Friday, June 27, 2008

BBD In Action!

Hi, here is a short video from today showing me in full action with the BBB. Do I know what I'm doing? Doubtful.


Oh, and here's another video of Stella in full babble mode.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who Are You? Who Who, Who Who?

Yeah, I know I'm cute.

Building off the prior entry I think it’s high time I did a little bit more of a bio for us in the BBD household. After all you’ve read bits and pieces here and there, and picked some things up. Some of you, of course, know us personally, but to others we are strangers. So who are these people living in the Internets?

For starters, there’s Stella Rae, or the Brooklyn Baby Baby (BBB). Now 10 weeks old she is surely the light of several lives, and mine for sure. She is a happy, alert baby and has a smile that absolutely melts my heart. She’s started recently to recognize patterns in our day, which is really cool. For example, when I get home she reacts to the jiggled keys in the lock, and knows it’s me, then when I look at her in her bassinet she gives me her 1000 watt smiles. It’s pretty damn charming.

She’s a looker of a baby, too, which only makes sense because she looks nearly identical to her mother, when the BBM was a baby. It’s kind of uncanny. The eyes are different, of course, because she has my eyes, but other than that it’s kind of a mirror image.

Stella has grown about five inches since she was born, and weighs, probably, around 12-13 pounds. When she was born her legs were so skinny I could put one hand around her thigh, now it’s not even close. This makes me a little sad, but mostly it’s adorable to get to squeeze such a pudgy, sweet little child. She has a few favorite books, such as The Very Busy Spider, and when I pointed to an image on the page she followed it exactly. This blew me away.

Ethnically Stella is all over the map, as I’ve mentioned before. But one thing is certain: there just aren’t that many Jewish kids in Brooklyn who are also part Native American, with family in Kentucky. We hope to keep her educated about all aspects of her heritage, although with a saucy name like Stella Rae Serchuk it’ll probably be hard to keep her off stage, no matter what she does.

Randi, of course, is the Brooklyn Baby Mama (BBM). She is in her early 30s, and has lived in New York for 10 years. She came here with a theater and French background, and is a graduate from Centre College, the Wesleyan of the Midwest.

The BBM is from a small town in Kentucky called Upton, which is an hour outside of Louisville. Growing up she was studious and adored school, which already makes her unusual in my book. She was a dedicated ballerina for most of her childhood, and counts The Little Prince as her favorite book, with Anne Of Green Gables second. She graduated second in her high school class, but should’ve been first.

She’s also a tough cookie. As mentioned, she moved into New York 10 years ago, when it was still a bit wilder than today, with not much more than a few bucks in her pocket. She moved into one of the few remaining flea-bag hotels on Manhattan’s West Side, downtown, and had a rat run across her foot in the hallway. She was determined to make it in theater.

From there it only got tougher. Randi moved into the worst part of Newark, yes Newark, and lived there for a solid year. I’m sorry, the worst part of Newark is pretty bad, and she was a white girl from the South. Balls to the wall, I tell ya.

Eventually she produced two plays that she wrote and directed, in the city, which is quite the accomplishment. At the same time she worked for an Internet start up. Around 2001 she became interested in improvisational comedy, which is how we met.

Randi loves Dar Williams, The Dixie Chicks and Nico Case. She has a fondness for horror movies and scary stories, even though she hates to be scared.

She converted to Judaism in 2005 after much serious thought and reflection, although I also think she was swayed by her love for lox.

Today she is a school teacher in Park Slope, where we live, a job she was born for. She is an organized, talented and caring teacher. She truly has found her calling.

I am 36, and an editor at a well-known financial Web site. I am, obviously, also the Brooklyn Baby Daddy (BBD). I have been a financial reporter for eight years, but never imagined I would end up here in my wildest dreams. Growing up I was a music and literature kid, always reading a book, or checking out a record, and cared about money not one whit. I guess I was lucky to be in that position.

I grew up in Bergen County, N.J., right near NYC. My parents are both Brooklyn Jews, and second generation Americans. I am half Ukranian and half Romanian, I believe, in any case, I’m Eastern European.

I attended Arizona State University for two years, and then transferred to Wesleyan, which some say Centre is kind of like. At Wesleyan I started a comedy troupe called Bad Sam which, for one meeting, featured the guy who would eventually create the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, which is kind of weird.

After school I lived in Boulder, CO from 1994-1999, and started my career there, writing for anyone who would have me. Eventually I became an editor at a small paper, running that side of things at 24, and then became the entertainment editor of a bigger paper, The Boulder Weekly, at 26.

I’ve seen a million live music shows and interviewed many, many well known musicians and actors. But that’s a different story. Perhaps the piece I've written in the past few years that I'm most proud of is this one, in part because I got to interview Ray Bradbury, one of my heroes.
I moved home to New York in late 1999, in order to kick my career into higher gear, and also because I felt too young to be retired, which is kind of how Denver/Boulder felt to me then.

I’m kind of a comedy fan, so I started improve classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, in late 1999, and continued through 2002. I seriously pursued improv for about two years, and eventually got burned out on it in 2003. I am grateful for my time in that world, because I got to see a million amazing performers and acts, and help create culture in New York, an amazing feeling. Best of all I met Randi through the theater, or at least a Web site dedicated to improv.

On our first date, in late 2001, Randi almost stood me up! But at the last moment she decided to tough it out, which was incredible judgment in retrospect.

I love music, as mentioned, and have been an enthusiastic guitarist since I was 15. Living out a childhood fantasy I was in a rock band in New York from 2000 through 2003. The band was called Connecticut, and we were kind of like a dorkier, and older, version of Weezer. A highlight was playing the Knitting Factory, and rocking the house.

Today we live in Park Slope, Brooklyn a picturesque, friendly, if pricey, little neighborhood. We are a family without much in the way of disposable income right now, but we’re making the best of it, and have never been materialistic people anyway. Many of our best vacations have come camping out in nature, in a place we love. We try to not live too large anyway, it's just not us.

Most nights we eat dinner in, and share the cleanup. I have learned how to cook a number of signature dishes, some of which are even pretty yummy.

We were married in August 2005 in Cresskill, NJ, and honeymooned in Ireland and Scotland.
Over the past few years we have tried to prepare ourselves for having a baby, with the lucky event starting almost exactly a year ago in California. For our next step we plan to look into the possibility of buying a place, although doing it on one salary is scary.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing. We’ve agreed that for the first year Randi will stay home with Stella while I go out and earn the bread. It’s tight, to be sure, but if we put Stella in daycare while Randi worked, that’s where 95% of her salary would go anyway. So it’s a wash. Currently I am thinking of ways to raise more cash, such as sending out stories for freelance assignments, but I haven’t gotten any gigs just yet.

So that’s a brief thumbnail of who writes and is featured in this blog. Any questions?

The View From Here

One thing I’ve had to come to grips with, in writing this blog, is how I present myself to the world, and whether I’m doing an honest job of it. My profession is journalism, and I treasure writing that is, and people that are, honest and forthcoming, even if some of the time it can be a little uncomfortable.

Because the alternative also makes me uncomfortable; that is, a whitewashed version of life.

People have been very kind in their comments, either on this blog, or in e-mail, about me, and how I have really “gotten it” as a dad and as a husband. This puffs me up with pride. At least once or twice people have written that they wish their husbands or boyfriends have “gotten it” as I do, and they wish they had a nice, sensitive guy like me.

I admit it, I am a nice Jewish boy. I was raised to be that way by my Mom, and by the examples I chose to follow from pop culture. I admired and identified with Peter Parker, even when he wasn’t busy being Spider-Man, because Peter was simply a nice boy who liked science, and loved his aunt and uncle. I never cared much for science, but if you switched that with English class you’d be on the right track. I never developed any super-powers, but Randi is a great real life approximation for Mary Jane, so I’m happy with that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is yes, I love my daughter, to death. Yes, I love my wife, also to death. Yes, I try to be a good dad, and a good husband, but I don’t always get it right.

