January 13, 2009
My wife is pregnant.
Claire is fertilizing my seed, so to say, and supposedly on June 6th we’ll have a full grown zucchini ready for bucketing.*
A baby boy or girl.
We’re not finding out.
But then I’ll be a father.
And I will finally be able to influence someone from infancy.
Someone who will repeat everything I say for at least a few solid straight months.
I’m very excited.
To be an influence.
One of my special plans as an influence, er, as a father, is this: When the child is ten years old I’m going to have Music Days. Days where I play my most favorite music in a closed room, just the two of us putting together a puzzle or playing video games or making collages of magazine animals attacking magazine supermodels.
I’ll be DJ Professor, educatin’ while spinnin’ killer tracks.
And if say my son, George Edward Foreman VII Boose, reacted positively to a My Morning Jacket album, I would then play my favorite songs from Wilco, Sun Kil Moon, Radiohead, Band of Horses or whoever. And if he liked any of those songs then I would play the entire album. Then we would go from there the next time.
“Today, George,” I’d say. “Today is a Soul Coughing day. All day. Not only do I have all three of their albums, but I also have a great soundboard recording from a concert in DC. It starts with one of my all-time favorite Soul Coughing songs called ‘Screenwriter’s Blues.’ You know what, I’ll go ahead and play the studio version of that song first. It’s on their first album called Ruby Vroom. That album had another song on it called ‘Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago’ which is neat because you were born in Chicago, right, and because Mike Doughty, he’s the lead singer, he sings some spooky, repeating lyrics back in 1994 that go ‘A man… drives a plane… into the… Chrysler Building.’ And remember how I told you about those big New York buildings that were destroyed by those terrorists, um, those super evil people who drove those planes into those two really tall buildings on September 11th, 2001, the World Trade Center like we talked about? That happened seven years later from when the Soul Coughing singer sings that lyric. Spooky, right? And very sad. But also kind of cool in a secret weird way? I’ll play that one next.”
And so on.
I have a neck-clawing fear that my child won’t appreciate Nirvana or Arcade Fire.
So I’m totally geeked to have these Music Days all planned out because I believe that I’m going to make my child a music genius who will get laid in the future (with the right disease-free person) because of it. I’m going to make my child not only cool, but something that I find even more gratifying: hip. My child will know better music that your child. And it’s somehow very important to me.
But then I’m sitting here reading Neal Pollack’s book Alternadad– a very funny and honest recount of one Chicagoan who gets married and is determined to not only be a cool dad, but to remain to be the cool guy who now happens to be a dad – and he steals my thunder. Or, I was about to steal his. Neal Pollack had something called Music Hour with his son Elijah when he was shy of two years old.
He played his son the Ramones and The Hives and Sex Pistols. Elijah and Neal danced around the room like a couple of punk rockers kicking off the weekend.
And also to my surprise, Neal took his son to a huge outdoor music festival in Austin that same year where the heat index got close to 100 degrees.
Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand were not to be missed.
Neal – the author of four books and a Slate contributor – and I emailed back and forth.
How old is Elijah now? Is he loading CDs into the player himself? Got his own iPod?
Neal Pollack: Elijah is six, and, while bright in general, finds challenging activities like loading things into other things. And he definitely does NOT have his own iPod.
And what kind of music is your six year old really into right now?
NP: Every year, for the holidays, Elijah’s class at school makes a mix tape. Parents send in a song of their kid’s choosing, and it gets put on the “class CD.” So, pretty much, that’s what Elijah listens to now, because they’re his friends’s songs. I wonder how many of the songs were actually chosen by the kids. There’s a Roxy Music song on the mix, and one from the Raconteurs. Obviously, parents aren’t choosing the High School Musical cuts (which we ALWAYS skip over), and I’m pretty much guessing that the kid who chose the eight-minute version of the Star Wars theme was autonomous. Elijah “chose” a song by the Neanderthals called “Twist To The Moon.” I say he chose it because he wanted “Ocean Man” by Ween, because that’s the end-credits song to the Spongebob Squarepants Movie. But that was on last year’s class CD. I tried to get him to pick something else instead, but he obnoxiously insisted on the “Spongebob song,” so I went ahead and picked a song I know he likes. So far, he hasn’t complained.
So I had a similar thing planned for my upcoming baby, to have Music Days where I’d expose the kid to some mind-blowing music, creating a super hip offspring who will eventually get shit for free because he or she is so cool and musically inclined. This was my secret plan. And for some reason, what I thought was an original plan. But you did it too, with your Music Hour. How many rock-and-roll parents am I competing against out there? Or, how many alternaparents are feeding their kids early White Stripes and stuffing their chubby necks through AC/DC onesies?
NP: I was getting shit about this on a blog over the weekend, from a woman who exposed her baby to the Pixies–but by ACCIDENT, as opposed to my horrible inclination toward playing my kid music on purpose. Look, our kids will like what they like, but why not play stuff we like for them, all kinds of stuff, not just hipster rock? I’m kind of out of my rock phase, and right now I listen to mostly old-school soul and bebop and new-school bhangra. Am I not supposed to listen to the music I like because then that makes me a hipster asshole who’s trying to influence his kid unduly? It’s just so ridiculous.
