Archive for category Baby


Being relaxed about a pregnancy probably shouldn’t be the kind of thing to feel guilty about.

We’re about halfway through this second pregnancy and it occupies a relatively small portion of my mental RAM. I of course think about the baby when I see Janelle, and when I get a chance to feel little kicks, and when we have Joshua try and talk to the belly (always “Hi baby. What are you doing in there baby!” because he heard me say that once) and when it occurs to me that there’s some item we’ll need to purchase or plan for once the baby has arrived. But relative to Joshua’s time in the womb, this isn’t really much on the Richter scale.

Everything with Joshua has gone pretty well. So far no major illnesses or injuries. We get by with almost no TV or electronics these days. He eats all the same food we eat and eats a lot of it. Books are probably his favorite toys. He likes being around other people. He does pretty well and that suggests to me that at best we’re doing a good job with him and at worst we’re managing to not screw up the path he’s already on.

As a result, I think it’s safe to say we’re feeling pretty comfortable as we get closer to having our second child. Sure, daycare will be even more expensive than it already is, but at this point the impending infant isn’t a terrifyingly fragile little creature that there is a real chance I will scar for life. It’s a little kid that can’t run away from you, weighs much less than 35 pounds, doesn’t poop (not really, not relatively) and has to do everything you say. It sounds pretty awesome. Except for the part about less sleep for a couple months. That’s still a bummer.

Janelle and I can’t really shake the feeling though that we’re trading an easy infancy for a disconnected pregnancy. I don’t think there’s any question that we’ll be pretty attached to the squidgy baby when it arrives, but we just don’t have a lot of time to sit and ponder this baby like we did with Joshua and as senseless as that may be it feels like the baby is getting shortchanged.


Back in Action

I think I promised in the last post that I would write more, but I didn’t do a very good job.

My plan had been to buckle down and work on turning all of this into a book, but I’m not doing a very good job at that, either.

The general perception is that life changes after children. Certainly while dealing with infants this is true. And more or less perpetually there are guaranteed to be small chores here and there to eat up bits of time. I believe, however, that it’s more true that parenthood exacerbates pre-existing conditions.

In my case, I am largely unable to bring any personal project to completion. I leave several attempted screenplays and novels and journals and short stories and workout goals and diet plans and house projects in my wake as evidence. My M.O. is that something shiny will always come along and prevent me from finishing what I want to do. The shiny thing these days is Joshua and free time relaxing with Janelle.

If before I didn’t finish a project because I was playing video games, now I don’t finish a project because of Joshua, or because I want to sit and watch some TV after he’s gone to bed. And it’s very easy to not feel guilty about those things. Being a good Dad is a pretty solid way to sleep soundly through the night despite not having gotten anything else done. But we’re not talking about my taking on multi-week demolition projects. We’re talking about things like “find a stud on that wall so we can finally hang some art on our walls after two years in the house”. Doing that and hanging out with Janelle or caring for Joshua are not mutually exclusive in any way. Joshua would probably have some kind of joy seizure if he got to help Daddy do something with actual tools, and the time it takes to find a stud can easily be contained within a commercial break.

Parenting didn’t radically change how I do anything. An organized person will remain organized. A socialite will still find the time to see friends. A gamer will still find time to play games. A writer will still write. And, in my case, a serial incompletist will still have great ideas abandoned about 15% in.

I’m trying to get better. I still probably won’t post very frequently. I have a fitness schedule and I actually work out for about 45 minutes three days a week. But if I’m being perfectly honest I much prefer the instant feedback of posting on the blog than toiling away to maybe turn these thoughts into a book, so I’m more likely to return to these posts than I am to writing book snippets. I have the stamina for blog posts and I get the satisfaction of the words being seen by people immediately and, well, the validation that comes from the comments from time to time.

Plus, I’m entering into a new fatherhood phase. There’s a second on the way. And there’s a lot to cover there.

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Bad Cop, Bad Cop

In a few years, Janelle and I may be Good Cop, Bad Cop. I’ll probably end up being Bad Cop, because I’ll probably be the loudest yeller if only by virtue of having more lung capacity. But all that will come to pass when Joshua is old enough to get into actual trouble for things he has willfully done wrong. What’s that? You don’t plan to ever yell at your child? You must tell me what it’s like in Narnia.

For now at least, there is no Good Cop. Only Zuul Bad.

