Monday, February 28, 2011

Modified Lullabies

            It was getting close to Celia’s bedtime when she said to me, “Daddy, you go to sleep over here.” She pointed to a pillow she’d carefully placed on the living room carpet. I lay down and smiled as she brought over a blanket to tuck me in.
            They say that part of a child’s development is to reenact normal circumstances from their day. They play “Mommy and Daddy,” “Cooking” and even, in this case, “Nap time.”
            Celia patted my head and started to sing, “Lullaby, and goodnight, in the sky stars are bright…” She finished the song as I smiled at her. Her singing has been improving, and I loved hearing her version of the songs. There were moments when she obviously didn’t know the vocabulary, which always made me smile.
            “Aren’t you going to sing me another song?” I asked.
            “Yes,” Celia said, but then stood quietly.
            “What song are you going to sing?” I asked her.
            Celia remained quiet.
            “Rock-a-bye Baby?”
            “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?”
            “How about Jesus Loves Me?”
            “Yes!” Celia lit up. I’d been singing her the song for a few weeks now, and I’d never heard her sing it.
            “Jesus loves me this I know…” Celia sang happily.
            I pretended to fall asleep as she sang.
            When she got to the chorus, instead of singing, “Yes, Jesus loves me,” she sang, “Yes, Jesus loves you.”
            I laughed. “Celia, that’s a lovely version of the song!”
            Celia smiled with me. All this time I’d been singing it to her, she’d mentally figured out that if I was singing “Jesus loves me,” then she would have to sing, “Jesus loves you,” if she was to be singing it to me.
            On the one hand I marveled at this brilliant little two-year old who’d come to such conclusions. On the other hand, I felt great cheer at the unexpected unique perspective she brought with her.
            I’m amazed at how wonderful it is to be involved with my daughter’s development. We certainly have a lot of fun.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Chaos

             “Don’t take me out on Valentine’s Day.” Michelle sipped her coffee and gestured abruptly with her hand. “That’s the busiest restaurant day of the year.”
            I nodded my head slowly. This was not unexpected. Michelle had told me the same thing the last two years as well. “Okay, I’ll cook you dinner.”
            “What are you going to make?” Michelle seemed interested but hesitant.
            “How about Chicken Cordon Bleu?” I smiled. Always a winning dinner for a date night.
            “Too much time’s required. You’ll have to cook after work. Cook up those elk sirloin steaks in the fridge.”
            I frowned. Chicken cordon bleu sounded more romantic than elk.
            Not that I’m a serious subscriber to Valentine’s Day, but it does seem like an opportunity to be romantic – a much needed interlude amidst baby bowel movements, bawls and broken sleep cycles.
            I took a deep breath and nodded my head. “Sure, honey. I’ll cook whatever you want.”
            The next day I pulled out a special wine I’d been saving for six years – my favorite Italian wine, eleven-years-old and perfectly aged for a romantic night.
            I rolled up my sleeves and mentally went over all the things we needed to do to make the night perfect – clean the kitchen, tidy up the house, feed the kids, put them to bed, put on the romantic music, open the wine, prepare the first course, heat the grill for the steaks…
            “Okay.” I stood with hands on hips, ready for action. “Let’s feed the kids and put them to bed so we can eat.”
            Michelle shook her head at me, “I’m hungry now. Let’s eat now.”
            “What!? With the kids?!” My eyes were wide.
            Michelle looked at me with “those eyes,” the kind that say, “I’ve just had the longest day of my life,” or perhaps, “Do you really want to disagree with me today?”
            I started cooking.
            I uncorked the wine and pulled out the expensive wine glasses.
            I put on some relaxing piano jazz music.
            I quickly scooped up all the toys from the dining room and tossed them into a basket in another room.
            A quick wipe of the table, a flip of the steaks, and two candles.
            We were ready.
            The elk was succulent and eager to be eaten – I was shocked it was actually wild game. The salad was scrumptious, and the potatoes were prepared to perfection. The wine was even better than I remembered it. The candles gave the room a lovely glow.
            Meanwhile, both kids sat at the table flinging food, moaning, crying and making a general all-purpose ruckus. At first, I thought I’d ignore them. I raised my expensive wine glass to Michelle and smiled. She toasted me back. Then Celia lifted her dirty water cup and said, “Cheers!” loudly, trying to clank it with ours.
            “How was your day?” I asked soothingly.
            Before Michelle could answer, Joshua started to cry and Michelle leaned over to pick him up. His hands were covered in the dinner mush he’d been eating, and proceeded to cover Michelle’s shirt.
            Celia said, “Daddy! I want more elk!”
            I sliced her off a bite-sized piece and put it on her plate. She gobbled it down, then spat out a chewy part. “Yuck! I don’t like that part!”
            “Ouch!” Michelle said as Joshua pulled her hair.
            I instantly had one of those “eagle’s eye” moments. I caught a glimpse of what we must look like from afar – a Valentine’s Day Fiasco – and burst out laughing.
            “You know, Michelle,” I smiled at her, “This is utterly ridiculous.”
            Michelle pried Joshua’s clenched hands from her hair and looked at me quizzically.
            “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
            In the end, Michelle and I left half our dinners on the table as we put our kids to bed, and when we returned the ambience suddenly felt appropriate. But for that one moment of chaos, I knew deep down that even though what we’d experienced was far from romantic, it was utterly worth the effort. Maybe not sentimental, but definitely one of the most memorable Valentine’s Days I’ve ever had. Who could ask for more than that?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Ballet and Bad Timing

