Boy Vs. Dog

“Why don’t you call your kid ‘the tyrant’ anymore?” my friend asked the other day.

It wasn’t until that point that I realized that I had, in fact, stopped calling my son by one of my favorite pet names for him. Was he no longer a tyrant? Did Baby Bob Ghengis Khan no longer sit on his high chair throne of oppression? Had the tide turned in favor of us humble servants, or was this just the result of his tyrannical mind games at work? Had he lulled me into submission and subjugation so swiftly, slyly, and creatively that I no longer felt like a slave to his grind despite the fact that I was under his control more than ever? Had he broken me, or had the littlest tyrant actually become a more benevolent benefactor over the last few months? The most clever rulers trick you into thinking that freedom is servitude. I’m either really free from under his thumb or my son is one of the clever ones. Take your pick, I suppose. The oppressed are always the clueless ones.

People tend to glorify the “baby time.” They often spend more time pining for the days of baby-dom than enjoying what that baby has turned into. I know many women who are in a constant state of ga-ga over those that go ga-ga-ga. I know couples that can’t not have a baby in the house. I know women who seem to be in constant pregnancy. Certain folks are just plain baby crazy. I don’t get it.

“I just love babies, they’re so cute. I can’t get enough,” a friend of a friend said at a recent Sunday gathering. I’ll give her that, babies are cute. But, so are koala bears and koala bears are total bastards. I offered her the chance to take Jack home with her for a week.

“You better watch it or I might just take you up on that,” she responded.

“Try me,” I countered. Oh the naivete of the childless!

Until about the sixth month or so, babies are pretty much worthless. I love my son more than I ever could have imagined, but for his first few months he offered me nothing and took everything, sleep and sanity included. For every second of cuteness, there are five of frustration. For every second of cherubic sleep, there are five dirty diapers. They eat, they sleep, they cry, and they shit. Other than that, babies just kind of lay there and expect you to do their bidding. Good luck trying to figure out what that bidding is.

Being a parent to a newborn baby is like toiling beneath the iron fist of a sadistic foreign dictator. You know they expect something from you, but you can’t understand a word they are saying and they won’t stop defecating on you. If that is your idea of cute and cuddly, more power to you. Live in your fantasy world. Worship the baby, or your idea of what a baby is. I, however, am looking forward to the child I can hold a conversation with. I am excited for my toddler, my teenager, and my twenty-something. While you stay fixated on their delusional baby fantasy, I will be enjoying what my baby will become. Instead of wishing for what was, I am enthusiastic for a relationship with the person he will be. I’m ready to be a parent, not a perpetual peon or prisoner. Babies are totally overrated.

Lucky for me, Jack is becoming a little less like a baby every day: he may not actually be the infamous infantile tyrant of his formative months anymore. So, as he’s evolved out of that phase, I’ve phased out my use of the word “tyrant” to describe him. My brothers and sisters in captivity, let us celebrate for we are finally free! Yes, at nine months, my son is a tyrannical ruler no more. These days, oddly, he’s more like a dog. The real dog in my life is not so thrilled.

Ever since we brought Jack home from the hospital, my dog has been uneasy. She didn’t quite know what to make of the crying, pooping, helpless creature that we were paying way too much attention to. Wherever the baby was, my dog would be elsewhere. There was jealousy. There was confusion. But the majority of the time there was complete indifference, at least for the first few months of their cohabitation. Then one day Jack noticed the dog. From that moment on, he has been obsessed with her. Well, as obsessed as a nine month old could be with anything for more than five seconds.

After the noticing, came the crawling, the stalking, the grabbing, and the full fledged rivalry. At nine months, my son has become the new alpha dog in the house, and my real dog is pretty pissed. At least that’s what the look on her face tells me every time she goes looking for her food and it’s on the top of the fridge. Never in a million years did she think she’d be competing for her own Kibbles and Bits. Who would have thought that my kid would want to eat dog food more than life itself? He makes a b-line to the dog dishes as soon as he hits the kitchen tile. If you’re too late, he’s probably already shoved three or four pellets into his mouth and is splashing around in the water bowl. He can’t be trusted, and my poor dog suffers the consequences. When she jumps up on the bed and licks my face I can almost hear her ask, “Who taught that fucking kid to crawl? It was you wasn’t it?” Then she’ll usually tell me to sell the kid to gypsies, shave my beard, and get a real job.

Having to move the dog food was probably the final straw in the already extremely fragile relationship between the two of them. Since Jack attained mobility it’s been quite the daily cat and mouse game between the boy and the dog. My favorite thing to do is to watch my unsuspecting dog lick herself while Jack cruises across the room like a baby ninja and then suddenly pounces on her with his meaty paws. His idea of petting is more akin to assault. He’ll launch himself at her with all of his twenty five pounds of lean mean fighting machine, tugging at her skin as hard as he can, trying to pull her ears off in big handfuls, and attempting to poke her eyes out as she sprints away from imminent danger like a scurrying mouse

Sure, he means no harm. But my dog is the last dog on earth that’s going to put up with that nonsense. Hell, she growls at me when I try to pet her when she’s not in the mood. And good luck trying to get her to give up a few inches in your own bed. It’s kind of an understatement, but my dog likes things a certain way and that way does not include Jack. It’s hilarious.

And so, my dog and my son have become arch nemeses. And yet they are one in the same. Like twins, they are constant rivals fighting a battle over common territory and attention. The twist: only one combatant thinks it is a contest. It’s a dog eat boy eat dog world and I’m just living in it.

