Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Open Letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Dear Mr. Goodell,

I see that you've been catching a lot of heat lately. In fact, you seem to be quite the disfavored crusader these days. I'm sure that you're very aware that the rule changes you've implemented in the NFL over the last few years haven't been very popular among the masses. Fans, broadcasters, even players, continuously criticize the effort you've made to make the league less hazardous to the health of those who play the game. Some say you're trying to take the contact out of the contact sport of American football. That your over-enthusiasm for concussion testing is making the NFL a league for pansies. That by taking the violent, bone-crushing hits out of football, you're making it less entertaining, less exhilarating in some way. Some say that your juvenile safety rules are, quite frankly, making their game watching experience a little less enjoyable. Well, Commissioner Goodell, this is what I say...this is what I say from the bottom of my heart...
Thank you.

I know that in the sticky business of the NFL you and the players often reside on opposite sides of the fence. The lockout we all endured this last year portrayed a player vs. owner scenario in which you appeared to be a ring leader for the "other side." And it's hard to deny that your authority to use your discretion to discipline players for off-field matters occasionally paints the picture of a dictatorship. But I'm willing to look past all of that Mr. Goodell. I'm willing to extend to you an olive branch of hope. You see, your attention to the health of the men who are the backbone of the NFL is attention to the man who is the backbone of my family. And you should know that you have the undying support of a select few regarding this issue.

There is no doubt that being married to an NFL athlete comes with it's highs and lows. A high being a Sunday on which I watch my other half do what he loves for a good living. A low being a morning on which I strip a blood-stained bedsheet off of our bed and wallow to the laundry room. A high being the smile on my sweet husband's face when his celebrity enables him to touch the life of a young soul. A low being the wrenching pain in my gut when I see him gasp for air after a vicious shot to the ribs. He doesn't gasp for air alone, Commissioner, and when he takes a moment to gather himself before standing, I take a moment to pray.

If you were to ask my husband about the car-accident-like collisions he sustains in his line of work, he'd tell you that it's all part of the game. That he'd rather take a dangerous hit up high than a season ending shot to his knees or ankles. He says the battering of his body is worth the opportunity to provide for his family for years to come. He says "sacrifice is simply required," but I'd be amiss if I didn't say that there are many days on which I say it should not be.

I'm sure you've heard the harrowing statistics and that you know the numbers well. Based on the changes you've made to the game, I have no doubt that you are fully aware that the suicide rate for ex-NFL athletes is SIX times the national average. And when it becomes front page news that another former player has passed away before his 50th birthday from heart failure, stroke, or another physical anomaly, I know you take notice. They say that playing in the NFL takes 10 years off of a man's life, but that number is quite modest isn't it? And the life that most of these guys live post-career are often riddled with surgery and chronic pain anyways, aren't they? They replace their knees, rebuild broken bones and medicate the ache but there's no cure for an early onset of Alzheimer's and despite all of the medical advances we benefit from these days, you and I both know that dementia is still a lock him up and throw away the key kind of diagnosis.

Earlier this year, when two time Super Bowl champion Dave Duerson took his own life, I was devastated. He was fifty years young. When I heard that he shot himself in the chest to spare his brain for neurological research I cried. He left a note to his family, asking them to donate his brain to the NFL Brain Bank. He wanted everyone to know, needed them to know, that the demons that tormented him for the latter years of his life were a direct result of the game. That he suffered from the debilitating brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, an unlivable condition brought on by years of head trauma on the football field. A death sentence brought on by the savage hits that your naysayers want to see more of.

I heard Dave Duerson was a good man. That before he began to deteriorate from the disease that ultimately took his life, he was a good husband and a great father to his four children. I heard that his son Tregg spoke at his funeral and that he hopes that his father's death was not in vain. I share in his wishful hope, and it is because of your recent rule changes that I believe that you may as well.

My husband is a good man too, Commissioner. In fact he is the best man. If you knew him, you'd agree. He's kind, playful and generous. His favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and he's the true definition of an animal lover if there ever was one. He's my best friend, a devoted father to our precious baby, and I need, more than anything, to grow old with him.

