the potential to revitalize whatever habits, needs and attitudes sustain it. And yet, I'm uncertain that a writer validates a subject matter simply by writing about it. I'm unwilling to agree that some sense of event or occasion requires the writing. It seems particularly American to pursue the mass production--the homogeneity, its repetition--of anything.

The baby's habits take shape in degrees of similarity and difference from his older brother. He is longer in the body. His legs are stronger. He alternates swallowing mouthfuls of air and milk, and so seems fussier. He tends not to make eye contact, though when he does, already he is smiling, much earlier than his brother did. In the face, his dark hair and high eyebrows make an early twin with his maternal grandfather, though if his brother's precedent holds, any resemblance will change soon enough. And when we set him down, with a clean diaper, a full belly, and the blanket a family friend sent wrapped tightly around his legs, his older brother gets, for the evening wind-down, our full attention. As we did before the baby's arrival, we roll around on the bed, tell stories, and laugh. We bathe our other healthy, gorgeous, delicious boy, fight him to brush his teeth, and put on the nighttime diaper. We choose the books to read, warm the bottle, say our goodnight, and wait in the next room to hear when and how he finally konks out. We will ourselves to tolerate whatever primal urgency his late-night cries initiate; his, though not yet his brother's. We make the distinction. We are no longer initiates. Already, again, our baby is smiling.