Harper Hedge’s Ode to the Ceiling Fan

A knowing stare.

A knowing stare.

The vomit and the feces are immediately succeeded by wry, satisfied smirks.

She doesn’t get it from this side of the family, at least the grin-accompanied barf; I enjoy a good bowel movement as much as the next person, but I hate puking. Regardless of the mirth’s origin, though, it remains that one of Harper Jean Hedge’s greatest joys in life is sliming a parent with more-or-less solid bodily excrement.

“That was spectacularly disgusting,” Hailey said of a recent diaper change during which she was horrified to feel the squishy injection of a generous amount of poop underneath the fingernail of her right pointer. Hailey had declared, “Oh, my god, I scraped her with my fingernail and some of it got under!” making a gagging gesture with her tongue, as I attempted to entertain the child with cooing and to suppress my bemusement.

During a recent feeding late at night, I woke up to a gurgling sound, followed by an explosion of bile-curdled formula all over Hailey who immediately scrambled for a rag with which to wipe the vile liquid – which was in turn followed by a happy squirm and a massive, toothless grin from Harper’s newly pinkened face.

Occasionally afraid for our sanity in the waking moments of our parenthood, more than 80 percent of which has been spent with Hailey carrying Harper around inside Hailey’s body, I’m convinced that it’s not the physical pleasure or release of tension Harper gets from expelling her fluids. It’s the contentment she experiences when her mother or I have extra work to do.

Maybe part of it’s that she needs an escape from the undoubtedly bizarre experience of slowly having her muscles hardwired to her brain, of gradually discovering she controls the hand that sometimes reaches in voluntarily to her field of vision and pops the pacifier from her mouth – of the progressive detection of her own body. Maybe it’s that she needs to exact revenge on the bringers of her consciousness to this big, cold, scary world, absent the ambient comfort of the womb. Whatever the psychology, I’m not qualified to diagnose.

I only know that her moments of joy are a new game, a new movement, a new feature or the mortified disgust of her parents.

The ceiling fan brings solace.

The ceiling fan brings solace.

One very intense joy is the ceiling fan, at which she stares from an ottoman in our living room where we change her diapers, and to which she seems to compose elaborate canticles:

Oh, great Ceiling Fan, how doth thou spin in perpetuity? What is thy connection to the toggle on the wall?

Magical Ceiling Fan of the Living Room, to which I look from my altar in wonderment, the infant shall never understand thy works. Thy golden tentacles crowned with ivory bulbs reach to me in generous comfort.

Beautiful Ceiling Fan, thy body of brass captivateth my soul, thy limits surpass my understanding.

Worthy Ceiling Fan, thou understandeth the plight of my extreme youth when the large mammals charged with my care cannot grasp it; thou comfortest me when I am weak of heart.

And so on.

As Hailey says: “Never underestimate the power of the ceiling fan.”

Harper is also growing quite content with certain games – I move her feet back and forth when she lies on her back to simulate running, or make her fists punch like she is boxing. Her fingers are now even strong enough to wrap around my thumbs while I pull her from flat on her back to a sitting position. Hailey talks to her, encourages her to talk back and plays a ukulele she bought at a local guitar shop for $50. We read to her from a Dr. Seuss anthology a friend who we chose to be her “Spirit Father” – because we’re anything but Catholic – bought us for Christmas. She loves the feel of a moving car, though she bellows painfully from her car seat at stop lights. We have a massive strip of durable and fairly elastic cloth called a Moby Wrap that weaves around our torsos and shoulders to form something of a kangaroo pouch, in which she is always happy.

Vomiting, defecating, worshipping the ceiling fan like a godless heathen, playing new games, reading, driving, being carried like a Joey – these are for what The Peanut lives. Harper, who Hailey nick-named “The Peanut” because of her resemblance to the legume when she is tightly wrapped in a blanket, is most happy on a morning accompanied by one of these things.

We sometimes have to wax creative. Around 8 one recent morning, Hailey had been up since about 5:30 trying to make The Peanut stop crying. Hailey had tried everything; nothing was working. I laid Harper prone on top of a blanket on the changing ottoman, where she can view her beloved ceiling fan. It was of no consolation – she wouldn’t even open her eyes wide enough to see it. Her fussing became an all-out scream. I moved her to the edge of the blanket, tucked her arms behind her back and rolled her up in the fleece. A Peanut burrito, I told Hailey. Harper tilted her chin up so she could look straight out the end, and the child fell asleep.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, a college adviser who’d recently given birth to her first son, gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received: Parenthood is an exercise in patience, one in which you must reach deep within your soul, overturning the obscurest stones to find the smallest bits of willingness to not lose it. She told me this as a commentary on her own growth as a mother, but I’ve remembered it as an admonition. The screaming child might be the most distressing sound I’ve ever heard. When Harper starts crying in the back seat of the car, and I am driving, Hailey look worriedly at the frustration on my face that there’s nothing we can do. I just have to listen and not crash the car.

Before we brought The Peanut home from the hospital, the staff made us attend a presentation on how to keep from shaking our baby. It featured a CGI video of what happens to a child’s brain when its head whips back and forth: the brain, which is not completely secured to the inside of the skull, jiggles around like Jell-O that hasn’t spent enough time in the refrigerator. The brain hemorrhages, and in the best cases the damage causes retardation. But usually the kid dies.

The video also featured interviews with parents, including one father who had shaken his baby boy, relegating him to a life of dependence on other humans for basic needs. The parents said anyone can shake a baby. The trick is to know your limit, and when you reach that point, to put the screaming child down and leave the room for five minutes of some other comforting activity, like reading a book or watching a bit of television.

I haven’t gotten there yet, though I imagine I will.

IN A MONTH, The Peanut will start teething. In March, she’ll start eating solid food. Eventually, she’ll move past the risk of shaken baby syndrome, which is the medical term for the condition caused by shaking, and the need for patience will probably become even more immediate and complex.

But for now, she’s developing, according baby books, to adopt recognition of smooth transitions from one happening to the next, like the words strung together in a sentence. Before, every motion was a jerk. If taken out of a swaddle that held her arms to her sides, her hands would spring up in the air like an eagle fighting a snake, her fingers spread. She doesn’t do that quite so often, now preferring measured, fluid exercises.

She’s learning to talk back to us in seeming response. Last night, after eating, she used her first hard consonant, in a string of other soft gibberish: “Ooh, huah, ahh, goo!” she exclaimed, as if making a declaration of higher intelligence.

She loves to watch television from her rocking chair.

