Friday, October 1, 2010

Hello, Ruby Thursday!

Ruby Meg Walker White
Our beautiful girl, Ruby Meg Walker White, entered the world, yesterday, Thursday, 30 September 2010 at 11:57 pm. She weighed 3.42 kilos (for friends and family in the U.S. of A, that's about 7 and a half pounds) and measured 51 centimetres long (20.1 inches). All we know about her right now is that she's wide-eyed and alert, placid, feeding well and healthy—which makes us lucky as hell. Yeah, we know: she's only been with us for less than 24 hours, but first impressions are lasting impressions. For what it's worth, at this point she bears a strong resemblence to her older brother, Cal. When families are fractured, a lot of stock is put in things like this.

Over the past nine months Katie made a serious study of pregnancy, the birthing process, midwifery and all things related to getting a little one into the world. She took an eight-week course that focused on mindful birthing and managing the discomfort. A pile of books grew next to her side of the bed. Her obstetrician and midwife were made aware of her birth plan a couple of months ago, and Katie wanted to have as natural a birth as possible.

We were called into the obstetrician's office on Wednesday afternoon. Katie had seen him the Thursday before and, although she was four days late at that point, he was willing to let her go another week before any interventions would be taken—but in all likelihood he was expecting her to go into labor within a day or two after that last session. Wednesday morning was 10 days overdue and steps had to be taken.

 At 4 pm on Wednesday we were in the hospital and Katie had a gel applied to her cervix. The hope here was that it would coax things along and that she could labor and deliver naturally. Early contractions started almost immediately but progress was slow. At 9 am on Thursday a second application of the gel was made after the obstetrician examined her and found that things had not moved along as he hoped. The image that remains from that scene is a strand of gore hanging from the doctor's hand while he made his pronouncement; childbirth is not for the squeamish. Three hours later a midwife broke her waters with something that looked like a hooked knitting needle.

Serious labour kicked in immediately, and Katie used all sorts of yogic and meditative techniques to deal with the discomfort. We took walks around the hospital, she used exercise balls, yoga mats and window sills for support, all the while chatting with various professionals and staffers between contractions. By 8 pm yesterday she was only 2 cm dilated after 28 hours of various interventions (bear in mind that she was also a week and a half overdue and her body, at some level, was crying out to deliver Ruby), so a syntocinon drip and an epidural were administered. A couple of episodes of fetal distress later and the call was made to perform a Caesarean section.

Katie's efforts, plans and ideals were all in the right place and she put so much work into mapping things out in a way that most harmonized with her beliefs. Each intervention that went counter to those plans... well, in simplest terms, they saddened and disappointed her. When you get right down to it, though, she just wanted what was best for Ruby, and when a C-section (doctor's orders, ultimately) factored in along those lines she was fine with it. For as old school and gruff as the obstetrician was, he praised Katie's efforts as he sutured her incision at the procedure's end.


Nature and science had their own ideas the last couple of days, but there's no doubt in my mind that all of Katie's exercise (she did not miss one day during the pregnancy), her admirable dietary habits and other such conscientious lifestyle choices gave Ruby the best start possible. Now that I think about it, just about everything she did during the last nine months had Ruby in mind.

A wonderful woman produced a wonderful girl. It's genetic, I guess.

Magnificent work, Katie. Welcome to the world, Ruby... we'll all learn a few things and have some fun along the way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Adventures of Cal and Mac, Episode II: Happy Kids, Happy Dad

Yesterday was a very typical Sunday with Cal and Mac. They woke up before me (but after Katie), wandered into the bedroom to see if I was awake and got the usual answer of "I'll be up in a couple of minutes, but keep the noise down, willya." They kinda kept the noise down and I kinda got up 10 minutes later.

Katie gave me a cup of coffee, I got the boys bowls of oatmeal. Cal and Mac then went outside and played for a while. I had breakfast, showered, dressed, puttered around the house and felt awake enough to suggest going to the park maybe two hours later.

