Tag Archives: secondborn

Return Week: Questions and Questions

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“Where do babies come from?”

It’s an easy question. One of the easiest, really. If you’re a parent, you know where babies come from, and the answer really is quite simple, no matter how squeamish you may feel in talking about it with your children.

My wife and I have no problem with that question.

It’s the questions with difficult answers that trip me up.

Every year, my family attends the Memorial Day service at the cemetery near our house. We hear “The Gettysburg Address” from a sort-of Lincoln impersonator, listen to a quartet sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and clap for the men and women who stand and salute when their respective military-branch theme songs are played. As parents, my wife and I are upfront about death.

But as easy as it is to explain to our kids that lungs or a heart or a brain can stop working, it’s difficult to explain why someone would make that happen to someone else.

How do I answer my newly 5-year-old secondborn when she asks, “Daddy, why do we have wars?”

I hate not being in control, not having the answers. I hate it when that same daughter asks me why her stomach is hurting and what I can do to stop it from hurting. Every night. Short of continuing to take her to the doctor for tests, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t have an answer.

I’m still asking questions myself: What drove a frustrated 22-year-old to kill six people in Santa Barbara? Why do gunmen attack children in schools? What will I tell my children when they first hear such reports, when they first receive and comprehend the news that in another school, another classroom, kids just like them were killed—for no reason?

After the ceremony at the cemetery, my firstborn, just about to turn 7, told me that she wants to join the Air Force, like my dad. I told her that if that’s really what she chooses to do with her life, I would support her, but in the meantime, I would try to talk her out of it.

“Why?”

I struggled for an answer.

“Because I would be afraid,” I finally admitted. “I would be afraid that you would die.”

She was undeterred—because Grandpa didn’t die—but I’m not too concerned. She only recently wanted to be a fashion designer/entomologist, which was a career choice that may or may not have involved her creating dresses inspired by insects. I was never clear on the specifics.

I’m not clear on a lot of things.

What if my secondborn’s stomach doesn’t stop hurting?

What if the tests reveal something bad? Something terrible?

What if one of my children does join the military? Sees combat? Disappears from my life?

What if not all of my children outlive me?

What can I do that I’m not already doing?

These are the tough questions. Or, more accurately, these are the tough answers to find.

“Where do babies come from?”

Please. Sperm and an egg are a walk in the park.

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The Party You Are Trying to Reach is Unavailable

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The text from my wife read, “We’re at the movie. I had 2 shots of honey bourbon before we left (yay for not driving)! Feeling very luxurious. I love you!”

I didn’t encourage my wife to go out with a friend this evening to earn any special treatment from her, but the thought of her buzzed and happy and feeling thankful when she got home certainly made me optimistic for, well, the sort of evening that unfolds when my wife is buzzed and happy and thankful.

I put away dinner and got all three kids into their pajamas at the closest to bedtime we’ve been all week. The thirdborn, at 19 months old, has a strict routine he wants to follow every night. It involves a particular book about a puppy (which I couldn’t find tonight), and humming a hymn, and holding hands to pray, and turning a white noise generator to “ocean waves,” and hugging three stuffed animals before pushing them away, and then flopping around forever. My wife usually goes through most of this routine with him in our room while I read three stories to the girls in their room.

My firstborn lost two stories today for behavior issues, which presented a logistical problem akin to getting a fox, a chicken, and a sack of grain across the river. The girls would share one story together. The secondborn would get two more stories apart from her older sister. The boy didn’t want to stay in the girls’ room, and I didn’t want to leave the oldest alone while everyone else went into my room and tried to go to sleep.

So I read everybody a story in the girls’ room, then switched rooms and put my firstborn in my bed and equipped her with headphones plugged into an iPad playing Disney Pandora. I hunkered down on a mattress on the floor with the second- and thirdborn. We read two stories—substituting a second-favorite book about ladybugs for the missing book about the puppy—then turned out the lights.

Surprisingly, it all worked.

My son rolled and kicked, and my secondborn curled up on my legs, but everybody nodded off, one by one. When the last kid started breathing in that heavy “now I’m sure he’s asleep” way, I extricated myself from the tangle, congratulated myself on successfully figuring out the bedtime puzzle, and headed out of the room to do a little last-minute cleaning.

