My First Father’s Day

My first Father’s Day has come and gone.

It nearly coincided with Noah reaching the six-month mark this past week, and since he passed all of his doctor’s tests with flying colors, I was a proud papa going into Sunday. The verdict from the doctor is that he is very long and has a big head, but his growth and development are coming along beautifully (my interpretation, not theirs).

And for sure, going into this weekend, Gina and I had noticed some great developments. Our son’s modes of transportation have evolved into rolling over at will, spinning on the floor on the back of his head, and pulling himself toward things by grasping tightly and using his arms. While he hasn’t quite figured out how to use his legs, he is certainly propping himself up on his hands and knees and performing the slightest of floor scoots. It seems that before too long he’ll start to really scoot around and eventually crawl, which will send our house’s Alert Status to a constant Red for the next eighteen years. In the meantime we’ll pick him up when we can and watch him squirm around like a dog that doesn’t want to be picked up, in addition to all the cooing and shouting that has come before.

In short, I love it all. I love watching him figure out the most basic tasks. I love his smiles and laughs. I still have a basic amount of trepidation in reserve that we’re somehow going to stunt his growth or screw him up, but we’ve made it six months with no apparent trouble.

I still have to stop and let that sink in: he’s six months old. That simply does not seem possible.

Six months is long enough, however, for the idea of being a father to completely sink in. I feel like I’m part of a club now, a club of guys who can silently nod acknowledgement as we pass by with our strollers and diaper bags. I’m part of a not-so-secret brotherhood of men that can sigh knowingly and send supportive vibes when we see one of our brethren trying valiantly to tamper down a full-on public child meltdown in the summer heat.

And so it was as I entered my first Father’s Day. I think all of us in the Dad club realize that in the grand pantheon of holidays, Father’s Day does not rank as high as Christmas, Easter, or Mother’s Day. But it’s still nice to be recognized. Since Noah is still too young to select a tie or handcraft a card to give me, I received some nice mementos and congratulations from Gina and Noah’s grandparents. We didn’t have a lot of time to celebrate since Gina has been working full-bore on a major event at work and yesterday was no exception, but really just getting to spend time with the little mister was enough to make me appreciate the day’s sentiment. His laugh is a salve in itself.

Technically, these are called "Mr. Men," but we need a little levity here.
Technically, these are called “Mr. Men” and not “little misters.”

Call it a Father’s Day gift to myself, but I’m taking a couple of days off to relax as well. Both of our jobs have picked up so much that the daily rhythms of working and taking care of Noah have led to a nightly ritual where, after our bundle of joy is safely asleep, Gina pulls out her laptop and gets back to work while I valiantly attempt to read or do something fulfilling. My quest lasts for twenty or thirty minutes before I’m drooling on the couch, in the classic fatherhood pose of watching TV with my eyes closed.

In part due to this whirlwind of activity, my overall awareness of current events is much lower than it usually is. But this week, I still heard the reports of the horrible church shooting in South Carolina as they trickled in. Once I learned more of the details, the news broke my heart. There’s no way to understand the kind of hate and racism that was on display last Wednesday night. Reddit has a tracker of “mass shootings” that have happened in 2015 (with a somewhat wide definition of what constitutes a mass shooting). Without even counting Charleston there have been over 150, and only a smattering of them have even cracked the national news.

I’m not qualified to comment on this, politically or socially or in any facet. It will never make sense to me in a thousand years. I can only say that now that I’m in the father club I have to wonder, and not for the first time, what kind of world I’ve brought my son into.

The answer I come back to is that in all of human history, the world has always been one that’s neither completely good nor completely bad. There is evil, without question. But there are also truly good people and good causes.

And as a father, I have to believe that the world is better now that Noah is in it. The alternative is too difficult to comprehend.

