Grief and Love

We had to euthanize Sandy, our sweet, beautiful, 8-year-old family dog this week. She had cancer. It probably started in her abdomen or bladder and rapidly spread to her lungs. When she was diagnosed the vet said she had 6-8 weeks to live. She made it a little over 2 before we did the right thing and said our goodbyes. She was a wonderful companion and friend, not only to my wife and I but to our son as well. She loved him dearly and they grew on each other. Lately, “I love Sandy” would spring forth from my son’s mouth along with some gentle hugs. A Boy and His Dog indeed.

Trenton & Sandy

Photo Dec 26, 3 17 29 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo May 25, 5 17 50 PM

As hard as it was for us to go through this, my wife and I made a conscious effort to guide my 2-1/2 year old son through it as well. This required much more strength than I ever thought I had, but I wanted my son to understand what was happening and know that we were here for him. Here’s what else I wanted him to know:

The truth. We tried very hard to explain to him exactly what was happening so he wouldn’t feel blindsided later. I also wanted him “Sandy is very sick and in pain. Mommy and Daddy are going to take her to the vet and say goodbye. She is going to be euthanized and die so she won’t hurt anymore. She won’t be coming back home.”

It’s OK to be sad and cry.Mommy and Daddy are sad,” was the observation repeated quite a bit over the past 2 weeks. “Yes, we are.”

Emotions are scary. It’s OK to work through them however you need to. We will be patient, loving, and understanding as you work through your feelings and realize what’s happening.

We help each other through the bad times. As a family we’re all in this together and we need each other to get through it.

Our pets are family. When they hurt, we hurt. We love them like we love each other.

We must do the right thing for our loved ones even if it hurts us. Euthanasia is a gift we can give the animals we love. We surely will experience pain, grief, and loss, but this is the right thing to do when our pets are faced with suffering.

We will cherish the memories. All the photos, videos, and experiences of the happy times. We will celebrate Sandy’s life in all the happiness and love that it was.

Goodbye my sweet Sandy. We love you.

Photo May 24, 4 37 42 PM

 

 

 

 

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Hourglasses

2015. Wow, what a year. Lots of highs, way too many lows, and our first full year over 2,000 miles away from family, friends, and everything we used to know. All while trying to learn this whole parenting thing? Yeah, let’s just say it wasn’t the best of years for me. But, I did learn quite a lot. Here’s my year in review – 10 things I learned about parenting and about myself:

1) Co-sleeping is still awesome. Even though my son has gotten much bigger (91st percentile height at age 2), I still really do like having him in the bed and falling asleep next to me, no matter how long it takes. I know he won’t be this small forever so I’m cherishing as much of it as I can.

2) Toddlers are ridiculously cool. Or at least mine is. Language. Curiosity. Motor skills. Emotions. Music. Rough-housing. Cuddles. Hugs. Kisses. High fives. Fist bumps. Every single bit of it is cool. Since he’s experiencing it for the first time, so am I. On the flip side….

3) I am not the infinite well of patience I need to be. Every day my patience limit is tested. None of it is his fault; he’s only 2 years old after all. Patience is a humbling lesson to learn, coupled most of the time with healthy doses of regret and edible crow. Pro Tip: There’s always a reason for a child’s behavior; things don’t happen “just because”. It’s my job as a parent to figure it out, and at that part of the job I’m usually pretty bad.

4) I severely underestimated the importance of our existing support network and the challenge of establishing a new one. Moving out here has been hard. Really, really, really hard. If I had to do it all over again I’m not sure I would. Hindsight is a motherfucker.

5) Proper lifting techniques and ergonomics are paramount. He’s over 3(!) feet tall and 30(!) pounds now. The repetitive lifts, twists, bends, etc. can wreak havoc on my body. I’ve got an elbow, a toe, 2 fingers, and a shoulder out of whack. Always lift with your legs and use your core.

6) Baby talk is for the birds. I’ve never, ever used baby talk around him, mostly because I suck at it and feel stupid and awkward. Turns out he’s an advanced human even at his age and deserves to be treated like one. I think this has helped both of us figure out our communication styles and advanced his language skills. Also, here’s a good article on why that’s important when he’s learning about his body. Bonus.