I imagine their heated rivalry stems from the fact that they are so similar. In fact, lately, my kid and my dog are almost indistinguishable. They both crawl on the floor. They both try to climb up on things that they shouldn’t. They both speak a language that I don’t understand. They both like to play fetch with the same ball, get excited over the discovery of rawhide bones under the couch, and eat their own puke. They play with the same toys. They growl. They whine when they want something. They like when you tickle their bellies. They can both high-five me. They are one in the same. Though, if my real dog could read, she’d probably take that as an insult.

Judging by what I have witnessed over the past couple of weeks, eight and nine month old babies are the equivalent of bad dogs in need of a healthy dose of Cesar Millan. Whispering is futile. My real dog is much more advanced. My real dog listens. My real dog obeys commands. My real dog drools less. She also naps all day without issue, sleeps in, and shits outside on her own. My real dog doesn’t cry. My real dog always lands on her feet. My real dog understands more English than my nine month old and you can leave her home alone. I didn’t have to buy one of those gates for my dog, but there is now one in my house and she hates it. So do I. If you asked her, it would be no contest. If you asked me, I might have to agree. At this point in the battle of Boy vs. Dog, you’ve got to give it to the dog. But hey, she is practically fifty and I’m just trying to be the peacemaker.

I’m greatly interested in how their relationship will develop in the next few months and years. I hope that the old girl still has a few more left in her so I’ll be able to witness the evolution of Boy Vs. Dog. Every now and then, you can already see things changing. My dog won’t run away as quickly. My son has curtailed his violent blows in favor of attempts at actual petting. My dog shares her stuffed turtle with my son while my son shares his unwanted food with my dog. Sometimes, they’ll even pose for pictures together. Baby steps, I suppose. Maybe someday my dog will learn to tolerate him like she does me. Maybe she’ll go on to like him even more than he seems to like her. Maybe, and hopefully, they’ll be able to one day keep each other occupied and at the very least, learn to live with each other.

I saw a glimpse of that future the other day. I was hanging out on the floor as I usually do with the boy and the dog. I threw the yellow ball across the room, my dog went after it, and my son went after my dog. Then, instead of bringing the ball back to me, she dropped it in front of him. I was touched. It was a genuinely cute moment. A small but significant truce in the battle of Boy Vs. Dog; a turning point.

She sat there in front of him, surveying the situation, waiting for him to respond. Then he did. He picked up the ball with both hands and proceeded to try to stick it in his mouth. The dog in turn gave up and moved on to licking her own ass while my son continued to crawl around chasing the yellow softball around the carpet. Boy vs. Dog? Hell, these days it’s more like Boy is Dog. Luckily I’m a dog person.

For Momma Rita

Jack said goodbye to one of his grandmothers this weekend. Being just barely nine months old, it’s a real shame he most likely won’t remember who she is. Though, there is always a chance that an impression that she made on him at some point in these formative months will stick with him forever. I’d like to think so. I’d like to believe that is possible. I want people to matter.

At least we got to say goodbye. Usually you get that call and it’s too late. When you know someone dealing with cancer, you know it can come any day. I was back from my road trip for just one of those days when the look on my wife’s face as she was talking on the phone told me I’d be hitting the road again. I knew as soon as I walked up the stairs what was being said on the other end of the phone. We cried, we hugged, and we planned to leave first thing in the morning.

My mother-in-law has been battling breast cancer for years. She defeated it once, but the fucking bastard came back with a vengeance. However, witnessing her strength in fighting it day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year almost tricks you into thinking that everything is going to be okay. You figure that one day she’ll have to come out on top. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work out that way. Eventually, some aspect of the war is going to take its toll, even on the strongest person. Momma Rita is definitely the strongest person I have ever known. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that my son knows this about her. I want my son to know his grandmother even if she will no longer be around to show him herself.

I’ve never really experienced visiting with someone who you know is going to probably die before you see them again. Going into it, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I wasn’t sure how to act. I sure as hell didn’t know what to say. You want to hold them and never let go. You want to cry with them. You want to tell them how much they mean to you and how much you love them. You want to thank them for being a part of your life. You want every second that you spend with them to mean something special. You don’t know what to expect, but you have high expectations.

But why? Is it really for them, or is it more for us? Did I want a couple days full of heart to heart talks with Rita because it would make her feel better or me? Should sitting around the house like business as usual feel awkward? Why did I all of a sudden want every second I spent with Rita to be the most important second of all? Was it for her, or was it really just for me? Was it for us? I still don’t know the answers.

I do know that it felt odd to be sitting around watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics with some Tobin’s pizza like it was just another Friday night. Looking over at my father-in-law in his recliner and Ma Rita in hers, I wanted it to be just another Friday night. I thought of all those Friday nights that I may have taken for granted, and wanted to go back to them. But, you can’t go back. You can, however, make sure that you treat every moment that you spend with someone you love like it’s the last moment you may have with them. As cliche as it sounds, it’s really the only option. I don’t know why we need to be reminded so many times. I don’t know why we lose sight of that amongst trivial things. I don’t know why we need to lose someone before we truly realize how important they are to us.

I suppose it’s hard enough to wrap your head around death without it staring you right in the face. Why do we tip-toe around the subject as if it’s something that we may be able to avoid?
Why has grieving become such a solitary and silent process in our culture? Why are we afraid to talk about death, when talking about it is all we can really do? Why don’t we celebrate every second of this sweet life instead of being worried about death? Why do we become fixated on the one thing we can’t control instead of the countless things we can? Why does it take death to give us the proper perspective on life? Why anything? These are not new questions.

