Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bumps and Bruises (Parenting at it's Finest)

I haven't had this theory confirmed yet, but I truly believe that something about the mixture of my DNA with Amanda's leads to magnetism of the skull of our offspring. This is the only, true common sense reason that explains how both of our children are so prone to smashing their heads in to any hard or sharp object. Then again, maybe it's just my DNA. Let's discuss. Collectively, my boys have lived for about eight and a half years, yet they've managed to test the density of every object in our house.

We Nolan's are known for our melon-sized craniums. My head is giant. So big in fact that I can't peacefully rest my head on Amanda's stomach without her straining to seem polite, while gasping for life's last breath. That kid in Jerry Maguire was full of crap, my head weight passed eight pounds while I was still in diapers. When I joined the Coast Guard my first duty station was a buoy tender in North Carolina. Filled with pride and anticipation I reported eager to get to work. While being introduced to the rest of the crew, my introduction to the XO went something like this:

Me: "Good morning MK1, I'm Seaman Nolan, it's nice to meet you!"

XO: "Jesus Christ son, your head is gigantic. Hey Chief, if Nolan's is on the hose crew, we are going to have to order a bigger fire helmet."

Umm, that didn't quite go as planned. Apparently the size of my head had the ability to put the lives of the entire crew in danger. That's a new one. I can now indirectly kill people with my mere existence.

My boys are no different. While beautiful, they do appear to be trying to balance a bowling ball on a toothpick. At first, this was my conclusion over why they each had so many head injuries. Their poor little necks could no longer suffer the tasks God and dad had given them, and simply relented to the law of gravity. Two incidents really come to mind.

When Jackson was about 18 months old he was very active. He walked everywhere, climbed on anything near his height, and kept me in a heightened state of fear at all times. I recently described this age as the "hey dad, try to keep me from killing myself" stage of development. It's like they have a real intent to harm themselves, and are daring you to let it happen. One day our house was a buzz with Saturday afternoon energy. We'd gone to the store and picked up all the items needed for a nice spring bbq. As Amanda tended the required accoutrement I, like any manly man, was in charge of the grilling duties. I raised the blinds for the windows overlooking our back porch and used my Alton Brown approved chimney starter to get the charcoal going. During all the excitement Jackson rushed over to the windows to supervise dad's hard work. The window seal was about waist high for him, so he rested against it for the show. Noticing his intrigue over my grilling prowess, I flashed him a quick smile and a "hey little buddy." Something about this scene apparently caused his knees to complete give out, and with a faint smile he face-planted, scratch that, head-planted on to the edge of the window.

The whole world was silent for a split second as I rushed in to grab him, Amanda sprinted from the kitchen, and he took a breath sufficiently sized to scream at the appropriate, blood curdling volume. By the time he took his second breath a golf ball size lump surfaced on his forehead. Amanda and I stared at each other, and in a flash equally relayed our fear that we were not prepared for this moment. Nothing, in any parenting book or blog can prepare you for how to react to attempted suicide from a toddler. So we did the only thing we knew to do; we threw him in the car, barely buckled properly, and rushed him to the emergency room.

Apparently NOTHING gets you back to see an emergency room physician faster than a combination of the words "child" and "head injury." Good to know. They rush us back and a nurse is quickly at our side. We are treating Jackson with such fragility, so as not to further damage our little snowflake. This nurse walks in, jabs her fat thumb in to his skull, sighs, and casually walks out. A few minutes later, a tired ER doc walks in, checks Jackson's awareness and vision and walks out again. Amanda and I assume that he is surely fetching the appropriate law enforcement officials and a social worker. In reality, he was probably going to get a refill of coffee. After a while he returns and informs us that "out is good, in is bad." If the bump pokes out, give him some tylenol; if it dents in, congratulations, you broke a human. We quickly and quietly gather our things and head for the door, hoping no poor sap died in the waiting room while the poster model for new parents rushed to treat a booboo.

