Thursday, October 7, 2010
I'll start with my own kids. It started when my wife was pregnant with our middle child. Our daughter had been the only child in our family and the only grandchild on either side of our families for a couple of years. Like most only children, she was enjoying a life of indulgence. She was never without stimulation from adults; no matter where she went, she was the center of attention. Every holiday was an extravaganza of gifts that she didn't have to share with anyone. In fact, for her first two years, she didn't have to share anything. I have to admit, I was nervous about how she would react to having not only a new little brother in the house, but on my side of the family, she was getting a cousin at about the same time. I had heard stories about children in that situation acting out when the new baby came or refusing to accept that the new baby was even part of the family: "Can we take it back?"
When my son was born, everyone made sure that my daughter knew this didn't make her less special or that we would love her any less now that she wasn't the only little kiddo in our lives. My wife and I got her a baby doll as a present for her to open at the hospital when she came out to meet her little brother, and my parents got her a gift as well. We told her that the doll was for her to practice on so she could be a big helper with her little brother. She was beaming. I love to look at the pictures we have of her holding him at the hospital. You can't imagine a happier little girl, but I wasn't ready to let my guard down. I knew that this could just be a "honeymoon" phase and that things could change very quickly after a few days. This never happened. It was quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The days passed by, and instead of distancing herself from her little brother, she became more and more infatuated with him. They were together every minute of every day for a few months. This hadn't occurred to me until one Friday night when I decided to take her to a high school football game.
I was student teaching at the time, and I really thought it would be a good experience to go to a game and see my students outside of the classroom, a teacher's right of passage. My wife and I also decided it would be fun if my daughter went with me. My wife was working, so I dropped my son off with some friends of ours who had agreed to watch him for the evening, and my daughter and I headed to the game. Within a block of dropping my son off, my daughter became completely inconsolable at the thought of being away from her precious little brother. She cried the entire twenty-minute drive to the game. Once we were there and she was able to watch the band play and cheerleaders cheer, everything was okay, but as soon as we got back into the car, she immediately became worried about her brother. I thought she was happy the day he was born, but that was nothing compared to her reaction when we walked into our friends' house and she saw him again.
That was three years ago. I am happy to report that they are still as close as they were that night. It probably helps that they share a bedroom, so they continue to spend an incredible amount of time together. Sure, they have their moments when they don't want to take turns or they can't agree on what movie to watch, but at the end of the day, I don't know that either of them has a better friend in the world than each other. Over the past couple of weeks, they have developed the need to sleep in the same bed. I wasn't sure about this at first, but when my son waited until we left the room and snuck up into the top bunk with his sister, and my wife and I found them snuggled up together sleeping peacefully, I decided I should just cherish these moments while we have them. In the words of Darius Rucker, "It won't be like this for long."
A few months ago, my wife and I welcomed our third child to the world. Again, I was worried about the reaction of our other two children. For my daughter, I was worried about the disappointment of having another little brother instead of the little sister she had ordered. We had kept the sex of this baby a secret from everyone, including our two children, so we decided that a good way to avoid any issues with our daughter would be to let her in the secret the day before my wife was scheduled to be induced. This worked like a charm. She was disappointed, but it was offset by the excitement of being trusted with such an important secret. I was less worried about my older son than I was about my daughter when he was born because he wasn't used to being the only kid in the house, but I also figured he might have a problem with not being Daddy's only little buddy anymore. Again, my children amazed me.
When our older two met the new guy for the first time, they naturally wanted to hold him and love on him, but I really thought it would be something where they would hold him for a minute or two and lose interest. This couldn't have been farther from the truth. Both of my kids held their little brother on numerous occasions for upward of thirty minutes. They would just sit there and hold him in their lap like he was the greatest treasure on Earth, hugging him and kissing him and talking to him. It hasn't stopped. They still faun all over their little brother every chance they get, and they are enormously protective of the little guy. They are quick to let us know that we have let too much time lapse since he started crying and that we need to take care of him. Often, they will even let us know what it is he is crying about and what we ought to do to alleviate the situation.
I guess the sibling relationship I see in my own kids, and how incredible it all seems to me, is probably the reason I have become so attuned to the sibling dynamics around me. I remember growing up as the oldest of three boys. We were all close in age (four years between me and my youngest brother), so we grew up playing on a lot of the same teams and having many of the same friends. This led to some pretty contentious sibling rivalry from time to time. Sure, I have a ton of great memories of all of us playing together and getting along great, but there were also times when we wanted to tear each other apart. This got a lot worse when we were all teenagers. We were all struggling to find our own identities and develop relationships outside of the family, but we were all at different stages, all having different needs from each other at the same time. As the oldest, I desperately wanted to develop a social life separate from my brothers. For them, I can only guess that they weren't quite ready to lose the leader of our little wolf pack. We fought and bickered for much of our teen years, but now that we are adults, I can honestly say that I count my brothers as two of my best friends.
My wife is the youngest of a mixed bag: two girls and a boy. From what I have heard, they were not a very close bunch. Unlike my brothers and I who all had the same interests, my wife and her siblings are all completely different. Each of them had their own interests and hobbies, so they didn't share a lot of the same things that I shared with my brothers. For this reason, that little bit of separation I had with my brothers was far greater for them. However, this past weekend, we were over at the home of my in-laws. My wife's sister was there with her fiance, and her brother was in and out as he worked to get crops out of the fields. We had a great day of four-wheeler riding, combining (for my son with his uncle), and visiting with the family, but everyone agrees that the highlight was the hour or so that the three kids spent (plus my sister-in-law's fiance and me) sitting around the kitchen table chatting about anything and everything that came to our minds. My wife was beaming. She said she can't remember a time when she had just sat with her brother and sister and just talked without any real purpose. Around that table were people who were enjoying each other's company simply because they enjoyed each other's company. They didn't have to sit and talk like that just because they are related. They did it because they genuinely like each other.
As I sit and write this all down, I wonder what I can take away from it all. What message can I express about siblings? There is a saying about being able to pick your friends but not your family. The idea is that we are better off with our friends because we get to pick them but that our families are something we are saddled with. Certainly, there are times in our lives that it feels that way, but I also feel blessed that I was given the family I have. They're not perfect. Nobody is, but they are a group of people that know who I am in a way that even my friends probably don't. Our siblings are people with whom we have a shared heritage. Even if we experienced it in different ways, we have the same basic history. We share traditions, memories, and at the expense of sounding a little cheesy, love. I know that as my children grow, there will be times they don't like each other, but I also know that they love I see between them now will always be in there somewhere, just waiting for an afternoon around the kitchen table to show itself again.
