Good News

It was 9 o’clock Monday night, December 23, and I wanted to have my hands on a keyboard. I had some great news to share, and I wanted to let everyone know as soon as possible. At least, my brain wanted that. My body, on the other hand, was not nearly as enthusiastic about turning on the computer after spending a large chunk of the day in the car, so I put it off.

And now it’s Thursday. Sometimes you gotta strike while the iron is hot.

vch_building-roof_line37So, if you will, allow me to back up and tell this story from the beginning. I’ve written here before about my daughter Sara’s heart surgery she had to have back in May of this year. My wife and I took her back to Monroe Carell, Jr., Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Monday for a follow-up. We had one goal in mind: Our doctor would say Sara was doing well enough that we wouldn’t have to bring her back for another visit until sometime next year.

We had reason to expect a good report. She had been gaining weight like crazy since the surgery, and she actually ended her first year weighing more than either of her two sisters did at the same age (Not bad for a baby who had dropped to the fifth percentile on the growth chart at one point.). She was nursing better, not panting for air, and not constantly crying whenever we drove anywhere with her. In short, she had been like a different child.

Still, the heart is not exactly something you can see and check up on yourself, so there was a degree of nagging uncertainty. When our local pediatrician discovered the heart murmur that led to the discovery of the ventricular septal defect that had to be repaired during the surgery, my wife had taken our daughter in for what she thought might be an ear infection. Sometimes you just never know what a doctor will find.

So, of course, on Monday, Sara proceeded to scream like a banshee anytime anyone touched her, which made her echocardiogram a highly enjoyable experience, to say the least. This type of behavior can also cause a heart valve to show more leakage on the tests than it actually is experiencing, so we weren’t sure what to expect when our doctor came in to see us.

I feel like I’m rambling at this point, so I’ll sum up quickly: No leakage in the right valve, less leakage in the left valve than our last visit, everything looks great, see you in two years.

That’s right. Sara is doing so well at this point that we don’t have to go back for another follow-up until 2015. The hospital doesn’t even make appointments that far out, so we’ll have to remember to set one up in the future. That kind of news the day before Christmas Eve makes for a very Happy Holiday indeed.

And that’s my good news. Sorry, the body is telling me to wrap this one up. I think the mind agrees this time.

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Sorry, Kid, You Blew It

Well, Sara, you made it. You managed to survive your first year of life. You certainly made it interesting, what with the pneumonia and the ventricular septal defect. You were a tiny little thing before those doctors worked their magic on your heart. Now you’re sporting the oh-so-fashionable baby fat rolls. Well done, little sis.

You came through your open heart surgery in May with flying colors.sara cake In fact, you may have come through it a little too well. I mean, who has their chest cracked open and their ticker tinkered with on a Tuesday and is sitting up in bed greeting visitors by Saturday? If they had done to me what they did to you, I’d still be laid up in a bed somewhere. That just ain’t right.

Most people have told me this was because babies and small children are more resilient and heal faster than adults. That may be true, but I think there’s more to you than that. I think you had the hand of God on you the whole way. I think you’re a tough little stinker who wouldn’t be kept down. I think you have a life full of unbelievable things ahead of you.

The only this is, you’ve made it kind of tough on yourself from here on out. I mean, you survived major surgery. What do you think your mother and I are going to say when you tell us you can’t pick your toys up or you’re too tired to take out the trash or not strong enough to help pack in the bags of groceries? “Whatever. Do you know what they had to do to you when you were around seven months old? You’ve made it through a lot worse than this.”

Yep, you’ve set the bar pretty high. After watching you grow this first year, though, I have no doubt you can handle the expectations. I’m in awe of you every time I see that scar running across your chest. If we get down the road and you feel like your dad is expecting too much out of you, just know it’s because I’ve already seen you do amazing things. And you managed to do them before you could even say your first word.

So I’m sorry to say this, but, kid, you blew it. The world of ordinary is no longer a possibility for you. Maybe one day you’ll understand why, but until then…

Happy birthday, Sara.

