Archive for August, 2010

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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As has been a regular theme here on the blog, babies do not think like you and I. This is the largest barrier for some parents to overcome, I believe. If a baby is frustrating, he’s frustrating because you don’t understand him, not through any intentional act of his own.

It’s easy early on to be insecure about your parenting. After all, you’ve never done it before, and it’s pretty hard to tell how good a job you’re doing, really. I mean, even if you’re perfect, that kid will still be upset sometimes. Making matters a bit worse for you could very likely be the fact that your baby may seem to like Mommy or, really, any other animate or inanimate object in the house, more than you. This notion may eat away at you and so you’ll always notice that when you get the baby in a hand-off, he cries (and you will conveniently ignore the other 60% of the time when he does not). Or you’ll feel like he never sleeps well when you’re around or any number of imagined deficiencies.

Don’t take it personally. Might be tricky, but try and remember you’re projecting a very grown-up manner of thinking onto a baby. And what is that baby thinking about? Maybe about pooping. Maybe about that light over your shoulder. Maybe about that reflection on the spoon over on the table. Not about how he loves Mommy more than you.

Babies live in a world made up of fractions. Your baby, while very young, may recognize your voice, or your smell, or your face. It’s not terribly likely he knows to relate all three to one another. He recognizes lights, or small portions of fabric patterns, or textures immediately under his hands or feet. If he likes any one person more than another, it’s that he perhaps prefers the color of their eyebrow. Or the shadows around their nose. I assure you that there are many things about you he likes.

I mean, he’s a baby. Babies like everything.

So, like, don’t lay your hang-ups on him, man.

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Being left along with a baby for an extended period of time can be a harrowing experience for a new father. At times, this is simply a lack of exposure. But even for a Dad down in the trenches, running solo is always scary because you will inevitably run into the food dilemma.

If you’re formula-feeding your baby (or supplementing), Dads are far more likely to be battle hardened for solo time with the baby. This post is assuming that you’re opting for the breastfeeding route.

Prior to introducing a bottle (which is another one of those highly variable things — some parents will need to introduce a bottle early on, some may wait — but the wisdom handed down by doctors and books dictates that you should probably start thinking about introducing the bottle around 6 weeks and slowly ease the baby into it. Too early and he might get confused about bottle vs. Mom. Too late and he might decide he doesn’t want to ever like it), there’s simply no way that a Dad can go too long without Mom around. This becomes a pretty nice security blanket. You know that you’re never more than a couple hours from the cavalry arriving.

But after the bottle is in the picture, you’re no longer insulated. I figured today (Saturday) was a good day for me to write this post, as it will help me commit details to memory and psyche myself up for the coming challenge. Janelle will be off for a day of bachelorette events for a good friend of ours. She’ll be leaving around 2pm and returning at 9pm or later. I’m pretty excited she’ll be getting an outing, as I feel guilty that to date the extended absences have been mine alone. But the fact remains that this will be the longest period of time that either of us have been alone with Joshua, and the honor is falling to the journeyman.

Just because I relish the notion of wading in waist-deep for alone-time with Joshua doesn’t mean that the prospect isn’t vaguely spine-chilling.

Today will be the sixth instance where I’ve fed Joshua from a bottle. Three of the previous times went smoothly. Two of them did not. I will explain why and how in each case, but first, some critical information regarding breastmilk, an almost mythical substance, for new Dads.

Breastmilk, after being expressed and stored by Mom via pumping (which is 100% weird to watch happen), can be left alone, at room temperature, for about four to six hours. This is room temperature at around mid-70s, by the by. None of your Arizona heatwave shit. If you choose to immediately refrigerate expressed breastmilk, it will stay good for around three days.

Frozen breastmilk can be kept for six months (be sure to label it clearly with the date). Once you remove breastmilk from the freezer and place it in the fridge to thaw, you must use it within approximately 24 hours. Once you’ve heated breastmilk (whether by running the bottle under hot tap water or boiling water on the stove – do not microwave it as the milk may end up being deceptively hot in contrast to the cool bottle exterior and may not be a uniform temperature throughout) you need to use it within about 30 minutes of the heating.