The death of someone is not only sad in and of itself, but it shoves the grim reality of it all right in front of your nose. You cry not only for the one you lost, but you cry because you know it won’t be the last. You cry because one day it’ll be your wife, your husband, your mother, your father, your child, your best friend. You cry because one day it will be you. You cry because it hurts, but you also cry because you know you’re going to have to feel that hurt again. It may hurt more, and you don’t know how you’ll even take it. Then you get pissed and want to scream. You do scream. I screamed. I want to scream some more.

But, as my father-in-law said during a drive to pick up some sandwiches, “There were many times during this whole process where we wanted to get mad. But you know, I’d scream and yell, pound my fists, and jump up and down stomping my feet all day every day if it would do any good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. You have to get beyond that.” It’s hard as fucking hell, but you do. Otherwise, you’re just letting it all go to waste. That’s something to get mad about.

My initial trepidation and awkwardness about the situation was swept away when I saw Rita and Jack together. One person with precious time left and one person with all the time in the world, putting it all aside and enjoying the present together for what it is — everything. They say that’s all that’s really guaranteed in this life — now. Jack had no idea what was going on in Rita’s world. He was just enjoying her and she, him. Life’s number one lesson was right there in front of me. That’s how I needed to react to this. That’s how I should feel. There would be time for sorrow. There would be time for grieving. There would be time to second guess everything if need be. For now, there was now. She may be dying, but she’s here now. You are here now. I am here now. We are here now. We have to enjoy every fucking second like a nine month old oblivious to the cold hard truth of life, or an amazing woman who has been through it all and has nothing left to lose. That’s really all you can do.

So, we did. We spent time enjoying each other as we always have. We didn’t think about what might happen tomorrow, or the next day, or next week. We talked about the past. We talked about the future. Then, before we left we held each other. We cried together. We had the heart to heart. We exchanged advice. We said “I love you” in as many ways possible. I didn’t want it to be the last time I hugged her, but I knew it probably would be. I didn’t want to let go. I still don’t want to let go. But, it’s not about me. If this life is to mean anything, it has to be about us. People do matter.

My son is extremely lucky that he was able to have three grandmothers in his life, whether he will know them all or not. He is blessed that one of them is Momma Rita. I am blessed to know her and to be loved by her. I will miss her strength. I will miss the way Jack looked at her. I will miss our conversations. I will miss her generosity. I will miss her laugh. I will miss her smile. I will miss her enjoyment of life. I will miss how she made everyone around her happier. I will miss her poking me on Facebook. I will miss everything about her every single day of my life. Jack will miss her to, even if he doesn’t know it. He will, however, know her as I will remember her. Here’s to one of the great ones. Here’s to Momma Rita. Here’s to all of us.

On The Road with Jack.

“To being home,” I said, as my wife and I toasted our return to her and Omaha over a couple of IPAs at the Dundee Dell. I’ve only lived in Omaha for about six months, but The Dell is one of those kinds of places that already makes you feel like home. Jack sat in a high chair across the table from us and stared at a couple of girls in a nearby booth. The Dell is old hat for Jack too. He’s probably more of a regular than most of Omaha and he’s only eight and a half months old. It’s where I will take him for his first legal drink.

It’s good to be back home. You get your own bed, your own wife, your own dog. The clubhouse is stocked with everything you need. The towels are where you like them. You get the better locker room. You know the breaks in the grass, the rough spots in the baseline, and the familiar comfort of your own batter’s box. You know the grounds crew, the season ticket holders in the first row, and you have your own stool in the bull pen. You get to wear your home uniform and you get to pick your PA music. Time and time again, coming home is the best part of any road trip.

But, you have to be able to win on the road. You need to be able to manufacture runs outside of your own ball park. Whether in baseball or real life, it’s extremely beneficial to get out of your comfort zone for awhile and see what you’re really made of. Being a visitor is good for you. A good road trip can offer a fresh perspective. A great road trip can be a life altering experience. Road trips always start out with unlimited potential. Sometimes they live up to it. Sometimes they don’t. Usually, you have to take them for what they are. Such is life. Such is kids.

I was into road trips long before I was into Jack Kerouac. On the Road was just one of many things that helped me fall in love with them. Though the trip that Kerouac wrote about wasn’t really much to celebrate, certain aspects of On The Road, combined with my own time spent on the road, have taught me to treasure not only the destination but the journey. Road trips are about more than just traveling. It’s something I have to continuously remind myself. A successful road trip is about spending quality time with those you love, learning something new about yourself and them, and the never ending quest to get one step closer to trying to figure it all out.

My two favorite road trips of all time are always my first one and the last one. As soon as I knew a friend with a license, I was in a car and on the road. My dear friend Dermot and I used to drive as far and wide as we could get away with while still making it home by dinner or curfew. We just needed a reason, rational or not. When I turned seventeen and graduated High School, we grabbed two more buddies, a cooler full of illegally obtained beer, a bottle of liquor, and some concert tickets and headed out of state. Sure, it was only Milwaukee, but it was our farthest and longest road trip up to that point. We had to pack backpacks and get a hotel room. We needed money for tolls. We ate fast food. We needed a map. We smoked. We talked to girls in the hotel parking lot. We partied for three days dancing on picnic tables to cover bands while older girls bought us PBR drafts. My friend Kevin made out with a hairdresser. We sat in the fifth row for Pearl Jam. We were invincible. I will never forget it.

