Mike Hall

 

Every day when the bell would ring at the end of 1st Grade, Mike Hall and I would race to the bus stop.  Every day it was the same.  Mike, a classmate with a large red birthmark on his face (that my mother prompted me many times to ignore), would beat me to the bus stop and be first in line.  Except for the times she talked about it, I never even thought about his birthmark.  All I cared about was beating Mike Hall to the bus stop and being first in line.

He was faster than me, but I refused to accept it.  I was sure if I just could find some way to push a little harder I would beat him.  I tried different techniques of better organizing my stuff during the final moments of class.  Mike was always better at it.  During the last few minutes before the bell rang, I could not have told you was said in class.  All I could do was study Mike Hall.  He sat like a Cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, absolutely still, taut and ready to sprint.   I searched for signs of weakness, but saw none.  I don’t know how he did it, but he was always ready.  Every day, he beat me out that door.  Every day, he was number one and I was inescapably number two.

When I think back on this time, the thing that’s most extraordinary to me is that I never gave up competing with him.  Later in life, if someone were to beat me every time we competed, I would certainly surrender and redirect my efforts elsewhere.  But this was first grade elementary school and I had not yet learned to accept defeat.  Like the Coyote to the Road Runner, I showed up every day for school knowing there was an anvil with my name on it, but believing today would be the day it would land on Mike and not me.

We were constantly competitive with each other for reasons I don’t exactly recall.  If we sat next to each other in the auditorium, we fought for the arm rests.  I never did that with anyone else.  It just never came up.  Until Mike Hall, I didn’t even know that elbows might collide and want the exact same location on the arm rest.  Tetherball, DodgeBall, Basketball, or 4-Square were all brutal contests to the finish with the end results usually being contested.  It was like we needed a referee to follow us around and settle the constant collision of 7-year old egos.

Mike Hall won the lion’s share of these competitions.  While I’m sure I must have won a small percentage of the time, the feeling I had as a 7-year old was that I “never” won.  Ever. I was never quite as fast as he was, as strong as he was, or as good of an athlete.  It seemed like this was going to be the case for the rest of our lives.

Until one day when something happened.

The bell had rung and we were racing to the bus stop as normal.  It was probably about a 50-60 yard run outside across polished concrete.  As it was every day of my life in First Grade, I was sprinting as fast as my legs would take me while staring at the back of Mike Hall’s head.  It was always like running in a dream to race Mike.  No matter how hard you told your legs to run, they would never accelerate enough to catch him.  Just as I was about to give up, God intervened.

Mike slipped and fell.

All of his books and school papers went flying everywhere as I ran past him for the very first time, ever.  I saw the empty finish line for first place at the bus stop and kept running.  I had never stood there before.  I was finally going to be there.  I was finally going to know how it felt to be number ONE.  I finally was going to get my wish, my prayer!  Yes, I had decided this was something worthy of God’s attention and had prayed about it often enough.  And now my prayers would be answered.  I would be FIRST, Mike Hall would be second!  Other kids would notice and life would change for the better.  Time slowed down.  I heard music.  Everything became clear to me as I ran in slow motion like Chariots of Fire.

I already had my victory dance planned upon arrival when his face flashed across my mind’s eye.  I rewound the tape and remembered what a major spill he’d just taken. Was that fear in his eyes as he fell?  I spun around to look and he was still on the ground, all of his papers strewn around him.  I looked at the finish line 10 yards ahead, and then looked back to Mike.

I ran back to him.

I don’t know why I chose to do that.  I was not a particularly charitable boy and if I was, the last person in the world I would have been generous to was Mike Hall.  But there was something weird about him falling that hard.  I still don’t know what it was that had me running back to him.  I wasn’t thinking.  I just reacted.  Maybe I wasn’t sure what my universe would be like if I beat him.  Perhaps there was something about wanting to win fair and square, or maybe, deep down, there was safety in being #2.  I honestly don’t know.  But I went back, helped pick him up off the ground, collected all the things that he’d dropped and handed them back to him.  I was going to say something, but he turned, sprinted to first place in the bus stop line, and left me standing there feeling kind of stupid.

As 7-year olds, we didn’t have the language to talk about what just happened, but it left me feeling puzzled about both of our actions.  Maybe it confirmed that there was this bloodthirsty, survival of the fittest rule that all 7-year old, competitive boys were supposed to practice, and compassion had no place.  But either way, something shifted that day and I stopped racing Mike Hall to the bus stop.  I would still get there quickly, but I didn’t care any more about being first or second.  Fourth or fifth place seemed enough.  Mike continued to be first in line for as long as I can remember that year.  The next year, my father got a job in a different town, so we moved far away.

I still think about Mike Hall from time to time and wonder if he remembers this day.  I wonder if he’s still racing and winning races or if that has become less important to him as well.  I wonder how I might be different if I had not stopped and gone back to help him, but I think I’m glad I did.

 

Awakened

 

Something is wrong.

It’s a bad omen when it’s pitch dark and I awaken in bed.  Don’t look at the watch, don’t look at the watch–I look at the watch.  4:30a.m.  Not good.  Why did I look at the watch?  Now I’m thinking…  Don’t think!  Thinking keeps you awake!  Try to remember what you were just dreaming…hmm,…something about a fire storm.  No, that’s no good.  Scary dream.  Probably why I just woke up.  Still thinking, “really have to stop thinking…”

That was hours ago when my ordeal was just beginning.

