Sunday, December 30, 2012

Weirder than Life Itself

We were watching some goofy story on CBS Sunday Morning about an underwater sculpture park.

My son took one look at it and declared, "that's weirder than life itself."

We don't need to go to church. My son is in touch with the mysteries of life. He gets it.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

There's One in Every Class

Photo from Flickr user Jez Page

How can you compose a eulogy for a six-year-old?

What do you say? They're not even at the beginning of their lives. What do you have left? Crayon drawings. Favorite books. Evanescent videos, recordings, photographs. Of course, photographs. We all take thousands of photos of our kids as if they're going to be snatched away from us any moment. We capture every moment, every romp in the park, every play date, every birthday candle, as if it will be the last.

If I think too much about what it must feel like, I just die inside. It cripples me. Because those kids who died in Newtown were our kids. Those children were just like the kids in my son's classroom.

I was just in my son's classroom on Friday. He has a decent-sized class. And there's the usual diversity. You've got the chatty kids and the sad, lonely kids who cry sometimes, under their desks or behind a table. You've got the girls with the pretty pretty hair they can't wait to tell you about. You've got the girls who barely seem like they comb their hair in the morning. You've got the bright-eyed, curious ones, filled with joy, beaming as though from an inner light. The ones who see every adult as a helper and every kid as a friend they haven't met yet. You know the kind. There's one in every class.

And you've got the odd ducks. The ones who glower in the corner, who make big red X's on their papers instead of completing assignments. The ones who flap their arms and shake in their seats and maybe they talk to themselves a little bit. Maybe they wear clothes a little odd, a little askew. They're quirky. I like that word. Quirky. It's not judgmental. I know a lot of quirky adults and I bet they were quirky kids, too. There's one in every class, you know.

Anyway, the arm flappers. The odd ducks. There was one in Newtown. One who died. His mother gave a eulogy for him. She said that he flapped his arms, and one day she asked him, why, and he said it was because he was a beautiful butterfly.

I didn't know this kid, but apparently he had some language challenges. Yet he could still express this, because it was the only possible answer to this question. Of course he was a butterfly. Just like my son is a monster. Of course this is true. It has to be. It's the only thing that can be true.

That kid was autistic. My son is autistic. For a while, I just said he had Asperger's, as if it was some different thing. But my kid is on the spectrum. He is autistic, and when I think about that beautiful butterfly, flapping his arms, I can't help but see my son.

He's not a flapper, by the way.  That's not his thing. He's a spinner, though. Sometimes he spins around and around, and sometimes he takes scarves or belts or just lengths of string and spins them in his hand, around and around and around. He jumps on beds, and he loves giving kaboom hugs. Y'know, the kind of hugs where he starts across the room, and gets a running start and charges at you and KABOOM! You get a hug that rattles your teeth. That's my kid. That's what he does.

I can't think too much about what happened in Newtown, but I know this. The kids in those classrooms were just like the ones in my son's classrooms. The bright ones and the dark ones, the pretty ones and the smudgy ones, the steady, calm ones and the arm flappers. Those kids remind me too much of his class, and your children's classes, and every classrooms. These weren't characters in a movie or a novel. These were just kids. Like my kid. Like yours.

Goddammit. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to sleep tonight. I just keep thinking about that little boy, the beautiful butterfly, and my heart breaks and breaks and breaks again.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Gun Culture

I have friends who tell me that the problem isn't guns, it's our culture. It's our society.

I agree - the problem is our culture. And our culture is guns. We have a gun culture in this country. In our culture, when people collect guns, it's a hobby. Like collecting tea pots. Or rare stamps. People can talk about the stock, the craftsmanship, the rarity of the particular production year, and forget that what they're talking about is a weapon designed to kill.

I'm a parent. If I were not a parent, I'd be fully prepared to get medieval about this latest massacre. You know the way that anti-abortion people parade around photos of dead fetuses? It's the most grotesque, most shocking way to make your point. I'd be doing that with the pictures of the children who died in Newtown.

But I can't do that, because I can't even look at the pictures. I change the station when a story comes on.   I have a child. I have a son, and I'm going to go drop him off at his school this morning, and I'll probably take longer to say goodbye than usual.

I am heartsick, people. and I am every time this happens.

I remember the first time. It was in San Ysidro, California. A man shot dozens of people at a McDonald's restaurant, just like the one where my son and I had dinner on Wednesday. He had an Uzi, along with other weapons. It was 1984.

I remember Columbine. I used to live in Colorado, so that hit home for me. Before that, there was the kid in Moses Lake. And Kentucky. And Mississippi. And Jonesboro, Arkansas. Yes, there were school shootings before Columbine.  Lots of them.

Too many. Shootings in schools. Shootings in shopping malls. In restaurants. In homes. On street corners. Too many.

So what are we supposed to do, live in a police state? Station an armed officer at the door of every school, every mall, every public place? Turn our country into a military zone, all because we can't admit that guns are as much a part of our culture as Sunday football?

We have to do something. This is no longer acceptable. It wasn't acceptable in 1984. It wasn't acceptable in 1999. It's beyond acceptable now. We should all be rioting in the streets, demanding that our nation's leaders act now to keep guns off the streets and out of the hands of unstable people. We should all be angry. I'm angry. I'm sick - my heart is sick - but I'm angry. And today, we need to use that anger to demand change.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blogging Greatness: The Worst Burrito Ever

Look, I can't compete with this. This might be one of the best blog posts ever written. Plus, his own illustration! Just read this:

Dear guy who just made my burrito:
Have you ever been to earth?
On earth, we use the word “burrito” to describe a tortilla filled with things you eat. Pretty simple stuff, and I’m surprised you at least got that part right. My burrito was, in fact, filled with food. In this, you and I agree and are friends. But this is also where my lifelong hatred begins for you and anyone else whose brain has been repeatedly scrubbed with the same mixture of bleach and Pop Rocks as yours has. Because that should have killed you, but left you around long enough to do what you did to me today. Let me explain:
You’re an idiot.
Let me further explain:
Burritos are eaten from one end to the other. So that means when you assemble a burrito with motherfucking ZONES of ingredients going that direction, you create a disgusting experience for the burrito’s end user. When you make a burrito, you should put the ingredients in layers lengthwise. That way, every bite has AT LEAST A FUCKING CHANCE of getting at least two types of ingredients, and there is little chance of becoming almost hopelessly trapped in a goddamned cilantro cavern.
Yeah. It's all like that, and better. Stop reading this and go read Luckyshirt's blog. Tell him I said hi.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Weird Dreams: Marc Maron, My Wife, and Drug Abuse

I don't often talk about dreams, but this one was a doozy.

