Fatherhood at Fifty – Fighting Words

It’s been a little quiet around this blog for the last month. That seems to happen pretty regularly in November. Often times that has happened in November because I tell myself the story that I’m too busy or because I’m a bit too overwhelmed or because I just can’t think of anything to write about. In fact I even wrote a tongue-in-cheek open letter to the month of November a couple of years back asking for dispensation in future years. You can link to the November 2015 archives on the right side widget of this blog if you want to read it. It’s old energy to me now so I’m not going to recap it on my own.

unnamed-18Interestingly though, none of the aforementioned things have been the cause of this year’s November writing sabbatical. Personally I’ve felt fabulous during the month of November this year. There have been so many classic fall days. I’ve refrained from sugar and alcohol for over a month. I’m eating vegetarian. I’ve lost weight. I’ve felt mentally sharp. Just yesterday though,  I came to the awareness that there has been one very simple reason why I haven’t been writing humorous and positive-minded posts about our journey towards parenthood over the last month. I just couldn’t find the heart to be writing about how great things were going for me when my wife Christiana was struggling so mightily.

On Thanksgiving night, after summoning every ounce of energy she could find to make it through the holiday festivities even though she was carrying the weight of an unbearable amount of sadness, Christiana made the decision to come forward and speak about her recent challenges. It came in the form of a Facebook post at 11:00 pm as I lie next to her sleeping on the couch. If you are not a friend on Facebook or didn’t get a chance to read her words send me an email or comment on this blog and I will send them to you. They are her words and her story and she is a far better writer than I. They should most definitely be read in the first person.

With that little back story it’s time for me to move on to the main topic of this post and explain why I titled it Fighting WordsOver the past few years I have become increasingly aware of the fact that the words we choose to use significantly impact our human experience. It’s no secret that I live in a Universe where I fully believe that our thoughts become our reality and our beliefs shape our thoughts. It’s only a small step further down the path of intention to accept the Truth that our words are a verbal representation of our internal beliefs system, therefore just as surely as thoughts become things, our words become things as well. I’d recommend we choose our words carefully and wisely!

As Christiana began to process that fact that her glucose tolerance tests did not meet the preferred standard, we were faced with the assessment that medical professionals and midwives have a label to use to describe her current situation – gestational diabetes. After some research and careful reflection we have decided that we have the power to render this an non-factor in the duration of her pregnancy and in our choice to pursue a natural childbirth.

Now let me write that sentence another way….

When Christiana failed not only her first blood test, but also the more extensive four hour test, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This will mean substantial changes in our lifestyle as we fight this disease. We can only hope that we are lucky enough that it doesn’t get out of control forcing her to go on insulin. We don’t want to have to abandon our plan to have a non-medical delivery.

Obviously I don’t have to ask you which sentence is more empowering and which one is fear-based. Choosing fear-based words can be paralyzing. In no way do I mean to make light of any health situation that either my wife or anybody else is managing. I only point out that the words we choose and the stories we create in our own minds go a long way to create the reality that we live in. I’m so grateful and blessed to have so many mentors who have helped me find the path to a more positive mindset and word choice.

Later this weekend I was talking to my friend Emily who has been living with Multiple Sclerosis for 36 years and has a fabulous, balanced life. Emily has dedicated her life to managing her wellness. She is an athlete, a speaker, an amazingly caring friend and an inspiration to all who know her. That being said, for years Emily used the words fighting and disease and those words carried an energetic weight, even with her generally positive outlook on life. That is until she shifted her mindset and her word choice and started using words like living with and current situation. In that frame of reference Emily eventually was able to come to a place where she has started speaking about how grateful she is to be managing MS, because it has made her who she is today, that fabulous, healthy and caring person. Again I will say that I do not intend to make light of anything anybody else is managing in their own lives or the words the choose to use. I only urge everybody to try to create a different dialogue and see what shifts might follow.

Of the many things that made Christiana sad over the last month, one of the most challenging things was her fear of being labeled. When someone is given a diagnosis, there is a tendency to step right up and start wearing that label like a heavy cloak. Will all my future pregnancies be labeled as GD? Will I be considered high risk now? Will my friends and family start looking at me differently if I choose to eat a donut?

Then like a gift from the Divine we attended our second natural childbirth class, just as we were processing the information of Christians’s blood glucose test not coming in at the preferred level. In that class our master teacher Tanya spoke about something we have both known and accepted for years. We just needed to be reminded. Here it is:

The only thing we have complete and total control over is our internal circumstances and our reaction to external circumstances. When we try to control external circumstances we can drive ourselves quickly down a path of frustration.

Blood glucose levels are an external circumstance. My high blood pressure is an external circumstance. We can make choices that affect those numbers and refrain from reacting with fear, but in the end it is an external circumstance that we can choose to either fight or to manage. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with choosing the word fight if it carries the energy of putting forth one’s best effort or forming a visualization of persevering in times of need, too often the word fight carries the weight of angst, fear and insurmountable odds.

Look no further than our current day news headlines to see how often the word fight is used to create division, where humanity would be far better served to choose a new dialogue and invest the needed effort to heal, unite and manage.

When our daughter is born in 11 short weeks I will be sure to help Christiana in every way possible to choose the thoughts and words needed to make the birthing process as seamless as possible, but in reality she has already done the work. She’s been studying this hero’s journey for years. She’s followed her powerful intuition to choose the right support team. She’s built the foundation of thought that will help her maintain a positive mindset. She is without a doubt the strongest and the wisest person I have ever known and even when she is working her way through a period of contrast, she already recognizes the hidden gifts within the story. And oh what a story it will be! Our Divine little blessing already speaks to us in so many ways….and her words are always absolutely perfect!

