Thursday, March 27, 2008

42 Months



Well now it's official. Lucas has turned three-and-a-half even though he already tells everyone that's how old he is...and I mean he tells everyone! He loves to talk to anyone who briefly wanders into his periphery, which is an absolutely delightful trait when it's a wonderful little child accosting you with endless questions that begin with the word "WHY". Although when a strange adult suddenly decides that they want to learn everything about us, the first thing that pops in our heads is "Why the hell do you care?" Children are a rare gift from the universe to remind us that all of the shit that we've molded around us to make us feel exceptional really ain't all that special. They show us that the simple pleasure of getting to know another human being is a truly empowering tool for humanity. They take us back into a world of wonder where we notice the pure beauty of life shining through the eyes of innocence.

Not to say that Lucas is a perfect and innocent angel all of the time. He has his beastly moments. Another aspect of reaching the fine age of three-and-a-half is the endless supply of energy that exudes from his tiny body. He bounces, he runs and jumps, he dances, he races and chases, he spins, he swirls, he wrestles and giggles and shrieks and moans, he laughs and he whines. Oh man, can he whine.

One thing that he loves to do (which I must admit that I encourage at times) is being chased. When we chase him, the smile that spreads from ear-to-ear cannot be topped. Unfortunately this joy that he derives from such a simple pleasure encourages him to indulge in this chasing-game during inopportune moments. Such as...when mommy or daddy really don't feel like chasing him...or when it's important for him to stay near us because of where we are, maybe a restaurant or a crowded store or a busy street corner (yes, he has raced into the street on occasion without looking). So now it's become obvious that we need to rethink some of the ways that we play with Lucas but it's not so easy changing the behavior of a three-and-a-half-year-old. He's become quite stubborn.

I've noticed lately that when he doesn't want to listen to our suggestions that he just doesn't respond at all. I know that he's heard me but he just continues on with whatever he's doing like there's nothing in the world that could possibly bother him. I started thinking to myself, "What the hell! Why is he blatantly ignoring us?" Eventually the threatening tones find our voices and he suddenly regains his hearing. Then the other day, Xtina and I were talking about a relative and their terrible behavior and remarking about how children are a reflection of their parents. I suddenly realized that concept holds true for us as well and if there was something that I didn't really appreciate in Lucas' behavior, well he had to learn it somewhere.

In our home, Lucas watches about two hours of teevee a month...if he's lucky. There were some concerns about how it affects children so we decided not to have that in his life. Despite all of that, none of those fears really came into the equation regarding the computer, which is on almost everyday for most of the day. Even though Lucas doesn't actually use the computer comprehensively, I suddenly saw how it was affecting him negatively.

When one is on the computer it's very easy to become absorbed in what you are doing (kind of like teevee but slightly more active) and it always seems like what you are doing is only going to take a minute. On more than one occasion, I have to admit that when Lucas sought my attention regarding something very important for him I ignored him. Sometimes he simply goes off to find something else to do but quite often this really irritates him. He even will climb into my lap and plant himself between me and my 17" screen just so that he is acknowledged in some way. This has also occurred in a less conspicuous manner while reading the paper or a book, or while scribbling away with an old-fashioned notebook and pencil.

Hmmm, I think I understand that irritation that he must be feeling at those times because that's exactly the way that I feel when his trains are more important than a clean room. So now, whenever I try to get him to cooperate with me and he's decided that what I am saying just isn't important enough for him to listen, I think about all of the ways he reminds me of me. He's my reflection and don't I feel good inside when he's adorable, when he's affectionate? When I feel the anger beginning to rise, maybe that's the perfect time for me to notice my own weaknesses flashing before my eyes, the perfect reminder to be thankful that we are alive.

I'm thankful that I have a beautiful little boy to remind me of all the ways I need to improve on my own behavior. I'm thankful for these little gifts from the universe.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coen Country

Now that the Coen Brothers have finally been blessed with adulation and bestowed with honors, it's time to look back at how they got here. The Coens have been making movies since 1984 when they unleashed "Blood Simple" on the world. Ever since, they've graced us with a slew of films that carry a distinct signature that can only be called Coen. This year they won the Academy Award for their latest "No Country For Old Men", so we've decided to have a Coen Brothers marathon to mark the occasion. One week dedicated to viewing every movie, two per day, until we can no longer stand the sleek images and snappy dialogue, until we regurgitate genius and grow scruffy goatees, until the dark hours of Friday night plague us with violent dreams of recognizable faces rising through the murk and finding fame through our eyes.


Let us begin with the Sunday Night viewing, starting of course with "Blood Simple".

Blood Simple - 1984
A movie that startled critics and moviegoers with it's dark, sparse tale of a jealous man who hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover. The Coens put their stamp on the world with this tragedy that only a modern day Shakespeare could have penned (imagine the movies Shakespeare would have made!). Famously starring Joel Coen's wife Frances McDormand, whom we'll see often in the future.

