31.december.2006 - The past few months have been tense. At times, downright gnarly. I've shared some things, but there's more I haven't.
To a parent, it doesn't get much worse than hearing threats someone is planning to take away your kids. It's like a hostile nation threatening to launch nuclear weapons.
It means diplomacy has broken down and the situation is dire. The only thing worse is the actual attack. (Anybody familiar with the Greek play about Medea, written by Euripides in 431 BC?)
I try to ignore the threats, criticisms & complaints, and stay focused on the little guy. But I'm only human.
While New Years day (tomorrow) is typically associated with forward-looking thoughts (such as making resolutions we hope will improve our future), New Years eve (today) is a time to reflect on the year past.
My focus this past year (as you might gather) has been (much as possible) to enrich the life of the little guy .. (in the limited time I had him each week).
Been reading recently about the importance of early experiences (he's 1, almost 2), and the impact these experiences have on forming a child's brain circuitry and personality.
For example, one article titled Your Child's Brain says (end of 2nd paragraph):
... determines whether the child grows up to be intelligent or dull, fearful or self-assured, articulate or tongue-tied. Early experiences are so powerful, says pediatric neurobiologist Harry Chugani of Wayne State University, that "they can completely change the way a person turns out."
This jives with info presented at a co-parenting class I attended earlier this year. The article goes on to describe how (6th paragraph) there exists windows of opportunity which, when closed, are closed forever:
A baby whose eyes are clouded by cataracts from birth will, despite cataract-removal surgery at the age of 2, be forever blind.
... because the neural (brain) circuits associated with those developments never formed (during their window of opportunity).
When I lay down on my death bed, I don't want to be plagued by thoughts that I didn't do everything possible to help give the bug every chance possible at a happy, rewarding life.
And today, I can honestly say (status report), that (after nearly two years), he seems to be developing into a happy, healthy "little man".
One of the most common comments I hear is how advanced others feel his language skills are (at his age). Since he's my my first, I have nothing to compare with, so I can only go by what others say.
I find these comments interesting, cuz all my life *math* has always been my forte. (Got the highest grade in in Calculus, despite skipping pre-calculus.)
In school, English (language) was always my least favorite subject (due to its subjective nature). Math is not subjective to personal preference. And math & language seem to operate from opposite parts of the brain (maybe not).
He also seems fairly social. I returned from refilling my water glass at a taco joint to find him carrying on a conversation with two girls at the next table. "How old is he?" they asked, surprised they could converse with a 1-year old.
The girls just happened to ask questions he could answer, such as, "What are you eating?" (He can say, "taco, rice & beans) and "What's your name?"
He seems pretty secure. If I ever say, "Okay, I'm leaving now," he's content to let me leave (and continue playing at the playground). I focus on two main areas:
1.) Naming things .. e.g. > "This is a flower. Flower. This is an apple. Apple." (He can tell you the type of car his mom drives, and identify one when it drives by.) Perhaps this is why his language skills seem advanced.
2. Getting him plenty of physical exercise, such as climbing the bars at various playgrounds (he's a good climber) and walking thru wooded areas, where the ground is uneven. All the while, I try to be attentive, affectionate & playful.
I ask him what he wants ("You wanna go get some tacos and beans? You wanna go to ride the horsies? You wanna jump on the trampoline") to help develop his decision-making skills and I try to abide by his decisions (much as possible). I'm especially pleased that he knows what he wants (and what he doesn't want).
It's definitely a sacrifice to invest (time and energy) into your children. Some parents, as you know, put their kids in daycare at an early age, so they can return to work .. especially here in Southern California, where the cost of living is so high. Now, if you have to, you have to.
But not all parents have to. And if there's any other way ... well, I feel it's a sacrifice you simply must make .. especially when they're so young.
I also get comments from a lot of dads, saying things like, "God blessed me with two beautiful girls, but if I have one regret .. it would be not having a son like you have there."
I've never thought very much before about the son-vs-daughter thing. My mom, when she became frustrated with me, would point her finger and say, "I hope you have a son *just* like you." I think she meant it more as a curse than a blessing.
I think my mom didn't understand boys. (She had no brothers.) Boys are simple. (I know, cuz I was one.) They like to run around and play until they're exhausted. Then they eat and fall asleep. (I try to feed him primarily nutritious foods.)
