Mental health trumps blogging

I have been blogging since August
of 2003
. In all that time, I don’t think I’ve taken an entire week off
of blogging. It’s time for a vacation. I’ll be back on January 2, 2006. When
I return, I’m thinking I’ll do another Q & A post. If you have any questions
you’ve been dying to ask me, leave them in the comments here. If you don’t,
I’ll just have to make some up.

Until then, stay happy ( :) ).

His and Hers: Christmas artistry

His and Hers is a weekly discussion of a question or topic relating
to marriage. On Friday, my wife and I each write our thoughts on the week’s
topic. I invite others to do the same with their spouses as an exercise in
celebrating marriage.

What’s your favorite Christmas song, and what’s your
favorite Christmas movie?

Mrs. Happy’s response

Without a doubt, my favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night. Every
year I like to hear it sung live by a talented singer—it’s too difficult for
a moderately
talented singer to do it justice. If I can’t hear it live, I do like Josh Groban’s
version from Josh
Groban In Concert
.

I’m not a big fan of Christmas movies, but since I have to pick one I’ll pick
A
Miracle on 34th Street
.

Curt’s Response

I love Silent Night, especially the paradox evident in the second verse:

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior is born
Christ, the Savior is born

I love the image of such an otherworldly celebration in the sky announcing
an event that occurs on earth every day—a birth—simultaneously comforting
and terrifying the shepherds on the night
that
Peace
arrives on
earth.

My favorite Christmas movie is sort of a source of contention between my wife
and me. I think A
Christmas Story
is one of the funniest, most touching and insightful
movies ever made. Mrs. Happy doesn’t like it at all. Usually, we either agree
on a movie’s value or at least understand each other’s opinions if they differ.
On this movie, there is no such understanding. I don’t know how anyone can
see A Christmas Story and not love it. She doesn’t understand any of its humor.
Maybe having a boyhood is essential to "getting" it.

Smilin’

When I woke up this morning, Mrs. Happy had just finished feeding Tater and had
him resting on top of her. He was looking at me as I opened my eyes, and he seemed
to get more precious by the second. I said to him, "Did you get cuter overnight?"
He answered me with this expression:

He’s been smiling a lot lately. I don’t understand how he manages to keep
getting cuter.

Does the thought really count?

My friend MCF asks
some interesting questions
of his readers.
I don’t usually respond, but I enjoy reading what others have to say. This
week, however, one of his questions summoned a memory.
He asks:

What’s the absolute worst last-minute gift you’ve ever given someone, and
how do you feel about it today?

One Christmas during the days when my Happy Wife and I had not recognized
any feelings for each other beyond friendship, I struggled to find an appropriate
gift. I wanted to give her something both meaningful and practical. I finally
decided on a
small flashlight
that would easily fit into a purse or glove compartment
and keep her safe should she ever find herself stranded in the dark. It really
did seem like a good idea. I can’t imagine what went through her mind when
she removed its wrapping paper. I can tell you what went through my mind, though:
"Stupidstupidstupidstupidstupid!!!" I made a pathetic attempt to explain why
I thought it would be a good gift. I failed to convince even myself. I’ve given
her lots of amazing gifts, but none is as memorable to me as that stupid flashlight.

I’m glad I had that experience for two reasons. One, since she smiled and
thanked me, I knew she loved me and never doubted my affection for her even
in my disgraceful ineptitude. Two, it keeps me humble and makes me try harder
to come up with really good gifts.

Another of MCF’s questions that sparked a memory was this:

List as many prepositions as you’d like.

I’m reminded of the mythical grammatical injunction against ending sentences
with a preposition and a sentence I once read that ended with five consecutive
prepositions. It seems that a mother offered to read a story to her sick little
son, and he declined. The mother put the book away, and he said, "Mommy, what
did you put that book that I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?"

Marriage links for the week

Sallie (Two Talent Living) remembers what it was like to be single
and alone during the holidays
. (ht: Solo
Femininity
)

Julie Anne Fidler offers some thoughts
on an imperfect marriage
.

Steve Lynch continues his blogging of the book Covenant Marriage with Chapter
20: Intellectual Intimacy
.

Good intentions can go one
of two ways
… (Why I Love My Husband)

I must have missed this
episode of The Simpsons
. (Ad
Altare Dei)

The Pope calls marriage "the
heritage of humanity
." (Pro Ecclesia * Pro Familia * Pro Civitate)

Derek talks about the
importance of quality time
in a marriage.

Yikes.
(SillyDad.com)

When I was a child, I was quite small for my age, both short and thin. One
time, I was looking up a word in the dictionary. As I flipped
through the C
pages,
I caught
a glimpse
of
my
name. I stopped and looked, fascinated to see how Webster might define me.
"Short," it said. I closed book a little shell-shocked, finally understanding
that I never really had a chance to be big. I’ve
never felt the need to apologize, though
.

If you needed any more proof that Disney has no understanding or respect for
A.A. Milne’s original vision for Winnie-the-Pooh, there’s this.

