The Golden Age, Part I
Two months ago, Casey told me that she had never seen me so relaxed and happy, which was an odd thing to say to the father of a four-month-old. But here we are now six months into this wondrous experiment, and if the recent dozen weeks are any indication, we have found something of a grand miracle, a mythic age, the time of good and right.
Maybe it’s because all of that nervous energy about achieving one’s goals in life before the Grim Reaper grabs hold gets easily tucked away when a bundle of giggles is in your arms, but whatever it is, it’s a very nice ride.
Some of it must surely be from Coplan’s meteoric evolution into an inquisitive, fun-loving soul. We somehow recorded on video his very first self-induced laughing fit—he was bouncing up and down in one of those three-strapped bungee chairs—and it was like some miracle of olden days. Once he was able to laugh—to take all the silly kisses and noises and caresses and decipher their nature—the great burden of having to placate a creature too tender to understand the world was lifted from our shoulders. Coplan is now a person of the world, just old enough to derive some joy from the great and wonderful world out there.
These are the golden days, spread out over a time of unknown length, when the little one you hoped to have becomes the person you hoped he could become.
People often ask what Casey and I have done to raise such a magnificent child. Coplan is damn near perfect—sweet, attentive, curious, loves people, sleeps well, and already has the makings of a genuinely good human being. And rather than horde the secrets of our success, I feel compelled to share with you how exactly we achieved this incredible feat.
So here it is, the secret to having a child as great as Coplan—boof your child daily.
Boofing is an ancient art, passed down from my father's father to my father, a tradition that has worked wonders on children of all kinds. For those of you out of the loop, boofing is when you take something soft with a little bit of give (like a pillow or stuffed animal), and with ample force, proceed to bonk your child in the face with it, all while shouting, “Boof!” You can even vary the boofing by lifting your child up and throwing him or her into a set of pillows. There are many ways to boof.
Children respond to boofing with clear enthusiasm. There is something about the force and pressure of getting hit in the face that thrills them to the point of giddiness. Obviously, if you go too far, you will end up with a crying child and you may have your child taken away by the proper authorities, but in moderation, boofing will help your kid realize his full potential.
In a slight twist on the concept, I improvised a boofing the other day with about seven pairs of socks. It was a cold and windy day, far too cold and windy to take Coplan outside. He wanted action, stimulation, and excitement, so I laid him out on the bed and grabbed a bunch of socks (mostly clean). And then, I announced the event to the adoring crowd in attendance—we were all to witness how many socks Coplan could take being thrown in his face.
The first sock grazed his cheek, landing by the top of his head. The next few socks were dead on—they flopped onto his face and stayed there indefinitely. By the seventh and eight socks, his chest was covered, and Coplan was laughing in sheer anticipation of the ninth. By the fourteenth and final sock, his entire upper body was covered, and all you could see was this giggling mass of socks heaving up and down.
Later that day, Coplan took the SAT’s and scored in the 93rd percentile for math and reading comprehension. The boofing worked.
Coplan is particularly obsessed with his toes these days. At any given moment, he will realize that he has feet, and he will attempt to grab at these feet and move them into his mouth. Most of the time, he fails. Even for a dexterous infant, it is simply too difficult to bend and twist enough to place a foot in one’s mouth. But when he’s on his changing table, or he is held at the proper angle, amazing things can happen.
The sequence is quite predictable. Upon first instinct to eat his own feet, he leans forward and paws at his socks or footies. Then, he plunges ahead and tries to bring his mouth as close to his lower half as possible. If he’s sitting upright, his toes are necessarily pointing away from him, so he grasps at the bottom of his feet as if they’re trying to run away. When he’s on his back, Coplan’s task is much easier: he simply lifts his legs up and catches them with outreached arms, and like a fisherman pulling in his catch, leans back down and lets the sweet bounty of those toes come to his lips.
