Why I Blog
Since I recently threw my hat in the “Dad Blogger” ring, I have read extensively in the genre, trying to get a sense of the styles and structures of a well-crafted post. I can’t judge whether I craft well or whether I’m capturing the genre’s spirit, but I can say that many of the posts I read get me to wondering about my own take on certain topics. Of late, a few have tackled the touchy and familiar subject of why one would do such a thing as publicly display these sorts of nitty-gritty descriptions of his life, even if they are squatted in the dark corners of an already-marginalized writing style. It’s a reasonable question, and one that I ask and answer for myself from time to time — is this essay or memoir or an online focus group? As I see it, the volume of work I’ve been assembling here is a blog-in-name, memoir in spirit, and philosophical treatise with a plot, by design. And somewhere in the middle of it all, I figure there’s got to be a good answer to why I keep writing it.
Noodle and I pick his mom up at work. It’s not a long trip, and we combine it with with an afternoon errand or two: often groceries, occasionally a pause at the park, and once to buy new underwear because, well, the emotional cost of cleaning the boy’s missed opportunities overrides the pint at the pub I need to trade for brand spanking new chonies. Priorities.
When we pick mom up, we all ask about one another’s days. It’s a matter of courtesy that we like to instill, plus it’s a generally polite habit to inquire more than dissertate. The life of a soliloquist is a lonely one, I reckon, fraught with the frustration of not realizing how quickly interlocutors drift off when locution overwhelms inter-action. It’s a delicate balance between elocution and involvement to move an audience and a story forward. The sooner the boy learns that, the more rewarding our conversational lives will become.
Noodle, who speaks roughly a small novel worth of prattle every day, often “politely” interjects with a question. “Mooooooooom! Mommy. Listen!”
“Noodle, that’s rude. We say ‘excuse me’ when we have something to add.”
“EXCUSE ME!” he shouts. (Volume and etiquette are separate lessons.) “I have to tell you something.” He’s emphatic; he’s deadly serious. He’s been saving this all day, and finally with mommy as an audience, he can speak his piece.
“Why do birds eat french fries?”
The banality of his questions is downright sublime, and the interrogative mood always takes me off guard after he sets us up for a declarative masterpiece. Interestingly, you can always connect the dots to an actual event, and often I was there. In this case, it was our regular Tuesday “car picnic.” We get cheeseburgers and fries, take them to Bayswater Marina, and watch the boats sail the harbor. Noodle joins me in the front seat, waits for the birds to flit nearby, looks at me mischievously, and I tell him “Oh no you don’t! Don’t dare throw french fries to the birds.” (Part of my self-defeating parenting technique involves fostering subversion, because in my world, subversion and creativity are shades of the same color.) The cheeky monkey flings fries to the birds, giggling and clapping at his own “disobedience.” He’s happy. The birds are happy. I have a cheeseburger and an anarchist.
Of course, in the midst of it all, he doesn’t ask me why the birds eat french fries. He waits until mommy is in the car and the relevant context has vanished. I like to think that he’s surreptitiously trying to generate conversation between his parents, rather than ferreting out irrelevant answers to questions that nobody really has. Then again, to him everything is relevant at all times. Referring to events from weeks prior when his momma took him to swim school and I took a few hours off, he asks: “Daddy, why do I fart in the pool?”
“Always blame the fish.” Stops him in his tracks.
Auckland winter is a fickle time. There’s an unexpected sharpness to the sun here, and it peeks in and out in what the meteorologists call “patches of fair.” It isn’t tourist season, so we have the streets and beaches to ourselves when we get a sunny spell. Today we’re having a long fair patch, and local families are arriving in packs to take in the winter warm.
Up and down the beach kids and dogs chase frisbees and one another. The local sailing school launches a fleet of training boats, and kayaks, paddle boards, and kite surfers dot the water as constellations. If you drew lines between them you’d get a graph of playful progress — an aquatic squiggle unbroken by regression lines and precision. It’d look just like one of Noodle’s painted scribbles — the ones we’ve got clothes-pinned to strings stretched from corner to corner in his room. It’s as if he’s been tracing his future all this time.
I excuse myself from the action and set up with my notebook on the sea wall, half-shaded but still plenty warm in the winter sun. I pull my cap down low to obscure the glare off the water; all I want to do is watch a container ship come in. The boy never sits still long enough to trace a full course through the channel and into the harbor, so I beg off tide pooling and take my own time out. Today there are two boats in a short line, about half an hour apart. The first came through, cutting an imposing silhouette of a battleship from the front, but turned sharp at the lighthouse, and in profile, it was stacks of containers from stem to stern. These are massive vessels, often guided by tugboats, their deep drafts and raucous wakes disturbing the normal flow of things in the harbor. About fifteen minutes after the ship passes, its wake washes ashore. The waves pick up ever so slightly.
There’s a comfort in the steady nature of it all. It’s the opposite of life with a two year old, which is a life fading quickly from reality to memory. At age two, there was no sitting still. But now, at age three, I watch Noodle and his mom a hundred meters down the beach, where a point of rocks separates Narrow Neck from Saint Leonard’s. It’s low tide and they search the rock pools for sea creatures. Under loose stones they find chitons and crabs; in pools they find stars and sponges; and if they’re lucky, they might find a nudibranch — a bright sun-orange gelatinous creature that we spotted once nearby, kids crooning in amazement, declaring the awesome of it all to anyone near enough to hear.
Frantic toddlerhood has given way to the curious pre-school years, and I must say, it’s a much-needed mental break. Between ships, I take some time to watch two dalmatians chase a golden retriever up, down, and around the beach. One dalmatian bumps a hand-in-hand couple who break stroll to pet the friendly old lug, then casually continue their “I like long walks on the beach” first date. A family of five with a frisbee nearly lose it to the retriever who’s got flying discs in his genes — along with ducks, pheasant, sticks, and bones. Dogs just do what dogs do; passers-by aren’t fussed.
It occurs to me that everything I write about kids could just as easily be about dogs. If I were a dog blogger, I’d wind up at this same conclusion. “Their hapless, fetching clumsiness” —— could refer to dog or boy, and in both there is unspoiled joy, unconcerned about why they run — there is a beach, there is sun. How can one not run?
From another angle, I have answered why I blog, and my answer has nothing to do with how my voice stands out, or how artificially uniquely I have crafted my perspective. I’ll remember this next time Noodle asks me why he farts in pools or remarks at maximum volume in the grocery store that his feet smell like bananas. There’s no good reason to shut him down by blaming the fish or changing his shoes.
We’re not so different, he and I. We just want to be heard.