All posts by Steven Miller

I am a 29 year old, Caucasian male of Anglo-Saxon descent writing in a language also of Anglo-Saxon descent. I do NOT like raw oysters.

Old Church Slavonic

–для Чарльза всем сердцем

Because it seems never to be beginning, always picking up in the middle with it’s long resonant tones, which themselves begin as if they’ve always been. Maybe that’s why we love old, sacred music. And by we I, of course, mean my two-year-old Charlie and me.

Charlie is our good sleeper. Usually all it takes is his head to hit the pillow, then lights out, but even he suffers from the occasional nocturnal unrest. On such rare occasions, I’ll find something clerical on Youtube for us to listen to. At the first chanted note–be it Latin or Greek, Coptic or Hebrew or Old Church Slavonic–he settles right down.

At the bottom of each song are long chains of internet discussions that began and ended before Charlie was born, and maybe that’s why he loves them–their permanence, the fact that these recordings precede him and that the songs themselves precede us both plus the country we live in. With a few simple notes, we’re transported back to an ancient time and then further back still as we pause in praise of Him who existed before the whole world. And it doesn’t matter that we can’t understand a word or tell if this one is Georgian, that one Aramaic.

I do wonder though if all this exposure to antiquity is keeping Charlie, an expressive babbler, preverbal. I wonder if too much Latin is preventing his mind from progressing the requisite millenia to toddler English. Then again, this is just a writerly revery.

I know that he will being speaking full sentences soon, not just isolated words, and when that happens it will be difficult to remember what it was like before he did. Then, we will reminisce about these simpler times when all communication was tone and intention, and we will look forward to all the milestones yet to come. For now, I long for the present, which is simultaneously slipping into history yet constantly with us, like a long, even note–its language indistinguishable, its message universal.

The Season of Waiting

“Fievel” is the new baby’s tummy name, as “Nino” was Bonnie’s. It’s Yiddish for “a small mouse in a floppy hat with an aptitude for getting lost.” No, it’s actually Yiddish for something like “bravely born,” but the cartoon mouse of our childhood is definitely where I got the idea.

I haven’t written a great deal about this pregnancy, and honestly I don’t know why. I’ve come up with half a dozen or so reasons, but they’re all pretty lame. The only thing I know for certain is that when we were expecting Bonnie, life was far more settled for both Susan and me than the last year has been. In just the last twelve months, we moved across the state; Susan took a new job at a new college after eight years at K-State and then another new job six months later; I became a part-time editor and full-time stay-at-home-dad, then a freelance editor as well, then an adjunct instructor for two different colleges, and then a substitute teacher at the high school—all while trying to maintain my writing; our little Bonnie went from being a six month old, whose greatest feat was rolling from her stomach to her back, to a crawling, walking, climbing, and babbling toddler. We worked on an estimate for renovating one house, then a different house, and then finally decided to start looking for a sane person’s first home (i.e., one not in desperate need of Chip and Joanna Gaines). In the middle of it all, we got pregnant. Okay, so maybe I know why I haven’t written as much about Fievel, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

I miss how we felt waiting for Bonnie, like Mary prayerfully but eagerly awaiting the birth of Jesus. This time around we’ve been a lot more like Joseph. Joseph scrambling to get Mary out of Galilee. Joseph desperate to find a room in Bethlehem. Joseph evacuating his family to Egypt—all while making kitchen tables and wagon wheels as the village carpenter. Now, I’m sure Joseph was just as reverent, but you’ve got to admit the guy was busy. Or maybe he wasn’t reverent at all and maybe that’s okay, too.

The season of Advent, as the Mass readings remind us, is a time when we remember the coming of Christ, but it’s also a time to prepare for the second coming. If a cursory comparison of the first few chapters of the Gospels and any chapter of Revelations is any indicator, the second coming is going to be wildly different from the first. Maybe that’s how it is with kids, too.

This Advent I decided to slow down and pay more attention to my family, especially the newest member. This is always my struggle, so to that end I also shelved social media for a time, letting my phone go back to being just a phone. It hasn’t been a cure-all and there are certainly some grumpy evenings, but it has made me at least moderately more present. There have already been some fruits. For example, the other night, while we were listening to Christmas music on the couch, I let my hand rest on Susan’s stomach and felt those most surreal jabs and kicks, like an alien beginning to burst from my wife’s abdomen. I’d scratch her stomach and Fievel would answer, reaching out to touch his father’s hand.

“Sorry, you got short-changed in the prose-department, buddy,” I wanted to say. “Daddy’s been busy making sure we don’t have to move into a cardboard box.” Although, let’s be real, Susan’s been the busy one. But I’d like to think I’ve been there to assist. Driving Bonnie to daycare. Washing dishes occasionally. Making soup. Those are the same as creating a human being from scratch, right? Hopefully, the preparation has been enough; although, in the case of Advent, I doubt we’ll ever really be ready. I suppose all we can do is look forward. Look forward to Fievel, Christmas, the eschaton, and enjoy it once it’s here.

