Pondering 40

A year ago, my fortieth birthday arrived and was pleasantly celebrated then ended without much fanfare. However, I crossed this milestone with a measure of optimism. I reached 40 years of life with a wonderful and beautiful standing beside me, supporting me and encouraging me. The two of us had solid plans for our lives and dreams to pursue. I had been losing weight thanks to a healthier diet and more active lifestyle. Our kids were happy, the farm was functioning, and life was good. By the end of the year, we were celebrating New Years Eve with games, drinks, friends, and laughter. 

 Then 2020 began. 

 I know it’s been a tough year for everyone. Weird weather. Earthquakes in the Inland Northwest. Murder hornets. And a pandemic that closed schools and businesses everywhere. Government orders to shelter in place. It’s like the events of the last five months have been scripted by a sadistic 10-year-old member of the Future Anarchists of America. 

 We’ve promised our kids tickets to their first big grown up concert for their sixteenth birthdays. Christian turns sixteen in September so we got tickets to the Hella Mega Tour in Seattle: Green Day, Weezer, and Fall Out Boy. Thanks to the Coronavirus, that tour has been delayed until 2021. 

We had planned and saved and budgeted and planned some more to make a road trip to Cheyenne for Frontier Days in July. This is the first year I’ve planned to take the whole family, and I haven’t been there since I was a teenager. Unfortunately, this is the year it’s canceled. Another casualty of COVID-19.

However, as this year is wild and unprecedented for all Americans, it isn’t the global health crisis that completely derailed the optimism I held last May. I turned 40 in good health and great spirits. This year, things got weird.

In January, we discovered Annie was pregnant. That was a bit of a surprise. Since then, we’ve been hustling to amass all of the necessities of welcoming a newborn to the world, reorganizing the house to fit the eighth member of the family into our small home, and taking measures to protect the baby’s health. All of this during a pandemic making it harder to shop for baby goods and challenging to navigate hospitals for prenatal doctor appointments.

If that wasn’t enough, this is the year my body decided to fall apart. For most of my life, I’ve been healthy. As a kid, I was rarely sick and never missed school due to illness. I reached adulthood healthy and active. As a grown up, my biggest health issue was obesity. Despite being overweight, I didn’t have any other issues. My heart was strong, I had never broken a bone, never endured surgery for any reason, never been hospitalized. My only adult trips to the ER was for a bloody nose that wouldn’t stop bleeding and for chest pains that were diagnosed as a strained muscle. 

My streak of good health ended in 2020. In March, my gut started to hurt with what I thought was constipation. After three days of pain, I drove myself to the ER. They ran labs and took CT scans. Then I was admitted for an extended stay. My diagnosis: acute diverticulitis with perforation. In plain English, my colon was infected and it ruptured, leaving a hole in a place where a hole should not exist. 

When I was discharged, they sent me home with a prescription for a couple different antibiotics, instruction to rest and avoid heavy lifting, a low fiber diet for a couple weeks to be replaced by a high fiber diet, a list of foods to avoid, and hopes that my colon would heal on its own. 

A month later, the stabbing pains returned, worse than before. This time, Annie drove me to the hospital. I was admitted again. The diverticulitis had not healed. The perforation remained, and the infection was worse. In addition to the infected colon, they also discovered an abscess leaning against my bladder. Doctors did a procedure to drain the abscess and scheduled a partial colectomy. When it was time for surgery, plans changed and they gave me an ileostomy instead. They also discovered the infection spread to my appendix so they took that out at the same time. When the operation was complete, my small intestines were disconnected from my large intestines. If you’re familiar of how the body functions after such a procedure, you know what I had attached to my stomach. If you don’t know, you could google it, but I recommend you don’t want to know. 

With protective measures in place at hospitals concerning the pandemic, visitors were not allowed during my second stay at the hospital. This left me lonely and restricted to FaceTime to talk to Annie and the kids. My older daughter struggled with this predicament. More than just missing me, she hated the idea of me being sick and stuck at the hospital. According to her, I was the one who stayed, who was always there. Suddenly, her vision of me was no longer true. I was discharged on her birthday, and the phone call to tell her the news that Sunday morning is probably the best gift I could have given her. And her reaction was priceless.