Upon descending the stairs I saw—serendipitously!—my wife just arriving at the back door. I went to let her in. And noticed her tear-filled eyes.

“Are you OK?” she asked, somewhere between a frantic gasp and a sob.

Before I explain why she asked that, let me set some more of the scene:

My son has recently figured out how to open our front door. During this past rainy weekend, I heard it slam and looked out our front window to see the guy purposefully limping down toward the street, one foot shoved into a yellow boot, the other bare. Tonight, I made sure I locked it. I’m getting into the habit.

I locked the back door behind me when I came home from work.

I often turn off my work cell phone in the evening, because it’s my work cell phone.

I left my personal cell phone in the girls’ room when I decided to move everybody into ours. I left my laptop in there, too.

The portable phone in our room (yes, we still have a land line) never made it back onto its charging base the last time we got a call (I’m note sure when that was, because only my parents, the blood bank, and telemarketers call the land line). Its battery had died.

We usually keep a window or two cracked in our bedroom for airflow, but we closed them both during the aforementioned recent rains and haven’t reopened them.

Got all that?

Here are the texts my wife sent me later in the evening, about half an hour before I came downstairs:

“I’m home and locked out.”

“Please let me in the house.”

There were also messages on my phone (“Hello? It’s your wife! I’m locked out of the house. Can you let me in please?”) and the house answering machine.

The Facebook message she sent read, “I’m locked out of the house.”

The white noise generator and faint strains of “Hakuna Matata” coming from my daughter’s headphones, coupled with my humming “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for my son, apparently drowned out my wife’s shouts from the driveway. And her pounding on the doors. And the doorbell.

My trip downstairs to find her knocking on the back door was serendipitous only in that her own cell phone battery had just died and she was out of options for trying to reach me.

But she really liked The LEGO Movie.

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Birthday Week: The Eve

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My secondborn opted to not have a meltdown until after the five-hour car trip, which is, I suppose, a small mercy.

After an immensely draining day at work, a five-hour drive, and more shoving aside fears of flying tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. than I can count, I was ready to collapse into bed and get, say, four hours of sleep. But my 4-year-old decided that she didn’t want to sleep in her own guest bed. She didn’t want to sleep anywhere but with my wife and me (and, by default, the baby), which made my 6-year-old want the same thing. There was weeping. Mostly hers.

She’s settled down now, but she’s like that. Earlier this week, she began sobbing that her tummy hurt, telling me of the pain in her most desperate voice, only to immediately stop and tell me it didn’t. I think she was just on autopilot from the day before when she was throwing up every 20 minutes or so for 18 hours; she’d just gotten so use at shouting her ailment and my wife and me, routine briefly took over.

She seems to be fine now. The tears have stopped.

I fly in the morning.

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Birthday Week: Kicking Worry

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As I noted over the weekend, my daughters each started an activity recently: softball for the 6-year-old and ballet for the 4-year-old. My wife and I committed the family to months of weekly or multi-weekly activities. The girls loved the first days of their respective pursuits and went to bed happy. My wife and I celebrated by watching the Bronies documentary streaming on Netflix that night. It made us both get all teary eyed.

Last week ended well, but this week didn’t start off so great. My 4-year-old woke me at 4:45 a.m. on Sunday asking for water, then more water, then some food. She had refused to eat dinner the night before, so I guessed she was fairly hungry. I made her a bowl of cereal and toast. At about 6 a.m., she started throwing up, an activity that—unlike ballet—continued for another 14 or 15 hours.

On Monday, I wasn’t feeling great—nobody in the family was, except for our first grader—so everyone (but the first grader) stayed home. And though she was keeping down food at that point, my secondborn then declared, sobbing, that her throat hurt. Of course, throwing up for an entire day will make anyone’s throat raw, but I immediately began worrying about antibiotic-resistant strep throat, since she had strep a month earlier.

Before you judge me, know that I’m about to fly soon—I’m heading to New Orleans for the Dad 2.0 Summit later this week—and I’m a terrified flyer in the best of times. Louisiana is currently in the grip of what meteorologists are calling a “once-in-a-generation winter storm.”

Tie all that up with a particularly stressful season at work and you’ll get an idea of why my mind is racing many miles a minute.