 

 

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Sympathy Weight

For the last 25 years, ever since I took up martial arts and yoga, I’ve had a mutual agreement with my body. The mutual agreement goes something like this:

My part of the deal is to workout regularly and eat pretty well most of the time…

My body’s part of the deal is to find a way to manage during the times that don’t fall under the category of “most of the time…”

The deal has worked out pretty well for the most part. Of course my fitness level has fluctuated a little bit over that 25-year period but I’ve always been someone that people would consider to be “in shape”. I used to run until I decided to be kinder to my joints. I still bike and swim. I practice yoga anywhere from a couple of times a week to everyday in extreme stretches. I even do my martial arts forms and a little Tai Chi a few times a month. Sure, with each passing five year period, my average weight number rises by a couple of pounds and I fluctuate five or so pounds within that range, but I have seldom gotten to the edge of my comfort zone. In my thirties my comfort zone was about 170. By the time I got into my early forties I almost never dipped below 175. At 50 I was a fairly fit 180 pounds.

And then we got pregnant!

Now I’ve often heard the term sympathy weight and the effects that a pregnancy can take on the father’s fitness levels and body shape, but I always thought that was an old wive’s tale or a myth or at the very least something that happened to guys who sat around and ate boxes of donuts all the time. That could never happen to Jim Herbert! Jim Herbert works out. Jim Herbert rides his bike to work 3 days a week – 25 miles round trip. Jim Herbert eats tunafish, brown rice cakes and fruit for breakfast. That could NEVER happen to Jim Herbert! Or could it?

About a month ago I saw a number I never thought I’d ever see on a scale in my entire life. The number was 198 pounds. Gulp! Goodbye comfort zone. I hadn’t just reached the edge. I had totally obliterated it!

“How did this happen?” I thought to myself.

I still get to Bikram yoga at least one day or sometimes even two days per week. I might not cycle 100 miles a week like I did last year, but I get at least one good ride in per week. Yes, I’m eating a bit heavier than normal but it’s not like I’m eating only cheeseburgers and pizza for every meal. I cook good quality homemade meals for my two best girls from real ingredients and whole foods. This all just sort of crept up on me. When Christiana needed a piece of emergency pizza to hold her over in between meals I’d join in the fun. If the donut craving hit, I’d buy a half-dozen instead of just one and wind up splitting them with her. If  she needed the car to go to prenatal yoga on Saturday morning, I’d skip my 90-minute advanced hot yoga class downtown and take the easier 60-minute class closer to home. All of this stuff is perfectly reasonable and it makes total sense that I might gain a few pounds, but pushing 200?!

Okay before I continue here I want to be perfectly clear that I am totally aware that weight is just a number and overall health of a person is measured by so many other factors. I’m also totally aware that I am far more attached to the particular number on the scale than I should be, but the scale has always been a sort of check and balance factor for me. When I got to the edge of my comfort zone I would tighten things up and get back to where I wanted to be by either upping the cardio or doing a nutritional cleanse. In fact every single time in the past when I’ve taken notice that I was on the edge of my comfort zone, I would be back to what I would deem normal within a month. The question that still stands is this:

Is that sort of roller coaster approach to physical and mental wellness normal?

My overall psyche is completely different when I see the number I want to see on the scale than when I see a number I don’t want to see. My mood can fluctuate from good to great after an intense hot yoga class because I realized I sweated out 8 pounds in the studio – yes I do know it’s all water. This is a larger topic for another day and another round of personal psychoanalysis, so for now let’s return the to topic at hand which is that number – 198 pounds!

When I realized that I was approaching 200 pounds I realized I needed to do something. I started telling people that I was the heaviest I’d ever been in my entire life so that I would begin to make a verbal contract with myself (and apparently every human in the Universe that would listen to me) that a change was just around the corner. The funny thing is that every time I mentioned it to someone they had nearly same response, “I’d have never known that. I think you look great.” Each time I would hear that I would go look in the mirror and basically agree with them. The thing is that deep down inside I didn’t FEEL great. My old school habits of self-loathing were increasing again. The amount of negative things I would say about myself and to myself were increasing again. I needed a way to break free.

Each day I would plan on starting clean and then something would get in the way. There would be chilaquiles for breakfast at work. I’d have a craving for burger at lunch. I’d have dinner plans with a friend and we’d share a bottle of wine and a giant piece of chocolate cake afterwards for dessert. For some reason this time around, despite the extremity (in my mind) of the circumstances, I just couldn’t flip the switch on starting The Cleanse.

About two weeks ago I had a day when my stomach was pretty upset. It probably had to do with the amount of food I had eaten that day and the wine I drank that night, but for just a moment I wondered if I had gotten food poisoning. I said too myself in the back of my mind, “Well at least if I have food poisoning it will be the cleanse I’ve been hoping for, even if it is forced upon me by the powers above…”  Minutes later when I checked my weight before bed and saw that number just a hair below 200 still, I thought to myself “I just wish I could find ANY way to get rolling on that cleanse I so desperately know that I need…”

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for,” I will now share with you my updated version of that phrase as it applies to us Thoughts Become Things people:

Be fully prepared for the intentions you set, because once you’ve thought about with intention, it’s going to happen, whether you like the way it happens or not…

I’ve been a little out of sorts lately. I haven’t been able to wear the bite plate that I wear at night because of the dental surgery I had a couple of months ago and that effects my sleep. I snore more when I’m heavier so I don’t get as much rest. I’ve had a lot on my mind with the pregnancy, and the book that is in progress, and the uncertainty about where we might live next year and my multitude of other side projects…so when I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s not as easy to fall back to sleep. My fitness levels are still good for a guy my age, but well below my lofty personal standards.

