I came to the realization that it was no surprise that persons whose primary responsibility had been the ministration to and guardianship of infants and children (women, historically) did not have as much of a record of great achievement in other areas and fields. Taking care of children was totally exhausting, both mentally and physically. Occasionally a semi-interesting or profound philosophical or political thought would cross my mind, but it had always totally evaporated by the time I went to write it down.
The only philosphical insight I managed to remember was: A dirty diaper is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. Also, if the chocolates had melted.
I had decided, in honor of this new chapter in my life, to start being more honest with myself. I figured that I would have to lie a lot to the children, so I needed to reduce my overall mendacity. I started to make a list of suppressed truths, but I only manged to come up with three items before I had to go change diapers:
1. I had never really understood the basic doctrines of the Christian faith (Trinity, Atonement, Resurrection) and had only joined the Church at age 27 because it seemed to open up a world of beauty and gravity that was lacking in my life in San Francisco at that time. Also, because of the Ronald Arnatt 1975 Sanctus.
2. I got a tattoo at age 31 for no reason other than to increase my sexual attractiveness. I didn't exactly regret it, but I was disheartened to see that the entire world had become disfigured with hideous tatouage, rendering songs like "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" -- which I sang with my mother on her deathbed -- entirely meaningless.
3. My longstanding (long before Asaph) interest in and support for Israel was almost entirely based on the fact that I thought it was interesting to have another country with a unique official language.
Taking care of infants also required another kind of honesty: it was nearly impossible to feign masculinity while wiping up a dirty baby butt, speaking in baby talk, or rocking a baby to sleep. Of course, naturally masculine non-homosexual fathers could engage in all of these activities, but when I did them, the veneer of superficial masculinity that I had applied on a daily basis since age 18 cracked and flaked and fell to the ground.
I had undertaken a defining act of manhood -- becoming a father -- and yet I felt less masculine than ever before. This didn't bother me at all, however. It was quite liberating, in fact.
Other than a lack of mammary glands, there were two other secondary sex characteristics for men that were disadvantageous for the care of infants: a low voice (our children, especially the girl, responded positively to the sound of a woman's voice) and chest hair (a baby's grip was surprisingly and painfully strong).
I read a book by a conservative yet intelligent (and atheist) author who I somewhat liked. He wasn't really anti-non-heterosexual, although he seemed to object to parenting by us people, and he was horrified by women who had children by artificial means and described them as having been "inseminated like cattle" (an inaccurate description of in vitro fertilization). I wondered if this author was distressed by the ancient tradition of wet nursing, which was much more analogous to bovine science and management.
I did appreciate one quote of his about the logic of many on the cultural left: They are like people who imagine that the answer to constipation is diarrhea. My assessment of many situations that I had observed was exactly that.
I decided to read a book by the American philosopher, classicist, and academic Allan Bloom. He was often mistakenly characterized as a conservative, although he was not one. The book had aroused some controversy when I was in college, since he had attacked the identity-politics approach to university curricula that was in fashion at that time. I remembered that he had come to speak at my college, but there had been relatively little outcry -- usually opposing viewpoints were deemed to be dangerous and "offensive", a term used to protect certain persons who might not want to hear things that could upset them.
But after embarking on the book, I realized why there had been relatively little discussion about it. It was no screed. It was quite dense and difficult to read. He argued that certain strands of German philosophy, as well as John Locke, were to blame for the crisis of relativism in the universities, and in society.
We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. The shepherds play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part.
I often wondered about this, and whether certain good things about our society would collapse since the structures that had supported them had been destroyed.
(Of course, that did end up happening.)
I read further:
The inflamed sensitivity induced by radicalized democratic theory finally experiences any limit as arbitrary and tyrannical. There are no absolutes; freedom is absolute. Of course the result is that, on the one hand, the argument justifying freedom disappears and, on the other, all beliefs begin to have the attenuated character that was initially supposed to be limited to religious belief.
I had often wondered why contemporary people considered their rights to be inalienable, in the absence of anything to justify such a concept.
