On Mental Health

This is going to be one of those posts where I lay down my thoughts on a particular topic. If you’re looking for the Brooke update: She’s doing fantastic. I’ll post a pic at the end of this. We obviously sped right through July and August, as it is now September and here’s a post. October is just around the corner and is mental health awareness month, so I’m jumping the gun lest I miss it.

I’ve had occasion recently to reflect on mental health issues, teenage suicide in particular. As a high school football coach, we hear about the struggles of our players and their peers quite often. Most do not progress to the extreme of suicidal considerations, but every now and then we are given the opportunity to help someone who really needs it. It’s actual more frequent than you might think, which is both scary and something that needs saying.

Mental health in general is a tricky issue, because I think it makes a lot of people uncomfortable to talk about. We don’t want to confront all of the ways in which we, too, are broken and in need of help. As someone for whom depression runs in the family, and who has had to stare it down quite often, I like to try to be open about my experiences. There are a whole lot of ways that anyone (even you, Dear Journal) can help someone who is struggling. Almost all of those ways start with talking about it in the first place, and waiting until someone is on the edge to begin that conversation is a dangerous game. Instead, it is important that everyone, teens in particular, know that there are resources available to them. Whether it be a coach or parent, counselor or friend… you are NOT ALONE.

And I guess I just wanted to note clearly, Dear Journal, that I’m a resource as well. While I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with mental issues, I don’t claim to be an expert. But I know how to listen, and I know how to find experts when they are called for, and I can sympathize with anyone who may have felt like life is crushing them down, beating them up, or drowning them. I’ve been there. Many of the people I love have been there. And we fight the good fight every day to keep living. Because, I know it may not seem like it in the moment, but I promise you life is worth it.

And if you ever feel low and need something to pick you up, google “babies smiling.” You might see something like this:

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On Parental Leave

Brooke will be 6 weeks old tomorrow, and it’s been a challenging six weeks to say the least. Yet, I still recognize that we have it pretty good. Kate is able to stay home (unpaid) and care for Brooke for several more weeks before going back to work. We are fully covered as far as insurance via my job, and we are not struggling to put food on the table. Brooke is healthy and thriving. She has some moderate reflux, but otherwise is just dandy. My heart goes out to every parent that is facing steeper challenges than we are, and I know and have known several. My point is simply that babies are challenging, even in the best of circumstances.

Why then, oh why, do we, today, in these United States of America, not have paid parental leave as a standard benefit for both parents? Apart from the sheer callousness of a capitalist crazy society, why are we not supporting parenthood more? It simply does not make sense to me. There’s plenty of money out there in all of these companies, and it may even prove to be beneficial in the long run.

I could argue a lot of things. I could argue that I’m complete garbage at work anyway when I’ve been up every two hours with a crying infant. Even if I haven’t, personally, been the one caring for said infant… I still wake up. I could argue that the stress of worrying over my wife and kid while I’m away is absolutely shaving productive years off my life, likely leading to anxiety related diseases that will make my later years medically expensive. I could argue that a short break from work to get my home affairs in order would see me return more focused and dedicated than the hectic hodge-podge, stumble through new life that happens naturally. Not to mention the benefits to society of children with present, dedicated parents. These are all good arguments that I could make supporting paid parental leave that aren’t simply: “Because maybe we, as a society, should simply be a little more compassionate.”

Generally, if I whine about my lack of leave in public, someone inevitably points out that: “Leave is protected in America.” I never understand if these folks have read the fine print. By protected, you mean to say that I cannot be fired for having a kid and caring for said kid, so long as I file the necessary paperwork in triplicate and agree to receive no pay for the duration of my medical leave. Gee, how generous of you, America.

This approach leads to what happens most often now: one parent shoulders the parental load while the other attempts to keep the ship afloat. To say nothing of the uphill battle single parents face! And we wonder why depression runs rampant through our society. Everyone has heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a kid” but apparently it’s rare in corporate America to actually want to live in that village.

Some companies have woken up and realized the benefits of paid parental leave. Kudos to them. We need more of that. I also think that any company that does not have a standard paid paternity leave should not be allowed to advertise for Father’s Day.