It gives me a small sense of peace to know that you're looking out for him. It makes me sleep just a tiny bit better at night. Because I know this man won't walk away from the game as long as his legs hold him upright. And I know that the league will have to shut him out one day in order for him to put it behind him. Even then, I know he won't go without a fight. So thank you for making the way in which he provides for his family a little less dooming. Thank you for doing what you can to try to give the violence of the game an ounce of order. Thank you for giving my husband the bit of protection that may allow him to know our son in his adulthood.

I appreciate your continued attention to this matter Mr. Goodell. Because to some of us this matter is all that really matters.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oh the Adventures...

Yesterday I put the peanut butter in the dishwasher, a few days before that I put bibs in my underwear drawer and a week before that I pumped hand soap onto my toothbrush. I haven't actually known what day of the week it was at any given point in time over the last two months and it seems as if I've recently spent more time explaining the jumbled words that come out of my mouth rather than having actual conversations. Oh yes, sleep deprivation will sneak up on you when you least expect it. I’ve actually put the lid of the toilet down before sitting on it, thinking it was the seat, even though my husband hasn’t left the seat up in years. Danny and I thought we had seen it all, but these last two months have been our most amazing (and amusing) adventure yet.

Our precious Lennon Daniel has taken us places we didn't know existed and he's made us feel things that we never could have imagined, both for him and for each other. Oddly enough, labor was surprisingly fun in a weird way. Yes, it was fifteen hours of agonizing pain for the most part, but knowing that our little guy was on the other end of it all made it feel like some sort of challenge, like a twisted, cruel game show. Every time a minute was eliminated between contractions it was as if the ante had been raised, like we'd been promoted to the next round. And finally, at the end of what truly felt like a show, thanks to the bright lights, nurses, doctors, family, and even the housekeeping lady who kept coming into our room at inopportune times to take out the trash, we were ultimately rewarded with the grand prize of a brand new baby.

As much as I felt like Mel Gibson in the gut-pulling torture scene at the end of the movie Braveheart through out the process, I quickly realized that there really wasn't anyone or anything that could detract from my excitement to meet my little one. Not the pain, not the anxiety, not even the epidural guy sticking around to ask Danny for his thoughts on Sam Bradford while I was in active labor.

Once our little man finally showed up Danny and I were wide-eyed to say the least. Overjoyed, nervous, ecstatic, confused...the flurry of emotion was unreal. We had always felt like we were family before that day, but witnessing the creation of something that connected us on a level greater than feelings was enchanting. It's true that you can't really describe it, and it's also true that there is nothing like it. It's both magical and extraterrestrial-ish at the same time.

Over the days that ensued, we continued to marvel at what we "did." Every time Lennon smiled in his sleep or did something absolutely adorable, like yawn, one of us surely took credit for his cuteness with a simple "you're welcome sweet pea." Oh yes, we've definitely become those parents. Immensely proud and excited by everything he does. From his neck strength to his "big poops" (said in baby talk), we're impressed, and we aren't afraid to admit it. We've embraced our new family dynamic, and the fact that our lives absolutely revolve around our little bundle, with open arms. In fact, we wouldn't have it any other way.

I guess you could say that the dynamic of our new family is somewhat related to the first nickname that Danny gave our little Lennon. On the day he was born, the first term of endearment that popped in his head was "franchise." Yup, I said franchise. And soon after that, he started calling me "coach" and referring to himself as "the owner." Lennon's the star of the team, I call the shots, Danny supervises. It seems to work so far. Other nicknames that have come and gone have included Tarzan (because he was born lean, mean and muscular), Angry guy (because of the ever-present scowl he had on his face for his first few days of life), and Houdini (because no matter how tight we would swaddle him, he would ALWAYS find a way to squirm out of it). My sister also likes to call him Joo-joo bird. "Joo-joo" means "little bird" in Farsi, so in essence she calls him "bird bird." Not so cute translated, but pretty darn adorable when you hear it in person. At the end of the day though, he will always be my little sweet pea. 

