Archive for category Love

Tantrums Revisited

I’ve written a bit about tantrums before but I return to you now, if not a man rid of tantrums, a man more in control of them.

Let me asterisk this by telling you up front that I don’t think it’s too likely that you’ll be able to follow this advice right away. I think eventually you’ll find it’s true, but you will have arrived at this point more or less organically all on your own. I think fighting your way through tantrums is a bit of a rite of parenthood. Everything I’m going to say here are things that I understood academically long before Joshua was walking and talking and some before he was even born. Did me just about no good.

I’ve battled tantrums with yelling. With threats of taking away toys and fun activities. With actual taking away toys and fun activities. With threatening time-outs. With attempts to forcibly hold Joshua in a time-out spot he didn’t want to be in. With attempts to physically restrain him from flailing about. And all that got me was more crying. More flailing. Punches in the face. And a meltdown where I just sat on the floor and cried for a few minutes because I couldn’t figure out how I had managed to fail so thoroughly as a father.

Of course I have not failed as a father. By all accounts I’m doing pretty well and I have for you over here this whole bag of dicks if you happen to disagree. I have not failed, it was simply that I just didn’t know because I hadn’t experienced it yet.

This is why I am sure that you will read all this and may say “I already knew all that Mike” or “I’ll keep that in mind, Scarpelli” but that it won’t make any difference because you’ll be plugging along, happily doing your parenting thing and then WHAMMO your child pulls a Crazy Ivan and all of a sudden they’re coming right for you. You’ll be confused and probably a little shocked and your child will do things that I guarantee you will irritate the shit out of everyone but the most impressively patient. So you’ll go over the edge a bit, too.

The thing to try and remember about toddlers, though, is that they just completely do not understand emotions. And why should they? Emotions are weird as shit. You feel certain ways and you don’t know why. Your brain is pumping chemicals in weird places and the thing about developing minds is that it might not be doing it in the proper doses yet. Now, imagine that you don’t know what to call those ways you feel. Mommy and Daddy are holding your little brother all the time and you feel sad and angry and jealous and you don’t actually know what any of those things are or what comprises a proper level of response so, to steal a phrase from Hyperbole and a Half, your child ends up FEELING ALL OF THE FEELS. Which emotion should they use? Which one will allow them to tell us what they think? How can they tell us what they think if they don’t know what all of the feels are in the first place? How can they STOP FEELING ALL OF THE FEELS? And then they Hulk out.

They also don’t understand certain nuances. Let’s say your child wants to watch TV. You have decided they have watched enough TV for the day and offer instead that you can color or do puzzles togehter if they want, or maybe even have a snack. This, to you, seems a reasonable exchange and a productive one, as you have made a graceful refusal and coupled it with the offer to engage in other enjoyable activities. Your toddler, though? Well, their half of this “What Humans Say/What Animals Hear” Gary Larson comic reads like this:

Toddler – Can I watch TV?

Parent – No, because I don’t love you and nothing will ever be okay again.

Because for realsies, if you loved your toddler why would you NOT let them watch TV? You like them. They like you. They like TV. Ipso ergo de facto you should let them watch TV. And because you said no that means you don’t love them any more because they are a bad child and all the light will be sucked from this universe to fuel the dark forge of the cruel gods of the nameless deep. So, I mean, screaming and flailing seems like a pretty logical response now, right?

I’ve already covered what doesn’t work (or at least what didn’t work for us), but what DOES work (or at least works for us)?

Essentially, treat it like the tantrum is something that your child is doing that you are more or less unaware of. We don’t outright ignore Joshua, but experience has taught us to, in essence, go limp so the impact doesn’t shock our systems too much. When he cries and flails, I start out asking him if he wants to come sit with me and give me a hug. Inevitably, he will say no. Then I tell him that it’s okay to be sad or to be angry and that if he wants to talk about it, he can. He will say, 100% of the time, that he doesn’t want to tell me why he is sad. Then I’ll either offer the hug again or request that while it’s fine to be sad or be mad that it’s not okay to scream and yell so if he could please not do that, I would appreciate it. That’s when he will tell me, again this is every single time, that he doesn’t want me to talk to him. At this point, I inform him that this is not a nice thing to say, and that if he still doesn’t want to hug me, talk to me, or have me talk to him that I am going to go and do something else and he can let me know when he’s ready.

Most of this is said into a maelstrom, because he’s yelling and crying the whole time and is more saying what he feels is the routine than really listening to me at this point. But I say it just the same. After I get up to leave the room to do whatever—sometimes clean, sometimes read a book, sometimes just stand out of sight and wait—he tends to lose it even more because he doesn’t want Daddy to go. I actually wait until this rises to a certain crescendo. The reason being that I don’t want to just be giving in to his little terrorism demand right away. If I leave the room and come back the moment he asks for me, what’s the point of getting up in the first place? But, if I wait until he’s reaching some transition/boiling point, I may get lucky. At that point I come back in and will ask if he wants to give me a hug. Most of the time even though he’s just been pining away for me, as soon as I return to my previous spot he immediately begins all over by telling me he doesn’t want me to talk to him. So, I leave again. I rinse and repeat until he switches from anger to sadness and decides that what he really wants is to sit with Daddy and give him a hug. Then there are hugs and usually whispers that he should find Mommy and give her a kiss because he tends to be mean to Mommy like he is to Daddy and it affects Mommy a little more to see her eldest so miserable.

And then that’s that. Like nothing ever happened. It feels a little strange to effectively be wearing him down into sadness, but it’s important to remember that he was sad the whole time, but his sadness is bundled with a bunch of other emotions and freaking out is basically the manifestation of that. Eventually, he’ll learn to short circuit the freaking out and hone in on the sad and be a bit more manageable in these scenarios.

