First Day of School

Monday morning we got up bright and early. After breakfast I dressed my daughter in her new uniform. Then we got on the bike and rode on down to her new school.

Last year Persephone went to Pre-K3 at a Catholic school in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank. It was a good experience, I think, but not exactly the best fit: I’m not Catholic, and we live in Orleans Parish on the East Bank. We sent her there because that’s where Mama works. They were able to commute together, and that was a good experience for both of them, I think.

I like having her a little closer to home, enrolled in a school where I might see friends and neighbors, but there are many other factors at work with regard to our school choice. It’s complicated. I’d like to articulate those factors, so I’m working on a longer essay, which I’m finding surprisingly difficult.

Anyhow, Monday was her first day at her new school, her first day at a public school, and it felt like a pretty big deal to me. But it did not seem to be such a big deal to Persephone. She took it all in stride. She was neither excited nor anxious. She didn’t even say goodbye or notice when I left the room.

Which was great. Some kids had a much tougher time with the transition. The son of one friend of ours had never been away from home before, and he was still howling Wednesday morning when his mother left. I felt for both of them.

So far, so good.

OK, wanna see something freaky? Compare what I just wrote above to what I wrote last year.

The girl took it all in stride. She was neither anxious nor particularly excited. I thought it might be rough adjusting to a new and earlier morning routine, but it was all very smooth.

So far, so good.

The similarity is almost spooky. And here I was attributing the girl’s equanimity to her past experience. But perhaps it’s a character trait. Maybe she gets it from me.

Forty-Seven Months

Dear Persephone,

Happy Dreams

You are forty-seven months old today. A few weeks ago I mentioned to you that I was writing these letters, and you were intrigued. What are they about, you wanted to know. I told you that, in part, I try to record some of the things that you’re doing so that you’ll be able to know about them years after you’ve forgotten. You started listing some of the things that you do, so I wrote them down. The rest of this letter was composed by you, with very little prompting on my part. I merely transcribed your words.

  • Swimming.
  • Watching TV called the Wiggles. Watching cartoons
  • Helping Mama make pancakes.
  • Helping Dada bake bread.
  • Cutting scissors at school.
  • Drinking.
  • Do work at school with pretty colored markers, and they don’t have any brown, and they don’t have any gray, and gray is your favorite color right?
  • Praying at school.
  • Helping Mama and Dada going to the grocery
  • Take colored baths with those little fuzzy tablets.
  • Pretend I’m sailing in the bathtub.
  • Going to ballet class.
  • Go to a ride at the mall.
  • Riding in the car with Mama and Dada.
  • Smacking the washcloth. I’m giving it a spanking. The washcloth is being bad, Daddy. He doesn’t know it’s bath time.
  • Washing my hair without soap.
  • Praying to Jesus and to baby Jesus. We even got a colorful statue of him at school.
  • Make projects — letter people projects on paper that have already been lined.
  • Praying to Mother Earth.
  • And one day I saw Dada get his hair cut. I just peeked my head in. No one saw me but you Dada.
  • Coloring Brigid.
  • Watching TV called Dora.
  • Taking a snowflake bath one in my sparkling purple seltzer water. The snowflake made that.
  • Sleeping with Quiet Bunny.
  • I don’t want to put anything about Lala and Lily.
  • Always I say why, why, why. I don’t know why. Ha ha. See, I’m saying why now.
  • My favorite letter is P. I don’t know why I’m saying why.
  • I’m making up my own recitals, Dada. Some people even make fun of my recitals. I’m pretending you make fun of my recitals.

Postscript: For more daughter-authored content, see the Tea Party video.

Forty-Five Months


Dear Persephone,

You are forty-five months old today.

It seems like you’ve packed a lot of living into the last month. Especially around the holiday: We had fun making simple skull garlands out of paper and decorating the house. You had a blast on your first real round of trick-or-treating. (Afterward you wanted to wait up on the porch to see some “real goblins,” scratching their heads, unable to find you in costume.) You also enjoyed our Ancestor’s Dinner and now have some idea who at least one of your great-grandparents is. And on Día de los Muertos the whole family visited the neighborhood shrine to Santa Muerte and left some candy.

You’ve been very disciplined about rationing out your candy. We generally limit you to one item per day, after dinner. You’ll often select your desert in the morning and look forward to it all day. But you derive great pleasure simply from sorting through all that candy, again and again. I think you enjoyed that as much as actually eating it.


