Monday, July 21, 2014

The Second Child Experience

Three and a half months since my last post, I make my triumphant return to Man-vs-Baby! At this point in the Jackson baby experience, I had written a shade over 12,400 words about it. So I suppose it’s only fair that I mark the one month birthday of my new child by typing out a few hundred words to summarize the Baby #2 experience.

I was trying to think of a good analogy for how the pregnancy of a second child differs from the first, and the best I could come up with was that of a new roller coaster. The first time you ride a new roller coaster, it’s exciting and scary. You are paying attention to every second of going up that first hill. You’re nervous, wondering what’s going to happen next, and holding your breath waiting for the peak. Since you have no idea what’s coming up, you’re observing everything around you and taking in every second – knowing that any moment could be your last.

With a second child, it’s like riding that same roller coaster again. This time, you know what’s coming. You’re chatting with your friends as you creep up that first hill, cognizant of the heights you are reaching, but not having the same apprehensive fear of the unknown. The hill that seemed to take hours to climb the first time suddenly takes only seconds – and before you know it, you’re hurtling down the hill for another ride.

It’s not that the ride is any less fun the second time, it’s just that the hill is less noteworthy. No one ever talks about a roller coaster having a great hill. They talk about everything that comes afterwards. Babies are the same way.

Having said that, let me highlight some of the major differences between Baby #1 and Baby #2.

Breaking the News. With the first baby, you try to get creative with the reveal to family and friends. For Jackson, it involved choreographed wrapped presents and iPhones with secret pictures of ultrasounds. With the second baby, we did what about 90% of the world does – and put our first child into a “Big Brother” T-shirt before family came around. It’s also hilarious to see that the shirt means nothing to males (who either don’t read t-shirts, or assume that the child is just a fan of the CBS reality show), but females pick up on it right away.

Registration.  The good news about the second baby is that you are spared from the grueling hours spent registering for baby items. You get a chance to bust out all the stuff from your attic / basement and attempt to remember how to use it. I thought back to assembling Jackson’s things for the first time. Cautiously following the directions word-for-word, tightening screws and seat belts as hard as humanly possible, and doing everything I could to ensure these devices wouldn’t kill my child. Contrast to that to Baby #2, where I assembled them on memory and shook them once to ensure they wouldn’t fall apart before calling it “good enough”. On the down side, this attitude nearly prevented us from taking Baby #2 home from the hospital, but more on those illegal shenanigans later.

The Name Game.  With Baby #1, we had a boy and girl name decided upon six months before Jackson’s birth. There was never any doubt about the names, and we had plenty of time to develop nicknames for our unborn child using the initials of our names (thus, Baby EJ). With Baby #2, twelve hours before the birth, KB turned to me and said “we need new names”. Here’s the problem – you pick the absolute best names available with your first child. In the process, you find fault with almost every other name in the world to justify your decision. Therefore, when you go back to these names two years later, it’s impossible to find one that you love the same way you loved the names for Baby #1. Kate and I went on a babymoon a few months before the birth of Baby #2 with the sole goal of coming up with a baby name. Instead of reading books on the beach, we read lists of names. THOUSANDS of names. Just when I thought we had accomplished our goal, KB wavered… fearful of names being too popular, worried that we didn’t have a “good story” of where the name came from, or concerned it didn’t “go with” Jackson. So we debated for the next few months – hitting numerous roadblocks, giving up countless times, and reading even more baby books and blogs. But we were unable to reach a true consensus. One of the first things I said after the birth of Baby #2 was so… are we good on names? In the end, the name was the one I picked on that beach months prior – so KB either finally conceded that it was a good name… or realized that she couldn’t post a Facebook announcement without a name, so she had to just accept it and move on.

The Room.  Jackson’s room was fully assembled, painted, and ready for its close up pictures at least a month before his birth. Baby #2’s room received its first pictures to hang on the walls this week – just before the one month anniversary of the birth. I chalk this up to being realistic. We recognize that the kid isn’t going to be sleeping in that room for at least a few weeks. Given that we aren’t sitting around with extra free time, this “just in time” delivery only made sense.

So there you have it, the summary of the nine months leading up to the birth in just under a thousand words. I’m getting more efficient in my old age!

The Birth. As for the birth itself, it’s funny how leading up to it, Kate and I asked ourselves the following questions:

 What are we going to do in the hospital for a day after this kid is born?
Are we going to be bored?
 No Jackson and nurses to take care of our baby. Is this going to be like a vacation?

Packing a hospital bag for Jackson, we were ready for a week in the hospital, weather conditions ranging from blizzard to heat wave, and had enough gadgets in our bag of tricks to deal with any potential labor pains or challenges. Packing a hospital bag this time, I seriously debated if I could just go with the clothes on my back and put a cell phone charger and toothbrush in my pocket.

On the other hand, we entered the final months of pregnancy with a heightened state of awareness. Once Kate went into labor with Jackson, he came out relatively fast. With him, I was at work in a meeting at 11:00 am when I received a phone call that she was feeling bad. I rushed home, we went to the doctor, who sent us to the hospital, and at 6:00 pm, he was born. Truth be told, had the doctors been on time at the hospital, he probably would have been born at 4:30 pm.

So with Baby #2, when KB first started to feel “weird” at 8:00 am, I stayed home from work, we went to the doctor immediately, and were at the hospital at 10:00 am. Since it wasn’t our first rodeo, we spent our little time in the hospital doing things like taking pictures to post on Facebook and setting up a tripod to video tape our faces during the birth. An hour and a half later with a solid five minutes of pushing, and Baby #2 was born!

Say hello to Evan:

We left the hospital about 24 hours after he was born… but not without a little drama. Remember the shoddy re-assembly of baby items referenced earlier? It turns out we forgot a critical piece of padding for the baby car seat – you know, the piece that makes it actually snug for a newborn. So when we attempted to leave, the nurses were like “uh, that’s a little loose – tighten it up.” I jerry-rigged a loop in the belt behind the seat to trick them and snuck out before they could retain our child and arrest us for endangerment. Booyah. One nervous car ride later, we found the missing padding from the attic and returned to our standing as “mediocre parents”.

One month after his birth, what are my musings?

