Thursday, December 31, 2009

Discos and Thankfulness

            Over the last week Michelle and I have started doing a little ritual every evening. We ask each other – what are you most thankful for, and what are you least thankful for. Our answers are usually brief, but sometimes open up a beautiful self-awareness of what we appreciate and want more of in our lives, and also what we don’t like – the stuff that’s dragging us down.
            I’ve noticed that my favorite moments have involved family bonding, whether with Michelle, Celia or my brothers and parents. I’ve also been thankful for times where we get out of the city, like when we went snowshoeing, soaked in the hot springs, hiked a local mountain, that sort of thing.
            The things I’ve least enjoyed have been not taking enough time for myself. Which is why I’ve taken this time right now to write. The great thing about asking each other these questions is it gives us a sense of what’s most important, and what we need to make time for each day. My mom has been a savior for us with Celia, watching over her in the mornings so we can sleep in (hence we’ve been staying out past midnight! Woo-hoo!). But on the downside, it feels like I’m missing out on some of those precious opportunities with Celia in the mornings. I’ve got to live with more balance.
            Maybe I’m unrealistic. On a vacation, how does anyone live with balance? But at the same time, I’d like to think it’s possible. So far, I’ve passed off Celia to my mom and gone back to sleep nearly every day of our vacation. I’ve had rest, and nice dreams, but I don’t want to miss out on mornings either.
            This morning in my dreams she said to me, “Disco-O there!”
            I thought, “Disco? Why would my baby be telling me about disco?” But then I realized, she was saying, “Just go over there!” How funny is that? She doesn’t even know how to talk yet, and already in my dreams I’m misinterpreting her.
            Ah, yes, I’d better make sure I have time with her outside of dreamland. I know if I do, I will be most thankful for it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Cousin

            I have a nephew named Webber. He’s five months and weighs as much as Celia already! I’m amazed at the difference between him and my little squirt. I’d have figured that they’d have a lot of similarities, being so closely related, but he’s the embodiment of calm and chunky, where Celia is popping and squirmy.
            As I write this, he’s sitting here with me completely calmly, playing with the doodads on his exer-saucer as he’s done for almost an hour now. Meanwhile, my daughter has come in and out of the room two dozen times, found all sorts of things we didn’t want her to, fallen and cried and begged for dinner.
            Every time I say something to Webber he gets a big old grin on his face. I just can’t believe how easy it is to make him happy. In some ways I am totally envious, but at the same time I’m just so thankful for my daughter, it’s hard to think of anything else.  
            My brother is one rambunctious dude. I’d always figured that his kid would be even rowdier than mine. True, we still don’t know what he’ll be like when he’s older, but at this point, it just goes to show, you never really know what kind of personality your kid is going to have before they pop out into this world and we see it for ourselves.
            Now, as I write, Celia has come back into the room and played with every single bob and bobble on Webber’s play-space. He just sits calmly sucking his thumb. Celia leans in and gives him a kiss.
            This is why I have to move back to Montana. She needs to grow up with this charming, roly-poly relative of hers. They need to hang out together.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Jesus in a Tutu

            Memories of childhood Christmases popped into my brain as we sat around the tree this morning opening gifts. Christmas with a one-year-old shakes the dust off a rusty holiday and awakens some of the magic in it. Up till last year I’d been feeling a bit cynical about the whole Christmas thing – how our culture has taken the event hostage with shallow, flashy “stuff.”
            We walk into shopping centers for obligatory gifts and hear a significant song about Christ’s birth, followed by some drivel about snowmen throwing a party or some such nonsense. I mean, seriously, we’re experiencing the juxtaposition of the time and commitment three wise men invested to travel months on a fools’ errand to find the new king and bow before the baby with abundant gifts, joined with some flashing-nosed flying figment who somehow miraculously appears at all the billions of homes at once with gifts aplenty (regardless of the fact that a third of the world is still starving). It’s like watching Jesus dancing in a tutu. Ridiculous.
            So there I was at the shopping centers this year, struggling to find significant ways to spend money, wondering when we’d be able to stop this crazy tradition. And I do admit that I had at least one tirade about the whole thing with Michelle (who puts up with a surprising amount of my bellyaching).
            But then Christmas day came around and there was my little Celia, eyes lit up like little miracles, watching the angel on the top of the tree in awe, delighted not at all about the bounty of gifts, but to simply be with all of us and that mound of wrapping paper. I reached down, picked her up and looked at my brother through her eyes. Her uncle. And I suddenly felt like a one-year-old again. I remembered the awe I felt at that age.
            Not that I really remembered anything particular, just the spirit of things. And it struck me perhaps for the first time ever that our culture’s approach to Christmas is hugely significant for kids. It’s completely designed for them. When adults take it on for ourselves, we just make a mess of it – make it about “stuff.” But kids, they bring out the true awe that Christmas really has for us. The amazing spirit that lurks behind it all, of generosity, food and family.
            I think it was my favorite Christmas in a long time. Thanks, Baby-Cakes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Caroling with Carol

            We took Celia with us caroling. A group of twenty of us, all bundled up and wearing things like bright red Santa hats, trundling into the cold and ice to pull out a beat-up guitar and raise our voices at peoples’ doorsteps. Celia loved it, although she fell asleep by the third house. In the end, we just left her in the car with the engine on, amazed that she could sleep through our loud singing and conversations.
            Spirits were high, and jokes were aplenty. Of course, our friend Carol was punned a few times, but my favorite moment was when John, who was in our car, was explaining who the different people were. “My sister Elizabeth is married to Michael.”
            “Oh, she’s beautiful!” Michelle said enthusiastically. “Which one is she?”
            We all laughed, and drove on to the next house, where once again we were invited in for Christmas treats. I’m so thankful to be in Montana for Christmas, with my parents and brothers and family friends. There’s something so right about being here. It reminds me that this is where my heart is. Yes, we will wait to have our child in Canada, where we know we’ll have health coverage, but we will do our best to move here as soon as possible afterward.
            I just hope I can figure out what the heck I’m going to do with my life before then!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Slept Like a Baby

            When I arrived at work this morning I greeted one of my co-workers. “Hi. How’s it going?”
            “Oh good,” he said. “I slept like a baby last night.”
            “Oh, you were up every two hours crying?”
            He laughed. “Okay. Fair enough. I slept better than a baby!”
            I looked at another co-worker knowingly. His kid woke up every couple of hours puking last night. My daughter happened to do well last night – no wake-ups till 6am. The challenge for us recently is the inconsistency of it all. Over the last five days, three of them she slept soundly the whole night through. The first time she slept through the night recently, Michelle and I looked at each other with tremendous hope in our eyes. This could be the beginning of a brighter (and more rested) future.
            But the very next night she was up every couple of hours wailing away. One of those nights was the night right before our biggest work day of the year. The day where we had to show up early to actually get work done, then present our year-end reports in the afternoon, followed by the annual Christmas party at the Canucks game. It as 5:00am when Celia started wailing, and Michelle said, “Ephie, you take her.”
            I grumbled internally: how could she ask me to take the baby so early on the biggest work day of the year! But I kept my mouth shut. Thank God I did! It turned out Michelle had been up half the night with the baby. I had no idea. She had done her best to keep things quiet so I could sleep, and by 5am she was utterly exhausted.
            So, last night I conked out at 9pm. I had a friend who’d stopped by and stepped out to smoke his pipe on our front porch (it has a nice sofa, and really is the most ideal place I can think of to smoke your pipe). I had to tell him, “Thanks for stopping by, but I’m hitting the hay. Can’t keep my eyes open.”
            And that, I do have to say, is what happens when people “sleep like a baby.” Who knows where that saying comes from? Makes no sense to me. Better to say, “I slept like a teenager,” or “I slept like a rock.” My five-month nephew seems to be sleeping a lot more soundly than my fourteen-month daughter, but I think it’s safe to say, babies do not, as a rule, sleep soundly through the night.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lesson #256: Don’t smell poo with your mouth full.

