Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Enjoyable madness, a Bris-esque day, and a parent's message sent.

This is madness, taking care of an infant. He needs constant help of course; love, new unda-pants, food, comfort, more new unda-pants, and more food. But we're embracing and enjoying the madness. After all, we chose this, and knew it was coming. No mystery there. Maybe it's because our partnership is so strong, or our feeling of gratitude is so large, or because our make-ups fit this challenge right now, but even the hard stuff feels fun.

Here's the deal: there are now 2 times in my life that this sometimes conflicted man knew with certainty that he was in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right things. One was sitting shiva after my mother's death, a stretch of 8 days in which she was honored as deserved. And the second has been this 13 day run of parenthood. There's no place in the universe, with no social or professional opportunity, that merits my time and attention more. I find that extremely comforting.

The 8th day of Rubin's life saw him the guest of honor at a ceremony in our home.

It was a Brit Shalom, mixed with a naming ceremony. There was a rabbi, some family, some close friends, some bagels and lox. I like that the lox was one platter away from the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwiches. Yours is a fused modern world, little man, get used to it. Just wait until your folks open the Irish-Jewish fusion pub they've long discussed, "McShuggenah's." (or "Guinneshevitz?") That's where we'd make the perfect Reuben, and probably blog about it a lot.

Cousin Finn finally gets to hold him and hang out.

Rabbi Jodi offered calming spiritual words, shared some lovely readings, quoted Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" in a manner that did not annoy me, and in general embodied a humanistic, hippie spirituality that fits us and him well.

During the ceremony, Uncle Jon sang the Hebrew version of the benediction often sung by our late mother, and 3 Spiegel siblings sang the English, "Lord Bless You and Keep You." Used mom's old pitch pipe to find our notes, and left the soprano absent, as it has been for 13 years.

The first song played post-ceremony was 'Highway 61 Revisited.' "God said to Abraham give me a son, Abe said God you must be puttin; me on..." And thus ends my relevant rock and roll Bris playlist, at 1. Suggestions welcome.

The purpose of having this ceremony, and the importance grew within me as the day approached, was large. I love being Jewish. I'm not the strictest, most kosher, most observant Jew, and I'm seriously dubious about the whole god thing, but I adore the customs and traditions. They make me cozy, like a warm overcoat handed down centuries but somehow left intact. Wars and genocides and dilution via marriage (guilty) can not and will not destroy the overcoat.

The rabbi asked us to write a message to young Rubin. So we did. I handled the importance of the day, and Tonya laid down some straight up wisdom. Both of those writings are below. My wife is a genius.


Rubin. My boy. Today is meant to be 2 things: 1) a symbolic, and emphatic connection to your namesake Regina, and her family. She bought the outfit you’re wearing for your Uncle Jon’s bris, and it was worn at the bris of both your Uncle Bob, and myself. She is kvelling right now at the sight of you. And 2) it’s meant to show the value and connection of Judaism to your parents and to you. This faith has been a great comfort to me, and with its room for discussion, room for ritualistic evolution, we hope it can be a comfort to you in your life.

FROM TONYA: Matt wanted me to write down my hopes and dreams for our son. Unfortunately, the short and long answer is: I want him to have everything in the entire world. That would make for a very short or a very long speech. Instead, here’s five things I want him to know, most of which Matt and I wish we’d learned much earlier in life.

