Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jingle Bells

Getting through church has been a challenge lately.

With four kids under the age of eight who all have a mind of their own, I'm lucky if I get to hear even five cumulative minutes of the Sacrament Meeting talks.

Each week we bring coloring books and other appropriate distractions to keep the kids occupied, in hopes that we can make it through the first hour without some sort of meltdown that causes everyone to question our parenting skills. This is not always successful.

In addition, when one kid "has" to go potty, suddenly all the kids "have" to go potty. Getting them to come back in is tough; trying to get them all to remain quietly seated for an hour is an exercise in futility. Living in a ward with your boss' boss and his boss really makes you wish for their best behavior.

Even though neither we nor they seem to get much out of Sacrament Meeting, I know that we need to be consistent and set a good example. My mom never faltered in taking us to church, even though all five of us caused plenty of ruckus on our own. Her example was critical when I encountered a crisis of faith as a young man. Our kids need to be at church and need to see us at church.

Still, it's nice when we're actually able to pay attention.

Recently, as a stroke of genius, Stef had the idea to give Kelsey some responsibility and have her take Kaya on walks through the halls during Sacrament Meeting. Though we still have to deal with two kids who might try to get up and bolt at any given moment, it's easier than getting pulled in four different directions.

Today, thanks to Kelsey, we actually got to half-listen to one of the talks, as well as a surprisingly-not-horrible rendition of O Holy Night. It was great; with O Holy Night, if it's not just about perfect, it's usually terrible.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the woman offering the benediction thanked her Heavenly Father for the gift of His Son. Upon hearing her plead that we would all remember the true spirit of Christmas, I could swear that Christmas bells were ringing faintly in the distance. As the prayer grew longer, the ringing grew stronger. Soon, the ringing was so loud that nobody in the congregation could ignore it.

At the very moment that the prayer ended, the Christmas bells arrived at the open door to the chapel. "Amen," we all repeated, whipping our heads around to see what was causing all the commotion.

In came Kaya with a huge smile on her face and a bell in her hand. I shook my head and chuckled, burying my head in my hands. Seeing the others' laughs and understanding smiles through my fingers dissolved all worry.

I sure love these kids.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The One Where I Make Fun of Canadians, Canadians Make Fun of Me, and an American Makes Fun of Me for Being a Canadian

As a pseudo-linguist, I have a deep appreciation for the differences in accents and vocabulary between people from different regions. No, I’m not here to write about how people in Utah “used to could” do things.  And you won’t be getting a diatribe about how “fustrated” I get when people “could care less” about something, “irregardless” of whether we asked for their opinions. I’m not referring to things that would be considered by many bitter prescriptive grammarians (myself often included) to be just plain misuse of the good ol’ English language. I might could write about that stuff some other time.

No—today, I’m here to write about differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, all of which are normal and natural. A language evolves with the culture and people of the region in which the language is spoken. If you think about it, it’d be pretty much impossible to find a time in history during which a single language was spoken the same way by everybody, without some sort of regional accent or vocabulary.

Languages often will adapt in ways that simplify production—things that are easier to say will likely win out over time. It’s not that we human beings are lazy; it’s that we’re efficient. If we can find a quicker, easier way to do something and yield the same results, we will.

Contractions are a good example of this phenomenon. It’s much easier to say “it’s” than it is to say “it is.” I’d much rather say “I’d” than have to take the time to sound out both syllables in the phrase “I would.” How cumbersome would everyday speech be if we had to speak to everyone as though we were writing a doctoral thesis? This tendency to simplify language is a great thing. As long as the social situation allows it, it’s much more efficient to produce the two-syllable phrase “Wanna go?” than it is to produce the proper, five-syllable “Do you want to go?” We conserve our own energy when we lower the level of formality with which we speak.

I don’t think it matters that people in one region might say “mount’n” instead of enunciating the whole word “mountain”. We can’t reasonably expect people to pronounce a hard “t” in “Saturday” or “water” when the tap of the tongue makes a smoother, easier-to-produce sound that is recognized by other speakers as a variant of the “t”. And don’t tell me that there’s only one “t” sound. Any and every language will have slight changes in pronunciation of any given letter depending on the sounds that surround it. Think about it—do you enunciate the “n” in the word “pink”? Do you say “peen…k,” with your tongue touching up behind your teeth like it likely does in the word “bean”? Or does that “n” blend in with the “k”, giving you a sound more like the “ng” in “sing”?

Stefanie doesn’t like it when I point this out, but I am often fascinated by differences in pronunciation in her family. I’ve noticed that she and her dad both occasionally pronounce voiced, word-final consonants as their devoiced equivalents. For example, I have heard them both say the name “Jacob” with a sound resembling “p” at the end, or “JAY-cup,” instead of the way I usually say it, which sounds like “JAY-cub.” Likewise, I’ve heard the word “sacred” pronounced “SAY-crit,” instead of the “SAY-crid” that I usually say.

So—who’s right? I don’t think either of us is. Sure, the way I say it may be more common, but is there anything inherently wrong with devoicing a consonant at the end of a word? I’d say that it’s actually easier to say “JAY-cup” than it is to voice the “b” at the end. It could very well be that the devoicing of the “b” originally happened simply because someone’s grandparent pronounced something in a way that saved them a little bit of energy. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

What’s even more interesting to me is not that they say it this way; it’s that they don’t say it that way all the time. I’ve heard Stef say it both ways. It’s fascinating. In no way do I think that they are wrong for pronouncing those things the way they do. I’m more interested in knowing why they pronounce it differently—in how far back the difference in pronunciation goes. How was it learned? Was it Mom or Dad (or both)? What circumstances led to them changing the way they said it? I’m genuinely fascinated; they’re not “weird” or “wrong”.

You know who is weird and wrong? Canadians. Just kidding. Sort of.

I spent the last few days up in Saint John, New Brunswick, and I’m tickled by the many differences in the ways people in Canada (at least in this part) say things.  
Sure, you get the stereotypical “eh” thrown on the end of a sentence—that’s nothing new. And I’m sure we all know how “about” sounds like “aboat” over there, and how they apologize by saying “sore-y.” But I had no idea how different the “a” sound in my regional accent is from the one up there in Saint John. In California and many other parts of America, the sound represented by the “a” in “father”, the first “a” in “pasta”, and the “o” in “dollar” is different from the “a” in “apple”. In Canada, the first “a” in “pasta” is pronounced like the “a” in “apple”. PAAAsta.