Rule #1

old-carThere is only one rule in our house: No babies in the kitchen. Our daughter acknowledges this rule by scurrying just past the border between the carpeted living room and the linoleum kitchen. She then sits down on the linoleum and looks back at us as if to say, “And what are YOU going to do about it?”

Bonnie’s refusal to abide even the least restrictive limitation mocks our inability to break even the most restrictive new rules about parenting. I miss the relative ignorance my wife and I had when we were pregnant with Bonnie. The other day I saw the following headline on Facebook: Study Finds Swaddling May Lead to SIDS. How is that the conclusion of a study?

Researcher #1: Our hypothesis was that swaddling may lead to SIDS.

Grant Committee: And your findings?

Researcher #2: Yeah, maybe.

Grant Committee: That isn’t much of a conclusion.

Researcher #1: Isn’t it, though?

Researcher #2: In our defense, we have already cashed the check.

As we prepare for baby number two, I feel like someone retaking a class only to learn that his notes are completely useless. Instead of All’s Well That Ends Well they’re reading Hamlet. Instead of Great Expectations they’re reading Bleak House. All that second-time parent cockiness has been replaced, slowly but surely, by those first-time jitters we thought were behind us. One thing’s for certain: My mom did not have to go through this, and not just because Facebook hadn’t been invented yet.

panamamap

My grandma was pregnant with her fifth child when my grandparents moved to Panama. They were just a missionary family from Michigan trying to spread the gospel to the jungles of Central America. They spent most of their adult lives away from the family and community of their youths, battling snakes and heat stroke to set up evangelical churches in devout Catholic countries. But to hear my grandma tell it, it was never a struggle. Every time they needed to enter a new village in Puerto Rico or Guatemala, the Lord would bless them with a new baby to smooth things over. In this manner was my soon-to-be-born mom their gateway into Panama.

However, when my grandma visited the local hospital, she discovered that among other things there was an inch of dust on the windows. She didn’t complain to her doctor or find the next-closest hospital or leave my grandpa there with my uncles and aunt and return to the states. No, she did something far bolder: She bought a book. Now that may not sound very bold to you, but this was a very special book. It was a book by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, and her plan was to use it to give birth. At home.

She hid the book immediately and read it in secret so that no one would know about her plan. Not even her husband.

I can just imagine my grandparents the day my grandma went into labor in the middle of the night, her trying to hide each new burst of pain, him waking up periodically anyway. Was it a particularly bad contraction that made her cry out or did she perhaps knock her drinking glass off her bedside table? Whatever it was, she got her husband’s attention.

“Are you sure you’re not in labor, Mary Ellen?”

“Just indigestion, go back to sleep.”

“Are you sure?”

“I must have eaten a bad pepper.”

“Did you eat a pepper?”

“Oh Carl, you worry too much.”

By the time she finally gave in and let Carl drive her to the hospital, it was too late. Instead of being brought into the world in a filthy hospital, Esther Ellen Moses, my mom, was born in the front seat of her parents’ Mercury, the only brand new car the couple ever had. Carl welcomed her into the world with open arms and then carefully unwrapped the umbilical cord that was around her neck.

Whenever my mom comes to visit, she basically ignores our one and only rule about the kitchen. She also treats casually the 150 or so guidelines (not rules) we try to follow, which cover everything from how many ounces of whole milk to give with formula to how long to let Bonnie cry at bed time to how many minutes she can be in direct sunlight. Whenever she does ignore one such guideline, I just remind myself that people who were born in the back of a car in a third-world country don’t sweat the small stuff.

Or so I thought. Between writing the first line of this story and this line, I sat down with my mom and had a heart-to-heart. She confessed that she did, in fact, stress over me and that, surprise surprise, she still does. I hope that I’m not worried about Bonnie when she’s 30, but something tells me a little part of me always will be. There will always be that catch in my throat, that hoping that everything is all right.

And maybe that’s why we’re so adamant about our “one” rule. If we can just keep her out of the kitchen, everything will be all right. If we can keep her in the living room, everything else will fall in line. It’s like gremlins. Don’t feed them after midnight, don’t get them wet, and everything will be fine. Yet we all remember what happened with them. As far as my daughter goes, every time I turn around she’s managed to worm her way into the kitchen. Then again, for all her disobedience, nothing terrible has happened. And it could be worse. She could be crawling around a hospital in Panama.

Why I’m Busy Friday Mornings

Saint_Dominic_Receives_the_Rosary

There are a number of significant days in the Catholic Church that are defined not by their date on the calendar, but by their day of the week–Easter Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday–but one of my favorites, and certainly Bonnie’s, is unique to St. Dominic’s parish in Garden City. That day is Fritter Friday.

Years ago, or perhaps months ago–I’m no church historian–someone from the office decided to get donuts one Friday morning and Fr. Reggie requested a raspberry fritter, which is available only on Fridays. According to Church tradition, that first Fritter Friday brought frosting, merriment, and a sudden uptick of productivity never before seen so close to the weekend.