I read even further:
It was always known that there were many and conflicting opinions about the good, and nations embodying each of them. Herodotus was at least as aware as we are of the rich diversity of cultures. But he took that observation to be an invitation to investigate all of them to see what was good and bad about each and find out what he could learn about good and bad from them. Modern relativists take that same observation as proof that such investigation is impossible and that we must be respectful of them all. Thus students, and the rest of us, are deprived of the primary excitement derived from the discovery of diversity.
I felt like I had always tried to discern good and bad in the study of other cultures, although I had slid into a bit of a nihilist relativism once I turned 40. I still admired most of the same cultures that ridiculous Canadian journalist, entrepreneur, and magazine publisher (Jayson) Tyler Brûlé did, namely Scandinavia and Japan, although the Scandinavians had cold hearts and the Japanese were often much too weird.
I continued to read:
When a poet writes about a poet, he does so as a poet. When a scientist talks about scientists, he does not do so as a scientist. If he does so, he uses none of the tools he uses in his scientific activity, and his conclusions have none of the demonstrative character he demands in his science. Science has broken off from the self-consciousness about science that was the core of ancient science.
Contemporary people had turned science into a God, even though science itself could not say why it had any value.
Honesty compels serious men, on examination of their consciences, to admit that the old faith is no longer compelling. It is the very peak of Christian virtue that demands the sacrifice of Christianity.
Indeed, I thought.
There were some other sections where he lamented the rise of the Master of Business Administration, but I didn't read those to Asaph.
We ran into an Israeli acquaintance of Asaph's on the street. I had never met him before. He was tall and had very good and clear skin the color of tupelo honey. I was dying to know his ethnic background, but I didn't have the courage to ask. (We had a very pretty Israeli kibbutznikit babysitter who had similar skin, and I had made Asaph ask her about her family. The answer was Syro-Egyptian-Russian.) We were with the kids, so he asked us about how we felt about fatherhood. He had one child, and his wife was expecting another. He used an odd analogy to describe the transformation caused by parenthood. "You know when you're a child, you think your penis is just for peeing. Then in adolescence you learn that it's also for sex, and the whole world becomes a different place. Then when you have kids, the whole world is transformed once again!"
But I was still thinking about his penis.
He said he was moving back to Israel.
"Permanently?" asked Asaph.
"We'll see," he said. "My loyalty and devotion is to my wife and daughter."
I had been thinking about this, and why this was a problem with left-wing Christianity. (Although I didn't understand core Christian doctrine, I understood the expectations for the faithful.)
Left-wing and liberal Christianity focused quite exclusively on the teachings of Jesus and his immediate followers (while subtracting out the extreme sexual prudery of the early Christians). This core Christianity demanded that followers love their enemies, turn the other cheek, hate their mothers, fathers, and families. Of course liberal Christianity didn't want anyone to hate anyone, and the cult-like aspect of the mother-hating passages was generally downplayed, but the idea was that one's allegiance should be to the whole of humanity (and to God), and not to any specific nation or tribe, or even family. I wondered if this was out of step with human nature, now that I had children to whom I felt willing to sacrifice everything. (I had read a suggestion in a finance magazine that familial punishments be reinstated -- an idea completely foreign to our individualistic culture -- since people were more likely to engage in unethical financial activities to benefit their children, who would then be exempt from punishment. Family honor and such outdated concepts came from the idea that a family could be judged collectively, and that this could deter criminal actions performed by parents for the benefit of their children. [H]e punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.)
Liberal Christianity seemed best suited to a small number of celibate or childless people with an unusual love for strangers and an atypical lack of connection to their own specific relations and friends, since a preference for one's own children (and to a much lesser extent, one's own parents) seemed ingrained in human nature (through evolution, undoubtedly). Attempts to undermine the parent-child connection, either brutally (the African slave trade) or well-intentionedly (the Israeli kibbutz), had very bad, or simply bad, results. And attachment to one's children usually engendered a special feeling of protection towards one's whole family, and outward from there was presumably where tribalism and patriotism and nationalism and chauvinism developed. Conservative Christianity allowed most of these semi-chauvinistic and self-protecting instincts to co-exist with the idea that God had sent his only begotten son to take away the sins of the world. It also allowed the probably natural tendency to judge others to remain in operation. As I heard said by a character in the latest film from American writer-director Whit Stillman (a director whom I'd been shocked to learn was beloved by many conservatives): We are all flawed. Must that render us mute to the flaws of others?
