Hold On Daddy's Coming!

Stories, rants and reflections by a clueless father of three

Archive for the tag “parenting”

You Can’t Handle the Truth: Life at Naval Justice School

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
-write…more letters.

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)

Good talk.

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.

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My First Five Weeks In The Military…

GET ON YOUR FACE RIGHT NOW!

Apparently this means get ready to do pushups.  It’s “zero four thirty” and I have lots to learn today in sunny Newport, RI.  Indeed, we’re just getting started…

UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN…

A few questions go through my mind: am I getting yelled at by a woman or a man?  How the heck did I get here?  And most importantly: am I wearing underwear? 

Back to reality: now we’re doing something called 6-90s.  It’s where you lie on your back with your feet 6 inches above the ground, and raise them to a 90 degree angle.  And repeat.  Wait, is this a p90x move?!?! 

It was Day Three.  I think.  Allow me to walk you through the remainder of our average day:

After the abrupt wake-ups, we would go outside to “PT” (which means physical training) for an hour.  This involved running or calisthenics, or some combination of the two.  We also did an insane amount of stretching.  Like, for every minute we worked out, we probably spent two minutes stretching.  This was weird.  I mean, who actually stretches these days? 

Then we ate: 15 minutes, no talking.  And no “skylarking” (looking around) either!  Ahh, you gotta love military words.   Here’s a few more: bulkhead (wall), ladder well (stairs), and Roger that (which according to Urban Dictionary means “I understand”).  Roger that?

Then came an hour of marching.  This was pure comedy. 

At a philosophical level, marching in the Navy makes absolutely no sense.  I mean, sailors work on ships – a place with very little marching room.  Add to that the fact that I am in a class of “staff corps” officers (doctors, lawyers, nurses, nuclear reactors, etc).  What you get is some sloppy marching. 

“Right face!”  “About face!”  “Center face!”  All this means something to those who have marched before.  I was new to all of it.  And I sucked at it…

Then came a period of time known as “hygiene.” As in, “you have three-five minutes for hygiene.”  Here was where we would make our beds (a brutal chore for someone who hates making the bed), shower, get the uniform on, and be ready to go.  The men’s bathroom was like a scene out of Top Gun… only with far fewer 6 pack abs, and no time to air dry. 

Then we sat through PowerPoint presentations.  All. Day. Long. No caffeine, and very few breaks.  I wasn’t ready for this.  Sleeping was not allowed (and strictly enforced), and we would be tested on all of this.  I missed law school!

We also had a drill instructor.  He was then one who whipped us into shape and taught us what we needed to know.  Importantly, he was the one who determined how long we would have to stand at attention.  In case you’ve never done it, standing at attention is really uncomfortable after a while. 

Note: If you are a Marine or Navy Seal or something like that, please don’t judge me.

In the evenings we would eat again.  Same rules: no skylarking, no talking, and 15 minutes to eat – I was usually done in 5.  I would spend the next 10 minutes trying to avoid eye contact with my friends – something that would always cause me to start laughing.  Oh, and another mealtime rule I forgot to mention: no laughing. 

Then we would march for another hour.  I’ve said my peace about Navy marching.  So anyway…

Then we would head into our “House” (think dorms) and clean, do laundry, study, or workout.  Don’t tell my wife this, but I actually got good at handling my own laundry.  Now shh!!!

Then, our company (54 officers) sang songs together before bed.  We recited the classics: Sailor’s Creed, Anchors Aweigh, and the Marine’s Hymn.  We sounded terrible, but we would improve as time went on. 

And that about wraps up the average day for five weeks.  Not boot camp, not summer camp, but somewhere right in between.  Before I move on, allow me once more to emphasize how BRUTAL the PowerPoints were – and I work for a consulting firm!  Ok, now I’m done… 

Some of the highlights included:

–          Going aboard the USS Michael Murphy – the newest destroyer in the Navy.  That ship alone could take out most countries.  One word comes to mind: ‘Merica!

–          Learning how to make a flotation device out of navy trousers.  Look out Bear Grylls!

–          Going out on the town in my summer white uniform and being thanked for my service – of three weeks!

–          Pushup contests.

–          Letters from home.