I tried everything to get back to sleep with a restless wife battling a similar challenge.  I might have succeeded if it weren’t for the fact that I started hearing sounds in our dark bedroom.  Adrenaline flowed.  Super Defender Man began listening intently to all the sounds of the night, piecing out the ones out of place.  I could have sworn I heard our metal door handle, but maybe I was imagining it.  The notes were obscured by 2 fans still blowing the hot summer out of the room in September.  Couldn’t tell for certain, but a second sound came out of the darkness that I tentatively identified as a floor creak.

That alone would freak out most people, but we have a creaky floor in our bedroom that snaps and complains even when no one is up there.  When we first bought the house, it used to startle me awake at night.  We simply had to accept that our upstairs bedroom, for no reason, sounded like a portly gent with loud, popping joints when he kneeled.  Shy of chiropractic work, I’m not sure what could be done to heal it.  My wife sleeps with earplugs, so the cacophony doesn’t seem to bother her.  Mostly I’m used to it and have trained myself to sleep through the benign explosions.

There was something different about this night’s noise.  I was not falling back to sleep any time soon.

I don’t know if this is a male thing, or just my protector/defender thing, but I run through scenarios in my head all the time with triggers like this.  I hear a sound and immediately look for the nearest weapon.  Maybe I’ve seen too much TV, but if someone was in the bedroom, I did not want to be lying down.  I raised my head slightly from the pillow to listen as intently as I could.  Battling sleep filled eyes, I tried to focus in the dark.  There was a tiny glow coming through a bijou window to the downstairs where a stove light stayed on all night.  My mind painted scenarios of what I might do if a silhouette broke that screen.  Yell, confront, attack, or observe?  Even with the adrenaline, my mind was still closer to sleep than awake.  That would explain the next image that popped into my brain: maybe there were black ops guys in the room on a mission!  [We don’t ask for this imagination, it just shows up uninvited on most occasions...]  If there was a black ops guy in the room, I was probably (most assuredly) out matched.  There would be more than one and they’d have night vision goggles and plenty of protective gear.  Still lying in bed working this out, I resolved to simply surrender if that was the case.  With any luck, they probably had the wrong house or it was something I could explain away in the light of day.  Seriously?  Am I really thinking Navy Seals are in the bedroom?  How ridiculous is that?!  Besides, such an operation would be expensive and I’m sure no one in my family would be a high value target.

Except our little dog, perhaps.

We’re not entirely certain of her background (she was a rescue) and she acts like a little terrorist towards all mammals, oviparous animals, and insects that trespass on her property.  Don’t think about the dog, I scolded myself.  Except that the dog never barked downstairs which might lead credence to an air assault with a rooftop landing.  Hmm…

I quietly slipped out of bed and onto my feet remembering a baseball bat in the room.  Odds are it’s nothing, just my unsolicited imagination.  I rose from the floor in silent slow motion like an actor playing a cop on TV.  As I rose like a TV cop, I wished I had thought to rise like a ninja.  Ninja’s were better at this kind of thing and they had better knees than I.  I did everything I could to move slowly and quietly, but both knees, a left ankle and some other unidentified body part chose this moment crack loudly.  I’m sure if I did more yoga or stretched this wouldn’t happen.  I’m really bad about remembering to stretch and my wife scolds me about this.  Why didn’t I listen to her and stretch last night?  Now, with the element of surprise ruined, I’ll probably die in hand to hand combat because it’s impossible for me to move silently in the dark.  The scenario of surrendering to a Navy Seal looked more appealing.

After 3 steps, the snap, crackle, pops of my body resoundingly announced the advance of a middle aged man in his underwear.  I also could see now that the bedroom door was open about 10 inches or so.  And then I heard the unmistakeable sound of something, or someone about 6 feet away from me.  Adrenaline surged like a shot of awful tasting hard liquor.

“Pops? Are you awake yet?”

Oh, sweet Buddha!  It’s my 9 year old son who continues, “I’m on the floor a little to your right.”

My black ops imagination is not looking so crazy now, is it?

“What are you doing?!”, I stage whispered.

“Just wanted to see if you were awake, sweet Papa.  Time for cuddles?”

“Well, sure,… I mean No,… I mean yes, but let’s go downstairs where we won’t wake Mama.”

On cue she wakes and says through earplugs, “IS THAT YOU, SWEETIE?  WHO’S THERE?  IS THAT THE BOY?!’

“We’re okay sweetie, just me and the boy.”

“WHAAAAT?”

“WE’RE OKAY, JUST ME AND THE BOY!,” I shout back.

“WHAT TIME IS IT?”

“Way too early, go back to bed,” I answered.

“WHAT?”

“TOO EARLY!  FOUR SOMETHING! GO BACK TO SLEEP!”

“Okay.  Love you guys.”

