Monday, September 20, 2010

Enter Stage Right

Nine days and a few hours separate us from a stage of life that we have never approached. Sure, we have a cat and a dog, but something tells me they are somewhat different and a little bit easier than children. I say "nine days" like they will somehow be different than all of the other nine days that we have experienced. I guess in a way they will be. I have nine days to walk up the stairs and see an empty room. I have nine days to sleep late on a Saturday. I have nine days before my parents are replaced with exact replicas, except they have added features, like "ATM" and "Candy Dispenser" modes. I have nine days before the stage of life is completely altered.

When one goes to see a play, one is given a pamphlet of some kind which explains, in varying degrees of detail, the characters found in said play. Sometimes it gives a background of the play or even the actors themselves. So I thought I would take this time to write my unborn son, Brody, and give him an introduction to some of the characters he will likely meet... in nine days.

This is your cousin, Haley. She is young enough (7) to play with you and understand "Brody-ese," yet old enough (17) to take care of you and change a few diapers when needed. If you need someone to play with, eat ice cream with, watch a movie with, go to the zoo with, play games with, or get in trouble with, she is your answer. She is sweet, helpful, and knows exactly how to work Grandma and Pap Pap. Consider her your human Cliff Notes for grandparents. Be careful with playing games with her, though. You have to let her win before you can move on to the next game. 

This is your Uncle David and Aunt Kim. They are Haley's parents. To say that two people are perfect for each other might sound cliche, but in this case it actually fits. They work well together as a team and enjoy their family, immediate and otherwise. Your Uncle David will be one of the many to take you hunting. He and your Pap Pap will take you to the land to ride the 4-wheeler and shoot a gun... ok that won't be for a while, but it's still something to look forward to in the future. They are big sports fan, so get ready to go to and watch lots of games with them. He might even play a round of golf with you when you get a little older. Your Aunt Kim is fun to be around and always tells things the way that they are. The only problem you will have with her is when it comes to cooking. Boiling water might be difficult, but don't worry, we will never go hungry around them. It seems like the grill is always hot at their house. 

This is your Uncle Kirk. He is my brother. He might be on the quiet side when you first meet him, but he is probably one of the coolest guys you are going to see. When you are around him, you have fun and you laugh. You will have your own inside jokes with him and then it really gets fun. You will go to several Alabama games with him, both home games and away. He makes the road trips really fun, even if you leave at four in the morning to get there. He is ferociously loyal and one of my best friends, so I know you will like him. He is really smart and usually thinks things through before making a decision. I want you around him as well as others like him so that you will understand how a mature Christian should act. 

This is your Aunt Kacy. She technically isn't your aunt, yet, but it's close enough. She is going to marry your Uncle Kirk. When you can talk, you might want to mention wanting to be in the wedding. She is fun and creative, and fits into this family very well. Get ready to see her on several family vacations. 

This is your Grandma and Pap Pap. They are your mother's parents. They live in Alabama. These are the ones Haley can help you with, although I don't think you will need much help getting what you want out of them. Haley is their granddaughter, but you are their first grandson. Your Pap Pap may seem a little gruff at first, but he really loves his family (which includes you) and will do anything for them. He will drive you around on his tractor, his four-wheeler, and his motorcycle. Your Grandma is kind, and loves to have a good time. She will play games with you and let you help cook dinner. There are a lot of people who work with her who are really excited to meet you, so let her show you off to all of her friends and coworkers. She always seems to be busy, but will always take a break to spend time with her family (especially her only grandson!).

This is your Jema and Pop. They are my parents. Remember when I said they would be replaced by different people? Well, when you meet them, that will have already happened. At the moment, you don't share them with a cousin, so that means you are going to have to do the "hard work" of softening them up. They live in Virginia and, like everyone else, can't wait to meet you. We get to visit them sometimes when it snows. Sledding at Jema and Pop's is always fun. Your Pop showed me how to be a dad. I can only hope that I do as good of a job as he did. You get to go hunting with him, also. You can help him use the snow blower, run the lawn mower, and grilling a mean steak. Jema is no different. There is always plenty to eat and to do at her house. She is another one who will show you off to all of those that she knows. 

This is your mother. When I tell you that you are the luckiest boy in the world, she is one of the bigger reasons why. She is fun, kind, fair, very beautiful, and can really cook. And we get to spend all of our time with her! I can't tell you how long she has wanted to meet you. Every time we went to the doctor's office, she always hoped we would get to see you on an ultrasound. She will always be sweet to us, so we get to be sweet to her. You and I get to make her breakfast and take it to her before she gets up. We get to make her cards and take her flowers. It won't be hard, but love her with everything you have, because she will love us both as only she can!

