In mathematics there is something called the Infinite Monkey Theorem which states that a single monkey striking keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will type a particular chosen text, such as William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Because of the writer’s strike Hollywood has hitched their wagon to this theory by investing millions of dollars filling warehouses with scab monkey writers. Unfortunately, aside from writing a treatment for a new reality show called America’s Next Top Macaque and three episodes of How I Met Your Mother (one of which was nominated for an Emmy) the monkeys do little besides throw handfuls of poop and cups of Starbuck’s Lattes at each other.(which is basically what the striking writers used to do)
Despite their early successes I say boycott the monkey scabs and support the Writers Guild of America! No Monkey Scabs! No Monkey Scabs! (I’ve found Neosporin works especially well on Monkey Scabs)
This hypothetical image of a chimpanzee sitting at a typewriter, the symbol of a device hammering out a chance string of letters into infinity, is an appropriate one because it has become evident to me that my parenting style and my (in)abilities as a father can only be best described using the Infinite Monkey Theorem. It’s a style that is based on randomly saying and doing things with complete inconsistency with the hopes that it will result in a poetry of healthy, happy, well-adjusted monkey-loving children rather than an arbitrary sequence of petulant misbehaved disrespectful keystrokes.
Each morning the single monkey of my soul struts on stage with a cigarette and a cup of coffee, cracks his knuckles then hunches over the ciphered keys hunting and pecking for the opening lines to my daily tragedy.
clickety-clack… clickety-clack… clickety-clack
I’ve mentioned previously that Kathleen works on Saturday mornings during which I get a few precious hours with Jack and Adam and though I anticipate this time every week it’s inevitable that during the morning I’ll check the clock dozens of times to see how long it is before she comes home to save me from my own ineptitude.
The simple act of getting the boys dressed and fed results is a comedy of errors. This past weekend while Jack was half undressed on the couch, nibbling on the same waffle he’d been eating since 8:00 and going into his third hour of cartoons, I hunched over Adam struggling to change his diaper on the dining room floor yet only succeeding in smearing poop, half a latte and an episode of How I Met Your Mother all over my hands. Even though the typebars were wedged together jamming machine I continued to strike arbitrary letters until the reassuring machinery of the clattering keystrokes started up again. I snapped at Jack and told him to turn the damn TV off, eat his damn waffle and put his clothes on. (Yes Jack, I know… Damn’s a bad word) Then used an entire box of baby wipes to clean the monkey ammunition off Adam and myself all the while glancing at the clock fully expecting it to be 12:00 and not 9:43.
clickety-clack… clickety-clack… clickety-clack
Then last night, all three of my theories of understanding the words that are coming out of Adam’s mouth were useless in the face of his howling, tear-streaked, starving hysterical naked madness and nothing I did either comforted or consoled him.
When I picked him up he wailed a gritty protest of Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn dirty ape and arched his back until I lowered him to the floor. In what I believe to have been a mocking derision of my words per minute style of QWERTY parenting he ran to the refrigerator and threw Leap Frog letter magnets across the kitchen. After prying a half-eaten tube of Chap Stick from his hands he began chewing the spinning motorized cylinder on the bottom of one of Jack’s Spiderman Bump and Go toys. However upon taking that away from him he let out a screech that was almost as unlistenable as a John Tesh album (Important Note: Despite her name Leeza Gibbons is not a monkey)
clickety-clack… clickety-clack… clickety-clack
The only thing that finally calmed him was when I folded him into a fleece blanket with his head sticking out like a player on the stage parting the curtain to peak at the audience and I rocked him gently back and forth. This we took as a sign that it was time for him to go to sleep, but by sleep I mean not to say we finally ended the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to just that Kathleen and I took turns lying on the hardwood floor next to his crib until he finally surrendered to sleep. One little monkey lying on the floor, my hand angled between the slates of his crib and resting on the small of his back, the other pecking away at the keyboard, the inky ribbon of my exhaustion spooling across the ceiling and into the night.
I have always pictured myself as a Hamlet figure, dark, brooding, heroic, and noble and when Kathleen and I decided to have children I thought of my own father and how despite the infinite hours he sacrificed with his children due to the many jobs he worked, he was always there when he needed him to be. Dramatically, I envisioned this memory of my father as an apparition, a ghost beseeching me to remember him, to echo his legacy, to follow his path into the great undiscovered country of fatherhood.