My 9 year old Navy Seal hugs me and we leave the bedroom and go downstairs as quietly as we can, closing the bedroom door behind us.  We stop in front of a window where he suggests we look at the stars.  I’m confused and touched at the same time due to the mixture of sleep and adrenaline moving through my veins.  He’s being so sweet.  He must feel badly about waking me.  I stagger on stiff, groggy muscles towards the oasis of our coffee making station with the boy hugging my torso.  I love how sweet and affectionate he’s being, but it’s still slightly out of character.

“I love you, Pops.”

“Well, me too,” I say cashing in on another unhurried hug.  “You know you totally scared the BeJeezus out of me, right?”

“Sorry, Pops.”

“Why were you in our bedroom before 5am?”

“Just wanted to know if you were awake?”

“Why would I be awake at that time of the morning?”

“I don’t know.”

I let it go and got another really demonstrative hug while I waited for the kettle to boil.

“Pops?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I tell you the truth?”

“I sure hope so.  What’s up?”

“Well, I wanted you to know that I was up in the bedroom looking for my Kindle.”

“Ohhhhhh….”  Yes, that would make more sense.  “Is that why you were crawling on the floor?”

“I was trying to find its hiding place when I heard you get up.”

“I see…”

“Pops?”

“Yeah?”

“Do I get credit for telling the truth?”

“Of course you do.  Thank you for telling the truth.  It makes a lot more sense than you coming up in the middle of the night to see if I was awake.”

“No, I mean do I get credit?  Like extra screen time?”

“No, I don’t think it’s that kind of thing because you did wake the heck out of me this morning.  Do you think there should be a reward for that because you confessed the real reason was criminal activity?”

“Well, it wasn’t really ‘criminal,’ just a rule.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do.”  Pause.    ”Pops?”

“Yeah?”

“Did I mention how much I love you?”

“Yes you did and feeling is mutual.”

I get another long repentant hug and then he retreats to his room to find a book as the kettle has boiled and coffee is closer to being consumed.

 

 

The Father’s Day Card

 

Father’s Day is a dichotomy for me.

On the one hand, with a beautiful 9 year old boy, it’s one of my favorite days of the year.  I get taken out to a meal and drinks of my choosing, full permission to take a Sunday afternoon nap, and I even get some kind of really cool man-gift that’s never a tie.  Being a father is one of the most magical things in my life right now.  Even on my worst, saddest, most stress filled, crappy days, I feel deeply proud of my son and our relationship.  He’s brought meaning, maturity and joy to my life I would never have known without his birth.  There’s a profundity about being a father that any patriarch with half a heart will know.  I believe procreation has this weird affect on our beings.  I think it might make us feel more in sync with life and its purpose.

Many years back, I was at a turning point in my life, a nadir, as it were.  The best part of that time was some therapy I did with a fantastic feminist/existentialist psychologist.  [I know.  It’s a mouthful.] While that year of work we did together can’t possibly be summarized here, she said something once about procreation that perfectly surprised me.  It seemed out of character with her evolved and carefully thought out positions on life.

She was almost flippant the way she mentioned it during a session, which was particularly unlike her.  Existentialists, in general, tend toward the deep, broody, long considered, delayed responses that can make you wonder if they’re still part of the conversation.  So there I was, very single, wallowing in some deep angst around turning 40 and wondering whether I would ever find a mate and if so, have kids.

Out of the blue she said, “Oh, you should do it.  It’s meaning in a bottle.”

I was completely thrown by that at the time, but in retrospect, I think she was right.  There is something deeply anthropological about finding your mate and making a family.  It does suddenly bring a lot of things into focus like never before.  And not always in the ways we might expect it.

While being a father has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life, having one has been a dramatically different experience.  How can any father celebrate Father’s Day without reflecting upon his own?  That’s the other side of this coin for me.  With the exception of the first 13-14 years of my life, I’ve been mostly estranged from my father for the nearly 4 decades that followed.  I’ve made many attempts to heal that rift over that time, none of which succeeded the way I’d hoped.  Fantastic sums of money went to both gifted and unremarkable therapists to help me make peace with that.  While all of that work helped me heal and grow up more whole, it never provided me with the secret code to mend the cracked relationship with my father.

My Dad has always been a relatively secretive man.  I spent a large part of these lost decades trying to understand or guess the contents of his heart.  My best theory is that it was broken when my mother left him in the early 1970’s.  While my little sister went to live with our Mom, it was decided that a 13-year old boy should live with his father.  I was okay with that at the time.  I remember feeling much closer to him because he’d been my coach for various sports, and probably because he was a guy.  We’d had a very close relationship up until that time and he was kind of a superman to me.  For the 3 years that followed, I watched our relationship slide into something completely adversarial with no adult present to help us sort it out.  My father fell down and never really got back up.

By age 16, I was forced to leave and moved out of State to live with my Mom and sister.

My intent here is not to go deeply into that, but rather to note that since that break, Father’s Day has always presented some communication challenges.  How to communicate with my father on that day?  What kind of card should I get him?  Do I get him a card at all?  If I don’t get him a card, will that mean something?  This year I actually looked through 20-30 to finally find one that didn’t say, “Thank you for being the best father ever,…blah, blah, blah…”  Yeah, right.  Most of them said that, so it was tricky finding one that would feel reasonably authentic for me.

