My life began when I met Anne. I was twenty-three years old. I had just suffered through the worst, most depressing birthday of my life. I was working as a staff analyst for the Department of Health, State of California, in its MediCal program. Crammed into a little office with three other analysts and a file clerk, performing the ritual bureaucratics that we’ve all come to know and love as “that damn government.” I had become, for all my education and worldliness, one of “them.” One of the “they” that anybody refers to when they ask, “What the hell are “they” doing now?” Referring to that all powerful, yet unknowable black box that produces MediCal Cards, unemployment checks, drivers licenses, voter pamphlets, public service announcements, speed limit signs, property tax bills, road bumps, and makes manufacturers place incomprehensible nutrition labels on potato chips.
I had read a lot of Mark Twain before my life began, and I was toying with the idea of writing the second greatest American novel, the first being Tom Sawyer, as something to do between now and whenever. Well, “whenever” seemed to keep getting farther away, and my life diminished with it. It had almost gotten lost in the orderly chaos of state government, as things are often want to do when they intersect with government in general. That, and the realization that I couldn’t seem to tell a decent story were looming large in my window on the world. I had no ear for dialog, no knack for conversation, no skill at characterization, and I hadn’t even taken English 1B in college. These did not seem insurmountable at the time, but we college students often have an unobstructed view of the world from on top of wherever we’re standing. As soon as we step into the real world it is as if Alice was handing out little pieces of the small side of the mushroom with the diploma and we accept both with equal fervor.
By the time Mark Twain was twenty-three he had already become captain of a riverboat on the mightiest of American rivers and retired from it. He had already written for newspapers and already traveled the vast expanse of the American states with dust on his boots and grit on his tongue. He befriended anybody and everybody he met and told stories with them, and then later, about them. They became the stuff of literary legend. He became a major contributor to a major newspaper in the west, The Sacramento Union. All this before he was twenty-three. He was on top of the world.
At twenty-three, I had worked my way out of college with a BA in Economics, without benefit of English 1B, to the high station of bureaucrat. There were thirty professionals (as we so graciously liked to refer to ourselves), four secretaries, and two file clerks in my office. We few apparently did the work of hundreds, which is how the very same office is staffed today some thirty years later. But, in my day, you could have wandered through the office with a shotgun and eliminated thirty percent of the “professionals” and no one could have detected a dip in productivity. Everyday, it was depressing. Everyday. (I shudder to think of the bloodshed that a good, fiscally responsible Governor could foist upon this state. The streets would run red for months.)
In my cubicle were all the tools of the trade, pencils, paper, an endless supply of notepads, paperclips, and, of course, Title XXII --The Bible of the MediCal program. Title XXII was the Law. All the rules that governed what we did, what monies we paid to whom, who was eligible and for what. We referred to it from time to time, but not often. On the other side, that is, on the outside, there weren’t too many MediCal beneficiaries who didn’t have that book memorized. These wards of the state knew what they were entitled to, and by God, they were not going to be denied anything that was rightfully theirs. I was the only person in the office that kept my copy current with the very important, last minute changes in the law. Just in case there was ever a need to be legal about something. I guess that was because I was the newest member of the team and hadn’t realized, nor accepted both the futility of my position and the unerring accuracy of the state’s constituency. All Title XXII ever did for me was validate what our citizens complained about.
And complain they did. I once got a letter from some doctor in South Carolina who turned away a MediCal patient just because of his attitude. The patient thought that his MediCal card was a free pass, and had tried to convince this physician that it was better than money. The Doctor turned him away and felt strongly enough about it to write and tell us what wonderful people we were letting out of the state. He said, “…you Californians are so arrogant that you think with a MediCal Card and a ’47 Chevy you can travel the world for free.” Another letter suggested that the United States had been tipped on its side once and all the loose nuts and bolts landed in California. The writer had underlined the word “nuts.”
In my third drawer I kept a paddle ball, a little something to ease the pain and boredom of bureaucratic life. I actually got fairly good at it on my breaks and occasionally my other office mates would try their hand at it. They got good at it too. There just wasn’t enough bureaucracy to go around for a full eight hours a day.
We once got an edict from above that all of our MediCal beneficiaries were going to have to be informed of some new change in the law. Because I was the only analyst with a current and complete edition of Title XXII the task of composing this informative letter fell to me. I undertook this new task with zeal. It took a couple of days to get it just right. I sent it up the flagpole for the proper salutes and editorial changes and then sent it the state’s printing office to be produced en masse. The printing office could not get it on the printing schedule for a couple of weeks and that proved to be just enough time for new updates to be added to my Title XXII that negated the less new changes that I had just written that very informative and important letter about. After a veritable thunderstorm of activity surrounding these new changes, the new edict from above was that no letter should be sent out at all. My attempts to slay the dragon that was the state printing office resulted in no letters being sent anywhere, but to my office. We received eighty thousand boxed copies of a worthless letter because the state printing office was even more bureaucratic and helpless than we were. It was depressing.
One of my office mates gave me a card on my twenty-third birthday. It said, “You’re not a kid anymore.” It was written in crayons. It cut like a knife.
Out of this depression sprang the brilliant idea to return to school where I would once again be on top of the world. Oh, to leave the State behind would be traumatic, but I felt it would be the best course. So I applied to Business School to find out what life on the other side could be like. It was a new beginning. This was only fitting because I had just met Anne. And, almost as soon as I met her, I had to leave.
A new Outlook on Life
I was gay when I first met Anne. Of course, I didn’t know that, but everybody else knew. I met Anne in the church choir. It was just like in the storybooks…except the gay part. Where else does one go to meet someone who can sing, play the piano, and has good teeth? Those were my serious requirements for a life partner. That, and some basic personality stuff. My other requirements were that she be blond, bronzed, and buxom…the three “B”s. I considered myself to be just a big enough person to sacrifice some of the latter requirements if I absolutely had to. And so I did.
The church was an inner city church, a church that catered to the urbanites and long time residents of Sacramento. Its congregation was composed of some of the most unusual people. There was the Blue Man for instance. I never knew his name, but he was a regular with heart trouble and the oddest blue complexion. Being blue wasn’t fatal. He kept being blue long after I left. One Sunday as the choir was singing its anthem a denizen of the street came in, walked up the center aisle and began to conduct the choir right beside the choir director. They both did a fine job. There were others too. And there were the typical busybodies that one finds in any church anywhere. I apparently was deserving of particular attention because I was new, young, unattached, and willing to stand there while they talked at me. Mothers brought their daughters to me to be introduced. Fathers talked careers. I had little truck with any of it.
Roger was in the choir. He sang bass. He was without pretension. He didn’t even spell his name with a “d.” He appeared safe.
I have already mentioned the unusual people. The choir was no exception to that rule. When I first began singing at the Thursday night rehearsal, I met Gordon. He was tone deaf and had only thumbs, but otherwise was nice – with the same inflection that is reserved for blind dates. Bob met everyone with the same trick that he used on children to disarm them and make them laugh. It is not funny when used on adults. He would begin by holding his finger out close to his body, then, with a buzzing sound he would send it spiraling into the victim’s chest with a final “boop” in falsetto. Jake was busy cheating on his wife who was also in the choir. Terry was Dudley Doright’s Nell to Roger. They were an item of sorts. Joan was struggling with her sexuality. Lisa was consistently and persistently clearing her throat. Anne and Peggy were sisters and appeared normal under the glaring comparison of their surroundings. Vicky was busy sneaking around dating the choir director, and they were soon to be secretly married. Gary was suspicious. Of me, perhaps, but I think just in general.
I was no exception to this coterie of unusual singers. I must have appeared as out of place to them as they to me. I had longish, shoulder length hair. My sideburns extended to my jaw line. I wore blue jeans with patches, a braided belt and red tennis shoes. In my defense of this description, it was the mid 1970’s after all, and this kind of look was not uncommon on college campuses. I was painfully shy and said little. I worked for the State, which was common enough, but I was single and apparently a little slow on the uptake.
As I walked into rehearsal that fateful night, Roger was the only person that appeared to be without risk. He was friendly enough, but not too friendly. He kept his fingers to himself. He did not pose too many questions beyond the usual, “how’s the weather” kind of stuff. He was obviously interested in this Terry person. To me, the outsider, he seemed normal. I sat next to him in the bass section and shared music. It was a rather typical first choir rehearsal to me, but it was obvious to everybody else that we were in love.
One of the little secrets that you don’t get right away when you walk into a new social situation is all the relationships and personal histories that people have with one another. For example, when I first started my job the with State, it took me almost six months to realize that almost all the women in my office had slept with almost all the men at one point or another in their tenured employment. This turned out to be quite a shock to a boy who grew up in a stable family. I didn’t even know any family friends that were divorced, or of any kids from split families until I was out of college. (Well, there was Nick, whose father died in a crop dusting accident, and his mom remarried, but that doesn’t count.) This kind of thing only happened on TV or in the movies.
I had known gay guys in high school. I counted some of them among my friends. They were pretty obvious and never affectionate towards me. I never even considered the possibilities. It just didn’t seem relevant. Roger certainly wasn’t like those guys. He and Terry were best of friends. It didn’t seem likely to me that I would come between them. But everybody else knew that this was just what was happening. They all knew Roger in a way that I did not. They all knew that he had a disposition for young men. Either Terry couldn’t bring herself to believe it, or thought that she could use her womanly guiles to sway him from his own gender preference. I was the only miracle that was going to play out here. Terry would just have to go unrequited. I must have grown up on the back of a turnip truck. It didn’t hurt too badly when I fell off.
So rehearsal after rehearsal I sat next to Roger. He was safer than Bob, or Jake, or Gary, or Gordon. All the while, I did not realize that love was blooming around me. I heard music and bells ringing on Sundays, but it seemed unattached, and without emotional content. In the meantime, Anne and Peggy were possibilities. Lisa was too phlegmatic to even think about. Vicky was sneaking around with the choir director and thus already taken. There was another young lady that was a potential candidate, until I met her mother, who conveniently managed to show up just a little too often at choir rehearsals (and always say hello to me) to transport her daughter back to never-never land.
It was at the choir Christmas party that Anne admitted that she began to think that I might not be gay. We were at least in agreement on this basic question. It might have been then that my life stopped being so depressing. We began to see each other regularly, and often. We kept it quiet for a long time. I was just teasing Roger.
Several years later, Roger had to leave the choir and the church because he realized that he must be catholic. That’s not exactly true, but he was caught kissing the neck of a young male exchange student who did not care for this introduction to American life. Roger disappeared into the fabric of the city and has not been seen or heard from since -- except, of course, by Terry who may not be Pollyanna anymore, but has never let go of the slim thread that was holding her and Roger together. Terry has never married. The candle burns dimly.
So we met. I gave up Roger for Anne. It was a surprise to everyone.
The Family I had before my Life Began
You may think that Chapter 1 was where this story starts. Actually the story begins where stories always do, at the beginning. But this is a very convenient device…all you husbands take note. Every answer to prying questions regarding my past and what I did, who I knew, where I went, were all answered the same way, “my Life began when I met Anne.” I gave that answer to everyone who had anything to ask that presupposed a start date prior to Anne. I gave this answer for stupid party games and for even more serious discussions that I felt had gone too far. Pretty soon in our social circles, it was a standing joke that my life began when I met Anne. It really wasn’t that far from the truth.
I was born, raised, had a childhood, learned all about life and bullies and successes and failures and manners and school and how to be very annoying and what trouble was all about. I learned about spankings and played with fire and played with friends and built Erector Set buildings and played with plastic army men and learned how to untie knots at the foot of my father. He once showed me how to make a whistle out of a willow branch. Only we didn’t have a willow tree anywhere handy, so we used the next best thing, a mulberry tree. I guess that some trees are interchangeable when it comes to whistles. My dad was good with that sort of thing. Not the whistle making necessarily, but the getting along with the wrong tree when the right one is not handy.
My father was always quiet, much like he raised his son. He liked puzzling out problems, but not necessarily to the end. It was always more important to get to a solution than it was to work it from beginning to end. It was that willow versus mulberry thing; it’s the whistle that’s important, not the tree. This was very frustrating and confusing to a youngster who got more points for trying to solve problems the “right” way than for getting the answer right. Some Math teachers are funny that way.
As a very young boy I can remember Dad and me often working on small projects around the house. I was always more hindrance than help, I’m sure. The yard work was never fun. The mechanical stuff was fun to watch, but I was pretty useless until later in life. I remember sitting with Dad around the kitchen table trying to untie a knotted string once. Dad had this magnifying visor and these great big grownup fingers and they just weren’t delicate enough for this kind of job. I knew I could do it when I got the chance. Dad wasn’t eager to give up those chances very often, but I finally got to give it a try. My fingers were just right. I was very good at knot untying.
I thought from that point forward that if I just watched my fingers everyday, I could keep them from becoming those great big indelicate grownup fingers that my Dad had. I was diligent. I checked them frequently and they were always small and capable of great miracles with knots. I even practiced knotting and untying knots often just to be sure. When you’re small, the world is a big place, diversions are many and I soon forgot my mission. I remembered a year or so later, but it was too late. The damage had been done. My fingers had grown big and clumsy. Today, knots could take over the world if they were so inclined.
There were many financial opportunities for my father. We were always joking about this ship or that one waiting to come in. For the most part, they were all content to remain offshore. Of course, General Engineering Company was a successful entrepreneurial effort. But there were many others. House of Fabrics whetted Dad’s appetite for stocks -- he bought at $2, sold at $18. That was probably his last profitable trade, but it served as good practice for many more. He developed a putting aid for golfers. Arnold Palmer wasn’t interested, but at least we know he turned it down for some legitimate business reason. Dad got the opportunity to be turned down by Arnold Palmer, the world’s most famous golfer…that is pretty special. Dad invented a valve for cotton gins to keep their harvesting blades out of the dirt. He worked on this for weeks. The result was a Plexiglas model that was pretty wondrous looking. I don’t know if it was ever sold, but it sure looked neat, and my dad made it.
Once, Dad’s boyhood friend, Max, came to visit. My older sister Kathy had just finished a science project on Thermocouples. Dad and Max got to talking about that and the discussion expanded into possibilities. A year or two later I was holding a prototype for an infrared thermometer that you pointed in people’s ears and it gave you their temperature. They have been in wide use in hospitals for years and you see them advertised all over the place today for home use. Unfortunately, that was one that got away. The story is long and ugly and ultimately, despair cost Max his life. Today, that thermometer is a milestone product in the health care industry, and my dad was there. No one else may know this, but we do. Somebody else was standing at the dock when my Dad’s ship came in.
Everybody who knows Basil knows that he can’t throw anything away. They know that he can rehabilitate almost any mechanical thing that once worked. It will work again if he wants it to. They know that he can’t resist a good pun, although he is unable to discern what constitutes a good pun. They know that he can’t resist a junk return on the tennis court, a tool of any kind, or puzzles of any variety. He is a gadget man. He lives his life, much to the chagrin of my Mom, surrounded by his gadgets. In his later years, the computer has been a great source of joy and frustration to him. It’s not one of those things that one can just do without reading the instructions and Dad has had paltry little practice at reading instructions.
In his later years, gardening had become a pleasant pastime for Dad. He planted all sorts of vegetables and was religious about composting. His berry vines were the envy of anybody who had sampled Mom’s cobbler or pie. Well, maybe Mom gets the credit for that. The grandkids all enjoy picking berries on their visits. A few are sampled; all are eaten in one way, shape, or fashion.
I have been raised clearly at my mother's expense. She cared for me and parted with the best of her knowledge and wisdom many times without my appreciation or acknowledgment -- for that I confess to be much less demonstrative than any mother deserves, but which I fear most mothers get.
Not unlike most people, my mother had a few eccentricities. She could not stand anyone sleeping in. It didn't matter how late you had stayed up, or how tired you might be. If you weren't up by Eight O'clock, Mom would start running the vacuum cleaner, or doing the laundry, or some silly thing that could only be done in your room. It was very annoying, but it was Mom.
My mother hated being late. We got to community concerts two hours before they started so we could get the best seating, and so we could visit. We got to picnics before anyone else so we could get a good table and bar-b-q pit, and maybe visit with anybody who was there. We got to airports the recommended hour before flight time...plus thirty minutes. My mother would rather not go than be late somewhere. This is basically a good trait. It was also very annoying, but it was very Mom.
My mother had the utmost, and perhaps in some cases undeserved deference and respect for any authority, doctor, or tall person. Some time after Anne and I had been going together and the parents had had time to meet and visit with each other, Mom remarked to Anne that for a Dentist, Harold (Anne's dad) was pretty nice. She didn't know whether to call him Harold or Doctor. Harold got her straightened out pretty quick, but she had to get used to it.
I have written one joke in my lifetime that I prided myself on cleverness. It was at Mom's expense. We were at some church function with lots of people milling about. Mom had her back turned and was not immediately recognizable. One of her women friends came over and asked me where she was. I said, in a voice loud enough for Mom to hear, "Look for progress, Mother will be standing in the way of it.” I have repeated this line many times since, nearly always in her presence. She was still my mother.
My mother always used to tell me when I wanted to go somewhere other kids were allowed to go, or wear something other kids were allowed to wear, "You're not Johnny, you don't have go where Johnny goes or do what Johnny does.” I hated hearing that when I was younger. She hated hearing it from me when I was older. She didn't like the length of my hair, but I told her I didn’t have to wear my hair the same way everybody else wore it. That made her smile. It did not make her happy, but she was still my mother.
She raised both my sister and me to be reasonably thoughtful and though we try, we still haven't delivered birthday presents on time since we both lived in the same house.
Not only did my mother have to put up with me, she had to put with my sister. This alone qualifies her for sainthood. Kathy can explain the details. Suffice to say, it was not pretty. I can remember incidents that I imagine occur in almost every household where there is a budding adolescent female. Kathy asks mom, "What do I wear? I don't have anything to wear!" "Well, let's see," Mom starts off reasonably enough, "you can wear this, or this, or this.” She points to each outfit or dress as she talks. Kathy replies, "I can't wear any of these things!" Mom gets testy. Kathy gets testier.
Mom fell for this dirty trick often. She never did learn a counter attack or a way to blunt the oncoming sword. Every incident was fresh and new for her, and it always had the same outcome. Dad and I would escape to the family room or hide behind the newspaper. Dad never could hide the smile in his eyes.
Mom and Kathy have since reconciled. I'm sure that Kathy is at peace with her relationship with her parents. I used to say, when trying to describe my sister’s quirkiness to someone that at one time she thought she had awful parents, but mine seemed to be okay. Being a parent myself now, I am sure that Mom and Dad did as well as they could and the best that they knew how. There is no manual for parents. I am sure that they gladly accept responsibility for bringing us both into the world, knowing our faults and our strengths equally. Parents never loose their abiding love for their children. They may not understand them, but they don't stop loving them. Our parents were always there. They didn't ask too many questions, even though they may have wanted to.
I'm not sure Mom lived through her faith, but she certainly lived with it. And, we had enough examples to choose the right one for ourselves. Mom was an organist and we went to any church where there was an empty organ bench. We started off as Baptists, from there to the Methodist church, Congregationalist, and finally Presbyterian. Maybe there were a few others in between. Mom had us sample just about every vacation bible school in Bakersfield. I think she enjoyed the baby-sitting it afforded. We learned some songs and a few bible verses. We made ugly crafts, but they still made it onto the refrigerator.
We planned family vacations around meetings of the AGO (American Guild of Organists) and toured various parts of the country visiting famous organs -- Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia, Riverside Church in New York, the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Kathy and I both can tell you that where there is a good organ, there is a great place to play hide-and-seek...much to our Mother's chagrin.
The piano and organ were at one time a very large part of Mom's life. It was surprising that Mom sold the piano when she and Dad retired to Oceanside. Our house in Bakersfield was never without someone playing the piano. Kathy was up at O-dark-thirty and practicing the piano by 6:00 am. I awoke to piano music. It was a great exposure to the literature. When we were older, Mom and Kathy and I would sing parts around the piano of Christmas carols, hymns or show tunes. During breaks from college when we were all home, the piano established the first common ground. It was a haven for safety -- no one argued philosophically over the piano.
Mothers are great gossipmongers and my mother mongered with the best of them. She had some great gossip partners over the years that I can recall -- Gaye, Wilma, Raymah, Wanda to name a few from the Bakersfield days. Kids were the most important topic. Mom never had the good sense to talk privately about her children, and I remember countless hours she spent discussing Kathy to various audiences. I made it a point to do as much as possible to keep from being the subject of these conversations. I probably caused her more pain than she deserved by the distance I kept. But, it kept the gossip topic about how shy and obstinate I was rather than what I did in my spare time.
My own parenting has given me some appreciation for the delight of children in all our lives. Anne and I have been most willing to provide invitations and occasions for our children to enjoy their grandparents, and vice versa. My parents have never been overtly critical of the way we raised their grandchildren. Grandparent visits to our home, and grandchildren visits to theirs have had a profound and loving affect on our children. They have always revered the time as special. Those of us who rarely got a chance with our grandparents can feel the tugging for that kind of relationship. I am glad that our kids got to know the people that made their parents who they are.
I am thankful that my parents' guidance and support has been able to continue as long as it has. It is unique. It becomes more extraordinary as time passes because I realize how mortal we all are and how much wisdom comes from just living each day. My mother and father are special. They will always be here with me, with their grandchildren and all those they touch in their lives.
You have already met my sister, Kathy. She is two years older than I am, and a perfectly capable older sister. We grew up playing tag, hide-and-seek, and fighting constantly because that’s what siblings do. She always seemed to know the right things to do at any given time, but I later figured out that it was because she was two years older and she was two years more advanced on the sneaky scale. For a long time she could do everything quicker, better, faster than I could. By the time I got to be old enough to beat her at all the stuff she used to beat me at, my fingers were too big, and I just didn’t care about those things anymore.
From the little brother’s perspective, it seemed like all the fun had worn off by the time she got to high school. She would get up every morning to practice the piano an hour before school and she was exhausted when she came home. She would go directly to her room for a nap. Kathy would emerge at dinnertime at Mom’s coaxing, and be thoroughly grumpy and temperamental at the dinner table. After dinner, she excused herself to her room and did homework until it was bedtime. The cycle would begin again at 5:30 the next morning when the alarm rang.
Her piano practicing was my alarm clock. I managed to condition myself to ignore the boring stuff. I slept through the scales and exercises. I woke up to the pieces she would work on. I loved hearing the struggle to learn. I still enjoy hearing a less than perfect piece being played, more than one that has been practiced to death. That’s not quite true. I love hearing a less than perfect player playing a piece as best they can. I also appreciate the professional who can turn notes into music. I remember waking up to Golliwog’s Cake Walk for nearly two years. It took about that long for it to turn into music.
Kathy was the gifted one. She was in the “Rapid Learner” program in elementary school. They call it GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) now. Kathy worked hard at making her grades and struggled to make the grade. She did well enough in school, but she also said that if she were to write a book of her life it would be titled, “My Life as a B+.” She thought that she just couldn’t seem to get over the hump. I thought she could get over the hump all right, it was feeling good about leaving the hump behind that was the problem.
After college and earning a teaching degree, there were no teaching jobs. This is California and these things happen as routinely as we elect new politicians. She was offered only one position in a little town called Crow’s Landing. One could only imagine what life could be like in a town called Crow’s Landing -- which was more than my sister even cared to do about this situation. A little re-thinking and an opportune contact got her into the world of management consulting in the area of Instructional Technology. This is a fancy term for teaching outside the public school system and getting paid more for the trouble.
So Kathy became a professional training consultant. She worked for a couple of consultant type offices before she went out on her own. She had managed to build up a clientele that respected her work and appreciated the fact that she could perform on time and within budget. She is not particularly technical, but she was able to write training programs that taught Navy Pilots how to fly P3s (sub-chasers) under shifting load conditions, Apple computer how to set up a helpdesk for a national support line, IBM how to do the same thing. She tackled a wide variety of very interesting projects. Oddly enough though, when you talk to my sister, there is very little synthesis of this very interesting stuff into the building blocks of her universe of knowledge. She goes into every project a blank slate, works with subject matter experts getting them to spill their innermost secrets, translates those secrets into discreet steps in the learning process, builds a lesson plan, prepares pre-tests and post-tests to prove that learning has taken place and is measurable, and comes out of the project exactly the same way she went in – a blank slate. It is a gift.
She has worked regularly six to eight months of every year in this mode. She gets contracts, works on them until they are done, and then looks for another one. Her only mode of advertising is to sit by the phone and wait for it to ring. If Kathy needed a job sooner, she would sit by the phone harder. She has no employees, no marketing except through word of mouth, never a thought about tomorrow until it gets here…and she gets paid handsomely for her effort. I have to admit, these seem to be the ideal circumstances for working one’s way through life, but just not practical for some of us.
Unlike me, my sister really is gay. I don’t know when Kathy’s gayness actually started. As a kid she was a tomboy of sorts because there weren’t any other girls in the neighborhood and she could play “army” with the best of us guys. As a teenager, she had crushes on boys and talked a lot about boys with her girlfriends. As it turned out, at least one of the guys she had a crush on in high school later turned out to be gay. But hey, you win some, you lose some, and I don’t think that it’s catching.
She had a boyfriend all through college. He was a nice guy and turned into a professional photographer. She and Brad grew into adults together. They shared their painfully late adolescence and were a comfort to one another in a very bewildering world, but it just wasn’t going to work.
Like most family situation comedies on Television in the sixties, life evolved around the dinner table. Our household was no different, except for the fact that we weren’t nearly as funny, as cutesy, nor as good looking. Our hair wasn’t perfect, and my Dad had to work for a living, unlike Ozzy Nelson. Our arguments weren’t soft and hardly ever ended with Mom or Dad making some sagacious remark that neatly showed us how wrong we had been, that we were redeemable for it, and that we could laugh at ourselves at the same time. The Indermill family did, however, hold family time sacred at both the breakfast and the dinner table everyday. The discussion topics covered a wide range of activities and schoolwork for the day when we were younger. As we got older and returned to the table from college and our own homes, the discussions sometimes waxed painfully philosophical. Through the college years, the parents tried to keep up with Kathy and me, but they always seemed a step or two behind. Later, they got much better at separating wheat from chaff, or maybe we did. It is hard to say.
Anne’s New Beginning
When Anne and I started seeing each other, I didn’t talk about it much around my office. But, it was clear to my office mates that my attention had been diverted from the local social playground to other more serious intentions outside the office. Since Anne worked downtown, we would frequently meet for lunch. This meant that we would both have to walk about three quarters of a mile to meet somewhere in the middle. After meeting, sometimes we sat and talked other times we would while away the rest of our lunch hour walking and talking our way around downtown.
On these occasions when I disappeared for the lunch hour, I offered no explanation to my office mates; I just left…ostensibly to run errands. They became suspicious at the frequency of these outings and began to notice that, upon comparing notes, they had seen me with a strange female at various locales. One of them got a map of downtown and they began to place pushpins at the location of any Indermill sightings. This was great fun for a few days. Any break from the oppressive weight of the bureaucratic humdrum was great fun. These were your state workers hard at work.
Anne was a dental hygienist when I met her. Well actually, she was a singer in the church choir, but professionally she worked for her father, Harold, and her brother, Larry, both dentists. She had always wanted to be a dental hygienist growing up. She never wanted to be anything else and this was a perfect world for her in many respects.
Like my own requirement for the three “B”s, she also had specific needs for a potential spouse. She had always wanted to marry a rich, blue-eyed orphan. (RBO?) Those were her unofficial requirements. She also considered herself to be just a big enough person to sacrifice some of these requirements if she absolutely had to. And so she did. We are both thankful for our sacrifices.
Through a series of both providential and unfortunate circumstances, Anne was living at home when I met her. She had graduated college from Baylor Dental School in Dallas and begun working there. She was beginning to establish roots and community, and she was engaged to be married to Ed, another dentist. Life was full of promise. The wedding was to take place in Sacramento.
Anne was in Sacramento making arrangements and being the fluttery bride to be. Ed flew in for their wedding and the two of them held up in the Airport Motel to talk. They talked all night and talked themselves out of getting married. In perhaps the single most courageous event I could ever conceive, she called off her wedding on her wedding day because things just weren’t right. She bravely suffered through what must have been the most traumatic emotions and feelings of loss that anyone can experience. And, though I’ve never met him, I’ve just got one thing to say to Ed…Thanks.
The once independent Anne was now living again at home.
I never dated much in High School so I must confess to being a little uncomfortable in dating a girl who was living at home. I never suffered well the questioning from parents or the curfew that responsible parents impose on their children. I never had to deal with that sort of thing in college, so this was in some respects a unique experience for me. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like calling the house and getting Anne’s Mom, Rita, answering the phone. I didn’t like driving over to pick her up at her house and having the doorbell answered by her sister or father. I didn’t like the endless questions that parents ask when trying to figure out just who exactly is this person that is dating their child. There were lots of things I didn’t like about it, but the one thing I did like about it was Anne.
She was beautiful -- dark hair, perfect skin, good teeth. She was smart. She was funny. Did I mention that she could play the piano? She was not blond. She could not bronze because she was as pale and fair skinned as a ghost. Small exposure to the sun made her glow red. Oh well, these things just didn’t seem to matter much anymore.
On those rare occasions where I let myself get trapped in the house, I was terse to say the least. Anne would say that I was downright rude. I was shy, so that didn’t help. I didn’t feel like talking, so that didn’t help. I was reticent to disclose too much to parent types, so that didn’t help either. I felt like I was being given the third degree all the time. One day I was over for dinner. We were all sitting around the table and Rita asked if I liked to read. I said yes, very much. The glow in her eyes was unmistakable as she realized that at last we had hit some common ground. Rita asked what I was reading at the moment. At the moment, I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a very ‘70s book on living life. It was not a romance novel or a history novel. It was a very-not-like-Rita book. The conversation died of its own free will.
A new Beginning for Both of Us
Despite this seeming inability to get to know her parents and vice versa, Anne and I were fast friends. We stuck together through my schooling in Los Angeles, job hunting in Northern California, and finally a starter job working on the Hubble Space Telescope at Lockheed Missiles and Space in Mountain View, CA. We had a long distance courtship. We saw each other on weekends and talked on the phone frequently. We wrote occasionally, but Anne complained that my letters weren’t personal enough. She held on to me despite the entreaties of family and friends that I was not marrying material. I knew I was, but was simply not ready to get married; afraid of the commitment I suppose. But, after four years, one day it was time. I was ready.
The proposal was supposed to go like this:
Anne’s birthday was on Saturday. I had made reservations at Slocum House, a very nice restaurant in Fair Oaks, California. Neither of us had ever tried escargot, we were going to try escargot. We were going to share a bottle of wine. It was going to be very romantic. I was going to bring her Birthday presents there. She would open them and be grandly disappointed because I had bought her kitchen Items…a Seal-a-Meal and a nice supply of sealing bags. I thought that these items would be a very nice addition to our very own kitchen. How romantic, I thought. At the grand apex of her puzzlement at these unusual gifts, I would grab her hand and ask her to marry me. I would share my thoughts on how wonderful these things would be in our very own kitchen. Anne would share my vision. We would not be able to get the sounds of violins and cellos out of our heads as we dreamt of how good looking our children would be. Life could not have been better than it was at this moment.
