Saturday, March 27, 2004

some good news and some bad news

I had the luxury of sleeping in a bit this morning, and when I woke up, it was to the beautiful sight of my son’s sweet little face about nine inches from my own. Jem’s been having trouble sleeping in the bassinet lately, and for the last few nights he’s shared bunk with Holly and I. He was understandably unconscious, as he kept the two of us up pretty late last night, so I got to spend the first twenty minutes or so of my day just staring at him, watching his expression change as he dreamed about whatever two-week-old boys dream about. Nipples, I’m guessing. Just like thirty-year-old boys.

Before long, I heard the front door open and close. Holly came back to the bedroom to say good morning and check on the babe. She had made an early run to Wal-Mart for diapers and wanted to make sure I was awake. It was about ten minutes till eight.

We boys stayed in bed for a while longer. Jem started to wake up, and we chatted quietly about how adorable he is as his tiny fists opened and closed and his eyes worked themselves further open. Perhaps five or six minutes passed before Holly returned.

“Hey, honey? Some lawn truck just backed over our mailbox.”

Aw, crap. So much for lazy Saturday.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, exactly. I was sitting at the kitchen table and heard an awful noise from the driveway. When I got up and looked out the front window, I noticed that the ChemLawn truck that had been parked across the street was gone, and our mailbox was flattened.”


“Totaled. History. All our mail is blowing around in the middle of the street.”

“Oh, man.”

Holly went out to retrieve our bills and what was left of the mailbox from the roadway, and I pulled myself out of bed and shambled into the living room, still wearing my clothes from the previous night. She came back through the front door, holding up the remains of our mailbox between thumb and forefinger like a dead animal. It was utterly demolished, gone from regulation height to an inch and a half of bent tin with one swift, bumper-scraping miscalculation. Even the flag was crushed and folded like the bellows of an accordion.

“Wow,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “What’re we gonna do?”

“I’m gonna make some phone calls.”

I pulled out our telephone book and flipped back to the Yellow Pages, to ‘Lawn Care and Maintenance,’ and found the number for the local ChemLawn office. A customer service representative connected me with Bill, the supervisor, who confirmed that they had a truck dispatched to our subdivision that morning. He was very cooperative and said that he’d send the truck driver back to talk to me. Feeling rather full of myself for having advanced the matter so efficiently, I cracked the top on a Coke and settled down on the sofa to wait for the driver.

It only took him about five minutes to return. He was a younger guy, wearing a long goatee Pharaoh-style and his ChemLawn cap backwards on his head. We talked for a moment, and it didn’t take long before I realized that he wasn’t the one responsible for the destruction of our mailbox. I consider myself a fairly good judge of character, and I could tell that this guy probably wouldn’t have just driven away from the scene of an accident, much less continue to deny the allegation once he’d been called on it. We talked about how it is against ChemLawn’s policy to use driveways to turn around, and he even said he’d considered using our driveway before deciding against it, instead choosing to drive to the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. He also gave me a rundown of the other cars on the street at the time he was there, as well as giving me the tip that any chemical maintenance company of their variety, be it lawn care or pest control, is required by law to put a sign in the treated yard which identifies the treatment and the company, and that I might determine what if any other company had been in the area this morning by trolling the neighborhood for those signs. Thoroughly convinced of his innocence, I thanked him for his trouble and let him go.

Frowning, I walked out to the end of the driveway to think. Holly seemed so sure that his truck had been the one. As I stood there, a tow truck passed me. I turned and followed its progress down the street to where it stopped two houses down. There was a police car there, and an officer was speaking to another resident at the end of his own driveway. A few words of their conversation drifted up the street – ‘not mine’ and ‘over there’ and ‘I don’t know’ – but not enough to determine what the trouble was.

