Monthly Archives: October 2013

Talking to Strangers: Pam

There are two forms of help you can offer a person.  The first is a kind that helps them; this might look like buying someone a meal, giving someone a ride, feeding someone’s dogs for them or volunteering at a food shelter.  Whether the act is big or small, it’s the kind of help that serves others.  It’s a selfless act that strictly affects them.  This is a good and healthy brand of interaction; giving of your time and energy and compassion and it’s a very difficult activity to take part in because most of us, myself included, are guilty of the second kind of helping…

The Helping Disease.

This is the kind of helping wherein I do something for a purpose or a reason and that purpose and that reason are never just to help.  There are one of two underlying motives in this type of help, both of them equally destructive.  The first is the You-Owe-Me mentality that comes along with helping, specifically, a friend or family member and I hate it when this sort of thinking creeps into my psyche.  “Oh, I’m taking So-and-So’s parents to the airport this morning?  Well, now they owe me big!”  or, “I lent this person my circular saw and it’s so expensive and now next time I need something…” Or, “Sure, I’ll baby sit your kids…” and then in the back of your mind you know you have an Ace up your sleeve for later.

I hate it.  I hate feeling like that and I hate rolling that first kind of Helping over into the mud and watching it transform into that second, gross kind of Helping.  It’s not healthy, it’s not selfless, it’s not good.  This second brand of Helping People is nothing more than Greed in Disguise and we’ve all been guilty of it.

It’s Helping Others only to Help Yourself.

Once in a great while, however, you’ll help someone for a third reason, and maybe this third reason is even just a little worse than the second one.  This third reason can’t be pinned down and it does a much better job of hiding because we’re able to slyly slip it into conversations while trying to make it look like something beautiful.  We say things like, “Oh, yeah… so I was mowing my grandmother’s lawn…” Or, “The other day I gave someone a fifty dollar tip on a forty dollar check.”

It’s this kind of Helping that quietly serves you and draws attention to you.  It’s the kind of Helping that one does and then holds onto like an expensive gem and waits for the perfect opportunity to alert those around them of their actions.  They want to be noticed and talked about and awarded for their kindness.

Worse than that they (or me) are not doing it to Help someone else, they’re (I’m) only doing it to Help themselves (myself).  It’s damaging and taints the whole process and the Heart of Helping.  It changes you and is a sickness; a cancer in the heart of generosity.  And it’s this third disease that is brought forth and put on display in today’s Talking To Strangers.

This morning I found myself sitting solo at a table outside a Jamba Juice.  Having just walked out of a chiropractor appointment, I was feeling loose as a goose and decided to treat myself to a fruity beverage, kick back in the morning sunshine and soak in the entertainment on my phone in the particular flavor of Plants vs. Zombies 2 (a free download, FYI) when suddenly, a raspy voice calls out to me, “‘Scuse me, sir?  You got any change you can spare fer some food?”

I want to help the homeless and the needy.  I really do.  Let me start by saying that.  It’s very Jesus-y and I like that.  I like being as Jesus-y as possible.  But… there’s this other part of me that says, “I want to help you… I just want to do it tomorrow… or at some other juncture in time when I’m not actually around…”  I want to help but helping the homeless is so… I don’t know… hands-on-interactive.

I want to give you food and help but I’m afraid that I will become trapped in some kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario wherein our relationship will spiral out of control and soon you’ll be living on my couch and wearing my ties.

I hear a lot of people say, “I try my best!” and they are either, A.) not very good at trying or B.) clearly delusional because we don’t try our best.  We don’t do all we can do to help those around us.  We don’t, in fact, often try a fraction of our best.  The truth is, we try sometimes and only if it’s convenient for us.

My knee jerk reaction is for my martyr’s heart to leap into my throat at the sight of a person in need directly before quietly mumbling some half baked lie, looking away and heading for the nearest cover where I can work on hating myself for the rest of the day for being too much of a coward to stop what I’m doing to help.  It’s that Selfish Human Technique we’re all so good at.  Don’t pop my bubble!  The Bubble of Safety!  The Bubble of Separation!  I’ve spent many hours getting my bubble just the way I like it and I don’t need any strangers coming in here and messing things up.  Don’t.  Pop.  My.  Bubble.

But today, in this story, I try.  Because… the truth is, this story would actually be pretty boring if it started with, “A guy asked me for some money” and then immediately ended with me saying, “BEAT IT, NERD!”

That said… allow me to get back to the matter at hand.

I put down my phone and look over.  Hold eye contact.  Talk.

I say, “No,” and I say, “I don’t carry cash,” and, the truth is, these are both lies.  I have about sixty dollars made up of various denominations in my front, right pocket but I won’t be giving a dime to someone who clearly has a difficult time managing their finances.  Sidenote, I always try to look The Homeless in the eyes to let them know that I’m not afraid of them.  Not in a Knife-Fight sort of way but more in the I Understand That You Exist and I Want to Respectfully Acknowledge Your Presence sort of way.

The guy is slightly overweight and sitting in a wheel chair.  His hands are filthy but his socks are pearly white like they’d just been washed or recently purchased.  He has on black sweat pants and an Avengers superhero t-shirt that has been stuffed to make it intentionally look like he has breasts.  Above that is a rugged grey beard that he’d been growing for a while and on top of his head is a shoulder length woman’s wig with bangs.  He is a brunette.

I say, “I’ve got a credit card and I can buy you something from Noah’s Bagels if you’d like,” and he says, “Yeah, that would be nice,” and I say, “What do you want?  What sounds good?” and he says, “I don’t care,” and I say, with just a hint of playful humor in my voice, “You don’t care?  You don’t have a preference?  You don’t prefer something special?” because now I’m invested and I don’t just want to help this guy, I want to really help him.  Not like… help him get back on his feet or anything, I just really want him to have a spectacular breakfast.  I want him to walk away going, “I ASKED THE RIGHT GUY THIS MORNING!  WOO-HOO!  THAT BREAKFAST HIT THE SPOT!”  because this exchange is no longer about him.

It’s about me.

It’s that third type of helping that has just taken over; The Kind of Helping that is about me getting my jollies.  The kind that is about me feeling good about myself.  The kind that specifically says things like, “I don’t want to help you get back on your feet, I just want you to know you asked the right guy for breakfast this morning.”

The Selfish Helper.

Me.

I repeat my question and say, “Anything?  Anything at all?  Any special requests?” but he just says, “Nope.  Beggars can’t be choosers”.

I tell him I’ll be right back and, just before entering the bagel shop I’m struck by genius and turn around to say, “You want coffee?” and he says, “I can’t drink coffee,” and I think to myself, Man, this guy is really killing my Helper Buzz.  I’m having a hard time feeling good about myself with him being so polite about his needs.  LET ME HELP YOU!  LET ME BE YOUR 9:30AM BREAKFAST HERO!

I walk inside and tell the worker I need to order something healthy.  If the homeless guy can’t drink coffee, he’s obviously UNhealthy (fair reasoning)… so I’m going to get him the healthiest but still most delicious thing on the menu and when he opens it up he’s going to be like, “What a thoughtful person that bald fellow was!  Healthy and delicious!  I usually only get one or the other, what with being poor and all and my beggars-can’t-be-choosers life motto but here it is – delicious AND nutritious in a single sandwich!”

The worker points out some wheat bread selection that has mushrooms and Swiss cheese and asparagus on it.  It’s under their SMART CHOICE menu that’s been written on a chalk board in fancy cursive handwriting so you know it’s good.  I mean, you know it’s a Smart Choice if you’re ordering off of a menu specifically labeled Smart Choice.  I look around and briefly feel sorry for all the other frumpy ghouls dining off the Idiot’s Choice menu.  Dummies.

I toss on a lemonade flavored vitamin water thinking he’d love that; getting a refreshing drink – that’s been filled with vitamins no less! – when he didn’t even ask for one.  The clerk rings it up and… nine bucks.  That’s the cost of integrity.  I am a person with integrity and it was purchased for almost an entire ten dollar bill.  Now we’re talkin’.  Karma Payment Plan, baby.  This is coming around BIG TIME.  THIS IS WHAT GENEROSITY LOOKS LIKE!

I’m standing there and I just wish there were some way that all these people in the store could KNOW that I wasn’t actually going to eat this sandwich I’d just purchased off of the slightly more expensive Smart Choice menu.  I was going to leave and give it to a horribly crippled, transgender man in desperate need of my services.  How could I show them without actually SHOWING THEM?  How could I tell people that I’d helped someone (third brand of helping) without being too On-The-Nose about it?  How can I draw attention to myself without turning a spotlight on?  And then, like a cattle prod to the rectum, I knew… I’d go home and write a blog about it, disguising my selfish gloating in staccato bursts of pathetic, self examining humor.

I walk outside with a little bounce in my step and sit back at my table.  The guy stares at me like I’m trying to pull something over on him.  I don’t think he’s used to people taking a moment to “Give back to the community” as I like to call it.  I slowly and deliberately hand him his sandwich so he knows that I’m not afraid of his interaction.  His presence does not offend me.  I am in no rush to get back to Plants vs. Zombies 2.  I’m okay with being in proximity to him and his homeless aura.  To show him that I’m serious about the interesting moment that we’re sharing, I ask him a personal question.  I say, “Where do you live?” and he says, “Here. On the street.”

I say, “How long you been out here?” and he says, “Three months,” and I ask where he was before this and he tells me that he took an Amtrak from Missouri with a friend.  I say that I’ve never been on the Amtrak before and that it sounds like a fun adventure.  He tells me he’s probably going to leave after a few more months to go home.  I suppose even the homeless like to get a vacation in from time to time because working to stay alive is a full time job.

I ask him what his name is and he looks off towards the horizon.  He hesitates and his eyes seem to gloss over for a moment under that wig that may or may not have been purchased in a party store before he says, “Pam.”  I say, “You’ve got nice hair, Pam,” and he says, “Thank you.  I wish it were mine.”

And then he blurts out something about how he has to get going and I can almost see the awkward fear in his eyes.  Something in his voice is too familiar and then… yeah, he sounds like me trying to avoid someone.  He sounds like me mumbling up my half baked lies.  We had crossed over from the customary exchange of strangers and he wanted to say, “Don’t pop my bubble!”

