If by ashamed you mean ‘to chuckle’, then “Yes” I am ashamed when I see your eyes notice all the piles as you enter my home.
Immediately to your right, you see what is quite possibly the most random pile. It consists of a bowling ball bag, winter gloves, hats, and ski goggles. You next notice a kitchen table and chairs that reorient the word ‘messy’. As you gather your bearings, you see that under the kitchen counter there is an overstuffed book shelf, upon which sit more books and beside which rest two stacks of even more books. Recoiling a bit, you scan left and conclude that there must be at least one child living here because there is a small chair surrounded by children’s books and a panda bear and a remote control car with two pony passengers. The 88-key electronic keyboard and its bench have items upon them, as does the adjacent Steinway B and the instructor’s stool. Somehow that piano’s bench is without pile.
(Before walking down the hallway you pretend not to notice one more bookshelf and end table too ceased their resistance long ago.)
If your visit surprised me, I may not have had a chance to close the bedroom doors. In my bedroom you won’t see a massive pile of clothes at the end of my bed, because it is under a king size comforter which H- recently managed to place on top.
(If she’s anything like me, carrying something that big and soft from her room to mine was probably a delightful chore.)
In disbelief as you roll your eyes, H-‘s room snags your attention. Though admittedly more pink-themed, her bedding is likewise piled on her bed, and at every spot where the walls meet the floor there are piles. They are either piles of books and papers, piles of junk, piles of stuffed animals, or they are piles of clothes. Piles, piles, piles.
Why? you wonder. Why so many piles? You speculate that surely one of the books has to include both teaching on the importance and the ‘how to’ of cleaning.
Well, you asked, so I’ll tell ya. For me, piles equal happiness. Here’s the mathematical proof. If I begin to clean my piles, I’ll eventually decide to clean H-‘s piles. Half-piles do not exist. It’s all or none. And therein lies the problem. You see, H- and I spend very little time together in this junked up home. But when we do, she behaves like a Tasmanian angel. Whether coloring books, stuffed animals, reading books, or dolls, she is constantly relocating everything as she plays inside. To suggest that she “put them away” as you might think, is not really an option she would understand. And I wouldn’t know how to answer her striving for obedience, though honestly inquisitive, response, “Where, Daddy?”
This entire situation is adorable to me. Just watching her play is endlessly fascinating. How is she determining what to play with and for how long? Does she get a thrill out of not having to “clean” like I do? I’ll never know.
Anyhow, the point is, when I’ve tried to clean these piles in the past, it’s unbearable. I cannot touch her toys without thinking of her and I cannot think of her without remembering, as strongly as fire remembers hot and as ice remembers cold, that she is not here. And I cannot think that, without being sad–very, very sad.
So I maintain piles and I maintain that piles equal happiness.
He listened as H- dryly read, “And what was my life like? The heat burned me in the daytime. And it was so cold at night that I froze. I couldn’t-”
“Hold up, H-,” he interrupted at last. “Remember how we are focusing on reading with gusto? This is a good place to put some gusto into how you read the story.”
Partly frustrated by his broken record, partly curious, H- watched her father. His eyes widened and as he drew in a breath, his head bent back as well. Then he snapped it forward, his open hand slapping his chest.
“And what was my life like?”
H- smiled, beginning to understand.
“The heat,” he continued, feigning to wipe sweat from his brow, “burned me in the daytime.”
H- couldn’t remove her eyes.
“And it was so cold,” he began, shivering.
They both laughed.
“Or maybe it’d be better like this,” he offered. He then looked at frost-bitten fingertips which he rubbed together furiously and blew hot breath upon.
Laughing, she joined him.
“No, you should have done-” she began; then she huddled over, shivered and said, “Brrr, I’m sooo c-c-cold. Let me pour some hot chocolate.”
His laughter almost scared her.
“I don’t think they had hot chocolate back then, H-. Remember Jacob and Laban lived a long, long time ago,” he corrected, chuckling. “But you’re getting the gusto right. Good job. Now let’s keep reading.”
H-, now seven, turned back to the sacred words and promptly struggled to locate where she left off.
“We’re looking for ‘chocolate’,” he proposed, unable to resist.
H- laughed with her voice, but her eyes seemed to say something else.
