Panama Jackson’s Letter to a Friend

Photo Thanks to Blake Verdoorn

Photo Thanks to Blake Verdoorn

Dear Homie,

If my math is correct, you’re set to become a father next month. Congratulations. There are few times in the life of a person more exciting (and nerve-racking) than the birth of your first child! As your friend and brother, I couldn’t be happier for you and the wife on this life-changing event. (it’s good to know how to use insurance terms, since in your case, the baby will be born during most open seasons—good timing!). I look forward to watching your daughter grow into the young woman she’ll become with the wisdom and guidance of her great parents.

And since I’ve been around that mountain a few times, I figured the least I could do was tell you a bit of what life is going to be like in the near term.

Basically, you’re going to miss a lot of it because of sleep deprivation. I mean, you’ll be there, but you won’t be there sometimes. Once, when #YoungPanamontana was an infant, I literally had a dream that I rolled over on her on the couch and woke up terrified that I’d killed my child, only to realize that she was upstairs asleep with her mother. Do you understand what I’m saying? I was so tired that I dreamed I was asleep, except I committed murder in my sleep WITH MY SLEEP. Which gets to where I’m going with this.

There are probably countless people who have told you to get all of your sleep now. And though you can’t, it’s one of those things that scientists should be working on: a sleep bank. Right now you can go to sleep at, say, midnight, and wake up at 8 a.m. after a night of uninterrupted sleep—assuming the wife allows you to sleep all night, since I’m sure she’s super uncomfortable right now.

But let’s say she does. Yeah, that’s going out the window the DAY young Homie-ette is born. See, babies, they have to eat every two hours for the first few days (weeks) of their lives. You don’t have to do the math to realize that means that at least 12 times a day—maybe less if she’s doing 2.5 hours—your child will be awake seeking sustenance and attention. Many of those hours come at times when you’d normally be asleep.

I don’t know what you all are going to do regarding breast-feeding (if your wife decides to breast-feed, it saves a FORTUNE on formula; if not, price matching and are your friends). But if she is going to, she’ll be up all night after short naps, only to arise to continue giving life to this person you two created.

Trust me on this one, fam: Wake up, too. Just be awake. Stare at the ceiling fan. Cut your toenails. Hold her boob. Do something so that she knows she isn’t up by herself. There’s a good chance she’ll be scowling at you even if you are helping, but it gets better. And if you’re asleep, there’s a great chance that she’s going to wake you up. I promise.

Read the rest of the letter here at the Root.


Hearing You

Hearing you scuffle with your sheets, with some germ, with all that irritation finding you in night’s rest, it’s unsettling and stilling to pick you up and hold you in my arms and sit with the length of you, cradling, eyes closing, breath breathing, finally resting.

I was hoping that you would sleep, that you wouldn’t wake frustrated because of last night’s deprivation, that you would be your normal bubbly self, the self that yaps and taps til I roll over, awake and not, ready to comb your hair, finalize your clothes, locate your socks, say no when asked to play.

And it was you, wavering over me with all that light piercing the curtains, persisting to reintroduce yourself as the playful one, telling me to do this or that, and waiting until I moved to act.

It was you and you had slept well.

My Adorable Son, An Idol

As a clergy person I lead people in worship.  That means that I spend time with people, and while I’m with them, I point them to God.  I facilitate people’s encounters with the Divine.  I don’t create the encounters.  I don’t create the people.  I sometimes simply nudge people in a direction, or turn them around, or push them to keep listening or seeing or waiting until they notice Who was there but was, somehow, unseen.  You might say that I do this for a living.  In other words, when I’m with a person, a pair, or a group I’m asking the unrelenting question, how can I help this person encounter God so they can live?

What often comes with this occupation is an abiding question: what enables me to encounter God?  The other day I was thinking about why I wasn’t sleeping.  I was turning over in bed, trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t envy my wife or my son.  I was listening to them slumber, Dawn right next to me, Bryce in the other room.  Both of them were whispering little dreams to themselves, hardly moving, content.  I was, as I said, turning and trying to flip away from the little anger in me that comes with occasional insomnia.

It’s not insomnia, I tell people.  I can actually sleep.  It’s just that I can’t sleep like abnormal people, on command.  I sleep in a different time zone.  I sleep later, but I do sleep.  I can’t sleep like my wife or my brother, both of whom will enter into sleep 13 seconds after pulling a sheet over themselves.  I look at them and I wonder why they aren’t more normal.  Why don’t they fall asleep?  Why must they jump into it?

When I am not asleep, my head dances.  It doesn’t throb or ache, but it dances to the music of a thousand thoughts.  I think about a congregant and it gives me reason, again, to pray.  I think about class and whether I should just get up and read in preparation.  I think about the novel I’m currently reading, Donna Freitas’s The Survival Kit, which I greatly enjoy, about the book of Maya Angelou’s poems I’m slowing reading and some snatch of words it left me.  I think about one of my heroes in ministry, how he’s aging.  I think about what I’ll cook tomorrow with that roasted chicken and whether I’ll cook the potatoes with onions and asparagus or just with the onions.

On the pre-dawn morning in question, I got to remembering when my son was crying a few days before.  He has a tactic—I’m convinced that’s what it is—where he’ll whine, which I despise because it is a pernicious method in undoing me, and while whining he calls for his mother.  He’ll do this in a tone that makes me contemplate how quickly I can climb down from our balcony and onto a neighbor’s despite our sixth floor setting.  His voice, which isn’t a voice as much as a dismal sound in the distance just like the fire truck that kept sounding all night long that night prior and that I counted screaming four times from 6:55 to 7:23AM, his voice drones as he calls.

