Friday, December 31, 2010

I'm not asleep... but that doesn't mean I'm awake.

Not tailgaters. Not telemarketers. Not people who still don’t believe in global warming. Nothing is as frustrating as a baby that won’t fall asleep at .

41 days old

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Remembering the Future

Two days ago, I went for a walk around our property. There are twenty acres of fields, young woods, and a small pond where we once released an orphaned turtle. I always make plans in my head to circle the property once a week, to get up early enough to hike it before school or to make time on the weekend, but it rarely happens. I think how nice it would be to find one spot near the pond, or up along the edge of the mowed field to take a picture once a week for a year, and to look back at those pictures at year’s end, seeing the changes wrought by the earth’s slight tilt and the progression of seasons it brings. A nice idea, but I haven’t done it yet. Most days there are too many things to do, and a walk just isn’t possible. It’s been that way since I started taking hikes. I never get out as much as I want, and I always plan to do it more. Sometimes a month will go by, two or three, sometimes only a week or two, and I feel a need, and urge, to get myself outside. Leading up to Violet’s birth and in the weeks since, I haven’t thought too much about it, but the urge made itself known two days ago, and out I went with binoculars, my notebook, and a couple field guides.

I wanted to decide which maples to tap this year; with a thaw predicted for this weekend, it’s possible the sap would begin to flow. I also wanted to gather some wild rose hips for tea. I followed the same route I’ve walked dozens of times: around the wild rose thicket, past the garden, down the hill to the pond, and up into the woods. Usually when I walk, I remember things I’ve seen on past walks – a bluebird box that held a clutch of wren eggs last spring, the maple tree at who’s feet I found my first wild ginger flower, the raspberry bush that yielded us a gallon of berries two summers ago, the branch on the yellow birch that knocked out my contact lens last fall. This walk had my mind working in the opposite direction. It was as if I was remembering things that hadn’t happened yet, things that I hoped would happen: Violet tottering along behind me, swiping at tufts of dandelion seeds floating by, Violet grasping at pondside frogs, laughing as they slide through her tiny fingers, Violet holding tightly onto the bucket as I pour in another load of sap. What I saw was like the sap – clear and sweet.

I know I’m getting ahead of myself. She may not grow into a person who loves the outdoors, and this thought occurred to me as I examined the small, reddish bud at the end of a branch on an elm tree, trying to figure out if the tree was an American elm or a slippery elm. Most people wouldn’t care wouldn't care what kind of tree it was, let alone which species of elm. What if Violet was one of those people? Could I accept that? I think I could. As for the elm, it turned out to be an American. The scales on the bud have dark edges and lack tiny hairs. It’s very clear if one takes the time to look.

40 days old

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Are we there (yet)?

More than once, I’ve read that babies at this stage have no memory of the past and no concept of the future. Even when they get older, babies don't understand that something can exist when it is out of their sight. Hide a toy behind your back and to their mind, it just ceased to exist. Their brains need time to develop an understanding that a world exists beyond what’s right in front of them. We all do, really. Even as adults, it takes time for us to get used to change (How many times will we all write “2010” by mistake over the next few weeks?) Linda and I had a brush with this idea tonight. It started this morning, when Linda surprised me with a note – supposedly from Violet – telling me that mommy (Linda) would be taking me to the movies this afternoon for my birthday. Grandma would be coming over to watch the baby while we were gone. So, it was to be our first time going out without Violet. Linda did well. I thought she might cry when we left. She had, in fact, warned me in weeks past that she probably would, but every time I looked over at her in the car, she would flash me a pretend toothy smile. During the movie, I would lose myself in the story and I would forget about my life and the real world for a time. Then, suddenly, I would be flooded with the warm recollection that Violet was waiting for us at home. That I’m a father. I felt a little guilty about “forgetting” it, but Linda brought it up on the way home. “Violet’s so new, she doesn’t seem real when we’re away from her.” I imagine that six months from now, there will be a certain amount of comfort in having Violet’s presence ingrained in my neural pathways, that I’ll be aware of her even when I’m not thinking about her, but I think I’ll miss this time, too.

39 days old

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hit the Books

I know I shouldn’t put too much stock in what baby books have to say. I probably should put our stack into the recycling bin. More than one person has told me that the people who read parenting books aren’t usually the ones who need to do so, but yesterday, I did find a good bit in What to Expect the First Year. Normally, when I flip through it, it’s with a skeptic’s eye. The book is so middle of the road, it lives on the yellow line. Any section dealing with anything even slightly outside the mainstream (e.g., questioning the regular vaccination schedule, alternative medicine, even cloth diapers) has an undertone that seems to say, “Well, there are some nutjobs that do this. If you want to waste your time, money, and possibly put your baby’s life in jeopardy, you can try it if you want.” But the section on talking to your baby did help move me forward as a parent. As I‘ve mentioned before, I’m not a conversationalist. People who are have a talent for thinking on their feet. I think on the car ride home, coming up with all the things I should’ve said, but much too late to put them to use. With Violet, I watch Linda, aunts, and uncles hold her and talk to her about a million things. It seems so natural. I hold her and although I can stare at her for hours on end, telling her how beautiful she is and how much I love her, I can’t help but feel like she’s waiting for something more. She looks at me as if to say, “Yeah, Dad. You already told me that like a hundred times. Don’t you have any new material?” I know I’m projecting. She doesn’t even know that she has hands yet, but she will. So the book recommends doing a running commentary, letting Violet know everything I’m doing with her, to her, near her. I can explain why I’m doing this or that and ask her questions, giving her time to respond. It may sound a little silly, but put into practice, it feels completely natural, as if I’m having a conversation with my daughter. Eventually, she’ll start answering my questions, and even though she may get bored of the play-by-play at a certain point, I figure that by then, she’ll be providing me with plenty of material to talk about. So, I won’t quit the books just yet. I’ll just keep them for when I really need them. I swear, I can quit them anytime I want.

38 days old

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Busy Morning

By this morning, I’d already had a full day of interaction with Violet. I’d been pooped on, peed on, spit up on, smiled at, slept on, and then I put together a toy she’d received for Christmas. I don’t feel like a dad yet, but I no longer feel like the person I was - the one without the delightful daughter. 

37 days old

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Late Christmas Gift

Very early this morning, Linda slept the sleep of a new mother, and the house was quiet. I fed Violet on the couch, while we examined each other over the bottle’s round rim. When it was nearly empty, I gently removed the bottle from her lips and checked the amount of milk remaining. Only a few drops lingered, and I smiled at her, telling her what a good girl she was. A smile broke across her face at a run, appearing wide and all gums for only a moment, before disappearing again behind searching lips.

36 days old

Saturday, December 25, 2010

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

Have you ever read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein? It’s a children’s book about a tree that loves a little boy. As the boy grows up, he keeps returning to the tree and asking for things: her fruit, her branches, her trunk, until in the end, the boy returns as an old man, looking for a stump to sit on, and this the tree provides, too.

This Christmas, instead of buying a bunch of presents for Violet that she doesn’t really need, Linda and I each bought her a gift and kept it a secret from one another. This morning, I opened Linda’s gift to Violet, a copy of The Giving Tree, inscribed with the following message:
To my dearest Violet on her very first Christmas –

I wanted to get you something meaningful (at least to me). This is one of my favorite books and authors. I used to feel sad for the tree because it seemed to me that she gave everything to the boy and was left with nothing. Now that I have you, I can see that I was mistaken. When you love someone that much you are happy to give them everything. I love you that much. Don’t ever forget that.