For instance, I got so into this blog a few weeks ago, writing so much and so long, that I was spending mornings writing about being a dad, instead of actually being a dad. Randi would sometimes park the baby in front of me, while I tapped away at the keyboard, as she struggled to make oatmeal for breakfast. She’d ask me if I wanted any, and I invariably said no. I was proud of my focus. But in reality I was just shutting her out so I could do my thing. Stella would sit in her little car seat, bored by me. This would lead to her tears, which would lead to Randi snatching her back to soothe her. I would then get up, to offer to help my wife with Stella, but I was already too late. I should’ve been helping her all along.

Now I try to spend more time with Stella in the morning, because it’s truly the only time I get with her. I come home at 7:30 or 8:00 at night, depending on the day and the subway frequency, and she’s almost always asleep. Fortunately, I have to go to work somewhat later in the morning, usually at 10:00 a.m., or so, so I have time to spend with her. But if I forfeit that, as I’ve done on many occasions, I really have no time at all.

That’s one example, here’s another. Often I’ve been impatient with bottle feeding Stella. This is critically important, but, at least initially, I was lax with it. Now she’s having a hard time taking to the bottle at all. This sucks! If we can’t get her used to the bottle that means that Randi will quite literally never be able to leave the baby’s sight, because she will be the only person alive who can feed her. This means Randi will have no time to herself, ever, until Stella starts to eat some solid food, which could be months from now. I pin that one on myself. I should’ve pushed the bottle harder, but instead I was much more passive about it than I should’ve been. Now we have to play catch up, if it works at all.

Also, while I am a sweet, kind person, and try to be a good husband, there are many, many times in our marriage where I could’ve been a less self-centered, more considerate and understanding spouse, and, going back in time, boyfriend. Maybe in another time, in another place, it would be worth talking about all the ways I’ve failed my wife, and myself, but, suffice it to say, there have been a few. I know all couples go through their hard times together. I am fortunate to have a wife who cared enough about me to stick with me when the going got rough, and it got rough. I also pin this on me.

Also some of my own entries in this blog have shown me insights into myself that I’m not too pleased to see, that bad habits I had when I was young still plague me. For example, I wrote, two entries ago, about how I was too afraid to take a risk and spend $40 on a single comic book, way back when.

The shock of recognition when I wrote that wasn’t that I regretted my actions from 1985, after all I was young, but that I still do the same thing today. I often dream of owning property, and I probably could just scrape together enough to buy some commercial space, but I’m afraid of losing it all. A decade ago I talked about opening a magazine with my best friend Mike, but chickened out. I haven’t always played it safe, but often when it comes time to really put my actual money where my mouth is, I’ve backed out, and then felt sorry.

I am sorry if this entry is a bummer, but I kind of feel like I’ve somewhat put a target on my back by talking about being a dad. Like I’m some kind of post-modern, city-living Ward Cleaver, going through the crazy foibles of my life, keeping it cool, and dealing with some zaniness. There is an element of that, but I’m not quite deserving of the Mr. Rogers cardigan and slippers just yet. I have some daddying to do until I earn my stripes.

One thing that’s never been in the least bit false is my love for and desire to be a good dad for Stella. I don’t feel smug about this, instead it makes me realize how far I have to go, and how short I could fall. This is scary, and sobering, and on my mind quite often. I want her to feel confident and secure in me, and know that I am what I say I am. I have to start by acknowledging all the ways I haven’t matched up my actions with my ideals and my words. Then I have to match up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Science Of Sleep (Or, Sleep 'Till Brooklyn)

If only we knew. Just a few days ago we learned that our baby likes to sleep, and, when given the chance, will do so for hours on end at night.

This is a revelation. As readers of this blog will attest, we were convinced that our child was that rare creature that not only doesn’t need, but in fact hates sleep.

Not true. We were just doing it wrong.

Yes, you can do sleep wrong.

This is all a preamble on the way to saying that we finally watched the video for, and read the book The Happiest Baby On The Block, by Harvey Karp, M.D.

The video is almost like a strange, baby-centric magic show, or infomercial. Time after time Karp picks up a crying, crazed newborn works some kind of voodoo, and they fall asleep in seconds, peaceful as, well, babes.

It almost looks staged except I think it would be hard to get newborns to remember how to hit their marks, even if they have an easy time remembering their lines.(“WhAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”)

Karp also speaks to some parents during the DVD, and their complaints sounded a whole lot like ours. The baby cries when she’s put down, the baby needs to suckle on Mom before sleep, the baby wakes up all the time; all familiar problems to us, and then some.

Karp even deals with the dreaded C-word, colic.

You know how I wrote that colic is a mysterious condition, where some babies scream all the time, but no one knows for certain why? Well, someone found out why. Colic, it turns out, is a problem of the modern world. Many cultures don’t even have colic, and their babies don’t really cry all that much at all, except when their hungry, or need to have their diaper, or the equivalent changed.

The problem we had was that Stella would have all her needs taken care of, and still cry for hours on end, driving us to the point where it’s a good thing our windows don’t really work, or we’d have jumped.

Constant crying, or colic, is how babies tell their parents that they want to be soothed, which sounds kind of ironic.

The problem, we learned, is that we modern Westerners don’t really know how to soothe babies. The other side of this is that babies not only want to be soothed, but apparently they have an instinct for it.

I know I sound like I’m doing an online infomercial for Karp, but I say all this stuff because I saw it work, on our fussy, eternally hungry, seemingly always crying baby.

There are five “S’s” according to Karp: swaddling, side/stomach, shushing, swinging, and sucking.

Basically our big problem, especially at night, was that we weren’t swaddling Stella well at all.

The problem, initially, was that we didn’t have any swaddling cloth, and didn’t really know where to get any.

Swaddling cloth is important because you need to bind a baby’s arm to their sides for them to quit flailing around in bed and finally get some rest. They flail around so much in sleep that they can even wake up if not bound tight. Clearly we needed to swaddle her, tight.

To remedy this I walked to our local baby supplies store, Boing Boing, and asked what swaddling cloth they had. Boing Boing is super high-end, because, apparently, everyone in Park Slope, Brooklyn is loaded except for us. As a result everything in this store is about as expensive as you will find, anywhere.

The swaddling cloth, for example, was $45 for four pieces of cloth. Sure, it was Egyptian cotton, or organic, or organic Egyptian cotton, or something equally ridiculous. But, c’mon, all that cash for four squares of cloth? I was offended. I walked out, and went downtown to Target.

Target had cheaper stuff, but in the long run it only made us miserable. The swaddlers at Target fastened closed with Velcro. We thought this would do the trick.

It didn’t. The problem was that the Velcro fasteners were set up in such a way that she would bust her arms out in just a few minutes, each and every time, like Houdini. We didn’t know what else to do, or how vital swaddling really is at this point, so we just limped along.

Well, Karp says, swaddling is critical. Babies want to experience the soothing feelings they had in the womb for the first three months of their life, so binding them tight, far from hurting them, is guaranteed to help them calm down, eventually. We didn’t know that, much to our sorrow.

Also, when calming a baby don’t put it on its back. Put it on its side, or stomach, because that’s a more secure feeling. We didn’t know that, either.

Then, and this one was a big surprise, babies like loud white noise, because this is what the womb sounds like. The Sleep Sheep works on this principal, but by itself it won’t really do anything, because the baby has to be swaddled before it can be receptive to the white noise. We didn’t know that.

To provide the white noise you can get your face close to your swaddled, side-resting baby, and go “SHHHHHHH!” kind of loud in its ear, as loud as the baby is crying, kind of like a mean old spinster libarian. Vacuum cleaners, and hair dryers are also things babies like. So, go figure. All this seemed kind of like child abuse to me, shushing a baby so loudly, but, uh, I was wrong.

After you do all this you then gently rock the baby’s head back and forth so it kind of lolls from side to side. I SAID GENTLY! You really should read the book, and I don’t want anyone to give their baby shaken baby syndrome based on my half-assed description here. But here is how it worked for me.

I held my swaddled baby in my lap, as she cried. I put her on her side, shushed her, and then held Stella’s head in my hands and gently rocked it back and forth. This motion, Karp said, acts like an off switch build into newborns, it's an instinct.

I saw it. I gently rocked Stella for just a few minutes and she passed out. I couldn’t believe it. She then stayed out for several hours. It worked, in other words.