Then I noticed the nondescript white truck that they seemed to be gesturing towards, the one in front of which the tow truck was lining up. It looked from my view to have been backed up into the man’s driveway, but the houses in our neighborhood aren’t particularly close together, and I couldn’t really tell from where I stood. I decided to mind my own business and turned back towards our front door, heading inside to regroup.

Human beings are a funny species. It’s amazingly smug how we think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution when our brains are as lazy as they are. Case in point is the following thought process of my very own, a series of torpid connections that I would love to blame on having recently woken from a deep sleep but have trouble honestly doing so. You be the judge.

As I’m walking back up the drive towards the house, I’m looking at Holly’s parked Cavalier. We usually keep her car in the garage, as its back seat holds the base for the baby’s car seat, and parking it in the garage prevents us from having to bring the baby out into the wind when we’re going somewhere. It’s a two-car garage, but there are still so many boxes in it from the move that it only has space for one of our two vehicles right now. So I’m walking up the driveway, looking at her car and wondering to myself, Why’d she park the truck in the garage? I knew she’d taken my pickup to Wal-Mart because I’d needed gas, and she’d planned to fill it up for me.

Then I remembered our conversation from the previous evening. The three of us had driven the mile to her brother’s house to eat grilled, beer-boiled bratwurst (which I love dearly and cannot resist, regardless of the price my digestive tract has to pay for the pleasure of their consumption), and as we were leaving our house, Holly commented that she hadn’t locked the garage because she didn’t know how. We had a short, genial conversation about how approximately 1/3 of everything we own is in that garage and the importance of keeping it locked, after which I promised to teach her how the mechanism worked at some point during the day today.

Recalling this, I thought, Wait. She doesn’t know how to open the garage.

Then where the hell is my truck?

I had stopped there in the driveway, still staring at Holly’s car, and my gaze turned slowly from her back bumper to the police car and tow truck in front of the neighbor’s house two doors down. The police car, and the tow truck, and my white pickup truck.

Oh, shit.

I literally slapped my own forehead with the flat of my palm as all the seemingly disparate pieces of the puzzle suddenly flew together, and I turned and ran across the front yard towards the cop.

When I finished filling out the police report and retrieving my fortunately undamaged pickup from where it had come to rest against a fortunately undamaged Jackson County power box, I went back in the house to tell Holly the story.

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” I said. “The good news is I figured out who backed over our mailbox. The bad news is it was you.”


“Do you happen to remember engaging the parking brake on my truck when you got back from the store this morning?”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yeah.”

After we managed to stop laughing, her first comment was, “Dude, I told you having this baby made me stupid,” followed shortly thereafter by, “We really need a flatter driveway, you know?”

“Would you settle for a flatter mailbox?”

Thursday, March 25, 2004

fun with dookie

This parenting business - I don't know. It makes you kind of disgusting and ridiculous, doesn't it? After only two weeks as a father, I'm already noticing behavior in myself that I never could have imagined enacting before. Sick, distasteful stuff that seems perfectly normal at the time but retrospectively makes me feel like sort of a lunatic.

At the forefront of these newfound crackpot credentials of mine is a preternatural fascination with the stuff what shoots out of my son's tiny butthole. The trouble started, I believe, with a statement made by the lactation specialist who taught our breastfeeding class at the hospital. We were making lists of the pros and cons of breastfed vs. bottlefed when someone piped in from the back of the class:

"Their poop doesn't stink."

Right, I thought to myself, smiling. Their poop doesn't stink.

"Right," the teacher echoed, her voice completely absent of the sarcasm that had accompanied my own thought. "Their poop doesn't stink."

Wait... What? Really?!? Holy cow, how is that possible? For months, I had been anticipating the horrible, eyebrow-melting stench of baby crap as it is portrayed in every movie and television show I've ever seen, and now I find out that this disgust can be deferred?

I was glad we had taken seats in the back of the classroom, because I'm fairly certain I was making weird clicking noises in the back of my throat to accompany this interior monologue. Once I regained my senses, I looked around the room and found no one staring at me strangely, so I guess no one heard.

