The New Normal. As we enter the fourth month of life with Jackson, we finally have entered into the “new normal” routine. Since this isn’t Europe, the maternity leave vacation is seemingly over as quickly as it began, sending Kate back to work and Jackson off to school (some may call it “day care”, but “school” sounds a lot better to us – plus he gets a daily report card. More on that later). As with any change, I don’t think we’ve quite settled into a comfortable rut with the new routine yet. Mornings are still huge variables dictated by when Jackson wakes up. Do I shower first? Does Kate? What time will I be able leave for work? As a guy who likes to plan things like dinners three nights in advance, not knowing what each morning is going to hold has been a little bit stressful, but nothing compared to the stress that Kate has experienced with taking Jackson to school.
The good news is, she prepped herself for Jackson going back to school by imagining it was going to be the worst thing she has ever done in her life, that should we be dropping her baby (that she has lovingly cared for during the first three months of his life) into a cold, heartless, cruel world where people would throw him in a crib and leave him crying for hours on end. While school is surprisingly cold – seriously, they probably keep their thermostat at a crisp 60 degrees, compared to our house, which in the summer time might dip into the high 70s depending on how generous I’m feeling with the AC that day – the teachers there seem to be pretty nice and have already learned that Jackson hates his crib, meaning that he is always getting attention in the main room… and monopolizes the swing (suck it other babies!)
But the biggest thing that’s helped the transition into the new normal? Jackson freaking loves school.
The first day we dropped him off, and stood him on the ground next to another baby, you could see this look in his eyes like “whoa whoa whoa – there are OTHER people like me out in the world who are my size and actually move around, unlike garden gnomes? SWEET!”
If Jackson is mesmerized by watching TV, he is hypnotized by other babies. It’s honestly shocking to hear the stories of how quickly he’s interacting (dare I say “playing” with other babies at school). It really makes you think that this is how nature intended things to be. Babies weren’t meant to spend all day hanging out with grown-ups. They’re meant to be hanging out with other babies, which is probably how things worked back in caveman times. All the women folk hanging around the cave with their babies talking gibberish to each other while all the men folk are out working at the Stone Quarry on top of dinosaurs.
Of course the problem with this 8-5 entertainment is that it makes napping a much lower priority on Jackson’s daily to-do list. Why would he waste time sleeping when he could be laying the groundwork for a future make-out session with one of the ladies at school? I understand his point, but this has been the biggest cause of concern for Kate in the new normal. The Monkey basically went from napping 3-5 hours a day at home to napping for 1-2 hours his first week at school.
- Was he still happy? Yep, smiles all around.
- Did he sleep like a champ in the evenings after school? Yep, like a dog that spent the day at doggy day care.
- Did we still spend hours Googling “how to get your baby to sleep at day care” each night? Yep, and it turns out the search results are pretty weak, mostly comprised of crazy moms on internet message boards.
In the end, our logic was that Jackson hated his crib. When he was home with Kate, he’d nap for hours in his swing, or in Kate’s arms, or in the Maya Wrap – but very few times in the crib. Determined to overcome this “problem”, we vowed to put him through some crib training each weekend, forcing him to nap in it whether he liked it or not, buying a music machine that attaches to the crib, and committing ourselves to putting in the hard work required to make him a better crib sleeper.
(Ironically, before we had a chance to actually do any of these things, he slept one day at school in his crib for three hours.)
But the point is – when sleeping in a crib vs. a swing is the biggest of your worries about sending your baby off to school, things are going pretty good. However, there are a number of things I’ve learned about “day care” in the first two weeks that Jackson has been there…
Regardless of how often they tell you that they clean the place, it still feels dirty. I sweep my house maybe twice a month. I can’t tell you the last time I mopped my floors. Jackson’s school is cleaned, sterilized, and disinfected using a three-step method on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Lab tests would undoubtedly prove that his school is the cleaner place for him to be crawling around on the floor… yet it still seems dirty. I’ve come to the conclusion that when you’re in a room with seven other crawling, drooling, pooping babies, no matter what you do, it’s going to seem gross.
The ladies that work there have to be a little crazy. I can’t help but picture the first grade teacher in Billy Madison who is super sweet, loves all the kids, is a great teacher… and puts paste on her eyes when no one is looking. I mean honestly, can you imagine taking care of eight babies all day every day? Each one is a like a ticking time bomb that needs constant attention and supervision to keep the room from becoming total chaos. Plus, you’ve got crazy parents who are constantly second-guessing everything that you do (even though you’re probably taken care of hundreds of babies in your life compared to their one or two). I know day care is expensive, but good God – you couldn’t pay me enough money to do their job.
The fact that everyone buys their baby stuff at Babies R Us is painfully obvious. A quick stroll around the room and you’re guaranteed to see duplicates of every car seat, mobile, toy, and outfit… and that’s in a room with the super small sample size of eight babies. It makes your stuff seem a little less special… but also gives you confidence that if you’re buying all the wrong stuff for your baby, at least you’re not the only one.