Making your baby endure things that he does not want to is just one of those things that you have to do that parenting books don’t cover or prepare you for. So, let me do that now: You will be making your baby do things he does not want to do. There will be tears, and you have to put on your Daddy Pants (from the makers of Mom Jeans) and deal with it. It will be difficult to harden yourself to these scenarios, too, because as your baby ages there will be new and more heartbreaking ways he will protest against your ruthless tyranny.

When Joshua was very young, there would just be crying. As he’s gotten older he’s introduced flailing, arching, rolling, kicking, slapping, yelling, crying “Mommee! Daddee! NOOOOO” and all of the above along with a pleading “All done! All done! All done!” tacked on for good measure. It’s just like every movie you’ve ever seen with orderlies escorting a tortured patient into the high security psych ward. You’ll have to be trying to restrain and guide a little person now singularly focused on defying you and try to prevent him from hurting himself, which will almost certainly guarantee that at some point, you’ll accidentally hurt him.

Janelle and I recently had a rough time of things as over the last few weeks Joshua entered into, at the same time, a period of separation anxiety and a really legendary case of diaper rash. Also working against us; he’s getting smarter, and knows when certain things he dislikes are approaching. Diaper changes became a two-person assault. The crying would begin at the bottom of the stairs and get frantic once the diaper table was reached. He’d fight clothes being removed, he’d fight the diaper being removed, he’d fight his legs being raised in the air, and—because of the diaper rash—he would go ballistic once the diaper wipes touched his skin. It’s heartbreaking to do, but you don’t have a choice to be a softie on things like this as a parent. “Oh, okay, pookie. You can run around with a poop-butt for another couple hours until you fall asleep. It’s okay if the skin on your ass gets so irritated that it cracks and bleeds and we just let poop get all up in those wounds. Have some candy.”

Nope. You have to make that baby cry and get the job done.

Diaper changes are probably the most typical thing that you can expect will be upsetting to your baby. But other popular options will include bath time, bed time and car-seat time. These aren’t things you can avoid. You need to put your baby to bed, you need to clean him, and he will need to leave the house with you from time to time. You will need to make him upset and you will need to get the job done.

This paints a sort of grim picture of parenting when the reality is that these moments are only a very small portion of your day. Add them all up and they’re not going to reach an hour and unless your child is in a very particular phase they probably will seem totally fine almost immediately after the hated action is complete. These moments are just part of what will stick out in your mind because they are action packed. Your heart will race, your hands will be frantically trying to contain your baby and accomplish your task, all to a soundtrack of shrieks.

Thankfully, take solace that your baby doesn’t hold it against you, at least not yet. You may be Bad Cop for diaper change, but you’re also that magic person that knows how to do everything that is the FUNNEST. You play the peek-a-boo, you do the wrestling and the tummy raspberries. You get the food and read the bedtime stories. You light up his face when you enter the room.

So you may be Bad Cop, but it’s just a part-time gig.


Disneyland with a Toddler

Disneyland is not the same experience with a toddler as it is without. It’s not even the same with an older kid.

We hit Disneyland with Joshua last week. He’s a little young, but we had tickets with an expiration date, so we made the trip. Janelle and I are pretty big Disneyland fans, and have a pretty solid routine of rides we want to go on and areas we want to hit and things we like to do. 98% of those items are excluded by the presence of a small child. Here are some observations and notes about our experience.

– If you can go with multiple groups and multiple kids, do it. Joshua’s attention was flagging in the early afternoon, but then we met up with his cousins, each a few years older than him. It was an instant shot of energy for him.

– It may not be as painful as you think. Joshua managed 10 full hours at Disneyland without a single incident (barring an example I’ll cover later on). However, he likes to watch people and does well in a crowd, which means Disneyland lined up with him pretty well. Does your baby hate being in a stroller? Will they immediately get lost in a crowd if given half a chance? Do people make them anxious? Do they dislike loud noises? Maybe you want to rethink your trip then. Think back to times your baby has gotten upset to see how the journey might go.

– Know where you can let a kid run around. Toon Town and the Bug’s Life area in California Adventure are obvious spots. You’re going to be too tired to carry your kid everywhere all the time, and they won’t want to be in a stroller all day long. Being able to plunk a kid down in an area filled with running kids and sitting parents that’s a little fenced off is key.