This arrangement works pretty well because I don’t feel guilty about it like I would in scenarios where I ended up having to try and restrain him and I don’t have to maintain prolonged threats and punishments which he will have totally forgotten the reason for in two hours anyway. He gets a calm response to his panic and has everything resolved by some hugs and cuddles and discussion about what might have been the problem.

It’s probably also an important caveat that if we were on the fence about whatever his tantrum was about—let’s say watching TV—then we are cemented in our stance that it will not happen as soon as the tantrum begins. That option is blasted right the hell out of the airlock and while I don’t like to speak in absolutes too much when it comes to advice about kids since they are so very variable I will say that if you cave about the subject of a tantrum you are probably going to create a bit of an asshole. Would you honor the requests of an adult who behaved like that? No? Your end game is to raise your kid to adulthood, right? And you’re teaching them tantrums are effective? Sooooooooooooooo…

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Imagination Games

Joshua has always been very big on imagination play. This may be pretty standard for little ones, but he’s always gotten pretty into it. This is likely a combination of several factors: we read to him a LOT, he only gets to see about 3-4 hours of TV a week total, we engage with his play sessions and, most importantly, he’s just that kind of kid.

Previously, I’m not sure I would have had much to say on the subject. It’s something I think is fun and should be encouraged, but it’s not really something you can force on a kid. If they want to pretend, they’ll pretend. If they don’t… well, maybe they just prefer to stack blocks or push trains around. I’m pretty sure I spent a lot of time making very boring, very tall Lego towers.

But lately Joshua has gotten way into pirates. His Aunt and Uncle got him a Captain Hook gear playset related to Disney JR’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates show (pirate sword, hook, spyglass, treasure map) and he went for it big-time. Now it’s non-stop Peter Pan and pirates around the house. We read the story at least once a day and almost all our playtime has to with Peter Pan and pirates.

What’s interesting to me is who and how Joshua chooses to play.

Previously, play-time scenarios were pretty basic and pretty binary. I was the sleigh, Joshua was Santa Claus. I was a doggy and Joshua was Joshua. We were both trains, and he was the one leading the way. He’s shifted things around a bit more with Peter Pan, though. Everyone’s in on the game now.

When we play, Janelle and I are interchangeably Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Matthew is Nana. Stuffed animals are his brother and sister (his floppy stuffed dog is John and his polar bear is Michael, who he thinks is a girl [presumably because of his pink pajamas] and is therefore his “sister”). Careful readers will notice that if John and Michael are the siblings that this means Joshua is Wendy.

He’s not Wendy some of the time. So far, he’s Wendy every time we play.

As I mentioned in my last post, this isn’t something I am going to call him on. I think many parents would, even without ulterior motives, but we went along with it. I thought about why he would always pick Wendy, because it’s not as if he was pretending to be Wendy as she is in the Disney version. Wendy doesn’t have a real active role in the story, but Joshua plays her as a swashbuckler. But Wendy is the character most like Joshua, as he interprets things.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook are the “adults” of the story. They drive all action and conflict. So, Mommy and Daddy are Pan and Hook. Doesn’t matter who is who, because adults are adults are adults. It mostly matters if Captain Hook is a bad guy or not. If he is, we are Pan. If he is not, we are Hook and we want to avoid the crocodile who lives in the water (the floor).

Matthew is Nana (the dog if you haven’t seen the movie in awhile). In the Disney story book version we have, Nana is only seen on a single page at the end and never named. And before he had seen the movie, he didn’t know she was even a character. Incidentally, before the movie, Matthew was never given a role. Now he’s seen the movie once and is aware of Nana, a character who cannot talk and doesn’t get to go along on adventures even if she wants to. Hence: baby brother.

Stuffed animals are Michael and John Darling. They actually do about as much as Wendy in the story, but are not framed with the same degree of importance. They’re not major enough characters and they are primarily shown as characters that get to come along because Wendy brings them along, just like Joshua’s stuffed animals. They come with because he brings them and they do whatever he wants them to.

Tinker Bell is a character he likes, but she is clearly a special case because she is so tiny and magic. It probably doesn’t help that she spends the story betraying everyone. [Joshua also says that Tinker Bell is his favorite character (in part because she turns bright red when she’s angry and uses scissors to escape being trapped in a drawer, which he just thinks is hilarious), and I find it interesting that in spite of this he never pretends to be Tinker Bell, either.]

Other than the pirates, who, excepting Smee, are a sort of massed entity and not really identifiable individually, Wendy is all that’s left. She fits pretty well, too. She’s along for whatever ride Hook and Pan subject her to, as Joshua is with Mommy and Daddy. She’s not the oldest or the youngest, but she does get to be in charge of a few people smaller than she is. She’s also treated with importance in the story. Her role isn’t so minor that she can be skipped over like with Michael and John. So that’s who Joshua picks to be. She’s the character closest to his situation. As I mentioned, though, he doesn’t play her as she is portrayed. He’s Wendy, but he’s not getting picked on by mermaids and fairies and singing songs about how he misses his mother. He’s sword fighting with Hook and leaping off the side of boats to rescue his brother and sister from the crocodile.

Now this is of course speculation from someone with no formal education in anything other than fiction, but Janelle and I are about as far inside Joshua’s head as it is possible to be right now and I think these are fair assumptions to be making.

If nothing else, it’s something to think about as I step off the couch and onto the pillow because I’ve been ordered to walk the plank for the twelfth time in a row.

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Boys and Toys

We let Joshua play with whatever he likes, by and large. I draw the line at things like fire and knives and electricity, pretty much. Beyond that, we’re not particular. When I am in Target with him, I don’t steer him away from the aisles clearly being marketed as containing “girl toys” over to the aisles clearly being marketed as “boy toys”. Joshua could give two shits about Transformers, but he likes horses and shopping carts and babies and he’s a fan of Cinderella because he went to a party once and she was painting faces and it’s clear he’s aware that someone he saw in person up close is totally on a lot of toys.