The Ladykillers - 2004
The Brothers go full-on remake with this one and star-powered cast headed by two time oscar winner Tom Hanks. This movie was successful with the public but seemed to lack a little of the Coen magic, almost like they were just going through the motions a bit. Classic Coen humor at work here with Hanks donning an alter-ego from the days of Tennessee Williams.


Monday Night

Raising Arizona - 1987
The Coens followed up their first film with this wacky tale of a repeat offender (do you know what recidivism means?) who falls for the police officer who continuously takes his perp photo. It goes from a kidnapping to a duel with a bounty hunter from hell. And everywhere in between are some of the greatest cinematic moments of the decade of squalor. I saw this movie at least a dozen times and I could watch the huggies sequence until the end of time, it's that good. Another film with Mrs. McDormand (you take that diaper off of your head and put it back on your sister!).

Barton Fink - 1991
Too bad this one falls on Monday night because it actually deserves better than a snore on the couch. Hopefully we can stay up for this one because the finale with John Goodman (a Coen favorite) in the fiery hallway is worth every minute. It's a strange sordid tale about a WWII era playwright from New York, John Tuturro (another Coen mainstay), who moves to the west coast to write for Hollywood. Obviously he's not prepared for the heat that hits him in the face like a blast from a furnace.


Tuesday Night

Miller's Crossing - 1990
The Coen Brothers are masters at creating vivid pictures that resonate on the screen with incredible beauty, even when the images are filled with horrendous violence. Miller's Crossing epitomizes everything that is great about this aspect of the Coens' repertoire. Absolutely fluid and dynamic and witty and sharp, this film is effortless and engrossing, my personal favorite.

The Man Who wasn't There - 2001
From the best to the worst. I only saw this movie once and although there were a few Coen moments, I didn't know what to make of it. It didn't seem to have a purpose and the characters were bare, almost soulless. Perhaps I need to watch it again to find the intricate qualities of greatness that seem to come out with multiple viewings. I don't know...but I guess that's why it's viewing late on Tuesday night, the perfect time to drift off to sleep.


Wednesday Night

Fargo - 1996
The first time a Coen Brothers' film won an oscar was for this dark, crisp movie based on a true story about a man from Minnesota who has his own wife kidnapped to collect the ransom and get his ass out of a bind. The entire plan goes terribly wrong of course and ends in terrific Coen tragic style. Our beloved Frances McDormand won an oscar for her role as a sweet-natured-pregnant-small-town-sherriff who must deal with some vicious murders that occur in her jurisdiction. Eventually it all leads to the discovery of Steve Buscemi (Coen regular!) and a wood chipper. Don't ask, just watch it.

The Big Liebowski - 1998
The Brothers really hit it out of the park with these two movies back to back. From dark to light, The Big Liebowski is the most hilarious Coen film ever made and Jeff Bridges is perfect as The Dude, the stoner of all stoners. His adventures with Coen alums Goodman, Buscemi and Tuturro just roll right off the screen and connect with perfect humor. A close second for me to the fore-mentioned Miller's Crossing.


Thursday Night

O' Brother Where Art Thou - 2000
What a string of films! This movie came out shortly after The Big Liebowski and is a retelling of Homer's Odyssey in the deep south during the great depression. It follows three escaped criminals as they attempt to get home to a large stash of cash before it all washes away. Filled with exceptional bluegrass music, a quirky and dare I say unattractive George Clooney and many of the regular Coen cast, this film is a balloon.

Intolerable Cruelty - 2003
The second film with George Clooney is about divorce lawyers. Hmmm, this film followed The Man Who Wasn't There and although it wasn't quite as bad, Intolerable Cruelty left something to be desired. It felt somewhat generic and I want my Coen films to be true Coen films.


Which brings us to Friday Night, the finale.

The Hudsucker Proxy - 1994
Quintessential Coen Brothers' wackiness. A slamdance of ingenuity in the boardrooms of old New York. With ticker tapes and newsreels and old-fashioned wall-street desperation, Tim Robbins plays a naive mail room clerk who has an idea that just might save the company...or destroy it, hopefully. With it's rapid-fire delivery, off-the-wall characters, over-the-top acting and fairy-tale motif, this movie is an absolute delight. Paul Newman stars as a conniving old businessman harnessing the fire of Eddie Felson.

No Country For Old Men - 2007
And last but not least we have our oscar-winning film from 2007. Based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, this movie meanders around south Texas with the heart of the devil. In perfect McCarthy style we follow Josh Brolin as he tries to avoid drug dealers and the ultimate killing machine embodied by Javier Bardem (who also won an oscar). The Coens are back to their old ways with this one and it delivers beautifully with typical Coen viciousness. It's nice to see the Brothers indulging in creative and superior film-making again. When they decide to do something right, they truly are magicians. Enjoy!

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Monday, March 10, 2008

2 Months: Part Deux


Everything's turning out to be different from the last time and, even though I feel so many of the same emotions that I did with Lucas, it's all shifted because both Xtina and I feel like veterans...we've been through this battle before.

