Thursday, December 31, 2015

Please (and Thank You)

Please: 2016, be good to me. There are so many ways you could go.Traverse the currently unpaved paths as I might, don't let me stumble too hard, but don't make the travels so easy that I don't appreciate the journey.

Thank you, 2015, for giving me life. Not my own, of course, that I got in 1984. Rather, thank you for giving me new life. My heart now lives outside of my body. In the eyes of Ezra, I see a future, possibility spinning endlessly on an axis of hopes and dreams. Never will I know a day without worry, but never will I know a day without the joy of being a father.

Sorry, 2015, that baby photos and conversations of children have been my go-to; I know no other. This is what happens, even when you try to avoid it, but we talk about what we know, and I have learned, very quickly, that raising a child causes you to check out of your old normal and into an unexpected place. 

Please, 2016, let me be happy. Let me stop mourning an old life and adjust to the new one that is mine. I miss the recklessness of youth, but the time has come to set aside childish things, at least those childish things of my own, in favor of another childish thing. Remind me that the person that I have become is the product of who I was. The old skin shed was to make way for this new covering, something to which I will grow accustomed to in due time.

Thank you, 2015, for instilling in me the passion to push further in my career than I have ever gone. The San Diego Area Writing Project has changed my life, and I love it, all it represents, and the fantastic people I have met along the way. This all gives me purpose and drive, propelling me each and every day. It has allowed me to make my occupation even more of a passion, and given me a person outlet I didn't know I so desperately needed.

Please, 2016 - remind me, every day, how lucky I am. Let me say what I need to say to those that deserve it. Allow me to reach out to those I miss and reconnect to those who keep me sane.

Thank you, 2015, for the crazy adventure of 365 days. I'm tired. I'm always tired. There is a whole new level of exhaustion that I have never before experienced or understood. Yet, on some strange parallel universe level, I am energized. 

Please, 2016, don't let me make promises. Help me set goals and give me the will and strength to achieve them while also supporting those who need it. Remind me that every journey is a series of steps, that patience is a virtue, and that I am worthy.

Thank you, 2015, for giving me new eyes. You've helped me see some for what they are, and reinterpret those I thought I so well knew. I have a wife you is a wonderful mother, who is kind, who is dedicated, who is too good for me.

Please 2016 - don't let her ever figure that out.

For all that I've been, all that I am, and all that I will be: thank you 2015, and please 2016, be good to me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Don't Worry About Him

