Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect Kid Vacation

I am the kind of guy who does not like to sit still.

This has long been a point of friction with my wife, who loves to sit still. We have long argued the merits of each, especially during time off from work, when the true meaning of recreation comes in to focus. Until I married, vacation was an abstract idea for me. I have held very few 9 to 5 jobs, so planning for vacation was a real novelty. It took me some time to adapt.

Now we do take vacations, and we take them well. Some of them have been transformative, and some probably even saved our marriage. But since the addition of kids, things have become trickier. It is tough to stay in a hotel, and tough to stay in someone's home. It is hard to find good meals, and you can't eat in most restaurants. You have to plan your day around the nap schedules, and that leaves only a few hours for doing and going and seeing, for me the meat and potatoes of a good vacation.

After a few false starts, I think we have improved upon the formula. For a week in November, we went on vacation and everybody had a good time. They had an even better time than if we had stayed home. I have some hot tips.

But before I proceed, I have to reveal my discovery that led to the title of this post.


Hawaii is the perfect kid vacation.

We just returned from a week on Maui and it was fantastic. We rented a condo, did some shopping, cooked our own meals, and we went to the beach every day. We went to the pool every afternoon, and a couple of times we went to the local kid park and watched the sunset. I have visited many of the Hawaiian islands, including Maui, and never did I understand before this simple and beautiful truth: Maui has it all, a short drive from the airport. Great beaches, great accommodation, all in one place. Great snorkeling, surfing, and sunset cruises. Great views of the smaller half of the Hawaiian chain. Beautiful weather, warm water, and a little wild nature thrown in make Hawaii the perfect vacation destination.

Now for my hot tips:

Get a big enough place.
This is one of the tricks with kids. Sleep is important to everyone having a good time, so you need to make sure the condo/hotel/house you rent is going to be big enough for everyone and their naps. Just because a place says "sleeps 8," they might not mean it!

Go with friends.
We have travelled and vacationed with these particular friends before and once again, everything went swimmingly. The kids love to play and the adults love the social time after our children have gone to bed. Plus - condos across the hall made for easy child care!

Don't do too much.
Having an unambitious agenda is key to a good kid vacation. In eight days, we spent just one in the car out sightseeing, and we left our babies (and wives) at home. Sure, we didn't see the sunrise over Haleakela, but everyone still had a great time!

Don't be gone too long.
We have taken longer trips in the past, both with and without children. My wife is fond of pointing out that once we have factored in the large purchase of plane tickets, the marginal cost of one more day of vacation keeps going down the longer we are away. But there is a sad truth about diminishing returns. After about a week, everybody was ready to head home.

Take a lot of snacks.
Snacks are the cornerstone of our travel experience. They keep up the blood sugar, provide a diversion, and are always useful as a bribe. Don't leave home without them! Also, the perfect midmorning lunch for a day at the beach? Large bag of chips. Lime flavor.

Fly during the day.
We learned this trick the hard way. Sometimes our kids will sleep on a plane. Sometimes they won't. It is better to stick to their natural rhythms and hope for an occasional nap, but don't count on it! Also, long layovers are a great break. Plenty of time to run around without having to hurry and catch a connection!

Get the airport luggage cart.
This is $4 well spent. I don't care that you only need it for 50 yards. It might save your marriage.

Television is just fine on vacation.
Oooh, and those portable DVD players? Money!

Keep it simple with the meals.
This was my own mistake. I love to cook beautiful meals for my family and friends. But a rented condo kitchen is not the place to do it. Next time we'll hit the Costco and stick with burgers, hot dogs, and simple foods!

Take along a grandma (or two!)
Our recently retired grandma was invited on this trip and was a great asset to the general mix. Also it didn't hurt that we slightly outnumbered the children (5 to 4!) Without her, we might never have had the unique pleasure of sneaking away for a quick snorkel off the point or a drink at the bar.

On our last night, my kids and I watched the sunset together, dropping in majesty over the blue water in the fading light. Jeep took this picture.

As a parent, it is one of those things you just don't forget.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You'll Crack Your Head Open!

Parenting is no day at the park. But it does involve a lot of days at the park.

On one sunny morning this week I took my two little charges to a nice park in Vancouver, Washington for a change of scenery. It is a nice, old downtown park that has recently undergone some expensive renovations and added cool water features. It draws a strange mix of toddler moms, business lunch guys, homeless teens, and squirrels.

