I doubt my father will be thrilled with my inaugural entry into the blogging world. But read on anyway...
In my younger, pre-parenthood and much more reckless years in Toronto, I outfitted my car with front and rear mounted, state of the art, radar detectors. I drove what car enthusiasts called a pocket rocket: a Honda Civic Si. The one with the finely tweaked 1.6 L engine that once, at the hands of a professional racing driver, beat a Porsche 944 on a race track. Honda of course milked that tiny statistic for all it could and Honda loyalists such as yours truly raced to the dealerships.
The tech team at BC Yachts, the then company I owned and operated, went to great pains to mount the radar gear. Even to the point of stripping the driver's seat, carving a comfy impression for an external speaker in the headrest, and zipping back on the seat cover. If police radar approached from the front, the radar detector above the visor chirped. If police radar approached from the rear, a hidden speaker chirped behind the driver's right ear. Several combinations of the radar devices chirping, and with various intensities, informed the driver of police radar approaching from a specific direction. Kill switches beneath the dashboard turned everything off.
Believe it or not, none of us related to the radar tech as a license to speed. (In Ontario, radar detection devices are also illegal.) They were merely tools that if used properly with instinct, significantly reduced the chance of a speeding ticket. "Us" consisted of many of the BC Yachts crew who bombed around Southern Ontario in the pocket rocket whilst on our way to or from servicing boats. "Us" also included a handful of friends. “Us” often found ourselves driving on completely deserted Ontario highways at the oddest hours. We took full advantage but watched the roads like hawks.
The vocabulary we used was one of the fun parts of driving. I was usually the Pilot. The Pilot's primary responsibility was to drive the car. The person next to me in the front seat was my Wingman. The Wingman watched for police and handled other in-car tasks. (Music, navigation, passing me my morning coffee etc.) Technically the wingman is in another vessel (I.e. fighter jets travel in pairs and watch out for each other) but we didn't worry about that. Also to be politically correct, the wingman should have been a wingperson. But we usually found that members of the opposite sex sitting in the wingperson's seat often failed to appreciate “the game." For example, I'd say, "Are you visually scanning for radar?"
"Why?" Would be the response. "Just slow down. You're putting me at risk." Simple enough.
At the other end of the spectrum was a good friend and co-worker, James. We each had call signs, too. I was the Frontier Interceptor. James was Blue Thunder. We loved The Game.
The Game consisted of mixing instinct with radar detectors and the lingo we used made us feel we were seriously "in the game." So for example we'd pull onto the highway from Wye Heritage Marina at the southern tip of Georgian Bay. Heading south to Toronto this piece of road was almost always empty except on weekends when it carried cottage traffic. Peering down the road the chat typically went like this:
Charles: Looks clear. Shields up. Are we secure?
(Sound of two radar detectors rolling through their test sequences.)
James: Checking it out. Check. All clear rear. Watching forward. Check. All clear.
C: What's the vehicle on the right shoulder 3 clicks out?
James would check with binoculars or a zoom camera lens.
J: It’s not law enforcement. You're clear. You've got joy.
C: Roger that. Accelerating upwards. Remain in scan mode.
Scan mode was critical because at that time police used two types of radar. (The recent addition being highly formidable lasers.) Long-range radar is easy to avoid since the detectors would pick this up from miles away with small chirps. Short-range radar is "sudden on" radar. This means the police zap a car suddenly while approaching in oncoming traffic, or creeping up from behind, or hiding under bridges or on ramps. "Sudden on" radar was especially dangerous. Usually the detectors would sound a major alarm, jointly emitting a strong, loud tone with LED lights flashing full strength. A driver's typical reaction to this alarm is to hit the brakes but doing so could inform the police that the vehicle contained radar devices. (Police would always be skeptical if a car's speed suddenly reduced after radar was turned on while the police know their own vehicle is still hidden from the speeding driver's view.) On separate occasions in 1987 I lost two radar detectors to sudden on radar, six months to the day apart, and to the SAME Ontario Provincial Police officer… but that’s another story altogether. Therefore, scanning for potential traps was important.
