In January 2013, I became "Resident Dad" for A Child Grows in Brooklyn, an online home for Brooklyn parents. I'm writing about my adventures with food, park-going, music-listening, and general anecdotes and information from my experience as a father of two girls, four years and one year old, to whom I refer affectionately in the column as Checkers and Crazy Eights. I now do two columns a month, and have changed my nomer to "Dad for All Seasons." I've collected links to each of them below for quick and easy reference.
"Like many Brooklyn dads, I write, and like many Brooklyn writers, I’m a dad. And like many Brooklynites, I came here from somewhere else. I now have two daughters, three-year-old String Bean and seven-month-old Butter Bean. (No, those aren’t their real names—they aren’t even their real nicknames, but they are fairly apt physical descriptions.) I hope to explore this with you, dear reader, on A Child Grows in Brooklyn, sharing my own stories with String Bean and Butter Bean while also hearing and responding to your own stories and concerns as Brooklyn parents."
"Before I met my wife, I’d never had potato-leek soup. I’d seen any reason to, honestly. I’ll even be completely honest: I didn’t really know what a leek was until maybe ten years ago. "
"As my Dancing Baby playlist has grown so have my children, so I’ve had to update the name, which is now the Dancing Kiddo playlist. I’ve also started to subdivide it—by subject, by theme, by mood, by situation—which has provided a wonderful outlet for my obsessive-compulsiveness. It’s with this in mind that I present the first Dancing Kiddo subdivision I developed, Songs about Chickens."
"In the decade before I was married, even before I knew my wife, DUMBO was my own playground. I played Manhunt and Capture the Flag in the streets there with an urban gamers group, hung out alone at the old ferry terminal at the base of Fulton Street imagining I was Walt Whitman, and frequented the bookstores and galleries that sprang up to serve the artist population that was rapidly colonizing the area. I also regularly dropped by an old warehouse showroom after getting a hot chocolate from Jacques Torres (the greatest hot chocolate ever, thank you) and watched the old carousel a couple had bought in the Eighties from an out-of-business carnival in Youngstown, Ohio and stored there, promising someday to get it functional again."
"February has now turned to March, and my family now has four jars of tomatoes left in our cupboard. This was my first year of canning tomatoes, and I think I timed it perfectly. Soon we’ll be out of them, and winter can then move into spring."
"Every single one of my trips to parks last summer with Stringbean involved water. It was a prerequisite, and she took great pains at the beginning of each adventure to pack her swimsuit, apply her sunscreen, and find out in advance not which parks we were visiting but what water would be involved. And being an adult with a remarkable capacity for sapping the mystique and fun out of these spontaneous encounters with my children and my child-self, I’ve spent some time codifying and categorizing these experiences. Once a month this summer, I’d like to present to you my findings. For my June post, I’ll tell you about one of my favorite categories of water-mongering: ferry-riding."
"In last month’s summer Parks Series entry, I wrote about navigating the abundant natural water around our city with Stringbean. But let’s be honest—while a ferry trip is a pleasant diversion, the meat of our outdoor summer activities with our children involve inland water that is decidedly unnatural, whether we’re splashing in city pools, bathing in the majesty of the many fountains, or enjoying the many watery elements of city parks we’d forgotten were even there over the winter and early spring."
"I recently received an email from Anna Sang Park about the film project she’s finishing with her husband Eric McGinty, titled Wallabout after the industrial district between DUMBO and Williamsburg. I’ve been having some wonderful conversations with Anna and Eric over the last week about children (their four-year-old daughter Oona is in a few scenes of the film), art, making a living in the city, even death (Anna had seen a recent post on my blog about my grandmother’s death, and recounted their own experiences losing family and explaining these things to our children). And of course, we talked about their film."
