Thursday, December 23, 2010

Language and Love

            “I want to watch Dora, Daddy!”
            I looked at my daughter and shook my head. This was starting to become a regular occurrence, and I didn’t like it. Not that I am particularly against Celia watching her favorite cartoon. In fact, I use the show among others as an opportunity to teach her Spanish, by switching the audio option on the DVD menu. But it was starting to become a bit of a bad habit – all this insisting to watch stuff rather than play.
            Celia insisted more loudly, “I want Dora!”
            “How about you play with the puzzles over there?” I asked.
            “No! Dora!”
            “How about we go outside and play in the snow?”
            “No! I want Dora!” She was beginning to pout.
            “How about we not watch Dora?” I schemed to myself that no two-year old was any match for the double-negative.
            “No!” Celia shocked me with her unbelievably apt answer.
            In the end, I did manage to divert her. I pulled the old “nibble on the elbow” routine, which can turn any frowny-face into smiles. But the exchange got me thinking about a couple of things. First, the concern I have that my daughter is going to turn into some sort of slothful mind-drivel creature who’s glued to the screen (like the rest of us?). But second, and directly opposed to the first thought, I was completely awestruck that she could come up with such amazing deductions as understanding how to counter-attack the double-negative.
            That is, she knew that she wanted not to not watch Dora. Wow. Two years old.
            Watching Celia’s language develop is one of the most downright delightful experiences I’ve had as a father. At one point I got to wondering if she’s going to be some utterly brilliant Nobel Prize-winning genius, because she can talk better than some four-year-olds I’ve met. I mentioned this to some folks in their sixties, and they just smiled, patted me on the arm, and began to tell all sorts of stories. Some of the kids they’d seen grow up hadn’t developed much language till five or even six, but turned out to be wonderfully eloquent communicators as adults.
            When I heard the stories it definitely deflated my fatherly pride. If all kids turn out well in the end, what does it matter? But then I was quickly reminded of one of the most important aspects of my daughter’s language development – the benefit to her parents.
            Celia can explain what she wants, what happened in her day, and how she’s feeling. This makes a huge difference when she’s throwing up in the middle of the night, or when we’re trying to piece together why she’s cranky at the end of a long day.
            I’ve seen three-year-olds who are obviously having a bad day, and the lack of language they have to explain themselves doubles the frustration on their faces. I can imagine. A year older than my daughter in their actual maturity, but scant words to describe what’s going on – that must be frustrating indeed.
            Girls do develop quicker than boys, but I also attribute my daughter’s young language skills to some of our parenting decisions. I may be wrong here, but I have a feeling that a few of our practices helped spur the language on at a very young age.
            First, we gave her a lot of spoken attention, even as a baby. None of this “Goo-goo” slush, we spoke to her in complete sentences, and with big words. I know my daughter probably didn’t immediately understand words like “consequences”, but after a few dozen uses, knowing that I’m showing her the outcome of her actions, she’s like any young sponge, she picks it up.
            Another thing that’s most certainly helped is all the reading we do with our kids. Celia has had stories before bed nearly every day of her life, and sometimes hours of reading sessions during the day as well. Books are great, because they show lots of visuals of things we don’t come across in our normal day, and it gives our kids training in numbers and letters.
            But the most important thing that’s helped Celia’s language development, I’m most certain, is that we give our kids a positive environment with lots of affection. Positive attention and affirmation works magically to build a child’s self-esteem, and knowing they’re in a safe environment gives them tremendous initiative to explore and learn about everything around them.
            At the end of the day, that’s the most a parent can really offer. We all bring different parenting styles and gifts to the table. Maybe not everybody loves books the way Michelle and I do. But at the very least, everybody, and I mean everybody, has the ability to withhold their sharp tongues and shower their kids in hugs and I-love-you’s.
            That’s the most important thing any parent can do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Puke, Popcorn and the Christmas Play

            The puking started at 10:45pm. Celia was wailing and soggy popcorn was everywhere. We ran upstairs and instantly got to work – stripping her from the soiled pajamas, holding her tightly, inspecting just how many items in the crib needed to be thrown in the wash.
            She was still semi-hysterical after a few minutes so we took her downstairs and sat on the couch, where Michelle and I had been having a lovely Saturday evening conversation ten minutes before. Finally, she was cleaned up and the environment was calm and quiet.
            Then she puked again. Soggy popcorn and bits from breakfast now all over the couch, her pajamas, and us. We broke into action again, cleaning and comforting her, changing her into yet another clean set of pajamas, and every once in awhile looking at each other to see if the other had some sort of non-verbal cue revealing a deep insight into the matter. Was it the popcorn? Was it food poisoning from dinner? Our minds raced trying to remember every item she’d eaten in the last twelve hours.
            Just when the room had started to feel peaceful again, she heaved and puked once more. This time, we were prepared with towels to catch the vomit. Soiled towels, cushions, and articles of clothing were everywhere. I scooped them all up and threw them out of sight into the kitchen to be dealt with later.
            The vomiting went on for a couple of hours. She started by throwing up every ten minutes, then every fifteen, then eventually every twenty. Eventually she would fall asleep in between vomiting in one of our arms, while the other parent frantically ran around trying to clean up the accumulating mess.
            I paused long enough to shake my head. It had been such a lovely day, with sledding, soaking in grandma’s hot tub, and watching Celia dance and eat popcorn as we watched Mama Mía before bedtime, but now… I imagine the puking episode is probably what she’ll remember most.
            By 12:30am Michelle and I were pooped. Michelle went to bed and I slept with Celia in her room. I said to Michelle, “If she’s still vomiting at 1:30 I’m taking her to the hospital.”
            “Okay,” Michelle wearily nodded her head.
            We didn’t actually arrive at the hospital until 2:45am. I fell asleep, and the puking episodes had petered out to every half hour, so I kept hoping it was over. Finally, we left when Celia herself said, “I want to see the doctor.”
            Yes, she’s only two, but my heart instantly said, “Trust that girl’s instincts!”
            After all our worry, it turned out to be a virus, not food poisoning. They gave her an anti-vomit pill and a popsicle, and we went home completely exhausted, collapsing into bed at 4:45am.
            The next day she seemed better, but had a massive vomiting episode in the early afternoon. Celia impressed me with her maturity – I would never have expected a two-year old to be so brave in the midst of such wretched illness. I tried to be strong myself, even though I was feeling pretty light-headed, nauseous and exhausted. Needless to say, we stayed inside all day.
            I was sad, because it was Sunday and the kids at our church were putting on a big Christmas play. We’d been looking forward to it for months. In fact, Celia and I even put on our coats and boots, thinking we’d sneak in the back, but Michelle caught us before we got out the door.
            “What are you doing!?” she said.
            “Going to the church play,” I replied sheepishly.
            “You’re going to expose all those people to sickness?! That is not responsible!”
            I looked down and said, “I know. You’re right.”
            It was a mellow day, and I took a few naps. Joshua seemed like he’d caught the vomit bug as well, because, although he is The Pukenator, he seemed to throw up a lot more than usual. Only Michelle seemed unaffected. She cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned some more. We did a dozen loads of laundry, washing Celia's favorite blankets twice by the end of it all, and by Sunday night, the house was sparkling, as if nothing had happened.
            Getting sick is never a surprise, but I never seem prepared for it, either. When I’m feeling well I act as if it’ll last forever. All those bed-ridden days and major aches from my past are but a hazy memory. Illness is a helpful slap in the face to remind me of my mortality and frailty.
            Sometimes I get so comfortable with the life I’ve set up around myself, it takes a vomiting child to shake me awake and remember to appreciate the simple things again. A clean couch. A good night’s rest. A happy child.
            And especially, food going out the right end.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How To Get a Two-Year Old To Do Just About Anything

