Tag Archives: MJ

Cold Weather, Heating Bills, and Why New Englanders Are Nuts

noheat

“It’s freezing in here, but don’t you DARE touch that thermostat!”

There’s a game people in New England play this time of year. A game in which the stakes are high, the temperature is low, and financial situations as well as pride hang in the balance. The rest of the country thinks we’re absolutely nuts, yet every year households engage in wintry warfare when cold fronts hit and tempers heat up, as families battle over the most pressing issue of autumn — when to turn on the heat!

I know, I know. Sounds trivial right. Most of you are saying “turn the heat on if you’re cold.” Well you know what I say to that? This isn’t Texas, Florida, or parts of California where 65-degree temperatures cause you warm weather schmucks to don winter hats and gloves and look like assholes.

This is October in New England and the decisions we make now could have long-lasting repercussions.

First of all, this area was settled by Pilgrims (who “discovered” it after Native Americans had been living here for hundreds of years), and the puritanical presence can still be felt to this day. Bars close at 2 a.m. and up until a few years ago you couldn’t buy beer on Sunday. But more than that, we’re cheap. Some of us try to call it “thriftiness” but that’s just a fancy way of saying we’re cheap. And there’s nothing we complain about more than heating bills in the winter. Depending on whether you have oil, electric, propane, or what have you, a Massachusetts heating bill during a cold snap can easily cost upward of $600 a month. Not to mention the cost of snow removal (minimum $50 per plow visit) depending on the length of your driveway.

Which means frugality + stubbornness = an unwillingness to turn on the heat until it’s deemed absolutely necessary. And by absolutely necessary I mean someone loses a finger due to exposure.

It was 60 degrees in our house today. I’m writing this in slippers, wool socks, fleece pajamas, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. My wife and kids are dressed in a similar fashion. We have scarves, long johns, blankets, and electric blankets at the ready at all times. If people didn’t know we lived here, they’d think we were homeless. We sleep in self-made cocoons and we’re careful not to leave any body part uncovered, for fear of frostbite. We use each other’s body heat to survive and the kids sleep in thermals to avoid hypothermia during the night. That noise you hear isn’t an appliance on the fritz, it’s the sound of our teeth chattering.

So why? Why do we do it? Why not just turn on the heat and end the misery? Because fuck you, that’s why!

Being the last of your friends and family members to turn on the heat is a badge of honor. Every time you hang out with people and talk about the weather, someone says “you turn the heat on yet?” I smile at the ones who look away in shame as they mutter something about “Well the wife was freezing” or “we had to because of the newborn.” Suckers. These clowns are luxuriating in warmth and enjoying feeling in their extremities, but I’m saving $37 and proving my hardy New England mettle.

But more than that, I’m passing on a rich tradition of misery and sadomasochism to a new generation, who will one day tell their crying children “that’s what blankets are for” and “we don’t live on the west coast, Sally” when they tearfully ask to turn on the heat.

Sure my kids are growing weaker by the second and my wife is seriously considering cutting me open like a tauntaun and using my innards to keep warm, but seriously — where would you rather be during winter? New England winters feature blizzards that cripple the local economy and bankrupt municipal snow removal budgets as your power goes out causing you to buy a generator which you use to power your TV so you can watch the Patriots game instead of heating your house. Now compare that to the cloudless skies of southern California where perpetual temps in the mid-70s make Christmas on the beach a reality. No contest, baby!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another pair of socks because I can’t feel my toes.

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Should We Have Another Baby?

mjpregs

It was the first really warm day in April. Winter finally released New England from its icy grasp and nature was set free to bloom. Everything was new and the leaves were green in their infancy, and people left their houses, looked around, and smiled while taking in deep breaths of unadulterated spring.

Will and I had just tried our hand at trout fishing, with no luck. But despite the zero tally regarding the fish count, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to the local hot dog stand for footlongs and fries.

After placing our order, Will bolted to the playground while I sat at a picnic table waiting for our number to be called. I briefly turned my head toward the sky and smiled, then glanced toward my oldest who was already making his way across the monkey bars. My old middle school loomed in the background behind my son — an eerie juxtaposition of new and old, past and present.

It dawned on me we were eating at a place I loved in my youth, in front of a school MJ and I attended for three years. At 11 years old I had already met my future wife, despite the fact she’d move away and I’d go four years without seeing her. Then, nine years ago, MJ and I drove to that very school during a blizzard just minutes after I asked her to marry me. We danced together in the empty parking lot, snow swirling around us and flickering in the headlights.

