Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Which Many Things Were Resolved

On the morning of August 2, I stood on the beach in Santa Monica and thought about the whole of our family's journey. As I sought to steady my soul against the realization that Ethan was at that very moment anesthetized and probably cut open, I became acutely aware of my surroundings: The cool of the fog and how it didn't seem right that it had no odor. The silence of the surfers, patiently making the most of the rising tide. The abandoned remains of what appeared to be yesterday's ambitious sand castle project. The joggers, tai chi dancers, beach combers -- all busying themselves, seemingly oblivious to anything other than occupying that particular space at that particular time. As I tried to appreciate my role in this landscape, I had a kind of The Matrix moment.
I had thought it might be a cool idea to write the words "Ethan's Ear" in the sand, then take a picture of it with my phone and use that image to accompany my last post to this blog -- kind of like a postcard from the end of the road thing. You know, the Santa Monica Pier is the end of Route 66, end of our story. It seemed conveniently tandem, if not dead-bang synergistic.
As I started to make the "r" in "Ear" a big ass wave came and erased "Ethan" as well as the top half of "Ea." And just like that, I saw life in all its gloriously fractal, metaphoric beauty. I knew in that split second that this entire story will one day be forgotten -- or, more accurately, rendered meaningless. Life itself is temporal, ergo stories about life must be exponentially more so.
I understood that the wave that had just erased my words began from farther out than I could see, and that that final, tiny punctuation mark of expression at the end of its long journey was the only announcement that the wave had been there at all. Only as it neared the land would it show itself in a form where the surfers could ride its break; where it could lick ever so slightly farther up on the shore than its predecessor to smooth the disruption in the sand I had caused. And how much like that wave was my story? How far back had it begun and how long had it been building until it became anything of consequence? And how many other stories, like other waves, rise and fall without a witness? It became a privilege. Life, no matter its quality, is a privilege.


I know how lucky we are. While it has to some degree defined our lives for the past 6 years, Ethan's birth defect is a pretty minor thing. So he was born without an ear. So what? It's not like he couldn't hear at all or function in society. It's not like he needed machines to keep him alive or had been sentenced to some long, slow, agonizing decline toward a painful, early death. No, he was pretty normal. Happy even. And if he was picked on or singled out because of his ear, is that really much worse than a kid who's overweight? Has freckles? Suffers from a speech impediment?
I know how lucky we are not only because Ethan's birth defect was a relatively small ordeal, but because among families who face identical circumstances, we netted better results than most. Ethan now hears and has an ear. The percentage of parents who go through what we've gone through and can say the same is pretty fucking small.
I know how lucky we are not only because we ended up counted in the "lucky few" column for our results, but because Ethan is so much more than the sum of his parts, and I believe he understands this to a greater degree than I'm willing to believe a 6-year-old could.
I know how lucky we are because for every single second of the past seven and a half years of my life I have envisioned the absolute worst scenarios and have had to consider all possible preventions and/or solutions that might be needed for every situation ever. Not because our son was born with a birth defect, but because we have children at all. We are parents. We do this. It's part of the job description and one happy byproduct of this is that we all understand and help each other whenever we can. Because we all know that on a good day it's not easy. In fact, it's the hardest fucking thing most of us will ever do.


To those parents who tried what we tried and didn't get the results you'd hoped for, I'm sorry. Up to the very point in time when you knew, our paths were identical. And for my mind's version of what could have been, I appreciate what your lives are like.
To those parents who didn't have the means to try what we tried, I'm sorry. We are not rich -- not by a long shot, and much less so after this all. Still, among the financial rats nest that is our life, we are lucky to have great health insurance. And I vow to you that if I ever hit PowerBall, I will pay for each and every one of your kids to get the same amazing treatment that Ethan received. Right after I buy my BMW 6-Series convertible, that is.
To those parents whose children's diagnoses were not as severe as Ethan's, you are heroes to your children. Allow yourselves the luxury of reveling in the title because you fully deserve it.
To those parents whose children's diagnoses were more severe than Ethan's, you are heroes to your children. Allow yourselves the luxury of reveling in the title because you fully deserve it.
To those parents whose children were born without incident, your coming along for this ride has been such a stabilizing force. I can't thank you enough for your support.
To those who don't have kids but followed along anyway, fuck you. Kidding. I am awed and humbled that you found these meager expressions worthy of your time.
Thank you for all who have shared with me in comments, in private e-mails, on the phone, in person. I count myself lucky for knowing you and I'm truly grateful for everything. EVERYthing.


So, save for the odd random update, the story of Ethan's ear is over. I thought about it long and hard and I don't believe it would be right to continue contributing to this blog outside of those random updates. I already feel like I've detracted from the thrust of it with my insatiable desire to be thought witty.
I started this blog with the intent of telling Ethan's story and along the way I've fallen in love with writing. So I've decided to start another blog soon -- maybe something with a mild "daddy" focus and lots of cuss words. As if the two could be separated. I have a lot of details to hammer out, but if you're interested in knowing where and when it will be, please reach out to me at and I'll send you the URL when I have it figured out. I promise to use paragraph returns this time and immerse myself more thoroughly in the blogger milieu.
A lot of folks have suggested I write a book about this whole experience. I may or may not do that, but I do plan on gathering these posts together and having a book made from them. If, for any sick reason, you believe you'd like a copy, e-mail me at and we'll work something out. I don't plan on marking up the cost of producing them, but will happily have Ethan autograph copies for you. Plus I'm pretty sure I can get him to come to your house and do a few errands.

Lastly, as pertains to this blog, Ethan's Ear, I do have one more thing to say -- one more entry that's well past due. I'm going to get to work on it now and I'll post it when it's done. I hope you like it, but it's really not for you. If this is where you get off, thank you for riding. Much, much love,

“Oh soul, you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less, why do you worry?
You are in truth the soul, of the soul, of the soul.” -- Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roll Another Number For The Road

3. The number of times someone in my family has peed the bed during our trip so far.
0. The number of times I have peed the bed during our trip so far.
1. The number of times someone has vomited in our rental car -- in this case within 50 feet of the entrance to the Freeway on which we were to spend roughly 35 miles.
9,717. The number of times I've fought back the urge to yell something like, "Hey, Dumbass family, do you NEED to have your family fucking reunion in the middle of the fucking road?" to people walking around in Disneyland.
9,718. The number of times the opportunity to utter those words has presented itself.
-1. Number of Dumbass Families who love me now compared to when we got here. Oh well.
3. The number of hotels we've stayed at since we've been in California.
0 for 3. Our travel agent's success record in finding us hotels with all three meager "must have" amenities we requested (pool, internet, gym).
0. Number of times I will ever use that travel agent again.
7. Estimated number of pounds I've gained back so far as a result of not being able to get my heart rate up regularly because shitty travel agent managed to find the only hotels in California without fitness facilities.
29. The number of over-priced meals I've eaten. Insult to injury.
0. The number of times I've had good sushi in California. Seriously.
15. The number of times I've felt dread about not being able to work out.
694. The number of times I've felt dread about having to go back to work -- especially since with the three-hour time difference, when we get home I'll have about an hour to sleep before I have to wake up to get ready for work.
3. The number of quality hours I've spent sleeping.
59. The number of times I've missed my bed at home.
59. The number of times on average per night one of the kids kicks me hard enough to wake me up.
59. The number of times on average per night I've returned to sleep and dreamed about being childless.
2. The number of cocktails Sandi and I have managed to enjoy between us on this trip -- me, a glass of wine with dinner, Sandi some über gay-looking rum punch thing at Rainforest Cafe.
3. The number of times that, because of my extremely limited exposure to televised news, I've actually seen anything about what's going on in the world.
58. The number of times that, despite my extremely limited exposure to televised news, I've heard about the flight attendant who quit Jet Blue.
2. The number of cups of decent coffee I've had on this trip.
45. The number of times since his surgery I've been certain that Ethan jostled his head sufficiently to knock his new ear off.
0. The number of times since his surgery Ethan actually jostled his head sufficiently to knock his new ear off, or even hinder his healing at all. He is "pink and wonderful," as Dr. Lewin says ... and, she assures me that's a really good way to be even though it sounds kinda odd.
7. The number of meltdowns the collective "we" has had so far.
37. The number of giftshops we've "browsed" during this trip to appease or stave off meltdowns.
93.7%. The percentage of people in Disneyland who need better mirrors in the stores where they buy their clothes.
19,056. The number of times I've been close-to-tears-happy that this ride is almost over.
0. The number of regrets about any of it. Because ...
8. The number of ears we're coming home with.