I’ve written about dread before in the Shallows, and that’s what really gets me: Dread that something bad will happen on (or to) my flight. Dread that my kid will get really sick. Dread that the flight will be fine, but my kid will be seriously sick while I’m far away.

My trip is coinciding with my 35th birthday. Here’s to hoping that 35 marks a year of less worry—less to worry about and less energy given to worry from my end. On that note, I’ll be writing Worry Wednesday posts only occasionally. I’ll still write on Wednesdays, but I don’t want to give all of them over to what’s eating away at me. I still want to leave that door open, though, since there’s something therapeutic about pouring it all out.

Sometimes.

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Awkward Week: Up to Bat

I have little to no athletic ability. Sure, I can sink wadded up balls of paper into across-the-office trash cans—typically when no one’s looking—and I play a pretty mean game of table tennis, but I’ve never played team sports or anything. Not really.

My wife swam in high school, but she isn’t what anyone would call athletic either.

As our firstborn has demonstrated both talent and interest in sports, we figured it would be a good idea to get her into something official, hence our first-ever foray onto a softball diamond this afternoon. Actually, my mom played softball for years, but I usually spent her games looking for bottlecaps.

I’m not a sports guy, if you couldn’t tell.

I’ve tossed a ball around with my 6-year-old from time to time, so she at least understands the concept of throwing and catching, but as I walked her toward the sign-in tables and paired-off lines of girls lobbing (overhand!) pitches into each others’ mitts, I realized that I should’ve talked to her a little more about the game.

“Do you know what you do after you hit the ball?” I asked her, pointing to home plate as we passed. “In a game, after you hit it?”

She thought for a moment, then: “Throw it back?”

“You run,” I said. “Run to first base.”

I got a blank look in return.

Fortunately, based on my observations from this morning, she’s a quick study and will likely trick everyone into thinking her parents know at least a little bit about softball. I mean, she’s not perfect right off the bat or anything, but she’s confident and has good hustle and is coordinated enough to actually connect a bat with a ball, or later throw that same ball in the direction she intends it to go.

I’m excited and nervous about this new phase in parenting, in life. I don’t know the team sports environment, either from personal experience or as the parent of a participant since this is so new.

We also chose today to start dance lessons for our 4-year-old, so we felt like cliche parents today for the first time: loading three kids into the minivan and shuttling everyone from home to rehearsal to home to practice to home.

So it begins.

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Outside Week: Worry Wednesday

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Taking the kids outside of the house means exposing them to germs. Forget fresh air; people don’t cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze around town.

Since I can’t actually isolate my children, they do get sick. My son started getting a fever on Tuesday evening—101.4 going up to 102—which pretty much shut me down with worry for the rest of the night. Yes, despite me knowing that it’s not even that high of a fever.

It’s not so much worry as it is dread, I think. Author Orson Scott Card once wrote about dread: “It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is. The fear that comes when you first realize that your spouse should have been home hours ago; when you hear a strange sound in the baby’s bedroom; when you realize that a window you are sure you closed is now open, the curtains billowing, and you’re alone in the house.”

(I’m pretty sure that’s what I remember reading from a story collection of his back in high school. I couldn’t find the quote firsthand, so I turned to the Internet for help and can’t vouch for its total accuracy. I mean, it seems fine, but often so do words of wisdom mistakenly attributed to Einstein and Lincoln.)

Anyway.

At bedtime, I read a story packed with similes to my girls, and we took turns practicing creating some of our own: “We are as cozy as … ”

“Mice!” my firstborn said.

“We’re as sleepy as … ”

“Mice!” she said again.

I then turned to specifics of our family, saying one girl was as sweet as … and the other was as fun as … . Then I threw out: “Your brother is as sick as … ”

“A sick baby!” my secondborn shouted.

While my firstborn said, “Cancer!”

The little dude’s fever was gone the next day, and I know modern medicine has relegated to folklore the idea of teething causing a temperature rise, but darned if he didn’t have a giant tooth sticking out of his gums where there was just a little sliver of white before.

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Outside Week: The Sun

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I don’t get outside as much as I should. I don’t take the kids out as much as they should get out, either.

I see photos of other parents taking their children out for bike rides or hikes and wonder, Where do they get the time? And, more importantly, Where do they get the energy?