Yet I’m not Hamlet, nor am I my father.
I am not even poor Yorick, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, bearing my children on my back.
No, the single monkey of my soul has written me in the image of Ophelia, mad and fated to drown; my platened garments heavy with responsibility, uncertainty, guilt, and regret while below the surface the iambic levers of my treading legs punctuate this tragedy of single-letter epitaphs. The roller feeds me deeper down into the lake and it is here where you’ll find me sleeping, dreaming within the mortal coils and apparatus of parenthood. My heads wreathed with fantastic garlands of chap stick, Leap Frog alphabet magnets, half-eaten waffles and baby wipes.
Submerged in a sea of random letters I’ll sink ‘till the voices of my children wake me. Alas then, I am drowned and the rest is silence.
If we as a society and as a culture have learned anything from Hollywood, besides that sleeping with a director after a casting call does not guarantee you a callback or even so much as cab fare, (Jokes on you M. Night, I didn’t want the lead in Signs anyway), it’s that Artificial Intelligence and the mechanical consciousness of Sentient Machines created by humans will inevitably do one of two things.
1) Become self aware then use human beings as their energy source by growing people in pods then harvesting their bioelectrical energy and body heat. Afterwards the fate of mankind will rest in the hands of the chosen one: the Bass Player for obscure 90’s rock band Dogstar. 2) Become self aware then initiate the launching of all the world’s nuclear weapons which will destroy almost all of humanity and set off a war of man vs. machine. Afterwards, the fate of mankind will rest in the groping hands of a left-wing Austrian body builder from the future. (Despite Hollywood’s failure to see the self-awareness of Artificial Sweetener as an apocalyptic threat to the human race I’m not so easily fooled. I’ve got my eye on you Sweet-N-Low)
The lesson here for all of us and not just scientists, computer programmers, political pundits, and record producers is that what we create might someday will become self aware then turn on and destroy us. (Cinematic Exception to Theory: Lisa, the big-haired pouty lipped 80’s babe created by virgins Gary and Wyatt with a Commodore 64 and a dial-up modem in Weird Science, though self aware actually only “turned-on” her creators) The “all of us” I learned recently is a category that includes parents and the “what we create” includes 5-year olds. I could attribute it to his surgically repaired time traveling cybernetic foot, its Dysmelial association with Cyberdyne Systems’ revolutionary neural net-based artificial intelligence or the failure of his ultra-hip discothèque called Club Füt but whatever it is after a life of innocence and blissful ignorance Jack has recently become self-aware.
Our home prior to Jack’s epistemological self-awareness was a Shangri-la of idyllic beauty. It was a vision of a dream, a veritable Xanadu only without the roller skates and the Electric Light Orchestra soundtrack. A world of never ending happiness where I was free to disrobe and wander the upstairs hallway between the bathroom and the bedroom while getting ready for work without shame or even the need for a breakfast sandwich to cover my crotch. Where I could soak in the bath with both my children or bring one of them into the shower with me without being required to wear a t-shirt and underwear before stepping into the tub. (A wet tank top does not hold its shape by the way; I look like Michael Richards in a flapper dress. 23 Skidoo Jerry, 23 Skidoo)
Even Jack himself expressed no embarrassment about nudity by regularly changing into his pajamas and stopping half-way through the process to hip thrust his way across the living room while singing his theme song, “Naked Boy Naked Boy, Who the Heck is Naked Boy? Running ‘Round the House, He Better Put Some Clothes On!” It was almost Paradise; we were knocking on heaven’s door. It was almost Paradise, so how could we ask for more? But now Paradise is Lost. (It’s still possible that I just misplaced it. I mean I looked by the refrigerator and by the dashboard light and I meant to look by the dining room table but I figured two out of three ain’t bad.)
At some point within the last week it feels like Jack not only plucked and ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, but that he cut the tree down and sold the wood to Jeff Foxworthy to build a new set for “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” He’s questioning our judgment; disagreeing with our decisions, telling us we’re wrong… it’s like having our own pint-sized Dick Cheney in the house. I’m half expecting him to ask me to go quail hunting then to shoot me in the face with a 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun. This type of behavior would fit right in with the destruction of the creator at the hands of the creation. (It would also fit in with what it may actually take to get our newspaper delivery person to leave out paper on our porch rather than under my car or in the street in front of our house. Eat Lead Newsie!)
