Archive for December, 2008

Anybody Want a Cat?

Having Slade at home has been surprisingly easy. I expected inconsolable screaming deep into the night, but it hasn’t happened. He sleeps most of the time. When he’s awake, he grunts lots but rarely cries.

He does burp loudly. Eli put it this way: “Baby brother burps like a volcano.” That sounds about right.

Further evidence that our cat Snurp is insane: He drinks only toilet water and only from the upstairs master bath. We do put fresh water outside for him. I’m not sure why. He refuses to even sniff the stuff.

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Snurp also enjoys galloping under the garage door just as it closes. On Christmas day, I pushed the button to close the door with Snurp only a few feet outside. The cat didn’t notice or didn’t seem to care, perhaps because he was busy cleaning his anus, a favorite past time. I hoped, for once, that he might not test the fates.

But it wasn’t to be. With the door only inches from the ground, Snurp made a run for it.

The front half of Snurp made it. The back half didn’t. Snurp howled as the door squished him.

Thinking he might be injured, I scooped him up and brought him inside.

Sally, who was inside with Slade, asked what the commotion was about.

“The stupid cat got caught in the stupid garage door, ” I told her, exasperated. “I think he might be hurt.” I looked down at Snurp, who loves to be held, and noticed his eyes were starting to close, contentedly.

And then I felt it. He wasn’t hurt. He was purring.

I set Snurp down, and he immediately darted up the stairs for toilet water.

“Looks fine to me,” Sally said.

And he is. At least his body. That head of his is a different matter.

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Christmas Eve

I saw one yesterday at work. I saw another in line at HEB later that evening. Pregnant women. Probably due around the time we were. I see them, and I think: That should be us. Slade should be in the warm and dark in Sally’s belly.

But he isn’t. He’s out in the world. Slade is sacked out in the bedroom right now.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad he’s here. But it feels like we opened our Christmas present early, and it all feels a little unnatural.

Speaking of Christmas. . .

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Toys R Us
I ventured into Toys R Us yesterday to pick up a couple of things for Eli. We’d gone there last weekend, but the joint was so packed with white trash suburbanites and their terrible kids that we left without buying anything.

Toy R Us was even more crowded yesterday.

But I mixed with the masses, found what I’d come for, waited in a ridiculously long line, and bought Eli’s Christmas presents. I felt like an especially good dad.

As I walked out, I set off the alarm. I stopped, but nobody came to inspect my bag. Some middle aged guy with five-year-old girl strolled by and said, “They’re not coming, brother. Take whatever you want and go.”

“But I paid for this,” I replied. “I have a receipt.” I’m a dorky rule follower like that.

He half-grinned at me, nodded, and gave me a knowing look as he made his way out the door. The guy didn’t believe me. He thought I was a thief.

I split. After I left, I felt, for an instant, like a smooth bad ass who had just pulled off a bank job. But then I remembered that the loot in my bag was wood train tracks, AA batteries, and a remote control monster truck. And that I’d paid for the stuff. And that I was in dreary strip mall with 10,000 other dreary people.

I didn’t feel so cool then.

My Dad Loves Duct Tape
My dad is perhaps the most thorough wrapper in the world, which is great and everything, until we have to open a package he sends. Weeks will sometimes pass after we receive a box from him before we open it, not because we don’t care about what’s inside, but because we dread the half-hour battle with scissors and knives that awaits to get the stupid thing open.

Sally, in a burst of energy or insanity, announced last night, while I was washing dishes, that she would open the Christmas package that had arrived that day from my parents in New Mexico.

What I said to her was “Thanks.” What I thought was: You poor, poor sucker.

A few minutes later she emerged from the dining room where she was fighting the good fight.

“Pat really outdid himself this time. I’m pretty sure he used a whole role of duct tape,” she stated. She grabbed a steak knife and was gone again.

A few minutes later she came into the kitchen with the knife in two pieces. She was sweating.

“I broke the knife,” she said matter of factly. “That’s a first.” She disappeared again.

I heard grunts and whacks and R-rated language from the dining room. Finally, I heard “halle-freakin-lujah.” Sally had pried open the package, which was, I’m sure, a small, satisfying victory.

I later saw what remained of the box. It looked like someone had used a chainsaw, a meat cleaver, and rabid bobcat to tear into it.

Leaving the NICU

Slade comes home on Sunday, just about six weeks from when he was born. He’s still tiny and unformed and very susceptible to illness, but we’re ready to have him out of the hospital. We’re ready to put the NICU behind us.

When Slade was born, the NICU felt like a foreign country with its own annoying bureaucracy, odd culture, inscrutable rules, and language we didn’t speak. That first week, we were called out daily for breaking rules.

