Monday, June 7, 2010

How To Remove Your Manhood in One Easy Step

So there's a term in the parental world I've managed to avoid encountering until now. It is the antithesis of all that is male, the yin to the yang of testosterone, the black pieces to the white pieces of swagger-and-boast, the ultimate "null" confronting all that is the Cult of the Swinging Cod.


Even mentioning the term amongst the Brethren of the Hairy Armpit will instantly create snickers, if not outright mockery. To be forced to participate in one is to be emasculated to the core of your soul. Or at least, this was my attitude on the subject prior to this weekend.

Amy had warned me before that it was entirely probable that at some point (notice all the qualifying words - even now, my core still rejects what has come and gone) we would have to make other couple friends. Specifically, couple friends who had a child the same age as our son. Ah, joy, rapture, and bulshevik, says me: I don't do double dates, I don't do social outings, and I SURELY do NOT do other people's small children. Oh. Hell. No.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself agreeing to - even, possibly urging towards - a pair-with-child social outing this weekend. The truth is I'd yet to see my child playing with other children. We don't exactly hang out together at his school, and Lucas is the lone gunman at our place. I was curious. In this case, the fact that I knew one of the pair coming with the other kid helped, too. She's decent folk, and possessed of good sense, relatively keen mind (relatively. She's a teacher, so c'mon, be reasonable, heh, heh) and sarcastic wit. The excuse to clean up our house (yeah, that's one you'll run into as well - with a little one rumpusing around, cleaning house seems a bit more pointless) was a good thing to have as well.

So. Clean house, clean kid, hell, I even shaved on a weekend. That's all the effort you get from me for this pair-with-child (no, I won't say THAT word again) social outing.

I must admit I was surprised. Turned out not to be such a bad gig. Thing is, having a kid makes certain normal outings a bit more stressful. It's not that you CAN'T go out to eat with the Lil' Dude, it's that he makes things a bit more interesting. When he decides to test his maximum volume with a mighty gleeful shriek at home, this is enchanting. When he does it at your favorite Italian eatery and the entire room turns to see what horrible medieval act you are performing on your child, this is humiliating.

Pair-with-child social outing, not so much. Both kids are going to shriek. Both pairs know it. So we're all good with it. Bonus: you get to see the other child's reaction to aforementioned shriekage. You can talk to adults without wondering what they'll think when Lil' Dude unloads a big pile into the ol' diaper. If he tosses food on the floor now, this is not uncomfortable - it is accepted social norm! Amongst non-parents, a child getting a bloody nose would be the cause for much alarm. In this case - because, as it happened, the visiting child managed to bonk herself a good one with one of Lucas's toys - it was hardly even worthy of a minute's change in conversation.

Yea verily. Pair-with-child social outings aren't such a bad gig. Kid gets to play (and you get to see a bit more of your kid's personality thereby) you get to relax, and all is well with the world.

...just don't mention the concept to the other Lords of the Couch.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lucas Emmett Fletcher, 370 days later

So the dude had his first birthday party this weekend. Kinda weird. The wife says she can't imagine that so much time has passed and that he's already a year old, but to me it feels about right. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying every moment was agony or anything like that (though the number of times that guy managed to rack me....his career as a ninja is assured) but it feels to me like a year has indeed come and gone.

Lucas isn't a "new" thing in our lives anymore, and he's not an "adjustment" that has to be made. Clan Fletch isn't two anymore. It's three. We're a group, a team, and that's that. We make plans for three, and even if one member isn't terribly polite at the dinner table, that's hardly a switch from having Dad around anyhow.

I'm guessing most guys are like me, and prior to having your own kid, going to the birthday parties of little kids always seemed a bit silly. Waiting for kiddo to open the paper on his presents, watching him ooh and ahh over some silly thing for twenty seconds, then fuss, drool, and move on to the next one. Oh yeah, here's big fun, lemme tell ya. I even had the thought - more than once - that Amy was making far too big a deal about his first birthday party. It's not like the kid's going to remember it, right? So why put in so much time and effort?

Yeah, well. Truth is, the first birthday is kind of two-fold. It's partially new experiences for the kid, and there's a definite undertone - if not exactly stated and celebrated - of "Congrats on making it through a year of parenthood." And hey, that's not a small deal. There's a lot of change in that first year, and it's not all the dude. Rescheduling your life and having to set up a reliable babysitter for Friday nights is new, y'know? (Yes, there's a lot more, but hey, let me dwell on what I choose, m'kay?)

