Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Sick Kid

Of all the roles being a dad has forced me into, the one I’ve been least prepared for is “doctor”.

It took three nights of Bennett throwing up before I took him to see a medical professional.  She checked him out, diagnosed it as the flu and sent us home.

It was half an hour later when I remembered that big head injury the boy had suffered the day the vomiting started.  I called the doctor back.  Hmm… could that be a factor?

She told me to rush him to the ER.

The ER doctor wasn’t as concerned about the head injury as she was about how dehydrated my kid was.  She could tell just by looking at him that he was dangerously low on fluids, and sure enough, the blood tests backed her up.  She put him on an IV and told us we’d be staying there overnight.  She couldn’t believe the first doctor hadn’t recognized the symptoms as easily as she did.

I couldn’t believe I let my kid get so dehydrated that he had to spend the night in a hospital.

On the bright side, being in the hospital meant he got unlimited use of two things we usually minimize his exposure to – his pacifier and the iPad.  That kept him happy for an hour or so.

The doctor said Bennett could eat whatever he wanted, and he shouted out, “Peanut butter sandwich!”  I may not have given my kid enough to drink over the last couple of days, but I was going to make sure he got that peanut butter sandwich, pronto.

We were lucky to be in a very well-equipped children’s ward.  They had a big playroom full of toys and books, a life-size firetruck kids could climb in, and outside, there was a full train car sitting on the lawn.  We spent about two minutes in the firetruck before Bennett was put on “contact restrictions”.  That meant he couldn’t leave his room, and everyone who came in had to wear a rubber gown and gloves so they didn’t catch whatever he had.  It was kind of like the third act of E.T., where they terrifyingly tent and sterilize the house, only without a magical alien to calm the crying kid.

I hate hospitals.

Just to rule out a serious head injury, Bennett had a CT scan, which thankfully scared me more than it did him.  That came back negative.  Whew.  Next was an EEG.  By then, he was insisting, “I feel better!”  In other words, “Get me out of this place!”

The EEG technician wanted to get a reading of Bennett’s brain waves while he was asleep.  “Do you have a way to get him to sleep?” she asked.

It’s one of those completely asinine questions a parent secretly craves getting.  “Um, you might try unhooking him from all these terrifying machines, for starters.”  “Yeah, I know the secret to getting two-year-olds to fall asleep, and did I mention I’m the world’s richest billionaire?”  The possibilities for snark were endless.

He did eventually fall asleep.  It turned out the tech only needed about five minutes of sleep readings, after which she stood over him and announced, “He can wake up now.”

Then, before I knew what was going on, she stuck her hands in Bennett’s face and started clapping loudly to wake him up.  To be honest, I think what woke Bennett up was the sound of me screaming at this lady for being such an idiot.

The next morning, Bennett’s fluids were back in the acceptable range, and the doctors told us we could go home.  Bennett couldn’t wait to see his sister – and, more importantly, the train car outside which he’d been able to stare at through his window but not visit.

Just as we were packing up, the doctor returned.  There was something questionable on the EEG, so she decided to keep us another night and do a 24-hour video EEG on the kid.  Forget waterboarding.  Try telling a two-year-old that the tiny box he’s confined to will be his home one more day, during which time a rotating group of strangers will continue poking painful holes in him.

“Remember that hat you wore with the wires on it?” I explained.  “Well, you’re getting another one.”

“Go home!” he cried, in the saddest little voice a daddy’s ever heard.  “I’m done!  Go home!”

I assumed the second EEG would be much like the first, but when they need the electrodes to stay on for 24 hours, they use glue.  In order to make the glue dry fast, they blast it with pressurized air from a deafening, rumbling machine.  Over and over, for 45 minutes.

(You’ll notice fewer pictures from this point on.  I took some, but I can’t bear to look at them again.)

Until this point, Bennett had been a super sport about the whole experience.  A few seconds of tears with every blood draw, and that’s it.  But this procedure led to 45 minutes of solid screaming – and who can blame him?  To me, it sounded as if he were saying, “Why, Daddy, why?” on an endless loop.  All I could do was shout over the sound of the air machine to tell him how well he was doing.