For those of us keeping score, so far we've gone to: Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park, Sunset Strip, Hollywood Blvd., LaBrea Tar Pits, Pace Museum, Beverly Center, the movies to see Despicable Me (really good), Sea World, Legoland, Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica Pier, San Diego Zoo, California State Aquarium, Disneyland, Downtown Disney, Disney's California Adventure, the pool, the hot tub. We still have three days left.

Help me.

"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do." -- Three Dog Night

Thursday, August 5, 2010

She's A Beauty

The tubes-a, they're-a gone-a. From what we'd heard, this was to be the one part of the process that might really hurt. He might cry, flail, squirm, kick me in the nads and yell "why did you do this to me?"-- just like his mom did on the way to delivery.
Know what? He didn't even flinch. It was like taking off a sock. And we felt like asses for being so nervous about the whole thing.
So that's the good news. The bad news is that little man had been getting a bit ... aromatic, especially around the headular area. No worries, we visited Dr. Lewin's office this afternoon and got the sponge removed from behind his left ear (skin graft area number 2). We also got the dressings changed and he got his hair washed for the first time since surgery day. Seriously, his hair is usually really silky and fine. Even when he's been sweating he smells wonderful. But apparently they put some kind of goop into his hair during surgery and between that and the skull cap, his hair looked like the fur of a long-lost runaway Irish Setter. Matted and about 3 shades darker than normal. Like you wouldn't be surprised to find popsicle sticks in there if you dared poke around.
Anyway, while Dr. Lewin had him there, exposed for the warshin' an all, we got to view the new ear up close and personal-like for the first time. Holy fucking shit. It's truly magnificent. Yeah, we all know I'm a big fat woman, so my reaction should come as no surprise. But the biggest lift of the whole trip came when Eth saw his own new ear in the mirror for the first time. The photo above is a kind of after shock of that first smile, which grew slowly but steadily, kinda like the Grinch's. This photo is within moments of the first time we all looked at Ethan head on and, for the first time ever, saw two ears smiling back at us.
His left ear is still a bit swollen, since Dr. Lewin needed to take skin from behind it to complete the skin graft. Plus, his cheek just before his new ear is swollen, so the symmetry isn't where it ultimately will be, but fuck sake, LOOK AT THAT! I don't care who you are, that's god damn amazing right there.
Know what? That makes me realize that I should probably talk a bit about Dr. Lewin here. Again, I don't think I watch much TV at all, but apparently what I do watch is all wrong. Because if you described a person as "one of the world's prominent plastic surgeons, practicing in Beverly Hills ..." the last image that would come to mind is Dr. Lewin. She is a wonderfully real person. Or, as Sandi would describe her, a mother. You know what she's like? She's like if you had this really good friend who did nothing but listen to you talk about your own problems and was always amazingly supportive and helped you at every turn, so you always knew they were nice. But then one day they showed up on Jeopardy! and won a bazillion dollars and you learned that they were, like, WICKED smart, too. And the more you got to know them, the more you realized that there's not only this tremendous depth there, but also a peace/confidence that keeps them from rubbing their superiority in your feeble face. Ethan adores her. Probably because she tells him how beautiful his blue eyes are. He's such a pushover.

By the way, I apologize if these recent posts lack the usual panache. We are, the four of us, living in a tiny, crappy hotel room together and I have not been able to hear a single thought of my own for a solid week now. It's like having a flock of wild parrots duct taped to your head. Tomorrow we are leaving for a few days in San Diego where, supposedly, our hotel room is right on the beach. I don't expect the audibility of my own thoughts to increase, but I can certainly imagine the surf drowning out some of the background noise. Oh, that I could detach my own ears some days.

"It's called Sex Panther by Odeon. It's illegal in nine countries... Yep, it's made with bits of real panther, so you know it's good." -- Brian Fantana

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Holy crap.

Dr. Lewin e-mailed me some photos she took during yesterday's procedure. I don't care how faggy it makes me sound, I cried like a little girl when I saw them. All this time, all this energy, and I never ever dared imagine how beautiful his ear would be. This is so much better than even my wildest dreams.
We had a low-key day site-seeing and checking out the tar pits today. His appetite is coming back. He is finding his level, but he's still moving pretty slowly. Playing DS right now. He looks like Curtis Sliwa with the red skull cap -- slightly fattened over his right ear because of the protective cup, which makes it look more like a red beret. Drainage pouches pinned to the back of his shirt look like poly angel's wings.
Tomorrow at 11 Ethan will have his drainage tubes removed.
Though I doubt anything could make him look less like an angel.

"Sure enough this morning came unto me silver wings silhouetted against the child's sunrise." -- Jimi Hendrix

Ears. Plural.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ear I Stand, Ed in Hand ...

Word from the front lines: It's almost 4:00 p.m. California time and Sandi just called. The ear is on, the skin for the graft has all be harvested and the whole schmegeggi is now being shaped. No idea how long before he's in recovery.
Picked up his antibiotics -- chilling in the fridge. Picked up his Tylenol with codeine. Considering taking a massive hit off it.
Just killing time.
So let me just point out a few things that have occurred to me. First, this whole "laid back California" thing? Total horseshit. These mother fuckers are STRESSED, yo! They drive like whatever the farthest thing in the world from laid back drives like. They're rude and they're ridiculous. We had lunch today at the Beverly Center, a gigundous mall across from Cedars-Sinai (which is the most beautiful hospital I've ever seen!). Anyway, the mall is crawling with people trying so, so desperately to be beautiful but just come off as ridiculous. Seriously, yo, take the money you spent on those pants and invest in a time machine so you can introduce your mom to someone not as ugly as your dad apparently was. Or better yet, just deal with it. You are the aesthetic equivalent of a ditch digger which, according to Judge Smails, the world needs too.
Which is not to say there are no beautiful people here. There are. But that's just it: Everybody's beautiful here. Except the people who are trying too hard.
Whatever. Thomas and I can't just sit here. We're going to GameStop to "stock up on supplies."
Longest. Day. Ever.

This Morning

Surgery day. Alarm clock, alarm on cell phone, wake-up call all set, all sounded. Didn't want to risk sleeping through it. First one up? Ethan. Dancing. Singing. Smiling. Me trying to imagine how I might conjure this morning energy during the school year.
Off to the surgery center. We check in. "Sorry, no children under 12 allowed IN THE BUILDING" she says, looking at Thomas, who's big, but no way can pass for 12. Me: "IN THE BUILDING?" Her: "IN THE BUILDING, MOTHER FUCKER." We both drew knives. People in the waiting area began to snap their fingers in unison, tip-toeing like dancing cats all around us, waiting for a fight. Long story short, we celebrated our differences and parted the closest of friends. She's moving in with us next week.
I was already emotionally prepared to leave Ethan and Sandi at the building, but I hadn't expected to be kicked out before I even got in. So a quick but intense hug for Ethan, who thank god hugged me back. A quick "I love you. I'm so proud of you." and we were gone. Driving back to the hotel in the dark. Down Rodeo Drive.
Looking for a way to push back the tears I tried to explain to Thomas the cultural significance of Rodeo Drive and how it's considered Mecca to those who shop. His words: "This is stupid. The mannequins all look the same. They're stupid. I don't like this place." That's my boy.

Back at the hotel, enjoying our free breakfast (Thomas had 4 biscuits and a waffle - carb loader), Sandi calls to let us know that they wheeled Ethan back. She says he was making jokes and laughing, still really excited -- much more so than with the atresia surgery. I can understand why, too. I mean he can't really appreciate his hearing the way Sandi and I can, but he knows that kids have treated him differently because of the way his ear looks. As recently as a week ago in summer camp, he was upset because kids wouldn't play with him because of his ear. My immediate reaction when he tells me such stuff is anger at how shallow people are, but then I realize I'm talking about kids and, no matter how long ago it may have been, I do remember being one of those. I remember the first time I met someone with a cleft palate. The first time I met someone who was mildly retarded. The first time I met someone who was blind. I'm sure I wasn't the model of whatever you'd call it when someone accepts all others without question. I'm sure I stared. So I don't blame others.

8:00 a.m. and we have our first update: Ethan is asleep. Three deep breaths and he was out. Dr. Lewin is now studying his ear, trying to craft the new one to match the existing one. She has not made an incision yet. That will come some time during the next 8 to 10 hours. Christ on a freakin' bike, this is gonna be a long day.
Thomas is ... subdued. He misses Ethan. I know, buddy. We all do. Let's get the car and go to the beach. Santa Monica Pier, just like yesterday, but this time let's go in the ocean. Wash it all away. Breath the air. Celebrate how random and beautiful it all is.

Peace, all.