The bond that Danny and Lennon have created has been one of the most precious things I've ever witnessed. Danny holds him protectively in his big strong hands and they interact through a gaze that truly speaks thousands of words. And gaze aside, Danny takes every opportunity he has to talk to him. He likes to ask him what life was like "on the inside" and he speaks to him in the broken Spanish he learned in school to "expose him to other cultures." He sings to him and lulls him to sleep (Bruno Mars' "Count on me" is officially Lennon's bedtime song) and he has been trying to teach him how to crawl since he was two days old. He says he'll have him moving by six months...refer to paragraph number five.

As cliche as it sounds, little Lennon is the light of our lives. And we're not really sure how we've navigated this far without him.

In other Fells family news, it seems that this year the adventures are never ending...Lennon and I will soon be joining Danny in Denver, to cheer on our favorite Bronco, for the 2011-12 NFL season. Although we miss our STL Ram family tremendously already, we're excited about the next chapter. A new city, a new team and the new opportunities that follow in suit. I couldn't be more proud of Danny and all that he's achieved over these last few years. I can't help but smile when I think about how he continues to beat the odds as an accomplished NFL athlete who started out as an undrafted free agent out of the Division II football program at UC Davis. He's the hardest working guy I know and I appreciate him and the physical sacrifice he makes for our family everyday. That guy inspires me in more ways than I could count and I think Lennon is blessed to have him for a dad.

If I've ever expressed a sense of gratitude in any blog I've ever written before this, multiply it by a million for this one.

I am incredibly grateful for the love-filled relationships that I share with my family and friends. I am humbled by the divine process of life and the miracles that perpetuate it. And I am completely in awe of my beautiful boy.

Gifts from God are truly the greatest gifts of all. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

The "Mom and Dad" That We're Becoming

To everyone who warns me that my life is about to change dramatically, I insist that it already has. It may not have changed in the ways that it will in a couple of months but I can't help but feel light years away from the existence I knew just a few months ago. For one, I used to just be me, just myself, just Nahall. I used to be just one person, and somewhere along the way I became two. "I" became "us" and "she" became "they." I have two heads, two spines, two smiles, two heartbeats. And even though billions of people have experienced, and will continue to experience, the same duplicity that I'm experiencing now, it still feels unique. It still feels utterly special and completely one of a kind. Because it's me and him, after all. And no combo, two-fer, or double has ever been me and him.

A little while ago, I told Danny that when I go into labor I want him to remind me that women have been having babies since the beginning of time. That even cavewomen experienced the agony of childbirth, and they endured it without any of the comforts we have today. I wanted him to tell me that if they could do it, I could do it. For some reason, I wanted to be reassured that we were all the same in some way. I thought that hearing those things would make the experience feel more universal and that those feelings would make the pain less severe in some way. But over the last couple of months I've started to look around a little, and as I've looked around at mothers-to-be, first-time moms, and even veteran moms, I've started to realize that having the same anatomy doesn't actually make me like any other woman at all. In actuality, it seems to almost magnify the differences between us. Regardless of whether I've read the same books or attended the same classes as other moms-to-be, I've learned that no two mama bears are exactly alike. Just like no two sets of parents are alike either.

I've come to accept that Danny and I will most likely be a unique parenting pair. As a matter of fact, I've deduced that we'll possibly be unlike any of those that have come before us. That's been made painfully, and somewhat hysterically, obvious as I've continued to "look around" during the course of my pregnancy. While most first-time-parents tend to gain a sense of adulthood and maturity in preparation for a little one, we have seemed to gain a sense of humor.

My husband has done the "robot" to the sound of our unborn child's heartbeat. Yup, the most popular dance move of the 60's somehow made it's way into one of our early prenatal doctor appointments. No typical "oooing" and "ahhhing" at the miracle of life over here, just a bass he could work with...
When we went in for our 20 week ultrasound, our tech measured the baby's limbs and began to tell us what growth percentile each one fell under. After all of the measurements were done Danny politely asked her to measure a limb that she had skipped over to see how "well-endowed" our fetus was. I, on the other hand, kept asking her if she could please find his "cute little tooshie" again...