It’s those moments for which we work. They’re sometimes just on the other side of a few seconds from an explosion of feces or vomit, and separated from each other by hours of sleeping, fussing or fit-throwing. Hailey works more often than I do. And probably harder, which we occasionally fight about. To escape, we’ve had a good friend babysit, and plan to again very soon. We also purchased a membership a local YMCA, where Hailey is trying to get her bod back and there are babysitters for Harper.

In the common area downstairs from our bedroom is where we keep Harper’s rocking chair. We place it on the floor next to the couch so we can rock her to sleep and watch TV at the same time. This morning, after being up with Harper for a long time, Hailey slept on the couch and Harper in the rocker because that’s the only place it would work, and Hailey doesn’t sleep unless she first knows the baby is nearby and safe.

It’s all part of the work toward that smile. The vomit and the feces are worth it.

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‘Tis the Season for Dishonest Consumerism

Warning: This article contains a spoiler for children who still sit in the crimson lap of the Yuletide joy-bringer.

My parents took me out of public school in favor of a home education when I reached the third grade – and my kid sister just after Kindergarten – for very legitimate reasons. Among others, they had realized they were not playing much of a role in our education.

At risk of sounding flush with self-pity – I assure you, I’m not – I don’t have many good memories of my public school experience before that. My name is Aaron, very similar to Erin, the name of a girl in my class. “Erin is a girl name!” bullies would chant. My parents insisted every day that I don a pair of white boots with a very feminine rainbow of color emblazoned across the side. I was nerdily obsessed with cetaceans and dinosaurs. I was berated by male classmates accordingly (though I’m convinced the hypocrites secretly harbored a similar preoccupation with the latter). To be honest, I think I blocked most of it out, in favor of better memories.

But a bigger set of arguments that played out on the playground and in the lunch line especially around the Yuletide really set me apart from my classmates even more than my dorkiness: Santa Claus, I told them, was a lie. Their parents were lying to them.

One of my female classmates matter-of-factly crossed her arms and protested: “I saw Santa come in through the chimney last year.”

That was easily explained, given what I had heard from my parents, who’d definitely never lied to me, and inferences I had made from commercial television. “That was your dad; he probably dressed up like Santa Claus,” I dutifully informed her.

Maybe for the betterment of at least their immediate lives, none of my classmates ever believed me. I was full of crap, they told me, not in so many words.

I never had the illusion of Santa Claus. My parents also never participated in ownership of Christmas trees, citing the Pagan origin of the decoration; it didn’t jive with the honest Christian faith of my parents and a large cohort of families with whom they worshipped in their own households every few months in attempts at revival. Indeed, we refused all the historical untruths and biblical inconsistencies ingrained in the Christmas apparatus. A vegetarian member of our group informed me of the true birth date of Christ: The Savior was actually born in late September, he said.

But I never wanted for membership in the consumer holiday. Christmas was never as lavish for me as it was for the children of many richer parents because my parents were never rich. But I remember all the thin, simple wrapping paper that separated me from title to many worldly things: Swiss Army knives, VHS tapes with Disney movies etched in the magnetic tape, subscriptions to children’s science magazines, what I thought were combat-style boots, even a compound bow and arrow designed for an 8-year-old. I loved Christmas marathons on commercial television, showing such classics as “A Christmas Story” and newer hits like “The Santa Claus.” Every Yuletide, our home featured a large pile of loot wrapped in red and green paper – the pile was absent a Christmas tree, but was formidable nonetheless.

I tried in fits to give back. My Mom, my sisters and I would go shopping for my Dad and would frequently resort in frustration – because Dad had an uncanny ability to guess what was inside a strip of wrapping paper – to buying him one of those very nice bottles of mixed nuts. It was all that was left. I would wait in tense anticipation of Christmases spent in Denver with my Dad’s side of the family, with aunts who were great at picking out the best gifts for young people with interests such as mine. I loved Christmas because I got more cool stuff. It didn’t matter that Santa Claus was never real to me, that we never had a Christmas tree, that I knew the holiday was not in fact tied to my religion.

Now, my family is scattered across the country, and I don’t remember the last Christmas I spent with them (during too many of them, I was very drunk, and in my late sobriety, I have been too far away from my family). Our views on Christmas have evolved. One year, I went home before Christmas, and my parents, younger sister and I drove toward the Dinosaur National Monument and sawed through the trunk of a tiny evergreen to decorate my parents’ home; the Paganism problem did not withstand.

Society’s views on the Christmas institution have also changed, though I think more latently. Christmas has become a frenzy of ignorant consumerism in America. It has become a spectacle of rapacious corporatism that is justified as a tradition of Christianity, therefore as an intrinsically American instrument of living. Of course, every smart person knows the epic falsehood here: that Christmas was contrived by the Romans to replace a devil’s holiday with Catholic machinations, institutionalizing the lie that Christ was born on December 25. But that knowledge takes the same backseat in the supposed intellectual framework of political and social ivory towers as the fact Barack Obama is the polar opposite of a socialist. We simply ignore that we know it. And if the scuttlebutt wasn’t well-enough codified into our brains, we’ve searched tirelessly to contrive a campaign by the godless, liberal heathens in progressive thinking circles to dismantle this essential institution: the infamous “War on Christmas,” evoked by the structures most threatened by reducing our consumption.

Jon Stewart took the bastards to task better than I can: “For God’s sake, FOX News itself is located in Midtown Manhattan, the epicenter of all that is godless, secular, gay, Jewy and hellbound, and yet even here, all around your studio, it looks like Santa’s balls exploded.”

Indeed, the lies abound.

We adorn our Christmas trees with the Star of Bethlehem, though the symbolism originated in ancient Pagan cultures. From Encyclopedia Britannica: “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

Even Santa Claus is an amalgam of Christian and Pagan themes, taking his appearance from the Germanic god Odin and using magical elves to create toys enough for nice children the world over. In his image, fathers and paid actors in malls dress in elaborate red costumes to convince children that the natural reward for good behavior is to be party to our consumer culture, that receiving a physical token of that commoditization is the ultimate reason to be a good human.

And once these values are lodged firmly in the psyche of the succeeding generation, its occupants carry it past the realization that the pomp is based on falsehoods to the youngers.