The tricky part about getting ready for a bottle feed, unless your baby isn’t too picky, is timing heating the milk. You don’t want to start too early, especially if your baby is sleeping, as you don’t want to interrupt a nap just so you can use the milk you heated up. But start too late and you run the risk of having a very, very angry baby while you stand around and hope that physics will hurry up. Your best bet is to have a pot with water waiting on the stove and when you hear those cries that mean an awake baby is imminent, fire up the burner, drop in the bottle and then go retrieve your kid. Once you’ve checked and/or changed a diaper and gotten your feeding area all set up, that bottle should be most of the way, if not all of the way, heated. Some babies may not care about the temperature of the milk, but Joshua 100% does. Two of the times I had trouble feeding him the milk was warmed up… but still slightly cool. And he basically demanded the waiter send it back to the kitchen to be heated better by screaming very loudly and generally drooling milk everywhere.

Check the milk’s temperature before you start. Just like you used to see in TV and movies, a couple drops on your wrist will do it. Get your baby positioned how you like. Any way that is comfortable for you and for the baby is workable, but it is advised to use a different setup (location and orientation) than the one Mom uses so you don’t confuse the baby. They should realize that this is a new thing happening, and not the usual. My only real notes regarding your position is make sure it’s one where you can, without too much jostling, adjust the angle of your baby. With a boob, he’ll just stay in one position until he’s done. With a bottle, you’ll want to be tipping that bottle up to get all the milk out, and at a certain degree of movement, you’ll pop it right out of your baby’s mouth if you’re not careful. Also, and this is something easy to neglect, make sure you’re set up to be comfortable for the next 15-20 minutes. Bottlefeeding is fast, but it’s more that it is faster than it is actually a fast process.

Before you bottlefeed, I recommend that you pay close attention to how your partner helps the baby feed. There are many, many particulars she is keeping in mind. You have it easier, but let’s try not to undo all her hard work, shall we? Most noteworthy here is how she sets up your baby’s lips when he’s feeding. If a baby is sucking poorly it’s not only likely he’s not sucking very well and getting in a sub-par amount of milk and potentially a lot of air for tummy problems later, he’s also likely causing Mom a lot of pain. If not now, later for sure. So, you want to do on the bottle the same thing Mom does on the breast. Pull his lips out. When a baby is feeding, it should look like he’s making duck lips. You want to ensure he’s not curling his lips in or clamping them down. Basically, you want your baby to look like, if you were to remove the bottle and keep the face the same, he’s doing his impression of someone with too much lip collagen.

Burping is going to be important. When you burp will be determined by how well your baby feeds on a bottle. Here’s where we get back to the couple times Joshua did not feed well. Because a baby has a tendency to take in more air feeding from a bottle, I wanted to make sure to get a burping session or two in during his feedings. However, it seems that once the initial flow of milk has stopped, that Joshua loses interest in going back on the bottle. Not quite as good as the real thing, I suppose. So, I wait until he’s finished entirely now, and hope that he doesn’t get so much air that his burping turns into spitting up. If your baby is less particular, I recommend stopping to burp about halfway through the feed. This way you can free up air bubbles, and also approximate the pause mid-feeding where Mom would be switching him from one breast to the other.

Don’t be alarmed if the feeding seems awkward. For starters, Mom’s had weeks of practice where she gets to clock in some hours six times a day. But you’re also trying to approximate a natural system with all sorts of foreign hardware. It’s going to be awkward. As long as the baby gets his meal, though, you’ve done a great job. Even if there’s squirming and spitting and crying and dribbled milk, as long as more of that milk ends up in the baby’s tummy than on a burp cloth, call it a win.

For a final note, there are a many types of bottles out there. What we went with was a brand called The First Years and their Breastflow line. The notion here is that the shape of the bottle top (very wide) will approximate the breast better in your baby’s mouth. Also, the double reservoir system in the nipple will slow down the flow of milk for your baby, making it more like the speed the milk is released from Mom.

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Before the Storm

The waiting during a nap is an odd period of time.

Just after managing to successfully put Joshua down for a nap, there’s a brief period of tension, maybe only five to ten minutes. In that period, he’s still on the very edges of sleep and any slight disturbance will push him back in the realm of waking. After that, though, it’s fairly likely that he’s dropped into a deeper sleep and will stay asleep for at least 45 more minutes.