However, you have gotten even more picky in your general eating habits. I know it’s perfectly natural, even healthy in some ways, but it still bugs me. You wouldn’t even take a single bite of my kumquat chutney.

And then there was the morning when you threw up in bed. No wonder your appetite wasn’t so good the night before. You were quite distressed. I don’t think you’d vomited once since that time when you were nine months old. Three years is a pretty good run. We got you cleaned up, and you seemed to be feeling better. Only, oops, not quite. Let me tell you for future reference: Nothing beats stepping out on your front porch on a Sunday morning with a toddler in your arms who then vomits all over herself and you. Yuck. You had a fever for a couple days, and then, just as you were feeling better, I got sick myself. There’s a stomach virus going around your school and the city.

The biggest development of the past month, by far, is that we dismantled your crib. (Many thanks to the indefatigable R. Stephanie Bruno for the extended loaner.) You slept in your own “big girl bed” for the very first time after three and a half years. We didn’t exactly plan it, but this ended up being on the same night as the time change. We set our clocks back an hour, meaning the natural proclivity we all have to stay up and sleep in a little later gets authorized for a brief humane interval. This worked out very well.

It didn’t take you long to discover that you can now get out of bed all on your own. It’s been a pleasure to wake in the morning to the patter of your little feet running from your room to ours. Once or twice you’ve even managed to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and get back in bed, without any assistance.

That’s all well and good. What I’m dreading is when you start wandering out at night, when you should be drifting off to dreamland. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. A couple nights ago, as I was trying to fall asleep, I kept imagining that I heard your footsteps. Three times I thought I heard you, but it was just my imagination or a dream. Then I heard your steps again, and I swear I saw your shadow at our door. You weren’t actually there, but I was convinced you were.

So obviously I have some anxiety around your increasing mobility. Just imagine how I’ll feel when you get a driver’s license.

Xy had a conference for a couple days and that meant you had no ride to school. The easiest thing seemed for me to take the days off work, and so we had a couple days together. I thought we could see a movie. Turns out IMAX Under the Sea in 3D was the only G-rated flick in the greater metro area. Amazing but true. We took the streetcar downtown and checked it out. At first you didn’t want to wear the funny glasses, but once you got comfortable with them you had a blast, and so did I. A pulsating jellyfish is a perfect application of this technology. I think the eel garden was my favorite part. And the streetcar ride was every bit as much fun as the movie.

On the next day you joined us for the Mystic Toast of Eleven Times Eleven. I made you a “kiddie” version of the No. 11 Cup cocktail. Afterward we stopped by Goodwill so you could donate a toy pony, a duplicate handed down by a friend. It was your own idea.

You certainly keep busy with activities at school. It seems every day you are coming home with worksheets and art projects. Last week you showed me a brown cone you’d made, exclaiming, “A cornucopia is a horn of plunty!” I was mighty impressed to discover you are now able to draw a decent circle, and I got a further demonstration of your abilities at Where Y’Art last Friday.


Both of these pieces are inspired by the site-specific mural “Forever,” by Odili Donald Odita, now on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The top piece was created as an example by one of the art teachers at the Friday night activity table; the bottom piece was created by you, with a little help from me.

I drew some initial guide lines in faint pencil while you positioned and held a ruler. Then we colored it with markers and pencils. It was in making this together that I discovered you can now trace lines with a modicum of accuracy, something you could not even approximate a short while ago. Your fine motor skills and manual dexterity are improving by leaps and bounds at Pre-K3.

Finally, a word on meditation. I’ve been encouraging you to meditate with me some mornings when you’re not rushing off to school. It made me very happy a couple weeks ago, when you said, “Let’s meditate, Dada. I love to meditate!” A few days ago your take was quite different. “I don’t like meditating because we have to sit quietly.” At your age I can hardly fault you for a lack of constancy. To show the variety of contemplative techniques, we’re chanting now instead, a very simple chant based on the four ancient elements. Yesterday’s element was air, today was fire, tomorrow will be water. We just repeat the name of the element while visualizing it. Keeping it simple.

What’s Been Going On

Perfect Toy

A Good Juicy Paradox

Since the birth of my daughter Persephone, life has been very interesting to say the least. That comes as no surprise, and yet it’s a huge surprise at the same time. Contradict myself much? I do love a good juicy paradox.