The proposal actually went like this:
When I got to Anne and Peggy’s apartment late Friday night, they both helped me unload my car. I was driving a Ford Pinto station wagon and there was no place to hide or secure anything. While Anne and I got my bags, Peggy carried Anne’s birthday presents into the apartment and stacked them by the front door. The next morning, the air was heavy with anticipation. Anne and Peggy made a large and wonderful breakfast that I enjoyed without indigestion. At its conclusion, the table was scarcely cleared when Peggy got out all the presents that she and I had for Anne. Right then and there at the breakfast table. My romantic violins started to loose tune and squeal a little. I was dumbstruck and could not think on my feet fast enough to save myself. I was certainly not going to propose in front of Peggy. Anne masked her seal-a-meal disappointment, but inside was seething most of the day.
At the Slocum House that night, the first five minutes was pleasant enough, but things went downhill fast. Anne lit into me like freight train on a down slope with no brakes. It was absolutely amazing that she could remember everything I had ever said and done that was awful in the previous four years. And there was a lot of ammunition in her loaded gun. I got both barrels and then some. By the time dessert had rolled around I was done. The romance was gone. It had left sometime that morning and was too far away to be helpful here. I tried to lighten up the situation by imitating a poor escargot caught unaware, but the irony was lost. The humor was dead and so were my hopes for marriage. I’m sure Anne felt the same way.
Sunday was strained all day. I don’t remember much of it, but later that night, as I was packing up to head back to Mountain View, we found ourselves sitting in the car saying goodbye. In a “now or never” kind of moment, I asked her how big a diamond she wanted. She laughingly said, “5 carats” and I was wise enough at that moment not to flinch. I was slightly relieved when she immediately said, “What?” I asked again how big a diamond she wanted and this time it sunk in. I, of course, did not have a diamond handy. (I had never understood the man buying the ring on his own. The woman has to wear it. She should choose what it looks like.) So I told her we would have to wait until I came up next weekend to go buy an engagement ring. We decided not to tell anyone until she could show him, or her, the ring.
She spent the week defending herself, and to a greater extent me, to all her friends and relatives who knew that a significant birthday had gone by and there was no news between us. Many of them offered her the advice to dump me because “it” was never going to happen. I was just not the marrying kind. In a true test of spirit and will, she bit her lip and pushed on in silence.
The next Friday night when I arrived, Peggy was cool to me. Anne was back to her old self. Perhaps even a little more ebullient than usual. Saturday morning could not get here fast enough. Anne and I were out the door as soon as there was any retail activity in this time zone. We located the perfect ring and got it on her finger as soon as possible. Sizing could wait. It was official -- hugs and kisses all around. Next came the obligatory “see everybody and tell them the news,” junket. It was a whirlwind two days.
I wanted to get married now. I was ready to get married now. I had been ready to propose only one week ago, but like I said, it was time. It was the third week in March. I suggested that we go to Reno and get married in a couple of weekends. Anne would have nothing of it. It would be a big church wedding for her. In a flight of male dominance, I said I would never be married in June and I was sticking to it. That narrowed the dates considerably. It takes time to plan a wedding and Anne would have liked more I’m sure. It takes foresight to reserve churches, reception halls and the like. People have to make plans, or change their plans. Invitations have to be printed. Bakeries have to be notified. Neither of us was interested in postponing until July what we could get done in May – June being the forbidden month. The first date we picked in mid May we discovered that my parents would be traveling and couldn’t be there. They were willing to change their plans, but that seemed a bit silly. So we settled on Memorial Day weekend, May 31, 1980, as the big event. Anne had a lot of work to do.
I was glad to head home again. But this time secure in the knowledge that I, suddenly and for real, had a partner that I could spend the rest of my life with.
So there I was, beginning again. I was about to be married. I had accepted a new job, forsaking one for another in a new industry, new location. I was moving myself, and my new bride to be, away from familiar environs to the land of affluence, hot tubs, and peacock feathers known as Marin County. We found a great luxury apartment nestled in the foothills of Mt. Tamalpais in a little town called Larkspur. It was our little slice of heaven. Of course, our little slice of heaven included the guy across the hall who always kept his door open while he sat in his big easy chair snoring in front of a TV that had not been turned off or down since 1974. And, the neighbors next door that found such delight on the Fourth of July at setting off one firecracker after another after another all afternoon. I could forgive all this just to be with Anne.
From our apartment we could walk down the hill and on into the piney little town of Larkspur – which we did frequently. We would often see deer. There was a little, white, clapboard sided church nestled in the redwoods that was so picturesque that it often converted just the odd passerby to Christianity. We could pretend to hobnob with the rich and famous; although we didn’t know who was famous, and we just assumed everybody was rich. The world was ripe with possibilities.
The reality of the situation was that I worked in Richmond a half an hour away across the Richmond – San Rafael Bridge. Anne found a dental hygiene job in San Rafael and we became typical Marinites, both working and facing long commutes just because. We enjoyed our time together, when we had it. We did romantic things like any newly weds. Like the time Anne suggested a picnic one summer evening atop Mt. Tam, as we locals liked to refer to it.
I eagerly accepted the invitation and drove home at a quickened pace that night. We loaded up the car with the picnic basket and headed up the mountain. The drive up Mt. Tam is one of the prettiest drives in the world. A mere fifteen miles from San Francisco, it is a world away from civilization. The drive takes you through Muir Woods and winds its way through redwoods and other pines until it tops out at the peak with an unobstructed view of the entire Bay area. It is spectacular. And it was surprising to me that we found ourselves quite alone atop the mountain.
It is a fact that when you are driving with someone you love, you talk about “things.” Just about any “things” will do. You become absorbed with the beauty of your surroundings, and imbued with the excitement of something new and different. It was no different with us. We were enjoying a pleasant drive and anticipating an even more pleasant picnic…until we opened the car doors. The laughing wind ripped the door handles right out of our hands. As inviting as the view was, as beckoning as the picnic tables were, the wind howled through our clothes and beat us to death. We quickly retreated to the safety of our vehicle and enjoyed the picnic from bucket seats. Not exactly what we had in mind, but an adventure none-the-less. Clearly, we didn’t qualify as “locals” yet. Those locals all knew how futile this plan was and they all stayed in the shadows of the mountain in the valley below.
There is more to life than jobs, walks, and picnics, but those are a pretty good way to start.
When I was in graduate school at UCLA, my favorite thing to do was eat lunch in sculpture garden. Gaston Lachaise’s Standing Woman was right across the green and I watched her throw her naked shoulders back with her hands on her naked hips and laugh at us everyday. The Alexander Calder that I sat on was a perfect curve for my back and made a very comfortable perch from which I could watch the world going by. That world was pretty narrowly defined as law students to the south, art students to the north, and a lot of business students in general. The art students were the interesting ones to watch. They had no concept of “fit”, only of style. They dressed oddly, walked oddly, and cared not about this one observer sitting on (no doubt) one of their idols’ sculptures. Sometimes a law professor would move his class from its staid and sterile classroom out under a big shade tree and conduct his teaching there. I audited a lecture or two from my Calder. Occasionally, a traveling troop would set up shop in the natural amphitheater there in the garden and put on Shakespeare. Although I tried to be diligent, I was late to class on more than one occasion.
This was school to me. UCLA was jogging everyday on the beach, Frisbee and lunch in the Sculpture Garden, lots of library time and lots of learning with people who really wanted to learn. Study groups were a pleasure because everybody carried their weight. Did I mention jogging everyday on the beach? Sometimes I even opened my eyes. That was fun too.
The very first time I was on campus, I had just walked out of an orientation class for new business students, into the light of day from a dark lecture hall. The first person I saw in front of the building was my best friend from high school days, Byron Wong, who was a second year student. We had a pleasant chat about nothing and then I asked if he would show me around campus a little bit. We walked from the biz school across the way to the collegially famous “Bruin Walk”, a main thoroughfare through campus, where upon Byron stop to talk with another friend of his we had run into. I attempted to participate in the conversation, but was somewhat distracted by the nature of my surroundings.
It was “O” week on campus, or Orientation Week for the uninitiated. It was also Rush week for the sorority houses just off campus. Bruin Walk was the primary path taken by all the sorority wannabes. There they walked. There they paraded. There they looked in all their glorious splendor. Dressed to the hilt -- hair perfectly coiffed, blemish free. Wax dolls on a shelf. Some of them would have melted in the sun; their make up was so completely over the top. But so were they. They all seemed to be movie stars in the making. I was thankful for my dark glasses, but they irritated my eyeballs where they rubbed up against the lenses. Needless to say, I do not remember the fellow’s name that we met and stopped to talk with. I wouldn’t recognize him again if he walked up and introduced himself.
It was a delightful introduction to school after what had been a two year stay in purgatory at the Department of Health.
UCLA was where I met Walter, another biz student from Ecuador. He had come to the United States for the first time the previous April when he had taken an emersion English course at State University of New York. He had not taken English before. Giving himself six months to learn the language, he then moved to Los Angeles to go to Business school. I thought that was terribly self confident of him. His vocabulary was pretty good, although he did use some words that were not in common usage, at least in California. He also discovered the concept of regional dialects. Learning the language as he did, in the heart of the Bronx, the rather laid back version of it we spoke in LA was not quite the same. His Spanish accent was tinged with Brooklyn-eze and his “r”s were a little understated. Sometimes he needed a little interpreting help with the more “California” professors.
Walter and I became fast friends and tennis partners. We played at least once a week on campus, usually on a Tuesday. One time there was some sort of tournament going on and we couldn’t reserve a court. We moved our tennis venue to a nearby park in Westwood. It was a beautiful morning and the courts were empty, rather typical for a weekday. After we had played, we were sitting on a picnic table just cooling down when I noticed that Walter had this very puzzled look on his face. He was reading the sign above the gates to the courts that said, “Tennis Courts Closed Every Other Tuesday for Cleaning. 9:00am to Noon.” He said that we were very lucky to get to play here today because apparently they were closing the courts all of the rest of the Tuesdays. He wasn’t entirely over the language barrier. It made for a good laugh. Walter is now a very senior bank official at the Bank of Ecuador. I wonder when they clean the bank.
School progressed. I got to see Anne about every three weeks. She flew down, or I drove up at the usual school breaks. The timing worked pretty well for us – me, mostly. It probably was not as perfect as Anne would have liked, but I needed all the study time I could muster. School was hard for me, but I did like being a student. I loved the library time, the sculpture garden time, and the beach time…oh, and the study time. I lived on my savings and went full time and year round. I finished in March the following year. I didn’t bother to go to the graduation ceremonies, but I made sure that I did get my diploma.
While I was going to school, I kept thinking about where to work and live when I got done. I loved being in Los Angeles, but I knew that once I joined the working ranks I would have to drive the freeways when everyone else was driving, go to restaurants when everyone else wanted to eat, breathe only air that I could see, suffer all the indignities of rush hour traffic, and listen to the sounds of everyday living in LA. The one thing I could never get past was that the ambient noise level was incredibly high all the time. You just couldn’t get far enough away from the freeways to find peace and quiet. The presence of the ocean was small consolation to these drawbacks. I decided to find a job in Northern California. A task easier said than done.
The one thing about job hunting is that the minute you decide that working in a particular geographic location is more preferable than working anywhere else; you eliminate over 90 percent of the jobs that are available to you. I talked my sister into installing me into her spare bedroom in her apartment in Palo Alto from where I set up my job-hunting headquarters. It was a miserable several months before I found a job. Kathy was fit to be tied. I was depressed and certainly no fun. The living situation was scarcely tolerable, but I was closer to Anne and escaped to see her almost every weekend.
A New Job
Finally Lockheed Missiles and Space came through with an offer of a job. I accepted without hesitation and became that oddest of beasts in government work, a Cost Controller.
I have already mentioned that I worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. Its crystal clear pictures of the fantastic artifacts of our vast universe have become quite famous and an incredible testament to man’s perseverance over his own technological faux pas. For all our hard work and millions of dollars spent on building this machine, it was not without its problems. First of all, it is physically as big as a school bus; some 40 odd feet long. It’s pretty hard to build hollow, perfectly round things that are that large, but we did it. It took about eight years to build from conception to fruition. The technology that some of it relied on had not even been developed at the time the telescope project was begun, so there were holes in the design – electronic packages that had a design function, and a size and a weight that they could not exceed, but that were not capable of being built with existing technology. The design philosophy was that by the time the telescope was ready for these packages, the technology would have caught up enough to enable the package to be built with the structural limits of the space allotted. This is all pretty clever, if things work out all right. As an accountant, it’s pretty darn hard to account for, hence the degree of change orders that occurred on this project.
The reflecting mirror was a single piece of glass nearly eight feet across. One of the subcontractors we used supplied the mirror. It weighed a ton and it is still a mystery to me how we managed to install this heavy piece of glass in a flimsy metal tube and not have it torqued all out of shape. That’s what engineers are for I guess, to work out all these finer details. And, they did a pretty good job. They designed and built a giant telescope that actually fit into the bay of the Space Shuttle, was carried into space and installed in the proper orbit, opened its eyes on space and was able to transmit back photographs of actually very fuzzy stars and planets. In all their exactness, these builder/scientists had perfectly constructed a near-sighted telescope. It wasn’t until a great many quality heads were put together to come up with a pair of glasses to correct the vision problem that we received pictures of the unparalleled clarity and quality that you see published today. Oh, and by the way, that required another trip up in the Space Shuttle. At least, that was one change order that I didn’t have to sign.
I had just given notice. I had become disillusioned with the notion that there could be any cost control at all in my job as a Cost Controller. It was a contradiction in terms. I had worked myself up to the point where I was responsible for signing the Mid-year and Year-end cost and manpower projections that were sent to the government for our project, the Hubble Space Telescope. These projections had little basis in fact and truth, and I was feeling a bit nervous in affixing my signature to them. When I first joined the project, it was a 70 million dollar contract. Over the course of my twenty-two months, it had grown a mere $20 million to $90 million and there was another change order coming down the pike that was worth about $30 million more. I was not allowed to include these change orders in the projections. Even though we were all aware of them, we were not allowed to report them. That made me nervous when the fine print above the signature block on these forms I submitted to the government said that I was personally responsible for any errors or omissions. I decided to omit myself from the process.
Some years after I quit, I was sitting on an airplane flying back from a business trip to Atlanta. The gentlemen behind me were returning from Huntsville, Alabama, home of Lockheed. They were talking in hushed tones about the project they were working on. Little did they know that I knew what they were talking about. It was the space telescope. They were talking about cost overruns on their current budget of TWO HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS! That was a far cry from the measly $70 million that I had projected way back when – three and a half times more crying to be exact. That’s government for you! It can’t be better unless it costs more. $600 toilet seats anyone?
Summer Jobs and College
The first time I went to college I was majoring in Life sciences at the University of California, Davis, home to more bicycles than people. I didn’t know how that worked, but there were about sixteen thousand students there and a little sign at the city limits that stated, “Home to 18,000 Bicycles.” That was transportation in Davis. Public transportation came in the form of bicycles that the police recovered and no one claimed. These bicycles were painted bright yellow and parked anywhere. If you saw one you were free to hop on and go anywhere you pleased. You were not allowed to lock them up, and you could not expect the bike to be there when you returned to the spot you left it. It was a great idea. I don’t think that this stopped much bike thievery though because every year there seemed to be more and more bright yellow bikes available to use. They had to come from somewhere. Maybe the police were stealing them.
I rode my bike everywhere -- to and from classes certainly, but also just for fun. I got so proficient at riding without hands on the handlebars that I could make it from my apartment across town, to all of my classes, and back home without touching the brakes or handlebars – except to steady the bike for mounting and dismounting. Believe me, getting to and from Chem 194, the large lecture hall, amid the morning rush hour was no small feat. My bike had a smallish 23” frame and I had to lower the seat a little so I could touch my feet to the ground while sitting, but with these small adjustments, I was a circus clown.
In my idyll, in the summers home from college, my friend Byron and I would ride bikes together. Every night we would get on our bicycles and ride around and all over Bakersfield. We would ride long after dark and go through a set of flashlight batteries every other day. Those days were carefree and not filled with the terror of the zany, crazy idiots that populate the city streets in America today. There weren’t any drive by shootings. There weren’t the routine random acts of violence that one reads about in the papers.
The summer nights were hot and windless, quiet and unhurried. Our bikes hummed with the road noise the tires made and mechanical ticking of chain and sprocket. We pedaled into the still nights, talking and whiling away the hours with conversation of girls and high school days and college classes. We made plans for more rides and tennis playing and movie watching. Those summer nights were perfect.
The summer’s days were hot and filled with the work of the day, which consisted of sitting around waiting for the mailman and a host of summer jobs that ranged from the mundane to the bizarre. I was the night manager for The Hopson Mortuary for example. My primary role was to baby-sit the corpses during the evening and weekend hours. Every other weekend, I had to stay at the Mortuary overnight and make sure no body got up and ran away. I also answered the phone whenever necessary. I had to wear a suit and look serious.
The interesting thing about the mortuary business is that very few people choose normal business hours for dying. No, dying occurs at the least opportune time for everybody involved. There is no good time to die. Those weekends that I had to sleep overnight in the mortuary quarters, the phone did not ring constantly, but when it did, it was an event. My bed was a small bunk in a back room across from the embalming room. It had clean sheets, a reading light, and an eight-inch bell connected to a telephone and strategically placed about three feet above the head of the bed. The first time that phone rang while I was asleep, I found myself awake and semi-alert about eighteen inches above the mattress. It would have been impossible to sleep through.
Before the California Aqueduct was built and made millionaires of the western valley landowners, the west side of the San Joaquin valley was dry, parched and dusty. It was nearly worthless land that lay fallow and was scarcely paid any attention unless it happened to sit atop an oil reservoir. When the late summer winds came up they would pick the fine dust and blow it into great clouds of dense, gritty air. If the winds were persistent enough the dust clouds would blow eastward, gathering more and more dust along the way until everywhere and everything was covered with a fine layer. You could see the dust coming. Great walls of dusty air would rise up on the horizon and darken the air with its impending dirt. Business and shop owners would have to hurry to close doors and windows against the grit. After the clouds blew over there would be piles of fine powdery dust in door and window jams.
It was such a dust storm that blew over highway 99 one otherwise fine summer’s morning. Travelers on their way up and down the valley were beset with dust clouds that immediately reduced their visibility to almost zero. At first, it was a tap of brakes, then panic that brought the first cars to a stop. The cars behind them crashed into them time and time again. The gossamer wall of dust became a solid wall of twisted metal and bodies as over one hundred cars piled up. A minute later the dust clouds moved on to the east howling less and leaving a path of devastation that was usually reserved for the dust clouds’ deadlier winter twin – the fog.
Events like this made for big news in the hospital emergency room and mortuary business. As one of three mortuaries in town, we got our share of business. Our mortuary had one main chapel and two slumber rooms. We could accommodate the viewing of three bodies at any one time. When this accident occurred we had our three viewing rooms occupied plus another three bodies on gurneys in the back hallway. Not to mention all the flowers and personal effects for all of the loved ones. It was a logistical nightmare in addition to the normal unpleasantness of dying.
As was my routine, when someone came for a viewing, I would go to the front door and ask them whom they were there to see and show them to the proper room. In this case, I would ask them whom they were there to see and, if that person was not currently in one of the three rooms, I would ask them to have a seat in the narthex and excuse myself for a moment. As the door to the chapel closed behind me, I would race to one of the slumber rooms and move all the flowers with personal cards out, then the incumbent body. I would move the new body into the room and redecorate with all of his or her flowers. I would then race back to the front of the facility and as calmly, and with an assuredly serious a demeanor as I could manage, escort them into the viewing room. While they were visiting I was recovering in my personal quarters.
We hosted only one Irish wake while I was on duty. The Irish sure know how to die well. This gentleman had a large extended family and a number of close personal friends who came to participate. They all greeted me with gusto at the door and made themselves at home in the chapel. I went upstairs to the balcony where the Organ and stereo system resided and looked through the collection of canned music until I found one labeled, oddly enough, “Irish Wake.” I put it in and soon the men were dancing and swapping stories and generally enjoying themselves. The women were less enthusiastic about the circumstance and wailed intermittently. When it was time to close, I walked up to the one man that seemed most in charge and suggested that it was time to go. He gathered together his fellow mourners and they filed out past me, each one shaking my hand and some of them patting me on the back as they said, “See you tomorrow!” Only their enthusiasm for life may exceed their rejoicing in death.
This was brought home to me in another rather odd moment at the Mortuary. It was the Fourth of July and business was slow. I had invited Dan Angelo over to visit and together we watched a replaying of “The Music Man” on TV. It seemed disquieting to be watching this slice of America in all of its glorious and lighthearted merriment in a mortuary of all places. But it occurred to me that this was as much a part of living as was dying. You simply can’t have one without the other. Although weddings are full of promise and funerals are no fun, you get flowers either way. On the one hand you get to smell them, on the other; they're to keep others from smelling you. The difference is subtle, but distinct, and not lost on the living.
I forsook my mortuary job for the same reason pastors change churches; I was called to a higher salary. Thus I became a “Hey You” at my Dad’s shop. Hey you, get this and move it over there. Hey you, can you help me with this? Hey you, clean this up. You get the idea. Everybody knew to whom I was related and so the job was half real work and half whole hearted teasing. It was hot and tiring work, but at the end of the summer I could take a 100 pound bale of wire, sling it over my shoulder and walk it to the back of the shop. That in itself was an accomplishment. I had learned that heavy things needed to be handled differently than the more delicate tasks I had undertaken, like knot untying. It required a whole new mindset. You just can’t pick up and carry large gas cylinders that weighed 300 pounds. You needed a hand truck, but if there was no hand truck? It was easy if you tilted the cylinders on their bottom rim and rolled them from one place to another. Don’t fight the weight, use it. I imagined that it must have been a very martial artsy concept. Although, I don’t think that karate experts call anything “artsy.”
For a couple of summers, I learned the fine art of taring sugar beets and a little about the agrarian art of crop rotation. The farmers would toil in their fields all day to bring in their fine harvest of sugar beets. We, the lab crew, would toil all night to determine how much these farmers would get paid for their produce. You see, sugar beets aren’t sold by the pound or by the beet. They are sold based on their sugar content. Unfortunately, beets don’t grow pre-labeled with the sugar content displayed neatly on the skin. No, the content must be chemically analyzed to determine the precise percentage of sugar to weight, and then the farmer is paid on the percentage times the total weight harvested.
Everything was done in bulk. Farmers would harvest their beets into rail cars. We would grab a 25-pound sample from each railcar, and then send the train up the valley to the processing plant. There might be upwards of eight hundred of these sample bags a night. Each bag labeled with the car number and the farmer owner. Each sample was placed into a big 5 gallon, shallow, galvanized bucket and shoved down a production line. Our job as taremen was to tare the beets – clean from them excess dirt, roots and leafy material so that the weight was pure beet. Our tool of the trade was an eighteen-inch machete with a “church key” can opener welded to the blade near the handle. We used the can opener to clean out the root grooves of mud and roots, and with the machete blade to slice off rotted parts and leaf scars. The cleaned beets went back into the bucket and went further down the line to the rasp that chewed the beets into a fine paste. This paste went through a process of titration to measure the sugar content. The results of this analysis was recorded and sent to the processing plant 300 miles away to await the arrival of the freight train. The contents of each railcar were weighed and a check was cut to the farmer for the sugar he was able to deliver.
A crew of about six of us would work from 10:00pm to 6:00 am to make sure that everybody had everything they needed and knew everything they needed to know by the time the beets got to where they were supposed to go. The first part of the night was fun, but by the time you got to your hundredth bag or so you could be a little careless with the machete. I was fortunate to survive that experience with all of my fingers accounted for. We heard horror stories, much like the band saw stories the junior high school woodshop teacher tells his students, but I never saw any blood.
I did learn a few things though. Sugar beets and cotton belong in the same crop rotation. If you’ve got a bunch of soil that you want to grow cotton or sugar beets in, it behooves you to study what the weather is like in Hawaii for the sugar cane competition, or in India for the cotton competition, and then choose wisely, hoping you don’t plant what every other farmer in the world is going to grow, glutting the market and driving the price down. In cotton country, it pays to be the only farmer on your block to be in sugar beets. I also learned that rotting beets smell like the limestone caves in which vintners cellar their wine. It is a smell that I personally find compelling. And, finally, that sugar beets taste like dirt. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about the taste of a sugar beet. I do not know how anybody discovered that there was something useful inside that taste. To this day, I cannot stomach the taste of any beet, sugar or not. Fortunately, that does not extend to the beet product, sugar. I much prefer my breakfast flakes dusted with sugar. Believe me, they wouldn’t be nearly so popular coated with beet paste.
In between summer jobs, school of course -- more of that “bio sci” stuff. By the end of my sophomore year the classes I needed to schedule were getting harder to get scheduled, instead of easier, and I was fit to be tied when I couldn’t get a zoology course I needed, one that only comes around once a year and is a prerequisite course for the rest of the curriculum. That meant one whole other year at Davis. This was not acceptable, not tolerable and very depressing. Also depressing was the slowly dawning realization that if I were ever going to be a Doctor, I would actually have to doctor people! I was just not cut out to be friendly and empathetic, and all this education and knowledge was not going in the right direction. My schoolwork was suffering in general and at the end of summer after my sophomore year, I received a letter from the university placing me on academic probation. I would like to take a moment to defend myself. I did have a combination of B’s (2 units) and C’s that quarter, but one of the C’s was actually a C- and it was in a six unit emersion Spanish class, which was sufficient to drive that quarter’s GPA below 2.0. Hence probation. I still cannot speak Spanish of any variety.
I spent a good week or so with the college catalog I had at home and studied the possibilities. My conclusion was that I could graduate timely if I changed my major to Economics and proceeded full speed ahead. All the science I had taken would take care of the “hard” side of the “Breadth” requirements, and the Economics would take care of the Humanities side. It was simple.
Back to school in September, I discovered that I was not allowed to change majors while on probation. This was only a minor setback. I was able to add one econ course to my already full schedule. I took 19 units that quarter and studied hard! The result was that I made the Dean’s List. I was able to change majors at the end of the quarter to Econ. I had already satisfied almost all of the requirements for math and other economic prerequisites with artful application of some of my science and math courses and had my pick of the schedule for Econ Classes. Life was suddenly looking up.
Despite all the effort that went into getting an undergraduate education, I have concluded, in the wisdom of my subsequent experience, there were only two courses from Davis that I have ever used. The rest I could never tie specifics to, other than general foundational stuff. The first of those courses was Basic Arithmetic, a course for students who wanted to teach math. For the first 3 weeks or so we rolled dice. As part of an extra credit assignment, I had my Dad make a set of four-sided dice to roll. What a great foundation for statistics...and Craps, and Roulette. We also studied Venn diagrams and how they could be used to solve the mysteries of literature and the mysteries of the world at large. Our Professor was in trouble with the Department Chair for not adhering closely enough to the text. When the latter came to sit in on our class, our Prof had us shout out things that we had learned by "rolling" and "Venn"ing. He dutifully recorded those observations on the board. When we had filled up the space he had us turn to a page in the text (written by the Chair and to which we had not yet referred, and for which, the aforementioned trouble with the Chair) where most of these facts were postulated. It was a masterful display of raw educating power. Not that I have found any of the specific material to be very practical, but the lesson of that professor's method was deeply ingrained and has been oddly useful throughout the years.
The second class was Social Dance, which I continue to enjoy from time to time. Although, I will admit to forgetting the Cha Cha (which is OK), and rarely have I used the Waltz. Anne and I spent most of our courtship out on the dance floor. The longer we could dance the less money I would have to spend. It is shameful to admit, I know, but necessitated by the fact that I never had very much money while I was trying to woo her. I did like to watch her dance and dance with her.
In fact, the very first date we had, we danced. I had taken her to the China Palace, a staple of Sacramento Chinese food. After an engaging dinner of fine Chinese cuisine and conversation, we went somewhere where they had a live band. Anne wore peachy colored pants and top and I was pleasantly surprised to find that she washed her clothes in some sort of phosphate laden laundry detergent. When the dance floor lights went from incandescent to black lights, her underwear positively glowed. It made the night a rather special occasion on so many levels. She is probably still embarrassed over this one.
Evidence of a Prior Life
I didn’t enjoy Davis that much, either academically or socially. I succeeded in finding a girlfriend after the first month or so of my freshman year. Sue and I became good friends and took a number of classes together as well as our meals in the commons. We did not share the same dorm, but we did share the same dining hall on campus. She and I were together until just after the beginning of our senior year. In some respects having a steady girlfriend was great because it was part of my high school education that I had put on hold to quiet the gossiping mothers, on the other hand it prevented me from establishing those life long guy type relationships that most of the men I know now speak wistfully about when they talk about college and their college buddies. I mention her here only because even though my life began when I met Anne, my mother didn’t know that when she called her “Sue” when Anne came to my home in Bakersfield for a visit.
Twenty-five years later, I was researching my son Bryce’s Jazz band competitors for an upcoming jazz competition and I ran across Sue’s name as principal of one of the middle schools in the competition. I shot off a quick email to inquire if she was the same one and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was. Anne was out of town at the time and I called her on the phone to share my discovery. Her first thought was that life must not have begun quite when we met. That cat just wouldn’t stay in the bag.
Sue and I traded a couple of newsy emails over the course of several months and decided to meet for lunch one Sunday in June. It was pleasant and very nice to see her again. I enjoyed both the catching up and her company. I was not tempted, however, to abandon the life I was living to fantasies of a new life with an old flame. I don’t quite see how rational people could ever knowingly and actively make that choice, but I guess it happens all the time. The conversation was filled with stories of our respective children, pictures of our families and homes. There were some interesting parallels to lives we had fashioned for ourselves, but all in all, it appears that we had both made the right choices along the way. It was good to see that people grow and change in positive directions.
While I was at UCLA, I ran across another old Davis classmate. Doug lived in my dorm freshman year and we stayed acquainted with one another throughout our four years there. He later wound up in Los Angeles. He was not going to school, however. He was heavily involved in Scientology and was teaching a class that one of my roommates was taking. I never did understand the allure of a "religion" founded by a second rate science fiction writer. I thought about getting together with him until my roommate brought home a new "E meter" (a Scientology wonder device made from orange juice cans and some wires and for which a princely sum was paid) that was supposed to measure your "E"s. Whatever those were. Clearly, they didn't stand for “Enlightenment," perhaps, for "Entelligence.” I decided that both my roommate and Doug were not grounded enough to deserve further attention.
Later, in late 1978, or early 79, I was living in Mountain View, California, and I had dinner with Barb, one of Sue’s old roommates. She was by happenstance living about 2 miles from me and shopping in the same grocery store. We had been friendly, and it was nice to catch up a little on common interests and acquaintances. She was keeping the company of two or three very protective Shelties. My rather disappointing impression at the time was that she had not moved very far forward from college days. That visit very much reminded me of my first touch with the ebbs and flows of living in the real world (as opposed to the one that we all grow up in). There was a fellow I knew in high school who was at least a couple of years ahead of me. He graduated high school and went into the service. I did not see him again until he had been released from active duty some 4 years later. It was clear to me even then that he had "stopped" growing the moment he had left the first time. I had somehow, magically, become bigger (well, at least taller), smarter, and perhaps more worldly, than this young man who had left as a shaving man/boy and had returned the same way. To me, Rip Van Winkle couldn't have been more bewildering than he. It wasn't until my dinner with Barb that I actually understood this realization that time moves at different rates for different people. In my own mind, I had always wanted to move ahead (whatever direction that was!) and it was very odd to me that some people simply chose not to. (Hmmm, I wonder what these people have said about me. Never a second thought, I imagine.)