            Treading on a two-year-old’s autonomy is a risky business. Forcing them to do things not only results in a lot more tears, it makes them feel like they’re being controlled and inevitably leads to rebellion. But let’s face it, there are an awful lot of things we want our daughter to do – that’s life – so every parent needs to come up with a solid strategy.
            For Michelle and I, we’ve read a whole bunch of books that all point to the same thing – if you want your child to have a high self-esteem and to feel like they have control of the decision-making process, you need to give them options as often as possible. Instead of forcing them to put on their jacket to get out the door, you ask whether they want to put it on themselves, or would like some help.
            Overall, giving choices seems to be working out as a great way to get Celia to do just about anything. But figuring out which options to give can sometimes be a challenge. Last night I wanted our reluctant daughter to get into the bath. Michelle tried her hand at giving Celia options, “Do you want to get in the bath now? Or later?”
            “No,” I turned to Michelle. “That’s not the right option.” I turned back to Celia. “Do you want me to put you in the bath, or are you going to get in yourself?”
            Celia looked at me for a moment, then said, “I’m going to get in myself.”
            “Good,” I replied, and held her hand as she climbed into the bath.
            It’s not that Michelle’s options weren’t right, but it was already late, and I needed to get Celia to bed as soon as possible, so to me, waiting any longer wasn’t an option. The nice thing is, with kids, there’s almost always a second chance. And let’s face it, we’re making this up on the fly, so we’re going to get it wrong at times. The important thing is to learn what works to make it easier the next time around.
            I’ve learned a few tricks that I sometimes use when I need to. They’re like my little arsenal that I pull out in emergencies. For example, if there’s one option I’d really prefer over the other, I say it second, because she usually chooses the second one. I noticed this when giving Celia options for neutral things.
            “Celia,” I asked, “Would you like to play inside or outside?”
            “Outside!” Celia said happily.
            “Are you sure? Would you like to play outside, or inside?”
            “Inside!” Celia said with confidence.
            Occasionally, this has resulted in some funny little dialogues. Yesterday at the end of the day I picked up Celia and asked, “What did you do today?”
            “I made a reindeer!” Celia exclaimed, pointing at the piece of purple construction paper with two brown hand prints and a red puff ball in the middle.
            I had to admit, it was a cute reindeer. I even considered framing it.
            “Was that fun, or what!?” I said, admiring her work.
            “What, Daddy. What.”
            I laughed and gave her a kiss. It’s always the second thing.
            Another trick is to “play dumb” so that she feels empowered. One day she didn’t want to wear her winter boots. So, I kicked them into the corner, just out of sight.
            “Where are your purple boots, Celia? I can’t find them anywhere!”
            Celia perked up and looked around. Then, she started walking into the front hallway. “Here they are!” Celia dashed over to the boots in the corner and picked them up triumphantly.
            “Fantastic! Good looking, Celia! Alright, now bring them over here so I can help put them on your feet.”
            These tricks are useful, but sometimes, I admit I give up and simply force her to do things. Like this morning. I was changing little Joshua’s diaper and I heard the clatter of her oatmeal bowl flying onto the floor from the other room.
            I called out, “Celia. I didn’t like hearing that sound. I have a feeling you’re going to have a big mess to clean up.”
            Sure enough, when I came back into the room, oatmeal was everywhere. Celia resisted, but I leaned in and half-forced, half-helped her pick up the dirty bowl and wipe up all the mushy banana and oatmeal off the floor.
            At first she was reluctant, but I praised her every step, “You’re doing great, Celia. Nice job, cleaning up that banana.”
            In the end, the clean-up was a success, and Celia happily trotted off to the next activity. I marveled – I actually was able to get a two-year-old to clean up her mess! And I didn’t give her an option!
            I think that’s what the option thing is all about – you’re building up a reservoir of self-esteem so that they feel like they’re in control and respected. When you have to tap into that reservoir and force them to do something, they’re less resistant than if they were constantly feeling forced.
            At this point, even if I did have to half-bully her into it, I’m sure she knows it was the natural consequence of her own actions. The real challenge is remembering to deal with her nicely.
            Last night Michelle was in the bathroom and called to me, “Come over here and look at this!”
            She was standing in front of the mirror.
            “Now imagine this,” she said. “If you’re a two-year-old girl waking up in the middle of the night crying, what kind of face would you want to see?”
            I looked at Michelle’s face. She made a grimace, which is what I’m sure I usually look like at 3am when my daughter is crying unnecessarily. Then she smiled and her eyes sparkled as she said brightly, “Oh, Sweetie. Are you okay? I’m here for you.”
            I tried smiling and mimicking her but it turned into a crazy face pretty quickly. Michelle laughed. Definitely not the kind of face you’d want to see when you wake up in the middle of the night. But I think it was a good exercise, anyway. A reminder, if you will.
            Sure, we’re going to be giving out some tough medicine here and there, and there will be times when we need to deal with the kids when nobody is at their best. But even then, we could at least try to be nice about it. Even doling out disciplines can be more bearable if it’s done with a smile and a chipper attitude.
            With these methods, I’m pretty confident I could get Celia to do just about anything. Except maybe change her brother’s diaper. Not that she wouldn’t try. Actually, come to think of it, I'll bet she’d love to try.
            I’d better not give her any ideas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Public Yammering and Parental Buffooning