Perhaps it’s the superstitious way in which I try to make meaning out of life, but I’d swear there are times when it tries to communicate through metaphor.  This year’s attempt at a Father’s Day card was one of those times.

The card I finally found was one of these painfully dumb cartoon joke cards that I knew he’d love.  It was perfect.  I don’t intend this in a mean way at all, but my father is one of those guys who thinks he has this incredible sense of humor.

He doesn’t.

He almost never laughs at other people’s jokes, but will often add something on top of them that he’s dead certain is waaaay funnier than their punch line.

It’s not.

And he doesn’t toss out the line casually either.  He leans into it with poorly hidden anger and waits for the laugh.  If there’s any laughter at all, it’s the deeply uncomfortable kind like when people chuckle during a stick up.  My father can’t tell the difference.  He banks it and will refer to it later as proof that he’s a profoundly clever and funny guy.

He’s not.

Anyway, the card I found was perfect.  It was somewhat related to him, and somewhat related to my work and had a son talking to his father about an abacus.  It was really dumb, obvious humor.  He would have liked it as much as he likes anything he doesn’t think of first.  I could comfortably bet the pink slip on my car that he would have a come-back on it when we talked on the phone later.

These days, I hardly snail-mail anything, but I knew he’d appreciate a paper card.  My annual mixed feelings about the process led to some procrastination.  When I finally organized around mailing it, I needed to send it express mail to get it there on time.  I included pictures of the family and one particularly cute one of his grandson.  The Sunday in question arrived.

I don’t believe my father has ever acknowledged that Father’s Day is also a day that I have celebrated for 9 years.  My Father’s Day is a day that netted him his only grand child which I expected him to adore.

He didn’t.

So how to have a phone conversation with him on this day?  I’m fully cognizant that I could completely let it go and ignore the day, but there’s a part of me that finds it easier to maintain the charade than drop it.  Or maybe I just can’t let go of the tattered shreds of hope that our relationship will reconstitute itself.  I’m not sure.

It’s complicated and confusing.

Answering machines can be a godsend in this regard.  If I time things right, I can get credit for calling, without having to have a conversation.  I usually leave something light and vaguely authentic.  This year I had all 3 of us call and we were lucky enough to get the machine on the way to church.  We all sang “Happy Father’s Day,” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”   And then we passed the phone around and said a lot of things like, “Hope you have a nice day,” and “Happy Father’s Day.”  I also said, “Hope you like the card we sent.”

It’s not unusual to get no response after a call like this, but I was curious about the card and and the photos I sent.   I emailed a few days later and asked if he’d liked the card.  His wife (#3) replied that they had not received it yet, so I made inquiries with the delivery service.  The tracking data said it had indeed been delivered on the expected day.  After a volley of emails back and forth with his wife, I realized it had been delivered to an address they had moved from over 4 years ago.  A few more phone calls to the Express Mail people and I was informed that it was circling somewhere in California, and would likely, one day, be returned to me.  Weeks later and no one has seen or heard from it, but I continue to get tracking data showing it was rejected at the incorrect address a couple of times.

Does the universe communicate in metaphors?  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just making it all up, but this one sure lines up that way.  I don’t know how long this card will float around in the postal system, but it feels like another failed attempt to reach him.  I’ve done everything I can with the tracking info to correct the delivery address or have it returned to me and two months later, neither has occurred.

A couple years ago, my father’s wife revealed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years prior.  While we were shocked to learn this 3 years late, we were equally taken aback by the fact that we hadn’t noticed.  He’s been absent for so long.  Even in person, he was usually absent.  We don’t contact him very often except to send a photo of his grandson, or the phone call on odd holidays or his birthday.  I can probably count on one hand the amount of times he has called or written to me/us the past 4 decades.  So it was ironic and surreal we didn’t notice the gradual dementia that pulled him even farther away.

As anyone who has someone with dementia in their lives realizes, it’s too late for change.  The person who might have transformed and reached out and tried to heal what is broken is gone.  History simply is what it is and our acceptance that it’s over, however premature, is the key to our health and inner peace.

Jack Kornfield writes, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”

I think I’m getting there.  I’m not sure if forgiveness is what I’ll find, but dementia demands that I give up all hope of a better past.

On Father’s Day, I am inspired when I look in my son’s bright, blue eyes.  I know I have a great responsibility to end the legacy of a failed father/son relationship.  I am committed to making that happen.  I am committed to growing myself and our relationship because our connection is more important than being right.

I can do this.

I will.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue.

As the narrative implies, I had intended to post this a few weeks after Father’s Day.  It’s been a tangled piece to write and the delays rolled into Autumn, allowing a perfect piece of mail to arrive.  I enclose a picture for your perusal.

