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A couple days after your baby is born, you have to leave the hospital. I was certainly ready to get out of there. But, with your first child, going home with a screaming, mysterious pink infant is a bit of a scary notion. The shock of the hospital experience is overtaken by the anticipation of the future first-day-home experience.

I think I remember packing up our stuff in the hospital room, three days after Jackie was born. Everything was in order, or at least I thought it was. I had tightened the 5-point harness car seat, and was confident that we could drive the 4 miles from Rex Hospital to White Oak Road without endangering mother or child.

Katie was wheelchair-bound, holding a tiny (yet 10-plus pounds) Jacqueline Burns Jones, and I was pushing. I remember the general smell of the courtesy take-home lasagna (thanks, Rex) in the elevator, going down.

I’d noticed the car seat inspector before as I’d entered and exited the hospital. He’d always seemed unusually busy, hovering around the perimeter of whichever minivan or station wagon was parked near the automatic doors. On the second day of our 3-day stint with Jackie, I stood out by the fountain and watched him “work” for about 10 minutes. Was this guy really collecting a paycheck for this? How hard could it be to pull on a car seat and proclaim either “tight enough” or “a little tighter”?

Now, after fetching our Honda, I saw him again. This time, however, he had an unmistakable air of authority. I suddenly realized my true place in the situation — with eyes blurry from fatigue and head pounding, I was presuming to take an exhausted woman and a wriggling, screaming baby out of the hospital and drive them four long miles through curvy roads to a house across town.

The Chief Car Seat Inspector approached the Honda, and asked if he could take a look. “Of course”, I replied, in the most respectful tone I could utter.

He wiggled the car seat, and it gave. It moved about a centimeter from side to side, and I knew I had failed my first test. “Here’s how you get it really tight,” he said to me nicely as I prepared to make mental note.

Now I know the importance his job, and how he often deals with men and women who enter the hospital confident, but leave it humbled and frazzled.

We made it home safely on December 26, 2008. I bet Bax and Beebs are still wondering what hit them.

Here’s Jackie coming home in 2008:

What the...

What the…

 

If you’ll allow liberties so I can make a parallel, there’s a new gatekeeper in our world these days. Melissa drives the J. Y. Joyner Elementary School blue bus, which turns left from Oxford Road and stops at the corner of Alexander and White Oak at approximately 8:53 a.m. every weekday during the school year.

Every morning, Jackie, McLain, and I walk down to meet the bus. They and the other kids play tag or Mother May I (Mrs. Williams is the MC) until the bus makes its turn onto White Oak Road. The first one to spot it (usually a parent) yells, “BUS!”, and the kids are off.

Some days, Jackie rides it home as well.

Here’s Jackie coming home in 2014:

Getting off the blue bus after the first day

Getting off the blue bus after the first day

 

Katie and I, and Jackie too (mostly), have wonderful things to say about JYJ Elementary.

 

Hallowed kindergarten hall at J.Y. Joyner

Hallowed kindergarten hall at J.Y. Joyner

Orientation in Mr. Del's class

Orientation in Mr. Del’s class

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It took only 10 minutes. When it was over, on that brisk Saturday morning in Five Points, McLain was transformed. A mother wept (or at least teared up a little), as Star Wars action figures and wall-mounted trophy bass witnessed a baby become a boy.

With his wealth of experience and shear talent (see what I did there?), Mr. Jimmy tamed what was once wild; nay, Mr. Jimmy imposed order on golden locks of anarchy. Like so many footprints in the sands of time, McLain’s curls were scattered on the floor.

The people who loved McLain most watched those tiny tresses become memories…memories that would later be swept away.

Melodrama aside, Jimmy and his barber shop are awesome…so awesome, it makes me wish I had enough hair left to justify paying a barber to cut it. On top of that, Five Points Barber Shop used to belong to the father of a family friend.

In every orderly house, the members follow a set of conduct guidelines. We try to be good people, and Katie and I practice and enforce the moral standards that we inherited from our parents. But, the golden rule and other tenets don’t always apply directly to certain situations (especially if you are three-and-a-half or almost two years old).

How does a family deal with these situations, that often occur daily, on White Oak Road?

We’ve come up with the following set of principles and accepted truths to help keep our household happy and productive:

  1. Be sweet to Robah… he never done nothin’ to nobody (and when you recite this rule, use Robah voice). All the rest of us have been mean or rude one time or another, but Robah never done nothin’ to nobody. Here’s McLain, mouth full of eggs, proving why this rule is necessary as he comes close to crossing the line.

