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October 9, 2007


Ronan's Head
Ronan's head. A haircut can wait!

I have been designated a hippie by the local men’s grooming institution, the Park Slope Barbershop, which has been around since 1906. So damn it, they recognize hippies.

Okay, the word “hippie” wasn’t actually used in conversation. If you look at my photo, which for unknown technical reasons is stuck at the bottom of the blog’s main page, you can see that I’m a wild, hairy man, who should be charged extra for the barber to take a weed whacker to that mess. At least that’s how I felt when I left the Park Slope Barbershop.

It was a nice place; they offered me beer, and when I refused, an answer of “No” to the cheerful question, “You don’t like beer?” resulted in an offer of scotch. Which would have been nice, if it wasn’t 10:30 in the morning. So everyone – all older men – had a beer except me. The haircut commenced, and only after a nice, professional job was finished, the barber said, “Normally we charge $20, but your hair is so long and it took so much time, your haircut is $25.” With tip, $30. Because you can’t refuse the barber price after the fact; what will they do, glue the hair back on?

My hair is so long? Took so much time? God, I’m a hippie!

I’ve never really considered myself a hippie. I’m an unabashed liberal, sure, but a hippie? I thought that was a stretch. I have gotten rid of my last tie-dye from college, and while my hair is unruly sometimes, I didn’t think I looked anything like Jesus, especially that day.

Dads and their boy babies have bonded over the first haircut for centuries.[1] I was looking forward to Ronan’s first haircut but now I wonder where it will be, because while I’m sure someone will write in to defend the Park Slope Barbershop, I’m not going back there.

Sure, my women readers are scoffing, because of the gender inequality in hair care. Women are charged much more for haircuts, and society impresses upon them the need to have haircuts on a more frequent basis. So many readers are crying a river of tears for my $30 haircut. So I’ll make them feel worse.

I’m accustomed to paying $8 for a haircut.

Like so many services I had before moving to Brooklyn, I’ve been going to the same barber near Stuyvesant Town for over a decade. That place, to be helpful, is not only a barbershop, but also a watch repair and battery replacement service center. It’s also a repository for a large porn collection, and less appealing, a large pee collection in their bathroom that was last cleaned when Bush 41 was President. The owners are either Kazakh or Azerbaijani, but don’t call them Russian. They have sharp blades and they will get really angry if you think they are Russian.

But, damn, they still charge 1991 prices, having raised their haircut price to $10 this year. And for $10, they do a great job, as good at the $25 haircut at the Park Slope Barbershop. Sure, as I leave the shop, I look like Drax from Moonraker.[2] I don’t know the shop’s name but my brother and I call the owner the “Bond Guy” after his signature haircut. Despite having the latest in European dictator styling, it washes out to a perfectly acceptable haircut that gets compliments. If my wife didn’t think it was such a horrible place, I could take Ronan there for his first haircut.

Not that we really have to worry about this anytime soon. Ronan came out of the womb with a full head of hair, dark brown like his Mom. Now it’s more sandy red like mine. The style is the same since birth; he has the baby version of the comb-over. Some places he’s kinda bald. Other areas, he has long hair that I (not Terry) wraps behind his ears, mostly to keep the frizzies from tickling my nose as he rests on my chest. If we’re really cruel, we pull his pants up to his armpits and comb his hair over and he looks like a two-foot-tall old man. With a great big toothless smile.

What’s surprising to me, and almost no one else who has visited Park Slope and seen the army of parents, (at least 25% of Americans are born and raised in Park Slope, according to my informal count of strollers on Seventh Avenue) is that there is a whole niche market of toddler hair care. They have racing cars and My Little Pony barber chairs, toys, video games, food, and more to ease your child through the trauma of their first haircut. Personally, I feel gypped. Even at 38 I want my haircut while I sit in a toy tank.