My wife and I were on a bus of some sort. Who knows where we were going? In the world of dream logic, we may not have been going anywhere. The destination was the bus. Whatever. Oh, and also the bus had drivers in the front and in the back. Which sounds impossible, according to the laws of physics as I understand them.  Again - dream logic.

All of a sudden, a familiar face comes onto the bus, a guitar case strapped across his back. It's Marc Maron! What's he doing on the bus? (Why did he have a guitar?) He comes with an entourage. He's there to record a podcast, live on the bus. He's got some huge console that looks like an old reel-to-reel recorder, apparently to help record the show.

The next part of the dream is bizarre. Marc apparently has staged sequences as part of his podcasts. People prance around in costumes, singing choreographed numbers. This is weird. Definitely a WTF moment. (Pun intended.)

The next thing I know, my wife is singing along, delightedly, with the songs. I look at her and I realize that something's wrong.

"You've been taking drugs?!" I say to her, aghast. Her eyes are bright and delirious.

"I feel so good! I never sing anymore," she responds.

"What drugs did you take?"

"Unidentifiable!" she responds in a singsongy voice.

and ... that's all I remember. So if you're reading this, Marc Maron, you're not allowed in my dreams anymore until you apologize for getting my wife high on the dream bus.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mitt Romney: Let FEMA Go Bankrupt

If you're one of those people on the East Coast bracing yourself for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, my thoughts and prayers are with you. (Yes, I'm a prayer kinda guy.)  I have family in Massachusetts, and I'll be anxiously watching the hurricane path over the next few days.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is still running for president. And in case you're still deciding who to vote for, please remember that Mitt Romney hates FEMA. He thinks disaster relief shouldn't even be part of the federal government.

"We should take all of what we're doing at the federal level and say, 'what are the things we're doing that we don't have to do?' And those are the things we've got to stop doing."

So yeah. FEMA is just a wasted budget line. Let's wipe out the budget, so we can kick more tax breaks back to rich folks like himself. Bear that in mind as the flood waters come rolling in, as roofs crumble, as we see the inevitable shots of rescued citizens and homes in ruins.

And, as Greg Sargent noted, Romney doesn't even stop there.

"There’s another nugget here worth highlighting, though. In that appearance, Romney also suggested it would be 'even better' to send any and all responsibilities of the federal government 'to the private sector,' disaster response included. So: Romney essentially favored privatizing disaster response."

So yeah. Blackwater gets to run your disaster relief. Good luck, civilians!

But just in case you really get hammered from the hurricane, Mitt has advice for you. Just go home and call 211.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Job: Not Perfect, but Not Hell

This would have been a different post a few days ago.

A few days ago, I would have been raging about how I'd found yet another idiotic employer, one that didn't have any respect for the contributions of their employees, where I was once again being overworked and underappreciated.

I might have lamented the entire job sector in which I work, and maybe I would have idly wondered about becoming a mail carrier or a construction worker. It would have been seething with bitterness and resentment. And I would probably have gotten a lot of sympathetic comments from my friends and followers.

I can't write that post.

I can't allow myself to become jaded. I was scarred by my last job. I left wanting to burn the entire place to the ground. I don't ever want to work in a place that insane and dysfunctional again.

But I also don't want to have that kind of rage within me again.

Look, I have a good job. It's not a perfect job. There are moments when I don't love it. There are things I'm asked to do that I think are silly. I don't get as much money as I should.

But unlike my last job, I like going into the office every day. My co-workers like me and appreciate me and laugh when I send them silly cat pictures and Bruce Lee videos as responses to work emails.

They respect me. My last job didn't respect me.

They appreciate me. My last office couldn't have cared less about the quality of work I was doing.

They make me feel welcome. In my last job, I'd run into my office, close the door, and keep it closed for as long as I possibly could.

Most importantly, this job did something for my confidence. I was working in a place where I felt like dirt, and they gave me an escape. More than that: they said "we want you." Not just "come here and cower for a while," but they gave me an emphatic "come here; we want you; we're going to fight to get you on our staff." I need to remember how much better I have it now than I did six months ago.

So yes, there are petty annoyances. There are things I wish were better. I'm going to be sending out a few resumes to see if I can find a better offer elsewhere. But I don't hate my current job.  I refuse to hate it. I won't let myself go to that place again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Romney: Sacrificial Lamb?

I'm not a professional political pundit, y'all. Just a smart-aleck sitting in his office writing stuff.

But I've never seen an election this weird in my life. Ever.

Romney may be the worst candidate this country has seen in a hundred years. He's an embarrassment. He is wooden, he's unbelievably bad speaking off-the-cuff, he has all the charisma of a turnip, and he doesn't seem to have any idea how to craft a winning policy.

But more than that - he seems to be doing this on his own.

I mean, sure, there are people like Reince Priebus who are paying lip service to him on the talk shows. but look at all the conservatives who have been undercutting him and questioning his candidacy. (This was happening before the damning videos came out, by the way. It's only going to get worse now.)

Erick Erickson:

But while we may be focused there, the fact is the Romney campaign isn’t functioning well. Lucky for you and me the election is not today. But something needs to happen in Boston and I am less and less hopeful anything will happen.

David Frum:

The policy problem is that the Romney campaign offers nothing but bad news to hardpressed Americans and the broader middle class.  How do you message: I'm doing away w Medicaid over the next 10 yrs, Medicare after that, to finance a cut in the top rate of tax to 28%?

 David Brooks:

Personally, I think [Romney is] a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. 

And these are people who should be in his corner. Obama will always get hammered by progressives for not being aggressive enough on issues like demilitarization, stopping climate change, supporting full equality for LGBT individuals, etc. But in the end, they'll vote for him because they know he's better than the alternative. I'm not sure everybody in the Republican party believes that.

So here's my theory. (It's not a new theory, but it's the theory I've come to believe.)

I think that the GOP never expected to win this election.

You know how baseball teams will dump all of their veteran players, bring in a bunch of fresh-faced youngsters, and say that it's a "rebuilding year?" Well, this is a rebuilding year for the GOP.

They don't think Romney will win. They don't even particularly want Romney to win. It's obvious that many of the powerful people in the Republican party don't like Mitt Romney - not because he's an elitist jerk, but because he's a "moderate." They'd rather have a Tea Party-style paleoconservative like Paul Ryan be their flag bearer. So they're using this election to say "you see what happens when we run pretend conservatives? Next time, let's run a real one!"

Mitt Romney's being thrown under the bus. Just think about his competition. Santorum? Gingrich? Nobody of any serious political stature ran against him, because nobody expected the GOP to win this election. Romney is their sacrificial lamb. So after the election, the real fun begins. Watch the turmoil that happens in 2013 and 2014 as the varying factions try to take the reins of a Republican party that's falling apart. We're going to see a civil war for the heart of the party. That's the real battle being fought here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Ghost of a Tiny Bit of Cheese

This morning, Oliver told me that all of the ghosts and zombies and skeletons are "under his command." All except one.

