Hello, Word – Blair, Probably

What a difference experience makes. The second time around, our birthing story was much less dramatic than the first. It helped that we were expecting Blair to come a couple weeks early, so when she held on to 39 weeks, we were quite ready. We had our bags packed, and everything planned.

Of course, there were things outside of our control. Like how I decided to push it on Sunday night and talk to the neighbors until 2AM. Normally, we’d been turning in early and, with everything still limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t been hard to be home at reasonable hours. Kate was scheduled to be induced on Tuesday, Sep 8, so I figured I could treat myself on the night before Monday, Sep 7, 2020.

Not 20 minutes after my head hit the pillow, Kate woke me to let me know her water had broken. For those of you that followed our last birthing story, you’ll know that there is no messing around when it comes to my wife and child birth. We’d been waiting for some clear contractions, but apparently this adventure was going to start with a water feature.

Fortunately, due to the aforementioned preparations, I wiped the nascent sleep from my eyes, grabbed the bags, and we hopped in the car with little preamble. We were also lucky because Kate’s mother was staying with us that night (we’d had grandparent coverage for a little over a week or so at this point, just in case), so we let her know, and she held down the fort in our absence.

The drive over did not feature any transitioning, crowning, or reckless driving. It was calm and quiet on the roads at 2:30AM, and we cruised easily to the hospital. Kate was able to actually take in the journey, with only a few contractions interrupting our conversation on the ride over.

We both walked into triage on our own power; no one needed to hover on a wheel chair. We had plenty of time for the initial examination and, at a good 6-7cm, we were definitely eligible for our birthing suite. We got to hang out a good hour or so before everything was ready. (And, by “hang out,” I mean Kate labored while I tried to figure out what to do after goal one of “get her there” had been accomplished so expediently.) Finally, the most intense half hour of any parent’s life was upon us: the actual birthing.

There is really no describing the intensity of the moment. The closest I’ve ever come is probably during the final seconds of some sort of sporting championship, where you feel time slows down and everything hinges on every little decision. Except in this case, as the male support in the room, you’re just sort of sitting there. Even so, you feel completely exhausted when all is said and done, which is just shameful because, again, as the male support in the room, you are on the bench with no chance of entering the game.

My wife, however, having come up through the rough and tumble Triage Delivery minors, was able to actually focus on only the pushing part for this stint in the Big Show. It probably turned out to be overkill for her Perennial All-Star type of birthing ability, as with all the expert support on the field in the form of a doctor and a bevy of nurses in an actual birthing suite, she gave it three good, hard pushes, and we had ourselves a Blair at 5:35AM.

All in all, clearly a quality start, if I do say so myself. Efficient, to be sure, but well-executed labor on Labor Day all the same.

Now, we did have to contend with some pandemic considerations: wearing masks the whole time, not able to leave the premises, extreme hand washing, etc. It was definitely a long 48 hours of no visitors before we were able to take our new family member home. We roughed it by doordashing Cheesecake Factory.

Now, Blair did have the Hofferth-standard Bilirubin Watch (TM). Though the 2020 version features a new, crazy, bedside fiber optic blanket. That, combined with the requisite pandemic masks, really made us feel like were delivering in The Future. What do you think, Dear Journal:

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If I Saw You In Heaven

I lifted the bourbon and ginger ale to my lips and wondered, How did I get here? The last thing I remembered was laying down last night, and then suddenly, here I am in a bar. At least the drinks are good, I thought as I sipped.

From my vantage point in a corner booth, I could see the whole venue. It wasn’t a big bar – not crowded, either – but the bartender worked at a steady clip. A white, fluffy haze hung over everything. Not smoke, exactly. More like clouds floating through the room. The air was fresh, clean, and a calm joy settled over me as I took in the scene.

Patrons traded laughs and hugs, reminiscing about past encounters. Soft music wafted from a live band somewhere unseen. The beat was lively, with a brisk melody that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I began trying to hum along. If I could just hit enough of the notes, the words would surely come to me.