Of course, there were plenty of liberal Christians who had children, so my theory needed some work. And having children hadn't decreased my love for my fellow man or human, it had only filled my heart with more love than I had dreamed possible. And even though I had developed the predictable instinctual loyalty to my children above all else, I was more worried about the future of the world than ever before. I had kind of given up caring about a lot of big problems in the world when I turned 40, but they suddenly started to keep me up at night again once two little children were sleeping in the next room. Environmental problems seemed the most intractable, so the warm winter into which they were born and the sweltering summer that followed were especially ominous.
My many left-wing neo-Mathusian friends and acquaintances didn't really understand how having a child gave one an emotional stake in the future of the world; they saw every live human birth as a tragedy for the globe. Of course, the adoption of a child would have the same effect future-stakewise (although adoption didn't necessarily reduce overall population growth unless the birth parents were prevented from having any additional children), and I agreed that the scientific advances that had caused the world population to skyrocket had put us in an awful position. I saw a poster circulating on a social-networking website that showed a white woman lifting a black baby aloft with the caption (taken from pet campaigns) "don't breed, adopt!" in bold letters. At my college, such a poster would have been seen as condescendingly racist at best, and genocidal at worst.
Anyway, life proceeded.
We met some other parents of young children at a nearby museum.
We had to find new friends, since we had little in common with our old ones.
I could only manage to go to the gym for around 45 minutes a couple of times a week.
The days of fitness were over.
We introduced our skeptical babies to swimming.
My sister-in-law flew to New York to help me take the kids back to Ohio for a visit. In the dilapidated and embarrassing La Guardia Airport, a woman came up to us to tell us that we were "doing a great job". I had assumed that people said that only when it was apparent that two men were raising these children, but, other than the fact that we weren't fighting, my sister-in-law and I looked like a married heterosexual couple.
The flight was uneventful, thankfully.
We arrived at my brother's rural homestead.
The babies were cared for that evening while my father and I went to a dance concert where an award in my mother's name would be given to a young dancer.
The award was given to a young woman who was surprisingly well-spoken.
There were dances performed from various student and non-student groups.
The woman who had taken over my mother's position at Kenyon College performed a re-created version of a solo piece that my mother had danced back in the 1980s.
We had hired a pianist to play the music from this piece -- "Véloce" from Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio -- at my mother's memorial service, although it was a slightly irreverent selection, since the dance had ended with my mother jumping into the audience and the stage going dark, and this piece was played at the end of the memorial service.
After the concert my father and I retrieved our parked car near an infant-formula factory with no windows and, rumor had it, no human employees.
I was returned to the country.
I had the morning shift.
The babies were happy to be back in the Midwest, their homeland.
Even though they were Israeli.
My father came to pick me up again, to go to the cemetery to look at the area in which we had still not buried my mother's cremated remains. I felt awful that it had taken us so long to get the headstone designed and carved.
I sized up the neighbors.
I went back to the region's featureless hinterlands. I noticed that my nephews' noses were plugged shut with bright-green (and therefore bacteria-rich) dried mucus.
"I've had [streptococcal pharyngitis] six times this year!" said my nephew, Zack.
Wonderful, I thought.
"[Our son] looks like Pedro," said my other nephew Nick.
Who's Pedro? I wondered.
I took a walk.
It was unseasonably warm, but our old ideas about the seasons had to change.
The next day, my father took me to his house.
I had never lived in this house, but my parents had moved there right before I moved to New York.
It was challenging to go in. I downloaded an application onto my smartphone that made all of my photos look antiquated. I needed a film of nostalgia to soften my sight.
The house was immaculately clean, as if Japanese people had moved in.
I saw the room where I used to stay, and where my mother spent her last days before the hospital and hospice.