Babies are Easy. Honestly, I think back to 2012 Brian and wonder what the hell he was complaining about. Kate feeds him. You set him down and he doesn’t go anywhere. He sleeps for like 18 hours a day. One week of paternity leave was basically “Game of Thrones” leave because we spent so much time sitting around inside our house watching TV.

The level of effort for a second child (to this point) is far less than double one child. Yes – I know this is going to change dramatically once Evan is more mobile and opinionated. But for now, it still feels like Jackson creates all the work – we just have to do it now carrying around a 10 pound sack of potatoes that cries periodically. I’ve told numerous people, “Once you’re staying at home on Friday night and waking up on Saturday morning at 6:30 am, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it with one kid or two” – which I think sums it up pretty well.

You absolutely forget what babies are like. I guess Jackson used to cry and wake us up in the middle of the night, but now I can only remember him sleeping through the night and doing fun and hilarious things. I think in hindsight, your first child is always an angel. Numerous times, I’ve said “man, Jackson never did this” only to be corrected by KB that he did “this” all the time, and did it much worse than Evan.

Babies are for girls, and toddlers are for boys. I’ve always said this, and think Evan has only confirmed my theory. At the end of the day, babies still pretty much lay around, eat, sleep, and poop. They don’t necessarily NEED me for any of that. On the other hand, Jackson runs around, builds forts, and plays hide and seek. Doing that stuff on your own is far less fun than doing it with Dad. So when push comes to shove, I find myself spending disproportionately more time with him than Evan. But I also think he’s getting more return on the investment of my time than Evan would at this stage in life – so it’s simple finance math.

I have no idea who Evan will become. Kate has often said that she’s waiting to see what Evan is going to “be like”. When Jackson was one month old, we had no idea he would become a crazy man without fear (except leaves) who loves construction equipment and farm animals. At this time, we have no idea what Evan is going to be like. We’re in no hurry for him to grow up, but I can’t help but be excited to see how he turns out.

Back to the roller coaster analogy. Like I said, a pregnancy is like going up that first hill. It’s all anticipation and excitement for the rush that follows. It’s crazy and exciting and exhausting – but before you can catch your breath a baby becomes a toddler – and any preconceived notions you had about “free time” or “being busy” are thrown out the window. But it’s a wild ride – even though I think I know what lies ahead, like any good roller coaster I’m guessing there are enough twists and turns to keep me guessing about what’s coming next… and give me plenty of fodder for the Blog.

Round two!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Year Two Musings

Where does the time go? I use this expression to both refer to the whirlwind of the first two years of my son’s life – and also the fact that I’m sitting down to write his two year blog about two months late. Yikes! Suddenly it makes perfect sense why my parents saw zero TV shows during the 1980s. Raising kids takes up all your time!

But as we hit the two year mark, it seems like an appropriate time to look back – to do a retrospective of sorts, of the entire “baby experience”. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are many, MANY years of child rearing ahead of me – but this blog started out as “man-vs-baby”, a look at how having a baby changes one’s life. So what have I learned over the past two years?

Love. Ironically, in my first ever man-vs-baby blog post, I talked about how I was looking forward to teaching my child about unconditional love (you know, the kind of love one has for Cincinnati professional sports teams even though they perennially crush hearts and dreams). However, more than anything else, having a child truly shows you what unconditional love really is. .People can talk about loving food, their friends, family, heck – even their spouse. But in some aspects, those are easy. You are able to love them while still retaining some independence and ability to do what you want. A baby comes into your life and takes away some of those things that you previously held so dear and encroaches on the majority of those independent activities. Remember the good old days of being able to read the newspaper at breakfast and have a leisurely meal? Gone. Remember being able to spend a lazy Saturday on the couch watching football and drinking beer all day? Gone. Clean cars and clothes? Gone. If one of your friends started dating someone who immediately impeded their ability to do all the things that they loved, you would call it a horrible, one-sided relationship, and one that was doomed to fail. Yet this is exactly what happens with a baby. It’s like marrying an uber-controlling chick who mandates how you spend nearly every minute of your day… yet you still love her more than anything in the world.

It’s crazy when you think about it. I remember before I had a baby, people would tell me all sorts of stories about how much your life would change… and thinking to myself, “this sounds horrible”. But they’d always finish the stories by saying something like “yeah, but it’s totally worth it”. I never understood that – and I don’t think anyone can understand it until it happens to them. But it’s totally true. What makes it “worth” giving up so many things that you thought previously defined you?

I’m not sure if it’s a sense of obligation (since you brought this life into the world and feel a sense of responsibility towards it), a desire to impart all the wisdom and life lessons that you’ve gained to someone else (allowing you to impact the future), or the feeling of pride and accomplishment of watching your baby grow – but in the end, it all boils down to the same thing. You would do absolutely anything for this other human being, even if they (literally) crap on everything you used to hold dear.

While you still fundamentally remain the same person you were pre-baby, having a baby gives you a new sense of purpose in life and in some aspects re-defines you. The weird thing is, when you suddenly see this new purpose and responsibility in life, it makes a lot of the old ones seem less important in comparison. The happiness you gain from seeing your baby walk for the first time, or say their first word is far greater than any joy that you got from those things in your life that the baby may have taken away. If you asked me to name the highlight of this year so far, Jackson doing the “Go Dayton Flyers” cheer on his own would be towards the top of the list. It’s that amazing.  

Hmmm – I guess when you put it like that, maybe it’s not such an unconditional love. In the end, you do get something back in return. Maybe it’s more like a long-term investment. You put in a lot of energy and hours that don’t immediately pay off. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – babies aren’t really that fun. Babies are for girls because they get to cuddle them, dress them up, and… well, treat them like babies. Toddlers are for boys – bringing the kind of entertainment that can only come from a miniature person saying “go away D” instead of “Go UD”. They come back to you slowly over the years, in little moments and big events that make you forget about all the things you sacrifice along the way.

