If you came to this blog today for reminiscence on music, art, culture and politics of the 90's including the definition of what "is" is, you've come to the wrong place. I missed all that. The 90's was a decade of painful personal transformation for me, that continued into the 21st century and truthfully continues to this day.
In 1988 I stood at the altar and repeated the words, 'for richer or poorer, in sickness and health'...you know the rest. For those who have married, you know you don't really know what your are pledging. I didn't, and it's better I didn't know. I'm pretty sure I'd have chickened out and missed the most important things of life.
It was a second marriage for me. The first was a disaster from beginning to end—another three or four blog posts that won't leave you or me any better understanding of how badly things can go when you lack boundaries and are driven by imperatives that deny your humanity. To summarize, it left me with a desire never to recite those words again.
During the early 80's I was single again, having the time of my life. Maybe we'll do a segment on the 80' sometime. I'll have to use a different pen name though. I was alive and on fire then, grasping for every carnal pleasure that was denied in the 70's.
The heart heals. I met a wonderful woman who made me forget all the pain. I proposed on Valentines day of 1987 so I would never forget the day. I didn't want children, but I knew our marriage wouldn't work without children. As long as she took care of them I thought I could endure. She was willing and anxious to be a wife and at-home mom.
At the start, we were both well paid white collar professionals. After many slips and falls my commercial insurance career was finally gaining traction. Better still, I was closing in on a life long dream in television, producing and hosting a community television program about medical technology. I was merely a nod away from the local public television station from stepping to a much higher platform. I had become an avid DIYer and was near completion of the renovation of our turn of the century Victorian home.
We announced our first pregnancy to tears and hugs from my in-laws. It was all golden glow. The plan was that my wife would stay home, my commercial insurance and television careers providing us all we needed to live above the fray.
It was a difficult pregnancy but my wife bore it with grace. We went to Lamaze classes and practiced breathing to Yanni music. Deliver day arrived at last. Instead of Yanni and a few pushes, the delivery room had nearly thirty people in attendance working feverishly to deliver our baby, who was stuck in the birth canal too far to be delivered by C section—putting both lives in jeopardy
In the frantic final minutes the OBGYN did an episiotomy on my wife with a hedge clippers and no anesthetic while a nurse was pressing her full weight on my wife's abdomen. I was quite certain her screaming marked the end of our sex life. Out he came at last.
I did the most rational thing I could think of when I saw my son. I burst into tears. But the moment joy of August 18th 1991 lasted about a minute. Something was wrong with our baby. He was breathing but still blue. They whisked him away before my wife could even hold him.
Two agonizing hours later, a cardiologist came to our room to explain that our son had a congenital heart defect. The fear, agony and terror of that moment are still bewildering. It sucks the air from my lungs and puts a lump in my throat.
Back in my childhood in the 1950's I remember hearing women say, someone had a 'blue baby and it died'. We had a blue baby. They rarely lived more than a week. But by 1991 there was immediate surgery and more later that might offer him a chance at life. No promises.
My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a child at birth. The meeting with the cardiologist was the beginning of my decade of transformation. I had planned to go back to work the next day. My career aspirations were gone in a moment. All I wanted was to do whatever we could to give our son a chance for life. It's a time when you have to be as brave as you can be and not give into to the paralysis of the unknown. We had to make hard decisions every day. In those first days, every time we held our baby, we did it with the awareness it may be the last time. But we turned him over to the doctors time and time again—living in limbo between grief and gratefulness.
We lived on pins and needles, always at the edge of tears. He had major surgery when he was 18 hours old. Then they sent him home after nine days in the ICU, hopefully to grow big enough to have major heart reconstructive surgery. And if he survived, an unknown future. My wife wouldn't leave his side and when she had to come home without her baby she wouldn't go into the nursery I had worked so hard to prepare.
The thing you don't know, that I didn't know, was how much courage you have when you have to have it. So I offer that as a message of hope. You have it. It's there in a very special reservoir in the heart, you won't fail. It's hard to relive this time again enough to tell it well. I still collapse into tears wondering how I managed to work, to get through, to process and decide and most of all not give into the the fear.
Our lives turned inward, we lived one day at a time, one follow -up appointment at a time. He survived the neonatal surgery and six months later after three false starts he had major reconstructive surgery. He survived that too. One day at a time it became apparent he would live.
Our tension subsided as he began to do normal things, but fears about his prognosis were no more than a careless thought away.
My wife had been deprived of the peaceful joy of a newborn. She desperately wanted another child. I acquiesced, of course.
By April of 1994, my career was slipping away with my changing priorities-which didn't sit well with my boss (oddly enough a single mom). I was dumped unceremoniously about three weeks before our second child was born.(Mommy tracked as they say.) His birth brought me no joy, only the terror of wondering how we would make it work. My father-in-law, my best scotch drinking buddy, died very suddenly in May.
There was no way to afford two children in daycare. I had been unable to find work so when the measly termination payout ran out we slipped into financial distress. (Okay armature psychologists let's stop for a stress test : a special needs baby, a newborn, loss of a job, loss of a loved one-each one in the top ten of life stressors. Add looming bankruptcy.) Apparently I lost my mind because I suggested to my wife that I stay home with the kids. She agreed. How hard could that be? Six weeks later I was down at the Women's Center trying to surrender. I get it now, why modern women are so stressed. I was a wreck.
The transformation continued. The goal oriented, task oriented mentality which served me so well with work was detrimental, if not downright harmful when trying to raise children. We sold our big house and moved to a small house in the suburbs. There were no other at-home kids in our neighborhood. I have since said in all seriousness to anyone who thinks life is passing by too fast: get yourself a rambunctious toddler and a fussy baby that are on completely different biological clocks, no money and no where to go- a day lasts forever. All three of us sat by the window and wept when my wife left for work each day. We learned how to live large on less.
What few guys realize is that caring for young children happens mostly in state of profound sleep deprivation. In fact, if you look at strategies for interrogation of prisoners of war it is a combination of isolation, harassment, and sleep deprivation that turns prisoner's minds to mud. I give you the life of an at-home parent of young children.
I had done some business writing so my redeeming hope was to become a male Erma Bombeck. That dream died under a pile of dirty laundry. Turns out, Erma's kids all slept at the same time and she had the constitution to arise very early in the morning to do her writing. Never happened with me.
I disappeared into the identity of my kids. I became Max's and J.R.'s dad, having lost my own identity. I see a lot of moms shaking their heads. it was a regular topic at the parenting programs I participated in. (As the only guy with at-home kids)
For me the the 90's was about Thomas the Tank Engine, Radio Ahs, The Power Rangers, Disney and Pixar movies and endless housework. Fine dining was ordering large fries with my happy meal. It's all a blur now. I'm looking forward to the other posts so I can see what I missed.
We entered a new century and a new set of challenges-school, but that was after the 90's. Another decade went by.
My boys have turned into fine young men. There wasn't a hint of it even a few years ago. According to all the modern parenting paradigms I did everything wrong. Our number one son had learning problems in addition to his heart problems. We never did get those addressed very well. He barely passed the minimum standards for high school graduation. Today he is an assistant manager at a Jimmy Johns Franchise and makes more money than most college grads-without the attendant debt. Thing 2 continues to be the child from another planet. He's trying college again having flunked out in his first semester two years ago.
Rewards? Not the money and fame I craved as a young man. My wife and I have been married for twenty-five years now. There is a richness in our relationship that only comes from linking arms and walking though the storm together. The unexpected reward was that all the caregiving gave me the skills and heart to care for my mother in her final days. We had a great time together. In the aftermath of her passing I got another silly idea-writing erotic fiction.
To the universe and beyond.