And Then There Were Four…

Its 10:29 PM, Tuesday, April 19th. I’m sitting in a hospital room; listening to, what some might describe, as horses clopping across a heartbeat monitor. Other than the whirring of electronics and machines, the room is quiet and dark, and I’m sitting on a “bed” that was clearly NOT designed with comfort in mind. I am here to provide support in a situation where I feel that I cannot do much, but I’m waiting patiently to be asked to help. I’m waiting for the birth of my second child. My wife was/is high risk, so this is a scheduled induction beginning at night. This translates to a long night, with a lot of downtime and ultimately, a lot of reflection.

I’d like to say I just have had a serious case of writers block that has prevented me from writing anything in the last 15 months. The truth, however, is that I let my life get in the way of living. It’s been a rough period of time and it is being magnified by the fact that my family of 3 (plus 2 furry members) is about to become a family of 4.

I committed last July to separating from Active Duty military. I submitted all my paperwork well in advance, which essentially constituted my acceptance to leave a secure, well paying (albeit potentially dangerous) career without having a civilian career lined up. I started interviewing for roles but had no outright successes. The following week, my wife told me she was pregnant with our second child. Life is pretty good at throwing curveballs like that.

Right around the same time; I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and depression. I was so busy trying to find a job to support my family, I don’t think it ever registered fully the magnitude of the situation my family was now in. (This is the first time I’ve ever publicly admitted that I have depression and anxiety disorders. That’s a post for a later date).

I ultimately did find a job, moved out of our house, stayed with family over the next 4 months, bought a house, lived out of a suitcase, started my new job while living out of a suitcase, and finally got moved into said house. Only now, is our house somewhat put together.

In a scatter-brained manner, that brings me to today. Its now 16 hours since I start this post. My wife has been in labor for 8 hours, and baby still isn’t here yet. A lady in the room next door had her baby all naturally last night, and we heard everything. I started to have an anxiety attack at that moment, and anxiety hasn’t dissipated yet. What if this baby doesn’t “like” me? What if there are complications? Hell, I had an anxiety attack over picking the final name options (we don’t know the gender yet). I feel like this should come second nature, as I’ve been a dad for over 2 years, but I’m still terrified.

In comes the nurse, so I guess it’s time to stop writing for now. Time to swallow the watermelon sized lump in my chest, and be the support rock my wife needs right now. No time to think about all the insanities with my life…only time to focus on the “here and now”.

Thanks for everyone who reads this, and I’m sorry its all over the place.

Time to welcome our 4th family member!

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5 things my 15 month old has taught me

When my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby, we started reading books, talking to friends and family, following mommy/daddy blogs, etc. One consistent theme we heard was something to the effect of “you’ll be surprised how much your child teaches you.” I was 26 years old. Not exactly new at this whole game of life; so I took it with a grain of salt. But here I sit; watching my 15 month old daughter run around our house, and I’m in awe of the lessons she teaches me every single day. Below are the 5 most important ones (in my opinion at least):

1. Love is unconditional- I know this is nothing new to the masses. However, I distinctly remember all the times I told a family member that I hated them, or that I didn’t love them. I remember when I was younger and earlier in my marriage, thinking after a severe argument with my wife, that “our love was dissipating.” My daughter taught me that this is not so in such a humbling way. Every time we correct her, scold her, reprimand her for doing something naughty, or mean she would get angry with us. I was convinced early on that she was going to hate me for being a disciplinarian. But 30 seconds after being scolded or reprimanded, she would come right back over, with a pout on her sweet little face, and lay her head on my knee. Or she would bring her blanket over to me and raise her arms up for me to pick her up, and she immediately puts her head on my chest. My heart would swell with pride and it was then that it dawned on me. No matter how much we mess up in our life, no matter how many mistakes we made or how severe the arguments were; you don’t put conditions on love. You correct their/ your own course of action, and immediately let them know that you love them.

2. It’s okay to cry- As a man and a father, I thought I had to be tough. I couldn’t show emotion lest I be thought of as weak. All the emotional experiences I’ve had till now I suppressed. When I was going through bouts of depression, and felt useless as a father and a husband, I swallowed the hurt and tried to muscle through. My daughter walks up to me, with a piece of garbage, I throw it away, and she cries. She cries when her juice is gone, or when her toy is just out of reach. She cries because she knows no other way to express her emotion that she’s feeling. Crying leads to consoling, and comforting. Sometimes, as a father, a husband, an employee, or a man in general I don’t know how to express any emotion other than sitting down and crying. I now know that it’s not weakness, but a demonstration of humility that allows you to regroup yourself, and carry on.

