Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reflections Upon A 2/3 Full Moon

It's 10:34 at stately Brooklyn Baby Daddy Mansions. The little cat, Talisker, is in my lap after an evening of him trying to get into my lap. The other cat, Cromwell, is sitting on our gliding rocker. Randi, the Brooklyn Baby Mama, is up in our bed on the top floor of our Duplex. I have taken to calling that floor The Crow's Nest. Stella, The Brooklyn Baby Baby, is asleep, in her crib.

A quick word about the crib. It was a hand-me-down from my sis. She has two girls, and the younger one is now five years old. So they've been out of the crib a number of years by now. They generously passed it along to us. The only problem is that to get it in and out of our various apartments I've had to assemble and disassemble it now three times. And it's big, wide and doesn't fit through most Brooklyn doorways as is. So I know that no matter what happens I will have to take it apart once more. After that, who knows? We talk about having another kid, someday, the way other people talk of going to Hawaii, someday. We'll get there, probably, but we're in no great rush. Being a high needs baby, like Stella, must convey some serious advantages to first children, because we are so not ready for another bundle of joy right now. We might never be ready. Which means Stella gets all the toys!

Apparently, by the way, this is really what gets kids steamed when a younger sibling comes on the scene. Not sharing parental love, they aren't too upset about that. But sharing stuff. Older siblings absolutely hate having to share their stuff with their younger brattish siblings. Hate it with a passion. Years, even decades later, you can still hear people complaining, bitterly, about how the younger kid came along and took everything. Or you can hear the reverse too, from younger kids, how by the time they came along everything was all used up.

You might think this is impossible, but it's not. In fact the journalist Po Bronson dedicated a whole chapter of his book "Nurtureshock" to how kids find it so hard to share. It can scar people through life and leave a very nasty mark on sibling relations.

So, maybe we won't have another kid so fast. I love Stella, she's the light of my life, etc., but I don't think I could take another kid that doesn't sleep and cries for about five months in a row. This might sound harsh, or cliche, more likely, but the first year and a half of her life was really the best and worst time of my life. The best because ... my daughter was born! The worst because I felt like the lack of sleep mixed with the depression it caused in Randi (which she has bravely addressed here), which was then mixed with the resultant escalating tension in our marriage, which was then mixed with our asshole upstairs neighbor, mixed with the fact that we had peeling lead paint in our old apartment, mixed with living in a place that was like the Union formerly known as the Soviet, mixed with the stress of my job ... it was all a bit like being sucked down the rabbit hole for far too long. And on the other end it wasn't Wonderland. It was barely even Kensington, Brooklyn.

I come out of that experience, and I do feel, thank god, that I am finally coming out of it, a changed man. A better man in some ways, maybe not in others, but definitely a changed man. I am more aware of my frailty, I am more aware of the stress my wife lived through, I am grayer, possibly heavier, maybe even less hearty than I was two years ago. My back hurts a lot, sometimes it's hard for me to get out of a chair, or to bend over. This is from holding the BBB for hours on end as she cried. But it had to be done, and I would do it again. I'm changed in that way too. I would do it all over again, knowing what I know. I guess this means I am more loving, though love doesn't convey what a parent feels when their child needs them, and they're exhausted, but they give it all up for the child, over and over and over again. Love sounds so trite, compared to what that is. It's the life-force, and it's real.

Simply calling it love doesn't convey what a spouse feels when the other spouse is on the brink of collapse and they both decide to work it through, even as the child cries again. And even though you're exhausted you let them sleep, because you care about them. They do the same for you whenever possible. They are now not just your spouse, they are your blood. When they are in pain you surrender and try to make them better, even if it hurts you to do so, even if you can't. You have no choice, your heart won't allow them to suffer so.

But what I have only started to finally realize is that even though I didn't give birth, and I wasn't born on April 14, 2008 my life went through a complete, emotional top to bottom change. Like all true change it was exhilarating, extremely painful and I didn't really understand the extent to which it was taking place. I was forced through some kind of crazy, unknown tube over the course of almost a half a year. I came out the other end a different man. The pressure I endured from all the things above -- which I have only hinted about, I haven't told you all the details and I have my doubts that I ever will -- is only starting to become apparent now. I am only starting to decompress, a little, now. Things are only starting to stabilize, god willing, now. Things are only starting to feel a little bit better, more healthy, more happy, now. And a lot of it is that I am writing again, for you guys, and for myself. So, thank you BBD Nation!

