The Balance

I’ve just finished the dishes and a cursory cleaning of the kitchen countertops. Jenn asks who the guest is on the episode of You Made It Weird I’m listening to. Roy Wood, Jr., I tell her. She looks puzzled and I explain he’s a correspondent on The Daily Show. I’ve really been enjoying the conversation between him and Pete Holmes. It makes me a little lonely, not having any real close guy friends I can hang out with and talk to the way Pete and Roy talk about life, comedy, family, philosophy and times you’ve laughed the hardest.

With about 10 minutes left in the podcast, I decide to go sit on the couch and listen to the rest while feeling the cool air of the living room fan blow on me. Jenn’s on her computer preparing for her first week of the school year when she says, “Uh-oh.”

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Do you hear that?”
I look toward the bedroom and sure enough, I hear a faint cry. I pause the podcast, put my phone in my pocket and go into the bedroom.

Stormy’s woken up and I see he’s upset and on his knees among the pillows, wondering where Jenn and I are. He sees me and stands up, arms outstretched, crying. My heart melts a little as I rush in to pick him up, quietly telling him everything’s okay.

Not a second passes and his head is already resting on my shoulder. Not sure if he’s quite asleep I still hang onto him, patting his back and doing my best to remain in the moment.

After a few minutes I’m pretty sure he’s asleep and I lay him down on the mattress and lie down next to him. His eyes are closed tightly, but he still moves. He wiggles into kind of a downward dog pose then rolls over, snuggling up into a spoon position against my chest.

My heart melts a little more and I help keep his arms still as he’s a restless sleeper and he gets into a more sound sleep when his limbs are secured.

I look at his little round face, finally at rest. His breathing is slow and deep. I begin to reflect…

SO much has happened in the last year since li’l Stormy came into the world. It’s been one of the longest and fastest years of my life.

Earlier Jenn asked me if I remembered the sleeping ritual for Stormy when he was a few months old. I honestly could (and still) not remember. That period is a hazy blur. Few memories stick out from the first handful of months – especially during the first weeks.

I remember we started alternating nights of who would stay up and sleep on the couch, keeping an eye on Stormy as he swung back and forth in the infant swing. It was the only way he’d sleep in those days. One of those nights there was a Stephen King movie marathon on TV. It was the first time I ever saw Maximum Overdrive, albeit half-awake, and the first time in many years I had seen Pet Sematary.

I remember how a lullaby version of The Imperial March was the first song to soothe him in his bassinet and how Zelda’s Lullaby would instantly calm him down when he’d start sobbing in the car during rush hour traffic.

Anyway, I digress…

I’m about to turn 37. Jenny and I are zeroing in on 40, and here we are with this brand new thing, this whole new venture in our lives – offspring. And as precious and precocious as Stormy is in this time, he’s not going to be a toddler forever. Part of me celebrates and part of me laments that fact.

It’s taken me 36 years just to get to this point: the beginning of my career in film and writing; a married man for a couple years; a father.

Now, if I want to see Stormy grow up and be there for him every step of the way…that’s going to take at least another 36 years. Well, 35 from this point.

I confess that while I look forward to many things to come, part of me shudders, wondering: do I have another 35 years in me?

By the time he’d be graduating from high school, I’ll be 52.

I don’t feel like a father. I don’t feel like a husband. And yet, there is a woman who fell in love with me and assures me I am both.

I don’t feel like I’m about to turn 37.

Oftentimes I feel like I did when I was 15-22, when I was starting to figure things out; when I was starting to figure myself out. Past 22, things become a bit of a blur unless I stop and think deliberately about certain times in my life.

Over the last five years or so, I’ve learned that life isn’t as simple as I wished or was led to believe it is.

My views and understanding of faith and objects of faith have undergone a radical metamorphosis. Things that were so fundamental to my worldview, which I thought were unmovable and immutable, I’ve experienced them to be quite movable and flexible.

I think of the second album by Jars of Clay entitled, Much Afraid, an album I listened to heavily during my freshman year of college. I think specifically of the second track: Fade to Grey.

I need something familiar, but with new meaning to walk me into this new world. I love how non-specific and open to interpretation the lyrics of the song are. The band caught a lot of flack from the church for that on their first album. But that’s how life is: open to interpretation, rarely so easy to understand.

 

Time On Its Side

Post-production ain’t no joke.

Hello. It’s been awhile. Not as long an interval between the last ones, a month ago, and the one before, three months ago.

Man; why do I always come to this blog so somberly? Maybe because in my other outlets I’m cultivating a more upbeat, outgoing persona. Perhaps the blog here is my introvert retreat.

It has been an incredibly busy month. I finished up my second semester at the ACM, Stormy turned one, Jenny’s found a new career opportunity, I started recording interviews for my new podcast, we’re still getting settled in to our new place, and we’re throwing a little housewarming bash tomorrow.

Also, I’ve continued developing stories, gotten ideas for some new ones, trying to figure out the direction for Phazon Media and get that off the ground, and getting creative in finding sources of income.

Interviewing the folks for the podcast has been fun. And one thing I thought would happen is happening. As we’re sharing our stories with each other, they enjoy having the opportunity to share and I’m getting some good inspiration and examples to model my work ethic and direction after. They’re all self-starters. They figure out what they want to do – always with some kind of struggle and challenge at first – and go after it.

