Better writers than me have discussed at length the vast differences in the current “childhood experience” and that of generations past but in many ways not much has changed. I wasn’t a helicopter parent per se but I was involved and always had a pretty good idea where my kids were and what they were doing. Kids in times past did get outside a little more often but my grandson Jayden spends as much time as possible “ow-side”. The biggest difference is that when he goes outdoors he has a nifty little two-way radio clipped to his belt.
Communication with the radio between Jayden and his folks is pretty casual but as the eternal platoon leader I sat down and gave him a short block of instruction on RTO (radio-telephone) procedues to include the proper use of the words “over” and “out” and the fact that you read books, not radio transmissions.
…and it’s amazing the difference that instruction made.
When his mom or dad calls Jayden is your typical fourth graders sounding like a member of the Vienna Boys Choir, but when Papa calls his voice changes. I can hear in his words that:
His voice deepens
His chest expands
Belts of machine gun ammo magically appear draped around his chest
The only thing that keeps him from the full SGT Rock transformation is the fact that he has yet to hit puberty and can’t raise any stubble on his chin.
As the clock flashes 0230 in the inky blackness of my bedside table I hear a “whooshing” across the room and feel an unfamiliar pressure in my nostril. My thoughts are jumbled but then quickly coalesce into the following thoughts:
I’m Commander Kit Draper, deputy commander of Mars Gravity Probe Three.
I’ve found coal that I can burn to make oxygen.
Batman’s ghost should be showing up any time now.
Then I roll over at which point I detect a plastic tube of some kind trailing down the back of my neck and over the edge of the bed. My nostrils itch, but as I absentmindedly scratch my nose I find a round plug, which could be the biggest booger ever or –
“Shai Hulud” the oath explodes as I blink against the persistent darkness “I’m wearing a Fremen still-suit !” and as I reach for my maula pistol I instinctively shudder as I recall the memory of the size and voracity of the Arakeen sandworm.
…then I blink yet a third time into full consciousness and ruefully admit that I really do need to make better late night entertainment choices than Robinson Crusoe on Mars or DUNE. At the side of the bed I spot the oxygen therapy set-up my doctor has prescribed for me, the neat little compressor politely chugging out a symphony of what my grandson Jayden describes as “factory noises” as it dutifully works to keep my blood oxygen level at a more therapeutic level.
Like many other medical devices I initially thought of an oxygen tank as a white flag in my battle to beat the reaper. My older sister (and fellow spondylitis inflictee) won’t carry a portable unit as she feels it “shames her”, but to be honest, if I were her I’d feel much worse about how she “sweats out” our nephew Zac into hauling the heavier base unit from place to place in the house for her.
…but in the last two days I’ve made some interesting discoveries.
First off – it’s not an oxygen tank, but rather an oxygen concentrator, so It’s not something I have to worry about running out of – as long as we have power…and given he innate misery of an un-air-conditioned Tennessee summer a reduced oxygen level is the least of my worries if we lose power for an extended period of time.
Secondly, I’ve learned first-hand the connection between anoxia and depression, albeit in a backwards sort of way. I’ve been living my life against a backdrop of sadness which I’d assumed was part and parcel of life with chronic pain…but within an hour of the first gulp of additional O2 my wife began eyeing me with suspicion and muttering things like, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband” and “Keep smiling like that and your lips will crack and fall off!”
…and thirdly – Mars Gravity Probe ONE was the site of all the phantasmal mischief brought on by COL Dan McReady (as portrayed by Adam West!)
The time and effort I put into being a father reaped a double harvest when most of my children’s friends became my friends as well. It was a win/win situation for me: once those kids became friends with me, they were less likely to lead my kids astray while gently instilling in me a more youthful mindset. It’s also been nice I’ve aged and those “buddies of my kids’ buddies” relationships have slowly morphed into friendships in their own right.
That’s the situation with a young man named Arrison Kirby; I’ve enjoyed staying in touch with him over the tears and watching him as he builds his career as a professional in popular music and develops his own creative voice and vision.
It’s also been gratifying to play a part in his professional development – specifically a series of CDs based on astrology. I’ve just completed the cover for Lifeblood, analbum based on Taurus or sign of the bull. We’re both happy with what I came up with. I’m always happy when I finish up with a good solid cut-paper sculpture after my hit-or-miss production over the last year or two.
It’s also a “album cover art” which was as much an inspiration as comics were for me to go into into the illustration field in the first place.
In November of 2018 I wrote a post entitled I Wish I’d Written That containing a list of written passages that (obviously) I wish I’d come up with first. While making a long (and very slow) recovery from COVID-19 I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on that post and I’ve come up with one more item I’d like to add.
It’s from an essay written by Tom Bodett – always a favorite for the way it captures the quirky blend of cultures and technology (dogsled vs. limousine/urban vs. rural) so typical of Alaskan life. This particular essay addressed the change in lifestyles that came about with his success as a writer and leaving construction as a means for earning a living for his family.
“…I miss the way my hands would ache after swinging a hammer all day.”
Chronic pain aside I live a life a lot of men aspire to, with most of my days spent sitting in a recliner while reading or watching TV. Unfortunately, I’m one of those odd people who actually likes physical labor and at this point in life the closest I can get to doing any kind of work is picking up a book or tapping something out on the computer. It makes my life a sort of upholstered purgatory that was difficult enough when I was dealing with just the pain and stiffness of ankylosing spondylitis and age, but even after recovering from Covid I am weaker than the proverbial kitten. I long ago tired of staring at the four walls of my bedroom so it’s all too easy to get lost in memories of my life as a younger man and thinking of all I left behind.
In addition to the aching hands that Mr. Bodett wrote about, I miss:
The pungent smell of a sun-warmed two-by-four I’ve just cut on my table saw
The reverse spasm in my shoulder that came with setting down a bag of horse-feed
The crunch of my boots while I’m walking down a gravel road
I readily admit that I am richly blessed with a strong emotional support system starting with my Beautiful Saxon Princess and do what I can on my own to cope with my situation in the here-and-now by writing, making art, lifting barbels and getting in as many steps walking as the discomfort will allow me.
… but the prognosis for A/S is not a cheery one, and sometimes living in the past is the only way to catch a break.