"Which one isn't under your command?" I asked. Inquiring minds want to know.

"The ghost of a tiny bit of cheese."

"Oh. Well, what does the ghost of a tiny bit of cheese do?"

He paused for just a moment. "It runs away from the mouse ghost..."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Happiness is Good: A Work Update

I've been at my new job for about five or six months. Last week, I was riding down the elevator with a colleague and she turned to me and actually said, "Isn't it great that we get paid to do this?"

It is.

I'm doing what I've done for years: website, communications, press releases, working with the media, and dabbling in social media. It's a good office. It's a GOOD office.

Why? The answer sounds so simple as to be absurd: they support each other. They understand what it means to work as a team, and they do it without hesitation.

There is a happy chemistry in the office. People joke with each other, compliment each other on a job well done. They talk about their plans for the weekend, the boyfriend or girlfriend, cute kid updates. We chat about music, baseball, and still manage to get a tremendous amount of work done.

See how silly that sounds? But at my last office, all of that had disappeared. There was no joy, no friendly banter. People were miserable. Their souls had been crushed by thankless work, supervisors who were literally thankless (they had forgotten how to praise or even acknowledge their hard-working staff), and a budget crisis that seemed hopeless. Staff meetings were miserable, awkward, painful. Departments worked to undermine other departments, and people stared daggers at each other. It was awful.

I couldn't want to get out of there. I started sending out resumes, and to my shock, I got several calls after only sending a handful out. Several interviews followed. (I called in "sick" to my job, and no one noticed. I felt not a tinge of regret.) And I was offered this job.

I fought hard to hide my smile when I told them I was leaving. They asked me to fill out an exit interview. I was brutally honest. They asked if I would recommend the company to a friend, and I said no. I don't think the HR director had ever heard that before. I didn't enjoy saying that, but the truth needed to be told.

In the last job, I would drag my feet coming into work. I started working a day from home because I couldn't stand the toxic environment. But this job is different. I can't want to get to the office. Of course, I'd rather spend the day with my beloved wife and beloved son. But the job is good, people! I'm having fun. And everyone should have a job where they have a little fun.

I'm learning so much. It's an industry I've never worked in, and I know nearly nothing about. But that was true when I worked on health care issues, and when I worked in environmental issues, and even at my last job. It's more fun that way. In the sense of what I do - the press releases, the social media, web updates - it's old familiar ground. But I'm soaking in information every day about this new industry. I'm in a new world, again. And I'm having fun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Motorcycle Accident

Have I talked about this here? I don't think I have.

This happened a long time ago. Over twenty years ago. I was in New England, staying at the house of a college friend. We were driving - me, my friend, and her mother. We were driving around a quiet country road when, suddenly, a guy on a motorcycle came screaming by us.

We were on our way to something that seems meaningless now. A grocery store, an ice cream place, a park.

We were going maybe 30, 35 miles an hour. The motorcyclist must have been doing twice that. He passed us on a curve, ignoring the double yellow line and the "No Passing" signs. He sounded like a chainsaw passing by us.

"That guy's going to get himself killed," I said. I think I said it out loud. In my memory, I did. And that's what makes the next few minutes so horrifying.

I watched him for a minute, whipping around curves, and then lost sight of him. And then saw him again. He was coming up to a T intersection, and there was another car coming. He was headed west, and the other car heading south.

He hit his brakes so hard that I saw sparks flying out from beneath his back wheel. And then the impact happened.

He went flying. He ended up on the road, still as a memory. Dark red blood pooled beneath his head, his head that was still wearing his useless helmet. It was ineffective - he hit the ground too hard to have any hope. It was over instantly. I hoped - hope - that it was over instantly.

He hit the car (it was a big solid car, a Cadillac or a Lincoln Town Car) hard enough that the front wheel went flat. The front bumper was crushed. The elderly couple was coming around a corner, tried to stop, had no time to stop. They were horrified. So were we.

I had been to funerals, but I had never seen a dead body like this. I had never seen someone die right in front of me. And that's what happened. Five minutes ago, he was the idiot on the bike. And then, he was the dead body lying in the road.

The police came. They asked questions, took names and numbers. We went to the local police station to file an official report, since we were officially witnesses. I told them about the speed, about the sparks. The police officer thanked us for our time and said there might be calls later.

"That guy's going to get himself killed."

It's a horrible feeling, thinking that you predicted the future. It's something that people probably say all the time without thinking about it. Like Luke Burbank reported the other day, when he recounted his own motorcycle accident story on TBTL - "it would serve that guy right to get it in an accident."

You don't think it's going to happen. You literally aren't wishing ill of the other person. You don't want the other person to get killed. It's just something that you say without thinking about it. Sometimes, there's a tiny part of your mind that wishes the universe would exact its karmic revenge instantly. And sometimes, God help us, the universe does.

Friday, July 06, 2012

TBTL Promo

So this is probably weird.

I like a) the early phase projects of Steve Reich, and b) TBTL (which, if you don't know about, go dig it.)

A few years ago, the host Luke Burbank put out an open call for intros for the show. Some of their best sound drops and intros come from their very dedicated, borderline obsessive audience. And I'm one of those obsessive types. So I fed a few lines into a text-to-speech program, put the loops into GarageBand and played around with them until I had something that sounded fun. And I came up with this.

TBTL Loops - short version

I imagine that Luke was all "hmm, this is interesting" ...

And then he was all "maybe I need to drink more to get it"

And then he was all, "nah, I still don't get it."

It's a bit odd, I'll admit. I was going for an echoey sound like what Steve Reich accomplished with pieces like "It's Gonna Rain." I was really proud of it. Hope you like it.

By the way, this is my first post on Soundcloud, but it won't be the last. I've been doing a lot of odd little projects in GarageBand, and I'm going to start sharing them. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Flashback: Oliver's Birth Story (part 2)

(Note: Oliver turns seven this month. In his honor - and just because it's fun to look back - I'm going to repost the story of his birth. I posted this originally on the other blog way back in 2005.)

We arrived early and went back to the triage room. Triage is a word I learned from MASH - not in a good way. Triage - as I understood it - meant that there was blood everywhere, and people were missing limbs, and you were trying to sort out the people who were going to die from the people who might live from the people who weren't injured badly enough to worry about.

There was no bleeding, no screaming. Instead, it was a nurse's station, with six glass-door rooms for expectant mothers. There were whiteboards with names and procedures written on them for each room. Our room had Mrs. B's last name written on it, and "3 miso." Mrs. B had had two misos the day before, and we had arrived to possibly get dose #3, and to definitely - definitely - have Mrs. B's labor induced.