Sometimes – oftentimes – I wish success would come a lot faster, though. Patience is definitely required. And for every new idea I have, I have older, started-but-not-finished ideas that whisper in my heart: “Complete me.” And I have slowly begun to do just that.

Last month I entered the Imagine Dragons/Adobe Premiere editing contest. I started on it, almost gave up, but at the last minute got a second wind and finished the dang thing. I didn’t win, didn’t make the top 25 even, but in the time that I had (less than a week), I’m pretty proud of what I came up with.

In one of my classes, we were all involved in our final group projects. We were divvied into groups of three; I was really happy about one of the guys in my group; of the other I was dubious. Turns out my gut was right. And the one dubious dude was supposed to be the facilitator of the group. Thankfully, the other guy and I were so on the same page we were able to carry the load and, for our parts at least, ace the project. …and that felt super good.

And then this podcast stuff. To make it sound as good as possible, it takes work. Each interview averaged to about an hour and a half. Set up takes, well, about 15 minutes and about that long to tear down if I’m in a hurry. But then all the post work. I’m not editing the interviews, but making sure the levels are good, recording the intros and outros, finding the right music, etc; that took me about six hours yesterday. Granted, the first episode took the longest because that’s when I was figuring everything out, but excepting that, I figure each episode takes about an hour in post.

So, while it’s fun, it’s not easy. And we’re talking 3-4 hours to produce about an hour and a half’s worth of content.

And then the idea of producing a short film…

Kelsie, my second podcast guest, used every day of spring break for her principal photography. Then it took from March to April to finish a rough cut. Now she’s shooting pick-ups. And she has a crew.

Marcelo, my third guest, is shooting a feature over the course of many months, only shooting two nights a week.

Jana, my first guest, is shooting a feature as well, doing mostly overnight shoots.

This shit takes time!!

To create something takes a lot of time. I know this; I’ve known this; but it’s something I need to remind myself of frequently.

Shoot; raising Stormy takes time. The little bugger is growing so fast, but it takes time spent with him to make a difference in his life. He’s so freakin’ cute right now, and snuggly and cuddly, but he won’t be that way forever. He’s already getting more independent, wanting to do stuff on his own, using adults as vehicles to get to where he wants to go only because he’s been walking for almost two weeks now.

Soon he won’t even need a bottle at all, and he won’t be falling asleep when I carry him because he’ll just go to bed and fall asleep there. Next thing you know, it’s high school graduation and off to college.

Well, there you go. I hear Jenn’s alarm going off now; that’s all the time I have for this entry, time to help Stormy wake up.

Thanks for reading! You’ll hear from me again soon.

Connecting With the Past

We shouldn’t live in the past, but by all means we should be connected with it.

Tuesday morning I went into the gym for my daily Fit By First workout. It involved jumping jacks, situps/crunches, planks, and other things.

I took my place in front of the mirror.

I jiggled.

I wiggled.

I shook and shimmied involuntarily as I put my body through the paces.

And I watched.

Never have I seen me in such a state.

I’ve weighed this amount before, but I’ve never put myself in front of a full-body mirror and tried doing full-body exercises.

A few years ago that would have been mortifying. Now it’s…well, while I’m not satisfied with my metabolic status quo I realize it’s not going to change overnight and I’m not going to lose anything of value while I’m in it.

According to the Navy, for my height I’m about 30 pounds out of regulations. I think it’s fair to say it’s not all muscle; it’s not even 50% muscle, I think. I’d say it’s probably more significant than I think, but nowhere near what I’d want it to be. Well, maybe near; I’m not obese, but I am rambling, so to the point:

A lot of change has been going on in my life.

IMG_2295

I became a father this year. I went back to school. I’m getting out of the Navy after five years of service. Jenn and I moved and she went back to work. I have to drive Stormy to his grandparents at 0530 every morning (If we leave on time) and be back at Manoa in time for my 0730 class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m writing a book and getting coached in how to publicize it and sell pre-orders to get it published by Inkshares. I’m working on a prospective project for my side business. I get 4-6 hours of sleep most nights.

And while I don’t want to stay 30 lbs out of regs – even after I separate – I’m not super-ashamed because look at my life.

Crazy? Frenetic? Hectic? Abso-toot-ly.

But then tonight, after Jenn finished feeding Stormy – his last before bed – I was carrying him, gently burping him, and he had his head on my shoulder, facing toward me, but eyes shut tight, breathing deep, falling deeper into sleep.

Skinny Cliff would kill for such moments.

I thought back to when Jenn first told me her pee test popped positive; when we got our first ultrasound of him; the first time we saw his little body developing and he had limbs and as soon as the camera was on him he stretched out all the way, all of a sudden – a real live critter, just starting out; strong heartbeat, good vitals, our future son.

And that connection, that memory of the not too distant past (though it feels like a world away) flooded me with appreciation and emotion for this moment tonight.

I thanked God for this life, portly though I may currently be, and I’m just…happy. I’m content. I prefer the abilities of skinny Cliff and am working to get back to that, but to keep my spirit. Same body, a little leaner; same spirit, always growing.

Living the dream, baby.

 

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Three Months…!

