Oh Baby…

I pulled the bassinet from the basement, the same bassinet in which Posh and I rocked four children late at night.

Being a widowed father has summoned in me certain maternal mojo I might not otherwise have tapped, made me into a better feminist than I was before, and most importantly, morphed me into a better dad.

I’ve been a parent a long time, certainly long enough to know that much of motherhood or fatherhood is simply supplying a hearty plate of grub to the children three times a day.

Nothing fancy – kids hate fancy. But I make every effort not to repeat myself too often when it comes to cooking.

So the other night I grilled a flank steak, and a few days before that assembled a shrimp bowl with beans and avocado, to which I caught grief for improvising.

I’m often accused of mashing cuisines in unique and yucky ways. In this case, I added a hard-boiled egg to the Mexican-themed shrimp bowl, which the kids saw as some infraction of culinary law.

Honestly, they laughed for days.

Hey, I like hardboiled eggs. A year ago we couldn’t even find eggs, so these days I eat them every chance.

I now see a hard-boiled egg as far more than just an egg.

My daughters are both excellent cooks, inventive and clever. Even my son Smartacus shows a flair for cooking. He is appreciative of my attempts to mix things up, and even said the other day that he will miss my cooking when he goes off to college.

“You’re going to college?” I asked.

This is how you find out about stuff in my house. By accident. In inadvertent clauses dropped, like dirty socks, at the ends of sentences.

This is the year we lose a baby and gain a baby — him going off into the world not long after a first grandchild arrives to take his place.

There is no way to replace Smartacus, really. No one will leave shoes lying around like he does, or the lid half off the pickle jar, so that when you grab the jar from the fridge, it slip-twists in your hands and you half catch it while welping.

“Welp!!! Whew, that was close! Smaaaaaaaartacus!”

As if I need pickle juice everywhere – my hair, my shirt, my shoes.

“What Dad?”

“Hey idiot! Put the caps on the jars, OK? Is that too much to ask?”

You know that parenting got away from you a little when you start calling your kid “idiot.” For a while, I used to call my daughters “Thing One” and “Thing Two.” By that point, they had grown to look a lot alike – all that ruby hair … the tiaras — and I was probably confusing One for Two and Two for One.

So what? They’d quit listening to me anyway.

Saw a video clip recently featuring that moron-narcissist-creep Gordon Ramsay, whom I’d punch if ever given the chance. I am an awkward and troubled man, much like he is. But, if I were ever as mean-spirited as that bitchy Brit, I would hope someone would punch me out too.

Anyway, in the clip, Ramsay punishes a kitchen worker over some failure. To make his point, he holds two slices of bread on either side of the poor worker’s  head and asks her what she is: “An idiot sandwich,” she answers, over and over again.

“What are you?” he’d asks. “An idiot sandwich,” she says while sobbing, which seemed to ignite a pleasure center deep within Ramsay, whose demons are so front-and-center maybe was raised by wolves or witches.

Any decent person would be appalled, though many parents could relate. Where do you draw the line on making a point?

FYI, I tried the same bread trick later on Smartacus, and he shrugged and replied: “French toast? Grilled cheese? I love grilled cheese. Can I have grilled cheese?”

He didn’t get it at all. Then he ate the bread. Idiot.

Humor defuses everything, and I couldn’t be cruel to him if I wanted to. But ridicule can be a handy tool, when used gently.

I call him out on his sloppiness. “Oh, look at all those white socks on the couch. Like a field of sheep. Nice job on that flock of socks, dude.”

He respects this, since that’s how he and his buddies converse…in total ridicule. It’s their love language. Been that way a long time for teens, and I don’t see it changing soon.

Nothing is as tart and honest as a teenager.

And, please, let’s keep it that way.

It’s really part of their charm. Teens call us out on our hypocrisies, our posturing, our failures to follow through. Our patience and composure annoys them, so they poke and poke, trying to rob us of our patience and composure. Poke-poke-poke. Often, it works.