This is in no way a statement on the toys, or Joshua. It is a statement that he has no life experience with giant robots. He has, however, ridden a pony, enjoys pushing shopping carts, has a baby brother and, as I mentioned, knows Cinderella.

At home we have Joshua’s little Craftsman toy work bench shoulder-to-shoulder with his toy kitchen. He’s got the same pink baby stroller his friend has because he wanted a stroller to pretend like he was pushing a baby around and pink is the only color they make (I know I’m making it sound like I have something against pink — which I don’t because to paraphrase a tweet from Nathan Fillion “Would a real man be afraid of a color?” — but it’s more to illustrate the degree of pigeonholing in kid toys). He picked a Hello Kitty Happy Meal over a Transformers one because his cousins love Hello Kitty and he knows who she is and when I ordered it I stated very plainly that he wanted, as they phrase it, the girl Happy Meal.

I have no intention to steer Joshua towards typically male toys. In many cases I’d rather do the opposite. He has a Captain Hook pirate sword which is very cool, but that also means playing with it involves sword fighting which is dodgy even when you have great hand-eye coordination. He has an Iron Man glove that pews out little projectiles (also pretty cool), but we try hard not to have him thinking that shooting things is okay to do. But in general I would prefer he choose his favorite toys based on what engages him, not some notion I may have of how he should play.

We are already having to battle this notion, though. He’s not even three and is already coming home with ideas that certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls, which is not a lesson he’s picking up at home. It follows then that he’s learning this sort of gender breakdown from other children ages 5 and under. We try to point out that really the only things that are boys-only and girls-only are public bathrooms. I imagine we’ll lose ground fairly steadily on this issue, but we point out whenever it comes up that it’s not really the case that things need to be different for boys and girls when it comes to what they are interested in and how they play.

It’s clear that this is not a standard outlook. It’s very common that if I am out somewhere and a father sees his boy pick up a “girly” toy that he has to loudly announce “Oh, you gotta pick up the pink one, huh?” and then laugh so everyone around knows that he’s not TRYING to turn his kid into a little nancy but kids just do dumb shit sometimes.

When Joshua was walking around with a friend’s little baby carriage toy I had a Dad tease me that “Uh oh. He picked the baby carriage” like that’s some signal I need to look out for.

What signal would that be, exactly? That he has a baby brother? That he has friends with baby siblings? That he has a father actively involved in raising two children? That he enjoys trying to nurture and love something? Oh noes! But it’s not those things. It’s the signal that he’s doing something effeminate. That he’s doing something gay.

This irks me on all sorts of levels. For starters, the only reason this choice is seen as suspect is the notion that caring for a child is a woman’s work and that doing that same work is somehow capable of making a man less of a man – and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know my thoughts on that [Hint: angry thoughts]. And, doubling down, it implies that engaging in “feminine work” is somehow also a leading indicator of homosexuality because science. It also implies that something as basic as the particular toy that a child has chosen to play with one afternoon for 15 minutes is indicative of what their life will become forever after.

The pièce de résistance is that it implies that a gay son is something you don’t want to have.

I’m a firm believer that homosexuality is not, generally speaking, a choice. Sure there are those who may end up actively choosing one over the other, but I think the vast majority of gay men and women simply are gay men and women. (If you believe otherwise, ponder this: When did you first decide to be straight? or did that just kind of happen?) So that means that if Joshua is going to be gay—even if it will be ages before he knows it himself—that’s written into his little internal code right now.

I give approximately no shits about this.

I don’t worry that he may be gay, I worry that if he is maybe I’ll be less good at giving advice about boyfriends than girlfriends, never having had a boyfriend myself. That’s about the extent of it.

I don’t have two girls, so I can’t really speak to the experience on the other side of the table, but I get the impression it’s not the same (and some quick polling of friends with two girls supports this). Oh sure, you maybe have that crushing patriarchal construction that little girls should aspire to be mommies and caregivers and have toys that focus on being pretty and shopping, but I don’t think anyone is giving Mom and Dad a sideways glance if little Elizabeth is playing with a truck.

I find it more than a little depressing that it seems to me that boys especially seem to get pushed to play with certain toys and focus on certain interests simply because parents are worried about who their child may grow up one day to love. How many boys grow up thinking that wanting to hold a baby or bake something is somehow wrong for them to do? How many little doors get closed that way?

Joshua will almost certainly fall into the pattern that just about all boys do. He’ll like to wrestle. He’ll be into superheroes. He’ll love Star Wars and trucks and Legos and blowing things up. I’m not so intense about this issue that I feel the need to force the issue upon him to the extent that things would start getting pretty ironic (“Don’t play with what society tells you to, play with what I tell you to, dammit”). So, boys gonna boy. But what I am going to make damn sure he understands is that other choices are not wrong in any way so long as they don’t hurt others. Girls have access to all the same toys boys do and vice versa. Boys hold babies. Boys cook meals. Boys clean the house. Girls build towers. Girls sword fight. Girls like to blow shit up. He’ll know that these choices are available to everyone and that making those choices will never have to define him, or anyone around him.

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The Changes

Raising two children is tricky. It’s as if, instead of having just one child, you had two. I don’t know if you guys knew this.

Matthew is not more difficult than Joshua was (per the last post). He seems much easier to manage, except for all the spitting up. Joshua is more difficult than he once was, but is a known quantity and can do many things for himself. However, together… Wonder Twin Powers Activate! Form of… Hassle!

