Archive for February, 2007

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New blog address

February 14, 2007

These days I’m posting mostly on shelookslikeme.wordpress.com

Feel free to drop by.

— Dadontrainingwheels

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Verbal misuse

February 13, 2007

It’s 3:30 this morning. Myowndaughter had a tough time going to bed, finally nodding off around 8:30. She woke up at midnight. She woke up again at 3. Her sexy mom has gone to check on her each time, staying a little while until Mod drifts off again. She’s there now.

I walk into Mod’s room to see if there’s anything I can do (as if).

That’s when I hear it. It makes me cringe. At 3:30 in the morning it makes me cringe.

“Lay down, Mommie. Lay down. No, Mommie, lay down.”

Lay down?!

Lay down?!

Lay?! Down?!
Where does this kid pick up this kind of language? She’s not in child care. She doesn’t hang out with the playground thugs. She’s not whiling away the hours in front of a TV, ever. She reads books … well, you know. We read books to her. She loves books. She’s very literary. She’s very language-oriented. She used sign language before she could talk. When she started talking she very creatively linked words together, like a lot of kids, to make her point: “Abby. … mmmm Biiiiig. Happy.” “You want to throw Abby the dog a birthday party with a great big cake?” “Yes.” (She speaks English like I speak Spanish.)

Her father’s a writer! Hello?

Lay down? I can’t believe it. It took all I had to keep from shouting, “Lie down. Lie down. Say it with me now, lie.” I knew that would have kept the kid awake, maybe even startled her, and could have landed her in our bed, and all sleep goes out the window when that happens.

She gets it from her mother. From Sexymom. Sexymom, sexy as she is, was not reared in a family that scrutinizes every spoken syllable. As a young boy, if I slipped and, say, forgot to use a possessive pronoun preceding the gerand form of a verb, a wrath of criticism flew from my father’s mouth, damning me to a life in the gutter if I kept up that talk. At dinner we would diagram, aloud, with our fingers in the air, the sentences of entire arguments about the influence of cultural identity on late-20th century residential architecture, communal behavior and domestic norms and the increasingly urgent need to erect legal and social barriers around the commonwealth and all that is Southern and good from northern invaders (my step-mother is Virginian).

Sexymom’s father was not an immigrant. My old man was born in Mexico. When his parents arrived in Houston they quickly began the process of assimilation. English was part of my dad’s ticket into Anglicanism, part of the mannerly and intellectual uniform he wore to distinguish himself from the common Mexican. Mastering English meant my father could talk his way into or out of anything — ask any one of his three ex-wives.

My father-in-law, however, was American, born and bred. He didn’t need the English language as an identity crutch. He grew up on a farm in western Kentucky, growing tobacco and corn and raising hogs. He earned a master’s degree and had a very successful career that’s provided a comfortable retirement … he worked with farmers.

Child development researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered recently that fathers influence their children’s language development — vocabulary, complexity of language, etc. — more than mothers do, despite the parents having similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

This offered some comfort at the time. I can’t even understand my Sexywife half the time, she talks in sentence fragments that might or might not be interrelated. And, she says “lay down.”

As a teen I rebelled from perfect English skills. I can’t spell worth a dam. I started to notice that despite some people’s language skills, they still survive, even thrive, in society.But even now the old man takes me down a notch if I dare to dangle a modifier.

But I did become a writer, and not by accident. Too much of this heretical linguistic influence could endanger my work (there’s probably examples crept into this post!). But even more harmful, it could corrupt my child, turn her against me, in the wee hours of the morning, looking for parental comfort from someone who’ll lay by her side.

I can’t take it! Lay! Lay! Why can’t I say “lay down?!” All I want is to talk good and have someone love me!
I take all this in, take a few deep breaths. I back away down the hall, make my way back to bed, and feel the callow emotions rapidly rise from their shallowly submersed subconscience shelf and linger long enough to prick like a thorn the tender trills of longing and let bleed these tiny drops of sorrow.

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New digs

February 13, 2007

You can now read this drool at shelookslikeme.wordpress.com
I’ll transition to that site slowly over the next … however long it takes me to remember to do it.

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Herd mentality

February 13, 2007

The Celebrity Dairy opened its barn doors Saturday all comers.

