Terrible Twos

Guys!

 

Earlier this week, the second birthday of this blog snuck by in the background.
Dad of the Decade is two!

 

Despite sporadic commitment, long absences, the doubt that comes with trying to decide if I *should* blog all of this if I am working on a book, and the occasional political rant, you amazing people have stuck with me, cheering me on, and interacting with me on something of a fundamental level.

 

Thank you.

 

These past two years have really changed my life, and you’ve been a big part of it.  With your encouragement, I’ve been able to take my writing seriously, and think “Maybe I really *can* do that.”   I’ve worked toward a degree in writing, and have even had some pieces published.  Without you, who cheered me on from post one, well, I never would have taken these steps.
So thank you.
Here’s hoping there are a few years more in these occasional hands of mine.

Remember Not to Be a Jerk

I recently went on a date.

I know, shocking, right?  About two years ago, this is how I felt about dating. It was terrifying as a single parent, having been seriously hurt/broken by the last big breakup and who had seen his kiddo hurt by same.  I’ve dated some since then, but not seriously.  I guess I was doing the work I needed to do to heal those wounds – now four years old.

And, as all wounds which are not fatal eventually do, those wounds did heal. Sure, I may love with a limp for a while still, but I am  open to and feel ready and excited to find that love again – and the only way to get there is through dating.

Emma is now old enough to know I am dating. In fact, I think it’s healthy now for her to see that I can have and do want a healthy adult love in my life.  I don’t want her to develop an image of her sad and beardy dad sitting home alone out of fear: fear is something she has recently been struggling with in her life, and it’s hard for me to help her conquer hers if she doesn’t see me conquering mine.

So, she knows I date – but she doesn’t know any details. When a relationship progresses to a point that it can not progress further without involving Emma, I’ll figure out the best way to do so.  In the meantime, it is sufficient for her to know I’m going on a date, and that it’s a good thing.
Before this recent date, she was mining for information and I was deflecting all of her deft attempts to trick me into telling her what she wanted to know: “Does she have brown hair?  You should wear clothes that match her hair.”  “Oooh, are you going to kiss?  You need chapstick!”  So helpful, that one.

“Go to bed,” I replied, drunk on power.

The last admonishment before I left was “Remember to not be a jerk!”

I laughed most of the way to the date, and tried very hard to follow her sage advice. It actually strikes me that dating would be much easier for everyone if we all took those few words to heart.  Dating is fraught, especially in the early days, with hidden and unforeseeable pitfalls. It’s easy to unknowingly hurt the feelings of your partner simply by not knowing where the sensitive spots are.

If we go into these ventures with the other person’s feelings foremost in mind, if we pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, if we listen – truly listen to what they have to say, maybe we can avoid being accidental jerks, and maybe we’ll find our way to that rare and promised land of fighting over curtains and waking up together to face the world.

When Emma and I next spoke, she asked me about the date.

“It was really great,” I said.

“I think I remembered to not be a jerk.”

“Now mind your own business.”

She laughed and made kissy faces, and I saw that her wounds had healed as well.  Thus, it’s onward, searching for the El Dorado of the heart: over the mountains of the moon.

 

The Hardest Part

For those of us whose kiddos have been burdened with significant medical issues, there are myriad difficulties to overcome on a day-to-day basis. Everything from insurance headaches and working with school systems to ensure adequate care and education to figuring out how to maintain a job and a household and some semblance of a personal, adult life while juggling runs to the doctor, hospital, and other practitioners live between sunrise and sunset. There’s the constant, low-grade miasma of worry lurking just above the base of the skull, occasionally sending its green tendrils out to squeeze your heart, bleach the color from your beard, and leech a few more days off the back end of your life.

And then there are those times where the doctor says “We’ve found something wrong. We’ll need more tests. It might be nothing, but it’s significant enough that we need to explore this more fully, and soon.”

Those times, those eternal middles, those are a special kind of hell. You are stuck between blissfully having never heard of the potential problem at hand and the firm knowledge which will allow you to form a plan of action. You Google and read and curse the entire damned internet, because of course the internet does not list the related cases which turned out to be nothing. It only talks about the cases where it turned out to be everything.

And there is nothing you can do. You are powerless in the face of the future, prostrate to the will of the unforeseen, shaking your fists into the deaf horizon, and remain at the mercy of things beyond your control.

