For those of you who have been wondering, I’m still a Happy Husband. I’m just not a blogging husband anymore. Even so, I still think in terms of blogging sometimes. If I’d had the time and inclination over the past few months to actually put my thoughts on the web, these are a few of the things I would have written about.
We’re having another baby. Tomorrow. Literally. Tater is 15 months old. He’s walking, and he says a couple of words, but he doesn’t really talk. We still have to change his diapers. We also have to feed him, thought he’s getting to where he can eat certain things without help. And now we’re having another baby. Tomorrow. I hope I’m not freaking out too much.
I think if I ever get a job at NASA, I’ll make it a point to go to work every day and say, “Come on, people, this isn’t brain surgery!” I don’t think that would ever get old.
My mother knows a couple at her church who recently went through an interesting pregnancy. Their five-month sonogram revealed that they were having a boy. Another sonogram in the eighth month revealed that their child was actually a girl. At the time of delivery, they discovered that there was actually one of each. So I’m a little dubious about the accuracy of our sonograms, especially since there are a few sets of twins in Mrs. Happy’s family. And the sonogram techs and doctors are so cavalier about their infallibility. The tech that did our five-month sonogram said, “Well…I don’t see any boy parts….” Five minutes later, she said, “Okay…um…it’s a girl.” Since our proverbial cup runneth over with pink baby gear now, I seriously hope she was right.
You know what really annoys me about smokers? It’s not that they knowingly pump their bloodstream full of carcinogens, or that many of them feel they have a right to pollute the air of public spaces with secondhand smoke. It’s not even that they litter streets and highways with cigarette butts that take as much as 25 years to decompose. No, what bothers me most about smokers is that they’re so darn picky about the cigarettes they smoke. I understand that it’s none of my business what brand of nail anyone wants to use in his own coffin, but it’s torture when I’m standing in line at a convenience store behind a smoker who can’t fully communicate to the foreign-born clerk that he wants Marlboro Lights Low Tar Unfiltered Menthol 150′s, and not the 155′s that the clerk pulled from behind the counter. Smokers are even worse than scratch-off lottery players in that regard.
I’ve heard that when the body experiences too much sensation (usually pain), it sort of shuts down the part of the brain that registers that stuff. It’s commonly known as going into shock. I’m afraid that’s happened to my emotions lately. I and my family have been through a lot this past year (recap: unemployment—> pregnancy—> Tater’s birth—> move from New York to Texas—> continued unemployment and lots of personal stress—> Tater’s first birthday—> Tobe’s conception—> employment after 18 months of joblessness—> Tobe’s impending birth). It hasn’t all been pain, but I’ve felt so many intense emotions that I’m finding it hard to feel anything at all. On the other hand, I can also cry like a little girl with little or no provocation.
I’ve always had a very low tolerance for noisy children in public, especially in places that require a level of decorum (churches, restaurants, libraries, etc.). At my grandmother’s funeral, I sat with my extended family on my mother’s side while my father held Tater in the rear pew of the funeral parlor. The whole purpose of that was so that he could whisk the baby away if he started making noise. The problem was that my father adores the sound of his grandson babbling and cooing, and assumes everyone else does too. About halfway through the service, I started getting antsy because I could hear Tater making all kinds of noise, and I worried that my fellow funeral-goers would get angry about it. Then I thought, “If Nana were here and I suggested that her great-grandson be taken to the lobby, she would scold me pretty harshly.” I’m glad my dad kept him in the room for the duration of the service.
I’m having to wipe tears away after writing that last paragraph. See what I’m talking about?
In order to forestall criticisms, disapprovals, and suggestions for alternatives, Mrs. Happy and I have not told anyone what we plan to name Tobe. A friend of mine actually threw out red herrings in response to name inquiries before his daughter was born. He told people that “if it’s a boy, we’ll name him Halbert Porter, and if it’s a girl she’ll be Amethyst, with no middle name.” I tried that. I told a few people we were thinking of naming our daughter Penelope, but we would pronounce it to rhyme with antelope, and “we’re still deciding between that and Persephone,” which would rhyme with telephone. I didn’t have the nerve to let anyone believe I was serious for more than five minutes.
Two muffins are sitting next to each other in an oven. One muffin turns to the other and says, “It’s starting to get hot in here.” The second muffin says, “Holy cow! A talking muffin!”