Of course we were there. It’s just a few miles from our home, in the woods of North Carolina’s Piedmont.

Celebrity Dairy is a goat farm. I don’t know where it got its name. I didn’t see any celebrities. I doubt any celebrities could find this place. I don’t know of any celebrity goats.

If this was back where I used to live, Nashville, where you’re constantly walking around bigtime celebrities and walking over washed-up celebrities and walking away from wannabe celebrities, well then maybe. But in the North Carolina sticks?

Whatever. Maybe I’m missing something.

Anyway, twice a year the dairy opens up for parents to bring their kids through the barn so the little pukes can wipe their hands on farm animals that have been wallowing in their own manure, transmitting e coli, staph and god knows what else. This is birthing season, and a friend told us when she went last year she saw a nanny goat open up and spill out two little kid goats nasty as could be and then the nanny ate the placenta, just like in a National Geographic documentary (I’m not going to pimp NG because the ads on their site annoy me).

We couldn’t resist.

Of course, five minutes before we arrive Ella falls asleep. So we sit parked in a pasture with all the other cars for an hour so the kid can get her nap out. Goats weren’t all that mother nature displayed; a human mom nursed her kid in the Subaru next to us. Of course I didn’t watch! I’m just saying.

You know the bad thing about these kinds of events? Other kids show up. A lot of them. And they run around and make a bunch of noise and kick dirt everywhere and throw grass at innocent animals and scream and cry. And their parents walk around saying, “that’s nice dear; please don’t kick that man, dear; stop trying to light the barn on fire, dear.”

God help me when it’s time to go see the big mouse. Do they sell percocet? They should, out of vending machines, like gumballs for parents.

So, anyway, we get there and Myowndaughter loves the little goats. Most of them are just a few days old. Mod is very patient and gentle with them.

She’s fearless. We even get to hold one. Mod’s in a trance. She only utters “mehhhhhh” and pets the little thing.

There’s a peacock strutting around, being coy, and his iridescent feathers mesmerize Mod. Blue’s her favorite color, after all.

We buy a block of goat cheese (curried goat cheese, as in Indian curry … this is North Carolina!) in the Celebrity Inn. It’s all very homey, very “Little House on the Prairie-ish.” (that link’s for you, drivinginturkey).

We take some cute pictures, and if I can figure out how to size them properly I’ll even post one, as proof. I can’t make this stuff up.

We were good parents on Saturday.

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Projections

February 7, 2007

I’ve been avoiding this post. That usually means something’s trying to come out, and I should just settle down and let it come.

One night last week Myowndaughter had a difficult time going to sleep. It was different from her usual recalcitrance. She was crying, but not out of fear. She was in pain. Believe it or not, dads can also distinguish their children’s cries. I shouldn’t be suggestive; this is something I was surprised to learn about myself, that I could be so emotionally attune to a little person so as to read the subtleties of similar sounds.

Sexymom was already with Mod, but I went into the bedroom to see why my baby’s cries communicated urgency and pain, and fear.

I was having a Tobin moment.

Myowndaughter’s knees were pulled up to her chest and she clutched her stomach. She wouldn’t stop until her mom picked her up and held her. She might have had gas, might have eaten something that didn’t agree with her, maybe she was feeling a pain for the first time and couldn’t understand it.

But in the first few moments, in the dark room, seeing a beautiful, energetic, sweet little child in pain, I was carried back to a hospital room in San Antonio in 1998. A 2-year-old little boy named Tobin was dying of cancer, a neuroblastoma. I was a medical reporter, and had found Tobin’s story while mining for a Christmas feature about kids in the hospital. I was freelancing, but I had a regular gig with the Express-News, and my editors quickly latched onto Tobin. I was to take as much time as I needed. They would play Tobin on 1A in several stories, first an introduction, then a New Year’s day story about the bone marrow transplant the boy would recieve from his brother on New Year’s Eve, then follow-ups about the boy’s progress.

