Archive for October, 2007

The Big City V. Barnaby

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Today was his first ride on a subway, and first stroll down Madison Avenue. Now I don’t know if he just caught on to how much I love the city, or if he has the same absurd sense of liberation that I have, but he was wandering down the upper east side kicking his stroller and clapping his hands.

We met his mom who took lil’ Barno to her office, where he charmed the pants off people that Jordana sorta loathes, and then I met up with them and brought him home.

Let me tell you, I’ve done stupid things in my life, but I don’t think jaywalking across 42nd street to avoid the rain was one of them.

Anyway, we got to Queensboro Plaza and the N/W was super slow because of signal problems. That’s okay, I thought, I know it’s raining a little bit, but there’s a bus on 21st street that I’ve taken a couple of times and it let’s us off at Ditmars. See?

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So we negotiated the streets down and turned the corner.

Nobody who reads this is familiar with the intersection except for maybe Jordana, but suffice it to say, 21st street has a bunch of large puddles lining the sides of the road. As we rounded 21st and started walking toward the bus stop, a driver who was trying to beat the other traffic flew through the empty parking spots and completely drenched both me and Barnaby.

I mean my *HAT* was soaking wet. It was like a cliche. The water hit me and took my breath away, and then, I couldn’t inhale when the second wave hit and went over my head.

Barnaby was drenched from head to toe, his entire stroller had been hit with a wall of water. He had been asleep, and I pulled up to the bus stop and turned him around.

He was just staring up at me, blinking. He wasn’t happy, certainly, but he wasn’t particularly miserable. He was just totally and completely wet. I expected him to be screaming, but he didn’t know down from up, he was just stunned.

Now, it might be that he had loved the subway, which he was crazy about, or that he had gotten to spend a couple of hours with his mom in her big city law firm. Or maybe he had just needed the eleven minute nap, but he was pretty much cool with the whole thing. He looked shocked and confused, but not really pissed off.

And I wasn’t either. Whoever did this was an asshole, but he was just doing his little bit to try to get ahead, and I’m sure he will feel terrible about it later. Plus, I’m sure I’ve inadvertently caused some problems for people in the past with my driving. I know I’ve been in the car with my mom and my father in law when lives were narrowly saved by smart drivers in other cars. But Barnaby was okay with it, and if a ten month old can put up with the wet and cold, then I sure as hell am not gonna bitch.

When the bus stopped, the driver didn’t seem pleased to let on a couple soaked to the bone, and he told me I had to fold up the stroller. Here’s the thing, I never got a chance to. The entire bus saw a wet baby and his stupid wet dad, and they all became doctors and nurses. They made room, they switched seats, they took the baby and the stroller and talked to him and cooed… it’s crazy.

New York is like this, that’s what outsiders don’t know. It’s what even some New Yorkers will never know. On the buses and in the subways, on the streets, everyone is grumbling and shoving and trying to win these little battles, but as soon as something IMPORTANT happens, even if it’s only marginally important, everyone is on board. If you take a cab from your penthouse to your job, you don’t know what New York is. If you’re a car service from your job in midtown back to Park Slope or New Jersey, you’ve probably missed the real New York.

People shove and push on the stairs, but if an old woman loses her balance there are usually five guys trying to catch her. Everyone wants to cut to the front of the line at the deli, but if you’ve got a crying baby, they always let you go first. People set their shoulders when they walk on the sidewalk, but if someone faints, there are ten cellphones calling 911 before he or she hits the ground.

And Barnaby was in heaven. We got a seat by the back door and he sat on my soaking lap and smacked his flat hand on the window while everyone talked to him. He watched people get off and spun his head around to catch them once they were on the street. And the woman who helped us the most got off right before our stop, he held his raised fist to her as she left in the only greeting he’s learned, the black power salute. She laughed hard, either at the kid or my red face.

He was born in the shadow of Lincoln Center, and he’s played every day under the Triboro Bridge. There’s a part of me that’s almost jealous that he gets to call this place home, this place that’s adopted me. I’m a New Yorker by choice, but he gets to be one by birth. I feel like it is one of the most important gifts we’ve given him.