"Both my wife and I are agnostic. Part of the reason I call myself agnostic is that it gives me tangible justification, when people bring up god and religion, for not just saying, 'I don’t know,' but saying, 'I don’t know, and I’ve organized my belief system around it.' Just like most political centrists are not in the direct center but rather the shallow end of the right or left wing, I probably lean more toward atheist , but saying I’m agnostic usually cuts off arguments either because 1)it’s very hard to argue with 'I don’t know,' or 2) the person I’m talking to doesn’t know what agnostic means. Children, though, are a different story. They don’t want to hear 'I don’t know.' They want definite answers, from the people they trust most: their parents."
"I should be ashamed of myself. Doing most of the cooking in our household, I pride myself on serving my family fresh, seasonal food when possible. I also have a select few culinary aversions, and the most extreme is to savory creamy sauces—Alfredo, a la king, béchamel, hollandaise—so they rarely make it onto a menu I prepare. That said, I serve one dish to my family throughout the year that violates pretty much every rule of cooking I’ve developed: the ubiquitous, all-American tuna casserole."
"Stringbean is actually a nickname that goes back generations in my family—I in fact am still Stringbean to a few family members, and occasionally to my wife. And Butterbean, in all honesty, is probably a fair enough descriptor of most babies. But the more I thought about it, the more introspective I got. And the more I read about body issues in developing young girls...the more I realized that I don’t want to saddle either of my young girls with body-type nicknames. I want my four-year old’s Princess Thing to be a phase and not a way of life, and I want my 18-month-old to retain her assertiveness and spunk without being saddled with the “tomboy” label."
"Sure, the sentiment is simplistic and overbearing—much like another favorite of mine, John & Yoko’s 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' ...—but I think that’s why it’s so powerful: a child (myself at eleven years old, for example) can hear it, sing along, and at some point after countless reps of the refrain ask a couple of simple questions: Who are 'they,' and Why don’t they know it’s Christmas? In this many, the song is the musical version of the storefront Salvation Army bellringers, only the Christmas bells are accompanied by extravagantly rich and famous, mostly British Eighties pop stars. Both use those bells to strike a common note in the listener, and remind us of 'the world outside your window,' if only for a moment."
"This, I think, is one of the stickiest sides to the ongoing discussion of whether corporal punishment has any place in modern child-rearing. From one angle, programmed physical punishment gives a child a sense of immediate consequences for her or his actions; from another, it instills fear in the child of the parents and—even worse, I think—teaches them to obey authority for fear of retribution, which is a microcosm of most dystopian governments of the world."
"A year ago this month, I began working with Mark Usewicz and Bianca Piccillo, the couple who run Mermaid’s Garden, one of the first of a growing number of CSF’s (community-supported fisheries) in Brooklyn. Begun in the summer of 2012 and modeled on CSA’s (community-supported agriculture), which have now established themselves as a viable urban market model for local, small-scale farmers, Mermaid’s Garden runs seven weekly pickups in Brooklyn, where its 365 members pick up a “share” of a different fish (or shellfish substitution) harvested by the many North-Atlantic small-boat fisherman who have relationships with Mark and Bianca."
"It’s easy, in this mid-winter lull, to forget that there might be things to love hidden in the sludgy city snowscape. Also, because of the inordinate amount of time we by necessity spend indoors, we can always use some unstructured indoor play. Dancing is, in my humble opinion, the best unstructured indoor play, and what better way to sail our ships into the frozen horizon than to the beat of some winter-themed jams?"
"I admit to having an unhealthy fixation with Red Hook. It has everything this urban idealist needs to believe that Brooklyn will find a new model for Twenty-First Century urbanity. Decaying signs of its roots as an industrial port mingle seamlessly with its more recent revitalization, making it an ideal laboratory for a sustainable future. Old factory buildings house art studios and business startups of every stripe, and many of their roofs are topped with gardens. When I get a sinking feeling about my choice to live and raise a family in the largest city in North America after, say, listening to too much WYNC or reading The Power Broker, I go walking in Red Hook. One discovery I’ve recently made is the Van Brunt Still House, one of a growing number of 'artisanal distilleries' in a collective of small-batch alcohol providers commonly referred to as the Brooklyn Spirits Trail."
