King of The Jungle

The King Is In The Castle

“Dust everywhere… and out of that emerged this beautiful boy with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, holding his hand out to help me to my feet.” – Marie Lu, Legend.

We ate sushi and spaghetti for Thanksgiving last week with a giggly group of old and new friends in the remote Costa Rican surf/yoga mecca of Nosara, a place my wife and I hold deeply sacred. Sitting alone on my board the following morning, Black Friday, I stared into the vast blue and recalled the last time we visited – twelve years earlier – utterly broken and terrified we’d never have children. 

Nosara Thanksgiving 2018
Nosara Thanksgiving 2018
Our Sausalito, CA Houseboat 2006

Three miscarriages in one year had turned the lights out on our typically shiny, happy life. The third, at 19 weeks, shut our hearts down completely. All we wanted was kids. A few weeks before Christmas 2006, we opted to bury ourselves deep in Nosara’s jungle with hopes of healing. Sunlight dusted the sky our first morning, as Jodi slept, and I paddled into the warm, buttery ocean. I stared into that same Pacific void, taking deep circular breaths. And got magnificently lost in the ocean’s bounty for the next three hours, until my arms were spaghetti, and I came in to meet my wife for breakfast. Jodi sat immersed in Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold Kushner, and she handed me a passage that read, “When we open our hearts to pain and suffering, we begin to heal, not because suffering is redemptive but because opening our hearts is.”

Tell Me Again, 70"x48" Acrylic, paper, antique maps, linen on panel 2005
Tell Me Again, 70″x48″ Acrylic, paper, antique maps, linen on panel 2006

When we returned to Sausalito, Jodi told me she was ready to try again but that this was the last time. If our fourth pregnancy did not work, she simply could not handle another attempt physically or emotionally. That was a tough pill to swallow, but I swallowed it in silence. 

The fourth pregnancy with Jodi on bedrest with her dog and manservant in our houseboat.
The fourth pregnancy – Jodi on houseboat bedrest with her dog and manservant.

Opening our hearts

Watching my squealing boys jump into the bean-shaped pool last weekend … and paddle out by my side into the forgiving surf … and engage smartly with interested adults, I felt music in me … a soulful bass line that thumped in my open heart. A rhythm born of both agony and ecstasy beneath a melody sung in the voices of children. My children. 

Before we ever met, Jodi and I dreamt of living abroad with our future families. We had no idea that the family part would be such a struggle. But that struggle produced in us both a hyper awareness, not intellectual but cellular. Akin to a blind person who one day gets to see. Every color, every shape, even the most mundane, becomes sanctified. One simply wants to keep one’s eyes open and see see see. 

Really Good Food - acrylic paint, 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook on wood panel, 48x32” 2016
Really Good Food – acrylic paint, 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook on wood panel, 48×32” 2016. Available.

Yes, the world is a mess, but my gratitude burns hotter than ever … for the privilege of fatherhood and the love of a fine woman. And living parents. And friends who keep me laughing. And the opportunity to live simply in unspoiled nature. And the ability to transform whimsy into works of art. Mine is a full belly that has known the pain of hunger. 

Art Basel 2018

Find my work at Pinta Art Fair during Art Basel Miami 2018

For the first time in a while, I won’t be attending Art Basel Miami this year (I’ll be surfing). But I invite you and your friends to find my paintings at the Pinta Fair in Wynwood. 

Gratitude not Attitude!

An Homage to Women, Wives and Mothers

My eldest stepped out of the car yesterday in a brand new lemon-yellow school shirt and khaki shorts, holding a bag full of pencils, gummy erasers, round-end scissors, Elmers glue, etc. Before I could even catch him for a kiss, Kai was up the stairs and gone to his first day of first grade. At least he was smiling, which is more than I can say for my wife and me.

As we drove away, Jodi told me she felt nervous and out of sorts. About what exactly, she could not say.

Today is our 9th anniversary.

I won’t bore you with “it goes so fast” sap. I will give props to the person who carried that first-grader … and his preK4 brother, through a herculean struggle that nearly put the light out of both our eyes. We thought, very seriously, we’d be childless. Jodi weathered 3 miscarriages in one year, stuck a needle in her belly every day for 8 months and laid still on a couch for 8 weeks, unable to do anything but stare out the window of our houseboat at the beautiful cruel world that mocked our most fundamental dreams.

Houseboat Living Room
Jodi’s bedrest quarters on our houseboat

She sacrificed, as all mothers do, at a level we men can only pretend to understand. For far too long, our lives felt like a Dali painting where all the clocks were melting. I did my best, throughout those dark years, to cheerlead and not make a bad situation worse. One thing I did do was make some paintings specifically geared to bring our son.

Bounce, acrylic and antique Betty Crocker Cookbook recipes on panel, 40"x60, 2007, Stuart Sheldon
Bounce, acrylic and antique Betty Crocker Cookbook recipes on panel, 40″x60″, 2007, Stuart Sheldon

Then, on the fourth try, we found ourselves in a SF hospital, nervous that our son was five weeks early. “You ready to have a baby?” our doc asked, her gloved hands raised. Jodi bore down in agony, channeling all mothers from all time. I held her sweaty left hand, or should I say, I allowed her to squeeze mine fiercely. For the next half hour, roughly every minute, each contraction and push extracted a guttural, low-pitched groan. No man can make that feral, wounded wolf sound.

