A good friend and co-worker of mine (shout out to N.A.!) is cleaning out her house and has decided to rid herself of her rather prodigious record collection. She’s been bringing little stacks of them every couple of days to hand off to me to take home. She clearly has good taste – or, at least, she did when she was collecting records – and I’ve been thrilled to bring home some great albums. Perhaps most exciting is that she has most all of the Beatles’ original American releases, including Meet The Beatles, the first American Capitol Records release. It has the same cover as the second British Capitol release With The Beatles, with the iconic black-and-white photo of the mop-topped four in profile.
My friend kept her records in great shape; there are very few scratches or scuffs on them and they play beautifully. So I’ve tried to recapture a little ritual that I followed pretty faithfully back in the summer: daddy-daughter record time. Some of you may remember I blogged a little about this a while ago: that when my little girl was just a few months old, we would go up to my “record room” and I would put on a classic vinyl on the RCA turntable my dad had and that I grew up listening to. I’ve played some classics for her: Dark Side of the Moon, Born To Run, Songs In the Key of Life, the Grateful Dead’s Wake of the Flood, Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus, Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill and Aja. Recently, we worked our way through Neil Young’s first anthology, Decade, which my friend had given me. My little girl responds to music. She jiggles, she coos and laughs, and occasionally she’ll full-on dance.
I’ve played the Beatles for her before. Last summer, when she was three months old, I introduced her to Abbey Road. She didn’t seem terribly impressed, although she did poop in the middle of “Carry That Weight.” But I should have known that a young child should perhaps grow with the Beatles to fully appreciate their musical majesty and power. I wouldn’t give her Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix until she’s read the first four, so I also ought to respect the artistic development of the greatest pop-rock band ever.
So, I played Meet The Beatles for my little girl. And she loved it. I mean, like, enthralled loved it. The first song is “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and I’m telling you. That sweet, delicious little sound of the needle striking vinyl, gentle scratches popping through the speakers, and then – those first three notes! I had set her down in the floor while I put the record on, and she was searching around her for some colorful object to hold her attention, but then that sound! And she looked up at me with this look of delight in her eyes, as if asking me, “What is this wonderful noise?”
“It’s the Beatles,” I told her with a smile, holding up the record cover. She took it out of my hands, holding it on either side with both hands and studying it intently. Then she began to bounce to the beat, never taking her eyes off of the cover. She did this through the whole first side – “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “This Boy,” “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got To Do,” and “All My Loving.” She didn’t let go of the record cover for those entire fifteen minutes. At times she rocked back and forth; at other times she shook the cover up and down to the beat. During “This Boy” (a slower tune) she began pointing at each of them, speaking slowly as she looked them over. During “It Won’t Be Long” she rocked back and forth so happily that she lost balance and toppled over. I picked her and handed her the record sleeve back and she continued her groove undeterred. It was our own private moment of Beatlemania.
I used to be a snob when it came to the Beatles’ early records. If it came out before Rubber Soul, I wasn’t interested. Those early records were mindless pop, those green English boys aping the sounds of the more original, raw American R&B and rockabilly artists they so admired. I would still contend that their musical and artistic evolution moved ever upward, and that Revolver is song-to-song a better album than Help! Once they quit touring and began to stretch out in the studio, their song-craft leapt to heights never conceived of before. But several years ago (and the recent remastered releases definitely helped) I began to realize that their genius was evident even in those first 45s. Sure, they wore their influences on their sleeves, but a song like “I Saw Her Standing There” is the absolute gold standard for pop song perfection. And it’s just so damn catchy! How could anyone not like it, but particularly a child? It’s upbeat and fun, but it’s simple. Not simplistic or stupid simple, but pure simple. It just makes sense when you hear it, and it’s hard for someone my age to imagine that there was a world not too long ago in which this music did not exist, could not be heard. And I’m glad that my beautiful little girl doesn’t live in that world.
Next up will be The Beatles’ Second Album, Capitol’s second American release. It’s heavier on covers, but includes “She Loves You” and “You Can’t Do That.” But even their covers of others’ songs – “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Please Mister Postman,” “Roll Over Beethoven” – still convey that youthful, hopeful energy that is so evident in the Beatles’ early works. And it’s perfect for a young child with new ears, discovering the joys of music. We’ll work our way up to the brilliant psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper and the incisive hard rock of the White Album. But those later records are pretty, well, adult. These early records are child-like in the absolute best sense. And it brings me nothing but joy to share them with my daughter and watch her delight to them.
In the mornings, we have a routine: my lovely wife rises early to shower and then feed our beautiful little girl before eating her own breakfast. During the feeding, I rise to shower, and at some point during my shower / dress routine, my wife will come into the bathroom with our girl in her arms to say good morning to me before putting her in her playpen while we finish getting ready. This past Monday, I was finishing my shower when my wife came into the room and said, “Something’s wrong.”
