Thanks to COVID-19, today was my first day working from home. (That’s my new makeshift workspace above, squished into the space between the closet and extra bed in our guest room. I’ve since added a second work laptop.) My library is closed to the public indefinitely, along with most everything else, but as my work mostly happens online I can continue relatively unaffected.
A few days ago I joked that my life isn’t going to change much because all I do is go to work and come home. Thanks to Mr. Almost 13 Months, we don’t travel or have much of a social life. The biggest change will be adjusting my schedule with an active toddler around. But I’m excited for more time with him and my wife and for a much shorter commute.
I feel extremely fortunate to (1) still have a job (2) that I can do from home and (3) will continued to be paid for. I know that’s not the case for many, many people.
My now one-year-old and I have slowly been going through the episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood available on Amazon Prime. He’s generally not interested in extended screen time at this point, but Mister Rogers is one of the few figures he recognizes and enjoys. (Along with Alex Trebek. #proudpapa)
There’s not much I can say about Fred Rogers that hasn’t already been said. The man was a genius. And the show, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, remains both ahead of its time and outside of it. Its deliberately unhurried pace, humanist ethos, and intellectual respect for its young audience make it almost anti-TV, something I couldn’t have realized as a kid.
Now being on the other side of parenthood, I find watching it a delightful and enriching experience for me and for my son. Rogers’ short bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout the episodes in word and song are deceptively simple, poetic, and actionable. He had such a unique way of communicating that it has its own name: Freddish.
At first I skipped the parts in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe because they’re kinda cheesy. I much prefer Fred hanging around his house doing crafts, singing, and breakdancing. But I’ve come to appreciate how those make-believe times blend the show’s “real” people and plots with the imaginary King Friday XIII and crew.
That kind of magical realism was at the forefront of Marielle Heller’s film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is based on the making of Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire article about Rogers called “Can You Say…Hero?” The movie plays out as one long episode of the show, the main difference being that Lloyd, the Junod stand-in played by Matthew Rhys, finds himself becoming involved in the show. Picture Picture turns into a flashback from Lloyd’s life, and Tom Hanks’ Rogers displays a photo board of characters from the show (which happened on a real episode I watched not long before seeing the movie), one of which ends up being Lloyd.
This blurring of fact and fiction works on two different levels. First, it honors the show’s commitment to showcase real-world experiences alongside its pretend adventures—a dynamic that mirrors the way young children actually experience the world.
Second, it abides by Rogers’ expressed intention to act on the show as if he were speaking to one specific child rather than an audience of millions. He really, truly believed that one person—Lloyd in the movie’s case—was special and deserved his full attention and love. (Aren’t they the same thing?)
That’s the genius of Fred Rogers: he was real, but he seemed magical. He wasn’t a saint, as his wife Joanne explains in the movie. He had to work at being good and getting better just like anyone else. But that’s the kind of neighbor we all should want and aspire to be.
My son walked for the first time today, the day before his first birthday. I was in front of him, bouncing on our exercise ball along to some music (Kira Willey’s “Everybody’s Got A Heartbeat” to be exact). He wanted in on the bouncing action. He was already standing—he’s been standing strongly in place for weeks and walking assisted for longer—so he took three small steps like it was nothing and collapsed into my lap.
I’m glad I was home to see it. I’m glad he did it right in front of me, right to me. And I’m glad my wife had her phone out to record it.
After that moment, I thought it fitting to play “Walking With Spring” by The Okee Dokee Brothers (probably my favorite song of theirs), mostly because of the chorus:
Inch by inch by
Foot by foot by
Step by step by mile
We’re takin’ it inch by inch by
Foot by foot
‘Til we find ourselves
In the wild
Welcome to the wild, little man.
A shot from his first birthday party. I guess we were accidentally celebrating something else too.
A new year begins when there’s a memorable change in my life. Not January 1st. Nothing changes on January 1st. … Your year really begins when you move to a new home, start school, quit a job, have a big breakup, have a baby, quit a bad habit, start a new project, or whatever else. Those are the real memorable turning points — where one day is very different than the day before. Those are the meaningful markers of time. Those are your real new years.
I read this just after New Year’s but thought of it recently after noting a significant milestone: Ten years ago this weekend a musical called Tell Me Truly debuted on a stage at my college. It was written and scored by me and my longtime friend, and staged by our friends and fellow students. It was one of the best times and accomplishments of my life.
Ten years is too long and arbitrary a timespan to have any intrinsic meaning to a human brain. My memories of that experience don’t reemerge every year on the anniversary of opening night. They remain with my other “meaningful markers of time” in a bank of memories, accumulating interest as I age and deposit more experiences.
“Memories make us rich,” as the sportswriter Vic Ketchman is fond of saying. In that case, I’m pretty well-off.
It’s one of the many random lines that has stuck in my head from a lifetime of movie watching. I think about it a lot now in relation to parenthood.
Bun (as my wife calls him) is almost one year old and my main takeaway from that time is that there is no normal. How he eats, how he sleeps (or doesn’t), how he develops. How we teach him, what we teach him, how much screen time we give him.