3. There’s more important things than cleaning- My wife is notorious for going on cleaning rampages weekly. Our daughter is like a little tornado; any where she goes, any room she’s in, she leaves a path of toys and trash. We’d spend our evenings feeding her, putting her to sleep, then spend the next two hours picking up and cleaning up after everything. By the time we were done, we were exhausted and had hardly spent any time with each other. Familial tension increased and arguments ensued. Irritability caused irrational arguments. Then one night, I realized that when our daughter was bringing us toys, books, pens, stuffed animals, etc, she was happy, and usually the source of our evening entertainment. It was quality time that became more important than cleaning.

4. It’s the simple things in life that matter- I used to disagree with the statement that “money doesn’t buy happiness”. Happiness was intangible, but money sure could buy things that made me happy! It was sure nice to go on extravagant vacations, have the newest things, or the fattest bank account. What I didn’t look at was the basics. We have a roof over our head, food on the table, and people who love us. We were trying to buy her all these nice new toys, and she was perfectly content with a pan and spoon, or a box that her toy came in. She provided hours of entertainment not only for herself, but for everyone around her. Her pure, heartfelt smile when she learned how to “drum” or when she fit herself into the box she was playing with reminded me of a simpler time, where technology didn’t rule our lives, and the small and simple things were what life was all about.

5. Celebrate ALL life’s accomplishments- I have always taken things in life for granted. Walking, running, sitting and standing, climbing up and down. I would quietly take pride when I learned something new, but left it at that. Watching my daughter learn to “sit down”, and then “sit ALL the way down” was met with cheering and clapping by us, and pride and clapping by her. The first time she climbed up into the rocking chair that her great-grandpa built, turned around and sat down…followed by her sliding back off, was momentous. But so was every time she’s done it since. She gets so happy when she sees or hears us clapping and her face lights up with the brightest smile I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing I want more than to see her proud of her accomplishments; no matter how “small” they may seem.

In the grand scheme of things, the lessons she’s taught me are not new. They are, however, things of the past that were long forgotten as I grew up. Re-learning them has brought me back to a simpler place, where the foundations of love, learning, and life are re-rooted and renewed and I can revel in the joy of watching my daughter grow .

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Words Have Meaning

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!”

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Remember that schoolyard chant? I sure do; like it was yesterday. What I don’t remember is if it was preceded, or followed by “I am rubber, you are glue; what ever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

It was like those words were our childhood schoolyard armor. It became my mantra when I was bullied for being smaller than the other kids, or for dressing different. It then became my excuse when I used hurtful sayings and words towards others to make myself feel better. As a elementary or middle school student, I didn’t know what “faggot” or “retard” meant. All I knew, was that they were terms thrown around, and like verbal rocks, were designed to hurt someone.

Fast forward past the schoolyard days, and into high-school/college. Those words have become commonplace. I’m ashamed to admit that for years, I used those words in general conversation with friends, during playful banter and jibbing, and in arguments where I aimed to hurt someone. Those words had lost all sense of meaning to me.

I was an only child (biologically) growing up. My middleschool years I had 3 step-sisters who were around, until our parents separated. During my college years, our parents re-connected and I became very close with those 3 again, and gradually removed the word “step” and just considered them my sisters. Those 3, though they may not have realized it, by the nature of their way of life, have changed my perception on life.

The three of them learned at an early age about alternative lifestyles. Their mother is dating a transgender woman (male to female). They saw the love and the care and the indifference that existed in that dynamic. My middle sister is bisexual. Or pansexual, depending on your perspective. She has been in loving and caring relationships with both males and females, and has said that she’s attracted simply to intelligence. My youngest sister has always identified as “straight” but led the push for equal opportunity and recognition for the LGBT lifestyle in college.

All three of my sisters are highly educated, and they are also teachers. They have a simple rule in their classrooms (which vary from middle school students, to collegiate and graduate students). There rule is something along the lines of this: We do not use the words gay, faggot, stupid, retard or any other misused, misdirected word in the classroom. They apply the same rule in their households. They are pushing to show children in school that those words are prejudicial, hateful, hurtful and wrong. They will simply not allow that mentality to be bred under their watch.

I frequently would let those words slip when I went home for the Holidays, and it generally was followed by a kick in the shins, or a slap upside the head, and a reminder that those words are not allowed. Usually, it was followed by an educational lecture about what each of those words meant.

