When we entered the square and looked up to see the looming tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, Lucy immediately said “I want to go home”. So I stared at it for a while, this infinitely-recognizable symbol of Florence, and realized… she’s right, man. That is one scary tower. Something about the squareness, the turret keep that actually gets larger at the top, engenders more dread than fancy.
The amazing thing about the Uffizi Gallery in Florence – besides, of course, seeing the births of both Venus and Spring – is the way talent itself unfolds before you. You start out in the proto-Renaissance rooms with the tilted Medieval heads, and as you work your way through the 1200s and the 1300s, you see artists collectively getting more brilliant.
Somebody figures out how the mystery of lighting, and everyone else follows suit. Somebody is amazing at depth perception, and all the other artists learn the trick. Not to be crass and a dude, but it’s like basketball: Naismith invents the game, but it takes decades for people to figure out how to make it amazing.
Turn the corner into the Renaissance, and someone jumps out at you as arrestingly special: Botticelli (Dr. J) and then Raphael (Larry Bird). Then you notice an artist has figured out how to make people undeniably human and full of pathos – look at the placard, and you see it’s a teenage Leonardo da Vinci (Michael Jordan).
My daughter, for her part, always gravitates towards whatever has the highest emotional Geiger counter; in this case, it was the Death of Jesus, showing him post-crucifixion in the arms of Mary Magdalene, with blood seeping from the usual places (had to sneak the photo – any art historians know the painting?). She and Tessa discussed the image for the better part of 15 minutes before I talked her into seeing the Madonna of the Goldfinch. ‘Cuz we like goldfinches. Almost as much as gelato alla fragola.
One thing about traveling with a 4-year-old: they keep you honest. You may have a bunch of museums or random churches on the agenda, but for every minute of that, there needs to be three minutes of unplanned crazy-pantsing. Thus a trip to Florence to see Great Art will be sidetracked for an hour because of a merry-go-round:
Going to the cathedral actually means picking out a marionette…
…so you can dance said marionette on the ancient, cold church floor:
And of course, the wonders of foreign hotel rooms:
Occasionally, the parental life forms get to lean on each other…
…and take in the Florentian full moon from our own hotel window:
I’ll try to post every weekday we’re here in Europe, but I hope you don’t mind that they’ll mostly be pictures… and since I stopped taking pictures of “famous buildings without people” when I was about ten, they’ll mostly be of the Lulubeans and the Tesseract.
We got here on Thursday or Friday – one’s mind gets scrambled when flying internationally in coach – and we’ll be in Europe for two weeks, taking advantage of Lucy’s crazy-long pre-school spring break and the natural lull of Hollywood goings-on for March and April.
Amelia from the south
We’ve been staying at our friend David’s place in Amelia in Umbria, Italy – a walled city founded way before the Romans, even before the Etruscans, perhaps even 800 or 900 years B.C., and when you get here, you believe it.
the duomo at night
The streets – if you can call them that – are so narrow that anything bigger than, say, a Prius will get you permanently lodged between two ancient dwellings. There are other walled cities in Umbria, even those with the duomo on top, but nothing comes close to the ghosts you can feel on these precipices.
out the front door
The walls are made from limestone arranged in long-forgotten polygonal masonry – so strong that they stayed intact for 2500 years, until a section collapsed a few years ago. When we were here in 2008, the “broken wall” became one of then-2-year-old Lucy’s first real memories.
on the playground just outside the wall
Rome is a 38-minute train ride away, so we’ve gone two days in a row. Lucy is an amazing traveler, the kind of kid that will be planning everyone’s road trips and vacations as soon as we let her – she loves the buildings, the public squares, the food, and just fartin’ around.
on the Piazza Navona
at the Trevi fountain, one of her wishes was for a lollypop, obviously
Not to be an elitist liberal who hates your freedoms, but around every corner in urban America is a McDonald’s, a Starbucks and a dreary office complex built in 1997. But here, every alley, every window, every random corner can look like this:
To make things even better, Lindsay, Dana & Jack happened to be in Italy (Dana is doing a piece for Saveur in Sicily) and it’s not just awesome for us parents to be traveling together again, but Lucy thinks Jack is the absolute best.
I introduced them to the mystery, the wonder, of the Bic 4-color pen
We went by an outdoor vendor who was selling futbol shirts, and they both picked out local teams who, of course, happened to wear Carolina blue:
back on the Piazza Navona
Even falling off the stone elephant base behind the Pantheon…
… is quickly forgotten when you’re having this much fun.
The entire time I was growing up, into my twenties and thirties, I had a tacit understanding with myself: I would have kids. The question, if asked, would not be if it would happen, but how many. Having grown up the middle of five makes certain things clear, and one of them was the inevitability of a family with progeny.
