In the military, if you show up on time, then you’re late. Well, on February 28, 2013, my day began as typical Thursday at Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. But one frantic phone call, one delayed flight, two car rides, 420 miles and 10 chewed up fingernails later, I arrived at Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, VA for the birth of our third child with just 10 minutes to spare. Right on time.
I started getting text messages from my wife at 4:30am letting me know she couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk. At that ungentlemanly hour, I don’t remember calling her back, but my call history says I did. Truth is, I was tired that morning because I had labored hard the day before. Little did I know my wife was in labor…
At 5:20am, I headed out to “Pain Before Breakfast” – Naval Justice School’s “super fun” weekly five mile run around Newport in the freezing cold. After the run, I got back and immediately headed to class, and still hadn’t really talked to Jackie. I figured if something was really wrong I would know about it. Right?
So. Back at school, I sneak out during class to check up on Jackie, and the conversation goes like this:
Me: You alright?
Jackie: Yea, whoa, uhh
(10 second pause…)
Contractions can be such a conversation killer…
I had planned on going home that afternoon anyway, but after a few of these conversations I realized I had to get back immediately. And shortly thereafter, I left class with perhaps the greatest excuse I have ever had: the birth of my child.
On the way up to Providence Airport, I started thinking about my odds of making it for the delivery – something that was incredibly important to me. They weren’t good, and a call from Jackie telling me to “hurry up” made them even worse. It was at this point that I finally realized she was in labor, nearly seven hours after that whole process had begun.
Upon arrival I parked, raced inside, and started working my magic to get on an earlier flight. You could tell I was in a hurry cuz I parked in the garage instead of saving $3/day by parking in another county. I told the airline reps that my wife was in labor and I needed to get back ASAP (and I may or may not have fumbled with my military ID for bonus sympathy points…). I got the following responses:
– Southwest: “We don’t have a better flight. If I were you, I’d go talk to the other airlines.”
– United: “We have an earlier flight, but it’s full. Try US Air.”
– US Air: “We have a flight, but it’s only 20 minutes earlier and it will cost you $450 to get on it.”
Uhh, what’s behind door number four?
Bottom line was: I was stuck on my flight. And when I got to the gate, I discovered my flight was delayed by 30 minutes. And two hours later when I finally land in Baltimore, the stewardess tells us there’s a plane in our gate, which means more delays. My unborn child, in the meantime, is not delaying.
As soon as they opened the doors to the plane, I raced to the front. One lady, with a tone of disappointment and speaking on behalf of everyone around her, shouts “hey you’re not the only one with places to go!” Opportunistically, I paused, calmly looked her straight in the eye, and said: “my wife is in labor right now and I’m trying to get to the delivery room… now where are you going?”
So anyway, I’m at BWI airport, which is a solid hour and change from the hospital without traffic (and there’s always traffic). I get a call from Jackie’s phone. It’s her friend Kristen, calling to tell me that the doctor needed to perform a C-section in 30 minutes. There was no hope: I wasn’t gonna make it on time. At this point I just prayed that Jackie and our baby would be ok.
Jackie’s dad picked me up and we headed down a route that those in the Washington, D.C. area avoid with everything they can: 95 to 495 to Route 66. At rush hour, it’s like being sentenced to three separate deaths. Kill me.
I started letting my family know that the baby was about to be born and that I wasn’t gonna make it. But after a while, I noticed traffic was surprisingly not that bad. I braced for the inevitable sea of red brake lights that epitomize the DC beltway, but it didn’t come. Weird, I thought.
Then, a glimmer of hope: a text message from Jackie’s phone. “How far away?” She had been trying to stall this delivery with all her might. I was easily 35 minutes away, but I told her I would be there “20 minutes max.” So yea, I lied about how far away I was. BUT MY WIFE DOES IT TO ME ALL THE TIME!
At some point I got word that the doctor was “no kidding” gonna deliver this child in 20 minutes, and that Jackie had already headed back to the OR (yea, thats right, I say “OR” instead of “Operating Room” cuz I’ve seen a few episodes of Greys Anatomy…). My driver pulled some James Bond stuff (while obeying ALL local traffic laws, of course…) and got me to the hospital 10 minutes later. When we pulled up, I sprinted through the lobby without applying hand sanitizer. There was no time to disinfect!