Now, as a parent myself, I look at all those years of smacks and kicks from my sisters, my schoolyard defense, and my own feelings having been called every one of those words and I am thankful, yet scared all at the same time. Thankful that I’ve been corrected, that I’ve seen and felt the hurt those words can cause. Thankful that I know that childhood schoolyard mantra is not true. Yet I’m scared because I see that the rest of the world is still oblivious to it. I’m scared that society has become so immune to violence and anger and judgement that they don’t see that words have meanings, and while “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is commonly said, the truth is that names and harsh words leave the deepest scars and wounds imaginable. I’m scared that my daughter will have to grow up in a world where there is so much hatred to those who may be “different.” I can only hope to indoctrinate my daughter with the love and knowledge that being mentally handicapped, or having a learning disability, or being in love with, or attracted to a member of the same sex is not wrong…its life; and its beautiful.

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The Moment Time Stood Still

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8:46 AM, September 11, 2001…

The world revolves 25,000 miles in 24 hours. That is almost 1100 miles an hour that the world is moving. Sun rises, sun sets. Moon rises, moon sets. Tides go in and out, in and out. Clocks go tick-tock, tick-tock. Nothing can stop that, bar the apocalypse.

However, at 8:46 AM, September 11, 2001, that rule was broken; time froze. I didn’t know it at that time, but that day would change my life forever. It was the day/moment that time stood still.
I was a freshman at John S. Burke Catholic High School, just 40 miles from NYC. I had just switched from homeroom to 1st period band class, when the student counselor came running into each class, very discombobulated, and whispered to the teacher. Class was paused, and a short period later we were ushered to the gym.

One by one, I watched students get pulled out of class, only to see them sobbing later. I would later find out that those students were the ones who’s parents were WTC employees, NYPD, and FDNY. Most of those parents did not come back home.

I was young, and naive. I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation at the time. We were ushered home, and I couldn’t stop panicking because I knew my mom worked as a nurse in a hospital that was “between me and NYC”, but didn’t realized the distance at the time. I also later found out why fighter jets were flying over our towns, as we are 12 miles from a very large nuclear energy facility and AA Flight 11 and made a turn towards it, prior to turning back south towards NYC.

I got home, and ran to the TV, where family was gathered. I’ll never forget, as long as I’m alive, the live footage of the towers collapsing, the people covered in dust and ash and blood while they stumbled with a blank look, and the people tumbling from the towers as they jumped. It made me sick. Sitting here typing this, I feel nauseous. My hands still shake, and I get choked up. I didn’t know what to do, but all I wanted to do was to have my mom home. I distinctly remember crying until she made it home…much much much later.

Fast forward 13 years. I’m sitting at my desk, a US Army Military Police Officer; an occupation directly driven by the incidents that occurred over a decade prior. From October of 2001, I knew I wanted to be in the military. I didn’t fully know why, but I had a burning desire to be able to make a difference. I work regularly with Soldiers who went from a peacetime army on September 10th, to a wartime army on September 11th. I’ve seen how their lives, and their families lives have been affected by multiple combat deployments, where they were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to deliver the slightest ounce of justice to those who swore to destroy America. I’ve been a volunteer firefighter, with one of our former members volunteering to go to Ground Zero on his day off, never to return home. And I’ve been to ground zero myself…and watched family members cry and sob at the memorial dedicated to never letting the world forget the moment that time stood still.

I was indirectly affected on that day, in ways I never thought imaginable. I have no idea how to talk to my daughter about that day, when she comes home with her history book that talks about it. I have no idea what to say when she asks me, “Why did people do that?” The only thing I know is that I pray she never has to experience such a senseless act of violence during her lifetime.

So today, September 11, 2014, I ask that you take a moment of silence to remember the 2,977 innocent victims killed at the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA, and the Pentagon. I also ask that you remember the 6,834 service-members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice during the War on Terror. Lastly, I pray that our generation, and generations to come will NEVER FORGET 8:46 AM, September 11, 2001…The Moment Time Stood Still.

God Bless America!

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How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

“Do you have a healthy work/life balance?”  

That question has been asked to me time and time again since I joined the Army. Generally it elicited a blank stare, or a quick “ya sure I do”. But do I really? A quick Google search for the term “Work Life Balance” recently brought up 156 million hits. There is a plethora of information scattered across the digital universe. There are seasoned clinical psychologists, family and marriage counselors, corporate human resource specialists, all the way to high school students who are publishing their senior thesis paper. All of these people have various levels of experience and input on this topic; some personal, some professional. But they all agree on one thing…You need to have a healthy work/life balance.

