Saturday, December 17, 2011

The New Stride: Month One

Thanks to all who followed and related to my recent posting about running strides and form. I had a good month, and I promised to keep updates here, so update I shall!

One month ago I had a running analysis from the kind folks at the Providence Sports Care Center at Jeld-Wen Stadium in Portland. They gave me some tips, and I tried a few other things on my own.

Weeks 1-2
In specific, I began by running 10-20 minutes on an indoor track while following the recommendations of my physical therapist. I was doing this 3-4 times/week for the first few weeks. Initially, I was very surprised by how much work it was to keep my hips forward and my back straight for this period. The PT warned me that I would feel the difference in soreness on my backside, which I assume means my glutes and my hamstrings. I timed the footstrikes on my watch, and found I could keep this pace reliably for about 15 minutes without tiring. It felt more like a drill than a run. One day my wife was at the gym, and I showed her the difference between my “old” loping stride and my “new” upright stride. Linden reported that there was indeed a HUGE difference, and encouraged me to keep up the drills and form.

During this period I found an interesting article about this exercise known as the 100-up. I focused on the first part of the drill, known as the “minor” and started doing them around the house.

I felt like I was making some progress building strength in my hip and lifting my knees a bit higher. On top of this drill I was loosely following what my PT called my “home program.” Most of these drills seemed to focus on building core stability and getting at the smaller muscles in my abdomen and hips. Some of the drills also focus on treating each leg separately. I can see that part of my problem has been a kind of compensation that allows some muscles to be lazy while others do all the work. In a future post I will describe my current “home program” and share some new drills.

Week 3
After a few weeks on the indoor track I started feeling good about my progress and ventured outside for some running on the trails. I had good success with this for 20-30 minutes of running, but noted that my cadence slowed on the downhills and increased on the ups. I ran in old running shoes for this period, and had little problem with my motion control Mizuno Alchemy shoes that I’ve been running in for years. At the gym I had been using a pair of Brooks Avalanch shoes that I bought in the fall. They were similar to the Mizunos in that they seem to keep my heel in place, although I am more focused on the midfoot strike. Sadly, I left the Brooks shoes at the gym one day and never found them again.

I started running in a cheap pair of minimalist Saucony Stratos that I bought last winter at Big 5 for about 30 bucks. This gave me all sorts of soreness in my IT band and quads, but I didn’t immediately connect it with the shoes. Next, this week I went for a run with a close friend, (Ben Chaffin) and we did what I would call an “easy four” down to the waterfront. This run was harder than usual, and I think my pace was faster than I’ve been running. The result was about 10 days of significant soreness in my left IT band and nighttime swelling in that same knee. Life was busy, and kept me from doing much running, so I eased off for a few days.

Week 4 - 5
I was starting to get discouraged by the cranky knee, but one day I stepped out for a short run and noticed something good about my new stride – I could no longer relax my straight back or stick out my butt like I used to do. The “upright” position seems to have planted itself in my muscle memory and I can keep the position for much longer periods, maybe even indefinitely! This is a great sign for my ambitions to adopt a new form. Big news!

I bought another new pair of shoes this week and saw immediate improvement in my knee pain and IT band troubles. I also increased my use of the foam roller, a tool that has helped in the past to fight inflexibility and soreness. I resumed my running frequency and even stepped out for a longer group run one evening. We ran for about an hour and although I felt some soreness there was no lasting swelling or trouble. I think I’m back on track.

To recap, I see that my running program needs some of each of the following: consistency, flexibility, strengthening, and work. By the last thing here I mean that “getting into shape” means taxing my mechanical system and giving it short periods to recover. Always in the past I have focused on taxing my cardiovascular system, but it is clear that the mechanical one is more important for long term fitness.

I’m currently running every other day and hoping to build a base this winter for more fast running in the spring! I’ll continue to focus on the 5k and 1 mile distances for the next six months, but most important is maintaining a level of fitness in which I avoid injury and keep training!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season:

My children love their mother very very very much.

I am thankful for blue eyes.

I am thankful for ice cream.

I am thankful that life doesn't stand still. It keeps moving forward whether we like it not.

Some friends have expressed worry, so I want to give an update and relieve your curiosity. Linden and I spent the fall looking at real estate, and are currently in the process of buying a house in the southwest hills of Portland.

The "looking for a house" phase was stressful, the "making an offer" phase was frustrating, but the "inspection and negotiation" phase is unbearable. We're fighting colds, sweating details, and trying not to worry about the packing, moving, and selling phases that are coming next.