I was lost in thoughts of storms, tranquility, past, and present when my phone rang. Fittingly enough, it was MJ.

“Perfect timing,” I said, skipping over the hello. “I was just sitting at the hot dog stand with Will and looking at the middle school and thinking about us and everything…”

She cut me off before I could finish, and I could immediately tell she was in a panic.

“Come home now. I’M FUCKING PREGNANT!”

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It’s not like we hadn’t discussed having a third child. Of course we had. It’s just that those discussions never ended with any kind of firm answer.

I think if you forced her to answer, MJ wanted another baby. As for me, well…I was truly torn. Do I want a daughter? Yes. But do I really want to go through the newborn phase again when I had such a tough time emotionally with Sam? Honestly, I don’t think so. Besides, we have terrible luck with pregnancies not to mention no room in our duplex (or our budget) for a third kid.

Also, three sounds like a lot.

I talk to parents with three kids and they’re straight up harried. Not like normal parent harried, but “tear your hair out holy crap I need six more hours in the day” kind of stressed. Three is a lot. Three’s company. Three is being forced to abandon man-to-man defense and go with zone. Simply put, three is scary.

So I told MJ the truth — I don’t honestly know how I’d react to a third kid until I was actually put in the situation.

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My first, split-second reaction was shock. Pure shock. And fear.

We can’t afford this baby. We weren’t trying for this baby. How the hell did we even get pregnant when I have a condition that gives us roughly a 2% chance of conceiving on our own without IVF? Where would the baby sleep? What would I ever do with a daughter? What the hell will I ever do with three boys? And it was all made worse by the fact that my wife was in hysterics, I wasn’t with her, and I had to keep it all together in front of Will.

I quickly collected our food and my son, and we hopped in the car to head home. I passed the middle school, I remembered dancing in the snow, I saw my oldest in the rearview mirror, and I looked at the picture on my phone of Sam.

And then I busted out laughing.

Not a giggle or a chuckle, mind you. I started belly laughing my ass off. Uncontrollable bursts of hearty laughter usually reserved for my favorite comedies. Will was looking at me like I was nuts, but for the life of me I couldn’t stop. I was laughing so hard I started crying, yet I was also wearing an ear to ear grin. As I pulled into the driveway, I laughed once more because I quickly realized I had answered my own question.

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Our baby had a due date of December 25. A Christmas baby. Our gift.

We brought Sam to the OB appointment partly because we didn’t have a babysitter (because we didn’t tell anyone the news), but also as a good luck charm — even if neither of us would admit it. Because if you’re new to these parts, we’re well-versed in miscarriages and pregnancy loss. Four miscarriages in as many years. A medically necessary abortion due to a fetal abnormality at 16 weeks. Not good.

Despite having two beautiful boys and having been through the wringer, being in that room with the ultrasound tech didn’t get any easier.

MJ hopped on the table while Sam bounced on my knee. The grainy image began to take focus on the small screen as I held Sam with one hand and took MJ’s in the other. Sam cooed and raised his hand to the screen, reaching out in an attempt to touch it. His little cherubic fingers finally found the glass, and he started tapping at it.

Right at the void where a flickering heartbeat should have been.

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We’re fine. Really, we are.

I don’t know why or how we’ve lost five pregnancies in the seven years we’ve been trying to have kids. But you know what? I don’t know how I became so blessed to have the two unbelievable boys who call me dad. A lot of people would say we’re unlucky, but we’re not. If anything, we’re incredibly fortunate to have the life we do. To have our happy and healthy sons.

I don’t know if we’ll have another baby. That will most likely involve IVF and all the risks, effort, and potential for disappointment and heartbreak that carries with it. But at the very least, I now have an answer to the question.

I’d be thrilled to have another baby. As if there was really any other answer.

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The 5 Stages of Spending Time Without Kids

nokids“Holy $*&%, I just need some time for myself and away from these kids!!”

How many parents have uttered some variation of that phrase at some point in time? I know I have. Hell, I just went through life with an infant again this past year. Between Sam’s multiple nightly awakenings, screaming fits, and teething, combined with Will’s adjustments to big brotherhood and the first year of school, I used to fantasize about a life of solitude in a quiet mountain cabin where no one could find me and I could pee alone.

But on the rare occasions we’re granted a parental sabbatical, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend — we miss our damn kids too much!