I guess the ability to move on and move ahead is not a universal truth. There are so many ways to keep from making progress in the world of grownup choices and grownup decisions. We read about people who have problems with this everyday in the newspaper. There are thousands of self-help books lining the shelves in our bookstores that recognize the issue and attempt to provide answers. It never seemed to be much of a question in our lives here in the world of Indermill, but I can see my boys struggle with it from time to time. Obviously it is a widespread problem everywhere else. I suppose that’s why there are so many pseudo-psychology shows on daytime television. A lot of people really need a lot of help and sadly, they are least likely to find it on daytime television, but I’m not sure they know that.
A New Home
We moved from our little slice of heaven in Larkspur just up the road to San Rafael. Our small house in Terra Linda was about 900 square feet, with floor to ceiling windows for about half the wall space and lots of jalousie windows. It was built in 1962 and probably took about two days to construct. It was an odd design with the front door nearly at the back of the house and no windows facing the street. The entry way was lined with fuchsia trees that were pretty year around. Our house wasn’t particularly special because this whole community was filled with houses just like it.
Because all the houses were built with variations on essentially the same design, neighbors never had to meet one another if they didn’t go out of their way to do it. True to form, we met no one from the neighborhood the whole first year we lived there, with the exception of our next-door neighbor who was a real estate agent and played ball with the older neighborhood kids out in the street. He did this as a gesture of good will and he confided, so that they wouldn’t break into his house because they were all friends.
That was a little disconcerting. We learned exactly what he meant by that about the third week we were in the house. Anne had come from work to find the front door ajar. Suspecting foul play, she waited for me at the corner and we both entered together, after I got a big stick from the garage. I intended to just show it to the burglars and have them run away in fear.
The house was a mess -- empty of perpetrators, but not their activity. The burglar had trashed the bedroom. The mattress was thrown off the bed. The drawers had been emptied, the contents strewn about. The jewelry box had been found and the valuable stuff had been separated from the other and left in two piles. We found our camera packed and ready by the back door. The kitchen was a mess too. All the cereal boxes were emptied and their contents dumped on the floor. Whoever it was had had time to snack because there was a hard-boiled eggshell in the sink and my beer was gone from the refrigerator.
Other than the mess that was left, the tally was only some coins, one six-pack of beer, and a hardboiled egg. We sat politely through a visit by the police who asked several helpful questions, but our personal favorite was, “Did your bedroom look like this when you left this morning?” The police also offered helpful comments like, …the thief was looking for something…probably drugs; judging by the location of the camera and the two piles of jewelry, the thief was probably interrupted; and, a lot of people hide their valuables in cereal boxes. We thought this last comment was a pretty good idea actually, but from that moment forward we vowed only to hide cereal in our cereal boxes.
I went out the following morning and bought bolt locks for both doors. We soon bought a dog that delighted in scaring the mailman. We began replacing the Jalousie windows with real pane glass. And, in short, returned to the domestic tranquility that only bolt locks and a big loud dog can afford.
Our dog was a sweetie. Named Chessie, short for Chestnut, she was an AKA registered, pedigreed Labrador retriever that was dumb as sticks. I spent hours with her trying to teach her to fetch, to come when I called, and not to bark at the mailman. All to no avail. This is remarkable considering that Labradors are supposed to want to fetch naturally, hence the word Retriever in the name. She delighted in running away every time the gate was opened and she could squeeze out. In “retrieving” practice with a leash and lead rope, she thought that those dog biscuits were as good as opium. In practical fact, she could loose her addiction just as soon as she no longer felt the tug of the leash. She was a good barker though.
After a year or so, we finally met some of our neighbors. They were finally unable to hide from yards that needing mowing and trees that needed trimming. When they snuck out to perform these tasks, I walked over and introduced myself. We actually were surrounded by a whole bunch of people just like us, newly married, thinking about having kids, and generally friendly, once the barrier had been breeched. We had many an impromptu dinner and good times visiting. Oh, and our next door, real estate neighbor guy, he moved the first time his “friends” tactic didn’t work and some kids broke into his house. Our dog may have been dumb, but she worked as a deterrent just fine.
Apparently the burglar that had breeched the sanctity of our home was sufficiently discouraged by the hurdles we had placed in his way, and perhaps by the realization that the previous owner did not live there anymore. We managed to keep the house drug free and we always kept the cereal where it belonged, untainted by valuables.
It was into this environment that we decided to begin to raise a family.
The Birth of a New Beginning
After two years of wedded bliss, our first child was born July 4th, 1982.
Darren shares birthdays with the Land of Opportunity, These United States of America, and one Missy Taylor who by no fault of her own was born on this date some unknown number of years ago. What she has become is through every (and I might add, shows every) fault of her own to very little distinction. I mention her in passing and without further description only to make the point that being born on the Fourth of July does not ensure one of greatness. There is evidence enough of that. But, several things are sure to be true of Fourth of July babies: they get the same chances as anyone else, they make their own breaks, they get birthday cakes like most babies, they are usually cuter, more charming, more disarming, poop less, cry less, and are generally better than most other babies. They are born of better parents too. I realize that these are rather broad generalizations, but bear in mind that I have already pointed out the exception to the rule. Darren is off to a very auspicious start indeed.
At the starting blocks of the human race: one Darren Kyle Indermill, born: 3:52am PST, July 4, 1982. Six pounds eight ounces stripped; twenty and one half inches long.
It occurred to me then that the burden of sex education now resided on my shoulders. I’m not too worried about it judging from what I’ve seen so far. Darren has such a way with women! And, he’s good in bed. What else does he need to know?
These are the facts from a diary I kept at the time.
At 4:00am July 3rd Anne awoke to contractions. These contractions were the familiar Braxton-Hicks contractions that she has had all through her pregnancy. They weren’t particularly notable save for their annoyance. On this morning, however, they were slightly more annoying than usual, keeping her awake.
At 6:00am these Braxton-Hicks contractions had become a lot more annoying than usual when Anne woke me up to tell me that she’d been having contractions since 4:00, but that they were not very regular not too intense. The last vestige of sleep I was to see for more than twenty-four hours faded in to the thought that maybe today was the day!
At 7:00am we talked of possibilities and likelihoods for about an hour lying in bed. It was a nice, quiet, relaxing time. I felt Anne’s stomach during some of the contractions. They didn’t feel out of the ordinary except that they came more often. A watched pot never boils, so I decided to get up and get some use out of the day.
The rest of the day was spent much as though it were any regular Saturday. I got up and fussed with the dandelions while the dog romped around the front yard – on leash of course. The dog likes to play on these mornings when I let her out to sniff and explore.
The lawn got mowed. The cars got washed. And, it was dinnertime. I don’t know what happened in between. I checked on Anne’s progress from time to time, but that wasn’t too rewarding. Oh, we did make one trip to Payless Drug Store for some odds and ends sometime that afternoon. Aside from a couple of immobilizing contractions at the check out counter, this trip was like so many others. Anne bore her contractions very quietly and I don’t think many people noticed the white knuckles with which she clutched my arm. It would have been so flamboyant to use these contractions to bully our way to the front of the line. “Excuse me, can’t you see she’s in labor? We can’t wait all day to buy these light bulbs! Step aside Please!” We both had taken our martyr pills that day though. Somehow it was more dramatic, in some larger sense, to know this great secret and to have the deep strength to bear this burden on just our own shoulders…two alone in an everyday world. If these other shoppers had only known how special we really were.
Time did pass quickly that day. I kept busy with the usual mindless and solitary chores that I have mentioned. I was never really able to focus on the EVENT. It was surrounded by such a cloud of anxious foreboding that I would not allow myself too much thought in its direction. The fear of simply acknowledging the horror of something, anything going amiss in the delivery of having the baby born without some necessary part of life (lacking an appendix would have been too much) was too much to endure at this precipice of emotion. Perhaps it was not an emotional state that day as much as an unwillingness to be a reasoning adult at any time before that faculty was actually required. My mental preparation was long complete. I didn’t want to peak too soon.
6:30pm. I had one of those frozen pizzas for dinner. It wasn’t too small, but I had the whole thing anyway. There was much else to do. Anne wasn’t interested in any. She had chicken broth. I am sure that her chicken broth looked about as good to me as my pizza looked to her. I can’t help it if I belong to the “pizza is consolation” school of thought.
7:00pm. This was the beginning of the “getting down to brass tacks” phase. The contractions were becoming more regular and were beginning to increase in intensity. Anne was definitely uncomfortable. The contractions very often created a feeling of great pressure on her back. That pressure translated very readily to pain. At some time during this hour my sister called. We had decided earlier not to let on should anyone call. I carried on a perfectly normal conversation, while trying to comfort Anne in some of the worst moments. I casually mentioned that Anne had gone to the store to explain why she was not going to talk. I lied.
7:15pm. Contractions seemed quite regular at 5 minutes apart, but this would have to continue for another 50 minutes before we could go to the hospital. The Kaiser folks had this all figured out for us. Anne decided to take a bath to while away the time. The bath proved to be the proper salve. The contractions were tolerable while in the water. They were also well paced at 5 minutes. This had to be it! I was ready. I told Anne, “let’s get dressed and go.” By the time we got moving the contractions faded. Six minutes apart, then eight, one waited until twelve minutes had passed.
8:10pm. Anne was disconsolate lying on the bed. We had gone from full sail to lufting in an idle wind. Nothing much was happening. The contractions were becoming irregular. There wasn’t much to do, but wait. A typically inane TV show was playing on the tube, Anne was grumpy and I was disheartened. I did the only thing a sane man would do, I feel asleep.
9:15pm. Anne seemed to be on another roll. Five minutes apart; very intense. Anne was clearly uncomfortable during each contraction. I had the stopwatch ready from earlier and now it clicked on and off at regular intervals, each click signaling the beginning of another dreaded episode. Anne withdrew in to her own focus during these contractions. We listened to the stopwatch for an hour before we made any efforts to collect ourselves and go.
10:20pm. This was it. It was time to go. As prepared as we were, it still took us about thirty long, slow minutes to get loaded in the car and on our way. The stopwatch was relegated to the “pregnant” suitcase so I timed the contractions on the dashboard clock: 10:55, 11:00, 11:05. I tried to avoid lane changes, the little lane markers made too much vibration for Anne. Through the tollbooths at the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought about asking for a discount for pregnant ladies, but thought better of the delay. It was a $2 night. Two dollars poorer we drove on to the hospital. The first of many dollars to spend over the years I imagine. My suspicion that toll takers have no sense of humor is still untested and unconfirmed. Maybe I get them with the next baby.
11:20pm. We pulled into the hospital parking lot. (The Nurse Practitioner, who gave us our hospital tour two months before, said that if we came at night, the blocking arm was usually broken off or raised. She said that she never had to pay the four quarters and there always seemed to be a place to park.) Sure enough, the arm was raised, but there were no parking spaces. We parked on the street behind the hospital about a block away. It was an uphill walk to the emergency room entrance, but Anne was a real trooper. I made her troop.
11:45pm. We got all checked in downstairs and had been waiting upstairs in Maternity for a few minutes. I swear, one can go anywhere in a hospital just by flashing his or her Kaiser Kard at the appropriate time. What we saw from our vantage point was not real encouraging. We had just witnessed the changing of the guard. We had been told that the interns and residents change their assignments twice a year, one of those times on the First of July. This was the first weekend after the switch and many of the people who came on duty at 11:30 had to be told where to go and how to find things. Needless to say, the atmosphere was confused. At times we seemed lost in the shuffle. We had an opportunity to sit in the waiting room for a few minutes. We were the third expectant couple that had shown up on this Fourth O’ July Eve. Little did we know that there were two more soon-to-be families to arrive a few minutes later.
There were two young Iranian gentlemen sitting kitty-corner from us in the waiting room when we got there. Their lady (the relationship was very obscure) had already planted the Iranian flag in the examining room. While we were waiting, they were chattering in clipped English at a breakneck pace about computer programming. What else is there to discuss on a Saturday night?
A black woman in a red dress who had obviously done this before came in. She had been in labor longer than she’d liked, that much was clear. This was the third visit to the hospital. Each of the previous occasions, this lady had been told to wait for a couple of hours. When we saw her she’d been on her feet for four hours and was running out of humor. She was however, very casual about her labor, pacing around in the waiting area with no real outside indication of contractions. I talked with her a bit to discover that this would be her fourth child. She mentioned to anyone who would listen, “…they’d better hurry because my baby’s on his way!”
11:55pm. I asked the nurse to come over and talk to Anne. She was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with every contraction and she was experiencing some nausea. She thought that she had felt a gush of fluids when she went to the bathroom earlier. When the nurse met us, Anne was all smiles and good humored, covering well I thought. (She never wants to be a bother to anybody!) The nurse explained that we were third on the list, that there was already someone being examined (the Iranian woman), and that it was extremely unlikely that Anne would deliver soon because she was a “primip” – a first timer.
“Now,” asked the nurse, “what is your situation?”
There was no change in her dour expression until Anne got to the part about the possibility of ruptured membranes. The nurse said that at least no one else that night had ruptured membranes. We were suddenly moved to the top of the queue. We were escorted into the delivery area for a quick examination and attachment to a fetal monitor. Anne’s discharge was checked and found to be positive which indicated that it was possible that her membranes broke, but there was also enough blood on the pad to fool the testing procedure. The physical examination found her to be 4 centimeters dilated. That was enough to insure our spot right where we were.
12:45am. We were well entrenched in the labor room. The labor room nurse was very helpful and spent a lot of time with us. She checked via the fetal monitor the progress of the baby through the contractions. She did most of what she had to do without displacing me, which was very nice. I was taking some pictures and trying to lend support, but found that my best role was just to be there when Anne needed someone to hang on to. Her fingertips fit neatly into the pits she was digging into my arm. I was taking my part very seriously when the nurse, Stacy, asked us if we had been admitted yet. Physically yes, officially no.
Off I went downstairs to Admitting. I would have thought that I’d be the only one at this time of night, but I had to wait for the black woman in the red dress, who was just killing time, to admit herself. She just smiled with her eyes rolled back, and shook her head when she saw me. “Not yet, huh,” I asked?
The admitting clerk had some very motherly advice. She told me to keep the lights on when the baby’s trying to sleep. “Babies don’t need no dark to sleep,” she offered. I told her that I’d keep that in mind and went back upstairs.
I didn’t feel too out of place walking around the hospital although I must have looked pretty silly. I had a hospital gown on over my clothes and little paper booties on over my shoes. Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Dr. Gannon, even Quincy never looked like this. They must not have had Kaiser Kards.
3:00am. Anne was losing track of time except for the clicking of that stopwatch off and on at the beginning of every contraction. I was required to apply counter pressure at the base of her spine. Most of the time that helped, some of the time it did not, and the rest of the time, it didn’t seem to matter. After a particularly hard contraction in which Anne had some urge to push we called Stacy in. She gave a quick examination and pronounced Anne at 6 cm.
While Anne was having another contraction I asked Stacy how long transition (officially from 7 to 10 cm dilation) usually lasted. She answered one to two hours. She also told me that Anne could have some medication if she wanted. When she recovered from the baby’s current assault, I asked her if she wanted a shot and explained to her as Stacy had explained to me the effects of the drug – Nicentyl, a light medication that would take the edge off the pain, but not make it go away. Anne agreed willingly to take the shot. Stacy returned in a minute or two to administer the injection cautioning us that it would take ten minutes or so to work.
Those ten minutes was about all the time Anne needed to have three of the most powerful effacing contractions of the night. The third contraction was sustained for more that 2 minutes and Anne was voicing her objections to it. She wanted to push badly. Stacy overheard the noise and came in our room, exclaiming quietly that it sounded like someone was ready to have a baby. She examined Anne, confirming her intuition. She told us that Anne didn’t have to hold back anymore.
3:45am. I was given a hairnet, face mask, surgical gown and reminded not to forget my camera as I help wheel Anne into the delivery room. Things were beginning to happen quite rapidly, physiologically speaking. Anne had pushed a couple of times in the labor room to good affect. In the delivery room, Anne was told to push once while the Doctor was gloving up and draping so she could observe the situation. About three quarters of the way through, the Doctor said to hold up. The Doctor apparently needed more time to ready herself than Anne seemed willing to give. On the next push Anne was told to relax, to go slow, not to push too hard, to slow down. The Doctor finished her own prep with one hand and used the other to keep the baby at bay. There was about a minute’s rest between contractions now.
3:51am. Another pushing contraction started. The head popped out. The Doctor still admonished to go easy – to push slowly. “Easy, easy!” She said as Darren’s nose and mouth were suctioned. The rest of him literally slipped out. There he was at 3:52 am the Fourth of July. The Doctor clamped the cord and asked if I would like to cut it. I was delighted to actually do something. Darren was very quiet except for a brief cry as he received the obligatory slap on the rump. The doctor held him up for a picture, and continued her work.
3:53am. Anne was all smiles and convulsed fingers as Darren, now bundled, was set on her stomach. She kept apologizing for not being able to slow down the pushing. She never wants to be a bother to anybody.
This was a Piece O’ Cake.
Life Begins Anew
As I was holding Darren in the delivery room just moments after birth, he was quite calm. He looked like a little old Jewish man. Any description of him beyond “calm” would be shear speculation on the part of the observer. He was bundled very tightly and content in that circumstance not to try to move. The expression on his face was relaxed. He showed no tension. There was no lip pursing, eyebrow scrunching, or forehead furrowing. What there was was akin to total wonderment. His eyes moved about his new universe with a studied alacrity. There was much to learn. They moved right and stopped, then to the left and stopped, constantly moving in a herky-jerky fashion, very much like adult eyes reading. It was fascinating to be an observer to the process. Perhaps it will be the only time that I can observe without affecting the behavior of the child.
Darren seemed to have discovered no other sense but sight in those first few moments. He had no reaction to any tactile sensations. Granted, the applied stimulus was not too severe, but Darren was oblivious to touch or stroking. He had no reaction to the sounds about him. There wasn’t much in the way of smells – that sense remained untested. He was using his eyes! How peculiar looking we all were with our hospital gowns, hairnets, facemasks, and paper booties. And Darren thinking, so this is where I am to be, among all these shapes and colors and movements.
Finally, Anne had begun to slow down noticeably by about 9:00pm. I left her and Darren at a quarter after the hour and drove home through the fireworks displays. They were everywhere. I could see them lighting up the skies over the Bay from the Golden Gate Bridge, and from the Marin Civic Center. I couldn’t help but think that it was pretty nice that everyone had thought to get out and help celebrate my son’s birthday.
There is something special about sharing the first few hours of life together as a family. We spent much of the sixty-odd hours of Anne’s (and Darren’s) hospital stay together. The process of getting to know our child was all consuming. The physical changes he went through in the first twenty-four hours were amazing. Nothing unusual of course, but the shape of his head did change, swelling in his eyes, nose and upper lip went down, his skin got a few pimples as that organ began to function. His fussiness at feeding time and the calm that followed were facinating. We had to get familiar with the name we had picked out for him. It had been much easier to use in the abstract.
His face was so expressive for the very few concepts he could convey. Just before crying he would screw his face up into the most pronounced frown. His lips turned down at the corners like a horseshoe. His lower lip would get longer and longer until finally he could keep his mouth closed no more. His eyebrows, rather the place where his eyebrows would be, rose high above tightly closed eyelids. Every cry began with a “mwaaa” sound. It was such a weak cry. Eventhough the effort it took was all Darren could muster, his lungs weren’t yet up to much of a bellow.
He practiced the pout, the pensive, the hurt, the concerned, the lighthearted (probably gas, is what we were told), the pucker, the caster oil expressions all separately and sometimes simultaneously. The beauty was in the nuance, the subtle change from expression to expression, not in the look itself.
It is interesting to note how enraptured we new parents can be watching a sleeping child. A baby holds a lot of interest for these intimates like grandparents and parents who all feel they have a special role to play in either bringing children into the world or raising them once they get here. Grandmothers dote like chickens pecking away at an empty barnyard. Every movement the child makes is just for us. We take delight in it. We can hardly help ourselves; to stroke a cheek, grasp a hand or toe, or marvel at the downey hair. Should the blanket fall away, we are only too quick to replace it. It gives the excuse we need just to touch him again. We can’t find enough of those excuses – except at diaper time, and even that is just fine.
Life’s Little Disappointments
It’s time for a word about circumcision. Sure, it may be barbaric, it may scar men physically and emotionally for life, it may just be Jewish, it may be a lot of things, but to a baby, it is just one more fascinating thing that happens in a new life. You will never get me to believe that male babies attach any more significance to this insult than any other they endure as infants. They get spanked for putting their fingers near something hot – a double insult, they get colic, they get unbearably messy diapers, they get kissed by all manner of people they don’t know, and some of them never get to put their feet to the ground because of all the well meaning attention they get by their huggers and holders.
Darren was scheduled for circumcision on July 6th. It is an interesting practice. No one was either willing or able to tell us much about the why and wherefore, except how it was done these days. There doesn’t appear to be any real good reasons either for, or against it that aren’t religious. The only worthwhile information I was able to get from anybody seemed to indicate that for a time back in the early fifties and sixties it was thought that fewer circumcised men got cancer of the penis than did uncircumcised men. Pay toilets are bad enough, but what if you didn’t have a place to go even if you did have a dime? The cancer statistic was enough reason for me, so we signed Darren up. He may never forgive us. (About one in one million men are unfortunate enough to have their penis fall off before they die for other reasons. They are probably the ones that believed it when they were told that masturbation induced blindness.)
Hospitals are very clever. They scheduled Darren for circumcision two hours before we were to go home. That led me to believe that hospitals know as much about what to do with screaming babies as new parents do. For the benefit of all the other patients, however, hospitals elect to step out of the picture at these critical times. “If he doesn’t stop crying in a few days, be sure and let us know,” they would probably say as the doors swung closed behind us.
The nurse came for Darren punctually at ten. Anne and I waited patiently, filling the time with innocuous chatter. After about twenty minutes, whenever we heard a baby’s cry we looked at each other and tried to tell if it was Darren or not. We thought to ourselves, poor boy. A few minutes more and the nurse wheeled him in all bundled up. Such concern played across our faces, I felt certain that the nurse would be compelled to sit with us for a few reverent moments, as I’m sure they must with the close family of those hopeless cancer patients elsewhere in the building. She said only, “There you go.” That pretty well summed it up.
Darren was calm, cool, collected. His behavior was the same as it was moments after the delivery, eyes open wide and moving herky-jerky about the room. Complete composure. We waited for the loud what-have-you-done-to-me wail, but it never came. I think that Anne was a little upset that she was missing an opportunity to comfort him, but she got over it.
“There you go.”
Grandma Comes to Help Out
Not long after we brought Darren home from the hospital, Rita came and spent the night with us. The purpose of this visit was to provide an extra set of hands around the house, to provide Anne with some motherly advice, and –certainly not least important—to provide Darren with the kind of Grandmotherly attention that young grandchildren are supposed to get -- basically, all the holding, the cuddling, and the caring for that grandmothers are too germ-laden to do in the hospital environment. Anne and I are much less picky about germs than hospitals seem to be.
Young Darren did not develop good sleeping habits. His eating habits were quite refined, however. He ate every two hours without regard to light or darkness. He did not always sleep between feedings, but was prone to sleep more during the day – a night of wakeful gluttony could be pretty tiring. Male Babies learn debauchery at such an early age! Women, food, and staying up most of the night are the only things they really take pleasure in.
After a day or two of the round the clock attention, Anne and I were glad to have Grandma in the house. We were pretty tired. We retired to our bedroom that night knowing that Darren would certainly be well looked after with so many watchful people about. By one o’clock that night, Anne and I had already managed to sleep through Darren’s twelve o’clock feeding. Rita had listened to about all of the crying she could take and had gotten up at midnight to see what the problem was. She was so concerned about doing something against our wishes that she stood by his bed and tried to soften his cries with sweet talk and comforting touches, not wanting to disturb him too much. After all, what if his parents had decided to let him cry for a minute or two – “spare the rod, spoil the child.” She didn’t want to interfere.
After a few minutes of this loud wailing, Rita came to the understanding of two very important facts. 1) Billing and cooing do little to calm a hungry baby, and 2) Anne and Mark obviously weren’t going to do anything about it. Rita took matters into her own hands and paced around with him for about thirty minutes before either Anne or I managed to wake to the reality of raucous cacophony emanating from the baby’s room. Anne padded into the other room to finally provide some long sought comfort. I did what any sane man would do, turned over.
Darren was understandably upset. Not only didn’t he get fed when he wanted it, but there was this strange lady wandering the house intimating that everything would be all right if he would just be quiet. He may have been young, but he was not that naïve.
When he finally did get fed after this terrible ordeal, exhausted as he was, He refused to let momma out of his sight until it was time to eat again. So fragile was his trust that he whimpered whenever Anne tried to shift his weight in her arms. After his three o’clock feeding, he was finally able to sleep again. When Anne came to bed, I was the first to ask if there was anything I could do, knowing well the answer would be no. I was pleased to find my guilt so easily assuaged. Anne and I joked rather casually about this incident the next day, but I don’t think that Grandma was really very amused.
I came to a simple axiom of baby-raising early on. Umbilical cords must not have their own sense of smell, if they did, I’m sure they would fall off much sooner.
Darren’s umbilical cord was a black crusty stub attached indelicately to the place where his bellybutton was supposed to be. We were dutiful parents the first few days and swabbed the scab with alcohol at every opportunity to encourage it to dry up and fall off. That was what it had said to do in the books anyway. We were concerned with its progress because the odor it gave off got worse everyday.
Poor mom was getting so embarrassed for her son that she was embarrassing me. She didn’t want to take him by work because he smelled so. She cautioned everyone that held him that his umbilical cord smelled. He was dressed in his heaviest suits so the smell wouldn’t leak out. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant smell, but it wasn’t that bad either.
Anne’s cleaning around this umbilical cord got more and more vigorous with each diaper change. She got so that she would often peek under the diaper to see if all this alcohol and cleaning was having any effect. I don’t think she noticed how Darren cried when she was fussing with him on the changing table. Her passions got the best of her mothering for a day or two.
Finally, twelve days after birth, Anne peeked underneath the diaper for the last time. The umbilical cord could not take the strain of those prying fingers anymore. When she was through with that diaper change, she was victorious in the way of umbilical cords as well. And, I had to admit that my son smelled much better.
Wise Old Parents
About three weeks after he was born, I had a little time with my son alone. Anne had gone off for the afternoon. It was one of those lazy kinds of Sundays where there just wasn’t much else to do, but play with the baby. Not that playing with Darren is a drudgery of any sort, but the novelty of “brand new” is almost gone, having been chased away by dirty diapers, and decipher-less crying. It was a perfect prelude to reaffirming one of the universal concepts of baby-raising which is: the closer the parents get to total exhaustion and exasperation, the closer the baby gets to taking a major leap forward.
And so it was on this particular Sunday. Young Darren was propped up against my crossed and bended knee, alternately gazing at the ceiling and feigning modesty as he was breaking records breaking wind. The Sunday paper was mildly interesting. While reaching for another section, I called Darren’s name and noticed his attentiveness. He was looking in the direction of my voice. This may have been happenstance, but as I moved from one side of him to the other, speaking softly, he turned his head and moved his eyes to follow me. He followed me from his right to his left side, back again, then one more time to the left before he lost interest. This was the first indication I had witnessed that Darren had any interest in the world outside of the “world of Mom.” He actually had a positive response to a stimulus that was not related to his own well-being. He didn’t even have a meal or a diaper change riding on this one. It wasn’t much, this one small display of audio, visual, and motor response, but it sure makes tomorrow worth looking forward to.
One of the things you get to do as involved parents is to offer advice and counsel to others that are following along. Now that we’ve gone through the experience, we are experts in a manner of speaking and we are often called upon to offer our opinion on the experience. One such occasion was the reunion with two other couples from our La Maze class for a show-and-tell session with our teacher’s current class. Six new parents, three new children, and about 8 expecting parents comprised the group. We new parents spoke of the experience to come with all the wisdom and sagacity of men and women who have been doing this sort of thing for years…although we were all first timers.
Our conversation was met with revered silence, broken occasionally by probing questions. The room was filled with the same anxious anticipation that had prevailed in the waning sessions of our own class as these young mothers to be and fathers tried to catch glimpses of our babies while we were talking so glibly about this mystifying, life changing event like we were old pros. I’m sure they all thought that their babies were going to be cuter than any of ours, and we all thought that we already had the cutest babies born this year. We offered what advice we could.
That wasn’t the interesting part of the evening for me. The interesting part was comparing babies. Of the three, Darren was the only boy, so across the board comparisons were pretty tough. Anne had had the easiest delivery by far. The other mothers had labors well over thirty hours long, episiotomies, and generally unpleasant experiences. Of the three babies, Darren was the smallest at six pounds 8 ounces. The others weighed in at six pounds thirteen ounces, and the other something over eight pounds. The eight pound baby’s head was enormous, hence the cause of some birthing distress. The other girl was born about three weeks early and was huge now in comparison. She ate from a bottle almost the entire hour, slurping and sucking. If she were any older this behavior would have been termed rude and obnoxious. As it was, though, she was just being cute.
I don’t know what to say about the babies’ looks. They all looked quite different to me. The girls weren’t particularly good looking babies, but they had very passable baby faces. It is the mannerisms that make babies cute anyway. Darren hasn’t ever had a real baby’s face yet. He still looks a lot like a little old Jewish man. No real pudgy fingers, or flabby baby jowls. He just hasn’t developed the fat yet. As a consequence of this lean and mean look, he just looks like a little old man. He seems to be getting younger looking as he gets a little chubbier. His face is becoming more rounded, his cheeks are puffing out a bit, and the flesh on his thighs is meatier. He looks “mature.” He lacks the frivolity of others his own age. He has a suave sophistication about him that his peers lack. He doesn’t drool.
Anne and I kept these observations to ourselves for fear of upsetting the parents of those babies with only “passable” baby looks. These things are probably not lost on the parents-to-be crowd. All babies look alike until you have one of your own. Then it is hard to find one that is quite as good looking. But, those other actual parents know the score. They know who’s got a good looking baby and who doesn’t. They are keeping it to themselves just like we are.