            Okay, it may seem obvious, but let me explain. The easiest way to check if the diaper is full of a load of “Number Two” is to smell it. As long as you’ve got a certain amount of distance between you and your child’s bum, this is a relatively harmless and non-intrusive method of information gathering. Almost scientific. Verifiable, almost certain to return accurate results every time.
            We’ve gotten into the habit of doing the sniff test over the last few months. When she has to do her duty she usually stares straight ahead, gets a bright red face, and makes grunting sounds. Pretty obvious, right? But sometimes after the sniff test it turns out the whole red-faced routine was a false alarm. Shooting blanks.
            So, when we were all sitting around at the kitchen table with our dinner guest, and eating a delightful bite of my wife’s elk-shepherds-pie, I noticed Celia standing off to the side doing her little red-faced grunting. Bingo!
            Michelle looked at me and said, “I cooked dinner. Your turn to change her.”
            I stood obediently and quickly (with that delicious food still in my mouth), and lifted my little darling to do the sniff test.
            Eureka! We struck gold.
            And instantly the food in my mouth tasted like poo.
            I don’t know why I didn’t expect this. I know that the nose and mouth are connected. Sometimes when things are happening so quickly, common sense is replaced with lunacy all in the name of doing the right thing.
            And so, I hope that my ridiculous behavior, which tainted the dinner experience, can be a lesson to anyone reading this. Lesson #256.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Funk in the Kitchen

            I arrived home and desperately wanted to exercise, but I didn’t see how I’d have the time. People were arriving in forty-five minutes, and if I wanted to run I’d have to get changed, dress Celia in her warmest winter clothing, go for the run, then take a shower. So, I danced with her.
            My inspiration started when Stevie Wonder’s Boogie on Reggae Woman came on the radio. I cranked the volume up and started jiggling around happily. As usual, when I start dancing Celia starts doing little bounces at first, to mimic me, then comes over with arms outstretched, as if to say, “Pick me up and dance with me, Daddy!”
            We bounced and grooved in the kitchen, where the speakers are loudest. When the song ended, I put in some more dance music, and wiggled all around the kitchen with her for a good solid twenty-five minutes, till I was sweating and Celia was finally ready to be put down.
Dancing can be a lot of exercise, especially the way I like to do it, putting my whole body into it. Now just imagine doing that with a twenty-five pound child in your arms. That’s a workout!
Celia was utterly wired afterward. She went rocketing through the house with a lemon in her hand, making funny faces every time she put it in her mouth, chasing the cat and climbing up things.
She climbs onto the coffee table now. Stands on top of it precariously close to the edge. It makes a father squeamish. Apparently, she climbed onto the kitchen table today. Climbed first onto a chair she’d pulled out, then onto the table itself. Crazy kid. Wonder where she gets all these wild, energetic ideas?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Longing for Christmas

            Almost at Christmas. I can hardly wait. Not only because I’m taking some time off and visiting my family again, but because I’m changing what I do work-wise by the end of the year.
            It’s a bit frustrating, because I still don’t know exactly what that’s going to be. My current boss, who’s agreed to hire me on a contract basis, has been so busy we haven’t had a good meeting yet to figure it all out. I’d like to figure it out sooner than later, but even so, I’m just thrilled for the change and for some rest.
            These early mornings are killing me. Not just because I feel terrible when I get out of bed so early, but I dearly miss the time with my kid in the mornings. And she seems to miss it too. In the afternoons she’s just not the same. In the mornings she has a calm inquisitiveness that is truly appealing. I’ve been missing that this week, leaving at 5:40am before she even wakes up.
            It’s funny. Fourteen months ago I didn’t even have a child to miss. Now, after such an intense time together, I have trouble imagining anything else. She’s truly become integrated into my life.
            I just hope I can have the energy to appreciate her when I get home these days, rather than conking out for a nap.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weaning and the Vibrating Massage Tool

            “Are you seriously going to breastfeed two kids at once?” I said to Michelle a couple of months ago.
            “Oh, Celia will probably wean herself when I hit my second trimester.” Michelle looked like she knew what she was talking about.
            I haven’t read all the books, so I’m totally at her mercy. If she tells me her breast milk gets more bitter in the second trimester, I think, “Sure, why not? It kind of makes sense.” This whole childbirth thing is like watching the science channel. Every day there’s a new little tidbit of information that sort of makes sense, but did I know that was the natural order of things before all of this? Most certainly not!
            Sure enough, Celia has been giving less and less time to the boob over the last few weeks. In fact, a couple of days ago Michelle told me, “She went to sleep without breastfeeding at all!” She had a huge grin on her face, reflecting my own.
            There are a lot of advantages to weaning early – most importantly, anyone can placate the child, not just Michelle. But the disadvantages are also plenty – much higher food bill, and the need to spend more effort making sure she’s getting all her proper nutrients. We can’t just feed her toast and cream cheese, this girl needs a balanced diet!
            Last night was a landmark. I went out to read one of my poems at a Christmas performance, and Michelle put Celia to bed, apparently with no problems whatsoever. The amazing thing is, Celia slept completely through the night!
            This is one of those huge moments that every parent dreams and longs for. A full night’s rest for both parents! Wow. It’s been fourteen months, but finally the day has arrived.
            This little girl is growing in leaps and bounds. Most recently it’s been psychological developments that amaze me. Yesterday she was running around the house happily, then all of a sudden burst into wails. I came running over to see that she had a little vibrating massage tool in her hands. I checked her fingers – nothing wrong.
            “What’s wrong?” I called to Michelle upstairs.
            “She got scared.”
            I looked at Celia with new appreciation and held her in my arms. I picked up the tool and pushed the side button to turn it off. Then on again. “Look Celia. On.” With the roller vibrating, I touched it to my cheek and made funny faces till she smiled. “On.”
            Then, I turned it off. “Off, Celia.” She looked at it, then at me. “You try.”
            She reached out and pushed the button. “On,” I told her, then did the little goofy thing on my face again till she smiled. By the ninth on/off shtick she was grinning again, and ready to be put down.
            As she weans, I think we’re going to see more independence develop, and also more need to be comforted when she encounters strange new things.
            I haven’t read this in any book. I just have a good sense of the obvious. And I’m going to make sure that I’m there for her to show her the down-to-earth nature of what probably feels alien and scary.
            Let’s face it, this is just another opportunity to be goofy with my kid. Can’t complain about that!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Eye!"