Sure, in the age of information, some of us think – though quite vapidly – about the carbon footprint of the gifts we buy for other people; there’s more collective conscience of the environment than there was a decade ago. But planned spending on Christmas gifts in America, after suffering a devastating 50 percent cut in 2008 as news reports on Pending Economic Doom mounted, is almost back to pre-Great Recession levels. I’ve been trying, but I can’t think of any product represented in those statistics that isn’t made, as least partially, of fossil fuels. I heard a lot of gloomy economists say during the media orgy over the economic disaster that consumers and governments would take decades to return to normal consumption. It seems, in context of the phony-but-impenetrable narrative generated by the right-wing commentariat, those economists were partially right about half that argument. Government employment has famously decreased by huge numbers, which conservatives pundits reliably decline to mention in their diatribes about how much the workforce has shrunk to explain the recovery’s tepidity. But as individuals, we’re right back at it.

OUR DAUGHTER HARPER has spent a lot of time recently, particularly when Hailey and I are working in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning, sitting in a Fisher Price rocker chair, looking at us from underneath the modest glow of our own plastic Christmas tree. The decoration, with its “peace” plaques, pentagrams with hearts cut from the middle, snowflakes, booties crocheted by Harper’s gram, a cloth magic mushroom, even a Star of Bethlehem, is a reversal of what my family had in our living room when I was little: a tree and no presents, instead of the other way around.

She makes little zombie grunts, occasionally screams and takes what she has for granted. She is, after all, an infant.

That doesn’t mean our 2012 Christmas is devoid of gifts. I don’t care too much anymore about a bow and arrow or other fancy product, and if I do, I am more interested in earning those commodities. But it’s important to note that awesome friends and amazing family sent us very useful merchandise – much of it hand-stitched or -made – to help us raise our new baby, and that we’re very grateful.

This piece, however, isn’t an indictment on the spirit of giving or charity – indeed, even religion-based contributions to society – that aforementioned media forces claim is endangered by a robust skepticism of the season. I’ve read quite a bit since those days when I reveled in the sumptuous notion of just what all that wrapping paper contained, and perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that what’s more important to us as Americans than most things – including even being honest to our children – is to keep consuming. It’s so important that, even during a time of the year when we should be focused on giving to people who need things, we instead tell our children that of utmost importance is that they work toward getting things for themselves.

Be good. Get gifts.

Hailey and I have talked quite a bit about whether we’ll tell Harper Santa Claus is in fact a dead Greek Christian bishop from the fourth century named Saint Nicholas of Myra who graciously spread wealth, specifically extracting three daughters of a reverent Christian from poverty so they would not have to resort to prostitution. (Quite the contrast to all-important profit motive, eh, Rush?) Hailey’s more attracted to the idea of not doing this than I. But Harper has much development to undergo – like fully advancing her motor functions and learning to focus visually on a specific object without crossing her eyes – before she can palate the nonexistence of an altruistic being who travels the entire world in one evening every year spreading Christmas cheer through consumer product and eating cookies. There’s a part of me that hopes she’ll ignore it, that her development will also naturally include a proclivity for not taking luxury items for granted. That part is relegated to the most irrational part of my brain, along with the part that encourages me she’ll never discover boys.

In that soft time – while Harper’s brain is still attaching itself to the inside of her skull – it’s tough to say exactly what I’ll do. Maybe in a couple of years, I’ll feel like a hypocrite for spewing all this high-minded liberal vitriol, complaining about the corporate construct. Maybe she will believe in Santa Claus for a little while, which wouldn’t be the end of the world.

But I hope someday she’ll read this, and it will resonate.

Hedge Family, Plus 1

Harper Jean Hedge’s first real-life photograph.

The lieutenant with the strange accent was getting concerned. His nurse had been poking and prodding with a 16-guage needle, trying to make a pathway for an intravenous feed, into Hailey’s hand.

Holy shit!” Hailey whimpered.

Over and over, the nurse kept saying how sorry she was for the pain, and the lieutenant, a youngish looking doctor in scrubs with a brass nametag gave her a stern look. She stopped fishing for the elusive veins, buried deep under the swollen flesh of 41 weeks of pregnancy.

The lieutenant left the room, muttering something about having already admitted us for induction under what sounded like an Eastern European brogue. This was the first we’d heard of it. We asked the nurse what was going on, and she explained matter-of-factly that the IV, for which the lieutenant had left our room for a more skilled finder of blood vessels, was there to administer electrolytes because Hailey wouldn’t be eating during labor.

Wait, what? Hailey and I had just driven the 40 minutes of highway – which took us an hour longer than normal because of a poorly planned construction project in a tunnel under a black watery expanse between two Virginia peninsulas – because she hadn’t felt the baby move for a day. We just wanted to check in, make sure everything was OK.

The nurse told us that, whatever our intensions, Hailey’s blood pressure had been measuring too high for comfort and, because she was past full term, it fell within the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center’s blanket policies to induce. Hailey gave me a pleading look that said: I’m not ready for this!

“I’m so scared,” she said. “We shouldn’t have come in tonight; I’m so sorry for making us come in.”

Hailey coos at Harper for their first skin-to-skin contact.

I felt the same way, not ready either. But Hailey was 41 weeks pregnant. We chatted and reasoned that this wasn’t going to be any different than what the hospital had planned for us a week and a half prior – an appointment to induce on Nov. 24, this fast-coming Saturday. If we induced today, she’d be done. She’d been waddling around our apartment complex, eating spicy foods and bouncing up and down to induce the labor naturally, and no method worked. She was done with the pregnancy. Now was the time. In retrospect – and contrary to a form given us to sign by the hospital stating the facility’s voluntary adherence to a federal policy allowing patients to refuse certain types of care – I’m convinced that we didn’t have much of a choice. Had we fought, went my thinking, the doctors would have taken over.

A former first-class hospital corpsman came into the room with a bunch of sticking equipment and gave us his resumé: “I’ve been doing this for a long time, but no promises.” It was the first of many identical statements we’d hear over the subsequent hours. He tried and couldn’t find a satisfactory vessel. They were all too deep, except for one in the crook of Hailey’s right arm, which they didn’t want to use because its awkward placement would make it more difficult for her to hold the baby when it would be born.

In total, four technicians failed to find an adequate vein, until a man with a beard and some reassuringly funny voices finally decided the elbow vein was the only viable option.

The nurses were shocked at the size of Harper’s feet.

Hailey shook and tears flowed until doctors and nurses deluged Hailey with information, understanding nods and personal anecdotes. Hailey started to calm and found her breath again. I went to sleep. At about 2:30 a.m., they inserted a water balloon against her cervix, which would, as it expanded, force dilation and introduce doses of Pitocin, a synthetic version of Oxytocin, the hormone that inspires the uterus to contract. She didn’t feel any contractions, and the baby kept moving. The nurses had to keep adjusting the fetal monitoring straps to other positions and tighter, until Hailey couldn’t sleep. She had a blood pressure sleeve on her left arm hooked up to a monitor that buzzed and tightened the sleeve every 15 minutes. The staff inserted a catheter to sample her urine.