Mommy (That’s the first time I’ve ever written that about myself. I like the sound of it.
35 days old

Friday, December 24, 2010

So This is Christmas...

Violet’s first Christmas Eve, and what do I want to record for her here? That she looked adorable in her Santa suit? That she surprised me by being more often awake than asleep throughout the day and evening? That she was completely unfazed when we sat on Santa’s lap amid a cluster of camera flashes? That her young cousin Olivia told me three times how pretty she thought Violet was? That our cousin John Conor seemed so pleased and honored when we asked him to be her godfather? There’s just too much. More than a video or a pile of pictures or even these words could capture. Like most Christmas Eves, it was wonderful. At Linda’s parents house, Grandma cooked way too much food and everyone was too generous with presents (although this year they surprised us by listening (sort of) to Linda’s requests for some restraint). At my aunt’s house, kids were running everywhere, bouncing off the walls and delightfully strung out on the anticipation of Santa’s arrival. We passed Violet around and my father got to hold her for the first time (Linda thought it was funny that I reminded him – a doctor for 50 years – to support the baby’s head). What do I remember most? When we were called to sit on Santa’s lap, we sang Rudolph and my eye caught a gift tag on one of our boxes. I noticed how it no longer read “Bill and Linda”, as it has for the last 13 years. Now it read “Bill and Linda and Violet”.

34 days old

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Never Forget the First Time

A few weeks ago, Linda said that she just didn't feel Christmas-y. She says this every year, and I remind her of that fact every year. I’m not sure what a Christmas-y feeling feels like. I have some idea, of course – something warm and fuzzy – the holiday equivalent of comfort food, but I don’t think it’s that simple. It might be a reference too far removed, but I'm going to equate it to what the writer Tim Cahill says about adventure: “…adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility.” It’s all about the looking back, and it’s that way with Christmas, too. I have fond memories of every Christmas I’ve spent with Linda, but I probably didn’t feel anything special in the days leading up to those Christmases. The fondness for the holiday is rooted in remembering. So, when someone asked me today if I had special feelings about this Christmas – since it’s our first Christmas with Violet, my first Christmas as a father, I had to stop and think. Did I? I felt guilty when the only answer I could find was, “No.” I tried to backpedal a little, claiming that my lack of feeling was probably because of the fact that Violet has no idea what’s going on as far as Christmas is concerned. Sure, I got her a present or two, but I could’ve gotten her a Cadillac. Her reaction would be the same. I shouldn’t feel guilty, though, or try to explain it – I don’t feel anything because this Christmas hasn’t happened yet. Maybe other people aren't wired this way, but now that I have time to think about it, I have no doubt that next year, ten years from now, or fifty years from now, I’ll remember this Christmas fondly. It won’t be as elaborate as the ones to come – I won’t need to dress up as Santa or wonder aloud if I hear Santa’s sleigh or hide presents in a closet somewhere – but it will be the first one where Christmas ceased being mostly about me and Linda.

33 days old

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taking Stock

So here we are, slightly over a month in. I used to stay after school until , sometimes 6, but back in October I promised Linda that once Violet was here, I would head home by . I’ve managed to keep my word, and I come home most nights itching to spend time holding and staring at Violet. She’s most often asleep and when she’s awake, she fusses a lot, often for reasons we can’t fathom, but like breaks in the clouds, there are the times when she’s awake, tongue slightly poking out, and calmly observing the world. I talk or read to her, even though I know every word is beyond her. Sometimes she even seems to pay attention. Already we can see changes and today, Linda discovered she's outgrown her first outfit.I can't say whether or not it's what I expected - the diapers are definitely more numerous and... full than I pictured - but I'm amazed how we've adapted to this completely new arrangement - this family.

32 days old

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon."

Linda and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how we look at Violet. I watch her random eye movements and flailing limbs and I look forward to the time when some true form of interaction occurs with my daughter – when a smile will be answered with a smile, when the grip of her miniature hand is more than just reflex. Linda wants to hold Violet at this age forever, reveling in the simplicity of this tiny, adorable human being that belongs completely to just us two. She is safe. She is warm. She is ours. As I mentioned yesterday, Linda said she still doesn’t feel like a mother, and I offered the explanation that maybe the feeling will arrive when Violet starts responding to us. Linda wondered if it would happen once she went back to work, when we returned to something that resembles our old schedules. I mentioned this to a friend today, a mother of two, and she spoke of how with her own children, she was always looking forward to their next stage of development. “I can’t wait ‘till they’re walking…I can’t wait ‘till they’re talking… (and now) I can’t wait until they’re out of the house.” I find myself doing that a lot - looking ahead, and not just with Violet but with life in general. And it drives home an idea that’s been phrased in so many different ways – it’s hard to enjoy the present when you’re focused on the future. So, I’ll try to stop waiting for what comes next with Violet and just enjoy her as she is – in all her cross-eyed, grunting beauty.

31 days old

Monday, December 20, 2010

Has It Sunk In Yet?

The other night, Linda said, “I don’t feel like someone’s mother. I feel like a crappier version of me – one that’s tired all the time with a worse figure.” I kept my eyes on the road and said, “You will.”

30 days old

Sunday, December 19, 2010

First Night Out

Earlier this week I told Linda that I would be helping out at the Nature Center on Saturday, volunteering for their Christmas Bird Count (see yesterday’s post). She looked me square in the eye and stated, “You will be home by lunch. I need to get out of the house.” So, I cut my bird counting short, and yesterday afternoon, we put a warm Santa hat on Violet and had our first real outing as a family. It wasn’t a grand outing. We dropped off some donations at AmVets, picked up some groceries, went to a bookstore, and went out to eat (now, as I write it, it does seem like a lot). At the bookstore, I was fascinated by how many people stopped us or walked right up to admire Violet, while mothers with children only slightly older walked by unaccosted. At what age do babies stop being a celebrity? And it was odd to realize that from now on, any time spent in public with Violet will be a time where my attention is completely divided, split between paying attention to whatever it is I need or want to accomplish and making sure Violet is safe. And both of us found ourselves questioning whether we were taking Violet out too soon. She is still so small and it was so cold. We just couldn’t stop the, “Are we being selfish?” question from repeating in our minds. Dinner was a calmer affair. We went to our favorite restaurant, a vegan place in Darien Center (Can you believe it – in Darien Center?) called Minty Wellness. There was only one other couple dining, but we didn’t want to disturb anyone if Violet started crying, so we asked to sit outside the main dining area. We’ve gotten to know the owner, though, and when she saw us she insisted that we sit in the main area. She fawned over Violet, she was kind enough to find Linda a private space to breastfeed, and she asked to hold Violet when Linda came back to the table. So, for most of our meal, the owner went about her work with Violet on her hip while we ate and marveled at how beautiful our daughter looked. Most of our conversation was Linda telling me how tough it was trying to change Violet. Cleaning her off, dealing with the dirty diaper – how do people do it? And what happens when this kid starts to move around more? Right now, Violet is more a less a paperweight. She stays put while we get another washcloth or a diaper, but I imagine she’ll soon be more like a tennis ball, rolling to God knows where when left on her own. By the end of the meal, we were anxious to get back to the security of home. The new parent guilt and the stress were welling up. We ate dessert quickly, but damn it, we ate it. And it was good.