Unique. The other big thing I’ve learned is that parents can’t pick their children – and that’s a very good thing. What do I mean by this? Some of Jackson’s favorite things in the world are trucks, diggers, and construction equipment. All things that KB and I care exactly zero about – and didn’t care about when we were kids. This has both educated us (turns out that diggers are really called things like “front end loaders” and “backhoes”) and introduced all sorts of new toys into the household to play with. I know there are all sorts of debate about nature vs. nurture out there – but Jackson came out of the womb loving this stuff through zero intervention from the outside world. Your first reaction might be – “who is this kid? Why doesn’t he like the same things I like? Does the mailman like diggers?” But the more I think about it, the more interesting it makes life. How boring things would be if Jackson grew up loving Dave Matthews Band and watched TV shows from the 1980s. We would constantly be arguing about setlists and which Transformer is the best – and of course I would be right and he would be wrong, which would be crushing to his self-esteem.

By default, having kids broadens your horizons. You find yourself spending time at any local park you can find, the zoo on any nice weekend (along with every other parent in a 100 mile radius) and what restaurants can get food on the table within 5 minutes of placing an order (thank you Skyline). But through Jackson, I’ve also learned so much about all modes of transportation, construction equipment, and the joys associated with pretending there are bugs hiding under our couch… which he then pretends to eat.

Don’t get me wrong – as mentioned earlier, I do my best to influence him in life. There’s a reason he knows the UD cheer, calls football and basketball “Daddy’s Game”, and enjoys Skyline chili. But the fact that he is his own independent little person with his own interests and priorities is pretty cool. It’s also what is completely terrifying about having a kid. No matter what you might do, they might turn out to be moody, stubborn, or listen to Nickelback. You can do as much as you can as a parent to mold them in your self-image, but there is only so much you can do.

The Truth. On my first blog post, I mentioned the “big three” in the American Dream – getting married, getting a house, and having babies. I mentioned how society deems all three as completely worthwhile endeavors and all things that people should try in life. I was 100% on board with getting married and 100% against home ownership, but was unsure about having a child – and promised that I would provide you the truth on this blog. So with two years under my belt, what does the survey say?

Turns out kids are awesome.

I’m not saying this because I have a child and want everyone else to feel my pain.

I’m not saying this to trick myself into thinking it’s great and I made a smart decision.

At the end of the day, my life is better with Jackson in it, plain and simple. He brings me happiness, purpose, and entertainment. He’s a lot of work, but even after two years, the payout has exceeded the investment – and that’s all you can ask for any gamble, right?

In fact, I like it so much that I think I’m going to go another round – or as Jackson would put it “more again”. Yep, we’re taking this American Dream to the next level by adding Baby #2 – coming this summer!

I feel like it’s only fair to get a Blog or two up prior to this child’s arrival, so that it doesn’t appear like I’m playing favorites – but to be honest, it seems like a much less dramatic life change than the first child presented. Maybe it’s because we have no time to think (or worry) about it, or maybe it’s because society has much less “structure” around a second child (no showers, no people constantly asking “are you ready!?”, no unrequested advice about parenting from family, friends, and strangers), but it’s almost like a normal event at this point, rather than something that is going to fundamentally change everything we know.

Now that I have effectively jinxed myself into having a devil child that will exhaust me beyond belief and strip away the brief minutes of independent freedom I still have in my life, I’ll close out this Blog. Consider this the end of the “Jackson Only Posts”. Monk, you’ve had a good run – thousands upon thousands of words solely dedicated to you and you alone. Your future brother / sister will not be so lucky, so this will be something you can hold over his / her head for the rest of your lives if you ever want to claim that you are the favorite. But that’s not true (well, it could be true if they turn out to be a devil child) – you were just the first. That’s super special, and I love you for it – you were basically the best first child anyone could ever ask for - but you came into our lives in a time when I still had some free time and need to document the overall “baby experience”.

From here on out, it becomes the “two child experience”. Goodbye month-to-month thoughts, hello broad experience posts and complaints. It’s man-vs-baby 2.0! The exciting and terrifying future awaits!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Year One, Month Ten Musings

Velociraptors. From the perspective of the parents’ ability to contain and restrain their child, there are a few game-changing moments that happen over the first few years. The first is once they start crawling. Hello baby-proofing the house, needing to clean your floors daily to prevent your child from turning all their clothes black (or in our case, not – and just buying dark colored clothes), and needing to worry about having barriers at the steps. This one is fairly easy to accomplish, as the parents maintain a pretty significant height advantage, and can cover ground a lot faster walking than a baby can crawling. The second change comes once they start walking. Suddenly you REALLY need to baby-proof the house (not just 12 inches up from the floor), move breakables to top shelves, and put locks on your cabinets to prevent them from drinking cleaning supplies – or even worse, your booze. It’s a little more annoying – I can’t tell you how many times I still go to throw open a drawer only to be foiled by its baby-proofing -  but you once you establish a safe perimeter, you can feel okay in leaving your child alone there for short periods of time.

The third game changer? When your child gains the ability to open doors.

Remember that scene in Jurassic Park where the characters think they are safe, hiding behind a closed door? Then they discover that velociraptors have discovered a way to open doors and it was total chaos? It’s the same thing with kids.

Suddenly, simply closing doors isn’t enough. You have to lock them. Easier said than done.

For some kids, I’m sure this isn’t a big deal. But in the case of Jackson, he might as well be the president of the Jim Morrison fan club. Ever since he has been able to walk, one of his favorite pastimes is opening the front door, then trying to shut himself in between the main door and the glass screen door. He would hang out in there, completely silent for a few minutes, then throw the door open with a big smile. Over the years, this has developed into a much more elaborate ritual. He’ll now grab a set of keys (toy, or real – if he can snag them from me or KB), tell us “bye”, blow us a kiss, and then go into the door. He’s basically telling us “guys, I don’t like you and can’t wait to leave you”. Adorable.

However, now we have to be uber-vigilant to make sure that front screen door is locked all the time. Otherwise, we might think he’s playing hide-and-seek for a few minutes only to find that he’s busted free and taken the car for a joy ride down the street. This sounds pretty easy – but the screen door can only be locked and unlocked from the inside. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left the house via the garage, then tried to re-enter a few hours later via the front door only to be stymied. Then there’s all the times when someone visits our house, and gets motioned by me to come inside – only to find that they can’t… and then I have to throw two cats off me and get up from the couch to let them in. It sounds like I’m being super lazy here, it’s enough of an annoyance that we don’t lock the screen door by default 100% of the time.

