Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Month Eleven Musings

Taking Care of Business. I’m writing this month’s Blog post from 20,000 feet on the way back from a quick business trip. Before I had a baby, business trips were often viewed as a fun distraction from the day-to-day business of work. You got to eat out, spend the company money, and see new places (granted, often crappy places you’d never want to visit again – but at least now you knew that). But now? It kinda sucks.

I never ever worried about an airplane crashing before I had Jackson. After all, they are infinitely safer than traveling by car (or even walking down the street). Now? Every time there’s a bit of turbulence little thoughts start creeping into my head about my child growing up without a father and regretting not writing down every valuable life lesson I wanted to teach him. It’s ridiculous.

Given that Jackson is in a stage of life where’s he’s learning new things every day, every single time you leave your house, you risk missing some new important milestone in your child’s life. Thankfully I was around for him taking his first steps, but this week I missed the all-important “eating with a spoon by himself for the first time” milestone. Granted, not one of the Top 5, but it’s still disappointing to have the feeling that you’re not there to enjoy the payoff of all the months of hard work… and by “hard work” I mean personally using a spoon to feed myself while Jackson watched me. It’s harder than you think (especially if you listen to my wife, who insists that I eat everything with a spoon incorrectly by bringing my mouth to the bowl rather than the spoon to my mouth).

Then there’s the whole part about actually missing your child. There's no denying the "feel good" moment of getting home from a long day and seeing your son's face light up with a huge smile to see you. It's amazing. I’m sure some people will argue that I should miss my wife just as much as I miss my child, but she and I will both tell you that it’s not the case. A grown-up understands why you are leaving, when you are coming back, and how technology like FaceTime work. For a baby? Jackson probably thinks that his father has suddenly abandoned him for having one too many stinky diapers and that his mother is taunting him by showing him fancy moving pictures of me through the iPad.

Lastly, you can’t help but feel bad for the spouse left behind. Contrary to what Rachel made it look like on Friends, being a single parent is impossible. I’ve personally experienced it when Kate has traveled on business. Here’s a typical day:

  1. Wake up earlier than normal before Jackson wakes up
  2. Get myself ready
  3. Get Jackson ready
  4. Get to work late
  5. Sramble to get all your work done in a shorter time period than a normal day
  6. Leave work early to pick Jackson up
  7. Play with Jackson
  8. Feed Jackson
  9. Put Jackson to bed
  10. Feed myself
  11. Clean up the house, which is a disaster from items 7 and 8 above.
  12. Get Jackson’s things ready for the next day
  13. Get my things ready for the next day
  14.  Look at the clock and realize it’s already an hour past my bedtime and I still haven't changed out of my work clothes.

I really have no idea how people do it, unless they’re really dirty, slackers at work, or can survive on five hours of sleep each night. There’s a reason why the Bible tells us that we should be married before having kids, and it has nothing to do with stable families, morals, or building an army of Christian soldiers – it’s that it provides the greatest chance of survival.

Work trips usually involve long days, stressful meetings, and crappy nights of sleep in hotel beds – but they’re a luxury vacation compared to being a single working parent for a few days. Needless to say, I’m excited to get home.

First Christmas. There are all sorts of benefits to having a child. In theory you live longer, have more feeling of purpose in life, and have a new person to mold in your self-image and teach valuable lessons about what TV shows are better than others. But eleven months into this “parenthood” thing, I’ll put Christmas up there as one of the biggest benefits.

Don’t get me wrong – adult Christmases are fun. They usually start later and involve more drinking – but no matter how hard you may try by listening to Christmas music and decking your halls, they are lacking a certain spark that can only come from having a child around to be excited and opening presents… and I’m basing this opinion off of one Christmas with Jackson, where he had absolutely no idea what was going on.