Which isn't to say that having Stella wasn't the best thing that happened to me, it was. But combine a hard child with a home situation fraught with tension, mixed with outside forces making life even harder, as our neighbors did, and you have the makings of something that will change your life.

Honestly? I didn't realize any of this in quite this crystalline a form until I started writing tonight. I thought I was going to write about all the things I do as a dad that are fun and weird. That would have been a fun journal entry, but I will have to save it for another time. I can be fun and weird tomorrow, because I am starting to get back to normal. And I am only starting to get back to normal because I have started to realize what I have gone through. And I have only started to realize what I've gone through because I've written about it. So, thanks again. And sweet dreams. Especially you, Stella.

Monday, September 28, 2009

God Is A Verb

Monday night at stately Brooklyn Baby Daddy Mansions. The Brooklyn Baby Mama is asleep, the Brooklyn Baby Baby is also asleep. The cats are both asleep, with Cromwell on our bed. I tried to sleep, to make the picture complete, but insomnia is a patient and persistent mistress.

Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement. I don't know how much actual atoning I accomplished, but this was the general idea. We had a very Brooklyn Day of Atonement, it seems. Woke up this morning at 6:30 a.m., earlier than I like, because the baby was crying, bawling really. I tried to rock her back to sleep, but it was no good. So I took her down for some breakfast and watched her eat. After a little while Randi woke up and we got ready for temple. On Yom Kippur there are a lot of things you're not supposed to do: not wear leather, not bathe, not brush your teeth and not eat or drink. The idea is to be a little uncomfortable. I did them all this year.

As we drove to the temple Stella fell asleep, and here's the Brooklyn part, we couldn't find any parking anywhere. Then we realized that if we woke her up to bring her into temple she would probably just cry a lot and run around. So we drove home, and fed her some lunch. Then we went to the playground and she ran around. It was about noon now, and both Randi and I were very cranky. There was some kid running around in a sweatshirt that had a hero sandwich on it, I was like, dammit kid, stay out of my line of sight.

We tried to get Stella in for a nap, but she wasn't having it. Then the idea was to make the 1:30 family service. As we got back to the Duplex Randi passed out stone cold on the couch and Stella was never further from passing out in any way. I decided to try and make the service with just the kid, and see how it goes.

I drove back to Park Slope -- which is five minutes away -- and this time found some parking. We then parked our MacLaren stroller outside the temple (which was really a church borrowed for the occasion by our Jewish group) with all the other MacLarens. We made it inside and Stella even sat in my lap for a minute before getting up to run around. I tried to keep her on a short tether, but it wasn't going to work. I gave up and we went outside. I called my friend Dan to see if he was around and he was. So I walked the two blocks, more or less, to his apartment and we spent a few hours there with him, his wife Becky and their son Abe, who seven and a half months old.

After driving back home we finally broke the fast at 6:30 and it was delicious. We got bagels from this place called The Bagel Hole, which might be a stupid name but they have the best bagels anywhere. We also had lox, cream cheese, of course, and some Kedem grape juice. A very Jewish meal. I wasn't even all that hungry by fast-breaking time, which is how it seems to go with me. I get very hungry around lunch, but if I can make it past there I can fast, it seems, for another day. One day I would like to try that, see how it goes. Maybe even lose some weight the old fashioned way.

So, not necessarily a whole lot of atonement going on this year, but still, Yom Kippur does make me think about a lot of things that are important. One is this idea of trying to ask forgiveness, literally from everyone you know. Even people whom you might not have knowingly offended just to be sure. This is a good idea, a good thing. So, readers, I'm sorry!

Another is that in Judaism the most pious people and the most wicked all repent together, and say the same prayers, and ask for the same forgiveness from god. Showing that we truly are in this all together. Through effort and work you can repair your bond with god, but no praying can repair your bond with other people. That can only happen through effort. I have thought a lot about people I know, and whether I've given them my best. Friends, family members. I am bad at returning calls, I have gotten more closed off, and have not made the efforts I used to in order to connect with people. A lot of that is, of course, having a kid, but this is life and as much as these people might need me, I know I need them more. I don't feel like a whole person when my relationships are put on the back burner too much. Without this contact life is much harder.

