Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Inequality, Oppression, and My Son

I have been, since the day I was born, a middle class, straight, white male.  Okay, there may have been a bunch of years in there where I was staring up at middle class, but the bulk of my life has been lived in a position of privilege.  And I know it.  I'm not unaware of the advantages I've gotten in my life because of my gender, my orientation, the color of my skin, or the fact that I can afford to buy things.  I suppose it would be more accurate to say I'm aware of the fact that I've had fewer hurdles in my way.  Heck, even the fact that I'm tall and thin has helped.

There is (hopefully) a reasonable chance that the first part of my son's life will be spent in the middle class.  There's better chance that he will be straight (statistically speaking).  There's an even better chance that he'll always be male.  He will always be white.

I hope he handles those demographics than I did.

There was a point in my life that if I ever heard a story about inequality or oppression, I would automatically doubt it.  My first response was to think that it wasn't true, that it had been overblown by the victimized party.  It's not as bad as they say, I would think.

My thinking was informed by my life.  Inequality wasn't my experience or even really the experience of anyone I knew, so those claiming such things must have ulterior motives.  They must want something.  This was the 80s, after all -- everyone wanted something.  It wasn't a decade known for its scruples.

I remember the exact moment when my thought process changed.

It was right after the Rodney King video came out.  I was in high school.  I was lying on the couch, watching a talk show.  I think it was either Oprah or Donahue -- I think it was the latter, but I'm not positive.  Anyway, it was the segment when people from the audience gave their two cents.  This relatively young, white couple stood up and gave the same pitch that every white person in America was giving: "We didn't see the whole tape."

Now, think about that.  Apparently, there was something in the world that Rodney King could have done
By Paulo Zerbato
that would have justified the beating he got, and it had been recorded, but no one was showing it to us.  Absolutely none of that makes any sense.  But we had to believe that the system worked.  We had to believe that this had been overblown by the victim.  It couldn't be this bad, could it?

As the couple finished talking, an elderly white woman next to them stood up.  She did an amazing thing.  She talked to them like they were naive children, but she managed to do it without sounding condescending.  She said to them something along the lines of "oh, you lovely people, you don't know what you're talking about.  These things happen every day.  It is this way.  I've been alive for a long, long time, and I know what I'm talking about."

And I knew she was right.

Up until that point, I had assumed that inequality and oppression weren't an issue, or at least not as big as they were portrayed.  After that moment, I flipped, and I came to assume that they were.  Better, I realized, to have my assumption proven wrong than to deny the problem even exists.

So what does all of this have to do with my now 7 week old son?

Well, there are still times when I have the gut reaction I had all those years ago.  The more "radical" an idea, the better the chances that my initial reaction will be against it.  More often than not in those cases, I hold my tongue and think it through.  But it still bothers me that the gut reaction is even there.

I hope my son doesn't have that problem.

I don't think he will.  He's growing up in a time when multi-culturalism is everywhere, and that's a good thing.  He's going to grow up in a cul-de-sac with a gay couple and an interracial couple.  He's going to grow up watching television that's more diverse, reading books about diverse characters, getting exposed to the things that I wouldn't learn until I was much older.

I hope he'll be aware that, even in the society he grows up in, he'll be judged by any number of things besides the quality of his character, and that more often than not, that judgment will work in his favor because of what he looks like.  I don't want him to feel bad about that, I just want him to be aware of it, so he can have at least a tiny bit of understanding.

I think a tiny bit of understanding can make all the difference.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Appleseed's First Opening Day

Photo: Mark Whitt
I was bouncing up and down on the exercise ball, Appleseed in my arms, when the Cleveland Indians finally scored in the top of the 9th inning.  I was very excited.  I think my son might have sharted.

I could go on and on about why I love baseball and I would be shocked if I hadn't already done so online somewhere.  Needless to say, it's my favorite sport.  I'm also a die hard Cleveland Indians fan, given that I grew up in northeast Ohio.  And if you are somehow unaware, Cleveland sports teams have a long standing history of losing in heartbreaking ways.  Cleveland sports fans are a tortured lot.