There are many important life skills that babies need to develop. They’re born with some (breathing, crying, being cute), but must be taught others (eating with a spoon, covering up loose footballs on a fumble). In Jackson’s case, he was born with an uncanny ability to give the best reaction to every single present he opens. We would put a present in front of him, and he would look at it, having no idea why we had such a brightly colored box for him to bongo on. Then we’d help him open it, and he would be confused as to why we were so interested in ripping paper. Then suddenly, he would see what was inside that present and give the biggest smile and excited expression ever. It’s really quite interesting when you think about it. How does he know what most of these toys are in the first place? He got a toy CD player this year. Like most kids under the age of 20, I can guarantee that he has never seen a CD player before – yet somehow he knew that this was a toy, and that this toy was for him. Is it that it’s composed of plastic with bright colors and smiling faces all over it? Is he secretly watching TV commercials and going through toy catalogues at school? No idea – but regardless of the present, big or small, toy or box of Cheerios, he was super happy to get any and every present.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Little does Jackson know, but I have to think that this skill is going to go a long way in increasing his present intake over the years. If you bought a present for a baby and they opened it but were disinterested – or more interested in the box than the present, that sounds like a recipe for fewer gifts over the years. But being so excited to rip open that toy and start playing with it? That sounds like a recipe for this kid to grow up being super spoiled by friends and family. Smart.

Note: a bit of a tangent, but somehow Jackson is the same way with animals. How does he know what animals are vs. people or inanimate objects? If he sees a picture of a dog or a cat? All smiles and interested in it. He sees a picture of a random person or toaster oven, not so much fun. Yes, he has seen some dogs and cats in real life before – but they come in all shapes and sizes! How does he know the difference between a Great Dane and a horse? Or between a horse and a toy horse rocking chair thing? It’s crazy. The kids loves his cats and dogs more than anything this side of daddy.

Besides the presents, there were some other pleasant Christmas surprises. Jackson was totally already interested in Elf on the Shelf, and pointing out where Elfie was located each week made him happy – so that’ll probably be a fun tradition for years to come. Also nice? He didn’t totally destroy our Christmas tree and ornaments. Just like the first time we put up a tree with Kate’s cats in the house, I had terrible visions of coming home from work and finding the tree on the ground, ornaments shattered everywhere, and guilty looking cats cowering in the corner. Before we put up the tree, I thought for sure that we’d need to buy some type of gate to put up around it to keep Jackson out – but instead, it was just like the grass outside. When he touched it, he didn’t like it, and he stayed away. He would become interested in some of the ornaments, and might grab them or pull at them – but that’s why we put the fragile ones up high. It was really no issue, which was great. Who needs baby gates? We’ll just line the top and bottom of our steps with branches from our artificial tree and it’ll keep him away! Lastly there was the first encounter with Santa.

More than anything, we viewed a visit to the mall to see Santa Claus as a hilarious photo op - you know, one where you can bust out the picture years later and show your child how terrified they were of Santa. We went into the mall expecting the worst - long lines, crappy Santa, rude elves, and a terrible picture. Instead, we waited in no line, quickly got a number of great pictures with Jackson and the Big Man himself, and were on our way. It truly was a Christmas miracle. 

Baby Purpose. A few months back, I developed the Baby Chaos Theory – that being, babies are happiest when things are messy, on the floor, or in general chaos. Stacks of blocks need to be knocked down. Books on a shelf need to be pulled onto the floor and scattered about. It’s science. This past month, I’ve discovered a new theory – that of Baby Purpose.

Think about it – everyone needs purpose in life. Adults get it from having kids, work, and professional sports teams breaking their hearts. Kids get it from school, sports, and make-out parties. What about babies?  Initially, I thought that they got their purpose from creating chaos. They needed to mess up everything, because if they didn’t, then who would? But now that Jackson is more mobile, I’m realizing that there are far more important things in life for babies than making a mess. Things like opening and closing drawers and doors. You put my child in front of an unlocked baby gate, and he will stand up at it, and open and close it repeatedly – not just for a few minutes, but for a solid half hour or hour. Is he testing the quality of the construction of the hinges? Ensuring that it’s properly aligned? Getting practice for his future career as a doorman at a fancy hotel? No idea – but he absolutely loves it. Same with any furniture drawers in our house. They are made to be opened, examined, and then closed. Sometimes, to mix it up a little, he’ll take something out of the drawer, look at it, then put it back in the drawer and close it. Again, and again, and again.