I first realized this when members from the Nissan dealership who came for training talked about how they worked not for “NEE-sahn”, but “NISS-ann”. Niss, like kiss. Ann, like of Green Gables. With or without an “e”.

NISS-ann. Ha!  I was about to have a field day with their accent. Time to ask a bunch of questions and see how they say things. Here’s what I learned:

“MAAAZ-duh” is another Japanese car manufacturer.

“TACK-os” are a type of Mexican food made of tortillas and some kind of filling.

Yes, they eat TACK-os. And drink JAAAvuh. Awesome.

“So,” I wondered aloud. “How do you tell the different between an iPod and an iPad?”

“Oh, shut it!” One guy yapped. “We can say both of those. iPod. iPad. And how come you Americans say ‘scallops’ when it’s actually pronounced ‘scollops’?”

Foiled! My theory that they didn’t distinguish between the sounds was instantly shot down. But “scollops”?!? What the heck?!? How is it that that one word made it through with the sound, but all the others made it through with the other one? After hearing various French-language PA announcements at the airport, my current theory is that Canadian “a” sounds the way it does because Canadian English inherited the sound from French. I’d love to know of examples or exceptions that support or disprove my theory.

The pronunciation of those two “a” sounds differs throughout America, as commonly recognized in thick Bostonian or Chicagoan accents. One time, while in Holland, Michigan, I mentioned to a used car manager at Toyota dealership that something cost some amount of dollars. I don’t remember what, exactly, because he immediately latched on to my pronunciation of the word “dollars” and started teasing me relentlessly. “DOE-lers?” he said. “What are you, Canadian?” “DOLL-ers,” I replied, with the “o” sounding like the “o” in “pop” or the “a” in “father”.

“You’re saying ‘DOE-lers,” he snarked. “Here in America, it’s pronounced “DAAA-lers,” his “o” exactly like the “a” sound in “apple”.

“DOE-lers. Sheesh. Go back to Canada. I’m gonna go sell some TY-otas.”
Far be it from me to undertake the impossible task of explaining the nuances of regional accents to a guy who sells used “TY-otas” for a living. I guess I’d better go back to Canada.

Canada has a lot of things that are different than us. They eat French fries covered with brown gravy and cheese. Their common potato chip flavors include Ketchup, All Dressed Up (huh?), and Roast Chicken. They call bathrooms “washrooms”. Their green traffic signals mysteriously blink sometimes, and they don’t seem to have suicide lanes—at least not in Saint John.

Another thing they don’t have is drinking fountains. Here’s an actual conversation I had yesterday with some ladies at the dealership I was working with in Saint John:

Me: I’m parched. Is there a drinking fountain here?
Lady 1: A what?
Me: A drinking fountain. You know—the little fountain that you drink water out of?
Lady 1: I don’t know what you’re talking aboat.
Me: You know, the little plastic or metal boxes that come out of the wall that dispense drinking water and are typically located near the restrooms—I mean—washrooms?
Lady 2: Could you show me a picture of one?
Me, 10 seconds later, pointing at the google image search results for “drinking fountain”: Here. Do you have one of these?
Lady 2: Ohhhhh, a water fountain—like the ones for kids! What are we, an elementary school?
Me: Do you not have one of these here?
Lady 2: Nope.
Me: Have you guys never seen one of these at a business before? Or a park?
Lady 1: Never at businesses. I think maybe they used to have them about 20 years ago in parks and elementary schools.
Lady 3: But then they had problems with pigeons getting in them, so they tore ‘em all oat.

They were dumbfounded by the idea that almost every business establishment in the U.S. would have a drinking fountain. But then again, I was dumbfounded about the “scollops”.  I guess we just dumbfound each other. ...Dumbfind?

You may find me dumb for writing about all this stuff.  I hope I don’t offend anybody by anything I’ve written today. If I do, well—sore-y aboat that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Post Japan Life

So, time for a recap of our post-Japan experience, before I get into some retro-blogging to fill in the gaps on the end of our stay in Japan.

Back From Japan

We returned from Japan on July 28th, 2011, and stayed with my Mom for a couple weeks. The plan was to look for jobs in northern California that would take advantage of my language skills. After a couple weeks of searching, I began to get a bit discouraged at the prospects of finding a job that would pay well enough to be able to afford the cost of living in California.

My mom had been renting out a townhome in Provo to a college student from Estonia or something, but received no contact from the renter when his contract neared its end. Ryan, Stef’s brother, went out to see if anyone was living there, as well as to check on the condition of the place. The renter had left, and luckily, it was still in pretty good condition. My mom needed a renter, and I needed a place to rent.

I had never considered going back to Utah—I really wanted to live in California, and the job market didn’t seem as promising for someone with my unique skillset. When it came down to it, though, my California prospects seemed just as limited, and the cost of living in Utah—rent included—was much lower.

Heck, I could always go back to banking if I had to. I had never really wanted to go back to Wells, but it was a good job for a student, and I made a lot of friends, like Ryan Bunker, Ian Farmer, and Ben Pyper. Ryan and I had a rough start, but ended with a very meaningful friendship, with Ryan even following me out to Asia to teach English in Korea. Ian and I had some of the most memorable times, with enough belly laughs shared to last a lifetime. Ben and I had our gut-busters, too, along with our calls for each other of “Beng” and “Jes” (“ven” and “yes” spoken with thick Mexican accents). I will always cherish the good times with a solid group of guys.

Still, things had been going downhill pretty fast when I left the bank for Japan—the huge crash happened almost immediately after. Conversations with people who worked there after me indicated that it had gotten much worse. The only way I’d ever go back to Wells as a banker, I told myself, was if there were an opening at the branch inside the BYU Bookstore—and those openings were rare. If that were the case, however, I could use that experience as a springboard to get me into the international banking side. In the end, I knew I could go back if I had to—so we took the plunge and moved back out to Utah.

Finding a Job in Utah

The townhome is a cute little place—three levels, with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, the kitchen and living room on the main floor, and a second living room and additional bedroom downstairs. There’s not much of a yard—just a small, fenced-in slab of concrete in the back. It’s definitely not the largest place in the world, but it was big enough for our family, and certainly bigger than our apartment in Japan.

The ward was great, as well. It was made up in large part by three townhome complexes, mostly occupied by young families with children. Our first week in church, they held a primary program, during which 75 children from the primary and 75 children from the nursery all participated. I’d never seen so many children in one ward—there were something like eight different nurseries. The sheer number of children also produced a low roar of kid-sounds that made it very difficult for some people to pay attention. I hardly noticed it, as I was too busy trying to get my kids to sit still.