Friday, September 10, 2010
I wrote about it a post awhile back, so I hate to keep bringing it up, but having kids makes you more aware than you've ever been of the passage of time. Without kids, I wouldn't give a second thought to how quickly the last five years have passed, but now that I have kids, I can see it passing before my eyes. I look at pictures from a year ago, and while I still look just as stunning as I did 365 days ago, my kids look like they've aged ten years (in a good way). As I type this post, I'm looking at a family picture taken last fall. The two kids I had at the time seem so young compared to the two I dropped off this morning before coming to work.
At this time last year, my wife and I were hoping to get pregnant again, but now we have a two-month old that smiles and coos. In the picture on my desk, one can barely tell that my sister-in-law is pregnant, but my niece was crawling around like a pro when I dropped my boys off for daycare this morning.
I'm loving every second of this adventure, but I at the same time, I'm bracing myself for the morning that I wake up to the sound of my daughter getting ready for her wedding day or my sons packing up to head to college. I think of the movie Click starring Adam Sandler, and realize that while his remote started auto-fast-forwarding because he was using it so much, mine would probably get stuck in pause mode. I would want to pause on every smile, hug, and "I love you, Daddy," but life doesn't work that way, so I'll just have to do my best to live in the moment every moment I get.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
My three-year-old son is going through his "Why?" phase right now. Actually, he's been going through it for awhile now, and when it first hit, my natural inclination was to try to end his questioning as quickly as possible with short answers and a stern warning to knock it off. However, I was struck with the realization that my high school students had lost this sense of curiosity somewhere along the line and no longer seem interested in exploring much of anything beyond the surface.
I wrote about this on my teacher blog (www.mrogle.blogspot.com) and opined about it on Twitter. My principal (www.phsprincipal.blogspot.com) sent me a link to this video, and it really struck a chord a with me. I decided right then that I would answer my son's questions to the best of my ability until his curiosity was satisfied.
Don't get me wrong, his repetitive questioning can be very annoying and at times exhausting, but I really do my best to give him real answers to his questions whenever I can. Unfortunately, I'm not the most knowledgeable guy on some subjects and some of his questions simply don't have real answers. This has lead to some interesting conversations.
We were driving down the road one day when it began to rain. He asked why it was raining. I proceeded to tell him about the water cycle and about how moisture builds in the air to the point that it can't hold anymore and that the temperature also plays a role in producing clouds capable of causing precipitation. I was pretty proud of my knowledge of this (a big thank you to Eastern Illinois University for making me take a class on weather and climate), but he wasn't satisfied. He wanted to know why all of this happens. I explained that it was simply the laws of nature at work. He wasn't satisfied with this either. I was left with no other option than to tell him that is just how God wants it. He asked why God wants it that way. I said it is because God wants to water the plants on Earth. He asked why. I said it was because he wanted them to grow and be pretty. He asked why again. This went on for a good five minutes before I could only tell him that he needed to take this line of questioning up with God. It was at this point that my little boy looked up from his booster seat and said in the most innocent voice imaginable, "God, why do you make it rain?" There was silence in the car for a few moments. Then he looked back at me and said, "Daddy, he's not answering." I caught myself just in time to keep from saying, "Sometimes God doesn't answer us right away," but I knew that would only start the cycle again. I'm a man, not a saint.
Other times, his questions just don't have an answer that I can give. We were driving through town (most of these happen when he is bored in the car) and passed some cheerleaders from the local university holding signs advertising their car wash. If I'd had cash, I would have stopped. I mean, my car was dirty and it seemed like a good cause. Anyway, my son asked what they were doing. I explained the idea of a fundraising car wash. He asked why they needed money. I explained it was to pay for their expenses since cheerleading is an often overlooked program when it comes to funding. He asked why, so I explained about revenue from ticket sales and pressure from booster clubs. He was okay with that, but then asked why they were allowed to stand out near the road and wash cars. I said I didn't know. He persisted down this path, and I honestly ran out of ideas to keep his little mind going. Again, there was silence in the car. Finally, after much thought, my son asked, "Did their mommy say they could?" Hallelujah! "Yes, son. Their mommy said they could." Silence. "Why?"
I don't know if all of this will lead to my son being an engaged and intellectually curious teenager, but I can only hope it helps because I am certain it will be a contributing factor to my future grey hair.
Friday, August 6, 2010
I suppose this has a lot to do with all of the excitement we managed to pack into this short two-and-a-half months. The summer started with t-ball. It seems like such a long time ago that I took my little girl to her first practice. In reality, it was only about ten weeks ago. T-ball season concluded on the same day our son was born: another huge occasion. I feel bad that my wife and I missed my daughter's last game and her getting her trophy, but something tells me that she will forgive us. She loves her baby brother and dotes on him constantly.
After the birth of my youngest son, it was only a few short weeks before I got to take my older son to his first major league baseball game. I wrote about it in my last blog in more detail, but let me just say here that I still can't wipe the smile off of my face when I think about it. All along the way, we enjoyed trips to the park and afternoons in my parents' pool watching my son demonstrate how fearless he is by doing back flips into the pool off of my shoulders while my daughter practiced all she was learning in swimming lessons. Oh, and I got the joy of watching my son find an outlet for his athleticism in tumbling class.
I spend a lot of time thinking about why time seems to fly and stand still at the same time as I get older. I think it is because as I grow and my family grows, I have more and more to look forward to, and one thing I know from childhood is that looking forward to something makes time do funny things. I remember looking forward to Christmas or birthdays and feeling on a day-to-day basis that they would never come but then waking up one morning and realizing it had arrived.
