Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sprayed by Sneezes & Giving Thanks

Earlier this week I found myself crouched on one knee helping Master Blackwell put on his boots. He was seated in a stool, passively helping me as it were.

Some variation of this act fits its way into our routine each and every day. If it's not me helping with the boy's shoes, it's Mrs. Blackwell. I usually get breakfast ready. Mrs. Blackwell often gets an outfit together for the boy.
About ten minutes after the new boy was born.

In between, we try to wedge in all the tasks we need to complete to begin our own days. It can be a frantic, mad rush. The best way to ease that stress is to prepare the night before. But, really, sometimes ya just want to go to bed.

I'm sure this sounds familiar to some of you. This — or your own particular version of it — is life.

Being that we've now got our new little guy along for the proceedings, we're still charting what our new routine is. For now, it's one-on-one coverage. Mrs. Blackwell takes the "new boy," I get "the boy."

There are invariably hiccups along the way. Which brings me back to the other morning.

I was almost ready to leave for work. I'd already made about 30 round trips to the garage ferrying the day's compulsories out to the car and departure was imminent, except for the boots.

They were a bit of a struggle. I didn't want to just ram his little foot inside it but, anything less wasn't doing the trick. So, the struggle was for juuuuust the right amount of pressure.

So, I fiddled with the boots, moving one way, then adjusting them and moving the other.

Then it happened.

The boy drew in a large breath. From my position knelt at his feet, I looked up in time to see him hold his breath, close his eyes and pause.

I knew what was coming but, for some reason, I didn't turn away.

As soon as I recognized what was to come, the boy delivered. Specifically, he unleashed a vicious sneeze the contents of which sprayed directly into my face.

I closed my eyes and quickly realized this was going to set me back a couple minutes. I could feel it — everywhere.

Upon opening my eyes, I noticed my son had moved his attention back toward something on the table.

My wife, on the other hand, sat across from me with her eyes fixed on me, a huge grin plastered on her face.

"Did you see that?" I asked, knowing with certainty that she had.

Daddy's little mucas machine.
She laughed.

"You should see your hat," she said.

"My hat? What about my face?" I replied.

I went to the nearby mirror and it was as I feared. Wet crumbs of waffle, flecks of peanut butter and strawberry jam speckled across my face. And, Mrs. Blackwell was right, my winter hat had a layer of the stuff too.

I went to the bathroom to clean my face. But, anything short of a shower wasn't going to suffice. So I got a wet cloth and spot cleaned my face and hat, and moved quickly to work..

This is life now. It's not always clean, occasionally it's downright gross and, more often than not, it's nothing if not funny.


Mrs. Blackwell and I are extremely fortunate in that we've got loving families and great friends that make our lives richer in every way.

No more has that been apparent than in the last couple of weeks. From the moment Mrs. Blackwell's folks arrived here just days before the new boy's arrival and straight through today, we've been the beneficiaries of a stream of thoughtfulness and generosity.

First, Mrs. Blackwell's folks looked after the boy while we were in the hospital. This is a job that they no doubt enjoyed but, really, we would have been up the creek without their help. "Thanks" is insufficient but, it's also all I've got at my disposal. So, I'll say it again to them:"Thanks so very much." They also left our fridge stocked and even included some fantastic beer.)

Thankful for the moments when he's not angry. Fortunately,
those angry moments are rare. He's a good little sleeper too. 
We had friends drop by the hospital to visit Mrs. Blackwell and help her maintain her sanity during that 3.5 day hospital stay wherein the existence of the outside world was reduced to rumor. All the folks from my department at work threw a party for us and chipped in for a generous gift. Mrs. Blackwell's mates from work sent us a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Another couple of our good friends dropped by the house with new baby clothes,  a huge, delicious lunch and some wonderful company for a few hours.

Another friend drove two and a half hours and stayed for the night. In her short stay, she bought us groceries, cooked us dinner, cleaned our kitchen and, in general, was just great company. She too left beer behind for us. (This includes beer I bought for her so, Andie, if you're reading this, I've still got your beer. Come back and get it any time.)

Earlier this week, my brother flew 1,000 miles to come and help out for a couple days. (And, because he doesn't read this space often, I'll let you know I'm going to "thank" him by letting him help me put up Christmas decorations.

Yes, the season to be especially thankful began a bit earlier than usual and, for that, what else can we be but thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2015

So, We Had a Baby (Yes, There's Pictures)

After months of waiting and waiting and waiting some more, our little guy has finally arrived.

At 1:31 p.m. on November 9, 2015, we welcomed our second son into the world. As the date and time of his arrival approached, my memories become evermore compressed and, thus, increasingly blurry.

Fortunately, as we sat in the hospital, I took notes and some pictures to jog my tired, old mind. So, here now, a chronicle of the events of the day.

First, you should know that Mrs. Blackwell set out to have this baby the old-fashioned way but, as she often does, Mother Nature had other ideas. So, we knew when the little guy would be making his debut on planet Earth.

Delivery was initially set for 11:45 a.m.

