Monday, July 26, 2010

Moving Day and Midnight Cat Adventures

            Celia walked into her room and cried out, “All gone! All gone!”
            My friend Will smiled and I tried my best at consoling her. “This is what we told you about. All our stuff is being packed up for our move. All your stuff will be with you in Montana.”
            She ran around the empty room exploring every empty corner, as if somehow she might discover some small reminder that this used to be her room. “All gone!”
            I felt bad for Celia. I knew it would be a difficult move for her, and I expected her to have some transition stress both leaving and arriving. But from the very beginning, something told me I needed to be most concerned about the cat.
            On Saturday two dozen of our closest friends showed up and began moving furniture and boxes out to the U-Haul truck. It was a sweaty day, and the two dozen beers I’d bought disappeared by lunch time.
            Amidst all the chaos, our poor little cat Felix was desperately looking for somewhere to be secure, and ran right into the street as a bicyclist was speeding past.
            Thump!
            Felix darted away and the guy turned his bicycle around. “I just ran over your cat!”
            We all stopped what we were doing and went looking for Felix. The scared black cat was hiding in the back yard, and I picked her up gingerly. She seemed shaken, probably bruised, but no broken bones as far as I could tell. Her collar and tag were missing, but I wasn’t worried because I’d bought a harness and leash for her to wear for the road trip.
            “She’s okay!” I called to all my friends, and they went back to work.
            That night we all slept awkwardly. The house was completely empty except for our beds and a few leftover remnants from our late-night packing. I woke up at 4:15am with Felix pacing on my chest. I knew that if we were really going to be on the road by 7:00am, I’d have to get up, start cleaning the house and packing the rest of our stuff. My friends Bob and Will would be arriving shortly after 6:00am, and the landlord around 6:45am to do the last inspection so I could get back my deposit.
            I had a lot to do, so I got busy. The first thing I did was let the cat outside so it didn’t get cooped up. The cleaning took me much longer than I’d expected, and so did the packing. Thankfully, my good buddy Siamak showed up before 7 to help load the final items.
            We hustled back and forth, cleaning and packing the final dredges of four years living in that home. The landlord stood by watching us for the last hour, but we finally finished by 8:00am. He perused the place, wrote me a check for the deposit, and we were ready to leave.
            But where was Felix?
            We all started calling, “Felix! Felix! Here kitty, kitty!”
            No cat.
            Suddenly, Bob came running out. “I’ve got the cat!”
            We all turned in excitement. Sure enough, Bob had found the cat trying to sneak up the back stairs. But then, I watched in horror as Felix struggled, scratched, Bob lost his grip, and instantly Felix was gone. Bob had scratches in fifteen different places, and the spooked cat tore off down the neighbors’ path.
            “Felix! Come here!” I called nicely.
            The cat paused and looked up at me, then turned back to the bushes and disappeared. There’s no use in chasing a cat. If they’re going to be picked up in the open air, it will have to be on their terms. I took a deep breath and we all began the refrain once again, “Here kitty, kitty!”
            After half an hour, I said, “Michelle, you guys should go. I’ll wait here for Felix to show up.” The plan was for Michelle and the kids to ride with Will, and Bob would ride with me and the cat in the 26-foot truck to keep me company.
            Michelle reluctantly agreed to leave. We said a quick prayer, and they all piled into their seats. She rolled down the window as they were pulling away and called out to me, “Don’t you dare leave without that kitty!”
            “Okay,” I replied.
            By 9:00am, with no sign of the cat being anywhere near the house, I said to Bob, “My wife knows me all too well. I’m seriously ready to leave that cat behind.”
            Four of us were searching far and wide for that cat, to no avail. Finally, I said, “Okay, I’m giving it a 9:30 deadline. If the cat doesn’t show by then, we’re leaving it. We’ll have to figure out someone to take care of her.”
            I shook my head and grimaced. The cat had no collar or tag letting anyone know who she was. If we left it behind, I’m sure that would be a miserable turn of events. We all said another prayer, and kept looking.
            I called Michelle and let her know our deadline.
            “You can’t leave without her!” she exclaimed.