Currently, Jackson is able to open and close bar handled doors, but can only close knobbed doors. That means we’ve only got to worry about approximately 10% of the doors in our house. However, school is a much different story.

Apparently there is some real or imaginary law about not locking doors at Jackson’s school. I get it – it’s an “open door” policy that allows parents to bust in at any time and ensure that their child isn’t in a cage or being forced into sweatshop labor. However, they also have a bar handled door that leads from his classroom into the hallway... and if my kid can open doors, I’m pretty sure that the majority of the kids in his class can do the same. You want to talk about being attacked by velociraptors? Step foot into a classroom full of 1-2 year olds. Maybe they’re starved for grown-up attention. Maybe you’re just something shiny and new that they don’t see all day. Maybe they can sense that my pockets are laden with keys, iPhones, and other things they’d love to play with. But whatever it is, they’re ON YOU as soon as you set foot in the room. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I have no idea how those teachers do it.

Upon a recent visit, I found my child using a foam block to create a step to reach the paper towel dispenser. He’d grab one, then go and pretend to clean off the table. Then he’d throw the paper towel away and repeat. When I went to stop Jackson from doing it, his friend Cooper (“Coop Coop”), used the same foam block to play with the water in the sink. When the teacher pulled Coop Coop off the block, another child went and started hanging from the sink, swinging back and forth. The teachers are outnumbered like 10-2! How in the world can they prevent the inmates from overtaking the asylum!? Even worse, how do they prevent the inmates from escaping the asylum? How often do kids escape out the door while the teachers are busy keeping other kids out of trouble? Twice a day? Twice an hour? There’s a water fountain directly across the hall. I have a hard time believing that Jackson doesn’t spend the majority of his time at school plotting how to get out there and press the button to turn it on and off repeatedly. Is it like prison, where he trades the chicken nuggets from his lunch to bribe some other kid to distract the teachers? Or have the teachers somehow succeeded in teaching the kids to stay away from the door?

I’m skeptical. If Jurassic Park taught me anything, it’s that you can’t keep dinosaurs or toddlers locked up for long. Somehow “life finds a way”…

Mr. Popular. Speaking of school, it’s been a pretty interesting month. There were numerous occasions where I had the honor of dropping Jackson off, picking him up, and even attending a Thanksgiving lunch (which was a great opportunity to torture the kids – but more on that later). When Jackson approaches the classroom, the kids who see him shout out “Jackson!” (ironically, most of them saying his name much better than he can say his own name, which is more like “Da Dack”) – it’s like Norm walking into Cheers. At first, I thought nothing of it, assuming that every child who came to school got the same treatment. But then I noticed that this wasn’t the case. The teachers would make comments like “Oh yeah, Madeline was wondering when Jackson was going to get here”. At Thanksgiving lunch, grandparents of some of the other kids said things like “Oh, this is the Jackson that we hear so much about!” followed by the teachers confirming “Yeah, everyone knows Max and Jackson.” Hell, before Madeline’s mom left at Thanksgiving lunch she told her daughter “Go give Jackson a hug”.

What’s going on here? No offense to my lovely wife or myself, but why is Jackson Mr. Popular at school?

Is it because he’s a trouble maker? I’ve confirmed with his teachers that he has his “crew” at work – consisting of Jackson, Max, and Cooper. I’ve seen the work of Jackson and Coop Coop. It looks like the work of criminal masterminds. Are they the rebels that all the other kids look up to?

Is it because he’s got an easy name? According to the Internet, Jackson was the #1 boy name in 2013. That drove KB crazy (to which I assured her that he’s a boy and will spend his entire life going by his last name, like me), but it increases the odds that the kids in his class have a Jackson in their family or neighborhood – and it’s a name they’re already familiar with.

Is it because he’s hot stuff? The ladies obviously like him, which makes sense. He dresses quite stylish thanks to 90% of his wardrobe coming from our friends’ kids, who have much better taste than I do. He could just be reaping the benefits of them being trendy and buying their kids something more than solid colored T-shirts and sweatpants.

Is it because he could care less about anyone else in school and just does his own thing all day? Could it be that adage about not caring about what other people think really does make you cool? I’ve seen glimpses of my child playing at school – I can’t recall him ever truly interacting with another kid while he’s playing. He’s usually off doing his own thing, or playing with toys while other kids hang out nearby and attempt to hug him. Is he Mr. Independent that all the other kids like because he’s already too cool for school?

I have absolutely no idea, but do find it ironic that my son will probably be the most popular that he’ll ever be in life at an age where he has no concept of it and could care less. On second thought, maybe that’s a good thing!

Full Assing It. Finally this month, a topic that made much more sense when I started this blog post back in November (I know, I know – I’m a slacker!). Jackson has always been somewhat of a perfectionist. You might find this difficult to believe, given that he usually has half of any given meal on his shirt and caked into his hair, but this kid has a very strong sense of right, wrong, and order – and when something is out of order, it’s unacceptable. Take the aforementioned doors for example. At some point over the past month, Jackson has decided that the natural state of doors is to be closed. If he sees an open door, he shuts it. This is great for times that we forget to shut the door to our downstairs basement – but somewhat annoying when we’re trying to run out the door to school and work, but have to stop and wait for him to shut every door upstairs before heading down the steps. He’ll shout “uh oh!” and point to the open door, then leap from my arms and run over to shut it before proudly walking back, thinking he just prevented catastrophe. Good work, bud.

However, the fall season has proved to be a little bit traumatic for the Monk – because in his mind, the natural state of leaves is in trees – and if they’re on the ground, that’s an “uh oh!” Over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly gotten him to accept that there is nothing “uh oh!” about leaves on the ground. Showing him that we can just brush them off the driveway, rake them into a pile in the grass, or throw them in the air for entertainment. When he’s climbing up the steps of our deck, he’ll stop on each step, shout “uh oh!” and then swipe all of the leaves off of the step before moving on to the next step and repeating the process. Similarly, when picking up sticks in the yard, I’ll casually toss them over towards the pile of debris in the corner of our yard. Jackson needs to walk it over to the pile and make sure it lands in just the right place on top – otherwise, it’s another “uh oh!” with him running to make sure that stick ends up in the right place.