H- answered, “Officer Judy is from Zootopia.”
“Zootopia, eh? When were you watching that?”
“So you wake up early enough to watch movies before school when you’re at your mom’s?” I asked.
“I wake up when my alarm goes off.”
“What time does your alarm go off?”
“I go down stairs and eat breakfast and then I change clothes.”
“You change clothes downstairs? Why downstairs?”
“Well, my mom throws down my clothes, and then I put them on and watch tv until it’s time to go.”
“I see. Where is your mom while you are watching tv?”
“She’s upstairs with C-.”
“Oh,” I said, cutting myself off quickly. Unable to resist the pull to follow inquiry further, I rejoined with, “What is she doing with him?”
“I think they play with each other.”
“Hmm. What do you mean? Like play games? Maybe play video games?”
“No,” she held the note, “not video games.”
“I don’t think I understand, H-. What are they playing?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
As if Truth’s gateway, the rear-view mirror reflected that her searching eyes did not notice mine.
Finding no satisfaction, H- concluded, “More like wrestling, I think. I don’t have the word.”
But who can explain longing to my child?
The teardrop tries but fails,
For it carries many.
The silenced voice is unheard,
The pounding heart, muffled.
The knotted gut is unseen,
The lumped throat, concealed.
But who can explain longing to my child?
I could explain longing to my child,
But for it is not when I am with her.
Not sure the reason, I found myself standing in the kitchen, holding the Krusteaz Belgian waffle mix box. (H- adorably calls said mix ‘sugar’.) She was finishing her waffles at the nearby table. That’s the reason! I was putting the box back on top of the refrigerator. Beside it, I also keep the cereal and–my favorite non-perishable treat–the Nutty Bars up there. Like her ol’ man, H- too had experienced love at first sight with Little Debbie’s delectable wafers.
“But you can’t give me the peanut butter and chocolate bars for snack time,” H- declared out of the blue.
I turned to look at her. She turned to look at me.
“Oh yeah?” I asked, carefully dividing my attention between the waffle iron and H-‘s mind.
“Why can’t you have them at snack time?”
“Because some kids are allergic to peanut butter.”
“Don’t they eat lunch with you too? How can you have Nutty Bars at lunch, but not at snack time?”
“At snack time the kids sit at the same table as us and they can smell the peanut butter,” she answered steadfastly.
This smelling problem being news to me, I resumed my inquiry with, “Okay, so what do they do at lunch?”
“They sit at the peanut butter table. There are not very many of them.”
“Ha. The ‘peanut butter table?’ What’s that?”
“That’s the table where you can’t have peanut butter.”
“So the poor kids who can’t have peanut butter have to sit all by themselves?”
“No,” she corrected. “They just sit at the peanut butter table. Anyone can sit at the peanut butter table as long as they don’t have peanut butter.”
“So there is no peanut butter at the peanut butter table?” I asked.
The baby is not the last thing that will be removed during an emergency C-section. Neither will the baby be last in a planned C-section or vaginal delivery for that matter. The last thing will be the placenta.
Attempting to quell some of my new-found, seemingly limitless nervous energy, I quickly flipped through the CD book. I was searching for the one she wanted to hear.
“This is it. This is the last car ride as a childless couple,” I pointed out, hoping to distract her. Her musical request now playing, I put it in reverse and slowly backed down the driveway.
She was ten days overdue.
Almost from the moment of conception, though definitely intensifying during the Lamaze classes, I had witnessed her become more and more terrified by the thought of a C-section.
“Do we have the movies?” she asked, playing along in our little game.
“I put them and the DVD player in the backpack three days ago,” I reassured her, tapping the bag stowed behind me.
Having completed the stretching of her skin, the doctor will cease to give consideration to anything or anyone–whether the room’s familiar beeps and buzzing, his assistant’s breathing, or even his own thoughts–as he silently and hurriedly slices through the exposed portion of her tough, clammy, and purple uterus with precision.
Like a consecrated moment of silence, his worth can now be demonstrated solely through execution.
“Well, looks like you’re all settled in. This seems silly. We’re going to sit for twelve hours, eh? Just waiting? Do you want me to put on one of the movies? Or I can read to you from one of the books? I brought T.C. Boyle’s new one.”
