Chicken is standing up now.

2 weeks ago I walked into his nursery and there he was, holding onto the top rail of his crib, grinning like a fool.

Anytime Chicken learns something new, he practices it compulsively. He lived in that crib for the next few days, crawling from front to back, side to side, pulling up to standing and then standing there, leaning hard, his knees buckling and locking as he tried to negotiate simply standing still.

I hovered, clutching my neck and holding my shoulders so high and tight you'd think I was listening to nails on a chalkboard in Dolby Surround Sound. 

I'd seen him topple a few times. He'd buck too hard to one side or lose his grip with one hand, go down on a knee and roll toward the center of the crib, grazing a temple on the wall of the crib as he went down. He'd cry out, more out of frustration or surprise than pain, and then he'd remember that he had important work to do and boom, he'd be off toward the next crib wall to pull up again.

I'd also seen him well-and-truly smack his head.  Oh, the horrible thin static sound of a baby getting ready to scream, face twisted and purple, body rigid as a plank. I rushed to him, picked him up, cupped the back of his head in my hand as I tried to soothe him. A red blotch glowed at the point of impact on his skull like a burn. Long story short, he calmed down in 2 minutes but all of a sudden I knew the sound of a bone on hard wood and I didn't need a repeat.

He's a tough Chicken. But I was one nervous Hen.

I thought, "won't it be wonderful when he starts to get a little more control? When he realizes the consequences of diving to the unyielding floor? I won't have to worry so much."

But then a week later I saw him standing against a leather storage cube in the living room, chewing on a rubber duck. He dropped the duck next to his foot. He looked at it. I held my breath. He slowly leaned down, reaching with all his might, but when he started to lose his balance he straightened up and clung to the edge of the cube, leaving the duck on the floor.

Chicken hadn't fallen! He'd recognized what was about to happen, and aborted the approach so he could take another pass. Well done, Chicken! No bump on the head, no frozen moment-before-the-scream with mom saying "breathe, Chicken, breathe." This milestone should have been a win.

It took me a couple of hours to discover why it felt so deeply like a loss.

I'd hated watching him topple in the crib, worrying about whether he would one day land in such a way that would snap his spine or bruise his brain, stunt him or damage him beyond what kisses and cool-packs can repair.

But there was also this breathtaking fearlessness that I can only describe as heroic. Sure, his heroism was born as much from a still-developing short-term memory function as much as courage, but still, my Chicken was a tremendous cannonball of a baby, nurturing the seeds of a come-what-may, damn-the-manual, let's-jump-in-without-dipping-a-toe kind of man.

When he abandoned the duck I saw that part of his fearlessness had fled, in the way a gunshot scatters birds from the trees.

Now that he fears hurts, he'll do more than I ever could to keep himself from hurting. His self-preservation instinct is natural and crucial. I should be pleased, right? I'm not. I hate that he can remember his hurts. I hate he feels fear. I'll try for pleased tomorrow.

There's no way around letting him grow, letting him fall. When he gets teeth I will miss his pink gummy grin. When he starts to run I will miss the sight of his round diaper-wrapped butt as he crawls full-tilt toward an electrical socket. But what am I going to do? I could never not cheer, not clap, not squeal with glee when I see his shining face so full of "I DID IT!!!"

Oh, Joni Mitchell, you wise old owl, you were so right when you wrote "There's something lost and something gained in living every day."
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A little bit of context for this tongue-in-cheek bit of yogi wisdom:

Usually yoga teachers delight in reminding us that, "we don't call this yoga performance... we call it yoga practice." The time we spend on our mats is in pursuit of betterment, not perfection. I mostly hear this when teachers are trying to get me to do some bat shit crazy contortion or cirque-du-soleil handstand.

They'll say, "if this advanced pose is not available to you, that's PERFECTLY OKAY. Listen to your body and respect yourself. Remember... this isn't yoga performance. It's yoga practice."

Yoga teacher made me LOL today:

(after leading the class in attempting a tricky side arm balance)

"So, if you can't do this pose... it probably means you aren't spiritual enough."

Sometimes yoga teachers give you instructions that sound hard but if you really think about following them, it becomes easy. For example:

Allow your back to broaden.
Drive through your heels like you want to stand on the ceiling.
Breathe into the spaces between your vertebrae.

It's one of those miracles of humanity. When someone says "breathe into the spaces between your vertebrae," you can. You inhale and feel your back lengthen. Cool.

But then there's that line - the line between miraculous and ridiculous. Some yoga teachers dance on that line. Others need to look behind them. For example:

Soften the edges of your skin. 

(My skin doesn't really have edges... Does yours? If so, where? Do you mean soften my eyelids? Or my nail beds? Or possibly some softening south of the border?)

Engage your inner upper shoulder. 

(Where is that exactly and how does one engage such a thing? How about you flex your lower outside under calves for me. Or perhaps you could activate your topmost elbow skin. No?)

Allow your inner thighs to soften toward each other. 

(When I soften my inner thighs they usually fall away from each other. Try it. To bring your thighs together you have to contract the inner thigh. Why don't you ask me to completely relax my hand while I juice this orange. No can do.)

Place on hand on your heart and your other hand on your belly. Complete the circuit.

(I love that idea of completing the circuit, feeling energy from your heartbeat travel through your limbs. I know it's BS in the same way that I know "breathing into your hips" is BS, but when you inhale and think about your hip opening, somehow that shit works. It's yogi mysticism.)

There's a season for oranges, apples, pears, cherries, berries, tomatoes, squash, asparagus, beets, lettuces, pumpkins, parsnips, and avocados.

There appears to be NO SEASON for bananas, lemons, limes, kales or chard, potatoes, peppers, onions or garlic.

It's not just that the prices don't fluctuate like those of true seasonal produce.

