Brain Dead – A Rant

So, I’m sitting here when I really should be sleeping, and I’m staring at my blank computer screen trying to find some inspiration.

Sorry folks. I got nothin’.

See, it’s been a long week here in Casa de Romano. Our lives have been completely hijacked by potty training and taxes.

The good news is that Cadence is doing amazing with her potty training. She is rocking the big girl unders, and we just completed Day 3 with no accidents…well, at least no #1 accidents. Since accidentally peeing in her snowboots on Thursday (which were a logistical nightmare to actually get clean again), Cadence has been pee-free except on the potty. #2 though, is still a work in progress. We’ll get there though, as long as we keep the Peanut Butter M&M’s flowing as rewards.

The bad news is that after getting excited about getting a decent return back on our taxes, we get hit with the news that we owe the federal government $7500 to repay the First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit we took advantage of when we bought our house in Arizona.

Damn that house.

See, a few years ago, the government started giving away up to $8000 to first time homebuyers. It was their way of stimulating the housing market and giving people an incentive to buy when everyone was starting to realize that the market had gone to shit. Then suddenly, the rules changed, and instead of giving the money to people, they started giving it as a “loan” that had to be paid back in $500 increments for 15 years. Of course, home sales started slowing down again, so the government decided to reinstitute the free money campaign.

Unfortunately for us, we fell in the short period where the money was a loan.

We weren’t irritated about that…okay, so maybe we were mildly irritated. I mean, it’s just our luck that we somehow buy a home in the 3-month span that the goverment decided to change the rule to our detriment. But we decided that a $500 a year deduction from our tax refund to pay the loan back wasn’t going to kill us.

Then, we moved, and the government found a way to screw us again.

See, there are all sorts of “what if” scenarios floating around regarding our credit/loan. If you get divorced and sign the house over to your spouse, you’re off the hook. If you sell your house for a loss, you’re off the hook. If you foreclose, you’re off the hook. If your home is condemned, your off the hook. If you home is destroyed, you’re off the hook.

But, if you relocate because you find a new job that is going to give your family more opportunities, if you do the right thing and find a way to keep your house and continue to make the payments without fail, if you are a responsible citizen who tries to do what you can to make sure you’re playing by the rules, what you get is a whole bunch of attitude from the holier-than-thou IRS agent you go to talk to at the local office, and a big f*%# you from the federal goverment in the form of a $7500 bill, payable upon receipt.

Seriously? What the hell is wrong with this system?

In 2009, big banks and corporations and corrupt executives were handed billions of dollars–dollars gleaned from the little guys, the hardworking taxpayers that do more to keep this country running than any of the politicians or wealthy CEO’s that look down on everyone else from the windows in their big offices. If you ask me, it would have been a whole lot smarter to invest the money in the hardworking American people, than to hand it over to the greedy SOB’s who got us into this economic crisis in the first place. Hand a nice check over to the members of the hardworking middle class or the struggling lower class, and you might have actually seen a positive change in this economy already. I mean, these are the people who would probably end up spending that money to pay down student loans or mortgages, to put food on the tables for their families, and maybe, just maybe, even invest in themselves or their own small businesses. Instead, the big fat checks lined the pockets of the greedy and got flushed down the big toilet we call corporate America.

Don’t get me wrong, Steven and I take full responsibility for the money we owe. We should have known what we were getting into taking a handout from our federal government that seemed too good to be true. I guess, overall, we’re just really disappointed.

We’re disappointed that the system in the country is so broken that hardworking, responsible citizens routinely get raped even when they try to do the right thing and get their hands on a piece of that ever-elusive American Dream. We’re disappointed in ourselves for trusting in a system we know is broken, even when our guts were telling us not to. And we’re disappointed that there seems to be so little that we can do to change it.