7) Cloth diapering still kicks ass. I take it for granted on a day-to-day basis, but the ease of use and financial savings have made our initial investment pay off huge dividends in the last 2+ years. And there’s been zero effect on our water bill from the additional laundry. That said, I’m immensely grateful our washer and dryer have held up to near-daily use. We lost use of our washer for about 24 hours while I fixed a drain blockage and we almost reached DEFCON5 panic level. Again, investments up front are key. If you’re having a baby, look into cloth diapers (or ask me!) and ask for them as baby shower gifts. You absolutely will not regret it.

8) He can travel like a boss. 10-hour car rides? No problem. 5-hour flights at the crack of dawn? Piece of cake. 7 errands in 2 hours with constant strapping in and out of the car seat? Bring it on. The kid’s a better traveler than most toddlers I’ve seen and in some ways a better traveler than I am. I can only hope he carries that adaptability and resilience forward with everything in his life. Pro Tip: If you’re flying with a car seat drop some cash on one of these. It’s a game-changer, seriously.

9) I failed at preparing to be a father. My wife read the books and did the research. She tried so hard to get me to read them as well. I prioritized other things, read what I thought was necessary, and figured I could learn the rest on the job. After all, 90% of the advice in the books goes out the window when you get to practical application, right? Yeah, no. Fuck no. Of course going completely by the book is impossible, but having the same knowledge base is critical so both parents can be aligned and feel like they’re working as a team. I absolutely failed here and instead I’m playing catch-up and making mistakes that could have easily been prevented if I had done my work up front. In lots of ways my wife has to be a parent to both our son and me. I’m not out for sympathy here; use my failure as a cautionary tale for future parents. This is one of the very few things in my life I truly regret and wish I could take back.

10) He’s growing up too fast and that makes me sad. For his birthday he got a patchwork space-themed backpack and some books. Dressed in his cargo shorts and flannel button-down shirt he tried the backpack on and loved it. He doesn’t look 2 years old, he looks like he’s 6 and ready to blast off to school. No, no, no. Stay little for awhile longer, where the hugs are pure, the bond is strong, there are no obligations, and the moments can live on. I’m not ready to let go.

So here’s Auf Wiedersehen to 2015 as I look forward to the next year with open eyes and a hopeful heart. Best of luck everyone; we’re gonna need it.

Understudies and Walk-Ons

He wasn’t supposed to be a main character. He was supposed to show up as a “special edition” figure, festive and well-timed for the Thanksgiving holiday season. Yet here he was, Gobby the Turkey, now front and center of every story I tell my son before he drifts off to sleep.

To help my son relax at night we’d been singing songs together, but somehow one night that wasn’t working so I decided to tell him a story. Completely winging it, I started crafting little vignettes of a boy just his age, no younger and no older, with a green bicycle just like his riding around the neighborhood and into the woods. There were birds, rabbits, squirrels, a Mr. Owl, and – channeling my inner Mo Willems – even a bear named Oso. So naturally the night before Thanksgiving a new character, Gobby the Turkey, had to make an appearance. And every night since then, after having some milk and kissing Mama goodnight, my son lays next to me in bed and in his perfectly innocent 2-year-old voice, asks, “Tell story Gobby Turkey?”. How can I say no to that?

So every night I add a little more to the narrative, crafting a world for Gobby and my son rife with adventures, lessons, and relatable experiences to foster the wonderment of his mind. Yet for me it is so much more than a story. It’s a shared bond, something completely spontaneous and unique in his life that only he and I have. Something I can seed, nurture, and grow until dissolved one day by the hands of time.

My wife has suggested I write all the stories down. I may just do that, perhaps as a part of something bigger. There’s been a new story every day for over 2 weeks now so the details are fading quickly from my memory. But no matter what the adventure, every story now starts out the exact same way:

“Once upon a time, there was a turkey, and his name was Gobby. Gobby the Turkey lived in a field with all his turkey friends, and in that field they had swings and a BIG slide to play on……”

Pride

I took my 19-month-old son to the Seattle LGBT Pride Parade this past Sunday. If you’ve never been to one, it’s quite possibly the most wonderful and moving parade you’ll ever see. Thousands of people gathered to celebrate pride, happiness, love, and this year, victory. Not less than 48 hours prior the US Supreme Court had declared gay marriage a fundamental right to all Americans, so this parade had the same kind of exuberant, victorious joy similar to when my beloved Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. I felt it was of the utmost importance not only that I attend, but that I provide the opportunity for my son to attend as well.