The Wednesday before my 41st birthday, I returned to the care or surgeons to have an ileostomy takedown – a reversal of the surgery I had four weeks earlier. The doctors reconnected my small and large intestines, and sent me back home to rest and recover. 

My recovery is going well. However, these last few months are not what we imagined they would be. For me to be hospitalized twice while Annie to be pregnant and for all of this to happen during this moment of history seems like a cruel joke. It is also peculiar for my body to suddenly start falling apart after a lifetime of remarkably good health and the progress and changes I’ve made to be healthier. 

2020 in review so far inspires one singular question. What in the name of all that is good and holy is going on? When I pondered what it meant to be 40, this is not what I had in mind.


What It’s Like to Be Me: The Family Man Pt 1, For the Kids

I got a little behind schedule with my soundtrack project. I had intended to finish the first chapter (In the Beginning) during the month of April. However, a hospitalization and surgery derailed my train of progress. Instead, that last part was posted a week ago and I’m scrambling to play catch up. Today is the first entry from the next chapter in my life and the songs that accompany this era. I call it “The Family Man”

I was 23 years old when I got married and this selection of music covers the next decade of my life. I got married, my oldest son was born, we adopted a couple kids, bought a house, and took vacations. For a while, I thought I was living the life of my dreams. After all, my conservative upbringing taught me that this is what I was supposed to do: grow up and start a family. What could go wrong?

The Verve: “Lucky Man
“Happiness, more or less.” These opening words have been truer in my life than many other lyrics over the years. When I got married, I chose this song to represent who I was, and the life I lived up until that moment. It worked for me, after all, I felt like a lucky man. Years have passed, circumstances have changed. Happiness looks (more or less) a little different for me than most people. I’ve lived other lyrics from this song, wondering, “But how many corners do I have to turn? How many times do I have to learn?” Somehow, through all of the struggle, strife, and loss I still feel lucky – perhaps now more than ever.

Ben Folds: “Still Fighting It” and “Gracie
I was never one for traditional lullabies. When I sang my kids to sleep, I selected normal songs for normal adults. Songs like “Hey Jude” or “Landslide” or “Mad World.” A pair of Ben Folds songs worked their way into the list of songs I sang while rocking my kids to slumber. First for Christian, was a song reminding us “Everybody knows it sucks to grow up.” I connected with Ben’s perspective of how everything changed the moment he picked up his son, understanding the difficulty of being human, and the promise to share those story over a couple beers twenty years from now. With Chloe, I sang her a song Ben wrote for his daughter – although, I swapped out the name Gracie in the lyrics for my daughter’s name, thankfully the two names rhyme. There’s a line in the song which felt as if Ben could have written the song about me and my girl, a line that could describe those precious moments many parents share with their kids: “You nodded off in my arms watching TV. I won't move you an inch even though my arm's asleep.”

Will Smith: “It’s All Good
On Will Smith’s first solo album, he sampled Chic’s “Good Times” for a song celebrating the good life. It is exuberant and cheesy. There was a lot of struggle in my life. Raising a kid on the autism spectrum. Being a foster parent. Marital conflict. Still, I’d listen to this song and think it fit my status, “All sun, no rain, no strain, can't complain.” Conversely, there was a lot of rain and strain and I did complain. I was delusional. Yet if there was one line that did truly describe my predicament, it was Will’s musings about his son, “Mom, your wish came true, I got one just like me.” These days, I listen to this song more as an aspiration of where I want to be, “Hustle cause I wants to, not cause I have to,” and less of a way to feel how I’m currently living.

Sho Baraka: “Fathers, 2004
In “Fathers, 2004” Sho Baraka provides the best description of what it feels like for me to be a dad. “I'm a lover, a provider, I'm a teacher, I'm a fighter, I know there's grace for me even when I'm wrong.” This song is the daddy anthem. Verse by verse, Sho gives advice, the kind I hope to instill in my kids. First for his son, “Pray without ceasing, but keep your eyes on the system. Always speak up for the weak until somebody listens.” Then for his daughter, “Baby girl don't be easily impressed. Stay clothed in righteousness cause it's harder to undress.” And finally for other dads, “Peace to all my fathers who are working through their flaws. Fulfilling their duties and they don't do it for applause. It's true, any fool with a tool can reproduce but a father is that dude that'll see it through.”