There are a few parks within walking distance of our place: the enormous athletic field with the small dog park adjacent to it that features the great, slanted climbing tree, the park with the pond, ducks and the shorter climbing trees and then Beatty Park, which has the great jungle gym. We ended up at this last park, climbed, chased each other and made like major goofballs for a half hour or so. The game of choice was something I called The Tickleinator, which had me relentlessly marching after the fleeing kids while providing an accompanying soundtrack: "Chi-chi-chiiiih, chi-chi-chiiiih, chi-chi-chiiiih." Kids get caught, Dad tickles, kids laugh until they hate the tickling, kids are released. Repeat as necessary. Game stops when Dad gets bored.

At that point, Cal, sitting on the park's slide and looking into the sky, said simply, "I feel so happy."

The best thing a father can hear. The very best. I hope he has the ability to find such moments forever.

A moment later Mac said, "Cool! That cloud looks like a dinosaur head!" And it did for a moment or two before it became a rooster, then a guy screaming with a tongue curling out of his mouth and finally a charging ram before it dissipated into wisphood proper.

All of this was followed by a 20-min walk to Leederville and Subway. Cal and Mac split a seafood subI can't believe my older boy managed to talk his brother into sharing his new passion, given how picky Mac can beand I went for a meatball sub. We ate them at one of the sidewalk tables as it was a beautifully sunny afternoon.

"Cal, slow down. You're gonna be sitting there without anything to eat and I know you'll be eyeballing our food." He chewed a few mouthfuls before going back to the wolfing. Mac is always the last one to finish eating; he gives Cal a few pieces of food once the eyeballing starts. So do I.

We walk home. Cal grabs my hand.

"Thanks, kid. I know you're not going to want to do that for much longer. But you can always grab my hand if you feel like it." He hung on for much of the walk home, until we got to the big park, and at one point Mac clutched my right hand.

Mac is a lot less affectionate and I'm often apologizing to Katie or her mother, Louise, when Mac is standoffish at hellos, goodbyes and bedtimes. In fact, I have to prompt him for a kiss when he walks into our home or he's dropped off at his mother's. That fact always gets woven into those apologies to Katie and Louise: "Don't worry, he doesn't even kiss his father that much." No, he's more likely to climb on top of me while I'm lying on the couch watching a movie, as he did yesterday afternoon during Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Mac really has a warm and good heart, but he's a complex kid. Which is understandable.

A few times during the weekend I said, "Wow. The next time you're here you'll probably have a baby sister."

The threat of not seeing Cal and Mac had been suspended over my head a few times during the last half decade. Intellectually, I knew it was unlikely that I would never see them again, but there have been times when the emotions have won that internal battle.

Turbulence gives way to growth, things move on, and we manage to find a lot of happiness in clouds, chasing, climbing and typical Sundays that start with a grouchy father and his noisy sons.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Birthwatch

Katie and her beautiful belly
If you enter "deathwatch" into Google you get 318,000 results, yet "birthwatch" yields a mere 3220. I guess we're a glass-half-empty species by nature, huh?

Anyway, Katie and I are on the birthwatch right now. Last Friday was her last official day of work and she's now on maternity leave. Any twinge below the ribcage might herald the arrival of the Little One, the slightest wave of nausea cause for extra vigilance. 

It does my heart a lot of good to see the woman with the admirable work ethic finally taking a bit of time for herself, though her social calender is full of coffee catch-ups. Honestly, I don't think she has the ability to do nothing.   

"You are definitely going to have to paint my toenails soon," Katie said a moment ago. I made the offer a few days back, and I better make good on it soon, lest she put unadorned tootsies into stirrups. Wonder if she asked the hospital about it's policy regarding bling in the birthing room? It's something she was curious about. 

