On the occasion of Arlo’s second birthday

Here, on the occasion of my son’s second birthday, are ten random thoughts that I wrote to him last night. As I suspect that he may misplace the letter that I handed him as he went screaming through the living room, I thought that perhaps I’d reprint it here as well.

1. Arlo, I’m loving that you’re not just doing your monster growl now, but actually using your words. Your mother says she heard you, many months ago, utter your first sentence. “I didn’t do it.” Which you apparently said immediately upon throwing your grandfather’s television remote into a bucket of water. The first complete sentence that I heard you say, though, was just a few days ago. “I want food,” you said. Actually, it was more like, “I wan foo,” but I knew what you meant. And, as for the monster growls, I don’t mind them. In fact, I think they’re kind of awesome, and I hope you find a way to incorporate them into your adult life.

2. By my estimation, you now know how to say about 100 words. Your sister, I think, was talking quite a bit more at two, but, then again, she wasn’t as busy pulling things apart, destroying electronics, and throwing food. Here are some of your favorite words right now: dah (dog), buh (bug), da (dad), ma (mom), spi (spider), ca (cat), jew (juice), foo (food), ba (bath), app (apple), door, story, spice, up, more, book, flower, quack, please, duck, no, sorry, yes, blue, toy, meat, eye, boo boo…

3. You’re starting to grasp the idea of colors. Right now, though, everything is “blue.” So, if we want to impress people, we point to something blue and ask, “Arlo, what color is this?” What they don’t know is that, if we pointed to an apple and said the same thing, you’d also say, “blue.” Similarly, any letter we point to is, “A.”

4. You’re strong as hell. As of about six months ago, you could lift yourself out of your crib. And, last weekend, in Kentucky, I saw you push your grandmother across the floor. Granted, she was in a chair that had wheels, but, still, I think it speaks to your incredible strength. Or, maybe it’s just tenacity. You fight like no baby I’ve ever seen. If you don’t want to do something, you don’t do it. Trying to put you in pants is like watching a Houdini straight-jacket escape film backwards.

5. You also seem to be pretty smart. Last night, as we were watching an episode of The Twilight Zone together, you got off my lap and walked toward the screen. When I told you to back up, you turned around to look at me, pointed at your eyes and said, “Eyes?” Clearly you remembered what I’d said a few days previously, when, in a similar situation, I’d explained that being too close to the screen was bad for your eyes.

6. You’re starting to show remorse. A few days ago, you threw something small and heavy at my head, almost hitting me in the eye. I explained to you that, “You could have hurt daddy,” and you responded by putting your head down and running away. I’m having trouble finding the words to describe your expression, but I clearly got the impression that you weren’t just sad about being told not to throw things at your father’s face, but genuinely upset at the thought that you might have hurt someone… This, I think, is significant improvement for a boy who, up until now, would pull his sister’s hair mercilessly, without showings any sign of empathy. (The hair pulling stopped several months ago, much to your sister’s delight.)

7. As of right now, your favorite foods, in no particular order, are: meat, ice cream, salad dressing and seaweed. Your mother let you try chocolate for the first time a few days ago, and now she regrets it, as you keep asking. (For what it’s worth, I refer to all meat at “meat,” as I don’t think you’re ready yet to associate the animals that we see on the farm with the stuff that we’re cooking, but I’ve got a meeting with you scheduled for about three months from now to discuss it.)

8. You’re a good little helper. You love taking things to the trash and helping feed the dog. As I did with your sister, I spend a great deal of time pretending to be a big dummy. I walk downstairs in the morning, pretending that I’ve forgotten where the dog food is, or how to feed the dog, and you come to my rescue. I thought that I should tell you in case something happens to me and you grow up thinking that I was really stupid. Oh, and you love using the dustpan. One would hope that other interests develop over time, but, for now, it’s nice to have you running around and helping scoop up tufts of dog hair and run them over to the garbage can.

9. You are an extremely expressive baby. You make these charming little faces that make women giddy. My hope is that you retain this power as you age and learn to harness it for good… And I’m not kidding about this. You’re a seriously charming kid, and I think that, if you’re not careful, you could rely on it too much, to your ultimate detriment. But, then again, it may not be an issue. I started life melting hearts as Young Mister Frankfort, and look how I turned out. Still, though, I want you to promise that you won’t be the kind of guy who gets girls to do his homework for him. I couldn’t stand by and watch that happen.

10. You love telling stories. A month and a half ago, you got a tiny cut between your “this little piggy had none” toe and your “this little piggy went ‘we, we, we, all the way home'” toe. It was a little cut, made by a hangnail, but it bled a bit, and there was a tiny scab. Well, every day since then, at least three times a day, you’ve gone to the effort of retelling the story, often removing both your shoes and socks to do so. You point to the spot between these two toes on your right foot, say “boo boo” with dramatic emphasis, and then make eye contact with whomever it is that you’re sharing the story with at the time. And it goes on from there. The same words. The same pointing. The same eye contact. The cycle just keeps repeating, with slightly different emphasis being put on “boo boo” each time. There’s the first “boo boo,” with captures the heart-breaking pain of the initial injury. There’s an “I’m coming to terms with the injury” “boo boo.” And, toward the end of the cycle, you arrive at a very soft “boo boo” that conveys a kind of awe. It’s like a “Where did the boo boo go?” kind of thing, but with a tinge of sadness, almost as though you miss the fact that the scab is now gone. One of these days, if I’m thinking about it, I’ll get it on video for you. I know it’s the kind of thing you’d like to have as an adult.