All of this seems like overkill to me. I had a horrible first haircut and somehow I survived the experience. Growing up, Sergio in Buffalo cut my hair. He also cured my dandruff by purposely burning my scalp with a heat lamp. I was only four or five but he would bake my scalp with the hottest hair dryer I have ever seen. I still remember the glowing red heating element and the pain of the searing heat as it incinerated my dry scalp. Still, despite that part, Sergio was a fun barber to visit and I went to him for years. Somehow I overcame the horror of the hair dryer.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who had a bad memory of the barber as a kid. These hair stylists – almost none of the baby barbers admit to being a barber – are there to soothe the parents as much as make the kid comfortable for their first haircut.

Perhaps I’ll take Ronan to the Bond Guy and we’ll get haircuts together. We can get a little goatee and go as Drax twins for Halloween.

[1] I have no source to prove this. Just take my word for it. It’s not really important to the story.

[2] When I get home, I look in the mirror and bellow, “Once again, Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my attempts to devise an amusing death for you!” in my most sinister voice.

October 13, 2007

Got Milk?

Ronan Eating Movie
QuickTime Movie of Ronan Eating (2.2 MB)

Count How Many Times I Shove the Food In!

So the other day I was sitting around with my Dads’ Group, stay-at-home Dads that get together once a week to hang in the park and sometimes drink beer.[1] The conversation turned to feeding solid foods to our babies. Ronan has just started solid food and I wanted to see how the older kids were doing. By “solid” food I mean a pasty mush made out of rice cereal, sweet potatoes, or squash, mixed with breast milk. I find feeding Ronan, who really hates rice cereal and isn’t sure if he likes sweet potatoes, a trying experience. The other Dads are old hands at it and assured me that Ronan would figure it out and not spit out every spoonful.

It was at that moment Ronan sneezed and sweet potato came out of his nose; he’d been storing it there for two hours. He smiled; I bet he was glad to get that out of his nostrils.

Poopy diapers don’t bother me as much as “solid” food. There’s something gross about mixing breast milk with perfectly good sweet potatoes or squash that’s been run through a food mill, only to be run through the food mill that’s Ronan’s mouth. He’s figured out that he can spit out the food and he doesn’t have to eat it; better yet is to make a “raspberry” noise and spray “solid” food everywhere. He doesn’t seem to have figured out that I scrape together whatever I can off his chin, forehead, eyelids, nose, ears, high chair, me, anywhere but the floor – and shove that back into his mouth. He has a “meh” maneuver to combat my recycled food; he just opens his mouth and lets the food out. Most of the time he looks at me like he’s slightly confused with two or three fingers jammed in his mouth to prevent me from feeing him more “solid” food.

I was impressed with the Dads, because several of them could do what I absolutely cannot – taste the food to make sure it’s okay for their baby. I don’t know why, but I can’t taste the “solid” food or Terry’s breast milk. I wish it didn’t bother me, but I just can’t imagine tasting the watery mush that results from mixing rice cereal or sweet potatoes or squash with breast milk.

I remember being about eight, when my brother Ryan was born, and I was curious about my Mom breastfeeding, so she gave me a little breast milk in a juice glass. It was my first time as a sentient being that I tasted it, and it was terrible. Familiar with pasteurized, homogenized cow’s milk, I was unprepared for the thin, watery substance that is newborn breast milk. There’s something to be said for the British; their unpasteurized, heterogeneous milk may be thought of as unsafe, but it’s more like the clotted, fatty substance that Ronan owes his health and survival.

While breast-feeding is the best food for your baby, I think society should cut some slack for women who choose not to breast-feed. It’s hard work, with the blocked ducts that create open, bleeding sores, the chapped nipples, and now that Ronan’s got some, the ever-present danger of teeth biting down. It’s just not nearly as exciting as every Hollywood movie that deals with the subject makes it out to be.[2]

Even thought I don’t want to taste it, it’s magic, fascinating stuff. Men have all the equipment to lactate, except the hormones. Stress can make men lactate; some prisoners of war lactate during their incarceration. I’m exceptionally glad that I don’t lactate; I still can bond with Ronan over a bottle, or diaper changing, or many other ways. Plus, since I’m home with Ronan all the time, it’s something that Terry can do with him that’s just for the two of them. It’s quite heady stuff. Ronan’s just about doubled in weight before we started feeding him, and it’s all from breast milk. As Ronan gets older, the content of the breast milk changes so that he gets the adequate level of nutrition. Formula doesn’t do that. Formula for 0-3 months means that a newborn gets the same nutrients as a 3 month old.

