April 21, 2007

I was a boy inside a dream just the other day...

Part III

"Here I come to save the day."

All of us have those symbols of childhood we carry with us a reminder of the days of our youth. Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Barney the big-purple-dinosaur and maybe even our fuzzy-red-friend-with-the-big-eyes, Elmo; they are the icons that serve as anchors to the time of our innocence. Free from the stains of politics, scandal, gossip or tabloid exposes these cartoon heroes are lifetime reminders of the super-friends who inspired us to our own acts of goodness as we slowly grew up into adolescence. It is important to our psyches as adults that these icons remain unsullied. After all, if they are toppled we are left only with a cynical belief in the impurity of the world as viewed by Fox News.

So we’re all sitting in class with our wives and the lactation counselor picks up just where she left off before the ten minute break. The major line of discussion between schedule feeding and demand feeding eventually winds down and our counselor decides it is time to cover new material. It is time to learn about the actual techniques of breastfeeding.

“In order to properly breastfeed it is important to understand how the milk factory works.” With that being said she reached into the cardboard box and pulled out a single breast.

It was an average looking breast topped with a nipple the size of a chocolate kiss covered with cloth skin that folded back to reveal a network of blue veins running vertically from milk node to milk node. She carefully explained how milk is produced and how it is stored in the breast. It was all very fascinating stuff. Then she reached into the box and began handing out breasts to everyone in the class.

As husbands we were very careful to show only the highest form of respect for our new hooters as we held them up to our chests and chortled to each other. I took the high road of course, holding three breasts up to my chest and in my very best Cone-head voice said, “I am from France.” One guy held up a breast on each side of his head covering his ears and we all laughed. What a boob ... It was great fun but soon our wives were elbowing our sides and stepping on our feet until we were forced to settle down a bit. (Women just never know how to have fun.)

“How many of you have been told by friends, relatives and other new moms how painful breastfeeding is?” The counselor surveyed the room and noted that just about every female in the room was holding up a hand. “That is because they’ve either never seen someone doing it correctly or they’ve never taken a class or worked with a lactation specialist.” Then she reached into the box, withdrew our fuzzy red friend, put her hand into the opening of the puppet Elmo’s head and moved it in such a way that he seemed to look around the room.

Little did we know that at that moment a train of events of events had been set in motion that would not stop until it pulled into the station of wrong and yet once more left the men writhing blindly upon the floor in the throes of horror. It began innocently enough as the counselor began the next part of her lecture.

“Quite some time ago as I was preparing for one of my classes I discovered that all of the practice babies were already in use by other instructors. Well, I didn’t know what to do until my eyes fell upon the Elmo doll that I sometimes used to entertain my daughter when she happened to be visiting my office. We all use we can in a pinch so I grabbed Elmo and brought him to class with me. Once I discovered how effective he was in demonstrating proper attachment techniques I’ve been bringing him with me ever since."

Yes, there were a few puzzled glances exchanged back and forth across the room at this point, but it was, Elmo. How bad could anything involving Elmo possible get? Then the danger of that question dawned upon me and I knew we were in serious trouble. I thought about slowly walking out the class as if I was heading towards the men’s restroom, but we’d just come back from break and I knew no one would believe me. I knew if I simply bolted from the room every other male would panic and in their zeal to exit there might be injuries to some of the women.

The counselor cupped one of the practice breasts in her left hand and placed it over her own left breast. “I always recommend that new mothers hold the breast when feeding the baby during the first few months. This helps both the mother and child facilitate the feeding experience with as little difficulty as possible.”

Now, some of the younger men began to squirm a little uncomfortably, after all it is one thing to hold a practice breast as part of an educational learning experience and quite another to look at one topped with a large chocolate nipple while it is being cupped in the hands of a woman who is not your wife. We as married men have been conditioned to avoid such voyeuristic tendencies at all costs. Oh, but the worst was yet to come.

“Now, with the baby in the football carry you want to lay the infant horizontally across the chest and guide the nipple towards the baby’s mouth.”

I tried to scream but the horror of what I knew was coming paralyzed my lips and I could only manage a tiny squeaking sound.

“Place the areola of the breast against the lower lip of the infant like this. When the baby opens her mouth to find the nipple, push it in about a half of an inch.” And that’s when the great black gaping maw of Elmo's mouth opened wide and chomped down upon the practice breast and began to nurse. “Notice that the infant is not attached to the nipple but is attached to the areola surrounding it.”

