Leave it to Hudson

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Hudson and I make a 130 mile round-trip up to a local university for his speech therapy.  The clinicians that work with Hudson are graduate students in speech pathology and the sessions are monitored remotely by the certified therapists in the office.  We’ve been going there for two years now, so I know most of the staff pretty well and they all know us. 

For the past couple of weeks, the focus of the therapy has been visual perception.  He is given five pictures that illustrate a short activity and he has to put them in the correct sequence to complete the story from beginning to end.  Then he has to explain what’s happening in each photo. 

This morning, I was sitting on a sofa and reading my Twitter feed when I saw the department head come out of her office, give me a smirk and walk down the hall toward Hudson’s room.  She came back a minute later with a big smile on her face and said, “You really need to go hear the story he’s telling.”

The therapy rooms have two-way mirrors and headphones so parents, students and staff can observe the sessions without distracting the patients.  I went down to his room and looked in the window.  One of the clinicians had her face buried in her hands to stifle her laughter and the other one was biting her lip to keep her composure.   Hudson was staring down at the five cards and talking about each picture.  From my vantage point, I could tell the subject of the activity was a boy taking care of his pet hamster.  I put on the headphones and heard the following:

“…boy is putting the beaver food in the beaver cage.  And now the boy is putting water in the beaver bottle.  And here, the beaver is running around on his beaver wheel.  I wish I had a pet beaver.  Beavers are cool.”

Every time he said “beaver” the clinicians had to work harder not to laugh out loud.  Luckily, it was time for the session to end or I doubt they would have made it much longer.  

I had to smile because I wanted a pet beaver when I was his age.  I’ve never mentioned that to him, so it must be encoded in his DNA.  Or maybe it’s just something about boys and beavers.  

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Six Years

Two thousand one hundred and ninety two days ago, my baby boy came into the world.

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Sometimes, that seems like a lifetime ago…and for him, I guess it was.  But even though I was 35 years old when Hudson was born, it’s hard for me to remember my life before he arrived.  I suppose that makes sense when I realize that most of the experiences I had until then were pretty insignificant in comparison.  Memories of the holidays, parties and vacations that preceded him have faded like photographs in an old album.  

It made me a little sad to think that he’s now 1/3 of the way to 18.  Life is harder for Hudson than for most kids and I don’t know where his path will lead.  Maybe he’ll go to college or a trade school.  Maybe he’ll take the military route or just make his own way in the world.  Regardless, I hope that in the next 12 years, I will have done enough as a dad to help him make the right decisions and be happy.  

But for today, I just want him to enjoy himself.  We had his birthday party last weekend, so this morning when we told him that today was his “real” birthday, he was pretty nonplussed about it.  He already had his cake and presents, so today was no big deal.  I’m sure he’ll be a bit more excited when he gets home from school and finds out that he still has another cake and a couple of gifts left to open, though.  One day, when he holds his first child, memories of sitting at the kitchen table with mom and dad and cakes and toys will fade, too.  But I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.  

Happy Birthday, Hudson.  No matter how old you are, you’ll always be my baby boy.

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The Baby Store

I am an only child and I’ve never had a desire to have sibling.  My wife has a younger brother and she is just as happy as I am.  When we got married sixteen years ago and the discussion of children came up, we always defaulted to our own upbringings…I wanted one and she wanted two.

However, after a few years had passed with no pregnancies, we began to wonder if we would have any children at all.  We went through fertility tests that showed we were both on the “low end of normal” for our respective sets of equipment and decided that we weren’t going to explore any of the alternative routes such as fertility meds, IVF, adoption, etc.   If it hadn’t happened naturally yet, it probably just wasn’t meant to be.

