Enter The Deuce, Part III

take-out

I live in a world with little certainty, but plenty of answers. The number of things I know with certainty I can count on one, maybe two hands. Beyond the love of family, my life has taught me that nearly everything is up for grabs. From where I live to how I earn my living, any of that can change, and sometimes as quickly as a snowflake melts.

A pilot friend of mine likes to say that such a view of the world teaches you “situational awareness.” Answers change from day to day, moment to moment.

Knowing that Matthew’s condition yesterday may not be his condition today or tomorrow may mean less certitude, less assurance for me, but it means I’m less surprised by changes. In my life, that outlook leaves me feeling calmer, perhaps because I think I’ve got a better handle on reality that way. Some of the answers the doctors give us aren’t what we’d expect, sometimes they are better, but I try not to make the mistake of assuming that any improvement he notches is the new path of his growth.

That sort of thinking leads to real estate bubbles.

And though there are plenty of answers to even the most mundane questions in my life, I’ve been presented with one question to which I simply don’t have a response.

“What can we do for you?”

I’ve received texts, emails, notes on Facebook and phone calls. From family to friends and even acquaintances, people have reached out with generous offers to ease what we’re going through. I see this as a demonstration of the idea that it really does take a village to raise a child. This is a community coming together in the kindest way possible.

I have no idea how to respond. I went through this just a few months ago with my crash. Friends asked what I might need, and I told them honestly that I didn’t know. Had Robot and Eric not set up the beer fund, there’s a lot of love out there that people would not have found a way to express. The genius of the beer fund was its simplicity—buy a guy a beer. That it wasn’t my idea made it easier to accept. There’s an odd dynamic at work in crisis; I can say this is true for me, but I suspect it is also true for a great many people. When the glue melts, very few of us are against assistance. What is far more challenging is articulating what we need. Certainly, I have seen friends who can marshal the forces and get their house cleaned, fridge filled and laundry mastered. But there are those of us for whom naming a need has a difficult, two-fold effect.

In cycling, rendering aid is easy to do. If a rider is falling off the pace, you pull ahead, give them your draft and close the gap. If a rider crashes, you render first aid. If the pace is meant to be hard but output drops, you go to the front for one more pull. If your friend’s bottles are empty, you share yours. None of this requires a request or a response. This is the unwritten etiquette of the peloton. I don’t mind admitting that cycling taught me these lessons in concrete ways, that prior to cycling I’d been too much of a lone wolf to really understand the social contract.

If only real life were as easy.

Putting a name to what you need means acknowledging that your shit is not under control. That’s tough to verbalize because it requires vulnerability. Implicit in naming that need is a kind of request as well. Even if the help was offered, where things go wrong for the helpee is that by naming something specific, it feels as if we’ve asked for something, and again, that means making ourselves vulnerable.

The real trouble is that I’ve already acknowledged more vulnerability than I’d prefer. I’ve admitted to thousands of people that I’m terrified that my son might die, that even if he doesn’t die, that he might be in for the ultimate unmaintained fire road to good health. Isn’t that enough? To ask for help is to drop yet another rung down the ladder.

Matthew is frightfully fragile even now. When we’re in the NICU, hand sanitizer punctuates each interaction. Take a picture—hand sanitizer. Touch your hair—hand sanitizer. Type an email—hand sanitizer. I look around at the other babies in his pod and they are all premies, beings of such frail composition that they don’t yet look fully human.

As to that phrase, “When we’re in the NICU,” well, it’s taken on a more conditional flavor. Our other son Philip had a runny nose for half an hour or so on Sunday afternoon and now Shana, her mom and I all have some virus that prevents us from visiting Matthew. It’s not just not visiting Matthew, either. It’s that we accept that to step foot into the NICU would put every child, every doctor, every nurse and every staff member, not to mention every other parent there, at risk. I love my son and want to see him, but going to the hospital is a level of selfish that’s just unconscionable.

Each day of not seeing Matthew is excruciating; never have I loved anything so new with such abandon—college girlfriends included.

Of all the qualities I admire in other people, grace is the one that most consistently leaves me in awe. I think that’s due to how slow I am to recognize it. Grace is a souplesse of the soul, an effortlessness of self that makes interacting with some people a kind of endless joy. Those are people who make me feel better about being me. It’s the rarest of gifts. I think that if I had their grace I would know how to accept help in a way that gave me what I most need while allowing them the opportunity to show some love.

And that’s what this is about. The offer of help is just a matter of people showing that they care. They want the chance to stand up and be counted. Helping out new parents is part of the brotherhood into which all parents have been initiated. Not to answer is a kind of “no” and declining the offer of help is tantamount to telling someone you don’t respect their path as a parent. To find that I’d done that, even accidentally, would be as painful as insulting my mother.