He’s too young to understand any of this, but unfortunately the time will come when he will be older and I will have to try to explain some kind of national or world tragedy to him. I’m not sure what words I will use. Maybe I’ll only be able to offer him hugs and reassurances. But there are a few ideas I think I can reliably fall back on. One is simple: leave the world better than you found it. Another is a simplified version of the Golden Rule: just be nice to everyone.

And then there’s 1 John 4, verses 7, 18, and 21.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Everything I’ve seen from the Charleston community since the horrible tragedy has shown me that, while they’re grieving now, they will continue to lean on each other and be okay as a community. They are showing love and resilience, and that gives me hope.

If he could understand me today, I would say to Noah that we’re going to have a lot of fun and many, many more Father’s Days to share. We won’t be able to stop evil things from happening, but if we can just bring even the tiniest bit of joy or comfort into the world that wasn’t there before… we’ll have done good.

And Noah, don’t worry. I’ll be there to help.

The Escape Room Awaits

A few months ago, I stumbled across Jessica Contrera’s article in the Post about the latest craze in live entertainment: escape rooms. After reading just a little about it, I knew it was something I had to try.

Taking their cue from video games and movies where the player or main character is locked in a room and must investigate the room’s contents to figure out puzzles in order to unlock the door, escape rooms essentially translate that concept into real life. The origins of creating this kind of real space might trace back to Europe, Asia, or possibly Silicon Valley, but no matter where the first one started, it seems this is simply an idea whose time has come. For those of us that grew up playing these types of video games and watching these movies, getting the chance to try it out in real life taps into something deep. Call it a return to childhood, call it a desire to be social, call it a critical thinking challenge – it’s a phenomenon that’s taking off. Escape rooms are worldwide, they’re popular among people my age with disposable income, and most importantly to this story, there are a few that recently opened up in DC.

I convinced a few friends to go recently one Friday evening, after much coordination of schedules. I chose Escape Room Live DC, mainly because it seemed the most popular based on reviews and it was the one featured in the Post article, but there are others out there. The same company is even opening a location in Old Town in a few months, so if we’d only waited we could have had a somewhat easier time getting to the place.

As it was, Glover Park is a really great neighborhood, but it sure isn’t Metro accessible. To get there you just have to get creative, be willing to walk up some hills, and plan some extra time. My part of the crew, Steve and Gerritt, took Metro to DuPont Circle, then caught a bus over to Wisconsin Avenue. Matt hopped on the bus at Foggy Bottom, another decent option. Brian and Stephen drove in and took their chances with street parking, which worked out great for them.

Operating under the theory that you can’t escape a room on an empty stomach, we hit up Surfside for a tasty taco dinner and beers and had plenty of time to stroll down the street and get psyched up for the big event.

The room is in the basement of a building, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. There are various spy-themed decorations scattered throughout, plus an old school arcade game console table. Steve and I killed some time playing Galaga while we waited for the groups ahead of us to finish. All in all, the clientele all looked to be about our age, though I did spot at least one group that looked like a family of all ages. We reserved the entire room so we wouldn’t be grouped with strangers, but if you don’t have that many people in your group or you’re just out on a date or with a friend, you can jump into any open room at any reservation time.

Waiting to escape.

Before long, it was our turn. I have to say I think we were feeling a little overconfident going into it. Among the six of us, we probably felt that our backgrounds, overall knowledge of games and puzzles, and general critical thinking skills would make us a lock to break some kind of record. I had deliberately chosen the smallest room available on the website, which also happened to be the most difficult. After receiving a briefing from the Gamemaster, he led us to our room. The general guidelines were: don’t break anything, not everything is a clue, and you have 45 minutes to get out from the time the door is locked. I glanced at the leaderboard posted next to the door as I walked in. For six people, the record time was around 42 minutes. That should have been our warning.

I won’t give out any spoilers about the solution for our particular room. I will only say that it was much, much more difficult than we had anticipated, and it did not contain a framed photo of Bill Murray. And there were a nice mixture of number puzzles, word puzzles, and somewhat-physical challenges in addition to the straight-up riddle solving. To grade us fairly, I think we narrowed in pretty quickly on the various clues and puzzles that were readily available from examining the room – the “opening round.” But figuring out what to do with the information we had – jumbled numbers, cryptic phrases – and how to apply them to the various combination locks we found to keep going – was mind-boggling.

