Being There

“Um. Yah. It is beautiful. Great for watching the launch.” He looked down at Short Stack as my son careened around in another crazy ellipse. He watched and smiled again in that warm way which always makes a parent proud to see shone on their progeny. “Is this his first launch?”

“First for both of us. It’s a sort of dream come true for him. How about you?” I munched away on our greasy snack while my son managed to stop running just long enough to devour the contents of my potato chip bag while I tried to pay polite attention to our conversation.

“Yah. Same here. I’ve never seen a launch before and well… this one was planned for a long time now.”

It seemed a strange sort of statement. Of course it had been planned for a long time. Even if he was referring only to himself rather than the actual mission, I knew what a hassle it was to get tickets. I tried to figure out a non-questioning sort of response but one that might lead the conversation onward. The way he had worded it made it sound like he might be here with someone else and as I thought about it, I hadn’t seen a single person here alone. Everyone seemed to be either with a group or significant other.

“Oh really? Are you here by your self?”

“Yes…” I could see in his face that there was more to this and that now, he was trying to decide how much he wanted to get into it. My intention was never to pry. My question had been pure chat fodder and now I wondered what I had stumbled into.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that was happening at the space center that evening. We were all there for the same reason. We all had the same love of space and the Shuttle and we all knew it. If you were there, then everyone knew that you were passionate enough about your interest to pay a lot of money and jump through a lot of hoops to get where we all were now. We all had a commonality and somehow, that made this place feel safe. It made people feel more open and, as demonstrated by the public sleepers everywhere you looked, there was a real sense of trust that moved though the grounds that night. We were also all strangers. There was no baggage here. Just kinship.

Making his mind up, he unfurrowed his brow a bit and looked up at the starry sky.

“I’m supposed to be here with my girlfriend, actually. We had this trip planned for a long time now and we were really excited for this moment. She was an airplane pilot and two months ago she… well… her plane crashed and… she died. I decided that she would have wanted me to still go, so, here I am. I’m sort of here for both of us, I guess.”

He looked back down and into my eyes and smiled again weakly.

“Oh… I’m very… sorry for your loss” was all I could pull up. As a rule, I am singularly horrible at handling these sorts of situations. In an emergency, if there’s injury and mayhem, I can do that. I’m your man. But in a situation of emotional damage, I completely derail. It’s like my brain’s transmission simply drops out and leaves me stammering utterly ineffectual placations.

“Thanks. Sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have…”

“No! Not at all!” I groped for words that wouldn’t sound patronizing or hollow. “ I think it’s really… good that you’ve come. It must be a very hard thing to do. I can’t imagine…” I trailed off in hopes of thinking of a supportive statement. “I think you’ve done the right thing.”

We both looked away at the nearby bandstand and sat in attentive silence as the announcer talked to the half unconscious people in the wet grass about what was happening at the launch site and how much more had to be done before the green light was given.

“Well,” he slowly pulled himself up and collected a few belongings. “I hope you and your son enjoy the launch. It’ll be something that he can remember for the rest of his life. It’ll be a precious memory for both of you, I’m sure.”

I looked up and tried to look as positive as I could and begged my brain no to say something stupid. “I hope you enjoy the launch too. It should be a fantastic show.” And with a friendly wave, he moved off into the Rocket Garden, alone. I imagine that he had a lot of thinking to do and I did not envy him those hours and solitude.

With the end of this sobering encounter and our food finally eaten, my reserve tank was starting to hit rock bottom. My skin felt tingly and my mind was as fuzzy as my teeth. Short Stack too seemed to be, if not lethargic, then at least not his usual blur of motion. I pulled out my phone to check the time.

3:17 AM.

Let’s see… That makes it roughly seven hours past bedtime for my little boy. He had held up amazingly well but was still, in my estimation, too young to pull his first all-nighter. We needed sleep, even if only a little bit.

“Ok, Bud. Let’s go see if we can get some rest back at the tent.”

As we walked hand in hand through the mostly slumbering crowd and thick grass, I was sure of at least one thing: The tent had been totally worth it.

Everywhere we looked, the people sitting in chairs or hiding under blankets were covered with a wet dew brought on by Florida humidity and dropping nighttime temperatures. They were not merely damp, but cold as well. Carrying my little boy to the tent opening, I first popped off his soaking sneakers and then fed him into the nylon opening. Doing my best to leave my own footwear within grabbing distance, I crawled in after him, working hard not to push on the tent walls and cause the highly likely collapse brought on by my lack of tent pegs. Mercifully, our trusty stroller, which I had tied off to, held up its end of the bargain and tent. I found a comfortable position to lie in while Short Stack retrieved his toy Space Shuttle and started his own launch sequence on the ThermaRest pad that covered the floor. Outside on the grandstand, the announcer introduced the guest speaker for today’s launch, a past Shuttle astronaut whose name I failed to catch even with the aid of a small wall of amplifiers turned up to ear splitting volume. Briefly, very briefly, I wondered how we would possibly be able to rest at all.