The next incident actually occurred in a hospital, a children's hospital. As many of you know, Jackson had really troublesome ears as a child. In total he's had seven surgeries to release pressure behind his ear drums. During the first, maybe even second surgery, Amanda and I were very tense and cautious. By number four, we were just tired of getting up at the crack of dawn and going through the whole presurgery rigamarole. So we may, just maybe, have gotten a little loose with the whole process. If your child hasn't gone through this awful process, let me drop some knowledge on you. They get your kid drunk. Not buzzed, or a little flighty. More like, shotgunned a fifth of tequila drunk. Apparently, falling down hammered is exactly what they are looking for to make sure your kid is cooperative enough for the IV. To us, this was comedic gold. So they give them a shot glass of "medicine" to grease the skids. In about fifteen minutes Jackson looks like any nineteen year old coed on karaoke night. He's slurring and stumbling, while maintaining a gigantic smile. He wants to hug and hold hands. What can I say, the kid's a lush.

While we are taking in the show, we somehow forget about the fact that balance + skull may quickly become an issue. For some unforeseen reason, maybe the wind, he gets a little off balance, and time slowed to a crawl as we see him stumble in slow motion, crossing the threshold of the door to our room, and slide forehead first on the carpet of the hall outside. As I rush to his aide I notice that all activity in the hallway had ground to a halt at the sight of this child's head bouncing repeatedly on the ground. I scoop him up, flash an unconcerned look, and rush back in to our room to survey the damage.

Like using silly putty to transpose a newspaper, he has a perfect patterned imprint of the carpet across the length of his head. Like an idiot, I spent the next ten minutes trying to somehow rub it off with my thumb. Thankfully, it wasn't permanent.

With all that said, I leave you with a quick story from my life that is most likely the real reason why my kids love to hurt themselves. It's my fault. I'm a klutz with too much energy. This story makes Amanda laugh harder than any other from my past.

When I was about ten years old, I rode my bike most everywhere. I logged tons of miles and it was rare that I was without it. However, one day in particular, I was on foot. When I think about growing up in the eighties, I'm continually amazed that I survived. We were pretty much cast out in to the world with no safety nets. Growing up in Purvis, Mississippi meant that I would have to deal with one very daunting obstacle everyday. Highway 11. Our town was bifurcated by a US highway that everyone used to travel back and forth to the nearest city, Hattiesburg. Unfortunately for me, my house sat on one side of the highway, while the rest of the town sat on the opposite side. This pretty much required me, at a young age, to cross a major highway many times a day.

On this one day, I prepared to cross the highway while cars were stopped at a traffic light in between a Sonic and a gas station. In true prisoner to imagination, Jamey-like, fashion I couldn't simply go in between cars while surveying oncoming traffic from the opposite lane and cross safely. Instead, I was transported to the Olympics, where I became the U.S.'s only hope at gold in the 100 meter sprint. I lined up, set my feet in the "blocks" of the gravel parking lot, and waited for the starting gun. The starting gun in this race, was represented by the car directly in front of me moving forward to create the gap between it and the jeep on it's bumper. I put one hand on the ground and stared up at my right. Just then I was given the green light, as the car shifted forward. My legs sprang in to action and I burst from them blocks.

One problem. The car hadn't shifted forward quite as much as I thought. Just as I raised my head to really hit my stride, my left cheek was rudely met by the rear quarter panel of a mid-eighties Oldsmobile. As my body bounced like a ping pong ball off the car, tumbling head over heels back in to the parking lot, I realized the gravity of my miscalculation. I just assaulted a 4000 pound car with an eighty-four pound human body. I lost.

My assault led to much concern from the drivers of the Oldsmobile and the Jeep. I can only imagine the scene they'd just witnessed. For no apparent reason, a four and a half foot tall kid just lined up for a race and headbutted a damn tank. They then witnessed my little body bouncing backward in defeat. Surely, I must've been "hopped up" on something. But in true tweaker fashion, just as they reached me to survey the damage, I jumped up like a terrified deer, muttered a terrified grunt, and sprinted across the highway. I don't think I stopped once until I reached home. I guess I thought I was in trouble, like I would be arrested for damaging that man's poor defenseless car. My embarrassments amaze even me.