Then teens grow up and get jobs, and become tolerant and understanding human beings we barely recognize anymore. Don’t blame them; they have no choice.

But I love when they’re young and snizzy and call us out on our stuff. They are ornery critics, and they care not about our feelings, because they know that we love them in huge ridiculous amounts. So what have they to lose, these kids? Nothing.

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy,” said Aristotle. “But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

I am prepping emotionally for Smartacus’ exit. Some days, I hope it will be that very evening. “Hey, come on,” I say. “Let me help you pack for college. You can check in early.”

Other days I want to cuff him to the fridge, his truest love, and never let him leave the house.

As you know, I’m a futurist, without a sentimental bone in my bod.

Yet, the other day, I pulled the bassinet from the basement, the same bassinet in which Posh and I rocked four children late at night, in the summer and the winter, in the fall and in the spring.

Over three decades, we rocked babies in this little oak bassinet. We filled it with kids, as you would a large jar with jellybeans.

The bassinet is so old, cheap veneer hadn’t been invented yet, so it’s made of solid oak, and it hasn’t warped or peeled as it waited in the basement for its second career – to hold my grandchild late at night — in the summer and in the winter, in the fall and in the spring.

So the other morning, I put it on the patio and cleaned it up and delivered it to my lovely and pregnant older daughter on the ocean side of town.

Thought I might include a note:

“Dear Thing One. Try not to get too attached to your new kid. They leave you too soon. They are headstrong by 2, know-it-alls by 10; by 15, you’re not sure you even like them anymore.

“More than anything, they love their phones, yet they break them weekly, and leave empty smoothie glasses all around the bedroom. They will always need new shoes. If it’s not too late, you might want to completely reconsider this whole parenting thing.

“In any case, please do not claim you weren’t warned. And accept this worn little crib your late mother put aside for a time like this.

“Fill it with grandkids, OK? She’d like that.”

We should hike soon. I’m thinking Griffith Park (thanks, Jennifer, for the suggestion). I don’t have a date in mind yet, but we’ll pick a Saturday afternoon in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, Boomer U t-shirts are on the way. Thank you for supporting the idea, and for backing this free website with book and clothing purchases. Info here: https://chriserskinela.com/gift-shop/. Hugs, Erskine.

6 thoughts on “Oh Baby…

  1. I don’t have any yet, but I am convinced that grandchildren are God’s way of making it up to us for when our kids were teenagers. You are blessed with such a wonderful brood. Thanks for sharing them with us, for smiles and tears in equal measure. Can’t wait for your columns about Smartacus in college and the new Grandpa adventures!

  2. The Godfather of domestica strikes again. Your resolute clarity in the midst of the noise and turbulence of family life is memorable, as is your sense of passionate balance in the constantly tilting moments. Love is the gyroscope of your spinning world. We should all be so fortunate as to have your gift for equanimity. Like Tevye says, “On the other hand …”.

  3. Chris. I’m bummed I missed the St Paddys Day Bash. Do hope to meet you someday and share some Goleta Gin. Anyway, I laughed outloud at Smartacus’ French toast, grilled cheese remark. Gonna be rough when he leaves the nest. And Ramsey is beyond horrible. Also, who has a basement in L.A.??! Let alone a 30 year old bassinet! Impressive.

  4. Again , you have me laughing,agreeing with you about obnoxious personalities, then ending with a perfect phrase that leaves me with a tear in my eye. So much fun and anticipatory joy with finding the put-away-for-next -time baby accoutrements and outfitting a spare room for the new grandbaby at Grandpa’s house! Definitely set up a whole nursery,you’ll see them all the time! Have fun!

  5. Loved this. Re-read a few times throughout the day for smiles. Such an exciting time! Passing down the bassinet that rocked your brood to sleep is priceless. My girls were both rocked in a wooden bassinet “boat” my cousin made that we all passed around. And now my Thing 2 also heads off to college. Pass the Kleenex.

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