Saturday, June 30, 2012

Picture of a Fractured Mind

I've been toying with a new tool at work – something called mind mapping. I'm especially drawn to anything with the word "mind" or "brain" in it lately ("Squirrel!"), and it has been useful in capturing my somewhat scattered thoughts.

I thought it would be fun and interesting to actually create a mind map of my mind, so that's what I've placed below. A picture plus words is worth a thousand plus words, after all. I dare say, it isn't all that different from others' minds.Warning: The image is large and and may be difficult to read, but I hope you can make it out. You may actually just want to open it in a separate window.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Father's Day

Yes, I know it's not Father's Day; today, I just happen to be getting what I thought I wanted last Sunday – a little peace and quiet and a chance to talk to myself and you nice people. I say this is what "I thought I wanted" in part because I think solitude is what many parents crave and also because what I actually got – lunch with my older son and a walk to the playground with him and my younger – turned out to be just perfect.
During our lunch, I was able to have a heart-to-heart with Wyatt and let him know that he can talk to me about anything  and ask me any question. His most pressing question at the time apparently was, "What's 8 million plus 12,054?" When I gave him an answer, he gawked at me, flabbergasted. Though that also gave us a chance to talk through the equation so that he could tell me the answer as well. As much as my stroke and its effects often make me feel less capable as a father, this was the sort of parenting moment  I truly cherish. Along similar lines, Wyatt once thanked me for teaching him to "swish and spit" after brushing his teeth. How more essential a role could I play? So, boy, didn't it irk me when I heard something on the radio discouraging rinsing after brushing.

I do strive to be a role model for my children and actually team with my wife in parenting my kids -- instead of being a third child for her to care for -- but there are definitely times I feel I've abandoned them. Unfortunately, the energy level of five and seven year-olds are completely contradictory to stroke recovery. Someone at work said the other day how "40 is the new 20", and I replied, "for me 40 was the new 70". That's certainly how it's felt. Probably more like 80, since 70 is the new 55. I remember when I was 35 and had my first child, my father said how he thought we would be better parents for having more life experience under our belts. I honestly can't say how my life experience up until that point has served parenthood well, as much as having some additional twentysomething battery power (as  my parents had) might have. The danger of being older and more "experienced" was that our experience  was in developing independence and self-sufficiency, which is completely contradictory to the selflessness required for parenthood. I've often heard told of people who wanted a "big family" or "loads of kids". I was never that person, and I don't really know who those people are – perhaps older siblings from a large family, who helped "raise" their youngest siblings? Jamie worked as a teacher in a daycare for many years. The year before Wyatt was born, I taught K-2 computing, which I told myself was a good introduction to parenthood. But I honestly I don't know what can prepare one for the intrinsic sense of ineptitude and guilt and inadequacy of being wholly responsible for another human's life. I also feel like people who choose to have more than one child -- as we did – have been duped. We were actually first tricked by our friend Lori's son Sam, who turned out to be our "starter baby". If it weren't for babysitting Sam from ages three to eighteen months, I would have never felt "prepared" for fatherhood. Though telling  myself I was prepared to be a parent was as much of a lie as telling myself I was prepared for brain surgery, because Sam went home at the end of the night. As our first baby, Wyatt then conned us into thinking we knew what we were doing. Then again, every week with a new baby is a con, convincing you that you know what you're doing. And then everything changes the following week. Telling yourself that you can handle a new baby because you survived the first is as big a lie as they come. That said, I suppose that's not true only of children but of every day – no two are exactly alike. One challenge may inform the next, but few will prevent them. The other conundrum of having another child is the guilt – you'll never be able to give your first child the kind of attention s/he's used to, and you'll never be able to give your second child the kind of attention you dedicated to your first. I remember having an interior monologue with myself and Wyatt, where he asked me, "Dadda, will you love the new baby more than me?" And I said, "No, I'll love you both the same; I'll just love you half as much." Remember, that conversation was all in my head. Though that's another lie we tell ourselves – that we have an infinite supply of love we can instinctively distribute evenly to all comers. I'm in a regular debate with friends over the book I'll Love You Forever." My contention is that the book depicts and celebrates parental love as an equivalent to obsession. Others disagree. My argument isn't that parental love can't be unconditional, but that it doesn't have to be indiscriminate either. I want to love my children for who they are, not just for what they are. The truth is that sometimes they do and say horrible things and it is difficult to embrace that as loveable.

But back to the stroke, because that's why we're all here, right? Both of my sons have independently picked up my cane, started walking with it, and said, "I'm an old man." That's been very hard to hear and not respond to. Not to mention that the AARP would not appreciate the characterization of "old" as negative. Gus has asked me a number of times recently why I'm so slow. Sadly, I don't think he remembers very well what I was like before. Wyatt has taken more of an intellectual interest in what happened to me and often recalls how fast I used to be, usually followed up with a very genuine, "I'm sorry about what happened to you." I always respond that I'm sorry about what happened to him as well. It's certainly nothing a father would choose for his child. For now, I'm doing everything I'm capable of to provide financially for my family and to undo some of the sadness provoked by our circumstances. This morning, for example, the "worst thing in the world" happened to Wyatt when Gus accidentally erased the saved progress on his videogame. Frustrated with his frustration, I first fell into the trap of reasoning with him and trying to provoke perspective – even after seven years of parenthood, I still haven't got a clue what I'm doing. Then, when the family left for the beach (leaving me with what I wanted -- to be left alone), I did what any good father would do – I Googled ways to restore erased Super Mario Brothers 64 game progress and then -- coming up empty -- attempted to play the game and earn back some of his lost points (at which I also came up empty). C'est la vie.