I lifted my glass to take another sip and froze as I recognized one of the patrons at the bar. It was my father, as I’d remembered him in the years before he’d gotten ill and passed away. He looked fantastic, vibrant and happy, and I wanted to get up and go to him. Yet, something held me back.

Just as I was wondering if he’d turn and look my way, Ted perked up. He wasn’t looking at me, but at the door. He’d apparently seen someone that he recognized through the window.

More of the white haze puffed in as the door swung open and, at first, I could only see the silhouette of the man. He was tall and broad-shouldered, radiating a strength that might have seemed intimidating in another setting. The closing door brushed away the smoke to reveal a wide, warm smile attached to another face I recognized. My uncle reached out to clasp my father’s hand.

“Hey Chuck, sorry about the ride there at the end,” my father said.

My uncle replied, “No problem. I mean, I kind of saw it coming.”

My dad chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s not like that for everyone.”

“So what’s next?” My uncle asked.

My dad smiled warmly. “You talked to some folks on your way in, right?”

Chuck nodded.

“There will be more. Lots more. I’m glad I got this opportunity, though. I owe you a beer.”

I hadn’t seen the bartender slide anything their way, and yet suddenly I realized there were beers in their hands. It looked like some sort of light beer for my dad, while Chuck held a colorful IPA. I took another sip of bourbon, absently trying to place the flavor. Angel’s Envy?

“Really? Why’s that?” Chuck asked.

My dad took a pull from his bottle and nodded appreciatively. “My kids really looked up to you after I had to leave.”

Chuck sipped his own pint, nodding thoughtfully before replying, “It’s tough not having your father around, but you make do with what you have. I was lucky to have some good examples thrown my way.”

“My boys, too,” my dad agreed, fixing his brother-in-law with a significant stare.

Chuck smiled, a bit of warmth rising in his cheeks, and then raised his glass. My dad touched the rims together, and then they both turned toward the bar where I noticed a television for the first time.

“Cubs up?” Chuck asked.

Ted nodded. “They’ve been playing some great ball, lately. I wish they’d do a little more small ball, but….” He shrugged.

They watched with contentment for a long moment before Chuck said, “Any beaches around here?”

My dad laughed, nodding. “Sailboats too. Or, anything you want, really.” He pointed. “Check it out, just around the corner there.”

Chuck nodded, rising. For a moment, they both turned toward me and smiled. But then I was falling, crashing back into my sleeping body.

I jolted awake. But then I smiled, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

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For Chloe

Saturday, we lost a member of our family. I made the decision to euthanize my dog after complications surrounding her cancer treatments and infection stacked up to overwhelm her. Even though I remain convinced, in my heart, that it was the correct and best decision for Chloe, it is a decision that I believe will haunt me for many years to come. I feel for all of the medical professionals out there, for whom life or death decisions are a daily occurrence. I could not do that job.

I already posted something simple on Facebook, fresh off of the loss. We are grateful for the outpouring of support that followed. In a lot of ways, losing your beloved pet is a right of passage for all pet owners that unites us. I have often talked about being admitted to a “club” after losing my father when I was 18. It is a club you do not want to find yourself in, but once you are there, it comes with a perspective that cannot be achieved by a means other than experience. I now find myself in new company of those who have had to make “the call” for their pet, and would rather not be in this club. Yet, here we are.

And yes, I am equating losing my dog to losing my father. Honestly, in traumatic things that have happened in my life, emotionally this is in the same ballpark. I know there are a lot of people who would say Chloe was “just a dog,” and I get it. Dogs are not humans. Also, life is a not a competition of traumas. I was Chloe’s person. She chose me, and so to me fell the responsibility of choosing her route to whatever lies beyond this world. It was not a position I took for granted, and I always endeavored to be the best choice she could have made. I loved her, and she loved me, unconditionally. That is why this hurts so much, and that is why I am not hesitant to draw upon my experience with losing my father. Love is love, and grief does not discriminate.

Since I know you are curious, Dear Journal, I will recount how this all went down so that you have it for your vast records. Chloe had been diagnosed with lymphoma around two weeks ago. Her lymph nodes were huge, and we could tell she was in some amount of pain. We consulted with a veterinary oncologist, and decided upon a treatment path. Chloe was a fighter and we were going to fight this thing. On average, the treatment was supposed to give us another year with minimal downsides and a high quality of life.

