On Thursday afternoon last week, February 2nd—Groundhog Day 2012—Janeen gave birth to our second child, a boy! His name is Maxwell Ryan Zeitlin.
We waffled on what to name him throughout the pregnancy and finally settled on Max, a name befitting a young jewboy. His full name’s Maxwell, but he will probably go by just “Max.” I do think it’s cool that his official name is a two syllable version that he can opt for if he ends up wanting that sort of flourish. And while the middle names Klecko, Deuce and Punxsutawney all seemed apropos in varying degrees, we chose Ryan in memory of Janeen’s paternal grandmother Rose.
Max is healthy and very alert for a tiny newborn. Unlike Ivy, who had a beautiful and pristine but generic look about her at one week of age, Max’s baby face has a lot of character. While he obviously has no control of his extremities (or even his neck), he does like to look around and give everyone little sideways glances. He looks like a sly old man. He’s Mr. Magoo.
Whenever I hold Max it occurs to me how tiny and helpless he is. I’m accustomed to handling Ivy, who at 14 months is the size, shape and weight of a sack of flour and likes being tossed around like one. Max is such a tiny little noob and that makes him a completely different and less durable sort of person. I mean, they’re both human babies but it’s amazing how little Ivy and Max have in common physically.
Sitting in my living room, which is littered with toys and babycare contraptions, it also has been occurring to me that in the last four years I have traversed a lot of space on my life-arc and also overseen a drastic change in its trajectory. There are certain things a middle aged man can do that portend big changes. I’ve now done a bunch of them in rapid succession. These sorts of changes are supposed to handled individually, part of the slow process of settling into old age. It feels like I’ve done everything almost all at once. It seems like only yesterday that dressing myself was my biggest daily challenge. Now, out of nowhere, I’ve got a wife, two kids and a dog, and we’re all living together in a nice apartment in White People Brooklyn. I’m wearing a suit and doing research on Subarus and Ford Flexes, and there is a baby on my lap right now. It’s a long way from the beginning of 2008, when I’d spend a lot of waking hours contemplating whether opening the Pokerstars client on my computer was a better or worse idea than meeting friends for drinks. Only four or five years ago, I thought that I might be too self absorbed to handle a committed relationship, and now here I sit with much more than that to contend with.
The sick part is that there’s actually nothing contentious about it. My new life is less stressful than I thought it’d be and I’ve never been happier. Helping Ivy progress through her first year has been one of the greatest experiences of my life (and she isn’t walking or talking yet!). I am overjoyed that I will experience that again with Maxwell, and the duty of shepherding both of my kids through their lives—an assignment that will occupy my time for the remainder of my life—feels like a gift, not a burden. If you told 2007 David that he’d be typing these words only a few years into the future, he’d have punched you in the face. And 2012 David cannot believe that the concept of having children once seemed so dreadful.
By the way, Max is a boy! I mean, I know this is blatantly obvious, but I wish to make a confession: his gender matters to me. It is practically taboo for a well-educated intellectual American man (I purport to be all of these things) to admit that he wants a son, but I am super psyched that Max is a baby boy. His maleness doesn’t appeal to me in the primal “now I’ll be well fed in my decrepit older years” way that probably dates back to our days as hunter-gatherers, and his maleness doesn’t appeal to me in the tribal patriarchal “hooray, more Zeitlins to roam the earth!” way either.
The reason I have always wanted a boy is so I can replicate the formative relationships I’ve had with my grandfather and my father. He’s been dead for over 10 years now, but my grandfather and I were very close, and we spent a great deal of time together while he was still around. Anyone who knows me well knows how sentimental this relationship is to me. My Pop-Pop imparted so much integral wisdom, and he also patiently and lovingly taught me all the “guy stuff” he knew: baseball and football history, fascinating pieces of old New York City lore, various chapters from his colorful past, and lots and lots more, including my initial poker lessons. From Pop-Pop I formed a template on how to conduct myself as a man and that template has guided me since childhood. As for my father: my Dad has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. He is my sounding board, confidant and adviser. Thanks to these two relationships, my persona is an amalgam of those two men. It may be sexist to say this, but I don’t believe the bonds I formed with these two men would have been possible if I were female. I’m sure I still would have bonded with them in equally important but different ways, but those differences matter to me. And so I wanted a son.
It is probably both unrealistic and unhealthy to think that I will become Pop-Pop and Dad to Max. I know that. And I will absolutely support him even if his interests and values diverge with mine. I’ll be there in whatever capacity, even if that means giving him feedback on his next speech before his school’s ornithology club or helping him buy new ballet slippers. Still, I can’t wait to do guy stuff with my little guy.
As for my personal goals in the days to come, they are pretty modest:
-To have a relatively easy and happy transformation from “former lawyer, poker player” to “lawyer who’s good at poker.” My desire to play poker isn’t going to fade away any time soon. I actually followed the results of the Borgata Winter Open Main Event from home. I would never have bothered to do this had I participated in the event; being removed from the scene actually enhanced my interest.
I think that my poker mindset and overall game is going to improve in the days ahead. Poker is an emotional game, and the fear of failure (in running an unsuccessful bluff, in trying an unconventional or new style, in trying a new game, in moving up in stakes, etc.) is a powerful force in poker. When a person is playing poker at its highest level, he is taking advantage of all the opportunities presented to him. When a person is playing suboptimally, he is not pulling the trigger on some plays because he is afraid they will not work. This is part of the reason why success seems to beget success in poker, and why players seem to get into difficult ruts.I have noticed that at certain times in my poker career I have made conservative choices that were directly motivated by my fear of failure. To put it bluntly, the emotional wreckage that results from getting caught with your pants down can make a poker player keep his pants cinched up far too tight. By reducing poker to a recreational activity rather than my livelihood, I suspect that I will worry a lot less about making mistakes and may thereby be able to drastically reduce my fear of failing. I actually felt this happening in the recent Borgata tournaments, where I was playing a loose, free (and effective) form of poker. I really didn’t give a shit if I screwed up, and that made me a better player.
-To indulge my budding gastronomic snobbery. I have developed a deep an abiding love for my neighborhood, in no small part because it has to be one of the top 10 places in the United States to experience artisinal food, artisinal beer, artisinal coffee, etc. etc., for reasonable prices. I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but because of how limited my opportunities to go out (in the traditional “woot get wasted!” sense) are and the presence of so many amazing and delicious restaurants around here, I’ve turned into a bit of a foodie. Brooklyn has this farmhouse/locally sourced ingredients/hot-shit chef in exile thing going on right now, and I’m all about it. Within walking distance from my apartment are places that do things like cure and smoke bacon in-house, brine their own pickles, serve brunch with pour over coffee from freshly-ground direct trade beans, and on and on. My neighborhood seems to be a breeding ground for chefs and restauranteurs who want to take chances, and the result is a wide array of awesome places to try. These places are smaller, cheaper, less staid and of vastly higher quality than most regular neighborhood places in Manhattan.
-To get in better physical shape (or at least try to do something to counteract the effects of preceding paragraph). I feel kinda meh about what I see in the mirror these days. For my entire life I’ve had trouble motivating to exercise and I’m not sure what will change my outlook on this, but I’m going to make another concerted effort. Janeen wants to start exercising again, so maybe having a partner will help.
That’s all for now. Got poopy diapers to change.