A popular kid that does things right and doesn’t take the easy way out? I’m questioning more and more if he’s my child with every passing day.

Now that it’s December and snowy, there’s a whole new problem – snow. Jackson loves seeing it on the ground, likes saying “sno!”, and was seemingly very excited to go out and play in it for the first time… until he touched it, and realized that it stayed on his gloves after he removed them from the snow. That was NOT the natural state of his gloves and he freaked out, wanting that snow OFF his gloves as soon as possible. As you can imagine, this makes playing in the snow quite difficult. We attempted a little sled riding, with him on top of me to prevent any part of him from touching the snow, but that got old pretty fast. So at least for this year, it doesn’t look likely that Jackson’s going to be spending a whole lot of time frolicking in the snow. I guess it’s a good thing we’ve yet to invest in “boots” for him, and instead are using his shoes, wrapped in a plastic bag, held in place with a rubber band, with some of Kate’s thick socks wrapped over the top. Classy.

On second thought, maybe this “afraid of snow” thing is just a ruse to avoid being seen outside with these contraptions on his feet. After all, he has a cool kid reputation to keep up…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Year One, Month Eight Musings

Let’s be honest, the surprising thing about last month wasn’t that there was no blog post. It was that I actually made it a year and a half keeping up with my monthly updates. Given how busy life can be, carving out an hour or so every month to sit down and write a witty, insightful, heart-touching, grammatically correct blog can be tough – but even tougher can be finding worthwhile topics to discuss. I feel like the blog has gone through some very clearly defined phases over the past year and a half. There were the initial posts pre-Jackson about the whole “process” of having a baby, and all the craziness that went along with it. Then there were the first post-Jackson posts that basically were about the changes to life that a baby brings, along with all the “first time” topics. But recently, we’re into the “gradual update” stage. There are still some “firsts” here and there – but once you’ve got a kid who can walk, semi-talk, and has some personality, there are much fewer distinguishable items that stand out on a monthly basis worthy of writing about. The days start to bleed together into a relative sense of normalcy – and it just becomes “life”, which has its fair share of highlights and lowlights, but they’re generally much more subtle.

So having said all that, the primary reason there was no Blog last month was more due to a lack of material than a lack of time. One of the things I’ve found over the years is that if I don’t have good source material to work with – if I’m not inspired to the point where my fingers just rapidly rattle of thousands of words without much effort – the Blog posts tend to suck. They’re forced, they lack the normal witty spark, and I finish them by posting them and saying “well, that was garbage. I hate it.” Rather than doing that last month, I just skipped a month – it seemed like as good a time as any to take a breather, given that we just hit the year and a half mark with the Monk. Now I’m refreshed and have some new things to write about – at least for this month. There’s always the chance that I run dry again next month, so the Blog may be a little more sporadic from time to time – but rest assured that I’m doing this for your benefit, to ensure that the quality remains high and that there aren’t any months where I’m just mailing it in.

Mailing It In. On the other hand, I’m totally fine with mailing it in every once in a while when it comes to parenting. Take this past weekend for example. KB and I were in the running for the elusive (and imaginary) “Parent of the Year” award that we always joke about winning when we do things like forget to change Jackson’s diaper for 6 hours. But we had an action packed weekend, taking him to visit a fire station and sit inside fire trucks, getting pictures of him taken at the mall, visiting his Grandma and Grandpa’s house to play with all their fun toys, and then going on a Pumpkin Patch train ride, which combined two of his favorite things – trains and pumpkin throwing (no matter how much we try to teach him that pumpkins aren’t for throwing). Needless to say, when Sunday afternoon rolled around, I had pretty much maxed out my parenting juice and was ready for beer, football, and couch. I was perfectly content to mail it in and let Jackson play with his trucks on the couch while learning how to scream at the TV during a Bengals game.

This was a foreign concept to my overachieving wife.

But let’s be honest here, how much parenting to kids really need? Isn’t there the risk that spending all day every day doing engaging activities with a child is going to turn them into someone with ADD, who constantly needs new and exciting things to keep them happy? Isn’t there something to be said for kids learning to be happy entertaining themselves with simple objects. You call it lazy parenting, I call it “teaching kids to use their imagination”.

(Side note: It must be paying off, because this month I saw Jackson use his imagination for the first time. Playing in his crib, he would walk to the one side, pick up something and carry it in his outstretched hands and then set it down on the other side of the crib. He repeated this a few times before going back to playing with real toys. It was pretty cool to see – and either a sign that he’s got an active, functioning brain, or that he’s stolen some invisible toys from rich kids school… you know, the kind who can afford invisible toys.)

Granted, I’m not advocating for plopping the kid down in front of the TV and walking away for two hours (only for like a half hour when you REALLY need to get dinner cooking) – but if I’m nearby, occasionally making comments and ensuring that Jackson isn’t jumping head-first off the couch (which he is prone to do), it seems perfectly reasonable to spread out a few toys and see how he can entertain himself during an afternoon of football. It also led to some pretty hilarious moments. At one point, I jumped off the couch and yelled “GO, GO, GO!” Jackson looked at me and then said “go go go” while shaking his fist. I’ve never been so proud. Then, since it was a Bengals game, there were numerous occasions where I screamed “NO!” at the TV and fell to the ground in despair. Jackson mimicked me on this one as well, which was easy to do since that’s somewhat his favorite word… even though he doesn’t know what it means.

No. Jackson has a number of “go to” words – words that he says all the time, even when they don’t apply to the situation. Phrases like “a bus” and “dig dig dig”. Given that some of his favorite things in the world are buses and construction equipment (or really, any vehicles), it’s not surprising that he loves saying these words. He’s a hawk when it comes to spotting things that he likes. When driving in a car, a bus can be right next to him or a hundred yards in front of him and he’ll see it in his mirror and scream “A BUS!” When we wake up in the morning and open the blinds on our windows, you can faintly see the tops of buses at a school a mile away. He sees them and screams “A BUS!” As we fly past roadside construction equipment at 80 miles per hour (if Kate is driving) or 67 miles per hour (if I’m driving), he’ll shout “DIG DIG DIG!” It’s really quite impressive. Given his uncanny ability to spot these things, we’ll often give him the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he really did see a bus but we didn’t – or saw something that looked like a bus, but was really a mini-van or Jerome Bettis.