She's doing a few floor exercises right now... I guess carrying the 3-kilo child plus placenta, amniotic fluid and other such baby-building equipment isn't enough and she had to throw a kilo of ankle weights on each leg. My commando babe is a glutton for punishment, but she claims the exercise is more meditative than anything else at this point. She sits up and rubs her belly, absentmindedly watching the contestants of Deal or No Deal on the screen... she looks fantastic.

Little One, you've won the Mummy Lottery. See you soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

On Juicing, Part I

A few days ago, while doing some reading on the movie The Hurt Locker, I stumbled upon an excellent blog, Army of Dude. The blogger, Alex Horton, started his writings just prior to being deployed to Iraq, where he saw combat, and he managed to capture the humor, horror and honor that's experienced during wartime and in the military. He made it through the gauntlet soul and body intact, though he lost friends and comrades in action, and has gone on to college. Excellent and eye-opening stuff.

Anyway, as I was reading the blog, it occurred to me that Horton could describe the sound of a bullet flying by his head before he experienced a pub crawl. He did his first bar hopping while on leave in Europe and I recall him writing something like, "I've never been much of a drinker," in that entry. If memory serves, he was 21 at the time. This got me thinking about my relationship and history with alcohol.

Pondering my relationship with booze
By the time I was 21, booze had been with me for a third of my life. I got drunk for the first time with my stepbrother, Bruce, precisely a month before my 14th birthday: 20 February 1979. Bruce was 26 at the time and had been a widower for over a year. Many entries could and may be devoted to him; he's been dead for just over 20 years now, largely a result of substance abuse. The substance that February night was very cheap Andre champagne. My stepfather always had a case of that super sweet stuff around at the time. I think it was, like, $2 a bottle, and I drank about $3 worth.

So, that first outing with the koo-koo juice had me puking in the sink the next morning. My sister, Meg, does a pretty nice impression of me hunched over the sink, "Oh, no! Not again! Buuuuiccck!"

Mum and Harry were pretty liberal about alcohol, and during those early teen years they'd allow us to have a bit of bubbly during celebrations, but I avoided that particular poison for a couple of years. In the meantime, Bruce would often give me a little bottle of Jack Daniels so that I could play the tough guy in front of my buddies. And, as misguided and pathetic that it is, I did feel tough. The early high school years found the gang and I in the woods or behind the cemetery on Route 53 drinking a case of beer, most likely procured by someone else's older brother, if not the mighty Bruce himself.

During my last year or so in high school I was borderline serious about exercise and worked in a health club, so I drank much less than many of my buddies, though I still had the occasional beer on a Friday evening as we were closing the club. Similarly, I didn't drink that much early in my enlistment. In fact, I had nothing to drink the weekend I graduated from bootcamp, traditionally a time for a monstrous piss-up.

In 1986, when I was first assigned to my ship, USS Dahlgren (DDG-43), I went through a wine cooler phase... which put me at the opposite end of the Testicular Scale from my Jack Daniels days. Caught plenty of shit for that, trust me. Anyway, I started ascending ("descending" might be more apt) the slippery slopes of Mount Hooch during my own military-funded adventures in Europe during my first Med Cruise. From that point on, I was a pretty typical young GI boozer. Nothing too serious and all in good fun. Anyway, I had no real responsibilities or worries and nothing to escape.

One could argue that the drinking I did while at college was pretty typical for a 20-something-year-old man. While studying full time, I always worked two—and often three—jobs, and every Friday night, which I made sure I had off, I made a point of getting nice and fecal featured. That's not that big a problem. When I took a semester off for lack of motivation, though, and started upping the efforts after I broke up with a girlfriend... well, that wasn't good.

Waking up in an emergency room with a broken nose, really wasn't good. Time for reflection.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's Been a While, I Know

There's really no good excuse for my absence from these pages. Well, May and June were a bit tricky because finishing uni was commanding a monstrous chunk of my attention and then my practical teaching experience commanded a monstrous chunk of everything during the latter month. So much for capturing this important time of transition for posterity! Lazy basstid. I did become a qualified teacher in the meantime, though.

