Archive for November, 2008

More Pictures of Slade

Dads have duties. An important one is subjecting friends, family, co-workers, indifferent Taco Bell employees, and marginally lucid transients to pictures of their infant children. The pictures are always cute and adorable. They make Chuck Norris want to throw up.

Nobody really wants to see these pictures, even though they say they do. It’s their duty as decent human beings to feign interest, to emptily compliment the parents on the infant, even if inside they’re thinking: “Yep. Looks like a kid. Looks like every other crying, drooling, filling-his-britches kid in the world.”

So I’m doing my job as a new dad today. I’m sharing more unsolicited photographs of Slade.

These shots were taken by a nice nurse in the NICU. Her name is Heidi. She’s talented with a camera.

Family update: Slade is rocking the casbah. He’s gaining weight and starting to use a bottle. He’s controlling his body temperature, which means he’ll be incubator free in a week or so. Sally is kicking heinie as well, and Snurp, our dim bulb of a cat, has finally figured out that the dining room floor is not his litter box.






Chuck E. Cheese’s

I’ve been to Chuck E. Cheese’s exactly once, back in 1998 for a niece’s birthday party. I remember two things about the experience.

One, the smell. The place didn’t smell like pizza and pasta and Parmesan cheese. It smelled like the men’s bathroom.

Two, the noise. Kids screamed, babies wailed, machines dinged, and a scary-looking band of robots dressed like animals played awful kid’s songs. The noise made me itch. The robots visited me in my nightmares. And I vowed that I would never, ever set foot in that awful establishment again.

I broke that promise today.

Here’s how it happened: My mom told Eli that she would take him to Chuck E. Cheese’s. Because the pizzeria was just down the road from the hospital, we figured that while my mom was in the area, she could stop by the NICU to hold Slade.

It seemed like a fine plan, all in all. But the plan involved Sally and I meeting my mom and Eli at that terrible place with the crying babies and the singing robot band.

But when we walked in, Chuck E. Cheese’s didn’t seem all that bad. It was clean and relatively quiet, the employees were friendly, and the joint didn’t smell like a urinal. I even found myself thinking I might take Eli and Slade there myself some day. I’m not sure if that means I’m a strip mall sell out or just a regular old dad who loves his kids. Probably some of both.

The hospital was the hospital. Sterile. Sedate. Orderly. The medical staff told us Slade is doing well, and he certainly looks healthy to me. He’s putting on weight, and he’s off the IV. We’re still a ways from getting him home, unfortunately.

Here’s a picture of my mom holding Slade. I think she’s whispering about cherry popsicles, toys from Target, and visits to Chuck E. Cheese’s.



Sally came home from the hospital on Saturday. She’s feeling strong, which is great, but she’s doing more than she should, which isn’t. I’ve tried to stop her. I really have. Sunday night I told her to stay upstairs, in bed with her book, while I bathed Eli. She didn’t listen. In those few minutes, she made her way to the laundry room, unloaded the dryer, folded the clothes, put them away, and started another load.

Earlier in the day, I thwarted her effort to make breakfast. “The kitchen is man’s domain, at least for the next six weeks,” I told her. She muttered under her breath, probably something about me being a whimpy little girl, but grudgingly shuffled back to the couch.

My mom arrived from New Mexico Monday afternoon. We’re excited to have her visiting. For Eli, my mom’s arrival is like Christmas, only better. My mom—Grammy to Eli—loves her grandchildren. Sure, I know. All grandparents love their grandchildren. And all grandparents spoil their grandkids.

But not like Grammy. Eli wants ice cream at 9 AM? He’s got it. He wants Grammy to play trains with him for hours on end? You bet. He wants Grammy to take him to Chuck E. Cheese’s, that horrible, horrible place with the screaming kids racing around wetting themselves? She’s already loading up the car to go.

Not that I’m complaining. Grandparents are supposed to indulge grandkids. And it’s important for Eli—and soon Slade—to know that people, outside their odd parents, completely and unconditionally get them.

I’m not entirely sure that my mom sleeps when she visits. Not only does she cater to all of Eli’s whims—which grow more elaborate each day—she also cooks, cleans, and does laundry. (And when my dad visits, he works, too, cutting down dead trees, mowing the yard, assembling swing sets, building shelves, painting walls. But at least, come evening, I can talk my old man into a beer and some stupid TV.) Sally and I tell my mom that she should take it easy, that keeping up with Eli is work enough. She always nods her head and promises she will. But when we arrive home, we find the floors mopped, dinner ready, and Eli climbing on my 72-year-old mother, getting her to spin him around in circles.

