Thanksgiving came and went with still much to be thankful for in New York, at least for my family. While a second or third Coronavirus raged through the city, our immediate family remains healthy and those in our larger family circle that have been ill have recovered.
Everyone in our family has food in their stomach and a roof over their head. Even before COVID-19 rampaged through the world there were billions of people who could not say that much, and that’s getting worse now. I am gainfully employed and have not been sick and have more than enough food; I am thankful.
New York perseveres, but suffers a crisis of confidence. While we were the first place in the U.S. to see widespread COVID infection and death, we were the first to “flatten the curve” with social distancing and masks. Now we’re having a critical relapse with a spike of infections. Schools closed, now are reopening again in a swift reversal of policy. Crime continues to surge.
And all the while, we see thousands of our fellow New Yorkers not taking their own lives seriously. A Hasidic group worked secretly to arrange a large indoor wedding, sans facemasks, and was given a slap-on-the-wrist fine. I go food shopping and see people who can’t wear a facemask properly going about their business in blissful, entitled ignorance.
Yes, we’re not supposed to be judgmental during these difficult times, but this pandemic has revealed just how many of our fellow human beings are unfit to breath the same air.
Having children in a city apartment can be trying during good times; it has been especially trying during this extended pandemic. What we have though is a place we call the secret playground. It’s not really a secret playground, but a little-used playground in a neighboring co-op that we’re not really supposed to use. The old fogeys that run the board where we live did away with the playground for our building years ago, so to use a local playground is to be an automatic scofflaw.
But I take my girls to the secret playground as often as I can. There are rarely other children playing there, so I can let my kids take down their facemasks, if our family is alone. Usually a few residents will walk through on their way to and from their homes, and we’ll put our masks back up as they come through; they are still almost always more than six feet away. It is an oasis that the unseasonably warmer November weather has given us access to and I don’t want to let a single good weather day go to waste as we endure another lockdown.
Sometime next year, we will hopefully begin adapting to a post-COVID world, and some things we will want to stay the same. I’m not alone in hoping that the world remains one where we’re given more personal space and take extra steps to reduce indoor crowds and make spaces safer, with better ventilation and more protections. These are good ideas outside of pandemics.
And therein lies the appeal of the secret playground: it is a respite from the current world and a model for how to best rebuild when we emerge from our currently dismal state. We cannot live in a bubble world, but we can look at our better adaptations of today to keep our joy and our priorities in line with where we need to be.
Coney Island is an endless summer draw for New York. It has a large beach, world-famous amusement park rides, and a seedy underbelly that gives it character. Coney Island has kept its lowbrow edge despite waves of gentrification and upscaling happening throughout New York but with particular intensity in Brooklyn. Williamsburg used to be a dangerous place to be. Now it’s only dangerous if you live in a rent-controlled apartment.
One of the attractions that has been added over the last two decades of revitalization is MCU Park, which opened as KeySpan Park in 2001. The field hosts the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones.
My wife, who is much more adept at sourcing and planning family outings, discovered a good value in the Flock, a children’s club that includes tickets to several games for the entire family.
We got to Coney Island and found an expensive pay lot close to the stadium. With low clouds rolling in, fogging the tops of the nearby apartment buildings, we decided to get something to eat before submitting to the amoral monopoly of stadium snacks. In the short distance between MCU Park and the original Nathan’s, we started feeling raindrops. Nathan’s was mobbed, but close by was Pete’s Clam Stop, which had large plastic bench-style picnic tables in a small dining area. We ducked in, found a seat, and ordered food.
Pete’s Clam Stop was a good discovery. Its hot dogs were just as good as Nathan’s with the same traditional snappy flavor and they also had large fries that were a bit big and unwieldly but were in the crinkle-cut tradition (they even served them with a small French fry fork.) Pete’s also has fresh clams and oysters on ice, and hand-painted signs encouraging customers to eat clams to help to have a child and to eat oysters if one wanted to have twins. I had not heard this bit of old wives’ tale wisdom, and since we already have twins plus one, we did not feel the need to sample the oysters or clams.
The rain picked up heavily as we ate our food, watched World Cup Soccer on TV, and enjoyed the camaraderie of other Coney Island visitors making a lunch stop to duck out of the rain. The picnic tables became filled with people sharing the space. A woman with her kids at the table with us remarked on two of our daughters’ red hair.
Before long the rain was gone and the sun was out by the time we headed back to the ball park.
We got to meet two of the players and got them to sign our daughters’ t-shirts. They all became too shy to get their photo taken with the players. The highlight of the Flock benefits was getting to go on the field near second base for the national anthem. Unfortunately, the field at MCU Park is artificial turf, so it feels as if you are walking on a cheap shag carpet with some extra padding underneath.
