Friday, December 8, 2017

Baby #3

My wife had been dilated, effaced, and experiencing contractions for almost 6 weeks before the birth of our son. Our weekly ritual was as follows:

1. Wife has painful contractions at a frequency normally necessitating hospital admission.
2. We would go for a checkup and the doctor would inform her “you are still a 3.”
3. I would immediately interject that I disagreed with his assessment and told her that she has "always been a 10 in my book."
4. She would strongly suggest that I refrain from further commentary.

So, at 39 weeks, our doctor agreed to induce. A few hours before the scheduled time, my wife began having intense contractions. Finally, around 3 AM we decided that we might as well go to the hospital because they weren’t likely to send us home 6 hours before a scheduled induction.

Upon arrival, my wife was having very intense, painful contractions. She was loaded in a wheelchair and taken to the front desk where a receptionist prepared a hospital arm band. The receptionist calmly asked my wife (who was doubled over in the wheelchair at the moment) to put her arm on the counter so that she could attach the band. When my wife did not respond, the receptionist asked me if I could kindly have my wife place her hand on the counter. I offered to attach it myself and was told this was against protocol. I was on the verge of asking if walking out from around the counter to help a patient was against protocol when my wife raised her hand and we were on our way.

Once upstairs we immediately requested to be placed on the “epidural list.” Heads were nodded and noncommittal language was used. In short order, we were taken to another room and another set of nurses heard the epidural request. Finally, during an extremely-painful contraction my wife demanded a status on the epidural only to be told, “We are working on it.” The same nurse then looked into my eyes and mouthed, “She’s not getting one.”

We had been through birth twice before, but never Little House on the Prairie style. If the hospital staff thought I was going to break that news to her, they were sadly mistaken. 

Eventually, one of the nurses gave her the “pull yourself together” tough-love act which my wife reciprocated in both volume and intensity. At this point I realized two things:
1.      My wife is far stronger than I could ever hope to be.
2.      If men were responsible for the business-end of reproduction; overpopulation would never be a concern.
Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, our son was born. It was shortly thereafter that we realized most of our previous knowledge of newborns was hopelessly outdated. Cleaning the umbilical cord with rubbing alcohol? Barbaric. Inserting the bulb syringe into an infant’s nasal passage? Inconceivable! It had been less than three years since our last child’s birth and I felt as if I was stockpiling paregoric and asking about twilight sleep.

The hospital had made some procedural changes since our last birth as well. Some were welcome (they give you extra time in Labor & Delivery) and others were unintentionally ironic (my wife’s breastfeeding was interrupted on multiple occasions by a woman tasked with ensuring the hospital retained its “breastfeeding friendly” accreditation).

In keeping with new policy, the hospital attempts to keep the newborn in the mother’s room as much as possible. At one point, a staff member asked if we wished for our child to receive their bath in the room or not. My wife and I agonized over this as if it was destined to reappear at his future parole hearing.

Then came the paperwork. Even though we had already decided on a name, there is some natural trepidation when committing it to paper. Is this the right name? What if the Japanese translation is vulgar and it becomes an issue one day? And, although we had never experienced it, there was the face/name mismatch contingency. I firmly believe that there are precious few instances where it is appropriate to bring this up:

 - When naming a child
 - During the planning stages of an undercover narcotics operation
 - Deciding to launch a career in show-business

I have never understood the phenomenon of meeting someone, hearing their name, and challenging the name’s validity based on appearance.
Hi. I’m George and this is my wife Susan 
You don’t really strike me as a George. More like a Roderick or a Hershel.

What is the recipient of this comment supposed to do with this information? Apologize? Agree for the sake of continued small-talk? I wish that I could witness someone seizing this opportunity to turn the tables:

George  - *begins to violently sob* I have always felt uncomfortable in my own skin. For years I have lived life as a George would. Buying George cars. Eating George food. Susan and I even named our firstborn after me; but until I heard you verbalize it so eloquently, I never realized that my entire existence was predicated upon a lie. Thanks to you, I have been endowed with the courage and strength to begin life anew as a Hershel. As of this moment, I am an avid cigar enthusiast who fabricates Civil War dioramas from discarded toiletries.