Good-ness.

THREE MONTHS!

It’s been three months since one world ended and another began.

Two days old...
Two days old…
Just shy of three months in this'un.
Just shy of three months in this’un.

Dadgummit…makes me misty already…

He’s been with us for three months. I remember thinking three days was a big deal and then three weeks.

His personality is definitely emerging (as are his vocal talents) and…it’s just amazing.

Life just keeps barreling on.

Jenn started back at her job this week after taking off a whole year to aid in Nightstorm’s conception and to allow her a little more time with him.

I’m taking this and next week off from work to help a bit with the transition as well as furthering my own career transition out of the Navy in just a couple more months(!).

And this week we’re getting an idea of what it’s like to have someone else watch our kid for the day while we both work. Spoiler alert: it’s weird.

It’s good in that it’s her parents, so the boy is already getting some good multi-generational exposure in there, but still. To think that he’ll be spending the majority of his days now with people other than his parents.

Jenn felt the melancholy more than I did, at first, because she’s been with him all day everyday (with the exception of a couple date nights and a spa day) since he popped out of her very own body. And her body continues to nourish him, day in and day out – talk about an intimate bond…

But then, this morning I felt it, too. Getting him ready, putting him in the car seat, driving him to his grandparents’ house. A part of me wanted to call and cancel, to say that I’ll be spending time with my son today and everyday the rest of my vacation time. Thing is, it’s just not practical.

Even though I’m off from my day job, I’ve got to hustle a bit to ensure that my next step is ready and generating income. I mean, I’ll have income from the G.I. Bill when I go back to school at UH, but in trying to supplement that with the dream I’ve pursued since I was in middle school in trying to get published through crowdfunding; it’s taking a lot of work – work I can’t necessarily do with an adorable, yet needy, little/big munchkinboy hanging out with me. And then first full week of August I’m back in the office again anyway.

I don’t know about Jenn, but I think what I’m feeling is a sense of failure. Our family unit is unable to stay together throughout the day; Stormy has to be with someone other than his nuclear family because we can’t afford to be a single-income family.

But then I realize that this is actually the norm – the state of the American dream, I reckon. It’s how I was raised, by babysitters and daycare supervisors before I was in school and then afternoons after school, waiting to be picked up; during the summer months, too, until I was old enough to be a latchkey kid.

And for the first time I really understand what the debate about paid family leave is all about and I have a sudden urge to relocate to Iceland or Sweden.

Nevertheless I am grateful for in-laws who love their grandbaby and spending time with him, so for them it’s no chore.

I look forward to a time where it doesn’t have to be this way, but if grandma and grandpa can babysit so mom and dad can have lovey-dove fun time that’d be great.

Some days these next couple of weeks I will be staying home and looking after Stormy all day to get a feeling of what it may be like to work from home should my writing or video production career take off.

Sometimes when he starts getting fussy or needy and clingy I want to teach him independence and how to lay the ju-do smackdown on feelings and such. But then when my picking him up calms him, or when he flashes that precocious, half-smile my damn heart melts to gooey-gooey blood sauce confections.

Three months…where will he be in three years? In three decades?

Making the world a better place, I hope.

Weekending – June 4 Ed.

It’s Saturyay, I’m sipping some wine (Our Daily Red) after having consumed some cheese & Triscuits following a high-maintenance, slightly stressful afternoon with our dear Nightstorm. He’s resting peacefully, I’ve got the original Mad Max playing on my iPhone thru the Amazon Prime Instant Video app, and I finally really get the visual reference in Hot Fuzz right before the final act when Danny is driving Sgt. Angel down the night road.

And Stormy is crying, again. Wait a mo’…

Okay – it was a diaper need.

Anywho, I’ve got an actual job with my production company and need to be working on that; I’ve gotten a great idea for a novel that will help me ease into the massive 13-book series I want to write; I need to put together a little video presentation for my biz website; and I have a couple ideas in the docket for future blog posts.

I’m still learning this whole blog thing, and I’m ever-so-thankful to those who have read and commented (though mostly on Facebook; that’s cool, but could you comment here, perhaps? Please, oh, please?) and are sticking around.

Sharon Miller, long-time blogger and acquaintance who I met in real life about 10 years ago, gave some good advice on this whole venture as well as some good feedback. I’m going with that and just crankin’ out the posts as I’m able, trying to maintain something of a release schedule.

And that’s what’s happening this weekend.

The Fountainhead (or: The Poop is Always Greener on My Hand)

Keep reading…you’ll get it. (Source: Wikipedia)

“Enjoy it!”

“Be sure to enjoy it while you can!”

“It goes by so fast; enjoy it!”

These are the admonitions my wife and I receive whenever we tell someone new of our recent delivery (alas; still no DiGiorno…). Recent…well, I reckon today it’s a month! How about that? On one hand I find myself wondering where the time went and on the other I dreadfully realize: it’s only been a month.

As you could see in previous posts, the first week or so at home was pretty rough. Up until the grandparents relieved us for an afternoon and early evening I thought Jenn and I were both going to eventually lose our minds.

And if you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen me post stuff about home life with a baby that isn’t necessarily up to socially acceptable code. It seems as though there’s a prescription for doting on one’s child and posting pictures with captions that are all about how cuuuuuute and looooooving their little humans are, and just how precious and sweet one’s offspring is.

