Gone Before We Could Miss It

Let’s recap what has happened in the last few days:

  1. I logged into our bank account Wednesday evening when what to my wandering eyes should appear but our tax refunds. Last year, after our first-ever tax bill, I painstakingly calculated exactly how much to withhold so that this year’s taxes would be as close to net-zero as possible. That was, of course, before we even knew Noah was on the way. Since our fourteen-pound, diaper-wearing tax break was born in 2014, he gave us a nicely-sized refund. As I stared at the screen, the possibilities of what to do with the money were tantalizing: pay off some debt! Put most of it in savings! So recklessly carefree!
  2. Thursday morning, we had a snowstorm and the government was on a two-hour delay / unscheduled telework day. I had signed up for some online classes for just such an occasion, so I sat down at the computer in our basement den/office/music studio/creative space to plow through some of the lessons. Before long, I noticed that my socks were getting wet. Figuring that Heidi had tracked in some snow that had left the carpet damp, I ran upstairs to put on new socks. Back at the computer, it wasn’t long before this fresh pair of socks was also soaked. Frowning, I rolled my chair back to look at the situation a little more closely, and saw trails of sopping-wet carpet left by the wheels of the chair. Panning my head toward the rest of the room with a growing sense of dread, I finally noticed the damp spots that were springing up across the floor like little oil slicks. I ran back to the rear of the room to the water access panel, fearing the worst – only to have my fear confirmed. Our pressure regulator valve was leaking, and there was no telling how long it had been doing so. I cried a little inside when I realized just how much junk stuff we had in the room that would need to be quickly moved and bounded upstairs to recruit Gina.
  3. The plumbers were mercifully able to come that same afternoon. They fixed the pressure valve, but as a special bonus, they also discovered the burst pipe leading to the spigot on the front of the house. They happily repaired this for me too, as a two-for-two special. And of course they had to cut a couple of holes in the drywall for good measure.
  4. Thursday evening, I was still hopeful that I could Rug Doctor the excess moisture from the top of the carpet and all would be well. I was so young and naïve. By Friday, the carpet was still soggy, and I finally resigned myself to the fact that this would not be an easy or quick process.
  5. Gina and I manhandled the remaining furniture out of the room, exhausting ourselves and pulling muscles in the process.
  6. I called in a homeowner’s insurance claim and a water damage restoration company. There are currently five high-powered fans and a dehumidifier running in the room downstairs, and they’ve been going strong for two days now. The room still has an interesting smell, and the fans have played havoc with the temperature differential through the house.
  7. The rest of the basement looks like a creepy warehouse you see in TV shows where the bad guy is a creepy magician that lives in the warehouse and random stuff is stacked haphazardly everywhere and oh no, look out, the creepy magician IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU.
  8. In a completely unrelated chain of events, on Saturday afternoon I smashed my thumbnail in the inner workings of the baby stroller in the dining room at Chuy’s before sitting down to a nice Tex-Mex lunch with family. I’ve been cataloging the kaleidoscope of colors that my thumbnail has displayed. It’s moved past blood red and is currently sitting somewhere near dark-washed denim. It will likely fall off.
  9. Between the insurance deductible, rising home taxes, thumbnail replacement surgery, and other various bills coming due, that tax refund is suddenly thinning out. So much for that life-size replica of the Iron Throne.

So I guess you could say that this hasn’t been a banner weekend for our house. I’m ready to move on from winter.

Oh, and anybody want some wet carpet? I can get you a good price.

The Two-Month Mark

We have officially crossed the two-month mark of parenting, and everyone has survived. Noah has experienced a number of firsts over the last month, but that’s not too hard when practically everything you do is the first time you’ve done that particular thing.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve rejoiced in his first night sleeping in his crib, his first night of sleeping straight through for eight hours, and even his first lunch out with us at Panera and Starbucks. He’s been to church for Ash Wednesday too. We were expecting a full-fledged meltdown because it was an evening service, but he basically slept through the whole thing.

While many of these events are as much a triumph of us parents getting over our nervousness and celebrating the small things, it is clear that Noah is starting to develop normally and some elements of his personality are beginning to take shape. We’re beginning to discern his behavior patterns and the subtle variations in all of his different cries. But best of all, he’s smiling at us a lot, which is pretty much the greatest thing to see after a long day at work or when one of us walks into his room the first thing in the morning.

