October 25

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

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On a hot summer day when my twins were only a year and a half old, I decided to make them some cold lunches. Simple enough, right?

Three hours later we walked out of the hospital.

On that sunny day, I made my children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into cute little squares. I sliced banana and put it on the side. It was the perfect meal for growing boys. Feeding them, I couldn’t help feel proud of myself for such a nice meal on such a hot day. As I was busy patting myself on the back, my son began to break out in splotchy red rashes. One trip to the hospital confirmed my worst suspicions. Peanut butter wasn’t a good choice for an afternoon meal ever again, because my child happened to be allergic to it.

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Flash forward two years. Armed with this knowledge and Epi-Pens, we have managed to keep both twins, and their little brother, alive. Peanut butter is barely, if ever, eaten in the home. As our son’s greatest protector, I look over packaging for ingredients to make sure everything he consumes is nut free. That is until a bag of cookies catches my attention at the grocery store.

The cookies were chocolate chip, with peanut butter cups baked into them. I don’t know who is in charge of coming up with crazy cookie ideas, but they need a raise because these were an amazing idea. I couldn’t resist buying a pack and bringing it home. Once you know your child has a peanut allergy, it is relatively easy to shield them from the dangerous little nut.

Let me tell you, for what it’s worth, these cookies were delicious. If they didn’t scar my family, we probably would keep them constantly in stock. Now, I knew there would come a point where my kids would catch me munching cookies and demand some. You don’t live in a house with toddlers without understanding they will always find the cookies.

When the kids came around demanding their fair share, I doled out a couple of cookies to the youngest and to his brother. The youngest we had checked when he turned one if he had an allergy by smearing peanut butter on some bread and putting 911 on speed dial. It wasn’t fair to me that one allergic kid keep his brother’s from missing out on peanut butter. So I gave some regular, non-laden with peanut butter cups, cookies to the son we took to the hospital and some peanut butter goodness cookies to his brothers.

Now, on that fateful day many years ago when we first found out about the allergy, when my son started to break out, I administered allergy meds to both children. They were twins, so I figured better safe than sorry to hit them both with the medicine on the chance they both might be going through an allergic reaction. Then, I ran to the other room to grab my phone so I could call people and get the situation under control. It should also be noted when my twins were babies, they had eczema and not the best skin. They also looked very, very, similar.

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I have always prided myself on being able to tell my sons apart. Even as babies, when they looked almost identical, I could still be counted on to differentiate who was who.

As I looked over at my now four-year old son, I first thought he was rubbing his eye because he was tired. This made me excited. Who doesn’t love an early bedtime?

“You sleepy, Buddy?” I asked, trying to contain my excitement. When he turned towards me, my stomach dropped.

This kid’s normally adorable face had transformed. He looked less like my son and more like Sloth from The Goonies.

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“Shit!”

I scooped him up and brought him to the kitchen.

“Shit. Shit. SHIT!”  I shouted as I grabbed the allergy medicine and motioned to my wife.

She looked at me confused.

“Remember when we found out Killian had the peanut allergy? Remember how it was weird how his allergy tests came back as barely any irritation to peanut butter? Well, I think I had taken the wrong kid to the hospital.” I said, turning our son in her direction.

“Shit!” she said, before grabbing him and coats. As she bundled them up for a hospital trip, I told her to hold on a moment. Pulling my phone out, I snapped a picture of my son’s splotchy mug.

“Seriously?!”

“We just gave him medication, I am sure the doctors will want to see how his reaction looked before that” I defensively said, as I uploaded the photo to social media. As my son went on his way to the hospital, I sat down next to my other two children and stared at my other twin. My phone beeped out an alert for a message. The message from my wife flashed across the screen.

“Don’t ever give me shit about mistaking the twins again.”

 

 

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October 13

Teenage Wasteland

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I took stock of my surroundings. There lie a few crumpled bodies and the wake of weed permeating the air. I couldn’t sleep. While everyone around me was content to get stoned the fuck out, my hunger had always been to fight the nightmares that pervaded my dreams. I was on the up and up. At least, that’s how I referred to the various uppers coursing through my veins. 