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s not too long after I’m sprung from the asylum that I start to — gulp — miss it a little. And then a lot. It’s like some sort of parental Stockholm Syndrome. I just spent 55 hours on my own, and here are the stages of kidlessness I experienced.

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Stage 1: FREEDOM!!!!!!!!
The first stage is characterized by an initial and intense feeling of release. Like I’m Andy Dufresne finally escaping Shawshank Prison through 500 yards of shit smelling foulness. Or like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, only if I skipped the torture and got to sleep with Sophie Marceau again instead. Whether your childfree time is going to last for a night or a week, it seems the possibilities are endless and you can do anything. Road trip, baseball game, bar, expensive dinner, or even a movie at the theater that doesn’t have cartoons — the world is your oyster.

Stage 2: Whatever I Want!
Sure, you’re going to put your Vegas trip into action soon. But that can wait for a minute, while you enjoy the little things you can’t do when the family is around. You know, the simple things you used to do when you were single. As for me, I immediately strip down to my boxers, stretch out on the couch, and watch SportsCenter while scratching myself at will. Either that or all the movies no one else likes. Then I have a dinner that consists of Kraft mac & cheese, beer, and Doritos. Normally I’d be chastised for my post meal bodily functions, but only the dog was affected this time (and she was guilty of a few nasty ones too). And then — as the grand finale — I take up the entire king size bed by sleeping diagonally, as opposed to sleeping on the sliver of bed I have after the wife and dog are accounted for. Sure it might SEEM slightly pathetic that a grown man can enjoy farting in peace, leaving the toilet seat up without reproach, and using a plethora of bed space so much, but best not to dwell on such matters for long. There’s work to do.

Stage 3: Reality Sets In
After you’ve eaten like a pig and reveled in smelling like one as well, it’s time to get serious about this temporary kid hiatus. That’s when you start thinking of all your friends and get ready to call them up to have a good old fashioned rager of a party. You call Jim but his oldest has summer baseball and his youngest has a ballet recital. No worries. Skip right to Brian, only to find out he’s going to a concert. Awesome, right? Because you haven’t been to a live show in years. The only problem? It’s a “Wiggles” concert. Andy and Jake moved away, Ted doesn’t want to stay out past 10 pm because he’s coaching T-ball in the morning, and Bill already went out for a night this month so he’s used up his privileges. Suddenly you realize two things: 1) You’re old, and 2) Spontaneity is officially dead. Which makes you sad. Which leads to additional mac & cheese, Netflix, and gas.

Stage 4: This Kind of Sucks
This stage sees panic setting in. You’ve gorged yourself, farted at will, lounged around in your boxers, and realized all of your friends are now lame. You start calling your wife and kids more often just to hear what they’re doing. While you’re watching TV, you see “Jake and the NeverLand Pirates” and consider watching it because you know how much your oldest likes it. But you’re barely even watching TV now because you’re mostly looking at family pictures hanging in the hall, as you make one more call to the family to see what they’re doing now.

Stage 5: COME HOME!!!
This is when things get really desperate. Suddenly your faltering plans don’t even matter, because you’re too busy playing with Transformers and sitting in the kids’ empty rooms getting emotional. You’re not even watching TV because you’re combing through six years of YouTube home videos. You know they’re due home today so you up your calls to every hour on the hour just in case they get home early. In a fit of total desperation and longing, you flip on Frozen and sing “Let It Go” with tears streaming down your face as you promise never to take your family for granted ever again.

When they finally pull into the driveway you sprint out barefoot because you’re so damn happy to see them. You rip open the door of the minivan to see your precious little angels, only to have the youngest sneeze in your eye and simultaneously take a dump the likes of which makes landfills blush, while the oldest bitterly complains you woke him up from his nap.

I need a break…

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Working Parents Squeeze In Their Moments

will_canoe

The canoe glides along silently, save the “plunk/whoosh” sound of the paddle slicing through the water’s surface. The gargantuan clouds are puffy and impossibly white, but not foreboding — no rain checks needed today. A summer zephyr gently prods us along toward a cove spotted with lily pads, as the oldest and I look to add to our summer bass total.

“Dad, this is very calm. And peaceful,” he says from the front of the canoe.

But all I can do is look down into the clear water to see the milfoil just below the surface. Thick, green submerged weeds like fuzzy fingers reaching up from the depths. I can’t help but feel this invasive species is reaching for me, trying to rob me of time like it’s suffocating the water quality in the pond.