I got to room 313 on the 3rd Floor, where Jackie’s friend Kristen briefed me on what was going on. With just under 10 minutes til go-time, I changed into what can best be described as an albino clown costume, and headed over to the OR myself.
As I waited to go in, an air of panic suddenly began to fill the hallway. Jackie’s doctor needed to come IMMEDIATELY. Apparently the baby’s heart rate had dropped way below normal levels. “Heart rate 56” some nurse declared. When I was at one of the appointments, this baby’s heart rate was in the 180s, so at that point I knew that things weren’t going well.
I was escorted into the OR and grabbed the hand of a tearful mother in fear of the worst. At that moment I realized why God had parted the Red Sea for me that day – so I could be there with Jackie at that very moment. I told her it would be ok and that she was doing great. I then prayed that things would actually be ok.
It took a while, but eventually they pulled our baby out. I didn’t even know if it was a boy or girl, and at this point, all I noticed was that it wasn’t making any noise, and it looked kinda blue. Time stopped while I begged this baby to cry. “Please just cry!” I tell ya, 5 seconds never went by so slowly.
And then it happened: a big wail. And boy, what a relief it was that the baby was ok. And speaking of boy, a quick glance “down there” and I realized I was the father of another son. Nice! His temporary name was “Boy.”
For about nine months, Jackie and I had been calling this baby “Pat” because I wanted to be surprised by the sex. Jackie, who hates surprises, was shocked that I never wanted to know. It was killing her that she had a secret and couldn’t tell it to me – which naturally I loved.
So I’m standing there filming everything at this delivery and out of nowhere some nurse hands me this creepy set of scissors. She then gives me the green light to cut the slimy, odd-looking “umbilical cord” poking out of my son’s belly. A few reiterations of “no, it’s ok” later, and I had earned myself the look of death from the nurse in Operating Room 2. It got a little awkward in there, I’m not gonna lie…
From here, they took the baby and me (but not Jackie) to another room in Labor and Delivery, where, in theory, parents get to enjoy the first precious moments of a child’s life. But that’s not actually what happens…
See, almost any father will tell you that their primary concern while the baby takes its first breaths of fresh air is maximizing the potential of social media, email, text message, and other forms of electronic communication. In other words, this is not a Kodak moment – it’s a Smartphone moment.
So I’m firing away pics and posts and at some point Jackie gets wheeled in. We immediately begin negotiating names. This too was awkward because nurses were hovering over us and pretending not to listen in on our conversation. I wanted the boy’s name to be “Brody.” I mean sure, that’s the name of a terrorist on the show Homeland, but he’s actually a really nice and sensitive terrorist…
Here’s the simple truth: Jackie wanted “Brady,” but I can’t stand the New England Patriots. So we agreed on Brody. And I think it’s the perfect name for him. Thus far, nicknames include: Bro, Bro-ham, Brode Master, Sergeant Brody, and Brodo Baggins. Please help me add to this list – it will only make our “Bromance” that much stronger.
After two days in the hospital, we came home and introduced Jimmy and Riley to their new younger brother. They were excited, and Riley wasted no time initiating her brother in the family hierarchy.
Now I’m back at Naval Justice School, where I am constantly thinking about my still-recovering wife and always-crazy children. Thankfully, she’s surrounded by awesome people who have been preparing meals, cleaning our house, and chasing our toddlers everywhere. Heck, perhaps Jimmy and Riley had me trained to chase down our newest child from Naval Justice School to Fair Oaks Hospital in just a few hours.
To think: ten minutes later, and I would have missed it.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Jim Howland, reporting for duty. Kind of.
Well folks, the Navy has sent me back to Newport, RI to get my knowledge on at Naval Justice School – ten weeks of learning all the fun stuff that comes with being a military lawyer. More on that in a bit…
I left January 22, and I assure you I was in a glass cage of emotion. Leaving Jackie and the kids was incredibly hard for me – in fact, there may or may not have been tears as I hugged Jimmy and Riley goodbye. What?
Anyway, my sadness quickly turned into anger as I paid toll after toll after painful freaking toll heading north on Interstate 95. $6 to get out of Maryland. $13 to get through Delaware. The farther north I went, the more I shelled out. At one point, I actually considered this a violation of my Constitutional right to travel.
And this, my friends, is why people hate lawyers.
Eventually, in a moment of golden irony, I hit the New York City skyline right as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ rendition of “Empire State of Mind” came on the radio. In retrospect, this was probably not a coincidence. Either way, the volume went up and so did my whiteness factor. What can I say? Big lights will inspire me.