We got into a nice conversation with a woman and her two kids, aged 2 and 3. Jeep and the older boy chased each other around the playground, while the parents followed at a distance and occasionally . . . um, parented or something. The woman was very nice, and we talked about the rigors of being "at home" with two. Our conversation was often interrupted by general warnings or directives from the parenting core to be careful or take turns or whatever.

As time went on, I came to realize that we had a difference in parent styles. While our boys were different ages, they were both rambunctious little monsters who loved to bounce, climb, and sit on each other. But slowly I began to notice the frequency of negative messages coming from this perfectly nice mother. I think I'll call her Paranoid Mom.

Jasper, Come Down From There! Jasper, Let The Other Boy Go First! Jasper, DO NOT Touch Other People On The Neck!

It was kind of a micromanagement thing. But I liked her, she was friendly and sort of hot, so I just rolled with it.

Let me just say that she was a great mom. Excited, involved, fun. Basically, a female equivalent of myself (peals of laughter). She chased squirrels with her kids in the park. (Jasper, DO NOT Touch That Squirrel!) She shooed them away from the homeless kids encampment (Jasper!) and she took them to play in the fountain/creek/water feature that I think is so cool.

This is where it got interesting. Here I am, wearing my daughter in the front pack and leading my boy into the wilds of the two foot concrete waterfall with no shoes on. Paranoid Mom was doing the same, although she was hanging back on the edge of the fountain, splashing and playing. But Jasper would not be contained. He watched his new best friend 2 year old Jeep climbing the waterfall rocks and getting soaked and he felt compelled to do the same. Before long we were all tentatively climbing around the watery rocks, getting wet, and laughing happily.

I could not shake the feeling that Paranoid Mom had RULES for how and what her kids were supposed to do in dangerous playground water creek areas like this one, and we had somehow bent them. Everyone seemed alright so I didn't worry too much about it. And then I turned around and something amazing happened. I actually saw a thought bubble form above her head, and this is how she got her name.

But she did not speak these words. Paranoid Mom held herself in check, as we all must hold ourselves in check sometimes. Because all parents have these thoughts, many of us have them hundreds of times a day. And I did't actually see the thought bubble. But I heard her thinking this loud and clear.

As a friend of mine said recently, keeping kids safe is the most important thing. I agree with this in theory. If an oncoming bus is about to mow down my toddler, I would sprint to throw myself in front of it or tackle him out of the way. My worry is that we as parents perceive risk that is in fact just the natural consequence of learning in childhood. We're not talking about buses here, wer are talking about standing next to the edge of a two foot waterfall.

If you never give a kid the chance to stand near the edge, how will he learn to be careful?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Man Obsessions

As a stay-at-home dad, sometimes I get little worked up. I confess this openly.

The thing is - I don't have a job. That is, my job is the relatively peaceful and sometimes smooth operation of our domestic life. I make dinners, the floors stay sort of clean, and I keep the kids busy with what I like to call "action," as in "Let's go find some action!" or "Do we need some action around here??" It's a tough life.

So I don't have a job in the traditional sense, but I mean that I don't have a pursuit outside the home to escape to. This is something I envy about working parents. Full time parenting could drive you NUTS. You have to maintain a strong sense of self, or the whole thing comes crashing down. And that is where my Man Obsessions come in to play.

I call them Man Obsessions because they are truly tied to my most primal needs for defining myself away from the nurturing parent role. I take great pains to separate the identity of parent with the one as Dad. Why? Because I am a Dad. I feel it in my bones. I work differently than the nurturing and loving mothers of this world. I can do my share of nurturning, but in the end my bonding is of a different sort. I've said it before - I'm a man in a woman's world, and I need to find some escapes to keep my sense of balance.

These obsessions have come along over the past months and they are worth noting because they bring back my sense of power. In a world where men work and women stay home, I need these things to keep me sharp, good at my job, and ready for another day. I am lucky enough to be married to a woman who sees this for what it is, and gives me the space to obsess.

This has been a big part of my focus recently. When I get time away from the kids, I want to go compete at something. I used to run races, but let's face it - I can barely keep myself in shape enough to run for half an hour. If I ran a race tomorrow, I'd probably blow out a knee joint. So I opt for kinder, gentler competition. Last weekend it was the LC Homecoming Ping Pong tournament. This weekend I play in a monthly backgammon showdown with a bunch of backgammon nerds. And then there is fantasy football.

What can I say? I play in a fantasy league with a whole bunch of dudes who actually like football. I'm not really a football guy myself, but that is the beauty of it. There is an exquisite pleasure in beating someone at something as the underdog, when you know nothing about it. And me, I'm killing it this year. Top of my league. I don't want to jinx it, but I'm gonna win.