“I didn’t work at all,” Hailey told me later. “It was really uncomfortable.”

But the labor was not an intense one. On the ubiquitous 1-to-10 pain metric medical professionals use to guesstimate how bad a patient is hurting, Hailey said she only went above a 5 three times, one of them when the first nurse tried and failed to insert the IV.

“That felt like someone was killing me, like, in my hand,” Hailey said. “My body just went into mini-shock.”

Debbie McDonald meets her first granddaughter.

Besides that, it was a relatively peaceful 15 hours in a comfortable room away from home, given that Hailey didn’t sleep but for two hour-long naps. Hailey felt contractions, which waxed more intense for about three hours. She started worrying that the anesthesiologist wouldn’t be in in adequate time to administer an epidural, a spinal catheter that would make way for a numbing agent for the bottom half of her body. But he made it in time. The epidural was a thin, wire-looking tube that snaked over her shoulder, taped along the way and plunged into a hole in the small of her back. The lieutenant commander who threaded the needle for the catheter said it went directly into her spinal cord, a conduit for a local anesthetic regulated by a wall-mounted machine that looked like an electrician’s multimeter and about the same size, with a yellow, numbered keypad.

MIDDAY AND IN early afternoon, Hailey drifted in and out of sleep.

Debbie held Harper so Hailey and I could catch up on some much-needed slumber.

In a big halo around the entire top end of her body, the machines in the room produced a peaceful cadence of beeping and buzzing once the nurses left the room. But the melody was not unbroken; child labor is not supposed to be a relaxing experience. The nurses – some naval officers, some civilian government employees – scurried about making sure the various electronic devices measuring vital signs of Hailey and the child, a number of catheters and intravenous feeds were in working order and placed correctly.

On one of their missions, the nurses woke her up to insert another catheter, this one urethral. Hailey complained of pressure. The nurse asked her to rate her pain on the 1-to-10 scale.

“Maybe a 1,” Hailey said.

The epidural was working. Hailey kept grabbing a cylindrical clicker and pressed a button at the end. The multimeter-thing beeped three times and administered a dose.

“The man with the epidural deserves very large thank-you card,” Hailey said. A nurse with very dark features later confirmed that the anesthesiologists are among the most popular staff among the patients for their magic.

Harper is very big.

Still in and out of consciousness, Hailey kept saying weird things with no frame of reference, like she was high. “What shirt are you wearing?” “Do you drink a lot of water when you’re at work?” “I feel so doped up.” She also kept referring to a mechanical noise that sounded vaguely like a cat’s meow. “Is there a cat in the room?” The drugs, however were local ones that didn’t affect her sobriety. A nurse said Hailey was just overtired.

“This is much different than going into labor on your own,” another nurse said.

Hailey started making deep Oooohs and Aaaahs. The contractions started getting more intense.

“It’s like a trash compactor in there,” Hailey said.

Morning became afternoon and afternoon became evening, and Hailey lay on the mechanically reclining hospital bed. As she got closer, the nurses would reach in to check her cervix – 6 centimeters dilated, 60 percent effaced, 0 station; 6, 80, 0; 7, 90, 0-plus-1 station.

A Navy hospital corpsman checks for an adequate pulse.

Hailey threw up four times into blue plastic bags with rigid cylindrical cuffs at the top. The final vomiting was only water and bile; nothing was in her stomach. The nurses said vomiting during labor is helpful because it puts pressure on the contracting uterine muscles.

But despite the vomiting, for about two hours in the early afternoon, she made no progress. During pregnancy, Hailey and I had been growing skeptical of baby delivery in hospitals because of the industry it has become. Their credo: get the patient in, get the baby out, as quickly as possible. We’d seen a documentary and read literature proving that often, doctors decide to start administering Pitocin to women who are already in labor to “speed things along.” The drug makes the uterus contract more violently than it would naturally, which can cause the woman to elect for an epidural. The epidural makes it more difficult for the woman to push cogently, so, in the interest of time, the doctor advises a cesarean section, an operation in which surgeons cut through the woman’s skin and organs and pull the baby out through the hole manually.

It’s very important to note that this cookie cutter description – which I’ve noted in a previous article – is oversimplified, and that many hospitals around the country have strong policies against performing C-sections unless they’re absolutely necessary. And many of the sometimes trigger-happy institutions that do large numbers of C-sections are just looking out for patient safety – to prevent death from complications like a placenta that’s blocked the cervix or a baby who is simply too big to fit through the birth canal. But many others do it almost as a matter of course because C-sections can provide a strong legal defense for the respective institution in case of a disaster’s pending litigation. Also, the operation has become increasingly popular in circles of high society, with many celebrities of late scheduling C-sections for their babies.

So it justly freaked us out when the doctor who informed us that Hailey was not making progress suggested the possibility of a C-section. She told us she was induced with twins and didn’t have an epidural, while she explained the staff’s pondering of the surgery. “That’s why we have this lovely drug called Pitocin,” she said, explaining the drug’s properties and how medical staff administer it. With her hand inside Hailey, she gave us another resumé: “I’ve been putting the scalpel electrode on for 12 years.” The staff could no longer monitor the baby’s vital signs with external instruments because the baby kept moving. The electrode was stuck to the top of the baby’s head, along with another device that measured the intensity of Hailey’s contractions to determine whether a C-section would in fact be necessary.

Hailey gave me the same pleading look she had when the lieutenant and his assistant started jabbing her with needles. “I really don’t want a C-section,” she said. Again, neither did I.

The doctors left us for two hours, until they would come back for another measurement. We reasoned to ourselves that if this hospital were looking to rush us through as part of some corporate MO to turn a profit, it already would have performed the operation.

My new family, minus a dog.

HAILEY’S EYES GOT big and her breath bated as doctors and nurses invaded her with their hands, reaching toward – seemingly to – her throat, and her flesh swallowed their hands and wrists. They would say variations of, “OK, you’re gonna feel my touch here,” as they shoved forward. Hailey would sharply intake air, and they would say, “OK, lots of pressure now.” Then, invariably they’d look with an academic pensiveness into the wood flooring of the room and say, “I think – well – I don’t know … I need another doctor’s opinion.” Then, they’d make their diagnosis.