I wrote three stories. In the first story I introduced South Texas to the family — Tobin, a sweet little boy with a big round face; his considerate, mannerly older brother, all of 8; their infant sister, curly blonde; the dad, big and sloppy, cheerfull, loud and always smiling; and the mother, small, quiet, attractive. The family had just moved to town from Southern California so the dad could take a new job. They had never even been to Texas, they hadn’t seen house they were moving into, they knew nobody. Somewhere along New Mexico Tobin started crying. Crying in pain. The next day he had a lump in his belly. They stopped at the first doctor they could find, out in the West Texas plains. The doctor urged them to hurry to San Antonio, where there was a children’s hospital and two cancer centers. Scared out of their wits, they drove non-stop, pushing the U-Haul to its limits, and arrived at the children’s hospital.

Tobin’s tumor was deadly, but only because of the very short window of time in which it appeared. Neuroblastoma is a common childhood cancer; children who are diagnosed with the mass recover quickly, sometimes almost spontaneously — if they’re younger or older than 2. For reasons the oncologist could not explain, the 2-year mark was an especially vulnerable time when the cancer wreaks havoc. Informational sidebars explained the diagnosis and treatment.

The second story was to run on New Year’s day, the least-read paper of the year. I didn’t know that at the time. I was a young reporter and excited to be given a shot at the front page. At 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 I went to the hospital, donned scrubs and went into the OR. Two physicians inserted large-gauge needles into Tobin’s brother’s hips, one on each side, and plunged out deep red marrow. One doctor stood on a stool for the extraction, to get better leverage because he was short. The collected stem cells went right into an IV drip threaded into Tobin’s arm.

Around 10 p.m. I went to the newspaper and wrote probably the worst story I’ve ever written. Over the past few weeks I had gotten to know this little boy and his family, the oncologist and several of the nurses. I stood at the bedside while his brother gave of himself — and had volunteered to do it — to save his brother’s life. Inside I was an emotional wreck, but I didn’t let that spill out onto newsprint, and it showed. The story came off as cliche, simple.

To be brief, Tobin’s body didn’t respond well to his brother’s marrow. He underwent radiation therapy, which is designed to take the entire body as close to death as possible in order to kill the raging cancer, a physiological battle of attrition. I visited Tobin often. On one of his worst days he lay on the bed in an isolation room, naked because his skin was so tender, literally burned a deep orange color, that to clothe the child would have been to inflict wounds across his body. He was heavily sedated. His mother was stoic. His father was in pieces.

Weeks later, I wrote a story about the boy’s funeral, about how the hospital staff and new-found friends, strangers even, had pitched in for a small casket and the use of a dimly lit room at the back of a church in a poor part of town. The father never started his job; the family was almost penniless. Afterward, everyone walked outside and released balloons. The piece ran on the local section front, under a story about the livestock show and a photo of a boy with a pig. A few weeks later I went to dinner with the family, now just four of them. The dad was a loud, emotional, trying to come to terms with his son’s death. We drank Scotch far past my limit, and I smoked his cigars, and I said good-bye to them; they were going back to California. I went home and threw up, purged myself of the experience.

Reporters have tremendous opportunities to view people’s lives as they’re being lived. It’s a voyeuristic profession, to be present during the most vulnerable moments of someone’s lives, then tell millions of people about it. I cherished the opportunity, and at the same time it’s a responsibility that weighed on me.

There are times when I can’t shake the visions that I wish I’d never seen Tobin splayed out in that hospital room. I wish I couldn’t remember how sweet he was when I fist met him, how he talked about “HoHo” at Christmas. I wish, sometimes, that I’d never met that family or written those stories. I wish I’d stayed away from the funeral. Tobin’s death brought to life in me emotions that sometimes still feel raw. I don’t remember ever hearing Tobin cry, but the sound is familiar.

Sometimes my wife doesn’t understand my reactions, doesn’t understand how these memories awaken deep empathies, or personal fears. I don’t, either. The lessons I learned from Tobin and his family I couldn’t have learned from anyone else. Amost 10 years later I’m still parsing the details. Some are just now making sense as my life evolves, and new dimensions are added, like having a daughter. Some lessons might remain mysteries, or never surface. But they’re there, whether I’m conscious of them or not. I’m getting better at recognizing them.

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Hoho, ‘noman go over the edge

February 6, 2007

This is old, but it’s too funny to forget to write about it.

Back around Christmas Myowndaughter, who turned 2 in November, loved this big stuffed Santa and a big snowman, each as tall as she was and much more rotund.