I would also like to point out that the official birth certificate application treats paternity as an afterthought. I am paraphrasing, but the idea is something like, “you can name the father but until results are Povich-validated the state assumes this was a virgin-birth.” I realize that there are legal considerations, but it is disheartening nonetheless.

Once we got him home, our other children took to him immediately. They would gather round and attempt to hold and kiss him. My son, having recently viewed The Boss Baby, was convinced that the whole I-am-a-helpless-newborn thing was an act. The first time I dropped him off at daycare after his younger brother was born, he requested that I make sure that the family’s new addition did not mess with stuff in his room.

When I jokingly responded that I did not foresee that being an issue, his eyes and tone got more serious and he repeated his request. This went on until after the first full days we were all home together. In short order, our oldest son’s reaction changed from suspicion to disappointment. He watched the newborn sleeping in my wife’s lap and asked, “Is this really all that he does?” He sounded truly crestfallen as if someone had pulled the bait-and-switch on him at a car dealership (I thought this was the model with the interactive whimsy….)

Like all stages in life, the third child gives you better perspective on the stages that precede it. Before kids, my wife and I used to talk about how tired / busy we were. Once we became parents, we laughed at our previous naivety. Once our second child came along, we saw how foolish it was to ever complain about how difficult it was when we outnumbered our offspring. Now, we scoff at how we foolishly laughed about our naivety concerning how tired we were. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

NRA Pen Pals

On November 1, 2017, a letter signed by Wayne LaPierre was sent to lifetime N.R.A. members. Like most, it was a fundraising letter asking lifetime members to “take the next big step” and upgrade to a Patriot Life Membership at the Endowment Level. This is the fundraising equivalent of rounding third base.

What struck me is not the ask (all political organizations regardless of ideology need money to operate) it was the tone. Some highlights.

I suppose it is hard to quantify the NRA’s claim that they did “more than any other organization in America” (insert Russian meddling joke here) to get Trump elected, so if we take that at face value the NRA is the most powerful lobbying organization in the United States. 

This establishes that those whose opinions differ from the NRA’s on a specific issue are not just wrong, they actually “hate freedom” and are responsible for unspecified “anger, hatred, and violence” unprecedented in a half-century. Americans are never going to agree on everything, but perhaps it is a little disingenuous to suggest their opinion is derived from a hatred of freedom. That is like trying to discredit a differing opinion on farm subsidies because they “despise liberty or happiness.” 

Here we have Mr. LaPierre strongly denouncing the “denigration and slandering” of police officers. This is particularly ironic given Mr. LaPierre’s previous comments in another NRA fundraising letter (sent in the direct aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing) where he referred to federal law-enforcement agents as “armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black … jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens.”

It was Mr. LaPierre’s words that caused former President George H.W. Bush to publicly resign his lifetime NRA membership. Some would argue that Federal law enforcement officers are not the same as police officers employed by a municipality, but a sizable number of Federal law enforcement positions are filled by those with previous experience as police officers, military or both. In these cases, it would appear that the wardrobe change is the primary target of Mr. LaPierre’s ire.

The “twisted madman” of the last sentence refers to the June 14, 2017 shooting at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity perpetrated by 66 year-old James Hodgkinson. Mr. Hodgkinson utilized several legally-purchased firearms to injure Republican representative Steve Scalise, police officer Crystal Griner, congressional aide Zack Barth, and a lobbyist for Tyson Foods named Matt Mika before being ultimately killed by police.

He appeared to have a dislike of Republicans and had worked on the campaign of Bernie Sanders. What struck me was the idea that the NRA – an organization that prides itself on personal accountability with regards to gun ownership – would blame unspecified “leftist rhetoric” for actions of Mr. Hodgkinson rather that his own choices. Also conspicuously absent from the letter is the mention of any other “twisted madmen” despite the fact our nation’s deadliest mass shooting had occurred just weeks prior in Las Vegas.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Mr. LaPierre dramatically unmasked a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.” The culprit? The video game industry. Titles like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat were specifically singled out as contributing factors to this unspeakable tragedy and those like it. The implication that if Adam Lanza had stuck to a Nintendo Wii, perhaps none of this would have happened.