Bespectacled, gray-haired, and with a mother’s concerned expression from the right, I feel eyes watching. I crane my neck casually to exchange glances with the woman, who cannot help but focus on the child and show her dismay. She utters her question, then quickly looks away, making her posture more casual.
"Don't worry about him," I politely assure the well-intentioned lady sitting beside my wife and me, who has asked if my child is sick. From his fit of coughing, it's a logical conclusion. "It's a new thing he does."
            Ezra continues to cough, his face turning red from the forced expulsions, solicitations of parental attentions.
            The woman casts a semi-judgmental glance in my direction, a look filled with contempt for me passing off my son's "ailment" for anything less than the plague. His cheeks continue to redden from the forced labor of making himself cough. This child already knows how to work an audience.
            "When did he start doing that?" I turn to my wife, asking in a hushed whisper, not indicating my discomfort.
            "I don't know," she replies, "A couple of days ago?"
            "It's awful," I say, looking at Ezra, two of his fingers being chewed on, massaging his sore gums, angered by the intrusion of colonizer incisors or bicuspids which are attempting to surface and make his mouth home. He lifts his left eyebrow, the same one I lift. I know exactly what this means; I invented this move, the brow-raise. It is an act of betrayal of my face, a teller of tales and secrets that the rest of my face is complicit in withholding, a treason against my quiet contempt.  It’s my middle finger. The little shit is trying to tell me he knows that I know it is all part of his plan, a plan for attention, when he feels as though he is not receiving enough.
            Picking up my spoon, I turn to my cookie dough ice cream. I wrap my fingers around it, similar to the way I am now wrapped around his finger, small as it may be. Before I can lift the spoon to my mouth, I’m jolted by the hacking that ensues with an "Ack! Ack! Acka! Acka ack ack!"
            "Ezra!" My wife quips, half-concerned, half-amused, choking down a laugh. The woman to my right casts another disapproving glare. I wave my spoon dismissively in her direction, letting the ice cream slip downward onto my shirtfront.  
            Amazed at the development of my son, I am also half-terrified. If he is this master of mischief at five months, what does my future hold? Already I get the cold glare of women of children my age which are often endearing, or like today, overtly judging. I hear echoes of my father, his words like an icy blast to my face, prophetical in their Greek mythology way, "Your children will be your punishment." Perhaps Ezra will always have a way of embarrassing me in public. I can say, if following the profundity of my father's axiom, it would be just desserts.
            Grocery stores were my favorite place to wreak havoc. Otherwise an unassuming child, I made my mom parade on egg shells at grocery stores, a land of opportunity for my mischief. My agile fingers would peel the colorful wrappers of the candy in the bulk candy aisle, littering the floor with the carcasses of would-be-sold candies. My particular victims were usually the small treats that resembled strawberries, their plasticky shells discarded like fallen leave from a tree down the aisles as my reckless hands peeled them, one by one, just because I could. Down the canned goods aisle, I sought my next victim.
At seven, I had decided that no one should eat any meat from a can. I imagined the surface of the unrecognizable meat products, indistinguishable from one another, devoid of any real meat characteristics: gray in color with a slimy, gelatinous coating resembling, what I imagine, lines our sinus cavities. The Spam cans were my favorite. It is no conincidence that junk mail we do not want to open, messages that come from questionable and unknown origins, are named after a meat product so similarly sourced. No meat should ever take that shape, a rectangular prism of purported flesh, and I had decided to protect my fellow grocery shoppers from any exposure to such questionable products. Me, the seven-year-old processed meat vigilante.
            One by one, lifting the can quietly from the shelf, I'd hold them up, examining each one as though it were different from another. With diligence and precision, I would manage to get one tiny finger between the top lid of the can and the tab designed for its opening. Wedging my digit further, carefully, cautiously, stealthily, I would pry, ever so gently, the tab from the top of the can. Making sure not to puncture the lid not only out of fear of leaving evidence, but for allowing any of the foul odor out from the deceased meat's aluminum tomb, I pull upward. By the time my mother was ready for the next aisle, I had celebrated, quietly, the fact that at least ten cans of Spam would not be making it to the homes of shoppers who needed me to protect them.
It wasn't until laundry time came that my mother would realize the destruction I had caused, the acts of service, in my mind, which I had committed. In my pockets were the strangely hoarded artifacts, the evidence of the little crimes, silver and flat; I had so proudly severed from their purpose. My mother wouldn't know how to respond verbally. On my dresser, I’d find my casualties of war displayed when I got home from school that day, indicating that my mom knew what I had done, but carrying none of the severity of a verbal admonishment. My mother: the accomplice. Secretly, I think she found it funny, or she was too embarrassed to admit to the fact that my acts of derision were committed unbeknownst to her, right beneath her otherwise-watchful, mother hawk’s eyes.
            Ezra coughs again. The sound pierces my ears and wakes me joltingly from my momentary nostalgia. Looking up, I again meet eyes with the woman next to us who stands up and walks away, shooting daggers again in my direction. I know my eyebrow is deceiving me as our eyes meet. I look at my son who smirks at me, a mirror image of my younger self. I reach down in my pocket and almost feel the tabs of ghosts of Spam cans past.