You can’t look at other babies, even though there are 10 infants packed into a small, open room. I learned that on day one.

Your toes have to be covered. Sally learned that on day two.

You can’t bring a visitor when both parents are there. Jana learned that a week later.

Nurses rule the NICU. We learned that as well. Fortunately, the nurses are kind and capable and flexible. They did their jobs well, and for that, we owe them big.

We also learned that we have it good. Bad news is part of the every day life in the NICU. There was B., born within a day of Slade at the same gestational age and weight. B’s twin brother died in utero. Over the past month, his parents have found that B. has two holes in his heart, an underdeveloped digestive system, and most recently, brain damage.There was the baby who died in the NICU. Sally was there when the medical staff scrambled as her life slipped away. That was a black day.

We’ve been very fortunate with Slade. He’s doing well, and I feel, deep down, to the bone, that he’s going to be perfectly fine.

We learned about NG tubes and desating and placental abruptions and oxygen saturation levels and hormones and new drugs in the NICU.

We learned to read Slade’s charts.

We learned to appreciate ounces. A gain of an ounce meant Slade was getting better. It elevated us day after day.

We speak NICU now. I’m glad we do. But I’m mainly glad we’re leaving that place. And I hope we’ll never visit again.

Trail of Lights

Here’s my deep thought for the day. Winter sucks. Even in Austin. Sure, I know winter sucks even more in Iowa, the tall corn state, where I wasted my formative years. And I know that Gillette, Wyoming, where my brother lives, has suckier winter still. For grins, I checked the temperature in Gillette the other day. It was -17. So it could be worse. We could live in Barrow, Alaska.

But it’s sucky here, too. It’s dark and dreary and everything looks dead.

We met up with up Trey, Michele, their almost 2 year old, and a friend of theirs for dinner at the Texas Chili Parlor last night. Then we took a shuttle to the Trail of Lights, a colossal and eclectic collection of lights and Christmas scenes in Zilker Park. The trail is always impressive, drawing a huge crowd. Eli, of course, liked the bus ride there best. That and having pretend races as we walked by the lights.

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I keep forgetting to take the camera to the NICU, not that you’re interested in seeing more pictures of Slade who looks the same, only bigger. Okay, Slade’s Grammy probably wants to see them. Barring a set back, he’ll be home in three or four days. Then things get interesting.

Sally’s Pink Shoes

I realized something this week. The something wasn’t a Paul blinded on the road to Damascus epiphany or a Buddha discovering the middle way under the Bodhi tree mystical awakening. It was a small glimpse into a small life. And I expect that it’s interesting only to me.

I’m sharing it with you anyway.

Thursday morning, I walk into our bedroom to find Sally sitting in a rocking chair with her legs crossed. She’s holding a pencil, playing Su Doku. Two tubes from under her shirt are connected to the breast pump, which goes grrrreeee, grrreeee, grrreee. Sally is wearing a black and red flannel shirt, tie dye sky blue sweat pants with white lightning bolt stripes, and pink shoes. Here are the shoes:

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It was an strange sight, one that will live in my head for years. And for the first time in a while, I really looked at Sally, at this color-challenged lady, at this pretty girl with the lightning pants and the foam shoes, at this very good mom, and I realized this: I’m awfully lucky to have such an odd, kind human in my life. Hopefully, she’ll let me stick around a bit longer.

Goings On
We hung with some old buddies this weekend: The Tubres, the Valdezes, and Shawn Hollis. Good people. Even Shawn Hollis.

We didn’t eat at Taco Bell all week. I think I might be going through withdrawals.

We missed out on Erik and Kelly’s holiday party, which is always a fun gathering. I intended to go, but with the hospital and visitors and no caffeine, I couldn’t get it together. A buddy texted me from the party. He wrote “you suck.” So I was missed, which is nice.

Slade is straight up 5 pounds with a hospital departue around Christmas looking likely. On Saturday, while Eli was hanging with his pal Madyson, Sally and I visited Slade together. We were there long enough to change a couple of diapers, get peed on, hold him, take his temperature, bathe him, and get peed on again.

Sunday was a children’s birthday party at Pump It Up, which sounds like a gay fitness club, but is actually an indoor play area. At the party, we ran into the Chees, who have three great kids, aged 15 months to 5 years. Watching them herd their children and play with them and deal with a rug burn, a bloody nose, and a head bonk, I found myself wondering how in the world the Chees keep with their kids. And then I wondered, how will we?