Despite it all, I have an enduring sense that this is exactly how it is supposed to be. I am feeling thankful for all that we have, and trying to channel inner peace. Flow like water downhill and through a damp basement. Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.

The house isn't a lock yet, by any means. So we've been quiet about it. The picture above is Linden standing at the front door. It looks like home to me.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Running and Being

The late Dr. George Sheehan wrote a little tome called Running and Being. In it, he details a simple philosophy of exercise. "Before we can be good humans," he writes, "we must first be good animals." I've always loved this. Dr. Sheehan was part of the running craze of the 1970's, and ran well into his own advancing age. Running was part of his identity, and it is a part of mine.

I started running during my sophomore year in high school. One spring I got up some nerve, joined the track team, bought a pair of shoes, and by May I was a runner. That was 1991, and I was sixteen years old. I ran a surprisingly brisk 2:02 in the 800m that year, and I was hooked. By my senior year I stretched out for a 4:31 mile and a 1:58 for the 800m.

High school running gave me some sense of balance and buoyancy, so I continued on into college. I ran three years at Lewis & Clark College, through my early 20's. By any account, my best years of running. I had a supportive coach, a great facility, and a light step. 3:59 in the 1500m, 1:56 in the 800m. These were great times, and I will always be proud of them.

Then my post collegiate twenties came along, and my running took a sharp dive. I wrecked a motorcycle, traveled the world, and generally stopped the workouts. I still felt like a runner, but I wasn't running much more than the occasional jog to blow off steam. Moving back to Portland in my later twenties, I found this sport again. I hadn't taken more than a few years away so getting back in shape was relatively easy. I found running friends that kept me motivated, and soon I was back to running for fitness and fun.

The point of this post is that running has been part of my identity for most of my adult life. I've never been particularly motivated, but I love a long run and I love to race. For the past ten years I have been running and racing regularly. I generally get into shape every spring and fall out of shape every winter. I run with the seasons, hating the hot sun and loving the cool rain. I rarely run more than twenty miles in a week. This seems like just enough to keep me healthy without causing any real injury.

And then BAM. Note my last post. This fall has been humbling and motivating. Somewhere in the aging process I began to rely more heavily on some of my bigger muscles at the expense of the smaller ones. I spent the last month doing physical therapy, massage, and stretching. And then yesterday I saw the running lady at my PT office and she did a running assessment. We took video of my stride and talked about my sloppy form. She showed me how my loping, bouncing stride is out of whack. How my footstrike is either too far forward or too far back. And that crossover? Forgetaboutit.

So what am I going to do? Here's the rub: I'm basically pain free. I'm jogging on the indoor track at my gym, and I can putz around on the treadmill, and I can ride the bike, but I DON'T TRUST IT. My injury in October was no fluke, and it happened almost without warning. I need to fix something about my basic stride if I want to keep at this - if I want to run into my own advancing age.

I am attempting to track my progress here on The Daddy Life. I want to transform my stride into what Alberto Salazar has called "the one best way." It may not be the fastest way, or the prettiest, and definitely not the easiest, but humans have been running efficiently for millenia. Anthropologists argue that running allowed us to hunt animals over long range, outperforming prey due to our ability to sweat instead of pant. So running really is built into our human identity. No wonder it feels so good.

I have just begun to take in the large body of literature about this ancient/modern theory of running. There is a whole barefoot movement out there just dying to get me out of my pronation control trainers. I think that's unnecessary, but there are some excellent training tools out there to build muscles, balance, and tone that will prevent my injury from October. First I'll detail the program put in place by my PT, Erika Lewis at the Providence Sports Clinic at Jeld-Wen Stadium. These guys work on the Portland Timbers, so they've got to know what they're doing, right?

Erika the PT gave me three simple changes to remember while I'm building toward my new stride. Three is a good number for me - I'd never remember four.

1) Tuck my pelvis under. Tighten the abs, tighten the butt, and sit over my hips instead of tilting forward. This takes some concentration, but it's not too bad on a flat surface.

2) Strike in the middle of the foot. No more toe prancing or heel striking. I can do both equally well, but mid-foot striking seems to keep me over the center of my body.

3) Slow it down, but increase the cadence. Instead of loping along on the treadmill, Erika had me speed up my rate of footstrike to about 166 per minute, but without changing my speed. This is hard work. It feels more like a running drill than a jog.

