Monday, March 26, 2012

My Daughter's Birth Day (Or: How I Came to Do the Hokey-Pokey with My Daughter Five Minutes After She Was Born)

They say that when you become a father for the first time, your life is changed forever. They are right. (Whoever “they” are.) This is the story of the day, several years ago this week, when my life changed forever:

It started on a Wednesday. We had been to the doctor the day before. Amber was already four days past her due date, and we were told that if the baby didn’t come by Monday, they would induce labor. Since Amber had shown no real signs of labor pains or contractions, we were figuring on having a Monday baby.

I was off work that Wednesday, and we had lounged around the house all morning and most of the afternoon. When Amber sauntered into the shower at around 5:00 PM, all was calm and normal. When she got out of the shower, it wasn’t.

She opened the door and said, “Joe, you might want to call your boss and tell him you’re not coming in tomorrow. My water just broke.” I was dumbfounded. (As usual.) All I could think to say was, “Are you sure?” From the look on Amber’s face, I immediately knew the answer to my question, and also that my question was rather stupid. Of course she knew. (Never having broken any water before, I wasn’t positive about the level of certainty involved. Apparently, when you break water, you know it.) (I’ve spilled some water. I’ve dribbled some water. I’ve splashed some water. I’ve mopped up some water. But, I’ve never broken any water.)

We loaded up into the car and drove to the hospital. We were still relatively calm. We had, after all, been expecting and preparing for this day for almost nine months. (There would be plenty of time for panic later.)

We got checked in and they examined Amber. Apparently, to deliver a baby they want the mother to be 10 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. Amber was only at 2 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced. It was going to be a long night. (Do I know what “dilated” and “effaced” mean? Not even a little bit. But, I am familiar with the one to ten scale, and I know that 70% is a “C,” while 2 out of 10 is NOT a good score.) (My wife is, after all, a math teacher.)

We settled into our room. I was in a chair that folded out flat so that it was similar to a bed. But, “similar” to a bed is not the same as an actual bed, and I was not very comfortable. Of course, even in my uncomfortable “bed,” I was ever-so-slightly more comfortable than Amber was. Amber could only lay on her sides, and she switched from side to side about every hour. At around 9:00 PM they gave her an epidural (because nothing is better for easing your pain than having someone stick a huge needle into your back!)

We “slept” on and off (usually off) through the night and into the morning without things changing much. Finally, at about 1:00 PM on Thursday, it was decided that it was time for Amber to start pushing. So, she did. She pushed and pushed and pushed. And we all learned how to count to ten. Over and over and over again. After about two hours of serious, serious pushing, Amber had had enough. She even unleashed at least three “frickins” in her anger and frustrations. (Yes, “frickin,” not the other, more commonly used “f” word. I found it very cute that even in her worst moment, in the most amount of pain she had ever been in, the worst word that would come out of my sweet wife’s mouth was “frickin.”) (Of course, I didn’t tell her that at the time, or she might have punched me in my frickin nose!)

Eventually it was determined that the baby’s head was not turned in a way that was conducive to natural childbirth. So, after all the pain, agony, and pushing of labor, (of which much less than .0001% was mine) it was decided that the baby would come via a c-section. We had to prepare for surgery.

Who ya gonna call? (Fat Elvis!)
In order for me to be in the room for the surgery, they made me wear a slick (literally) outfit of one-size-fits-none white coveralls. I thought the coveralls made me look like Elvis. Amber thought they made me look like a fat Ghostbuster. (She didn’t actually say “fat.” I added that just now after looking at the picture again.) I was also given little booties to cover my shoes, and a mask to cover my mouth and nose.

I didn’t put my mask on until we got to the operating room. It was then that I realized that breathing with my mask on made my glasses fog up. This was not good. (I’m clumsy enough when I can see where I’m going. I don’t need additional impairments.) I couldn’t take my mask off and I couldn’t put my glasses on a shelf somewhere, because I didn’t want to de-sterilize the operating room. (I mean, who knows where those glasses had been?) So, I ended up either holding the glasses in my hands or pushing them so far down my nose that I could see over their foggy windshields. Neither option was optimal, but it was the best I could think of at the time.

They strapped Amber down to the operating table and set up a big curtain just below her neck. They told her they could drop the curtain if she wanted to watch the operation. She said, “No!” (Emphatically no!) They stationed me just above Amber’s left shoulder. There was a stool there for me to sit on. It had a round seat with no back. Toward the bottom, the frame of the stool formed a circle with three or four spokes connecting to the middle. From the circle, four legs came down, which all had wheels on them.