I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Beert (or the Lesleys venture out into the big, scary world)

With Slade still in the NICU, we’ve settled into a steady routine over the past few weeks. For me, it’s work and hospital and home and little else.I don’t think about going to the hospital. I just go. Like showing up for work. Like picking up milk and bananas at the store. It’s what I do.

We blew up that routine this weekend. We dined at real restaurants, set foot in an actual bar, and talked with adults, none of whom were nurses or preschool teachers or Taco Bell cashiers.

Friday
For happy hour, we met Kyle, a co-worker who’s a “that’s-what-she-said” savant, and Juliet, a sharp, funny gal who worked with me until she up and moved to Vietnam. From there, it was off to dinner with Claudia, BJ, Jana, Trey, and Ryan. Sally and Eli called it a night after dinner, but the rest of us went to visit our pal Dave at his new house.

Dave is a bachelor. You can tell that by opening his refrigerator. Here’s what it contained: one carton of eggs, one stick of butter, one jar of mayo, two cups of water, and six different kinds of beer.

Given the crowd, the gathering at Dave’s was sedate. Nobody set anything on fire. Nobody busted a window. And nobody went streaking down the street. Sure, there was hacky sack in the kitchen and that probably lead to spilled drink or two. But mainly it was regular talk—debate about who is the better guitarist, Dime Bag Dave or Kirk Hammett, stories about Leon from Louisiana and the door-to-door meat delivery business, pointers on the best places to play ping pong, and plans for going to a NASCAR race.

Actually, the NASCAR stuff wasn’t idle conversation. We’re heading to the Texas Motor Speedway for the Samsung 500 in April. That was decided at Dave’s house. It was also decided that we’ll be staying with the Tubres, who live close by. The Tubres, of course, don’t know that the Lesleys, Trey, BJ, Jana, Claudia and five other strangers, some of whom likely sport criminal records, will be invading their two-bedroom house. But I’m sure they won’t mind. We’ll bring beer enough for everyone.

Speaking of beer, Dave shared a poem he’d written Friday night. I really liked the it. From what I could gather, the poem was about drinking and being angry and ripping the heads off animals. The last word of the poem was “beert.”

Saturday
Saturday’s outing was to a holiday pot luck at the parents of Madyson, a sweet girl in Eli’s preschool. Eli is increasingly indifferent to girls. He’s into bikes and soccer and race cars and Power Rangers Ninja Storm. He’s not into girls, but Madyson is an exception.

On the way to preschool a few months back, Eli and I were conversing about excavators and monster trucks, like we often do, when Madyson’s name came up. I asked him what he thought about her. He told me he loved her.

“I think you mean you like her,” I replied.

“No, dad, I love her. I really do.”

A few weeks later he proclaimed to Sally that someday, when he was old enough, he would marry Madyson.

Madyson’s parents, unbeknownst to us, planned an impromptu baby shower for Slade at the pot luck. Every parent, none of whom know us well, brought thoughtful gifts. I didn’t know what to say. I’m a black cloud kind of guy, but people keep doing nice things for us that we utterly don’t deserve. I can’t help but see some sunshine in the world.

Sunday
Sunday evening it was off to Waterloo for food and drinks with Tracy, an old friend and former roommate from college who now lives in the pacific northwest. All that socializing wiped me out. I was in bed, asleep, before 10:00.

Slade Update
Slade is out of the incubator, nursing decently, and up to 4 pounds, 5 ounces. It’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll be home around Christmas. Wait and see, right?

John Denver

We’re dorks. I was reminded of that this morning.

Eli and I were brushing our teeth, and I heard him humming a familiar tune. When he finished brushing, he sang, “Oh, babe. I hate to go.” I recognized the line. It was from a very familiar, very terrible song. But what song? I couldn’t remember.

And then it came to me. It’s from “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” John Denver’s first hit. I should have known.

Sally, as you’re probably aware, is a huge John Denver fan. She’s memorized entire John Denver albums. She knows the stories behind the songs, the names of John Denver’s ex-wives, and the fact that John Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. I bet she can even spell Deutschendorf. It’s impressive, the random Deutschendorf trivia she has swimming in her head. It’s a little disturbing, too.

After I brushed my teeth, I told Sally, who was sipping coffee in the living room, that her son was singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in the bathroom.

“That’s my boy,” she replied.

When Eli made his way into the living room, Sally started in on the song, and Eli immediately joined in. He knew most, perhaps all, of the words, and he sang on pitch.

That’s cool, I thought, and then realized that outside the Bradys and the Patridges and maybe the Jets, a family singing bubble gum pop songs together is pretty far from cool.

But I still got a kick out of it. That probably means I’m the biggest dork of all.