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Personal History

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I have little to no recollection of my earliest years. I was born on the 10th day of December 1973. I’m told it was cold, as it is wont to be in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the December months. The birth announcement proclaimed “Our stocking was stuffed with…” (me). This part I know because I’ve seen the announcement. Which now that I think about it is odd, as the only way we announced the birth of my own children was via email (and phone calls to our closest family).

My mother kept a baby book faithfully. At least it looks like she did. There are two books covering my life to about age 8. My older brother Mike and I both have really thick ones . The books for my younger brother and my sister are both considerably smaller. Which is merely an observation that the trait of losing enthusiasm projects after I lose momentum over time is something I inherited, and I am in no way accountable for it.

Anyway, when I was born I had one brother. Mike. Mike was two and a half years older than me and the bane of my existence from about age 5 until I was 15 (the year he went away to school for the first time). He was also my most frequent playmate for most of my younger years, and he taught me most of the games I played with my toys and the mannerisms I have for playing with those games. He’s probably still the biggest influence in my life as far as the patterns of my life and sense of humor. This is a fact that I will never again admit to or acknowledge, so make the most of it now.

We lived on the Laramie Air Force Base at the time, though I’m not sure what rank my father was. Some time in my early childhood I know that he was a captain, and I remember also at about age 6 or 7 praying as a family that dad would make the promotion to major (he did – though maybe he was older than I remember). At any rate, I don’t have memories of living in Wyoming (and there are nights I thank God for that) as we moved during my second summer, to Orem, Utah.

Dad had taken an assignment to instruct ROTC at BYU in Provo. I had no idea of this at the time, though I have a vague memory of my first (and only) college football game. It was cold. I fell asleep. We left before it ended. I’m not sure who my family was rooting for or who won, and it would probably only traumatize me to know because while Dad was teaching at BYU, he and Mom and I believe my mother’s parents had all graduated from the Y’s arch-rival, the University of Utah.

I have a dozen or more memories of driving down what I now know is University Blvd in Orem and seeing the Provo Temple lit up. This was always after returning from visits to Gramma and Grampa (Mom’s side) who lived in Bountiful just north of Salt Lake City. Still do, for that matter. I don’t know if my little girls will have that same memory, but it’d be kind of neat if they did – after all, we drove the same stretch as a family once a month or so after visiting my grandparents while I was going to school at BYU.

I also have vague memories of our house in Orem. We lived next to an empty swimming pool, which was fun to play in. And we had those broomstick horses that Mike and I rode on all through the back yard playing cowboys. My first dirty rhyme was learned in the gutter (literally) in front of that house. It came about because someone had a Mr. Peabody toy from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show:

I’m Mr. Peabody

I want my mommy

I need to go potty

Yeah, back off. I was three or four and lived in Utah Valley. Cut me some slack will ya?

Other fun things involved catching grasshoppers using our blankies. The method was to throw out the blanket so it was spread over the bug, and you pinned down the sides and slowly lifted until you could get a hand on the bug. Which you then let jump off (just to watch it jump, because we were boys, and they were bugs, and that was enough). Sometimes we just nudged them to make them jump. To be honest, I don’t remember ever torturing bugs (until I was 11, when I killed a slug by shaking salt on it…) or killing ants with a magnifying glass.

My earliest definable memory takes place in Orem as well, when I was about 3. My mother, like most good Mormon mothers get at least once (however short lived is the effort), was getting into food storage. I remember drinking a lot of nasty powdered milk at this time (I was so very grateful when that kick ended). My mother ground her own wheat for bread, and it being the mid- to late-seventies, we had this monstrous grinder with an open drive belt, which my brother and I loved to watch. The grain moved prettily as it was funneled toward the grinder, and plus here was this big engine (a temptation for all little boys, I’m sure). One time while watching the grinding, and for some still unknown reason – I think it has something to do with me being meant to have this mark on my finger – I decided I wanted to know how it would feel to have the belt move along the inside of the second knuckle of my right index finger (though I was familiar with very few of those vocabulary words). Being a very scientific three years old, I determined the only way to find out was to stick out my finger.

