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Three Years Ago Today

B-Day

I barged into the room with a purpose, but couldn’t remember for the life of me what that purpose was until I saw the familiar red banner of the USA Today sports section. Birthday or not, the world of college football stops for no one. I hadn’t planned on watching any of the action that day, but I was such a bag of nerves that I desperately needed a distraction. After reviewing the docket of games, I decided to place a small wager on one of them—a symbolic fifty dollar bet that I was sure to win. For that day was a lucky one—it was three of my four children’s birthday. Auburn catching seventeen points against Florida at The Swamp was my selection.

On the way out the door, I jumped at my own reflection in the mirror, surprised at what looked back at me—a haggard man clad in jeans and an untucked blue button-down with big dark circles under his eyes offset by visible sweat rings protruding from each armpit. Lovely.

I walked the bleached sterile, hallway back to the labor and delivery unit where Caroline had been transferred earlier that morning. It was there she’d receive her epidural and go over the last-minute details of what was to follow. On my way, I pondered the decision I had yet to make—above the curtain or below it during the C-section?

After extensive research on the matter, I learned that above the curtain was a great option because, from that vantage point, you could see an infant’s first moment unencumbered. Below the curtain was also great, because, well, you couldn’t see anything. A C-section, after all, is major abdominal surgery and abdominal surgery meant guts. I’m not into guts. While I desperately wanted to see each child’s first breath, doing so would come with the risk of catching a glimpse of what was moved out of the way to get each child that first breath. Given my squeamish nature, potential fainting spells could not be disregarded. I entered the room undecided.

Randy, a barrel-chested nurse anesthetist with wavy brown hair, was busily administering the epidural shot in Caroline’s spine. I sat down and pretended to be preoccupied with my newspaper, but I guess I wasn’t very convincing as Randy fired several questions my way, though I couldn’t tell you what they were or how I answered them. A few moments later, Dr. Barron, our pastor, came by to wish us well. We spoke about sports, football I think, before he politely excused himself to the general waiting area. Family and friends continued to file into our room. I spoke with all of them but don’t recall much of what was said. It’s hard to make small talk before big moments.

Peggy came to wheel Caroline to the delivery room and instructed me to meet her in the small hallway that separated it from the rest of the floor once Caroline was fully prepped. I had fifteen minutes to kill, and I spent the first few of them staring out the window thinking of everything imaginable, but nothing in particular. It was a gorgeous morning, not a cloud in the sky, which was a shade of blue that bordered on perfection of some significant sort. I wondered how anything could be so beautiful as well as why a sight I had seen countless times in my life suddenly evoked such feelings of grandeur.

It wasn’t that long ago when I was walking the earth alone, hoping to share the love inside of me with my very own family, though I remained skeptical I was destined for such a blessing. But in just twenty minutes, I would welcome my second, third, and fourth child into this world—my first three biological ones.

I put on the scrubs Peggy had given me and noticed a wet smudge on the blue top. I rubbed my eyes and conducted a quick survey of the back of my hand which confirmed what the scrubs had reported—my eyes were moist, but not with tears of anxiety or even joy—but rather tears of resolve. The same resolve that never let me give up on falling in love and having a family. The same resolve that led me to Caroline and Alli. The same resolve that helped lead us through the thirty-six-week maze to where we were at that exact moment. I dried my eyes and made my way to the hallway outside the delivery room.

Once there, I tried to wash my trembling hands in a deep stainless-steel sink, but I couldn’t find the handle to turn it on. There wasn’t one. You had to step on a pedal to get the water to come out. Still shaking, I examined my two soap choices and selected the one on the left. It was lotion. Undeterred, I got it right the second time. The area no longer felt like a small hallway adjacent to a delivery room but rather like a long skinny holding cell, which I began to pace. After a few minutes, the butterflies in my stomach compelled me to sit down on the metal bench opposite the delivery room door. I stared at the opaque glass.

What’s going on in there? What are they doing to her?

Peggy walked into the hallway from the hospital side. “I thought you were already in the delivery room,” I said.

“I was, but I stepped out to get this chart,” she answered while waiving a clipboard as proof. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I answered. “Nothing.”

“Promise?” she asked.

“Promise.”

“Okay. Hey, I’ll stick my head out when it’s time for you to come in.”

“Peggy,” I said, just as she had turned to enter the delivery room.

“John,” she answered with a smile.

“Everything’s going to be okay, right? I mean with Caroline.”

“Everything’s going to be fine.”

“What about the babies?”