– Don’t have an agenda. Just don’t. Go where you want, expect to stay as long as your kid will. Don’t be married to any ride because the line may be a deal-breaker. Speaking of, maybe aim for short lines to minimize the sting if you have to leave the line before you get on the ride.

– Avoid Snow White like the plague. Janelle pointed out to me after the fact that it’s actually called “Snow White’s Scary Adventure”, which is the kind of info I wished I had not glossed over. I remembered the ride being scary at the end. What I did not remember is that the ride is only a couple minutes long and about 90% of it is the in dark, and of that 90%, 90% is terrifying. As soon as the wicked Queen turns around and reveals her old woman form with a cackling laugh, Joshua lost it. Immediately he was trying to get out of his seat, calling out “All done! All done!” and trying to hide under Mommy. Sad-larity at its absolute peak.

– Go in the off-season. November is usually pretty ripe. Dodgy weather means people are less likely to show and it’s between their Halloween and Christmas decoration periods.

– FastPass. Use it. But also, combine it with a Parent Swap pass. FastPass lets you reserve a spot in a shortened line at Disneyland. You basically agree to return to the ride during a later, pre-set period of time and then you get to move to an advanced section of the line. With Parent Swap, find a ride attendant (typically whoever is collecting FastPass tickets) and ask for Parent Swap pass. Show them your kid and they’ll give it to you. Then, one parent can wait in line and the other can stay with the child. After the first parent returns, the other can use the Parent Swap pass to jump in as if they had a fast pass. Since you can only have one FastPass out at a time, this is a way to help increase your ride efficiency, and you don’t need to make the kid wait in line to allow both parents the ability to enjoy the ride easily.

– Be wary of characters. Your kid will very likely be scared of them. Before you wait in line to meet anyone, try and find someone walking around and bring your kid close to them. Judge the terror level.

– Come laden with snacks. Grab a ton. A very easy way to stave off an impatient child.

All together, the trip was fun. Though, it was more an outing than it was an adventure in wonder as I think it will be with an older kid who knows Disney characters a bit more. It was way easier than I expected, though.

Please to share tips if you have them as well.


A Touchy Subject

I’m sure there has always been something that parents are cautioned to keep their children from spending too much time playing with. Trebuchets. Plague-ridden rats. The cotton gin. Lightbulbs. Disco.

For my generation, it was TV. Then it was Nintendo. For kids just a few years ago it was Gameboys and PSPs. The new danger fad is iPhones and iPads. Go ahead and Google it up (or Bing! it, if you like to advertise that you don’t really know how to internet) and you’ll find articles from all over on the topic. Mobile devices are bad for attention spans, eyesight, exercise and imagination. They will melt the minds of our youth (and, depending on whose radiation reports you read, literally).

But I’m not so sure.

As with just about everything, it seems to me that the negatives associated with all the above items (the ones in the second paragraph, not the first, silly) are the negatives of excess and abandon. Leave your child to be entertained by any of the above and then wander off to do your own thing and of course they’re going to develop bad habits. Joshua likes to lick the iPad, because babies are little insane people. If we weren’t with him to mention that he might want to avoid licking the electronics, he’d do it all the time.

So I’m not making the case that it should be open season with these devices. To the contrary, I’m of the mind that teaching a kid to lean on the TV (or similar device) for entertainment is a very bad idea. The first memory I have of a television was from when we finally got a Nintendo and my Dad and I played Super Mario Bros. I can’t even recall where the TV was located in that first house, but it should be telling that what I remember of it was not sitting and watching it alone, but an experience that involved the entire family gathered and having fun.

As I got older, though, I began to play the hell out my video game systems. I threw a ton of hours at playing and replaying Duck Tales and Zelda and Bubble Bobble. And I watched a fair amount of TV. My knowledge of Seinfeld became encyclopedic, and I watched a lot of movies. And yet, here I am, a functional member of society. I can even write.

When I was little, even during the Nintendo days, one of my identifying characteristics was that I would have at least one book on my person at all times. Usually I would be reading two, bouncing back and forth between plots as the mood struck me. And when I was older and playing my videogames, I also played soccer and ran track and did school plays and worked on the school newspaper. I was busy, so if I wanted to burn a couple hours playing video games, it clearly wasn’t the end of the world and I don’t recall anyone having to ride my case about it.