The hospital room’s television was already on. She was viewing it from her bed as she shifted her attention over to me briefly. I kept talking about random trivialities, but we both knew there was only one thought being entertained.
Guys at work, fathers, had recently reminded us–unhelpfully–how doctors were paid more for performing C-sections. “That’s another reason why there are so many these days,” they would speculate. “But the female body needs to experience a natural delivery if the mom is going to come out of the pregnancy alright,” they would continue, with a look that meant alright in the head. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in a woman’s body during a pregnancy and just cutting her open and pulling out the baby does not let nature take its course,” ran the last theory explained before I noticed her dilated pupils and silenced them.
Back in the hospital, she said, “I can’t eat, but if you want to grab some food like we planned, now’s a good time.” She tried to smile.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” I asked before leaving.
Her rushing breaths will never abate even as she unavoidably seeks the eyes of the motherly voice that just announced, “Okay! We’re getting ready to pull baby.”
Four hands will squeeze into her abdomen. They belong to the doctor and his assistant who will have positioned themselves on opposite sides of her. Not even sparing the moment it would take to make eye contact with each other, they will then begin to alternate a violent pulling and tugging. Their pace for stretching her skin will be a mean one–precisely between reckless and urgent. Pull-tug-pull-tug-pull-tug.
“Why don’t we see how laying on your left side works again?” nurse number five suggested. I had just finished my burger.
The nurse–like the others before her–mechanically touched the bedding and then my wife as she waited for task completion.
“I’ll be back in a bit, after we see if that works,” she said on her way out the door.
On one of the screens near the bed, I noticed that the green number relaying my wife’s heart rate had climbed ten digits since last I looked.
Only two of the twelve hours we were told we would have to wait before they would induce delivery had elapsed when a tall forty year old doctor that we had never seen before walked into the room.
“The baby’s heart rate is staying consistent through your contractions which is good,” he began. “But the baby’s heart rate is dropping after them.”
Hearing nothing, I turned to her in time to see her hold back her tears by nodding rapidly in response.
“We need to do a C-section to deliver the baby,” he concluded. Then he left the room.
All I could think about was what the guys had said. The doctor is greedy. He knows the baby would probably be fine, and the only reason he told us anything is to justify his payday.
“I can’t believe this,” I began aloud with an undignified tone that feigned a feeling of helplessness. “Can you believe this?” I asked her as she trembled uncontrollably. “This is exactly what everyone told us would happen. I am so sorry. We don’t even know this man and we were supposed to wait twelve hours before even beginning to induce. It has only been two. What the hell is going on here?”
Waiting for help, she cried.
These days scalpels under a new name are plugged into a power outlet and cauterize as they cut. There will be no blood.
I came into the operating room after being shown how to put on all the disposable sterile gear. The room appeared to still be under construction. A nurse led me to my wife’s side along a path that ensured that the blue sheet hanging over her torso, the sheet meant to obstruct her view of the procedure, would also obstruct mine.
Arms and legs strapped down, the woman will lay on a padded table awake though nauseous from the anesthetics.
“How are you doing, sweetie?” the nurse will ask just prior to the doctor making the initial incision. The doctor will not hear this, his thoughts centering instead on getting the baby out.
The hot blade will then slice through her unfeeling skin, fat, and muscle with little resistance.
Her restricted hand moved. The finest edge in the room was the courage behind the words that I will never forget. Piercing every form of fear, she filled the world with five syllables.
“Will you hold my hand?”
To be clear, this is the working end of H-‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flavored kid’s toothpaste tube. Though more slowly than after brushing with my Arm and Hammer Baking Soda toothpaste on vacation because I forgot to pack hers, she still runs to get a drink of water after spitting because–her words–“Hot!”
(I just wanted to give you something to ponder while you wait, breath bated, for me to complete the first short story I’ve written in 355 days.)
“I’m so excited about St. Patrick’s Day because I get to wear green and my mom’s favorite color is green!”
“Ha. That’s true. When is it?”
“I think it’s Thursday next week.”
“Are you going to wear green?”
“Now H-, when have you ever seen me dress up for a holiday?”
“Do you want to get pinched?”