29 days old

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Littlest Birder

Every year, about a week or two before Christmas, I wake up before dawn and leave my warm bed and home, heading out into the cold in search of birds. I’m not alone. It’s all part of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. All across North and South America, groups of people large and small, choose a location and attempt to count all the birds within a 15 mile circle. To someone whose interests lay outside of birds, it may seem boring, silly, or a downright waste of time, but all I can say to that is to try it at least once. Even for someone who doesn’t know a robin from a blue jay, there’s something about driving along the country roads, binoculars in hand, scanning every bush, tree, and birdfeeder; a mania takes hold, driving you to find just one more kind of hawk, one more woodpecker, one more whatever-kind-of-bird that is on the telephone wire. I’ve counted in the rain, in blizzards, on days when it was so cold I had to have hand warmers in both gloves and my boots, but it didn’t matter. Those days, the birds are actually a little easier to find (harsh weather often causes the birds to gather at feeders in greater numbers; on warm days, the range farther across the countryside). I should mention that all of this craziness is for a good reason: wildlife biologists, ornithologist, and a bunch of other “-ists” use the information from the Christmas Counts to paint a picture, a picture of the status of birds in North America. Christmas Counts have gone on for over 100 years, so the scientists have a lot of data to go on, and every time a count takes place, it provides data that makes the picture broader and richer. What does all of this have to do with Violet? Well, I’ve done the Christmas Count at Beaver Meadow for about 13 years. During each one of those counts, I never spent a moment imagining future counts. This was the first year that I spent most of the day envisioning future counts. I kept picturing Violet by my side in a little snowsuit, a child-size pair of binoculars in her hand, pointing her mittened hand and saying, “Look, Daddy!” I know I’m getting ahead of myself. She may not even like birds, but I hope she does.

If the Christmas Count sounds like something you’d like to do, check out for a list of the Christmas counts still going on in your area. They take place during the two weeks before Christmas, as well as the two weeks after. So, you still plenty of time to take part.

28 days old

Friday, December 17, 2010

Perfection - you'll never reach it.

In past posts, I wrote about whether or not we will shelter Violet from the all the truths of the world, at least while she is still young. Today, something made me think of a truth I learned maybe too late in life. Growing up, I never had an adult that I thought of as a role model; a person that I wanted to emulate. I wasn’t looking for one, either, or at least I didn’t know I was until I found one in college. It was one of my professors, and I placed him on a dangerously tall pedestal. I would watch this person teach and tell stories of his life, and I would think, “That’s what I want to do. That’s how I want to live.” (Yes, it was maybe somewhat creepy.) I can remember to this day how disappointed I was when I found out that he wasn’t perfect. It was a hard slap to the face, and I was furious at him for disappointing me, for fooling me into believing he was something more than fallible. The depths of my unfairness knew no bounds. Maybe if I’d ever followed sports, I would’ve found out earlier that even the most talented, intelligent, and charismatic people have a laundry list of faults, just like the rest of us. Some are better at hiding it than others, shoving it deep under layers of confidence and personality, and the star struck gaze of the admirer sees what it needs to. Ultimately, the list always finds its way to the top. It took me more time than I want to admit, but I eventually realized that the perfect role model is a fiction, right up there with the honest politician. What I admired about my professor was still there despite what I saw as his faults, and the realization helped me take a more honest look at my own shortcomings, too. So what do we do with Violet? Let her discover for herself sometime down the line that no one is perfect (even daddy), or do we explain it to her a little earlier on?

27 days old

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gift Cards All Around (And Pictures of Violet)

Does having a baby in late November qualify as an excuse for starting my Christmas shopping 9 days before Christmas?

26 days old

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Secret Weapon

Today was one of those days requiring dealings with ornery and unpleasant people. Faced with such individuals, I can’t think straight. I try to remember that the true measure of our character is how we treat the people we don’t like. Somehow, having Violet around makes playing well with others that much easier.

 25 days old

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tabula rasa

Nights like tonight, when I have time to sit with Violet, I can’t help but be overwhelmed at this empty vessel in my arms, this blank slate. Linda and I will fill her with lessons intentional and otherwise, they will intermingle with whatever ingredients of personality are inherently her own, and some unknowable amalgam will emerge as our daughter. I’m dying to meet that person, to get to know her mannerisms, to hear how she laughs or better yet, to know her sense of humor. How will she look standing in the snow or opening presents on Christmas morning? Will she be slow or quick to anger, cry, forgive? I know I have some influence over the answers to these questions, but no one can tell me for sure – no matter what anyone says – how much influence I have. Still, it’s a little scary. So, for now, it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy this perfect child that I haven’t messed up yet.

24 days old

Monday, December 13, 2010

Like Softest Music to Attending Ears

There is no more satisfying sound than a burp emanating from a just-fed baby on your shoulder.

23 days old

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Do I Need to Know How Many Dirty Diapers We Had on the 5th?

Best advice received recently: stop recording every time we feed Violet and every time she poops or pees (We just completed our 21st log page.). It just gives us one more thing to agonize over.

22 days old

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Standing on the Shoulders of Quiet Giants

When I was 23, I was fortunate enough to land a job living and working at a nature center. It was a dream job for me because I was paid to spend hours and hours outside, working with plants and animals (human and otherwise), learning and teaching about every facet of the natural world in any way that I could envision. Some days found me in a school, draping a corn snake around the shoulders of an eight year old. Others found me in the Adirondacks, on the water with paddle in hand and behind me, a flotilla of canoes filled with adults and children zigzagging back and forth across the water, practicing the strokes that I had just taught them. Many days found me working with volunteers. The nature center depended heavily on volunteers, and this center was blessed with a dedicated core group. Mostly retired, they came from all around to fill various needs, be it trail maintenance, tour guide, gift shop clerk, or greeter. I can’t overstate how much these people gave (and give) in terms of their time, experience, and skill. As a relatively young man still learning how to do my job, they taught me a great deal about how to be a good naturalist and a good person, and I used to tell people it was like having fifty sets of parents. They took care of me in many ways. When I got engaged, they overwhelmed Linda and me with a magnificent bridal shower, and when I left the center to become a teacher, they threw us another big bash, this one a farewell, including generous contributions toward my graduate school tuition. I told them then that it had been an honor and a privilege to work with them, and that I would miss them all terribly. Linda and I didn’t move too far away, but I don’t back get to the center as much as I should. I tell myself that it’s due to the demands of teaching, but I know that’s not entirely true. I did make it back this Saturday, though, because it was the day of the annual volunteer Christmas potluck. I wanted all of these wonderful people to meet Violet – for these people that played such a big part in my young adulthood to see where their influence led. Walking into the center with Violet in my arms, I told her, “Take a good look around this place, kid, because we’re going to be here a lot.”

21 days old

Friday, December 10, 2010

It Caught Me Off Guard

I felt the sweetest pang of pleasure today. Someone at work asked me about Violet, and I referred to her, maybe for the first time, as “my daughter.”

20 days old

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I do?

Since going back to work on Monday, I’ve not had to do any of Violet’s overnight feedings. Linda has kindly insisted that I get a full night’s sleep in order to be ready for work. Yet I’ve had at least one person a day tell me, “You look so tired!” I'm not sure whether to be offended or not.