I think both—the universally accepted goods and the generally defamed evils—have benefited me. I’ve got a pretty solid vocabulary, a wide store of various trivia in my head and pretty dead-on reading comprehension. It’s served me well into my professional life. I’ve also got pretty good hand-eye coordination, decent reflexes and a good eye for spotting small details.

My point is that just because a child watches TV or plays a video game does not mean that they do so to the exclusion of all other things. Unless, of course, you allow that to become habit.

But I started in on all that when I was older. Joshua is still a pretty little guy, and his brain is still making all its connections. The way he interacts with things now will be part of what hard-wires him for later periods in life. So, it’s hard to say for sure how the decisions we’re making with him now will affect him—but I think the fact that we are conscious of what we expose him to means it won’t go too far off track.

We let Joshua play with the iPad and he watches little bits of TV—but those things are always done in our presence. We never leave him to play on his own or watch TV so we can get something else done. With the iPad we teach him how to use it: what buttons to press, where to go to find the things he likes to play with. We point at pictures and ask him what sounds things make. If the TV is on we sit side by side on the couch and we tell him to say hi to people on screen and laugh when he asks where they went anytime they’re not in frame. We’re careful, though, and he never spends more than 15 minutes at a time doing either thing — and at this point typically each happens only a few times a week. His attention tends to wander anyway, and we just help it along if it seems like he’s apt to go off and do something else.

We also read to him constantly. We sit him on our laps and we look at picture books in the day and have him ID things. Every night before bed we read at least six books to him, some we read several times because he asks for them again. And what does he like to do on the iPad? That’s right. He likes to read the Toy Story interactive book. He likes to push the arrows to turn the pages, and watch the little movies that animate the story. He likes to play a “If You’re Happy and You Know It” interactive song/book/thing, too, where a song plays in the background and he can poke various objects on screen to get reactions. Not everything on the iPad is Angry Birds. Touchscreen devices are very usable by little ones, and parents are a huge paying market. Developers know this, so there is a wealth of software available that’s centered around young minds. You just have to hunt around for them a little bit.

There are some who may still say this sets a dangerous precedent, that we’re already teaching him to grow dependent on gadgets and he’ll never learn to imagine anything. Oooooor he’s not even 17-months old and already has a vocabulary of more than 30 words, loves books enough that he’ll request some three or four times in a row before bed and he already knows how to use a gadget that some people decades older than him have some trouble with.

It’s impossible not to admit that we don’t know what this will do for Joshua’s development (could I have made that phrase more of a jumble?). What I can be sure of, though, is that he will learn that things like the iPad and the TV are items to be used in moderation, that they are not replacements for books and that they are just another way he can play and interact with Mommy and Daddy.


The Manual

Originally, this column was a submission to McSweeney’s to be one of their new regular features, but I am pretty clearly too far on the beaten path. However, this loss is your gain, as my plan is to match the “every couple weeks” schedule that would have been in play for their site.

Unless you don’t like the blog, and then it is also your loss.

Also, go to hell.

Before my son was born, I half-expected that after he arrived, someone would hand me a manual and explain to me that I was now part of a secret, world-wide cabal and thus eligible to learn the truth behind the world’s many mysteries. It’s a ludicrous fantasy that, like the notion that at some point in my life I still have the chance of spontaneously developing a super-power, is hard to let go of.

15 months of fathering now under my belt, I have come to grips with the fact while I get to be part of the global Parent Club, the manual I got upon admission is filled with nothing but blank pages.

All my life, it has always seemed that everyone around me had a pretty good idea as to what was going on. They had career plans, life goals, targeted hobbies, investment portfolios. They were going somewhere specific. This was especially true of parents. These were people in control of a small life. They had managed, sometimes for decades, to not accidentally kill their child. They had it together. They had a plan.

Now that I’m in the Club, though, I know that’s stretching the truth a bit. My parents may have had clear career paths, they may have invested properly in education, but when it came to parenting, it was all freestyle. They had to fake it. Not just my parents. Your parents. All parents. Billions of people all saying, “Uhhh. Sure. This seems like it probably won’t ruin this child’s life forever. Let’s do that.”

I should be terrified by this realization. I have a 15-month old son, and I have no actual blueprint for raising him. Shouldn’t I have Gantt charts and progress meetings and a supervisor? Shouldn’t someone be making sure that I don’t put sunglasses on him and make him dance to Usher songs while telling him to “drop it like it’s hot”? Am I getting in the requisite number of references to classical literature each day to ensure he grows up with an appreciation for the arts? I HAVE NO IDEA.

