The other day at work I was having a conversation with my coworkers about 90’s hip-hop. Names like Mobb Deep, M.O.P, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Biggie, Fugees, Big L, Outkast, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, and a dozen more got dropped. We reminisced how we couldn’t go about our business without having our disk-man and a small cd carrying case with our carefully selected assortment of mix-tapes and albums. In those days we lived for music. We laughed about how we could be in the best mood in the world, but if the right track came on, like Pete Roc and Clay Smooth “T.R.O.Y” or Mobb Deep “Shook Ones Pt. 2”, it could have a transformative effect on your mood. Your walk would become a little harder, your face slightly more stoic, and you quietly thought to yourself that you were the baddest man on planet earth and you wish someone would try to bring the ruckus!
Off course music no longer has the same effect on me as it did back then, because naturally I’m older, and have much better understanding of consequences then I did when I was a snot-nosed teen. But every once in a blue moon, I will come across a track, like Childish Gambino’s “Sweatpants” that will cause my shoulder to sway with a little more determination. That will make me put on that “you better not fuck with me” face.” And for like a minute or two I will allow myself to flirt with the idea that I am as indestructible as I was when I was 18 years old and ready to take on the world. That is until my hardcore walk causes my left knee to hurt, and my back stiffens, and my shoulder swaying is reaggravating an old rotator cup injury, and then I remember that I’m too old for all that tough guy shit. But it’s ok, because near the end of “Sweatpants”, the hard edge transitions over into some smooth, sexy funk, and I realize that there is nothing wrong with just grooving to the track like any normal ex-youngster that just wants to find a graceful way to enter middle age.
It was the morning after the election. And like most minorities, young people, or anyone else that wasn’t comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump having the nuclear codes, I woke up that day feeling like if I was in mourning. Trump spent the better part of eighteen months spewing xenophobia, misogyny and being an outright dick to anyone that dared to have an opinion opposite to his, yet America chose him to lead the country into right-leaning direction. As I walked out of my home to make my way to work, the middle class, multi-cultural neighborhood that I live in was quiet, with the only thing stirring being the torrent of dry leaves that danced and swirled through the air by the forceful breeze that shed them off all the surrounding tree branches. So although in my heart it felt to me that I had just phased over into the darkest timeline, the world around me, looked like any other day. The sun rose, the birds sang, people went about their business. Life moved on.
I made my way north up from Berwyn, through the lower-middle-class neighborhoods of Forest Park, and Maywood, until I reached the shopping center sector of Hillside, where I exited the local roads and jumped on the 294 tollway. From there it I traveled about 25 miles north until I reached the Willow exit, where I get reminded daily how folks on the other side of the track live. After going 8 miles due east, I reached the uber-affluent town of Winnetka Illinois. The town itself is sixteen miles north of Downtown Chicago, and according to the 2010 census, is 94% caucasian. The median household income hovers somewhere around the low 200 G’s, and the average median value for homes is a smidge below two million dollars. I believe our current billionaire Governor; Bruce Rauner has a residence in Winnetka, and the house that Kevin, from Home Alone, transformed into a burglar death trap is just down the street from my job.
I parked my car across the street from a large, but aging mansion, that had a small work crew of Polish carpenters working away at improving its weathered facade. I summarized the home dated back to the 1920’s and was about four times the size of the quaint, two bedroom home I owned 32 miles south in Berwyn Illinois. Even in it’s less than pristine condition, this was the kind of house that barely middle-class folks like myself would gladly sacrifice their left testicle for. Its spacious yard and the capacious sunroom covered more ground than I would know what to do with and served to remind me every morning, how unlikely I or anyone I know would ever reach the heights of success necessary to afford such a home.
As I cross the street, heading to the office, I kept my head down, but my mind gazed out into an unfamiliar horizon. My life, one that has only known what is like to survive, instead of thriving, was suddenly presented with a new fear. What would a Donald Trump presidency mean for my family and I, as well as all the other families in this country that are one lost paycheck away from being sent into depths of utter despair? Some would argue that Trump would do precisely what he promised, that he would make America Great Again. But not once did I ever get the sense that he meant that all of America’s citizens would bask in America’s rediscovered glory. No Trump and many of his followers want to bring America back to simpler times. To a time when dirty Commies, radicals, hippies, angry minorities, godless atheist, and bra burning feminist got their just deserts instead of getting a seat at the table. I also wondered what this would mean for my job.