We went back into our room and Mrs. B assumed the position on the table. Then two (two?) nurses came in, and introduced themselves. They had vaguely similar names - Karen or Kelly, or Sharon and Shelly, or Rhonda and Rita. One was in training, and so she was shadowing the other nurse. Which, as it turned out, meant that after training nurse stuck her hand up to the wrist into Mrs. B, the other nurse would check and verify her readings. So up they went. Training nurse (TN) said something technical - "4 cm, partly dilated, moist," something like that, and supervising nurse (SN) went up and said, "that seems right." Let me tell you - it seemed cruel for a woman in Mrs. B's position to have to go through this in her position. I know that verisimilitude has got to be important for this job, and that they'd always have a real person instead of, I don't know, a full-size pregnant vinyl doll. But still, it seemed excessive.

Thank goodness - things had progressed to a good point, and they got the doctor. Hey, it's our OB! We hadn't seen her all day yesterday, but here she was, and she decided that we'd just go ahead and skip Miso #3 and advance to the delivery room, across the hall. It was exciting. It was like we had won a prize.

The labor rooms at Swedish Hospital are huge, and very well-equipped. The room had everything - a rocking chair, whirlpool bath, tv, CD player, and to top it off, an automatic bed with controls that looked thirty years old. I keep saying "we," but almost everything - down to the "squatting bar" that could be attached to the bed - was designed for the woman in labor. As for me, I had a fairly nice sleeping area - a wide cushioned area in the corner - and, well, that was enough.

TN and SN came with us. They sat in our room the whole time, charting and checking R's vital signs. I thought it would feel like giving birth in the nurse's station, but soon enough I completely forgot about them completely."

IV's were connected. TN tried valiantly to find a vein for the IV and missed badly, leaving R with a bruise that would stay with her for days after Oliver's arrival. Meters were strapped into place, and the pitocin drip began.

And we got comfortable. It was Monday morning - we scanned the tv channels, watched "The View" and "Ellen." Mrs. B got her book out. We waited for everything to begin.

There was a monitor similar to the one in the triage room for her contractions, and to monitor the little fella's heartbeat. This was a big deal - pitocin can cause pretty dramatic contractions, and can impact the baby if they come too hard and too fast, so it was important to make sure he was doing all right through the whole procedure. The monitor began spewing out folded paper with readings on it, like a seismograph.

I went to get coffee at the hospital cafeteria after a while. We both somehow forgot that Mrs. B wouldn't be able to eat anything bigger than ice chips while she was in labor. She hadn't eaten breakfast before we arrived at the hospital. So I felt pretty guilty as I drank my coffee and ate my eggs.

I can't provide blow-by-blow description of the whole labor process because I don't remember everything. I remember every second of certain moments, and there are entire hours that are gone. I really thought at the time that I'd remember every moment, but there was a lot of waiting and watching the meters during this time. The nurses would check her dilation, they'd read the paper and chart numbers, and we'd wait.

I napped several times during the day. I somehow understood that I would need all of my energy the next day, so I tried to sneak as many naps as I could. I would curl up in my corner, sometimes pretending to watch tv, sometimes not even making a pretense.

When things got slow, we played music. We had a stack of CDs from home, mostly gentle soothing music (James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Oliver's first CD) and more upbeat music, in case R needed extra energy during the delivery (Beatles, Barenaked Ladies).

I ordered lunch. Our OB had tipped me off that our room was eligible for meals as part of our hospital bill, so I could eat as long as I explained that it was for the patient. I ordered a burger or something. The food came via Bizarro World room service, on plates covered by hospital-blue rubber covers, and I ate, tucked into a corner so I wouldn't annoy R.

Here's another important thing that I remember: the contractions got stronger. Well, not at first: they actually had to turn up the pitocin because R's contractions were barely registering. The nurse told her, "Honey, you've just got wimpy contractions right now."

But then they really started to kick in. And then R was suddenly working really hard to breathe through the contractions - that Lamaze breathing you've heard about. But it's so much worse when you can see the actual pain on the person's face, instead of fake-agonizing pain on an actress' face, followed by a snappy one-liner.

No, that was real pain on R's face, and I did my best to support her. She concentrated on not agonizing in pain, and I sat with her, held her hand, rubbed my hand along her forearm in rhythm with her breaths. It seems silly to write it, but we did that for hours, her breathing and me moving my hand along her forearm, and I felt like I was helping as much as I could.

She kept reporting her pain level to the nurses. She was getting an epidural, but she wanted to wait until the pain was up to 7, on a 1-10 scale. So she went up the scale - three, four, five. I could see her wince, and brace herself for the next one.


The nurses offered to run her a bath, and she gratefully accepted. I came in and kept trying to talk her through each contraction, rubbing her arm in what seemed more and more like a futile gesture. Tears were in her eyes now.


She told the nurses to call the anesthesiologist or anesthestitian or the guy who gives you the bloody epidural. He came quick, said gentle comforting things to my agonizing wife, and inserted a needle and then a tube into the epidural space, right next to my beloved's spinal cord. Now, let emphasize this. He inserted a tiny stringlike tube that seemed to be twelve feet long and threaded it into her spine. I tried furiously to think good thoughts (about pain relief and blissfully easy delivery) and not bad thoughts (complications, complications, complications that I can't even write four months after the fact.)

It went in smoothly, and like a passing wave, her agony subsided.

Sometime around here, Mrs. B's mother - my mother-in-law, who shall hereafter be referred to as MLBS - arrived. She flew in from New Hampshire and was kind enough to take a taxi to the hospital so I wouldn't have to leave R's side. She works in health care and has for decades, and is possibly more at home in a hospital room than any of our nurses were. At one point, R needed to have a catheter inserted, and the nurse gently offered MLBS the opportunity to leave. She replied, "Oh, it doesn't bother me. I've seen hundreds of catheters." I believe that the nurse was then struck by sudden performance anxiety.  Thankfully, the catheter went in as planned.  (A catheter's just not something you want to go wrong.)

Time wore on. I walked MLBS down to the hospital cafeteria so she could eat dinner. She ate pizza, and in her oddly courteous way, she heaped praise on the fine quality of the pizza slices. I drank coffee, anticipating that I would need it.

As the night arrived, we decided that I would drive MLBS to our apartment for the night. It would be impossible for both of us to sleep in that room, and we wanted at least one of us to get a full night's sleep. So I drove her home, showed her where her bed and the coffee maker were, and said my good nights. She would take a taxi to the hospital in the morning. I promised to call her if Oliver arrived before she returned.

I remember driving back to the hospital a little punchy and a little giddy. I could see the empty car seat through my rearview mirror. I thought, the next time I drive here, I will be bringing my wife and our child. Our baby will be coming home.