However, if we accept his idea that “rhetoric” bears some responsibility for turning a legal gun-owner into a homicidal madman; the rest of Mr. LaPierre’s letter might be considered dangerous indeed. The very next paragraph paints a dire portrait:

Just to be clear. At no point in the history of America has there been a greater threat to the “fabric that binds our nation together.” Not even the Civil War. Furthermore, anyone who disagrees with the NRA is “destroying America.” There is no possibility that disagreeing with the NRA on gun policy has anything to do with gun policy. They are selling the idea that if another American does not see eye to eye with you on guns, it is because they hate the Constitution and want to destroy their country. Guns serve only as a proxy.

This is somewhat unique even in public policy. Rarely will you hear people on opposite sides of abortion or homosexuality accuse the others of hating “America, The Constitution and freedom in general.” In addition to that, the 6 page letter contains a proportionally-large volume of combative language. Some variations of “fight” “battle” “enemies” “destroy” and “war” appear 16 times. There is talk of “fortifying our lines” and “sacrifice.”  Hopefully “inflammatory rhetoric” isn’t as potent when it originates from the other side of the ideological spectrum.

Then we get the heartstrings…

Millions of people are safe thanks to your willingness to write a check to the NRA. In fact, at the very moment you are reading this letter, there are mothers and fathers who owe (not just their freedom) but their continued existence to your financial benevolence (it would appear those without children must fend for themselves). Just think, if everyone reading this letter would pony-up for the Eternal Patriot Membership with a Double-Valor Enhancement we might end crime entirely.

My issue with the NRA (and many of those on the extreme side of gun ideology) is not that we cannot agree on an issue, it is that my willingness to have the conversation is deemed anti-American. And for all of the patriotism-steeped vernacular, almost every argument for the unfettered application of the second Ammendment seems to end in the ultimate anti-patriotism.

Let me give you an example of an actual conversation I had with a young man and fierce defender of the 2nd Amendment:

Me – Would you at least agree that we should restrict the ability of everyday citizens to own nuclear weapons?
Him – No, because the 2nd Amendment protects our ability to have access to any and all weaponry available to the United States Military.
Me – Why?
Him – Because we must be able to defend ourselves against enemies foreign or domestic.
Me – You believe that the US Military is going to turn on the citizenry?
Him – They will just do what they are told.
Me – By whom?
Him – Whoever they take orders from.

We continued in this vein for some time with him insisting that any limitations or context placed on the 2nd amendment amounted to an infringement and would end in himself and likeminded patriots facing down a rogue US military armed with nothing but punji sticks. I do not believe he was being facetious. This was a visceral fear he lived with. And this is how he felt with the Republican party in control of all three branches of the Federal government.

Just because we think it is okay to have an honest conversation about guns does not mean we “hate America.” I dare say that the majority of us are rather fond of our country and weary of seeing its flag at half-mast to honor the victims of mass-shootings. We have never been a country that looks at a tragedy and resign ourselves to its perpetual repetition. We change procedures, we shift tactics and we do our best to balance individual freedom with sound governance.

I have never understood why this issue causes such legislative paralysis. I realize that we cannot totally prevent mass murder, but is that a valid reason for us to give up on trying to reduce its frequency or scope? Last month I attempted to purchase a box of Sudafed for a head cold. In my state, this requires a government ID and a long talk with the pharmacist who attempts to dissuade you from your purchase in favor of an alternative. As a law-abiding citizen, I am even limited (both monthly and annually) on the amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine I can buy. 

All of this was enacted to reduce the amount of methamphetamine being manufactured and distributed in our communities. It is frustrating and inconvenient, but I will subject myself to it if it can be demonstrably shown to reduce the negative impact of misuse on our community. Even when these draconian laws were enacted, I got not fliers from big pharma and was not subjected to a single Facebook meme of “Claritan D! Don’t Tread on Me!”  

Perhaps if we took Mr. Lapierre seriously, we should have a quota on the number of hours we are allowed play Call of Duty each month and have our browsing history checked for “inflammatory leftist-rhetoric.” 