I also think about community work and charity work. Every year I think it would be swell to take part in a canned goods drive, or do more to help the environment -- thus literally working on the commandment to heal the world. I can do more.

I also realize that there is one person whom I never forgive, no matter how much I think about it. And that's myself. When I look in the mirror I mostly see my failings, the things I haven't done, the work I haven't completed, the ways I've fallen short. I beat myself up a lot, in ways I never would were it another person. With other people I am very forgiving, I understand, I know that they deserve to be given a break. I almost never do that with myself. Instead I measure myself in ways that are so arbitrary. I see people who look happy, who look like they're doing the types of things I would like to be doing, and I imagine that if only I were more hard working, more honest, more gutsy, more, more, more I could be happy like them. But I'm only me, indolent, afraid of so many things, with a shortage of foresight. That's the way I see myself on many days. I don't know how I started to see the world like this, but it's not healthy and I need for it to stop. For one thing it's self indulgent. For another thing it's not constructive. Action feels good, worrying, not so much. Also this fretting violates the commandment to be joyful, which is truly why we were put on this earth. And I think it's unfair that I've made so many of my friends into my therapists. The truth is I like hearing other people's problems more than admitting my own. I think I'm better at it, sympathetic, but over the past year, at least, the tables have turned too far in the other direction.

Also I am worshiping false idols, in this case what I imagine other people have that I need. This is not rational. Because we are all human. We are all weak. We all fail in important ways. We all let ourselves down, and others. There is not a one among us reading this blog, or writing it, or anywhere, who are only happy. Or only unhappy. I am guilty of reducing complex human interactions, which are so rich because they are so varied, into a four color comic strip. I worship an idea that has no basis in reality, and the idea is always something I can't have. So, in a sense, to feel like a failure based on my imagined insights into other people's lives is to be guilty of covetousness and, as mentioned, worshiping false idols. It also is extremely passive. God is not passive. God is a verb.

All this is to say that in 5770 I need to atone for many things, and for my actions against others. But I also need to atone through action. Participate more, act as if I am part of a community that matters, and be more insightful and understanding with myself. Be my own friend, which I've never really been. Can you be your own frenemy? Well I have been. And that is not what we are here for.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Other People's Kids

Sunday evening here, in stately Brooklyn Baby Daddy Mansions. The child is a asleep, the wife is asleep for now, though she will surely wake up for "Mad Men" at 10:00 p.m. Our cat Cromwell is meowing about something, I don't' know what, and it's Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It's a serious day, the most serious in all the Jewish year. Is it the holiest? I am not sure, I think Shabbat is actually more important, and that comes ever week, not every year.

Our pre-fasting meal was chili, not exactly what Moses commanded from the mountain, but, as Randi said, it's not like the ancient Jews had bagels either. The important thing is that I ate a lot of it, and it was good. I'm not eating at all tomorrow of course.

Randi's show ended last night, and she celebrated by going out and having fun. She stayed out late, which was fine with me. I was glad that she got to have a good time.

I've gotten to take Stella, the Brooklyn Baby Baby to the playground a lot over the past few weeks. I'm that dad you see following his kid around everywhere she goes. She goes up on the jungle gym, I'm a step behind. She runs around the rubber mat on the playground I am right behind her. If she's hungry I get some food, or some water. I try not to dominate her playtime, and I especially try to not dominate her interaction with other kids, but sometimes I have to intercede. This is the danger of Stella interacting with Other People's Kids.

Of course as parents we divide the world in two. Our kids, the light, the sunshine, the joy of our lives -- except for when they don't sleep and make us want to jump from the nearest open window -- and Other People's Kids. And Other People's Kids can be a wildly mixed bag.

Now, if you are a parent and reading this, you should automatically know I am not talking about YOUR kid. Your kid is perfect, almost as perfect as my kid, in fact. We're friends, right, and our kids will surely be friends ... right?

No, it's those Other People's Kids that are really getting to me. Here are some examples.

We were at the Tot Lot, a playground designed for toddlers, as the name implies!, and there were a bunch of bigger pre-schoolers, or even schoolers I guess, running around, dominating everything. Their parents, these Other People, just laughed, and continued their video-taping.