One day I walk out of the bedroom to see that she’s dragged both characters out of her room and onto the second-floor landing (we have one of those two-story foyers that eats up the heating bill). Just as I walk out I see her push Santa over the rail, and she’s laughing hysterically. She grabs snowman and starts to hoist him up. Who is this evil child?! She pushed him up, shoved him over and watched as he went splat! down below, bouncing off Santa’s head.

Of course I watched. It was pretty funny. For a few times. Then I started worrying it might be me one day she’s shoving over the edge.

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Turn your head and

February 6, 2007

When Sexywife was in the fourth grade she was in a bike accident. The girl down the street caused her to crash (the bitch!) and then ran over her with roller skates.
The future Sexpot lay on the ground screaming, crying, sobbing.
Her dad came out to comfort her. “You’re OK,” and helped her inside where he allowed her the luxury of sitting down — this was the 70s, kids were supposed to be outside crashing bikes, shooting each other in the eye with BB guns, re-enacting Charlie’s Angels or learning how to grow pot.
Still, she cried. “Honey, it doesn’t hurt that bad. Come on, walk around on it a little bit.”

More than 24 hours later her mom came home from an overnight trip. She found her daughter in agony, took one look at the leg and rushed the family out the door to the hospital.

Of course the leg was broken. The kid down the street was a heifer! If the rollerskate at 30 mph didn’t crack the tibia then it surely busted with old Dad’s rub-some-dirt-on-it care and kindness.
Granted, Sexywife’s dad is a good-hearted guy. He just screwed up. He feels bad about it now, 30 years later, and it’s a fun topic to bring up at family reunions.

So you’d think that experience taught Sexywife a lesson.
If someone — say, a husband for instance — says he’s in pain — even if it’s from a lingering, debilitating, seasonal viral infection, like a cold — then for crying out loud, give the man the benefit of the doubt once in a while.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this.

Somewhere in her subsequent growing-up years Sexywife decided to become a nurse. Maybe she wanted to help little kids with busted-up legs who had been neglected by their fathers. I’m sure her intentions were pure. But it’s a little-known fact that nursing school takes good-hearted young women — or men — and turns them into cold-blooded, cold-hearted creatures void of empathy, weilding needles and threading humungous-looking plastic tubes up where no thing should ever go.

Oh, sure, if you’re dieing they’ll save your life. They have to, it’s part of the Florence Nightengale creed. Let me tell you something, anything short of a ruptured aorta or end-stage bone, liver and brain cancer and they don’t have time to feel sorry for you.

I get out of bed this morning, a Monday. “I’m not going to work today.”

“Why?” she says, deadpan.

Sexywife is the kindest, sweetest, most giving person on the planet. Hordes of friends would echo that praise. But the woman has that nurse mentality when it comes to illness. The bar is pretty fucking high.

Hello???? I’ve been sick for days — DAYS! Hasn’t she heard me coughing, sneezing, blowing, moaning, aching?

Probably.

“Why aren’t you going to work?”

“Because I don’t feel well. I’m sick, for crying out loud.”

She gives me that look. This woman, for whom the Sexywife moniker is often an understatement as far as I’m concerned, inherited this work ethic thing from her old man, the same old man who nearly crippled his little girl for life! This man is 85 years old, he’s been retired 20 years and he still wakes up every morning and heads to work. I’m not talking a part-time gig handing out golf cart keys in the pro shop. He’s a farmer. He spends scores of hours every week in fields of corn, soy beans, hogs. Wind up ol’ Tom, push him out the door and he won’t stop until he comes home for dinner.

Sexywife is the same damn way! I get no rest with this woman! I mean, she works circles around me. I don’t even try to keep up. But my ego? It gets bruised! She bruises me ego because she won’t stop working. So when I say I’m taking a sick day I might as well say I’m laid up in bed with syphillis from that trip to Tijuana last month.

How’m I supposed to teach Myowndaughter the finer points of faking a stomach flu to play the back nine the first time it opens for the season? How in the world is she supposed to understand being a slacker? How can she appreciate the first days of spring, the last days of winter, the middle of summer, the beginning, middle and end days of autumn if she’s expected to work all the time?

My little girl needs a role model, for crying out loud! And dammit, I’m here to be the one she looks up to.