Miles High Salute

I complained to my wife about having nothing to write about this month, so she suggested the topic of how much I love her. Ehh… we’ll get to that.

She did earn real MVP honors last week taking care of the kids while I enjoyed a three-night trip to Denver with my two best childhood friends. One of them is a rising star in stand-up comedy and podcasting, so we got to play entourage while he headlined and crushed five sold-out shows.

If it weren’t for the average bedtime of 4 a.m. being six hours later than my ideal, I could get used to this: flight and suite at The Ritz-Carlton covered by my buddy, open tab in the green room, girl from a bachelorette party asking to meet backstage. (She somehow remembered my comedian friend from high school even though he didn’t go to hers, and did not remember me, even though I did. I guess fame by definition makes you more recognizable.)

Oh and breakfast buffet in the United lounge, which I know doesn’t require celebrity status, but I’ve been flying Spirit the last couple of years while prices and my family size inflated. Buying four plane tickets with one click is a breathtaking expense. I don’t understand why Spirit is hated on for nickel-and-diming when they essentially itemize the cost and charge for what you actually use versus charge for everything without asking.

I’ve been dying to weave this tip into a blog post as a courtesy, and here’s my chance: There is no need to pay for assigned seats on Spirit when traveling with children. I’ve rolled the dice like three times and concluded they always will keep at least one adult with the child. They have to put everyone somewhere and should be happy to allocate an adjacent middle seat no one wants.

The only issue would be if all window and aisle seats were pre-purchased, but I just don’t see that happening on a Spirit flight. People go to Wal-Mart to get the job done, not for the shopping experience.


Anyways, I shared a thought with my non-comedian friend while attempting to put on a gold chain with a black turtleneck, my self-proclaimed entourage outfit that was intended to be ironic although no one got the joke. He has two older kids and knowingly agreed with my amateur hour reflection.

I said when you’re away from the kids, all daily tasks demanded by their existence are gone. What you’re left with when thinking about them is the essence of it all, a pure and intense love. With the noise and clutter stripped away, you realize how much you love them. I know the idea of absence making the heart fonder isn’t groundbreaking, but I was almost startled by how I felt.

When I walked in the door after the trip, the 3-year-old gave me a coy grin while keeping a side gaze on the TV. After a few minutes, he launched into a patented nonsensical monologue about garbage trucks punctuated with his patented slow blinks. Then he instructed me to carry him outside so he could deposit a trash bag in the bin.

The 1-year-old came down later from a nap and gave me a surprised and delighted, feces-eating grin that stayed plastered on his rosy post-slumber face for what seemed like a full minute. I caught the tail end of it with this pic but swear it was twice as wide in the beginning.


Of course the honeymoon didn’t last long, as much as we all wish you could bottle euphoric perspective in Denver rather than just the gummies that facilitate it. The little one crapped in the bathtub, which might sound funny if you don’t empathize with the challenges of cleaning all surface area touched by contaminated water: tub including sides, plastic boats with unnecessary crevices and ridges, squeeze toys with tiny holes that create festering, undrainable cesspools inside, an eight-page waterproof but not poop-proof Disney book.

It’s such a shocking power move to defecate in a bathtub. Simply no regard for others. The boys combined have only done it a few times, so my brain didn’t immediately process what happened. For a split second, I was irrationally thinking brownie or cookie. Later I had to clean refried beans out of his bib and definitely thought turd.

Thus my Rocky Mountain high gradually subsided into the normal state of contradictions. I love cuddling poop boy so much but rolled my eyes at the 5-in-the-morning wake-up calls and phantom fever that sent him home from school.

My heart lurches with tenderness every time his brother pronounces a dinosaur name — “Iguanodon” out of his mouth sounds closer to NBA player Bojan Bogdanovic’s last name — yet I don’t have the stamina to play Ross Geller and answer incessant questions about what modern foods various extinct dinosaur species eat. (I at least try to stay consistent with carnivores and herbivores, but from there need to take liberties. Brontosauruses eat oatmeal and velociraptors eat hamburgers, FYI.)

I am so proud of his verbal development and Mandarin vocabulary including words I don’t know, but usually by the end of the day I’m begging him to watch TV and give me some quiet. The bonus of my respite in Denver is seeing the full heart behind this ambivalence with clearer eyes.

Also, there was a hot personal trainer at the Ritz, but she was busy and I love my wife.
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one post per month until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you!

Searching for the Bell

I got a job that feels like home and such a great fit, which I know is not as interesting a story as losing a job. It’s worth sharing though, if only to update the kind folks who helped and offered to help.

How humans before the internet found jobs with anywhere near efficient allocation of talent is beyond me. Gen Z probably feels the same way about dating, so I suppose you don’t know what you don’t know.

We millennials do know though. I remember applying for my first newspaper job out of college by sending my fledgling portfolio in those manila envelopes with a clasp that folds through a hole at the top. I used a paper cutter to splice articles from internships and The Daily Northwestern and photocopied them in black and white onto 8.5×11 paper.

College kids these days wouldn’t know what to do with a Xerox machine. It probably looks to them like a tanning bed for their uncalloused hands. Yes I am fully aware I’ve become the miserly middle-ager in cargo pants shaking his fist at the next generation, but I make no apologies for it because a) cargo pants are just so practical for the rigors of parenthood and b) these kids will never know how easy and hard they have it.

I posted on LinkedIn a few hours after getting laid off and ended up with over 35,000 impressions. Certainly those weren’t all unique or actual reads, but even a fraction would be more productive than posting a résumé on circa 2006.

An old coworker I hadn’t traded even one electronic word with in seven years immediately sent me an opening at his company and offered a referral. A complete stranger at a big tech company reached out to do the same. I had Zooms and calls with friends I hadn’t seen as far back as those manila envelope days 17 years ago.

I interviewed with that first company and felt it was a lock. I got rejected. Fortunately I had another shot the following week at what seemed like a dream gig, thanks to a referral from another former colleague. But I bombed the last part of a poorly designed live test over Zoom, ironic because this was billed as the system design portion of the interview. Lest you suspect sore loser-ship, I crept on LinkedIn to see if anyone has been hired yet. Nope.

Those two rejections hurt, yet it was still all good because before that live test another company had asked me to interview. I considered it a backup at the time, but now I needed to bring the heat. I rocked their SAT-like cognitive assessment, bonded with the hiring manager over studying abroad in Prague, and figured I scored bonus points by scheduling a 12:30 a.m. interview with a team member in India to give her a break from after-dinner meetings with North America.

I got rejected from that one too. This was the nadir for me. I started to wonder if job openings were being flooded with applications due to layoffs, and it might be a while before I land something.

With one wife, two young children and zero home equity, I had just put down a deposit a month earlier to build a beautiful house in a neighborhood we felt lucky to squeeze into given the market. There was still plenty of time to get a job to be able to close the loan, but the thought — along with an email sitting in my inbox from the lender asking for pay stubs — provided some low-grade anxiety background noise.