In your most secret of hearts, behind the highest walls, that fear of it being everything thrusts its bitter roots into the oft-tilled soil contained therein, and you wonder how the hell you can take anymore. You are sure that you have reached the limits of what you can bear, and yet the weight of the possible grows ever heavier. You tell people about this feeling, and someone says “God never gives us more than we can handle,” and you somehow refrain from punching them in the nose (n.b. Never say “god never gives us more than we can handle” to someone who feels they are trying to manage more than they can handle. For people of faith, it shakes their foundation, making them think their God is vengeful and cruel. For those of us without faith, it sounds pedantic and dramatically oversimplifies our very real suffering).

You take a moment, you marshal all of your resources, and you try and face the day – all the while working as hard as you can to not let your worry, your dread, to show to your child. You mask your fear to spare them, and worry that they’ll still see the crazy whorls of “what-if” behind your eyes.

And you look at the clock and it hasn’t changed.

I’m in that eternal middle today. It’s probably nothing, and if it’s something, we’ll be able to start making a plan in 48 hours. Until then, despite the best efforts of a fairly battle-tested heart, it will continue to feel like everything.

Counting Down

The middle of the night in a NICU is a strange place. On the one hand, it has the preternatural quiet of a sacred place: a church, a pristine waterfall, a weekend morning under warm covers with frosted windows. On the other, it is an urgent cacophony; the susurus of ventilators, IV pumps, and whispering nurses rushes by under the blazing alarms of machines crying out for attention.

On Emma’s first New Year’s Eve, I sat in this room, lost in the unfamiliar LOUDquietLOUDness of it all, surrounded by babies dying and babies learning how to live.

It was her eleventh day of Emma’s life, and each day showed an equal precariousness to the day before. There had been no miraculous recovery, despite my fervent wishes. There had been no rapid healing, no self-directed breathing.

There had not been the opportunity to hold her, the tenuous nature of her improvised breathing tube prevented all but the most essential movements of her head and neck.

As the hours counted down to 2002, I had never been in a more foreign place – and yet, I had never felt more at home. I was there, suddenly a father, with my daughter. Objectively, nothing I did kept her safe or alive. I was just there, trying to exude love, wanting more than anything for this small being to know that she was the most important small being in the world.

As Dick Clark, as of yet untouched by stroke that would foist Ryan Seacrest on the midnight masses, rocked away the last minutes of 2001, I already had some understanding that 2002 would be momentous in my life. I knew that nothing for me would ever again be the way it had been twelve short months before. What I did not know at the time, and what I did not understand as it was happening, was how formative the coming months would be – those few days at the end of December and the year that followed would be the forge that hardened the boy who entered 2001 into something new: flawed, damaged, but stronger than I ever knew I could be.

At the time, as I heard the Boston crowds in the streets below honking their horns and making merry to welcome the new year, all I new was that this child was here, and that I was hers.

I kissed her head, set off the alarms, and greeted the day in a cribside wooden rocking chair already feeling like home.


Have Yourself…

xmas sweater

Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.  Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

So read the first performed lyrics to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” written for Judy Garland to sing in the film Meet Me in St. Louis.  The lyric – all of the lyrics, really – beautifully capture the contrast between melancholy and hopefulness many of us feel this time of year.

Later, Frank Sinatra was recording his Christmas album, but decided the lyrics were too depressing.  It was the 1950s after all, and by God Americans were just fine so long as we put a shiny bow and some sparkles over any sadness or genuine emotion other than patriotism we happened to be feeling.  Thus, we ended up with the completely nonsensical lyric “Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.  Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

What does that even mean?  This song, a rarity in the Christmas music pantheon in that it acknowledged the difficulties many people have this time of year, lost most of its emotional impact. Nobody struggles, no American needs to muddle through, we’ll just add more lights to the tree, more booze to the wassail, and keep our chins up high.

Not me.  I muddle.  I love this time of year, but I do often get a mild case of the Christmas blues.  It’s not extreme, it’s not the real emotional hardship that many people face, but it’s there nonetheless.  It was this time of year that Emma was at her sickest – just a few days old, and very much in danger of dying every day.  It’s this time of year that when people ask what I’m doing for New Year’s Eve I say “laundry” instead of “smooching a bespectacled, smart, kind and funny ginger librarian who loves me, too.”  It’s this time of year when I realize another flip of the calendar has passed by without me making much of a mark on it.

And there’s the melancholy.

So, I’ll be smiling with the family this week, and I’ll mean it.  I’ll be hanging out with many of the people who mean the most to me in the world, and I’ll be genuinely glad for each conversation, for each joke, for each little bite of brisket and every slice of pie.  I’ll be legitimately thrilled to watch Emma revel in the bounty Santa leaves for her.

As for the rest of it, I’ll muddle through somehow.

