Good Morning, Jason

I've grown to really dislike weekday mornings. I know, most people don't exactly look forward to weekday mornings, and before Jason was born I still didn't like them. It's become a whole different thing lately, though.

Generally speaking, I wake up when Jason wakes up. Sometimes--most Saturday mornings, for example--Juliette gets up and I can go back to sleep. And there are also the rare days when Jason wakes up in a good mood, so the first sound I hear is him playing in his crib. Most of my mornings, though, start with the sound of Jason whining or crying.

This morning, I rolled out of bed within a few seconds of hearing him stir, but I had to take a moment outside his door to prepare myself for what I knew was coming. By then, he was already calling for Juliette. "Mommy!" he whined repeatedly. "Mommy mommy!"

I pushed the door open, ready with a smile and a gentle voice. "Good morning, buddy!"

"No Daddy!" he shouted. "Go away!"

"I know, buddy, but Mommy's in the bathroom getting ready for work right now, so it has to just be you and me. Is that OK?"

"No! Want Mommy!"

"Do you want to go in the living room?"

"No, want Mommy in the living room!"

"Do you want some breakfast?"



"No Daddy, no!"

"Come on, let's go in the living room," I said, finally, lifting him, his sippy cup, and his stuffed orca out of the crib. He screamed all the way down the hall, screamed when I put him down, screamed when he ran back toward the bedroom, screamed when he found the gate at the mouth of the hallway closed. Then he just stood there and screamed.

I set about making his breakfast. Fruit and some apple bread that he and Juliette had made together a couple of days ago. He kept screaming after I set it on the dining table in front of his chair.

Eventually, Juliette came out, and he calmed down pretty quickly, sitting in her lap while he ate. After that he was fine until it was time to take him to day care, when he broke down again. By then, Juliette had been gone for almost half an hour, so I had nothing left but to carry him out to the car, strap him into his car seat, and start driving. He quieted almost as soon as I turned the key in the ignition.

Somewhere between home and day care, Jason's attitude toward me shifts. I don't know why, but at home he tells me to go away, sometimes even pushing me if I don't comply. As soon as we get to day care, though, he becomes clingy, needing me to carry him. He becomes desperate when I start showing signs that I have to leave, and when I finally pry him off me and pass him to one of his teachers, he cries.

It's about the only time he consistently wants me.

The thing is, though, he loves day care. He loves the other kids, loves his teachers, and really loves the school director. He loves singing with them, doing art projects, reading books, and playing outside. He loves pretty much everything about it. It's just that he has trouble transitioning from one thing to the next--if we left it up to him, there'd never be a next thing.

So, my weekday mornings start with Jason crying, progress through him rejecting me, follow to me making him cry broken-heartedly, and end with me at work. It shouldn't be surprising that it's not my favorite part of the week.

I know this is a phase and that it will someday pass. That doesn't make it easy, but it might just be the only thing getting me through these mornings.

Where Did the Magic Go?

No, no, I'm not talking about me and Juliette. We're doing just great. No, the question in the title has to do with my career.

The HR manager at my office brought her son in with her on Friday. That's not a particularly unusual situation--lots of my coworkers bring in their kids for a few hours at a time when other childcare is scarce. What made this time different was that the day before, this mom had stopped by my friend T's desk and asked if he wouldn't mind showing her son around the lab or something. Her son, she explained, is fascinated with science and technology, and wants to be an engineer when he grows up. T, being the nice guy that he is, said it would be no problem.

Friday morning rolled around as it always does, and when T showed up to the office he brought with him an assortment of odds and ends that he'd brought from home. It turned out that rather than just show the kid what we do, T stayed up late rigging up some simple but cool electricity demonstrations. When the boy got there, T showed him how to make an electromagnet out of a battery and a coil of wire, then proceeded to make a simple DC motor out of a battery, a small screw, a short length of wire, and a small permanent magnet. And if that weren't enough, T's pièce de résistance was a working speaker, made out of a Dixie cup, a length of thread, a magnet, and a coil of wire--he demonstrated how it worked by plugging it into the headphone jack of his computer.

Watching the two of them, I couldn't tell who was enjoying it more, T or the kid. As you might expect, the kid watched raptly and was quite impressed, but what I really noticed was the sheer joy in T's voice as he explained it all.

I used to get excited like that about things like electricity. When I was in the 8th grade, my friend Lee and I built a working telegraph out of some spare parts from our science class, for no other reason than that we thought it would be cool. And it was. Later on, in high school, Lee and I taught ourselves how to solder, and tinkered with basic circuits just for fun. The summer before our senior year we taught ourselves how to program, and stayed up late into the night just talking about code.