It’s no surprise because, after all, it’s blindingly obvious that having a child will change one’s life. On top of that, and despite it, I was warned repeatedly that this would happen, as apparently every parent-to-be is, as part of the hazing ritual. Welcome to the club. Thanks a lot.

Yet even though I knew I should expect some fairly massive changes, I couldn’t know what changes to expect. Nor could anyone else tell me what to expect. All I could expect was the unexpected. And, yes indeed, that’s what I got. For me, it was so subtle and so gradual and so (gosh darn it) unexpected that it crept up on me without notice. As recently as a year ago, I still claimed to feel more continuity than change.

I was in denial, stubbornly refusing to put two and two together. I could tell some fairly wonderful things were happening in my life, but I didn’t recognize them for what they were. I didn’t want to admit it. Change can be frightening after all. Even good changes can be scary if they run deep enough.

Even now, it is difficult to describe.

It’s been a process of unfolding, of opening, of becoming receptive, of waking to subtle realities. I have found myself more interested and excited about meaning, purpose, values. My interest in religion and spirituality has burgeoned, because that is the domain where meaning and purpose and values are most directly engaged. This has had direct impact on my personal and professional life, on my relationships with others and my experience of day-to-day life.

My life has changed forever.

And yes, I am surprised.


Maybe I should also take pains to explain what I am not experiencing.

Pictographic Bike, Backpedalling

I am not seeing visions or hearing voices. I am not walking around in a state of perpetual bliss. I am not ready to declare myself as an adherent to any particular path. Not yet, anyway.

Also, I don’t want to instrumentalize the procreation aspect. Having a child does not automatically propel everyone on the same journey; not every parent will experience what I have. Conversely, it is not necessary to have a child to have such an experience. I suspect that what I’m trying so ineptly to describe is universal and available to us all.

Clearly I had certain predispositions and proclivities, and my life was at such a point, that the birth of my daughter acted as a trigger or catalyst. After all, we decided to name her after an ancient Greek goddess, a symbol and archetype of transformation, before she was even born. That’s indicative of being primed and ready for something, I think.

Furthermore, other events might have triggered the same reaction. In fact, they kinda sorta have, in the past. Twenty-two years ago I had what I can only describe as an ecstatic experience. Such experiences can’t really be described, so I’m not going to bother trying, nor am I going to dwell on how it happened or what it meant to me at the time or even what it means to me now. Suffice it to say, it rocked my world. That was a soul-shattering experience, an almost complete disjuncture of the personality. What’s happening now is much gentler and slower. Yet it seems to me they are the same experience at the core.

And what is that core? It’s hard to say. I hope to return to this question later.

The Sleepening

After much dithering, I labeled the experience of these last few years as an awakening of sorts, though the trigger wasn’t entirely clear to me. I was still in denial. I still didn’t want to admit that all the people who had trotted out that tired annoying cliché were so very right. It’s not easy being a know-it-all.

Know It All Curve

The person who really nailed it for me was my boss. At the end of the last school year, she made a comment that I’d been on something of a spiritual quest since the birth of my daughter. Suddenly I reframed everything I’d been feeling. It made sense. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can impart a sense of wonder. Nurturing a life more important than your own can foster humility, which is a prerequisite to reverence.

(To expand briefly on that last, I learned about the “gateway of humility” and the “path of reverence” from Arthur Zajonc in Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry. Obviously procreation is not the only way to humility. I’m reminded of my friend’s divorce, which forced him to “accept the smallness” of his existence.)

My boss went on to theorize that my quest might be something of a survival mechanism. Since the world can be a scary and threatening place, perhaps a shift in perspective is necessary to countenance bringing a child into it.

That made some sense to me as well. And yet something of the magic went out in that moment. I don’t blame my boss for that. I’d been coasting on a free ride for a good while. It had to end eventually. Suddenly I had an explanation, and it seemed vaguely disappointing. Is that all there is to this?

The natural momentum of my “awakening” had diminished. I was tempted to call this “the sleepening.” Some of the liveliness I’d been fortunate to enjoy was draining away. Life was becoming a bit more mundane. Maybe it’s only right and necessary and natural.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s possible to keep living in this same mode, to keep the magic alive. And this is the realization that is currently buoying me along: If I want to keep this going, if I want to keep this development developing, I will have to do so intentionally.

I still haven’t gotten around to specifying those intentions. I guess that will have to wait until after the equinox.