Tuesday night last week when I got home from work I just pretty much hit the wall. I had the chills and some body aches so I jumped in a bath and then went straight to bed. Many people at work have called in sick over the last couple of weeks so I figured I had caught the bug going around the store. Additionally I had somehow managed to do something to my knee and noticed the next day that it was a bit swollen. For the next couple of days I just didn’t have any appetite. I managed to drink tea and eat a bit of tomato soup, but anything with meat or sugar or carbs seemed totally undesirable to me.

I won’t go into all the twists and turns of the last five days because I still have a bit of follow up care to deal with, but suffice it to say that I found myself in the hospital on Friday afternoon hooked up to an IV fund drip and eventually going home with two very powerful antibiotics that will coincidentally force me to stay on a very simple diet for the next week and a half including no alcohol whatsoever.

Now if I were in different point in time in my life – or perhaps better said if I were viewing this through a different lens – I would likely be feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my miserable lot in life. But you know what I couldn’t stop thinking about all weekend? I could help stop thinking how grateful I am that all of this happened!

If I had only gotten the 24-hour flu, I probably would have been back at the table eating and drinking like a champ all weekend. If I had only had an issue with my knee I would have hit the pool in Lincoln Square so I could swim a mile or two, which is very low impact on my legs, and then gone right over to Garcia’s for a margarita and a plate of tostadas. If I hadn’t had the concern about why my knee was swollen and red I might not have gone to the urgent care center where the PA told me to go directly to the Emergency Room. It’s like God/The Universe cared about me so much that they wanted to make sure that I didn’t ignore the message that I once again needed to slow down. I needed to prepare the way for what’s ahead. And Oh Boy (or should I say Oh Girl) there is plenty of stuff ahead. What a gift this non-optional, self-manifested period of rest has already been  – and will continue to be in the days and weeks ahead.

I’m eating a little bit more today than I was last week, but I still have no taste at all for any meat or starchy carbs or sugar. Maybe I’ll go on a little vegetarian kick again like I have many times in the past? The thought of a glass of wine actually makes me feel a bit nauseous, which is surprising since my favorite team is playing on Sunday night football tonight. Maybe I’m done with any sort of drinking for a little while? I feel like I’ve already lost at least a few pounds even though I haven’t been able to get any sort of workout in for the entire week. I’m not sure if I have lost weight or not though because I haven’t weighed myself at all. Maybe I’ll check tomorrow and then again maybe I won’t? Maybe I’ll give the old scale under the bathroom counter some time off?

What does all of this mean? As of right now, Im not entirely sure yet. I just now that feel different and it’s the kind of different that I like.

What I do know for sure is that last night when we put our daughter’s crib together it all became even a bit more real. Even though we fumbled around on the floor of our nursery-to-be, me on one leg and her with a big belly in the way in front, somehow we managed to pull off the task together. We missed all the Halloween parties. We missed the gong ceremony we wanted to go to on Friday night. We missed the jazz showcase trumpet show on Sunday with Christiana’s father. But you know what? In the end none of that mattered.

We had the most amazing weekend, just the three of us at home reading, resting and preparing the way for all the magic that lies ahead. We even managed to come up with a little Halloween costume and snap a photo for the archives. Our first ever family Halloween costume, an idea that came to us as if delivered from above after watching a wonderful animated film from director Henry Selick. If you are not familiar, Selick directed the famed Nightmare Before Christmas along with the movie we watched last night called Coraline. He also did the movie based on a famous Children’s book called James and the Giant Peach. With our little peach growing strong inside Christiana’s belly what could possibly be more appropriate?

The Herbert family rests well tonight – all three of us – with the deep sense of knowing that even when we can’t find our own way to what we know in our hearts that we need, there will always be help from Above to assist in finding THE way. Happy Halloween dear friends. I remain, James (and the giant and little peach).

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Chef Daddy

In 1995 Gary Chapman released a book called The Five Love Languages. It outlines the five ways that we as humans can express and experience love. The book goes on to theorize that we each have specific ways that we are able to best express our love and in return we have preferences as how we most feel loved. Chapman says that each of us has a primary and secondary love language and that we can better help our partners feel loved when we recognize their own personal preferences. The book, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list continuously since August of 2009, proposes the following five love languages:

#1 – Gift Giving

#2 – Quality Time

#3 – Words of Affirmation

#4 – Acts of Service

#5 – Physical Touch

I propose a 6th Love Language. It is without a doubt my primary love language. It is FOOD!

As long as I can remember, making food and sharing it with others has been one of my greatest joys in life. When I was about ten years old I dug out the family copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook and made dinner for my Mom and Dad one night all by myself. I still remember what I made: lemon chicken, orange carrots, and au gratin potatoes. My Mom still has the menu I drew up for the event, complete with the recipe for a Brandy Alexander. What can I say? There’s always been a little chef inside me even if I didn’t choose to pursue cooking as a profession.

Through the years many friends and family members have enjoyed my handiwork and often asked, “Why don’t you open your own restaurant?” The answer is always the same…

BECAUSE I’M NOT INSANE!