The new experiences for the kid, I must admit, are kind of fun for the dad. I can see how other guys might roll their eyes, but take heart new fathers, this day will not suck so verily mightily as other lil'-kid birthdays you may have been suckered into in the past. Watching some other kid dig into his first birthday cake? Meh. Woopty-friggin-doo. Watching your own kid do it? Not so bad. Kids are at their most ... "personalityish" when they're experiencing new things. You see the real personality of YOUR offspring. And seeing Lucas try to figure out both what the heck this white squishy thing in front of him was, and why everyone and their brother was watching, was kind of fun.

(For the record, Lucas scratched at the cake, leaned down to bite it, reconsidered, and then began tearing off huge hunks to stuff in his mouth. He rapidly acquired a cake "glove" and when bathed, the water looked a lot more like he'd done some biz than it did like water-with-cake.)

I still stand firm in the belief that presents that make noise are the kind of thing you give people you hate, by the by, but Lucas seemed quite amused with his. Thankfully for dad, though, he was most fond of a big plastic toy truck that he also got. That, too, is an interesting change in pre-and-post Dad life; you take - at the very least - an academic interest in what your child's favorites are. You wonder about what this suggests and implies about the child and his/her future.

(And in point of fact you're probably wrong in all cases, but hey, won't stop the speculation, right?)

Speaking of speculation, a final point or two in closing - Lucas still isn't crawling, but he's got what I refer to as a "monkey walk" he does now. From a sitting position, he reaches forward with his arms, pulls himself along the floor, and pushes down with his legs for more traction. Looks kinda like a monkey dragging himself along. Very silly, but surprisingly effective. Gotta wonder what the pets think, though:

Lucas can drag his butt on the ground, but they can't? What gives?

-MT out

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Passing time, his and mine

One of the hardest adjustments most dads - or at least, this dad - has had to make is probably pretty obvious on the surface, but also a bit more complicated as time goes on.

Funny thing. Babies - or I guess in Lucas's case now, infants? (Sidebar: When do babies become infants? I get that "toddler" is probably the point at which they can, well, toddle, around... but I mean, there's this progression, right? Newborn, baby, infant, toddler, little kid, child, teenager, parent, college student, adult. What demarcates those early stages? End of sidebar.) Infants take a lot of time. The thing is, though, it's a different kind of time-taking than when they were younger.

Wee lil' ones tend to take your time in blocks. They're asleep a lot, so you get some spare time, and when they're awake, their need for attention is medium-constant. Partially it's because you WANT to play with kiddo. Partially it's because kiddo needs a lot of things when they're awake. So you get used to "Dad mode" and "Not dad mode" which can also be called "sleep mode," for the first month or two. Fine, cool, you get used to it, life goes on.

Around about Lucas's imminent 1-year age, though, things change. Kiddo is learning to amuse himself, at least some of the time, as long as he can keep an eye on one of his parentals. (Usually he prefers mom, but occasionally I get the nod. I've moved from "disposable furniture" to "mildly important but non-required mobile jungle gym. Woot.) When he does need something, though, it tends to come somewhat without warning, and it tends to be more urgent. He gets cranky faster at this age - and louder, too. You think your baby can unleash a wail? Fella, let me tell you: the bigger the kid, the mightier the lung, and by one year they can drown out a full symphony if they've got a mind to do so. He still sleeps for decent blocks of time, but they're not as long or as frequent, and when he's awake, he requires less attention, but it's more intermittent.

This tends to cause a problem if you're like me, and you need a chunk of time any given day that isn't interrupted. Some people's hobbies and nature are such that they don't mind getting up to do something quickly, then going back to what they're doing and aren't in the least bit disrupted. My wife is one of these people, and I, the world, and Lucas are vastly enriched for her nature. I, on the other hand, am not. I can quite happily take care of Lucas for a decent block of time without batting an eye, and I have no qualms about any job, no matter how onerous (okay, I lie, I fear the poo diaper).... but when I'm "off duty" I tend to do things that require no interruption, and my inherent nature as a person is that I'm very much "involved" in what I'm doing. As a result, the fastest way to a cranky daddy is to constantly interrupt me.

...which is what Lucas tends to require at this point, and I imagine once he's crawling around, I'll see one hell of a lot more of.

Now my hobby set is probably a little unusual for most guys - I'm a reader, a gamer, a writer and a "sit and think"-er. Not a single one of those hobbies deals well with interruption, alas. I'm guessing most guys will have "television watching" on their list, and unless you own a T-VO, you're not keen on interruptions either.

