Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas

One thing about being a new Dad is learning that the divide between what I imagined child raising to be like and what it is actually like is as large as what I imagined The Log Cabin Bar in Yreka to be like (quaint, cozy, fire-lit), to what it is actually like (smelly, toothless, dangerous).

Christmas is the perfect example: I imagined Dylan, who is unable to crawl or speak, seeing Santa for the first time, pulling her little self off the floor and dashing toward St. Nick, yelling, "I've been good! I'd like a pony, please!" Instead, I've learned, Christmas is a horror-fest for small kids, filled with over-stuffed, terrifying creatures who get in the face of your child and yell Merry Christmas! or, Have you been a good girl? or, Where's the Log Cabin? and frighten your child.

Santa (as played by Dad for Dylan's daycare), was supposed to be, at the very least, a recognizable, warm voice beneath a soft and fuzzy beard, not a crazy man in a velvet jacket. The fear in her eyes as we placed her on Santa's lap made me think someone switched Dad for Charles (or Marilyn) Manson, and Dylan spotted the error first. The other smaller kids hid behind the couch and could not be coaxed out with wrapped gifts or candy. Dylan had no choice (remember, she still can't crawl away from us), so we have loads of photos of a laughing Santa and a screaming baby.

The Christmas lights were supposed to be softly blinking beacons for Santa's sleigh, helping Dylan drift off to dream of sugar-plum fairies. Instead, ours turned into mini-strobe lights at an Ibiza rave, keeping Dylan awake and dancing in her crib until the early hours of the morning.

The presents were great for hours of fun ... that is, the wrapping paper and toy packaging provided Dylan with hours of fun. The presents, not so much. At least the wrapping paper has less lead-based paint than the toys.

And the Christmas tree? Actually, that was a hit. The lights weren't too disco, it had lots of shiny things, and, of course, was loaded with sock-monkeys. Because Dylan can't crawl (except backwards), she couldn't yard the branches and ornaments off. During meltdowns, we'd prop her in front of it and she'd instantly smile and coo. Unfortunately, this means that the tree will have to stay until every last Fir needle has dropped on the carpet, the cats have pulled down all the ornaments, and the dogs have sufficiently marked its base.

Despite being overwhelmed, Dylan had a pretty good Christmas. Lots of love, toys, and even a little of Grandma Lucy's French Toast for breakfast. We paced the gift giving (there's still a pile of unopened ones under the dying tree), and she didn't get left anywhere or knocked out of her car seat. No one even spilled egg nog on her head.

I can't help but think that in four months she'll be a year old. A year! It makes me realize that I need to stop, breathe, and try to catch all the little moments right now. But, it's inevitable, and it's coming. I can even picture her first birthday now, Dylan running toward me, arms outstretched, yelling, "I want a pony!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Baja Ha Ha

We just returned from a nice family vacation in Cabo, something I'd been both dreading and excited about for weeks. Of course, I was ready to leave the drizzle and fog and get to some nicer weather and enjoy homemade tortillas and fresh seafood. But I was worried about the travel and couldn't get the image of Dylan screaming non-stop on a four hour flight while the rest of the passengers all glared and judged us from their cramped seats.

It didn't go down like that, and we learned that Dylan enjoys airplanes and prefers the company of total strangers over the safety of her parents. The stewardesses were the first to snatch her up, breaking all Patriot Act laws by letting Dylan pilot the plane. Next came the immigration officers and airport employees. "Hola chica," they smiled. Dylan would look up from her stroller, arms extended, and they'd pick her up and show her how the metal detectors work and let her play with the drug sniffing dogs.

And so we learned, in a hurry, the advantages of traveling with a baby in a country that adores babies. The first real test came as we tried to get in to Mexico. We didn't give it much thought when the stewardess told us that if we didn't fill out our immigration forms properly, we'd have to start over and go to the back of the line. Frazzled from collecting toys, backpacks, and, oh yeah, Dylan, from the plane, we forgot to sign the forms. Even Dylan needed her "signature." I thought I'd do something funny, like write her name with my left hand and make the N backwards, but then promptly forgot. So, when we finally got to the serious man who was checking the forms, he rolled his eyes and sent us away. I knew we were doomed to the back of the line, which now extended out to the runway, but, one smile from Dylan and we were ushered back to the front. And, despite the fact that we all three signed our forms on the wrong line, the official just shrugged, as in, "Close enough," and waved us through. Yes! We passed the first test.

Next, we had to gather our luggage, run it through the x-ray machines, walk through the metal detectors, and then press a button. If the light turned green, we were free to go, unmolested and unhassled. In our last two trips to Cabo, the light has turned green every time. I knew our luck was running thin. Regina was the first through and sure enough, she pressed the button and BAM, the light turned red. Red means an entire staff peruses through your luggage. Red means a full body cavity search. Red means an interrogation that may include water-boarding. Red means a long time in the airport. Dylan must have sensed this with her keen awareness skills and immediately began crying. Hard. The rough-neck crew who was putting on their rubber gloves in anticipation of a gringo shakedown saw the crying baby and the joy drained from their eyes. They didn't speak; one of the jefes just waved us on. "But it's red," I protested. Regina pinched me and I started crying.

This blog was originally intended to be a day by day account of all the trials and hilarity that ensues while traveling in Mexico with a baby. But, I learned, Cabo is baby-friendly, and life at at resort isn't too exciting. I could have written pages about my water volleyball game when I and a bunch of people I didn't know beat a team of people I didn't know, and I won a free drink. Or the time we walked into town and bought a t-shirt. Yeah, I know, it's edge-of-your-seat excitement. A real page turner. We had no crazy tequila nights with Sammy Hagar; no wake-up-in-the-sand mornings. Really, not much to report on, especially daily.