The biggest thing I learned this year was that it takes time to bond closely with your kids. And if you can only see them a few hours each week, you can't get very close (emotionally). It's amazing how much closer we've become now that I get him (beginning last month) overnights and weekends. Wish I could post a picture, but I can't.
Happy New Year. Please don't drink & drive.
25.december.2006 - Feliz Navidad. I spent the day hiking with my rock-climbing buddy, Tom. (See entries dated 27 & 28.october). Gorgeous, summer-like day. Warm enough to remove my shirt and sunburn.
We hiked (with his wife) in the mountains of El Morro, above Crystal Cove, which are nearly identical to the mountains above Laguna, which I hiked with Julie back in April (same range).
Didn't know we were gonna hike so far. My dogs were barkin' (feet were sore) and I had a decent sweat going. Now my legs are aching and my @ss is draggin'. Both Tom & his wife are in excellent shape .. super-fit .. way more so than me.
Tom has a 5-year-old daughter, who spent the day with her mom (his ex, he has since re-married.) So he understands what it's like to spend the day without your kid(s).
It was sad to see all the un-opened presents sitting under his tree, waiting for his daughter to return (tomorrow). I've never seen him so low-key (blue).
After coffee this morning, and the hike this afternoon, his wife made dinner and we watched Antz, and then V is for Vendetta on his new plasma TV.
I've never watched a movie on plasma before. Super-vibrant colors (especially at night). His sound system is particularly good. Good sound makes a *big* difference.
The hike was good for me. Just what I need to pull myself out of the funk I was in. We talked about a million different things, from the differences between fission & fusion (pdf) to why it's good for little kids to walk on uneven surfaces (such as hiking trails).
A surprising number of people were out hiking, running & riding their mountain bikes in the mountains today. Was cool to say, "Merry Christmas," to so many who were sweating on such a nice, warm day. Lots of kids, too.
Last night Julie's mom made a rib roast .. for a Christmas eve feast. Yummy. There goes my girlish figure.
24.december.2006 - Thought I was gonna have the little guy this weekend. But seems I got trick-screwed out of that deal.
This (normally) would be my weekend. But his mom took him to (as she claims) make up for last weekend (when she was sick, see entry below dated 18.december).
I found this odd, cuz she has taken him for weeks at a time, on vacations to visit her family back East, yet never (ever) offered any make-up days.
I coulda made a stink, but after years arguing, you grow weary of the constant bickering, and just wanna move on. So, in the spirit of keeping peace on earth, I let her have him.
The only request I made was to have him this morning (Sunday), so I could take him to church, where we could sing a few Christmas carols together. (See entry below dated 18.december).
But she said that "would interfere with his nap time." So I went from having him the entire weeknd to - uh, nothing.
Felt like I was asking very little, especially since she would already have him Christmas day and the entire New Years weekend next week, including New Years day (next Monday).
So it looks like I'll end up getting him neither the Christmas, nor the New Years weekend.
Naturally this is disheartening & frustrating. So I went to the gym yesterday and worked out all those frustrations. (Amazing how much extra weight you can throw around when you're processing frustration.)
So yeah, I'm feeling a tad blue today. But I also feel weird .. kinda numb, spacey. Maybe that's how I deal with the disappointment: by working out so hard I feel numb afterwards. (Beats drugs.)
23.december.2006 - Christmas is right around the corner. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you & yours a happy & merry holiday season. Tis the season to be jolly.
Some have asked how it's going with quitting coffee (see entry dated 07.november). Uh, not as well as I'd hoped. =/
I have however, done lots of research into the science of how caffeine affects the body. One of the best sources is here: Is Caffeine a Health Hazzard?
Caffeine's *primary* mechanism (as most sources agree) is to block adenosine receptors (see section II & III). From the text:
The similarity in chemical structure between the adenine portion of adenosine and the caffeine molecule is the key to how caffeine works.
Cells - including neurons - have adenosine receptors. Adenosine acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, but is not released from synapses. [meaning it's really a neuro-modulator]
The caffeine molecule is similar enough to adenine to fit into adenosine receptors, but is not similar enough to stimulate those receptors. So the main action of caffeine is to block adenosine receptors.