We've found that we're a lot more mellow about everything. With your first child everything seems like an emergency. It's all so new that you analyze every move that you make, every bump or cough or anxious wail is a sword condemning your very soul. Every moment is the first, every tear a dagger and every smile the sun. Everything that you do with your first-born is imprinted like a hot brand molding you into this grand new person called "parent".

Not that Quinn's smile doesn't shine like the sun or that her firsts aren't memorable or that every scream doesn't shoot through us like lightning (oh, how can it not when she has the lungs of a banshee?)...but we now know that tomorrow will reveal new dreams and disturbances. We know that she will cry again when she can't bear to be away from us. We know that our heart will seek her soft tiny heart with warmth and protection. After all, we've been parents for awhile now.

We took her to the movies already. She actually sat in the dark of a movie-house, scattering light shining off her face, even before her brother. We saw "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days", a movie from Romania about the time spent under the rule of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu. It subtly portrays how the cloud of oppression hangs overhead through the experience of a woman as she tries to help her roommate obtain an illegal abortion (yeah, interesting choice). It's so disturbing because even though we now know how terrible the situation was in Romania during that time, it didn't feel that way viewing it through the eyes of these people. Everything seemed perfectly normal, it was simply their world and they had to deal with it.

Sometimes I look around our world and I see so many things that are terrifying. Perpetual war, hate legislation, fear tactics, reality teevee, a population raised in prison, humiliation disguised as friendship, so much suffering, sadness in the eyes of so many people and I wonder how it's possible to raise children in this environment? How can I raise a young woman in a society that only can see the shape of her ass? How can I raise a young man in a society that feeds on his insecurities and turns them to hate? Where does the value come from our culture? Sometimes I'm terrified by what I see but what can I do? This is the world that we live in, the world that we've created and I guess it's up to us to uncreate it. Especially if I don't want my son to go kill other human beings or if I want my daughter to own her own body.

John F. Kennedy once said that human beings created the world and if that is so, then human beings must have the power to change it. He said those words on the brink of nuclear annihilation and four decades later we are still here trying so hard to find a better way to survive. Our current leaders have chosen a path that is diametrically opposed to what JFK said and I find that unacceptable. I hope that many others feel the same way that I do because, unless we turn ourselves around, the world that our children will inherit is going to make Romania circa 1987 look like a walk in the park.

But we must have hope because JFK was right. So much that exists in the world today that threatens human civilization was made by human hands and every single one of those causes can be reversed. I want to look in my daughter's face when she's my age and tell her that she's the most beautiful woman on the planet (just like Nonno does with Xtina)and not only because I like to look at her but because her heart is full and joyful, and because she is doing whatever she wants to do in life without any cloud of oppression floating over her head.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

41 Months



Lucas is learning so fast. Everyday he amazes me in some new way, whether it's his consummate sense of humor, or his incredible reading comprehension skills (actually his recall in general since he remembers every damn thing that we do or say, much to our chagrin), or his skills on a trike, or his fondness for the written word, or his appreciation of safety standards, or his love of music, or his endless energy, or his beautiful polite nature, or his joie de vivre. He's a bundle of love and he's our precious little boy.

It's strange to have a new-born child in the house and suddenly realize that Lucas has changed so much. Where did all of the time evolve? The transition from gurgling baby to dynamic fire-breathing super-kid wasn't so gradual after all. I always imagined that we would remember every special change that occurred in his life; from holding his head up to walking to singing the ABC's. But the reality is that even though I've transcribed many wonderful moments throughout his life in this here blog, there were many more that have slowly faded from my fore-thoughts. Each day brings a fresh new person into our lives and he keeps us on our toes.

Just a few new things that occurred this past month that caught my senses.

Nonno, Lucas' grandfather on Xtina's side, often uses the Spanish Language version of words when he communicates to Lucas. One of the most commonly used is the word for shoes, which is zapatos. He often asks Lucas if he'll allow him to put on his zapatos. When he did this the other night, Lucas responded by saying "No you may not-os".

Whenever Xtina or I drive Lucas somewhere and happen to forget to put on our seatbelt, he demands that we put it on right away, often saying "We don't drive without our seatbelts".

In the past when I read him one of his favorite books, he quite often will end the sentences on his own because he has memorized the cadence (definitely with all of his Dr. Seuss books). But when I decided to read a new book to him, I was curious whether he actually was retaining any of the information or if it was all simply memorization. I decided to thoroughly question him about the book that we just read for the first time. He answered every question accurately and astutely.

And lastly, we went on a hike and trike around the block with Quinita (that is Lucas road his trike while Quinita and I hiked along with him). He's finally learned how to push the pedals on his trike and very rarely did he need a budge from Dadio. And he's really grown into a social creature, which was always my extreme hope because of how shy I was as a child. Two sets of a couple of men approached us on our walk and both times Lucas was the person who instigated the greeting out of all of us, saying "How are you today? Where are you going?". He's such a conversationalist!

I know that he's only three but a friend of ours who just happens to teach kindergarten told Xtina that he's ready for school. So now we need to find him a place of learning that will encourage his creative growth and help mold him into a special human being.

Now if only we could get him to potty train.

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