            Michelle called out, “Ephie! It’s five-twenty-fve!”
            I jerked my head up to look at the clock. Ugh. These early shifts are killing me. Throat’s a mess. Head’s groggy. Shower didn’t do much to wake me up.
            I ended up being about five minutes late, after flying down the highway. Good thing barely anybody’s awake in this city before six. Still, Ugh.
            Of course, the flip side is I get to come home early. When I walked in the door Celia was busy playing with our cat, sitting on its new scratching post. She hardly looked up at me.
            “Celia! I’m home!” I called out.
            She glanced over at me, then back at the cat. Hmm. Not the usual big welcome I’ve been used to. What’s up with that?
            I dropped all my stuff and lay down on the couch. “Celia! Come ‘ere!”
            Celia came tottering over with an inquisitive look on her face.
            “Hi sweetie.” I picked her up and sat her on my chest.
            “Eye!” she said, and poked my left eye.
            I laughed. Haven’t seen that one before.
            So, the verdict is still out on this morning shift. I think I’m going to go take my baby for a jog, while there’s still light. Maybe that’s the only real perk, so far. Daylight when I come home in the winter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Early Shift

            I just got off the phone with my little pumpkin. When I said, “Bye!” she said back, “Bye!” I’m just tickled that she can do that. The day has finally arrived where she can say something on the phone that makes sense besides, “Daddy.” It touches a father’s heart.
            Today marks the beginning of a time where I work from 6am till 2pm. It’s due to an effort to make sure work is covered from 6am to 6pm. I got the morning shift, because I thought to myself, “Heck, I’m up early anyway with Celia, why not get home with some daylight to spare and actually spend time with the family before the craziness of getting dinner ready?”
            When I leapt out of bed with not a second to spare, I was thinking twice about this decision. Michelle tells me Celia isn’t quite herself today. She’s acting more needy, and was looking everywhere for me this morning. I suppose that makes complete sense. Her entire existence so far has been waking up to Daddy, and spending the first couple of hours together. Of course she’s going to miss it.
            As I drove to work, I missed it too, to tell the truth. Yeah, I’d rather she sleeps in and I don’t wake up early, but over a year of doing it has gotten me used to it, and frankly, there’s something quite sweet about that time. Nobody else awake. Celia and I are both chilled out and slowly waking up. We just kind of hang out. Slowly get ready for the day. Have breakfast.
            Perhaps it’s not going to work out, this whole early shift. I suppose only time will tell.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Feeding Goats a Rock

            Michelle was hosting a baby shower for a friend this afternoon, so I organized some of the fathers and we took our kids to the petting zoo. The moment Celia tottered onto the property her eyes lit up, and stayed that way for two hours.
            There were ponies, goats, cows, donkeys, sheep, horses, ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, peacocks. Every single animal she would reach down and pick up something off the ground, then reach over and try to feed them. I’d say something like, “Goats don’t eat rocks, Dear. Try petting them.”
            She was adamant, though. Had to try to feed every goat in the pen with her little rock. What a sweetheart. I had to practically pry her away from the experience. When I opened the car door she broke into tears. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen her cry to be removed from somewhere.
            I smiled at her. “You really liked it here didn’t you?”
            Her face started turning red as she wailed.
            “We’ll have to come back, I think.”
            I buckled her in and got in the car.
            Michelle still had about fifteen ladies at the house when we finally got home. Celia tore through the house meeting everyone and eating whatever cookie crumbs she could find. I cracked open a Belgian white beer and smiled as I watched her push a young boy in her little Care Bears car.
            Michelle told me yesterday that she read a magazine article that said mothers should make sure to invite somebody over once a month, to make sure you don’t go crazy by yourself and you keep your house clean.
            When she told me that we laughed, and laughed, and laughed. We have people over pretty much every day, and large groups a few times a week. I guess we’re both hospitable and extroverts, but even so, I’m surprised at that article. How can anyone really do a good job of parenting with so little exposure to other people? That’s the spice of life! I’m the opposite. I want Celia to be surrounded by people, learn other peoples’ languages, food, customs and smells. I want her to be a well-rounded individual.
            Sure, I know she’s an animal lover, but may as well cultivate people-loving too!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Guys and What We Think About

            I showed up at the meal for the homeless last night and put on my apron. Already two women were chopping onions.
            “Hi! How’ve you been?” the older woman asked with tears in her eyes.
            “Oh, great. Great.”
            “How’s work?”
            “Up and down. Lots of crazy stuff going on.”
            “And the baby? How old is she now?”
            “Fourteen months! And you wouldn’t believe it! She learned to walk backwards last week.” I started telling them the story, complete with body movements and facial expressions. They laughed and I couldn’t help but smile just thinking about my daughter.
            The crazy thing is, an awful lot of stuff has been going on at work, good and bad, and most certainly exciting. But the thing that got me talking was that little daughter of mine.
            I’m a typical guy. Most of the time I think about my work, activities, and stuff. I don’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about family and people. That’s just the way guys are. But my baby, she really gets me talking.
            Sure, I’m excited and energized by work and thinking about our future plans. But that daughter of mine never ceases to put a smile on my face!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Midnight Performance

            It was almost midnight and Celia had terrible gas. She was crying as we patted and rubbed her belly, then pumped her legs to get it out. A couple of farts later, it was still bugging her. Michelle took her up to try to breastfeed her to serenity as I did a little bit of office work.
            By the time I went upstairs, Celia was still wailing. I started singing a little ditty and Michelle said, “Don’t bother. She’s just in pain. It won’t work.”
            I looked at her, then at the crying kid in her arms, and began dancing around as I sang, “Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar? Or be better off than you are…? Or would you like to be a mule?”
            Celia calmed down and watched me with fascination. I danced, gyrated and gestured with all my energy. It was the performance of my life. When the song ended she began to cry again, so I started up with another, and then another. By the third song she was starting to doze off and I was sweating. I ended quietly and left the room to let Michelle put the baby to sleep.
            Later, I nudged Michelle with a wink. “Don’t bother, eh?”
            She smiled.
            It’s funny what kids will get you to do. Not that I thought I’d never sing and dance for someone, but at midnight? Upstairs? In my pajamas? To a crying baby? Nope. Hadn’t thought that one up till I was right smack in the middle of it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Backwards Brilliance

            I’m still in shock that my daughter can walk backwards.
            It happened so suddenly. Nobody showed her how. She just gave me one of her smirky little grins and a sparkle in her eye that said, “Wait a second… I think I just figured something out here!” And then, she walked backwards, just like that.
            I instantly exclaimed. “You’re walking backwards! Celia! You’re amazing!”
            How does she figure this stuff out? I’m certain nobody taught her.
            Tonight I was telling a friend over dinner just how amazing my daughter is. “You wouldn’t believe it! How many kids learn to do that at her age?! She’s amazing! I really think she’s brilliant. I mean, seriously… how soon do most kids learn to walk backwards? Two? Two-and-a-half? And here she is at fourteen months!! It makes a father proud.”
            My friend just nodded silently. How many times have I said those words since having Celia in my life? At least half a dozen.
            I wonder if this is part of the whole fatherhood deal. We dads have absolutely no idea at what age a child learns to walk backwards. And in fact, we have no interest whatsoever in doing the research to find out (as easy as typing it into a search engine online).
            Instead, we’d rather make wild guesses as to the development of other “normal” children, and place ours far above the learning curve. My child is extraordinary. She is especially gifted, and not just because she’s my kid. Do I have comparisons to back up my claims? Not really. I just “know.”
            And I don’t know whether I’m alone in this sentiment, but something tells me it’s a pretty widespread phenomenon. We dads tend to look at our kids and think the most of them.
            My little girl is almost saying the vowels of the alphabet now. It’s utterly delightful to watch her try. And every single time she makes a big step in development I am in utter shock at just how smart my little girl is.
            Sure, any English-speaking person knows how to say their vowels. But my girl, well, I watched her learn myself. And she’s brilliant!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanks and Slobbery Kisses