Look, I get it, having a kid is an expensive choice I made so I have no room to complain. But what you don’t get is that I’m not really complaining for me. I’m in good shape and I’ve worked hard and been fortunate enough to be in a position where I don’t have to struggle as much as others. I’m complaining for the people that can’t even afford to get on a computer and type something on a secret public journal that not very many people are even going to see, because shouting into the void of the Internet is how conversations are started these days. So the take home is this: More people need to talk about how America is not so great for parents.

Really, though, its a pretty simple. I really miss my baby while I’m grinding away in my cube. I really wish I could be there for my wife while she’s struggling with our crying infant. I really think we ought to do more to support parenthood in America.

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Hello World, Love Brooke

On May the 8th, 2018 at 8:42PM, Brooke Eckman Hofferth pirouetted into the world. Or maybe it was break dancing. Either way, her Dad found himself swiftly in awe.

Earlier that morning, her mother had begun to feel the first pangs of labor. She’d been awoken by them at a brisk 6AM. Initially, Mom thought it to be simple cramping, so off to work she went. For the record, Dad wanted to call the doctor then, but Mom assured him that it was “no big deal” and thus the day began.

It was around noon when Mom texted Dad, indicating that the cramps had not gone away. She had been in touch with the Doula, and they agreed to keep monitoring, but that Brooke’s arrival was still a ways off. Dad agreed, and the day marched on.

Around 4PM, Mom was beginning to realize that she was, in fact, in labor. The cramps had become full blown contractions, regularly taking her breath away. Valiantly she soldiered on, slaying strays and grays alike. She sent another text to Dad, but cautioned him that she did not want it to be blown out of proportion, and that she would see him soon after they were both off of work.

Dad arrived home at 6PM, anxiously awaiting Mom’s return. Mom called while driving herself home, telling him that she was in a good amount of pain, and that maybe they would need to call the doctor after all. Dad told Mom to breathe and focus on getting home.

Once Mom arrived, Dad helped her into the house and then began to do what any good engineer would: collected data. Handy contraction timing app pulled up, Dad mashed away at the start and stop button in time with Mom’s ever-worsening contractions. Dad was thoroughly surprised and not the least bit alarmed when the initial results seemed to indicate a two-and-a-half minute cadence. That was much faster than expected.

Dad attempted, mostly in vain, to make Mom comfortable. He repeated the mantra of “just breathe” and “you’re doing great” as a man who could only say those few words would. Meanwhile, he focus on gathering items in preparation for a pending departure. Dad also made a phone call to Grandma V, letting her know that her presence had been requested for the ride to the hospital.

It was 45 minutes into the data gathering when Mom’s water broke. It was as if God had lobbed an invisible water balloon, perfect of aim, that curved in to burst against Mom’s thigh, startling and obvious. At this point, Dad realized that the data-gathering had ended, and a more all-hands-on-deck approach was needed to get this ship sailing.

Aunt Leslie called around this time, surely not expecting to be dragged so abruptly into this unfolding tale. Dad implored Auntie to hurry to the house and help him prepare Mom for the journey. The scene had become a bit chaotic, and an extra set of hands was sorely needed. Dad also call the hospital to let them know that he would be coming in hot.

Auntie arrived and, to her credit, calmly surveyed the yelling and moaning of Mom, the panicked meandering of Dad, to get right to work on the task at hand. Together, Dad and Auntie prepped Mommy in record time (for her especially), guiding her to Dad’s car and getting them on the road. As luck would have it, Grandma V’s Uber arrived (that’s a tale for another time) and she hopped into the back seat of Dad’s car so that she could hold Mom’s hand during the quick trip across town.

And quick it was. Daddy channeled all of the Indy 500-esque skills that he had soaked up over the last decade in Indianapolis, and raced to the hospital. It was somewhere in the middle of I-69 when Mom informed Dad that Brooke was, in fact, coming NOW. Dad dodged a few cars, zipped by a line of trucks, and barreled into the home stretch. By the time he pulled up to the hospital, Mom wasn’t sure she could make it inside. Dad swiftly snatched a wheelchair, encouraged Mom to hover her way on to it, tossed the keys to Grandma V, and dashed into Community Hospital North.