But, I also believe that the best road trip can always be the next one. It’s out there for the taking if you have the guts to step out that door. Road trips make me feel alive. The one I was about to embark on was going to have a nice fat asterisk by it no matter the outcome. I would be going on the road with a different Jack, and I would be the one doing all the writing. I would also be doing all of the driving, the talking, the paying, the packing, the unpacking, the feeding, the wiping, the changing, and the waking. No, it wasn’t my first road trip, and it wasn’t going to be Jack’s first road trip either. It was however, going to be our first road trip; alone, together, and highly memorable for at least one of us.

“It looks like Jim Flowers is trying to shit all over your plans, Beardie,” my wife said to me with a sad look on her face as I walked up the last step to the bedroom and met her glance. She gave me a pouty smile and started to explain. Apparently another big winter storm was coming through the middle west and the local weatherman with the huge corsage had just broken some bad news that would no doubt put a kink in our road trip plans. We would have to leave a day early or roll the dice and leave a day late. Either way, there was already a fork in the road and there was a chance we may get stranded at our destination if and when we made it there. It never ceases to amaze me how amazed we become when there’s a chance of snow.

Weather, timing, and packing would not normally be big issues if I was traveling solo, but it takes time and careful planning to gather up the kid and all his accoutrements for what could be an indeterminate amount of time. For my first road trip I barely packed a back pack with a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, swimming trunks, some mix tapes, three pairs of tighty whiteys and three Pearl Jam T-shirts. The only bottles we had were wearing Miller labels. As it looked to me and my fresh checklist, Jack’s stuff would fill at least a suitcase and three bags, plus a highchair and a Pack and Play. That wasn’t even counting his bottles. There wasn’t much time to waste. I cursed the cheesy meteorologist with every atom of my being, and then I flipped off the TV.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t rely too much on plans when it comes to a road trip. Sure, it’s beneficial to have an outline, but if you’re the kind of person who gets thrown off by the littlest deviation from “the plan,” you are better off just staying home. I’ve had breakdowns, unexplained illnesses, stuck gas caps, cold showers, stolen wallets and bags, flat tires, traffic jam nightmares, and near death experiences. I’ve slept on the shoulder of a Vermont highway in the rain. But, I’ve also met some infamously interesting people, fostered lasting friendships, ate exciting food, partaken in grand conversations, discovered new things, explored unfamiliar territory, and camped out in the grass next to a runway at an old Air Force base at the Northern most tip of Maine. I’ve slept on the shoulder of a Vermont highway in the rain with my wife. Road trips, for better or worse, never go exactly according to plan.

This road trip would not be an exception. Everything seemed stacked against us. The weather wouldn’t cooperate. We were nearly sabotaged by daycare germs after visiting with friends. It was going to be just the two of us, father and son, together fighting colds, the snow, and the potholes. We lost a day. We were rushed. We were slightly afraid. But, we were determined. This was a plan we were committed to keeping even if we had to jump a train or hitch a ride in the back of a truck like Dean and Sal, though we may have had to ditch the pack and play.

When I started to tell people that I was taking 8 month old Jack on a road trip that included close to 12 hours of total driving without my wife, the reactions were all the same and were all less than encouraging. What was I missing? They started to get me to question the entire idea. Now there was anxiety sneaking into my consciousness as to how everything would go. Would we survive the drive? How many times would I have to stop? Would he freak out without someone to pacify him and I’d have to turn back or wear ear plugs? Would he get separation anxiety from being away from his mother for so long? Could I actually handle the 24-7 Jack responsibility away from my home field? The worst part is that even as I was worrying about these things, I knew that I shouldn’t be. I don’t know if I was doubting my actual parenting skills per se, but you can bet your ass that even Albert Pujols gets nervous during a clutch at bat in an opponent’s backyard. It was just a bit of pre-game, big-game jitters, I told myself. It was the Super Bowl weekend after all. So, despite my mounting unwarranted anxiety, we forged on. I figured that even if everything went horribly awry, even if our starter got shelled, even if our bullpen fell apart, even if our bats slumped, even if our team got swept and there was tons of crying, at the very least, I’d have some pretty good stories to tell.

As it turns out, things went pretty smoothly. We added on two days to the trip due to weather issues and we didn’t miss a beat. He slept over half of the time in the car, which he never does, and he was content the other half. I stopped for my own piss breaks and gas stops before I even heard a peep out of him, changed him and fed him in fifteen minutes, and was back on the road. It was easier than traveling with some of my friends. Even I was impressed. He had no trouble adjusting to sleeping in a strange room or a borrowed Pack and Play. He was charming, entertaining, and for the most part the life of the party. He barely cried. He was complimented over and over again. He seduced a guy named Spencer who wasn’t “a picking up babies type of person.” He felt up an Asian woman. He stepped it up in every way, and I was so proud of him. There really weren’t any stories, and I mean that in the best possible way.

For the most part, Jack was Jack and I was his dad. I got to spend some great time with some close friends. They got to get to know the new me a little bit more. The we. They even, in a small way, got to become part of “the we” for a few days. Together we watched Jack. We watched him climb furniture. We watched him crawl to the heat vents. We watched him cruise from the couch, to the coffee table, around the coffee table, to the couch, to the fireplace, to the French Doors, to the TV to the couch, to coffee table, around the coffee table, to the couch, to the fireplace, and back to the French doors. Then we watched him crawl to the heat vent on the floor again and be mesmerized. He made noises into it. He drooled into it. He sucked on it.