19 days old

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

And It's Time

Time is a funny thing. Before Violet was born, I had a conversation with a two-child parent about the time you have before children are born and the time you have after children are born, and they made the offhanded comment, “I can’t remember what it was like to have the time to read a book.” That comment seared into my brain, and it scared me. A thought just kept repeating in my brain - forlornly, “..but I like reading books.” And I thought of this blog, too. Looking back over the list of posts, I feel a little stab of pleasure when I see a post that meant a lot to me – a post that helped me work through a thought – a post that touched on something worthwhile. Most of them I wrote during the summer, when I’m afforded the luxury of time. Some people can think on their feet. I am not one of them, so days without multitasking are usually the days when some sprout of a thought germinates in my head early in the morning, and I can pick at it all day long, coaxing it into blossoming into a paragraph or two by the time bedtime rolls around – a paragraph that satisfies me on some level I can’t really describe. It was harder to get into that frame of mind once school started. Once in a while, it would happen, but it was rare. Now that Violet is here, it doesn’t even seem like an option. Not that I’m complaining. I know it’s early on. I haven’t even been a parent a month, but I’m getting the inkling of an idea that becoming a parent is a crucible – the lack of sleep and the sundry demands of this little person burn away all the unnecessaries in your life, and you don’t really care. I may not get to read a book for awhile (a non-baby-related book, that is) but Violet’s presence just wipes away any shade of regret that comes with that thought.

18 days old

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Another Quote

It's Linda's birthday today, so I'll leave you with a quote:

Babies are always more trouble than you thought -- and more wonderful.

Charles Osgood

17 days old

Monday, December 6, 2010

Back to Work

I went back to work today after two weeks at home. There were times, over the course of the day, when I was completely absorbed in teaching, or planning, or correcting papers, or talking to a student or colleague, thinking of nothing else except for what was in front of me. And the moments that immediately followed these times would be moments I loved; moments when I would suddenly recall what was waiting for me at home.

16 days old

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sleeping Through Christmas

We took Violet on her first “fun” outing this weekend; we went to cut down our Christmas tree. Bundling her up in a great mismatched collection of fuzzy suits, socks, and gloves (really just more socks), we drove to the tree farm and strapped her onto Linda’s chest. The folks at the tree farm eyed my wife’s magnificent bulge with suspicion, but they "ooohed" and "ahhed" when we pulled the blanket back. We hiked up the tree farm’s hill, saw in hand, into the snow-covered trees and selected a tree much faster than we usually do. Violet slept the whole time, but it didn’t matter. She was there and it added so much to the experience. She doesn’t even know what Christmas is, but her presence changes what it is for us. From now on, it will be much less about me and Linda and all about creating something for her to remember and enjoy. We’re already thinking of all the little traditions we can start that will make her Christmases memorable – when to put the baby Jesus in the manger (Christmas eve), when she’ll be allowed to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special (to keep it special – only within the two weeks before Christmas), and the ornaments that will be hers and hers alone to hang. She’ll sleep through most of this Christmas, but I’m hoping next year she’ll be a bit more aware. Can a one-year old comprehend Christmas?

15 days old

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Violet's Weigh In

People tell us that babies aren’t as fragile as they seem, but that’s hard to believe when I’m holding Violet. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable holding her; I was surprised at how easily she fit in the crook of my arm, but what weighs on the mind are the million things that could go wrong – things that are, for the most part, beyond our control. We went to the pediatrician’s on Friday, and when they put Violet on the scale we held our breath. The last time, she had lost too much weight. She was dehydrated and we had to start supplementing her diet with formula. We spent a number of days breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle feeding every two to three hours - waiting for Linda’s milk supply to come in. But this time, she was a few ounces above her birth weight – and all was right with our little girl. Walking back to the car, Linda and I both felt as if we had just passed a test. We’ve kept her alive this long.

14 days old.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Resistance is Futile

Konrad Lorenz was a man who thought a lot about babies. He was a researcher who, about sixty years ago, put forth the idea that babies are cute for a very specific reason. It turns out that all of Violet’s features that I find so adorable have a purpose. The large head perched atop the disproportionately small body, the big eyes and small, short nose set low on the face, the round and soft body features – the cyclone of cuteness that all babies possess is designed by nature to turn us adults into jelly. Lorenz, and researchers since, proved to a considerable degree, that baby features trigger nurturing responses in adults. They’re evolutionary adaptations that ensure adults will care for the offspring of their species. What’s more, babies of other species have gotten in on the act – it’s the reason so many people can’t say no to a free kitten. One look in those big, round eyes and biology kicks in. Scientists even discovered similar traits in a baby triceratops skull. Knowing all this probably won’t help me say no when my little girl asks me for something she doesn’t need, but it might help me feel better if and when I give in. You can’t fight evolution.

13 days old

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Freeze Frame

Linda keeps saying how she wishes Violet could stay a newborn forever. At this size, she’s little more than a handful; perfect for holding in the crook of an arm; tolerant of staring and unable/not desiring to get away from our constant attention (she’s usually asleep anyway). Her needs are, for the most part, basic. Friends and relatives tell us to enjoy this time because this Violet will soon be gone, replaced by a crawling blur of energy. Linda doesn’t want to be reminded. She wants to freeze this time. I do, too. It’s one reason we’ve already taken hundreds of pictures, but I’m insanely curious and anxious for what comes next – for when I see that first spark of recognition in Violet’s eyes, when there appears a smile that I know is for me, for a time when interaction begins. I think then I’ll start to feel more like a daddy.

12 days old

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

There was a snowstorm today. Normally, I’d be out in the woods enjoying it or itching to be, but I didn’t feel the twinge today. I stayed inside to help take care of Violet, and as the snow came down hard outside, we took a nap. There is no better place during a snowstorm than on the couch, asleep with a newborn on your chest.

11 days old

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


This morning, heavy-eyed with sleep, my wife and I worked together to clean up a dirty diaper of epic proportions (We haven’t yet gotten down how to do the really dirty ones solo). Pulling the fourth washcloth out of the closet, my wife said to me, “I never thought I’d be happy cleaning someone’s ass at .”

10 days old - Violet's first bath today (she was not amused) and she's back up to her birthweight!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Tin Man Cometh

When I was little, I would cry at the drop of a hat. I don’t know if I was always that way, or if it started when I went to school. Crying was a chronic problem for me when I was in the first grade. I would cry because the day was too long (this was in the days of half-day kindergarten, so the transition to a full day of school was a tough one for me) or because I missed my step mom. One of the most frequent reasons for me to turn on the waterworks was when someone else was getting yelled at. I hated for anyone to yell. My dad’s a yeller, so maybe my aversion started there, but I can remember my first grade teacher getting particularly frustrated as the school year went on. She would be yelling at one of my classmates, I would start to cry, and she would start yelling at me for being so silly, which would only make me cry all the harder. I didn’t want to cry – I would put down my head, squeeze my eyes shut, and try to think of something happy or funny, but the tears would inevitably press through. At some point, my parents got involved. I don’t recall the specifics, but I remember some sort of deal being struck, and I think the terms were that for every day I didn’t cry, I got a pack of gum. It worked, but it worked too well. I became a person for whom tears were almost an impossibility. I don’t recall a single instance of tears all through my teen years – no funeral or sad movies would elicit a drop, not even when the first girl I thought I loved dumped me (okay, maybe I misted up later that night while listening to Journey’s “Faithfully”). It bothered me as I grew older. Instead of feeling like a “tough” guy – real men aren’t supposed to cry, right? – I felt more like a robot. There were a few times over the last few years when I have been able to cry – truly sad times – but they were rare, and I usually had to work to make the tears come. But when the nurse put Violet in my arms, I was crying even before I realized it – crying with relief for Linda that all the labor we’d stressed about was over, crying with delight at the tiny collection of mingled genes in my arms. Since then, there have been a few more times where a story on the radio or a song will catch me off guard and I’ll get a lump in my throat. Have I now gone too far in the other direction? I don’t think so. The emotional roller coaster of the last eight days was intense, so things are somewhat raw in my head right now. Maybe, as things settle down and life with Violet becomes more real, my emotions will settle down, too. But maybe not. A friend of mine recently sent me a message and marveled at how parenting is akin to growing a new heart. I knew my old was one a bit messed up, but I like the feel of this new one. I think I’ll keep it.