Well, there is your introduction to some of the important characters in your life. I don't have enough time to tell you about all of the people you will meet in the first few weeks. You still have to meet your great-aunts (like Aunt Kathy) and your great-uncles (like Uncle Richie), your great-grandparents, and all your new friends in Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania, etc., but I will let you get a look at them when you do. 

All of the people pictured here love you more than you can imagine. They are so excited to meet you and have been that way for nine months. The stage is set and they are waiting on you. Just know that when you are ready, they will be ready, too. Enter stage right, and be introduced to the world, and enjoy your time here. 

Maybe there is one other person to whom I should introduce you.   

This is me. I am your dad. I will introduce myself to you soon, but you can hear about me from other people. Except, I need to approve of those who tell you about me. 

I will add my name to the list of those who are ready to meet you. My name is already on the list of those who love you. And because of you I can absolutely say that I am

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Catalogue of Life, The Gender Specifier, and Award-Winning Movies

Things happen to families that change their course and their outlooks. If you look in the Catalogue of Life under "Life-Altering Experiences," you will see that there are more than a few things that can change the future for a family. You will see sad things, like "Death of a family member," or "Fired from job." You will also see happy things, like "Wedding," or "Birth of a child." You might also see weird things, like "Splurged and bought 400 pieces of Elvis Presley's hair for $7,000," but that one is for another blog. Most of the time, these changes happen one at a time over a period of months, sometimes years. Seldom do these things happen close to one another. For them to occur within the same month is incredible. For my family, not only did a few of these happen in the same month, they happened in the same week! The past seven days, May 5-12, 2010, may need to be registered as some kind of holiday. If not, at least give people a day afterwards to catch their collective breaths.

Wednesday, May 5, was one day that contained one of those life-changing things. It was a very exciting day. It was hopefully the day that the Gingerbread Man showed itself to be a boy or a girl. No longer would this person be referred to with the dreaded neuter pronoun "it," but would be called gender-specific things. No one would talk of this person in ambiguous terms, but in gender-specific terms. Gone would be the days of receiving only gender-neutral clothing, and forever present would be the days of shopping for gender-specific outfits. The slash in "he/she" would be removed within a few short minutes. 

The Ultrasound Room waited, ready. Kellee reclined on the bed next to the machine. The technician sat next to her readying the equipment. I sat on the couch, which should have had a sign above it that reads "I serve no purpose at the moment." Out came a bottle of blue gel (which I'm told was surprisingly warm) and on the exposed belly it went. Then the technician spread it around with what looked to be the business end of a vacuum hose. Then she asked "Do you want a DVD of this?" which is a question that ranks on the "Duh" meter somewhere between "Is this fire hot?" and "Do you like breathing?" With the session recording, the first great event of the week was underway. 

I would have thought that one would have had time to prepare for the information that was about to be given to me at that moment. I would have expected the technician to say something like "OK, let's see if we can find out what you are having," or "In just a minute I will tell you what you are having." But that is not what happened. I knew why I was in that room. I knew I was going to be told a gender-specific term, but I thought I would have had time to appreciate the moment and prepare myself. But that is not what happened. I thought we would go on a guided tour of the womb, seeing all the sights, and then, at the end of the guided tour, be told "Oh yes, by the way, you are having a boy/girl." But that is not what happened. 

Within a minute of the Record button's being pressed the technician said, "Would you like to know what you are having?" (Two "Duh" questions in less than 5 minutes. Is she trying for a record?) We said, "Yes," and then immediately were shown the Potty-Bowl View. 

The Potty-Bowl View is, I am told, the money shot. It is the angle that you want to see during this visit. It is THE angle that takes the aforementioned slash away. It is, for lack of a better term, the gender specifier. "You are having a boy," she said. Wait, wait, hold on. I had hardly enough time to press the record button on my own memory and here she goes blurting it out. It took me a few minutes to gather what she just so matter-of-factly said. I am having a son! We are having a son! The Gingerbread Man was, in fact, a Gingerbread Boy. Apparently, somehow, someone switched my memory device in my head with something that could see the future. A movie flashed quickly through my mind. It was a movie of a little boy (whose face was as blurry as the one on the screen, presently, but still boy none the less) riding with Pap Pap on his orange tractor. Then he was hunting with Pop. Then he was being shown off by Grandma to everyone with whom she works. Then he was playing some board game with Jema. Then he was helping his mother cook dinner.