The night wore on. We listened to NPR, and I tried to doze some more. The night shift nurse came on. I don't remember her name, but she was Canadian, and kind. She made us feel safe and in good hands.

Our local public radio station broadcasts a Canadian news program, "As It Happens," at 11 pm. When it came on, our nurse got excited. She told us that she listened to the show on CBC all the time when she was young. The theme song made her feel like she was home.

I remember the next show was Diane Rehm, interviewing Bob Dole. I must have been sleepy, but I remember being struck by how professional and friendly Diane was with Senator Dole. She was at her best, giving him the entire hour so he could tell jokes and talk with gentle hindsight about his career.

I remember R's voice waking me up. I had been sleeping for a while in my little corner. It was early on Tuesday morning, and things were happening quickly. Her cervix was nearly dilated the full ten centimeters. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and took a post next to the bed.

Around 3 am or so, our nurse announced that we had hit 10 cm, and we were ready to push. She gave instructions - how to push, how to breathe, and we waited for the next contraction.  She would count to ten, and R would push like the dickens until 10, and then rest. 

"Okay, push!"

She counted to ten, and R pushed with everything she had. The nurse praised her. It was only one push. We would do this over and over again - thirty times? Fifty times? A hundred?

Our nurse praised her. She gave her tips - "Okay, you're making good progress!" (Progress pronounced Canadian-style, the first syllable rhyming with "know.") "Remember to push down. Lift your bum just a little!" I liked our Canadian nurse. Everything seemed so foreign and strange to me, and having a nurse that spoke a slightly different version of English was weirdly comforting.

She kept pushing, and the nurse checked to see where Oliver was. She could feel his head. We were encouraged, and R kept at it with new resolve. I did all that a husband can do in this position. "You're doing great, honey. You're doing such good work. I'm so proud of you." I said the same words again and again, and every time I meant them more than the last. I was so proud of this woman, sweat pouring down her forehead as she struggled to move our baby out of her own body and into the world.

Then a glimpse of black matted hair. His head! Thank God - his head was coming out first. No weird breach baby stuff. A couple of contractions later, R was able to reach down and feel the top of his head. She laughed, exhausted but giddy at touching her own child for the first time.

The nurse touched the call button. The nurse's station responded.

"Can you send the doctor in here, please? I think we're going to have a baby pretty soon."

R kept pushing, and the work was starting to strain. As our nurse finished her ten-count, R would let out a gasp of complete exhaustion, and immediately she began to gird herself for the next contraction. Sweat began appearing on her forehead.

The nurse hit the call button again. "Can you tell the doctor to hurry? We're going to have a baby here in the next thirty minutes."

Minutes later, our doctor came in, scrubbed, gowned, and chipper. The doc said something light and gentle to relieve the pressure, and R smiled. And then she started pushing again.

The head was coming out, but each time it was going back into the birth canal. Out - and back - and out - and back - like he was playing peek-a-boo with the top of his head. After a moment, the doctor realized what was wrong. The cord was wrapped around our baby's neck. She pulled his head out just enough to expose his neck, caught the cord - it wasn't tight around his throat, thankfully - and clamped and snipped it. And a moment later, out he popped.

When you see the birth movies in classes, it looks completely odd to see babies springing out of women as if they're springloaded. But that's exactly what happened. His head and shoulders were bigger than anything else, and once those big obstacles cleared, there was nothing left holding him back. And so - sprroing! He popped out, wet, bloody, his limbs looking like frog's legs, all akimbo and quivering.

It was 5:32 am, and we were officially parents.

The doctor grabbed him and cleaned him off, and then handed him to another nurse to finish toweling him off. Two nurses had somehow joined the party - they went to measuring him and checking limbs and fingers and toes and inserting silver nitrate eyedrops. He was 7 pounds, 13 ounces. He was twenty inches long.  He was healthy. He had his fingers, his toes, his eyes, his ears.

One of the first things that happens to a baby is an APGAR test, checking for proper breathing, reflexes, etc. Oliver made this easy - his color was good, his reflexes were good, and he bellowed his first cry. He also could pee and poo without trouble - he peed a full stream from his bassinet to the sink three feet away. (That talent will come in handy later in life.)

The doctor woke me up from my stupor. "Hey, got a camera, Dad? This is picture time!" And I did have a camera, I snapped his squirming body on the scale, and screaming in that little Plexiglass bassinet, and then I took the first photos of him in his mother's arms. They put Oliver in her arms, and in her exhausted near-delirium, she could only say, "Baby. Oh, hi, baby." And she laughed, very light and tired laughs, but the relieved laughter of someone who's worked so hard and finally is bathed in the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Hi baby."

There was, of course, more to do. R's placenta was making one last attempt to scare the hell out of us. It didn't come out all the way, and R was bleeding pretty seriously. The good doctor stayed working with stainless tools that snipped and scraped, and finally they got the last bit of placenta cleared away. There was a lot of blood. R never saw it, but I saw the blood pouring out of her. After an eternity, the blood flow stopped, and the doctor stood up, still smiling despite the red-soaked sheets before her.

Our doctor had nearly set a personal record that night. She had delivered seven babies that night, including two cesarean sections. She was off in two hours. It was morning on Tuesday, and the work and the fun for us had only just begun. 

Flashback: Oliver's Birth Story (part 1)

(Note: Oliver turns seven this month. In his honor - and just because it's fun to look back - I'm going to repost the story of his birth. I posted this originally on the other blog way back in 2005.)

We knew that today, the great and terrible ordeal was beginning. It was time. Due date #1 (May 21) and #2 (May 26) were both in the rear view mirror. Today, we would begin the process of moving Oliver out into the real world, whether he liked it or not.

Because R's cervix wasn't quite ready yet for delivery, she was scheduled for three doses of misoprostol today. the miso would soften her cervix and ripen it (isn't that a great term? A nice, vivid, moist, squishy word - ripening. We would have quite enough moist squishiness in the next couple of days for both of us.). Her nurse told us very little about how this would go, except that we would have to go to the hospital for each of the three doses, and that it was possible that with the cervix ripening, labor could just start on its own without needing to go all the way to pitocin (which was just fine with us.) 

She said only one descriptive thing about the day. "Nine, one, five." Those were the times when we would have to be at the hospital. 

9, 1, 5. 

So we thought that this would be a day of commuting. We'd drive over to Swedish, a nurse would place a misoprostol capsule - next to her cervix - (a delicate way to describe the process), and then we'd go home for a couple of hours and wait. Go back at one o'clock, repeat steps 2 and three. Ditto five o'clock. That was how we imagined our day. I packed the suitcase (you know, THE suitcase - really just a duffel bag with clothes and stuff) just in case. 