We walked around looking at all the work my father had done. The house looked wonderful. I wasn't sure if that made it easier or harder to be there.
I guessed easier, since cleanliness was a primal cause for joy.
Back at the ranch, my sister-in-law had put the kids in swings.
It wasn't clear that they were enjoying it, even in the fake vintage photographs I took.
I took the kids for a walk to the end of the road.
These hinterlands really are featureless, I thought.
Even though we had already done a regime of sleep-training, the kids started screaming when I put them in their cribs.
I went outside and inspected a swallow's nest.
I could still hear their cries. It was awful.
It only lasted around 30 minutes.
The next day I took another walk around my brother's territory with one baby.
There was no sidewalk, so it was dangerous, although there weren't very many cars.
I attracted stares, since there were rarely pedestrians of any kind, and especially not men with babies strapped to their chests.
My uncle, who lived in a nearby town that was wealthier and more educated owing to the presence of a liberal arts college, said that cyclists sped up when they went through the area around my brother's house, out of fear of poor, uneducated white former farmers and or bigoted, loutish reactionaries who were opposed to modern ways.
There were few businesses left in the nearby crossroads.
There was a church built in the 1960s that was an eyesore that I couldn't photograph with a clean conscience. It was saddening to see.
An attractive barn helped to make me feel better.
Back at the house I helped our daughter recover from the changed climate.
Asaph arrived the next afternoon.
That night, my sister-in-law arranged for two women of ambiguous ethnicity who were extremely ample of bosom to care for all four kids. There was another concert being held, partially in honor of my mother and partially to promote the publication of a new book about the history of dance in central Ohio -- an arcane topic of interest to almost no one. My entire extended family was there, as well as many family friends.
There was a panel discussion about this esoteric subject. One of the panelists was such an avid promoter of the many wonders of the central Ohio region he came across as a compensated spokesperson. I feared that he would refer to the "lush banks of the Scioto" or the "rich cuisine of Franklin County".
The same dance that had been recreated days before by the Kenyon College dance professor was recreated again by an intense woman who had unfortunately arrived at the hospice on my mother's first day there, when she -- my mother -- was totally comatose (she -- my mother -- had had a subsequent temporary recovery and had been able to enjoy the company of many of her friends in her last days).
The former head of the Ohio State University dance department, whom I had known for my entire life, and another veteran dancer did a piece during which they held a conversation about aging and their long careers in dance. The younger woman was 60; the former department head was in her late 70s and had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Although the piece was mostly comedic, I felt quite emotional about it -- more emotional than seeing the second recreated version of my mother's solo. At one point the former head of the dance department, weary with age and tremor, sat down while continuing to tap dance.
Asaph made us buy 10 copies of the esoteric book, to give to friends who were also enemies.
That night Asaph heard something and went to the room where the children were sleeping. He came back into our room with our daughter.
"She's sick!" he exclaimed. Indeed, she was quite congested. The exposure to my nephews had had the predicted result.
Asaph stayed up with her the rest of the night, as she sniffled and sputtered.
Dawn arrived, thankfully. I felt like I was always waiting for dawn, in those days.
My older, often streptococcal nephew went to school.
We decided that the current malady afflicting our daughter (and then our son) was viral and required only symptomatic treatment.
We went to a public garden, where we met my dad.
We worried about the sun.
The children alternately slept and stared at the unremarkable deciduous forests of the eastern corn belt.
The state wildflower of Ohio and the provincial flower of Ontario was barely still in bloom.
It was a pretty walk.
I thought of my bluebird days.
I had not had salad days (I had been green in judgment, but never cold in blood).
We went to meet my uncle and aunt at our favorite restaurant.
We wondered if our son was ready to start having solid foods.
My aunt was anxiously awaiting grandchildren of her own, so she was happy to use ours in the meantime.
Asaph went to my aunt and uncle's house to sleep, while we headed out to a nearby park famed for its rose garden.
We passed some local produce.
I wanted to see the bench that had been put up in memory of my mother's best friend and fellow dancer, who had died of cancer several years prior.