Maybe that's the issue with my boys. Maybe they got a little too much of dad's tweaked out deer DNA. Hopefully, they are able to survive the bumps and bruises that my unfortunate influence has bestowed upon them. I know one thing; thank God Oldsmobile went out of business. At least they won't have to deal with that!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Switch Bush and the Damage Done

I haven't written about my mom very often. This is not because she falls short in the funny/crazy stories department. It's because I'm not sure just how well she would take the jokes. She's not really much of a yuckster, but tends to giggle at my insanity so I'll give it a shot. Hopefully, I still get invited to Thanksgiving.

I don't really spank my kids. It's not that I'm against it on a moral level, it's that it makes me feel horrible. If my kids have done something spanking-worthy odds are I'm already pretty heated, so why would I want to add to my own negative mood. Plus, there's a time and a place, from a developmental perspective, where spanking is quite effective and necessary. However, I find that to be a very small time period. I can usually get more effective behavior correction out of forcing my oldest to stand in one spot, completely still, while we discuss what he did wrong and how to correct it. Honestly, if I had to listen to me go on and on about appropriate behavior, I'd do anything to avoid future conferences too. Jackson's the same way. My long-winded lessons are torture. For him, mind games and control have worked much better than physical punishment.

My mom, on the other hand, was a strong proponent for spankings. Of course, as wild as I was who can blame her. I imagine her and my dad having traumatic conversations, after I went to bed, about whether or not I would live to see adulthood.

Mom: Dale, what are we going to do?

Dad: I have no idea. Hell, some nights I'm afraid to go to sleep. I have these reoccurring nightmares where he sets the house on fire by shoving stuff in the light sockets.

Mom: I know. If we can just make it till he turns 18 we'll be alright. But, I do feel awful about turning him loose on society.

Dad: Well, do you have a plan on how to make it that far?

Mom: I think we're just going to have to use a combination of fear and pain.

Dad: Probably so....

Before I go any further let me clear up one thing, my parents were in no way abusive. It probably wouldn't have hurt if they were, but they weren't. In fact, I can count, on one hand, how many times my dad spanked me. For mom, I'd need a few hundred more hands. But it was much more than the spankings. In reality, they didn't really work that well anyway. By the time I knew what was going on, I'd weighed out the risk and decided that the prize was probably worth a spanking anyway.

What bothered me more was the fear. It was incredibly effective. Let me be a little more descriptive.

As I've stated before, if the church doors were open, we were there. We attended FBC Purvis, MS. Our tiny town had a TON of baptist churches, but FBC was definitely the largest of the bunch. On a normal Sunday morning, we'd probably have between 300-350 people in service. This made me very excited because I would have the chance to talk to each and every one of them. I was a chatty Kathy, so a large gathering of people suited me just fine. The young people would congregate in the first six rows right smack-dab in the middle of the sanctuary. As you can expect, I was a perfect angel during the music portion of the service. However, I struggled mightily during the sermon. Once the pastor started using words like "self-righteous" and "condemnation" I would zone out. I was more worried about what it would take to get some type of positive response out of anything wearing a skirt. This always led to trouble.

Mom sang soprano in the church choir. They would stay in the choir loft, behind the preacher, for the entire service. This gave her a front row view of my misdeeds. But somehow my hormones would take over and I would completely forget that she existed, or that my chattering and joking around would aggravate her. But when I crossed the line, when I'd simply gone too far, it didn't take long for me to realize the error of my ways. It was then that she would break out the glare. Now I know what you're saying. "Is he really writing a blog about how scary his mom's glare was? He must be running out of ideas!" Do me a favor and tell your inner-monologue to shut it's mouth. You have NO idea what you're talking about. Your feeble attempts at imagining this glare without the appropriate level of imagery from me is embarrassing. When I say it was a look that would kill, I'm not kidding. To illustrate my point I'll simply say that it was rare that I noticed the look without being alerted to it by someone sitting around me. By that time, the damage was done. Her eyebrows would come to a sharp point, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and her lips pursed together as a marker that she was angrily grinding her teeth.

Invariably someone would tap me on the shoulder and point toward the choir loft. That's when I saw it. But, it wasn't the glare that really made my knees knock. It was the frantic look of concern that those around her gave me. Their knowing eyes were screaming "for God's sake Jamey, please shut up. Don't you see her? Don't you know what that look means?" I did, and so did everyone else. That's why the glare was so effective. It meant something. It had something behind it. It meant that there was no question about whether or not I was visiting the switch bush as soon as we got home. And once the look was given, there was no turning back. The die was cast. I would now have to pretend to listen to the rest of the sermon in an effort to turn this ship around. But alas, I would fail.