It’s weird, but watching him do that reminded me of my own youthful love of our house’s floor vents and the odd way that they played a part in my future career. I used to like to listen through them, hearing my parent’s watch television downstairs while I was supposed to be asleep. During the daytime, I would yell through them or make funny noises into them. Eventually, I would put on my own radio shows by talking into them and playing music off of an old tape recorder. I loved the floor vents in my house. What I know of Jack so far in almost nine months, especially after his open mouthed love display on our road trip, he loves floor vents even more than me.

“Should he be doing that?” my friend Mike asked as Jack French kissed the floor vent under the French doors.

“Yeah, that’s what he does. Drool is good for the vents. Trust me,” I said, focusing my attention on the Spin magazine with Pearl Jam on the cover that I snagged from the rack in the downstairs bathroom. Perhaps the only thing that I enjoyed watching more than Jack making out with the heat vents, was watching my friends around Jack. I love seeing how people I know and love react to my son, and how my son reacts to people I know and love. Even more than that, I love watching non-baby people deal with a baby in their house. While my friend Mike watched Jack, I watched him. When you spend so much time with your kid, it’s easy to find humor in the utter cluelessness of other parents, nonetheless in those without any kid experience.

Watching Mike and Sue watch Jack, I noticed a steady dose of monitoring and wonderment throughout the trip. They worried, I played it cool. After all, you get used to your kid getting himself into potentially dangerous situations when you spend all day every day with him. There isn’t anything you haven’t seen him stick in his mouth. There isn’t a fall you haven’t seen him recover from. Yes, it’s okay if he sucks on the floor vent. Yes, it’s okay if he wants to chew on the dog toy. Yes, it’s okay, his little meaty fists won’t break through the glass window on the door. There is nothing to worry about, except everything.

Even better than watching Mike anxiously monitoring Jack, was watching him be amazed by Jack. When you only see a baby every couple of months, it’s easy to be astounded by his development. When you don’t get into the game in time to see batting practice, that cleanup hitter can seem like a magician. I know what he’s capable of, and I do enjoy showing him off when we leave the friendly confines of our house in Benson, though it seems that Jack is the one that is really putting on the show and he knows it. So, I let Jack loose and he went through his routine, amazing my friends for five days with his feats of crawling, climbing, yelling, laughing, sucking, and drooling. Then he decided to give his audience something brand new. He crawled to the steps leading up from the family room to the kitchen and pointed as if he was calling his shot. Then he looked back at us either trying to seek permission or give us a warning. He was going to try something new that would really blow our minds. It was the bottom of the ninth and Baby Ruth was about to put on a show.

I’d like to think that Jack was encouraged by our road trip. He saw me take a chance with him, and succeed. He saw himself leave the cozy familiarity of the home field and go 357 miles to a strange house with semi-familiar faces and animals and no Mommy. He became so emboldened by the journey that he was ready to take the next step, literally. He smiled at us as Mike and I both looked on like super fans with our rally caps on. We felt the pressure, he did not. Then, he did it.

He tried out a few angles and various support mechanisms and techniques, and then as if he had done it a million times before, he climbed a step for the first time. He delivered the walk off home run! Mike yelled in amazed enjoyment of the scene unfolding before our eyes; Jack, one step off the ground, smiling. He wasn’t quite sure what to do next, but he had this look in his eyes like he was ready for anything. He looked fearless. He looked invincible. We were invincible. We were victorious. We were better. We were going home.

Request from the Archives: Omaha Dad Journal Entry 05/19/09 Contractions, Tears, and Lightning Bugs

This is in response to a reader request. I cobbled together some entries from my journal and labor notebook and have recreated the 24 hours that changed my life forever. I dedicate this one to my wife, still the undisputed champion of the world.

Fireflies. Well, I grew up calling them lightning bugs, but I’ve always thought fireflies was a more romantic sounding name. Either way, they are out tonight. The first fireflies of the season. Born on the same day as my son. Fuck. Why do coincidences always feel like more than just coincidences? Why do random events always have so much meaning? I guess if you are lucky enough to have it all mean something for you, the only thing you can do is cherish every second. If I haven’t already, I am now. This does change everything.

Twenty-five hours ago Julie started the first of what would be 130 plus contractions over a nine hour period. I say 130 plus, because I stopped counting once we got into the car and drove over to the hospital. Those 130, however, are well documented. I have every second of every single one written down in my notebook. There’s some pretty bad math in there as well.

Twenty-seven hours ago we were at an Italian restaurant finally using a gift card from last Christmas. It would turn out to be the last meal we ever ate together as non-parents. I ordered a fish dish with capers and olives that was on special, something I would usually never order, and a glass of red wine. I ended up having to chug the red wine after my wife told me that something was going on “down there.”

Before we had left for the restaurant she told me that she thought she was leaking. “Leaking?” I asked. I had no idea what that meant or what it signified, but it was time to start getting serious. I scrawled a few lines in my journal, “6:43 PM: Julie is leaking. I’m not sure what that means, but she’s leaking. We shall see buddy, we shall see.” I stuffed my journal in my pocket and walked out to the car. I was getting nervous and excited. We went out for dinner anyways.

For some odd reason, I had it in my mind that if labor didn’t begin before I got out of work, it wouldn’t happen until the next day. Sometimes I can be pretty idiotic. Suddenly, there we were enjoying a free dinner, discussing the sort of things that soon to be parents discuss, when Julie suggested that we head home. “Really? Do you think something is happening?” I inquired.