The next night there was a party in the babies' honor at my father's house. We decamped from my brother's homestead, owing to our strict schedule for the babies. They would need to be put to sleep during the party.
As guests arrived, the babies almost immediately started to whine and cry and not be charming at all. This was what happened during the so-called witching hour.
Luckily, a thunderstorm -- of which they were too young to be afraid -- arrived. This provided a distraction to them.
The next morning there was a birthday party for my younger nephew Nick at a Mexican restaurant.
My older nephew Zack greeted us at the car.
"My dad has diarrhea," he said.
I didn't let my brother hold the babies.
Asaph ordered me a margarita while I was in the restroom, as a joke. It wasn't even noon.
My nephew was served a chocolate burrito, possibly.
We spent our last night at my father's house. It was melancholy. I wept a bit while marching about with our daughter in my arms to "Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs" from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme by Jean-Baptiste Lully.
I found old mementos from my parents' early life together.
There was a plaque on the wall from when my mother received an honorary doctorate from the college where she taught for many years. It had the text from the speech given by a colleague of hers, an aristocratic woman incongruously from the sad state of Arizona. It ended with a passage from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale:
When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' th' sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so,
And own no other function: each your doing,
So singular in each particular,
Crowns what you are doing in the present deeds,
That all your acts are queens.
The conservative writer that I sometimes admired thought that Shakespeare represented the pinnacle of human cultural achievement. Boundless intemperance in nature is a tyranny.
I had to agree, even though I was mostly ignorant of Shakespeare. In any case, when asked if I wanted to incorporate a small Christian element into our wedding ceremony, I had chosen a passage from The Tempest and one of the Sonnets instead of anything from the Christian Testament.
There were lots of old books I wanted to take with me but couldn't.
The next morning we headed to the airport. Because our flight was mostly empty, we were told we could take the kids on the plane in their car seats, even though we hadn't purchased tickets for them and they were supposed to be "lap infants". We waited to board.
Once on the plane, a flight attendant -- a woman from Las Vegas in her 60s; no other description was needed -- told us that we really shouldn't have brought the car seats on. I lamented the sad state of domestic commercial aviation.
Asaph wanted us to feed the babies during takeoff. But as we approached the runway, our daughter began to spew up the entire contents of her bottle, since she had not been able to burp properly while seated. Her clothes were drenched; she looked stunned.
As the wheels left the ground, Asaph -- a quick thinker, unlike me -- took her out of her seat, comforted her, and changed her clothes. The Las Vegan came over to assist and to scold. She continued to be alternately hostile and helpful for the duration of the flight. When we removed the car seat to disembark, we saw that most of the vomited infant formula was pooled on the seat below. The Las Vegan was not happy about this, since cleaning crews had long been eliminated from airlines in the United States and she was going to have to clean it up.
It was nice to be back home and back in our nightly routine.
We spent as much time in Central Park as possible.
It became summer.
Our son giggled and laughed all of the time, but our daughter mostly just smiled silently.
Even though they had already had such a ceremony, the Reconstructionist synagogue with which we were affiliated wanted to do another baby-naming.
Photographs were not allowed, owing to the Sabbath.
The kids were given various presents.
Mary had come in from Wisconsin for this duplicate ceremony and for Asaph's graduation from business school.
Asaph's mother and stepfather also arrived from Israel. Asaph's stepfather kept calling our son "Gingi", which evidently was a nickname for people with red hair. Our son had black hair.
We dressed up our son with accessories while he was asleep.
We rented a filthy sport-utility vehicle to drive down to Philadephia the next day.
We arrived late to the pre-graduation luncheon, owing to Mother's Day traffic.
We headed off to the basketball arena where the graduation would take place.
We had to climb very high to get a seat, owing to our tardiness. Some parents we were with gave up and decided not to stay.
The speaker was a Turkish-American Muslim cardiothoracic surgeon, author, and television personality. I wasn't sure what we could learn from someone who obviously had capabilities far beyond those of a normal person. The kids slept through most of it.
We gave Asaph's parents a quick tour of the campus before driving them to a hotel where they would spend the night.