Where did all that passion go? I mean, I still have a lot of passion, but none of it seems to be left for my chosen field: engineering. I'm grateful to have a steady job and I like the people I work with. I try to do well in my work, and I'd even say I succeed. But somehow it's just not exciting or even particularly interesting anymore.

When I stop and think about it, though, perhaps it's just that the shine has worn off the job and not the field as a whole. Maybe I've just channeled those same impulses in a different direction. After all, tinkering with photos isn't really so different from tinkering with circuits, when you get right down to it.

I'll say this, too: watching T show off his little homemade creations to that boy really makes me look forward to when I can share that kind of thing with Jason. I just hope that by the time he's old enough to understand it, he's still interested enough in me to listen.

"I Have Fungus Growing In My Lungs"

The gym is a fairly solitary place for me. There are always lots of other people around, and most of them seem to know each other and spend a lot of time chatting in the locker room or while taking turns on the weight machines. I, on the other hand, rarely talk to anybody, so I'm mostly left with my own thoughts.

This morning, my thoughts were mostly gripes. I had just finished my daily 500-meter swim--not a long distance for a real swimmer, but it wipes me out--and I was melodramatically questioning whether I had enough strength left in my arms to lift them to wash my hair. I was also thinking about how my rubber flip-flops had rubbed off a bit of skin on my big toe and how annoying that was, feeling sorry for myself that my new diet has meant that I haven't had a satisfying lunch all week, and obsessing about that expensive camera that I may never be able to afford. And, just to round it out, I remembered how annoyed I was that my self-winding watch stops in the middle of every night, and how much it bugs me that I get so much static I get when I try to use an FM transmitter with my iPod in the car.

So there I was, griping, griping, griping to myself, and I was just headed into the shower when I overheard two of the locker room attendants talking to each other. "I have fungus growing in my lungs," one of them said. "I'm going to die. I smoked so much, I guarantee in a year I'll be dead." He looked like he was in his mid-twenties.

Now, I don't know what the real story here is. Maybe the guy was just being a hypochondriac. Maybe he wasn't talking about himself at all, and was retelling a story about something he heard someone else said. I didn't ask--it felt rude enough that I had eavesdropped in the first place.

Afterwards, as I was getting dressed, I noticed that I had left my street shoes at home, and I would have to wear my ugly, uncomfortable gym shoes to work. But it just didn't seem important enough to care about right then.

It's Good to Know Your Limitations

The other day, my brother said to me, "Man, is there anything you're not good at when you put your mind to it?" When I gave him a short list of things I'm not good at, he responded, "I have a feeling you aren't actually putting your mind to some of the things on that list."

The thing is, I think it's important to understand your own limitations. I used to say that it was my goal to be good at everything, but while I do still love to learn and acquire new skills, there are some things that are beyond me, and very likely always will be. And that's OK. In fact, better than just being OK, it's both liberating and grounding.

Herewith, a non-exhaustive list of things I have thus far failed to become good at, despite having made a real effort to do so:

  • Acting
  • Waiting tables (really, anything involving customer service)
  • Answering questions like a normal person
  • Basketball
  • Being pleasant first thing in the morning
  • Grilling a steak to medium-rare (except by accident or miracle)
  • Remembering the times and dates of most of the day-to-day events of my life, and the order in which they occurred
  • Letting go of the past
  • Not procrastinating
  • Styling my hair
  • Being consistently funny or witty
  • Remembering things that people tell me (except for pointless trivia)
  • Being charismatic
  • Accepting compliments gracefully

The Good Times Are Over!

I've known this day would come for a while now. My mom has been pestering me about our family tendency toward high cholesterol for years now, but it's never quite made it onto the list of my real concerns. After all, it's not like I was gorging myself on deep-fried or packaged foods, the ones you're always hearing derided on the news. True, I eat fast food a couple of times a month, but it hardly seemed like a regular occurrence, especially compared to the junk-laden diet the "average" American purportedly has. I eat my vegetables, and, heck, I've even been going to the gym semi-regularly.

I probably ought to explain a bit. About six months ago I found out that my primary care doctor was moving to Chicago, which necessitated me finding a new one. I already knew who it would be, since one of the covering doctors I'd seen at the same clinic had struck me as pretty good. I dragged my feet about setting up the new patient appointment, though, which meant I didn't actually get around to meeting the new guy until last week.