1. Figure out who you are, and be that person. Nurture, embrace, and protect yourself, and love yourself fiercely. Be proud, even a little vain. Know that perfection is not required for happiness.
2. Happiness is not what they show on Pepsi commercials. Happiness comes from a deep feeling of self-worth and satisfaction. It is not euphoric, or loud, or involve acting crazy. That’s euphoria, and you’ll have that on occasion, too. But happiness isn’t an emotion so much as it’s a way of living. Do things with meaning to you, and those things will make you happy.
3. Don’t put off what needs to be done. Life is going to be full of boring chores, errands, emails, work, responsibilities, dog-walking, returning phone calls, and laundry. Complaining and putting things off only annoys those around you and makes stuff pile up. Everyone has stuff to do, just get it done and then you can watch TV.
4. The situation is what the situation is. Base your decisions off the circumstances at hand, not off what you wish they could be, or what they used to be, or some stylized notion of what you would like them to be. Be brutally honest with yourself about what’s going on around you, and usually your way will be clear.
5. Your family loves you very much. “Family” will cover all kinds of people in your life. It will start with your father and I and our families, moving on to include friends you make along the way, hopefully someday a life partner and their family, and maybe children of your own. We will all love you imperfectly. Sometimes even awkwardly. We will often fail to love you in the exact way you would want to be loved. We’ll make mistakes. Your father and I stand here on the eighth day of your life, already able to count so many things we wish we’d done differently. But we love you, we love you, we love you. We love every bit of you with all of our hearts and souls. No matter what you do, go out there knowing we will be here for you, loving you and supporting you, and, no matter what, we always will.

I neither have nor need words to augment or amplify that.

I guess these are among the benefits of parenting late. We've had time to get a little smarter.

I do wish she had told me about the Pepsi mention.

We could have made back catering costs via product placement.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Rubin Blog; It was inevitable.

Boy, it's been a while. The Reuben Sandwich Blog has been dormant for far too long. But I have not stopped Reubening; there have been many Reubens since last I wrote. Reubens in Chicago, where Manny’s underwhelmed and Eleven City Diner grabbed the top local spot. Reubens on Highway 1 in Big Sur overlooking the ocean, Reubens emailed to me in gorgeous pictorial detail by loyal Reubenites. But life, she got busy, and the Reuben blog faded lower on the priority list.

Now I have a Rubin to write about. A son....a glorious, non-sandwich son. Rubin Ford Spiegel is him.

His first name truly is a miraculous happenstance, despite the understandable connection to the world's most perfect lunch item. Regina Isabelle Rubin Spiegel was my late, wonderful mother. We just didn't love Reginald for a boy, no matter how often we tried to infuse it into our brains. Isadore is too...I don't know...Vaudeville? Tin Pan Alley? Hidden in the attic?

But Rubin. It honors queen Regina, but also implies her father Manny, her Uncle Harold, her mother Shirley, and an entire side of my family that seems to be filled with women mostly logistically challenged to pass the name on. (Shout-out to cousin Tina and her awesome son Joshua). Rubin Spiegel also unites my parents in a lovely way, carrying Trenton lore into this century and hopefully beyond. So, Rubin it is, and Rubin Ford to be complete. Ford is for Byford, my beautiful Tonya's late grandfather. There are pictures of Regina and Byford side by side in the nursery.

By the way, we know the name of our son's first band: The Rubin Ford Effect. The t-shirts will be stellar.

So Friday night the 13th, we'd decided I would go play poker. Hadn't in months, and I should and would squeeze one last bout of juvenile, mostly care free hedonism into the wait-for-baby days. Now we know: poker late in the third trimester is the equivalent of lighting a cigarette on the El tracks. The train comes. Tonya texted me at 10:07. "Matty, you won’t believe this, but you need to call me and start coming home. Now." I jumped up, called her from the table, and heard tell of step 1. I thought of Cat Stevens. "Water has Bro-ken..." The scraggly fellow degenerate to my right said "Dude, are you having a baby right now?" Why yes, shiftless punk, yes I am. As I walked/ran to the car, I told anyone who asked what this moment was.

Description: LinkThe hospital and birth experience was incredibly comfortable, truthfully, and the process was manageable in a way we are shy to admit to couples who have struggled. My wife, she has an amazing body. It has been gorgeous for decades, healthy her whole existence, enduring through substance travails, prompt in efforts to incubate, supportive in the gestation, and efficient in delivery. Hers is a worthy, impressive vessel.

