Naptime Chronicles: The Best Day of My Life

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The day my son was born was the best day of my life.

You know how in grade school they made you write essays with big, impossible questions, like describe the best day of your life? I never could. My life? I could barely remember the summer already rapidly escaping me. Man, I’d love to take a stab at that essay question now. I finally have an answer.

Well, why don’t I?

I’m a worrier. I was really worried my kid was going to be weird-looking. This is, of course, a superficial, even shameful worry. There are people in this world that can’t have babies, that have lost babies, that have had babies with serious health problems. And that’s exactly the thing: I’d lived through and survived each of those worries. The wife and I rode the trying-to-conceive roller coaster, experienced the various pregnancy worries and scares, ups and downs, and made it to the end of nine months pretty much assured of a healthy baby boy on his way.

So that’s where I was, with almost nothing left to worry about, except having a weird-looking baby. And here’s the next thing: it’s an “old life” worry. Once that kid comes out, once you see him for the first time, you’re forever in your new life, unable to go back. The changes are permanent.

Your hands change, no longer awkward and fumbly, but firm and steady, able to support the weight of the world. Put it here, kid, I can handle it. A parent’s hands.

Your face changes, no longer wide-eyed, but just slightly tired — both from waking up at 3AM to shush a screaming infant back to sleep — and from the knowledge that you’ll never know a place of complacency ever again. You’ll sleep, but never as soundly, always listening for him somehow, always watching over him somehow, even in your sleep.

Your worries change. I once worried about something as silly as my kid looking weird. Now I know better. They’re beautiful to you no matter what. There is no such thing as weird. You become blind, so totally blind.

Because you know what, he did look weird. At first. He was all scrunchy and curled up and screaming-hot-red-hornety, swollen from hormones and slathered in the new-baby-goop that the nurses put on the eyes. His limbs were fat and thin at the same time, wiggly and loose and purpleish; his face was blank-eyed and yet curious — an expression that you’ll have never seen in your life until you see it in the face of a newborn. It’s a jarring look. A weird look. It’s one he’ll quickly lose as he comes to know the world.

So yeah, he looked weird. I didn’t see it. I only see it now in the approximately 3,000 pictures I took. Instead, the first time I saw his face, I gasped at how perfect it was.

Perfection is like finding a good tomato. You feel them each in the grocery store, giving them each little squeezes like you even know what you’re evaluating here. What are you really squeezing for? Are you mentally calculating the juiciness of each tomato while quickly doing a complex trigonometric ratio analysis of weight to firmness?

No. You’re just standing there looking for a good one. A perfect one, whatever that means. You choose one. You go home with it. It’s all been a complete crapshoot. That perfect tomato you found might slice perfectly — beautiful, rounded, sweet slices — or it might just be a mealy sludgepile on the inside. Tomatoes, you see, are masters of disguise.

The first time I see my kid’s face, I can tell right away, his face is a perfect little tomato. I mean literally, it’s a tomato. It’s squishy, little cheeks chunked out and droopy, red and juicy and even a little sludgy.

Seeing that face for the first time, and knowing it was a very very good one — a perfect one — was the best moment of my life.

The rest of day was pretty cool, too. I’ve already described the leaving for the hospital. There’s the sort of adrenaline-pumping excitement of that. It’s like when you hear the hydraulic-release sound of the roller coaster when it first lets go. Whsssssssssk.

Then there was the labor and birth. It’s coolest thing I’ve ever seen, but I won’t go into detail. The rule of birth stories is like the rule of vacation pictures. You should never, ever subject someone to your vacation pictures. Pictures of other people doing super awesome things…are never really all that awesome. On the other hand, pictures of ME doing super awesome things IS ALWAYS really awesome. But you get the point.

So that picture of you standing, arms open, on the precipice of the Grand Canyon against the stunning blue backdrop of the sky and beyond? Kind of the same thing as how witnessing a birth was. Super, super awesome. A mind-blowing experience. Really, really cool. I recommend. Five stars, two thumbs up, ten out of ten.

They say the best dining spot at the Grand Canyon is the El Tovar. The pancakes with the prickly pear syrup are apparently to die for.