<N.B.: Friends, depression over the Holidays is a real and serious thing.  If you are suffering from this, please, reach out – to me, to someone in your life, to a stranger who can help.  The Mayo Clinic has some great tips to manage stress and depression this time of year.  So does the Depression Alliance (opens a PDF).  If you don’t suffer from depression this time of year, please keep an eye out for those in your circle who do.  A few minutes to reach out to a family member, neighbor, friend, or colleague can make all the difference in their lives.>

 

Homeward Bound

preschool

       

 

 

Reminds me that I want to be homeward bound…”

Early September, and Simon and Garfunkel were on the car radio. Like so much in those days, the lyrics stopped me in my tracks.

Earlier that morning, one of the doctors had said, out of the blue, “I mean, she could probably go home tomorrow.  She’s doing great.”

Tomorrow?  Tomorrow?  All the sudden, I was the dad who had his baby coming home from the hospital – and I realized how dramatically unprepared for this I was.  Emma had been in the hospital so long before she was born – continually since she was 27 weeks gestational – that I had never done the things one needs to do to prepare one’s home.

“WE HAVE NO CRIB!” I shouted in panic to the poor intern as I grabbed my keys and ran from the room.  “I HAVE NOTHING!”

In the elevator lobby I ran into family members, who inquired as to where I was going.  “CRIB!” I yelled.  “TOMORROW!” I gesticulated.  “GAHHH!” I gurgled as I ran down the stairs like a madman.

Flooring my aged Subaru, I rocketed to the nearest baby stuff store.  Continuing my Muppetesque mania, I ran crazy-eyed into the newborn department and found a young crib-clerk.  “MybabyiscominghometomorrowbutIhavenothingshecansleepinCRIB!” I word-vomited in her direction. Somehow, she understood, and we settled on a crib.

“Is there anything else you need?” she asked, and then the floodgates really opened.  What else did I need?

“Omigod I have outlets.  ALL OVER MY HOUSE.  There are little electrocution holes waiting to kill my baby all over my house.  WHAT DO I DO?!?”

We added outlet covers to the cart.

“Every cabinet I have is full of baby death.  Every single one.  There are knives and pots and pans and bleach!  Bleach kills babies right?  WHAT DO I DO WITH MY BLEACH?”

Cabinet locks?  Check.

“Wait.  Just wait a second.  I CLEANED MY CARPETS WITH CHEMICALS!  Give me every single plastic sheet in this building before someone gets hurt.”

“I don’t think you need those, sir.”

“But…CHEMICALS.  Oh no!  WHERE DO I PUT HER POOPY DIAPERS?”

Hundreds of dollars later, I had enough plastic safety products, diaper-disposal products, plastic sheeting, baby furniture, diapers, sterile water, formula, sheets, blankets, and everything else imaginable to get an orphanage through two long winters.  It filled my car, and the little bells and electronic songs made their tinny noises as I backed out of the spot.

“Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me.”

I pulled back into the parking spot, and turned off the ignition.  Pausing, I turned and took in the mountain of stuff in my car, and it hit me: Emma was coming home.  The end of hospital life was in sight.  I could sleep in my own bed, eat my own food, have a hot shower that included water pressure.

I could tuck my daughter in for the night, and be entirely responsible for her care until I tucked her in the next night.

While “tomorrow” turned out to be optimistic, it wasn’t too many more tomorrows before we made it home, where the electric outlets were safely plugged, the bleach was locked behind impenetrable catches, and where every night my love lied waiting silently for me to collect her the next morning.

Number One with a Bullet

This year, some 600 pets have died in America likely as a result eating jerky treats.  There have been recalls of the products and they have nearly entirely been taken off of the market – and yet there have been no shown contaminants or pathogens in the treats.

Between 1990 and 2006, 1,312 Americans died from Salmonella poisoning.  In that time, millions of pounds of goods were recalled.  Businesses were shuttered for growing a product which caused fewer than 100 deaths per year over a sixteen year period.

In 2012, the New England Compounding Pharmacy – right around the corner from me here in Framingham, Massachusetts, shipped improperly stored steroid injections which killed some 48 people and sickened 720 more.  As a result, all compounds produced by this pharmacy were recalled.  Massachusetts beefed up inspections of compounding pharmacies, closing two additional companies because of storage issues.  Legislation has been enacted to regulate storage and handling of these compounded medications.