The first few weeks, I took on freelance legal translation projects to keep our accounts from drying up, while keeping the feelers out for Japanese-related jobs. I spoke to Tim Reynolds and Ikwo Ibiam about possible jobs, and they gave me a few leads that never quite panned out. Ryan (Alkema) gave me the phone number of a guy who was working as a civilian at the base at Camp Williams, translating Spanish for the Joint Language Training Center at the Department of Defense. That job seemed somewhat interesting, but I knew that the hiring process would take months, and I needed a job NOW (then).

I applied for a Japanese translation gig in Salt Lake, but got a rejection notice. None of the available Japanese-language jobs paid as well as even my old job as a banker, so I began to get discouraged. Then, I got desperate—I swallowed my pride and started applying at banks. I sent one application in to Chase Bank, and another in to Wells Fargo, if only for leverage. I passed the phone interview at Chase, and was contacted regarding an opening in Riverton. I wasn’t too keen on having to commute, but it was better than nothing; I could always transfer once a position opened up closer to home.

Wells Fargo called me and asked if I could attend a group interview on the same day that I was scheduled to have my interview at Chase. My interview at the Riverton branch went exceptionally well—Chase offered me the job on the spot. The only thing left was for me to accept the offer and fill out the HR paperwork. I felt somewhat insulted that Wells Fargo was going to make me attend a group interview like everyone else, even though I had worked there already for nearly 5 years, and had a sterling performance record with them before. Nevertheless, I decided that it couldn’t hurt anything to attend the group interview—I could always leverage one bank’s offer against the other.

Before the interview, I was able to assess the competition, and I felt quite confident that I’d hold my own. I was chatting with Gladys, a banker at the American Fork branch, about how things had gone since I left three years prior. Ken Stout, the man who was set to conduct the interview, asked me which branch I worked for—he assumed by the way I was talking to Gladys that I worked for the bank.

The group interview went swimmingly—I was matched up with a few people that didn’t seem to be exceptionally strong candidates. Also, I had nothing to lose, as I had already received an offer from Chase. I wasn’t actually too interested in going back to Wells Fargo, as I’d probably make more money at Chase. Still—working in American Fork (or Pleasant Grove, or wherever the heck the opening was going to be) would be easier than commuting to Riverton every day. At the end of the interview, I asked Ken which branch was hiring, and he said that this specific interview was for his branch, the BYU branch. He hinted that he’d be contacting me very soon for a second interview.

The second interview came the same day after Chase called me to present their official offer, with only 24 hours to respond. I tried to get an idea from Ken whether they were planning to hire me, but he remained tight-lipped—all he could say was that we could conduct the second interview the following day—after I was already supposed to have made my decision with Chase. The manager at Chase called me after my conversation with Ken, asking if I’d made my decision. This was the BYU branch, and I really didn’t want to accept a job at Chase in Riverton if I had a chance at the BYU job.  A banker with my drive and determination could hit sales goals blindfolded. To make things more enticing, it was no more than a mile or two from our place—there were really no negatives, other than the negative work environment that had supposedly invaded Wells Fargo in the past few years.

Not knowing for sure how things would shake out with Wells, however, I accepted the offer from Chase and started the paperwork process. I called and spoke to Heather, the service manager, and asked her to cancel my interview for the next day. Soon after, I had the feeling that I should call back and see if they’d un-cancel my interview, as it was worth weighing both offers. As much as I hated the idea of backing out of the Chase job, it was clear that I needed to see the Wells Fargo interview through. Heather agreed that it would be worth it for me to go through with the interview, and mentioned that she hadn’t yet told Ken about my cancellation request.

The next morning, I received a FedEx package with my HR paperwork from Chase, and started to fill it out. I got a call from someone in HR who was set to help me fill out the packet, when I encountered a big problem—Chase wanted official English documentation of my Japanese employment, which did not exist. I had no idea at the time exactly how much time it would take to commission such documentation. It certainly wouldn’t get there in the next couple of days, which was when they wanted everything submitted. The lady on the phone snapped at me that I had agreed to provide documentation when I applied for the job, and that it was my responsibility to do so.

Later that day, I went in for my second interview with Ken and Heather. After a surprisingly nerve-wracking interview, I asked Ken when I could expect an answer. He flatly replied, “Look. We’re going to hire you. We have one more interview to conduct, but I know right now that we’re going to offer you the job. The other interview is just a formality.”

We shook hands and I went on my way, a man with two jobs and an increasingly easy decision to make. I called the branch manager at Chase and expressed my apologies, explaining that I had encountered difficulty in providing the documentation they sought, and that I had received another offer closer to home. She took the news well, but it was clear that she was at a bit upset. I wished her luck in finding another candidate and went on my way to celebrate the job offer with Stef.

Wells Fargo, Round Two

After I started with Wells, I had an interview with the JLTC. Even if I was working with Wells full-time, it would be nice to be able to get experience working for the government, as well as the security clearance necessary to get the job. I passed the interview, passed the translation exam, and was told that it would take upwards of 6 months for me to hear back.

Round two with Wells Fargo was much more pleasant than I had anticipated. Ken let us have some freedom, as long as we hit our numbers and filled out all the forms we were supposed to fill out. And hitting my numbers, I was. Other people would complain about having to handle service issues for customers, opting to wait for new accounts to walk through the door. I relished the opportunities, and they led to more than half my sales, and catapulted me up to the top of the sales rankings for the area. Ken was pleased that he was able to get such high performance with zero training. Soon after I got there, however, Ken was swapped with another manager, Jonathan.

Ken, on his way out the door to his new branch, noted that there was a store manager position open at another branch, strongly suggested that I apply for it. Jonathan, however, arrived with a startling announcement: he had already accepted a job with a credit union in St. George. This created two manager vacancies in the area, and increased the likelihood that I’d get a job as manager if I applied. So, I did.

A couple weeks passed. Nothing. No interview. No call. Not even an e-mail. It certainly wasn’t for lack of performance. It definitely wasn’t due to a lack of experience—the guy who ended up getting the job at our branch had even less experience than I did. It was at this time that I started to wonder what it would take to actually make it over to the international banking team at Wells Fargo. I started looking for career tracks within Wells Fargo that I could take to get me where I eventually wanted to be—somewhere in international business.