            Yesterday we had a huge Thanksgiving feast in Montana with my parents and some friends. It was so great to be with my parents for Thanksgiving. I think of it as the most pristine of the holidays – the least touched by Corporate America.
            Yes, the largest shopping day of the year is the day after (and in fact, Michelle is out taking advantage of the ginormous sales as I write this). But there’s no sense of cultural obligation to buy stuff on that day. It’s just a day to be with family and to be thankful. What a wonderful holiday.
            Being with my parents reminds me of how important it is for us to move down here as soon as possible. It’s a gravitational pull that having children does to me. Even now, my Mom said, “You go out and have lunch with Michelle. I’ll take care of Celia.”
            What a fantastic blessing.
            Not everyone has parents. And not everyone has parents they’d leave their kids with. What a blessing that we have this. But we need to take action in order to receive this blessing. Like any gift, the only real requirement is that you need to receive it. But so often in our lives we blindly turn down many blessings and gifts right in front of our noses. Probably we’re too busy, too fearful, too stuck in our ruts to wake up and take the time to accept all these wonderful gifts.
            I think Thanksgiving is a great time to take a step back and start giving thanks. Once we start down this path, it’s like our whole eyesight changes. We realize there’s more to smile about than grumble about. We start to notice and appreciate the people around us. However much I dislike aspects of my work environment, I realize all the things I’m so thankful for about it.
            And the things I’ve already been thankful for, like my beautiful little girl, seem all the more precious. I am amazed and thankful for her precious and precocious personality. For the curiosity that gets her into trouble. For her exploratory energy that does, admittedly, make things like road trips more difficult (she cried the last hour of the twelve-hour trip, desperately wanting to just get out of that car seat), but also gives both her and me a fresh new look at this huge world around us.
            I can take her anywhere and she’ll happily point and say, “Whazzit!” (i.e. what is it?)
            I’ve been enjoying explaining everything to her. And as I do, it continually reminds me of how magnificently detailed this world is. I’ve noticed the color of flowers, the art I’d normally have passed by, and of course, every single dog, whether the tiniest drawing in the corner of some magazine or the real deal. She just loves dogs. Squeals happily every time she sees one, and has to lean in to give a kiss.
            There are three dogs at my parents’ place, two of which love slobbering their licks all over Celia’s face. Celia has occasionally returned the kiss at the same time, which seems totally disgusting at one level, seeing a dog’s tongue inside my daughter’s mouth, but on the other hand, it totally makes me smile. If Celia doesn’t like it, she could easily pull away. But she loves it. It’s so in-your-face slobbery, right in line with her personality. I think she would totally love living closer to creation, even on a farm. A place where we can show her the stars every night and leave her with my parents to actually go out on a date!
            Yep, I don’t think it’ll be too long before we move to Montana and get ourselves a dog.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Privileged Parent

            I believe there’s a fundamental and critical thing that every father and mother has which will dictate the way they parent. It’s called “perspective”. Parenting is a lot of work and wears down the system, and each parent individually has to choose: is this constant wear-and-tear going to be seen as a privilege or an inconvenience? Is it a blessing to be with this child who wears me down? or is it intruding into the other things I’d like in my life (like sleep! or other activities). I have come to believe that this issue is so key as to make every other parenting issue of lesser importance.
            It affects the overarching parenting job as well as individual experiences. When something negative happens, as it always will, and the parents are inconvenienced, as happens constantly, the response they give inevitably will come out their perspective.
            My daughter likes to touch the things she’s not allowed to touch. This morning, by the time my shower was done my daughter was itching to get out of the imprisoning straps that tied her to her little swing. When I let her out she immediately ran off and grabbed the garbage can. With a towel around my waist, I rushed out of the bathroom and gently told her not to touch it as I pulled her away. She then went straight for the dangling Christmas lights in the other room.
            At this point, a parent could scold their child, reprimand, raise their voice, or become stern. I mean, I was still dripping, and hadn’t even shaved yet. That’s the “inconvenience” side. I could also have thought to myself, “Ah, well, she’ll figure it out on her own. I’ve got to shave and get going here.” This “hands off” approach doesn’t draw boundaries and teach the child what’s right and wrong. Obviously, when she’s doing inappropriate things I’ve got to take action. But what kind?
            In this case I looked at her and thought, “Okay, she obviously is trying to get my attention, because she knows these two things are off limits.” She doesn’t yet have the language or understanding to get my full attention through positive means. And if I look at her as a privilege, I’m going to want to enjoy this moment, where she’s trying to get my attention. Here’s a golden opportunity to bond with my daughter!
            So, I picked her up, held her tight, and sang a little made-up love ditty. She calmed down and rested her head on my shoulder happily. She’s a very energetic and wiry child, so it’s wonderful when she wants to snuggle like this.
            Sure enough, the little bonding interlude lasted only a minute or so, before she’d had her fill and was ready to get down and play by herself again. I set her down gently and let her run around as I got back to shaving.
            When I feel that I am privileged to have the opportunity to parent my daughter, I look forward to these moments, whenever they come. No matter how inconvenient they may seem.
            And of course, when I’m ready for these kinds of moments they’re absolutely priceless. This week she learned how to point to body parts.
            “Celia, where are your ears?” Michelle asked.
            Celia pointed to her ears.
            “Where’s your nose?”
            Celia touched her nose. “Your eyes?” She paused, then touched my eyes. I laughed and gave her a kiss.
            In fact, she was able to identify every major body part. Just like that. I don’t know when it happened, but for me it was sudden and shocking. I hadn’t seen a single thing before, and now she knows where everything is! And I am amazed. I am amazed and privileged to be able to see this development in my child. I know that all kids will grow in these ways, but for me to be the guy who watches it slowly creep up day by day, that’s a tremendous delight.
            And for that, I feel like I am the most privileged man in the whole world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Boob Besotted

            Michelle must be exhausted, because she actually decided yesterday to try to sleep train Celia again. I say “again” because we already sleep-trained her once successfully, but then she un-learned everything when she got sick a few months ago and Michelle calmed her at night by breastfeeding.
            Lo and behold, it’s now a few months down the road, and Celia has kept up this little routine, pinning Michelle down to scheduled nursing episodes a few times a night. It’s interesting to me, as a dad, how subtly and sneakily this all happened, because I remember the last time Michelle finally snapped and decided to sleep-train Celia. She had been utterly exhausted and had gotten to that point where it didn’t matter how much Celia cried, Michelle was going to sleep.
            Well, it’s been at least three months now where we don’t have to hear much crying. As soon as there’s a little peep, out comes the breast and the baby is placated. But now that Michelle’s pregnant you can see the toll this is taking on her by looking in her eyes. I know she can’t take it much longer.
            Last night we’d just finished watching a movie downstairs with a friend when Celia started crying. Michelle said, “You calm her down. If it’s me she’ll just want the boob.”
            It’s funny that she now calls it “the boob,” because early on with Celia I used to tell my friends about Michelle “breastfeeding” and she said, “I’d like you to use the term ‘nursing’ because it draws less attention to my boobs.”
            “Okay,” I said. But over time her sensitivity (or sensibility?) crumbled, to the point where she just pops it out at Celia’s demand. I’m sure people in public places have seen them. It’s like she’s gotten to the point of weariness where it doesn’t matter anymore.
            Anyway, back to the story. I went up to check on Celia and change her diaper. She was happy to see me at first, but soon realized that there was no “boob” forthcoming, and started to freak out. She wailed and wailed, no matter what I did. I tried our older tactic of saying, “Goodnight,” and walking downstairs, but ten minutes later she was freaking out even more.
            “Go take your shower,” I told Michelle. “I’ll deal with it.”
            Michelle left and I went upstairs again. I tried rocking her. Singing to her. Nothing. She was hyperventilating at this point, so I brought her to my bed, turned on the light, and started reading a story to her.
            Finally, she started to calm down. She’s a sucker for a good book. But even so, she’d occasionally have to catch her breath for the next few minutes. The sobs had been so deep, even though she wanted to be calmed she had some leftover sobs that kept revving from all that built-up momentum.
            By the time Michelle finished her shower, I just handed Celia over and said, “Back to the boob.” Michelle nodded. We’ll give it another shot later, I suppose. For now, there is a comfort in knowing that she has a magic weapon that can placate our daughter in a matter of minutes.
            It’s so easy. So tempting. But of course, at the 3am feeding I’m sure Michelle will be thinking once again, “We’ve got to get this kid off the boob.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wazzat!