Screaming ensued.

My second definable memory takes place in a hospital or doctor’s office – I’m not sure which – with a trained medical professional removing stitches from my hand. I remember nothing in between these two related events, but I had a lot of stitches. Apparently I had severed tendons and my hand had been cut open all the way down and across my palm in order for them to retrieve the tendons and reconnect them. Today the scar only stretches about half an inch down toward my thumb and half an inch into the palm, but there is a huge mass of scar tissue in that knuckle today, and I can only bend my finger about half way.

The scar quickly became part of my identity. There was a corner on my blanky that was harder than the others which I used to like to hold against the scar. My family still remarks on it. Over the years, I’ve kind of developed the idea of that scar as a symbol of the protection the Lord has given me over my life. I’ve been in many accidents, many of which could have killed or at least crippled me, but I’ve never suffered anything more injurious than that scar on my finger. I reckon that the Lord had something he needed me to accomplish. When I received a Patriarchal Blessing at age 18, I was told that I would bring into this world worthy spirits. I jokingly remarked that I was safe from any serious harm until my wife was pregnant with a second child. As I now have three beautiful daughters, all of whom are worthy, I’ve decided to start being a little more thoughtful and cautious (though I still want a motorcycle); the Lord might have had something else in mind for me, but no sense in taking any chances right?

I remember that I had a broken or sprained arm once in Orem as well, but I don’t know how I got it. I just remember playing in the backyard once with my broomstick horse with my arm in a sling (it’s hard to ride a horse like that, even one made from a broomstick).

Presaging my destiny to write and observe the beauty in all that surrounds us, I still have a slight memory of going out into the backyard and seeing the view of the mountains. Mt. Timpanogas being the most prominent. I remember thinking how wonderful the world was. As I was ever spiritually minded (or at least, have always believed myself to be), I also remember realizing in some small way how positioned I was in God’s plan. It’s not something I could put into words at the time, but it was a feeling. Knowing that I was on the earth, and the earth was in the heavens, and that I was an individual. Maybe you think this more of a psychological self-consciousness than anything else. But I knew it was a spiritual event.

My family was (still is) LDS. Mormons. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We went to church every Sunday for several hours. At this point, I believe the meetings were still scattered, so we’d go once for Sacrament meeting, again for Primary, etc. In primary I once got a little certificate of some sort of achievement. I have no idea what it was for. It had a picture of a young boy and a picture of a young girl on it. So I did something very typical for young boys: I crossed out the picture of the girl (well, they were ICKY!). Mike told me when he saw it that I would regret that later. Probably because he said that, when I saw the certificate once when I was much older, I did regret it and tried to erase it. It wouldn’t come off.

In Primary we learned a lot of songs like “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” and so on. I still remember the first time I learned “The primary colors are one, two, three / red, yellow and blue.” I don’t remember the symbology, but I’m pretty sure there was supposed to be some. It’s ok; they don’t sing that song anymore. At any rate, I learned about Jesus, and the story of Joseph Smith, and many other Bible and Book of Mormon stories while I was still very young. And I’ve never doubted them. This could make you think I’m brainwashed, but as I grew the maturity of my belief grew as well. Sure, I’ve questioned my beliefs, and tried them, and had to learn more. But I’ve always had faith in the Savior and the scriptures, whatever misdeeds and actions I’ve taken. I know that the Church is of God, and that the Book of Mormon is true.

Personal History – II

There are several other scattered memories that come to mind from my early childhood. I had a teddy bear. Apparently I wet the bed as lot as well, which resulted in a somewhat disgusting bear that was thrown away. My parents never told me that they had tossed the bear. But Mike, ever kind as older siblings are wont to be, made sure to tell me. My brother told a lot of creative stories, so I’m not sure I believed him when he told me he had gone to the dump with Dad and found the bear. This set off some trauma, I cried to mom about how I wanted my teddy bear, and that was pretty much it.