Frustrated with our old, useless swaddling cloth I bought a new one from Toys ‘R Us, called Swaddle Me, that wraps up Stella a lot more snugly than before, and now all we have to do is put her in it at bedtime, put on the ‘Sheep, and 9 times out of 10 she will go to sleep and stay asleep, in most cases, waking up just once or twice all night. Then in the morning she’s happy and smiling. It's a whole new world, in other words.

If we’d only known all this two months ago, well, it would’ve been a very different household over here, a happier, better-rested one, at the very least. But better late than never.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Childish Things: Pt. 3--Childhood For Sale

Before I could sell my comics I first had to take stock of what, exactly, I had. Brace yourselves, you non-comics fans out there, for a full-on, and quite meaningless, dork-out.

I’d always divided my collection into two basic camps. The “valuable” camp and the rest of it, which was basically complete runs of books from the early 1980s. The valuable camp included my most beloved treasures. These included Conan The Barbarian #1, Avengers #9, Amazing Spider-Man #25, 28 and 36, Daredevil #158, and various X-Men books, Batman: The Dark Knight, and a few other books that I had loved when I was young. I also had three copies of Amazing Spider-Man #252, which was the first issue with the now-infamous black costume. Oh yeah, I also had several issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, drawn by the great Neal Adams.

The problem, though, was what to do with it. Comics are not what you’d call an extremely liquid commodity. The market for them basically collapsed about ten years ago, and their value is completely dependent upon their condition. The problem, as most comic collectors know, is that to get absolute top dollar your comics have to be in mint, or almost mint condition. This is a problem because comics have always traditionally been made out of the worst-quality, fragile newsprint there is. Try keeping a 40 year old comic in mint condition. Even if you simply leave it alone it will degrade. If you put it in the wrong plastic bag it will acidify and yellow. If it gets damp it will wrinkle, if it gets too much sun it will fade. You get the picture. The “Last Supper,” for all the work they had to put into it, is a monument to permanence when compared to even the most average comic book from the 1960s.

So, by that lofty standard, few of my books were in mint condition. The next problem? The further down the “mint” scale the comics move they become less valuable, by several multiples. It’s like a reverse Richter scale, or something, the farther down you go the less impact it makes. If you have a book that is worth $100 mint, if it’s in “good” condition, meaning it’s attractive, un-creased and only a little yellowed, it’s worth $40. Also, good luck finding that $40; if you list it for that much someone will surely offer you $20 for it, and you might have to take it.

Fortunately there is a solution. Unfortunately the solution makes almost no financial sense, unless you have a potential treasure trove on your hands. There is a service called the Certified Guaranty Company, which will rate your book for you. To do this you ship your precious comics to them via insured mail, and wait weeks on end for them to appraise it. Then they ship it back to you, which can take a few more weeks. It’s also pricey. Their “economy” class rating costs $29 per comic.

The problem is that you need that CGC icon and “official rating” to get the real big bucks for your books on Ebay. Again, if a book is worth $100 in excellent condition, with the CGC stamp of approval, and a good rating, it’s worth maybe half that without, maybe.

In other words, to get anywhere near the value of what you think your books are worth all of a sudden starts to look like a highly subjective, expensive, complicated and time-consuming process.

If I’d only made a few different collecting moves, way back when, I would’ve had a more valuable collection, and all the hassle might’ve been worth it.

But it didn’t work out that way. I remember my mistake exactly.

In 1985 my brother and I went to the Roosevelt Hotel in New York for a comic book collection, the first and last I ever attended. I had saved $109, including $15 in change, and I was ready to spend.

I made some strong purchases that day. I bought the second Green Lantern/Green Arrow, in excellent condition, and a couple of other books in that landmark series. I also bought Amazing Spider-Man #25, which thrilled me.

I also made some more questionable decisions.

Specifically, I saw an issue of Incredible Hulk #2 for sale, for just $40. I had the money, but, geez, that’s seemed like a lot to spend on one book, and I could get so many others for that same money, and I’d kind of be putting all my eggs in one basket, and … long story short instead I bought Howard The Duck #1. Okay, not only Howard The Duck #1, but, yes, that and some other forgettable books and that’s how I blew my $40.

The Hulk book, of course, is now worth, in good condition, not even great, several thousands of dollars. Howard The Duck, you could roll it up and wipe your ass with it, no one really cares. I blame the movie for ruining Howard’s rep, although not Tim Robbins. He was AWESOME in Howard The Duck. Seriously, though, Howard The Duck was a smart, crazy, cutting edge book in its day. But the lesson here is that it always makes sense to buy quality, not quantity, you’ll do better. Putting your eggs in one basket can sometimes make sense, in retrospect, just not duck eggs, I guess.

Other memorable moments from that day: my brother and I met Isaac Asimov. My brother recognized him, an older man dressed in a cowboy suit, with long white sideburns, very kindly and cordial. In truth he was simply walking around waiting to get recognized, none of the young kids knew him. Totally cool memory, in hindsight. I hadn’t read any of his work then, and I never became a fan, but I still think that kind of rocks.

I also had the artist Evan Dorkin, then an unknown, do a pencil sketch of my favorite hero, Thor, for me that day. Later Dorkin rose to comic-book fame with his series Milk & Cheese. I still have that drawing around here, all these years later, although I can’t quite seem to locate it. He even wrote: “Evan Dorkin, Thanx!” on the bottom. Tell you the truth we really hit it off with him, and he was a fun, personable guy. I, again, was too damn cheap to spring for the $5 it would’ve cost to have Evan ink the drawing, and the pencil images began to smudge over time.

So that was my “valuable” collection. It was good but not good enough to justify sending to CGC, and besides, I needed the money and space sooner rather than later. Ebay seemed like an enormous pain in the ass; to photograph, list and ship each middling book would be the most boring, and nerdiest, Herculean task of all time.

So I listed them on Craigslist. I figured if I made $500 or so—my very rough estimate for what it could be worth—I’d be satisfied.

I wrote a detailed listing, describing some 20 books. I didn’t list what I wanted for each one, because I simply didn’t know what they’d be worth. I figured I would meet up with some worthy fellow-dorks and we’d hash it out. I know these people, I am these people. Even though I’d been out of the loop for years I knew I wouldn’t get screwed if I met the right buyer.

The first guy that responded tried to low ball me. I’ll call him John, because that was his name: “Your number & my number are far apart. The market is pretty grim lately. Unless it is a good deal then I'm going to pass on the deal. I'll give you an example that I pick up recently. It was a full long box of bronze & silver comics and the girl only charged me $50. It was a very good deal. so can you provide me a much better number?”

I’m sorry, $50 bucks, that sucks. Why even bother at that point, right? You mean, I’ve been schlepping these memory coffins around for years just to get a nice lunch? Also, to make matters worse, the guy didn’t know how to capitalize all his sentences. So I passed.

Others were more or less in that vein.

Eventually, though, Rob shot me an e-mail. We spoke on the phone next, because I am a big one for not inviting pure and total strangers into my home with my then-pregnant wife. He seemed like a cool, older, comic-obsessed guy. Like most true comic book fans I got the feeling that he was utterly harmless.

I invited Rob over one night, and showed him the goods. I had about 30 of what I considered prime books that I’d been keeping in a milk crate of all things, and his eyes widened a little when he saw them. My stuff was a little better than he’d expected.

Our conversation was convivial, and fun.

“Oh, This Beachhead Earth!” he cooed, holding up my okay-condition issue of Avengers #93, which featured a kind of poo-brown cover. (“This Beachhead Earth!” was the tagline on the cover, by the way.) We chatted and laughed for about an hour, while Randi sat pregnantly by the computer, observing this alternate, and extraordinarily un-cool vision of maleness.

Rob, I must say, was a kind, honest guy. Instead of trying to force a sale he went home and really thought about what would be a fair deal. His wife, he let me know, wasn’t exactly thrilled that he was buying still more comics, but this was his passion, and obsession and so some things she let slide. He was cool, a school teacher in his mid-40s, with a kid. It was fun kibitzing and joking with him.

The next day he came back with an offer.