We were fed and dry. My son was safe next to me and couldn’t wander off on his own. With the last of my depleted cognitive ability, I managed to set the alarm on my phone and pull a light blanket over us both.

I must have been asleep in seconds.

Company in Bed

Short Stack is in tough shape at the moment, but on the mend. He’ll be fine thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and unlike parents of just a few decades back, we have no life altering concerns about our son’s current health. He has pneumonia, though not a very severe case. What the illness has done has turned our normally lone wolf-ish, self entertaining kiddo into a baby lemur who just wants you to be with him. Preferably within reach. Very preferably, actually in his tiny grasp.

Last Friday night was not fun for anyone involved. Somehow, and I still don’t know how, Lulu Belle managed to sleep through the entire ordeal of a three year old coughing, vomiting and yelling, “I don’t like this! I don’t like this!” at the top of his lungs.

None of us, naturally, liked this.

sick_kid

It was his first real illness since a bout of croup when he was just a miniature version of himself and thankfully, he doesn’t recall that experience, though we certainly do. After his second round of coughing, then vomiting and then crying, which kicked off the coughing again, things finally settled down and with a freshly made bed and his third set of Pj’s he was succumbing to exhaustion. So were Action Girl and myself. It was three in the morning and we were officially running on our personal reserve batteries. To say that Short Stack was in a fragile state of mind is an epic understatement. Everything was making him cry, which led to the progression of coughing and barfing. We were ready to do what ever made him happy. What he wanted more than anything was not to be alone. Not for one second.

So, with a good deal of leg and arm folding, I managed to fulfill his request and joined him in his bed. His bed, by the way, is built for a toddler and uses a crib mattress.

toddler-bed

Throw in the pile of pillows needed to keep him elevated, a half dozen necessary stuffed animals and a full headboard and footboard and there was not much room left for dad. As I crunched my frame into the corner and he nestled into my arms, I remembered doing just this same thing on the far roomier couch when he was maybe four months old. He had a cold and needed to sleep sitting up so he could breath. It was scarier back then, not only because it was our first time as parents but also because he was so small. I did, however recall having a heck of a lot more leg room. This time, he was bigger, wigglier and due to his low grade fever and fleece pajamas, was like cuddling a coal stove. A wonderful, soft coal stove that you’d die to protect, but a sweat factory, none the less.

As I lay there listening to his breathing get regular and deep, I closed my eyes and was transported to the various times my parents had held me while I stretched out, limp and exhausted after a night of some illness or other and realized now, just how hard it was to live through as the concerned parent. From my memory as the sick child, I also remembered not wanting to be alone either.

My folk’s room wasn’t more than a step away from my own, but when I was sick and didn’t dare move, it seemed like they might as well have been on the moon. I can still pull up the feeling of being alone in the dark while Mom and Dad were just over there, snug in the same big bed, sound asleep. I craved that company and though Mom or Dad would always cuddle with me after stories, my bed was too small for two and not conducive to sleeping with a parent hogging up the majority of the mattress space. As a kid, it always felt like an injustice that I was solo each night while they had each other. No number of plush, foam filled animal friends seemed to fill that void. That and the unmistakable fact that the skeletons in my closet were just waiting for me to nod off before leaping out and devouring me. That most defiantly didn’t help.

One day, in a non-ill state of mind, I hit upon the solution. It was perfect! I could have my own bed AND someone to share it with me. It was fool proof! That night, I brought up the idea to my Father. “What we need,” I said triumphantly, “are bunk beds! That way, you can sleep here with me and we’d each have all the room we need!” To a five year old, this was a breakthrough of logic. Dad was always telling me to stop wiggling when I was supposed to be falling asleep and I always felt crunched between him, the wall and the stuffed animals.

The animals, by the way, were there to keep the skeletons at bay. I figured if magical monsters could get me in the night, then my plush friends might just as logically rise up to be my personal army. That’s why I liked the stuffed seals and the alligator. Those things could BITE!

In the end, I think it worked out for me. I’m still here, aren’t I?

As I recall, Dad mumbled something about Mom being lonely and how that wasn’t fair, but to be honest, it didn’t seem fair the other way either. I thought briefly about a triple bunk but doubted that one could clear the ceiling. Someone was bound to be left alone. I just didn’t see why it had to be me.