Instead, we will tighten our belts and find a way to repay what we owe. And we’ll continue to pay our mortgage and hold onto our house in Arizona until the market picks up enough for us to be able to sell it and at least break even. We’ll continue to pay our taxes. We’ll pay our bills and our student loans. We’ll put food on the table and buy treats for our dog and continue to build a future for our young daughter. We’ll scrimp and we’ll save and we’ll treat ourselves when we can because life is short and we want to enjoy it now instead of regretting later. We’ll do it all because that’s just how we are, and because we truly believe that, eventually, the good you do comes back to you.

Sometimes, it just takes awhile.

Blurry Images in Black and Gray

Shortly after my visit to the doctor to confirm my pregnancy, Steven and I scheduled our first ultrasound. We didn’t know what to expect. This was our first child, and it was still so early in the pregnancy. All the books I’d been reading said the baby was barely the size of a blueberry at this point, so I had a hard time imagining just what we might be in for. But we didn’t let that stifle our excitement. Like little children anxiously awaiting the promise of substantial loot on Christmas morning, we counted the days and tried to keep ourselves from bursting with anticipation.

Because of the ultrasound technician’s schedule, we had to set the appointment for a Wednesday afternoon in Casa Grande. Steve was able to flex his schedule to meet me at the doctor’s office over his lunch hour. We sat in the waiting room, making small talk and studying the anatomy and childbirth posters that decorated the walls around us.

The nurse called my name, and then led us to a small, dark room in the back of the clinic. There were several machines with green blinking lights sitting next to a half-chair half-table that was reclined and covered in the sterile doctor’s office tissue paper. A small, black flat-screen TV monitor was perched on the wall near the ceiling.

“How far along are you?” the technician asked.

“Six weeks,” I replied.

She smiled at us. “Your first?”

“Yeah,” both Steven and I replied.

“Well, congratulations! Just go ahead and lie back and pull your pants down below your hipbones, and we’ll see what we can see.”

I unbuckled my belt and slid my jeans down.

“This will be a little cold,” the technician said, squirting a small mound of cool, clear gel onto my skin. As she placed the small wand to my abdomen, the screen in front of us began to swirl with blurry images in black and gray. I held my breath and tried not to squirm.

After two or three minutes of searching, the technician put the wand down and wiped the gel away with a Kleenex.

“The baby is too small for us to see this way,” she explained. “Why don’t you go empty your bladder, and then when you get back, we’ll take a look at your baby with the vaginal probe.”

The tech turned and busied herself with the equipment, and I stole a glance at Steven.

Vaginal probe.

It took a moment for it to register. When the words finally reached the language center of Steven’s brain where they were interpreted and understood, his eyes widened and bulged, and his face darkened until it was roughly the shade of a Red Delicious apple.

I handed him my cell phone, wallet, and sunglasses so I could to head to the restroom. He leaned forward and whispered, “Um…do I need to leave the room for this?”

I smiled and squeezed his shoulder.

“No. Stay put,” I whispered. “I’ll be right back.”

In my mind, on my way to the bathroom, I imagined what might be going on in that dark little room in my absence. I could picture Steven, sitting there silently, cheeks still rosy, trying to act busy looking at his phone and nervously playing with the keys. I wondered what the technician was thinking, and I giggled out loud at the thought of her actually trying to have a conversation with my tightly-wound husband.

When I returned to the examination room, both Steven and the tech were in roughly the same positions as I had left them, though Steven had, in fact, opened up the internet on my phone and focused all of his attention on it. Even in the darkness, I could see the flushed red patches of his cheeks. I stifled a giggle.

The tech handed me a large, white paper apron. “Go ahead and undress from the waist down,” she instructed. “Then have a seat and drape this over you. I’ll be back in a few minutes, and we’ll have a look at your baby.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding.

She left, and closed the door softly behind her.

Steven sat, staring blankly at me. I could tell that he was thinking, trying to piece together the impending scenario in his mind. He opened his mouth, as if to say something. Then snapped it closed again, his forehead furrowing. When I unbuttoned my jeans and slid them off, he began to fidget, like a hormonal adolescent suddenly faced with the very real proposition of getting laid for the first time.

“Are you sure I don’t need to leave for this?” he asked again, as I folded my clothes onto the empty chair beside him and wrapped the paper apron around my waist.