Fortunately, I arrived at Naval Station Newport safe and sound. And pretty much broke.
So. First day of class, and there I am. Hopelessly lost in a room of about 25 Naval Officers and 35 Marines. I knew two of them. It took very little time for me to notice a stark contrast between the Marines and the Sailors. Allow me to expand a bit…
First, Marines just talk differently. They say “rah” all the time, regardless of the appropriateness. They all have crazy stories from Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, and they are not afraid to share them. During the first few months of college I would meet people who went to the same high school and always wanted to talk about how awesome their experience was. Well, that’s kind of how it feels when I’m around these guys. Fortunately, their stories are hilarious.
A few other things: they dip, they curse, and they are not your normal lawyers. In fact, they all hate it here, and would much rather be in the forest somewhere with their faces painted and a rifle in their hands. Oorah?
Anyway. Class begins at Zero Seven Thirty and goes until Seventeen Hundred. To clarify: we do absolutely nothing at Zero Dark Thirty, and the only thing being fired at us is PowerPoint Slides. But I assure you what we do is dangerous.
Here’s what we’ve learned how to do thus far:
-write wills (well, technically a computer program actually writes it);
-write letters (with fancy letterhead!); and
Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme.
We’ve also had a riveting debate over whether the Navy Correspondence Manual should require two spaces after a period, or just one. I for one am a fan of two spaces, but I tread carefully because this debate gets personal.
You may be thinking: when are we gonna learn how to bust “Code Reds” out of Guantanamo Bay? Well, we haven’t had that class yet. But I did spot a Code Red Mountain Dew at the Commissary. So that’s exciting.
On Thursday mornings, we partake in a fun little activity called “Pain Before Breakfast.” This is a five mile run at five thirty in the morning. Five. Freaking. Thirty. Of course, attending Pain Before Breakfast is entirely voluntary – kind of the same way you “voluntarily” get in the car when a mob boss pulls up and asks you to join him. And in case my Executive Officer happens to read this, I would like to go on record as saying I absolutely love Pain Before Breakfast and look forward to it every week. Smile.
Fortunately, Pain Before Breakfast is not the only way I strive to exercise – I’m also on the basketball team. For a good laugh, watch me play basketball. Seriously it’s hilarious.
As for Newport, it’s beautiful, but it’s cold. If the low temps don’t make you miserable, the wind will. Sometimes I drive literally across the street because, trust me, it’s worth it. I brought my golf clubs with me thinking I might be able to get out and play. Those poor clubs have been sentenced to solitary confinement in my trunk for the next seven weeks.
And speaking of confinement, I call Jackie (now 36 weeks pregnant) at night to check in on her and see how she’s hanging in there. Here’s how our nice little conversations go…
Me: so how was your day?
Jackie: it was fine. JIMMY, PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW!
Me: Nice. What are you getting into tonight?
Jackie: I don’t know. RILEY, YOU DO NOT KICK YOUR BROTHER!
Jackie: HEY JIM, I GOTTA CALL YOU BACK. (click)
And as much as I miss the kids, I do not miss getting up with them at night. No chance. Eight hours of sleep is a glorious perk of my time here, and I know that when I come home we will have a newborn. Here’s another perk: I have a maid. And she’s awesome: she is a mother of two who works 5 days a week, and then goes to school at night because she wants to become a teacher. God bless ‘Murrica!
So that’s Naval Justice School. I’m just doing my part to kill the terrorists one legal ethics opinion at a time. More to come.
Code Red. Oorah. Over.
When I was about 10 years old, I went to an Atlanta Braves baseball game with my late grandfather, Ray Howland. And while I don’t remember a thing about the actual game, I do remember a group of guys about two sections over trying desperately to get a “wave” going (you know, the kind where everyone stands up and shouts when it comes your way…). Naturally, this was far more worthy of my attention than the game. And to their credit, these guys eventually got a wave going all the way around the stadium. A resounding win for the drunks in Section 314.
Because I watched this wave develop, I felt unusually invested. I was especially proud to stand up and shout each time it went by. But my grandfather just sat there unfazed. “Why aren’t you standing up?” I asked with an accusatory tone. His response, uttered on a day which will forever live in infamy, was as follows: “I hate the wave. It’s obnoxious.”