I out grew it, naturally, but was glad on the day I no longer slept alone. Granted, the space is nice to have and I do tend to loose the blanket war from time to time, but I do understand where Short Stack is coming from. It’s no fun to be alone in the night, even if Mom and Dad aren’t far away at all. Throw in being sick, and it’s enough to make a three year old cry. Which leads to coughing and other things at times. As I said, he’s on the mend and we’re happy to see him more like him self but he still doesn’t want to be left in his room come lights out time. He remembers having me to cuddle up to that night and he wants it again. I can’t blame him. We’ve talked about how that was a special thing and how it can’t happen every night, and that’s true. It is special. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I didn’t get to sleep much while shoehorned into a bed made for a child and holding on to my little boy, but that’s not the point. I can sleep later. I’m just glad that I had the chance to make him feel safe when everything he thought he understood went out the window.

With two kids, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing this again some day. If either of them comes up with my bunk bed idea, I’m going to have a heck of a time talking my way out of that one.

“But Dad, you can sleep with me in my room and Mom can stay with Lulu Belle! It’s perfect!”

“Ummm, yah. Well… You see, Short Stack…”

Be careful. Baby’s are catching.

A few very short and sleepless nights ago, Lulu Belle entered the world. Action Girl and I have been waiting anxiously for some time for this event and thank goodness, all has gone well. Both Mom and Lulu are in great shape and there were no worrying or unexpected events. The three of us were tired, happy and relaxing in the recovery room the evening after the happy event.

As it happens, a truly improbable number of our couple-friends are expecting babies of their own in the very near future. In total, we know four other couples who will be getting family additions of their own either in the next week or so or some time this summer. One of these friends is almost tied with action girl in respect to due dates. In fact, they were only one day apart. Because Action Girl had a C-section scheduled and since they set those up before your actual due date, she was going to beat our friend by about a week. It would have been fun to be all in the hospital at once, but hey, what were the chances that they would be so close in the first place? It was nice for Action Girl and our friend to be there to commiserate and shop with over the last few months, though.

The night after Lulu was born, our round and expecting friend came in to visit, bringing flowers and a small gift for our new baby. She got to hold Lulu and Action Girl got to tell her all about the experience and generally catch up and be buddies. I mainly sat in the background and nodded a lot. This was girl talk, after all. Our friend’s husband was supposed to come by as well but had begged off at the last moment after he came to the realization that he still had a ton of things to do before their own baby came into the world some time next week or so and he wanted to try to get through as much of it as he could that evening. Though robbed of “guy talk” that evening, I doubt I could have held a coherent conversation any way.

The reason for my more than normal dopiness was that the night before we were due to go to the hospital, Short Stack pulled an epic night of no sleep. After three nights in a row of sleeping right through, he managed to come down with a runny nose and stuffy head. What that meant was that he didn’t really get much sleep. What THAT meant was that I got less. Action Girl was in no condition to leap out of bed and help him, so that in conjunction with just being keyed up in general left me with something like three hours of real, good, deep sleep. Then, we went in the next morning and had a new baby girl by early afternoon which, though I was there mostly for moral support, took it out of me none the less. I was holding up alright but the visit that we were expecting from our very pregnant friend did run longer than I hoped. When the visiting hours expired at eight, the ladies were still yammering away while I was having trouble keeping from elegantly sliding off the chair and on to the inviting floor.

Finally, by twenty past, our friend was putting on her coat and giving out the good bye hugs. The last thing Action Girl said to our friend was that she should go home and just go into labor so they could be at the birthplace together. Our friends words were, (and I quote) “I’ll do my best”.

We turned in for the night and the three of us dropped off fairly quickly. For me, a folding cot, a pillow made from foam and a gauze thin blanket never felt so good. Lulu did have a few moments during the night. She needed a change of diaper once or twice and a new “urp-up” free shirt and pillow case, but nothing too bad. These were taken care of by me since Action Girl was down for the count after major abdominal surgery. Two AM rolls around and to my amazement, Action Girl’s bed starts moving up and down. It elevates, it goes down, changes shape, pauses and then starts squirming like an android caterpillar.

At first I thought she must be leaning against the controls in her sleep. No. She was playing. Then to my added horror, the light over the bed goes on and Action Girl starts asking me if the baby is keeping me up. What I quickly start to realize as she tries to drag me into conversation, is that all the pain killers that she’s on have her WIRED! She’s wide awake, hyper and bored. After about ten minutes of assuring her that Lulu isn’t keeping me up and that “no”, I’m perfectly comfortable, I finally inform her that the major impediment on my way to Sleepyville is in fact, Lulu’s mom. Through the haze of the percocet she slowly and sheepishly turns off the light tries to fiddle with the bed less an not ask me questions about… anything. Somewhere between nurse’s visits, Lulu whining and a woman giving birth in the next room, I manage to pull down… at least another two to three hours. WOOO!