“You know, you’re stuff was a little better than I thought it would be,” he said. “I wasn’t originally prepared to spend this much. And you probably wouldn’t get this much from other guys, because comics are worth so little these days.”

I liked this, hearing I had the Maui-wowie of the comic world. Primo quality, I only deal in the best stuff. Is this how Wesley Snipes felt in New Jack City?

“Yeah, pretty good, right?” I said, beaming. This made me feel good, I wanted my books to go to someone who understood; someone who would sell them, true, but could talk to me about it all, and wasn’t only trying to rip me off.

“Yeah, well, it is. So what do you say, $350?”


We shook on it, and that was that.

A week later he came by and took the rest of the common stuff, for another $50. So altogether I made $400, not a fortune, but a hell of a lot more than that first jerk offered. I also cleared out some good space in the hallway, and, as importantly in my mind. I know I could’ve gotten more, but sometimes the convenience and time saved really are worth it.

Plus, if I ever really want to buy this stuff back in the future I can, because, as noted, comics really aren’t worth much. But I probably won’t. I mean, who has the time? I'm a dad.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Was Awesome

Stella, taking a nap on Dad. Father's Day.

This probably won't be as long as my entries usually are, but I just have to say how happy I am. My first Father's Day was wonderful.

It started with me waking up early, and working on this blog. Maybe that's dorky, but it makes me feel productive.

Then, I went back to bed, and slept with Randi, and, eventually Stella. We bought a new swaddling blanket for her, and now she sleeps like an angel. Colic solved! If only we knew this two months ago!

Randi then woke up and made me the greatest breakfast of all time: biscuits with sausage gravy, and sausage. The gravy was absolutely divine. Randi knows the recipe from heart, and saw both her mother and grandmother make it. I tell you, you would die for it.

Randi also bought me a shirt, and it looks awesome.

I am grateful for my wife and marriage anyway, but these two things really drove those feelings home, once again. I am thankful.

After that we waited out the rain and drove to New Jersey to celebrate the 30th birthday of one of my best friends, Alex Greenberg. The trip out there was kind of nightmarish, thanks to Mapquest, but we eventually made it, safe and sound.

On the way out we saw a horrible accident. It drove home to me, if I ever needed anything to, how fortunate I am to be a father, and how much I love my little girl. Stella is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I hope to always be worthy of her love and trust. It's a big task, and none of us are perfect, but she deserves that and so much more. She is truly a gift we received, and it is our job to love her. It's the best job of all time.

At the party Stella gave me a true Father's Day gift. She took a nap while I held her. She doesn't do this often, and it made me feel so good.

Alex's party was great, with lots of food, and great company. His brothers and their wives made us feel so welcome and it was a relief to be among so many other parents. Alex's girlfriend Elisabeth is a charming, wonderful woman and I am so happy to see them together.

I've known Alex since he was 12 years old, and I was 19. I was a summer camp counselor for a New Jersey "Y" camp, and he was a camper. Even then he was a confident, and self-possessed young guy. And I've seen him grow into adulthood these past few years. It's been extremely gratifying. At 30 we are a lot of things, but we're not kids anymore. I know he will handle this new stage with grace.

Then it was time to leave. We had an easy trip back into New York, as Alex navigated while Elisabeth sat in the back with Randi. I think she likes Stella.

After that the ride home was relatively easy. Once home we had a light dinner, and I just watched the Celtics lose and I played guitar and drank a beer. I was rooting for the C's, but I'm not a passionate fan, so really having the beer and the guitar more than made up for it. It was a relaxing, cool, cap to a busy day.

Randi also paid special attention to me all day, and when we got home.

I am lucky to have so much love in my life. I love my wife and love my daughter dearly, and they love me. I love my family, and received Father's Day calls from my brother, mother and sister.

I am also grateful for how special my wife made this day. Also, I think we both realize how dear this little life is, and we look forward to watching Stella's every step.

I hope you all had days that were at least as good.

Happy Father's Day Video!

This is my first father's day, and a well-known financial Web site asked me, on video, what I wanted to do on the day. The results are ready for you all to see here. Happy Father's Day, everyone!

Childish Things: Pt. 2--Home Sweet Home

Randi and I have been married almost three years. Before that we had been living together for about a year and a half. I am 36 years old, but, as noted, I had never completely given up on “my stuff.” I didn’t even like some of “my stuff” I was just used to it because it was mine, and it was … stuff. It was stuff I had grown comfortable having in my life, even if it was totally getting in the way of my life and the life I had to plan for.

One example: my “Hungry Monster” hand-held video game. Hungry Monster was a Pac-Man knockoff made by the Tandy Corp. in the early 1980s, when Pac-Man was likened to a god. It took four AA batteries, and featured what was basically a small M&M-looking creature that had to eat dots as it ran around a digital maze as four ghosts chased it. Hungry Monster could eat one of four special dots to turn the tables on the unwitting ghosts, and eat them, the end. It was also incredibly loud, and there was no volume control. After clearing a board, like Pac-Man, there was a short intermission where in Act 1 a ghost chased the Hungry Monster across the screen. Then the super-powered Hungry Monster would return, having off-screen eaten one of the “special” dots to chase the ghost. I think you get the picture.

I had received Hungry Monster in third grade, when I was eight years old. In predictable fashion my mother took a piece of medical tape and wrote DAVID SERCHUK on it in black ink, so that any thieves would have to take the trouble of peeling of a small bit of tape before they could make off with their booty and eliminate their chances of being caught.

Hungry Monster had a tiny joystick to manipulate the action, and, like its namesake hero, absolutely destroyed batteries. I remember buying through a new set of four when I first got the game, and it needed a new set in about an hour. Not long after that I put it away and forgot about it.

For about 23 years.

My Mom sold her home in 2006, by which I mean my home. It was the house I grew up in, and though my travels have taken me far and wide and I haven’t spent more than the occasional night there since I was 22, I was saddened by the upcoming sale. Not by the sale itself, my Mom got a good price, and the house needed too much work, but for the memories. Despite some unhappy times, it was mostly a home of positive associations, and, more importantly, it also satisfied my psychic idea of home. Meaning: Home, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

I always knew that somewhere in the world, no matter what I did, or how badly I messed up, there was a bed for me, and, better still, it was my bed in my room. Sure, it was a twin bed, and I haven’t willingly slept in one of those since junior year in college, but it was mine. The room, of course, was also a shrine to me. My fruitless attempts at art hung on the wall, my games sat in the closet, my old issues of Dynamite! Magazine rested in a rack, also in the closet. Wedged between the old issues of Dynamite! were also my adolescent collections of “adult magazines” that most teenage boys have. Eventually the collection of adult magazines became so thick that the magazine pile kind of looked a Dynamite!-porn-Dynamite! sandwich, and a Dagwood sandwich at that. But my Mom, bless her, never called me out on it, saving us both lots of pointless embarrassment. (The top of the sandwich, by the way, was always a Dynamite! magazine that featured Scott Baio, in his full Chachi regalia. Yeah, that’s kind of weird.)

There was other good stuff in the magazine pile too, though. Lots of old Mad magazines, from when it was not only for kids, but also for adults with juvenile imaginations. You know, the good old days. These were inherited from my older brother. One really sophisticated cover was a parody of the movie poster for “The Sting” and instead of Paul Newman and Robert Redford burning the money one of the guys was Richard Nixon, and he was burning a tape. I’m sorry, would a kid’s magazine feature anything so smart today? I kind of doubt it. Wait a second, do kids even read magazines today? I also kind of doubt it.

All of this is kind of a pre-amble to say that I had a lot of dross to sort through before the house was sold. I am a pack rat by nature, so I went to it with a heavy heart, but also a sense of adventure.

The house was a split-level, so a lot of goodies were stored in our downstairs backroom, the least-used room in the entire house. It had once been a guest room, but in recent decades had become a moldering place to store comic books, old clothes, and my father’s photography equipment.

Mind you, my father was gone for almost 25 years at this point, but there was still a collection of old lenses, proofs and cameras in the back closet. No one knew what to do with any of this stuff. I gave my Dad the old proofs, which seemed to mostly date back to the 1950s, from before he knew my mom. They were mostly shots from upstate New York, of he and his friends in the summer, all looking young, healthy and happy. I couldn’t, in good conscience, throw them away. So I took the box and handed it over to him. He seemed glad to have the proofs, but I don’t think he’s actually looked at them yet.

