Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm Ready For My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille

The scene: Sunday evening, the night before school starts. Sandi is making sure we’re ready for the mad rush that will be the kids’ first day of school. Backpacks packed, check. Clothes ironed, check. Lunchboxes cleaned, check. Pictures. We’re going to want to take pictures. Sandi checks the camera to make sure the battery is charged and that there’s enough room on the memory carOHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISTHAT? Is that a picture of Ethan’s penis? Why yes, yes it is. In fact, it’s about 200 pictures of Ethan’s penis with a few screen shots from “The Penguins of Madagascar” interspersed. Which is kinda creepy because the last thing I think of when watching that show is taking pictures of my penis. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of any show that makes me regard my penis at all. Picture of my dick, picture of the screen. Couple more pictures of my dick, picture of the screen. Aaaaaannnnnnnnnnddddddd scene!
Besides the obvious, a few things bother me about this. Like WHEN did he snap all these shots? Our house has a very open floor plan and there’s very little one can do that is not seen or heard by pretty much everybody else in the family. Plus, we rarely stay in one part of the house for very long. Surely we would have wandered by during the half hour or so this must have taken. At the very least you’d think we would have noticed the flash going off 200 times during the creation of this homage. Hell, we didn’t even notice the camera had been moved from its place on what we thought was an unreachable shelf in our home office since the last time we’d used it just a few days earlier. Yeah, this was no boating accident. This was sneakery.
And thank freakin’ god it wasn’t maliciously conceived. Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d used film that had to be developed by some pimple-faced kid at Photomat? I’d be typing this from prison is what. And from what I know of prison (Oz, The Longest Yard, etc.), they do NOT take kindly to people who take pictures of kids’ weewees.
So technology and/or the fact that Ethan didn’t think to place an anonymous call to Child Services have kept me a free man, but the big question looms: How do we approach this with Ethan? We haven’t said anything yet, mostly because … well, it’s really awkward but also because I can totally see this being a defining moment and a misstep here could have long-lasting repercussions. Like maybe his parents confronting him about snapping his giblets on the family Polaroid is what made Mappelthorpe go all batshit crazy and start cramming bullwhips up his models’ butts for posterity’s sake. No, so far we’ve just erased all the pictures from the memory card, even the ones of King Julian in case there were any telltale reflections in the TV screen. Thanks, CSI, for that little tidbit I learned the one time I actually watched you.
No, I’m thinking that the thing to do is to hang back and see if this happens again. And hide the video camera.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
" -- Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hear Ye, Hear Ye.

Ethan will hear.
Ethan. Will. Hear.
Dr. Brad called last night. The updated CT scan I sent revealed that the facial nerve is protected 360 degrees by bone, all but eliminating the risk of facial paralysis and qualifying Ethan for atresia repair surgery. Further, while (any) imaging is insufficient to show exactly what's going on with Ethan's middle ear bones, Dr. Brad insisted that if he could not make the natural bones do what they need to do, he would use prosthetics which should provide a similar result. According to Dr. Brad, a synthetic solution would net an estimated 35 dB threshold (natural bone yields about 25 dB, unimpeded hearing ranges from 0 - 25). Plus he cited a recent study done by someone somewhere in Asia that shows no long-term differences between the two methods, so it's all good. Then he said a lot more stuff, but I confess I didn't comprehend or don't remember most of it. I kinda stopped listening. My son will hear. The details seem like nutritional information on a cake box. Blahblahblah grams of sugars, blahblahblah carbs, blahblahblah FUCK THIS, LET'S EAT SOME CAKE! If I were en route to the gallows and the governor called to say it had all been a big mistake and I was free to go and by the way I hit PowerBall, I would not have been happier than I was to talk to Dr. Brad. 'Nuf said.