“They’ll be fine, too. You’ve got about five minutes. Hang in there.”

I rested my elbows on my knees and held my head in my hands, staring down at the cold white floor between my feet and tried to think random thoughts. A warm spring day popped into my mind, one with a sky similar to the one I’d stared at ten minutes earlier. It was Alli’s first baseball practice. Her dad and I were standing on either side of her when Alli’s coach beckoned her to practice fielding grounders. She looked up at me, her blue eyes gray with fear.

“John, come with me,” she pleaded while tugging at my shirt. It wasn’t unusual for a parent to take the infield with a child at that age, particularly during the first few practices of the year, but I hesitated awkwardly.

“Rob, you go,” I said with an inviting nod toward her father.

“No, John, you go. You’re good at this stuff.”

I walked Alli to the infield for her very first time and felt so proud to be alongside her—so proud to love her. The image of us in the late afternoon sun—Alli slapping her mitt, me patting the top of the Oriole hat that covered her thick blond hair—froze in my mind, allowing me to admire it from every single angle until a sinking feeling came over me.

How in the world could I duplicate that love three times over? It’s physically impossible to be in more than one place at the same time. I could never simultaneously be with each of the triplets on such an occasion. I’d never be able to love the triplets like I loved Alli. Even if I could, they’d never be able to feel that love the same way because it would be divided by three. It’s not that I wouldn’t try. It’s just that it seemed impossible.

Peggy gently nudged my shoulder—I hadn’t even heard her approach. I looked at the opaque glass and was surprised at the clarity, but I shouldn’t have been. The door was open. “We’re ready for you,” she said, gesturing toward the room our babies would soon share with us. I walked inside and took the seat reserved for me right beside Caroline, immediately noticing the sheet partition that extended up from her chest.

Oh yeah, above it, or below it? I guess it’ll be a game-time decision.

There were more people in the room than I was expecting. In addition to Peggy, there were three other nurses, the nurse anesthetist, three doctors from the NICU, and last, but not least, the leader of the procession, Dr. Saraceno. I held Caroline’s hand and stared directly at her. If she was nervous, she didn’t show it. She flashed me a serene smile, making her eyes wide as she did so. She looked a little out of it, but she was calm. She looked happy. I was, too. It was time.

Lost in our gaze, I almost didn’t notice the sudden bustle of activity that was going on all around us. One of the nurses rushed up to Dr. Saraceno. Our firstborn was about to breathe his first breath. I stood up, still holding Caroline’s hand, looking first at her, then toward Dr. Saraceno who skillfully pulled Samuel Cave Osborne (Monster) into the world. His tiny arms vacillated with surprising speed, but his elbows never left his side. His little red face appeared smooshed, possibly from sharing the womb of his small momma with his brother and sister for so long. He had a tuft of dark hair that went well with his pronounced widow’s peak.

Sam! You’re here!

Peggy cut Sam’s umbilical cord, an act he acknowledged with an ear-piercing scream. One of the NICU doctors carried him away to a sink on the far wall. She cleaned him up before weighing him and depositing him in an isolette off to the side of the foot of the bed. There were two other empty ones forming a row toward us on our right, both waiting patiently for an occupant.

“Baby A, four pounds, nine-and-a-half ounces. Nine seventeen,” someone announced.

The NICU doctor jotted down notes as Peggy and another nurse tended to Sam. I watched as they monitored our perfect little man until a tear clouded my view. I wiped it away and turned my attention back to Dr. Saraceno just in time to see him pulling out John Turner Osborne (Biggs).

Jack! Mommy and I have been waiting for you!

Just after Jack took his first breath, someone handed me a baby blanket with Sam’s footprint and handprint before handing me Sam himself. His eyes were closed. His mouth was open. He was still screaming. I showed him to Caroline who managed to smile adoringly at our firstborn just before he was taken from me. I looked back toward Jack in time to see Peggy cut his cord. Jack didn’t utter a peep. I wasn’t sure, but I thought he yawned. Like Sam, he had a little pear-shaped torso with tiny arms and legs. Unlike Sam, his entire body was still. He had a nonchalant air about him, as if he’d been born a million times before and knew exactly what to expect. He was a little longer and leaner than Sam, particularly his face, but I guessed him to weigh about the same as his brother. His brother. Wow. Jack was whisked away by one of the NICU doctors and cleaned off in much the same way Sam had been, only without all the screaming. He, too, was weighed and then placed in his own isolette.

“Baby B, four pounds, nine ounces. Nine eighteen.”