But I don't live in Ohio anymore.  I live in California, close to two different baseball teams, both of which have had more success than the Tribe.  We also live close to the majority of Nicole's family and thousands of miles away from mine.

Sharing baseball with my son is a big deal for me, not just because I love the sport, and not just because baseball has played a big role between fathers and sons for decades.  No, it's a big deal because it's a piece of where I'm from, a piece of my heritage, heritage that's not overwhelmingly represented here in California.

The other day, Nicole and I took Appleseed out in his stroller.  As we walked, Nicole and I talked about the kinds of things we might like to see from our son.  Nicole suggested I'd be at least a little sad if he didn't like comic books the way that I like comic books.  But I told her that wouldn't bother me -- all kids like comic books, they just eventually out grow them (a thought that never occurred to me as I was growing up).  No, I really don't have any preconceptions on what my son might be into.

I also mentioned that, of all the things I might try to share with Appleseed, being a Cleveland sports fan would be the hardest.  He's going to be surrounded by people wearing A's, Giants, 49ers, Raiders, and Warriors jerseys.  I would imagine the majority of his friends will support some of those teams.  Going to any sporting event will mostly revolve around those teams.  It would be hard to blame him for being a fan of those teams.

And I won't.

But it would be awesome if he liked Cleveland teams.  It would be awesome to have that to share with him.

And I know that there will be plenty of other things to share with him.  I'm looking forward to the strange, wonderful things that he's into, that I only ever learn about because he loves them.

It would be nice, though, that when the Indians finally win the World Series, he has at least some understanding of why his father is crying.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Appleseed: Life Without Breasts

From here:
I think it's unquestionably harder to be the mom than the dad.  I don't think any reasonable person could make the argument that the mom, who is pregnant for nine months, gives birth, and then becomes a 24/7 diner, doesn't have the bulk of the work.  From the outside looking in, it's brutal.

You could make the case that the benefits of all of that outweigh the negatives, and that the advantages gained are enough to make it so that the dad, who doesn't go through any of the above, gets a bit of a raw deal.  I would imagine there are a decent number of men out there who would be willing to do all the things a mom has to do just to form that bond with their child.

It's a slippery slope, really.  I can't imagine there are many women who would give up the relationship they have with their child just so they don't have to go through all the hard times.  I would also imagine that it depends on when you ask these theoretical women.

All that said, there is one aspect of raising a baby that only the non-birth mothers will truly understand: taking care of your kid without breasts (or without breasts that produce milk, as the case may be).

Here's the thing: If Nicole wants to calm Appleseed down or even put him to sleep, she has a trump card.  Granted, she can't play it all the time, but it's there if she needs it.  When Appleseed is screaming bloody murder, she has a secret weapon (well, two).

I have no secret weapons.  I have no trump card.

So I dance like the monkey I am, doing everything I can possibly think of to calm Appleseed down.  I hold in him in every position imaginable.  I bounce on the exercise ball.  I walk around the house.  I put him in the stroller and roll him around the house.  I put him in the rock and play, the bouncer, the swing, you name it.  It is freaking exhausting (particularly the exercise ball).

The other day I spent a good fifteen minutes on the exercise ball trying to calm him down before I had to stop, because full bladder + bouncing up and down meant I was going to piss myself soon.  So I put him down in the rock and play and ran off to the bathroom (Nicole was at the doctor).  As I peed like a race horse, I heard Appleseed unleash a cry that, up until this point, I didn't know existed.  It was unbelievable.  And there was nothing I could do to stop it, not right then and there.  He was just going to have to let it out for a bit (while I did the same).

I ran back and picked him up.  Just being picked up was enough to get him to quiet down, but that only brought me back to where I was before -- with a baby who was on the verge.  I sat down on the couch and held him, happy enough, at this point, that he was no longer screaming bloody murder.

And then a funny thing happened: he started to calm down.  His breathing slowed down.  His eyes slowly began to close.  Within five minutes, he was sound asleep.

