Monday, March 22, 2010

Daddy Bracketology

I grew up in North Carolina. Therefore, as you might expect, I love college basketball. Carolina basketball in particular. Yep, I'm a Tar Heel--a 1991 grad of Chapel Hill. This past basketball season was rough. Being a Carolina fan in 2009-2010 was kind of like living through the real estate crisis all over again. After experiencing the seemingly endless prosperity and euphoria of a national championship last April, the basketball market suddenly collapsed around us this year. Our value dropped drastically. We lost eleven conference games! ELEVEN! What's next? Locusts? Famines? Cats and dogs living together in an Animal Planet version of Sodom and Gomorrah? Will the Chattahoochee suddenly turn to blood? Will a meteor strike the earth causing global death and destruction? Will Wham reunite? God, Himself, only knows. All I can say for sure is, my Carolina-blue beating heart can't take another year like this one.

Still, despite my beloved Heels' failure to make the tournament, I'm a March Madness nut. I fill out the brackets. I pull in vain for Arkansas Pine Bluff to somehow defeat the evil that is Duke University. I scream in agony at the television as some school I've never heard of hits a prayer at the buzzer to defeat the team I picked to go to the Final Four. And I do most of it while sitting with other middle-aged guys, drinking beer, downing hot wings, and critiquing players and coaches who, if only they possessed our wisdom and basketball insight, would have avoided defeat and advanced to play another round.

As a married man with kids, my love for March Madness has not faded. It has, however, morphed. Daddy bracketology is very different from man with no kids bracketology. Watching the tournament is no longer as simple as sitting on the couch or heading to a sports bar whenever I feel like it. No, these days, NCAA basketball mania is mixed with a healthy dose of pint-sized Saturday soccer games, munchkin swim lessons, and multiple requests to play in the backyard. And those are just the kid-induced distractions. That doesn't include the times my wife has something we "need" to talk about just as a tie game is entering the final two minutes. Some kid with a Polish last name is bringing the ball up court for Purdue or Wisconsin, trying to orchestrate a final shot to win, and Meredith picks that moment to tell me that she needs to talk to me about the kids, our plans for the week, a financial decision, or (and this is when I know I'm going to miss the next game too) her feelings. Oh, I could tell her that I'm watching the game and that I'd like to talk about it later, but then I'd hear about how I never have time to talk and find myself sleeping in the living room and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. So, reasoning that the Polish kid at Wisconsin (or Purdue) probably can't help my marriage, I try to give my wife my attention.

Of course, in reality, I only give her half my attention. The other half is still on the game. My brain dances back and forth between the game clock and my wife telling me how she sometimes doesn't feel listened to (or something like that--I'm not totally sure--again, I'm watching the game). Don't get me wrong. I want to be a good husband and listen. My desire is to be a pillar of support for my wife--even in March. But this is the tournament for cryin' out loud! It's one and done! My wife is likely to forgive me if I appear a bit insensitive for one more minute. But there's no forgiveness for the team that misses the last second shot. And so, like a house divided, my mind bounces back and forth. I'm aware that my wife is talking, I just don't catch all the words. She could pick that moment in time to confess that she's having an affair, and my only response would likely be "Holy crap! Northern Iowa just beat Kansas!"

And so, I'll settle in as best I can and watch my March Madness. No, I don't have my Tar Heels to cheer for this year. But I can cheer for whoever plays Duke. And I'll do it all with kids crawling on me and a wife shooting me frustrated glances over her inability to steal my attention away from the tube. The good news is, come April, I'll be a better husband. I just hope Meredith doesn't leave me for the Polish kid at Wisconsin (or Purdue) before that.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yo Adrian, Where's My Popsicle?

Surely, there is no lack of material to expound on when you've got kids. Take, for instance, the trip to the emergency room I made with my youngest son, Carson, about a month ago. Emergency room runs aren't unusual when you're a parent. I have one friend who I'm pretty sure has his own parking space at Kennestone Hospital by now. But fortunately, for Meredith and I, other than one time when Emerson got really sick as a toddler, we haven't had to make the all-too-common emergency room dash--until a few weeks ago.

Meredith and Emerson were out of town. I was alone with my boys over Valentine's weekend. It was Monday night. The end of an adventurous guy weekend shared by the Howard men. About an hour before Meredith's scheduled return, I had just finished bathing the boys and was preparing Carson's bed to tuck him in. All of a sudden, I heard it--BANG!!--a thundering thud coming from William's room. After only a second of silence, Carson started crying. It wasn't an unusual cry. I figured it was just another bump or bruise; par for the course when William and Carson play together. Given that William's tone seemed rather casual when he called to me down the hall, "Daddy, Carson hit his head," I didn't expect to find much more than a red spot and a few tears. Only that's not what I encountered. When I stopped what I was doing and turned to make my way down the hall, I was met by Carson holding his forehead with one hand, half of his face covered in blood. The little guy had discovered the hard way that if you are going to run and jump into your brother's bean bag, you better make sure you actually hit the bean bag rather than sailing over it and slamming head-first into the bedroom wall. Immediately, I knew it was a bad injury. Trying to stay calm, I slowly peeled back Carson's hand. What I saw made my heart sink. Carson had cut his little head open all the way to the bone. Knowing I had to appear calm so as not to worry my dazed little guy, I grabbed a towel out of the bathroom, wiped away the blood, and began applying pressure. Then my mind started racing. "OK," I thought, "I'm alone with two small boys, one of which now has to go to the hospital. I need to keep applying pressure to this cut. My wife is out of town. And, in the midst of all the blood and mayhem, William won't stop asking me if he can have some Goldfish. What do I do next?" Knowing I just needed to keep moving, I picked Carson up, told him he'd be fine, and instructed William to follow me. All the while, William kept wanting to play twenty questions:

"Where are we going, Daddy?"
"I've got to take Carson for a little ride."
"Do I get to go for a ride, Daddy?"
"I don't know yet, William, let's just go."
"I want to go for a ride, Daddy. It's not fair if Carson gets to go for a ride and I don't"
"William, your brother is hurt. Let's go."
"Where are we going? Huh, Daddy, where are we going?"
"Next door to the Stuteville's, William."
"Do I get to play with Lucy?"
"Do the Stewdabills have Goldfish?"