That night my dad picked up the ultimate pick-me-up, a heavy bucket of KFC, saying he pitied us because I couldn’t get a job and my wife couldn’t get on a plane. (Her seat was given away on an overbooked flight in San Francisco.) He declared every time I got rejected he would bring home a consolation dinner, and next up was Taco Bell.

It felt a bit tone-deaf for motivational support, and plus we’d likely order through the app linked to my credit card. Nonetheless I liked the vibe, and it might have helped limit the wallowing over that surprising third rejection to about 45 minutes.

Then I pumped myself up, and it was game on. Those referrals had inflated my confidence in getting a job easily. I failed at that, and I was floundering as a trophy husband with my Spock-like Great Clips haircut and increasingly vulgar, always rebuffed advances toward my wife between her conference calls.

I hadn’t really started an actual, professional job search. Once I set my OCD mind to something, it’s hard for me to think about anything else. I could be the greatest dad if there were objective metrics to track against.

After ramping to a few dozen applications, I had almost more interviews than I could handle — 10 in play or already offered when it came time to decide. It probably was more tiring than actually working. I prepped comprehensively for every round and channeled all the energy I could through the webcam to mask my introversion.

Every morning I bobbed my head to Eminem’s “Till I Collapse”, an uncanny anthem for the unemployed. My kids, ages 3 and 1, have been conditioned to shake their wrists in an endearing version of rap hands during the haunting instrumental intro.

’Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up
But you got to search within you, and try to find that inner strength
And just pull that *stuff out of you
And get that motivation to not give up, and not be a quitter
No matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse

We never made it to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch. I signed the offer letter two months to the day I got canned. Severance and fully paid COBRA benefits covered the whole family through March, so the timing was perfect. I don’t want to deal with health insurance.

This company I joined, a public benefit corporation, challenges the fee-for-service model that almost by definition screws our health care system. Doctors and hospitals are paid by quantity of treatment, completely divorced from the health of the patient. As one medical resident put it, they get paid more to cut off a person’s foot from diabetes than prevent diabetes.

Chasing big mission statements isn’t as important to me at this point in my life as stability and the opportunity to build my career and craft in Salesforce. I get the whole package in this new position, from a technical architect in house to managing a user base five times my previous org’s.

Plus health care generally is more insulated from recession and interest rates than tech. You never know though. If I need to be on the hunt again, I know I can turn to Marshall Mathers, Yum! Brands, people who help, people who give you a chance, and an obvious reminder… to paraphrase another millennial reference by the name of Chumbawamba, the absolute best part of getting knocked down is getting back up.

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one post per month until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you!

Power of One

My top New Year’s resolution was to stop complaining about kids, which effectively ends this blog. It’s worth the dropoff in content if I can rewire my brain to interpret the daily grind of parenthood as enjoyable, meaningful or at least productive.

I’m doing well with the resolution and might try to keep it forever, but I do have a parting shot. It’s most definitely not a shot at my second son, who is nicer to me than his Oedipus-complex brother. If he were the older one, I would still feel the same way.

Stopping at one child is an extremely underrated option those fortunate enough to conceive should consider. I know that really leans into my Communist Chinese roots, although our balloon-enthusiast frenemies overshot the goal and recently crossed the threshold into population decline.

When I brought up the merits of one-and-done to my Ph.D. entrepreneur friend, he quickly pointed out the human race would die out. It took me a second because I don’t have a doctorate, but yeah that makes sense. To maintain the same population level, everyone would need to replace themselves, i.e. two children per couple.

Otherwise you have a languishing top-heavy age distribution without replenishing the worker-age tax base to support stretching life spans. Well, sucks to be Japan. This isn’t Handmaid’s Tale. You should do what’s best for you and hope the robots figure out the rest.

One kid makes so much sense to me. Most of us parents didn’t have an inexorable urge to give up our pre-family lives. The reason why people are having kids later and later over time is because quality of life without them is increasing over time. Life can be pretty good — with more diverse and arguably unforced sources of fulfillment — when not consumed by raising offspring.

If there weren’t biology-directed boundaries, I suspect many folks wouldn’t get around to having kids until their 40s or 50s. I certainly was never one to leave the bar before last call (or being kicked out).

Ultimately the strongest impetus is fear of regret and ambiguity, not knowing if one day you’ll look around unhappily wondering what it would have been like to have kids. Just one will take care of that for you though. The wonder, conjecture, imagining all goes away. Adding a second child won’t do much more in that category.

I’ve heard no one runs two marathons. You either run one and cross it off the bucket list, or uncover a calling and run a bunch.

Almost all my friends, acquaintances and randoms encountered chose to have exactly two kids. A common answer to whether they want to go for a third is an expletive concatenated with a capital N-O. This is often backed by surgical guarantee on the male.

Riddle me this, if having a third would be so bad, was the second really necessary?

I know I don’t have any real friends because no one cared to warn me how much harder it is with a second child. The closest was my buddy who casually mentioned when we were a month out, “You know the second kid takes it to like level 20 right?”

Cool man, I’m glad you tucked a cautionary note in my luggage before I boarded the Titanic. I heard there might be a global pandemic coming along too, so I’ll be sure to stock up on hand sanitizer.

Especially for an introvert like me who needs to recharge alone, the toughest part about the multi-child life is a lack of recovery and restorative time. One parent can’t go take an effing break. The hamster wheel is always spinning. Sometimes the r.p.m. is insane; most of the time it’s manageable. But the thing just never stops.

Multi-tasking does not suit me well. I get stressed out when two people talk to me at the same time, a favorite pastime of my in-laws. I’ve been told I have the ability to make people feel like they’re the only one in the room (most recently in a video job interview when they were the only one in the virtual room). It’s a great side effect of having a one-track mind.

But the flip side is the inflated discomfort I feel when unable to concentrate or take my time to do something well rather than good enough. That’s what happens with two kids. Instead of focusing on one and trying to ace the test, you just want to survive two and pass the test.

You jump from one thing to the next and a lot more things in your mind while trying to physically finish one. Brushing a squirming child’s teeth while using my leg to barricade the other from suicide divebombing off the bed gets old before the first repetition.

There is always a certain level of anxiety humming in the background. I am acutely aware of this because of the uplifting feeling when the kids are dropped off at school and the absolute dread when they can’t go. Every parent has downplayed or blatantly ignored symptoms to send their child to school because the alternative is just so taxing.

Frisco, Texas somehow had five straight days of school closures this month because of icy weather. Bookended by weekends, that made it 10 days with children ages 3 and 1, which adds up to like six months in perceived time. Looking at the clock every day and trying to burn hours even though those hours were needed for other things was excruciating.

Trading off with one kid would have been a lot more fun for all parties involved. Call me shortsighted when the two are old enough to occupy each other, but there still will be fights and mass destruction to manage. They already can’t be left alone together because of bullying and antagonizing. The honeymoon phase pictured below lasted like two months.
Basically the added cost of a second child is not offset by the diminishing returns. It sounds callous to put it that way, but again, this is no reflection of my second baby. It’s an observation about becoming a parent for the second time.