Mom and Dad had taken classes at the hospital, so Dad knew the way. A quick button press opened the doors to the thankfully waiting elevator, and they shot up to the fourth floor. Dad pushed the buzzer to enter the maternity ward, and was whisked into a triage room. Two nurses and Dad were in the room when Mom let them all know that time had just about run out.

The first nurse maneuvered Mom onto the far edge of the bed, while the second nurse radioed for help. Mom barely had a chance to climb aboard when Brooke poked her head out, excited to meet everyone. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of clothing still in the way, so Mom and the nurse quickly remedied the situation, and Brooke spilled the rest of the way out into the nurse’s waiting arms. The nurse guided her gently down to the bed where, much to Dad’s relief, she let out a wail. The second nurse, who’d only had time to don one rubber glove, announced: Baby born at 8:42PM.

After that, the room flooded with a doctor and several more nurses. They hurriedly attended to Mom and Baby, making sure everyone got calmed down from all of the excitement. Dad went to check Mom in, and Grandma V wandered up from the parking garage. The rest of the night was spent in relative peace as Brooke settled into this big new world and Mom’s warm waiting arms. Dad and Mom fell immediately in love with little Brooke, and after only a couple nights in the hospital being cared for by the excellent staff, they journeyed back home.

The End.

Author’s Note: A couple “facts” I wanted to record from May 8th, 2018:

  • A record 23 births were performed at Community North, beating the old record of 22. Brooke was the tying run here, at #22.
  • Community North is the top birthing hospital in the state, so I believe that record holds for Indiana as well.
  • Brooke was only the second baby ever to be born in triage at Community North. You know, not in the actual birthing suites.

(Facts based on rumors corroborated by various nurses. May or may not be acknowledged by the World Record folks.)

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Because It’s Now May

It’s been a while, Dear Journal. I’m having trouble finding the time to check in. It’s a lame excuse, I know, but work has been busy. In addition, when I’m not at work, I’ve been working hard to prepare for my daughter’s arrival. And, when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been just trying to stay sane.

The end of this pregnancy journey feels a lot like when I was a kid waiting for Christmas to arrive. Or, later as an adult, waiting for a much-needed vacation to arrive. There’s an almost impossible level of anticipation that makes it increasingly difficult to focus on, well, anything. And it’s even worse, in this case, because we don’t know exactly when this “vacation” is going to arrive. It’s not like I can actually count down the days, because we only really have a best guess. Yet still, we’re counting.

I’ve never really been the type of person to peek at Christmas gifts, even as a kid. I’m content, for the most part, to experience the anticipation and then receive the payoff when the day finally comes. In this case, however, I really wish I could have a sneak peek. I guess we kind of have, in the form of ultrasounds. But unlike a box of legos or that new N64 game, I have no idea what this gift is even going to be like.

Everyone has guesses and opinions, to be sure. I feel like by this point, I’ve heard it all. Parenting is fun, but no fun. Challenging, but easy. Natural, but something you have to work at. There’s a bunch of “rules” but then there are no rules. Guidelines, but no one experience is the same. What worked in the past may or may not work in the future. It’s scary and exciting.

I’ve had 9 months to prepare, but now it’s May. It’s May and she’s coming. It’s May and there will be no Aprils ever again. What a bizarre thing, these life changes are.

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Thanks for the Birthday Wishes

I thought I’d write my thank-you in a journal post this time, and figured you all would at least catch the title on Facebook. I’m behind on posting and might get a bit wordy.

In short, though, thanks to everyone who sent me well-wishes yesterday for my birthday. One of the fun parts about our social-network enabled society is the deluge of wishes for your birthday. I also know I’m particularly bad about doing it for others, so I doubly appreciate you all taking the time to drop me a nice note, especially since I’ll probably forget to hit you back at some point this year. (Though I will try to be better!)

