Thursday, April 20, 2017

Older and (Maybe) a Little Wiser

My birthday is this week and I'm staring straight down the barrel of 40. I'm not there yet, but it's getting perilously close.

Let's face it, this is the halfway point of my life, if I'm lucky. Making it into ones 80s is no guarantee and reminders of this fact are coming more frequently.

Given that you're reading this on a computer, you're probably like me in that you're inundated daily with news about deaths and misfortune. Thanks to Facebook, that news is often about people you know and hits a little harder than your average evening news story. So, mortality seems to have taken on a higher profile these last few years.
Yes, this is actually a thing. And yes,
it's clearly warranted. 

It's times like these — and an age like mine — that a man considers his current purpose and gauges himself against the expectations for his life. If he likes what he sees, he maintains his course. If not, well, isn't it time for a hugely drastic change of direction to right the ship and point it toward the desired port?

I think so, and it's with this reality in mind that I'd like to announce that I'm embarking upon a multi-year odyssey of spiritual enlightenment which, in my case, requires extensive first-class travel, a sudden love of extreme sports and a tattoo of Che Guevara across my chest. I might get a red convertible and/or Harley Davidson, we'll see.

I've yet to tell Mrs. Blackwell about these plans because she'll no doubt start throwing around terms like "mid-life crisis" and "attorney" but, I'm sure she'll come around and be totally cool with the new, hipper version of me.

I keed. I keed.

I'm not the mid-life crisis type. I'm more the steady-state-of-low-key-despair type. Why bottle up existential anxiety when you can sprinkle it around and infect every, single moment of your life with it, right?

Kidding again. I'm not desperately cleaving to my youth, nor am I frantically working to ward off old age. No as this birthday approaches I'm not feeling older necessarily but I am feeling the passage of time more profoundly.

My two boys are changing daily. Just a couple days ago I noticed the top of Master Blackwell's head as he stood behind the counter in our kitchen. When did he get taller than the counter? Master Blackwell Version 2.0, is a little man mountain who growls and runs and can flip over kitchen chairs — sometimes all at once.

I've heard and read that aging is a lot about having perspective. It's funny then that I can turn to my youth to find some. 

When I was a little kid, my family visited  my Great Aunt Katherine's home in New Bern, North Carolina a few times. She had a stately, old victorian house in that historic town complete with a room they used to call a parlor.

On our visits to Aunt Katherine's, the adults would convene in the parlor while the kids would run around the house (she had two stair cases, one of which was a spiral that my brother and I would run up and down).

They're getting bigger by the day. Seriously, you should see
how much milk we buy. 
I remember a few occasions pausing from our play to listen to the conversations in the parlor.

At the time, it seemed quite boring, adults catching up with each other's lives, exchanging stories about people I'd never met. But invariably discussion would turn to people who'd died.

I didn't know these people and, as a kid, my thoughts didn't extend much beyond a vague sense of sympathy before I'd head back to that stairway.

Today, I look back on those times and think that parlor conversations seem to be happening more frequently — and in more places. So, as is often the case, the kids had it right.

We adults have all got to spend some time in the parlor but life's magic happens in between those visits.

And Facebook's never ending stream of misfortune notwithstanding, there's just too much good happening in the world to want it to slow down or reverse the clock.

In the coming months, I've got a birthday party to attend for a little guy who's turning five and another one for a little guy who's going to be two. I've got soccer games to be at. Drum recitals to attend. Looks like I've got a wedding to go to at some point too. I've got great beer to drink and a losing hockey team to cheer for.

In short, I'm going to do my best to enjoy the simple things like that old spiral staircase. I can't control getting older or the consequences of age, but I can control that.

Happy birthday to me. Hope to be back soon(er).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Big Day Right After the Big Day

The last time I wrote one of these it was Labor Day. Well, good thing not much has happened since then, right?

Actually, since I last wrote, we crammed as much activity into the dying days of our summer as we could; trips to the park, concerts on the square, trips to nearby pools and lakes.