I can only imagine that the minute or two in the rock and play had upset him so much that being in my arms suddenly felt like paradise.  I had inadvertently made it so bad for him that just being held was the greatest comfort in the world.

When Nicole came home, he was still sleeping in my arms, not just because it was a wonderful experience for me, but because I was afraid to move.

I often feel guilty that I can't do more to take care of Appleseed, that there are certain things he will always rely on his mom for, certain things I just can't give him.  I feel guilty because I feel like I'm not doing my fair share.  I try to make up for it by taking care of Nicole.

And there are times when I'm thankful that I'm not in Nicole's position because it seems torturous, and then I feel guilty for feeling that way.

So I will continue making food, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, taking care of the cats, and going to work, because it's the least I can do for this amazing child and my wonderful wife.  Hopefully, that will alleviate at least a little bit of the guilt.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Appleseed-ish: What's Important

Over the first few months of 2013, I had something of an existential crisis.  And I blogged about it.

These posts got nice traffic and even some comments (more on Facebook and Twitter than here).  It seemed like people liked and could relate to a lot of what I was saying.

Given my new life a a parent (sweet fancy Moses), these seem relevant again, so I thought I'd share.

What's Important (aka Twitter Tortures Me)
What's Important 2: The Social Tank
What's Important 3: (Happiness)
What's Important 4: The Zen of Art
What's Important 5: You Can Get With This...
What's Important 6: "Writer"
What's Important 7: Validation
What's Important 8: Miles Iz Ded

There's an unpublished ninth part which I imagine I'll update and post at some point.  Let's face facts, my view of what's important has changed considerably in a year's time!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Applesed: Working Mom/Working Dad

I went back to work last Wednesday.  I have never wanted to go to work less. 

California is great for giving dads time off.  I can use up to six weeks of paid family leave, which pays out at 55% of what I make.  My company allows me to use my PTO to cover the difference if I want, so I've basically managed to miss 13 days of week without losing any money.

In theory, I could take a lot more time off, but money is an issue, and I need to save my PTO days for when Nicole goes back to work.  I'd also taken two more days than I originally planned because I realized that throwing Nicole into five straight days by herself was a horrible plan.

Right up until I went to bed Tuesday night, I was debating whether I should take more time off.  But it just didn't make any sense.  I was going to have to go back at some point.

Picking up where I left off at work was relatively easy.  I'd only been gone for two and a half weeks and I don't do anything that's particularly time sensitive.  I spent the first day touching base with everyone and by the second day it was almost as if I'd never been gone.

Except that I left early.

No, scratch that, I more or less have always left as early as possible.  This time, I left early and I didn't feel bad about it.  I left early to go home and see my son and there is absolutely nothing more important to me.  Fortunately, my job is pretty laid back, so I was able to work from home on Friday, which both helped make the transition easier for my wife and prevented me from having to leave Appleseed more than two mornings in a row.

That will change this week.  This week, I'm a five day work week kind of guy again.

The problem that I have is that I don't know how you fit something so large into your life or, rather, fit anything else in with it.  Appleseed is all encompassing.  I have just enough room to squeeze Nicole in and right now that's just about it.  Even writing this blog has been a struggle and I have plenty I want to say.  How am I supposed to be motivated at work when my focus is on my son?

How do you just go back to your life after something like this happens?

The answer, of course, is that you don't, but you find a way to make it work.

This will require a certain amount of compartmentalization and I hate that, because I don't want to compartmentalize my son.  I want him front and center all the time.  I don't want him to take a back seat to anyone or anything.

This kid makes me feel like I'm going to burst.  He makes me feel like that just writing about him.

Strange as it may seem given what I've written above, I'm a good employee.  I'm good at my job.  I've got promoted a lot, but a lot of that is simply the fact that I've stuck around longer than most anyone else.  But I have a track record.  My work is solid.

And it's 2014 and I work for an internet company.  So I'm hoping beyond hope that I can convince them to let me work from home twice a week.  There's no downside in that for them, although the upside is debatable.  The upside for me, of course, would be huge.