Okay, time to atone for things. As it's the first day of spring in Australia (they base things on the calendar here rather than the celestial event—go figure), it's a good day for it. Spring cleaning, you could say.

The big news is that Katie is wicked pregnant. Having said that, she still seems to have tons of energy, though her sleeping has been shallow and broken for a while. A few weeks back we had our pre-admission meeting at the hospital and the midwife asked her, at the meeting's end, "Do you have any other questions or do you want to tell us anything about your pregnancy?"

"Nothing that I can think of—I've enjoyed it." Wow. 

Anyway, the pic above is from about three weeks ago. My mother had sent us a kit to make a cast of Katie's belly and other bits, and that's what we did that Sunday afternoon. It's no mean feat for a woman who is almost eight months pregnant to sit still for 1.75 hours, but anything in the name of family artifacts.  

It needs to be noted that the baby (working title Ruby Meg, a name that people love in Oz but not so much in New England) is very, very active. If memory serves, much more so than her brothers. Always on the move. Takes after her Mum, I suppose. The little one is slated to make her entry into the outer world in 18 days. Katie feels as though she's had some movement at the station and that things will happen earlier, yet her sister and mother delivered their babies late. At any rate—even if she's really late—she'll be in our arms by the end of this month.  

One of the other big events during the last few months was my cousin Andy's visit back in May. So awesome to see the guy. We last saw each other about a dozen years ago, when he was in his 20s and I was in my early 30s and had no kids. We laughed a lot and sort of caught up on things. Katie was amazed at how quicky we fell into natural rhythms of conversation. I told her that some cousins see each other rarely, but there were a lot of holidays and weekends in the 70s and early 80s down at Gramma White's, down The Cape, at Stock Steet in Dorchester, East Dedham and in Norwell. Lots of major goofiness, childhood bravado and crazy laughs with Frankie, David, Andy and Gregory. Throw in the similar experiences in the Navy and there was no way we weren't going to have a good time. 

On top of that, it was wonderful introducing both Katie and the boys to a family member. Although Cal knows many of the people back home, Andy was the first member of his father's family that Mac met. Six years old. I get really bummed out if I ponder that one too much. Enclosed is the money shot from Andy's visit: someday I hope my sons will say, "Here's that picture of us with cousin Andy when he was in the war." Yeah, I suffer from terminal nostalgia, for sure. 

At some point in another entry I'll write more about Andy and my family in general. I had some notes about how proud I am of the family's tradition of service, in the military and in health care, education and the trades, but I'll get to that later. Suffice it to say I had a huge feeling of pride while hanging with my cousin who's made good on his lifelong passion for aviation and who has served his country so well.

What more can I say? I work full time at Kitchenware Direct now, though I am applying for teaching jobs. Lots of red tape to deal with, like getting a registration number through the Western Australian College of Teaching (done) and another official number of some sort and salary figure from the Department of Education and Training (not so done). A few private schools have me on their lists for relief/substitute teaching, but no calls yet.

Cal and Mac are doing well. Getting so big... Mac's front teeth, which he seemed to lose mere weeks ago, have come in. Cal is putting on a whisper of weight, slowly gearing up for latency and then that big push towards puberty in the next few years. They both love to climb trees, draw, fart and wrestle with each other. Mac recently got a free ice cream at school for receiving nine good conduct tick marks. He needs to exhibit more of that behaviour at 15 Kadina Street, I think. Okay, I'm being a little hard on the kid. He's generally quite good, but can be a bit obstinate from time to time. And he's not exactly nice to Katie. While she'll never be unaffected by his generally cool and sometimes cruel distance, she has a huge amount of patience there. Thanks, Sweetheart. Trust me, things are likely to get better over the years.

