Category Archives: Uncategorized

Grief, Hope, and the Obamatron

It was a rough night. Sarah and I, being somewhat experienced at grief, are plowing right through it, alternating between grieving for Luke himself, grieving for our lost delusion that this can’t happen when parents follow all the safety rules, and feeling terrible for Luke’s parents and siblings. Harrison is approaching it more slowly. Every once in a while he thinks of something he won’t be able to do with Luke anymore and he gets very sad, then slowly recovers. Then the cycle starts again. He also gets angry with “why” questions, and just plain angry with the person who ran the stop sign.

This morning we decided that as a diversion we would keep our original plans for today: Attending Barack Obama’s Labor Day speech in Hart Plaza. As part of her new job, Sarah has some access to the UAW-Ford National Programs Center (NPC), which is right next to Hart Plaza. We planned to drop off the twins at Grandma’s, pick up Sarah’s new coworker Anna and her husband Nate in Dearborn, breeze into the underground parking at the NPC, and saunter over to Hart Plaza. This plan can be simply diagrammed as follows:

What actually happened is much tougher to diagram.

It turned out the road to the NPC was closed. I drove up to the policeman manning the entrance, asked Sarah to do the talking (expecting she could hit him with some important-sounding names and acronyms and apply her forceful persuasive powers to get us through to the UAW-Ford building), and rolled down the window. It was then that Sarah, known for her powerful skills of getting things done with difficult people in difficult situations, apparently went into passive mode. Maybe it was the gun. “Uh, can we get through there?”, she asked apologetically. The slightly amused cop directed us to Cobo rooftop parking. I dove away while making fun of Sarah mercilessly, which I intend to keep doing until she threatens me (I don’t carry a gun).

As it turned out there was lots of parking left at Cobo. So the plan was adjusted. We would walk to the NPC like the common folk and then pick up our VIP plan from there. As we neared the building, Sarah redeemed herself by talking the police into letting us pass, although they told us we wouldn’t be allowed to get into the NPC. We smiled politely at their lack of understanding of our special status. They didn’t realize that we were “on the list.”

At the NPC, of course, we were surprised to find that we couldn’t get in. While the NPC security people were sufficiently impressed with Sarah and Anna’s name and acronym-dropping, regular security didn’t control the building at that point. The Secret Service did, and the Secret Service doesn’t speak Ford.

So we went to stand in line. Actually, the word “line” hardly begins to describe it. It was more of a serial crowd winding up Jefferson, then Washington along Cobo Hall, and then through a convoluted set of folds on downtown side streets. It was like we were waiting for the “Detroit” ride at Disneyland, enjoying the carefully reproduced ambiance. The line moved but as Obamatime approached and we still couldn’t even see Hart Plaza, we knew we wouldn’t be shaking hands with The One. The strangest part was people didn’t seem very upset about it. It was a pleasant, mostly shady walk downtown. We all figured we would see or hear something, and the whole event had a slight air of history to it. Harrison and I kept a running joke going between us of spotting undercover Secret Service agents. “See that bird?” he would ask. “Secret Service.”

Every once in a while Harrison would get a little sniffly and say he was “still sad about Luke.” I took that as a healthy thing. He’s learning that life goes on, even if not as happily for a while and never in quite the same way.

As we finally turned the corner on Jefferson the line just sort of broke up and turned into a crowd. Apparently they had finally closed off Hart Plaza. So we stood in the intersection of Jefferson and Griswold and watched the huge screen erected for the occasion. Apparently they hadn’t considered that people would want to actually listen to the speech though. There might have been some small speakers, but I got the impression we were listening to the sound system from the stage in Hart Plaza. We heard The One sing to Aretha Franklin, heard his clear, declarative sentences in support of organized labor, and could tell that much of the speech was actually about helping hurricane victims. I missed the fact that there was a moment of silent prayer, which was probably just as well.