I also wanted to post a quick update on Baby Watch Hofferth Version. Our little girl keeps growing, much to our delight and mommy’s stomach muscle’s dismay. Kate hasn’t exactly had the easy, storybook pregnancy (if such a thing exists), but has been a real trooper. She’s endured both lots of random vomiting and a couple spontaneous cravings for Subway. I wish I could put another couple of women on the job to help complete the Baby Hofferth project more quickly but, alas, it is a one-woman job. (Were it possible, I’m sure my own mother would be willing to chip in at least a portion of pregnancy, or even a couple body parts to get the grandchild show started. Patience has never been my family’s strong suit. We’re not taking the hip though, Mom. That sucker needs replaced or something.)

Posting may continue to be sparse as we’re still recovering from combining a move with Kate’s first tri-mester, even well into the second. May will be here soon enough, and there is plenty to do to ready the nest.

Thanks again for all the positive vibes. As I speed away from 32 and toward fatherhood, I definitely approach this new phase of life with a healthy dose of fear, anticipation but, most importantly, great support from loved ones.

P.S. If you hadn’t seen our version of holiday card combined with gender reveal… might as well post it in here for posterity:

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(In case you needed the not included hint: yes, the pronoun was intentional.)

(I wanted to send exploding pink powder holiday cards, but they were fresh out.)

 

 

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September

Obviously, writing hasn’t gone well for me this year. I’ve missed almost as many months as written, but it’s been a busy year. Building a house is a big deal, and now the end is in sight. We just sold our current house this past weekend, and we close on our new house at the end of this month. Exciting times.

I will say that I’m glad we only had a small handful of showings. Trying to juggle jobs, dogs, football, keeping the house in top shape, and then making room in the schedule for folks to stop by… it was not easy. But, thankfully, the market is in our favor, and we got an offer quickly.

Football is off to a 3-0 start, so that’s fantastic. I’ll admit I’m a little surprised since we graduated so many starters from last year. The current crop of kids have really stepped up, and it’s been a fun ride so far. Here’s hoping that continues.

And that’s about it from me. I suppose I wanted to check in because there’s a lot going on and this is, after all, my journal. I can’t help but feeling a lack of time for reflection on, well, anything… so you get a check-in list of things, Dear Journal. Ah well, hopefully I’ll squeeze out a better entry before the year ends. My word-chops are becoming dull.

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And It’s June

Well, Dear Journal, I wouldn’t say May Flowers exactly, but we’re on the right path. Things are still busy (which is why I’m a few days late). The house has grown, I’ll see if I can find a picture…

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Yep, we went with the Big Green Monster floor plan. It actually has a roof now (this pic is a few weeks old). And a front porch. And dormer. And some exterior trim. And rough mechanicals on the inside. No windows yet though. Soon, very soon.

Also, Dear Journal, before you give me the typical “it’s huge” comment, I want to point out that this image (and the way it appears coming up the street) is a solid optical illusion. This is, quite literally, the largest horizontal profile of the house possible. It’s still big, just not quite THAT big. Or maybe it is. I don’t know, your call.

In other news, we’re continuing to work with the dogs. Chloe is still being a bitch. (Which is not profane. It’s what she is. But also, yes.) We’re working hard on obedience with her. I’m not sure our dogs will ever be best friends again, which is really, really sad. That being said, we have a pretty good system worked out where everyone has their own space and no one gets bitten. Mostly.

Perhaps the only other thing of note that happened in May (apart from the usual work drudgery and feeling stressed about a challenging project) was that I braved the Indy 500 Snake Pit. In case you are unaware, Dear Journal, the Snake Pit is an EDM Festival that happens to be held while there’s a race going on. They’re really only very loosely related. Josh friend-shamed me into going (it was his birthday), but I’m glad he did. We had a good time. Let me see if I can find a pic from far too early in the day…

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I will say, Snake Pit plays the long game. I thought I had won, surviving the day with minimal embarrassing moments, but then I “slept” for 12 hours and woke up with an awful sunburn and hangover. Well played, Mr. Pit, well played. Also, I am one pair of shoes poorer.

So that was May, Dear Journal. Summer has officially arrived. June has started well, and I’m hoping for an uneventful July. Hopefully the house will be done in the Aug/Sep time frame and my next post will describe the joys of listing a house for sale. We’ll see.

 

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