All posts by Steven Miller

I am a 29 year old, Caucasian male of Anglo-Saxon descent writing in a language also of Anglo-Saxon descent. I do NOT like raw oysters.

Sorry, Charlie

-for Charlie (duh)

When my wife, Susan, and I found out we were having a boy this time around, we burst into tears. This is because we realized he would one day wreck every vehicle we owned. No, we cried because we’re the sort of 13th century couple who doesn’t find out the sex of their child until the delivery. So the moment we found out he was a boy was the same moment we found out everything else about him. Also, I’m pretty sure if you don’t cry happy tears at the sight of your newborn, the doctors keep him.

They officially admitted us to St. Catherine’s hospital shortly after midnight. “Did we come in too early?” Susan asked me every time the nurses left the room.

“No,” I explained, “they’re letting us stay.”

Her: No, I know that, but would it have been better if we’d waited?

Me: Better for who?

Her: Whom.

Charlie arrived at ten-o-three that morning and at ten-o-four the nervous energy began to drain from my body. The hours leading up to the birth, you’re carried forward by sheer adrenaline as you wait to see that small wonderful face and hold that tiny body fresh from the heavens. Then, ten minutes later, you realize you’ve been up all night and all morning pacing and encouraging and holding your wife’s foot. Also—and this is roughly as tiring, I suppose—your wife has for close to 24 hours been pushing a human person from her body. The moment your son or daughter finally arrives is like the moment a marathon runner crosses the finish line—you’re exhausted, you feel vaguely like you’re going to throw up, and you smell great. So logically, this is when they decide to send in the visitors.

“You have visitors,” the nurse announces.

“Who? Me?” You wonder who could possibly know you’re here in the hospital. Then you look down at your iPhone and realize you just texted literally everyone you’ve ever met, all in the last fifteen minutes. (“Mom and baby doing well,” the caption reads beneath a blurry picture of your wife and wrinkly, red-faced son, a picture that is only half-obscured by your index finger.)

I’m a fairly bad conversationalist on eight hours of sleep, so you can only imagine how abysmal I was on zero. Luckily, my wife Susan was there to correct me every so often.

“She was five meters when—”

“No honey, centimeters. I was five centimeters dilated when they admitted us. Five meters is a house.”

“Then they brought in the pachyderm to—”

Epidural. A pachyderm is an elephant.”

“And now we have to put Vaseline on it every diaper change until it falls off.”

“The umbilical cord! The umbilical cord falls off, not the—”

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t that bad, but I did say some pretty dumb stuff, which is par for the course. If it ever comes out that Susan does all my writing for me—and not just my editing—I’m certain it will be a shock to no one. Instead, everyone I know will most likely turn to one another and say, “I told you he couldn’t read.”

Even worse, I’m now doomed to say any number of such things to my son. Eventually, he’s going to start talking and shortly after that he’s going to start asking questions—and expecting me to supply the answers… What if he asks me the capital of Washington, D.C.? Or how much Canada weighs? I’ve only been alive 31 years! That’s hardly time to learn both geography and the metric system.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a few cool things—how to cook large cuts of meat, how to throw a punch (more or less), and how to change a flat—but if Jeopardy, the SATs, and most of college taught me anything, it’s that you’re rarely quizzed on stuff you already happen to know. With my luck, Charlie will want to know how many senators it takes to elect the president. And I’ll just have to tell him the truth: Nobody knows.

Charlie will one day find out his dad doesn’t know everything about everything. (Sorry, Charlie.) It will be a sad day for him, but I’m sure he’ll recover. His dad, on the other hand, might not.

charlie-hospital

The Season of Waiting

“Fievel” is the new baby’s tummy name, as “Nino” was Bonnie’s. It’s Yiddish for “a small mouse in a floppy hat with an aptitude for getting lost.” No, it’s actually Yiddish for something like “bravely born,” but the cartoon mouse of our childhood is definitely where I got the idea.