With three small kids, I spent more time herding them and trying to quell their tantrums than I did actually watching baseball. If I were a baseball aficionado or cared about seeing a future baseball superstar in action I might be disappointed, but I don’t really follow baseball and I’m a Yankees fan anyway (the Brooklyn Cyclones are a Mets farm team), and time is better spent with family. It is more enjoyable to share ice cream with a four-year-old than to watch someone throw a fastball. The Cyclones won the game 1-0, beating the Lowell Spinners, a Boston Red Sox farm team.
While our seats were in the last row of the stands, they were still field-level seats and comparable seats at a major-league ballpark would have been unaffordable for a family of five. Snacks were still overpriced, but the ticket deal that my wife found included some snack vouchers, so that allowed me to actually not spend money on overpriced stadium snacks.
Our seats were shaded so we escaped the worst of the sun. Still, it was an exhausting day. We drove home, buzzed from weariness, but also excited about having more Coney Island adventures.
This past weekend, my wife upheld an 18-year tradition she has of working at the Super Saturday charity event to benefit ovarian cancer research. That left me to look after our three small children by myself.
The weather forecast called for rain, so I took my three girls to the New York Hall of Science, which is a great place to take children. It has a dedicated indoor play area along with tons of other hands-on educational fun throughout.
“Wow, you’ve got three kids. Respect,” said a guy in the bathroom as I was shepherding my girls to the sinks to wash their hands.
“Thank you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. A few hours later, as I and the kids were finishing up our lunch, another Dad come over and offered to give me some beverages from his cooler, saying we looked low on drinks (we weren’t). I thanked him but declined the offer.
There seems to be a common thread among any comments that strangers make to me when I’m out on my own with my kids that since I am a Dad it’s a miracle that my children are not dead from disease or living as feral savages five minutes after leaving the house. I have no cause to think that I can do this job better than my wife, but keeping children alive is not a rarified art form.
It wasn’t that long ago that people less education and lower-paying jobs had many more kids. My father is one of seven. There are people in New York today with giant families. When I worked at JFK Airport, I met an immigrant who was bringing his 13 children into the U.S. on immigrant visas. His wife was in a wheelchair and looked very tired.
My wife gets a different comment: “I see you got your hands full,” is what people say to her. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female, old or young. That’s what everyone says to her that feels the need to comment on her managing our superior offspring.
I got that comment only once, at the supermarket, after one of our toddlers threw a temper tantrum that must have been heard by all of College Point, Queens. It was an older woman, her voice filled with schadenfreude, and cigarette smoke, and the sickening crackle of base stupidity. I ignored her and went about my grocery shopping.
Tantrums elicit the most unwelcome attention from armchair parents or bad parents who need to feel superior. On the 7 train recently a woman was struggling to contain her young son who was in the middle of throwing a blood-curdling tantrum when I got on at Grand Central Terminal. By the time they got off the train many stops later, the kid had calmed down, but not before a dozen people spent an inordinate amount of time staring at her. One of the slack-jawed gawkers was a father who had kids with him. He had the chutzpah to bring a double-wide stroller onto a crowded 7 train, plowed into several passengers trying to squeeze out of the train, and then cursed us from the platform for not helping enough. A loser Dad to beat all loser Dads.
If you see a child throwing a temper tantrum and a parent is handling it, let them handle it. Don’t stare at them or made sarcastic comments. If there was a cure for the terrible twos (and threes and fours…) someone would have had a vaccine for that long ago. The kid’s screaming is nowhere near as annoying to you as it is draining and mortifying for the parent or parents involved. If you sincerely have something positive to contribute or do to help, then thank you tenfold. You are the rare gem among a sea of self-satisfied and smug breeders that love to torment their fellow parents.
And unless your comment is actually helpful and important, like “Excuse me, I think your daughter in the pink dress just pooped on a street corner,” or “Your baby just picked up a large knife,” then no one needs to hear your comments about our (relatively) large brood. Thank you for noticing our amazing virility and the ability to keep all of our children alive. Please leave us alone.
One of the benefits of living in a non-trendy part of New York City is that you can benefit from a lot of cultural enrichment without crowds of five-borough tourists that flock to the city’s more fashionable haunts. Everything in the Flushing-Whitestone area where I live is a long train ride plus a bus ride away from where the ‘in’ crowd frequents in Brooklyn and Western Queens.
We recently took a journey to Little Bay Park, a slice of land between the Cross Island Expressway and Flushing Bay. It is directly adjacent to Fort Totten, an old U.S. Army base that is now a public park but still houses military and other agencies such as the police and fire departments and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
The larger family fun day that had been scheduled for Fort Totten was canceled, as recent rain made their fields too muddy for any public events. Instead a smaller event was taking place on a small strip of land right along a walking and bike path that lead from Fort Totten into Little Bay Park. The main attraction being free kayaking for families.
