Portland

As I mentioned on Sunday I just returned from Portland, Oregon.  If you have never been, I cannot recommend the city enough.  I have been to Seattle, and to San Francisco, and to Los Angeles and San Diego.  Portland easily tops all of those.  It is up on the list of favorite cities with New York.  The scenery, the people, the food; these all combine to create a wonderful world class city, with a small town feel.

I could tell so many stories.  Of getting up at 4am, after going to bed only three hours earlier.  Of my son singing in the backseat.  Of some of the hairiest driving I’ve ever done, exhausted, in hard rain, in an unfamiliar vehicle on unfamiliar roads, right next to semi-trucks going 70 miles an hour.

I could talk about staying in Salem and some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.  I could share about taking my son to the Portland Children’s Museum and watching him run around, playing and pretending.  Of having to walk away from some of that because my anxiety got the better of me.  Of eating at Elephants Delicatessen (which, if you ever get the chance, you should really eat at), and having amazing pulled pork.

I might even talk about traffic in the suburbs and the beauty of Lake Oswego in the rain, or dinner at the “Oldest restaurant in Portland,” (Hello Huber’s!).  Even about visiting Apple Stores or beer, both of which I could talk about at length.

No, I want to talk about how I almost killed my child.

It was the evening of our first night in Portland.  We had finished dinner at an excellent fondue restaurant and had decided that we wanted crêpes.  Utilizing Yelp, which Portlanders seem to take very seriously, we had found a restaurant a short walk away.

This being Portland, it had been raining, and we were all enjoying looking at the architecture and sights.  Portland is a beautiful city, and in the evening light, with a fresh rainfall, it sparkles and shines with a very unique light.  We passed gorgeous old apartment buildings and a beautiful park.  We passed a building with an amazing dome, and an elementary school.

We also passed a row of houses, all painted in different colors.  When we had passed the beautiful park just a block earlier, my son had wanted to go running in the grass.  I had swung him up to my shoulders and we continued our walk.  But as we passed the row of houses, I never saw the metal panel in the sidewalk.  My foot slipped out from under me.  I tried to hold on to my kid, but we were both falling fast.

I knew a couple of things as soon as I landed; my wrist hurt, my rear hurt, and he was no longer on my shoulders.  I jumped up as quick as I could, but my wife was already with him.  He was screaming, it was craziness for several minutes.  I am both amazed and thankful that no one from the houses came out to see what had happened.  We headed to a store just down the street, got everyone checked out and cleaned up.  The diagnosis was a bruised forehead and cut cheek for him, a bruised wrist for me.  Later on my back and neck started in, but right then, everything was ok.

Until that night.

I slept terrible for the remainder of the nights in Portland.  Actually, every night since; struggling with dreams of dropping my son.  Of him tumbling over balconies and falling into pools.  And I know it is silly and needless and he is fine.  I know that it was an accident and that it could have happened to any of us that night.  That I did the best I could in the moment, and that it could have been much worse.  But my mind just won’t stop showing me.

I love traveling.  I love finding the places you were not expecting.  The surprise and the beauty of a new place, or rediscovering the qualities of an old favorite.  I love finding the character of a city, and how it’s people react.  I like finding a great coffeeshop or bookshop or breakfast place.  And Portland had all of these, believe me.  In fact, Portland is one of my favorite places I’ve been to.  And I look forward to going back.

I will always remember the beauty of Oregon.  The clouds seem bigger, the rain not as terrible.  The people are amazing and the food is to die for.  Coffee and treats abound, and nature is 20 minutes in any direction.  This is the Portland I will take with me.  But it will also always be the place I almost killed my kid.


Note from Author: As I’ve shared this story with several people, I have heard so many stories about how other parents have had moments that almost killed their offspring.  The more stories I hear, the more I realize that I am not alone.  Thank you for sharing.

Also, if you have anything to share about your travels in general, or Portland in particular, please share.  I am planning my next couple of trips, and would love to hear any suggestions you have!

A letter to my son

My Dear Little Man,

I remember the first time I heard your heartbeat.  Everyone says it will be amazing and incredible, a moment that you’ll never forget.  And they were all right.  I still have the recording on my phone, and I play it sometimes.  I look at pictures of your mother while she was carrying you, amazed that this same little guy was hiding in there.  I remember the first time I met you,  a screaming little ball of raw emotion and soft skin.  You cried until I held you up against my skin, then I cried.

I remember your first solid food, and the mess you made with it.  I remember how you would stop what you were doing and stare at the television whenever the theme song for Top Gear would come on.  I remember your first steps.  I don’t remember your first word, although I imagine it was “mommy.”  It’s still in the top 10 words you use now.

