Sunday, September 27, 2009

What? Four year old's don't listen?

This is eye-opening. I can see how children would assume matches and lighters are ok to play with since Mom and Dad use them without getting hurt. I'm off to make sure my matches and lighters are out of reach...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Three years old

This time of year marks my middle child's third birthday. It is also the 3rd birthday of my firefighter's paramedic license.

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This may not seem like an anniversary worth celebrating to most. But anyone who's been through paramedic school, Mt. SAC specifically, will understand. Fellow blogger Hydrant Girl is embarking on paramedic school soon, and it makes me think back to my firefighter's experience with it three years ago.

There are paramedic programs, and then there's Mt. SAC's paramedic program. A few facts about Mount San Antonio College's paramedic course:

-If you get below 80% on a test, you fail out. End of story. No re-taking of tests.

-If you miss a day, you fail. If you have the flu and are vomiting all over the place, you still have to be there.

-Tests and quizzes usually occur twice a day. That's a lot of opportunities to fail.

-The course is 37 credit hours, crammed into the span of a few short months. That's roughly 8 very solid hours of instruction and labs, with an additional 2 or 3 hours of studying every day, plus weekends.

-You don't just learn what you need to know--you become a walking text book. There's a reason why my firefighter literally read his text book three times by the end of his internship.

-Students are not allowed to hold any sort of job while in the program--not that they would have time to! Ha!

-At least 50% of the students who start the course fail out. At least. Only 9 of the 26 that started the class with my firefighter were still around at the end. My firefighter failed out his first go 'round, too.

-If you do pass, you will earn respect and a lot of wide-eyed, sympathetic "oh DUDE!" remarks from other paramedics in Southern California.

-Getting into the program is merit-based instead of a lottery, which is why we chose Mt SAC. That, and it's the gold standard. And, looking at 4 months without income was a lot easier to stomach than one or two years. And it's a very cheap program. (Of course, it ended up taking almost a year anyway since he had to re-take the course, but it was still worth it for the other reasons.)

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That year my firefighter quit his job to go to paramedic school was one of the most stressful years of our marriage. We had to live off of loans and thin air. I was 15 months pregnant; or at least, it felt like it. Every morning that my firefighter left for school, I knew that this huge investment could very easily be for nothing and he might get a 79% on a test that day. I hated tests, almost as much as my firefighter did. I lived with constant, intense anxiety. I dreaded the though of him having to walk in the door, downcast, and explain to his wife that he failed out of the program.

He had the weight of this major investment on his shoulders (literally--his books weighed in at just above 80 pounds--he had to carry them in the huge rolling duffel bag pictured below). His career and the very livelihood of his family depended on him passing. We couldn't afford for him to take any more time off of work. He had to go back to work, either as a paramedic or not.

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I remember one particularly horrible day. My firefighter called me--which was, at that time, always a bad sign. I could barely understand him over the panic in his voice. On his way to class that morning, while driving on the freeway through Pasadena, he had to swerve hard to avoid hitting someone who didn't look when he merged into my firefighter's lane.

My firefighter didn't think too much of it, until another car came up along side him, waving frantically for him to roll down his window. They yelled and pointed to the bed of his truck. My firefighter, with a sickening realization of what had just happened, looked in his rear view and saw that his 80 pound bag--the one with all of his $600 worth of books, his three inch binder of homework to be completed by the end of the course, which was half way done, all of his equipment--was no longer in his truck.

He broke every traffic rule and prayed, between the expletives, for cop-free passage as he flew down the next off-ramp. He sped back through the city to re-trace that section of freeway where his bag was laying. Not only did he absolutely need that bag, but a bag of that magnitude could cause a major accident.

As he drove along the 210, he found no trace of the bag itself; all he could see was the white shreds of what was left of its contents, scattered across the freeway and stuck in the bushes on the embankment. Everything was violently destroyed. It must have been a bus that hit the bag, since there was no sign of an accident. There was no chance of recovering anything.

He went through the stages of grief as he drove the rest of the way to school. He was somewhere between bargaining and depression when he was able to find a phone to call me. He asked the girl sitting next to him if he could borrow a pen and paper; she looked back at him in horror as she learned what happened. The story quickly spread through the class. His kind classmates offered to help him buy a new set of books. It was very touching; they understood the magnitude of what had just happened.