We're moving forward. What an amazing place to be.
Since I've been old enough to take vacations, I've marveled at the two distinct kinds of excitement involved: Being there and getting there. Being there was hit or miss, depending on how my experience reconciled with my expectations. But getting there -- which I understood to include every minute from genesis of the idea to the actual moment of arrival -- that never disappointed. Getting there was always perfect, as is this time. In this time we are perfect in our optimism. We have no beef with any insurance company. We aren't wishing the results of surgery had been better. We don't know of any scarring that may require follow up surgeries. We don't know the potential for infection. We don't know anything, save that Ethan will hear. All ye know on earth and all ye need to know.
And Ethan knows it too. Last night he and I took advantage of some rare alone time and talked. "Eth, what would you think if I told you I know a doctor who can fix your ear. Would you like that?"
"Good, because daddy just talked to one of the best doctors in the whole world and he would LOVE to fix it so you can hear with your small ear."
"Can the doctor give me a new ear?"
"Well, this doctor can make it so you can hear. But daddy knows another doctor who can give you a new ear and I promise we'll go see that doctor next. So after you see these two doctors you'll be pretty much like every other kid. Would you like that?"
So quiet. I confess I was a little disappointed by his lack of enthusiasm. My mind went to that parent place: he may not understand this now, but he'll thank me for it later. I was just about to get up and get Thomas out of the shower when Ethan jumped up and grabbed me around the neck. He squeezed me so tight I heard cracking.
"I love you, daddy."
"I love you, too, baby."
"Because I don't like kids saying about my ear."
"I know, baby. We'll make it better. Daddy promises."

Funny, a few weeks ago when I thought Ethan was inoperable and I was waiting for the final word, I wondered what I'd write about it or if I'd even continue this blog. I had a rough opening paragraph outlined, considered a few observations I could include ... hell, I even went so far as to pick the closing quote. It would have been Robert Hunter's lyrics from one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, Box of Rain: "Walk into splintered sunlight. Inch your way through dead dreams to another land." I attended a conference in San Francisco a few weeks after 9/11 where we were invited to write messages to the survivors and victims' families on giant postcards. Those were the words I chose to write. That's how much they mean to me, how strongly I believe them. And this is how euphoric I am that (for now) they remain irrelevant to Ethan's situation. This is how it feels to be moving forward.

"The most profound joy has more of gravity than of gaiety in it." -- Michel de Montaigne

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Big Ones Eat the Little Ones.