“Her cervix is pretty much gone,” one said. “We’re gonna give it about an hour and then we’ll start pushing.”

Another noted, “Nine and 0, 0-station 9; not too bad; maybe we can push now.”

It felt so close and so far away.

Hailey kept pressing the button for the epidural drug, as nurses and doctors offered ironic and sometimes conflicting support: “Just gotta let your body and nature work together.” “That’s why we have this wonderful drug called Pitocin.” The nurse kept walking into the room to look at a little screen that told her something about the baby’s vital signs. She had gradually upped the drug from a hazy numeric metric of “1” all the way up to “16” – “We can go up to 20,” she said – to increase the intensity of the contractions to better dilate Hailey’s cervix and prevent a C-section.

Playing with a human bobbly head.

Half an hour went by before the docs came back ready to go to work. Hailey was getting very hungry, not having eaten for about 23 hours. She begged for crackers.

“I promise I won’t poop it out,” she said.

She was getting toward the end of her patience.

“They should make a way to simulate labor – like in a safe way – so they can use it to teach teens abstinence or safe sex,” she said. “Because you have to be in it to win this shit.”

As shifts changed, new hordes of medical personnel who in any other circumstance would have seemed offputtingly friendly and compassionate came in to ask her how she was doing and to say they might be in the room when the baby came out.

The labor was never messy, frenetic or chaotic until about a 10-minute period at the beginning of the pushing stage. The nurse gave a word of advice, with an empowering tone: “Concentrate on pushing like it’s your biggest bowel movement ever; don’t think about anything else. Seriously, we see everything.”

Deep blue eyes, and a belch.

Hailey was apprehensive. I can’t say I wouldn’t have been even worse; I just kept thinking about lots of research I’ve read that suggests that a man could not endure the same level of stress a woman does during her travail. She was close. A doctor walked in the room at 8:21 p.m. and said the pushing would start now.

“I really hope that I can puke before I have contractions. I can’t believe I’m about do this! I have a 7-day-old child inside of me!” Hailey said.

The nurse, after preparing all the equipment, came to the bed and got the stirrups ready, propped Hailey’s legs into them and waited for a contraction. The first one hit, and the nurse started barking orders and encouragement: “Deep breath, chin to chest and push! Don’t let any of the air out of your lungs! Don’t grunt!”

Ten seconds at a time, three pushes a contraction, and after two, Hailey was exhausted.

“I can’t do this!” she exclaimed, most likely in concert with hundreds or maybe thousands of other women around the world going through a very similar experience at that precise moment. The pleading look. The nurses had me place an oxygen mask on Hailey’s face between pushing. The only chiding Hailey dished out was telling me she couldn’t breathe when I helped her hold her chin to her chest. “I’m OK, but please don’t do that!” That’s all there was; no You did this to me! moments.

Fifteen minutes and several contractions into the pushing, an intense determination came into her face. “Breathe deep, keep breathing, get the baby out. Breathe deep, keep breathing, get the baby out,” she chanted. The nurses had me push up on her right leg to counter Hailey’s pushes.

Sweet Dee was immediately protective, if slightly over-interested. “No licking!” will certainly become an even more common command in the Hedge household.

“You’re making progress. It’s millimeters at a time, but it’s progress,” said the doctor, who had now entered the room.

Pretty soon, they said it was just one last contraction, maybe two big pushes, and the baby would be out. They dismantled the posterior end of the bed, placed catching apparatuses on it and raised it high. The contraction hit, Hailey pushed, the baby’s chin popped past the pelvic bone, past the fleshy opening and the kid fell out, like a pile of squirming sausages, into the doctor’s arms. Rivulets of blood seemed to entwine the kid’s white skin, as it started screaming and the doctor clamped the umbilical cord. She pulled the cord from my line of sight.

“It’s a girl,” I told Hailey.

Take your pick: balloon vomiting escargot, or Harper’s umbilical.

THE DOCTORS TOOK Harper Jean Hedge to a machine that measured her: 10 pounds, 3 ounces and 22 inches. I took a picture of the electronic screen displaying this information. When I turned around, the doctor was fiddling around with clamps and a suture needle between Hailey’s still-spread legs with concerned look on her face, and onto the blood spattered wood splashed a small waterfall of blood – a bloodfall. It spilled from Hailey, ran down a crease in the white sheets and cascaded to the ground, in stunning bright red.

I rushed to Hailey’s side, and the doctor’s sweating, concerned brow came into view.

“Am I gonna be OK?” Hailey kept asking.

“Oh, yes, of course!” the doctor kept saying to her, only to turn to a colleague and spew a bunch nasty-sounding medical jargon. “I think we need to get her to O.R. for better viewing.”

After about 15 minutes, the baby had left the room with a gaggle of hospital staff. I hadn’t even gotten a good look at her. Hailey gave another pleading look; Don’t let me not be OK! I started to think about what I would do if something happened to Hailey and my entire world crashed down around me. And my own mental pleading started. Don’t think that way! The doctors were taking their time getting her out of the room and to a place where they could do something with her. If something drastic had to be done, they would have ripped the cords from the wall and would be rushing her to the operating room. Their nonchalance in slowly wheeling her out was soothing.

As she disappeared, I tried to figure out what my job was. Go tap my foot in the O.R. waiting room? Nah, I’d go see my kid.

I went to the observation room, and a couple nurses pointed to a sole light in the big dark of the room, where Harper lay in a clear bassinet with a tiny mattress in the bottom. She was huge – 10 pounds, plus! – and tiny. She wasn’t hideous, like I expected – not the terrifying monster I had seen in too many birthing videos during the pregnancy. Her face was smooth, her cheeks were plump and the top of her head was not shaped like a warhead. She had some dry skin flaking from her arms and legs and feet and hands. She had a diaper and a little yellowish, sickly piece of meat with a clamp on the end stemming from her bellybutton.

The nurses cordoned off the area around the bassinet, I took off my shirt and brought the baby to my chest. I sat in a rocking chair. She almost immediately pushed her balled-up little fists into my chest and extended her neck so her bobbly head could look around the room. Her dark-blue squinty eyes – whose color may well change – caught mine, and she stared. I thought about all the other babies I’d seen in my life – not a large number, but not a small one, either – and she was the best one.

Mother-daughter Portrait A.

IN THE OPERATING room, a number of goons ran around the bed Hailey was on talking about her. She wore a collar over which she could see the tops of heads moving and hear voices talking. The Three Stooges, wearing scrubs, masks and those funny bandanas with ridiculous patterns on them, put their faces in hers and tried to distract her.