I’ve thought about opening up my own place a few times through the years. In fact, just the other day I was telling one of my mangers that I was seriously interested in buying the old Casey’s in New Buffalo a number of years back when it was up for grabs. I even had an investor more than ready to jump on board. I just didn’t want to go down that path. Then sure enough, just this week, another iconic New Buffalo restaurant went on the market. It’s like I’m being haunted by the chef ghosts just as Halloween approaches, but my answer is still the same: Mostly No…

The reason I love cooking so much and the reason the things that I make for my loved ones taste so good is because I don’t HAVE to do it. I WANT to do it, and it is in the wanting to do it that I can infuse everything I make with a little extra love!

I’ve noticed that recently I’ve been enjoying cooking even more. Perhaps the most I’ve ever enjoyed cooking. It doesn’t hurt matters that fall is the best cooking season of the year AND that I have a very appreciative wife at home who is all too willing to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my cooking efforts. As much as I like eating out, my theory is that I can usually do it just as good at home at less than half the price. At the risk of sounding a bit immodest, my homemade versions are usually even better.

This weekend we’ve already had homemade mac and cheese, homemade BBQ chicken, and homemade blueberry pancakes. Tonight I’m making a madeira wine braised pot roast with mashed potatoes and roasted acorn squash. Sometimes people say to my wife Christiana that she is the luckiest lady in the world that she gets so spoiled with my good food all the time. My answer to that is that I am the luckiest guy in the world! For God’s sake, she’s carrying my daughter inside her! I’ve been waiting my whole life to be a daddy and I could never cook enough food to repay her for that gift. And just like that it dawned on me why I’m enjoying cooking more than I ever have before. It’s because I’m already cooking for three!

Each time Christiana sits down and eats the food that I have prepared with love, she can feel our little daughter doing what she calls “a little happy dance” in her belly. How lucky am I? I’m already getting to enjoy showing our little girl how much I love her in the way I most enjoy showing love: through food!

According to Chapman, cooking for your partner and friends would be classified under the category Acts of Service. I’ve spent the majority of my life working in the service industry and trust me, there’s nothing that gives me more pleasure from a work standpoint than providing great service. When it comes to making food for my wife and my daughter it goes way beyond acts of service though. Making and sharing food is a celebration of life that has been handed down from generation to generation through all of time.

Last year my mom gave me the pot that my dad’s mom used to use to make pot roast when my dad was growing up. It’s an old pewter sauce pan. It’s nothing fancy, but to think that it has been around for almost 100 years makes it extra special. The chuck roast I bought today wouldn’t fit in the little pan, but I decided I would use it to make the pan gravy after I pulled the roast out my fancy Le Crueset dutch oven and bring a few other generations of Herberts into the mix on this magical night.

I sure do love carrying on the tradition of showing my love through food. It’s a love language that clearly has been in my family for many generations and I’d love to stick around and tell you a lot more stories, but I’ve gotta run now. It’s almost dinner time and it looks like another happy dance is just around the corner…

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Grandpa’s Vote

Some writers struggle to come up with ideas for things to write about. I’m so grateful to say that I am not currently one of them. I am FULL of ideas. What I’m not so full of is time to write. Now I’m not saying this as some sort of self-declaration of my skill set or as a woe is me complaint about my schedule. I just accept that things are the way that are right now until some publisher sees it fit to offer me plenty of money in advance to develop the projects in my heart and my mind. I have an editor in New York waiting for the next two chapters of my book and here instead I am writing a blog at midnight. What can I say?  I may need to re-prioritize, but since I’m thinking about the big advance, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before it happens! Thoughts become things! I hope that time is shorter rather than longer.

For this week’s entry into the Fatherhood at Fifty sweepstakes I had two very strong ideas pulling at my heart. For those of you who are unaware, one of the typical progressions of a blog post for me is to think of an idea and a title and then sit down and write the actual blog. It truly works for me. The title inspires the content. I realize in journalism school that they teach you to write the article first and then write the headline second. I guess that’s why I didn’t turn out to be a journalist. I can’t follow that program!

So the two titles that were burning a whole in my writer’s purse of pencils this week were:

#1 – Fatherhood at Fifty – Daddy’s Little Girl

A story about how Christiana and I came to know that our first child would be a daughter much as we originally suspected….and how that information filled my heart. Very touching and sure to get a lot of social media play!

#2  – Fatherhood at Fifty – Grandpa’s Vote

A story about how my Mom got a message from my deceased father from the other side of the veil about the gender of our unborn child and how my Dad once again touched our hearts with his powerful spirit. A little risky from a mainstream reader standpoint but really cutting edge and fun.

So how did I decide which story to share? The choice was easy. Given that I will be making this post on the exact 20th anniversary of my Dad’s passing there was only one story that was screaming to be told. My own story can wait. It’s grandpa’s turn to tell his story and oh what a story it is!

As most of you know, we hosted a gender reveal party in our Chicago home this past Sunday. A wonderful group of local family and friends came over to the house and watched football, tossed bean bags, ate chicken wings and waited for the big reveal. As we moved through the day, Christiana and I did our best to speak in gender neutral pronouns and hoped that neither of us would give away the big secret before we intended to give away the big secret.

We had pink and blue soft drinks, pink and blue balloons, pink and blue cup cake toppers. We even had a board where our visitors could place a vote about the gender of our unborn bundle of joy with a pink or blue heart. After much debate and consternation, the final tally on the votes was separated by a just one vote. There was really only one vote that mattered at the end though, and that vote came in the most unique and special way.

