Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Papa Tips #3: Asterisk Mode

July 1, 2009

Okay, your new child is two days old.  You’ve been camped in your bedroom for the past 36 hours, wrapped up in all things baby.  But you’ve run out of bread and milk and coffee and so it’s time to go to the grocery store.

So you leave your partner with the child, throw on some sweats, and head to the store. You wander the aisles, checking off your list, humming along, and in your head you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow.  It’s so nice to be doing something normal again.”

But in your heart all you want to do is race down to checkstand 3 and grab the microphone from the cashier and yell, “WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE ACTING SO NORMAL?  CAN’T YOU SEE — I JUST HAD A BABY!”

You could swear it’s obvious, like there’s a big asterisk stamped right on your forehead.  All your normal routine little things — things you used to do automatically, reflexively, suddenly have this grandiose context wrapped around them.  It’s no longer “getting coffee”; now it’s “getting coffee/just had a baby”. “Paying the bills/just had a baby”.

Of course, nobody can see this asterisk —  but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.  And don’t worry, eventually it goes away.  Well, actually, it doesn’t: instead that asterisk becomes the new normal, and you wonder how you ever managed to pay the bills without it there to keep you company.

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Papa Tips #2: Take Time Off

July 1, 2009

This one is probably obvious to most people, although the reasoning behind it might be a surprise. The days after your baby are born are amazing, energetic, frantic, sleepy, exhausting, exhilarating times. You don’t want to miss a second of it. It’s a no-brainer that you’ll want to take a week or so off work to be there for the first days of your child’s life.

But don’t stop at one week!  You need to take all the vacation, sick leave, and paternity leave that you can.  Because after a week or so, things start to settle down a bit.  Life starts to feel a little bit normal.  But when that “normal” returns, it isn’t the same normal as before.  There are new rhythms and details and unspoken little habits that emerge and become part of your own private culture of parenting.  If you’re not there to understand and help shape those details, then you’ll be playing catch-up for the next 12 months.

Two weeks’ leave is a minimum.  Four weeks should get you well on your way.  The optimum is 6 weeks (best described as “42 nights”).  Or, you can do what I did and make stay-at-home fatherhood your full-time vocation.  Whatever you choose, rest assured that time spent at home in the first few weeks is time well invested.

Papa Tips #1: Be There For The Birth

June 9, 2009

Now is a great time to become a father.  Never before has our culture granted men such leniency in defining the role they wish to play as parents.  You can be more engaged in all aspects of your children’s live.  And there’s no better place to start than at the birth.

Among many little joys and terrors, two things about the birth really stand out to me.

The first is the gift of being beside your partner as she undertakes an incredibly difficult and inspiring journey.  You’ll see her experience physical and emotional stresses unlike anything either of you have experienced before.  Just to watch, let alone participate as a birth partner, is wonderful.

Ruby’s birth was quick, intense and went fairly smoothly except for one complication: the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck.  This was a dangerous situation; paramedics were called to the birth center as a precaution.  Kate was giving birth naturally and drug free, and she was barely lucid from hyperventilation and the intensity of her pain.  As things became more critical with Ruby’s condition, we had to make some important decisions about how the birth was to progress.  We were about to go down a less-than-desirable course when Kate took matters into her own hands.  She was exhausted and weak from labor, but she told us to wait.  She gathered her energy, focused, and in three quick contractions Ruby was born.  It was an incredible moment of determination and focus and resolve.  In terms of scale, it was unlike anything I’d witnessed before.  It was an honor to be there with her and watch her plumb the depths of her own strength.

The second gift is to be there when your child takes her first quick breath, tastes the sweaty, musty world we live in — and announces herself.  I’m not much for metaphysical spirituality, but when I heard that noise, of Ruby telling us she had arrived, I lost touch with this world.  I wept.  For the duration of that cry, I floated in the sound.  During those moments a piece of my soul was removed and placed into her, and I felt it happen.  It was a moment of pure, sweet joy to match the intensity of everything we’d experienced in the preceeding hours.

You can’t have one gift without the other — they’re a matching set, with the intensity of labour setting you up for the sweet release of a new life.  Be there, and you get them both.

Ping Pong Soup

April 28, 2009

Here’s a great recipe that is perfect for those days when I come home from work with no ideas for dinner, some random ingredients in the fridge, and a Ruby who wants to spend time with Papa.

