On Mother’s Day, my good friend Greg became a father. In honor of this auspicious occasion–and because I’m really good at unsolicited advice–I’ve decided to dispense five morsels of parenting wisdom to him (and all the other freshman dads out there). I hope you’re ready, Greg, ‘cause I’m about to make you the best dad in the universe…except for Danny Tanner. He’s got us all beat pretty hard.
1.) Babies love music and they’re not very discerning when it comes to quality. Take this opportunity to lull your newborn to sleep with a heartfelt rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”…on trombone. Don’t be surprised if, much like a Michael Jackson fan, your baby begins to weep hysterically as you execute some righteous glissandos. You really are that good.
2.) Babies are thrill seekers. Your wee one just spent nine months cooped up in a hot, squishy sack; it’s time for her to experience the world. And there’s no better way to do that than to strap her to the top of your car and cruise the block. The wind in her face will inspire her to take flight in all her endeavors (or something like that). A note of caution here. Your baby’s eyesight is a little murky for the first few weeks. Be sure to yell “duck!” as you pass under low hanging branches.
3.) Women were born to be mothers, don’t deprive your baby’s mama of any opportunity to embrace her domestic goddess. Let her return to cooking all the meals and cleaning all the rooms as soon as possible. You may feel the urge to help, but resist this temptation. It will diminish her role as the household nurturer. And if there’s one thing you NEVER want to do, it’s insinuate a new mom is incapable of performing her basic motherly duties.
4.) Late nights are inevitable. With all the baby stuff you have to do now, playing video games during the day will be nigh impossible. Luckily, gamers are creatures of the night, so that’s awesome. And more good news: research indicates that babies learn an absolute shit ton during their first few months on planet Earth. So if you hear baby crying from her nursery, she’s probably asking you to turn up the volume so she can better understand the nuances of modern warfare. Oblige away, Professor.
5.) Believe you’re the best. I’m going to get real with you for a second, the first six weeks are the hardest. You’re going to experience a range of emotions and tap into wells of exhaustion so deep you’ll beg for naps. Don’t give in. New parents establish their superiority over one another by rhapsodizing over restless nights. When it’s your turn at the one-up roundtable, you’ll be ready to trounce all the sleep deprivation stories with a true insomniac’s tale of woe.
Perhaps the best only piece of advice I should give you–hold tight to your sense of humor. Being a dad is an awesome experience–and Greg, I know you’re going to be one of the best–but it will be trying at times. When the shit hits the fan, turn it off and move it away from the changing table. Clean up, give cuddles, save the story for a toast on her wedding day.
All the best to you, your wife, and your newest addition.
On Easter Sunday, my five-month-old twins were baptized in the Catholic Church. This is a big deal for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact I basically consecrated them to a god I’m not even sure exists. And yet, despite my skepticism, I have no regrets.
I haven’t always been incredulous of Christianity, mind you. Quite the opposite. As an adolescent, I was a Bible thumper. I never would have called myself that at the time; naturally, I considered it a pejorative. And while in retrospect I still do, I understand how painfully accurate a description it was. I was a hand waving, prostrate praying, praise and worship junkie. I had been called into the ministry, served as the leader for our Youth Drama Team, and was well known among a church membership numbering over 2,000.
My memories of those days dwell in a menagerie of affection and chagrin. I imagine that’s true for a lot of folks who grew up in similar ecclesial communities. Charismatic churches with rock bands and weekly altar calls can be emotional playgrounds for the faithful. But when one falls off the monkey bars, it’s a long way down.
Doubt is a curious thing, isn’t it? It can be beaten back, but it can never be fully stamped out. Some Christians will tell you a modicum of doubt is a healthy part of faith. And I’d agree. A faith untested is a weak faith indeed, but doubt is also like a cancer. I hate to use that analogy because it unfairly maligns doubt as something destructive. Perhaps it is; it certainly felt that way for me as a senior in high school when I began doubting certain doctrines of my church–mostly the miraculous magical bits. I endeavored to reason these doubts away. But fighting doubt with reason, I found, is like putting out a fire with matches.
It wasn’t long before I left for college. And the more I learned there, the less I felt like I knew God. Within a couple of years, he had gone from being an omniscient father with whom I had daily conversations, to a vestige of man’s early understanding of the universe.
I remember sitting in an anthropology class one morning as a junior. The professor, an eclectic woman by any measure and a perennial favorite among the student body, was discussing the role of folklore and mythology in shaping world religions. In the middle of her lecture, she paused, disconnected from the material, and quietly observed: “I don’t know how anyone could be a student of anthropology and still have uncompromising faith in their own religion.” It wasn’t meant to disparage the churchgoing students in the room; I don’t even think it was meant for anyone other than her. But it meant a lot to me, and it still does.
