There’s an old saying “the days are long, but the years are short.” I feel like that neatly summarizes our lives now.
Having a child is a constant reminder of how quickly time passes without your really noticing it. Clothes you just purchased no longer fit. Pajamas no longer come with feet. The kid it seems you just taught to count is memorizing their times tables and doing division. You remember working on the alphabet and now you are covering Latin conjugations.
It’s a big year for me personally too. When the decade began, I was turning 30. Now I am about turn 40. That’s difficult to believe. If you have any ideas for what my mid-life crisis should involve, let me know.
The decade of surviving medical catastrophes and giving birth
The past decade began with us finally deciding to have a baby. That delightful plan was put on hold when my father suddenly and unexpectedly had an aneurysm that ruptured his aorta. This is an extraordinary medical event. Only 10% of the people who experience it even make it to the hospital. Even fewer survive the surgery to repair the blood vessel. And even fewer recover from the surgery to live anything even approaching a normal life.
My father, who survived a tour of duty as the door gunner on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam and battles like Hamburger Hill, seemed undefeated. But he was in a coma for several weeks. Our family endured weeks of doctors trying to convince us to pull the plug on him. The doctors got to the point where they were softly mocking what we perceived as signs of awareness. This was a hard introduction to how cruel health care in the US is. And then one day he miraculously “woke up,” despite all their “science” suggesting that was impossible. We were finally free of having to listen to the doctors’ bullshit statistics on vegetative states, but it was a long recovery.
We did have a baby, with a difficult birth story, which I covered in my earlier post, Having a preemie will make you rethink the abortion “debate.” I am so thankful that my father survived his aneurysm and was able to meet this precious gift of a human being.
When it seemed like everything had gone back to normal, my brother and my father were involved in a horrific hit-and-run accident on an icy Denver night. A massive truck slammed into the side of my brother’s car, which thankfully was a Volvo built to withstand the worst crashes. The other driver involved fled the scene and was never found. My brother walked away from the wreck with bruises and broken molar. My father, however, was on the side that took the full force of the hit and had to be cut from the car with the Jaws of Life. Another month in the ICU for the man who had already spent entirely too much time there. But he survived.
It has been a long decade!
Moving to Florida
We went through three houses in two states in the past decade. We bought a house on a large piece of property out in the middle of thoroughbred horse farms in Lexington, Kentucky. I hated the house itself – which had been built in the 1940s and showed it – but absolutely loved the land. The land was divided between bluegrass fields and dense woods, bisected with a large creek on which the first bourbon distilleries in the state has been constructed. (We were walking distance to Woodford Reserve.) In addition to the creek, we also had a freshwater spring on the property and a large, black barn that had originally been used for drying out tobacco leaves. We devoted a quarter acre to a fantastic vegetable garden with all sorts of heirloom varieties. This is where I learned I had a green thumb.
I do miss being around all of the elite Kentucky thoroughbreds (though plenty of them make it to Florida!) and spending Sunday afternoons watching polo matches at the Kentucky Horse Park with a bottle of champagne and picnic lunch.
For a while, we maintained the country house and a colossal house in the city of Lexington. This house was the house we had always dreamed of having and finally found. It had nearly 6,000 square feet, a professional kitchen with two large islands and pantries, a home gym with mirrored walls, a sports bar for entertaining friends during basketball games and horse races, a giant saltwater swimming pool, a terraced rose garden, and formal garden that was wonderful in the mornings. We had a few rooms in that house that we had no idea what to even do with. It was … extravagant.
We learned a lot from buying that house, not the least of which is that no one needs that kind of space. We all always wanted to be together in the same rooms. For the most part, the house became a place where we stored possessions we didn’t use in rooms we never spent time in. It was quite the lesson in materialism. You are happier without all the crap you think you want.
At some point, we realized we really could live in any place we wanted. We homeschool our daughter and our work only depends on an Internet connection. So we sold both houses and moved to the Florida coast. We bought a house that is half the size of the monster we owned earlier, which meant getting rid of a lot of furniture and miscellaneous other stuff. And we are much happier for making this transition. Rather than maintaining a large house, we spend most of our time outside, hiking through swamps and wetlands, working in the garden, playing at the beach, or riding our bikes to new towns. It’s a better life.
We have had a lot of professional accomplishments in the past decade. I was an economist, a bond analyst, and eventually was appointed to run a state agency by a governor. We started a very profitable business.
But my biggest accomplishments of the past decade have all involved home education. I taught our daughter to read. I taught her do math. I have helped her through countless science experiments and history projects. Seeing how she reasons through problems and communicates with the vocabulary of an adult, these things feel like little miracles.
And beyond all of this, we have raised a child that is an autodidact and genuinely loves to learn new things. Teaching our daughter is the single most fulfilling thing I have ever done in my life.
We lost our beloved 200-lb English Mastiff, the Duke of Glenn’s Creek (Duke), nearly two years ago, literally on the day we closed on our Florida house. The vet told us that he was the oldest English Mastiff he had ever seen at 11-and-a-half years old. In many ways, Duke was my first baby. It was a devastating experience. He had a grand life, however. In his final years, we were cooking a pot roast for him every day. And he got to spend time at the beach.
We also lost my in-laws’ dog, Toby. He was a great dog, who loved the water (as a lab should). Here are the old men together.
We adopted Sherlock Holmes, our rough coat Jack Russell Terrier. He’s like a new baby too, though the most intelligent puppy I have ever met.
And we adopted a bearded dragon, Finn McCool. He also seems like a highly intelligent creature, though perhaps Florida is simply making me appreciate reptiles more.
I built a 7-ft tall telescope. I’ve learned about tropical gardening and planted thousands of new plants. I’ve certainly read over a thousand books. I learned how to make pasta from scratch. I had a years-long obsession with tagines. I replaced running with cycling and hiking.
Elise has spent years now riding hunter-jumper and is quite good at it. And she started karate.
We’ve played about a zillion board games and have had many elaborate Dungeons and Dragons quests as a family. (This is perhaps the single best way to introduce a child to logic and strategy, FYI).
We’ve had our challenges, but these are good years!