On the other hand, I don’t recommend the hospital cafeteria macaroni and cheese. It’s flaccid and not really yellow. You know that weird Crayola color, “goldenrod?” Hospital mac-and-cheese is the color of goldenrod, but you already knew that.

Having a kid is the best day of your life, but you already knew that, too.

50 Days of Summer: National Donut Day

By now someone on the Internet has told you it’s National Donut Day. Being on a somewhat perpetual non-committal diet post-newborn, I was going to resist. With places like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ giving out free donuts, it was cool and all, but not blow-my-diet cool.

Then I found out Entenmann’s was releasing a patriotic-sprinkled donut.

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HELLO I NEED YOU IN MY LIFE.

It combines that classic weird chocolate shell, that weird just-baked chemical taste, and sprinkles that evoke the Fourth-of-July and picnics and sun and fun and red dye 40.

I confess, my love for Entenmann’s is a nostalgic one. You know how some old people got stories about how they’ve smoked and drank everyday into their old age? My grandmother didn’t smoke or drink. Her drug of choice was chocolate Entenmann’s donuts. She was my dealer. She got me hooked.

Whenever I’d go over there to visit Mommom, she knew I liked those donuts, so she would stock up a few extra boxes. You know, just in case I uncharacteristically decided to eat like 50 in one sitting. Which would have been fine. She wouldn’t have even blinked. Binge-eating donuts would have been a total judgement-free zone.

Allow me to tell the story of visiting Mommom in meme form:

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Happy Donut Day, Mommom. I ate an Entemann’s in your honor…. and then I ate a second one just to make you happy.

50 Days of Summer: I Take My Kid to the Beach Mall

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I’m trying to get back into blogging in a big way, so I thought I’d start something called the 50 Days of Summer, where I’ll be posting summer awesomeness, all summer long. I’m promising 50 days, which averages four posts a week. Uhh. Yeah, okay. I can commit. I can do it! Between this and my ongoing Naptime Chronicles, in which I recount the first year of my kid’s life during his naps, this blog is going to be a total party zone.

So a few weeks ago, we went to Ocean City, Maryland for a few days. The wife got a new job where she is mondo important, so she does things like go to conferences at the beach. The kid and I tagged along.

To be sure, this is all a brave new world to me. While the wife was working, me and the kid had all of Ocean City to ourselves. So, uhh, what exactly do you even do with a 10-month-old at the beach, besides let him bang on the hotel sliding glass door like a gorilla, over and over?

The weather was rainy and in the 50s, so I decided it was time to take the kid on one of life’s most important rites-of-passage. We went to the beach mall. The sad, 1980s, dilapidated beach mall. It’s the kind of sadness you absorb like radiation. It’s hard on the eyes but good for the soul.

Too bad it’s under renovations and being cannibalized by a TJ Maxx. The sad beach mall is not for much longer. I knew this was a special moment between me and my son. Or something.

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This is basically all that was left of the beach mall. As you can see, the wet floor signs really were the main attraction. I promptly posed my son between them and backed up to take a picture. He became a little alarmed that I might abandon him in this forsaken place.

The smell of the place was port-a-potty and the lingering burning plastic of an old shirt decal press. Aside from the Italian Ice/Calzone place — with chances good being that the place served neither — there was just one other store open, a beach souvenir shop, which was in the process of being packed up for moving. Or fleeing.

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Then again, it’s entirely possible the store wasn’t going anywhere and just always looks like this — half packed up and half disheveled. It was silent and isolating as I walked around the store, and I felt like the only human around for miles and miles. Indeed, the shop owner treated me as such, promising to lavish me with “great deals” on whatever I bought. He watched me like a hawk, seemingly zoned in on my eyeballs, quick to shout out the amazing price of whatever my eyes glanced over. The thing is, the prices seemed like the same as they always are, everywhere else, all of the time.

Even though it sounds like I’m describing an awkward, intense, post-apocalyptic scene here, it really is just another day at the 80s beach mall. I was relaxed, enjoying the burnt decal smell, pushing my kid, and enjoying seeking out some hidden treasure in this shop. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is one of my ideas of heaven.