Currently I can keep up this new stride for about twenty minutes on the indoor track. I checked myself with my watch, and I can stay pretty close to the 166 strikes per minute pacing. I have to report that this feels awkward, and everything is starting to hurt a little as I find new and unused muscles to abuse. But I'm running and I'm building stability. I'm fascinated to see if I can really do this. I'll give it a try for the next month, and keep tabs on how it goes!

I'm not ready to give up my identity as a runner just yet!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sober October, 2011 edition

“I’m so hip, I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis.”

The time of year has come again for the Daddy Life to lay off the booze for a few short weeks in celebration of my favorite season. We’ve had an action-packed month here at the Life and it’s only half over. We nearly bought a house, the weather turned to shit, and I threw out my hip. Not an auspicious beginning to my favorite month of the year, but I see better things on the foggy horizon.

First, Sober October. I began this tradition one year in an attempt to clear my head and enjoy the crisp fall air, the outdoor exercise, and the general romance that I have with this season. I always seem to find my stride in October. It’s a great time of year to be alive, to suck the marrow out of life. This year has presented few difficulties, other than a few stressful events worth noting below.

We’ve been thinking of moving. And then we started looking at houses. And then we found a house we love. This began a long week of negotiations with the seller about what exactly the house might be worth. This also prompted us to spend a few weeks looking at every conceivable house on the market. This makes for busy times and difficult decisions about our immediate future. Do we sell first, then buy? Can we scrape together enough for the down payment otherwise? Do we really want to move in November and carry two morgages through the holidays? Heady stuff. But then walking into a house that we love, my wife and I look at each other and we think: yeah, this one will work. We can raise the family here. It’s like peering into your own future and liking what you see.

During the first week of the month I managed to raise my running mileage a tiny bit. What I mean by this is that I actually ran three days in a row. None of these days were out of the ordinary, and I was feeling no ill effects apart from a little tightness in the legs. And then BANG. Twenty four hours after my last run I began to develop a heavy limp. And then it got worse. By evening I could barely sit down, and that night I took a shower and went straight to bed.

What ensued was 10 days of decreased mobility, excruciating pain, and several trips to the physical therapist. Getting into the car sometimes took fifteen minutes. Taking care of the kids was not even a question. Linden stayed home from work a few days to manage the household. And then suddenly, over the second weekend, the problem just went away.

I don’t know what happened, but here is my best guess. Two weeks ago today I ran the Fairmount Loop with Jude in the baby jogger. He weighs 42 pounds. We were in a hurry, so I didn’t bother to stretch. In addition, I ran as fast as possible, while steering with just one hand. After the run, we went home and I ran the pressure washer for 2 hours. I think this process exhausted my hip flexor muscle, which decided to quit working. When the hip flexor quits, there are several other muscles that all start making up for the loss. The peraformis, the psoas, the IT band, and other areas in the general ass/hamstring location all start screaming. What I experienced was nothing short of a full mutiny from my lower (some might say better) half. I have received this message loud and clear. They may have given me back the ship, but now I know what happens if I don’t feed the crew. I’m getting older, and I need to remember that!

Having this experience with pain has given me some cause to reflect. There are people who live with this kind of pain every day of their lives. I feel lucky to have my health, my family, and my own safe world to live in. I know it could come crashing down every day, and I shake my head to think of the times I’ve tried to crash it down myself.

Here’s to October! Raise a glass of orange juice to falling leaves, sweet decay, and a little perspective.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back to School, Ring the Bell

The summer has come and gone, and I have failed to post even one passing remark on the Daddy Life. In the way of explanation and apology, I can only say that change is in the air around here. It was harder than summers used to be, for many reasons. The toughest change is that the burden of schedule, structure, and life all fall upon Daddy. I was pretty tired of this feeling when summer crashed over us, but summer isn't always an easier life.

We had travel. We had lazy days to play in the park. We had work around the house, and mornings in the sandbox, and playdates with friends. We had days when Mom was home to drive out to the beach and play in the sand.

And now I'm up on the asscrack of dawn before school, making lunches for my little ones and whistling a little fall tune.

These are my guys on the first day of school, just last week. The picture is a little blurry, but it captures the action. They are happy, healthy, and full of life. They have thrown themselves into our little cooperative pre-school with Cornett enthusiasm.

This also feels like a new beginning for the Daddy. For the first time in a year, I will have both my guys in an organized, reliable setup. What will I do with my 3 whole hours of free time? :)

It feels very different to have my guys settled and happy. I feel like one of those parents I always envied, whose children play happily on the grass after pre-school, come when they call, listen to gentle reminders, and don't need to be carried out of grocery stores screaming bloody murder. They say these things run in cycles, but right now our guys are happy to be back in the fall routine. And the Daddy is happy, too.

