Category Archives: Letters to my son

A Visit to the Park

Dear Son,

It was a guys’ night tonight. Your mom took herself out to see a movie  (Fahrenheit 11/9 – I’m sure we’ll watch it together someday, and hopefully it’ll be merely a cautionary tale of a strange blip in American history), and I picked you up from daycare. Instead of going straight home, I took you to Indian Boundary Park in Chicago, about a mile north from where we lived at the time.

It was chilly, and you were a bit underdressed, but you didn’t seem to mind. You loved being pushed in the swing, and was upset when we had to leave to come home.

We had a quiet night at home, and when it was time to go to bed, you were ready to jump in your crib to “read” your books you have in there with you. You “read” and sang to yourself for a half-hour before finally giving in to sleep.

I’m still in awe how much you grow day by day, little by little. There’s a lot weighing on my mind right now, a lot of it has to do with what’s happening politically and culturally in our country right now, but you and your mom and Jessica Jones are the silveriest of the silver linings in it all.

Love you, kid.

Dad

August 5, 2018 – VLOG of the Day

Son,

You turned a year and a half old today. Didn’t get much video, but it was a fun day. We went to the gym, and you felt much better about being dropped off in the Kid Center than you have before. You tripped and fell and scratched your face on the bedroom door, and I realize I’m writing this down because your mom and I feel bad about that, but you’re going to trip and fall and stumble a lot, and we’ll all learn how to deal with it, you’ll take the time you need to cry or fuss and get better, and we’ll move on from it.

You’re such a joy, kiddo. I can’t wait to experience the next 18 months with you.

How to Not Hurt People Using Others’ Words (I’m still figuring this out too)

Dear Son,

This one time in college, a classmate in my college theater department made a particularly cruel joke at my expense one night during notes after a play rehearsal. I was zoned out, lost in my own world, and I didn’t hear what he said. What’s more, I didn’t even hear the collective gasp of everyone in the room who did.

Afterwards, another classmate came up to me and complimented me for not reacting, saying that he would have punched the guy for what he said if he were in my shoes, and in fact, he wanted to go punch that guy right now on my behalf. Once we cleared up the confusion over me not having heard what was said to begin with, I asked him to tell me. He opened his mouth to do so, but thought better of it and stopped himself.

“No,” he said. “If I repeat what he said, I’m trying to hurt you just as much as he was.”

Sixteen years later, I remember that conversation and the lesson from it, although I still sometimes have a difficult time following it.

Often in life, we find ourselves in situations where we feel the need to share someone’s hurtful words. Sometimes, yes, it is necessary. More often, though, it isn’t. More often, I think our underlying, unconscious intention is to make the other person feel the same hurt or anxiety or anger we have ourselves over what was said, even if we don’t fully realize that’s what we’re doing.

We are hurt, and we want others to hurt. It’s not right, but it is human.

***

I had a co-worker a few years ago who let me know one of our colleagues was mocking me behind my back. I had used one particular word – “Hubris” – too many times in a conversation that day for his liking, and so he had sent her a snarky chat message pondering whether I had a “Word of the Day” calendar, and if “hubris” was it for this day.

In the moment, I was grateful she had shared that with me, I guess, so I could be on guard around that co-worker. After she and I no longer worked together, I realized there were a number of occasions like that between us – her reporting what others were saying about me (it was one of those work environments where people often spoke badly of other behind their backs, and I probably was just as bad as others, sad to say), and I wondered if there was ever an instance where it was really necessary for me to be told what was being said.  I’m sure she had the best of intentions. But her net impact was to hurt my feelings using others’ words.

A couple of years later, I found myself in a different work setting that was certifiably toxic. The owner/head of the company and the head of staff would speak to everyone in the company about how they were unhappy with a certain person apparently on the verge of being fired, but not actually speak with that person about the issues that needed to be addressed. It created an environment where everyone was “looking out for each other” by letting each other know what the bosses were saying about them, but also, everyone was wary of each other as well. More than once, I felt like a colleague was giving me a heads up about what was being said about me not so much to help, but to rattle me.

Everyone was unsure of the stability of their jobs from day to day, and we sometimes exacerbated that feeling in each other.

I often told myself to be aware of the fray, but stay above it. It was a smart goal. I never did manage to accomplish it. I was relieved to hear when the bosses were targeting a co-worker, because it wasn’t me, and those things typically happened one at a time.

I worked at that place for a couple of years, and I had to leave when waking up at 4am with wrenching anxiety dreading the day ahead of me was a daily occurrence.

Here’s something else interesting about that time: In those months of being stressed and scared working at this place, I was absolutely obnoxious on social media, constantly mocking and deriding people I disagreed with politically and culturally. (These were the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Obama versus Romney.) I was so obnoxious, in fact, even people who agreed with me ideologically removed me from their friends lists to escape my vitriol.