The hilarious thing is that I was as far away from having kids as a dude could get. Even as I turned 32, I was still besot by fear, depression, and widespread emotional immaturity that allowed me to sabotage every relationship I attempted, let alone one that would lead to having kids. By the time I had ended my suicide sojourn in the sun-forsaken folds of Beachwood Canyon, I had stopped even thinking about the possibilities of being a real member of society. And yet, deep in the recesses of my DNA, even then I couldn’t imagine a life without having children. My presumption knows no bounds, apparently.
I did the math in 2000: I knew I was pretty fucked up, and it would take at least 18 months to right my ship enough to be deserving of any kind of girlfriend. This “girlfriend” and I would have to date for two years before contemplating marriage, and I couldn’t see us being comfortable enough with the idea of children until we had been married for about two years.
So there I sat as a 32-year-old, telling myself the earliest I’d ever have a kid was around my 37th birthday. I was off by only six weeks.
Here’s the kicker: despite my so-called instinctual surety about having a child, I was pretty freaked out by the reality of it. While we were on our honeymoon, Tessa mentioned the possibility of us going off birth control. My stomach tightened, and I said, “Um, okay, but that means we can get pregnant tonight, you know.” I sensed her stomach tighten as well, and she said “Oh. Oh yeah. Maybe we should hold off for a bit.”
In 2004, we had begun our weird Hollywood adventure, getting a deal with the same company that was premiering “Lost”. Tessa and I decided we would see how far the deal went, and wait nine months before trying to have a kid. We got pregnant about five minutes later.
Nothing like “having no choice” to focus the mind, and from the instant of our pregnancy test, we had no regrets, and were off to the races. Since we have some folks out there who have been freaked out by the comments regarding having children and what it might do to your personal identity – or your relationship – I’ll just tell you a few things I learned.
• Nothing worth doing in life comes without a huge dose of ambivalence. When I finally told myself it was okay to be scared of having a kid, and that I was frightened that I’d never sleep again, and that it was normal to feel like I was losing my sense of self, a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. It’s okay that you’re not totally psyched “like you should be”. Nobody is grading you.
Everything huge in life – like getting married or starting a new career or having kids – will be accompanied by some amount of fear and sadness, AND THAT IS TOTALLY COOL. What is NOT cool is lying to yourself.
• Lean heavily on others. Show me a woman who tries to be a hero for the first three months of her child’s infancy, and I’ll show you someone who drives her car into the ocean in a fit of postpartum despondency. Even if you’re in a hospital, get a midwife; once you’re home, use a doula. Breast milk is fantastic, but don’t forget a bottle so others can relieve you of your duties.
About six weeks into the Lucy show, Tessa had been going nonstop, and she finally turned to me and said “I’m not saying I’m having postpartum depression, but I can definitely see the offramp to postpartum ahead.” I ordered her to go to yoga in a different town, and I took Lucy – even though Lucy wouldn’t take milk from a bottle. Better for the Lulubeans to scream it out than to have Tessa actually go batshit bonkers. From that point on, I understood I’d have to be more proactive, and I wish I’d known it sooner.
This next piece of advice may be controversial, but if you have the money for good child care, a good babysitter, a good nanny… use it. I’m not afraid to announce how much help we’ve had; Laura, our babysitter/nanny, showed us a world where we could still work, still write, still travel, still have some alone time, and still dive for hours and weeks and months and years into the magical mystery tour of our daughter.
I realize that isn’t possible for everybody. But it is a night-and-day game changer if you can pull it off.
• The libido does return. Eventually. Read the comments to get a sense of when it might happen, but for almost everybody, it really does happen. In some cases, better than before. For us, it took about 6 or 7 months, when Lucy started eating solids. I know many people who got it back when they stopped breastfeeding. I read somewheres about making sure you have normal sex for a while again, good old-fashion fuckin’ for fuckin’s sake, before contemplating the next child, should you choose to go that route.
But again, ambivalence is not your enemy here. It’s okay that things are a little different. It’s okay that things are worse. This too shall pass.
• Statistics are crap. I’m well aware of the studies that show that couples with kids are slightly less happy than those without. I mean, first off, I don’t know anybody who isn’t happier having raised a child, no matter the circumstances. Do you know anybody who wouldn’t do it, if given the chance to do it over?
Secondly, those studies give you a false assumption: you read them and think “Couples that have kids are less happy because of the kids”, when really it’s more like “Couples that have kids are less happy because they keep fighting over kid-related issues.” Or maybe I should just get straight to the point… most couples who have kids are unhappy because the mother is pissed off at the father most of the time.
I’d be overjoyed to be proven wrong, but it seems like we’re at this odd juncture in the sexual revolution: women have been told they should expect an even split in parenting duties, but guys are not holding up their end of the bargain. Sure, dudes are changing diapers (something my own dad – and probably yours – has never done) but on average, even women in “progressive” relationships are still doing more cleaning, more laundry, and yes, WAY more childcare than men.