By then we were in the sun and the kids were wilting. So when the speech ended after less than fifteen minutes we weren’t disappointed. We worked our way back to Cobo and the car, dropped off Anna and Nate, and were having lunch at a Chili’s within an hour. Sarah and I can’t take the senior kids to a restaurant very often so we didn’t feel too guilty about taking advantage of Grandma for an extra 30 minutes.

So the last day of summer vacation turned out to be a pretty good day, all things considered.

There are more pictures on our Flickr stream.


We got the news this afternoon that Luke passed away. Harrison is very sad. Luke was one of his favorite friends, and he’s still processing what all this means. School starts the day after tomorrow and Harrison has been looking forward to seeing Luke and telling him about his summer.

Fortunately for Harrison, Aunt Amy was here today along with Grandma and Grandpa Labuta. Amy is a professional at this kind of thing. She helped him talk through it.

Sarah and I are sad and stunned. Luke was such a nice boy. Exactly the kind of friend you want your child to have. The only way we allow the kids to leave the house at all is to delude ourselves into thinking things like this can’t happen. So when it happens to a child so much like (and so close to) our child, who was with his parents who loved him so much and took such good care of him . . . it just doesn’t compute.

Our thoughts are with Luke’s parents right now, and his twin brother, and his entire family.

Auto Accident

One of Harrison’s best friends was very badly hurt in a car accident yesterday. We just found out he’s in the hospital in critical condition. We told Harrison he is hurt, and Harrison is processing it. Harrison actually saw the aftermath of the accident yesterday while he was out with Sarah and Grace.

I’m obviously not going to use any names here, but if you are concerned this might be someone you know give us a call.

There is currently a generic article in the Ann Arbor News about it.

More to come . . .


It’s been a while since I’ve written. It hasn’t been from lack of news, or even from lack of time. I might describe the problem as a writer’s block, but it’s really been more of a writer’s clog.

See, a couple of weeks (or so) ago, I started an entry about my recent anxieties. The main idea was that things are great for our family right now, but for various job-related reasons the situation is tenuous, and that is making me anxious. No matter how many times I rewrote it, it came across as exactly the sort of overly internal, things-you-should-be-saying-to-a-therapist posting that turned me off to blogging in the first place. So I kept saving it as a draft rather than posting it. Days, went by, then weeks.

To finally break the clog let me just boil it down to two bullets and delete the rest:

  • Things are tough for lots of people right now. People we know, even family members, are having to uproot themselves and make major lifestyle changes on a daily basis. Despite some bright spots, this region – which has been home to our families for generations – is withering.
  • If something happens to Sarah’s job we’ll be okay but we’ll have to give up a lot. Some are material things, which I’ve come to care about a lot less in recent years (although I would really miss the view from our bedroom window). Far worse, though, is that we’ll almost certainly have to move away. Far away. I can’t begin to describe how painful that would be. We made the decision years ago to stay in this area because this is where our family is.

So that’s it. Less literary than my earlier efforts, but at least I feel can click “Publish” on this one and move on.

Moving on . . .

We’re in ur dopaminergic reward-related brain regions, stimulating ur brain

I recently read about research done at the Baylor College of Medicine about the effects of a baby’s smile on a mother’s brain. This is my report.

The Study:
Called “What’s in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues“, the study was conducted by three Ph.D. psychologists and a medical doctor. They sought to prove that a smiling baby will cause a measurable response in the brain of the mother.

Twenty-eight first-time mothers were shown pictures of their own babies and the babies of others displaying various degrees of happiness. Then the mothers’ brains were studied via MRI.


When first-time mothers see their own infant’s face, an extensive brain network seems to be activated . . . Dopaminergic reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, infant faces.


I mean, look at this:

Now unless you are married to me then you are not the mother of these babies. Just one of the babies is smiling — slightly (while the other looks on with an expression of mild concern) — and yet I’ll bet you can still feel your dopaminergic reward-related brain regions being stimulated.