Then one afternoon, after we’d been married for a few months shy of a decade, we discovered that our baby boy was on the way.  It was a complete and wonderful surprise for us.  I was 35 years old when Hudson was born and I was perfectly content having an only child, especially since Hud has some special needs and can be a handful by himself.  My wife was still leaning towards a second, but put a time limit on it.  If it didn’t happen before she turned 38, then we’d quit trying.  I thought that was reasonable, so that’s what we did.  Four years later, at age 37, she gave birth to our baby girl.  At first I was torn.  On one hand, I was excited to have a baby girl since there hadn’t been a female born on my side of the family for many generations.  But I also felt like I’d have to neglect Hudson to take care of her and I wasn’t prepared to give up that time with him.  Turns out my fears were for naught and having Cate with us has been wonderful.  I think she’s helped Hud with his issues more than I ever could alone and she is just an amazing little person in her own right.

Both deliveries were difficult for my wife, we had two healthy kids and neither of us was getting any younger, so we decided we wouldn’t push our luck any further.  The obstetrician said it would be a simple procedure to perform a tubal ligation during the c-section, so we told him to go ahead and deactivate the machinery.

At one point in my life, I was a paramedic and have had quite a bit of anatomy and physiology training.  I know how the female reproductive system works.  Cut the tubes and no eggs come downstairs to mingle in the social room.  Seems pretty foolproof to me.  My wife thought the same thing.   So you can imagine our surprise when she went to get a prescription for allergy meds last week and the doctor asked if she was using any form of birth control.  She said, “Nope…had my tubes tied.”  He responded, “Well, you do know that’s not 100% effective, right?”  “Um, no…didn’t know that.”

When she relayed this info to me an hour later, I did what any man would do….I googled it.  Sure enough, pregnancy rate for tubal ligations after five years is approx 1.3%.  I then felt a wave of panic.  I love my kids.  I’m sure I’d love a third child just as much, but Lord help me, if she told me she was pregnant tomorrow, I’d run screaming into the night.  I’m seriously considering a vasectomy as a result.  There’s a surgical center less than a mile from my house and I almost ran in the front door and shouted, “CUT ME, MICK!”

A couple of days passed and my anxiety level dropped back to almost normal.  I put it out of my mind and convinced myself that the OB/GYN was an expert knot maker that would put an Eagle scout to shame.  Nothing to worry about, I told myself.  1.3% is pretty darn close to zero.  (Unless you’re one of those 1.3%, in which case I’m sure you have a completely different opinion of that statistic, not to mention your doctor’s dexterity.)

So I had dropped the vasectomy idea and gotten back to normal when Hudson picked up our iPad and started flipping through the picture gallery yesterday.  He stopped on a picture of the doctor holding baby Cate.  He said, “Is that the man at the baby store where you got Cate?”   We smiled and said yes.  Then he said, “Can you go back to the baby store and get another one so Cate will have a new friend?”

I’ll just have a Xanax and a scalpel right now, please.

First Day of Boot Camp…er, Kindergarten, that is.

My little boy starts Kindergarten tomorrow, which is odd since he can’t possibly be old enough for this.  Regardless, we attended the “Meet the Teacher” event last week and everything went pretty well.  Hud found his seat, met his new table-mate and located his cubby hole while I unloaded 58lbs of required school supplies and filled out enough paperwork to rival a mortgage.  (One page of this paperwork included a section where I was to list the color, species and name of any household pets.  I like to think the fact that I didn’t list a purple unicorn named Agamemnon is proof that I’m maturing.)  On the way out, I was given a copy of the student handbook, which I promptly tossed in our “pile of stuff we may or may not look at later” when we got home.  After all, it’s elementary school and while I attended Kindergarten during the Carter administration, I was pretty sure I knew the basic rules.

Well, a couple of days later, I decided to skim the book and make sure there wasn’t some sort of “gotcha” form that I needed to sign and return to the school.  It was then I discovered things had changed a bit in the last 35 years.  For instance, in the section labeled ” Student Behavior”, I found this:

“Students will act in a respectful manner toward all teachers, school personnel and volunteers.”

Absolutely…I agree completely.   Next:

“Signs of disrespect include sighing and facial expressions, such as eye-rolling.  Students who exhibit any of these behaviors will sent to the principal’s office for a written disciplinary report.  Three written reports will result in the student’s suspension and/or expulsion from the school.”

