Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All-Time Highs and Lows

I'm always amazed when I watch television and someone being interviewed at some big, newsworthy event says, "This is the (greatest/happiest/best/saddest/etc.) day of my life." This just bothers me. I guess it is because I rarely see the event being covered as that big a deal. I remember hearing people say it when Barack Obama was elected and again when Michael Jackson died. While these would certainly be monumental occasions if you are very close to one of these people, these events just don't rank that high in importance for me on a personal level. That said, these extreme pronouncements due cause me to think about the happiest/saddest days in my life.

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

Potty Training

***WARNING: This post is not for the squeamish.***

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

He's Here: Tales of Birth

***Warning-This post is pretty long.***

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.