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.