Best Day

Wednesday was the best day I’ve had in months. I went to a funeral.

When you are celebrating the life of a good man who lived a long life there is room for tremendous joy.

At the church there was a line stretching down the length of the nave, through the door, and down the steps of the main entrance. My Great Aunt sat in front of the first pew as people waited to pay their respects, her sons and daughters-in-law lined up beside her. That line of people didn’t grow shorter as it neared noon when the service was to begin. Over the course of almost two hours hundreds of people waited to speak to the family. The line of people represented how loved Uncle Jim and his family are in their community. Finally the funeral director asked people to take seats, assuring them they could greet the family following the program.

Explaining the tangled web of extended family who traveled from near and far would take all day. Uncle Jim was an only child who had lost his father before he turned 30 and his mother in his early 40s, but he married into one hell of a clan. His wife was one nine, eight who lived into adulthood, seven who had kids, who then had kids, who have started having kids. Four generations of folks, many who hadn’t seen each other in decades laughing and crying and itching for a drink.

Uncle Jim missed one hell of a party. The mass, the eulogies by his two sons who were lawyers just like him-the first so hilarious we all felt a bit sorry for Matt because there was no way he could follow the performance his brother gave. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Jimmy shared the fun, but Matt shared the soul, the quieter part of his dad, the family man that so many people relied upon. Paul sang with his daughter and again with his band. We moved to a church down the road for a lunch and the music continued, two granddaughters sang, the grandnephew who is in the Navel Academy Band played bagpipes. Phil wrote a poem for his father, Bill read a letter from his son who was unable to attend because he was in the middle of a mission on a navel ship. But some of Uncle Jim’s ashes will be sent to that ship for a Navy Funeral. And later the extended family made our way to our Aunt and Uncle’s home where we talked and ate and drank and laughed and remembered and cried a little for hours.

All of my first cousins were there, save one who had a last minute emergency at home, and she was missed. We caught up with each other and talked about how we don’t see one another enough and listened to stories about our kids. And I felt so lucky. Listen, my huge and messy family isn’t perfect. Uncle Jim wasn’t perfect. His kid’s aren’t perfect. I think I’ve laid out a rock solid case in this blog that I’m not perfect. I’m not trying to whitewash this crazy and sprawling group of people. But I do feel lucky. I love being part of this family.

Uncle Jim wasn’t perfect, but he was an incredible man who touched many lives. The love for him on Wednesday was so real. He lived to help other people. He welcomed anyone into his home. He was honorable and kind and he loved fiercely. The legacy he left behind-hundreds of people waiting to tell his wife what he meant to them, five sons who payed tribute to him with grace and love, family that traveled from all over the country to be there to say goodbye. You could see what a rich life he had and how many people he touched.

My nuclear family were together, my parents and sister and I. Before we drove down I pointed out to my parents this might be the last time the four of us are together, just us. My sister and I have families now. It makes sense that our group of four has grown, and it has grown for the better. Hell, my sister and I are lucky that our husbands didn’t bat a lash and said go, we’ll take care of the kids. Still, it was a lovely and bittersweet family time for us. We spent the day together talking about the graceful job Uncle Jim’s family did in setting up the events. We talked about how Uncle Jim had gotten this life thing right. All of us are going to die. What are we going to leave behind? I don’t think many people take advantage of life in the same way that Uncle Jim did. He left behind a real impact on so many people. I think all of us in my family sort of vowed to try and be more like him.

Family is so important. I’m damned grateful for mine. While sitting around the kitchen table Uncle Jim’s son Paul told my father that he quotes something dad said years ago all the time. Back when my sister and I were teens we were visiting and playing with Paul’s kids who were toddlers. My father looked at us playing and then he looked at Paul. “You think it’s really great now, this kid thing. But I have to tell you it gets more fun every year.” Paul said he tells that story to anyone who bemoans the fact that their babies are growing up.

I am lucky to be part of the family I grew up in. I’m lucky to be a part of the family I’ve created with T and the boys. But even if you didn’t grow up with a supportive family it is never too late to create one. I’m lucky to be a part of my families. But it is what we do with that luck that matters.