What exactly does that mean though? How do I balance them? What is work? What is life? The term “work” can vary greatly across the demographics of parents. A stay at home mom or dad, for example works just as much as the parent who gets in a car/bus/mass transit and commutes to a physical job location. Some may even argue that those SAHM/SAHD may even “work” more, since staying at home, doesn’t necessarily mean unemployed. I’m not here to spark a debate or any controversy on who works harder, but rather to point out the varying degrees of the terms work and life, and the difficulties in balancing them out. I know several parents who have full time, salaried positions that allow them to stay at home, and work. Combine these jobs with preparing lunches, changing diapers, shuttling kids to sports practice, dance recitals, etc, and those SAHM/SAHD are working 14 hour days. On top “spending time with family” Then there are the traditional, full time, commute-to-work, 40+ hours a week parents. Growing up in New York, I learned at a young age that a lot of these people work in NYC, and commute an hour or more each way. You figure a 8 hour day at best, plus 2+ hours of commuting, then adding on their roles as parents, and those hours stack up quickly as well. With all this working being done, when does one live their life? With these smartphones connected to work e-mails, do we ever really let work go and just enjoy life? “Life” too, carries different meanings. To some, life may mean being completely detached from anything related to employment. Cell phones off, emails not forwarded…just alone time with family. My “life” is not worrying about anything work related. Not having to field e-mails and phone calls. Not providing solutions to problems, or worrying about what problems may come the next day. Beyond that, however, is the ability to get away from work. The ability to tell your boss that you want time off for something other than a funeral, or family emergency, but rather just to enjoy time with family.

Before I graduated college, and then became a parent, I was under the delusional impression that “work” existed M-Fri, 9AM-5PM, and your “life” was the rest of the time…easy to balance. Holy crap was I wrong. Since I graduated college and started my time in the Army, I’ve been an epic failure at the balancing act, and that was BEFORE I had my daughter. Now, what was once precious time with my wife, has become feeding time, laundry time, play time, cleaning time, reading time, bath time, all around baby time. My problem is I tend to bring my work home, not necessarily physically, but emotionally. So that time with my wife and daughter, often still carries the stressful undertones of work, and blocks the enjoyment of being home with my family. This leads to stress and arguments, which means less enjoyable family time, which means aggravated me at work, thus producing poor quality work and drawing the wrath of superiors. In turn, an even more irritated me comes home the following day and the vicious cycle continues.

This brings me back to my original question. Do you have a healthy work/life balance? Do you even discern between work and “life”? Do you cut back on work to enjoy your life, or do you make your sacrifices at home, to help ensure success at work? Is there really a right or wrong answer here? I know I never did, and still haven’t figured this one out. I struggle with it on a daily basis, and I’ve learned that, at least for me, if I don’t come to a balanced solution soon, both my work and my life will suffer. Then there will be no winner in my game of life. Feel free to comment below with any experience and advice you have on this subject.

 

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Congratulations Dad! Here’s your kid…

Growing up, I always heard that parenting comes as second nature. Its been done for thousands of years, and you could honestly say “its so easy, a caveman can do it.” Hollywood makes it look so glamorous, even the birthing part. Then there’s that show, “16 and pregnant”, soon to be “32 and grandma”. Makes you think that if they can do it, and its been successfully done for thousands of years, then it can’t be all that difficult, right?  Au contraire, mon frère!  Cue Halloween 2013. I’ve watched all the Youtube videos in existence, talked to all my family members, talked to doctors and nurses, and kinda/sorta read those daddy books.  Hell, I even went to a Daddy Boot Camp class! I was ready to go.  I packed my wife’s bag (with her guidance and assistance), secured the car-seat for the trip to the hospital, and had the crib, cradle, pack n’ play, and sleeper/rocker all set. My wife was scheduled to be induced on the 31st of October, which happened to be her due date, due to low blood count and potential issues with the epidural. However, at 3 AM on the 31st, she sat straight up in bed, grabbed my arm and yelled out. I may not be a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that meant she was in labor.

So I’m driving to the hospital, wife’s best friend in the car behind us, and she starts having full blown contractions. I have no idea what the hell I’m supposed to do…”What to expect when expecting” doesn’t have a paragraph about high speed back-country highway deliveries. Needless to say, that 45 minute ride became the worst 25 minutes of my life.