            The little guy is starting to get everybody’s attention.  He’s completely full of six-month blatherskite, and even though he makes no sense and sometimes erupts into wails, he’s a serious magnet for stares and smiles. I think right now, at this very moment, he’s at the peak age of baby cuteness. And he’s loving every minute of it.
            Every once in a while when he’s been quiet I’ll turn my head to look at him, and he usually gets this wonderfully impish grin. Of course I smile back at him – let’s face it, baby smiles are contagious. A smile from Daddy just makes him smile all the more and gurgle out one of those utterly captivating baby-coos that makes everybody simply have to stop and listen.
            “Awww!” I can hear them all think, “That kid is a darling!” Which, of course, is absolutely true.
            All the new cooing and gurgling have made for some delightful little baby games. My favorite so far is to mimic his babbling and move my head in and out, calling out “Boo!” when I get near his face. This is a wonderful game, although I have to admit that more than once I’ve found myself doing it in random public places.
            “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BOO!” I call out to my little son.
            He shrieks with laughter and a humongous grin. The cackles peter out into little giggles as I pull back, then do it all over again.
            “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BOO!”
            Shrieks of laughter.
            Every once in a while I realize what the heck I’m doing and look around. Usually there are least a handful of people who’ve stopped to watch with big smiles on their faces.
            I shake my head at how ridiculous I must look, but then figure, “Okay, I’ve already made a fool of myself. My son loves it so, what the heck.”
            “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BOO!”
            Of course, there’s always that inevitable moment when the shrieks transform from laughter to perturbation. It happens almost instantly, and when it does, the attention from bystanders shifts considerably.
            Last night when the switch occurred I suddenly found myself rushing to get out of the store. The clerk was doing his best to be polite and patient with me as Joshua wailed in his highest pitch available. I winced and quickly paid the bill without looking at the amount. As soon as I stepped outside in the bitter cold Joshua stopped his complaining, and the moment his car seat snapped into the van, he was completely asleep.
            I shook my head in wonder.
            It’s a delightful age – it reminds me how adorable little babies can be. It’s also a challenging age – where parents have to be constantly on guard, ready to placate the next installment of insanity. But most of all, it’s a comical age – it draws out the buffoon in us parents, and leaves us wondering how we ended up yammering in public places in the first place.
            I’ve never liked to think of myself as a buffoon. I remember back in high school hoping I’d never be publicly embarrassed. Part of me still holds onto a bit of that self-conscious worrying. But then, having kids changes something inside, and somehow it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Who cares if “they” think I’m a goof ball? Maybe I am. My son certainly appreciates it, and that’s what matters most.
            And let’s face it, he’s going to grow out of this stage quickly. I may as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Improving Humpty Dumpty

            My daughter is a poet.
            At two years old she can take an age-old nursery rhyme and modify it just enough to make it better. With a marvelous play on words, she easily improves on centuries of inadequate rhyming and proudly presents the new creation to her proud father. Yes, to me, it would seem that she’s got all the makings to be a world-class poet.
            Let me explain. I was trying to get some work done and Celia wanted to see someone singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
            YouTube to the rescue.
            I put the online video service on one screen as I worked on the other screen.
            Magic.
            Both of us sat happily at my desk – my daughter watching the videos circle through different nursery rhymes sung by cartoons, puppets, and people dressed in flamboyant costumes – me, by being productive (although admittedly a bit distracted at times).
            And then it happened. She’d just watched Humpty Dumpty, who of course sat on the wall, and who then suddenly had a great fall. The videos went silent after that, and I was so engrossed in what I was doing I didn’t realize, until I heard Celia speak out of the silence.
            “Humpty Dumpty had a great fart!”
            “What!?” I stopped what I was doing and looked into her face. Did she really just say that?
            “Humpty Dumpty had a great fart!” Celia said again proudly.
            I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Celia grinned sheepishly and her cheeks turned rosy.
            I couldn’t believe she’d come up with that! It’s totally brilliant – it kind of rhymes with “fall”, plus it would explain why the heck he actually fell off the wall in the first place. Try it, it actually works!

            Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.
            Humpty Dumpty had a great fart.
            All the kings horses and all the kings men
            Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

            Of course they couldn’t – they couldn’t get near the guy!
            I wonder if the humor behind passing wind ever gets less funny. I remember many years ago, when I wasn’t anywhere near having kids of my own, a veteran parent with five kids in tow was passing through. One of the kids made a “fart” joke, and everyone laughed and laughed, including me.  Everyone, that is, except the mother.
            The seasoned mother looked at me and said straight-faced, “Fart jokes are always funny. You just have to say the word, and you’ll get a laugh out of them.”
            I remember nodding my head and thinking, “Boy, that sure makes sense.”
            And now, here I am with two kids of my own, and my daughter has passed her first fart joke. I suppose it’s the first of many. And perhaps I’ll be like that seasoned parent in a few more years, not laughing along with them, simply acknowledging that they’ve made yet another attempt at humor.
            That may be my situation down the road. But for now, I’m going to enjoy it. Not only do I think it shows that my daughter has the makings of a great poet, that was one funny joke.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Igloo and the Cakey Sidewalk

            “What do you want to build first?” I asked Celia, pointing to the eight inches of snow lying outside in our front yard. “A snowman. A snow fort. Or an igloo.”
            “An igloo!” Celia called out happily.
            “Okay! An igloo it is!” I ran into the garage to grab a couple of small coolers to use as our bricks, and we began to pack them and lay a foundation.
            Celia instantly gave up packing and happily sat on the bricks as I slowly laid them out into a ring. She cheerfully ate snow and said things like, “I got sick when I drank the pool water.”
            “Yes, that’s true. When we went to the hot springs last week you drank the water and had a belly ache, didn’t you?”
            “Yeah. And I had the pink medicine,” Celia said, nodding her head.
            “That’s right. We gave you the pink medicine called Pepto Bismol for your stomach ache. Hopefully, next time we go to the hot springs you won’t drink the water.”
            “Yeah,” Celia said in agreement. She ate another piece of snow and watched me struggle to pack the cooler with snow that wasn’t quite moist enough for easy brick creation.
            “Boys and girls live in their igloos,” Celia said to me.
            “Yes they do,” I responded with a grunt as I nestled another brick into the wall. “The whole family lives in their igloo. Even the tiny little babies, when they’re brand new and smaller than your brother Joshua. They live in the igloos too.”
            “Oh,” Celia said with a profound-sounding sense of understanding.
            I love it when she says that. Sometimes, I know there’s no possible way she could understand what was just said, but it makes her sound like she’s a brilliant little two-year-old with an insightful grasp of everything.
            I smiled and kept laying bricks. Celia happily kicked her legs as she sat, then played a version of peek-a-boo with the cat around the walls before sitting down again.
            “I’m cold,” Celia said after awhile.
            “Go see Mommy and have a hot chocolate,” I told her.
            Celia went inside as I finished the second layer of bricks. My arms and back were getting sore and sweat was running down my forehead. I stared at my handiwork and shook my head. That was a lot of work for such a small igloo, and only half-created! I gained new respect for the Inuit people, and finished laying two more bricks before going inside for an Alpine (hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps).
            Michelle handed me my warm drink as I finished unlayering, and said to me, “You didn’t shovel the walk.”
            “Oh,” I said, looking outside. Somehow, I’d forgotten, with all that igloo creating. I kicked off my boots, sat down and took a sip of the Alpine. And of course, forgot about shoveling until this morning, when everything had frozen and stuck making the job significantly more difficult.
            As I chipped away at the caked ice and snow this morning for a job that took forty minutes rather than the ten it would have taken if I’d have done it with Celia the night before, as I often do, I reflected on what I could have done differently. I suppose I could have shoveled after making the igloo, tired as I was. Or perhaps I could have done it before making the igloo – although that would have cut the igloo creating time much shorter.
            No, I needed to protect making that igloo. The experience was priceless. I know it’s a pretty lame excuse for an igloo, but these are the kinds of experiences parenting is all about. Mothers have their own versions of bonding with kids, and I respect that. For dads, doing activities together is where it’s at.
            Pick an activity, whether it’s building a fort from couch cushions, hiking, playing tag, or constructing a rickety igloo, and go for it. It gives a memorable experience together, and it creates a bond of love that goes deeper than words. It’s a physical way of saying, “I not only provide for you and care about you, I like to have fun with you too.” In other words, “I don’t just love you, I like you. A lot.”  
            That kind of time with kids is priceless. And it’s so natural for fathers to do stuff, we may as well work with our natural inclinations.
            I suppose I could have gone out after putting the kids to bed to finish shoveling. If I’d have thought of it, that would have been the best choice. But the kitchen’s massive pile-up of dirty dishes and pans caught my eye, and I found myself washing and cleaning for an hour before collapsing exhausted onto the couch to watch a movie with Michelle.
            So, I cut into my morning with tired arms and hacked away at the caked-up sidewalk. All of life is about making tiny decisions like this. The amazing thing is, no matter how tiny they are, these decisions add up quickly. Time passes, and we’ve chosen which path we took.
            I hope I can always choose the path that shows my family I love them. No matter how stressed or tired, I want that to be my number one message. When I look back at this last week, I think I succeeded at that, but I also failed too. It’s good to look back, see where I could have picked things up a notch, and change. We can choose in this life to grow into better people, or stagnate in bad habits and stale behaviors. I, for one, would like to grow. No matter how much my arms ache this morning, our lives are just a little bit better for it. For that, I am glad.
            Now, I just have to finish building that igloo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Burdens and Baskets