Asaph, Mary, the kids, and I headed home.
We were stuck in a traffic jam for several hours, and our son had a total meltdown, so we had to exit the turnpike and walk around with him on the side of a road. I expected to find a dead body, but we didn't.
We were happy to get home. I was happy that Asaph wouldn't have to spend every other Friday and Saturday away from New York.
The children continued to develop.
Sometimes too quickly, sometimes too slowly.
I almost never went to church anymore.
I did get to stop by the garden while dropping off clothes at the thrift shop.
I missed visiting the West Village on a semi-regular basis.
We took the kids to Brooklyn to visit some friends of Asaph.
The weather had been much drier than the year before.
Afterwards we went to meet some hairy friends and acquaintances who were gathering in a park by the water.
I was worried that they would be annoyed by the introduction of a stroller -- the word was now an epithet -- into their event, but no one seemed to mind.
We walked part of the way home.
I hated riding the subway with them. It was an inconvenience to everyone involved.
The next day we met my old college friend Emily down at the Hudson River.
The shore was bustling.
We went to the vintage playground. Emily's son and husband played while she and her daughter helped with our babies. I had read that feminine boys were often interested in women's and girls clothes and in dressing dolls that represented adult women but were not generally interested in pretending to take care of babies. I thought that was interesting.
That night we had a babysitter.
The days marched on. It became real official summer.
Our son didn't like to wait for his bottle.
He was generally more easy-going than his sister, but not when it came to hunger.
We took the suburban commuter rail service up to an affluent village in Westchester County to visit Asaph's co-worker, who had just given birth to her second child.
We loitered at a pretend farmers' market to meet a friend of Asaph's family who wanted to see the children. We were fortunate to enter the largely empty train right at a spot where there was space designed for a wheelchair that was big enough for our double stroller.
Then we made our way to their charming cottage.
I took a nap, while our son sat and watched a baseball game with Asaph's co-worker's ambiguously ethnic daughter. They were an ambiguously ethnic duo.
Against my better judgement, I ate some egg salad.
We took the train home. We ended up blocking the aisle with our stroller, but we had no choice. I realized that lots of the things that parents of small children did in public were because they really had no choice, other than house arrest. I had wanted to keep the children in the home until they were around 12, but Asaph refused.
We walked around Bryant Park, since I hadn't wanted to subject our stroller to the subway again.
This was the location of one of the nicest public restrooms in New York.
Our daughter seemed a bit traumatized by the heat.
We took endless walks with the children on weekends, since it was a guaranteed way to keep them from crying or whining. The newly agrestic modifications to the city made this practice more pleasant.
We ran into a very fashionable and socially popular person of Egypto-Greek descent with whom I had been friendly at one of my former gyms, a gym that the New York Times described as a "nightclubby gym, with the weight room swathed in theatrical shadows, D.J.’s pumping dance music at night and a fiber-optic light show in the steam room". When I was taking Arabic classes, I would stop and ask him grammatical questions while working out. He would always answer graciously, even though it put him at great risk for social stigmatization.
I asked him an obscure question related to the Semitic root of our son's name. He couldn't answer. A highly muscled and fashionable male friend of his arrived, and they walked away.
We went up to the High Line, a linear park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line, to feed the children.
We also gave them kisses.
The children woke up early on weekends, so we often headed out onto empty streets.
I was in the park during the hours when dogs were permitted to run off-leash.
It was very nice, and good exercise.
Our children were only able to engage in minimal exercise themselves. Our daughter was fat like a normal baby, but our son was a bit underweight.
I was trying to come up with a style of dress that I would be able to leave unchanged up until the hour of my death. My idea was: Old Testament patriarch or prophet meets Okinawan pensioner -- but a contemporary, American take on that.
I was excited about a delivery that arrived.
Asaph was not.
We took the kids to a music class in the park run by a beautiful and cheerful young Russian woman.
Nannies were not allowed, but there was clearly one present at our first class. It was awkward.
I went for a run, something I had only done a handful of times since the birth of the children.
I went to the General Grant National Memorial.