Uncle Jim’s life and death taught me that family is what is important. Community is what is important. Who we love, who we help, how we can make each other’s lives better. It seems so simple, but it takes a lifetime of work. Uncle Jim has inspired me to get working.

grandma t

Grandma cuddles

grandpa c

Grandpa cuddles

liver and onions

My Dad used to play this game with my sister and me when we were tiny. He calls it operation-he pretends to cut open the boys’ bellies and he takes out the liver and takes out the onion, and then he discovers they are full of baloney…

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Uncle Jim

Before we boarded the plane to move to New Zealand in the fall of ’88 my family took a big trip back East to visit family. Most of it is a blur of faded memories, the clearest time is the few days we spent at my Mom’s Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim’s house. I was 11, just old enough to realize that Mom had a life before we were born. It was during that trip that I really started to understand how much she was a part of their family.

She lived with them and their five sons for a time while she was in college. Her parents moved away from her hometown and the solution was to stay with family while she finished school. She was the youngest child of three, but at Aunt M and Uncle J’s she was the oldest kid in the house and the only girl. I remember laughing as Aunt Margaret told my sister and me how foreign it was to deal with a young woman’s hormones. She said no one ever knew what Mom’s mood would be. Some days she’d come home from school happy as a clam, others there would be a storm cloud over her head and she’d stomp up the stairs without a word and slam the door to her room. Being those hormones had only just started to take root in me I had the luxury of feeling superior about Mom’s unreasonable behavior. Hubris sure is a bitch.

Beyond the stories, which my sister and I ate up, it was so awesome to see that she belonged in their house. She knew where everything was, she was comfortable. Aunt M and Uncle J claimed her as their own. And they just seemed so….cool. They had a lovely pool in their backyard. Aunt M is an incredible cook and baker. She magically whipped up meals from scratch in record time in her kitchen while Uncle J mixed the drinks. That trip I had my first sip of an Old Fashioned as I listened to my mom wax rhapsodic about his bartending prowess. She told us she’d never order an Old Fashioned anywhere else because no one made them like Uncle J.

Early this morning Uncle Jim passed away. Yesterday afternoon I spoke to my Mom who told me it wouldn’t be long. I haven’t seen Uncle Jim in a number of years, which is shameful considering they only live two and a half hours from Syracuse. But we had T the week after we moved here, and every time a trip was scheduled something would happen-T got sick, I had a miscarriage, C got sick. It felt like we had time, so I didn’t stress over it. And now it’s too late.

When I called Z to tell him the news yesterday I began to cry. I cried for Uncle Jim, who was a good man. I cried for Aunt Margaret. Z and I have only been together for 15 years and the thought of living without him makes me sick to my stomach. I cried for my Mom who lost someone she loved very much. I cried for Uncle J’s sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren, for the hole that will always be in their lives. And I cried for myself because the idea of losing either of my parents is paralyzing.

Death stings in a new way since I’ve become a Mom, the stakes are much higher. And life feels much more fragile and temporary. Because duh. But before T was born death felt distant and life long. I’m sure most adults don’t need parenthood in order to have a more realistic understanding of mortality, but I sure as hell did.

Tonight I will raise a glass to Uncle Jim. I will miss his gentle teasing, his amazing stories, his humungous heart.

Uncle Jim

Before his illness Uncle Jim was a big man, he carried his ample middle with a bit of a swagger. He was the kind of guy who belted that sucker right around the center, no cinching underneath so the gut spilled over. I like that in a man. It is honest and confident and bold. And totally badass. Just like Uncle Jim.

A Few Thoughts

There is nothing better than a triscuit.

Monistat 1 sucks ass. A week later and I end up at the gynecologist’s anyway.

Saw a new doc. He told me he looked at my chart the night before. Me, “Oh, yeah, I’m kind of a nightmare.” Him, “I know! What is going on with your body?” Me, “On top of all that stuff I have an anxiety disorder.” Him, “Cool!”

It is barely going to get into the 30s. There is snow on the ground and in the forecast  Yet magically spring allergies have kicked into high gear.

We rearranged the furniture in our bedroom.

Totally forgot to share this gem in the stomach bug post: evidently I now pee a little every time I puke. Thanks sons!

Gave C a handful of M&Ms before 9am. I don’t know what is wrong with me.

On Tuesday the midterm was returned to us. With extra credit I got 85/100. Not proud of the grade, but was expecting much worse.

