Friday, April 22, 2011

What's that on my shirt?

“Children are a black hole of need,” said my nearly famous uncle a few years ago after the first few months with his newborn. This is a man who’s booked throughout the year on five- and six-digit consulting engagements with businesses around the globe. He’s written books, been on best-seller lists, made appearances on famous TV shows and handled it all the way Paula Deen handles a stick of butter . . . effortlessly.

Johnson & Johnson was right . . . "A baby changes everything." Here is this high-powered, multi-tasking, semi-famous business consultant worn to a nub by a small person with a floppy head.

Who am I? I’m just a guy about as far from his level of competency as my mother is from learning how to use a universal remote. But as a father to a newborn, I share his sentiment. After just two weeks of helping my wife care for our second son, I am beat. Forget exercise. I’ve put on five pounds already. Clean clothes go from the dryer to the hamper to stay until they’re pilfered out for what passes as the next day’s wardrobe. My ten-year-old son is cooking frozen pizza for breakfast. We’re pooped.

Say, that reminds me, this new kid has an overactive colon. I don’t remember it looking as much like Dijon mustard as it does. Is that why they call it 'Poupon'?

We’ve gone through pack after pack of diapers. BTW, Huggies don’t work so well on my youngen, if by work I mean actually stop the waste from getting into his clothes. Did I already mention the laundry?

Too tired to cook, clean, exercise or sometimes even use proper hygiene, I am a living testament to my power-uncle’s statement. Be that as it may, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. I wear this spit up stain on my shirt like a badge. People see me and they know I barely slept last night and tiptoed out of the house this morning while the little guy was dreaming. But I love my new son, and I love this transition, and I love being a dad.

My wife and I are closer than we’ve been in years. My older kid is pitching in. Neighbors and family and church members are showering us with food and cards and visits and support. It’s been exhausting, but great at the same time.

Next time I post, I’ll let y’all see our birth announcement. For now, I’m too tired to link. I think I hear my baby crying.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Parents are the same around the world

It was the day after Christmas in 2000, just over 10 years ago, when my very pregnant wife called and told me that she thinks her water has broken. (Thinks? How can you not know? But that’s a story for another time.) I dashed home to pick her up and off we rode to the hospital, where my heroic wife delivered a healthy boy, our first born. We had our normal three-day stay in the hospital and went home to learn the ropes of first-time parents.

Fast forward four months after our first born's birth and halfway around the globe to a little village called Londiani in Kenya. I was there on a mission trip to help the people in this beautiful town figure out how to finance and install a water treatment plant. Back then, everyone drank from the same dirty river. Every day the women and children of Londiani would tote what looked like gas cans to the river, fill them up for cooking and drinking and washing, then lug them back home. Amazing what we take for granted in the U.S.!

It was in this little village that I met John and Elizabeth. They were Kenyans, born and raised –and interestingly enough, they came from two different tribes, well known locally for not getting along. But they had a wonderful marriage. That too, is topic for another blog post. If memory serves, Elizabeth was the only nurse working at the only health clinic for miles around. A couple of times a year, the Londiani clinic would receive a visit from a doctor, but the majority of healthcare for an entire county-sized area fell onto Elizabeth’s capable shoulders.

She was an amazing woman, and I was blessed enough to hear her speak to a men’s conference on HIV/AIDS, a serious problem everywhere, but a topic that hits home in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Elizabeth and John were expecting another child. They were terrific, responsible parents who loved and cared for their children. With my experience as a new dad, I talked at some length with Elizabeth. How do the patients arrive at the clinic? How long do they stay? What about complications? And so on.

Her answers made me feel like such a wuss. When it’s time, the pregnant women of the surrounding villages walk – WALK to the clinic and give birth there with Elizabeth’s help. Assuming all goes well, an hour or so after delivery, the baby is swaddled and the mother again WALKS home. No overnight stay, no hospital, no doctors or nursing consultants. No custom, magnetic, photo birth announcements or flowers or phone calls. Just a few painful pushes, a couple hours of recovery and a walk home. That’s just how they roll.

African women – at least of the sort you find in Londiani – are crazy strong. I don’t just mean muscle-strong. I mean they have a will to live and love that I’ve never seen before or since.

So here I am exactly ten years later, on the verge of heading to the hospital, so my wonderful, heroic wife can give birth to what we think will be our second son. We’ll stay in the hospital for at least two nights, maybe three. We’ll have the best medical care our insurance can afford. We’ll be seen by at least three different doctors and somewhere close to half a dozen nurses, not to mention the scores of support staff.

It’s amazing how much different our health care system is to that of a relatively developed African nation – admittedly I was in a very rural area there. But one thing remains the same. We all love our children and will walk from here to eternity for them. No matter what kind of care we receive when we get there.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Graduation Announcement:
A Few Miles to Go Before that Leap

Magnetic photo graduation announcementsAmong our Crinkled staff members, I'm the one with the oldest kid. So naturally, as the most- of the least-qualified, it falls on me to talk about graduation. "You're the closest," they told me, which in no way made me feel better about how close "graduation" really is to "grown." I'm still dealing with the fact that my child is old enough to drive a car. How can I be ready for him to graduate from high school?

But we've got a little ways to go yet. And not just chronologically. To be honest, my son's grades aren't the greatest – we've been plugging through freshman year so far with earnest hopes and a not-a-few prayers of making it to 10th grade without summer school.

As wonderful as he is, my child is not the scholarly type. In our ongoing battle with ADHD, there were times his teachers were just thankful he was near his desk. It’s not to say he hasn’t been concerned about his schoolwork; it was just a year or so ago he approached me with the exceptional scholastic challenges he was encountering in middle school. “I’m telling you, Mama, it’s pretty tough.” – (deep breaths, dramatic pause) – “I think I’m gonna have to start studying for tests.”

Wow, say it isn’t so.

It’s amazing how different kids can be from their parents (or at least one of them). School came easy for me; it was real life that always freaked me out. I’m still in awe of it, though I think I’ve gotten a better handle on it after a few good decades of practice.

It still amazes me how, with limited skills and no formal training, I’ve managed to feed, clothe, correct, nurture, train and hopefully inspire another human being for 16 years already. Like most parents, I feel totally inadequate for such a prodigious vocation. And as the sun of my son’s childhood begins to set, I hope the principles I’ve shared and guidance I’ve given will have him prepared, as much as he can be, for the world that awaits him beyond graduation.

If all goes well, he’ll make that leap in the spring of 2014. He’ll cross the platform and toss that cap in the air; I’ll send out the fancy graduation invitations, and weep profusely as he receives his diploma.

I’m not going to break out the Kleenex yet, though. We’ve still got some ground to cover and grades to pass. And it’s fair to say, a little more growing to do.