Ten Months

Monday, October 15th, 2007

It’s interesting, you can tell how old Barnaby is by what month it is. It won’t always be this way, in fact he’ll end up with the same problem my mom has where you have to figure out how old she is by counting from the year *after* she was born, but for now it’s convenient.

How much better is everything? It’s indescribable. I feel like I should have some capacity for describing the joy in having a ten month old, I certainly went out of my way to lavishly paint the nightmare of an 8-9 month old, but in the fashion of my family, I’m only really good at describing the horrible things. I don’t know what kind of damage we sustained as infants, it had to be at the knee of my overly dramatic mother, but misery and pain seem to be the things I have the most words for.

Let me try. I really should try, because my days right now feel like a real gift and if I don’t find a way to make that clear, it’s unfair to anyone reading this who’s thinking about kids, and it’s unfair to Barnaby if these words somehow still exist in 25 years when he might be thinking about it himself.

The first big step that meant so much was when we were able to set Barnaby down and he could sit without falling over and hurting himself. People talk about the milestones, the crawling and eating solids and smiling and all of that, and yeah – all of that is cool. But setting the baby down and not having a hand on him and knowing he’s safe for more than six seconds, that feels miraculous.

The next big step is like the first. It’s the independence he’s found in his daily rituals. He’s crawling now and damn near walking and babbling and eating like a champ and all of that, and we’re so happy for all of the developmental stuff he’s doing that’s on time, and excited about the stuff that’s a little advanced.

But now, he has a small number of toys that he’s become really attached to, and he will play with them for a short time without wondering or worrying about who else is there. He has taken to crawling away from a group of people and sitting with his back to them and chewing on a toy or playing with something while looking away entirely.

The liberation is astonishing. I can run into the kitchen and pour a cup of coffee, or I can go to the bathroom for three minutes, and he doesn’t really care that I’m not there. He know I’m gonna come back.

This isn’t as joyful as it is refreshing. The joy comes from how completely he interacts with us when he choses to. In the middle of playing, he’ll crawl over to me and climb up on my lap and run his fingers through my beard. Then, he’ll climb down and go back to what he was doing. To say he’s attached to us isn’t exactly right… I know the word doesn’t imply any kind of physical leeching, but there is a sort of sense of that. It’s more like he adores us, simply and completely.

And we adore him so totally. He’s had a tough week this week, really, which means simply that he’s spent more time being a little distant and he’s had a harder time staying down for naps. But considering he’s got a cold, he’s got a tooth or teeth coming in, and his naps have been totally screwed, it’s incredible that he hasn’t been losing his temper at all.

He’s one of those kids that makes everyone smile. I’ve become so accustomed to people lighting up when I walk by with him in his stroller that I get confused when someone doesn’t. I do live in New York, the city where nothing exists unless it has been thoroughly commented upon, so it shouldn’t seem strange that I get told ten times a day that he’s beautiful. Of course, they don’t seem him at his best.

This is what he looks like with egg yolk and spinach on his face. Although clearly not also under his arms…

He is a light in our lives right now. Not just because of who he is, that is a revelation and a joy, but because of what he shows us about ourselves and each other. He makes us love each other more, because we know where he gets it from, so to speak. When he falls and bashes his head and sorta shakes it off without crying, we know he gets that from me. (Despite my constant kvetching on this blog, I have a really high tolerance for pain, I just have no stomach for illness or emotional upheaval…) When he comes to one of us and crawls into my lap and pats me on the back, it makes me love Jordana even more. Because that’s her inside him.

He’s ten months old today and if I can paraphrase Dean Smith, the best thing about babies under ten months is that they become babies over ten months. He won’t ever be the baby he was, and if he’s any inkling now of the kind of boy and man he’s gonna become, we’re incredibly, incredibly lucky.

New Kid

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

I have had a wonderful outpouring since my last blog, and I feel like I ought to say something about where we are now. While it is true that Barnaby has turned a corner, I’m not sure that is the whole reason that things have gotten so much better. It might be a bit of a story, but I’m gonna just tell it in the hopes that I’ll be forgiven for the self-indulgence, both in terms of the last blog and this one.

