It’s interesting isn’t it? Lucy couldn’t stand diaper changes when she was a newborn, then she learned to love them, and now having gained a sense of mobility - diaper changes and dressing have become terribly difficult again! Ah the roller-coaster of parenthood.
And then last night, you laughed with (at?) us. Laughed! I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard you laugh. So, we were changing you before your bedtime, and you thought that was just the funniest thing. It was absolutely adorable.
Before her nap, I was holding little Essie up at the top of the stairs, and she saw the Christmas tree down below. It’s so fun to see her focus in on something, and to feel her turn all of her attention toward it. Concentrating hard, she began to suck on her hand. She has been an absolute angel this past week—what more could you want for Christmas than a healthy, adorable baby?
This evening, I’ve listened to ten minutes and eight seconds of the new Ben Howard album I Forgot Where We Were and it is spectacular.
We did something today I hope will become a tradition — the Saturday before Christmas (today), we went over to my parent’s house and had some Christmasy time: decorated the tree, had a little lunch together, saw Katy’s new townhome! (it won’t be new every year, but it was part of of the time), just spent some time where no one had to leave or be anywhere. Wonderful. That’s the part I miss about holidays from my youth: uninterrupted stretches of time with family, being over at someone’s house for six, eight hours at a time. I remember during one of these long holidays, probably 1991, I was playing with my new Lego (Technic 8856 “Whirlwind Rescue”), and my grandpa Bup and I were looking at the mechanisms that made the winch work and the rotors tilt. There’s not time for that when you have Christmases on both sides to drive to. So, I hope we can do this Christmas-Time for years to come.
Here’s Essie wearing her mom’s boots at Christmas-Time today:
Mykala just told me a story about changing Ess, which inspires me to record this: I was changing Essie’s diaper a few days ago and she was a little squirmy, so I thought I’d sing her “Silent Night”. I began: “Silent Night,” so far so good “Hol-” *fart*. She only let me get through two words before she vetoed the song. Tried again later in the changing, same result.
I really hate my dental school loans. This is not a feeling that changes when I dig into the twelve different payback models or daily interest tracking spreadsheets I have assembled to assuage my guilt that education loans financially hobbled my family when I thought they’d do the opposite. And really, the hobbling is an emotional feeling as well — not even three years out of school is a poor time to assess the unvarnished facts of an investment in higher education.
It’s what I’ve taken to thinking of as the “earnings floor” that bothers me.
I’ve always lived simply, pursuing few material goods, buying even fewer of them, purchasing for myself two luxuries on a monthly basis: the hosting for this website, and a gym membership. I don’t treat myself with goods or services. My sense of justice, which I guess is some tangle of neurons in my brain nestled near other lizard-like instincts, says that I should be rewarded for my low position on the consumption ladder. And yet, because of these loans, my expenses far exceed my peers. My earnings floor, the minimum I have to earn to make this all work, is very very high, and there is no changing that. So, Mykala and I live the isolation you get from being a minimal consumer (no I don’t want to go shopping, or go to that football game, or drive that far, or see if that movie is any good by paying $20), while also living the stress of unreasonably high expenses. I walk around with a chip on my shoulder, feeling like this:
What I forget to do is punch myself in the face with the Fist of Gratitude. I should be thrilled we can afford the loans! I should be thrilled every single time I post on this website and every single time I get to go exercise at the gym, those are luxuries, right? (Yeah, you just said they were, Alex!) Now, having thought it through as I type, I realize that I hate not the loans but how emotions cloud my judgement about the facts of the loans and about the fine, enviable position Mykala, Essie, and myself are in. I’m a king who imagines himself a beggar!
Franklin: A man down on earth needs our help.
Clarence: Splendid! Is he sick?
Franklin: No, worse. He’s discouraged.
Since it is the Christmas season, you may recognize that exchange from It’s a Wonderful Life, which we watched two nights ago during its annual primetime airing on NBC. The film meant more to me this year than when I’d seen it last. When Jimmy Stewart runs back to the bridge near the end of the movie and yells “I want to live again” he just doesn’t mean it in the sense of he doesn’t want to be a non-extant being who is learning a lesson (that fantastical plot tool is just a faster way to move the story to resolution) no, he means that he wants to feel alive again. You can breathe in and out and test just fine at the doctor’s office, but that is totally uncoupled to whether you feel alive.
I love this photo of Essie. The car seat cover Mykala found and bought for her (which Ess loves, as much as a 4 month old can love anything, and by love I mean she doesn’t mind being put into her car seat at all when this is on it) makes a very nice frame for her face.
The first time I really felt like a dad was when Esmé was riding face out in her Baby Björn and had the cutest tiniest sneeze you’ve ever heard. There was just something about her making the same sound an adult makes, but a very very tiny version. I couldn’t see her face but only her miniature noggin jouncing forward and then back. She didn’t think anything of it, but her dad sure did.
Wasn’t feeling all that Christmas-y yesterday, but Mykala pointed out that it was not going to be that warm for a long time and maybe we should get the tree so Ess can see the trees outside in their natural habit. Wouldn’t want to raise someone who thinks Christmas trees come from asphalt lots in strip malls.
So, off we went. My worries didn’t leave my mind(1) away as we drove to Krueger’s Christmas Trees in Lake Elmo, but the adult worries preoccupying my mind started to look different, as though they would always be there and perhaps it was best to try to set them aside rather than dwell on them always. If I’d been entirely successful, this is where I would share how I did it. But I wasn’t.
It was a warm day, and Ess was bundled in her pink and white striped fleece suit. She looked like this:
She got into the Baby Björn with Mykala and Ess just thought the trees were amazing. Her little nose turned pink, and she reached for the trees when we stepped near to them. “Green, see Essie. The trees are green!” She seemed to think that was a good name for the color.
So I thought about student loans and our finances less while we were out there with the trees. I guess my brain seems to think that it is somehow irresponsible to take a break from worrying, like focusing on the worry gives it the importance it deserves or something unproductive like that. But for a while, I was far more concerned about Essie’s temperature (good) and if we’d found the right tree (we had, a soft, long-needled white pine).
So later that night, with me carrying Essie facing out in the Björn, I was amazed by how much love I felt when I saw her gazing (literally gazing, slack-jawed) up at the string of Christmas lights being de-tangled above her head. Then, I was in the moment… whoah, wait a minute, I’m crazy bonkers lucky. My wife, our child, me, in our little living room surrounded by Christmas decorations, with the same music(2) we played when were decorating when I was growing up playing on the stereo, with the hot chocolate my wife made for me. You don’t get that many of these evenings, self. So I cried, a little bit for me and my difficulty celebrating, and mostly for joy for you Essie; seeing the world through your child’s eyes is actually seeing the world through their eyes sometimes.
(1) The typical tumbledry post would be this transformation as we drove, where every turn of the wheels of the car underneath the bright sun of the perfect day melted away the ice of my worries, etc., etc. I’ll save the flowery language for when something like that actually happens. In the meantime, in the pursuit of a life lens with less rosy distortion, I’ll try to recount things as they happened, not as I wished they happened.
(2) Christmas with Johnny Mathis should always be the first album.