As for the old 110 mm cameras, and lenses for 35 mm cameras and the rest, I hadn't a clue. Throwing it out, again, seemed wrong. I made a list of items, and saw what this stuff fetched on Ebay. To my disappointment, despite its ancient nature, the answer was, almost nothing. I was amazed. There were all these neat items, lenses and the like, that I thought, for sure, would yield a bounty, but past Ebay auctions told a different story. So I left them there. My Mom hired a scavenger service to come and take the items, which they did in due time.

My biggest regret is that I found a decades old roll of half finished 110 mm film while rooting around. I thought two things: this film surely is ruined by now, and where would I find anyone to develop 110 film? So I left it, too. Only later did I realize that it had to be worth a shot. The 110 cameras were for us kids, and those photos were either taken by me or my sister way back when. If they yielded even a few vintage family photos it would’ve been worth it. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

This left my comic books. I had 300 of them, and they were neatly stacked on the floor of the back room, waiting, as they had been since 1986 when I pretty much stopped collecting them. Sure, over there years I picked up the occasional book here and there, but the great romance I’d had was over.

Still, between 1983 and 1986 nothing inflamed me like the world of Marvel comic books. They were basically beefcake soap operas that catered by adolescents, but I didn’t know that then. My favorite books were pretty dorky in retrospect, Alpha Flight and Thor. I liked Thor because I was also a big fan of Norse mythology. And I just wrote perhaps the dorkiest sentence in human history. I enjoyed Alpha Flight because they were written and drawn by the great John Byrne, and presented a smart alternative to the X-Men. I never could really embrace the X-Men, for some reason. They had a great name, but they always seemed, to me, to feature boring, static, characters and situations. I also loved Spider-Man (he eventually supplanted Thor as my favorite) and the Fantastic Four, another Byrne book.

Mostly I was drawn not so much by the heroes themselves, as by the artists and writers who created them. Spider-Man, for most of my fandom, was afflicted with the artistry of John Romita Jr., workman-like at best. I kept reading because it was the infamous “black costume” era, and the story was fascinating, but the art was stilted.

Thor, on the other hand, benefited greatly from the writing and art of Walt Simonson. Simonson’s art was somewhat crude, but this was intentional, in order to make it resemble more closely old runes, and primitive art. He also was something of a plotting genius, relying heavily on the characters and plots of actual Norse mythology, which delighted dorks like me.
Simonson even presaged a major conflict (that eventually engulfed the entire Marvel universe) with the god of fire, Surter, a year in advance. A conflict that echoed what actually happened in the Norse myths. Simonson would hint, a page at a time, of this shadowy figure building a mighty sword, while legions of underlings watched. Every time this shadowy figure hit the sword on his fiery anvil one word rang out, chanted by all: “Doom!”

I mean, give me a break, that still gives me the chills.

The Fantastic Four was another passion. Like many of Marvel’s tent-pole franchises the FF had gone into a period of decline by the late 70s, early 80s, with forgettable art, and story lines. Byrne brought the tradition back, made you realize that, as its title long proclaimed, this was once again “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

True, the FF was never Marvel’s most popular title. But they were still the greatest; they were the franchise from which all others came. Make sense? ‘Nuff said.

Clearly I had a place in my heart for these books even if, perhaps, not in my apartment. In either case I had to move them, because the house was sold and things had to go.

I boxed up the books, and brought them back to the apartment, along with a few other odds and ends: an American flag button-down shirt (for that SDS look), a book report I wrote in third grade called “The Galaxy” that had a smart black crepe-paper cover with neat, stenciled lettering (one of my few instances of inspired graphic design), Hungry Monster and a vinyl record, despite the fact that we don’t own a record player.

The plan was to sell the comics, made a few bucks and move on. That was in August 2006. It was now March 2008, and I hadn’t even sold one book. Instead the boxes of comics sat in the hallway, taking up way more space than you might think, and generally making me look, no matter how much I did or grew as a person, like a charter member of the Peter Pan club.

The matter was brought to head one day, as Randi looked through the things out front, and bumped her leg on a box of comics.

“We’re trying to make some room for the baby out here,” she said, frustrated.

“Yeah, I know. I’m the one getting rid of everything!”

“Oh really?” she asked. Then she rooted around in a bin, and found what she was looking for.

“Then why do we still have this?”

She held up Hungry Monster. I had promised to get rid of it two month ago, but I, uh, kind of forgot.

“Look, it’s vintage!” I said. “There’s this store in the ‘Village that sells old games like these for lots of money. Why should I just throw it away?”

We agreed to disagree on the Hungry Monster issue.

I felt justified, though. It was mine. And if some nostalgia-driven Gen X’er wanted to pay me $80 for it, why throw it away? And maybe, just maybe, it was still fun. Sure, it didn’t feature the sophisticated, if alienating, graphics of today’s games, but a good game is a good game. Maybe they got it right back then, even if the technology was simple. They had to use their imaginations!

To prove this I got it some new batteries, and fired it up. Damn thing lit up like a pinball machine! Let’s see if your X-Box does that in 2031! Then it played its loud, grating introductory music. As it did so I tried to smother it so as to not have another yet argument with my wife.

Then I started to play. Cleared one board! Right on! As a reward it played its intermission.

Then I started board two, and experienced still more of the same, only faster. Only instead of exciting me, I realized it was having the opposite effect. After a couple more minutes of this I then turned the Hungry Monster off, already bored off my ass.

Now with no reason to keep it other than the financial incentive I looked it up on Ebay, to see what I could get. With the original packaging, in mint condition, it was worth, maybe, $50. Without the box, like mine, maybe, $8.00.

Okay, I get it. I put it on the curb; New York, the great recycler sucked it up and it was gone. I hope whoever got it, though, kept on the tape that said DAVID SERCHUK, as my mother would have wished. I imagine some young kid picked it up, gave it a spin, and then quickly went back to playing Super Mario-Palooza, or whatever it is they do these days.

Still, this episode with the video game shed some light on my situation. I clearly didn’t need the game, and didn’t even enjoy it when I did play it. For that matter I hadn’t read any of my comic books in years, and didn’t really get that much out of it when I did. Why schlep heavy boxes of items I no longer loved, from place to place? Who am I doing this for … the me that used to be? That guy was gone, by 15 he’d moved onto music and, uh, “partying,” and comic books no longer measured up. Of course a lot of guys moved onto music, partying and comic books, but I was never that complex.

Now I had to take care of my comic books. I had made up my mind, and it was time. I put them on Craigslist.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Childish Things: Pt. 1

Putting away childish things … it looks so elegant when you see the words written on the page. But it was so hard to do. And, like a lot of guys, I had plenty of childish things to get rid of before the baby came. So, yeah, we’re taking a ride in the Wayback Machine, to an era before Stella was born. We’re going back to a time known by primitive man as March, 2008, BBBB—Before Brooklyn Baby Baby.

By March 2008 we still had to do a lot of work to get our apartment ready for the life to come. We’d given up on finding a new place that was affordable, safe and had laundry, after months of looking. So we decided to make our present place as happy and baby-friendly as we could. To start this we had to reorganize the entire apartment to make more room. And I began that process by busting complete and total ass to put in place the six long shelves that line the walls of our living room right now, so that our floors would be clear and easier to navigate. It was both a debacle, and an amazing, positive experience.

The debacle part was that I was just learning how to use a power drill. The first time I turned it on and felt all that energy sing through my clenched fist, I suddenly understood why Man Uses Tools. It wasn’t so we could gain a comparative advantage over our primitive brethren. It was because it was a righteous blast to raise the thigh bone of some sad, deceased wildebeest and blast someone over the head with it. That feeling lives on, I’ve discovered, except now with electricity!

Sadly this feeling of power was quickly short-circuited by an even stronger feeling of incompetence. Randi could only sit by, frustrated, as I gradually began to master The Drill. Very gradually, I should add.