Image credits: Pictographic Bike, Backpedalling by CarbonNYC and Know It All Curve by Geoff S., licensed under Creative Commons


Discipline sleeps on La Rambla

This morning Persephone smacked me on the chest as I was carrying her into her bedroom to get dressed. I don’t remember why. She is so tiny I don’t think she could hurt me even if she hit me with all her strength. So in some ways it was no big deal, but I decided to make it into a big deal. Not at first, actually. First, I asked her for an apology. I asked her repeatedly. But she refused. I told her she’d have a time out if she didn’t apologize. Still she wouldn’t say it. So then we proceeded to have the longest damn time out we’ve ever had. It was not easy for either of us. I told her that she’d have to sit there until she apologized, and for her part she fussed and cried but mostly just sat there in silence. It seemed to me that our conflict had become an absurd contest of wills, a mere power struggle divorced from any notions of right and wrong. I kept explaining and re-explaining that if you hit someone you should apologize. And despite my misgivings I’m pretty sure Persephone understood exactly what this was all about. At one point, when I’d reiterated for the thousandth time that she could end this absurd standoff by saying sorry, she whined, “But that’s not truuuue.” She knew what I wanted but she did not want to give in. She stuck to her guns. I admire that. And of course I was feeling the pressure to get ready for school and work, and she was not, but I stuck to my guns too. I was seriously considering the expediency of spanking, but I stuck to my guns. And finally I won. Er, um, wait, no, this wasn’t about winning and losing. I mean finally my daughter saw the error of her ways and embraced right behavior. “I’m sorry.” Was that so hard? Apparently so. It sure took a while to get there. I’m not sure how long it was. Twenty, twenty-five minutes, I guess.Afterward I was wondering if this was a sick and pointless exercise in dominance and submission. But a subsequent incident makes me think it may have been worthwhile. She took an old doll down to the breakfast table. She noticed it had a hole in its chest. I almost dropped the granola when I heard her say “I’m sorry” to the doll. “I’m sorry I made the hole in your chest.” So maybe she did learn something after all.

Discipline sleeps on La Rambla / Chris Beckett / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

No Number

Glowing Blue Numbers

I took Persephone to the doctor yesterday for her three-year checkup. I was going to ask the doctor about getting a lead test, even though it was my understanding that standard protocol doesn’t call for it.

A brief recapitulation of her numbers might be in order. These are all expressed in µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter of blood).

The supposed level of concern is ten, but that’s a fairly arbitrary threshold, and there’s plenty of reason to suppose it should be lowered. Since she scored below that level at her second birthday, I didn’t think the doctor would recommend another test. I was going to ask for one anyway, but I was not looking forward to it. I agonized so much over those numbers in the past. I didn’t look forward to waiting for results to come back from the lab again. Also there’s the whole insurance issue; our pediatrician is on our health plan but the lab she used was not, which led me to write an angry letter to Humana last September.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when the doctor suggested the test herself and revealed they were now able to do it in-house. No lab, no waiting. Persephone didn’t enjoy having her finger pricked, of course, but she took it like a champ and I was very proud of her.

But the best thing of all, the best news I’ve had in a good long while, was the result. Her lead levels are “below anything detectable.” No little number to fixate upon and agonize over. No number to keep me awake and haunt my dreams. I was so happy I just about cried. Even now, a day later, I can’t hardly think about it without choking up, which is making this a surprising difficult entry to write.

Pardon me while I collect myself.
Continue reading No Number

Three Years


Dear Persephone,

You are three years old today.

I just realized that your birthday is exactly five weeks after mine. That means when my birthday falls on Martin Luther King Day, yours falls on Presidents’ Day. I guess that will occur about every seven years or so.

One year ago, I was impressed by your emergent abstract thinking. That development has continued apace. The most recent manifestation has shown up just before you drift off to dreamland. While you’re in your crib, under your blankets, I tell you a story and then sing you some songs. I usually try to work the songs in to be a part of the story, a natural conclusion, but sometimes it functions more as a separate sequence entirely. You’re aware of the structure, and over the last month you’ve started to ask, when the singing starts: “Is the song a part of the story?” Doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, but I was thrilled because it represents a new level of conceptual sophistication.