After 15 minutes or so of bouncing around from one puzzle to the next and not making much headway, the Gamemaster’s voice chimed in from the webcam stationed on a wall near the door. “Do you guys want a hint?”

Of course, he’d been watching us flounder the whole time.

That was the moment of truth. Did we swallow our collective pride and give up any chance at reaching the leaderboard, or did we plow stubbornly on and risk not escaping at all?

We went with the clues.  In the end we needed five of them, but we did escape with only a couple of minutes to spare. That’s what counts, right?

The few, the proud. The escapees.
The few, the proud. The escapees.

I think you can tell from the post-escape picture taken by the Gamemaster that it was going to take a while to convince ourselves of that. Even if I did get to dress like some kind of weird Viking.

In the end, we left with a bit of a defeated gloom and more than a few bruised egos. We wound down the night at Breadsoda so the rest of the guys could drown their defeat in beverages while I watched. Our consensus was that we did okay considering we had no prior knowledge of what types of puzzles to expect, and that we probably could tackle a room of similar difficulty now that we’d been through the wringer. Maybe we were just trying to make ourselves feel better. Maybe one of these days we’ll schedule a rematch and see.

As for me, now that I’ve gotten a taste of escaping, I really do want to try it again sometime. I’ve got enough family members that enjoy mysteries that I think we can make a go of it. With new rooms coming to Old Town and an occasional reset of clues and puzzles in their existing rooms, Escape Room Live is set up to capture every other Indiana Jones or Legend of Zelda fan in the DC Metro area for years to come.

(There’s not much here, but check out the Flickr gallery if you want.)

Music For All Ages, But Mostly Babies

“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.”

-William Congreve, “The Mourning Bride,” 1697

That quote has, over the years, been paraphrased into something like “music soothes the savage beast.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) But here, in this space, I always strive for as much accuracy as a two-minute Google search can provide. You’re welcome in advance, and maybe you’ll win Final Jeopardy! one day if you can remember this.

Remember this face, and remember that he's not William Shakespeare.
Remember this face, and remember that he’s not William Shakespeare.

Anyway, it’s no secret among parenting circles that music is a very powerful resource for soothing babies, savage ones or otherwise, and it seems the consensus is that the earlier you get them started, the better. Many of the baby classes Gina and I went to discussed and recommended playing music for our child while he was still in the womb, which is pretty much as early as you can get. There’s no definitive research that this will actually make babies smarter, even though there’s evidence that they can actually hear and react to it, but if playing Chopin or Led Zeppelin or Johnny Cash can do anything at all to increase his odds of becoming our meal ticket to a gold-plated retirement, I say “go for it!”

In truth, this was the easiest item to check off our pre-baby list. Both Gina and I are listening to music of all kinds for several hours every day, and though we usually don’t crank very much up in the evenings, you can’t always rule out an impromptu dance party in our house based on some tune we can’t get out of our heads. But since I play in our church band, I’m usually trying to rehearse the songs at least once or twice a week, and of course there are weekends or evenings when I just feel like grabbing the guitar and playing a bunch of covers. And to top it off, in a painstakingly slow manner, I’m also writing my own original material. You’ve got the radio, YouTube clips, movie scores, singing in the shower, humming along to that song one of us heard in the grocery store… suffice it to say, Noah was – and still is – exposed to a variety of music.

And you know what? It really does make a difference. On the days when I’m watching him alone, if he’s being really fussy, all I have to do is pick up the guitar or mandolin and he calms right down. The only slight problem with this is that once I start, I cannot stop the sound of the instrument for even a split second or the wailing will begin anew. This leads to a lot of half-formed chords and banging noises in between songs, or maybe me just speak-singing to a generally awful-sounding dissonance while I fumble to remember the next tune or cue up a new tab. It sounds like a crappy premise for an action movie, but maybe now I know how Sandra Bullock’s character in Speed 2 felt?

