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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May 2 – Sad. And weird too.

After 21 days and 21 blog posts, I’ve hit a wall.  It’s not the kind of wall you might imagine, but a wall, nonetheless.

Early this morning, my super early rising 9-year old son woke me in bed handing me my phone saying, “Pops, it’s Mama calling from Florida.  Grandpa died.”

I was in a deep sleep and tried to grab the phone from him twice before dropping it on the blanket covering me.  I was still trying to wake up enough to grasp the situation better than I had the phone so I could be present for her.  I looked at the phone and realized slowly that someone was on it and I wouldn’t have to dial.

I put it to my ear and heard, “Beloved.  Dad just died this morning at 7am.”

He was not well prior to this, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the decline was quick.  She had plane reservations to fly out to see him the following weekend, but, on a hunch, decided she needed to go as soon as possible.  She couldn’t have been more right.  The early evening of her arrival she spent with him holding his hand and talking to him.  He was alive, but non-responsive.  She did a video conference on her phone and my son and I were able to see him and talk to, well “at” him.  Finally, very early in the morning, she left him to get some sleep.

He died about 6 hours later.

When I got off the phone with my wife, I turned to my son, still lying in bed with me and asked how he was feeling.

“Sad.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.  “Anything else?”

“No.  It’s just weird.”

“Yeah, it is, isn’t it?”

“You know what I just realized?”

“What?”

“This is the first time someone I’ve known has died,” he said.

“Yeah, you’re right.  What do you think about that?”

“Sad.  And weird too.”

“Yep.  I get that.  We all knew your Grandfather was very ill, but it happened so quickly.  Can I tell you a story about my Grandpa?”

“Is it a long story?”

“I’ll keep it short,” I said.

“No offense or anything, but I still have to go to school today.”

“None taken.  I was living and working in Asia when I heard my 94 year old Grandpa had slipped into a coma, a very deep sleep, that he would probably never wake up from.  My father told me he would probably die in a few weeks, but no one really knew.  Like your Mama, I just decided that I wanted to go see him right away when I heard this.”

“Was it a long flight?”

“Yes, a very long one.  The whole time I was traveling to the rest home, I kept feeling sad he was no longer awake.  I had decided to go anyway, just to hold his hand, talk to him and be with him.  Even if he couldn’t respond, I would just talk and hope some part of him could hear and know how much I loved him.”

“So what happened?”

“I checked in, the nurse gave me the room number, I walked in and he was sitting up in bed AWAKE!”

“Really?!”

“Really!  He was shocked and happy to see me.”

“Did he just wake up when you walked in?”

“No, apparently he’d awakened a day or so before, but no one had told me.”

“That’s cool!  So did you talk to him?” 

“I sure did.  For hours.  And then I came back the next day and did the same thing until we were both tired of talking.”

“I’ll say this, Pops, that must have been a lot of talking because you’re a big talker!”

“It was a lot of talking.  I think it was more than he and I had spoken in the past 5, maybe 10 years because he tended to be a quiet man.  He loved to listen, but unless he was telling one of his famous stories, he didn’t talk much.” 

“Pops?”

“Yes, sweet boy?”

“That’s not going to happen with my Grandpa is it?”

“No, it’s not.  I’m sorry.”

“Well, that’s good because the only way he could do that would be to become a zombie and that would freak me out!  I can’t have a zombie Grandpa!” 

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” I said.

“Can I go now and get ready for school?”

“Uh, sure.  Of course.  Hey, do me a small favor today?”

“What?”

“Just take care of yourself at school.  You might be a little raw since it’s the first time someone you know has died.”

“Will do, Pops.  Please, can I go now?”

“Yeah, sure.”

He bolts out of the room like he can stay ahead of the feelings.

I wish I could run that fast.

Sad.  And weird too.