Thankfully, it’s remarkably easy to keep a baby alive. They do most of the work themselves, really. Just keep putting food in their mouth and try not to let them fall from too high up. As for the rest, they stay loose and covered in a lot of pudge for bumps and bruises and their gag reflex is pretty failsafe. But raising a baby to be a functional member of society? The space between the baby that waves a finger back and forth asking where the water went when I stop the faucet in the bath and the one that will one day vote for someone to be President of this country is staggeringly wide.

And yet, we all get by. With every new generation, society continues to function without crumbling into anarchy. No one has a rulebook for raising the next generation of world citizens and yet they manage to get the job done day after day.

It was hard for a to-do list oriented guy like me, who spends his days running a tech support help desk and his nights trying to make sure a small human doesn’t choke on a magnet he stole off the fridge, to let go of the notion of a rulebook, but I’ve finally managed it.

Before Joshua was born, I read books on parenting. I wrote about my thoughts on impending fatherhood as a way to help myself come to grips with it all. I interviewed other parents to get an idea of what having a child was like for them. I wanted a series of waypoints to measure my progress against. But I was never able to find any.

Joshua is 15 months old. He’s not a baby anymore. We still refer to him as the baby, but he’s a toddler now, on his way to being a little boy. I can interact with him now. It’s possible to track his thought processes and he can express some pretty clear feelings. It’s opened up a new level of understanding for me. It’s hard to get much perspective on your relationship with an infant. They are an entirely different kind of animal and the extent of your understanding as to how you relate with one is likely to stop at “Try to keep him from crying all the time.”

I’ve now found the crux of the parenting issue, the big secret that I wanted to have handed to me in a nice, three-ring binder: I know as much about being Joshua’s Dad at this point as he does about being my son. We have 15 months of accumulated knowledge about one another and that’s where the road ends. I don’t know what he’ll be like in a year. Hell, I don’t even know what hair color or eye color he’ll have by then. So, how can I possibly have a foolproof roadmap for that time?

He’s not going to ever notice that I don’t have a plan, just as I never noticed with my parents, because while I’m learning how to be a parent, he’s learning how to… be. We both need to show one another how to get those jobs done and the way that happens will change every time we change, which means it will be a little different every day.

Do not despair as I did that your parenting manual is blank. If it wasn’t blank, you wouldn’t be able to write in it.


Babies are Gross

Babies are gross. Straight up. This is not a choice they are making (yet), but they are. They poop and then sit in it until someone notices. They drool constantly and with great relish. They put anything they can pick up into their mouth. They vomit on themselves constantly. They are basically that friend you all had in college that couldn’t handle his booze.

As a parent, part of your solemn duty to care for your baby is to keep him  clean. This is more of a constant affair than you might think. Your baby has no notion of what it is to be clean and will not care in the slightest that you’ve been taking measures to help him get to that point. Here are the major areas you’ll need to watch for and some tips, techniques and equipment that will help you get there.


Drool is an omnipresent thing. Your baby should never be without a bib. We tend to associate a bib with protection from foodstuffs for clothing, but that’s a pretty narrow interpretation. A bib is just general protection from grossness. And protection of the clothing itself isn’t a big deal. You’re going to need to wash baby clothes all the time. Worrying about how clean and sturdy you can make them overtime is a bit of a losing battle. What you should be worried about is keeping wet cloth away from your baby’s skin as much as possible.

If your baby is anything like Joshua, he can soak the front of a shirt several inches in all directions away from his face in a matter of minutes. If you don’t change his clothes then, you’ve got a baby with wet cloth on his chest for the rest of the day. Your skin likes to be dry, so a wet onesie is not optimal for your baby. Everyone loves to tout the fabled softness and pristine nature of a baby’s skin, but this is a bit of a myth. Baby skin is indeed soft, but it is far from blemish-free. You’ll find many scratches from little finger nails and plenty of little red bumps resulting from irritation from dampness rubbing against skin. Some of this will be inevitable, but it’s important to try and minimize the impact.

So, keep a stack of bibs on hand (Joshua has something like 30, and we go through at least 3 every day just during the time of day that he’s not at daycare) and try to have burp clothes on hand around your house as well. These are useful also for the next bit.