            “Listen, I’m not leaving here at eleven o’clock! We’ve got to set a deadline on this. We need to be able to drive all the way down today.”
            Michelle quieted. Then she said, “Please, God. Give our kitty a calm heart.”
            At 9:29 I decided to go to the backyard and stand there for the last minute. And who should show up but little scared Felix! She walked right up to me, I picked her up and brought her straight into the truck. I snapped on her new harness and leash, popped her into a little carrier, and away we went on the road trip!
            By the time we arrived at the border there was a two-hour line-up.
            “There’s no way I’m waiting through this,” I said to Bob. “I’m buying some scotch.”
            Bob was confused, so I explained to him that if you buy something at the Duty Free store, you jump the line-up completely and they pop you out with ten minutes to go. “Plus,” I went on with a grin, “You get great scotch at about half the price!”
            It’s a good thing we did that, because in the end we had to wait at the border an extra forty-five minutes to deal with extra paperwork, bringing my wine collection into the U.S. and the questions about who Bob was. The first guy we talked to said, “How do we know it’s not half of his stuff in that truck, and he’s sneaking into the U.S.!” That was a good question, I thought. How on earth would they know?
            Amazingly, while we were in the line-up inside, Bob saw one of his co-workers in front of us. After the family introductions, they caught up a bit and Bob told him he was going to be back at work on Wednesday. I just know the border guards were listening, because Bob had no further questions asked of him.
            To make matters easy for me, the border guard said, “You came down a couple of days ago.”
            “Yes…?” I replied.
            “I remember you.”
            I looked at him more closely. This was the guard I’d talked to when I came down to pick up the truck! Suddenly, both of our stories had confirmation, and I just had to pay eight dollars of duty on the wine and let the guard look at our stuff in the truck.
            While we were inside waiting for him, I wondered how long he’d take. He came back with wide eyes. “You didn’t tell me you had a cat!” he exclaimed with a grin. “I opened up the bag and she totally startled me.”
            I smiled. The cat was starting to become a real focal point of the trip. And I had to admit to Bob, the timing of when we arrived at the border was perfect – both Bob and I had serendipitous connections that made the explanation of our story simple. All thanks to the cat delaying us.
            But it wasn’t long before we started to worry about the cat again. It was ridiculously hot, and the truck had no working A/C, so we had the windows down and got raspy throats shouting to each other. The cat wouldn’t drink any water, and was starting to pass out.
            After five hours we stopped for gas and some ice to refresh our coolers and make our drinks colder. The cat was passed out, and Bob desperately fed it some ice chips by practically forcing them down the cat’s throat. Finally, we had success. The cat started to lick up the ice, and began to have a little life in her.
            Driving in a big old truck was much slower than I’d imagined, and it was pitch dark by the time we made it to Idaho. After the first mountain pass, I smelled something rancid.
            “Bob, did you fart, or was it the cat?”
            “It wasn’t me,” Bob said.
            “Shoot.”
            As if on cue, the cat popped her head out of the carrier, and I was most certain that she had to relieve herself. But how?
            Bob and I discussed possible ways to help the cat poop, and in the end we decided to keep her on the leash, attached to the cat carrier, and let her roam around outside where it felt a bit natural. But when Felix stepped outside, she was instantly freaked. You could see her little brain trying to decipher where the heck she was. Here’s a cat who’s never stepped foot outside of the city, and we expected her to be able to handle the great outdoors? After ten minutes, I knew it was a lost cause and packed her into the carrier, and into the truck again.
            Bob and I sat in the truck discussing what we’d do, when the cat suddenly darted out Bob’s door, snapped the end of the leash attached to the carrier, and escaped into the Idaho wilderness at midnight.
            In all honesty, I wasn’t overly worried. It wasn’t because I’d thought to write our phone number on a piece of masking tape on the harness either. I figured, she’s a city cat. She won’t want to run far. Just give her a minute, and maybe she’ll even do her duty before coming back.
            Still, it was an odd feeling, wandering around in the middle of nowhere in Idaho at midnight looking for our frightened, little black cat. I am now convinced that it’s absolutely ridiculous to think you can find a black cat in the pitch dark in the wilderness. Even with a full moon, that cat was invisible.