Grandmothers Come From the Strangest Places
Three days shy of one month, Darren finally smiled because he was amused, not because of the odd discomfort of gas. It didn’t last very long, only for a couple of seconds, but he did do it once more for me when we played the same game again. At this age, his moods are so delicate that almost any distraction can cause tangential changes in his responses. While he has been a “good” baby, i.e. not extraordinarily fussy when he is awake and not (albeit rare) hungry, his lighter moments have been characterized by staring vacuously into space. Not anymore. This ability to smile adds a new dimension to our relationship with him. He can now tell us when we do things right – and when he thinks he’s doing things right, instead of just being able to tell us when something is wrong. Communication has been pretty simple to this point, he just cries when something is not right. This new dimension makes life just marginally easier. But a little advice I would offer to Darren, if only I could: “Darren you have learned a great secret. You must be careful how you use it. It has the power to twist arms, break wills, make smothering, hugging arms appear from the void, and melt women’s hearts. A smile can turn all your big people friends into grandmothers. Beware the grandmothers.”
When you have children, everything changes. Your routines adjust around the baby. Your tolerance for wakefulness increases while your dependence on sleep diminishes. You get used to being tired…all the time. There are new sounds in your living space, new smells, new things to trip over, and more reasons not to trip. There is more preparation required to go anywhere, and the diaper bag is always stocked, always ready to go. The same is true for anything that lives within earshot of you.
Our dog, Chessie, has been pretty tolerant of this thing that she hears and sees through the window. When we first brought Darren home, Chessie would mope around outside as though she was truly the forgotten member of the family – which was true. She would look pleadingly into the kitchen from the backyard, and then disconsolately walk away. She was only mildly interested in Darren when we held him up to the window for her to see. That just wasn’t very satisfying for her. There is just something about a dog being able to put its nose right up against the smell that keeps the dog on the trail. She showed slightly more interest when he moved, or particularly, when he cried. Then, her ears would perk up. She tired of window-shopping easily. When I went outside to play with her, she could no longer suppress her curiosity. She sniffed my hands and my clothes thoroughly, gathering all the clues she could.
We would all go for walks with Anne holding Darren in the Snugli (a sling-like contraption that held a baby closed to the wearer’s chest), and me with the dog’s leash. This worked out well. Chessie wasn’t allowed to jump up to see or sniff so she would feign her kitchen window indifference, and walk beside us quietly. It was all an act on her part. She never showed her usual spunk in wanting to walk ahead. She wanted to stay right with us to do her spying.
When Darren graduated from the Snugli to the stroller, Chessie assumed a new attitude. She could now see and smell the baby outright and this invested in her new ownership of the thing. Chessie pranced along beside the stroller. She could see its precious cargo; she was allowed to sniff Darren’s feet. This made her feel really important. She had a new and significant job to do, that of protecting the child. What was important to us was important to her.
The neighbors, had any of them been able to see, would have surely thought, there goes that Indermill parade. Chessie lacked only a silver studded saddle. The stroller needed a few flowers and Anne and I should have waved plastically to the crowds lining the sidewalk. Little Johnny down the street would see the commotion and run inside yelling to his parents, “It’s coming! It’s coming!” The mother would leave her dishes, wiping her hands on her apron as she scurried out to see. Dad would leave the nail at half-mast, drop his hammer and run out to join mother and son at curbside to watch us pass. Oh, what a grand sight! There could be no finer display on 5th Avenue at Easter time. England’s newly born, Prince William’s light only dims in the presence of the Indermill spectacle.
One warm summer evening, Anne and I were having dinner at the kitchen table. Darren was in the infant seat beside us being somewhat fussy. All that fussing and crying disturbed Chessie, in her bed by the kitchen window. She got up, walked around to the screen door and jumped up for a closer look. Watching and sniffing, she could not figure out why her baby was crying, but thought she ought to do something. She was thinking, “I ought to go in and investigate,” as she attempted to pull the screen door open, something she had never tried before. We thought that was pretty funny. Chessie, old enough to be a mom herself, wasn’t going to sit idly by and miss out on any mothering, if she could help it. It was at that moment that Chessie found out what it was like to be a grandmother.
Post Partum Depression is Really Depressing
Darren has been smiling more and more. This has been a source of joy to Anne and me. We take extreme delight in watching our son smile. It must mean so much to him when he does smile because there are so few things he can clearly understand at this point and make us understand. There is something very pleasurable in being in a room with a smiling baby when the only other things the baby knows how to do infringe on life’s serenity. While it is all fun, new, and exciting, a lot of it is like finding a frog in the pickle jar.
Six weeks after the blessed event, Darren was beginning to hold his head up more frequently and for longer periods, turning it to see people and movements that catch his attention. He cried when we placed him in a position in which he couldn’t see what we were doing. He wanted to be in on the action. He turned his head to keep the proper horizontal or vertical reference. He has had this horizontal referencing since birth, turning his head from side to side as we rocked him in our arms. At first the correction was at most a quarter to a half an inch off center. Beyond that he couldn’t move fast enough to make what he was seeing make sense. Now this correction is pretty marked. He is becoming stronger and more attentive to exactly how his visual frame of reference changes.
With his newfound strength, he can hold his head where he wants to for part of the time. He can keep it from bobbing when we lift him from a lying position to a sitting position by pulling him up by his arms, and he can correct for vertical movements. This development is exciting because it means that he coordinating muscles that are new. He is using facilities that are not innate. He wasn’t born smiling or with this ability to hold his head up. He has accomplished some major developmental steps here. We can be proud; we’ve taught him everything he knows.
There was steady progress the first several weeks, characterized by new and/ or more meaningful expressions, newfound fascination with the world around him, and a general fussiness. Darren’s inability to articulate everything that is “off” in his world results his use of crying for everything. This was not unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating. Especially when one hears it what seems like all the time. But, one also learns to take the good with the bad, and revel in the good.
Darren has really learned to smile! This is truly fun. He is often awake now and curious about what is happening about him. He looks at movements and at objects, not just toward them. We bought a musical mobile (of the Peter Rabbit variety) for his crib and he is completely taken by it. He likes music box sounds. He listens and watches the plastic characters spin around or their shadows as they make their way around the crib siding. He can do this for five to ten minutes before he loses attention, or falls asleep. He sometimes makes abortive attempts to reach out to the rotating figures, but he hasn’t quite got the coordination to make that work.
He has been making attempts at more civilized communication than the routine caterwauling he does when he wants something. He has begun to make vocal noises (as distinguished from the other less pleasant sounds his body makes) that didn’t have anything to do with nursing or crying. These noises are soft cooing types of sounds; some are associated with smiles, some are not. I don’t think they mean much to him other than the fact that he is able to make them when he wants to. The ghost of William Jennings Bryan need not feel challenged at this point, but someday his oratory will be displaced.
One hears a lot about post-partum depression. We never, that is, Anne never, really seemed too affected by it. From my perspective, her hormones had gone wacky after the first month or two of pregnancy and my ability to predict her moods had disappeared entirely, which is not to say that I had been very good at it in the first place. After the baby was born, the hormonal process sort of reverses itself to undo the previous nine months so there was a relatively long period where it was nearly impossible for me to tell which way was up. I just had to go along for the ride and hope for the best. There was one incident that I can recall that did illustrate just how insidious this type of depression can creep into the serenity of the new family environment.
Darren was a little fussy. He didn’t sleep much during the day, which is usually a harbinger of activity for the night. He was very cranky when I got home from work and stayed that way for several hours. Feeding him wasn’t much of a treat for Anne. His feet bicycled the whole time he suckled and while he ate he would cry and wail. It was pretty obvious that he was not comfortable.
Between feedings he was wakeful and not very attentive. His attention span was very, very short. He wanted to be held…specifically on the shoulder. He was not content any other way. I got tired of his pickiness after about 25 minutes, set him down in his crib and turned on the mobile. The music was as soothing as foxtails in knee socks. He kicked, he fussed, he cried for about half an hour non-stop. When I went in to retrieve him he was wet from head to toe with sweat. All this cantankerousness was hard work.
Anne tried to feed him again about 8:30 and again he wasn’t thrilled with the prospect. He nursed for a few minutes and had had enough of that. Anne brought him to me to quiet down while she made a bottle for him. I fed him the bottle and it went down easily. For a few brief moments we had silence. She attempted to nurse him again, and again he rejected her outright putting up another spectacular fuss. She gave him to me and left the room disgusted with all this “motherhood” bunk.
Darren fussed until he finally gave into exhaustion. Anne fussed until she went to sleep. I fussed because Anne was so grumpy. It was a real fun evening. There would be others.
The next night, Anne went out with the girls from her office and I got to stay home with Darren. The first hour was fine. Darren was fat from a feeding and quite asleep. I found this time to be a perfect opportunity to read the paper and relax. I thought I would fix dinner and eat relaxed too. I was mistaken.
On my menu that night was a chili size. Evidently this was not Darren’s most favorite food. As soon as I started the meat frying and chili heating those little smells wended their way through the house to Darren’s room. Little tendrils of odor like unrelenting ivy crept up and around his nostrils threatening to clog and suffocate him. Not knowing what else to do, Darren began screaming – not the quiet little whimpers that he saves for when mother is around, no, but mustering all his lung power for loud, window-shattering yells. Apparently, all the practice he had the night before was beginning to pay off.
With spatula in hand, I went to rescue him. I was no comfort. I put him in his infant seat. It was no comfort. The mobile didn’t help either when I put him back into bed to at least put some distance between him and my dinner. That wasn’t too satisfying for me. About halfway through my meal I realized the selfish error of my ways, that I had been heartless long enough and retrieved my son from the other room. The angel of despair simply leapt from his shoulders to mine.
Darren was happy enough to be held – as long as I also remained in constant motion. I mixed him a bottle of formula and that kept him busy for a couple of minutes. As soon as he was done, it was back to the salt mines, crying loudly all the way. Nothing seemed to be wrong. His diapers were dry. He wasn’t hungry, but he wasn’t about to be satisfied with anything either.
When Anne finally got home, what greeted her was this sight: her husband bouncing their son in his hands. The boy was quiet, not asleep, just quiet. The kitchen table displayed a plate with chili, cold and well stuck, and some dirty pans, and half a class of warm milk. I looked tired. I wanted to look tired. I was very glad for the reinforcements. I had been bouncing that boy for 90 minutes by the time she got home. I let her clean the kitchen. I didn’t want Darren to start crying again. I knew he would. He threatened to every time I started to slow down. He had me trained pretty well.
After cleaning up the kitchen mess I had left, Anne returned to the living room and took Darren for another feeding. He was quiet as a church mouse. He suckled peacefully, not mindful in the slightest of the past three hours of total discomfort. The shadow had passed. Sunshine had descended as quickly as the rain and had just as quickly evaporated away any lingering trace. Motherhood once again reigned supreme.
As volatile as the child’s mood, so too is anything and everything connected with it. The house resumes its peace. The parents resume their calm parenting demeanor. The dog returned from the far reaches of the yard to her bed by the kitchen window. Collectively, the neighborhood sighs relief and opens its windows to the summer breeze once again. The earth spins a little faster – a quickened pace to get Darren past this crying stage.
I don’t know what gets into us sometimes. We human animals are given to such whims. I can understand why a manufacturer of baby clothes would make a sweat suit for a ten-pound baby – because they’re cute and we will buy them. And, why such a manufacturer would emblazon the suit with a nice design or decal – because they’re cute too. And, why the design or decal would be of something that would be familiar and endearing, like team logos – because that’s what makes us think they’re cute and what pushes us over the edge to buy them. Face it; these things aren’t really necessary. The world survived a long time without sweat suits for ten-pound babies.
I pride myself as one of the more intelligent, rational, human beings to walk this planet. I like to consider my judgment as better than the norm, my quality of life high. It is with shame that I admit to taking Darren like he was a rag doll and dressing him up in his little Dallas Cowboy sweat suit. Funny little sweat pants bagged on his bandy legs. Cute little hood flopped down over his eyes. Dallas Cowboy decal was prominent on his chest. He looked silly. I was quite amused. Just like the proud father I am, I’d hold him up for Anne to see. She laughed and thought it was cute, but I really don’t think she was caught up in the same spirit of the thing that had prompted me to do it.
We have other little suits for Darren…his helicopter suit, his train (choo-choo) suit, his yellow bunny suit, his ‘lil slugger baseball uniform, his fashion conscious knickers, his marathoner jogging suit complete with jogging shoes. There is no end to this vain display of baby haute couture. He is not old enough for some of this stuff yet, but he’ll grow into all of it at some point. I am also sure that he doesn’t appreciate playing dress up nearly as much as we (I) do.
After a while, the novelty had played out and the house was back to its normal occupancy level. We stopped hosting the myriad of guests that come to help with a newborn. Things were a getting a little too low-keyed and quiet for Darren. We bought a Swing-O-Matic to help ease the transition. For the reader, a Swing-O-Matic is a mechanical swing suspended from a tubular “A” frame. It has an abstract looking bear filled with sand that slides up and down one of the legs. This Bear is attached to the swing mechanism by a thin rope to counterbalance the mechanism and impart some energy to the swing itself. From the top of the frame, the bear slides down one ratchet tick at a time until all the ticks are gone and the swing stops swinging. It takes just a few minutes, which is just enough time for the baby, placed in the swing to fall asleep. Obviously, the designers have never had children because they didn’t know that babies take longer than that to fall asleep and the swing makes a horribly loud tick-tick-tick-tick as the bear is moved back up the leg.
The bear comes with a little sticky paper scarf that can be used to stick around the neck of this alleged animal. I eschewed this paper scarf for a real, light blue bandana. I thought it would be nice for Darren to look at as the bear made its trip down the leg pole. Besides, it did a nice job of covering the bear.
Darren took to this device right away. The motion of the swing didn’t startle him at all. He became wonderfully quiet, eyes wide and curious. We had heard about the sedative affects of these swings, but we hadn’t realized their efficiency until we tried it for ourselves. We became instant believers.
It takes about 8 minutes for the blob-bear to make it from the top of his perch to the bottom of the leg. Those are eight very quiet minutes for Mom and Dad. Darren follows the bear during its journey and whimpers gently when the bear dips from his sight. He quickly finds something else to look at, though. When the bear hits the bottom and the swing begins to slow, Darren’s whimpering begins in earnest. He has effectively trained us to move that bear back to the top as soon as we notice it even approaches the last few inches.
I hate to be responsible for this addiction. I don’t want to create any emotional scaring that will hinder him in later life, but right now it seems like a pretty good trade off.
He has always played with his tongue, or at least enjoyed the feel of it. Since he was born he would thrust his tongue between his lips often just for the sensation. His cousin, Sarah, is fond of saying, “He’s catching flies.” He now realizes that his tongue is pretty sensitive and he can use it to learn something about his environment. One morning we had him in his infant seat, in his crib looking nearly at eyelevel at his mobile. As the figures came around, he had his mouth open and his tongue wagging to try to taste it. He hasn’t quite figured out what to do with his hands. They stayed by his side.
As the days pass, Darren is becoming more aware of his surroundings and more responsive to the stimuli of his environment. His fascination with his new discoveries is truly a pleasure to observe. One can almost see the gears turn as one discovery builds upon another, meshing into a framework of understanding. The expressions that play across his face are clearly meaningful – he has control of so few concepts that almost every expression is identifiable to some larger feeling that we parents are already familiar with. Darren is a new pioneer in our world and he has much to discover.
He met himself in the mirror the other day. He was introduced via a small cosmetic mirror of Anne’s. Such curiosity! He did not relinquish his attention for 15 minutes or more. He stared intently, testing facial movements with the movements of his reflection. His tongue thrust out between his lips, moving this way and that – doing just what that other tongue was doing.
In front of the large bathroom mirror, Darren was confused. There was Dad – he looked at my reflection right away and recognized me with a smile. He looked at Mom’s reflection and found comfort there too. But wait, his attention turned to that little person Dad was holding. It was clear that this was a tough hurdle for him to get over. Who was that little person? He looked at my reflection, then at his and furrowed his brow at an attempt to understand. I must have held him for 5 minutes in front of that mirror and that look of confusion never left him.
At four months, we caught him staring intently at his fist. His arm was extended to its full length out in front and, to the exclusion of all other events, he was watching that fist. He turned it this way and that in very rigorous examination. He seemed somewhat surprised that he could actually control it. This even was coupled with several similar discoveries. He found his knees! They have been there all along, but until that fist he’d been staring at came down on top of it, he never knew it was there. Now he enjoys sitting up and grabbing his knees. He is practicing for his old age when he’ll sit by an open fire with his hands on his knees and tell listeners those glorified stories of the smell of fresh mown grass and the hot summer sun, watermelon, and the Fourth of July spectaculars that celebrate his birthday.
Of course, all this knee grabbing has resulted in an exploration of even more new territory. His toes are down there at the end of his knees for one. Another and more compelling discovery is that his knees are usually covered by cloth; that he can use those fists to grab that material tightly and pull. In fact, his most popular game has become a more sophisticated version of Peek-a-boo. We now can throw a blanket over his head and he will grab the cloth and pull it down so he can once again see us. Peek-a-boo!
He has been learning to use his vocal cords. He practices with them a lot to cry and he’s gotten very good at that. But, he has found that they can make softer noises too. He started as most babies do with cooing, gurgling and making extended sighs. This stuff isn’t very impressive except for the first time he does it. As soon as he started to make these noises, Anne and I tried our best to capitalize on them. We imitated them and sometimes he would do them again. Sometimes we introduced new noises to see if he could imitate them.
Anne has been the most successful at it. She makes this real funny sound. It is a three-parter. It starts with a low “Ah”, then a short, higher pitched sound made on the inhale, then a lower pitched sigh. It is not exactly a sound that can be generated by accident. She had been making this noise in play with Darren for the better part of an afternoon and he was alternately responding to the noise and contemplating how bizarre his mother was behaving. Then he made the noise himself. His noise making was by most standards pretty good. The inhaled, middle part was hysterical. He really had to work at it, but he was proud of the result. His grin stretch from ear to ear.
Darren now uses his sounds for some limited meaning. When he is confused or contemplative (as in front of a mirror) his sounds are very soft sighs – kind of an “oh” sound that trails off slowly. His happy sounds are louder and tend to have straight tone all the way through. He uses a loud indefinite sound for needing or wanting comfort. It is just kind of a loud murmur that has no shape. It’s a very indifferent sort of cry. I am sure he is saying, “I’m not really distressed, but if you’d like to come pick me up, I sure wouldn’t mind. That is, if you haven’t got anything better to do.” If we don’t go get him, he stops the noise after awhile and finds something else of interest, or, he converts it into a very definite “come get me” cry. There is no mistaking the “come get me” cry.
Darren was being fussy, extraordinarily so. He could not be comforted. He had eaten about half an hour before, so he wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t wet. His diapers weren’t dirty. My shoulder felt like rocks to him because he didn’t like being put there. Those same rocks were hiding in his swing, in his crib, and on our bed. His books provided no distraction. Even the McCall’s Magazine which has colorful pictures and with which I have had great success in the past, was no help. He just cried.
We went outside. Apparently this change of venue was the perfect antidote to his poisoned spirit. His eyes dried up and his breathing slowly returned to normal, save for those halting, recovering giant inhales that crying babies often have. Chessie was happy to have the company, and, no doubt, happy to rest her ears.
I knelt down and set Darren on my knee so he and Chessie could get acquainted. Chessie was all nose. She was sniffing everything she could. Darren thought that this whole sniffing routine was wonderful. He sat on my knee laughing just like real people laugh. He laughed for a long time. He grew sober for a while until Chessie got bored with us and started to chew on a pinecone. Then with every crunch, Darren was overcome with hilarity, expressed in great big belly laughs.
If I had known that was all it was going to take, I would have had Darren out there hours before. This laughing was certainly a relief to all of us. I was ready to try something drastic, but we were both better off just going outside. I’ll remember this for next time: Chessie tells better jokes than I do.
Things happen so fast in a baby’s life. As much drudgery as there is in raising babies, it is physically exhausting, but never tiring. That is, one never tires of watching the changes that happen before your eyes. Babies move from stage to stage without warning, and without announcement. If you are not there to see it happen the first time, you’ve missed it, but there will be other events, other accomplishments, other firsts. You can’t witness them all, but you do try to catch as many as you can. That’s the joy in parenting.
Exactly three months after his birth Darren decided that it is okay to laugh. I had him at the kitchen table, holding him at arm’s length, helping him stand on his own two feet. When he started to collapse I raised him high in the air, and then bounced him gently on his tiptoes. He thought this was great fun. He smiled a wide open mouthed smile each time we repeated the sequence. He began to make some soft cooing sounds as we were doing this. The long sounds broke into shorter and shorter sounds and Darren was laughing. We could have done this forever, but my arms got tired. It’s always the little things that stand in the way of eternity.
Almost all baby books tell new parents to be on the lookout for gurgling and bubble blowing by their babies. Working their tongue around is a favorite pastime for babies. It makes perfect sense that a bubble or two will result as a random occurrence. However, there must be some intrinsic pleasure in the feel of these bubbles because once babies experience one or two, they just want to fill their mouths with them. Pretty soon there are little baby bubbles on Daddy’s shoulders, on Mommy’s blouse, on baby’s blanket…little bubble trails like bread crumbs left behind to mark the way. Come a strong wind and we are all lifted up to the heavens, carried there suspended from baby bubbles. The sky fills with bubbles that bump and merge to form greater and greater bubbles until we are all trapped inside our own transparent sphere. The rainbow of colors tints our view of the world below. We don’t get to come here often. We must make the most of it when we can.
The Pace of Life
Darren finally took a step at 13 months. He is developing physically, emotionally, and psychologically so quickly that it is startling every time I contemplate it. I first tried to remember some common physical trait that I could observe and somehow measure growth. I chose his hands. They were so tiny when he was first born. His fingers could barely grasp one of my own. They moved so delicately. They looked so delicate. Their skin was porcelain, translucent in the light. Now those hands have easily doubled in size and trebled in strength. They are still quite small when compared to my own, but when did they transform into useful tools? When did they loose their absolute baby-like appearance and become little boys’ hands with dirt under the fingernails and the chaffed skin of an auto mechanic?
He wears tennis shoes all the time, and the darn things are beginning to wear out before he outgrows them. Where does his energy come from? He wears out his shoes, but not the knees in his pants. I don’t understand how he does it. He is still so small he can’t kick anything hard enough to mark it. He doesn’t shuffle, he actually walks; he’s not rubbing the wear into them, and yet, it’s there.
His vocabulary is not large, but he adds to it everyday. Not all of his words are understandable to the uninitiated, but he does pretty well with us as the interpreter. He cries and won’t leave the kitchen when he’s hungry. It’s not English, but it gets the point across.
He sits on the floor and looks up at me while pointing at a spot on the floor next to him. He wants me to sit down with him. He will take a block from my hand and stack it himself if he is so inclined, or he will push my hand toward the stack. He runs to the dog food bag if I ask if he wants to help feed the dog. He will drag his collapsed stroller all the way down the hall when he wants one of us to take him outside for a walk.
Learning the vocabulary to communicate is such a wonderful and innovative thing when we are trying to establish a common language. It is so closely coupled with the expression of emotions. When we guess correctly at what thought Darren is trying to convey, he beams. He is excited beyond words just to have made himself understood. His frustration when we cannot decipher is deep and well expressed. He throws his fists out, then collapse to the floor with abject and total frustration. It is painful for me not to be able to understand. His actions demonstrate a real complexity of thought that I would expect at some older age. I feel helpless at not being able to guide him through some of these emotional jungles that he feels, but does not understand.
Anne and I were sitting on the couch together one night. I had my arm around her and we were just talking quietly about nothing in particular, when Darren came into the den. He walked over, climbed up on the couch and pushed my arm away from his mother. I put it back and he pushed it away again. I marveled at how early this oedipal complex begins in life. I hope he grows out of it soon. It would be far too large a cross to bear not to touch my wife until Darren leaves home.
At great expense to my lower back, Darren has been helping me mow the lawn. It is an activity that he thoroughly enjoys now that he’s too young to do it by himself. When he gets old enough to push a mower without fear of chopping his fingers off, he won’t want to do it anymore. It’s the way life works. By the time you have invested enough of yourself to develop a real talent for a task, the mystique gives way to the realty of how base and mechanical the job is. Oh sure, you can take pride in the accomplishment, or the esthetics of the result, or knowledge of completion of a long and arduous education, but the ultimate fact is that once you know how, the challenge disappears. This is definitely the case with lawn mowing.
Darren reaches as high as he can and grasps the handle, ready to push the mower across the lawn. I must bend low to grasp the handle, apply the appropriate pressure, and propel Darren, the lawnmower, and myself without stepping on my son. My challenge is small but important. His challenge is very large, but the importance is quite moot. It is fun – the part about the father and the son working together toward a common goal. This gets more fun as the challenges grow in complexity and the roles of the participants even out a little. I wouldn’t say that lawn mowing will stay at the top of Darren’s Fun-to-do List for very long, but for now it will do.
About the time my back starts retelling the story; Darren will have long forgotten all the magic of the moment and will be moaning an objection to the fact that he has to do it by himself. He will complain and curse under his breath until one day he has a son or daughter about his age now and he’ll wax nostalgic about the smell of a fresh cut lawn and the spray of clippings in the catcher. I’ll rest a bit more comfortably knowing that sharing back troubles transcends generations.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I began making notes the night after Darren was born. Two years later I am reminded of hundreds of amusing, serious, engaging, entertaining incidents that I haven’t recorded. I know that those moments will be lost as time puts more distance between them and me. Almost everyday Darren grows in some unexpected manner, does something to indicate that another milestone has been reached, and shows the infinite joy and variety in life itself. It’s hard to record those truly remarkable incidents that demonstrate the basic emotion of life. I wish that I were better at it. But, this record, as sporadic and poor as it might be, still captures some of that feeling, at least for me.
In trying to tell of Darren’s beginning in these pages, I have perhaps neglected what has been happening to Anne and me in our own lives. We are expecting a brother or sister for Darren sometime in mid June. The kids will be about two years apart. Anne grows larger everyday. Darren pokes and pushes at the basketball she carries around under her blouse when it concerns him – most of the time it does not. We have mentioned to him that he should expect a sibling soon, one like the neighbor babies across the street. He takes little notice of these statements and I think that when the realization finally does come to him, it will be loud wet and messy. I frankly doubt if he will cotton to it right away. I know for certain that he would sooner die than give up one of his blankets for it.
It is funny. At the beginning of this chapter, Darren wasn’t half the child he is as I now write. His personality is now well developed. His vocabulary is expanding daily. He is an active, exploring child. He has grown in so many indescribable ways. He has always been a joy for us to have, but it is an evolving relationship that allows him to willingly return some of the kindnesses, loving, and nurturing that Anne and I have provided and will continue to provide as long as we live. We are blessed to have him.
Adding Number 2 to the Mix
In this continuing saga of the Indermill family, we will chronicle their progress as they meet the challenge of life head on – moving from middle class, where we find them now to middle class, where we will find them later. There is no special genius in this family. There is nothing that sets them apart from the masses except for a willingness to live, love, and grow as a family. But, maybe that’s enough.
No one in the Indermill family is likely to be famous. Fame is a dubious honor at best and little to hang one’s hat on. There are no famous relatives on either side of the family tree. I haven’t inquired, but I assume that if there were someone famous, we would all know who they were. That is the very nature of fame, is it not? So fame is not in the gene pool. Anyone from this family that does achieve any notoriety will do so on their own. But let’s not confuse fame with success. Almost everyone from both sides of the family tree is successful. As a rule, we are all satisfied with the way we turned out. We are good at what we do which brings to each of us a source of pride, a sense of accomplishment, and the assurance of self-worth. We want for very little. We have everything we need to make life work. That sounds like success to me.
Darren will have his chance to accomplish whatever he sets out to. For myself, I would like to see him have some sort of focus. It would be nice for him to develop a talent for music. To have him sing, play the piano, or any instrument well, would be great. To have him be personable, quick witted with a dry sense of humor would be fine. To have him be warm hearted, kind, considerate, loving, and caring would be enough to ask for. To have him treat his mother with the respect she deserves; to have him spend his time with old, wizened ladies and men who have lived through wars, listening to stories of a world as it once was and gaining perspective on a world as it is; to have him walk with children and keep them safe against harm; to have him believe in his own convictions and to act responsibly and decisively when the time comes to act; to have him know life as it could be and not lament the life he lives; these are the things I would want for him. I can’t push him in any direction. He must determine these things for himself. I can and will provide of myself, the time, guidance, whatever wisdom I have acquired, and examples of living that he may use as a lighthouse. The beacon does not show the way, but it shows where some of the rocks are. I will love him regardless of his choices.
He will have a sibling soon. The same of what I hope for Darren, I wish for his brother or sister. I will give the same support to each. I expect their personalities will be quite different – personalities always are. I expect one will make me furious while the other will steal my pain away. I expect that they will change roles frequently to this purpose and that they will quickly learn to manipulate their mother and me. And, we will be forever stepping on each other’s toes because that is how the dance is called. I expect that they will grow through various stages of name-calling and mutual support, of cruel criticism and deep respect, of utter despair and blinding promise and hope, of mutual hate and love. It will be at once exciting and exasperating to be a part of this maturation process. I expect that they will disappoint us at times and make us so proud at others that we will nearly burst trying to keep any of it in. I expect that they will playfully communicate by knocking out code on adjacent bedroom walls and conspire to infuriate their parents whenever the fancy strikes. There will be awkward times, good times, and bad times. There will be happy moments and sad moments. Our lives will be enriched because of the sense of family.
There will be many changes of seasons and the kids will remember intensely something from these seasons that will make them special and nostalgic to them in their later years. It may be a mood, or a smell, or the sight of spring flowers on the hills, or frogs down in the drainage. It could be the wind blowing just a certain way or a dog barking down the street. Darren will have some help because his birthday will be a very special event for the first several years. The Baby will be born in June. (The potential exists for a “Flag Day” baby, how patriotic!) Our summers will always be particularly meaningful.
I suspect that once the kids get enrolled in school, we will meet the parents of their friends. Some of which will probably become our good friends. We will probably enjoy all the diseases the community of children has to offer, chicken pox, mumps, measles. Thank God, and Jonas Salk that Polio is no longer a threat to us. We will join PTA and go to school open houses every year. We will cart the kids and some of their friends all over town to soccer, music lessons, (ballet lessons?), and little league. We will take vacations together every summer and introduce the kids to car camping. We will make pilgrimages to the grandparents’ homes and perhaps start a tradition of one specific destination every summer where we all pile into a car that is not big enough and drive horrendously long distances in a single day. We will play “Auto Bingo” or sing silly songs until we are sick of each other. Anne’s family used to do this every summer with a trip to Dallas. All the discomforts fade in time and leave all the brightly colored memories pasted to the past.
But gosh, how they grow so fast! It was not two years ago that Darren was born; it was only the day before yesterday. I can recall the event with the same vividness. This pregnancy has rushed by. Anne has only two months to go. We haven’t even had time to worry or fuss over this pregnancy like we did over Darren’s. And now, I’m thinking about him like he’s half grown already.
One thing is for sure. Anne and I will give our children the most auspicious start we can. They may or may not come to fame and fortune, but that is of little consequence. They will have the strength and support of family and their own independence. They will be given opportunity and the choice to refuse it. We have given them the gift. It is theirs to make of it what they will (with perhaps an occasional push in the right direction from us.)
