faith, marriage, parenthood

Big Paws For Doing Big Things

When I (Erin) think of things I’m afraid of, I think of Big Things: America’s troublesome food system. Money crap. Racism and Bullying.  The fact that I’ve switched jobs twice in two years. How my kids will end up in therapy and resent me. When my Multiple Sclerosis will strike again. Why chin hairs keep growing and multiplying. Why I can’t get more than 20 likes on any single Instagram post (follow me! @erinvore). Whether or not I smell better when I use my husband’s deodorant.

Like I said, big things.

I’m also afraid of a blank page. I’ve always loved to write, always dreamed of writing Big Things. Like Pickles in Esther Averill’s The Fire Cat, one of my boys’ favorite books, I have Big Paws and am meant to do Big Things.

We are all Pickles.

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I’m just afraid my Big Things aren’t worth saying. I’ve spent so much time not writing the right things because I’m so worried I’m not writing the right things. It’s a terrible, vicious cycle.

But.

I just finished reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s fiercely good book of essays, Carry On, Warrior. GDM is one messed up lady. She admits freely, and without shame, how messed up she is: former longtime bulimic, boozer, drug-user, casual sex doer. Those rhyme. Kind of cute until you think about what all of those things mean.

She also knows, though, that those things, those dark spots — skeletons in the closet, things that can suck the life out of you because of fear and worry and shame (not to mention real, tangible consequences like pregnancy and disease) — are not her because she is made new in Christ. She is loved the heck out of by Jesus. In fact, He’s thrilled to call her daughter, to be in love with this messed up lady He’s created.

I had a more than a couple light bulbs go off while reading her memoir:

  1. I am a messed up lady too. I spend a lot of my time making sure people don’t know I am messed up or know that I USED to be messed up, but now I go to church and host small group and read my Bible almost every morning, and am doing the best I can with my two, crazy boys, and eat as cleanly as I can (except for wine and night-time snacks), and buy organic milk and eggs, and am quick to forgive, and exercise moderately, and take my medicine diligently, and try to send belated birthday cards because I almost always never remember special days on the actual day. But, like I said, I am messed up. I’ve done things — Big Things — I’m not proud of, and it got me thinking how much I really believe, like deep down believe, that I really am redeemed. I think my thought life often doesn’t match up with my out loud life. Out loud, I proclaim (such a religious verb) that I am reborn, a new creation, made new in Christ, but my insides still feel shame, sadness, regret. Melton says more than once that she thinks God basically digs her. On the one hand, really? Like, really digs you? Digs me? Isn’t that a little cocky? But I think she’s right. He made me and he digs me and it’s high time I start believing it, not just saying it to the right people at the right time. She said that “the during is just as holy as the after.” I need to stop waiting for the after to know and believe I’m holy and good and loved. It will always be during.
  2. I want to be honest. I want to start writing True Things. I want to stop pretending I need to write one way to represent me and my family well. I want to be a truth teller and wild lover of things God wants me to love, which, you know, is a LOT of things.
  3. I’ve spent a lot of my life comparing myself to women instead of working together with women. GDM operates in the latter. I want to as well. No more comparison. No more shame. Shame, go away. Let us be gifts to one another.
  4. I want to write. I am in love with good books and I am constantly wishing I could write something like those people, those lucky few, can write. News flash: I can! Stop waiting until something amazing happens or I have an amazing story to tell to give myself permission to write and just do it! So I am. Here I go. No stoppin’ me now. And I do have amazing stories, like the fact that I am married to an incredible man who is bursting with creativity and wisdom and integrity, or the fact that Sam drew a dinosaur this morning and then said, “Look, Mommy, he’s eating a chicken stick and going poo poo and pee.” A T-Rex eating chicken and defecating and urinating at the same time? Sounds amazing to me.

Or the fact that I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a week before Christmas and haven’t completely crumbled yet! (Also, bonus, I can see out of my left eye again, a miracle I daily consider.)

At this point I should probably admit that I’ve checked my phone about four times to see if anyone’s liked my latest Instagram post. And I have not one, but two journals on my table at the coffee shop and I haven’t opened either one. Failings continue. So this is probably a good time to start listing everything I hate about myself so I can repent of that and move on to love. Put on my love glasses, so to speak.