Hero Up!

I think I’ve created a monster.super hero squad

My oldest son will be 7 years old tomorrow, and he has become a bona fide super hero nut. I now seem to spend the majority of my days answering questions about who (fill in the blank with super hero name)’s “main enemy” is. My house is now home to items such as Hulk Hands and Captain America costumes. Books brought home from the library about Bob the Builder or the Berenstain Bears have been replaced with titles like Hulk Saves the Day and Darkseid’s Revenge.

But what he loves more than anything is Marvel’s Super Hero Squad. As I type this, there is a box of Super Hero Squad party supplies at my house awaiting deployment during my son’s birthday party this Friday night. He would watch the cartoon on the Hub Network every afternoon, if we let him. I finally broke down and got him an account to play Super Hero Squad Online, which lets you control these child-friendly versions of Marvel super heroes and send them out on different missions, and now I get a full briefing every afternoon. I may as well be an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Cute as they are, it’s these enthusiastic rundowns of the day’s adventures that have been bothering me as of late. I wouldn’t say my son’s interest in all things super hero has become unhealthy, but he does talk about them an awful lot. An awful lot. As someone whose own head is full of seemingly useless facts and information, I worry he’s not spending his time and energy on truly useful things. I wish sometimes he would talk to me more about wanting to build things or what he want to be when grows up or about God or really anything besides the Super Hero Squad.

You know where gets this from, though? Right here. Me.

I still have a box full of comic books in my closet. I made my very pregnant wife wait in a long line of comic book geeks several years ago just so I could see the first Spider-Man movie on opening night. In fact, I still have my Secret Wars Spider-Man action figures (Traditional costume and black symbiote, thank you very much.). I’m playing Marvel Avengers Alliance on Facebook, and I’m at a higher agent level than I care to admit here. And I am so, so jealous of all the cool super hero stuff my son has access to these days. I would have bankrupted my parents (or tried to anyway) if it had all been around when I was growing up.

We have a family tradition now where I take each child out to celebrate their birthday – just me and them. I have a Chevy S10 pickup truck, so there’s only one other seat besides mine. This means if you ride with me you’re the center of attention. I took my son out this past weekend, and our conversation inevitably ventured into super hero territory. I was beginning to feel that familiar discomfort when I suddenly realized something I had never thought of before: My son was talking to me about something he was interested in.

I loved my dad, and he did a lot of things for me. He coached my baseball team for a couple of years, even though he didn’t really know that much about baseball. He worked hard to provide for me. I don’t ever remember talking to him about comic books, though. I’m not sure why, but we somehow never made that connection. And now, all these years later, my son is trying to make the same connection with me, and I’m worried about it?

There are thousands of stories out there about dads and sons who never learned to talk about anything. They just don’t understand each other. While it may seem juvenile and unproductive and silly, I understand comic books and what makes them so appealing. And somewhere in his 7-year-old brain my son understands that Dad actually thinks the Super Hero Squad is pretty cool, too. Sometimes you don’t get to choose the connection; sometimes it chooses you.

So instead of powering down, maybe it’s time for my hero up. It’s what any good squaddie would do.

Passing It On (The Good Stuff)

Niles_CraneFor my money, Dr. Niles Crane is one of the greatest creations in the history of television. Just go watch the opening sequence of the Frasier episode “Three Valentines,” where he nearly destroys the apartment of his older brother, Dr. Frasier Crane, simply by attempting to iron a pair of pants. I don’t know if anyone could have made that sequence work like David Hyde Pierce. I’m simultaneously amused and incredibly impressed every time I see it.

Sadly, Pierce has been virtually absent from television entirely since Frasier ended its run on NBC in 2004. He appears to be spending most of his times these days on the stage, even picking up a Tony Award in 2007. As much as I remember Pierce for his work on Frasier, though, I think I will forever remember him equally for a comment I once heard him make during an interview concerning Alzheimer’s disease. Pierce’s grandfather and father both struggled with this form of dementia, and its spectre hangs over him still, as he continues his work as an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. Although I cannot remember Pierce’s direct quote, it went something like this: Every time he forgot a line or a cue, he felt fear rise up in him. Could this be the onset of Alzheimer’s? The history is there. Is it an inevitable outcome?