"Swim out past the breakers, watch the world die." -- Art Alexakis

Saturday, July 31, 2010

California Deamin'

Waking up in California is weird, if not welcome. Yesterday was travel day. A way-too-early-start followed by 6+ hours in the air (divided by a few hours in O'Hare to change planes), an hour to get our rental car, an hour wandering exhausted around Ralph's to grab some groceries, a quick bite to eat and finally falling asleep with the sun still up at about 8:00 California time (11:00 Philadelphia time).
Today we meet with Dr. Lewin. She text messaged last night around 1 a.m. Philadelphia time, but I forgive her. Right now we're wide awake at 6 a.m. -- so early that the free continental breakfast doesn't start for another half hour. At around 9:30 we'll mosey on down the road for Ethan's pre-surgical consultation. Then we'll probably hang out at the beach. If the weather allows, that is. Know what? It's fucking cold here. Yesterday it was 63 degrees. Today it's supposed to be 64. In fact, the rest of the time we're in L.A. the forecast high is 60-something. For contrast, maybe 6 days total since May have been below 90 in Philadelphia. I'm not complaining, mind you, just a little concerned since I only packed shorts and t-shirts. Here's hoping San Diego is a bit more consistent with my expectations, lest I'm forced to go pants shopping.
Anyway, Ethan is scheduled to undergo Medpor reconstruction tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. (finally that time change thing will pay off as we will have been up for several hours). Sadly, only one of us will be able to wait in the surgical center, so Sandi will stay with Ethan while Thomas and I explore. And huddle for warmth. (As cold as this seems to me, it must be like tundra-cold for Thomas, who has spent most of his days outside at summer camp.) Maybe we'll check out the tar pits. Or grab a 40 in a paper bag and check out the boobies on the pier.

Strange to be at this stage in the game. Seems like it's taken forever to get here. There's a hum just beneath our surfaces. The kids, usually oblivious to such things, are even sensitive to it. Time to say goodbye to that empty space on the side of Ethan's head. God, I love this kid. I'm so proud of him for staying so tough and focused. I hope he remembers this experience without attaching much trauma to it. I hope he knows that we're doing this out of love and concern for his future. I hope it goes well. Because success or failure, I can totally see Ethan using this to score with the babes later in life.
Dr. Lewin, here we come.

"I don't want to wait in vain for your love." -- Bob Marley

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Look Right, Look In Your Wallet

Internet, I don't like to tell you your business, but if you don't know Black Hockey Jesus, you really should. He is one of the best writers I've ever read -- blogging or not. He is also an immensely interesting guy with an insane passion for life. A while ago he began running and now runs every day. Like, EVERY day. But unlike most runners, you get the sense that to him running is like telling life to go fuck itself -- that if ownership of any of life's terms is subject to debate, he's staking his claim. Planting his flag up life's ass, as it were.
Brave, irreverent, modest and compassionate. And compassionate. And compassionate. Meet Tanner. Some of his story can be found here, but for now you should know that he's really sick and will be getting worse for his entire life. Degenerative. The stuff parents' nightmares are made of.
Tanner's aunt is a blogger and, with the help of a bunch of tutu-obsessed folk, has set up a charity 5K "awareness raising" race to be run in NYC during this year's BlogHer convention. BHJ is taking this to the extreme, as anyone who has ever read him would expect. He will not run in a tutu. Nor will he stop running when he hits the finish line. Rather, he will continue to run 5Ks until he can no longer move. Fucking guy. I love this fucking guy. If I weren't going to be in California for Ethan's surgery during BlogHer, I'd absolutely be there to see this. Probably on a Vespa about 10 feet in front of him, dangling a hundred dollar bill on a stick.
So what? So give this fucking guy I love some money, that's what. The widget in the right column? Click that. Or go to his site and comment/pledge on his post. At the very least, do yourself a favor and carve out a few days to read his work. He is brilliant. And verbose. And cocky. And beautiful. And worthy. And soon he will be tired. And Tanner won't get any better. But the next kid might and that's all you need to know. Thanks. I mean it.

"Until I catch a fraction of a glimpse into the world he lives in."
-- The BHJ

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

... With An Achin' In My Heart

I think it was in the beginning of Planet of the Apes -- the original with Charlton Heston. The crew slept in some kind of cryogenic pods that kept them alive while they raced through the universe. The glass on one of the pods had cracked and it was obvious that the poor bastard inside had died much earlier in the trip. I'm guessing this was done to convey a) how dangerous this mission was and b) how long they'd been in space. So poor bastard lay there dead, shriveled and disgusting. But Charlton ... Charlton? That's really a stupid name without the Heston part. Anyway, Charlton looked like a million bucks. Fresh, happy, healthy. Ready for anything.
I might have this all wrong. It may have been Alien. Which Charlton wasn't in. But someone in some movie woke from a pod after a really long trip.
I wish I had a pod.
We are 23 days from our California trip. When we return summer will pretty much be over. And as much as I hate fall and winter and shorter days and cold weather, I would embrace it all if it meant that this trip were over. I want so badly to not have to think about this anymore. I want to lay down in my pod and sleep and wake up in a galaxy where Ethan's microtia surgery already happened -- even if it had been performed by damn dirty apes.
I haven't written lately because I can't find anything worth saying. Because daily life is trivial. Because I'm trying to slow my rhythms toward some state of stasis that will allow me to survive the trip.
We managed to craft an itinerary that reeks of distraction: A few days in Beverly Hills, a few days in San Diego, a few days in Disneyland. And I'm sure it will all be a damn site more pleasant than being caged at the pleasure of Dr. Zaius. We carved out some time to enjoy the beaches, visit Lego Land, the zoo, blahblahblah. Plus, we're totally using Ethan's gigundus head bandage to weez our way to the front of the lines everywhere we go.
But none of it will be relaxing. Just like it's not relaxing now. Life is a car with really shitty shock absorbers riding a road with more pothole than asphalt. Those of us who dared dream of a smooth adventure are now frantically trying to avoid a crash while wiping up the drink we spilled all over our laps.
But in the end, the destination is the thing. I will drink a toast -- assuming there's anything left in the glass -- to the destination.

"Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines."
-- Pink Floyd

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Little Silouhetto Of A Man

I saw him yesterday in the gym. He had aged a bit since the last time I saw him. Grayer, wiser looking maybe. But there was no mistaking that it was him. Had it really been that long? The laugh lines on his face suggested that life had been pretty good to him. We'd have to catch up. There was a good story in there somewhere.


Yesterday morning I had my weekly Weight Watchers weigh-in. 50 pounds. Since February I've lost 50 fucking pounds. That's almost an Ethan. Back when I began the program, 50 pounds was my goal -- an arbitrary goal I'd set based on what I weighed the last time I thought I looked OK in clothes. When I was healthy. But a while ago I actually dared ask the question "what is my ideal body weight?" As my dad used to say, don't ask the question if you don't want the answer. Turns out that according to the Body Mass Index Nazis, my ideal weight is another 50 pounds away. And I am still technically obese, though much less so.

I honestly wonder whether I can hit that goal. After all, I was well over my ideal weight when I graduated high school and still thought reasonably thin. When I was on any one of my numerous meth kicks during college, not eating or sleeping for days on end, working out like crazy -- even then I never approached my ideal weight. No, since about 9th grade when I broke 200 for the first time, I have outpaced "normal" by scores of pounds. This could be one of those times where I throw up my hands and say, "Fuck it. That's unattainable."

But then again, I've learned a few things on Weight Watchers. First, I realize that I never knew how to eat. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Open mouth > insert food > chew > swallow > nap. What could be easier? But now I'm forced to consider what I've been putting into my body my entire life. We were a lower-middle class family, single income, 7 kids. Economically, that translated to lots of refined starches and sugars; fool the stomach. There were more nights than I'd care to remember when my dinner was slices of white bread with gravy. Open-faced wish sandwiches. Maybe we were lower-lower-middle class. Maybe we were just plain poor. All I know is that we were taught that red meat was a celebration -- the ultimate goal and measure of one's quality of life. If you're eatin' steak, you're doing OK.

About a year ago I cut down substantially on red meat (mostly for environmental reasons, but with a nod to the ultimate health benefits). About 4 months ago I stopped eating it altogether. Now I rarely eat meat at all, but when I do it's usually chicken or, more often, turkey. I discovered the wonders of fruits and vegetables and the orgasmic celebration of life that is Newman's Own salad dressings. Fish. Whole grains in moderation. I have never eaten better in my life, nor have I ever enjoyed it more. That's life's dirty little secret: good food is actually really fucking good!

And then there's the exercise. Lots and lots of exercise.

Something that's eluded me all my life is the equation: losing weight is a simple matter of burning more calories than you consume. Seems so simple, but when you're ballasted by porterhouses and Buffalo wings, the proposition may as well be written in Esperanto. Get off the couch? Faaaaaaa Q! But in my quest to simply get to this point, where there's 50 pounds less of me, I've rediscovered the bliss of exercise. I am back in the saddle, breezing past the 5-mile marker, stopping at 8 only because my time is committed elsewhere. Feeling like I could do a half-marathon at least. Getting stronger each week. My shoulders are once again wider than my hips which are wider than my waist, which is 2 inches smaller than it was in February.

