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 . . .