When the procedure was done, he was tethered to a machine and couldn’t move more than three feet away from his bed at any time.  It was the least free space he’d had since he was in the surrogate’s womb 2 1/2 years ago.

Drew slept in the hospital the second night, and I went home to stay with Sutton.  As difficult as it was being in the hospital with Bennett, it was much harder being away from him.  That’s when I really began to worry.

Sutton had been in bed for two hours when I heard her screaming over the baby monitor.  I ran in and was overcome by the smell of regurgitated mac & cheese.

“What happened?” she cried.

I checked her crib.  It was everywhere.  On her blanket, her dolls, the mattress.  “You threw up,” I told her.

She stopped crying.  “I threw up.  Like Bennett did?”  A smile broke out on her face.  “I threw up like Bennett did!”  I had never seen her prouder of herself.

I smiled a little bit, too, because if she caught Bennett’s illness, that meant it was unlikely he had a concussion.

“How would you like to drink a big glass of water?” I asked.

The next day, I returned to the hospital so I could be there when Bennett got his electrodes removed.  The EEG specialist looked at me and Drew standing over our son, and her eyes widened.  “Are you two dads?”

It was hard not to wonder where she might be headed with this question.  When people make the case for gay marriage, they always mention how crappily gay couples are treated in hospitals.  “Uh… yeah.”

“Oh my God!” she shouted.  “I can’t believe it!  I need to give y’all a hug!”  She tore off her rubber gown and gloves and did just that.

“You’re the first two dads I’ve ever met!  I’ve only seen them on TV!”

Another nurse told her to get over it, but Drew and I made it clear we enjoyed the attention.  We’re shameless, I tell you.

“I hear people saying bad things about two dads, and it makes me so angry.  Just let everybody do their thing, that’s what I say!  I think it’s terrific!”

Bennett was laughing.  We talk a lot about how cool we are for having two dads in our family, and finally, we had a complete stranger to corroborate it.

Thankfully, the electrodes came off much easier than they went on.  A few minutes later, Bennett’s special hat was gone.

We still had no idea when we were going home.  We had to wait for someone to do a reading of 24 hours of squiggly lines and make sure there was no bad news inside.  Drew went home to see Sutton (whose uncles were taking good care of her – another reminder why we moved back East), and Bennett and I decided to take a nap on the pull-out couch.  I curled up with him under a blanket, and we both fell asleep.

An hour or so later, we were awakened by a knock on the door.  “How would you like to go home?”  The doctor said the EEG looked OK, so we were being discharged.

“Like, we can leave right now?”

“Yup!”

I packed up our stuff in record time.  I wasn’t going to sit around and let the doctors change their minds again.

“Bennett, see that train out the window?  What do you say we go check it out?”

Trains are probably Bennett’s second favorite thing in the world.  His favorite is balloons, but the one balloon he had no interest in was his get well balloon.  He decided he didn’t want to bring it home with him, so we left it behind with all our half-eaten cafeteria food.

Soon, we were outside.  Bennett ran up to the train, only to find the gate was locked.  After all that waiting, the train was just for show.  You weren’t actually allowed to go inside it.

Like I said, I hate hospitals.

A Sneak Preview of Halloween 2012

Sutton has already picked out all our costumes.  Her choices…

Herself... as Sam the Eagle

Me... as Fozzy Bear

Other Daddy... as Janice

... and Bennett... as Miss Poogy

modernfamily-featured

Modern Family Thinks My Family is “Creepy”

I guess there’s one episode of “Modern Family” I won’t be showing my kids after all.

In this week’s episode, Mitchell, Cam, Phil and Claire all got really drunk, and Claire came up with a crazy proposition.  What if she donated an egg, Cam fertilized it and a surrogate carried the baby?  Then her gay brother and his partner could have a child who was related to both of them.  It sounded so beautiful.

It was all very familiar to me, because my partner Drew and I had the exact same idea a few years ago.  We debated it and dismissed it, but then Drew’s sister Susie came to us independently with the same suggestion.  What if she gave us her eggs?  Hmm… what if?

On “Modern Family”, the notion didn’t seem so perfect once everyone had sobered up.  They decided not to go through with it.