            When my mother invited me to take Celia to the children’s ballet with her, Celia had been talking about ballet non-stop for so many months I instantly knew there was only one right decision.
            “Of course!” replied.
            We put the date in the calendar, but didn’t tell Celia. A few times now we’d psyched Celia up for something only to find on the day that it didn’t work out. In those moments she would erupt into enormous wails and tell us how much she wanted to do “such-and-such” in-between the sobs.
            The timing was perfect. Celia’s bedtime was at eight o’clock, and the ballet was to start at seven, so we figured we’d catch the first half, then leave at intermission. The date was set. We knew our plan.
            When the big day arrived we told Celia after she came home from daycare.
            “Ballet!” Celia exclaimed and ran upstairs to her bedroom. She stripped off all her clothing, put on a tutu and began to dance in front of the mirror. This is, actually, a fairly regular activity for her, but in the context of the evening’s events, we were excited for her.
            We showed up early to make sure we would have good seats, only to discover that the ballet started at eight o’clock, not seven!
            I stood in shock. My mind raced.
            Finally, my mother said aloud what I had been thinking, “What should we do?”
            My dad instantly piped in, “Let’s get a refund and go home.”
            I shook my head. I watched my daughter run around on her tip-toes around the foyer with a tutu over her winter clothes.
            “We can’t leave. We already told Celia.”
            My parents turned to look at their granddaughter bubbling over with excitement and nodded their heads in agreement.
            It was tempting to become negative in that moment.
            What an unfortunate turn of events – Celia would watch the ballet, but what sort of shape would she be in by then? Her head is usually on the pillow by eight. How long would she last? I surmised she’d be asleep on my lap within two dances.
            The tickets had been $22 each, even for her, I am shocked to say, though she sat on my lap the entire event. And although it’s not that much money when you look at the big picture of what’s most important in life, we’re living pretty tight right now, so I couldn’t help but wince to think that Celia would probably be asleep and miss most of the performance.
            All these negative thoughts swirled through my mind before I resolved myself to think positively.
            “Well, Mom. Let’s figure out what to do for the next hour.”
            My mother thought for a moment, then tracked down one of the organizing ladies behind the event and explained our predicament. The woman said, “Why don’t you take her backstage?”
            My eyes lit up. What a brilliant idea!
            Within moments Celia was backstage meeting all the girls as they tried on their different costumes and stood still while their mothers’ applied their makeup.
            I watched Celia go up to a teenager and touch the fabric of her outfit. The girl smiled as she bent down to talk to Celia. I shook my head in amazement. This was far greater than we could have planned.
            Celia did break down by nine o’clock, but only after meeting several of the ballerinas backstage and watching numerous dances. Overall, a fantastic night out.
            I am amazed at the power of positive versus negative thinking. It is so easy to get wrapped up in negative thinking when things don’t go exactly as planned. The negative seasoning flavors the whole event with a bad taste. But when we choose to be positive, the results can oftentimes surprise us.
            A wise man once told me, “Pay attention to interruptions. Those are often the most important moments of life.”
            The evening events weren’t exactly an interruption, but it most certainly wasn’t what we’d planned, either.
            And I’ll bet it was an evening that Celia will remember for a long time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bouncing Baby Breakfast