            I don’t know why, but the last few weeks I’ve felt a huge load of stress weighing me down. The responsibility of providing for my wife and two kids feels like a sack of bricks that I’m lugging around with me and, frankly, it’s scaring me.
            I’d like to think I have more faith – that I could be at peace when my mind starts going in these directions.
            You’d think I would be more confident based on my life’s history. I’ve always had a roof over my head, delicious and nutritious food on my plate, and an abundance of loving people around me. Maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through, trying to figure out life. Maybe I need to rethink my plans.
            I was asking myself all sorts of difficult questions as I was sitting on the couch, and feeling the edge come out when I replied to my wife, when Celia called out, “Daddy!” from the other room.
            I turned my head to see her parading around with a laundry basket on her head.
            My mood instantly perked up and I laughed as I watched her. She mirrored my smile with a big smile of her own. The smile said, “I’m smiling because I’m making you happy.”
            The laundry basket was funny, but her smile is what cheered me up.
            It doesn’t change all my questions. I don’t know how we’ll make it. And it’s good to be realistic as well as careful. But it reminds me that I need to be grounded in the present with my kids, and not get wrapped up in these kinds of worries when I’m with them.
            I hope that, no matter what burdens I face in this life, and no matter what our financial situation will be down the road, I can always experience joy, light and love with my family. It’s hard to keep the edginess from seeping out around the edges, even with the kids, but this is my goal. I don’t want them to experience adult stresses. Not yet. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Discipline, Punishment and the Terrible Two's

            People seem to have a big fear about the “terrible two’s”. I’m not exactly sure what the kerfuffle is all about, but it seems to be something along the lines of – your kids start expressing their individuality, and it’s executed with a lot of hyper-activity.
            I’m not sure if I’m just an overly optimistic sort of guy here, but I don’t see what’s wrong with that! It sounds like a wonderful challenge! I hear the same kinds of fears about the teenage years.
            “Beware!” these experienced parents tell me with an ominous sort of look in their eyes. I’m not sure if it’s because teens are finding individualism at the same time as a wild edge of adventure, and if they’ve had overly-restrictive authority figures it comes through as rebellion. Could be. But for me, having been a youth worker for many years in the past and having some absolutely fantastic times with teens, I’m actually looking forward to the teenage years quite a lot.
            Just as I’m looking forward to the two’s.
            I definitely see the spark of rebellion in Celia, but most of the time it’s just a cry for attention. When she does something she knows is wrong, the first thing I think about is whether she has any needs that aren’t being met.
            Usually, it comes at a time when both Michelle and I are quite busy with something else. In these moments, I see the acting out as a plea for attention. Rather than punishing her for these kinds of things, we have chosen to distract her. One time I heard her around the corner go from clattering and singing to utter silence.
            Pure silence from a two-year-old can be quite lovely when they’ve found some toy that fascinates them. I enjoy watching Celia quietly figure out shapes and toys in her own little world. But dead silence is also a warning bell – it could be that mischief is about to occur.
            Just in case, I popped my head around the corner to see what she was up to. There she was, pulling the hallway plant right out of its pot.
            “Aah! Celia! What are you doing!?” I raced over and grabbed the plant out of her hand. Celia had a mixed look of “guilty but curious” on her face.
            “You’ll kill the plant if you do that! We’ve got to make sure the roots stay in the soil, or it’ll die. That’s where it gets its food.” I pointed at the roots dangling in the open air. Celia watched them with pursed lips.
            “Now help me put it back in.”
            Celia put her hand on one of the leaves as I shoved the roots of the poor shrub into the soil. I then patted the soil to make it stick. When the plant looked semi-stable, albeit a lot less happy, I turned to Celia and said, “I know what time it is…”
            Celia looked at me with wide eyes.
            “It’s Tickle Time!” I scooped her up, tossed her onto the couch, and gave her all sorts of rib tickles as both of us cackled with glee. We rolled around and had a marvelous little laugh session before moving on to the next activity together.
            In these kinds of moments, I believe she’s acting out because she wants attention, mixed in with a deep curiosity for the world around her. My response mirrored that. I explained to her about the plant, the roots, the soil, and how the plant needs to stay in the soil. She was quite attentive, and I believe she learned about plants that day.
            I also gave her a role in “fixing” the damage she’d done. Yes, it was only holding the leaf, but I think even that little role she played gave her a sense of taking care of her own mess.
            Then, instead of forming some sort of punishment on top of all of that, I distracted her with a lot of positive attention. We had a grand old night, and at the end of it all, Celia knew that she was deeply loved and respected. She had made a mistake, but we all do that. She was curious. So why take that out on her?
            This is all great in theory, but I have to admit I didn’t keep to my own philosophy a few days ago. It was almost Celia’s bedtime, and Celia was sitting at the table with a bowl of grapes while Michelle and I were standing around in the kitchen chatting with a friend. The grape-bowl was a hand-made clay creation that a friend had made a few years ago.
            None of us were watching Celia, and she started walking through the kitchen with the bowl in her hand. She walked right past all of us and tossed the bowl into the garbage can. SMASH! I heard the tinkling of pieces as Celia stepped back and started to leave.
            In this moment, I admit I forgot my own philosophies and chastised her. “Celia! You broke the bowl!”
            I pulled it out of the garbage can.
            “Now it’s garbage forever!” I held it up to her big eyes so she could see the big chunk that had broken out of it.
            “We’ll never be able to use it again!”
            Celia looked dazed.
            “That’s it. You’ve shown us you don’t deserve your stories before bed tonight.”
            Instantly I knew I shouldn’t have said that.
            Michelle looked at me with raised eyebrows.
            Our goal is to teach her that there are consequences to her actions. It was the first consequence that came to my mind. But taking away her utterly critical bedtime story routine is probably not going to teach her about the value of the bowl. I see that in retrospect.
            Of course, Celia cried herself to sleep that night. I came downstairs and wondered what I could have done differently. Teaching responsibility without doling out punishments takes a lot more creativity and thoughtfulness.
            Now that time has passed, I know what I could have done. Again, just like with the plant, Celia was curious. Of course, she knows about being careful with bowls, and she knows about the purpose of garbage. But she’s exploring the great big world and trying new things, not trying to be malicious. I needed to figure out a consequence to her action that would somehow help her understand the seriousness of it.
            I should have told her to make another bowl.
            It’s not that far-out, actually. My mother works with clay, and even has a kiln in her studio. If I’d have gone with that tack, Celia would have gained a tremendous respect for where bowls come from. Plus, we’d then have another new bowl in our lives, to replace the one she broke.
            Instead, she probably walked away with a feeling like, “Daddy was being overly harsh with me the other night. I didn’t like him when he did that.” I may be wrong, but all of those negative thoughts are directed at me, not at learning the lesson I wanted to teach her. This is not a helpful way to educate her. I want her to learn about the world in positive ways, and feel like I’m a safe person for her to be around while she makes mistakes.
            As I write this, I’m realizing it’s not too late. It’s never too late. Today I’m going to talk to my mom about making a new bowl with Celia, and I’m going to remind my daughter about the whole experience. We’ll set up a date and make it happen.
            I suppose all of parenting is kind of like this. You never quite know what your kids will do, so you can never fully plan ahead. You can come up with some principles to help, but even so, it’s so easy to forget them.
            It’s helpful to take a step back at times, debrief with your spouse and figure out a creative way to teach the lesson while being positive. I’m a big believer in second-chances. It’s not over yet. We’ll redeem that bowl. Oh yes. It will be even better than the first one. And I’ll bet you anything that if Celia has made it, from start to finish, she’ll never even dream about putting it in the garbage.
            