And hidden treasures I did find. Behold:

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Had I suddenly time-traveled to 1976? What was this doing here? An old stockroom find? Or perhaps it had been sitting here on this shotglass rack all along, just somehow not gotten purchased or moved once in the last forty years. I think I’d like to believe that one.

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The shop dude was shouting five dollars at me, like this was incredible deal on a shot glass, although that’s basically the price of every shot glass in Ocean City. But whatever. It belonged to me now.

Next treasure:

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DON’T BOTHER ME I’M CRABBY

Had I suddenly time-travel to 1994? Man, forget your BPA-free, flip-top, carabiner-toting, canteen-sytle, stainless-steel water bottle. THIS is a water bottle, people.

It’s all about that straw.

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This water bottle was pretty scratched up and had a ring of dirt on the bottom. But I didn’t care. I needed this water bottle. This was going to be my official water bottle of summer. This was going to be my official water bottle of life.

TEN DOLLARS, the man shouted at me, but I decided to haggle and got him down to four bucks, which is probably still extreme for a dirty, scuffed water bottle that should be lying fading in the sun on a boat that’s been parked in someone’s backyard for the last twenty years.

Alright, alright. 49 days of summer to goooo….

Naptime Chronicles: Leaving for the Hospital

A female road runner runs down a road at dusk at Independence Pass.

“There I am jogging down the road. Not just jogging — running. It’s freedom. I must be well over a mile in. I’m feeling great. I haven’t exercised in the past nine months of pregnancy due to bed rest, and I can’t believe my legs aren’t even sore. I’m hardly out of breath! I could go on for miles like this! I look down and see brand new running shoes with neon pink laces. Wow these shoes are amazing! I also see my huge pregnant belly. Wow, I’m running like a pro even though I’m nine months pregnant. Wait. That’s my bare pregnant belly staring back at me. Crap. I’m running down the road, like a pro, in my amazing shoes, nine months pregnant, and totally naked! Oh shit. I turn around. Luckily, no one is around to see this spectacle. Maybe I can make it home before anyone sees me. But wait, I’m not moving any more. I’m running in place, completely suspended. Now there is a couple jogging towards me. And now a car is pulling up behind me, too! This is mortifying.”

— The wife, dreaming, before suddenly waking up to her water breaking.

It was four in the morning. Less than five hours later, at 8:55 AM, our son entered the world. Most of that five hours was spent at home arguing over what time to leave for the hospital. The wife had this entire birth plan of laboring at home all day, and she wasn’t just sticking to it, she was militia-style enforcing it.

She says she has to act like that with me when I get like the way I get with things.

I have no idea what she means.

The wife announces her water has broken. It’s 4AM. I bolt awake from a dead sleep. You ain’t gotta rustle me awake. I can go from benzos to Red Bulls in seconds flat.

I immediately jumped up, grabbed the dog who sleeps in bed with us, carried her one-armed down the stairs, using my other arm to scoop up the hospital bags, and swiftly secured her in the dining room area. I did this without words, automatically, as though it were some kind of tornado safety drill. I have no idea why I did this, but the important thing was THE DOG IS SECURED, for reasons unknown.

I packed the car Tetris-style, automatically dressed myself in my outfit that I had carefully chosen weeks earlier, robo-called our families, forced down sustenance (err — I mean, cereal), and double-checked the security of the dog, our harmless fifteen pound poodle/beagle mix. She panted and quivered a little, nervously. The wife says I made her like this, a total weirdo, like me.

Whatever. THE DOG IS STILL SECURED (for reasons still unknown.)

ALL SYSTEMS ARE A GO.

Meanwhile, the wife is upstairs, half-casually packing her hospital bag and half folding some laundry, suggesting we take the dog for a walk.

Uhhh. The dog is already secured defcon five. So I made an alternate suggestion.

“Let’s call the doctor right now,” I said, with more firmness than fear in my voice, at least I like to think so.

“Calm down,” the wife said. I guess she heard more fear. “We have hours. I don’t even have contractions yet. I’ll call the doctor in a little bit.”

“Nope. We’re going to the hospital soon. Call now.”