–          Helping save a fake ship (the USS Buttercup – a very manly vessel) from sinking

–          Singing “Tearin Up My Heart” to a crowd of locals on Karaoke night

–          Raising the flag in uniform

–          Spending close to $2,000 on my uniform (no discount double-check!)

–          Getting the shortest haircut of probably my entire life

–          Being required to say things like “Kill!” all the time. **

**  To demonstrate how much fun I had saying “kill,” I will be using the word as often as possible throughout the remainder of this post.   Get ready…

Of course, I had it easy compared to Jackie, who was at home with the babies – two born, one unborn.  Closing out the first trimester of her pregnancy with two stubborn 16-month olds was undoubtedly exhausting.  Bottom line: my wife is amazing (cheap brownie points I know, but I will take them).  Kill!

Fortunately, Jackie, her mom, and the kids came up for my graduation.  I went to see the babies at the hotel room and my worst fear came true: they didn’t recognize me.  In fact, they were scared of me.  Perhaps this was because my hair was short, my boots made me stand about 2 inches taller, and I was wearing my Navy fatigues.  Still, it was a punch in the gut. 

It took them a few minutes to recognize me, and then all became right with the world…

I needed this

 It was so awesome to see them.  It was also an ice cold glass of water to the face: welcome back to being dad!  Indeed, at the graduation reception while most of my friends were drinking and socializing, Jackie and I chased the babies around the ballroom.  The entire time.  “Nice to meet you – oh, Riley, no, no, no, come back!” I must have had this conversation six times. 

Kill!

Even better: Jimmy ran up to the Commanding Officer of Naval Training Command, Captain Kemper, and hit him in the back of the leg.  Yep, that’s my son scarfing down meatballs and hitting the Commanding Officer. 

Note: one day, he’ll wonder why he didn’t get into the Naval Academy…

The night before graduation we were allowed to sleep off base so long as we were back at 0430.  I slept with Jackie, my mother in law, and the babies in the hotel room and got a full 45 minutes of sleep.  But it was worth it to see them again.  At least that’s what I kept telling myself…

The next night I was home, sleeping in my very own “rack” (where hospital corners aren’t required).  From here, I wait to get my bar exam results, at which time I will begin fulfilling my four year commitment to the Navy JAG Corps.  I’m thankful to God for getting me where I am today; excited about the adventures in store; and honored to begin my military career.  As they say: Anchors Aweigh!  

And oh yea… KILL!!!

 

Jimmy’s doing a little “PT” of his own!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Beer and a Box of Pregnancy Tests

This is the second installment of a two-part story on how my wife and I lost our first baby, and fought like crazy to have another one.  Read “Part One” of the story here.  

*******************************************************************    

So there I was, beer in hand.  And there she was, pregnancy test in hand – apparently it was positive. 

We were definitely skeptical.  Even though all three pregnancy tests showed up the exact same way, Jackie and I figured there may have been something wrong with the box.  So, we marched back to the same store, grabbed more of the same pregnancy tests, and paid the exact same cashier.  Umm…awkward!   

It took about five tests to finally convince us that Jackie was pregnant.  I was a giddy school-girl.  But I was also very cautious.  “Oh please God let us keep this one!” was our constant prayer, and we took it seriously.  Please, please, please let us keep this one. 

Meanwhile, we were determined to keep the pregnancy our little secret.  We agreed: absolutely NOBODY can know about this until the second trimester!  Nobody… except some of our close friends.  And some family members.  Aaaaand some people from our church.  When you continually find yourself saying “but you can’t tell anyone…” you know your secret is doomed.  Well, ours was doomed. 

Of course, there are ways of telling people the news without *actually* telling them.  I mean, you can only order so many lemonades at an open bar wedding before people (like my dad) become suspicious.  And as a general rule, if you are a woman near 30 and refuse alcohol in any social setting for any reason, the pregnancy flags start flying.  It’s science. 

Either way, pretty much everyone knew about the pregnancy within two weeks.  Secrecy fail.

From the beginning, I enjoyed following the progress of our baby.  Indeed, I had a “pregnancy calendar” set to Jackie’s due date that I checked daily.  And while I still have no idea what a baby’s “crown to rump length” means, I was sure excited that it was getting bigger.  Our little tadpole was growing up!

I was particularly excited about Jackie’s first sonogram.  I couldn’t be there in person, but I got one heck of a phone call: “there’s two of them!” 

Two tadpoles.