Medical staff had produced a shot of antacid and told her to take it “just like in college, just like in college.” She took the shot like a champ, she told me, to knowing looks from the staff. We know what you spent you time in college doing. They’d given her a bigger dose of pain medication with the epidural feed, which still in her spinal cord. They’d lifted her to an operating table because they didn’t think she would be able to move her legs, but her legs were moving.

“They were like, ‘Woah, why are you helping us?” Hailey told me.

She barfed on the Stooge who staff called “the attractive one.”

“I told them I was really afraid to leave you and the baby and, like, die,” she said, choking up a little bit. The Stooges made her feel better. “They were really good at what they did.”

The doctors inserted a balloon that was supposed to do the opposite of what the first one did and make her uterus return to its original position and stop the blood flow, and returned her to a different birthing suite.

IN THE FOLLOWING three days, I drove a lot, running errands and organizing and calling family and friends. Hailey’s mother, Debbie, had flown in a few days prior and was watching our dog. I brought her up on Thursday and Friday during working hours. She and Hailey tried to figure which features Harper inherited from which parent – the cheeks from Hailey’s dad, Skip, and the forehead and eyes from me.

Wonderful friends texted responses to a mass message I sent containing Harper’s metrics:

“Congratulations to you and Hailey on Harper Jean! She is absolutely beautiful! J and you guys are going to make awesome parents because you’re mega awesome! J” – Joan Doucette

“Eeeekkkk!!! Congratulations!!! I’m so excited for you guys and I’m so excited to buy a tutu for Harper jean!! Love you guys JJ” – Nikki Cristello

“Omfgggggg!!!!!!!! One million congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – Maria Myotte

“Holy shit that’s a toddler. congrats and we love u send pict when get a chance and we love you hope hailey is doing well” – Angela Hedge Grant

“Congrats motherfuckers!” Jim Sojourner

And etc. etc. and so forth and so on.

Debbie and Hailey joked about the logistics of labor.

“I know, I pushed out a 10-pound baby with no episiotomy,” Hailey said. “Impressive.”

Hailey cooed at the baby to breast feed, even though she couldn’t produce any milk because, the nurses said, her body was too focused on replacing the excess blood she’d lost. I tried to imagine what people in the same situation did before the advent of formula. But that didn’t matter; it only mattered that the baby sucked for when Hailey could produce.

“Just keep sucking, munchkin; no sleeping, sucking,” Hailey said. Harper started making slurping noises. “Good girl! Keep going!”

Hailey inundated the nurses with questions, the real learning process being finding out how to learn how to be a parent.

Debbie exhibited a doting and comforting maternal instinct, rocking the baby so Hailey and could catch up on just a little sleep.

I learned how easy it is as a new parent to call a kid a dog when I’d only talked to our pooch, Sweet Dee, the way I’d now talk to the baby. “Jeez, dog,” Hailey said, catching herself almost immediately. “C’mon, pooch,” I said, picking her up. I didn’t realize it until a young black hospital corpsman in the room who had great tips for swaddling started giggling.

Hailey slowly started feeling better. The second day after the delivery, a nurse updated a doctor: “She’s been ambulating today; she took a shower today, she went No. 2 today.”

They took the balloon that was done fixing Hailey’s uterus out, and she was still sore. “My vaheena hurts so bad from you,” Hailey said to the baby in the birthing suite, using a bizarre accent. But she did feel better. “Oh, my god, I can do so much more without that thing in me.”

Thanks to a miraculous swaddling job by a helpful nurse, Hailey, the baby and I even slept for about two and a half hours the morning before the hospital discharged us. Hence, we were halfway cogent when we filled out paperwork required for the hospital to let us go. Harper was dressed in a brown suit with a hood that looked like a monkey and sleeping in a car seat carrier as we exited the building for her first trip outside into The Big Blue World. Her face was covered with a blanket to shield it from the chilly Virginia wind, and her sphere of traveling expanded 40 miles as we drove home.

Growing a Human – An Expectant Dad’s Contribution to Population Crisis

Hailey and I don’t go out very much like we used to. And when we do, it certainly doesn’t follow the drunken pattern of yore, when we – mostly me – would spend money we couldn’t afford on too many drinks.

A big reason for this shift in our behavior is that she’s incubating a human in her stomach. It’s a bizarre, parasitic process I previously took for granted. I’d never thought about the evolution of a child in a uterus – that babies originally have little tails that drop off a few months into the incubation, long before their faces and complex biological harmonies fully develop. That they have a little coat of silky hair they later shed and eat along with some other elements of the amniotic fluid. That you don’t want to let the baby go too far over term for two very important reasons: 1) they might become too big to fit through the birth canal, and 2) they start pooping in their watery aura and are in danger of swallowing and choking on the feces.

Part of that whole process is that Hailey gets very uncomfortable. The baby’s weight puts a constant stress on her pelvic bone. The ballooning of the space inside her the human has displaced both restricts her organs and stretches out the musculature and network of ligaments. It’s a drain on her faculties, one for which she suggests – but will probably never receive – compensation.

“I want the baby to start paying rent,” she told me the other morning. “It’s a little moocher.”

So like I said, we don’t go out very much. On Friday night, though, we decided to try. With a friend, we visited the iO comedy theater in Chicago for a night of improv. The comedy team conjured a scene in which a farmer had to birth a horse, played by a young, hipster-looking cast member, in a field. Special effects were courtesy of another member, who fluttered his hands from the anal area of the horse-man off the stage and out into our seating area, shouting “Blood, blood, blood, shit, urine!”

Hailey’s pregnant belly fell right in the spray path, spattered spectacularly with imaginary birthing filth.

“I really hope somebody didn’t get their sweet, sweet idea of birthing the horse by standing on stage right next to me,” Hailey later joked on an asphalt train platform as we waited to be carried back to Great Lakes.

Everyone, that is sometimes what I’m most nervous about. The actual experience. It’s similarly violent and horrible, with bodily stank flying everywhere. Hailey tells me that I’ll stay away from the danger zone during the labor and when the human is making its monstrous cone-headed debut to the world in a flurry of shifting skin tone and stretching flesh. We saw some videos. It’s like witnessing an exorcism, except you can actually watch the parasite emerge in a physical realm, its head bouncing around and limbs twitching from the traumatic journey. It might be screaming. This is all just very scary for me.

Otherwise, I’m not worried in the traditional ways expectant parents get.

Humans worry about their growing child: Will it be healthy? Will it be deformed? Will it be evil? Will it, in fact, be human? These are all questions to which we think we know the answer, but which we have not yet confirmed visually.

