The love of a parent for their child is unconditional, if it is not, it should be. Most importantly, the child should know that.
For many years, I have been training for this season. I think I officially decided to start when I was fifteen years old. As a boy living in California, born in the sixties and growing up in the seventies, not knowing what was in store for me, I started my preparations. At first, I took mental notes, watching, criticizing, evaluating, reflecting on everything I thought my father did well, pouncing on everything wrong that he did. I read a lot, everything I could, too much maybe, constantly finding articles to read at every turn, at every age. I read biographies of the famous and not so great, mysteries, horror, science-fiction, fantasy, philosophy, religion, new age, humor, history, even romance, all in preparation for this season. I listened to all types of music in my preparations for the journey ahead. I listened to Classical, Folk, Rock, Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Country, Comedy, and Jazz. I even did time as a DJ at several radio stations as part of training for battles to come. I believe that my love affairs of my youth were also part of this training. Experiencing the happiness, the sadness, the joy, the sorrow, the elations, the sorrow, and even my marriage and divorce were all part of training regimen.
My daughter was born in November, sixteen years ago, a cold autumn day, grey and misty. On our way to work, her mother and I, stopping for a quick drive-thru breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box, we had two breakfast croissants and a baby to go. Her mother, suddenly deciding that the thought of breakfast was nauseating, deciding that going to the hospital would be a better choice, driving away quickly, I ate my breakfast on the way to the hospital. While we were waiting at the hospital, her mother was anxious, worried, her normally blue eyes – now grey and cold. Expecting a quick release, a false alarm, I was impatient and bored. The nurse arrived and informed us that we would be spending the day with them and that they were preparing a room. The journey had begun. By noon, the doctor had decided to induce labor. Setting up his tools, the doctor called upon a nurse to assist. The nurse brought a crochet needle looking device and placed it in his hands. He deftly broke the water. Without a word, the nurse quickly left the room, taking away the container of green, murky, and acidic amniotic fluid. The doctor, old and experienced, turned to us, smiled and said, “Your daughter will be along shortly” and left the hospital room.
Going into labor at 3:05 pm, the outside was fog lifting, the sun peeking out from the clouds, illuminating the birthing room, my wife, my daughter’s mother, screamed. Squeezing my hand tightly, the blood draining out, months of labor lessons coming to mind, yelling to get the nurse, she did not let go of my hand. The nurse, hearing the shouting, entered the room, calmly, quietly, going to the closet, getting out hand rails and stirrups, handing them to me without a glance, or even looking at me, said, “help me put these on, the doctor is on his way”. Her mother and I were ready, my left hand holding her right hand. The camera in my right hand, eyepiece to my eye, camera rolling, and the doctor entered the room. “Do I have time to put on my gown,” he said, smiling. A moment later, two additional doctors or nurses entered the room pushing a cart containing a metal tray and a heat lamp. My daughter entered this world traumatically, the two attending nurses, placing my daughter under the lamp, and swiftly carting her away down the hall. Her mother and I were stunned, not even having a chance to hold her, in a state of confusion we turned to the doctor for an answer. “We knew she was in trouble when I broke the water this afternoon, the green stuff is Meconium,” he explained. Continuing, “It’s the baby’s waste matter, mostly sterile; the issue is getting it out of her lungs.” Turning towards the door, my baby’s mother sleeping, the doctor saying, “The doctors in the intensive care unit will take loving care of her,” leaving the room, I sat down and cried.
The next few hours were a living hell, spending my time praing to God to spare my daughter’s life. My baby’s mother sleeping in the next room, exhausted, the pain medication doing its job. After a few hours, my baby’s mother woke up from her slumber, confused; she asked me where our daughter was. I told her what the doctor told me about the Meconium, that our daughter was in the NICU that the doctors will be in soon to give us an update, then her mother cried. We saw her an hour later, in a special room watched over twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, nurses and doctors constantly monitoring each child. We were not able to hold her at that time. The doctors reassured us that all would be well with her and they were pumping her lungs full of oxygen, pumping out the Meconium from her tiny lungs. Looking at my baby, so small, so pink, so helpless, and so bald, lying there in the circular oxygen container with a tube taped to her throat, I could not help thinking that I was once again in love.
