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Matt Lickona: my darling droolbucket

How to win a little being's love

Four months. Four months since I left the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, a little surprised that they were letting me just leave with this newborn, half expecting some sort of institutional monitor to be sent home with us. ("I've got a child here! I've never done this before! Isn't anybody concerned about this?") The death of privacy and the growth of tension between culture and family (What if the village it takes to raise your child tells him your dad's a dope?) notwithstanding, by son was in large part still mine to raise. Here I was, stepping into the bright blue day, toting Finian in his car seat/throne, and feeling relatively autonomous. I found this btoh comforting and frightening.

Four months, and I still find myself believing that motherhood has descended on Deirdre with all the ease of an inherited crown, while must scheme and strive for Finian's affections. Solutions to the mystery of his sadness seemed infused in her; I must experiment. Contrasts between being and doing square off in my head — she simply holds him to her breast, and lo, by nature, comforting milk appears. I, on the other hand, must cavort, sing, and jostle to win Fin's grin. My work is bearing fruit, though. I think he likes me. I like him. I love him.

To unpack that last sentence, I could say that I would not give him a stone if he asked for bread or a serpent if he asked for fish. But when Christ spoke of dads who "know ho to give good things," He was taking that knowledge as a given. I give good things to my son because he is my son, but I regard that as an insufficient account. It is too general, too basic. So, I will explain it by indulging in detailed description, the sort of detail that the lover notices in the beloved. The sort of detail the lover delights in and longs to share with the world, whether the world is interested or not. I will pull out my literary wallet, stuffed full of wordy snapshots. The only difference between me and the proud papa next to you on the plane, dear Reader, is that you may turn the page and be rid of me (and Fin). But then, you would miss hearing about him, my wunderkind.

At his four-month checkup, Fin weighed 13 pounds, 9 ounces, normal for his age. His length (26 and 3/4") and head size, however, were "in the 95th percentile," according to the nurse-practitioner, a combination that has kept him long and lean. (Already the comparisons begin. Fin is in the 85th percentile. Is he rolling over yet? Sitting up? Crawling? Standing? Walking? Reading? Graduated? Employed? Married? Kids? Grandkids? How about yours?) A short tuft of blond hair has appeared on the top of his perfect head; it looks like a marine haircut. He has a small chin and big blue eyes — in the right light, they shine like hematite. Those eyes are situated below white eyebrows that furrow often as he contemplates his lot in life. His skin is baby skin, encouraging the gliding tips of fingers and the gentle gnawing of lip-covered teeth. Deirdre scolds him for looking so much like me — she wants to see her stamp on him.

The stamp is there in his good nature. if a stranger engages him, he will give his best open-mouth grin, duck his head, and look from the corner of his eye. Sometimes he laughs, just because of attention being paid. This is flirting; this is Deirdre. The stamp is there in his tolerance for pain — he was silent at his four month shots. I might not have cried, but I certainly would have complained.

The stamp is not there in his morning habits. Long before my wife's customary hour of rising, Fin is awake, lying between us, working himself sideways, and kicking at Deirdre's kidneys and backside, his head nestled in my side of the small of my back. I think he kicks to feel connected, reassured of his mom's solid presence. While he kicks, he talks, pushing his voice to new heights of volume and lengths of proclamation. His pitch is high, varying, and full of inexplicable pauses. The break from "aaaah" to "uhhhh"signifies a downshift in mood. He stares at the ceiling, arches his back, fiddles with the nearest toy, and waits for one of us to wake. These days, it's me, and he greets me with a good-morning grin. He is excited by my company. It's a great way to wake up.

He smiles when we sing to him, especially "Lollipop" by the Chordettes, but with "Finian" replacing "lollipop." (Such delight in his name The Song of Myself begins early.) Smiles also come from stimulating play. Holding him under the arms and rocking him side to side while chanting, "Tick-tock," giving him vigorous bounces in his bouncy seat until he gasps with pleasure, standing him up and rocking him back and forth, all produce the coveted smile, the sign that you are giving him good things.

There is peril in saying this, but sometimes when we stand Fin up and support him by building his arms, he bears a strong resemblance to a little drunken man. His head wobbles, he drops his chin to his chest, and he looks out the tops of his eyes. He lets forth a stream of slurring, continuous speech. His mouth hangs open, and he drools a bit, a line hanging from chin to chest. He laughs for no apparent reason other than the fact that he is standing. He struggles to stay upright, feet planted, hips rocking and swaying, clutching my supporting hands. His concentration on simple tasks — putting my finger in his mouth — is intense, but then, as if he has forgotten what he is doing, he stops, and his stare becomes blank. The innocent infant and the infantile drunk — the similarity is comical.

Fin is a stander, a complainer, a morning smiler, a toesucker, a paperwrinkler, a fingerchewer, a droolbucket, and a host of other things that will probably change by the time you read this. The snapshots pile up; the wallet continues to swell.