Part of the problem is that my wife and I start the bedtime routine at 6:30—a time requested by my exhausted firstborn when she began kindergarten. By the time I get home from work and we all eat dinner, there’s not many minutes left for a trip anywhere.

Sure, I suppose we could take a walk around the block. And as I type this, I’m wondering why we don’t. And as I type that, I’m remembering that a simple stroll through our complex is anything but, since one kid will start complaining that she’s tired and wants to be carried, which will prompt the other to want to be carried—both by the same parent, both on the shoulders. Since that’s physically impossible, it becomes a fight.

In preparation for a jog-a-thon at my firstborn’s school earlier this year, she suggested training by running laps around our complex in the mornings. We tried it, and the first attempt started strong with a burst of enthusiastic speed, followed by a dawdling hunt for sticks and leaves that resembled letters so she could spell her name out of items from nature.

It’s not like we’re cave dwellers. We do take walks, and by “we” I mean “my wife and kids while I’m at work.” We aim to get out and about on the weekends: to local parks, usually. When it’s warmer, we swim at the pool or play games in the spa. And we just signed up my firstborn for softball and my secondborn for ballet, so there’s activity right there.

I don’t really have any good excuses for not getting out more, though. I mean, I do have excuses, but they’re not good ones. And I certainly don’t want to be mumbling something about tight schedules while my pasty children shield their eyes and hiss toward the sky, “The yellow face! It burns us!”

How do you incorporate the outdoors into your (presumably) busy life?

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Imagination Week: The Pool

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My girls love going to the spa/pool at the center of our condo complex. A trip there can be a bit difficult, since the 6-year-old wants to spend her time in the cold water, while the 4-year-old wants to stay in the warm water. I have to act as a sort of mediator, saying, “Well, now, it’s not that frigid over here” and “Sweating is good for you! If you’re too hot, just sit on the edge there for a while.”

What the girls do agree on, however, is that they’re mermaids. They love to play the Mermaid Game, which can range from the two of them being mermaids that I’m trying to catch—either to eat or to put into an aquarium or mer-jail—to the three of us being mer-folk in search of treasure.

I have a lot of fun seeing where their imaginations take us, but I do often end up mediating once again.

My firstborn once declared that our mer-journeys would take us to “the Depths of Dismay—the Depths of Spain.” That meant the pool. We jumped in there, then found ourselves pulled back to the spa by my secondborn.

The girls were actually very good about pushing for their respective path through the game. Nobody got angry or rude. Still, it was a bit like a war of imaginations. My firstborn likes to set up elaborate scenarios that will take us to, say, every filter in the spa and pool. My secondborn tends to solve such pretend dilemmas very easily.

“I found a map!”

“Me too!”

“It says there are four treasures.”

“I found them all!”

“No, it says that those are not the real treasures. The real ones are in the deepest—”

“My octopus got them!”

I can usually get the girls to take turns leading the story, which typically turns into a cold vs. hot adventure, with me bearing the brunt of the constant temperature shifts. Still, the sunken chests packed with gold, pearls, and various gems and jewels make it worth it—as do my girls’ pruney fingers and satisfied smiles when we finally step onto dry land, towel off, magically grow legs, and head home.

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Memory Week: What’s My Age Again?

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I can fall asleep anywhere. In college, I would fall asleep in class, at club meetings, and even when hanging out with friends. It didn’t bother me, but it annoyed some of said friends. “If you’re tired, just go to bed,” they’d say.

I’ve never seen why falling asleep is offensive to some people. When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. And I frequently do both in front of other people—even strangers. When somebody’s tired, they should be able to fall asleep. No guilt.

My wife does not really appreciate me sleeping anywhere else than in bed. We’ll be watching a TV show together on the couch downstairs, and I’ll start to nod off. I don’t mind, but she often does. I’ve had to work to convince her that I like curling up next to her or putting my head on her shoulder or lap, that it’s comforting to fall asleep leaning on her, knowing she’s there. If she’s not ready for bed, but I’m ready for sleep, I’ll put off going to bed. But not sleeping.

Tonight, after I was nodding off during Call the Midwife—a show I really enjoy—I suggested that she watch something I don’t typically watch with her, and that I sleep next to her. I still don’t think she gets it, but she agreed and put on an episode of Sister Wives.

I very quickly nodded off, but bolted upright when I heard my secondborn shouting “Daaaad!” from upstairs.