IMG_4016

 

The Disquiet of the Soul

[It’s impossible to be a writer on the web these days without an awareness of FaceBook.  Sometimes when I’m stumped, or simply procrastinating, I pop over there and read what others have written about their lives or an article or video they’ve seen.  When you arrive at the top of your FaceBook Page, there’s this single line blank space that asks, “What’s on your mind?” 
What's on your mind?
Normally I ignore it and post whatever I feel like posting rather than responding to this contrived prompt.  Today, I didn’t.  Here’s what followed.]

~~~~~~~~~~

What’s on my mind?

Today it’s the crazy angst I feel when I cannot feed my soul’s calling.  It’s the disquiet that comes from allowing myself to get caught up in the daily grind of making a living.  It’s the restlessness from the resulting 4 dozen day job details that consume my attention, energy, and motion of the clock.  It’s the sadness when I realize I have forgotten to sit down and be present with the ones who give my life deep meaning and love.

I have a good life, a rich life, an “enough” life.  Some days I feel blessed, on others, just profoundly lucky.  There are so many on our crowded planet who have far more challenges than I.

I feel I should not complain.

Still, my soul howls to spend more of its incarnation doing what it aches to do.  What it came to do.  To do more than pay the bills.  To take it’s unique experiences, skills and gifts to make the world a slightly better, lighter place.  To be in deep, attentive communion and connection with those that matter.

That’s what’s on my mind today…

 

 

Trying to Write

 

I’m trying to write.

I’ve attempted to hide in my son’s room, the only place in the house he doesn’t hang out, and my solitude has lasted a full 39 seconds before:

“Pops come take a picture of me now.”

“I can’t dear boy.  I’m trying to write.”

“Pleeeeeease come take a picture of me and Little Missy.  She looks so cuuuuute.”

“I’m taking a picture in my mind right now, dear boy.”

“Pops, that’s not the same!”

“It’s good enough for me and I promise I’ll remember it always,” I yell from the chair in his room.

“But how will I see it if it’s only in your head?”

“I’ll describe it to you anytime you want.”

“Pops, that’s not the same.”

A gnawing panic inside me begins to grow like dough with too much yeast.  I had this great idea for a piece and now it’s slipping away.  Feels like I’ll never get anything written today.

“I’ll draw it it for you later, I promise, but right now I really need to WRITE.”

My end-of-the-semester, grad student wife is in the other room.  He polls her next.

“Maaaaaama, come take a picture of me on your iPhone.”

“I’d love to sweetie but I’m right in the middle of studying.  A little bit later okay.”

“Awwww.  Pleeeeeeease?”

“Lovey-kins, you know I would but I’m completely ensconced on the sofa with my books, my tea, my highlighter and I only have 90 minutes left to study before I have to write a paper and take a test.” 

She tries not to accidentally spill her stress on him, but you can hear the strain in her voice.  I’m not getting anything done listening to this conversation, but I have to see who will blink first.  The ball is in my son’s court now.

“That’s a long time!  You’re going to miss the cutest photo ever.  Little Missy is lying on my belly and looking so cute.  Pleeeeeease?  Besides, with you working and doing grad school all the time… I. feel. neglected

Neglected,… neglected,… neglected,…”  echoes off the Alps. 

Ouch.  The boy is good.  Yikes.  Game, set, match.

My wife caves as the mother guilt rushes in and steals 10 minutes of the 90 she has left to study.  She moans, rises, finds her iPhone, takes the notably unremarkable picture, and then moves her entire study nest out of earshot, installs earplugs, and goes back to work.

Writers talk all the time about the swarm of distractions that come into our every moment at the keyboard.  Even right now, as I type with a small amount of inspiration, I’m thinking:

“I think I have to pee.  Or am I hungry?  Or maybe both?  I should just get up, go to the loo, make a nice eggy breakfast, and THEN I’ll be able to sit still and finish this piece.”

And that, in theory, could be exactly what I need to do to produce Pulitzer prize winning paragraphs.  In reality, it’s precisely what I just returned from 10 minutes ago.  Except it was frozen pancakes from Trader Joe’s.

“Beloved?”  My wife’s voice somehow reaches me in the other end of the house where I’m writing.

Yes, Dear?!?”,  I yell without thinking.

“Dear” is a weird thing to yell because it doesn’t sound like you truly think of the other person as “dear” when you have to scream it through sound barriers.  I’m convinced that our neighbors must think we’re an old deaf couple as we’re definitely “yellers.”

“Would you be a DEAR and bring me my glasses?  I left them downstairs next to the sofa.”

oh-dear-2

My wife’s a trained singer and stage actress so she knows how to yell well.  I can hear every word and it’s too late to pretend I can’t.

Truth be told, this is not really a request.

I have 3 choices here, one of which has already expired.  The first (and best) choice would have been to pretend I couldn’t hear my operatic diva when she first canvased to see if I was in earshot.  If I’d had my wits about me, I would have silently pretended I couldn’t hear.  Too late for that.

My second choice is to essentially say, “No.”  We all know that’s not the right answer, right?  I’ve tried all kinds of them, and none of my no’s work.

“Oh, sweetie I can’t.  I just twisted my ankle and it’s on ice right now!” 

Or, “I’m on the phooooone.”

The only one that has worked on occasion is, “I’m in the loo, can it wait?”  

The latter has believability problems as it will mean she will come and find me after she has retrieved whatever it is I’m supposed to bring her.  So I damn well better be in the loo when that happens, and if I’ve got to be there, I might as well get up and bring her whatever she’s needing.