We arrived at the hospital. R. undressed, put a blanket over her lower parts. She had two belts stretched over her tummy to measure contractions and the baby's heartbeat. We waited for a little while, and then the nurse came in to examine her cervix. (Nothing exciting yet: 1 cm dilated, long., sorta soft, but not soft enough. The cervix is like the steel door that protects the uterus during pregnancy, and usually it's pretty long. Between 3 and 5 cm in length, in fact. But when it's time for labor, it needs to get soft enough to pass a baby through, and it needs to shrink in length. In other words, it needs to stop being a steel door and turn into a soft, paper-thin passageway. Once it's short and soft, then dilation can start.) 

Miso capsule #1 was put in. 

And then the nurse told us that she'd be monitored for the next couple of hours.

Uh oh. 

"Would you like some magazines?" said the very kind nurse. (I think her name was Heather, but I can't remember for sure.) "We keep a lot of magazines around here." So we got some People magazines, and Marie Claire, and Redbook, and etc. 

I know that when I look back on the story of Oliver's delivery, I will remember Tom and Katie, and Oprah, and Renee and Kenny Chesney. I had lots of time to study them during those long, long hours in the triage room. 

We waited. We listened to the whooshing of the fetal monitor. I kept thinking of the spaced-out experimental side of Electric Ladyland - the monitor reminded me almost perfectly of the roaring outer-space sounds of "Moon, Turn the Tides...gently gently away." At other times, the constant pumping - and it's not a sound of an actual heartbeat, not the way we're used to it, it's literally listening to the blood rush through auricles and ventricles - I remembered the bell's toll in the elongated bridge of "1983, a Merman I Should Turn to Be." Waiting, waiting, marking time and knowing that something is happening, even if you can't see it. Something is happening in there.

The nurse came in, checked Mrs. B's cervix again, and dismissed us for lunch. We rushed home and grabbed the books that we had foolishly left on the coffee table - they were NOT getting left behind again. We had learned our lesson.

I brought a paperback of Neil Gaiman's "Stardust." It's essentially a fairy tale, a boy's adventure. A young man goes to the outskirts of town, past the gates where no one ever goes, and goes off to the hidden lands to seek his fortune.  Seemed appropriate.

We wolfed down food. I seem to remember I did some insignificant cleaning - I vacuumed the living room, or I wiped off the kitchen counters. It seemed very important at the time.

We were back at the hospital by 1. Our kind, and thankfully, not perky, nurse strapped R in again and checked the cervix. "2 centimeters," she announced. It was moving! Now, one centimeter is a ridiculously small increment, but it was the most movement that had happened in weeks. We were excited. Something was happening in there.

Miso capsule #2. There is really no way to describe watching someone else's arm go into my wife up to the elbow, but I felt fascinated (in a completely medical way) and ashamed and voyeuristic. I averted my eyes.

More waiting. More magazines. R could feel some movement, and the monitor helped convince us that things were changing, softening, opening. Woosh woosh woosh.

R had to get up more than once to use the bathroom. The first few times, we asked the nurse to come in and unplug her, and she would go off down the hall, a blanket wrapped around her like a toga, holding the monitor plugs in her hands like electric tails. 

We had a tremendous amount of time to think about the significance of the moment. It was starting! The whole new chapter in our life was starting! But we felt like we were trapped in a wating room. I can't say that there was anything foreboding or mystical about the whole adventure, at least at this point.

Our nurse came back to examine R. The miso had run its course, but her cervix was contracting away on its own. We went to dinner at some bistro on Capitol Hill. I remember two things about the whole experience. 

I remember dessert: we shared a huge berry cobbler, all baked in a big earthen pot with ice cream melting all over. It was amazing.

And I remember cigarette smoke. The bistro had big glass doors that they would open to let in the air during the summer. (It was the summer, after all.) And some Capitol Hill hipster types were smoking like chimneys on the patio, outside, and letting their smoke blow into us. My pregnant wife, about to give birth, was being forced to inhale these people's cigarette smoke. Didn't they know she was pregnant? !  Didn't they care?!

I finished the berry cobbler in a state of quiet rage. "Don't you smell that?"

"No, not really."

It didn't matter. Secondhand smoke could be odorless. If anything at all went wrong with the pregnancy, I was coming back here with gasoline and matches.

We had to go back for the third miso treatment. R steeled herself - it was eight o'clock already. It was going to be a long night.

Our nurse was off for the night, so another nurse came to take over. But after the inevitable monitoring, and the cervical exam, the new nurse dismissed us. "Your cervix is already working too hard. We don't want to overstimulate it." Apparently, if they gave her a third dose of miso, she would contract all night, and induced contractions can be extremely painful. So we gathered up our books, R got dressed, and we checked out. We were due back at 7 am the next morning so R could be induced. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

They Have Their Own Thoughts

Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.- K. Gibran, The Prophet

I have this phrase memorized. (I thank Sweet Honey in the Rock for that.) Over and over, my son has taught me the truth of this.

When I try to predict his behavior, he surprises me again and again. I don't know what he's thinking. I can't even pretend. His brain works on a completely different wavelength. That was true before we had the Asperger's diagnosis. It's been true since he was a baby.

And so, there we were, in church this Sunday. I was sitting, patiently listening to my pastor. He was sitting, and then turning, and then sitting, and then sprawled out over the pew, reading a book. And then he put the book on the pew while he knelt on the floor (not for any religious reason - it was probably just comfortable.) He squirmed and wriggled. But he was there with me, and we were together in the church to which I'd belonged for over a decade. And it was comforting, having him there, even though it might not have looked comfortable to anyone watching.

Sure, there are times when I wish he'd adhere more closely to acceptable public behavior. But he wasn't hurting anybody. He wasn't even bothering anybody. He was just being ... different.

Different is fine. Different is not bad. Different is just ... different.

There are times when I see what he's doing and I expect him to think my thoughts. I think to myself, "doesn't he see that this isn't the way people behave in a store?" (Or a church, or a school room, or whatever.)  But often, the right answer is ... who cares? So he's a little rambunctious. So he likes counting the stacks of canned vegetables, or he likes rearranging the chocolate bars according to the pattern he prefers? So what if he prefers the taste of frozen vegetables (and I mean frozen as in unthawed, just out of the freezer) to cooked? He isn't hurting anyone. It's hard to discipline someone for different. I never want to punish him just for that.

My sense of normal is not his. He has his own sense of where the line has to be drawn. And so I have to rearrange the way I respond to him. He is not me. He inherited many things from me, but not my brain. He has his own will, his own thoughts, his own heart. He is my child, but he has never belonged to me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Saying Goodbye

We went to see the movie "Where the Wild Things Are" in the theaters. We had to. Oliver was about 3 1/2 when it was released, and we went to see it around Thanksgiving.

The movie amazed me. It was powerful and moving and emotionally wrenching. And Oliver was enraptured.