Thomas and Ethan love the aquarium. LOVE it. As in, we'll pick up all our toys and speak at reasonable volumes for the rest of our lives if you'll only take us to the aquarium. Oh, those wacky, exceptionally bright kids and their insatiable thirst for knowledge. No, really. It's true. Stop looking at me that way. They're smart, I tell ya. Way above average. OK, so they want to see Nemo and SpongeBob. Still. They're sufficiently engaged that we thought it made sense to get a membership there, which literally pays for itself after 2 visits. Surely it rains more than two Saturdays a year, so the whole thing makes perfect sense, see? Saw.
So. Ever been to an aquarium? Fun. Educational. Not too much walking. Crazy expensive cafeteria with crappy food. Lots of kids all the time, but especially on weekends. Seriously, if scientists could harness the power of white noise, the aquarium on a Saturday could power a small city. And if you're the least bit not an a-hole, nothing about this environment should surprise you. But, as the old saying goes, what has 2 thumbs and attracts a-holes? This guy right here.
It was a rainy Saturday. Dark. Tired. Kids? Meh, not so much with the tired. Actually kinda pumped. Too pumped. Run around and break shit-pumped. Get them out of the house. Off to the aquarium. Thick glass there -- unbreakable. Insured. Every other parent in the tri-state area? Same damn idea. Woodstock parking seemed Disney-organized by contrast. Stay away from the brown fruit snacks. Once safely inside, we rely on our patented system of parent/Navy Seal hand signals to navigate the terrain (eg., fingers pointing toward eyes, followed by pointing at one child followed by fingers walking means 'you follow that one and keep him in sight, he looks like he's going over the wall any second.'). We make it to the hippo tank. Magic time.
For those who have never been to the aquarium in beautiful, not-at-all-worthy-of-its-murder-capital-reputation Camden, NJ, here's the bullet on the hippo tank: It's magnificent. About 200 feet long by 100 feet wide, the viewer is separated from the exhibit by a thick, continuous sheet of plexiglass on 3 sides. There's also a wooden deck perch if you're not into the whole "up-close" thing. The grade of the floor follows the grade of the exhibit as it slopes from above water down to a roughly 8-foot-deep swimming section. And yeah, the water's more than a little skanky from all the hippo poop, but ya know, that's when you're most grateful for opposable thumbs, higher brain function and the invention of plexi-glass. And the underwater end is where the vast majority of visitors, including Thomas and Ethan, prefer to view the hippos.
On this particular Saturday viewing space was at a premium and we found ourselves waiting for a coveted spot along the glass. And when after a few minutes a small family finally moved on from right in front of us, Ethan (my child to watch as I gathered from Sandi's hand gestures *points at me, makes hand goggles, covers right ear*) and I had among the best viewing areas in the house.
Now, maybe it was the crowds or the weather or some freaky hipponip diet they were on, but these were the MOST animated hippos I've ever seen. And internet, I've seen me some hippos. There were dives, twirls, splashes, games of tag ... it was like hippo X Games. Grown men were audibly gasping in excitement. Masculine men. Manly. Men secure in their masculinity who defy anyone to question their sexual orientation. OK, I squealed like a little girl, but in all fairness it was pretty freakin' cool. The hippos appeared out of nowhere, sped past us and disappeared back into the poopy water, like some weird aquatic adaptation of Star Trek or something. Poop water. The final frontier. At this, the watery end of the exhibit, there's a carpeted 10-inch deep concrete curb into which the plexiglass is seated. Ethan, like every other kid there who wants to get as close as possible to the action, is up on this curb, face pressed so hard against the glass that he can no doubt smell the poop water through it. Another swim-by and Ethan now decides he's going to follow the hippo, so he runs along the curb. Right in front of him.