The recipe is simple: just put a carton off chicken broth in a pot, turn on the heat, and then take turns adding ingredients. Anything goes. Yes, anything.

The last time we played it turned out something like this:

Me: leftover chicken meat and bones.

Ruby: Blueberries!

Me: A handful of cooked rice

Ruby: Apple juice!

Me: Some chopped up onions

Ruby: Carrots!

Me: Chinese five-spice powder

Ruby: Cheerios!

You’ll notice that all of Ruby’s ingredients end in an exclamation mark, because she’s having tons of fun.  As a parent, it’s a good exercise of your ability to deal with the randomness of toddlerhood.  It’s actually hard to think of any ingredients I would veto — especially since, as the person who is dealing with the bubbling pot, I get to control the amount of each ingredient and when it is added.  So (for example) in our previous round, the Cheerios were sprinkled on top, as a garnish, after the soup had been served.

This recipe is also a good challenge to aspiring chefs to learn to roll with what’s available, and find common flavor threads to unite the random bits bubbling in the pot.

My advice if you try this (and I hope you do!):

  • Put healthy basics in at the beginning — stock, meat, rice, barley, potatoes, that kind of thing.
  • Save the spices for the end, when you know what kinds of flavors you’re dealing with.
  • Keep an open mind!

Princess Party Redux

April 27, 2009

The Princess Party has come and gone and Ruby is none the worse for wear.  Despite the omnipresent generic princess decor, Ruby has yet to ask to be saved from any dragons (although she does need rescuing from the occasional uncooperative button).

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pastry<br>(yes, that's a cake)

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pink Pastry (yes, that's a cake)

Ruby chose to dress in her bee costume (her other option was ladybug) and she was the only non-princess among the half-dozen girls.  But crinoline and satin bodices notwithstanding, it was about what you’d expect from a gather of three- and four-year-olds: chasing, screaming, stickers, face painting, and juice boxes.  Ruby made the most of being a bee among the lilies of the kingdom and spent her time chasing everyone around.  She didn’t seem to mind that she was the only non-princess among the girls.  The fact is, I really wasn’t worried so much what she would think — it was the parents I was worried about, and what they’d think of the dork who brought his kid in a bee costume to the princess party.

Which brings us to the best part of the whole experience: spending time with Ruby’s classmates and their parents.  I only get to make a very brief appearance at Ruby’s school once per week before rushing off to catch a bus, and so I don’t get much opportunity to chat with the parents or get to know them or their kids.  But Ruby is going to be spending lots of time around these people for the next few years, and she’ll be invited to more birthdays, playdates, and the like.  It was good for me to have some pleasant conversations with several of the parents and get to know them a bit better.

The Bee Gets A Bee

The Bee Gets A Bee

p.s. The decor (princess decals strewn about the house) and a Princess Pageant Castle Cake did confirm my earlier conception of the Princess meme (or at least the way it is marketed).  These ladies do nothing but stand around — can’t one of the them hop on a horse, pull out a book, or even, you know, walk somewhere?  Even a model’s strut would be a step up from the static subvervient pose these princesses present.

Pretty Pretty Papa Princess

April 22, 2009

It was bound to happy sooner or later. Try as we might to shield Ruby from the infectious outside world, we knew that eventually she’d be exposed.  Sending her to preschool only increased the odds, and now, finally, it has happened:  she’s been invited to a Disney Princess Birthday Party.

original by flickr user PinkMoose

original by flickr user PinkMoose

Kate and I both anti-princessification, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Looking at the cheap invitation (printed at home, not Officially Licensed Merchandise) a whole new objection sprang to mind: they’re posers.  Literally — all they do is pose.  They’ve been stripped of their original, entertaining and worthwhile myths and stand inactive and vacant. Instead of watching their actions, you should just watch them…  as they do nothing.  Added to our original objections over the cultural appropriation, incessant marketing, pressure to conform, and rigid gender roles and segregation, and you can guess how we want to RSVP.

But ultimately, we decided she should go. These are friends she sees at school every day and it’s good for her to also see them outside of school.  And she’ll be exposed to the princess culture whether we like it or not, so at least one of us can go along and frame her experience in ways that we think are important.

Still, we’re not going down without a fight.  And so, gender roles and pretty princesses be damned, it is I who will be escorting Ruby to the Disney Princess Birthday Party. I won’t be surprised if I’m the only non-related adult male in attendance.

Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Ruby is just starting to learn how to play with (instead of alongside) her peers and it’s a pleasure to watch her social skills develop. I don’t get many opportunities to watch her play with her schoolmates — complete strangers (to me) she’s developed complex personal relationships with. It’s fascinating to see her trying to flex her leadership muscles, or be polite and kind, or be totally socially oblivious.

I’m sure Ruby will have fun, and I’ll do my best around the grown-ups, and this little foray into the world of princesses will soon be forgotten amidst our summer of swimming and building and jumping and thinking.

Oh, and the invitation encourages children to wear costumes. Do you think Princess Ladybug will work?

Trust and Failure

April 13, 2008

Earlier this month, the NY Sun published an article by Lenore Skenazy, a woman who let her nine-year-old son ride the bus home from Manhattan, unaccompanied, as an exercise in building confidence and independence. She was subsequently labeled the worst mom in the world.

I’m totally in support of her goal to break us out of the deer-in-headlights state of fear that so many parents fall into: “Children are precious. The world is scary. We must protect them at all costs…”

Except, of course, that we shouldn’t protect them at all costs. That’s a conscious choice I made when Ruby was born: that I would not do everything in my power to make her happy, comfortable, and safe. She will, for the most part, be given a relatively luxurious life (globally and historically speaking) but she’ll also be given the opportunity to fall off the monkey bars, trip on the sidewalk, embarrass herself, fail, and have her heart broken a few times.

I don’t wish these on her, and my heart will be broken every time hers is. But I also understand the importance of letting her choose and take her own risks so that she can truly appreciate the consequences of her failure and her successes. When she wants to, and when we think she’s ready, we’ll let her take the bus home too. And of course we’ll sit anxiously on the porch awaiting her arrival. But that anxiousness is the price we pay for the joy of parenting the best way we can.

[Ms. Skenazy now has a blog devoted to this subject: Free Range Kids]

Heave Ho

February 11, 2008

I’m starting off another work week with a sore back. It’s now been six months that I’ve had constant lower back pain. I’ve tried both resting and exercising, and neither has seemed to work — although I’m still working hard on the latter and have only recently started making decent progress towards some of my fitness goals.

It’s no coincidence that my back is worse on Monday — I spend all weekend carrying Ruby around. I do it because I love to hold her, whisper in her ear, nuzzle against her cheek, and see the world with her. But I think the sad truth is that as she’s gotten heavier, the strain on my back has gotten to be too much. I generally carry her just on one side, which doesn’t help things.

I’m going to try spending a week consciously avoiding carrying Ruby. It will be difficult, and I don’t know how many exceptions I’ll need to make to get through the week. And in the end, I’m not even sure if it’ll be worth it.

Missing Ruby

November 28, 2007

Work is ramping up for a big release next week, and so I’m working longer hours than usual. And that means I’ll be spending less time with Ruby.

Right now my work hours are shifted a little early than in the morning so that I can come home and have dinner with my family. That tends to not work so well during crunch time, though, as the principals tend to work into the evening and things can really get interesting at work around 5pm or 6pm. So, for this week I’m working into the evening and not getting home until around Ruby’s bedtime.

Ruby’s day is only about 12 hours long, and with the bus ride I can easily be away from home for all of it. Today I managed to catch her for a few minutes at each end of her day but I could, theoretically, go an entire day (or days) without seeing Ruby.

It seems particularly hard to spend significant amounts of time away from Ruby — harder than it is to be away from Kate. I’ll think about Ruby and Kate spending time together and feel like I’m falling behind. I want to be just as important a figure in Ruby’s life as Kate is, but of course in reality that’s impossible. One of us needs to work (and actually, I’m quite happy to be the one earning a paycheck right now).

This Morning On The Bus

November 7, 2007

On this morning’s bus ride there was a woman with two little girls (2 or 3 years old?) in a double pram.  One of the girls was unhappy and would occasionally scream.

This was a bus at 7am, full of morning commuters.  The pram took up a bunch of extra space.  Screaming on a bus at seven in the morning is kind of hard to tolerate.

But still, one can only assume that she wasn’t happy about the situation either.  It’s hard to imagine that she wasn taking a 7am bus ride with two unhappy toddlers just for the sheer joy of it.