A note on bibs: There are bibs, and then there are bibs. When you are picking a bib, try to go for one that seems sturdy. Many bibs are a single layer of standard cloth. A baby will wet that in under two minutes and the wet bib will immediately begin to create wet clothes. Those are only good for blocking a food mess, and are not meant for long-term wearing. Some bibs clearly have a couple layers of cloth with some sort of magical absorbent layer inside them. Go for these to protect from drool as they will provide protection from your baby’s Face Faucet, which is a term Janelle came up with and is, for the record, hilarious.

Spit Up

Calling it vomit just doesn’t fit. Vomit has more verve behind it. Spit up is just something babies do. Be worried if it’s large amounts for a prolonged period of time (or if there are tell-tale things like blood in the spit-up), but otherwise, it’s just par for the course. Bibs are useful for blocking spit-up from getting on baby clothes, but a burp cloth is going to be better because then you don’t have spit up just hanging out and drying inches from your baby’s face.

It’s not that spit-up is some dangerous substance to avoid, but it is nasty. Depending on when it happens, your baby is basically just producing spoiled milk. It will smell delightful. So, having a cloth to wipe it away instead of having it sit on your baby’s bib to ambush anyone who might pick him up later is a good plan.

Also, it will be a fairly regular thing that you baby will spit up, but not with enough force or volume to have that spit-up leave his mouth. So, you’ll notice the next time he opens his mouth he has a bunch of little white curdled milk chunks just chilling in there. That’s when you get a little invasive with the burp cloth to wipe out his mouth. It can’t taste good. Help the little dude out.

Burp clothes are of course useful when burping your baby to cover your lap and his lap while burping after feeding, when spit up is most likely. However, it’s also useful during playtime right after a feed. If you’re going to lay your baby down and play and your baby is apt to wiggle around or roll over and put pressure on his tummy, making spit up more likely, it’s a good plan to have a burp cloth under him. This protects whatever play surface he’s laying on, as that thing will get gross enough over time as it is (see: Drool).

#1 and #2

By and large, diapers have this covered. They are absorbant enough to handle most things that your baby can throw at them—but this is pretty much the pee department. I’m not going to cover handling when to change a dirty diaper, that’s pretty obvious. Babies aren’t too subtle about pooping. But a wet diaper is something that can be overlooked and can result in a very unhappy baby. It’s a safe bet that you’ll want to change your baby basically after they wake up from every nap. But, with an older baby that might not be napping as much, just try and get a good sense of what a saturated diaper feels like from the outside. If you give a poke to the diaper’s front, you should feel a certain amount of give. If you’re meeting a lot of resistance, you have a wet diaper. Along the same lines as clearing up drool, you want to make sure to change a wet diaper. You’re not going to want a baby with irritated skin around those sensitive areas.

One item to cover for a dirty diaper is containment failure. Since your baby will be sitting in all sorts of weird positions, sometimes that will mean that poop doesn’t just go down to hang out in the diaper. It may be forced up or out. Most often, it will be forced up and you’ll be left with a baby with a back covered in poop. Adorable, I know. This is something that Janelle finds super gross (I do, too, of course). It is, for some reason, more gross than washing off poop that gets on you directly. It likely goes without saying if you know how to do laundry, but wash poop out of your baby’s clothes as soon as possible and get some stain treatment on there posthaste.

And now to switch gears to the universal cleaning measure, the “nuke the site from orbit” of baby cleanliness:


Bathtime is something that we used to do with Joshua every couple of days, but we’ve since made it a daily occurrence. This is because Joshua began to output so much drool it became necessary, but it also makes a nice capstone to his day. Every night now, he has a bath, gets changed and ready for bed, we read a small story or portion of a story to him, and he goes to bed. The bath is a great event that gets him prepped for the notion he’s going to sleep soon.

There are lots of ways you can tackle bathtime, and it’s totally up to your preferences. For us, I get into the bath and fill it up to a baby-friendly level. Then Janelle hands Joshua to me and I hold him in the bath while she washes him down with a washcloth. With more of an immersion in the water, we’re able to keep Joshua from getting cold, and because I’m holding him the whole time it’s bathtime/playtime, so we don’t end up with an angry, fussy baby before we even try to get him dressed for bed.