My wife just laughed. “That was on the show,” she said. “It came from the TV.”

Puzzled, I insisted that I’d heard our daughter calling for me. No, she said, it was on the show. Go back to sleep. So I did.

“Daaaad!”

I snapped up again.

“That’s her this time!” I said, jolted out of sleep again.

Nope. It was the same scene in Sister Wives, being played as a recap after a commercial break made nonexistent by Netflix.

My memory of the rest of my pre-bedtime nap gets hazier from that point, but I’m fairly positive I heard the child shouting a third time. The resemblance to my 4-year-old’s voice was uncanny. I could feel my heart thumping heavily in my chest after each startling “Daaaad!”

* * *

I started this week by noting that I don’t really think my memory is fading, and I’d say that repeatedly forgetting that the yelling I’m hearing is coming from the TV—not my daughter—doesn’t really count, due to the sleep-induced fuzziness.

As the title of today’s post indicates, however, I have noticed some particular trouble in remembering how old I am. In my most recent Freaky Friday post, for instance, I jumped the birthday gun by three weeks—something my wife quickly pointed out. I did something similar earlier in this blog’s life, too, in my most popular post to date, when I said I went to Disneyland for my 34th birthday. Actually, it was for my 32nd birthday.

* * *

So now, since I took a late-evening nap and my wife didn’t, she’s sleeping next to me—in bedwhile I write this post. This is nice, too, and I’ve sort of gotten used to interrupted sleep cycles due to kids climbing in bed with us over the years. In fact, as I started typing this paragraph, the baby woke up and is now tucked on the other side of my wife. If history is any indicator, he’ll eventually end up between us, and he’ll be kicking me in the face by 4 a.m., meaning I’ll probably start nodding off in church tomorrow morning—another place people don’t like to see me falling asleep.

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Late Week: Freaky Friday

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Freaky Friday on a Saturday? It’s Late Week! Anything goes!

Actually, I had most of this post prepared a full day in advance, and I still managed to fall asleep without finishing it Friday night. But this week’s theme is a forgiving one. So I’m declaring this a Late Week miracle!

Now, onto the actual content:

My wife was heading out to run some evening errands couple of days ago, and my 4-year-old was, for some reason, freaking out about the departure: clinging to her mom’s leg, crying, refusing to answer our questions as to why she was so upset. She’s only blubber that she didn’t want Mom to leave.

Before we just pried her off and let her scream—my wife had presents to buy, after all, probably for me!—we tried making my daughter laugh. Nope. She chuckled a bit at my attempts, and then went right back to her paranoid sobbing. We tried reasoning with her. And then I decided to throw her into the middle of a game. I figured that if she suddenly thought she could win—that elusive and undefinable yet desperately desirable state of success my daughters yearn for, whether they’re on their way up the stairs to brush their teeth for bed and decide to start racing or are comparing the juice I poured them into different-shaped glasses to see who got more—she’d forget whatever was bothering her.

“I bet you can’t catch me!” I said, and I darted a bit, as if I were about to run off.

My 6-year-old caught on immediately and tried to help, employing what sounded like some reverse psychology of her own:

“Dad’s a thief! He wants to catch you, kill you, and eat you!” she shouted. “Want to chase him?”

In retrospect, and looking at it actually written down, it seems fairly innocuous. I play all sorts of games where I’m a lion ready to pounce on the girls, or a monster coming to chomp them, or something similar. So I guess the death is implied.

But I never come right out and say it. There’s a difference between sending your kids scurrying by shouting “I’m going to get you!” and “I’m going to kill you!”

I do have a somewhat dark game I break out when the girls are pretending they’re asleep. Sometimes they’ll fake it in the backseat of the van, squeezing their eyes shut and keeping rigidly stoic faces as I unbuckle them and toss them over my shoulder to carry inside. At times like that, I’ll stage whisper to my wife: “Since the kids are asleep, I can tell you this: They seem to be getting to just about the perfect size for eating. Remember: Never let them know!” Then I act all surprised when they sit up and accuse me of wanting to cook them.

Anyway, my 4-year-old wasn’t terrified or anything by her sister’s shout, but it didn’t help either. My wife and I exchanged eyebrow raises, and then we did the prying.

My girl was fine for the rest of the night. Mostly.

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