You see ironically I work as a Housing Intake Specialist for a nonprofit organization that protects tenant rights, tries to help families save their homes from foreclosure, as well as fight all housing-related discrimination. So in laymen terms, I work for an equal housing organization that promotes inclusion, which so happens to be located in the middle of the most exclusive, and least racially diverse town in probably the entire Chicagoland area. Nearly half of our funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as HUD. And if there are any major cuts in the grants that the organization receives from Hud, not only would we have to drastically scale back on the help we give hundreds of people a year, but it would also mean that I could receive a drastic reduction in pay, or simply be laid off; two prospects that I seriously couldn’t afford.
Two days later, tired of hearing all the pundits talking about what came next for America, and my kind hearted co-workers sense of despair, I took off during my lunch hour, for some much needed alone time. I got into my car, and drove down the affluent streets of Sheridan Road, with its multitude of million dollar homes, to take a breather in the quietest spot in all of the Chicagoland, the beautiful Baha’i Temple, located about 3 miles south in Wilmette. I parked my car and walked up the handicap accessible ramp that led up to the temple gardens. During the spring and summer months the garden is filled with an abundance of vibrant flowers, and beautiful reflective pools, but now that the fall had arrived in earnest, the garden was subdued with the sort of floral arrangements, that would seem appropriate for a funeral.
I made my way around the brown brick path, the sound of flowing water coming from a fountain located somewhere on the grounds could be heard. A single white male, with designer shades and a $75 haircut took several seconds trying to take the perfect selfie. The temple grounds were serene and quiet. From my elevated vantage point, I could see a pair of women jogging together on the quiet street that sat across from the Temple grounds. I could see the lake stretching itself out until it blended with the equally blue horizon. I was standing in a pocket of the universe where no matter what turmoil was affecting the outside world, it seemed that it just couldn’t penetrate the insulating bubble that has protected the well to do people of this town for decades. The good people of these affluent towns, with their generational wealth, didn’t need to concern themselves with the worries of the outside world.
The temple itself is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. It is surrounded by nine fountains, which then lead up to a set of stairs that surround the entire dome complex. At the top of the stairs, there are nine entrances, separated evenly allowing people entry into the temple from virtually all directions. Above the entrance, there are another nine sides, adorned with elaborate designs and elongated windows that stretch upward until you get to the bottom of the dome. The dome itself is round, but have nine protruding concrete slabs that curve near the top giving the structure a look from above of a king kong sized orange squeezer. I made my way into the dome, where about five people were seated quietly, disperse through the room, on faded red chairs. A young black man sat quietly wearing a black turtleneck. He sat there in silence, never once seeming to look in any direction but straight ahead. He also happens to be only the 3rd black face I had seen up in these neck of the woods since I started working up there almost two months ago.
Above each entrance, there are several religious proverbs, written in gold letters. Nearly all of the proverbs were partially obscured from the angle that I was viewing them, due to the way the nine-sided temple is shaped inside. The only one that was fully visible to me said “All the prophets of God proclaim the same faith. But as I stared directly at the dome ceiling, and the interlocking nine circles that made the dome look to me very much like the tunnel of light that people that had suffered near death experiences have described, I felt no divine presence. No sense of inner peace or tranquility. And absolutely no renewal of faith. All that I could feel was the persistent, and overwhelming sense of uncertainty that has been constant since election night. Perhaps, my overly anxious mind is just getting the better of me, as it often does, and all my current worries will be all for not. But unfortunately for me, unlike the residents of Winnetka, and Wilmette, I can’t afford not to worry.
When I wrote my first post, some three years ago, I was at a perplexing point in my life. I was in my mid-thirties, working for a Fortune 500 company, married, and living in a humble little home outside of Chicago. If I were to compare my life, to the usual standards that so many of my family members had set for themselves, I would have considered myself a success. And yet I was not at all happy.
I hated my job, I was afraid of becoming a father, and I was feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities that come with home ownership. Then there where the anxiety attacks. I would get them once, sometimes three times a week. If you have never suffered from an anxiety attack, let me tell you, it is overwhelming and draining. The feeling of my own heart beating so hard that it feels it is desperately trying to break through my ribcage to get itself free, while this overpowering sense of impending doom consumed me, left me feeling both drained and a little crazy.
