Two Weeks with a Newborn

This endeavor of early parenthood is at once both sorely trying and utterly fulfilling. The mind runs through the full gamut of emotions in the blink of an eye, as this new life we have created, who was only moments earlier screaming questioningly to the gods about her very existence on this cold and dreary slab of rock, now slips off the breast into a sleepy revelry; one punctuated by small squeaks and twitches emanating from an otherwise unconscious and completely lifeless little rag-doll body. It is at this point, when the belly of my daughter is full and her meager appetite is satiated, that I find the whole of who I am to be complete in a way in which I have never experienced before. As I lift her delicate body and glimpse the slight scowl replacing the previously contented countenance and place that warm head against my chest, her arms hanging loosely at her side, when I feel her relax completely and melt into my skin, it is at this point that my whole world shifts and things that I once deemed important, or at the least worthwhile, drift away in the wind like the tiny motes of dust they are.

Time no longer has its characteristic continuity, the standard flow of cause and effect that I’ve grown accustomed to through long years of labored consciousness. A new baby is a mountain of potential wrapped in an untrained and flimsy body whose sole purpose in this early life is that of digestion and a means of alerting the caretakers to one of several potential discomforts. The baby knows nothing of time. She knows only that she is hungry and has but one way of communicating this fact to those ghastly large beings who supply her with food and torture her with frequent disrobing and diaper changes, who have the audacity to strip her naked and wipe her down with cold and damp cloths splashed with a slight floral fragrance that offers no apologies to this breach of her personal privacy.

Varying degrees of crying alert us to the amount of discomfort she may be feeling at any point in the day or night. We try to make sense of it, to commit it to a schedule or to understand its nature, but as the days and nights progress and bleed into each other, the only thing that comes close to describing this feeling of permanent and ragged wakefulness is the idea that life in its current incarnation exists and is maintained in something akin to a series of disjointed blinks of the eye. Those brief times when we are able to lay down in bed only to be awoken just prior to the onset of the much sought after state of REM sleep, when we suddenly find ourselves already hovering around the house with baby in hand, or fully coming to consciousness in the middle of a nearly completed diaper change, these are merely moments of fractured visions, of slightly diluted clarity, both after one blink and before the next, when time once again becomes unhinged and shifts and the experience of reality is shoved forward violently into the next moment of drowsy, eye-smacking delirium. This is parenthood in its early stages.

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The alarm goes off again and I am jolted awake. No, that is no alarm. That’s a baby. That’s my baby. Her cries signify the onslaught of changing time once again, followed by the hand-off to mom for a light snack and a snooze.

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I’m still awake? But it’s night-time and both mom and baby have long since drifted off after the most recent feeding. The transition between the alertness brought on by a baby’s cry and the attempt at one more dollop of slumber does not seem to be in the cards for now. This, I presume, I hope, will change as exhaustion becomes unbearable and I find myself jolted awake in some other facet of the day or night without any recollection as to how I arrived.

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Some weeks ago, I happened upon a crochet pattern for a stuffed Hobbes tiger, the toy version of Calvin’s sidekick when viewed by adults. I make the audacious assumption that my daughter will absolutely love a stuffed Hobbes tiger and cherish it forever, though in reality, I understand that I may only be fulfilling a long dormant desire from my own childhood. Maybe I’m making it for myself. In the times between sleepings and feedings when I am unable to sleep yet confined to the house, I set out to learn how to crochet.

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I hug my daughter close to my chest and pat her back to elicit a burp. Her second breakfast appears to have been quite substantial and she has taken on the air of one drunk on breast-milk. Her tiny body melts against my chest and I repudiate the notion of sleep so I can take advantage of the multitude of recently awakened feelings overwhelming my core being. We lay for hours in the reclining chair with her on my chest as a few streaks of tears dry against my cheek.