The movie, I suppose, would have continued for a while, but a voice interrupted it. It was the front desk at the office telling us that two friends were there to see us (and by "us" I mean Kellee and the ultrasound). Jonie Womac and Kristy Hinson were waiting at the door down the hallway when I opened it. One of them could tell instantly that I knew the answer to the all-important question of the moment, because, apparently, I was smiling. I guided them down the hall to the movie theatre door and in we walked. 

Jonie, a future ultrasound technician herself, took one look at the image on the screen (which to me looked like something trying to eat the starship Enterprise) and said "Oh, you're having a boy!" Little chirps and noises came out of the two females who were jumping up and down. They, mothers of three boys, undoubtedly had movies playing in their own heads.  After the technician had finished making our DVD, she showed us to the office of Dr. Childs. He talked to us for a few minutes and told us to come back in a month. 

Phone calls were quickly made to the grandparents. Interestingly, when the grandmothers were told, similar sounds came out of the ear piece that had just come out of Jonie and Kristy. It was a wonderful day. It was a day that changed our lives.

Saturday, May 7, 2010, was another day that contained an experience from the "Life-Altering" category. For the first time in a long time, all of the Gilpins were in the same place at the same time. Two came from Salem, VA. Two came from Cleveland, TN. One stayed right where he was. We had descended on Tuscaloosa, AL. to see Kirk graduate from the University of Alabama. We sat in Coleman Coliseum with one set of grandparents, Kirk's girlfriend, Kacy, and Kirk's and my cousin, Abby. 

As I sat there, thumbing through the program, another movie began to play in my mind. This time, it wasn't anything from the future. This time, it was something I had seen before. It was a movie of some of the times I had spent with the soon-to-be graduate. It was a movie of the time I tried to make Kirk an African by covering him in mud. It was a movie of the time he took big chunks out of my foam mattress to make shoulder pads to fit under his L.A. Raiders jersey. It was a movie of going to my first Alabama game and sitting next to Dad and Kirk. It was a movie of going to Atlanta to watch Alabama play Virginia Tech and getting back home at 3 in the morning. It was a movie of going to Auburn to watch the 2009 Iron Bowl. It was a movie of the two of us standing under some very bare trees on Toomer's Corner after the 2009 Iron Bowl and smiling.

A smile crept across my face as the movies continued to play as a young man's name was called and his future changed forever. It's interesting that we sat for two hours just to watch a 15 second stroll and a handshake, but it was well worth the trip. I guess I could say that for the past 22 years we have spent knowing him: It has been worth the trip. He had done well and deserved the day. It was a wonderful day. It was a day that changed our lives.

Today, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, as I sat, writing out the synopsis of the week's movie, I was reminded that today is the half-way point of Kellee's pregnancy. She has carried HIM for half of the time needed for full term. Could there be a better week for that to happen? I think not. I wouldn't have it any other way than to have that movie playing along with the others that occurred during this week. In about 20 weeks, I will be holding my son, with the cerebral camera (and an actual camera) rolling the whole time. That will be a wonderful day. That will be a day that will change our lives. 

Each of us carries with him a recording device. We can watch those movies we have made whenever we like. And, like Ray Ramano once said, it is good that we can sometimes edit those same movies.

As far as I am concerned, the movie of the past week should win an Academy Award. It had the Best Actors, Best Supporting Cast, Best Story, and Best Musical Score (graduation theme) all in seven days.
It's comforting to know that I can watch my award-winning movies any time I want. And who is the audience? It's I. And for now, I am simply

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paul Reiser, Kermit the Frog, and Our First Trimester

As the first trimester of our baby's developmental stage was completed yesterday (I wonder if he/she knows that), I thought it would be a good time to update all who care (and those who aimlessly clicked on the link) on recent events and amusing thoughts that I have had.

I know that the next sentence will go over nicely, especially with the mothers who are among the readers, but it is meant with the deepest sense of understanding that, yes, I know I am not the one who is pregnant, so here goes. The first trimester: Is that it? I mean, I have read several books on pregnancy from the father-to-be's perspective and the one thing that was common throughout was that the first trimester was a strait that had to be endured. I was expecting nausea, cravings, weight gain, and irritability on top of everything that Kellee was experiencing. Other than the occasional ache and the few pounds added on in the past couple months, this first stage has not been nearly as difficult as Alan Thicke and Paul Reiser told me it would be. Now, again, I know that I am not the one carrying another person, and I am not the one feeling all the pains, and putting up with me along with everything else, but really, we have both made the comment that if we had not been to the doctor twice and seen the Gingerbread Man on the screen twice, we would not know we were going to be parents.