We are essentially on a 14 hour non-stop parenting cycle each day. I wake at just after 5am and shower and get ready for the day. This is basically my only personal time now. Joshua wakes up between 5:45 and 6:30 most days. Ideally, Joshua is at daycare just after 7 and then I am off to work. Janelle wakes basically when Matthew wakes, which tends to be closer to 6:30. When I’m home from work, I snag Joshua and play with him until dinner, or I tag-team on and off with Janelle for watching Matthew. Dinner is around 6. Bedtime for Joshua begins around 7 and completes around 8:30. Bedtime for Matthew is basically anywhere from 8-10:30pm. If he sleeps closer to the later end, Janelle and I just go to bed immediately. To the earlier end, maybe we take about 30 minutes to hang out before we sleep. That’s about it. There’s not a lot of room for much else, and you’ll note I didn’t mention any personal time for Janelle. That’s pretty variable. If Matthew is napping well she’ll get a few hours in the day. If he’s not she’s just on duty all the time.

I’ll take a brief pause here to salute single parents because it is basically inconceivable to me how they manage to keep it together with small children. I feel like if I met a single parent of two children under the age of 5 I’d probably offer to be their live-in manservant. [NB: Hyberbole]

With children at these ages, it is very difficult to be a parent to both children in equal measures. Of course I don’t mean this in the emotional sense, though even that is likely true at times. Matthew is tethered to Janelle as long as he is breastfeeding. Yes, soon she will begin to pump and there will be times when I can feed him, but remember that it’s not as if just because someone else is bottle-feeding the baby a breastfeeding Mom is free to roam about. She still needs to pump on the safe regular schedule the baby normally feeds so she can continue her milk production. So, sure, Janelle can head out shopping while I feed the baby, but she still needs to sequester somewhere to pump and that’s much trickier to do on the road than breastfeeding itself is. So, logistically it makes sense for Matthew to essentially be an accessory for Janelle. That means that I’m on Joshua duty. Weekends are now two 16-hour days where Janelle and I see each other if we’re lucky enough to get Joshua to nap in his bed in the house and after he goes to bed. Otherwise I’m at swim, the park, soccer, a friend’s house, the park, on a walk, at the store, getting lunch or doing whatever else needs to be done to fill time for Joshua. If the timing works out, Janelle joins us.

We each end up trying to steal little snippets of time to be with the other child but it’s tricky and often doesn’t go how we want. Janelle’s stint with Joshua at bedtime can very easily turn into tantrum time and my intended face-to-face playtime with Matthew could easily end up as needing to walk him around facing outwards so he won’t end up just crying constantly.

My hope is that as Matthew ages and becomes more capable and portable and interactive we’ll be able to increase the whole-family outings and interactions because at this point both Janelle and I are missing out in some way. Ultimately I think Janelle and I are going to have to learn to start compartmentalizing. We’ve gone essentially our entire relationship attached at the hip, which is how we both prefer to operate, but we’re going to need to adapt that because while as our two boys get older they’ll become more capable and easier to manage but they’ll also begin to pick up divergent friends and activities and hobbies and plenty of things that will necessitate us to plain old not do things together.

Another change is that a third kid is looking like a longshot now. I had been of the mind previously that a second son would mean I would be more likely to want a third child to see if we can roll the dice once more and get a girl. Three sons would of course be fine, but I’ve always liked the idea of having a daughter. But now we’re not so sure. As much fun and as cute as kids can be, another pregnancy and infancy means a lot of inconveniences. Janelle would almost certainly be on an extremely strict diet and likely on insulin to control her blood glucose since Matthew was pretty close to a size that may have mandated a C-section. It’s not likely that we can expect her to be any more comfortable for the length of the pregnancy than she was with Matthew. And, frankly, the entire process essentially downgrades Janelle and I to roommates for about 12-18 months.

All told though, as it was with Joshua, what seems like a lot of hassle on paper has very quickly become a routine. It helps that Matthew is already sleeping through the night, but adjusting for two kids instead of one is more a tweak to our routine than a brand new routine. It’s already hard to recall what life was like with just Joshua. Very quickly my brain is telling me Matthew has always been around and Joshua has always been a chatty toddler and in a couple years I’ll be at a computer looking at video of Matthew and thinking that it seems impossible there was a time he couldn’t talk. So it goes.

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The Difference

I’ll get to why this post is so very late in, well, the next post. I want to talk about the differences now, and later I will discuss the changes, if I can be allowed that semantic distinction.

Both Joshua and Matthew are human males and Joshua was also at one time an infant, but that may be where the similarities end. From the manner of their arrival on down, not much has been the same.

Janelle was pretty content with her pregnancy with Joshua, but was much more uncomfortable throughout with Matthew (so when someone tells you that a different feel for the pregnancy means a different gender feel free to ignore them).

Matthew’s delivery took something like 2% of the time Joshua’s did – but was a significantly more dramatic affair overall. We much preferred our stay at Pomerado Hospital, though. The feel at Zion was much more rigid and while we overall liked our nurses, they made Joshua’s early breast-feeding difficult (well intentioned as they may have been) and made what we have since learned was sort of a dicey call to put Joshua into a UV box to help with what was apparently a pretty mild case of jaundice. So, it was probably a mixed bag of circumstances and personalities, but we just preferred Pomerado. Only being there for less than two instead instead of almost five days probably helped too.

Joshua was much more of a cryer than Matthew is. In fact, this is still the case. We have far more tears from the toddler than from the one-month-old (FAR more). This is pretty awesome (also: not awesome). Matthew is also a good sleeper right away, much like his brother was, but requires much less work to get him to go to sleep in the first place. I remember a lot more late nights awake calling off grandparents who had awakened to help put the crying baby back down. This means Janelle can sleep more and sleep more easily, as I know she was worried with Joshua at how frustrated I would seem when he wouldn’t sleep (seriously, it’s so frustrating).