Ping Pong consolation prize for losing the loser's bracket. Hell, yeah I'm proud of it.

There is a myth that stay at home dads spend all their time remodeling the house. I might have been started by Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom. "220-221, whatever it takes." Let me just say that this is obviously not true. You cannot work on the house and watch the kids at the same time. At least I can't. My shop is under the nursery, my garage is over the nursery, and I have had to settle for much smaller ambitions during naptime. That said, there are a few projects I have muscled out over the past few months that deserve mention, or at least pictures. They seem to come on sporadically, take all my time for two days, and then quickly fizzle out. That's obsession for you.

Tore down my back fence this spring and replaced the posts and crosspieces.

This is a sweet sandbox, complete with cover, but it still doesn't have any sand.

The boy and I built these tomato boxes for the sunny side of the street.

Every spring I start an ambitious garden, and every year it fails. This year I built planter boxes and moved my tomatoes to the sunny side of the house. Voila! Tomatoes. At least 20, maybe 30. I know, it's not much, but watering the tomatoes is a great toddler activity. The picking of blackberries was also a huge hit this summer. We picked blackberries on every walk, on every piece of urban overgrowth reclaimed by the wilderness. One day we even went on a blackberry picking adventure that led us deep into the brambles of Vancouver lake.

This fall I also learned to do some canning and preserving. I first became interested in this when I tried a pickled beet in one of my martinis. There is a whole world out there of potential with home canned and pickled foods. This is also a great afternoon activity during naptime.

Finally, last weekend I got a permit to collect firewood up on Mt. Hood. This is something I have always wanted to do, and I loved it. A friend and I managed to buck logs into rounds and loaded about one cord of wood into the truck in just under four hours. It was a fantastic day of bright subalpine air and the smell of burning gasoline. My chainsaw performed admirably. Getting your own firewood is awesome!


Blackberry foraging

Firewood collection

Now THAT'S a ripe tomato (say this to yourself in a funny voice and pretend to hold a cigar)

I have made the case here for taking some time away from the world of parenting to pursue sometimes ridiculous and often time consuming tasks and then bragging them up to your friends and peers. My only real defense is this: these things make me feel great about my time here on the planet. I get a lot of positives from being home with the kids. Every time I make my little girl giggle it lights up my whole day. And my boy? I love his new words and interests and ideas. Every day is a challenge and a joy.

But my beautiful little darlings need something more than a parent who loves them. They need a Dad they can look up to and respect, someone with their own interests and passions and obsessions and excitements. These are the things that I must keep track of or they threaten to slip away. It is easy to lose yourself in this job, and that is part of the trick.

If you need some ideas about pursuing manliness, you might check out this guy right here at the Art of Manliness. He has a lot to say about manliness, alright, but I think I could still take him in a cage match.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dad Saturdays and the Result

PART 1, The Mommy Jungle

My wife is back to work and I am settling in to a rhythm with the two kids. It feels different this time around, and I confess to having occasional flashes back to the one kids program. In an effort to help both parents spend quality time with the children, we split up the weekend mornings for adventures.

The discussion of this weekend scheduling led me to a new idea entirely - Saturday morning time spent hanging out with other dads. I contacted a few of my fellow dad friends and made an open invitation to spend the morning tromping around a park outside of town somewhere. This would give dads and kids a chance to spend time together doing something that everyone enjoyed, and get me out of the stay-at-home dad routine that tends to drive me CRAZY by the weekend.

Let me expand on that. As a StayAtHomeDad, I am a lone tiger living in a Mommy jungle. I was spoiled last year when a close friend chose to spend 6 months home with his new daughter. We talked every day, and a few times a week we got together for kid hikes, Napgammon (that's backgammon during nap time), and trips to the Zoo or OMSI. There are definitely other SAHD's out there, but we have a hard time making connections. It simply is not in our DNA to bond over dimples and diaper changes. I see these guys in parks and around town, but somehow the relationship is best built on more firmly packed ground. Like football, or beer, or motorcycles You get my point.

Mostly, the park/zoo/kid scene is dominated by moms. And most moms take their kids to the park to hang out with other moms. That's fun, and fine, and when I'm there with the kids I can chat with them or whatever, as long as we keep it light. But if I made a mom-friend at one of those places, should that ever happen, if a conversation gets overly friendly - I feel the eyeballs of the other moms on me. There is also the issue of over-parenting or under-parenting in these public arenas. As a dad, I tend to be permissive about playground activities. My boy loves to climb to the top of the most dangerous ladder/slide/swing set. He's a boy! That is just how he's built. But I hear other moms, behind my back admonishing their own children to be careful.