            My daughter got more curious overnight.
            When she cried for me to pick her up at 6:20am, I groaned out of bed, took her downstairs, turned on the aquarium light to feed the fish, and lay down on the carpet to do my stretches. She immediately crawled to my feet and started twiddling my toes.
            I smiled and craned my head to look at her, “Are you grabbing my toes?”
            She grinned and patted her arms happily. I’m not sure what made my toes more interesting than every other day, but when I went back to my stretching she tried to suck on them. I laughed and picked her up.
            Later, when I was making breakfast, she didn’t want to be at my knee-height. She wanted to see everything I was doing, so I picked her up and explained everything as I did it. “These are the coffee beans. Watch me grind them. See how I’m boiling water here? That’s for my coffee. Caw-fee. Can you say that?”
            She watched quietly and contentedly the entire morning. And after she ate breakfast, when we sat down to read a couple of books before I had to go off to work, she constantly pointed at the things on the page and said, “Wazzat!”
            I know she’s trying to say, “What is that?” so I always explain, “That’s a flower. That’s a star.” She pulls her hand back, then points at another object and calls out, “Wazzat!” Every time a dog comes on a page, she leans forward and brings the book up to her mouth so she can kiss it.
            She loves dogs. Every time she sees one she flips out happily. I think it’s partially because we don’t have one ourselves, so they’re always a special event. That was probably the biggest life-saver for Michelle yesterday. Our cat has fleas and a couple of injuries so Michelle had to take it to the vet. We gave away our cat carrier a couple years ago, so she packed Felix into a cardboard box, strapped Celia into the car seat, and drove down to the vet’s office.
            Thankfully, all the dogs in the waiting area kept Celia occupied for the hour or so they had to camp out there. And the owners were apparently all thrilled that somebody was so excited to meet their little doggies. That’s what Michelle told me, and I totally can just imagine it now. Celia really brings out the grins in people.
            I think I’d have to say that’s one of my favorite things about parenting her, at this point – all the smiles it bubbles out of me. And every time she grows a bit more, like today’s curiosity, it makes me sit back in awe at the miracle of being human.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rocket Ship

            I invented this new game with Celia using the kitchen timer. It’s located at my eye level, so she doesn’t see it unless an adult is holding her and standing right at the entrance of the kitchen. It’s a small white rectangle with digital display and an inviting, big red button.
            The game began one Saturday morning when Celia just had to push that button, and after a few attempts, succeeded. But the timer was set to thirty minutes or some other uninteresting number, so I changed it to ten seconds and said, “Celia! Let’s play Rocket Ship. Push the button again.”
            Celia obediently pushed the button, at which point I began a loud count-down as the numbers descended, using my fingers for the last five to show her visibly our progress. “Five… four… three… two… one…”
            “BLAST OFF!” I roared and swooped through the house, to the front door, then to the back door, then back to the timer, where Celia eagerly reached out to push the big red button again.
            As of yesterday I think it’s safe to say Rocket Ship is officially her favorite game to play with me. What thrills me the most is that I had no idea this game existed a week ago. In fact, I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what kind of games Celia will want to play in a week?” In some ways, this is the greatest pleasure about having kids; the great mystery of what will develop next. Not that we aren’t expecting her to learn to talk, walk, climb, run, sing, or pick her nose. It’s just that, when she actually does start to do these things, we are utterly amazed.
            That’s the privilege of having kids. As they grow, unfolding like flowers into this world, we have a similar unfolding in our own lives. I’d rather watch my daughter than TV any day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pickles and a Big Sister

            Michelle is eating pickles again. Last time she was pregnant she went through a faze where we literally witnessed the influx of a dozen different brands of pickles. I had no idea the variety and complexity of pickle potential until Michelle was pregnant.
            It’s still a bit unreal to me, the idea of having a second child when our first is still such a little potato. I have a feeling she’s going to be a great big sister. We read her this book every night about a kid whose mom is pregnant, and at the end gives birth. I think Celia understands, and if we keep at it, she’ll be excited for the second child, rather than resentful (which I’ve heard can happen if you don’t lead up to it well).
            She tries to be a help with whatever we’re doing. It’s so adorable, and although it most certainly is the opposite of helpful, we just love watching her get involved. We were folding up some laundry and putting hers away in her drawer. Celia came over and Michelle said, “Celia, why don’t you go put these away in your drawer?”
            Celia obediently took the folded pants and walked over to her dresser drawer, which was already open, and put the pants in it. Then, she pulled them out, along with every single other article of clothing in the drawer.
            I looked at the mound of clothing sitting next to Celia and laughed. “Celia! You’re such a big help! Look at how well you put clothes away!” She smiled up at me and started putting the clothing back in.
            She likes putting stuff in and out of containers. This morning I asked her to help me put my lunch in the lunch box. Every item I handed her, she eagerly placed it inside the lunch box. “Thank you!” I patted her on the head. “You’re such a big help!”
            Yes, I think she’ll make a great older sister. I just hope I’m as ready for it as she is!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Learning to Spin

            My daughter has learned to spin.
            I guess she probably got the idea when I went shopping at a big box store with a couple of buddies, and I had to look for something so I told them to watch Celia. When I got back, she was sitting on an office chair spinning round and round with a humongous grin on her face. My friends were laughing and kept switching directions, to my daughter’s great delight.
            She started spinning on her own in the kitchen when Michelle and I were eating dinner. She twirled around twice, then looked up at me and Michelle with an impish grin on her face, as if to say, “Ah ha! So this is what I can do!”
            Michelle and I both smiled back at her. “You’re spinning! That’s called spinning!”
            Michelle stood and twirled around a couple of times, until I said, “Michelle. Don’t forget you’re pregnant.”
            “Oh yeah,” she said with a queasy look on her face. But Celia was already duly impressed. She smiled at us and started to spin around and around until she fell down. Then she stood up with a huge grin and did it again. And again.
            She’s growing so fast now, it’s making me want to read all those parenting books Michelle brought home. It seems to me that no matter what kind of parent you are, there are timeless truths that all parents should obey. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re energetic or laid back, emotional or stoic, all parents would benefit from parenting in ways that uphold the dignity of the child while at the same time drawing appropriate boundaries.
            As Celia gets older, I’m finding a tiny bit of freedom open up for myself. She’s getting to be comfortable playing on her own now, and this gives me time to actually do a thing or two. But I can already see the temptation; with time freed up more and more as the kids get older, we start to go back to all those things we put on hold for them. And then that moment will arise where my daughter will want my attention but I’ll be way too busy with my own things again. I hope I will be able to give full attention and love while at the same time pursuing a bit of my own thing. I say “a bit” because I truly do wonder if I’ll ever have time the way I used to, ever again. A part of me thinks it may never happen.
            For now, she’s got a long way to go. She’s just learning to spin, and at this point, probably the best thing I can do is get off of my chair and spin around with her. She’s only going to be this age once, so I’d better appreciate every last moment of it. In some ways, maybe my life needs a little bit of a spin. Shake things up a bit. Couldn’t hurt.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Frow

