What I did on summer vacation

The title of this post is a bit disingenuous as, while I work in education, I don’t really have a “summer vacation,” per se.

I’m always amazed at the people — full-grown adults with proper jobs, kids, pets, cars, mortgages, and credit card debt — who seem to think the business of a university ends as soon as classes do. It’s always interesting to talk with some people, just like it’s always interesting to talk with a brick or small pebbles or a broom.

Yet, here I am, referring to a summer vacation I don’t really get (I could take “vacation” during the “summer,” but that’s not really “summer vacation,” is it? It’s more like “a summer vacation.”) and further perpetuating the idea university employees get to take the summer off and do whatever they like…

But I digress.

I haven’t posted in a while. The last post was while I was avoiding writing a my novel in Belize.

I figured I would have written a bit more this summer. I had it all planned out: Clean up the house, set up a nursery, have a leisurely stroll through to the middle of summer, with a baby showing up in mid-late summer

If you know Liza or me, you know it’s been a little more busy than that.

The main thing that happened. of course, was Benjamin (the aforementioned “baby”).

Benjamin surprised us (and, I’m sure, himself) on June 14, five weeks before his due date of July 15.

Five weeks.

His room hadn’t even been cleared out of the stuff (and I mean STUFF when I write “stuff” in this context) Liza and I had sitting in it. It was still painted a chocolate-milk-poo-brown color (arguably, since boys tend to be more scatological, it would have possibly been a good color to keep so as to camouflage any toddler-era artworks by this young master). And all of his furniture was still boxed-up in the overcrowded, soon-to-be turned into, library/fitness/guest room.

The ensuing five days of Liza in the hospital, and Ben’s concurrent stay in the NICU (which became a total of three weeks and a couple of days in the NICUs at Hutzel Hospital and then at Children’s Hospital of Michigan), threw the entire “leisurely stroll” through to the middle of summer right out the window, into the street, tumbling into a pothole and drowning in the puddle that had formed inside it.

This isn’t necessarily something I feel the need to relive day-by-day. It was emotional tumult of an excruciating degree, especially after knowing Liza was okay, and then watching Ben’s condition worsen. It’s one of those things that simply cannot be explained without actually experiencing it, and it’s not something any of you should ever have to experience.

Compounding the emotional mess was just the reality of existence the week they were both in the hospital. Bouncing between the house, Liza’s hospital room, the NICU, back to the house to feed the dogs and let them outside, back to the hospital, for five days on-end… I lost all sense of time. I couldn’t stay at the hospital because of the fact the dogs needed me at home… and that made me feel even more helpless in the situation.

I was able to use some of that time to get stuff out of his room, start the painting (priming, actually — I only tested the paint in the time they were both in the hospital), distract myself with some World Cup games… that sort of thing.

Even once Liza was home, not having Ben in the house was, probable, even worse than when both of them were in the hospital. There we were — parents.

Parents. With no kid.

We could go to the NICU and hold him, and talk with him, and cuddle him. Sure, we could do all of that. But we had to give him back when we left.

Practically speaking, those three weeks gave us enough time to get the vast majority of the projects we needed to finish out of the way (we were still finishing his room when he came home, but we were able to move around him (and move him around) while finishing-off the details). Practically speaking, it was a great distraction.

Rationally, one can completely understand why this was the case. He was not well, he needed 24-hour treatment, and he wasn’t going to get that at home.

But, in our reality (not necessarily real reality, but our reality), the time we were both at home and he was still in the NICU was some of the worst emotional pain I could have ever gone through. As one gets older, one expects to deal with the loss of grandparents, parents, friends, siblings, and so on. I expected, when my grandfather was in a nursing home a few years back, that something along those lines was going to occur. I may have not been prepared, but we expect it.

We, as people, never really told to expect, nor are we prepared, to deal with a newborn (from an otherwise normal and uneventful pregnancy) to spend three weeks in a NICU and have the doctors scratching their heads as to what is causing the baby’s problems. It just isn’t something we, as a society, tell expectant parents to try to prepare for. It’s obvious what the dangers are — we all are aware of them on some level. But we never think it’ll affect us, nor do we think an uneventful pregnancy will lead to problems with delivery or with the baby itself.

When they say there isn’t a manual for new, or expectant, parents… it’s true. There should be something (and I’m sure there is, but how do you find what books to read amongst the multitude of copies The Expectant Father, What to Expect…, etc.?). Do you really think What to Prepare to Expect When You are Expecting to Have a Perfectly Normal Pregnancy, Delivery, and Baby (someone might buy that… but I can imagine the editor freaking-out at the title)?

No… it’s all by the seat of our pants…. or the seat of the baby’s onesie.

Three months later, Ben is on the mend. As you can see in the picture above: Almost no jaundice, he’s growing and gaining weight wonderfully. Gastroenterology and cardiology are still observing a few things with his liver and heart (nothing that seems to be life threatening at this point), but he’s otherwise a normal, health, baby. With very healthy lungs. Extremely healthy lungs. I may have to start wearing earplugs when I feed him and he’s in a grumpy mood.

So why this posting, and why now?

On September 8, I tweeted: “Is it too cliche to say that becoming a father has seriously made me question what’s important and what’s clearly not important in life?”

Now, granted, I can be overly (and overtly) introspective to a fault. If you think Winnie-the-Pooh is an overthinker, you haven’t been around me when I start dwelling on things.

But I have been thinking about how this has affected my view on other things… specifically how I no longer have patience for minor, insipid things that have precious little to do with anything worthwhile (and, thus, have no right to my patience for them).

I’ve had a long time this summer to reflect and think about what is truly important and worthwhile. A lot of what I do day-to-day is neither. Manufactured and excessive melodrama are not worth my time or my patience.

I suppose, if you are the type vain or paranoid enough to think this is somehow in reference to you or how we relate to one another… then you might be right. It might actually be about you (See? You aren’t as paranoid as those other people think you are because we really are talking about you, aren’t we?).

I will be working to make a few things change in the coming months. Here’s hoping they actually bear fruit.