It doesn't help that my little Jeep has discovered little girls, and he just loves to put his hands on them. In a little boy way, I mean. I found myself thinking the other day, "why can't Jude just keep his hands to himself?" and then I realized the folly of that supposition. It dawned on me that OF COURSE kids want to put their hands on other kids, they put their hands on EVERYTHING. And he's only two years old. Keeping your hands to yourself? That's a learned behavior! Last week Jeep followed a little girl up a tube slide. I think she looked at him funny and definitely wanted to be chased, but she was also about twice his age. Not one to turn down a bating, Jeep ran right up after her, out of my sight and up into nowhere. The next thing I hear were these howling screams from the little girl. And then her shoe came down the slide. And then her other shoe. When the two of them finally reappeared at the bottom, Jeep had her in a full on tackling arm lock. And they were having the time of their lives.

Of course I had to apologize to the mother. (That's my boy!) Moms have a strong sense of how the world should be, and collectively they develop a very strong moral sense. You've got to watch your step in the Mommy Jungle, man!

Part 2, Dad Saturday

By the end of the week, we've been steeped in these stilted interactions with anonymous mom strangers and I have HAD IT. So Dad Saturday seems like the perfect solution. Not only is it a good time for dads, but they get credit with their wives for taking the kids on an outing and out of the house for a few hours. Its a win-win.

Best of all, the kids get some time to be parented by their dads. There are some intangibles here that are hard to quantify, but I will attempt to give some examples. When kids and dads hang out together, it looks and feels different. Dads joke around. They play, both with the kids and their friends. They throw frisbees, and do chin ups, and talk smack. They throw rocks and climb on picnic tables. They chase their kids, and push them a little, and they discipline differently than moms.

Last Saturday we met at a McDonalds. That's another thing about dads - they eat awesome food that is definitely not on the recommended list. We met McDonald's and hit up the giant play structure while sipping coffee and talking dad shop. Then we loaded the kids up and drove out of town to Oxbow Regional Park, up the Sandy River from Troutdale. We arrived, hit the next play structure, fed the kids more snacks, and then set out on a nature hike along the Sandy River. When I say, "along" the river, what I mean is that we walked along an eroded cliff face that had a long and treacherous tumble down to the Sandy River. Let me just say to anyone not in attendance that the toddlers on this trip probably would have survived the fall. But they didn't fall. We walked right along the cliff edge, following the trail and didn't have a single problem. Score one for dads!

There were a few glitches in our trip that could be avoided next time. One guy and his daughter got stung by some kind of bee. We weren't carrying an earthquake kit. We didn't do very well with the carpools. It would have been helpful to bring about four times as many snacks. And it would be nice if we brought bacon, eggs, and a griddle next time, but those are just pipe dreams. I am calling Dad Saturday a success for its trial run.

Part 3, The Result

The biggest takeaway for our family was that my little boy Jeep (two years old) bot to play with another little boy who is three and a half. They played pretty well together, although I noticed that the older boy had an acute sense of imagination and wanted to make up a storyline to describe our activities. This was very fun, and I began by playing along as much as possible. My boy doesn't really need a story yet, he just thinks it is fun to go in the woods and pick up sticks and rocks. So when Jeep picked up a big stick covered in moss and started to drag it around, I called him a WIZARD. And then the other boy (O.) wanted to be a PIRATE. Great, I thought! Pirates and Wizards, what could be better?

O.'s dad had obviously played pirates before so he encouraged the singing of the pirate song (not the YO HO HO, but the Other One) and the occasional G rated cursing of ARGHH ME MATEYS! and SCURVY DAWG! This continued to be a laugh a minute until I realized that the stick O was carrying was actually not a stick at all but a pretend sword, with which he kept pretend sticking me and I kept pretend dying. Of course Jeep had his own stick, and for awhile he was playing "backhoe" with it. I'm not quite sure how this game went, you'd have to ask T. as he was bringing up the rear of our hiking party.

Nonetheless, eventually Jeep needed his own pirate sized stick, and everyone was getting along just fine until we stopped at some picnic tables for a snack. At this point, O. put down his stick for a moment and Jeep does the thing that he learned in pre-school, the thing of which I am so proud of him for. He was just waiting for a chance to grab the stick. Well that caused mass pandemonium and tears and who knows what else so we had to sort out whose stick-sword was whose, etc. etc.