I hated being alone as a child. I hated the nothingness that would envelop everything and the sound of silence that would settle over me like a heavy blanket, swirling around, pulling me inward. I hated the empty feeling deep inside of me as I would sit and stare out the window, my only vantage point to a world outside, waiting for someone to come home. I hated the hauntingly endless ticks of the second hand on the clock, their repeated ghostly rhythm mocking me, echoing the pattern of loneliness thumped by my aching heart. Being alone was as terrible for me in a sense that no other feeling was – a time when the world spun on without purpose, devoid of human interaction, when the colors and shapes bled into one another into seamless bewilderment. My thoughts were somehow transformed into meaningless preponderances of unimportant dribble, even more so than on ordinary days. But more than anything, I think, I hated that there was no one with whom I could share my laughter and joy, my excitement and zest for life, the desperation to be loved and paid attention which seemed distant and inaccessible, making my own home seem very un-home. I hated being alone for it made me feel the aching corners of my insecurities more deeply, even if it was only when my mother went to check the mail.

All Wet

There it is - all rectangular and wet, staring at me, prodding me. It's over 100 degrees in the midst of summer, I'm hot, I'm ten, and I still can't jump in. Frozen in my irrational terror, I stare back at the swimming pool. Everybody else is waiting and the added pressure isn't helping. "C'mon!" they jeer, "Just jump." Just jump? What kind of reckless child do they take me for? I hadn't even assessed the surrounding yet. Where were the steps to get out? How deep is the deep end and where does it start to drop off? What is the chlorine ratio? Is my sunscreen truly waterproof? I certainly couldn't let it wash off. My mind swimming like my friends in the pool, I casually look down at my feet, slowly burning on the sizzling concrete. Lifting my right foot, I carefully dip a toe, breaking the water's surface. Never mind, I decide, it's too cold.

I can swim, I just choose not to. Even as a child in swim lessons, I made it clear that the pool and I were not going to be friends. When friends would have pool parties, I would RSVP for three: me, and my left and right water wings, my flotation partners. None of my friends ever seemed to judge me, that is until I probably got to the age when wearing such flotation devices were frowned upon.

Fourth of July weekend was the last time I begrudgingly got in a pool. Before that, I don't recall how long it had been. The daunting, displeasing task of submerging myself in some communal watering hole appealed not to me. Aside from the fact that I hated swimming, sharing what seems a recreational bath tub of sorts with other people is not a hobby of mine. Bodies flail around like soggy macaroni in boiling soup, wet and with no particular direction. The only reason I got in recently is because it was Ezra's first time in water outside the bath tub - or the womb.

Clad in rash guard, swim diaper, and his soon-to-be-too-small crab swim trunks, I couldn't resist the thought of introducing something new to the chubby-cheeked face I love. I didn't want to be sidelined, a spectator viewing events from my own life passing me, blowing by like a breeze.  Placing his still-too-big hat on his head, careful not to cover his bug eyes, I take the first step into a new, pool-accepting life. I try not to think about how warm the water isn't, and avoid thinking of how cold it’s going to feel one the water creeps up past my waist. I close my eyes, and brace myself.

Louanne has been hell-bent on taking Ezra to swim lessons. Funny, I think. He spent close to ten months trying to liberate himself from his aqueous home. He can't speak and say, "Hey mom, you know, I'd really like to take some swim lessons." Secretly, she hopes that he doesn't wind up like me - severely handicapped by my dislike for swimming pools. "He can go to Davis on Mondays and Wednesdays from four to five o'clock," Louanne reads me. "That would be good. It's a four week course. It's 97 dollars. Do you think it's worth it?" He can't sit up and he doesn't crawl, I think to myself.

"Considering the fact that he isn't sitting up yet, I am not sure swimming seems like a good use of time." This isn't the response she wants.

"I want him to learn how to swim," she explains. My wife - making the implicit, explicit.  Clearly you do, I think. "You work on Wednesdays. Who is going to take him?" I ask, already knowing the response, a predetermined decision unbeknownst to me.


Me? She isn't asking or suggesting, she's telling. This is a perk of being married: getting to do things I  don't want to do. I'm sure that she assumes that I will not want to do this. Then, I look at the little flesh nugget rolling on the floor and think, this is a perk of being a parent: doing things for my child and not for me.  Taking Ezra to swim lessons is an opportunity to spend quality time, but also a chance for me to maybe relearn something. I wonder how deep the kiddie pool is, and consider bringing a Baby Ruth bar if I get too uncomfortable.