His and Hers: Parenting

His and Hers is a weekly discussion of a question or topic relating
to marriage. On Friday, my wife and I each write our thoughts on the week’s
topic. I invite others to do the same with their spouses as an exercise in
celebrating marriage.

What’s your favorite part of being a parent so far?
What is your least favorite part?

Mrs. Happy’s response

My favorite part is my baby’s total and unquestioning dependence on me. I
think it’s also my least favorite part.

Curt’s Response

I love the way he looks at me as if I’m the only other person in the universe.
I hate when he poops in a new diaper before I can even fasten it. I think,
though, that both my favorite and least favorite part of parenting is the complete
responsibility for another life.

All you need is love… and… um…

When we first moved to New York from Texas in 2000, my wife attended a nice
graduate school in a bad neighborhood. We had only one car, and one night I
was supposed
to pick her up after a class
that ended at 8:00 p.m. It was wintertime, so 8:00 p.m. was well past sundown
and she gave me strict instructions not be be late. I don’t always keep track
of time very well, so I developed a fool-proof plan: Watch 45 minutes of Who
Wants To Be
a Millionaire
, then leave home and be waiting for her when she left class.
Being
the absolute dork I sometimes am, I failed to take into account that WWTBAM begins
at 8:00 in New York and not 7:00 as it does in Texas. Mrs. Happy stood in
the
cold darkness of a bad neighborhood for 45 minutes, alone and afraid, waiting
for me to pick her up.

A few months later, before either of us had grown accustomed to life in the
big city, a friend of ours came to visit. He and I spent the day in Manhattan,
planning to meet up with my dearest after she got off work. She could have
arrived at Penn Station at either 4:20 or 5:20, depending on how quickly she
could catch a train after quitting time, and she was going to call our friend’s
cell phone and let us know when to meet her, so I thought. At 5:30, we realized
we had not heard from her so we went to Penn Station to see if she was there.
She had been there since 4:20 not knowing what to do with herself, alone and
a little afraid. She angrily told us that she would only have called if she
caught the later train
since
she had to rush to catch the early one. That made sense when I thought about
it.

A few months later, she was working at a school in a not-so-nice neighborhood.
One day she accidentally left the headlights on in her car and the battery
ran down. She was the last person to leave, so no one was around to give her
battery a boost. She called me at work and I rushed out the door. Night was
falling, and I knew from experience that she would not like being alone in
a bad neighborhood at night. I had visited this particular school a couple
of times, but I have no sense of direction and spent more than an hour trying
to find it, while she sat in her car alone and afraid watching the sky darken.

I apologized after each of these incidents. I truly felt bad for leaving my
wife in the lurch. I was just glad no real harm came to her. As we discussed
it later, though, she said, "Well, I guess this is just a character flaw you
have and I’m going to have to learn to live with it." Once that comment sunk
in, it disintegrated my self-esteem. These three separate incidents involved
three entirely unrelated mistakes on my part that all resulted in her feeling
alone and afraid. So my "flaw" was that I couldn’t be depended upon to keep
her safe. One of the most important things in my life is being a good husband,
which I’m absolutely not if my wife considers me undependable. Hurt feelings
on both our parts festered over the following weeks and culminated in a tear-inducing,
angry
argument
over
a
box
of Kleenex.

I thought of this as I read the first chapter of Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson
Eggerichs. So far, I’ve read only one chapter, but I wholeheartedly agree with
it. His points are basically these:

  • Women have a fundamental need for love from their husbands.
  • Men have a fundamental need for respect from their wives.
  • If a wife doesn’t feel loved, she reacts without respect.
  • If a husband doesn’t feel respected, he reacts without love.
  • Spouses must break that cycle, so that…
    • a wife respects even an unworthy husband
    • a husband loves even an unlovely wife

That’s what happened with us. When I failed to pick my wife up from school,
meet her at the train station, and revive her car in a timely manner, she felt
unloved. How hard is it, she thought, to look at a clock, use some common sense,
and find a school you’ve visited before? She didn’t think it consciously, but
deep down she probably felt like I must not love her as much as she loved me,
for she would never have made such stupid mistakes. When she commented on my
"character flaw," I inferred a foundational lack of respect. I didn’t know
how to deal with her if she had no respect for me.

We did eventually sort things out. Still, this book intrigues me. I’ll share
thoughts as I go along.

Family extended

I have an uncle whose name is Bob. At one point in my life, I thought everyone
had
an
Uncle
Bob because everyone actually seemed to. There’s also a British phrase that
goes "Bob’s your uncle."
I’ve never figured out exactly what that means, as people here in the States
only
say
it
in
pathetic attempts to
sound British, but I’ve always taken it as an indication that there must be
an awful lot of Uncle Bobs out there.
There’s only one Uncle Bob Hendley, though, and he’s a ventriloquist and a
magician, among
other things. I took him to show-and-tell when I was in first grade, and he
showed my class how he could remove his thumb. I saw through the trick immediately
of course, perhaps because I was sitting behind my uncle when he performed
the trick, but the other
kids were too dumb (as I thought at the time) to understand reality. What I
found more impressive was his skill with a ventriloquist dummy named Amos Matthews.
That little wooden puppet delighted me throughout my childhood.