I hate comment spam, but sometimes it’s entertaining. It puzzles me how thousands of cyberscumbags manage to flood blog comments with tripe and yet be unable to write an intelligible sentence or spell the simplest words. The Dadaists sometimes give me a chuckle. A couple of times, though, comment spam has really made a positive impact on me. A few months ago, my life was in a hopeless position. I had a wife, a child, a child on the way, and no job. In fact, I had been unemployed for over a year. I’d had many interviews, but no viable offers. I was on the brink of despair. Then one day I looked at my backlog of pending comments (400 or so pieces of spam) and saw one on a post called Hope for the hopeless. I didn’t remember what that particular post was about, so I read it. It had nothing to do with what I was going through except for the last line: “There’s no such thing as a dead end in His kingdom.” That encouraged me. Had it not been for that post getting spammed, I don’t know how I would’ve coped. What man meant for evil, God meant for good. It’s not Joseph’s story, but I’ll take what I can get.
Did I mention we’re having another baby? Tomorrow morning? I’ll be holding our new baby in about 12 hours. Wow.
I don’t think I’ve ever solicited advice from other parents on keeping a marriage healthy. It’s not that I don’t need any—it just doesn’t usually occur to me to ask for it. Maybe I don’t know an awful lot of parents I would value such advice from, or maybe I’m just too proud to think I need it. Sometimes I do need it, though. It would be great to know an older couple who could be role models for us, but such strong relationships are rare in this world.
Conversely, the unsolicited advice that usually comes in torrents on any other subject has failed to materialize when I tell people I have a nearly-one-year-old baby and another due in February. I have had people tell me that kids are what drive couples apart, but that’s not usually helpful. I can say from experience that the presence of a child tends to shine a high-powered spotlight on every flaw in a relationship, but that needn’t drive a couple apart.
I’m writing about this because I received some unsolicited advice from a long-time reader recently. I usually resent it when people presume to tell me how to be a good husband, but this message seemed full of concern, kindness, and hard-earned wisdom (she is the mother of four, and the first three came within 36 months of each other):
Babies can fill your life in a wonderful way, but please guard your marriage more than ever as you become consumed with wonder over the new lives God is entrusting to you. Your wife needs your love and thoughtful care and concern more than ever at this time-I know because I was pregnant once while caring for a one year old and once while caring for a baby and a two year old. Help her as much as you reasonably can and put her needs (especially for sleep) ahead of your needs for other things. She will be better able to meet your needs if you do this. Pamper her when you can. Now and then, instead of taking care of the baby for her, arrange for somebody else to take care of the baby (at their house) and bring home her favorite take-out and a great movie and give her an I-love-you-and-I-don’t-expect-anything-from-you backrub. Babies take a lot out of their moms physically (both before and after they are born). The more you care for her physical needs (read: sleep), the more she can care for yours. That’s the best advice I can give you. Like you wanted it. I just so remember how I felt and what I needed, I want your wife to get the advantages of our hindsight.
If any of you have other great advice like that, please share it.
My latest Dadbloggers post is up.
I don’t blog much anymore, but for the five of you who still check in I thought I should provide a small update. As you probably know, I was out of work for 18 months. I say “was” because I recently accepted a position at a Bible software company here in Austin. It’s the first job I’ve had since graduating from college that is not a writing position. Instead, I’m putting my web coding skills to work as an e-book developer. It’s a nice change of pace, as I had pretty much burned out on writing every day.
I realized recently that unemployment has been a recurring theme in my adult life. I quit a job two weeks before my (May) wedding, and found employment in September. Since my new bride worked in the public school system at the time, those three-and-a-half months of not working were like an extended honeymoon. I kept that September job until shortly after we moved to New York, when the company laid off 1300 people, including me. That was in March, and I was working again by May. I kept that job almost five years, but then lost it in another round of layoffs. One week later we found out Tater was on the way. Nine months later, he arrived and I still didn’t have a job. Six months after that, I still didn’t have a job and…
Our other bit of news is that we’re expecting another baby. Pregnancy literature states that it shouldn’t be possible to conceive while the mother is nursing, but that’s no guarantee. We are living proof of the second part. Tater was six months old when Mrs. Happy took a home test and discovered that another little life was growing inside her. Our (first?) two children will be 15 months apart. I hope that means they’ll be close friends as well as siblings.
