Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Birth Announcement Waltz

For me, the formalities of domestic life are like an unfamiliar waltz, complete with music I don’t like, moves I don’t understand, and a lot of stepping on toes.

And my wife loves to dance.

Example: When sending out wedding invitations, I included information on where we’d registered for gifts, thinking this would be convenient for those who wished to buy them. Emily, upon seeing the invitations (and recovering from a minor aneurysm) told me UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES can one mention their gift registry in a wedding invitation.

This is considered unforgivably tacky.

I raised the point that I hadn’t wanted to register in the first place, because I found it unforgivably tacky to 1) set the conditions under which we would accept gifts and 2) wander the aisles of Bed, Bath, and Beyond scanning things we weren’t buying like a pair of consumer fetishists in a bizarre role-playing exercise.

But I'd failed and we hadn’t even started yet. Because the second step in the Registry Waltz is even trickier.

I learned that once you register, you must publicly disavow all knowledge of having done so. It’s a polite secret. Like offing a disagreeable individual in a Nevada cornfield. Yeah, it’s gotta be gone -- but we sure as hell ain’t gonna talk about it.

Which brings us to the third and final step, in which this waltz becomes a group dance.

These tricky, final maneuvers are left to the experts. Namely, mothers and mother-in-laws who must – for etiquette’s sake – pass off wedding registry information like Cold War spies trading uranium. Only once a guest calls with the properly coded introduction, such as: “What a lovely invitation I just received,” or “The sun is shining, but the ice is slippery,” can the family divulge this information to anyone who doesn’t happen to work at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Or have access to the internet.

But I digress.

Because over the past few weeks, it’s the Birth Announcement Waltz that’s been warming up in the living room of the Geiger/Kemp household. It went something like this:

EMILY: We need to start thinking about birth announcements.

JEFF: Whhaa?

EMILY: You know. Cards. Like the ones all over the fridge.

JEFF (looks at fridge): Whoa! Where did all those pictures come from?

EMILY: Mm-hmm.

JEFF: Okay, fine. How many?

EMILY: Probably about 200. They’ll cost about a dollar a person.

JEFF: To what? Announce a birth everyone knows happened? Facebook, dude. Twitter. Everyone knows! We’ve uploaded like a zillion pictures! It’s a paper redundancy. A subsidy for the logging industry and the US Post Office. Maybe we should buy Sweetest Day cards while we’re at it. Maybe we can get a discount –

(A week passes.)

EMILY: I’d really like to get those birth announcements out.

JEFF: Whaaaa?

EMILY: Jeff.

JEFF: How much are those again?

(Another week passes.)

EMILY: I did a little research on birth announcements, but now it’s a week before Thanksgiving. I’m thinking we should just send out Christmas cards instead.

JEFF: Fine. That’s great. Good idea.

EMILY: Okay, so we need to hire a photographer, and then look at templates, then –

JEFF: What about those birth announcements? What happened to those?

EMILY: You didn’t want to do those! You thought they were dumb!

JEFF: No I didn’t! I’ve been totally supportive and --

(Everyone cries.)

JEFF: Okay. I think we can do these birth announcement thingies ourselves.

EMILY: I don’t want you spending 3 hours obsessing over these things. You have enough going on.

JEFF: Three hours. Psssh. I’m a graphic design wizard.

(Three hours later.)

EMILY: Are you kidding me?

JEFF: What?


JEFF: C’mon -- it’s fresh! No one on EARTH is doing shit like this. I promise you.

EMILY: There’s a reason for that.

JEFF: Hey! I’m trying here, I --

(Everyone cries.)

But at long last, and thanks to the photographic genius of our good friend, Cameron Yee, we came out with an actual birth announcement. And it looks decent. And there’s no swearing involved. I would post a picture of it, but I’m pretty sure that violates an etiquette rule that hasn’t even been written yet.

