Dad-blame It

After years of providing, all that dads receive is blame. As much as I’d like to tell my dad thank you and take responsibility for my abnormalities, I’m obligated, as his child, to place blame squarely on him. He had strange tendencies. To name just one, he searched for junk in the ground. “Beep! Beep! Beep!” and my dad was digging up a fine specimen of pull tab, rusty nail, or contorted piece of unidentifiable scrap. He took me to some swell trash heaps to metal detect. Ever since, junk has been in my blood, for which I’ve had many tetanus shots.

That said, my mom should shoulder some blame. For Christmas, she gave my dad the metal detector because he needed a tenth hobby. And she also took away good practical gifts right after my dad gave them to me. She confiscated, in an hour, my first pocket knife. The knife was a little red beauty and so was  the wound. I could barely hold in my tears of pain I was so elated. The thought of a legitimate scar was exciting enough, but showing off stitches would make me the most popular boy in second grade. “What did you get for Christmas?” I imagined my friends asking. I would hold out my hand stoically, three stitches in my forefinger. My friends would clamor in envy. 

My dad, however, vetoed the Christmas morning trip to the emergency room for stitches.  He was too busy sanitizing a fish hook in a lighter flame and tying on a small length of ten-pound monofilament. He already had the kitchen table prepped for an inpatient procedure, not wanting to pay Christmas morning emergency room costs. Alas, before he could perform surgery, he stopped the bleeding with superglue, which wasn’t nearly as cool as stitches  made of fishing line. 

I waver on whether to blame my dad for genetics. It’s not like he chose to pass on specific genes for my specially-formulated high-viscosity cholesterol. It probably wasn’t smart that he weaned me with bacon, but a boy’s gotta eat. According to my mom, he sprinkled bacon bits on baby food to improve the taste and lower the volume of my shrieking (I think parents may go to jail for that now). Still, it’s easy to blame my dad for my cholesterol, especially when I’m torturing myself by exercising and eating salads. But he’s been torturing himself by eating grilled chicken sandwiches for decades, ever since he had a stint put in when I was in high school. Mutual torture to stave off bad genetics is a great way to bond. There’s nothing like eating a salad together when you’d both rather have baby food sprinkled with bacon. 

Though I’m trying to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible, I hope he’s around for my first stint. The thought of having it done without him is frightening. Bonding over a stint is surely better than bonding over a salad. Maybe I’ll have some of the same doctors and nurses he did. Maybe they’ll recognize some similarities in our blockages. We could both blame our forefathers. 

If you still have your dad around, blame him while you still can. I think it’s best to do it while fishing. He’ll appreciate it, even if he doesn’t say “I blame you” back. He may merely grunt and go about his business of tying on a fish hook, which is something else I blame my dad for: He never taught me proper knot-tying. He just made up combinations of loops and twists and gave them a name. “This is the swallow tail knot,” he would say, after just watching barn swallows skim the pond surface. Later, I realized no one else had heard of a swallow tail knot. That’s probably how all knots were invented. Some dad somewhere was just trying his best to impress his offspring when he happened upon a combination of loops that actually held. Trying his best is one thing you can’t blame a dad for. Nor is tying his best, especially if the knot holds. 

Me, my dad, and Thomas

Now is the Winter of Our Discombobulation

We finally got the tree up and decorated, but Thomas is mostly oblivious to it. He did seriously maim the cow ornament, leaving the poor bovine with only one functional leg, but otherwise he’s paid little attention to the Christmas tree, or anything Christmas-related really. Christmas just isn’t special yet because, to him, the whole world is still special. Who needs Christmas gifts when you find gifts of great wonder everywhere? The Tupperware cabinet, alone, is like Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders. Add to that the contents of the pots and pan cabinet and Thomas is a toddler, content. 

Meanwhile, his parents are deep in a winter of discombobulation. For one, it’s hardly felt like winter. We’re in a severe drought, with temperatures more characteristic of a summer solstice than winter solstice (and it’s supposed to be in the seventies on Christmas day, ugh). During this drought outside, any semblance of routine has withered up and evaporated inside our house. Thomas has run the gauntlet of day-care germs (RSV, croup, stomach bug, ear infection, crud, ear infection, stomach bug), which has strangely left him more energetic than ever, but has completely exhausted his parents. 

The Tupperware Drawer

And it shows. Our pitiful little pencil tree is the only decoration up. There are no gifts around it, because, well, they still need to be wrapped. I didn’t put the big wreaths up outside because I was too busy scrambling to mend fences for goats. Natalie didn’t put out her Christmas village, and I didn’t even put out the nativity scene. It’s kind of sad, to be honest. I didn’t think I would miss the decorations, but now, in hindsight, I realize that Christmas decorations do serve a purpose, namely reminding me that it’s Christmas. I’ve probably thought about Christmas less this year than any since I was a blissfully unaware toddler like Thomas.  

I haven’t been blissfully unaware, but unaware nonetheless–too distracted by the burdens of modernity to stop and find gifts of great wonder anywhere, even in the Christmas story. That said, I’ve still got a few days left and it just rained, so maybe I should learn from my toddler and at least go rejoice in a mud puddle.  

Thomas playing in a mud puddle after rain.