You’ve also continued to assert yourself with greater vigor, demonstrating why this age is known as the “first adolescence.” I thought you could be obstinate and defiant at two and a half, but wow. I had no idea. You can and will disagree about anything, as the mood strikes you. The best example I can think of lately came just this past week. You woke up and, as per usual, asked me what day it was. I told you it was Tuesday. You replied with an emphatic, “No! It’s Friday!” That led to an interesting discussion on things we can change and things we can’t.

But you’re also very helpful, at least sometimes. You often help me empty the dishwasher. You help me cook, and I find involving you in that process improves your reception of the dish at the table. When we celebrated Candlemas you helped by shining a light on the candles.

After showing little interest in them for months, you recently got interested in your Madeline books again. Therefore I took particular notice when I saw John Bemelmans Marciano was slated to make an appearance at Octavia Books yesterday. He is the grandson of the original author, who has done a number of follow-up books. You were very excited. You got dressed up in a fancy dress worthy of Madeline herself, and you set off with your copy of Madeline and the Cats of Rome for John to sign.

But just as you pulled up around the corner from the bookstore, you barfed all over yourself. And that was the end of that. We were afraid you’d come down with the stomach virus that’s going around — and maybe you did, but it’s hard to say. You didn’t barf again, and this morning you woke up feeling better than you have in a week. Still I felt pretty bad that your big literary adventure ended in such a disaster.

You talk funny. You have particularly hard time with the hard “c” sound. Your crib is your “trib,” for example. It’s pretty cute. And speaking of cute, here are some cute things you’ve said over the past month:

  • Brandishing a marker and a map of the USA: “Can I color the statements?”
  • “Hey you got a fleur de lis on your hat. That means you’re the Saints game.”
  • Speaking of sports, a couple weeks ago you kept saying, “Black and gold to the superbowl!” I tried explaining that the black & gold didn’t make it this year, but you weren’t havin’ it.
  • “We’re in the country of New Orleans.”
  • You seem convinced that anything “spooky” is also “beautiful.”
  • One night you said you wanted to read a book with “pictures and conversations.” That’s a quote from Alice in Wonderland but I don’t know where you picked it up.

And finally I should say some words about your birthday party. We deliberately tried to keep it low key. We invited as few people as we felt we could get away with (sorry if we snubbed anyone) and we asked everyone to refrain from bringing presents. Nevertheless we had over a dozen people here for cake and ice cream and a ton of presents. Xy made a moon cake for you — round and white, not too hard. I bought you a moon globe and — surprise! — so did Michael Homan. The same exact damn moon globe. Pretty funny, right? And of course the reason for the moon theme is your inordinate love for “Sister Moon” which I hope will never die.

Continue reading Three Years


Item #1: According to Editorial Anonymous (a blog of a children’s book editor):

Trend Watch: Persephone Is the New Zombies/Vampires
Well, I certainly wouldn’t have predicted this one. We’re seeing a lot of YA Persephone retellings. Maybe this is in part due to the greek myth renaissance effected by Mr. Riordan? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the appeal of the underworld? I just hope it’s not some nasty subconscious preference for kidnapping/rape stories. Whatever it is, between the undead, the walking dead, and the actually dead, there’s a hell of a lot of dead going around. Makes me a little wistful for the wizards and pirates.

(hat tip to Amøs Türnür)

Item #2: The theme for the first-ever New Orleans’ Witches Ball?

Persephone’s Descent

Persephone's Descent
(hat tip to Bartlett Meeks)

Thirty-Five Months


Dear Persephone,

Oops. You made thirty-five months yesterday, but I didn’t realize it until I was lying down in bed last night. So this letter is one day late.

As I’m trying to type this, you are sitting on the couch behind me. You’ve got a book you want me to read to you. I’ve explained that I’m writing you a letter, and you wanted to see it, but when I explained it was just words you decided to wait. You’re waiting for me to finish the letter now so I can read you the book.

I’ll admit I’m not thrilled at the prospect. I love to read to you, as a rule, but the book in question is the Disney Princess Music Player Storybook. You love this thing — I hesitate to dignify it with the term “book” — and I hate it. But then, of course, you love everything at this age. We keep getting books and products like this, foisted upon us by well-meaning friends and relatives. I don’t think we would have ever given you a single Disney Princess product if left to our own devices. I don’t want to attempt to catalog my criticisms of the whole phenomenon right now. Suffice it to say that it’s just not our thing. What I don’t like about this particular item? I’m generally opposed to toys that make noise and require batteries, and you certainly have plenty of those; I don’t like the idea of a book that plays music, and I don’t like the music this book plays; and the stories themselves are insufferably cloying. Yes, I realize this makes me sound like a cranky old grouch. I think I will get rid of this one when you’re not looking. You have so much stuff and you’re young enough that I don’t think you’ll ever notice it’s gone. It’s something of a futile gesture against the marketing juggernaut that is Disney.