I wish I had the faith I did at 16, but my head won’t get out of my heart’s way. I suspect that’s probably for the best. So why then submit my children to a belief system that I find mostly unbelievable? The answer is simple, a modicum of faith is a healthy part of doubt.
Just as I could never be a fundamentalist Christian, I could never occupy the opposite end of that spectrum either; I find atheism and Christian fundamentalism equally arrogant. While one ideology professes to know the true nature of God, the other professes to know that God has no nature at all. Both require an astounding leap of faith to traverse the gap between what is actually known and what isn’t. As I see it, the best thinkers are the ones who never stop questioning–who can’t stop, because of a niggling notion that there’s always something more to be known.
I hope my children recognize faith and doubt each as positive expressions of the human condition, and that neither are mutually exclusive. In order to do that, I have to allow them the opportunity to explore teachings with which I may not wholly agree. One day, Greyson and Charlotte will be old enough to form their own beliefs, but until then, it’s my job to read them the menu. It’s why Ashley and I deliberately chose four godparents who represent differing religious perspectives; only one is a practicing Catholic.
Eventually, our spiritual horizons may broaden. Maybe we’ll visit mosques, synagogues, and temples. But that’s some years down the road. There’s a fine line between raising critical thinkers and confusing young children. I want them to experience the faith of a child, to understand how powerful it can be. But I want them to learn discernment as they grow into young adults.
I think Paul the Apostle said it best in his letter to the church at Corinth. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." The Corinthian Christians didn’t accept the resurrection story nor did they believe in the symbolic sacrifice of the crucifixion. In context, Paul’s counsel was meant to encourage them to grow stronger in their faith…to be less childlike in their pursuit of Christ. However, out of context, the irony is exquisite (and equally valid).
If my children grow up to be keepers of a faith, I hope it’s a faith mitigated by doubt. If my children grow up to be disciples of doubt, I hope it’s a doubt tempered by faith. But my greatest hope is that whatever their beliefs, they aren’t handed down by someone else–including me.
It’s 1:01 a.m. when my iPhone lights up the bedroom to let me know some asshole wants to text in the middle of the night. It turns out the asshole is our nanny’s husband. He’s texting to let me know Joan has succumbed to an inimical stomach bug and won’t be able to watch the babies that day.
Like many stomach bugs, this one’s getting around pretty quickly, kind of like the viral equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain. Two hours after I get the text, I’m doubled over the toilet alternating between bouts of diarrhea and vomit. I can’t shake it. It’s the least awesome I’ve felt in years, like there’s a wet towel lodged in my gut and I’m wringing it out with every heave.
I check in with Ashley. She’s not feeling particularly well either, but as the only one of us who hasn’t knelt before the porcelain thrown, she’s our last and only hope to care for the babies. She’s also our most expensive. Due to America’s egregious maternity leave standards, Ashley had to use all of her vacation days, all of her sick days, and then borrow from the sick bank to stay with our babies during their first three months. So now, for a substitute teacher to cover her classes for a day, Ashley will have $200 docked from her paycheck.
For that amount, I figure I can suck it up and play Super Dad for a few hours. But when I go to fix the 6:00 a.m. bottles, I end up nursing a Diet Sprite on the kitchen floor instead. As much as I hate to have her do it, Ashley makes the call and requests a sub. I waddle (defeated) back to bed.
When you have twin babies, $200 means a lot. It’s over 1,000 diapers; 2,000 ounces of formula; or 11,000 wipes. It’s also one day home with two babies and a sick husband. I’d say the potential for buyer’s remorse is pretty high, but we won’t know for sure until the end of the month.
When performers want to elevate themselves above their critics, they need only go on the record with one sentence: “I don’t read the reviews.” It’s a lie, but it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the fact they aren’t universally treasured.
One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I gave my son his first giggles. He gave me five stars, two thumbs up, and generated a good deal of buzz about me around the house. I was sure his twin sister would be equally enamored by my performance. She was not.
Here’s a list of people who have made Charlotte giggle: her mother, her grandmother, her aunt. Notably absent is her convivial father who’s been known to turn many a giggle box upside down with his irreverent and unfiltered, self-deprecating humor.
I’ve got a couple of theories on this. Either A.) my daughter is an ardent sexist who finds men mostly intolerable, or B.) she has no taste. Now look, I’m not saying these three women aren’t entertaining in their own right…but c'mon…I’m her dad. I invented the “insert feet in mouth, get giggles” routine.