We have been telling Darren about the impending arrival of his baby brother or sister for some weeks now –ever since he noticed that mom doesn’t quite look the same anymore. She sticks out a lot further than she used to. This puzzled Darren for the longest time. He knew that Mom wasn’t quite the same as she had always been. At first he would struggle to be comfortable in her lap. This was something he had never had trouble with before, but now he just couldn’t seem to fit right. She was not the concave comfort that he was accustomed to. He had to sit way out at her knees and lean way back over the curve of her stomach to snuggle with her. It just wasn’t cozy like it used to be. Then he started to pat Anne’s stomach like one would pick at a scab. It was there; it was bothersome and deserved attention.
About this time I brought a book home about new baby brothers or sisters hoping that this might help some. It was illustrated in pen and ink. It had a mother with Anne’s general shape and in her stomach was drawn a full featured baby that wasn’t real cute. It had a real inane story line and was not particularly entertaining or informative. It was, however, the only book I could find that would have had any appeal for a two year old. There were some other books on the subject, but they were written for a much older, more clinical audience. It seemed to me like they were written for parents to understand rather than siblings. I supposed I could have purchased one of these, but Darren would just have to relearn this stuff when he got to high school anyway.
Anne and I will go out of our way to take Darren around little babies now. We always caution him to be gentle and he always wants to apply his knowledge of where the eyes, nose and mouth are. He likes to point these features out to us. At first he appeared quite vindictive about it, poking and pulling with unnecessary force, but it usually achieved his desired effect. Our son, the noble experimenter, has adeptly proven that babies cry upon provocation. We must break him of his scientific nature before he has one of these babies of his own. And, with apologies, we say thanks to all of those babies that participated in Darren’s education.
We always ask him if he wouldn’t like to have a little baby brother or sister. He always nods agreement. Actually, he seems to nod yes to every question he doesn’t understand. If he does understand, he will speak his response. He is quite reliable in this regard. He will learn later that when one does not understand a question to answer, “No.” There will be enough experiences in his formative years so that he will come to understand the politics of response, and the dangers of saying, “yes” too many times.
In one of his many “ahah!” experiences, the full implication of having a baby in the house broke over him like sun up on a clear morning. The affect was not subtle. After visiting a new little baby, Anne asked Darren if he had a good time. He responded yes. She asked if he didn’t like the little baby. Darren was all laughter and nods; yes. Then she let go the drawn shade: would Darren like to have a little baby around the house to take care of? The smile drained from his face like water from a tub. His eyes got steely, his mouth a straight line, devoid of other expression, his body rigid and straight. His reaction betrayed the brute force with which this light struck home. It was a cruel blow. He obviously liked the arrangement as it was, and was not receptive to change. Babies are fun to poke at a play with, but they are so tiresome after a while. They really don’t do much and it is quieter and certainly better when they go away.
Two year olds face much disappointment in the course of a day, let alone a week, month, or year. They take it better than most adults in the long run. Oh, they can be quite cranky and displeased at the moment, but nature lets them forget so easily the hurt. Unfortunately, many times they will forget the lesson as well. Darren may be disappointed time and time again before it finally sinks in and he hunkers down to it. He may even figure out that being a big brother is not such a bad thing after all.
Another New Beginning
Bryce Garrett Indermill was born at 12:55pm on the fine summer day of June 19, 1984. He weighed in at seven pounds, four ounces and was nineteen and one half inches long. Those are the vital statistics. He was also a deep purple color, the umbilical cord was wrapped lightly around his neck, but the delivery was otherwise easy and the subject of several incriminating photographs that his brother will enjoy showing to his girlfriends when Bryce hits that awkward and vulnerable stage. The doctor was unconcerned about his color and slapped him on the bottom as almost an afterthought. As soon as he bellowed once or twice his color was normal.
Bryce had the same calm demeanor that newborn Darren did. A casual glance around the room, a non-committal look at Mom and Dad was really all he felt like doing before showing signs of a long felt hunger. It will be perhaps twenty years or so before that hunger is satisfied.
He was quite different from Darren in appearance. Bryce was born a baby, with baby-like features – baby nose, baby eyes, rosebud mouth. His fingers are long, slender and delicately shaped. He will get tired of people commenting that he should be quite a piano player. His toes splay like his mother’s side of the family. He doesn’t remind me much of Darren or even how Darren used to be, but he does remind me of Anne in a more striking manner than I thought Darren did. We see a lot of our spouses in our children, I suppose. I think much better of that than of trying to find comparisons to the mailman.
Anne, and most everyone else, sees a lot of his father in Darren. Even I am convinced that the mailman was definitely not responsible. Bryce’s features have not found allegiance with either parent yet, but I’m betting on Anne’s side. His skin seems delicate and sensitive. It gets red and blotchy, remembering the slightest trauma just like Anne’s does.
Bryce’s newness and size seems to emphasize Darren’s growth that much more. Maybe it’s just that Darren is growing at a very fast rate. But just last week I could put the flat of my hand on his chest and tickle both his sides with my thumb and little finger. I suddenly can’t do that anymore. He is big and heavy and coordinated today, yesterday he was just small and light. Bryce is so new and so small that my old two year old is a giant in comparison. He’s not a baby anymore. I’m not a kid anymore. Hmmm.
I can see not where, but how life’s journey is taking us now. The moments pass so quickly that we’re lucky to remember what little details we can. Just when the status quo seems as good as it can be, we all change, grow a day older, move apart or closer together. We blink and the perspective has changed – just a slight shift, thank you, but enough to make us know that things are different now. If I’m lucky, I’ve got film in the camera. It would be nice to make things slow down, but that is not going to happen. I often wonder when we will strike that happy medium of time passing at just the right speed. It passes too slowly, at times painfully slowly as a kid, and speeds by all too quickly as an adult. It is always at one extreme or the other. I must have blinked at that instant that it was just right.
Bryce was born after only one false start. Anne’s really got the hang of this baby birthing stuff. I’ve got my job down too. I just stay out of the way. In the La Maze classes they emphasize that in your “going-to-the-hospital” bag you should include snacks and tennis balls among the other necessities. These are expressly for keeping the man busy, with hunger sated, and out of the way.
The hospital setting was much more gentile than we had for Darren. This hospital was in Greenbrae, a couple of miles from our house. The drive to and from was much less nerve racking. The birthing room was dark and calm. Our obstetrician was there and did the delivery. He sat casually on the end of the bed with one leg up and the other on the floor. I cut the cord just like I had for Darren. There was no moving from labor room to delivery to recovery. There were no long lines, nor waiting rooms filled with expectant parents. It was just us, and it was a nice way to get the job done.
Darren came down to the hospital to visit his baby brother the next day. Bryce gave him some crayons and some coloring books. From that moment, Darren thought Bryce was okay. We haven’t noticed any of the pre-birth resentment that Darren displayed earlier. While his behavior may be somewhat strained around his parents, around his brother he is just fine.
Baby Bryce is a part of our family now. We will all help him grow and learn. He will fit right in. Darren will do more than his share of nurturing and Mom and I will just try to keep up and referee when necessary. Because time passes so quickly for us and so slowly for Bryce we will all celebrate its passage with the wisdom of age, the innocence of youth, and the mutual support of our common fabric. We are keepers of the flame.
Life with Bryce
You’ve probably noticed in previous chapters, the rather detailed history of Darren’s birth and subsequent two years. That was due to a new parent’s diligence and eagerness to record every moment. As with most parents, I think, the newness wears off and settles into the routine. That is no less the case with me. Thus, the reason that this chapter on Bryce’s beginning is so thin on the details. It is difficult to find the time to write. When I have the time, I lack the initiative. I am almost out of practice with the camera. I haven’t taken a picture in a month. It is not that it is difficult to do, or that the camera is hard to retrieve when the time is right, or that it lacks film, or batteries. None of the usual excuses apply. The camera is nearly always loaded and ready. It is always handy. It just gets used less and less often. Maybe too with two kids it’s harder to keep up with them and life in general.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to who has more than one child and was committed to recording his or her every move on film has the same story to tell. They spent rolls of film and thousands of dollars enshrining the memories of child #1 and occasionally when there was a big event like Christmas, or a Birthday, child #2 was caught on film. Usually in the background is child #1 blurry and straining this way or that to be in the frame of the picture when the camera was clearly pointed in some other direction. The history of child #2’s progress goes largely unrecorded by comparison to #1. You might say that child #2 grows up generally untouched by the vanity of film. Twenty years later, everyone laments the fact that we don’t have any really good pictures of child #2; that their childhood was mostly ephemeral – that it floated by so quickly. No one thought to grab the flower and press it to preserve the essence of its bloom, if not its full glory.
With Darren we have a rich history of pictures and narrative for his first two years. Thousands of family albums are mute testimony to the difficulty in providing the same for the second child. This one is no exception I am sorry to report.
Bryce is one of those babies that could appear in Ivory Soap advertisements; one of those kids whose butt is on display for diaper ads. He has the perfect cherubic face, little rolls of fat in baby places, perfect fingers and toes, and is possessed of the most sellable disposition. His smile is sweet and frequent. His eyebrows screw up in incongruous and meaningless expression. His fingers grasp and hold mine. (Unlike his brother who didn’t care to hold on to anybody else’s fingers.) He is a baby for all seasons – he looks good in any color, in any style, covered up or buck bare.
I say all this not as a boastful father, but as a victim of Madison Avenue. The advertising agencies on Madison Avenue have given us the new standards in cuteness, beauty, style, fashion, and we all more or less attempt to achieve these standards. Oh sure, there are a few individuals who succeed in resisting this pervasive influence, but most do not. Bryce reminds me of what “standards” I see all the time in print and on TV. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it is certainly nothing that Bryce can do about it, except as a testament to what fine genetic stock he hails from.
He is so darn cute and smiley all the time. Anne dropped by the office with the boys and Bryce was the star. He smiled and laughed at only the slightest provocation. Women came from all over the office to see this smiling child. They “goo goo’d”; they poked his belly. He was winningly responsive. Darren thought not much of this adulation and fawning because he was behaving very shyly. He held on to Anne and hid behind her leg. He only came to me after I called for him and he determined that he could sprint safely from Mom’s leg to my arms. He buried his face in my shoulder, where it stayed. I don’t know what we have done to encourage this shyness behavior. It must be a little painful for him to be so shy, and yet, this shyness will compound if his brother continues to get all the attention and Darren is left to be the “hiding boy.” We’ll have to work on that.
It could be that we just haven’t gotten that far in the book yet. You know, Dr. Spock. We’ve run across a lot of useful reinforcement in that book. We have noticed behaviors in Bryce and Darren that alarm us because we don’t understand the motivation or the circumstance that drives them. We get all paranoid about these behaviors and start looking at other children and talking with their parents about what stages they are going through. We all need a little hand holding I guess.
But, other children, and parents of other children aren’t that useful a resource. One must be so circumspect in discussing the newest problem in parenting as to cause neither concern, nor raise alarm in the other parents (or gloating, for that matter). To be sure, we all talk about dirty diapers, drooling babies, potty training…but, the heady stuff, the psyche, is just too dark and dangerous a subject to dance around with those who have only kids in common and not the trust and intimacy that we used to build real friendships. So we get a little paranoid when these unknowns are encountered. But ol’ Dr. Spock usually has a few words of comfort on almost any subject as it pertains to raising children.
After all this exposition on Dr. Spock, I am ashamed to admit I have not sought expert opinion, advice, nor reinforcement from him on the problems at hand. Darren is still shy. Bryce is still cute and I am not overly alarmed at either development. I do think that for the next edition they ought to put Bryce’s picture on the cover. Darren wouldn’t mind.
With the new baby around, Darren is entering a new, affectionate stage. All these bedtime kisses and hugs must be wearing down his resistance. He now begs to be kissed goodbye and hugged at comings and goings. He was always tolerant of such, but never used to insist. Now, it is the ultimate offence not to kiss everyone goodbye when anyone leaves the house. Darren directs the traffic. “Now kiss Mommy.” “Now kiss baby Bryce.” Etc. It is not unpleasant, just time consuming. Sometimes now Darren will even ask for an extra hug.
When the new baby came home, we thought it would a good thing for Darren to graduate to a “big boy” bed from the crib. He has been sleeping in the big bed for the last two weeks. He prefers it to the crib because he can mount it himself – with vigor. He can also get up when he wants and travel about the house. He doesn’t ramble much yet, but in the mornings instead of standing up in the crib and pounding on the wall and yelling for one of us, he now gets himself out of bed and trundles into our bedroom. We encourage it after 6:00am and discourage it before. So far he has been very responsive to our saying that it is not time yet.
It used to be that he could never relax in our bed. He had to be in play mode – thrashing, talking loudly, constant movement. He has mellowed to the point where he will lie quietly between us and enjoy the warmth. I think that he realizes that there are certain privileges of age and mobility that are special to him and do not extend to his brother. He cannot fully comprehend the differences, but he for now is content in how we treat them both. He is also happy to wake without fussing in the morning, careful not to wake a sleeping brother. He is happy to crawl in bed with us because he knows he is welcome and that Bryce isn’t likely to be there. I think that Darren might be sharing his affection because he knows that Bryce can’t demonstrate any yet.
On December 14, 1984, Bryce sat up by himself. I note this date only for the record. It is otherwise unremarkable. It doesn’t seem all that important, but somebody might discover this small fact someday down the road and finally have enough pieces to solve the puzzle of man’s inhumanity to man. One never knows. Of course, Bryce didn’t sit up very long by himself. He stayed his course for about forty seconds then listed to the left and began a slow and gracious descent to the floor. He was non-plussed about the change in attitude, which put this event in to the proper perspective for Anne and me. We tend to get excited about these things, but Bryce accepts all events with a happy dignity.
Yesterday, I helped him stand up by himself in the playpen. He held onto the side of the pen and stood on steady, but undirected legs. He soon let go and collapsed like a string to the bottom of the playpen. I was excited about it, but Bryce was just as happy on his back as he was his feet. Maybe his mind doesn’t yet orient itself to upright or prone positions. He doesn’t seem to prefer an angle with which to view objects in his field of vision. Maybe he recognizes the difference between upright and prone, but it doesn’t make any difference to what his mind learns from the experience. (Maybe this whole business of not caring which way is up is a harbinger of things to come. Several years down the road Bryce seems to excel at gymnastics, tumbling and jumping with absolute abandon. And, later still when he got his learners’ permit for driving, he had to be taught the mechanics of the gearshift and pedals, but the spatial concept of where the car was in front, behind, and to the sides was second nature to him. He was able to parallel park successfully on the first try. Later still, we gave him a membership to a rock climbing facility, and he was scrambling up, down and over the little cement nubs like they were part of the sidewalk. All part of a positive attitude I suppose.)
Bryce was happy most of the time. There were very few occasions where he was decidedly fussy for any extended period. Because he had so much practice being in a good mood, he just naturally developed a real belly laugh. He not only responds to tickling, but also to funny noises, and any of those things that his mind determines requires a “funny” response. When he is tickled he will pull his head in like a turtle and stretch his arms out from his side, smile wide and guffaw.
At six months Bryce was wearing 9-12 month clothes. As I understand it, this is fairly typical for babies. We didn’t know what typical was, because Darren nearly wore out all his clothes. Not because he played hard, but because he wore them a good month past their sizing.
During this time with Bryce, I had taken a job as a consultant with Deloitte, Haskins, and Sells a “Big 8” accounting firm. It was a mystical job to land. At the time, the “Big 8” was revered in business circles as the pinnacle of firms to use for public accounting or consulting. (As we all found out later, the “Big 8” was subject to the same accounting discrepancies, the same level of corruption in high places, and the same knack for not being able to follow the generally accepted accounting practices in its own houses, nor to properly explain to the press what it was doing and why. The “Big 8” soon became the “Big 6.” The “Big 6” soon became the “Big 4.” By the time this account is read, who knows what the “big” number will be.) At the time, it was also a great business to have on my résumé.
I give this background only to explain why I would accept a 45 minute commute to downtown San Francisco to the office. And, a 90 minute commute down to my client located in Burlingame at San Francisco International Airport. I did this commute for nearly eight months.
Everyday I would drive through some of the prettiest country in these United States; through Marin, past Sausalito, and the Marin Headlands, over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Avenues and Golden Gate Park, southeast on 280 through South San Francisco to the airport. Nearly always through three separate climates. I passed through fog, it rained on me almost every day at some point in the commute, though the skies were usually clear and the weather balmy in Burlingame. No wonder people put up with the traffic to live here. The diversity within thirty miles was astounding.
When the business I consulted with moved, we moved with it. This was not an unhappy circumstance. Anne had been born and raised in Sacramento and she was delighted to come back close to her family. I was happy to be leaving Marin, mostly because of the many “poor little rich kids.” Not a week would go by where I wouldn’t read of a single car accident where some drugged out teenager would lose their life by driving their brand new car into a tree. We had seen enough spoils of the wealthy and its subsequent effects on their youth. It was not the place we wanted to raise our own children. So we packed them all up and moved to the country…sort of.
Beginning in a New Town
Folsom was a small, sleepy little town of about 12,000 when we first moved here. We moved into a house in the newest subdivision in town. It was two years old and the original developer had gone bankrupt because the market had gone flat. The houses were nice, but there were lots of empty lots in between them. My commute had gone from 90 minutes down to about 5, if I had the misfortune to be stopped by the only stoplight between our house and my office. Work was terrifically rewarding financially and professionally. Life could hardly have been better.
So, we settled in. Anne began working for her dad and brother in their dental office. I put up with my five-minute commute and the kids got used to the neighborhood.
Bryce will probably be angry with me because there is such a large gap in his history. I haven’t thought to write about him for several months. It hasn’t been for a lack of progress on his part for he has made much, but I have been so busy with work that I have not had coincidence of time and inclination to put pen to paper. He has learned to move on his own.
In his efforts to mobilize and be as obstreperous as he possibly can be, in as many different places as he pleases, each and every one a step ahead of where we anticipate him to be, he has developed the crawl to a high art. It is stealthy and quick. With mobility he is drawn to mischief. Such is the nature of crawling babies. I am sure that it is mischief that drives his need for speed.
He also practices in the crib. He would pull himself up in his crib and stand there, playing with the curtain within his reach just to torment Darren who knows that we are not supposed to play with the drapes. Darren yells to us that Bryce is in the curtains again. He keeps yelling until we respond. It really bothers him that Bryce should be able to get away with that sort of stuff.
Bryce spent a lot of time careening around the house in his walker. He stands, leans, and away he goes. His walking is modeled on the same muscle movements. As a result, his first few steps are relatively short and the outcome is fairly predictable. Too much lean. His stomach gets too far out in front of his feet and down he goes. He doesn’t seem to mind it though because he is just delighted that Mom or Dad is there to catch him. He smiles and giggles all the while.
An open door attracts him like water breeching a levee. Having bested the immediate obstacle, the water will slowly infiltrate and saturate the lower ground, faster and faster with increasing volume until destruction is complete. I refer in metaphor to an unminded bathroom. Bryce starts off down the hallway with no particular purpose. He spies the bathroom door ajar, and with no squeals of delight, nor indication of intent, he simply redoubles his speed and silently disappears. His absence is rarely noticed because it is affected so swiftly and without the customary trail of breadcrumbs. It is only when Bryce forgets himself, overcome with absolute rapture of the deep -- the water in the toilet bowl – that he begins to laugh and squeal. He is lost in his playfulness.
We are reminded that he is helpless, not able to take care of himself, hampered as he is by his lack of speech and limited means of locomotion, by his infant weakness and naiveté to the world of harm that surrounds him, by the peals of laughter and splashing in a distant, dangerous place. Running to his rescue we find the cupboards bare of towels; they have been removed to the floor. The toilet paper is unrolled from its proper and tidy place and indelicately strewn about the room leaving no corner un-messed and no tissue on the roll. The toilet lid is raised and Bryce is sailing on the ocean blue. And, proud of it! We know this pride well. Bryce gloats unambiguously when he is found. He knows the extent of his treacherous adventure and he mocks us in our efforts to protect him from it. This helpless child has left the walls intact, but the bathroom has literally been laid to waste.
Bryce likes to sit in the fireplace. He does this for two reasons, 1) it is dirty, and, 2) we don’t like for him to be dirty. Our house has two fireplaces in it. One is screened and effectively off limits. The other has not yet hosted a fire, but that doesn’t keep if from being filthy anyway. Bryce uses this fireplace to practice his understanding of the word “no.”
That fireplace courts him, woos him like a siren. He crawls into it and sits. We react typically and say, “No.” We retrieve him bodily and set him (after a good dusting off, mind you) in the middle of the family room floor with a toy, or book, hoping that this new diversion might break the spell and allure of the lady. We watch him. He watches us. When the time is right and he can stand the separation no longer, he begins the dance. We call to him from the kitchen, “Bryce, don’t go over to the fireplace.” He stops on all fours, turns his head back over his shoulders and grins innocently enough. He may even pull up and sit for a moment’s rest. He may play with something else until we are secure and diverted from his goal. He turns and races for the fireplace. Sometimes, we catch him before he makes it. Sometimes, we do not. In fact, this has become Bryce’s newest game. He will now often wait for us to catch him, pausing on the hearth for a second or two before the plunge. He may even cast a smile over his shoulder at us. He will either lose the game or gain the lady.
Bryce crawls to pant legs. He recognizes pant legs. He will pick Mom’s legs out in a crowd. Mine are apparently much more difficult, so he uses other clues to find me. He crawls over to the legs and clutches, holding tightly for the tough pull up. Handful by handful of pant, he grabs trying to climb. When at last he is extended he cries to be picked up. Looking down from our lofty heights, he looks both pitiful and irresistible holding onto our knees.
He also stands up at the table, holding onto the edge. He is not quite tall enough to see much of what’s on the table though. He guesses at where napkins and plates are and pulls them off when he guesses correctly. We save what we can, but he is very quick. I think that it is the nature of parenting to always be one step behind whether children are just turning over, crawling, walking, or running. We are too busy admiring the process that we are caught unaware of the immediate consequence.
Meet the Neighbors
Not long after we moved in, Bryce met the neighbor’s dogs. Wendy and Phil lived across the street. They had no children, but Wendy loved kids and had two Doberman Pincers that she religiously walked everyday.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed anything about Doberman Pincers, but they are a rather high-strung breed. They do not sit; they squat. They never relax. They are always poised and ready to attack at the least provocation. Their jaws are powerful and eager. Their ears ever alert for the slightest hint of danger.
Bryce and I were outside one evening when she had them out, and Bryce toddled right up to them and grabbed the snout of one of the dogs and started barking right back to it. Nose to nose. I was petrified.
Being ever attentive, I was across the street at the time and when I noticed that Bryce had wandered away I started to run across the street to retrieve him. I thought first of Bryce’s safety (that’s what I am supposed to say, but obviously, I wasn’t thinking about it too much.) Then my second thought was that Anne was going to kill me for letting Bryce get into trouble while in my sole care -- this was not without precedent. Wendy yelled at me to stop, that the dogs didn’t like people running at them. That was fine with me, but Bryce was fearless. Somehow the dogs sensed that he was harmless and let him have his way with them. Wendy was very nice, and the dogs, as it turns out, were very nice too. And I was fortunate enough to have met the neighbors with my young son and come away unscathed and no worse off in Anne’s eyes.
“Bryce talks a blue streak,” a proud parent might say.
He doesn’t say much that just anyone can understand. One must bend a delicately tuned ear and then succumb to imagination whenever possible. His vocabulary is hardly limited to mere words. He has a rather complete linguistic arsenal and exercises its depth with much regularity. He is a symphony of pops, gurgles, clicks, whining, and guffaws. He laughs unambiguously; hearty belly laughs with a wide-open smile and toothy mouth. I think his first real word was “car.” It helps considerably that he most often points to the object of his verbalization. He also has said, “meow” and “moo” when asked what the cat or cow says. He says, “Mom” and “Da”, the second “d” is silent. I haven’t figured out what most of the other words are, but everyday they become more clear. I have the utmost faith that eventually they will coalesce into a more useable language, but in the mean time, Anne must serve as the interpreter. She is blessed with the mother’s talent for understanding the message. That, and pride make his vocabulary much larger than it really is.
Though he cannot speak, he does not lack in his ability to make us understand, nor is he without opinion on such matters as concerns his general welfare. He woke up in the middle of the night not long ago. Anne went to tend him and executed a diaper change that was sorely needed. As she lifted him from the changing table he struggled to get down. When he had gained the floor, he walked into the hallway and pointed to the family room. Anne told him that it was too late rock and time to go back to sleep. Bryce was angered by this slight and stomped down the hall and stood erect and resolute, pointing to the rocking chair. Anne was just as resolute that it was not the time to rock. As she stood her ground, it slowly gave way under Bryce and he realized that it was an argument that he would not win. His two “sucking” fingers helped him swallow his pride, and he ambled slowly back to Mom’s loving arms. He went down quietly.
Generally, Bryce is really working on his speech skills. Bryce likes to talk. He talks incessantly. He has a relatively small vocabulary, but that does not slow him down. Being the youngest, he does not always suffer well the family discussions that Anne, Darren, and I engage in. He speaks well for his age, but sometimes the rest of us are preoccupied with the situation and not disposed to listen as intently as he would like us to. If we are in the car or in some other circumstance where his only alternative is to raise his voice then that is what he will do. However, Bryce is given to a more subtle personality than that most of the time and we don’t hear him yelling to get our attention very often.
When we are all four of us walking together it is not unusual to indulge in light conversation. Bryce likes to join in on these, but he lacks the timing and the vocabulary to interject comments when we are all disposed to listen. Very often Bryce will talk over other conversation, heedless of the rules of etiquette that the rest of us follow. It annoys him that we don’t immediately respond.
Several months ago, He would make sing-song noises and emulate the ebb, flow, and pitch of real conversation with his own gibberish. And, he wanted me to pay attention. It wasn’t so important that I understood, only that I gave him my undivided attention when he began to hold court. One fine afternoon, we were out with Bryce and Darren on a walk. Darren was toddling and Bryce was in the backpack. From his perch, Bryce decided that he had something to say and he began talking in that singsong gibberish. He had decided that good conversations are only held nose to nose. He reached around and grabbed my chin and pulled to turn my head so that we could converse. I turned for a moment and then turned back again to face forward so I could keep walking. Bryce reached around again and this time held my cheeks with both hands while he prattled on. He wasn’t pointing at anything and didn’t seem to be trying to say anything about wants or needs, he just needed to talk. When he was done, he let my face go and on we went. I was none the wiser, but he was satisfied.
I didn’t realize how precious these little moments of verbal intimacy were until I witnessed one such conversation between Bryce and Anne. Mother and Child intent on each other, her cheeks cupped in his small hands, talking face to face. Their quiet conversations open to no one, but him. That is what mothers are for.
Darren on the other hand has a marvelous vocabulary for his age. He knows his number and letters. He has committed to memory all of the great works of literature – well, Dr. Seuss mostly, and will carry his half of any conversation with verbal dexterity. But, even with all this precocity, there are subtleties that escape him. Take, for example, Aunt Leslie’s birthday dinner.
It is tradition in Anne’s family to honor birthdays with a celebration of relatives. The extended family comes together at Rita and Harold’s house for a sumptuous repast of the celebrant’s favorite dinner. Aunt Peggy always has Bar B Q chicken basted in lemon butter, and for desert, a Devil’s Food Chocolate cake. Anne always has smoked pork roast with a Spice cake with Penuche frosting for desert. The men are more difficult to deal with because their birthdays are all in September and there is typically only one dinner prepared for Harold, Larry and me. I generally defer to the blood relatives for menu choices, though occasionally I get asked to choose what we all shall have. (I prefer Anne’s Apple Pie for dessert, but the they frown on birthday deserts less traditional than cake or cookies. We all have Larry and Harold’s special cakes and I have to settle. I may settle, but I don’t suffer. There is nothing wrong with these choices.)
Aunt Leslie’s birthday dinner was placed before us. A great spread of ham, rolls, creamed squash that Rita has perfected, and salad. Rita and Peggy finally joined the table and there we all were. Typically, Rita offers Harold to say grace, which he does in quiet and solemn fashion. For the last two or three years, this request has often been preempted by Sarah or Becky raising their hands excitedly and offering it themselves – one or the other, or both together. This year Darren could not suppress the urge to volunteer. Darren has been caught up in the moment before and offered to make public announcements, but when push comes to shove he demurs and hides embarrassed behind one of us. Anne and I shared a glance that said that this was another of those occasions, but we were wrong.
Darren solemnly took command of the situation. We all bowed our heads and clasped each other’s hands, as did Darren. Then he began grace as he had always heard Harold say it, “Rmmmm mrrrm rrrmmrm mrmrm.” He paused for breath and continued, “rmrmrrrm rrmrmrr rmrm rmrmmrr. Amen.”
We all raised our heads with a subtle reflection of the moment detectable in our expressions and proceeded with Aunt Leslie’s birthday dinner. “Good Job, Darren.”
As Bryce’s grasp of real words increases, the gibberish diminishes and gives way to meaningful sentence construction. It’s not as fun to listen to, but it is more helpful when we want to understand. Now he has a fairly strong vocabulary and is beginning to put together 2 and three word sentences easily. He even has a grasp of past and present tense. For example, the other night he and Darren were treated to a new experience for them, a bubble bath. Mom didn’t quite put enough soap in so the bubbles all popped pretty quickly – much to the children’s consternation. Bryce was a little afraid of all those bubbles at first. He didn’t want to sit down. And, when he sat down, he was afraid to put his arms down in the water for fear they would disappear in the bubbles. After a few minutes, he warmed up to the fact that this was all harmless and that bubbles were his friends. He would scoop them up in his hands and say, “Bubbles. Look bubbles.” He was impressed enough to repeat this about 50 times. Soon the bubbles had all popped and his exclamation was “Bubbles pop. Bubbles popping!”
The next morning Anne suggested another bubble bath to the absolute delight of Darren, but Bryce, obviously confused, said, “Bubbles popped.” He was certain that he and Darren had managed to get rid of all of them the night before.
Like most people learning a language, Bryce is much quicker to understand what is being said than he is able to verbally respond to it. Darren, being the gracious host and perfect older brother, once volunteered Bryce’s cookies to one of their little friends at the lunch table and before Darren had finished his sentence, Bryce was shaking his head and screaming while he gathered his cookies close and ran from the table.
Being ambulatory has its advantages. Darren was working more on motor skills; stacking blocks very deliberately, studiously, and continuously. He liked block stacking more than anything else. He would occupy himself for hours in this way. Bryce’s very presence became a threat to Darren’s stacks, first as he tottered anywhere near, and later when he became a more deliberate nuisance. One of those times in between, Darren was busying himself in front of a large pile of blocks. He was stacking, slowly stacking, deliberately stacking. Bryce wandered by and barely slowed down to grab several blocks and stack them up higher than Darren’s stack. “Click, Click, Click,” went the blocks as they landed a top the new stack. When Bryce was done, he wandered off. Darren was so frustrated he burst into tears. These two boys were very different.
About potty training: I will divulge that bribery is a very successful motivator. While we all had a little difficulty at first, Bryce ultimately converted. I say converted rather than trained because there was considerable effort wasted and more than one pair of underwear that was soiled. Clearly we weren’t doing something right in how we approached the problem and couldn’t provide an appropriate reason for Bryce to conform until we hit upon the ultimate bribe: Fun Fruits.