When we moved to Garden, I laid out a detailed schedule for myself, which included three hours of editing every morning, three hours of writing/reading every afternoon, lunch with Susan, games with Bonnie, and daily Mass every day. By the end of our first week in town, I had written twice, was woefully behind on my edits, and had taken Bonnie to daily Mass exactly zero times. So that Friday morning we wandered into the sanctuary to find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the “Children’s Mass,” which is put on by the elementary school.

“Can I be here?” I asked Fr. Reggie. “I mean adults. Can adults attend?”

He smiled and assured me that we were welcome.

Bonnie was a hit immediately with the children who saw her and the adults who came up to us after the Mass. So it should’ve come as no surprise when she caught the attention of the church staff when we went to register our family with the parish.

They immediately called for Fr. Reggie to register Bonnie as a new parishioner:

New parishioner

The following week, we were invited to participate in Fritter Friday.

While I ate donuts and drank coffee, the church staff put Bonnie right to work on a calculator doing important parish business. She did such a good job they elected her employee of the month:

Employee of the month

The images are horizontal because these actually appeared on the cover of the St. Dominic website a few days after introducing this little girl to everyone. No joke. Have I mentioned how welcoming Garden City has been?

Food is one of the best ways humans show community. It’s no great surprise that the Jews all ate the same meal before departing Egypt or that Christ’s last meeting with His disciples before the crucifixion was over a meal. Who we invite to our table says a lot about us, and I’m honored to have been invited to this table. As my grandma Moses used to say, “A cute baby can get you into anywhere.”

@Home

“Hey a man with a baby! You don’t see that every day!” Thus was I described the other day by a library patron leaving the library while I was arriving, Bonnie in tow. The library has been a big place for Bonnie and me. So far in my two months as stay-at-home dad/work-from-home editor, I’ve read three books, am halfway through three more (which I’m reading simultaneously, of course), have written full drafts of three short stories, and have checked out about two dozen books I basically just glanced at twice and then returned. Also, they have “Wee Readers” (0-3) story time. This week’s theme was Dr. Seuss:

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Cat in the Hat in a “Cat in the Hat” Hat

Bonnie colored that hat, with a little help from Dad, but I went ahead and wrote her name out. Then, since we somehow didn’t hear The Cat in the Hat during story time, I read it to her once we got home. She basically demanded it. Once I handed it to her and she wouldn’t let go, that is. Not letting go of things is a big skill in Bonnie’s repertoire right now.

SAH 1
Yum!

Also chewing on everything. Here she’s chewing on a dress Susan’s friend Joanna had made for Bonnie. As of this afternoon, Bonnie has tried every flavor in the 1st food category at Dillons/Walmart, unless there’s some little known one I haven’t heard of, like habanero.

Also as of this afternoon, she has two teeth breaking through the gums, which have made her quite happy and easy to deal with–let me tell you. They are her two front teeth, though, which is pretty adorable. Whenever I see them, that Chipmunks song begins running through my head. You know, “Christmas Don’t Be Late.”

While Bonnie has been trying out lots of new flavors in puree form, her parents have been experimenting with new meals for lent. This year we gave up “out food,” that is food not made in our kitchen–or someone else’s. Sundays are a great exception where we load up on terrible-for-us but delicious things we’ve been hungering after all week. And we’ve had some slips during the week. A Sonic drink here, a trip to Tequilas Mexican restaurant there. I told my sister we do lent plus grace.

Best of all, here’s how we started this blessed season:

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The king cakes in Kansas are truly remarkable.

Another bright spot of the last few weeks has been Parents As Teachers and playgroup. Bonnie and I have made it to playgroup three times and I haven’t been the only dude once. Usually it’s a Mom-Dad combo, but I’ll count it.

Last week our instructor, Donna, sent me home with a book of activities. Bonnie’s least favorite was the pot game, where you hide a toy under a pot. I wasn’t sure if it was too advanced or not advanced enough and then another instructor at playgroup pointed out, “There’s some activities they just don’t like.”

What she loves is mirror-time. Here she is doing two activities at once. Mirror-time and bang the wooden spoon like a drum stick. Mostly she ate the wooden spoon, but that other baby has held her attention all week.

SAH 3
How much is that baby in the mirror?

Then Donna came by our house and assessed Bonnie. Social-emotional: Check! Attachment: Stellar! Motor-skills: Could use some work. But to be fair, we hadn’t worked with her on standing next to something and holding on to it, or hitting a toy with another toy, which is apparently a crucial developmental milestone. First you hit a toy with another toy. Then you hit your dad in the eye with said toy. And then you can do Algebra. Crawling, however, is more important than we ever thought. For some mystical reason, the fluidity of crawling is a pre-reading skill.

Needless to say, ever since Donna dropped by, our little home has become much more activity-filled.

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Happy Dr. Seuss Day!