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Four months. Four months since I left the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, a little surprised that they were letting me just leave with this newborn, half expecting some sort of institutional monitor to be sent home with us. ("I've got a child here! I've never done this before! Isn't anybody concerned about this?") The death of privacy and the growth of tension between culture and family (What if the village it takes to raise your child tells him your dad's a dope?) notwithstanding, by son was in large part still mine to raise. Here I was, stepping into the bright blue day, toting Finian in his car seat/throne, and feeling relatively autonomous. I found this btoh comforting and frightening.

Four months, and I still find myself believing that motherhood has descended on Deirdre with all the ease of an inherited crown, while must scheme and strive for Finian's affections. Solutions to the mystery of his sadness seemed infused in her; I must experiment. Contrasts between being and doing square off in my head — she simply holds him to her breast, and lo, by nature, comforting milk appears. I, on the other hand, must cavort, sing, and jostle to win Fin's grin. My work is bearing fruit, though. I think he likes me. I like him. I love him.

To unpack that last sentence, I could say that I would not give him a stone if he asked for bread or a serpent if he asked for fish. But when Christ spoke of dads who "know ho to give good things," He was taking that knowledge as a given. I give good things to my son because he is my son, but I regard that as an insufficient account. It is too general, too basic. So, I will explain it by indulging in detailed description, the sort of detail that the lover notices in the beloved. The sort of detail the lover delights in and longs to share with the world, whether the world is interested or not. I will pull out my literary wallet, stuffed full of wordy snapshots. The only difference between me and the proud papa next to you on the plane, dear Reader, is that you may turn the page and be rid of me (and Fin). But then, you would miss hearing about him, my wunderkind.

At his four-month checkup, Fin weighed 13 pounds, 9 ounces, normal for his age. His length (26 and 3/4") and head size, however, were "in the 95th percentile," according to the nurse-practitioner, a combination that has kept him long and lean. (Already the comparisons begin. Fin is in the 85th percentile. Is he rolling over yet? Sitting up? Crawling? Standing? Walking? Reading? Graduated? Employed? Married? Kids? Grandkids? How about yours?) A short tuft of blond hair has appeared on the top of his perfect head; it looks like a marine haircut. He has a small chin and big blue eyes — in the right light, they shine like hematite. Those eyes are situated below white eyebrows that furrow often as he contemplates his lot in life. His skin is baby skin, encouraging the gliding tips of fingers and the gentle gnawing of lip-covered teeth. Deirdre scolds him for looking so much like me — she wants to see her stamp on him.

The stamp is there in his good nature. if a stranger engages him, he will give his best open-mouth grin, duck his head, and look from the corner of his eye. Sometimes he laughs, just because of attention being paid. This is flirting; this is Deirdre. The stamp is there in his tolerance for pain — he was silent at his four month shots. I might not have cried, but I certainly would have complained.

The stamp is not there in his morning habits. Long before my wife's customary hour of rising, Fin is awake, lying between us, working himself sideways, and kicking at Deirdre's kidneys and backside, his head nestled in my side of the small of my back. I think he kicks to feel connected, reassured of his mom's solid presence. While he kicks, he talks, pushing his voice to new heights of volume and lengths of proclamation. His pitch is high, varying, and full of inexplicable pauses. The break from "aaaah" to "uhhhh"signifies a downshift in mood. He stares at the ceiling, arches his back, fiddles with the nearest toy, and waits for one of us to wake. These days, it's me, and he greets me with a good-morning grin. He is excited by my company. It's a great way to wake up.

He smiles when we sing to him, especially "Lollipop" by the Chordettes, but with "Finian" replacing "lollipop." (Such delight in his name The Song of Myself begins early.) Smiles also come from stimulating play. Holding him under the arms and rocking him side to side while chanting, "Tick-tock," giving him vigorous bounces in his bouncy seat until he gasps with pleasure, standing him up and rocking him back and forth, all produce the coveted smile, the sign that you are giving him good things.

There is peril in saying this, but sometimes when we stand Fin up and support him by building his arms, he bears a strong resemblance to a little drunken man. His head wobbles, he drops his chin to his chest, and he looks out the tops of his eyes. He lets forth a stream of slurring, continuous speech. His mouth hangs open, and he drools a bit, a line hanging from chin to chest. He laughs for no apparent reason other than the fact that he is standing. He struggles to stay upright, feet planted, hips rocking and swaying, clutching my supporting hands. His concentration on simple tasks — putting my finger in his mouth — is intense, but then, as if he has forgotten what he is doing, he stops, and his stare becomes blank. The innocent infant and the infantile drunk — the similarity is comical.

Fin is a stander, a complainer, a morning smiler, a toesucker, a paperwrinkler, a fingerchewer, a droolbucket, and a host of other things that will probably change by the time you read this. The snapshots pile up; the wallet continues to swell.

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