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Anatomy of Survival Mode

            It struck me yesterday that we’ve passed through the season of survival mode. Joshua’s colic is over, and it seems like overnight he gained a couple of pounds. Now he’s so happy to just sit around and chew on toys or stare at all the happenings around him in this great big world.
            It struck me as I actually finished washing the dishes with Joshua staring happily at me – we have passed through the tunnel. We made it. We can actually breathe and get back to the other things we care about, like having a clean house, reading and going out with friends.
            Survival mode is a difficult place to be in, but it also teaches a lot of valuable lessons. In the middle of it, it’s easy to feel bitter or upset with all sorts of things – with the child who’s keeping us away from the rest of our lives; with each other, for the littlest faults; with life in general.
            I can see why some new mothers who have a difficult child get really depressed. They even have a big sounding name for it: “post-partum depression,” which is basically a fancy way for saying, “Not only are all your chemicals totally imbalanced after such a huge physical and emotional ordeal, but everything didn’t turn out as you’d expected, so you’re living in survival mode, wondering if and when you’ll be able to pop your head out and breathe.”
            Something like that.
            One thing is for certain, having now come through survival mode, the entire experience has definitely made me appreciate our lives all the more. But in the middle of it, life can be really difficult. If I could dissect the time and pinpoint what it was like, these would be my highlights:
·       No time. Our colicky kid always needed holding, and during the day his naps would only last twenty minutes unless he was being walked, which meant, of course, we took him on long walks. Getting out and taking walks is lovely, but it also means we can’t do anything else. And when it feels like there’s no time to yourself, it generally leads to…
·       Snarkiness. That’s what Michelle and I would call it. We’d try to be civil and nice to each other, but sometimes the stress would feel so enormous we’d snap. Then, the other person would say, “Why so snarky?” That would help us remember to be nice.
·       Tiredness. When we weren’t sleeping enough, our minds would get rough around the edges and we’d start doing things like misplacing important documents, losing vocabulary, or forgetting important events.
·       Lack of Compassion. It’s hard to care when my own needs aren’t being met. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a person needs to have their basic needs met (survival) before they care about safety needs (comforts), before they care about psychological needs, before they care about self-actualization (doing something profound). Well, in survival mode, all I could think about was the basics. Who cares about self-actualization when sleep is so hard to come by?

            I could go on, but I think even more helpful would be to make another list of what’s most needed in these kinds of times:
#1. A sense of humor. Without it, you’re toast. Sometimes, the best medicine is to lift your head and laugh. And when things seem rotten, look for the light side peaking through the cracks – it’s always there.
#2. Hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be unknown or invisible, but things will get better. The time will pass. You’ve just got to hold on and wait it out.
#3. A community. It’s immeasurably easier to get through difficult times with people around who love you. And if you don’t have a community, do something about it. Try reaching out and making new friends. Help others. Invite them over to lunch. I don’t care if the house is a mess, they’ll love it, trust me, and it will bless you both.
#4. Grace. Be easy on yourself and on everyone around you. Sure, life didn’t turn out exactly as expected, but be forgiving and nice, and it’ll go a long way to uplifting you and those around you, despite whatever’s going on.

            I’m so thankful that we got through Joshua’s colicky stage. The snow is falling outside but it feels like flowers are blooming. For the first time in many months, I can look around and start dreaming. Self-actualization, whatever you want to call it, I’m ready.
            Onto the next adventure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Miracle of Mental Maturity