It’s as if Armond White and my daughter share the same contrariant soul–bitterly hating on all things wondrous and universally admired while venerating mediocrity. (Armond White is the infamous New York Press film critic who robbed Toy Story 3 of its 100% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes while giving thumbs up to films like Mr. 3000, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and Battle: Los Angeles.) It’d be fine, but I recently discovered that my four-month-old daughter is a published entertainment critic herself. Here’s an excerpt from her latest column:
It’s clear from the overstated smile Daddy flashes in our presence that he wants us to find him amusing. But it’s this same toothy grin that makes us find him mildly irritating. Perhaps if he spent more time making “NOMNOMNOM” sounds on our tummies instead of begging us for giggles like an out-of-work comedian, we’d find his routine a bit more droll. As it is now, he lacks the je ne sais quo we’ve grown to appreciate from more adept grownups like Mommy, Maw-Maw, and Aunt Kayla.
I have a stack of parenting literature–each book with a pristine spine–gathering dust on my bookshelf. So don’t think the irony is lost on me when I say: “Holy crap! I’m officially a blogger for WhatToExpect.com, the companion site to the most commonly read pregnancy guide in the world. GR*TEST DAY EVA!1”
For my first foray into the professional blogosphere, I’ve decided to write about my living room being annexed by the nursery. It’s a moving narrative about a man, his loveseat, and the two tiny despots who threatened to tear them apart. Click the link above to read the account then share the living hell out of it.
The typewriter was invented in the mid-19th century, but hobbled by a design flaw that caused the machine to jam when two adjacent keys were struck back-to-back. The fix was to separate commonly paired letters so that speedy typists wouldn’t trigger a lockup. T and H were strategically repositioned as were I and N, and E and R. It’s why we have the QWERTY keyboard today despite its obsolescent layout. What was once a workaround is now the preference.
I know this is a strange way to say it, but I’m a QWERTY dad.
My father broke his neck in a diving accident when I was eight years old, and from that moment on, all the hugs we could have hoped to share were lost. He couldn’t move from the shoulders down and could only feel from the chest up.
Life was a constant exercise in patience. He spent a lot of time in a hospital bed, propped up by pillows, just waiting. He was waiting to fall asleep, waiting for his nurses, waiting for pressure sores to heal. Just waiting. There wasn’t much room, but as a kid, I would climb in that narrow bed next to him, lay my head on his chest, and wait too.
I can’t imagine how badly he wanted to wrap his arms around me. I can’t imagine because every time I see my boy, it’s the first thing I want to do. But my father didn’t forfeit his affections. With all the effort he could muster, my dad would delicately brush his face against my hair, doing the work his fingers were meant to do.
I never really gave it a lot of thought until a few days ago when it occurred to me that I’ve been doing the same thing with Greyson and Charlotte. Whenever I have one of them on my lap, I’ll brush my cheek, my lips, or my chin through their hair, occasionally dropping a kiss at their forehead. It’s as close to putting them in my heart as I can manage.
I’m sure I’m not the only dad who does this. But I like the narrative. I like the idea that my father could only feel me when he touched me with his face, but now–as a father myself–all I want to do is put my face against my babies and breathe. What was once a workaround is now the preference.
Fatherhood is never letting the stories you tell on your babies get tainted by half-truths.
When Ashley gets home from work, she usually spends a few minutes with Joan, our nanny, to swap stories on the twins. It’s pretty mundane stuff that comes across less like anecdotes and more like game stats: FED% (number of ounces consumed divided by the number offered); MIC (minutes in crib); TF (technical foul–the number of times a baby pooped or peed on the supervising adult).
That being said, sometimes the stories are comic gold. A couple days ago, Ashley shared the following nugget with Joan:
“It was so funny last night. I was wiping Greyson’s bottom and he giggled. And I said, ‘Whaaaaat?!’ So I wiped again and he giggled again. It was really cute.”
It’s not a funny story; it’s only kind of cute. There are episodes of Full House that would seem raunchy by comparison, yet Joan was in stitches. Perhaps she was laughing politely and just oversold her amusement. At least that’s what I would’ve assumed if I didn’t know the truth.
She wasn’t laughing at Ashley’s story so much as she was her watered down retelling of it. You see, Joan had already gotten the actual account that morning…from me:
“So, I’m in the kitchen fixing some bottles last night, and I hear Ashley call out from the nursery–totally deadpan, 'Well, I found your son’s new ticklish spot.’
My wife stands in the kitchen wearing only a nursing bra and her underwear. We’ve become masters of expediency. Everything that used to take 20 minutes, we now get done in under 10. Her eyelids drop delicately over her eyes as she exhales through parted lips. I wish I could tell you this is going exactly where you think it is, but I can’t. This story doesn’t end between the sheets. It ends by the refrigerator, right where it started, in tears.