“Eli, get off Grammy,” we’ll say. And then to my mom: “Mom, the house looks great. You shouldn’t have.”

“Oh, I really didn’t do anything,” she’ll fib.

Mothers. Wives. They’re incorrigible.

Slade is doing well. He’s should be off the IV today, which is Tuesday, or tomorrow. The jaundice, which most premature babies suffer from, is gone. And he’s quadrupled the amount of breast milk he takes at each feeding. We wonder what he’s going to look like. Right now, he looks like most any other newborn, but he does have an extra long second toe, just like Sally.

We’re thinking that means he’ll have big feet.


When I walked into the NICU this morning, I saw this:


Sally was allowed to hold Slade for a few minutes. She said he was crying until she picked him up. Even premees need to be held.

Most of the time in the NICU is spent sitting and staring. As parents, we feel we need to be there. But there really isn’t much to do. There’s a tidy army of nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel perpetually marching around the NICU. And with Slade wired from head to toe, even a hiccup sets off five different alarms and brings a well-intentioned nurse over to investigate.

So mainly we sit, we stare. 

We do talk to him, of course. Initially, for me, I’d drop empty words of encouragement, like “hey little guy. You’re doing great!!” Or: “Look at those big toes. You’re going to be a big dude!”

But today, I decided that Slade deserved thought provoking conversation.

I started by introducing myself properly. I said, “Good afternoon, Slade. I’m glad you’re lying down because I have some important and discouraging news to share.”

“Slade,” I continued. “My name is Craig Lesley, and I’m your father.”

Slade took the news well. He didn’t weep. His heart rate didn’t spike. He didn’t even twitch. He held it together. This kid is going to be a stoic cowboy, I decided. Like Clint Eastwood. Only tougher. And cooler.

Aside from that discouraging piece of information, I kept the conversation light. I talked about some text on torsional vibration measurements I was editing for work. I mentioned that the nice lady who keeps stopping by and talking to him and touching his feet is his mother. “You’ll like her,” I assured him. “She’s the one who knows what’s going on.”

I didn’t mention unpleasantries like the fact that he has two ill-behaved dogs awaiting him at home, one a strung-out border collie with chronic halitosis named Wiley Bucket, the other an overly friendly 100-pound habitual crotch-sniffer named Chuck.

I didn’t mention the family cat, Snurp, who, by all accounts, is a real son of a bitch.

And I didn’t share that the bearded guy wearing the party hat below isn’t an underemployed side show performer. He’s Papoo, Slade’s paternal grandfather. I figured I’d save troubling subjects like that for another day.

Sally comes home tomorrow, which is Saturday. She’s recovering quickly. She, like me, has been overwhelmed by all the kind emails and phone calls and gifts. You’re good people. Strange, sure. (I’m thinking of that guy in the party hat in particular.) But good, nonetheless.

On Monday, my mom flies in for a visit. That’s going to be a big, big help.

Slade Milton Lesley

4:40 AM. Wiley wakes me up, panting in my face, worried. Crazy border collie, I think. He probably heard thunder or a stray firecracker. I fall back asleep.

4:45 AM. Sally yells, “Craig, you need to get up.” She’s in the bathroom, with Wiley standing at the door, staring at her, still panting. I shuffle in to find her sitting on the toilet. There’s pink blood on her legs and on her clothes and on the toilet seat and spilling over the sides. There’s blood on the tile, on the throw rug, and on the bathtub.

“Something’s wrong with the baby. Call Doctor Meritt,” she says. I turn on the computer to find the emergency number. I call, and while we’re waiting on the OBGYN to call back, we wake Eli and tell him to get dressed. I throw the cat and the dogs outside. There’s blood all over the bed.

I keep thinking that our neurotic border collie knew something was wrong. I keep thinking that we lost the baby. Most of all, I try not to think. Keep moving, I tell myself.

Doctor Meritt calls back. We’re to go to the ER. As we walk to the car, Sally says, “I don’t feel the baby moving.” We’re thinking the same thing. The baby is already gone.