I am, in fact, most likely not the father of any of these babies:

And yet my dopaminergic reward-related brain regions are so stimulated it’s borderline indecent.

Which brings me to my real problem with this study. Not only was it unnecessary, it also worries me a little that so much attention is being drawn to this issue. I mean, if the folks at the DEA (or Nancy Reagan) were to take notice of just how much babies stimulate our dopaminergic reward-related brain regions, they would almost certainly decide that baby faces should be declared controlled substances. And if baby faces are outlawed, then only outlaws will have baby faces.

Think of how the world would change. People hiding in alleys with baby strollers. “Psst . . . I’ve got twins in here. Happy ones. You wanna look?”.

Sarah, Grandma, Harrison, Grace, and I would certainly be cruising the streets looking to score some smiles. We’re all into baby smiles in a big way. We act like idiots for Kennedy and Shepard until our dopaminergic brain regions are stimulated, which lasts until we walk away for a few minutes and start craving our next fix.

The twins would be big earners on the grin market. Shepard is full of big goofy smiles, and he usually adds a “oooooh” or “uga” to the mix. He can be completely ticked off and screaming about something, but when we make eye contact with him he’ll pause, smile, and say “agaa” before going back to complaining. Kennedy gives shy little smiles complete with twinkling blue eyes. She tries to talk, but she hasn’t quite figured out which nerves to use, so her mouth will start to move but then she ends up flopping her arms or sticking out her tongue instead. It’s a bit like trying to beep the horn of your car but turning on the wipers instead, and it must be frustrating for her, but it’s cute to watch. You can see the gears turning in her head. “Maybe it’s this one,” she seems to be saying, “no, that’s my right leg”. Every once in the while she gets a sound out and it’s exciting for everyone involved.

I know the smiles are just a gateway expression. As Harrison got a little older I became addicted to giggles. Tickling would do it at first (and still does, actually) but after a while I had to resort to whole physical comedy routines to get my giggle fix. I know as he gets older it will get harder and harder. Grace is a tougher audience yet. Hopefully at least one of the twins will turn out to be a fan of my Three Stooges-style comedy (I’m betting on Shepard) to get me through the next decade or so. After that, there’s only one solution.

No wonder parents push so hard for grandkids.

* I know someone will ask (Mom) so I will point out here that the title of this entry is an Internet meme. You see what I did there?

The Bow Just Makes It Worse

Larry had his lion cut and bath today at the vet. You see the glow in his eyes? That’s not flash. It’s hate.

The Larry capture went much better this morning than in the past, which is good because just Wednesday I finished my course of antibiotics from the last time. Sarah and I both wore thick work gloves, and when Larry was cornered on the stairs we threw a towel over him. He didn’t fight much after that.

We put Larry in a “soft” carrier, the kind made like a gym bag with lots of mesh. While Sarah got ready to go she put him by the front door. Larry is terrified of doorbells (it means kitticidal people are waiting to get in the house). When the babysitter rang the doorbell, the cat carrier started to shake and actually moved across the floor. Gravity and physics in general are no match for Larry Terror. We must never try to travel by air with Larry. If shampoo is too dangerous for airplanes then trying to smuggle Larry aboard would have to be considered a terrorist act.

Apparently Larry was quite the rug when they extracted him at the vet, though, and he didn’t have to be sedated. Nobody lost any blood. Larry came back with no tangles and smelling pretty. You can see from the pictures they had to get pretty close to the skin.

The bow, I think, is just rubbing it in.

Edward also had an adventurous day at the vet. He had four molars pulled (under general anesthetic) because of decay. Edward had a canine tooth pulled about a year ago for the same reason. I wasn’t too worried about him losing the canine because (a) as an indoor cat he has never had to incapacitate prey by biting the jugular, and (b) general principle (he is a feline, not a canine). But I was worried he wouldn’t be able to crunch his dry food as well with the missing molars. So far, though, he’s doing OK. I guess if the “sick” teeth were sore, he might actually do better now.