And so it is with fatherhood. You're kind of like a hostage negotiator or someone who tries to talk prospective suicide jumpers off of a ledge. You have to master the art of carrying on conversations and working out details in the midst of crisis. Defusing a four-year-old's feelings of exclusion from what he views as a late-night joy ride without drawing any more attention to the severity of his wounded brother's injury is a tricky, but necessary, daddy skill.

Fortunately, my life-saving neighbors, Joel and Terri, were home. They allowed William to spend the night. Terri stayed with the kids while Joel gave up his evening of relaxing at home to drive Carson and I to the hospital. I held Carson, kept pressure on his cut, and talked calmly and encouragingly to him the whole way. All the while he looked back up at me with his swollen little face. He looked like the lead role in a toddler's production of Rocky. I half expected to hear the words, "Yo, Adrian, I got blood on my footie pajamas" come out of his mouth at any moment. Of course, the highlight of the ride to the emergency room was when Meredith called. Amongst the excitement I heard my phone ring. Given that Joel was driving, Carson's bleeding was under control, and I had a moment to catch my breath, I decided to answer it. It was Meredith. "Hey, how's it going?" I heard her say. The moment created an interesting dilemma. Do I tell her the truth and let her know that her baby boy is hurt, I've got it under control, and we're on our way to the emergency room? Or, do I lie and say, "Oh, it's going fine?" Lying is obviously not right. But the truth was going to cause great concern for Meredith, who still had roughly another hour of road trip ahead of her before making it home. Knowing her son was hurt and she couldn't get there was liable to drive her nuts. Heck, I was already going to have some serious explaining to do when she got back regarding how I could let such a thing happen on my watch. Did I really want to get into it on the way to the ER? Given that I probably wouldn't beat her home anyway, I opted for truth. At first Meredith thought I was lying. "You're kidding," she said. Once I convinced her that making up stories about my son gashing his head open and spilling blood all over his brother's wall was not my idea of good humor, Meredith's mommy instincts kicked in and she started grilling me with questions (not accusingly, but simply wanting the details). I finally convinced her that all was under control and got her to table her inquiries until later when I got home. All things considered, she took the news about as calmly and understandably as any mommy could.

When we finally arrived at the ER, I rushed Carson to the front desk... only to be told that I needed to take him down the hall to the pediatric ER. So, running faster than most middle-aged white boys on a Monday night, I headed down the hall with my son to the children's ER. I arrived at the window and told the attendant, "My son cut his head all the way down to the bone. He needs stitches."

"You'll just need to fill out these papers," the woman replied.
"I'm sorry," I responded, "but are you going to step out from behind your little counter and come hold my bleeding child while I write my name on your little form and check off whether or not my kid has a peanut allergy?"
"Oh," she said. "Just have a seat and I'll fill this out for you as best I can."
"Thank you."

I have to say, other than that duh-huh request, the staff at the emergency room did a pretty good job. Due to the nature of Carson's injury, they bumped us to the front of the line and got us in fairly fast. The doctor was also decent with Carson--not great--but decent and well-intentioned. I've encountered some doctors that, while brilliant, make you feel about as comfortable as an inflamed hemorrhoid on a transcontinental flight. This guy wasn't bad at all. He did a good job of explaining things, saw us relatively quickly, and tried to be understanding of how my son was perceiving everything. After about a half-hour in the ER, Carson didn't even seem to notice that he was hurt anymore. He sat there on my lap in the examining room with a bandage wrapped around his head, waiting for his stitches, watching The Incredibles, and wondering when he was going to get that Popsicle the nurse had promised him. During the actual stitching, I held Carson's hand and talked to him while the doctor worked his sewing magic. I'm not a guy who normally likes to witness surgical procedures. I wasn't sure how I would react to the sight of my son's wound be stitched up. But when it's your kid, it's amazing what you'll do and what doesn't bother you. My focus was solely on my little man. I could tell he was scared and confused. But I just kept smiling, reminding him of that Popsicle that awaited him, and told him he was doing great.

A few stitches and one orange Popsicle later we were out of there. It only took about 90 minutes from the time we arrived until the time we were released. Pretty good for an emergency room experience. And so, one of the last parental rights of passage has been crossed in the Howard home. We've had our first (and probably not our last) batch of stitches. Given Carson's personality and bold nature, I fear he might become a regular at the ER. He'll probably even get one of those discount cards like they give out at coffee shops (after ten serious injuries, the eleventh is on the house). Hopefully, though, we can catch him before he parachutes out of a window or decides to answer the ever persistent young boy question: What DOES happen when one hits a large hornets' nest with a plastic baseball bat? Regardless, two things are for sure: (1) With three kids, life never gets boring; and (2) You should never live too far from the nearest emergency room.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hello Everyone!

My apologies, but there's no new Dadlosophies post this week. My next post will be up and online next Monday, March 15, by 12 noon, and each week thereafter. Feel free to scroll down to read all previous Dadlosophies.

Have a Great Week,