It was at this point the room seemed to spin and darkness seemed to fall across my eyes. I may even have gone blind for a minute, I’m not sure. The counselor started walking up and down the rows of seated couples demonstrating the proper attachment technique. Elmo’s mouth worked the nipple drawing the milk of human kindness deep into his hungry puppet belly. It was horrible and it was as unnatural an act as I’ve ever seen. My mind reeled from the wrongness of what was happening before my tortured eyes.

The moment came when the lactation specialist paused before Felicia and I to give us our look at the proper attachment position. Again, I knew what was coming before she even opened her mouth to speak and I prayed to the entire pantheon of deities in the known spiritual cosmology of man that I was in error. I was not to be spared. As the only man present to have attended and participated in every single pregnancy class I had been selected as the chosen one.

“Mr. Bauman, would you be so kind as to take the baby and demonstrate for us the proper attachment technique?”

My mind whirled and spun out of control. I knew that I stood upon the precipice of something important but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. There before me was Elmo, a breast with a chocolate kiss nipple and a woman asking me to participate in an important bonding experience and then it hit me like a bolt of red and yellow falling from the sky.

“Here I am to save the day!”

It was Mighty Mouse and he looked resplendent in his heroic uniform of red-tights, yellow-shorts and shimmering cape. I knew in that moment I’d either suffered a major L.S.D. flashback or I was on the verge of fainting and was therefore suffering hallucinations due to lack of oxygen in my brain. At that moment it didn’t matter; I needed help desperately and would have accepted it from any source from which it sprang.

“Do you think Popeye never said no to, Olive Oyl? Do you think I always said yes to, Pearl Pureheart? Surely you realize that even Underdog said something to, Sweet Petunia other than, “Fear not, Underdog is here.” Mighty Mouse stood before me in all of his rodent glory as I thought about his words.

It was true. I felt it in my heart. There was more to being a cartoon hero than always saying yes! Sometimes a hero was defined by his saying, “No!” It was an epiphany moment and as if in recognition of the significance of the vision the clouds parted upon the ceiling of the classroom and a ray of light shone down from the second floor and clothed me in a holy radiance. I stood up from my seat and struck the pose of every Saturday cartoon super hero ever to flash across the television screen.

“No, ma'am! No I will not nurse Elmo at the practice breast of my imagined feminine side. I have been willing to participate in every instance of imaginary contractions. I’ve performed C.P.R. on lifelike rubber infants. I have watched films of unimaginable horrors. I have changed diapers on demo babies until I can perform the task in my sleep. This is where I draw my line in the sand and will proceed no further. You may return Elmo to the hell-box from which he was spawned, foul-lactation-specialist-of-Satan”

I was shaking in my fearful anger and my knees felt weak. I’d done it. I’d stood up to the women and now the chips would fall where they may. The silence in the room was palpable. Then one man rose and began to clap his hands, slowly at first, but then with greater enthusiasm. Soon another man stood followed shortly thereafter by another until all of the men in the room were on their collective feet cheering and clapping.

Yes, it was one small victory but one very big lesson in my journey into parenthood. I learned that day that saying no does not make me less of a father. There are limits to what any man can endure. Saying no does not make me a bad dad; it just makes me more of a real man.

I think so at least.

"Am I right honey-pookie-lips-of-love-muffins?"


April 19, 2007

A tale of two moments...

Just after returning to Dayton, Ohio after my release from the Marine Corps I took out a room in the downtown Y.M.C.A. in order to stretch my monies as far as possible while I job hunted and prepared to renter civilian life. It was a harsh December and bitter cold. I remember spending a good part of each day curled up in a chair in the lounge reading and drinking coffee. Sometimes I would enjoy a game of chess with one of the old men that never seemed to leave the confines of the quiet sanctuary.

It wasn’t long before a particular gentleman and I became friends because of a mutual respect for the level of competition we shared. The games we played against each other were spirited battles and closely contested until the very last move. As we whiled away the hours we talked about our days and shared the stories of our lives.

The old man was sixty-four years old and had suffered a heart attack that left the left side of his body partially paralyzed. He had little use of his left hand and he walked with a slight drag of his left leg. He moved slowly and precariously. As physically handicapped as he was he still possessed a keen mind and was a good conversationalist.