Of the 4 obstetricians in the group we've been seeing, we ended up with Dr. Blumenthal for delivery. Fitting and fated to get the well-aged 29 year delivery vet, replete with stern but helpful coaching tips for my eager-to-please girl, and Borchst Belt caliber Yiddish schtick to pass the time between pushes. “You’re not shvitzing Tonya.” “Push, push push! We’re gonna see that punim!” I added a reference to our impending naches, giving our delivery a record 3 Yiddish terms in a 90 minute period.

I began the push portion ready to help, but detached, in a chair a few feet away as 3 qualified personnel guided the wife. “You can do it baby,” offered hopefully but worthlessly from the stands. When she expressed difficulty in breathing between pushes while also arching her head properly, Dr. Blumenthal politely suggested dad get his ass in the game. I did, and by the end, I had my arm across T’s shoulders supporting her upwards, the other arm hooking a knee to pull it back, counting to ten and urging instruction in her face. It’s exhilarating to be a birthing helper monkey. I saw his head emerge, as the plates of the skull finally fit the lock of her channel enough to squeeze through, and watched his body being pulled to full freedom. I cut the cord, and cried with my wife as our spawn was strewn across her chest.

There he was. We made him…from…nothing. From pre-existing parts. From stuff we just had floating around, genetics we’ve traveled with for decades. We made a human. It’s so naturally bizarre.

This is the world's most perfect post-birth shot. Notice the immaculate hair.

This is a little, grumptastic Yoda looking man who did not enjoy his trip.

Can you blame him?

The look says "Oy...I would NOT do that again."

We spent two amazing days in the hospital, getting gentle help and instruction on how to keep this thing alive.

His face changes every time I look at him. Emotions in the post-partum room flow freely, massively, among all who enter. His skin is unlike all textures imaginable. This fatherhood thing is better than any drug I can conceive of. A friend called it “the ultimate human trip.” Perfect.

Visitors included a proud Aunt Adrienne, a curious just Bar Mitzvahed nephew Jack, and the proper bringer of the kid's first bagel, Uncle Jon. Notice the unmistakable presence of "the man in the bagel."

I’ll forever remember the moment when Matt LeBlanc won a Golden Globe award for his acting on the cable series “Episodes.” Because at that specific instance, I was changing the first black tar meconium diaper of young Rubin’s life. The shiny, thick substance just kept oozing as I cycled through somewhere between 5-8 baby wipes, and Tonya laughed wildly from the bed. It was like the Exxon Valdez disaster, but grosser. I’m pretty sure the same amount of wildlife was damaged in the process. Seagulls drowned, seals gasped for air, and the news media shook their heads disapprovingly. But eventually, there was anal relief.

And now we’re home, with this impossibly perfect little being in tow. Tonya says this is what people are like, before they get ruined. It’s so true. He has no callouses, physical or emotional. His toes, those tasty little toes, have never emitted sweat. He has worn socks twice. The first time he wore them, his third day on the planet, he shot us a look as if to say “where have these been all my life?” There’s more Rubin, there’s so much more.

Tonya’s mom is here, and Grandma is remarkably helpful. Having multiple generations in this home feels so right, so unavoidably necessary.

Just now, she ironed an outfit for Rubin to wear tomorrow, on his 8th day of life, for a ceremony in our home. It’s the Bris outfit worn first by big brother Jon nearly 52 years ago, by brother Bob, and by me. It came with a handwritten note from Regina, my son’s namesake, and will serve to symbolically, emphatically bind them together.

And now of course the real job begins. After having read so much about, and gotten so skilled at being pregnant, I find myself feeling horribly unprepared for these first few months. What are my tasks, my missions, my prime directives? Thankfully, there is another week off of work, and wonderful resources to consult in efforts to enable. Homeboy sleeps in 2-3 hour increments, and I’ll try to use my time wisely.

I found the perfect Rubin.

I, we, are ridiculously fortunate to get this chance at this point in our lives. He is a choice we made, and the gratitude for his healthy, gorgeous presence is enormous.

The love is so great, I wish I could indeed just gobble him up.

I think I'll start with the toes.