I told him goodbye and watched him roll away, all alone, down the sidewalk.  I sat in my chair sipping my Mango Delight Smoothie and watched him eat his sandwich half a block away, all alone.

Made me feel good.

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Vignettes

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When you think of the word “life” or “parenting” or “family”, I wonder what images come to most people’s minds… I assume birthdays and graduations and weddings and Christmas mornings and Thanksgiving dinners and first steps and first words and, I believe that, obviously, these things are all large movements – the act breaks of life – but I don’t believe that it’s the broad sweeping strokes that make up our existence.

Like most things, the devil is in the details.

Two weeks ago, a good friend of ours, a young woman named Lacy, found herself in LA after a cross country road trip from New York and, as friends do, she contacted us to say, “I’m in town, I would love to see your family, let’s get together and chat and catch up and do that friend thing that we do,” so we do this thing and she shows up and she brings flowers and we all hug and she’s excited to see the kids and she says, “Oh my gosh, they’ve gotten so big and they talk and they’re like… I don’t even know… people, I guess,” and then she looks at the little baby and she says, “That’s a little baby!  That little baby is just, like, so small!  I don’t even know!  This is crazy!” and then she squeezes the baby and hugs it and says, “Rory, come here, I want to give you five!” and he looks at her with these complete dead, emotionless eyes and, instead of saying anything, he just blinks.

The silence caused by him goes on for so long that it becomes comical and I say, “I’m really glad you got to experience that Lacy.  That moment is parenting at it’s finest.  It’s like… all these little events that you can’t really tell anyone about because they have nothing to do with anything.  It’s just like these little gems or bread crumbs that the kids lay down for you and they’re just treasures that you get to enjoy and then they’re gone,” and then Quinn walks through the room with a box over her head, humming to herself.

Lacy and Jade laugh and I say, “This is it.”

And so, with that, I’ve decided to collect a few of these orphan moments into one collection and share them with you; these memories that don’t have homes or purpose anywhere else; things with no greater story arc than their pure and simple existence.  They are vignettes and I hope half of the weirdness from these moments comes across as you read and enjoy them…

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THE WOUND

Rory and I are lying on the floor, each of us taking turns pushing around a few trains on a track that we’ve built.  Rory says, “Choo!  Choo!” and I say, “Excuse me, got a load of coal coming through!” and Rory says, “Watch out, Daddy!” and I pretend that my train spirals out of control  and flips off the track and starts on fire and people are screaming and Rory is laughing and I say, “We’re going to need paramedics!  Quick!  Get the ambulance!” and Rory stands up and says, “Okay!  Where is it?” and I point and say, “There!” and he takes one step, puts his foot on top of a toy train, which slides out from underneath of him and he falls to the ground where another train gets crushed by his tail bone.

Ouch.

He reaches behind him, grabbing at his lower back and screams, “Owwww!!  Daddy!  Owww!” and he stands up and unbuttons his pants and pulls them down and quickly pulls down his underwear and turns around and begins backing into me and so I quickly sit up and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, homeboy!  What’s up!?” and he says, “Kiss it!” and I say, “What’s that now?” and he says, “Kiss my owie, Daddy!” and I say, “Where, exactly, is it?” and he points and shows me and it’s just grazing his butt crack and I say, “That is  unlikely to happen, buddy,” and he shouts, “Daddy!  Kiss my butt!  Kiss my butt, Daddy!”

I kiss my fingertips and pat his butt and say, “There ya go!  All better!” and, like magic powder, he really is all better.  He pulls up his underwear, pulls up his pants, asks me to button them and then fetches the ambulance.

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SHARP TEETH

Jade and I are sitting on the couch together, me reading a book and Jade simultaneously playing Words with Friends on her phone and breast feeding Bryce sans cover.  Quinn approaches me  and says, “What are you doing?” and I say, “I’m reading a book.  What are you doing?” and she repeats my question back to me because I don’t think she understands, exactly, what it means.  “What you doin’?”

I pull her up onto my lap and she reaches out and says, “You readin’ a book?” and I say, “Yes,” and then I flip through the pages and say, “I’m sorry.  There are no pic–” and then Quinn’s arm shoots out, points at Jade and says, “BABY IS BITING MOMMY’S NIPPLE!!!”

This is Quinn’s introduction to breast feeding.

A few days later, Jade is at it again when Quinn wanders into the room, stops and stares.  She approaches the couch slowly and says, “Baby hungry?” and Jade says, “Yes.  Bryce is hungry,” and Quinn says, “Okay… Okay…” and then turns and exits.  When she reappears moments later she has her cabbage patch doll in tow, dangling it by one arm, it’s soft rubber body bouncing off of our wooden floor.

Quinn drops the doll, lifts up her shirt, tucking it under her chin, picks up the doll and shoves it face into her own tiny nipple.  She says, “I feeding baby.”

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SOCKS

Bryce is lying on the bed in nothing but a diaper while I dig through her drawers trying to find a suitable outfit for her.  It seems to me that all baby clothes are just one solid color or contain patterns so intense that looking at it might give you motion sickness.  I ultimately decide on a melon colored onesie and stretchie fat kid pants that are blue with tiny white stars… and then stumble upon this really crazy looking Eskimo hat that I simply can’t say no to and then these really bizarre socks that seem to be made really poorly.  I mean, I’m really struggling to get them on and they seem to barely fit but whatever, okay, they’re finally on and I guess they’ll keep her feet warm.

In the other room I sit down next to Jade and she says, “What a cute outfit!” and I pridefully say, “Hey, thanks!” and she says, “Why is she wearing mittens on her feet?”

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ARTIST’S RENDERING

Rory kneels on the floor over a loose sheaf of notebook paper, a red marker in his hand, his brow wrinkled.  I say, “What you drawin’?” and he says, “Hang on…” and then, a moment later, he lifts up his master work and says, “Look, Dad!” and I see a circular scribble that really closely resembles a circular scribble.  I say, “That’s incredible!  What is it?!” and he says, with a complete straight face, “It’s a red pig’s butt!”

I stare at the rendering and think to myself that, strangely, it actually does look a bit like a pig’s anus although I’ve no idea where he would actually have found one to base his illustration off of.  Wanting to support his passion, regardless of how bizarre, I say, “Really, really good pig anus!” and he says, “Thanks!” and then goes back to drawing.

A few moments later he lifts up the paper again and shows me another circular scribble that looks identical to the first one and I say, “Wow!  Another pig butt!?” and he looks at his drawing and says, “No… that’s you!”

Ah… a portrait.  Thank you.

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VOODOO

We’re all sitting at the dinner table and everyone is eating except for me.  My stomach has been acting up all day and I feel like any kind of food that I try to ingest is just going to make an encore appearance.  Rory takes a bite of his chicken and says, “You not going to eat, Daddy?” and I say, “No… Daddy doesn’t feel good,” and Quinn says, “You’re sick,” and I say, “Was that a question or a statement?” and Quinn says, “Dad.  You’re sick!” and I say, “Please stop saying that,” and then she points her spoon at me like a wand and says, “You’re sick!  You’re sick!  You’re sick!” and I say, “Why are you acting like a New Orleans Black Voodoo Priestess?” and Quinn cackles.  She doesn’t laugh.  She cackles and says, “Daddy, you are sick!  You are so sick!” and I say, “Are you a witch?  Are you putting a spell on me?” and she says, “I am a witch!  You are sick!  Hee-hee-haw-haw!  I am a witch!  I am a witch!” and I feel my stomach turn over and am pretty sure I’ve just been cursed.

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I suppose that there are a hundred million other moments like these that we’ve had with the children, both pleasant and bizarre; Quinn walking around the house with a guitar, playing it and shaking her hips, singing into a baseball tee for a microphone; Rory hopping off the toilet, asking me to wipe his butt, bending over and somehow getting his head stuck between the steps of a small stool, me having to fold his ears down to pull him to freedom; Bryce sitting in her electric lamb that plays music and lulls her to sleep, the batteries dying and making a horrific demonic noise, she waving her hands in the air looking as though she were conducting Hell’s orchestra; Quinn taking a nap in our room and then crawling into Bryce’s crib; Rory leaving his bedroom in the middle of the night and making a small bed for himself on the kitchen floor, pillow, blankets and all.

I love every minute of it and you’ve got to stay sharp.  The kids throw things at you so fast that you’ll miss them if you’re not paying attention.  The way they see the world and interact with the environment and people around them is incredible.

There are only 24 hours in a day and never enough time to document them all.

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.357 Magnum P.I.

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Having had my membership at the Burbank Firing Range for just over a month now and still having had not used it, I decided to exercise my second amendment by setting a mandate to have a Man-Date with my friend Curtis.  The man was raised in South Africa, has eaten live frogs, been chased by elephants and once poked a dead body that he found with a stick.  From where I was standing, he seemed like the obvious choice as a partner for my first personal foray into the world of home defense.

From the outside, showing up to a firing range has always seemed to me to be very similar to showing up at the Crap’s table in Vegas.  You’re standing in Caesar’s Palace in your cheap polished shoes and ten dollar haircut, stretching up on your very tippy-tap-tip-toes, trying to see just what’s going on at this table without looking like you don’t know what’s going on.  You so badly want to approach the table, slap down your chips and say, “14 on 11, baby!  Let it ride!” but, since you don’t know what either “14” or “11” are or if there actually are 14s or 11s in the game of Craps… you decide to just continue walking to safer ground like Black Jack or Slots or the Subway Sandwich Shop.  To me, guns are just like that.  I desperately want to be in the know… but I desperately am not.

Two weeks ago, after dropping a friend’s parents off at the airport at 7am, I was feeling rather brave and adventurous and had decided that I was going to go to the gun range that very morning, first thing’s first and just go “fire off a few rounds, bro” all by myself.  So, fantastic, empowered attitude in hand, I cranked up The Dillinger Escape Plan on my car stereo and, with their vicious guitars and speed metal drumming, I shot through the peaceful streets of Burbank with bullets on my brain.  I was going to do this.  I was going to go shoot a gun.  I was going to go do it all alone!  CARPE DIEM!  Just me and my minivan!  Outlaws!