You can gauge the diminishing returns to some extent by comparing the number of pictures taken of the two kids before age 1. With the second one, I don’t think my wife ever took the n-month picture on time.

The meal preparation. Every bite of food for the first one had to be organic. I fed the second one In-N-Out fries, and he threw up that night.

The childcare. The first one didn’t go to school until one and a half. We dropped the second kid off with defrosted milk at 12 weeks.

TV. We tried to shield the older one from screens as long as possible. The younger one plays in the foreground of Disney Plus movies, and if he wants to pay attention, I consider that efficient supervision.

I cannot emphasize or repeat enough I love them both equally. I’m just trying to point out what appears to be an underutilized life design choice. Having an only child is a way to hedge against the risk of regret without exhausting resources.

You still get the benefits, experiences and boxes checked going from zero to one — while preserving more of that former life. It could be the best of both worlds.

Going from one to two is more uphill in terms of incremental benefits and quality of life versus costs and mental wellness. Everyone would agree there is an ideal number of children for them based on their family and wants, and I would be shocked if there weren’t more true one-and-dones out there rather than arbitrary two-and-throughs.

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one post per month until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you!

Old Man and the Son

There was another marital quarrel — my “enthusiasm” was taken away for the day, as if I haven’t surrendered enough already — and the usual parental malaise. Those are easier to write about than everyday joys, the little highs we’re quick to forget. I’ll try. It’s Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.

For some reason, this silly, mundane four-second high isn’t quick for me to forget. I think about it compulsively, and my eyes got misty the first time I told it to my wife.

I was killing that slow shot clock in the early morning with my 3-year-old on a big-boy playground in L.A. It was a weekday during our trip, so elementary school kids started sprouting out of nowhere before classes started. The place was soon overrun.

Last time we checked, my son was in the 11th percentile for height. So there he was on this sprawling playground, literally a midget, traversing the chaos with tunnel vision while kids double and triple his age raced around him and admirably avoided absolutely steamrolling him.

He looked like Simba in the fateful stampede. I was bracing myself for a Mufasa-like demise as I tailgated him up, down and around the towering main structure modeled after a spaceship theme.

As he climbed a ladder in the middle of it, I called out “To infinity and beyond” in Chinese. That’s our jam. We watch the “Toy Story” movies on Disney+ with Mandarin audio and English subtitles. Every night I recite the first part of Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase and crouch down. My son then hops on my back and says the rest while holding out his arms in wing formation all the way upstairs to bath time.

He jumps off furniture the same way and wears Buzz pajamas and underwear. “Toy Story” was our liberating gateway from mind-numbing YouTube videos of garbage trucks to the mind-blowing creativity of Pixar. “Toy Story 3” also offers Mandarin dubbing on Disney+ and gets the loop treatment in our household.

Chinese is a cacophonous language to most native Western speakers, including me. When my mom and aunt have any conversation, my anxiety spikes because the volume and staccato are so jarring. I was shocked to count the same number of syllables in the translation of “To infinity and beyond” as in English. I swear it sounds like 10 sentences.

So I was blurting this out while my boy climbed the ladder, and he didn’t acknowledge it. I figured maybe he was distracted, or maybe this was one of those milestones. There was always going to be a time when he was too cool for his old man. It seemed premature now, but the thought crossed my mind that surrounded by these big kids, my son didn’t want to respond to some stupid Toy Story line in choppy Chinese from his dad wearing cargo shorts and boat shoes with socks.

It’s OK. I wasn’t mad about it. I could appreciate his social awareness and learning to read the room.

But as my little boy got to the top step, he stretched out his stubby arms like wings and lunged with his chest through them in a grand flying motion before scurrying to the next spot. He hadn’t been ignoring me. He was focused on getting to the top step because that kind of stuff is still hard for him. Because he’s still a baby.

In hindsight, no child can be a) too cool for his old man and b) require his old man to wipe his butt for him so Buzz Lightyear doesn’t get organic comet streaks. They are mutually exclusive conditions.

No child can be too cool for his old man and have to sit on a petite toilet seat placed on top of the regular one, so he doesn’t fall through. Something about the angle of this double-decker setup ensures his poop lands outside the water every time. It makes the bathroom smell like a Stagecoach porta potty in late afternoon.

I can tell when the payload is coming because his facial expressions basically transport me to the journey through his colon. His eyes lock with mine and subtly dart back and forth as if he were just finding out I betrayed him.

His lip comes up in a half-snarl while the rest of his face both freezes and trembles. Most of the time drool drips from his mouth onto his potbelly.

And here’s the kicker: While persevering through this natural phenomenon, my son feels the need to extend his hand to me, his dutiful servant waiting to wipe his little anus in downward dog position. We clasp hands thumb over thumb like Bertier and Julius at the hospital while he continues to push. Left side, strong side.

It’s almost degrading, this grotesque multi-sensory interactive experience forced on me as a member of his support staff. Yet I don’t hate it. There is something sweet and funny about our absurd ritual, his innocence and resulting extreme level of no f’s given.

I think it makes me love him even more. I am thankful that for all my griping and wishing these stages would go by faster… they don’t. And every now and then a bit of nostalgia can set in even before the kids take flight.


Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one post per month until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you!

The Drudgery of a Shocking Parental Contradiction

I’ve noticed a damning indicator of the effect of children on wellness. The parent who spends more time with them in a given time period typically is in the worse mood, while the other one feels more alive but guilty.

When I’m with my kids, I find myself willing the clock to go faster to reach naptime or bedtime or schooltime. When I’m not with them, I want time to slow down and feel intense deadline pressure to enjoy, to get things done, to live. Because when they wake up, my life on a basic level gets worse.

What does this mean? I can’t seem to decipher the contradiction. How can I love my kids more than anything, but hate being with them? There is an Eminem and Rihanna song called “Love the Way You Lie” that hasn’t aged well, but the conflicting supercharged emotions speak to me.

When my kids are at school or asleep, I think of them with such fondness I sometimes need to actively resist the time suck of pulling up cute pictures of them on my phone. I love getting lost in their faces and replaying their voices and giggles in my mind.


Yet almost as soon as we’re together — I mean within minutes — the steep diminishing returns turn negative. I simply don’t need that much time with them. You can eat cheesecake for only so long.

It’s excruciating. The first two-plus hours of the day from around 6 to 8:25, spanning predawn darkness and hot Texas morning sun, feel like I’ve lived an entire life. Think about how slowly even just 60 seconds go by when assembling a three-piece puzzle with an 8-month-old, or hiding under a suffocating bedsheet from imaginary rain with a 3-year-old. It requires so much effort and tedium.

When they finally go to school, I really haven’t done anything I want to do: exercise, eat, sleep, work, crap, shower, brush my teeth, unload the dishwasher. Presumably, none of these things are more important than family time as long as I eventually get to them. But they all feel better to do in the moment rather than be imprisoned by my thoughts while supervising children.

That’s a weakness of mine exposed by parenthood. I do not have serenity. My mind is a circus. My meditation attempts are a joke.