He’s also in the earliest stages of getting interested in toys and manipulating objects. Right now, he’s enraptured by two fish, one orange and one red, that are  sewn onto the Noah’s Ark blanket we hung in his room. His favorite (and basically only) toy right now is a hollow ball connected by compartments of rattling beads. While not exactly throwing it, he seems to enjoy hanging it by his thumb, shaking it, and letting it fall from his hands. I bet he also enjoys learning that we’ll chase after the ball and give it back to him.

Soon he will be smarter than us both.

Gina has been writing all of these little moments on a “first year” calendar that hangs on the nursery wall, but before long we’ll be so inundated with firsts that it’s going to be hard to keep track of them all. For now, to page back through the calendar is to synopsize the entirety of the emotional ride our family has experienced since mid-December. It’s all there, with still-blank spaces for the photos we haven’t yet gotten around to printing. Noah has made so much progress and grown so much in the last few weeks that it’s now almost impossible to imagine those first few days in the hospital, and yet I can still touch them if I stretch my hand far enough back through the pages.

As I began writing this, Noah was sleeping in his contraption called a Daydreamer, which for some reason I call his “time machine.” (One of the parental duties I’m really embracing is to take great pride in coming up with stupid names for everything around the house. I’m going to help the kid learn a strange kind of English, or confuse him, or both.)

The pinnacle of modern baby relaxation. All that’s missing is the cigar and leisure suit.

The Daydreamer is basically a lounge chair for babies, and it should last him for a while, but he’s already outgrown two other sleeping arrangements. Of course, my preferred nap spot for him is my arms, which he still likes as well. He’ll grunt and rub his face into our chests to find just the right spot to lay his head, and then dig in for a sound nap.

How much longer can that last?

Until the calendar is full and then some, I will cherish every moment I can.

It’s Black, It’s White – It’s Photography

Last year, Gina gave me a DIY camera kit as a gift. It was awesome, and I wrote about it. Along with the camera, she also gave me two rolls of film: one color, one black & white. The color roll lasted through the spring, and I posted a gallery of those shots on Flickr.

For some reason, though, it took me much longer to go through the black and white roll. Maybe because it had 36 exposures instead of 24. Maybe because I, in my inexperience with manual cameras, ended up stupidly popping open the camera a couple of times before the whole roll was complete. In the end, though, the premature exposures and resulting double-exposures created some neat shots. And of course, even after I had used up the roll, it took me quite a while to bite the bullet and get the thing developed (this time I used the excellent services at The Darkroom).

So, after that entire odyssey, below are my favorite shots from the roll. As I said,  some of these are complete accidents, others were intentional, but it felt neat to be shooting with film again. It all started with a trip to the National Zoo, continuing through trips to Austin and West Virginia, and culminated in some random shots around the neighborhood.

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Round and ’round we go…

 

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A ghostly appointment.

 

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Heidi on a leaf?

 

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From the ether?

 

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‘Merica.

 

The full Flickr gallery of the rest-of-the-best can be seen below as a slideshow if you’re reading this on something that allows Flash, and if not here’s the slideshow link:

Until next time.

What Is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, and with it comes the various expressions of love in all its shapes and sizes. Some are Hallmark-fueled or guilt-induced, while others are heartfelt. Whether clichéd or original, homemade or store-bought, overpriced or cheap, most of us are sucked into this holiday, one way or another, by somehow coming up with a way of telling those closest to us that we love them. The very lucky ones get through it without breaking the bank or making an idiot of themselves.

Of course, I subscribe to the philosophy of letting my dearest wife know that I love her throughout the year, and I don’t need a holiday to remind me to do that. But I also am no fool, so I’ve always tried to make at least a little bit of effort for Valentine’s Day. I’ve had mixed success through the years, but the most important thing has been to try. When Gina and I were dating, “trying” sometimes meant rolling the dice on a gift that didn’t pan out so well. Since those early attempts, however, our Valentine’s expressions have evolved as we’ve gotten more comfortable in our marriage. It’s become less about material things and chocolate hearts and more about sharing some kind of unique experience (although chocolate still plays a big role).

We’ve even begun a strategy where the responsibility of planning the date alternates every year. Last year, Gina booked an ultra-fancy dinner at a nice spot attached to a historic hotel in Old Town. We were treated like royalty and served dishes that were unrecognizably fancy, and yet expensive. I tried foie gras for the first time. I’m pretty sure I literally ate gold at this meal, and I still left feeling slightly hungry. I had never felt more like a backwoods country boy, but it was all okay because my wife was my hot date, and we could laugh about the experience later while driving through some fast food joint to sate my hunger.