As we got closer to our 5:00 pm reveal time the excitement in our little home began to grow with increasing intensity. At 4:00 pm we posted a little tease on Facebook to peak the interest of the many who would follow our live stream. At 4:45 pm we made a last call and told our in person guests “that the polls were closing.” At that point my Mom, who had already cast her own vote with a pink heart told us that she had another vote to cast. She said that the vote was from my Dad who died almost 20 years ago; in fact twenty years ago minus two days. My Dad (via proxy of my Mom) also voted for a girl with a pink heart and my mom told us that she would tell us why and how he had voted that way after the big reveal. Needless to say our curiosities were peaked. I mean we already knew the answer. Now we were intrigued as to how grandma and grandpa knew  the answer also?

So let’s turn the clock back just a bit here. Let’s go back about 85 years into the past for a moment, to the summer of 1932 in Westchester, New York. My father – James Henry Herbert- is a five year old boy and the older brother to his younger fraternal twin siblings Hank and Anne Herbert. Their parents – Jim and Dorothy- are arranging the landscaping at their new home in Pelham, New York at 256 Pelhamdale Drive. Among the plantings they choose is a Sedum Stonecrop – a hearty ground cover succulent that can really survive the test of time.

Many years later on one of our family visits to Pelham in the 1970’s when the Sedum is already nearly 50 years old, my parents take a cutting of the hearty succulent to transplant to our new family home in Farmington Hills, Michigan where it lives on for many years as I grow up and discover my own place in the world. Shorty after I go off to college at the University of Michigan in 1982, my parents make the decision to move to Naperville, Illinois to be closer to my Mom’s family. My parents take a cutting of the Sedum Stonecrop and transplant it to their home in Naperville, Illinois in 1986 where that plant then goes on to live for many years in their backyard. About two or three years ago my Mom gives me a cutting of the Sedum Stonecrop which I put in a pot and split between my Chicago home and my New Buffalo, Michigan cottage. Both cuttings have survived despite a general lack of any special attention and more than a few harsh winters. The will to live of this particular family of Sedum plants seems to be unusually strong.

Despite that fact that this now Octogenarian strain of Sedum plants has been healthy enough to travel across at least a dozen state lines and preserve through countless harsh midwest winters, there is one thing that has never happened. No cutting of the plant has ever bloomed a flower. Not in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Not in Naperville, Illinois. Not in New Buffalo, Michigan. Not in Chicago, Illinois. Not ever. Not once. Not yet, that is until  just a few weeks ago.

The Sedum Stonecrop in my Mom’s backyard has been mostly contained through the years. The one I took to Michigan has offered a few “volunteers” as new off shoots have sprung up around the yard, but in my Mom’s backyard the plant had pretty much held it’s own ground. This spring though a new growth appeared. It appeared at the foot of a tree that my father planted in the backyard of that Naperville home many years ago, long before he was even sick.

My father loved trees. He planted new ones as often and possible and wherever he could.  This new sprouting of the Sedum Stonecrop fought its way through a bunch of other ground cover to survive, much like my father battled through three dances with cancer before finally crossing over in 1997. Like I said, where there is a will….

Just a couple of weeks ago, as Christiana and I were struggling to use non-gender specific pronouns as not to give anything away, my Mom noticed something very special in her Naperville backyard. That tiny little five leaf, half eaten by rabbits, new volunteer of Sedum Stonecrop had done something that none of its elder Sedum family members had ever done in the many years since it had left Pelham, New York. The little Sedum that could had offered a bloom – one solitary pink flower. A vote from the Heavens in the most magical way if you will. In that moment in time my Mom instantly knew what Christiana and I had always know in our hearts….that our little bundle of joy would be a girl. A baby girl who already knew the spirit of her grandfather that she would never meet on this earth in this lifetime. Sometimes only one vote is needed. That vote from the Spirit side is all knowing and decisive; untainted by our human fears and emotions and doubts.

Christiana and I have been hoping for a girl since conception. We of course were delighted with the prospects of being parents to any soul who chose us as parents and of any gender, but let’s just say that the message was strong…

Aquarian or Pisces female. It is in the Divine plan! 

Over the first 21 weeks of our pregnancy we have been subject to all of the emotions and wandering thoughts that are possible to humans no matter how strong their beliefs might be. At first we were certain that we were pregnant and then the first two tests came back negative. We were always certain that our child would be healthy, but still awaited the results of the two rounds of genetic testing in order to take a sigh of relief. Then when we finally knew that we were pregnant with a healthy child, we were certain it would be a girl… until we questioned ourselves before the ultrasound and genetic testing affirmed what our hearts had suspected all along.

In the end….the truth is….all we need to know is always there for us to know. The answers are written down in the most surprising ways. Sometimes they are written in the stars. Sometimes they are written in our hearts. And sometimes they are written in the leaves of a well traveled family of succulents that bridge a connection with its own ancestry both horticultural and human.  If we tune out our fears and listen to the messages written in the in the seeds of nature, we will always know the truth.

Thanks for stopping by again dad. It’s been 20 years and I feel like I’ve never been apart from you at all. I must say I owe that to your spirit more than I owe to to my own faith. I pray that you will watch over your little granddaughter with the same love and attention you have always watched over me with on both sides of the veil. Why should I have any doubts? You’ve already given her flowers. I’m sure there are many more bouquets yet to come…

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Halfway There…

Have I ever mentioned that I plan on living to be at least 100 years old? It’s true. I don’t even really know why I’ve always felt this way, but I’ve actually visualized living well beyond 100. Maybe even until 120! And I’m not talking about hanging on in a nursing home hooked up to oxygen tanks from age 90 sort of living. I’m talking about full on, cognizant, contributing to my family and humanity sort of living.