Once service ended, I knew to just go to the car and wait. Conversation on the ride home was sparse. It would be an exercise in futility to try and change her mind, so why try.

The switch was mom's weapon of choice. But just like everything else, there would need to be a big production to the spanking. We would wait until after lunch. She would take a seat in the living room and instruct me to venture to the bush and retrieve my own switch. This was no small task. Identifying which switch took great skill. If I chose one too small, I would have to repeat the entire evolution. Too big, and she would shave it down in front of me with a small paring knife. The whole thing was very dramatic and tension-filled. Then came the deed. It was over in seconds and rarely painful. The key was the anticipation. But in my hard-headed fashion, the next week would no doubt be a repeat of the last. Another glare, more terrified looks from my fellow baptists, and another switch.

As an adult, I can only imagine how my mom felt. For her, she was pulling out the biggest guns in her arsenal, but I just kept on coming. How frustrating. That's really been the script for most of my life. I seemingly enjoy using my forehead to open doors rather than simply turning the door knob. C.S. Lewis once described experience as "that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." It has taken years of teachable moments for me to change some of my more childish ways. Therefore, I would like to apologize to my mom for the countless glares and switches that seemingly had no effect. But mostly I would like to apologize to all those who were inadvertently affected by the glare. Poor, poor innocent bystanders....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Aunt Katie (Socks Are Never Optional)

My Dad was raised by his Aunt and Uncle, Virgil and Katie Robertson. The reasons were many, and very personal, but he moved in with them in his tween years. They were loggers. Hard people, who never had children of their own, but obliged to take in a young nephew when it required. These were uneducated, but very hard working people. Harder work than I'm sure I'll ever know. They lived in a simple three room house in rural Jones County, MS. We visited once, maybe twice a year. Most of the time, these visits were brief and to the point. I don't remember either party being awfully bothered by the brevity of our stay. It wasn't that they were cold and distant, more like they knew that life had taken my dad in a different direction. One they didn't quite understand. He married, had four kids, and worked a corporate job; this was far too foreign from the path they'd chosen. Uncle Virgil died when I was in my early teens. He was in his early eighties, but the years were much harder on him that any older man I'd ever known. He was extremely fragile and barely "with it" for most of my life. His death was in no way a surprise. In all honesty, to live the life he did, a WWII veteran who made his living logging in rural Mississippi, that he made it that long is somewhat surprising.

I had no connection to him. I saw him once a year or so, but my life would soon be inundated with one of the most interesting people I've ever known, his wife Katie. My earliest memories of Aunt Katie consisted of two things, bananas and boats. Every so often, she would make the thirty minute journey from Jones county to Purvis. Her visits always meant that she would be armed with a fresh bunch of bananas. The boat part had to do with her car. It was gigantic. We're talking serious Detroit steel, driven twenty miles an hour below the speed limit with a push button radio. Did I mention it was pale yellow? Sweet ride. As would be expected, she began the downhill slide shortly after his death. She began wasting away without the motivation to provide for her husband. Not long after his death she had a terrible accident where she fell off the front porch of their house, smashing her eye socket on a stepping stone below. This prompted my dad to take her in and nurse her back to health. What started as a try-and-see, ended up lasting eight years. For five of those years she and I saw each other every day and learned a lot from one another.

Once she moved in with us her dementia really kicked in to over drive. The funny thing about dementia is that it happens in brief, but intense spurts. One second she'd be in the middle of a very lucid conversation, the next she would stare out into God knows where unable to remember anyone's name. Another interesting thing is that it was mostly a product of environmental causes. If it was overcast, or raining, there's no telling where her mind would go. She spent a lot of time staring out our front window, seemingly waiting for someone. These were troubling images for me. I'd never seen someone lose their mind before. To me, it was something that happened in movies, but it was much more morose in real life. It resembled the wilting of a flower; something that had once bloomed so boldly, but now faded ever so slowly to a foreseeable end.