No.  All of the “no’s,” essentially communicate one of the following:

A)  “I don’t love you
B)  “I don’t have time for you”
C)  “I’m too busy to value our relationship”
D)  “I don’t care about your needs.”
E)   All of the Above.

No.  Over time, in the interests of a healthy marriage, I’ve learned my time is not really my own.  Particularly when I’m called to assist in the delivery of goods to my wife.

My third and only “choice” is to stop what I’m doing, find her glasses, and bring them to her.  It’s been suggested I need the exercise.

Even when I’m trying to write…

[to be continued...]

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The Art of Fort

 

Making the idle comment that my 9 year old boy likes building forts, is much akin to saying the Easter Bunny is vaguely attracted to eggs.  He is consumed and obsessed with his fort building passion.  Our sofas and beds spend a good part of the weekend and all summer looking like discarded skeletons in the desert.

My wife and I were surprised to discover this obsession had also moved to school.  We recently learned of a major fort building project he was involved in that seemed to consume most of his recess time.  After years of trying unsuccessfully to get him to talk about his day at school, now we couldn’t get him to cease.  Every day after school, we each were treated to long attention span reports about the ups and downs of maintaining a fort at school.

“Pops, you know the fort’s in trouble, right?”

“It’s in trouble?”

“The 5th grade girls are sabotaging it at recess.”

“And you can’t stop them?” I ask.

“They have a different recess than we do.”

“Oh, bummer.  So how do you know it’s them?”

“Oh, we know.”

“You just know?  How do you know if you’re not there?”

“We have spies,” he replied.

“Spies?”  Clearly, this was more sophisticated than I’d imagined.

“You know, spies!  Ears and eyes.  Intelligence gathering?”

“But you’re in the 3rd Grade.”

“So.  I’ve had spies since Kindergarten.”

“Kindergarten?!”

“Well, they weren’t very reliable.  You know how hard it is to trust little kids.”

“Yes, the truth is a moving target with them.”

“Exactly.  Anyway, we know it’s the 5th Grade girls, so we set a trap.”

“Should I be concerned?”

“The 5th Grade girls are the ones that need to be concerned,” he said.

“That’s what I’m worried about.”

“Pops, chill.  It’s all part of a larger plan.”

“And how is that supposed to help me relax?”

“The larger plan is we lay a trap that catches them in the act.  Jeff, the yard monitor is in on it.  He busts them, my team confronts them after school, and then we form an alliance.”

If a human being is truly capable of a Tex Avery, cartoon double take, I’m sure I just did one.  I hope my chiropractor can fix it tomorrow.

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“An alliance?…” I asked, with not the tiniest spec of rhetorical tone.

He puts his arm on my shoulder and with great compassion and just a hint of pity says, “Pops, you don’t know the kid world very well, do you?”

“In the olden days, I used to, but that was before language.  Fill me in?”  I asked.

“Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer, right?  We build an alliance with the 5th Grade girls who we’re in competition with, and suddenly BINGO!”

“Bingo?”

“No more competition.  We all work together to keep the fort maintained.  Besides, I need some more scouts and messengers.”

He must have noticed the slack and uncomprehending nature of my face.

“Pops, you can’t expect to lead kids unless you give them jobs and responsibilities.  I have scouts, messengers, builders, gatherers, lieutenants and more.  I formed committees so I would only have to communicate with the leader of each committee.”

“Okay,” I said not really knowing what else to say as he scampered off to his room.

Honestly, I don’t know which is more worrisome.  That my 3rd Grader is running a sophisticated operation at school with yard monitors and 5th grade girls, or that he’s quoting Sun Tzu and the Art of War.

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The Bane of Awakening [part 4/4]

 

[Note:  This is the final installment, part 4 of 4]

 

I got home and told my wife about the Sleep Doctor appointment.

“Doctors orders, Beloved.  I’m supposed to eat and drink like Henry the VIII.”

“And how is that different than any other night?” she asked.

“Ha. Ha.  Seriously, I need to fail this test to go further in the sleep study.”  

“Hey, if your failing miserably means the possible end of your snoring, I’m all in.  Can I pour you another glass, your Majesty?”

Ah, permission!  Sweet permission to party like it’s 1999.  I waive an imaginary drumstick in the air to indicate my approval.

As you might imagine, “Mick, Party of One,”  was a fun night.  I tried to coax my wife into joining me, but she was far too wise for that on a school night.  Bless her heart, she kept filling my glass of wine and I vaguely recall a shot of something at some point.

Looking back on it now, I realize was slightly more buzzed than I had been in some time.  Which would have been fine if I hadn’t forgotten I still needed to strap on and hook up this sophisticated monitoring device.

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[Note:  The above is not me or the monitoring device I wore]

My wife was already deep into dreamland when the very celebratory Henry the VIII crept into the bedroom as quietly as a tranquilized Ox.  Once there, I was confronted immediately by the complexity of the device I was supposed to wear with diminished capacity now eager to assist me.  In the office, I had paid as much attention to how to put it on as I do when flight attendants demo the seat belt.  I was regretting that pattern now.

There were tiny tubes that were supposed to go up my nose and headgear to keep it all in place.  Attached to that, was a belt and a battery pack that was intended to be worn across my belly, but how to turn it on?