Anyway, I was going through my e-mail just now and came across an exchange
that ocurred between Amos and Tater a couple of weeks after Tater was born.
I thought I’d
share it here. Keep in mind that in addition to being highly educated, Amos
has always lived in rural Texas, so he knows a lot about
life
in the
country.


Dear Tater:

I realize that "Tater" is not your real name, but I think it will
do you just fine. Knowing half of your father’s ancestry, you could be "Irish
Tater," "Scotch Tater," "English Tater," "Danish
Tater," or even "Rotten Tater." However, looking at your handsome
photographs, I conclude that you must have inherited your "tater" traits
from your mother because you definitely look like a "Sweet Tater" to
me.

Your father referred to your mother
as a stud
. He also referred to equine
traits she has. Would you please pass on to him that you have it from good
authority
that a stud is a male horse used for breeding purposes.

So ends your first
communication from your cousin through confused linage.

Amos Matthews


Dear Amos,

Thank you for your interest in setting Daddy straight about studs. I believe,
however, that he was using the term as a loose metaphor and in a modern vernacular
in which "stud" means "one who is strong and formidable." My
mama is certainly that. The metaphor breaks down when scrutinized, of course,
as all metaphors do. There is really no single word that adequately describes
Mama’s proficient and immediate aptitude in dealing with a new baby.

My daddy
has told me about you and how much joy you have brought to so many children.
I look forward to meeting you in person some day.

Sincerely,
Tater

Unexpected developments

Before my son was born, I had plans about how to take care of him and raise him.
Few of them stood up to reality.

I’ve read some ardent arguments written by serious zealots who insist that
children must sleep in the parents’ bed until the age of five. They state this
as a matter of irrefutable theology, though from what I could tell, their main
point was that families in Jesus’ day typically had one bed for the parents
and small children while older children slept on the floor. Since I don’t walk
down dusty roads in sandals and speak Aramaic, I didn’t see why I should follow
that particular custom either. Whenever people fervently insist on a particular
religious practice that has no biblical
foundation,
I unconsciously tend to do exactly the opposite. While Tater was still gestating,
I silently decided he would never sleep in our bed for more than a couple of
hours, and then only if he were recovering from a nightmare or something.

So far, our baby has not slept a full night out of our bed. Even in the hospital,
he spent at least half of every night in bed with his mama. There’s no deep
reason for this—we just hate the thought of him waking up and feeling alone.
We tried to put him in the crib on his first night at home. I couldn’t stand
not being able to monitor his breathing, so I kept getting up and checking
him, which usually woke him. It’s just easier having him next to me. It makes
feeding easier too. Eventually (maybe when he’s six months old or so), I’ll
calm down about his breathing
and he’ll understand that just because he can’t
see
us
doesn’t
mean
we’re
not
around.
At that
point,
we’ll
put him in the crib to sleep.

Before the birth, we also decided not to give him any formula. Breast milk
is what God intended babies to eat, and no artificial concoction has come close
to duplicating it. Trouble is, it took him a while to figure out how to get
milk from a breast. He lost a pound in his first two days of life. From what
I understand, that’s not unusual, but it’s also a little much.We had to break
down and give him a bottle, which made the process of learning to breastfeed
even more difficult. A lactation consultant told us that the key factor for
success in breastfeeding is the mother’s determination, and my wife epitomizes
determination, so Tater soon learned how to avail himself of the good stuff.
His appetite outstripped the natural milk production, however, so we still
give him a bottle or two per day. (Our bottles have slow-flow nipples, which
supposedly makes the back-and-forth less confusing for the baby.) I actually
like the fact that I get to feed him sometimes. It’s a good bonding experience
for
us.

Another thing we planned never to do was give our baby a pacifier. We had
heard that early pacifier use can hinder dental development. Plus, it looks
kind of silly and our baby needs to look cool. It turns out that the sucking
motion is very calming for a baby. Since all he had to suck on was a breast
and a bottle, he ended up eating more than his stomach could hold and so spat
up a lot. Not to mention that all the feedings were making my wife horribly
sore. We found a soft, odd-shaped pacifier that claimed to be dentally sound
for newborns.
When
we
know he’s
had enough
to
eat and
that
his
diaper
is clean, if he’s fussy and tired, all he needs is the pacifier to relax him
a little so he can sleep. We figure it’s better to give him a dentally sound
pacifier than to have him start sucking his thumb.We can eventually discontinue
the pacifier; a thumb is more difficult to take away.

So another thing my baby has (re)taught me is that research and intentions
often don’t stand up to reality.


On his one-month birthday, I sat my son up on the couch and he stayed sitting,
perfectly content. Yesterday, he rolled from his belly to his back on a flat
surface all by himself. We donated his cord-blood in the hospital for
research in treating genetic diseases, but now I’m worried that they’re going
to use the umbilical cord stem cells to clone super-babies.