Recently some friends said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to bring you lunch on Saturday. What would you like?’ It turns out that was easier to answer. I offer this as a kind of apology for all those who have reached out with an offer of assistance—I’m not unwilling to accept aid, but articulating a need is like talking about the future when all the verbs you have are present-tense.

Allow me to breathe some life into a dog-eared cliché: It’s not you; it’s me.

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23 comments

  1. P Poppenjay

    Vulnerability is no shame; it is a given in the human condition.
    The etiquette of the peleton is the same in everyday life.
    Wing men and wing women are with you to offer their graces.
    Putting a name to what you need allows your wing people an opportunity to give their gifts and to feel blessed in their giving.
    Give them this opportunity. Accept help. Let them feel good.
    This is rising to an occasion, not going a rung down.
    Many people have graced me recently in my grief.
    I have no doubt that they received joy in giving to me.
    Give it a try,

  2. Pingback: Enter The Deuce, Part III | OneOffTwoWheels

  3. Toulouse

    When people get married, they often have no problem spelling out what they would like as gifts from their friends by providing registries. Perhaps you, your wife and Matthew’s grandmother could put together a list of things that would be useful to any or all of you. Some of these needs would obviously have to be filled by your closest friends and family (personal needs, perhaps babysitting, housework); others by those in physical proximity to you (errand-running, yard work); but gift cards for meals, groceries and supplies can be provided from anywhere; and then there’s always the part where NICU=expensive.

    Think of this as throwing Matthew a giant baby shower. You’re not asking for help; you are letting people know which gifts would be most helpful.

    This was in a letter from a woman whose son, older than yours, needed the same sort of medical care Matthew is undergoing: “I realized that I was not the only person in that room [in the ICU]. That I could let go for a moment because so many others were holding him up. . . . After months of receiving I understand that what makes this community truly amazing is the fact that hands are extended in the true reflection of love and concern, unconditionally.”

    Your community — even those of us you do not know — want only to help carry your burden in any small way that we can.

  4. LesB

    Yeah, P Poppenjay is right on.

    But I sure sure see your point, Patrick. When I think of times I aided other cyclists, it’s a fun memory. But memories of when I was helped, it’s kind of a self-conscious embarrassment.

    No logic to it. Yeah, it’s not them, it’s us.

  5. Maremma Mark

    Padraig,
    Poppenjay hit the nail on the head, this is rising to an occasion. Being part of a community is also about accepting solidarity when it’s offered. You and your wife would move heaven and earth to help another couple in a similar situation. Any of us would I’m sure, it’s part of human nature, thank goodness.

    You summed up your sense of gratitude and vulnerability with a rare eloquence, chapeau.

    Mentally, spiritually, I’m taking my turn at the front of Deuce’s pace line. I only wish there was more I could do.

    Un abbraccio di cuore

  6. charlie fuller

    the sense of helplessness found in a hospital is something that inserts itself instantly at the core of your being, and fundamentally changes your experience of life in ways that others who have not experienced can barely fathom. profound tenderness, humanity, perspective, and ability to gracefully receive from and give to others are the greatest lessons i have learned from such experiences, and hope you can receive the same, as well as a positive outcome for the little guy.

  7. Tom in albany

    I read an interview with Teejay Vangarderen last year when he was captaining the BMC team in a race. Cadel Evans asked him if he needed bottles or anything. Teejay felt awkward asking the defending TdF champion to get him some bottles or food. So, Cadel, sensing this, said, “Teejay, your our captain. Let us help!”

    Padraig, Right now, you’re the captain of your race team. Allow the team to do its job and help you reach the finish with the possibility to win.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thank you for your incredibly kind and warm comments. I remember catching that exchange between Tejay and Chuckles at the Colorado race with the impossibly bland name. I’m well aware that my reaction to that is the same one all of you are having to me currently. The irony isn’t lost on me.

      Doesn’t make it easier.

      Most of all, I simply want to thank you readers for allowing me to diverge from our more typical content here. It’s gratifying to have something that falls so far outside of our editorial mandate be received so well. Honestly, I half-expected some troll to accuse me of shilling for Kaiser Permanente. It’s your reception to material like this that encourages us to give ourselves ever more latitude.

  8. Ildiddy

    Vulnerability is so difficult for many of us to accept. I once told my girlfriend (now wife) that if I ever found out that I had a terminal disease, I would run away so as to not be a burden on those who loved me. I didn’t expect the response I got from her. She was so angry and so hurt by that statement and the rejection of love that it implied. She understood much better than I that true love revels in sacrifice… that any relationship worth its salt is sustained by the investment of those who believe in it.