My clothes fit better. I feel better. I look better. I am better.


By the time I got to the gym yesterday, my usual machines were taken. The only one open was the one in front of the mirror.

I saw him yesterday in the gym. And when I recognized him I grit my teeth, turned up the resistance and rode that mother fucking elliptical like it owed me money. We'll catch up later. Got work to do now.

"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." -- Andy Warhol

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Speaks For Itself

Been doing a little "memory lane" walking of late, considering the path from there to here. Then I saw this video online of a baby who received a cochlear implant hearing his mother's voice for the first time. Brought it all back so magnificently.

These are the finest moments life has to offer. May all the moments that follow never cause us to lose sight of the fact that we have experienced a true miracle. If that sounds like a toast, then so be it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

All The Way Home

We have met the enemy and he is Wii: Ethan has become a video game-aholic and it's the University of Virginia Health System's fault.

Poor little bastard. Not more than a few minutes out of recovery after his atresia surgery. Loitering at the corner of Lucid and HUUUURRR!! Blvd. Wandering around the ward wearing only SpongeBob pajama bottoms and those gigantic hospital-issue slipper/tube socks that always slide halfway off your feet and make you feel like you're walking in swim fins. His brain and body struggling to find any task at which they might collaborate, reacquaint.

And he's walking. And I'm spotting him so he doesn't fall and crack his skull. And I'm thinking about the times in college I must have looked like he does now, thanks to too much tequila and Jolt cola. Tequila Mockingbird we called it. A sadistic recipe that ensured you'd be wide awake when the vomiting came.

And he's walking. He's heard there's a rabbit somewhere on this floor and he must find it. He has issued himself this quest. He walks right past the rabbit. Into the activity center. Nintendo. On wheels. He shoots me a mean look -- at least it appears mean. It could just be the bandages pushing down on his brow. The look says, "Do this now, mother fucker. I SAID NOW!" Yes sir, how high? I do this now.

Within minutes he's playing some racing game. He is amazingly good at this, especially considering that I don't think he's ever played anything more sophisticated than the (lame, daddy!) Leapster 2 we bought him for Christmas this year. This must be what Mozart looked like when he first sat down at a piano. OK, it's not that prodigenous. Still, the little fucker's got skills. We stay for an hour. As the day wears on, the nurses get tired of looking for him and just wheel the Nintendo station into his room.


Home from Virginia, realizing that we'd have to find a way to keep Ethan entertained but immobile, we thought it might be a good idea to invest in some kind of gaming system. (OK, I did it. It was entirely me. My idea. Goodbye, Parent of the Year Award. I hardly knew ye!) Wii seemed the most family-friendly, so we got one that came bundled with a few games. Hours of fun. But hours eventually end. Need more games. Off to Game Stop. Nice guy behind the counter. Scary how much he knows about video games. He needs a girlfriend. Not a SIMs one, either.

New games? Beaten in a week. Need more, daddy. Oh, and have you ever noticed that you can't take a Wii with you to school? And sometimes we have electronics day and all the other kids bring in their DSs and obviously their daddies love them more than you love me? You asshole? Back to Game Stop for a used DS and a few used games. One month/$600 in gaming gear after surgery and we're staring at a rack of stuff we've defeated. No worries, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is out. For $50. Girlfriend-needing-guy at Game Stop hands me a coupon: If we beat this game by July 7 we can get $2.00 off our next purchase. Fuck you, you pimple faced gimp. I hope you never get laid.


Some folks emerge from their hospital stays addicted to pain killers. Lucky bastards. That's an addiction that's breakable. Ever try to take a Wii-mote from the hands of a 6-year-old? Might as well staple a steak to your ass and jump into a hungry lion's den.

Tell you what, though. If I can figure this out? How to break this habit or at least get him to remember to eat? I'mma be rich, yo. Starting my own business: Wii-hab. I'm betting there's a market for it. I'm betting there are other parents out there in the same boat.

You Tolerate Me! You Really Tolerate Me!

Hey, y'all. I've been astutely reviewed by Ask And Ye Shall Receive over here. First, let me say that I fucking love them. Their site reads like my thought bubbles would. Second, they were amazingly merciful with me and very constructive in the process. I've taken their advice and added a few extra carriage returns between spewage to make it easier on you -- no small task since I spilled water ... OK, scotch on my cheap-ass keyboard about a year ago and the return key does not work. If I am suddenly more understandable, you may thank them for it.

"One of the best lessons children learn through video games is standing still will get them killed quicker than anything else." -- Jinx Milea

Monday, May 17, 2010

ReVH1sionist History.

If you're ever looking for me Monday through Friday from 6:00 – 6:30 a.m., you can usually find me on the couch drinking my coffee and watching TV. I'll warn you that I'm not real lucid during that time so if you do find me, avoid asking me anything that requires an accurate or intelligible answer. Best to wait until after the coffee's had a chance to work its voodoo, then add another 2 -- shall we call them "courtesy" hours? and you may get something slightly more coherent than grunts and snorts.
Despite the funk that is my morning, I am at least a little discerning with my television viewing. First, gotta check out the weather -- that's a given. Then maybe a little Morning Joe on MSNBC to get the blood pumping (I don't care what your political bent is. Watching Pat Buchanan first thing in the morning is like snorting cocaine off a rabid badger's shaved ass). And during the commercials I like to check out VH1 Classic.
VH1 Classic is my guilty pleasure. Can't help it, make no apologies for it. I'm a sucker for music videos -- especially those from the 80s. In fact, if the playlist is really groovy, I might not even go back to MSNBC -- even when I know their commercials must be over. All cocaine, no badger, VH1 is.
But to know me is to know that something pisses me off about everything and, sadly, I have found the chink in VH1's armor: Whenever they're not playing music videos? And they decide to talk? They lie.
It took me a while to realize this since the only time I really watch VH1 is during the foggy time that is my morning coffee. But one morning I swore I heard someone refer to Guns N' Roses as one of the greatest bands in rock & roll history. Not that they managed to sell a surprising number of crappy albums to tone deaf, pre-pubescent boys who think they sound just like Axl in the shower and, ergo, must be cool, or that they managed to get any airplay for their abominable, god-awful remake of Bob Dylan's masterpiece "Knocking On Heaven's Door," but that they were one of the greatest bands ever. Funk or no, that got my attention -- attention I began paying to what had until then been flying under my morning radar.
Ordinarily I wouldn't mind much if they eulogized some has-beens in too-glowing terms. But what if one day after my death my kids, curious about what my childhood must have been like, tuned in and thought that perhaps I had been a GNR fan since, after all, they were one of the greatest bands in history? And what if subsequently they thought me a bigger ass than I was? Living it down would be one thing. Dying it down is impossible. Besides, I don't need VH1's help in making me look like an ass.
And so I consider it my duty to set the record straight on a few things that VH1 gets really wrong. For the kids. For (what's left of) my reputation. For the music.
In no particular order ...
1. KISS was never cool. Ever. The whole womanizers thing? Have you seen the Gene Simmons sex tape? And there's a fairly large body of evidence that supports the position that Paul Stanley is gay. No, KISS was for people who didn't have the balls to embrace GWAR.
2. Def Leppard are not tortured geniuses. They're idiots. Their name is not cool. They're just too stupid to spell deaf or leopard correctly. (See: Bill and Ted's Big Adventure.)
3. Motley Crüe blows. They are, however, interesting. I mean, it's not everybody who gets to fuck Pamela Anderson or who shot up their body weight in heroin in a single dose or whatever the fuck they're famous for. But let us not confuse "being interesting" for "being talented." Otherwise my favorite homeless guy, Mr. To Eat, who haunts the streets of Center City Philadelphia repeating the same chant/plea for money so that he may have something to eat, may be the most talented mother fucker on the planet.
4. The world was never on the edge of its seat wondering what Madonna's next incarnation would be. Nobody who actually knew shit about music cared. The whole "reinventing yourself" thing? That's what people who can't for the life of them imagine how they got famous do. Like "tomatoes never hit a moving target" or something.
5. While there are certainly talented individuals in the band, Joe Walsh is the only long-term palatable thing about The Eagles.
6. The Clash were possibly the farthest thing from a "one hit wonder" that music will ever know. Joe Strummer's work with the Mescaleros is the stuff societies are built on.
7. Legos did not make music. Queen deserves better. Love him or hate him, Freddie raised the bar.
8. The Beatles "Rock Band" videos are amazingly bad at conveying just how amazing and influential the band actually was. See the movie "Let It Be" for a more accurate record.
9. In fact, quite a few ultra-talented musicians managed to make some of the worst videos on earth. Don't judge them too harshly by their VH1 presence. Among some of the worst video-to-raw talent quotient misrepresentations: Yes. The Rolling Stones. Aerosmith. Stevie Wonder. Bruce Springsteen.
10. On the other side of the coin, there are acts that probably would never have succeeded were it not for the music video. Falco. Abba. Thomas Dolby. Falco.