But then there’s the times when we’re doing something like sitting on our bed reading a book about dogs and he’ll point to one and say “A BUS!” Although his vocabulary is increasing with each passing day, it’s almost as if since he doesn’t know any other words to exclaim happiness, he just uses things that make him happy – like buses. When he gets all fired up about something, you can bet there’s going to be a “DIG DIG DIG” coming your way, accompanied by him pretending to dig furiously with his hand. We’ve grown to accept (and love) these Jackson catch phrases.

The word “no” is something altogether.

Jackson understands what “no” means. He uses it correctly a lot of the time.

“Jackson, do you want me to change your diaper?”

“Jackson, do you want to go inside and eat dinner?”

“Jackson, do you want to do a fashion show for your mommy with the new clothes she just bought?”

But it’s almost as though he’s come to expect that anything we ask of him is going to be something that we want him to do, but he isn’t going to like. As spoiled as this kid is, it’s somewhat shocking that at least part of him doesn’t think “wait a minute, maybe Dada and AmMa are trying to give me something I want” (yep, somehow Kate has gone from MaMa to AmMa over the past month. It’s weird, but now I’ve come to accept it and call her that almost exclusively). Does he really think we are plotting against him in everything we say and do? Are we that much of a buzz-kill already? I guess all we can do is mess with him, knowing that the answer is going to be “no” regardless, to try and create funny moments that we can capture on video to mock him with at some point in the future:

 “Jackson, do you want to eat an avocado?”

 “Jackson, do you have a nose?”

 “Jackson, do you want to go to the Construction Equipment and Bus Expo, hosted by Elmo?”

Diggers. Speaking of construction equipment, I’ve recently come to realize how quickly kids make you feel dumb. Admittedly, I’m not the most handy guy in the world (understatement). I’ve never worked construction, which is why I don’t wear jeans to work. But when you have a kid, you feel obligated to tell them what everything is, as a way of educating them about the world around them… including all the various trucks and equipment building the new school and playground near our house. Some are easy – dump trucks, tractors, cement mixers. But then you start getting into the gray area of things like Bobcats. You know Bobcats, the small bulldozer-y things that are pretty common at most construction sites:

Thinking that they were similar to Kleenex, where everyone calls them by a brand name rather than some generic term, I was taken aback when Kate started explaining to Jackson that it was a “digger”.

Excuse me? That’s racist.

So imagine my surprise when I then found that there are entire books devoted to – and titled – “Diggers”. You mean this isn’t something that my wife made up to name something she wasn’t familiar with (like how she calls football helmets “hats”)? Over the past few months, due to my son’s love of “diggers”, I’ve come to learn a lot about them. There are thousands of videos on the internet of diggers just doing construction work. Three months ago, I’d be asking myself who in the world would put something up on the internet, let alone who would watch it. Now I’ve seen all of them. I know the various parts of the diggers (or “excavators”, as they are called if you’re being fancy). I know all the various uses for them and have seen them come in all sizes, big and small. Heck, I’ve technically broken the law to let my son play on them. It’s a whole new world that I knew exactly zero about pre-Jackson. Look at him, expanding my boundaries already.

If only you knew what your kid was going to like before they were born, you’d have time to prep on learning all about it in advance (when you still have free time to do things like read books and surf the internet without having to split the screen and have YouTube up on half of it with videos of dump trucks).

Sounds. There is one area that probably should be a mandatory part of all child birth classes – learning the sounds that every single creature in the animal kingdom makes. This seems like the common thread among all kids – regardless of what they are going to be interested in as they grow up, they all know how to make animal noises when they’re young. Jackson can say the name of one, maybe two types of animals. But he can make the sound of any animal you can throw at him. Actually, even beyond animals, Jackson specializes in making the sounds of everything from police cars to motorcycles. But with animals, they really should have parents practice in advance, because if you don’t know how to make the right sound, you’re setting your child up for a lifetime of mockery in school and around his friends.

Listening to someone else make animal noises is a very telling activity. If someone just says the words like “meow”, it means they’re not really much fun. If someone actually meows like a cat (which is more of a “re-ow” sound, it means they’re getting into it and probably are going to be pretty fun if they get a few beers in them. The tricky thing is when you get to animal sounds that aren’t obvious. Cats, dogs, sheep, cow – no problem.

What about a fish? Jackson dominates fish sounds, basically making bubble sounds with his mouth. Genius. I would have never thought of that and probably would have just said “swim swim swim”.

What about animals even harder than a fish? Jackson has a book of animal sounds where there is a caterpillar in it. Really? I’m fairly certain they are 100% quiet. When you push the button, it makes this crazy “woop woop woop” sound, so now Jackson assumes that’s the sound they make. Lies!

There needs to be a cheat sheet. There needs to be some international standard on what sounds things like – or at least the makers of children’s books and toys need to stop including things like guinea pigs (no idea), giraffes (neck neck neck?), and foxes (what does the fox say?). As it exists today, it’s just setting me up for feeling like a failure and making me a disappointment in my son’s eyes, who assumes I know the answers to everything in the world. Thankfully, he doesn’t know any better – yet. But at some point, he’s going to come storming home from school yelling “why didn’t you tell me that caterpillars don’t make noises?! I was the laughing stock of school!”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Year One, Month Six Musings

The Mamas and the Dadas. One of the things that I find hugely ironic is that Jackson’s daily report card often features some note about a Spanish word that he allegedly learned at school that day. Really? Given that he knows a total of about ten one-syllable words, it seems like they should maybe focus on teaching him some more English words first, right? Or at least teaching him that words can extend beyond a one consonant, one vowel sound? As it is, he’s learning how to say “purple” in Spanish rather than learning how to say “hello” in English.