That day, last week, he called her as was normal and then he started into my title.  Daddy.  Daddy.  And like a dripping drain it came until I turned looking for a clue because I had already started failing at my dogged resistance of the boy.  I am really good at keeping the rules of our parenting pact.  We don’t go into him after he’s in bed.  But that week was a strange week for a lot of reasons.  And we caved.  Dawn mostly did, but I did too.  I had come home late two evenings, rather than one, and he hadn’t seen me.  He missed me.  Dawn said this to me.  I said this to me.  Bryce’s whine said this to me.

After it all was done, days later, there I was listening to those damn birds that sang all night long because they, too, were confused about the weather outside and about whether birds should be awake and singing from 2:30 to 5:30AM.  I didn’t know they were keeping me company.  It took the congested sound of the delivery truck, gurgling below at 7:35AM, for me to remember that earlier, melodious birdsong.  I lay there thinking about the way my heart jumped when the boy called for me.  I didn’t move as quickly as I wanted to, but I did want to.

It got me thinking that my son was in a dangerous position, a position anyone loved by another can be placed in.  Bryce was a potential idol.  He was a potential reason for getting up and doing.  He could become, I thought while fighting for sleep, the reason why I did what I did.  That little toddler, full of nonsensical noise and play and fun, could turn me away from the One for whom I’m spending my life.  I know it’s a slip of movement.  It’s a crazed thought, one that I’d probably only come to when I hadn’t been taken my some real night dream instead.  But it stayed with me, that thought.  It was like all those birds and that heaving meat truck and those red blaring engines from the night and the morning.  It didn’t leave me.

Mondays With My Boy #2

I knew it would be a slow Monday.  The last few have been slow, trudging along the way I do most Monday mornings because my body needed more sleep than I got to recover from a long end to another week.

I woke up mumbling, grumbling that my wife was leaving.  Her foot heels clicked and capped over our floor.  I heard her rummaging through the fridge, finding food for her lunch.  I heard my boy move in his crib.

Her departure each morning sends a switch to my son.  Whenever one of us leaves, and he’s in his bed awake, we must say goodbye.  If we don’t, it’s a sign of bad things to come for the person left behind.  So the switch gets turned and Dawn greets him.  From time to time, she’ll change him or give him that sippy cup.  If she doesn’t have time, I’m limping or crawling or fumbling out of bed to do whatever.  Then Dawn leaves.

Sometimes the boy turns the switch off and returns to sleep without a sound.  Sometimes—read, on Mondays—he doesn’t. He knows it’s my day off.  He’s knows once I’m awake, grasping for darkness and wrapping my fingers around the air hoping that sleep will return, that I cannot return to sleep.  We don’t share the same switch.  He’ll happily find an hour plus nap when late morning comes and I give him back to the bed.  But me, well, I’ll sit up, unable to meet sleep, unable to sink back into that weird dream about being on some new Blue Line stop that I’ve never seen before.  No, I’ll stay awake and be mad at him because he’ll fall right to sleep.  He’ll grab that fuzzy blue or green blanket and breathe deeply until the sleep fairy comes and takes him away.

Before his nap, before he became my little enemy on Monday, we cooked breakfast.  First, we put up the clean dishes from the washer.  Second, I washed the stray dishes that were perching over the sink and along the countertop.  I have a rule: I don’t cook in a dirty kitchen.  Dirty is defined generally as a kitchen with crumbs anywhere; a kitchen with dishes in the sink; or a kitchen where any of the counters have things on top of them which will prevent me from doing my business.  Third, I cut up cherries for the boy and placed them on his high seat.  He watched me, waiting for me to put him up with the cherries.  I had time.  We had 2-3 more minutes until I knew he would complain about it being as late as 8:30 and his having not yet ate.  This kid has been telling time by his belly for months.

I started the grits, remembering that recipe that Grammie Joseph used for shrimp and grits.  I didn’t have the energy for those grits, so I improvised, thanking God for a microwave and for water and for milk and for cheese.  The grits cooled while Bryce stood there, silent, questioning me in his eyes about those cherries and about that milk.  I turned the fire under the skillet for the turkey.  Incidentally, when you don’t eat pork, can you say ‘bacon’ if you would only be eating turkey bacon in the first place?  Just a question.

The bacon crisped on the stove.  I placed the kid in the chair.  As always, he put too much in his mouth for me to think him safe.  I lectured him on how we eat one small slice of cherry at a time, maybe two.  Certainly not five.  He cheeks bulged with his eyes.  He was happy.  I knew he was because he was quiet.  He’s happy when he’s quiet and when he’s squealing.

I scrambled two eggs after the bacon finished.  He started calling.  He was done with his cherries which meant, impatient as he is, I was late with whatever was next.  I put the grits before him.  He started saying “hot” as I blew them.  Then he joined me blowing the grits.  They were already cool enough, but this blowing thing, this “hot” thing is a tradition between us.

I started spooning him grits.  I moved back and forth from the high baby seat to the stove.  “Hot” blow spoon spoon walk away.  “Hot” blow spoon spoon walk away.  He didn’t like this but he got over it.  I brought him eggs, siding them with the rest of his grits.  I pulled my bowl of grits and my saucer of bacon and eggs.  He looked at my plate and then pointed to his.  He thought I was moving too slowly.  I felt him say, “Hey, daddy, wake up.  Get it moving.”   We ate.  Him first mostly.  When he was finished, he asked for milk.  He had water.  I told him to drink that.

He pointed to the sippy cup on the counter.  “Wait,” I told him.  “Did I rush you through your breakfast?”  He looked at me, his face turning to the side.  I wondered what he was thinking. It wasn’t even nine o’clock and he was already laughing at me in his little head.  I got up to give him his milk after I finished.  He drank and I watched.