    You’ve built a community of friends whose hope right now is that they can provide some shelter from the crosswinds that Deuce is battling. Just like the domestiques who throw up their arms when their captain wins a stage, we will throw up our arms with you every time Deuce safely crosses another milestone.

  9. charlie fuller

    as far as i can tell, there is no “divergence” from typical content here…perhaps it just feels that way due to the direction and content of the metaphor? the way i see it (and the reason i always read your entries) you are doing what you always do, connecting with us by illuminating the intersections of our cycling and non-cycling worlds.

  10. hackintheback

    Others in the comment have summed up my feelings on the matter more eloquently than I could. I don’t know you or any member of your family beyond reading this website, but I’ve checked in multiple times per day since the “Any Normal Person” post on 2/20 hoping for updates on Matthew’s condition and keeping my fingers crossed that thing were improving.

    Asking for help is a difficult thing to do, but you let me buy you a few beers; won’t you let me buy some diapers or formula for Matthew? (please)

  11. gmknobl

    I hope and pray for only the best. I know it may seem like an unthoughtout leap in the face of uncertain reality but I really desire that the young boy heals and gets over this so that in a few months there’s little sign anything dr/tramatic happened. You do what you can while you can and hope that support system you have are enough if things go poorly. Being unpredictible, life can be cruel too. I want him to live and be a wonder to everyone. I hope that little hope helps.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone, once again I need to say thank you for all the warmth you’ve given us.

      Hackintheback: I really appreciate that people would want to do a diaper and formula fund. That’s over-the-top kind. As I’ve already been the recipient of once-in-a-liftime kindness in the last six months, a second time is more love than I can really process right now. However, in fairly short order, there will be a Kickstarter campaign going up shortly that will give people a chance to show kindness, but get something in return; we’ll call it a receipt worth reading.

      Stay tuned for the announcement in an upcoming post.

  12. Bart G

    I too check in to see if there is a new update on Matthew. I don’t really want to hear the latest about bottom brackets or rolling resistance until your family has resolution on this situation. But, if its therapeutic for you to write about such things I will read those words eagerly.

    I look forward to news about the kick starter campaign.

    Your whole family is in our thoughts and prayers.

  13. Brian

    This, of all things, is what sent me over the edge, ‘Grace is a souplesse of the soul.’ What an apt, all-encompassing, and perfect metaphor. Everyone can pedal, but it takes a special talent to do it while appearing to make no effort at all. Thinking of you and your family daily.

  14. Andy

    The behavior of this amorphous group reflect the attitudes of its leaders. Whether it’s the beer fund, the diaper & formula brigade, or the crew at LUG, this is no crowd of selfish hammerheads. You, Padraig, have set the tone…chapeau! All of us fell a level of kinship, whether we’ve gone through an experience like your family’s or not. In respect of that kinship, all of these variations on a theme are yours. If Deuce needs a bottle, it’ll be there. Trust the community that you’ve created. We all like to win, but when somebody falters, everybody pitches in to get back to the front.

  15. Michael Schlitzer

    In the church we say that acts like these are “the hands and feet of God”. It is unselfish human kindness on full display. I have benefited from it and I have given it. This is one of those things where it is far easier to give than to receive, but you should receive it – as much as you can – because these people care for you and about you. In this American culture we don’t often get a chance to show people how much we care.

  16. Nancy Schmidt

    Oh I DO love this post!

    We all go through passages in life when we really could use help from others. When times are better, I believe we also all have the desire and opportunity to reach out and help others.

    I love how you’ve explained the difficulty in accepting help in a way that also gently points to the best way around that difficulty for those who want to help. Just do something that helps. Think of it on your own and don’t ask the beleaguered to guide you, because they don’t have the energy to manage your generosity.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  17. dave

    When a friend or family is having trouble, we no longer ask if there’s something we can do, we make them dinner and deliver it to their doorstep. It is always appreciated. Some families have had many such deliveries. We have had a few, during needy times.
    Bests to you and yours :)

  18. Dave Cieslowski

    Padraig,

    My heart goes out to you and your family. I know, all too well, what you are going through right now. My son was born at 28 weeks, 3 days, after my wife’s water broke at 25 weeks. We spent nearly a month on hospital bed rest and, after he was born, we spent another 70 days in the NICU. There is nothing in this world that can compare to your situation. It is vitally important that you and your family take the time needed for mental and physical well being. All the docs and nurses will be busy caring for your son, but parents are not the patient, and tend to fall off the radar. In fact, the incidence of PTSD after being in the NICU for Dads and Moms is quite high. You should never feel badly about accepting help, taking time to refresh, or just calling time out. These are the signs of a wise survivor. There are so many sending you positive thoughts right now in this time of uncertainty. Pull from that, as you will need every ounce of good energy in the world as you embark on your new parenting journey. All the best!

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