There are today many media watchers who have pronounced the music video dead. While I agree that the current crop of artists seem to fall under number 10, once in a while the cosmos conspire to bring something so energizing as to renew your hope in the genre. And so I leave you with this video. It is one of the reasons that I will return again and again to VH1, despite their lies. Because artistry cannot be diluted, no matter how you piss on the backdrop on which it's presented.

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it." -- Frank Zappa

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lean Green Behavior Machine

Let me start this off by saying that I've known for a long, long time that Thomas is special. By special I mean he's some bizarre cocktail of quirky and brilliant and ruthless and compassionate and annoying and precious and beautiful and moody. And he's all these things to the Nth power, and he's all these things all the time.
For instance, see this image on the right? That's Mr. Krabbs and SpongeBob made from dominoes. While the rest of the 2-year-olds in his preschool napped, ours made this. Lest you think this was just a one-time thing, I have a basement full of proof to the contrary. Illustrations, books, scripts, paintings, posters, sculptures ... you name it, I can show you boxes full of it, and it all shows sophistication well above what his age should allow.
When he was 3 his preschool teachers gave Thomas some puzzles to work on to keep him busy. They were intended for ages 11 and older. He finished them in 10 minutes. He now builds 3-D puzzles in mere minutes as well. He also remembers every line and nuance in every movie he's ever seen, even if he's only seen it once. He draws in perspective and understands vanishing points. He is a pretty smart little fucker. Even his teacher agrees.
So when his teacher asked to have a guidance counselor present during our last parent-teacher meeting, we were a little puzzled. Something about the way she careened through the list of his positive attributes, and I could just tell that she was looking through her sites for a place to drop the bomb. Sure enough, after the requisite "good news" she told us that he had a hard time focusing. He was squirmy. He would burst out laughing for no reason. He would yell. He would look at how the legs connected to the desk while she taught her lessons. He would interrupt her. And while she admitted he wasn't a distraction to the other kids and that he tested very well on the lessons (even if he appeared not to be paying attention), she seemed to say the most by what she didn't say at all. As if she silently begged us to decipher some code that she'd been forced to use. Like in those movies where the hostage has to answer the phone at gunpoint and make like nothing's wrong. Like does anybody know the semaphores for ADHD? Well, sorry but I don't speak winking, gesticulating inference very well.
In our kids' school, there's a color-coded behavior monitoring system: Green days are days without incident. Blue days, you had one warning. Yellow days, you're on double secret probation. Red days, you miss recess and purple days you get sent to the Principle's office and she calls your parents. This is tracked visually on a colored bulletin board that hangs in the front of the classroom, the child's name affixed to a magnet that they themselves must stand up and slide from color to color. The color on which your name lands at the end of the day is recorded in your folder and sent home each night so that your parents can monitor behavior in near-real time. After this meeting we paid more careful attention to Thomas' colors. Was it normal that he was bringing home yellows and blues and reds nearly every day? Was there something wrong? Did we need to take action? One thing was for sure: if his teacher had any opinion, she wasn't talking.
So we raced home to look up ADHD. ADD. Autism. Asperger's. Gifted. Ed Zachary Disease (your kid's so ugly, his face looks Ed Zachary like my ass). Anything we could find. And while Thomas exhibits some symptoms of nearly everything we looked at (except for Ed Zachary and boy, did we breathe a sigh of relief on that one because you can get better from the other stuff), nothing seemed to fit exactly.
And this is the part of the story where I wish I could tell you that it ended up just being some grand misunderstanding. That his teacher had squirted a grapefruit into her eye that made her wink uncontrollably all day. That we all whispered "kittens" down the lane and it came back "barbed wire." Wish I could, but that's not what happened. We're in a very odd place right now, trying to seriously and objectively evaluate what we have in front of us. Is this some developmental hiccup? Something more serious? Do we test for any of the popular acronyms or is his teacher just a mean and bitter cow? Or is this just the universe taking yet another shot at my balls?
Which reminds me, I totally should have titled the last post "Ball's Well That Ends Well." Guess I dropped the ball on that one. What, you didn't think I was going to make it through an entire post without mentioning them, did you?
In all seriousness, if you happen to have any input or ideas or expertise or whatever, please reach out to me either via e-mail or comment on this post. One thing we have learned is that there is just as much misinformation as there is information on the internet.


On another note, I took the boys to Ten Thousand Villages (Sandi's favorite store) to buy, among other Mother's Day gifts, a necklace. We were standing by the necklace display area when a young lady asked if we needed help. Thomas put out his hands and violently mock strangled some imaginary person in front of him. Then he stopped and with his fingers still together in mid-strangle pose, he raised his hands and said, "Yeah, we need a necklace about this big."
Kids, if that's "special needs" then I never want to be mainstreamed.

"I like to figure things out and solve problems." -- Temple Grandin

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Games Without Frontiers

Remember the guy with the quids? His name was Rob. My nickname for him was Broccoli Rob which I thought was kinda clever (on account of he was like a vegetable, get it?). Broccoli Rob was the kind of guy who would call you up to ask if you wanted to play golf, then not only not show up for the round, but disappear out of your life for 9 months, not answering any phone calls or e-mails or anything. Then one day he'd call you up and pick up the conversation seamlessly from where he left off as if no time at all had passed -- all while you're stuck on the other end waiting for him to take a breath so you can find out what the fuck happened to him. The worst thing is that the stories of his disappearances weren't really stories at all. He just got drunk and forgot about our plans, then felt like he had to avoid me until I forgot to be mad.
I fucking hated Broccoli Rob for that. I would never do that to you. I will tell you now that I love being here and if I'm ever gone for a stretch, I promise to come back with a good reason. Even if I have to make something up.
To whit, following are updates on a some of the things that have kept me away.

1. My Health.
I will offer here that my testicles have been seen and touched by more people during the past month than during the entire decade that was my 20s. In some cases the doctor attending to me would disappear from the room only to emerge moments later with 4 or 5 "colleagues" -- people who I imagine are not actually doctors, but maybe curious neighbors or drinking buddies to whom the doctor had lost a bet -- all anxious to glove up and have at 'em. Makes a boy feel special.
With all that attention came a slew of uneasy conversations, peppered with words like hydrocele. debridement. cyst. hernia. surgery. tumor. removal. pre-cancerous. biopsy. The list goes on. And after all that pain and all that prodding and all that inspection and all that worrying, it turns out there's absofuckinglutely nothing wrong with me. Chronic ball pain -- while cause for my primary physician to freak out and, in turn, scare the piss out of me -- seems to be pretty common at my age. Who knew?
Probably worth pointing out that my primary care physician is a woman and is thus excused for gaps in her testicular knowledge by virtue of the fact that she does not possess the equipment and cannot be expected to fully understand the mystery that is men. This being said, I must say that I stand by my choice of her as my health advocate as I am now old enough for annual digital rectal exams and she has the tiniest fingers I've ever seen.
So I do have a hernia, but it's a belly button hernia and the surgeon essentially said it's a few clicks more complicated than clipping a toenail. Further, he said that if I felt at all apprehensive about the procedure he'd be happy to give me a box of Kleenex and a copy of Beaches on DVD because obviously I'm a woman.
I also had a growth on my right thigh biopsied and some pre-cancerous cells on my cheek frozen off. No big whoop. Part and parcel of being Irish.
To summarize: Healthy as a horse, albeit a horse with slightly achy balls.

2. My Job.
One day as I was sitting at my cubicle I heard a loud explosion and the sounds of screams. I looked out the window and saw that the Barclay's building across the street was under attack by what appeared to be an alien spaceship. Long story short, a small band of us hid out in the basement where, after a long period of trial and error, we learned that these aliens died when water hit them. Crisis averted, world saved. But it took a lot of time.