    McLain tests the limits of rule #1

  2. At any time, in any place, JAMS will be played on request. For example, let’s say Cokie Roberts’ Monday segment is on NPR when we get in the car to go to Ms. Rose’s house, and Jackie says, “Play some JAMS, Dada.” Then, it’s goodbye Cokie, hello Bear in Heaven, Guided by Voices, J Dilla, etc.
    Note: “Dada” is the keeper of the JAMS, and this is the only situation in which a “please” is not required (see rule #4).
  3. Always thank Katie/Mama for dinner; we’ve got it really, really good. On the rare occasion that Dad cooks, try washing it down with your milk.
  4. Manners matter; good manners is an easy way to show respect to your co-eaters. Exception: good manners are postponed if McLain is practicing for his future in competitive eating.
  5. If Baxter brings you something, and you throw it he will fetch it and return it to you. If you continue to throw it for him, the result will eventually be Baxter passing out or maybe even perpetual motion.
  6. Every story told to Jackie at bed time must feature at least two of the following characters: a mean witch, a nice witch, a family, mean or nice animals, and girls with pretty dresses (including, but not limited to princesses). The more of these characters you work into the narrative, the more positive her post-story review is likely to be.
  7. Try not to show off at the playground, even though Jackie might swing better by herself than an older boy being pushed by his mom.
  8. Any statement that begins with, “I want…” automatically gets the following response: “Oh, you want something? Okay, well, I want a new custom-built home computer and compatible wireless music system.” Please ask nicely for something that you want, and understand that you might not get it.
  9. If McLain takes off his shirt and runs around the house or yard, don’t be alarmed. He has been possessed with his alter ego, Party Boy. In extreme situations, you can change Party Boy back to McLain by putting him in a bubble bath.
  10. As you go through life, assist other people (the Kendall Marshall rule). When you’re the recipient of an assist, be grateful and give credit to anyone who assists you (the Dean Smith corollary).

This year we appreciated Halloween for what it really is — one of the best holidays on the calendar. Several qualities of Halloween make it special, and even virtuous: 1) no gifts are necessary other than treats, 2) it fosters and rewards imagination, 3) Butterfingers and Skittles, and 4) celebrating Halloween, for us at least, means celebrating with your neighbors.

Jackie was into Halloween this year, and consequently, Katie and I were really into it. We decorated the house and carved a total of five pumpkins. Jackie wore different costumes on the 23rd and 31st (lamb and ladybug), as did her buddy Drew (dragon and giraffe). Five Points businesses sponsored a breakfast and trick-or-treating on the 23rd, and the annual parade was held at Fallon Park prior to the main event on the 31st.

Grandaddy and Mama JJ were on hand for Halloween night, and pushed monkey McLain around as he participated in his first parade. We loved having my parents involved in the festivities. McLain might have loved it too, but he slept the entire afternoon and evening.

Here’s a video recap of Halloween day/night.

The following pictures span the last few weeks of October. And, yes, that is a Lil HalloWayne pumpkin (sans dreads).

McLain is now two weeks old and doing just great. Two weeks might not be quite enough time to really get to know someone who doesn’t talk or even open his eyes very often, but I will attempt to describe what I know about him so far in the form of a bulleted list:

  • I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a “Tar Heel born,” but McLain definitely shares one characteristic with Rameses. He bleats. What I mean is that he makes a staccato sound similar to that of a baby sheep. You know, something like baa-aa-aa-aa-aa-ha-aa. So, his first nickname is hereby McLamb.
  • His newborn temperament is relaxed, and he’s fairly quiet when he isn’t bleating or crying for a nursing session.
  • His eyes are bluish and greenish, although that is subject to change in the next several months.
  • The little guy has George Gershwin/Jelly Roll Morton-type fingers. His phalanges seem to be more mature than the rest of him. I remember Jackie having similar fingers.
  • Just as Jackie seemed to favor a particular electronic album, The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime, McLain is fond of Black Noise by Pantha du Prince. I only have two data points, but my theory is that infants enjoy contemporary minimalist European techno.

Overall, Katie and I feel like the addition of McLain to the family has gone very well. Katie continues to manage McLain’s nursing schedule, and he continues to gain weight. Jackie has been completely accepting of her new brother; I haven’t yet seen her show any sign of jealousy toward him. She amazes me with her ability to accept dramatic changes and put her best Ked forward (she gets this from her mother).

The only really rough patch was when I contracted a stomach bug on an outing with Jackie to the Museum of Natural Sciences downtown. I was incapacitated and quarantined in the guest bedroom for about 30 hours. Katie could have handled everything on her own, but we were lucky to get a visit from Steve Saville the second night of my illness. He was finishing a project in Fayetteville and made the drive to Raleigh last Thursday evening. Steve bought dinner, helped with the kids, and made us all feel better about things when we needed it most — just the kind of thing a good friend does when you really need the assistance.

Last and also least, Robah and Baxter are looking to each to each other for entertainment now more than ever before. But, with all the time they’ve spent hanging around with a newborn and a toddler, there hasn’t been the slightest problem. I expect this kind of cooperation from Robah. With Baxter, you just can’t know what to expect, but he’s been really good as well.

Here’s a video with footage from the first hour after McLain’s birth, his first real meeting with his mother, and the introduction of his big sister.

We had a photo session with Jessica Lobdell the Sunday before last. She and Simon are good people, and they were really patient with us. If you live in the Triangle, and need a professional with an excellent eye, call Jessica. She posted several pics of our family on her blog: http://jmbentonphoto.blogspot.com/2010/09/new-baby-boy.html. The next-to-last image on her blog speaks volumes (from Baxter’s perspective, at least). More on that later.