But honestly, I never really regained my senses. The first time Jeremy pooped (once the tarry black nast that is meconium was well out of his system, that is), I made sure I was front and center to test these odorless assertions. And whaddya know? It's true! It still looks pretty awful, and certainly unlike any crap you've ever seen before, but no stink! Not completely without smell (bearing instead a strange, slightly chemical tincture, like mild PVC adhesive), but light enough to be inconsequential.

My curiosity thus satisfied, one would think I'd move on to weightier items of interest, no?


See, it seems that breastfed babies' rectal emissions also somewhat retain the scent of whatever Mom has most recently eaten. For example, some friends of ours came over this past Sunday afternoon and made a huge pan of lasagna for us. The idea was that neither my wife Holly nor myself have saved much energy for cooking lately, and this deep-dish Italian treat was something on which we could feed for several days without the concern of further meal preparation. However, neither Holly nor myself have saved much energy for grocery shopping lately, either. As there was virtually nothing else in the house, Holly had lasagna for pretty much every meal since, and the pan was empty by Monday night.

Imagine my surprise upon changing Jeremy's diaper last night and finding the smell of lasagna greeting me from within it. I was so impressed, I even ran the diaper into the bedroom to give Holly a whiff. And this is the level of freakishness to which I've sunk.

Anyhow, I'm obviously not trying to pretend this is acceptable behavior. I think I'm just looking for a little confirmation that I'm not the only guy out there who views these first stages of parenthood as sort of a big science experiment. 'Cause this machine we've made is bewitching me. Even its dinky, not-so-stinky exhaust pipe.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


1pm, Tuesday March 9th, 2004. Sitting on our small patio out back, feeling the breeze on my face, 60 degrees and sunny. A van passes down the long dirt road that runs behind a protective row of Leyland Cypresses that border the far edge of our backyard, and a plumed line of rising white dust marks its wake. There is a drywall contractor’s crew at work in the unsold house next door, and its hammering is strangely soothing, perhaps a throwback to cherished afternoons from my youth spent in the company of my father, who himself once owned a contracting business and would sometimes take me along to job sites to watch him work and pretend I was helping. He’d pack two lunches, or we would buy matching cans of Beanee Weenie, sodas, and a bag of chips at a nearby convenience store. We’d choose a spot on the site, a seat of concrete or unsanded plywood, and eat the beans and franks cold from their cans with plastic spoons, and share our chips, and talk. Eventually we would go back to work, which meant I’d be using discarded scraps of 2x4 like splintery building blocks in a corner, constructing a rickety castle with rows of bent ten-penny nails lining its parapets while Dad hung sheetrock or framed doors and windows. The wind would blow across the foundation slab, and the same sounds and smells would float over into my little fortified corner that I am sensing this afternoon, here in this place so far removed from who I was then.

Now I am also father to a son.

Fifteen minutes shy of twelve hours ago, I was sitting on the sofa, watching an episode of Beavis and Butthead (which MTV2 has recently begun re-broadcasting, much to my inner 16-year-old’s delight), when I heard Holly call down the hall from the bedroom. Enrapt by the flickering foul-mouthed figures before me, I caught nothing of what she said, only its urgent, forceful tone. I pawed at the remote (note: the mute button, not the power – I am a man, after all) and called out to her in return.

“What, honey?”

“We need to go!”

And a long beat, which probably wasn’t all that long but certainly seemed to stretch out over several miles, followed finally by the clarifying, “I’m pretty sure my water just broke, and we really need to go.”

I believe I may have tried to vault over the back of the sofa à la someone much more graceful than I, but all I remember clearly was my eventual stumbling burst through the bedroom door to find soaked bedclothes and a particularly pitiful-looking Holly standing sheepish with a mushy wad of toilet paper in her hand.

“You know, honey – I think you might be right about your water breaking,” I said with a smile. Unable to help herself, she grinned back.