How did he like it, you ask? Well, to put it simply, he loved it. All the marching bands, costumes, floats rocking out to good music, fire trucks, police cars, motorcycles, and happy, dancing, joyous people. And I was moved to tears with the unbelievable amount of LBGT support from all facets of humanity – the Seattle police and fire departments, public works, parks & recreation, mayor’s office, local businesses such as T-Mobile, Starbucks, Chipotle, Alaska Airlines, BECU, even the Boy Scouts of America. That one got me right in the feels.

I was so overcome with emotion and the joy of the moment that I struggled to formulate the words I wanted to say to my son, to explain to him entire reason for us being there. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, here’s what I wanted to say to him:

You see all these people? All these smiling and happy people? They come together once a year to celebrate something truly special – the continued progress of earning the basic rights and respect of humanity. Ideally we wouldn’t have to celebrate this because happiness, respect, and dignity are all fundamental rights that everyone has, and we should all treat everyone as we want to be treated. But sometimes people don’t like others simply because they are different, and that is not okay. So even though they are different from us, it is our duty to be their advocates, to support them, accept them, and love they for who they are.

And I want you to know that I will do the same for you, always. You are my child. I’m proud of you and I love you just the way you are.

Seattle = Pride

Toddler Top Ten

With all the articles about the “Terrible Twos”, “Toddler Meltdowns”, and other crazy (but absolutely true) stuff, I figured it was time to spin it the other way. Time for another Top Ten!

1) He understands what I say. Oh boy, does he understand what I say. One of the most frustrating things about his infancy was the natural communication and understanding gap. But now? I can talk to him like an adult and he gets it, even if he can’t articulate it. One one hand that’s amazing, but on the other hand it’s made me check myself and analyze my words like I never have before.

2) Words words words. You can practically see the wheels turning in his head as he learns to associate things with the words we say and the names we call them. And when the new words come out? It’s like a tiny little candy hearts exploded and melted in my chest. And the rate at which he’s picking them up now is astounding. Here are some (probably not all) that he knows, more for record-keeping but possibly for your enjoyment too: Up, down, ball, rabbit, fox, socks, shoes, broccoli, potato, bathroom, cheese, cookie, water, rock, teeth, mama, dada, papa (grandpa), uh oh, balloon, vacuum.

3) Singing!! Yep, that’s right! Apparently one of his favorite (or at least most memorable) songs from Music Together class is a song called “Me, You, We”. And my wife caught him singing it to himself one day!! Since then he’ll sing it every once and awhile, but the fact that he caught on and can sing it? Unbelievably cool.

4) He’s an outdoor kid. So far, he seems content with playing outside as long as possible and protesting when it’s time to come in for a nap. This bodes well for the future where I see him as I saw myself in childhood – playing outside until called home for dinner or until the sun went down. That’s one of the main reasons why we moved to the Pacific Northwest: more outdoor opportunities. So it’s slides, parks, play structures, nature trail walks, and wagon rides until the cows come home. This will just get more and more fun as he gets older.

5) Adventures in food. About the only thing better than playing outside is eating. We have yet to reach the age where he starts rejecting the food we feed him. Even at 19 months, this kid loves his food. Salmon, kale, cole slaw, mustard greens, sushi (Tamago), tuna, avocado, tomatoes, you name it, he’ll eat it. He’s clearly related to us. 🙂

6) Kiss it and make it better. I’m not sure who he picked this up from, but whenever he hurts himself he’ll point to it and look at me. I ask him if he wants me to kiss it and make it better. He brings it close to me, I kiss it, and apparently all is well as he goes about his day. Just like him understanding me, this is incredible. And I didn’t realize I had the magic power to heal dings and dents with a kiss. 🙂

7) Hugs & cuddles. He’s an affectionate boy. I love it. I’ll never force him to kiss or hug anyone he doesn’t want to (related or not), but I know there may be a time where he doesn’t want to be as affectionate (“Ew, dad, gross!”). So for now I’ll soak up every hug, cuddle, and Eskimo kiss I get.

8) Motor skills. Everything from climbing to looking under couches and beds to dipping french fries in ketchup. His skills are accelerating at a breakneck pace. “Child proofing” is an ever evolving practice where I feel I’m at least 2 steps behind him.