            Michelle has “pregnant brain” again.
            She’s using the word “thing” to describe a wide variety of objects, actions, and events. And she’s started walking around with a furrowed brow.
            “Why the furrowed brow?” I asked her.
            She looked at me with tired eyes.
            “Come sit in my lap.” I put my laptop aside.
            Michelle sat down and I gently rubbed her forehead. “There you go.”
            “Do I still have a furrowed frow?” Michelle looked up at me sweetly.
            “A what?” I laughed. Then, I laughed some more. Michelle started laughing too, and it was infectious, one of those laughs that gets passed back and forth until somebody cries. I’m usually the first to cry with extreme laughter fits. It runs in the family.
            I looked at the rings under Michelle’s eyes and felt a tremendous amount of love for her. Just when it was starting to get easier with our first child, we decided to have another. Michelle is more tired than ever, and I still feel a bit of shock that we will probably have two kids in diapers at the same time. Perhaps we jumped in too soon? Or maybe the timing is perfect?
            Anyway, it is what it is, so we’d better get used to the idea and take what life’s given us with grins on our faces. My wife may be turning into a frow-lady, but at least we can still have a sense of humor.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Successful Fine Dining

            We actually went to a nice restaurant yesterday, and it wasn’t a disaster!
            It’s the nicest restaurant we’ve been to with Celia, not counting my brothers’ place in Montana. We just haven’t had the desire to eat in finer dining venues, because she tends to start breaking down well before the food arrives. When the food takes over half an hour to arrive, Celia can’t handle the lull, so she’ll squeak and squeal until we let her run around. She’ll run up to every patron in the place until someone gives her attention.
            We eventually need to contain her so we end up holding her wiggly little body as she does her best to make her great escape. By the time the food comes, our best attempt at eating usually involves wolfing down the food quickly so that our squirmy, sometimes-wailing daughter can be passed back and forth from me to Michelle more easily.
            Up till now, we’ve tried limiting ourselves to Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Middle-Eastern places. The kinds of restaurants where the lights are bright, the food is cheap but delicious, and the people are loud. In those kinds of places, a wiry child seems to fit in better. Plus the food gets served rather quickly.
            But I’ve noticed that ever since she hit one year old, every week she seems more mature. She’s got at least a dozen-word vocabulary now, and is able to sit quietly if something is interesting in front of her. So, when my friend recommended going to a nice restaurant, and Michelle asked me, “Is it child friendly?” I said, “Let’s give it a shot, either way.”
            Yes, there were pieces of food all over the table and our clothing. Yes, we ate more quickly than pre-child. And yes, our child did get passed around while we ate.
            But no, there was no screaming, running, or general anguish.
            Yes! Who says it gets harder? Parenting gets easier as they get older!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Late-Night Techo-Gypsy

            I called my friend after work yesterday. “Woo-hoo! One day weekend tomorrow!”
            He was confused at first, then realized it was a holiday. He said, “Hey, come out with me tonight. My friend’s performing.”
            “I don’t know…” I thought about my 6am wake-up times with Celia.
            “It’s the kind of thing where you don’t think you want to go, but then when you do, you’re so glad you did.”
            “Let me think about it.”
            When I got home Michelle said, “Go! I’ll take care of Celia in the morning.”
            So I went. First time out late in over a year.
            It was a trendy club, and both bands played a modern kind of techno-gypsy music. I was shocked to find such things in the middle of a city, but then again, it’s a pretty multi-cultural place. We danced till 1am to the gypsy version of Prince’s “Kiss” and a whole whack of songs in some unidentifiable language (although not to everyone, I observed, as people would shout out, “Oh! I love this song!”). I marveled at how much the night scene has changed since the last time I was out. Then I marveled at how much I’ve changed since the last time I was out.
            We left while people had formed links with their arms and were kicking their legs out gypsy-style. Although I wanted to stay I thought that maybe, just maybe, I should listen to my body telling me how tired I was.
            The next morning at 6:30am Celia woke up and Michelle had barely slept. Or at least, that’s what she said. So I took Celia for the next couple of hours. When I brought her up for a nap, I conked out and slept till noon.
            I woke up groggily and thought, “This is why I don’t go out late anymore! I lose half my day!” I think my friend was right, that it was well worth it. So much fun! But my body is telling me, “Don’t do that very often!”
            This is why people think parents are fuddy-duddies! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cleaning Strategies

            When I arrived home, Celia was as happy as ever to see me. Big grins, running around showing me her largest stuffed animals. The house was an utter wreck, and Michelle started cleaning.
            I shook my head. She’s undoubtedly exhausted from the pregnancy, not to mention chasing Celia around all day, and then she cleans when I get home. It’s like she doesn’t stop! I said to her, “You’re amazing, you know that?”
            She smiled and said, “Jonica told me I should wait to clean until you get home. That way you’d be more impressed. Looks like it works!”
            I laughed and gave her a huge kiss.
            We may be tired, and the house resembling more of a detonation zone than living quarters, but we’re certainly tasting the fullness of life.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Plastic Mass-Marketed Sound-Polluters

            I remember before we had Celia I said to Michelle, “I don’t want any toys in the house that are plastic. I don’t want any toys that make those terrible little kid sounds on lousy little speakers. And I don’t want anything that speaks of corporate America.” Those were my three limits, and I was planning on sticking with them.
            Of course, even before Celia was born we were given a plastic Disney toy, which, of course, Celia now loves playing with. And all three limits I swore to never allow have taken over our lives in an overwhelming way.
            Today was no exception. We went to a friend’s house for lunch, and his mother pulled out some toys for Celia to play with. Of course, her favorite was a little plastic car with Care Bears plastered all over them, and a delightful little button that, when pushed, sings a cheesy little song that has an utterly unimaginable way of seeping into your subconscious and resurfacing throughout the day.
            Celia liked it so much that they gave it to her, and it’s parked in my living room next to the stereo speaker even as I write.
            Well, I can’t say I’m unthankful. But I certainly recognize how much my “theories” about parenting have changed now that I’m in the middle of it all. When things are down and dirty, I’m actually thankful for annoying little toys that will keep her happily occupied. Who’d’ve thought?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Unscheduled Quiche