Adenosine stimulates and caffeine blocks all classes of adenosine receptors nonselectively. The general effect of adenosine in the brain is to inhibit neural activity, whereas the general effect of caffeine is to increase neural activity.
Eliminating caffeine (which has a 5-6 hour half-life) allows all that unused adenosine to start filling those neuron receptor sites, activating their respective neurons, which makes you relaxed (at best), probably drosy, and maybe even dead-tired (at worst). And the only thing that will eliminate that pounding headache is...
If you think about, it's interesting, cuz caffeine is *similar* to a substance (adenosine) that actually mellows you out (relaxes you). But because it's slightly different, it actually has the exact opposite effect (cranks you up). It keeps your body's natural relaxants from doing their job.
Here's more interesting info I found:
The medicinal use of coffee by Islamic physicians probably began before the second Millennium A.D. The first documented use of coffee as a beverage was by the Sufis of Yemen (Arabia), who were using the drink to stay awake during prayers in the mid-1400s.
By 1510 there were coffeehouses in Mecca & Cairo. As coffeehouses spread throughout the Islamic world, their reputation for becoming places for gaming, secular music, vice and seditious political & religious discussion led to periodic prohibitions - as well as debates over whether the KORAN approves of coffee.
Although the first coffeehouses opened in England in the 1650s and in Holland a decade later, the first Parisian café (coffeehouse) did not open until 1689. The Dutch introduced the coffee plant to the island of Java in 1688. The island's association with coffee production led to the use of "Java" as a nickname for high quality coffee.
In other news, The Good Shepherd opens in theaters this weekend, recounting the origins of the CIA. Sounds interesting. Stars Matt Damon, who I like.
I think the title "originates" from a verse of scripture in John's gospel, where Jesus says: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." I've never heard the phrase good shepherd used anywhere else.
20.december.2006 - You might recall news of the Holocaust Conference held in Iran a week or so ago.
I watched some of the interviews back then, particularly the segment where they interviewed David Duke, the Klu Klux Klan guy who ran for President.
In response to most questions posed by the reporter, Duke kept responding (rather annoyingly): "What we *really* should be talking about is how people in Europe are being jailed for (merely) expressing their opinions."
I dismissed his comments as those of a crackpot, cuz I felt, surely, no one residing in a civilized Western nation would be jailed for (merely) expressing an opinion - no matter how offensive.
Today however, I read an article stating that a 68-year-old historian who denied the Holocaust 17 years ago was released from his 3-year prison term in Austria after winning an appeal.
At first, I thought I must be reading it wrong. I thought the article must've said a man who just so happens to have denied the holocaust was released from prison.
But on closer inspection, it was true what Duke said: that the guy was in prison *because* he denied the holocaust (expressed his opinion) .. 17 years ago.
Doesn't that strike you as bizarre? .. that somebody in a civilized Western country can be jailed for simply expressing their opinion? How can this be? What am I missing here?
Certainly I am no fan of David Duke, but the adage must be true: Even the fool (or crackpot) is sometimes right.
Whether or not one agrees about the holocaust isn't the point. Rather, the really troubling thing is that .. if someone can be jailed for expressing one opinion, they can jailed for expressing another...
... such as "I feel our government manipulated intelligence to justify leading our country into a war that is making some people very wealthy."
By the way, does anybody have any idea how much money 350,000,000,000 dollars really is? .. I doubt it.
Try this: if you made $100K per year, you'd have to work for 3.5 million years to earn that much (think pre-cuneiform, pre-wheel, pre-cave paintings, pre-ice age, pre-fire, pre-stone age, pre-oldowan, think planet of the apes and beyond).
Still too much to comprehend? Try this: if your working-lifetime was 50 years, you'd have to work 70,000 lifetimes. Boggles the mind, huh? I contend we could've spent that money in ways vastly better (than on bombs & bullets).
Besides denying the holocaust, does anybody know of other opinions or viewpoints which are illegal to utter, which will earn you hard jail time, if merely "expressed" in a civilized Western country? Or is that the only thing?