If you’re wondering how I took this, well, here’s a clue: he might as well have told Tinkerbell he didn’t believe in fairies. I mean seriously, who doesnt love the wave?
Well, this whole interaction became even more impactful to me about four years ago at a baseball game I went to with my own father. Wouldn’t you know it, another wave got started. And wouldn’t you know it, my dad echoed the very sentiments of his father before him: the wave is “distracting” to those “actually watching the game.” I couldn’t believe it. Et tu?
Whatever my grandfather had, my dad now had as well. And I knew it was only a matter of time before I got it as well. Or, as a famous king once declared: “Simba, you must take your place in the Circle of Life.”
Well, this weekend marked my 10 year high school reunion. The event itself was incredible. Indeed, I went to an awesome high school and graduated with a group of people that I hope to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. Mandatory “Go Warhawks!”
But the occasion provided me with an opportunity to contrast “High School Me” with “Current Me”. And upon reflection, I feel I am heading in the direction of my forefathers a bit faster than I originally hoped. Which is why I now present to you several observations about how I’ve changed since high school, and why I fear my love for the “wave” may expire in the coming years. Here goes nothing.
— I drink diet soda now – something I promised myself I would never do. But, diet soda has fewer calories (true) and the same great taste (false). So there.
— I am truly bothered when lights are left on unnecessarily in the house, or when the heat is going and the door is left open. My wife recently caught me asking her (in an annoyed voice) why it was necessary that we have “every single light in the house on at once.” Coming soon: “this is why we can’t have nice things,” and “if you keep it up I’m turning this car around.”
— A lot of popular music just doesn’t make sense to me. I was in the car recently flipping through radio stations and stumbled upon a catchy song in which I could have promised you the guy was saying “Open Condom Style.” How inappropriate! (Google assures me it’s actually: “Oppan Gagnam Style”). And “party rock is in the house tonight?” What does that even mean?
— Speaking of music, I kind of actually like the song “Call Me Maybe.” This is something I would never have admitted in high school. And since I’m making confessions: I always secretly enjoyed listening to the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync and 98 Degrees. Oh yea, and I shed a tear at the end of “Titanic.” Conscience cleared.
— I was baptized and became a follower of Jesus Christ. This is something that I won’t joke about because it’s a pretty big deal. The changes in my life this has sparked are too numerous to list on this blog, but here’s a subtle one: I’ve noticed that substituting the word “blessed” for the word “lucky” gives me instant Christianity street cred (something I’m always looking for).
Ex1: “I am so lucky blessed to have finally found my keys.”
Ex2: “I am so lucky blessed that the Redskins covered the spread against the Giants.”***
***Obligatory disclaimer: I don’t gamble. Oh wait dang it, I forgot about my fantasy football leagues. So I guess I do kind of gamble…
— I watch shows that would embarrass the high school version me. Food Network, HGTV, you name it. “Is this woman gonna finish icing those cupcakes before time runs out? The suspense is killing me!” In fairness, getting my wife to watch college basketball with me is something I have had to earn. I do this by banking hours of TLC, Army Wives, and Christmas movies, and then cashing them in when my Indiana Hoosiers are on. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.
— When it rains, I almost instinctively declare that “the grass could really use it.” Enough said.
— I have hit the point in my life where the cost of going to the movies is a deal-breaker – something that never mattered in high school. “12.50 for a movie?!?!” When I was a kid, we walked to school uphill both ways in the snow. And movies were only $6.
— I am genuinely excited for my friends when they post things on Facebook like “(insert baby name) just went pee-pee in the potty!” And while most people think Daylight Savings Time is awesome cuz it gives them an extra hour in the fall, I know that it throws everything off with the kid’s sleeping schedule. Basically, it’s evil!
— Per family tradition, I leave early from concerts and sporting events to ensure that I won’t get stuck in traffic. This is a classic old man operation. So while you’re enjoying the second song of Tim McGraw’s encore, don’t be surprised if you see me whispering “we’re gonna be stuck here for hours” to myself while I frantically scan the parking lot. Yup.
— In 2002, my precious little sister (10 years younger) watched Barney. Now she’s in a sorority. Plus, I recently talked to a college student who had never seen a single episode of “Saved By The Bell.” So yea, I’m getting old.
— Lastly: I’m a Republican now. If anyone by chance has the ability to time-travel back to 2002, please do not tell this to the high school version of me. It would devastate a big-time Al Gore fan.