Having kids is kind of like that. I look forward to so many things with them, and it feels like these milestones and events will never come, but they do. I registered my oldest for kindergarten today. I remember when my middle child was born and wondering what his voice would sound like when he was finally able to call me daddy, and now he tells the most amazing stories and is able to tell me I'm the best daddy in the whole world in complete sentences. Now I find myself daydreaming about what it will be like when our youngest is old enough to run around and play with his big brother and sister, but I know that I will wake up one day and find that time has come. Some people might get a little sad to think about how fast their children grow up, and I suppose that someday I will look back and wish they were still my little kiddos, but for now, I am loving every minute of watching them grow and absolutely can't wait until I get to see them do the next thing for the very first time.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Fatherhood has provided me days that rank high on both the happy and sad days list. I'll start with the sad ones so that I can finish strong with the happy ones. Two of the most crushing days of my life took place within my first year of being a father. I was serving in Iraq when my daughter was born, and while I did get to come home for her birth (definitely one of the happiest days of my life), I also had to turn around and leave her when she was only two weeks old. I remember feeling like someone had ripped my heart out through my throat as I boarded the plane that day. I didn't know if I would ever see her again, and it killed me to think that she wouldn't remember me if I didn't come back. Ten months later, I was able to come home for two weeks of R&R, but I had to go through leaving my little girl a second time. Both times were made all the more difficult by the fact that I was traveling alone. Each time it took me about five days of traveling surrounded by strangers to get back to my friends in Iraq. Once I was back, everything was fine because I was able to be with other guys who were going through the same thing, and we helped each other get through it, but for those days when I was on my own on planes and sitting in airport terminals, the sadness was crushing. Luckily, that is the full list of my worst days.
The great thing about having kids is that they will give you more great days than you can count. Even simple days of grabbing a picnic lunch and going to the park rank higher than just about anything I experienced in life before kids. The day my wife said she would marry me and the day we got married are both in my top ten greatest days, but just about everything beyond that is time I've spent with my kids.
The days they were born are obvious ones, but I recently added another great day to my list. It is a tradition in our house that when one of our kids turns three, they get to go to a St. Louis Cardinals game with me. My daughter and I went to a game two years ago when she turned three. It was Father's Day, so it was a double-dip of awesomeness to get to share that with her. We had a fantastic time. She got a real major league baseball before the game started when a ball got away from the visiting Phillies and rolled to the wall in front of our seats. A member of the grounds crew drove up on a cart and tossed it to us. After the game, she got to run the bases.
This year it was my son's turn. I have to say that as excited as my daughter was for the game, my son was twice as thrilled. He is much more into sports, so he was more interested in watching the actual game, which was cool. Our seats were amazing. We were sitting in the front row of the bleachers above the Cardinals bullpen, so we got to see the pitchers warm-up, and my son managed to charm a baseball from the bullpen catcher. Like my daughter, my son got to run the bases after the game. The only difference is that my son is more timid than my daughter, so he wouldn't run them alone. That's right; I got to run the bases at Busch Stadium with my son.
I look at those two trips, both of which resulted in exciting one-run wins by our beloved Cardinals, official major-league baseballs for my kids, and a chance to touch 'em all on one of the most beautiful baseball fields in the world, and I can't imagine anything on a national or global scale, no matter how historic, meaning as much to me as that.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Sometimes I stop and think about what being a parent really means, and it is frightening. When your child is born, they literally don't know anything. They don't know how to talk. They don't know how to make themselves mobile. Heck, the little stinkers don't even know how to control their own limbs, and our jobs as parents is to teach them absolutely everything one must know in order to function as a human. I don't know about you, but that seems like a pretty daunting task when you think about.
I remember my cousin buying a Furby when we were in college. We would sit around while we were bored (yeah, bored, that's what we were) trying to teach it dirty words and phrases, but it didn't learn and we soon became irritated with it and gave up. I know now that at that point I was not ready for kids, because kids are infinitely harder to train than a Furby. For one thing, the Furby wouldn't learn the bad words we wanted it to, which caused no hardship for us at all, but kids will learn the bad words you don't want them to and recite them at the top of their lungs at the most inopportune times. Obviously, that is more irritating, but teaching kids to talk is far from the biggest challenge a parent faces on their way to training their very own human. No, the biggest challenge when training a human child is potty training. Some people may think teaching a teenager to drive is harder, but those people are idiots. Think about it: If your teenager wrecks the car, who has to clean up the mess? Somebody else, that's who. If your toddler craps their pants at the park on the hottest day of year, who has to sweat their butt off in a stinky park bathroom with flies buzzing around their head trying to clean the kids' rear-end while also trying to keep their curious hands from touching anything that will require hospital-strength sterilization? You do!
Now, some of you non-parent-types out there may be wondering why the kid wasn't wearing a diaper at the park if they aren't fully potty trained. Let me explain. You see, potty training a kid isn't like teaching your pet bird to say, "Your fly's undone," whenever a guest at your house walks out of the bathroom. You don't just work with them and then when they learn it the process is over. The hardest thing about potty training is that the real hassle doesn't start until they are out of diapers. Kids are more clever than we give them credit for. They will poop and pee (another side effects of potty training is that you talk about poop and pee like some people talk about the weather or sports scores) on the potty with 100% accuracy until they have you convinced they are ready for real underwear. That is when the fun starts.
My daughter was "potty trained" (totally fake title) when she was two. One day, after she was "potty trained", I discovered that she had pooped her pants (I know, doesn't sound potty trained at all, right?). When I was working on getting her pants and underwear off, she decided to help me out by kicking her underwear off, which basically turned her underwear into some kind of medieval poo launcher. She thought it was funny. It is only now, years later, that I am able to laugh about it.
My son has been "potty trained" (can we drop the myth already?) for a few months now, but we still go through about five pairs of big boy underwear a day, and it is not as if he just doesn't understand how to tell he needs to use the bathroom because he will leave the living room, walk past the bathroom, and hide in his closet to do it. You don't do all of that by accident!
And another thing, whoever thought it was necessary to teach kids to use the toilet before they are ten forgot one little hiccup: diarrhea. I know fully grown adults who can barely make it to the bathroom when they have the flu. How in the world can we expect a three-year-old to understand the concept of "never trust a fart"? It's not going to happen. I've watched my kids get this look of fearful bewilderment as their pants inexplicably become heavier. One lovely evening, my daughter walked into the living room with her pants soaking wet. She told me she had peed her pants. As she got closer, I noticed the smell. She hadn't peed her pants at all. The poor girl spent about half an hour in the bathtub as I raced around trying to figure out what to do. We didn't have any pull-ups for her, and I certainly wasn't going to change her pants every five minutes, which happened to be the intervals at which she would announce from the bathroom, "It happened again!" I hosed her down in there at least five times before I was able to get hold of my wife at work. She came up with the idea of digging the little training potty out and having her sit in the living room on it so she could watch a movie until her tummy felt better. She ended up having to sit on the training potty for like three hours.
