23 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Our family celebrations begin on the evening of the 23rd, so as things prepare to get rolling here in the Great Midwest, I bid the warmest of Christmas wishes to any and all who stumble upon this. Joy to the World, and all that.

The Ballad of Dr. Biff McSparkland

‘Twas the night before Christmas and on Santa’s sleigh

Was a jolly old man who had lost his way.

In the skies over New York there had been a great flash

Then into Rudolph’s side, a meteorite did crash.

The collision knocked out his nose of red light

Leaving him helpless to navigate this flight.

The sleigh then began to tumble and pitch

Leaving Santa to mumble “Son of a …Kringle!”

“Rudolph is hurt, he’s ruptured his spleen

Gotta find a place to land this thing!”

Far below Santa, a man drove alone;

Dr. Biff McSparkland, on his way home.

With no family or friends, he’d no plans the next day.

So after a night of sleep, he’d work Christmas away

At the hospital ER, tending to sickness and wounds,

And griping endlessly about cheesy Christmas tunes.

(Biff was unhappy and needed a change

But that’s a story for a time less strange.)

So on the road he drove, when he heard a great roar.

Great, he thought, another accident, no more!

Santa had landed his sleigh in a field.

(Remarkably without losing any of his great yield.)

Poor Rudolph lay on his side in great pain

For the space rock had caused much more than a sprain.

Santa, grief stricken, yelled “Now what do I do?

I can’t possibly treat such a large boo-boo!

Christmas is ruined! Oh those poor girls and boys!

And what will I do with all these toys?”

It was at this time that Dr. McSparkland arrived

And looking at Santa, said “what’s all this jive?

I heard your crash, is everyone all right?

And why are you wearing that? Your coat is too tight!”

Santa replied “We hit trouble over Schenectady!

And I fear poor Rudolph needs a spleenectomy!”

It hit Biff then, just how much he was needed.

“I’m a doctor,” he said. “Then help him!” Santa pleaded.

Biff did his thing, and Rudolph recovered.

(Minus one organ, but no less discovered.)

Next morning the toys were under the tree

While Santa, back home, remembered with glee

His pal, Dr. Biff, who had saved the day.

Next year he’d reward him in some special way.

Meanwhile Biff had gone home and rested,

then rose a little early, gone to the kitchen and tested

A new recipe that he had thought of last night

When he placed a small package in the fridge by the light.

So at work Christmas Day, Biff shared with his team

A new holiday tradition, the Roast Christmas Deer Spleen!

22 December 2009

Happy Birthday, Desmond James

(Warning: corny, yet touching video at the end of this entry!)

Yesterday (12/21) was Desmond's 2nd birthday. I was warned that as a parent time would just fly by, but it does seem like it has been two years. He's been around long enough that I struggle sometimes to remember what life was like before him. It was certainly much less active, and much less interesting.

I had been around enough children before he was born to form an idea of what parenthood would most probably be like. For the most part, it has been as I thought, with the exception of sleep. Kristen and I spent the better part of Desmond's first year in major sleep deprivation, and although we are not "in demand" at night as much as we used to be, neither of us has adjusted back to pre-parenting sleeping habits. She's had it rougher than I have, no doubt, but we would also both say that the change has been worth it.

Obviously, Desmond has changed a lot in two years. He looked exactly like me when he was born, and now he looks exactly like his mother. He used to fit into the crook of my arm like a sack of potatoes. Now I can barely lift his 35-pound body without feeling it everywhere. I miss the baby Desmond with all of my heart, but the little-boy Desmond is amazing, and I can't believe that I get to spend every day with this kid.

Desmond's personality exploded about two months ago. He hugs, he kisses, he gets excited whenever and wherever he sees his mother, and he expresses his individuality hundreds of times per day. It has been astonishing seeing the transition from a baby who relied on us for everything to a toddler who feels more confident about his place in the world with every passing day. Our life is not without obstacles; Des can be stubborn and resistant, and he has definitely discovered the emotion of anger recently, but it is all part of learning to live--I wouldn't trade the moments of impatience for anything--and we have to remember that a lot of life is facing challenges.

I still find it hard to believe at times that I am a parent, and I know that it is because I never thought about it growing up. Later, when I was an adult and living on my own, it just seemed like something that wasn't for me. Up until I met my wife in the spring of 2003 (when I was 36) I still didn't think I would ever get married, much less ever be a father.

Obviously, I am grateful to have been wrong about that.

I guess I would say that being a parent is hard, simply because at times the knowledge of being responsible for another life can be a little overwhelming. I've never regretted doing this, and I never will, yet I think of some of the challenges being a parent will bring in the future--normal things that will occur "down the road"--and I don't look forward to dealing with them.