Two days ago I stopped taking my daily meds. They were making me even more anxious. I’m scared my shrink is disapointed in me. Which shouldn’t be what I’m worried about. But there you have it.

It seems everyone I know is a little anxious and depressed. The end of winter is the bleakest time of year. I’m sad for everyone, but it also makes me feel a little less lonely.

When I am unwell I think I have a terrible illness that is eating me from the inside and when I’m diagnosed it will be too late.

When I’m super duper unwell I think at least after I die I’ll be able to rest.

I’m currently super duper unwell.

I want key lime pie. So I bought the stuff to make key lime pie. Curtis, I’m waiting to make it until tomorrow so you can have some, too.

tuesday morning

Tuesday morning. Z felt snowblowing was a pretty shitty welcome home. I’ve got to agree with him. What is up mother nature?

triscuit

Triscuit. Seriously delicious.

It Would Seem My Husband Digs Me

While Z was driving home this morning we spoke on the phone so he could say good morning to the boys. About two minutes into the call quite unexpectedly I began to weep uncontrollably. Z reminded me he was, in fact, on his way home. That wasn’t the issue. I mean, it was. But it wasn’t. I told him I was overwhelmed. He was coming home, but there was still so much to get through. Bills, I haven’t done the taxes yet, money problems, the 20 page paper for my class, my class in general, being room mother for T on Wednesday, Z traveling again for this show in April, Z going to Japan for a month mid May to June, my stomach still not being right after being sick, the meds I’m taking making me more anxious rather than less, no break in sight.

Because of course it doesn’t end! It’s life! I am participating in life! Occasionally you have a shit weekend. When you are a grown up you don’t qualify for a vacation to recover from a stomach bug! This goddamned anxiety disorder strips me of the ability to be a functioning adult.

This weekend while I was having a nervous breakdown via status update on FB I noticed one of my oldest friends was taking a weekend trip to LA. His wife, who I’ve been lucky enough to also become friends with, was back home with the kids. The four kids. Four. There wasn’t a peep of frustration or desperation or even annoyance from her. I know it doesn’t do to compare yourself to others, but my lack of ability to gracefully cope with unpleasant situations is one of the worst parts of rockin’ an anxiety disorder.

I have two options. 1. Either completely withdraw from the world, which is what would be most natural for me. Just stay at home and go to the safe places, drop off for T’s school, the grocery, Target, my therapist’s, the pediatrician. Have people come over here to hang out, but decline all invitations outside the home. Hell, it’s basically the way I lived for the first several years we were here. I could get by and feel safe, but I realized I was missing out on a part of the boy’s lives. And I was denying them opportunities by not being able to take them places. Or 2. I can participate in life. Open myself up to the really good stuff-taking classes, going to the houses of friends, seeing my boys have a great time at the zoo or the park. Participating in life is also terrifying and painful and exhausting and requires a lifetime supply of Imodium  It’s the equivalent of locking my anxiety in a cage and poking it with a sharp stick until it is bloody and enraged.

So while my husband was on his way home, my husband who has told me I can split the minute he gets home from work and have the night to myself, the husband who is on my side, I lost it all over him. I fell apart and ensured he will dread his homecoming. Because who wants to deal with a crazy wife after working all weekend?

Yesterday I had a moment of lucidity concerning that husband of mine. We got engaged when I was 22 and he was 26. We were kids, especially me. His group of friends were older-I was too young for them to take seriously. More than one of them took him aside and encouraged him to break the engagement (kind of understandable-every time someone I know gets married at 23 I want to scream, “What the fuck are you thinking?” I mean, it is dumb luck that Z and I were able to work things out after getting married so young). Days before the wedding he was told it would be ok to call it off by another party. A short few years into the marriage itself I had a spectacular breakdown. Friends told him there was nothing he could do for me, he should save himself and get out. He wanted to, he told me he didn’t want to be married anymore. But he didn’t just leave, he fought and we did the work and found our way back to each other. Every time he chose me. Even when I was literally out of my mind he choose me. June 14th marks the 15th anniversary of our first kiss. The anxiety still makes me question what the hell he is doing with me. The truth is he has chosen us over and over again. I need to stop trying to figure out why and accept how lucky I am to have him.