NB: When washing a baby, treat him like a tiny, morbidly obese person. In short, you need to wash between the fat folds. There will be all sorts of little fuzz and nernies that will get in there. A major spot to get is the neck. “But, Michael, my baby doesn’t have a neck! His head just transitions into shoulders!” I understand what you are saying, but your baby does have a neck, it’s just buried under chub. A fun trick to get your baby to expose his neck is to take a washcloth and wipe at his nose, just over his upper lip. Your baby will likely lift his head to avoid the cloth and expose his neck, that’s when you can strike because, man, baby neck gets pretty gross.

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The Schedule

I can hear the “I told you so’s” approaching. It has been some time since I last posted, for good reason. Babies take up a lot of time.

Joshua has started daycare and is starting up his fourth week there (more on that in another post). This means that both Janelle and I are now back at work and no one is watching the homestead as their full-time occupation. This means that our time in the evenings is at an all-time premium and that weekends are Shangri-la. I never understood fully why people went so gung-ho for Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never been much of one for partying hard, so being able to stay up late and sleep in late over the course of the weekend didn’t hold much allure to me. The weekend was basically just a longer version of every evening after work. But now I find myself counting down to quitting time on Friday.

He’s only four months old, but we’ve begun what could end up being a decades-long process of ferrying our child(ren) around and spending all time not doing that work prepping for their next event. And Joshua only ever does one thing: sit in a room with other babies.

As part of my on-going effort to give you an accurate view of what child-rearing is like so that you are steeled for the experience (no, I am not trying to terrify you), here is every single day of our week now:

5:00-5:30am – Wake up! Janelle showers. Michael eats cereal and is on-call in case Joshua wakes up and needs tending to.

5:30-6:00am – Shower swap. Janelle is now ready enough prepping for the day that she can tag out on Joshua duty. Michael showers. Baby-permitting, Janelle has breakfast and continue to prep for the day.

6:00-6:30am – If Joshua isn’t awake, it’s time to start waking him up. Janelle feeds Joshua and, if all other prep work is done, we watch something off the DVR while he eats.

6:30-6:50am – Get Joshua changed into his clothes for the day. Pack up necessary daycare items (diapers, clothes, bibs, bottles). Get everything loaded and into the car.

6:50-7:10am – Drive to Daycare, drop Joshua off and wish him a good day.

7:10-7:30am – Leave for work.

7:30am – Janelle at work.

7:45am – Michael at work.

7:30-4:00 – Work day!

4:00-4:45 – Commute to daycare.

4:45-5:00 – Get Joshua from daycare and bring him home.

5:00- 6:00 – Play with Joshua!

6:00-7:00 – Nap-time for Joshua

7:00-7:30 – Feed Joshua. Michael tackles miscellaneous prep for the next day.

7:30-8:00 – Playtime!

8:00-8:20 – Bathtime!

8:20-9:00 – The bedtime cycle (sometimes fast, sometimes takes the whole time)

9:00-10:00 – Relax, go to bed.

During the periods of free time we have (there are about 3 hours total, since I am free to do things while Janelle feeds Joshua), we have to ensure that we do the following: make lunches for the next day, do laundry, clean the dishes, cook dinner, sterilize Janelle’s breastpumping equipment, clean and prep Joshua’s three bottles for the next day and anything else like talking to parents or running errands. That means that, if we’re being generous, we have 90 minutes each day of bona-fide leisure time.

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Negative Space

I would say it took us about two and a half months to get ourselves back on a routine. Well, that’s not fair: To get myself back on a routine. Going back to work full time necessitates that in part, but the rest involves making use of negative space.

I have friends who, rightfully so, laughed at me when I talked about the things I would accomplish after Joshua was born. For a while, they were most certainly right. Almost nothing got done in our house outside of caring for the baby. That included basics like cooking and cleaning. It’s less that there’s no time for working on anything when caring for a baby and more that it is difficult to get into a rhythm.

There are a great many distractions and small interruptions with a baby. There’s the crying and the pooping, and that’s just Mom (hiyo!). You’re not going to want to keep working while your baby is doing something cute. There’s always the chance that you’ll miss seeing a first anything. And believe me, the first everything is important to you. First spit bubble. First uncurled fist. First noise that sounds like “guh”. If Mom needs to use the restroom, you might be on baby duty if he’s not calm. If Dad goes to work, he’ll likely only be home in the evening long enough for a single baby nap period and there are likely chores or things like dinner to take care of during that time.

It’s very much a matter of “water, water everywhere…”. There are pockets of time all over your day that you could use for work, it’s just impossible to string them together, at least while everyone is awake.