As for Drew and me, our twins will be two and a half years old this Friday.  They were conceived using Susie’s eggs and my sperm and were carried by a surrogate.

I always knew the decision Drew and I made (not to mention Susie) wouldn’t be right for everyone.  So why, when it wasn’t right for a group of fake people on a TV show, did it feel like such a punch in the gut?

As the episode, titled “Aunt Mommy”, unfolded, the characters used words like “creepy”, “inbred” and “freak show”.  I turned to Drew and said, “They’re talking about us.”

It’s hard to accept that anyone might judge our family because of the way we created it.  Harder still to see that judgment coming from such a progressive, gay-positive TV show.

And it hurt.

We never get reactions like that when we tell people our story.  It doesn’t matter if they’re close friends or complete strangers.  They always remark about how wonderful it is, how moved they are by Susie’s gift and how lucky they think our kids are.  That’s what they say to our faces, at least.  Who knows how they really feel?

I will say that there was nothing that came up on “Modern Family” that we didn’t ponder ourselves before we decided to have kids in our nontraditional way.  And, given more than 22 minutes to ponder the topic, our soul-searching ran a lot deeper.  We went through all the same emotions and fears – Was this creepy?  Was it fair to Susie?  To Drew?  To the kids?  Drew’s own brother told us that having a baby with Susie’s eggs would be “effed up”.  That alone almost made us reconsider.

We kept talking about it, though.  We wrote Susie a heartfelt letter laying all our feelings bare.  We flew her out to LA to have therapy with us.  We obsessively dissected every angle of the scenario we were creating:

Would Drew feel like less of a dad because we used my sperm and not his?

Would Susie have trouble watching us raise a child she was biologically bonded to?

Would the kids feel that Susie was their mom and Drew their uncle, because that’s what biology seemed to suggest?

How would the world see us?  Would people be uncomfortable with our story or, worse, with our kids?

I wish I could say that talking everything through brought us complete clarity, and that’s why we decided to go ahead and make our babies together.  But that’s not true.  We knew that making a baby this way would be messy, that we were venturing into uncharted territory.  We feared we were doing the wrong thing.

We also thought there would be something very special about our family.  We liked knowing that we could someday tell our kids the unique, incredible story of how they were born.  We imagined how special they’d feel knowing what Aunt Susie had done for them, how wonderful it would be to create life out of such a pure gift of love.

Drew’s brother came around eventually.  Susie convinced us that she was emotionally prepared for what lay ahead.  And in the end, with our families’ support, I guess we rolled the dice.

As a result, there are two tiny human beings who live in my house.  They fight and cry.  They sing songs from their dads’ 80s mixes and songs they’ve made up in their heads.  They pour yogurt in their hair.  They make us laugh.  They cost a fortune.  They’d eat cupcakes 24 hours a day if we let them.  They hug and kiss and say, “I love you.”  They’re ours.

And they wouldn’t be here if not for my love for Drew, and Susie’s love for her brother.

That doesn’t make the doubts go away.  In some ways, it makes them worse.

Every day, I feel guilty that Susie doesn’t get to be our kids’ mommy.  I see bits of her in our children – their features and their personalities – and I feel like she deserves more than our arrangement provides her.  I struggle wondering about the pain she must feel when she says goodbye to them, when Drew and I make different parenting choices than she would and about the tiny sting she must feel when the kids call her “Aunt”.

I feel bad for Drew, too, like I got something that he didn’t get, a bond he might not feel quite as strongly as I do.  I worry that the kids will treat us differently when they’re old enough to understand how they came into the world.  I fear that they’ll view Drew as less of a dad.

I fear for my kids, too.  Have we doomed them to being outsiders, anomalies of nature the world will never fully appreciate or understand?

These aren’t issues we addressed and resolved.  They aren’t emotions that will ever go away.  They’ll be with us forever.  It’s the path we chose, and a bit of ambiguity was part of the deal.

I don’t know how my family will evolve over the next 5 or 10 years or how my kids will feel as they grow up.  But I know they’ll always be loved.  If there’s one thing I can do, it’s to make sure they know that.