Cal, on the other hand, really does make an effort. With everyone. While Mac won't give his Old Man a kiss when he gets dropped off at his mother's house—you really can't blame the conflict he must have over his allegiance there—Cal will give me two. He's also pretty warm towards Katie. Anyway, he can make his own bowl of oatmeal and recently I had asked him to go to the store next door to buy a half gallon of milk. I crept out of the house half a minute after he left, followed him and watched him from the far side of the parking lot, but he completed the mission in fine style. Seems like only yesterday when he could be held in one hand and balanced on a forearm.

Everyone is growin' or growin' up nicely down here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, My Boy!

My Pal Cal was born a decade ago today!

If memory serves, he came onto the scene at about 9:30 on a Friday evening. He took the emergency C-section option because he gave the docs the impression that he had a distressed heart rate, most likely due to his clutching the umbilical cord. Given that he was so well formed (I remember the doc saying, "This one's a Gerber baby!"), I like to think that he was just letting everyone know he was ready despite what the calendar said.

Of course he cried as a baby, but he honestly didn't cry a whole lot... although I have a picture of him during his first Halloween with a big, fat tear on his cheek. I had put a few wrappings on him, you know, so he could be a baby mummy for the holiday. I don't remember him wailing during that time, so I'm guessing the tear is evidence of his quietly enduring this weird seasonal humiliation. Selfish, I know: I was dying to share my own childhood passions with my kid as soon as possible.

I've slept poorly since 1993 and fatherhood didn't help things there but, although this is not a blessing for anyone and is a curse proper for the highly reflective, it did yield a gift once. Lying in bed late one night when Cal was not quite a year old, I heard him from his crib across the hall, in a baby's sing-song, say "Da-da." It sounded like total happiness! I got up to check on him and discovered that he was still asleep. Maybe he was dreaming, but I like to think that it was his way of saying, "The big guy is okay in my book." Anyway, it was his first recognizable word.

I think our first conversation, when he was maybe a year and a half old, was something like this:

Cal (pointing to a drink on the table): Dat yours?

Me: Yes it is, Cal.

Cal (pointing to his drink): Dat mine?

Me: It sure is.

And one of his other early questions was, "You got gas?" It's par for the course, but Cal and Mac still talk about gas a lot. I suspect it'll continue for, oh, 70 or 80 years.

I said to Katie the other day, "Despite how things turned out, I do have really good memories of those early years with Cal as a baby."

Some of the memories are very simple. Like standing out in the yard in Framingham on a cold autumn evening and showing him the full moon and stars. He cried out, "Moooooooon" and pronounced the sparklers "shtars." Maybe he was trying out a Sean Connery impression.

A year or two later, sitting on the porch up in Campton, New Hampshire, I pointed west and said, "Those are the White Mountains, Cal."

A small look of confusion. "But they're blue, Dad." The kid has always had a good grip on reality!

Sometimes on the weekends I had the kids after the divorce, I would wake up to have Cal standing there and giggling. He was only five years old, so his face would be at about the same height as my head on the pillow. Maybe he'd be poking my face or making goofy noises. At the time I probably thought the kid was being pesky, but the memories age really well.
Then there was the adventure in America back in 2007. Cal loves the fact that he was born there and he's gracious enough to let me know this all the time. You know... he really does make an effort to say things that will please me. I know he's doing this, and I often tell him, "Cal, you don't have to say that just to be nice to Dad."

"I know that, Dad."

What can I say... he's been a great kid and I like to think he's made the world a better place just by being a good kid in a world that's full of not-so-good kids and not-so-good adults. I know I'm awfully biased and I'm not going to make any apologies for that.

Enjoy your day, My Boy! And thank you.  

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You Can Be Proud, Little One

I felt my daughter kick this morning! She doesn't make her appearance until mid-September, but she made her presence known through Katie's stomach. "What's happenin', Daddy?!" Bam! While there's a touch of anxiety regarding finances and some of the logistics involved, I'm really looking forward to the arrival of my baby girl. I have no preconceptions about how our relationship will unfold over the decades, and that's kind of liberating.  