  1. I don’t like that my face is asymmetrical. I think the left side of my face is prettier than the right side. That’s messed up. The asymmetry (trust me, I’ve spent a LOT of time studying my facial asymmetry) makes it difficult for me to wear aviators because one of my ears is slightly above the other ear. Glasses look a little crooked on me.
  2. I walk into a store and I want to buy the whole store. Ben and I are taking Financial Peace University right now, which has us saying repeatedly on Thursday evenings that we wish we would’ve taken it when we were in our teens, or twenties, or before any time but Right Now. Better late than never. Anyway, FPU has me thinking about money and I actually get a little buzz by not buying shit right now, by saving it all and carefully pulling out real cash when I need to buy things we need like milk, chicken sticks, and diapers (though we’re toying with potty training Leo to save on this one). But then it’s Sam’s birthday and I walk into Kohl’s because maybe they’ll have a cheaper Eeyore than the Disney store (they don’t), and I see all of the stuff I don’t have in my house and I. Want. It. All. All of a sudden, contentment disappears and greed and desire and coolness trickles in. I want it. I want to buy it. I want a lot of crap. I don’t like that.
  3. HGTV practically ruins me. We don’t have cable (or even Netflix — Dave Ramsey made us cancel it), but when I go to the dentist or to Pennsylvania to visit my in-laws, we watch HGTV. If watching HGTV could produce intoxication in people, I would be fall-down drunk every time I get my teeth cleaned or go to the Keystone state. I especially love “Fixer Upper.” So good. And I go home from the dentist or PA and walk in our house and start mentally demolishing and redesigning with imaginary money we don’t have and the discontentment begins again. I really don’t like that.
  4. I don’t like that sometimes I hear one of my kids needing me and I pretend not to so that Ben will take care of getting milk for Leo, wiping Sam, making eggs for everyone, cleaning up a spill. I despise that in myself.
  5. And there’s this one time at a Starbucks while talking to someone I love that I just totally lost my shit at that person because I was hurting and sad and couldn’t see past my own hurt and sadness. I hate that I did that.

There’s more, but I think I’ll save those things for more truth telling later.  I’m excited that, at the very least, I believe a little more deeply that God digs me.

This summer has been magical and wonderful for a couple mighty reasons — we’re all home as a family, our boys are finally playing together and are so much fun when they’re sweet, and good, and fun. We’ve been dreaming of great and wonderful things we might do together and feel God’s blessing about. We’re excited for new things on the horizon with the upcoming school year as English teachers in new schools. We’re excited to create. And right now I need to go to other big things like thank Ben for giving me the morning off to read and write and compulsively check my Instagram account, and play Legos with Sam, and renovate more rooms of our house in my head, and tuck in tiny Leo feet for naptime.

Those Big Things are the best things.

[PICKLES PHOTO COURTESY OF PINTEREST]
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parenthood

Conversations That Did And Did Not Happen During My Son’s First Major League Baseball Game

The Pittsburgh Pirates games that I (Ben) attended with my dad back in the 1980s have taken on mythical status in my memory. Every summer, starting when I was around seven, we drove to Pittsburgh on the first weekend of August and caught the Saturday night and Sunday matinee games at Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates of the mid-to-late 80s (think Tony Pena, Johnny Ray, Bill Madlock and Jose DeLeon, who had a 2-19 record in 1985) were abysmal, a far cry from the “We Are Family” champs of 1979 (and this indelible picture of Dave Parker from 1980) and years away from the Killer B’s (Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, though Jay Bell and Sid Bream were honorary members) and the great 1990-1992 teams. But that didn’t matter. I was going to baseball games with my dad. They remain some of my best memories with him.

On Sunday, I took Sam (a few months shy of five) to his first major league game at Great American Ballpark, where the Reds hosted the Giants. The following are conversations that did and did not happen during our father-son outing. See if you can guess which is which!

—–

BEN: “Son, you may not realize this now, but in thirty years time you may very well look back on this afternoon and think to yourself, ‘That was maybe the best day of my life.'”

SAM: “Father, I have no doubt as to your wisdom or the veracity of that statement. [looks up admiringly] You’re the best dad. Ever.”

