A Prelude to Genius and a Parenting Lesson

I recall an episode of The Big Theory where genius physicist Sheldon Cooper decides to go through all of his journals from his childhood to see if he already made a Nobel Prize-winning discovery. I have to imagine this is what my mom is going through right now as she cleans out her garage and sorts through the many boxes of stuff and things that were saved from my childhood. Now that I’m a published author, is it possible that at some point in my past I created a work of value? Some piece of home-brewed literature created by a younger more innocent me that hints at the man I’d eventually become?

The answer is, without a doubt, yes! I am proud to present you with two short stories I wrote just days apart in the year 1986. I was 9 years old at the time and clearly I was destined for great things, as evidenced by my literary stylings.

EPSON MFP imageFirst up is Gene and I Discovered Muscle Men – An epic tale of two brothers who travel across the globe to Africa. On the way, they discover a swamp with rubber floating on top of the water. Compelling? Of course it is! Read the full story below or download the PDF to read the actual scanned document.

Gene and I Discovered Muscle Men

On a cold windy day my brother Gene and I went on a journey. We went up and down mountains, through swamps, and through sand storms in the desert. While we were walking on the mountains we saw a big hole filled with water and food.

In the swamps we found rubber on the top of the water, and in the desert we found blue, red, purple, and skin color paint. Once we got to Africa we formed the rubber into little men with big muscles. We painted them with the pink paint. Then we decided to make muscle men part 2. We painted them pink, blue, purple and red.

And that is how we discovered Muscle men part I and part II. THE END

What I find the most compelling about this story is not even the story itself, but my obvious concern for copyright infringement and my foresight to start a publishing company twenty years before I’d publish my first piece of content for public consumption!

musclemenWhen this was written, my step-brother Gene (seven-years older than me) was living with us. We used to ride our bikes up to Independence Mall in Hamilton, NJ to a store called Murphy’s. One day, we came across Muscle Men. They were very inexpensive and apparently I was quite taken with them. Most of them were caucasian flesh-tone but they also came in several bright colors.

EPSON MFP imageThe next story was written just two days later. When you’re on a creative roll, you need to go with it! This story is called The 5 Rich, Talented, and Smart Kids and features the suspense-filled adventures of five best friends as they embark on a mission to get away from their parents to buy castles in Canada and get karate lessons. Read the full story below or download the PDF to read the actual scanned document.

The 5 Rich, Talented, and Smart Kids

One day, 5 kids got mad at their parents. They were Marc S., Mark B., robert R., Cris G., Dylon N. Mark B got his fathers car. Marc S brought food. They went to Canada. Chris said oh No my brother is right behind us. Marc S. got his boozooka. Cris said we blew him to smitherines. Then we stopped at the bank. Dylan N. stole his mothers MAC card. He got 999,999 dollars he split it up with everyone. We stopped at a army store and a music store. At the army store we bought rocket launchers, M-16 Rifles, M-60’s, shotgun, handgun, ninja suits, chinese stars, camoflauge face makeup, grenades, and nunchucks. When we stopped at the music store, we bought lead guitars, bass guitars, tremolo bars, drums, saxophones, and keyboards. We decided to join a band. We made double the money that Dylon got and it was for each of us. We each bought our selves a porsche. When we got to canada we each bought a castle. We had room service for ever. We each got karate lessons. We lived happily ever after with out our parents and made lots more money. THE END

Transformative, no? So apparently, you don’t want to mess with five kids from Jersey who have their sites set on Canada!

A Parenting Lesson
I wanted to share this with you primarily because I thought it was funny. Kind of reminds me of the story of Axe Cop. I imagine we all wrote stuff like this when we were kids, but there’s also a personal lesson to be had. Not necessarily for you, but for me. As a first-time parent, I have to say that I might be a little concerned if my nine-year old was writing things like, “I will kill you!” one day only to follow that up with a detailed description of a million dollar theft and subsequent purchase of very specific weaponry! Not to mention how hurt I’d be if he ever based an entire story around living without his parents. Thinking back, I had a great childhood. There was no shortage of love in my home and all of my needs were met. But in a child’s rebellious mind, parents suck….even when they don’t.

And how about the violence? At the time, I was very much into G.I. Joe and anything related to ninjas and karate. Yes, I glorified violence as a child. But to clarify we’re talking about a child’s interpretation of violence where a bullet to the face is shrugged off because a fist fight just broke out between Scarlet and Lady Jane. My concept of violence at the time was about as innocent as it gets. By today’s standards, a nervous parent might very well subject their child to counseling for writing stories such as these. Did my mom think it was odd? Hell no! She was too busy working her ass off every day to put food on our table and toys under our tree at Christmas.