Nap timing for Joshua is highly variable. This is likely the case for all babies. There are a wide variety of things that will cut a nap short. Loud noises. Heat. Lack of heat. Hunger. Gas pains. Wet diaper. Dirty diaper. A typical, good nap is about two hours long. After that first, trepidatious period, you, as parents, will begin to settle into a bit of a normal routine. It may not be fair to designate it as such, but a bit of normal life begins to bleed back in. You read a book, or put on a DVD, or perhaps just have an honest-to-goodness conversation, complete with eye contact and perhaps some bad language.

With a two-hour nap, you have time to get a couple things done, polish off a chore or two and have a snack, and then the cycle begins anew. There’s changing to be done and feeding to administer and cooing and bouncing to undertake.

But sometimes you get an outlier. An exceptionally good nap. As I write this, Joshua is smack dab in the middle of one of those. It’s not exceptionally good due to the length of the nap itself, but because of the timing since he last ate. Joshua is a big boy. He ranks in at the 85th percentile for weight and 95% for height. Granted, baby size means virtually nothing about your later size as an adult (Janelle was almost 10 pounds, which is fairly behemoth for a baby, and she is decidedly not behemoth today). He takes in a lot of food when he’s breastfeeding. Janelle estimates between 5 and 7 ounces of milk at each feeding. (Keep in mind intake of milk is super variable and is one of those guidelines you should 100% ignore as long as your baby is gaining weight – it depends on tons of factors: is Mom letting down enough milk, is baby sucking enough, is baby hungry enough, etc. etc. etc.) This is all just to illustrate that he’s got enough chub stored up and packs away enough milk that if he wants to wait awhile between eating, he can.

It was drilled into us so much at the hospital that Joshua needs to eat every three hours like clockwork that the timing of his feeding was something that we (at least I) obsessed about a bit. We wouldn’t wake him up to eat, but I would find myself getting antsy if three hours had passed and he wasn’t awake and ready to eat. So it’s still a little odd to let that time frame slip right past and fade off into the distance.

Today Joshua started his previous meal at 10am. It is now 4:30pm. This means that it has been roughly six hours since he finished eating. After his meal, he was awake for a bit and we played around with him as usual. Then he was fussy and angry, but angry too soon to be hungry already, so we tried to get him to nap. That didn’t go so well. So Janelle and her mother took Joshua for a walk down to a local supermarket and brought him back. He woke and was angry, but didn’t seem hungry. So, I put him down for a nap and apparently did a pretty good job because it’s lasted about two hours longer than I expected it to.

While part of my brain is proud of the little man for sleeping it off like a big man, the other part is trying to calculate how much larger the explosion will be once Joshua finally does wake up. With a nap this long, this far from a feeding, I’ve progressed past the initial “Will he stay asleep?” fear and past the simple bliss of “They’re so easy when they nap!” into the creeping terror of “Man. He’s probably going to be hungry and pissed when he wakes up.”

It’s an odd nervous energy to be in possession of. I want to keep myself busy so I’m not just pacing and wondering when, but I need to make sure it’s the kind of task that I can drop at moment’s notice so that I can be reacting quickly to mitigate any disasters.

This is parenting. Ready to leap at moment’s notice for the well-being of your child, focused on their happiness, perhaps to the neglect of your own.

I am glad I have a blog to write in, though. It’s better than pacing.

[And no… I am not implying I’m unhappy. You may have read about the flurry of recent articles discussing the discontentment of parents (here and here, for example). This is shenanigans, and will be the subject of a later post/rant, believe you me.]

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Babies love a ceiling fan. It’s true. Go ahead and Google for it. I’ll wait. Not really. Little meta-humor there for you.

We have a ceiling fan in the center of our bedroom, which just so happens to be where Joshua spends all his nighttime minutes that aren’t spent sleeping in his crib in the nursery. When he wakes in the middle of the night, Janelle brings him into our room, changes him in the designated corner at the bottom of the mattress (designated by the bath towel he lays on – makes for a good poop guard in case of an overzealous rectum [this is the name of my band, by the way, Overzealous Rectum]), and then feeds him sitting propped up on her side of the bed.