Eventually as the hike was coming a close, O. abandoned said stick-sword in favor of another small curvy kind of stick which O. announced was a GUN. Let me just say that my little Jeep has never really been exposed to the awesomeness of SWORDS and GUNS which all boys come to know. It wasn't that I was hiding it from him, it was just that he hadn't found it yet. And where would he have seen such a thing? On Thomas the Train? Egads, no. So Swords and Guns it was for a short time, and no one seemed any worse for it. No one was killing anyone here, after all. Or even shooting or stabbing. It was mostly that they were just wielding. I wasn't even really sure if Jeep was taking any of this in, after all. It was an interesting twist to Dad Saturday.

And then came this morning.

I heard Jeep rambling about his room this morning, getting out toys and generally just talking to himself. I like to give him a few minutes to rouse himself before I go downstairs and unleash his energy upon the world. This morning I found him with a black stick in his hand. We have always called it "The Stick" and Jeep has used in many times in his short life to fetch lost items from under the couch or bed. The stick itself was a piece of tourist garbage from somebody's long past trip to New Zealand. It was just another piece of kid flotsam that we have hanging around the house.

Jeep was looking at it with a kind of wonder and newfound respect. It was at that moment that I realized that he realized that there was a connection here. "Sword" he said to me proudly. "Found a sword!" "SWORD!" "CUT THE BLANKET WITH A SWORD!!!" CUT THE CARPET WITH A SWORD!" "CUT THE BED WITH A SWORD!!"


This lesson in parenting brought to you by Dad Saturday.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer

It is late August, and these are the last sweet days of summer.

We have travelled far and watched our children grow before our very eyes.

There have been long hikes, playground discoveries, boating adventures, swimming feats, nature walks, lobster races, and many introductions to the wild kingdom.

We have climbed trees and splashed in puddles. We have come to love picnics and watermelon. We have eaten cupcakes and built sand castles and collected rocks. We have seen new babies and fireworks and airplanes.

There have also been early mornings, late nights, spit-ups, blow-outs, crib escapes, fat lips, double-ouchies, tears, and sticky peanut butter kisses.

It was a sweet and sticky summer. L stayed home on maternity leave and with the help of friends and family we slowly learned how to be the parents of two children. In the meantime, we thought it would be a good idea to take two big "vacations" to New York and Alaska. I think the travel gave us all a chance to focus on our little family unit, and feel the changes that come along, now that we are Four.

The real change ahead arrives with the coming of fall. Next week L is back to work, and my job transitions to "primary caregiver" for these munchkins.

Jeep and the Little Lady. They are thick as thieves, these two. I'll have to keep my wits about me and stay sharp.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Two is Not One

I'm not sure if I should call this happy.

This morning I was surprised by the gargantuan task of caring for our two children. Maybe it is better to say that I am noticing how easy it is to just have the baby. Jeep was at Grammie's house last night, and we had a passable night's sleep. There were no toddler calls from the back bedroom this morning, so an extra hour of time in bed came as a welcome surprise for the Daddy.

But this morning, instead of an ambitious run or project or breakfast, I have been doing . . . well, nothing. I made coffee, read the paper, and watched reruns of Lost, Season 1. Without the pressing needs of my all terrain boy, it is almost peaceful. Quiet. Pleasant. The kitchen is clean, the sky outside is grey, and nothing is going on. This change have pace has got me thinking about how difficult our life has become. Difficult is not the right word. Busy. Complicated. Harried? Is this our life for the next few years? Is there any peace?

We are fully in the throws of two under two. I asked for this, planned for it, and touted it with bravado. We will be lucky people if it never gets any harder than this. And I am sure that there are big paybacks down the road. I have taken comfort in one thought this week. A sibling is a gift that you give to your child which can last a lifetime, hopefully well after the parents are in the ground. That's got to be worth it, right? Right?

Do these two look like a handful to you?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life with the Newborn

For one thing, the lists are shorter.

We've got this new baby, a toddler handful, and a house to keep clean. This takes up pretty much all of our time. So we cut back on anything remotely ambitious. I had to quit playing golf - it was getting into my head. Now, I have to be satisfied with breaking out for a short run. Sometimes in the middle of the night, if it comes to that.

I say OUR time and WE because that is what its like around here. We are lucky enough to be able to clear the schedule, to recognize the sheer insurmountable task of having babies means that we both need to be here. So my wife takes all the leave she can get, and we both just hang around and try to figure this thing out. HOW IN THE HELL do people do this and still have a life? How do you work? How do you take a shower, for that matter? How could a working single mother ever make this work? If she can, well she's a better man than me.