“Don’t you dare leave me alone in here!” I whispered back. “You don’t want to miss seeing the baby the first time, do you?”

“Well, no…but,” Steven stammered, weighing the possibilities. “But I’m just not…There’s not going to be anything gross, is there?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “What do you think you’re gonna see here?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Steven replied, shaking his head. “That lady says she’s gonna probe your…your woman parts so we can see the baby. I don’t know what else we’re gonna see! We guys aren’t usually around for this probing business!”

I laughed even harder, tears beginning to form in the corners of my eyes.

“I’m not getting a full gynecological exam here, babe,” I said, wiping away the tears with a corner of the apron. “Don’t worry, you’re not going to see anything that’s going to scar you for life. It’s just going to be a regular ultrasound picture on the screen.”

“Oh, okay. Just checking,” he said.

I could tell that he was trying to sound calm, but he was still fidgeting. Steven is a compulsive tapper—always tapping his feet and drumming has hands along to whatever song happens to be in his head at the time. There are very few moments throughout the day when he is actually still. Driving with him in the car can either be terrifying or humorous, depending on whether one of his favorite songs happens to come on the radio while he’s actually driving down the highway (in which case I can only pray that we don’t blow a tire at the exact moment when both of his hands are off the wheel pounding out a Foo Fighters solo) or sitting at stoplight, where he manages to draw the attention and laughter of all the people in the cars around us as the steering wheel transforms into the snare drum, the dash into the toms, and my head into a crash cymbal. His nervous tapping though, somehow takes on a whole new level of energetic intent. To the untrained eye of someone who doesn’t know him as I do, it may appear that he is having a mild seizure.

The door opened, and the ultrasound tech reappeared, smiling at the two of us, before taking a seat in front of the machine next to me.

“Okay, now just go ahead and lie back,” she said, adjusting the stirrups for my feet. “You’ll feel just a little bit of pressure from the probe, but nothing painful. We should be able to get a good look at your baby this way.”

Black and gray blobs swam on the screen in front of us, looking more like television static than anything resembling a baby. The seconds ticked by. I squinted at the screen, but couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The room was silent.

I began to wonder if something might be wrong. We were still so early in the pregnancy, and I knew that many miscarriages happened before most women even knew they were pregnant. I wondered if something had happened to that little blueberry-sized embryo, and if we were suddenly going to be faced with the heartbreak of losing our first child before we even really got a chance to know him or her. I could feel my heart beginning to speed up and pound against my sternum.

Suddenly, there was a flash on the screen, a flutter of movement. Beside me, I heard Steven gasp. I reached out and took hold of his hand, which had fallen motionless on his lap. The ultrasound tech twisted the probe to get a better look, and the screen erupted with life.

“There,” she said. “There’s your baby. That movement you’re seeing right there is the heartbeat.”

The fluttering on the screen was fast and steady.

“Heart rate is about 160 beats per minute, which is absolutely perfect,” said the tech. Then she began moving the pointer on the screen to continue her explanation. “This shape here is your baby. Right now the arm and leg buds are just starting to develop, so you can’t really recognize any of that yet. This circle next to your baby is the yolk sac.”

“Oh man, I thought that was the head,” Steven said laughing. “I have no idea what I’m looking at here!”

“Me too!” I said.

The tech laughed. “Most people make that mistake when they look for the first time because the yolk sac is round,” she explained. “The yolk sac will shrink and disappear within a couple of weeks after the umbilical cord has developed and the yolk sac is no longer needed.”

I stole a glance over at Steven, but his eyes were glued to the screen and he was smiling widely.

“So far, everything looks perfect,” the tech said. “Your baby is developing and has a good, strong heartbeat. Let me get you your picture, and then you can get dressed.”

She removed the probe, and handed me a small, black and white photograph of the image we had seen on the screen.

“Okay, you guys are all finished. You can go ahead and get dressed and check out up front. Congratulations!”

“Thanks!” we both replied as the tech let herself out and closed the door behind her.