Chloe received her first round of chemo on Wednesday, and responded pretty well. The first day was difficult, as she was nauseous, but she bounced Thursday and was trending in the correct direction. By Friday, a majority of her swollen glands had decreased to normal levels, and she was as energetic and sweet as she’d ever been. We celebrated in the evening by going on what would be Chloe’s last walk. She loved it. She fell asleep next to us on the couch. I let her out back one final time before putting her to bed, and we were all very optimistic about the way this fight might go.

It was not to be. Saturday morning found Chloe laying near the door, unable to stand, in a mess. Something must have ruptured in her abdomen in the middle of the night, and she had experienced a seizure, followed by septic shock. She was in very bad shape. We were able to get her to the emergency vet, but she was unresponsive, just trying to breathe. The vet did what they could, but it came down to two options: continue with emergency surgery, or humanely euthanize.

The abdominal infection would require surgical intervention to repair and attempt to clean out the infection. Best case, this would result in prolonged recovery in the veterinary hospital which, due to COVID-19, we wouldn’t even be allowed to visit. The prognosis for recovery from septic shock in dogs is extremely poor, even before you factor in the lymphoma. There was a very good chance she would go into the hospital, never see us, and never come out again.

Facing that, I made the choice to say good bye, right then and there. One of the differences between dogs and humans that I struggle with is that you can explain a hospital stay to a human. A dog will simply not understand, and miss you the whole time. Chloe had a long history of infections, and I suspected that even if she were able to somehow pull through this, the odds would just continue to stack against her until no options remained. I’ve seen medical stories like this before, and I chose to give her the gift of peace.

It broke my heart. I cried for most of the weekend, and will likely still cry a lot today. But this is the job, and not all tears are an evil. This is what you sign up for when you love a dog. And it is beyond worth it. I wouldn’t trade one aggressive sniff or snuggle away for any sort of escape from this heartache. She was a good girl, had a good life, and we will miss her very much.

Despite being a fan of the movie, I am not sure if all dogs go to heaven, or if there even is such a place for dogs or humans. I am fervent in my faith that there is one, communal afterlife, and that all the souls we loved along the way, human or otherwise, will be there to welcome us warmly someday with the spiritual equivalent of wiggly butts. I hope that those that have gone before us have found comfort away from the difficulties of this world, and are watching over us with tilted heads and wagging tails. And I believe that the love that we experience here on Earth remains the greatest and best expression of a bond that defeats death, and sits waiting patiently at the window for us to finish our own walk and come in for more cuddles on the great cosmic couch.

Rest in peace, Chloe. You were a very good girl.

Chloe

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Seclusion, Day N

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated, Dear Journal, but things have been really, really busy. Let’s do a info-dump-style recap: Last November, Brooke was a year and a half, and just embarking into the “full blown tornado” human toddler development stage. She is now a “full blown climbing tornado,” which is an important distinction. You see, most tornadoes stay on the ground when they’re wreaking havoc. Not so with the toddler tornado. They must add an element of real bodily danger to everything, so climbing is how they supplement vast, unimaginable energy with said danger.

If I had my vote, the recap would stop right there. Our first family foray into toddler corralling strategies has been enough to keep me satisfied. “Hold my beer,” says the year 2020.

Let’s start with the good: Kate and I found out that our family will be expanding sometime in late August or early September of this year. We also recently received test results that say to expect a healthy baby girl. We’re super excited about that, and really feel like we’re ahead of the game when it comes to the anticipated coronavirus baby boom. I’m really putting on my best hipster hat when I say: we were doing it before it was cool. Literally, I guess.

Wait, what is the coronavirus, you ask, Dear Journal? Well, we’ll get to that. First, in the interest of remaining largely sequential with my recap, I must note that I experienced an unexpected job change. My job at Ball Systems went away in late January, so I had to buckle down and find something pretty quickly during the month of February. If you’ve ever stared COBRA in the face with a pregnant wife at your side, you may be able to imagine the urgency of my job search.