3. Ethan.
You remember Ethan, right? The kid this blog is supposed to be about? Well, Ethan's 1-month post-op check-up was rescheduled several times -- conferences, alien invasions, guest ball touchers ... you know, that kind of unavoidable stuff. That visit finally happened yesterday morning. Wanna know how it went? Well, I can sum it up in one word: Normal. Ethan has normal hearing. Specifically, in measuring 4 ranges of frequencies, the 2 middle ranges show him at 25 dB which falls within the normal range. For ultra-low and ultra-high range he has mild hearing loss, but he still scored 100% on test word recognition. And since in math we are taught to round 1/2 up to 1, we're calling it normal and considering it an amazing win, made even better by the likelihood that Eth's hearing will actually get even better with time.
Dr. Brad was, again, damn near giddy when he looked into Ethan's ear and saw how well everything had healed. He let me look through a set of magnifying lenses and showed me how the prosthetic bone is visible through the ear drum he created. I personally was struck by how many tiny arteries were already in place, bringing blood to the area. Admittedly I don't know shit about shit, but I know when something looks healthy and Ethan's ear looks to atresia repair surgery like Usain Bolt looks like to track and field.
Most important, at least to Ethan, is that he's now officially clear to run and jump and swim and be a little kid. And to that end I gotta tell you that I am so proud of that little guy. He has taken such amazing care of his ear during his recovery period, being very careful to avoid percussive activities and water. In fact, since the previous trips to Virginia were all business and left little time for leisure, we decided to make this trip special. We drove to Williamsburg and did Busch Gardens the day before with my brother and his wife (who are amazingly gracious hosts). During a river raft-style ride, a considerable amount of water got dumped on Ethan's head and he nearly freaked out, worrying that he was going to be in trouble for getting his ear wet. It was the kind of thing that makes you want to pick him up and hug him, which I did. And I sat him down, looked him in the eye and assured him that he is no longer at risk and has nothing to worry about. That he is healed. That we are celebrating the successful end of a very trying time in our lives.
Other special things: Ethan turned 6 this month. He also lost his first top tooth at dinner in Williamsburg on Saturday. The Tooth Fairy found us and left $10 under Ethan's hotel pillow, which he promptly spent on a light-up sword in the Oktoberfest Pavilion the next day.

4. The Pussy Game
The boys made up a game that they now play all the time. The gist is that one of them pretends to be a mean old lady and the other pretends to be the mean old lady's cat. The old lady walks around saying, "Puss-ay, puss-ay," and when the cat comes by, the old lady beats the living shit out of it. Now, when Ethan plays the old lady, he sounds just like Lovey Howell from the Gilligan's Island. Try to imagine that for a second -- A 6-year-old boy wandering around like a proper, gentile old lady saying, "Puss-ay, puss-ay." Now if you can sit there while this game is being played and not damn near blow an o-ring trying not to laugh, you're a better person than I. So the other night Sandi and I were hanging out while the boys played the Pussy Game and we decided we'd had enough. "Guys, knock it off, OK? You're getting too violent." Ethan: "It's OK, daddy. We're not being rough. We're playing 'Old Lady' pussy." Pop goes the aneurism, don't the aneurism go pop.

"You can't help that. We're all mad here." -- The Cheshire Cat

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Randomly, He Said

I just got back from having an ultrasound of the boys. Not Thomas and Ethan, my testicles. Haven't named them. Maybe I should. Tito and Germaine? Iggy and Pop? Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare? Something musical. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. My nuts. Ruling out a hernia. Been increasing the intensity of my workout lately (thanks for the suggestion, Neil, you DICK!). Feeling it in the strangest of ways.
So I'm there in this very sterile, clinical setting and a very sterile, clinical lady asks me to strip bare ass and put on a robe, open side forward. I do. She leads me into a room with an ultrasound machine and tells me to lie down, place this rolled up towel between my legs and rest my nuts on it. Then I'm to align my penis with true north (to illustrate, she moves her hands up from her crotchular area to just about mid-chest which makes me feel instantly emasculated by her husband or whatever Mandingo warrior standard she apparently holds men to) and drape this open towel over it. I feel like asking for a smaller towel. Whatever, ba da boom, done.
Not that I have porn-star body confidence or anything, but -- her inevitable disappointment in my penis notwithstanding -- my general frame of mind was like, "Yeah, whatever." I've had a vasectomy and frankly, if you're not charging at my sack with a scalpel and an R. Lee Ermey-style war face, then you're nowhere near the baddest hombre my undercarriage has ever encountered, m'kay?
In fact, the only thing even remotely surreal about the entire scene is the music that's playing: a radio tuned to some inane secretary-rock station. As Nurse Betty is greasing and poking, I'm marveling at the aproposity of the great cosmic jukebox's selections. Following is -- without exaggeration or edit -- the playlist.
First up, "I hope you know it's personal ...". Kinda sad that Betty wasn't in the room while this one was playing as I would have loved the chance to sing this to her.
Next, Brick House. "... mighty, mightay, just lettin' it all hang out ...".
Next, The Theme From Shaft. Thinking about peeking at Betty to see if she's wistfully imagining the Old Spice guy, mouthing the line "I'm on a horse."
Next, Tom Petty's Free Falling which to me sounds like Free Balling so I sing those words out loud which turns out to be a big mistake because Nurse Betty starts to laugh and pushes the ultrasound wand ever so firmly into my aching nads.
Lastly, U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.
Yeah, that's what she said.


Ethan was originally scheduled for his final follow-up exam tomorrow, but Ronnie Bean called to reschedule. We're now set for April 23. Turning it into a long weekend with lots of swimming (assuming we get the green light) and maybe a side trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Because really, what 6-year-old boy doesn't just lie awake at night just dreaming of how cool it would be to live without air conditioning or Wii. We obviously would be very grateful if you'd care to share your recommendations for kid-friendly activities in that area.


Speaking of songs, I heard Cat Stevens' Wild World on the ride home (scanning the dial, trying to scrub the scrotum-centric playlist from my mind). I once had a very animated discussion with a friend who protests Cat Stevens because he changed his name to Yusuf Islam and that's a terrorist name. And I'm all like, "Dude, his name was CAT. In my book that's all the fucking reason you need to change your name."
Same guy once remarked about a girl we both knew that she had nice quids. Dumbass that I am, I couldn't let it go and asked, "Quids? What the fuck are quids?"
Him: "It's Latin for tits."
Me: "No it's not."
Him: "Sure, quid pro quo is Latin for tit for tat, right? Maybe it's 'quo' that's Latin for tits. But quids sounds better. I'm pretty sure I'm right."
Do you SEE what I've had to deal with in my lifetime? To some degree, all of life just seems to be about ball pain.

"Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" -- Isaac Hayes

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shove It Up Your Buddha

Once upon a time I was a fairly active guy. I played volleyball, softball, basketball, ultimate frisbee, golf, tennis and swam when I could find water. I mountain biked, backpacked and ran trails. I kept an arsenal of athletic gear and several changes of clothes in my trunk in case the mood struck while I was driving around. I had an enviable resting heart rate and cholesterol levels to die for. I was healthy. Physically.
Emotionally? Not so much. Married to the wrong woman. Hated going home — not that it mattered, since we barely talked to each other for the last years of our marriage. Not pointing fingers, just saying.
So, to summarize, healthy? Yes. Happy? No.
Then came Sandi and, soon after, Thomas (see last post). Happiness came with them (see last post again). But being a dad is, like, the definition of a full-time gig. Sleep deprivation sapped me of any energy that could or should have been dedicated to fitness, so my regimen lapsed as my free time waned. Then, as if to add gasoline to the fire of happiness, precisely 1 year and 30 days after Thomas’ birth, Ethan came. Memories of this time in my life are fuzzy, but I have vague recollections of watching a show about Navy Seal training and yelling, “Quit your whining, ya fags!” at the TV. Dudes, that’s fucked up right there: To be in the shit
so deep that you think Seal candidates have it easy by contrast.
Needless to say, my days of physical health and exercise were over. There was no free time. There was no recovery. There was no me. And the weight came. Don’t want to say how much because it’s really embarrassing, but I will say that it landed me comfortably in the “obese” category.
Now, 7 years down the road, life has started to ease up to the point where I can begin to get back in shape. I’ve started working out again and have seriously altered my diet. In the past 6 weeks I’ve lost more than 30 pounds. (Stop that whistling, I’m involved.) My wind is coming back as is my muscle tone. I still have a lot of work to do, but I feel so much better about myself that I’m not worried about sticking with it. I’m starting to remember what it felt like to feel good.
Except that I don’t really feel that good. Every yin has a yang, and if my yin is a thinner body, my yang appears to be extreme irritability. And not like “if you do that again so help me I’ll roll my eyes when you’re not looking!” irritability, but more like “I WILL RIP THE BEATING HEART OUT OF YOUR FUCKING CHEST AND EAT IT WHILE YOUR DIMMING EYES AND YOUR LOVED ONES WATCH!” irritability.
What’s really fucked up — and maybe I’ve just been too fat (ergo, jolly) to notice for awhile — but stressors/triggers are EVERYWHERE! Seriously, I find myself wondering if people have always been this fucking annoying and I just never noticed. Whatever the case, however they got here, they are legion and they apparently believe that while I slumbered in a Ben and Jerry's coma, they inherited the earth. Yeah, well I'm here to tell you that your reign of assholia is officially over, bitches.
And just to be clear, I’m not talking about garden variety assholia, like accidentally cutting me off because you didn’t see me, or bumping into me with your shopping cart because your kids distracted you. I'm not roid raging or anything. I’m talking about the guy who rides up on my ass in standstill rush hour traffic flashing his lights and beeping his horn because he can’t get by, who then gives me the finger when traffic starts moving again as if it’s my fault that somebody broke down a mile up the road.
Guess what, butt munch. Daddy woke up. And if you don't lay off that horn and get the fuck in line I will go so Grand Torino on you that you will believe a band of Gypsies has taken up residence in your asshole.
So now, like oil and water, happiness and health seem once again refuse to mix in my life. I know it's possible to achieve both. I have friends who live it every day -- one particularly amazing, peaceful, mellow gentleman who I'm proud to call friend who was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and now runs triathalons. With role models like him, I'm confident that I'll find a balance soon. But for now I feel like the best way to put this newly found hypersensitivity to assholia to use is to identify a few case studies so that one day when Thomas and Ethan get around to reading this, they'll be able to use it as a textbook. "Daddy's Official Guide To Asshole Avoidance And Maintenance." Subtitle: Or, Worst Case, How To Dispose Of The Bodies.
Next stop: The Little Fucker Next Door. Stay tuned.