Right now, Desmond thinks that I am the second-coolest person on Earth, but I'm willing to bet that in about ten years or so, his opinion might change. One day, maybe he'll think I'm too old to understand what it is like to be him. When I was a teenager, I didn't understand that the adage "with age, comes wisdom" was about the truest thing that has ever been said.

I'm a realist. Life isn't fair. People suffer, some through no fault of their own. You cannot create a world without angst. I want the best for my children, but know that there are forces at work that may keep it from them.

Right now? All I want for Desmond is to be healthy and happy, and to learn about the world around him. I want him to explore to his limit and develop a desire to learn, so that when he goes to school he really gets into it. I want him to create and imagine, and most of all, I want him to stay innocent.

Down the road, I want him to develop strategies for dealing with "the world." I'd love to be able to tell him that he will always be happy, that the sun will always shine, but life isn't like that, and I feel that I'd be doing him a tremendous disservice by not acknowledging it.

A good friend said to me recently that a parent "prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child." I agree wholeheartedly. Right now, I can control somewhat what life has in store for Desmond, but those days are waning fast.

I check on Desmond every night before I go to bed. Last night, I went upstairs after one, so it was already his birthday. He sleeps with a few of his blankets, and I noticed yesterday that he had wrapped two of them around his face. I moved them, and in his sleep, he tugged them back, wrapping them again around his face. After I moved the blankets for the third time, he woke up and gave me a look that said "What in God's name are you doing?" And then he smiled that smile, the one that says "Oh yeah, I recognize you. You're my Dad, and I love you." He reached out to me, and I thought, what the heck, it's his birthday, so I picked him up and we sat in the rocking chair in his room for twenty minutes.

Times where Desmond will sit still with me are few now, so I cherish any chance I get. He was half-asleep, and while sitting with me he rotated between yawns, rubbing his eyes, and smiling, the entire time holding on to my right index finger with his right hand.

Right after Desmond was born, I stood by him in the room while the nurses washed him and checked his signs. It lasted about ten minutes, and the entire time, he held onto one of my fingers just like he did last night. I remember feeling his grip then and thinking "I am in, for life. When you want to let go, let go. But it will always be there for you."

And I thought the same thing last night.

I love my son in such a way that I cannot describe, so I won't even bother. I feel like I was destined to be here at this time. Life has never had a greater purpose, and I've never understood it more. I only hope that it stays like this forever.

To my son: I love you unconditionally. I will do my best to prepare you for this world, but at times you will hurt, you feel anger, you will feel disappointment. It's normal. Hopefully those times are far outweighed by the joy that life can bring. Whatever path you find yourself on, I will always be there for you.

14 December 2009

The Season of the Knuckle

My father was not one to complain about something unless it bothered him incessantly. He had a certain way of ignoring annoyances until they either went away or stopped being annoying. It is a trait that I don't have.

So it is not difficult for me to remember something that he complained about: the knuckle on his right index finger. Every so often, it would swell up to almost twice its normal size with arthritis, and the slightest movement would cause him pain. His flare-ups would last less than a week, but when he was in the middle of one I'd hear him wince over and over throughout the day.

This is a trait that I do have. In the exact same finger. Three or four times per year it shows up on my digital doorstep and hangs out for a few days. Just last week I happened to realize that it had been a long time, more than a year, since the knuckle on my right index finger swelled up, looking like a pale pickle and stiff as three fingers of scotch.

I woke up this morning, went to scratch my head, and saw more stars than the Hubble Telescope. Sometime while I was asleep, my overdue visitor arrived.

My right index finger looks like an albino sausage.

It's literally impossible for me to move the finger without feeling like it is on fire, and simple tasks are rendered, well, not simple. Today (and for the next two or three most likely) I opened the refrigerator, dialed my cell phone, and did one hundred other menial, everyday tasks with my left hand.

Typing this is taking much longer without the use of my primary finger, and every time a different finger on my right hand hits the keyboard, the spike digging through my index finger plunges deeper and deeper.

It's a nuisance, but I'll live. Every time I feel stiffness or pain I am reminded of my father. I never experienced arthritis in the knuckle until a year or so after he died, and I've come to the point that I believe that maybe that wasn't just a coincidence, that a swollen, painful knuckle is a two-to-four day visit from my father.

Just trying to wiggle my finger now, the pain is excruciating.

I hate it and I love it. I want it to go away and I want it to last forever.

04 December 2009

There's irony, and there's IRONY

I got a rejection letter in the mail today from a literary journal to which I submitted a piece of writing.

The literary journal in question is published by the university where I received my MFA in 2008.

I was an editor of the literary journal's 2006 issue.

The rejection was a form letter, though written very warmly, and it's easy to see that the person who wrote it understands what it is like to be a writer. I think it is one of the best rejection form letters I've ever seen.

Of course, I'm biased.

I wrote the damn thing back in November 2005.