People keep asking me if I’m nervous about becoming a dad. I always tell them I’m not, and it’s mostly true. I really don’t worry about these things. I don’t really worry about the sex, which Hailey and I don’t yet know. I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, though I love to joke that if it’s the fairer sex I’d prefer a lesbian because I’d have to deal with fewer penises running around my home later in life. But really, I don’t care if it’s gay or straight. If it turns out to be a different race than me, I might be a little miffed, but only because it would mean a slew of other issues must be worked out in my marriage. Seriously, that would be a pain in the ass.

You might call me blasé. I disagree. Here’s how I look at it: In a couple of weeks, I’ll have plenty to be stressed about, and it does nothing to waste energy getting too worked up right now.

For now, all I need to worry about is whether my wife is healthy, if her periodic grimaces of discomfort are normal – they all are, the doc assures us – and that she’s not going to violently rip my face off during the labor because I “did this to me!”

Which goes to the purpose of this writing. I consider myself a feminist with a healthy appreciation of the differences between the sexes, like, you know, our respective abilities to create life. I have none.

You learn a lot during the birthing classes you attend at hospitals where you practice Lamaze and watch those horrid videos. Nurses joke about how during labor, the father complains about getting tired during the travail of his wife, girlfriend or vapidly sexed subject of a one-night stand to whom he is now morally obliged for life. The nurses joke and say they are grudgingly required to provide sleeping accommodations for the man. Or they disrupt the urban myth, the “Husband Stitch,” an extra tack in the sewing back up of an episiotomy graciously gifted from doc to husband to make future sex more pleasurable. (Don’t worry; she’ll never even know.) It’s an old wives’ – or young husbands’? – tale; doctors don’t actually sew the mothers up a little tighter. But the concept is out there, exchanging informal hands among vainly excited expectant fathers. (For the record, I never actually believed in this, nor did I want it. I like my wife very much the way she is, and I find it ghastly that such misogyny exists.)

In the videos, you see horrible things. Nurses repeatedly and violently stab a suction device into the baby’s face to clear out any mucous or errant feces that has made its way into the baby’s breathing apparatus.  They vigorously scrub the child until it is clean of labor nasties, an act eerily reminiscent of the baby shaking they solemnly warn against. The mothers lose their senses of humor.

But in the classes, which are created and administered by medical professionals, you don’t learn much about the controversy surrounding hospital birth because, of course, this would undermine the medical industry’s bottom line.

They’re the professionals, trust them.

Don’t worry that most new doctors had never even witnessed a birth as part of their education, or that midwives who have a far more human understanding of how the process works have, over the course of a century, been systematically labeled the ugly stepsister of the human-squirting industry. Or that there’s a highly-touted standard among mainstream doctors to recommend drugs for women who have trouble during labor.

The list of concern goes on and on, but that last one can start a vicious of cycle of overcompensation for altering the natural birth process. It’s even in the videos; the nurses advise the mother something like: “Things aren’t moving along quite as fast as we’d like, so we’re going to go ahead and induce.” The Pitocin or another generic induction potion makes the woman’s uterus contract more violently than it would naturally, causing more intense pain. This paves the way for an epidural, a spinal catheter inserted with a massive needle, to numb the woman’s body below the waist. This makes it more difficult for the woman to push consciously and safely. So the doc recommends a cesarean section, during which a surgery team slices the woman’s reproductive organs open with sharp metal instruments, reach inside her and pull the kid out through a throbbing, elastic hole. All to just get the kid out as quickly as possible.

The woman lies on her back, and the docs push something in that will push the baby out.

That’s an oversimplification, of course, and women have a choice whether or not they receive any type of medication during labor, unless it’s an emergency. But it encourages the medical construct; “You can do it, my dear, but you’d be better off with a machine’s help.” Or as Monty Python genius John Cleese eloquently put it in a sketch: “You are not qualified!”

Don’t mind the fact that women for centuries have had babies in perfectly natural environments and been just peachy. And, generally, the woman is discouraged from standing while giving birth, though research and the physics of gravity say it’s probably safer and more comfortable. Instead, women are required to lay supine, asked to take drugs and pushed to get it over with as quickly as possible, even if that requires slicing and dicing the mother’s innards.

Processes similar to what I described above are rampant. Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, which partners with Northwestern University,* is well-known as the hospital of choice for surrounding counties, is touted as one of the best in Illinois and has received an award eight years running that only goes to the top 6 percent of hospitals in the United States. The nurse who taught our third and final birthing course said its C-section rate is more than 30 percent. It’s a national move toward more C-sections. They tell you it’s simply to get the kid out as safely as possible in a perfectly controlled environment.

Part of the reason for this trend toward more C-sections, no doubt, is that a C-section has become very expectant-parent chic – Kate Hudson, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and a slew of other top celebrities of late scheduled C-sections for their kids. It’s what anyone worth their own immersion in pop culture should do; it’s easier on you, the doc and the jay-jay.

Get it in, get it out, get it over with.

It’s probably important to note that the women in the class videos are quite benign in their comments about an unnatural birth. They use the word “empowered” a lot. But it’s a video produced by modern medical professionals and distributed by the same.

This is how life is supposed to start. Then, the child is forced to enter the world – this world of ours, which, even before the child’s presence, was too crowded. For a human born to a couple in a financial place similar to Hailey’s and mine, it’s an act that’s inherently counterintuitive to the baby’s own quality of life.

So, in short, I wasn’t completely honest about what I said in the first few paragraphs. Sure, I’m not worried about the normal things. But I’m very worried about what it means to contribute to the biggest problem my generation and every generation after it faces.

Boy, girl, gay, lesbian, smart, challenged, black, red, yellow, I don’t really care too much. I’m thrilled with the notion that I’ll be responsible for my own little person, a mutually-involved process of learning and growing as fellow humans. I’m excited to be a dad who’ll occasionally make the child respond to my questions, “Yes, Petty Officer!” when it gets in trouble. I know who I want to be as a dad: the pensive type with a study and a corncob pipe and, possibly, a handlebar moustache when I’m out of the Navy.

But after this kid is born, I fully intend my own intervention in the natural biological process. Since human rights laws, industrial revolution, higher birth and survival rates among humans than anytime in history with the exception of just a couple generations ago and a huge number of other trends little ol’ Aaron Hedge is hopeless to reverse dictate our predicament, I’ll exercise my right to choose. (Something, mind you, my female counterparts in life are seeing less support for, lately.) I’m planning to have a procedure called a vasectomy, the “surgical removal of all or part of the vas deferens, esp as a form of contraception,” according to the World English Dictionary. Wikipedia tells me I’ll have an ever-so-slightly more than 0 percent chance at impregnating a woman.