I believe this is pissing women off, and while they love their child, they’re sick of having two of them. I realize this may not the experience many of you on the blog have had, but you’re a skewed example.
• Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, people with kids are from Uranus. Let’s face it: before you have kids, people with kids are goddamn horrifying. Their cars smell like barf, there’s cheddar goldfish crackers shoved into every seat, their house is littered with random doll arms, the DVD player has Barbie and the Three Musketeers in it, and if you have to listen to them talk about the new Bugaboo cup holders, you’re going to kill yourself.
Worse yet are the breeders who just keep on having kids like they need farmhands and dowagers, tons of screeching yard monsters shoved into burgundy minivans, GPS-calculated to head for the nearest Happy Meal. The parents have lost all resemblance to their former selves, cannot have conversations about anything not related to the kids, stuck in a constant revolving state of bragging and kvetching. They make jokes about how they can’t stay up past 9pm anymore and actually think it’s funny.
As a young person without kids, either married or unmarried, these professional American parents – whose last act of rebellion was finding a Kinks toddler t-shirt in a size 2T – represent the death of art, the death of passion and the death of hope. But I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way. It takes a little extra work to stay… I dunno, “cool”… but there is no “Parentzilla” gene that is switched on when you have a kid.
It’s your journey, and you can make of it what you will. If you don’t want the Maclaren Techno XT stroller, don’t get one. If you don’t want your house flooded with plastic shit, stick with wood. If Dan Zanes, The Wiggles and Barney give you hives, well, go with what you know:
God may help those who help themselves, but Nature rewards flexibility. Your best work may come from being turned upside down, your pockets emptying of old notions, an inverted view shocking your senses back to vibrancy. Having kids ain’t for everybody, but it’s for anybody who has them.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to go ahead and broach the enormous topic that has been lying around this blog’s forebrain for about a week: namely, why did you have children? I got a fair amount of feedback last week from people without kids, many of them having deepening ambivalence about it – not just from the heartfelt comments of last Friday, but from the current fever-pitched whir surrounding childbearing in general. So I’ll ask these specific questions:
1. Why did you choose to have children?
2. Were the expected challenges as bad as you thought they’d be? And what crazy thing didn’t you see coming?
3. Are there any solutions – or tips – you know now that you really could have used then?
4. What exactly did it do to your body, and when did you get your libido back?
5. Name one stunningly fantastic thing about it.
Commenting as anonymous animals are encouraged for honesty’s sake!
Lucy has many loves, and more often than not, something random comes along that completely solidifies her love for that particular thing. Take Tyler Hansbrough, for instance. Each of her four years coincided with Tyler’s four years at Carolina, and she considered him the perfect hero athlete gentleman. So when the AT&T ad came on, the one that showed Tyler returning a lost dog to a little girl, she could barely contain herself.
One of her other favorite things in the world – again, with heavy influence from your humble narrator – is the Beatles. She has developed stories for each of them, knows about 35 songs by heart, and can get the 100% singing score on Beatles Rock Band. To her, they are perpetually in 1964 jumping around an endlessly exciting black-and-white London; or in 1967, wearing fuchsia paisley and singing “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”.
Mostly she just loves how much fun they seem to be having. So when Caitlin sent us this picture… once again, Lucy’s daydreams about the band seem to match reality:
Before we get back to life’s biggest mysteries, I’ve been asked to create the bracket again for NCAA hoops, but you know what? FUCK the “Big Dance” bracketeering this year. I am a fan of one team only, and if we’re not in it, it might as well be the Polish Jai Alai quarterfinals for all I care. Plus, I’m again sickened by the cakewalk Dook has to the Final Four, a nausea that will no doubt be quelled by them losing again long before they ought.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time, though. Yes, we’re in the NIT, a fate that no doubt coughs up disgust among the elder statesmen around here, but the games are televised and I can’t help but cheer the Heels – it’s in my DNA. Plus, if you look at the bracket, it could just as easily be March Madness, given the traditional powers therein.
So I’ve created an online bracket for the 2010 NIT, and we can play against each other there. Winner gets to post their very own blog here on the site without any censorship or meddling. Here’s how to do it:
• you need to register as a new user. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, but do it anyway! They don’t spam.
• when that’s done, come back to the NIT (alas) page.
• fill in each round and hit “enter” – when you’re done, you can click on the leaderboard in order to talk shit back here in the comments. [UPDATE: you have to click “next page” to see all the other people’s entries]
• deadline is 4pm PST, 7pm EST TODAY so GET CRACKIN’. Don’t put it off, or else… oh, I don’t know. Don’t make me say things I’ll regret.
As far as I know, it’s the only online competition for the NIT set up by one of us, so we’re in rare, uncharted territory. Go over and register, so we can salvage at least a little bit of fun out of this situation!