When had I opened this beer? It didn’t matter, the cold condensation clung to the can. I took swigs like gulps, before discarding my empty and going in search of another cool brew. It was the night before Thanksgiving and I had no intention of being thankful for anything. 

Most of us would lie to you, telling you we were having the time of our lives. I mean, no responsibilities to go home to. The late nights stretched to early mornings and you would find us, slurring through rap songs and love stories.

It’s hard to understand teenage wasteland, as it stretches its way into young adult addiction. We didn’t know things like addiction or death. Sure, maybe we knew someone older, but it was always six degrees of separation.

I remember hitting my friend in the face. I didn’t want to, he just wouldn’t fucking listen. As he babbled on about invisible monsters and needing to “stay safe”, I hoped a hard hit to the face would bring him crashing to reality. Days strung out on Ambien had gone to his head. The fun was over and the monsters were setting in.

That’s what we were doing, dragging the fun out until it left us broken and alone.

Thanksgiving night, I laid there shaking as I watched the shadows bend menacingly towards me. It had been four or five days of self-prescribing Adderall.

Four or five days. I couldn’t even tell you precisely how long it was. All I remembered was my hands beginning to shake as I tried to bring the cigarette to my mouth. All my focus on smoking my cancer stick, I could hardly hear the words in the background.

Weep for yourself, my man,
You’ll never be what is in your heart
Weep, little lion man,
You’re not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself
Take all the courage you have left
And waste it on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head

Little Lion Man had just hit the radio stations and was quickly making it’s rounds. I hate when the radio stations do that. Playing the same goddamn five songs on loop. As I struggled to bring the cigarette to my lips, the music forced it’s way into my brain.

Twenty minutes later, the song stuck with me as my shaky hands tried to remember how to use a fork. I stabbed at mashed potatoes, hoping some would stick to the fork. People had began to stare at me. I don’t know if they knew. But, if they did, they were nice enough not to sling accusations. Mumbling an apology, I made my way outside. I doubt I could have held the food down anyways. Too many days of chasing beer with liquor and liquor with pills left my motor skills failing. I doubt it would have left my stomach in any better of a position. Outside, I sat, focusing on the cool breeze and another cigarette.

How many pills had I snorted over the past few days? I lost count around the forth or fifth. I remembered one point where I decided to play it “safe” and just ingest the pills. Either way. I was crashing. Half a month’s prescription of ADHD drugs were raging through my systems.

Tremble for yourself, my man,
You know that you have seen this all before
Tremble, little lion man,
You’ll never settle any of your scores
Your grace is wasted in your face,
Your boldness stands alone among the wreck
Now learn from your mother or else spend your days biting your own neck

Concern echoed in voices. Lies fell from my mouth to dissuade further inspection. I ate something bad. I was fighting the flu. Excuses flowed broken from my mouth. I just needed some rest. Some rest would make me better. I am sorry, I just am a bit under the weather. Yeah, a stomach bug is going around where I live.

That night, I lay in a big bed, tossing and turning. It wasn’t my bed. At this point, I hadn’t had my own bed in some months. The monsters began to come out of the shadows, ready to take me into their darkness. I lay, frozen in fear, watching them move in on me.

I wasn’t my friend. Maybe I was worse. The woman laying beside me I dare not wake. If the shadows were trying to destroy me, what would she do?

She had always been good to me, and here I was, sweating and trembling as the walls moved in to get me. She left me a few months later, tired of having to kiss the booze and deceit from my lips. I had crashed everything around me and try as she might, there was a difference between seeing potential and having a person realize their potential. She always chose to see the best in me, even if I never chose to act upon it.

But, on this night, her body lay next to mine. While she dreamed, my eyes darted around the room wondering which corner I might be inevitably dragged to. My body needed sleep, my mind refused to shut off. I lay there, waiting for the darkness to consume me.

The song Little Lion Man peaked in 2010, right when I was crashing.

I was nineteen.

This is a follow up to Teenage Angst.

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October 5

Not Enough.

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Oftentimes, I feel like I’m not doing enough. Enough as a parent. Enough as a writer. Enough as a person in general. I find myself standing on a precipice I created myself, ready to jump, because no matter what I do it never feels enough.