(As it turns out we never had our story-time session this morning. Your mother came in and asked me to make breakfast, and you helped me beat the eggs (from the community garden) and so forth, and meanwhile the book mysteriously vanished, and now you’re out on a play-date as I finish this letter.)

So, what has happened since last I wrote to you? I guess the biggest news is that we made a trip to Indiana and back. You had your first chance to play in real snow and experience what I still consider to be a “real” winter. We did a thirteen hour drive both ways with hardly any breaks; I was anxious about how you’d fare but actually you didn’t fuss much at all. And you certainly enjoyed visiting your cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. While we were there, we also celebrated your 25,000th hour of life, which fell on your mother’s birthday. But I was hard-pressed to explain that concept in terms you could grasp.

Earlier this week, just as we were sitting down to dinner, I was trying to explain the concept of MLK Day, and you exclaimed, unprompted, “People was equal!” I was doubly amazed: first, that you had any grasp of the concept; and second, that you’d actually learned something at daycare. We didn’t do anything to commemorate MLK Day; it fell on my birthday this year so we celebrated that instead. I hope next year we can do something more meaningful.

I took you to the park on my birthday. The museum and the sculpture garden and the botanical garden were all closed for MLK, but we had so much fun running around the Peristyle, the playground and the Popp bandstand. Your latest thing is taking pictures with your “camera,” which you conjure into existence by looking through a viewfinder formed by your two hands and, when the moment is right, making a click noise. I guess you learned that from me.

Thirty-Three Months


Dear Persephone,

You sure are getting big. I know this because you tell me about it. Constantly. “I’m big. I’m big. I’m so big. I’m too big.” There was a statue of at the New Orleans Museum of Art, a headless Winged Figure, which used to scare you, but now you’re not frightened anymore, because you’re “big.” Yet also, at the drop of a hat, you’ll reverse direction and assert that you’re a baby, and that you need to be spoon-fed or some such foolishness. But more and more, the emphasis remains on how big you are.

Along with getting so big, you’ve also gotten kind of bossy. Last weekend, when we were planning a family outing, you decided that I should not come with you and Mama. You instructed me to “stay home and took.” (That’s your way of saying “stay home and cook.”) Funny thing is, that’s exactly what ended up happening. Now you seem to think you’re running the show here.

Another good example would be your morning routine, which I am ostensibly in charge of. Lately, you insist on wearing dresses. No matter how much I (or your mother) plead, cajole or threaten, pants are out of the question. It’s dresses or a meltdown that would put The China Syndrome to shame.

Of course, we do not give in, except most of the time.

Also this month: We celebrated your 1000th day of life, I taught your how to dip your ciabatta in Parmesan and olive oil, and we visited the local cemeteries repeatedly. You like to look for “fall-down flowers” and put them back in their vases.

You have become a great believer in tape. That’s the way to fix anything that’s broken. Scotch tape. You don’t know about duct tape yet.

A funny thing you said: “I can’t walk because I don’t have any feet.” Also, at bathtime: “The water is playing hide and seek under the bubbles.”

One evening at dinner you actually tried to eat the butterflies on your pants. You said the purple ones taste best.

You haven’t been sleeping so well lately. As the weather’s gotten colder, blankets suddenly matter. You seem to kick them off as often as five times a night. I’m often called into your room to get things straight. We call this “blanket maintenance.” It’s a pain. We tried giving you a bigger quilt in hope it would stay in place, but you insisted on sleeping on top of it for some reason.

Speaking of bedtime, the most heart-rending thing you’ve said to me lately has been when we’re winding up our nightly ritual of book, story and song. In your wee small voice you say: “Protect me, Dada. Stay and stay and stay and stay and don’t leave.”

It’s hard to leave the room after hearing that. But I harden my heart and do it anyway.

Update: As of this afternoon, you are now very consistently claiming to be “almost big.” You’re still little, apparently, but not for long.

