Here’s my latest for Los Angeles magazine, where I am the Senior Writer, which is a thing that happened since the last time I updated this site. This comes from my experience last year, when being a new dad kept me from going back to Cleveland for the first time for the holidays ever. It was a little heartbreaking, but also kind of great, if only for the empty roads, which were so empty you could drive down the middle of the street like you were the president or something. I also saw what a post-plague Los Angeles looks like: very livable.
How writer Joe Donatelli got “Mommy Thumb.” Which is an actual thing.
My baby son is a large boy. If he was on a baby football team, he’d be a fullback. No neck. All torso and thick legs. Stout. He will probably be bigger and taller than me as an adult, which is both awesome (for sports purposes) and terrible…
Son: I would like a third steak.
Me: But we only borrowed enough money from the bank for you to eat two steaks today.
Son: Then I will gnaw on the credenza.
After months of feeding and holding the boy – and his twin sister – I began to notice a dull ache and then a sharp pain in my left thumb.
Like any guy I did the smart thing and immediately ignored it, knowing it would get better on its own through MAGIC. The magic of me. Illness and injury is something that happens to other people, not me, because, in my narrative view of the world I am the central character, and the central character does not get a hurty thumb from feeding babies. Well, after a few weeks I was unable to lift either baby without grimacing, which is when my wife nudged me towards the doctor’s office. And this is when I finally accepted that my injured thumb was not something to be ignored but rather was a very important medical development to be explored and written about because it was a thing that was happening to me.
I called my primary care physician, and I was referred to Dr. John T. Knight of the Hand and Wrist Institute in Beverly Hills. I felt relieved. I wasn’t being shuffled off to some lame doctor in the Valley. I was going to an institute, which sounded very official, the type of place where they probably heal you and also set national hand and wrist policy. The fact that it was in Beverly Hills also set me at ease. There are two types of doctors in Los Angeles – doctors who are so excellent at doctoring that they can afford Beverly Hills’ sky-high rents and doctors whose doctoring errors maim and kill so many patients that they cannot afford a practice in the 90210 postal code.
The walls of Dr. Knight’s office are covered in classy art of hands and wrists. A clip of Dr. Knight making an appearance on “The Doctors” is shown on a loop on a flat-screen, all of which has been placed there to subtly remind the patient, “This will be expensive.”
I was taken to an x-ray room, which I thought was odd because no one asked me if I wanted to be x-rayed. I was told, “Please come this way for the x-rays.” I could have objected, but when someone in a doctor’s office thinks I should be x-rayed, I go because I am not smarter at medicine than someone dressed in scrubs.
The x-ray tech was very nice, and he made the type of comforting small talk that’s necessary when a patient is asked to drape a lead blanket over his genitals, like that’s a normal thing we all do every day—protect our reproductive bits from being radiated. The tech took several x-rays, none of which I ever saw (for all I know there are no x-rays and the whole thing is a scam by Big Lead Genital Blanket), and I was taken to another room to await Dr. Knight.
Dr. Knight was a very nice man. One gets the sense he sees many, many patients, which explains why my appointment to see him was at the very specific time of 3:50 p.m. After bending and twisting my thumb and asking a few questions and me telling him I had twins at home, one of whom was the size of linebacker Von Miller, Dr. Knight determined that I had “mommy thumb.”
Dr. Knight: We see it all the time, usually with moms. It’s called de Quervain’s tendonitis.
Me: I had no idea this was a thing.
Dr. Knight: You can call it daddy thumb if you want.
Me: No. Let’s use the official medical terminology: mommy thumb.
If you’re wondering how to avoid mommy thumbs: 1.) Keep your thumbs and fingers together in a cupped fashion when handling the babies – don’t splay your fingers 2.) Rest the babies on your body – your forearms for example – and not your hands 3.) Have children in your 20s, when you will be less likely to become injured by a 12-pound human being.
I was given a shot of cortisone and sent next door to have a brace made for my thumb and wrist.
The brace drew a lot of attention in public and in the office because human beings tend to fixate on physical maladies so that they themselves can learn something from your poor health so they can stay healthy because it’s never about you, the injured party, it’s about the other person whose health is perfectly fine, because we’re all selfish and terrible.
“What’s wrong with your wrist?”
“I have mommy thumb.”
Then I would explain what mommy thumbs were, and I could see people tuning out when I got to the part about how it was caused by my twins, which are a set of people most others don’t have in their homes and thus cannot relate to.
So I started mixing it up.
“What’s wrong with your wrist?”
“Mommy thumb. It’s from picking up my kids.”
“Do you have kids?”
“Yes, but I never got mommy thumbs.”
“I guess I just love my children too much. Well, see you later.”
It took a few weeks – I reinjured my thumb (heroically) playing softball, necessitating a second cortisone shot – but my mommy thumb is better and the brace is off, joining Das Boot in The Hallway Closet of Honor.
I went to a baby class in Los Angeles, and it was everything I thought it would be.