We ran through all the normal questions--family medical history (diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol), current problems or medications (none), diet and exercise (OK), weight (could stand to lose some more), and so on. Nothing surprising, and, as always, the vitals and physical were fine. He asked me to stop for a blood draw on the way for metabolic and lipid screening, as well as a vitamin D screening since I mentioned I spend most of my time indoors.

"If anything comes up in your labs I'll call you tomorrow, otherwise you'll get the results in the mail in a week or so," he said.

Tomorrow came and went without a phone call, so I assumed the labs had come back fine, just like always. That turned out to be a little premature, though, as the phone rang on my way out the door Friday morning.

"Turns out you do have a vitamin D deficiency," the doctor said after the initial pleasantries. "I sent a prescription for a loading dose of vitamin D to your pharmacy, so you can start that today or tomorrow." I let my breath out, a little surprised at the tension I'd felt when I heard the doctor's voice greeting me. Vitamin deficiency; I can deal with that.

"Everything else looks fine," he continued. "Liver looks good, HDL cholesterol and lipids are good, LDL is a little borderline but not too high. Sugars are good. Go fill the vitamin D prescription and when the report comes I'll include instructions for the supplements you'll take after you're done with that."

And that was that, I figured. Take a big vitamin dose for a few weeks, some supplements after that, and try to get outside more. Not so bad.

The report showed up in yesterday's mail, and just like the doctor said, there was a vitamin D deficiency and my LDL cholesterol was a little into the "borderline" range. And then there was the recommendation below the table:

"We'd like your LDL to get below 130, preferably below 100. Avoid red meats, eggs, and deep-fried or fast foods. We'd also like to maintain your lipid level in the current range. Avoid desserts and creamy foods."

And just like that, the good times were over.

I told Juliette. "Avoid red meat, desserts, and creamy foods?" she said. "Yikes. Avoid things that taste good, I guess."

I always knew I'd get the "change your diet" note from a doctor eventually, but I figured I had at least until I was 40. Images of thick rib-eye steaks and greasy french fries immediately started dancing in my head, taunting me.

"Well," I said, "I guess this is a good thing, really. Now that it's coming from a doctor, maybe we'll actually have the motivation to stick to a good diet." Juliette agreed. And as we talked about it, the number of changes we'd have to make would be pretty minimal. A little less beef, a little more lean poultry. We already eat a lot of vegetables and don't use a lot of dairy when we cook--in fact, it's pretty common for us to have one or two completely vegetarian meals a week. Nor do any of our normal recipes call for more than a tablespoon of oil. We'll just start skipping desserts again and try to be a little smarter about when and where we eat out. No big deal.

Still, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't weighing on me at all. As much as I love food, it's going to be hard to make even the little changes we talked about. I'll just have to keep reminding myself why I'm doing it.

Cross Penmanship

Along with an old notebook and assorted random crap, my foray into the office closet also turned up a matched set of Cross pens that were given to me by a friend for being in his wedding. Juliette and I usually acquire pens the usual way, from hotel desk sets and in promotional brochures, so these Cross pens were a significant step up from the other writing implements we had lying around the house. Figuring that they were better used than sitting in a box collecting dust, I brought them out to the kitchen and put them in the pen cup that sits on our counter.

A few days later I was getting ready to write some thank-you notes to my grandmothers for the birthday money they sent me, and it occurred to me that it was as good an occasion as any to break out the good pen. And damn me if they weren't a lot nicer to write with than the cheapo ballpoints I usually use. pen was comfortable in my hand, with a nice, solid weight to it, and the ink flowed smoothly, neither puddling nor thinning despite having been sitting unused for nine years. (My goodness, has it really been nine years?)

Of course, the effect was kind of ruined by the chicken-scratch quality of my handwriting.

I practically never write anything by hand these days. Grocery lists, credit card receipts, Post-It reminders, and the occasional greeting card are about it. I suppose I do use paper and pen for calculations and schematic sketches at work, but that hardly counts in my mind. I do all of my longer writing with a keyboard, and these days even my notes are mostly done on my laptop or phone.

My thoughts tend to move pretty quickly, and the fact that I can type at 100 words per minute helps my words keep up with my brain. By contrast, using a pen feels like trying to run in a swimming pool, and often by the time I finish a sentence I've lost the beginning of the next one. I really don't think I'd be able to get anything done if I had to write it all out longhand.

Still, I can't help feeling like we've lost something by moving away from the analog world of handwritten letters. There's something undeniably special about getting a real letter in the mail, even if the only people that ever send me letters anymore are my grandmothers, and occasionally my father-in-law. There's a certain weight to it, some extra connection granted by being able to hold in my hands the same piece of paper that their hands touched.