There is a funny experiment that found a significant percentage of folks would rather give themselves mild electric shocks than sit in a room alone with their thoughts. I prefer not to deaden my consciousness with Instagram or TikTok, addictions which likely prey disproportionately on parents bored out of their minds by young offspring.

Then again I often end up repeatedly scrolling ESPN or The New York Times and concede I’m only a slightly better person in that respect. If you check ESPN frequently enough the headlines don’t change, it’s worth asking whether you’re living your best life.

Sometimes I will actually look at pictures of my kids as an escape while they’re right next to me. The implication is the idea of children and what it all means is better than the reality and day-to-day.

Like I said, I can’t figure it out and should probably outsource to experts. My buddy sent me possibly the greatest article I’ve ever read. It should interest any parent or potential parent, in other words every adult on earth.

By the way, I know a ton of people who struggled or are struggling to get pregnant. We’ve had a miscarriage. I recognize hearing me complain about healthy children might be unbearably annoying, so let me just offer two thoughts if you’re still reading: a) Never give up; I believe it will happen for you and b) Try to appreciate the extreme benefits of not having children in the meantime.

I still can’t believe in this Covid-reconfigured workforce, some people can roll out of bed at 8:57 a.m. and not be late for work. They can go to bed at 1 in the morning and still get eight greedy hours of sleep.

Plus when adults with no dependents clock out of work, they can do anything. There are no children to watch, and no tasks created or backlogged on account of the children. I mean, that’s a crazy difference in time, like living an extra 30 percent on top of uninterrupted sleep. The problem is they will never appropriately value the freedom until it’s taken away.

One of the many useful concepts in the article is bifurcating happiness into how you feel in the moment versus how you might feel thinking about your life in a rocking chair with a beer.

“I think this boils down to a philosophical question, rather than a psychological one. Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?”

– Tom Gilovich, Cornell psychologist

It’s a brilliant question. I remember a transcendent potty training episode when bedtime was dragging late, and I was hungry and tired with a million things to do. My son climbed onto the stepstool facing the toilet, pivoted 180 degrees, pissed all over the place like it was a Vegas alley, hopped off and slipped on the urine, hitting his head on the floor and triggering a tantrum.

At that moment, I was near a meltdown. Looking back now, the memory isn’t so bad. And looking back in 15 years when I’m unable to help him with his JavaScript homework, maybe I will be nostalgic for a time when he needed me so dearly.

I’m not sure this amounts to a life of purpose or meaning as referenced in the article. A more cynical view would be kids consume so much of your day, there’s no time or energy to define sources of meaning, let alone pursue them.

That’s not the Holy Grail answer to meaning in life. That’s distraction so you don’t have to confront those kinds of questions. In a way, kids are both the electric shocks and the reason why you need them.

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one post per month until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you!

Diamond in the Meat Loaf

I had our annual birthday conference call last month with my two best childhood friends, born five days apart. One is a millionaire who lives in a high-rise in Manhattan when he’s not traveling the country. The other timed the unhinged housing market flawlessly, doubling his equity in L.A. and parlaying that into a 5,000-square-foot Texas home with no mortgage for the rest of his life.

What about me? Oh we don’t need to talk about me. Let’s talk about you, and we can get to me later.

I’m about to move in with my parents in Plano, Texas, shortly after my 38th birthday. You might picture me screaming at my mother for meat loaf, but they don’t have basements in Texas and the closest outcome in this household would be beef lo mein.

My wife and two young children are coming with me and will support negotiations with our landlords to swap Netflix password for Costco privileges. The numbers don’t quite add up, but I don’t know how you put a value on culture.

Same thing with stock portfolios. Can you really put a dollar amount on being a shareholder in a company? Yes, by definition you can. In an exquisite case of greed, hubris and naivete overriding risk aversion, I dropped $200,000 into individual stocks rather than low-cost index funds. I am currently down 85 grand and available to teach return on investment to any aspiring finance MBAs who want to get a leg up on the competition.

Where did it all go wrong for me? My mom would say it’s when I turned down Brown University and later refused to course correct by becoming a pharmacist. Stay in your lane, landlord.

This is maybe a defense mechanism kicking in, but most people probably agree wallowing in the past and what-ifs yields rapidly diminishing returns if any at all. I saw this quote by The Last Psychiatrist in James Clear’s newsletter that almost floored me by how much it made sense:

“The goal of adulthood is to let go of the other possible existences and to make the best of the one. A successful adult is one who understands that it doesn’t matter which life you ultimately pick, only that you live it well.”

I buy it, I really do. There are infinite ways my life could have diverged from this one: different college or dorm, cities or social circles, spouse and kids, career and income. I did not choose the path that resulted in the most money, and neither did you. I did not marry the person resulting in the wildest sex or make the friends resulting in the biggest laughs or embrace the religion (or lack thereof) resulting in the deepest wisdom — although mine score high and I love them very much.

All the variations aren’t so much different outcomes as they are just different packaging that life comes in. They don’t move the needle on happiness as much as how you live your life, whatever it may be. (I know I need to back up the armchair preaching here and apply it to my struggles with parenthood.)

Take this Depp v. Heard monstrosity. My wife told me not to comment on the verdict because I know nothing about it, and yeah I proudly know next to nothing about the case except the clear conclusion Johnny Depp’s life is not perfect.

Now here’s me sitting on the armchair thinking the movie star life seems pretty close to the pinnacle — banging supermodels, partying around the world, ransacking the Whole Foods salad bar without so much as a glance at the scale. I got a kiss on the lips from an African model while studying abroad in Prague in 2005, and I can tell you that life path has its merits.

But without blaming or absolving Depp for whatever happened, I believe the bigger impact on his quality of life is how he lives his movie star life rather than his choice to be a movie star versus something else. In other words, he could be better off living the accountant life well (which would entail no regrets about forgoing other paths) than living the movie star life poorly. You hear these stories of lottery winners ending up miserable and paraplegics living their best life, and they’re not implausible.

The intention is not to use celebrity misfortunes to prop up my self-esteem. I’m trying to reflect on why I feel good most days, even giddy, for a middle-aged man who soon will be asking his parents to extend curfew and waiting until they fall asleep to make out with his wife of six years. MA! MEAT LOAF!

I guess I feel like I’m living my particular life well. Yes the house will be a circus and nuisances unavoidable. But I also see this as a sort of bonus time with my parents. My dad has been looking so old lately on FaceTime. Asians age better than most for a long time, and then it’s like they catch up overnight.

It doesn’t feel quite right your parents put so much into raising you, and then you graduate college and meet up 2-3 times a year. If I were staying in Southern California, I wonder how many more hangouts I’d get with my dad. Thirty? Forty? That’s not a countdown I care to start.

So now comes an atypical bonus round with my parents in which we’re under the same roof again while they’re still in good health, and I have some maturity and experience, plus their precious daughter-in-law and grandkids. I am picturing unfettered dinner dates with my wife, Blue Bell ice cream for the kids after pool time, tennis with my high school friends, bringing a book on shopping trips with my mom, hazing my dad and brother with Shiner Bock, and supercharged summer and winter breaks with the L.A. grandparents.