            My daughter is barely two years old, and I’m starting to realize that there’s an awful lot going on in her little noggin. As her parent, it’s my responsibility to teach her about this world, but I’ve found recently that if I pay attention, she seems to be picking up things I never taught her.
            “Let’s buy a flower for Denise!” Celia exclaimed one day to our surprise. Denise is her daycare provider. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows. How did she know to do that? What got it into her mind?
            When she showed up at the doorstep of Denise’s house, Denise got watery eyes as she took the flower from Celia. “Thank you, Celia,” she said.
            Celia smiled happily.
            I don’t know where she came up with the idea to do that, but I shook my head and wondered – when was the last time I’d bought flowers for anyone? It’s been a long time, that’s for sure. I was even hesitant to buy the flower at all, but Michelle was all about letting Celia do it. Something about Celia’s fresh and untainted perspective touched me, and I wished that I’d been doing a better job of showing my appreciation for the people around me.
            Celia seems so mature in so many ways, it’s easy for me to forget that she’s so young. Her vocabulary is going through the roof, and it seems like she not only understands everything, she’s now putting two and two together to create new thoughts. But we have to remind ourselves that she’s still a tiny little kid, and that she doesn’t have the mental understanding we do.
            Take last Sunday, for instance. Michelle offered Celia some applesauce while in the nursery at church. Celia was excited, and so Michelle cracked open the little container and pulled out a spoon. She said to Celia, “Put your hand out.”
            Celia put her hand out.
            Michelle gently placed the opened apple sauce on her open hand. “Now be very careful. You’re going to take it over there and sit down.” Michelle gestured to the table a couple of feet from them.
            Celia had a look of concentration on her face as she watched the apple sauce in her open hand.
            “Now keep your eye on it,” Michelle said.
            Celia instantly lifted the apple sauce right up to her eye and – SMACK! – pushed it right in!
            Michelle told me what happened later and I broke out laughing. Of course she put it in her eye! When your mommy says keep your eye on it, you’d better do just that. She hasn’t been around long enough to know all of our idioms.
            In some ways, I think that’s what’s most refreshing about being around her. She doesn’t have all the years of baggage dragging her down. When she sees something new, she sees it with new (albeit messy) eyes and a fresh perspective.
            Last night Celia was playing just out of my view on the other side of the evening’s fort built up from the cushions of two different couches, and I heard her say loudly, “It’s a miracle!”
            I raised my eyebrows and looked at Michelle. “Did she say ‘miracle’?”
            Michelle nodded her head and looked over at Celia.
            Celia said it again, “A miracle!”
            “How the heck did she learn about that!?” I asked. I wondered, Did she learn it at church? Did we say it? For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine how she’d picked up that word in the last few months.
            Michelle craned her head to see what Celia was looking at.
            Celia was crouched over one of Joshua’s play mats.
            Michelle squinted.
            Celia was touching a small circular mirror that was stitched into the fabric.
            Michelle laughed. “A miracle! It’s a mirror-circle! A mirro-cle.”
            “Oh!” I grinned.
            That totally makes sense! On two levels – as a word play, and frankly, it is pretty miraculous to think of all the things we people have come up with over the years. Who’d have come up with these things? Only a two-year-old.
            Only a two-year-old has a fresh enough perspective of the world to see the hidden gems awaiting. Something tells me I’d better take notes. For adults like me, who’ve been around and think we know all about the world we live in, I have a feeling I might learn something.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monkey-Eating Crocodiles

            Our kids are growing up in a significantly different world than the one I grew up in. Ecologically. Politically. Culturally.
            Some things bother me more than others. The ecological damage that’s been done in the last thirty years seems irreparable. As soon as we drive out into the wilderness, the devastation that the pine beetle has wreaked is immediately evident – massive swathes of trees are standing dead, a burnt orange in color, and helpless to survive the onslaught caused by rising temperatures.
            One day I was playing out in my mind the conversation I’ll inevitably be having with my kids.
            “I remember when these trees were all green, as far as the eye can see.” I’ll say to them whistfully.
            “Wow, Dad!” my kids will exclaim.
            “Yep. It was pretty amazing back then.”
            What’s odd to me is that the areas I’m most saddened about are the ones barely anybody sees. Like the big island of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean that’s way larger than the state of Texas. I think what bugs me is that we have a sort of group-cultural agreement to not be bugged by stuff that’s not right in front of us. The problem is, every living creature in the sea is eating little particles of plastic (which never fully break down), and as I learned in the sixth grade, big fish eat little fish, birds eat big fish, and people eat everything. We’re eating plastic.
            I think plastic and corn syrup explain why America is getting fatter. Corn syrup, because it’s in literally every packaged food out there and it’s terrible for you. Plastic, because we’re daily ingesting more little particles of the stuff, and since the body can’t process it, it forms a fat cell around it.
            I get upset when I think that I’m bringing my kids into a world that’s been vandalized so badly. Although I know that it’s a time of great freedoms and prosperity, which I’m thankful for. A hundred years ago people lived a much more difficult life than today. But I’m bothered by the political polarity in this country. I don’t remember it being so aggressive when I first left for Canada fifteen years ago.
            And it seems like people are trying to protect their kids far more than anyone of us ever dreamed when we ourselves were kids. Nowadays, you’ve got to be in a car seat till you’re ten or something. Back then, not only did we not have car seats, we didn’t use seat belts! We would play “steamroller” in the back of the van and engage in full wrestling tournaments, group dog piles, or one of my favorites, hide-and-seek (yes, we actually did manage to find some good hiding spots in a twelve-passenger van, believe it or not).
            I’m a bit more laid back about the whole seat belt thing than Michelle is. If it were just me, I’d let the kids run around here and there like in the old days. But Michelle’s argument is that we know so much more now, and we can keep our kids safer, so why would you go back?
            Part of her argument comes from personal experience, knowing people personally who were in car accidents without seatbelts, and how it destroyed their lives. I get that, and I respect it. But even so, I wonder where we draw the line.
            I used to walk to school almost a mile in the second-grade. That’s six years old! I couldn’t imagine that, today. A six-year old walking alone almost a mile to school on a cold winter day? Preposterous!
            Back then we grew up quickly, and learned to take care of ourselves. Nowadays, our culture is trying to somehow protect kids far beyond what seems reasonable to me. I see it in the books they’ve rewritten for our times. Take for instance, the age-old nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie.
            The new versions of this rhyme don’t say, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” Instead, it’s, “A-Tishoo, A-Tishoo!”
            What the heck is a tishoo?
            I don’t know, but I still read it to Celia, because that’s what’s on the page. And I know they’re just trying to protect our little kids from knowing about the Bubonic Plague and how they had to burn dead people’s bodies so it wouldn’t spread. That was the inspiration behind the original.
            But seriously, you can’t stop them – kids will learn both versions, no matter how hard a parent tries to prevent it. Yesterday when I went to pick up Celia from daycare, there she was singing the song with two other girls. And of course, they were all shouting with glee, “Ashes! Ashes!”
            When I saw them I smiled, for two reasons. First, because they were so darn cute! But second, because I never taught her the ashes version, and even so, the first time I hear her saying the rhyme out loud, there it is. I laugh because I don’t really think it matters, to be honest. I want my kid to grow up, not live some overly protected life.
            And although sometimes I laugh about it, this protective, fearful approach to parenting can get pretty annoying to me. Michelle brought home a book about the five little monkeys sitting in a tree, teasing Mr. Crocodile, “Can’t catch me!” Along comes Mr. Crocodile, and snap! Four monkeys…
            I thought, “Hey, this is great! I remember this one.”
            But when I got to the end, instead of Mr. Crocodile beaming with huge crocodile teeth that he ate all those little monkeys because they were playing with fire and messing with the wrong reptile, it turned out the monkeys were disappearing because they were scared. And when they all showed their faces again their mom made them apologize to Mr. Crocodile (I’m not kidding!), followed by a lovely little picnic in the park (I’m not making this up!).
            When I got to the end, I got irate. Seriously irritable. With our world crumbing around us, and more political tensions in the air than ever, here we are trying to protect our kids, from what? From the monkey-eating crocodiles of life? Seriously? I don’t get it.
            Then and there I swore never to read the end of the new version to my kids. It’s a crazy world out there, and I want my kids to know about it. Those monkeys are going to get eaten! That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it!
            Mr. Crocodile, 1. Monkeys, 0.
            Now, onto the next cultural battle.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Snapping Out Of It

