Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Like a Game...

A non-parent a while back asked me what being a dad was like, knowing I wasn't shy about elaborating on parenthood.

I told her what I've told 100 other people. There's being a parent and there's everything else in your life. Take everything else you've ever gone through; childhood, college, the day you got married, the day you got divorced...everything. Take the sum of what you've experienced, put it all together and it still doesn't match the day your child is born.

That's the only day of my life I felt different...changed as a human being. From that day on your kids have you playing chutes and ladders on the game-board of life...sucking on the sweetest highs for as long as you can and scraping subterranean floors enduring the most unforgiving lows...but your life will never be the same.

She said she understood but we both knew she really didn't. I told her not to worry. Some things in life are like that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dad Will Never Be Mom...

I look at my wife and my two daughters and I know that no matter how good a dad I am, no matter how well I raise my children, I will never have the bond with them that my wife will.

For the first three or four months of a baby's life it's hard for most men I know. Me included. You do your best and you love them because they're yours but let's face that age they're just a mass of protoplasm that craps and poops and eats. Then around four months they start smiling some and at least you get some feedback for your troubles. But you're a man and no matter how you slice it, it ain't the same. My wife carried them. She dealt with the nausea, the mood swings, the gut expansion, the weight gain, the euphoria, the pure and simple love of pregnancy. She's the one that saved every printout from every ultra-sound.

What did I do? I tried to be comforting. To give her space when necessary, support when needed and relief when she hurt. But when my children were born she was the one who got up every night with them. She did the breast feeding while I watched -- grateful she had something that soothed our crying child. In awe at the way they looked at each other. Listening intently at the sucking sound my daughter makes when feeding. Just that voracious "slurp" over pure silence. I watched knowing this was something I would never quite be a part of no matter how hard I tried or how good a parent I became. I would always be on the outside.

I hurt when my children hurt. I'm touched in ways I never thought possible. I hold them and play with them and devote chunks of my life to them. But I'm still just the dad. Second fiddle. I'm not the mom and I never will be. I find myself envious once in a while, but mostly I'm content....second fiddle is hard enough...

The Doctor

Little things never mattered much to you until you had a daughter. Today you walked into the hospital a little frightened that your little girl would be petrified at the sight of a doctor and her white coat. You've seen her scared before at the sight of that coat and you never want to see that look again in her never want her grab you again in terror and bury her head in your shoulder as if she was avoiding being witness to a murder

You had to smile when she weighed-in and hopped up and down on the scale even though she probably shouldn't have. It meant she was happy. And every happy minute for her felt like a win for you. You felt just the slightest push of moisture behind your eyes when she aced her hearing test and smiled, her blond hair bouncing up and down as she laughed. You thought you were halfway home -- halfway to leaving the doctor's office without a meltdown. You knew you were all the way when the doctor came in without a white coat and your little girl was still smiling. You wondered if she was growing up before your eyes or maybe she was just having a good day.

You wanted to hug the doctor when the exam was over and she offered your little girl a lollipop. You could have handled the meltdown but as you all walked out the door you were quietly thrilled you didn't have thought this was a small victory...a two-hour win in the never ending war...

The Manual

If I heard "there's no manual to being a parent" once I heard it 1,000 times.

Nonsense. The problem is there are too many manuals. Too many books. And too many people who think just because they raised a kid and managed to keep them away from drugs, alcohol and unwanted teen pregnancy, they're experts on child-rearing.

When your daughter is crying her ass off for 6 hours a day and you want to throw her through a wall the problem isn't getting advice. The problem is that everyone who has-a-third-cousin-who-had-a-friend-who-had-a-baby-that-cried-a-lot-too is giving you advice that you didn't really ask for. You'll hear it all.
Gas. Indigestion (isn't that the same thing?) Not sleeping enough. Sleeping too much. No schedule. And my all time favorite...


What is colic anyways besides a catch-all phrase that tells you your life has gone to hell and you might as well deal with it because your daughter is going to scream in your ear for an hour no matter what position you put her in? I've looked it up in books, on-line, talked to doctors and I can't get a straight answer on what colic really is... "Ahhh, she must be colicky." I've heard that plenty. "No, she's just a miserable infant right now."

So for all the grandmothers and grandfathers and Aunt Mabel's and Uncle Floyd's who can tell you just what you need to do to soothe your child I say relax...just because you had kids doesn't make you the expert. And GOD, it doesn't mean I have to listen to you blabber on about "I remember when Johnny was up every night for a month....." Great. You fought your war and survived. Sweet. Now let me fight mine in peace...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Continental Divide...

The continental divide in your marriage starts with a small fissure and grows from there. Here’s an example. You enter marriage and have children with the idea that everything is going to be roughly 50/50. Other than breastfeeding you didn’t want there to be anything that you couldn’t do with your children. Changing diapers, bathing them, cooking their food when they were older. Everything.

But here’s how reality sometimes works. Since you’re the breadwinner and you’re gone 60 – 70 hours a week, the wife starts doing a lot of the heavy lifting. She has a particular way she makes the food, a certain way she changes the diapers, and so on. And since being a mother is everything to her she gets pretty militant for the first time in her life. When you’re off the road or back from the office you want to pitch in and do your share. You’re looking forward to it, even. I mean they are your kids too and you should be able to handle just about everything.