Laying on the bed while being changed or while waiting for Janelle to get herself all situated, Joshua has a perfect view of the fan just above him, and he is mesmerized. He smiles at the fan almost more than he smiles at us. The people that GAVE HIM LIFE. Even if he’s upset, the fan is often enough to distract him for just the right amount of time that we can calm him down. We hear similar stories from our friends who have a 20-month-old (or thereabouts) who has always loved ceiling fans and who, now that she is old enough to talk a bit, will wake everyone up in the morning with her rally cry to bring in the day: “Fan! Fan! Fan!”

I mostly wanted to write this post just to point out that little detail, but it does bring to light some actual useful information to impart (outside of, “make your baby look at a fan”). Your baby enjoys looking at things. It’s important to stimulate them visually, because it’s basically the only thing that they can do: look at things. However, keep in mind a few things. Babies don’t really see color for at least the first month. Stick to high contrast items. Also, don’t make the items too complex at first. If you don’t know what anything at all is, you don’t want to kick it off by staring at a Dali painting. Go for bold, straight lines. Fits well with the high-contrast part, conveniently. Movement is another good thing. Not too fast, but making your baby work to track an item is helping improve his vision. Lastly, don’t be all up in your baby’s grill for too long. It’s easy for a baby to get overloaded, so a picture waved six inches in front of his face for any length of time is likely going to be just too damn much info to process. Babies look away from things when they get overwhelmed, and will often look at something with their peripheral vision so they can study it without taking in too heavy a flood of stimulus. Putting something too close to their face removes a baby’s option to escape from an info onslaught.

A fan hits all that criteria very well. It’s located a fair distance away, is usually a contrasting item (assuming you have a dark fan and light ceiling), moves around in a very regular fashion and, moving fast enough, is fairly hypnotic.

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So, babies are pretty cute. I know, right?

But really, they are. Their cuteness is a pretty defining part of why everyone wants to keep having them. They are very endearing. Perhaps never moreso than when they are smiling. As with all baby things, the time that smiles will start to appear is variable. However, you can reasonably start to expect them at 6 weeks, +/- a couple weeks. Your baby may have been smiling for a long time prior to that, but it’s likely that those were smiles born of passing gas or going pee. You know, the classy stuff.

Around the six week mark you’ll find more and more that your baby smiles (typically at first when he is asleep) without the concurrent expulsion of bodily waste. Then it won’t be long until you notice he’s smiling when you come around. Baby smiles are different than regular smiles. It’s difficult to put too fine a point on it, but it’s there.

Friends and family will smile when they see you, but as nice as that is, there’s something about it that is diluted. A grown-up understands social norms and expectations. A grown-up, to take a far more cynical tack, may have ulterior motives for being happy to see you. Perhaps you owe them a favor, or give really good shoulder massages or any number of other things that imply they are happy to see you, but also happy to see you because of “X”. Removing at least some of that cynicism, it’s reasonable to say that adults smile at other adults, but they do so with understanding, reason and intent. They smile with purpose.

But a six week old? That’s a tiny human that knows how to do maybe a dozen things TOTAL. You did more than that in the last five seconds. You understand how you blink, what you’re reading, how to tap your foot and that indeed that is your foot you feel moving. You know that you feel hungry, how to hold in going to the bathroom for five more minutes and on and on and on. Even the most incapable of us know how to do and understand literally thousands of things. That there baby, though? Not so much. Oh sure, there’s a lot of learning happening for a baby all the time, but he might not even really be aware he has legs at the moment.

When that same baby sees your face pop into his range of vision and goes from serious face to smiley face, there’s a purity there that is difficult to find anywhere else. That baby doesn’t know many things, but at that moment he knows “Hey, I like that face.” Those smiles will only last for a second or two, and will be highly inconsistent. You’ll be hooked immediately and find yourself trying to coax them out of your baby like some not-very-depressing-at-all version of a junkie. And it’s totally understandable.

Babies that small have a pretty good chance of not really being able to entertain themselves yet. They haven’t mastered much of their own motor functions and they don’t have much of a memory, short or long term to allow them to build a collection of preferences. So when you’re there, chatting with and poking at and cooing with a baby and you elicit a smile, you are basically manufacturing happiness. You are fostering little seedlings of joy in a human who at this point probably doesn’t even really understand what it is to be happy.

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