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It’s diaper changing time once again and I am only milliseconds too slow. In the time between the wiping of the bottom and the application of the new diaper, I hear a faint and brief whooshing sound and, as my reflexes have been dulled by the lack of anything reminiscent of sleep, the sudden stream of fecal matter takes me by surprise. It sprays in a jet at least eighteen inches in length, nearly as long as the beloved baby girl from which it emanated. This changing time takes a little longer than usual as I sanitize several baby garments and the changing table/dresser combination. But eighteen inches? I’m not even mad. In fact, I’m impressed.

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The dog is a tightly wound spring of potential energy, ready to burst at the seams in a frenzy of canine enthusiasm. She hasn’t been walked or let outside to frolic in days. I take her with me for a run on a warm winter morning. Afterward it becomes obvious that the run did nothing to degrade her exuberance. When we get back, she runs in tight, concentric circles in the backyard, reminding me of her continual need for release and lack thereof.

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The sun is out and my daughter is awake and fully alert. Her eyes are wide and inquisitive, dark blue sapphires full of a searching curiosity, haunting orbs that I find overwhelmingly captivating and immersive. I lose myself in those wandering eyes, drowning in the life and potential they exhibit. Nora Jones sings a ballad on the radio and I take my daughter in my arms and dance slowly around the living room. I can’t remember a time in my life when the onset of my own tears so completely took away my ability to speak or to form even a single cogent syllable, whereby at any attempt of uttering just a single word, my body convulsed uncontrollably and unintelligibly. I now know such a thing is possible.

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I find myself walking towards my wife as she nurses in the early hours of the morning carrying, in one hand, a glass of water and in another, a mini-sledgehammer. I give her the water as we both stare perplexedly at the hammer.

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What better way to pass the unsleeping hours of the dark and early morning but to remove a door in the basement and use some power tools in the garage to install a cat flap so that the litterbox is removed to one of our underutilized storage rooms? At least now I know what the mini-sledgehammer was for.

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I take a few minutes to swing by the library to find a book on beginner crochet techniques. The librarian tells me that I have a fifteen cent balance on my account from an overdue book. Only later, when I see the receipt left in between the pages of the crochet book, do I realize what had been overdue. It turns out to be Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The librarian didn’t even blink at this odd juxtaposition of crochet and National Socialism. What can I say? My interests are varied and know no bounds.

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I’m out on the road again, running alongside several miles of dreary and cold farmland tainted with the sweet odor of recently thawed manure and less recently deceased roadkill, listening to the soothing voice of David Rakoff read through partially-autobiographical and whimsical essays in his book, Half Empty. If this blog entry seems overly drawn out or perhaps a bit dramatic, it is only because I am leaning on David as a crutch and cannot help but hear his voice as I type the words. Whether I have captured his wispy and meandering style is yet to be seen, but as I am barren of sleep and ultimately incapable of finding sleep when offered, I am only able to translate these feelings to the written word by imagining them in his voice.

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Something of a routine has been developing for a few days, or for a short while we imagined so. We’ve heard the term cluster-feeding before and our daughter has decided that now is the time to introduce us to its cruel reality. A cluster feeding is defined as a series of nearly sequential nursing times initiated by a baby’s cry at that precise moment when the parents’ consciousness slips from wakefulness to slumber, thereby ensuring that the parents’ promise of sleep is never fully realized but only ever seen as an attainable goal one short feeding away. The beginning of a cluster feeding doesn’t necessarily have to happen during the night so long as it robs the parents of a cluster of naps.

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And so on. These past two weeks of sleep deprivation have been heavenly. I was able to take a few weeks off of work so that I could spend the time with my burgeoning family and frankly, it’s not enough time. In the latter part of the pregnancy, some people were making it seem like two weeks would be overkill, that I would become overly bored and frustrated and would be wishing I was back at the office so that I could be out of earshot of a screaming baby and once again productive, at least in a business sense. My experience hasn’t played out like that. If anything, I wish I could spend more time here with my daughter. But alas, duty calls and in a few days, I will head back to the office, back to building websites that sell shoes, and building more things so that they can sell even more shoes, then fixing problems because shoes aren’t selling as quickly as shoes are expected to be sold, then trying to think of new and innovative ways to write software to sell even more shoes. So it goes. But now, in addition to coming home to my amazing wife, I have an equally amazing little girl to come home to who will make it all worthwhile.