Not content with a clear path, I started considering paths outside banking, as well. I spoke a family friend who works as a consultant for Adobe in Utah, and tried to figure out what it would take for me to do the same thing. He asked if I had any consulting experience, which I did not. Outside of my interest in Adobe software, I really had no experience that I could show directly correlated with the requirements of the job. So I kept looking.

About a month passed before the District Manager at Wells Fargo, Preston, suggested we talk about my career path. We set up an appointment for a couple weeks later, around Christmas, during which we could get to know each other and discuss my aspirations with the bank.

A week or so before Christmas, I was sitting at my desk at the bank, when I saw Ben Pyper with his family wandering around the bookstore. I served him up a “Beng!”  He volleyed back with a “Jes!”

It was great to see him again. He seemed healthy and happy, and had one kid with another on the way. I asked him what he had been up to, and he told me about his job as a manager at DealerSocket, a company that provides customer relationship management (CRM) software to auto dealerships. I asked him all about his job, which I had previously researched after seeing it on his LinkedIn page while I was in Japan. He explained that it was not an easy job, but that it was very rewarding.

Consultants for DealerSocket start with a grueling travel schedule, flying out to dealerships every week for the first 4-6 months, installing the software and teaching the dealership employees how to effectively manage their customer base. After the initial 4-6 month certification period, the company moves you and your family to a vacant territory not necessarily of your choice. After moving into a territory, one or two weeks per month are spent doing installs from Monday to Friday, while the other weeks are reserved for work inside the territory, including conference calls with and visits to the dealerships in the region that use DealerSocket. While this is hard, the consulting experience is extremely valuable, and the salary is very competitive.

Ben mentioned that they were hiring consultants, and that he could get me an interview if I so wanted. I knew immediately that I would end up working for DealerSocket. I asked Ben to set up an interview for me. A week later, on the morning of my meeting with Preston, I had my phone interview with Chad, Ben’s boss. After a long but pleasant interview, Chad said that it would be worth it to fly me out for another interview. I knew that if I made it that far, the company was pretty much willing to hire me, barring something egregious in the face-to-face interview. I went into Preston’s office with all the confidence in the world, knowing that I had another job lined up if I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of my meeting with Preston.

Preston was a lot more frank than I had expected. He told me that he requires all his managers to serve as personal bankers and service managers before he’ll even consider them for the position. To make things worse, I hadn’t been in my position in his area for a full year. I would have to complete the remaining nine months in my position, apply for a service manager position, and then keep that post for a year. Then, he would consider me for a store manager position. This was somewhat contradictory, as the guy he hired had not been in his position for a year. Preston mentioned paying dues as a very important aspect of qualifying for management positions. I would argue that I paid my dues in the form of nearly five years as a top performing banker, and that I had the experience of a service manager from the time when I, as a banker without a service manager, handled nearly all compliance and training issues for months.

He asked me about my aspirations and experience, and seemed surprised that I would come back as a personal banker. I told him that I wasn’t actually aspiring to be a store manager—that I would prefer using the experience to get me into the international side of the bank. He countered with something entirely unexpected: rather than looking for a career path at Wells Fargo that would help me fulfill my goals, he said, I should consider something outside of the bank.

Imagine my surprise as my boss’ boss tells me that I, his top performer, should look for jobs outside the company. Preston took a step back and clarified, saying that it wasn’t that he wanted me to leave the bank. The truth, he said, was that such a career could be much more rewarding and lucrative, and would take advantage of my experience. My first reaction was to be a bit offended that he wouldn’t fight to keep me.

Coming out of that meeting, it was crystal clear that my second stint with Wells Fargo was coming to an end. I could stay with the bank for two years and, if everything went well, become a store manager. Perhaps five or six additional years of climbing up the corporate ladder, I could be in a position to make the starting salary of a consultant at DealerSocket. And I’d be 38. When you consider the state of banking and the economy, there were no guarantees that the positions I could aim for would even exist seven years in the future.

I flew out to southern California for an interview with DealerSocket the following week, and received an offer within a few days. I gave my notice at Wells Fargo and thanked them for the opportunity to work there. Had I not gone back there, I likely never would have run into Ben, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. It was time for a new career.

A New Beginning

Stef was equally excited about the prospects of me having an actual career. The main downside to taking the DealerSocket job was that it was a bit of a gamble—we had no idea where we would end up. It could be Oklahoma, Florida, or Connecticut, for all we knew. Not know where you’re going to move with the whole family can be quite gut-wrenching.

Soon after I started, I heard of a possible opening in northern California. Immediately, I let people know that I’d be interested if they were so inclined to put me there. We heard rumors that they were hoping to put me there, but nothing was official until I got the call from the director of consulting. The call did come, and we did get our desired placement in the East Bay territory of northern California. And our parents did rejoice.

Even with an exciting new opportunity, nobody wants to just abandon their work experience and start over. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to. People often asked me what I would do with my experience in banking, teaching, and computers. It turns out that being a consultant is exactly what I have been hoping to do. I enjoy working with people too much to be stuck behind a computer all day, programming. I don’t want to go back to school to get an advanced degree for a teaching position that won’t be guaranteed. And I don’t want to have to pay any more dues with the banks just to get into a position to be qualified to work with them internationally.

As a consultant, my main job is to maintain relationships with customers, which was my primary objective as a banker. I can keep them happy by listening to their issues and providing solutions. I spend half my time training and teaching seminars and conducting meetings. And I can provide knowledge-based service for our software because I understand the system, due to my background in computers and programming and my thirst for understanding how things work.

While I do not get to use my Japanese very often for work, I do have plenty of time on planes and on the road during install weeks to study. Also, all the driving in my territory gives me the chance to listen to Japanese podcasts. There are chances to install in Puerto Rico, and I did help translate the online training modules into Spanish. I see this as a good chance for me gain valuable consulting experience. If DealerSocket decides to expand to other markets, I can put my language skills to work. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, I can hopefully convert my consulting experience into a consulting position with a company like Toyota or Adobe. Again, there’s always grad school if I decide I just have to become a teacher or want to get an MBA. Either way, I will have a lot of options.

The Pros and Cons of Travel

Travel is simultaneously the best and worst part of the job. Since I started with this company, I have traveled to Chicago, North Dakota, Florida, Michigan, Montana, Indiana, Albuquerque, Buffalo, Colorado, and all over California. As I type, I’m in the air on a plane from Toronto to Saint John, New Brunswick. Traveling has its perks—it’s nice to rack up points and air miles. Stef and I will likely have enough points saved up for a very nice vacation next year. I get to see new places, meet new people, and eat at all sorts of restaurants. So, what are the negatives?