A night or so ago I posted a few second video of my firstborn crying incessantly in his bassinet, hungry – YET AGAIN – for a bottle of formula or pumped mudder’s milk.

He also seems to have this internal timer that goes off any time Jenny and I, or just I, sit down to eat together (or by myself), after a bout of crying, diaper changing, and feeding, to start crying again before the first bite can be taken. WITHOUT FAIL, PEOPLE.

And then a couple nights ago…he’s fussy. The indicator stripe on the Pampers diaper is blue. Time to change.

Stormy’s actually not too fussy once he’s on the table. I’m like, cool.

Undo the diaper; start to wipe down the peethenBAM!! What would normally be a benign fart was actually a piñata of poop that burst forth its fecal candy on the table, on the paper towel roll, on the diaper genie and accompanying trash can, and my freakin’ hand.

Jenn, of course, had just sat down to eat her soup and was yukkin’ it up at my turn of fortune.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, though the explosion had spread, it was fortunately enough light on intensity. So there were little dots of green, but that was it; no chunks or lumps or anything like that. Just little specks of Stormy poop that needed wiping.

Before I can finish cleaning – one-handed, mind you, as I have his legs up to keep him from getting anything on him – this little play-doh pusher starts a right good movement of the bowels.

“OMYGOD!” I say, giving Jenn the play-by-play, who is choking on her soup for all the laughter she’s indulging in.

Thankfully there was a paper towel beneath him to mitigate the staining of the changing mat.

So, I start to clean that when suddenly Stormy fancies himself a bit of a wiz’, and has his infantile junk positioned in such a way as to bypass the paper towel pee guard and get that out on the table, too.

Jenn’s ROFL’ing by now as I’m clambering about, trying to keep this natural disaster and potential biohazard contained.

By the time I’ve replaced the paper towel beneath him and start to dry off the droplets of his biological sprinkler system he’s begun his second movement of green, oozy, babyshit.

All I can do is stop and watch.

Stormy isn’t fussy at all; it’s like we’re both just resigned to the fact that some serious shit is going down and there’s nothing we can do about it in the moment.

He finishes; I clean; he pees AGAIN. Every time it catches me by surprise and I celebrate with a punctuated colorful metaphor and Jenn follows up with breathless laughter.

Our Nightstorm lies there and I don’t even get to the paper towels when suddenly a clean, vertical shoot of clear liquid (our boy is hydrated) springs up, perfectly perpendicular to the earth, and he’s engaged in his third movement (Beethoven wishes his movements were so moving, affecting the very bowels of a newborn) of green goo and all I can do is shout profane-sounding gibberish in shock and awe at the amazing feat my son has just pulled off.

Jenn finally catches her breath and asks if I need anything.

A third hand, I say.

She laughs.

I’m fresh out of third hands, babe, I say.

Oh, heehee, she says and asks how she can help.

I take Stormy over to the sink to wash him off and she goes to swab the Poop Deck.

After four shits and three pees, Stormy’s finally in his new diaper and suckin’ on a fresh bottle before burping and going down for the count (of about 20 minutes before starting it all over again).

And he was one Fussy McFusserstein once Jenn went to bed. The moment I’d start to nod off, thinking he was sleeping, he’d start that malcontent engine revving with little nasal whimpers, cresendoing into his crying forte.

So on Facebook and in this here blog I try to keep it real.

Sometimes I think the people who say, “Enjoy it” are either sadists getting off on some sick schadenfreude knowing Jenn and I are getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night or masochists who genuinely enjoyed the incessant crying, fussing, etc. and are trying to spread the love.

And then I go and listen to Episode 99 of the RobCast and hear the heartbreaking story of a mother whose 9-yr old girl finally died after being born without a brain.

I read a Facebook post or two of friends who lost children in the womb, or shortly after birth, having experienced the thrill of hearing the heartbeat and seeing the life movements of their unborn children only to hear the sickening silence a week or so later and see the fuzzy outline motionless on the computer screen; or to have their tiny child pass to the next world, still in the hospital under the care of those who try their hardest to preserve life.

I remember that Jenn and I are still in the SIDS window and that no moment is promised to any of us, and sure, I’ve made it in this world these almost 36 years and Jenn’s almost made it to 27, but Stormy…I’ve seen the young of birds eaten by snakes on National Geographic…why should Stormy make it past one month? What unseen forces of nature may be conspiring to take him; not out of any inherent malice, but just because that’s the cold, fucking, hard reality of the world?

I think of stuff like that.

I sure as heck don’t enjoy the crying and sleep deficiency, but I’m ever so grateful Jenn and I have a healthy kid that can cry and keep us awake.

An hour before writing this post...
An hour before writing this post…

TWO WEEKS AND LIFE TO GO

Lic. from Adobe Stock
Lic. from Adobe Stock

Today (Tuesday) we hit the two week mark and we still have a baby.

I realize that may sound silly, but really, this whole ordeal is still quite surreal. We were basically sequestered in small rooms at the hospital those first few days then released to our home with a new roommate. The only thing is, this roommate doesn’t do (anything but) shit [and] take, take, take and really, that’s okay because Jenn and I just want to give, give, give…until we don’t.