Ashley is one of those rare finds. She’s the love of my life, literally. We started dating when we were just 15. She’s intelligent, sexy, assiduous, empathetic, and the most stubbornly dedicated woman in any room–still, she isn’t perfect. At least she doesn’t think she is.
And tonight, she lets it be known.
She’s tired. She wakes up at 5:45 every morning, takes a shower, and helps feed the babies before getting dressed. She’s in the car by 7:00, pumping on her 40-minute commute to work where she teaches eighth grade literacy. She sees 150 kids, pumps during her planning, attends meetings (ranging from constructive to–more often than not–utterly pointless), then gets back in her car at 4:00 to pump on the drive home. From 5:00 to 9:00, she’s Mommy, which is both fulfilling and overwhelming. She pumps once the babies go to bed, but is up again at 1:00 in the morning to eek out every precious drop. In four hours, she’s doing it all over again.
Like I said, we’ve become masters of expediency. It takes no time at all to get to the heart of the matter. She doesn’t use many words, and she doesn’t need to. “I’m just so tired” is all she has to say, and she says it again, and again, and again. Sometimes, like this night, it takes the sound of Ashley’s heart breaking for me to hear her.
I know being a father is a lot of work, but–if her sobs are any indication–I have to wonder if it will ever compare to the exquisite burden of being a mother.
Fatherhood is discussing the wife's baby weight with sensitivity, or barring that, ruthless and bumbling candor.
Ashley crawls in bed and kisses me goodnight. I affectionately rub her thigh.
I like the way your body feels.
Well, don't get too used to it. It'll be hard as a rock soon.
I'm looking forward to it!
That came out wrong. I thought about saying it was okay if you stayed soft forever, but that seemed to imply I didn't believe you could lose the weight. Also that you were fat. So, I said "I'm looking forward to it" as a vote of confidence that you could, in fact, tone up. But that sounds like I think you need to, which I don't. You can stay fluffy forever and I'll still love you. Hey, what should I do with this shovel when I'm done with it?
Fatherhood is being glad Child Services isn't around to scrutinize your parental negligence.
You can strike my name from the “Father of the Year” ballot; I burned a baby last night. Now to be fair, she did it to herself. I just sat back and watched with nary a fuck given until it was too late. Here’s how the whole thing went down.
I fill the kitchen sink-mounted tub for bath time and top it off with a shot of hot water. Charlotte eases in and splashes a bit but is soon enamored by the faucet hanging overhead–a high arched, nickel finished spout. Naturally, she reaches for it. I know the faucet is probably still hot, that I should redirect her grasp, but for some reason I zone out and wonder how hot it actually is.
Charlotte has the answer. She says it’s too damn hot and that the world is at an end thanks to my careless parenting. Fortunately, her mother rushes into the kitchen (breast at the ready) and whisks Charlotte into her arms. It gives me a moment to reflect on the last 30 seconds of my life as Dad. “My daughter is right,” I tell myself. “I’m an idiot. I should have acted quicker, or better yet, not put her in harm’s way to begin with.”
She’s fine now, of course. All’s forgiven and forgotten–hot water under the bridge. But, I’m already mulling over how she’ll get hurt next. Perhaps she’ll provoke the cat or lick an electrical outlet. Who knows. There are thousands of ways she might hurt herself under my watch. But, I can’t let it get to me every time. Not because I won’t care, mind you, but because boo-boos happen…regardless of fault.
Also, I may have promised her a pony to make amends last night. That’s not a sustainable practice.
Fatherhood is cuddling with my daughter and suddenly hating every other man she'll ever cuddle who isn't me.
It’s been very difficult these last three months to not refer to Greyson as “the easy one.” It implies that Charlotte is the hard one, or as I might have called her a time or two or twenty–the bitch. (Relax! Her grandmother hates the sobriquet more than you ever will.)
But last night–to my astonishment–she folded her arms on my shoulder, nuzzled my neck, and cooed herself to sleep. My heart was stolen in an instant. Then love turned to fear. Fear led to jealousy. And jealousy led to hate–hate for every other man she would ever cuddle who wasn’t me. It was a senseless train of thought at best and a path to the dark side at worst.
So, instead of dwelling on my infant daughter’s future love life, I made her a silent promise. I promised that the day any one of those boys broke her heart, she needn’t worry about stealing mine anymore. It would already be hers to have for as long as she needed.
Fatherhood is facing the inevitable first night out without babies.
