Peculiar Graces: Shim Gets A Name (Or At Least A Sex)


Now that I am an expecting parent, and now that I have an expecting mother for a wife, I have begun to reflect a little more than usual on all kinds of things, like how little my wife asks of me—Will you make me waffles? Will you get me a bottle of water? Will you go out in the snow and buy me a strawberry-banana smoothy? Will you get your damn feet away from me?—in comparison with how much I’m asking of her—Will you make me my child? And I have begun to notice some things that have at once frightened me, filled my eyes with tears, and made me laugh. I am here now to tell you about some of these things.

First of all, we are already getting old. Kind of. Last weekend, Alli and I were at a party, a party full of people from the university, young people, crazy people, cool people, people without children, and there was a game among them called Beer Pong, and there was retro 80s music coming through the speakers, and there was dancing, and there were all kinds of funny, witty people talking about this or that funny or cool thing, and at one point we were trying to talk to our friend, Adam, about a short story he’d composed an entered into a contest (a contest, by the way, we’d both entered, and both lost), and he was trying to explain one thing or another, and, out of nowhere, Alli said: “I’m sorry—will someone please turn that music down?”

And it occurred to me in that moment: She will make one hell of a mother. I already imagine her banging on Shim’s bedroom door, telling Shim to turn the g.d. music down, dammit, and then Shim will come to me to complain, whining to me that Mom won’t let Shim experience Shim’s music, and I’ll say (while sitting in my dad’s-chair, perhaps reading a newspaper) almost indifferently (like Jack Arnold from The Wonder Years), “Listen to your mother.”

As for me, I have begun, against my will and better judgment, to like clothing from the Banana Republic. I am wearing a brown pair of pants from there as I type this, and they are warm and snug and soft and—I think—cool. I’m a Banana Republic guy now. I admire their clothing. I go around wearing stuff from the Banana Republic, and I’ll admit it to anyone who asks, and I don’t feel like a yuppi, or at least I don’t mind looking like one anymore. These are nice pants, with clean lines, sleek, not second-hand or worn-in, but new, brand new, from the Banana Republic store itself, and I pull them up all the way to my waist, and they fit perfectly, as they are made to—which brings up another issue: My mother, the purchaser of these pants (for my birthday), was told by Alli that I’d gained some weight, and that anything with a 34-inch waist probably would not fit me anymore, so when these arrived in the mail from Mom, the 36”x34” tag seemed to scream out at me, “Hey, fatso! Yeah, you! I’m from the Banana Republic! I am your future! Do not fight it! Not only do I represent the end of the days that you go to the thrift stores for ironic, young-looking clothes, but you’re gonna try me on, and you’re gonna like me, and you’re gonna marvel at how well I fit you! Ha!”

These are hard days, my friends—hard days, indeed. (Thanks a lot, Mom.)

Earlier today, as I recounted the above details to Alli, demonstrating to her our growing into our new roles as Mom & Dad (or, at least, as Beyond Rock Music and Beyond Hip Ironic Clothing), she pointed out another: When I lie down on the couch to read, it is inevitable that within five minutes I am asleep, asleep, sprawled all over the couch like spilled water, snoring, mouth open, saliva pouring from my mouth. “That’s a dad if I ever saw one,” she said, laughing at me.

Yes. Okay. Fine.

According to, as of last week Shim can hear and distinguish voices. This was great news, and frightening. Our immediate thought was to read Shim some poetry, you know, to let Shim hear the rhythms and beauty of the written word in its highest form, but, as concerned parents, the obvious questions arose: What poetry should I read? Is Shim too young to be exposed to the horrors of reality that Shakespeare or Dante or Milton might have in store? Would it be sexist to expose Shim only to male poets? Should I read poetry in the classic and pleasing iambic rhythms (so that Shim may more easily engage with the sing-song part of the words) or should I read Shim free-verse poetry, exposing Shim to the subtler, perhaps more “refined” tastes of modern and contemporary verse? Were I to expose Shim to Sylvia Plath, would Shim grow up to hate “Daddy” and go crazy and kill shimself? Would I only confuse or depress Shim (as I surely would confuse and depress me) if I started Shim off with some Emily Dickinson?

We finally decided to read Shim some of the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay, to expose Shim to a beautiful and easy iambic pentameter, the facts of life, and a feminine voice that is at once strong and vulnerable:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Then we explained to Shim that if Shim ever understands the life experiences it took to write that poem, Shim will be grounded for a month.

So now, here is one great big thing that frightened me, filled my eyes with tears, and made me laugh: This morning, Alli and I went to the place where we find whether Shim is a She or a Him. They did the ultrasound, and we have been assured that, between the two names we’ve more or less settled on—Jonah Aaron & Anna Sophia—we get to save Anna Sophia for the next time around, because it looks like I’m the proud papa of a baby boy.

And so I have been thrown back into my own childhood, recalling images of me and my father, all kinds of them, swimming in the ocean with him, holding onto his neck for dear life through each oncoming wave, or his convincing me that to push in the car’s cigarette lighter was really to activate the car’s turbo speed, or his “eating” crayons and then pulling them out of his neck, or watching him play soccer and playing soccer with him, and his thick hands, and his enormous ears, and to lie on his chest and sleep, and the strength in his voice, and here I am now, turning into the father of a son, becoming the most important image of life and God I myself was given as a boy, and I am feeling tremendous and powerful things, and my God, I am thankful, and humble, and happy.

Thanks to you all for your support, and your friendship, and your prayers. Love to you.

Carlos & Alli

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