I began to get antsy to get back into a routine. I’ve gained some weight (a journey I began once I left high school — let’s not talk about what my driver’s license says I weigh), and I stopped basically all creative writing. I was better about the blog in those days, but there was such a flood of new parenting info that I had to output it somewhere. Plus, I wasn’t working then. After a couple of months, I knew it was time to start working on a routine before what stuck with me was simply not doing anything.

The immediate dilemma was when I could possibly work in my own personal projects. If I wait to wake in the morning until the kid wakes us up, I’ll have enough time to shower and get ready for the day before it’s time to take a turn caring for Joshua and then I leave for work. When I get home in the afternoon, there’s usually enough time for dinner, playing with Joshua, catching up on any chores and then maybe there’s an hour or so before it’s time to put the kid to bed. So if the span of my regular day doesn’t accommodate working on projects, the only choice left was to work outside of it.

So now my day begins at 5am. I wake up and come downstairs and have a snack and maybe check some e-mail for about 30 minutes while I wake up. Three days a week I start into a light morning exercise routine that I’ll ramp up into more serious exercise over time. Then it’s time to shower, care for the kid and hit work. The other two days I write for another 30 minutes until it’s light enough outside to take a long-ish walk. Then it’s shower/baby/work.

At night, I basically shove the notion of working on projects out of my head because it’s time to play with the kid and connect with Janelle. Then, once they’re in bed, it’s back to work. From whenever Joshua gets laid down until 10pm, I write.

True, I continue to have the nasty A.D.D. habit of checking e-mail and social networking sites like a trained lab rat while I work, but it’s a routine and it guarantees me at least two hours a day to handle personal projects while still working in around 7 hours of sleep, which is the amount I was consistently getting before Joshua was born anyway.

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This blog is something I’ve aimed at Dads. Some of what I’ve covered and discussed is pretty universal to the parenting experience, but I’m writing to Dads because that’s the situation I find myself in, as it happens. I’m also writing to Dads because no one else really seems to, at least not at length and certainly not about some of the more mental and/or emotional issues surrounding fatherhood. As much as it might irk me that this is the state of things, I can’t lie to myself and say I don’t understand it.

If I were to want to write a baby book and have the highest possible chance of it being read by the most people in need, would I write a book for the 49% of the population for whom raising a baby is, if we’re being honest, optional? Or would I write for the 51% who don’t have much of a choice?

Mothers are a justifiably motivated crowd. For nine entire months, their careful stewardship of the little baby in their belly will have direct and noticeable consequences on that child when he is born. In contrast, Dad can choose to abstain from drinking booze along with Mommy. Maybe. Except when he goes out with the guys. And the when the game is on. And if it’s Guinness, because Guinness rules. If Mom, though, chooses to indulge in something proscribed at just the wrong moment, perhaps a neural tube doesn’t form properly and then suddenly we’re talking about a baby with a permanent limp. Or worse.

An involved Dad will of course be much more valuable than that in the baby process, even though technically all he really has to do to be involved in the process is be sweaty and naked (that’s optional, actually) for a minimum of 60 or so seconds. But this is a choice he makes and simply by being enthused he is showered with praise. Mom has the weight of infinite potential on her shoulders—and it’s just taken for granted that she’ll take it on the chin. Vitamins to remember. Foods to avoid. Foods to consume. Exercise to perform and to not perform. Supplies to buy. Books to read. Assuming that Mommy is jazzed about an upcoming baby, she has a lot to do. She can wing it, sure… but it’s probably not an awesome idea.

For all my focus on Dads and my principle of empowering the notion of Dad as an equal player in the parenting process, it’s important not to forget how much Mom accomplishes on her own before the baby arrives. Once that baby has arrived, a more or less 50/50 split can really be achieved and Dad can be an equal player and deserving of such recognition. But beforehand? Even the superest of Superdads is riding shotgun.

So, Janelle, thank you for spending nine vigilant months making sure that Joshua would be born healthy and happy. You changed large swaths of your normal life and gave up many little things that you love to do, and it paid off. We have a very healthy, fully thriving little man. He may look the way he does because we provided the ingredients together, but he’s healthy because you made him that way. It’s not terribly likely that Joshua will have this realization, and by the time he might be aware of it, he’ll be old enough to feel responsible for his own well-being.

But I’ll always know who made him perfect.

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