9 days old.

The friend who told me about the new heart? She's a poet/writer/teacher with a great blog called The Poem Farm. Check it out at:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Here's Hoping

Did you know that newborns hate to be naked? I had no idea. The first time we took off Violet’s clothes to change her diaper, she screamed the high-pitched cry that pierces the panic center of a new parent’s brain, and her arms and legs flailed as though she was in free fall. Several nurses and our doctor confirmed our observation that newborns are a modest bunch. We mentioned it to Linda’s lactation consultant - Violet’s aversion to being nude - and without missing a beat, the woman said, “Just hope she’s still that way when she’s 15.”

8 days old.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

About Last Night...

I started this blog last summer, late on an August night. I wanted to slow down my wife’s pregnancy. It was rushing by, and I wanted a way to capture this slice of time for myself, for my wife, and for our new baby. Won’t we want to look back on it for the rest of our lives? I thought when I started that once the baby came, I would have no end of things to write about. Each day would bring some new insight into parenting and the baby’s antics would provide a wealth of inspiration. Reality is much different. Sleeping in two hour increments is not conducive to deep thought and reflection. Currently, my days are a string of bottle feedings/meeting baby needs, making food, cleaning dirty dishes, and talking to friends and relatives on the phone about the first three things. Any spare moment I find I spend holding and staring at Violet. I am not complaining at all and I’m exaggerating a bit, but the point is that now that Violet is here, things are not exactly how I thought they would be – not better or worse – just different, and more often than not, it’s still a struggle to come up with something that I deem worthwhile to type up (and that Linda will allow the world to read – the next time I see you, ask me about her hands-free, breast pumping tank top). Part of the problem is that I’m a – for lack of a better word – snob when it comes to what I’ll put down here. I could go on and on about how beautiful Violet is and how every movement she makes is art, but so many others have done that before when it comes to babies. It’s like the songs that musicians write when they become parents – in my opinion, it’s always dangerous territory. Unless there’s some unique take on the subject, I forget it the moment after I hear it. If someone (or me) is going to spend the time and energy creating a song (or a blog entry) about their child, I want them to come up with something more than a variety of ways to say, “My kid is so awesome!” or “I love being a parent!” I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Maybe I just want to apologize for last night’s entry – it was the best I could do in my semi-conscious state. Part of all this comes from the fact that during today’s feeding, I put on Colin Meloy’s live CD. There’s a song called “Wonder” that he wrote about becoming a father. It’s a song I’ve mentioned here before, and it’s worth doing so again because it’s a good example of what I’m talking about – someone who worked hard to put down something thoughtful about their kid  - something that stuck with me long after first coming across it. Please take three minutes and twenty four seconds to listen to it. Ten years or so from now, I'll play it for Violet and tell her, "You want to know how I was feeling when you popped out of mom? Listen to this, 'cause Colin nailed it."

 7 days old.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Look, She's Smiling....

Was there ever a bigger spoilsport than the scientist who figured out that when a newborn smiles, it's probably just gas?

6 days old.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Know There's Something I'm Forgetting...

Every day since coming home from the hospital, I have been amazed at what I can accomplish on just a few hours of sleep. We’re still settling into a skeleton of a routine – figuring out things like the baby's feeding schedule, how and where we can sleep and still be in arm’s reach of Violet, how to fit making dinner (or any other meal) into the day. Prior to Violet’s birth, I needed 7 hours of sleep in order to function properly. Anything less and I’d be yawning all day. Now, I chug along without really thinking about it. Maybe I’m still on a high from Violet’s birth. I’m too much in love and there’s too much to do and think about. Sleep will have to wait. Unfortunately, there are some side effects to my lack of sleep, one of them being forgetfulness. Things that were part of my everyday routine – necessary things - have slipped my mind in the face of baby-related tasks. But for some of these things, I’ll have to make time. Today, I realized that I haven’t showered since Sunday.

5 days old.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


There are few times in my life that I’ve felt as happy as this morning, when the pediatrician told us that Violet was doing much better. Her weight was back up and the signs of dehydration were gone. It caught me completely off guard, the strength of that relief and with it, the realization that I had been more or less holding my breath since the previous afternoon, when the pediatrician confirmed our fear that something was wrong. Walking out of the pediatrician’s office, it felt as though an elephant had just raised itself off my chest. It’s strange how even though I don’t really know this 20 inch long person, even though we’ve never really had a conversation, her well-being means as much to me as Linda’s and much more than my own

4 days old

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Too Much Too Quickly

There are few times in my life that I’ve felt as scared as this afternoon, when the pediatrician told us that Violet was dehydrated and losing too much weight. We came home from the hospital yesterday, excited to start our new life of little sleep, dirty diapers, and a baby girl, but this morning, we had to admit that something was wrong. Every time we looked into Violet’s diaper, it was dry and empty, and with every feeding and unfilled diaper, we grew more frantic. The pediatrician echoed our concern, and wanted us to bring her in immediately. She weighed Violet and found 10% of her birth weight gone – not an unheard of amount, but too much too quickly. Linda’s milk wasn’t coming in yet, so Violet’s breastfeeding wasn’t giving her enough to eat. The doctor said we needed to supplement with formula, and we did.

Tonight, Violet’s taken in a good amount of the formula, and I was never so excited to see urine as I was when I opened her diaper at 9 PM. We have an appointment at the pediatrician tomorrow morning, and I know tonight will be a long one (I tried  - without success - to stand her on the bath scale to she if she gained any weight).

The other bright spot tonight came after Violet’s 10 PM feeding. It was one of the few times she was awake and not eating, just observing the world within the twelve-inch scope of her vision. I read her her very first book, The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle. She stared in my general direction the entire time. Maybe it was the sound of my voice that kept her eyes on me, but the weight of her gaze was like no other.
3 days old.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A-weeping and A-wailing

We were able to play our own music in the delivery room, and we set it to shuffle through various songs on Linda's iPod. A few moments after Violet was born, this song happened to come on...

"Blake's View" by M. Ward

Death is just a door, Blake said it first
It's just another room we enter, it's a threshold that hurts
Birth is just a chorus, death is just a verse
In the great song of spring that the mockingbirds sing
We come and we go, a-weeping and a-wailing
Our heads in the hands of the nurse
Well, put your head on my shoulder, baby, tell me where it hurts
You say you lost your one and only, could it get any worse?
I said, "Death is just a door, you'll be reunited on the other side"
Yeah, death is just a door, you'll be reunited by and by

It made me think of my mom, wondering what she might think of her grandaughter, and how it felt to be in that room at that moment, holding my daughter in my arms.

We are home. Tired, happy, and very much in love.

2 days old.

I also wanted to thank everyone out there for all of your heartfelt comments, congratulations, and compliments. We feel blessed to have Violet and all of you looking over our shoulders.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's a Girl!

Saturday, November 20, 2010
Violet Judith Michalek
Born 2:54 AM
7 lbs. 15 oz.
20 1/2 inches

Friday, November 19, 2010


Out of the 1:30 AM darkness, Linda said, "I don't think you're going into work today."