I haven’t written a great deal about this pregnancy, and honestly I don’t know why. I’ve come up with half a dozen or so reasons, but they’re all pretty lame. The only thing I know for certain is that when we were expecting Bonnie, life was far more settled for both Susan and me than the last year has been. In just the last twelve months, we moved across the state; Susan took a new job at a new college after eight years at K-State and then another new job six months later; I became a part-time editor and full-time stay-at-home-dad, then a freelance editor as well, then an adjunct instructor for two different colleges, and then a substitute teacher at the high school—all while trying to maintain my writing; our little Bonnie went from being a six month old, whose greatest feat was rolling from her stomach to her back, to a crawling, walking, climbing, and babbling toddler. We worked on an estimate for renovating one house, then a different house, and then finally decided to start looking for a sane person’s first home (i.e., one not in desperate need of Chip and Joanna Gaines). In the middle of it all, we got pregnant. Okay, so maybe I know why I haven’t written as much about Fievel, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

I miss how we felt waiting for Bonnie, like Mary prayerfully but eagerly awaiting the birth of Jesus. This time around we’ve been a lot more like Joseph. Joseph scrambling to get Mary out of Galilee. Joseph desperate to find a room in Bethlehem. Joseph evacuating his family to Egypt—all while making kitchen tables and wagon wheels as the village carpenter. Now, I’m sure Joseph was just as reverent, but you’ve got to admit the guy was busy. Or maybe he wasn’t reverent at all and maybe that’s okay, too.

The season of Advent, as the Mass readings remind us, is a time when we remember the coming of Christ, but it’s also a time to prepare for the second coming. If a cursory comparison of the first few chapters of the Gospels and any chapter of Revelations is any indicator, the second coming is going to be wildly different from the first. Maybe that’s how it is with kids, too.

This Advent I decided to slow down and pay more attention to my family, especially the newest member. This is always my struggle, so to that end I also shelved social media for a time, letting my phone go back to being just a phone. It hasn’t been a cure-all and there are certainly some grumpy evenings, but it has made me at least moderately more present. There have already been some fruits. For example, the other night, while we were listening to Christmas music on the couch, I let my hand rest on Susan’s stomach and felt those most surreal jabs and kicks, like an alien beginning to burst from my wife’s abdomen. I’d scratch her stomach and Fievel would answer, reaching out to touch his father’s hand.

“Sorry, you got short-changed in the prose-department, buddy,” I wanted to say. “Daddy’s been busy making sure we don’t have to move into a cardboard box.” Although, let’s be real, Susan’s been the busy one. But I’d like to think I’ve been there to assist. Driving Bonnie to daycare. Washing dishes occasionally. Making soup. Those are the same as creating a human being from scratch, right? Hopefully, the preparation has been enough; although, in the case of Advent, I doubt we’ll ever really be ready. I suppose all we can do is look forward. Look forward to Fievel, Christmas, the eschaton, and enjoy it once it’s here.

Rule #1

old-carThere is only one rule in our house: No babies in the kitchen. Our daughter acknowledges this rule by scurrying just past the border between the carpeted living room and the linoleum kitchen. She then sits down on the linoleum and looks back at us as if to say, “And what are YOU going to do about it?”

Bonnie’s refusal to abide even the least restrictive limitation mocks our inability to break even the most restrictive new rules about parenting. I miss the relative ignorance my wife and I had when we were pregnant with Bonnie. The other day I saw the following headline on Facebook: Study Finds Swaddling May Lead to SIDS. How is that the conclusion of a study?

Researcher #1: Our hypothesis was that swaddling may lead to SIDS.

Grant Committee: And your findings?

Researcher #2: Yeah, maybe.

Grant Committee: That isn’t much of a conclusion.

Researcher #1: Isn’t it, though?

Researcher #2: In our defense, we have already cashed the check.

As we prepare for baby number two, I feel like someone retaking a class only to learn that his notes are completely useless. Instead of All’s Well That Ends Well they’re reading Hamlet. Instead of Great Expectations they’re reading Bleak House. All that second-time parent cockiness has been replaced, slowly but surely, by those first-time jitters we thought were behind us. One thing’s for certain: My mom did not have to go through this, and not just because Facebook hadn’t been invented yet.

panamamap

My grandma was pregnant with her fifth child when my grandparents moved to Panama. They were just a missionary family from Michigan trying to spread the gospel to the jungles of Central America. They spent most of their adult lives away from the family and community of their youths, battling snakes and heat stroke to set up evangelical churches in devout Catholic countries. But to hear my grandma tell it, it was never a struggle. Every time they needed to enter a new village in Puerto Rico or Guatemala, the Lord would bless them with a new baby to smooth things over. In this manner was my soon-to-be-born mom their gateway into Panama.