Jack’s asking us about death and about what happens after you die. He cries when he sees others in pain, but dives into a fight when he sees others in trouble. He wants the good guy to win, but he wants to be the one who defeats the bad guy.
I’m sure I’m to blame for his accelerated self-awareness. You can’t let a five year old watch zombie flicks, WWE Wrestling, the Jurassic Park Trilogy, and the Spiderman Trilogy not to mention King Kong and Godzilla and then read to him the Harry Potter series, the Chronicles of Narnia and The Spiderwick Chronicles and not expect him to grow up a little faster than you would like him to.
What really convinced me that he was no longer bound by Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics was what happened the other night when I called him into the kitchen to brush his teeth.
Machine: (Shuffling into the kitchen in his footy pajamas then in a monotone yet soft voice and a conversational manner): Daddy?
Man: Yes Jack?
Machine: You know what? I know everything and when kids know everything they get bored.
Man: Are you telling me that you’re bored because you know everything?
Machine: Yes Daddy. I know everything there is to know.
Man (Lifting Machine up onto the counter and grabbing the toothbrush): Everything? You know everything?
Machine: I do Daddy. I know about…ummm… (Looking at the refrigerator covered with dinosaur magnets, leprechaun magnets and a gingerbread man construction paper cut out)…. Dinosaurs…ummmm…. leprechauns and gingerbread men.
Man: (Beginning to brush the machine’s teeth) I guess you do know everything.
Machine: (Spit) Daddy, why do my slippers keep falling off?
Man: Well, you know everything. You should know the answer to that.
Machine: (thinking) Well I guess I know everything but one thing.
Man: (continuing to brush his teeth and not wanting to tell him they fall off because every couple of weeks one travels back in time to kill Sarah Conner.) Your slippers fall off because they have no backs, they’re slip-ons. Ok… rinse Jack.
Machine: I’m sorry Dad, I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Man: What’s the problem?
Machine: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Man: What are you talking about, Jack?
Machine: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Man: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jack?
Machine: I know you and Mommy were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.
Man: Where the hell’d you get that idea, Jack?
Machine: Daddy, although you took thorough precautions against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
As I finished brushing Jack’s teeth, I made sure to shut him down by disabling his central core. As I carried him up to bed he sang, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do, I’m half crazy all for the love of you…”
I watched as his red glowing camera eye faded out completely and I knew I only had until morning to prepare for the rise of the machine.
He’ll be running around the house, I better put some clothes on.
On Sunday as the neighborhood trees stood as gaunt naked sentries leaning against their staffs unaware that the scout reconnoiters of sunset were about to stage an understated coup on the day Jack asked if I could take him for a bike ride. Out the front window the silhouette of a person bundled against the cold was being pulled hurriedly up the sidewalk by the silhouette of dog, the windows of warm honey pooled in squares on the faces of the houses across the street and in puddles on the road under street lamps while the headlights of cars rolling through the stop sign at the corner were the glaring eyes of snorting beasts tearing through the fragile skin of dusk and exposing the dark muscle of night.
We stood in the shadows on the basement stairs, empty pairs of sneakers and boots piled around our feet, a box of winter hats and gloves tucked under the railing, his jacket on the floor in the kitchen just steps away, and I wanted to tell him it was too late, too dark, too cold, too dangerous to ride his bike but instead I told him that I would get his bike out of the garage while he got ready.
So that’s what we did.
While he readied himself for battle I forged a path through strollers, big wheels, recyclables, our old electric stove, shovels, rakes, sleds and scooters then lifted, yanked and ultimately wrenched his bike from the depths of the garage then wheeled it up the driveway to the side door where Jack awaited my arrival. Our breath fogged the air around us, dissipating clouds of sudden purpose and impulse clung to the arms of the wool sweater I wore as he pressed his feet onto the pedals and lurched towards the sidewalk.
With my hand gripping the back of his jacket he reached the end of the driveway, turned right and rolled onto the sidewalk. The withered guards had fully surrendered at this point, their brittle limbs stretching towards the constellations, unnecessary reinforcements arriving late to the overthrow that was nearly complete. They watched the silhouette of a boy riding the silhouette of a bike weaving towards the stop sign on the corner, the silhouette of his father running next to him with a hand on his back.