This schedule meant no frantic race to the hospital complete with automotive hi jinks on the belt line. Nope it was just a predictable march followed by what most often happens when one gets to the hospital — waiting.

At 9:15 a.m. we checked in and in short order Mrs. Blackwell's nurse led us to a standard hospital room with a bed, TV and other medical accoutrement. This was called the triage room.

Shortly after settling in, the nurse began her care for Mrs. Blackwell the way most care begins — with scores upon scores of questions that the staff already has the answer to.

Nurse: "Do you have a history of depression?"

Mrs. Blackwell: "No."
He's about 20 hours old in this picture. 

Nurse: "Do you have a history of suicidal thoughts?" (An interesting choice of followup given Mrs. Blackwell's answer to the previous query.)

Mrs. Blackwell: "No."

Nurse: "Do you smoke?"

Mrs. Blackwell: "No."

Nurse: "Did you drink during your pregnancy?"

Mrs. Blackwell: "Does vodka count?" (Kidding, she didn't say that. She said, "No," — and I'm pretty sure that was true.

Nurse: "Use drugs?"

Mrs. Blackwell: "Only when I wasn't too smashed from all that vodka." Ok. Ok. She said, "No."

Then there were questions about medications, family history, allergies, vaccinations, dietary restrictions, eating disorders, any aches, pains or recent health issues.

Mrs. Blackwell answered the questions with good humor and, once the nurse was done, her patience was rewarded in the form of a belt equipped with a monitor detecting the baby's heartbeat.

For the remainder of our time in the triage room, the sound of the baby's heartbeat served as our background noise.

It soothed, hypnotized and, ultimately, helped move Mrs. Blackwell to do something she'd done little of for weeks — sleep soundly.

So, as the beat-beat-beat-beat of my unborn son's heart filled the room and my wife slept, I did what any other useless dad does in that situation, I paced the hallway outside the door.

While pacing I learned something about myself.

In serious situations my brain goes into self-preservation mode. What happens is that the immediate worry (like for instance, my wife set to have surgery and give birth) recedes into the background in lieu of less important thoughts. On this day I was wondering just how in the hell I was going to store my patio furniture. Winter is coming after all.

And, while I'm thinking these useless thoughts, I bear all the signs of a man stressing right the hell out which, of course, I am. But, in my mind, I'm just a calm, cool dude pondering his patio furniture. It's a strange state of affairs but, as mentioned, it does distract from the intensity of the moment.

So my wife slept and I paced. Later, my thoughts wandered toward whether we needed a sixth bag of water-softening salts. Before I knew it, 11:30 had rolled around.

T-minus 15 minutes. But, we know better than that, don't we? As it turned out, there was another woman ahead of us in line to give birth. We were trapped on the runway, second in line for take off.

No matter, Mrs. Blackwell had more sleep to catch up on and I was now fixated on making sure my phone was at 100% battery because 91% just wasn't sufficient. Whatever it takes, to distract from the bigger worry right?

At 11:41 I wrote: "I'm doing what any of us do now. I play on my phone. Focus on staying in touch with family and, in general try to distract myself. The environment is not intense. It's peaceful. The silence only broken occasionally by doctors and nurses walking past. Mrs. Blackwell sleeps."

At 12:10, I wrote: "Voices draw close. You never know if this is the voice that will push open the door and say, 'It's time to go.' Mrs. Blackwell is snoring. Just a little bit. But she is."

I'm not sure what time it was when our nurse returned with a few more questions for Mrs. Blackwell. She also asked me if I wanted to "watch the procedure." My answer was a resounding, emphatic, "No. Not at all. Thanks very much!"

I was (I am and I always will be) happy to sit with Mrs. Blackwell while the medical team did its thing on the other side of the curtain.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Blackwell's doctor stopped in. She was a calm, cool, almost zen-like woman, in complete control.

Not long after that, our nurse returned and told us we were on our way to another room, our last stop before Mrs. Blackwell would be taken to the operating room.

From here, things moved faster and faster. At 12:30, we were pit stopped in this other room for barely a couple minutes before Mrs. Blackwell was being carted away from me.

Then reality set in. I was alone, sitting in a rocking chair, my phone was at 100% and I no longer cared about the patio furniture or the softening salts. There were no distractions, only the matter at hand.

As I sat, I alternated between fear, excitement and overt giddiness, before finally settling upon worry.

No sooner had I made this determination than was I swept into the operating room, joining a team of about ten doctors, nurses, techs and maybe an IT guy or two, I don't know.

I was seated next to Mrs. Blackwell and her anesthetist, a chatty young guy who told us he's a father of four. As Mrs. Blackwell and I talked, the anesthetist lightened the mood with some funny quips and a story about how his family is loathed by many restaurants in town because they take advantage of the "Kids-eat-free" nights.
Commemorating the new Blackwell's sixth day on Earth
with a trip to the park. 

As we talked, chatter from the gaggle of doctors and nurses behind the curtain filled in the gaps in our conversation.

Maybe 20 minutes passed when, with little warning from behind the curtain, one of the doctors exclaimed, "He's huge."

Moments later the sound of my son's cries filled the room. Instantaneously, tears filled Mrs. Blackwell's eyes — mine too.