This does present a problem. I'm not sure that there IS an easy solution, but perhaps with enough forewarning you can shift things around a bit. I've had to pretty much bag up and toss out two of my favored games that I played quite a bit, as they both can require two and three hours of uninterrupted time, and have consequences such that an interruption literally can set you back several weeks if it comes at a bad time. I've actually taken to blogging during spare moments at school as well, since writing with constant interruption is an absolute impossibility. (Obviously at school I'm interrupted, but getting here early, staying a tad late, and planning periods in which all your work is done do present reasonably large chunks of interference-free time.) My thinking I mostly do while driving now which, provided Amy isn't along (she hates the radio being off), works out reasonably well - silence is golden, all that jazz.

Alternatively, rather than sacking a hobby altogether, you could adopt the system m'dear and darlin' wife and I sometimes use as well. There are times when one or the other simply needs a break. Perhaps an evening or an afternoon on a weekend or what have you. Fellows, this is an excellent opportunity for a little wisely-proposed give-and-take. If you miss going out with the guys once in awhile, the best way to get that chance back is to encourage your lady to go out and have fun herself. She goes out some of the time, you stay home with kiddo. Not only might this cause you to have unexpected fun with the kid (because being the ONLY caretaker, you're going to spend more time directly with the kid) but it earns you mega-brownie points. Then, when you DO want to go out on Friday night or Saturday for golf or whatever, you look entirely reasonable in doing so - provided you give a little advance warning. For my part, I really don't go out terribly much. M'dear wife is by far the bigger social butterfly of the two, but the way it works out for us is that I tend to get a decent block of time (hour or two) in the middle of the evening where I am relatively interruption free. (Relatively being the key word.) In truth, the balance of time is probably still fairly heavily in my favor, but I figure it works out because I CAN still be interrupted, and when Amy's out doing her girl stuff, she's footloose and fancy free.

The bottom line is this, though: make sure you talk about it, make sure your lady does NOT simply stay home all the time, and if you are wise, try to make sure she goes out a tad more than you do. Moms have a very bad habit of feeling trapped with the kiddo unless you really drill in the point that they should go out, too. It's easy brownie points, makes you look like a champ, it's great for her and great for your parenting skills. Hand her the keys, kick her out the door, and rest easy knowing you can go out yourself once in awhile, too.

Smaller issue but something I wanted to touch on as a means of mental musing.

Lucas is now approaching his first birthday, and sitting here on my desk is an updated picture of him. He's got overalls and a ball cap on, and is holding a baseball with his typically hammy-happy grin for the camera. Makes me smile just looking at it. There is some irony in it, though: I'm not at all a fan of baseball, and I have no plans of encouraging him to try it. This is an issue Amy and I have talked about repeatedly - are we going to be the kind of parents that push a kid into a sport or hobby?

On one hand, exercise for the kiddo is assured. That's a good thing. Kid might make out-of-school friends in a controlled environment. Also good. Most sports instill discipline, which all kids can use more of, and teaching a kid to rely on teammates is a strong social skill... one his dad probably could've used more of, back in the day.

On the other, the idea of pushing Lucas to do something he doesn't want to do is repugnant to me. I will never be a helicopter parent, nor a vicarious liver, and I'll actively put a stop to any sport activity that insures he gets less than 8 hours of sleep, after homework, on a school night. Sports are great, but grades are better. Amy and I tend to follow the philosophy of "let Lucas do what he wants and encourage his passions."

Thing is, though, look at his parents and their hobbies:
- Cooking
- Sewing
- Scrapbooking
- Knitting
- Reading
- Writing
- Gaming
- Really eccentric and rare sports like Dodgeball, Fencing, and Archery

...if Lucas follows the examples of his parents, he's not likely to pick up anything that encourages teamwork, fitness, and discipline, with the exception of dodgeball or fencing, and finding organized groups for that is like trying to find an honest man in Washington D.C.

Do we fake interest in something we dislike? Do we hope that he'll take an interest in something he'll only get exposure to outside of our presence? Neither of those options seems appealing. One is lying, the other is effectively throwing our child to the winds of chance. I'm fully cognizant of the fact that Lucas's life is NOT entirely under my control, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be quick to ignore chances for good parenting where they exist.

Since when did hobbies become serious business?


-MT out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Getting the Last of the Dust Off (Part 2)

So to continue where we left on last time:

Mother's Visit, and Two Kinds of Grandparents

So anyone who's read this thing more than once or twice probably knows that my mother and I have a strange, somewhat difficult relationship. That's kind of like saying "Lincoln didn't have the best day at the Ford Theatre." I try very hard to be a man of decent character, though, and so despite the distance, I promised my mother she'd get to meet her grandson as soon as possible.