In the distance I can see the street light that marks my turn.  I start to imagine walking into the range, probably in slow motion, some bearded Republican that looks like one of the characters from Duck Dynasty sitting behind the counter.  I gently rap my knuckles on the table and he says, “What kind of gun you want?” And I say, “A… uh… something… gentle?  I’m, you see, new…” and then he’s asking me all sorts of questions and making me fill out forms and dismantle guns and making sure that I know how to operate them and, truly, I mostly don’t; the extent of my knowledge reaching out to, “Bullet goes here, finger goes here, bang-bang.”

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He’s making me clean the guns and asking me what parts are what and timing me as I put them back together.  This isn’t supposed to happen!  He makes me match specific guns to specific bullets and, when I ultimately fail the test, which I undoubtedly would, he revokes my license, keeps my money and kindly asks me to leave.  “This place is for pros, Goober.  Beat it.  Run back to momma and drink yer milk.”

I scamper towards the door with salty tears and mascara running down my face.

The anxiety ridden imaginings of What-Could-Be ultimately come to an end just as I’m reaching the light at Victory Blvd. and, like a bullet on a straight trajectory, I just blow past the range, back towards my house.  “Maybe next time,” I tell myself.  “Maybe… tomorrow.”

Days pass and then weeks pass and then I’m feeling like a complete and total cowardly noobian and so, ultimately, discuss the possibility with my South African friend (I specifically mention his country of origin a second time so that you’ll know that I’m a culturally diverse individual) of going to the Ol’ Range to “Pop some Caps”.  He obliges and I pick him up two nights hence.

When I pull up in front of his house, he’s standing on the curb, in the dark.  He hops in the passenger side of my car and says, “My wife is watching Pretty Little Liars with some friends,” and then he smiles and I think he might be trying to contain his sanity.  I notice his hand is shaking and strange little laughs keep popping out of his mouth after every sentence.  “They’re watching Pretty Little Liars – hehe – and – haha – I just – he-haw – have to go – hmm – shoot a gun.”

This is what we do.  We are men.  Combustion excites us.  Show me a man who doesn’t like starting a fire and I’ll show you a woman.

We arrive at The Range, park the car in the dark lot out back and walk inside.  We’re not moving in as slow of a motion as I’d like to, but, for dramatic effect, it’s good enough.  We pass a cop on his way out and I imagine him standing in the lane with his service revolver out, screaming, “Freeze!  Freeze or I’ll blow yer head off, Criminal Scumbag!”  Blam!  Blam!  Blam!  He lights up the room and cuts the paper target clean in half with his precision marksmanship.

The door closes behind the cop with a click and I look back at the counter where a small crowd of people are gathered.  My nerves start doing that thing wherein they fill with electricity and start making my hands sweat.  “Man…” I think, “Here we go.  They’re going to ask me all these questions and I am going to be made a fool in front of everyone!…… Including my friend from South Africa (he’s white by the way… a white South African.  Like a two dollar bill, they’re more common than you’d think… oh, to have a truly exotic friend; an Eskimo or a Kenyan…)

We approach the counter and a slightly overweight fellow with some unfortunately shaved facial hair stares at us for what, seems to me, to be an uncomfortably long time.  His stare continues for so long, in fact, that I begin to wonder if he’s waiting for me to give him a secret password.

Finally he says, “What… can I help you with?” and I say, “I… would like to shoot a gun,” and he says, “And what… would you like to shoot?” and I say, “I…” and then freeze.  It’s happening!  It’s all happening!  The questions!  Quick!  What sort of guns do you know… a handgun… shotgun… revolver… wait, was that only in cowboy days?  Can I say “revolver”???

I look down at the case and, seeing a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum (I know it because there’s a small placard resting next to it) gleaming like a diamond in the glass case, I point at it and say, “Dirty Harry,” and the man says, “What?” and I say, “Sorry.  Uh… that one,” and he reaches into the case and pulls out a decently sized hand cannon for me to serve my justice with.

Soul Patch says, “What about you, Hot Shot?” and Curtis, full of confidence and knowledge, doesn’t even point to the case.  He just says, “Beretta,” and the clerk pops one out.  Staring at the display, it seems as though there were at least four “Berettas” sitting before us but the two of them seemed to share some kind of “Man Code” that allowed them to know exactly what the other was thinking.  A code, which I was obviously not privy to.

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The Shop Smith hands us our guns, our ear plugs and our eye glasses and points us to the back with, “Lane 6 and 7.”  My own lane!!??  We walk past a giant poster of Clint Eastwood and my courage comes back to me as I just think, “Hell.  Yeah.”  We walk through a door into a small ante-room where a sign reads, “Only Open One Door At a TIME!” so we allow the first door to close before opening the second but… when we do… explosions fill my plugged ears and vibrations rock my body.

The room is made of gray concrete and is mostly empty, save for three other people.  Curtis and I approach our parallel lanes, clip up our targets with human silhouettes printed on them and send them halfway out into the darkness.  I pick up my gun, which, upon second examination is actually the size of my entire forearm, and stare at it, wondering how I make the little circle part pop out… you know… the, uh… the part where the bullets go.

The chambers?  The cylinder?

Suddenly Curtis is behind me, breathing in my ear and he says, “You know how to use that?” and I sheepishly grimace and say, “Finger goes… ah… no…” and he laughs because he is used to me being incompetent and then, like a teacher demonstrating to an exceptionally undereducated student, he shows me how it all works.

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I snap open the chamber, hammer in the rounds, 1 through 7, spin the cylinder and snap it close.  At first I try doing it with a flick of my wrist but, after realizing that I lack proper arm strength, I just politely close it with my left hand while mumbling gently, “There ya go…”  I raise the gun up to eye level and line it up with my target, aiming for, of course, his head.  I want his death to be quick and painless.  My justice is firm.

I place my finger on the trigger, line up my sights, hold my breath and… nothing happens.  The trigger is stuck on something.  What… I think to myself… would a cowboy do…

I stare at the gun and, like the sun’s first morning rays cutting through darkness, it dawns on me.

The Hammer.

I lift my thumb, pull down that heavy lever, watch the chamber gently slide one space counter-clockwise and hear the entire mechanism give that famous cuh-LICK.

I let out my breath, pull it in, line up my sights and start thinking to myself, “Don’t drop the gun don’t drop the gun don’t drop the gun when it goes off it’s going to have a serious kick and don’t drop the gun don’t shoot yourself in the foot don’t drop the gun they’ll never let you return!”

I pull the trigger and the last thing I see is a spark of white that turns into a cloud of white that turns into a flash of white as it fills my vision.  The gun recoils and the bullet is gone, blasting away The Paper Man’s brain and skull fragments.  Freeze, Criminal Scum!

I pull the hammer and squeeze the trigger, again, again, again.  All seven rounds get emptied down the alley and, when I pull my target back, I see that they’ve all hit their marks; several in the head, several in the heart, one in each shoulder.  I pin up a new target, throw it out, reload, fire and…. I miss every one.  I mean, I don’t just miss my desired marks… I miss the target completely.  I’m not sure how this happened but I like to think that the bullets actually just went through the old bullet holes.

I like to think that it’s extreme beginner’s luck.

To my right I can hear Curtis squeezing off round after round, making his bank robber dance left and right.  On my other side is a man with some kind of gun that is so incredibly, ridiculously, monstrously huge that every time he fires, my butt hole turns into a tight knot and my heart skips like a scratched record.  His shells fly into the air, over the wall and onto my head.  I’m being rained on by brass.

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Curtis and I switch guns, switch back and then watch the guy with the nuke next door fire off a few A-Bombs before we ultimately package up and leave.  We drop everything off, pay, get in the car and go sip on coffee that is just barely too hot for our lips while we, two street wise, gun toting, hard asses, chat about our respective children.

In a couple weeks, like some famous machine from the future, I’ll be back.

And I might be alone.

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Talking to Strangers: Linda

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I dropped out of High School for a semester during my Junior year.  I was already bombing each and every one of my classes with such hard F’s that even making a D- in anything was out of the question.  I observed the situation, analyzed my statistics, spoke to my Guidance Counselor, read my horoscope and decided to draw a line in the sand.  “Self,” I said to myself, “We’re going on a small sojourn.”

And I did.  For the following 4 months of school and 3 months of summer break I became, what some would call, a Lump.  I didn’t become a “Productive Member of Society”, I didn’t get a full time job and I didn’t move out of my parent’s basement.  Instead, I continued working at Subway during the night and, always the avid reader, spent my days at the lake with my face buried in a book.

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It was incredible and, I think, a very formative experience for my adult life.  I was given the opportunity wherein I had the chance to examine what I was supposed to be doing ie school in a cement building but instead got to exist in the lush outdoors.  Even today I have a hard time crawling into my office when I know that there are trees and lakes and trails to be seen and explored.  It often feels like we are living life backwards and the system that we’ve set up isn’t really working for most of us.

Anyway, I never had plans to NOT go back.  I always assumed that when the school year started again, I’d count my losses and start with a fresh slate.  Really give it the ol’ college try.  SO… September rolled around and I DID go back… but not to the local High School.  Instead, I enrolled in “an experimental program” called The Alternative School; a place with a terrible rap that is doing incredible things for wandering and lost youth.  This is the place where kids who, frankly, can’t get their shit together, go in a last ditch effort.  You bomb Alt School, you’re gone for good.  There is no Third Chance High.

The program provides an environment with smaller classroom sizes wherein kids like myself have their feet held to the fire by a small handful of mentors.  It’s thanks to this school that I was able to graduate high school, leave my hometown, go to college and pursue a career that I’m passionate about.  Did my grades at the Alt School accomplish this?  No.  But the teachers at the school helped me to see what my worth was.  It’s very easy for a teenager to get stuck in the mentality of “This is What I Am This is What I’ll Always Be” and it simply isn’t true.