Staind: “Zoe Jane
When Aaron Lewis sings “Sweet Zoe Jane, it’s easy for me to replace it with my girl’s name, “Sweet Chloe Lu.” However, despite being a song Lewis wrote for his daughter, the spirit of the song is one I have for all of my kids. “I wanna hold you, protect you from all of the things I've already endured. And I wanna show you all the things that this life has in store for you. And I'll always love you.” It’s an earnest and somber song, always reminding my how important my role is in raising my kids.

Family Of The Year: “Hero
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a hero. The comic book superhero kind of hero. The type of hero everyone adores and celebrates. Then I had kids and my idea of heroism changed. I no longer wanted to be your hero, I wanted to be their hero. Then I heard a song saying “I don't wanna be a part of your parade.” I didn’t want fanfare or celebration, I just wanted to do my job and be a good dad.


What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 8, The Beat of My Own Drum

My mom always told me I came out looking for a party, born with a surplus of energy. According to the stories I’ve been told, baby me was lit from the second I awoke until 8pm exactly, at which point I would fall asleep wherever I happened to be: the stairs, the hearth in front of the fireplace, in the recliner at Darrell and Sue’s house. Until the hour my internal clock expired, I was a wild and crazy kid.

I was also an odd child. If anyone had explored my childhood musical preferences, they’d have found me out of step with normal kids. My earliest musical memories were listening to The Righteous Brothers, Phil Collins, Chicago, Amy Grant, and The Beach Boys. I marched to the beat of my own drum, even if that drum was off beat or in an unconventional time signature. The first song I can remember being my favorite was Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” because it was featured in The Karate Kid Part II. That’s not a typical indulgence for a seven year old but I insisted on being my own person, as weird as it sometimes was. In fourth grade, when all the girls in my class were obsessed with George Michael, I couldn’t stand him. When Kris Kross became wildly popular during my seventh grade year, I was annoyed by them because they were the same age as me. I didn’t like Silverchair for the same reason I couldn’t stand Kris Kross.

Regardless of what artists and bands I enjoyed, I always related my life to the music I listened to – telling my own story through the melodies and rhymes of my favorite performers. From the moment my brother introduced me to glam metal in the 80s, through hearing Alice in Chains during a middle school math class, to falling in love with hip-hop in the late 90s, these songs have given me a voice I would not have found anywhere else. They helped me find my own drum beat so I could march.

dc Talk: “I Luv Rap Music
Rap music wasn’t played in my home growing up. My dad had a strong distaste for it. I was raised with a bias against hip-hop until this song changed everything. You can read the story of how that happened HERE.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: “My Oh My
Benjamin Haggerty (AKA Maklemore) is a few years younger than me. With both of us growing up in the Seattle area around the same time, one of the most influential non-musical voices in his life happens to have been monumental in mine too: “Around every spring, when the winter thawed we’d huddle around the radio, twist the broken knob. 710 AM, no KJR. Dave Niehaus' voice would echo throughout the yard.” Macklemore talks about his relationship with his dad and baseball in this tribute to Niehaus and it reminds me of my father’s love for the game and our devotion to Niehaus and the Mariners. “We’d listen to the M’s in the kitchen, and if mom wasn’t trippin. ‘Come on Dad just one more inning.’ Voice went ‘pump pump’ through the system, ‘break out the rye bread it’s grand salami time.’” That “grand salami” phrase was Niehaus’ way of describing a grand slam. Often, when the M’s were on TV, my dad would mute the television and tune the radio to KJR to listen to color commentary from Niehaus. His voice is unforgettable and etched in my brain, an echo of simpler times.