I have to leave my family behind. It’s not as bad as one might expect, as I typically get to spend almost all day Monday with my family, and then I get home Friday evening. So technically, it’s only three days that I don’t see my family, and only twice per month. But even if you can convince yourself that six days a month isn’t so bad, and that Skype makes the world that much smaller, it still sucks to have to say goodbye. Whenever I talk to Kelsey and she asks me when I’m coming home, my inner soundtrack blares, “And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon…” It’s gotten even more difficult to see Kelsey cry when I leave.

I finished my certification by the end of April, and moved to California in the beginning of May. We’re currently staying with parents and trying to buy a home, which will receive more attention in upcoming posts, as will my health issues. It’s been nice onl having to install twice a month instead of every week. Two weeks ago I installed in Stockton, so I got to drive home every night to see my family. It really makes a difference when you can be there for the nightly routine with the wife and kids. Now, we’re praying for the travel portion of the job to lighten up a bit. I can handle one install per month. I’ve got enough stores that they really should make it happen soon.

I feel very grateful for the opportunity to live in California, closer to family. When I think of all the things that had to break my way in order for us to end up where we are, I can’t help but be grateful for the tender mercies. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Leon from Sheffield

(This post was written in February, back when I was in the process of certification for my new job as a consultant.)

Traveling every week takes a toll on you. Some people like to break up the monotony of travel by reading, watching movies on an iPod, or playing handheld games. Every week, I prepare something to keep myself occupied while traveling. And every week, I end up leaving those things stowed in favor of conversation with my seat neighbor or shuttle driver.

Twice now I’ve “passenged” with Leon, a bespectacled, half-Polish, half-British man in his late forties or early fifties with a short, sturdy frame and a mole-esque face. Hailing from Sheffield/Jersey, Leon worked as an insurance salesman before selling his house and moving with his wife to Utah to seek better opportunity. He’s looking to establish an insurance business in Utah, but in the meantime has purchased an Express Shuttle minivan as a source of income.  Once his insurance clientele starts to expand, he’ll steadily decrease the amount of time he spends driving, eventually transitioning into a career with a six-figure residual income, letting him retire and travel.

We chatted a bit about the “Occupy” movement and the idea of the American Dream. Even though he has mainly conservative beliefs, his American friends (jokingly?) call him a socialist because of his opinion that healthcare is a human right and the American healthcare system is broken. 

He misses a lot about the UK, including the Volkswagen Polo, the next size down from the Golf (miniature golf?). To this day, he’s still upset about the time when the Ken Garff Volkswagen dealership failed to take down his name and number when he requested information on the possible future release of the Polo in America. Ken Garff uses my company’s CRM software and should know how to take down a customer’s info for future contact on an unreleased model. Tsk, tsk. I’m thinking of entering the Ken Garff VW CRM site as a ghost user and inputting Leon’s information so that a sales person will get a reminder to call when the Polo finally comes in.

Perhaps the thing he misses most about the UK is the selection of good British TV. BBC America just loops about 6 programs every day. I took his contact info so that I could e-mail him info about UK VPN accounts that will let him watch BBC online. When I asked for a TV recommendation, he mentioned Only Fools and Horses, which had a 25-year run and is now on my list of shows to try to find on Netflix.

We discussed our favorite Monty Python sketches, as well as our favorite parts of The Life of Brian. He mimics regional accents very well, and possesses a killer Scot and German impersonation. His Yoda, on the other hand, is more PeeWee Herman than Yoda.

Interesting people like Leon are the reason why I allow myself to chat with people on trips. I could get so much more work or reading done if I kept my mouth shut, but then I wouldn’t know about Leon from Sheffield.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bedlets: Or, I Hope, the Last Time I'll Ever Blog About Bodily Functions

If you can't stomach a little toilet humor, feel free to skip this entry. Apologies in advance.

A while back, I wrote about my uncomfortable hospital bed. It was so hard and small that I had to put two together, which might have worked if they weren't an inch or two apart in height. During my three years here in Japan, I've had my fair share of experiences with beds.

Japanese people have traditionally slept on thin bedrolls called futons, which are much different than the futons I saw back home. Japanese futons aren't cheap, couch-like pieces of furniture that starving college students sleep on. They're basically 1 or 2 inch-thick mats that go on the tatami floors and are covered by some kind of sheet. People typically have a blanket--either a comforter a bit wider than the futon, or a beach towel-ish blanket called a towelket (a Japanese portmanteau of "towel" and "blanket"). While many people have adopted western-style beds, the majority still use futons, due in part to a lack of space in Japanese homes. Beds take up a lot of space, and can't be stuffed into the closet during the day to open up a room.

As a solution, many Japanese people purchase sofa beds. They aren't like the old sofa beds I knew growing up, where the bed folds away into a cavity underneath the couch cushions. Instead, they are typically low to the ground (like most Japanese furniture intended for sitting) and have adjustable backs, which can change from what's close to a 90% angle to a fully reclined, flat position. While not as comfortable as a pillow-top mattress with a box spring, they are often more comfortable than just sleeping on the glorified blanket otherwise known as a futon.

Last year, when Mom and Rory came to visit, they bought a sofa bed at Hard Off, a thrift store chain with a well-stocked location close to our apartment. It was a bit of a tight fit for them, but they managed to sleep better than they would have on the futons we had provided. When they left, we tried to use it as a bed, but it was a little too narrow for our liking. If we had another one about the same height, we figured, we could put them together, lay some futons on top of them, and basically have a California king bed in our room. It worked in theory.

When we actually got the second sofa bed and got it home, we found that it was actually about three inches higher than the old one. No problem, we thought. All we had to do was put another futon or two on lower one, and they'd be just about even. Doing just that, we made it work for a while, though one side of the massive bed was always firmer than the other. Eventually we got tired of the complete lack of space in our bedroom and decided that a change was in order.

We put the firmer and taller of the two sofa beds up into sofa position, and pushed it against the paper doors (partly to hide the giant holes that our kids ripped in them), moving the other one up against the base of it. We stacked the futons on to make it level, and put our pillows on the sofa section. While that configuration was quite wide, it unfortunately wasn't long enough for me. I even tried a diagonal position, but my feet always ended up on the ground. I felt like Ned from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Who am I? My name is Ned.
I do not like my little bed.
This is no good.
This is not right.
My feet stick out of bed all night.
And when I pull them in, Oh, dear!
My head sticks out of bed up here!