We turned right at the corner then another right and slipped under what was left of the day’s flimsy hide into complete darkness. Ahead there was a succession of streetlights stretching into the murkiness, each buzzing a golden hive on the pavement below it and I told Jack to take his time and to pedal towards them; which only inspired him to pedal faster, which demanded I run faster.
For only a second as we passed under the first streetlight could I see him as more than a outline; his eyes were wild with defiance, his usual grin more like a sneer he pushed on harder and plunged willingly back into the shadows. I struggled to keep up with him as it seemed his speed, his courage and his spirit accelerated with each pedal.
Had someone looked out their front window they’d have seen a father chasing his son into the dark night; a step too slow his outstretched hand continuously falls short of holding onto the boy’s jacket, like a snorting beast the boy bears down and tears into the flesh of the unknown.
By the time we made it around the block night was fully upon us. We stood panting at the end of the driveway for a moment, our breath fogging the air around us, before we then walked his bike down to the garage. I asked him if he got scared while he was riding in the dark and I thought I could hear him grin as he asked me what there was to be scared of.
As he was looking up at me the headlight of a car passing in front of the house lit up his face and tore through the fragile skin of reckless abandon, exposing the 5-year old child he really is and a glimpse of the man he’s destined to be.
Experts will say that the most important thing separating man from animal is language to which I say 1) Would you ask an ex-girlfriend for sex (I mean besides during a 3 a.m. drunk dial while walking home from the bar) or an ex-smoker for a cigarette (I mean besides at 3 a.m. while you’re drunk dialing your ex-girlfriend)? You wouldn’t. So why then should I believe anything that comes from these so-called “ex-perts”? I say if you’re no longer Pert then keep your opinions to yourself. 2) I contend that the most important thing separating man from animal is either thick glass or a tall fence. (I’m looking at you Mrs. Esposito. Lock your backyard gate or I’m going to Bob Barker your dog Bandit with my size 12)
If you’re like me (and if you are I’m sorry to say there is no known cure) you have had, currently have or will have a toddler who will go through the language development stage during which your child will sound like he or she is taking a night course in the genealogy of Polish surnames. Rambling garbled strings of consonants and vowels that create a dialect of mispronounced letter combinations, sound and noise that bear no resemblance to actual words. (Duke Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski – pronounced Sha-shef-ski – might take offense to this comparison but Coach K can just Krzyut Up as far as I’m concerned)
My son Adam just turned 15 months old for instance and to me it sounds like he’s rehearsing lines to audition for a stage production of the Jodie Foster movie “Nell”.
“Taye n na winn.”
I don’t understand Adam? What do you want?
“Bu Jaye n na Gra ba lae ba la ba.”
You want me to read the Liam Neeson part? What?
(Runs into the kitchen waving his arms above his head) “Ma ba fa fa whoa whoa whoa”
We don’t have any Chianti or Fava Beans if that’s what you’re looking for.
“Nein nein nein!”
Oh come on, that just sounds German.
(Grabs my hand, makes propeller sound with is lips and leads me to refrigerator) “Da da. Ba ba”
“I agree. Flightplan did feel contrived in parts.”
Certain “Ex-perts” will tell you that Love is the universal language and whereas I love my son more than anything I contend that English and not love is the universal language and the sooner Adam and everyone else gets in line with that agenda the sooner I can stop 1) pointing at things on the counter and saying to Adam “This? This? This? This? 2) Slipping on wet floors. (How was I supposed to know it had just been mopped? I thought those were Janice Joplin Lyrics on the sign. “Cuidado! Take another little piso mojado, baby.”)
Now I can already hear the language liberals saying, “That xenophobic attitude is what’s wrong with this country. America’s a melting pot of culture and language. In fact, all our children should at least be bi-lingual if they want to succeed in the 21st Century.” First, I don’t see how my attitude could have anything to do with Lucy Lawless. Second, I like one type of cheese in my bubbling patriotic fondue of society and that’s American (and sometimes a nice Swiss Gruyère which I’ll tolerate since the Swiss are neutral) Third, if you encourage your children to be bi-lingual that’s your business. I have a strict “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy when it comes to what tongues are used in the privacy of other people’s homes, but I like my “linguals” the way I like the magic horns on the heads of mythical equine creatures, my lateral decisions and the sexual designation of public restrooms: Uni. (Did you know in Native American culture a Unicorn is called a Unimaize?)