Meanwhile, we should be able to rapidly accumulate savings in the absence of rent and California cost of living. Our school commute goes from 80 miles a day to 10, from $6.80 per gallon to $4.80.

It’s definitely a scrappier plan than I would have imagined 10 years ago or even 10 months ago, given the yet-unreconciled dual rises in interest rates and housing prices. And I realize many folks aren’t blindly lucky enough to be able to use a cheat code with supportive parents. This is my one life though, and I intend to live it well.

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month until I die or you click Unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email, and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you.

Stupid Is as Stupid Does Nothing Ever

Dang it school shooting, I was halfway through a solid blog post about a big life move but couldn’t get Uvalde, Texas, out of my mind. Twenty-one murders was too high, and the age group too low for a father on a business trip away from his two kids with a combined age of 3. Had it been, say, four high school deaths, I easily could have kept going.

So I started a new post on everyone’s favorite topic of gun control, then stopped because I didn’t want to bore you, tried to get back to the original one, but just couldn’t pick up steam again. It’s like when you’re erect and ready to shoot, Jack, and then one of the timeless “Dark Knight” movies comes on in the background. You’re distracted persistently enough to warrant a hard stop. And when you decide to get back to it, the mood and focus are just ruined.

I already wrote a scattered memo about guns after the 2017 Vegas massacre. It’s not perfectly coherent, yet sensible enough I could just recycle it every few years. Uvalde was the first mass, mass school shooting since I became a dad though, so it merits some supplementary thoughts.

My proposal is to allow bazookas for sale. That way the children don’t have to be scared before they die. It’s more humane. Sound good, Senators?

I don’t understand why, or at least I don’t want to understand why this needs to instantly turn into red team versus blue team. Offering two flawed political parties and telling me I have to adopt all the opinions of one of them and argue without nuance against logic and productivity seems pretty close to the opposite of freedom.

When it comes to gun regulation there should be less slogans and rhetoric and more scientific method — like those fourth graders were learning before they were executed. We have all these variables that potentially affect the level of gun violence and no perfect solution. We can sit there debating hypotheticals. Or we can test, collect data, learn, iterate, improve.

If Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos had his profits depend on reducing gun deaths, can you imagine the innovation, efficiency and bias to action? Progress would be made by end of day Wednesday, or somebody would get fired.

Can’t we just try something, anything? I’m not opposed to arming teachers if you think it’s practical and scalable to expect our most overworked, underpaid, nurturing professionals to add to their résumé the ability to win shootouts against sociopaths with rifles, body armor and a death wish.

Perhaps focusing a little farther upstream might be easier. Take these assault-style rifles. I have to use that clunky term because gun zealots can’t get past the semantics. They say there’s no such thing as an assault rifle. The ones used in these mass shootings were semi-automatic, one bullet per trigger pull.

Automatic weapons, a.k.a. machine guns, fire bullets continuously or in bursts when holding the trigger down. They have been severely restricted and essentially banned since 1934.

Well shoot, that sounds to me like a proof of concept. The Second Amendment makes no exceptions for machine guns, yet no one is mad about those not being sold at Walmart. Hey if you’re basing the right to bear arms on the need for a “well regulated Militia” to defend against tyranny, I would think machine guns are table stakes. Good luck with your peasant semi-automatics when the tanks and drones come rolling in to your driveway.

But no, that would be insane. It’s quite obvious the right to buy a fully automatic military weapon is outweighed by the risk of one showing up in a school, grocery store, church, movie theater… who knows where will be next. Same with grenades and yes, bazookas.

Obviously it’s not as obvious for everyone when it comes to assault-style rifles. Really we all agree that gun control in some form does and should exist. We just disagree on where to be in the mass-kill-capability spectrum, which maybe ranges from the muskets the Second Amendment was actually referencing to whatever our government is sending to Ukraine.

So all we need to do is calibrate, fine-tune if you will. That doesn’t sound so bad. If you let the loud outliers cancel each other out, I wonder if there is a nice chunk of the American public that isn’t so far apart. I think there are more team players out there than it seems, gun haters like me who are willing to live with them so others feel safe and happy and gun owners who are willing to jump through more hoops to get them so others feel safe and happy.

Ultimately, no matter how constitutionally free the society, we all give up something for the greater good every day, whether it’s observing a speed limit even though you’re capable of driving faster safely or holding in that fart in the elevator even though you feel like it’s rising into your chest.

Suppose we shifted slightly on that mass-kill-capability spectrum and prohibited ammo purchases over a certain amount, unless they’re consumed at the range. Or go bigger and ban assault-style rifles again, this time without lame loopholes. We could then look at gun fatality rates and have a more substantive debate on whether removing these is worth the tradeoff in freedom, utility and costs.

We are currently trending in the wrong direction. The CDC announced guns finally surpassed car accidents as the No. 1 killer of children and adolescents. Woohoo, persistence pays off.

If you just can’t bear to leave those pretty rifles at the range, then let’s test a stringent application process instead. This should be Harvard level if you happen to be an 18-year-old male. I need to see grades, community service, extracurriculars, references bro. There can’t be any doubt you have something and someone to live for. Ideally you’ve gotten laid a few times.

Maybe CIA level is more appropriate. I mean, these guns are so intense. This is sensationalistic to bring up, but I can’t imagine what an AR-15-style rifle does to these poor children’s bodies that their poor parents need to give DNA swabs just to tell them apart.

I can imagine, and so can you. One hundred and forty-two bullets fired by a boy whose balls probably hadn’t dropped all the way yet. That is cray-cray AF. Remember, not an assault rifle, an assault-style rifle. This is an incredibly important distinction because they have very, very different purposes.

An 18-year-old legally purchased two of these, compelled basically an entire police force to stand down for an hour, killed basically an entire classroom, and we can’t look at basic, partial regulations? Perfect need not be the enemy of good enough or slightly better.

Of course we can’t prevent 100 percent of these. Of course the root of the problem is mental illness. No mass shooter is of sound mind.

So let’s tie the two together. Anyone who wants to buy an assault-style rifle has to show mental fitness. You need a doctor’s prescription for certain drugs; you need a psychologist’s evaluation for certain guns.

I know it’s not as easy as tossing oversimplified ideas onto a whiteboard, but it’s also not as hard as it seems either. You just do it.

Australia is often cited as an example:

1) There was a terrible mass shooting.
2) The government passed new laws.
3) No more mass shootings.

The morning after Uvalde, I asked my Australian coworker about this. I expected a longer answer from an Excel wizard business analyst, e.g. depends on how you look at statistical significance, the data model, yada yada. But he just said… Yeah, that’s pretty much how it went down.

Cool, man. Thanks. I don’t feel stupid. There’s nothing stupid about gun deaths being so high in America you can barely see the other countries on a chart to scale.

My nonchalant colleague also told me to look up an Australian comedian who absolutely destroyed the stupidities around how we react to gun control. Savage Aussie, get up off me.