The next morning I go to fill up the largest bowl shaped object I can find with what ever passes for coffee in the waiting room. On my way to scout caffeine possibilities I see a face I didn’t expect. It’s a buddy of mine and you guessed it, the husband of our very pregnant friend from the night before. He looks ALMOST as shell shocked as I do. Apparently, at 1:30 that night, her water broke and off to the Hospital they went. After a long labor, they have their own little boy and are moved into the room next door to ours. More mutual friends of our have come to visit since our happy family additions, one of whom is pregnant as well. We all cautioned her to touch nothing and stay away from the water, lest she join us.

It’s going to be interesting once we get home. No more nurses. No more coffee ready and waiting for me in the lounge. No more free laundry service with an unlimited supply of infant bedding. It’s going to be tough. But that’s okay. Once we’re home, I know that I don’t have to worry about our bed coming to life as Action Girl gets bored at two AM. And Lulu wouldn’t wake me up, right? Right?

Heh. It could happen.

Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague

Last night was one of THOSE nights. The reality of having a baby or toddler is that you don’t get a consistent, good night sleep for… well, I don’t know… It’s been two years now of sleep being interrupted, sometimes several times a night. With Lulu Bell on the way, we know that this is only going to get more entertaining. To this mix, add that I am a far lighter sleeper than Action Girl and as of this writing, far more mobile, seeing how Lulu Belle will be joining us in about three weeks. So the up shot is, I am almost always the one who gets up to attend to the two AM call of our son. When I’m away from my family overnight, it almost kills me because I want to be there with them. On the other hand, during such occasions I sleep like the dead. Sometimes when I know I’ll be alone for a night, the anticipation of a full night’s sleep is almost like the excitement before going on an adventure… but far quieter. My definition of a good time has defiantly changed with age.

All this makes last night far more painful. Last night, Short Stack was sound asleep, yet Action Girl and I were wide awake… for hours… and hours. It was awful. We had initially woken up to deal with our kiddo, who needed a pants change and a fresh bottle, but he was quickly back in bed and playing with candy penguins and dump trucks full of cookies. I actually heard him laugh in his sleep at one point. For various reasons, neither of us could manage to fall back to sleep. It was crazy-making. Action Girl gave up first and moved to the sofa down stairs. I shortly followed and took up residence on the other sofa. As I sat there sipping my warm milk and looking out at the front yard, I remembered the worst… by far, WORST night we had ever had together.

About seven years ago we had been traveling through Europe on the cheap. It’s hard to imagine, but you used to be able to do that. We were traveling cheap partially because funds were limited but also because we were with with my best friend and “brother”, The Doctor. The Doctor is a year younger than I and we have been best friends since we met in a combined 3rd/4th grade class room back during the Velour Shirt Age. We are both only children and we have always referred to our selves as brothers. He has always been part of my life. I can always count on him. He has a heart the size of the moon, an intellect that astounds me on an regular basis and he can be unbelievably cheap at times.

We had traveled together, the three of us, for about two weeks. We had been having a great time and seen a lot. Mostly we had stayed in youth hostels and for those who have never tried this, they they can often be pretty awful. The noise, the crummy beds, the drunk fifteen year olds. Ahh, good times. We had endured quite a few of this sort of establishment when by accident, we happened across the best B&B ever in Oberammergau, Germany. It’s called der Gasthaus Rose. It’s been tarted up a bit since we were there, but even then, it was like an oasis of civilized living, and back then, very inexpensive to boot! After all the fun and excitement of hosteling, this place was heaven. We were going to spend one night. We spent three.

The travel plans were to go from Oberammergau to Munich and from there to Prague. The Doctor was getting impatient sitting in a sleepy, little alpine village and wanted to get on the trail again. We elected for just one more night of down duvets and pastoral serenity. His offer was to head out a day ahead of us and secure lodging for the three of us in Prague. We’d get one more night in Oberammergau and he’d greet up at the train station when we arived. His insistence was he would take the night train and thus, not miss out on a day of exploration that would other wise be lost in travel. We would take the same train the next day. We agreed and he pushed off, traveling pack attached to his back like a giant nylon tick. The two of us walked into the town, spent too much money on a wonderful day and shuffled off for a happy evening in the shadows if the Alps. We had no idea how much we would be cudgeled by fate the next night. The Ammer river snaked through the village, looking for all the world like it was made of Sapphire Gin and the cow bells could be heard up in the low pastures. It was so beautiful just then. It was going to get ugly tomorrow.

oberammergau_1900.jpg
(Oberammergau in 1900. It isn’t all that different today. Just more tour busses and fewer horses.)

More tomorrow.

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