—–

BEN: “No, we are not paying six dollars for a hot dog when you didn’t eat the lunch I made you before we left.”

SAM: “But I really want a hot dog!”

BEN: “Oh, ok. One hot dog, please.”

SAM: “And a popcorn!”

BEN [sighs]: “And a popcorn. Also a bottled water please.”

ATTENDANT: “That will be eighty-six dollars.”

—–

BEN: “Son, look at these seats! What a great view! And take a deep breath. Do you smell that? The fresh cut grass. Summer just around the corner. That distinct whiff of ozone right before a thunderstorm that will entail a thirty minute rain delay which sends us running under the bleachers and during which you will not comment repeatedly on how boring this is.”

SAM: “Yes, I can smell that too. You are wise, father.”

—–

BEN: “You see the players in the red uniforms? We’re rooting for them. They’re the Cincinnati Reds.”

SAM: “Who are the other players?”

BEN: “Those are the Giants.”

SAM: “They’re not very big.”

BEN: “No they’re not.”

—–

BEN: “Now, son, in this situation I don’t think Heston will give Billy Hamilton much to hit because first base is open and the pitcher is due up next.”

SAM: “True, father, except that DeSclafani is definitely coming out after this inning since his slider hasn’t been working for him and the Giants have already lit him up for six runs. So I’m sure Bryan Price is going to pinch hit for him.”

BEN: “An astute point, son. I have raised you well.”

—–

BEN: “See those smokestacks out there in center field? When a Reds player hits a home run, they shoot fireworks out of them!”

SAM: “But you said someone just hit a home run. Why weren’t there any fireworks?”

BEN: “Because that was Hunter Pence. He plays for the Giants.”

SAM: “Oh. Why does that man over there keep yelling?”

BEN: “Well, he really wants the Reds to win.”

SAM: “But why does he keep yelling?”

BEN: “I guess he’s just an angry person.”

SAM: “Who’s he yelling at?”

BEN: “Bryan Price. Isn’t this fun? What a great day for a baseball game!”

SAM: “Can I have more popcorn?”

—–

BEN: “Son, rooting for the hometown baseball team is part of what it means to be a Vore man. Your mother may not understand this — she prefers those effete European sports like soccer — and she will probably never take you to a baseball stadium, as she would rather, given the choice, be tormented by an eagle tearing at her liver each and every night whilst she is tied to a rock by adamanite chains than sit through nine innings of a baseball game. Now whether you become a Reds fan or follow in the footsteps of your father and cheer on the Pirates, I leave that up to you. Do you understand what I am saying, son? This is a rite of passage, and you are in that liminal state between youth and adulthood — between being a boy and becoming a man. What is transpiring now, as the Reds come to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning down six runs to five and Yusmeiro Petit faces the top of the Reds lineup, is something that transcends the temporal and reaches for the eternal. Do you grasp this son?”

SAM: “Yes, father. Does this also mean I’m old enough to drink a Miller Lite from that passing vendor?”

BEN: “Not when it’s eight-fifty a pop, absolutely not.”

—–

BEN: “Well, this is fun. Who’s having fun?”

SAM: “I need to go to the bathroom.”

BEN: “You’ve gone twice in the last twenty minutes!”

SAM: “But I need to GO.”

BEN: “Can you hold it until the end of the inning?”

SAM: “Is that when the game’s over?”

BEN: “No, that’s when the fourth inning is over.”

SAM: “I’m ready to go home.”

BEN: “If we hang around you might get to see some fireworks!”

SAM: “Home.”

BEN: “You don’t want to stay a little longer?”

SAM: “Can I have another hot dog?”

BEN: “All right, we’re leaving.”

reds

Friday Recommends, parenthood, television

Friday Recommends: Up All Night

Gob Bluth and Veronica Corningstone, parents.

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The dustbin of history is littered with bad parenting sitcoms. “Baby Talk.” “Family Matters.” “My Two Dads.” “Baby Bob.” “Small Wonder.” (You remember this one. It was the one where a family created a robot named Vicki but treated her like a normal little girl so the neighbors wouldn’t know. Remember?) “Up All Night” is, thankfully, not one of them.

Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett) are first-time parents to Amy (one of the cutest TV babies ever). Their travails are familiar to any new parent: Balancing the demands of work and family. Maintaing a romantic relationship with your spouse. Finding a reliable babysitter. Outclassing the other parents in Mr. Bob’s Toddler Play Class.

Throw into the mix Ava (Maya Rudolph), Amy’s boss and the host of an Oprah-like talk show, and reliable guest stars/supporting actors like Will Forte, Jason Lee and Molly Shannon, and you have a gently understated comedy that’s less zany than “30 Rock” but far funnier and less saccharin than, say, “Full House,” or, well, any of the sitcoms listed back in the first paragraph.

Like “30 Rock,” “Up All Night” was created by a “Saturday Night Live” writer, Emily Spivey, balancing work and motherhood. The show was retooled after the success of Bridesmaids to give a greater role to Rudolph’s character, and she’s the wild card. Whereas Applegate and (especially) Arnett underplay their roles (which makes them more believable as average parents, though a sitcom with Veronica Corningstone and Gob Bluth as parents would be pretty awesome), Rudolph spins out of control, like an ego hurricane. Threatened by a potential burglar while she’s babysitting Amy one night, Ava shouts into the dark, “I have got a glock in my purse and superb night vision!”

The best episode so far, “Birth,” flashes back to Amy and Chris preparing for and then going to the hospital. You get a glimpse of their pre-baby lives — Reagan and Ava coming to terms with how a baby will change their relationship at work and outside it, Chris weighing the decision to leave his law firm and become a stay-at-home dad — and a depth to the characters beyond simple parenting stereotypes. Perhaps being new parents themselves helps, but Applegate and Arnett hit the right notes and make “Up All Night” a rarity: a non-terrible parenting sitcom that even non-parents can enjoy.

books, parenthood, Sam, television

Catching Up

We’ve been remiss in our posting of late. Forgive our negligence and allow us to do a little catching up.

1. We have yet to sell our house. We have had three open houses and numerous showings at this point, and while the feedback continues to be generally positive, we have no takers. We are, however, becoming quite skilled at whipping the house into shape on short notice. Dirty dishes go in the oven if the dishwasher has clean ones. The toaster fits nicely right under the sink. Our laptop slides perfectly under the couch. One of us takes Sam outside to visit our next door neighbor, Gordo the pug (or, as Sam calls him, “Dordo”), while the other vacuums the steps and three rooms upstairs. (Sam really does not like the vacuum cleaner.) Scooter Thomas has yet to unload on one of his barfing binges during an actual showing, though he has done it the morning of. (Eleven piles of vomit. Ten in the bathroom, after we locked him in.)

2. I (Ben) had a parenting fail moment last Wednesday when, on a whim, I decided to take Sam to Lunken Airport to watch the planes come in. Sam is fascinated by all things that move, especially airplanes that pass overhead. Unfortunately we saw exactly zero planes fly in last Wednesday, even though we waited for an hour, in our parked car, since it was raining.

I made up for it this weekend during Airport Days at Lunken. Sam and I saw a B-17 bomber (one of twelve still flying), helicopter take-offs and landings from about 100 feet away, a color guard presentation and a missing man formation, which involves four aircraft flying low in a V-formation and then one abruptly pulling out of formation and flying west. It was unexpectedly moving. I was never a big plane/car/truck kid myself, but I loved the idea of being the kind of dad who takes his son to these things. Sam was mostly interested in the free hot dog, but all in all it was a successful father/son outing.

3. We breezed through season seven of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” over Labor Day weekend. While we love the show, we always need to take it in small doses. (We’re not the only ones, hence the shirt.) Season seven is the “Seinfeld” reunion season, and watching the writers pay tribute to “Seinfeld” and simultaneously desecrate its legacy made this one of our favorite seasons. None of our favorite clips from this season are really fit to include here, but until “It’s Always Sunny” starts back up, “Curb” remains our favorite irreverent and deeply offensive television.