Why do we put this burden on small children? I say make potty training part of the fifth grade curriculum and leave it alone until then. I don't understand what the big rush is anyway. The way I see it, life is just a big race to get back into diapers. I can't wait until I don't have to be bothered with nuisances like trips to the restroom during my daily routine. Just leave me alone with my applesauce; I'll scream when I need someone to change me.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Well, for those of you who do not know me personally, my son was born a week ago tomorrow, which is why I haven't posted anything in a little over a week. Since my last post, I've spent a few days anxiously awaiting induction while trying home remedies for inducing labor I found on the internet (my wife wouldn't let me try all of them, otherwise it might have worked), two days in the hospital once we actually did get induced, and then a few days at home helping the family get used to the new addition. Now that it is all pretty much over and life has returned to normal, I'd like to take a little time to share what I think are the highlights of the births of my three children.
#1-Daughter-June 2005- I was eighteen days into my twelve month tour in Iraq when my wife told me via web chat that she was dilated to two centimeters and eighty percent effaced. I had no idea what any of that meant, but I did know what the word imminent meant, which is the word the doctor used to describe when labor would happen. I was excited. My chain-of-command had told all of the expectant fathers before we left the US that there was a very strong chance that none of us would be sent home on emergency leave for the birth of our children. They said they would do their best, but nothing could be promised. With this in mind, my wife and I went into it with the mindset that I would not be coming home. She would go through labor on her own and raise our daughter alone for a year until I returned. It wasn't going to be easy, but we were ready to do it.
After talking to my wife, I went to get ready for my squad's overnight combat patrol. I was in the company command center talking to some friends and sharing the news before we left. I didn't realize that my first sergeant overheard my conversation and immediately sent word up the chain-of-command in an effort to get me home. While I was on patrol in the suburbs of Baghdad, calls were being made and paperwork was being processed in an effort to get me from Iraq to Illinois before my daughter arrived. I still didn't know any of this when I returned to the forward operating base the next morning, unloaded our gun truck, packed away my gear, and collapsed into my bed. I don't remember doing much more than closing my eyes before I was startled out of my sleep by the bright sun shining through my open door and the silhouette of my platoon sergeant yelling, "Ogle! Get your shit! You're going!"
I was shocked, but I knew what to do. I jumped up, and started putting on the sweaty uniform I had been wearing on patrol and asking what the mission was. He laughed at me, called me some derogatory name that makes sense only in his Missouri hillbilly dialect, and told me that I was going home. If I was shocked before, I was definitely shocked now. I was told I had thirty minutes to be a the battalion headquarters ready to go. I spent the next twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes running around like crazy getting cleaned up, picking up my laundry so I would be wearing my most presentable uniform on the way home, and having my friends strip my body armor of ammo pouches, first aid kits, etc.. Once I managed to make it to battalion just under my deadline, I proceeded to wait there with nothing to do for about an hour. Hurry up and wait.
From there, it took me right around sixty hours to get from Baghdad to Champaign, IL, by way of Kuwait, Bahrain, France, and Cincinnati. I arrived home and found that my daughter had not made her appearance yet. The next day, my wife and I went to her doctor and convinced him to schedule and induction for the next morning because regardless of when my daughter was born, I was only allowed fifteen days before I had to return. On my second day home, we went to the hospital at the appointed time, my wife got changed into a hospital gown, and when she climbed into the bed to start getting ready for induction, she went into labor on her own. This is where the fun starts.
A friend of my wife had just recently had her first child and told my wife that an epidural is the way to go, so my wife almost immediately got an epidural, which resulted in her sleeping through about eight of the twelve hours that elapsed between her water breaking and giving birth. A lot of guys would've immediately become bored and looked for things to do, but I am not a lot of guys. I sat by my sleeping wife in absolute silence and watched her to make sure everything was okay. I was going to be the perfect birthing coach. The nurses would cheer my name as I walked down the halls, saying to each other how remarkable it was to see a man so devoted to his wife and child, but then my wife woke up and suggested I turn on the TV since she was only sleeping. I protested once, but after she suggested it a second time, I turned it on and found a Cardinals game. I'm a man, not a saint. I hadn't seen the Cardinals play all season.
I was still feeling pretty confident that I was the best husband in the world even after the TV was on because I was still by her side, and I still hadn't eaten since midnight. I had resolved that I would not eat until my wife was allowed to eat. This lasted until about one in the afternoon when my stomach was rumbling and my wife suggested I go get something to eat, but I refused to leave her side. However, when she suggested that it was stupid for both of us to be hungry and that I should have my brother bring something to me, I buckled. About half-an-hour later, I was sitting at my sleeping wife's side, watching the Cardinals, with a mouthful of steak sandwich when a nurse came in and gave me a look like I was the biggest piece of trash she had ever seen. What kind of a man eats a foot long sub and watches a ballgame while his wife is in labor? All I could do was point at my wife and say, "She told me to." I only wish I hadn't still had a mouthful of food when I said it.
After the game was over and my sandwich a memory, I decided to make a quick trip to the gift shop to get a little something for my wife as a token of my gratitude for all she had done. I picked out a lovely little gift and asked if I could have it gift wrapped since my wife was already in labor and I wouldn't have a chance to wrap it myself. The woman behind the counter glared at me like I was the most insensitive scum she had ever seen and began wrapping it. Feeling wrongfully accused, I explained to her that I hadn't had a chance to shop because I had just gotten in from Iraq. She ended up not charging me for the wrapping.
The rest of the birth of my daughter was fairly routine as far as births go. With my wife's epidural, there really wasn't much "coaching" for me to do, so I was basically a spectator/photographer.
#2-Son-June 2007- After having everything pretty much go against me during my daughter's birth, I was resolved that with the birth of my son, I would finally reach the level of super-husband in the labor room. My wife opted not to have an epidural this time, so she was awake and in considerably more pain than with my daughter. I have to say, I did a great job. She was awake, so we didn't have the TV on. We talked and listened to a CD she'd made of music she likes (If I remember correctly, she had the same CD or one similar to it with my daughter, but it only got played at the very end). I stayed by her side from start to finish. I had the gift already taken care of, so that wasn't an issue, and because her labor was more intense, I didn't have lunch. Everything was shaping up to be great...