I totally agree with you. I’m sure you get a lot of shit for taking Elijah to the Austin City Limits festival, too. It seemed to be a really great thing that you would probably never do again. I laughed out loud when reading those pages because I see parents bring their infants to an event like Lollapalooza and I always ask my concert buddies, “What kind of person takes their baby to an outdoor music festival in the summer?” And now I know that you are the kind of guy who takes their baby to an outdoor music festival in the summer. And to me, that scene gets to the heart of what you were trying to do while raising a small child: You were attempting to not change, or rather you were attempting to bring Elijah into your cool world. And it makes sense because why not share something that you like with your child? I want to take my kid to the zoo and to a Costa Rican rainforest. Have you taken Elijah anywhere else that might not have been a good idea in hindsight?
NP: Oh, we’ve made the mistake of going to restaurants (usually with my parents, when they were paying) that may, in retrospect, have been too fancy for a kid Elijah’s age. If they’re tired or otherwise distracted, those kinds of outings can be a disaster. It’s always a crapshoot whenever you take a kid anywhere. Most days, you’re better off not leaving the house. But then the kid can get bored and the situation worsens. You’re fucked either way. That said, we did take our son to the Costa Rican rainforest, and it was absolutely fantastic.
I will say that’s one of my biggest worries: Taking my baby anywhere. I feel as though it is my duty to not intrude on other people’s quiet lives. I will do my damnedest to keep everyone else comfortable, except myself. It’s one of my many flaws, to make sure everyone around me is having a good time. So I often think about my baby going ape-shit on a plane and how everyone will not only hate me, but my kid. And I don’t want anyone to hate my kid. I’ve downright despised noisy children on planes, in restaurants, at church. But Claire keeps reminding me that it’s inevitable and people don’t really care because everyone knows how hard it is to keep a baby quiet. And I keep reminding her that I’ve wished many evil things to happen to crying babies on planes. How do you handle it when someone, another parent or whoever, tells you how to get your kid to stop crying or how to behave? Is it their business, or is it not?
NP: It’s nobody’s business to tell you how to deal with your kid, in public or in private, unless you ask them for advice. A little huffing and puffing is appropriate, I guess, if your kid is being truly obnoxious, because kids can be annoying. But that’s no judgment on whether or not someone is a good parent. Even the best parents lose control of their kids sometimes. They’re like wild animals. As for how I deal with such people, well, most of the time I ignore them, but on rare occasions, I rip into them mercilessly. Usually depends on how much sleep I had the night before.
Makes sense. I’m also worried about my free time. Worried about the time I’ll miss in front of my computer tapping out ideas and stories. You’re a prolific writer with four books out and another one in the works, plus the freelancing and other projects that you do. How have you been able to keep churning it out with all your fatherly duties and distractions? Hole yourself up in the basement? Have a deal with your wife?
NP: Getting work done isn’t such a big deal now that my kid is in school all day, and then he goes to an after-school program, so he’s gone every day from 8:30 to 5, or even later. I have no excuse to not churn it out.
Is Elijah aware that Alternadad exists? Does he know that there’s a book out there all about his poop-flinging and first everythings? And what do you think it will be like when he’s 18 and reading it, when he might finally catch every innuendo and joke?
NP: Elijah definitely knows about Alternadad, and about the blogs, though he hasn’t read any of it yet, of course. As for how he might react when he’s fully sentient, well, I can’t really worry about that. Hopefully, he’ll see the work for what it is–a love letter to him and his boyhood–and he’ll take it all in stride. He has a good sense of humor, and he knows his old man, so I’m not too worried. Famous last words.
(You can catch up on all things Neal Pollack at his site. Buy one of his books.)
I’ve got many other special plans and days scheduled for my future child, but I fear other future parents stealing my thunder and causing my kid to lose his or her edge.
Some of these plans include blindfolded martial arts, and others revolve around desert survival scenarios where the kid will be armed with nothing more than a bee costume and a few bottle rockets, but I’ve already said too much.
At this moment, my child looks like this:
Give or take a few centimeters.
Claire is 5’10”.
Claire’s dad was 6’5″ and one of her half-brothers was 6’7″, so we’re expecting this sucker to be quite tall one day.
That’ll bring along some weirdness; I believe that the day a child grows taller than his/her parents is a day for that parent to reflect on one’s mortality.
What was once the size of your pinky nail is now the size of a stranger who can palm your skull.
But, so Dad.
Gonna be a dad.
I guess, though, when it really comes down to it, all I honestly want is for my child to grow up to be a nice person.
To be nice to others.
To be nice to his/her teachers.
To the environment.
To a misunderstood classmate who needs a ride home.
To the old person struggling to carry their grocery bags.
To a crowd surfer who falls.
To his/her body.
To his/her parents.
To walk past a person who turns and says matter-of-factly, “That Boose is one heck of a nice guy. And even after witnessing his father being eaten by a pack of bears in his backyard when he was eight.”
*On the family farm we grew zucchini by the wagonloads. When one was ready to be picked, the zuke was cut off and placed in a bucket, and when that bucket was full, it would be placed on the wagon toward the front and the picker would grab an empty bucket from the back end.