“Just shut up and help me.”

Like a fool, I immediately began to clean up the mess, mopping at the carpet with a towel and stripping the bed. When Holly came out of the bathroom from changing clothes and saw me there in the floor, the earlier moment’s glibness abruptly vanished.

“Do you realize we live twenty-five minutes from the hospital? Leave it! Get up! We’ve got to go!!!”

Oh, yeah, I heard in my head, in Butthead's voice.

“What’s wrong with you,” I heard her ask rhetorically as she walked away from me down the hallway. In my rush to keep up with her, we left absolutely everything at home – Holly’s clothes and sundries, the baby’s going-home outfit, the camera, the birth plan, everything. Ultimately, I suppose, it didn’t matter very much, considering nothing else went as planned, either.

We managed somehow to survive the drive to the hospital (with my beautiful wife repeatedly snapping at me that if I drove the speed limit, “we’re not gonna make it,” and me reasoning that if we all died in a high-speed collision on the way there, then it “wouldn’t make much difference, would it?”), outside of which I initially walked right away from the running car, keys dangling musically in the ignition, to help her inside until she stopped and pointed out to me what I’d done (or, rather, hadn't done). Registration, elevator ride, and suddenly we were in the birthing room, prepping for a quick ultrasound to verify the baby’s position. The whole process, in fact, has seemed much like that – rushing past me at high speed, and my neck whiplashing back and forth to catch a frame or two of the action, as if I were trying to stand on a subway platform and read the painted registration numbers from a specific car in a passing train.

The ultrasound showed that the kid was still breech. I knew Holly was upset about this, as she had desperately wanted to deliver naturally, but she and I both wanted whatever procedure would be safest for the two of them. After speaking to an anesthesiologist, the staff wheeled her away to be spinally tapped and likewise epiduralized, and I was left alone for a moment, awaiting further instructions. A nurse brought scrubs and a hat and a mask and those slippery paper shoes for me to wear, and I began to dress up as a doctor, grateful for something to keep me occupied while I waited. When the nurse returned, I was fully decked out in my ER gear, and I bounced up from my chair like a jack-in-the-box.

“Are they ready?” I asked.

“Well, there’s been a problem.”

Okay, not at all what I wanted to hear, lady. What is it with you healthcare professionals and your dramatic pauses? May I remind you that this is real life and not a script? Please explain yourself quickly and economically before I start hardcore freaking out, please.

“The anesthesiologist wasn’t able to find the spinal space.”

Again with the pausing. I wasn’t saying anything at all, merely standing there zombie-like with my mouth hanging open, but inside my head I was screaming WHAT?!? JUST TELL ME, BITCH! IS SHE PARALYZED? IS SHE DEAD? WHAT? WHATWHATWHAT!!!

“There is such a curvature in her spine that he couldn’t successfully administer the epidural, so they’re going to have to use a general anesthetic instead. Someone will come and get you when the baby is delivered.”

And that was that. Hundreds of dollars and twenty-plus hours invested in birthing classes, and yet, in the end, the full extent of my coaching was to stroke a few strands of her hair from her eyes before they wheeled her bed away. I spent the following twenty to thirty minutes of non-labor pacing the floor like a ‘50s cliché, minus the cigarettes (but only because they wouldn't allow it). If I am honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous in my entire life as I was for that brief span of time. Strangely, though, I wasn’t nervous about the operation; I may hate doctors, but I have relative confidence in their collective abilities. Instead, I was nervous about meeting him. Heart-poundingly, gut-knottingly so. I didn’t have all the action and distraction of the typical delivery room experience to divert my attention and diffuse the emotion of my first encounter with the person I helped create and now plan to raise, to teach and soothe and entertain and love and protect and cherish with every ounce of everything I am. And if the idea of that task doesn’t give you cramps, you’re much tougher than me.