0 (?) days until baby.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes

The due date is today or tomorrow, depending on which doctor we talk to, but either way, if the baby has his/her pocket calendar, they’ll be out before sundown tomorrow.

It seems fitting that I keep thinking of seven months ago - the evening of March 22nd. I was on the phone, and Linda came out of the bathroom, wide-eyed and serious. “You need to get off the phone now.” I did, and she pulled me into the bathroom and pointed to two plastic sticks on the bathroom counter. “I took two just to be sure.” She’d been late and had picked up a pregnancy test. Over the years, the same thing had happened a half dozen times – always negative – so I hadn’t thought much about it this time around, figuring that it would be the same as all the others. I was wrong. Those two little pink lines said it all. And now here we are.

1 day until baby!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Trust Me

Linda went to the doctor today. We were really hoping for some sign that the baby was getting ready to budge, but no such luck - Batman is not ready to leave the Batcave. Her next appointment is on Monday, and it's an odd mixture here of disappointment and excitement. Frustration, too, on more than one level. Linda and I have talked a lot about labor and the drugs they might give her. Beyond the epidural, we want to let her body do its thing (as long as the baby's not in distress). We've read up on what's popular, the side effects, and what's necessary. When Linda asked the doctor about it today and expressed her concerns, the doctor said, "The most important thing to remember is to be flexible." Gee, get defensive much? I can see the logic behind the doctor's statement, but I can also see it as another way of saying, "Just do whatever we tell you. We know what's best," and I get nervous whenever I hear that.

2 days until baby.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

C is for Curious

I was five years old and a friend of my aunt’s gave me a Curious George ABC book. I remember thinking that I was too old for an ABC book, but I liked Curious George, so I gave it a chance. My aunt’s friend was named Kathy, and she had a son about my own age. My mom was gone and my dad hadn’t remarried yet, so I spent more than a few days hanging out with my aunt, her friend Kathy, and Kathy’s son. I don’t remember much at all about those days. I’m not sure I would remember them at all if not for that Curious George book. Inside the book, on the page for the letter K, (I can still picture it clearly) the text proclaimed that K was for kangaroo, and above it was the disturbing illustration – a blocky K with the face and arms of a kangaroo sticking out of the front and a kangaroo tail protruding from the back. Below the text, Kathy had written in “…and K is for Kathy, who loves Billy sooo much!” I recall feeling immense pleasure at reading those simple words. It was a small gesture that Kathy probably didn’t think about too much, but it blew my five year old mind. I had always been taught that writing in a book was wrong, but somehow I knew that this was okay. No, it was better than okay, because what she wrote made me so happy. I must’ve opened that book a thousand times growing up just to look at that page. For what, I’m not sure. Reassurance that someone loved me? Maybe it had something to do with my mom? I’ve been thinking about this book lately because of something a friend wrote in response to one of my posts – that a child’s environment is more important than lessons. It made me think of a quote that I’ve come across in various forms over the years – “Much more than what you say, children remember the things you do.” Some nights, I find this idea terrifying. I picture some foolish, thoughtless gesture or action of mine filed away in my child’s mind, the seed that grows to scar them later on in life. I know that’s overly dramatic, but hey, that’s me, and for the most part, I do understand that any parent who truly tries to do their best day in and day out is allowed to hope that it’s effort well spent. So that’s my plan. Just to be safe, I’ll be picking up a copy of Curious George’s ABCs when my child is 5 and writing a little something on one of the pages.

3 days until baby.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wait...What Was I Saying?

I came home from work tonight, and Linda asked if I could get dinner started. She wanted to take a shower “in case tonight was the night.” She said she was a little “leaky” today (I’m think I know what that meant). So, I made dinner, and I’m lucky I didn’t burn down the house. It’s hard to concentrate on anything except this thing that will happen sometime in the next 1-13 days. I’m not even sure what I taught my students today – I’m sure it must have been something, but the day is a blur. I try to focus on something, and somehow I end up thinking of that one more thing that needs to go into the hospital suitcase or one more phone number we have to add to the list or if our baby will have hair. If I’m this distracted about the baby’s arrival, how much worse will it be when the baby arrives? I’m hoping it will lessen. Right now, I’m dealing with unknowns, so there’s a million different scenarios and outcomes to imagine – a thousand eventualities to plan for and anticipate. Once the baby’s here, I’m told life settles into a routine again – at least some rough semblance of one. I'm looking forward to that, but what I’m really looking forward to is those first few hours when we come home from the hospital, when it’s just the three of us – the labor behind us and everything else in front of us.

4 days until baby.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Firsts and Lasts

I didn’t want this last week of posts to turn into a long list of “lasts” – our last Saturday night as couple, our last “sleep-in Sunday,” the last time Linda tweezes the hair out of my ears (I’m sure she won’t have time to notice them once the baby’s here). Not because I’m not thinking about these things; it’s because the baby’s impending arrival overshadows every one of them. They don’t matter. How could they when the baby is so close?

And with the baby being so close, I figured I’d better get the car seats installed today. We have a set up where we have two car seat bases – one for each car – and the baby carrier clicks into either one. My sister-in-law warned me that installing them is a Herculean task - one that would leave me red-faced and sweating. I mentally primed myself for a struggle, but I had both bases strapped in in under twenty minutes. This left me wondering if I did it right and I spent another twenty minutes looking through the little manual, pulling on the straps, and wiggling the bases in every possible direction. I stepped back, looked at the back seats of our cars, and thought, “Holy crap, we have car seats in our cars.” I lifted the carrier, and guided it into the back seat of my wife’s car, leaning in the car to click the car seat into the base. How many more times would I do this over the next year? The next two years? This was the first time. No baby, but it still felt big.

Immediately after that project, I set about shutting down our vegetable garden, pulling up the last of the collard greens and the kale, the dried up remains of tomato and pepper plants. I cover my garden with leaves for the winter. They keep out the weeds and protect the asparagus from the cold, but I don’t have many big trees around the garden. So, I trudge up the big hill behind my house, garbage bags and rake in hand. At the top is a flat ridge covered by maple trees, and the level ground makes for easy raking. I pile up the leaves, stuff them into the garbage bags, and carry them down to spread over the garden like a blanket. I’ve done this each year for the past three years, and I always enjoy it. It reminds me of playing in leaf piles as a kid and it’s an excuse to be outside on a fall day, but this time, I kept thinking about all the things that will be put to rest, shut down, and closed away once the baby arrives. I don’t write those words with regret, but as an observation. A baby brings with it chaos, love, and an unavoidable reorganizing of priorities. That baby has to come first, so maybe next year, I won’t have a chance to open the garden, to till the leaves into the ground and plant some seeds. It’s likely that I’ll be too busy playing with my kid to even think about it.

So today was about firsts and possible lasts. Maybe today was the last time I’ll close my garden down for a while. If so, I’ll miss it, but believe me, I’m looking forward to that baby a hell of a lot more.