Now, we’re relatively good parents (most of the time). We’ve moved most of the dangerous items out of any low-lying drawers and put them up higher where only adults can hurt themselves. We thought, what harm could there possibly be in letting Jackson play with towels or wooden spoons? It turns out, a lot.

I often go back and forth in debating if my child is a genius or an idiot. He’s very clever in some things (quickly figuring out how to open cabinets that we have lazily kept shut with a wooden spoon between the handles), but not the sharpest knife in our (outside of his reach) drawer in other things – like if you have your fingers on the inside edge of a door and close it, it’s going to pinch your fingers, and it’s going to hurt.

I can’t count the number of times he’s slammed a door on his hands and is standing there screaming – fingers on his left hand getting crushed while his right hand continues to attempt to close the door all the way, creating more pain. I might be off on this – but I thought there was some lesson that parents were supposed to teach their kids about touching a hot stove once to learn that they shouldn’t ever do it again. Apparently that’s not going to work on Jackson… at least not yet.

What this all means is that he requires 24/7 on-the-job surveillance while doing his work of opening and closing doors. I’m on constant watch for him to move to a drawer and quick to throw my hand in there to prevent it from closing all the way while he “works”. I’ve become an expert of pulling out towels, books, or clothes to ensure that drawers can’t close all the way – but somehow he still finds ways to hurt himself.

Could we just totally baby-proof everything? Sure – but do you know what a pain it is to continuously connect and disconnect those things every time you need a pan or pair of socks? Is the safety of my child’s fingers really worth that hassle? As a society, I’m looking to the inventors of the world to come up with some modern solutions here. Voice activated locks that only open when I say something complicated that my child can’t imitate (at this point, anything that is a real world – but eventually just expressions that a kid would never know or understand like “It’s important to fund your 401k” or “VCRs are used for recording TV shows”)

Although I don’t know what has drawn Jackson to this profession in life, perhaps it’s the danger of it all. If you think about it, we pretty much baby babies from the moment they’re born. Everything is soft, friendly, and brightly colored. But opening and closing doors? That’s serious, tough work involving solid colors and no cartoon faces. It’s the baby equivalent of going into the coal mines for a day. Perhaps this is Jackson’s Baby Purpose in life. After a tough day of pinched fingers and hundreds of opens and closes, he can kick back and relax with his toys and feel like he made a difference while sipping on a bottle of milk. I can totally understand it.

Walking Tall. Lastly this month, we have officially checked off “able to walk” on the list of important baby milestones. What started as two steps towards the cats on one fateful weekend morning quickly developed into 8-10 step walks on Christmas Day. Now? He’s all over the place.

Aside from the entertainment of seeing a baby walk around like a drunken monkey, once they start walking it doesn’t really buy you a whole lot more than when they are crawling on all fours. I suppose that clothes stay a bit cleaner (especially in the knee areas), but it’s yet another way for kids to hurt themselves. Eventually, when he gets better at walking, it’ll be great to not have to carry the kid everywhere – but for now, the walking he does is still somewhat temporary. There are three reasons why Jackson will stop walking:

  • He hits a couch / chair / wall and supports himself on it with his hand.
  • He sees something interesting on the floor or gets tired and plops himself down.
  • He gets distracted or loses focus and falls to the ground.

Although he’s only like two-and-a-half feet tall, the sound of a baby head hitting a hard wood floor after a fall is horrible. I’ve asked our doctor about what we can do to prevent my child from having brain damage and ending up as a doorman at a fancy hotel when he grows up, but she assures me that this is why God makes babies small, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Still, this means that Jackson is now at risk of injuring himself both at work – and on his way to and from work! The world is quickly becoming a very dangerous place for this kid.

Okay – we’re starting our descent, so I suppose that wraps up this month. Next month, I’m sure I’ll have all sorts of rants about the ridiculousness of a baby’s first birthday party in this day and age as the monkey somehow is already turning ONE. Crazy. Time flies when you’re having fun – or also when you are writing a Blog on an airplane.