And I am trying. As a family man, I’m wearing softer shoes, doing my best to keep the beat. I should probably stop writing this post. I can’t keep rhythm and type at the same time. And I think I’m supposed to be buying a stationary box. Or dancing one. Or do they call that a rotating box? And here we go 1, 2, step, 1, 2, slide, 2, 2, 2 . . . . .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Operation Newborn: All I Ever Needed to Know About CIA Brainwashing I Learned From My Newborn Son

This newly declassified document provides explicit details from author J.C. Geiger’s captivity during a four week period between September 18th and October 17th. According to police records, Geiger was held in his own home by a skilled operative who followed him and his wife back from a trip to the hospital in mid-September. During his captivity, Geiger painstakingly documented his captor’s techniques, and provides them for us here.


He was in the backseat when we left the hospital, red faced and screaming. Under duress, we let him into our home. We haven’t left since.

The operative clearly intends to brainwash my wife and I from within the walls of our own home. He seeks nothing less than full-scale psychological domination -- to become the center of our universe. To guarantee we never make another decision without first considering him. He will demand access to bank accounts, personal property, and various lines of credit. When it’s all said and done, I fear he’ll take us for damn near everything we’ve got.

His mission isn’t easy. To succeed, he must raze our previous life it to its foundation, and cobble together a new order of financial priorities and social relationships from the wreckage.

Impossibly? Hardly.

He’ll do it in a matter of weeks. I call it Project Newborn. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: He will break you with lack of sleep.

The operative is clever; to the untrained eye, he never sleeps at all.

This isn’t exactly true. He sleeps while you’re moving. But motion alone is insufficient. Sometimes you’ll be rocking him and think you’d like to look at a newspaper article. Or pick up your phone. Or gaze out the window and remember what it was like to taste the simple thrill of freedom.

But don’t think about that. Don’t even look. His head is so sensitive he can feel your focus shift. It must be the lack of hair. If you make the mistake of looking away, he will wake up. Then he will make you pay. He calls this game: “I Own You.”

This is one game from a very thick playbook.

Another favorite is called the “Sleep-Breathing Switcheroo.” In this gambit, the operative uses the gentle rhythm of inhale/exhale to make the strong case he's asleep. This is meant to entice you to transfer his allegedly sleeping body to the lap of another person or a crib.

Which you will do. If you’re an idiot.

Because he will wake up the moment you try. You may argue your movements were too gentle to have possibly sparked consciousness in any living thing, and you are right. But here’s the catch: He was never actually sleeping.


Step 2: He will break you with noise.

After two weeks of extensive exposure, you could have as many documented words for types of crying as Inuits have for snow. COULD, because you are only getting three hours of sleep a night, which means you are no longer able to command the English language. Or string together two coherent thoughts. Or tie your shoes without falling over on your living room floor.

You will settle for identifying three basic types of crying:

1) “I’m hungry.”

This insistent, growling wail takes place whenever the operative is hungry. Which is always. Contrary to popular belief, the operative can cry and eat at the same time. Perhaps he is hungry because he is crying too hard to eat. This may lead you to believe the operative is foolish, but you’re wrong. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And he thinks it’s hilarious.

2) “I need your attention.”

This need, like hunger, is constant. Consider this: The operative’s stomach is the size of a walnut, yet he needs to eat every hour. If the operative’s brain is the size of a beefsteak tomato, how often does he need your talking, singing, wide-eyed attention? I would do the math, but I’m too busy bouncing from foot to foot and singing “Under the Sea” from the Little Mermaid.

3) “We have ways of making you talk.”

The only possible explanation for this type of crying is that you have not provided the information the operative is looking for. You have fed him, changed him, sung songs, spoken in baby voices, and bargained your soul to Satan. Yet you have somehow failed to provide the information he needs. Perhaps it is the secret location of a safe you never buried, or the whereabouts of a person you never met. Either way, you have failed to communicate the message the operative needs to hear, and you will pay dearly for your ignorance.

Step 3: He will break you down to build you back up.


Perhaps you once considered yourself a professional. You had self-respect. People once listened to you when you spoke. They looked you in the eye like an equal. Good. The operative likes a challenge.

By the time he’s finished with you, Mr. Respectable, you will be prancing around like a little elf singing songs which glorify his feces. You will thank him for urinating, even if he’s urinating on you. He will throw up on your shirt and you’ll giggle like a child. You will thank him for performing base bodily functions on your property.