Random side-note:  I see lots of “LOLs”, but am often suspicious that no one on the other end is laughing out loud.  For this reason, I hereby propose we add “ALOL” – or, “actually laughing out loud” to our online vernacular.  And I’m about to be the first person to ever use it in a sentence…

So, I get the news, and all I could do was ALOL.  Twins?  Really? 

Throughout the pregnancy, Jackie was a trooper.  Since she was carrying twins, she was deemed “high risk,” which meant constant doctor appointments, endless contractions, daily monitoring sessions, and bed rest.  I’m no expert on pregnancies, but I have seen the movie “Juno” and thus feel minimally qualified in saying that this was not a normal one by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, Jackie did go through many of the same experiences other pregnant women go through.  For instance, one day I got a frantic phone call from what I thought was a heroin addict.  Turns out it was my wife.  She needed a cheeseburger from Five Guys and she needed it RIGHT NOW!!!

The months flew by for me.  Working full time and going to school at night will do that.  I went to as many doctor visits as I could, and was amazed by how many other fathers went to them as well.  Like most men, seeing them move around for the first time was the coolest experience of them all.  Our little girl, “Baby B,” was already throwing punches.  And our little man, “Baby A,” was already taking them.  It’s been 13 months, and I can tell you nothing has changed.

When we had free time, we watched the TV show “Lost.”  All 121 episodes.  That show was awesome, and Jimmy’s name came close to being “Sawyer.” **

**Actually that’s not true at all.  I totally just made that up.

Speaking of Lost, there I was one morning studying for my upcoming Evidence Law final… totally lost.  Jackie’s due date was over a month away, and I get a call: “it’s happening this afternoon.”  The first thing that popped into my head was that their birthday would be on Cinco de Mayo… LUCKY!  In the meantime, I was told to “keep studying” (a downright laughable order).  I had to do something productive, so I moved the lawn instead.  I also cleaned up a little bit around the house and re-arranged some of our furniture.  I was basically nesting. 

The C-section itself was rather anti-climactic.  I mean, this is supposed to be one of my life’s most beautiful moments and here I am staring into a strange, creepy operating room.  I went in with camera in hand and sat down.  Minutes later, both babies were born.  It was so bizarre.  And instead of saying something meaningful, I just asked questions like “is all that blood normal?” Useless.  Oh, and Jackie was totally high from her epidural.  So to recap, we have a useless dad and a stoned mom.  Great start. 

Picture 9 nurses and 1 doctor all scrambling to care for our babies, and me sitting there wondering what I’m gonna post on Facebook.  That was our delivery room. 

I knew one thing: those babies were tiny.  4 pounds, something ounces.  Out of nowhere, a nurse handed baby Jimmy to me.  As happy as I was to finally meet him, I desperately wanted the nurse to take him back before I dropped him.  Indeed, holding a newborn baby is far more responsibility than a man like myself should bear.  Heck I shouldn’t even be allowed to hold a cell phone!     

And then nurse placed Riley in my other hand.  I’m pretty sure I blacked out for the next 30 seconds… 

Anyway.  Those babies spent a while in the “NICU” (where newborn babies go for intensive care).  Neither of them were breathing well, and Jimmy wasn’t eating.  Seeing my daughter in an incubator and my son with a feeding tube in his mouth was hard – my first experience as a helpless parent.  That was the moment when it *truly* hit: I was a father.  Holy cow.    

Somewhere in there, my sister flew in town and I took my evidence final.  For all I know I could have killed a man, too.  It’s all a blur… 

Eight days later, Jimmy and Riley were healthy enough to come home.  Finally, the page of our lives that was marked by the loss of our first baby had been turned.  What a mountain we climbed. 

Without a doubt, adjusting to lack of sleep, crying babies and diaper disasters has been challenging.  But know this: we count our blessings daily.  We know what a miracle it is just to bring a child into this world, and our hearts melt for those who are trying desperately to experience that miracle as well.     

God doesn’t promise everybody that they will get to have a child of their own, but He does promise us life through Jesus Christ – the child He lost.  God was graceful to give us both.  This is His awesome story of trial and triumph. 

It’s one that ends with Jackie and me holding two healthy, beautiful babies… and one that, oddly enough, began with me holding a case of beer and a box of pregnancy tests.  

His awesome story indeed. 

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