            I’m not exactly a veteran parent yet, but still, you’d think I would know better than to feed my son in a bouncy chair.
            It started out okay. He was so hungry that he kept perfectly still and eagerly opened his mouth for a new bite as soon as I finished feeding him the first one. There was a part of my brain that told me it wouldn’t last. “Take him out!” the coherent part of my brain said to me. “It won’t last!”
            But my foggy soggy pre-coffee morning brain argued back, “That’s too much work. Look, he’s fine.”
            When he started bouncing, believe it or not, I kept feeding him. He’d bounce a few times, then pause as I gave him another bite, at which point the bouncing would resume.
            Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. I wasn’t even watching him – just scraping the sides of the cup to feed him more of his breakfast mush. Then, I’d hold the spoon out and say, “Want some more? Here’s some more food?”
            The bouncing would stop momentarily, then resume again with even more vigor.
            When he’d eaten nearly all the food I’d prepared, I looked at him to see how he was doing, and saw, as if for the first time, what I’d created.
            Food was everywhere. All over Joshua’s face, hands, up his nose, even in his eye. It covered his toys, his clothing, and the bouncy chair.
            I gaped at him with an open mouth for a moment, then I started to laugh.
            Joshua smiled back at me and bounced even more vigorously.
            I laughed and laughed as he bounced and bounced.
            Not the most brilliant parenting move, but certainly a memorable one!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sleep Training

            The day finally arrived. I had been sleeping in the guest room for way too long. It was finally time to sleep train our son.
            Joshua has been much easier at night than Celia ever was. He usually falls asleep while Michelle’s feeding him in bed, and if he wakes up, a little burp, a jiggle and shushing in his ear calm him down enough to sleep again. When he wakes up throughout the night Michelle has been feeding him back to sleep.
            Not so bad, except that A) my mid-back is starting to grumble about the extra weight he’s put on during the more prolonged periods of shushing, and B) midnight feedings don’t work so well in a Queen-sized bed with two-adults.
            Fitting the three of us in the bed, one of which is squirming and crying, didn’t do well for my sleep sanity. Which is why I ended up in the guest room.
            I’m not complaining. I’d sleep through the night except when Celia would wake up with nightmares. But too many days of waking up with a sore back from a softer mattress, and missing a morning kiss from my lovely wife, convinced me I wanted to sleep in my own bed again.
            “It’s time to sleep-train him,” I said to Michelle one morning a couple of weeks ago.
            She nodded her head and said, “Okay.”
            I smiled. I hadn’t expected it to be so easy. With Celia it was like pulling teeth to get Michelle to allow her to cry herself to sleep. And Celia was much more persistent than Joshua has been – she would wail for hours just to get her way.
            That night Michelle was out with some friends and I was in charge of the kids. I had just taken Celia out of the bath when I heard Joshua crying from my bedroom. It was a cold winter night, and I would usually hurry Celia into her room to dress her in some warm pajamas. I looked at Celia in my arms, then set her down in the hallway and rushed in to look at Joshua.
            He was becoming frantic so I picked him up and quickly burped him. Celia came into the room, naked and shivering.
            “Daddy, I’m cold!” Celia said to me, coming over to my leg and pulling on it.
            “Okay, Sweetie. Let me just put Joshua down.”
            I set Joshua in the crib and left the room. Joshua cried, and I felt kind of bad, but I had to dress my daughter. It was one of those moments where, as a single human being, I had to choose the more important of two things. So I left him to cry.
            I dressed Celia quickly, read her two stories, sang her two songs, tucked her in and said goodnight. Then, back to my bedroom where Joshua was still crying.
            “Joshua, you’re okay. I’m here. Everything’s alright,” I said soothingly.
            At this point, I wondered if I should pick him up again, as he was used to, or just go for it and truly sleep-train him. “What the heck,” I thought to myself, “Michelle’s gone. She won’t hear the crying. May as well do it now.” I left the room hoping for the best.
            He was asleep in a couple of minutes.
            In less than ten minutes my son has been sleep-trained!
            I had flash-backs to the hours of grueling pain I went through trying to sleep-train Celia. Even to this day there are nights where she simply has to cry herself to sleep.
            I wonder if this is part of the second-born child dynamic? Second-born kids are instantly aware that they’re not the center of the universe. There’s another child who has already beat them to that position, and so they have an instinctive awareness that they can’t get away with too much.
            Whatever it is, I’m happy. I’m back in bed with my wife, and yes, we’re still working out how to deal with Joshua’s midnight cries, but the hardest part is over. The boy can fall asleep on his own.
            Score one for the parents!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Practicing Presence