Don’t misunderstand: we love our li’l Nightstorm to the moons of Uranus and back. It’s just the sudden inclusion of someone else to love as intensely as we love each other continues to throw us for a loop.

And what it takes to make sure this li’l adorable snugglebug has everything he needs…

…for example: after I typed the word “needs” just then, Stormy started crying and needed tending to. Now it’s the morning after.

Anyway, what I was getting around to saying is that giving love to a newborn is a vastly different dynamic than giving love to another adult. Sounds like a given, I know, but you don’t really know until you’re in it eyeballs deep.

This whole experience is really making us define new limits of what we’re capable of. For example:

Your whole day can go off the rails because maybe the baby*starts fussing for no determinable reason. All your methods of soothing fail and then at the next diaper change you discover a crucial bit of diaper rash that seemingly sprang up out of nowhere (because you make damn sure to take every single precaution to prevent diaper rash) and then start noticing your kid really seems to hate pooping because of the pain involved and you start getting anxiety because pooping is an essential function for daily living and if you train your kid (inadvertently or otherwise) from week 2 out of a possible 70 years that pooping is something to be afraid of, you realize you’ve really screwed your kid over.

Or maybe you get worried about overfeeding the kid because the doctor made such and such recommendation at the last appointment but the baby keeps wailing and eating his mittens and apparently contradicting the recommendation there’s always the mandate to “feed on demand” and googling every 5 minutes about overfeeding a newborn brings a little comfort until he has to poop again and you see the face scrunch up, the skin go purple, and the wails go nuclear and you’re back to the aforementioned problem.

So yeah; it takes a lot.

One of the more frustrating aspects is the inability to communicate efficiently. Jenn and I say all kinds of things to him in all manner of voices and tones, and he doesn’t really respond.

He can’t tell us what he wants or needs except through a very primitive system of body language and sounds based not on clearly defined thoughts but only exclusively motive and instinct.

And again – another 30-40 minutes just went by for diapers, feeding, and burping.

Saying all that to say in terms of defining new limits for ourselves: we’re learning the value of sleep in a whole new way and we’re not superhumans. Sleep/rest is what fuels the patience reserves. Shoots, sleep is what fuels the energy reserves. It’s real easy to get caught up in trying to do stuff, and once Stormy’s down for a nap, not even considering napping ourselves. Rather, the idea is, “He’s down! Quick – to the activity list!!” And when you’re giving 110% to your kid for any amount of time, it’s difficult to switch gears and redirect whatever energy is left from that expenditure to something else.

Bleh…I’ve lost where exactly I was going with this…

20% staged/posed; 100% flummoxed.
20% staged/posed; 100% flummoxed.

Anywho, we’ve made it to the two-week mark and crises still turn out to be common issues easily dealt with (when of sound body and mind). In the midst of all this, Jenn and I are miraculously somehow rekindling our romance. I reckon it has to do with us being united by a common challenge: raising our son. It could slip into an us vs. him situation, but I think that’s why God makes babies so goshdarn adorable, to make it more difficult to get/stay mad at them. And Stormy is a freakin’ cutie pie.

Rather than us vs. him, it’s us for him vs. the challenges of life and forces of evil that conspire against life.

And I guess that’s about it for now.

L’chaim!!

THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT STORMY SO FAR:

– he loves his mother’s touch
– he gets the hiccups a lot
– he seems to like the ambient works of Aphex Twin
– he can pound a 2oz milk like a thirsty man pounds a pint
– he has about an 80% complicit response rate to my Dr. Claw voice

*speaking in general terms to try and make it universally applicable

Reflections on Immediate Fatherhood (or: “By Golly, I’m a Dad!”)

 

100% posed/staged. Still freakin' precious.
100% posed/staged. Still freakin’ precious.

Conrad Nightstorm Won Bailey was born last Tuesday just before noon.

We call him Stormy.

His projected due date was May 10.

The docs decided it would be best to induce May 3 due to some health concerns for mother and baby.

The morning of the 25th, my wife, Jenny, and I went in for her weekly morning appointment to measure her amniotic fluids, Stormy’s heartbeat, etc. Ever since she had the flu a few weeks back her blood pressure had been slightly elevated. Her baseline is ridiculously low (compared to mine, anyway) so “slightly elevated” actually means “normal” for others. My dear wife is extraordinary in so many ways.

Anyway, there’s been a running fear of preeclampsia. Jenn never exhibited any other symptoms except for her slightly elevated BP, so we never worried. However, there was something different about that morning.

After the appointment, we drove home and I was getting ready to suit up for work. Jenn got a call from her OBGYN and then another from the lady who helps her at her weekly appointments. It was recommended she go into the hospital for observation. We were told it could only be a couple hours or much more, depending on what they’d find.

One pee and one blood test later, findings urged the docs to decide to proceed with induction.

Stormy was coming a week earlier than planned and two full weeks earlier than initially projected – I’ve since learned that’s fairly common among mothers in my varying social circles.

We were moved from the triage level to the maternity ward. Jenn and I each texted our respective friends and families that we should be expecting a new Bailey within 24 hours or so.

Now, not trying to get too far into the weeds here, but pregnancy, birth, etc – holy shit, it’s a messy, traumatic business.