In each of these events, a tragic but relatively small number of living beings was injured or killed as a result of a product which had varying degrees of danger to the American public.  All told, on an annual average, these products killed 600 pets, and (rounding up) 150 individuals.  As a society, we rightfully deemed this unacceptable, and we took immediate action – holding manufacturers accountable, and, in some instances, removing their products from the market entirely because it had been shown too dangerous to be available.

In 2010, 31,076 Americans died as a result of firearms. Every two years, more Americans die in this country as a result of firearms than died in twenty years in the Vietnam war.

And nationally,we have done nothing – in fact, many states have made firearms more accessible as a nation.

Since the senseless and preventable shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school last year, at least 194 children died from gunshots.

And as a nation, we have done nothing.

And now, in some states, gun deaths surpass traffic deaths.

And as a nation, we have done nothing.

150 Americans.  600 pets.  Unacceptable, and acted on.

31,076 Americans.  194 Children.  And we have done nothing.

There have been 26 school shootings since Newtown.  And we have done nothing.

This is not politics.  This is parenting.  My daughter’s right to go to school and come home safe trumps anybody’s right to carry whatever firearm they want.  Her right to not watch her teachers and classmates murdered trumps anyone’s right to buy as much ammunition as they want, to carry a concealed weapon, to leave weapons unlocked and unstored in their homes. Her right to learn, and live, and do so safely trumps anyone’s rights to bypass background checks, registration of firearms, or any other damn thing the government wants to do to regulate guns.

We’ve taken away the dog treats.  We’ve taken away the tainted spinach and ground beef.  We’ve taken away the compounded medical steroids.  For 600 pets and 150 Americans in a year.

31,072 deaths.  Hundreds of children.  26 school shootings. What are you going to do about the guns?

 

Oh, Deer.

Returning home from Thanksgiving, in the dark inaugural night of December, Emma and I were struck by a deer.

It was fleeting.  Traveling at 65 miles-per-hour down the left lane of the freeway, just minutes after leaving my family’s New Hampshire home, a deer leapt the guardrail, landed on the hood of my almost-brand-new Hyundai, smashed the windshield, the roof, and the trunk before falling off the rear of the car.

In an instant, I was blind, and still traveling at highway speed on a not-deserted road.  Somehow, I made it across the highway, horn blaring (as I could not see whether there were any other cars nearby through my now-useless windshield), and into the breakdown lane.  After making sure Emma was ok – aside from the panic – I got us out of the car, about 100 yards down the road, and called for help.

Deer v hyundai

 

We were lucky, in that the most serious injury sustained was a small shard of glass in my heel somehow.  Emma was entirely unscathed, and I had a few tiny glass cuts.  Neither of us needed more than a band-aid.

Still, somewhat shockingly, it took more than 10 minutes of us standing on the side of an expressway in the December drizzle for anyone to stop and ask if we were ok, or needed help.  I am grateful to the man who did, and pretty saddened that nobody else felt safe to see if a crying eleven-year-old girl and her dad, 100 yards from a smashed up car, might be injured.

The police arrived about fifteen minutes after the crash, and called a wrecker.  He offered me the deer carcass, which I declined.  Emma was freaked out enough, and bringing the dead deer home would not have helped her mental state any.  I also had a ridiculous vision of me, completely ignorant of butchery, sitting on the lawn of my apartment complex trying to figure out what the heck to do with the dead deer.  I hope someone hungry grabbed it that night and is able to eat for the winter.

I look at that picture, though, and a little pit of panic sets in again.  We were lucky – so much else could have gone wrong.  The car has been totaled, and the financial hit will hurt – but that’s ultimately manageable.  Other things would not have been. The deer could have been male, and that smaller smash in front of Emma’s passenger seat would have had an antler to jam through it.  There could have been traffic next to us, or coming up quickly from behind us that I would have hit trying to get over to the breakdown lane.  The safety glass could not have held.

 

head on

It was the first time since Emma was a baby when I really felt there had been danger of losing her.  That all of the best efforts of her surgeons and nurses and pediatricians and all of the people who kept her alive when she should have died a dozen years ago would have been undone in an instant.

A chink has been cut into my “it can never get worse than it already was” armor. Here comes the cliche: hold your kids.  Make sure the people you love know it.  Wear your damned seatbelts, eat your broccoli, and savor the moments you have.  Live with clarity when you can, and enjoy the fog when you can’t – you never know what will come hurtling over the guardrail at you while you are driving through it.

6.6667

Tiny Emma

Emma turns 12 in just over 10 days.

It occurred to me in the shower (you know, that place where you keep your eyes closed as much as possible to avoid seeing what time and tacos have done to your sexy, sexy abs?) today that Emma is two-thirds of the way through her childhood.  If childhood lasted a year, we’d be hitting labor day.