He is: Late 20-/early 30-something. Uptight. Neatly dressed in bad clothes. Too well rested to be a parent. Younger, born-again looking wife/girlfriend in traditionally subservient approximation, equally as fashion-challenged. High-and-tight haircut, but not military -- Military wannabe. A walking bumper sticker of opinions with which I do not agree: Bush Cheney '04. I can have his handgun when I pry it from his dead, cold fingers. Calvin pissing on the Dallas Cowboys. The strap on the shoulder of his Members Only jacket is undoubtedly there to keep the chip in place. I know this guy. This guy was in every cheap corner bar I ever played music in. He'd always stumble his drunk ass up to the stage and tell me to play some Skynyrd, but I'd probably fuck it up on account I was such a pussy so nevermind. Later, through the stage lights mid-set, I'd see him angrily shake off his woman as she tried to get his truck keys from him. She never got them and I always half expected to see flashing lights from their accident scene later after I loaded out. Maybe they lived in the other direction.
He looks down at Ethan who has just wandered in front of him without obstructing his view or touching him or inconveniencing him in any way. He looks at me. He looks back at Ethan who is now scurrying back to his original position, waiting for the next hippo's pass. I more than sense his annoyance; I taste it. I get Ethan's attention and tell him loudly enough so Captain McColonstick over here can hear me that we do not cut in front of people. We say excuse me and we ask to get by. Ethan nods at me, regards Captain McColonstick and says, "Sorry." Adorable. Don't you just wanna eat him up?
So Captain McColonstick turns away, in the general direction of the future Mrs. McColonstick, but he's not really addressing her, he's addressing me in that weird Colonel Flagg way, and says, "There you go." There you go. As if he'd been waiting for me to wake up and start parenting. As if my level of engagement had finally risen to an acceptable measure in his eyes.
Now, internet, I'm no badass by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a lover, not a fighter, and aside from my participation in organized sports and once getting carried away while play-reenacting a pistol whip scene from Gunsmoke (poor Mark Mirage. I thought he was going to need stitches), I've never injured another human being in my life. No, I'm no badass. But what I am is 6'5", 275 lbs. of relatively athletic, incidentally imposing hairy guy. A friend once said I had the "soul of a poet, body of a linebacker." Right before I kicked her ass. Kidding.
Anyway, no fighter. Lover. Lover of everything. Except, apparently, childless jerkoffs who see fit to weigh in on matters of parenting. My response was something like, "Really? 'There you go?' Did you really just say that, you Bill Cosby parent-of-the-year mother fucker?"
I know. I swear I'm a pacifist. And lest ye think it was all cool and "No Country For Old Men" delivery, I am duty bound to disclose that by "Bill Cosby" my voice was pre-pubescence-Donny-Osmond high and wobbly. But apparently, threatening enough or psychotic appearing enough to force Captain McColonstick to reevaluate his thoughts of parental omniscience. He and she moved on. Hurriedly. I stared his wine colored Members Only jacket down until it rounded the corner. We did not encounter them for the rest of the day, and if he did hear what I said, Ethan never repeated it.
In the van in the parking lot about to drive home, I'm playing the entire scene over in my head -- varying the playback each time. A little less falsetto here, a different phrase there. Creative people do that: see movies in our heads. If you know a creative person and you're in a car with them while they're driving on the highway and they slow down suddenly and for no reason? They're watching a movie in their heads where they're dying in a horrible crash. It's a blessing and a curse. So I'm sitting there just thinking it through, itemizing the reasons for which I blew up: he was out of line; he was showing off at my expense, etc. But the real reason is that he had no practical perspective from which to render an opinion. His idea of parenting is what he saw on TV or in movies or -- gasp -- witnessed his own parents perpetrating. Me? I've been in the trenches, man. Delivery room, sleepless nights, colds, fevers, rashes, feedings, diaper changes, daycare registrations, school shopping, specialist consultations, hearing tests, CT scans, tonsilectomy, adenoidectomy, moral support, hugs for skinned knees, playing on swingsets, swimming pools, vacations, bathing, staying with him until he fell asleep. This is one heady ride, yo. More work than I ever thought I'd do in a lifetime. And I think I'm pretty good at it. But even if I'm not, the last person in the world who's going to judge me is someone who at best read a book on how it's supposed to go.
So maybe my response was a little disproportionate to the offense. I don't think so. If anything, I think he got off easy. Sandi apparently agrees as she flashed me the index finger passing through hole in fist of opposite hand, followed by sad face with fisted hands twisting in eye sockets: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