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I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who helped alter my course fairly early in my adult life.  I understand, however, that this is not the case for everyone.  Case in point: Linda, a 50-something who is still attempting to recognize her full potential, which just goes to show you that, even though school is over, you’re never too old to learn…

I’m sitting at a Mongolian BBQ with my extended family; wife, mother-in-law, 2 brother-in-laws and a sister-in-law, my two children and my 7 week old nephew.  The baby has been good so far as baby’s are concerned; sort of just lying there and counting dots on the ceiling and making the occasional fart.  My children, on the other hand, are nearing The Breaking Point.  Every parent is familiar with this.  It happens at around the 45 minute mark when you’re eating out and nothing can stop it; no amount of stern looks or promises of punishments can help it.  Even those lousy crayons buddied with the water-ringed paper place mat stand zero probability of success.

See also: Ants in the Pants.

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They’re out of their seats, climbing under the table, pushing chairs around, rolling on the ground, covering their eyes and darting left and right, squealing and laughing.  They’re not “misbehaving” so much as they are just “being rowdy”.  A fine line.  Luckily, the restaurant is about to close and there’s only one other couple that’s just getting ready to wrap things up.  It’s 9:30pm, an hour past the children’s bedtime but, since it’s our last night in town and, due to a few other scheduling issues, we decided to make an exception on a late supper.

Our waitress approaches us with the check and says, “These are cute kids,” and we give our customary, “Thank you,” and she asks, “How old?” and we say, “Two and a half,” and she says, “Twins?” and, because our son is enormous and our daughter is dainty, she, like everyone, says, “REALLY!?” and we smile.  But this woman, Linda, doesn’t care about our children.  She is, after all, a stranger.  She doesn’t care about how old they are or how well rounded their vocabulary is or that they can count to 11, recite their ABCs frontwards and backwards, sing Twinkle Twinkle and play Moonlight Sonata on the French horn.  Linda, like so many unfortunate people with blogs, is just waiting for her turn to speak.  Linda, like so many strangers, just wants a turn to tell their story.  Linda, God bless her, begins throwing down her personal demons onto my plate right on top of my leftover noodles and spicy chicken.

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In one long, nearly uninterrupted spew of rhetoric, she tells a table of six complete strangers…

“I have a daughter.  This girl is a mess.  A mess!  A real mess.  From day one.  She’s 26 now but still acts like she’s 13.  Had a child when she was 16 years old, didn’t drop out of high school, they just wouldn’t let her in.  The High School got a restraining order on her.  From the police.  Girl loved to fight.  Just loved to fight.  She went to an alt school; what do you call those….alt schools, yeah.  She went there but they kicked her out.”

I take a sip of my water and wonder if it’s rude of me to ask questions; the topic being so intimate.  I decide to, instead, make a personal statement by confessing that I, too, went to an Alt School but– she talks right over me.  This goose is cooking and there’s no stopping her.

“Her son – my grandson – cutest fella.  Eight years old.  He’s so quiet and nice and just – hates his mother.  Can’t be around her so I took her to court and gained custody of the child.  Now the kid just lives with my husband and I – Grandma and Grandpa.  This is supposed to be The Golden Years of our lives but, well —

I knew the martyr statement was coming next.  The point of it all.  The thing she was getting at from her first breath.  Whatever she said next was supposed to lift me off my feet and make me see her in a different light.

She finishes with, “You do what you gotta do.”

As she’s staring at my son and saying, “Hello.  Hello.  Hello, how are you?  Hello,” I try to imagine what this kind woman must be like in the quiet moments of life when no one is watching.  What was her reaction to her 16 year old getting pregnant and kicked out of school?  Did she scream?  Shout?  Did she throw something and break a mirror?  Did she tell her daughter to get out of her house in a fit of rage?  I begin to wonder what sort of guidance she gave her daughter; did she give her guidance / advice / encouragement?  Was this woman a good parent?  Did the courts have the right to hand over a child to a person that already tried to raise a human and turned out a hotdog?  I’m not saying they’re wrong.  I’m just saying that I don’t know.

I wonder if this woman, Linda, looks at her grandson and sees a second chance for herself.  Some sort of redemption to her “previous life”.  Something that pushes her to sacrifice her “Golden Years” for the peace of knowing that she didn’t drop the ball completely… or at the very least, for the peace of knowing that she picked it up and tried again.

We pay for our meal and Linda walks us to the door, locking it behind us.  I turn around before I step off the curb and see her waving at my daughter.  I squeeze her hand and think that this is my chance.  I don’t want to have to take a redo.

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The Best Recipes in Oz

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Darkness is shining in through both of my bedroom windows when I finally retire for the evening.  Bryce is already in her crib, sound asleep while my wife sits in the dark manually breast pumping.  I just hear a squish-squish-squish noise as a I navigate over mounds of laundry and sharp furniture.

I set my book down with a thud, I set my phone down with a tink and I set my clothes down with a sluff, my belt latch hitting the wood with a piercing ting!  I look up and Jade is staring at me – squish, squish, squish – and says, “Could you make any more noise?  And, with completely impeccable comedic timing, I fart.

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For reasons unknown to me, I’ve been nursing a Monster Energy Drink for the past two hours and now, preparing to lie down, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep.  I’ve  been sitting on the couch for the past hour reading The Wizard of Oz, hoping to bring on The Drowsies but to no avail.  I crawl into bed… my head hits the pillow… who am I fooling?  I dream about things both vague and nonsensical; things that make no logical reason in the waking world.  People I know play new roles in my dreams; my boss is my cousin, ex-girlfriends are my boss, South Dakota is Los Angeles.  I accept it all without question.

A shriek pierces through the dream clouds and I look towards the sky… open my eyes… I’m in bed.  The baby is crying.  Panic shoots from my brain to my heart and out my limbs.  I throw the blankets back and sit up, completely positive that something horrible is happening but completely positive that I have no idea what it is or how to remedy it.  Everything is moving slow and stupid, myself included.  Instead of turning on the light I just sit in the dark and stare at my toes trying to decide what my next move should be.

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Jade says, “Are you going to get the baby?” and I say, with just a hair too much anger in my voice, “Yes.  Yes, of course I’m going to pick up the baby.  You think I’m just going to sit here and let it cry?”  and she says, “Let her cry.  She’s a girl,” and I look down at my hands, still unsure about just what is going on.  I’m stuck in that horrible, horrible, terrible place where I’m not asleep but not awake, where hallucinations are possible and everything feels like you’re floating along in a drug induced coma.

Jade says, “JOHN,” with just a hint too much anger in her voice and I say, “Lay off!  I have no idea what’s happening! and I sit up and pick up the baby, stand up, set her on the changing table.  I unwrap her swaddle, unbutton her pajamas, pull out her feet, prep the new diaper, prep the wipes and open the old diaper.  This is the part that’s always like the worst game show of all time for parents.  What’s behind door number two?!  It’s……. JUST A BUNCH OF PEE!

Not tonight.  Tonight is a smear of yellow dookie that looks like someone power sneezed it into a Kleenex.  I wipe, clean, dry, replace old diaper with new diaper, put the squirming legs back in the pajamas, button them up, set the baby in the swaddle, take the left side over the right and then the right side over the left, tying her up in some weird cloth burrito that seems to me to be a complete claustrophobic nightmare but the baby seems to love it.

I hand her to Jade, turn and head to the kitchen to throw away the diaper and then to the bathroom where I pee and wash my hands.

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Back in the room I’m sitting on the edge of the bed and Jade says, “She’s asleep.  Here.  Take her.  Be gentle.  Don’t wake her,” and so I take Bryce from her and, instead of placing her back in the crib, I just hold her in my arms and bounce her and stare at her and say, “Jade… it’s absolutely incredible that your recipes are so…” and the other words I’m about to say are, “widely used in the land of Oz,” but I stop myself because I realize that this is somehow wrong and ill-timed and not meant for this world and just what is happening in my brain?

Jade says, “What?” and, me, still convinced that the first half of that sentence is a fairly factual statement and, thinking I can somehow slide by the fact that I have no idea what is happening I say, “Your recipes, babe.  Your recipes.  It’s incredible that they’re so…” and she says, “What are you talking about?  Put the baby down.  Shut up.  Go to sleep,” and I set Bryce down in her crib and then suddenly, a darkness lifts from my vision and I can see the world around me.  I say, “Jade,” and she says, “Yes?” and I say, “I’m really sorry.  I’m really tired.  I have no idea what I’m saying right now,” and she says, “Why are you so tired?” and then I get panicky because maybe my brain is still screwed up.  I say, “Because… it’s 3am.  That’s normal, isn’t it?”

Isn’t it?

I just don’t know anymore.

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ABOVE: BRYCE IMITATES THE POPE.

The Baby is sleeping.  I lie on my back and pull the covers up to the bottoms of my eyeballs.  I turn on my side, then my other side, then my stomach and Jade says, “Can you make any more noise?” and then, with impeccable comedic timing, Bryce farts so wet and loud that she wakes herself up.  She farts again and I would bet that it’s really more of a shart.  She sharts again and that diaper is full.  I shut my eyes, but not to sleep.  It’s more in that resigned way that one might do after accidentally sending an email to a person who isn’t suppose to receive it because said email is full of insults you’ve written about them.  You know it’s too late.  You know it’s futile.  You know you have to deal with the consequences.

I turn on my light and say, “Bryce, stop picking on me.”

Jade begins to snore.

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Second Life

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For the last six days I’ve felt a bit like a con man existing with a dual identity.  The feeling was birthed on Monday, the same day my new daughter, Bryce Allison, was born.  It began as sort of this second life feeling that I was living in the hospital with my wife and daughter; the three of us quietly lying in a room, eating soup that tasted like dirty bath water and toasting our new addition over Diet Cokes.  It was this strange and private moment that existed just between the three of us; no grandparents, no siblings, no children.

Then sometime on Tuesday, my wife still in the hospital, I went home to watch my son and daughter so my mother-in-law could spend some quiet one on one time with The Baby at the hospital.  Back at home, while my kids napped I sat in front of my computer, working on a few projects, feeling like an impostor in my own home, like I were somehow hiding a piece of me from the children.

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Back in the hospital several hours later, I sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the sleeping baby in my arms and wonder how these two worlds will collide.  I’ve heard horror stories about older siblings not acclimating well to new and younger children; striking out and hitting them or covering them in pillows or trying to pull their eyes out.  Gasp, I hate to even consider it.

