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!