Hurt people hurt people.

***

I have no doubt social media is just as much as pervasive in our culture when you read this as it is now. More than ever in our current political climate, people share others’ hurtful words with the intention to inform and perhaps inspire a call to action, but their net impact is hurting others. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to stay informed. But there’s a line between thoughtfully bringing something important to others’ attention, and sharing something so others can share in your outrage.

It’s hard to see that line. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes. I still get it wrong.

***

Another thing to keep in mind: There’s going to come a time when you are the one who says something hurtful. In today’s world, it’s likely many people will hear about and read what you’ve said. It will be embarrassing, and it will probably have consequences. There will be those who rush to publicly shame you. You will need to deal with that situation with integrity.

If it’s something you’ve said on social media, there might be those who say you shouldn’t delete your words. That you should leave them online as a lesson for others, and for your own growth, or something.

Listen to me, son: That sentiment is nonsense. If you post something hurtful, intentional or not, once you’ve thought better of it, or once you’ve learned why something you’ve said was thoughtless or cruel, not only is it okay to take those words down, but it’s the responsible to thing to do. Don’t run from what you said. Apologize individually to those hurt. Apologize publicly. Take responsiblity and accept the consequences. But take what you said down so people aren’t looking at it and sharing it, and thus, hurting even more people.

(In all likelihood, someone will have grabbed a screen capture, and it will still be shared. But you will have at least tried to mitigate the hurt you may have done. Also: I feel weird talking to you about things like screen captures, but I’m sure you’ll know what those are by the time you’re age three.)

When people share others’ hurtful words, their intentions may be good, but they are at risk of causing pain.

***

I was driving to pick you up from daycare the other day, and I saw a mural in our neighborhood for the first time:

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I think that’s the best way to express what I’m trying to say. “Before you propose to speak, ask yourself: Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?”

Remember all three, but really focus on those last two requirements: Kind, and necessary.

Just because something is true, it doesn’t mean it deserves to be repeated.

Love you, kid.

Dad

The History Leading Up to You, in a Picture

Dear son,

Today, my work found me on the 42nd floor of Two Prudential Plaza in downtown Chicago. I snapped a photo at the beginning of the day to post on social media. (It’s this thing we humans do, to pause our lives for a moment to snap a photo and share it, so we can show everyone just how interesting our lives are. I’m sure you’ve noticed.) (Also, it’s a way to draw attention to your line of work, and hope to engage more customers. I’m sure you’ve noticed this too.)

Looking back on the photo later today, I noticed there are a lot of landmarks in the photo from my 12 years thus far in Chicago, and some even before that, moments that led to you.

One of the buildings on the right is the former Blackstone Hotel, the place I stayed on my very first visit to Chicago, in May of 1998. Somewhere over there, a little south, is the Essex too, where I stayed on my second visit, about the same time a year later. I saw Star Wars: The Phantom Menace that night.

If I’m a good dad, you will not have seen this movie when you read this.

That roadway down the middle of the street is Columbus Drive, the starting and end points of the Chicago Marathon. I ran one marathon a few weeks after your mom and I moved in together, and another a couple of years later with your Aunt Susan. Your mom has a really embarrassing story about chasing me around the city and a clothing mishap she had, but she will probably never, ever, ever tell you that story, or let me share it with you, because there are stories children shouldn’t know about their mothers.

Soldier Stadium is in there. I’ve down two races that have started and ended there, one with your Aunt Susan, and another with your Uncles John and Jason.

Grant Park is there too, where I was the night Barack Obama was elected in 2008. There was so much hope for the country and the world at that moment, and I can only hope as I write this we’ve returned to something close to that by the time you’re reading this.

Somewhere on Michigan Avenue, to the right, is where I was when your mom texted me, and I had a hunch I would come home from teaching class that night to be told she was pregnant with you.

Bonus: Down in the lower right is the park where you had your first Easter egg hunt. You had no interest in the eggs. We just played in the park with Danielle and Brian and Sebastian.

It’s funny, I don’t make it to downtown Chicago much these days, maybe once a week or every couple. I don’t really think of a lot of my history being there, but looking at this picture, there’s a lot of me there, and so, a lot of you.

I can’t wait to share this view with you, or one like it, in person with you one day.

Love you, kid.

– Your Dad

 

Here Comes the Son

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“Hi hon! Can I call you real quick?”

This was the response I got back from your mom when I texted her to ask how her afternoon matinee movie was, and how she was feeling. I was at the start of my dinner break.

I had just wrapped up with a client – a long-time client who I see once a month, a client who shares my first name, and sometimes, that still feels a little weird, like I’m talking to myself in the session. “Dennis, how are you feeling today?” “Alright, Dennis, let’s have you turn over on to your back.”