As fate would have it, we were able to get her a plane ticket out to our neck of the woods relatively recently. Now thanks to the visitations by Amy's parents previously - they found the means to come out on their own - I've been able to confidently say that grandparents, fall into two categories: those parents who are supportive, offer cautionary advice, and try to bulwark you ( the rarer variety) and those people who seem to make it their goal in life to tear you down, convince you that only dire days are ahead, and wish to dance cheerily upon the grave of your hopes and dreams to the tune of "Woe is me, woe is me." The resemblance to the same behaviors in advice-givers during pregnancy is remarkable.

To no one's surprise, my mother is one of the second category. Some choice comments she made at various points in our visit:

Comment 1:"Daycare is just a place where kids go to stay sick all the time." Why thanks, Mom, very warming. What would you like us to do, sell our house and move into an apartment so that Amy can stay home with the boy? Oh wait - our rent would be about the same as our mortgage, so that's no solution. Since we can't change the situation, thanks SO MUCH for reminding us that no daycare, no matter how great, is so wonderful as a parent home. While you're at it, let's bemoan world hunger and political corruption, too. Nothing like making people feel bad about what they can't change to give you a moral high ground, no sir.

Comment 2: "Abuterol? Ugh. They won't even use that stuff on animals." Ah, great the wisdom of Professor Profound strikes again. Yes, somehow, your drug-addled sixty-year old mind that had a child thirty years ago - and raised quite poorly - is superior to multiple up-to-date minds of modern medicine, all of whom have handled Lucas's illness before and done so with great success. Somehow, even though the FDA, countless pharmacists and doctors ALL have no problem with the meds and it's been in use for years, YOU, madame, are the authority and can pronounce with a holier-than-thou 'tude that the medicine is dangerous for our child. Perhaps next you can produce the cure for cancer and sneer at we simpletons who could not possibly have understood your greatness. Let's just pronounce the parents unfit and send the kid home with you, oh master of parenting. Oh wait, the last kid they left with you came out with psychological issues and a broken nose. Oops.

And so on. I could easily continue, but that kind of ranting gets boring to the reader, no doubt. The moral of this subsection story is this: If you are lucky, and you have a parent who is nothing but supportive, make darn sure they know you appreciate them. Make a point of specifically naming and praising that behavior. People like to hear they're appreciated. If you are unlucky, and have a parent who is doing nothing but trying to make you second-guess your parenting skills and decisions, remember that 1: if they were the perfect parent, you'd agree with them, because they raised you, right?, and 2: being a successful parent once gives you experience, not expertise. It's very possible your own situation is different and they aren't recognizing that. Trust your instincts - humans have been raised that way and survived the ordeal for thousands of years.

Speaking of surviving ordeals...

Lucas, Meet Gravity. Gravity, Meet Lucas

Along about three months ago, Lucas started mastering a lot more of his bodily capabilities. Walking, crawling, and such were still a ways off (more on that later) but he HAD learned that he could produce significant force by pushing on things hard, and that sometimes the force even moved him. Sadly, what daddy hadn't learned was that this, unmonitored, can be a recipe for disaster.

It was a pleasant enough afternoon; I had picked up the wee fellow, Amy having other duties to handle, and returned home. Having been changed, cleaned, and fed, I sat down on the couch next to my son (also cleaned, changed, fed, but not quite in the same manner) for our usual afternoon pasttime: me to dork around on the X-Box, him to sit on the couch, watch the pretty pictures, and play with his toys. And so we began, and life was good. At some point in the proceedings, Lucas had dropped one of his toys and over the edge of the couch it went, but this was not in and of itself unusual. Out of the corner of my eye, I verified that Lucas was sitting back against the couch and that was that.

Or so I thought. Lucas managed to get a leg under himself, and he shoved off the back of the couch with all the might in his considerable 25-lb-baby frame. Small rockets have launched less swiftly. From the corner of my enemy-slaughtering eye I glanced and OH DEAR GOD HES GOING OVER THE EDGE OF THE

...wham. Lucas lands, top-of-head-first, on the floor directly below the couch, and then promptly topples the rest of the way over, landing face up with a thud, staring at me with a look of shock that very rapidly changed to pain, fear, and outrage.

Scooping my kid up, thoughts flashed through my head in rapid succession:

1- You are now a failure as a parent. You have let your child come to REAL harm in your care.
2- Your child now has brain damage, and will no longer be your genius superior one day, in fact, you'll be feeding him - you, not your wife, you slackass inattentive bastard - until your dying day, at which time you'll be given a super-cheap funeral (all you deserve) so that they can afford his caretaker.
3- No matter what you do, you will never forget or forgive yourself for this moment.
4- .....what do you tell Amy?