With what turned out to be about an hour until my son was born, my mother called and asked if I wanted her to bring me something to eat at the hospital for dinner. I don't remember if the plan was for me to eat before or after or what all the circumstances where. All I remember is that while my son was being born and taken care of and my wife tended to by the doctor, there was a big, greasy bag containing a super gyro sitting on the table screaming my name. The room was filled with odor of juicy, delicious meat. I'm sure there were other smells. Check that, I KNOW there were other smells, but all I could smell was the gyro. My stomach was growling.
Luckily for me, I actually like being a father, so the birth of my children is an exciting event, which meant that while it was all going on, I wasn't very aware of the food. Unluckily for me, there isn't a rule on how long it is appropriate to ignore the food after the mess is cleaned up and the medical personnel are gone. I felt like a little kid at his birthday party, eyeing the presents, wondering how many lipstick kisses and cheek pinches he has to endure before he can find out what's in the sack. My wife must have realized what was on my mind because she didn't make me wait too long before saying, "Go ahead and eat your food before it gets cold."
#3-Son-June 2010- Very early on in this pregnancy, my wife and I decided this would be our last child, so I knew going into it that this was my last chance to be the perfect husband. This time there would be no ballgame, no steak sandwich, no judging gift shop workers, and no greasy gyros. Because my wife was induced with both previous children and this one was set to be induced as you know from my last post, I was really hoping for a spontaneous labor with this one. When we ended up being induced, it only furthered my resolve to get everything else right. I sat by my wife's side for the first few hours, talking to her and keeping her company as best I could. When the nurse said we weren't progressing at all, I left at my wife's request to get some movies for that evening because we thought it would be better to leave when nothing was happening (she wasn't even having noticeable contractions) than to leave after the baby had arrived. Even then, I flew like the wind to our house to grab some DVD's. I decided that I should also go ahead and grab some beverages and chips to avoid having to leave to get drinks from the vending machine once I got back. She'd also insisted I get something to eat, so I grabbed a sandwich. I managed to accomplish all of this and be back at my wife's bedside in about twenty minutes. When she felt like getting a little rest, I ate my sandwich, but this time I managed to get it all down before a nurse could give me the stink eye. When the time came, I walked endless laps with my wife up and down the hallways. I danced with her in our room to the music we had brought. When the time came for the real hard work to begin, I was at her beck-and-call. I took pictures, I contacted friends and family members, I was bouncing back and forth between her and my son. In the end, we both decided it was a good labor to end on because it was our best one so far.
It has been a week since he was born, and this blog took me three days to write, but things have started to settle down, and we are all thrilled to have our family complete. Oh, and one quick note, he lost is umbilical cord today, so we are now a five belly-button family.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Maybe it is because I watch entirely too much TV and way too many movies, but the fact that our previous two children have both been born by appointment leaves me hoping for that exciting, middle-of-the-night "my water broke" moment followed by a mad-dash out of the house and into the hospital. Heck, I'd settle for it happening in the middle of the afternoon.
I have the whole exciting thing pictured in my head:
"Nathan! I'm in labor!"
Like an action hero, I spring into action. I strap on my bluetooth headset like the ones they use on Burn Notice and call our neighbor to come watch the kids until my mother-in-law can make the trip to relieve her. Then, with my hands being free on account of the bluetooth, I call my mother-in-law with the alert while simultaneously getting dressed and loading my wife's bags into the van. I grab the laptop, video camera, digital camera, and iPod loaded with relaxing baby-having music. Then, with the strength of a thousand men, I effortlessly carry my wife to our awaiting transportation.
She looks up at me as I rush her to the van and says, "You're my hero!"
Praise like this is common for an international man-of-action like myself, so I simply nod and continue on my mission. I strap her into the front seat so that stinking bell doesn't ding as I drive through our sleepy town like Jason Bourne en route to the hospital. I dial the number for the labor and delivery department as I squeal around another corner and blast through a perfectly placed vegetable stand. "We've got a hot one!" I scream to the groggy nurse on the other end of the line. "ETA: Two mikes!" That's minutes for you civilians out there.
I hang up just in time to pass dangerously through a red light without hitting any cars speeding through on the green light. Man, who knew a Chrysler Town & Country could kick this much butt.
Oh no! There is a bridge out up ahead. There is no time to detour. I push the accelerator through the floor and tell my wife to, "Hold on! We're going to see if this Stow-n-Go can fly!" We fly through the air in slow motion with A-Team music playing in my head. The van crashes down safely on the other side just as my wife goes into another contraction.
Soon, we are barreling into the hospital parking lot. I perform a perfect one-hundred-and-eighty degree braking stop at the curb to the Visitor entrance, jump out of the van, grab my wife, and toss the keys to a weary-eyed security guard and say, "Keep it close for me, Scooter!" as we run through the automated doors.
Not wanting to waste a minute waiting for the elevator, my adrenaline racing, I rush my wife effortlessly up two flights of stairs and burst through the doors, exclaiming, "We've got a baby coming, people!"
We get to our room, and I can see the baby crowning. My wife says, "I've gotta push!"
The nurses are screaming, "We need the doctor! You've gotta wait!"
I look at them with steely determination and calmly say, "There's not time. I'm going to deliver this baby." I put on a pair of rubber gloves. "I'm going in."
A few minutes later, I'm handing our sweet little baby to its mother and taking off the gloves as the nurses and other patients stand and applaud.
Yeah, I figure it will either go something like that, or the baby will wait until Friday, and everything will go nice and easy like it did the first two times. Either way, I can't wait.
Monday, June 14, 2010
I remember when going to the movies was a wonderful and relaxing way to spend an afternoon or evening. Whether it was a quiet night out with my wife or a group of friends going to see the latest gut-busting comedy, going to the movies was always one of my favorite outings, and it still is; it is just very, very different when you happen to bring the kids. Here are a few of the main differences I’ve noticed:
1. Movie selection- For me, the purpose of going to the movies was always to go watch a movie that I really want to see. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Occasionally, my wife will play her cards just right, and I end up sitting in a movie theatre watching some made-specifically-for-women movie that I could’ve happily lived my entire life without seeing, but this is usually balanced by movies that she doesn’t want to see but goes to with me anyway. In high school, my group of friends would take turns between the guys and girls picking which movie we watched, so sometimes I got to go see Office Space, but sometimes I had to suffer through Bring It On. Overall, though, my movie experience has always been that I hear about a movie, get excited about it, and finally get to go watch it.