Our "Childbirth Preparation" class also put into perspective how different we were from the average first-time parents. In the car on the way to the class I felt relieved that I had been able to convince Danny to change out of his "People who think they know everything annoy those of us who do" t-shirt, but was a little curious as to how the other parents would feel about his "subject appropriate" Sesame Street t-shirt that said "All my homies are from the street." Although he was the only one with a printed t-shirt on when we arrived, we didn't stand out too much...just yet. I suppose that it was my constant, incessant giggling during breathing exercises that got most couples staring and scoffing at us. I didn't mean to disturb their concentration, I just don't know how you're supposed to keep a straight face while looking in your partners eyes for a whole minute! And of course his silly faces didn't help the cause. I'm not sure what was worse though, the giggling or Danny's uncomfortable squirming during the birth film we watched. Other dads-to-be shed a tear or two while Danny ducked and covered his eyes while occasionally peeking through a crack between his fingers. Maybe even more distracting than those things though, was when I began wincing in pain while Danny massaged my lower back during a pressure-point labor exercise. The instructor noticed my discomfort and came over to ask me what the problem was. When I told her that sometimes my husband doesn't know his own strength she pushed him aside and started massaging my back herself. When I literally yelled from the intense pressure she was putting on the bottom half of my spine I heard her whisper a hopeless "Good Luck" to Danny. Their under-the-breath conversation continued with mild laughter as she walked back up to the front of the class and I was pretty sure that I heard her call me a "woosie!" When we got home Danny informed me that she didn't actually call me a "woosie." She did, however, call me something that could be mistaken for that word. I had just misheard the first letter of the word. Encouraging right?

We recently learned that reading aloud to the baby is great for his IQ, so we've tried to read to him often. Sometimes the only reading materials we have laying around though are fashion magazines and instruction manuals. So we're thinking he'll be a good dresser and a pro at building TV consoles and hooking up surround sound systems...

Oddly enough, I also find myself wondering if the baby will be born with a love of boxing. All of the simulated sparing sessions that Danny has had with him over the last few months have to have left some sort of lasting impression, right? Danny bounces around in a fighters stance, taps my belly with his index fingers and then ducks when the baby jabs back. He says he's teaching him to stay on his toes...

At some point along the way, we were also advised to sing to the little guy. We figure that Disney songs are most appropriate at his gestational age, so even though we only know the choruses of most Disney songs, we give it our best shot. Bet ya never heard the song about a handsome prince that flies around a whole new world on his magic carpet and then finds himself under the sea with a buddy that teaches him about the bare necessities and how to paint with all the colors of the wind...

Sometimes I wonder if we need to take the "parenting" role a bit more seriously, but most times I hope that we'll keep the humor alive through late night feedings and brutal diaper changes. We are who we've always been, and I guess that we choose being ourselves over being who a book or parenting philosophy has told us to be. I suppose that somewhere along the way, we decided that it's just fine to be different from the billions of parents that have come before us. It's okay for us to learn from our mistakes and laugh it out when one of us ends up with a hand full of poop or a spit-up soaked sweater.

You really never know though, maybe once the little guy gets here we'll find ourselves in a completely serious state of parenthood. Maybe we'll become obsessive about his sleeping and eating routine, trade in our Bruno Mars playlist for a Baby Einstein one, and install a hand sanitizer dispenser on the front door. Maybe we'll become those parents. I kinda hope we don't though...because I'm reeeeeally excited to dress the baby in the "Sorry Angelina, I'm taken" onesie that's hanging in his armoire and Danny can't wait to see what his tuxedo t-shirt looks like on him. Like I said, we are who we are, and, for now, we're okay with that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Change...The One Thing We Can All Depend On

I find it somewhat ironic that uncertainty and change are all that I can actually "depend" on these days. While most details of my life continuously dangle up in the air, the one constant that always seems to remain is that nothing ever stays the same.