I knew I had to make some significant changes. I couldn’t stick with the status quo because it apparently wasn’t making me happy. I was going to need to be proactive and do some things that I found intimidating. But I felt I had no choice. Because I was getting too comfortable just always feeling down.
I guess this should be the part of the post where I tell you how I managed to do miraculously a complete 180. Well in some ways I did succeed in turning some aspects of my life around. I went from not being able to picture myself as a father to loving almost every single aspect of fatherhood. My son will soon be two years old. And to my great surprise, I have found that fatherhood suits me. I love spending time with my boy, and playing with him, and making him laugh uncontrollably. My boy is this little adventurer who makes life so much fun and is the most charismatic person I’ve ever known. He fills our life with more joy than I could ever put into words.
I still work at the same crappy place, but after nearly a ten-year hiatus, I went back to school. I am currently halfway through my senior year at Southern New Hampshire University. And if everything goes well, by this time next year I will be working on my MFA. So hopefully, I will be making a living doing something else sooner than later.
My anxiety attacks have decreased significantly. I suffered my last attack a few months ago. I get a bit anxious from time to time, but thankfully I have been able to keep myself from going all freakazoid. The trick is not to fight the anxiety. Now anytime I feel the wave of panic coming, I simply let it wash over me, and pass. I accept it. Because Anxiety is about the realization that we have so little control over things.
So yeah, in many respects, my life had changed a lot since when I first started the blog. And yet I still find myself asking old questions disguised as new ones. Are we financially ready for baby # 2? Will I find a job once I’m done with school? Do I have any idea of what I am doing?
I don’t have any clear answers at the moment, which makes me feels both uneasy and frustrated. It is exhausting to always be worrying about something. Especially things that are in many ways out of my control. And I still find myself asking if there will ever come a day when I can live in the here and now, and not allow myself to worry obsessively about the future. Hopefully, I will get to that point, sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, I plan on reviving my old blog and post here more often. I probably don’t have time to write one to 4 thousand words post, like I did back in the day (I write enough for school), but it may help me work through some self-doubt while honing some of my creative nonfiction skills. Anyway, allow me the opportunity to welcome you back to Lost Around the Block. I hope to be seeing you all more often.
This morning I’m taking my 32 mile trek to work in crappy Chicago winter weather, feeling tense as I pass the scene of one car accident after another, when a song that I had never heard before came through my car speakers. It sounded so smooth and silky, and it harked back to the R&B of the early to mid 60’s. All the tension that I was feeling melted away, and I found myself cruising along the article wasteland as if it was a breezy summer day by the lake. Music simply makes life better.
With the arrival of our first child looming over the horizon, Jess and I found ourselves wondering aloud how our lives would be transformed once we brought Seby home. I will say that there were a lot of naive fantasies being shared between the two of us. I, for example, kept picturing for myself all these images of us having an idyllic family life, not unlike the kinds you see in commercials, where everybody is smiling, sharing lots of laughs, and hugging at all times as if their lives where dependent on it. You can’t blame a cynic for wanting his life to be a bit more picturesque; I just wanted something different that I had experienced as a kid. We foresaw frequent trips to the Brookfield zoo, long walks parading our son and his his two fuzzy sisters, Pixie and Dory, through the neighborhood, and stops at the local ice cream shop for a shared tasty treat or two. We imagined big family gatherings, vacations to Disney World, and birthday parties filled with more presents for our son than we would know what do with. Jess especially enjoyed teasing me with the idea of her Mexican family buying our son a few Tex-Mex cowboy suits, with matching boots and cowboy hat. Naturally, the thought of Seby dressed like a miniature member of a Mexican Banda horrified me. So I would counter her terrifying scenario by painting a picture of her nightmare, which was that of our son wearing some ghetto fab outfit , with matching sideways New York Knicks cap and do-rag. Off course we were both being silly about it. Imagining your life with your unborn kid is one of the few things that is fun when you and your partner are expecting. And yes I know we where being a bit too idealistic for our own good, but we were excited, and we were already madly in love with our unborn child, so we just couldn’t help ourselves. However our excitement was blinding us to the actual realities that came with raising a child, how it would alter the life that we had grown quite accustomed too, and more importantly, how Jess and I would view each other.