            As expected, the cat did show up, and we did finally pull into my parents’ house at 2am, after a 22-hour day, sweaty, and utterly exhausted. I snuck the cat inside the bedroom so the dogs wouldn’t smell it, and planned on taking it to its final home in the morning.
            Michelle’s trip had been long as well. The kids did okay, all things considered, but they had spent an hour waiting at the border, just to get through (no Duty Free scotch), and then the kids had had to be registered, which took another hour.
            We collapsed into bed and hoped we’d get some rest soon. It had been a seriously long and tiring month, and somehow I’d hoped for a feeling of “We Made It!” but the list of things to take care of weighed heavy on my mind. No breaks yet. We still had to unload everything, sort through the possessions, figure out how to make Celia comfortable, and try to get some sleep. No rest yet. But at least we were all in one piece. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stress-O-Rama

            Michelle’s stress level has finally reached its peak.
            They say that the biggest causes of stress in a persons’ life are:
                        1) Moving
                        2) Having a baby
                        3) Death of a close one
                        4) Health issues
            Unfortunately, Michelle’s had all four.
            It’s not what we’d planned, of course, and a few days ago Michelle was saying she’d never do it again (planning a move right after having a kid), but I know what she’s really saying – the accumulation of all four major stress-factors has been overwhelming.
            Of course, she was snappy and not in her normal chipper form, but that’s totally understandable. I had a talk with her in the middle of our packing and running around. I was literally at the bottom of the front stairs talking up to her in her pajamas in the doorway as I was about to run one of many errands.
            I explained that “stress” is an engineering term, and if you think of a bridge, they’re designed to handle a certain amount of traffic. The problem is when a big truck stalls out on top of it, and the bridge starts to crack.
            Different “bridges” are built to handle more stress, but eventually every bridge has its breaking point. The key is what you do when the stress level has maxed out. Our tendency is to try to push the truck off (our normal habit), but that doesn’t always work when it’s way more stress than we’re used to. At this point, we need to use our creativity, and enter into some reflective prayer so that we can come to a place of peace in the midst of it.
            She nodded her head. That all sounds good in theory, but how do you live it out?
            On Sunday our church wanted to send us off with a blessing, and they asked us a few questions at the front. At one moment Michelle said, “We still need lots of help!”
            In retrospect, that was the absolute best thing she could have done, the creative cure for our situation, because numerous friends and acquaintances offered to come over and do anything.
            On Tuesday we had a woman we barely knew come over and do everything from burp our baby to pack our spaghetti. A true blessing. And then yesterday, the house never sat still. We had friend after friend arrive, many with food, and our children were constantly coddled and played with while all the miscellaneous items I couldn’t bear to pack for some reason were whisked away into boxes with labels such as “Closet.”
            It was perfect.
            At the end of the day I sat on the porch and breathed a sigh of relief. I think we’ll manage this move now. We’ve got today and tomorrow to finish packing, and then I pick up the moving truck. I am so utterly thankful for our friends. It’s hard to imagine what our lives would have been like without them.
            Probably late-late nights and arguments.
            Instead, we got our rest and woke up today to a mostly packed house.
            Thank God.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We Like To Potty

            Now that the weather’s warmer we’ve let Celia run around naked after her bath a bit longer than usual. The ridiculous thing is that twice now she’s suddenly squatted and pooped on the carpet! It’s ridiculous because you’d think we’d know better by now, but she’s just so cute, and so mature in other ways, we keep getting sucked in to giving her that extra minute.
            Today, however, it paid off enormously. She ran around, and then started farting. “Do you have to poo?” I asked her.
            “No,” she replied, then climbed into the stroller and farted again. I started thinking I’d better get her diaper, when she suddenly said, “Poo! Get potty!”
            My jaw dropped as she ran into the bathroom and grabbed the potty. She sat on it, and sat, then stood up and said, “There!”
            We looked at her curiously. Nothing had happened. What was she talking about? But then she grabbed the potty and ran into the living room, where she sat on it again, and actually pooped!