But when you defrost the breast-milk from the freezer you don’t quite do it the way she does. Meaning you heated it for 23 seconds instead of 25 and those two seconds make for the advent of the apocalypse. And by the way when you strap on your daughter’s diaper you sometimes make it a bit too tight since you’re out of practice and you don’t always pull the folds down on her leg to prevent leakage. So the wife is pissed because she’s been doing it forever and it isn’t too hard and here you are screwing things up and the poo and piss are going to leak all over her because the diaper wasn’t put on right. Now you’re pissed because you work your ass off to make a comfortable life for your wife and kids and by the way, most of the parents you know BOTH have to work and your wife doesn’t so she should be grateful she’s even around 24/7 to change diapers and make baby food to begin with.

So you start saying “screw it.” Since I’m so bad at this let her make the food and change the diapers all the time. It’ll make her happy because she’ll get to do it right every time and you’ll be happy because you won’t feel like an ass for being told how wrong you’re doing it. Only she isn’t happy because she thinks she shouldn’t have to change the diapers and make the food every single time. She’s peeved because you aren’t pitching in and you are the dad after all and she knows two dads down the street who change diapers without the apocalypse descending on mankind and why can’t you either? And she’s further pissed because she has no free time because she’s covering for your ass when you should be helping out.

Now you’re pissed because you’ve busted your ass at your job and when you get home your self-esteem takes a bath because now you’re convinced you can’t heat milk and strap a piece of cloth to your child. And you say "screw it mom, go do it yourself." So six months later you realize that mom does just about everything, she resents it and you resent it too but you don’t talk much about it cause that’s just how it is and there are other battles to fight and you have to pick them carefully because by 8pm at night you feel like a zombie and you’re ready for 38 hours of sleep.

Welcome to the fissure. Congratulations. You’re well on your way to the continental divide. Enjoy the view.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One Good Minute Can Last Me A Whole Year....

I had three minutes of nirvana today. Daughter #1 and I laying on the couch. Me tickling her on the ribs. Horsing around. She was so happy. Laughing and giggling together it seemed like forever but it was probably only three minutes or so. The unintended taste of her hair in my mouth as I wrapped my arms around her waist and squeezed. The feel of her head banging against my chin in recoil.

Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” was playing in the dining room. His voice swelling as the song hits nearly impossible heights of beauty…then softens…then crescendo’s again…mirroring the way the world felt for a second. Spitting out her hair I thought this moment is why I had kids. I made a little memory today – just me and my daughter.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Diapers and the Damage Done...

Changing an infant’s diaper is brutal. Couple it with changing the diaper of a three year old at the same time and you feel like you’re in the middle of an episode of keystone cops.

First you change the infant. She’s daughter #2 because she came second down the “turnpike.” You place both of them next to each other on the floor of their bedroom. Now it’s a race against the clock to keep both of them happy – or at least not crying and miserable.

So you operate at warp speed. You peel off the onesy with it’s complicated button pattern and then you peel off the diaper. You try your best to remember what button fits with what button hole but you’re sure you’ll forget because around the crotch area it gets a little complicated. Trust me, it does. Usually your infant’s dump has the consistency and color of rancid squash and today’s edition is no exception. So you lift her legs like a Thanksgiving turkey to scoop out the poo from her crack. It’s around this time you think to yourself, “Christ she’s fat.” Michelin-man legs. No tone. Rolls with no butter. You console yourself with the fact that your first daughter was pretty fat too, though not this bad, and that as soon as she started crawling, walking and actually using those leg muscles, that she dropped half a ton.

Daughter #2 has yet to reach that stage so she hasn’t been “chiseled out of her fat jacket” as you like to tell people daughter #1 was. Now you’re trying to keep #2 occupied and happy and you feel like you’re doing a song and dance just to keep her from crying. Smiling and mouthing unintelligible words because you want her to forget you’ve got your hand all up in her nether-regions. Then it’s back on with the diaper and as you try to put the onesy back on you see the big squash colored stain on the back and you realize she poo’d through her diaper. Now you’re on one knee, rummaging through her drawer because the wife puts all the kids clothes away and you’ve got no clue where her next onesy is. Finally you find one that could be onesy pajamas but you don’t really give a crap as long as they have buttons. You force her arms and legs into it and you button everything up. You’re sure half the buttons are in the wrong button holes but hell, you feel like a rock star anyway. You’re thrilled that daughter #1 is still happy and not a fusspot because trying to fit two arms and two legs into a onesy when she’s writhing around is the reason they invented straight-jackets for adults…