I remember the first time you asked me to sit with you and read.  Or to watch Mickey Mouse.  Or watching you play.  Or building you a fort.  Or saying you wanted your daddy.  I remember all of these moments.

I remember them mostly so that when you have a hard time going to sleep, or have a rough morning, or decide to wake me up by jumping on my neck, I know that you are a wonderful kid having a rough time.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be you; thoughts and feelings and emotions you have no way of understanding.  The two people that matter the most to you leave several times a week to do something called “work.”  We probably don’t seem very happy about it, but we keep doing it.  Not understanding why these furry children get treated so differently.  Why our toys look so different from yours.  Such a new and crazy world.

I have no idea who you will end up being.  I hope you’ll end up a good person.  I hope that I can teach you right from wrong.  To instill in you a need to help others, and to do good.  To leave the world a better place for having you in it.  To treat people with respect no matter who they are.  To love art and literature.  To abhor violence and destruction.  I try to do my best to remember that you will have to find your own way in the world you live in.

I try to remember all this when you have a rough day.  I try to remember this when you have a rough night.  I try to remember it when I have had a rough time too.  You don’t know it yet, buddy.  But you’ve made everything so much better.  Harder? Yes.  More difficult?  Absolutely.  Complicated? Oh my yes.  But wonderful.

So very wonderful.

We Love You,

Your parents

Anyone else felt a little bagel lately?

I’m tired.

Not the normal, I’ve got a two-year old and have to get up early kind of tired.  No, this is the really fun tired of Depression.  The kind of apathetic, bland, insipid tired that makes you want to do nothing but sit in a dark room and stare at a wall.  Except I can’t do that.

I have a job.  I have a family that counts on me.  I have a two-year old that just won’t quit.  I have commitments and bills and a fairly healthy coffee addiction that isn’t going to drink itself.

The last couple of days have been a little rough: I haven’t felt like writing, though I’ve tried.  I haven’t felt like going to work, though I have gone.  I haven’t always felt like I’m being “good daddy.”  My patience is thin, my attention is short, and the smile is a little strained.

It seems like the last few months have been more of a battle with this.  Perhaps I’m finally beginning to realize when it is Depression versus just not feeling great, or a migraine instead of an attack.

Another sad and ironic truth could be that in making more of an effort to talk about it, I could be bringing on more attacks.  Trigger words can be amazingly powerful things.  I know I’m having an attack way before I can bring myself to say the “D” word in my head, let alone to anyone else.  I will go out of my way to avoid the word; “I am fighting it today,” or “I’m having a rough go of it.”  You will never find a more euphemistic way of referring to such a horrible thing.  And this isn’t to strangers, this is to family.  Would it help, I sometimes wonder, if we called it something else?  “I’m feeling really bagel today.”  Maybe that would help get the idea across that I feel like a hole has been cut out of me and I’m slathered in Lox.  Ew.

Sometimes it seems like the conversation about mental illness is finally starting to open up. That the stigma, and the pain, might be looked past to help the person underneath.  But mental illness lies.  Depression lies.  It makes you believe that no one wants to talk about this, or that no one cares.  That you’re the only feeling this way, and that you’ll just be troubling people if you tell them about it.

National Suicide Prevention Week was last week, but it should be all the time.  The most stable among us, can sometimes be in the most pain.  Depression Lies.  Mental illness Lies.  Be somebody’s truth.

“When life seems jolly rotten, there is something you’ve forgotten…”

There’s a lot of negativity out there this week folks.  There are people shooting at each other, people talking about the worst parts of humanity to score points, other people just being dicks in general.

I think about the every day moments of happiness that I have; my son waking me up in the morning, my dog bringing me a toy, my wife sending me a text.  I think about the little moments during the day of helping another person, or happening to get a cookie out of the oven at the local shop, or jamming out to Queen’s, “Don’t Stop Me Know,” which I cannot recommend to people enough.

I have a lot of thoughts from the last couple of weeks, but I don’t want to put more negativity into the world today.  I don’t want to add one more trigger into the ether that someone else could stumble upon and end up feeling like I do.  We have a long way to go in this country, and in this world.  But there is no reason, if we look at the positive, happy moments, in our own lives, that we can’t share that with everyone else.

Speaking of putting out positivity, I want to mention one more thing; my dear friend, collaborator, and occasional-shoulder-to-cry-on, Krisann Gentry, has recently given birth to a new son.  Unfortunately, there was a medical emergency with his birth, and he is spending some time in the NICU at a San Diego hospital.  Any good thoughts, prayers or help is appreciated.  Please contact me if you want more information.