With children, this all changes. Read carefully: DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN TO A MOVIE THAT YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH. That’s right, the entire purpose changes. When you get to the point that you are taking your children to the movies, it is no longer about you seeing a movie that you are interested in; it is about the kids having a good time and not getting kicked out of the theatre for life. It doesn’t matter if you like the movie or not anyway, because you aren’t going to get to watch at least half of it, which brings me to the next item on the list.
2. Refreshments- When going to the movies without children, refreshments are a pleasant little bonus feature of the whole experience. You buy some overpriced candy, a bucket of heart-attack inducing buttered popcorn, and a gallon of soda or slushy. After the initial decision making on which treats to buy, refreshments simply fade into the overall enjoyment of the experience.
With children, refreshments become one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the trip. To begin with, the decision-making process never goes smoothly when dealing with small children. If you decide to get the kids popcorn, they are going to want candy. If you decide to get them candy, they will fight over what kind of candy to get and then end up wanting popcorn anyway. As for drinks, we don’t let our kids have soda of any kind, so they are limited to a slushy or Hi-C, which makes this part a little easier. The big problem starts when we get into the theatre and distribute the treats. Even if we got both kids the exact same thing, they won’t be happy with which one they got until you switch it around so many times that they can’t even keep up the appearance of knowing the difference. The fun really begins once the movie starts and your two little angels are trying to juggle popcorn, Raisinets, and a cherry slushy in a dark movie theatre while sitting in a seat that is on the verge of folding up with them in it at any moment. The whole time the movie is playing, you are completely unaware of what is going on up on the screen because you are sitting there clutching two handfuls of napkins just waiting for the sugary Chernobyl that is sure to happen at any moment.
3. Bathroom breaks- My bathroom policy on a child-free trip to the movie theatre is that I will go to the bathroom as before the movie begins to make sure that gallon of beverage I drink during the feature will not force me to leave during the movie to relieve myself and possibly end up missing some crucial portion of the plot. I will sit and squirm in my seat during a two-plus hour movie just to make sure that I don’t have to miss anything I paid good money to see.
Once you make the decision to walk into a movie theatre with children, you have to realize that you are going to pay more money to see less movie. Children not only have small bladders, but I believe they also have situational bladders that are able to detect the moment at which you will be the most put-out by their need to urinate. Without fail, you will leave the movie theatre twice per child for bathroom breaks. Further, these breaks will come at the most important parts of the movie as best as you can tell from the few minutes you managed to take in between panic attacks over which theatre patron your child’s brightly colored drink might splash on when it hits the floor.
4. Seat choice- When I go to the movies with adults, I like to sit somewhere about three-quarters of the way from the front of the theatre and as close to the middle of the screen as possible. As you have probably gathered from the previous three items, your view of the screen is an absolute non-factor when choosing a seat with children. When you are picking a seat with children, you just need somewhere close to the exit. My suggestion, just sit in the lobby. You’ll know if the movie was any good by the looks on the faces of the non-child-bringing patrons leaving the theatre, which is exactly how you would know if the movie was any good if you had sat in the theatre with your kids anyway.
5. Showtime- When choosing a showtime with other adults, one usually simply picks a time that coordinates with a preferred dinner time. With kids, you have to consider nap times, meal times, snack times, and ultimately, bed time. From the research I’ve done, the movie theatre industry has intentionally programmed its showtimes to make it impossible for parents to have a good experience with their kids at the movies.
Early afternoon- Forget about it. The kids will either fall asleep because it is nap time and they are sitting still in a dark room watching a movie, or they will be cranky and horrible because they need a nap but don’t want to fall asleep while their favorite cartoon ogre is on-screen.
Late afternoon/Early evening- They just woke up from an invigorating nap, so they are wired for sound. Good luck getting them to sit still for a feature length movie.
Evening- Same basic problem as the early afternoon showtimes. Either the kids will fall asleep or be cranky because they aren’t asleep.
Why then, considering all of this, would my wife and I continue to take our kids to the movies? I honestly don’t know, but we do. I think it must be the same kind of thing that keeps me going back to the golf course. Sure, a majority of the balls I hit are never found, but there is always at least one good shot that makes me think there is hope. At some point on every trip to the theatre with my kids, there is a short period of time where the kids are quietly sitting on our laps or in their own seats, drinks and snacks secured and forgotten, and in the glow of screen, I can see the little smiles and looks of wonder on their faces as they experience something fun and exciting for the very first time.
Friday, June 11, 2010
I have to admit, I was also pretty excited about my nephew spending the weekend with us. For some strange reason, almost from birth, he decided that he did not want anything to do with me. He wouldn't let me hold him, showed no interest in playing with me, and generally tried to make sure that we were never within ten feet of each other. Around his second birthday, though, he started to warm up to me a little bit, not much, but enough to give me hope. Over the past year, he has gradually gotten to the point where he will run up to me when I go to pick up my kids, voluntarily give me hugs, and now seems to count me as pretty cool guy. I was looking at this weekend as a great chance to really cement our relationship as uncle and nephew.. and we did. It was great.
Having said all of that, I did come to a realization that weekend. I realized that as much as you may like or even love someone else's child, even if they are your blood relation, taking care of that child is COMPLETELY different than taking care of your own if it is not something you are doing on a regular basis. It is not that it is unpleasant; it is simply different. I'll try to explain it like this: Taking care of someone else's kid is like getting a dog that has been trained in another language. You know the dog knows all kinds of commands and tricks, and you've even seen it done, but you have no idea what you have to say to get it to do them. So it was with my nephew.
There are a few specific examples I would like to share to illustrate my point. The three kids, my two and my nephew, were all in the backyard playing in the kiddie pool. They were having a blast splashing around and going down the slide that attaches to the side. The problem was that one of them would be wanting to climb up the slide while another was wanting to go down the slide. This invariably resulted some tumbles and crying.