I've never been more frustrated by the fact that I don't write for a living.  I look at all the positive feedback I've gotten from agents, writers, and editors on "Master of the House" and I become tense.  I know the book is good and I know that it's ready and I know that it would make some lucky publisher a good amount of money.  And I should be staying home every day, taking care of my son and writing the sequel.

But that's a whole other blog post.  For now, I'm just trying to prepare myself for the coming week.

I can't even imagine what it's going to be like when Nicole has to go back.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Appleseed: New Life Crisis

It happened when I was driving to the grocery store.  It happened again when I was playing video games.  It happens almost every time I pay any kind of attention to our cats.  These are the moments when I wish my life hadn't changed, when I wish it was the way it was before our son was born.

I think that sounds awful, but I've begun to realize that it’s totally natural.  The further I dig into it, the more I read about first time parents desperately wishing they could go back, because the epic turn their life took is just too much to deal with.

I know Nicole feels the same way sometimes, too.  It's brutal.

It's impossible to explain how amazing it is to have our son in our lives.  The astounding feeling that comes with having a child is something you can’t explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it themselves. Every time I look at Appleseed I’m overcome by something I can’t even really understand, something primal, even spiritual.

If this feeling is so strong, then why do I sometimes wish my life was the way it had been before we became parents?  Why would I want a life without my son?

That’s simple: because this new life is bat shit crazy

There’s a scene from the much maligned ninth and final season of Scrubs in which Dr. Cox is trying to explain to Elliot that she and JD need to spend as much quality time together as they can before their baby is born.  His advice comes on the heels of one half of an elderly couple dying.

Elliot: “Having a baby isn't like dying.”

Dr. Cox: “Having a baby is exactly like dying.”

And Nicole and I laughed and laughed and laughed, as we re-watched that episode just after Appleseed was born.

Because it really is like dying.  You have to kiss a majority of your old life good-bye – an old life that I rather enjoyed.

That’s the crux of it, really.  While I wouldn't trade those moments when I look at Appleseed and my world is blown away, they are surrounded by a punishing amount of work and a distinct lack of sleep.  We are in full on survival mode, which makes it hard to see the joy.  It’s hard to see any kind of a light at the end of this tunnel, even though we know it exists.  It’s even worse for Nicole who has responsibilities that I don’t, although this just means that I’m worrying about her almost as much as I’m worrying about Appleseed.

It’s easier for me to see a way out of this cave because I’m not a) recovering from a major trauma and b) not a machine being abused by our offspring for sustenance.  I can wrap my brain around a future where Appleseed doesn't have to eat every few hours, a future where we can sleep for at least six whole hours a night, all in a row.

I wrote the majority of the above a week ago, and since then I'm beginning to have a hard time picturing my life without Appleseed.  In fact, I think the reverse has happened, where the difficulty isn't so much in imagining my new life as it is imagining any aspect of my old life fitting into this one.  Having a child is such a huge thing that I don't see any room for anything else.  I don't even know if I want any room for anything else.

That's probably something I'll get to next time.

Honestly, though, it all boils down to this: having the Appleseed is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

So, yeah, I think I can manage the rest.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Appleseed: And it begins

Roughly 19 hours after my son was born, I began to freak the fuck out.

It was while I was walking, for the third time that day, from our room in the recovery ward to the hospital cafeteria.  This was the first time I actually had some idea where I was going and the first time I managed to not get lost either on the way there or on the way back.
I was tired.  I was beyond tired.  If I was running on more than 4 hours of cumulative sleep over the last two nights, I’d be shocked. I wanted to go to bed, but my ability to do so was being controlled by this new little person in my life.

And I began to think about how all the time in my life was going to be sucked away.
Truth be told, the fact that our son is going to absorb the vast majority of my time isn’t really that big of a problem. I waste a lot of time. Hell, just my wasted time will cover a big chunk of his needs.  And while the inevitable cutting down on the things I want to do is upsetting, what was I really doing with that time, anyway? I don’t really do anything that can compare with raising my son.