On another note, Linden and I are heavily considering a move this fall. It seems like the time is right for a little change it up, selling our West Hills house on a busy street for something close-in-with-a-yard. We're looking at houses this weekend, so we'll just have to see if something feels like home!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Long Winter's Night

Some changes have been underway at the Daddy Life and I have been slow to recognize or define them. I blame the long dark nights of winter. I often clam up during the winter months; there are definite patterns to my neuroses.

Now it is finally summer in Portland (I can tell, because it's raining) and I am completing this reflection and introspection of the past few years all so that I can tell you about my spring.

The past six months have been great for me. I gained a level of competence with the two kids that allowed me to focus back on myself. I wasn't happy, buried in the dad life. So we made some changes. I think they were good changes, and they leave me feeling less like I sold my soul to have these children. Now it just feels like a lease arrangement.

I cut back on my drinking and increased my running. My close friends know that I always have some sort of program to hold down my alcohol consumption. This year I found one that seems to work. At the same time, I laid out a very detailed an very unambitious running plan to get back into shape. By March I was racing again, and in April I won my high school alumni mile. 4:57, baby!

We joined an athletic club. We always had gym memberships, but I got the bug to try to find something else. We live close to downtown, and even closer to a great big granddaddy of Portland institutions, the Multnomah Athletic Club. After my first year home with Jeep, I called one day to ask about joining. There was a lottery. We applied, got in, and then were waitlisted a year. Then it turned out I needed more member references. I found them. And then in February, after much discussion, we joined up.

I recognize that this is not something everyone can afford. I also recognize that the exclusive nature of a club is not for everybody. I don't really know if we are athletic club "people." There are certainly reasons to avoid this world, and as many reasons to embrace it. But here is the crux of the matter. I love it there. I go all the time: early mornings, late evenings, and in between. I put the kids in the childcare, I run on the indoor track, I work out in the gym. I take the classes. I read the paper. I take long showers and stand at the line of sinks in a towel and shave my face. This is exactly what I needed for this year of my life. I just needed a place to go.

Date night and the babysitter. When we joined the club, we also started a once per week babysitter plan. This was intended to give us a night to go downtown, take a yoga class, go for a run, and then shower and get out for dinner. The plan took a few months to get up and running, but now we couldn't be happier with the result. For babysitters, we posted an add on and found two excellent college-age women who have obliged our unique needs and sometimes trying children.

Two on the move. Eventually I had to commit to life with two. We have both planned and unplanned activities, but they are less ambitious than my wild adventure with Jeep. The zoo, the park, and the grocery store are more difficult, but not impossible with two. Now we just get out and go for it. It might be a little less fun than it used to me, but much more fun than sitting at home.

I don't know what the summer holds for us. The future is hazy. Or maybe the future is now. This morning marks the first day of our "summer". Jeep is outside on the back balcony, raising and lowering buckets and dropping stuffed animals. Ada is playing with blocks on the floor. The phone rings. (It just rang.) It's a mom friend, headed to the children's museum. We'll see you there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

This Past Year

We began another school year, another round with the pre-school moms, another late summer of trips to the park and lunches to pack, but this time I had two of them.

Two children, two car seats, two baby carriers, two diaper bags, two of everything. And no days off in a week. At first Ada wouldn't take the bottle, so our days were noisy and our nights were busy.

My mother retired last year to help with the grandbabies, and help she did. Once a week she braved the early morning traffic to arrive on our doorstep and take the baby while I worked my shift day in the pre-school with Jeep.

Oh, the sweet, emasculating stickiness of this entire year. Cheerios ground into the carpet. Milk dumped on the couch. Singing lullabies, changing diapers. Now or in two minutes? Forts in the couch. Kids in the tree. Swaddle 1,2,3. You look into their tiny faces, bright-eyed, laughing and your heart breaks about twenty times a day.

And then sometimes you yell. Occasionally you spank. There are threats, warnings, and negotiations. They go to bed and you drink too much, brood about something intangible. You snore all night and your wife elbows you in the back. You wake up and make coffee and read the paper and don't go for a run.

That's life for awhile, and it seems like it will last forever. But it doesn't. Today is our last day of school before summer. Am I mourning the change of season? I think so.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Two For Flinching

It all happened so fast. (That's such a cliche.) How about this one - where did the time go? It is the busiest and craziest time of my entire life, with plenty of chaos punctuated by emotion and exhaustion.