There ain’t no rules. And Leo wasn’t slinging empty threats. He repeatedly rams Danny’s car and gashes his side doors with spiked hubcaps.
All Danny (and we) can do is hit the gas and hold on.
This year in review is a little shorter than the last few, primarily because it consists of whatever I could do outside of work, having and raising a baby, and buying and managing a house—all of which took most of my time and energy. But here, roughly in chronological order, are some highlights from my trip around the sun:
Thanks to the magic of email, I know that in March 2009 my mom asked if I wanted anything from REI. She had a coupon that was about to expire but didn’t need anything for herself.
REI is one of those stores I love in principle but don’t actually buy from, mostly due to the prices. So I jumped at that opportunity to get something I normally wouldn’t. I considered what I could use and landed on the CamelBak Blowfish Hydration backpack, pictured here over 10 years later in its usual hangout spot by the door:
It’s slim yet expandable, with just enough compartments, and padding in the back to make it breathable. In the picture it’s stuffed with library books, CDs, and my notebooks, with assorted pens, my sunglasses, and earbuds in the front pouch. It’s not super convenient for transporting my laptop, which I have to wedge in between the tapered zipper design, but it’s gotten the job done for a long time.
And in that time, it has accompanied me on every flight, hike, and trip I’ve taken, to every college and grad school class I attended, and darn near every workday I’ve logged. Somewhere along the way I stopped using the water pouch because it made everything in the main compartment a little damp and took up too much space.
It’s not available at REI anymore, so once the end of its useful life arrives I’ll have to find something else like it. I’ve tried satchels and messenger bags, but nothing beats the two-strapping reliability of a quality backpack.
My favorite new game with 7 Months is to build a small tower with his rubber blocks—to almost as tall as he is when sitting—and watch him knock it down.
He never does it the same way twice. He’ll grab the top one and bring it to his mouth, the whole tower leaning towards him before it crumbles again. The next time he’ll kick it from the bottom. Then he’ll gently caress the middle section before pushing it, or pulling it.
There’s not much point in enjoying the building part when he knocks it down so quickly. I keep rebuilding the tower so fast because I want to watch him consider it anew every time, because the world is too new for him not to.
Usually I’m a bifold wallet guy. I don’t like how trifolds make two bends in paper money. But once I realized I could just fold whatever bills I have in half and stick them in the middle section of the bill area, my wallet options opened up.
Which brings me to Bogota, Colombia, circa November 2010. I was roaming a street market with some friends from the church I was working at during my post-college Colombian adventure. We came upon a spread of handcrafted goods on a tattered blanket along the sidewalk, presided over by a dirty, dreaded hippie around my age. One of his wallets for sale caught my eye:
It was a trifold with black leather on the outside, yellow on the inside, red string trim, and two metal corner fasteners. I liked that it was slender, homemade, cheap, unique, and would double as a useful souvenir of my time in Colombia.
His price was reasonable, so I agreed to it. He asked if I understood Spanish, which, like now, I did enough without being fluent. He then gave a sort of New Age benediction, exhorting me to be a worthy steward of this wallet and honor the spirit of the universe and so on.
In the nine years since, it has unraveled in parts and gotten slack from use, but I love it. I love how the leather has formed to the shape of the cards inside, and how it takes up just enough space when in my pocket.
One of these days the trim will unravel completely or the leather will break down and I’ll be forced to upgrade. My wife, who’s not a fan of this gloriously decrepit wallet, would rather that day come soon. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from the This Is My series, it’s that I don’t carelessly discard things that do their job well.
And she ought to be careful what she wishes for, because I have another wallet waiting in the wings for when the Colombian dies. And it’s the subject of a future This Is My post.
Two things my wife and I are really glad to have are a camcorder and a digital SLR camera.
We got both of them several years ago, the camera as a wedding gift and the camcorder from my mother-in-law. Mostly we wanted them to be able to document family get-togethers, trips, and our nieces growing up. But they became especially nice to have after our son arrived.
We could easily record his cute laughs and squeaks and developmental milestones on our smartphones, and often do. But keeping some high-definition clips in the simple SD card of the camcorder somehow feels a tad sturdier. It’s a self-contained archive that is built for one purpose, that isn’t connected to The Cloud or needing constant updates or competing for storage space with apps of questionable value. It does one job really well.
We look back at what we’ve recorded just as often as most people do with their smartphone recordings—which is to say, not very often. But that’s OK. The benefit of home videos is in their slow and steady accumulation.
Our own parents took hours and hours of home video of us as kids, first on tape and now converted to DVD. Some of it is the expected banner moments you’d expect parents to record: soccer games, concerts, holidays, graduations. The rest is the small, everyday stuff between those highlights that comprise most of one’s life: playing at home, playing at grandma’s house, running through the sprinkler in the summer. (At least this is what we did in the pre-internet era.)
All of it matters. And when you play it back, everything blends together into one stream, a confluence of the capstones and the quotidian. Such is life.