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[Note:  This is still not me or the monitoring device I wore.]

Initially, I’m sure I attempted to be quiet, but after a frustrating 10 minutes I’m reasonably certain I forgot that plan.  Details are hazy, but I believe I must have fallen over and awakened my wife who was now standing above me.

“You didn’t really think this out, did you?” she said looking down on me like the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen in my life.

“No. I. did. not.” I said sticking to monosyllabic, easy to pronounce utterances.

“Did you read the instructions?”

“No. I. did. not.” I said again, happy the phrase I’d just mastered would work again.

“What would you do without me?”

“I. would. be. a. sad. snoring. lonely. man,”  I said unaware of the rhetorical nature of her query. “Did I forget to mention how beautiful you look this fine evening, m’Lady?”

So my brilliant wife finds the instructions, actually reads them, hooks up a couple of missing wires, presses a button and a light comes on indicating it’s WORKING!  I was more in love with her at that time than any other inebriated moment I could recall.  I told her this many times.  And then I told her again how much I loved her because I was sure it wasn’t really sinking in.  And then I said so once more because maybe she thought it was the drink talking?  I assured her I would love her this much even in the morning.  She finally told me, in no uncertain terms, that she was fully apprised of my love in this moment, and that I did not need to tell her anymore this evening.  I recall feeling desperately wounded at the time, but forgot that the moment my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, I was definitely worse for wear.  Ouch.  After an ocean of coffee, I finally began to function at about 37% capacity.  I managed to drive to the sleep center and turned in my test gear for them to analyze.

Late in the afternoon, the call came in from the sleep nurse.

“Mick, the results are in and you have severe sleep apnea.  You’re waking every 54 seconds.”

“That’s GREAT!  I FAILED!!!”  I said.  “I mean, oh, that’s terrible.  Hmm,… what exactly am I supposed to say at this juncture?”

“Just tell me you can pick up your CPAP (Constant Positive Airway Pressure) machine at 11am on Wednesday,”  she said.  

I’ve been wearing it for about a week and my son still calls me Bane and insists on putting on the CPAP mask and pretending to be a super villain.  My wife stopped calling me Darth Vader and generally weeps in the morning when I ask her how she slept.  Apparently, I no longer snore.  I’m not completely comfortable using it, but it’s more comfortable than being punched and cursed at all night long.

And definitely better than sleeping on the couch.

[Note, the below is not me or the device I wore. This is Bane, from the last Batman movie.]

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The Bane of Awakening [part 3/4]

 

I’d heard about sleep doctors and sleep studies.  I had a couple of friends who had actually done one.  But they creeped me out.  The sleep studies, not the friends.

I had this vision of a sterile laboratory, horrible chemical smells and greenish, buzzing lights that flickered.

I’m strapped to a gurney in a glass room.  Catheters and multi-colored tubes connect me to some machine like a lethal injection candidate.  Two guys in stained lab coats hover over monitors and adjust high definition cameras focused on me.  And then everything goes black as I fall asleep snoring and drooling like Homer Simpson.

I’m jolted awake the next morning to a spotlight being turned on me.  The room I went to sleep in is completely gone and now I’m on stage in a macabre theater in the round.  The two-way mirrors have faded away, and I can just make out where dozens of doctors sit shrouded in semi-darkness on the other side of the glass.  They’re all pointing and laughing at me from the other side of the soundproof barrier which makes it all the more eerie.  I feel like Woody Allen in a Twilight Zone episode.

A hidden door from the glass wall opens and an official looking guy in a lab coat with a clipboard, steps out.  The sound of laughter explodes into the lab like firecrackers.  It’s completely gone the second the door closes behind him.  I stare at the laughing mimes on the other side of the glass.  He clicks a button.  There on the screen, in way too many pixels, is me, asleep on the gurney.

“Yes Mick, as you can see here, at 1am after scratching yourself rather indecently, you started snoring, choking and drooling while on your left side.  At 2:30, the flatulence was so bad, we had to vent the lab as oxygen levels dropped dangerously.  At 2:45am, you were back to drooling and scratching yourself indecently again.”

It may not seem like it, but I do have a little bit of pride.  That image of what a sleep study was surely like kept me away from one for at least 5-6 years.   And now, here I was.

I went to meet the sleep doctor and feigned a non-plussed attitude in the waiting room while I read People Magazines from 1997.  There was a ream of paperwork and by the end of the stack, I was sure they knew more about me than my closest relatives.  Finally, I got to see the Doctor who was so shocked by my paperwork, that he said I could do a home-study since I was almost certainly a candidate for sleep aids.  That was the best news I’d heard all day!  I was thrilled to take home a very complex device that was going to measure my sleep.  He also measured my neck and seemed impressed by how fat it was.

After going through a long, boring, detailed demonstration of the sleep study device, the Doctor was quite clear about one thing.

“You should do everything exactly the way you always do.  If you drink a lot of wine before bed, you should drink a lot of wine before bed.  If you eat too late, too spicy, or too much, that’s what you should do for the sleep test.”