This lack of reportable pregnancy news has given rise to worry within me about the future. The main cause for concern is that this child is conserving energy so as not to be any trouble now, but will, in the years to come, make up for all the nausea, indigestion, and headaches of which there seems to be a deficiency now. The secondary cause for concern is that the second or the third trimesters will be exponentially more difficult, because of the lack of such in the first. It would be like cramming 9 months of pregnancy into 6 months, because there wasn't much to speak of for the first 3 months, making the pregnancy consist of two three month periods (bimesters? semesters?) instead of three. But again, "Dr." Reiser and the other geniuses who write these dad-to-be books will tell you that the second trimester is, by far, the easiest of the three. I don't know what to expect now.

Of the two causes of concern, the former had me the most worried. I know that the child isn't actually saving energy in order to become the bane of western civilization, but the thought has crossed my mind. Something occurred Sunday night that quelled any worries I had about the potential boorish ways this child might be harboring.

Every year about this time, local churches of Christ are preparing their young people for the Lads to Leaders Convention that takes place each Easter weekend. We, here in Cleveland, TN. prepare by scheduling our young people to lead in the worship and ladies classes of other congregations, and those congregations reciprocate at another time. This gives them the practice in front of a large audience that they so desperately need, while affording the audience with the opportunity to see the future of the church in training. Sunday night was the last one in which we would be away at another congregation before the Convention in two weeks. This particular night we were scheduled to be at Central, located just a few miles away. The worship hour began at 6:30 with the three youngest of the group: Grey Gobble, Camden Womac, and Ryder Hinson.

Grey climbed the step stool provided until his shoulders and head were visible and led E.A. Hoffman's well-known song, "Have You Been To Jesus?" The Grinch, with his heart full of unwashed socks and his soul full of gunk, would have had no choice but to grin as he watched the smallest Gobble belt out his best notes. As he descended the stairs to the main floor when he finished his song, he made his way to the front row, where two beaming parents waited.

Things are always so much louder when everyone is quiet and not supposed to talk. For this reason, everyone heard a small three year old named Camden ask, "Is it my turn?" After having his question affirmed, he made his way up the steps to the podium, around the back and up the ladder until only the top of his head could be seen over the pulpit. A small arm extended to the sky and grabbed hold of the microphone and brought it down to his unseen mouth. Out came this enormous voice, "I will be singing Jesus Loves Me." And he did. After the song came to an end, he looked around with a slight grin. With some prompting he remembered he was to do something else: "Lamentations free, twenty-two, twenty-free. The steadfas love of Lord... never... ceases... mercies never come... end... new every morning... great is thy faifulness." And with that he hopped down to the floor and was off to the front row, where, again, two proud parents waited.

The next to go was Camden's two year old cousin, Ryder. He is perhaps the funniest child I have ever known. I never know what he will say, and to give him a captive audience and a microphone, well that is just the height of lunacy! The boy who cries at sand, asks "What happened?" when nothing has happened, and runs like Kermit the Frog, was standing behind a pulpit, peering at 200 hundred smiling people. I thought to myself, This is going to be awesome! And I, in no way, was disappointed. He surveyed the audience, right to left and when he had seen everyone, without warning, shouted "JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILLLLLLDREN..." which prompted all of us to begin singing (after we stopped laughing, of course). After the echoes of "...CHILDREN OF THE WORRRRD" finished reverberating off of the walls, Ryder smiled, descended the steps and made his way to his mother, who was, just like the other parents, about to burst with pride (or relief, I'm not sure).

I don't know a single preacher who could have watched that five minute scene featuring Grey, Camden, and Ryder, and not thought of Matthew 19:13-14, or its equivalent verses in the other accounts. According to this text, Jesus told His disciples to allow the little children to come to Him, because the kingdom of heaven was made up of such individuals. He said, "Allow," not "force," or "bring" them to Him. He makes it sound like children are drawn to Him naturally, and if we, as adults will stay out of their way, they will find Him every time. That made me feel that, no matter what this child does in life, he/she will be drawn to Jesus from the beginning, and all we (the parents) have to do is allow it to happen. Don't misunderstand, I know training must take place (Prov. 22:6), but the growing toward Jesus will be as natural as a flower growing toward the sun.