C: We've got a ramp I'm slowing.
C: Check once we pass.
J: Roger. Whoa... No Joy! No Joy! We got cops. They're gonna be all over us.
Usually within a few seconds the detectors would erupt with panic as the police trained their radar onto us, but by then we'd have slowed down to a respectable speed by downshifting and without brakes. Of course, had there been no police, James would exclaim, "Got joy! Go for speed." The game went on.
And the years went by. I left Toronto for Vancouver. James got married and new joy entered his life with a little girl named Emily. I left Vancouver for Hong Kong, met Tess, got married. Much joy. Sebastian was born - more joy. The triplets were born. Huge joy deficit. The triplets turn One. Very little joy.
Around the triplets' first birthday I sent out e-mails to announce the milestone. James wrote me back; empathetic to the possibility we might not be experiencing much joy. James shared with me about a co-worker who was an "incredibly nice guy... LOVES Christmas, from Iran, married, sings Christmas carols in October!" James' Iranian co-worker lost his 18-month-old son to cancer on December 26, 2004. Woof. James chose to spend New Years Eve attending the funeral. Much sadness, survivor’s guilt, absolutely no joy. "Love your kids and spend time with them," is what James reported his co-worker tells people.
Many of you, including my own co-workers, read Tess' blog. As we crossed the one-year milestone on February 23, 2005, numerous people noted the absence of joy in Tess' writing and contacted me to express concern and sadness. One co-worker, particularly struck by the absence of joy, said to me, "this weekend when you go home I want you to lie down on the floor and do nothing but play with the triplets, my friend." He said it in a tone that suggested this is why I'm not experiencing joy.
I could feel the radar pulsing down on me and heard the fuzz busters screaming with anger. Air raid sirens hummed in the distance. A dog growled inside me. But I didn't hit the brakes because contrary to my co-worker's opinion, I wasn't speeding.
You think I don't play with the triplets? And that's why there's No Joy? Are you kidding me? Let me tell you how I play with the triplets...
When they have their nappies changed I butt in to give them big red raspberries on their tummies. Jasper and Carys shriek with laughter. Sela looks at me like I'm an alien.
Provided Carys doesn't have a full tummy, I will rock 'n roll her all over the place... throw her up in the air, bounce her up and down on my knee... she loves it. But most of all, Carys LOVES having her neck tickled and will respond with giant giggles, smiles, exclamations of glee and loads of drool.
Jasper loves a good ride on the horse, too, or having "ABC" sung to him. How little it takes to entertain that big, gorgeous, smiley baby. Peek-a-boo is a guaranteed hit.
And Sela, she loves having my arms wrapped around her from behind so she can still see the world as I hug her and rock her back and forth. I always nuzzle my cheek right next to hers. I know she likes it because if I pull away she leans her cheek into mine as if saying, "More Daddy. More please."
Yes, all these moments are incredibly sweet. Beyond precious. Yes, conceptually I know there should be joy. But do I experience joy? No. Should I? Probably... considering the pure wonder of how far The Terrific Trio have come since the first time I saw then being bagged by the NICU Team, there should be joy… but there is none.
Were Tess and I speeding by transferring three? Maybe. With Sebastian we transferred three, net one. Our personal odds meant we'd hopefully, luckily, end up with another wonderful child like Sebastian. We knew the risks. We read the small print. We even bargained with the doctor and God… “If we end up with three babies, if that is God’s will, we will accept that.” But “no joy” is conflicted by the fact Tess & I sped past two car wrecks on the highway of infertility. On both sides of my life lay the debris of two fatal disasters.