There are late night handoffs, so that each of us can get most of a night's sleep. And then at 7am my day starts anew, with diapers and waffles and Thomas the Train and energy and whatever it takes to keep the train rolling forward. And we do less. We're pretty happy to pull off an evening walk with both kids, or a trip to the park, or even a meal.

That being said, there are small moments that are wonderful. This morning we were all up early, and spontaneously dreamed up a trip up the Gorge to see my grandmother. When I called to find her feeling sick, we changed the plan and opted for breakfast at Multnomah Falls Lodge and a hike to the top. Both children cooperated, and as I write this they are all snuggled in for an afternoon nap. Its nothing short of a miracle, really.

But like I said, the list is pretty short. I'm not really sure what we're doing tomorrow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Baby Girl Arrives

One day we were getting ready for the new baby. Assembling the crib, sorting baby clothes, and making checks on the list.

The next day she was here.

The game changes now. It shifts from the WHAT IF to the HOW. We are lucky people, and we are counting our blessing, or our luck, or our fortune, or whatever you want to call it. We have a healthy baby girl, the labor was short, and we are all home safe.

I don't want to consider the rest of the IFs. Now we are in a new phase. HOW do we get this baby to sleep at night? HOW do we know the baby is getting enough milk? HOW will we manage with the toddler in the household?

My job has changed, of course. I'm the behaviorist in the family. Actually, we're pretty much all behaviorists, but I'm the expert when it comes to our little boy. So I'm taking the lead on this one. How do we bring a new baby into the house so that Jeep still feels the love??? I'm working on it.

One last thought about the birth, the hospital, and all that drama. It is an awesome thing to see your own child born out of your spouse's body. I have been there twice now to see it happen and it never gets old. Wow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baby Madness

April showers are falling and the baby day looms.

This past week has been something of a reckoning for me and my little family. Life changed when the Mama stopped working to go on maternity leave, and even our boy noticed the difference. We all had varied responses.

Jeep was suddenly up a night, displaying crazy attachments, and generally out of sorts. It was kind of a "WTF?!? Why is Mom home all the time?" kind of response. I think he knows the game is up, and asks about baby all the time.

But Mama and the Daddy Life deal with the coming changes in their own ways.

First there were the lists: a slavish attempt to control the future and prepare for all possible eventualities. This is my wife's response to stress, I think. I began to resent them immediately, but of course I knew enough to just get out of the way.

Me? I played more golf, and filled up all my "extra" hours in the day with cocktails and cooking projects. This was not helpful in the other extreme.

Of course there was a crash, and it came on suddenly, with blunt force. There was no fight, and in fact my wife was very sweet. It involved a half magnum of white wine, a complex recipe for coq au vin, and a late night kitchen accident that could have happened to anybody.

The bottom line, Mama has been steeped in something akin to dread. New baby coming, late nights, no sleep, boob whispering, toddler neediness, et cetera, et cetera. Daddy was thinking along some other lines: how can I get my short game under control, drop my handicap, get out for a run, drop my boy at pre-school, meet the boys for drinks, and pick up a pizza? Basically, avoidance.

I pictured our "maternity leave" month as something different. I was thinking more along the lines of vacation, walks in the park, and time spent together as a family. I was also thinking of action, projects, and dinner parties. I wanted all of this before it changed, before we lost track of the sweet mornings in bed with our little boy, laughing and reading and playing and soaking up the love of two parents at once. Any day now the little girl will come, and our family circle will explode into something new. There will be baby diapers and visitors and presents and cooing and crying and it will all be wonderful and sticky sweet and a little sad for me.

The loss of this time we are in now sits heavily with me. So I have reformed myself, to savor it. I cut out the drinks, and ramp up my exercise. I work on the lists, and drop the social events. I am trying to embrace the quiet, but I know that I come off as surly and recalcitrant.

Well, we are what we are. Sometimes the madness takes us, and spits us out as something we never expected. I think this is the root of it for me. I know how becoming a father to the Jeep changed me entire life experience. Will Daddy's little girl knock me off my balance? I know with certainty that change is never easy, but I will do my best to rise to it.

My gut tells me that it will both impossibly hard, and the most natural thing in the world. Sacrifice, humility, and acceptance will all come easily when the time is right. I love my boy Jeep so impossibly that I would allow him to ruin me. How much more will I feel this for my girl?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Daddy Addy

My life as the daddy rolls on.

I seem to be well-suited for the changing faces of fatherhood. The boy is both challenging and charming, and Mama's growing belly gives us all a sense of the future. I report myself as happy and settled into the rhythms of stay-at-home parenting. The Daddy Life was conceived out of my own discomforts and anxieties of this new "career change" into fatherhood. It serves as a record of my (mostly) anonymous alter-ego and the strange trip we're on around here.