Finally, here are a slew of pictures that Katie and I took, mostly from McLain’s first several days.

Thanks again to my parents and Katie’s parents. My mom and dad held down the fort during those first couple of hectic days. Katie’s mom has made a couple of trips from Georgia to help for extended periods, and her dad entertained Jackie during her second trip to Kenan Stadium the weekend before last.

Our baby turned into a little girl. I know it’s not exactly a revelation that a child grows up, but when it’s your child, and it happens before (and away from) your eyes, it is startling in a very gradual way.

Jackie at the Underwood Elementary playground down the street (photo credit: Andy Blair)

Believe me, Spring in North Carolina is magical when you experience it with Jackie. I will no longer take the combination of ideal weather, my family, and my neighborhood for granted; every minute spent outdoors, downtown, at the farmers market, in the backyard is precious. Anytime we stroll down White Oak Road, we get to know the people living around us.

One neighbor in particular is special. Drew lives down the street, and he already seems to have a bond with Jackie.

Jackie and Drew, Easter snacking at Fallon Park

Jackie and Drew, tandem sliding

April and May have bestowed halcyon days on our family. Jackie is developing in so many ways. Her vocabulary is expanding, she’s confident on her feet, and her personality is revealed a little more all the time. I love my girls more than anything. I am so grateful for my boys (Bax and Robah). And, come September, another boy will join us, even though when we ask Jackie if she wants a little brother, she responds with an emphatic NO.

Jackie at the playground, looking for McLain?

The few inches of snow that fell in the Triangle were enough to keep us in the neighborhood over the past few days. Actually, that’s one of the best things about being snowed in; everyone is forced to think and act locally. We hung out with distant cousins who live really close. We also caught up with other neighbors we haven’t seen in awhile.

Oh, and I need to give credit for a family record that was set over the weekend. Baxter broke his own record: 15 consecutive long-range frisbee receptions. “Long-range” in this case means more than 50 feet. His previous best was 12, in September of 2007. Whatta good boy.

Here’s some sledding video that Katie shot over the weekend.

Jackie and her cohort Drew had their first real taste of snow after several inches fell in Raleigh last night and this morning. Of course, 20 minutes of getting the little ones ready led to only 15 minutes of good sledding before the youngsters got cold and ornery, but we really had a blast. I’m proud to say that Jackie and I held our own in head-to-head racing with the Blair duo from down the street.

Big thanks to Sarah B. for scoring sleds and snow boots for us to use — it wasn’t easy for new parents to find these high-demand items in the Triangle yesterday, but she came through for us.

Jackie is no longer a baby now that she is walking here, there, and everywhere. Before Christmas she had a breakthrough — 12 or 14 consecutive steps. A few days after Christmas, with burgeoning confidence, she was walking anytime she had the chance. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see her do a lap around our foursquare house with a sippy cup in one hand and a maraca shaking in the other. Here’s some video from December 29, 2009.

Halloween weekend was a lot of fun for us. Nana arrived fairly late last Friday night from Georgia. Saturday, the family across the street invited us to their son’s birthday party. The spread of food was bountiful — our neighbors are Montagnards, part of an ethnic group from Vietnam,
and they prepared a feast for their friends and family. We were lucky to be invited, and even though we arrived only a couple of hours after we ate lunch, I couldn’t turn down the pho-like bowl of soup they prepared for me. While Jackie played with two other babies on the floor of their living room, Katie and I sampled items from the buffet in the kitchen.

One of the older men there explained that Montagnard/Degar people supported U.S. forces in the Vietnam war, and that outside of Vietnam, Raleigh has one of the largest Montagnard communities in the world. I don’t know much else about their culture, but they definitely have food figured out — rich meat flavors, aromatic ingredients added ad hoc to suit personal taste (cilantro, basil, lime), and plenty of heat from raw or semi-cooked peppers. Our sinuses cleared, we crossed the street to get ready for some sugar-free trick-or-treating.

Quick background: Just after Katie and I moved into our current house last summer, I discovered that a friendly neighbor down the street was actually my second cousin once removed. He informed me that another mutual cousin lives on our street, between our house and his. So, I have a second cousin once removed and a third cousin (neither of whom had I met before) who live within one city block of me on the same street.

Early Halloween evening we met up with the Blairs (my third cousin, her husband, and their son, who is about the same age as Jackie), and hauled the little ones (a monkey and a spider) down to Fallon Park for the neighborhood Halloween Parade & Potluck. We got there just in time to see some interesting costumes, and even a few families that showed costume solidarity — dad, mom, and kids had coordinated outfits. And, some of these kids looked like they were in middle school. I’m pretty sure I was enough of a brat as a teenager that I would have sneered/jeered at anyone who suggested that my family dress up with a unified Halloween theme.

We left the park and headed back to our street, where we stopped by neighbors’ houses to show off the babies and turn down candy offers. Of course, Katie and I weren’t counting on 75 degrees and sun when we ordered Jackie’s monkey suit, so she seemed relieved when we finished our tour up and down our street.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.

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