Let’s flash forward two two weeks after our son Sebastian was born. My wife and I had brought in Seby for his first initial checkup post his release from the hospital. Jess was holding our son in her arms as we sat patiently in the pediatricians office, waiting for the Doc to make an overdue appearance. Jess took this rare moment of relative downtime to play with our son. She cooed and hugged him and gave him the occasional tender kiss on his chubby cheeks. She was going on and on about how cute she thought Seby was and she repeatedly told him how much she loved him. I sat back quietly and took in the site of their shared interaction. It was a tender moment between mother and son. It was probably the happiest I had seen Jess since she was released from the Hospital a week earlier. Things around the house where different since we brought our little man home, which was something that we had naturally expected; but the reality had turned out different that what I had envisioned. There wasn’t that overwhelming sense of Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy flowing through the house as we had fantasized in conversation. Not that we weren’t overjoyed about having our son home, mind you, but there was a certain level of stress that made it difficult for us to just appreciate the moment for all that it was worth. There was the financial crunch that we were feeling from all the medical bills. Jessies was frustrated over still being limited to what she could do physically as her abdomen healed from the performed C-section. Emotionally, Jess was working through some issues too. She hadn’t quite been herself since getting back home from the hospital. Looking back now I see that there was this underlying sadness that spilled into everything she did during those first few week that Seby was home. And I had failed to see all the signs because I had my head to far up my own ass dealing with my own emotional hangups.
Jess and I heard a gentle knocked before a smiling face peeked through the door. The face belonged to Seby’s Pediatrician, a very pleasant, middle aged Filipino gentleman with a naturally jovial demeanor. He apologized for the unusually long wait while giving us this look that simply said “Oh well, what can you do”. The doc wore a bleach white lab coat with the customary stethoscope that hung loosely around his neck. The darkly tanned gentleman had a not so recently shaved head that kinda reminded me of a fuzzy kiwi. As our baby’s pediatrician went through the usual introductory spiel that I’m sure he gave all his new patient’s parents I couldn’t help but notice that his mannerisms, and manner of speaking, was what I best would describe as slightly effeminate. I suddenly couldn’t help picture John Leguizamo in “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar”.
After exchanging pleasantries with the Doc, he asked us to bring the baby over to the examining table. I stood up and took little Seby from Jesse’s arms and brought our little man over to him. The pediatrician took a quick look at Seby’s face, placed both hands on his own cheeks and said “Well hello my little Gerber baby.” We were all in agreement, Seby is a remarkably cute child. Ever since he was born, it seemed to us, that all that the nurses in the Labor and Delivery ward could do was compliment us on how cute our little runt was. And they weren’t saying it in a patronizing manner either. The compliments always felt genuine and heartfelt. I looked over to Jess and we exchanged smiles.
The doc proceeded to run our son through your typical run of the mill check up. He shone a light in my sons eyes, then he took a peek at both his ears, and then he takes a good listen to little Seby’s lungs with his stethoscope. This is when things took a twist for the odd. The doc says “ lets remove his diaper to check his little parts.” I unstrapped the diaper and remove it off my son, and then, and I shit you not, I see a goofy smile come across the mans face as he looks over to me and proclaims, “Oh my goodness papa, your boy here is very blessed.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little. That was not exactly what I was expecting to hear hear from our pediatrician. The doc then apparently felt the need to direct the complement directly at little Seby, “Why look at you. My little Gerber baby. Arent you a blessed little boy. You will be impressing someone when you are grown up.” I look down at my little naked son who was blissfully unaware that he was, or at least his member was, being complimented so thoroughly. The doc then walk over to the cabinet, pulls out one of those little tape measures that all newborn parents seem to have laying around the house, and proceeded to measure my sons penis. I looked over at Jess again and gave her a half smiling, have confused look that basically was asking if this was all copacetic. Jess smiles and shrugs her shoulders as if to say “don’t ask me.” The doc looks up at me after measuring the family jewels and tells me “He is well above the average Papa, you should be proud.” I nodded yes, but what I was really thinking was why should I feel proud, it wasn’t like it was my Johnson that we were all marveling at here.
Once the doc got tired of praising my sons manhood, he gave me to the ok to put Seby’s clothe back on, and then had me sit down next to the wifey. He wanted to take a moment to see how we were handling having Seby home, and give us a quick run through of what we might come to expect during the coming weeks. He looked over at Jess and in his best, concerned doctor voice, asked her how she was feeling. Jess naturally lied. She told him that she was a little pained, but overall she was in good spirits. I off course was in no place to call her on her bullshit because I hadn’t yet noticed that she wasn’t in a good frame of mind. He flashed another, genuinely friendly, smile and simply said how happy he was to hear it. But he still felt compelled to add “just remember your body went through a lot. Sometimes mom’s get down after pregnancy. Postpartum depression is perfectly normal, so its important that you and Papa here keep an eye out for the signs.”
