This evening at the dinner table, things were not going well. Finn has three separate boxes of valentine’s candy, heart-shaped and shiny red. There has been much talk of chocolate since the 14th of February. We treat all candy as a special reward and not a fifth food group, so this becomes an issue at times.
Jen and I also tend to restrict chocolate after about 6:30 or so, knowing it turns our daughter into the Large Hadron Collider of sugar-filled energy. This does not stop Finn from trying; She is slicker than a mob lawyer in her attempts to weasel it out of us at all times of the day. Tonight was no exception. We gave her the standard party line about cleaning her plate to earn a treat, but she wasn’t interested in finishing her meal (something happening with greater frequency these days; Where is the child who inhaled fruits, vegetables, meat, paper, crayons, and cat food with no regard for chewing or silverware?) and sat idly in her chair watching us finish our food.
Mama got up to rinse her plate, and I stayed with Finn as she futzed around in her chair. We have a long-standing house rule about asking permission to leave the table, and after some back-and-forth histrionics I realized she’d got stuck in a feedback loop between not having cleaned her plate for a chocolate and not asking to get up from the table because she hadn’t finished a dinner she didn’t want to eat. Picking her up, I explained that it was OK to leave food on her plate, although Mama and I would prefer to see her eat her dinner, and that having good manners were important. She looked me in the eye and told me I’d made her sad, which twisted my heart into a pretzel. I told her we’d sit on the couch and I’d hold her until she felt better.
This led into a conversation about the difference between being sad and confused, and I explained (as best I could) the two in terms she could understand. I assured her we’d always be there to talk to when she was feeling either way, and to my wonder, we had a ten-minute talk without her attention wandering. I felt like I was connecting with her in a way I’d not been able to before. Looking into her eyes, I could see her there, working through the things I was telling her, not just contemplating how fun it would be to pinch my chin or poke my nose.
Mama joined us on the couch and helped us finish that conversation before segueing into a comparison of eye color, and then it was off to bed. Laying under the covers, surrounded by stuffed monsters, I looked down at my beautiful daughter and thought, sometimes the special reward doesn’t come wrapped in a shiny red box.
I just spent about 45 minutes reading books to Finn on the couch in the new room, her head nestled in front of my shoulder, warm hands wrapped around my arm. We looked at the Butter Battle Book, discussed its ambiguous ending, then Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, and finally a newer book called Lucia and the Light. Now she’s in bed next door, singing songs to herself as Mama and I lie under warm blankets, waiting for her to drift off to sleep.
Last night, I stood in a cold garage over a warm burner with my neighbor, and we brewed up two batches of Chinook IPA. This capped a weekend of much socializing, from sushi dinner on Friday (and a late, late night for all of us) to a barbecue dinner on Saturday with another family (resulting in another late evening). As a result, much homebrew was consumed and I woke with a headache on two of the three following mornings. I know, I know.
Concerned about the overnight temperature of our basement, I wrapped the fermenting carboy in a seed-starting blanket, which is designed to heat a few degrees over the ambient air temperature. The stick-on thermometer read 70° this morning, and I could tell the yeast was working (mostly on the side of the blanket) but I’m considering moving the carboy up to one of our bedrooms, which tend to stay warmer.
This afternoon, the girls and I were at a neighbors’ birthday party, and Finn had a great time once she warmed up to the clown (another neighbor, who was definitely not evil or creepy).
At one point late in the party, Finn asked Mama to come and play dolls with her in the family room. They sat and navigated the hallways of Barbie’s Dreamhouse together, Finn evolving stories and things for the two of them to do. A group of other girls, somewhere between seven and nine, were playing nearby with other toys, pausing to interact with Finn every so often, but mostly leaving them alone. Jen got up for something and Finn came over to take me by the hand, asking if I would play dolls with her too. Gamely, I sat down, was handed my doll, and showed her how to use the elevator mechanism in the Dream House. It was then that I could overhear the conversation of the other girls, which involved a story about a creepy wierdo who was calling and texting me, and then just showed up but he was ugly and stupid, and had pimples all over and smelled gross, so we called him stupid and fat, but he just kept stalking us like a fat smelly weirdo. What a dumb jerk!
I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but the conversation didn’t get any better than that and it kept going on and on. Jen told me later when she’d been sitting there, the conversation included stories about women being beaten and lots of talk of death. I’m sure her parents are very proud.
We’re not the kind of parents to shelter Finn from normal human stuff like death; she knows all about her grandmother and Geneva the cat, and while she might not grasp the full concept of death, she knows they aren’t ever coming back. This girl’s monologue wasn’t about trying to work the concept out; it was the combined plot points of several episodes of Law and Order: SVU delivered in a boorishly loud voice for shock value and effect. From a nine-year-old.
I looked again at my daughter, really looked at her, as she walked her doll through the Dream House, talking to herself quietly, and a wave of love and fear washed over me like a tsunami. I thought immediately of watching her, at one, as an older girl took her toy and walked away with it. I can still picture her face as she leaned over on one hand, waiting patiently for it to come back, guileless and innocent. I wanted to wrap her up then, and make sure she was safe from all the other kids who would call her names, treat her badly, lie, cheat and steal from her, and break her heart. I felt that same way today. I’m not ready for her to face up to that ugly shit yet, because I want her to have the chance to tell happy stories about happy people, play with dolls and friends and make mud pies away from judgement, opinion, and malice.
And I wondered if, instead of walling Finn off from the world, it would be possible to wall off the toxic little brat over my right shoulder so she didn’t infect the rest of our kids. Then, I looked up and caught Jen’s eye as she walked back in the room, and we hustled Finn out of there.
Turns out I actually won something in that competition I entered last year…
Over at Grantland, Chuck Klosterman writes about the new Van Halen album as an unabashed fan. In summary, I agree with almost everything he says; having listened to the whole thing on Spotify, I’m impressed by the technical accomplishment but ultimately left wanting. I did take issue with the following statement, though (italics mine):
Rolling Stone critic and Grantland contributor Jon Dolan once told me that the core problem with Eddie Van Halen was that his solos were “way too Astroturf,” and I begrudgingly understand what he means — at times, there is an inflexible, synthetic aftertaste to all the finger-tapping and pinballing. Either by accident or on purpose, Eddie galvanized the universal belief in metal circles that playing fast was the only way to prove you were playing well (a collective assumption that lasted from the summer of ’79 until the advent of Slash). Sometimes his competence is repetitive. But his leads are almost always propulsive, and you can’t really criticize his tone; the only thing you can say is that sometimes that tone is better and sometimes that tone is worse.
I disagree with that assessment. Eddie’s strength, what elevated his band above and beyond all the glam-rock wannabes haunting MTV in the eighties, was the mixture of his virtuosity, song composition, and a desire to push things further. Listen to any mid 80’s hair metal guitar solo, and you’re hearing an arpeggio lesson in the back room of the Guitar Center. Listen to the guitar solo in Jump and try to keep time along with it. There’s an arpeggio in there, but it’s bookended by odd, off-time runs and phrases—not the centerpiece of the solo. He leaves that for the synth solo (which I always thought was his way of saying, “I blew your minds six years ago; let’s see if any of you punks have the balls to follow this.”)
Eddie, at his peak, wrote symphonies for a four-piece band while all the kids who worshipped him wrote songs to showcase their finger-tapping speed. The tracks on this new album are better for having Dave present, but there’s a little too much Dave and not enough symphony. Keep working, guys—I’m pulling for you.