I guess the trick is to create successful behavior modification on both the parent and child sides of the fence. If parents’ behaviors were modified enough, the children would worry less and less about them -- likewise with children and parents. The secret is to change behaviors so slightly that parents no longer think their kids are getting away with something and that kids think their parents are not so stupid, closed minded, and strict as they used to be. I have a feeling that this stuff gets trickier as the kids get older, and that the emotional aspects of the behavior problems have a bit more impact on the solution than does a small bag of Fun Fruits. But, years from now I’m going to keep a few bags handy just in case they do work.
I will let it suffice to say that Bryce loved graduating to his new underwear. He would rather wear those and plastic pants than diapers any day. He found out there can be disadvantages though. I had to spank him the other day and as soon as I had connected, the expression on his face became very confused. This hurt a lot more than it used to with diapers on. He was shocked and quite surprised. I gave him a big hug and held him for awhile – long enough for the sting to go away. Spanking on a diapered bottom doesn’t hold near the potential for behavior modification that spanking through underwear provides.
Bedtime is clearly a test of wills. Bryce refuses to take bedtime lying down. We put both Darren and Bryce down at the same time. Darren is generally willing to stay put except for the occasional pilgrimage to the potty. Bryce will not stay in bed and finds any excuse to be up and about. If Darren goes to the bathroom, Bryce must go with him to keep him company. Sometimes Darren doesn’t think about going until Bryce gently reminds him with a tug at the sheets, or lately, going into the bathroom first to turn on the light, then going back to get Darren.
But, Bryce doesn’t need for Darren to be awake. One night when we went to bed about eleven, several hours after we had put the boys down, we almost tripped over Bryce. He was asleep in the hallway with his knees pulled up under him, butt up in the air. He had been peering into the family room from around the corner of the hallway. After this happened we became more mindful of the rustle of a diapered bottom in the early evening and we have several times gone back into the boys’ room to replace Bryce between the sheets. I have even gone so far as to wait for Bryce in the hallway outside their room. It doesn’t take long before he wanders out. Caught in the act, he smiles, turns and runs back into bed followed by me disguised as swift retribution.
Darren is a silent partner in all of this. He is complicit in these shenanigans, but he is also an economist. He recognizes the that benefit of getting out of bed is not worth the cost of a good spanking, so he is controlled and content to cheer Bryce on from the sidelines. When Bryce gets caught, Darren assumes the indignant air of an innocent man accused of heinous crimes. He proclaims his innocence and covers his bottom with both hands. (I’m sure he will grow up wearing suspenders and a belt -- just to be sure.)
Escaping into another part of the house is not the only method they use for cheating sleep. Sometimes we will let them play if they are quiet about it, but it doesn’t last long before two tired boys turn into two screaming meemies over something. Usually, we enter to find the stuffed animals from both their beds are piled in the middle of the floor. Bryce will slip out of his bed to go steal one of Darren’s animals. Darren cries. Bryce cries. They both get gently spanked and put back into bed – though it is amazing how quickly they can climb back into bed when they hear our footsteps down the hall. The toys get sorted and the boys eagerly accept their favorites and finally sleep conquers all.
Bryce’s willingness to take chances won increasing favors from Darren as time went on. These were all one sided of course, but Darren was good at making it seem as though there were mutual gains. Perhaps they were and I just never understood what Bryce got out of the deal. No matter, their relationship worked for both of them for a while.
Bryce is willing to break the rules. Bryce is willing to test the limits of any given situation. Bryce was the willing recipient of Darren’s commands to do, and to go, and to get, and to take point on any risky venture. Darren was afraid of the dark, so he would have Bryce run down the hallway first and flip on the lights, and, oh by the way, would Bryce turn on the lights to “my room” too? They would throw stuffed animals out of their beds. Darren wouldn’t get out of bed when he wasn’t supposed to, but the merest suggestion to Bryce resulted in a quick picking up and redistribution of animals. The coast was never clear until Bryce had cleared it. The water never warm enough until Bryce had tested it. Whatever it was, Bryce did it first, sometimes on his own, but usually at Darren’s behest.
In the last six months their cooperative bedtime routine has become a little strained as Darren wants to exert whatever control he can and still be afraid of the dark. This is a typical bedtime exchange:
“Mom,” Darren yells. “Bryce is getting out of Bed!” Darren has become quite the informant. (Actually, that’s not something we encourage except for letting us know about Bryce and whether or not he stays in bed.) “Mom, Bryce took my quilt!” “Mom, Bryce took one of the toys to bed!”
When we get there, of course Bryce has made it back into his own bed and is lying there with an impish grin, detectable more by aura than by sight. When Bryce is impish it is hard for him to hide it. When we ask him point blank, “Did you get out of bed?” He says flatly, “No.”
“He did too! He did too!” says Darren from his side of the room.
“Okay. Bryce, where did you get the quilt?”
“I just pulled it off Darren’s bed.”
“Did you get out of bed?” I enquire reasonably.
“How did you pull it off of Darren’s Bed?”
“I just did,” Bryce declares.
“Did you get out of Bed?” Again I enquire.
Silence. He realizes that his simple ruse has a fatal flaw.
“Bryce, it’s a very bad thing to lie. I’m going to spank you because you lied. You must tell the truth when we ask you a question.”
I spank him and there is no response from him. No crying, nothing. “Brycie, you go to sleep now. Don’t get out of bed.”
“Okay,” Bryce utters in a purely capitulating tone.
Things are quiet…for awhile. We think they are asleep when once again Darren yells, “Mom, Bryce is getting out of bed!” Bryce knows that the jig is up now and he pads out of the room, down the hall and into the kitchen where he announces that he has to go potty. He always has to go potty when he can’t get away with whatever mischief he had planned to do in his room. Bryce is clever enough.
Going potty is like taking “times out.” You get to sit for a minute and you don’t get spanked for getting out of bed.
Who’s Got the Power?
As they grow slightly older, Bryce is becoming a little less mechanical in his responses to Darren’s suggestions, and at 5 and 3 years of age, Bryce is beginning to process the equation in his head of what he has to gain by following Darren’s “advice.” The results do not always appeal to Darren and he has begun to think more strategically in how he handles Bryce. He is beginning to use his vocabulary in ways that Bryce does not yet fully understand. Darren has expanded beyond mere suggestion and outright orders to a subtler, more suggestive (read: manipulative) approach. This too worked fine for a while, until Bryce was wise enough to finally get it, and then he sometimes resisted in earnest.
There was one incident when they were both tussling over something they both wanted in the family room. From my observation post at the kitchen table, I could view the landscape of the battlefield with detached clarity. Darren wanted what Bryce had decided not to give up. Darren wouldn’t hit because that was against the rules. Bryce was strong enough to resist a quick grab attempt. They parried for a minute or two. Darren finally verbally insulted Bryce and stomped off to play with blocks in the kitchen. After 30 seconds he had moved on and was quietly plotting his rise to Napoleonic leadership of the world as he built a block tower. Bryce, on the other hand, had almost stopped -- literally stopped. He was standing alone in the middle of the family room pondering the insult that had been hurled his way. It took him quite a while to process what had just happened. I could see the gears engaging and the wheels turning, over and over, as the expression on his face went from one ponder to the next. Finally, the light dawned, and the full weight of the insult imbued him with all the moral authority, strength, and indignity he needed to match a five year old. He went directly over to where Darren was lost in block building, and just clobbered him.
At this point in time, Darren had moved well beyond the argument and this attack came as a complete and utter surprise. He was shocked, dismayed, in hysterics and his psyche shattered. Bryce, his work done, his revenge sweet, toddled off to savor his first brotherly victory. This did not signal a major turn in their relationship, but I think Darren tucked this incident away for more serious consideration.
Later in life Darren would continue to struggle with power and/or the lack of it. One day he said that he wanted to be President of the United States because then no one could tell him what to do. He will figure out with time that the notion of true autonomy is simply a carrot on a stick, but to truly motivate people to do your bidding is like a fine oil painting; an art filled with power, mitigated by subtlety and nuance. Great paintings are done just one brushstroke at a time, and autonomy only exists in the bathroom.
Darren is shaping up to be a typical first born; confident, always leading younger kids, always wanting to do what the older want to do, looking out for his younger brother one moment, and beating him up the next. He is still very shy around people he doesn’t know, but once he warms up, he is more extroverted and talkative than almost anybody can stand. He loves his brother – as long as nobody else is around. Bryce, on the other hand, is still laid back and far from shy. He’ll talk to anybody and frequently does. He still has a winning smile and knows how to use it. He gets most of the attention. He is also devious, yet predictably direct. He just can’t get Darren to do enough of what he wants to do.
So we have two, happy, well adjusted kids. One is destined to be king of the world and the other is destined to turn on his lights when it gets dark. This is the happy circumstance we find ourselves in when the thought of a third child creeps into our consciousness
Beginning Again & Again
Anne and I have been discussing the whys, wherefores, and whethers of a third child for sometime. My job situation has been uncertain and I have been fussing over the support and security issues surrounding an additional mouth to feed. It finally occurred to me that a job (at least for me) is temporary and a child is permanent. My income stream is not likely to be much affected by what I do, or for whom I do it. At least, it hasn’t been so far. So, why not?
Anne for years has espoused the rhythm method as effective for birth control. I on the other hand have insisted that there is no “safe” time in the women’s cycle. Just look at all the Catholics around. We now know through empirical evidence that my hypothesis was correct. Anne is expecting delivery in January ’88. We haven’t announced it yet. We will do that when everybody is up for Bryce’s birthday celebration. Darren has already been expressing an interest in a baby sister. He will take the news well, but may be disappointed that we can’t choose a girl or a boy. I don’t know about Bryce. He will probably just be mad at Mom because she’s loosing her lap and he won’t be able to snuggle comfortably. My parents will probably think that we’re out of our minds. Anne’s will think it normal. And, they both might be right. Our neighbors probably won’t notice the difference. Acquaintances and people we pass in the street will think we are Mormon. Select few will think we’re just bringing another bratty Indermill kid into the world because we’re ornery. They might be right too.
I’m not looking forward to the sleepless nights and the constant care that will be required. Nor is it fun to think that we’ll be sticking pretty close to home for the next 18 months. Relief from the responsibilities won’t come anytime soon. I am looking forward to raising the last baby, having the kids play together, and be protective of one another, and just watching them grow. Child rearing is one of the most frustrating and all consuming experiences of human adulthood; it is also one of the most pleasurable. But, I still don’t think anybody needs to do it more that 3 times. Some would argue that once was plenty.
(In retrospect (from 2005), when I reflect on our parenthood, I can truthfully be thankful for not winning the lottery at this juncture in our lives. Anne finds such pleasure in having babies and raising babies and holding babies and nurturing babies that she would wish the fun to never stop. Had we won the lottery back then, I am certain that Anne would still be pregnant and I would still be in college. We would be regular baby making machines, without benefit of Catholicism.)
It is, perhaps in some way, unfair to call this Tyler’s chapter when there is so much of the other two boys intermingled here, but that is the way it is in real life. Tyler’s story begins, in contrast, at the beginning of Anne’s pregnancy in June of 1987, whereas the other two boys actually got born before I started writing. Tyler will not be without his brothers for many years. They will shape his life probably even more than Anne and I will. We all must grow, move, and change in this house and all of us will have to accommodate each other along the way. Tyler will just be the latest addition.
If this pregnancy could be characterized by one word, I would say, “Impatience.” Nothing is new the third time around. Anne keeps getting bigger and rounder and more pregnant. So what? That was excused as a novelty with the first two. It is drudgery with the third, a necessary inconvenience to be tolerated for the result. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the third pregnancy. It is just there, happening quietly under cover of experience. We know what it’s going to be like so we adjust to the changes more easily and with less intellectualizing.
The third pregnancy is carried much less on the conscious mind. That’s almost too bad because we loose the wonderment and excitement of each little change, the little physical surprises, the first flutter, the later pushing and stretching of something inside. It is still neat, but it just does have the same feel as the first time. The baby takes on some attributes of personality in the womb that are manifest in what happens to the mother’s body. While sleeplessness is tolerated in the first pregnancy because of the magnitude of the event and life changes it implies, by the third pregnancy, sleeplessness is equated more with a restless waiting.
I’ve found an interesting perspective with this pregnancy. The weight of the responsibility of fatherhood has not diminished, but much of the excitement has. I don’t spend hours wondering how the baby will make its way in the world. With Darren and with Bryce, I was filled with hope and the prospect of happy, fulfilled and satisfying lives for them as they emerged. With this one, I take this all for granted and am not thinking ahead at all. It is almost as though I refused to think about it until after the birth.
I will love our child and care for, and provide for, and nurture him (or her) the best I can. I am concerned that there will be enough time for all three. I don’t want to miss out on their growing up. I want to be there and I want to contribute to it. Most selfishly, I want to be proud of their accomplishments and the people they turn out to be.
Part of being pregnant when we already have two children that are just becoming aware of life at 3 and 5 is their discovery of the coming intruder. This of course happens in different ways and it is fascinating to watch them pick up on the clues they are provided. Before Anne really began to show, she was talking with me in our room wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Bryce toddled in on some pretense and she naturally bent down to talk to him face to face. He was distracted for a moment then reached out and put his hand on Anne’s breast.
“When did you get these,” he asked? I guess that it doesn’t take very long for any red blooded, American boy to figure out the important things in life. He had noticed something different about Mom and it had taken just an instant to figure out what it was.
At the breakfast table Anne and I choked on our cereal as Darren asked, “How do babies get in your tummy?” I had always thought that it would be easy to honestly and openly answer these sorts of questions, but it wasn’t. I could tell that this was just Darren’s opening volley. He was ready to get all the facts out on the table. We didn’t have a very good answer prepared for him I’m afraid, but our discomfort was only momentary because Bryce had questions of his own.
“In your tummy,” he asked?
A quizzical expression clouded across his face. “Did you chew it?”
We are now armed with some bedtime reading that should help explain all this biological stuff to our children. I’ll let you know how it works in ten to fifteen years.
The reaction from others to our announcement of an impending sibling for our two boys has been varied to say the least. The standard response we are offered is “Congratulations.” That is pretty silly. It is such a small accomplishment to become pregnant. It is much more difficult to not get pregnant.
The second most frequent response, and very often in the same conversation as the congratulations is the delicately phrased question, “Was this planned?” (As if we must be out of our minds to even consider more than two as something that is even possible.) “Three children are absurd,” is the thought behind the question that most people have who ask it. Don’t hamburger buns come in packages of four and eight? Don’t most loaves of bread have a number of slices divisible by four? Aren’t most cars only suited to transport only four people comfortably (without someone having to sit on the hump)? Most hotel and motel rooms can only sleep up to four. Hamburger Helper meals serve only four. Most houses have only three bedrooms, so each child can have their own room. It just doesn’t make much sense to have three children because that means having to open twice as many packaged items and putting up with a lot of leftovers. The third child always looks like a ragamuffin because he or she always gets the hand-me-downs that have already been handed down once. Dinette sets only come with four chairs. Why would anybody want to have three kids?
The third most frequent response has been, “Trying for a girl this time?” Nudge nudge, wink wink, elbow in the ribs, with that presumed, but false intimacy. Sometimes there is just a sly wink on the side as there might be some suggestion of inadequacy in a union that has to this point only produced boys. Now I suppose that there are some parents who are displeased with the sex of their offspring, or are saddened to think that the family name might not carry on, or that knew if only given a chance, they could have produced a football star or a prom queen. I suppose that there are men in this world whose masculinity will always be doubted unless they have a boy to their credit, but since I already have two boys that could not possibly apply to me. Nor do I feel any less whole for not having one of my boys be a girl. (In fact, having them change after the fact would be wholly unacceptable indeed!)
The fact of the matter is that it has been a joy, a privilege, and a pleasure to have two children and a third will only increase that contribution and enrichment to our lives. Now, if only someone else could just raise it for the first year or so….
“Naked Boys! Naked Boys!” is the war cry as Bryce and Darren prepare for their nightly bath. They strip down while the tub is filling and then run all over the house shouting, “Naked Boys!” They snake down the hall and through the dining room, into the living room, then out to the family room. Darren always leads. Bryce always is one step behind him. They get the biggest kick out of it. They never stop moving. Like a Chinese dragon, they snake here and there, wending their way this way, then that. They have to be herded back to the bathroom, all the while giggling and laughing and shouting, “Naked Boys!”
Baths are just as much fun, too. They always take their baths together. Darren virtually always sits in the front of the tub, Bryce in the middle. They play pretty well, but if they’re not watched closely, their play escalates wildly and water will end up everywhere.
Getting them out is generally a problem. They don’t want to get out, or more to the point, neither of them wants to be the one to get out first. I ask them, “Who wants to get out of the bathtub?”
“I don’t,” says Darren.
“I don’t,” echoes Bryce.
“Okay. Who wants to get out of the Bathtub first?” I say.
“I don’t,” says the echo.
“Okay,” I say, “Listen carefully. Who wants to get out second?”
“I don’t,” says an all too eager Darren.
The echo is Silent.
Darren panics as he realizes his mistake while he’s pulled from the water to towel off. Sometimes, I pull Bryce out first just to be fair, but Darren should know better, especially after several months of the exact same bathtub dialog. We even warn him to listen closely before he answers the question, but he still gets confused. His disappointment doesn’t last too long. Just about until his pajamas are on and his teeth are brushed. Then he gets disappointed about having to go to bed. Disappointments abound when you’re “four and a half and three quarters”.
The Slip n’ Slide Flashback
We got to watch cousins Sarah and Becky for the weekend – sort of trial run for getting used to girls if that is what we are going to have. We actually volunteered for this duty. It really wasn’t too bad and it was fun to have them. The kids all played with each other well and, for the most part, quietly. We broke out the “Slip n’ Slide” both Saturday and Sunday and the kids had a ball. Bryce thought it was fun until he took off short once and ended up with a mouthful of grass. Darren was learning with each attempt and by the end of the weekend was stretching those slides out all the way. Becky liked to slide on her knees and then splash and play in the standing water about three quarters of the way down. Sarah, ever the star, would slide down, first on her stomach, then on her knees, then sitting up, lying down, on her side, on her other side, any way she could think of to do it, never failing to have her arms gracefully extended and with a ready smile. Each slide was a pose.
This parenting business is a hit or miss kind of deal. There is no instruction book. You try to remember what worked when you were a kid and assimilate those into your own repertoire of parenting techniques. You try and remember the fun things that you did and try to recreate those for your own kids. You also find that a lot of the activities that you did as a kid just aren’t relevant anymore. The things that didn’t work you try to forget, or at least never use. Often when you are in the midst of raising your children, they do something that reminds you of yourself and your own childhood. The Slip n’ Slide was just such a triggering event for me.
I remember sliding down one when I was little. I don’t remember how old I was, but the Slip n’ Slide, which first came out in 1948, was just hitting its stride as the choice of toys among “toy forward” children of the fifties. That and the “Water Wiggle.” The “Water Wiggle” was this jelly fish – looking device that screwed onto the end of a garden hose. Water was forced through two jets underneath and these set the Water Wiggle to random wanderings around the yard, spraying kids and lawn indiscriminately. Both were lots of fun in Johnny Almgren’s backyard. The Water Wiggle was taken off the market a little bit later because (at least this is how the story was told through the kid grapevine) a couple little kids drowned after trying to swallow the jet devices. I couldn’t see how that could have happened because you would have to catch the darn thing first and that just didn’t seem possible. It was big news back then. As a parent now, I really have to wonder where those kids’ parents were then. Needless to say, none of us in Johnny’s backyard ever drowned trying to swallow a Water Wiggle.
The Slip n’ Slide is a time warp. I can remember the grass sliding by and the water in my face every time one of my kids makes a run. I can remember my own painful physical awkwardness looking just like Darren looked as he slid. I can remember the exhilaration and the shear joy of a summer day just like these kids. I can remember whole summers where everyday seemed packed with things to do, or see, or places to go. There were no cares or concerns except maybe a stubbed toe or a scraped knee. There were always kids on the block to play with.
Nights were shirt sleeve warm and the days were just plain hot. The sun never relented in Bakersfield. The Swamp coolers did a barely manageable job of keeping the houses cool. Sometimes our parents would let us close off all the doors in the hallway and the let the cool, humid air from the cooler pour down on us in the dark. Air conditioning was new and for rich people. The technology was not yet in reach of the common man.
The asphalt in the streets would be blisteringly hot, but by mid summer we could walk to the store on bare feet, calloused by the daily abuse of constant play in the summer sun. The street itself would get soft and mushy under our feet and we would leave heel prints as we walked. When we were still too small to cross the streets by ourselves we stood on our side and yelled at our friends on their side.
Jerry Kay lived in the corner house across the street and next to the alley. He played the accordion and had a satiny performing shirt that reminded me of something one might wear on “Talent Round Up” or on the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show. I always sort of half expected to see Jerry on that very show someday. The closest he came was washing dishes in some North Hollywood restaurant. The real world chews people up sometimes.
With our key skates, my sister Kathy and I got down the block a little more often. Robin and Joanne Bruns were nearly always in their driveway jumping rope. They had one end tied to the fence and took turns turning the other end. When all the neighborhood kids congregated there we jumped double dutch – or whatever it’s called with two ropes going opposite directions. Skate, jump, sit and talk. These were long days.
We played tag in the front yard. We were connoisseurs of tag and other games. Freeze tag, Statue, Hide and Seek, and Squat tag provide thousands of hours and ways to while away the summer sun. I wasn’t “It” anymore than my share. I remember the pleasantness associated with countless hours adrift in childhood activities.
One day blended into another, then another. The sun was always shining, clouds were rare. When clouds did come overhead, it was always worth the time to lie down on our backs and watch them roil, bubble up and drift way.
On rare occasions we would get thunder and lightning, but when we did, it was an event of special significance. Mom was always frightened by it. Dad, Kathy and I would wander outside after the rain had stopped to watch the lightning play tag across the nighttime skies. As I looked down the street, there were neighbors standing in front of their houses watching the same spectacle. Entertainment came cheaply in those days.
When there was daytime rain, it was usually just a sprinkle that evaporated as soon as it hit the streets. Steam would rise eerily and the humidity would be overpowering for an hour or two. It would pass quickly and was almost instantly dry.
Although I only slid on Johnny Almgren’s Slip n’ Slide 3 or 4 times –not that many really, they sure stuck with me. It must have been fun. It sure seemed that way to all the kids this weekend…except for Bryce who needs to work on his timing a little bit.
What of their youths will they remember? This little self indulgence in my own memories can only begin to scrape the surface of my collage of experiences from 30 years ago, but it serves to point out that I must watch what I do and say now because it will be remembered in some context by my children and shape their lives in ways we cannot tell.
The 1st day of School
The pregnancy is sliding by. We have made it through the summer months and as the days shorten, Darren is excited about real school. Kindergarten is his newest adventure. We have talked about it. We have toured it. He is prepared. I don’t know if we are.
Much to our surprise and thankfulness, the first day of school came and went without a hitch. Darren was so excited about getting on the bus he didn’t even bother to say goodbye to Mom. In fact, he stood out off the curb so that the driver would be sure to see him. We asked if he didn’t want me to meet him at school and take him to his classroom, but he said, “What for?” We had visited the school Labor Day morning and found the classroom with Darren. He was comfortable. We had told him about being safe around strangers and getting on the right bus. Darren was confident about making his way in the real world.
On the way home, after his first day, his bus partner, the boy he went with in the morning, got off the bus one stop early and had to run a block to get back to his waiting mother. Darren didn’t bother to stop him, he just let him go.
Bryce had his first day of preschool. He was proud of his picture made from ink stamps and bits of paper and glue, and of the paper plate that he drew on. He was also positively giddy. I went home for lunch and Bryce was smiling and laughing at almost anything. He was in such a wonderful mood. Everything was funny and fun for him.
Neither boy had taken a nap and both boys were pretty glassy-eyed when I met them after work at the park for soccer. Soccer practice was uneventful. Dinner was unremarkable, except for the fact that both boys were listless and kept sliding down in their chairs. Bath time was early, and, outside of a little irritability in Bryce, both boys went down for the count like two punch drunk fighters.
In all, there was very little trauma associated with the day. The kids were eager and excited about their new adventures. Mom survived the first test of separation with flying colors. All that stuff about how difficult it is untying the apron strings is hogwash. Our boys are growing up and we’ve let them so far. It is not so hard to share that experience with them rather than deny the fact that it happens. It is one thing to realize that you can never go back again. It is quite another to let yourself enjoy the experience vicariously. That’s what kids are for.
Naming the Baby
Darren and Bryce do not have a vote in this matter. I know, I know. They would love the opportunity to name the baby. They would probably feel closer to their sibling; they would feel a greater sense of responsibility. They would be better big brothers for it. They would grow in their devotion to family. They would love and protect the baby even more if they could call it by a name of their choosing. No way. I’m sorry, but no way. I am sure that I feel the same way about this that Anne does about me participating in the naming. I just happen to have a bigger vote than Darren or Bryce do.
Darren tried his hand at naming his stuffed animals. There is “Bear” and “Bunny” and another “Bear.” However, at the prospect of naming the baby, his first suggestion was “Azelda.” A boy’s name was not necessary because he was sure that he was not going to have a baby brother. “Azelda” evolved after a couple of days into “Matilda.”
Last night, on the way to Grandma’s house, Darren and Bryce hit upon the perfect solution. “Matilda” if it’s a girl and “Patilda” if it’s a boy. These names have a sensibility and a logic to them that is undeniable; however, I am not persuaded by those arguments. A “Patilda” is not in our future.
Anne and I have spent many long hours over the course of our pregnancies discussing and deciding upon names. It is not easy for us. My taste in names might be described as eclectic, while Anne’s is slightly more traditional. “Patilda” may be pretty darn eclectic, but I’m not totally without earthly connection. We tend to compromise on names, and I think that we have chosen well. But, there really aren’t anymore than four or five names that we can agree on. For this baby, we have kept the choice of Adrienne Layne for the girl we were going to have when Bryce was born. (Actually, it was Adrienne Michele for Bryce, but for some reason now I like Layne better.) For a boy, I think we have agreed that Tyler James will be his name. Anne’s family grimaces when I suggest that I might call him TJ. Peggy thinks that one has to be black to be called Tyler. Rita hasn’t expressed an opinion, but she’s probably not too keen on it. (She will be happy with any baby she gets, anytime it’s born, and anything we call it. But, if she had her druthers, I’m sure she’d rather he not be born on Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 18th. She wasn’t particularly happy about Bryce being born on Juneteenth.)
Finally, it is time. We have endured the insults, assaults, and ravages of pregnancy. Anne has grown less in grace than in girth. As much as she enjoys the process of pregnancy I think that she is ready to greet this newcomer on slightly different than the current terms.
The third pregnancy is supposed to be the easy one - easier than the second and less frightening than the first. This is another in a long list of old wives’ tales. I don’t know who makes these things up, but for every kernel of wisdom they contain, it is surrounded by misconception, distortion, and other twisting and turning of the facts. By our experience, the third delivery is far and away the most miserable; mostly because we had been led down this path of ease and comfort.
We are old hands at this birthing thing. We have already done it twice. We know what to expect and what is normal and what is not. We are not given to panic, nor are we ignorant of the process that is about to occur. Anne has put up with the intermittent Braxton-Hicks contractions for a couple of weeks and now the contractions are firm and steady…at least, steadier than they have been.
Serious labor started much like Anne’s other labors -- too darn early in the morning. I woke up at 1:47 to some very controlled breathing. Anne was awake and just finishing up a contraction. She said this was going to be the day. My reaction to that news was that this was going to be a long day and I had better get some sleep. It was a restless time until about 4:00am when Anne got up to walk around and hopefully speed things up. I woke up to find her a little disgruntled that the contractions had actually slowed down.
Morning was a slow and waiting time. The contractions had become intermittent. Anne mopped the kitchen floor and cleaned the house trying to get something going, but with little result, except the house was ready for visitors. I took Darren to the bus stop at about 11:00am and talked to all the bus stop mothers. They were all excited for us, but couldn’t understand why we weren’t at the hospital yet.
In the afternoon, now 3:15, I picked Darren up at the bus stop and let all the bus stop mothers down with my reports of “No News.”
Finally at 5:00pm Anne’s contractions were forming up. They were regular and less than 10 minutes apart. She has been cat napping during the afternoon, but that hasn’t been restful and she looks tired, but feels more impatient than anything else. This labor has been slow and arduous in developing.
I put the kids down at the usual time and set up my vigil on Anne’s continuing struggle. Every contraction looked like a hard one to me. Anne wasn’t happy with their progress. Some were lighter than others, but they were pretty regular and had been five minutes apart for an hour when Anne finally said, “Let’s go.”
I got the kids in the car. I got Anne in the car. I let her sit in the front seat on a couple of towels. We dropped the kids off at their grandparents and visited a few minutes before we left for the hospital. Every minute was an hour too long for me. I just wanted to be done with it. I’m sure Anne had stronger sentiments.
We checked into the hospital at 9:15 pm. It was a nice labor room, as labor rooms go. My chair was comfortable. Miami Vice was on the TV. The nurse was unsympathetic and had a lousy bedside manner. I could tell that she really didn’t believe we were in labor. The fetal monitor supported her view. The contractions dropped way off in intensity. They became irregular. The nurse definitely had a lame duck attitude as she was looking forward to the shift change. Anne and I walked the halls looking for a lost labor looking for a pregnant woman.
At 11:00pm the new nurse hooked Anne up to the monitor again. Nothing new. It was pretty disappointing. Anne’s regular obstetrician was not on call, his partner was. Although he was a nice guy, he did not know Anne well and did not presume her to be anything more than naïve. In his professional opinion, Anne was having a false start and simply needed to go home. To aid in her comfort, he gave us a little red “sleeping” pill and instructed us to go home and go to bed -- to get some sleep
We were disappointed. We also knew better than to drive the thirty or forty minutes back to Folsom, so we headed over to Anne’s parents’ instead. Anne was sure that this was it, but without the physical evidence to back it up, there wasn’t much else to do. It was with heavy steps that we turned tail and left the hospital. Harold was surprised to find us both outside his door. Anne was still pregnant. I was still tired. We settled into the spare bedroom after a little small talk, and proceeded to follow doctor’s orders, take our pill and get some sleep.
This little red sleeping pill, Seconal, was developed to treat sleeplessness, anxiety, tension, high blood pressure, and convulsions. What the doctor had neglected to mention about this particular barbiturate was that one of its well known side effects is to increase the intensity of labor when the labor is real and decrease it when it is a false labor. Anne tried to sleep, but these pains just kept getting worse and worse. She tried to ignore them because she was told to. At 3:00am that became impossible and we packed ourselves up for another ride down to the hospital. This time we were going to stay no matter what they told us.
Of course, they were all surprised to see us back and sufficiently condescending to be absolutely obnoxious until they checked Anne out again. Anne had gone from barely dilated to fully effaced in the short time we had been gone, which was just about all the time she needed to deliver Tyler. The doctor barely had time to get ready as the baby crowned on the first push he observed. A couple more pushes, and there was Tyler, breathing calmly. His shoulders cleared and I counted fingers. His legs cleared and I counted toes. That he wasn’t crying didn’t bother me because he was obviously viable and as interested in this birthing process as I was. As with our other two boys, the doctor let me cut his umbilical cord. And there he was, at the threshold of the rest of his life.