“Well, I don’t really know. I’ve never gone into labor before,” she responded with laughter equal parts nervous and excited. I knew the feeling. I threw back the wine and looked around for our waitress. It was almost as if she disappeared. I didn’t see her anywhere. The anxiety kicked in quickly, but the red wine I just gulped kept it at bay for a minute or two. We were finally able to flag down our waitress as she scurried by with a handful of plates.

“Do you need anything?” she asked, obviously sensing a little bit of urgency.

“Have you ever delivered a baby?” I responded, answering her question with one of my own, “You may get your first chance if you don’t bring us our check as soon as you can.”

“You probably use that line all the time to get quicker service, don’t you?” she joked as she hurried off.

“She won’t be joking around when baby juice is all over her booth,” Julie said as we both counted the seconds until the waitress returned. We settled up and slid out of the booth. There was a wet streak where my wife was sitting. I wiped it up with one of the cloth napkins and walked behind her as we quickly headed for the car. Luckily she was wearing black pants.

“I can’t believe you just leaked all over the restaurant!” I said as I helped her into the shotgun seat in my Hyundai, “Try not to get your goo all over my car.”

“You better watch it, I might poop the kid out right here. They’ll have to total the car,” she smirked back.

Here we fucking go, I thought. Nervous driving is way worse than drunk driving. My concentration was in overdrive, trying to counterbalance my anxiety. I made the trek across town in record time despite hitting what seemed like every single red light. Unfortunately, I didn’t go fast enough.

“Um, I think my water just broke,” Julie said as we were stopped at one of the red lights.

“What do you mean, you think your water just broke?” I asked, “In the front seat of my car?”

“Either that or I just pissed myself without knowing it,” she responded, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, I blame the kid,” I joked to try to lighten up the nervousness we were both feeling, “We’ll never let him or her live it down. They will have to drive this car forever.”

“How about it? We can’t sell it now,” she said.

“Do you think that water breaking shows up on the Carfax report?” I asked as we pulled into the driveway. I helped her out of the front seat and walked her inside. The dog already knew something was up. I grabbed a towel to clean up the mess in my car, started sending some text messages, and updated my Facebook status. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. I ran inside and checked out the situation. My wife was changing into her robe and trying to find her midwife’s number so we’d have it handy.

I walked out onto the back porch and called my parents. They answered the phone at the same time. It was straight out of an episode of Seinfeld. “I think something is happening,” I said to both of them, “We’ll probably know more by the time you get down here.” It was an annoying conversation. I couldn’t understand half of what they were saying. They sounded more nervous and excited than the two of us and kept talking over each other. They packed up their car as we spoke, both of them on separate cordless phones, and started on the two hour drive down to see us after hanging up. I was just hoping the baby didn’t get here before they did. My worries, it turned out, were completely asinine. This was going to be a long night.

Julie called her midwife to fill her in on the water breaking and whatnot. The midwife told her to call her in the morning. I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt totally helpless and out of my element. I drove up to the gas station on the corner and grabbed a newspaper, some candy, a meatstick, a couple of Redbulls, a Rolling Stone, and some gum. It was impulse buying at its finest. I didn’t really know what I was doing. All I knew was that it made me feel like I was being productive.

“My wife’s having a baby, wish me luck,” I said to the clerk as I swiped my debit card. I hopped in the car with my haul and raced back to the house. I ran into the house and found Julie pacing the hallway.

“What’s going on? How are you?” I asked, still completely out of my element.

“Everything is the same, but I think I had a real contraction,” she answered.

“Here we fucking go,” I responded, grabbing my notebook from out of my pocket, ready to record the next contraction.

“You’re tellin’ me,” she said, “Oh…I think I’m having another one.”

I looked at the watch Julie bought me just for the occasion. 8:47 PM. It lasted 30 seconds. Then came another one at 8:52 for 35 seconds. I had done my homework. I knew how to time them. I new how to average them. I was going to be the master of the contraction. 8:57, 9:00, 9:03, 9:09, 9:14, 9:17, 9:19, 9:22. They just kept coming. My wife kept pacing and breathing. I kept timing, and writing, and trying to do math. I probably asked her if she needed anything every other minute. I kept walking in and out of the house. My dog was getting nervous. 9:54, 9:56, 9:59, 10:04, 10:10, 10:16. More pacing, more breathing, more anxiety; all mine. Julie was as relaxed as could be, using her yoga training and meditative breathing. It was all we had to go on.

Julie wanted to do this the natural way. As little hospital as possible. No drugs. We had both read a few chapters about The Bradley Method and other natural birth options. We chose a few highlights to remember, and figured we’d wing it. I was more worried about it than she was. She seemed to have it all under control. At 10:30, the contractions were on average a little more than four minutes apart and were lasting about 47 seconds a piece. They kept coming. My parents arrived to find us both sitting in the kitchen. We would spend almost the entire night there. Me alternately sitting and pacing, Julie sitting backwards on a chair, leaning over the back, eyes closed and concentrating. She was rocking it. 11:18, 11:21, 11:24, 11:26, 11:28. I made a pot of coffee. 11:49, 11:52, 11:54, 11:56, Midnight. Our kid was going to be born on May 19th if everything kept progressing. 12:10, 12:15, 12:17, 12:19, 12:22, 12:25. The contractions kept coming. They lasted longer and happened faster. We called the midwife to give her an update. She told me a few things I already knew and said that she’d call us in the morning.