Turned out it was pink eye. Pretty much not a big deal; the doctor prescribed an antibiotic ointment and she stayed home with her granddaddy for a few days. She didn’t even seem to mind the itchy eyes, and she remained her usual bubbly, adventurous self. She’s back to daycare today and things are back to normal.
But before I knew any of this, there was that moment immediately after “Something’s wrong.” It’s hard to describe, but it felt like a physical weight settling in my chest and stomach, and sudden fit of panic seizing my guts. I could feel myself go cold even as warm water poured over me in the shower and for a moment all of the plans and routines of the week, which seem so carefully laid out before us on a Monday morning, disintegrate into the possibility of… well, nothingness is what it felt like. Writing this down, it feels a bit like an over-reaction. After all, pink eye is not life-threatening and very common. And the “Something’s wrong” was followed by my wife explaining, “Her eyes are red and swollen.” And when I heard that, I immediately thought: Pink eye. But just hearing that something was wrong brought me into a moment of panic and anxiety that – for a moment, at least – made the world seem to collapse.
Let me claim here that I have been known to experience panic attacks and have had my own history with anxiety disorder. So for any parents reading this blog and thinking, What’s wrong with this guy? – that’s what’s wrong with this guy. But I’ll also claim right away that whatever propensity I have towards anxiety has intensified now that I’m a parent. Well, perhaps I should clarify: the propensity is actually the same; it’s the substance that’s intensified. I don’t get anxious more often; but when I do get anxious, it’s far more intense. And focused entirely on my child.
I’m scared to death that she’ll die. Sometimes it literally keeps me awake at night. I had miniature panic attacks when she started rolling over in her sleep, suddenly fearful that this would cause SIDS. I would get up in the middle of the night and walk across our dark bedroom to the monitor, listening for her breathing. I would sneak into her room and hold my finger beneath her nose to feel for her breath. This fixation on her dying in her sleep has relaxed some for me, but I still find myself perseverating on the infinite fatal possibilities still to be overcome on a daily basis. What if she sticks her finger in an electrical socket? Yes, we’ve put plug protectors in, but what if we take one out and forget to put it back in? What if the next illness is a big deal? What if she chokes?
Of course, I could fill this blog with possibilities of death. And truth is, in most moments, I don’t worry about these things. But I’m amazed that when I worry about death, which is quite often – remember, I’m a hospital chaplain who spends a lot of his time dealing with people who are either directly or indirectly dealing with death – it’s always about her death. Thoughts of my own death bother me only insomuch as it makes me sad for my daughter that she wouldn’t have her daddy; I could give a shit about me. I’m suddenly so focused on this beautiful little creature that it overwhelms me how powerless I really am.
I think this is a common theme of parenthood, in varying degrees of seriousness. (In just a few years, she will discover the power to say “No,” and it’s a downhill struggle from there.) It frightens me. Yes, I have more of a tendency to lean towards irrational worry; I’ll own that. But I have to believe that being a parent significantly ramps up one’s general anxiety. The more you love, the more you have to lose; and I’ve never loved anyone with this kind of crazy fierce love.
I don’t have any answers or solutions for this. You don’t either, even if you think you do. That’s just the risk of love, I suppose. I’m so grateful it was pink eye, and the next time it will most likely be something equally non-major. But who knows. It’s a terrible world where people who shouldn’t die do and I’m not in control. I just love and hope. And, from time to time, I worry with unbearably singular concentration, which is another function of love.
Man, this week has just got away from me. And I’ll be honest with you: writing a blog post is pretty much a chore on the to-do list at this point.
My life wasn’t always like this, you know. I used to be able to carve some time out of nearly any kind of week. It didn’t matter what kind of week it was at work, I could find the time in the evenings or even in the mornings. But that’s not how my time works anymore. It’s so full. Being a parent does that. When I get home from work, the pace actually increases. Some weeks, Monday feels like the break that Fridays used to be.
That doesn’t mean that my time is bad. It’s just full. In some ways, it’s so full I don’t even notice it. The pace of an hour will speed up or slow down by two or three times, sometimes in the same hour. Feeding schedules are suddenly behind track, and then comes bath time, and playing with bubbles makes the clock stop. Then there’s a diaper change and into the pajamas and before I know it’s seven-thirty and then dinner and cleaning bottles and mercy, I’m in bed and the alarm is already going off. Full.
So there you go, there’s my blog post this week. Was a weekly post of meaningful discourse on the discoveries of parenthood a little too ambitious? Probably. Oh well. If you’re a parent who reads this blog, then I’m sure your week is just as full and this short little dispatch will give you a few extra minutes in your busy week. Perhaps we can find time to carve out of next week’s schedule. For now, I’m full.