"It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes." -- Tessio

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That Which Doesn't Make You Stronger.

So there's this popular myth that Eskimos have some ungodly number of words for snow. On account of they see so much of it that renaming it over and over again distracts them from the fact that they live in hell, I guess. (Similarly, is it any wonder why our language has so many synonyms for idiot?) I guess I understand what would make such a bullshit story so believable in the first place. I mean, new words are created all the time, necessitated either by societal/technological changes ("Blog." Gezundheit.), or boredom ("fo rizzle"), or both ("incentivize"). But Internet, I have found an area sorely lacking in adequate language and I've come to ask your help. That area: Emotional discomfort. Specifically, parental emotional discomfort. Specifically-er, the discomfort precipitated by hearing the following: "A new report from (insert authoritative sounding organization) suggests that (insert item used/consumed by your child regularly) may cause (insert terminal disease/horrible disfigurement)."
The latest blank-filling demon? Hot dogs. I mean, it's not like anyone ever believed they were chock full of vitamins or anything ("a hot dog a day" ... not exactly the kind of slogan you want emblazoned on your sister's t-shirt). But now apparently hot dogs are gaining on cigarettes in the race for the title "that which can kill one most expeditiously."
Hot dogs. Do you have any idea how many hot dogs I've eaten? How many I've fed to our children? The 3 times I've ever seen Rachael Ray? She was demonstrating different ways to cook hot dogs. Possibly the only recipes I've ever written down from a TV show. And don't think I'm not totally suing that bitch if I end up with cancer. And the Pringles people, too. Turns out they may not legally be able to call their product "potato chips" anymore because they don't have any potatos in them. What. Thefuck. At least they don't kill you. YET! (Oh, and by the way, guess what's one of Ethan's favorite meals. Right, hot dogs baked in Pillsbury crescent rolls -- thanks for the recipe, Rachael, you bitch -- served with cheddar cheese flavored Pringles. Hello? Parent of the Year committee? Why, I've been waiting for your call.)
And red meat. I watched a video on about the environmental and health impacts of the largesse of the beef industry and in the 6 months since have maybe had beef twice. And I grew up eating beef. Or at least wanting to eat beef -- being told that beef was the ultimate goal, the culinary Valhalla of eaters everywhere, even though with 7 kids our family could rarely afford it.
Food. It used to be so uncomplicated. You kill it, you eat it, you poop it out. Boom. End of game. Now it's like Russian Roulette each time you put something in your mouth. Vegetables? Make sure they're not contaminated with e coli. Fruits? Citrus canker. Grains? Diabetes risk. Seriously, Nutrisystem doesn't even have to espouse weight loss to get me to consider them. Just assure me that no pre-packaged goodness you would ship will kill my family.
Another area where I need new words? Describing that dread you feel when you're with someone when the aforementioned kind of message comes on TV and you're too tired and/or jaded to want to take it seriously but you just know that the other person is gonna want to talk about how you need to totally change your lives because you were killing your kids all along but didn't even know it. Now, I love Sandi (hi, baby). One of the most amazing women I've ever met (love you, baby). But she often forgets that there existed a time before we were aware of such perils and why the hell was I poisoning our kids for all those years (don't kill me in my sleep, baby). Example: Sandi, who will freely admit to being obsessed with health news updates, one day read that the minimum amount of time one should spend brushing one's children's teeth is 2 minutes. That night -- that fateful, very uncomfortable night -- I happened to be brushing Ethan's teeth and doing what I considered to be a fairly thorough job. HA, Fool! No shit, she bursts through the bathroom door, grabs the toothbrush out of my hand and shoots me the kind of look usually reserved for too drunk boyfriends who talk about their sex lives at otherwise sober get togethers with parents. "You. Can't. Just. Brush nyahnyahnyah, here and there. You HAVE TO brush for at LEAST 2 minutes or you might as well not brush at all. TWO MINUTES!! I JUST READ that today!!" "Ass." OK, she didn't say "ass," but she may as well have. Veins are writhing beneath her skin. She is angry. I think for a second about pointing out the fact that she just learned this today, that as recently as yesterday she was condemning our children to a life of toothlessness. I choke back and hold my tongue.
So now every time the news is on and some over coiffed asshat declares that everyone will die from something new, I cringe. And I have no idea what to call that cringing. "Inappropologoriasis?" I suck at that, although I'm pretty sure I could be among the world's greatest roller coaster namers. Check this out: The Infernoclops. I know, right?

"I like food. I like eating." -- Sarah Michelle Geller

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Who's Your Daddy?

When Sandi and I first learned we were pregnant with Thomas I started keeping a journal -- essentially a collection of letters to Thomas to let him know what life was like in those days. I thought it was a good idea. And besides, with a nearly hour-long train commute each way every day and about 18 gallons of adrenaline pumping through my body at any given time, it wasn't so much "creative outlet" as it was "insanity spiral cessation." Then Thomas actually got here and the frequency of my entries slowed a bit as I began to view the commute as an opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep. Seriously? Freakin' kid cried more than a pack of girl scouts on fire. "Colic" wasn't nearly a harsh enough word to describe it. It was more like "Colsuck" or "Colshootmeintheface."
A few months after Thomas' birth we learned we were pregnant with Ethan.
(carry the one ... divide by ... OK, they're 1 day shy of being 13 months apart. My boys can swim.) I bought another journal. But by the time Ethan arrived I was so physically and mentally spent that I barely wrote in it at all. The last entry in either journal was dated 6/8/04. I can't make out what it says. Yeah, it was that bad.
For the sake of contrast, I am the youngest of 7 children (as a matter of fact, my parents
were Irish Catholic. How'd you guess?). My parents weren't exactly journal writers ... or huggers ... or talkers ... or acknowledgers ... or non-drinkers -- not even for their FIRST few kids let alone their seventh. In fact, I know of only 4 photos of me as a child that were not head shots taken for inclusion in a yearbook. And yes, each of those 4 photos makes me look fat.
And it's probably because of their
laizze faire approach to parenting that I developed certain personality traits, like my abhorrence of ineffectual authority figures and my disdain for socks. And maybe I'm trying to avoid revisiting the sins of the (drunken, apathetic, Irish) father (and mother) by trying to pick up here where I left off in June of 2004. Intense self-awareness was never my strong suit.
Whatever the reason, I'm here and anxious to record as much about this time and these events as possible. So, internet, considering these deeply-rooted-in-my-frail-psyche motivations -- as well as the newly realized albeit unanticipated slowness of the unfolding of the story of Ethan's ear -- I beg your indulgence if I occasionally step out of bounds and report on non-ear stuff. Besides, if Thomas ever found out that Ethan was the star of his own blog, despite the fact that Thomas' journal entries numbered in the hundreds while Ethan's had only about 6, ... well, let's just say there'd be an ad in the local paper that read: "New Daddy Auditions. No Experience Necessary."
And so begins the process of painting the bigger picture. Thanks for your indulgence.