I spend hours thinking about it, hoping we’ve introduced them thus far properly; trying to decide how I can stitch these two existences together.  For anyone that’s never tried to integrate a new child into their family, the best way to describe it is to say that it’s like stitching a new limb onto an already completely functioning body.  You’re not sure how things are going to respond or work.

When we bring the baby home the children are both napping and so we take this opportunity to set up a large toy kitchen set (complete with food and utensils) as well as a wooden toy train set (complete with sliding doors) in our living room.  When they finally arise with blurry eyes and pillow creased faces, Jade and I say, “HI!  HELLO!  WE’RE BACK!  LOOK WHAT BABY BRYCE BROUGHT YOU!  LOOK WHAT BABY BRYCE GOT FOR YOU!  SHE KNOWS YOU LOVE TRAINS!  SHE KNOWS YOU LOVE TO COOK!  WASN’T THAT NICE OF HER?!” and we pause uncomfortably to see if the rabbits have taken the bait and, slowly, large (albeit shy) smiles spread across their seraph faces and they each go to work, Quinn making burgers and Rory wheeling in the beef.

Later that night Quinn is begging to hold the baby.  The next day Rory is clawing at my face, demanding his turn with Bryce.  I set the baby gently on his lap and prep myself for anything; the best, the worst.  He slowly bends down and, while I debate whether he’s going to gently kiss her or bite off her ear, he presses his lips against her forehead and says, “That’s my sister.  That’s Baby Bryce,” and then he smiles and I know everything will be okay.

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From 9am until 8:30pm I lead my first life; the life of a Father of Three.  I play with Rory and Quinn, pushing trains around on the floor and chasing them around the house, cradling a baby in one arm.  I growl and hiss like a monster, threatening to snare them in my grasps, the baby barreling along with me, bored and asleep, a piece of the game without even knowing it.

I take Roar & Quinnie to the park, I walk with Quinn to the grocery store, I read a book about shapes to Rory.  I change diapers and the children watch; Rory hands me wipes and Quinn hands me a diaper and they both ask, “What is thaaaat?” and point to Bryce’s shriveled up umbilical stem sticking out of her belly button like a dried root and… quite simply, it’s really difficult to describe what its purpose is, exactly, in a language a 2 year old will grasp.  I say, “That’s her… belly button… uh… umbilical cord.  It’s where she was getting food… she, uh… she ate out of it when… she was inside mommy’s tummy…”  I stop talking.  The whole thing sounds way too crazy to believe.  Both kids stare at me like I’m trying to address the Sasquatch mythos.  I try to change the subject by I telling Rory to pay attention because, “Someday you’ll be a Daddy and you’ll have to change diapers,” and he stares at me, looking kind of horrified but then lifts up a wipe and says, “I help you.”

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We dress the baby, which, by the way, is tantamount to dressing a kitten in a sweater, it’s small limbs pushing the exact opposite way you’re trying to manipulate them, contracting and stretching at just the wrong time.  We walk back out into the living room where Jade tells me that she and her mother are leaving me alone and I’m suddenly outnumbered three to one.  Knowing the odds are against me, I fire up He-Man and The Masters of the Universe and curl up on the couch with the oldies but goodies.  We watch He-Man save the day again and again, simply punching his way to success.  When evil has been thwarted and the likes of Skeletor, Beastman and Trap-Jaw have been sent running, he transforms back into boring old Prince Adam until next week when fate calls on him to unleash his secret identify – his Second Life.

Bryce wakes up during He-Man’s second adventure and I lift her up and put her on my lap and stick my pinky in her mouth because I don’t feel like picking up breast feeding this late in the game.  Quinn reaches over and pats Baby’s chest and says, “Shhhhh,” and Rory says, “Baby cryin'” and I say, “That’s alright.  That’s what babies say,” and Quinn says, “Stop crying, Baby,” and Bryce does… then she sneezes and Rory says, “Say excuse me, Bryce,” and I actually look down at her to see if she’s going to respond, leaving me with a tale so bizarre no one would ever believe.

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The episode ends and I walk into the children’s bedroom, find their pull-ups and their pajamas and say, “Okay… I need you two to really help out Daddy tonight,” and I look at their pull-ups and I look at the baby in my arms whose screams are only being subdued by my finger jammed in her gob.  I say, “Can you guys put on your underwear alone?” and they both say, “Nope,” and I say, “I KNOW YOU CAN!” and I try to pump them up, “LET’S SEE YOU DO IT!  JUST TRY!” and they both pick up toys and begin examining them.  Rory pulls off his pants and says, “Daddy, help.”

I put the baby down and she immediately starts to grunt and grumble and so I act as quickly as I can while the children act slowly and distractedly, more interested in the gurgling pink blob than in getting their jammies on.  “HEY!  PAY ATTENTION!  HEY!  RIGHT HERE!  FOOT IN HERE!  HEY!”

I get the two Walkers dressed and now we’re all prepared; the three of us ready to take on the night… if only I had a breast filled with leche… or if this baby were eating from a bottle yet…  I text Jade and say, “Baby freakin’ like a Mohican,”  She texts back and says, “On way!”  I sit in the living room with the three of them, my tribe, as we watch Prince Adam do what needs to be done in order to keep Eternia together.  I have my left arm around Quinn, my right arm around Rory, buckled back over his chest and my pinky stuck in Bryce’s mouth, my body bent and jarred at an odd angle to try and keep my own city peaceful.

Jade returns with her mother and we put Rory and Quinn to bed and this is The Moment wherein my life typically splits.  The first half of the day I am a noisy monster, a troll under a bridge, a hide-and-seek master and commander but then, from 9pm-8am, I have a second life wherein everything is quiet and calculated and meticulous and delicate.  I sit on the couch and I hold the baby and we stare at Bryce and listen to the house settling and distant traffic.  Everything is calm and reflective like a pond’s surface.

We go to bed and, while our children and any current guests sleep soundly in beds and on couches throughout the house, we fall asleep knowing we’ll be up in a few hours with the moon still hanging high in the Western sky..  I shut my eyes and dream about a forest.  Jade nudges me and says it’s time to change the baby.  I sit up and turn on the light, turn on my phone, turn on music.  Pearl Jam plays, Bush plays, Soundgarden plays.  I’m standing in my baby blue boxer briefs and a white t-shirt, singing Black Hole Sun to a six day old while I change a diaper.  This is what it looks like when Grunge Grows Up.

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The baby pees on the changing table and I clean it up, pat her butt, put her diaper on, put the onesie on, put the jammies on and then think to myself how strange it is that I am genuinely and unabashedly unashamed that I just used the word “jammies”.

I lie back down in bed and place the baby between us, fall back asleep, dream of forests and… my bedroom door opens and Quinn enters.  She’s completely naked save for a bib with a pouch on it that’s been filled with gold fish crackers.  She squeals and says, “MY BABY IS AWAKE!!” and lunges onto the bed.  “I WANT TO HOLD HER!!”

Slowly, slowly, my two lives are merging into one.  The limbs and the body are uniting.  Life is moving forward.  Everything is coming together.

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BABY BRYCE BIRTH… and other anecdotes

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Last night we made a large celebratory pasta dinner who’s sauce consisted of equal parts cheese, half and half, butter and bacon.  It was a gut bomb straight from Heaven; white clouds to white plate.  For desert we made pudding parfaits that are one part vanilla, one part chocolate, one part pie crust crumble and one part whip cream.  It was a meal that was easily, easily worthy of a Thanksgiving feast or some kind of last supper for a Death Row inmate (depending on how positive or negative you wanted to be with the analogy).

We tuck the children in and say their prayers and then curl up really close to them and say, “Okay, listen… Listen… tomorrow… the baby (and we point to Jade’s tummy) is going to be out here…” and then I point to Rory’s tummy because he’s lying down and I sort of just mean that he will be able to hold the baby but he takes it to mean that the baby will somehow transplant inside of his body and so he grabs the bottom of his shirt and yanks down and jerks his knees up and fearfully shouts, “NO!” and I say, “Uh, no – sorry.  Sorry.  Just, uhm… here… in your lap… and I pretend to set something on top of him.

We say, “Tomorrow the baby will be here.  When you wake up, Mommy and Daddy will be gone – we’ll be with the doctor – but Grandma will be here and you’ll eat breakfast with her and then you’ll come and see us with the baby, okay?  Okay?” and they both mumble noises of approval that sound something like, “Baaaay-beeee…”

We kiss them goodnight and turn on their pony music box and Quinn throws herself out of bed, screaming suddenly and incoherently and I walk out, closing the door behind me while saying, “Okay… I love you too… good… night…”

Hours later I’m sitting on the couch in my living room, knowing that I should be in bed since we’re scheduled to be checked in at the hospital at 8:00am but… I’m not tired.  I’m so excited!  My nerves are all on high alert.  The Baby is going to be here tomorrow!  I say, “Can you believe the baby is going to be here tomorrow?” and Jade touches her stomach and says, “No!  But I’m so excited I don’t think I can sleep!”

11:00 rolls around and we force ourselves to lie down, staring at the ceiling, staring at each other, staring at the belly, asking each other questions, talking about how bittersweet it is.  I reach out and touch The Baby and it shifts and moves and I say, “This is it.  Tomorrow The Bump will be gone,” and we share a quiet moment, both of us being equal parts happy and sad.  Jade says, “It’s kind of sad,” and I grunt in agreement and say, “It’s kind of happy.”

I say, “I’m so excited!  I can’t sleep!  I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to!” but Jade reaches over and shuts off the light and moments later… I’m asleep… and then an alarm is blasting an obnoxious melody in my ear and I open my eyes and squint and try to curl back into bed but then remember that today we’re having a baby!  I throw my covers back, hop out of bed and throw on all of my clothes that I’ve laid out last night as though today were the first day of school and I were in second grade.  Bugle Boy jeans?  Check . Body Glove shirt?  Check.  Incredibly incredible Mario Brothers knapsack?  Check and check.