Then you’re off to your older daughter who has waited patiently while you’ve managed not to maul her baby sister. Daughter #1 has also made a #2 and 50% of the time hers look like rabbit turds. You’re in luck. Today’s movement is long and strong but daughter #1 wants to pause and admire her dump as if she gave birth to it. She'll freak if you wrap it and toss it out without gazing upon her creation. So you lovingly show it to her, meanwhile daughter #2 is two feet away and starting to squawk…squawking is a prelude to crying and this is a must to avoid. You know that once the avalanche starts rolling downhill it never stops. If she starts crying now she may cry for 30 minutes straight and mom’s boob isn’t here to make the world right. Hell if mom’s boob, not to mention the rest of her, was on premises she’d be doing the changing anyway and you could be watching football like a man was meant to on a Sunday…

So you all admire daughter #1’s dump…then it’s wipe up time and she’s complaining because she has a rash “down there.” When you piss and poop in a diaper this happens a lot, trust me. So you want to wipe hard and fast like a window washer before lunch break but instead you have to operate in slow-mo with surgical precision while both daughter’s grunt. You want to tell daughter #1 that if she was potty trained like a lot of other girls her age neither of you would be dealing with her painful butt-rash but that’s another story and besides, you’d only make her cry.

So on goes the diaper, back on go the pants. Up comes the infant in one arm, up goes two poo diapers in the other and you make a pilgrimage to the toilet where daughter #1 insists on it being flushed and she’s going to do the flushing. The room looks like a war zone; clothes, diapers and wipes. But at least no one is sobbing and no one has lost a limb and you feel like you’ll live tear-free for at least the next 20 minutes of your life….and where the hell is your wife anyways???

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dead Poets Society

I firmly believe that most of the life lessons you need to learn are contained in "Dead Poets Society." Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, etc. It's all there. Great movie. Go watch it and tell me it doesn't speak to a part of your soul.

There's a section in the middle when Robin Williams huddles up his class and talks about the things we do to sustain our lives...becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a carpenter etc...noble professions all...but poetry, love, romance...this is what we sustain life FOR...

I often think of that with my wife and children. Even without a full time job right now I feel like we spend so much of our time on the things that sustain our lives; getting our daughter to school, making sure our kids eat right, keeping them from watching too much TV and making the house an utter disaster 24/7, blah blah blah...sometimes we forget what we had kids for...we rush around so much that we forget just how at any instant, one of them can give us three seconds of joy that can make us smile for months. How our three-year old can let out a loud fart and say "I beefed!" with the biggest grin you've even seen. And how our youngest is just now learning how to smile. It's tentative at first, like she doesn't quite know what she's doing, but then the corners of her mouth rise up towards her cheeks like curtains being drawn at the best Broadway play you've ever seen and she bursts into a full-on grin. So, so rewarding after months of fussiness. Sometimes we miss these silly little, wonderful nuggets because we're worried about whether one of them will get swine flu or whether the wash needs to be put in the dryer and another load started...

I'm afraid that I'll wake up tomorrow and be 80 years old and I'll realize I wasted too much time sustaining our lives and not enough time savoring every morsel of the sweetness we've worked so hard to create. I know this. I just haven't changed it yet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sleeping Angels

I love watching my first daughter sleep in her crib. Sometimes I do it for five or ten minutes at a time. She reminds me of the way my brother used to look 25 years ago.


Blond hair falling almost over her eyes. Gently snoring and sucking on her pacifier. 3 years old. Long before boys and school and self-esteem problems and food issues. Way before peer pressure and decisions about drugs and birth control and drinking and driving. Years before she has to be a grown up. Looking like her only concern is her blanket, her pillow and the sweetness of her dreams. Blanket pulled up around the base of her neck. Nothing but sweetness and light.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Truth About Parenting...

People used to tell me for years that children take years off your life. And many of the people who've uttered those words are what I would describe as "good" and "happy" parents. It made me think a billion times before we took the plunge (pun intended) and became parents.

In the three years since our first child was born I've personally experienced the most incredible highs of my life...your heart swells with pride when your daughter aces a hearing test of all things! You find yourself crying at the sound of songs you would have laughed at for years -- their lyrics making sense to you on levels never before imaginable. Life takes on a completely different perspective than when it was all about you -- or maybe you and your wife...

It's also been in some ways, the most difficult three years of my life. And the reason is the same...because it isn't all about you and your wife. You have a 10 pound lump of flesh that's completely dependent upon you for EVERYthing. And for the first seven or eight months all they do is eat, sleep, poop, cry and poop some more. There is no feedback. They don't slap you on the back at night and say, "Hey dad I really like how you handled that rough stretch I had at 4am when I cried for an hour and spit up on your back..."

They can barely smile to let you know all of this is worth it. That in a few years they're going to be a living, breathing independent organism that can smile and laugh and worship you for all the suffering you went through...So this blog is dedicated to the daddy's who have taken on the relentless challenge of parenthood. I will try document the immeasurable highs and the lowest lows that being a father entails...oh and one note, I tend to write in third person sometimes. When things feel a little too raw, emotionally, I sometimes write "you," as in "you knew your daughter was tired but you didn't care because you thought she was acting like a brat." Don't be put off. It's just a mechanism to get the words out when part of me wants to choke them back...

And to get back to the sentiment expressed to me by the parents in my opening paragraph...yes, I do think my two children will probably take about 5 to 10 years off of my natural life...but my life will be a hundred times richer for having had them. That's a trade-off worth making, no?