The stool was just tall enough that I had to slightly step up in order to get my butt on it. I attempted to sit on the stool and it shot back several feet. (Luckily, I did not lose my balance and fall.) It was then that I discovered just how slick my “slick” Ghostbusters outfit was. I think it was coated with the stuff they use for non-stick pans. Teflon would be proud. Eventually I figured out that if I held the stool with my hands and jumped up onto the seat, I could actually sit on it without it slipping away.

I occasionally peeked over the curtain, but I wasn’t much more interested in watching the surgery than Amber was. Eventually there was a flurry of activity, then the sound of a baby crying. The doctors quickly handed the baby to a woman who rushed it into the next room to be cleaned off, measured, and weighed.

I stood there dumbfounded for a few seconds as they waved me over to the other room to see the baby. I finally got my booty-covered feet in motion and came around the corner. I immediately took a picture, because that’s part of my duty as “Annoying Camera Guy.” They wrapped my little girl into a bundle, so all that was showing was part of her face. Then, they handed her to me, and I held my baby for the very first time!

I’d heard that holding a baby for the first time is a life-changing experience. Maybe it is for other more thoughtful, less clumsy people. But, here I was, wearing coveralls so slick I don‘t think gum would stick to them, and the only thing I could think was, “Don’t drop her! Don’t drop her! Don’t drop her!”

They told me to take the baby over to show Amber. I very slowly, very carefully strolled across the room to where Amber was still strapped down to the table, still worried about dropping the baby. I went to sit on my stool. That was a bad idea.

I had both hands around that baby. I was NOT going to drop her. So, I tried to pull the stool closer to Amber by putting my foot inside the circle of the frame at the bottom of the stool, between a couple of the spokes. I managed to pull the stool closer, but soon found that my big, booty-covered club foot was stuck in the frame of the stool. I tried to extricate it. I couldn’t.

So there I was, glasses barely hanging on my nose, looking like a fat Ghostbuster hopping on one booty-covered foot, doing a mad version of the hokey-pokey while trying to get my other foot out of the stool, all while holding on for dear life to my newborn daughter.

It would have been quite a sight, if anyone had been paying attention. (I had even started to embarrassingly mutter, “My foot is stuck. My foot is stuck.”) At that moment, though, all of the health care professionals were concerned with getting Amber sewn back together. She was having a disagreement with the anesthesiologist as to whether or not she was in pain. (Hint to any anesthesiologists who might be reading this: if a woman who has just given birth says she is in pain, chances are that she IS IN PAIN!!! It’s not the best time to argue with her.)

Luckily, I was able to calm myself down and very carefully get my foot unstuck. I then found the nearest nurse who didn’t look busy and handed her the baby. (As much as I loved her, I knew it was safest for her if someone else held her for a while.) They put her in a little bucket-looking thing and wheeled her off toward the nursery.

I followed them into the nursery and had one last bit of fun with my Ghostbusters coveralls. I absent-mindedly tried to sit on another stool. It shot out from under my butt and into the wall, where it hit an air-line nozzle and turned it to the “on” position, so that a loud hissing sound filled the nursery. I quickly turned the air-line back off, only to find myself under the disapproving gaze of every health-care professional in the nursery.

“You can take that off now,” one of them said to me about my Ghostbusters outfit. Gladly, I thought, although its one-size-fits-none nature made it a bit difficult to actually accomplish.

It was pretty clear that day that I had no idea whatsoever how to be a father. And now, several years later, I don’t have any better idea what I’m doing. It still seems like I’m hopping around with my glasses fogged up and one foot stuck in the furniture. All I can do is try my best.

Maybe for her birthday I’ll hold my daughter in my arms and jump around doing the hokey-pokey, just for old times sake.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Small Town

I was born in a town so small I couldn't actually be born there. There is no hospital in Arimo, Idaho. Not even a doctor's clinic. (The closest thing we have to a hospital is any one of several barns which are occasionally used for the birthing of cows.) So, when it came time for me to be birthed, my parents took the 30 mile drive to the "city" of Pocatello.

The 1960 census listed the population of Arimo as 303. It dipped down to 252 in 1970 before rebounding up to 338 in 1980. It's been between 300 and 350 ever since. (In other words, there are probably more people shopping in your local Walmart at this moment than live in my entire hometown.)

There weren't a whole lot of businesses in Arimo when I was growing up. There was a gas station (with prices ten cents per gallon higher than stations in the city.) There was a grocery store, although classifying it as a "grocery store" is being generous. (It was probably about twice the size of a standard 7-Eleven.) There was the restaurant, which went out of business. (Every year or two, someone new would try to make a go of it. And fail. Then, a year or two later, someone else would try to make a go of it.) There was the grain elevator, where farmers haggled over selling their wheat. There was a lumber yard. (Until the fire.) And, there was the only business in town that could really be said to be thriving: the funeral home.