I read recently that only 10 percent of the people who report having an allergic reaction to penicillin are truly allergic to it. Well, meet one of the 10. And guess who now has two children who also appear to have had an allergic reaction? Whether they are truly allergic to Alexander Fleming’s most famous discovery remains to be seen, but for now we just assume that they are. I remember when we made this discovery, I made a remark along the lines of, “Good grief, why can’t I ever pass anything good on to them?”.

Now, there is nothing – short of completely altering my genetic makeup somehow – I could have done to prevent this particular glitch from passing from me to my children. There was no way my wife and I could have ever discovered this potential allergy without my children getting sick and, subsequently, having an allergic reaction to this drug. In short, there was no good and fair way to find this out. They get the crappy symptoms, and you find out you were probably the cause of it.

When you make your first discovery as a parent that you can pass down not-so-good stuff to your children simply by, you know, being you,goofy faces the temptation is there to become hyper-attentive to other traits you may have shared with them. Now that I am trying to sort out what it means to be someone who has been diagnosed with dysthymia, the emotional states of my five children (Well, maybe not the baby. Little difficult to gauge emotions at a year old.) have become of particular interest to me. In fact, I think I’m about a hair’s breadth away from becoming so sort of weird amateur child psychologist.

Every flare-up of anger, every pouting frown, every appeal from one of them to not attend some class or gathering by themselves… What if I passed this on to them, too? I’m not panicking or lining them all up to be psychologically evaluated, but the thought that some dark seed from my brain might have worked its way into theirs does cross my mind. One of the hallmarks of dysthymia is feelings of guilt, and what better way to trigger those than the notion you could emotionally handicap your own children simply by just being the way you are.

Just as Pierce continues to fear Alzheimer’s while still working to derail its effects on others, I find myself in the strange position as a parent of  working to unravel the mystery of depression in myself while simultaneously attempting to ward it off in the lives of my children. Also like Pierce, though, I am attempting to turn what could be a fear-inducing situation into a rallying cry for hope. If I can make some sort of sense out of what is inside me, I can pass on what I have learned to my children.

I can’t change the building blocks of who I am that get passed on to those I love. My children may have all kinds of allergies, skin problems, flat feet, and sensitive stomachs, but maybe they’ll also have access to a hope I didn’t always know how to tap into growing up. That’s something I would be proud to pass along.

Holes In Our Hearts

teen_with_hole_in_the_heart.214121321When my wife and I found out in April that our baby daughter had a hole in her heart that would require surgery to repair, a wave of thoughts and emotions swept over me. There were, of course, the obvious sensations – disbelief, shock, fear, thankfulness (that the problem was found), hopefulness. One thing I did not expect, though, was the odd sense of calmness and clarity I had sitting in the doctor’s office that day. In a way I still don’t quite understand, the parallels of a broken human heart and a broken spiritual heart were made very clear to me.

Once our doctor informed us my daughter would require surgery, I immediately realized her fate was totally out of my hands. I knew absolutely nothing about cardiac surgery, and that was the only avenue we could pursue at that point. I believe that is how God was first introduced into my thinking that day. He was the one who would truly determine the outcome of the procedure to come, no matter how skilled our surgeon might be. From that day on, my wife and I went through a process of handing things over to God until we finally, literally, handed our daughter over to the surgeon on the day of the surgery.

These physical terms were easy for my mind to lock onto. The spiritual similarities were numerous as well, though. For instance, had tests not revealed the hole in my daughter’s heart we would have never known it was there. To us and everyone around us, she appeared to be perfectly healthy. In other words, her outside appearance appeared to be fine while her inside state was one of decay. This is akin to our fallen state as sinners before God, in which we say all the right things, wear all the right clothes, perform all the right deeds, all while our inward being is rotten to the core without His forgiveness and grace.