4. We previewed A First-Rate Madness a few weeks ago. Upon finishing it, we respectfully submit that you should save your time and money and not purchase this book. For anyone interested in the subject matter (mental illness and leadership), though, may we recommend two books: one, Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk, which is a much sturdier history than anything Nassir Ghaemi provides in A First-Rate Madness; and two, The Hypomanic Edge, by John Gartner, which argues that hypomania is a peculiarly American illness with tremendous benefits alongside its negatives. They’re in paperback, so you could get them both for basically the same price as the (inferior) F-RM (still in hardcover).

friends, parenthood, Sam, this day in Vore history

Sam Turns One

I can’t believe you made me wait a year for cake.

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Today is Sam’s birthday. How quickly time flies.

One year ago he was born at Christ Hospital. It is a blur, now, to recall all the surreal details. We posted lots of photos the day after he arrived, but we never told the full birth story in this space. We decided to do that today.

The thing is, I (Erin) hadn’t planned on telling his birth story. I hadn’t even planned on writing the story of his birth at all. Not even for me. But as days turned into weeks turned into months, I wanted a record about how Sam, snug in my belly, entered the world.

My main concern was that writing a blog post about Sam’s birth would be the telling of a story no one would want to read or that perhaps should remain a secret between Ben and I. But then I read my friend Jill Van Hambergin’s post about the birth of her second son, Charlie. I read it aloud, Ben sitting in the chair next to me. Three quarters of the way through, I burst into tears. Who wants to read a birth story? Well, for starters, people like me. So here goes.

I’m told there are two types of people: those who loathe pregnancy and those who love it. I am happy to declare myself in the latter camp. I have memories of feeling nauseated during the first trimester, but I only threw up once. Because I was due in July and school ended before Memorial Day, I got to spend those final two months, when all you want to do is curl up on the couch, pulling a “Weeds” marathon while sucking down lemonade and eating tunafish bagel sandwiches from Marx Bagels. It wasn’t a bad deal. I also continued to exercise, which has me convinced that my pregnancy and labor were easier. Also, the World Cup was on, so those trips to the gym were further inspired by the promise of Spaniards in red Umbros and Vuvuzuelas.

The nausea, the backaches, the sleeplessness: those memories are sure enough sequestered to some area of my brain that I cannot access as vividly anymore.

Officially, I was due on July 21, 2010. All of my friends warned me that the first baby has the habit of arriving late, so I should prepare myself for what could be a frustrating week. And if I started to think that the baby would never come, not to worry. He or she will come. Eventually.

I went to bed on Sunday, the eighteenth, with a cramp. I didn’t think anything of it. Everything was a little achy or crampy in July. During the night, I slept like a baby, which is to say, I didn’t sleep very well at all. I woke up every two to three hours and thrashed the covers like I was drowning in water. [Ben’s note: I slept like a baby that night too.]

On Monday morning, the nineteenth, Ben and I woke up and had coffee. We talked about the team of men who were on their way to our house to replace our entire roof. That day. Two days before Sam’s official due date. But first babies come late, so we were fine.

We kissed, we exchanged I love yous, and we parted ways: Ben to work and I to my couch.

There was an ache and a cramp and I didn’t think anything of it.

A truck pulled up to the house and the doorbell rang. I introduced myself and told the men that if they needed anything I would be inside. I apologized that I couldn’t move the porch furniture since I was nine months pregnant. Inside, looking out our living room window, I watched as shingles began to rain down.

Then the ache and the cramp felt like a small wave. The wave came and went, erratically, but since I had never labored before, I didn’t know it was labor. Everyone told me that you wouldn’t be able to walk or talk, and I could do both of those things. I called my friend Katie. Always calm and full of advice, she told me to start recording the times I felt these waves. They were pretty regular, though at that time, still pretty spaced apart from the five-minute time frame.

I called my parents. My dad answered. I casually mentioned that I “think I might be having contractions.” Outside, more shingles fell.

I called Ben at work. He didn’t pick up so I left a message, something to the effect of “it’s probably nothing but I’m feeling something, maybe contractions, so could you please come home for lunch?” Before leaving, Ben told his colleagues he was sure he’d be back after lunch. He left his computer on and his man purse at his desk.

When I called the doctor’s office, I was asked who would drive me to the appointment. “Oh, I guess my husband will,” I said. I hadn’t considered the fact that I shouldn’t drive myself to the doctor. Ben called work to say that he needed to drive me to the hospital but that it was probably nothing so he’d be back to work in an hour or two.