This relaxed attitude extends to Matthew in general and really shows what we learned with Joshua. By necessity, we cannot pay him the same level of attention that was paid Joshua, but even when Joshua is not around we are fussing over Matthew less than we would have with Joshua at that age.

I scoff at infant tears now. Baby cries are something I think I talked before about being specifically designed to trigger the parent to act. They get into your brain and scream at you to do something to help. Now, though? Do your worst baby. I am immune. I’ve heard toddler screams and they are so much worse. If I’m busy with something critical and Matthew is crying but is clearly not in mortal distress well — too bad Matthew. I don’t WANT to do it that way, but it is no longer is a problem if I have to.

Because of this Janelle and I are handling the whole process better. We can still focus on Joshua and are not sniping at one another as we did with Joshua when crying and stress made our tempers run hot. It’s good that we can maintain that focus because while Matthew is wholly dependent, he’s very simple. Joshua is the complicated one because of holy shit three year olds.

Overall, Matthew seems a bit easier than Joshua was at that age… but outside of a baby with colic or reflux or something else, how hard do they get, really? The largest difference is so far in Janelle and I. We are more relaxed and more prepared — but that doesn’t mean anything is easier… and I’ll get to that in the next post.

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The Unexpected

This is young Matthew Taylor Scarpelli’s birth story. It’s a pretty stark contrast to Joshua’s, mostly because for most of it, we weren’t aware it was going on.

Matthew was born at 1:26AM on February 28 — early, early Thursday morning. Here’s how we got to that point.

Tuesday, February 26, in the afternoon and evening Janelle thought that she felt she was in the super early prep stages of labor. There was a lot of movement and contraction action going on, but nothing serious and nothing anywhere close to the standards that would make someone think it’s time to start prepping for a baby. (Earlier that day we had an OBGYN appointment, but opted to forgo an internal check of Janelle’s cervical progress as we are pretty sure this led to Janelle’s water breaking before labor started with Joshua, which was primarily what made his birth tough.)

We went to bed as normal Tuesday night, and Janelle slept through the night and woke up feeling like maybe Tuesday was just a lot of preamble bluster, because nothing else was going on when she woke up. Wednesday proceeded as normal until late in the day, when Janelle began to feel a little nauseated. We chalked this up to any number of things. Typical end-of-day discomforts. Bad food. Hormones disagreeing with some regular food. Labor progressing. Baby pushing on her stomach/intestine area. But again, nothing really happened and nothing felt like labor as we knew it.

Wednesday night we went up to bed as normal and at 10:30pm, just as Janelle was about to climb into bed, she hustled to the toilet to vomit. A little concerned, we called our doula, Alicia Taylor (just a coincidence on the name thing), and asked her thoughts. She had a few theories, some of which lined up with our own, but added that it’s fairly common that when a mother is transitioning to end-stage labor, they will vomit. We passed that off as not super likely, since Janelle hadn’t really been experiencing any labor signs and because Janelle was feeling better, trundled off to bed.

If you’re paying close attention, you’ll note that the timeline is getting a little tight. And it turns out, Alicia was right.

At 11:35pm on Wednesday, 2/27, Janelle got out of bed and began to walk around bit, feeling some contractions. At just about 12:00am on 2/28, Janelle shook my foot and woke me up and told me she thought it was getting to be time and that I should get ready. So, I bolted out of bed, threw on jeans and socks, woke up Janelle’s Mom and let her know to be ready to watch Joshua because we were going to go, rushed downstairs and loaded our already prepped bags into the car. I reviewed our checklist of last-minute items posted by the door, grabbed a couple more things, threw them in Janelle’s purse, put on my shoes and hustled back upstairs.

Maybe 5 minutes had passed and by the time I got upstairs Janelle was feeling contractions so strong she didn’t think she could move. They were close enough together as to make it difficult to determine when they were stopping and starting, which means we were well past the point of the 511 rule (5 minutes apart, 1 minute long, for at least 1 hour) when you typically head to wherever it is you’re going to have your baby. I called Alicia and told her it was showtime and she coached us through some quick recommendations and hit the road.

The problem we had to contend with now all of a sudden was the stairs. Janelle wasn’t sure she could make it down. She got to her knees and tried to crawl, slowly, to the bedroom door. She made it about 6 feet this way and then stopped in the throes of a particularly hard contraction and it was at this point that her water burst fairly spectacularly. With this new wrinkle and Janelle’s inability to move, we had to switch gears.

Janelle’s mother phoned 911 to request an ambulance. We needed help getting Janelle down the stairs and once we did, it didn’t seem very likely at all that Janelle would be able to manage the ride all the way out to the San Diego Medical Center (commonly just called Zion, the street it is near) where we were all set to deliver.

Within 5 minutes (the fire station is maybe a mile from our house) we had 4 firefighter/EMTs upstairs in our room generally looking like this was the most boring part of their day. This was actually pretty reassuring. Following them maybe another 5 minutes later were two more EMTs with the ambulance.

They took stock of Janelle from a very cursory standpoint — basically just ensuring that the baby wasn’t crowning (they did no internal examination) and then hooking Janelle up to an IV. They pegged her contractions at 5 minutes apart (totally wrong) and continued to be totally unimpressed. This continued to be pretty helpful, as I was at this point pretty well in the midst of an adrenaline spike, instant cottonmouth and all.

When we informed them that Janelle could not take the stairs (keep in mind for the full flavor of this experience you need to insert the sound of Janelle more or less screaming about every 60-90 seconds) they brought up their fancy stair-chair creation. This is basically a big metal frame chair with staggered wheels on its four feet. We lifted Janelle on it and then they proceeded to carefully wheel her down our stairs. Once down, they lifted her onto a gurney and wheeled her out to the ambulance. Joshua slept through the whole thing.