I can see that these kinds of memories, and taking the time out to do things together, is even more important now.  If you’ve been reading this blog you know that our holidays have lately been anything but typical. Every “new parent” book we’ve perused, every website out there has said that we’ve got to take time out every now and then to do something for ourselves as a couple. The theory goes, naturally, that if we’re going to be the nucleus for our family and the one constant for Noah as he grows, we need to be nurtured as well. It also doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that we’re adults and that there was, in fact, a relationship that led to us having that baby who now takes up most of our free time.

So, this year was supposed to be my turn, but I admit that we ended up collaborating on our date a bit after a babysitting offer from Gina’s parents allowed us to even contemplate it. After searching around for something that would fit, we finally settled on a Beatles Love Song revue at The Hamilton Live in DC. Upwards of twenty-five DC musicians got together to play covers of some of the greatest songs ever written. This turned out to be absolutely perfect for us. Live music, great tunes, nice food, and a laid-back atmosphere. They played some deep cuts, too, and some songs that I’m pretty sure the Beatles never performed live. Once I heard this, however, I was a happy man:

What’s more, we were heartened to see that the folks who turned out to hear a bunch of Beatles covers spanned multiple generations, further reinforcing the fact that this was the greatest band of all time. Of course we constantly checked our phones to make sure nothing was going on back home, but for the first time in over two months, we felt like we were a couple again. The word is love.

I have no idea how long we’ll be able to keep up the Valentine’s tradition of unique experiences. At some point, the options might become more limited as we reach the boundaries of what makes a good Valentine’s date. And of course our family commitments will only grow over time. But we’ve got to keep giving it a go, even if our Valentine’s Day slips into March or April or whenever.

The important thing is to keep trying, and “we” are worth it.

In The Club

The other day, I went to pick up my dry cleaning as part of a Vin Diesel-approved fast and furious errand trip. We’ve found that when we do get a work release from Noah to run errands, knowing that we’re on borrowed time, we always try to maximize the productivity of the trip. We don’t want to waste precious energy – energy that we could use for sleep – by going out again because we forgot some crucial item. We were pretty good about writing lists before, but we’ve taken it to whole new levels now. Dry erase boards, note pads, Post-Its, discarded shreds of magazines, pictures of lists on our phones – if we have a moment’s thought that we need something, it had better get written down or it will be lost to the ether of time. And let’s not forget logistics – I’ve gone as far as to plan out the route with the fewest left turns so I don’t waste time idling. It’s time efficient and good for the environment, people. Productivity is up, up, up.

A pretty standard supply run.
A pretty standard supply run.

But that’s not my story here today. Back to the dry cleaning. I picked it up with no problem, my mind already on the next few stops and whether I could circle around behind the shopping center in the no-man’s-land of dumpsters and loading bays to shave a few minutes off my trip time. When I exited the cleaners, however, access to my car was blocked by an SUV with its doors open. Behind the rear passenger door, a mother around my age was trying valiantly – and failing – to get her infant daughter, who looked a little older than Noah, settled into her car seat.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed when she saw me standing there with an armful of dress shirts. “I’m still trying to figure this thing out.”

I thought back to the afternoon I spent crawling on top of our car seat bases, using my full weight and sacrificing my shins to install them properly. I also remembered the very recent anxiety I felt when first attempting to put Noah in the seat without fully realizing how to adjust the straps.

“No problem,” I replied, “I have a six-week-old at home, so I definitely understand.”

She offered up a smile and a “congratulations!” I smiled back, congratulated her as well, and waited patiently.

And that’s when it hit me: we’re part of the parent club now. Now, when I see wall-to-wall strollers at the zoo, I’ll understand the necessity to tow the contents of a small apartment with me. The next time a kid melts down in a restaurant next to us, we’ll have more empathy than annoyance. Soon, I’ll be able to have an active conversation with other adults about children’s music and the relative merits of the latest batch of cartoons. And when I run into new parents out in the real world, parents not much further along this journey than we are, my heart will go out to them. Gina and I have been inducted into a secret society, and when we pass other members on the street, they will acknowledge us with merely a silent, almost imperceptible nod. No words need be exchanged.

The lady finally got her daughter snapped, buckled, and braced into her car seat. After a pat on her child’s head, she shut the door. As she moved to walk around to her driver’s seat, the mother glanced back and said “good luck on sleeping!” I wished her well, dumped my dress shirts into my back seat, and climbed into my car.

For most anyone else, or among total strangers, that might have seemed a weird way to end a polite conversation. But for two members of the International Coalition of Parents of Infants, it was a universal farewell.