We both knew that things seemed to be progressing a bit quicker than the midwife was letting on. 12:42, 12:44, 12:47, 12:49, 12:51, 12:53. By 1AM the contractions were averaging 51 seconds a piece and two and a half minutes apart. My dad was asleep on the couch. My mom dozed off on the living room floor with the dog. Julie and I were still holding strong in the kitchen. The contractions kept coming and I kept timing them while trying to help out as much as I could, mostly with encouragement. It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re recording almost every second of it. 2:29, 2:32, 2:35, 2:40, 2:41, 2:44. The contractions were becoming relentless. Julie was pacing the hallway. She started to lean against the wall in the bathroom. I felt so helpless. We called the midwife. She told us that we probably still had a ways to go. She said we were probably half way.

“I call bullshit on that,” Julie screamed from the other room, “If we’re only half way, there’s no way I can do this!”

My empathy was overflowing, yet it seemed inadequate. I felt so bad for her. I would have gone to the hospital and taken the drugs after ten minutes, but here we were seven hours in and she was still going strong with the yoga breathing. She went to the bathroom and noticed some blood. She climbed into a hot shower to try to ease the pain. She breathed in the shower while yelling out for me to mark the start and peak of the continuing contractions. 3:09, 3:12, 3:13. The contractions were now almost unceasing. Something was up. I was seeing more blood and starting to freak out. We both agreed that it was probably time to head to the hospital. I helped her out of the shower and into her robe. I woke up my parents and they loaded up the car.

Julie started to scream in agony every thirty seconds. It was unnerving. We managed to guide her into the car among yelps of pain. It seemed like my dad took an hour to get out of the driveway. Julie started to yell at him and me. It was mildly humorous, actually. We pulled up to the stop light on the corner and it was red. We waited for what seemed like forever until Julie screamed at my dad to run the light. He did. My wife was becoming Don Rickles in the backseat of my dad’s car. She was tossing barbs at each of us. I tried not to laugh. I had never seen her like this. My dad stepped on the gas and ran two more lights on the way to the hospital. We were all nervous. I stopped keeping track of the contractions. It was a lost cause.

We pulled up to the front doors of the emergency room while my wife was alternately screaming in pain and screaming at us. We ran inside to the admission desk and I gave some requisite information before a nurse came to take us to a delivery room. The nurse offered up a wheel chair but Julie refused. She refused to sit down and walked the hallway slowly while stopping every few feet to lean up against the wall. She was yelling at the nurse who was only trying to help, and I made sure to laugh loudly to cut the tension. I offered up the wheelchair again and my wife pushed it back at me.

“I told you I don’t fucking want the wheelchair,” she yelled. We got in the elevator and she almost dropped to the ground. The elevator seemed to take an eternity to reach the proper floor. Julie was getting meaner by the second. It was hilarious. She was in rare form by the time the nurse guided her onto the hospital bed. More nurses streamed in and after filling them in on the details, set to work scoping out what was going on between her legs.

“Call the midwife,” the head delivery nurse said to one of the younger nurses, “this baby is coming right now.”

“Right now?” Julie and I said at the same time. The look on Julie’s face was one of extreme joy at the news.

“See, you’re almost done,” I said to her as I played with her hair. We knew the midwife was out of her mind with her prediction, but we couldn’t believe it when the nurse said that she was fully dilated. If we had waited any longer, I’d have had to deliver the baby on my kitchen floor, our dog licking up the afterbirth. I breathed a sigh of relief. Julie screamed. The head nurse told her to start pushing if she wanted. She did. Twenty minutes or so passed and the midwife finally arrived.

“I guess you’re ready to go, huh?” she asked.

“Fuck!” Julie responded as she looked at my mom, “Sorry, I have a potty mouth.”

The pushing continued. The nurses and the midwife prodded and pulled my wife’s vagina like it was pizza dough.

“Jesus!” Julie screamed.

“Mary and Joseph,” my mom added.

“Oh God!” Julie yelled, “How’s that? Holy Shit!”

It was priceless. She was yelling at the midwife and the nurses as if they were purposefully inducing pain. I had never heard her yell at someone like that before. It was classic.

“You’re doing it on fucking purpose!” she said, “Can’t you stop that shit!”

Everyone was laughing, except for Julie of course, who was pushing towards the finish line. I stole a few glances at the scene between her legs. I had to sit down. I felt like I was going to pass out. I get nauseous at the sight of blood on TV, this was nuts. I tried to concentrate on my own breathing for awhile. Julie looked over at me, but quickly went back to pushing. The nurses and midwife were stretching and poking. The screams coming from my wife were hard to take. I offered my hand for her to squeeze. Then came the head.

I sucked it up, stood up, and took another quick look down below. It was the single most amazing and disgusting sight I had ever seen. I didn’t know if I should cry or vomit. I averted my eyes and looked directly into my wife’s. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Never before did life feel so real. I was never more alive. The head was out. Then more pushing, and I saw an arm. Next thing I know, the whole body slithered out. There was some commotion, I nearly fainted, and I burst into tears. I looked at my mom across the hospital room and she was crying as well. That didn’t help matters. I totally lost it. Everything was so intense. I tried to snap some pictures on my cell phone. I didn’t really know what to do. Then they handed me the scissors.

For months I had protested my mere appearance in the delivery room, nonetheless my cutting of the cord. But there I was, fighting back fainting, nausea, and vomiting, and stepping up to the plate. I had coached her through eight hours of labor at home. I was in the delivery room. I watched my baby come out. Now, I was about to do something that I never thought I’d have the stomach for. I was sure it was going to be the first of many brand new experiences that I never thought I’d be a part of. I cut the cord. Then, I immediately started balling again. I couldn’t believe it. It was a boy! At 5:12 AM on May 19th, 2009 I cut the cord and together with the love of my life, welcomed my son into the world. 7lbs and 19-1/2 inches of my flesh and blood. My Jack. I was speechless.