Then he came rolling down the hall, and he was all sticky and vernix-dusted and cuter than a truckload of buttons, and my anticipation vanished. He was still crying from the manhandling he’d no doubt received in the operating room, so I picked him up, tucked his tiny swaddled body into my arms, and said, “Hey there.”

The crying stopped instantly, and he struggled to open his sensitive eyes far enough to catch a narrow glimpse of me, of my face and the smile that all but enveloped it. I had to wonder if he’d ever opened them before, which called to mind the way ducks and chickens will 'imprint' upon the first thing they see when they hatch. Then, for the rest of their lives, these birds will get upset any time the person or object is taken away, and can only relax again once it returns.

“Imprint to your little heart’s content, pal,” I whispered into his tiny, perfect ear. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”

Have a cigar, gang, and celebrate with me the birth of Jeremy Robert, my son, born March 9th at 2:44am. 6 pounds, 7 ounces, 19 inches long, and mom and baby are healthy and happy. Dad, on the other hand, is positively delirious.

Wait’ll you see the pictures. No kidding, he’s gonna melt that protective plastic sheeting right off your monitor’s screen. I offer my cherished readers fair warning, however – I may never write about anything else again. ‘Cause nothing else could ever compare.

Saturday, March 6, 2004

my wife; my life

My wife is so amazing. I have studied her perhaps more carefully over the course of this pregnancy than even the fastidiousness that my passion for her has previously inspired, and I am repeatedly awed by the things I discover, the fresh intricacies I uncover, by the many ways she continues to bloom before me as a human being.

For example: I have often wondered about the meandering, seemingly irresolute nature of her commitment to the study of medicine and nursing. Most times, when she speaks of it, there is such a fiery drive in her voice that I must marvel at the contradictory ambivalence of her academic history. Though her recent attempts at reviving these scholarly pursuits have yielded the finest marks of her career as such, the accompanying pedagogic timeline would appear to betray a distinct lack of dedication.

It is only over the past nine months’ time that I have begun to realize the true inspiration for her interest in such knowledge. I could be wrong about this hypothesis of mine, and I don't necessarily believe she would admit to its truth even if she were aware of it, but I have come to believe it almost absolutely. This earnest belief is that she doesn’t actually want to be a nurse at all, and never has. All these years, she's merely been studying to be a mother, as soldiered against the myriad possibilities for attack and circumstance as she can possibly be.

The most recent checkup found our son to be holding his previous breech presentation in a manner every bit as stubborn as his two parents’ respective wills. Provided he waits long enough, our doctors have scheduled a delivery by Cesarean section for the 26th of March. In less than three weeks, I’ll be a father.

I have never been happier about anything in my life.

My life has become about boxes.

At work, I am preparing for the first big race of the season, which is taking place down in Sebring, Florida on the first day of spring. The last of my coworkers left for Florida last night. Because of my pending visit from the stork, I have been left to handle everything on this homebound end of the spectrum, which is a considerable management task for a reasonably sized and well-trained cadre of individuals, much less one single sleepy man. These duties largely consist of merchandise splits between locations and the packing of these split goods for shipment down to the Sunshine State. Thus far, I believe I am holding my ground quite admirably.

In addition, I closed on a new house about a week and a half ago, sat down at a thick wooden table beside a lawyer named Beau and signed eighty or so autographs, and now I own a three-bedroom, two-bath mortgage with a spacious two-car garage and two heavy rocking chairs on its narrow front porch. At night, when I am not shuffling furniture or boxes of books from the aforementioned garage (which may not actually hold cars for many months) into their designated corners of the place, I can sit on the back patio and listen to cows lowing in the distance. I can stare up into the vastness of the sky, at the stars above me, and it really seems as though I’m looking at every single one of them, even the dimmest sparks reflecting across time and space from the farthest corners of the universe.

As always, this somehow makes me feel simultaneously infinitesimal and enormous, like the fleeting memory of a wonderful dream.