I was in the break room now, microwaving my Trader Joe’s Palek Paneer frozen meal. As I popped holes in the covering with a plastic fork, it occurred to me I should check in with your mom and see how she was doing. You were four days past due at this point, and I had gotten to checking my phone in between each massage. But I had already started, and I thought, surely this isn’t the time. I texted her right after I put my meal in the microwave.

“Hi, hon! Can I call you real quick?”

And I knew.

Her water had broken about 15 minutes before. She was at home, doing laundry. She called the midwife team at the hospital first, and the midwife on call suggested she wait a few hours until active labor started. But still, I should come home right away.

There are certain chapters in your life you can’t fully experience in the moment, because you know from the very beginning how monumental a particular chapter is, and you’re going to be sharing the story over and over for days, weeks, and even years to come, and so you’re not just living the story, but you’re chronicling the story as well. You’re both a participant and a reporter of the tale, aware of both roles simultaneously.

So this was the beginning of the story of what your delivery was like.

***

As I sit to write this, you’re just a little over 48 hours old. You’re asleep in the bassinet in our hospital room, and your mom is resting. In a few minutes, I’ll need to pause to wake you both so she can feed you. I’m writing this because I don’t know the story of my own delivery. My mom and dad passed away years ago, and I never heard the story from them. I want to write this story down for you now while it’s fresh in my mind.

***

I went to the front desk of the spa, and told the ladies working that you’re water had just broken. They cheered for me, I told me they would call my last client of the night and let him know I had to cancel. I inhaled my microwave dinner. I texted your mom and asked her if she wanted me to bring dinner home for her.

The first few hours of your delivery were calm. We planned with the midwives to head to the hospital once your mom’s contractions began coming five minutes apart. We sat on our couch and ate dinner, watched some TV (Netflix’s “The Crown”; I’m sure by now you know your mom’s love of anything that involves British history), and relaxed. We lied down in bed and tried to get a few hours sleep. Your mom got up after a couple of hours, unable to rest at all. I was able to, but it was a fitful sleep. Like I said, we knew we were living the story of your delivery, and lying down to sleep during it just hadn’t been part of either of our preconceived narratives.

By midnight, your mom’s contractions hadn’t picked up. We called the midwife on duty, and she said to plan to come in at 5 or 6 am. We both laid out on the living room couch in an ‘L’ shape around the sectional, and snuggled with Jessica Jones, who knew something was out of ordinary, but was content to go back and forth, taking turns curling up next to either one of us.

Betsy called the midwife a little after 5am, and since contractions still weren’t coming regularly, there was no rush to get to the hospital, in the next hour or two. We decided to have breakfast before heading there. There was plenty of food in the fridge, but Betsy wanted McDonald’s.

What mama wants, mama gets.

A sausage egg mcmuffin, hashbrown, and breakfast burrito each later, we were on our way to the hospital.

***

Son, I’m going to be honest with you. I’m writing section of this entry now when you’re all of six-days-old, and your mom and I have had a couple of sleep-deprived nights. The last few days have been a bit of a blur. And so I don’t remember much of the first few hours when we were in the hospital to have you.

I remember your mom checking into the birthing unit, getting weighed, getting situated in one of the birthing rooms. We met the midwife who would be helping with your delivery, and the nurse on call, Liz and Wendy respectively.

Your mom’s contractions stayed sporadic and weak throughout the day. They were painful, but not painful enough to further labor along. In the late afternoon, Liz suggested some medication – pitocin – to induce stronger contractions, and possibly an epidural to relieve your mom’s pain. We debated the pros and cons, the possible side effects. Liz checked your mother’s cervix, and she was 7cm dilated, which was much more progress than what she had expected. Liz was confident the pitocin could help push your mom over the edge into full labor, so we decided to go forward with it, but not the epidural. In a short time, your mom went into active, and painful, labor.

***

A few days ago, I read a quote: “Best thing you can probably do as a father is make sure they see how you love their mother.” It’s attributed to an actor named Matthew McConaughey, who is sometimes rightfully mocked for his public persona, but he makes a good point.

I didn’t know it was possible to love and appreciate your mom more than I did, but after watching her struggle through the pain for the next 14 hours, I love and appreciate her even more. I hope you see that love and appreciation in how I treat her day to day.

Between the pain and sleep-deprivation of being awake more-or-less for over the last 24 hours, your mom was near delirious, but pushed through. Despite the medication and the pain from the labor, her contractions still weren’t frequent or strong enough for the first few hours. The level of the medication was increased little by little, and we would wait a half-hour or an hour to reevaluate. We went through this cycle three or four times over the next six hours. Every time we were told your mom wasn’t ready to enter the final, pushing, stage, it broke her heart a little bit more. For much of this time, I lied in the hospital bed behind her, rubbing her low back during her contractions.