“Here we go,” I mouthed to my mom. They handed Jack to me and I lost it. I never thought something so bloody and slimy could be so beautiful. He wasn’t even crying. I was smitten and completely drained. All I had left were tears.

Then I heard my wife scream some more obscenities at the midwife again as the nursing crew tried to force the placenta out. It looked worse than delivering the baby. Shit, I was exhausted, I can’t even begin to imagine how she felt. Julie was a the undisputed champion of the world. I always knew she could handle anything, and the past twenty four hours solidified it. She will make the greatest mom in the world. I only hope to be half as good. But I will try my best to keep up.

Now I’m sitting here alone on my back porch, trying to absorb the last twenty some odd hours. I’ve been balling my eyes out randomly as a I hang out with my dog and a couple of extra tasty beers. I haven’t cried this much ever, and I’m a pretty big crier. Jack and Julie are spending the night in the hospital. I can’t stop thinking about them. I miss them. I miss my family. I have a family? Fuck. Sox won. They are undefeated since Jack has been born. Time to take it all in. Cheers!

Groundhog Day

This was written for a new website that was supposed to launch this week. It will now be launching this summer. Here is a sneak preview.

“It just never stops, does it?” I asked my wife from across the living room. It was Saturday morning. I was lying on the couch finishing up my coffee and listening to NPR while my son was napping. She had just turned the baby monitor down and was heading to the kitchen for a warm up.

“Nope,” she answered. I stared at her butt as she left the room. She didn’t even have to ask me what I was talking about.

“I need a vacation,” I yelled. I could hear her laughing over the sound of the running water in the kitchen sink.

“You better get a different job then,” she smirked as she turned the corner and walked in carrying our coffee mugs, “Poor, poor, little beardie.” She let out my favorite giggle, handed me my cup, and took a seat across from me on the big chair. Our little dog got up from next to me and squeezed in beside her.

“Traitor,” I said to the dog before smiling an exhausted smile at my wife and taking a sip of my coffee. Sometimes when he’s sleeping, my mind plays tricks on me. I’ll sit there with some coffee, my wife, and This American Life, and forget I have a kid. It usually just lasts about a minute, often less, before the reality of it all comes tumbling down and spits up in your morning coffee. No my friend, you do have a kid, and he will be waking up before you know it and always before you want him to. I miss my childless Saturdays when we would sleep in, drink coffee all day, listen to NPR, and talk about things other than our son. I miss vacation days.

No sir, there are no vacation days in my job. Hell, there are no vacation days for any parent. Whether you are a stay at home parent or not, there are no weekends, at least not like you remember them. Nothing can prepare you for the minute by minute onslaught of raising a child. It’s Darwinism at its finest. Once that slimy little bugger pops out you either sink or swim, or tread water poorly and hope the sharks don’t attack. It’s not about winning or losing, you’re pretty much just always playing for the tie. It can be draining, and it’s only been eight months. Eight months. Two-hundred and fifty three days. It’s amazing how much your life can change in two-hundred and fifty three days. My mind is continuously blown. My emotions are constantly in overdrive. My sleep is consistently interrupted. The crying, the whining, and the pooping, like the parenting, never stops. I really need a personal day, but you don’t get those either.

I’m lucky. My kid is great. I get to stay at home with him every day. He amazes me by the second. He’s the best. Except when he’s not. I love him with every breath of me, but I love a lot of things. I do not, however, love the day in and day out monotony that comes with the first year of life. What makes it worse is that the monotony is paired with random, shocking surprises. There is a never ending cycle of using and washing bottles, bowls, spoons, nipples, bibs, onesies, pajamas, and diapers. Plus, at any second you could get blindsided by startling developments, atrocious noises and smells, and unavoidable falls and fluids. That’s bottles, bowls, spoons, nipples, bibs, onesies, pajamas, and diapers every day for the last two-hundred and fifty three days, and startling developments, atrocious noises and smells, unavoidable falls and fluids every day for the last two-hundred and fifty three days. Someone please stop the merry-go-round. I’m going to throw up. It’s the same day over and over and over again, but without Bill Murray and definitely without Punxatawney Phil and the chubby dude with the mustache. It’s positively exhausting. I don’t just need a massage, I need the happy ending.

When you are childless, people constantly tell you how life-changing it is. You nod and smile and think you understand. I know I did. I now know, I didn’t have a clue. Sure, it’s been the most special and eye-opening two-hundred and fifty three days of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m in love with my son. I understand that everything else doesn’t really matter. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my life without him. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss sleeping in. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss going anywhere and doing anything that I feel like, anytime. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss my Saturdays. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be days when I long for what was, wish for uninterrupted me-time, or want to dust off a piece of that selfishness that you kind of have to quit cold turkey and stuff in the back of the drawer once you cut the cord.

The last two-hundred and fifty three days have been the most intense experience of my life. Having a kid is the ultimate game-changer, and there are times when you just want to take your bat and go home. As much as I have grown to love being a Dad, sometimes I think that birth control companies should pay me to do testimonials in their commercials. Even better, they should make anyone that is even thinking about having unprotected sex by accident or getting pregnant on purpose spend a week shadowing me 24/7. Better yet, they can borrow my kid, try him out for a month, and I can take that vacation. Though, I’d settle for a Saturday.