The anxiety tries to convince me I’m worthless and unlovable. She succeeds a lot of days. But enough is enough. The anxiety can also go fuck herself. Z loves me. He is one of the most loyal souls I have ever met. He has chosen to be with me and he keeps on choosing to be here. That is the reality.

T was pretending to sneeze and suddenly C was doing it as well. I had to prompt him here, but it is still pretty cute.

rats nest

And, um, I sort of didn’t bother to comb his hair over the weekend. We got it sorted before school this morning. I promise.

18 Months Postpartum

A couple of days ago I realized something alarming. My boobs have deflated much like a discarded balloon lost under the sofa for a month. At first I was crushed. I had big boobs long before I got pregnant. And then I was worried-was C still getting milk? That question was answered in the affirmative when he vomited spectacularly after nursing on Thursday. But finally I was….excited. Yup. I’m happy to have flappy little saggy tits.

I’m going to say something nice about myself now. I know. Weird. As a young woman my boobs were magnificent. They were not small and yet they defied gravity. I could get away without wearing a bra no problem. They kind of didn’t look real. My girlfriends were in awe of them, hell for once I was proud of how a part of me looked. Alas, they were completely too awesome to last. They were the boobs of youth.

I’m 36. Those babies are gone forever. Well, not totally. They are tattooed onto Z’s chest. He got a topless mermaid that was taken from a picture of me on our fifth wedding anniversary. So a cartoon version of them lives on.

My boobs didn’t get small again when I weaned T because I was pregnant with C. I should have realized size has nothing to do with milk production because even though they were big my milk dried up because I get so sick during my first trimester. My body just couldn’t make milk and a new baby. T nursed until he was 18 months and I still feel guilty for weaning him before we were both ready. But I’m not pregnant now. (woohoo!) And I don’t plan on being pregnant again. Currently my hope is to nurse C until he is at least 2, but very slowly I feel like I’m getting my body back from the boys. It’s a major relief.

So my new boobs might not be much to look at. But the world of summer clothing is opening back up to me! I can wear tank tops with spagetti straps again! I can wear halter tops! I’ll be able to purchase a bra without super wide straps! Maybe I can even wear a sundress! Small floppy boobs for the win!

t new

About ten days after T was born. They were bigger than his head.

k bathroom 2

Today. Um, the image speaks for itself.

k mirror

I mean, I would consider just wearing the nursing top out in public. Man, I’ve been jealous of the Mamas who could do that in the summer. Goodbye two inches of cleavage! I won’t miss you at all!

And an added bonus? My postpartum hair loss was truly epic. I mean, I convinced myself I was balding. Well, it is growing back! My standard hairstyle, if you can really call it that, has been hair parted on the left and pulled back with two barrettes. Yes, like a preschooler. Whatever. I’m low maintenance in that I take zero pride in my appearance.  I know, I know, Z is super lucky. Well I haven’t been able to use the barrettes for ages because I only had like 14 hairs left. But I can do it again, damn it! I’m back, baby!

old hair

Those of you who went to high school with me will recognize this look being I have been relying on it for well over 20 years. You say try something new? In the early aughts I cut it boy short. Z could barely make eye contact with me for a year. As I have no problem making a fool of myself online I just wasted half an hour looking for a picture, but I can’t find one. If Z knows where our stash of actual photos are I’ll update later. For now just use your imagination. The more hilariously awful the better.

Z is coming home tomorrow. I’m making rice and beans for my guys today. Things are looking up.

Stomach Bug

In all honesty if we were going to have a stomach bug while Z was out of town it couldn’t have happened in a better way. The boys didn’t puke at the exact same time. They spaced the puking so I had time to get laundry going and clean up before the next puke. T only puked once. Ten minutes before that puke he said, “Mom! I need to throw up! But not now. In a few minutes.” He was so casual about the whole thing I didn’t really believe him, but I got the bucket anyway. Which was good because a few minutes later he stood up and announced, “Now I need to throw up.” Which he did neatly inside the bucket. I asked him how he felt afterwards and he said, “I feel nuts!” Two hours after it began it seemed to be over for them. They were acting peppy and begging for food. They both ate and kept down dinner.

So when I started feeling sick around dinnertime I comforted myself with the thought that at least it would be short.