After spending the last few months in the frigidly cold Midwest for football season, we've recently found ourselves back in our sunny California, off-season routine. And just as we started to feel settled back at home, our rapidly changing reality began to feel somewhat unsettling. 2011 will undoubtedly be a year that will go down in the books.

Per usual, the past few months have been full of highs and lows, ups and downs, wins and losses. We enjoyed the immediate success of my debut novel during the first half of the year and then turned our attention toward the exciting commotion of football season for the latter half. Danny produced a career-high season of catches and yards, while also adding to his resume of "laid back/Cali swag" touchdown celebrations. There is no doubt though, that tangled among all the buzz, we endured our fair share of adversity. 2010 was also a year of overcoming unforeseen hardships, making difficult decisions, leaning on family for emotional support and resolving to have a stronger resolve.

I'm convinced that 2010 decided to end with such an intense amount excitement for the mere purpose of preparing us for the chaos looming ahead. We wrapped the year up by expanded our family by two! We adopted another puppy dog who has fit into our family like a puzzle piece. He's a nine year old yellow lab that looks just like Lily, but he's a calm and mellow cuddler, while Lily is her usual busy-body self. Two weeks after we welcomed the furry little love bug into our home, we found out that our brood would continue to grow. We're expecting a baby boy in June and couldn't be more excited/nervous/impatient.

The first half of my pregnancy went by smoothly and swiftly. Other than feeling a bit like an alien out of a sci-fi movie, I've pretty much felt like my usual self. Danny hit his lowest weight since college during my first trimester because I wasn't doing much cooking and I didn't have an appetite, so now that I've entered, what I like to call, the "bottomless pit stage" at month 5, we're looking forward to making up for lost time together.

The last few months have been interesting, to say the least. Towards the end of season, Danny often came home from work with little bits of pregnancy knowledge that surprised even me. He once explained to me his strategy for buying in bulk when I began to get specific food cravings, and on another day he asked me if I was finding that my equilibrium was off just yet. I soon realized that, as a part of the Rams baby boom 2010, we were in good company. I had a support group of amazing ladies to bounce my "Is it normal that..." questions off of and he clearly benefited from the "new dad" locker room speak going on at work.

I've heard that having a baby during the off-season has many perks, so we're lucky to fall into that category. Apparently the likelihood that dad will be able to get home (back to California in our case) for the birth goes up tremendously in the months of Feb-July. And I've also heard that the possibility of getting help during midnight bottle duty goes WAY up when the boys don't have to be at the facility, sitting in the cold tub, at 6am.

The excitement we have for welcoming a "mini-us" into the world is, quite frankly, the most amazing feeling we've ever felt, so we've been trying to completely ignore the many impending unknowns ahead. During a time when most expecting couples are painting their nurseries and scoping out local "mommy and me" activities, Danny and I are registering for foldable bassinets and strollers fit for travel. The only certainty in the months to come is that at some point we'll need to just pick up and go. Not sure when or where just yet, but we do know that it's inevitable.

So many more questions than usual seem to hover over us this year than they have in years past...Will there be football in 2011 or will a potential NFL lockout or strike keep us in limbo for months to come? Would lockout limbo mean we have no health insurance during the months I'll need it the most? Will Danny's free agent status take us to a new state, new city, new team? Will the potentially new off-season schedule allow him to get home in time for the birth of our son if he's in the middle of OTAs or a mini-camp thousands of miles away? Should we be buying west coast-friendly short sleeved onesies or cold weather baby gear for the Fall ahead?

I suppose there is irony in this post. I sat down at my computer to write a new "what we're up to these days" blog, and I'm slowly realizing that I have absolutely no idea what we're up to. I have no idea what we're up to, or even what we'll be up to in the near future. No idea what-so-ever where we'll be or who we'll be with. No idea how we'll get there, how long we'll be there, or how we'll like it. So I suppose that rather than being a blog of "updates," this has turned into a blog of "I'll keep ya posteds."

So here's to having faith that it will all work out, like it always does, and to being excited for the adventures around the corner. Thanks for all the love and support, the blessing of having amazing family and friends is the one we cherish the most!