A woman’s body goes through many, many changes as it prepares to deliver a baby. Over the millennia, as women have given birth to propagate our species, the smarties in scrubs have been able to document and analyze birth activity so well that they basically know what’s going to be happening each week leading up to term.

So, since Jenny wasn’t experiencing anything but Higgs-Boson contractions up to that point, her cervix had only dilated a little bit. The docs were going to need to try and manually jimmy that hatch open so the fetal soul who would be our son could escape his amniotic prison.

They used a, uh…balloon. Not the kind you get at a circus or the State Fair, but you know; one of those medical balloon thingies. Maybe it had a smiley face on it, I’ll never know.

The experts predicted it’d take all night for it to do its job. It took only a few hours, well before midnight Monday.

And so the IV drip of…not Percocet…whatever the induction drug is; that began. And then the REAL contractions started coming and it was killing me watching Jenn in such pain.

She’s also had a lingering cough since her bout with the flu a while back and during the last few weeks of pregnancy had developed this crazy itch which the nurses said would be cured by delivery (not DiGiorno, sadly (pregnancy pizza party with pizzazz!).

Close to midnight she called in the epidural and before too long she was sitting pretty as ever, with a ghastly needle deftly jammed into her spine dripping in sweet, sweet painkilling medication. She and I both were finally able to get a little bit of sleep when the faulty epi-alarm wasn’t going off.

Before we knew it morning had broken and so had her water, some time during the night.

At 0900 it was decided it was time to start pushing, and it actually started about 5 after.

Dawn, our nurse, assigned me the task of counting Jenn through the contractions. Since she was numb from the waist down, they needed to monitor the contractions on some birth computer thing. Not too long into the process Jenn could begin to feel the pressure of the contraptions (ed. note: Contractions…there were no contraptions to speak of.) – not the pain, but the pressure, which, ironically, could be painful to a point in and of itself.

With each contraction I held on tightly to Jenn’s hand and counted like a motherfucker. We had music playing from her phone – a Mozart-inspired list she had found. After looping a few times I recommended The Piano Guys. She had forgotten about them – she wanted soothing music…so I pulled up a couple of their albums on my phone and started playing them.

Before we knew it, Stormy’s hairy little head was visible just within the…uh…flaps? He wasn’t crowning quite yet, but the docs would part something down there and say, “He’s a hairy little guy!” or something to that effect.

More pushing, more counting and breathing, more Piano Guys starting to loop, and then Dawn suggested the Rocky soundtrack. Jenn said it’d be fine (she had more important things to worry about than the soundtrack of her delivery (again, not DiGiorno; sigh)) and so I quickly spun up The Rocky Story album and Eye of the Tiger kicked in.

Stormy didn’t.

After coursing through that song, There’s No Easy Way Out and Hearts On Fire, I was hoping he’d come out to the tune of Gonna Fly Now.

Li’l sucker took his sweet time getting out though.

One or two album loops later, though, he finally emerged to the tune of motherfuckin’ EYE OF THE TIGER. Damn straight! Winning!

But damn…oh my Jesus…first seeing his hoary cranium crown…THAT was weird…and it slowly, slowly emerging…I was back by Jenn’s side so I didn’t get…everything (and I’m okay with that). But wow. With every push session, with every sequence of counting that eventually turned into just, “Holy cow, babe! You got this! You got this! Holy shit, he’s coming! YOU’VE GOT THISSSSSS!!!”

And then…out he came, into this broken, sad, but still functioning world. As hairy as a model and as loud as a banshee. I seriously thought I was watching an alien autopsy, first impression.

But no…it was our son.

Stormy had arrived.

And I’m tearing up like a little baby myself as I type these very words.

He’s our little miracle.

Why, with all the other couples out there, should we have a fully functioning human baby with no grave or ill concerns?

And yet his breathing was a little labored and grunty, as one of the nurses put it. His air sacs were having a little trouble developing, but dang, he could wail.

I cut the cord, they cleaned him up and gave him to Jenny.

I’ll never forget how that precious little soul cried from the shock of transitioning from somewhere so safe, warm, and secure as my wife’s womb to this cruel, yet wonderful realm of existence we call earth.

His chin quivered with the intensity of each declaration of, “I’M HERE AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON, BUT LET’S GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!!”

A week and some change later he still quivers that chin when he’s getting real.

He…that seven pound little human…he has changed everything.

The first couple of nights were the worst.

The whole feeding thing; why is he crying?; oh my god, did I just kill him? All this and much, much more was running through our heads – still is to a point.

They – whoever they are (some who know, some who don’t) – said everything would change.

But geez. I mean, wow.

Sleep? Yeah, when you can – when he is and when you’re not paranoid about whether or not SIDS will take him.

Did you read my last post? How it’s all poignant and trying to sound enlightened and whatnot? Bruh – it’s…it contains truth, but when you defenestrate the textbook – so to speak – and are suddenly hands-on with a precious little fussy, waily, dude who farts like a man and pees like a sprinkler at all hours…it’s different.

I don’t want to say it all goes out the window, per se. A lot of it does, but not everything.

The core knowings versus the pervasive feelings.

The main thing that keeps us alive is that we know neither of us are in this alone. Stormy is both our responsibility.