These two little people made up our entire lives. We took all of Linden's maternity and unpaid leave that summer. It gave us time to build our family culture from the ground up. We did some travel, but some of it was too much for us. We relied on friends and family, but in the end we didn't settle down until Linden returned to work.

I have been very gratified to see the way that my children have taken to each other. From the beginning, Jeep loved his little sister. To this day, Ada follows Jeep around like a lost puppy. I don't know if we helped this relationship, or if it is part of the natural order.

Many things became more complicated with two, but one became simple. Caring for these two was now a full time job. For better or worse, I had fucked my way into job security.
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Monday, May 30, 2011

Toddler Mania

We accomplished the baby year with charm and poise. Well, we survived it at least. Our successes gave us confidence to try our luck for a second baby. The resulting pregnancy was almost immediate. This gave us one year of school for Jeep, one more year of the single carseat, and one year of toddler mania. Life would never be the same.

I recall the toddler year with some fondness. Jeep slept in a crib. We trucked him around on a family adventure or two. As parents we easily swapped time with the boy for something more self-indulgent like yoga class or drinking beer with friends. It was comparatively easy to having two.

I had a close friend who took part of that year off to stay at home with his new daughter. It definitely helps to have some compatriots in the stay-at-home brotherhood.

One of my sweetest memories of that year of our lives came in February. We traveled to Mexico with Linden's family on a beach vacation. Linden's belly was beginning to show, and we spent our days playing around the sand, the pool, and the ping pong table. Jeep was portable enough to make the trip, but not powerful enough to make any real complaints. We stayed in a little cabana room near the beach, complete with hammock and bathroom. It was fun. One morning I asked Jeep if he was ready to go to the beach. I turned my back for a moment, and when I turned again he was GONE. The actual water was about 60 yards away, and Jeep made about half the distance before I caught him.

I remember being wracked with anxiety over this kind of travel and this kind of trip. Was our child too young? Were we being negligent parents? Of course he won't remember climbing Mayan pyramids, so why did we bother? Wouldn't he be happier at home? I remember weighing the risks and not knowing how things would turn out. I see now that this was not Jeep's happiest time. He shed some tears, made a few complaints, and really missed the continuity of a schedule. But I wouldn't trade it. We'll never have another trip quite like Mexico.

Let me say this again. Sometimes we take risks with our children. These are not risks with safety, or car seat straps, or food allergies. I am talking about risking the child's good graces. We work very hard as parents to get the child sleeping, eating, and pooping with predictability. Parents and child all reach a sense of calm and equilibrium. And then sometimes we ask too much of them and it all goes to hell. Looking back, I think the rewards outweighed the risks for many of our toddler year ambitions.

One last word about Jeep's first year of school. He began as a baby. He had just taken his first steps, and charmed everyone with smiles and exuberance. He was also the smallest and youngest kid in his little classroom for one- and two-year-olds. Occasionally this made him a victim. Even in the tiny confines of the young toddler room, the children ordered themselves like a pack of wild puppies. Jeep entered as the beta dog. By the end of the year, he had sprouted to the tallest boy in class. Somewhere in the middle of that year he became more surly, more willful, and more prone to the tantrum. By two years old he was verbal, precocious, demanding, and obsessive in his desires. He was also joyful, thoughtful, loving, and full of life. I do not believe we taught him any of these things. Nature versus Nurture? It seems very obvious to me that the Nature in Jeep's nature was trying to come out.

Next up: Hello, Baby!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Back to School

There are rhythms that push us and move us through the seasons. In earlier times there were plantings and harvests. In my modern life there have always been new beginnings in the fall when school resumed. I loved this kind of fresh start. As a child, a student, and eventually as a teacher, the sense of rebuilding the world after summer vacation gave me a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

The first day of school

Some might argue that my boy didn’t need to go to school. He had just turned one year old! We started Jeep in school because I needed more structure to the crests and troughs of the daddy life. He loved being around other children, and my daddy resources were running a little thin. It turned out to be good for both of us. Despite my far-ranging adventures, I needed more kid activities. I needed colleagues. I needed mom friends. I needed good parent modeling. I got all of this and more.

Jeep needed new friends

We chose a cooperative pre-school, so I worked a shift each week and attended meetings, work parties, and socials throughout the year. This was great for me. It kept me connected to other parents and gave me experience with other children, many of whom were a stage or two older than the Jeep. It gave me a place to go two mornings a week, and (more importantly) it gave me a day off. One morning a week, Jeep was on his own at the pre-school. He was well cared for, and I never worried about him. He never once cried when I left. Jeep is tough like that. He has a lot of him mom in him.