So, remember my anti-bad teachers rant(s)? Only moments ago, H- told me something that *I think* gave me a glimpse of heaven.
She said, “Dad, today I fell asleep at school.”
A bit shocked, I asked, “When? Where were you?”
She said, “While we were watching T.V.”
Yippee!!! Hallelujah!! She’s doing it! Victory!!
I said, “Will you do something for me?”
She answered, “What?”
“Will you fall asleep every time you watch TV?”
(See what I’m doing here?)
So, from now on, if my little ruse works, I’ll have contributed to a problem which proves the problem. I cannot wait for some teacher or administrator to address me about H-‘s sleeping habits at school. The very thought of that moment is, itself, nourishment to my soul.
My main man when it comes to movie reviews is Bill Gibron. Back around the time that the internet first came to be there was a website called filmcritic.com. I discovered him there, I think. Anyhow, I have always appreciated his reviews and found them to be helpful in deciding whether or not to shell out the big bucks for a movie ticket. Over time I have noticed that he has had a particular love affair with Darren Aronofsky. Because of my esteem of Mr. Gibron, I have desperately sought the same love affair, but never quite saw the “genius” that Mr. Gibron did. I really enjoyed Mr. Aronofsky’s films, I just didn’t fall in love with the man like Mr. Gibron seemed to. All that has changed.
H- just began to learn Peter Tchaikovsky’s epic Swan Lake theme on the piano. It is a force of nature even when played with just one note at a time. In any case, this event taken together with a real desire to give Mr. Gibron’s passion one more go led to me viewing Black Swan for a second time. This time around I finally see the genius. Black Swan is the story of a ballet dancer who is trying to be the best as would be indicated by her dancing the role of the swan queen in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in some hot shot’s revision of Swan Lake. So it’s a movie about a revision of a very famous ballet that includes themes of sacrifice and pressure to perform etc. But it’s not! It, Black Swan itself, is the revision of Swan Lake for movie-going audiences! And that’s why Mr. Aronofsky is a genius and deserves our attention. He cuts through all our defenses and serves up Tchaikovsky’s timeless story in a new way that forces us to reckon with all of our notions of love and happiness and truth and sacrifice. It’s an amazing film. Watch it. Watch it again.
Perhaps some of you think I am too hard on public school teachers. Here’s something to consider. A public school teacher with an amazing (if any divorce blog can attain such a title) blog mentioned that she finds herself teaching “frustration management” to her students. At this point, I would like to call my roughneck friends to the discussion. You see, when I was working in the oil fields, there was work to be done. Manly work. And yes, I mean that in the gender specific way. Work that men and only men can accomplish. For instance, every time we finished drilling a well, we had to move the rig to a new well. One of the things that this move required was the tightening of nuts onto bolts. The nuts were about the size of a woman’s fist, and the bolts were just over a foot long. The way we tightened these nuts was by swinging a sledge hammer as hard as we possibly could against a hammer wrench which was placed around the nut. Out of a twelve hour shift, how many minutes do you think we were given to not swinging the sledge hammer in favor of discussing how to deal with how frustrating the task was?
Do not hear me say that learning is not frustrating. And remember that I am the one who quit being a “teacher” because I refused to buy into the “be the change” mantra that schools with poor performing students chant. Instead, hear me calling public school teachers to realize that they are making the weather that they are complaining about. No other group–no other group–who controls their destiny does it in such a poor fashion as public school teachers. That’s what frustrates me (and I think most non-public educators).
By way of example, guess which specialty runs the Air Force? Pilots. Guess what pilots do for each other in the Air Force? Take care of each other. They ensure the flying is safe and smart and everyone is compensated well. Public school teachers, on the other hand, cite chapter and verse about all the limitations and massive time requirements etc. that they have to operate within and never once consider that just like Air Force pilots they are the one’s who write the book. Spending time teaching kids how to deal with the fact that learning takes effort? That cannot but be a disservice to the child–and I think teachers know that. So stop doing it. Kids need to learn to hit the hammer wrench as hard as they can and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after the task is completed and completed well. And the only way to learn this is for teachers to tell the kids that the nuts must be tightened by a sledge hammer. As it stands, the only thing kids are learning is that the nuts don’t need to be tightened. Maybe teachers agree.