I think one of the unintended side effects of this Spanish influence is that Jackson has begun to associate everything with either Mama or Dada. Given that every noun in Spanish is either masculine (El) or feminine (La), I can only assume this is a byproduct of this Spanish education. Initially, KB and I thought this was simply Jackson being an idiot. “No, son – that’s not Dada. That’s a car. Say CAR.” To which he would stare with a puzzled look at me, followed by pointing to the car again and saying “dada”. But over time, we realized that he’s using “mama” and “dada” to identify objects that he can’t say – but associating them with whoever is more closely tied to that object.

For example, the shower is “dada”. Although my wife takes as many – if not more – showers that I do, she showers while Jackson is still sleeping in the morning. I’m the one who is always in the shower while he’s playing, and the one that he always sees when he pulls back the curtain and tosses toys under my feet while showering.

On the other hand, cans of pop are “mama”. Again, although I enjoy a whiskey and Coke as much as the next guy, I’m always drinking them while Jackson is asleep – whereas his mother drinks her LaCroix all throughout the day.

At this point, it’s become a fun game to see what he associates with each of us. Cars that look like my car are “dada”. Cars that look like Kate’s car are “mama”. Nalgene bottles are “mama”. The TV is “dada”. The greatest moment of Kate’s year thus far occurred when Jackson pointed to the Victoria’s Secret catalogue and identified it as “mama”, even though I probably spent far more time reading the articles inside. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll eventually point to a Miller Lite or giant plate of nachos and call them “dada”.

Or, you know, keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll eventually learn the real words for things.

Anger. Speaking of learning new things, this month marked the first new emotion that Jackson has learned since his first laughs when he was only a few months old. Ever since the Monk was born, whenever he would be crying a ton (or NOT laughing at things which I thought were hilarious – stupid kids not getting my sharp sense of humor), I would always ask him “why so serious?” (like the Joker in The Dark Knight, which drives my wife absolutely crazy). But up until this month, that serious face was the low end of his emotional spectrum. While he’s still the happiest kid ever, Jackson now has developed a new emotional expression – his angry face.

Furrowing his brown and looking at you with a harsh look of distrust, his angry face usually accompanies someone telling him he can’t do something… or suggesting that he should do something that he doesn’t want to do. Forcing him to leave his favorite play spot (the front seat of the car) will often earn you an angry face. Telling him that he has to take a bath instead of play will get you anywhere from an angry face to flat out crying. Asking him if he wants a diaper change? Guaranteed angry face followed by him running away as quickly as possible.

I can only assume this angry face is one of the non-Spanish things that he learned at school. Given that it’s not yet football season, and the Dayton Flyers haven’t played basketball for months, I don’t think I’ve had an angry face since March. Likewise, it’s not as though Kate is ever walking around with an angry face. After all, what’s she got to be upset about? She’s got a hunky husband, the happiest toddler on the block, and a live-in cook (also me). Have you ever looked at kids toys or watched any kids TV shows? Every character has a permanent smile on them! So it’s not like he’s learning it from Sesame Street or the Fisher Price Puppy. No, it must be something that those no-good-punk kids at school have taught him.

The good news is, it’s pretty hilarious. In fact, every time he does it I just start busting out laughing at him until he returns to a happy face… or crying face. Still, coupled with the fact that he seems to intentionally misbehave now from time to time –– it’s another sign of him becoming one of the moody two year olds that you hear so much about. Oh, you don’t want me to hit you in the face with my shovel? Okay, I’m going to do it anyways – and then when you take my shovel away, it’s going to be angry face time! Even though he seems to understand everything, given his lack of verbal acknowledgement for most things, I still struggle with reasoning with him through discipline. I can’t wait for the day when I can logically explain to him why hitting is bad, why he can’t run in the street, or why taking one bite out of every piece of fruit in our fruit bowl is a bad thing. But for now, I struggle with keeping a straight face when he starts flashing the angry face.

Poop. Finally this month, the gross-out portion of the blog. Those without kids, you probably will want to go ahead and skip past this topic. For those with kids, it’s time to talk poop.

In the past, I’ve always wondered how the teachers at Jackson’s school do it – putting up with not one, but a whole room full of kids all day every day. Again, given their inability to logically reason at this age, it’s dealing with a room full of illogical balls of energy doing everything they can to accidentally hurt themselves all day long… and you are all that stands between them and utter chaos. But recently, I’ve discovered they have a trick up their sleeves when the going gets tough and they need to thin the herd of toddlers roaming their classroom. The key is poop.

Any time a teacher wants to send a kid home from school, they can simply play the “poop card”. Unlike all other forms of illness, which are easy to confirm by things like taking a child’s temperature or checking for a running nose / cough, diarrhea (or “runny poop”) is impossible to prove. The evidence is thrown away long before the parents are even notified that their child had the runs – and somehow that makes them so “sick” that they not only have to go home from school, but stay away for 24 hours! Are you kidding me? When did this become a law?

Sure, before I had a child, I assumed that their poop would look like my poop – which is to say, be in log form. But now that I’ve had Jackson for a year and a half, I can tell you that 95% of the time it’s just a mash of filth in his diaper. Even if it comes out in a semi-solid state, that quickly changes into mush after a few minutes of him running around / falling down / boxing out other kids on the basketball court. Plus, if there really is some type of health code violation involving liquid poop, how does anyone go to school or work the day after some late night White Castle?  It’s insane. Jackson has one “apple spinach quinoa” Plum snack that doesn’t agree with him (and who can blame him? Those combinations are insane!) and he’s banned from all the fun and games at school for a day.

Well played teachers, well played. You win this round.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Year One, Month Five Musings

Travel. Ah, the joys of travel with a one year old. Actually, let me clarify – traveling is pretty brutal these days regardless of having a child with you or not. When you board a plane, sit down, and hear the pilot say “we’re experiencing technical issues – sit back and relax and we’ll try to have us in the air in about 45 minutes” it crushes the spirits of everyone on the airplane. However, when traveling alone your biggest concerns are missing connection flights or wondering how long your iPhone battery is going to last to entertain you for the extended period of time. When you sit down with a busy one year old and hear the same announcement, it’s a feeling of panic and dread that I can only compare to being stuck in traffic while running late to a DMB concert. This was the situation we found ourselves in last month while traveling with Jackson to Pennsylvania.