He learned new skills

I often dropped off Jeep and went straight to a nearby golf course. All winter long I played 9 holes at a time, doggedly working on self-improvement and trying to build a handicap. I almost always played alone, walking fast and keeping meticulous scoring. I think I was trying to “get serious” about golf, even as the serious work of my former life was slipping away. I started hitting my driver with force and precision. But the rest of my game went to hell.

He got an early introduction to complex problems

There was another piece of news that shook up the Daddy Life that fall. There was indeed a new beginning, and it had started in Linden’s belly late that summer. Perhaps a bit ahead of schedule, but our Ada has turned out to be an overachiever. We were both elated and a little shocked.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On My Own

Stage Three.

If there was a moment of truth for my new career in daddyhood, it happened the winter when Linden returned to work. Suddenly I was faced with long hours of baby time, and I alone set the schedule. Of course I pursued my own ends doggedly, relentlessly. In the winter it was lunch with friends, storytimes, long hikes, and shared naps. This, with the housework and cooking, left me a little bored. That spring when Jude was weaned, we launched into a new level of adventure.

Jeep was both portable and flexible, a perfect companion for my restlessness. I was lucky to have a few friends around with open schedules, and away we went. By May and June, I was taking the boy on far-ranging road trips like Steens Mountain, Wallowa Lake, and points in between. I bought a big tent and we put the crib right inside. Jeep could sleep anywhere, and I was happy to be in motion. These trips, punctuated by family vacations to New York and Florida, made staying at home feel like a lark. It was like I quit my teaching job, and summer vacation never ended.

Looking back, I can’t believe the audacity of these travels. Before Jeep was one year old, we had crossed the country four times by airplane and the state three times by car. As a 6 month old, I pulled him out of the bike trailer to see a baby alligator. At two months old, we hiked him along Crater Lake in the fading dusk. At thirteen months we spent a night in a sleeping bag together when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees. That whole year we spent talking to him, singing to him, dragging him from place to place.

I could see that there was a point on the horizon when Jeep would need more than my company to keep him engaged and challenged by the world. The smartest thing I did that year happened almost by accident. One morning I ran across a notice for a cooperative pre-school with a classroom for one and two year olds. We visited the open house and registered Jeep for the fall.

Next up, Back to School . . .

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sweep and Change

I won’t pretend that I haven’t been absent for the past several months. Somewhere in between Christmas and Springtime I stopped writing, and never seemed to get it started again. This is actually one of my patterns. I become recalcitrant in winter, chatty in warmer weather. I am positively INSPIRED by autumn. Do dying leaves equate with rebirth for me? It’s just one of my things.

I looked at the Jeep today, standing next to his mother, and he seemed taller. Granted, she was sitting, but he seemed even taller than she. He’s two-and-a-half for gawdssakes. Where did the time go? For a long while I explained the stay-at-home dad “experiment” as something we were trying out. As if maybe things wouldn’t work, so we would go back to “normal”. That is obviously not happening. I think it is time to recognize – this is pretty much as normal as we’ll ever see again. Nonetheless, next month marks three years since I left my job and never looked back.

This blog is an attempt to come to terms with some of the stages of daddyhood. The Daddy Life has taken on many forms over the past three years, and I need to honor them. I am always working to become the man I want to be, and that means being honest with myself about my successes and failures along the way. If I had any readers, then I would love for them to learn something from my experience.


The summer of 2008 was a great summer. I played a lot of golf. I remodeled the nursery. Then we had a baby. Up until Jeep came along, I laughed and played and chased my tail. I was a passable birthing partner and a poor husband. Then the world changed forever that evening when the sun went down on our hospital room.


Jeep came into the world with only minimal help from Dad, but I stepped it up right away. I remember the first little cries that came from my boy late in the night of his birth. We had slept a few hours and Linden was in no shape to respond, so I rose to the call and changed my first diaper. The first of thousands.

Linden had a long maternity leave while we built our partnership and figured out our family. We also had a number of guests, family, and friends who provided a lot of help. This gave me a freedom from responsibility that I generally enjoyed. We both built confidence in our parenting skills. My wife dealt with some intense post-partum depression that fall, and I generally hung in there and tried not to complain about the changes in my life. Of course I loved my boy more than anything, so I focused my energies on him. I give myself high marks for fatherhood during this period, but there were two of us raising one child, so we still had him outnumbered. I began playing guitar during this time, and we took several trips together as a family. I also took over all the cooking in the household. These were minor, but necessary changes to my lifestyle and identity.