Mrs. Blackwell and I even went to Europe where I managed to get food poisoning. (A bit of advice: avoid the meat platters in Prague.) Master Blackwell enrolled at a new school and started music lessons, the new little guy took his first steps and the United States had an election.

Yes life's been busy and despite this blog's extensive global readership (stay strong Belarus!)  its superb design and cutting-edge content offerings (I have a Twitter feed!) it doesn't generate the revenue one might think.
Eyeing his prey.

So, "real work" and family have been keeping me quite busy of late. But I'm back in the saddle now and with the holidays right around the corner, there couldn't be a better time to resume this little labor of love.

In just a few hours, along with some of my American friends and family, I'll celebrate Thanksgiving. We'll eat, drink and consider the many, many things for which we should be grateful.
A role model to show him how it's done.

Meanwhile north of the border, my Canadian friends and family who celebrated Thanksgiving last month will continue their struggle to comprehend just what the hell is happening down here. While we eat and drink, they'll just drink.

Like the rest of the world, the vast majority of Canadians are still trying to wrap their minds around the presidential election. The ascension of Donald Trump has left me as sort of a "Chief Explainer" to many of my Canadian friends.

I'd like to think that my time covering local and state politics, a masters degree studying government, including loads of work on political polling, make me an expert — but even in the most ordinary of times they don't. (If you need expertise on discreet ways of determining if your undershirt is clean while you're in a meeting, I'm your guy.)

In extraordinary times like these, I might as well have spent my life living in a cave, such was the ability of anyone to predict what happened.

Political insanity notwithstanding, we had other immediate needs.

As America was testing the raison d'ĂȘtre of the electoral college, we were pulling together a birthday celebration for the new little guy.

That's right, our big, bouncing, beautiful baby boy turned one year old the day after the day many people think the world began to end.

Like lots of folks, we found ourselves turning away from the outside world for a few hours and focusing solely on something closer and, in our case, something cuter.

It was a welcome pivot and frankly after 18 tumultuous, frustrating months of having lies and bile heaped upon us daily, we earned a few hours to decompress and focus solely on what's most important, the little guy's big day.

The little guy is, in fact, not little. He's a great, big, bull of a kid whose heft is matched only by his smile. On his first annual checkup his weight measured in the 98th percentile while his length put him in the 97th.

So he's big, which is great because big babies are sturdy and can roll off the couch without getting hurt. But it's terrible because he's slowly destroying my back and I'm pretty sure Mrs. Blackwell is an inch shorter than she was last year.
Mom shows him how to keep it cleanwhile enjoying a meal. 

Each and every time he cries to be picked up, I pause and really think about what I'm about to do: "Lift with the legs, back straight. Hold your breath. Pray."

It behooves me to mention here that the boy loves to be picked up and carried along for the ride, even if its just from the kitchen to the living room. So, perfect "picking up" form is a must as it's an act that's regularly repeated.

Another of his emerging traits is an unwillingness to sit still.

It's not like his older brother was ever a sedentary creature but instead of giving us a break, the universe decided to ladle mobility upon the boy's perpetual motivation. Now that the little guy is transitioning from crawling to walking, the game is changing.

So, we're vigilant about the baby gate, about what doors to what rooms are open and when. We know "who's got the baby" at any given moment.

All this said, this is a fantastic age. It might not be an easy age but it's uncomplicated.

If he's hungry, he lets us know. If he's tired, he lets us know. If he wants attention, well, not much time goes by before he lets us know.

From the perspective of his mother and I, it's reassuring that his needs are so simple and easy to address.

We know that this time is fleeting. That first birthday just breezed by; soon it will be his second, then his third.

But his first is a big one and, given that it happened on the day the U.S. presidential election was settled, I felt a bit bad, like the little guy got short shrift.

Thankfully I married a smart woman.

As she so often does, Mrs. Blackwell had a plan and we had a followup party planned for Saturday. We had a few friends pop by. I grilled. Mrs. Blackwell went all out making cupcakes and icing from scratch. We had a few beers but, unlike election night, this drinking was voluntary.