19.december.2006 - Regarding yesterday's entry .. yes, I *did* go see a movie last night (at the Big Newport), tho not the Pursuit of Happyness, as previously mentioned .. cuz its theme (about a single dad strugging to survive with his five-year-old son) hit too close to home.
Instead, I saw Blood Diamond, cuz its setting (Africa) seemed like it would take me away to adventure in foreign lands.
Oddly enough, the underlying storyline of Blood Diamond is about a father who endures trials & tribulations to recover his son (kidnapped by rebel militia). Trailers.
Everybody is hot-after a rare pink diamond (worth million$) the dad found. And everybody seems eager to sell their soul in order to get their hands on it. But the dad is willing to give it away in exchange for his son.
In the end, everybody dies. The dad lives. Not only does he get his son back, but also manages to keep the coveted pink diamond .. a Hollywood (storybook) ending for sure.
Had I known the plot ahead of time, I probably would've opted to see the new James Bond flick instead, or Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. But maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. Unfortunately, real life rarely subscribes to these Hollywood endings.
As you know, life is series of decisions, which we make based on our particular set of priorities (.. such as marrying for love or money). We make decisions based on what we feel is most important (to us) at the time (versus those things we consider less important).
The dad-thing however (I feel) is hard-wired into our genes. By that I mean, I'm not so sure we are really free to make genuine decisions. (Read any books by BF Skinner?) Rather I think we are pre-programmed (genetically) to produce certain behaviors in certain (types of) situations...
... which may not always appear rationale to the casual observer. I sometimes surprise even myself at the things I'm willing to do.
For example, prior to becoming a dad, I've always found movies where the father is willing to sacrifice himself in order to save his child/children .. to ring a little, uh, hollow.
What I've discovered since, is that, yes, dads will certainly sacrifice themselves (williingly) for the sake of their kids, but *not* cuz they are so altruistic .. but rather cuz it's so painful for a parent to see their kids suffering.
In other words, this behavior only appears noble. It's actually more about avoiding pain than demonstrating some lofty ideal. I never realized that before .. which is probably why the Hollywood notion of "take me, but let my son go" rang so unconvincing with me.
For example, when I arrived to pick up the bug last week, his face was a mess (cuts, scabs, black-n-blue nose). His mom said the high-chair had fallen on him. Ouch!
Now I would've gladly agreed and said, "Okay, go ahead and smash me in the face with that high-chair," if it meant he could avoid the pain. It's not even something I would have to think about.
That's what I mean by "hard-wired". If you don't have to think about something, then there's no decision involved. "What? You didn't whack me good enough the first time? You wanna whack me in the face *again*? Okay. Go ahead, whack away."
Anyway, Blood Diamond was much bloodier than I expected (more blood than diamonds). I'd rate it between fair & good. I enjoy stories that provide historical background, which was the best part of this film.
One thing I learned from this movie is that the word infantry comes from the word infant. Many of the "soldiers" in the film are mere children.
Also > King Leopold of Belgium (bad man) was the first to introduce to Africa the cutting off of hands (as depicted in the movie) .. or so the film infers. Lastly, the rebels (violent) listen to rap music. I wonder if that is really true.
I won't be buying any diamonds anytime soon, since it's difficult to tell where a diamond came from.
18.december.2006 - Been a while. Like you, I've also been busy. Got a call Friday night from the bug's mom, saying she had the flu, and asking if I could come by and pick him up.
"Sure," I said, trying to conceal my excitement (and noting nothing like this has ever happened before). "I'm at the gym," I told her. "I need to shower and grab a bite. I'll call when I'm on my way."
...which made *two* weekends in a row I had him (see previous entry below). "So this must be what it feels like to win the lottery," I thought, shoving the steak taco into my face while waiting at the traffic light near her house.
Yesterday was the first time I took him to church. Mariner's church (which I describe in the entry dated October 1st) has a great playground for kids. So I figured if he wasn't digging the service, we could always walk over to the playground.
But he *did* dig the service. We stayed for the singing part only, tho. Was cool to sing Christmas carols with him. They started with my favorite: In Excelsis Deo (Angels we have heard on high) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Like a theater, Mariners church is also dark inside, with all lighting focused on stage, which (along with the music, and the 50-person choir) makes for a rather dramatic display. The bug's attention was riveted on stage (elaborately decorated). Must've seemed enchanting to a two-year-old.