And what helps cement that is putting each other’s needs above that of our newborn.

That’s not to say I’m advocating any kind of neglect or anything; but let the kid wail just a second longer so you can give your spouse an extra squeeze or kiss and let her know everything will be fine.

A few weeks back, I can’t remember who the guest was, but whoever he was on Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast (I think it was Tom Papa or Adam Conover), when Pete asks him the greatest lesson you’ve learned from family, the guest’s answer is:

“Kiss your wife before you kiss your kids.”

I’ve taken that to ever-lovin’ heart.

I think I’ve missed it only once, but otherwise whenever I return from running errands, I make it a point to hug and kiss my good lovin’ mama before acknowledging our firstborn. He can’t comprehend anything yet; it’s fine and once he can I’ll adapt accordingly to help him preserve his own self-worth. Just don’t mess with mom and dad, kid. We’re your secure relationship. Mess with that you’re only screwing yourself.

…geez…they’re all blending together.

After the weekend, I think, one night I was about 20 hours deep with only 2-3 hours of sleep powering me and I found myself thinking nefarious things when Stormy was fussing during his myriad diaper changes: kicking the bandage off his recovering weenie; squirming away from the diaper; pulling himself away from the diaper; just being a real grade-A a-hole.

Now, don’t get me wrong: rationally I know the poor little guy is just acting on instinct and I have little clue as to how I’m affecting him, what he’s feeling on the inside (turns out a fair amount of gas pain, poor kid), and how that all mishmashes up within causing him such apparent turmoil.

But when you’re running on fumes and your emotions are raw, rationality has no place in such circumstances.

Thing is, I’m blessed/cursed with such self-awareness that I knew exactly what was happening, but I didn’t have the energy to act on it, save from actually acting on the frustration and annoyance consuming me.

Bless her dear sweet heart, Jenn could see I was cranky and told me to take five…hours. I crashed and she watched dear li’l Nightstorm.

Shoot…even now, I can still feel his wee li’l head snuggling up under my chin when I’m burping him and my crusty heart goes all aflutter. I can feel him grasping, hear him crying, me trying to reassure and soothe him with words and noises that the paste I’m dabbing on his wee heinie is for his own good; that alcohol wipes around his wormwoody umbilical cord remnant are to help him and that it really isn’t a big deal, but like I said…he can literally barely comprehend shit itself.

And then my graceful, gracious wife nearly lost her cool with our precious bundle of potential menace today. I told her to take five and she finally did.

And like, this is great; we’re both really seeing each other pull through for each other in what feels like impossible binds. When she allows me some extra sleep or vice versa, upon waking from that sleep we’re so grateful that we express it in such a way we’re reduced to tears.

I like to think that such visceral reactions to what should be common displays of affection and love mean we’re all three going to make it; and how.

Then again, with love, displays are never common; if it’s true.

At this point we’re just starting to find our groove.

Tonight a handful of her closest friends who happen to also be mothers are visiting.

I drove out to my dayjob office to pick up a couple things and to take the time to catch up on my writing/blogging.

Ha! Silly me thought that while I’m on paternity leave I’d have time to work on The Golem’s Curse. Turns out, it’s looking like I’m not going to make the deadline for the contest for MyRodeReel2016.

This year I’m transitioning out of the Navy, into the Air Guard, into school with the post-9/11 GI Bill, editing a film I shot in February, trying to kickstart my local commercial production business, and support my wife and now-child.

Doable, but not easy at all.

But definitely worth it.

 

April Fool’s Day 1988

Back in the late ’80s the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the thing to have if you were a kid or kid at heart. My earliest memories of video games are of the Atari we had at home and occasionally going to the mall arcade to play Pole Position and Pac-Man (and being traumatized, yet fascinated with Splatterhouse). When the NES was released, it was a literal game-changer.

I recall mom and dad not being super-stoked about it at first, but as its ubiquity increased so did my desire to have one. Not long after its release, our local video stores started renting out consoles. This was pre-Blockbuster in our town and the choice was between Videorama and Video Plaza; the latter won out.

Every week as Friday approached, I’d begin pestering whichever parent was closest about renting a Nintendo for the weekend. Even during our vacation to Hawaii one summer, a condominium complex we stayed in for a few nights had the consoles available and we rented one there. The only available titles were Gyromite and Jaws so I still wound up spending more time outside, but if I needed my fix, it was there.

This cycle went on for the better part of a year and it was okay. I accepted this arrangement of temporary possession as a way of life.

One week in March I began my usual weekly ritual. I noticed dad having some covert conversation with mom before answering. Instead of the usual, “Make sure your homework is done on Thursday” the answer was, “We’ll see.” The problem with that response was there was usually a greater chance it would not work out to my favor.

Friday rolled around and as soon as I got home from school I asked, “Can we please go rent a Nintendo?”

“Wait until your dad gets home,” was mom’s answer. My spirits sank; dad didn’t usually get home until later in the evening. That wasn’t necessarily a problem as the store was open until 10, but there was no way I’d be able to stay up late and get in any good gaming time.