            Michelle and I cheered. “Hooray! You did it! You used the potty all by yourself! And we didn’t even tell you!”
            Celia grinned ear to ear. I was amazed. Michelle and I had actually been discussing that we’d hold off any training until after we moved, so as not to introduce too many different changes at once, and here she is training herself!
            I know this didn’t come out of nowhere. We’ve been reading her a handful of different books on using the potty, and I’m sure at daycare she sees all sorts of other kids using the potty, so she is being exposed to it. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I was singing her a pop song, replacing the word “party” with “potty”, as in, “We like to potty! We like – we like to potty!” (it’s highly effective, you should try it).
            Still, I was shocked and delighted that she pulled this off all by herself. I started daydreaming about how different life will be when she’s potty-trained. There are moments, when I go from changing one child’s diaper to the next, when I shake my head and wonder how long this will last. But the times I really shake my head are when both kids are wailing at the top of their lungs for completely different reasons. That wears on the system the most, I think.
            I wonder. Now that she’s starting to get potty-trained, can we somehow help her get wail-trained?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Placenta!?

            All this time since Joshua was born Michelle hasn’t stopped bleeding. She slowly, over the last few weeks, did all the blood tests the doctors asked her to, but I was worried. The doctor’s office was completely busy, and Michelle seemed to keep getting pushed to the next week, because, hey, a woman bleeding a bit after birth seems pretty normal, right?
            Finally, the bleeding started to smell like rotting flesh, and Michelle called the overbooked doctor’s office with an edge of intensity they finally took seriously enough to book her that very day. I’m so thankful, because it turns out she had a piece of the placenta still stuck in there, “The size of a walnut,” Michelle told me.
            I shudder now even just thinking of it.
            How terrible that she had to deal with that drain on her system for these last five weeks. But how great that they finally got it out and her body can now recover. I’ve heard that there can be all sorts of after-effects to childbirth. Postpartum depression. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Postpartum Feeling Fat (a particularly heinous disorder – of course you’re not slim! You just had a baby! Explain that to an emotional woman, I dare you).
            But I think a reluctant placenta should make the list. Imagine if the doctor hadn’t gotten it out! Actually, no, don’t imagine it. Ooh, I’m starting to feel sick. I’d better stop writing. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oh No, Daddy!

            I’ve had the opportunity to try my hand at this new method of discipline a few times over the last couple of weeks, since reading about not using punishment per se. It requires a lot more creativity and quick thinking, but my overall verdict is that it seems totally doable. If Celia throws the cherry pits on the floor, we simply say, “Oops. That made a mess. Now let’s pick them up. That’s what we do when we make a mess.” And we get her to help. It’s pretty commonsense, and she rarely complains because she knows she just made that mess when she wasn’t supposed to.
            A few days ago I was washing dishes and she was around the corner in the bathroom standing on a chair washing her hands. I figured she couldn’t do much harm there, and I really wanted to have a clean kitchen so I left her alone for awhile.
            Then, she said the dreaded sentence. “Oh no, Daddy! Wet!”
            I instantly shut off the water and went racing into the bathroom.
            The sink was completely flooded with scalding hot water, Celia was drenched, and water was everywhere on the floor. I ran in to shut the water off. As I neared the sink I noticed the cause of all this commotion – toilet paper was circling around in huge wads, clogging the drain and whirling around wildly.
            I started thinking on my feet. No use yelling or scolding her. I needed to use the new methods of discipline to show her consequences. But how?
            I stuck in my hand to pull out some toilet paper. It was brutally hot, and I said, “Ow!” as I pulled my hand out quickly. Celia quivered as she watched me. It was then and there that I figured out my plan.
            “Celia, when you put all that toilet paper in the sink, it clogged the sink up. That’s not good. Now I’m going to have to pull it all out.”
            “Oh no, Daddy.” Celia looked truly upset.
            I reached in and scooped out some more floating pieces. “Ow!” I said with a grimace.
            Celia watched as I pulled out more and more, then I decided to go for the clog. I grabbed a small strainer to block any more from going down, and reached my hand all the way in to pull out the pieces that were clogging up the sink. “Ow!” I yelled as my hand turned bright red.