I turned my attention back to Dr. Saraceno just as he was pulling out Caroline Kirby (Peanut). I was standing again, though I didn’t remember leaving my seat. Dr. Saraceno held our daughter in the air and I fell in love for the third time in two minutes.

Kirby, look at you, pumpkin. You’re absolutely beautiful!

She was tiny, much smaller than the boys. She made a funny face, her lips pursed; the upper one almost touching her nose. Her head was perfectly round and small—smaller than a baseball.

“Baby C, three pounds, five ounces. Nine nineteen.”

As Kirby was placed in her isolate, a nurse handed me a blanket with Jack’s prints, before carefully giving me Jack. I looked at my lean little guy before stealing a glance at Kirby, just as two of the NICU doctors began working with her, one poking and prodding, the other taking her temperature. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the third NICU doctor rushing toward her.

What’s wrong?

“Nothing to worry about John,” Dr. Saraceno reassured. “Every baby under four pounds gets that treatment. She looks great, buddy.”

I looked back at Sam. He was still screaming, lying on his back in the isolate to the right of the foot of the bed. Then I peeked at Jack. He was still lying silently in the middle isolette. I looked at Kirby, but it was harder to catch a glimpse of her with all the latexed hands that continued to assess her. When I did manage to get one, she was still beautiful. She was the closest to me, but the furthest from reach, as I wasn’t allowed to hold her. Each of our babies looked different. Each of our babies looked perfect.

Kirby opened her mouth for the first time, making another funny face as she did so. A scream that started faint and grew ever louder in a perfect crescendo escaped from her parted lips. It rivaled Sam’s, only more delicate. She lifted her itty bitty legs in the air and as she did, I was shocked to notice she was so little that she didn’t even seem to have a bottom—just two tiny flesh-colored sticks attached directly to her back. With her limbs in the air and spread apart, she let out a relatively impressive stream of urine, an act which temporarily silenced her.

If there’s vinegar in there, then it’s official—she’s just like her momma.

“Baby C has voided.”

Voided, hmmm.

Someone placed Kirby’s blanket in my lap on top of the other two. Look at that little footprint! I showed it to Caroline, but she didn’t seem to notice. She gave my hand a gentle pump as she looked alternately at our three babies. I followed suit before feeling something rubbing against my forearm. Unbeknownst to me, three ID bracelets had been secured around my wrist—one for each baby.

Four nurses, three doctors, three blankets, two screams, two parents, two babies held, two boys, one girl, and one new application for the word voided. Entropy had surely never been more perfectly askew.

Sam and Jack stayed with us in the delivery room as Dr. Saraceno sewed Caroline back up. He thought they were probably big enough to stay in the nursery, but wouldn’t say for sure. The nurses closed Kirby’s isolette to keep her temperature stable and took her away for further evaluation—again, standard operating procedure for a baby under four pounds. She would probably spend a “considerable amount of time” in the NICU due to her size, but Dr. Saraceno wouldn’t speculate how long. At that point we didn’t care. Like her brothers, she was out of the womb. Like her brothers, her first few moments indicated nothing out of the ordinary. Our commute was finally over, but the journey was just beginning.

And thus, it was so. The Osborne triplets had begun their reign of Planet Earth. One by one, each of the hospital staff on hand congratulated us and told us how beautiful the babies were. They say that to everyone and everyone believes them. We did, too. They were telling the truth.

Once Dr. Saraceno was completely finished, the nurses took down the sheet. Whether I would peer above that sheet or stay below it had never even crossed my mind. I had merely acted instinctively. Since I witnessed each of our babies coming out of the womb, I knew I had been above it, though I wondered why I hadn’t noticed the things I was scared I might. Love must see only the things that matter.

I turned around and looked out the window that was behind us—the sky was still perfectly blue, just like that day at the ballpark with Alli. I thought of her practice, and then my concern of not being able to simultaneously love three children as effectively as I loved Alli. I breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge gained in my first moments as a father of triplets—I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

It would, too, be possible to love Sam, Jack, and Kirby—all three at the same time, and all three every bit as much as I loved Alli. In fact, it would be impossible not to. And what’s more, they’d feel every single ounce of it. Because love is infinite. And infinity divided by three is still infinity.

* * *

The preceding was a chapter from my book, Tales from the Trips, which is available for only $9.00 directly from the publisher.

Happy Birthday, guys! I LOVE YOU! Here’s a slide show of some old pics along with a few we took on Monday when we gave them the birthday presents and cupcakes. (Pookie’s with her dad today, and we wanted her to be a part of it, so we did it early.)