This sleep study was looking better every minute.

[to be continued...]

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The Bane of Awakening [part 2/4]

[part 2]

When we last left our tale, wife and son were discussing me in loud whispers as I attempted with Sisyphean effort to stay asleep.  Finally forced to join the conversation, I was being asked to settle a dispute as to whether or not I looked more like Bane, or Darth Vader.

“So which is it, Pops?  Who’s right?  Me or Mama?”

[sigh]  Why do my days begin this way?  Was hubris my downfall?  Clearly a grumpy me is about as scary as Yogi the Bear.  Has no one in my small clan heard the phrase, “Let sleeping Pops lie?”  My brain had only just begun its unenthusiastic descent back from blissful unconsciousness and I’m being asked (essentially) the: “Do I look fat?”  question.  Joy.

“Harrison Ford,” I reply, pleased to have side-stepped the issue of making my wife or son right at the expense of the other.  Years of therapy may finally be paying off.

“Harrison Ford?  How can he be right?”  my son asks.

“He’s not right!  Nobody’s right!  I just think I look more like Hans Solo.”

Apparently, even in a darkened bedroom, neither of them would mistake me for Harrison Ford.  Both wife and son break out laughing on my dime.  I console myself with the possibility that I’m being a good sport.  The reality is probably I’m just too sleepy to return the volley.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I never had trouble sleeping till my boy was born.  I honestly don’t know if it was the middle of the night waking we did for him that destroyed it.  But from the day he left the womb, I was lucky to get a stretch of 3-4 hours until he was about 8 years old.  Around that time, working with a California NewAge doctor, I found the magic mixture of (legal) herbs and vitamins that finally were beginning to work.  Sure, my wife still complained about the snoring, but for the year and a half that followed, I could usually sleep till about 7am.  That was a major victory.

So why was I so exhausted a good part of the day?

I was doing most of the right things to be healthy and sleep well.  I exercised 4-5 days a week, ate a lot more healthily than I used to, and drank a bottle of wine every night with dinner.  On top of that, I was getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.  I should feel great, right?  But I didn’t.

So I did what many people are doing these days.

I went to a sleep doctor.

[To be continued...]

The Bane of Awakening [part 1/4]

 

The first defectively dampened whisper I heard this morning was, “Mama, he looks like Bane!”

“Who’s Bane?”

“The evil guy in Batman who wears the scary mask.”

“I was thinking Darth Vader,” she replied.

“DARTH VADER?!”

“Shh!!!  You’ll wake Pops!”

“Darth Vader?!”,  he stage whispers nearly as loud.  “He doesn’t look anything like Darth Vader!”

“He doesn’t?  He sounds like him, but you know Star Trek better than me.”

“STAR WARS, MAMA!”

“Shh!!!  Please don’t wake Pops!”

“Sorry, Star Wars, Mama.  They’re totally different.  Old people like Pops, only really know Star Trek.”

“Okay, already.  But didn’t Darth Vader have trouble breathing too?”

“Yes, but he’s in an iron lung encased in black body armor.  Pops looks more like Bane.”

This is how many of my days begin.  Usually, I’m sound asleep, looking heart stoppingly adorable with my mouth half open, drooling on the sheets while my son builds a pillow fort around me like Gulliver.  This morning is only a slight variation on the same theme.

Since I am the only one keeping my peace at this time, I surrender it with groggy reticence.  “You know I can hear everything you two are saying, right?”  

“Sorry, Beloved.  We were trying not to wake you.”

“I heard every valiant attempt.”

“Pops, I’m glad you’re awake,” my boy says.

“You’re not supposed to be glad.  You’re supposed to be apologetic,” I groan.

“Oh, right.  Sorry for waking you, but Mama says you look like Darth Vader, and I think you look like Bane.  Who’s right?”  

I suppose an explanation is in order here.

Pretty much from the time he was a zygote, I have blamed my exhaustion and energy levels on my adorable 9-year old.  I was the Modern Dad who got up for all of the middle of the night feedings, assisting my wife in ways our fathers never pondered.  I’m not entirely proud to admit I got a little full of myself about it too.  I droned to friends and strangers alike that I could barely stay awake because, “Oh, sorry.  I was up all night with the baby.”  I confess I got some serious mileage out of that.

People would usually respond along the lines of, “Wow, you’re such a GOOD father!  Your wife and son are SO lucky.”

I would smile weakly, yawn and then say something humble like, “Oh, I do what I can.  Men can’t birth babies, but we should darn well help with the after birth.”   I think my wife found these comments annoying enough that she didn’t let me know right away that “afterbirth” was probably not the proper choice of words.

One of the things I’ve learned about fatherhood is that the previous generation of Dads set the bar so low that it’s pretty easy to be a “spectacular father” these days just by showing up.  Being a spectacular mother is a thousand times more difficult, especially if you’d like to do something other than be a full-time Mom.  More on that at a later date.

The problem with my “I-was-up-all-night” routine was it was hard to keep believable as the boy aged.  By the time he was 3 or so, he could sleep through the night.   I couldn’t.  I’d wake up at odd hours and never be able to get back to sleep.  My whole life I could fall asleep standing up at a rock concert, and now I couldn’t fall back asleep in my bed. That went on for another 5 years or so, until a combination of herbs and mineral supplements seemed to do the trick and I was sleeping through the night.

Or so I thought.

 

[To be continued...]

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