Jeep is healthy and well. We survived the travel to Mexico, the tantrums, the strange food, and the mosquito bites. He has undergone stunning changes these past months. His desires remain strong, and his language and energy are increasing to keep pace. My boy is active and soaking up the world around him. Full blown tantrums have decreased, but they still lie there under the surface. It seems to me that Jeep has stepped back from the edge of TOTALLY LOSING IT. Maybe he discovered that its not much fun, and doesn't get him what he wants.

The weather is changing - it is spring here in the Pacific Northwest. We go for walks now, these short rambles up the street or through the park to take note of all the important things: dogs, birds, flowers, pine cones, and buses. There is a lot of pointing and naming. Daddy gets outside for some ambitious work in the yard and an occasional ambitious golf game. Last week was spring break, and Jeep seemed relieved to return to the routines of school.

The baby is coming. My wife begins her maternity leave today, with roughly four weeks before Birthday Zero. The house is showing signs of her arrival. A room has been prepared, furniture moved, and baby clothes sorted. I am beginning to feel the warmth of a new life in our home. Our new little girl will bring a new dimension to our family life. This morning as I write this, I am feeling the awe and weight of the coming changes.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I was putting the Jeep down to bed one night this week and a startling thought entered my head.

This job, being a dad to my own little boy who loves me, this is the best job I've ever had. I feel happier, more satisfied, more fulfilled, and I finish each day with a profound sense of purpose and well-being.

I've been entrusted with a sacred responsibility, and the potential to fuck it up is great. This initially brought me a fair amount of daddy anxiety, but I must be gaining more confidence in my new career. Each day I watch my little baby grow into a boy and my boy grow into a man. The potential for success is giddying.

No wonder welfare mothers have twelve children. I totally get it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tantrum Faze

He looks so sweet. My little boy, crouched at Daddy's knee, plays happily with a spoon. We carry on delightul father-son banter while Dad smokes a pipe or reads the paper or sips his Manhattan project. This is not the stay-at-home-dad world that we actually live in, but let me carry on a little longer in my fantasy. Son, let me tell you about the important things. "Yes, Daddy?" He sits, amazed, as I tell tales of pre-baby travel, romantic exploits, and clever comebacks. "Wow, Dad - you're my hero!" Of course I am, son, of course I am.

There is some truth to this fantasy, I am sure. I think that at some stage all little boys make heroes of their fathers. They want to grow up in their father's image, and imagine their own hopes and dreams. And my boy loves me madly, despite the fact that we are the hard-hearted Cry-It-Out parents you've all heard about. But babies grow into little people, and those people begin to develop their own motivations and desires. They call this the toddler stage of childhood. It comes before the terrible twos and after the thrill of learning to walk.

Until just recently I thought parenting through this stage was going to be pretty easy. And then suddenly, the tantrums began. Tantrums are something I have been expecting. I understood, rationally, that young children have a disconnect between what they want and what they are able to say. I also thought I would be able to control my reaction, or emotional response to these occurences. Be patient, don't take it personally, et cetera. Those were my expectations, but the reality is somewhat different.

My boy throws tantrums over stupid things. He doesn't want to wear the blue jacket. He wants to watch Elmo. He doesn't want the orange peel to touch any part of his plate. He wants to hold his own spoon when we eat the yogurt. These are simple things, and I know my boy well enough to read his desires. This is not the problem. The problem is that the desires are SO STRONG. It is like he just learned to want something and now suddenly it is ALL HE WANTS. He becomes fixated on that one thing with such force that is scares him. It is almost a chemical reaction to his emotions. I MUST DRINK FROM THAT EMPTY BEER BOTTLE. Or the world will end. Period.

Second, I am surprised at my impatience with these behaviors. A few times now he has gone completely out of control. I have used the strategy of picking him up, carrying him away for a few moments (maybe 30 seconds?) and letting him cry. Then I give him some sympathy, explain that we can't COMPLETELY LOSE OUR SHIT like that. We have to maintain some modicum of acceptable social behavior. Then I ask, "Do you want to try again?" Through the tears, the response has always been "Yeah." We try again, and everything goes much better the second time. I hate to take it to that level. WAY better to distract, give him what he wants, or just move on from this increasingly whiny emotional roller coaster.