Here is where a semi-suburban city Dad gets to experience some of the monotony associated with being a hipster festivalgoer. We stood in line in the hot sun for quite a while waiting for our turn to have a free kayaking experience. The start was delayed because the kayak operators found they had only a small sliver of beach to work with and it was covered in garbage. Vest-wearing volunteers using rakes and shovels filled six large garbage bags with garbage while would-be boaters and other park visitors gawked at them while also enjoying the sights of the bay.
This was going to be a killer father-daughter experience that would instill a love of nature and the seafaring life upon my two older girls. My wife had no interest in boating and was happy to wait on land with the baby and the stroller. I have good upper body strength and have paddled canoes before through swamps and on lakes. How difficult could kayaking be?
After a long wait we were finally given life vests and lead to the kayaks. The launch area was filled with empty kayaks and there wasn’t really enough room to both load and unload boaters at the same time. Once we managed to get around the empty kayaks and other boaters, we found that our vessel was already taking on water. That’s normal, the people told us. Water just gets in there. So I sat down in a puddle of water on the seat after having to step into water in my sneakers and socks (you had to keep your shoes on so I thought they had a system where we wouldn’t get our feet wet).
With the girls loaded into the boat, we were ready to launch, but it was a lot harder to do than I thought. I couldn’t hold the big oar steady in front of me without hitting one of my girls in the head, and it felt like we were sinking since I weigh so much more. I managed to paddle us out a little ways, but the wind began blowing us back pretty steadily, and I narrowly avoided getting blown into a rocky jetty.
Now I had something else in common with the hipster festivalgoers of Brooklyn: a general ineptitude and overall disappointment in the performance of manly duties. I’m not stupid and I’m strong enough to lift and move heavy things. But a plastic kayak with a payload of two 40-pound little girls had me stymied. After just a few minutes, not happy with sitting in water and feeling insecure in the shaky boat, they asked me to paddle back ashore. I happily obliged.
An essential part of living life and embracing adventure is the knowledge that not every adventure is going to go so well. This was one of those adventures that didn’t go so well. Not to fear though, the promise of a picnic and some delicious food was enough to motivate our girls to move on to the next thing. Soon we were enjoying a delicious lunch in the shade of a small tree in Little Bay Park.
After our meal we returned to the event area and acquiesced to the demands of ice cream at one of the city’s ubiquitous Mr. Softee trucks, we visited more of the event.
The highlight of the day was singing along to pirate and seafaring songs with Scuttlebutt Stu, who regaled everyone with great sing-a-long songs about pirates and sailors. His songs came with a lot of interesting history. I learned that the term “son of a gun” came from times when sailors would be allowed conjugal visits with their wives aboard their ships, with private beds being made between ships’ cannons. I knew that the term “groggy” came from grog, a mixture of rum and water, but did not know it got its name from Admiral Edward Vernon, known as “Old Grog” from his wearing of grogram jackets. Each song that Scuttlebutt Stu sang came with an interesting lesson that increased our fascination with the sea and demonstrated just how much of our modern culture has been shaped by the ages of the explorers and privateers.
Scuttlebutt Stu was dressed like a pirate with a heavy vest, long-sleeve shirt and tri-corner hat in 86-degree heat and no shade. He was a trooper like I’ve never seen. The breeze and briny smell of the bay lent a great aura of authenticity to the experience of learning about the pirate life through song. Stu is part of a duo called The Royal Yard that performs frequently in the New York area both together and individually.
I’m not a great singer but it was great fun to sing along, the wife and kids sang along as well and soon others joined in. It was perilously close to the kids’ nap time, and it’s always somewhat of a race to get home so they can sleep a little longer and get some more rest. But we stayed around for a few more songs and then headed home.
We made it back in time to let the kids nap in their own beds, another day’s adventure behind them. We were all the richer for it.
This Father’s Day my quest is to be as lazy as possible without appearing to be ungrateful or a bad father. If I could move my couch and laptop to the nearest White Castle and camp out for a day feasting on delicious burgers and watching hunting shows.
There were days before I had children that I enjoyed extreme forms of laziness. I have spent some days doing nothing but eating and watching ‘Law & Order’ reruns. I’m not proud of being that lazy, but sometimes you just have to be. I spend the rest of my time trying hard to achieve ambitious things, so a day here and there of intense couch warming is not out of line.
But having children means that those days of restorative sloth are behind me for the time being. If you are the father of small children you have some kind of work to do just to make sure your children don’t wander into traffic and get themselves killed. Children have to be fed every day, and if you don’t change their diapers with regularity they begin to smell bad and behave strangely.