Fortunately, I was extremely lucky that a global company with local offices was in a hiring pattern for the exact type of engineering I excel at. My wife even happened to do hair for someone who works there, so it seemed an alignment of fates. I was able to get in touch with the right folks at Allegion, and we quickly decided the fit looked good; I was able to start the first week of March. You may picture me sweating like Shaq at the foul line, and then doing a big, exaggerated forearm swipe of said sweat. A dramatic “phew” may have escaped my lips. Turns out, I slid in just in time for the coronavirus to hit as well.

Coronavirus, yes. Now it’s your turn. Since you don’t know, Dear Journal, because you’re an inanimate journal, I’ll give you the short and simple explanation. I’m sure you can research more, later, if you’d like. Essentially, this crazy COVID-19 novel virus hitched a ride on a plane, landed in the US, and decided go on immediate tour. It was a gig that was still playing, simultaneously, in other areas of the world; something we’d never seen before. The screaming, instead of adoring fans, is our healthcare system being put on high alert with the possibility of being overwhelmed by a tsunami of sick people all at once.

For this tsunami, however, there is something we can all do to help. We can voluntarily seclude ourselves for as long as it takes to sluice some of the incoming water off, with the intent to spritz it back out later when things are more calm. Though, we’re not sure when, exactly, that calm will be. So, my family officially went into seclusion several days ago with no planned end in sight. I’ve already lost count of the days, not because it’s bothering me or been particularly long, but because it was more of a slow, uncomfortable, Homer Simpson step-back into the hedge. This whole situation has evolved extremely rapidly. One day we’re making plans to have dinner with friends. 24 hours later everything is shut down.

As a proud introvert, I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. Social distancing is how I managed my energy even in the best of times. For my wife, though, it’s terribly stressful. We had to stop her salon services, which was a huge blow for her, plus removes her income from our coffers. We’ll tighten up and be fine, and we’re thankful to be better off than a lot of households where both incomes are service-dependent. It also transitions her to a stay-at-home mom, which is not a job she was chasing. We were more than happy to offload some of that work to grandparents, and were fortunate enough that such an arrangement was possible for us. Different personalities thrive in different roles, and I know it’s rough on Kate to see me continuing to be reasonably productive from home, while she’s been forced to shift all of her energy into mothering. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice for her to spend time with Brooke, and we’re trying to focus on that silver lining, but having built in “breaks” before this seclusion was hugely appreciated. I think even stay-at-home moms who fully embrace the role could agree with that bit of mental health prioritizing. Now, we’re pretty much all stuck in place without any sense of when everything will switch back on.

Despite all of this, Dear Journal, we’re doing our best to do our part. We have close friends and relatives in the healthcare system, and we want to support them however we can. We’re keenly aware that sacrifice on our part could potentially save lives down the road. We fully expect this to get worse before it gets better, but we’re hopeful that enough folks will join in the nationwide self-imposed seclusion so that it doesn’t have to get much worse, and that the most number of lives can be saved.

I wanted to finish this post with a few things that I’m thankful for. There was a study that showed how it was chemically impossible to feel both gratitude and depression at the same time. Since a big risk of seclusion is becoming depressed, I’m going to make a point to try to encourage thankfulness wherever possible.

First and foremost, we’re grateful for all of the medical professionals working to stem the tide of illness and providing the best care of which they are capable. Second, I’m mindful of all of our friends in food service out there. Those industries have been hit hard, and I’m grateful that we have delivery services that can still bring a pizza to my door. That takes a chain of personnel to make happen, and hopefully we can keep that pipeline safely rolling during seclusion. Finally, I’m grateful for those supporting the technology that is keeping us connected even in seclusion.

A fun example: I was watching along with ~15,000 other Neon Cactus Piano Bar alumni while Bruce recreated a typical Thirsty Thursday from his basement. It reminded me that we’re all a lot more connected than we realize, even when we’re voluntarily minimizing the physical aspect of those connections.

Keep being intentional in your connection, Dear Journal. We’re all in this together.