You see, if we all have a major theme or issue to deal with in our lives—you know, something preordained by the universe—then I know mine focuses on fathers and sons. I did not know my father... that's not to say that I do not know who my father was or that there's some great mystery there, it's just that Charles Gregory McNeil, Sr. ceased to be a part of my life after my parents divorced in 1969. Everything else in my life has been viewed in the context of his absence. My stepfather loomed larger. Mentors like my Uncle Jim and Lou DeLuca and their teachings became all the more important and appreciated. When my own sons came along I felt I was repairing the damage from the earlier generation. Then the divorce and their having a stepfather... history repeated itself and everyone took their appropriate roles. A slow-starting career and any associated setbacks somehow seemed genetic. And what will my sons think of their father? Will they curse the connection? Have any sort of admiration or think me pathetic? Feel that I wronged them? There are just too many comparisons with the same-sex parent, I guess.

My daughter, though... it seems I can just be a parent without old ghosts floating around. As the late Lou DeLuca would have said (okay, some ghosts are benevolent), I can approach our relationship with an open hand and just let things be; nothing needs to be wrestled into place.

Don't get me wrong: I love my sons dearly and am thankful for them. Cal has the beautiful soul I could only imagine having; he is a kind boy, and I was not nearly as kind as a boy (and not as a man, for that matter). Right now it appears that Mac may harness his piss and vinegar, a trick I have yet to master. In varying measures and proportions they are both soulful and spirited and I could not be prouder. Every moment they are with me feels like a stolen gift, each hour just a bit more assurance that we won't forget each others' expressions, connections, quirks... which should not be the case but, hell... divorce. In the resigned words of Tony Soprano, "What are ya gonna do?"

At this point, all Katie and I really know about our daughter is that she has relatively long toes. Katie was concerned here because her toes are kind of short (well, the last three are wicked short). So, it looks like the girl will have at least something in common with Daddy. And that's another thing... I can call myself "Daddy" in context with her, but I tend to think of myself as "the Old Man" in the context of Cal and Mac. Jesus Christ... rumination always yields more baggage! "More issues than Time magazine, more baggage than Denpasar Aiport."

Anyway, a man looks at his sons and it can be like looking into the mirror—especially if certain family patterns repeat themselves. With a daughter things are just a touch alien and we don't know what to expect.

I can, however, tell you what I hope for my daughter. It would be a blessing if she had her mother's way with people, talent for kindness, generally sunny disposition and amazing work ethic. She'd be lucky if she got my mother's common sense, gift of doing things nicely and reverance for the family's traditions and elders. From Katie's mother she'll hopefully get great senses of curiosity and humor and conscientiousness. Perhaps Auntie Meggie's talents for friendship, conversation and the hard act of bringing equal parts wisdom and great humour into this life. Aunt Martha's hugely warm spirit and gracious soul. Kathy's appreciation and deft practice of a great many arts, from healing to folk. Debbie's sense of community, empathy and sentimental nature. Auntie Sal's entrepreneurial sense wouldn't hurt, that's for sure.

Going back, I know I was blessed with two amazing grandmothers, though I only met my mother's mother. A talented seamstress, she ran her own business out of the cellar, spoke Italian beautifully, loved to dance and play cards and was tough without being harsh.  My paternal grandmother died about six years before I was born, but from all accounts she was a vivacious and glowing soul... the kind of woman who would buy her Godson a puppy. There's no doubt she was the warm heart of that family, and her untimely death had huge repercussions on that family. Huge.

Katie's mother, Louise, describes her mother as formidable and Katie has a long line of wonderful memories that center on her grandmother's warm and protective nature.       

This is all just a long-winded way of saying to my unborn daughter that she has a lot of remarkable women in her bloodline. She can be proud of all the wonderful role models she has in her little community.

Hell... even her ghosts are good ones.