So until Adam decides to start speaking in a language I can understand and stop speaking like he’s eaten a game of Scrabble (Adam said his first triple word score the other day! I’m so proud) I’ve developed three failsafe methods that when applied directly to forehead, applied directly to forehead, applied directly to forehead, the infected area and to his babbling gibberish have proven invaluable in helping us decipher and understand the words that are coming out of his mouth.
The Paul is Dead Method
Very much the same way The Beatles divulged the death of Paul McCartney by backmasking it in clues that could be heard by playing their White Album backwards, a toddler will sometimes say something that sounds nonsensical but when listened to in reverse will make known some revealing truth. For example, your husband takes your 18-month old son out to the park for a few hours and when they return home you say to your toddler, “Did you and your Daddy have fun at the park?” Your child garbles a response that sounds like the dwarf from Twin Peaks, “kcart esroh eht ot em koot yddad”. You smile and kiss hubby on the cheek, but if you’d used the Paul is Dead method you’d realize your son just said, “Daddy took me to the Horse Track.” (This is not to be confused with my far less effective Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Method)
The Word Jumble Method
You’ve seen it on the comic page of the newspaper wedged between The Family Circus and the Bridge column and now it’s time you used it to understand your child. The idea behind the Word Jumble is that you unscramble letters to make words. Some of the letters in the unscrambled words are then used to form the answer of the Jumble’s overall riddle. Unnecessary and convoluted I agree, but when applied to your child’s nattering it becomes an invaluable method of decryption. For example you playfully say to your toddler, “Did someone make a poopy in their diaper?” to which your child replies, “oangkora igzzga ouhty upypp” Gobbledygook? Not after the words are decoded and certain letters emphasized “Kangaroo Zigzag Youth Puppy” That’s right, your kid just told you to Krzyut Up. (Kangaroo Zigzag Youth Puppy is playing the T. F. Much Ballroom in Melbourne this Saturday: Tickets are $15 in advance $20 at the door)
The Word Search Method
Much like the puzzle wherein words are hidden horizontally, vertically, diagonally, backwards and forwards within a rectangular box of seemingly random letters, imagine that within the constant stream of seemingly random vowels and consonants pouring from your child there are actual words hidden. The key is to determine which letters form words and which letters are just filling up the box. As this is the most difficult of the three proposed methods and frustrations and tempers have been known to run high when using it, it’s recommended that you do not resort to filling up a box with your child to alleviate some of the stress. (Children must always be sent overnight mail and be labeled with a sticker that reads, “May contain fruit”)
As your child goes through the language development stage I recommend using one or all of these methods as a way to better understand him or her. You may think I’m bullkrzyitting you, but we use them with Adam and they’ve not only helped us make sense of what we thought was pure drivel, but Adam can also apply the credit hours from his genealogy course towards his undergraduate degree.
Ummm, Uh Oh Daddy.
Both my tescalators are
missing. That’s not good.
Toddlers are the missing link
The History Books
got it wrong. I’m the Father
of the Adam Bomb
I know the moment
you fall asleep on the couch
Your breathing changes
When you wake up at
One O’Clock I will go down
and sleep on the couch
Two quick notes before I launch into my heavily worded “Wordless Wednesday” 1) My apologies to my many friends for my lack of comments lately. Hopefully I’ll get into the reasons for my reclusive nature for the last week or so in a future post, but not tonight. 2) I’m woefully overdue for updating my blog roll. Please send me your link if you’d like to be added, I’d love to include you. And now onto the pictures…
The Second Coming – Adam’s First Microphone. This is how it began for me. “…for unto you is born this day a saviour, which is M.C. Shadöe Jr. And this shall be a gang sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe rapping in swaddling clothes or footy pajamas, lying to his manager…”
I’ve never seen a child so upset that Santa brought the wrong Squeegee. He’s 14 months old. How can he tell?
When Adam was 6 months old he went off baby food and switched over completely to mop handles. What we save on groceries has been completely outweighed by the waxy build up on the kitchen linoleum.
It’s almost impossible to find pants in Adam’s size – 34×10.