Thursday, December 24, 2009

A year-end letter

We expected 2009 to bring many changes. We were “expecting,” as they say. But the unexpected snuck up and surprised us, as is its nature.

So at the end of the year, not only are we parents, but I’ve left one career for another.

I think I’ve cried more this year than in the last 25 (most recently when Tiny Tim died in The Muppet Christmas Carol), but in the year-end tally, the happy tears outnumber the sad ones.

2009 was the Year of Owen, or at least the first Year of Owen. Although he was expected and eagerly awaited, I was well aware I really didn’t know what caring for a baby or being a dad were all about. And Owen managed to surprise us right off the bat by coming about two weeks before his due date.

Labour and delivery, again not what had been hoped for, but a miracle nonetheless. I’ve never been more awed by a person than I was by Rhia that rainy April night (and I touched Wayne Gretzky one time).

And there was our beautiful little baby. When we met him, it turned out he was not an Angus (Gus, for short), although we’d been pretty sure that’s who he would be.

Everyone comments on his blue eyes, his round head, his fine hair, which appears either golden blonde or red, depending on the light. It seems at once such a long time ago and only a moment ago he was brand new. And he’s become a new little person every couple weeks for the past nearly-nine months. Throughout he’s been curious and good-natured, friendly to strangers, a flirt. Never a great sleeper, but better these days. And we’re better able to muddle through the days on little sleep ourselves. He loves to laugh and knows how to make us laugh

He’ll have about three and a half front teeth for Christmas (along with mountains of presents from admirers) and will be walking sooner rather than later. He likes to chatter and sing. He’ll go, “Ohhhh, ohhhhhhh,” when he finds something interesting and “AH AH AH,” (repeating our admonishments) when he’s attempting to play with something he knows isn’t for babies. “Dig dig dig,” is another favourite expression. It’s possible that when he says, “Mamama,” and “Dadada,” he’s referring to Rhia and I, but the jury’s still out.

He wears us down sometimes, with his short attention span and need for constant entertainment, or when he sometimes goes from peaceful rest to demonic screams when you try to set him in the crib. There’s the odd moment we consider selling him to gypsies. But more often than not, when we’ve got him down to sleep, washed the dishes, folded the laundry, taken out the garbage and collapsed on the couch, Rhia and I find ourselves looking at photos of him. We miss him, even when he’s just upstairs.

I’ve found there’s nothing more rewarding than the grin that spreads across Owen’s face when I come home from work. Rhia will return to her job at the beginning of January. She’s looking forward to the work and some adult company through the day, but dreading leaving Owen behind. I’m hoping that smile will make the transition less traumatic.

Being a father—I couldn’t quite say what it’s like. But with it comes a deepened empathy. I’d say I was a fairly sensitive person before, but somehow you feel things a little more deeply. So, following the terrible news of the Cape Breton boy who got lost in the woods and later died was painful. I was consumed with thoughts of how scared this boy must have been. Even fictional things, sentimental or otherwise, get me. Rhia and I laughed at each other when we realized we were both sobbing at the opening scene of Star Trek, in which Capt. Kirk (Sr.) bravely meets his end while his son is born in another part of the galaxy. And then there was Tiny Tim. Such a sweet, big-hearted little frog. It just wasn’t fair.

Owen’s arrival came just two weeks after my career as a newspaperman sputtered to an end. I left The Chronicle Herald in mid-March, but that end came after an excruciating month-and-a-half long purging of the newsroom. A lot of people got laid off, not a shock in the newspaper industry. But until then, The Herald had been the kind of place where people could bank on spending their whole careers, if they wanted to. And I’d been pretty content with that idea myself.

I loved the job. I really loved the job. I was good at it. I worked with good people. They were paying me to do what I enjoyed and that pay was enough to cover the bills. But everything went unimaginably sour in an instant. Those good people—all great journalists—weren’t considered as such by the bean counters. Their ledger indicated they had to sell $2.5 million worth of ads (that’s 6,000 sofas for ad-buyers) to support each newsroom position. Sofa sales were down, so a bunch of journalists had to go. The weeding out was extremely random and unpleasant. While the work continued, the job that I loved had already disappeared. So I took advantage of a buyout offer and quit, before they could shove me out the door.

With Owen’s appearance so soon after, the upshot was that I moved on without batting an eye and got to spend four months at home with my family with full pay from my ex-employers. It was a better deal than the parental leave. I could not have planned it any better if I’d tried.

Just as that well was about to run dry and my EI application was making its way through the channels, another opportunity came my way. And now I find myself the media relations advisor for Capital Health. In plain language, I’m the spokesman for an 11,000-person outfit that operates 10 hospitals and a raft of other services. It’s challenging and exciting. My predecessor, still a colleague, did a great job showing me the ropes. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to pick the brains of the two people who were in the role before him as well. Just as I was beginning to feel I knew what I was doing the second wave of H1N1 arrived in Nova Scotia and our whole team was going full throttle.

And it’s been a pleasure to get to know the people on that team, folks I knew mainly as voices on the other end of the phone when I was a reporter. When I was stepping into this role, there were lots of jokes flying about joining the Dark Side. But I assure you none of these folks are cape-wearing Sith lords or conniving spin doctors. They’re a compassionate group of folks who like to laugh. The best part of the job switch has been expanding my group of friends to include these new colleagues.

I also get to keep in close touch with former colleagues, both with my professional hat on and over the occasional pint in old hangouts.

People ask me all the time if I miss being a reporter. I have to say, no. The major factor is that immediately after the job ended I had Owen to focus all of my attention every day. And truth be told, in the days leading up to that official end, I spent much more time moping about it than actually doing my job. I was probably a miserable person to be around. Sorry. It’s the people I would have missed and I still see a lot of them. I had a good six-year run at a big daily paper. I loved the rush of it, but on reflection, I was losing motivation and it was a good time to move on. That part of my life seems a long’ long time ago, in a different world.

We’ve been lucky this year to have lots of good visits with and from family and friends. A number of visits with Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Heather, both here and in Winnipeg, although I know they mind the time between as he continues to grow and change. Uncle Anthony and Aunt Kim and lots of friends in Calgary. Katie and Gord here. The Dunns in Moncton, Eden, Michael and Izzy in Ottawa, all kinds of folks in Cape Breton…Owen’s a pretty seasoned traveler already

Another pleasant surprise in this new role: I have a good stretch of time off over Christmas. I’d be years away from that kind of holiday break in my former role. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with my little family in our little house.

Rhia and I plan to spend New Year’s Eve having dinner at our favourite little neighbourhood restaurant with dear friends (Owen will be home with Mamgu). It will be a quiet, happy end to an eventful year.

I stopped in that same restaurant two blocks from home this morning to pick up a coffee and, unexpectedly, ran into friends currently living in Australia and Winnipeg.

It’s a small world. And a happy one, despite rough times that seem to have no end. I’m heading into 2010 full of hope and a sense of wonder. I see it brimming in Owen’s eyes and feel it in busy hands he’s still figuring out how to use.

May your Christmas and the New Year also be full of hope, peace, joy and love.



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