“Wow,” I said, handing the photograph to Steven. “That was the craziest thing I have ever seen! Did you see that heartbeat going a mile a minute?”

“Yeah, that was awesome!” Steven agreed. He squinted at the photograph in his hand while I dressed. “I gotta tell you though, babe. Our baby looks like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo.”

My laughter burst out, breaking the silence in the room. Steven raised his eyebrows and tried to remain solemn, but he couldn’t keep the corners of his mouth from curling into a smile. He held up the photograph.

“Seriously, babe,” he said, pointing to the image. “Tell me that little blob there doesn’t look like Mr. Hanky. You tell me that, and I’ll call you a liar!”

“What a terrible thing to say about your child!” I chastised playfully, taking back my cell phone and wallet and sunglasses. “I’m gonna tell our baby you said that.”

I’m gonna tell our baby I said that! And then we’ll go to the photographic proof!” Steven waved the photograph in front of my face and laughed. “It’s right here in black and white.”

We burst into the early afternoon sunlight and strolled across the parking lot, neither of us able to take our eyes off the blurry, black and white image for more than a few seconds at a time. When we reached our cars, we stood for a moment, and then Steven handed the photograph to me.

“I gotta get back to work, but why don’t you go home and scan this. Then you can email it to me so I can show everyone, and we can start sending it out to our families and friends. You know everyone is waiting.”

“Good idea,” I said, tucking the photograph carefully into my wallet. “I sure do love you, babe.”

Steven smiled and hugged me tightly. “I love you, too,” he said.

He kissed me quickly, and then we parted. I unlocked the van and climbed into the driver’s seat. Steven walked around to his car and unlocked the door, pausing for a moment before he opened it. He looked at me.

“So, I guess this is it, huh?” he asked, smiling. “We’re having a baby?”

I smiled back at my handsome husband and caught, for a moment, a glimpse of the proud father he would become. “Yep,” I said. “This is it.”

The Baby Blueprint

While some people scoff at things like intuition and gut instincts, I had to learn the hard way that there are often consequences to ignoring those subtle cues. Looking back on my life, I can honestly say that all of the good things that ever happened to me were the direct result of following my intuitive voice, while all of the horrible things were the result of my ignoring it, even when it was screaming at me to listen.

I do not believe that our lives are fully scripted, that we are trapped by fate or destiny to a predetermined end. Instead, I believe that we are all here to learn, to evolve, to do the best we can with what we are given, making the world just a little better for those around us in the process. I also believe that the Universe has a way of letting us know if we are on the right path, through that little voice or feeling or sign, called intuition.

All we have to do is learn to listen.

Steve and my decision to start a family was one of those decisions that had been left hanging in limbo. We both agreed that we were in no rush to have children, as we had just moved, gotten married, and were settling into new jobs. We had just taken the plunge and bought our first home, and soon after, our friend Foerth had moved into our spare bedroom, while he tried to settle into his new teaching job and find a place to live.

We realized right away that once you get married, the questions of, “When are you going to start a family? You want kids, right?” start immediately. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Momma Dawn asked about kids at least once before our wedding reception was even over. For the next year and a half, we fielded the questions (which slowly began to sound more and more like blatant demands) by smiling politely and cracking jokes and making excuses. We said we wanted to own a home, then bought one in July 2008. We said we wanted to wait until Foerth moved out, and he left in March 2009. By the time Steve and I got around to discussing our readiness to have our first child, it seemed that most of our die hard hopefuls were finally giving up on us.

I’d been taking birth control pills since just before our wedding, my doctors writing out prescriptions that allowed me to get refills for up to a year at a time. Steven and I sat down and did some calculating. My last refill before I needed to go in for an exam and get a new prescription would be in August. We decided that maybe it was a good time to just let the prescription run out and allow nature to take its course. I wanted to have our first child before I turned 30, and everything I read and heard said that it would take several months for my body to get back to normal.

So, we had a plan.

Now, I’ve always had a problem with plans. Not your trivial, “Hey, let’s meet at 8:00 and go get pizza” kind of plans. Those are easy. My issue has always been with bigger plans, life-changing plans, because those are the plans where I have had my intuition take over and suddenly hijack the road map, leading me down a very different path than the one I’d originally chosen.