Ulysses would have been a good name for our son, I thought. Although I would have prefered Odysseus (Ὀδυσσεύς).
I had never been to the Riverside Church before.
I hadn't thought that American Protestants could make something so nice.
I was impressed and surprised.
We took the children to a kirtan (ਕੀਰਤਨ) performance at Asaph's former yoga (योग) studio.
Other people's children were allowed to run rampant. They were also running passant, courant, and salient.
The two one-year anniversaries (Jewish and Gregorian) of my mother's death arrived and passed. I had a heavy heart. I spent the night without sleep.
If I were following Confucian mourning customs, I would still have another year to go. But I had barely engaged in any appropriate acts of filial self-denial.
In researching Japanese mourning customs, I came across a passage on a website devoted to Japanese and Japanese-style adult animation.
Every person, from the moment of their birth receives so much love and nurturing from family and very close friends that the person is in a constant state of debt to those people. A person wears this burden their whole life, one is constantly trying the repay this debt, and the person has an understanding that while they’re repaying this debt they’ll never be able to fully repay others for all the love and support they received during their lives.
That seemed very beautiful. Americans didn't think like that, I thought. Americans generally resented their parents for all their supposed mistakes, while still believing themselves to be self-made. Positives were the result of individual achievement; negatives were caused by others.
The following weekend we drove the kids up to my friend Christopher's weekend house in relatively impoverished Sullivan County.
The children cried for around an hour when we arrived and tried to put them directly to bed from their car seats. We swayed and shushed them apologetically. Christopher and his boyfriend offered us drinks and local, artisanal snacks.
Christopher had left out a Swedish soap for my enjoyment and delight.
We woke up early with the babies and the birds.
We took a drive to a farm from which Christopher and his boyfriend liked to buy local produce.
We pretended that the babies were enjoying it.
The farm was owned by a married couple. The farmwife told me that I should go across the creek to the pasture where the sheep and goats were kept. I liked sheep, so I walked over with enthusiasm.
I opened the gate. The sheep were a bit far away. I could barely see them.
We went to a slightly impoverished town that was having a festival in honor of trout, an oily fish.
The dynamics of socio-economic class in the Catskills were unsettling. The impoverished indigenous population generally resented the weekenders and transplants from the New York metropolitan area (even if those transplants were originally from rural areas themselves). Christopher was mystified by their actions: why they were rude and unhelpful in their shops, often encouraging the transplants to patronize businesses run by other transplants, and why they often opposed plans to beautify or improve their communities. I said that they were afraid that they would eventually be expelled from the area by higher costs caused by improvements initiated by the transplants. I imagined that Canadian-born experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author Steven Pinker and English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and simplified atheist Richard Dawkins might think that perhaps the suspicion of the local residents was related to a lack of shared genetic material with the transplants.
We watched the triumphal parade of trout while standing next to a group of residents from a home for the developmentally disabled.
After picking up some additional expensive artisanal, local ingredients, we headed home to relax a bit.
We ate a delicious dinner of locally sourced kale and sheep cheese.
Christopher and I took their dog for a walk in the dark. There were fireflies, or lightning bugs, everywhere. But I didn't see any stars.
Our son was happy to wake up the next morning.
We took a walk on Christopher's street.
The driveways of the indigenous locals had chains across them, while the driveways of the transplants -- non-heterosexual art directors, fashion editors at lifestyle magazines, assorted and associated general counsel -- were always wide-open. I imagined that the transplants probably even left their houses unlocked, having much less to lose than the local population.
We went to ablute before heading out to another poverty-stricken town.
I had been to this town several times over the preceding decade, as a friend and work colleague had a house nearby.
This town's parade was in honor of tractors.
The babies slept, despite the noise and the heat (we stayed upwind from the exhaust). The tractors were interesting to see, although the aesthetics of appreciating them were slightly marred by a paper sign taped to each one detailing information about the vehicle.
Very rarely, one of the tractors would be driven by the kind of rough toughs that had been popular subjects for the American fashion photographer Bruce Weber. But only very rarely. Usually the tractors were driven by persons more in keeping with stereotypes about poor rural America.
