Every Father’s Day I marvel and reflect upon how I acquired that prestigious title.
Truthfully? I didn’t have much competition. I mean, who else would be oblivious to sunrises, sunsets, rippling streams, dancing leaves, and first love, and decide to write 43 poems about toddlers instead? (Toddler poems, for heaven’s sake!)
Still, as a father of three toddlers, a grandfather of a half-dozen, and great-grandfather of a two-year-old (who, admittedly I don’t see often because little Lennox lives in L.A.), I do command a certain expertise. And I’ve had more than a few unforgettable experiences that quickly became poems. Like…
Can’t find it in Miss Manners’ book
But I’ve a hunch
You should leave a very big tip
When you take a toddler to lunch.
Messy battlefield training like that was augmented by observations of dozens of toddlers I met on book tours with my remarkable late wife, who co-authored “What to Expect in the Toddler Years.” At the start of her lectures, Arlene cued me in to read a few of my verses with, “If you’re going to have a toddler, you better have a sense of humor.” I often started with a poem inspired by moments when that was exactly what we needed.
Hurricane? Tornado? Violent spouse?
What wrought this havoc in our house?
You want to know what is it?
Our grandchildren came to visit.
Led by John Dryden, England has had poet laureates since the 17th century, and they were not only laurel-wreathed and appointed by the king but salaried as well. I memorized some of their poems in public school—Alfred Lord Tennyson’s, William Wordsworth’s, and, notably, John Masefield’s “Sea Fever.” (“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”), For reasons, possibly political, possibly scandalous, Keats and Shelley seemed to escape royal favor.
In the absence of a king, American Poets Laureate are crowned by our Librarian of Congress. James Billington solicits suggestions from assorted poets (who secretly wish they could name themselves) and critics and then thoughtfully peruses their works. Billington has had considerable experience at the job, having named every PL since 1988.
Some pretty good poets have donned the laurel: Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost among them. Stanley Kunitz and Robert Penn Warren twice. No one, to my knowledge, having suggested me, I brashly decided to create a new category and then ever more brashly nominated myself to fill it.
There is a personal precedent here. When I switched from AOL, another Howard Eisenberg (there seem to be a lot of us) had already acquired the g-mail address I coveted. I trumped him by knighting myself: email@example.com.
In my research on toddlers, I realized it was important to see what, in particular, distinguished them from their counterparts in the animal kingdom: puppies and bunnies, for example. Moms and dads I queried approached unanimity: “Tantrums!” So…
Embarrassed by tantrums
Get this tactic down pat
Stand aloof and exclaim:
Gosh, whose child is that?”
They remembered, and so do I, moments from our own toddlers’ early childhood years when it was I who threw the tantrum.
Why am I pushing this stroller
Holding my toddler? Looking harried?
I had no idea when I bought it
She’d prefer to be carried.
I don’t know any kings. I don’t know Mr. Billington either. That, I suppose, is why I became a Toddler Poet Laureate. (And, simultaneously, the author of “Adorable Scoundrels.”)
Howard Eisenberg is an author, journalist, playwright, songwriter, and poet. He does not, however, pretend to be a master of any of them, just a joyful practitioner.