1000 Days of Persephone

As a number of people pointed out to me, the trouble with celebrating the first thousand days of life is that the number 1,000 is generally beyond the grasp of most two-year-olds. A couple friends had funny ideas about how to communicate the idea. “Let her play in a pile of 1,000 $1 bills so she can feel like Scrooge McDuck!” Or: “Ball up a thousand pieces of paper and fill a room. Or go to the hardware store and buy a thousand metal washers.”

Sadly I did not have the resources to pull these off. I tried taking some photos to document a “day in the life” but that didn’t pan out so well because of schedule conflicts. Who knew you could have schedule conflicts with a toddler? In the end we went out for pizza which seemed suitably festive.

Also I put together this mix.

See if you can guess the theme.


Persephone is a thousand today. It’s her thousandth day of life. It seems like the sort of thing that should be celebrated, and I’ve had it marked on my calendar for a while. But time got away from me, and now it’s here, and I haven’t a clue what to do.

How do you celebrate a thousand days of life?

Thirty-Two Months

Tea Party

Dear Persephone,

On the first of this month, as we were riding the bicycle on our way home from a meeting, I heard you exclaim, “Look at that black man!”

I was a bit startled. What? Since when does my little girl identify people on the basis of race? Then I saw that you were pointing to a statue. I assume it’s made of bronze or something, but it’s tarnished and the metal does indeed look black. But the funny thing, to me, is that this was a statue of none other personage than Jefferson Davis.

Do I have to explain why this was funny? I don’t know when you’ll read this, assuming you ever do. I’d like to imagine a future where this moment really does need to be fully explained. Such a future seems a long way off, but indulge my fantasy for a moment.

You see, at the time of this writing, we divide people into groups in many different ways, and one of the biggest ways is racially. There’s no genetic or biological basis for this, but our culture constructs things this way, and these racial groupings are a pretty big fact of life today. Two of the biggest racial groups are “black” and “white,” which is kind of silly since these terms are based on skin colors more accurately described as “brown” and “pink.” That kind of conveys the heart of the problem, how these labels deny our essential common humanity and exaggerate differences. There are many wonderful things to celebrate in the rich cultural diversity of humanity, but this has also been the basis for much pain. It may seem hard to believe, but a lot of blood has been shed over these groupings. Our nation was built in part on the principle of one racial group exploiting and enslaving others. It almost ripped the nation apart. We live in the part of the nation which fought, among other things, to maintain this system of racial slavery. That was over a hundred years ago, but we are still living with the legacy of those issues. Even after the war, we maintained a social system that kept black and white apart and maintained the supremacy or one group over the other. In fact I work at a University that was founded to give black people an education because they weren’t allowed to go to white schools. The laws have been changed since then, but inequalities remain and racial separation remains and the pain remains. It’s still a big issue for us and a cause of much consternation. We hope that some day some future generation will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Yet I wonder if that day will ever come. My parents taught me not to be racially prejudiced, and I will try to teach you the same, yet the structures of inequality persist. Studies indicate that very young children — babies — will discriminate racially, preferring a white doll to a black one. You seem to prefer you black doll, but it talks and your white baby doesn’t, and besides that’s not the point. The point is, it will be tricky for you growing up in this racially diverse and divided city, nation, and world. Certainly it will be more complicated for you than it was for me, as I grew up in a city that was almost completely white. I care about such things. So I had a little twinge of anxiety when I heard you say, “Look at that black man!” So I felt a bit of relief when I saw it was a statue. And the fact that the statue was of Jefferson Davis, well, that was just the icing on the cake. Jefferson Davis was president of the faction that fought for slavery. He died here in New Orleans, which is why there’s a statue of him here. He remains a symbol of white supremacy, and the notion that anyone would call him a black man is humorous. It’s humor born of pain, but then so is most humor.

Except for puns.

Dang, I knew that would take some explaining.

Also in the last month, you started a sentence with “I think” for the first time ever. It seemed like another minor milestone, and indication that you are now capable of a certain amount of self-reflexivity. To further your intellectual development I taught you the basic structure of the “knock knock” joke. You also helped me play a prank on my co-worker Olivia.

I have taken to saying a chant together with you each morning. We go out onto the front porch to take the air and see what the weather’s like and we say this:

Good morning dear earth, good morning dear sun
Good morning dear flowers and stones every one
Good morning dear beasts and birds in the trees
Good morning to you and good morning to me

Apparently they say a version of this at the Waldorf School of New Orleans. I gather the original poem was written by Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian esoteric/mystical philosopher, so it was probably written in German. A number of different translations seem to be floating around.