Steven, on the other hand, is the type that desperately needs a plan. Without one, he tends to go a little stir crazy. How his uber-organized personality has been able to mesh so well with my chaotic existence is something of a natural wonder. While the figures may not add up on paper, there has always been something about the two of us together that just makes sense.

I can’t quite pinpoint when my feelings about our carefully crafted Family Plan began to change, but it didn’t take long for the subtle whisper to become a constant, nagging whine.

I wasn’t sure how Steven would react to my sudden request to modify our Baby Blueprint. Honestly, I expected him to protest the four month amendment, that I could only justify by saying, “I don’t know, but I just have a feeling it’s time.”

To my surprise, Steven just laughed and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s up to you. If you’re ready, I’m ready. And it will take awhile for your body to get back to normal, right? So, no big deal.”

We didn’t breathe a word to anyone about our plans. Part of me was afraid that my years spent abusing my body with an eating disorder might have caused irreparable damage, and I knew Steven was wrestling with his own concerns, because he kept making jokes about us getting ourselves all geared up when we didn’t even know if either one of us was actually fertile. Neither of us really wanted to get our own hopes up, let alone anyone else’s, so we kept our secret to ourselves.

On April 20, 2009, I took my last pill and started my last cycle, and that little voice that had been nagging so mercilessly fell suddenly silent.

Time to get this started again…

So, this blog has officially been neglected. Hell, let’s be honest, all my writing has been neglected lately! Yet, bad as I feel about allowing it to slip by the wayside, I haven’t been able to muster the wherewithal or conjure up enough energy to do anything about it.

Everyone smiles sympathetically at my lethargy, telling me that I’m supposed to be tired. After all, I am 9 weeks pregnant, and the first trimester is often the most draining. I have had a hard time excusing my lack of ambition and chalking it up to a side effect of the tiny life now growing inside me. Instead, this new adventure that Steven and I have embarked upon should be a great source of new insight, and seems a logical place to start getting myself in the the habit of writing regularly again.

And hey, who knows, one of these days I might even be able to finish that memoir…


If there was ever any doubt we adopted the perfect dog…

I guess she’s a bookworm like me.

Steven vs. the Birds

As a rule, Steven usually leaves the house in the morning an hour before I do. Sometimes he will text me throughout the day, to revel about a project he completed, or to share random insights that he deems too important to wait until we get home—theories about the latest episode of LOST, updates on Nebraska football recruiting, how some crazy lady cut in front of him and then flipped him off when he stopped at the 7-11 to get a Slurpee during his lunch hour. One of the things I love the most about our relationship is the fact that we never run out of things to talk about, and we always seem to be able to find a way to make each other laugh.

Generally, I don’t hear from Steven for several hours after he leaves in the morning, but every once in awhile, he will call me if there is something urgent, like the times he has had to have me search for his wallet after he arrived at work and realized it wasn’t in his pocket. This morning, I was in the middle of making my coffee when my phone started to ring. I answered, already preparing myself to be sent on a scavenger hunt for something he mistakenly left behind.

“Hel—” I said, but Steven cut me off before I had the chance to finish my greeting.

“Oh my God, I am going to hell!” he gushed, breathlessly. “I mean it. I am going straight to hell!”

“Wait. What?” I asked. “What are you talking about? Are you okay? What happened?”

“Oh man,” Steven continued. “Feathers and guts! That’s all I saw, just feathers and guts!”

What the hell is he talking about? I wondered. I could almost hear the squealing of the gears in my brain as they began to turn. I’d barely been out of bed for twenty minutes, and had no caffeine in my system yet. It was taking me a few extra moments to catch on.

“Honey, slow down,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“Okay,” Steve said. I could hear him taking the deep breath that always preceded his stories. “So, I’m driving past the dairy. You know, the one I pass before I get to the college?”