My grandmother's script feels a little antiquated, I suppose, but it's also both elegant and familiar. I can't see it without seeing her. Seeing the loops and curves of her letters makes me think of her hands, her hair, the smell of her perfume, the feel of her dining table, where she probably sat while she wrote. I don't get that from an email.

My own handwriting is a jumbled and sloppy print. Letters lean this way and that, drifting away from the lines on the page until finally forced back on track, and the ink tends to drag between strokes. It's all over the place, which I guess isn't too far off the mark, considering the mind that produces it. I sometimes wonder if it would still look that way if I hadn't abandoned pens for computers. Most likely it would, and anyway, typing is simply too convenient for me to regret the change. I do wonder, though.

Will my son learn to write neatly? Will he look forward to handwritten notes from his grandparents? Will his children do the same for notes from me? I hope so. And, fortunately, Juliette's printing is much nicer and more legible than mine.

Double Rainbow

Have you seen the double rainbow video yet? It seems to be making the rounds; in the past few days I've seen it mentioned at least six or seven times on Twitter, Facebook, and various blogs. You've seen it, right?

OK, if you haven't seen it, take three and a half minutes and watch this:

If you're like, well, just about everybody, your immediate reaction is to laugh. The phrase "rainbow-gasm" might come to mind. You might idly wonder whether the guy is on drugs. And, yeah, it is funny, and I was thinking all the same things, but I'd like to take a second here and ask you a serious question.

Have you ever, in your entire life, been that happy about anything?

I have known some truly joyous moments. I remember the swell in my chest when I saw Juliette walking down the aisle toward me. And sometimes when I look at Jason, I'm so happy it feels like light is going to shoot out of my torso like a weird, Japanese-man version of a Care Bear Stare. For the life of me, though, I can't recall a time when I was so overwhelmed with excitement and beauty that I completely lost my shit. It strikes me as kind of sad.

For that matter, I don't think I've ever seen anyone I know be that happy, or even heard anyone talk about having been that happy. It's not even surprising to me, either. Being so thoroughly overjoyed and effusive just isn't socially normal. That's why it's funny. And even at that, we're only able to laugh at it because of the separation provided by the fact that it's a video. If you saw someone freak out like that in real life, you'd probably be uncomfortable. I know I would be.

Stop and think about that for a second. What does it say about our collective priorities and values that we'd feel weird about someone being really, really happy near us? Isn't that at least a little bit messed up?

I wish I were the kind of person who could get so worked up over a rainbow. I'd love to know what that feels like. I don't know if I ever will, but it seems like the kind of thing that might be worth working toward.

Couples, Families, and "Mad About You"

Yesterday, Marc Hirsch of NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, took the opportunity presented by the DVD release of Mad About You's fourth season to delve into his memories of what he called "the perfect relationship sitcom." It's a good article that I largely agree with, and well worth a read for fans of the show, but what really got me thinking was when he talked about season four's position as the tipping point of the show.

Hirsch writes:

that time long ago when I claimed Mad About You was perfect? Was Season 4. . . . The quality of the show would get wobbly in about a year; once baby Mabel became a concrete entity, rather than a vague idea that existed as a single possibility among many in some nebulous future, the tone turned brittle and, worse, the focus shifted exclusively and irrevocably from the couple to the child. In short, it became a different show.

It's that part about the focus shifting from the couple to the child that got me, because the thing is: that happens in real life, too.

Anyone who has kids (or who has close friends or relatives with kids) knows what I'm talking about. Before you have kids, your relationship is about yourself and your partner. You talk about each other, do things with each other, and basically spend all of your energy and attention on each other. But then the first kid shows up and things change. Maybe it happens right away or maybe it takes a few months, or even years, but one day it hits you that it's been a week since you talked to your spouse about something other than your child

Maybe you remember yourself saying, "That's not going to happen to us. We're going to make time for each other and remember to be a couple." And maybe you have made time for each other and you are still a couple, but even then you eventually realize that you have to make time for each other, and that you're now thinking of yourselves as still a couple. There's just no way around it; having kids changes your focus.

And what's really interesting to me is that Hirsch says--and I agree--that that change is one of the things that killed Mad About You. Because as much as that show was about bringing you into Paul and Jamie's marriage and (like any good story) making you identify with the characters and build a relationship with them, ultimately what that relationship was based on was your interaction with them as a couple, and not as parents. And where that puts you is a lot like the position your friends without kids stand once yours comes on the scene.