Dad got home about 6 or 7 and I didn’t even give him time to get in the door before I assaulted him with my earnest request. He stifled a bemused laugh, tried to maintain a stoic demeanor, and said to let him come in and rest a bit first. I knew time was of the essence but decided it was best to not come at him with too strongly, so I disappeared to my room and tried to distract myself with Encyclopedia Brown and Calvin and Hobbes.

When it was time to sit down to dinner I was on my best behavior: I was generous with my “please & thank you’s” and was even polite to my sister. When the opportunity presented itself I asked, “May we please rent a Nintendo tonight?”

Dad looked at mom. Mom looked at dad. Something was going on and I had no idea what. Dad responded with, “I’ll entertain the possibility.” That was dad’s go-to answer when he didn’t want to say “YES” too quickly, but still allowed for an unfavorable outcome. I wasn’t thrilled, but I was a little encouraged.

After dinner I asked again.

“It’s a little late son. How about we go first thing tomorrow morning?”

It wasn’t ideal, but hey, at least I’d have Saturday and Sunday after church to play. I agreed and went to watch TV or to my room or something.

DAWN OF A NEW DAY

The next morning I woke up super early, ready to go. I downed a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, watched a cartoon and then dad was finally up.

“I don’t think the store’s even open, yet,” dad observed. “But I have to run some errands first, anyway.”

I said that was fine and headed for the door; dad headed for the kitchen. My sigh must have been audible as he told me to be patient. Mercifully he skipped breakfast and only made himself his usual ginormous cup of coffee. Of course he had to sip it down a bit to mitigate spillage, but after an interminable five minutes we were on the road.

“I need to go by my office and then the post office,” he told me.

“Okay,” I said.

The video store was a 10 minute drive from our house to the shopping center on the corner of Kildaire and Cary Parkway. Dad’s office was a 30 minute drive toward north Raleigh. But it was okay, because it was early and I always enjoyed that drive.

We pulled into the parking lot and I thought maybe I’d go in, but he told me to wait in the car. Dad went in for not even a full minute and then came back out. What was so important yet so brief that we had to really come here? I wondered, but in the terms of a 7-year old.

From there we headed not back toward Cary, but toward Crabtree Valley Mall. When I asked about this, dad said he needed to go to that particular post office. I was trying not to go nuts.

We pulled into the mall parking lot, drove around to the post office and didn’t even stop.

“Huh, looks like it’s closed,” dad observed. “Maybe what I need is in the mall.” So we parked, entered the mall, and somehow ended up at the toy store. I stopped at the video game counter and just gazed longingly at the games locked up in the glass cabinet.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asked. Dad told me to go see if there was a Ninja Turtle I might want. With a sigh I left and halfheartedly surveyed the action figures. Donatello was the only turtle I cared about; completion was not an issue with me at the time; I hadn’t quite leveled up to that particular nerdset. But there was a Shredder figure I hadn’t been able to find yet – – “Cliff! Time to go.”

As I rejoined dad he thanked the clerk, the clerk said no problem, looked at me and winked. I thought it odd, but didn’t give it more thought than that.

“Do you still want to rent a Nintendo?” dad asked me in the car.

“Yes, please,” I said, my fervor rapidly diminishing.

“Well don’t sound too excited,” he said with a chuckle. “We have to make one more stop before going to the store.” This restored a measure of hope.

Going back down the beltline I noticed us approaching Cary Village Mall. What’s with the malls? I wondered, again in 7-year old terms.

Again, we entered the toy store, again I briefly lusted after the 8-bit entertainment and again I was dismissed to the action figure aisle; but this time I kept an eye on dad and his apparent clandestine dealings.

He was engaged in deep conversation with the clerk at the video game counter. I feigned interest in some Duplo sets to get within earshot and overheard him asking about what games might be included…what in the world? The clerk then held up the box for the NES Power Pad.

“This would be good exercise?” dad asked.

“Well, it’s kind of a gimmick, really,” the clerk said. “I’d wait for it to come down in price.”

Dad shot a sideways glance my way and I was immediately engrossed in…a Barbie. I course-corrected to the cap gun section, doing the fastest about-face in recorded history; dad must have bought it because he didn’t say anything.

“Okay,” I heard him say. “We’ll go without that.”

“Good choice,” the clerk said.

“But it does come with two games?”

“Yep; Mario and Duck Hunt.”

My heart raced.

A pause.

“Son, come here, please.”

I slowly approached my dad, wondering what in the world was going on.

“This nice man here is going to help you out. If you could pick any game, which would you choose?”

I was dumbfounded. I turned to the clerk and he laughed.

“Any of these blow your hair back?” he asked. I was temporarily puzzled as I sported a buzzcut in those days, but then understood.

I looked closer. Some titles I recognized, most I didn’t. But there was a gold box – Zelda? But the lettering on Zelda was red; this was blue…no, it was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

“There’s a second one?!” I said.

“You talking about Zelda? Yep! It’s way different, but I think it’s alright,” the clerk said.

“That one,” I said, pointing at it and looking at dad.

The clerk unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a copy, laying it on the counter next to a black box I hadn’t noticed earlier. It had a picture of a Nintendo, two controllers, and a Light Zapper on it.

I…I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

All the words, all the noises inside me exited so fast all I could do was breathe.

Dad knelt down, put his hand on my shoulder and with a smile said, “I’m sorry son, we’re not going to rent a Nintendo today.”