Return Week: Questions and Questions


“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.


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.


Waiting Week: Advent


I collect a lot of things, including thimbles, Pez dispensers, loteria decks, first-edition books, dragons, and worries. I also collect nativity scenes, and each Dec. 1 marks the beginning of my push to get all of them out of the holiday shelf in my girls’ closet and set up on the mantel and around the house.

I get one new set a year, at least, and I have a loose aim of collecting creches—as they’re called when they’re feeling fancy—from around the world. I’ll post more about them later this week, but this morning I wanted to highlight my newest set, chosen by my 4-year-old daughter as a present for me for Dec. 1. She found it at a thrift store, and my wife OK’ed the purchase.

I left the lens flare in the photo not as an homage to J.J. Abrams, but because it’s sort of Star of David-ish. I’m not sure who the two non-obvious people are: shepherds or angels or two of the three wise men. But I love it. I also love the Advent season, with its focus on anticipation and waiting for what’s to come. I’m generally not good with patience, so Advent is a good exercise for me.

If my wife looks upset, and I ask her what’s wrong, and she says “Let’s talk about it later,” I’m antsy until then. I’ll often push her to talk now, which rarely goes over well. If my boss says he’d like to meet with me that afternoon, I ask if there’s anything we can discuss immediately. I definitely need to work on waiting.

And it’s waiting, not procrastinating. I already have procrastinating down.

As another Dec. 1 present, my wife got me a pair of Star Wars-themed ugly-Christmas-sweater inspired boxers, with AT-AT walkers instead of reindeer. She’s amazing. Too bad I can’t show them off. Much.

Thanks Week: Wait Till the Morning Comes


I think, “Maybe tonight will be a good night.”

I think, “Maybe tonight no one will wake up crying, and no one will have an upset stomach, and the baby will stay asleep, and we can all get some rest.”

I think, “I can’t remember the last time we all slept through the night.”

Having a baby means interrupted sleep patterns, of course, but this is something more. Lately, anyway, it seems like there are always nightmares, always sore throats, always problems. Among all of us.

My 4-year-old has been complaining of an upset stomach for a while now. For a couple of months. There are no other symptoms—nothing unusual going in or coming out, no fevers. We’re thinking it’s anxiety—causing the discomfort in her and thereby prompting it in me. She’d prefer to live on Trader Joe’s O’s and boxed mac and cheese, but, of course, we feed her more foods and healthier foods, which she picks at. I think she’s hungry a lot, too.

Late Thanksgiving night—or early the next morning, at 4:30, actually—I woke up feeling terrible. Like, hunch over the toilet terrible. The kids all woke up fine—aside from the usual complaints—at 6. We puttered around with my parents, then drove to my wife’s parents’ house for a second Thanksgiving dinner with her siblings and such. I was feeling fine by the afternoon, and my 4-year-old actually ate food. Plus, we loaded her up with buttered rolls—heavy on the butter—thinking it would fill her up.

She admitted that her stomach didn’t hurt as much. “That’s because you’re putting food in it,” I said, popping a few more pomegranate seeds into her mouth, since she decided she likes those, too.

The kids went to bed with no issues. No health issues, anyway. The adults actually all watched a movie together: Safety Not Guaranteed, which could be my life motto. Then, while walking past the room where the girls were sleeping, I heard an odd sound. My wife and I thought it was the family dog hacking, but it turned out to be my 4-year-old in her sleep. She woke up, sobbing, with this braying cough unlike anything I’ve yet heard out of any of my children.

I’ll admit that I looked at my wife and said, “I can’t take this anymore.” I meant the sicknesses. The late-night questions with no answers: Why is she making that noise? Why won’t she tell us what hurts when we ask? Why does it seem like someone in our family is always suffering from some ailment or another? What should we do now?

My wife sat with our barking daughter in a steamy bathroom while I started writing this post. Writing helps me organize my brain. Words are a way of taking some of the chaos of the world and containing it, constraining it, making it do what I want. When I put a word down, it stays where I put it. It means what I want it to mean. Let there be light, and all. Words have power. In the beginning was the word

The two of them eventually came out, and my girl asked—in a raspy voice, her breathing clear but ragged—if she could watch the Burninator, so I put on a string of Homestar shorts and the two of us fell asleep, her on a couch, me on the floor below her.

When I talked to her—bright-eyed, clear-chested, smiling her—about everything this morning, she said she had had no trouble breathing in, but breathing out last night was hard. It made a weird sound. Her throat hurt last night; it’s fine now. For the first time in weeks upon weeks, when I ask her how her tummy’s doing, she says good.

I’ll probably revisit this post during an upcoming Worry Wednesday, but for now I’m thankful that the sun came up, and my kids are now running around, playing, helping with chores, beautiful.