"I be walkin' god like a dog, my narrative fearless. My word war returns to burn like Baldwin home from Paris. Like Steel from a furnace. Calm like a bomb." — RATM

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Wearing Of The Grin

In February of 2002 my life was utter shit. I'll spare you the details (for now), but will tell you quite seriously that because of the pain that had amassed over the years, I thought daily and seriously about taking my own life. It was bleak, it was relentless and it was intensifying each day.

In March of that year not only was the darkness gone, but I was surrounded by such an amazing light that I could barely remember what pain felt like. That month Sandi and I became a couple. She was (and is) perfection. My salvation. The thing that was missing in me for nearly 40 years. I had a hard time imagining my life could get any better.

In March of 2003 my life got better. Thomas came.

I was in the delivery room, holding Sandi's left leg as she pushed. I stared in awe as his head glided out. As the doctor turned him slightly to align his shoulders, our eyes met. Mine was the first face he saw when he came into the world. Nothing has ever come close to moving me as profoundly as that moment. Except every single moment since.
The night of Thomas' birth, St. Patrick's Day 2003, the weather was unseasonably warm. The moon was full and larger than I remember ever seeing it before. I felt so connected to every blade of grass, every budding leaf, every cricket. It didn't seem to me that I'd grown more sensitive to my surroundings so much as they had grown more intense around me. The world seemed to be screaming out to me, thanking me for fulfilling my part in it, and promising me the greatest reward it could muster.
Midnight feedings, diaper woes, panic-inducing mystery ailments and all the credentials folks cite to earn them a place in the parents' club ... they were all there. You file them under "Shit You Have To Do" and you move on. But those moments filed under "Life Altering Shit That Nobody But A Parent Could Understand" ... those moments handily slammed that other file closed. Most nights Thomas fell asleep in my arms in our big leather recliner as we watched Dora or Thomas the Tank Engine. And on the nights when sleep wouldn't come so easily, he and I would drive around listening to music for as long as it took. When we returned home, I would carry him in and put him in his crib, hating how much emptier I felt the second his weight was off my arms. He was (and is) my counterpart. We resolve each other.

Thomas, when I look at you I see me, but better. You are so, so smart. And kind. And beautiful. And funny. And talented. And generous. And sympathetic. And sensitive. You're the best big brother in the world and Ethan worships you. When you cry I want to pick you up and hold you, tickle you and make you laugh until you forget that you were crying at all. And when you hurt I want to find the thing that hurt you and kill it. I would lay down my life for you without hesitation. I would sacrifice anything for you. I tell you this because I know you'd never abuse the knowledge. I see just a hint of the man you will become and I am already so proud of you.
In the past 7 years I've had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about life and relearn it the right way -- with truth at the center. The lessons have been so hard that at times I thought I'd go insane, but Thomas, you're a good teacher. If you learn half as much from me as I have from you, you'll make Buddha look like Slingblade.
Thank you for all you've taught me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being perfection. My salvation. The thing that was missing in me for nearly 41 years. I love you so very much. Happy birthday.

"You're my first child. I'll do you no harm. I'll teach you my love."
-- Nil Lara

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Day Do We Get On Down At The Disco?

Friday has come and gone. And even though it was one of the longest days of our lives, I count it as a good one. Kinda Zen, hard to capture on video. A lot of synchronicitous stuff that didn't make it to the final edit, either because of time constraints or because it was just impractical to shoot it.
For instance, while in the waiting room (site of the infamous booger eating scene), a stunningly beautiful young lady -- 20-ish if I had to guess -- came up and, having noticed Ethan's ear, introduced herself. She had been born with atresia-microtia and had rib graft surgery with Dr. Brent at the age of 6. Unfortunately, she was not a candidate for atresia repair, so to this day she has no ear canal. But she graciously let Ethan and I look at her ear. Our conversation was cut short by a nice lady calling Ethan to come back to the exam room which sucked because I really wanted to hear about how her ear had affected her life. Still, I did learn a few valuable things in our brief time together. She said of her surgeries that at 6 she couldn't understand why her parents were doing that to her (rib graft can take 4 procedures), but she is now very grateful that they did what they did. I wondered if I'd have noticed her ear had she not pointed it out. She had the tell-tale ever-so-slightly crooked smile that seems to be the domain of atresia-microtia kids. Ethan has it, too. We learned in Psych class in college that symmetry is at the heart of physical beauty, but there's just something about that smile. Maybe it's more accurate to say there's something about the people behind it. Whatever.

Ethan and I burned several CDs for the trip, each song hand-picked by Ethan. We listened to the Monkees "I'm a Believer" no fewer than 20 times, but Eth found some new favorites on the ride, too. Like the North Mississippi Allstars "Shake 'Em On Down." He sings the Chris Chew line really well. Shake 'em on down/shake 'em on/shake 'em on down. Shake 'em on down/shake 'em on/shake 'em on down.
There were a lot of great things I had intended to show you, like the Smokey Mountains, but it was just too damn rainy. Visibility was lower than a mole's ass. And there were some white knuckle times with wind gusts in the 40-50 m.p.h. range.
But of the stuff that actually made it to the video, I'm struck by how tired I look to me. Plus, I feel the need to remind you that the camera adds 40 pounds. And makes you look like you have much less hair than you actually do. And makes you sound like a dick. But for some reason, it makes kids look really cute. And it helped me share the day with Sandi, and now you.
So thanks for watching. Unless you didn't, in which case fuck off. Kidding.

"What's the use in trying? All you get is pain. When I needed sunshine I got rain. But ... now I'm a believer." -- The Monkees

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Tomorrow Ethan and I head back to UVA to:
a) get (what's left of) his post-surgical packing removed,
b) get his first post-op hearing test, and
c) hopefully get a clean bill of health or some absolution that will allow him to run and/or jump and/or do SOMEthing besides sit quietly, eyes forward with his hands folded and feet flat on the floor.
Don't get me wrong, Ethan's been a real trooper about staying relatively still. But the weather's breaking here. The sun stays out just the tiniest bit longer each night. The air smells healthy, inviting. Millions of years of evolutionary instinct are urging him to fire himself upon the landscape -- probe it, master it, stake his claim to it. And it's killing me to have to stop him (even if part of the reason it's killing me is that I want to be out there, too). But it would kill me more if he ended up falling on his head and shaking some shit loose in there before it had a chance to heal properly. Having to go to Charlottesville twice was trying. Three times might break me.

For those who asked for an update on Ethan's progress, here are my layman's observations:


When Ethan could only hear out of one ear, he couldn't tell where sound was coming from. Most times it wasn't an issue, but once in a while I'd be standing right behind him and call his name and he'd look someplace else. I realized he was looking where he'd last seen me -- where he was expecting I'd be. In a white-noise-rich environment, he would often withdraw. Even in our own house when Thomas and Sandi were talking on the other side of the room, if he and I were 3 feet apart, facing each other, he would have trouble understanding me.
That has changed. Even with a substantial amount of dressing still crammed in his earhole, the difference is amazing. Of course he still ignores me when I tell him to do shit, but his brain is quickly learning how to locate the source of a sound even if he can't see it. So now he can willfully ignore me where I stand. He can also pick individual voices out in a crowd. He joins conversations. He tells jokes. He asks for things. He answers questions. His confidence is skyrocketing. He is engaged. He is ... normal. God, after tomorrow? Without the 6 pounds of gauze stuffed into his ear? Oh, it's so fucking on. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to our conversations on the ride home.
Speaking of the ride, most of our day -- about 9 hours -- will be spent on the road tomorrow while the actual appointments will take about an hour or so. That's one long-ass day, kids. I don't think I can go that long without doing something that's not driving. So here's my plan: I'm going to break up the monotony with the hand-held video camera I told you about before. With it, Ethan and I are going to make an homage to our road-trip. When I get home tomorrow I'll edit and upload for you all. Think Jack Kerouac, but with more substance. Jack Ear-ouac, coming soon to a bargain bin near you.
That's a long way to go to set up such a shitty joke. Sorry.

"Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"
-- Jack Kerouac

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 8:42 p.m.

March forth. Somebody pointed out that today's date offers a whole other phonetic subtext to our situation. Tell you what, it's pretty amazing just how accurate that subtext has been. We have marched way the fuck forth, led by my favorite 5-year-old boy.
I'll skip all the crap and get right to the meat of the story: At about 11:30 this morning Dr. Brad came to the family waiting area to tell us how it all went -- big, shit-eating grin on his face. As you can imagine, we had been on eggshells for the entire day, but one look at his face and I knew it went well. Out in the hall he whipped out a few pics he'd snapped while Ethan's innards were exposed and explained how the great ear gods had truly smiled on us all this day. As he spoke and pointed, I was amazed at how enthusiastic he was. Like a guy who had just won the lottery talking in great, excited detail about the trip to the store that yielded the winning ticket.
To put it lightly, the procedure went perfectly. My impression from Dr. Brad's account was that it was more like textbook on steroids. The stapes presented itself like it had been expecting him, the prosthetic bones were a perfect fit, the eardrum went in like it was custom made, the skin graft was the perfect depth, and on and on and on. Ace after ace after ace. And we smiled and got giddy and hugged each other and felt relieved and felt relieved and felt relieved. But the best moment of the day -- possibly the defining moment of this whole journey to date -- was yet to come.
After Ethan had been admitted to his room, Dr. Brad came to check on him. He lightly scratched his fingernail against the bandage on Eth's head and asked if he could hear it. And Ethan said yes.
Oh my fucking god, he said yes. He can hear. It worked.
I'll write more later, but for now wanted just to report the results: Ethan can hear. For a guy who loves language, I'm suddenly having a hard time finding words. Do tears count as words? Because those I got in spades. This has been one of the best days of my life.
Good night, world. I'm off to dream of whispering 'I love you's into Ethan's ear.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Danny and the Pretty Ponies

Danny lives in the house behind ours. He's tall and spindly with big teeth and the kind of bowl haircut that's the sole domain of those who are either too frantic or too humble to indulge in vanity.
2 summers ago Danny, Thomas and Ethan were inseparable. Our boys woke on weekends asking if they could quick get dressed and go see if Danny wanted to come out and play. Often, when we picked them up from school at the end of a weekday, the first thing out of their mouths was, "Can we play with Danny when we get home?" Yeah, nice to see you, too. Ungrateful little shits.
When the cosmos aligned and declared it playtime, we knew it would be hours before we'd see our sons again. And when eventually they did resurface, they'd be sweaty and panting, having ridden that mofo into the ground the way only little boys can. Truth, we were happy our kids had found somebody they liked well enough to spend that kind of time with. And I confess, seeing them reduce the boundaries of our adjoining backyards to peculiarities reminded me how lucky I was to have the childhood I had. We had owned our neighborhood. No, we owned the world. We wandered freely through the yards, climbing every fence, exploring every tree, making every pebble in every parking lot a bit player in whatever adventure we'd settled on that day. We were bound only by our physical limitations, thought nothing of walking or riding our bikes to neighboring towns -- or even states -- save for would we have the energy to make it back in time for dinner. It felt healthy to see our sons revel in that same kind of freedom, even if it was a drastically scaled down version of it because we're insanely fearful of abductions and pedophiles and all things Dateline NBC.
Yep, two summers ago life was wonderful. Then school came and, soon after, the cold weather. Indoors, homework, TV. Not much Danny gave way to no Danny.
When Spring finally came, the kids, who had been crashing at the gates like a doped thoroughbred, screamed through the yard to Danny's door only to return a few minutes later dejected and teary eyed. His mom said Danny couldn't come out. In fact, Danny wouldn't be allowed out for the rest of the summer. The whole thing smelled like a snub. Puzzled, we asked the boys if something had happened that might have made Danny's parents angry, but they couldn't think of anything. That was pretty much the last time any of us spoke.
We never knew why they chose to pull the plug on what we thought was a great relationship. Still don't. We have our suspicions, though: Danny is autistic and 5 years Thomas' senior. His mother had told us that Danny is classified as "highly functioning" and had responded very well to "mainstreaming." His teachers were making real progress with him and we all celebrated that summer when he took home 2 medals at the Special Olympics. He is a very special kid and we, all of us -- his family and ours -- seemed to have allowed ourselves to become friends without regard to Danny's autism. Still, we think the reason we no longer acknowledge each other is his autism and, if so, it's by their design -- not ours. When we looked at the three of them playing together, we saw kids having fun. When they looked, we now imagine they saw their son's progress possibly being thwarted by exposure to juvenile attitudes. Which is fine, if that's the way you feel. But I gotta tell you, just cutting the cord like that without the courtesy of a warning or an explanation really pisses me off. Give me something to tell my kids. You've been around them, you know they have the capacity to understand. Just tell me so I can tell them.
Nothing. I've seen Danny's father outside mowing his lawn. Not even a wave. Fine. Go fuck yourself. You're lucky I don't send you a bill for all the fucking shrimp your kid ate 2 summers ago.

And so it's been. Until Saturday. The boys and I were out running errands when Sandi called to say her class was about to be let out and maybe we should meet somewhere for dinner. We agreed on Applebees. (We have a soft spot for Applebees. The Riblets have twice sent Sandi into labor. Plus the kids call it Scrimplebees, which is just adorable as balls. Agree or I'll cut you.) So long story short, guess who we're seated next to. Right. Danny's family. I haven't seen him up close in 2 years, and while he has gotten a little bit bigger, the size gap has definitely closed. They smile vacantly, but soon I am amazed at just how much isolation a waist-high median can afford. I can feel your breath on my hand, yet your utter disregard for our presence makes me feel like I'm dining in The Hall of Presidents or some other animatronic attraction. So lifelike, yet devoid of feeling. Just like Ronald Reagan.

On the ride home I remember a moment from that summer: The kids loved SpongeBob. They played it all the time, taking turns being the different characters. That summer, Pest of the West came out and the kids watched it together a billion times. If you've never seen it, SpongBob traces his roots back to the old West where his grandfather, SpongeBuck, meets Pecos Patrick, the village idiot and grandfather of Patrick Star. Throughout the old west scenes SpongeBuck regularly refers to Pecos Patrick as his idiot friend.
Yeah, so anyway Sandi and I are hanging out in the backyard talking with Danny's mom as the kids are buzzing around.
Thomas and Danny run up to us.
We stop our conversation and turn our attention to them. Yeah?
Thomas looks Danny's mom square in the eye, points at Danny and yells, "He's an idiot!"
Danny waves, shyly.
The two run away.
I think I just shit my pants. What did he say?
As the blood begins to leave my ears and return to its rightful place in the rest of my body, I can make out the song they're singing, "Idiot Friends."
Oh, they're playing SpongeBob!
I hear myself saying too loudly, too rushedly, "THEY'RE PLAYING SPONGEBOB! THEY'RE PLAYING SPONGEBOB!"
Danny's mom's face loosens. I don't think she's seen Pest of the West, but I think she's starting to understand.
Sandi's face is still, to this day, locked in a look of disbelief.

And I have lost the ability to forgive people their peculiarities.


Hey, Do This For Me and I'll Buy You a Pony
OK, remember how Ethan only has one ear? OK, now remember how we'll need to spend, like, 3 weeks in California during his Medpor surgery this summer? OK, now you know how we have to pay for accommodations out of pocket and stuff? Well, that's where you come in.
Nope, don't want money. Don't need donations. Don't want a ride. Just want you to click on this link and vote for my story between March 2 and March 9. The winner gets to select their vacation, and the one I selected will solve our accommodations needs while we're in California.
Frankly, I think I kept it pretty reasonable. I mean, it's only Hermosa Beach and there's no hot tub or anything. But just think how happy little Ethan will be when he looks out the back door and sees his daddy CRUSHING in beach volleyball all day! Karch who? No, really. Who?

"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -- Friedrich Nietasche