On our way to church, I received a call from his mom (a week before Christmas, mind you), saying her family was preparing to pool their money, hire a lawyer, to try to take him back to Michigan (where she grew up). Boy, they must really be feeling the Christmas spirit this year, huh?
The funny thing is that, after years of similar threats, criticisms and complaints, I've become immune to such ploys. I no longer respond, as the co-parenting classes I attended earlier this year warns parents not to argue in front of their children. (Besides, it does no good. Only makes matters worse.)
"Anything else?" I asked, pulling into the parking lot, where I was greeted by a series of smiling faces directing traffic.
If you think about it, the threat made is quite telling. I mean, I could never take him away from his mom, no matter how angry or frustrated I was with her .. (cuz it's not about her). What type of person could separate a two-year-old boy from his loving father?
And I have been very generous, letting her take him back to Michigan whenever she wants .. for weeks at a time.
The recent transition to overnights and weekends (refer to previous entries) has been hard on her. I can certainly sympathize, knowing (better than most) what it's like to see your child on a limited basis.
And since he's still being nursed, I'm forced to do the weaning. In other words, she's not trying to make it easy for me. Nevertheless, I can be resourceful when faced with a challenge.
After hanging up, I looked over at the bug and said, "That was your mother. She said she loves you."
"Momma sick," he responded. "I think she's feeling better," I said. "Momma feel better," he said, nodding enthusiastically. "Seems that way." =)
In other news, we also saw the Christmas Boat Parade (in Newport harbor) Saturday night. What a visual extravaganza that was! More visual enchantment for the little guy .. lights, music, gobs of people, all feeling festive. We came across on the Balboa Island Ferry, so it seemed like we were actually part of the boat parade for a while.
I was surprised to see so many kids there, the youngest being two months old. George accompanied us. He's Mr. Popular at Newport high school (and knows most of the girls there.)
Several more dramatic events transpired this past week - too many to recount here, but equally hair-curling.
The holiday season is tough for many to negotiate. Sometimes I find myself longing for the simplicity of a more normal life .. something which has remained illusive these past few years (with high highs and low lows).
Just when I feel like life is beginning to normalize .. it seems like another crisis arrives. Perhaps normalcy is just an illusion. It makes me feel like going to a movie (escapism).
Maybe I'll go see Pursuit of Happyness .. about a single dad strugging to survive with his five-year-old son. Uh, then again, maybe not. In the end, we all do what we have to (to survive).
11.december.2006 - Spent my first *entire* weekend (Friday, Sat, Sun) playing Rad-dad. Was even more satisfying than I thought it would be. (Feeling giddy.)
You might recall that last month, I spent my first weekend day (Saturday) with the bug (since the break-up, that is), but donated my Sunday to his mom.
This weekend however, I wasn't feeling quite so generous, and kept him the whole weekend. (Piggy wiggy me.) Naturally, spending more time together brings us closer.
Able to do lots more fun stuff, now that I don't have to bring him back by a certain time ...
... fun stuff, such as visiting the Sawdust Art Festival (Winter Fantasy) here in Laguna. Major visual stimulation. They even have a room with snow, for kids to play in. He ate that up...
... along with a small house for kids to play in, and Santa's sleigh (he could sit in) being pulled by reindeer .. etc. Soon as he saw that mini-house for kids, he *launched* out of my arms and made a mad dash for it, fast as his little feet would carry him.
I've lived in Laguna for 10 years, yet this is the first time I've been to "the Sawdust".
And now that I get him at night, too, we can do other cool stuff .. such as checking out the Christmas lights adorning homes on Balboa Island (Newport Beach) ...
... which he loved .. after a (nighttime) ride across the Newport harbor channel on the Balboa Island Ferry. The homes on Balboa Island are decorated more festively than anywhere else I've seen. So many of them, situated so close together.
The bug's favorite house is > HERE (located on Sapphire Ave). The house has its own web site: ZimChristmas. Pictures > here.
25,000 lights, 12,000 watts, 100 amps, 20 controllers, all computer-programmed, so the lights flash in a multitude of synchronized patterns. I talked to the owner (Greg), who owns a Civil Engineering company, tho is not an engineer himself. Very nice guy, as you might imagine, whose electric bill is ~$250/month over normal.