As a modern parent who can’t help but be affected by the 24-hour news cycle and the constant inundation of bad news and skewed information, this was a bit of a wakeup call for me. While I certainly feel it’s a parents job to observe their children in hopes of identifying areas where we might guide them through life’s journey, I don’t believe in helicopter parenting. And as Mateo gets older, I’m going to keep my early writings in mind as I try to process exactly what’s going on in his little head. I suppose if I were also torturing neighborhood cats and lighting things on fire, my mom might have had something to worry about. But that pre-pubescent “violent” mind eventually evolved into a mostly mentally stable son, husband, and father. I guess the fact that my mom didn’t have the time or luxury of reading too far into her 9-year old’s ramblings worked in her favor. As someone who tends to over-think everything, I can see that this is just on more area where mamma knows best.

Mateo’s Laugh Song

I am fortunate to have some incredibly creative and talented friends. I challenged my buddy Hawkito to see if he could take Mateo’s chipmunk laugh and turn it into a song. Well, he made it happen! So put your dancing shoes on, or whatever it is you crazy kids do these days, and enjoy Mateo’s Laugh Song.

If you enjoy electronic music, support a good friend of mine by buying his album in iTunes!

Download the MP3

A Night with Mateo

Mateo in the mirror

Most evenings, Nicole and I tag-team the nightly Mateo maintenance. But when one of us is out of town, it all falls on one person. This week, that person is me. I’m really not complaining though. OK, that was a lie. I am complaining. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He’s totally the bomb-diggity. But taking care of his little ass (literally) is a lot of flippin’ work! People who act like taking care of babies is all cake and butterflies are just plain crazy. Being a parent is a full-fledged job! Only with this job, the boss is an incredibly demanding 16 lb tyrant who expects you to obey orders, but doesn’t speak a lick of English! You’d think cleaning his butt at 5 am in the bathtub after what I like to call a “shitsplosion” would earn me a promotion or some sort of recognition in this company. But no, all it does is give me a whale-shaped bath tub full of poop water.

Somewhat ironically, if I were reading this blog post a year ago, I would have told myself to “Suck it up champ! No one forced you to have a baby!” My D.I.N.K. quasi-elitest attitude would have blocked any semblance of sympathy for the situation. I still respect that position although I do see things differently now.

So I thought it would be fun for the sake of commiseration or perhaps just a preview of things to come for friends who are about to have kids (‘ahem! Funk!), to review a typical night alone with Mateo.

5:00 pm – I pick Mateo up from Grandma’s (yes we are extremely lucky). We play, read books, roll on the floor, punch the dogs, and then watch a toy train go in circles for a while. Mateo then gets upset because he keeps trying to grab the train and is always a second too late. He decides he’s too cool to sit on daddy’s lap and wants to sit on the floor to get closer to the train. I abide his wishes and despite my hands supporting his sides, he tips forward and does a slow-motion face plant into the plastic train track. A pride injury really. Tears. Elmo to the rescue! Damn it! It’s only 5:15! Where are the dogs?

6:15 pm – Under extreme protest, Mateo hangs out in his crib for a few minutes while I prepare his bath and his bottle. At this point, he’s getting very cranky because he’s sleepy and tired. But the bath ain’t ready until the floating turtle thermometer tells me it’s ready!

6:20 pm – I struggle to remove his onesie. I say struggle because at this point, he’s like one of those water wienies I used to play with as a kid. He twists and turns and I can’t seem to get a good grip. Eventually I manage to pull in his flailing arms and get the thing over his big little head. Of course he hates this so we get a few loud cries. Once nude though, all is right with the world. Armpit raspberries bring raucous laughter and giggles that make me feel like a stand up comedian. I’m killin’ it! That is, until my always present stubble rubs just a little too hard and the laughter morphs into something that sort of resembles a whining cry.

6:25 pm – Like any good stand-up comedian, I quickly recover by acting out Mateo’s favorite super hero movie: The Adventures of Naked Superbaby. The general plot is simple: Mateo fights crime by flying around in the nude and pees on the villains from above. He seems to think it’s funny.

6:27 pm – Naked Superbaby flies into the tub for a well-deserved and relaxing bath. He grabs his “boyhood” with his left hand and splashes me in the eye with the other. He then sees his rubber bath dog and decides, like most things he comes in contact with, it belongs nestled deeply in his mouth. As I try to wash all of the important baby parts, he starts uttering the words, “ma ma ma ma ma” repeatedly in a mocking and menacing tone. Not sure what he’s getting at.

6:30 pm – Mateo let’s me know he’s done with his bath when he thrusts his mid-section up and over the little seat and proceeds to excrete oddly-scented bubbles into the water. Nice.