I see your comedian and raise you with our great American legend George Carlin:

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Yes I’m aware of the difference between the mean and median, another thing those kids might have been learning before they were executed.
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Doughnut Chart

I ate nine Krispy Kreme doughnuts in three hours, ran 22 sprints up the 24th Street hill the next morning, and adopted a reenergized outlook on dad life that is holding up better against the daily onslaught. I refuse to walk anything back from last month’s diatribe because they were all valid points and I have a lot more to add at a later time. But at least some of the time, I can try to inch toward understanding rather than indulge in masturbatory complaining.

First, this is neither here nor there, but you should know those nine doughnuts included only one glazed. Krispy Kreme is best known for its original glazed, which can be consumed in a few bites. A fat child or dog could put down nine. I chose dense, colorful, grossly sweet, filled-and-or-frosted types because I am all man.

I have manly desires and compulsions that can be at odds with rational thought. My wife showed me an email that referred to the decision to have kids as being pre-rational. I really like this description for some reason. I think it makes me feel less crazy or stupid.

Perhaps having kids doesn’t fail the rationality test, but rather the answer is N/A. Based on what I consider to be fairly universal measures of quality of life – disposable time and income, liabilities, freedom, stress, sex life, sleep, etc. – having kids is not a rational decision if the goal is to optimize the numbers here.

But you could say that about decisions everywhere in life. The ultimate man’s man, GOAT Tom Brady, nixed his retirement to start another season in the NFL at age 45. He could probably make more money at this point focusing on his business ventures. He could certainly enjoy a lifestyle with less strain and essentially a blank check to experience anything in the world including his children.

Instead, this middle-aged many-millionaire wants to give up all his free time to be the target of linebackers half his age and one hit away from not being able to chase his kids for a year or longer. That’s not entirely rational depending on the metrics on your list.

Sure, Tommy gets to play a sport he loves. Yet there are plenty of folks in more mundane professions who continue to work even if they don’t need the paycheck. I don’t picture a lawyer’s day-to-day as being outright pleasurable, but I know of lawyers who keep putting in the hours and putting off retirement.

Hobbies too. People don’t make a T-chart of perks and lifestyle and decide to pick up ultramarathoning. I haven’t gotten paid to write since I was 24 and never look forward to forcing out a blog post every month. I just do it because I feel compelled without needing to question why.

Even something as ingrained as marriage might not be a rational decision at face value. Hang on, you want to reduce my freedom and personal space and increase conflict and obligations while consolidating sex life to one source? Come (never) again? Everyone knows the risk in not having a diversified portfolio. Severe downturns can happen. This year Tom Brady likely will rack up more wins than times I get laid, not even including the playoffs.

So maybe last month when I characterized having kids as an oblivious if not reckless “default” decision, I had the wrong frame of reference. It could be thought of more as a calling than a decision, one that can’t be broken down in terms of everyday utility.

We kicked off the Covid-delayed era of classmate birthday parties this month with consecutive Saturdays of small talk with adults and bounce-house-jumping with children while making a conscious effort to avoid giving off pedophile vibes.

This was one of the responsibilities I imagined about family life as a young single lad that always made me retch. Especially in the bubble of Orange County, Calif., I was dreading desperate housewives ambience and mind-numbing conversations about golf, grills, vacations and potty training. I mean, why not just get right to it and vomit into each other’s mouths, right?

It wasn’t bad though. I kind of enjoyed myself. There was Chick-fil-A, Costco pizza and a french fry cart. I consumed moderately and didn’t touch the sweets.

Watching my 2-year-old experience his first parties filled me with a visceral joy. The first one was for his undisputed best friend, a blond girl about 20 percent taller in the same Mandarin immersion program.

They’re not quite advanced enough to play together, so they play in parallel. I can still hear in my mind my boy’s high-pitched squealing and giggling as they frolicked in separate but adjacent universes, and it makes me smile.

I presume posting pictures of children not related to me violates some sort of internet etiquette, so let me just tell you this one is adorable and you’re missing out:
The besties were heartbreakingly split up two days later when the girl moved up to an older class. Thus the second party ended up being their reunion after a long week apart. I spotted her as soon as she arrived, snuck up behind and dropped my son right in front of her face.

It took a short moment of recognition, and then she swallowed him up in a hug. My son doesn’t really know how to hug and normally just sticks out his chest at a 45-degree angle. This time he actually hugged back with his little arms. I had never seen him do that, and I melted.

In an even more touching moment, the parents put in great effort to corral the children for a group picture. Inexplicably, my son the usual wallflower gravitated toward front and center and popped up his shirt to flash the abs. There had been no prompting, encouragement or contextual relevance, as there never should be for this type of maneuver.
I hadn’t planned on teaching him the hallowed shirt-pull move until high school. I don’t know if this was a triumph of nature over nurture or he’d been watching his old man’s highlight reels, but I never felt so connected. The insecure peacocking was something I did a lot in my younger confused days, and I have a paternal duty to support him through the phase.

March 20, 2022

The rest of the weekend sucked. My son crawled out of his crib for the first time right after the party rather than give us a nap and our one opportunity to address a backlog of tasks, thereby kicking off yet another era in which dragging myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning no longer earns me the right to an uninterrupted 35-minute workout that has been the one thing I can control, the linchpin of my sanity.

As I’ve said previously, there are euphoric highs being a parent but the baseline existence is quite low. It doesn’t seem to add up, and the idea that it’s not supposed to could be useful.
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Nothing to Fear but Everything

I’m calm now, so this won’t be as entertaining. I was furiously unhappy throughout the first half of this month, repeatedly one-downing each new low like my mid-cap-heavy stock portfolio.

If only I could have gotten to a keyboard in those moments and shared with you. It would be like Costco shopping when hungry, which ends in intemperate decisions and regret. I actually wanted to go for it anyway and tried scribbling into a notepad.

But the problem is when I’m mad these days, it’s the exact same situation every time: I have something pressing on my mind or something I want to do, and my young children have taken away the use of my hands or concentration or both. It’s torture for my tortured personality, laden with obsessive and regimented traits. The 2.5-year-old and 2.5-month-old won’t let me take a dump or brush my teeth, let alone sit at a computer alone and think through words.

Now those intense feelings – possibly postpartum depression manifested as anger, as this article from my buddy illuminated for me – have faded. I will try to channel some of them again for reflection.

I hate to pull the nebulous “Studies show…” card and have no idea how you could even set up research like this, but humor me. Studies show people without kids are happier.

This is so interesting and provocative. It’s worth discussing openly because private conversations rarely help anyone else. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about kids until after they have them.

We spend plenty of time choosing the right colleges and careers, partners and pets, houses and cars. Yet no decision affects our waking and sleeping hours more than this one, and people seem to just do it without analysis.

People have kids because that’s what people do. No T-chart needed. It seems to be the default option with an opt-out in tiny print, when really it should be an opt-in decision with a block-letter ARE YOU SURE? confirmation screen. Come on life, hire a UX designer.