I did a quick triage of supplies, consolidating things into two bags, tossed those in the storage compartment on the side of the ambulance and then hopped in the front, as they had no room in the back for me. The ride there was a pretty awkward experience. We took a maybe 10 minute drive over to Pomerado Hospital and while I had a window to talk to Janelle from the cab of the ambulance, it was strange to keep yelling encouragements and coaching tips back past 3 medical professionals in the midst of doing their jobs. Though, for this instance the job was mostly making sure a baby wasn’t going to fall out of my wife.

When we got to the hospital they began to wheel Janelle out and into the hospital and it was my job to run over to the front desk and get her checked in. While checking her in, I got word that our doula had actually managed to get to us in time to follow the ambulance to the hospital and when I ran over to check-in had picked right up where I left off and was accompanying her gurney through the hospital. If she had done no other service for us than this, it would have been worth the price to me.

I then ran to the elevators, got up to the fifth floor for the labor and delivery wing and hustled into Janelle’s room. She got shifted over to a hospital bed and the attending nurses started to do some of the internal checks that the EMTs had been holding off on, presumably because someone’s floor is not the most sterile place to do things like that. There wasn’t a lot of checking to do. The immediate word from the primary nurse was “This baby is already in the birth canal. We’ll get a doctor in here immediately.”

We checked in to Pomerado Hospital at 1:00AM on Thursday 2/28 and by 1:26AM that same morning, we had Matthew. All 9 pounds, 13 ounces of him.

Ayup. 26 minutes. The time differential between Pomerado Hospital and Zion? About 15-20 minutes. We wouldn’t have made it, or Matthew would have suffered for our making the attempt. The birth was both everything we had hoped it would be and also kind of a total mess, which is very likely how you could sum up every birth.

I’ll have more later on what our thoughts were on Pomerado as it compares to Zion, which is basically to say “how it compares to birthing at a Kaiser hospital”.

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The Transitive Property

I thought about titling this something like “Catching Toddlers with Honey”, but I thought better of it.

I’m calling this the Transitive Property because it deals with the notion that things that you treat as small your child will treat as small. Things you treat as large, your child will treat as large.

For a long time, Janelle and I were pretty good about keeping Joshua away from electronic media. It was more or less absent for him when he was very little and as he’s gotten older we’ve kept it set aside as a sort of special treat. He can watch things if he’s with friends and they are watching, he can watch with his grandparents and other relatives, and at home we would let him see or play something maybe once a week if he had been being good.

This was all towards the goal of trying to keep him from looking to the TV or computer or iPad as a primary entertainment source at home. We didn’t want daycare to be his place of outdoor play and enrichment and home to be the place where he gets to watch Disney movies. So, when he would ask to watch things, we would tell him no or try to distract him and steer him towards books or puzzles or coloring books or whatever.

Pretty quickly this became a problem. Joshua would ask to watch things, and we would say no and he would freak out and cry and jump around and just be generally disappointed toddler-style for a bit. Or, if he did get to watch something, when it came time to stop watching the same thing would happen. He would freak out for a bit and this then made us less likely to allow him to watch things and the cycle continued.

We treated TV like a very big thing, so Joshua treated it like a big thing. When it was granted it was a major reward and when it was taken away it was a crushing loss. And why shouldn’t it be? We had framed it that way for him.

Recently, though, Joshua began to learn the art of the deal. Every couple of days he would come in with a new negotiation for us.

“Daddy, the sun is up so that means we can watch something now.”

“Daddy, let’s sit on the couch and we will watch TV while Mommy is cooking.”

“Daddy, I listened to my teachers today, so I can watch something now.”

Lines like the first couple were cute, but not terribly effective. The last one, though, made things interesting. He was asking to be rewarded for behavior we have been working to instill in him and it put us in an interesting position. It would be easy to say no (at this age nothing sticks for TOO long with a kid), but I would be asking a toddler to realize that virtue is its own reward. Toddlers don’t speak platitude. But he wanted to make a deal, so we decided to deal.

We opted to try and catch our flies with honey and to lean more on positive reenforcement for Joshua’s behavior. The result was immediate.

Janelle and I still tend to not give in to Joshua when he asks to watch things. It may be a silly distinction, but we don’t want him to think it can be on-demand. Even if we just wait 15 minutes and then bring it up ourselves, we like the idea of it being something he is rewarded or surprised with instead of just a rote request. But last week we let him play with the iPad or watch YouTube videos on the computer or watch a bit of a TV show on a few days. Each day it was for no more than 15-20 minutes, but it was more regular. We had a drastic reduction in crying and non-compliance through the whole week.

We have begun to treat TV like it can be no big deal, and Joshua has responded to that. When his every request was not denied, he seems to have understood quickly that not getting to watch TV right away doesn’t mean that he won’t ever get to watch it again. He took it much more in stride. And now we Trojan Horse in the moral for him, too. Before we watch or play with anything electronic I get down on a knee and I ask Joshua to look at me and listen to me and then I tell him that he’s getting to watch or play because he was a good boy. He listened to us, or he shared his toys well, or he was nice to his friend or his teachers said he was a good helper.

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Tantrums

I started this post awhile back when we were having, you guessed it, a lot of trouble with Joshua and tantrums. While they have lessened quite a bit, they have not abated entirely and I wager will continue for quite some time. But, take heart that they will get better. Maybe.

Anyway…

A tantrum is going to mean different things to different parents. As we’ve discussed, all kids are different blah blah blah unique snowflakes. Regardless of this fact, there is an immutable threshold your child must cross before you can call whatever it is that they are doing a tantrum. Some parents are incorrect about tantrum status. A tantrum is not when your child gets upset for 3 to 5 minutes and cries because you said that they can’t have a new toy. If it doesn’t cause you to wonder where you went wrong as a parent, it’s not a tantrum. Tantrums are scary shit.