 

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An Update and Sgt. Stubby for Vet’s Day

Posts are coming much slower, and with much more time in between. I’m told that Brooke is “at that age now.” Which, apparently to anyone who has been through it, means the you-are-going-to-constantly-be-exhausted-keeping-her-safe-from-herself phase. For instance, you know those little plastic things you put in outlets to protect your kids from shocking themselves? My kid takes them off with her mouth. Quickly. (Side note: they make full shields that you can find on Amazon that are, so far, more child-proof than the previously considered “child-proof.”)

It’s not all bad, though. Brooke now has the ability to focus on a television screen and understand a little of what is going on. Now, I recognize this is also dangerous territory, as we’re told you’re supposed to sequester your child from any and all screens for the first two years of life lest they develop serious mental flaws for which you, as the parent, shall be judged for the remainder of your years. What can I say? I’m a bad parent. I like cuddling up at the end of the night and watching kid’s movies with my kid as she falls asleep. I mean, before I was watching Frozen “to study for my eventual daughter.” Now, I’m watching it “for her.”

The Disney staples have gone over well, but honestly it’s been the movies with dogs that have really piqued Brooke’s interest so far. Which, if you know us, is not surprising. Over the course of one weekend, we watched both Homeward Bounds, and All Dogs Go To Heaven. Anything where my daughter can point out the “dah” on the screen and I can nod and report that, yes, that is a dog, has been a hit.

With Veteran’s Day on the horizon, the magic algorithms that tell us all what to watch were filling my screen with war movies this weekend. Which is all well and good, but Saving Private Ryan is probably not something I want to watch with my toddler. We did, however, come across an animated flick about the most decorated war dog of World War 1. It’s PG, so I figured safe, and it has a dog that vaguely resembles one of ours. We were in. For sure.

If you’re looking for something off the tried and true Disney path, I heartily recommend Sgt. Stubby. It was pretty amazing. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot (I mean, we made it through Homeward Bound 2 which, let’s be honest, is not exactly a blockbuster), but what I got was a fantastic picture of both the exploits of the dog, and a bit of the history of WWI. I thought it was extremely well done, and had me tearing up at multiple points during the movie. If you’re looking for something to watch on Vet’s Day, give it a look. If you love dogs as much as we do, you won’t regret it. And you’ll spend the next hour or so after your kid is asleep looking up the real Sgt. Stubby and marveling at the true story as well.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that today as a way of saying thanks to all the Veteran humans (and animals) who have served over the years. The freedom to cuddle with my daughter and watch a story about a war dog is much appreciated. I know we fought for much larger reasons, but sometimes it’s the small things that really drive home how lucky we are today.

 

 

 

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The Struggle Is Real

I haven’t written anything in a while, so I was going to force myself to sit down and put metaphorical pen to paper this morning. I discovered quickly that it wasn’t going to be an easy writing day, as I’m really having trouble organizing my thoughts. So then I thought I might write about that: the struggle.

I may have mentioned before, Dear Journal, that I’m particularly sensitive to the weather. My mood often follows the seasons. Winter and early Spring are often challenging times for me. In Indiana, I’d refer to these times as the Seasons of Gray, as that seems to be the predominant colors. I probably have a mild form of Seasonal Affect Disorder, though it’s never really bothered me enough to get an official diagnosis. In general, I can manage. It’s just that not all days are created equal.

Depression runs in my family, and I’ve written about mental health before. My own journey is perhaps atypical of most. I don’t know that I’ve ever been chronically depressed. Instead, I go through “funks.” For me, this tends to mean one to two weeks where I really struggle to motivate myself to do, well, anything. On top of a lack of  motivation (or maybe because of it), I feel a deep lethargy and my thoughts are very disordered. For instance, trying to write this currently feels like herding cats in my brain.

I read about a study once where they compared writings from folks in the depth of depression and when feeling “normal.” Same people, writing about similar things when they’re both depressed and not. The interesting outcome was that there was very little difference in both quality and presentation of the output. I take that to mean that you, Dear Journal, will be unable to discern my mood through my writing. In fact, it’s likely that while I’m struggling more with the process, the end result is on par for my own abilities. I’ve always tried to keep this in mind and not use my “funks” as an excuse not to write.