PS – The crochet is coming along nicely. I now have two Hobbes’ legs. She is going to love the completed project, but until then, she has offered to model a few of these feline appendages.

RAWRRR!!! I'm a tiger!
RAWRRR!!! I’m a tiger!

Well, That Was Awkward. She Almost Latched Onto My Nipple.

Parenthood, here I am! We’re now home from the hospital with our brand new daughter. There were a few bumps along the way, but we made it through the delivery with a healthy and happy daughter and mom! The staff at Holland Hospital are simply amazing.

So far, our little daughter has been pretty laid back, only crying when being changed or swaddled or otherwise poked and prodded by the nurses and doctors violating her personal space. Once we got home, of course, she got to be a little more vocal as that desire to feed really kicked in. Cluster feeding has been the name of the game tonight, and Jen and I have just been taking turns, handing her back and forth and enjoying every minute of it.

So here I am at 3am with my little girl snoozing and twitching on my bare chest, squeaking and yawning every so often, and I gotta say, it’s one of the best feelings on the world. This whole skin to skin thing is supposed to be great for increased bonding and it’s working for me. Let’s just hope it’s tricking her into liking me too. Oxytocin is a hell of a drug.

The skin to skin times don’t come without their fair share of risks, though. I was chastising the dog after she stealthily snuck in and licked my daughter’s head and she took my moment of distraction as an opportunity to lunge at my nipple with a wide open mouth. I caught her just in time but, yeesh, that was a bit awkward.

We’re just getting our little family rolling here now, and our dog is quite fascinated by this new and tiny human. She’s very curious and a bit too licky for my tastes, but so far she is taking it all in stride. Even in my girl’s screaming fits, our dog is just more curious than anything. I thought she might get scared or stressed by a baby’s cries, but she seems to be genuinely interested and concerned about her new little sister. Our dog rocks.

So I guess I’ll end this post with what started out with the intention of being a cute family picture of our cat and dog watching over our little girl, but what turned into a rather creepy and portentous picture that I’m calling, “Fresh Meat”.

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Say Hello to the Family Fetus

The next big adventure in our lives is well underway! My wife is now six months pregnant with our first child! Life has lately been revolving around nothing but preparations for our little bundle of joy. We’ve been painting, researching, registering, quizzing other parents, and eagerly awaiting early January when we our pending daughter makes the transition from physical parasite to financial parasite.

A few weeks ago we got the ultrasound, and everything seems to be quite normal; boring, as the doctor put it. He said that a boring pregnancy is a good thing. We’ll go with that. They gave us a few pictures from the ultrasound, but my favorite is this one. Say hello to our future daughter!

Our Totally Cute, Not at All Creepy Gilbert to Be

As a rule, ultrasound pictures seem to be rather creepy, but I think this one takes the cake. She may be pure evil, but she’s our little ball of concentrated evil, and I’m ok with that. In fact, I’d be quite proud to father the Antichrist. At least I would know she’d succeed in life.

So that’s the first picture we have of our cute little girl. I was hoping for more pictures – in my mind I had a whole book and video planned – but the ultrasound tech gave us only three snapshots; one other that looked similar to the above but less demonic, and another which showed her downstairs for gender verification. Aside from the scant amount of take-home pictures they gave us, watching the ultrasound first-hand was one of the most thrilling afternoons of my life.

Up until that day, we had, at most, only heard a rapid little heartbeat over a scratchy speaker. Watching the ultrasound in real life, seeing that other being inside my wife, slice by slice, was amazing. It’s one thing seeing it happen anonymously on youtube. It’s another thing seeing it first-hand, peering inside my partner, watching our own flesh and blood wriggle and twist around.