Now that I've made it sound about as dark as possible, let's get to the funny stuff. The old girl was freaking hysterical. She provided me with more laughs and insight that anyone I've ever known. A few stories come to mind.

The first revolves around underwear. Since my mom went to work so early in the morning, most every morning was spent with my dad. Just two guys hanging around the house before school. That all changed soon after Aunt Katie came to live with us. One morning my dad came and roused me from bed for breakfast. I popped out of bed in my tightie whities and headed for the kitchen. For some reason I'd completely forgotten that she may be sitting at the kitchen table. She was. There I stood, a thirteen year old Jamey, in nothing but his fruit of the looms, face to face with an 84 year old woman. I quickly dismissed myself to dress fully before returning to my eggs. I learned that she approached my dad later that day in an effort to slip him some money to buy me some decent sleeping clothes. To her, my dad's financial situation had obviously relegated his children to sleeping in whatever the cat dragged in. Wow, this is uncomfortable.

She also felt that socks were mandatory. I sent her in to a tizzy everyday by simply walking around the house barefooted. To her, I was playing a dangerous game. Apparently in the old days barefooted = death. She would fearfully exclaim that my careless actions would cause me to "catch my death of cold." Meanwhile, it was 110 degrees outside.

My next memory of her revolves around sandwiches. Old people are sadistically smarter than you think. The first thing to go when hope is lost is the appetite. Aunt Katie was no different. When she came to live with us she weighed about 85 lbs. She had pretty much starved herself to the grave. Over the next few months she began to gain weight and was feeling much better. But, this was not her plan. She didn't want to feel better, and she definitely didn't want food of substance. My clearest recollection of her disdain for food was when she would fold her napkin in to a perfect square, then take the meat from her sandwiches and stuff it in the pocket created by the fold. That way, when she finished her bread sandwich, the meat would be thrown out with her dirty napkin. Sharp. The weird thing is that she knew I was watching her do it, and would slyly smile at me as if we were teammates on Team Dead Katie. Then she would give me the glare of a traitor for ratting her out.

Despite my traitorous behavior, we quickly became friends. When her mind allowed, I would spend lots of time asking her about the old days. She couldn't tell you what year it was, but could give you graphic detail on the dress she wore to her first day of school. It was mesmerizing. One story in particular really drove home the difference of our generations. Uncle Virgil fought in WWII. Apparently he suffered mightily from PTSD. Of course she had no idea what that was. She only recalled that he was a different man when he came home from the war. He was rigid and harsh. She would describe the haunting scene of him sitting in front of a nice fire, staring at the guns on the mantle, crying like a child. This was not the husband she once knew. She had no way of understanding his pain or why he had become this seemingly two-sided coin. As far as she could tell, she didn't merit a coin of her own. She was no longer important to him. And slowly, the lack of love shared between them became obvious to both.

Here's where my mind was completely blown. I once asked her why, if they'd stopped truly loving each other, did they stay together for fifty years following the war. She paused, as if I'd asked her the most inanely simple question in the world, and replied "that's just what you do." I've never felt more sadness from any tear jerking movie than I did at that moment. It was surreal to come face to face with a person who'd lived half a life of sorrow and loneliness based off of a prescribed societal norm. Not to mention the mental anguish suffered by both due to a lack of understanding of psychiatric medicine. To me, this was an insurmountable prison sentence. To her, it was life. My life was forever shaped by this conversation. How could a person live their one and only life confined by a rigid standard completely ambiguous to their own true feelings? That's not to say that my direction in life changes with the wind. On the contrary, I would like to think that I now focus every decision made, be it large or small, on the gravity of that conversation of regret.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Behind the Curtain

Good people come in all shapes and sizes. Deciding what kind of people to allow access to your life is a very important thing. I think of it as subjecting yourself to a marketing campaign aimed at how to live. As sure as a billboard with a blended frosty on it will make you commit three hundred traffic violations in route to the nearest Wendy's, the input of those around you subliminally guide your own reactions. I certainly wouldn't classify my group of friends as waspy frat boys. That was never my group. In fact, I was never really known for fitting in to common social circles. This was never more apparent than when a friend in college referred to me as the whitest, blackest, gayest, straightest, most alpha person he'd ever met. In real life, I'm a short, straight white guy. But my interests in life didn't fit a personality set that he'd ever seen. I sang opera and musical theater, but I also obsessed over college football and mixed martial arts. When I burned a CD, the playlist might contain a combination of southern gospel and gangster rap. It seems that I had become the personification of my a.d.d.

