An Engine In A Bottle

As a parent, the moment comes when you realize you've been beaten. You peruse the scoreboard amidst the thunder of applause and marvel at just how many points life has on you. On one side, there are moments of bliss, when you're teaching your children to read, to be respectful to others or simply wipe themselves properly. On the other are the days of complete hopelessness, where impatience and exhaustion collide and the bolts rust and crack as they fall to the ground and trigger a fury for which only children seem to be responsible. You scorn them and watch as their tiny eyes sink.

You wrap yourself in guilt, questioning your own existence and prowess as a parent, or human being. It's a natural behavior. People are not perfect by any right. And having children doesn't inherently make you a better one. It just makes you question more how you handle and react to things that have almost become assembly line occurrences. You fuck up constantly. And when you're done, reset and focused, you fuck up some more. It's a chain reaction of repetitiveness and self doubt, a cloud that follows you that you realize is a balloon you’ve been holding this entire time. And it's the greatest feeling some of us will ever know.

Pregame

Our son Samuel was born on September 16th, 2011. He was our first child and arrived after a strenuous couple of days in the hospital, the result of a dangerously low level of amniotic fluid. My wife's doctor had made the decision to induce him, a procedure that seemed to last for months, while in reality only lasted 2 days. I stood by my wife to comfort her through the process, making dumb jokes and being as nervously unhinged as any father to be could. But despite the terrain of eggshells informing my every step, my heart bubbled with anticipation. We couldn't wait to meet the little guy.

We were scientists awaiting the outcome of an experiment, thinking we had just taken the best parts of each other and stitched them together like our own little Frankenstein. Being at the hospital three weeks early, our time there fell on the day of a baby class my wife and I were scheduled to attend. With her basically strapped to a bed, I chose to go at it alone. I remember thinking "well, it's not like she's going anywhere, and I'm here so why the fuck not?" I entered the room, partnerless, and welcomed a surge of awkward stares from each set of parents, a mental survey of this creepy asshole on limited sleep carrying a notebook and stupid look on his face.

At the instructor’s request, each couple introduced themselves, a sort of tell all prelude to the group. When it finally got to me, the entire class shifted in anticipation. After announcing my name, my voice singed with dread, I revealed the reason behind my loner status, that my wife was in bed three floors above as nurses medically solicited our first born son. You couldn't hear it, but the collective "Ahhhhh..." it inspired was evident. With the bones in my hands trembling, I opened my notebook and the instructor began. I had officially become a father.

Here He is!

Sammy was born the following evening. Everything I remembered about being a son was instantly forgotten once I welcomed one of my own. A new life awaits your instruction. Your rules. Your mistakes. A pinball of bad decision making, which you think a simple "I love you" will somehow fix. Or worse "I'm sorry." But as a parent, being remorseful is endless. It can be the only emotion you feel at times. You try your hardest to study the rulebooks but none of them are written in a language you understand. They're doused in scribbles you yourself have created. You move backward in time, write a chapter, then return to your normal state trying to grasp what it all fucking means.

None of it makes sense. But you fall madly in love. You crumble when you hear your child laugh for the first time, melt when they call your name, be it "daddy" or "mama." And you scar from fear that it will all be taken away from you someday by the hands of decision or circumstance or ninja assassins. When our son Joseph was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, for which he would undergo a year of chemotherapy, the lights went out in our world and Sammy, as a result, became the middle child of a pair. Naturally, attention glides to the sick one, sick brother, sick grandson, sick cousin. Not that Sammy was left out in the woods. At all.

But the warmth to which he had grown accustomed was temporarily cooled by the weekly Wednesday trips to the Bass Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital between Jojo and dad, an outing to which Sammy was only invited twice. A child will fight for attention. Strangle it if they have to. As parents, we did the best we could to level the playing field. But a sick child mars your understanding of the concept. We raised a glass after Jojo's final treatment arrived and every post treatment scan came back clear. But we noticed a rattling that had been awakened in Sammy, an anxiety that started to chip away at the bottle in which it was housed, and the behavior at school and home that aroused concern.

His teachers often spoke of a high academic propensity that would be eclipsed by a rabid mobility that could rival The Flash. We feared ADHD as a possible diagnosis, an opinion quickly disputed by his pediatrician. To him, Sammy was simply a four year old boy. Regardless, we wanted answers. As Sammy advanced to Kindergarten, we noticed some of the same behavioral tendencies emerge. Stuck, we decided to have him evaluated by a therapist to further identify the causes of behavior that may or may not have warranted concern. Was he just a four year old? Or were we right to travel the route we did? For me, it ended with the same shitty idea. Did I move from one son having been faced with cancer, to another battling some sort of "misplaced" fucking anxiety? I didn't know.

Fortunately, the ADHD card was folded. An anxiety feathered Sammy's daily routine, but we made the efforts to curb it. At least that's what we told ourselves.

The "better" Does Come

For the past 2 years, we've enrolled Sammy in baseball, a sport for which he seemed to have a natural appetite. We thought it could assist with some of the behavioral habits we saw, or could help filter them somehow. The joy comes in seeing his excitement every time he steps to the plate. It's been almost six months since his last therapy session, and although it's not something we’ve put aside, every improvement we discover is encouraging. But we're the core of that change.

We tell ourselves we need to reset, to stop yelling, be more focused on the positive and create an environment of steadiness. But it's difficult, and sometimes feels impossible. My heart bursts from the thought of my boys. Of my family. I know I need to work on my patience, and stretch the fuse as long as I can, so when the moment comes again when I look up at the board and think that we’ve been beaten, I'll know there's still years of this game left to play. And I look forward to them all.

Sammy at a recent baptism lunch.

Sammy at a recent baptism lunch.