I have seen joy on many a baby’s face, but the pure delight on Coplan’s face when he gums that big toe of his—there’s nothing quite like it. He squeals and rocks back and worth with excitement, and after a few seconds, he loses focus, and the foot falls away from him. But there is no sadness in this defeat—the joy of having had the foot in his mouth is all the drive he needs to begin the process anew, to rock and pitch and try with every ounce of his baby strength to once again bring that most forbidden of delights to his mouth—the mastication of one’s toes in one’s mouth.
The morning routine is one of the most crucial elements of the Golden Age. Around 4am, I head downstairs and sleep on the couch, partly for the sake of my back, but mostly to get a few hours before Cope starts to rouse. Then, at 6:45 am, my phone buzzes with a text message from Casey—time to pick up your child.
I walk upstairs, and there’s Coplan, lying in bed with Casey, cooing and cuddling and ready to start the day. I pick him up and head downstairs. There, his rocking chair awaits, which I place atop our dining room table, so he can look out the window and see what’s happening outside. Daddy uses this time to prepare for the morning’s activities—a blanket laid down with toys galore, a jumperoo with stuffed animals hanging out of reach, and maybe a few plastic bottles to gum and lick.
But while he sits in his rocking chair, Daddy reads the morning news and is quickly motivated to abandon any knowledge of the outside world and focus on his son.
The first event of the morning is a controversial one. I pick Cope up (still in his rocking chair) and place him at the base of the stairs right next to dishwasher. Then, I proceed to unload the dishes in front of him, theatrically picking up the plates and utensils and whisking them away. Once I’ve put those away, I start placing dirty dishes into the dishwasher, and in the process, lecture Coplan on topics of great philosophic interest.
In the meantime, I usually hand him a large wooden spoon or some other such novelty-sized kitchen item, and he waves it about like a wizard and tries to arc the ends into his mouth somehow. He switches it in between his hands, and when he drops it, I tell him, “Excuse me, you dropped this,” and return the large wooded spoon to his grip.
Once the dishes are put away, we move on to the couch. After a healthy session of boofing, we work on his standing and crawling. I put something tempting on the other side of the couch, and by hook or crook, I help him get to the promised land. And when he gets done chewing on his prize, I give him Daddy’s arm to gnaw until he’s had his salty fill.
From there, the jumperoo awaits, and he thrashes about for a good fifteen minutes. When he starts to tire, I dance and pump him up by bouncing up and down, chanting, “Bounce with it, bounce with it, uh-huh, yeah. Bounce with it, bounce with it.”
And then, when he’s had his fill of jumping, I pick him up and we starting marching, flash-dancing, and otherwise thrusting him into the air and back. Coplan in particular likes the sensation of falling for a brief moment, so I take a few steps forward, jump up, and holding him tight, he gets a quarter-second of weightlessness, and when secured again, laughs and giggles in the early morning cold.
And then, once our 90-minute routine is over, Coplan cries out for milk and his first nap of the day. I take him into my arms, and when we make it half-way up the stairs, he makes me stop so he can look out onto the second floor from a higher point. He surveys the land he just conquered, and after a moment of quiet contemplation, he calls out again for breakfast, and I take him upstairs to his mother.
Two weeks ago, Coplan’s grandmother (his Mima) was in town, and we all went for a hike at the Ivy Creek Natural Area just outside of Charlottesville. We strapped Coplan to my chest with one of those Swedish carrier devices, and as dark clouds swept in, we hiked down to the streams below.
Coplan was facing outward from my chest, and his legs dangled like hams drying in a butcher window. He didn’t make much noise—he would just crane his neck and look around from tree to tree. Eventually, the wind picked up, and with Fall in full effect, dried leaves began descending from the sky like snow.
Coplan took in the scene with a subdued kind of awe. I would reach out and catch a leaf or two and hand them to Cope, and he would maintain grip as long as he could. But then more leaves would fall, and he would look up, and the world was coming to him again, and he let go of the leaves in his hands to see what was coming next. It was beautiful, and when we made it to a clearing of water with geese swimming on the other end, he could see hundreds of leaves pouring down in front of him. And even with the wind and the dark clouds, he could not be more content to be out in the cold air, watching something he had never seen before, somehow a part of this great and encompassing being.