Overall, Edward is doing much better than I would if I had four teeth pulled.

So for Louis, Larry, and Edward, it’s been a tough week. Ivan, you’re next . . .

Shear Cruelty

On Sunday morning I awoke to find that I had slept until 10:30. I was suspicious. It’s very unusual that I’m not the first one up, and almost unprecedented that I would be allowed to sleep so late. The only time that happens is if Sarah is consumed with some project. She’s much like a child in that way: long silences mean she’s up to something. For example, I might expect to find the furniture of a room completely rearranged, or the walls painted, or the contents of a file cabinet spread around the floor for reorganization.

After a while, I gathered my courage and sat up. I immediately got a look at what Sarah had been doing.

You see, one of Sarah’s many skills is cutting hair. She isn’t very versatile. She only knows one haircut. But if you want your hair to look something like mine, and don’t mind that it will turn out looking slightly different each time, then she can handle it. This started years ago, when I returned from the barber to (yet again) hear Sarah list all the things the barber had done wrong. Sarah finally convinced herself that she could do a better job, got one of those home hair cutting kits (which came with a 10 minute video – Sarah’s only training to date), and set to work. And she has been quite successful with my hair, if you accept as the measure of success Sarah’s own satisfaction. That is the standard she and I both use, so things have worked out fine.

After a while, as owners of multiple long-haired cats, we learned how much grooming costs and how expensive it is to get really bad matted fur cut out with clippers. “Well,” said Sarah, “I’ve got clippers.” At that point of course she meant my clippers, and I had to share with the cats for a while until she finally purchased a new set for the cats. For a variety of reasons Louis and Larry have had particularly bad tangles this season. Whole sections of their hind-quarters and stomachs are covered with fur that is not only tangled, but compacted and cemented together with cat spit. Something had to be done.

This Friday Larry will be washed and given a “lion cut” at the vet. It will be expensive, but for various reasons Larry’s problem should be handled by professionals.

That still left Louis, and to some extent Edward. Sarah went into Single-Minded Problem-Solving mode. She ordered new, more powerful clippers. I knew why, but for some reason I didn’t stop her.

So what I saw, when I sat up sleepily in bed Sunday morning, looked somewhat like Louis sitting at the top of the stairs. Louis is our large brown tabby Maine Coon. Louis is an impressive creature with his broad facial features, heavy mane, thick fur, and long, bushy tail. I say what I saw looked “somewhat” like Louis because he no longer completely matched that description. The face (fortunately), the mane (amazingly), and the tail were unchanged. But the rest of his fur – his thick, colorfully striped fur – was gone. So the overall look – the “gestalt” of Louis, if you will – had changed dramatically. He had transformed from grand creature to the apparent survivor of some freak lawn mower accident. Louis now looked like a poorly-sheared sheep, his body like a field harvested by a drunken farmer with a three-legged mule.

Louis glanced up briefly and gave me a look of undignified panic that just made him appear that much more pathetic. Then he went back to grooming frantically, following the universal cat logic that licking fixes everything. Louis appeared to think that if he just licked enough his fur would grow back. I left him with this delusion, hoping it would soften the shock for a while.

I felt guilty, not only for oversleeping and leaving poor Louis defenseless against Sarah On A Mission, but also because I had known this was coming. The clippers had arrived at our doorstep two nights before, and Sarah had – much like this morning – disappeared quietly upstairs. When I went to look for her I found the bedroom door closed, and upon opening it I found Sarah sitting on the floor, holding her new clippers, surrounded by various shades of brown fur. I eyed her suspiciously.

“Louis is under the bed,” was all she said in explanation. I later found Louis grooming one of his back legs, which was now bare.

I knew she wasn’t done. Yet I had let it happen. So this, really, is my fault:

I’m sorry, Louis. And Edward: RUN!