Until he started sobbing.

We had only seen one other movie in a theater before then - the Fantastic Mr. Fox. I knew this one was scarier, and I had a feeling he would react in some way while we were watching. But he didn't run out of the theater when things got scary. That wasn't what happened.

What happened was that during the scene when Max said goodbye to the Wild Things and left them on their island, Oliver lost it. He started wailing. We were in a big, half-empty, cavernous theater, and his cries echoed off the walls and the ceiling. Everyone in the theater could hear it. I'll never forget it: my son, sobbing in his mother's arms, because Max left the Wild Things to go home.

I never read the book when I was a kid. My childhood was full of Richard Scarry and fairy tales and mythology. But I never read "Where the Wild Things Are" until I was an adult, reading it to my son. So I don't know what it's like to experience the book as a child.

I can say this, as an adult now: it's a peculiar book. It has depth and texture that is remarkable for a picture book, remarkable for a book that was published nearly 50 years ago. It's abstract and surreal and  pretty weird. There are pages and pages with no dialogue at all: just rumpusing, swinging from trees, running around forests, howling at the moon.

The text doesn't rhyme. There's not even a story so much as the insinuation of a story. Maybe that's what makes it so powerful: the writing is so spare and evocative that it becomes a Rorschach test. People project everything onto it, and they experience themselves when they read it.

It's a pretty weird book.

I have to respect someone with a weird vision. Maurice Sendak had a weird vision. His books featured monsters and creatures and scary humans. Kids were eaten by lions, baked into pies, chased by wild beasts. I like that. My son's best friend for years was an invisible monster named Freddy. Sendak didn't write for kids. He wrote as a kid. He understood the terrifying, inspiring, overwhelming way that children experience the world and he wrote about it. Would that we were all brave enough to write about the world in all its terror and beauty.

I never knew Maurice Sendak as a kid, but I love and appreciate his work now that I can give it to my son. I will miss having him in this world. Rest in peace. Or however you choose to rest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Maintenance Work

I'm not afraid of an ultrasound. My wife got about nine thousand ultrasounds while she was pregnant with Oliver, and I was there for most of them. That's not the problem.

A few weeks ago, I started having some weird pain in my back. At least, I thought it was my back. I would do something and it would twinge and I would think, well, it's a pulled muscle or a pinched nerve.

Last week, that changed. The pain wouldn't just come when I turned the wrong way. It was constant. And then one day - this was an awful moment - I was sitting at the same chair I'm in right now, in our home office. My wife and son were both there. I think I turned my head. And then, suddenly, the worst pain of my life erupted. Screaming, teeth-gritting pain, the kind where you have trouble breathing and you want to start pounding your fists on something just to make it stop. It was horrible.

I went to see a doctor a few hours, and he suggested that I had kidney stones.

Kidney stones. They just sound quaint, don't they? Like an old man's disease. Like liver spots. I realize, as I write this, that I had a friend in college who had kidney stones. But still, when I think about it, it sounds like a geriatric illness. I know how wrong that sounds, but that's the way my brain works. I can't help it.

And so, I'm having an ultrasound today to look at my kidneys. If the stone is serious and won't pass on its own, that might require laparoscopic surgery. I've never had surgery in my life. I'm only a little apprehensive of that.

Now, by itself, that would be something of note. But I'm also getting a root canal next week. And shortly after that, I'm having my wisdom teeth extracted, including the wisdom tooth that has been causing me great pain for the past several months. the pain in my teeth and jaw was what convinced me to call a dentist in the first place, and that was the first time I'd contacted a dentist in three years.

So, two major health issues in the course of a few weeks. Neither of them is life-threatening. I'm not going to die from a kidney stone or from a sore tooth. But still, all the procedures and appointments and phone calls feel strange, lined up after one another like confused little dominos. It feels like something is happening.

It could be that my body is falling apart, the consequence of getting old. I'm in my early forties, and it's possible that this is just what happens to people of my age.

Better. Stronger. Faster.
Or it could be a tune-up. It could be that I'm taking care of all of these weird aches and pains because my body is finally saying enough. It's time to stop living with annoying little aches and irritations and get myself fully back on course. So I'm getting my teeth fixed. And I'm getting my kidneys examined. And this summer, I'm going to drop the twenty pounds that I lost and then regained over the course of last year. I'm getting this body back in shape. It's time for some maintenance.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Which is which?

I've slowed down on this blog, and here's why.

I have two different identities. I have my own name, my own identity, online. I'm on Twitter and on Facebook and on myriad other websites, using my given name. I have hundreds of friends IRL - in real life - and hundreds of online connections.

And then there's this identity. This version of me: this identity that I have constructed over eight years, before I had a son. Before Facebook. Before Twitter. Waaaay before Pinterest. My online identity has existed since 2004. I've written about politics, about music, about my family, about popular culture, and a bunch of other things.

And now, I write on Twitter and Facebook and in other places about pop culture, and music, and my family.

See the problem?

So I've had to reassess, constantly, which version of me will exist on this blog. The more I share under my name, the less material I have left for the blog. It sounds odd, but there it is. And the other thing is that I find it somewhat comforting to be able to write under my actual name. I enjoy seeing that there are people who have known me (and met me, and worked with me) who stay in touch with me online.

Every person is a brand now. Every person markets himself and herself with everything they say, everything they tweet, every comment they leave on a blog. And so now I have two brands. It can be a bit confusing at times.

Some people know me on both sides, under both names. A few people. I say things here that I can't say under my own name. Mostly about my employers. (And interestingly, I find that my Twitter stream is mostly used for profane messages about Seattle traffic.)

So there will be things I talk about on both sides. Here, I'm going to talk about my son. My son has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, and I'm going to talk more about in the months and years to come. It's important. And I can be more candid on this blog than I can under my own identity.

It's important for me to talk about it here because some of you have known me for years and years. I know a few of you used to read this blog back when it was a Salon blog. I have longtime readers - I suppose I could say you're friends, at this point.

I'm still going to talk about my son's diagnosis under my real name. But I can be more honest here, more unguarded. I can talk more about my own challenges, my doubts, the struggles.

In both of my identities, I am a political animal. I am a writer. I am a dedicated husband. And I am the father of a boy who has Asperger's Syndrome. Whoever I am, these are the things that will never change.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Tragic End

The saddest thing about sudden deaths is that it feels like someone has been stolen from this earth. All the potential, all the force of their existence, snuffed out like a candle. We always say that they were taken too soon, and it is always true. When drugs are involved, the feelings are even more complicated. We could say we saw it coming, but that doesn't make it right. We could say that someone should have helped. But many people helped, and sometimes, the patient doesn't want to get better. Sometimes, the clutch of addiction is too tight and too comfortable.