5 days until baby.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Mother's Intuition

In fourth grade. Paul Z. sat behind me. He was a Boy Scout, and on Tuesdays, he was allowed to wear his blue and gold Boy Scout shirt instead of his school uniform. That shirt was more than just a shirt to my nine-year-old brain. It stood for all the outdoor adventures that a fourth grader could imagine. I used to stare at that shirt and picture Paul and the other scouts on camping trips, deer eating out their hands, owls perching overhead, and everyone sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. I had to have a shirt like his and everything that went with it. So, I convinced my stepmom to take me to a Boy Scout meeting. Ten minutes into it, my heart was thumping. I leaned over and whispered, “I don’t want to do this. Can we go?” I don’t know what I would have done in her shoes, but she didn’t question me. She just said, “Okay.” We got up and walked out, and as we did, I remember feeling relieved and ashamed, as if I’d made them stop the roller coaster and let me off because I was too scared. I’m not sure why I panicked, but I was never a joiner. In the car, I asked my stepmom if she was mad. She said no, that it hadn’t looked very fun, and then she changed the subject. There was no guilt or talk of trying again, and my shame drained away, leaving only relief. I’m sure some people would say that she should have made me tough it out, that I would’ve gotten over my fear, and that I would’ve gained a great deal from being a scout, but I know me. I wouldn’t have liked the Boy Scouts – the structure, the meetings – I would’ve been miserable. Did my stepmom know that? I think she did, and it makes me wonder about me and my own kid. In a similar situation, I can see myself saying, “No. They’re just scared. This will be good for them. Even if they’re scared now, they need to tough it out.” My stepmom didn’t do that, and she was right. I hope that when the time comes, I’ll know when to push and when to stand back.


Well, we thought labor was coming tonight, but so far, the baby is staying put.

6 days (give or take) until baby.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Good Weekend for Labor

Linda’s been feeling, in her words, “off” today. Her stomach felt funny for a good chunk of the day yesterday. Tonight as we sat on the couch, the baby was moving as if it wanted nothing else but to climb out and dance. Our little pregnancy book said these could be signs of impending labor. Although, to be honest, it also lists “feeling bad” as a sign. I know I said before that I didn’t want the baby to come early, but I’m willing to overlook that if the baby is willing. This weekend seems like a good one for having a baby. Nice weather. We don’t have major plans. I just got a haircut. Why wait?

7 days until baby (or maybe less).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Time Capsule

In my first post, I said that I would write one post a day until the baby turned one. That's still the plan, and I realized today that my last post is a little more than a year away. Once jack (or jane) pops his head out of the box, it's 365 more posts to go. So, in thinking about that, I tried to imagine what life will be like in one year. The presidential campaigns will be in full swing (ugh), the last of the Harry Potter movies will have come and gone, and my kid's first summer will be a memory. There's a lot that I can see coming, but there is so much more than I have no choice but to wonder about. I tried to think of the biggest questions I have for the coming year. Some are baby-related, some not, but really, in the end, they're all baby related.

Will we find a new place to call home? Will we be moved in? 

What will be the color of our baby's hair? Their eyes?

Will our baby be sleeping through the night? Will we?

Will Linda and I still have the relationship that we do now, or what changes will the baby bring?

Will Linda let me touch her again (y'know, in THAT way), or will she be sleeping with a baseball bat?

Will I still have a job? (Our district might have to cut teachers and I'm near the bottom)

What will a day in our life look like?

Will we be going out one night a week, like I'm planning on now?

So in one year - November 11, 2011 - if I'm still around, I'll revisit these questions. If the baby lets me.

8 days until baby.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Watched Pot Never Boils

The advice I've received today on making the baby come sooner:

1. Have sex. (I told Linda we'd have to rig up a pulley system. Luckily, she found my comment funny)

2. Drink a special blend of herbal tea and go for a long, long walk.

3. Drink raspberry tea and take a hot shower while stimulating the nipples. (I'm assuming they meant Linda's and not mine)

4. Go for a walk on railroad tracks

5. Eat spicy food and then have sex.

I got home late tonight, but I still ran these by Linda. She had some chocolate and went to bed.

9 days until baby

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Are You Excited?

The phone rang in my classroom today while my kids were in gym. I was busy getting things ready for the next lesson, and when that noise came out of the phone, my stomach did a cartwheel. I felt it before I knew why. “This could be it,” I thought. “It’s time.” It wasn’t, of course. It was the office with an attendance question – not nearly as exciting as a baby. For some reason, I’m not someone who gets too outwardly excited about things, and it’s frustrating. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited about anything, but I have to go through the day as usual - washing dishes, brushing my teeth, cleaning the litter box. It’s like knowing you’re going to win the lottery at any minute, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to hurry it along.

10 days until baby.

Monday, November 8, 2010


One thing I bring to the daddy table is my teaching experience. Specifically, I can bring the use of the word “no”. I know parents who frown on the use of the word, and I can’t blame them. One study out there claims children hear “no” up to 400 times a day, and some believe that the word has a bad connotation. I don’t know enough about psychology or spirituality to know if it’s true. There are some interesting arguments out there for minimizing the use of the word. What I do know is that as a teacher (and as a parent), I’m going to do my best to make sure that when I do say it, “no” will actually mean “no”. Growing up, that’s what it meant in my house, but every year, I have students who seem to think that “no” means, “Let’s have a conversation,” or, “Try harder to convince me.” In looking through some parenting articles recently, I came across a great quote by author/psychologist Dana Chidekel: “Children,” she says, “learn that some parents can be played like slot machines. Put enough whines in and eventually they'll pay out.” I like to think I will avoid that trap, but Linda likes to point out, “When that little face looks up at you with you with those big eyes and says, ‘Pleeeese, Daddy,’ you might not be so tough.” Only time will tell.

11 days until baby.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Sort of Homecoming

At a funeral today, I watched a family come together and mourn the loss of one of their own. I watched fathers and mothers with their sons and daughters, old and newborn. It was a sad occasion but it was beautiful, too. From my seat in the balcony, I saw husbands place their arms around their wives’ shoulders, relatives lean in and cling to one another for comfort. I watched fathers plant gentle kisses on the foreheads of their newborns. There was mourning in that church, but it was also a celebration of sorts. There are days when I wonder if we’re doing the right thing, bringing a child into this world that can be so horrific. Today was not one of those days.

12 days until baby.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Scary Part

I have been to Babies R Us more times in the past two months than all the previous months of my life combined. The scary part? I’m starting to like it.

13 days until baby.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Trifecta

I hate feeling powerless. Today, Linda was grimacing, describing a pain deep in her leg where it meets her hip. It fires up whenever she sits for more than a few minutes. She gets up, and combined with her late-pregnancy waddle, there’s a pronounced side-to-side sway in her stride. “I walk like the guy from Gunsmoke!” she jokes, but I know she’s in serious pain. She refuses to take even Tylenol, and so there’s not much I can do for her except listen. “That completes it,” she said. “Now, I’m uncomfortable standing, sitting, and lying down!”

14 days until baby.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hurry up, Baby

My wife called me at school today to tell me how her doctor’s visit went. I could tell as soon as I heard her voice that something wasn’t right. “They’re telling me it’s no big deal,” she began, and I felt as though the air had been sucked out of the room. Conversations that start out that way are never full of good news. A sonogram had been part of the visit, and they detected a level of amniotic fluid that was on “the low side of normal.” Other tests followed, and she’s scheduled for another sonogram next week. By the time she left, the doctor told her that the tests looked good and not to worry. Gee, thanks. That’s like telling someone not to think of pink elephants. Friends at work told her not to worry, too; some of them were diagnosed with the same thing and everything turned out fine. That is comforting, but I get frustrated when there’s a problem that I can’t do anything about. Hurry up, baby – if I’m going to worry about you, I’d rather do it while holding you.