I also acquired a small stuffed turtle at this age. I think I named him Hermes. I thought this would be a nice ironic name for a turtle (though I don’t think I knew that word, but still, my knowledge of Greek mythology was impressive, right?).The turtle is still around. Most of the outer layer of plush is just gone, and he looks pretty sad, but still. My girls like to look at him, and he sits by my computer monitor.

One time I walked home from a weekday Primary meeting. I suppose I thought my mom would see me as I went. But I decided to crawl through a drainage pipe that my brother had shown me before. It was harder than I had remembered. I don’t remember that dirtying the outside of my clothes (though I’m sure it did as I wriggled through). And I soiled my drawers. I don’t know why, except that I was 4 or so and wriggling though that tight space took a long time. My mother reprimanded me, but she was probably scared to the point of panic when she hadn’t been able to find me. I was never scared the whole time, so in my childish mind didn’t imagine anyone else could.

When I was five we moved to Dayton, Ohio during the summer. This is the first place I remember having specific friends. It makes me wonder if my Elizabeth will remember the first friends she had when we lived in Provo. Or even the ones she has right now if she doesn’t keep playing with them.

At any rate, my parents bought a newly built house at 5340 Gander Road West. This had a nice rhythmic quality and even a little alliteration in the number (which I may not have remembered correctly), which made it fun to say. Again, to the 5-year old mind, it just sounded neat, but those are the reasons why. My dad informed me that a child my age named Dan lived 4 houses down the street. For some reason I had the impression that he had “helped” build our house. And when the toilet seat didn’t want to stay up in the bath room, I figured he had done that work.

At any rate, I did walk down the day we moved in and knock on Dan’s door. We became friends and did a lot of things together, including dressing in Underroos. Dan had Superman, while I had the Robin to Mike’s Batman (how is that supposed to make a 5 year old feel – that he’s just his brother’s sidekick?). Dan also was a trouble-maker, and one time we all got in trouble because of his idea to involve nudity in a game when a girl was around. I didn’t participate; I didn’t know what to do. But I got sent home. I remember one time when Dan and his sister came back from a visit somewhere and they had balloons. The cool helium kind that rose on their own. I told Dan’s little sister to let it go and I would catch the string. I thought THAT would be cool. I didn’t realize that my reflexes weren’t fast enough. The balloon was gone, and I went home again. Another time I visited Dan’s house he and another friend were doing something and wouldn’t let me participate, and I threatened to hold the wooden handle of a lawn tool in a puddle until it was ruined if they didn’t let me. Yeah, not only does it not make sense, but I didn’t have the patience to wait long and I left. I swear that Dan and I must have done fun stuff, but all my memories are of weird things like that.

On the Birth of My Fourth

Watching your wife give birth is a wild ride, at the very least. Having been through it four times, I feel qualified to speak a little bit about it. I have a friend who claims that watching his wife give birth is harder on him than actually giving birth is on his wife. I find that probably a touch insensitive, though I can understand what would lead him to the idea. You can’t help when your wife gives birth. Not really.

Guys move the furniture around. They get asked to do it, and they flex a little, knowing they were asked to do something specifically because of the body they have. It’s a bit egotistical, but it’s also quite subconscious. And every guy does it. No matter how much we pride ourselves on our minds and whatever else, we still are proud to be the ones who do the lifting and other grunt work.

But we can’t with the whole giving the baby thing. God made it that way, and not even the manliest man can change that. He has to sit and watch his wife do all the work; watch her strain, sweat, and push and flex. On the one hand, it’s hard as a human being, just to watch someone go through the pain and the effort. In addition, it’s the sort of thing YOU’RE supposed to be doing. It makes you feel helpless on a lot of different levels. You can’t make her feel better, you can’t help her get the job done, and she’s doing the physical work that’s supposed to be your department.

So, in a very real way, watching your wife give birth is sort of a psychological torture. You are completely useless.

Of course, the last sentence is not completely true. In fact, the whole purpose for being there in the room, with her is the emotional support. Which, of course, is traditionally her job. I get to hold her hand for several hours (about eight and a half, this time around) and tell her to “breathe.”