“You didn’t read any of the baby books I wanted you to read, so now you’re freaking out because you have no idea how it works,” the wife lectured. “We have hours to go. I want to labor at home for awhile.”

I don’t know what she’s talking about. I did so read the books.

Well, no. I didn’t. I read something better, in fact. I read THE INTERNET.

Alright, I had to do some flash back now. Think. Think. What did I learn during all those birthing classes she dragged me to?

The wife has this new-agey hippy-dippy side — a side that likes yoga and meditation — and is open to trying to new things and new ideas. Despite her trying to get me to “come to yoga” with her for the last seven years of our relationship, I’m much happier being close minded and stiff in my lower back.

So when she had signed us up for something called a “comfort measures in birthing” class, I assumed it was just another standard birthing class through the hospital. That class had been an eight-hour marathon in which the fairy tale band-aid of where babies come from was ripped off — ripped directly off my eyeballs.

I didn’t know what a comfort measures class meant, except that the wife described it as a way to learn some all natural pain-coping mechanisms for birth. I assumed it was another band-aid to rip off, perhaps in gentler, all-natural way.

I also assumed the class was at the hospital, perhaps taught by the same burly war-storied nurse who had taught the last class, a woman who had described in great detail her experiences of pushing out three ten-pound babies. She didn’t just rip the band-aid off; she tightened the tourniquet, handed you a stick to bite down on, pulled out the amputation knife, and took off the whole limb. That’s a metaphorical way of saying that I learned the baby isn’t the only thing that comes out during birth.

Still, I like this methodology. I prefer this. Give me the amputation knife, plunge it directly into my chest. Give it to me. I can take it. The wife, on the other hand, prefers something called “comfort measures.” Those words again — and whatever they meant, were not taking place at the hospital or coming from the 1800s-era surgical nurse.

“Oh, the class is at somebody’s house,” the wife said, casually dropping this detail during breakfast, not realizing she had just spoken the most terrifying sentence in the course of humanity, even more so than “we’re going to a potluck dinner.”

“Whose house?” I asked cautiously.

“Oh you know, the doula’s house,” she said.

The wife had hired a doula to assist her during childbirth. It’s a non-medical professional woman who sort of plays a personal coaching role, providing comforting energy and experience. Basically it’s the opposite of me, who will be providing nervous pacing, nonsensical murmurings to self, and glasses of ice water, as needed.

So there we were a few hours later, sitting in a “share circle,” cross-legged in somebody’s house, with three other couples, birth balls, aromatherapy candles, and the doula — a small-framed, kindly-voiced woman whom you might mistake for a kindergarten teacher, if not for arm-sleeve tattoo and glint in the eye. It’s a glint that you’ll go over and over again in your mind, trying to figure out what it says, but whatever it says, you instinctively know not to cross it.

As for the other couples: there were the doctor-distrusting, home-birthing hardcore-ists. There were the neurotic hand-wringy couple who were overdressed — maybe they just got off work — but you get the sense they always dressed like that. Then there were the bubbly couple who looked like you might have run into them at the tiki-themed country bar in your old hometown. They were the ringers. That’s the only way I can explain them.

So what exactly are “comfort measures?” Well, I can tell you they are measures that would not comfort me. We learned techniques in little workshops, like holding a comb in one’s hands at certain pressure points, running a tasseled scarf along the body, or breathing in lavender oils. If I’m ever in pain, I can tell you holding a comb in my hand is not going to do shit. But the wife is open to all ideas, so she laid on the floor and I ran the tasseled scarf along her body, and the doula came over to correct my motion to a “massaging ocean-like” motion, and I listened because I wasn’t about to cross her.

GAH. WHAT DOES ANY OF THAT HAVE TO DO WITH REAL LIFE. WHAT THE HELL DO WE EVEN DO. HOW DO ANY OF US EVEN MAKE IT INTO THIS WORLD ALIVE.

Note: I’m currently over twelve-hundred words and three pages into describing leaving for the hospital. This is how the wife describes it, from her point of view:

1. We ate breakfast, showered, and packed up the car.
2. I was well aware of the time and we got to the hospital exactly at 7 AM.