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The guys at DadLabs are funny folks, except they kept asking me if I wanted to see their “Bunsen Bruners,” and, frankly, I’m not into that kinda stuff. Especially with a camera rolling and all.

But I did take them up on their offer to interview me along with fellow “dad authors” Ron Mattocks (Sugar Milk) and Danny Evans (Rage Against the Meshugenah). Ron and Danny are both incredible writers not to mention super-funny and extremely cool. Make sure you visit their sites and learn more about their books. And don’t be afraid to visit my book’s site. You can buy Tales from the Trips direct for only $9.00 — price good for a limited time — as well as on Amazon.

Now, here’s that interview.



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Note to Self

Dear Self,

Next time you get invited on TV to talk about your book, think twice about bringing your brood. Because you never know when your boys will break free and stroll onto the set. (Thank goodness it was during a commercial.)

What did you think they’d do? Just sit there quietly while watching hosts Russell Bivens and Beth Haynes do their thing? Well, yeah, as a matter of fact, I did. And, at least for part of the time, they did just that.

But even when they were being good boys and girls, they were a mere spontaneous meltdown away from making the wrong kind of news in chairs which were scant feet away from all the action. Lucky Lovie was there to keep everything under control.

Surely they’d be good for my interview. Right?

Um, wrong. The interview, appropriately enough, was littered with kiddie interruptions.

And honestly? I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Wanna watch it? Click this link.

Tales from the Trips is available at Carpe Librum Booksellers, Borders Books, on amazon or direct from the publisher. 30% of all proceeds go to Childhelp, a leading non-proffit organization which benefits victims of child abuse and neglect.

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lovely lovie

As most of you know, I have a new book out, Tales from the Trips. Virtually every reader I’ve heard from seems to agree on one thing.

Lovie steals the show.

So what is it about Lovie that’s so captivating, you may wonder? Simple. It’s how well she deals with all of my nonsense. An exchange we had just two days ago is a perfect example.

“You’re a jerk,” she said, half kidding and half not. (Why I was being called a jerk is anyone’s guess, but I can assure you it was probably warranted.)

“A jerk?” I asked.

“Yep. A jerk. If people want to find you on the internet, they just type in http://www.jerk.”

“Which domain? Dot com? Dot edu? Dot org, maybe?” I asked.

“Dot dick, honey. Dot dick.”

No wonder my readers love her, so. Today, I thought it’d be fun to post five of my favorite Lovie–JCO exchanges from the book. Since I’m too lazy to type, I’ll be cutting and pasting, which means our gal Lovie will be going by her real name, Caroline.

* * *

5.) With Caroline in the hospital on bed rest, the task of getting Pookie ready for school each day was left to yours truly. I called my wife in a panic the night before the first of those mornings for some pointers. Here’s how it went down:

“What am I gonna do tomorrow?” I asked her.

“You’re going to get her ready for school.”

“Obviously, but what do I do?”

“Well, for starters, you have to make her take her reflux medicine and fix her breakfast.”

“I can handle the medicine, but what should I fix her for breakfast? She won’t eat cereal, will she?”

“No. You’ll have to make her something. Go to the refrigerator.”

“Refrigerator?”

“Yeah, you know, that door in our kitchen that you open when you want to have a snack?”

“Oh. I thought that was the pantry,” I said.

“Do you want my help or not?” asked Caroline.

“I need your help.”

“Then shut up and open up the fridge.”

* * *

4. ) Caroline’s, um, constructive criticism of Briggs, the dog I owned long before she and I were ever an item:

“Honey,” Caroline began another call to me, “your dumbass dog has struck again.”

“Oh no,” I exclaimed. Even I was getting sick of his shenanigans. “What was it this time? A toy? A shirt?”

“No. He’s on to much messier and disgusting things now. He dug into the garbage and chewed up a full bag of…”

No. No. Please no. Not a bag of…

“DIRTY DIAPERS! A whole day’s worth. Not only that, he must have eaten some because he’s thrown up on the floor. And I’ve got news for you. IT DOESN’T SMELL LIKE THROW UP! IT SMELLS LIKE SOMETHING ELSE!”

“Well, honey,” I answered, “you always said he had shit for brains. I suppose it was only a matter of time before he started having shit for lunch.”

* * *

3.) Don’t mess with Caroline when it comes to organizing for a trip:

“Honey,” I complained, “there’s no room for my bag.”