We ended up sleeping vertically on the lower bed, with one of us lying up against the crevice between the two beds. It was actually quite comfortable. When Mom came out last month, however, we gave her the lower bed back and kept the other one in sofa form, electing to sleep directly on the futons. It's not so bad--we sleep pretty well most of the time.

We find it a hassle to put our futons away every day, so we leave them out. This attracts all sorts of dirt and crumbs from the kids, which gets quite annoying. Also frustrating is the fact that it's much harder to get out of a bed that's laying directly on the floor than one that you can just roll out of.

Japanese people customarily sit directly on tatami (or on a zabuton, an inch-thick square mat), which I can't stand, having grown up with plush carpet and comfortable sofas. With kids, I have to be ready to get up and help at the drop of a hat. It's difficult for me to do that when I'm laying or sitting on the ground. Being such a tall guy, it takes precisely 3.74 seconds for my brain to communicate to my heart that it actually needs some blood to function. Getting up too quickly causes me to black out; I don't actually faint, but everything goes black and I momentarily lose my inhibitions. Just ask Stef or Mom--I say some pretty silly stuff in the 5-some seconds before the blood makes it to my brain.

Stef and I both agree that it will be nice to have furniture once we get back. Couches, comfortable beds, and carpet--these are all things for which the typical ex-pat yearns. We are no exception. It's neat that, as a whole, the Japanese cherish their past. But it seems so striking that in this country where technology is king, people still sleep on the floor and have paper doors.

Then there's the issue of toilets. Ah, toilets--perhaps the most stark reminder of Japan's dual nature. On one side, you've got squatters. Holes in the ground. Holes in the ground above which you must squat. There's no way to lessen the stomach-churning imagery that arises when you think of or say the word "squatter."

We've got an old apartment, so we're stuck with a squatter. It's actually a step up from the ground, and there's a good 3 feet between the step and the far wall, so we were able to use a plastic seat and convert it to a western-style toilet. It's not quite as comfortable as a standard toilet in America, but it's better than a hole in the ground.

Our friend Paul, who lives in the same building, is not so lucky. He's got the same configuration, minus about 2 feet of space. He's only got about a foot, so it's quite inconvenient for him to use. The following, I believe, was meant to be included in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish:

Who am I? My name is Paul.
I do not like my little stall.
This is no good.
This is not right,
It's really hard to pee at night.
And when I sit, it's knees-on-wall.
I do not like my stall at all.

Most business establishments these days have a western style toilet or two to go along with the squatters, but there are still plenty of places that have yet to upgrade. Typically, if there's no western style toilet, you can just hold it until you get somewhere else. On a train, however, there's nowhere else to go. I was once faced with the misfortune of having to use a squatter on a train. It's what I believe Sam I Am was referring to when he asked:

A train! A train!
A train! A train!
Could you, would you on a train?

No. You couldn't. You wouldn't. On a train. If there's one thing worse than having to use a squatter, it's having to use a squatter on a train. Or genocide. That's also worse. Or shredding the roof of your mouth on dozens of tiny, whole dried fish that you're forced to eat in front of the children. Okay, so there are a lot of things that are worse than using a squatter. But still, pray that you never have to use a squatter on a train.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you've got RoboToilet (the official name is Washlet, another portmanteau). While I was staying with Mia at the hospital, I became intimately acquainted with a toilet which, if we're not careful, could likely end up enslaving the world. When I walked in the bathroom, the toilet would sense my presence and open the top lid, ready to do business. With the simple press of a button on a separate, radio-controlled panel, I could tell it that I wasn't ready for any complicated transactions and just needed it to open all the way. When the transaction was complete, it would automatically flush, and then close after a few minutes, lest it accidentally close business in the middle of a transaction.

Some of RoboToilet's other features include water sprays with adjustable trajectories and pressure levels, as well a heated seat. It's really strange to see such an advanced toilet in one place, and then in the same hospital, have a hole in the ground. No matter how many times I use the latter, it doesn't grow on me.

That's not to say that RoboToilet is perfect. RoboToilet is so environmentally conscious that the limited space inside can cause friction in our relationship. Sometimes, at night, I'm so tired that my marksmanship takes a serious hit. As a courtesy to Stef and other people living with me, I choose to sit. With RoboToilet's auto-flush feature, the lack of "depth" toward the front of the bowl leads to some serious breaches of trust. On more than one occasion, RoboToilet decided to finish the transaction early, causing an unexpected flow of frigid water to parts best left unmentioned.

Another inconvenient part of Japanese bathrooms is the need to switch shoes. People here are always switching shoes--when you walk into a home or school, you take off your shoes and put on slippers or other shoes that you only use indoors. When you go to the bathroom, however, you have to change out of the indoor shoes and into some bathroom slippers, which are always way too small for my feet. Sometimes, when the kids are cleaning the bathrooms during their designated cleaning time, they hose down the slippers as well, making for a happy little surprise when you slip your nice, dry socks into them.

Alas, school bathrooms are pretty much the worst part about working at a school. I love kids. I can deal with rowdiness. Most everything about working at schools in Japan has become enjoyable. But bathrooms remain the most difficult challenge for me. Why? It starts with the doors.

Elementary school bathrooms rarely have doors. Anyone can and will watch you go to the bathroom. There are no half-walls to buffer each urinal, and the urinals are in plain view from the doorway, which is in the main hallway. Coworkers and students, both male and female, can see you using the urinal.

To make things worse, the bathrooms for both boys and girls sometimes have the same entrance. You switch into slippers, and then go straight into the urinals right in front of you, or go around the corner to the girls' bathroom if you're female. Either way, you've got to put the slippers on in front of a row of peeing boys. That's got to be uncomfortable for the girls.

Because they're built not just for kids, but Japanese kids, they're extremely short. So short, in fact, that the top of the flusher handle, which is connected to a pipe about 5 inches above the top of the urinal, is lower than my waist. Since I'm so tall, the only way to "hide myself" from the world is to bend my knees and hunch over. Not even this keeps kids from wanting to watch me go.

Today, I was being mobbed by a crowd of excited first graders, when I realized that I had to go to the bathroom. When some of the kids seemed ready to follow me in, I elected to use the squatter stall, even if it wasn't necessary. It was not the first time I've done that--I value my privacy.