            When did minding the kids become a chore?
            Last week I was on child duty as Michelle went out. Celia was watching a movie, and I sat next to Joshua as he rolled around on the carpet gurgling with a smile and reaching out for random toys.
            My mind was wandering, and my smart phone gave a beep that a new email had come in. I reached into my pocket and began reading the message.
            And then it hit me.
            I wasn’t being present to my kids.
            I began to think back – how long had I been doing that? I couldn’t say. All at once I had this daydream flash – in no time at all the kids will be off at school, and then they’ll be busy, busy, busy and it’ll be more and more difficult to spend quality time with them. How precious these early days are, when I have full access to both of my kids.
            I suppose it’s the familiarity of life that takes over. When the kids become more manageable, there’s less and less need to be fully present to them, and so we allow ourselves to disengage mentally.
            I put my phone back in my pocket and played with my son.
            A few days later I found myself in a similar situation. Celia was napping, and I had a couple of hours alone with Joshua. He lay on the carpet gurgling happily to himself.
            At first, I was daydreaming to myself, then I snapped out of it and leaned over to look at him. His gorgeous blue eyes twinkled as he looked at me.
            “You’re so adorable,” I lilted to him.
            He chirped happily.
            “My Little Boy Blue.”
            Joshua grinned at me and reached out, grabbing my nose.
            All at once I felt a tremendous surge of love come over me. My eyes moistened as I watched him experiment with making noise with his tongue out. I pulled out a shaker and dangled it in front of him. He grasped at it eagerly until he finally pulled it down into his mouth.
            Then, I shook it, making noise, and his eyes lit up. He seems to love anything musical or percussive, far more than any other baby I’ve come across so far. He took the shaker out of my hand and started shaking it the same way I did.
            I shook my head in amazement. He’s only seven months! Will he be a musician?
            Inspired, I pulled down my twelve-string guitar from where it was hanging on the wall and began tuning it. Every time I hit a string, Joshua chimed an echo back, “Aaaah!”
            He was always in the key of C.
            At least, that’s what my tuner told me.
            And then, I started singing. We sang the blues. We sang rock. We sang some soul. And Joshua gurgled along with wide eyes. “Aaaaaah!”
            I could see he wanted to get closer, so I scooched over to him. He instantly reached out, putting his hands on the strings with me.
            We played together with the guitar until he got tired, at which point I put him on my back for a nap while I practiced bass guitar to some funk songs in the kitchen. And that’s where Michelle found us when she came home.
            I smiled at her. Not only had I been fully present to my son, I’d had a great time.
            What a perfect afternoon.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Baby's Big Bump

            Celia and I were dancing in the kitchen when I heard Michelle’s screams from upstairs. I turned the blasting music off and went hurtling up the stairway carrying my wide-eyed daughter in my right arm.
            Joshua was screaming as Michelle rocked him back and forth crying.
            He’d fallen off the bed.
            A very tall bed, mind you.
            And landed right on his head.
            On a very thin carpet.
            The bump on his head was already huge.
            I instantly thought back to when Celia was his age and had had a big fall. We’d called our family doctor in a panic, and he calmly had said, “Did she cry right away?” Yes. “Then, don’t worry. She’ll be fine. Kids are built tough.”
            Michelle was frantic. I said, “Let me hold him.”
            Sometimes, when a kid is hurt, the parents can make them freak out even more if they’re all worked up about it. Michelle handed Joshua over to me and went to get some medicine.
            We actually knew a big fall was coming, and were about to prevent it. Joshua had just started rolling around more assertively, and so Michelle was in the process of clearing out the crib to put him there for his nap, rather than the bed. She’d put him in the middle of the bed and turned her back for one or two seconds.
            Unfortunately, she saw it all. She saw him hurtle off the side, as if in slow motion, and hit the ground head first, twisting his neck dangerously.
            With such a vivid picture in her mind, it took her longer to calm down than Joshua. That night she woke up every couple of hours to make sure he was okay. Thankfully, our son is just fine, but it’s a good reminder.
            Life is precious. We know people personally who’ve lost kids at young ages due to what seem like normal circumstances – choking on a bead, running into the street, drowning in a kid-pool.
            Parents need to strike a delicate balance of alert watchfulness and abstaining from paranoia. Kids need to have the freedom to explore this world on their own, but safely.
            Striking that balance is probably one of the most challenging parental tasks throughout a child’s life. We all probably know a few “helicopter parents” who are always hovering over their children, controlling their every action and “protecting” them from harm. We also probably all know a few “lackadaisical parents” who aren’t nearly involved enough in their kids’ development and safety.
            And no matter what kind of parent you are, bad things do happen. That’s life.
            It makes me more peaceful to think that Jesus himself said kids’ angels have direct “face-to-face” time with God. In other words, they’ve got a lot of extra help protecting those kids. Because let’s face it, they need it.