I guess I wanted to write this today because I’ve been feeling lately that the best things on the Internet and Social Media are the most genuine. There’s a lot of Fake out there, and it’s typically the Fake that causes negative outcomes. Perhaps if we could celebrate the genuine, we’d be able to come together more. Or maybe this is just the idealistic Millennial in me.

In any case, for me these last few weeks have been rough, but for no particular reason. Everything in my life is great. New job is going well. Brooke is fantastic and growing. The weather is even improving. I’m just not feeling it yet. Strange how that works sometimes. That being said, the nice thing about my own particular condition is that I know, from experience, that it will pass. I just need to buckle down, exercise a bit, try to eat a little healthier, be good to myself, and get through it. I’m lucky in that regard, because for a lot of people the struggle is a lot harder, and they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Which I guess is the point of what I wanted to say today: be kind to one another. Be genuine. No one chooses to struggle. Let your light help them find their own.

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Thank You for the Birthday Wishes

Primarily, this is my thank you post for all of the well wishes for my birthday a couple days ago. But since I have a tendency to be long-winded and over-analytic, I decided to turn it into a post.

I’m not a big birthday guy to begin with. My wife and I are polar opposites in this regard. I find myself a bit uncomfortable with the attention, especially when I just simply survived another year. My wife is all about everyone having their own special day. She goes out of her way time and time again for people (not just me) with the goal of delivering a special day. And, I will say, despite my discomfort, it is also nice to touch base, even if ever so slightly, with so many of the friends and acquaintances I’ve connected with throughout my thirty-four years. So thanks especially to my wife for all the effort she puts in to make others feel special.

Man, 34 is a bigger number than 33. They all begin with a thirty, which seems so much bigger than a twenty. And I won’t even think about teen numbers. Everyone’s been posting the “ten year” side-by-side pictures lately… amazing how time flies!

It’s pretty cool that, due to social media, we have glimpses of each other’s lives still. The reality of getting older is also losing touch. For most people, getting older means more responsibility, and responsibility takes time. Staying ahead of home maintenance, participating in child rearing, and trying to keep a strong marriage tend to be my three biggest activities, but even just balancing those three are a challenge on a lot of days. Add in jobs and friends and hobbies, and I feel very fortunate to be living in a time when I can just type all my thoughts and shout them into the void that is internet, and some of you will listen and care. That’s pretty cool and means a lot to me, even if we haven’t spoken in years, so thank you for all those shared thoughts.

Apart from a long, rambling birthday thank you, I also wanted to note in this post that, for the first time in 11 years, I’ll be changing jobs. I’m moving from Delphi Technologies to Ball Systems this upcoming week. I will say that evaluating a job offer was an extremely difficult decision for me. You can try to run the numbers and make it simple as far as compensation, but there are emotions involved that can’t be discounted either. It’s going to be tough when I walk out of the first and only post-college job I’ve known, and it’s scary walking into the unknown with a new company. Still, I’m excited about the move. It brings me closer to home and offers a new challenge. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the transition in the upcoming weeks (if I’m not completely swamped by the change), but for now I stand on the precipice of 34, looking out at a somewhat unfamiliar and challenging road. Here’s hoping it proves rewarding both personally as a still-new parent, and professionally as I embrace a new opportunity.

Either way, Dear Journal, thanks for being there.

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Merry and Bright

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I thought I should send you one of these, Dear Journal, but you don’t have a mailbox out here in the real world, so I’ll do it digitally. It’s Brooke’s first Christmas, so that’s pretty special. A few weeks ago, it snowed for the first time in her life. She can’t talk yet, but judging by the look on her face, she was thinking: Great, now it’s going to be icy on my drive to work. No, sorry, that was me. She was more like: What is that pretty, fluffy stuff?!

I’ve learned this year that we’d all be a whole lot happier if we could be babies again. Seeing the world anew through the eyes of your child is pretty neat. It can really highlight a lot of the small things that you take for granted.

So here’s to you and yours, Dear Journal. May you view this holidays season through the eyes of a child. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

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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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