At one of my schools, we have a couple kids with learning disabilities, including one boy with Down Syndrome. One time, while I discretely used the bathroom, this sweet boy, with absolutely no ill intentions, walked right up to me and started watching me. I asked him to let me be alone for a minute, to which he responded by sticking his face up near the small space between me and the porcelain. I was so shocked by this that I stopped what I was doing, picked him up and moved him out of the bathroom, and sharply told him to return to his class.

Another time, at the same school, a different kid from the special education class (which is directly adjacent to the bathroom) came and started chatting with me while I was trying to use the bathroom.

"Hey! It's Jesse-Sensei!"
"Yep. That's me."
"Whoa, you're tall!"
"Yep. Mind if I have a moment here?"
"So, anything come out yet?"
"Not yet. And it probably won't if you're watching me. Would you please leave me be for a moment?"

Japan's openness about using the bathroom has been eye-opening. Women have no problem discussing their level of regularity--it's a common topic of conversation. I can't count how many children's books I've seen that focus on using the toilet. Everyone Poops, perhaps the most famous children's book on the subject, was originally written in Japanese. They openly talk to kids about what they need to do to ensure that the plumbing works properly.

That's not necessarily such a bad thing--it's just so different than everything I've ever known. The only time I ever feel comfortable talking about the subject is when I'm discussing my baby's diapers or children who have wet the bed. Incidentally, as I took a short break from writing this last paragraph to change my son's diaper, he peed all over me and my bed for the first time ever. Maybe the Japanese know what they're doing. Perhaps one day, the Japanese will invent the bedlet. I know my kids would use one.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mia's Surgery Date

Mia's surgery was scheduled for the morning of April 21st. Stef got a ride to the hospital from Kris that morning, then came to Mia's room to hang out before the surgery. The doctors came soon after she got there, then ushered us to a room which acted like a hub between the surgery rooms and the main hall. We took a picture with Mia, then sent her off with the surgical team, telling her that we'd see her in a while. She showed no signs of being upset, though she surely had no idea what was going to happen, except that the doctors were going to "fix her heart".

We made our way back to Mia's room, where a pregnant Stef decided to pass the time resting. With Mia out of sight and in the doctors' hands, there was no way that I would get any rest, regardless of how tired I was from not sleeping at all the night before. Wanting to find some way to pass the time, I opened my computer and called family on Skype. It was nice to distract myself with uplifting conversation with people I love.

Even when you're able to distract yourself, you can never fully get an in-progress surgery out of your mind. I tried to stay positive, but even then, I still envisioned each gut-wrenching step of the process. About 45 minutes to an hour into the procedure, I thought, "Right now, she is probably fully prepped for the start of the procedure." I prayed that everything would go smoothly in each particular step of the surgery. That the surgeons' hands would be precise. That the heart bypass machine would work properly. That she wouldn't bleed too much and need a transfusion. 5 hours of doing that can seem like an eternity.

Before the surgery, Mia and I repeatedly watched a couple movies--Mary Poppins, and My Neighbor Totoro. Both movies focus on the innocence of children and their relationship with their father. In Totoro, two young girls who live with their dad while their mom is hospitalized run around and explore their new surroundings in rural Japan, letting their imaginations run wild. Before the surgery, Mia and Kelsey would run around and play together, much like Satsuki and Mei from Totoro, albeit a bit younger. Totoro became a big part of my life while in the hospital with Mia, as she would ask to watch it multiple times each day.

"What do you want to do?" I'd ask.
"I wanna watch... I wanna wanna watch.. Totoro!" she'd reply, likely looking for some sense of familiarity while stuck in such a strange setting.

It was either that or, "I wanna wanna watch... Mary Poppins!"
"Oh, you want to watch Mary Poppins again?"
"Yeah! Mary Poppins!"

I probably watched Mary Poppins thirty times while Mia was in the hospital, and I never got tired of it. The timeless music, performances, and themes of childhood, parenthood, compassion, and responsibility resonate with me. I can relate to the banker father who needs to be more loving and compassionate with his children. Causing me to reflect on the times when I've been less patient or understanding with my kids than I should be, watching Mary Poppins gave me ample time to consider how I can be a better dad.

Both movies provided me with plenty of chances to stave off thoughts of how I would deal with the loss of a child. While waiting for her surgery to end, I couldn't help but hope and pray for a time when Mia and I could do simple things together, like watch a movie. I will never be able to watch either movie, or hear a single song from them without being reminded of the profound love I feel toward my children. I hope they do and always will know that I love them.

The doctor contacted us about an hour and a half before I had expected. Mia's surgery had finished without any complications, and she was recovering in the ICU. He invited us to take a look at her. They said she'd likely spend a couple days in the ICU before being transferred back to the PHCU room where she had been before the operation.

In the ICU, Mia was sedated on a hospital bed with various tubes going into her chest, throat, and inner thigh. They left the breathing machine on for the first while so that she could ease back into using her lungs. The doctor showed us the incision on her chest, which he had intentionally made smaller than usual, and was quite a bit smaller than I had anticipated. She hadn't lost much blood during the operation, and so they hadn't needed to perform a blood transfusion (and wouldn't need to, provided that she didn't develop dangerous levels of anemia).

Stef and I asked permission to take a picture of her, then left so that they could keep administering her post-surgery treatment.

The day before Mia's surgery, I had made arrangements to stay at a special housing place for family members of patients. We expected her to be in the ICU for two nights, the second of which I would spend at the family housing place. Making arrangements was actually quite the ordeal. They sent a representative to the PHCU before the surgery to meet with me and verify with the hospital staff that my child was actually hospitalized. After filling out multiple forms (seriously, how involved does it have to be?), the housing rep explained that I'd need to contact them again during business hours the day I was going to stay. They wanted to show me exactly how to get to the building, and weren't content with drawing a map.

The next day, I had an appointment at the insurance center in Imabari, so Stef and I planned to go back home after the surgery. The hospital staff had given me information about supplemental aid from the city for children who have surgery or disabilities, and I had to go back to fill out paperwork. My appointment was set for 1 in the afternoon, so it was doubtful that I'd be back in time to meet up with the housing people. Given that I would need a place to sleep the next night, I was pretty stressed about making it back in time.

On the way out to the train station, Dr. Fumiaki Shikata, one of the members of the surgical team, accompanied us. He wanted to point us in the direction of the family housing complex, but actually ended up taking me directly to it. I called the housing rep and explained that I knew exactly where it was, and asked them to leave the key at the front desk of the PHCU.