6:32 pm – Time to dry. I wrap my little bundle of joy into a towel that features a hood in the shape of a lion’s head. The hood thing never quite works out and it just gets in the way. Why the hell do we even have this thing?!?! I then lay him on the padded countertop and dry him off, Spagnuolo-style: I blow dry him. The boy loves it, just like his pop. Hey, you can’t blame a guy for wanting a dry undercarriage.

6:35 pm – Back to the nursery where I slather on gobs of goo that supposedly protect his little buns overnight. One day, I will remind my son how I used to lube him up before bed. I think I’ll save that one for his first girlfriend. Anyway, at this point, he’s like a little greased pig and I need to fasten the diaper. Nicole is the resident greased pig catcher thanks to her Missouri roots but unfortunately, I’m from Trenton, NJ. So I distract my little man with a little talking Master Yoda and finally get the diaper on. I hope it holds.

6:40 pm – Time to eat. I can tell it is time to eat, not only because of the clock on my iPhone, but because of the 7 month old baby screaming in my ear with that perfect pitch that resonates the ear drum just right. I have never heard a banshee’s scream, but I imagine this is pretty close. I quickly grab the kid, the pillow, and the bottle in one (almost smooth) motion and finally, all is quiet.

6:43 pm – He drinks hungrily while I struggle to position a book on top of the pillow. I decide to try to hold the bottle with my left hand and grab the book with my right. When I look back, there is formula up his nose and his lips are smacking together longingly. Oops. A quick re-position and we’re in business. I begin reading a tale from a Disney storybook collection. Unfortunately, the way things are situated, I can barely read the words and there is no way I can flip the page. So I strain to read the same page over, and over, and over. Just to make it more interesting for myself, I try to read it differently each time. Not sure the kid notices. Thankfully, his eyes are getting heavy. I’m in for an easy one tonight!

6:50 pm – When Mateo is at capacity, he generally doesn’t push the nipple out of his mouth. Instead, he leaves it in there so it fills up his little cheek pockets and the formula begins to flow over his lips and down his neck. That’s how I know it’s time to burp. He usually burps fairly quickly without much help. But tonight, he has something special for me: his patented burp/fart/cough maneuver. I was really impressed but also a little baffled at how he pulled it off. My baby is so smart!

6:55 pm – I put him in his little wrap sac thing that makes him look like a starfish. Normally this is pretty uneventful when Nicole does it. But tonight, he’s a squirmy wormy. Finally I get him zipped up and hoist him up to my shoulder. Let the tired crying begin! I hold him for a few minutes patting his back gently. He then proceeds to lovingly smack his head into my face repeatedly. I swear this kid reminds me of Bonk from Bonk’s Revenge (old Turbo Grafx 16 game). After this somewhat painful exchange, I lay my sweet little boy in his crib. He’s still crying a bit but I hear a constant shuffling on the mattress. I can’t see anything (blackout curtains), but I have to imagine he’s doing some sweet 80’s style breakdancing in there. Within a minute he somehow has his head wedged into the corner on the other side of the crib.

7:00 pm – I move him back to the center and begin patting his butt and the farts start rolling out with gusto! From here on out, I’m just pushing buttons and turning knobs. This is the part Nicole usually takes care of while I’m in the kitchen making dinner, and I’m not afraid to admit I’m a little lost. So I flip the boy onto his back thinking the face in the mattress can’t be comfortable. He immediately rolls himself back over onto his belly with an angry grunt. Boy knows what he likes. At this point, I put a reassuring hand on his back because I don’t really know what else to do. And suddenly out of nowhere, silence! I grab the empty bottle and trip over the dog on my way out, but thankfully I made no noise. I close the door behind me and emerge into the world a little shell-shocked. Kind of like when you go to a really scary movie in the afternoon. You come out feeling really weird and surprised to see daylight.

It was a tough battle, but I was victorious. And my hard work will be rewarded with a prompt and punctual 5:30 am wakeup. It could be worse though. At least he is sleeping through the night. And tomorrow, we’ll do it all again.

I am sure all of you experienced parents are nodding your heads and laughing at my parental “noobness”. And those of you who aren’t parents probably gave up on this post 5 paragraphs ago. But I hope it was at least a little entertaining getting a glimpse into what it’s like to take care of Mateo. I never even held a baby before my son so I have nothing to compare this experience to. I make lots of jokes about it, but being a father has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Being a parent is something I don’t take lightly and it was absolutely life-changing, as it should be. But one thing I have learned in my time on this planet (I say this because I plan to visit other planets in other lifetimes), is that the best things in life come from challenges. Quitting my job and starting The Wood Whisperer was risky as hell and incredibly difficult. I was sweating bullets the night I went on one knee in the surf in Carlsbad, Ca and asked Nicole to marry me. And now I am challenged every day to not only care for my son, but to provide him with a framework that allows him the opportunity to become a responsible world citizen and a productive member of society. The rewards for this are substantial! From the little things like his infectious smile to eventually watching him embark on his own path in life as he becomes his own man. Hopefully, for his sake, he’ll be a little less hairy than his dad.