1 Giant Leap featuring Maxi Jazz, & Robbie Williams: “My Culture
In this collaboration with experimental British DJs, Maxi Jazz and Robbie Williams sing about lessons they learned from their fathers and the challenges they faced. While accepting the negative aspects of how they were raised, they both recognize the positive. Maxi Jazz raps about his distant dad “I wished he would hold me a little more than he did, but he told me my culture and how to live positive.” Meanwhile, it was Williams’ verse that reminded me of myself and my dreams to be a writer. “I'm the one who landed the pop star's job. I'm the one who you told look, don't touch. I'm the kid who wouldn't amount too much. I believe in the senses that I sound, I have always been too loud, won't you help me drown it out? And when I feel what I'm feeling is so real, I'm a massive spinnin' wheel, always digging in my heels. Now I got the faith.”

Mike Doughty: “The Idiot Kings
Life isn’t easy. Growing up sucks. Doughty gets this. He sings how he “could be condemned to Hell for every sin but littering.” That’s the musing to which anyone with a self-deprecating sense of humor could relate. Like me. He also admit an awkwardness around women that reminds me of the blunderings of my high school and young adult years. “I've seen half a zillion girls and haven't spoken to a single one of them.” Despite the recognition that he’s been playing cool for far too long, this song has a delightful and optimistic bend. Even on our worst days, it’s better to accept things are they way they are and declare it to be good.

Social Club featuring Chris Durso: “Viva La Misfit
This song was released log after I grew up, got married, had kids, started a career, and divorced. So it doesn’t bring me back to my childhood. However, if the adult me could play a song to help the youthful version of me, this would be it. The kid who was once bullied relentlessly needed to hear these words: The truth is, the reason why they're threatening you, the reason why they're lying to you, the reason why they're spending their time on you is because they're scared of you. It's because they know who you are, they know why you were created, they know that you have a plan for your life.” I know my purpose in this world much better these days, I often wish someone would have shared this message with me when I was younger.


The Spring of Babies

You would think with stay at home orders in place, we’d have an abundance of time. This may be true of many people but life at our house abides by a different set of rules where conventional logic does not apply. Despite working from home, I’ve found myself busier than normal, some of it planned and the rest beyond my control. So, what’s keeping me tied up?

1. Health issues. This is the biggest deviation from the norm. I’ve had two major hospitalizations in the last couple months, one non-invasive surgery and one major operation. I was immobile for most of a week during the second trip to the hospital and I’ve been in recovery since. I’m moving more and getting better but still have another big surgery coming up in the near future. Consider this an unexpected detour.

2. Bunnies. We got some angora rabbits to make wool. Those two angoras made more angoras. They gave us kits and now we have a fluffle of fluffy fluffers that will melt your heart. Warning, they have claws. Seriously though, these little balls of fur have been the kids' favorite part of farming this spring.

3. Baby goats. We have four does and two bucks. We let them mingle for a few weeks last October. Come winter it was obvious we had four pregnant goats. After five months, the four moms birthed a total of eight kids. Eight tiny, bouncing, and adorable lil goats. Extra hay and extra grain during barn chores and milking the moms as their babies eat less from them.

4. Chicks. We’ve had three rounds of baby chicks, two purchased one the final one hatched in our incubator. It takes a surprising amount of attention and effort to keep those little feather nuggets alive.

5. Puppies. At 10:30 on the night I got home from the hospital, our very pregnant mastiff went into labor. Baby number two was born at 1:30 the next morning. Nine hours later, her last baby arrived. We have six mastiff puppies nursing with their mom. Six loud eaters. Six miniature giants whining as they begin teething. Six future Armageddon dogs. They’re lucky they’re cute because without the cute factor, the combination of sleep deprivation and noise could drive one to desperate measures.

6. Violet. It’s not just baby animals keeping life at the farm interesting. We also have a child of our own on the way. A baby girl, the fifth (and final) addition to the McCasey family. You know what that means? Shopping. Lots of shopping. Doctor appointments too. Also, shopping. It’s a challenge considering how many stores are closed due to the pandemic. But shop we must because come September, baby Violet is going to need some clothes and a place to sleep. And diapers. So many diapers.

I hope that covers it. It’s a chaotic season full of life and excitement. There’s also an abundance of babies at Heartsong Meadow. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep them all straight. So many new names to remember. And if you're interested in acquiring your own baby (of the four legged variety) let me know.