Meanwhile, I called in reinforcements. I found someone to watch my daughter for me and I headed out to the school. I needed to find out as soon as possible if I would be able to get a copy of all of the binders and books for the course. After several hours of pleading with the bookstore and the copy center, plus an emotional breakdown or two, I was able to scrounge together most of the materials.

My firefighter spent the next weeks re-doing the hours and hours of homework that he had already done, on top of trying to keep up with the current load and pass the tests at hand. He was utterly exhausted at the end of each day, physically and mentally. I helped him memorize indications for drugs, counter-indications, dosages, classifications, alternate names... it was my dream, too, to get him through paramedic school.

Thankfully, that dream came true, and he officially became a licensed paramedic 4 days before my second child was born.

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This is a picture of my firefighter on the last day of his internship.

For anyone considering paramedic school, I can tell you this--it's worth it. The time, expense, exhaustion, and 180 miles my firefighter had to drive round trip to his internship every day was worth it. So many doors opened once he had that license.

I'm rooting for you, Hydrant Girl!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A glimpse of progress

The nursery is still being put together, but at least he can sleep in there!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Men vs. Women - Man Cave vs. Girl's Night Out

I've noticed a trend among my friends. Us girls want to get together, and we want out of the house. We want to see the sights, eat food we didn't cook ourselves and not clean up afterward, we want to laugh, dress in non-slobbered grownup clothes, and get away from the daily grind. We want to go somewhere that doesn't have the faint smell of Cheerio's and baby powder lingering in the air. This is why we cherish GNO.

Ideally, for me anyway, my firefighter would be the one taking me out for a night on the town. However, he has a different vision of the perfect night out. For him, it would involve staying at home, no kids around, plenty to eat and drink, and relaxing in front of the t.v. or the computer. He wants to retreat to his man cave to play his game. Not that we have a man cave; it's more of a man nook. At least it's a step up from his space in our previous apartment, the man closet:

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I come from a family of gamers--a family that designs and builds video games--a family that designs and builds programs to design and build video games. It is part of my heritage and part of our generation, these games. The music from them will forever be embedded in our brains. There is no escape. Do you remember those games? (I am willing to bet that the music from Mario Bros is playing in someone's mind right about now.) I remember the preparation my brothers put into the release of Donkey Kong Junior. They even redecorated the family room to achieve the optimal gaming ambiance, with the appropriate chairs and snacks. The game marathon that followed when it was finally released was the stuff of legend. All of this is to say, I appreciate the genre.

However, I do find myself resenting one of the games my firefighter plays on his days off.

I am a Battlefield 2 widow.

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He comes home, turns the computer on, and since the game is live, is unreachable for 15 minutes at a time. This isn't like the games of yore where one could simply pause the game to get the crying baby. Oh no, he has an obligation to those other live players for that chunk of time. My question is, how did those people behind the text on his screen become such a loud voice in our house? In his defense, I, too, have my vices that I put off getting the fussy baby to enjoy. I'm indulging in a bowl of vice (rocky road ice cream) at this very moment. We all need a break every now and then.

So, on a night off, we have this problem of wanting to do two very different things, and me getting annoyed at the attention trapping game. What's a girl to do? I want out of the house, he wants anywhere but out. He has been toying with the idea of installing his game on the other computer so that I can play with him, which I'm not completely opposed to. I'll give it a shot--if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Right?

In the meantime, we've come to a compromise that allows us to both get something close to the ideal evening off. My 2 year old has become fascinated with Battlefield 2--mostly because it has a big red "2" on it, which he excitedly points out. He stands next to his dad, pointing out any windmills that may appear, saying 'oooooh nooooo' whenever dad falls down, and clapping for him when the game is over. So, I hook dad up with a bottle, put the baby in the swing right next to him, sit my 2 year old on his dad's lap, and let my kindergartner fend for herself in her pink girl cave while I go out on my own.

I cherish those moments, driving all alone in the car with my music turned up, headed somewhere where I'm not "mom". And, since I'm out of the house, I don't have to be annoyed when my firefighter can't do something in my time frame because of the game. It's not ideal, however. I don't get to spend time with my firefighter, and he has to take care of the kids for a while, but it gives us a chance to unwind in our own ways. Plus, later we get to watch a movie, be kid-free, and spend time together when the kids go to sleep.