In the cold of the refrigerator, the breast milk separates into fat and liquid. The fat looks like white butter; there’s also fat that looks kind of sandy. I have to remember to shake it up before serving it, because you want to give the baby the fat. Ronan is now trained to completely thrash with joy at the sound of a bottle being shaken.

It has a long shelf life; it will last for a week in refrigeration, or a month in the freezer. When it goes bad (and we’ve been lucky enough to not have that happen yet) it smells bad. According to the other Dads, frozen milk tastes different than fresh. (I can’t confirm that as I haven’t tasted it.)

Thankfully Ronan doesn’t seem to care. While he’s not sure he likes “solid” food, he doesn’t discriminate over milk, eating it from the breast, from the bottle, fresh or frozen. He also doesn’t seem to care about which plastic nipple we use, although we haven’t really tested that since he was a newborn.

I suppose someday, for reasons that aren’t at all clear, I will have to taste the “solid” food. Perhaps, when he is a little older, he will eat it if I do; or perhaps I won’t be sure the milk is fresh or something and I’ll try it. I’m not looking forward to that.

Even after that happens, I’ll still be in awe of Terry and all women who go through breastfeeding. While ultimately rewarding, it’s a hard journey that reminds me once again how much personal courage and strength Terry has to get up at all hours of the night and day and feed him when he’s hungry. Or pumping with one hand while editing video with the other at work.[3] It’s best for him, but it’s really hard on her.

[1] I hate beer, so I drink soda or pineapple juice. If Ronan weren’t with me I’d drink Rye and Ginger ale, the drink of generations of McDonalds.

[2] So, I was watching Shoot ‘Em Up and (spoiler) there’s a sex scene between Monica Bellucci, who plays a lactating hooker, and Clive Owen, who plays a Jungian archetype of a Bugs Bunny with a myriad of guns. All I could think about was how having sex was possibly going to reduce her milk production the next day, and whether she’d have enough for the baby. How strange is that?

[3] Privately behind closed doors.

October 22, 2007

Die, Parminder Nagra, Die[i]

Ronan Knuckles
If Ronan becomes a political pundit, this should be the photo on his book cover.

Ronan and I made a whirlwind five-hour trip around Brooklyn. On a rainy Friday afternoon we went to the doctor, where he charmed the pants off of everyone, smiling the whole time. We then headed to Brooklyn College, where I am currently enrolled in their MFA program in Television. He rolled around on the floor while I talked with my advisor about courses next semester and transitioning into production courses. As we left, a fellow student, a gorgeous African-American woman, kissed him on the lips. “He’ll want black women forever now!” she whooped.

Overall it was an easy trip, because Ronan was so well behaved, never crying, never frustrated; he seemed to enjoy taking in everything around him and flirting with anyone who would make eye contact. So I was quite pleased as I settled into my seat on the 2 Train back to Park Slope.

Ronan started babbling almost immediately. While he hit every other benchmark early, he didn’t start babbling until about two months after expectations. We weren’t worried about it since he did everything else early. He is babbling a lot now, making up for lost time.

His favorite sound is “Doi.” He will play with toys and babble, going “Doi Doi Doi” repetitively. When he is tired or annoyed, he will babble during his crying at a very rapid pace, which is so cute I end up laughing at his pain, which is a terrible thing for a father to do.