But most importantly, it’s showed me that not all babies are created equal.
Comparisons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the guy who thinks my child is the cutest thing the world has ever seen and all other babies pale in comparison. I’ll be the first to tell you that Jackson looks like a middle aged banker, and looked like a chubby Asian baby when he was first born. I’ll also be the first to tell you that ANY picture of a cute puppy trumps ANY picture of a cute baby, my own included. But being completely objective – there are a lot of weird looking babies out there.
I first noticed this trend on Facebook a while back. People would post pictures of their new babies and be met with a hundred comments of people saying how adorable and cute their child is… compared to my reaction which would range somewhere between “Eh” and “Ugh!” It makes you wonder – are people just obligated to give these same standard reactions and comments regardless of what the baby looks like? Or am I the only horrible person in the world who has ever said the phrase “Gross. I’m glad that’s not my baby”? Like I said, Jackson looks like a middle aged banker, but the kind of middle aged banker that you would do business with. Some of the babies out there look like grumpy old men who have been hardened by the war and would chase kids off their lawn with a Civil War sword… and they’re baby girls. I’m sorry, but nothing about matches the Facebook comment of “sweetheart” or “doll”.
The good news is, in life’s race to being pretty, it’s how you finish, not how you start – so we really shouldn’t care what babies look like. My wife didn’t peak until later in life, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve been slowly getting less cute since I was about 4 years old, and I’ve accepted it. It just seems like as a society, we should be strong enough to give honest opinions about the appearances of babies, knowing that they’re going to change dramatically over the course of the next 18 years of their lives. Someday when a super model looks back on her baby pictures and thinks “man, I was ugly”, wouldn’t you rather be honest with her and say “yes, you weren’t the cutest baby” so that she respects your current opinions on her appearance? Or would you rather she assume that you think everyone and everything is pretty, thus lowering her current hotness factor? Plus, I’m fairly certain there’s something about telling the truth in the Bible.
Still, with the start of school the comparisons start. Who has the smartest baby? Who has the cutest baby? Who has the happiest baby? With two weeks of school under his belt, I can confirm that Jackson is in the running for “cutest baby”. One area that he’s not going to win? Cleanliness.
I mentioned before that we get daily report cards for Jackson. They’re similar to the report cards that you get later in life, only these track things like how often your child pees, poops, and sleeps. In his first two weeks, Jackson has also gotten a few written comments, one of which I hope he never sees on another report card for the rest of his life:
NEEDS MORE PANTS.
Apparently, Jackson is awesome at pooping – so awesome that sometimes it sneaks out of his diaper and stains his pants… and sometimes so good at it that he ruins multiple pants in the same day. This makes me think a few things:
- How are the people at school changing Jackson? By turning him upside down first? Because I can’t remember the last time that he pooped out of a diaper.
- A little poop on the pants never hurt anyone. Wipe it off, move on with life.
- Pants should be optional. At home, Kate is big on making Jackson look like a real person every day by wearing things like pants and socks. I’m all about putting him in a white onesie and calling it good enough (at least until he’s big enough to fit into his baby mesh shorts).
I just hope this report card doesn’t go into his personal file to haunt him for the rest of his life. I can just see Jackson applying for a job someday and having the person ask “so tell me about this situation where you needed more pants”. How embarrassing.
Toys. Last but not least this month, we’ve added some new additions to our arsenal of Jackson equipment around the house. First, a high chair, which brings him up to our level while we eat eat – and making him seem more like a person (eating at the table) than a dog (sitting in a bouncy chair on the ground looking up at us while we eat). Second, we finally set up the long-awaited exersaucer, a toy which we thought he would love ever since he was a few weeks old and we discovered that Jackson loves standing up more than anything.
Kate disagrees – but to me, this is the first major “toy” that Jackson has had. Sure, he’s had little stuffed animals and balls since he was born, but those required some grown-up intervention for him to keep interest in them (you know, moving them around, giving them names and voices, having them solve pretend crimes, the usual). He’s even had the bigger things like a swing – but that was more for sleeping than entertaining purposes. This is a full-fledged entertainment center for a baby. When Jackson sits in it, he’s got a variety of things to play everywhere he turns. Most importantly, it’s the first thing he has ever had that has the potential to entertain him – on his own – for an extended period of time (besides his fingers and feet). Now I won’t feel like I’m neglecting my child leaving him in a swing for a few minutes while I’ve got other things to do. Instead, I’m giving him the all-important “independent play time”. Less work for me and more fun for him? Everybody wins!
Immediately my mind fast-forwards to his first Christmas, birthday, and other upcoming events when we can actually give him toys that he’ll be excited about… and even further down the road when he’ll be able to toss football and play video games, which I can claim count as “father son bonding time” instead of “Brian playing time”. Sooner or later, having this kid is going to start paying off by getting me out of household chores. Booyah!
That’s all for this month. Time for me to celebrate my first Father’s Day the way our forefathers intended… putting my child to bed, pouring a whiskey, and watching sports. Happy Day!