I haven’t made the decision in a vacuum. Hailey and I have talked. I informed my parents, the more masculine of whom has had the same procedure and regrets it. I know the risks, and this is the thing to do.

*Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital is where we’ve gone until now, though we most likely won’t deliver there. I have orders to report to a command in Dam Neck, Virginia, before the baby is supposed to come out. We’ll probably deliver at a military hospital in Portsmouth, unless Hailey goes into labor on the highway during the long drive to the East Coast, in which case it’ll be wherever we find ourselves – a top metropolitan medical facility or in the passenger seat of our Kia Sportage.

My First Post – A Rant, A Statement of Hope

In the week of Oct. 14, 2012, a lot of other important things happened aside from the dawning consciousness of this website. In fact, the weight of most of those things was far greater than that consciousness.

Heavy violence in Syria, which had captivated most notably the large cities Homs and Allepo, spread to Damascus, and what was once seen as a haven from which its evil dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, could wield his power over the country became the newest emblem of the populist uprising that had engulfed the country of late. Children became further desensitized by the violence.

Amy Goodman, the weather-beaten anchor of the alternative news program Democracy Now, hosted the views of third-party candidates who were excluded from – indeed, in one case arrested for attempting to attend – the second 2012 presidential debate between granny-starver* Mitt Romney and grand decider of who should live or die Barack Obama. (Protect the duopoly!)

A U.S. appeals court – the second one – struck down DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married gay and lesbian couples, as unconstitutional. Almost in tandem, demographers at Gallup attempted to measure the gay population of America, releasing a study that showed 3.4 percent of Americans are openly gay. It was called the biggest such study ever.

The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, publicly announced his support for a high-school cheerleading team that was fighting on the basis of free-speech rights to display Bible verses on their game-time banners.

Obama and Romney promised people they would fix problems (but nothing too specific). People around the world, including me, kept foolishly inserting information to the blogosphere and the Facebookland about their lives and views and financial standings that governments and corporations could someday exploit to their benefit and to the degradation of the former. A woman survived three days in the ocean after her plane crashed near the Virgin Islands. The Los Angeles Police Department announced that it was pursuing evidence that implied 12 unsolved deaths in Southern California are linked to the Manson Family.

The baby growing in my wife’s stomach grew to the size of a watermelon and practiced some of its motor skills, like breathing (though its a viscous liquid, instead of air), sucking and gripping. Humans in my military barracks scurried about base in aquaflage uniforms, mostly to oblivious to all these happenings, and organized their transfers to other bases where they’ll continue to learn their jobs in the Navy.

I sat in an office I work in on the third deck and wrote this, trying to come to terms with some things. That, in the last year and a bit, I did a whole lot of things I never thought I would. I joined the military; I got married; I quit drinking. I thought about where I’m going, what I’ll do in the next year and a bit.

I have orders to report to the naval station at Dam Neck, Virginia, to learn how to maintain and operate the NATO Sea Sparrow missile system. It’s a place where, no doubt, some of my friends I made in boot camp and during my time learning basic fire control here at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, have gone to learn their own jobs in the Navy. Painting. Cooking. Administrating. Patching holes in ships. Patching holes in humans.

I’m hoping things will be different.

One day this week, the chief petty officer I work for decided we need to find a replacement to occupy the position I’ll vacate when I leave in a little less that two weeks. I write and edit speeches and emails and papers and news articles on a website that’s as-of-yet unapproved by the command and pontificate on current events. It’s a pretty sweet gig. I don’t have to attend many of the roll calls, which I consider unnecessary, or participate in much of the busy-work – sweeping and swabbing decks, moving furniture, making sure there’s an audience for weekly corporal punishments for shitbaggery – that’s an integral part of other service members’ lives.

To do it well, I’m equipped with a quality eye for the difference between good and bad communication. In a barracks that houses, generally, between 500 and 600 sailors who are waiting for the Navy to vacate a spot for them in the fleet or in a training command, the chief’s theory is that there has to be someone out there with experience in writing or media production. I’m more pessimistic.

The day before yesterday, our tenuous recruiting program yielded a gossiper, straight from high school. I entered the office after lunch, and she was just there, with hollow eyes, a skinny face, overly-straight posture and an underdeveloped taste for pretentious platitudes about the student population she was presumably there to serve. She said she had never failed an academic writing assignment and liked to dabble in “abstract poetry.” I don’t know what the latter is. She didn’t recite any poetry or provide any examples of her writing. I asked her if she knew how to work the back end of a wordpress. She said she didn’t. Instead, she sat in a swivel chair and criticized the wife of an instructor from the fire control school for being fat. She used the word “disgusting.” She was snarky to my coworker and me about what she saw as deficiencies in our product, to which she hadn’t contributed.

She’s not the rule, but she’s not entirely heretic of the group that inhabits this building on the academic fringe of this training command. Stand in on a muster here, and you drown in a swirl of complaints about rules, late liberty and stupid shipmates – the loud banner of the unfounded and lofty sense of entitlement to being treated like an adult, when most owners this of sense are anything but.

So I look outside at the changing leaves – so bright-red they seem to glow purple in the dusk – and I hope the new place will be one separate from the orgy of high-school complaints about having to do actual work. One away from where all we do now is not what we’ll do in the real Navy.

But here, again, I’m pessimistic. As I came to the Navy later in life than most, many of the second- and first-class petty officers on this base are younger than me and harbor the air that something deep is due them. Sure, they’ve been on a deployment or more. They’ve served the American agenda for the good or bad of it or of the world. Most likely, they’ve worked hard and very possibly, they’ve saved a life. Sure, something deep is due them. But mostly, they corrected things, fixing broken circuit cards and revising errant records and topping off fuel tanks – the little things that kept the Navy going, steaming toward that massive goal of protecting America, its allies and its corporate agenda. And now they sit in an office surrounded by reams of paper and a smart phone, and they’re still human beings.

On Oct. 19, lots of important things happened. Most notably here, we went about our lives. We played video games, bitched at leadership for making us do things we didn’t want to do, walked around with no particular purpose, saluted and requested permission to go ashore. That was important to us. So important, most of us didn’t pay attention to the other important things that happened in the world.

I hope it’s different somewhere in this Navy.

*stolen from Charles P. Pierce, political writer for Esquire