My pet peeve, when it comes to friends, is people with ulterior motives. I like people who are who they are. Now listen, that doesn't mean "I like people who speak their minds." That's something completely different. When I think of a person who's proud of the fact that they speak their mind, I immediately picture some vapid twenty four year old chick talking WAY too loud in public. "WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS? GIIIIRL, I DON'T PUT UP WITH THAT CRAP." Wow, I just shivered a little at the sound of my own inner-monologue. Anyway, my collection of friends has always been a little on the unique side. They're all very different, but share the common thread of being fundamentally good human beings. The best people I know are all weirdos. In honor of that fact, I give you the story of Marge.

Young, enlisted members of the military don't make a ton of money. My housing allowance at my first unit was $750 a month. Had I been stationed in Doodad County, Arkansas I'm sure I could have afforded a palatial mansion. (Why did I just capitalize a fictional place?) However, I was stationed at Oak Island, NC. Oak Island, and nearby Southport, were sleepy little coastal towns that BOOMED in the summer, due to the influx of New Jersians. Therefore, summer rentals dominated the market, and lowly coasties were hung out to dry. For $750 a month Amanda and I moved in to a 600 square foot shotgun house with only one closet. To say it was small would be an insult to small things worldwide. It was damn near a dollhouse. The ceilings were so low that I had to slide in to bed horizontally to avoid being decapitated by the ceiling fan. We have a raised bed, but it was still ridiculous. Thank God I was never startled in the middle of the night. That would been a tough concussion to explain.

Did I mention it was in the bad part of town? It was. Do you know a really good way to make a Father comfortable about where his new son-in-law picked for his daughter to live? Have a cop show up, while you're moving in, to warn you about the crime in the area. That will do it. But any trepidation Amanda's dad had should have been completely soothed by who we met next.

A half-drunk woman, with weathered and sun-burned skin sauntered over to the porch with a Milwaukee's Best (blue label) in her hand. She had short, cropped hair, a voice like someone mocking a redneck, and the vocabulary of a sailor. She offered to help us unpack our u-haul full of stuff. Amanda's dad quickly rebutted that we were doing fine, and would not require her help. "Don't bother yourself, Marge, we're almost done." To which she replied, "Hell, it's no bother. I ain't got no problems, unless I run out of beer." These were not words of comfort for my very devout Southern Baptist Father-in-law. But what happened next made all of our jaws collectively hit the floor. Marge reached down and, with her one free hand, grabbed a huge Rubbermaid container, that was about five feet long and filled to the brim with books, and slung it up on to her shoulder. It was very smooth. So smooth, in fact, that she didn't even spill her beer. This container probably weighed over 150 lbs., easy, yet she toted it around with one arm like it was filled with cotton balls. As we emptied the u-haul, Amanda's parents bid us farewell and were on there way. As they loaded the car, Marge piped up "Don't you worry a bit, I'll make sure yer kids are safe and sound. If anybody starts any trouble, I'll just get my old shotgun and shoot their ass!" Please Marge. Please stop trying to help.

While Amanda's dad was worried about this situation, my dad saw it as something completely different. He was ecstatic that Marge would be there to stand guard while I was on the boat. He was right. Marge was an amazing person. She had life all figured out. She worked in the cooling tower construction business. Apparently she was very good at her job and made a nice living. However, she only worked during the winter. There was no way she would allow something as trivial as work to get in the way of her real passion, fishing. Marge was unemployed eight months a year so she could fish everyday in her 14 foot flat bottom skiff. Most people would be terrified at the thought of taking a fourteen foot skiff out an inlet and fishing just offshore. Not Marge. She would load up her beer, her dog, and her effeminate boyfriend and fish until sundown.