On one side in Toronto a dear lifelong friend and his wife were pregnant with twins. At 24 weeks gestation the doctors failed to fight off pre-term labour. My friends had vacationed in Eastern Canada to visit relatives and the hospital they found themselves in didn’t have the technology to save the babies. Each baby lived one hour. My friend told me this story about a year later when Tess and I were visiting Toronto. I had no idea they’d even been pregnant. When I heard the story Tess was pregnant with Sebastian. No kidding, to this day, my friend’s share ranks as the top most haunting story I've ever heard in my life. At night when I am under the covers and I think of those moments when their two girls slipped from their grasp, the air is sucked from my being.
Meanwhile on the other side of my life are equally close friends of ours in Hong Kong who happen to live in our building. Last July they discovered themselves pregnant with triplets. During their pregnancy Tess and I cheered from the sidelines, providing as much support as possible. In October, just shy of 24 weeks gestation, the doctors were unable to fight off pre-term labour. There was a touch-and-go week to ten days when the doctors questioned if the babies would live. One of the babies was pre-identified NRO.* The night their triplets were born I was ecstatic. The father called me at 1 AM in the morning to share how the NRO baby made it to the NICU and the doctors were doing everything possible to save her. Again, that phone call that night will forever rank as one of the top conversations of my life. When I hung up the phone I wept, praising God for his miracles and the NICU for their medical abilities. The next day the honeymoon period ended.
Two of the babies lived just a few days. The third pressed on and over three months later came home on February 23rd... the triplets' birthday. If that's not divine communication, what is?
God has truly blessed us with three miracles that from the very beginning have impacted people all over the world. As the prayers washed ashore in Hong Kong a year ago when the trips were just a few days old, people from everywhere shared stories of how The Terrific Trio were causing them to rejuvenate their faith. Late one night on the phone in the early days when Tess was still in the hospital, Tess' mom said to me, "Charles, your babies have SUCH purpose." As I choked back tears I knew she was right. I was in awe. Before my eyes the power of God and faith lay all around me.
The Terrific Trio are poster kids for God's miracles and modern medicine. From where they started a year ago to where they are now is unprecedented... mindboggling... nothing but miraculous. Statistically one should be dead. Yes, they could still have a host of problems down the road. But right now they are growing, eating, playing, laughing, crying and crawling wonders. They are so cute it hurts.
With these three total miracles, if I am not present to joy, then what is my experience? My experience is fog, disorientation, exhaustion, and shock. Each morning as I see the babies I wonder, “who has thrown up, how is Jasper’s breathing, is Carys still racing along or suddenly starting a spastic decline?” Each extraordinary picture I take fails to provoke an emotional response. Instead I use these personifications as evidence that the babies are normal or as close to it as possible. Even today, for the first time in the playgrounds we let the Terrific Trio crawl everywhere. Their silky baby hands, knees, legs and feet where black with dirt by afternoon’s end. We had an extraordinary time my friends, laughing and amazing at their determination to march, crawl and pull themselves up standing all over the place. But as these incredulous moments pass do I brush against joy? Barely. I have no idea when the joy will set in... I'm sure that in twenty-five years I'll have a cathartic, weeping experience as I walk Sela or Carys down the aisle, or as Jasper qualifies for an Olympic yachting team. Between now, and somewhere in between then, it's No Joy.
Right now, what I experience is a car, one year ago rocketing down the highway. Suddenly we careen out of control. We hit something. The car disintegrates… in slow motion. I close my eyes to avoid shattering glass from blinding me. The seatbelt stressfully restrains me. I hear metal and glass exploding on impact. In my minds ear I hear a soft whisper, “I am in God’s hands now.” As quickly as everything started it stops. I hang, like a computer doing nothing. I anticipate the cars from behind striking us. I hear screeching tires but no further movement. I open my eyes to witness astonishing destruction. Remarkably we are able to pull ourselves free. My wingperson, and me, we know we've been in an accident. We also know that perhaps we were speeding by transferring three embryos. But like those eerie, ethereal moments immediately after any car accident when the dust is settling, we're still stumbling around the highway in shock. An imperceptible fog blankets us. We’re conflicted by the knowledge we should be grateful we're alive. But there is still No Joy. That's my experience.
NRO = No Resuscitation Order
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