If sighing and eye-rolling were felonies, Hudson would be in solitary confinement with a baseball and a glove or mowing ditches with a Southern chain gang.  And he comes by it naturally, as I was an eye-rolling and sighing savant as a kid.  I’m probably not the greatest role model for those particular personality quirks today, either.  <cue the 80’s era “I learned it from watching you!” public service announcement>

Now, I’m not condoning this behavior or saying it should go without correction and/or some sort of punishment.  I realize it’s disrespectful.  But these are 5 year old kids!  If students risk expulsion for three eye-rolls, the Class of 2026 may not make it to middle school.  It’s been a relatively quiet Sunday here at the house and I’ve heard enough heavy sighs to disown the boy if we applied those rules at home.

Hopefully, Hud’s teacher will be reasonable and I won’t be shopping for military schools by the end of the week.  I’d hate for him to bear the stigma of a being labeled an incorrigible sighing eye-roller.  That never looks good on a college application.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

Being the only SAHD in a small, ultra-conservative town means I often get treated quite a bit differently than most other dads around here and some people simply don’t know how to relate to me at all.  When men around here get together, the primary subjects of conversation are hunting, fishing, football, or farming.  Now, I grew up on a farm and I spent my childhood doing all four of those things.  But since we moved here from Dallas five years ago, most people assume I’m just a liberal city boy who knows nothing about those topics.  I can tell it makes some of them very uncomfortable.

A few fathers that I’ve met have said they envy me being able to stay home and raise my kids, but most have said they just don’t have the patience to do what I do.  I was surprised at the number of moms who have been quite negative about our household arrangement.    But there are a few moms who have been very supportive.

One of my favorite stories about this subject comes from an experience I had at a local grocery store shortly after we moved to Crockett.  Hudson was about 18 months old and I took him with me to buy a few things for dinner.  When I had everything we needed, I got in line behind an elderly couple and started putting some of our groceries on the conveyor belt.  The man in front of us noticed Hudson and the following exchange took place:

Man:  “So, you’re babysitting today, huh?”

Me: “Not really.  I stay home with him everyday.”

Man:  “Oh?  You don’t work?”

Before I could speak, the man’s wife, a tiny little lady, turned around, fixed her angry eyes on him and spoke with voice that belied her small stature.

Her:  “John Paul Johnson!*  I can’t believe you just said that!  Do you think I wasn’t working when I raised our boys?  Do you think your momma wasn’t working when she took care of you and your brothers?  How dare you say something like that!

At this point, the whole scene reminded me of an old Western movie where the villain enters the saloon, the piano player stops and all the patrons turn to look at the door.  Everyone stopped moving…customers, cashiers, bag-boys, vendors.  The manager was about 20 feet away and I could tell he was trying to decide if he should say something or just keep his mouth shut and avoid her wrath.  A few seconds later, it was obvious he decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

The woman was still ranting at the top of her lungs when I raised my hand and tried to calm her down.

Me:  “Ma’am, it’s okay.  I know what he meant. I’m not offended.”

Her:  “No, it is NOT okay and I AM offended!  I’m offended and I’m MAD!” <turns back to husband>  “Now, you apologize to that young man and come meet me in the car!” <storms out of the store like only an angry Southern lady can>

The store slowly came back to life as she stomped through the door and the man turned back to me.

Him:  “I’m sorry about that.”

Me:  “Don’t be.  I understand what you were trying to say.  I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.”

Him:  “I haven’t seen her that mad since I quit drinkin’.”

He paid for the groceries and very slowly made his way outside.  Then I heard a chuckle behind me and another elderly gentleman put his hand on my shoulder.

Him:  “I sure hope you enjoy peace and quiet, son.   Once word of this gets out, there won’t be a man in Houston county brave enough to say hello to you.”

Fortunately, he was mistaken and men do say hello to me once in a while.  Most of them still don’t know what to say when I tell them I’m a stay-at-home dad, but that’s fine.

*When a Southern woman addresses a man by his full name, you know an ass-chewin’ is about to commence.