We devised an ingenious method of announcing the new arrival to our parents. We bought a little shirt for Tater and designed an iron-on transfer telling the world that he was no longer an only child. Since the shirt was small and we wanted the message to be subtle (so the grandparents would have to think about it a little and kind of earn the knowledge), we simply printed the word brotobe in a wacky font across the chest, with two little faces on the shirt pocket. We set up a dinner, ostensibly for my birthday, where the happy in-laws could see the shirt at the same time as my mother. I also took a photo of Tater in his special shirt and e-mailed it to my dad, who lives about 250 miles away.
The big moment came, and we presented a message-bearing Tater to his grandparents. We expected them to take a moment to absorb the meaning of the cryptic word. I thought I would sense their thought-gears pulling brotobe through a series of possible pronunciations and then producing a mental flowchart of word associations while a curly flourescent bulb hummed to life just above their heads as they realized that if Tater is to be a brother then they would be having another grandchild. That’s what I envisioned, anyway. What actually happened was nothing. The shirt might as well have read If it’s too loud, you’re too old or Love the baby, ignore the tee for all the reaction it elicited. No one spoke of it all the way through dinner. I was so excited I could barely eat, but the oblivious grandparents all enjoyed a fine meal.
After the dishes were cleared, I picked up my son and said, “Has anyone noticed this shirt?” That question, at least, drew blank stares. I started walking them through the process. “It’s pronounced BRO-too-bee.” No reaction. “As in brother-to-be.” Brows furrowed, but made no sound. “Which is to say, Tater’s going to be a brother.” I didn’t know how to be any more clear without producing the pee stick. Finally, father-in-law looked at Mrs. Happy and said, “So…are you pregnant?” And there was much rejoicing.
I then called my father. He had gone to church straight from work, then out to eat with friends, so he hadn’t been home to check his e-mail. I eagerly described for him the photo. He said, “Well, that sounds neat. I’ll be sure to check it out when we get home. So, how’s everything else going?”
I intuited from his response that he didn’t understand the message any better than the other grandparents, so I elaborated: “That’s BRO-too-bee…as in brother-to-be.” He responded, saying, “Yeah. That’s cool. So we’re out having Chicago-style pizza. I’ve never had that before…” And he just blathered on about how he was standing in a Chicago-style pizza parlor set in an unlikely East Texas town. I interrupted:
“Do you see any significance in the message that Tater is a brother-to-be?”
“Yeah, I see significance in that. That’s cool…So these people we know are the ones who run this pizza place—”
“Dad! What sort of significance are you talking about?”
“Well, he’s in a Christian family and probably one day he’ll—”
Thankfully, my stepmother (inaudible to me) interrupted him, curious to know what he was talking about. He described for her the photo exactly as I had described it to him, even including the emphasis on “brother-to-be.” Though she was several feet away from the phone, I heard her response: “So you’re saying she’s pregnant again?!”
To which my father responded, “No, I’m saying…wait, is that what you’re saying?”
And there was, at last, much rejoicing.
It was frustrating, and I now question the wisdom of attempting such subtlety, but at least we have a story to tell.
When my wife was pregnant last year, we gave the baby the nickname of Tater, which was short for gestater. This new one we’re calling Tobe (pronounced TOE-bee).
…it is Cheerios.
…then, in the same way, little boys abhor a stack.
Sometimes I recognize the humanity of other people, and it overwhelms me. When I recognize my son’s being, overwhelmed comes nowhere near describing what I feel.
Sometimes I look at him and think, “He used to not be.” There was a time not long ago when Tater did not exist, and now he does. I don’t understand. I know that a biological process occurred—conception, pregnancy, and birth did not surprise me. What staggers me is the overpowering personhood evident in every move he makes. To sit beside a baby is perfectly reasonable, but to see that baby exhibit such joy, such agony, such desire, such intent, such humor, such curiosity, and to have no self-consciousness simply boggles my reason.
I believe in God. I believe he has always existed and that he created the universe and everything in it, including the first humans. But if I didn’t believe in God, I would think that perhaps there was a time when humanity decided something must exist beyond this life, and thus was born religion. Perhaps a couple of parents in antiquity sat with a baby and realized that biological processes didn’t fully explain the person resting in their arms. Perhaps those parents considered that maybe something outside of nature infused babies with something beyond blood and bile. Perhaps they came up with the idea of an all-powerful creator because nothing else could explain the wonder they felt at the sight of their precious child. And perhaps they were right.
Yes, that’s my son and yes, that’s a New Testament he’s holding.
MCF has told me many times how to create a one-pixel border around a picture using Photoshop, but I can never remember.