Here’s some other good news though. I’m not attached to that specific outcome or a number. I just intend to live a full life and I believe that there is so much more “fullness” out there in the my story yet. From a practical standpoint, living to 100 word serve me well since I’m not getting started on this fatherhood thing until my fifties. I guess you could say that if I plan on living to a hundred and I’m becoming a first time father in my early fifties, then the story of this incarnation of my life is about halfway told. I’m comfortable with that. It helps me live in a place of contentment without too much irrational fear. I still have half a life to get a few things figured out!

I even have certain level of expertise in this living to 100 thing going for me on my side. My paternal grandma Dorothy lived to age 97 if I remember correctly. We never really knew if she was older or younger than grandpa so we can’t be sure what her age actually was when she died. At least one and maybe even two of my mom’s grandparents lived to over the age of 100 and that was back in the day when the average life expectancy was more like 40-50 years. There’s a nice lady name Toni who comes to lunch with my friend Merle every couple of months. She’s 104. She’s graceful and sharp as a tack AND she comes straight from the beauty shop before lunch which makes her look not a day over 85! My first wife’s grandfather is still alive at age 110! We believe he may be the oldest living male in the entire United States. If I could figure out how to set those last two up on a date they would have 214 years of stories to share with each other. It’s like I’m surrounded by centenarian role models at every turn!

Speaking about halfway points, Christiana and I just reached one of our own. We just reached the halfway point of our pregnancy. In fact this week is the week of our 20 week ultrasound test, even though it’s actually happening in week 21. Scheduling in real world time must allow for a few variations in time and space.

The halfway point ultrasound will tell us many exciting things about our little bundle of joy. It will tell us about the position of the fetus and how things are going related to average tendencies. We will see a number of images of our little one who at last report was the size of an artichoke. I must admit that news made me feel a little strange about devouring an entire fried roman artichoke last week at dinner at my favorite Italian joint, Il Porcelino, but I got over it. Most importantly, the halfway point ultrasound will tell us the gender of our little bundle of joy, who will then have the distinct privilege of being referred to as our son or daughter instead of our little bundle of joy.  (Wagering tip: do not weight you prognostication on the fact that I mentioned one gender first over the other. At this point all possibilities are still in play equally until we officially reveal on Sunday October 1st…)

To me, the truly interesting thing about reaching the halfway point of things in life is that you have the opportunity to pause and reflect on the transition that is taking place. In one aspect of my life at age 53, I am truly becoming an elder. I lead men’s circles, I travel and speak at conferences, I have a book in progress with an editor in New York City, the motherland of publishing and writing. In another aspect of my life at the halfway point to becoming a father, I am a complete novice. I am full of uncertainty and mystery and even a little fear. I throw myself at the feet of the many mentors I have already had in my life and I welcome in more who can share their wisdom and advice on growing as a parent.

Just last week I wrote a post called Final Lap about how each chapter that closes in our lives allows us to make space for new chapters to open. In essence each Final Lap is the start of a new trip around the track or another lap across the pool if you will. It made me think about how when I’m reading a good page-turner, I don’t want the book to end so I slow down the pace of my reading as I get deeper into the story in order to savor the winding down process and delay the ending. That thought made me think even further and ask myself a hypothetical question….

What if I applied that same logic to the second half of this pregnancy…. and to the second half of my life for that matter? What if I just slowed down the pace a bit and savored a bit more? Wouldn’t that make sense in the grand scheme of things? Isn’t it me who decides whether I want to stop and smell the roses or plow them over with the lawnmower of life? I think sometimes we tell ourselves that some other driving force is in control of our energy and that we are at the mercy of a multitude of external circumstances. I’ve been a slave to that taskmaster of my Universal self for far too many years. So like a referee at a Detroit Lion’s Football game, I’m going to throw a flag on that play, call for a replay and force a 10 second runoff!

For the next 20 weeks I plan on celebrating every moment in the moment without exclusively planning for what has to happen next. Notice I said “not exclusively” instead of not at all. I’m still going to plan. 

More importantly, I think I’ve finally accepted that it’s okay to go about the second half of my life a bit slower. Not because I’m not capable of keeping up the pace, but rather because I no longer want to live at a pace that doesn’t allow for saving time to do nothing once in a while.

Lately I’ve been making a little more time to read. It helps me with my writing. My old paradigm taskmaster mindset would tell me that time spent reading would only cut into my writing time. For the past few months my new paradigm/inner referee has thrown a flag on that mindset. I’ve read and re-read a number of books that have mattered to me and I tend to pull whatever speaks to me the loudest off of the bookshelf when I’m deciding what’s next on the reading list.

A couple of days ago I pulled Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love off of the shelf because it spoke to me the loudest. I can’t decide if it’s a read or a re-read. I would swear that I’d read it before, but it feels so new to me that I’m thinking that I might have only thought that I had read it before. Either way I’m seeing it with a beginner’s mind and it has been powerful and inspiring. I have actually hoped that the book I’m working on has a similar feel to Gilbert’s masterpiece: A series of short stories told from the heart that unveil a transformation of self. I pray to be so blessed with my writing. This morning I ran across this little phrase in pat one from her time in Italy. In speaking to her friend Luca Spaghetti, Liz asks if the Italians have the same trouble as Americans in relaxing and letting go of things. He responds by saying:

“Oh No! We are the Masters of il bel far niente….” 

Translation = the beauty of doing nothing 

Twenty more weeks in one journey. I’m visualizing another 53 years in another journey. That should give me plenty of time to master the art of il bel far niente. My guess is that the secret in that mastery is to stay calm and to not try too hard at the mastery. I remain the eager student….

