Friday, June 17, 2005


Jilly Bean Jamboree, Part One

My eldest just graduated college a few weeks back. You would think that such a milestone might make me feel suddenly old, but you’d be wrong. I still feel as hopelessly youthful as the day I first held her in my arms.

Jilly Bean was born scant weeks before I left for Basic Training. In fact, she was in large part why I was there. (See, it’s your fault, Jill, but more on that later!)

She was a joy to behold, I remember a quiet, delightful, sparkling baby. Jilly Bean’s first bed was an old fashioned pram, a big carriage with springs that lifted off the frame and doubled as a basinet. We lived in what used to be the parlor of a Doctor’s residence or office (maybe both), with French doors leading out into hall and stairwell to the flat upstairs. Next door was a big laundry, not a self-serve Laundromat, but the kind of industrial laundry where hotels and other businesses would have laundry done in bulk. I don’t remember if there was noise; in any case, Jill rarely stirred those first few weeks.

We came upon parenthood then as if procreative pioneers. We lived in a reactionary slice of decaying Hippiedom (Geographically and mentally), though the ‘80s were upon us, we panted the slogans of the ‘60s. We were a long ways from our 30’s, and could yet be Trusted, and We Knew Everything there was to know. And we knew that we knew, as only those afflicted with university town myopia can know. (Truth or Dare: Binghamton, New York)

As a recent Liberal Arts grad, my prior conceptions of adult life affixed to the Life of the Vagabond. My idea of a Career revolved around stage credits and big ticket venues.

Swept by sudden decisiveness, I joined the Army (!). “I need to find me a steady paycheck,” I supposed, and given 6 years of Russian studies in junior high and high school, a career as some kind of translator seemed a smart choice. (Some might have suggested there might be saner alternatives to this abrupt dose of reality, but I wouldn’t have been listening anyway.)

While my new reality began with Basic Training, Jilly Beans’ and her Mom endured the reality of the seedbed of Dadmanliness. Long time readers may recall vague mentions of 12 step and recovery. While I won’t dispute (nor will I discuss here) any theories addressing said same patrimony, suffice it to say that any “monkeys on my back” had long become those of my own remaking.

Upon completion of Basic Training, we gathered up our meager belongings and headed to Language School in Monterey, California.

Now Monterey is a beautiful spot, but on Specialist E4 pay prior to being provided family-based benefits (which then kicked in only after 2 years of service), ferociously expensive.

Jill spent ages 3 months to 15 months at Monterey. Monterey had many distractions, not all of them at a cost. Jill’s favorites were Pelicans down on Fisherman’s Wharf; Italian gelato at Gelato Mia’s. (Thank goodness her Mom worked there or that would have been expensive too.) I think she had some curious encounters with some big garden snails (they were all over outside our first apartment), and we saw Humpbacks from the air in the private plane of one of our instructors, Pan Jensen. Jilly Beans saw her first ocean at the beach outside of Carmel, the one hidden at the end of a cul de sac, where the language students had crab bakes on the dunes. Here, Bean started a love affair with surf, shells, and little ocean dwellers that continues to today.

She also made her first (boy) friend, Morgan, the son of an Air Force student of Mandarin Chinese. The little boy with the big round head. I thought he looked like Charlie Brown, but a year or two later, writing from Hawaii (lucky dog), the family photo showed the rest of his body caught up with that oversized head.

Jilly Bean’s mom took the Foreign Service Exam in San Francisco one Saturday, and in the spirit of adventure (and not having the luxury of a babysitter), we all went together. More “can you believe how little sense he has?” I have our little folding stroller, so while Mom is taking the 4 hour exam, Jilly Beans and I will spend the time touring San Francisco on foot. With a strong wind. With a 9 month old. Never having been there before.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

I really don’t remember anything about San Francisco, except that it’s all hills, the wind is cold, and there really isn’t anywhere to go with an infant. I do remember finding every way imaginable to create wind baffles with an umbrella, coats, bags, papers, anything that came to mind as a fought a failing battle crafting some kind of protection from the wind for Jill.

I had an opportunity this past year to take a class at the Naval Postgraduate School, and one of the evenings I prevailed on my class mates to make a trip to Pacific Grove and Lover’s Point. This is perhaps the most photographed spot on the Monterey Peninsula. Of course – Mrs. Dadmanly, no comments please – we get there at night. But still, the light from the adjacent restaurants and hotels allow some appreciation of the view.

But there was a more powerful sense at work, and the multi-sensed flood of recollection it brought with it.

The surf. It pounds. Out on the point, the closer to the huge rock promontory, waves crashed in from three sides. There’d been a storm the day previously I think, and the tide (and surf) was high. The ocean at night reveals its power, and I all but bathed in its embrace.

I remembered on my return visit – not before – that Jill, her Mom and I visited Lover’s Point with that same stroller with which I battled the Streets of San Francisco. I remember rolling Jill just as far as I could on the dirt trail out to the point, and when there were too many rocks in the way, lifting her out of the stroller and carrying her as far as I safely could go out onto the cliff. It was as if, we two, were out on the edge of the world.

I felt like that then, with my first child in my arms, looking out across the vastness of a creation I didn’t understand or fully comprehend, that we were on the edge of the future itself. Anything was possible; everything was forward.

And yet there were many steps backward from that point.

Look for Jilly Bean Jamboree, Part Two, retracing the path from Monterey to Texas, home for a spell, then on to Bavaria.

(Linked as Covered Dish over at Basil's Blog.)

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