Oh my god, they’re so angry. How can two tiny angels be so full of rage? Charlotte is red, no, she’s crimson with the faintest hints of purple around her lips. Her brother is slightly less pissed, but slightly more distraught. He sends out staccato cries: “Wha! (Gasp.) Wha! (Gasp.) Whaaaa!” It would be adorable if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. They’re tired. They’ve had a long night, and it’s all our fault.
Only an hour earlier, we pull into the babysitter’s driveway. We’re stuffed–me with cheeseburger and wine, Ashley with prime rib. We open our car doors and step out into night, which has grown darker and colder than when we left the babies. Inside the house, a former professor of mine and his wife are holding two exhausted children. Somehow, they all survived the last two and a half hours. He says the babies were a little fussy, but I suspect this is a gross misrepresentation of the hell on Earth these two must have wrought. We begin to load them up as Matthew, my professor, tells me, “We’d love to do this again some time.” Matthew is fucking crazy a wonderful man. I tell him next time I’ll pay him. He reminds me that he’s not 13. “Fine then,” I say. “The next time you watch them, they’ll come with a complimentary bottle of wine to take the edge off.” A nod confirms this gentlemen’s agreement.
Across the table from me and Ashley are our dates, if you will. We’re sharing our first night out post parenthood with two similarly minted parents. This evening has been in the planning since the babies' first outing to Wal-Mart. As we were checking out, the woman behind us mentioned she had twin girls. And they were only about a month older than our twins. And she and her husband were new in town. And they were only a little older than us. And the stars had aligned; we were making our first “parent friends.” Email addresses were exchanged and dinner was projected for some time in the near future.
It takes nine weeks for our schedules to match up, for our babysitters to be available, for all four of us to be off work. Ashley and I are nervous as we wait for them to arrive. Will they like us? Will we like them? Please let this work! And then they walk through the door of the restaurant. You can’t miss them even if you try; they’re Greek gods who’ve just sauntered off the cover of Vogue. He’s 6'4", dark complected, and tapered at the waist. She’s 5'11"; long blonde hair, and has perfect cheek bones. Together, they could be the most attractive couple we’ve ever seen. And as the conversation unfolds over the next two hours, we discover that they’re among the nicest people we’ve ever met as well. We take the next step and exchange phone numbers so that we can do this again. Perhaps next time we’ll do a play date for our twins and their’s–four little ones.
But it all comes down to this–we’re leaving the babies with someone new for the first time…ever. Charlotte is crying. Greyson seems somewhat copacetic to the arrangement. Matthew, our babysitter for the next two and a half hours, is strikingly confident. He’s built a fire for the evening, and the scent of crackling wood hangs in the air of his home. Perhaps this is why Charlotte is so upset–the new smell. Perhaps it’s that she knows we’re going to leave her with people she barely knows. But we can’t mull over her cries for long; it’s time to go. It’s almost 6:25, and we’re meeting our dates at the restaurant in five minutes. I take Ashley’s hand and gently lead her back to the car. She’s a little nervous, a little sad, but holding together admirably.
We can’t be with these babies always, though we may want to be. Though, we may feel like we need to be. We can only hope they won’t be too mad that we’ve chosen to leave. That they don’t forget we love them while we’re gone. That at the end of the night, after the cries have given way to golden slumbers, they will somehow realize that it was just as hard for us. And that finally, when they wake up in the morning, we’ll all be together again.
Fatherhood is taking full advantage of any opportunity to be a bachelor again.
Last week, my wife announced that in observance of Valentine’s Day and all my good efforts at not dropping the babies, I was to receive three nights of bachelorhood. She and the twins were headed to stay with her parents and the house would be all mine…to do with whatever I pleased.
There were only two conditions: 1.) I had to get some much needed sleep and 2.) I had to clean the bathrooms. I only did one of those things.
Three nights without babies sounded like an eternity when I was making plans, but time got away from me quickly. I redesigned the blog, caught up on work at the office, devoted an embarrassing number of hours to Temple Run, had dinner with some co-workers, cut my hair, traveled 45 minutes upstate to have sushi with an old friend, completed a Netflix marathon of 30 Rock. The list goes on, and on, and on.
And, really, who could blame me? For three months, I’ve been at the beck and call of two tiny people–two tiny people who’ve been two huge assholes. They’ve been impatient, temperamental, and undeniably selfish. One of them (and I’m not naming names) has even peed on me…thrice. So you can understand my wanting to take full advantage of my time off–to not do something I didn’t have to do–even if my wife specifically requested that I do it. Right?