Also, she was uneducatedly brilliant (yes, I know that's not a real word). She was funny and interesting. A real find. How could I have possibly lived the rest of my life without the knowledge of her existence. She was rough and tough and seemingly invincible. That was until the day she became human. We'd lived next to her for months thinking of her as some sort of novelty. We had not seen all of her. I would've never imagined that Marge could feel pain.

During one of her stints at work, her boyfriend left. He didn't leave a note or a message. He just packed up his stuff and left. In all honesty, he was probably terrified at what she would do to him for leaving her. She knocked on our door with a depressingly puzzled look on her face. She asked us whether we'd seen him or talked to him. We had not. She wasn't simply asking though; she was desperate. The sadness in her eyes had an air of panic to it. This sadness frightened her. She wasn't familiar with vulnerability and weakness. This wasn't in her plan. We sat out there with her for a long time as she talked and cried her way through the obvious stages of grief. "Was it something I did? Did he meet someone else? Maybe if I just called him more, or told him I loved him?" She was angry, hurt, and scared. In fact, she was mostly scared. I was awestruck at how she suddenly seemed so small and fragile. I then began picturing her as a child staring down the first day of school. The pain seemed too big and uncontrollable. In that instant she was nothing more than heartbroken.

To be honest, I was heartbroken for her. She was a good person, who treated us like we were her own kids. This was karmic injustice. But, in true Marge fashion, she picked herself up. The next day, she and the dog piled in to that little skiff and hit the water. No one would've ever believed our story of her fragility. But on that day, we really knew her. She was who she was. She didn't hide her pain or vulnerability. She longed for comfort like everyone else. She was still funny and loud, but we'd seen behind the curtain. We'd seen the great and powerful Marge, and were just as shocked as Dorothy and the Tin Man. That moment taught me a lot about humility and real honesty. Maybe it only exacerbated my preconceived opinions of how to be a real person. Recently, someone referred to me as a real person. That might be the best compliment I've had in a long time. While I don't see myself as completely self-actualized, I am slowly but surely getting more comfortable with the idea of who I am. Hopefully, I'm an amalgamation of the influence of the good people I've met. Hopefully, you are too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Newlyweds (So sweet and yet so ignorant)

Now don't go getting your panties in a wad with the fact that I called them ignorant. It's not a slight, it's a state of being. It's actually a pretty enviable state of being....sometimes.

Cabin fever is a hell of a thing. It does different things to different people. After two weeks of sick kids, sick parents, and tropical storms our family was at it's breaking point. Jackson, who is normally an extremely well-behaved child, was starting to act out. The confinement was apparently causing him to lose his ever-loving mind. Behavioral examples include trying to chastise me and remind me that Matthew is only a baby and shushing Amanda for making, what he felt, was too much noise. He also had a major meltdown regarding the clothes Amanda picked out for him to wear to church. This is not our child. In turn, Matthew was inventing new games like "Climb on the Kitchen Table" or "Flip Over the Back of the Couch." Both of these games would surely send us straight to the emergency room. So after our afternoon naps Amanda and I were inventing ANY reason we could think of to get out of the house for a while. This consisted of a trip to Target.

During this trip Jackson vehemently expressed his displeasure over the fact that today would not be new toy day. He was also working out the kinks on some new ways to talk back. Joy. But not to be outdone Matthew decided that he was now old enough to walk around the store by himself. No longer would be satisfied as a prisoner to the shopping cart. To announce this to the ENTIRE store, he melts down in spectacular fashion, which sends Amanda and I into a tizzy of attempted appeasement. We tried toys, no luck. We even grabbed a banana off the shelf and peeled it right there, but the screaming only intensified. OK kid, you win. So, I let him out and he immediately smiles, turns, and sprints as fast as he can. He knows exactly where he's going. It's a quaint little place called "away." While trying to herd him, tell Jackson no, and pick up a few essential items, we decide that it's time to hit the checkout line. As we take our place in line I hardly noticed the couple in front of us. I was more concerned with trying to keep Matthew from asphyxiating on the banana that he's half-heartedly chewing. As he's covering his face in spit and smashed banana, Jackson is insistently requesting every toy in the checkout line.