“GodDAMMIT!” I shouted, as yet another hole came in sideways, as sheetrock dust flew everywhere, sweat coursed off my arms, and I teetered on the edge of a folding chair. This was probably not the safest way to put up shelves, by the way.

“What the HELL am I doing wrong this time?” One thing about power drills—you feel okay cussing up a storm as you use them. In fact, I think it’s required in the instruction manual, written in multiple languages.

Randi looked at me with envy. She’d been a theater and French double major in college (Centre College, in Kentucky, to be exact) and as such had spent entire semesters using power tools, to build sets. The use and mastery of heavy equipment made her feel strong and accomplished. She took pride in it, and it pained her to see me ineptly punch holes in our walls.

“You’re probably not holding the drill totally straight,” she said, dejectedly. She’d wanted to do as much of the drilling as possible, which I completely denied. My sad efforts only encouraged her feelings, however.

“You do it like this,” she said, miming with the drill, making sure I saw that her forearm and upper arm made a perfect ninety degree angle. “You sure you don’t want me to do it?” she asked, again. “I can do it, you know. It’s fine. I’m good at it.”

“No, no!” I said. “There is NO way my pregnant wife is going to handle power tools while I’m around.”

“I’m sure it would be safe,” she said. “I’m good at it.”


Let’s put this in perspective. The BBM was the most overly-cautious pregnant woman I’d ever met, or even heard of. You ever see that movie Children of Men, about the last pregnant woman on earth, and all these people literally kill themselves to keep her safe? Well, our lives were kind of like that, only less carefree.

For example, about six months into the pregnancy Randi threw caution to the winds and asked me to pour her half a glass of wine. She then took two modest sips and pushed the glass back at me like it was arsenic.

“That’s enough,” she said. “I can’t do it. I just can’t.”

She later pulled me aside.

“You don’t think I hurt the baby, right? I mean it was only a little bit of wine!”

“No, I think in France you’d be considered kind of a tee-totaler.”

“Yeah, but that’s France, that’s different,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to think that I hurt the Little One in any way.” She rubbed her belly protectively. I pitied the fool who’d step to this lioness.

“I am sure you didn’t,” I said. “Somehow I doubt our kid is going to grow up an alcoholic, despite your two sips of wine.”


“Yeah, that is good.”

That was just the start. Randi desperately craved sushi, but of course pregnant women are told not to have it, because of the mercury in the fish. This, naturally, only made her want it more.

“Maybe I can have the California Roll,” she said, proud to have found a solution, after months of longing. Soon, though, she talked herself out of even this simple treat. “But no! They cut it on the same board as the fish. What if they don’t wash their knives, or the board? What then?”

Needless to say, no sushi was consumed during the pregnancy. And that was just the start: cured meats, soft cheeses, and things that looked like either of those things, various spices, you name it, we steered clear of them. But power tools? Bring ‘em on, apparently.

Still, I stuck to my guns, banning her, and she gradually, if reluctantly, gave up. Now it was all up to me, which leads to the amazing part.

Over the course of a couple of days I got the hang of it. After screwing up several times, I eventually found myself putting in straight, strong shelves. Sure, it was a total bitch, and took about twice as long as I thought it might. Sure, our walls look scarred and horrible now—thank god no one can see through our books. Sure, I probably breathed in about six ounces of pure, aerosolized house paint. But I did it, and they actually hold up books!

I even learned, after considerable trial and error, how to put in wall anchors, to increase the amount of weight the shelves can support by a factor of ten. More importantly, I learned how to remove wall anchors. (Here’s how: gradually drill larger and larger holes until the anchor can be pushed in without too much resistance. Then gently tap it in with a hammer. Want to remove it? Put a screw half-way in, and pull it out with vise-grip pliers. It’s like extracting a tooth.)

To measure the balance I put a glass of water right in the middle of a completed shelf, as we lacked a leveler. It balanced. That was when I finally allowed myself to feel pride. All of this was work, but it worked.

The feeling of accomplishment, of sheer manliness, that came with building these shelves was astounding. For starters I got to walk around, rubbing my nicely sore arm, as I looked at my empty shelves and say: “Yeah, I built that.” Then I got to tell my friends about it. I invited people over just so they could marvel at my shelves. That I built. No one took me up on the offer, but I didn’t care.

At work, when people would ask me what I was up to last weekend, I would answer: “Oh, not much. Just built some shelves.”

Their jaws would drop. In a room of financial journalists this is about as bad-assed as saying I won The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or that they based Grand Theft Auto on my actual life.

In fact, I’m still proud of them. They’re the only things I think I’ve ever built out of wood that I actually wanted to keep. I mean, I made a Popsicle stick fort in summer camp in 1982, and a leaky birdhouse once that no birds ever lived in. But these shelves, I made them. And I made them because I was taking care of my family. I felt good about it. No, wait, I felt better than good. I felt useful, which is a rare and wonderful feeling.

So that was the shelves.

Now we just had to get rid of a lot of old junk, piled in odd, eccentric lumps, and boxes everywhere. The place still looked like a disaster, and we had to get it ready real soon.

“What’s in these boxes,” Randi asked, pointing to two heavy cardboard squares by our couch. They were always in our way, and something had to be done about them. We had a baby coming, we can’t just have crap on the floors all the time. Not anymore.

“Oh, just my comic books,” I said. “But don’t worry, I’m selling them.” The words came out easily, but inside my heart sagged. I was manly enough to put up some shelves, was I manly enough to sell off my comic books? I would find out.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hot Hot Heat

Today was a relatively uneventful one in Stately BBD Manor. On the weekends I typically try to sleep in if at all possible, at least a little. Stella was being good. At this stage of the game being good means sleeping a lot, and/or not crying when she’s awake. So I got to sleep until about 10:00 a.m., which felt extremely indulgent.

From there I awoke, and had some coffee that BBM had considerately already made. It tasted bitter; I guess I’m just not a coffee achiever. I’ve been trying to cut back on the caffeine anyway, as I find it leads to diminishing returns after a while. The ultimate diminishing return is that it depresses me, but that takes a while.

Seizing the initiative I made a massive pile of hash browns, using one and a half potatoes, half a green pepper, about half an onion and two minced garlic bulbs. It took forever for it to finally cook, but, damn, that was some good eatin’.

But it was one of Those Kind Of Days, a day where Stella just couldn’t pry herself away from the booby. The Tit Vampire returns. Seriously, we basically thought by now that she’d eat deeply but not as constantly as she does now. She still, of course, blows off sleep at every conceivable opportunity, which is also supposed to eventually change, but we’ll see.

By about 1:00 p.m. the BBM was pretty much getting tired of the same old routine. It was muggy and hot today, true, but we still wanted to get outside if at all possible.

“I can’t just keep going like this,” she said, “she literally eats all the time.”

Making matters worse Stella cries if Randi speaks to someone on the phone while she’s trying to eat, which is what I’ve heard J-Lo does to her underlings. But J-Lo, at least, can fire her entourage, Stella can’t get rid of us. Anyway, this only increases the at times isolating nature of raising a parent in The City. (Editor's Note: "Raising a parent?" Whoa, Freudian slip there!)

Randi, you see, has lived in New York for 10 years, but she’s still away from what had been her home. She’s from Kentucky originally, and that is where most of her kith and kin still live. Around here her only real family is my family, and as fond of them as she is it’s just not the same thing.

And anyway, my family isn’t even that nearby. My mother lives about an hour away, in New Jersey, my sister lives in Connecticut with kids of her own, and my brother and father are also in New Jersey. We have some cousins in the general area, but Randi’s support network is kind of on the thin side.

Plus the apartment is kind of muggy and nasty on a 95 degree day like today. All this just adds to the claustrophobic feeling she gets.

She got some slight reprieves today, though. She was able to take a shower—hey, that’s not a given—because I watched Stella when she was in her little jungle gym. I can also hold Stella while she gets dressed, and gussies herself up.

I would like for her to get more time to herself, and even baby-sit for a night while she goes out on the town with some friends, but that would require bottle feeding Stella, and so far we’ve had only mixed results with this. Randi’s found it difficult to pump while feeding Stella, so we haven’t gotten enough milk to make it happen. All this adds up to BBM on call, 24-7 for the BBB (That’s Brooklyn Baby Baby, I guess.)