With twins on the way, we’re attending baby classes, which are designed to help new parents prepare for the rigors of childrearing. And, bless it, they’re already helping. The classes are expensive as hell and generally located far from your house during rush hour, leaving you broker and more stressed than before. Oh, you are a clever metaphor, aren’t you, baby classes? Next time just have the staff puke on my face and make it less subtle.
Our most recent baby class was for twins, and it was led by a woman who gave birth to twins and who had four kids in a 28-month span and six children total. Which, in LA, is just insane. In Los Angeles one dog = one child anywhere else in America. Two LA kids = four somewhere else kids. Three LA kids = six normal kids. Six LA kids = eighteen Ohio children. It’s the rare parent in LA who births half a dozen humans, but our teacher was able to do it, and she was able to do it because she’s Mary Poppins.
I’m not exaggerating. Her speech and mannerisms were proper. Intentional. Intelligent. She had a foreign accent—from South Africa. She had strong opinions that she was able to express with a single arched eyebrow. She laughed the laugh of a woman who’s been inside a drawing room before. Of course she has six kids. She has a flying umbrella in her closet.
The class was on the second floor of a strip mall, in a playroom for babies. There were a dozen other couples present, all of them expecting twins. One guy arrived 20 minutes before his wife did, and I wanted to point and say, “Hey, look at this guy. The Peyton Manning of dads right here. Early. Good attitude. No complaints. Looks good in chinos. Puts team above self. How about a round of applause?” But I did not, and I am glad I did not because I would have been thrown to the parking lot from the second floor of a strip mall.
We sat on a padded carpet in floor chairs, surrounded by toys and photos of proud graduate babies whose class pictures were thematically organized as TMZ posts and Facebook pages and other clever groupings. Mary Poppins’ job was to walk us through a list of recommended products and practices. For example, she let us know that in the early going we’d be ripping through 160 diapers a week, like we were Congress or something. She was there to both advise and to warn.
“I want to tell you it will all be easy and fun, but that would be a lie,” she said at the top of the two-hour class.
At this point we’ve been warned by friends and loved ones: your old life where you traveled and wore unstained clothes and slept like a normal human being is over. Your new life of deprivation and arguing over whose turn it is to clean the humidifier is just beginning.
I didn’t know if I was going to like her, but Mary Poppins won me over early. When the discussion turned to washing the baby clothes, one woman raised her hand and said, “We live in a condo. It’s nice. But we share a washing machine with our neighbors. I have no idea what they wash in there. Should we run the washing once empty before we wash our baby’s clothes?”
Even I knew the answer to that one. You are going to be so tired you’re going to forget your baby even has clothes. You won’t care what your neighbors wash in the machine before you do. Our neighbors were washing spent uranium rods? Well, are there any rods in there NOW? No? Throw a load in.
The expectant mother who asked seemed very nice and genuinely wanted only the best for her kids. I hoped, for her sake, that Mary Poppins would gently break into song: If it’s a dirty washing machine you fear/Give a wink and tug your ear! But instead, and this was just as effective, she looked at the washing machine woman with the look of “You’ve never been around new parents before, have you?” and smiled and said, “No.”
(And yeah, I get that you should wash a newborn’s clothes with special baby soap, so don’t email me telling me I’m history’s greatest monster for not mentioning that all babies need special soaps that have been approved by Jessica Alba. I sat by Mary Poppins’ knee for two hours. I know some baby stuff.)
When the discussion turned to washing baby bottles, Mary Poppins elicited a few surprised looks when she said, “After a few months, you can just wash the bottles in the dishwasher.” Some of the parents looked at her like, “Oh, no, you didn’t. We registered for the $250 Philip Avent Electric Steam Sterilizer, and we are going to use it until our kids are at least in college.” My wife and me, however, were relieved to hear this, and my own mother later told me, “Yeah, by kid three you just run the bottle under some warm water for a few seconds.”
The most important topic for parents in Los Angeles, though, more so than the fanatical eradication of all germs from planet earth, is hired help. Nannies. Babysitters. Night nurses. Sleep coaches. We were informed that Jamaican nurses flown in from New York City are all the rage in Los Angeles right now.
Apparently Jamaicans are so much cheaper than the local help that the airfare is offset by the low hourly rate. You have to lock them down months in advance, they’re in such high demand. Mary Poppins told us to run any hires by her, because she keeps a list, and we don’t want to hire any of the nannies that “really scare” her. So, apparently, there are nannies out there who scare a woman who birthed four kids in a 28-month span. Great.
We will be getting help from siblings and parents, all of whom we’ll run by Mary Poppins, to make sure they’re not on her list.
Joe Donatelli asks a very important question: If you buy the wrong crib, can your baby still get into Harvard.
Last week Jen and I went crib shopping for the twins, and I could not stop laughing at the names of the cribs, so I wrote the following column for Playboy.com, which, like me, is totally non-nude and relatively safe for work.
Read Joe Donatelli’s report from FreedomFest about libertarians for Playboy.com.
Everyone hates libertarians, but has anyone actually ever talked to one of them? I went to FreedomFest in Las Vegas and talked to members of the only political group in the country loathed intensely by both the left and the right. Fun and freedom and precious metal investment advice were had by all.