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North 40





Beach Boys
It's about influence, dude

By Sam Silverstein '91

        Illustration by Cynthia Fisher


Around the six-month mark of her pregnancy this past year, my wife announced her intention to hire a doula to be present for the birth of our son.

     I'm confident the majority of you wouldn't have known what doula meant, either. It's Californiaspeak for "labor coach." For a decade or so out of school I was able to deny the creeping influence of California on my life. My first post-collegiate address in Portland, Oregon offered all the benefits of West Coast culture - quality ingredients, no sales tax - without having to define myself as an actual Californian. The Pacific Northwest is convenient that way.

     Then I met a girl, from Berkeley, and we moved to San Francisco to start our family closer to hers. Having a child who is a native has forced me to face facts: I am a long way from home. It's the organic baby food. And the sunshine-splashed photo album of our first Christmas together, in the kiddie pool at the spa. What his mom calls our baby's "winter jacket" is in fact a blue fleece jersey with three flimsy loops and buttons to fasten it in place, not unlike the liner to the Eddie Bauer "weather management system" I used to wear around campus from October through May. Dude has yet to see his first snowflake, and he's about to walk.

     I said "dude."

     There are other reminders. My wife is missing the nostalgia gene: "Old", for her, is synonymous with "replaceable." (I see the way she looks at my truck.) When we first moved in together, my pump-lamp - the one I'd built in Mr. Callahan's sixth grade shop class – was a major bone of contention. Mr. Callahan taught shop in my Eastern Massachusetts hometown for I'm guessing thirty years. He used duct tape on his fingers instead of Band-Aids. One day he came home from school and – having lost his sense of smell in the Korean war – flipped on a light in his front hallway and ignited a gas leak. That's how he died.

     Lisa wanted the lamp gone, or at least gone from its prominent perch in our bedroom. Only an energy-efficient halogen bulb and a distressed parchment shade from Pottery Barn saved it.

     Parenting has added weight to such things. What once were amusing cultural differences, the jokey little moments that keep happily married couples from fusing altogether, now are matters of influence. What's more, the percentages are against us. My baby is, in theory, half me, but which half? I perceive myself still as a New Englander, someone who appreciates the aerobic benefits of shoveling snow and experiences an appropriate amount of awe each time I crest the entrance ramp at Fenway Park. But then again, in me too was the urge to go west, toward the setting sun, where the beer is made with berries and the station wagons are devoid of decals trumpeting the colleges attended by their former passengers.

     What if my son gets all his mom's zany sensibilities plus that part of me that turned its back on Yankee values? What if he is both in California and of California?

     I have a plan. There's this uncle, my brother, who's still in Boston and due to have his first child this spring. My son's cousin. They'll be about the same age – close enough to be friends at least. My wife might never agree to move to Massachusetts, but the Cape is in play for extended vacations. I see the two boys together, in warm summer parking lots, eating clam strips and swatting mosquitoes the size of small birds and listening to Sox games on their car stereos.

     Ah, home.

Sam Silverstein is the author, with Lisa Tabb, of Beyond Vegas, a guide to twenty-five "eloping destinations" around the world. They live in Berkeley with their first child, Aaron.

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