And the little guy ate and smiled and laughed and the last thing on my mind, for a while anyways, was Donald Trump.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Social Butterfly Who Weighs a Ton

The New Little Guy is many things.

Physically, he's a big boy. He's also a smiler. He's a talker. He's a crawler. He's an eater. He's an adventurer.
When he's not talking or laughing he's
practicing good oral hygiene with
his Mom's toothbrush. 

Above all, he's a social creature.

But when he is alone, entertaining himself on the living room floor for instance, he doesn't remain in silence as he's often providing a soundtrack of sorts.

And that's great for Mrs. Blackwell and I because, even if he's out of sight for a moment, there's usually a chorus of noise to announce his precise whereabouts.

There are the squeals, squawks, yelps and laughs — lots and lots of laughs, including one that sounds like he stole it from one of Bevis or Butthead.

And, because I can't leave him hanging, I'll counter his laugh in similar fashion. And because he's apparently seen Bevis and Butthead, he'll counter my laugh with another of his own.

So, we'll go back and forth, offering each other laughs that sound as if we're both mentally deficient.

He enjoys all manner of back and forth, not just laughter. Sometimes he's content take a passive role. He'll sit on someone's lap (usually Mrs. Blackwell or myself) while two people have a conversation. But it usually doesn't take long before he requires a heavier level of engagement.

He'll turn and attempt to pull himself to a standing position. Once achieved, he'll move his face directly in front of his mom's or mine, before opening his mouth and drooling on one of our noses.

He could likely do this for hours. Unfortunately neither I, nor his mother, have the stamina, or tolerance for someone else's drool running down our face.

So, oftentimes, we'll put him on the ground and just as often he doesn't like this and he'll let us know by beginning to cry the moment he's set down. This cry isn't one of pain, discomfort, hunger or any of life's necessities going unmet. Nope, it's a clear, cogent and potent demand for hands-on attention.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like this every time he's set down. It's whenever he decides he's interested in us.
In one of his parents' arms. AKA right where he belongs.

To that end, he frequently tries to keep up with Mrs. Blackwell or myself, to be part of whatever exciting adventure we're partaking in.

So if one of us is walking toward the kitchen pantry, he's crawling and shuffling behind. If we're heading back toward the kitchen counter he's right on our heels.

But it usually takes just a few back-and-forth trips before he decides he's had enough and demands to be picked up.

I'll offer up the disclaimer that, yes, Mrs. Blackwell and I both know this is how babies start manipulating and training their parents. The jury will be out for the next 18 years or so as to whether we're handling this right.

So, yes, a big part of his being social also means being directly held or otherwise handled.

At this juncture, it's also pertinent to remember what I mentioned at the top here about the boy being heavy. It's been a while since he's been weighed but suffice it to say, he's a load. After about 3 minutes of holding him, my arms start turning to jelly.

So, I put him down which, as previously mentioned, is frequently met with instantaneous crying.

Now of course there are times when we let him voice his displeasure for a few minutes while we wrap up whatever it is we're working on.

Like I said, he's open to conversation with anyone. 
But sometimes, you just don't want to hear a baby cry. Sometimes you need to be able to hear yourself think.

So, for us, sometimes the only answer is to hold onto him while we go about doing whatever it is we need to do, usually it's something fun like putting groceries away or cleaning up a spill on the kitchen floor before running out the door late for work.

All the while, we're holding the little guy and all the while, he's invariably satisfied to be held.

As I mentioned before, we're well aware of the perils of this arrangement. One can easily flash forward a few years and see a spoiled, corpulent, 12-year-old throwing his dinner plate across the table demanding that his mother or father "make more food!" or some equally disturbing scenario.

For now, this arrangement works — most of the time. Eventually Mother Nature will take over, he really will be too big for us to hold onto and we'll have no choice in the matter.

And, come to think of, maybe it's that thought that makes picking him up worth it each and every time.