"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." -- George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Gang Aft Agley

Confession time. The last word we received from Dr. Brad where he suggested that Ethan's ear canal couldn't/shouldn't be repaired was pretty damn deflating. As the parent of a child with a birth defect, you try to take shit in stride and keep a brave face. You're SUPPOSED to be that parent, that Zen Master. The world expects it of you because it's much easier for them to tell you how well you're handling it all than it is for them to tolerate your tantrums -- even though they defend your right to throw one.
And believe me, we're fully aware of how small Ethan's problems are when compared to those of others. We volunteer regularly at our local Ronald McDonald House and witness firsthand just how unfair life can be. It never ceases to amaze me just how much damage kids can endure without complaining and I commend their bravery even though I defend their right to throw tantrums. So we know. We get it. We're much luckier than some, much less lucky than others.
That being said and as selfish as we may appear, we were more than mildly flattened by Dr. Brad's evaluation, not that we blamed him in any way. It wasn't an immediate, forceful flattening so much as a slow leak -- hope gradually escaping. The story of how Ethan's ear canal could never be restored had been written, folded and placed in the envelope and all that was missing was the stamp.
Then last Friday I got an e-mail from Ronnie Bean with a letter from Dr. Brad attached (me to myself: 'Here comes the stamp, kids'). I was on the phone with Sandi when the e-mail came through and I read Dr. Brad's letter aloud to her. 'Dear Mr. Kiggins, Thank you for sending me Ethan's updated CT scan' ... 'Malleus and incus fused' ... 'Stapes rudimentary' ... 'long arm of incus possibly attached to stapes' ... 'graded Ethan a 6 out of 10' ...

"I certainly think we could open the ear canal, and if we were not able to get a good hearing result, Ethan could wear a conventional hearing aid in his new ear canal if he chooses."

Did he just say he thinks he can operate? Sandi and I co-babbled a rough, limbic response complete with our own color commentary: "I thought ... facial nerve risk ... couldn't operate ... am I understanding this right?" Imagine a lot of pauses and grunts and you get the idea. I re-read it to her, then forwarded her a copy and we read it together just to make sure we weren't getting it wrong.
And just like that the entire landscape changed. We went from no hope and reevaluating every plan we'd made to a really positive worst-case scenario. And I felt the shell I'd built around my vulnerability crack and fall away, as though it were permissible to actually feel something again and not just operate out of a sense of duty. I actually had to leave the office because I was crying and needed an excuse to put on sunglasses and be away from people. I headed to my truck and sat there for (I guess about) 15 minutes, windows up in 95+ degree heat because I was too stunned to start the engine. I was only shaken to reality by sweat stinging my eyes. I drove home.

I reached out to Ronnie Bean to thank him for the note and to ask when would be a good time to speak with Dr. Brad. He told me that Dr. Brad was leaving on vacation and would be back Tuesday (yesterday). No call last night, but I'm not disappointed. In fact, for the past few days I've been amazed at just how much lighter everything feels. Giddy even. And even if it turns out that we read Dr. Brad's letter entirely wrong and there's no hope for Ethan's hearing, I'm thankful for the peace the past few days have brought.
So I apologize for how unfunny this post was. Next time, I promise. Maybe a vlog of Ethan doing interpretive dance. He's really quite good.

"Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie, O, what panic's in thy breastie!"
-- Robert Burns