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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?”
“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?”
“Do you want to go to the potty?”
“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.”
This is the thing everyone knows that toddlers do. They ask “Why?”
It’s one of the things that cartoons and sitcoms love to show little kids doing that is actually a real thing that happens. Little kids love to ask “Why?” Joshua started doing it a few months back. I don’t think he had any idea what he was asking when he started, and frankly I’m not entirely sure he does now either. But he does know that it is a question that gets a response.
Though, I think that’s maybe too simple an explanation, because it implies there are questions that he asks that are ignored, which isn’t the case. It might be that each time he asks, he tends to get a different answer, despite the fact that the question is always the same. Whatever the reason, he keeps asking away.
Now, in a cartoon or sitcom, the child will ask this until the parent is driven mad. They’ll blow up and stop answering and the mischievous child grins because of course this is what they were after all along. But not in our house.
In this house, Joshua gets an answer every time, no matter what. That’s our job. His is to ask. Ours is to answer. What does it say to the little man if his first and most trusted source of information is unwilling to engage? Do I want to teach him, however subconsciously, that there is a limit to his curiosity and, by extension, maybe even his ambitions? No, I’d rather teach him that if he wants information we are here to explore with him.
It’s true that sometimes I get dead-ended, though:
“He probably wasn’t looking where he was going.”
“Umm. I think it has to do with the rotation of the Earth, maybe? And magnetic fields? Basically it pulls everyone to the ground.”
That’s when “Because Science” is about the best I can come up with. Liberal arts degree! *jazzhands*
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.
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.