I make coffee and throw a few loose items into a bag, eat a slice of toast with the kids – who are awake after all – bid them all fare thee well and the two of us are out the door and on our way to the hospital and then when we get there, already a couple minutes late even though it’s only a mile up the road from our house, Jade realizes she’s forgotten her purse and hence her wallet and hence all of her hospital and insurance identification so we drive all the way back home where I find my son looming over my record player doing who-knows-what to the needle and I say to my mother-in-law, “He can play with that sort of but… just… let him push the button but nothing else,” and she says, “Okie-dokie!” and Rory says, “I’m playing music!” and he hits the start button and Peter, Paul and Mary’s Best of album begins to play and I hear someone sing, “Lemon tree is very pretty / and the lemon flower is sweet / but the fruit of the poor lemon / is impossible to eat” and then I’m out the door and back in the car and back at the hospital and we’re all checked in.

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They ask Jade to put on a gown and remove all her jewelry, necklace, wedding ring, belly button ring, etc. etc. and so she does.  They wrap belts around her that monitor the baby and attach her to machines that read out waves and numbers that look like they’re trying to detect seismographic activity instead of the minute movements of an infant.

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ABOVE:  JADE MODESTLY REMOVING HER BELLY BUTTON RING / PRETENDING TO BE INVISIBLE.

A nurse enters to give an IV and Jade says, “May I have a Novocaine shot first?” and the nurse says, “For the IV?” and Jade says, “Yes,” and the nurse says, “Uh… no.”  Her left hand gets stuck without incident.  Meanwhile, her right hand squeezes the life out of my thumb, threatening to snap the bone right in half like a pit bull with a chicken leg.

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Jade says, “Can I still get up to pee?” and the nurse says, “Yes.  If you need to, you may go to the bathroom and unload.”  I swear to you this is what she said.  “Unload”.  I felt like this elderly Latina woman was suddenly channeling her inner New Jersey frat boy.  Jade gets up to pee and, while she’s in the bathroom, our nurse, again, a woman of Hispanic descent, says to me, “Do you have any questions?” and I say, “Actually, yes… I do,” and she stares at me and blinks a few times and smiles.  I say, “I’ve started to learn to speak Spanish,” and she says, “Oh!  That’s wonderful!” in her softly poetic ethnic way, her consonants all softer and more flowery than I could ever hope to make them with my angular American tongue.

I say, “Yes, uh, thank you.  So, you speak Spanish?” and she says, “A little,” and I suppose that she’s just being coy because English is quite clearly and obviously not her primary language and so I say, “Uh, yeah, great!  So, I’m wondering about this word somos,” and then I stop and she looks at me and says, “Somos?” and I say, “Yeah.  Like nosotros somos.  I think it means like, “We are” but I’m not exactly sure when to use it,” and she says, “Sumo?” and I say, “No.  Somos,” and she says, “The only sumo I know is the one in Japan… I’m Japanese,” and I swear to you right now that I have never felt like a bigger, whiter, boxed off, Classic American Redneck, Racist, Psychopath in all of my entire life.

I say, “Konichiwa!” and quickly fall through a crack in the floor where I shrivel up and quietly die.

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Jade comes out and the Japanese woman leaves and I put on my scrubs and a second nurse comes in and says, “Oh, good, you have your scrubs on,” and I say, “Yeah.  I’m supposed to be completely naked under here, right?” and she says, “Uh…. no….” and I sort of awkwardly feel around my body and go, “Oh-kay…” and while I’m not actually naked, I enjoy watching the look of sympathy spread across her face as she tries to imagine what it’s like to be someone as stupid as me.

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ABOVE:  HAIR NET

The doctor is an hour late but when she finally shows up things move faster than a greased up toddler on a Slip ‘n’ Slide.  They wheel us to the O.R. and ask me to sit in the recovery room and wait for my wife to receive her epidural.  Across the hall and through the high set glass windows I can hear various chattering voices and Jade laughing.  Twenty minutes later a middle-aged-but-going-into-later-aged nurse invites me in and my heart starts pumping a little bit faster and I turn on the camera in my hand and hit record, just planning on paying almost no attention to it and sort of just blindly spiraling and pointing it wherever I’m looking.

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Jade is laid out flat on a surgical table, her arms splayed out in a crucified position, an oxygen mask placed over her mouth.  I sit down next to her and pull down my paper filtration mask and giver her a kiss and say, “Are you okay?” and she says, “Yes,” and I say, “How do you feel?” and she says, “I puked,” and I casually wipe my mouth and smile and say, “But you’re good?” and she says, “Yes.  They got the epidural on the first try.”

She mentions this because the last time we were here they assigned a student to give it to her who thought the rule was Three Strikes and You’re Out.

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I shift the camera around and take note of my surrounds; it’s the same room we were in almost three years ago.  Nothing has changed.  The anesthesiologist behind me, warmer with nursery helpers to my left, a giant blue curtain separating Jade’s face from Jade’s guts.

Burning.  The smell hits my nose like a tire thrown at the sun.  I crinkle my nostrils and say, “You smell that?” and Jade says, “Yeah,” and then, “What is that?  Is that burning?” and the anesthesiologist bends down and says, “That’s you.  They’re cauterizing the wound as they cut,” and Jade says, “Oooooohhhhhhh…..”

Next is the most intense slurping noise you’ve ever heard; imagine a vacuum cleaner shoved into a barrel of tomato soup and fired on.  Jade gets tugged and jerked around and says, “What’s that?  Is that a… a vaccuum?” and the anesthesiologist says, “It’s your blood,” and Jade says, “Ooooooohhhhhhh….”

I hear a noise that sounds like a cry; no, I hear A Cry and I stand up and I peak over the stupid curtain separating my processed, domestic brain from human experience and look over it and there is my daughter, covered in gray slime the texture of half dried paint.  I sit down and lean my face into Jade’s ear and I say, “Bryce Allison.  It’s Bryce Allison!” and she says, “It’s a girl?” and her eyes begin to fill with tears and I say, “Yeah!  Yes!” and then the doctor lifts Bryce over the curtain and says, “Mommy, here’s your baby,” and Jade gasps and says, “Ooooooohhhhhh….” and then the doctor says, “It’s a girl!” and then the baby is gone and Jade squeezes my hand.

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Bryce appears around the curtain, gets placed in the warmer and I follow a nurse over.  The Nursery Staff tests her, checks her, cleans her and lets me cut the long nub that remains of the umbilical cord.  I say, “I didn’t get to do that with my other two children,” and I look at the child’s hair and I point at it and I say, “What color do you think that is?” and the Older Nurse says, “I would say that’s a reddish color,” and The Man Nurse says, “Yeah… some kind of red or strawberry blonde,” and I turn around and say, “She has red hair!” and Jade says, “Oooooohhhhhh….” and then pukes into a basket.  The Older Nurse says, “It’s natural.  That happens when they shove everything back in.”

Bryce is perfect and healthy and, as far as I can tell, completely flawless.  I reach out and touch her skin and it’s soft like velvet covered in butter.  The anesthesiologist takes our first photos together and then I sit in the recovery room until they wheel in Jade on a gurney while carrying Baby Bryce.  She can’t move her legs at all.  I reach out and touch her and she says, “You absolutely must stop that because it’s freaking me out in the biggest way possible,” and I say, “Can you feel this?” and she says, “Are you touching me right now?” and I say, “Yes.  I’m pinching your toe,” and she says, “Stop.”

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I pick up the baby and sit down and begin sending out all of The Messages to friends and family.  “Baby is here, perfectly healthy!!!!!!!” and then my phone begins to smoke and then simply explode thanks to the enormous intake of text messages flowing into it.

Pop-fizzzzzzz.

I put my phone down and stare into Bryce’s eyes and say, “Who do you look like…” and just depending on which way I hold her, she looks like Quinn… and then Rory… and then both of them… a perfect little mixture of the two.  I look at Jade, who is staring at her toes and straining her focus and I say, “Ten days.  In ten days she won’t look anything like this,” and Jade goes to put her hands on her belly and then says, “AH!…. Oh yeah…. it’s gone…. I forgot.”  Her belly is flat.

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The Japanese nurse lifts up Jade’s gown and says, “I need to examine the staples,” and Jade looks at her stomach, where the bump used to be and pokes her belly, which now has the consistency of a sandwich bag filled with jello.  She pokes it again and it joggles and jostles and gyrates and Jade says, “EW!” and The Japanese nurse laughs and Jade pokes it again and again and again and then places her hand on it and does The Chunk Shuffle.

The Japanese Nurse giggles and giggles and then suddenly and without warning, reaches out herself and touches Jade’s tummy and wiggles it and giggles again.  She says, “You are funny.  You are a funny patient.  What is the baby’s name?” and Jade says, “Bryce Allison,” and I say, “Jade, are we spelling that B-R-Y-C-E?” and she says, “I think so, yeah,” and I say, “And are we spelling Allison A-L-I-S-O-N or A-L-L-I-S-O-N or with two Ls and two Ss or one L and two Ss or…” and she says, “I don’t really know,” and I say, “We don’t even know how to spell our kid’s name… we are so unprepared… I can’t believe they’re giving her to us!”

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Back in the room we stare at the baby and… you imagine those first few hours to be very frenetic and chaotic and full of emotions, ranging from panic to adoration but it’s truly more euphoric than that.  Everything is very quiet and calm and serene and surreal; a soft but lucid dream that you’re sure is about to end at any moment so you just look and listen and try to soak in as much as you can before it vanishes.

She opens her eyes and looks at me and I’m sure I look like a blurry ogre and not just because her vision is still developing but because in real life I actually look like a blurry ogre.

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I call Jade’s mom and I say, “Alright, we’re here; we’re ready; you can come down,” and I here her say, “Ooooohhhhh…” and then the phone clicks off and the three of us are alone again.  A few moments later my phone rings and June says, “We’re here!  We’re here!  I just parked!” and I tell her I’ll meet her at the front doors.  I bounce out of the hospital room and make my way through an overly lit labyrinthine maze of salmon colored walls decorated in pictures of flowers, butterflies and topless women feeding children.