Throw in the post office, and that's all the businesses in town. (Unless you count the Avon Ladies or the people selling Amway or Mason Shoes.)

There were no traffic signals in Arimo. Just a few stop signs (that people would occasionally yield at), and a few yield signs (that were generally ignored.)

Arimo may not have many businesses, but we do have some mountains nearby.

When I was growing up, I had my own little measurement guide to determine the size of towns. If a town had a traffic light and/or a regional fast food chain restaurant, it was a "big town." (Conversely, no traffic light or fast food equaled a "small town.") If it had at least five traffic lights and/or a McDonald's, it was a "city." If it had more than three McDonald's, it was a "big city."

In Arimo, if we wanted anything we either had to drive 30 miles to the north to Pocatello (a "city,") or 30 miles to the south to Preston (a "big town.") Our dentist was in Preston, and we would go grocery shopping there every once in a while. (One memorable trip we did both, and after an unpleasant dental experience I threw up all over the frozen food aisle of the grocery store.) (Ah, good times!)

Let me emphasize that point again: I considered Preston, Idaho to be a "big town." Some of you may be familiar with Preston, Idaho as the setting for the movie Napoleon Dynamite. If you've seen the movie, you probably think it is one of the funniest or one of the stupidest movies you have ever seen. (There is very little middle ground.)

Either way, I'd ask you to think about the movie (or watch it again), and then try to wrap your brain around the concept that the town I'm from is so small that I consider the town from Napoleon Dynamite to be a "big town." (At a population of over 3,000, Preston is approximately ten times bigger than Arimo.)

I'm always amazed and amused at the way Hollywood depicts small towns. Recently, The Wife bought the television series Smallville for me on DVD. It's about how an alien baby arrives on earth in a space ship in a meteor storm, and how he grows up as Clark Kent in a small Kansas town and learns to become Superman. We enjoyed the show, but I often had to shake my head in disbelief.

Smallville is supposed to be a typical American small town. (A town so small they named it "Smallville.") And yet, in the first episode as the meteor shower hits with baby Superman in tow, they show a billboard at the entrance of town that says, "Welcome to Smallville, Population 25,001." 25,001!?! This is what they consider to be small? You could multiply Arimo by 80 and still not populate this "small town" of Smallville!

And then, later in the series, as Clark Kent is grown and leaves town for Metropolis, they show the billboard again, and now it says, "Welcome to Smallville, Population 45,001." 45,001!?! That would put Smallville in a fight to be the second biggest city in all of Idaho! There's not much "small" about this Smallville anymore. (And that's not even considering how it could gain 20,000 in population despite the seemingly hundreds of deaths/murders perpetrated by meteor freaks/Superman villains.)

But, Smallville isn't the only show that doesn't quite understand how small a small town can be. Even Hazard, from The Dukes of Hazard, and Andy Griffith's Mayberry don't get it right. Both of those towns would be considered, at the very least, "big towns" by my standard. Not only do both towns have a sheriff, but they are big enough to afford a bumbling deputy, too. Arimo does not have any police force whatsoever. (We've got a mayor, and that's about it.)

I realize, of course, that this is all a matter of perspective. (I'm not stoopid.) Salt Lake City was a two-hour drive from Arimo. We would go there once or twice a year, and in my mind it was very much a "big city." (It was so big that it had stores with escalators and elevators in them!) (This was very impressive to an eight-year-old me.)

But, there are those from real big cities who would consider Salt Lake a small town, (despite all of its escalators, elevators, traffic lights and McDonald's.) And there's not much I can say to dissuade them from that opinion. All I can do is tell them what life is like in a real small town. No Starbucks. No McDonald's. No traffic lights. No traffic. Just 300 of your closest friends.

"I was born in a small town." That's what John Cougar Mellencamp sings. What does he know? His "small town" of Seymour, Indiana has a population of over 17,000 people (50 times bigger than Arimo.) They have a hospital, several traffic lights, a sheriff, and a deputy. (Whether the deputy is bumbling or not is not for me to say.) And, they have not one, but two McDonald's. What's so small about that?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I'm NOT Obsessed With Poop

I am not obsessed with poop. I’m not. I can understand that you might think that I am, based on how much I talk about it. But, I’m REALLY not obsessed with poop. It’s just that when you have two children under the age of four, poop seems to dominate your life.

Buzz will be two years old in a little over a month. He has yet to set foot on the “Potty Train.” (When Roni was little, she thought the “Potty Train” was an actual train, with an engine, caboose and all. Since then, we refer to the Potty Train as if it were a locomotive taking us to a destination.) Buzz is still squarely in the diaper-wearing demographic. As such, the state of his poopiness is always on our minds.