… and also, to do my best to educate everyone else.  As long as anyone out there thinks we’re “creepy” or a “freak show”, I need to keep sharing our story.  (Say what you will, but we’re not inbred.  Susie isn’t even my sister-in-law, let alone my sister.  Drew and I aren’t legally married.  Thanks, Prop 8.)

My family may not seem normal to everyone else, but it’s our normal, and if it wasn’t how we were, we wouldn’t be us.  I never have a moment of regret for how our kids came into the world.  I’m grateful for it every day.  We’re not perfect, and at times things still get a little messy, but we’re a family.

I guess, in the end, a post-Modern one.

Meet Sutton’s Dolls

Sutton likes to  name her dolls.  Here are a few of her favorites:

“Sutton”

“Sutton”

“Sutton”

“Sutton”

“Bennett” (because he’s a boy)

“Sutton”

… and the new one.

This time, she let me in on the naming process.

“Daddy, what’s her name?”

“You can name her whatever you want.”

“Daddy, please can you name her?”

“OK.  I think she looks like an Angelica.”

“No.”

“No?  You don’t like that name?”

“No.”

“OK.  How about Sylvia?”

“No.”

“Joann?”

“No.”

“Maxine?”

“No.”

“I’ve got it, Honey.  Why don’t we name her Sutton?”

“Daddy, no!!!”

“What?  Why not?”

I’m Sutton!”

Confessions of a Bad Dad: 10 Reasons We Love McDonald’s

People say the nicest things in my comments section:

“You’re such a great parent!”

“Your kids are so lucky!”

“Will you have babies with me?”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  Just pure, sweet, huggy affection.  When I read my blog comments, I’m filled with warmth, joy and hope for the future.

Then I kick back and go, “Hahaha, suckers!”

The truth is, I have you all fooled.  Sure, I sound like an amazing dad in these blog posts.  But guess who writes these blog posts?  Yup, that’s right…

This guy!  

Well, I gave that guy the day off.  Today you’ll get to meet the other me, the one my kids know very well but the rest of the world rarely gets to see…

Jerry the Bad Dad.

(Cue the sleazy 70s funk music.)

Jerry the Bad Dad doesn’t make “wise choices” for his children.

He doesn’t listen to Dr. Spock or the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Hmph!

Jerry the Bad Dad makes his own rules.  He goes rogue.  He makes mistakes… but not apologies.

Jerry the Bad Dad… you so BAAAAAAD!

Just how bad is Jerry the Bad Dad?  Well, get this:

I take my kids to McDonald’s!

Yes, that place!

(Record scratch, screams of horror and disgust.)

That’s right.  My two-year-olds are no strangers to the sweet, salty seduction of McFood.  I can feel you judging me already, but it’s worse than you think.  We’re regulars there.  We go once a week.  They know us there.

McDonald’s is our Cheers.

If you’re not already rolling over in disgust or calling Child Protective Services on me, then allow me to tell you why.

I have some very BAAAAAAAD reasons!

1. My kids are always the best behaved children there.  You want to feel good about your kids?  Take them to McDonald’s.  Have you seen some of the riff-raff toddling around that joint?  Yeesh, instead of booths, they should have cages.  There’s a reason they don’t give out nunchucks in Happy Meals – those little monsters would use them.

Sure, I’d love to take my kids to The Four Seasons, but there, the clientele tends to frown upon customers screeching out “Movin’ Right Along” at the top of their lungs while shoving Dora fruit snacks up their nose.  At McDonald’s, as long as your little ones aren’t running around knifing cashiers, everyone’s coming up to you for parenting tips.

Winning.

2. The meal comes with its own entertainment.  There’s a reason my diaper bag weighs 200 pounds.  It’s because every time we go out, I bring half the contents of our toy chest in hopes of keeping the kids happy for the duration of dinner.  At McDonald’s, I don’t need any of that stuff, because the kids get a brand new toy with their happy meal.  Yes, it’s always some piece of junk tied into a lame kids’ movie and it breaks as soon as we get home, but so what?  It kept them busy while Daddy ate his McSalad, so it served its purpose.