If Jess had been inclined to be a bit more open about her feeling she might have chosen to use that opportunity to voice how overwhelmed she had been feeling since she had left the hospital. She might have, with tears streaming down from her eyes, confessed how the the 51 hours of delivery and the nearly one week in the hospital had taken a physical toll on her body that no amount of reading material and motherly advice could have prepared her for. It’s funny that I’ve never had to much of a problem getting my friends, and even strangers to open up to me about stuff that they wouldn’t normally talk about with anyone else, and yet with my own wife that had never really come easy. We’ve been together 12 years now and yet there are times that I feel I am totally clueless about what is going on in her head. She will smile and joke, and she can be short and moody, but I find it increasingly difficult to decipher what exactly is driving her moods, because she has never been particularly open about her feeling; not with her family, not her friends, and not even with me. This is partially why I couldn’t read how guilty she was feeling about being unable to get herself to feel utterly happy about giving birth to the perfectly healthy and beautiful baby boy that she was now holding in her arms. So Jess, being her typical self, simply looked at the doc, nodded her head in agreement, returned his friendly smiled, and said simply, “ok”.
I don’t remember the doc asking me how I was feeling. Not that I expected him too. It’s rare when someone actually bothers to asked me about my emotional state, beside the customary, and mostly patronizing, “well how are ya?” But the doc did make a point to bring up the topic of my physical needs, which was not at all expected…but totally appreciated.
The doc dove into the unsuspected sex talk by giving us a bit of marital advice. “Parents often dedicate all their energy on their children, because of course they love them…” , but he delivered that in a way that made me know that a big “but” was going to follow, “but they forget that kids grow up—they leave. And when that’s happened, it will be just you’s two. Then what? You just spent the last 20 years focusing on your kids and now you realize you no longer even know each other.” He paused for a moment, I’m sure for dramatic effect, and he concluded his thought with “So always put each other first.”
That wasn’t exactly the type of counsel that I was expecting to hear from our son’s pediatrician. Because out all the welcomed, and at other times, unwelcomed advice that we got during the 9 months leading to Seby’s birth, not a single one was in regards to how Jess and I were to maintain a healthy, loving relationship post pregnancy. And I gotta admit that up to that moment I hadn’t put any real thought into it, and I highly suspect that Jess hadn’t really either. I’ve thought about it a lot recently, now that Seby is demanding more and more of our time. But our son is such a good, funny, goofy, and oddly patient child that all we want to do is spend every possible minute we can with him; especially since we both have full time jobs and long commutes that eat into our bonding time with our son. So we pretty much have fallen into the trap that the doc warned us about. Seby has become the center of our universe and at times is does feel like we forget that our significant other is also a part of it. In our attempts to become the best parents possible, we have, in a way, regressed at being a good husband and wife.
“Mama”, the doc said while addressing Jess, “We know that YOU are restricted from having sex right now. I’m sure your doctor already told you that”. The doc once again emphasised and stretched out the word “but” in order to hammer the next point home. “Buuuuuuuuut Papa here doesn’t have the same restrictions.” For a split second there I thought the doc was going to be foolish enough to recommend that my wife should allow me to sow my wild oats with another woman while she recovered. Thankfully, for both his sake and mine, his recommendation was much more rational, and a lot less sleazy than my male brain had pictured. “Don’t forget Papa, here. There are things that you can do for him that don’t involve intercourse. ” Once again my male brain jumped the gun and immediately took the doc’s vague, yet purely monogamous suggestion, to mean oral sex. I was immediately sold on the idea.
Things in the coming weeks would get worse for us before they would get better. There would be no oral in my future, which trust me, was a pretty big let down. Jess and I would, increasingly, have a harder time seeing eye to eye; which only served to make Jessie’s postpartum depression gradually grow worse. And finally I would be setting myself for a rather rude awakening on the day that Jessie’s maternity leave ended and it was left to me, and me alone to, to watch over our son.
End of Part I
Next Week: Big Boy’s and Little Joy Part II: Motherhood