Well, Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there! And Happy Father’s day to me too I suppose. Wow that feels weird to say!

Mateo Week 3

Sorry for the delay on the Mateo update. Truth is, I barely have enough time to sit down and write this because Mateo has been home for over a week now! My how things change when you don’t have a team of nurses helping you care for your child 24/7! While I will certainly talk about the little guy here on my personal blog, this will be the last official update on his NICU progress. So here’s the latest:

Once he started taking full feedings from a bottle at the NICU, it seemed like he was one a runaway train of progress. The NICU doctors and nurses saw his potential and seized every opportunity to challenge him. So within a few days of my Week 2 post, he was already 100% bottle fed and half way out the door. Despite his small size and general noobiness, he was perfectly healthy and the doctors could see no reason to keep him in the hospital any longer.

As it turns out, our little stud was a NICU favorite and several of the nurses clearly felt it was a bittersweet departure. Working in a NICU must be one of the most difficult jobs ever! They work non-stop nursing sick babies back to health and giving premature babies a shot at a normal healthy life. These are amazing people and I put them right up there with teachers and law enforcement on my list of occupations I have the highest respect for.

On Tuesday, Nicole and I were invited to stay at the hospital overnight with Mateo in their “nesting room”. It was a fairly uneventful night, barely sleeping in general and fully waking for feedings every few hours. As any new parent can attest to, every hiccup and gurgle knocks all the sleep right out of you! Finally at around noon on Wednesday, we gently nestled our little boy into the finest infant car seat Consumer Reports recommended we buy. Mateo immediately dozed off and quietly enjoyed the second most significant trip of his life: the journey home.

We were greeted by a teary-eyed grandma Lorna as she took pictures and captured the moment. We put the boy down in his bassinet and so began the first day of the rest of our new lives.

Since his homecoming, he has put on some weight (he’s now 5 lbs 3 oz up from 3 lbs 14 oz at birth) and he is eating like a champ! Breastfeeding is going well and Nicole and I have managed to come up with a time management plan that works. We essentially take overnight “shifts”. This way, we each get a solid 5-6 hrs sleep instead of a series of 2-3 hour naps. Even with this setup, the fatigue can still take over, and that’s when my mom steps in. She is always willing to watch the little dude while Nicole and I recuperate.

The Silver Lining
While we could fill a book with all the negatives that can result from having a preemie (and people have), Nicole and I thought it would be more our style to close this series off with a focus on the positive. This ominous cloud has a silver lining afterall. Here’s why:

Recovery/Transition Time: Having Mateo in the NICU for 2.5 weeks gave Nicole a chance to heal from her surgery. It also gave us time to get used to the idea of being parents. Unlike most new parents, we weren’t immediately challenged with diaper changes, feedings, and sleepless nights while still being shell-shocked from the birthing experience. By the time the boy came home, we were well-rested and physically and mentally ready for the challenges ahead.

A Well-Deserved Break: Anyone who followed our saga this past year knows that Nicole had an absolutely miserable pregnancy. I think it is safe to say it was the worst 7 months of her life. So getting off two months early was a blessing in disguise. No more nausea and she was able to avoid all of those other late-stage pregnancy woes (stretch marks, hemorrhoids, heartburn, back pain, etc…).

Taking Nothing for Granted: For some people, having babies is as natural as breathing and comes just as easily. But for us, there have been major challenges every step of the way. And every time I think about all that happened and how I could have just as easily lost both Mateo and Nicole, I realize I will never take any of this for granted. When I watch my boy sleep, I don’t see a baby in peaceful slumber. I see a chest rising and falling letting me know he’s still breathing. When he eats, I don’t see a child enjoying a meal. I see him taking in life-giving nutrition and immunological protection from infection. When I change a diaper, I don’t just see cute little poopies. I see signs that my son’s immature digestive tract is functioning properly. And when I see Nicole exhausted and breastfeeding at 4 am, I don’t see a mother doing her duty. I see a strong willful women realizing her maternal potential and enjoying a deep bond with her little boy.

Nicole and I would like to thank all of you for coming with us on our little journey. Your support during this process has been immeasurably inspiring and comforting.