So I Was Thinking...

"So I was thinking," she says in a way that trails off at the end, audible ellipses that indicate there is more to come.

Shit, I think. She's thinking. Nothing good can come from that. Pretending as though I don't hear her, I reengage in what ever distracting task that frees me from the grasp of the impending doom of her idea.

"Babe?" Shit again. A term of endearment followed by a question mark, even more audible than the previous punctuation.

"What?" Maybe if I continue to pretend that I didn't hear the initial "so I was thinking" it will be like it never happened. I'm a deer caught in headlights, wide-eyed, rooted to the spot, not sure whether to run or brace myself for the unavoidable impact. She catches my buck eyes with a look of purpose, transfixed on my fear, awaiting the moment when her vehicular thoughts make brutal contact with my cervidae body.

"I was thinking…" Shit shit. Italics now, emphasizing the thinking, reiterating that some master plan is brewing inside her cauldron of a brain, a mixture of one part newt eye, three parts bat wing, and one soul of a thirty-year-old husband brought to a bubbling boil. The italics are again followed with the ellipses,  fangs protruding from a conceptual mouth, waiting to catch and latch onto some life source.

"Uh-huh…" I mutter in terror. This thought, I know, is not a thought at all - it's a decision, marked with all the underpinnings and implications of a thought, false politician-like diplomacy, a sword on which I will fall. This thought - the conjecture that will either, 1. Cost me money, 2. Take my time, 3. or make me go somewhere I know I already don't want to go. This idea, it has stalked me as its prey, smelled my fear, and whet its proverbial lips. Trapped, she goes to speak, inevitably ending this time with an exclamation point.

Child #2

When are you having another child?" I'm asked. My wife casts a disapproving glare in my direction. It's one of those questions on my growing list of "questions I have contempt for," joining the previous favorites of: 1. when are you getting married? and  2. when are you having children?  And an all-time favorite, what's wrong with your face? This annoyance, this pestilence of innocent curiosity, has made me realize that I need to be equipped with an artillery of responses.

"I think we’re a one-and-done family." I respond confidently and honestly. This is how I always start to respond, but I am not so good at hiding my feelings. I've been told I have a very expressive face. This single-child decision that my wife and I have made came after much discussion. Admittedly, we are open to the idea of a second and are not completely ruling it out, but it is unfathomable, at this time, to think of adding more chaos to the upheaved life we currently live.

"You can't just have one child. You need to have two." I am baited. Who the hell are you to give me this directive? I fume, I turn red, my eyebrow likely raises, signaling I am engaged; my ears flush red. Need. Someone else has determined for me that the addition of another child - all before my first son can even walk - is necessary. We have heard it argued that we need a second in case, morbidly and God forbid  "one doesn't make it" or because "only children have mental problems." Inclined as I was to ask that person if she were an only child, I did not. The best argument I can make advocated for kid number two is that when Louanne and I get old and crazy, Ezra should probably have someone to talk to, but we have a plan for that. My son has a college fund and a therapy fund - I wish I had had either.

I'll have a second child when you pay, I think to myself. Children are expensive. Before I can respond, my wife, always the kinder of we two, speaks up:

"We will have a second when Ezra goes to pick it out from the pound." Winning, I think. This is why I married her.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I remember when I used to matter.
            The text comes in at around 4:30 PM, the standard, scheduled time, never spoken of, but already predictable - five months later. SKYPE? Five letters, not preceded by so much as a hello. SKYPE? Followed by a question mark. Awaiting my reply. YES, I respond back, watching the iMessage make its way to Iowa, knowing that my mom eagerly awaits my reply, hoping that it is a yes. I'LL GO DOWNSTAIRS AND TURN ON THE COMPUTER. This means I have five minutes before the call comes in. I start my Skype and wait, turn the TV on mute, and prepare the star of the show.
            Bee-boo-boo-blee blee-bloo. Bee-boo-boo-blee blee-bloo. Bee-boo-boo-blee blee-bloo. The ringer sounds in its now all-to-familiar blare. I make the call because I see she is logged in, and because I know she can never find the "button thingy" that initiates the connection. She answers in the same way: a gray screen and a complaint of  "I don't see you," she says. "Wait," I always respond, "It takes a moment."
 "There you are!" she says, almost excitedly, but I realize this excitement is not a result of viewing me, but rather at the impending viewing of what she really called to see, her gem, the little prince, the "cute one" as she likes to remind me, Ezra.
            I remember when I used to matter. I recall when I was the one that my mom waited to hear from. Every day on the way home from work, I call her as I drive home. Or, if she calls me, she usually starts the conversation with, “It’s your mom,” as though I wouldn’t recognize the voice of the woman in whose whom I grew for 42 weeks. She knows this is how it works, the routine, the maintenance of the long-distance parent-child relationship, yet she always asks me, "What are you doing?" as though she doesn't already know. Our conversations are mixed, but they usually consist of discussion of our days, but usually quickly digress to what matters most, Ezra. I know she loves me, but I’ve had thirty years of practice with that.
"There he is!" she announces in some voice I have gotten used to hearing, but not a voice of my mother's, at least not the version of her I knew, but the voice of Ezra’s grandmother, a voice that beams with a soft light, filled with love and excitement, pride that washes over you, pours forth from the metallic speakers that don’t fully do human-to-human contact justice. "There he is!" she beams, as though I don’t already know that's what she's been waiting for. Strangely, the woman I can describe in detail as my mother is there, pixelated, but there, digitized, but there – seems metamorphosed into someone completely foreign to me, but already recognizable by her grandson. "How are you today?" she asks, but not of me, to him, the chunky-cheeked, man cub bouncing next to me. "Fine," I think to myself. I'm fine, but I know she wasn't asking me. "Look at that face! It's so cute." Again, things I know. Things I think to myself. Things she needs to say because she isn't here, but needs to feel like she is.
            I remember when I used to feel like I mattered, but I know I still do. The voice she has now, the one that only Ezra and her neighborhood’s dogs can hear, is the voice I bet she used to have with me prior to my memory’s memories. “He’s just so cute! Look at those cheeks. I want to pinch (or) squeeze (or) kiss them,” my mother spills with effortless fan-girl bliss. My father always made fun on grandparents, arguing that once someone became such, they become stupid, fawning and foaming, becoming clown-like remnants of people who used to be parents. She has become a different person to me - one that makes me fully understand the capacity to love, renders me aware of how painful it is to worry about someone every second of every day, one that makes me ache over what it must be like to be so far from someone you love so much. This is her consolation prize, the closest thing she gets to being a real part of the process.

            I know that I again matter; without me, she wouldn’t get this fifteen minute period every day that she probably eagerly awaits more than I can understand. She’s still my mom, but she’s become Ezra’s grandma too, and he is so lucky to have her, even if it’s only on a screen, amorphous and inconsistent. He hears her voice, and knows that he matters.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Alarm Clock

My alarm clock rings, except it's not an alarm clock, and it is too early for me to get up. I open my eye slowly, just one, because if I open two, I have to accept the cruel fact that I am awake even though darkness still clouds my bedroom. Avoiding picking up my cell phone to check the time, the presence of the blue digits on the ceiling, the colorful reminder beaming from my wife's projection clock, indicated that it is 4:59. One minute early. My small human clock let's out another noise, part chuckle, part gurgle, indicating that it is time for me to open both eyes, roll over, place my tired feet on the floor, and get moving.

In the semi-light of the glowing nightlight, I see the shadowy outline of a small, amorphous figure. I lean over the crib, and ask him, "How do you sleep like that? You can't be comfortable" Even in my whisper, it's too late. The deed is done. Two bug eyes burst open, catching and latching onto mine. The corners of his small mouth begin to lift in the form of a toothless, drool-y smile - my favorite kind. "C'mon Bug," I say, lifting him gently in his sleepy state. "Let's go wake the Dairy Queen."