I like it because of the nature focus. Perhaps it’s sinking in, because one morning I heard you say, “I like the planet Earth. I live on Earth.”

Your Life Will Change Forever

Here’s something I wrote on March 18, 2008, but never published for some strange reason. Two and a half years later, these words still ring true for me — especially the last line.

I didn’t really notice it until J pointed it out. Then I couldn’t stop noticing it.

As we got ready to have a child, and shortly after her actual birth, some folks felt compelled to tell us: “Your life is gonna change forever,” or some variation on that theme.

That seems blindingly obvious. Having a child is a major event. I fully expected my life to change. But the constant repetition of this mantra — “your life is going to change forever” — became kind of annoying, and kind of anxiety-provoking. Why were people telling me this over and over again? Was there something I was missing, something I should be anticipating that I was clueless about?

Some people were actually challenging: “You do realize your lives are gonna change forever, right?”

So I started asking the obvious question: “Yeah, sure, my life is gonna change — but how?”

I was disappointed by the banality of some answers: “You can’t just go out and get a beer with your buddies.” Other people tried a little harder: “Your time is no longer your own.” One of the best answers came from a guy named Armando who runs a cigar shop in the Quarter: “It’s impossible to describe!” Probably the best nugget of wisdom came from my friend Mike Leonard, who identified the change as consisting of the fact that our child’s life would be more important to us than our own. Simple but profound. Ironically, Mike doesn’t have kids, but obviously he has some insight into the human condition.

It had been my plan before Persephone was born to post up here asking for predictions on how our lives would change. But she beat me to the punch. Now that she’s here it seems like a silly question.

Father and Child

But maybe not. Truth be know, after all the hoopla about our lives “changing forever” I’m mostly struck by the sense of continuity.

The biggest changes are still ahead.

Two and a Half


Dear Persephone,

A friend recently asked me if we would be having a party for your half-birthday. That conjured images of yet more presents. Trust me when I say you’ve got more than enough stuff at this point in your life. Our friends and family have been very generous to you.

So I thought we’d do something different. I asked you to choose two of your toys to give away. The concept was a little difficult to explain, so I drew a picture of two girls, one with lots of toys, the other with none, and then I showed the first girl giving a toy to the second. I think you got it.

You picked out a stuffed bear and lamb, two toys which you definitely still enjoy, and we went to the Goodwill. You put them in the donation bin all by yourself.

I was very proud of you. Ultimately I think this exercise was not about charitable giving (though that’s a fine thing to learn) but rather about not being too attached to material things. At least I hope so.

We’ve been wondering when you’ll enter the “why” phase. I don’t know if it’s a documented phenomenon, but it seems like all kids go through a phase where they are asking “why” about anything and everything endlessly. Frankly I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m a somewhat curious person by nature, and I love to contemplate the whys and wherefores of all manner of subjects.

But actually I think you may have already entered this phase. Only instead of saying “why” you ask “What does x mean, Dada?” And x could stand for just about anything.

  • What does water mean?
  • What does eating mean?
  • What does sitting down mean?
  • What does Hello Kitty mean?
  • What does garbage mean?

And so on.

You are also given to saying all manner of funny, touching and weird things. Some examples from about six weeks ago include:

  • I’m a clown girl.
  • Cats are nice to me.
  • Lightning makes me die.

About a month ago you decided your favorite color is purple. A couple weeks later you expanded this to purple and black. For about a day you had three favorites, purple and black and brown, but you seem to have settled on just purple and black for now. Often you want things to be purple — your food, for instance — and the fact that they’re not could be problematic except you’ve invented an ingenious solution. You simply wave your magic wand, which is visible only to you, and you make things purple. Or black. I don’t know where you got this idea, but you often walk around turning everything in the house purple. I think you’d turn the whole world purple if you could.

Much of the time your little hands are curled up into tightly balled fists. If I ask you want you have in your hands, you might say it’s your wand, or an alligator, or almost anything, but most often lately it’s a cat and a dog — one in each hand, I guess. Sometimes you’ll be in danger of dropping your cup and spilling your drink because you’re holding it with balled-up fists. I can ask you to put your cat and dog down, or to give them to me, and you will, after which you can use your hands for a time. But it won’t be long before they’re balled up in fists again.