"I have been following Just Food for some time now. Since 1995, their role has been to empower and support community groups in their efforts to increase access to local, sustainable food. I’ve been putting their values into practice. I have a batch of sauerkraut fermenting on my counter that I canned with Jeffrey Yoskowitz of the Gefilteria at his pickling workshop at Congregation Beth Elohim this past Thursday. And of course, our tomato seedlings sit in the window soaking up some rays of what has seemed like an endless winter that is finally breaking. This will in fact be my first year attending the Just Food Conference, but I have a feeling it might usurp the rose blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and NYC Punk Rock and Underground Record Fair as the first sign that spring has sprung."
"With all due respect to the daffodils and tulips, they are not the first bloom of spring. It’s not even close, actually. Despite the preponderance of cut daffodils at the bodega, the ones in my neighborhood are still hesitantly poking out their shoots, with no flowers in sight. This week, though, any glance in the dirt around most trees on the sidewalk or at the park will reveal clumps of grass-like blades with purple flowers that look so delicate they might be made of tissue paper. The crocuses have bloomed."
"Though technically spring arrived almost three weeks ago, it finally feels like it—right in time for Passover, Easter, and all the good food that entails (gefilte fish and matzoh for Passover, Peeps and Cadbury’s eggs for Easter). But of all the good foods that have come to represent spring for me, nothing trumps the fiddlehead. Much like asparagus, fiddleheads are the early shoots of a much larger plant, in their case the ostrich fern. Their name derives from the tightly curled embryonic fronds that form each of them, making each little plant resemble the head of a fiddle."
"This year we’re planting tomatoes, small melons, peppers, and plenty of flowers. But the favorite thing we plant is also the easiest. Even better, it does double duty—it’s both a flower and a food. I’m talking about the beloved nasturtium. Not only are the flowers multicolored and plentiful, they taste like a kind of like a lightly peppered cauliflower and can be plucked right from the vine. They make stunning additions to a summer salad, or as a garnish to grilled burgers, or grilled anything really. And if you let them go to seed, fear not—you can eat the seeds too!"
"Let us take a moment to consider the pickle. In order to fully understand and perceive its wonder, I think we should first consider, if only for a sentence or two, its two most popular forms: the cucumber pickle and sauerkraut. The most common adjective for the cucumber would probably be “boring”—the cabbage, “stinky.” But add some salt, water, a few spices if you feel like it, some vinegar if you’re canning them, and wait—both the hardest and most important part of pickling—and eventually you have nature’s most delectable act of controlled rot."
"We now have more options than ever for ethically disposing of our organic trash. But this embarrassment of riches poses its own problems—with all these options, it would be easy for urban parents new to the organics recycling game to shake their heads and give up. My few years of composting hardly make me an expert on the subject, but I would like, at the very least, to provide a beginner’s list of ways to recycle and repurpose our scraps."
"I recently discovered at the Horticultural Society of New York’s exhibit of composer/forager John Cage’s folios for his 1972 Mushroom Book that Cage once had to have his stomach pumped after misidentifying a hellebore for skunk cabbage and accidentally poisoning an entire dinner party. Which brings me to the number one fear of many would-be foragers: having to get your (or worse, your child’s) stomach pumped after mistaking a hellebore for skunk cabbage, or eupatorium for garlic mustard, or pokeweed in its poisonous stage for pokeweed in its edible stage, or…you get the picture. This is why it’s important for a beginner to find a good guidebook, or even better a seasoned veteran to guide you in identifying species, as well as making sure you’re practicing sustainably and within city code."
"You may or may not know, but the shores of our boroughs and the surrounding area are teeming with millions of eight-legged crustaceans whose most active season is summer. I’m talking about blue crabs, who are probably just as plentiful below the surface of the Hudson as humans are on its shores. You don’t need a license to catch and eat them, and crabbing is a family activity that kids of pretty much any age can get into.What’s more, these critters are not only delectable but fun and relatively easy to catch, making for an off-center family trip your kids might just talk about ad nauseam throughout the winter. Here’s what you need to know to get started."