Now, reader, you or I would simply stop doing the thing that is getting us hurt, especially when it is so obviously an accident waiting to happen, but I realized I was dealing with small children. Their attention span for anything that isn't animated is almost non-existent. The only way to keep them from repeating this behavior was to make a rule against it. Time to do my daddy thing. I walked over, gathered the three of them, and told them the new rule was that only one person could be on the slide at a time. They all seemed happy with this rule, so I decided to seal the deal with a little breakdown, something my kids and I have been doing for years (for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a breakdown is when a sports team all put their hands in and shout something as they break their hands apart, usually seen in a basketball game at the end of a timeout). When I gave the cue for the breakdown, "hands in," my kids immediately knew what to do. My nephew, however, stared at me with a look on his face that I'm pretty sure translated to, "Uncle Nathan, with all due respect, are you friggin' high?" I forgot. He doesn't know that command.
That's a case of me forgetting that he hasn't been trained by me like my own children have. There is another example that comes to mind of my just speaking the wrong language. I don't remember exactly what it was I was trying to get him to do, probably put some pants on or something, but he wasn't showing any desire to do what I was asking. No problem, I do the count-to-three thing with my kids, and I know I've seen my brother do it with my nephew, so I started counting by saying, "(his name), One," no response, "(his name), Two," no response, "(his name), Three." Again, all he did was look at me as if I must be suffering from some kind of head injury. I didn't understand it, I thought I was giving the command the same way I'd heard his dad do it. Why wasn't it working?
When my brother showed up to my son's party on Sunday, I asked him if he used the counting thing with my nephew because I tried it, and it didn't work. He asked me exactly how I said it, so I told him. He kind of laughed and informed me that I made the mistake of calling him by the shortened form of his name, which to him means that we are just buddies messing around. If I want him to actually listen, I have to use his full given name. If only I'd known the language. I can't wait until the next time he comes to stay the weekend because this time, I'll be ready.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Anyway, I promised the absurd. At our last game, I showed up in my usual t-ball gear: t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops. I have a strict "no socks in the summer unless it is absolutely necessary" rule, and I don't think coaching bases in a t-ball game necessitates wearing shoes that require socks. I quickly saw that the coaches for the other team did not have the laid back attitude that my daughter's coach has. At first I thought I was seeing things because I've checked out the other diamonds during our games, and it looks like everyone has the same approach to t-ball as our coach: just have fun and teach them a few basics. This other coach, however, had a different idea from the looks of it. He was out warming his girls up with he and his assistant wearing matching hats representing the high school's athletic program, coach's shorts, and the head coach was wearing cleats. I joked to one of our assistants that regardless of his overly professional attire, the game would still end in a tie since everyone gets to bat three times not matter what. My brother, who happened to be at the game, corrected me by saying that we would win because we had more girls.
Once the game started, it only became more fun. In our t-ball league, the coaches are allowed on the field with their team while playing defense. Every other coach I have seen, including ours, just kind of stand out there and make sure the girls are standing in the right spot, throw to first base when they get the ball, and try to get them to pay attention at least a little bit. This guy was out there saying things like, "On your toes! When that ball is hit I want to see you bouncing! You've got to be ready to pounce!" A ball got by one of his players and he loudly said, "Come on! We practice this all the time!" I should point out that I don't use exclamation points all willy-nilly like other people might. When I use exclamation points, it is because there was some exclaiming going on. This guy was yelling.
Reason number three that this guy should be locked away has to do with base-running. Now, from what I've seen, the main base-running goal for the average t-ball coach is simply to get the kids to run to the correct base at the correct time and make sure they actually touch the bases while they are doing it. For this reason, there is an unspoken gentleman's agreement among the coaches that no matter where the ball is hit or if a throw actually makes it to the base before the runner, ever batter gets to hit the ball and run to first. When the next player hits, the runner on first advances to second, and so on until the bases are loaded and then you simply start hitting runners in to score. There is no score kept and outs don't matter. Again, the goal is to teach them the very basics of the sport. Apparently, this guy missed that memo. On two occasions, one of his players hit the ball to the fence in the outfield (there are no outfielders in girls t-ball because the ball is rarely hit more than twenty feet) and he didn't stop them at first. One girl ended up with a double and the other a triple.
The greatest part of the whole thing was a little red-headed girl on his team, who happened to be wearing house slippers for whatever reason. She was on second base just singing away, and when the ball was hit only ran about halfway to third before getting bored and kind of walk/skip/dancing the rest of the way. He was coaching third and going crazy trying to get her to run the rest of the way, but she just kept singing and traveling at her own pace. Once she finally made it to third base, he proceeded to admonish her for not hustling and not doing what they had practiced, but the whole time she just looked at him and sang, "la la la la laaaa la." It was absolutely priceless.
I have to say, I'm very glad my daughter is not on this guy's team because I really don't think there is any way I would have let her continue to play after the first practice. There is a time for that kind of coaching and t-ball is not that time.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Before I get to the funny and absurd, I want to begin with the thing that frustrates me the most. It isn’t other parents, my daughter’s coach, other coaches, or any of the usual suspects. No, my biggest frustration is my own daughter, and not in the overbearing, living-vicariously-through-my-children kind of way. It is more of a comical, the universe is hilarious kind of frustration. You see, as soon as I learned she would be playing t-ball, I immediately started trying to teach her some basics of baseball (it’s not softball until she actually starts playing with that ridiculously oversized ball). I wasn’t going crazy and trying to teach her a bunch of stuff that is way beyond what you need to play t-ball. I was simply trying to teach her to catch the ball (not even in the air), throw the ball, and hit the ball. At first, it seemed fairly hopeless because she would humor me for about five minutes and then lose interest and politely tell me I can just play by myself (she gets that from her mother), but after a little bit of persistence on my part, I was able to get her hitting decently off the tee in the backyard and throwing the ball somewhat straight and decently far. Yessir, I’m a JV baseball coach, and I know how to get players on the right track.
It did not take long for my pride to wear off. At her first t-ball practice, my daughter decides to completely forget everything we had practiced. When it was her turn to bat, she didn’t confidently stride up there and line up like we had practiced; no, she walked up and stood behind the tee, had to be picked up by her coach and positioned, and then proceeded to hack away at the tee like it was a tree that needed to come down. Eventually, she was able to make contact with the ball and made me proud by knowing to which base she was supposed to run, a feat not yet mastered by about 20% of the players in her league.