Did we miss the wild side of Cabo? Not really. Although Regina and I would push Dylan past Cabo Wabo and I'd peer in with anxious eyes and wonder, anyone topless yet? Or we'd stroll past Squid Roe and Regina would lick her lips and mumble something about running in for a quick jello shot. But, we avoided the bars and consequently had clear-headed mornings and early to bed evenings and the the only vomit came from Dylan when she swallowed too much pool water.

Despite the lack of wild late night parties, Cabo with Dylan was great. Why? 'Cause Mexicans love babies. Flat out. We'd caught a glimpse of it in the airport, but we accredited it mostly to tired employees wanting to get the tourists through as quickly as possible. But the fact came to light downtown. Waiting in line in the coffee shop? Cut right in, sir. Yes, you with the beautiful baby. Security at the airport on the way home? I could have had a Cuban cigar behind my ear and a pistola in my backpack, as long as Dylan smiled at the security ladies.

And smile she did. Somewhere between crying her way through security and the car ride into town, Dylan realized that Cabo was her own pageant parade and she was the Grand Marshall. In the room with her "uncool" parents, life sucked. Booooring. She fussed and moaned and wanted out. Outside the room -- belle of the ball. She waved and cooed and made funny noises. We heard the phrase, "What a happy baby," at least a thousand times. Which, of course, made Regina and I smile and nod while we each thought, "Who?"

And so it was. Our first big vacation with Dylan. We're home, back to work and enjoying the Christmas season. And now, when Dylan and I go into the bakery in Etna for a mid-morning snack of donuts and coffee, we cut right to the front of the line. Old habits, I guess.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Surrounded by Men

Of my parents' ten grandchildren, only two are boys. With all these girls running around, you'd think that Dylan would have a pretty strong female influence, beyond her mother. That's what you'd think anyway. Instead, she gets this:

We looked like gang-bangers, the five of us, rolling down eastside. But, instead of a '64 Impala with switches, we rode in a crew cab diesel flatbed truck with a busted out back window, a rifle in the back seat (presumably unloaded), one dog up front, one dog balancing on the back, two cowboys in the back seat, two in the front, and in the center of it all, there was Dylan in her car seat, happy as a pig in shit. I guess a real gang would have tried to look a little harder, more serious. Instead, we all clowned for the baby, including the dogs. Grant made his silly face and Dylan loved that. Scout nibbled on her toes and she cracked up. From the back, Dad and Greg played peek-a-boo and Dylan drooled in appreciation, and I, while concentrating on Eastside road traffic, made monkey noises. Dylan went nuts for all of it. I looked at her and smiled, and then realized that she was right in the middle of a life surrounded by men.

There is a large degree of masculinity to the ranch that I worry will frighten her. Dogs chasing dogs around her, cattle calling for their calves, diesel rigs with bad mufflers firing up, the occasional rifle shot, but they don't phase her a bit. I even put her on her first bull the other day. Okay, the bull in question was a premature bull calf that could hardly stand, but still ... Dylan smiled and mugged for the camera (phones) as the little white-faced calf bawled for his mother and wobbled on his legs. It's not really a path I'm pushing, but we want to leave all avenues open. Or, as they say in the career counseling office at COS, "non-traditional career opportunities."

The other, even more frightening, male-influences for Dylan come in the form of her peers. Every single baby born in the last year and a half, except for one, has been a boy. Cute, right? Not for the father of a daughter.

I'm glad, genuinely happy, that Dylan isn't phased by the disproportionate male-ness which surrounds her. And no, it's not like it's Pelican Bay Correctional Facility here; Dylan gets a healthy dose of strong women too. But, at least right now, she's taken a real liking to hanging out with the guys. Cowboys, horses, trucks, dogs, cattle, and baby boys ... she loves it all. But, just in case she still loves it in, oh, say twelve or fourteen more years, I've already put her name on a waiting list for a perfect all-girls school.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day 1

Whenever Regina informs me that our baby daughter will be under my care for the day, my response is always the same: casual nonchalance. "Cool. No problemo," I say. But inside, there's a thundercloud of fear, ready to rain terror on me for the rest of the unsupervised day. Will I accidently feed my baby to the cows? Will I think it's a great photo opportunity to set Dylan on the back of a bull? Will I put her on the flatbed with the dogs as I charge from field to field? I'd like to think that the answer to these questions is a resounding HELL NO! But, I never can swear on it.

And so, when Dylan rolled out of her car seat and wedged herself between the bench seat and the passenger door of the feed truck, amongst rusty nails, abandoned ear tags, BO-SE stained syringes, and whatever is on our boots when we work, it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise. And really, it wasn't.

It was all very innocent. Grant, Dylan, and I were giving the feedlot steers their bags of mineral salt (Mmmm, salty beef). As I was pouring the salt into the wooden feeders and as Grant was stirring in the extra Iodine we give our calves, Dylan somehow toppled over in her car seat (which was not buckled) and fell out (neither was she).

I strolled to the gate (the diesel engine drowned out her cries for help) to shut it behind the truck and observed, as it drove by, Grant holding a screaming Dylan in his lap like Britney Spears taking her kids on a roadtrip. The look on his face told me he wished he had fed cows with Greg that day.

My first thought was, "No one can ever tell Regina." Guilt soon overwhelmed me and I called her five minutes later.
"Is she alright?" she asked.
"She's great!"
She didn't even sound mad. And she wasn't. And Dylan quit crying and actually had a good rest-of-the-day with her favorite dad and favorite (or top 3) uncle. And Regina even let Dylan feed cows with me the very next week.
"Can you take Dylan today?" she asked.
New questions poured into my brain: Will Dylan fall out of the truck? Will Kevin Federline get custody? Why do we feed salt?
"No problem," I replied.