There are many more examples of my old-manhood. But there’s hope for me, isn’t there? I mean, I still rock out to Michael Jackson. I still love wearing awesomely tacky American Flag clothes. AND I STILL LOVE THE “WAVE”!
Well, one thing’s for sure: I am going to cling on to 29 years old with all my might. Because 30 brings a whole new level of “you’re getting old” that I’m not sure I’m ready for. Heck before I know it, I’ll be RSVP’ing to my 30 year high school reunion, and by then my case of “Grumpy Old Manhood” will be fully incurable.
One of the symptoms? Explaining to my grandchildren that the “wave” is quite distracting to people trying to watch the game. Can’t wait.
Now that school has ended for the semester, it’s officially time for me to discuss (which means “complain about”) how hard it was. Those of you who are night students may be able to appreciate some of things that I “have”:
I have a boss who expects me to do my job; several bosses, actually. They support me going to school and all, but they also expect me to actually work for my salary. They’re demanding like that.
I also have professors who expect me to be prepared for class. More often than I’d like to admit, I “research” important cases on Wikipedia and sketchy legal blogs. And yep, I could soon become your lawyer…
I have a body that’s beginning to fight back from all the 7/11 Big Bites (with nacho cheese and chili, or course), coffees, Mountain Dews, Red Bulls, Quiznos, and bags of peanut butter m&ms. You know it’s bad when fruit snacks are literally your biggest source of fruit.
I have a backpack filled with ridiculously heavy books that I bring with me pretty much everywhere I go. Nothing says “professional” like a suit, tie, and a high school backpack.
Oh, and then I have my beautiful wife. We see each other in person on the weekends, and on Facebook during the week. On my first day of class last January, Jackie said “bye babe, I’ll see you in the summer.”
(It’s funny cuz it’s true).
Friends? Facebook claims I have a lot of them. But the call history on my cell phone would beg to differ.
(It’s sad cuz it’s true).
Also, being a night student comes with some unique dilemmas:
Should I finally take Jackie out on a date or should I finally start writing this paper? Should I save $50 and buy the old version of the textbook or buy the new one the professor says I “need” to have? Should I take a day of leave from work so I can study, or should I save it and go in?
These are things night students just have to deal with – a balancing act between work, school, marriage, and on occasion, friends. I sometimes jokingly refer to it as “the night life.” Amazingly, I’ve been living this night life since the Bush Administration.
But now I also “have” something else: two babies (that are super cute). Which makes me a “night student daddy.” Or is it “daddy night student”?
(Thinks about it…)
Definitely “night student daddy.”
Anyway. This past semester was the first full semester with the babies, and it was a grind. Nobody in our house slept much, and everybody in our house did some screaming.
But now that it’s over, I can look back and truly admire what my wife has done for me and my family, and it’s really awesome.
WARNING: it’s about to get real sappy up in here…
Here’s a quick-hitting list of things Jackie does: she works (32 hours per week), she watches the kids, she wakes up with the kids, she does my laundry, she gets them to bed all by herself, she does the shopping, she runs all the errands, she pays all the bills, she cleans the house, she packs my lunch and dinner (and few snacks for in between…), she sends me adorable pictures of the babies during the day, she thinks it’s important that I play racquetball on Sundays, and she makes me “soup and sandwich” when I start to get sick. Yea, she’s good.
Me? I take out the trash. Unless I forget.
One of these days, I may actually get to reward her with some of the “finer things.” But until then, we will continue to use our old washing machine that, with the help of duct tape, usually works. And we will continue to have a plywood board serve as a makeshift countertop in our kitchen. And we will continue to pay for new semesters of tuition while holding off on the new refrigerator I know Jackie is lusting after. And we will continue to go to restaurants that serve endless free chips. Confession: I have signed my fair of $6 dinner tabs.
Look, I’m not saying we’re poor; we’re not. But we have had to make some sacrifices over the past four years to pay for school, and I’m glad I have a wife who is capable of thinking long-term.
God hooked me up with a wife who is ridiculous, but also ridiculously awesome (for instance, she often answers the phone with “what up player?”). I would have it no other way. And when I finally finish school next semester, that degree will be every bit as much hers as it will be mine.
Being a night student is tough and being a “night student daddy” is even tougher. But my wife is a “night student mommy,” and that’s by far the toughest gig of all.
Told you it was about to get sappy in here.