I’m only on Day #3 of my vacation, but already my window is closing and one thought is flashing in my mind like a neon sign — DO MORE!

This is the curse of working parents.

I work two jobs (three if you count the blog) and I struggle to provide as a breadwinner and a father. Rent, bills, and canoes aren’t cheap, which makes the hours at work numerous and quality time scarce. I get three weeks of vacation every year, but I use one for conferences and the other around Christmas when things are crazy. That leaves one week. One week solely for my kids. One week to do everything.

Lately I’ve been envying my wife for being a stay-at-home mom, which is ironic since I’m not even sure I could do her job. Or that I’d want to do it, if we’re being honest. I know her role is filled with damn hard work and days she questions her sanity when our youngest won’t nap because his 1-year molars are coming in and he’s drooling blood in a fit of rage. I know sometimes she feels like she wishes she could trade places with me.

But stay-at-home parents have the thing I’m most envious of — the knowledge that they’re doing the most important thing in raising quality human beings.

They are in the trenches and doing the grunt work. Sure they’re unappreciated now when the kids are young, but in 25 years they’re going to realize my wife was always there. The reliable one. The go-to parent. And they’ll have a bond with her that will be deeper and stronger than one can imagine.

Me? I’m the guy working on the computer. Answering one last email and sending one final freelance pitch. So on vacation, I really pour it on.

“Let’s go the museum!”
“Hey, how bout a baseball game?”
“Want some ice cream?”
“Time for fishing!”

Where MJ is a fire that burns slowly and steadily, I flash hot and bright and then fade back into the office. She’s steady as the tides, I’m a tsunami. I’m an annual meteor shower and she’s the moon.

Working parents don’t witness milestones, they’re told they occurred. The phone call at the office that he got his first tooth. The video she sends you of his first steps, and hey — at least we saw it before all of Facebook. So there’s that. It’s enough to make us feel like spectators, or subscribers to the newsletter of our own lives.

Which is why when vacation hits, I get a little desperate.

We tried to get Will to ride his bike without training wheels last year. It went horribly. He wasn’t ready or physically able, and it ended with lots of crying, pouting, and frustration. Will was also pretty upset.

But this year, I vowed to make sure Will could ride his bike by the end of the summer. And I was going to see it, dammit.

When we went at the beginning of vacation a week ago, it was…rough. I was too hard on him and placed way too much pressure on the poor kid, and his performance reflected that. I was trying to force it so I didn’t miss it, and in the process I damn near ruined everything.

Yesterday was my last day of vacation. After we went fishing, I nonchalantly asked if he’d like to try bike riding one more time. This time, I took an entirely different tack. I told him it didn’t matter if he did it, only that he improve from last time. I had him sit down first and envision a successful ride, and then try to emulate in real life what he mentally pictured. I smiled and told him stories of my learning-to-ride failures as a precocious kid.

He fell. A lot. But then, well…he didn’t.

Once my attitude was positive, so was his. He refused to accept my help because he wanted to do it on his own, and he constantly repeated affirming messages to himself throughout the whole thing. “Just keep trying, Will” and “Will, remember to pedal, steer, and not panic.” 

And then off he went, pedaling furiously away from me as I jogged to catch up. As apt a metaphor for parenting as there ever will be. But this one — learning how to ride a bike — this one is ours. Will’s and mine. I needed a win, badly, and my wife saw that and graciously let me have it. Because she’s awesome and far too good for me.

Back on the pond, the interesting thing about milfoil weeds is there are no known biological controls to fight them off or slow them down. In time, and like time, they come whether we like it or not and eventually they change the existing habitat. Armed with that knowledge, my vacations in coming years have taken on a whole new meaning and level of importance.

If you only have a week, you’d better make it count.

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Raising Boys: Just Put Your Penis Anywhere

peeing-outside

“Will, did you pee in this?”

I knew the answer before my wife asked the question. I was giving Sam a bath when I noticed a horrible smell. It was pungent and stale, and I immediately knew it was piss — I just didn’t know where it was. The toilet water was clear, Sam didn’t let loose in the bath, and all the rugs on the bathroom floor felt dry.

That’s when my eyes settled on the long, white, plastic cylinder I use to fill up with water and wash Sam’s head. And suddenly everything clicked.

I knew Will had peed in it during his shower and just left it there.

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