My wife and I have developed these sixth senses since Ezra's birth - I know when he is awake in the middle of the night and needs a pacifier or to be changed. She knows when it's feeding time. Painfully aware of this, when my first eye begrudgingly opens before five, I sense that it is time to deliver my man cub to his culinary delights while my wife, who would never admit it, snores with a high-pitched, leaky inflatable toy snore. As I enter the room, she shoots up, not from being startled by my sudden presence, but rather because her human alarm clock begins to sound. I hand over the precious cargo, and in my zombie-like state, fumble towards my side of the bed.

Normally, I return to sleep pretty quickly. That's what I used to do before my fifteen pound nugget of baby flesh joined the bed in the morning post-feeding ritual. Between my wife and I, Ezra sprawls out, like a mini bear rug in front of some distant cabin's fireplace, two hands reaching out, a snow angel between pillows and parents. This morning, in particular, those tiny hands that I love to kiss so much, become weapons of mass sleep destruction. "Dad," he seems to say with his eyes, "I'm awake. You will be too!" This unspoken communique is followed by a whack to my right eye, a high pitched squeal of humor, and the grumble of my wife, who, for some reason, has managed to make it back to sleep. I close my eyes, but he senses this game, and engages - his hand, like arcade-game claw, latches onto my hair, and pulls. "Damn," I think to myself, "This little monster is strong." I separate his latch from my weary clump of hair, and he laughs in response, but also uses his other hand to grab onto another particularly large cluster of hair. "I don't like this game!" I whisper, to which a pterodactyl squeal of pleasure replies, indicating that he, in fact, loves this game. I look up at the ceiling; the same blue digits indicate that it is now 5:20, I'm wide awake, Ezra's engaged, and it's going to be a long day. My wife rolls over and pretends that we are not there. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Wah, A Cry, a Wail

I am the younger of two children by twelve years. I come from an extremely large extended family, but the majority of the family around whom I lived growing up were older than me. Everyone did things for me and cooed at my every whim, teaching me all the things they thought I should have known.  Essentially, I am the baby: a role I proudly embrace. So, when I found out that my wife would be having a baby, I realized, after coming to, that I had to learn. I had to learn everything. For the first time in my life, I knew nothing.

A “wah,” a cry, a wail - having a newborn is like living with a drug addict; one minute, he is on a high:  sweet, lovable, and the apple of my eye. The toothless, gummy smile and pterodactyl screeches melt my heart. The next minute, the world is coming to a crashing halt and all the rotational pull of the earth's gravity ceases, spiraling out of control. I start to sweat, ask him, as though he will respond, what he wants.  Instead of responding, he looks into my eyes, senses my growing fears,  and wails. What, exactly, does that cry mean? He's not wet-i just changed him. He can't be hungry, he just ate. Is he cluster feeding? This cry so different: alone in a vast expanse of sobs. The nuances between these cries are slight, and it takes inference to decode, inferences I so desperately needed to master

There are several categories of Ezra cries. Wahh one: this is the “I'm-sort-of-fussy-are-you-there cry,” the one he uses to make sure that either his mother or I are still paying him attention. At eleven weeks, he already knows that his small little finger can fit two parents, regardless of our small stature, tightly wrapped around. Wahh two: this is the” I'm-going-to-cry because-I'm-tired cry,” which is softer and usually accompanied by eye rubbing. I watch for he signals, a father hawk as keenly invested in his best interest as I am my own sanity, grab a muslin blanket for his swaddling. This is no burrito; wrapping my child is crucial, requiring the delicate balance of tightness and gentleness or, of course, there is another cry. Throw in the mix an assortment of other cries like the standard “I-need-my-diaper-changed,” “I'm-hungry,” and “Haha-I’m-funny” cries, but each has its own subtle difference. Each cry is laden with its own suggestive implications and emotional underpinnings, all of which I have had to learn to translate. If not, someone else usually ends up crying, and I can assure you, he doesn't wear diapers.

Ezra: Unamused.