15 days until baby

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gimmie Some Truth...When I'm Older

Have you heard that there are two kinds of parents in the world? Apparently, there are the ones who shelter their kids from the horrors of the world as long as they can and then there are the ones aren’t so concerned about boundaries. I don’t completely buy the idea – about there being two kinds of parents, I mean. It brings to mind another saying about there being two kinds of people – those who believe that there are two kinds of people and those who don’t. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’ll tell my child and what I won’t – what I’ll let them do and what I won’t. For now, I’m planning to take things on a case by case basis. If this baby came along 10 years ago, I would have been all for revealing the truths of the world to them as soon as possible. At the time, I was enamored of a famous quote that went, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” It seemed so simple and straightforward, it just had to be right. It is, I suppose, but once I became a teacher, my viewpoint changed. I’m not sure how much truth a seven year old needs to hear, at least when it comes to the world beyond our backyard. I’m always telling people that I never realized how sheltered I was until I went back to school to be a teacher, and I’m grateful my parents sheltered me. It gave me the chance to be a kid, and I wouldn’t trade that for truth.

16 days until baby.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Month From Now

A month from now, our baby will be about one week old. Labor will be over and hopefully forgotten. We will, I am sure, be smitten with our new lodger. A month from now, instead of us, parents will live in our house, and our house will contain a family. 

17 days until baby.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Want to Be Your Human Epidural

Everything in nature has a purpose - every odd animal behavior, the number of petals on every flower, even our pinkie toes (to be accurate, I believe that the pinkie toe used to have a purpose but now it’s on its way out). We humans might not have worked out the reasons for everything that’s out there, but chances are good that the reasons exist, just waiting for us to work them out. I’ll be the first one to pony up a donation for any study that can figure out the purpose behind labor. What possible reason could there be for such a disagreeable experience? People tell me that it’s beautiful, that it’s a life altering experience, that the baby will make it all worth it. While that all may be true, couldn’t we have that without the pain, the yelling, the sweating, and the swearing (I know my wife’s gonna swear like a sailor)? Why are mammals the only animals that have such a dramatic and painful birth? Have you ever seen a chicken or an alligator lay an egg? They stare off into the distance, glassy-eyed and serene, and boom, the egg drops out. Their facial expression doesn’t even change. They’re squeezing something pretty big out of a small hole, just like us mammals, so why no hysterics? I know there’s no answer for any of these questions, and that, in the end, it’s silly to ask them, but of all the things coming at Linda and me down the baby pike, labor is the one that concerns me the most. I’m not even the one doing the actual work, but I’m still worried for both of us. I’ve already had friends tell me what not to do when labor is coming on strong. They said, “Whatever you do, don’t pet her hair,” and Linda has told me, “Just don’t keep telling me the same thing over and over again, like, 'You’re doing great!' I don’t need to hear that.” So I’m compiling a list of subtly encouraging phrases like, “You know, you are so pretty when you’re pushing. You should do it again.” I have no doubt that Linda will make it through. She’s tough, and she would probably be okay no matter what, but I want to be the one who makes things easier for her. I want to be her human epidural, and no matter what people tell me or what I read to prepare, the bottom line is that it’s like going into combat: I won’t really know how I’m going to perform until it’s happening.

18 days until baby.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nevermore - or at least not for a while

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine -  a father of four who just walked in the door after taking his kids trick or treating. “It was mobbed out there,” he said. “Kids everywhere.” I asked what his kids’ costumes were, and he went down the list. When he told me that his youngest was Spider-Man, I was instantly transported back to East Eden Road in Hamburg, going door to door, asking for candy, and freezing because I didn’t want to wear a jacket and cover up my Spider-Man costume. The mask’s cheap, stretchy string was biting into my ears, and it felt like breaking the rules - to be out having such a good time on a school night. Halloween always seemed to fall on a school night. The holiday was such a big deal when I was young – the dressing up and the candy. My God, the candy. Now, I'm grown up, and the street Linda and I live on is too rural for trick or treaters. So, Halloween has become something of a non-holiday for us. We’ll watch Charlie Brown or The Shining, but there’s no excitement about October 31st’s arrival. That’s about to change, and I find that exciting. Tonight will be the last Halloween without a little costume and a bag of candy in our house.

19 days until baby.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Stumble Into My Wife's Good Graces

Last weekend, my wife was getting ready to leave for her baby shower, and she asked me, “How do I look?”

I replied honestly, “You don’t even look like you’re pregnant.”

She said, “That’s the nicest thing you can say to a pregnant woman.”

20 days until baby.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Mull

My mom died when I was three, and the only memories I have are vague and untrustworthy, more likely wishes than memories. I have four older brothers, the youngest is five years older than I am, and I’ve always felt some jealousy over the fact that they knew her, had conversations with her, and can summon at will memories of her that they know to be true. I’ve never really given much thought to what my life would have been if she hadn’t died. She did, it’s all I’ve ever known, and not having really known her, I have no comparisons to make. But a few years ago, hanging out with a friend and talking about the things you talk about late at night, he said to me, “Maybe it’s better your mom died when you were young. It spared you the pain of having to lose her later on.” It sounded wrong to me as soon as I heard it, but as I usually do, I didn’t react. Faced with a deep thought like this, I mull. Like cider. It’s one reason I can never have a profound conversation. I have to turn things over and over and over in my head before I know what I really think. So, after thinking about my friend’s comment for hours, days, and weeks, I decided my first reaction was the right one. Following his train of thought to it’s logical conclusion, he was more or less saying that no matter how wonderful an experience might be, the possibility that it might involve pain makes it something to avoid, and, in my opinion, no one should go through life with a philosophy like that. Even if my mother had lived to be 60, the pain of her passing would now be dull, but my memories of her would not be. So there’s something else I need to teach my kid someday, maybe when they have their first crush. I just need to think of a better way to say it.

21 days until baby.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'll Either Be a Pirate or a Ballerina

Tonight, I realized another benefit of our soon-to-be-born child. Next year, without guilt or shame, I get to put on a costume and go trick-or-treating.

22 days until baby.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Stole This From NPR

Yesterday, I wrote about kids music, and today, I’m moving forward to adolescence. NPR has a blog and an excellent weekly podcast, both called All Songs Considered (links are below). A few weeks ago, they asked their blog readers, “What albums were essential to getting you through your adolescence?” The question was inspired by a listener who aimed to give his thirteen-year-old daughter a special gift – 25 albums that would get her through her teens. The question sparked much discussion, and some of the responses were turned into a podcast. Contributors talked about the painful awkwardness of being a teenager; about how music can be a companion and a consoler at an age when so many of us feel so isolated; how music can be a guide at a time when you’re searching for your identity and you don’t even know it. I like the idea of handing my thirteen year old son or daughter a pile of music on the threshold of their teens and saying, “Here. You don’t know what’s coming, but these might help.” Part of me says it’s a little presumptuous to assume that my taste in music will mean something to anyone besides me, but I still remember my older brother Mike handing me a cassette of Who’s Next by the Who when was I was 13 or 14. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but I slid it into my little tape recorder, pressed play, and Baba O’Reily became the first song to give me chills. So, it will take me a while to come up with 25 albums to hand my future teenager, but I have some time to think about it. Years, in fact. For now, I have a few off the top of my head, a baker’s dozen of albums - some that helped me lurch through my teens and some that I wish had been around in my teens. Give me your two cents – what other albums should I throw on the pile?

U2 - The Joshua Tree
Van Morrison - Moondance
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Pearl Jam - Ten
R.E.M. - Document
Def Leppard – Hysteria
Wilco - Summerteeth
Led Zeppelin IV
The Lowest of the Low - Shakespeare My Butt
Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe

NPR All Songs Podcast:
NPR All Songs Blog:

23 days until baby.