However, when my grandma visited the local hospital, she discovered that among other things there was an inch of dust on the windows. She didn’t complain to her doctor or find the next-closest hospital or leave my grandpa there with my uncles and aunt and return to the states. No, she did something far bolder: She bought a book. Now that may not sound very bold to you, but this was a very special book. It was a book by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, and her plan was to use it to give birth. At home.

She hid the book immediately and read it in secret so that no one would know about her plan. Not even her husband.

I can just imagine my grandparents the day my grandma went into labor in the middle of the night, her trying to hide each new burst of pain, him waking up periodically anyway. Was it a particularly bad contraction that made her cry out or did she perhaps knock her drinking glass off her bedside table? Whatever it was, she got her husband’s attention.

“Are you sure you’re not in labor, Mary Ellen?”

“Just indigestion, go back to sleep.”

“Are you sure?”

“I must have eaten a bad pepper.”

“Did you eat a pepper?”

“Oh Carl, you worry too much.”

By the time she finally gave in and let Carl drive her to the hospital, it was too late. Instead of being brought into the world in a filthy hospital, Esther Ellen Moses, my mom, was born in the front seat of her parents’ Mercury, the only brand new car the couple ever had. Carl welcomed her into the world with open arms and then carefully unwrapped the umbilical cord that was around her neck.

Whenever my mom comes to visit, she basically ignores our one and only rule about the kitchen. She also treats casually the 150 or so guidelines (not rules) we try to follow, which cover everything from how many ounces of whole milk to give with formula to how long to let Bonnie cry at bed time to how many minutes she can be in direct sunlight. Whenever she does ignore one such guideline, I just remind myself that people who were born in the back of a car in a third-world country don’t sweat the small stuff.

Or so I thought. Between writing the first line of this story and this line, I sat down with my mom and had a heart-to-heart. She confessed that she did, in fact, stress over me and that, surprise surprise, she still does. I hope that I’m not worried about Bonnie when she’s 30, but something tells me a little part of me always will be. There will always be that catch in my throat, that hoping that everything is all right.

And maybe that’s why we’re so adamant about our “one” rule. If we can just keep her out of the kitchen, everything will be all right. If we can keep her in the living room, everything else will fall in line. It’s like gremlins. Don’t feed them after midnight, don’t get them wet, and everything will be fine. Yet we all remember what happened with them. As far as my daughter goes, every time I turn around she’s managed to worm her way into the kitchen. Then again, for all her disobedience, nothing terrible has happened. And it could be worse. She could be crawling around a hospital in Panama.

Gotcha!

She didn’t come up with the idea then but rather weeks earlier on a summer evening as they were running late to a friend’s house. He had the bad habit of opening his car door and hopping out before the car was even off—but not that night. That night he sat there transfixed, both hands on the wheel.

“Come on,” she said.

“Shh,” he whispered.

“What is it?”

“Shh.”

“Can you at least turn the car off?” Now she was whispering too and looking up and down the street. Were they in some sort of danger?

“I don’t want to scare it.”

“It? What it?”

He pointed to a lone rabbit in their friend’s front yard. The rabbit was white and mottled with brown patches, one of which colored its left floppy ear just so, and it was eating a dandelion. It took the flower by the stem and chomped down like a wood chipper so that the stem got shorter and shorter, one half-inch by one half-inch, until the bright yellow flower replaced the rabbit’s lips, hiding its expression entirely. Then, in one fluid motion of the mouth, the flower popped out of existence.

“Is that not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” he asked.

She agreed that it was, in fact, very cute. Even so, he made them wait until the rabbit had eaten two more dandelions and hopped away before turning off the car and walking up the steps to their friend’s house. That was when she had the idea.

She didn’t put it into place until several weeks later. They were again having dinner but this time at an over-priced Italian restaurant downtown. (He was always taking her to places like that when they were first dating—and they both hated it.)

Pointing toward a small triangle of grass between an alley, a trashcan, and a concrete sculpture of children fishing, she whispered, “Don’t look now,” and then described what—if it had existed—would have been the most adorable scene ever assembled: a rabbit having tea with a baby pig.

“I know there is nothing there,” he said. “That you’re going to call me gullible. And yet…” He turned to behold the ordinary grass.

“Gotcha!” she said.

From that point forward it became a game for her. Sometimes the woodland creatures would be dressed in top hats or tuxedo vests. Often they were enjoying mini cupcakes or biscotti. Once they were even joined by a yellow baby duck wearing a sleek, black bow tie. Every single time she painted the scene, he inevitably looked.