The last thought stopped me cold. At the moment, I was still spending all my time consoling Lucas, who was still having a mighty holler about the experience. After a minute or so, his upset ended, and he began playing with a toy he enjoyed, and I started to calm down. He was whipping his head back and forth, looking at the world, and I actually got a small smile out of him. Okay, so he's not immediately injured (but oh god what if he has some internal injury I don't know about that's getting worse) and now I have to figure out what to do about Amy.

Okay fellas. As the dust settled, here's the advice I offer for when, NOT if, your kid eventually manages to whomp themselves pretty good:

- The kid IS going to holler a bit. If, however, the kid returns to normal behavior and functions (head moves both ways, nothing's hypersensitive to the touch, isn't acting suddenly tired, isn't puking, isn't bleeding, etc) then chances are very good, kid's fine. Babies are durable. They have to be in order to be raised by clumsy ogres like us.

- Yes, you will feel really bad. You will remember it for a very long time. Understand, though, that it is physically impossible for any parent to spend every waking moment watching their child without going barmy and needing changing themselves. So, eventually, SOMETHING is going to happen. If it happens daily, yeah, you suck at life. If it happens once in a few months, okay, accept your imperfections and move on with your day. You are not a failure as a parent. You are human. Move on.

- Be honest with the significant other. Do not change the story, modify it to remove blame on yourself, downplay the injury or the incident in any way. Downplaying the injury will get found out in short order and make you look exceptionally lame. Modifying the story to remove blame will make you feel guilty, and chances are - since Mommy knows baby best - she's going to see any place the story seems unlikely, and will then assume you have modified it for some exceptionally foul reason, multiplying blame rapidly. It may be that she will be angry with you for the incident. Here's an unfortunate fact: she probably has a right to be. Humans make mistakes, but that doesn't make mistakes okay. Own up to your screwup, accept that you do in fact have something to make up for, and do so. If she has the wisdom to recognize that accidents happen and reaffirms her faith in you as a parent, buy her flowers and thank her for being a great wife. Most will not do so.

And oh yeah, lying to/deceiving your significant other about your kid opens all kinds of bad doors, sets all kinds of bad precedents, and is just tremendously bad juju. Blame yourself when the kid lies baldly to you in ten years if you're modelling the behavior for the kid before they can even walk and talk. At the risk of sounding preachy, open communication about EVERYTHING, not just kiddo, is definitely the right idea when married. You're going to be in very stressful situations with the chica who resides in the house with you for a LONG time. Far better that the two of you understand each other's good and bad points, for better or worse (yeah, sounds familiar, I know) before you get into the situation where you'll set each other off. Talk to the lady. It's important. Now.

Moving on....

Milestone Mania

So as Lucas is now approaching the one year mark (dood. Eleven months and a week. Zounds.) I occasionally have to fight off a certain tendency in myself to compare Lucas to his classmates. I say "fight off" because the comparisons DO happen - you just have to learn to take no stock in them. Lucas, you see, is now "Behind the curve" in some ways. He's eleven months, and although he can sit, scoot, roll, grab, imitate and babble, there's no crawling going on. He can stand holding on to things, but there's no walking - even briefly - going on either.

Now you'll note I quoted the phrase "behind the curve." The reason for this is that the curve itself is something of a misused idea. Apparently (you never see this in the movies) some babies just never crawl. They're totally not keen on the idea, they don't see the parents ever doing it, so they just never learn. Lucas appeared at first to be one of these, but he pops up on all fours now often enough that he'll probably start trucking around soon. Also, larger babies have a distinct tendency to take longer to do stuff. In a way, this makes sense. It's easier to learn to drive a bike than a motorcycle, a scooter than an 18-wheeler. Lucas has a lot of chunk, so he's throwing a lot around when he tries to balance and what not. And let's face it: how many healthy adults do you know who are incapable of walking and talking normally? They all figure it out sooner or later.

Thing is that, intellectually, I get all of the above. Realistically, there's this thing in my bloodstream called testosterone. And as any woman can attest and we fellas know far too well, testosterone poisoning can make you get a little weird in the head. Like, say, mentally being competitive about your kid compared to other kids in the class who are already pulling themselves up and walking, tripping and going straight into a crawl, and then walking again. This little skinny twirp's practically ready to dance the rumba, and the best my kid can do is to sit and spin? Seriously? Great job on raising the class dunce, dad.

(Side note: is this where the preconception that "big = dumb" actually starts? Does the notion that strength and size directly relate to being dumb begin all the way back with bigger babies take longer to coordinate themselves?)

So anyhow. Dad, tip time:

- Don't mention your concerns to mom. For one, she may or may not be thinking it herself and surely doesn't want YOUR paranoid ruminations on the subject making her worries worse, jerk.
- Don't mention your concerns to mom. Even if she's not thinking it, you're still a jerk: have some faith in your kid and some patience, huh? Quit being competitive. Jerk.