            Joshua is snapping out of it.
            He turns five months old in a couple of days, and he’s finally starting to show signs of awareness. He can grab things (and inevitably chew on them). His whole face lights up when he sees people looking at him. And my favorite change is he’s started to laugh when he’s tickled. I could easily spend fifteen minutes bending over and giving him big rib-tickles and listening to him cackle in glee.
            It’s such a delightful age when they tone down the crying and ramp up the giggling. He’s so much more fun to be around. Recently, Joshua has been trying his hand at making sounds. Mostly, they sound like little shrieks and gurgles, but sometimes it actually sounds like language.
            I was sitting with Celia having breakfast and Joshua was next to us gurgling away. “Waaaah!” he called out.
            I smiled down at Joshua in his little vibrating chair and asked him, “What are you saying, Joshua?”
            Joshua smiled back at me and said it again. “Waaaah!”
            But it was Celia who answered my question. “He’s saying, ‘Waaaah!’” She didn’t even look up from her cereal. It was simply a statement of fact.
            I laughed. “That he is.”
            I think I’m starting to see some of his personality come through. When he’s not shrieking in pain, like he was a few days ago because Michelle tried drinking some milk for the first time in two months to see if it would make any difference (believe me, that’s the last time she does that for awhile!), it seems like he’s a pretty laid back kid. And happy. I love the fact that he always seems to have a huge smile for me. Something about an infant’s smile will perk up just about anyone, I figure.
            Parenting a colicky child wears the system down, and it’s wonderful to have a few positive things to get excited about. For the first time in many weeks, I feel rested (thanks to gaining an hour for daylight savings!), and my son is too. I think I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can get through this time. We can do it. I know we can.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cousin Capers

            Celia and her cousin Webber need constant monitoring when they’re together. One never knows when to expect the hitting, pulling, pushing, taking, and biting which inevitably blossoms from their little friendship.
            Don’t get me wrong, the kids absolutely love each other. When Celia sees Webber, who’s a year younger but roughly the same weight, she always goes up to him and gives him a big hug. Every single person in the room looks on and thinks, “Aww, how sweet.”
            This initial hug quickly develops into a quasi-wrestling match where both end up rolling on the ground, with the stronger Celia on top. Webber is so chilled out, he usually doesn’t even complain, but you can see in his eyes that he’s not exactly happy either.
            And then the “playing” begins. If there are toys involved, they simply have to have whatever it is the other child is holding. The toy they currently hold becomes irrelevant when they see their cousin holding something immeasurably more interesting. Oddly enough, when the toy switch occurs, they instantly look at the toy in the other’s hands, which they’d previously been holding, and want it back.
            We’ve been trying to teach Celia about sharing, with a certain degree of success. We’ll explain to her, “Celia, never take things out of someone else’s hands,” or, “Celia, you can take turns with the toys, and share them with each other. That way everyone gets to play with them.”
            At one level, I know Celia understands, but then she pulls off some interesting stunts as well. One time she approached Webber and said, “I’m going to share with Webber,” and took his toy. We all laughed when we saw this. I don’t think sharing was intended to be initiated that way! But then again, it sure makes sense when you think of it from her perspective.
            Another time she took Webber’s toy, as usual, and as she was walking away she said, “I’m not going to take Webber’s toy!” I’m not sure what was going on in her head, but we all shook our heads and marveled at her two-year-old logic (and how similar it is to certain greedy corporations!).
            One time, Webber had had enough, and bit Celia in the arm. He doesn’t have very much language yet, and his frustration was so huge, he lashed out in the only way he knew. Celia was, of course, upset, and I consoled her but I also shrugged my shoulders and thought, “I hope this teaches her a lesson.”
            All of this raises the question as to how much we should get involved as parents. At one level, I want to make sure they play well and don’t pick up any long-term bad habits or hurt each other too much, but at the same time I don’t want to be a “helicopter parent” who hovers around the kids controlling their every movement. I’ve seen the way that dampens a child’s spirit, and I know it’s not for me.
            I suppose we’ll play it by ear, and let them roughhouse but not get overly violent. As it is, it’s already a handful just existing every time we’re together. Take last night. We were trying to enjoy a nice dinner out, and of course every child (three at this point) was in need of parental holding just as the meal reached its climax.
            At one point I said, while standing and holding Webber in one arm, “Somebody help me cut a bite off that filet, please.” One-armed eating can be tricky at times, as we all knew well.
            I reached out with my fork and stabbed the meat. Michelle reached out with her one free arm and started to cut it, but because the plate was wobbling, Elise, my sister-in-law, reached out with her one free arm and held the plate. Success! With three free hands acting in unison, I was able to enjoy that luscious bite of filet.
            Yes, managing three kids from four months to two years old is a juggling act, and requires a bit of extra creativity, but I think we’re laying a groundwork for some pretty cool things to come. I bet in four years it’ll be Webber who’s sitting on Celia, not the other way around. And by then they’ll have a healthy respect for each other. A dad can dream, can’t he?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Mystery of the Midnight Crying

            Celia awoke screaming.
            I rushed into her room and picked her up. Her nose has been plugged up, and her throat is starting to get raspy, so she sounded horrible. I held her as she calmed down. We sat together rocking back and forth for awhile, then I asked her, “What’s wrong Sweetie? Why are you crying?”
            She didn’t answer.
            I asked again, “Why are you crying?”
            Silence.
            I easily get frustrated by a non-response, so I tried to calm my temptation to get impatient and instead urged her, “If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t help you. Tell me why you’re crying.”
            She looked at me, then looked away.
            “Okay,” I said as I gently lifted her back into the crib. “Goodnight.”
            No sooner had I started to walk away when she started to cry again. I went back to her but didn’t pick her up. “You need to tell me what’s wrong,” I said to her.
            “The cat peed in my bed,” Celia replied with tears in her eyes.
            This was, of course, true. And it was part of the reason why she’s been sleeping in her crib again. Maybe Celia was picking up on my anger earlier in the day. Michelle was telling me we might have to throw the mattress away. It frustrates me that suddenly, overnight, the things we’ve worked hard to attain become garbage. Welcome to the world of pets and children.
            I tried to make eye contact with Celia as I said, “Yes, the cat did pee in your bed. But why are you crying?”
            Celia looked away and started to cry again. I said a quick prayer for discernment, one of those one-word prayers that encapsulate about a hundred different emotions and possibilities but simply come out as, “Help.”
            Instantly, I knew that I needed to bring her into our bed for the rest of the night. Which is odd, because she hasn’t slept in our bed with us for a year now. But I’ve learned over the years to trust my first instinct in these kinds of things, so I asked Celia, “Do you want to sleep with Mommy and Daddy?”
            “Yeah,” she replied.
            I lifted her and brought her into our bed. She tossed and turned, but slept pretty well after that. Michelle and I, on the other hand, both had the same thought all night long. Michelle put it into words when she came down in the morning, “We need a king size bed.”
            I nodded my head in agreement. “If we do that again, we most certainly do.” The crick in my neck was speaking to me louder than any of Michelle’s words.
            Now that Celia was awake, I sat her down and looked her in the eye, “Celia, why were you crying so much last night?”
            Celia looked me in the eye and said, “Because I’m little.”
            I laughed. Well, that’s of course true. But I wanted to know more. “Is that the only reason you were crying?”
            “Yeah,” Celia replied as she squirmed out of my arms. Her attention span was gone.
            I suppose the mystery of the midnight crying will remain just that. And perhaps Celia’s second answer really is all I should need. Let’s face it, she’s little. It’s going to happen. So deal with it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tears of Laughter