Right before we left the house, we grabbed our pre-packed hospital bags — just in case — and then stepped outside and walked over and around hundreds of shingles. “I’ll be back!” I yelled to the workmen.

It’s a good thing Ben drove. I was in pain. I grasped my belly, hunched over, tried to breath, and bared my teeth.

Things get really blurry after that. I’ll let Ben take it over from here.

We met with Erin’s doctor at 2:45. Erin said she was fully prepared to be told that of course this wasn’t labor yet and be sent back home. But I could tell she was in a lot of pain. If this wasn’t the real deal, I couldn’t imagine what actual labor was going to be like. I was also still thinking about my conference call at 3:30.

Erin’s doctor told her she was two centimeters dilated. “You’re in labor,” he said. “We should probably get you up to the ninth floor.”

As we walked across the parking lot, I called my boss to tell him I would not be on the 3:30 conference call.

Erin and I had taken a tour of the birthing center during one of our classes, and it was then that we saw (and subsequently made fun of) the Feng Shui room, which featured a weird crystal hanging from the ceiling but was also probably the biggest of all the delivery rooms. Sure enough, we were assigned the Feng Shui room.

We walked up and down the halls, Erin’s hand digging into my shoulder every five to ten minutes. Our nurse measured her around 4:30. Still two centimeters. After the nurse left, Erin groaned and said, “I do not want to go back home.”

We were in a holding pattern for a couple hours. Around 6:30 she was four centimeters. I watched the monitor, seeing the reading spike with each contraction, knowing before Erin flinched when each round of pain was coming. After they gave her an epidural around 8:30, I was amazed to see the monitor spike and Erin … do nothing. The miracle of modern medicine.

The Wendy’s in the lobby closed at nine o’clock. I hadn’t eat lunch and I was starving. I excused myself, ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, and ate it sitting on the floor outside the Feng Shui room. All my father friends had warned me, “Do not, under any circumstances, eat in front of her during labor.”

After the epidural Erin was sleepy, and I was too. While she slept restlessly in her bed, I curled up in the fold-out chair with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but soon put that down and watched the Phillies/Cardinals game on TV with the sound off. I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep. This is really happening, I kept thinking. I knew the world was going on as usual outside our window, but everything about my life had shrunk to the size of that room and what would soon happen there. My wife, our new baby, and the family that was just beginning.

Erin started pushing at 3:30 Tuesday morning. She was adamant that I stay by her side and not watch the actual birth. When the moment came, though, the nurses asked if she wanted a mirror to watch and she surprised both of us by saying yes.

He arrived with a full head of blonde hair. I had convinced myself we were going to have a girl because everyone had been predicting that. It took me a moment to register that it was actually a boy. We had boy and girl names picked out. At 4:47 a.m., we knew we had a Sam.

The doctors stitched Erin up and cleaned Sam and then, for the first hour, before we called any family, it was just the three of us. He’s here! I thought, watching Erin hold him on her chest. I couldn’t stop smiling. The sun was coming up but our room faced west, so there was just a hazy red glow. Later a nurse told us there was a rainbow outside, and we looked far enough east to see it bending across the sky. In every way imaginable, it was a new day.

parenthood, Sam, things that make you sad

On Being The Parent Of A Sick Child

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Kids get sick all the time. Sam has been, by all accounts, an extremely healthy baby. No birth complications. No ER trips. Clean bill of health with every check-up. The occasional cold and one ear infection, but that’s it.

Yesterday, around four o’clock, after a day of perfectly happy eating, pooping, napping and crawling, he suddenly had a meltdown. His temperature spiked. He wouldn’t eat anything. All he did was cry.

I (Ben) heard about all this from work. Erin was the one who had to calm him down, try to feed him, and rock him to bed. When I got home, he was sound asleep — and, I hoped, just in need of a little extra rest.

I tend to be oblivious about what life-changing episodes are like until they happen to me. Marriage, buying a home, having kids — numerous friends beat me to all these milestones, and although I celebrated with them, it has always been difficult for me to make the empathic leap to really, truly share in that moment of celebration.