I was certainly a useful part of the parenting team, but of course I wasn't nursing the baby. At times I felt like I lacked purpose. We were all ready for some change when Linden returned to work after the holidays. Jeep was around 4 months old.

To be continued . . .

Friday, April 29, 2011

For My Little Girl On Her First Birthday!

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Ada, I write this letter to you for your one year birthday.

I feel no sadness over the passing of your year of infancy. I feel no longing for our quiet midnights, alone together with a bottle of milk. I feel no loss over the all-too-quick growth of my baby daughter from infant to person. In place of loss I feel TRIUMPH! As if you could hear a band of angels singing for your birthday. This is what happens when you raise a child. You came leaping out of your mother’s belly and into your father’s arms. Actually the doctor caught you, and just in time. But I cut your umbilical cord and we wrapped you up and took care of you and gave you all the right milk and foods and love and look what you’ve become! You are dazzling. Nini calls you Sparkles. You are a wonder.

We have a special relationship. I can catch your eye in a crowded room and make you smile, every time. We sometimes play this silly game that involves blinking both eyes for slightly longer than normal, back and forth. You make a kissing sound on command and love to bite your blankets or stuffed animals in kind of an affectionate chomp. You sometimes talk in clicks, sing songs, swing your arms in pantomime, and you love to dance. You took your first steps at your own birthday party, and now we go for “daddy walks” and I hold your little hand in mine.

You stand and sit, crawl, and grab. You push buttons and say words. We have long conversations that mostly consist of words like OUT (Let me out), HUTCH (I think this means hello), UNTZ (I wants it!), BYE BYE (also means hello and is accompanied by cute waving), OUCH (pretty obvious), and AY-DO (this seems to be some kind of happy singing).

You can climb up the stairs, but not down. You love to pull down all the kitchen towels. You are fascinated by the rolling racks on the dishwasher. You are also fond of the remote control, books with flaps, and dirt. I am really enjoying the one-year-old Ada. It is a great pleasure to be your DAT! (Daddy).

Birds sing! It is spring. Perhaps for you this will be a time of year for reflection, regrouping, and reconnoitering the path of your life as you begin another circle around the sun. You are blooming, my dear, like a little flower in front of us. This is the kind of wonder that makes us catch our breath, hold it in, and marvel.

Jude was a wonder, but not that kind of wonder. Now he is more of a weather system. Hurricane Judey. His one year celebration was more about OUR celebration. We reveled in the fact that we had become actual parents, competent parents that could love and care for a child. We were so confident that now there are two of you, both healthy and happy. Your mother and I made that decision to bring you into our family long before we knew that you would be you. And we’ve never looked back.

And now your birthday has come and gone, and the party was lovely. And suddenly you are one.

You were a charming baby, the whole year long. In the wake of Jude’s weather systems you are patient and kind. You are curious and forgiving. You love to be held, but are happy to be on your own. We work hard to keep you safe from the toddler antics, but it isn’t always easy. Jude swings swords and hangers. He throws things, chases you, tackles you, tickles you. This is the strangest part – you seem to love each other and are happiest in the same room together.

It is only in watching the two of you, even at this young age, that I understand the secret purpose of having two children. You will have each other now, for your whole lives. Your mother and I will do our best to give you everything you need to grow up wholesome and healthy and supported and challenged. But you and your brother will always share something that we can’t provide. You will need each other, you will always know each other best, and you will be bound together with the secret language of siblings.

Happy Birthday! I can tell you truly that is a joy to have you as part of our family. You receive a 1/4th share in all of Cornett stock are you are henceforth expected to be present for all board meetings.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Day in the Life

Or maybe I should call this post "Daddy Skills".

Wrangling my two children in the morning is not easy. Every day I work on my systems, sharpen my tools, and take one step closer to Daddy Nirvana. But there is just no way to anticipate the curveballs.

Today was no exception. I woke up on top of my game with a full night's sleep and even (gasp) had time for a shower. We fed and watered the children, then set out for school. Today Jeep has school at our parent co-op, and the Little Lady comes with me to do the grocery shopping.