I understand, on an intellectual level, that telling her to relax and let her uterus do the work, and to breathe normally, is actually very helpful to my wife emotionally and even as a reminder of what she’s supposed to be doing. However, it’s not a tangible thing. When men think of service, we think “build stuff,” or “repair stuff,” or, even better, “tear stuff down.” We can go to a yard, rake up all the leaves, then stand back, and say “You can see what I did here. There were leaves, and now there aren’t.” With “breathing…” well, how do I know it’s even been done right? How can I see that I did any good? It’s all well and good when my wife says “thanks” and tells me how it helped, but I still don’t see it. I have to take her word for it (not that I think she’d lie… in fact, my wife would scream at me if I did it wrong).

And don’t forget physically exhausting. My greatest fear at this point is that people will think I’m diminishing what my wife does. Sure, she’s done more. She is more tired. I know that. But the next time you wake up at 1 am to tell someone for the next eight hours that she’s doing fine and to keep going that you won’t be tired. No, I didn’t have some muscles constantly flexing, sometimes painfully, and I didn’t push that 9 pound creature out of my crotch, but I’m still tired and in need of a nap.

So, clearly, there’s a lot of ground to argue for the man’s suffering. I don’t know that the two types of trials can be compared directly, actually, since people have varying capacities for dealing with problems of different sorts. However, the biggest problem with my friend’s argument is that as a man watching your child come into the world, you aren’t thinking a whit about any of that.

At one in the morning on April 29, 2006, my wife elbows me in the ribs. “Eric? The contractions are ten minutes apart. I need your help.”

Granted, this is the most trying part of the labor for me. I’m still in bed. It’s still absolutely dark, and there’s very little either of us can coherently say during the 9 minute stretches between the end of a contraction and the start of another. My eyelids are in complete and utter rebellion, trying to force a cranial shut down for at least another five hours.

However, combating this impulse are two very important concerns. First, if I don’t stay up, I am officially a jerk. There is no argument that could defend myself successfully. Even if I’d been awake for the 24 hours previous, I am a jerk if I don’t stay up. That would be my own judgment on myself, not some judgment (perceived or true) made by the rest of the world.

Second, I’m excited at this point. We’ve been waiting forty weeks for this to happen (actually, forty-one weeks). While I wasn’t thinking about it all the time, as soon as that due date passes, you can bet that I’m jumping at the slightest hint that labor is imminent. Even though no sane person not between the ages of 14 and 22 is awake at this hour, it’s like Santa Claus is going to appear any moment.

My job at this point is not just to hold her hand, occasionally massaging her lower back or legs, but also to watch the clock. When she says “here comes another one,” I need to be able to say how long it’s been since the last one started. This means I can’t go through motions. I have to be conscious enough to do basic arithmetic using a number I saw ten minute previous. Good thing I’m excited. If I’m really on the job, I’m counting seconds too, so I can say how long the contraction lasts.

This stage goes on for an hour. After each contraction ends, I stare at the digital clock and mentally will it to progress. If we can establish that the contractions are coming at regular intervals, (or even better, ever shrinking times), then we can go to the hospital. Once we’re there, the baby will come. We’ve got motivation to get this done. Of course, since, once again, there’s nothing I can do to stimulate the contractions, this leaves me trying to alter the course of time until I hear “Here comes another one!”

After an hour to ninety minutes of this, I finally feel brave enough to suggest my wife needs to call the doctor. One of the problems with being the father of the coming baby is that you know you’re out of your league. No matter how well you’ve studied all the manuals your wife made you read, you are in the position, roughly, of the freshmen intern hired primarily to make coffee. You have no good ideas. If you suggest something, the best result you can hope for is laughter. More likely, you are going to end up with a red, hand-shaped welt on your face.

Fortunately, for me, my wife agrees. I get the bag and the camera, and get myself a bowl of cereal (hey, maybe she can’t eat, but I’m gonna be hungry quite soon — my belly is quite Pavlovian, wake it up and it starts to drool). Then, when my wife is off the phone and getting on something she can go into public wearing, I call grandma. Grandma knows a whole lot more about what’s going on and when and why in life, but this is the one time in my life I can tell her to do something. In moments she is on her way.