Not every human being in modern society should reproduce. We’re pushing 8 billion people on earth, and to think every single one will make the right decision about this is not realistic. There will be broken marriages, effed-up kids and parents, and more commonly, folks who are doing just fine – but would have been better off taking the blue pill (or whatever color birth control is).

I cannot bear to write out the statement that I would be happier or better off without kids now that I’ve met mine. If they didn’t exist though, I would have no trouble putting it in bold, italics, all caps.

I love my kids so much it hurts. I hate parenting so much it hurts. This might sound like cheap semantics to disguise a thinner love that lives in the superficial cuddles-and-giggles layer, like the one favored by extended family members who fawn over pictures but would never give up a Saturday afternoon to babysit.

You can call me out on this, and I will listen. Indeed it doesn’t seem like a very meaningful love if I’m ready to move on to something else after hanging out with my kids for a half hour.

My wife said the reason why parenting is so bad for me is because I’m selfish, and she meant that more thoughtfully than pejoratively. I agreed, but I also don’t want to exalt parenting as some selfless path unless it involves adoption or fostering.

She came to this conclusion after I spent an entire Thursday evening in an absolute meltdown. I couldn’t articulate anything and just kept repeating ad nauseum, “This is awwwwful.” I was irrationally mad at everyone and everything – Russia for invading, coworkers for not being organized, her family for not babysitting, the fact we still haven’t moved to Texas. She listened patiently and waited until her solo drive to Del Taco to cry, brought back some decent burritos, and listened to me some more.

I’d simply had enough. We were both working from our baby-cluttered townhouse, trading off with the shrieking infant, and then the toddler was sent home from school twice in three days with a fever. The school is awesome, but it requires 80 miles of driving per day on the god-forsaken 405 and 5.

This sucks. I wish people would say it more. At the playground, some angel masquerading as a random O.C. white guy struck up a conversation after noticing we also had two boys about two years apart. Without much context or transition, he blurted out that it sucks at this age. I wanted to collapse in his arms like Jordan into Pippen’s during the legendary flu game.

Source: NY Daily News

It does suck, Scottie. Yes they’re cute. So are most small mammals, but I don’t want to be a zookeeper. Moments of joy don’t outweigh a crappy way to live every day.

While watching the older one for five straight hours, I was in the process of losing my mind when he tried to say “Acapulco” and added like nine syllables. I melted for five minutes… and then returned to my regularly scheduled programming of anxiety and drudgery.

When I was singing a silly Chinese nursery rhyme about two lions to the infant, he broke into a toothless smile. His brother came up behind me and started singing with me, along with hand motions interpreting the lyrics. I melted for 10 minutes… and then returned to my regularly scheduled programming of suboptimal resource efficiency and no restorative time.

The math doesn’t add up. You touch the sky every once in a while, but live most of the time scrapping on the floor.

Raising children mirrors a hard drug habit in some ways. It takes away from peak performance in all other areas of your life and strains or neglects relationships. You age much faster. You try to convince yourself it’s not so bad and keep dangling hopes it will get better. You get high on short dopamine bursts, but the lows are deep and lingering.

Detailing my daily schedule and grievances would be too boring if I haven’t lost you already with my whining. The short of it is everything — from trivial hobbies like friends, tennis and this blog to the fundamental building blocks that make me happy like exercise, sleep, meal prep, cleanliness and minimalism — are squeezed to the margins if not oblivion. I’ve eaten more Taco Bell and McDonald’s in the last two months than previous 10 years.

Kids aren’t so bad if you don’t have an interest in anything else or mind the feeling of giving 60-80 percent effort across the board.

Let me just briefly document the reason why I started off the month sulking and wrap up with a thought. I started a new job in January and got a late invite for a four-day company retreat in Austin, Texas. Learn all day, party all night, all expenses paid. It was a chance to meet my manager in person for the first time and bond with end users and execs.

This was the kind of environment I thrive in, an opportunity to make lifelong connections at a remote-first, Zoom-heavy company during a formative time in its trajectory. I wanted to show people I have personality, that I can rip shots with the party bros and hold my ground with the brainy engineers, that the square quiet guy in meetings has another side to him.

Plus it was a snapshot in time for a company of 300 people that will either build something big or fail. Without exaggerating, this would have been the memory of a lifetime. I turned it down to support my family, and I don’t have one memory from that week except it sucked.

I should have gone to Austin. I don’t deal well with FOMO, which brings me to my thought. Having children is the risk-averse thing to do. You pretty much know how it’s going to go. You will love them more than anything. They will love you back. Your days will revolve around them.

Choosing not to have children means a lot more uncertainty around what your days will revolve around, how you will find meaning, or more nihilistically, how you will distract yourself until death. If you’re not afraid of that, if you’re not worried about FOMO down the road when everyone else is going to ballgames and recitals and graduations and weddings, if you have the conviction that kids are not right for you and you will never regret not trying, then I envy you. That’s like winning the lottery.

I didn’t have the balls. Everything I hate about parenthood I anticipated long before I met my wife. I think I didn’t resist having children because deep down I was afraid of fear of missing out on having them. That’s a big difference between actually wanting them, and I feel it every day.
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Alien: Redemption

This tastefully graphic slice of life completes an eight-year streak of one blog post per month. Ninety-six in a row.

Out of those 100,000 words or so, I dropped only one f-bomb. The second is about to follow because this story deserves high fidelity.

Shortly before 2 in the morning, I pressed the ignition of our RAV4 Hybrid and asked my wife if she was going to put on her seatbelt. She replied in a spooky-possessed tone, “Just fucking drive.”

I had deep reservations with this idea but complied. Not only was my wife not buckled in, she was on her knees facing the headrest with a death grip. (She later conceded she might have gone through the windshield in an accident, but she would have taken the center console with her.)

There were four contractions during the 8.7-mile drive to Hoag Hospital Irvine. That does not include the one on the garage floor before we left, which I had the presence of mind to ask my mother-in-law to photograph for documentation while I squeezed my wife’s hips to marginally ease the pain. It could have been a spicy intercourse position and place under vastly different circumstances.


Our barefooted protagonist battled another contraction in the hospital parking lot and another 30 yards from the entrance. We were quite the scene. A squadron of nurses assembled ready to deliver this baby right there on the sidewalk, and later I heard them cackle about how scared the security guard looked.

He and I were on the same page and relieved my wife made it to the room, where we immediately found out she was dilated to the full 10 centimeters.

She made it to 10.

That succinct statement holds special significance after what happened two years ago. My first son came down the chute wrong, a trend he has continued post-social security number, and my wife never could dilate past nine centimeters.

She pushed twice with everything in her soul while suffering unworldly pain, unmedicated, and ended up being rewarded with a C-section. It broke my heart to watch her break as the birth story she wanted unraveled.

We entered this one repeating the midwife’s sage advice to think of this birth separately, not as a way to fix the first. This made perfect sense, but I don’t know how you can stamp out every residual thought of dashed hopes and lingering trauma, second chances and redemption.

In the summer of 2019, we learned not everyone makes it to 10. My wife made it to 10 this time. She did it.