Finally we got ourselves together, and I put on the Baby Bjorn with the little one in it. I am always tempted to call it the Baby Bjorn Borg, but few people would get the reference, and fewer would find it amusing if they did. It must’ve not been set right on my body, because Stella’s head was resting at an uncomfortable angle the whole time.

The Fear truly never ends. We both felt this had to mean our baby was suffocating. It didn’t of course, as her strong grip on my thumb attested. But eventually, with BBM’s blessing, we switched holders and Stella was carried by her mom. I’m just a dad trying to be a part of this whole deal, but so far I’m only halfway there. We cut the walk short anyway, because it was so damn hot. Later that night BBM once again got to sit in a darkened room for several hours while Stella almost, but not quite, went to sleep.

The Brooklyn Baby Mama Speaks!

(Editor's Note: As the loyal reader of BBD knows, there was a lengthy description of the birth of Stella Rae from the BBD's perspective. Now the Brooklyn Baby Mama gives her take on that seminal night.)

I’ve been reading the Brooklyn Baby Daddy blog since its inception with as much, no strike that, more interest that anyone else. Why more? It’s a bizarre and eerie feeling to read about yourself and your experiences from someone else’s point of view. Like watching a Lifetime Original Movie about your life starring an actress who’s just a little different than you with a plot that’s not exactly akin to your memory.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Dave’s writing. It’s one of the things that made me fall in love with him. It’s funny and nuanced, rich with quirky details and often containing revelations that touch me deeply. I’ve been known to cry at his writing more than once.

It’s just strange to find myself caught up in a story and then realize—hey, he’s talking about me!

I guess the entry that stood out most when I read it was the description of the labor. I mean, why wouldn’t it? That was the singular most excruciating, amazing and magical night of my life, so reading someone else’s point of view about it was bizarre.

Mainly, I sort of forgot that others existed that night. I forgot anything existed, even my darling baby, except for that searing, soul-ripping pain that consumed me for almost 10 hours. Of course, I noticed my devoted and patient husband in my peripheral vision, along with my worried and doting mom, not to mention my incredible midwife and the wonderful staff of Methodist Hospital. But they were like wallpaper to me, and for maybe the first time in my life I didn’t care one bit what others thought of me. I didn’t worry about my appearance, I didn’t smile when I didn’t feel like it, and I didn’t mince my words. As a displaced Southerner, that’s a pretty big deal.

Was I rude to people? Sure! I barked orders and never once said thank you. I didn’t allow much conversation and nobody was allowed to watch TV. When my exhausted husband and mom tried to sneak in some naps during the overnight ordeal, I resented them openly for daring to sleep while I, too, was tired!

However, as a person who can have a pretty short fuse, I was INCREDIBLY proud of myself for never once swearing, for not once throwing anything, for refraining from screaming until the pushing happened and I just couldn’t help it.

So, reading about the tenseness, the boredom, the sleepiness that consumed others is odd, as in my memory nobody really mattered except me. I feel for Dave that night. He did a great job, was patient and kind, never once left my side. But, yeah, I was kind of preoccupied.

In my own blog on Facebook, I tried diligently to describe what labor pain feels like. I’d been told by experienced moms that the pain is almost impossible to explain, and what’s more you kind of forget it once it’s over.

This is only sort of true. It is really hard to explain to anyone who’s never gone through it. And men, I hate to tell you this, but nothing compares. Not the worse pain you’ve ever had. Not even kidney stones.

As far as forgetting it, that’s sort of true, too. I can’t remember exactly what the pain feels like, because I’d never had that sort of pain before. However, the memory of the intensity of that pain remains, and has caused me to be more afraid of getting pregnant again than I’ve ever been of anything in my life. As a person who was not sexually active in high school or college, I never knew how insanely scared one could be of pregnancy. Now I do.

Here’s what I can say about labor pain. With each contraction—each one I had for 10 hours straight, when the peak hit—I was certain I wouldn’t make it through. Each and every time. Countless contractions, and during each one, I thought it was the end for me. That’s pretty intense.

We took a pricey child birthing class that taught us a myriad of ways to relieve pain naturally. What we didn’t learn is that no matter how you visualize your birth, you just can’t plan for it. I had visions of myself meditating, going to a calm place, using massage and aromatherapy to create a serene, loving space in which to welcome my baby.

Well, when the contractions came, I just couldn’t do that. What could I do? Pace. That was about it. I couldn’t sit or lie down. Sitting felt like I was scrunching up my insides, making the pain more intense, and lying down put pressure on my back, from which my pain radiated.

So I was on my feet for 10 hours. I couldn’t visualize anything calming and I have no idea why. My brain was blank. All I could see was what was around me, but it was as if I was looking at it through a film. You know how your world blurs when you’re drunk? It was like that, but without the fun of being drunk.

The only other thing that helped was the shower. I was in there almost the entire time. It would have been the entire time, but my feet and hands kept becoming wrinkly and that also irritated me. And even my beloved shower didn’t take away all my pain. It just dulled most of each contraction, but the peak remained as brutal as ever.

But the part that makes me shudder, the part that makes me wonder if I can ever do this again, is the pushing. For the average first time mom, pushing can take up to an hour. For me, it took over an hour and a half. And it was hands-down the most horrifying pain of my life. Can I describe it? Not really, without being completely crass. And you can probably imagine what I’d say anyway.

For most of that time pushing, I just didn’t think I’d make it. I even began to fantasize about a C-section. Sure, I pushed when I felt the urge, and I pushed harder when told, but each time I resented those around me more and more and just wanted to float away from it all, into the stratosphere.

Then, toward the end, I heard our compassionate nurse whisper to the midwife, “the heart rate’s below 100.” Well, I knew enough to know that was bad. That added to the fact that there had been merconium in the amniotic fluid made me suddenly realize that others did, in fact, exist. And the other person who now consumed my thoughts was my darling baby!

As I’ve told Dave, that was the moment that my body, my pain ceased to exist. I pushed with everything I had, ripping my body wide open. And since that moment, honestly, little Stella’s happiness and well-being are so much more important to me than anything else in this world.

Now, when I read about Dave’s experience, there is some selfish part of me that envies him. He got to anticipate the birth of his child in comfort. Sure he was tired and bored, but he didn’t feel like his insides were boiling. He got to watch little Stella emerge, while I stared at the ceiling and felt myself explode. He got to go to the table and cut her cord while I pushed out placenta and got stitches.

But I wouldn’t trade places with him for the world. I look back on that night with such tenderness. Stella is a miracle. It’s a miracle that she was created, it’s a miracle she grew inside me, and it’s a miracle that she made it into our world safe and sound. I got to feel her, support her, nurture her every step of the way.

And the pain? It’s awful. The worst thing I’ve ever felt, and as I’ve said, I’m not looking forward to feeling it again. But I even feel nostalgic for it, because that is what brought one of the loves of my life into this world. I’m sorry Brooklyn Baby Daddy can’t know what that’s like.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn (And Even Then ... )

All hail the Sleep Sheep!

Ugh, the sleep chronicles continue.

Stella, as wonderful as she is, just does not like to sleep. It’s like she finds it painful. I know what some of you are thinking, call Social Services. But no! It’s not like that! We take such good care of her; Randi especially tends to her needs all day, every day, while I’m out editing business stories. But this girl doesn’t take naps, she doesn’t rest, she just likes to stay awake. And then she cries about it because she’s tired! Already a woman!

Tonight is similar to many other nights in the BBD home. I got home from work, and saw that Randi sat in the darkened bedroom, with Stella at her breast, exhausted, physically and emotionally. Stella wasn’t even really sucking on the breast, it was like she just liked having it there if she wanted. Kind of like those long-time smokers who become addicted to the ritual as much as the nicotine. She digs having a boob near her face. And, sure a lot of us do, but some of us have to go to work in the morning. Randi kept trying to get her to settle down, and she almost would, and then she’d explode into fussy crying.

It’s frustrating that nothing we do seems to get her to sleep. We’ll give her a pacifier. It makes her CRY. Seriously, it’s called a pacifier, they’re not supposed to be that upsetting. But she just won’t have it.