By the way, there is nothing that so expertly exemplifies the evil nature of marketing than the cheap, crappy toys that litter the checkout line of most major markets. These crooks know that parents have had their resolve whittled to a nub by the constant "I wants" of their children throughout their shopping experience. You can avoid the toy section, but you can't avoid the checkout line. To the kids, these junky toys represent the last hope of toy salvation in a cold, dark toyless world. So they put them there, right at a kid's eye level and plaster a cheap $1 price so the kid can guilt you to death for being a cheap bastard. It's just evil.

Anyway, I begin noticing that they couple in front of us are giggling back and forth and petting each other a little too much in what might be the most intrusive display of flirting I've ever seen. I begin watching closer and notice that they have shiny new wedding rings on, and are surely newlyweds. That's when she turned around and glanced at the mob behind her in line. Her face quickly changed to shock and something that resembled fear. I then realized that to her we must have represented the Four Horsemen of the Marriage Apocalypse. There we stood covered in the spit and banana mush of a child squirming to get out my arms, and screaming at me for not obliging. While the older child is tugging at my pants every four seconds saying, "Dad, can I please have this fake plastic camera filled with gummy worms? It's really awesome." I gave her a slight grin that said "you have NO idea," and giggled on the inside. Then I noticed the modest number of items in their basket. A tiny little pack of ground beef, a twin pack of thin cut pork chops, a small bottle of detergent (I didn't even know they made a small bottle), and some other single serving size items. This coupled with the fact that they were acting like they hit puberty yesterday sealed in my mind that they were definitely newlyweds.

This put me in a reminiscent mood. Amanda and I had a very unique experience as newlyweds. The day after we married, we moved thirteen hours away from everyone we knew. It was the best thing that ever happened to us. Not for some lame reason about forcing us to make it on our own. We were just happy that no one was there to make fun of us for the fact that we had NO IDEA how to make it on our own. The last thing we needed was a family member giggling as we bought our tiny groceries or turned every household repair into a mission from God. That's the thing about newlyweds. It's the grown-up version of playing house. Every manly type task you do immediately puts you on a "Best Husband Ever" pedestal. You begin developing cute little inside jokes, and really learn the mannerisms of the person you married. Amanda and I dated for four and a half years before we married, but there was still so much to learn. For instance, Amanda learned that I am NOT a handy man or professional interior designer. My attempt at hanging stuff on the walls resulted in swiss cheesed drywall and crooked paintings that would randomly crash to the floor.

I also learned a few things. For instance I learned that Amanda had never owned a waffle maker. Some relative gave us a nice one as a wedding gift and one Saturday Amanda woke up early and tried to surprise me with a plate of homemade waffles. In reality I was awoken suddenly by Amanda screaming "Jamey, get in here. I think I messed up. I need HELP!!!" I entered the kitchen to find her standing back six feet from this demon machine as it splattered raw dough all over counter and floor. Apparently when you fill a waffle maker to the brim with cold dough, then turn it on, it is transformed in to the exorcist version of a small appliance. It was cute. There she stood, brokenhearted that her plan had failed in such a grandiose fashion, giggling sweetly because she knew this was one of those moments.

At this point, we've been married for eight years, and we have two kids. We are not grizzled veterans, but this ain't our first rodeo either. We are just hitting our stride. That's what the doe-eyed newlywed in Target couldn't see. All she saw was a frazzled couple, with kids that resembled something out of the Lord of the Flies. She didn't see that we are probably more in love now, than we've ever been because we worked out those newlywed kinks. She also didn't understand what we'd been through over the past two weeks. That look I gave her was another complete ball fake. My kids are angels. She would never be able to tell that hours before our encounter Matthew was snuggled up on my lap peacefully. She would also never guess that Jackson and I spent the previous evening role-playing an encounter between a lion and a porcupine to explain how the porcupine uses both sets of his quills to deter predators. Yep, a porcupine has two sets of quills; a set that pokes you and a set that rattles like a snake.

To us, these kids are examples that we carry around everyday, occasionally bribing with bananas, that show the whole world how much we love each other. But she didn't see it because she's ignorant. If she knew, she would have marveled at the love that Amanda and I share, and would have gone home longing for the connection that our kids represent. Banana mush stains and value sized groceries are the badge of marital bliss. She doesn't get it....but she will.