This town had fewer upscale businesses than the town devoted to trout.
Still, one had to carefully crop one's gaze to make the place seem charmingly rustic and dilapidated. Much of the dilapidation wasn't so charming.
We went to a farmer's market almost entirely run for and by transplants to purchase more strange seasonal foods.
We headed to our last stop: a town on the border with Pennsylvania that had been hard-hit by transplant gentrification.
There was a shop that sold expensive bespoke denim imitation pants and another that sold thousand-dollar semi-modernist end chairs. A non-heterosexual couple asked us about our children in a somewhat teasing and mildly acerbic manner that made me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I didn't want to talk about the children or their provenance with my own kind.
Days went by, pulling us into the future. We went to Rye for a surprise birthday party.
It was both relaxing and alienating to be in a clean and clear enclave reserved for a closed group of high-status Americans mostly of English Protestant ancestry.
The next day we went to a picnic for twins. It was awkward to talk to people, except for a Jewish female couple.
We had bought balloons to tie to the stroller, since we had been given the job of holding the picnic permit. Later I read that being anti-balloon was the latest environmental and social cause, and that the purchase of balloons was morally equivalent to the harpooning of baby seals.
The next day was Father's Day.
We started to feed the babies semi-solid food, even though a high-school acquaintance had recommended skipping the pureed baby food stage and doing something called baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning didn't allow for such funny photographs.
We hired an overnight babysitter and spent a night in a hotel.
The hotel was part of a hip chain with its origins in the Pacific Northwest.
I liked its 1890s aesthetics well enough, although I was tired of the use of sexual innuendo to titilate and flatter the self-congratuatory and smug group of well-off and stylish persons under age 40 or so who thought that they were being scandalous in their mostly predictable, unoriginal and uninteresting lifestyle choices.
I accidentally became severely dehydrated. This was a cruel irony, since I often preached that the risks and dangers of dehydration were vastly overstated.
I had to go relax on the bucolic Manhattan banks of the Hudson.
Where the bee sucks, there suck I, I thought, yet again.
I wasn't very original either. I was about as predictable as a Swiss or Japanese high-speed train.
We went to a picnic for non-heterosexual parents.
We were friends with very few of these persons, honestly. Many were too rich to be friends with us. Others were not attractive enough for Asaph.
We had to consult family and non-homosexual friends for parenting advice. And also books.
We took the kids to the big June parade.
The boy did not approve.
We retreated to a shop of a Japanese retail company which sold a wide variety of household and consumer goods, distinguished by its design minimalism, emphasis on recycling, avoidance of waste in production and packaging, and no-logo or "no-brand" policy.
It was like the opposite of the big June parade.
We had to take the kids for more vaccinations. It was so heartbreaking!
The way they smiled right up until the needle went into their leg... I couldn't take it!!
We met some friends visiting from out of town at the museum on American Independence Day.
It was mobbed, and few of the elevators worked. We ended up getting in a fight with some other patrons. We left, dispirited.
Boats were mustering on the water to observe the impending fireworks. Later they would be dispersed or sunk by anti-terrorism forces.
It was Asaph's birthday. We went to an immersive, site-specific, interactive work of theater created by a British theater company. It was based on the play Macbeth, sort of. There was no dialogue, and, if you had been quite unlucky, you could have spent the entire time wandering around the gigantic set missing out on all the action.
Because of Asaph's great skills in lurking around dark spaces, he ended up being dragged by actors into small rooms for private interactive segments on two occasions! Nothing like that happened to me, although twice I got to see the scene where the blood-covered Macbeth-equivalent -- played by a gorgeous actor/dancer/model -- got naked for a bath from his wife: Retire we to our chamber; A little water clears us of this deed. (The action repeated a few times until its suicidal climax, to allow more audience members to see parts of the show).
Later I tried to read Macbeth, since I had never seen it performed.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Anyway, we took photos of people holding the babies.
We prepared for a long journey about which I was very apprehensive.
The kids had no awareness of the tremendous odyssey ahead.
Now that I was a parent, I dreaded two new things: late sunsets and travel.