            I made unplanned quiche this morning. Made me late for work and everything. It all started with that wimpy shower.
            I’ve been thinking for two months now that I need to do something about this lousy shower. When the people downstairs use the water, our water pressure dwindles to a trickle. I try timing my morning showers to coincide with the people downstairs, but who knows exactly when that will be?
            This morning the water slowly dribbled out casually as Celia played with a toy strapped into her jogging stroller. I looked at the shower head quietly, then grabbed it and held it over my hair for a good solid ten seconds just to wet it enough to shampoo.
            I’ve been to Third-World countries where there’s no running water. Some of homes I’ve visited had only cold water, or showers that sputter in and out. A couple of times I’ve even been electrocuted trying to turn off the shower (they actually have an electric switch to control the hot water, even though you turn it on and off while your body is still wet. Duh! Whoever came up with such things!)
            Generally, I try to take showers in less than three minutes because of my squirming daughter. That way she doesn’t get too restless sitting there. Today she started wailing after a few minutes, as expected, so I used Strategy #1; give her a new toy to play with. This worked three times, until I ran out of toys.
            Then, I pulled out Strategy #2; I sang to her. Unfortunately, she was already getting herself wound up, so it only worked for about fifteen seconds before I had to employ Strategy #3; a sure-fire winner. I reached outside of the shower and opened the drawer where I keep her toothbrush.
            “Ta-Da!” I declared. “Your toothbrush!”
            Celia smiled as I handed it to her and I went back to my cleaning attempt.
            Over the last two months, whenever the shower hasn’t quite functioned I’ve said to myself, “I have hot running water. That’s better than most of the world.” But this morning, after listening to Celia finally lose it for the last time, I looked at the pathetic drips and shouted, “I live in a First-World country!”
            I shut off the water, put on my bathrobe, and took Celia into the kitchen. “Let’s eat something nice!” I figured maybe a decent breakfast would calm her down.
            Celia looked at me and squirmed. I put her down and she began racing around the kitchen grunting off some agitation.
            “What would you like to eat? Would you like an egg?”
            Celia looked up at me happily. I grabbed the eggs out of the fridge, put them on the kitchen counter, and turned my back on her as I grabbed a pan. Next thing I heard was a series of “Splats!” I turned my head to see that Celia had grown an inch and grabbed the whole container of eggs. She was holding the container happily as all but two eggs plunked onto the floor.
            “Ahh!” I grabbed the egg carton out of her hand to save the last two, and pulled her away from the eggs all over the floor. “Celia, you broke the eggs!” My mind raced. Do I throw them away? What can you do with a lot of eggs? This morning was going from bad to worse, and I could start to feel the grumbles building inside of me.
            Quiche!
            “Okay Celia, we’ll make quiche.” I scooped up the eggs and tried keeping my curious daughter out of the mess. Why make a fuss when she has no idea what she’s really doing? I’m amazed that she grew so much overnight, but I’m just thankful I learned this lesson with eggs, and not a sharp knife!
            The quiche, although I mostly made it with one hand while I held Celia in the other, turned out delicious. Yes, I arrived at work twenty minutes late and without shaving, but I survived. And most important, I never did reprimand or yell at my daughter. I think there are always going to be build-up times where we start to lose it, and then when our kids push some boundary we’ll get tempted to take it out on them. I pray that I may always have the strength to treat her with love and respect, no matter the quality of the shower or timing of the quiche.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Flu Shots and Sleepless Nights

            We got her a flu shot yesterday afternoon. The swine flu has been going around, and we already know a handful of people who have it. Since this is a serious ailment, with major risks, and with Michelle being pregnant, we decided the two of them should get their shots.
            Add to that the fact that we just went through Daylight Savings Time, and Celia was exhausted by 6pm. She cried and ran into the bathroom, holding onto the edge of the bathtub and bouncing up and down.
            “Do you want to take a bath?” we asked.
            She looked up at me, then pointed at the faucet with her hand bent at the wrist and declared, “Bah!”
            “Bath!” I said to her, nodding. I put her little plastic tub inside the bathtub and turned on the faucet. Then, I looked at Michelle and said, “Looks like she’s going to bed without dinner tonight.”
            Michelle frowned. If Celia isn’t well fed, we know she’ll wake up hungry. This whole “gaining an hour” thing turned around on us, in the end. Who’d have thought kids were so darn scheduled?
            So, Celia went to bed early, without dinner, and I started grilling some steaks for my pregnant wife, because she “felt a craving for more iron.” I’d barely pulled the steaks off the barbecue when I heard the baby crying upstairs.
            “Michelle,” I called, “Baby’s crying.”
            Michelle went upstairs and subsequently brought down a frantic daughter. Celia was sweating, hot, and wailing uncontrollably. She’s more mature these days, so we both looked at each other worriedly.
            “Get the thermometer,” Michelle said.
            I raced around the bathroom opening drawers, then ran upstairs and finally found it. I brought it down and put it under her armpit, but by then she’d cooled down. Still, she wailed and wailed. I tried singing to her. Michelle gave her some Tylenol. She’d calm for a moment, then pick up again.
            I looked sadly at the steak sitting on the kitchen counter, which had been cooked to perfection and was now getting cold. I went into the kitchen and cut a juicy piece off. Delicious.
            I cut another piece, walked back into the living room and fed Michelle. She smiled at me as she chewed it. We ended up eating most of our steak that way, until the Tylenol set in and Celia calmed down.
            We sat at the table and managed to eat and feed her some good food. That was a relief. But even so, she woke up a couple of hours later, and we spent time on the internet making sure she was okay. Michelle said her arm felt like someone had majorly bruised it, so I understand how my daughter was in pain. It all made sense objectively.
            Still, whether it makes sense or not, when your baby is in tremendous pain, you’re not 100% sure why, and you don’t really know what to do with it, a man starts to grow some worry lines.
            I realized just how much I love my daughter last night. I would do everything within my power to make sure she’s okay. I feel a tremendous sadness for parents who lose their children. When we invest so much of our hearts, time and energy into one single person, we grow attached in an incomparable way.
            In some ways, I can’t even remember life with Michelle and without Celia. All those months together were simply a precursor to what we have now. All those times alone were just getting us ready for this. The great adventure of parenthood.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Highland Cows, Pumpkins, and a Finger up the Nose

            My daughter is officially older than twelve months today (thirteen, to be precise). I wonder when I’ll stop thinking of her age in months… At this point it absolutely amazes me the difference a single month can make in the kid’s development.
            A month ago, she was more wobbly on her feet. She only knew a few words (she knows at least a dozen now). She still had major breakdowns in restaurants. She was afraid of cows.
            Well, I’m not sure whether or not she was afraid of cows last month, but I do know that the last time she saw cows, it was a total fright-fest. Yesterday when we took her to see a couple of highland cows she grinned and squawked happily, and ended up feeding them grass, to her great delight and her dad’s photo trigger-finger.
            This month, she has learned how to suck all the cream cheese off of her toast without eating a single grain in the bread. She has learned how to say “pumpkin” of all things (I think it’s her first two syllable word that has a non-repeating sound). She has begun wearing hair ties of different sorts to keep the hair out of her face (and subsequently appears much older). And most comedic, she has discovered the sensation of shoving her finger up her nose and fishing around up there. Was it an accident that she stuck her finger in her mouth afterward? Or perhaps I wasn’t witnessing the first time…
             My baby isn’t a baby anymore. According to the rooms we take the kids to during the church service, she is officially a toddler now. It’s shocking how quickly they mature. It’s also delightful.
            I feel so much pleasure seeing her learn a new thing. And I realize how much I enjoy showing her new things as well. “Look, Celia!” I’ll point. “There’s a big crow!” She always obediently looks where I point, and often gets excited. There’s just no substitute for that. I’m seeing the whole world with fresh, new eyes. As she gets older, I feel younger.
            And more silly. And more happy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween and the Inundation of "Stuff"