“Here,” she said, handing me three plastic grocery sacks.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Your luggage,” she replied. “Unpack your bag and put only the stuff you need in these. We’ll find a place for them.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Wrong. My allotted luggage was squeezed under the front seat.

* * *

2.) Caroline is quite possibly the world’s worst driver. But that doesn’t stop her from fighting back:

“Caroline!” I screamed as she narrowly missed rear-ending a car that was slowing down to turn right. “See that blinking light down there on the right side of that man’s car? It’s called a turn signal. Do you know what it indicates? It indicates that he’s about to turn right, which means he’ll have to slow down. That indicates that you should probably slow down, too.”

“Honey,” she said.

“What?”

“Do you know what this indicates?” she asked while slowly extending her middle finger.

* * *

the road trips usually end here.

#1) Quite possibly my favorite exchange of all-time, another road-trip gem:

“We need to stop for lunch between eleven-thirty and twelve,” said Caroline.

The effective traveling rule of putting off all stops for as long as possible made the answer an obvious one. “Great,” I said. “We’ll stop at twelve.”

“But everyone in America will be eating then,” complained Caroline.

“Well,” I said, “I guess we’ll be eating with them. We’ll call it America’s Lunch.”

“You’re America’s Jackass,” she answered.

We stopped at eleven-thirty.

* * *

So there you have it. Five of my favorite Lovie–JCO exchanges from Tales from the Trips–but, remember, those are only five. There are many, many more. If you’d like to read them, please buy the book. You can get it on Amazon or you can also buy direct from the publisher. Those copies will be autographed.

But come to think of it, maybe I should just have my wife sign them.

After all, Lovie steals the show.

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Recently I blogged about my New Year’s goals. (I don’t make resolutions. They sound too dire…) I hope to become a better husband to Lovie and a better dad to Pookie, A, B, and C. I also hope to become a better Christian and in turn, a better man. I ended the post by referring to a mystery goal–one that readers would “hear about soon.”

Many of you know that I’ve written a parenting memoir called Tales from the Trips. What most of you don’t know is that I plan on donating thirty percent of the net proceeds from the sale of my book to charity, more specifically to an incredible organization called Childhelp.

And that’s my mystery New Year’s goal–to help raise as much money and awareness for Childhelp as possible.

All you have to do to assist is buy my book! Tales from the Trips will be officially released in April (National Child Abuse Prevention month) and available through Amazon.com. However, a limited number of pre-release editions can be purchased directly from the publisher later this month. (Buying direct from the publisher means a bigger donation to Childhelp!) Please send me an email at john@laughterthoughtmedia.com if you’d like to be notified as soon as I have them in hand. The cost of the book is $14.95 plus tax, shipping, and handling. If you’ve already signed up, don’t worry! I’ve got you down.

So who is Childhelp, and what, exactly, do they do? Childhelp® was founded in 1959 by Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, and has become a leading national non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect.  Childhelp’s approach focuses on prevention, intervention and treatment. They have a National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD) which fields calls twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in addition to having a physical presence in many communities across the country.

Here are some of the programs they offer in those communities.

Good-Touch/Bad-Touch®:

A child abuse prevention and education program within elementary schools which reaches over 450,000 annually.

Residential treatment facilities (Villages):

Entities which provide specialized, comprehensive care for severely abused children. In addition to psychotherapy, counseling, medical care, and on-site schools, the programs also include art, animal-assisted, music and recreational therapy to help heal the heart, soul, and body of each child in our care.

Therapeutic Group Homes:

Entities which provide a nurturing refuge for abused and neglected children until they can be placed in foster care, with adoptive parents or returned to their families, as determined by the courts.

Therapeutic Foster Care

Entities which provide recruitment, training and certification for foster families with access to 24 hour professional counseling and support.

Children’s Advocacy Centers

A coalition of law enforcement, prosecution, social service agencies, medical professionals, and crisis counselors working together to utilize a highly effective, one-stop approach to the investigation of child abuse. The concept of the Children’s Advocacy Center is also available within a mobile unit to provide services for abused children in remote areas.

I have seen firsthand the amazing good that Childhelp has done in my community of Knoxville, TN, where we are lucky enough to have a Child Advocacy Center as well as a Foster Care program. In 2008 alone, Childhelp touched the lives of over 1,300 children, up 250% from 2000. Their impact will do nothing but continue to grow, and this year, I hope to be a small part of that growth.

To keep up to date on the latest developments, please visit me here or at the Tales from the Trips website. I’ll make sure to pass along more details as they develop.

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