            I was deeply engrossed in a late-night phone call with a friend when Celia started to cry. She’s been sleeping in her crib because the open access to freedom from the bed has been too enticing, and more importantly, the cat peed on her bed! I was so mad at that cat, but what do you do? It could have been any number of things – the cat has been sick, and wearing what I call the “cone of shame” for almost a week now.
            When Celia started to cry I gestured to Michelle to go upstairs and calm her down. Michelle gestured to me that she wanted me to go up too. I rolled my eyes and said to my friend, “Okay. I’ve gotta go. Michelle wants help with Celia.”
            I hung up and bounded upstairs. Michelle and I both leaned into the crib at the same time where our daughter was still crying loudly.
            Suddenly, Michelle said,” Celia! Have you been eating chocolate!?”
            “Michelle!” I whispered with force, “That was me!” My eyes were wide with shock. That’s the last thing Celia needed, was to go down the path of wanting chocolate in the middle of the night.
            I started to laugh. I couldn’t believe it.
            Michelle quickly tried to cover up for me. You don’t want Daddy laughing when he comes up to check on his disturbed daughter. “Daddy’s crying with you, because he feels your pain,” Michelle told Celia.
            I put my face in my hands and tried to make my laughter sound like crying. It was so ridiculous that I began to laugh all the more.
            “Daddy’s really sad,” Michelle said to Celia.
            I lifted my head to look at Celia, and then the laughter took over. Have you ever had a laughing fit, where you just can’t seem to stop laughing, no matter what you try? I haven’t had one in years. I can’t even remember the last time. But suddenly, here I was in front of my distressed daughter guffawing out of control, trying to make it sound like crying as best as I could.
            Celia quieted down and stared at me with big eyes. My stomach kept buckling huge chuckles of laughter/sobs out of me.
            Finally, Michelle said, “Daddy, I think you need to leave the room to compose yourself.”
            Tears were rolling down my face as I nodded and left the room.
            I sat in the living room and had a cathartic laugh session. After wiping the tears from my eyes and calming down, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “For goodness sakes! Michelle didn’t need me to help with Celia!”
            Although, it’s hard to feel upset for being taken away from my friend when I’ve laughed that hard. It’s hard to feel anything but pure enjoyment. Maybe I need to do that more often!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Second-Born Syndrome

            Raising the second child is considerably different than the first. With the firstborn everything has to change – poisonous plants are disposed of, empty sockets are plugged, fragile things, sharp corners, loose cables all are modified. Slowly, slowly, kid stuff starts to overwhelm every room of the house, until there are toys, bibs, and “jolly jumpers” just about everywhere.
            With the first kid the parents go through some pretty major shocks to the system. They wish they had earplugs, noseplugs, and brainplugs for all the crying, diapers, and waking up in the middle of the night. My biggest shock was realizing that I wanted to go to bed early on a weekend night, rather than join my friends for some wonderful late-night festivity. Sleep becomes much, much more important than fun.
            Not only are parents of firstborns shocked, they’re delighted every time their child learns to crawl, talk, eat, pick their nose, you name it. Everything is just so darn exciting, and worthy of a photograph.
            Then along comes the second.
            It’s odd, because even though Joshua is colicky, with all the extra crying and puking, it just seems a whole lot easier than the first. The initial shock of having kids has worn off, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal this time around. I hear my son crying and think, “Well, it sucks, but it won’t last forever.”
            In some ways, I think second-born kids are gypped. Years ago I was digging through my parents’ photos trying to find some cute baby pictures of myself. I kept coming across my older brother, but only found a handful of photos with me in them. I remember shaking my head and thinking, “No way am I going to let that happen to my second child. He’s going to get all sorts of photos taken of him.”
            I’ll be honest with you, not only has Joshua had a mere fraction of photographs taken of him compared to Celia at his age, one of the big things keeping me taking his photo is the reminder of that experience digging through my parents’ photos. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered taking all the photographs I’ve taken so far. “Been there, done that. Who needs more baby pictures when we already have tons of Celia?”
            I’ve tried to be diligent and take some photos of him. He’s got a few good ones, especially when he’s sleeping (and not crying), but not too many when he’s awake yet. Although there is a funny one I took of Michelle and Celia laughing and playing on the bed as Joshua is propped up on pillows next to them puking. I don’t like the fact that he pukes so much, but at some point I just have to shake my head and laugh at some of these moments. He seems like he’s getting through it, and if everyone around us is right, most colicky kids suddenly snap out of it and turn out pretty normal.
            Celia seems to dealing with it fairly well. Sometimes when Joshua cries a lot, she “cries” too. When we give him medicine, she wants some medicine too. When we give him baby food, she wants baby food too. We always humor her with these episodes. One of our many child psychology books says that if you let your child “digress”, they’ll actually mature much more quickly and in a healthy way that builds their self-esteem. They get the message from you that they’re okay wherever they’re at, and that encourages them to be more self-confident than if a parent were to say, “You’re too old for that.”
            Not only does Celia seem to be handling it fairly well, she usually brings a bit of humor to Joshua’s malady. A few nights ago Joshua had puked up his dinner and Celia started loudly calling out, “Pukenator! Pukenator! He’s the Pukenator!”
            I smiled. Michelle and I kept caring for Joshua as Celia continued, “He’s the Pukenator! He’s the Pukenator! He’s the Pukenator!”
            I wondered to myself if I shouldn’t have given Joshua that nickname. I mostly still call him Jelly Bean, but when he pukes – well, “The Pukenator” just seems to fit better.
            Last night Celia surprised me with her depth of perception. After Joshua had spit up for over ten minutes straight, Celia said, “He’s a puking machine!”
            I laughed out loud. “Where did you learn that?” I asked her.
            Celia grinned and looked up at Michelle.
            Michelle shrugged her shoulders as she held Joshua and said, “Well, he is!”
            I chuckled. Our son, the puking machine. On the bright side, he is starting to improve. We’ve now got him on antacid and a few naturopathic medicines, plus he now has no more twists in his spine thanks to the chiropractor. He’s sleeping through the night much better, and actually seems quite happy at times. During the day one of us, usually Michelle, walks him in the stroller. This seems to be the only way to keep him from crying. But it does seem to be working.
            I don’t know if he’s really improving, or if it’s just another phase, but I think we’re managing it pretty well. Maybe that’s the difference with the second-born. If there’s anything learned from the first, it’s that this season passes rather quickly. It’s not like I’m going to be wiping up his puke two years from now. If we can give him all the extra attention he needs now, I think he’ll turn out pretty well.
            At this point, puking or not, I’m going to remember to keep taking his photo. He may grow up with some sort of “Second-Born Syndrome”, but at the very least he’ll have photos of himself, mostly puking or sleeping, to look back on and smile.