And, here, for those of you who have never heard the story, is how Arlo came into the world…

Two years ago today, our son Arlo was born. It was late at night when he entered the world, and we were gathered right outside our kitchen, where we usually eat our meals. Linette was in a rented inflatable tub. It was blue, and about three feet deep. And the water, as I recall, wasn’t terribly warm. We’d completely drained our hot water heater, and it wasn’t enough. I’d started boiling water on the stove. I had all of the burners going, and I remember thinking that I should have planned ahead and had four big pots ready to go. Instead, I just had two; the giant stock pot, and our large soup pot. On the other two burners, I think I had the tiny pan we use to boil individual eggs, and a casserole dish. It’s funny what you remember. I was worried that Linette and the baby would be too cold. Linette, however, didn’t seem to care. She was focused on the lamp hanging down from the ceiling. It usually hangs right above our kitchen table, but the table had been pushed against the wall to accommodate the tub, and she was concerned that the lamp might somehow fall into the water and electrocute them, even though it wasn’t directly over the tub, and had never fallen in the past. I remember demonstrating how it would fall, if, god forbid, an earthquake should hit while she was in labor. Thankfully, our midwife arrived before she asked me to either move the tub or turn off the circuit breaker, and things got underway.

Within a few minutes of our midwife walking through the door, Linette was in the water, giving birth to our son. Linette’s body, I guess, knew to wait until she’d arrived before releasing the final hormones, or whatever it is that gets the final countdown underway.

I’d woken up Clementine, and she was there with us. Linette’s mom had arrived by then as well. Everything, I guess you could say, went pretty much according to plan, even though there wasn’t really a plan to speak of. When Clementine was born, seven years earlier, she came really quickly, and that was part of the reason we wanted to have this one at home. We weren’t convinced that Linette would make it all the way to the hospital. That wasn’t the main reason, but it was a consideration. We also wanted for Clementine to have the opportunity to be there, if she wanted to be. And we just felt like it was the right thing for us, given how well Clementine’s birth had gone. We’d read a lot about natural childbirth, and we liked the idea that we could welcome this new member of our family into our home in such a nice, comfortable way, instead of in a hospital setting, where birth, even in the best of situations, can be seen more as a medical procedure, which can be scheduled and tracked, than a natural occurrence, which just has to unfold on its own. (When we’d had Clementine, some of the nurses, I remember, tried to get Linette into a bed to give birth, when she knew instinctively that she didn’t want to do that. Thankfully, we had a great nurse-midwife, and she advocated on our behalf. Clementine’s birth, by the way, was awesome. It was so beautiful, in fact, that the nurses were actually crying.) I think, for us, having our daughter at the hospital, with a nurse-midwife and a doula, was the right thing. By the time we were ready to have our second one, though, we were confident enough to venture a little further from the established norm. It was just right for us.

So, expecting things to go smoothly, Linette got into the water. I held her hand, and Clementine, after some initial hesitancy, came forward to stroke her back, and encourage her. And, within four minutes of getting into the tub, we had our son. Linette, by that point, had gone into a kind of meditative state. She kept repeating, “I can breathe this baby out,” as though she were repeating a revelation that had just been somehow transmitted to her to her from the cosmos. The top of his head came out at first, and Linette, still repeating her “I can breathe this baby out” mantra, started to lift out of the water. And, thankfully, our midwife stepped in to helped us avoid a potentially serious problem. Apparently, and I didn’t know this prior to our son’s birth, there’s evidence that it’s the feeling of air on a baby’s skin that causes it to open its mouth and gasp for air. A baby delivered under water can, in other words, do quite well, as long as it’s still connected by the way of the umbilical chord. But, once its broken the surface of the water, and taken that first gasp of air, it can’t go back below the surface without there being a serious risk of drowning. So, with our midwife’s coaching, we were able to keep the baby beneath the surface of the water. And, a few seconds later, Linette gave birth to our son. He came out into the arms of his sister and me, and we all sat there, staring at him, and his penis. (We didn’t know prior to his birth that he was a boy.)

As someone who came into the world being forcefully extracted from his unconscious mother with forceps, I found the whole thing incredibly beautiful.

Oh, one last thing. Linette and I had been debating names for several days. We’d been in agreement that, if the baby had been a girl, her name would have been Violet. There wasn’t consensus, however, as to a boy’s name. She’d wanted Arlo, and, if memory serves, I’d been pushing for Powell, or Sullivan. (Both old movie references.) Well, after seeing Linette go through this incredible process, it was just obvious that it should be her call. The midwife asked what his name was, and I just kind of looked at Linette and gave a slight nod. “Arlo,” she said. And she was right. It’s been a perfect name for him.



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  1. Kristin
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Happy birthday Arlo! I’ll second your perception of this child being completely charming. Clementine has always been interesting and smart and great to be around, but this kid actually flips a benevolent smile switch. The more I am around politicians the more I think the high-level ones have a lot of charisma, even if they are ideologically reprehensible. Arlo won’t be that, one hopes, so I expect that his appeal will be Kennedyesque. I fully expect Arlo to be a mayor of Ypsi, probably by the time he is 17. And then? Who knows?

  2. anonymous
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    By the time he’s out of college, Dingell may be almost ready to leave office.

  3. Sarah
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    They grow incredibly fast, don’t they? Congratulations.

  4. 734
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Destroying television remotes will get him an “A” in his kindergarten culturejamming class. Well done.

  5. Grandma
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Arlo is a charmer for sure. He was the hit at Thanksgiving. To be so cute and have so much personality for a 2 year old!!!! Amazing!!
    Mark, you are an awesome Dad to put into words the beautiful thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

  6. Rhonda Maynard
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Happy Birthday! What a pleasure it was to finally meet both you and Clementine. Hope to see you again soon. Joe, Rhonda, & Sam

  7. Posted December 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the kind words, everybody….

  8. freeto
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Awesome story. Happy Happy Arlo!

  9. Did you have cake?
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Permalink


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