            As the sink started to drain, I explained to Celia. “You see, Sweetie, I had to hurt my hand to get that toilet paper out. Look at my hand.” I showed her how bright red it was. She stared quietly and I continued. “My hand hurts now, Sweetie. I have an owie on my hand because you put toilet paper in the sink and I had to get it out.”
            She was quiet. I didn’t press the point any further. At that point, the sink was drained, and I grabbed two small towels. “Let’s clean up the water on the floor.” I handed Celia a cloth, and together we wiped up the water. I wrung out her cloth and gave it back to her. I was amazed that she helped clean up the whole mess.
            I didn’t mention it anymore after that, and I have a feeling I won’t have to worry about her clogging the sink with toilet paper again. This method of discipline really seems to work. I just hope we can continue to think quickly on our feet, because I’m most certain that this is just the beginning.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Change

            After a long stretch of unseasonable cold, yesterday was deliciously hot, to the point of being sticky. We spent the whole afternoon outdoors, and knew we’d remember the day fondly as one of our last in Vancouver’s gorgeous summers.
            Late last night my friend Kirk came over, cracked open a beer with me on the front porch, and we discussed deep matters and prayed together. I gently rocked little Joshua in my large hands as we talked about the difference between lip service faith and change.
            “Change,” I told Kirk, “Is what scientists need to see in order for them to classify something as alive. Without change, they don’t call it a living thing.” I paused, then said, “I think the same could be said of our spiritual lives. If we don’t change, we’re dead.”
            I think a lot of times we fear change. Change is hard, and oftentimes painful. None of us take to it well – and I think that makes perfect sense – we love to have our rhythms and stability, there’s nothing wrong with that. But without risking and seeking more in life, we’ll never be the people we were designed to be.
            As we were discussing these things, Joshua squirmed. I looked down at him, “Speaking of changing…”
            As Joshua started to cry I handed him to Kirk and ran inside to grab a diaper. Joshua has been edgy for a few weeks now. He cries every time he even has a hint of pee in his diaper. Heck, he seems to cry about nearly everything.
            When we started praying I looked down at the little dude in my hand and naturally started to pray for him. “God, give him a good night sleep. Help him to feel better.”
            I was shocked this morning when Michelle came downstairs and Joshua was completely content. “How’d it go last night?”
            “Great.” Michelle smiled at me.
            “Woah.” I shook my head in disbelief. Michelle hasn’t had a good night’s rest in a couple of weeks, and she actually looked rested!
            We sat on the porch and discussed our plans for the day – we’re throwing our big going away party tonight, and need to move all the boxes into the front room to make our home more hospitable. Joshua sat happily the whole time we talked. I’d had an epiphany about him last night, and I shared it with Michelle, “I want you to feed him at the most every two hours.”
            Michelle nodded her head.
            “His stomach is probably uncomfortable with eating so regularly, and he’s only getting the first stuff from the milk, not the full rich stuff that comes with longer feedings.”
            Michelle continued to nod her head.
            “If he starts rooting for the nipple, give him a rubber one, unless it’s been a minimum of two hours.”
            We agreed to go with this new plan, and looked at our boy in amazement. He’d been quiet the entire time we sat on the front porch. Could this be our colicky son?
            I felt his diaper. It was full. I went inside to change him, and although it was full of both poo and pee, he didn’t even peep the entire time! For the first time ever, Joshua didn’t cry once when I changed him, and I stared at him in shock. “Joshua! You’re such a delight today! My little bean! My little J-Bean! Look at how happy you are!”
            Joshua stared up at me with wide blue eyes, and I felt a deep love for him – probably the most I’ve felt since he was born. It’s amazing what a difference a happy kid makes. Boy, am I ever happy that he’s changed (in more ways than one, I’m sure).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Multiplication, Not Addition

            Can’t barely find any time to write. I’m drowning in fatherhood, thrashing around under the parenting waves, constantly attending to two kids and an edgy wife. Every once in a while I can come up for air, but it seems like I’m being forced to learn to hold my breath for longer stretches.