He will pay little attention to your thanks, because he’ll be too busy screaming.

Then, in brighter moments, he will insist with coos and giggles you are his prize captive. That you have outperformed his other servants, and you'll feel the warm thrill of accomplishment . . . perhaps even expect a reward. A brief release from captivity. A pass to leave the house, take a shower, or touch your wife.

Then – just as the reward is most deliciously tangible, he will declare, red-faced and screaming, that you’ve utterly failed. You will lose all privileges, including the ability to set him down, eat, or relieve yourself. You’ll doubt everything you’ve ever learned, and will have to start from square one to earn back his love and respect.

Once you do, he will again laugh and coo at you. This is precisely what he wants. Although he cannot yet control the movement of his arms, he is bouncing you like a yo-yo on a string.


I fear for my sanity. Somehow, the operative has made a month’s captivity breeze by like a summer afternoon. Perhaps I only feel this way due to my pending release. After 30 days of diplomatic maneuvering and high-level negotiations, I’ve scheduled myself for work release first thing tomorrow morning.

I’ll be leaving my wife behind. And, truth be told, I don’t want to go.

His techniques have succeeded. My emotions are tethered to his, and so are my wife’s. When he cries, we pick him up. When he needs us, we’re beside him. And when he so much as looks at me, I feel like I've been chosen for something truly special, and something I can't possibly do. But tomorrow I’m free to step outside, to return the life I had before. And I’m struggling with that.

Because it’s not just that I don’t want to go -- I never want him to leave.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

“Parenthood: The Initial Ascent” or “Adventures of a Labor Sherpa”

The first ascent of a long hike can be brutal. Especially if it’s your first trip. I distinctly recall my first real hike in New Hampshire's White Mountains: my fogged-up glasses, the blood-blistering chafe of my jeans, and the steady percussion of two cans of Spaghetti-Os with Meatballs drumming on the small of my back.

Yes. I was hiking in jeans. With Spaghetti-Os.

So if labor is the initial ascent of parenthood, then I’ve approached it just as I approached hiking: woefully unprepared, shabbily dressed, and with an abundance of Chef Boyardee. One key difference: When I was hiking I actually had to walk. During labor, I basically carried a tote bag and watched my wife do all the work. That made me less like a hiker and more like a poorly-trained sherpa.

No disrespect to the sherpas.

To make things worse, we hired a doula to coach us through the labor. That’s basically like the hiker (wife) bringing a useless sherpa (me), who then turns around and hires an actual sherpa (the doula) with the maps, equipment, and know-how to get us up the mountain. On a three-person team, I was middle management -- in charge of supervision not because I deserved to be, but because I was sleeping with the boss.

Now, after having witnessed the climb through pregnancy and labor, I am increasingly ruffled by the male appropriation of female experience through reckless pronouning, such as “We’re pregnant,” and “We just gave birth to a baby boy.” No.

I believe the term you're looking for is "she."

While my wife endured the most excruciating pain of her life to conjure another human being from her belly, my major role of the evening was to drive 5 miles to the hospital and pack a duffel bag. Given this, I believe many fathers-to-be develop a disproportionate sense of responsibility within the tiny part of the pregnancy world they’re able to control:

The Labor Bag.

In the months leading up to my wife’s delivery, I received an incredible amount of unsolicited advice from other men on this cornerstone of fatherhood:

“Pack this. Don’t pack that. Do you have your bag packed? What do you mean you don’t have your bag? You absolutely NEED to have a bag!”

F*** the bag, okay?

My bag had two mix CDs, a rice sock with jasmine and lavender, little blue vials of aromatherapy, and a cooler full of everything from high-energy jelly-beans to Miso soup. And let me tell you something. Using these little trinkets and charms to ward off labor pain is about as productive as pouring water on a cat to make it rain. All my wife used during labor was ice chips and my hand, both of which she crushed. I shudder to think what else might’ve been crushed had I started waving little vials of blue tonic under her nose or tried coaching her into her animal cave with rain sticks, mood lighting, and Enya.