Of course, then these things happen to you, and you think to yourself, “Wow! This is a big deal!” I remember the first wedding Erin and I attended after our own, and how completely different it was from any wedding I’d previously attended. The ritual you’re commemorating means something different once you’ve done it yourself.

Last night, at two in the morning, I understood what it meant to be the parent of a sick child.

Sam woke up throughout the night, and sometime after midnight we went into his room to check on him. He was boiling. His hair was matted and his face was red and he felt like he’d just come out of the oven. We took his temperature (102.6), gave him tylenol and peeled him out of his sleep sack. He went back down for another hour or so.

At two I went in to check on him. He was crying, and still hot. I picked him up and we sat down in the glider. I started to rock him. He was sitting in my lap facing me. His arms were splayed out around my neck. He held his head up for a second to look at me, in a manner that suggested this was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, and then — in one swift, dramatic motion — plopped it down against my chest.

That thud against my breastbone; the uncomfortable warmth of his whole body, like holding a giant eighteen pound hot water bottle with arms and legs; the utter dependence he had on me in that moment; and my heart just broke.

So now I know what this feels like.

Erin has written about the experience of breastfeeding Sam, and I’ve wondered what connection I’ve missed since he doesn’t depend on me physically the way he does his mom. Last night was a little glimpse of that for me. I know this is just a fever, with maybe another ear infection thrown in. Tomorrow I’ll take him in to see the doctor, and she’ll prescribe something to make him better, and within days he’ll be back to chasing the cat and dropping food on the floor. I know all of this.

Still, there’s the part of me that wishes no harm would ever come to him. There’s also the part of me that knows babies get sick, and grow up to become teenagers who will make terrible decisions (because that is, by definition, what all teenagers do sooner or later). Just the other day we were talking with friends who are parents of toddlers about the need for kids to experience pain. Our friends have a four-year-old who wanted to touch a hot tea kettle. They told her repeatedly not to; she kept testing them by moving her finger inches away from it. Finally they let her touch it, with the results you’d expect. “She needed to understand the boundaries of pain,” our friends said, “and she had to learn it herself.”

I know I cannot stop my son from getting sick. I cannot stop him from growing up and feeling pain. But I can, when he needs me at two in the morning, rock him until he falls asleep, and whisper in his ear. It’s all right, Sammy. It’s all right. Your dad is here.

friends, guest bloggers, parenthood

Guest Post: “You Will Ache”

Today’s guest post on parenting comes from Scott Guldin. Scott has previously critiqued “Lost” for us; he is also one-half of the creative juggernaut that is the FishGuts Podcast. He does an amazing Aaron Neville impression and never once said an unkind word when Ben broke his car window. If you look up the definition “good egg” in the dictionary, you will find his picture there. Thank you, Scott!

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All right, Vores. After six months of failed attempts to articulate whatever threadbare parenting wisdom I have cobbled together from 4.5 years on the job, here is what I’ve come up with:

He will make you ache.

Sometimes that pain will be like those harrowing harbingers of something seriously wrong with your body: a broken bone in your foot, say, or a ligament in your knee that is strained, fraying, pulverized. You will worry and hurt and it will eat at vital parts of your being that you couldn’t touch, much less articulate.

Sometimes it will be like the exhilarating pangs that quietly accompany the pinnacles of existence: falling in love, say, or fulfilling some long-deferred ambition. The skies will open, slightly, subtly, and your face will burn from so much silly smiling.

But make no mistake, you will hurt because of this beautiful boy you have nudged into the world with your prayers and your hubris.

A disclaimer in the form of rhetorical questions, asked in list form:

1) Might my perspective be shadowed by two of my life’s most difficult years?

2) Have the misfortunes of miscarriage, cancer, unemployment, and countless petty catastrophes besides made me more likely to dole out dour analysis of a topic so clearly vibrant and wholesome?

3) And aren’t I permanently shattered by my own history—which, to those who know me, has been rehearsed and regurgitated to the point of tedium—that my father died when I was in eighth grade and that my son bears his name (let the reader understand)?

I will violate the core conceit of rhetorical questions and answer outright: Yes, Yes, Yes. Of course. So read with caution, but also know that I have heard several parents, ostensibly better-adjusted than I, and possessed of real jobs, express roughly the same sentiments. So there’s that.

Three snapshots to assert my case.