The Toddler Rides Again

Well, on Tuesday night, Natalie and I journeyed deeper into the wilds of parenthood, wandering into that uncharted territory where your child nearly scares you to death. We had our first midnight trip to the emergency room with Thomas. It wasn’t a long trip in terms of arrival to destination because Natalie was speeding through downtown Shelby at speeds my Camry rarely reaches. I learned right then that neither speed limit, nor red light, nor traffic pattern will separate my son from the love of his mom. Also, I learned if my wife ever wants to quit her job as a librarian, she has a second career waiting as an ambulance driver. 

The problem is Thomas woke up at 1:00 in the morning crying, which isn’t all that unusual (we’re still working on sleep training), but this time he was not only crying but gasping for breath and clutching at his throat. His forehead was hot. He had a temperature of 103 and a wheeze loud enough to rival a lifelong smoker forced to run. 

Now back up five hours. Before bed, Thomas had a slightly runny nose, but otherwise he was acting perfectly normal, toddling around the house as if he owned the place. For a kid in daycare, a slightly runny nose is part of baseline health. I mean, in the past three months Thomas has had RSV, the stomach bug, and foot and mouth disease. Merely a runny nose seemed like a step in the right direction, keyword being seemed. Little did we know it foreboded a long night in the emergency room. 

The ER is a surreal place. We had to walk through metal detectors and get checked in by a security guard to enter the ER, which I thought was kind of strange. Turns out, I quickly realized why this procedure was in place. No sooner than we arrived and sat down in the waiting room than another man walked up to check in. I overheard him talking to the security guard and the desk receptionist. The man said he was homeless and needing help. He said he was having strange thoughts. The receptionist asked if he was having any thoughts of self harm. “No,” the man said, “more like thoughts of hurting a stranger.”

I suspect the receptionist tripped a silent alarm of some sort because in less than a minute another security guard as well as a police officer emerged from the corridors of the hospital. The man was polite enough. Eventually, he admitted that he just wanted a shower, and the police officer escorted him down a hallway to somewhere else in the hospital. The receptionist and two security guards continued to talk, however, and we listened to them swap war stories about their craziest patients while we sat nearby, Thomas still wheezing in Natalie’s arms. All I can say, after overhearing some of their stories, is God bless everyone who works in an emergency room–may their numbers increase and bloodlines prosper. 

Eventually we got to move to an exam room and see a doctor. After suctioning out his mucus and running a few tests, the doctor diagnosed Thomas with croup. Being first time parents, neither of us knew anything about this childhood ailment, but the doctor said croup is pretty common in kids. They gave Thomas a treatment with a nebulizer and an oral steroid which quickly improved his breathing. I say quickly, but really we didn’t get home till 5 AM, at which point, after entering the house, Thomas proceeded to mount his Red Flyer toddler car and putter about the kitchen going “vrooom, vrooom” as if nothing slightly traumatic happened five hours earlier.

My Philosophical Thoughts on Baby Strollers

Lately I’ve been thinking deeply about humanity and strollers. The fact that humans still exist is pretty astonishing, given that parents in the caveman era had to lug babies through the woods without dropping them, all while getting chased by velociraptors. 

I’ve never been chased by a velociraptor while transporting Thomas, but last weekend it was actually sunny for once, and we decided to put Thomas in the stroller for a walk. He stayed in the stroller until he started to recite his favorite mournful wail for the entire countryside to hear. My wife calls it the “Please Hold Me Now Wail.” We tried to continue onward, hoping he would settle down, but eventually a siren fired up in the distance, likely that of the Social Services rapid response team. Natalie then unstrapped Thomas, heaved him upward, and handed him off to me to carry half a mile back to the house, which is when I started thinking deeply about humanity and strollers. 

Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought deeply about strollers. The first time was years ago, pre-parenthood, when my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to baby stroller Mecca, a.k.a. Disney World. At the time, I  had a general disdain for the strollers swarming all around me, specifically the one that mowed my foot off at the ankle. “Weakling dads,” I thought, “man up and heft your child so the rest of us can have a few square-inches to walk at the happiest place on Earth.” And I swore to myself I would not be a stroller dad if we ever had a kid. 

Well, turns out we did have a kid and he happens to be a giant. At seven months, he’s already outgrown his nine month clothes and hefting him any distance is like carrying a bag of cement with little arms and legs. Hence, I normally let Natalie push the stroller, that way I’m not seen as a stroller dad and my macho reputation is still intact. But occasionally I do have to heft him around, and I find myself thinking deeply about abandoning my pledge and using the stroller instead. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But, Stephen, your macho manly reputation will be in tatters if someone spots you pushing a baby stroller.” 

Likely you’d be right, if it wasn’t for the fact that my macho manly reputation was already in tatters because somebody at the sale barn let the dark secret slip that I’m a nerd and like Star Wars. Thus, I don’t have a whole lot to lose. But even if I did have a lot to lose, I think macho men and baby strollers can coexist these days. Times are changing. For proof, look no further than Star Wars itself and the most popular TV show around right now, the Mandalorian. The whole premise of the show is that a macho space gunslinger is followed around by a floating stroller. That wouldn’t have happened forty years ago. I mean, can you imagine Darth Vader being shadowed by a floating stroller? I think not. 

But these days nobody’s criticizing Mando for placing baby Yoda in the floating pram. So if Mando can use a stroller and still be macho, so can I. This is the Way.