In my defense, I was also battling a crippling case of the “lonelies.” After three months of fatherhood, I missed my life without children immensely. After three days of bachelorhood, I missed my life as a dad even more. This wasn’t totally unexpected, mind you. I prepared for just such a situation by recording videos of the babies before they left, and (as planned) I watched and re-watched them several times in their absence. Yes, Greyson and Charlotte are tiny people and huge assholes, but they’re somehow profoundly endearing as well.
So, I wanted to do something I knew they (and my wife) would appreciate: I cleaned the kitchen, the bedrooms, the living room…and the bathrooms. I even did all the laundry. I cleaned until around 2:00 or 3:00 each morning. So by the time they returned Thursday afternoon, the house was impeccable and I was exhausted. I barely slept a wink the whole time they were gone.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, Why did it take this guy so long to clean his house? Did he really have to be up so late? Good questions. Answer: I’m a firm believer in having one’s cake and eating it too; real bachelors don’t clean house when there’s fun to be had. The truth is, I never once got my hands dirty before midnight. Those Temple Run coins weren’t going to collect themselves.
I don’t care if his first word is “mommy,” if he doesn’t cry for me when he falls, or if he forgets to thank me in his Academy Award acceptance speech. I got Greyson’s first giggle; and that, dear readers, is a very precious sound. It was pure magic, in fact. I couldn’t be more elated if I discovered a unicorn in my backyard…selling ice cream…for free. Seriously, I’m over the moon. My son laughed for the first time Sunday, and he laughed at me–his daddy.
Perhaps I’m getting a bit overexcited. After all, it wasn’t like I told a clever joke or flawlessly executed Donald O'Connor’s "Make ‘Em Laugh" routine from Singin’ in the Rain. I simply grabbed his feet and did what any well intentioned dad would do. I put 'em in his mouth.
This is very base comedy. On the spectrum of Adam Sandler to George Carlin, I phoned it in at about a 'Larry the Cable Guy.’ (That’s about two notches below a Sandler, for those trying to follow the metaphor.) And it can’t last forever. In no time at all he’ll cringe when I make an attempt at humor. His feet will no longer amuse him and he’ll have grown tired of silly noises and slapstick. My stories will be little more than embarrassing memories he’ll wish I’d forget.
But for a brief moment–one nestled in my heart forever–I was the funniest guy he knew. I was the fool made king for a day.
Fatherhood is reining in the developmental comparisons.
Reading parenting blogs before I was a parent was so much easier. I really had no frame of reference. Babies should be smiling socially at 6 weeks? Awesome. Now, I read the same thing and I’m reviewing my mental calendar: Wait, when did Greyson and Charlotte start smiling? 7 weeks? Ah, crap. My kids are total dunces.
It literally takes something that insignificant for me to enter parental panic mode. I, of course, perpetuate this anxiety by taking note of every baby I see, projecting an age on it, and then making a scientifically unsound and completely irrelevant comparison to my wee ones.
Perfect example: a couple nights ago, we decided to watch Baby’s Day Out on Netflix. For those who haven’t managed to catch this cinematic masterpiece, the plot is essentially Home Alone 2: Lost in New York with a third henchman, a baby, and insufferable direction by Patrick Read Johnson.
Film criticism aside, I still managed to get something out of the film–a completely unrealistic developmental benchmark for my twins. Baby Bink, the laughably nicknamed protagonist of the film, manages to thwart three kidnappers time and again whilst gallivanting through the big city in the exact manner described in his favorite book…Baby’s Day Out. This kid ostensibly understands physics, zoology, and New York’s public transit system…all before he can walk.
Now, any sensible father wouldn’t think anything of it, but all I could do was quietly stew in disbelief. There’s no way Greyson or Charlotte could ever be that clever before their first birthday. Hell, I’m 26 and I can barely get on any subway without inadvertently adding 30 minutes to my commute. And yet, disbelief notwithstanding, I was irrationally glum over this comparison.
Eventually, the credits rolled and Greyson began to fuss for his bedtime bottle. I took a breath and tried to gain some perspective. Sure, my babies couldn’t possibly perform the amazing and completely outlandish feats of Baby Bink…no baby could (right?). But given the opportunity, I’d wager they could direct a better film than Mr. Johnson next week. Booyah!
One of the best ways to set the Internet ablaze in a comment conflagration of rhetoric and emotion is to share your thoughts on religion. For the time being then, let me politely submit that I am a doubting Baptist and my wife is a cradle Catholic.
So Sunday, we stuffed Charlotte and Greyson into some classy duds and took them to mass at Ashley’s parents’ church.