Armed with only ice and my right hand, my wife did amazing work. Blew me away. Moments after primal groans, ear-rending screams, and a slippery little baby boy escaped her body, she was propped up on her pillow and grinning like a movie star in an unrealistic post-labor scene. I, on the other hand, had hair plastered to my forehead, wobbly knees, and was asked if I needed to lie down.

But that was it, right?

The baby comes out. You rejoice. You call people. Then you’re done -- pop the cork, smoke a cigar!


Labor, as it turns out, is a false summit.

No tape breaks across your chest and there are no coolers of Gatorade to tip over. Instead, you quickly find yourself in a squarish hospital room with a plastic bassinette straight out of Brave New World and a newborn baby who’s never spent the night outside of a human body. I was discouraged to find my mix CDs, aromatherapy, and relaxation exercises were about as good at soothing the baby as they had been at soothing my wife.

So the night wore on. The doula went home. My wife went to sleep.

My head was spinning as I rocked the freshly-quieted baby and tried to keep myself awake by playing Labyrinth on my smartphone and eating anything within reach. And it was then, in the darkest hours of night, that I had my first epiphany as a new father. I woke myself up choking on a half-eaten Triscuit and realized with a sudden, chilling horror that I had no idea what I was doing. I still didn’t know the route. I didn’t know the conditions, what it would look like when we got to the top, or what equipment we would need.

But I had one thing going for me. With my wife asleep beside me, and my newborn son in my arms, I was finally carrying something worthwhile.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Trip

You’re going on a trip. It will be the longest trip of your life, and you’ll never be able to come back. You’ve packed a bag. Three bags. You’ll be going with your wife, and a third person you haven’t met yet.

There’s no telling when your plane will leave. You might get it narrowed down to the month, but your travel agent knows that’s just a guess. “Your trip will probably start in September,” she says. Any day now. Your flight could leave in the middle of the night. Or first thing in the morning. There’s just no telling. The message will come out of nowhere – sudden and urgent. Now. Grab your bags. Get to the tarmac.

The flight could last anywhere between several hours and several days. It might be smooth. It might not. Rarely, planes crash. They’ll offer you medicine to help with the travel, but there’s no telling how you’ll react to what they give you. Maybe you’ll want to sleep through the flight and wake up once you’re there. Maybe you want to be there for every bump and drop -- the whole experience. Whatever it is. However long it lasts.

There are maps and guides and books and plenty of stories about the trip you’re taking. The closer you get to the flight, the more you want to know. You think the information will make it easier. Less scary. It doesn’t, but you keep reading and listening, because there’s nothing else to do but wait.

Once you’ve got your ticket, people tell you things you’ve never heard before. Stories of hope and despair and brightness – hidden gems of things in people you’ve known your entire life. Now that you’re going, you’re part of a new community. An exciting , secret society of people you’ve lived among your entire life but who are only now inviting you in. Now that you’re going.

So many have gone on this trip before, yet their stories don’t help much. They’re vague. Inconsistent. Some tell you not to worry about the trip -- just show up. Everything will work itself out. Others tell you preparation is a must. Be vigilant. Pack plenty and don’t travel alone. Watch the food. Be wary of strangers. Hire a guide.

The one thing everyone agrees on is: “Overall, it’s worth it. You should go.”

But sometimes they don’t look you in the eye when they say that. No one wants to regret their trip. It’s expensive. Time consuming. The kind of trip everyone knows about and asks about every time they see you, and so to say it wasn’t worth it isn’t an option. Really, it doesn’t matter what they say. You’ve already got your ticket. There’s no turning back now.

And the whole world is anticipating with you. They’re watching from the other side, and they’re beckoning for you to come. To join them. In that place you won’t understand until your plane touches down. And even then, like every trip, the stories and the pictures and the maps will all dissolve as the real experience rushes around you from all sides and angles, and swallows you up and rolls you over until you can’t remember what it was like to NOT be where you were going. Until the day you can’t remember who you were before you took the trip.

But you haven’t gone yet. Your plane hasn’t left. There are still no dates printed on your three tickets. No destination.

And so they ask “Are you ready?” And they ask “How do you feel?”

And I sit here and I watch the clock and count down the minutes to a journey no one can explain, and that will happen any moment. Now, and for the rest of my life.