3. It kills time.  I’m sure I don’t have to explain this one to other stay-home parents, but sometimes the biggest challenge every day is just finding activities to keep the kids occupied.  I’ll come up with a brilliant idea like hide and seek, and they’ll get bored with it in two minutes.  You ever tried playing hide and seek with kids who refuse to hide or seek?  It gets old fast.

That’s why I love eating out.  Dinner at home might take twenty minutes, but a trip to McDonald’s, including putting coats on, loading them in the car, driving there and back, ordering and actually eating the food, can last a blissful hour and a half.  We don’t even go to a McDonald’s with a play area.  If we did that, they might stay all afternoon.

4. The zit-faced 16-year-old slaving over the grill for minimum wage is a better cook than me.  I don’t know his secret, but his Angus Third Pounders are always fried, flipped and oversalted to perfection.  McDonald’s is a welcome break for our whole family – for me not to have to cook… and for the kids not to have to eat my cooking.  So whoever that is in the hairnet behind the electronic order screen, my compliments to you, young chef!  And the red-haired clown out front, too.

5. It’s an excuse for me to eat McDonald’s.  Seriously, have you tried those Angus Third Pounders?  Damn, that’s the sweet stuff!

6. It’s cheap(ish).  Have you been to one of those chain restaurants lately, like Uno’s or T.G.I. Fridays?  These days, they all advertise on their kids menu that they use Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Well, guess what?  I know what Kraft Macaroni & Cheese costs, and it ain’t $6 a serving.  Sure, McDonald’s marks up their prices, too, but at least they don’t shove it in my face and make me feel like a moron.  My whole family of four eats there for under $20, and I don’t end up giving my kids something I could – and do – give them at home for $1.29 a box.

7. It’s low maintenance food.  It’s a tenet of dining out that the price of the food is directly related to how cold it’ll get before the parents get a chance to eat it.  Take your kids to a steakhouse and you’ll spend half an hour carving their filet into pebble-sized portions they’re actually capable of digesting.  Then comes the convincing.  “C’mon, it tastes like a hamburger!”  You know how to solve that problem?  Just get them a damn hamburger in the first place.  Done.

At McDonald’s, the kids recognize everything on the menu, and all of it is bite-sized.  I don’t have to cut, coax or cajole.  All I have to do is open the happy meal box and let them go to town.  I may not get to eat prime rib myself, but at least I’ll enjoy my McChicken before its core temperature registers on the Kelvin scale.

8. They eat a full meal there.  I often wonder why the kids don’t finish the meals I make them at home.  Were they just not hungry?  Or did my turkey meatballs suck?

At McDonald’s, I know they’re eating as much as they want.  They usually finish everything, but if there is food left over, it’s not because they didn’t like it.  Sure, the food is garbage, but honestly…

9. The food’s not much worse than what I serve at home.  I know that what McDonald’s scrapes off the slaughterhouse floor to put in their burgers isn’t exactly Kobe beef, but then again, what’s in those hot dogs I buy at the supermarket?  Are the chicken nuggets we heat in the microwave so much more full of vitamins and minerals than McNuggets?

Fair enough.  When I’m at home, I can at least try to make things nutritious.  Even Jerry the Bad Dad always puts a fruit and a vegetable on the high chair trays, and he does buy organic (well, you know, sometimes maybe he does).  Overall, my kids are better off eating my dinners than a fast food dinner.  But that’s why we don’t eat McDonald’s every day.

Which brings me to my final point…

10. McDonald’s teaches my kids the value of moderation.  It’s not like I tell my kids that McDonald’s is healthy food.  But by limiting the number of times we go there, I’m letting them know it’s a special treat we can’t have too often.  Only by going to McDonald’s can my kids appreciate the value of not going to McDonald’s, which, after all, is what we do most of the time.

They rarely ask for it anymore, and when they do, I just remind them that fast food is OK once in a while, but we can’t eat it every day.  It’s a special treat that we can only have when Daddy says so… just like TV.

Oh yeah, TV.  I know the doctors all say that kids who are exposed to even five minutes of TV before they turn 2 will instantly morph into raging chain-tantruming paste eaters with droopy eyelids, but… well… you see…

Eh, I’ll save that for another post.