As has become our custom post-babies, we arrived a good ten minutes late. For a fun exercise in mortification, I strongly recommend walking into a chapel with two infant-filled carriers while trying to remain invisible. This last piece is crucial. You have to want to die of embarrassment as people begin lifting their heads from prayer to acknowledge your clumsy, unbalanced shuffling at the front of the church, because that’s where your wife’s family sits. And you can’t take a pew in the back, because you have to sit with the family. You have to…because they’re waving you over. They’re practically taxiing you down the aisle like a jetliner before takeoff.
The whispers eventually grew quiet though–the gazes were redirected downward–and we settled in for the service. Now, most parishioners will tell you that you haven’t been properly churched unless you’ve had to actively tune out someone’s crying child during the service. The cries don’t have to come from an infant, mind you. They could erupt from the toddler who was told to stop flinging his Hot Wheels down the pew, or the four-year-old who slipped off the kneeler she was using as a balance beam. Infants, though, are noise bombs with capricious detonators, and we were carrying enough explosives to send shockwaves halfway across town.
So, I waited through all three readings. Not a fuss. I sat through the homily expecting a cry, a wimper. Nothing. Charlotte was in Ashley’s arms and Greyson asleep in his carrier between my feet. I thought surely it would happen during the Eucharist. Father would bless the babies and they would twist themselves into a wicked fit. Nope. In a shocking display of exhaustion, both babies remained completely silent.
Like I said, I don’t always believe in the Heavenly Father, in Jesus, or in the Holy Spirit. I really don’t know to what extent the spiritual realm exists, or if angels occupy it. But I’ll tell you this: at Sunday mass, there were at least two angels in our midst, and they slept through the whole service with nary a peep. Thank God.
My mother-in-law is not a fan of foul language. In fact, for the past two months–ever since Charlotte and Greyson were born–she’s lovingly chided me for my potty mouth. And rightfully so. It has a tendency to overflow in the presence of my newborn children who, as I understand it, are already taking cues from me on how to speak.
It’s never intentional, of course, but by force of habit. Stub my toe while walking a baby: “god d—-t.” Take some spit-up to the shoulder: “son of a b—h.” Change an extra shitty diaper: “holy s–t.” (That last one, by the way, should get a pass. I have seen things that cannot be unseen.)
At any rate, my mother-in-law would have me chewing bars of soap like snacks between meals if she could. Thus, when New Year’s rolled around a few weeks ago, I relented and decided to make a change. My weight was good; my debt was respectable; and I wasn’t a smoker. The only logical thing to excise from my otherwise well maintained life was my salty language. "I have babies now, I need to clean this s–t up,“ I reasoned.
So now, with January almost behind me, I’d like to give a report on my progress…
Something happened last night. You might call it a miracle, or perhaps a glitch in the Matrix. I’ve replayed the events over and over in my mind and am as dumbstruck as a dog in a tennis ball factory: “OMG, this is a thing!” My two-month-old babies went to bed at 9:30…and then they didn’t wake up for eight hours. I got all the sleep.
If you’re not falling out of your chair, allow me to unseat you with this bit of infant trivia. Most babies (70%) won’t sleep for six to eight hours until some time between three and nine months. My babies beat the curve; they beat the hell out of it, and then ran a victory lap around the nursery (and they can’t even crawl yet).
There’s no denying it, magic was in the air last night. But there may also be a perfectly logical explanation: Maw-Maw. After a week long hiatus from seeing her grandbabies, Ashley's mother burst on the scene yesterday and wore the little shits out in typical grandmother fashion.
Which is why I’ve decided to chain her to the wall so she can never leave again.
Fatherhood is learning a few lessons about the Internet and why you may not want your baby on it.
As my daughter stands on the brink of viral video stardom, I think it’s important that–as her father and trusted daddy blogger–I share some of the lessons I’ve learned about the Internet in the last 24 hours.
1.) Somebody will inevitably think your baby is ugly, and because they’re on the Internet, they’ll tell you without hesitation. Don’t be surprised if that comment soars to the top on the wings of upvotes. While your heart will break into a thousand disconsolate pieces hurt a little, it’s best not to feed the trolls. Just accept the fact that the video is funny (and popular) specifically because the baby looks a bit like a drugged out alien and all Total Recall references are 100% valid.
2.) People will critique your parenting within an inch of calling social services. They’ll tell you how you’re scaring your baby, that you’re traumatizing her. You might get called a “f–ked up piece of shit.” Some will even go so far as to tell you that: “This beautiful child is unhappy with something inside its body, and now it’s startled by some horrible occurrence outside the body. This is like raping a woman to make her temporarily forget her menstruation pains.” I’m pretty sure this is absolutely nothing like that…at all.
3.) Always, and I mean ALWAYS, dress as if the Internet is watching. NO EXCEPTIONS! If you own a pair of jeans that are so worn that the knees have given way to massive holes, there’s probably a bad angle that’ll make them look like jorts…and that makes you a nevernude. And the Internet, bless its black little heart, will make sure you know how stupid you look.