Before I became a dad, I never sniffed anyone's butt in public. (In private, either.) Now, I do it on a regular basis. It doesn't matter where I am, I'll just pick the boy up and put my nose against his bum. (I'm sure people in restaurants are always thrilled when they see me do this.)

Of course, sometimes the "sniff test" isn't sufficient. Sometimes it's poots, but sometimes it's just toots. So, the next step is the "finger test." This involves reaching a finger or thumb over the edge of the diaper, and then pulling the diaper away from the bum so I can see if there is any poop in there. This is usually effective, but it's not without peril. More than once I've put my finger or thumb over the edge of the diaper, only to find that the poop was right up to the edge. Nothing is quite as fun as a finger full of poop. (Note: that there is what you call sarcasm.)

(Mind you, I'm not putting my finger down into the diaper, just far enough to pull the diaper out so I can look. But, sometimes that's enough.)

It's rare, but there are times when the "sniff test" takes precedent over the "finger test." Sometimes I can look down the back of the diaper and not see any poop, even though I can smell it. It seems to be contrary to the laws of physics, but every once in a while the poop sneaks up the front of the diaper. There's no easy test for finding this gravity-defying poop. And there's no easy way to clean it up, either. The "front poop" is the bane of my existence.

Once the poop is found, it is then time to change the diaper. When changing Buzz's diaper, I've found that it is helpful to have a "Toy of Distraction." When I take his diaper off, his first instinct is to reach for his little fire hose. (Just to be clear, that's a euphemism for his penis.) I don't want him to grab his little fire hose because it is either covered in poop or in the direct vicinity of the poop. I don't want him to get poop on his fingers. (Because who knows where those fingers have been. Or where they are going.) Thus, it helps to have a "Toy of Distraction."

Before taking off his diaper, I give him a toy; something to keep his hands busy. For the past few months the designated "Toy of Distraction" has been a Happy Meal robot that he particularly enjoys. The "Toy of Distraction" is essential for keeping his hands away from his little fire hose and away from the poop. (It's good when a Happy Meal toy will work for this purpose, because there's not a lot invested in it. If it happens to get poopified, it can easily be discarded and replaced.)

The most troublesome time for checking on the poop is first thing in the morning. They make special "overnight" diapers to help try to contain the night-time flow. They try, but they aren't always successful. Poop-throughs are the worst. I can usually tell as soon as I open his bedroom door in the morning. The smell can be overwhelming. (It's times like these when The Wife is glad she has a limited sense of smell.) (Also, whenever I fart.) (Which is often.)

The first thing I do when I get Buzz out of bed in the morning is check the backside of his pajamas for wet spots that could be possible poop-throughs. Of course, there was the one day when I checked his backside, saw it was dry, then picked him up and held him against me. (Even worse than the "Front Poop" is: the "Front Poop-Through!") It's never a good day when you get baby poop on your own shirt. It just isn't.

The poop-through is ten times worse than a regular diaper change. There's poop everywhere, possibly including, but not limited to: the diaper, the bum, the little fire hose, the back, the belly, the legs (sometimes all the way down to the toes), the pajamas, the bedsheets, the blankets, and the night-time teddy bear toy. And if it's not already everywhere, there's a good chance I'm going to accidently spread it around some more by touching, with the boy or the pajamas, things that were previously poop-free. It's unfortunate there isn't a hose in his room.

And, all this has just been about dealing with Buzz's poop. Even though she knows how to potty, Roni (almost four years old) has some poop issues, too.

She has taken to counting her poops. "Look, daddy, I have three poops!" This becomes a bit more troublesome when she has diarrhea. The other day she literally said, "Daddy, I have so many poops I can't count them all!" That's always a sentence a father wants to hear from his little princess.

She knows how to potty, but she sometimes doesn't know how to properly use the toilet paper. We're having a hard time getting her to understand that the bum is the last thing she should wipe, and that once you wipe your bum you should not touch any other body part with the toilet paper.

And then there is the issue of public restroom etiquette. A few weeks ago at church, Roni told her momma that she needed to go potty. So, The Wife took her to the restroom. Roni does not yet understand that in a public restroom, conversation should be kept to a minimum. When she would hear someone else enter the bathroom she would say things like, "Mommy, is that person going poopy or just peepee?" "Mommy, is that person going to wash their hands?" And, "Mommy, I have five poopies!"

Just because Roni's Potty Train has reached its destination doesn't mean this train trip is over.

So, I can see where, listening to me talk or reading this column, it might seem that I am obsessed with poop. I'm really not. I'm really, really not! (At this point, I'm not sure if I'm trying to convince you or if I'm trying to convince myself.) (Oh, poop.)