On the train home from Brooklyn, he was babbling somewhat quietly, “Doi Doi Doi” to himself, fairly tired after a long day of stimulation. Plus I had to get some staples at the grocery store before we headed home, so we had a while to go before he could relax. I was hoping that the gentle rocking of the train would lull him to sleep. That was not to be.

Ronan’s babbling, still quiet, attracted the attention of the man next to me, a young African-American man with long dreadlocks. He smiled at Ronan, and Ronan smiled back. They were flirting with each other while I closed my eyes, fairly tired myself with twenty pounds of baby and five or ten pounds of diaper bag strapped to me for five hours. As I closed my eyes, I heard Ronan babble again:

“Doi! Doi Nagra!!”

Now, if you’re not familiar with the Brooklyn terminus of the 2 Train, it’s predominantly home to West Indian and African-American communities. Ronan and I were the only white folks in that car. So when a baby white boy makes a sound disturbingly close to something a Ku Klu Klan member would shout, it could cause some problems.

I immediately opened my eyes and looked at Mr. Dreadlocks. Instead of smiling he was looking at Ronan with a fair amount of confusion. Mr. Dreadlocks didn’t make eye contact, just stared at Ronan in what I assumed was disbelief. To be helpful, Ronan repeated his babbling, but at a much louder volume.


So it came to this: As I became “That Guy” who had trained his kid to shout racial death threats on the subway, I immediately started to think of what to say if someone started something by confronting me about my baby’s odd babblings:

It’s only a baby. The problem with that is that while a rational person can understand that a six-month-old can’t control what comes out of any orifice, let alone his mouth, an irrational person might not accept that explanation. The irrational conclusion would be that I’m teaching him to say such things, so it’s all my fault.

The baby is actually talking about Parminder Nagra, star of Bend It Like Beckham and ER. The problem with this explanation is two fold: One, few people know the name Parminder Nagra, even if she was the more interesting actress in Beckham and many people watch ER. The other is that I like Parminder Nagra (as an actress, I don’t know her in real life) and I didn’t want to appear that I’m not okay with racism against African-Americans, but racism against South Asians is just fine.

Fuck Off!! The stereotypical New York answer, this could be considered fighting words, and probably wouldn’t end well. I dismissed this almost as soon as I thought of it, especially since no amount of explanation would make this course of action okay with Terry.

What the hell was that? If anybody said anything, I decided, the best course was to just laugh it off. Hopefully they would laugh with me.

Of course, I was just being a panicky white boy, and by the time I had thought of all those answers, everybody else had forgotten the whole thing. Ronan looked to me for attention and I made some entertaining noises for him, and soon he was asleep. Most of the people on the subway car either enjoyed his laughing (and his quiet exit into dreamland) or had ignored us in the first place.

The whole thing made me think about how racism is learned, often primarily from your parents. I was probably the only one (besides, perhaps, Mr. Dreadlocks) who had made something out of the nothing words coming out of Ronan’s mouth. But because of my own fear and racism, I immediately tried to think of ways to deflect the content of Ronan’s nonsensical words. In doing so, if Ronan was older, I could have given him the message that black people are to be feared.

I remember my own confusion the first time I realized that black people existed. When I was two or three, with me in my car seat, my mother stopped at a gas station. I looked over at the attendant, who was black, and said, “Look, Mommy, that man’s chocolate,” upon which she completely freaked out, thinking he would be upset or something. He thought I was very cute, wasn’t offended, and we drove off. I didn’t understand was the fuss was about, but I was impressed that she was so upset. I was a little scared that she was so scared.

This trip was a good lesson that I have to be careful about putting my own irrational fears before Ronan, lest he pick them up too. I know that on some level I can’t control that, and I will make mistakes, but hopefully if I’m aware of it, there’s less chance of him growing his own fear of people who don’t look like him.

Or maybe he just doesn’t like Parminder Nagra as an actress. He’ll just have to make up his own mind.

[i] This is German for The Parminder Nagra, The.

About October 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Freaks & Geeks Parenting in October 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

September 2007 is the previous archive.

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