I break into the late afternoon sun and the warmth feels good on my skin after being in various cold and sterile rooms all day.  In the distance, on the third floor, I see a mop of red hair bouncing along above a guardrail, running with such force that the two blonde children she has in tow are dangling behind her, feet in the air, their little bodies billowing in the breeze like surrender flags.  I watch as she furiously punches the elevator call button and I take off running.  I hit the stairs, leaping up them two at a time, two at a time, two at a time, then around a bend and up another half flight, and then I’m on the second floor and I crush my thumb into the call button and then casually position myself in the doorway so that, in my head, I resemble some iconic image of James Dean.

I hear the elevator descending and then bing and the doors slide open and both my kids are standing there, blank faced until they see my boots, my jeans, my shirt, my yellow hat and their eyes blow up like bombs and they say, “DAAAAAD-DDEEEE!” and I run inside the elevator and say, “Hey, there!” and I give them both hugs and say, “Are you ready to see BABY?” (being ever so careful to use a very generic noun and to stay away from he / she since June still doesn’t know and wants to find out in person).  Quinn says, “YEAH!” and Rory says, “Errrr….” and then there’s a bing and the doors open again and we’re on the ground level, walking in the sunshine, four wide; Quinn, June, Rory, me, each of us holding the hand on either side of us.

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We enter the hospital and get in another elevator and go to the third floor and I turn to June and I say, “Are you so very excited right now?” and she says, “I am so very excited right now, Johnny!” and outside the door I lift up the children and squirt anti-bacterial lotion into their hands and I use a little much because I know just how dirty they are and Quinn starts rubbing it and lathering it all the way up to her shoulder like she’s about to perform surgery and I have to help her clean it off and now they both smell like an emergency room.

I kneel down and gather them both close to me and I say, “Okay, I love you both so much.  Thank you for being so good.  Are you ready to go see The Baby?!” and Quinn says, “YEAH!” and Rory is still rubbing his hands together, trying to get clean.

I open the door and the kids walk in first and I hear Jade say, “Who is heee-yeeer?” and then, a moment later, “Oh!  Look who it is!” and when I walk around the corner, she is filming them entering the room to meet their sister for the first time.  Watching the video back later it’s easy to see that Quinn is cautiously optimistic, standing on her tip-toes to see just what the heck her mom has and then slowly creeping around the bed, slithering and sliding, she stands next to the bed and says, “That’s a baby,” and Jade says, “Yes!  That is a baby!” and Quinn says, “That’s Baby Sawyer,” (her new baby cousin) and Jade says, “Noooooo, that’s not Sawyer,” and Quinn says, “That’s…. Baby Beckett!” (our friend’s new baby) and Jade says, “Nooooo, that’s not Baby Becket!” and I say, “Rory, do you want to come see The Baby?” (still being sensitive to use gender neutral nouns; it / the) and he, at the end of the bed, poking various medical buttons marked only as “DO NOT PUSH” and “NEVER PUSH” and “MAKE SURE TO NEVER TOUCH THIS BUTTON”.  I say, “Roar, do you want to come see The Baby?” and he says, “No,” and I say, “Okay… do you want to come stand by Daddy?” and he says, “No,” and then I say, “Do you want Daddy to hold you?” and I bend down to pick him up but he lashes backwards and cries, “NO!” and I say, “It’s okay – it’s okay.  You don’t have to.”

Jade says, “Do you want to introduce them?” and I say, “June, do you want to come around and see?” and I say, “Quinn… this is… your new baby sister,” and June puts her hands over her mouth and says, “She’s a girl!  You have a sister!” and Quinn says, “Sisss-terrr,” and Rory says, “Where is iPhone?”

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I lift Quinn onto the bed and say, “Do you want to kiss the baby?” and she leans down and kisses her on the forehead and says, “AH-HAAA!” like the craziest mayor to ever run for election, skipping through the park, kissing strange infants, “AHHH-HAAA!!!”  June sits down on the bed and Rory sits in a chair on the other side of the room and so I sit down next to him and say, “Do you want to sit in Daddy’s lap?” and he stares at his toes and in a tiny voice says, “No,” and I say, “Do you want Daddy to sit in the chair with you?” and in the same tiny, rejected voice he says, “No,” and so I say, “Do you want to play with Daddy’s iPhone?” and he lights up like a firecracker and stands on the chair and points at the table and says, “Uh, yeah!  Yeah!  iPhone right there!  I show you.  I show you.  Right there!” and so I grab the gadget and sit down and watch my son push a collection of digital media through strange alien worlds and, ten feet away, I watch my daughter stare at her new sister sitting in this strange alien world.

I lean over to Rory and whisper in his ear, “I love you.  I missed you,” and he says, “I love you,” and I say, “Will you come sit with me?” and he stands up and crawls out of his chair and up into mine and there he stays for the next two hours while we try to navigate the dark and murky waters that is Introducing-Siblings-WIthout-Causing-Dismissive-and-Rejected-Feelings-Amongst-the-Two-Older-Ones.

I watch Quinn sit on the bed, staring at the baby which her Grandmother is holding and for just a moment I have a very Out-of-Body-Out-of-Time experience wherein I see three generations of women spread out before me and I see June as a young mother, holding a newborn Jade in some country hospital nearly 30 years ago and then I see an older woman holding a newborn June in someplace a little more dimly lit and then I see Quinn and she’s very old and she’s sitting on the edge of a bed with her daughter holding a new baby and I realize that this is just my turn at this cycle that happens over and over and over to each of us.  This is me standing at the very top of the slide, looking around at the world around me, everyone small, my perspective so much more dynamic than it is on the ground.

Quinn as a grandmother… me as a great grandfather… I think about the day wherein Rory and Quinn and Bryce are three old people, Jade and I both gone, the three of them sharing a long and healthy history together that’s seven decades deep and here I am, witnessing the very first day that they meet one of their most intimate friends.  Quinn, up close and personal and Rory, impassionately disconnected but it’s all the same.  It’s all The Moment.  It’s The Day.  The First Day that stretches out into the next 70 or 80 years.

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When the children leave a few hours later, Quinn kisses the baby on the feet and on the head and Rory says, “Bye, Mommy!” and they both walk out of the door with their Grandmother.  I turn to Jade and say, “Did we do that right?” and she shrugs and says, “I hope so,” and then a friend brings us burgers and then we Skype with my mother, which basically just entails me pointing the camera at a sleeping Bryce while we talk off screen.

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Nurses come and go and start shifts and end shifts and the world is moving around us, the sun soaring through the sky, the shadows lengthening out on the floor and then vanishing completely while I just hold my new daughter and stare at her and say, “I love you so much, Little Bryce Cake, Little Brucey, Little Bruce,” and the instant bond that I feel to this little human that so much resembles a bag of soggy potatoes is completely astounding.

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In the hallway I can hear other babies crying, other newborns, other people who’s journeys are beginning here and now; a small club of individuals who all enter into the world on October 7th together but will probably never meet.  I see men walking up and down the hallways talking to their mothers and fathers on the phone and giving them The Details (height / weight / sex) with huge smiles on their faces.  I see a few couples slowly meandering the white halls, the woman with a hand in the center of her back, still expecting, her husband pulling along her IV post and I want to run up to them and say, “This is it!  This is it!  I just had one!  I just had another one!  They’re so awesome!  Good luck!  Congratulations!  High Five!  Up high!  Down low!  Too slow!”

The sun dips behind the horizon and our room goes dark and, like a mole or possum or vampire, the baby wakes up to feed.  Midnight… 12:30…. 1:30… 2:30… the baby won’t sleep.  She eats, she nods off, she wakes up.  She doesn’t cry so much as she just gurgles and coos and bleats like a sheep… 3:30 and she’s still awake.

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4:30 rolls around and I’m holding her in one arm and staring at the pages of a book in the other, trying not to nod off and drop her on the floor when my words from the previous night come back to haunt me, looming in the air over my head, laughing at me.  I speak them out loud to Jade, “I’m so excited right now,” and she says, “Me too,” and I say, “I don’t think I could sleep… even if I wanted to…”

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The following two days are filled with friends and family and dirty diapers but are, for the most part, uneventful.  When we arrived back home today, my neighbor, an older gentleman from Cuba (or maybe Tokyo?) is standing in front of my house and a smile spreads across his face when he sees us.  “Boy or girl?!” he shouts in his thick accent and I shout back, “GIRL!” and he claps his hands together and says, “OH!  YES!”  I point at the sky, a blanket of gray rain clouds, a light drizzle misting down upon us and say, “Great weather for your first day outside, huh?” and, while I love rain, I meant it more in the “It’s so dreary,” type of way but he just claps his hands together joyfully and says, “YES!  RAIN!  It is a celebration of life!” and I smile, having never thought about it like that before.

I shake his hand and turn around and walk into my house, baby in hand, where the rest of my life waits.

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DEAR BABY 3

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Baby 3,

It’s currently 8:20 in the morning on a Sunday, exactly one day before you will be born into this universe.  Your mother lies next to me, still sleeping and me, feeling her belly, I seem to think that you are sleeping as well.

Two nights ago I laid my face on her tummy and hummed a song to you before lying my finger on her belly button, pressing, and saying, “BEEEP”.  You shifted quickly and some part of you bumped hard into my cheek.  Your mother said, “The baby just slapped you!”

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I kiss you and think, “You’re right there.  You’re right there.”  I lie my hand on you; your hand, your back, your head; and I wonder what you’ll look like; blonde hair, red hair, black hair; blues eyes, brown eyes, hazel?  Will you strongly resemble Rory and Quinn as they strongly resemble one another or will you stand out all on your own?

There is nothing in this world like the anticipation of a parent wanting to meet their child for the first time and these days just cannot seem to pass fast enough.  Tomorrow we see you.  Tomorrow we hold you.  Tomorrow we name you.

We don’t even know if you’re a boy or a girl!  It’s a big day for all three of us.  Listen, the very first thing you’re ever going to do when you enter this world, is change my life.  That’s your first act!

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I’ll be straight with ya, kid… we’ve got a really solid girl’s name picked out and we’ve got a couple options for boy’s names but no middle names paired up with them yet.  We’re sort of hoping that you’ll just let us know when you show up.  But, this is how it was with your brother and sister as well.  We knew we’d use Rory but Quinn was still up in the air between that and Harper.