The bug's favorite part was the *snow*.. generated by two devices mounted on the roof. He thought that was a blast, and chased the flakes, with other little kids, as they floated down in the breeze.
Can't wait to take him to Disneyland. He's already a big fan of Mickey & Donald. Maybe for his birthday next month (when he'll be two).
Yesterday, after spending the afternoon at the Sawdust Festival, I took him home for a nap. While he slept in Julie's bed, I crashed on the couch. Few hours later, I woke to find him standing beside the couch saying, "Dada."
Normally I hear when he wakes. This was the first time I opened my eyes to see him standing there. Something about that felt pretty cool. Hard to describe.
For those of you who live locally, don't forget about the Christmas Boat Parade in Newport Harbor, which starts Wednesday.
05.december.2006 - I'm staying at Julie's pad, watchin' her kitty, while she's chillin' in Italy this week (Florence). Visiting at my old stomping grounds (here in Laguna) on such a gorgeous day brought back memories galore, especially during a walk on the beach.
Of this multitude of reflections, the worst memory was the time I dropped off the bug at daycare, only to hear him cry, "Dada," when I tried to sneak out. I turned to see him holding out his arms. That suk'ed.
The best memory was when I arrived to pick him up early one morning, and heard him say the word, "Dada," for the first time when he saw my face at the door. I knew then he knew who I was.
There was another time, much later, when I arrived to pick him up, and heard him shout, "Dada!" excitedly .. as if saying, "Let the party begin!" But the first time was still more precious.
Gorgeous day here today. Full moon last night .. rose over Laguna. Went for a walk on the beach at sunset, like I did every night day when I lived here. Watched the sun go down while sitting at this spot HERE.
No coffee today. My head is splitting. It's a bad one. Where'd I put the aspirin?
Was planning to see the new 007 flick tonight, cuz it's still playing on the giant screen at the Big Newport .. but I never quite got around to it and it's too late now. I love 007 movies cuz of the cool, hi-tech gadgets.
It's a little weird sleeping in Julie's bed.
02.december.2006 - Adios November, hola December. 2007 is right up the road. But first we encounter the winter solstice (21st): shortest day of the year (here in the Northern hemisphere), longest night. From infoplease:
The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. Hence the origin of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, sun and -stitium, stoppage.
I learned, from living in different states, that the farther north you travel, the longer the night (& shorter the day). In Alaska, for example, the winter sun rises for only a few hours each day, and remains close to the horizon.
In other news .. a guy at the coffee shop yesterday came up to me as I was leaving with the little guy in my arms. He mentioned being impressed at the "important" job I was doing, adding that he wished his own dad had shown such interest.
He went on to share how his dad had abandoned the family, running off with the secretary (to Mexico) .. not returning for 10 years.
Even tho this gent was now 50, with kids of his own, I could tell (by the look in his eyes) that the abandonment had affected him. He looked sharp, dressed in a stylish business suit, but it was easy to see the hole it left in his life.
I'm continually surprised by things people share with me regarding the parenting process (which I know surprisingly little about).
As a parent, my overriding intention is convey unconditional love: loving someone for who they are, not what they do (or what they have). I try to do this via > attention, affection, patience, understanding, encouragement, lotsa fun, and minimal use of the word 'No'.
Of course, I'm only human, which means I make mistakes, like anybody. (He'll be two next month.) I fail, but that doesn't stop me from trying. All I know is he seems happy (excited) to see me when I arrive to pick him up.
My biggest concern is that the bug has no brother or sister to play with .. being an only child. I can't help but feel he'll be lonely.
My biggest encouragements are that he should have no problem in school, as he seems intelligent and good-natured (laughs a lot).
Nor should he have problems with the ladies (a traditional source of pleasure for most males), as he's rather handsome & friendly, or as one lady at the carousel said to him yesterday, "You're too cute for words."
Wish I could post a picture, but I can't.
His *cutest* trait however, is his voice. He sounds like a munchkin who swallowed a frog. Combined with the way he pronounces his words (garbage truck, for example, is gah-bih twuk), it's definitely his cutest feature.