"Few things get me more excited about summer than listening to summertime music. I actually have an iTunes playlist containing over 500 tunes that qualify as Summertime Music, the most child-friendly of which I’ve been subtly putting on in the background as Checkers and Crazy Eights are playing. They are super-excited about summer, so it must be working. Here are a dozen that have been getting heavy rotation in our place lately."
"I just dropped Checkers off at her second full day of kindergarten, and Crazy Eights is in her second day of playschool phase-in. The school where I teach is now in its third week, and my mother-in-law is staying with us this week to help with the adjustment. For the first time, I have a full school day’s worth of writing time, and I can’t for the life of me think of what to write. I’ve got the back-to-school blues."
"One thing about that 'crisp' inland weather—it ripens those apples, pumpkins, and other harvest crops we so associate with autumn, the time of year most associated, for children and adults with souls, with picking stuff (besides our noses). And apple and/or pumpkin picking is an eminently worthy excuse to drive, rent a Zipcar, or catch a train out of town, whether out to Long Island, over to Jersey, up the Hudson, or even further in any direction. And so it is in honor of the harvest that I present the Autumn Road Trip Playlist."
"There’s a strange alchemy at work in taking something as boring as old bread, letting it go stale, then remoistening it, adding some leaves, cloves, stalks, and bulbs, and turning it into something indescribably filling, savory, and thoroughly Thanksgiving. Much to my adult surprise, cracking the code on the basic ingredients and their interplay doesn’t absolve the mystery, it only deepens it. I you’re not already in on it, here’s the matrix."
"My wife and I have been married for going on seven years now. Our children, Checkers and Crazy Eights, are now five and two years old. Until I met my wife, I’d never had a coffee cake. Now I can’t imagine Christmas (or Thanksgiving, for that matter) morn without it. The recipe I’m about to give you has been in my wife’s family for roughly three generations now, by my estimation. Although my mother-in-law comes from Pennsylvania Dutch stock, I can’t help thinking this recipe is more a product of the 70s (we also have fondue every Christmas)."
"Strangely, having two girls has made my renewed sports-watching feel somehow new and different. I still refuse to spend more than a couple of hours on any day watching any given game, but I do enjoy using sports-watching, particularly games involving teams I’m emotionally invested in, as another window into their child-lives...This is all to say that I’m learning more about my children, about the sports I love, and about the joys of watching sports in general with every game I share with them. Here are some of the things I’ve learned."
"I’m of the suspicion—and it gets stronger every year—that we are at a historical transition where our accepted notions of parenthood are less stable, more fluid than ever. I think a number of factors contribute to this—the decline of the nuclear family as the norm, more questioning of gender-normative patterns of behavior, perhaps even a wide-scale movement away from social groups in the physical space with the rise of digital media. But every year, as my relationships with my children become less about fulfilling basic physical needs and more about forging strong emotional bonds with them and teaching them life lessons that will carry into their own adulthoods, I wonder if I’m doing this right, or if there is even a right way of doing this."
"Among the many narratives of the late 20th Century, one I find especially relevant here is that of fragmentation: of global culture, of the family, of the individual. This isn’t something I lament, nor is it something I celebrate. It just is, and its most relevant result here is that we are collectively, as responsible and cognizant parents, in a position to pick and choose through the fragments of our culture, finding the most useful and fitting ones and discarding or storing away the rest."
"So far I’ve been talking mainly about prototypes that are fairly accepted and traditional in American culture. But what about men for whom the traditional family has for generations been seen as asynchronous with their innermost selves?....Perhaps the sea change we’re undergoing is leading us toward more acceptance and understanding, and away from prejudice and willful ignorance. I don’t know, but I hope so. But this fluidity of understanding will not come without consequence for own senses of self, individually and communally. Knowing there is no one right way of doing things necessitates a willingness to embrace the areas of ourselves and others that haven’t yet been mapped."