Both boys were down by 8:10pm and didn’t wake until 6am. They gave me 10 hours to be sick as a dog. Because it was not over fast for me. I was violently ill from both ends throughout the night. While I’d love to hash out all the details, and believe me I regaled family members with graphic blow by blows, I’ll spare you guys. Out of curiosity I weighed myself in the morning and I’d lost 5lb, that sort of tells you how nasty it was. Taking sips of water made my gut feel like it was being stabbed. The longest I’d slept at once was 50 minutes. I was shaking and weak and dehydrated and had a fever. When the boys woke I realized there were 13 hours and 20 minutes to get through until bedtime. Yesterday did indeed suck ass.

A babysitter was able to come from noon till 3:30 and I slept the whole time she was here. I spent the rest of the day feeling tremendously and indulgently sorry for myself.

Last night I ate some pancakes with the boys, which was a pretty big mistake. My stomach wasn’t ready for food yet, so I had a few bad hours, but this morning I feel better. Still weak. Would really benefit from a day of rest. But better.

I also feel ashamed. Last night I lost my shit on T when he wouldn’t stay in bed. I apologized to him, but felt like the worst Mom on the planet. Like I said I’ve thrown myself an extended and extravagant pity party. Z left Thursday at 7:20am, we got sick Thursday afternoon/evening. He isn’t going to be home until around 5:30pm on Monday. Five full days alone is hard for me. This is ugly and unfair, but I resent Z for getting the break. He is working, but he gets to go out for drinks in the evening. Every meal is at a restaurant. He sleeps alone for four nights. He gets enough distance to miss the kids.

If you are thinking I have it pretty rough, please. I don’t. From Monday to Wednesday he took the kids for the bulk of the day so I could do research for my term paper. I’m so freaked out by the amount of work that I have to do, so unsure how to make the paper happen that I squandered most of the time. Also, Z is an incredibly present and involved father. He encourages me to take breaks. He makes a huge effort to be home for dinner and bedtime, often going back out after the boys are down to fulfill work obligations. When he travels he wants me to get babysitters for a few hours.

Z doesn’t have a problem articulating his needs. He is supporting us, part of his job is a professional practice and research. This trip to DC? It’s helping his career. The time he spends in his basement shop making found object instruments and furniture? It’s helping his career. He attends conferences and recruitment events. It’s his job. He wants to relax and have fun so he started an all Ukulele jam session in town called Syrauke. It meets every other Saturday for three hours and it brings him a lot of joy. This guy packs more into 24 hours than anyone I’ve ever met, he still doesn’t have time to do everything he wants, but six days out of seven he is at home for dinner and bath and bedtime.

He wants to meet my needs as well. Last fall when I decided I couldn’t take a class because it met into the night and C wasn’t close to being weaned he called bullshit. He said we would work it out. C would live. I would live. I needed to do something for myself. He constantly asks me what he can do to lighten my load.

Hiring a  babysitter? I can do that no problem without a lot of guilt. I’m paying her for her time. It isn’t a favor. But asking for help? Expressing that I need something? The words catch in my throat. I swallow them and they fester in my belly, turning into resentment until the kids feel like a duty. My resentment overshadows everything good in my life and I wallow, forgetting how lucky I am and how much joy is in front of me if I would bother to look. It’s a vicious circle and all I want is to escape.

Why can’t I just ask for help? It’s the anxiety, stupid. The anxiety has convinced me I am worthless. The anxiety reminds me that I am luckier than most-so much has been given to me how could I have the balls to ask for more? She reminds me I am a spoiled brat that only takes. She tells me that if I do ask people will begin to resent me. So when Z asks me what I need I look him straight in the eyes and tell him nothing, the whole time hating myself and him and the boys. The anxiety wins again.  She has made me into an ugly person. She has made me deeply ashamed.

But. I am fighting back. I did take that class last fall. I took another this spring. I’ve gone to the movies alone several times. In April Z and I are going to a hotel in town overnight while his mom is here. We arranged for the boys and me to spend the month Z will be in Japan teaching a class with my parents. I’ve told Z that I’m frustrated and angry and that I need a fucking break.

I need help. There. I said it.

k sick

Sick as fuck.

napping C

Yesterday C curled up on the sofa with me and fell asleep. He hasn’t napped on me for ages and it was lovely.

T as cat

I took C up to his crib and got a quick shower. When I came down I found this. T thinks he is a cat.