And that broke my heart a little bit.

I was awash (while washing) with memories of tiny Emma, climbing up to snuggle and fitting from my neck to my waist just so, and falling asleep while I read Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth for the ten millionth time (I could probably still recite it from memory). I remembered the warmth of her little self, curled into my big self, and the quiet whistling of her trach as she slept on my shoulder.

I thought back to the time, shortly after her mother and I separated, when–unbeknownst to me–she caught her feeding tube in the buckle of her carseat, and I ripped it out of her stomach when I tried to take her out of the car.  That drive to the hospital and run from the lot were the fastest I have ever moved to this day.

I remembered the time the Wal-Mart cashier looked at my daughter, who was standing silent and happy, and disgustedly said “What is wrong with her?”  Somehow, I didn’t punch that vile woman in her stupid face, and I still don’t know why.

I remembered her ringlet curls, now gone straight, which flew wildly about her head as she toddled around in hard-soled shoes.

I remembered the milestones: First successful use of the potty; first self-dressing; first day of school; first crush; first day of karate; first and first and first.

Up until now, most of Emma’s milestones have been the kind which brought her closer to me.  They either allowed us to do more things together, or allowed her a new kind of understanding which enabled a deeper, more connected relationship.

From here on out, in this final third, the benchmarks of childhood will be the ones which carry her onward, away from her diminishing father, into the amazing life she has earned for herself.  First dates, first day of high school, first driving lesson.

First day of college.

I hope you’ll forgive a doting old father if this seems maudlin.  I’m excited for the journey Emma gets to take.  I am so grateful that she’ll even get the chance to have the life she chooses for herself, considering how it could have gone differently in those first fearful months.  I’m thrilled to know I’ll have the best seat in the house, watching as she nears the horizon on her voyage.

And yet, in the thin-walled chambers of my sentimental heart, I lament that I’ll be waving from the window, instead of holding her tiny hands as they wrap around my finger while she crosses the street into her own future. I’ll praying that she looks both ways.

 

Muddy/Bleedy/Climby/Beery. Rugged Maniac, 2013

Hola, Friendos.

Been a while. Turns out, I now run a business. And I got a new job. So I work all the damn time.

BUT – that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is:

Finish

Rugged Maniac.

 

This weekend, karate friends of mine and I ran the Rugged Maniac race in Southwick, MA. For the uninitiated, this is a 5K plus obstacles. This particular race takes place on a motocross course, so there are many hills and turns, and then more hills. They wouldn’t let us use our dirtbikes. Bastards.

Thus, we ran.

Before we ran, however, we had to get into the starting gate – which required vaulting a short wall. BEFORE WE EVEN STARTED. Again. Bastards.

I'm the beard crouching behind the wall.  Not tiny, just preparing to jump!

I’m the beard crouching behind the wall. Not tiny, just preparing to jump!

 

Then, we ran. There were hills:

So many hills.

So many hills.

 

There were walls:

I'm on top o' that jerk.

I’m on top o’ that jerk.

 

There were surprise new obstacles, including a series of trenches dug before across the course before a big wall. The pits were VERY hard to see until you got to them, so there were almost broken bones. BUT we survived.

Finally, about two miles in, we encountered our first mud.

Finally, some mud!

Finally, some mud!

 

Which promptly became a mud slide.

That's me, on my butt.

That’s me, on my butt.

 

Then, there was the REAL slide:

Climby

 

Slidy

Slidey

 

Splashy

Splashy

 

Then, we got to climb down tubes, into mud and under barbed wire.

 

So moist.

So moist.

 

But then, we had to climb back out through tubes.

 

Now I know how toothpaste feels.

Now I know how toothpaste feels.

 

Along the way, there were underground tunnels through which we had to crawl. You know. Like rats. They were pitch black and turny.

 

After that, I did a belly-flop:

Getting ready to flop.  Sorry, no picture of the real deal.

Getting ready to flop. Sorry, no picture of the real deal.

 

Also, there was a place where the mud looked shallow. It wasn’t.

 

Surprise continental shelf!

Surprise continental shelf!

 

Then? Beej-B-Q.

 

Low and slow, baby.

Low and slow, baby.

 

Finally, we had to climb over a thing, which was connected to another thing by a cargo net, across which we had to roll. My face met the butt of a new friend.

 

Final obstacle!

Final obstacle!

 

Finally, we finished!

Woot!

Woot!

 

And then this happened:

 

 

20130930-115624.jpg

 

Can’t wait for next beer year!