It’s the night before Christmas, Disneyland, space travel!  Those are just three things that really excite me… the third a hopeful possibility for the near future… We’ve got a place all ready for you; a bed right by us, warm hearts and big arms.  Your brother and sister are excited for your arrival as well.  Last night, an hour after going to bed, Rory opened his bedroom door and said, “Dad?” and I said, “Yes, Rory?” and he said, “Baby’s comin’ soon,” and I said, “That’s right!  Are you excited?”  and he said, “Yes.  Excited,” and I said, “Good boy.  Go back to sleep,” and the door shut.

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Your Aunt Theresa texted me this morning and said I’d better not keep them waiting tomorrow.  She demands that I send out all information on you just when you arrive!  Your Grandma June is here now, patiently awaiting your stage call and your Grandma Kathy will be here in just a few short weeks to take second shift.

Baby Boy or Girl, I already love you with more tenacity than I could’ve thought possible.  Tomorrow morning, in a cold white room, I’ll hold you in my arms and kiss you on the cheek and say, “Welcome to the Universe,” and you will answer all of the long thought questions I’ve pondered over the last nine months.

I love you and will see you shortly,

Dad

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 0

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Dear Rory and Quinn,

I remember a day, not that long ago, when your mother and I were sitting on our kitchen floor together late, late at night, staring at our photo wall and reminiscing over various trips, adventures and explorations we’d gone on together.  This was back before she was pregnant, back before I had cancer, back even before the thought of children was something “real”.  This is back when we simply spoke of these things in thoughts that mostly began with, “Imagine when…” and, “Could you ever imagine…”

She asks me how many kids I’d like to have and I ask her if she’d rather have a boy or girl first.  She tells me she’s always wanted a daughter with bright red hair and I tell her I want to learn to camp and be an “outdoors” family.  I lie down and she puts her head on my stomach and I run my fingers through her hair and I shut my eyes and try to imagine what our child would look like; a game I’ve never been very good at; like staring into a crystal ball, all I can make out is fog and blurry figures.

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She asks, “What if we can’t have kids?” and I say, “We’ll steal one.”  She laughs and my eyes float over pictures of me with Kaidance and Jade with Clementine and the four of us – two humans and two dogs – driving down some unmarked dirt road with cows and pasture in the background.  Jade asks me if I think it’ll be weird and I say, “I don’t know,” and she says, “Like, this… what we’re doing.  What we are.  This dynamic… Will it be gone forever?” and again I say, “I don’t know…”

She sits up and looks at me and says, “But it’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?  It’s like, Hi, welcome.  Welcome to our weirdness.  Bring your own special brew and add it to the mix,” and then she mimes stirring a cauldron.  She says, “Our kids are probably going to be kind of weird, huh?” and I say, “Hopefully.”

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She sighs happily and lies back down and the two of us stare at that photo wall for the next five years while pictures come and go and people come and go and friends come and go and disease comes and goes and then you’re here, infiltrating our home and our hearts and our photo wall, taking over everything, one frame of existence at a time.

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I remember Quinn rolling over for the first time in the living room.  I remember her rolling over for the second time on the changing table and me thrashing out blindly in the dark and catching her halfway to the floor.  I remember teaching Rory to walk on our Christmas vacation in Montana; me on one side of the room and Grandma June on the other, Rory waddling and weaving back and forth.  I remember the first time Quinn walked all the way to the grocery store and back all by herself… I mean without assistance.  Obviously, I didn’t send my one year old to the store alone…

I remember when you both started sleeping through the night and I remember teaching you your colors and how to count to ten and basic animal noises.  I remember when you each started properly pedaling on your tricycles and climbing up and down stairs and jumping off of furniture and brushing your own teeth and potty training and speaking in complete sentences.

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I have had so much fun with the two of you over the last two and a half years and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us.  You two are the absolute coolest people I know and you make me laugh every single day and bring more happiness to me than I probably deserve.

Thank you for reminding me of compassion and humanity and kindness.  Thank you for showing me how to accept those around me without asking questions.  Thank you for showing me a renewed sense of adventure and for challenging me to be the best man and father I possibly can be.

Thank you.

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Now, I need you to do it again.  I need you to help me.  Tomorrow a very special package is being delivered into our care and I need the two of you to help your mom and I make sure that he or she feels welcomed into The Weirdness.  I need you to show The Baby everything you’ve shown to me.  I want the four of us – two adults and two children – to lie on the kitchen floor and stare at that photo wall and watch a new invader populate the frames with us.

Tomorrow, our lives are changing forever.  Together.

Tomorrow is an enormous day.

Shut your eyes… can you picture their face?

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 1

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Lying in bed last night, Jade and I staring at her belly, we watched The Baby shift and move under her skin.  With only two days to go we’re in The Zone wherein her belly most resembles something out of a cheap sci-fi movie.  Her guts shift and move, maneuver with liquid ease.  The right side is solid with ridges and divots; running my palm over her stomach feels like she’s swallowed a handful of oddly shaped rocks.

In the other room Quinn screams.  I ignore it because… well, this is what Quinn does sometimes.  She doesn’t necessarily want or need anything… except to see if one of us will appear at her whim.  When Jade and I still owned Kaidance (our large Rhodesian Ridgeback for any first time readers) we could hear her bark and know what she wanted or needed.  If there was someone in our yard, coming through our gate, she had a very aggressive, violent sound.  If she wanted to go outside or eat, she had a very high-pitched yip.  If she was happy that we’d returned from a long day out, she would just have this very middle of the road bark, neither aggressive nor naggish.

Don’t be fooled.  Infants and toddlers are no different than your run of the mill domestic canine.  When they cry, they tell you exactly what they need and you either give it to them or you don’t.  And sometimes, in my opinion, what they need, is to be ignored.  If I go running in there in the middle of some fit they’re having, the only thing I’ve taught them is that if they cry long enough and loud enough that it is I, and not they, that will finally break.  No, thank you.  This is MY house!

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Now, I can already hear the rustling in the seats and the hands going up and the objections being raised.  Listen.  I’m by no means suggesting you fully ignore your child.  Children are small creatures who need our help to survive but… I’m just saying that we, as adults, should just make sure that they need our help before we go in and smother them in it.  Baby bird needs to learn to fly on its own.

In fact, even as I write this, Rory sleeps while Quinn sits in their room saying, “Dad!  Moo!  Dad!  Dad!  Dad!  Moooooooo!” and I can’t tell if she’s hoping to genuinely garner my attention or if she’s mocking my weight, hoping to lure me in with insults.  In any event she does not need me and if I ran to my children at the first fart they made, I’d spend all day chasing smoke.

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Quinn and Rory have been sleeping through the night since they were six months old and we have people approach us on a regular basis and say, “You guys are so blessed to have kids that were born such good sleepers,” and we just smile and nod but let me say this now…  These two kids showed up at my front door with a predisposition for screaming and full moon parties.  In fact, for the first few months we owned them, we were sure they were at least partly feral (and in most regards, they were).  Children are wild animals – I say this with complete sincerity.  They run on instinct alone and it is our job to train them, not the other way around.

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The Belly twitches and adjusts itself, sending ripples and waves over the surface.  I lean down and place my face on her stomach and kiss her taut skin.  I hum a song; just random notes that I think sound soothing.  I place my finger in her belly button and say, “BEEEEEP,” and something hits me on the cheek.  A fist?  A hand?  A foot?  An elbow?  A buttocks?  I have no idea.  The Baby just slapped me across the face with a tiny brick and Jade says, “You just got slapped!” and Iaughs.

Quinn screams again, louder, same tone.  I roll over onto my back and ask Jade if she thinks it’s a boy or a girl.  She says, “I don’t know.”  Quinn screams one more time and then nothing, silence.  A moment later I hear her little feet march back to bed, I hear springs squeak under her weight and then, truly, silence.

I say, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it just had completely jet black hair?  Just totally left field from The Children of the Damned?”  Jade nods and The Baby shifts again.  I say, “AH!  I’m so flipping excited!  I just want to cut you open and take a look!” and she says, “Uh… don’t, though.”

She says, “Are you going to watch the C-Section?” and I say, “I hope so!  I want to!”  I say, “Let’s put a smile on that belly!”  Jade says, “Are you ready for this?” and I say, “It doesn’t matter, does it?”

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I pick up a book and Jade tinkers on the laptop for a bit and my eyes start to get drowsy, heavy, sleepy.  The words on the page start to blend together and I read and reread and reread the same paragraph two, three, four times.  Just get to the end of the chapter, I say to myself.  One… more… page…

Everything goes dark and then Quinn is screaming.  Screaming.  Not crying.  Her voice is in full tilt wailing, red faced, most likely.  The world comes back into focus and the blurry edges turn crisp and everything is sharp.  I hop out of bed, certain that someone has finally actually broken into my house to steal my children.  I open the bedroom door and jog down the hallway, reach out to push open the door and…

…Quinn is lying in bed, chest down, holding her head up and howling (again, picture a feral wolf) while Rory is dead asleep.  I stand in the doorway and say, “What are you doing?  What’s wrong?” and she says, “My leg!  My leg is stuck!  Dad!” and I imagine a coyote in a bear trap sounding not dissimilar.  I swing open the gate, saunter over to the bed and, assuming she’s somehow entangled her foot in the iron bars, I give her a tug but… no, she doesn’t move.  She truly is stuck.  Rory, still sprawled out on the bed, doesn’t even stir when I jostle the mattress getting up and down.

I lean back, grab the head board and pull once, hard.  The bed slides across the floor a few inches, scraping along the fake wood, and I reach down, grab her by the waistband on the back of her PJs and lift her into the air, free of danger.  I say, “Are you okay?” and she says, “Yeah,” and I say, “Good.  I love you.  Go to bed.”

Rory still sleeps.  Neither of them make another noise until morning.

I go back into our bedroom and lie down next to Jade.  I put my hand on her tummy and say, more to the baby than to my wife, “You see that?  Take note.  You’re next, little fella.”

I kiss the baby and go to sleep, thinking about the restless nights that await me later this week with midnight feedings.

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