We are now a few games into the season, and hitting is no longer a problem. Also, she doesn’t spend the entire time running around trying to hug her friends either, which is good. I didn’t want to keep having the “There’s no hugging in t-ball” conversation with her. Now the problem is throwing. It is funny because she will just pick the ball up and chuck it right where she wants it to go. The only problem is that she steps with the wrong foot. Easy fix, right? Wrong. For whatever reason, as soon as I try to get her to step with her left foot instead of her right, it is like she looses the ability to control her right arm. Instead of a natural throwing motion, her arm becomes contorted behind her head with the ball somehow being dropped in the vicinity of her left ear. It never fails.
I will end this post here and bring you the absurd in my next post.
Note: The plan to sneak out of the house on report card day before my son woke up and realized he was being left behind did not work. He was screaming absolute bloody murder as I walked out the door… after my wife managed to pry his arms from around my neck.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
It did not take long for me to realize that this was faulty thinking on my part, for it has become abundantly clear to me over the past few years of raising my children, that the mind of children under the age of (well, I'll let you know when it stops working this way) works much different that those of an adult. You see, when you tell a four year-old about something fun, they will make sure they remember by asking you about it every thirty-nine seconds (this statistic may vary depending upon your child) until said activity is completed. Expecting them to remember not to stick their tongue out at their sister or to not pull their dress over their head during church, however, is outside the realm of possibility. So, for a few days, my daughter asked me before work, after work, at dinner, during bedtime, in the middle of bedtime story, and as I was kissing her goodnight when she was going to go to work with me. Finally, I broke down and said that she could go with me on report card day to help give report cards to my homeroom students.
From that point on, report card day began to hold a special significance for my daughter, one I'm sure she will get over by the time she is the age of my homeroom students, and she has spent quite a bit of time in preparation for this glorious event. One day, while coloring pictures in her coloring book, she decided that her most recent masterpiece should be for one of my students. She asked me to name them, so I rattled off the nine students remaining in my homeroom, and she picked one at random to bestow her artwork. Upon deeper introspection, she decided it would not be fair in this or any other universe for that one, single student to have a picture of Strawberry Shortcake and for the other eight to have nothing but a boring piece of paper with grades printed on it. We then spent the next few hours picking pictures and coloring them for each of the students in my homeroom. She put a lot of thought into which pictures should be selected for distribution and asked me many questions about favorite colors and who like butterflies, etc., etc.. My job was simply to tear the pictures out and spell the names for her to write on the pictures.
Once all of the pictures were completed, it was only a matter of waiting for report card day... or so I thought. While driving home today, Report Card Day Eve, my daughter asked when report card day is. I responded that it is tomorrow, and her little girlie joy spread to informing her little brother that she was going and he was not. As you can imagine, this did not go over very well with my son. He became highly distraught that he would be left home with his mother while his big sister had the privelege of experiencing the magical joy and wonder of report card day. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to just let him go with us, so I extended the invitation. Problem solved. Wrong. My daughter then became equally disturbed that what had started as her big day with daddy had now become something she had to share with her brother. I decided to use my surefire crisis intervention plan and told them both to calm down and that we would talk about it when we got home.
This bought me about ten minutes. Luckily, for a quick-thinking superhero dad such as myself, this was all I needed. I occupied my daughter with a game of memory on my iPod Touch and sat down for a little man-to-man with my nearly three year-old son. I explained to him that report card day was something special that I had promised his sister and that he would get to spend that special time with mommy. I also explained that since his birthday is this weekend, it would soon be his turn to go to his very first St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, a tradition that we started with his big sister on her third birthday. He seemed pretty excited about getting to go to a game with me, so I reiterated that he would be staying home with mommy in the morning. It was at this point that I remembered my sons inability to keep a train of thought. He had already forgotten that this all had a connection to him not going to report card day and became upset again. I repeated this about twice before I gave up the horrible idea I had that I would be able to calmly reason with him. As of the writing of this blog, he has forgotten about report card day entirely. My plan now is to not mention it in his presence for the rest of his natural life and hope that he is still asleep when my daughter and I leave in the morning. I will post the results of this plan once they have been fully assessed.
Friday, May 28, 2010
I have found that one of the most difficult things about being a high school teacher is being a high school teacher with two small children. It's not that having two small children makes it harder to get work done at home, which they do, or that my teaching and coaching keeps me away from them more than I would like, which it does. Those aren't really difficulties as much as they are inconveniences. No, the thing that makes this job difficult for me is seeing all of the possible outcomes for my children.
Every single day, I have about 150 students walk through my door. A majority of them are great kids. Sure, I would like many of them to try a little (or a lot) harder in school, but they are respectful and (mostly) well-behaved. I know that the time will come when they wake up and everything clicks. Once that happens, they will be successful in their endeavors. I have a smaller number of kids who are absolutely brilliant, work hard, volunteer, and pretty much impress the socks off of you on a daily basis. These kids have nothing but possibilities ahead of them. Lastly, I have an even smaller group of kids who have no ambition, no respect for anyone (including themselves), and walk around full of a strange mix of anger and apathy.
I look at the first two groups, and while I hope my children fall somewhere in the second group, I would be okay with the first group. For me, it isn't really about grades when I find myself daydreaming about who my kids will be as high school students. I want my kids to be hard workers. I want them to respect their teachers and peers. I want them to display a sense of pride in themselves and their school. I want to be able to walk into a parent/teacher conference and have the teacher say, "I really enjoy having your child in class," and have them mean it.
When I look at my children now, I can't help but believe that all of this will come true. They are sweet, caring kids with a natural curiosity about the world around them. They love to learn and interact. We've taught them to be "bucket-fillers", not "bucket-dippers", and they take it very seriously (If you don't know what any of that means, Google it). However, this reassuring feeling leaves me very quickly when I realize that the third group, the group I don't even want to think about having my kids be a part of, probably started out sweet and innocent also.
Somehow, those kids started out as happy, curious little children and have ended up angry and rebellious. I find myself wondering how it happened. What went wrong for these kids? Was it a single moment or event? If so, will I recognize that moment in the lives of my own children? Will I know that I am dealing with a make-or-break situation and bust out my Daddy A-Game? I would love to be able to help my students who have lost their way find the joy I know they must have had as children in something more productive than the things that I'm sure make them happy now, but I worry that the only thing I can do is not make it worse and dedicate myself to making sure any kid who walks into my room knows that I have the same dreams for them as I do for my own kids while making sure that I don't forget to take the time to let my own kids know how much I believe in them too.