So begins my journey as my children’s tour guide to the world. I want them to enjoy the many things that this world has to offer, and warn them of the many traps and the many people that inhabit it as well. My daughter, grouchy by nature, attributed to the many times that we woke her unnecessarily during her first five months of life, checking to make sure that she was breathing, is a beautiful and delightful teen. Now that both my daughter and my son are teenagers, my job begins.
Every day I tell my daughter and son know that I love them. Yes, I show them that I love them in different ways through-out the day. However, I want my kids to hear words every day – “I LOVE YOU!” More importantly, I would love them to tell their children that they love them every day. My mom and dad told me every day that they loved me. Every single day my parents said those words to me, explaining to me that as they grew up, that their parents rarely told them that were they loved. Yes, they showed them that they loved them, they just did not tell them. It is heartbreaking when something terrible happens to a person that you know and love, dies suddenly without a chance to tell them how you felt about them. My parents never wanted that to happen to us our family, so saying “I LOVE YOU” was a part of our way of saying goodbye. Growing up in a family of older siblings, in a third-world country, and with the strains of poverty, her parents showed their love the best way they could, but not by saying those three ordinary words. Learning quickly, my wife has worked to teach these lessons to her family. Every time she sees her brothers or sister or calls them, I can hear her signing off the call with those words, “I LOVE YOU.”
One day when my son and daughter were much younger, sitting on my couch between a family friend and my father, my son was showing off his newly found taekwondo skills, twisting badly, falling to the ground, and started to cry.
My friend jumping to his feet, exclaiming “Let me help you up!”
I quickly reached up, grabbed his arm, and sat him back down. “He fell down; he must learn to get up.”
“But how do you know he isn’t hurt,” saying to me, a sincere look of concern and worry on my friend’s face.
“I see no blood, besides he is small, he can’t fall far…” and because I love him, I will not help him up.
I see many adults and kids today who don’t know how to get up. I am not talking about getting up off the floor due to a fall. I am talking about picking yourself up after a bad relationship, after a ruinous financial decision, after a losing a job, after a death in the family, after any tragedy that befalls all humans that walk the earth. I would love to say I have never experienced depression, but I would be lying. I would like to say that every time I fell, I picked myself up, but that is also a lie. What I can say, is that every time I felt depressed, that my world was ending, I knew that I was experiencing was a transitory experience. I quickly found, that everything happens for a reason. Falling down, and learning to get up strengthens your spiritual muscles. Like running or weight training, exercising your moral fiber is a painful experience; it hurts, and hurts badly. You exercise long enough; you become strong enough to deal with the pain. Turning seven, my daughter was old enough to understand that something is wrong with mommy and daddy. My son, barely four years old, could barely say an understandable sentence, full of mischievous, seemed oblivious to the fact that his mom and dad were getting divorced. After the divorce was final and their mother drove away for the last time, never to be seen again, sadness setting in, looking at my two miracles, sadness setting in, I knew at that moment that I would grieve for a short time. I also knew that because of my love for my children, I would stay strong and live my life.
Children do not come with an instruction manual tied to their big toe when they arrive fresh from the womb, nor is it tattooed to their behinds. However, there is a library full of books, overly helpful mother in laws, friends who will give advice, and, of course, there is the Internet. We had all the current books at the time on how to take care of your newborn. The books gave advice on what to feed your baby, when to feed your baby, why babies cry, etc… All with good advice, however, the best advice we received came from a nurse in the birthing ward. She gave us a quick how to lesson on taking care of our daughter. Do this, do that, and other things as well. The most valuable point she said made was to “go on with your lives, don’t stop going places and doing things, just remember to take her with you.”