Up until the heart attack he taught high school mathematics. He’d had a good life and what he still believed was a good wife even though she left him after the stroke. (Actually, she left him after he lost his teaching job because of the stroke.) He was a good soul and he was staying at the Y.M.C.A. until he turned sixty-five and his social security kicked in bringing in a more substantial income than his disability checks provided.

It became a regular routine that he and I would walk down Monument, cross the Main Street Bridge and shop at a little store called Russ’s Market. He would usually pick up small luxury items like hot chocolate mix, marshmallows and popcorn. Upon returning to the Y.M.C.A. he’d use the hot plate in his room to prepare a couple of mugs of hot chocolate and a big pot of popcorn which we would then carry down to the lounge and share with those who gathered to play chess.

One particular day it was so cold and a major storm was forecast to bring a significant amount of snowfall to our city. The old man wanted to go to the store before the snow moved in but I just did not want to go out in the freezing cold. I told him that I would go with him the next day and went back to reading in my room. For the next few days the weather did indeed turn nasty and it still stands as one of the worse snows Dayton, Ohio has ever suffered.

After the storm broke I tried to check in on the old man and see if he still wanted to go to the store. For several days I did not see him in the lounge and when I knocked upon the door of his room there was no answer. I was a bit concerned at this point and I went to the front desk to see if they knew if anything about his whereabouts. The desk clerk handed me the morning paper and pointed to a column on the front page.

My heart broke as I read how my friend had been picked up by a group of boys while crossing the Main Street Bridge, taken out to a wooded area, robbed and then beaten to death. He was found half buried in the snow by a young couple out for a walk after the storm had passed. It was one of the worst moments of my entire life. I blamed myself for months afterwards even though everyone assured me it was not my fault. I still feel a sense of responsibility after all these years.

Story Two

My two buddies and I were heading back inside the bar when a hand reached out from the line of those waiting to get inside and grabbed my arm. When I turned around a girl was crying and looking at a rather beefy guy standing next to her.

“That’s him, that’s the guy I’ve been telling you about.”

I didn’t have a clue who the girl was and I wasn’t sure what to do. My two buddies had stopped and the bouncer who knew me pretty well was watching the situation carefully in case something bad broke out. The guy beside her smiled and reached out his hand.

“I’d like to thank you for everything you’ve done for my wife.”

As I shook his hand I tried frantically to remember who this girl was but for the life of me memory just would not come.

“Why don’t you join us at our table and we’ll talk?”

Once we were seated the girl and her husband introduced themselves. She apologized for the tears and began to explain herself. It turned out that we had attended high school together. She was a lonely girl without friends and hated her life and the experience she was having in junior high. No one ever noticed her and no one ever paid her any attention. She never got invited to dances or any of the other school functions that she so desperately wanted to be a part of.

As she told her story I still didn’t have a clue who she was. Then she started talking about this wild hippie kid who was always surrounded by a group of laughing happy followers. She told everyone how every time he saw her he grabbed her hand and invited her to participate in whatever adventure was underway. She talked about what it meant to her to be made a part of something and how she developed friendships through the people he introduced her to. She talked about how it had changed her life.

Eventually she went to the powder room with several of the other girls and her husband leaned in close and started to talk to me.

“She was so lonely and hurt in high school. She was depressed and beginning to consider suicide when you came into her life. If you hadn’t done what you did for her I may never have met her. I will never be able to thank you enough.”

To this day I still have no idea who that girl was. It simply is a matter of how I am around people. Whenever I see a person sitting alone by themselves I try to reach out and invite them to be a part of whatever is going on at the moment. To me, the more of us there are having a good time, the happier I am as an individual. I just like bringing people together for a good time.

These two events have taught me one very important life lesson. We can not prevent events like the one that just happened on the campus of Virginia Tech by legislation, new laws concerning gun control or increased security forces. These efforts, although well intentioned simply do not address the real cause of the violent explosions by individuals like Cho Seung-Hui. By the time they make their move against us it is only a matter of how many they harm before they are gunned down by either police or campus security forces.

