a toddler bends time in Daddyland

In books and movies, the protagonist usually enters an alternate reality with a journey or with a significant event, like, say Dante falling asleep in a dark wood before his descent into the Inferno.

My entrance into Daddyland was more gradual and subtle.  I left work but it was Christmastime and everyone was going off and then we spent five weeks in the U.S., which is definitely not Daddyland.  Then we came back, and those 24 hours of travel were epic in their transformation from sun to snow, from America to Sweden.  But then E was home with us through the jet leg, and then she started studying, and that is just a class here and there at the beginning.

Then I went to work yesterday with Baby B to pick up a new mobile phone.  And I knew.  I was deep into Daddyland.  Parental leave is so common here – everyone does it, and everyone knows you are coming back – but you are still gone and what is there to do but coo over the baby and get back to work?  Heck, I don’t even coo over the baby when people venture into the work world with their new kids.

I think about this because my three-year-old daughter has developed a conception of time and life outside our Protestant, western conceptions of perpetual forward motion.  Yes, she talks about what will happen when she gets bigger – drive a snowplow, drink coffee, go to the Olympics.  But she also talks about what will happen when she gets smaller – she will keep her pacifier, she will wear diapers, she will eat unlimited amounts of baby food.

It is not limited to her either.  Yesterday, she told me that when I get smaller tomorrow, I am going to hit her and then Tina at daycare will call me dumb.  The other day she said that she would carry Grandpa in a sling when he gets smaller.

And since I am in Daddyland – and fighting to the end of The Magic Mountain, with pages and pages of discussion of time and space and if they exist and whether time and motion are the same thing and how does that all get measured by infinity anyway – I take this bigger and smaller thing seriously.  I find myself in a much dreamier place, unbound from the inexorable move forward of the workday and the work week.

Of course, the world is spinning forward and with that comes time.  Spring will come, and that is only forward, but spring does not come for a really really long time in wintry dark Sweden, another reason to get lost in the gray drifts of snow.  The baby will walk and, maybe, sleep.  And then summer will come and that is another time to get lost in Sweden, all that light that never fades, and we will all float through a long summer in the forest picking blueberries and swimming in the river.

And then Baby B will start daycare, I will go back to work, and time will march forward once again … assuming we do not wander off into the paths of Daddyland for just a little (or lot) longer, lost from time, getting both bigger and smaller (but never hitting my daughter either way!) …


deconstructing Dora the Explorer

I live in a world of rain forests, tall mountains and loud rivers.  I am surrounded by animals on bikes, magic sticks and am always looking to help out the king’s mommy.  My best friend is a monkey.  Or sometimes I am a monkey and my best friend is a little girl.  I am also stopping a sneaky fox from stealing my stuff.

Yes, my daughter is obsessed with Dora the Explorer.  She lives in a Dora world, it seems, the show a key to unlocking her imaginary world.  This also coincided with a stay at grandma and grandpa’s house.  They had DVR, which meant several new Doras per day, as I recorded every Dora on every possible Nickelodeon network (she got to watch more TV than usual on vacation).  It meant she mixed and matched the characters.  It meant grandma and grandpa spent hours in the a dark garage following a toddler with a flashlight on the watch for that sneaky fox.

At the same time, I am reading The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann.  Don’t ask me why.  It is much too difficult a book for a sleep deprived dad.  But I am reading it nonetheless and it is essentially a tale of myth and tradition and it hearkens me back to all the Joseph Campbell (the inspiration for Star Wars more or less, though that is not his most serious side) I read on my first parental leave, to thinking about stories and religion and mystery.

And I realized that I always choose the Dora episodes that key into a fairy tale or have some element of quest to them.  Forget going to her endless silly parties.  My daughter sees her explore a pyramid or transform a dragon into a prince or plant a magic stick in a hill and watch the barren wasteland return to life.

The show actually seems deeply immersed in classic myth and fairy tales and seems to do it thoughtfully, and I wonder if it is just that they have good writers who subconsciously know the power of these motifs, or whether they consciously mine classic storytelling traditions when they put together their plots.

I mean, come on, if Swiper the Fox is not a trickster, Kokopelli-like figure, what is he?  He is Chaos.  He means no harm but throws our heroes off their quest (much like the scarecrow in Bob the Builder, but what is that about … a scarecrow among machines?!?).  Of course, every plot needs a challenge, an antangonist, but Swiper even looks like Kokopelli, and he straddles the line between most kids shows – either pure good and evil or no bad guy at all.

Hmmm, perhaps I better stop now.  You know, before I get carried away …

scooting and falling down and no sleep

Our son has a differently philosophy to baby life than his big sister. At nine months, he has six teeth, eats a lot of real food, scoots around, stands up, falls down, stands up, falls down, cries and cries. At nine months, his sister not really eaten even baby food yet, was getting her first tooth, had just started to push herself backwards after months of happy sitting and rarely cried.

I marvel at how different BT’s life is from his sister’s. This is the sort of comment that, if I said it at lunch at work, would draw nothing but blank stares. Duh. Obvious.

Maybe it is that NK was a baby in a Victorian house in a small town in upstate New York, and BT is a baby in a tiny apartment in Stockholm.

Maybe it is that I have been awake half the night holding him with his little legs crawling in his sleep. So I have time to think all this over, or sort of think it over, well, more like vaguely consider it before I trip over a toy in the dark.

The sleep deprivation – and a recent wave of family illness – are sneaking up on me too. I get by on shockingly little sleep now. I used to be a nine hour a night guy. Now I sail by on five or six – and choppy sleep at that, broken up by lifting toddlers to her mother, hugging squirming babies.

But I can tell. Not at work. And not with the kids, as I have controlled a slightly fraying temper (didn’t want to end up in a New York Times story on yelling …)

No, I have a different problem. I can’t read a book. This particular book. I reallly want to read it – The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – for a lot of reasons. But there is a hitch. It is set in a tuberculosis sanitorium in the Alps. So, basically, everyone in the book has consumption, feverish, coughing, pre-antibiotic fatal consumption. And I can not get my head around it; reading each page makes my head spin and my stomach tingle. I do not want to think about TB.

I am not usually afraid of illness either, though have had these attacks a couple other times – curled up in the fetal position on a gym floor during an anorexia movie in the 9th grade, or paralyzed in a chair 14 years ago in Chicago when a roommate told us all that he had diabetes.

No, it has to be the sleep. I may just have to put the book down and start reading magazines. Just nothing medical …