One kid, a little boy I'll call Jack comes to mind. On the Tot Lot jungle gym, you know, the one designed for tots, there is a little Plexiglas bubble for the little tykes to stick their head into. It's fun for them, and what not. Well, Stella wanted to do it. So she pokes her head in, but before she could get too far Jack, who is probably four or five years old by the way, pushes her aside and sticks his head into the Plexiglas bubble. Mind you this bubble had been empty.

"Mine!" the little brat screams, totally unaware that he could have hurt my kid. At this point my blood began to boil, and Jack is lucky he wasn't near an open window. Making matters worse his dad was standing right there and missed the whole episode.

"Now Jack," he said, "you have to share."

Jack shot back something that was oddly perfect "Sharing is nothing!" Which might be true, but that's really not the point.

"Jack," I said, "this is the tot lot. For little kids. The other playground is for big kids like you."

He looked bewildered. "It is?"

"Yes," I said, "and you can play here ... if you share."

Then I picked Stella up and walked away, as Jack sputtered in the background, while his dad placidly did nothing. I think I had just hit Little Jack with his first Zen koan.

There are other Other People's Kids too. Like the little girl at the party today who pushed Stella aside and knocked her down for no good reason.

Then there's the little blue-eyed boy, maybe two years old, who shoved my kid aside at the playground and refused to let her play at the fake counter top in the tot lot. (It's some plastic molded to resemble the counter top at a bodega.) Each time I wanted to take these kids, and scare them, let them know that just because they're two, it doesn't mean everyone else in the world is one.

But that would be silly. These are just children, and their parents, almost to the person are just as nice as I am, and do their best to teach their children to be kind, to share. It's just that sometimes they don't. To which I say thank god these are other people's kids.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What Is Success?

Sitting home tonight, as Randi wraps up her clinic in entertaining a crowd at Expressing Motherhood. In her bio for the show she said she was married to blogger David Serchuk. Maybe I should put that on my tax forms?

The cats are doing their thing, Stella's baby monitor is humming in the background (I am hearing her white noise machine) and the place is kind of a wreck. I have all these "anti spyware" popups all over my computer, which, of course ARE spyware.

In my brief exercise in out-loud thought tonight I am going to wonder about success. Just what is it? And how can I feel like I have it, or more of it? And does anyone feel like a total success, or do we all have battles that we pick and choose in order to feel successful?

I grew up the son of a very successful, self-made businessman. I was then, and remain very proud of my dad for his hard work, brilliant brain, tenacity and creativity. And for the fact that he could provide a comfortable living for his brood. On the surface of things I should have simply tried to replicate his success, go into his line of work, at his company, that he made. But I didn't. A few things happened and I will try to explain them succinctly.

One problem is I found I really, really liked writing. Even loved it sometimes, when it went well. My heroes started to become all these weird writer guys, sometimes around age 14, or so, when most of us start to formulate stronger ideas about who we are and what we do.

Another thing is that my parents separated when I was 11 and divorced when I was 17, with six hard, acrimonious years in between. During these key years I started to question what it's all about, as I saw my dad a good deal less than I had when my parents were together. But even when they were together he would frequently leave for long business trips. I started to call the whole enterprise into question. What is this "success" if it drives you away from your family for long stretches of time, and impacts relationships with those you love? What good is money without family? When do you go past sacrificing for your family to make a better life for them to sacrificing your family life for ... for what exactly?

As a teenager, though I didn't realize it, I started to become very dubious of the whole idea of becoming a big success in business. It seemed, from my view, that to spend your life pursuing the dollar, and power, would no doubt hurt those who need you the most, no matter how well you did.

I thought I would try something different. I would aim, perhaps, for the middle, at least financially. Writers, at least those on staff at real publications, do okay, but they're also doing what the love, and they don't have to sacrifice all their time, and their spirit, in order to do what they do. It would be a way to do what I care about, make the world better, do well enough to be comfortable and be with those I love.

In the past few years I've come to see a whole bunch of flaws in my original conception, of course. Being in business, for example, doesn't have to mean anything about how the person in question conducts their affairs. Whatever issues we had growing up, these were issues from my family, not because my dad was in business. It's just as easy to be unhappy and poor, as unhappy and well-enough off. There are just as many self-centered writers, to be sure, as anything else.