You know that one, too, if you have kids. You have all these great people in your life who matter to you, but suddenly your child arrives and things are different between you and them. Now you have to be home early for your child's bedtime, and you can't go out to places that are too loud or too quiet, or otherwise inappropriate for kids. Even when you get together at one of your homes, you just can't give your friend the undivided attention you used to--one way or another your kid is going to interrupt you. Probably a lot. Maybe you feel the strain in trying to keep up the relationship, and it makes you sad. Maybe you're too focused to notice. I guarantee the friend notices.

When you add it all up, maybe Mad About You turned out to be even more perfect a relationship show than Hirsch realized.

Cleaning Out My Closet

Juliette has made cleaning out the office closet one of her summer projects, which meant that this past weekend I had the opportunity to go through some boxes that I haven't opened in probably five years.

I always love these little trips down memory lane, rediscovering all the little treasures from my past. Being able to touch them, having a physical connection, always brings back the associated memories much more strongly than just thinking about them.

For example, there's the rocks that I found under the deck at the cabin my family used to rent in Tahoe every year. Turning them over in my hands, I remember how fascinated I was by the flat orange color on the top and the clear, ice-like crystal structure on the bottom. More, I remember the bite of the cold air in my nose, the crunch of snow under my feet, and the layer of pine needles and fir cones that littered the ground under the deck.

I especially enjoy it when these little forays into my "treasure boxes" turn up things I thought I'd lost. I actually let out a little cry of joy when I found a big stack of old RPG manuals and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles graphic novels that I thought had been lost or donated years ago.

On the other hand, there's also a certain embarassment that comes with some of the things I find. I have a tendency toward being a packrat, and why I save some things baffles even me. A selection of some of the useless or forgotten things I don't know why I saved:

  • A mostly full box of perfectly good staples, tucked in between some old harmonicas instead of, you know, being put into a stapler.
  • My "Intro to Systems Engineering" notebook, completely blank.
  • Ten or twelve rolls of old Pez, most of which weren't even still packaged with their dispensers.
  • An old micro-butane torch I bought for a project for my high school physics class, long since empty and broken.
  • A bunch of empty cigarette lighters.
  • A giant pile of old homework, some of which dated back to my freshman year of high school.
  • A 1985 nickel.
  • A green permanent marker that looked like it was about 15 years old, completely dry.

I started having flashes of those hoarder interventions you see on TV, with the host aghast at the piles of garbage and the hoarder breaking down in tears saying "I don't know why I kept it!" I shuddered and made a silent vow never to become one of those people. Not that Juliette would ever let that happen, anyway. But still.

Anything I found that I couldn't remember at all and had no immediate use, I tossed. I actually even got rid of some stuff I did remember, deciding that I didn't really need it or wasn't going to use it. By the time I was done, I'd cut my pile of stuff by almost half.

This is a big step, people. I may actually turn into a grown-up yet.

Lucky Seven

Seven years ago, today, I got all dressed up and then proceeded to have the best day of my life. Tonight, Juliette and I are going to celebrate the occasion by getting dressed up (though to a lesser degree than we did that day seven years ago), dropping off our son at our friends' house, and going to a fancy restaurant for a nice meal and some time alone with each other, like real couples do.

The seventh anniversary isn't one that people usually make a big deal over. Traditional folk give each other gifts of wool or copper; modern types give each other desk sets. I don't know about you all, but I had to look those up. All those anniversary gift themes tend to run together for me--I have a vague recollection of paper for the first, silver for the twenty-fifth, and gold for the fiftieth, but in between it's all fuzzy.

I'll tell you what, though: the seventh anniversary does have a bit of a special note in our case. This will be our first time celebrating an anniversary when we've been married longer than we were dating.

Actually, the day we passed our dating time happened a few months ago--March 16th, to be exact. Neither of us noticed at the time, but then we'd just had Juliette's birthday and anyway, these days our attention tends to be taken up a bit too much by everyday life to notice obscure milestones passing.

It's kind of an odd feeling, realizing that we've now been married longer than we dated. I've always thought of us as having been together forever, but only recently married. Now, though, and forever after, the bulk of our relationship will have been post-wedding. Even having done the math, I can hardly believe it; it still feels like just the other day that I saw her walking down the aisle toward me.

There are still some big moments to come, of course. In 2012, we'll have been together for half of Juliette's life. In 2013, half of mine. In 2020, we'll have been parents longer than we were together without kids. And, of course, there are all the normal birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and so on.

The past seven years have been filled with work and play, laughter, tears, time together and apart. I've come to understand that the most important part of life is the people in it, and so spending your days and nights with good people who you love and who love you is crucial. Me, I couldn't ask for a better person to spend my time with.

Happy anniversary, Juliette.

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