Anxious Kid

“Do you think T is an anxious kid?”

With zero hesitation Z replied, “Yes.”

I asked the question months ago, but the dread I felt when I heard his answer, the lightheadedness and tingling in my fingers feels fresh. Immediately I disagreed with him. And then something happened, I don’t remember what, but one of the millions of things that interrups any conversation we try to have now that we have two kids-one of them fell down, they started fighting, we heard a sound that meant trouble, we didn’t hear a sound which meant trouble, something happened and the conversation ended.

I mean the conversation ended between the two of us. It has continued nonstop in my head ever since. When I was pregnant with T I thought a lot about if it was appropriate for someone who suffers from a mental illness to have a kid. What if I was a shit mom because of my crazy? What if I passed my crazy on along with my blue eyes and tiny feet? How could I take the chance of saddling my illness on an innocent baby?

To us T was perfection when he was born. As his personality developed over the last few years we only fell more in love with him. He was an early talker, so we thought he was brilliant. His fine motor skills were off the charts-he could use a toy chisel and mallet when he was 18 months. When he started school after he turned two there wasn’t a single day of crying during drop off. He is happy and loves life and is eager to learn.

I’m not trying to sell him as the perfect child. His gross motor skills have never been great-he was a late walker and he fell down a lot. He wasn’t much of a climber or runner. He certainly has never been an angel. Since he started to smile there was something mischievous rather than sweet about him. But most of all he seems like a regular kid.

So he gets frightened easily. What toddler doesn’t? During his first hair cut he sat perfectly still in the chair, only his eyes following the woman who was trimming. He was trying not to cry the whole time. His first trip to the dentist was a disaster. The second trip a week ago was not much better. He is scared at night time. New things are overwhelming to him. He only likes certain foods-it took us a year to convince him to try chocolate ice cream–chocolate ice cream for fucks sake!

Isn’t all that stuff normal? Yes, we look at him and see a little genius because he is our child. He isn’t a genius. He is healthy and he is a regular kid. He is exactly what we hoped for.

Back to that dentist’s appointment last week. It was terrible to watch his fear. The latex gloves freaked him out, he kept begging the hygienist not to touch his face with them. He was frightened by the polisher, by the chair, even the napkin she tried to clip around his neck. He shook and wept and held his hands over his mouth. I encouraged him and tried to calm him down, but I was holding back tears myself. He was so anxious. And in my head the thought “Zeke was right” played in a loop.

dentist

The stillness that accompanies his fear cuts to the quick.

So new situations are hard for him. So he is particular and craves the familiar. So he is a little bit of an anxious kid. It doesn’t mean he will develop an anxiety disorder.

But when I was his age could one tell that mental illness would be a defining feature of my life?

We don’t know what he will become. We don’t know if the screwed up wiring in my brain was passed down to him. All we can do is wait and see. I worry that I will see a boogieman around every corner. That even if he is normal I’ll be convinced he has a problem. That my cloying attention will create anxiety that would be absent if I wasn’t around. That he will be unwell and it will be all my fault. That being my child will ruin him.

Here is what I do know. I do not want him to be like me. This morning I had a therapy session. Things are not going well in anxiety land right now. I can’t tell if the new meds are working, or if they are making things worse. I’m taking more chill pills than I have in months. I’m exhausted. From the meds? From pretending I am normal every time I leave the house? I feel defeated and desperate and scared.

My therapist pointed out that in the not too distant past I couldn’t even imagine taking a class. And now I’ve finished one and am in the middle of another. At first I felt so proud of myself. After the session that feeling quickly faded as I thought about T. Because how pathetic is it to celebrate doing something most function adults could do without a second thought? Why should I get a pat on the back from my shrink for acting like a grown up? How sad is it that I have to force myself to engage with the real world? I still find an excuse every time Z suggests I take the boys to the zoo or the museum or the playground. The boys are paying the price for my illness.

Worse than all that is the idea that T might be the same as me. He might hate himself. He might be too scared to engage. He might feel worthless and pathetic. My sweet boy. My perfect and frustrating and amazing little man. How do I protect him from becoming me? How do I help him? How do I not fuck him up?

dentist 2

Even when he is scared he is cute as hell.

alien daddy

I think the a big part of the answer to raising these kids is Alien Daddy here. I don’t know what any of us would do without him.