(Yeah, whatever, we're jerks, they married us anyhow, so they got what they got. They can deal. Yes, I just said communicate with your wife, but there's a difference between communication and badgering her with those terrors which are commonplace to all parents. Mention it once, endure the tongue lashing that will commence, and then be done with it.)

- Try not - as best your hormones allow - to do the kid-comparison thing. It really doesn't matter, after all. Even if you are competitive: is the quarterback of the football team the kid who walked first? Does anyone even know or care? Would you seriously be concerned if a kid learning a new sport didn't progress as fast as another kid on day one? Not so much. All kids eventually start crawling and walking, and when they do, you're going to get a lot less sleep and a lot more broken household items. Don't be in such a rush to lose even more free time and fragile items. While chasing an energetic toddler around may be good for the waistline, it's probably highly destructive to your freetime. Enjoy the non-mobile phase while it lasts.

...and that about gets me up to date, I'd say.

I'll try to keep this thing a bit more up to date. (Yeah, I've never said that before.) But in this case, I think I've made a change or two that might make it worthwhile.

Now if only I could come up with a way to turn this into a book and make money on it, no?

Until next time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lemme Blow The Dust Off This Thing... (part 1)

Yeah so. It's been awhile since I wrote here, I suppose. (Hurray understatement.) Variety of reasons. Partially the novelty wore off. Partially, the knowledge that some of my students had discovered the blog made me leery. Partially, the lack of feedback from the readership bugged me a tad. (Hey, if you WRITE, you like to know that people READ, go figure.)

But ultimately, if you're going to claim to be a writer - and I do - and you're going to teach writing and say that writing is important - and I do - and want to take yourself seriously (hmm...I don't, usually) then you've at least got to DO that which you claim to BE and TEACH. Those who say "Those who can't, teach" can kiss my ass. So there. So yeah, I think I'll start this thing up again and we'll see how it goes. If people read it who shouldn't, well, bully for them. Writers write, and I intend to practice my craft.

Fair warning and disclaimer: This entry is going to be a tad long. When I say "tad" I mean "Tad" in the sense of "THAR SHE BLOWS, LADS, THAT'S A MIGHTY BEAST OF A WHALE" so please attend this reading with all due provisions necessary for a marathon. (Or, I dunno, stop reading and come back later.) Last time I wrote, Lucas was three months old. NOW Lucas is ten-and-a-half months old, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. There have definitely been a few events which are noteworthy for new dads, parents in general, and women wishing to understand the diseased, testosterone-poisoned minds of the people they share their beds with. (Side query: Women who share their beds with other women - does one partner have an elevated testosterone level? If so, does that equate to a gender role being handed out whereby normally none need exist? End of side query.)

I took the time to go back and read the last few entries, and it's kind of interesting to see what my point of view was then versus now and what not. (I'd also like to point out that I find myself amusing, but anyone who knows me already knew that.)

So, roughly in order of things going on:

"GACK, HURK, GARGH" and other sounds you never want to hear.
So at some point, kiddo will need more than just the boob or the bottle in his life. (The fact that at some much LATER point, he will return to needing just those things - or thinking he does - is not for discussion here.) You'll start feeding him finger foods. Like so many of his peers, Lucas started with Cheerios. That was a pretty good deal. He liked Cheerios, and his chompers - they came in fast and furious, he's already got like nine or ten, and apparently some babies don't get any until they're over a year old - crunched them up, good deal.

Unfortunately, Amy and I got the biggest scare of our life a few weeks later when we tried boiled, softened, buttery carrots. Lil' dude's got good hands by this point, well practiced with the Cheerios, so he grabs himself a handful (argh) of carrot and munch munch he goes. Now here's the thing - babies are going to cough and choke just a tad on their finger foods just because they're not used to how the chew-chew-swallow process works. This time, though, the sound was a little funny. Didn't seem quite right. I'm across the room and I hear what, at that point, were some of the most horrifying words I've heard to date: "HE'S CHOKING." I don't recall what I was holding at the time, but it hit the floor as I rushed across the room. Lucas's face is beet red, and he does NOT look amused.

Pfft. Right, like I can do anything Amy can't? Lemme tell you, doesn't matter - you move fast. Sure enough though, Amy's got kiddo over her arm, she gives him the ol' one-two-whomp on the back with the flat of her hand, and voila, here are your carrots back, sorry for the uproar. Ironically, as soon as we get the kid back in the high chair, he's grabbing for more of the carrots. (Lucas is a friggin food-eating machine. Gets it from his dad.) Needless to say, "puffies" (baby rice cereal stuffs) and Cheerios were all he got for awhile. I don't think to this day carrots are a back on his menu, even though he's got a half-dozen more teeth than he did back then.