A contraction ended, and I touched a cool wet cloth to Jodi’s sweating face. Her chin dropped to her chest. “Almost home, honey,” I whispered into her ear. In a few more contractions, the very top of the baby’s head, still not outside Jodi’s body, became slightly visible, a white clammy sliver no wider than a pencil and covered in dark matted hair. Soon you will smile in my face, Kai … or cry. I do not care which. 

“I can get him out in the next two contractions,” the doc said.
“Do it!” Jodi barked with the last of her vigor.

Our world was a pinpoint.

I wanted this next moment to click by in frames, so that I could fully witness my child emerging. To study the evolving look on his face, and Jodi’s face, and mine. To feel the earth shift in my reality. To recognize a line at which my life changed forever. I wanted this moment to be very, very slow. It could not have happened more quickly. The doc put a small suction cup on the crown of his head, and with Jodi’s considerable cooperation, yanked him out on the next contraction like she was uncorking a rare Bordeaux.

And there he was … our first-grader.

All covered in white foam. Our little seahorse. Alive and well and chomping at the bit so hard he arrived four-and-a-half weeks early. His eyes puffy as scones. He grabbed my finger and squeezed it seconds after emerging. A firm unwavering grip. “I am here. Let’s DO THIS!” he said clearly with that squeeze.

Hello Kai. Thank your mother.

My world did shift on that day. In fact, it shifted 9 years ago when she said, “I do.” Because that was when a semblance of order entered my chaos. We weathered some squalls together that would have sunk many a couple. Now, we’re cruising like nobody’s business.

Thank you, Jodi … for being a natural, amazing, prototypical mother. And for being a stellar, empathetic and patient partner. And for being funny and silly and serious and adorable. I’m sorry I forgot to put Bodhi’s family picture in his school bag yesterday; thanks for always forgiving my dumbassness.

We’ve got a good thing, even when one of us is out of sorts. We’ll just be out of sorts together. Let me say, with humility and gratitude, for all the world to hear, that I LOVE YOU and appreciate every bit of it.

Happy Anniversary!

For Father’s Day I Got a Vasectomy

Jodi & Stu at a Miami cafe April 2012

The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.

Author unknown

Let me be clear. Being a father is by far my greatest achievement, and my two sons are the yardstick by which I measure my value as a person. My love for them transcends any emotion I have ever known. It is love that hurts and tickles deep in my solar plexus.

This is not an indictment of fatherhood. Fatherhood is my essence. No, this is a celebration of motherhood. I did it for my wife. I did it because she asked. I did it because she covered the birth control all these years. She suffered 3 miscarriages in 12 months. She carried 2 babies, one of which required bed rest and the other a cerclage (look it up, not pretty). She nursed and she sang and she cradled. And did everything that a world-class mother does to make their children thrive.

Let’s be honest here; we men do very little in the baby making department beyond popping in for an early bedside visit. After that we cheerlead as convincingly as possible. Then our wife delivers us a ripe watermelon through an ant hole as we watch in a state of OMFG I see his head. Then she’s up all night for months while we murmur something about I wish I could breastfeed him honey so you could get some rest. And then one day, the boys are 2 and 4 and they could not be more beautiful. More cheeky. More quizzical. More impish and playful and zesty and scrumptious. And you look at them and cry for no reason. And then you look at her and wonder how did I get this lucky.

Then one day, out of the blue, your wife says, I think I want you to get snipped because my body cannot deal with the pill anymore and frankly, I don’t want to think about another child. And, at first, you think, wow, that’s a rather aggressive approach to the problem. But then you start to think glass half full. I certainly don’t want another child. We all fit in a car so nicely. And birth control. No more, be careful, I’m ovulating. No more anything other than sex whenevs. And as you stare incredulously at 50 with your 2 magical boys climbing and giggling on your back, you figure, she’s beyond worth it.

And so, for Father’s Day I got snipped. There really was nothing to it, given the modern out-patient methodology. In fact, nothing has changed. I’m still pinching myself for being so goddamned lucky. And my Father’s Day, complete with brekkie in bed, The Cat in the Hat and my 2-yr old’s 1st poop in the potty could not have been any sweeter.

What If We Can’t Have Children?

Excerpted from my upcoming book, A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece:

“So, I’m telling you, if it doesn’t happen next time, I don’t think I can do this anymore,” my wife said.

If it doesn’t happen next time… I had never allowed that notion to take hold in my mind, because I found it ridiculous. Of course we would have a child. But the idea that we might not succeed was beginning to register. All of a sudden, my wife was putting the barrel of a gun in my mouth and saying, if it doesn’t work this time, I’m going to pull the trigger and blow the brains out on your most fundamental aspiration. Were that to happen, I would have some hard choices to make, choices that I had never seriously studied. Merely pondering those choices made me uneasy, because it felt like a betrayal of Jodi. But what would I do if she categorically refused to try again? What if I just could not handle it? I did not want to consider any of this, but my subconscious had its insidious means.