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
It’s been a while since I’ve heard a love song that felt as powerful as Father John Misty’s “When You Are Smiling and Astride Me”. It’s everything a love song should be, passionate, sensual, awkward, and real. Happy Valentine’s Day you crazy kids.
P.S.: If your interested in the lyrics ai will post them below so you cansingg this little jam to your S.O.
There’s no need to fear me
Darling, I love you as you are when you’re alone
I’ll never try to change you
As if I could, and if I were to, what’s the part that I’d miss most?
When you’re smiling and astride me
I can hardly believe I’ve found you and I’m terrified by that
I’ve got nothing to hide from you
Kissing my brother in my dreams or finding God knows in my dreams
You see me as I am, it’s true
Aimless, fake drifter, and the horny manchild models for to boot
That’s how you live free
Truly see and be seen
A couple of years ago my wife had dragged me to one of her biannual trips to a Catholic Church. This is not the sort of thing I look forward to doing because I’m not a fan of the way that some in the church choose to demonize gay people. Then there is that little global sex abuse scandal that the church likes to sweep under a rug. However Jess grew up in a household where the church held a central role in her family’s life. Her parents are still very devout Catholics, and so every now and then Jessie feels compelled to go to church because its what her family has always done. So I chose to set politics aside and tag along for the ride, because doing things that you hate is what marriage sometimes is all about.
I found myself sitting in the pew alongside Jess situated somewhere near the back of the church, as a middle aged Mexican gentleman with his Sunday’s best on was reading a bible verse before the entire congregation. The priest, another middle aged Latino male, with a pudgy physic and a slicked back hair-do that made me suspect that he frequented the same barber as I, was sitting to the side of the altar facing 2 alter boys that were seated across from him. Every time I find myself in a church my eyes wander around the ornately decorated room and at some point become fixated at it’s main center piece; the image of an oversize crucifix. This particular church, which is situated in one of the more pleasant neighborhoods in Cicero, had its crucifix with a copper colored molding of Jesus nailed to it. It was raised prominently in all it’s glory up on the ceiling above the altar for all to see. A crown of thorn adorned the top of Jesus head. There was a faint look of longing on his mostly relaxed face. I find it so strange that for us (I was born into a Roman Catholic family too) that the most powerful symbolic image our religion is that of a 1st Century torture device used to execute prisoners and enemies of the Roman empire. I often ask myself if any of the other great religions feature such somber imagery, and perhaps in a sign of my ignorance, none ever really come to mind. I half jokingly wondering what would have happened if Jesus had been executed during the French Revolution or in Jim Crow era Alabama. Would we have the a small guillotine hanging on our chains, or would we all be staring up at the image of Jesus in a chain gang prison garb, strapped to an electric chair?
After brushing away my silly musings I allowed my eyes to take in the rest of the congregation. They are made up of a mixture of bored young Mexican couples with their figgity children, and older, silver haired Latinos with slightly bent backs, and life worn weary faces; who I imagine have been coming to mass every Sunday since they were children. It only takes me a moment to see that there is a contrast between the two prevailing age groups that makes up this congregation; and I’m not talking about the obvious age gap that exist between the two groups. The older followers are mostly there unaccompanied. Many of them don’t appear to me that they are following along with middle aged gentleman that has sought out the honor to assist the priest in giving today’s homily. Instead many of the older folks appear to be facing down, eyes closed, muttering private prayers that nobody can hear. I imagine many of them, especially the women are holding a rosary, but I can’t really tell. These folks are devout believers. They are here to plead with God to answer their prayers. Some are obviously asking for good health and a positive break in their financial situation, others probably are asking for guidance and forgiveness. But no matter what these folks are muttering, I get the sense that they have faith that someone is up there listening to their prayer. On the other hand I don’t get that same sense from the younger crowd.
I notice a young couple sitting about two pews ahead of where Jess and I are sited. They have two young children with them. One of the kids, a boy, no older than one years old, is in his mothers arms, trying to squirm his way out of her grasp. A young girl,around 4 years old, is seated closely alongside her mother. The stringy little girl with long brown hair that is tied in a ponytail, is better behaved than her baby brother; however every few minutes the little girl still finds a need to tap her mother in the arm to get her undivided attention, and then whisper something into her ear.
The young mother, a twenty something Mexican woman, with long brown hair that clearly illustrates whose hair the daughter inherited, is sitting there holding the energetic baby close to her breast. I can’t help but give the young mother some credit, because although I can’t quite see her face yet, her overall body language doesn’t show a hint of frustration, despite the fact that her attention is seemingly being pulled in different direction by her children. Eventually I get a good look at the profile of her face when she turned to look over at her husband, or at least that’s who I figured he was, who was sitting at the same pew, but about 3 to 4 spots to her right. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had witnessed the little girl slide across the pew to whisper in his ears on several occasions, I wouldn’t have known that he was with them at all. I notice that the mother appears to be very tired. She had darks spots under her eyes that robbed her face of its youth. Her skin tone was a light colored caramel, which made me wonder if somewhere in her bloodline there was a Conquistador that forced himself upon an Aztec ancestor.
I never observed any other types of emotions coming from the young mother. She didn’t seem angry, she never flashed a smile, not a hint of frustration. All there was to see was a weary, joylessness on her face that seemed almost permanent. She looked over to at her husband multiple times as if looking for something, perhaps an acknowledgment from him. But for as long as I was there, I never saw her get one. He just sat there looking at something in his lap, perhaps a cell phone, or looked around aimlessly, appearing as if he just wanted to get the mass over with. The same could be said for all the other young folks in church that day. Most, if not all who were below the age of 40, were just going through the motions. We weren’t inspired by the homily, the well wasn’t being replenished of faith. We were in a way doing exactly what we all figured was expected of us, because that’s the way it had always been.
It was then that I realized that I, like the young husband that was sitting before me, hadn’t bothered to acknowledge my own wife. I peeked over to the side to see Jess still sitting there listening to the lecture, looking half bored. I guess she got that feeling that we all get when we sense a pair of eyes are on us because she turned her head towards me. She gives me this have quizzical look and mouthed if I was feeling alright. I give her a quick smile, nodded my head and mouthed back that I was ok. She smiles and sticks her tongue out at me like a naughty 5 year old before rising up on up to her feet, along with the rest of the congregation, as the priest came up to the podium.
That day I found myself in church because I was trying to be a good husband. My wife was there simply because she wanted to be a good daughter. All the young folks attending mass with their young children, were probably there because they wanted to instill in their children the types of traditional values and customs that they themselves had grown up with. And the elders, who had been coming to mass since the light of the sun was dawning on their lives and not setting on it, wanted to be in good graces with God. A god that to them was just one silent prayer away. We were all trying to please someone else in order to feel like we belonged. What each of us wanted to belong too may have differed, but in the end we were all their just trying not to feel alone, just like Christ did while he was up on that cross.
Today I managed to get my wife mad at me at 5:30am, had a rough day at work where I couldn’t focus on the task at hand, managed to get my car stuck in the snow, tried my best and failed at calming my crying baby boy who was not feeling well, while my two dogs that come in at a combined weight of 160lbs hounded me for attention, all while struggling to keep my anxiety at bay. All in all today was not one of my better days. Thankfully music still goes a long way at soothing this anxious beast.
Tonight’s Music to Get Lost In presents: Peter and Kerry “The Shadow”.
Hope you enjoy this track as much as I do.