Because Speed 2 was superior to the first movie, which was already a cinematic classic, in every aspect.
Because Speed 2 was superior to the first movie, which was already a cinematic classic, in every aspect.

I discovered this magical coping technique at about the right time, a couple of months ago, and it saved us from many extended bouts of fussy baby. Now I make sure an instrument is handy at all times, which is quicker than even cuing up a song on my phone.

The other new musical aspect of our home is what I’ll call “vocal transitions.” Does Noah need to go take a bath? To make that whole process more fun, let’s sing as we go from the play-yard to the tub! Does Noah need to calm down late at night in the nursery? We’ve got your lullabies covered. Does Noah have a dirty diaper? Let’s sing about it as we change him!

Spend a little time in our house these days and you are 100% more likely to hear a song about poop. A terrible song, yes, but perhaps entertaining for the sheer inanity of it. But really, we’re only playing to our one biggest fan, and so far he’s easy to please. Consider a recent composition by Gina:

“Poopy-oopy-oopy in your pants, pants, pants
Poopy-oopy-oopy in your pants”

I mean, it’s not Dylan, but it’ll do.

This is all well and good, but now we have a new problem: we haven’t yet figured out what to do now when Noah makes ear-piercing noise even when he’s not upset. A typical day in our house now consists of a few seconds of blessed silence that are quickly shredded by high-pitched yells with all the volume his five-year-old lungs can muster. NOAH WANTS TO BE HEARD! Gina calls it “testing out his voice.” I can verify that it works. And yeah yeah yeah, I know, it’s only going to get worse until we can start to teach him about the concept of “volume.” When I had a fever and an accompanying headache recently, that wouldn’t have been welcome advice.

Until that glorious day when Noah discovers his inside voice, picks up an instrument or two, practices a ton, gets famous, and is our meal ticket out of here, I guess we’ll be content with the lot we have… and singing about poop.

A Lone Reminder

In order to make our subscription to HBO more worth it (in addition to the access to the wonderful past programming that HBO Go provides*), over the last few months I’ve occasionally been scanning the program guide and just scheduling movies to record that I figure we’ll get around to watching one of these days. Yes, I know I could do that straight through the HBO Go app anyway, but I don’t have a Chromecast or anything and my DVR is right there, all shiny and inviting.

*No, this post is not sponsored by or affiliated with HBO in any way. "The Wire" is a great show, though.
*No, this post is not sponsored by or affiliated with HBO in any way. The Wire, however, is a fantastic television program.

Last night, Gina and I finally got around to watching Lone Survivor, which I had recorded back in December. I guess choosing it now was a subconscious way to honor Memorial Day weekend.

Lone Survivor tells the true story of Marcus Luttrell and his team of SEALs during Operation Redwing in Afghanistan in 2005. As a movie, Survivor is less celebrated than the more recent depiction of fellow Texan and Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in American Sniper. I still haven’t seen Sniper (or any other movie released in the past eight or nine months, really), so I’m going solely off of awards show buzz and box office business. While Survivor wasn’t perfect, it certainly did its job to depict the intensity of training and lifestyle that men like the SEALs endure in service to our country, the horror and gruesome nature of war, the tension of an uneven firefight, and the brotherhood and common decency that, to me, has to underlie everything that’s done for any of it to make any kind of sense. It also shines some light on what it might look like to be an average citizen in Afghanistan. I don’t want to spoil too many details for you, but since the movie is called Lone Survivor, you can guess that the op turned pretty bad and that Luttrell is the lone survivor. The entertainment, gory and hard to watch as it can be, is in seeing how he gets there. (That, as well as the definite “USA! USA!” moments sprinkled in throughout.)