So, here endeth the first event and mini-lesson: Sooner or later your kid is going to choke pretty impressively. Whack 'em on the back, panic not, and don't wait too long to get back on the horse. Traumatic events for you are not necessarily so for el bambino.

Speaking of traumatic events, let's cover a few more, shall we?

Lucas, Day Care, RSV, and Other Things Parenting Magazines Warned You About

Amy and I timed things well. Lucas was born in May, and so she took her maternity leave and it coasted right into summer, giving her three months and change with the dude before she had to return to the workforce. (Side note: In Sweden, parents get 480 days of maternity leave. Yes, you read that right. We get 30? WTF is that about?)

Ultimately, though, Amy and I had to select a place for the kid to reside while we work. The first day we dropped him off was kind of tough. "Day care" has a really foul connotation in this country. It stinks of neglected children, uncaring parents, horrible conditions, and foul, wasting diseases. Amy and I even deliberately avoided calling the place a "day care" for quite some time. In point of fact, it was a day care/Montessori School, and so we referred to it as "Lucas's school" to kind of make ourselves feel better. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a day care by any other name helps you sleep through the night.

All the same, though, you feel really odd about it that first day. As the two of you (dude, shut up and take the time to go with the wife for the first drop-off, OR, alternatively, just take the kid yourself alone and spare the wife the angst if she's amenable. Momma's gonna need the shoulder if she came with you on day one, and truth be told, you may need hers) drive away from the school, you suddenly realize that your child is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF YOUR CONTROL OR SUPERVISION for eight hours, and WILL STAY THAT WAY. Furthermore: YOU DON'T REALLY KNOW THE PEOPLE YOU JUST LEFT THE KID WITH.

Makes the blood run cold. In my case, it resulted in me sneaking back to the school during my lunch break to check on him. (He was sound asleep and quite content on my arrival.) In the midst of all the moaning and teeth-gnashing about daycare, though, may I present a few points of consideration:

"Oh dearie me, the child will be exposed to GERMS!"
Well, yes. That's certainly true. The world has a very ready supply of icky microscopic critters. However, retaining the child in your home in a highly clean environment will not lower the world supply of critters: it will simply delay the kid's introduction to things that make one go "achoo." You can either have the kid get exposed, sick, well, and thereby build immunities when they're too small to have to make up the homework/remember the experience, or you can wait until kindergarten and fetch your kid from Mrs.Happy's class over and over and over.... and watch as your kid falls behind in Fingerpainting, Clapping, and Counting 101.

"Oh me oh my, what if the other children at the daycare aren't NICE to my child?"
Psst. Pro tip: There are a LOT of jerks in the world and they come at all ages. You may even know a few. Yes, there will be a jerk in the daycare which may annoy your child, or possibly even teach them a bad habit. (Gasp.) Learning to accept, adapt to, and overcome the world's jerk population is an important social skill. Staying at home with mommy grants one no social skills whatsoever. Thus your child - while admittedly having to endure the good with the bad about learning to socialize - is at least learning to socialize! Lest you think this isn't important with kids of a certain age, I'd like to disagree: there was a child in that daycare who joined late - around nine or ten months of age - and that one had a NOTICEABLY hard time getting used to things and the other kids really did look at him funny. (Ever seen five babies look at a sixth baby with an expression something like, "Okay, what's freako's problem? It's a remarkable sight, truth.) That's talking about babies under a year old. I can only imagine that a three year old first encountering other kids for the first time is going to be hell on wheels. Play dates aren't quite enough exposure to make up for it. (Aside: "Play date" is the stupidest name possible for "kids hanging out together.")

But some STRANGE person will be taking care of my CHILD.

(Yeah, because YOU aren't a strange person by a lot of people's definition of the word? Whatever you say, sucker.)

Now it's true that not all day cares are created equal, and it's true that not all day care workers are created equal. I'd highly encourage anyone to carefully screen the places they're checking out as potential care centers. The above argument, though, if you take the time, really doesn't hold water. Here's the thing: especially for us first time parents, we've got instincts, and we care about our kids. Those caregivers? They've seen a lot of babies, chances are. And though we may not wish to admit it, they may just know more about how to deal with Tiny Tims and Tinas than we, the parents do. They've probably seen it all before. Do they have the "mystical connection?" Surely not - and that's a disadvantage for them. What they do have, though, is a staggering amount of experience in keeping baby from crying. And well, ultimately, at this age, that's pretty much the name of the game, right?