The car ride in is awkward. Not in the “what do I say?” sort of way. But if it’s difficult to go watch regular labor, knowing that my wife is having a contraction while I’m doing 60 (gradually increasing to 70 and beyond) on the highway is maddening.

The following several hours are a marathon of impatience and frustration. The contractions are regular, but they aren’t getting closer together. There’s a machine that somehow measures contractions — how strong they are and when they’re happening, so I don’t have to wait for my wife to tell me. I can just watch the seismic readings on the chart being printed out. I get excited as I see a big one coming. But I have to hold it in, or face the wrath of a woman too busy to distinguish joy over the labor progressing and joy over someone in pain.

Then they start slowing down. What? Slow down? They’re not supposed to get father apart? We’ve been doing this for hours! The man in me wants to grab the phone, call the doctor, and tell him to get his over-educated self down here and do something about this. But that man also knows that he is not on his home turf, and he does not call the shots. You keep your head down and fire when ordered. So I wait.

Eventually the doctor gets his over-educated self down here and does something about it.

Things finally start to move, and eventually, we get to the final stages of labor. Generally, I can handle this. Watching the head emerge is a strange experience. There are at least three different things going through your head. One is “Holy…! That’s a person’s head in there!” Another is more like “Yikes! You’re gonna get it out of there?!” The last is much more “She’s almost here! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

This time, however, maybe it was because it had been many hours since I’d eaten and been standing for a while, I nearly pass out. For some reason, I was really worried that everyone present would think I had a weak stomach. It’s the one area where I have any sort of authority. No one is listening to me anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.

Finally the baby comes out. Getting perfect Apgar scores.

Describing emotion is not something that language is really equipped to do, so this is where we enter the most difficult part of describing what goes on.

The baby comes out and the doctor puts her on mom. My wife gets to hold our new daughter. Tears stream down her face, from exhaustion, pain, relief, or joy, I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure it’s all of the above. She (my wife, not the baby) is emitting sobs and laughter at the same time.

And the only think I find myself capable of doing is stroking my wife’s hair, and staring at this wonder, every so often uttering, “That’s our new daughter.” I’m a bit lost. I find that while I’m re-entering the part where I’m supposed to be in charge again, I have no idea what to do. I keep feeling moisture gathering at the corners of my eyes, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to let them come out again, so I simply say “our new baby,” again. I’m vaguely aware that I sound, and probably look (what with the tears there but not coming) pretty stupid. But I pretend no one else is there. I need to hug someone, and I do my best to put my arms around my wife who has collapsed into the bed. I’m not entirely successful, but she puts her head against me. I say, “I love you. You did it.” The two thoughts aren’t really connected. I don’t love her because she did it, but they’re both coming through my head.

There’s a great urge to hold the baby, nonstop. I get annoyed at the nurse who took the baby and is still still cleaning/checking, and doing whatever else she’ll need during these first few moments. But I let her be.

I finally get my chance. She’s nine and a half pounds, which is quite large for a newborn (though not excessively so), but she’s small and fragile. How on earth does she have fingers smaller than the last segment of my pinky finger? This hair is so soft. Her cry isn’t in the least way bothersome. It almost sounds like conversation. There’s nothing so soft as a baby’s face on your own, either.

There’s a bond that’s almost visible. You can certainly feel it. I’m connected to this child. One part of me, the man that’s frustrated he hasn’t been in charge wants to yell out, “I made this!” But I think, no I didn’t, it all happened inside her. But how else do you explain this touching of spirits? She is truly my daughter. I’m swarmed by emotions: I’m possessive, protective, caring, tender, loving, and joyful. Like an elevation of something spiritual inside me. Yes, she is indeed mine, and now I have to spend twenty years teaching her to no longer be so much mine as she now is. Yet, that bond will always be there. No matter where she does, what she does, or who she’s with. She will always be mine.

It’s incomprehensible that I could be so intimately involved in such an incredible event, yet I am. “I love you,” I whisper again as I sit next to my wife and lean in close. I say it not to my wife, nor to my new daughter, but to them both. At this point, they are all that’s in the universe.