We have yet to find a way to effectively defuse a tantrum. We do know how they start. Joshua’s tantrums start when something upsets his set routines. Typically, though, Joshua is the one who upsets his own routine. He will ask to do something, and then refuse to take any steps to actually accomplish it. When we finally give up asking him to comply and warning him that his time is running out to do whatever it is he’s asked, we’ll announce that the window of opportunity has passed and then the madness begins. Or he’ll just decide without warning that something you did—turned off a light, moved a shirt, stood up from a chair—is something he didn’t want you to do.

Sometimes you can see the tantrum coming. When there’s been simply too much fun had and you’ve got an amped up but super tired kid, you’re prime for a tantrum. When you’ve got a kid who doesn’t feel well, be it an actual illness or something like constipation, you’re ripe for a tantrum. Again, this doesn’t mean that you can stop it. You may just be able to prepare yourself.

A tantrum isn’t just a lot of crying. It’s crying and screaming and kicking and flailing and yelling and just absolute insensate anger. Joshua averages around 30-40 minutes for a for-realsies tantrum and I must stress that this is not 40 minutes of him being moody. This is 40 straight minutes of non-stop wailing. He picks a refrain and sticks on it. “I want to take a shower!” Over and over again without stopping, unless he thinks of something else that happened earlier in the day he was upset about, too, and then he’ll switch to yelling about that. Any attempts to talk to him or hold him are met with “Don’t talk to me!” or “Don’t touch me!” and then, inevitably, “Don’t look at me!” He will kick and flail so hard that he hurts himself by hitting the floor or the wall or even himself (thankfully this is more rare). Then he will yell “Owie! Owie! Owie!” for minutes at a stretch. He’ll cry out that he wants Mommy or wants Daddy, but if you go to him and try to hold him or calm him down you get more of the the don’t-touch or don’t-talk.

It’s hard to communicate what being present for a tantrum is like. Chances are you’ve never been around another adult doing something like this, so it’s a very alien thing to experience. There’s no reasoning or bartering or threatening that can bring about a change in momentum. Everything you send out just gets sucked into a black hole.

No matter how the tantrum started, you will inevitably begin to wonder two things: Is there something wrong with my child? What am I doing wrong as a parent? The answer to each is that there’s nothing wrong. Toddlers will tantrum and you can’t always stop it. But knowing that is useless. You will wonder both things because it just seems impossible that what you are witnessing could possibly be borne of a normal child in a healthy family.

Since tantrums for Joshua occur around nap time or bed time, we cannot really do much to distract him. We don’t want to try to get him off track onto something fun because, well, it’s bed time. It’s not time to head downstairs and try to have a dance party. And, even if we wanted to try that tack, he tends to be upset because he’s not getting to shower or do something bed-time-related anyway. Reasoning and bargaining don’t work. He doesn’t seem to pay attention to warnings that time is running out on what he wants to do. He’s adamant about not wanting to calm down, and about wanting to keep crying.

So what Janelle and I do is just walk away. We leave him to writhe around on his floor and sit on our bed and look at one another with tired eyes. Our absence doesn’t change the mode of the tantrum. It continues unabated. The spectacle will hit such absurd crescendos that it becomes hilarious, and will then just as quickly plummet back to heartbreaking. Just sitting and listening to Joshua rage on like this is exhausting. My chest will feel like I’ve spent the day crying even though I haven’t shed a tear. And Janelle and I are left with our thoughts both rational (that many, many, many toddlers do this regardless of how loving and skilled their parents may be) and the irrational (that we are failing Joshua as a parent and these outbursts are just the outward sign of our failure).

There was a period where this went on more often than not for a few weeks and then… it just stopped happening as often. I wanted this to have more advice in it, but I think with something like a crazy tantrum jag all you can do is try to distract when you can and just ride it out the rest of the time. You don’t have anything to do with it. It’s all about a young mind unaware of the best way to express itself. Unless you encourage it (oh yeah, advice: don’t cave and just give your kid whatever they want during a tantrum), your kid will figure out this particular tactic is a lot of effort for no real payoff. And lately we’ve finally started taking toys away from him when he refuses to stop yelling at us. He’s learning pretty quickly that not only is there no payoff, there’s a tariff.

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How to Talk to a Pregnant Woman

Typically I try to write from either a general child-rearing perspective, or more specifically about Dad issues. Today I’ve got some advice for you about pregnant mothers.

There are certain things about pregnant women that are a bit more to the side of myth. I’ve yet to hear about a mother from any of those I am acquainted with who was seized by strange food cravings or particularly intense aversions. I don’t know anyone who has experienced extreme and erratic mood swings. What I can confirm is that pregnancy gets pretty uncomfortable near the end and that pregnant women are going to be pretty sensitive to how they look.

Just think about it, or think back to when it may have happened to you: none of your old clothes fit, and clothes that you have purchased to fit even your now larger self grow less capable of covering your growing belly each day. Your skin is stretching taut and, in the winter, the dryness of the air is only exacerbated and your belly will be itchy and red or, in the summer, you are running an internal factory and you are always overheating. You can only sit and lay down in certain positions and you will have a baby approaching about 20 inches long try to stretch itself out inside your tummy, jabbing your ribs with feet and shoving itself into your already cramped bladder. You likely are not sleeping very well and this makes you even more tired than carrying around your baby and new-found baby-weight (because you ARE supposed to gain 25-35 pounds for an average-size woman) would have otherwise made you. Bathing is tricky and takes longer than it used to. Very likely it’s not advisable to partake in comfort foods that you once were able to enjoy and former staples like caffeine are now verboten. Oh, and there’s the chance you have one of those pregnancies where you spend 9 straight months nauseated and vomiting from time to time.