But then, speeding on the way to the hospital, Sally tells me she feels the baby kicking. There’s hope. I drive faster.

5:40 AM. At the hospital, Eli and I find Sally. We’d dropped her at the ER and then gone to park the car. Three medical-looking people are examining her. Not wanting Eli to be exposed to anything traumatic, I tell Sally we’ll be in the waiting room.

5:45 AM. A nurse comes out, politely introduces herself, tells me Sally’s uterus and placenta are separating, that they’re going to perform a C section in a few minutes, that Sally has already been put under, that I’m not allowed to see the proceedings, that the baby will be taken immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit, that Sally is okay but bleeding lots, that the baby will be in the NICU for a long time.

Eli asks lots of questions. I try to answer them in an upbeat way. Then I change the subject. “Your baby brother is coming today, and we still don’t have a name. What do you think we should call him?”

“I think we should call him Pick Pack,” Eli replies.

6:15 AM. The nurse comes out to tell me that the baby and Sally are doing okay. The baby looks big for being 10 weeks premature, she says. She tells me he was delivered at 6:08.

6:20 AM. Doctor Meritt and another doctor walk out to tell us that the baby is crying and alert, that he looks big and healthy for 30 weeks, that he is breathing on his own. They tell me Sally is out of it, and that she’s lost a fair amount of blood, but that she is going to be fine. They’re soothing and quick to smile. They’re professionals.

Less than two hours before, Sally and I were dead asleep. Now, before sunrise, we’re parents again. It doesn’t feel remotely real.  

Later that morning, after dropping Eli at preschool, I’m able to see first Sally and then the baby. Sally —shaking and looking like she’d been in a car crash—is alert and asking lots of questions about the baby. I don’t have answers, and neither does the nurse, but she takes me to see him.

He’s 3 pounds, 7 ounces, red, with tubes and sensors covering most of his body connected to a closest-sized computer. It’s hard to see him like that. And it’s hard to be helpless. The nurse and the NICU doctor answer my many questions, reassuring me repeatedly that he is doing fine.



That afternoon, on my way back from the house, I think about names. I remember Sally and I both liked Gus, Griffen, Cormac, and Slade. I think about the pink baby in the bubble with the tubes and try to find one that suits him. If that tiny human is going to make it, I conclude, he’s going to have to be tough and determined. And he’s going to need a strong name to fit him.

I settle on Slade. It sounds chiseled and honest and masculine.

When I return to the hospital, I tell Sally I’m leaning toward Slade. “That’s good,” she says, “because when I visited him a few minutes ago, I called him Slade.”

So Slade Milton Lesley it is.

Sally seems to be doing better by the hour. She’s even walking a little and is on track to leave the hospital in a few days. Slade continues to do well, at least as well as a 30-week-old can do. Because he is breathing on his own, the NICU doctor thinks they’ll likely remove the breathing apparatus by Wednesday morning.

Wurst Fest

Saturday was the Wurst ride, a 100 k road ride from Austin to New Braunfels with proceeds supporting some nonprofit. For me circa 2004, 60 some odd miles on the bike would have been a typical weekend ride. But I’m not fit like I was then. I don’t ride my bike five or six times a week. And I rarely race.

So the ride, on an eighty-degree cloudless day into a strong headwind, put the hurt on me. But I finished, which was satisfying.

Sally and Eli met me in New Braunfels at the finish line. We grabbed a bite there and then drove down the street to Wurst Fest, an annual Oktoberfest. (New Braunfels was settled by German immigrants in the 19th century. There’s still a German community there, but I didn’t see much of that at Wurst Fest, which seems to mainly cater to tourists who want to eat turkey legs and get their drink on.) Wurst Fest was crowded, but we’d told Eli about the Ferris wheel and funnel cakes, so we dealt with the people and noise and lines. We didn’t want to feel like bad parents.

We stayed for a couple of hours, peeking in on a couple of polka bands; riding the Ferris wheel, kiddie roller coaster, and carousel; and standing in a long line to get a funnel cake. Eli seemed to have a fine time. On the way home, he conked out in the car and slept straight through till Sunday morning.


This morning. . .

Eli: Dad, did you know there are monsters everywhere?

Me: Are they good monsters or bad monsters?

Eli: Some are good, and some want to eat you up.

I like that. The idea of Monsters everywhere. It’s almost apocalyptic. And maybe it’s true.