In the end, it was all moot. The next morning, the doctor called to tell me that Mia was recovering quickly and was ready to be transferred back to the PHCU after just one night in the ICU. Also, I don't know how necessary it was to get that aid, since Mia's hospital bills are fully covered until age 6 by our Japanese health insurance. Even though I may have wasted a few hundred yen and some time, it was certainly nice to sleep in my own bed that night.

I needed the rest for what was about to come.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Leading Up to Surgery

We checked in on April 18th, had some tests on that day and the 19th, and met with the surgeons on the 19th. April 21st was the scheduled surgery date, and they needed to monitor Mia for a few days before hand and go through all of the insurance paperwork. The 20th was supposed to be a relaxing day, but it was quite possibly the most stressful day of my entire life.

The night of the 19th was a long one. The day before, Mia had some tests scheduled for the afternoon, so the doctors made her skip her nap so that she would be asleep when they wanted to do the tests. They gave her medicine at 4 in the afternoon, but it was taking some time to kick in. Had they been willing to wait a few more minutes, she would have fallen asleep; they instead gave her a second dose of the sleeping medicine, and she was out at 4:30. She slept for 5 hours, waking up at 9:30 and not sleeping until after midnight, meaning that no matter how tired I was, I couldn't sleep until after then. I ended up getting about three hours of sleep that night.

In order to keep tabs on Mia's vitals, they hooked her up to a bunch of different devices, including a heart monitor, an oxygen sensor, and an IV drip. She was very calm throughout everything, and didn't even cry when they took blood. The nurses were all very impressed with her toughness. The hardest part about having her hooked up to all the tubes was that she still had a ton of energy and wanted to run faster than I could move the equipment.

The PHCU had a play area with a padded floor and some books for kids to read, with a mural of fish on the wall. Mia would run over to the fish and tell me which fish was Mia's fish, which was Kelsey's fish, which was Daddy's fish, and which was Mommy's fish. Something about the fish must have reminded her of us, because she was very consistent about whose fish was which. The hallway leading from the main hospital wing to the PHCU was lined with colorful decals of human feet, which Mia liked to call "duck feet", in reference to "I Wish That I Had Duck Feet", a book we own which was written by Dr. Seuss under the pen name of Theo LeSieg and illustrated by someone else. Up until the surgery date, we could go on walks anywhere in the hospital--after the surgery, we'd have to stay in the PHCU and couldn't go past the "duck feet".

When I wasn't taking Mia around for different tests or going on walks, I was hanging around the room with Mia looking to rest. This was next to impossible, as nurses and doctors kept popping their heads in the room to explain some other disclosure or give me more Japanese paperwork to fill out. Doctors even brought medical students by to see the American patient. I'm sure that it's common for the students to visit patients, but it seemed a bit odd when, on the day before the surgery, more than 25 people (not including me or Mia) all crammed into our small room to see Mia. When you haven't slept for a few days and you're expecting a day of relaxation, it's a bit unnerving to have to deal with a constant stream of people you weren't expecting to have to see.

The talk with the chief surgeon was frightening. He is a very nice man and was very eager to make me feel comfortable, but it's hard to be totally at peace when you are hearing about the dangers of open heart surgery. No matter how hard you try to push the thought of tragedy out of your mind--regardless of the greater-than-98% success rate of the surgery--it's impossible as a parent not to worry that your child might fall into the "less than two percent" of ASD surgery patients who don't make it. When the doctor explains how the heart-lung machine works, and that it will be necessary for them to physically stop your child's heart, there's nothing that can you can do to completely eliminate worry and stress.

Sparing no details, he explained the procedure from start to finish. The procedure itself would take three or four hours from start to finish, with about an hour of preparation time sandwiched around the surgery. First, they would make an incision in her chest, and then cut the sternum underneath to reach the heart. After hooking her up to the heart-lung machine and making an incision in the heart, they would search for the hole, stitch it shut, and then close her up again. He explained the risks of each stage of the surgery and mentioned that about 80% of those who receive ASD surgery require a blood transfusion, which in and of itself carried all sorts of risks.

Of course, they needed me to give my consent for everything, and I was quick to provide it. Anything that they needed to do to help Mia, I thought, was fair game. The nurses and doctors kept asking me if Stef was going to be there on the surgery date, and I kept answering that she would as long as she didn't go into labor. The last thing I wanted was for the stress of everything to cause Stef to go into premature labor again, so I did everything I could to shoulder all the stress. I even avoided telling Stef that they would have to stop Mia's heart for the procedure. In retrospect, it was silly to think that she wouldn't already know, given her medical background. The thought of Stef not being able to be with me during Mia's surgery and me not being with Stef for the birth was just too much, so I did all I could to remain positive.

The night before the surgery, Mia started a fast so that there wouldn't be any excess waste in her body, which can interfere with surgery. She wasn't very hungry for dinner that night, but I painstakingly fed her every last bite, knowing that she might not get to eat for a while.

When your daughter is going to have major surgery, it's impossible to look at even simple events in the same way. You don't know if it's going to be the last time you feed her dinner, read her a book, tickle her, sing a song to her, or go on a walk. Every moment becomes one to cherish--you just want to hold on to her and never let go. But there comes a time when you have to put her fate in the hands of the surgical staff and hope. And pray.

The night before the surgery, during our nightly family Skype call, Stef seemed a bit upset. She was having contraction-like pain and was afraid that the baby might come early. While talking to Stef, I kept a level head and suggested that she head in to her doctor to make sure that it wasn't labor contractions. After all, it's better to get sent home for a false alarm than not go when you need to and have nobody to take you. We called the clinic, and they said that, based on her symptoms, it was likely that they would admit her to the clinic to have the baby. We were crushed. I remained positive on the phone, hoping to calm Stef's nerves--but once I got off the phone, I was a wreck.

I needed someone there with me. I needed Stef there. All I could do was plead on my hands and knees that Stef's doctor would send her back home. I walked to the nurse station and fought back tears as I told them that Stef might not be able to come for Mia's surgery. Though I was terrified, I didn't want to call her and seem anxious about the whole situation, as that wouldn't exude the confidence that I was trying to project. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I got a call from Stef--she was coming home!

Excited, I informed the nurses of the development and went back to my room to get on my knees and offer thanks that Stef was OK. As I sobbed with gratitude, letting my emotions spill out, a nurse came into the room to ask me something. I sprung to my feet and hit the pause button on my prayer, and finished it after the nurse left the room. She asked if I was OK before she left, and I explained that I was just thanking God that everything was OK.

I prayed a lot that night, as well as the next day--Mia's surgery date.