She seemed like she was enjoying herself in the womb. As the wand moved over different parts of the baby, we noticed that, as it settled on her upper body, you could see her little arms pumping back and forth as if she were running, or as I like to imagine it, as if she were hitting a punching bag. She sure was moving. As we zoomed to her face we saw her mouth open up in a yawn. Awesome.

That was all weeks ago. We just took our sweet time in announcing it to anyone. Pregnancies are a tricky and delicate thing. Jen has years of working in the NICU under her belt, so we’d love for all our anxiety to be for naught because if anyone knows what can go wrong in a premature birth, it’s her. So far, so good. She’s been amazingly fastidious, down to the minutest detail about what to do and what not to do during pregnancy. I don’t think I’d have the willpower to lead the kind of life she’s been living for the last six months. I sure hope our baby appreciates that someday.

With that, I wonder where this blog will go. I think I’ll enjoy writing about being a dad. I’m more excited about fatherhood than anything I’ve ever undertaken, apart from my life with my lovely wife, of course. This is going to be amazing and terrifying at the same time. I can’t wait. Er, wait – yea, I can wait. Let’s plan on early January.

A Muddled Ancestry

My mom recently burrowed into a cedar chest she obtained from my grandmother to find loads of random ephemera: Queries into our family tree, various letters, wills, coats of arms, and newspaper clippings.

Some of it confirmed stories vaguely hinted at some time ago, like the time one of our great great etc. grandfathers saved the life of Theodore Roosevelt from a rogue and crazy horse. It was during a parade in which the president was sitting idly in his carriage, when a runaway horse came bolting straight at him through the crowded street. Our hero valiantly jumped the line and grabbed the horse’s bridle, wrestling him to a stop and getting half trampled for his efforts. He received a bad-ass thanks from the president for saving his life.

It reads,

My dear Mr. Bird:

I am glad to know that you received no permanent injury in the performance of your gallant feat of stopping the runaway.

Trusting you will soon be entirely well, believe me,

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

One branch of our tree was traced back to 1569, when the Trotti family in Prussia and a member of the Teutonic Knights. They were on the losing side of some war [citation needed] and the tree ended up bouncing around Europe, hanging around Italy for a while, then settling in the American south.

That’s where things get a little less-then-admirable for me. In this set of documents, we came across several wills from ancestors who owned plantations and a number of slaves. Within the wills, they identify slaves, their “Negroes,” by name as they divvy them up between their children.

A clip from one of our slave-owning ancestor’s will

In this section, he divides up several people that he owns and gives them to his children. *shudder*

I just want to reach out through time and smack this son of a bitch and all the other asshole slave owners, being the internet tough guy that I am. He’s dealing out people in this letter like he’s dealing out cards in a game of poker. He names them each, as they fall in the document between cattle and pots and pans. James, Ross, Pleasant, Pollepas, Grace, Hannaca, Pryas, Rose, and Hiziah, I have no idea what happened to your branches, but I’d love to know.

And that’s only one confirmed will. We’ve got another questionable branch of ancestry which includes a hard copy of a will that divvies up more slaves than that. However, records on that side are virtually non-existent; the reason seems to be that this particular branch comes from a mixed black and white relationship, possibly slave and slave owner. In some ways, it’s a little reassuring that I, your average all-white cracker, could have the blood of former slaves running through my veins, and not just a bunch of douchebag plantation owners, but if I dwell on that topic too long, I realize that any such relationship probably wasn’t altogether consenting.

Bottom line is this: I’ve got some assholes in a few branches of my family tree. Perhaps they seem over-represented because they were rich enough to afford legal wills that were retained in the county courthouse. Maybe the lot of them weren’t that bad. One of the other things I found out was that my grandparents on that side eventually left the south largely because of the blatant racism and backwoods thinking. They seemed to have gone as far north as possible, to the extreme north of the Upper Peninsula, where they were both professors; my grandmother being the first woman to get tenured, playing a large part of breaking the glass ceiling.

All in all, it’s fascinating to find all these old documents and see what kind of blood is running through my veins. It’s not all pretty, but I’m glad we have these records.