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.

1 comment:

Margie said...

I love your blog. You know if Papa has anything to do with it Lucas will be quite the sportsman. And if his Honey has any say he will have plenty of opportunities to dig in the dirt and dance.