At about 4am Sunday, the idea of an epidural came up again. Epidurals, assuming they work properly, take away most of the pain of childbirth, but can also prolong labor. Prolonging things any longer was a concern because by this point, it had been nearly 36 hours since your mom’s water broke, increasing the chance of infection for the both of you. Your mom was in so much pain at this point, she suggested she was even open to a cesarean section, which is cutting the abdomen open to get to extract an infant. This is something that should be a last-resort option, but it’s often done as a matter of convenience for doctors when doing a traditional hospital birth. This is one of the reasons your mom wanted to use a midwife instead of a doctor. She didn’t want a cesarean. But that this point, she was desperate for the pain to stop. Luckily, Liz and Laura (the overnight nurse who took over for Wendy earlier in the evening) quickly talked her down from the ledge.

By 5:30am, your mom was finally dilated enough to start the final stage, pushing you down through the birth canal. By this point, she was falling asleep in between contractions. She didn’t know if she had the strength to push, but three of us (Liz, Laura and I), helped motivate her through the pain.

Throughout the next hour and a half, I saw your mom find the strength within her to push and push and push. I watched her vomit in a basin, the pain was so intense. I watched her physically go through pain you or I will only ever be able to imagine.

In the last hour, I held one of her bent legs up through every contraction (Laura, the nurse held the other.) During these pushes, your heart rate would drop, what looked like to me, dangerously low. I know this is actually normal, but it was hard for me to take. At one point, I had to step into the corner of the room for a second so your mom wouldn’t see me freaking out.

About 20 minutes before 7am, Liz commented she could see your head, and your full head of hair. A few minutes later, she invited your mom and me to reach down and feel it. A few minutes after that, your head began to emerge.

I had to look away while Liz began extracting you from your mom, because even as I knew what she was doing, it also looked like she was going to tear your head from your shoulders. I finally looked back down as your legs were being pulled out.

Your head was misshapen. I was prepared for that. That happens during birth.

I wasn’t prepared for you to have a sickly, bluish color. You were quiet, and still. By this point, other nurses and a doctor was in the room. I didn’t hear this, but later, your mom told me she heard someone saying, “Heart rate, 40! Heart rate, 40!”

Liz showed me precisely where to cut your umbilical cord. They gave your mom just a moment to touch you. (She wasn’t expecting you to be so big. “He went on for days,” she said later, describing how it felt for her hands to explore your body) Then they whisked you away to the warming table in the room to smack your bottom, pat your feet, move you around, anything to get you active, get your heart rate up.

Hearing your cry for the first time a few moments later, is probably the biggest feeling of relief I’ve ever felt in my life.

They weighed you, they measured you. I watched over the nurses’ shoulders as they tended to you. Liz tended to your mom’s post-delivery needs.

I asked questions about what was going on when you first came out of the womb. They said the heart rate dropping was a fairly normal occurrence, but all was well and there was nothing to worry about. Relieved and satisfied, I looked at the clamp placed on your umbilical cord and asked what decided if it your belly button was an ‘innie’ or an ‘outtie’. (It all depends on how your ab muscles develop in the first year.)

Eventually, Liz and Laura said their goodbyes, and another nurse, Kim, came in to help us until it was time to transfer to a recovery suit. I simply said goodbye and thank you to Liz and Laura, but considering everything we’d been through, I wanted to give them huge hugs. I intend to send them both effusive ‘thank you’ cards.

We had all but decided your first name was to be Harrison a couple of months before you were born. You were not named for any particular Harrison, we simply liked the name. We had decided your middle name should be one syllable, to contrast your multi-syllabic first and last names. One night about three weeks before your birth, we were listening to music in our living room, and a Johnny Cash song came on. You begin kicking and dancing pretty vigorously in your mom’s womb. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “Cash!”

We had a couple of other options, but a few minutes after you were born, I played for you a Johnny Cash song on my phone, and a look of recognition came across your face. And then the first time you nursed, this happened…

And that solidified it.

***

You were born at 7am on the dot. A couple of minutes before, a nurse commented you were going to be sunrise baby, pointing out the window, which faced east. Sure enough, the sun was just coming over the horizon.

“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles began playing in my head. It’s a song I’ll now forever associate it with you.

***

So here it is, son. The story of your birth. Perhaps one day I’ll come back and clean up the prose a little bit when I’m not as sleep-deprived, but for now, I just want to get it written down.

As I put on the finishing touches here, your mom is nursing you on the couch next to me, and Jessica Jones is on the living room floor destroying yet another chew toy. We’re about to go out for a walk as a family.

We’ve been waiting for you for a while. We’re so glad you’re finally here.