I guess, now is a good time to talk about what Stella’s like, at seven and a half weeks, as a person. She is a very alert baby. Right from the moment she was born she looked at everything. She is so alert, in fact, that it’s hard to get her mind to relax.

We have this thing called a Sleep Sheep made to do just that. As the name implies it’s a stuffed animal—in this case a sheep. It has a little device that sticks out of its back that plays different soothing sounds designed to get a baby to go to sleep. We are very grateful to have received the Sleep Sheep as a gift from our friends Debbie and Mike. It's definitely surprised us.

One sound mimics what the human heart beat must’ve sounded like for the baby in the womb. One is the sound of rain. Another is ocean waves, and the fourth, for some goddamn reason, is psychedelic whale calls. What calling whales have to do with sleeping babies is anyone’s guess, but there you have it.

The Sleep Sheep actually works great—on us. Within three minutes of listening to the soothing sounds of rain I’m almost always asleep. Often the Brooklyn Baby Mama will then wake me up, as I now snore. I didn’t use to, but now I do, under some unwritten rule that I must age much more quickly than before the child was born. It’s not just the snoring, I have way more gray beard hair, my eyes are perpetually heavy, I’m tired, and I yell at kids to stay off my lawn, despite my lack of a lawn.

Stella could care less about the Sleep Sheep, unfortunately. True it worked the first two nights, but as is her wont, never again. Oh, but it was so nice those first two nights.

That’s the thing about Stella, nothing works on her for long. Any little gimmick, or trick designed to lull her into sleep won’t cut it, she catches on! One night I soaked the pacifier in Gripe Water, and it worked like a charm. That worked exactly once. She's smart, but in a way that's wearing all of us out, including her.

The only thing that consistently calms her down is close contact with a parent. Randi usually does the honors, because she’s around Stella more, but tonight I got lucky. I held her and “shuuushed” her, slowly. Her eyelids became droopy and she passed out. I don’t what I did wrong, somehow she stayed asleep. It probably won’t work tomorrow.

I put her down on the bed and she spread out as wide as possible, taking up as much room as one infant ever could. She always gets a smug look on her face, too, when she sleeps on the bed, like, “Hah! Got what I wanted!” I left her there for about 15 minutes, until she finally seemed out of it, and put her in the bassinet. So far it’s working, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

My feeling is that Stella is a sensitive, but good natured baby. Sensitive physically and emotionally. Physically, she’s had non-stop colds practically since she was born, and just, just got over a terrible rash. Her skin gets real red when she cries and she had colic, as mentioned before. She’s just vulnerable to typical baby stuff, at this point.

Emotionally, she picks up on things, both good and bad. She’s smart enough to already follow along with--and look forward to--her favorite book, The Very Busy Spider. Credit to BBM for reading to her so much already. Stella also picks up on any tension in the house real quick, and finds it hard to calm down. And, to be frank, some tension is inevitable in a home where people aren't sleeping enough.

On the positive front, she tracks with her eyes really well, and seems to read our facial expressions cleanly. I honestly feel she's a smart one. I guess we'll see. It’s hard to know what’s going on in a baby’s mind, and maybe I’m glad I don’t know. It seems to change pretty fast. But for now I’m enjoying a rare moment of calm.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Rest Of The Gang

Our cats, Cromwell and Talisker, have been kind of at their wit's end since Stella Rae came on the scene. Cromwell is a gorgeous black cat, and he's been kind of nervous with worry, and somewhat big-brotherly. Talisker is kind of a spazzy little dude, so he's pretty much the same, if not slightly more needy. Although the picture below makes him look like he's posing for an album cover, almost like the cat version of Tapestry. Oh, and they fight a lot in a way that's pretty, well, gay.

Just For The Heck Of It!

Some new photos. I mean, a picture's worth 1,000 words, right? So I should have like 40 pictures on this blog if that's the case!

All The Young Dads?

One of the more surprising things about becoming a parent is seeing the looks from friends and acquaintances towards Stella. Often these looks say: “I would like one of those.” The twist, though, is how often these looks come from men.

I didn’t expect this. The male stereotype is that guys don’t want to commit, the baby is the woman’s idea, and that guys go along to get along, and … a lot of that’s bullshit, I’m afraid.

Maybe it’s Stella’s fault. She’s gorgeous. She inherited my eyes, Randi’s nose, my hands and feet, Randi’s legs, and she wears it all better than we do. I am of Eastern European stock, your classic Ashkenazi Jew. I’ve got blue eyes, thanks to some ancient, prowling Cossack, but otherwise I’d blend into most Woody Allen films.

Randi’s background is all over the map, literally: She’s part Irish, part German, part Dutch, and 1/16th Native American. (I’m delighted, by the way, that my daughter’s a part-Native American Jew. Two beleaguered minorities in one!)

But, anyway, back to the main idea. As mentioned, I’ve been startled by the positive reaction Stella’s had on my male friends, and associates.

For example, one day after Stella’s birth a male co-worker, let’s call him Frank, started to chit-chat with me about being a father. I thought we were just passing the time until I noticed how intently Frank listened to every word I said. He really wanted to know.

Frank then told me how so sorry he was that he’d just broken up with his girlfriend, specifically because he wants kids so much. I had never heard a young, single man speak that way before. Frank then added that, despite his paternal drive, he’s also quite scared to be a father.

This I had heard before. In fact, I’d lived it. I had also been afraid, make that terrified, of being a dad. Again, as noted in my last post, I think many men my age—I’m 36—share this fear. We’re afraid of something so permanent, afraid of failure. Some say my generation is afraid of the responsibility, but that’s false. We’re all too aware of our responsibilities, and are terrified of blowing it, because we know what happens when you blow it. You turn out like us.

I leveled with Frank. I told him that, yes, I am, and have been, scared, but not for the reasons I’d once imagined. True, I’d been afraid of “the pressure,” I said, but I was even more afraid of being an apathetic father.

You see, I know at least a few emotionally cut-off dads. These are dads who’d removed themselves from their children’s lives; dads who somehow never grew up, despite qualifying for the free birthday meal at Denny’s. Dads who never evolved beyond their own ego-driven ambitions and weaknesses.

I’d seen it all before, I told Frank, and the thought of turning out that way, a narcissistic man-child, terrified me. But the birth of my daughter quickly destroyed these old fears, I added, even as new ones sprouted in their place.

“The truth,” I told Frank, “is that I care too much. It’s like this, this python wrapped around my neck at all times, this love. Sometimes I can’t stand it, it’s too much. But I love it, this snake, and I squeeze it back even as it squeezes me. And sometimes I fear that it’s crushing me, but I can’t, I won’t ever let go. So we’re squeezing each other, and we will, until the day I die. But it’s fantastic. It’s, like, the best thing that ever happened to me. No, the way I phrased that sounds weird. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I paused. I knew I’d gone to a fairly odd place conversationally, especially for work. I looked at Frank.

“Does that make any sense?”

Frank nodded. He was feeling me.

“Shit, you make me want to be a father so bad,” he said. “I’d never heard it explained that way, but now I want it so much.”

“That sounds pretty weird, I know,” I said. “I mean, it’s better than that, what I said. But it hurts, too. Because of how strong your love is. It hurts you, but in a good way.”

All too soon our little break came to an end. Frank had to go back to statistics, where he works, and I had to edit a piled-up backlog of stories. But before he left, Frank made me promise to send him a link to our online photo album for Stella. Surprised and touched, I said I would.

So, that was Frank. Other guys I know, upon meeting Stella, have also surprised me, but in related ways. For starters, I see more tenderness than I expected. Many guys my age, I now know, want kids, and don’t feel the need to hide it. They’re emotionally engaged, and ready to commit. They’ve been around the block, and they’ve seen what it has to offer. Often the answer is: more of the same. They want something else.

Today, kids aren’t seen as an obligation, or, heaven forbid, a burden, they’re seen as a capstone event in life, the most important job any of us will ever have. The old pose, in other words, is over.

In this light, I think I’ve unwittingly shown some of my peers what it's like to be a dad, and they like what they've seen. Through me they can see that it’s awesome, and it’s scary, but it's way more awesome than scary.