Whatever the next trimester has in store, the end product will surely be worth it. Come to think of it, no matter what the trimester after that, or the one after that, or the one after that, or the one after that has in store, it will be worth it. All I have to do is not mess it up. That may sound simple to some, but to those who know better, they know it takes a lot of work, and just a little bit of knowing when to stay out of the way. That isn't something that Paul Reiser, Alan Thicke, or any of the "experts" can write in a book. It is something that is learned by those who have experienced it for themselves and are now the proud owners of big smiles as their children come bounding down the steps of the church building's stage. For now, I will simply take comfort in the fact that I am just finishing my first trimester of growing into a father. That seems to be enough for someone who is still growing. And I? Well,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Earliest Paradoxes of The Gingerbread Man

When does life begin? At the ever-increasingly-cliched gleam? At the first breath taken, or at the first breath taken away? At the first step forward, or at the first step backward? At the moment of conception, or at the moment of consciousness?

Only yesterday I discovered a new answer to my question. I sat in a doctor's office next to my supine wife and we both were staring at a TV screen picturing a blob next to some other blobs. The nurse pointed to the middle blob and said things like yolk sac, seven and a half weeks, and healthy. I'll admit I wasn't paying attention to anything she was saying. She could have shouted out words like Chrysanthemum, Bavarian Warmbloods, and pancakes, and my expression would have never changed.  I was in the middle of a discovery that I had never made before that moment. The blob in the middle of the other blobs was shaped like a gingerbread man. Just under the middle blob was a heart that was beating almost as fast as mine. Though these are interesting observations, the greatest discovery was what came next. 
The nurse (could have been the same one, could have been a different person altogether) turned a switch and I felt the entire world go silent. The only entity allowed to make a sound when the switch was on was The Gingerbread Man on the screen. The only sound echoing through our world was the sound of his heart- Wompwompwompwompwompwompwompwomp. I think I opened my mouth to say "Oh, wow," but I couldn't, because the nurse's switch was still turned into the ON position. It was at that moment I made my discovery: Life begins when you give life to someone else. I was twenty-five years old. My wife, twenty-four. We had been alive for half a century between us, but we were never alive like we were when The Gingerbread Man was talking. Life had only just begun for us, as it also had for The Blob. 

I don't remember the drive home (which is comforting, because I was driving). I remember the quickest day in modern history passing very swiftly and bedtime approach. I tried to pretend I was tired. I tried to pretend the day was normal or average, and that tomorrow was a new day of opportunity. Kellee was asleep easily. Unlike me, it had been a long day for her. Only the cat, nudging to get under the covers with her, kept her awake at all. Me? I had something else keeping me awake. There was a very nervous person pacing in my frontal lobe with all kinds of questions, none of which I had an answer for. 

How can something so small make you feel as if you are the strongest man in the world?
How can someone with a heart the size of a letter on this page make yours grow three sizes in a day?
How can someone shaped like a holiday cookie make you crumble at the sight of him?
How can you possibly be "wrapped around a finger" which, as yet, doesn't exist?

Months before the sleepless nights of feedings, cryings, rockings, and changings, I was having my own sleepless night for other reasons. 

Later, that pacing person in my brain started in with more questions. What will he look like? What will his name be? What color hair will he have? Might he be talking within a week's time of his arrival (not likely)? Will he look like his mother (hopefully)? Will he have my nose (oh, dear)?

Why were these questions being asked at such a late hour, or even at all? Had I any answers for them they would not have helped. 

As soon as those questions faded answerlessly through our window and into the snowy air, the man in my frontal lobe was washed over again with new life and a new set of questions. What will she look like? What will her name be? What color hair will she have? Might she be talking within a week's time of her arrival (still unlikely)? Will she look like her mother (again, hopefully)? Will she have my nose?

How do you sleep when that worrisome person is chewing off his proverbial finger nails? I calmed him and me down at the same time by realizing that the whole day was about dealing with paradoxes. The answer to any and all worry must consist of one, too. And so, before bidding adieu for the night to the man in my forehead, I made peace with this one thought: In less than a year, I will have complete control over an independent life. Yet, at the same time, I know that I will have lost all control over a dependent life. I don't know why that made me fall asleep, or even feel less anxious. Perhaps comfort lies in the fact that we know we don't know what will happen, but that up to this point, we have been cared for by a host of others. 

Last night I slept well, yet not at all. I would like to say that I dreamt of things like blobs on a screen, Bavarian Warmblood horses, and The Gingerbread Man, but I didn't. Maybe I will some other night when the worry is not so great. Maybe knowing that you don't know is the greatest paradox not only in parenthood, but also in life. On second thought, I know that it is. Or maybe it isn't. What do I know? After all, 

Birches by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves

As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.

But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be A Swinger of Birches.