They lowered the curtain just a bit, and there he was. He looked like newborn babies do which is to say, beautiful, though covered in lots of stuff.

I counted quick. Ten fingers. Ten toes. And my ears rang with that huge cry of his. My ears! Wow, was this kid loud.

In no time, the nurses called me over to the weigh table where they delivered the numbers: nine pounds even and 21 inches long. They prodded me to "Take pictures!" and "Get out the camera, dad!" I held off for a bit. Letting my eyes capture the moment as I wanted it to be remembered.

And boy, were they were right, he is huge. In the traditional sense, sure. But he's also hugely cute. Hugely loud. And hugely loved.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry for the long delay here. I'll squeeze in two more posts this week. I've got a lot of people to thank and the timing couldn't be better for that right? See you Wednesday.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Her Cup is Always Half Full

With the birth of our second son set to happen any day now, I went back and started looking through some of my earlier blogs to see what I was writing about before Master Blackwell arrived.

I looked through the serious posts. The ones that were less than serious and all the ones in between in the days and weeks bookending the boy's birth.

As I read through these posts I noticed that I tend to use certain words and turns of phrase repeatedly. For instance I say, "No sir," or "No ma'am," frequently. I'll throw in a "dammit" and boy, do I love me some em-dash. For you non-punctuation nerds an em dash is one of these "—".  Read down another couple paragraphs, I'll no doubt use one.

Another feature that makes its way into this space is the phrase "the cup is half full." It's not necessarily something I think about using; it just happens. I've used it in both of my previous two posts, purely by accident. It's a phrase that says a lot. It speaks to a worldview. Perhaps it's just laziness on my part and it's become a crutch. Doesn't matter.

For every queen, a throne. When a pregnant woman gets
tired of walking, anything becomes a chair. 
What does matter is that I know why "the cup is half full" is so present in my life that it's become a go-to phrase for me and makes its way into so many of my posts — it's because of my wife.

When you marry sunshine, this is bound to happen. And, make no mistake, I married sunshine.

Before I continue, let me make a few things clear. I'm well aware that Mrs. Blackwell is far from perfect (insert joke about her questionable taste in men here).

She's got a plan for everything. I mean everything. And she's not always keen to let everyone in on the plan. Instead she often orchestrates from the shadows. Working the small decisions that lead to the big ones. This is what most smart women do — or so I've come to believe.  In the meantime, most husbands are left with the mistaken impression that they actually have a say in what's happening. So maybe that's a "me" problem more than a "her" problem.

Mrs. Blackwell also regularly seeks feedback on her behavior and her decisions. If I had a dollar for every time she's asked me "How many pieces of candy is too many to eat at once?" I could retire. (By the way the answer is anything more than four.)

She'll eat something, or drink something, or touch something, or spend too much time doing something, and then she'll ask me, "You don't think that's bad, do you?" thus making me responsible for whatever level of regret she assumes.

Since she's been pregnant she's been snoring. And I don't mean snoring in the traditional sense, I mean snoring to a cartoonish degree. It sounds like someone's shaking a plastic cup full of marbles as hard as they can. Two nights ago, while seeking refuge in another bedroom, I could hear my wife snoring through the walls. Plain as day, I could hear it.

So, now that we know she's not perfect, and we know that I've got a great deal of explaining to do after she reads this, I can continue.

In Mrs. Blackwell's world, the cup is always half full. The clouds aren't lined with silver, they are silver, miraculously suspended there for us all to enjoy along with the sun and stars. With every bit of bad, there is good.

For the longest time, I chalked this up to a number of factors: her upbringing, genetic predispositions, environment. Of course it's a combination of all those. But the most important factor, I believe, is that it's a choice.

Soon to be plus one. 
She makes the decision — and it is often a conscious one — each and every day to see the positive. As she makes her way through the world and life confronts her with challenges, negativity, and cynicism she consistently meets them with alacrity. When you do this every, single day, it's a habit, and becomes who you are. She makes the choice to be that, daily.

So, earlier this week when we were at the doctor and we got a sliver of less-than-great news, I was not surprised to see her response.

The specifics, without getting too specific, are that the unborn little Blackwell has made himself quite comfortable in Mrs. Blackwell's tummy. He's so comfortable in fact that he shows little sign of wanting to leave.

So, all of the natural telltale signs that birth is imminent are not present. There's only so much time that he can stay in there before we'll have to make a decision about how to proceed.

With the expectation of a timely, natural childbirth now very much up in the air, I was thrown for a loop, though I think I successfully managed to conceal my disappointment. Naturally, Mrs. Blackwell was discouraged too. How could you not be?

But, because she is who she is, I wasn't surprised in the least to see her take in all the information at hand, digest it, think about all the options and then flip the switch back toward being positive.

Just like that.

Moments like these you have to admire this kind of aplomb. You also have to enjoy the fact that, when you do it every, single day with the small things, it becomes habitual. It's ingrained in you and at the ready when you need it for life's bigger challenges.

It also has the side benefit of helping to make sure your husband's cup is half full too.