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Final Lap

There are few things in life that can produce a zen like state of bliss for me as well as swimming. I love the Darth Vader-like echoing sound of my breath while I’m swimming laps or diving down underwater. Ever since I was a child my allure to water has been strong. I’ve always felt more comfortable living close to water than I felt living inland. When I’m on a warm weather vacation I can stay in the pool for hours at a time until my skin shrivels up like a raisin. It won’t surprise even the most amateur astrologer to learn that I am a water sign through and through, born right in the heart of Cancer. I may be crabby at times and I may like my shell, but get me back to water and I am nourished in every way.

Last weekend I took my final outdoor swim of the season at our neighborhood public pool. This summer more than any other in recent past, my time spent at the River Park outdoor pool was special. The thing that made it the most special for me was the fact that my wife Christiana (and our little wonder inside her belly) joined me for the majority of my visits. For the past three summers I have bought the 3-month adult lap swim pass for $40 which allows me access to the adult only swim times. The River Park public pool is typically flooded with droves of families all day long, but at the evening lap swims there are often as few as a half dozen people. Swimming laps on a summer evening has become one of my greatest joys. How lucky am I to have a wonderful Olympic size pool just minutes from my backyard?

This year over an unusually hot 4th of July weekend, I realized I hadn’t been to the pool yet this summer. It was about 5:30 pm on Saturday evening. Christiana and I were deciding what if anything to make of the rest of our night. The combination of the heat and a mid-aternoon nap had both of us feeling sluggish. A lazy night on the couch with a pizza and a movie was starting to look like the most likely plan, but both of us were restless. I looked at Christiana and said, “Would you like to go swimming?”

Her sleepy eyes perked up a bit as she answered, “Maybe? Where would we go swimming?”

I looked up the River Park pool schedule online and sure enough adult lap swim started at 5:45 pm and ran until the pool closed at 7:00 pm. I feverishly packed up our towels and other supplies to save every possible minute of my potential salvation by the water while Christiana bought our lap swim passes over the internet.  By 6:00 pm we were splashing around in wonderfully refreshing cool water! Well I was at least…

Now I’m one of those people who jumps in the pool right away no matter how cold the water is or what the outside air temperature is. Let’s just say Christiana is a bit more of a ease her way into the pool sort of person. I would say she likes to wade her way in. Christiana likes to stick a toe in the water first….and then go one step down on the ladder…. and then get in up to the waist only….and then eventually plunge underwater but only after a good bit of conversation and consternation. On this particular sizzling hot Fourth of July weekend Saturday evening I had enough time to do a number of laps before she was fully into the pool. My mind began to wonder how Christiana would fare on cooler summer evenings.

Fast forward to last weekend’s final lap swim of the season and things looked a bit different than that sizzling Fourth of July weekend evening. The sun sat a good bit lower in the sky, the pool chairs and facilities were a bit more weathered than they were at the start of the season and most importantly it was only about 60 degrees outside. There was a big part of us that considered skipping our last chance of the year, but I really wanted to go so we grabbed our swimming things and a book just in case we wanted to just sit by the pool instead. By 6:00 pm we were at the River Park pool one last time for the season along with one or two other brave souls.

In typical fashion, I walked around to the 9-foot deep end and dove right in. Even by my polar bear standards this water was a bit shocking. A stretch of August nights in the low 50s had dropped the water temperature drastically. I swam my first length and told Christiana that it would get better the more I moved so I kept swimming. For about ten minutes she tried her best to get in the pool but each time she did, she would only get to about her knee caps before she would climb back out shivering. By then I had done about 10 laps and felt pretty good. It was cool but my heart rate was up and I was getting into a groove. I could see her disappointment, not only in potentially missing out on the last swim of the season, but also in succumbing to not getting in the pool because she was too cold. I could see that she was starting to judge herself.

I knew it was a decision that she had to make for herself. She said to me, “What if it’s too cold for the baby and it’s too shocking?” I simply answered her question by saying, “Women have been swimming in cold ocean water in Ireland and other places in the world while pregnant for hundreds of years and that I was sure it would be okay….” I then continued with my laps.

On my next return length I saw that she had grabbed a kick board and was standing on the walk down staircase. I swam by her and smiled. By the time I took my next length and return she was in the pool up to her waist. As I was finishing up what was to be my final lap, I saw that she was heading towards me kicking furiously with the kick board, submerged all the way into the pool. For the next ten minutes we swam side by side and chatted. I swam a slow breast stroke with my head above water and she used the kick board and worked out her legs as she warmed up to the cold water. We did one final length together as the clock ticked its way towards the 7:00 pm closing time on the last day of the 2017 season.

As I climbed out over the edge at the end of our final lap I looked back out across the magnificent Olympic sized pool that has been such a big part of my last few summers. I looked my half full bottle of water and my trusty old goggles and the setting sun over the trees and I wondered. I wondered if I would ever be back here at River Park Pool again?

With our first child on the way and some uncertainty about our living situation there is at least the possibility that this was not just my final lap swim of the season at River Park, but perhaps my last time ever at River Park pool in general. I grabbed my phone and snapped a shot of the moment for my eyes to remember, but in truth it was the picture imprinted on my heart and mind that will forever be the most brilliant.

What I realized in that moment in time at the edge of the River Park pool was that my entire life has been full of so many final laps. It’s when we carry the memories with us but let go of the attachment to the particular circumstances that we truly have the chance to live to the fullest and grow. There will be other pools, other summers, other challenges and other things in life to dive into….either headfirst or by wading in slowly.