And let’s skip ahead to the happy ending. All the things she wanted and envisioned for a long time – going into labor spontaneously, laboring at home as long as possible, making it through transition and pushing without medication – came to fruition.

It was just about all we could handle, too.

Everything was foreign to us, and we acted like it. When her water broke around 8:40 on a Tuesday night, I was at my computer wearing headphones. Don’t think I’m weird because I don’t do this often, but at that moment I had felt compelled to look up on YouTube the scene from the final “Avengers” movie when a wounded Captain America is ready to take on the entire invading army by himself, and then all of his allies across the universe teleport to his side. Chills just thinking about it! Strange I never got laid in high school.

Through the headphones, I heard what I thought was a knock. I went downstairs and flung open the front door without checking the peephole. No one was there. Then I heard an exasperated call from my wife back upstairs, who had been banging on the bathroom wall, straddling some pink fluid on the floor, and trying to get my attention for who knows how long.

So that was my bad. Her bad was brushing off my suggestion to tell the in-laws to make their way to our place. It’s a 45-minute drive and we needed someone to watch the older one when it was go time.

My wife reasoned, what are they going to do, just sit there? The midwife instructed us to check into the hospital by 8 a.m., so I guess we pegged our expectations around a morning delivery. My wife was actually planning on going to sleep, laughable in hindsight.

Our next bad was ignoring numerous prompts from the contraction-tracking app to go to the hospital. I am unclear why we didn’t take the app seriously. It’s probably a similar reason to why I resisted getting the Covid booster shot. Surely our instincts should trump data. Why would we go to a safe, professional environment when we could just dial up this diffuser that changes colors?

Things escalated both steadily and abruptly, which I know doesn’t make any sense. At some point I was playing old-school Phoenix Suns hoops with an unrelenting shot clock. I would squeeze her hips during a violent contraction, then frantically try to do something productive, and race back before the next one started.

Our doula arrived around 1 o’clock, followed by my mother-in-law. I had to install a car seat so Grandma could drive my son to school in the morning. For the life of me, I could not get the stupid belt to tighten the stupid seat enough. I was beading sweat in the middle of a December night, hunched into a Highlander parked in a fire lane, trying not to panic while picturing what was happening with my wife inside.

It felt like 20 minutes, probably closer to 10 in reality, before I figured out the belt was threaded wrong. My bad. And while we’re keeping a tally, I also forgot to call the midwife. She didn’t know we were at the hospital until we were at the hospital. If this had been during rush hour on the 405…

Empty freeway notwithstanding, labor had started at arguably the worst time of day. My wife was the furthest removed from her last sleep cycle. Just about when her body was used to going to bed, she had to begin potentially the most challenging physical, mental, emotional feat of her life.

Transition is generally known as the most intense phase of labor, the home stretch to full dilation. I can describe only from observation rather than experience, and I am truly not mad about that.

The screaming and moaning were wild. They were the kind of sounds you would expect from a human reduced to a basic state of trying to survive. It’s not easy to watch helplessly without a uterus and frame of reference.

It’s scary. You don’t know what’s normal and what might be wrong. I wanted to FaceTime my old dairy farmer roommate to have him take a look and confirm this is what happens with his cows, but it likely would have ruined the intimacy of the milestone life event.

During recovery the night after, we heard impossibly long-noted shrieking from somewhere in the hospital that I thought for sure came from a baby. The nurse deadpanned, “New patient.” It was clear when the epidural hit because of the swift silence.

My wife didn’t want any intervention, and she will be the very first in line to tell you there is nothing wrong with an epidural or Pitocin or C-section or whatever you choose or have to choose. An unmedicated delivery, as her mom did twice, was a longtime goal she held without any judgment of all the other beautiful birth stories in the world.

I will state the obvious, however, and point out anesthesia means an entirely different experience and pain tolerance. My courageous wife started this hellish transition phase probably right before the car ride. For coping, she had a headrest and an occasional rub from my non-steering hand.

It was incredible what she went through just to earn the privilege to push. This part was even more tense to witness, and not just because of the blood and other goodies coming out. I knew nothing was guaranteed, that this was when the door slammed shut last time with her crumbling against the frame.

There was the unforgettable pulsing effect again, as if all her muscle fibers were failing on the last rep of the last set. And I was just willing, praying, begging for this stupid baby to come out.

His grotesque bulb of a hairy head bobbed into view multiple times before sucking back in like a diabolical version of that arcade game Whac-a-Mole. It was demoralizing each time. I would be over-sanitizing if I didn’t mention my outward calm and pep were belied by dark questions swirling in my mind, which defaults to neurotic even in the absence of stress.

Is something wrong again? There has to be a tipping point when her energy is depleted too much to complete the job – how much time is left? Is this next push her last chance? Is it possible her body is just not built to deliver vaginally? Why couldn’t she have just gotten an epidural like everyone else? Why does she arbitrarily make things harder than they have to be? Isn’t it selfish of her to put me through this? I hate this. I never wanted any of this. This is possibly the worst night of my life. I will never do this again.

So I suppose I had my own dam-breaking flood of relief when the head popped out. My wife said it was like a switch being turned off for her. I snagged the moment on my iPhone if you’re down to come over and double feature with one of the “Alien” movies. If you cover up Sigourney, it will be hard to tell which is which.

I think I’ll always remember the gasp of exhilaration from my wife. There was so much going on physically, not to mention this was a moment she had thought about throughout her life and it finally happened a month before her 37th birthday.

She did it. She did it.

Now, happy doesn’t mean free of charge. The 3:13 a.m. delivery left me with a four-person household, three of them in diapers.

My wife suffered a second-degree tear and multiple lacerations. Her labia was split in half. She had to lie there, legs splayed open in front of a dozen strangers, for an additional not-so-golden hour while the midwife stitched away. My anxiety ticked up again.

She lost a lot of blood. They were using a garbage bag as the third-down receiver, although the midwife later clarified not all of the fluid was blood. I counted 13 soiled cloths on the tray, and that was definitely blood.

Normal hemoglobin range for a woman is about 12-16 grams per deciliter. My wife was at 8.5 and pretty close to needing a transfusion. They had two Hep-Locks in her arms ready to go at the first sign of symptoms. But she got by with iron supplements for a few weeks and a mother’s iron will.

She wouldn’t give in. She kept fighting for this. She found her limits and moved them. I was struck by her beautifully nonlinear scorecard: a miscarriage, cesarean and VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean, which does carry enough added risk to require signing a waiver).


My wife said she couldn’t have done it without our support. I loved our doula, but it seemed like the extent of our combined contribution was coming up with different ways to say “You’re doing great!”

The hero of this tale was going to leave it all out there regardless of who was in the room. She could have been in the woods alone, and it still would have been the same one-on-one game against herself.

And she would have won. I am so proud of her. I am so happy for her.

She won the first time too, just not how we planned. It didn’t make that one any less special, but I do believe it made this one more special. This spontaneously started, bravely finished December night certainly didn’t replace or fix what happened before, but I like to think they complement each other.

Every birth story is its own, and this was our sequel.


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