This coming Father’s Day I will relax as much as possible and I plan to travel with my family to Staten Island to the Punk Island festival. This will be the first time in several years that our band Blackout Shoppers is not playing the all-day FREE festival (our guitar player will be out of the country). I’m eager to be able to go and enjoy it without having to worry about bringing equipment or being ready to play. My wife and I plan to bring ear protection for the girls and they can walk now so it may be a chore keeping them out of the mosh pits because they love to dance when they hear music. But any stress will be well worth it.
I am very lucky to have the father I have. He raised me with a good sense of right and wrong and a love of reading and the arts. Not everyone is so lucky, but having a good father is not a prerequisite for being one. I’ve discovered that fatherhood is a lot like hunting. If you have good instincts and are willing to put in the time, you’re chances of success will be much greater.
At the end of the day Sunday I will have relaxed as much as I can and my children will have survived my indulgent slacking off.
Of course I’d like to do better than having children that merely survive. I want my daughters to be willful and strong, and smart enough not to be subservient to the societal groupthink that is slowly choking the life out of the American intellect. I want my girls to be able to be legendary warrior-poets and forge their poetic souls to the cause of their people and be among the elite of their future world. But I’ve got to get them potty trained first.
Just over a year ago I became the father of two beautiful and perfect twin girls. It’s been a great year and I look forward to many more as a Dad.
When I say my girls are perfect, please take that with a grain of salt. In theory no one who can’t speak any language fluently and soils themselves on a daily basis could be considered perfect. These girls are both unemployed and do not go to school. They waste food by throwing it on the floor or rubbing it into their hair. They rudely grab my wife’s breasts. If they were adults, they’d be the worst people in the world.
I marvel at the things my girls do, but if I wasn’t their father it would be pretty normal baby stuff. Just about every baby learns to walk and talk and makes cute sounds while they’re trying to form words. It’s a pretty normal part of life and not exciting unless it’s YOUR baby that’s doing it.
I try to keep in perspective that not all people have or want children and don’t really care about the details of my children’s lives. Endless child-rearing talk can get pretty old pretty fast even when you have kids. There are a lot of shitty parents out there, and you notice that even more when you become a parent yourself.
A lot of parents adopt a bullshit attitude that doesn’t take other adults seriously unless they’ve had children. I have made it a point not to fall into this trap. Being a parent can become a crutch and I’ve seen ignorant people push strollers around like they were some kind of moralistic steamroller. Way too many parents think that the fact that they’ve reproduced puts them on some higher moral plane.
Here, in no particular order of intensity, are five key things to expect when you become a parent:
You will get disgusting bodily fluids on you. When you set out to paint your house, you know you’re going to get paint on your clothes. When you go to do carpentry you know there will be sawdust on your shoes. You will get unpleasant bodily fluids on you when you are a parent. Just a few weeks ago I had one of my babies on my lap as we flew from New York City to Atlanta to visit relatives over the holidays. My daughter’s diaper sprung a leak, so I had large urine stains on the crotch of my pants
A baby’s cry will push you towards insanity. Do you like loud grating noises that you can’t stop waking you up at 3 a.m.? Then you’ll love this aspect of parenthood. Sometimes a baby will go on a crying tantrum and drone on in the loudest, most annoying crying possible. You will do everything for the baby and it will still cry. Something in the human psyche snaps when it’s subjected to loud, unstoppable noise. Your baby will cry uncontrollably at the worst possible times and push you to the brink of insanity. You will think dark thoughts and not act on them, and the baby will eventually stop crying.
To some extent you will join the parenting herd. If the 25-year-old-me could see the 42-year-old me, he’d be horrified that I do things like grocery shopping and give babies baths on weekends. I’ll sometimes talk parenting crap with other parents. I’ll even consider buying a minivan or SUV. No part of being a parent is immune from looking lame. You think you can remain an absolute badass through any situation? Sure champ, try looking edgy while carrying a Cabbage Patch kid across a crowded restaurant.
You will lose a lot of freedom but gain a measure of immortality. There are great times when someone suggests something at the last minute that leads to a fun outing or great adventure. That tends to stop happening when you have little mouths to feed. Those days when your wife or girlfriend suggested you go to the beach or to a movie and you just drop everything and go won’t be back for a few decades. The kind of sudden outings are gone for now, and your freedom is tremendously curtailed when you have kids. But, you have insured that a piece of you will live on after you. You have helped make another human being, another small version of yourself who has a whole lifetime of glory and possibilities ahead of them.
So enjoy the measure of immortality you achieve by having kids. It will be the most annoying yet the most joyful thing you will ever do. I understand it’s not for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
I am glad to say that baby feces has its own useless scientific name. Meconium is the waste produced after a baby ingests nothing but amniotic fluid for several weeks or months. I don’t know why it gets its own name. Early baby poop is still poop. Anyway, the good people at Street Carnage published my musings on the subject. You can read the article here.