We leave on a family vacation this month. Mommy, Jeep, and Daddy will all be traveling the world, eating in restaurants, sleeping in strange hotels, and chasing bands of developing-world stray dogs around the beach. I fully expect the tantrum monster to take on new life with the rigors of travel and schedule interruptions. What will the Daddy Life do to combat this monster? Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Naturalist Daddy

While my boy was sleeping yesterday, I spied a bird of prey out the window.

This stage of parenting is an interesting one for me. Being home alone during nap time has been a constant struggle with my own restlessness. I can't (in good conscience) step out for a walk, or a trip to the store, or a quick nine holes. I also seem to avoid getting involved in "house projects," as the nursery and the tools are in very close proximity. That leaves me with cooking, reading, and computer time during Jeep's naps.

Occasionally I come up with something that sparks my interest. We've been interested in eagles these days, so I tried to catch this guy with my ten-dollar telescope off the back deck. Managed to snap this shot with the camera before he flew off after some field mice.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Last year about this time I made a discovery that has profoundly enriched my experience as a stay-at-home-parent: we found a co-op preschool for Jeep.

From the beginning, Jeep was interested in other children. I knew instinctively that my job as a Stay-At-Home-Parent (SAHP) would be to find and facilitate these social interactions as much as possible. So of course I was enthusiastic when I stumbled upon a local co-op preschool with a "young toddler" classroom for kids aged 1-2 years. We visited, we loved it, and we signed him up.

My boy was born in late August, which makes him the youngest among his peers for life in the school system. Schools generally send kids with September birthdays into the next school year. Jeep turned 1 in August, and in September he started school. He had just learned to walk.

This particular school is only available to SAHPs, because it requires parents to work one "shift" throughout the week. School runs from 9am to 1pm, and there is a full time teacher there every day. We sing, we read books, we play outside, and we go for walks. Jude knows the other children, and they know him. We have gotten to know other families, and I have been exposed to some different methods of parenting and child management.

The people at the co-op are not my best friends. But somehow, someway, the experience of parenting together (often in close quarters) creates an intimacy that comes quickly. I trust these people to raise my child. In return, the takeaway for Jeep is huge. He loves our class, the children, the teacher, and the other parents. When I walk out the door on my "daddy day off" he doesn't even look up.

There was something lost when our modern civilization moved out of small communities and into the developed world of private homes and freeway commuting. We lost the mentality of the village. In a place like our co-op, we have managed to find it again.

Where would I be without them? I am basically a gregarious person. It helps make the sometimes lonely occupation of stay-at-home-parenting a little more friendly.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Attachment and Desire

The Daddy Life has been silent for some months now. Roughly two months, between the time when my boy moved from 15 months young to 17 months old. I assure you that we are all well and busy, navigating the paths of Christmastime, family, the new year, and co-op preschool.
Somewhere in the midst of all those traditions, my little boy took new steps toward becoming a person. He has begun to express preference and WANT things. And I mean REALLY want them. He is no longer to be distracted by a quick switch from the toybox, or a funny face, or a book. He REMEMBERS. He's a persistent little guy.

Sometimes he gets what he wants, and sometimes he doesn't. We have been very careful not to introduce the word NO into his 20 word vocabulary, but it's bound to come out soon. Instead, we try to find ways to moderate our language.

ME: (very calmly) We don't put our hands in the toilet water. You can wash your hands in the sink.

JEEP: (splash splash)

Fortunately, he's still small enough that I can pick him up and remove him from most situations. Last week he was underfoot while we were in the kitchen making dinner. His mother and I were both standing nearby when he GRABBED A PAN OFF THE STOVE. What the H? How did this kid get so tall? He's tall enough to get things off the countertop, but still too small to trust near the stove. Superdad over here snatched that hot pan right out of his little hands before there were sauteed onions all over the room.

There are boundaries, and then there are REAL boundaries. The ones that involve safety are hard and fast. I might have yelled out a NO! on that one.

As the Stay-At-Home-Parent, I am sure that the setting of boundaries and molding of behavior will fall on my shoulders. I have experience in this, from my former career as a special education teacher. But never before have I been quite so closely tied to my client.

I tend to laugh it off when he gives me THE LOOK (see below). But who am I kidding? I love this little guy, and I hate to see him upset.

I guess my job is changing again. Its moving from keeping my boy safe, dry, clothed, and well-fed, and into more challenging arenas. He has discovered DESIRE. There are eastern religions which attribute attachment and desire as the cause of all unhappiness. I don't really buy that. My boy has a boundless capacity for happiness, and I won't squash it. Have we entered the realm of PHILOSOPHY here? Does it fall upon me to teach my boy to moderate his own desires in the world around him?

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