These are just some of the myriad ways pregnancy will begin to affect a mother as it winds along down towards the final stages. Your mileage may vary, of course, but many of these things are pretty standard. Suffice it to say, you’d likely be a little touchy in general, and more aware of a few things in particular.

Here are some tips for everyone to employ when interacting with a pregnant mother:

Greet the Mother, Not the Belly

Do Mom the courtesy of at least pretending you’re happy to see her specifically and then maybe give the baby a follow-up “Hello” after the fact. After all, one of the pair cannot speak English and can’t hear anything you’re saying anyway. [Bonus fact: This one is Janelle’s biggest peeve.]

Get Permission before Violating the Personal Bubble

Don’t lay on hands without asking. It’s weird to get touched by people all the time, even friends. Touches to the arms or hands are pretty common social cues. Touches to the stomach border on the intimate because in a normal context why the hell are you touching someone’s stomach? Sometimes Mom isn’t going to be in the mood, or doesn’t feel well.

DO Commiserate 

If you’re going to gab about the pregnancy, it helps to say things like “Hanging tough, huh?” or “At least it’s not the summer, right? You’d be so hot.” or anything else that acknowledges that Mom may be having a rough go of it, but is making the best of things. If she disagrees, let her tell you how wonderful the pregnancy is and how great she’s feeling. And if she’s not feeling great, she can sigh and agree with you and feel good that someone is recognizing that this is hard. If you open up talking about how “Isn’t this all just angel kisses and rainbow massages?” you’ll make her feel like she’s ungrateful if she feels otherwise.

DO NOT Comment on Size

I can’t stress this one enough. Just don’t do it. She knows how large her belly looks. She sees it all the damn time. It makes walking, getting up, sitting down, laying down and standing up hard. She’s aware. Saying “You’re huge!” or “You sure you’re not having twins?” is just the worst. What’s the upside to a comment like that? At best you’re telling someone they look huge, which with anyone other than a pregnant woman would just be you teasing them. At worst you’ve just taken a slam at an issue that is already bothering someone during a particularly vulnerable time of their life. Plus, if you REALLY want to be able to comment on how large a Mom is basically 90% of the time if you open up with “You look great” she’s going to counter with “I feel like a house” and then you can work in phrasing something nice like “That’s just a healthy baby growing in there.”

UNLESS…

Unless your comment on size is “Other than that belly, you look like you haven’t changed at all.”

BONUS SIDE ADVICE: Don’t Ask if Someone is Pregnant

All I’ll say is this: Do you have such a burning desire to find out that you’re willing to risk the offense if you’re wrong? Just don’t do it. Let them tell you.

 

In the end, just consider that while many-to-most women really like being pregnant and will come away with positive feelings about the whole experience, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find women that think pregnancy has them looking or feeling their best. Think about it like a temporary weight gain. Would you just casually and openly be talking about a friend’s sudden 25-pound gain, rubbing their tummy and telling them how giant they look? Not unless you are an asshole.

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Frustration

I’m a pretty moderate guy. I don’t get mad much. I don’t yell. I don’t get into many arguments. I do like a good gripe from time to time. But damn if Joshua can’t drive me up the wall.

You’ve probably seen a frazzled parent losing their cool with a child that has not yet been issued any fucks to give. And you’ve likely shaken your head at the parent who can’t seem to keep it together. There are some times where that parent probably is kind of an asshole. Some people just don’t handle things well. But much more likely is that this is parent who has been driven to the brink by a small maniac.

Here’s what’s tricky to understand unless you spend really extended lengths of time with a small child: it’s not the big things they do that are maddening. A child that spills something or breaks something or what have you isn’t what will drive you over the edge. Those are accidents and more often than not they happen because your child has not yet figured out how something works. Adults know that milk will pour out of a glass that is tipped on its side, but kids won’t until they’ve done it once. More malicious acts like coloring on the wall or anything else similarly purposeful from a child aren’t that bad, either. They’re events that may make you mad, but you can work with that. It happened and you can scold and educate and move on.

What gets a parent are the small, simple requests that are met with an absolute steel wall of inattention. When you’ve asked a child for the 10th time to please come over so you can put their shoes on, or asked them to please sit on the potty for the 15th time, you’ll start to feel your armor begin to crack. It’s intensely frustrating. These are things that should be small. Needful moments dealt with immediately and left behind. But children make them both incessant and unending. Putting shoes on suddenly takes 15 minutes. Climbing into the stroller takes five. Going potty takes 10 minutes for the kid to get on and then another 10 of sitting there while he keeps announcing “I’m not finished yet.” Oh sure, you can try to force the matter. How much do you enjoy making children cry? I didn’t think so.

Stack enough of these banal moments together and it’s like water torture. The drips just keep boring into your forehead. On a long enough timeline, anyone will snap.

What is most maddening is that you are typically trying to accomplish something to specifically comply with your child’s wishes. When Joshua announces he wants to go outside, I grab some shoes and tell him that we can put them on and go outside. You’d think he’d be thrilled. “I get to do what I asked to do!” NOPE.

What’s that little guy? You want to go pee-pee? Alright! Let’s go upstairs and use the potty. NUH-UH.

You want to take a ride in the stroller? Let’s climb on up in that sucker and go for a ride. I THINK NOT.

Toddlers will ask do the things you then tell them they can do while they are intently in the process of avoiding doing those exact things. Is that sentence confusing? Exactly.

“Joshua, do you need to go pee-pee?”

“Yeah”

“Then why don’t you want to go to the potty to go pee-pee?”

“Because I don’t.”

“But you have to go pee-pee?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to go to the potty?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, buddy, let’s go.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“You said you want to go to the potty, though? Why don’t you want to go?

“Because I don’t. I have to go pee-pee.”

Repeat.

MADNESS.

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