Tonight, at the Grammy Awards, Whitney Houston will be honored. She was a huge star, a force of nature, and her loss breaks the hearts of musicians, of music fans, and of millions of people who never knew her personally, but knew her music and her force and her passion.

There will be no tribute to Gil Scott-Heron at the Grammys.

Remember Gil Scott-Heron? He died in May 2011, for reasons that are still unclear. (Like Whitney's death, the cause of death may never be known, or at least, it may never be released.)

Gil was a legend. Whitney was a legend. Both recorded powerful albums that stood the test of time, that serve as touchstones to the eras in which they were released.

Both of them died tragically, horrifically, and under that cloud of suspicion and sadness. Was it drugs? Was it an overdose? Or was it just their bodies, wearing out after so much abuse and misuse and maltreatment?

So my question is this: why is it that Gil Scott-Heron won't receive a tribute?

Their music was fundamentally different. Gil sang (and spoke) about revolution, about crime, about remorse and addiction and injustice. Whitney sang about love.

I mean no disrespect. Both of them had their talents, and both of them are remarkable artists in their own right. Whitney sang with force and authority, but her subject matter was ultimately never going to be ground-breaking.

Gil sang "Whitey on the Moon." Whitney sang, I have nothing if I don't have you.

Gil sang protest music. Whitney sang pop music.

Whitney sang "Didn't We Almost Have It All?" Gil sang "We Almost Lost Detroit," a dirge about the partial nuclear meltdown in 1966 at Detroit's Fermi 1 nuclear power plant.

It is almost unfair to compair the two, and yet, because of the circumstances, they will be compared. Both of them died in the same 12-month period (the same period as Michael Jackson - no doubt he will also be honored tonight.) One will be given a star-studded tribute tonight, before the biggest names in music today. And the other - he will be part of a slide show. He will be "one of those other people who died."

Was Gil a legend? I believe he was. Where would hip-hop be without "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised?" Where would revolution be - or the writers of revolution, who spin his phrase into a thousand different variations: The revolution will be tweeted; the revolution will be on YouTube; the revolution will be livestreamed, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.

Gil influenced jazz musicians. He influenced R & B artists - he was a bluesologist himself, he would tell interviewers. Some would say he helped to create the genre of music that would be come to be called rap or hip-hop. Chuck D - the authorative voice of Public Enemy - said "we do what we do and how we do because of you. And to those that don't know tip your hat with a hand over your heart & recognize."

So why doesn't the recording academy tip their hat and recognize? Well, it's this simple. Gil was a scary man. He was a man who spoke truth to power. His voice was filled with anger. More, it was filled with disappointment: at himself, at his loved ones, at the America that he longed for and that he no longer could believe in.

And Whitney? Whitney was safe. She is safe. This is just the truth. The most controversial thing Whitney Houston ever did, musically speaking, was to re-record a country singer's song as an R & B power ballad. She was discovered by starmaker Clive Davis. Gil Scott-Heron wasn't exactly discovered: he forged his own path to success, from 125th Street and Lenox to the world's stage. He wrote his first novel at age 19. He made people pay attention and didn't care particularly if they liked what he had to say.

Both of these artists' deaths are tragic losses for the world. We mourn the deaths of all like Whitney, like Gil, like Michael, like Don Cornelius, who should be here today and are not. But we should also recognize that a hero fell this year. Gil deserves more than a picture in a slide show. While I'm watching the performances of dance music and weepy ballads and soulful declarations of love, I'm going to be thinking about the other voice that was silenced this year. I wonder what Gil would have to say today about the treatment he's getting from his fellow musicians. Sadly, it probably wouldn't surprise him at all.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dealing with it, whatever it is

I don't even know how to start this. I want to use some witty introduction, a comfortable joke to ease into it. Maybe some deft wordplay. But I have nothing. So let me tell you what's happening.

My son's got some stuff that he has to deal with. We saw some behavior-related issues last year, but with support from his teachers and other school staff, plus the invaluable help of a therapist that works wonderfully with children, he got better. It wasn't a perfect year, but he ended the year on a good note.

This year - first grade - we saw a lot of the same things. We tried the same kind of techniques that had worked last year, but they didn't seem to be working. There's physical stuff like hitting and getting in other kids' spaces. There's name-calling. Unprovoked incidents with other kids. It's all behavior that we just don't understand.

See, our son used to be the kind of kid who was described as "really centered." Or "zen." "He's so calm," the other parents would say at play dates. And suddenly, we were in our second meeting in two straight years with the principal, the teachers, plus various other school staff. Suddenly, we'd be dropping him off at school and other kids would run up to us and tell us that he was being mean to them. Or that he had written on their book. Or hit them. This happens a lot.

So ... we're talking to people. He's still seeing his therapist, but now we're going the next step. We're doing a deeper psychological evaluation on him, running some tests to see what else is going on with him. We might be dealing with ADD. Maybe some sensory issues (things like heightened sensitivity to noise or crowds). Or maybe something like Asperger's.

So in the last week, I've been coming to terms with the idea that my kid might have some bigger challenges than just having problems at school. It's tough. There was a nice article in a local magazine talking about adjusting to the idea that your kid has special needs. That's a great catch-all term. It covers everything: asthma, ADD, obesity, obsessive-complusive disorder, depression, anemia, blindness, everything. And when you look at it that way, how many of us have kids with special needs? More than a few. Just in my small circle of friends, I know easily half a dozen parents who have children with some challenge or another: cochlear implants, feeding tubes, learning disabilities, ADD. Stuff. Kids have stuff, and they deal with it.

Am I surprised? I guess I'm not. My brother (about whom I've written before) was diagnosed with hyperactivity and had major issues at school. He was probably bipolar, too, or something similar. His mother and I both have anxiety issues, and I'm almost certainly ADD. So, yeah, it's not a surprise when I really think about it.

Am I disappointed? Not in him. This is something that he's facing. Would I be disappointed if my child had leukemia? Or high blood pressure? Or if he had to use a wheelchair? Of course not. He's my kid and he'll always be my kid.

I guess I'm disappointed in the way you are when you expect a sunny day and it starts getting cloudy. You know you can't do anything about it, but you just wish that things had turned out a little differently.

What I know is that he's my kid and I need to figure out what's going on with him. I need to help him. We need to know what we're dealing with so that we can help him cope with it. If that means he ends up in some form of special education, so be it. If that means a different school, fine. Whatever he needs.

Right now, we're learning. As one of my wonderful friends put it, the worst part of this is the WTF period, when you know there's something but you don't know what it is. Once we know, then we can help. Once we know, we can develop strategies and make recommendations and suggest adjustments.

But my job hasn't changed. I will never stop loving this kid or wanting him to be the best possible version of himself that he can become. My job is to help him get there. And I'll do everything I possibly can to make that happen.