9) Music class! We’ve been going to Music Together class since he was 2 months old, and while he’s always seemed to enjoy it, it’s only in the last month or so that he’s really blossoming into it. Dancing, hand motions, drum playing, it’s all happening now. And I can’t get enough.

10) We’re not done yet. Not by a long shot. Here’s to whatever the future will bring. I love this kid.

Identity…….Epiphany

I’m now officially 4 days in to a 2 week business trip in the Netherlands. One wouldn’t think this is the time or the place to “find oneself”, yet here I am. As fun and unique as a trip to Europe is (I’ll be in Paris for a weekend day), the business part of the trip is certainly palpable. 12-hour work days, no time for lunch, working for Europe during the day and North America at night. International conference calls at odd hours racking up phone bills and data charges for someone other than me. Get back to the hotel, change, pound some beers with dinner, bang out a few emails before bed, crash. Repeat ad nausem.

Yet here’s the thing I can’t shake: I thrive in this environment, and I’m damn good at it. It’s what got me here in the first place, over 4,000 miles from home solo on a trip to a facility I’ve never been to in a country just as foreign. The reputation of a leader who “gets shit done” both honestly and fairly. The ability to negotiate a salary I never thought I’d see in my life, enough to support my family on one income and give my son the same gift I had as a child – a parent at home during those critical early years. To put it simply, when I have no one to account for but myself, I can kick some serious ass.

But then my wife sends me a photo of my smiling baby boy rocking out on my drum set at home, and the contrast jolts me back to reality. The important things are now incredibly clear. I am alone in this hotel room. The trip doesn’t matter. Me making money for some company that cares as much about me as they do about solving world hunger doesn’t matter. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Is it the most important? To some, but not to me. I do this to support my family and give us the privileged freedom of not having to worry about financial security (this itself is a rarity in these times, I am soberingly aware). Suddenly, all I want more than anything in the world is to fly home and hug my wife and son.

Sometimes it takes being away to truly understand what matters. Being a father, having a family, being connected to a community, these are things that I want more. Feel-good story of the year, right? Not exactly. I have not been the best father to my son and I’ve been a downright shitty husband to my wife. I’ve taken this for granted for years, all while driving my family, the ones I love most, to the brink of disintegration. What will it take for me to right the ship and actually show the love I profess to have? Actions will always speak louder than words, whether spoken or typed, although there is something strangely cathartic about the public admission of it all. Let’s hope I’m on to something and can finally atone. 10 more days.

Rivers of Light, Streams of Consciousness

15 months, nearly 16 at the time of this writing. It’s been fun and amazing for sure, and certainly kept me busy. It’s insane how much he’s learning and understanding and at such a rapid pace. He’s been such a joy in my life that every time I look into his eyes I see hope, light, promise, and future. And I certainly try to reflect the same back to him, but sometimes I get the sense he can see through me, deep into the darkness below. You see, there’s certainly enough darkness to go around. Darkness in the news, darkness in adapting to this new home, darkness in the sky (although that’s getting better as we move into Spring), darkness in some relationships, like I said, more than enough. That two admittedly fucked up adults can come together in love and create someone so perfect is beyond comprehension to me. His life is so pure, so innocent, that he doesn’t deserve to be affected by it. Hell, I don’t think I deserve him sometimes. So I put on a brave face, strap on my big-boy pants, and try to shift the narrative.

Being with him, observing him, and looking into his eyes help. As much as he needs me and depends on me as a child when I’m with him, I almost need him more. I need him to show me that light, shine a bit of it on me as I bask in his innocence, curiosity, and wonderment at discovering new things. It’s almost addictive; without his light a void remains, a reminder of what I am and what I am not. The constant push-pull struggle is still there, right underneath the surface. I want to be the role model for him, yet I don’t want him to be me. I am flawed; I am lots of things I don’t want to be and certainly don’t want him to be. But then a small sliver of light shows up through a simple hug, a snuggle, “da-da” in his soft beautiful voice, or climbing over my legs and plopping in my lap to read books. In this moment at least I am doing the right thing, I am doing right by him, and the darkness recedes gently like the tide.

I think I’ll just enjoy this little bit of light right now until the tide rolls back in.