But it gets better. Shortly after the dreaded announcement, KB and I started to smell something… and realized that our second biggest fear was coming true. Here we were, trapped on a sold out, delayed airplane, with a very busy child with a dump in his trunk. We did what any responsible parents would do – ignore it and hope that the smell wouldn’t bother the people around us. This strategy worked for a while… until I started to feel something wet on my leg, underneath where Jackson was sitting on my lap. It makes me feel better to pretend that this was simply “pee” that was leaking out onto my shorts, but the color would probably indicate otherwise. Forced with no other option, we somehow performed the dreaded mid-air, on the lap diaper change without creating any additional spills, and emptied the contents of a Zip-Lock bag from our carry on to contain the smell.

Even though we brought one carry-on bag full of nothing but entertainment options for Jackson, the last twenty minutes of the flight and de-boarding process featured a screaming child that we were responsible for. Needless to say, upon arriving at our destination, I was frazzled, fray, poop-stained, and broken. There’s a reason why airlines (who charge for EVERYTHING) don’t charge you for bringing a child under the age of two on a flight – no one in their right mind should do it.

Sunny Days. Leading up to the flight, there was one discovery that went a long way in keeping our sanity on that fateful day – our child LOVES Sesame Street. It really speaks to the marketing genius behind the creators of these characters over forty years ago. It’s not as though Jackson watches this show every day – in fact, he’s probably seen bits and pieces of the show less than 10 times in his life. He’s got roughly 100 books strewn about our house – including exactly three that involve Sesame Street characters. Yet somehow he suddenly knows and LOVES the Sesame Street characters. Those books are now his favorites. Out of the huge pile of stuffed animals we have from KB’s childhood, he’s discovered both a Grover and Big Bird that he plays with every day. But most importantly, Jackson will now watch the show for an extended period of time, sitting in a trance and trying to understand the educational antics of those weird furry creatures.

After finding this out, those $2.99 episodes of Sesame Street on iTunes became a steal, and were quickly loaded on the iPad prior to leaving for the trip. Full disclosure - they did buy us about 45 minutes of glorious peace and quiet on the plane ride, where I sat completely still – holding the iPad in one hand and bracing myself at an awkward angle with the other, terrified that any change would break the copasetic state that Sesame Street had created.

But this really does bring up something interesting - WHY does Jackson love Sesame Street so much? Are all kids born with some innate connection to bright colors, high-pitch voices, and furry objects with large eyes? Or is it just coincidence that Jackson is drawn to it the same way that both KB and I were when we were kids? If the love for TV shows is genetic, my son is going to be in heaven when he realizes that I already own all of his favorite shows on DVD someday. But taken to the next level, isn’t it weird that Jackson likes things like balls, sports, and cars – but shows absolutely zero interest in dolls or even non-Sesame Street stuffed animals? Since we didn’t know the sex of Jackson before he was born, everything in his room was neutral colors, and there’s a pretty even distribution of boy-centric and girl-centric hand-me-down toys in our house. So why does Jackson naturally gravitate to the boy ones? Is that genetic? Or just a coincidence that I shouldn’t read too much into given that I am using a sample size of 1 out of the billions of people in the world?

Terrible Ones. Finally this month, Jackson is in the middle of what I’ve termed “the terrible ones”. I know that people talk about their kids becoming disasters when they turn two, but right now there are a lot of situations that are pretty frustrating. First and foremost is probably that my child is the most opinionated person I’ve ever met. He wants what he wants, and he wants it NOW. Coupled with the fact that his current vocabulary primarily consists of “more”, “please”, and “help”, it results in a lot of him asking for things and a lot of us either misinterpreting or denying him of what he wants… which leads to a sad Monk. I keep waiting for the point where I can have conversations with him and explain the logic behind the decisions I make on his behalf (“sorry Jackson, if we go outside in 95 degree weather, Daddy will physically die – do you want me to die, or can we play inside?”) and have him understand and respond with real words (“I understand your concerns, father – what if we get out the pool instead of playing in the street? Would that be an acceptable compromise?”) rather than him frantically signing “please” repeatedly and not understanding why I’m being a jerk about denying him what he wants.

Sure, if we were better parents, we probably should have taught Jackson more baby sign language – but if you’ve ever looked up some of the signs for things, the majority of them are pretty ridiculous. I’ll give you “more” and “please” as being acceptable – but the sign for “thank you”? It’s basically the Italian sign for “F you”. The sign for “avocado”? I watched a YouTube video of it about ten times and still couldn’t mimic it – and it has nothing to do with avocados! Where’s the symbol of slicing and opening an avocado? Or dipping a chip into something and eating it? Because of this, I’ve taken it upon myself to create more logical sign language with Jackson where I can.

First example – the sign for “help”. Kids are supposed to pound one fist into an open hand and then raise it with a thumbs up sign. That seems unnecessary complicated, so I’ve just taught my son to raise his hand when he needs “help” – and now he does it. It drives the wife crazy, but it’s absolutely hilarious to see Jackson run into a problem, then turn around, throw both hands in the air, and give this panicked look like “I can’t solve this situation! I need a person bigger than me to assist!”

So at this point, we either need Jackson to start talking (which I almost think he’s just being difficult or lazy about not talking – he clearly understands everything) or I need to start coming up with logical sign language movements for the expressions I feel like he would use most frequently. Currently, they would probably be the following:

  • I want to play with water, but not actually touch the water with any part of my body.
  • I want to carry around and ruin food, but not actually eat any of it.
  • I want to trade all of my toys for your kitchen appliances. You play with the plastic helicopter, I’ll play with the oven.
  • I want to turn the TV on and off repeatedly. I don’t actually want to watch anything. Stop trying to change the channel to things you’d think I would like.
  • Even though I want to play independently, I want both mom and dad within two feet of me to ensure I’m not missing out on them doing something more fun without me. If they are not here, I will call their name incessantly until they return.
  • I don’t actually want to go outside or inside – I want to play in the space between the screen door and the front door, opening and closing them repeatedly until all the air conditioning is gone from the house.

If we could just get all of those established (along with making him understand the ridiculousness of each of these requests), we would be all set… at least for now.