Tyler James Indermill
Born 3:56 am, January 30, 1988
Weight: 7 pounds even
Length: 20.5 inches
So there he was, Tyler James. He missed being born on Washington’s Birthday, or President’s Day, or Martin Luther King’s Birthday. He was a couple weeks shy of Valentine’s Day or Flag Day. Even though the calendar was loaded with holidays, he missed them all. He broke a short standing tradition in our family of being born on some sort of holiday. Of course, maybe it’s an omen, a harbinger of destiny for Tyler to create his own place in history.
I got all the fingers and toes I was looking for. I got a healthy youngster that will give his brothers a run for their money, who will forget to wash his hands before dinner, who will fuss and fume about Darren or Bryce not being fair about something, who will be loved and protected by his older brothers (at least, at some point in their upbringing this is bound to occur), who will cry for food and the unconditional love of his parents. That is about all one can ask for isn’t it?
An Introduction to the “Bother” Curve
Tyler is very typical of our other babies. Not better, nor worse than the other two -- no special problems or needs. Darren and Bryce are pretty tolerant of him on the whole; of course, they thought that it was Tyler who brought them a couple of new toys at the hospital. I know that was a cheap trick, but it worked pretty well.
There is no telling the uninitiated just what a difference a third child makes. On the “bother” curve, one is only slightly more trouble than being just a couple. After you adjust to the basic needs of the presence of a baby, then life is actually pretty easy. One baby is easy to bundle up and take with you wherever you go. All the stuff you really need all fits pretty much into one bag. You don’t even have to buy a new car and life with baby quickly becomes routine.
With the addition of a second child, there are more challenges to be sure, but basically, two is hardly more trouble than one. All the little packing tricks and all the travel paraphernalia you already learned and acquired with the first child so you are ahead of the game there. There are generally still two parents, which puts the ratio of parent to child at a one to one relationship. You are still in the same car (although you might be seriously contemplating a different one). This is all very manageable.
With the third child, the “bother” curve turns sharply upwards. By the time I realized that this curve was not linear, it was logarithmic, I was well past the point of no return, and, I might add, well past the elbow of the curve. There is no middle ground. There is no “getting used to it” slowly. The kids have the parents beat from the beginning. There are now three of them to two of you. All of the accompanying kid stuff that each one must have now demands a huge increase in trunk space. Minivans begin to look inviting instead of stodgy. The amount of kid equipment required to support three children is staggering. But it never looks that demanding in the store, or in the garage, or in the spare room. It is when you are faced with gathering it all up and buckling up the kids, readying the family for that special car trip that it hits you just how great an effort it is go anywhere. We can no longer just go visit someone. Now, we descend upon them. We visit upon someone like Moses’ locusts visited upon Egypt.
Darren’s Trip to the Zoo
Parents hardly ever get to see their children in a classroom situation, so we plant spies everywhere. We use teachers, class helpers, and other mothers to this end. We try to be discreet when prying information from our children’s peers, but we are usually much better at extracting this information than they are from hiding it. We generally are able to gather enough information to make good assessments on our child’s social development, class development, and academic progress. In Darren’s case, it’s a little easier because everybody likes to talk about the unusual things he does -- like, for example, at the zoo the other day.
The mother who went with the class on their zoo field trip began by telling us that Darren was loud and impatient. (That apparently was to ingratiate us and instill in us confidence in our parenting skills.) The zoo had a docent scheduled to talk to the class and she began by asking a few questions which Darren was more than willing to answer. We have a number of zoo and animal books at home that Darren has virtually memorized. He is both eager and willing to share his knowledge with anybody at any time. The docent quickly tired of this and so she spoke to Darren. She told him to raise his hand when he had something to say so that other kids may have the chance to speak if they know the answer.
Darren was very conciliatory and calmed. The next question from the docent was met with absolute silence from the class, but there was Darren’s hand patiently signaling his desire to speak.
“Yes, Darren?” the docent asked, fully expecting another pearl of animal wisdom.
“It’s my mother’s birthday today.”
Just when you think he’s paying attention….
Tyler is three months old. It’s about time he got sick. Darren didn’t last this long before his first ear infection. Chicken pox is one of those childhood diseases that almost everybody gets – mostly while they are young. There are few like Anne’s Aunt Elaine who wait until they’re 68 to get the chicken pox and then pick and scab over until they’re 70. It is a little silly not to take advantage of your youth for this sort of thing.
Bryce brought home the chicken pox about a month ago. He felt listless and had a relatively mild case. He was a perfect patient. He was calm, willing to do whatever we told him, not restless or itchy. He didn’t scratch at all. Nine or ten days and he was done with it. He may end up with a scar on his chest, but I even doubt that.
The day Bryce came down with them, Darren went out to play. He of course told all his friends and their mothers about Bryce’s chicken pox. It was as though we had threatened them all with small pox instead. Anne made a flurry of phone calls to the concerned mothers to calm their fears and educate them as to the incubation period and the effects and aspects of the chicken pox. Bryce got them from pre-school. Bryce exposed Darren. Darren is not contagious for at least fourteen days yet. It is okay to play with him. And, by the by, chicken pox is an important disease to get when you are a kid. Later when all these concerned parents’ children eventually catch the pox, from sources other than the Indermills I might add, we find their children outside playing with other unexposed children just because the parents can’t stand to have them in the house any longer. Their concern about the general health and welfare of the neighborhood was clearly born of ignorance and later absolutely obliterated by their own inconvenience.
As I said, Bryce could not have been a better patient. He suffered stoically, without complaint. He put himself to bed at night and for naps. He was a perfect patient. Darren on the other hand, had a more robust case of the pox. He was whining, complaining, generally pathetic and demanding of sympathy. For days after most of the pox had scabbed over and many had fallen off naturally, Darren was still complaining that everyone needed to be careful around him to avoid scratching his scabs. To his other adjectives, we can add “obnoxious.”
Tyler did not escape the scourge. Even though he was supposed to be too young he got 3 or 4 pox and was sleepy and listless for a couple of days. He didn’t complain much, couldn’t scratch, and managed to sleep through the worst of it. And, so did we. Tyler was over his case long before Darren stopped complaining about his.
The Angel of the Pox swept over our house with efficiency. All three boys caught it successfully, let it run a very typical course, and finally conquered the virus. We are now just about finished with childhood diseases. Measles are limited to the 3 day kind, mumps are vaccinated against. I guess we’ll still have to put up with the flu, colds, mild fevers, and things that go bump in the dark, but the chicken pox must be listed as a dead soldier.
Bryce Learns to Dance
Our childhoods sweep by us when we are too imperceptive to really enjoy them fully for their abandonment of responsibility, the sweet moments that become sweet memories, the wonder of discovery, the joy of a summer rain, and mother’s call to dinner after a lazy summer afternoon. The fresh excitement of each new day is soon dulled by the rigors of schoolwork, chores, summer jobs, grades, and the growing realization of our place in the world. Once we are grown, we look back fondly to these times and realize how short and fleeting our stay here is. Our time with our children is much enriched by this cognizance and we try to make for them a truly magical youth. And sometimes they return the favor in their divine innocence.
Anne and I had put the children down about 8:00pm. We were finally relaxing in front of the TV and reflecting on a busy day. Darren was fast asleep and Bryce (as is his way now) had wandered out to the family room on the pretext of wanting a drink of water, or having to go potty, or wanting to be carried back to bed. Anne held him as we watched TV and he nestled in her lap with a warm hug and a contentedly sweet, far away smile. On the television was a ballroom scene with many finely dressed couples out on the dance floor, moving to Straus. Suddenly, the dance transcended the TV and Anne and Bryce were waltzing in the family room. Bryce was thrilled by the moment. His mouth was gaping in a wide and wondering grin. Anne was carrying him about the room, her left arm extended with his, flashing and turning. It couldn’t have lasted more than a minute, but it was absolutely riveting. Anne set him down when the music ended and he was happily off to bed.
Tyler Coming into his Own
At seven months Tyler is really developing his own personality now. He definitely has his amused (as well as amusing) moments. He likes the game where he drops one of his toys and expects someone else to pick it up for him. He has mastered the art of motoring around in his walker and is always underfoot. Whenever the pantry door is opened he always scoots for it as fast as he can. It is only with a great deal of alacrity that one can find what one needs and get out of that closet before being trapped inside by an infant on six little walker wheels.
Not only is he able to get where he wants to go in the kitchen, but he has also learned to sit up by himself. I don’t know why, but this simple ability gave me a great feeling of relief. Not that I didn’t think he was developing properly, it is just that he no longer needs to be absolutely supported 100% of the time. It is a major milestone, one that has far more impact to me than solid foods or little baby sounds.
He can’t crawl quite yet, so he stays where he’s put. He sits up, so he can be surrounded with toys and it’s at least five minutes before he starts to complain. These little moments of relief make life very tolerable indeed.
Tyler has been such a good baby. He has allowed his parents to sleep through most nights. He hasn’t been colicky, nor do most colds or other baby diseases seem to bother him much. I guess because he is our last (wishful thinking) child, there is a real and certain mortality attached to each of the infant stages he grows into and out of. We will never have this small a baby again. Anne is really touched by this fact and I must admit that it has me a little thoughtful too. We just want to watch, hold, and cuddle him, surrounding ourselves with the memory of it. We are savoring his infancy.
I’m sure most parents feel a sense of separation or loss when their children move into their independent teen years, or away to school, or away to camp, or away to college. I expect to feel some of that when our kids get to that age. I hardly expected to feel it now. It does bring with it an intensity to parenting that I find enjoyable. It brings into focus the here and now letting us both really thoroughly experience our children.
At eight months, Tyler has learned that sitting down from a standing position really doesn’t hurt. For a few weeks he has been pulling himself up to stand using anything that will support him. After a while he would fuss because he was afraid to get down. Well, one of Tyler’s great mysteries of life has been solved. He now stands and sits at will…and does a lot of crawling in between.
He has discovered the unmitigated joy of Cheerios and we find them scattered about the kitchen floor. We now have a house that is almost impossible for anyone to sneak around in. Toys are placed randomly in commonly used pathways and now Cheerios crunch underfoot in the dead of night.
Tyler has learned to add speech to his dropping game. When you give him something in his highchair, he waits until you’re looking and then throws it off the tray. We exclaim, “Oh, oh!” With every “oh, oh”, he laughs hysterically. Bryce played this game with Tyler for most of an afternoon last week. Fortunately, Tyler does not see the humor in throwing his food off the tray – except for Cheerios.
Although Bryce enjoys playing with Tyler, he is feeling the squeeze. He wants to be cuddled a little more, and he aggressively competes with Tyler for “lap” time.
Darren and Bryce Meet the Wall
I have had it with Darren and Bryce running in the house. They always start running in the same direction at the same time, but, invariably, one of them gets going in the opposite direction and a head on collision occurs. This happens not just once or twice, but every single time. The last time I caught them running, I made them stop right then and there, and put their noses against the wall.
Darren has always been a literalist and a serious student of discipline. He has always wanted to do everything exactly right. If it wasn’t perfect, it just wasn’t good enough. After two minutes on the wall, he could hardly stand it, his nose hurt so badly. He was pressed up against that wall like a boy pressed up against a Christmas display window.
Bryce on the other hand, figured out pretty quickly that the wall was just another place to play. The only way he could have been happier is if we had given him something to eat while he was standing there. He was far from still. He twisted his body into every permutation it would do and still have his nose touch the wall. Wall time is just like a birthday party for Bryce. For Darren it is pure hell. Go figure.
New Teeth, Old Memories
I remember coming home from college on spring break freshman year and noticing for the first time ever that my parents had grown older. It is one thing to look at old photographs and gape at the funny hairstyles or wax nostalgic about the old family Chevy, but it is quite another to catch aging in the act. It is such an insidious process that we hardly ever notice it. I saw my dad and suddenly there were wrinkles and gray (or grayer) hair. Suddenly there was mortality, frailty, and the ultimate finality of the human condition. The odd and interesting part of this story is that this was the first and only instance that I realized or acknowledged these changes. The aging process continues in my father, but its impact on me is spent. He just looks like Dad to me now regardless of how long it has been between visits.
I thought of this the other day because I had Tyler on the changing table for the usual reasons and I was taken suddenly by how much he looked like a little boy instead of a baby. After the diapering work was done, we took a little time to play a little game. He looked at me with a distinct, knowing kind of expression. It would have been a wink if he had been 10 years older.
He had complete understanding of the game that I was playing and while his body held his mind trapped, he knew what I wanted him to feel and reacted to it with just his eyes. Maybe I was reading too much into it. I remember having these experiences with the other boys as well, but they were so fleeting and so hard to describe, it was difficult to record them. And now, Darren is Darren, and Bryce is Bryce. The changes they go through are so complete and overwhelming that I try not to distinguish the changes as events, but rather the children as they are. They continue to change, but somehow I’ve managed to compartmentalize it as unremarkable. I think that this is my loss.
At ten months, Tyler’s teeth have finally emerged. It has been a struggle for them. They have been close many times, but always retreated back into the gums. I remember with Bryce not wanting him to get his teeth because I liked the way he looked without them. But, nature had her way and Bryce got them anyway. With Tyler it is more of a “hurry up” situation. We are tired of the wait. Poor Tyler went through several episodes of sore gums, heavy slobbering, and severe irritability. The rest of us just went through the severe irritability part.
Now that he has his teeth, he wants to test them on everything. He is especially fond of apples, but fingers will do, as will chairs, table tops, toys, and just about everything jaw size. His particular favorite is my collar bone. Tyler just snuggles down on my shoulder like it is the most pacifying spot he could choose. I feel content that he is resting with me, sharing a few serene moments when my languor is suddenly and brutally dispelled by teeth gnawing on my collar bone. It is a most delicious trick.
We had take-home Chinese food the other night. After squirting soy sauce all over the table and each other in vain attempts at Chinese seasoning we finally got down to the fortune cookies. Bryce and I had real typical you-will-be-well-liked-and-have-many-friends fortunes. Darren’s was “You have great Physical powers and an Iron constitution.” Anne got the strong fortune of the evening, “You will leave no stones unturned in your determination to reach the top.” Anne smiled and I was characteristic with my “Oh sure” remark. Then Darren said with complete sincerity and conviction, “That sounds like me!”
Who knows what destiny awaits this Caesar?
Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?
As we have always done, we have spent long hours on walks with our boys. The Indermill parade is revisited almost every night in the summer time. Walks these days include Tyler in the stroller and the other two boys in tow. Sometimes Darren and Bryce ride their “Big Wheels”; sometimes they are happy to just walk with us to explore and discover whatever treasures are there to find. I am afraid that they just aren’t busy enough when they are just walking though.
One day Tyler just wasn’t able to keep any food down. He could drink milk and juice, but solid foods just wouldn’t stay down. We thought at first that he was sick with some sort of odd childhood illness, but there was no fever, and he was not particularly ill tempered. We let this go a couple of days to see if there would be any natural improvement, but things did not change. Anne made an appointment with the pediatrician. With his cursory examination, he rather implied that we somehow didn’t know what we were doing and that this was probably because we were incompetent parents. Physicians always seem to resort to this patronizing mode when they don’t have concrete answers. The primary course of action to follow was to prescribe a smooth muscle relaxant and do nothing for a few more days and see if it didn’t clear up by itself.
Our second appointment three days later, we were a little more insistent that something was definitely wrong and that something had to be done to properly diagnose the problem. Tyler was scheduled for an upper GI Barium X-ray.
This was a big deal. Anne and I took off work to take Tyler to the hospital for this test. He drank the barium like it was the best tasting stuff, but by this time, after a week without solid food, he was hungry for anything and everything. The X-ray showed a foreign object stuck mid-way down his esophagus, a button. Not just any button, a four holer. Tyler was scheduled for immediate surgery.
We made arrangements for the other boys to be babysat across the street at home, and we settled in for the long wait at the hospital. They inserted an IV in the back of Tyler’s wrist and told us to keep him quiet for a couple of hours (like that was possible!) until they could arrange for an operating room. He was boisterous and wild and I thought for sure he was going to rip that needle out. We weren’t able to keep him calm, but at least that gave us focus to keep from thinking about what was up ahead.
They told us that surgery would be about 45 minutes long. We left the hospital for about twenty minutes after they took him away ostensibly to get something to eat. We had little appetite, the food was tasteless, and there was virtually no conversation. We got back to the waiting room and proceeded to do just that for another hour. 45 minutes is even tougher when it stretches to 90 minutes. Damn near forever when your baby is involved.
Finally, the doctor emerged and told us that everything had gone well and that Tyler was fine. I asked for the button, but the once again patronizing doctor was certain I just wanted to feed it to him again and would not let us have it. We did get a copy of the X-ray though.
At the other end of a very long day we finally got Tyler out of there, none the worse for wear. We collected our kids from the very helpful and understanding neighbors, and after feeding Tyler a little something, put our household to bed.
The next day we were talking to Darren and Bryce about Tyler’s experience, telling them what had happened and showed them the X-ray. As soon as he saw the picture, Bryce said, “Hey, that’s my button!”
“Where did you get that button Bryce?”
“On a walk,” he replied.
All of this makes for a fun childhood anecdote, but in point of fact, I could have bought a pretty good used car for what that button cost. The pediatrician, the X-rays, the surgeon, the anesthetist, the hospital and all its little worker bees cost about $2,200. The whole process took about 9 hours and we didn’t even get to keep the button.
Language and Lilliput
Tyler struggles with language. At least, that’s what his pediatrician thinks. He is concerned that Tyler is well past the age which his peers are vocalizing and verbalizing things. Tyler should be starting to speak. Anne and I haven’t noticed anything unusual except for the fact that he is a third child who has two older brothers who spend most of their time amusing and being amused by him. His hearing seems fine to us, but the doctor wants him tested. So we do. Tyler’s hearing is fine. Now the doctor is concerned about other developmental issues. I think he is off base again. If doctors would spend just a little time listening to their patients and their parents instead of assuming we are all incapable of existing from day to day without them we would all be better off.
Tyler is cared for by two big brothers. Bryce has all of Tyler’s basic needs worked out. Bryce has a keen ear and can hear, distinguish, and interpret Tyler’s various sounds. Apparently, these sounds constitute quite a vocabulary because, after a single grunt, Bryce can tell you that Tyler wants a specific stuffed animal that he left under his blanket in his bedroom. (“No, not that blanket, the other one,” says Bryce.) Tyler does not suffer any deficit in language skills; it is his English that causes the doctor consternation. Tyler suffers from nothing, but the lack of practice with English and the lack of needing it too, as long as Bryce is around.
At eighteen months many of Tyler’s cutest moments have faded into the collective memory of the household and nothing more specific. All parents have their stories to tell. Tyler is speaking well now. He is growing up too fast – that’s always the complaint isn’t it? He is so proud of what he can do and the jokes he can make. He was showing me how to jump the other day. “Watch, Daddy. Watch me!” as he squatted and then stood up as fast as he could. His feet never left the ground, but he had jumped and laughed.
Reading with Anne he found another way to make a joke. She pointed to an alligator, and he said bear. She pointed to a turtle and he said Alligator. He couldn’t do it with a straight face though and his reading was interrupted with wild laughter.
Bath time has become ritual time. Tyler must always be the last out of the tub. In fact, he must oversee its draining. He pushes the last drop over the edge of the drain and then calls for a towel. The towel must always be wrapped about him just so. He curls into a little ball on the floor and says to anyone suggesting otherwise that he is “getting warm.” He occasionally calls to have his feet re-wrapped. When he is finally warm, he will condescend to having his diapers put on -- but, not until he is warm.
The other day he took a nap on our bed. It was kind of a special occasion for him so he invited all of his plastic farm animals to nap with him. When we checked in on him later, there he slept, guarded by his barnyard menagerie, all standing patiently by on pillows and folds in the bedspread. It was as if Tyler had washed ashore in Lilliput.
A Three Year Old
Time is flying by. Tyler has really hit his stride the summer of his third year. He has grown about three or four inches. His legs dangle from his shorts like long strings. He is Bryce’s shadow and echo. Poor Bryce, wherever he is, wherever he goes, there is Tyler. If Bryce wants something, Tyler wants it too. They sleep in the same bed because Tyler thinks its fun and Bryce tolerates it well. Like an elephant parade, Tyler holds Bryce’s tail and follows him around.
Despite this heavy affinity for Bryce, Tyler can be fiercely independent. He knows what he wants and will try all the tricks to get it. He is most like Darren in the way he tests everybody to see just how much he can get away with.
The other night Tyler and I had an opportunity to spend some quality time with each other. The rest of the family had abandoned us to some big boy school function, so we just went for a walk. We walked the longest time, Tyler holding my hand and talking about flowers and lions and buses. He carried his pirate’s sword and playfully hacked at bushes along the way. We found some snap dragons at the shopping center and Tyler thought that they were pretty great and that Mom would like to have one. But, he made this one growl one too many times and it was pretty limp and sorry by the time we got it home.
Tyler’s favorite game now is “Slug Bug.” The first person to see a Volkswagon and shout “Slug Bug Blue!” – or whatever the color is – gets a point. Tyler is so concentrated and focused for so long it is hard to beat him. Darren can do it because he has the locations of all the local slug bugs memorized. Then he has the gall to say, “I didn’t know that one was there. I really saw it,” when it finally comes into view two minutes later. Tyler just laughs and giggles when he plays the game and gets a few good slug bugs. He is fun.
A New Experience: Cleaning the Bedroom
Because Bryce and Tyler share a room, room cleaning becomes a bit of a challenge. In fact, room cleaning seems to be Bryce’s greatest trial; sort of like piano practicing for Darren. Neither of them can bear to do either. Bryce is especially bad when it comes to his room. I would be frustrated too, if I were him.
Even if we manage to get Bryce to begin cleaning his room, of course, Tyler must participate. Tyler, however, is still unclear on the concept of cleaning. Bryce and Tyler can work for two hours and make so little progress that you can hardly tell they have accomplished anything. Part of the problem is that Bryce and Tyler both own so many things…little toy animals, marbles, Lego pieces – thousands of pieces, all less than one inch in diameter. (For every sock that gets lost there are at least four or five of these other little toys generated. I don’t know how this happens, but it certainly does.) These small toys get scattered into every corner of the room. The resulting mess looks almost insurmountable. It is easy to get discouraged when you pick up one bucketful after another and still can’t see the floor. And, perhaps this is the real key, for every box of toys that Bryce manages to pick up, Tyler manages to disperse another.
Finally, after days of pounding on these boys, we achieve a subtle balance between the way they like it and the way we want to see it. And that lasts an afternoon. Maybe more, but one cannot count on those five or six hours for a clear path to all four corners of their room. The half life of a clean room is measured in minutes, a dirty room in weeks.
Tyler is growing up. As much as we would like to keep him the way he is (or was yesterday, last week, or last year) he can’t help but grow and mature into his own person. I lament the fact that my baby is growing up, and yet celebrate his coming of age. As much as I try to memorize his “baby-ness” so I can play it back in my quiet moments, it gets confused with the subtle changes happening everyday. The memories are hard to catch.
A couple of weeks ago, just before his fourth birthday I had one of those experiences that let me know that Tyler was different, slightly older, slightly more independent. I can’t even describe what it was exactly. It was just a conversation, a simple exchange. It couldn’t have been more than a hundred words between the two of us. But in that conversation Tyler was definitely his own person. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he was growing up. It was a cold exchange as these assertions of independence usually are, but he was at the same time gentle about it. As soon as his point was made he allowed himself to become my little boy again. The rules had changed however, and he was dealing with me on different terms.
I am sure that there will be many more exchanges as Tyler grows and separates from us. Some will no doubt be more pleasant than others as we are finding with Darren.
The Loss of an Old Friend
In September of 1993, we lost a grand old friend. Chessy died while we were away for the day. She was 13 years old. I had taken her to the vet about a month ago because she had become listless and deaf and seemed quite at the end of her life. The vet examined her and pronounced that she was fit as can be expected for 96 years. The doctor also cleaned out her ears and Chessy was able to hear again for the first time in months. A new diet was prescribed and aspirin to help her arthritis. So I brought her home with renewed enthusiasm and Bryce and I dutifully fed her and cleaned her ears as I had been told to. She was always a little too big for Tyler’s comfort. Her youthful exuberance returned for a few days before fading again. The vet had treated her with such deference and respect. That example was a good one for me, so we continued to treat her with the respect she so richly deserved.
This last week she had really begun to deteriorate. Her back legs got stiffer and stiffer until she could hardly get around. Saturday she stopped trying to get up and dragged herself around to more comfortable positions. She couldn’t help but soil herself so I gave her a warm water bath to clean her up. She seemed grateful, if that’s possible.
Monday morning she got caught in the boy’s old scooter and she whimpered softly for help. I came out to rescue her and she was afraid. She pressed her nose against my hand, breathing steadily, but deeply and she pressed harder the more I massaged her cheek. She was afraid. There was a change coming. She may not have understood what was happening, but I think she knew.
We left the house for the afternoon and when we got back she was gone. I took her out to the side yard and wrapped her in plastic. Later when we told the kids, they wanted to see her, so we all filed out to pay our respects. Bryce and Darren petted her one final time. Tyler said that he didn’t want to see her anymore after he had taken a look.
Bryce was deeply saddened by her passing and his loss. He cried himself to sleep and woke up crying this morning. His teacher found him sad and alone outside his classroom perched against the wall. It was not an easy time. Tyler, missing her in his own way asked, “Now can we get another dog?” Darren didn’t have anything to say, but not having Chessy will be a great loss for us all.
A Character Portrait of an Eleven Year Old
Tyler is at that inconvenient age. I am not sure that there ever is a convenient age. At eleven, he is not quite independent. He still doesn’t mind holding hands in the parking lot, walking to and from the store. He enjoys having his parents around. He enjoys snuggling while watching TV. He wants to play with and do everything his older brothers do, but he’s not quite there yet. He searches for independence where it is easy to find. He can stay home with his brothers, but prefers day care, probably because they have Nintendo there.
He is tall and lanky. He is much bigger than his age. He looks older, but he’s not. He is occasionally coordinated, occasionally not, depending on the degree of growth spurt he’s working on. He eats like a horse. He loves steak. He can eat anyone under the table with a good steak. He is lazy. He does not like school. He does not like to do school work. He would prefer to do almost anything, but school. He doesn’t read well, nor does he like to practice it much. He is likable and generally well liked, but his teachers do not view him as a student. He always seems to be hiding some little toy or trinket that prevents him from devoting his full attention to the task at hand. Mrs. Wood, his fourth grade teacher, is always taking some object away from him. It doesn’t help much that there are so many things and so little time.
On the other hand, Tyler is a very simple person. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. While he occasionally whines with all the musicality of a cat with its tail caught under a tire, he is a happy boy, almost all the time. He moves on easily from setbacks and never draws a face with a frown. He is not known to hold a grudge. He quietly deals with his problem and then comes back out into the real world to move on. That is a trait that will serve him well in his later life. Above all, Tyler seems content.
We only had one rule in our house for the kids --along with all the other rules, of course. Each of them had to play a musical instrument for at least one year. Darren played the cello through high school. Bryce played viola, flute and finally settled on saxophone through college. Tyler was a challenge though. The woodwinds and brass started in the fifth grade. Tyler resisted this rule for as long as he could. Finally he declared, after the starting weeks of fifth grade that he was going to play the trumpet. That it was the easiest instrument because it only had three buttons. We were amused by this approach to instrument selection, but rented him a trumpet to learn on. After a couple of weeks, his music teacher took him aside and told him earnestly, “Tyler, you really have trombone lips.” That was okay with Tyler because he went from three buttons down to none. Sometimes, life really can be that simple.
The Real Beginning
So this is how it’s supposed to work. We are born, we live, we procreate and then we leave the world to our progeny. Damn, I hope I’ve done it the right way.
This is a book about beginnings and I will leave the children to tell their own stories. My time was a generation ago, 30 years past. Occasionally, when I wander out to get the paper on a Saturday morning, there will be a smell in the air that reminds me of those 25 years ago, when the summer sun shown brightly on a freshly mowed lawn and I left the house barefoot and carefree for a day of neighborhood adventures.
It was at a simple white stucco house at 30 Cypress Street in Bakersfield, California; that’s where my life really began. My earliest memories stem from that address. That was the house to which I was brought home from the hospital. I don’t remember that of course, but all the shaping of my formative years occurred there in that house.
Built in the mid forties, and celebrating the newfound prosperity of the post war era, it was a tract house indigenous to the time and place. It was Modern Suburbia. There was a “Super” market just across the alley from the houses on the other side of the street that claimed the title “Super” because it was many times larger than the inner city grocery store of earlier days. It was one of the first of the one stop shopping stores that Wal-Mart perfected some thirty years later. It was super because it had its own butcher shop, its own delicatessen, its own fresh produce, a wider selection of soaps, cereals, cake mixes, toys and anything else you could think of. It had hard goods that you used to have to go to the hardware store for. It had wide isles and large shopping carts so you could buy a whole week’s worth of groceries at one time. Even when they were new, the shopping carts didn’t have straight wheels.
There was a Five and Dime, actually Eggleston’s Variety Store, at the end of our street. This was a relatively new addition to the neighborhood and I vaguely remember there was an empty lot that used to be in its place, but I was certainly too young to have a direct memory of it. “Five and Dime” was an expression that was popularly applied to the chain variety stores established in the early 1900’s that dotted the Main streets of almost every sizeable town in America. Woolworth’s and Kress are two that were still viable when I was a boy. Woolworth’s had a diner counter in the store that you could belly up to for a cup of coffee or a hotdog. For a long time, it was considered the largest restaurant chain in the United States, until it was overtaken by McDonalds. I remember that you could buy popcorn at the Kress. The Kress was where Santa found my teddy bear one year. (The reason I know he got it at the Kress is because I saw it there first when I was on a shopping trip with Mom.) Eggleston’s was of this ilk, less the foodstuffs. You could buy a Bazooka Joe Bubble gum with a comic wrapper for a penny. “The Biggest Nickel Candy Bar” in the world was a “Three Musketeers Bar.” It was only a nickel and you couldn’t eat it in one bite. It was big enough to spend some time on.
Our house was similar to nearly all of the houses in the neighborhood. The basic model that we all shared was about a 1200 square foot, one bath, two or three bedroom house -- depending on the model, on a quarter acre lot. The developers didn’t even bother to flip the floor plans occasionally for variety. All the houses were laid out exactly the same. Modern Suburbia, indeed.
The house changed over the years. My Dad got rid of those French doors and turned that dining room into my bedroom, we added a family room and another bathroom, a detached two car garage (that only once in the twenty five years of our ownership held an automobile), wall to wall carpeting, an automatic sprinkler system, a whole house air conditioner, new Kitchen makeover, new flooring, new roof, paint, cabinets, and cement patio in the back. We were upwardly mobile, and in those days that meant you fixed up your house. Today, it means you just buy newer and bigger houses. Society has become much more transitory in so many ways.