The letter winds down with a promise “to be relentless every time another New York media elite tells a straight-faced lie on national T.V.” I feel safer already.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dollar General Coversations

Please note that each of these encounters involved a different employee and patron.

Transaction # 1I am standing behind a middle-aged woman attempting to purchase several “staple” items (milk, bread, pasta). She inserts her card and enters a PIN number. This is what follows:

Cashier – "It says that ain’t the right number."
Customer – "Sorry, I must have typed it in wrong." (re-enters number)
Cashier -  slightly annoyed “That still ain’t working”
Customerglances apologetically to the line behind her “I am sure I put it in right that time”
Cashier – “You wanna try again?”
Customer – “Yes”

Cashier presses a button on her keypad and crosses her arms in expectation of what we all believe will be another failed attempt

Cashier – “You got another card?”
Customer – “I know that is the right number”
Cashier – ‘What can I tell you lady, it ain’t my card”

The customer, clearly flustered, grabs her purchases and attempts to leave

Cashier – "Hey! Where you think you’re going!?"
Customer snaps back “Fine try this card!”

It was at this point I became concerned that the customer and the cashier were headed for a physical altercation. If appearances were any indicator, the odds favored the house.


Customer storms out without her purchases

Cashier – “Maybe next time you can come back when you’re not smelling like BOOOOOOOOOOZZZZZEEEE!”

This last word was drawn out until the automatic doors had closed behind the customer for at least 5 seconds.

Transaction #2 - There is a woman in front of me wearing medical scrubs and having a phone conversation. She is purchasing a large can of Monster Energy Drink.

Cashier – admiring the can – “Energy huh!?”
Customer – “Yeah”
Cashier (still admiring the can) “How long does it last?”
Customer (now turning her attention from the phone conversation) “Hopefully my entire night shift.”
Cashier – “Ooo, I sure could’ve used some of this when I used to be out all night doing the wild thang!!!”

It was here that the cashier raised both hands above her head and pantomimed “raising the roof” while slightly swaying her hips.

Customer – “Yeah, I suppose it would work for that too….” (clearly eager to conclude the transaction)
Cashier (looking into the distance and reliving an evening of merriment and debauchery) “I sure used to do the wild thang all the time.....”
Customer (still on phone, reduced to nodding) "Uh-huh…."
Cashier (getting a second wind) “I’m talking bout the wild thang!” (repeats earlier gyrations then turns suddenly serious) “I don’t do that anymore because I found Jesus and I am pure inside now. Have a nice day!”

Here she turns to me (I am purchasing a single can of Reddi Wip for my kid’s Pie in the Face game) and I fully expect her to hold the can in her hand as she recalls the hedonistic role dairy toppings played in the days of the “wild thang.” Instead she completes the transaction with unimpeachable professionalism and no commentary.

Transaction #3It is around 9:00 PM and I am picking up some decongestant. There is a woman who has somewhat sheepishly approached the counter and asked an inaudible question to the cashier.

Cashier – (responding much louder than necessary) “Yeah! We got condoms! Good ones too. Trojan.”

Here again, the customer responds inaudibly

Cashier - “Trojans are the ones you want. You want thin, ribbed, or regular?”

This catches my attention because I had been on a condom search myself some months prior at this very establishment and was given a much different answer.

Customer (slightly bolder now that everyone in the store has become aware of her prophylactic quest) “Thin.”
Cashier (visibly delighted) – “I know that’s right girl! You know I gotsta feel mine!! I gotsta!!”
Customer (moving toward register in a futile attempt to speed the process along) “Uh-huh”
Cashier (looks toward other cashier) “I said I gotsta feel mine!!! You know that’s how my second son came about.”

At this point I am the next person in line and desperately hoping that the cashier abandons her son’s origin story before we reach a point of no return.

Cashier (turning her attention to customer again) – “You know what I’m talking about with them thin ones girl!”

Customer pays, leaves store and likely vows celibacy. I approach the counter and briefly entertained the notion of informing the cashier that I wanted two of whatever she sold that lady plus a clear shower curtain, 64 oz of canola oil and a sympathy card to see if I could faze her.