She also sometimes tacks on number 3 — that I totally drove the wrong way to hospital, taking the way out of the neighborhood that entails driving over multiple speed bumps.

The next part of the story — the birth story is far less dramatic and embellished — because by now I’d taken a freaking Xanax to calm the fuck down. But it’s also a story that needs no drama or embellishments — it is simply the greatest moment of my life. But I’ll tell more, next naptime.

Naptime Chronicles: How to Start Writing Again

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I’ve got nearly a year of parenting under my belt. The kid is ten months old. I thought I’d write about this life experience all of the time, but writing took a back seat. Part of it has been the anti-anxiety meds I got on after my mom died. I enjoy the silence more than I would like. The silence has been a gift. I don’t hear the crazy thoughts, but I also struggle to hear anything at all. The words don’t come to me as easily. They don’t string into sentences which string into paragraphs as effortlessly. I don’t have that constant narrator going off in my head. And like I said, I enjoy the silence more than I would like.

That’s the part that also sucks.

I’d also spent some time trying to get my work out there, trying to get an agent for a manuscript I have. I got a couple really encouraging bites, and then after several months of waiting, I got turned down by each of them. After a bad break-up and rejection, it’s hard to get back into dating again.

I may not be ready to start dating again, but perhaps I’m ready to fill out my online profile. I like walks on the beach and puppies and staring directly into sun until my cornea bleeds. I have, in fact, used that line in an actual dating profile. No one ever responded. I wonder why. I’m so good-looking.

Ah, I also lived through the most transformative and exhilarating year of my life in having a son. I’ve been a bit busy.

That part rules.

Not writing is a dull and constant ache. That I can still feel the ache is a good thing. So here I am. I’ve been contemplating just opening the flood gates and writing about the year all at once. Today is a good place to start. Now is a good time to start.

Why now? Because the kid is napping and I’m just gonna see how much I can pound out in whatever precious minutes of alone time the Gods decide to grant me.

I’ve learned a lot about life in the past year. I’ve always thought you could learn about the world by either traveling or reading. Since I hate leaving too far from my little hole in the earth, I’ve always been an avid reader to make up for it. Let’s add parenting to the third way of learning about the world.

Traveler, reader, parent. They have a lot in common. They enlighten us and tire us in the same ways. Getting home from a long trip, finishing the last page of a book, or FINALLY getting the baby down for a nap finally exhausts us and pleases us in just the same way.

Whenever life begins to feel small, it’s good to take a car ride somewhere on an open road. Or to the library to grab a good book. And I guess that’s why the wife and I had decided to have a kid. Our lives had begun to feel small in a way that an ocean trip couldn’t fix that one summer. It had rained every day on that trip, and outwardly we chalked our glumness up to that.

Six months later the wife found out she was pregnant. Two days after that, my mom died.

Death also has a way of opening up the world for you, except in a wholly cosmic, core-of-the-earth-splitting, gravity-fucking sort of way. Life will become so overwhelmingly large that you find yourself staring into the white hot center of it. Stare long enough and you’ll go blind. Stare even longer and you’ll see life is nothing of importance, never was, never is, forever and ever, amen.

And maybe that’s true.

Deep down inside, it is true.

You’ve got to come back down from all that though. You’ve got to ground yourself from all that. I did six months of grief therapy. Lady told me when I was feeling like that to go stand outside barefoot in the grass. The ground. I don’t what else to say except that the ground is a very important place to be.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay. Besides, there’s nothing else better and the weather is nice most days than not.

I’ll stay here and I’ll raise my son, I’ll love my wife, and we’ll all take the dog on family walks. It’s easy get stoned on this blissfulness. And it’s hard to write while being so stoned on happiness and peace. There isn’t much exciting happening. Yesterday, the baby ate blueberries. The dog ate a foam ball. We don’t think either ingested very much however. Both spit the little pieces out everywhere, and it was an annoying mess to clean up.

But if I’m going to properly chronicle the year, I should start at the beginning, which was roughly four-o-clock in the morning, last July, when the wife sat up in bed and announced her water broke. Except I’ve got to end here for now. The Gods have deemed my time is up, nap-wise.