We got to the hospital, and after they argued with us about not calling ahead of time (we had a bed secured the night prior) they finally placed us in a room, and in came an army of nurses with tubes and medicines and information flying at us from all angles. I’d honestly say that, in retrospect, it was too much information to handle. I’m sure they told us information on how to breathe properly, and to prepare for the delivery, but in the madness that was occurring, neither my wife, nor I paid enough attention to what anyone was saying. In fact, the only thing my wife was concerned about was that she had her good, fluffy socks on.

Anyways, in the interest of not dragging this story out forever, with it being my first, I’ll skip forward. 1139 AM rolls around. The midwife is doing her thing, my wife is screaming, pushing me away and puking on me from a combination of anti-heartburn medicine and going numb all up her body from epidural (sorry sweetie). The midwife, very nonchalantly I might add, says, “theres the head, and theres the baby! Congrats daddy! Hold her this way! No, not like that, prop her head up! Ok now bring her here. Time to draw blood. Daddy, go check on mommy. Wait, Dad, come back and cut the cord for a photo shoot. Oh look…she pooped! Well done! Heart normal, breathing normal, peeing and pooping VERY normal…ok time to go to Mother/Baby side…”

Wait one damn second…what the hell just happened?! Thats my kid? Why’s her head misshapen, why isn’t she crying? Is she supposed to look like an alien? I had a myriad of questions but all the nurses were worried about were rushing us into the next room. Once we arrived, another barrage of nurses came in. Sticking her foot with needles, then dunking them in ink. Rushing her to NICU for tests, and then bringing her back. I felt like I was a preschooler…charting pees and poops and feedings like it was our life. More I wrote, the better chance I had of a gold star!

Somewhere in this process they slipped an ankle monitor on my baby. They warned me that if I walked to close to the elevator, it would set off an alarm, and the MPs would be called. I felt imprisoned, and my daughter was only 3 hours old. I’d spent maybe 20 minutes with her, and those minutes were spent staring at her, wondering how in the world I was ever that small. Every minute passed brought two more questions, and yielded no answers. I was querying dad forums and mom pages (hadn’t found out about #DadBloggers yet) and the best advice I received was to “take it in stride, and learn as I go”…Thanks to the poetic genius who gave me that advice, it served me really well when she projectile pooped on me from two feet away…I was really glad you taught me to “learn as I go.”

Minutes turned to hours, turned to days, turned to nearly a week. My wife continued to have blood count issues so we were held in the hospital nearly 5 days. In retrospect, those 5 days really just felt like one really long day. Interrupted by 30 minute spurts of closed eyes and inquisitive nurses. We had one awesome nurse who ironically was a college classmate who took great care of us. She ensured we were stockpiled with whatever we needed. She took the time to answer questions, and assist us with any issues we had. But she was one nurse, and we were one of many on that floor, so inevitably she had to leave, and my questions continued to build. On November 4th, while eating my fantastic steak and shrimp dinner, so ungraciously provided by the Hospital, the final nurse came in, cut off my daughters ankle monitor, gave us some paperwork to sign and then looked at me with the straightest face ever and said, “Congratulations Dad, here’s your kid” and told us once we checked out, that we were free to go.

What the F***?! Where is the manual? Users guide? Anyone!? Bueller?! How can a 26 year old honestly be expected to handle this 7 lb human being and do everything right? Walking out the hospital doors was the most surreal feeling in the world. Crisp cool air blowing around, people hustling and bustling, and I’m carrying my infant daughter; my pride and joy, and my legacy, all bundled up in a pink carseat and there’s no-one stopping me. I wasn’t given a 40 hour block of instruction on child raising, no one gave me a certificate of training saying I was ready…I just had to step into the batters box and start swinging.

The next days, weeks, and months would bring many trials and tribulations that no one could have ever prepared me for. That being said, in retrospect, I don’t think one is ever truly “ready” to be a dad. I learned, stubbornly I will admit, what it meant to “take things in stride and learn as you go.”

So to all you soon to be dads out there, if I can offer you this one piece of advice, it is this: This is your adventure, don’t follow anyone else’s path. You will trip and stumble, slip and fall, but when you reach the peak there is no feeling like it. Enjoy raising your child and most of all, enjoy being a dad.  To all those out there who were already dads and to whom I spoke: thank you for letting me live my own adventure. I can honestly say I’ve learned by doing things my way, and having to adjust fire, and do it differently. You are all amazing for what you do, and I wish you all the best!

Congratulations dads, here’s your kid!

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