So really, the man cave he wants to construct in the family room is for my benefit, too. I'll just call it the babysitter cave.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FDNY Firefighter Calendar 2010

Ok. First of all, I'm in shock that it's going to be 2010 next year. I remember where I was on New Year's Eve, 1999. I was at my in-laws' house on a hillside near Los Angeles, playing pinochle. We had a bird's eye view of the valley below, poised to witness the massive Y2K power failure. Where were you in 1999?

Suddenly, it's nearly 10 years later--didn't that go by in a blink?

This month I am promoting a calendar featuring FDNY firefighters. Even now, years after 9/11, most fire departments across the country carry some sort of emblem or remembrance of those who died on that day. The 11th is coming up, and every year I think back to that morning, casually turning on the t.v. before I headed off to work. I remember the gut-wrenching horror and pain as I cried over and over, "What about the firefighters? Please tell me they got out! Please tell me they got out!!" It makes me emotional just thinking about it. I can't get through that day without realizing how risky my firefighter's job can be.

I will never forget.

(I can't get through that day without wishing my dad a happy birthday, either.)

In honor of those on the other side of the continent whom we remember this time of year, I bring you the 2010 FDNY calendar. Proceeds will benefit the Staten Island Burn Center.

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Thank you, firefighters of New York, and thank you to the wives and families of those who fell that day. I think about your sacrifice and valor more often than you realize.

Monday, September 7, 2009

96 Hours

That's the length of time my firefighter will have been at work by the time he comes home tomorrow. That's two standard 40 hour work weeks, in the span of four days. And, this is not abnormal. I can't remember what it was like to live with normal work hours! My heart goes out to those wildland firefighter wives, who only see their men a few days out of the month during the fire season.

My firefighter doesn't often go out on big fires. He was supposed to be on his way down to the Station Fire in Los Angeles this shift, but his strike team got canceled at the last minute. Instead he spent his shift at the station dealing with a different kind of beast altogether--medical assists.

In the last three days, he's run on:
-several stroke patients
-several hypoglycemic patients
-a young teenage kid who took a mysterious drink from a stranger in the park and was altered
-a drunk man who passed out on the sidewalk (driectly across the street from another drunk man who had passed out a day or so before)
-a man who, while laying in bed, put a .22 to his head and pulled the trigger
-a man who was beat up and pistol whipped during a home invasion robbery
-my firefighter himself broke into a house when an alarm went off only to find out it was a false alarm
-a call to help an elderly man back in bed in the middle of the night
-a call to a fall with injuries for a woman, complicated by the fact that she was also deaf
-and he's rolled on several fires where the residents were able to put it out before the fire department got there.

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That's a lot to deal with in three days. It amazes me that he declares a suicide victim dead, and then goes back to the station and finishes dinner. There's a disconnect between what happens on a call and the rest of his life--there has to be, in order to maintain sanity, I think.

Meanwhile, my biggest concern at home was that it took the satellite guy 3 hours to install our dish, and he left behind a big chunk of metal in my front yard for some reason.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How we met.

I spent most of my time in High School as a wall flower. I loved being a wall flower--I still do. The hermit inside me feels safe and happy there. I had friends; I just didn't date. I'm not sure why, really. The extreme social awkwardness probably had something to do with it.

Or maybe it was the white girl 'fro.

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Yeah, I'd be intimidated by that hair, too.

That, and I was incredibly forgettable. I couldn't utter a word to a guy without sounding like an idiot and turning bright red, so I just avoided talking as much as possible. In fact, I didn't even kiss anyone until I was in college - not until September 30th, 1995. His name was Ray, and he dedicated MJ's 'You are Not Alone' to me. Awww. Last I heard, he was working in Vegas as a concierge at one of the casinos.

Who needs all of that, right? What high school student wants to date? Sheesh. Ok, so nearly every sixteen year old girl wants to find love. But only if it's the right guy - and I didn't find anyone remotely close to that in high school. I had no desire to lead on the wrong guys, and the right guys had no desire to lead me on, much to my dismay.