The surgery on the hole in my heart was also not one I, nor any other man, could perform. I had to place my heart in the hands of the Great Physician, the same one who called Lazarus forth from the tomb. My daughter’s chest still bears a scar from her procedure, and she is still technically in the recovery stage. Jesus was scarred for me, and I now live a life that – even though redeemed – still bears scars from the past. I still struggle daily to put to death many of the sinful desires of my old life as I recover to spiritual health.

In the late 1600s, Pascal wrote of the “God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person.” In 2013, a team of doctors momentarily stopped my daughter’s heart and repaired it to normal working order. The fact that God can fill the vacuum and that babies can survive open heart surgery is miraculous to me. Holes are being filled. Hallelujah!

Explaining My Absence

This is my daughter, Sara. She is six months old, and one week ago today she underwent open heart surgery.DSCN0806

To fully explain this story, I have to back up to April 11, when my wife took Sara to our local pediatrician because she seemed fussier than usual. My wife suspected an ear infection, but our doctor diagnosed our daughter’s recent temperament as being caused by teething. That was not the end of her diagnosis, though: She also thought she detected a heart murmur.

This discovery set us on a journey which culminated with the aforementioned surgery last week. My daughter had a ventricular septal defect (or VSD), which essentially means she had a hole where the wall dividing the left and right ventricles of the heart should be. A surgical procedure involving a patch for the heart was the only solution to this problem, and that procedure would involve cutting into my little girl’s chest.

I’m happy to report that the results of the surgery so far have been an overwhelming success. We were out of the PCICU at the Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville the day after the surgery, and we actually arrived home yesterday, one day short of a week after the procedure was performed. To think a baby could have open heart surgery and be home less than a week later is astounding to me, but that is exactly what happened.

Obviously, receiving this news threw me and my family’s lives into a tizzy. We were ordered to not take our daughter into any crowded areas where she might get sick, which meant – since she is still nursing – I became the new chauffeur for our other four children, getting them to soccer practices and fashion show rehearsals and all kinds of other things. They spent all of last week between grandparents’ houses, while my wife and I holed up in the hospital. We have a follow-up visit scheduled for next month, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I have had many, many thoughts I have wanted to write about during this period, but circumstances have basically kept me from doing so. My wife persuaded me to leave my laptop at home before our trip to the hospital, so I couldn’t even take advantage of the seemingly endless hours of having absolutely nothing to do. As my daughter continues to amaze us with her recovery, however, I am going to begin putting some of these thoughts on paper (so to speak).

So if the four or five or you who regularly read this blog wonder where I’ve been, there’s the scoop. It’s nice to be back, but not nearly as nice as my baby girl being back at home with a mended heart.

One More Year

Tomorrow, I will be 39 years old. Yep, the big three-nine. Thirty-nine. Okay … there we go.number-39

Last year, I wrote a monstrous post about all the deep realizations I had regarding life as a 38-year-old. Strangely, I don’t feel much of anything as I stand on the brink of 39. Not that much has changed since last year, as far as my feelings about age are concerned: The thought of turning 40 still bugs me; 39 is just a stop along the way.

While my actual birthday isn’t stirring much in me this year, I still have plenty of things to think about as the big four-oh looms in the distance. I have a daughter who’s not even six months old yet, so there are baby challenges. With the ages of my other children ranging from 10 to 3 right now, my wife and I will basically being running the gamut as far as child-raising issues are concerned this year. And, of course, all this will come in the midst of my still trying to figure out how to be a grown-up, something I haven’t managed to accomplish in the previous 38 years.

I could actually sum up my feelings about 39 in three words: One more year. Come tomorrow, I’ve only got one more year to accomplish all those things I wanted to before I turned 40. And that realization comes with the even harsher reality that if I haven’t gotten all those things done over the course of 38 years, what makes me think I’ll get all done in one?

So forgive me if I don’t feel particularly reflective this year. I have a feeling I’m going to be doing enough walking down memory lane as it is this year. Thirty-nine is here. See you at 40.