I do not believe that there is one right way or one wrong way to take care of your infant. You can do what you want. I want my son and daughter to learn is that having a baby enter your life is not a reason to stop your life. I do want them to know that babies need to acclimate to this world and not the other way around. I want them to leave the TV or the radio at a decent volume when the baby is trying to sleep. The baby will get used to the noise and learn to sleep well anytime, or under any circumstance. I want my daughter to enjoy her husband and their married with children lives. I want my son to know that it is important to eat dinner out as a family, even if it means taking a baby carrier with you for a year or so. The child will learn to enjoy the dining experience. We took my son with us to eat whenever we could afford it. Sometimes he would cry during the meal. Being that we were out in public and my son was… well a baby, I would take him out of the restaurant, and sit with him in the car until he quieted down. It is rude for the other customers.
Learning to cook is an important skill to have if you like to eat. My kids love to eat, so they are learning to cook. My daughter first learned the art of grilled cheese sandwich making while learning to cook with her daddy. Graduating to scrambling eggs, box macaroni and cheese, all by the time she was eight. I don’t worry about my kids starving, or eating only junk food, they can cook. My son, now thirteen, cooks an excellent rib-eye steak on the grill, crispy on the outside, a thin red line of pink on the inside, seasoned properly, and delicious. I love to cook, experiment on a variation on a recipe, however, I do not see why the parents have to do all the cooking. Cooking is a joy that my son and daughter need to experience, for their sake and my wife’s and my sanity. My wife and I can order a decent breakfast, lunch, or dinner from the kids and not worry that it will taste horrible. Learning to eat is important too. At a Christmas dinner, sitting at my friends table, nicely decorated, friends and family seated all around, passing around all the beautiful food, my nephew sitting back in his chair, arms crossed, a frown on his face, said simply “I don’t want any of this crap.” My friend’s son is three years younger than my son who was sitting next to him, eating a decent portion of all that was available.
My first response was “Good, more food for me.”
“Come on son, eat a little, for papa, please,” my friend pleaded.
It was his house so I wasn’t going to interfere; however, this pleading went on for a bit. After a while, he gave up and asked, “What would you like me to fix for you?
My friend’s son rattled off a menu of his favorite items and his father stood up from the table and went to the kitchen to prepare the meal. His daughter who is the same age as my son, turning to my daughter, “Isn’t that disgusting how he just does what he says?”
My daughter made no reply, acknowledged her friend’s comments with a smile, and continued to eat. If my kids don’t like what is being served, they don’t have to eat it. I don’t have those battles with them anymore. They just don’t eat.
Sometimes the simple things in life are what make life matter. A beautiful sunset, a delicious sunrise, the simile on a child’s face, sometimes the simple things don’t come very easy. My grandmother called these phenomena that simple, yet hard. What this means is that it is simple to plan, simple to plan, simple to get involvement, yet actually hard to produce.
Education is important. There I have said it. A formal education is important. Not only learning reading, writing, and arithmetic are important to get around in this world, education is more than just that, science and arts are just as important. To be able to cast your eyes upon the stars and to see the constellations shining back at you, gives a man a certain quantum of peace. I want them to know where the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are, [Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, respectively], where the pole stars are, so they will never be lost. The love of music on a starry night is an experience that I want them to own. When I was about 10 years old, my elementary school science teacher mentioned that we could extra credit for sighting Comet Kohoutek. My dad had read in the newspaper that the comet would be passing overhead at approximately three in the morning. Wanting me to see this comet, he dragged me out of bed, out to the beach away from the city lights, set up his camera, turned on a transistor radio to listen to music, and we waited. Searching the sky, I think I was the first to spot it. A very small comet, but we could see it easily. Thinking back to that night, I remembered seeing my dad, once again happy to see me experience something new and exciting.