I've started to reconsider what I consider success. First of all, as I get older, and this is the truth, money is getting more and more important. Not for me so much. I will never be greedy, and, if it were just me, I could live simply, and close to the ground. But for Stella, the Brooklyn Baby Baby. How will I pay for the things we need? How will she go to school? Will we ever own our own home? Will she look down on me for not doing all that great? Will she think I've failed in the most basic way a dad can fail: to provide the essentials of life? Have I sacrificed her happiness for my own -- which I vowed, way back when, I would never do?

Needless to say, growing up I didn't worry about money at all. Want to know why? Because we had it.

And my plan, launched way back when, has not been fool-proof. I am a writer, and editor, at a major news source, but I'm not living as comfortably at 37 as I thought I would be. I imagined, without admitting it that somehow, magically, I would just kind of wake up one day as an adult, comfortable, doing what I like and supporting my family well enough. I am about half way there, it feels, on many days.

I could work longer hours, yes, but that would keep me away from Stella and Randi, and drive me exactly into the type of situation I hoped avoid: not seeing my family all that much, focused pretty much only on getting ahead, and isolated. If I don't do that, though, it is also a sacrifice. I work hard, and do my job well, but I'm not somewhere over the rainbow. I'm in a two bedroom duplex in Brooklyn that costs $1700 a month, and we're overjoyed we didn't have to pay a broker's fee.

So that's where I'm at tonight my friends. I hope I figure it out someday. What about you? How do you define success? Are you there yet?

Friday, September 25, 2009

What's Happening?

Hi All,
Randi's out, kicking ass at the show Expressing Motherhood. I, David Serchuk, the Brooklyn Baby Daddy am home with two irritating cats, and a daughter that is sleeping like an angel. I almost wrong angle, but that would have made so little sense.

Yes, for those few, hardy long-time readers of this blog (hi Randi!), you read it right. Stella is sleeping peacefully, in her bedroom in our new apartment, still in Brooklyn. If you remember anything about the first year or so of her life, and of this blog, pretty much all I did was bitch about how little sleep we got. And we did! It was a hellish freaking nightmare, made much, much worse by the fact that none of our friends could relate to it. And every other parent we knew seemed to have one of those kids who just, "I don't what I did to deserve this luck!" passed out like Falstaff.

But over the past month or so, the BBB has gotten into this weird habit of, um, sleeping at night. It sounds strange right, I don't know what made her change her mind, because, god fucking knows, we didn't.

So all the way around parenting has been a lot more fun over the past month, September's been really nice in the city, crisp cool air, it's cool to wear my tweed blazer again, and the leaves have yet to turn. I always hate fall, it reminds of me of school, the end of fun and homework. But as it goes on I always in turn realize how much I love it too, the leaves, as I mentioned, not being crazy ass hot all the time, the Jewish New Year -- which I love -- Yom Kippur. A time for reflection, and renewal in a way. Not a time of death after all, or at least the gateway to death, but a time to think about things, and try to make things better.

Stella is 17 months old now, and walking and even running. She's getting friends at the playground, calls me "Dada" on a regular basis, eats like a horse, sits in my lap when I point to it, and is in general a total joy.

Randi has been much happier since going back to work part time. We've had to put Stella in daycare for two days a week, which I initially vowed I would never do, but it had to happen, because I wasn't all that into the idea of being Mr. Mom. In this economy that would quickly turn into Mr. Unemployed Mom.

But Stella-bella likes daycare, the women who work there tell me. She cries every time I drop her off, but I think it's because she misses me, not because she hates being there. Sometimes when Randi picks her up she's even in a good mood.

I wish I had all these funny, insightful things to say about being a dad, but tonight I just don't. I worked all day today, and took care of the kid by myself after Randi split, and it's been cool. The new place is very nice, albeit we're still moving into it. We might sue our old landlords for being such goddamned sonsabitches. And I hope our old upstairs neighbor, the noisy, rude, Russian one, get a case of never ending, bleeding anal fissures, capped with degenerative gum disease and that an AIDS-soaked rat masturbates into his nose. For starters.

But other than that, things are going great!