If we truly wish to stop the shootings that seem to be plaguing our neighborhoods, work environments and school systems the best place to start is with ourselves. Each and every day all of us encounter the weird individual. Whether it is the old lady with the cats, the guy with the scowl or the badly dressed secretary in the next cubicle we ignore these injured folks and oftentimes avoid them entirely. They long to be a part of our activities and to participate in the fellowship we share while they sit in crowded cafeterias eating their lunches alone.

Reach out to these people. Offer them friendship and watch the look that comes into their eyes. You can turn a potential shooter into a real human being. Love truly heals a heart and soothes the soul. I know a lot of us don’t believe in that much any more, but I do and I know from personal experience what reaching out can do. It can save not only the aggrieved one’s life but potentially the lives of those he would have struck out at in anger and lonely alienation.

Look around yourself today, how many lonely hurt people do you see sitting by themselves wishing for nothing more than one single friend? Even if you can't manage the courage to walk over and introduce yourself, please acknowledge their existence with a cheerful smile. It could make all the difference.

April 15, 2007

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, honey...

Part II

Achieving Good Attachment

So how much worse could it possibly be? Having survived all of the pregnancy classes, including the dreaded birthing film with my senses fairly intact, I just couldn’t imagine anything to be afraid of in a class on breastfeeding. After all, it was only a single two hour class. It was about boobs and nipples. Figuring I’d already survived the most horrendous experience involving breasts and nipples any human being could possible have to endure I looked into the loving eyes of my wife and said, “Sure, honey no problem; why I’d be more than happy to go with you”

When we arrived at the hospital the classroom was already filled close to capacity. As I’d anticipated this was the one class the majority of husbands had chosen in order to fulfill the minimum participatory prenatal requirements--“What do you mean non-supportive, I went to that breastfeeding thing didn’t I?”

It was kind of refreshing to be one of many men in class for a change. Yes, boobs and nipples really bring out the men folk. Even the front row seats were filled with smiling dads’-to-be brimming with confidence, secure in their manhood and one hundred percent positive that whatever the breastfeeding class had to offer they were more than up to the challenge.

The evening’s class began innocently enough when a matronly looking woman walked to the front of the classroom, introduced herself, listed an impressive number of credentials qualifying her as a lactation counselor and then asked for a show of hands of anyone who might have already had a baby and engaged in breastfeeding. Not a single feminine hand was raised and you could feel relief sweep across the room--for once in the entire classroom experience the women were as clueless as the men and we were all on equal footing.

Well, it wasn’t long until a spirited debate broke out between a group of Gary Ezzo supporters who quoted chapter and verse of his book, Becoming Baby Wise versus the lactation counselor and her many years of practical experience as both a nurse and a mother. It was like watching some sort of intellectual-cat-fight among the women. Now even though the majority of men didn’t have a clue as to what was actually being discussed it was still a wonderful experience for the guys. I mean come on, a cat fight is still a cat fight even if it is only a heated battle of words and let me tell you this brouhaha was like a cat gang fight.

After almost an hour of watching the women fight tooth and nail about schedule feedings versus demand feedings the class instructor declared a ten minute break while she went to retrieve some visual aids she’d forgotten in her office. As the men gathered in the sanctuary of the restroom everyone started talking about the proceedings of the evening so far.

“Man, they were really going at it!”

“Dude, I’ve never seen a cat fight anything like that. Is it just me or was any one else getting hot watching it?”

“I never even knew the Bible talked about breastfeeding, did you?”

“Well I think I might have read something about it in that Song of Solomon book but I’m not sure.”

It was just about the time we all decided to rejoin our wives when someone finally asked the question; “Do you think there’ll be a movie?”

A silence fell upon the group and tentative glances were exchanged as each man waited for someone other than himself to venture a guess. Finally a young man shrugged his shoulders and said, “They gotta have some way of showing em how it’s done don’t they?”

“Come on, they just aren’t gonna show women flopping their boobs out and breastfeeding babies in a classroom full of guys and girls.”

“Well, how else are they gonna show em how to do it?”

“She did say she was going back to her office for visual aids.” I said. “It’s probably just going to be the infant dolls again.”

By the time we all returned to the classroom with our cups of coffee and Coca-Colas the lactation counselor was standing in her spot at the front of the room. On the table next to her was a medium sized cardboard box with what looked like an Elmo doll sitting up inside of it. After the exchange of a few confused and questioning glances, shoulders were shrugged and each of us sat down next to our wives and waited to see what unfolded next.

To be continued...

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