As a sidenote, I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding Charlotte’s twin brother, Greyson. Won’t he feel left out or a little slighted by not being Internet famous? We’ve talked about it, the baby and me, and he's assured me that given the option between…(and this is a direct quote from the little guy)…that “given the option between lying on Tobias Fünke's lap while the world makes fun of me or being another nameless face in the nursery, I’ll take the latter every single time.”
On June 18, 1993, my father dove into a pool, hit the bottom with his forehead, and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. It was two days before my 8th birthday.
Being a child carries certain advantages in the midst of crisis. Most notably, adults never let you in on the most harrowing details. I remember walking into my father’s room at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for the first time after the accident. He was covered in tubes and wires, his head immobilized by a halo vest. The man was in terrible shape, heartbreaking to look at, but characteristically optimistic.
Because he couldn’t turn his head, a stool had been placed by his bedside so I could stand tall enough to see him and he me. He smiled and easily assuaged my anxiety. As a child, my first impulse was–naturally–to ask a 1,000 questions, but I started with just one: “What’s on the inside of your vest?”
My father couldn’t speak. The severity of his injury made inhaling and exhaling next to impossible, so a tracheostomy tube had been placed in his neck to do his breathing for him. The operation left him temporarily mute. But, with big animated lips he enunciated silently, “SHEEP’S WOOL.”
I repeated it back to him, “Sheep’s wool?”
And he mouthed, “BAAAAAAAH!” Later we had banana popsicles and made a game of lip reading. It was a very good day made even better by the fact I had absolutely no clue my father had been given only ten years to live…tops.
Dad tells me that soon after the accident he found himself praying for God to let him die. If he couldn’t live his life from the neck down, he couldn’t find any satisfaction in living at all. Then he thought about me, his only child. He says he was immediately regretful and began to bargain instead. “Let me see him graduate high school. Let me get him through childhood.” My father decided that even if he had to spend the rest of his life sitting down, he could still be a good dad.
From that day on, my father lived, in part, for milestones. The first–see me graduate high school. Defying the odds, he met that one easily in June 2003, almost ten years to the day he broke his neck. So, he set a new one–see me get married. Five years later, he sat among 200 guests as I married my high school sweetheart of eight years. Having now lived half again as long as anyone thought he would, he set a third goal–see me have children of my own. On November 16, 2011, he was physically incapable of making the three-hour drive to see his grandchildren on their birthday. He was completely devastated.
Outliving one’s life expectancy is bittersweet, the bitterest year now almost behind us. When the doctors gave my father ten years to live, he budgeted his modest wealth to last right around 15…just in case. When his financial resources dried up in 2009, he began borrowing against the value of his home to pay for his 24/7 live-in caregiver. It wasn’t a sustainable endeavor, and he knew it. So, in September of 2011, my father sold his house, auctioned off nearly all of his possesions, and moved into a nursing home.
I don’t presume to know what astounding feats of personal strength it took for my father to live this long, both physical and psychological, but I know anticipating these milestones has sustained him. So, it was a really special event to watch my dad reach his third the day after Christmas: to meet his two grandchildren for the first time. It was something I don’t think either of us could have realistically hoped for a decade ago.
But standing there, watching him bask in the serenity of becoming a grandfather, I realized that this would likely be the final milestone he’d see me reach. And I wasn’t the least bit concerned or disheartened. He had already moved onto something new; we both had.
I can’t tell you how many more years my father has left: probably two, maybe five? It’s difficult to say. What I can say is that it feels good to step out of the spotlight and join him in the audience for our remaining time together. He’ll certainly be a wealth of inspiration and a lot to live up to. But, as I see it, if I can be half as devoted to my children standing up as he’s been to me sitting down, I’ll be the second best father who ever lived.
Fatherhood is being awake past midnight on Christmas Eve for the first time since childhood.
It’s just past midnight on Christmas Eve. For the last hour and a half, I’ve worn a path into our floors, circling the living room, then the kitchen, and back through the living room. Perhaps he’s a might bit incredulous of Santa Claus, or perhaps he needs to fart, but Greyson has simply refused to sleep.
That is until about 15 minutes ago when my wife, who had previously been cleaning the kitchen (at midnight on Christmas Eve), nonchalantly walked over, rubbed her hand down his head a couple of times and put the little s–t out like a light.
Just to reiterate. I spent the last 90 minutes doing what it took his mother 90 seconds to do. Now, you can tell me that I laid all the groundwork here, but I know the truth. My wife is a witch.