So, I came to college with a lot of expectations. My years of dating solitude had resulted in a long list of what the 'ideal guy' would be like. I wrote it in my journal. Here's some of what I wrote:

"We would be open with each other. We would not be completely dependent upon each other. We would help each other to grow. A large part of our love would be due to the service which we would do for each other. Our love would include gratitude, understanding, and security. Maybe I have already found him, but I just don't see him for who he is yet - my rational, understanding, happy man who will frolic through life with me."

Yep, that's my firefighter! It's not often you find someone who meets all your expectations. (Well, ok, his being a truck driver wasn't exactly on my list of desirable qualities.)

So, how did I get past the incredibly awkward bright red speech impediment problem and actually meet my firefighter...errr...truck driver?

The first time I met my future husband, more than just a passing word here and there, was at a party. There were no sparks at the time. I came to the party with someone else.

I remember that evening vividly, sitting in his parents' green, blue, and pink living room. My firefighter was on the phone with someone I was told was his girlfriend. I remember him pacing and talking excitedly, trailing the really long off-white cord of his parents' phone behind him. The rest of the party moved downstairs and we got ready to watch Men In Black.

There were two couches for about 20 people. I sat squished and quiet against the arm rest at the very end of one of them (yay for wallflowers!) as we waited for him to get off the phone.

He came bounding down the stairs, hands braced against the walls on either side, skinny, tan, tall, outgoing, with bright smiling eyes.

"What? No one saved a seat for me??"

"Sure we did - right here." (Visualize the hand motion, signaling a spot across all of us on the couch.)

Where did that come from? Looking back, I can't believe I said that. He was just on the phone with his supposed girlfriend, for goodness' sake. To the regular people out there, it wouldn't seem like that big of a deal. But for me, that was way outside the bounds of normal and comfortable.

My firefighter exuberantly leaped across the room and laid his head in my lap. I was just joking, but wasn't sorry he took it literally. I spent most of that movie in silence, stealthily glancing down at his incredibly long eye lashes, thinking "Pretend this is normal. Pretend this is normal. Pretend this is normal." Which, translated, meant "whatever you do, don't let him catch you staring!"

Thankfully, the lights were down and I was able to avoid the embarrassment of the bright red part of all of this. I could feel the blood at the surface of my skin--I must have been purple. And, I had tunnel vision.

He laid across all of us on the couch like that for the whole movie. It allowed me to compose myself by the time the lights came on. I don't think I said another word to him after that; it was too risky. I simply went home with the guy who brought me and didn't think much of it, other than amazement at myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone.

I am not sure how happy the rest of the couch sitters were about what I had done, but it worked out well for me. Apparently, that uncharacteristic moment of non-introversion made an impression on him and he asked around to find out who I was.

He called me up a day or two later. (The girlfriend was really an ex-girlfriend.) This time it was his turn to have an uncharacteristic moment. I could sympathize with his extreme anxiety as he stumbled over his words to ask me out--this from the extrovert serial dater. His friend, who was there when he called, was laughing at him in the background.

Somehow, we got past our opposing natures, and realized that we were just right for each other.

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And now, 12 years later, we're still the artistic wallflower type and the social butterfly extrovert rescuer type. I'm really glad he was born; he rescued me from the dating world, for which I will be forever grateful. I never EVER want to have to get out there again!! Today is his birthday.

Happy Birthday, Honey!

And, THANKS!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A surprise date

After a string of very long days last week, my firefighter told me he was going to take the family on a date. He kept the destination a secret. He told us that it involved a bit of driving, to dress warmly, and to bring the camera.

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My daughter (after getting over her excitement about going on a DATE!) decided based on those clues that we were headed to the Arctic.

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She did not think the car wash was an adequate surprise date location.

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However, a trip to San Francisco and Ghiradelli Square for dessert, was. Is that Ghiradelli chocolate ice cream goodness with a cherry on top?

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Why yes, yes it is.

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Some pictures of the trip:

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We headed north to look for bio luminescent waves.

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We didn't find glowing waves this time, but we did get to see the moon rise across the water.

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I love that my firefighter planned the whole thing. We had a great time.

(Minus the vomit incident on the 1, and the subsequent car seat clean-up.)
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