When Jordi and I bought this house, I found myself in a tailspin full of nightly panic attacks. These attacks are describable, but I’m not sure if they translate. I would start having trouble breathing on the walk home from the train, and in the middle of the night, I would lay wide awake with my lungs in a vice and my eyes on fire.

It turns out, I had some of those “issue” things everyone’s always talking about. I went in to therapy and got on citalopram, which is a medication that helps you deal. The therapy was as helpful, if not more, but the medication jump started the whole thing so I could deal better with my life.

Why panic attack? I guess in retrospect, it makes sense. We’d borrowed a fuckload of money, and now we owned a home that required paying a mortgage, and I freaked out. It was the same time that a show we were producing was getting reviewed in the Times… I mean, it was a heady fucking time and I had no skills for how to maintain.

After about two years, I went off the medication. I did this because I was just having a hard time feeling empathy for anything, I had basically stopped reading fiction or watching TV because I didn’t give a shit about what was happening in anyone else’s life. Also, I had started rehearsals for Hail Satan, and the idea of going back into acting with this numbness was intolerable.

It started being a problem pretty fast. I actually ended up getting in a stupid fist-fight, and I didn’t realize that the several verbal fights I was getting in might be attached to the medication. I hadn’t told anyone that I went off, I just did it and didn’t think about it.

It’s the problem with these very mild emotional problems, when you medicate them away, they feel like they’re gone because of something organic and internal. So you think you can dump the medicine, and when you do the problems sneak back in as if the problems are external.

Because everyone can find stuff that explains their point of view. You can just say that your job or your wife or whatever is making you feel crazy. In my case, I had a show that I was working on, and I had a baby.

But this is just bullshit, at least it was for me. I remember Jordana was really upset this summer, she’d barely slept and I was being a total fucking prick, and I told her she shouldn’t be upset because the things that were making us miserable were the very things we had been hoping and dreaming for. And I was right, except that I would ignore that very fact the second I had a chance to.

My kid eats really well, and he sleeps marvelously. It sometimes takes him a while to go down, and he doesn’t stay down for that long, but I’m comparing him to some of my friends kids who sleep 16 hours out of every 24. Barnaby sleeps 11 hours at night and gets close to two hours of naps a day. He eats three big ass meals and nurses four times a day.

The rest of the time? He’s amazing. He laughs and goofs around. He’ll take a toy and crawl ten feet away and sit and play by himself for ten minutes. He will fall down on his face, look at us as if he’s gonna cry, and then he’ll just… not. Every time he cries, there’s a reason. He’s tired or he’s hungry or we’ve been asking him to do nothing for too long. So far, those are the ONLY three reasons he ever cries. Hungry, tired or bored. He does cry when he hurts himself, and he hurts himself a bunch because he’s pretty fearless, but he gets over it in about ten seconds.

He’s a miracle of a kid. I have no right to complain.

About a month ago, Jordana asked about my medication, and I told her I was off. She was stunned, and then really frustrated, obviously. Fairly soon after that, my mom asked if I was taking my medication, and then last week, my brother told me I need to go back on my meds.

I mean, look. I’m not crazy. I’m not in a fucking movie, it’s not like when I’m medicated I’m a drooling phebe and when I’m off I feel ALIVE and I run up during a concert and start conducting along with the orchestra. But when I’m on the medication, meltdowns like my last blog don’t really happen. When I’m off, I find myself staring into the face of some 25 year old Brooklyn hipster who I’ve just punched 30 times.

I went back on the medication last week, and although it takes a couple of weeks to metabolize, I actually feel a lot more in control and, even better, I’m much closer to Barnaby. The feeling I had, back when we bought the house – the feeling of my lungs shutting down – that’s basically gone. When he cries while falling asleep it’s still there, it’s still terrible, but I’m dealing with the rest of it pretty well.

So, anyway. I’m embarrassed about the last post because it felt very real when I wrote it. I’m embarrassed that I’m the kind of guy who needs medicine to be a tolerable member of society. And I’m embarrassed that Barnaby will read it one day and feel like he was ever a burden to me.

He’s a little miracle, he really is. The problem was never him, the problem was me.