As a father I have so many exciting final laps ahead of me yet. Our child’s final lap of only being able to crawl will lead to the first day of walking. Final lap of kindergarten will lead to the first day of 1st grade. Final lap of training wheels will lead to that scary first ever solo journey on a two wheel bicycle. And so on and so on….As with everything in life it’s a matter of which lens you choose to view the situation.

I celebrate each the final laps ahead in my journey with the deep sense of knowing that each one opens up a infinite number of new doors to explore. For all those who have asked me how I intend to manage being in my 60s while my kids are in school I say this:

I’m ready to dive in!

 

 

 

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Fluttering

Flutter (verb)

  1. To flap or wave quickly but irregularly
  2. To flap the wings without flying
  3. To drive into disorder or throw into confusion

There have been times in my life, even recently, where any or all of these definitions of the word flutter have applied.

There have certainly been times where I have done things or external circumstances have occurred that have thrown my life into disorder and confusion. In fact just over the last couple of weeks we faced some degree of uncertainty about our living situation and I was doing a good bit of allowing my energy to flutter into a place of confusion. That all seems to be settling now though as we have a clearer idea of how things look up until our little wonder arrives and for at least a few months after that. The rest of the answers will unfold in due time.

I’ve also been on a bit of a cliff lately, waiting to jump off. Over the past few years I have done so many things that I have never done before. I’ve been preparing the way for the next chapter of the coaching, speaking and teaching branch of my life. Toastmasters, storytelling classes and shows, hosting webinars, speaking at empowerment conferences, moderating men’s circles and working with one-on-one clients and groups have all been very rewarding and have served me well. All the while I’ve felt like I was missing one big piece in the puzzle. A major calling card if you will. The book that has been inside me and has been on again off again for the better part of three years now has been the shadow that has hung over me like a heavy cloak. For the last month or two I’ve been doing a courting dance with a literary agent and editor in New York, but I’ve been hesitant to take the leap of faith and start to dive into the project full tilt. One could say I’m flapping my wings without doing the flying.

My favorite current definition of fluttering though is the one that’s happening inside Christiana’s belly over the last week or so and the other night it happened in a most powerful way!

We have chosen to work with a wonderful organization called the West Suburban Midwives for the delivery of our baby. It is a team of five partners that have delivered thousands of babies over the last twenty years. What’s extra special is that they are affiliated with West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park and the birthing center (including the option for water birth) is located in the hospital itself. To us it’s the best of both worlds of traditional midwifery and modern medical facilities.

At our very first appointment where we had our early pregnancy evaluation and first ultrasound, the midwife we met with was going over some of the things we will be experiencing during our 40 week journey to parenthood. It was then that I first heard the word fluttering used in the context of our future child’s first movement. The midwife we were meeting with, who was named Tara, had recently had her own baby and told us that sometime around week 15 or 16 Christiana might start to feel some movement inside her uterus. It wouldn’t be pushing or kicking at first it would be more like fluttering.

We’ve also been watching the weekly video series called “What to Expect when You’re Expecting”. Each week we are told what size our baby is compared to a fruit or vegetable. So far our little wonder has been a raspberry, a kumquat, a fig, and an avocado just to name a few delicacies. Each week we also see a artist’s rendering of what the fetus might look like as it goes through the various stages of development. Our host in the video is author Heidi Murkoff and a few weeks ago she pointed out the development of the beginnings of the arms and noted that out at some point around week 16 the arms would start to flutter.

Sure enough, last week after her massage Christiana said that after lying on her side for an hour while awake during her massage she got her first ever sense of movement and that it totally felt exactly like fluttering. How exciting!

Then again on Friday night while we were lying in bed it happened in an even more pronounced fashion. Over the years I’ve done a lot of hands-on energy work. I’ve practiced and studied Reiki as well as pranic healing and many people, including Christiana, have said that at times my hands can be like infernos of heat and energy. This past Friday night I was dozing off early while recovering from some oral surgery earlier in the day. Christiana was reading in bed, I had my head resting on her left shoulder and my right hand on her belly over the sheets.

As I drifted into that state halfway between sleep and wake – the state where all the magic happens as I like to call it – I was dreaming of connecting with our little wonder and all of a sudden I awoke to Christiana saying:

“Oh My God what are you doing?!” 

She seemed to be one-third startled, one third laughing, and one third really excited. I was mostly delirious with exhaustion and a good dose of Ibuprofen and steroids to minimize the swelling and inflammation in my mouth.

She proceeded to explain to me that she felt like the baby had come right up to the edge of her lower abdomen as if trying to get to the energy. It was like our little one was flapping or fluttering their way up to Daddy’s hand to send a message back that the energy had been received. I took my hand from outside the cover and placed it directly on Christiana’s bare belly. She asked me if I could feel anything?

While I couldn’t feel any movement with my hand, I could certainly feel it in my heart – and I also felt the few little tears of joy running down my cheek as my head rested on her shoulder and I drifted in and out of peaceful sleep. Why the tears of joy? Because I knew it wouldn’t be long before that flutter would be a kick and that kick would be a cry and that cry would be a real life smile.

I think I’m ready to take that leap off the cliff now. There are more stories to write and tell and plenty of flights that are yet to be taken. Like all great flights though, this one begins with a little flapping of ever-growing wings for all of our family. Even though he or she hasn’t even been born yet, our little wonder has already reminded me of a great lesson in life – all of our future journeys will begin with a little fluttering – in every sense of the word…

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