The couples’ lives changed radically over the years, but the petting zoo tea parties remained a bright constant in their ever-evolving relationship. He proposed; they married shortly after college graduation; she earned a master’s degree; he began his; they put a down payment on their first home; and then, to leave all other milestones in the dust, she announced that they were going to be parents. He became excited and then anxious and then even more excited because of all the anxiety. They bought tiny furniture and thick, contradictory books and the sort of clothes that make even the hardest of hearts turn to jelly. When they thought their life could not get better, she learned that she would not be a parent after all, that they would not be parents.

For a time, the animals did not assemble. They did not have tea or wear top hats or eat biscotti, and the couple could not remember why it had been so very funny that they had. The seasons changed, a new year brought new goals and distractions, and one spring morning she announced again, though more cautiously, that they might just be parents after all. And he was not anxious—wouldn’t dare it. The tea parties, however, did not return. Like so many inside jokes before them, they were forgotten. They may have been lost entirely had the husband not, two years later, started watching a show about sheep with their nine-month-old daughter. She saw the two of them snuggled up one morning laughing at a sheep carrying a too-large watermelon over its head and thought, Oh right. I almost forgot.

That day the family ate lunch at a sandwich shop halfway between her office and their home where he freelanced and watched shows about sheep with their daughter. She seized the opportunity of their window seats and, without segue or introduction, began describing the scene outside.

“There’s the rabbit, mottled of course, and the spot on his back, well, you won’t believe this, but the brown spot on his back is in the perfect shape of a bunny.”

“A bunny within a bunny?” he asked. “How Shakespearean.”

“Oh and there’s a baby chick and a newborn deer wobbly on his long legs and, of course, a family of sheep.” She held her sandwich up and continued: “They’re eating tiny sandwiches, like these but smaller, and each animal has its own tiny bag of chips. The deer is nosing one out as we speak. Oh, if only you could turn your head and see it, then I wouldn’t have to just describe it.”

Her husband smiled but he didn’t look, didn’t even seem curious. Instead, he pointed to their daughter in her high chair, as if to say, Why do I need to look out there when the most astounding thing we could imagine is sitting right here at our table? What he actually said was, “When did you put her in that lobster costume?” Then, when she turned to behold their daughter, red-faced and mid-bowel movement, he added, “Gotcha!”

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Why I’m Busy Friday Mornings

Saint_Dominic_Receives_the_Rosary

There are a number of significant days in the Catholic Church that are defined not by their date on the calendar, but by their day of the week–Easter Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday–but one of my favorites, and certainly Bonnie’s, is unique to St. Dominic’s parish in Garden City. That day is Fritter Friday.

Years ago, or perhaps months ago–I’m no church historian–someone from the office decided to get donuts one Friday morning and Fr. Reggie requested a raspberry fritter, which is available only on Fridays. According to Church tradition, that first Fritter Friday brought frosting, merriment, and a sudden uptick of productivity never before seen so close to the weekend.

When we moved to Garden, I laid out a detailed schedule for myself, which included three hours of editing every morning, three hours of writing/reading every afternoon, lunch with Susan, games with Bonnie, and daily Mass every day. By the end of our first week in town, I had written twice, was woefully behind on my edits, and had taken Bonnie to daily Mass exactly zero times. So that Friday morning we wandered into the sanctuary to find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the “Children’s Mass,” which is put on by the elementary school.

“Can I be here?” I asked Fr. Reggie. “I mean adults. Can adults attend?”

He smiled and assured me that we were welcome.

Bonnie was a hit immediately with the children who saw her and the adults who came up to us after the Mass. So it should’ve come as no surprise when she caught the attention of the church staff when we went to register our family with the parish.

They immediately called for Fr. Reggie to register Bonnie as a new parishioner:

New parishioner

The following week, we were invited to participate in Fritter Friday.

While I ate donuts and drank coffee, the church staff put Bonnie right to work on a calculator doing important parish business. She did such a good job they elected her employee of the month:

Employee of the month

The images are horizontal because these actually appeared on the cover of the St. Dominic website a few days after introducing this little girl to everyone. No joke. Have I mentioned how welcoming Garden City has been?

Food is one of the best ways humans show community. It’s no great surprise that the Jews all ate the same meal before departing Egypt or that Christ’s last meeting with His disciples before the crucifixion was over a meal. Who we invite to our table says a lot about us, and I’m honored to have been invited to this table. As my grandma Moses used to say, “A cute baby can get you into anywhere.”