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?


Daniel Stutzbach said...

Hey, if you WRITE, you like to know that people READ, go figure.

You should set up FeedBurner. It will give you pretty graphs showing you how many readers you have. Instructions for Blogger are here

The Murphys said...

I too experienced the trauma when I had to take my 1 year old to have his blood drawn. I had the privilege of holding him down while they tournequeted him up and jabbed a needle in his arm. Fun times : )

Amy said...

Hey, I'm waiting on the next installment. I truly love reading your writing and your view of our life with the dude. Its awesome. Love you.

Kacy said...

So nice to see you posting again! I may not always comment, but I do always read. I'm just a lurker. :)

By the way, an answer to side inquiry, both from the research and from personal experience: No, when two women share a bed one does not have elevated testosterone levels (no differences in hormone levels between adult homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual people have been found to exist). Gender roles are typically looser, with chores/responsibilities/rights that are typically divided up based on gender in a relationship (i.e. the man mows the lawn, fixes the car, takes out the trash while the woman cooks, cleans the house, goes grocery shopping) are divided based more on interest and ability than gender. That being said, we did have a damned hard time deciding who would take out the trash in my two-woman household.