            I’m reminded of when Celia was one month old. The biggest issue I faced at that time in my life was learning to give up my old ways. It’s the next step in losing freedoms. Going from being single to married is kind of like a ball-and-chain, but a different sort. Yes, I had less time to myself, but my wife and I were able to go out at night, socialize with friends, I played lots of sports, had hobbies, and we generally had a grand old time together.
            Add one child to the mix, and suddenly we didn’t feel like going out anymore. What’s the point? We’d have to find a babysitter, which is either expensive or a big favor from a close friend. If not a babysitter, we’ be packing up for home by 7:30pm so we could put the kid to sleep and not have a miserable cranky child in the morning. Not my idea of a fun night out on the town. May as well stay at home and invite friends over.
            Now, with a second child the challenges have multiplied. Let’s say that Celia is somewhere around a “6” for her level of difficulty. Not so hard as she used to be, but still needs lots of attention. Then bring into the picture a newborn who, I hate to admit it, is probably “colicky,” which is another way of saying that he cries a lot, and doesn’t seem happy as often as other newborns. I hope that his issues will be resolved as his hip and pelvis gets put back into place – I do see a vast improvement from when he was born. But anyhow, I’d put him around a “9”, because he’s not necessarily a full “10” for difficulty, but he’s pretty darn close.
            Now, here’s the misconception – I think people tend to come into this second child business thinking that you simply add the difficulty levels together, but I discovered just the other day that you have to multiply them!
            Let me explain.
            Child B has a difficult night, crying for hour-and-a-half spurts, spitting up milk, pooping constantly, and wreaking havoc on Mom’s sanity. Then, at 2am Child A starts freaking out and wailing. She requires Dad to hold her for forty-five minutes, and can’t explain in the morning just exactly what all the fuss was about.
            At 4am, after Dad has managed to catch a few winks, Mom plops Child B onto his chest and says, “You burp him. I’ve had enough.”
            Dad looks up at the bright-red-faced whimpering child on his lap, and makes a feeble attempt at burping while lying down, which of course results in escalated wails. Dad sits up and does a proper burp, at which point milk spills all over his pajamas.
            Child B is now shrieking, the opposite of what Mom had intended, so Mom says, “Give him back to me,” and Dad conks out instantly, smelling like sour milk in the morning.
            Meanwhile, Child A starts wailing at 6am, so Dad gets up and starts his day, shaking his head when he looks in the mirror at the dark rings under his eyes.
            Now, here’s a little trivia. Who had the roughest night?
            Child B?
            Dad?
            Wrong! It was Mom! She slept a total of somewhere around two hours, because she’s a light sleeper to begin with! So, now a very tired mom comes staggering downstairs at 9am and hands Child B to Dad, saying, “You take him.”
            Dad is shocked at this arrangement, because he is paying for Child A to be in daycare so that he can get a plethora of things done. But, he looks into Mom’s eyes and silently holds out his arms.
            That’s what I call multiplication. 6 x 9 = 54.
            Holy smokes! It’s off the ten-point scale! Is it humanly possible!? Is it!? I ask of you, how can a 54 on a 10-point scale be manageable!?
            Michelle is the most tired I’ve ever seen her. I pray that she can make it through all the packing and move to Montana, on top of all this sleeplessness. Constantly listening to the indecipherable wails of Child B is starting to wear down both of us.

            Yesterday morning I sat with Celia in the rocking chair in the living room watching the fish eat their breakfast. She lay her head on my chest and stared into the fish tank as she slowly started to wake up. I rocked quietly and enjoyed the feel of her little body nested into my lap. I imagined that she was sitting there listening to my heart beat, and I felt a heart-connection in myself.
            Then, I sneezed, and Celia said, of all things, “Bless you, Daddy.”
            I smiled. And it grew into a grin as I realized what just happened.
            My child just blessed me.
            I wonder how long it generally takes for that to happen – for our children to bless us. Or maybe the better question is how long it takes for the parents to realize it. Maybe it was there all along, and now she finally has the words to say it.
            Either way, I sat there in our moment of peace and felt blessed. I felt truly, and deeply, blessed.