It's that there is no time of year that these pieces of produce are reliably better or worse.

I think it's the Freemasons. Discuss.
On this day in 2006 I was sitting at my desk working on a poem for my creative writing workshop. I was getting ready to print copies and head out to grab a bowl of lentil soup at my favorite middle eastern restaurant, Babylon, before class. The poem was about returning to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It wasn't very good. I think the last stanza was about the cockroaches that had climbed into the upper floors of houses to escape the rising flood:

I think they will outlast me, here.
Such creatures are accustomed
to clutching what remains.

My phone rang. It was my best friend, Sam. (Names have been changed to protect the wounded.)

From here it's difficult to tell this story without sounding like a child, or a very bad writer.

As soon as I picked up the phone I heard him crying. Sam said, "my father died."

What I said in response is lost from my memory. It must have been something like "Oh my God," or "Oh, Sam," or "Where are you? I'm coming." He'd been on his way home when his stepmother called.

I remember it was sunny and cool. I remember the sun streaming into my room, through the warped glass, across the hardwood floors that left more than one splinter in my feet over that year. We stayed on the phone until I found him, sitting on a curb, curled down into his knees.

We went to his house. He sat outside and smoked cigarettes and occasionally his face went blank. That was horrible to see, because after the blankness, he would recall all over again the magnitude of what he'd lost, and his face would crumple into an expression I've never seen on any face except the face of someone who has lost, someone whose heart is profoundly broken.

It was as though he was tied to a water wheel, and from time to time he would sink beneath the surface where everything was blurry and muffled and otherworldly. But the wheel kept turning, and eventually he'd rise up again into the world as raw as a baby, and be battered by lights too bright, sounds too sharp, a reality that nobody can ever be prepared for.

We went up to his room and he started to pack. Down under the water he'd go, placing his deodorant, his razor, his toothbrush in a bag with orderly focus. Then up he'd rise (what brought him back? A memory of his father shaving? The realization that the next time he'd brush his teeth, it would be at his father's house where his father was no longer? I couldn't ask. I can't ever know.) and sob.

I remember I called in to rehearsal for the show we were working on. I said I wasn't coming.

The afternoon is muddy. I don't know if I was with him for 2 hours or 6. I don't remember saying good-bye. I can't imagine that he does, either.

I do remember he told me this story (paraphrased to accommodate my failing memory):

"My dad and I were supposed to have dinner together, but it wasn't going to work out. Then he called me and said we had to make it work, because he had a feeling that if we didn't go to dinner, he wouldn't see me again for a long time."

Sam spent a lot of time in darkness in the months after his father's death. He didn't reach out to a lot of friends, or at least not to me. That was fine. Ours is a friendship that flips the bird at distance.

I went home and wrote another poem that night, equally bad, equally ineffective at communicating my thoughts. Hell, I had no idea what I was thinking or feeling, and I had no business trying to write a poem about it. But I did, and here it is:

This One Defective
For SM

Get ready. This is the failure I tried to write for you.
The first time I met death,
a squirrel fell and lay.

A tree withered, split, turned brown.
The virus hacking in my lungs
simply quit one day.

A rabbit glassy in his cage.
A cat, gone out for good.
They pass. They die.

They need no more than a syllable
and do not haunt me.
Oh, my friend.

I tried to write for you.
How can I name whateverthisis
when a name limits sorrow to one identity?

I believed I could seize grief's hand,
palm its size. I cannot.
This is no quieted rabbit.

I failed.
I could not name the wild
of a screaming, all-alone, ocean-eyed child.

Nothing on this page is true.
I failed. I could not name the wild
I tried to write for you.

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1. Purchase a vintage yellow suitcase to store Chicken's keepsakes in. Right now it has cards from the baby shower, a handmade hat knitted by a beloved relative, "Baby's First Thanksgiving" bib complete with removable turkey waddle washcloth.
2. Attend a Beyonce-themed yoga class. I know what you're thinking, and NO, they did not like it, nor did they put a ring on it.
3. Eat a vegan donut.
4. Everything else, really.
One morning I will wake up and not be funny. And I will never ever be funny again.
You've come here to start changing your life. Use this hour accordingly.
1. You were going to get baby Toms? STOP. Collaborate. Listen. Get these instead:
Robeez makes a whole line of baby shoes that are not a total racket. Yes, tiny little Toms are adorbs. However, a baby Tom will not stay on the foot for longer than it takes you to put the other baby Tom on the other foot. You can imagine how long that sassy little dance can go on. Robeez are less expensive and way more practical.


2. You were going to get a Baby Bjorn? OH. GREAT. And I bet you were also going to get some white socks and sandals, too, right?

I won't bore you with the science, but the Baby Bjorn is uncomfortable for you and not awesome for baby. There's a reason you see these bad boys by the boxload at your neighborhood consignment store.

The Ergo is incredibly supportive for the baby and was easier on your back. I carry my almost 20-pound Chicken around in one of these puppies and my back never makes a peep.


3.  You were going to get a baseball? Awesome. He'll love it. In ten years. So good for you, you're also teaching him the fine art of patience, a quality which young children are particularly well-suited for. Also he might be able to use that baseball to give himself the gift that keeps on giving: A black eye.

Oball makes a line of soft balls that are easy for little punkins with the hand-eye coordination of a lush with an eyepatch. They bounce funny, are lightweight, safe to chew. Some come with little rattles. Some are football-shaped. This is THE ball.

4. You were going to get Sophie la Giraffe?

Good call.

Babies go ape shit for this giraffe. What is it? Her surprisingly musical squeak? Her perfectly rubbery texture? Her Mona Lisa aloofness? Whatever it is, her voodoo magic works like a charm. Best $30 I ever spent on a giraffe. In this country.