One. David, a three-year-old in preschool, has a musical recital called the Piggy Opera, based on the Three Little Pigs. For weeks David practices two short songs over and over at home until they play on a relentless loop in our minds. On the big day, I am surprised to learn that the production is much more sophisticated than I had imagined. David’s class, instead of being a cute introduction to a larger event featuring older children, carries on its own an entire mini-musical, including about eight songs and choreography. But David doesn’t seem to know any of these, and he stands stock still through much of the show. No matter. When it comes to public performances involving toddlers, part of the charm is that one or two (or all) of them will become distracted, pick their nose, wave to grandpa, sit down. I get that. What fills me with mounting dread is how it all ends. David only begins to move when he looks at one of his friends, brow furrowed comically, points at him, and starts yelling. This brief confrontation seems to throw David off (to say nothing of the other boy), because when the next song starts (one of the two we had practiced), he doesn’t sing. He just stands there. In a moment of panicked realization, he begins to cry. The final song, the other one we know by heart, is the production’s concluding number. He cries through that, too. Curtains.

Two. On a shockingly warm day this past November, I keep David home from school so the two of us can be together, just the guys. I try to fill our day with his favorite things: we go to the zoo, eat at a restaurant where trains deliver your meal from the ceiling like mechanized manna, and slurp chocolate milkshakes. At the zoo we ride the carousel and train and marvel at a polar bear that heaves its enormous frame off of a frighteningly thin glass partition inches from our faces while swimming infinite laps in a too-narrow tank. We miss the elephants on account of the season but see most of our other trusted friends: kangaroos, meerkats, tigers, flamingos, squirrel monkeys. We are the only people there besides a few bored employees who walk in circles with brooms and stab at imaginary debris.

Three. David is only a few weeks old, and while he is nursing better, his sleep is fitful. Angela and I teeter and careen between new parent euphoria and the brand of madness borne of sleep deprivation. My sisters sojourn west from Ohio to impart their blessings, hold the baby, free us to the wild luxury of leaving the house by ourselves, and share wisdom won from rearing, between them, four boys themselves. In a rare moment when the adults can converse together (David must have been sleeping at this point, but—like so many things from that period—I don’t remember for certain), we all sit at the dining room table. Susan, the oldest, hands me a card and I can tell that she is watching me carefully as I read it. “That’s sweet,” I say with a smile. And it is. I am a father now, and all things are sweet, even if before I lacked the insight to realize it: poop, rashes, ear gunk, plaintive high-pitched shrieks, crusty stumps of umbilical cord: it is all sweet. Susan looks at me, then at Merry, my other sister. “It made me cry,” she says almost as an apology. Susan, whose oldest son is nearly six, is right. I just didn’t know it yet. It was too soon for me to tell. I hadn’t fully glimpsed the ache of parenting.

Yesterday I located the card and cried as I read it. It goes:

Someday, he’ll be a big-time movie star
Or a fifth-grade English teacher.
Someday, he’ll marry, have a few kids.
Maybe he won’t.
Someday, he’ll change the world as we know it.
Or maybe he’ll travel,
send postcards from China,
phone you from Paris.
Someday, he’s going to be a big, strong man
able to carry you in his arms.

(Inside of card)

One day, he’ll have his own hopes and dreams,
not knowing
that once upon a quiet time,
you closed your eyes
and made a wish
to one day
have him in your life.

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I’ve burned through over a thousand words as a sordid excuse to quote Jean Toomer: “Life bends joy and pain, beauty and ugliness, in such a way that no one may isolate them. No one should want to. Perfect joy, or perfect pain, with no contrasting element to define them, would mean a monotony of consciousness, would mean death.” What I couldn’t grasp at the dining room table four years ago became obvious when tears were shed over a song about piggies, or when the pallid November sun framed my son’s face as we rode a rickety train together. Parenting is both ugly and beautiful, disquietingly painful and a fount of embarrassingly rich joy. It occurs to me, Vores, particularly when I consider your sublime Broken Places entries, that you are better equipped to manage this reality than most. Perhaps you’ve already recognized and mastered it.

If that’s the case, then let me give you my other piece of parenting advice:

In any situation, try to figure out what Nic Cage would do, and double it.

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