            Halloween with a kid. It changes everything. Suddenly everyone needs a proper costume. At one level, I totally get it. My co-worker’s son has a fireman outfit, complete with firefighter pajamas, jacket, hat and a cardboard truck. That’s cool.
            But Michelle got so excited about Halloween this year that she ended up buying Celia two different costumes. One is a Pegasus/unicorn. The other is a pumpkin. I’m sure Celia will end up as the pumpkin, don’t ask me why, I just think she likes it more. But seriously, two costumes? I don’t care if they did only cost $2 at the thrift store. She only needs one a year. When else does anybody need to look like a huge pumpkin?
            Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps we will find that moment in our daughter’s life, before next Halloween, where someone says, “Hey, we’re filming a scene where we need a baby who looks like a cross between the Ancient Greek flying horse Pegasus, and the unicorn. Know anyone who has not only an adorable and happy child, but also has that kind of costume? We’re desperate!” And we’ll say, “Wow! It’s your lucky day! Our daughter already has her Pegasus costume all ready to go!”
            Not likely.
            I think the costumes will remain a one-day affair, and unless she ends up wearing two tomorrow (which is a definite possibility with kids and their messiness factor), I think we’ll have that extra costume lying around for awhile.
            Of course, now that we’ve got another “pumpkin” on the way, I don’t think we’ll declutter our lives of all this crap anytime soon.
            I think that’s probably the biggest parenting shocker for me, actually. More than the lack of sleep and the achy back. When we were still pre-baby, I actually swore in front of Michelle that we wouldn’t buy any plastic toys, and we’d try to stay away from mass-marketed brands (like Disney, Barbie, etc). Ha! Ha! I laugh even now. How na├»ve! I was a pre-parent newbie. I didn’t realize the full extent our culture has captured us.
            Not only is our house completely full of plastic toys, there are trademarked big-brands all over my kid’s stuff! I’m still reeling. Everything is plastic! Everything! And the branding! “Get them while they’re young!” you can just hear the executives at every major child-marketing institution telling each other.
            They’ve succeeded with my daughter. Her favorite toy, sure enough, is the one passed along to her from a friend. Plastic Mickey Mouse and his friends who pop up when you press, squeeze, or twist the buttons. Egads.
            But here’s the craziest part. Although when I first saw the toy I thought, “There’s no way that’s going into my house!” now that I see how much Celia loves it I smile when I see her play with it. In fact, I even have sunk to naming the well-known names of all the characters as they pop up.
            “It’s Mickey Mouse!” I declare. Celia bounces happily. “It’s Pluto the Dog!” I shout. Celia squeals in delight. Yes, I’m participating in the branding conspiracy! But my daughter is just so cute! I can’t help but engage with her.
            There is more “stuff” in my house than has ever been in my possession at any other time of my life. I constantly tell Michelle to off-load things, which she is more than happy to do (she just sent another package down to my nephew). But then, of course, she always wants to buy something else when she sees it. And so the cycle will probably continue for the rest of our child-filled lives.
            I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing for Celia’s mental well-being. She definitely isn’t anything like kids from the old days, where children only had a few toys so they played with them till they got ragged and worn. Celia doesn’t bother playing with any one toy for very long. It’s like we’ve taught her to get bored easily. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe not. It scares me, but that’s the culture she happens to live in, so perhaps I need to accept it at some level.
            For now, I’m not going to throw away half her toys (which would still leave her with more than I had at her age). And I’m not going to throw away her extra costume. In fact, when I think of what I really need to do next, the most important thing I need to do is come up with some sort of costume for myself that will match my daughter’s pumpkin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Human See-Saw

            I have a one-year-old and a bean in the oven.
            Michelle told me a few days ago that she was pregnant while I was on my cell phone, standing at a counter ordering slow-roasted chicken at the Middle-Eastern hole-in-the-wall down the street. Later that night as we sat down for dinner I prayed for our little “bean,” and Michelle said, “Or Beings,” because she wants twins.
            I laughed in the middle of our prayer, because what she heard actually makes more sense. Yes, we have a new being in the house, and already Michelle is way more tired than even a week ago.
            At dinner tonight she asked me, “Was I this tired and emotional during the first pregnancy?” She had tears in her eyes.
            I looked at her and wondered what the best way to respond was. Finally, I just said, “Yes.”
            She looked relieved. “Okay. I’m done.”
            I nodded and held her hand. As if we need more emotional ups and downs right now. At work I’ve been riding a human see-saw. One day the boss is freaking out and insulting people, the next he’s patting you on the back and saying you’re great. Five times since I started working with him a year-and-a-half ago he’s blown a fuse; gone off insulting and demeaning people (well… me, to be precise). Five times I’ve thought of quitting. The last time, a few weeks ago, I actually did quit. I gave a few weeks notice. But then, the last few weeks I’ve just been slathered with pats on the back and encouragements.
            We really need you.
            Stick around till the end of the year.
            He said all of these things nicely at first. But by Monday I was being insulted and devalued again. Michelle and I talked about it (again) last night, and decided, Enough’s enough. He told me to sign something I disagreed with, and said if I don’t then I don’t have a job. But frankly, I won’t sign it. I’m sick of the see-saw. I’ll quit if he demands me to simply submit to his every whim, rather than talk it through.
            But the crazy thing is, today he tried to pressure me, and I said, “Okay, I quit.” But I guess he was bluffing because he became nice again, and convinced me to stay for two more months. And I gave in.
            See-saw. Up. Down. Up. Down.
            Michelle brought a book home from the library a few weeks ago called See Saw. Our little Celia loves it, because it involves lots of singing. If she has her way, she’ll have us read/sing it to her a few times a day. And every time I pick it up I think about how crazy things have been at work. Up. Down. Up. Down. A vocational teeter-totter.
            Today I actually told my boss what I thought. I yelled back when he yelled at me, and when he became demeaning or insulting I said I didn’t deserve that, and I demanded more respect. I feel like I’ve grown more spine today, which makes me glad that I’ve stuck it out this far – I’ve definitely grown, and feel like it’s been a priceless life lesson. But I know that after awhile, if it’s anything like the other times, I’ll get comfortable again and be ready to stick around long-term, and that’s when he’ll demean me and I’ll keep my mouth shut for fear of being kicked out on the street with no work.
            I hate that feeling. I wish I could always just let it out. Like my daughter. This morning she took a big bite of Red River, which is the Canadian version of gourmet hot cereal, full of all sorts of seed-and-grain-looking things. I was all showered up and ready for work, for the big showdown with my boss.
            And she sneezed.
            Seeds and grain-looking things went flying all over my freshly cleaned body. I looked down at the showers of bits covering my arms and chest and burst out laughing.  Sometimes I wish I could just let it all out like my baby. She holds nothing back. Yes, she’s immature, but there’s something about that raw openness that is very human and very good.
            Maybe our goal in life, after all our accomplishments, goals, and achievements, is to sit back, watch our kids, and learn from them. When it’s all said and done, and I hope I don’t sound ridiculous here, it seems to me that if we want to live life well, if we want to actually jump into all the messiness life has to offer, then really, we’ve got to learn to be more like a baby.
            Heck, even Jesus once said you’ve got to be more like a kid to get into Heaven. Maybe this is what he was talking about?