No, what terrified me was the fact that I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.  My old life –and that’s what it is, a whole other life prior to this one –was comfortable.  I knew it pretty well.  It wasn’t always inspiring and It was always enjoyable, but it was the devil I knew.  I don’t know this new life and I don’t know how any of the pieces of the old one that I want to keep will fit into it.
Even simple things like phrases Nicole and I used during our old life make me feel panicked.  It’s as if those phrases no longer belong here.  The Reckoning came and our little jokes about the silly little things in our life before we became parents no longer matter.  It’s a strange reminder of what we’ve lost, even though we’ve gained so much more.

I don’t know how I’m going to sleep.  I’m terrified something will happen to my son if one of us isn’t awake with him at all times.  And then I wonder how that would even be possible and I wonder if I will ever not feel guilty about wanting to go to bed.
I wonder why we decided to do this.  Was it hubris?  Did we just want so badly to leave our mark on this world? Were we selfish do bring him into this world?  Why does anyone have kids?

But then I think about how great he is and the fact that he wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t done this.
I spiraled again in the 20th hour.  I was overwhelmed.  I saw my amazing wife forming this wonderful bond with our son the way that only a mother can and I saw a peacefulness in her, a sense of knowing.  She knew, without question, that this is what we’re meant to be doing.

I wish I had that confidence. It is not, I’ll admit, a new phenomenon.  I have never felt confident in most things I do.  Second guessing this new life was inevitable.
So where does this leave me as I sit here in our hospital room, watching the second hand on the big
clock on the wall as we tick closer and closer to the completion of my son’s first 24 hours on this earth?

It leaves me, as usual, at odds with my own emotions.
Part of the difficulty has come from our environment. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change the
time we have had in this recovery ward for all the money in the world. We have learned so much from these amazing nurses I can’t even do it justice explaining it.  But we’re here just as much for Nicole as we are for our son because she’s recovering for a traumatic ordeal.  This means that Nicole is constantly busy, which is just unbelievable.  She’s doing so much at once.

And our son is just here to feed and sleep and go to the bathroom.
Ultimately, this means I’m sitting around waiting to be of use, which is in some ways worse than being busy.  I only ever notice how tired I am when I don’t have anything to do.  When I’m in the thick of it, adrenaline takes over.

But I’m also a paranoid first time parent, so I have trouble sleeping if I have any worries about our son.  Even if Nicole is nursing and has no need for me to be awake, I won’t be able to sleep, just in case.
If we were home, that much would be easier.  I (and Nicole, for that matter) could go to another room to sleep and at least force us into an out of sight, out of mind type scenario

The other upside of being at home is that there will always be stuff to do.  There will be laundry to wash.  There will be dishes to wash.  There will be a whole house to take care of – the garbage alone will keep me busy.  The sleep deprivation will inevitably be easier to deal with if I’m busy the whole time.
There’s also the simple fact that being here at the hospital underscores the fact that Nicole is dealing with so much – a lot of which I can’t help her with.  The fact that Nicole is still dealing with what happened to her is hard for me because I want her to be okay.  I may be staying awake because I’m worried about our son, but I’m also staying awake for Nicole.  Going home will, even if it’s not true, make me feel like she’s doing better.

There’s also a strange sense of urgency being here.  Because we have so much support, I feel like I have to figure everything out before we leave because we won’t have a call button to hit when we get into jams.  But we’re never going to know everything we need to know.
I’d also really like to sleep in my own bed again, even if it’s only for an hour or two at a time.

It’s now Monday morning. We’ve been at this hospital for 86 hours.  We’ll probably leave in a little bit.  Nicole had a headache which has turned into a full blown migraine, so she’s sleeping.  Appleseed is sleeping in the mobile changing table/bassonette thing they have here.  He’s just absolutely amazing.

I’m looking forward to going home.  I’m looking forward to trying to relieve some of my guilt when we see our cats.  They’ve been like children to us for so long and we’ve suddenly replaced them.
Did I mention that Appleseed is amazing?

I don't think I can say that enough.

But I'm sure I'll try.