The neighborhood changed over the years too. For some reason, the neighbors on our side of the street stayed pretty much the same. There was Sammy next door to the south, whose dad was a big man and president of the Chamber of Commerce. He organized a petition drive one year and got the city to put in sidewalks in our neighborhood. Harvey and Bessie, next door to the north, had moved in from Arkansas. Harvey was a fisherman and liked to raise worms in his front yard. His front yard didn’t look any different from anybody else’s front yard, but every once and awhile before a fishing trip, Harvey would stick an electric prod in the ground and collect worms as they popped up. Next door to them was the sign painter. I don’t remember his name, but his daughter was Janine and though she was 8 or 9 years older than I was, I couldn’t see age getting in the way of romance. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see the practicality of it and love never blossomed. Next door to them were the MacDonald’s. Doug was my age and he had two older brothers and eventually a younger sister. His dad was a principal at some school somewhere and for such a smart man could never manage to stay clear of our dog. The Almgren’s – Johnny was my best friend on the block, the Kurtz, and the Bruns rounded out the neighborhood.
I haven’t kept in contact with anybody from this neighborhood. My parents have run across some of the kids from time to time. One of these neighbor kids achieved fame. My boyhood friend, little Johnny grew up to be CJ Almgren. CJ – short for California John -- was keyboardist extraordinaire for gospel quartet groups. His work has been recorded on several CD’s and he has performed with several notable groups. He moved to Nashville and made a living out of music. Perhaps the most famous of the groups he played with was JD Sumner and The Stamps who’s greatest claim to fame was backing up Elvis Presley. I don’t know if CJ was with them then, but hey, that’s closer than anybody else I knew got to Elvis.
Robin Bruns (Rodgers), the second daughter at the Bruns household, also achieved notoriety, if not exactly fame, in a newsworthy event that got wide national play in the media. She was a professor of nursing in Tucson at the University of Arizona. She had a male student who was suffering from depression and a deep seated inferiority complex, who couldn’t reconcile his own lack of social ability in the “womanly” world of nursing. He felt like an outcast and misfit. He was absolutely right on all counts, as evidenced by the 23 page letter he wrote to the editor at the Arizona Daily Star that was delivered by post right after he went to the school and shot Robin, and another instructor quite dead before turning the gun on himself.
Come to think of it, that Bruns family got more press than any one family deserves without actually trying. Much later when I had my own business I used to read the Wall Street Journal with regularity imagining myself opining some weighty subject in print. One morning, in the center column, above the fold, was a picture, drawn in the inimitable style of pen and ink for which the Wall Street Journal was known at the time, of Leonard Bruns, Robin’s father. I was dismayed. I had been writing occasional articles and presenting at conferences, in hopes of catching a falling star, or a ride to the “big time”, but never got close. Here was Leonard who’s only claim to fame was buying a tour ticket to see baseball being played in all the major league baseball parks in a single summer. There were fifteen or twenty others on this tour, but here was Leonard on Page One, telling his story to some reporter about wanting to see baseball stadiums and being featured in “The” Wall Street Journal. Damn.
In addition to enduring the humanly disasters that fall within our circle of experiences, our houses must endure physical ones as well. There was a very large earthquake in the Tehachapi’s in July of 1952. It was before I was born, but after our family had begun to settle in. Kathy had the one bedroom all to herself. My Dad tells of Kathy’s crib skittering across the hardwood floors during that quake. These houses were surprisingly resilient in the face of God’s wrath and this one suffered no damage. But, I’m sure that this incident planted the seed of vulnerability that later manifested itself in my mother’s rather self-serving landscaping ideas.
We had a huge eucalyptus tree in the front yard at the street. It was pretty good for climbing for a three or four year old because the first fork happened at about ground level. So I could get all the fun out of tree climbing without all the height. This tree caused my mother much consternation because it behaved just like a normal eucalyptus tree and shed bark, leaves, eucalyptus corns, and occasional branches. When the wind blew, Mom was afraid the tree was going to blow over on the house. She made my dad dig it up. He replaced that tree with three Modesto Ashes that he distributed across the front lawn. They became huge, but stable shade trees that provided great piles of leaves every fall.
Trees are just one signature of homeowners. Everyone who owns a house does something with it to make it their own. Inside walls get painted newer and more modern colors, shelving gets put up, carpeting put down, overhead light fixtures get changed, pictures are framed and placed in decorative places. Owners knock out walls and cut in windows. Curtains, drapes, furniture is acquired, and overtime the house begins to take on a unique feel that reflects its inhabitants. In addition, we built rooms, garages, and bathrooms.
We were not our house’s first owners. The people who had lived there briefly before we came to own it left us that big eucalyptus tree in the front and a patio in the back with monkey prints permanently impressed into the cement. I don’t know if these people owned the monkey, or what kind of monkey it was, but those most certainly were monkey prints. They were a constant source of curiosity and amusement to the neighbor kids. And later, when we ripped out all the old cement to create our own patio, it was sad to see those prints go away. We did our best to erase the legacy of owners past and to create anew, as I am sure subsequent owners have done.
Another signature of the previous owner was a box that I found in the back of my closet. It was a box filled with army uniforms. Apparently, the earlier inhabitant had embraced the patriotism and fervor of the nation in the aftermath of the Great War (World War II) and had served his country. Perhaps he was drafted. I have no idea of the man’s state of mind regarding his service, but he was willing to leave years of his life behind with that box and move forward with one less piece of baggage. I guess he had taken the figurative monkey off his back and replaced it with a real one.
To us kids, that box was a wonderful find, a treasure trove of props for make believe and artifacts of times that were foreign to us, but made familiar by the shows we saw on TV. By the time I came along, the country had had five or six years of bursting prosperity that had made the war seem far away. The reminders were everywhere and everywhere ignored by the common pace of life. I remember seeing pictures of men in uniform hung in my friends’ homes, but they were only vaguely recognizable as their fathers. Sammy’s dad was in one of those pictures, thin and tall and handsome standing in front of an airplane. With his flying leathers and dashing scarf, his picture was taken sometime during the war. The man I knew was about three hundred pounds and couldn’t have fit into one of those planes. Proud signatures we leave behind.
Although we have managed to erase any reminder of our predecessor with his tree, monkey, and the Army uniforms, I’m sure the house at 30 Cypress Street would echo still with the noises, hustle and bustle of raising a family. For that is what surely happened there. And, even though we no longer occupy it, it was made for people like us and our neighbors, who started with little and grew into, and oftentimes, right out of houses just like this one. It is still standing. There will never be a plaque on it to indicate my passing, nor should there be. It is a house made for beginnings.
Our neighborhood was about a mile square consisting of straight streets and rows of similar houses. Thanks to the efforts of Sammy’s dad most of these streets had sidewalks. There weren’t the CC&Rs (Codes, Covenants, & Restrictions) of the neighborhoods today, where all the streets turn and twist back on themselves and the communities are walled and sometimes gated, and all the houses must conform to color codes and landscaping rules. No, our neighborhood was open to the world and we could paint our house any color we pleased. Most neighbors were sensible and painted their houses in sensible browns, grays, whites, greens, or subtle blues. The McDonalds were exceptions to this sensible attitude and their house was bright, almost chartreuse green.
The streets all had alleys behind them that were utilitarian for trash removal and kid play. That left the fronts of the houses facing the street without the necessity of driveways. All the houses had cement walkways leading up to the front steps. These walkways were uniform for the most part (ours was the exception; it was flagstone) and evenly spaced between the houses. They made great natural boundaries for kickball, football, catch, and other ball games. One of the greatest games we invented for wasting time in the long days of summer was using a golf ball and seeing if we couldn’t bounce it from walkway to walkway. It can be done when you get big enough.
The one exception to the walkway boundary was the Bruns household. Leonard built a two rail fence between his property and the slovenly Kurtz house. He didn’t use it to train roses, or any kind of plant boundary. He just wanted everyone to know that the mess stopped there. Kathy and I thought that this fence was great fun. We waited for windy fall days and stood as long as we could on the posts. The contest was of course to see who would be blown off first. I’m sure I lost every time. Kathy not only had the advantage of age and balance, but she could stay focused longer than I could.
The Bruns yard was the center of activity for a time. But, that center moved up and down the street depending on who was outside and what games were being played, or who had the most butterflies, or the biggest pile of leaves, or unoccupied fence posts. At the Bruns’ we played freeze tag and Red Rover, Red Rover, and jumped rope with Joanne, the oldest daughter Kathy’s age, and Robin. We spent hours of the idyll days after pre-school (it was called nursery school in those days) and long summer afternoons romping careless and free.
Our parents weren’t so concerned about the safety of their children then. Kids could play outside without the parental fear of drive by shootings, kidnappings, pederasts, and the assorted deviants that are so gloriously portrayed in the news today. Studies have shown that crime is not nearly as out of hand as the news media would have us all believe. In fact, per capita crime is down today from 50 years ago, but the press is more agile in their news gathering and less discriminating in their reporting. What crimes there are all seem to be sensationalized and multiplied by the hourly murders we see on TV shows. Nowadays, people die at the rate of about 30 per night on network TV shows. Of course, TV actors are expendable and may spring to life in movies or other TV shows later in the week, but we get so wrapped up in our dramas that we scarcely notice. In the mean time we all get desensitized to the constant barrage of mayhem and death. What it means for our society is still unclear.
The 1950’s were a more simple time. We played in the front yard. We were not fearful as kids, except for the bullies and the big kids that preyed on the younger, but that was just a part of life and not worth a mention, let alone the legal action that has become the norm for today. We rode our bikes to school -- even as young first and second graders. Our parents were not fearful to let us play until long into the twilight of endless summer nights. We rode our bikes everywhere and were gone from the house, largely unsupervised, for hours on end. We knew where the boundaries were (primarily the big streets) and stayed within them. We listened to our stomachs and the call of our mothers as they stood on the front steps shouting our names for dinner. Boogie men were largely confined to our closets after the lights were turned out. Real criminals had their pictures posted on the post office walls and that’s where they stayed.
Television in the late fifties was black and white. In the early TV sets, the picture was rounded and displayed on a round “picture” tube. As the TVs got better the picture got squarer. The Tubes got flatter. (Eventually, by 2005, the tube disappeared altogether.) We had an antenna on the roof and we didn’t have cable, dishes, satellites, or computers. Those things just didn’t exist. We got three local stations that were affiliated with NBC, CBS, and ABC. The picture was often snowy, and if the station didn’t come in clearly, you could always play cards or a board game instead. We played Monopoly, Piggly Wiggly, Candyland, and Chutes and Ladders. Of those, I think Monopoly is the only one that survives today. We played endless hours of Crazy Eights (Uno today) or War with as many decks of cards as we could find. How fickle are our tastes in entertainment.
The early shows were mostly some sort of variety or game show, and the movies were mostly westerns. Programming evolved from the simple to the dramatic and the rich tapestry of radio dramas that were prevalent in the thirties and forties were recreated in living pictures on television in the fifties. Television tried to teach us how to live. It was filled with examples of clean living and happy endings.
Kathy and I were full fledged, card carrying members of the original Mickey Mouse Club. I still have my membership card and it’s probably worth a few hundred dollars on EBay. We watched the “Mousekateer” kids grow up on TV as we grew ourselves. They were just a few years older than we were, but they were still kids. They did promotional tours and some of them came to our Super Market across the street. I got Jimmy and Roy’s (the club leaders) autographs. Walt Disney was still alive and personally introduced the “Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday night. Disney product was everywhere; Saturday morning cartoons, the Saturday afternoon episodes of “Zorro,” or “Davy Crockett,” weekday episodes of the “Mickey Mouse Club,” and the Sunday night show. We also saw film reels in school of “Nature’s Half Acre,” and “The Blue Danube,” nature documentaries that Disney produced. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that ol’ Walt shaped a generation. To comprehend just how pervasive Disney was just ask any male who is my age about Annette. They’ll know who I’m talking about and they will smile.
For about 2 decades, westerns were the standard dramatic fare on TV. There were 89 western shows introduced in the 1950’s, another 25 debuted in the 60’s. One of them, “Gunsmoke” stayed on the air for 20 years. Disney produced about 4 of them. Most of these shows ran for 30 minutes once a week. Some of them were an hour long. In an era where programming was limited to an eighteen hour broadcast day, and a full three hours of that was devoted entirely to either local or national news, this was a tremendous and pervasive influence. We all had cowboy guns and cowboy hats and tin sheriffs’ badges and broomstick horses. I even had a pair of leather chaps. We re-created the best western shoot outs out in the front yard.
In the late fifties and early sixties, the westerns gave way in popular movie making for war movies. This was a reflection of a more common and more recent experience. We as a society embraced our glorified performance in the war and glorified it even further. Television stayed remarkably the same with its western faire and shows that reflected the idyllic American “car in every garage, chicken in every pot” experience and ignored the world at large. The Nelson family with Ozzie, Harriett, Dave and Ricky, the “Donna Reed Show,” the “Andy Griffith Show,” “Bachelor Father,” “My Three Sons,” and “Leave it to Beaver” were shows of the quintessential American families solving petty everyday problems with wisdom, humor and wit. I don’t think anyone ever died in these shows. Nobody was poor. Nobody ever got fired. (In fact, Ozzie Nelson never even had a job to get fired from.) Nobody ever got hurt, except for the proverbial black eye that looked made up and was meant only to teach a morality lesson. The men all wore ties. None of the women worked outside the home and they all did house work in dresses and pearls. It was great to be us.
Television Stations did not broadcast from 12pm to 6am. They simply didn’t have the volume of material to broadcast for more hours. If they did, it was usually a test pattern. I believe that the test pattern is now a lost art form. It was a pattern of horizontal and vertical lines that were drawn in such a way to indicate clarity of signal for the TV set. I could never quite figure out what the point was. It seemed to me that you could either see it or not. It was either clear or snowy, but it was never fuzzily out of focus. Each station had its own test pattern and was proud to be able to display it. I suppose that they used it to focus their own cameras, but why they let us in on that little backroom trivia is entirely up for somebody else’s discussion. I mention it here exactly because it is trivial, but it’s what I remember.
In 1955 the biggest song on the radio was Fess Parker’s ballad “Davy Crockett.” Radio consisted only of AM stations and was not yet broadcast in stereo. FM was a few years off. That “Davy Crockett” song was probably the last symbol of pure American innocence –at least as far as radio was concerned. While Television seemed to lag behind in thought and prudishness, radio blazed new ground. Radio experimented far more than television did and was far more progressive as a result. Elvis Presley released his very first hit in 1955 and radio, the country, and the sound of music changed forever.
Being three, I was oblivious to all this change. It was all just a part of everyday. I played cowboys and Indians. I went with Mom whenever she went anywhere. I remember going with Mom to the Slim Salon where she went with other mothers and I got locked in a cage for kids. I was just tall enough and clever enough to figure out how to reach the latch and get out when the other kids got too boring. That never made Mom happy. I remember two pieces of equipment they used in this place: one was a device that had a strap that you positioned around your hips and it made you shake. The other was a large drum with large wooden dowels around the outside. This drum was parallel to the ground and rotated. As it turned, you sidled up against it and it magically melted the pounds away. I don’t know what good either of these machines did except to help separate the patrons from their extra dollars.
I remember getting lost in the JC Penney’s Store and standing near the door crying until Mom found me. I remember thinking that it looked silly to put your hands on your hips unless you were five years old so I didn’t do it. I remember my father and his knots. I remember closing all the hallway doors and lying on the carpet under the swamp cooler; not because it was hot, but because it was neat. I remember our dog Princess liked to play tetherball all by herself. (But, she snapped at people and we had to get rid of her.) I remember that the elevator in Penney’s needed an operator to pull the levers and open the doors. I remember that the doctor said I had flat feet and that I had to wear hard leather shoes that were stupid. I also never had enough skin on my bones to get a shot in the arm…always in the butt. I remember crying the first day of kindergarten. So much so, that the school had to go retrieve my sister to comfort me. I remember doing the same thing in Sunday school. I stayed in the beginner’s class until everyone had moved along to the second grade. I remember learning to ride my two wheeler bicycle and not knowing how to stop it so I ran it into a curb after I slowed it down as much as I could. I remember waiting for my dad to come home from work and riding down the alley in the back of his pick up truck. I remember countless hours of tag and hide and go seek. I remember fighting with Kathy, which served as a good model for her teen years. I remember that Sammy’s mom had an old wringer washing machine. (This was a washing machine before the age of the spin cycle where you took the clothes out of the tub and ran them through two rubber rollers that squeezed out the excess water.) I remember that everyone dried their clothes on a clothes line in their backyard.
I remember that in kindergarten Denise was the tallest person in the class. I remember Mrs. Goodno was my teacher. She had a class mother, a teacher’s helper, who was Mexican and tried to teach us Spanish. That was good practice for when they tried to teach me Spanish in Junior High School; which was good practice for when they tried to teach me Spanish in High School; which was good practice for when I really tried to learn Spanish in college. Each to no avail. All this good practice amounted to my absolute and self-assured devotion to a single language that after all these years I still have difficulty with. And, that would be English.
I remember endless hours of tag, kickball, board games, and bicycles. I remember chasing butterflies and stepping on bees. That is until one fateful summer day when I went visiting one of the neighbors. They had a tree with a wasp nest in it and the guys were throwing pebbles at it. They were lousy at it. I knew I could hit that nest so I picked up a rolled up newspaper and smacked it dead on. We all scattered. I was part way down the alley before a wasp caught up and stung me in the back of the neck. That was a painful, but relatively cheap lesson, given the circumstances. I developed a healthy phobia of wasps. This was not the last time I was stung, but at least I learned what to expect. And to this day Anne is thoroughly amused by my antics in trying to rid the eaves of the occasional wasp nest.
When we weren’t on our bicycles, we were roller skating up and down the sidewalk on our skates. These were four wheeled devices that clamped onto our regular shoes with the help of a “Skate Key.” I could make right turns OK, but turning to the left was much harder. When we had outgrown these skates, we disassembled them and had Dad screw the wheels onto the bottom of an iron shaped board and thus we had a “skateboard.” They were nothing like the hi-tech fiberglass, super graphic, low friction skateboards of 50 years later, but they were all we had. Nobody thought they could make a living being a professional skateboarder. They were right then. Now they can make over $100,000 a year.
My elementary school was named Roosevelt; after Teddy, not Franklin. We were the “Rough Riders.” I progressed through the grades looking over the heads of most of my classmates. I had a crush on Terry Mull in the second grade that was sufficiently unsatisfying to deter further social adventures for a long time. Things sort of evened out in the fifth and sixth grade. I always had a much better impression of how athletic, how musical, how personable I was than everybody else did, but I didn’t notice much. I ran for class president when I was in the sixth grade. I didn’t win. I didn’t feel too badly about not winning because the most popular kid in school won and I wasn’t him. I gave my first ever speech in front of the entire student body. I memorized it and didn’t forget any of my lines. I may not have been any good at it, but at least I was willing to go through with my candidacy…such as it was. It was an awful speech, but there weren’t a lot of fifth or sixth graders who were even willing to do something like that. That much I knew. But, like my Terry Mull experience, I was not prompted to again try making a run for public office.
Elementary school was a pain because Kathy had gone through first blazing the way with her good grades and good study habits and likeable public school personality. The teachers all knew who I was before the first day of class and almost all of them made some cute remark about the fact that I was Kathy’s brother. Geeze. I guess Anne had the same issue, except her brother Larry was smart-alecky and Anne was a little princess in comparison. The world always turns in the same direction. We just happened to be standing in different places.
While I was in Elementary School, I remember being surprised that Dwight Eisenhower was not going to be our President forever. It just seemed like it. He was in office from 1952 to 1960, the only President I had ever known about. Hawaii and Alaska became states in 1959 and that prompted a whole commotion around the flag and its number of stars. The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance and we said it every morning as part of our patriotic ritual. We learned to Stop, Drop and Roll in response to catching on fire, and to “Duck and Cover” in response to an Atomic Bomb. Communism was our greatest enemy. The Cold War was heating up.
The first time I was aware of any world event outside my small circle of home, play, and school, was a headline in our local paper, “Cuban Missile Crisis.” I didn’t understand the article, but I remember the headline and the aerial photographs. I don’t know why it stuck with me, but it has. At the beginning of the sixth grade, President Kennedy was shot. Our teacher was notified by the office and turned on the radio for all of us to listen. I remember Mr. C (short for Chicklennis) sitting on the counter crying as we listened. For the next few days TV was pretty boring. Saturday morning cartoons were replaced with a riderless horse, a caisson, and pictures of little John John saluting. Kennedy’s funeral seemed endless. By the time Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald a few weeks later TV had become pretty interesting again.
I went to Emerson Junior High. It was almost a mile beyond the elementary school and I rode my bike everyday. I was befriended by Elroy, a black kid who liked me for some inexplicable reason. Elroy helped me maneuver through the social morass of the junior high school pecking order. There was some racial tension in 1964 that was slowly festering across the country, finally coming to a head in 1968. But in junior high in California, it mostly manifested itself in clumps of kids that were mostly white or mostly black that congregated during recess. Emerson was about half of both. There were no gangs that I ran into, no race on race violence. The fights that did happen usually were because somebody was just being stupid to somebody else. Elroy kept me from being stupid to anybody and those anybodies from being stupid to me. When there was a fight, the rest of us just stood around and watched. There was no inclination to help the looser or the winner or try to change the outcome. Nobody carried knives or guns, or even thought of using them in a fight. Fights were “manly” things. And when the teachers pulled the contestants apart and they were thoroughly constrained, that’s when their chests puffed out and they started to really throw punches. All for show.
We didn’t have many girl fights, but they were very entertaining to watch. Girls and Guys fight for different reasons. Guys fight to determine the top dog – to better their opponent by physically beating them, or (in junior high) making them cry. Girls fight to embarrass their opponent. They muss hair. They rip clothes. They yell at each other about how ugly their clothes are. Embarrassment is the key. If one girl could get the other down on the ground and have her expose her training bra or flash her underwear - that was a victory. Girl fights were just fun. I’m sure the participants didn’t think so, but they weren’t thinking very clearly anyway.
Academically, junior high was a nightmare. I learned everything I was supposed to, but usually right after the tests. Fortunately, the state had a system of standardized testing that assessed general knowledge and intelligence. I managed to perform fairly well on these and that kept me moving along in the public school system.
High school for most was a coming of age sort of experience. For me, it was just high school. I lettered in band. Who letters in band? I had lots of the same wonderful, growing up kinds of experiences that everybody had. And, I am sure I remember them with all the clarity that 30 years worth of memories obscure.
I started playing the saxophone in the 5th grade. I played in the band and orchestra in elementary and junior high schools. I played in the Band in high school. All of my friends played an instrument. I was terrible most of that time. Oh, I thought I was pretty good, but in reality I made really horrible noises. I finally began to take private lessons when I was a junior in high school, and used the summer between junior and senior years to actually practice an hour or more a day. I went from my proverbial last chair to first chair as a senior…and that wasn’t because everybody good had graduated. I felt as though I could have been great if I only could have kept up that practice schedule for another couple of months, but when school started again, I sloughed off. I did manage to keep my chair the whole year though.
My first car was a 1961 baby blue Mercury Comet with “three on the tree.” It wasn’t glamorous or powerful, but it was transportation. I owe my drivers license to Darrell Goff who couldn’t have cared less. He was two years older and first chair sax. He was an extraordinary sax player. The rest of us joked that he used to sleep with that sax. Other than his musical talent he was kind of a ne’er-do-well kid. Except that he won some sort of driving contest that the police department put on. I thought to myself as I prepared to take my driving test, that if Darrell could do it, it couldn’t be that hard. With Darrell serving as my inspiration, I passed the test on the first try.
Viet Nam was festering off in the distance, but not very real to me as a freshman or sophomore. The American south had half awakened to the injustice and foolishness of its “separate, but equal” policies and was in absolute turmoil. Martin Luther King was stomping the country preaching non-violence and equality. My friends were Hispanic, Chinese, white and black (mostly disenfranchised and unaware like me) and I had a little trouble identifying with the country’s current racial difficulties. One late morning in early April, 1968, I walked out of my geometry class and headed toward the Music building. As I rounded the corner of my building I noticed the glint of sun off of something on the roof across the street. I noticed, too, that there were police cars parked at the curb. The activity on the roof was policeman with a shotgun. There were others on the other buildings. As I made my way across campus the scene began to open up. The quad was filled with the school’s black population and they were protesting something to the administration. I was late for band.
Martin Luther King had been assassinated the night before. There was much unrest in the country. There were a lot of people congregating where I usually ate lunch, and I was oblivious to a world filled with social injustice. There were far too many people and far too many guns for my liking. I could intellectualize the plight of the oppressed, but there didn’t seem to be much oppression to witness first hand. Of course, I was white, young, ignorant, innocuous and hardly ever ventured into social situations where racism was present. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, I just wasn’t exposed to it or wasn’t aware of it – one or the other, but probably the latter. That’s about as close as I came to identifying with Dr. King’s cause.
Viet Nam was a different story. There were a few upperclassmen that graduated high school and enlisted. When they came back on leave, they would sometimes drop by the high school and show up in the classes of their favorite teachers with their new muscles covered by uniforms and a worldliness that had replaced the innocent look of the high school student they were the year before. These were always troubling visits for me. Invariably, in band the conductor would drag out “Born Free” or a Souza march and make us perform for the visitor. That, I thought was sappy, but whatever was making those young men go away also made them come back changed. They didn’t have time for what was left of their youth. As for me, I didn’t want to change. In fact, I often credit marching band for keeping me out of the army. I had had enough discipline in marching band to never want to see that kind of discipline again. The military was not going to be survivable to me for that reason alone. I was not comfortable when I registered for the draft – for lots of reasons.
While I was in high school the mood of the country was testy. Viet Nam, race riots, the Cold War, general social unrest, hippies with their call for peace, the Chicago Seven with their call for change, Gary Powers getting shot down over Russia while spying, the Birmingham Church bombing, Martin Luther King, Jr. , Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, all set the stage for my growing up. The decade was ushered in with Kennedy and his Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both of which set the country on its edge. His assignation tipped it further. Lyndon Johnson coined us “the Great Society” and signed into law sweeping Civil Rights legislation because it was the right thing to do. He also drew us deeper and deeper into the quagmire that was Viet Nam which was not.
Teddy Kennedy the youngest and sole remaining brother of the clan, after Robert too was assassinated, was the last hope for “Camelot.” He got drunk in 1969 and drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, which would not have been that bad had not a young woman, his passenger (and not his wife), died in the accident. Teddy failed to report it until he had sobered up. With Mary Jo Kopechne, his hopes for the presidency died.
The Beatles made their debut on the pop music charts in 1962 with innocent love songs, but they were a perfect reflection of the times and had completely embraced and symbolized the drug induced culture with their Sgt. Pepper Album in 1968. Woodstock was the background for the young social movements afoot and seemed to symbolize a generation of youthful disobedience to what had been the social norms that television in the 50’s tried to portray. Woodstock was the call to change and was the perfect setup to the social affectations of the early seventies. Hair that had been long in the late sixties just got longer in the early 70’s.
The country was deeply divided along several axes. The civil rights problems would not be quieted. Blacks and other minorities were still being oppressed and discriminated against. The courts were clogged with crime born of racism. The youth that chose to fight in Viet Nam was denigrated by the youth that chose not too, even though most soldiers were victims of the draft and bewildered by the lack of acceptance at home. Military service that had been such a source of pride only two decades earlier had lost its sheen to a patina of governmental shame, corruption, and ineptitude that would not be washed away. Democrats lost the White House to the Republicans once again when Richard Nixon was elected on a wave of change and secret fixes for the country’s ills. He was no better and no less corrupt than the status quo and there were more riots of protest.
I hid behind my student deferment and went to college. At the end of my first school year, we were all shocked to read of the deaths of four Kent State students in May, 1970. Shot by the National Guard which was called out to quell the unruly at this Ohio University. These were my contemporaries, who by all accounts were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no reason for their deaths. It’s not that they were just like me, they were any and all of us, and it shook the country to its very core. “But, for the grace of God, go I.” These were the times of my youth. This was the mood of the country in my years of growing in mind and stature.
These were the events that shaped a generation. We witnessed the coming of age of not just ourselves, but the country itself passed out of adolescence, or so it seemed. The war in Viet Nam just would not go away and for the 58,000 young men who died there and all of their families it left a sad signature of a passing generation.
I now knew how the man who owned our house had felt when he was willing to leave years of his life behind with that box and move forward with one less piece of baggage. He had indeed taken the monkey off his back and placed it squarely on the shoulders of those yet to come.
Did you ever have a moment of clarity? One of those single defining moments when your perspective, vision and realization of what you were really about bloomed before your eyes. Not in retrospect, mind you -- we all have those 20/20 hindsight moments -- but a single, crystallizing thought that suddenly makes everything about you make sense? I had one of those moments. The journey from that moment to this is what this is all about. Strung together as beads, these stories tell of my beginning and the beginnings of mine.
We are born, we live, and we die. It is as simple as that. In the United States, that takes, on average, about 77 years. In those 77 years we all have a lot of common experiences that I have tried to recognize when they touched my own life. It is on these common experiences that I have given you my perspective and tried to give this book some palatability. It is important to capture these thoughts while we have them because, in 100 years; all new people! They will have their own common experiences that are likely to be far different than these.
Four little letters: A N N E. This whole book is about her. Lest there be any doubt, my life did begin when I met her and anything I have said, done, or accomplished since is as much her responsibility as my own. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her for wanting to sacrifice her life to be a part of mine. Ever to her credit, she doesn’t view it as a sacrifice at all. You cannot know how special I feel to be a part of her life.
Anne and I have had remarkably stable and pain free lives. Our children are all healthy and capable young men. Both our parents are healthy and vital at this writing. We have survived our ups and downs, but I have to say that our relationship with each other and with our kids just gets better everyday. This is no small statement, and I don’t make it lightly. There are more than enough examples of bad marriages and broken relationships out there in the real world to give anyone pause who is just starting out. This book is a mute testament to the fact that with just a little work and the love and support of those around us, it can and does work.
I hold forth on the “tincture of time” theory. A lifetime of relationships can’t be undone in less time than they took to build. When we lose those relationships, whether it is through a death, a move, an argument, neglect, simply growing up, or the recognition of some philosophical incompatibility, there is still pain and emptiness to be overcome. It is said that time heals all wounds. While it perhaps is not possible to “relish” our moments of grief, however fleeting, or however persistent, they are as much a part of life as any of the rest of it, and building blocks for tomorrow. Embrace that grief. Sadness is not to be discounted just because it is not the fun part of life, nor discouraged because it hurts, nor disparaged because it takes the enjoyment out of now. It is what it is. It is our seas of despair that make the mountains of our lives majestic; from their tops we see the significance of our past and magnificence of our future. If you are as fortunate as I am, you’ll get to share that view with your family.
The story of my life is (hopefully) far from finished. There is a lot of life left, and I intend to live up my entire allotment. The book could be longer. It could be more complete. I could have remembered more, or left all the boring stuff in. If I were a better writer maybe you wouldn’t notice. But, then again, I really would have to be the “second greatest American novelist” to pull that off. I have tried to keep it interesting, contextual, and to a large extent universal. Admittedly there are large gaps in time and I have refrained from writing too much about my kids. They will have their own stories to tell.
© 2006 Mark Indermill - All Rights Reserved