Friday, December 1, 2006


So, I'm a dad, the proud father of two. My son is two and a half (or 32 months, in the odd menstrual shorthand of which parents seem so fond), and my daughter was born just one month ago today. Admittedly, parenthood isn't a job for which I thought I'd be very well-suited. I have never harbored any illusions about my own maturity level (or, rather, lack thereof), and I had serious concerns about my adequacy at the outset. The levels of selflessness and vigilance and determination required to be successful as a parent, not to mention the sheer magnitude of redefinition one's lifestyle must weather, weren't so much frightening to me as they were awe-inspiring, and my torpid self-esteem allowed for only the most marginal confidence as I began this adventure.

To my great surprise, I have found that fatherhood has come quite naturally to me, and in fact now seems like the only truly worthwhile thing I've ever done with my life. Equally surprising was the revelation that this so-proclaimed "world's toughest job" is an absolute riot; though it is not without its myriad vagaries and struggles, of course, I certainly find myself laughing much more often than I am crying.

My son Jeremy (named for Jem Finch in 'To Kill A Mockingbird') is so very cool. He's at the amazing age when some new aspect of his blossoming individuality seems to manifest itself each day, and it's such a blast to watch a person appear from the ground up like that, magically; I can't get enough of talking to him, listening to him, studying the ways he interprets and interacts, watching him puzzle through the intricacies of the world and how it works. The time I get to spend with him, though never as much as I'd like, is always the highlight of any day, and for all my concern beforehand regarding the ways in which my life would change, I can scarcely remember what it was like without him.

Not too long ago, the possibility arose that I would be reminded in the most terrible way; at three months old, Jem was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal blood disorder that saw him enduring chemotherapy at four months old and a stem cell transplant two months later. With more than a little luck and grace and the most extraordinary pediatric medical care available anywhere in the world, we're thankfully out the other side of that darkness now. As 'out the other side' as one can ever be after such an experience, anyway; Jem is almost 100% healthy, but still, there are remnants, remainders. He grew sick at such an early age and was sustained on liquid nutrition through such a pivotal period of development that he never learned how to eat properly. This situation continues to improve, though we do still struggle with it, and despite the fact that we must continue to supplement his meager intake of solid food with four-per-day boluses of a prescription formula passed through a little plastic-and-rubber g-tube knob in his stomach (two inches or so to the northeast of his bellybutton). Sometimes I have to remind myself of his age and the fact that two-year-olds often don't eat very much, that it's actually fairly common behavior, circumstances notwithstanding. I wish it didn't require reminding myself.

He also just recently transferred from the care of the oncological team at the hospital where he was treated into what they call their Survivor's Clinic. The Survivor's Clinic is a new team of doctors assigned to kids who are two years post-transplant or into remission. The team's collective expertise is dedicated to the careful study of his physiology with special attention to the countless thousands of ways in which deliberate and sustained administration of radioactive chemicals into the human body can jack it all up. They run lots of tests that monitor his development and then do their best to utterly horrify us with the results. But we have to love them -- they mean well, really they do. Surely, they must.

Through it all, Jeremy has been wonderful, such a happy child, the picture of sweetness and intelligence and spirit. I hate to be one more parent who can't shut up about how their kid's the ideal, but seriously, folks -- the guy's a knockout, a total home run in the child department. He said two things tonight that I can't recall ever hearing him say before. The first was when he answered my wife Holly's admonition of "I love you, Jeremy" with "I wuff you too," and he now acts as though he will never respond to a declaration of love in any other way, having repeated it over and over all night, including when I tucked him into bed.

The second occurred while we were playing in the floor of his room before dinner. I was trying to clean up a bit, and he got distracted and wandered out of the room. About sixty seconds later, he reappeared in the doorway and said, "I'm back!" This kind of happiness is unquantifiable.

And now, as of thirty days ago, we also have a girl. Her name is Ella Caroline, and she is full of piss and something quite unlike vinegar. She also suffers the misfortune of bearing a marked resemblance to her father, but other than that lamentable business, she is perfect in every way.

Not much to say about a newborn, really -- they eat, they sleep, they cry to eat, they poop, they eat, they eat; they poop, they poop again, then pee on you, then puke on you, then sit there looking cute and very old, then sleep, then eat, and eat, and eat. And eat. Holly is working hard to cope with the extraordinary challenges of breastfeeding in addition to the enormous physical and mental strain of the surgery and the sleeplessness and the hormonal revolt, and I am doing a lot of housework and trying to lighten the mood by acting my usual silly self. For example, I have begun to use the term 'boob juice' when referring to breastmilk. Thus far, I have not found its usage to elicit the mirthful response I intended (alternatives under consideration: 'boobiefood', 'breastfruit' and 'teatloaf'.)

Somehow I had forgotten just what a very small thing is a newborn baby. Infants are so very tiny, in fact, that it always makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable to handle them. I realize that I am fully capable of doing so in a reasonably responsible manner, but still the naked reality of their fragility can be enormously intimidating to me. Wow, but this one's supercute though, man. She totally melts my heart. And I find that it's considerably easier to stop worrying so much about breaking them when you can cradle them against a chest filled with something like fresh-baked cookie inside.

I just stood up from where I've been writing this out and took a few steps around the kitchen to stretch my legs. It's almost two a.m., and Holly & Ella have been sleeping on the couch in the next room since before midnight. Standing in the doorway a moment ago, watching their breathing, the sleeping faces of my beautiful girls, I thought about how very lucky I am, and how some days I'm so tired I just want to whimper like a puppy, and how other days I'm so excited about my life that I'll sacrifice precious restful sleep for the equally rare opportunity to stay up late at the kitchen table singing love songs about it with a pen.