The truth of the matter is I actually do a lot. When I am not busy psyching myself out, you can find me juggling a fifty-hour work week and providing primary care to my children. Four days a week, I am the one getting the boys off to school. I put snacks in their backpacks and kisses on their cheek. We spend fifteen minutes before school playing outside together, before the bus comes and picks them up. I turn my focus to the youngest, setting him up for the day with snacks, shows and affection. We then spend our day together, fighting over how many pieces of chocolate are too many and whether he gets the remote or I do.

I sneak naps here and there, hoping my son is occupied enough with Curious George to not suddenly get curious about the workings of the stove. Or learn how to open the front door and go real life Dora the Exploring. And, I write.

Sometimes it feels like I do a ton writing and no publishing. Last week, I wrote four essays in a half-awake, sleep-deprived fury but never hit publish. Why? Well, I don’t know. Sometimes you go through your newsfeed and see enough sadness, self-doubt and self-criticism, you don’t want to add to it. I am a firm believer in negative energy and try my best not to add to it. Or, like last week, I find myself writing something along the lines of, “Well, it doesn’t matter who you’re voting for because we might as well be choosing between breaking our arms or breaking our legs.” Aside from the sad posts and cynical political points of view, I have been working diligently on a submission I am too nervous to submit. I have been published, and paid, for my writing, yet still get fixated on all the rejections I received along the way.

I suspect a lot of us parents go through the feelings that we simply aren’t doing enough. It’s hard. Cue the child-less person in the random comment section who is sick of the parents going ‘boo hoo’ over how hard it is. But, as much joy as parenting brings, there is no denying it can be a bumpy road. It’s pretty easy to judge parenting when your only claim to nurturing is a cat you only have to feed cans of food to once a day. When I, or any other parent for that matter, feels stretched out and not enough, there is always someone there more than happy to move their dog from the keyboard just to write ‘suck it up’, before not having to worry about bills, the cost of next week’s field trip or the fact their child innocently spilled a gallon of milk trying to display their independence.

Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough. And, in addition to that, after being awake over 24 hours because I choose to keep my kids home as long as possible instead of placing them in daycare, I want to bitch. It isn’t an attack on anyone else and it certainly isn’t a look-at-me-I-have-it-worse-than-you gripe. One thing writing has taught me is to be reflective, not sanctimonious. Whether it’s one child or eight like my friend J decided to do to her vagina, we all made some sort of promise to expend infinite amounts of love and affection on these offspring of ours. Parents of a single child might not understand the difficulties of trying to cattle-wrangle three boys and put their underwear on them the correct way, that doesn’t mean they don’t spend just as much of their day devoted to their child.

You don’t have to be a writer to be understanding, but you do have to be understanding to be a parent. Far too often we aren’t understanding, and it’s sad. We are quick to condemn the parents of the child who has his shirt on inside out, without understanding how proud that child was to put his shirt on all by himself. He will learn to put it on right side out, but I dare not take his pride from him in this moment. Besides, by wearing it inside out, he gets another wear out of it. It’s like two wears for the price of one. And I think it’s trendy.

I try to offer a unique insight into my life, whether it be my child deciding the best seat in the house is in my pulled down pants while I use the porcelain or if it is the days I drag my tired butt to the coffee machine so I can get the kids off to school. I once posted a photo of my children crying at Easter with the caption “Happy Easter from the Underwood family.” I, along with a few hundred folks found the photo to be cute. Another person shared it with the comment “I hope when this guy gets put in a retirement home, his children take a photo of him crying.”  while insinuating the photo be a form of abuse that would require my children to seek out therapy. I am twenty-five, should I just start looking at my own retirement plan to keep on the safe side?

These types of comments don’t phase me. I see them regularly enough. Someone will always be critical of you as a parent and I have decided to raise my children very publicly. It comes with the territory. But fuck, when they said it takes a village to raise a child, I didn’t know they would allow the village idiots to participate in the child-rearing.

I don’t feel like I have enough of me to give some days. I curse the minuscule twenty-four hours I have in a day to work and then care for my kids. Writing is a luxury to my sanity in times like these. My page, an oasis in the busy day to day, keeping me sane. When I feel not enough, I turn to here. Regardless of the occasional certified keyboard warriors, these are my people. You, if you’ve read this far, are my people.

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