I don’t normally name names in my blog, but I do want to personally thank my friend Scott C. for calling me Monday night. The story I’m about to tell took place while I was upstairs on the phone with Scott, and so I did not experience firsthand what happened downstairs in the bedroom.
While conversing with my buddy Scott, my lovely spouse was playing with our beautiful little girl. It came time to feed her, and then to change her and put her to bed. Scott and I were still talking when my wife poked her head into the room, our little girl snug in her pajamas. I kissed her goodnight and my wife whispered, “When you’re done, I need your assistance.” This didn’t sound urgent, and our little girl was snug and ready for bed, so I didn’t sense a need to hurry. Scott and I finished our conversation, and I went downstairs to the bedroom.
My wife was stripping the bedsheets, and I immediately spotted a brown stain on them. “She had a major, major poop,” my wife said. Then I looked and saw a stream of brown stains on the carpet.
“Did that leak out of her diaper while you moved her to the changing table?” I asked.
“No,” my wife growled, “that shot out of her ass.”
My eyes went wide and my wife recounted the story for me. While playing with our daughter on the bed after feeding her, she saw her stop and sit back while a look of serious concentration passed over her face. We are not unfamiliar with this look, and my wife was not surprised when she heard the accompanying squirt. But it was a bit louder and longer than usual, and she instantly saw the tan liquid oozing out of the diaper’s edge at our little girl’s thigh. It was too late to save the bedspread from getting dirty, but my wife tried to minimize the mess by scooping her up and swooping her across the room to our changing table. Apparently, the smell was atrocious: rotten eggs, old fish, hot chalk. She laid our little stinker on the changing table and pulled her onesie back to find that it had already leaked up the top of the diaper across her back.
She undid the dirty diaper and pulled it down. “Waterlogged” is how she described it to me, although obviously “water” is not the appropriate substance.
But our little girl wasn’t finished. As soon as she was clear of the dirty diaper – well, my wife’s words describe it pretty well: it shot out of her ass.
The stain on the carpet, however, was only about 20% of what was evacuated. My wife blocked the other 80%. This was fortunate for the carpet; not so fortunate for my wife.
If it weren’t for my wife’s instinctual reflexes, she would have blocked every last bit of it. But when a stream of warm poo comes hurtling your way, I dare you to try not dodging it. So my wife screamed and tried to jump away, to no avail, our little girl all the while mildly amused by the spectacle. Several towels were used in the service of wiping down my wife’s arms and our little girl’s entire back and bottom.
Concerned that our little girl might be sick or have a stomach bug, I went back to her daycare bag and pulled out the daily log of activities, which the daycare uses to track every feeding, changing, and nap that occurs during the day. Indeed, this sort of bowel movement had been the norm for the day – five others of its type had been logged with the descriptive note, “very loose.” Other data included: they had had to change her clothes three times due to this very loose attitude her bowels had adopted for the day.
Despite no noticeable change in her attitude – I had been completely oblivious to any gastrointestinal distress when picking her up and feeding her earlier in the evening – I began to worry about her health and consulted one of the many parenting handbooks by our bedside. Flipping through the pages, I found a helpful Q&A regarding the diagnosis of diarrhea. No, she didn’t have fever; no, she wasn’t throwing up. No lethargy or crankiness; no concern of dehydration, since the daycare log indicated her wet diapers were as steady as usual. Then the question I asked of my wife: “Has she eaten any new foods recently?”
“I gave her yogurt yesterday,” my wife answered. “She loved it; she ate the whole cup.”
“Let’s not give her yogurt ever again,” I suggested while scrubbing the carpet.
Now, any parent will tell you: shit happens. I imagine that many of you parents reading this blog might be saying out loud, “You think that’s bad…” while recalling your own story of high-velocity excrement. I suppose we should be thankful that we made it ten months without either of us having poo spewed upon us.
And thanks to Scott, my, uh, streak is still intact. So thank you, Scott. Because of when you called me, I dodged a bullet. A speedy brown bullet of poo. But I’m sure my day will come. Shit happens, right?
One thing every parent wants for his child is that she be raised in an environment that teaches her the values, beliefs and experiences that he has found meaningful and instructive. That’s why I play the Grateful Dead for my little girl every day.
I was not raised in a Deadhead household. Although my parents weren’t Deadheads, they were still good, enlightened people when it came to music and encouraged me to find my own way, my father accompanying to Allman Brothers Band and Santana concerts and even taking me to a mid-week late-night Gov’t Mule show at a very seedy club when I was in high school. I wasn’t really exposed directly to the Dead’s music until I was in seminary when I started playing music with a fellow student, a gentle mountain hippie who picked out “Ripple” and “Friend of the Devil” on his banjo. The first Grateful Dead album I bought was American Beauty, and I was immediately drawn to its country-folk simplicity. A friend loaned me Dick’s Picks Volume Sixteen, a show at the Fillmore in November of ’69. I didn’t understand it; the spacey jams were too much for me, and I couldn’t appreciate what was happening during “Dark Star” and “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks).” So for a few years, my entrance into the Dead was stuck in their country-folk acoustic period of 1970.
Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I got Wake of the Flood. And that led me to their studio albums of the seventies, which eventually led me into their live shows. I discovered the magic of 1977 and began collecting shows from the seventies. The more I listened, the more I learned how to listen, and eventually I spread my interest outward, learning to comprehend the hermeneutics of the protean jams of the late sixties as well as the pop redactions of the eighties. I studied their performances, and their musical aesthetic open up to me. I learned to listen not just to Jerry Garcia’s spidery lead guitar excursions, but also to the inquisitive commentary of Bob Weir’s rhythm guitar, Phil Lesh’s underpinning bass harmonies, and the nuanced differences in style and approach of their numerous keyboard players.
My little girl was born on my birthday, and one of the gifts my parents gave me for my birthday was the recently released Crimson, White & Indigo, the show from JFK Stadium in Philadelphia on July 7, 1989. This was some of the earliest music my baby heard in those first few weeks of her life. It’s not the best Dead show from 1989 (that would be either of the Hampton shows in October), but it’s a good start for a beginner, featuring a setlist of classics and deep cuts along with some spirited playing from keyboardist Brent Mydland. It was too early in her life for us to detect any kind of response to this music except that music seemed to calm her.
My obsession with the Grateful Dead has brought me to collect a rather large number of their live shows. I don’t have room on my iPod for all of them, so I tend to listen to the CDs in my car. So every day, when I take my little girl to daycare, she gets a small dose of the Dead. Some days she seems indifferent to it; other days, she seems enlivened and amused. This past week I have been listening through Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings, and has found this to be an inspiring period. Strapped into her car seat, she has kicked her feet and vocalized along with “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Bertha.” This morning, she caught the spirit during the second night’s rather special run of “Playing In the Band” > “Uncle John’s Band” > “Morning Dew” > “Uncle John’s Band” > Playing In the Band.” During the epicenter of that excursion, a rather thoughtful and melancholy passage of meditative exegesis on “Morning Dew,” she began singing along and shaking her toy Elmo’s head so that it rattled along with the beat.
This is the joy of the music of the Grateful Dead: allowing yourself to get caught up in a spontaneous and ecstatic spirit of reflection and bliss. Feeling the moment, allowing the interplay of the music to wash over you and speak to it as you will listen, this is what the music of the Dead means to me. If the only instrument you have handy is a stuffed Elmo doll, then shake it, sugaree! The Rhythm Devils would be pleased.
I’m not an uncritical Deadhead. Let’s face it, Brent was the only one of them who could sing. My little girl can’t sing or even talk yet, but when she tried this morning, she sounded every bit as good as Donna Jean Godchaux. And just because the band members fearlessly opened themselves up every night to the exploratory experience of improvisatory discovery doesn’t mean they always found something. Not every “Dark Star” is amazing; even during a good show, there are moments when it’s just boring. And I know that playing the Dead for her this early runs the risk that she’ll get tired of this mysterious music or decide that hating it would be an appropriate form of differentiation when she gets older.
But that’s a risk I’m willing to run. After all, that’s the risk I hear in the Dead’s music: the risk to be open, to explore, to try something new knowing that it might not always result in something everyone understands or appreciate. Sometimes, during a long period of “Space,” the lesson I learn is that fifteen minutes of tedious noodling is a worthy trade-off for three minutes of divinely beautiful music. In fact, that fifteen minutes of dull exploration is necessary in order to truly experience the inspiration in those three minutes. That’s the risk: steppin’ out on the faith that there is something beautiful to be found in journeying together, even if we can’t sing and we have no idea what we’re going to play next. It’s the playing that’s important. There are plenty of tedious moments as a parent, but they are so completely worth it for just a few seconds of giggling. And the more you live in those moments, the more you play together, the more beautiful even the tedious moments become.
Of course, that’s probably reading too much into it, right? At the end of it all, I just love music and I love the music of the Grateful Dead and I love sharing the music I love with the people I love. If my little girl grows up to be a Deadhead like me, I’ll be thrilled. But even if she takes after her mother, merely tolerating my geeky obsession, I’ll still be thrilled to raise a girl who loves to play for the sake of playing and can let herself get caught up in a moment of freedom, shaking her toys and warbling along in a moment of song, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I love having a little girl who plays, and it whatever it was I used to play for, it really feels like now we play for life.