Go hug somebody folks, you don’t know who needs it.

For the Love of Language

My son is starting to talk.

This is no surprise, as this is generally something humans do as they grow up.  It is a normal part of speech.  But, as a lover of language, this provides an interesting look into the process of learning a language.  I haven’t spent a ton of time around children, prior to having my own, and so I was mostly unaware of the various stages that children go through as they learn to communicate.  So it is amazing to see him learn his name, and point to his eyes.  To see him name things and decide on his own name for things.  But as he goes through this process, so do my wife and I.

Children don’t always use items proper name, and so we almost, most of the time, usually, are able to translate what he wants; avo, or cado, means avocado; peebee is peanut butter; beebee is belly button or baby.  These are the easy ones, almost anyone could figure these out.  But then we get into the next level; our dog’s name becomes Mimo, for Milo; Toodles for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (it’s a character in the show), and the eternal PaBa versus Papa debate.  Then there is the downright hilarious.  He was toddling around one day saying, “beesch.”  I was confused, and a little concerned that my son was using words that were perhaps too far above his grade-level.  Turns out he wanted his beads.  Sometimes the mind hears things strangely.  He also has trouble with L’s; so “clock” comes out in a disturbing way; that one was figured out because he also said, “tic toc,” after the mildly offending word.  Context, folks, it matters.

What I’ve decided is that instead of spending all this money on cyphers and codes, the military should just pay some families; one feeds the story to the toddler, record what the kid says, send it to the other and let them translate.  The parents are the only ones who will be able to figure out what the kid is saying, and anyone intercepting the recording will be bored to tears trying to watch it.  It’s secure and unbreakable!

Which brings up one of the biggest things that has worried me about raising a child: how do I pass on my love of language?  We read a story every night, and it fills my heart with happiness when he brings me a book, even in the middle of the day.  I have made an effort to speak to him throughout the day, not just his level, but just out loud.  I watch shows in different languages so that he can learn the lyrical qualities of other cultures.  As he grows up, I want to continue to encourage a passion in reading, in music and theatre and art.  I want him to know about the classics of Shakespeare and Keats.  To find the joy in the sparse language of Hemingway, or the perverse humor of Steven King.  I want him to grow up with a love of language like I have.

Which, really, is the crux of it.  I recognize the power of language.  I recognize that language is a powerful tool.  In fact, it is the only tool that matters; if we are not able to communicate to each other, how could we grow together as a society.  Good storytelling is based on language.  Good theatre, or poetry, or music, is based on language.  Good public policy is based on language.  Good relationships are based on language.

Language is a powerful thing; it allows us to get our thoughts into someone else’s brain, to reach across cultures and time, to influence, and be influenced.  It conveys emotion and thoughts, truth and lies.  We name the unnamable, and conquer the universe, while sitting in our armchairs.  People forget how powerful language can be; we speak of Doctor King, but it is his words we remember.  We know of Hemingway, but it is his stories we retell.  Language gives us the ability to share our lives with others, and maybe we should all be better at listening.

This is why I drink coffee.

How my day has gone:

12:03am – Bed.

12:06am – Police helicopter begins circling.

12:07am – Turn on Friends reruns.

12:34am – Police helicopter finally decides to go bother someone else.  Back to sleep

1:07am – Awoken by cries of toddler in extreme duress.  Or just doesn’t want to sleep in his crib.

1:11am – Yeah, it was that last one.

3:36am – Toddler has been laying on my arm for two hours and the pain in my hand has become unbearable.

3:40am – Return from bathroom to find toddler has taken over my spot.  The dog’s bed beckons.

5:03am – Awoken by kick to face by toddler.

6:00am – Awoken by wife leaving for work.  “Just wanted to say goodbye.”  Sweet.

6:33am – Toddler realizes wife has left for work.  This displeases him.  Loudly.

7:27am – Toddler wakes up and decides that cartoons are necessary.  Loudly.

7:28am – I turn on cartoons and try to understand what happened to my night.

8:01am – He’s dressed.  That’s all we’re going to say.

8:05am – I begin my attempt to get ready while keeping him from tossing everything out of the bathroom cabinets.

8:14am – I start breakfast.  I have secured him in his high chair.  There is peace in our time.

8:44am – I suspect that he has begun chemical warfare.

8:45am – He has.

9:01am – We make it out the door.

9:37am – I drop him off at school.  He gives me a hug and waves when I leave.

Worth it.