Jeep has been some trouble lately when it comes to transitions to the car. To make things easier I go in phases, alerting him to my movements. First I make his lunch and collect the assorted bags and sundries needed for the mission at hand. These get staged in the living room throughout the morning, while other chaos is underway. Eventually I dress the baby for the weather and move all bags to the car. On cold mornings the auto is warmed briefly ahead of departure. I collect my own belongings, get dressed, and eventually move the baby to the warmed car in the driveway. Jeep usually takes this cue that his time to stall has run short. I return to the house, collect the toddler by any means necessary, and we're off.

It didn't go quite that well today, so I can see in hindsight how I forgot Jeep's lunch on the counter. I remembered half way to school and we returned for a quick pickup. Back to school, the off to the grocery. By this time my baby girl is getting peckish, but we dash through the store and back outside. At that point I discovered that I had forgotten hot water for the baby bottle. Damn.

No problem! I shoot through a nearby espresso stand, procure hot water, and grab myself a 12 ounce americano for my trouble. A little extra coffee never hurts, right? The 12 ounce part of the story is important later.

It was a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, but I elected to take our morning and visit a local toy store I had heard about. I wasn't after much in particular, but the sheer pleasure of visiting a toy store WITHOUT my toddler made the trip worthwhile. In the back of my mind I was planning a short hike or walk with the baby. It was a cold and bright January day, so I loaded the Lady back into the car and set out to find a park or trail or something.

There was an hour to kill before school was out, but
I had another problem. I had to pee. I was driving around Southwest Portland, my baby was crying, and I had to pee. I cruised through a local park in search of handy rest rooms, but all I could find were porta-potties. Should you leave a crying baby in the car when nature calls, or wear her in a carrier and jam myself into the one room plastic potty booth? The ideal situation would have been to take a hike in the woods (baby in the carrier) and find an unobtrusive, wooded location.

The NEXT thing that happened could have been anticipated. In short, the baby fell asleep. We had a late start, made a few stops, she was a little fussy and then WHAM. Silence from the back seat. Now I was sitting in the car, I had to pee, the baby was asleep. Damn you, 12 ounce americano.

I parked at one of the many local parks in Portland. There were people around, mostly walking dogs on this cold day. There was a porta-potty in view, but still about a hundred yards away. Now listen up, dummies. I can tell what you're thinking. You don't leave a baby in a car, and you DON'T wake a sleeping baby. Rules number 2 and 7, respectively.

Now here it comes: the crux of the story. This is what separates the men from the boys of Daddy Living. You've got to be able to put yourself out there, take risks, anticipate impediments, develop resources, etc. You're the DAD, for gawds sakes. Figure something out or something.

Warning! If you are a female reader, if one or two of my seven readers out there happens to be female, you might find this post alarming. Keep reading, at your own risk. Maybe you were starting to like me, just a little. Well, forget about that.

I expanded on one of my Daddy Skills. I checked the mirrors, cased the parking lot, hoped the coast was clear, and then I went for it. Do you remember? There was an empty coffee cup sitting on the dashboard. I unzipped, prepared the vessel, and let it go into the empty cup.
I'm a genius! I'm thinking to myself. And then a terrible thing happened. You can probably guess. I had to pee more than 12 ounces.

There was some yelling. There was some cursing. There was a quick dump out of the door and then the task was done. I dumped the rest out and then surveyed the damages. Ideally, I would have like to dump it in the grass with the dog pee, but that's just how things go sometimes.

Also, I got a lot on my pants. You're welcome, daughter. She slept for twenty more minutes, while I tried to dry out my crotch with the heater vents. Just another day at the park.

I'm still asking myself, would it have been any better with the 16 ounce?

Friday, January 21, 2011

January Anxiety

Something about the middle of winter gets me thinking about my anxieties as a parent.

I have been thinking about my children: their futures, opportunities, and the best way to raise them to become good people. One minute you're sitting in the hospital, weathering the storms of labor, and when the baby is born healthy you feel nothing but gratitude for your good fortune. The euphoria of childbirth, the sleeplessness of infancy, and the sheer exhaustion of parenting keep the big thoughts out of sight for a few years and then suddenly it is January and the dark thoughts and the worries return.

I spend every day with these children, doing my best to meet all of our needs and help them grow along in their own time. But an idea has been creeping into my head. A wonderful, awful idea. My wife and I are going to raise these children into the moral and intellectual people they will become. I am responsible for their childhoods. And then after twenty years of hard work, guidance, and parenting, they will go on to screw up their own lives, on their own time. And only after those twenty years, forty years, sixty years, will I be able to say "yeah, they turned out all right."

I find this mortifying.

"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has be be us."
- Jerry Garcia

At least they're cute. Thanks, Chippy, for the photo!