I’ve heard reviews that the book is better than the movie, offering more details and perspective from the man himself, and I do plan and encourage you all to check that out at some point.

I generally try to keep the tone in this blog light. I also try to stay away from politics. That said, no matter your opinions on wars both specific and in general, I’ve always believed that the ultimate heroes are the men and women who step up and join our military, because they are who continue to give you the right to voice your opinion. Seeing movies like this once in a while are a good reminder of that. Honoring our heroes every Memorial Day is another.

Sea power.

So while I prepare to fire up the grill this Monday surrounded by a family that has recently grown by one special person, I will once again tip my hat to those who are out there serving.

This year, I have that much more to thank them for keeping safe.

Let It Rain

I love a good thunderstorm. A few rolled through our corner of Northern Virginia recently. As I was walking Heidi, the dark clouds slowly crept into the western sky and that unmistakeable chilling calm settled over the neighborhood. The leaves on the trees were blowing upside-down, and the animals were making a break for cover. Heidi and I made it back home well before the rain began, but it wasn’t long before the first drops began pockmarking our deck. As the storm picked up momentum, I opened our deck door (with the screen shut) and picked up Noah so he could see and hear. I don’t believe this was his very first thunderstorm, but he certainly hasn’t seen very many, and I wanted to share the experience with him. I suppose it has to do with sowing the seeds of appreciation for the power and thunderous beauty of nature, and to show him that lightning and thunder are to be respected but not feared. He seemed interested, until he turned around to drool all over my shoulder, but I think I got my point across.

What is it about thunderstorms that enthrall me? I’m not sure, but it’s got to have something to do with my memories of watching storms when I was little.

I can recall many a summer afternoon when my family would while away the time on our front porch, each of us attending to our own hobbies. I’d be playing with action figures or something, crawling all over the place. My dog, Duchess, would be lying panting on the cool concrete porch floor. Mom would be reading. If my brother Bart wasn’t in the basement crafting some kind of wooden model, he would likely be reading too. And as for Dad, he would be whittling with his pocketknife, quietly surveying the neighborhood. This was relatively easy to do, since the porch was both covered by a roof and surrounded by cedar trees, offering a shady and secluded vantage point from our hill all the way out to the highway, at least three-quarters of a mile down the road.

So it was from here that we could see every car coming (not that there were ever  that many) and which of our neighbors were home. But we could also see storm clouds cresting the ridge as they gathered steam to blow into our town. In the days when the only weather forecast came from either our newspaper, radio, or the local network news, it wasn’t always a guarantee that we’d get a warning when a storm was coming (and I was around six or seven in this scenario, so I wasn’t paying much attention to weather forecasts, anyway). The weathermen just weren’t that accurate either, so often, seeing those mean-looking clouds were our best indication to batten down the hatches.

In my memory, we could see the rain coming, gliding delicately over the hillsides. From a distance it might look like fog or mist, but as the invisible wall blew ever closer, I could begin to distinguish what type of rain we were facing. Maybe those big, fat drops pelting everything or perhaps more of a finely woven sheet of water.

In my earliest memories of storm watching, Mom would bring a blanket out for me and I would wrap myself up in it, sitting as close to the house as I could, still a bit timid. Duchess would also usually crawl under the blanket with me, either out of fear or wanting to be close to me as well. As the storm would gather strength, it would form flash flood rivers down our hillsides that would flow into our ditches, a maelstrom of renewal and cleansing. Sometimes the lightning was so nearby it would make us all jump and raise the hair on the back of our necks. But my goodness, was it all fun.

It was on that front porch where I first learned to count “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” after a bolt of lightning to figure out how far away a storm was. And there were very few storms bad enough to chase us off the porch, so I always felt safe. Somehow, watching the tempest just outside our doors made home feel even more like the refuge it already was.

So that’s the kind of appreciation I want to share with Noah. We may not have quite as good a place for storm watching these days, but that doesn’t have to stand in the way.

Anyway, perhaps Eric Clapton said it best.