“Uh huh,” I said, visualizing his maroon Lumina cruising by the McClintock Dairy, Steven behind the wheel, drumming along to whatever song happened to be playing on the radio.

“Okay, so you know how there are always a lot of birds by the dairy? And there are always birds in the road, but they get scared and fly away?”

“Yeah,” I said. I was finally beginning to realize where the story was going.

“Yeah, so one didn’t fly away like it was supposed to. All I hear is this THUD, and then feathers and guts are flying everywhere!”

“Aw, Stevie, that sucks! I’m sorry!” I said, trying to be supportive, but I could feel the giggles beginning to build. I felt bad for the poor bird, and felt bad for Steve hitting it. Yet, imagining Steven’s reaction in my head was enough to make me choke with laughter. Steven’s passionate intensity, his tendency to make seemingly simple situations transform into grandiose, larger than life events, has always been one of the things that I love most about him. The ability to make even the most mundane situations exciting is a rare talent, and I have to say that Steven has damn near perfected his craft.

In my mind, I could see the events as they unfolded. Steven would be driving along drumming on the steering wheel to some AC/DC or Rolling Stones song on the radio, singing along in a loud falsetto, as he drove the long stretch of empty highway. Rounding the corner by the dairy, he would see the birds on the road in the distance. He would keep on cruising, trusting that the birds would fly away in time, as they had a thousand times before. He would be so certain of it, that he wouldn’t even notice the one still sitting there, until the bumper of the car was closing in. But, by then, it would be too late. As the car struck the bird and obliterated it, Steven’s eyes would grow to roughly the size of golf balls, and he would begin to yell.

“Aaahhhh! Jesus! Bird! WHAT THE HELL? Out of the road! You’re supposed to get out of the road! WHY DIDN’T YOU GET OUT OF THE ROAD!?”

Steven’s voice on the phone brought me back to reality.

“I mean he’s just sitting there in the road with his little friend—” he continued.

“Oh no, there were two little birds!” I cried, unable to hold the laughter in any longer.

“Yeah, there were two. And they were both sitting in the road, just minding their own business. His little friend flew away, but the poor sucker I hit just exploded. Seriously babe, I don’t even think there is enough of him left for his little friend to come back and identify him. All I saw was feathers and guts. Just feathers and guts, everywhere! I don’t even want to look at the front of my car!”

“Oh honey,” I choked, but I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t offer any more support. I collapsed on the couch and giggled madly. Electra planted herself at my feet and stared at me quizzically, her head cocked to the side in confusion.

On the other end of the phone, Steven was still talking, but I only caught every few words between my guffaws.

“Damn bird…stupid…feel so bad…freakin’ move…cloud of feathers…”

I took several deep breaths, and finally managed to get myself under control.

“Oh, Stevie. I’m sorry,” I said. “That must have freaked you out. Was that the first animal you ever hit?”

“Yeah! The rest of ‘em always got out of the way!” Steve yelled. “I mean, seriously! What was going on in his little bird brain? He just sat there! He had no chance. I mean, I annihilated him, babe!”

“Aw, Stevie!” I giggled. “At least he didn’t feel anything. It was a quick, painless death.”

“How would you know?” Steve asked? “Have you ever exploded on impact?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “But I’m pretty sure that exploding guarantees a minimal amount of suffering. I mean, you blew the little guy apart. I think his pain receptors were probably destroyed on impact.”

“Oh, God! I am seriously going to hell,” Steven moaned. “What a way to start a day!”

“I’m sorry, babe.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I just hope his little friends don’t come after me,” Steven said, beginning to laugh himself.

“Oh man, no way!” I squealed. “I want no part of that Alfred Hitchcock craziness! You better hit the car wash today and get rid of the evidence. If it gets hot, your car is gonna stink.”

“Damn! I didn’t even think of that! Alright, I gotta go. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Okay, Stevie. I love you. And drive safely!”

“I’ll try. Love you too.”

Still chuckling, I hung up the phone. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee began to fill the air, as I headed to the bathroom to shower and get ready for work. Steven was right. It was quite a way to start a day—Steven Romano 1, Birds 0.

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