Further, they're rather likely to encourage kiddo to entertain himself (not a bad thing, as parents at my stage quickly discover) and encourage kiddo to head for physical milestones, since they won't hold kiddo all the time like mom and dad.

Eh. I dunno. I'm not advocating that a parent should do anything other than what they think best. I am, however, trying to balance out the constant negativity associated with the concept of the day care. Ultimately, these people are in business and successful because they make it their job to keep you and the kid happy, and the kid healthy. If they were bad at it, they wouldn't be there. So chin up - kiddo will enter their school days already knowing how to deal with jerks and having an immune system that's sturdy as can be.

RSV - Something to be Genuinely Concerned About

Well, lest I be accused of glossing over the bad parts of day care, it's certainly true that Lucas at his Montessori school did pick up one genuinely nasty part of childhood: RSV. The official name of RSV is respiratory syncytial virus. To break it down into dad terms:

Baby bronchitis.

Now, bronchitis is unpleasant for adults. We cough, we hack, we "HEM HEM" all day long to keep our throats clear and function through the misery. Babies, though, don't understand or know the concept of the intentional cough to keep one's throat clear. What this basically means is that baby's throat, throughout the entirety of this condition, constantly has a large quantity of snot clogging it up. Breathing goes from being frustrating and annoying, as in the adult bronchitis, to an actually challenging, serious effort for survival. Mondo bad juju. Getting enough air, for baby, becomes a serious job. It's tiring. So tiring, in fact, that kiddo wants to sleep a lot - even at the expense of eating. Kiddo doesn't eat, kiddo gets sicker. Kiddo has more trouble breathing, gets more tired, eats less. Kiddo gets even SICKER. After a certain point, kiddo isn't even resting properly, so what sleep he/she DOES get is poor in quality. You can see where this cycle heads, and it isn't good.

So what we thought was just a baby cold quickly turned into baby with rattling lungs and then lethargic baby. (Lethargy is one of the major warning signs, apparently.) Dad, trying to be a champ and keep things easier on mom, volunteered for doctor duty while Mom headed for work. Off the dude and I went, and the doctor diagnosed him with RSV. Doc says that I'll need to give him breathing treatments, and that Lucas may not like them. Okay, thanks for the warning doc. Nurse will come in with the machine, show you how it works, and so on. K, no worries, I can handle this and prove my Dad-ness.

Now, I wrote awhile ago that hell as a father is when your child is in genuine distress and you can't do anything about it. I've since discovered that there are lower, and more intense levels of hell. One of them is when your child is in genuine distress - and you are the cause. It's funny how, when we're growing up, the phrase "This will hurt me more than it hurts you" is crap. Then, as an adult, you can intellectually understand that a parent might feel worse for having to discipline their kid.

It wasn't until I had to actually hold my child immobilized (a challenge requiring leg, arm, and chin) and then hold a mask on his screaming, crying, pathetically thrashing face while he wailed in utter terror that I truly began to understand EXACTLY what "This will hurt me more than it hurts you" really means. The treatments last approximately ten minutes. By minute two, I was pretty sure I had a seat in hell reserved. By minute four, I was quite sure it was deluxe accommodation. By minute eight - Lucas not having lost even the slightest bit of horror in his screaming - I was not only sure that I would be Satan's plaything, but that he would express great personal delight in tormenting me. By the conclusion, I knew I could look forward to the thorned and ridged phallus of Satan's hellhound on a daily basis.

The fact that Lucas actually fell into a restful sleep thereafter made no difference. The fact that he actually breathed relatively clearly made me happy, but I can honestly say that the three treatments I had to give him before his mother got home rank in the more traumatic experiences one goes through as a parent.

I warned Amy about what she was likely to go through - in point of fact, I tried to prevent her from having to deal with it, but she insisted on taking her turn. That's when I learned about how strong the connection between mother and son really is. Lucas was still distinctly unhappy with the process, but Amy singing in his ear calmed him dramatically. Mommy's voice made him a whole new kid. He didn't fight the mask, and with me giving the kiddo a variety of visual distractions (read: Playing cartoony games on the Wii) we actually managed to get through a solid week of three-a-day (or more) treatments without too much more emotional trauma.

So, mini-lesson to be learned: It may be wiser to let Mom take first shot at any distressing experiences, as it may be easier on all involved. Dad is fun and trusted by kiddo, but Mom is the magic "Safe zone" for baby.

K. Enough for one post. For next time:

Mother's Visit and Two Kinds of Grandparents

Lucas, Meet Gravity. Gravity, Meet Lucas.

Milestone Mania - A Malady

...well, at least taking eight months off gave me a lot to write about, right?