My Mommy

May 10, 2010

One of the best things about having this blog is that someday, Blanche will have this as an ever-evolving baby book; one that captures my emotions and our adventures instantaneously and with details you wouldn’t find in a photo album or growth chart. It will be a way for her to learn about not only who she was as a baby, but who her mom and dad were.

I still know relatively nothing about my parents’ lives before me. Over the years I’ve picked up a few details–their first date was a Chicago concert somewhere in Iowa, my mom smuggled booze into her own wedding–but I tell those tales with little or no confidence. With this blog, Blanche will have definitive answers to some of the things she may wonder about, and will get some insight into things she never contemplated.

So for my Mother’s Day post, I’ve decided to give Blanche a picture of who her mommy is. She’s more than just a  breast milk buffet, you know.

Kristie was a particular and peculiar child. She talked to trees, wouldn’t eat donuts without sprinkles and demanded that her dad put the toothpaste on her brush exactly how it looked on TV–you know, the giant swoop. She tormented babysitters and convinced them her brother was possessed, and the only reason she agreed to play t-ball was so she could have a pink glove. Blanche, I hope you are just as quirky as your mother was, with a personality no one who encounters you will forget.

She was a dancer from the start, and I’ve no doubt you’ll be one too. I’m also quite certain you’ll look back at photographs and be horrified of the terrible haircuts you had growing up, though I doubt mom will let you get a crazy perm. But mom’s interests were diverse–she loved to fish (she taught me how to clean a fish) and gave golf a brief try. She decided it was more fun to quit after a few holes, go back to the clubhouse, and use her parents’ account to buy her friends food and candy. Sorry Blanche, we’ve learned that lesson.


Kristie had a dog just like Atlas growing up, so you’ll undoubtedly share your love of naughty dogs. Other things she loved: reading. When she was in elementary school, and I was reading Goosebumps and Matt Christopher books, your mom was reading Charles Dickens and Henry David Thoreau. She loved candy. The lake. Using the biggest words she possibly could.



I first met Kristie when I was a junior in high school. She was a senior, and we met through a mutual friend. It was tricky, since Kristie had a boyfriend at the time, but we set up a date to play Scrabble at my house. I was excited and nervous, not only because I had a huge crush on her, but because I knew my vocabulary was no match for hers. No matter; she canceled. Yes, she backed out on our first scheduled date.

This will be completely obsolete by the time you read this, but we did the typical high school talk on the phone all night thing–talking about anything we could think of, staying up past midnight, whispering so our parents couldn’t hear us, and listening to hear if our parents were eavesdropping. I’m sure they did. I remember seeing Hannibal together and wondering if I was allowed to hold her hand.

My lasting high school memory of Kristie involves my hand-me-down Toyota Camry. It had a tape deck–heard of those?–but it never worked in the time I’d had it. One Tuesday night we got home around midnight from a tennis match in Red Wing, our big conference rival. I got into my car and began to drive home in silence. Suddenly, music began to play. It was a tape of songs Kristie had put together for me and stashed in my tape player while I was gone. For whatever reason, my tape player worked that night, and it never worked again.

Kristie left for St. Olaf and I stayed back to finish my last year of high school. Her quirks evolved at college; she was widely known to speak fish, a silent language she perfected during her month of study in New York. This is also when I first remember her making random noises. I equated some to baby dinosaur shrieks. There may have been substances involved. She also really loved the bizarre petting zoo that came to the St. Olaf campus. I believe the baby Chinese Silky caught her eye.

Your mom and I had a ton of wonderful experiences before you were born (sorry). We spent months learning the public transportation systems together in London, mistakenly ordered a grilled cheese sandwich for dessert in Venice and zip-lined through the rain forest in Costa Rica. We danced into the morning hours at many weddings, saw dozens of fabulous productions, concerts and performances and shared hundreds of blissful evenings as only two young, childless hipsters could. To attempt to list all of the amazing memories we shared before your birth would be tiresome. Ask us about them someday. But don’t worry! There is plenty of room left in our brains for more, Blanche-filled memories.

Your mom is the perfect balance for your dad. If she was like me, everything in our life would be organized, neat, on schedule and stale. Kristie brings spontaneity and has a moment-to-moment brain, and I hope she passes that on to you. When I’m stressing out planning travels, doing dishes or wondering if the clothes on the floor are dirty or clean, your mom is relaxing on the couch, having a glass of wine and reassuring me that everything is going to work out just fine. And it always has. She keeps me loose and pushes me into things before I think I’m ready for them–which is a good thing, because I’d probably still be living in a college house if she didn’t.

On the left is the house we brought you home to! On the right is your bedroom.We wouldn’t have either if  your mom hadn’t made me feel sure we were making the right decision. Now that we have them, and have you, I realize again how right she always has been. Not to say that we haven’t needed my organization and planning skills from time to time…

Your mommy has been the best mommy in the whole world to you, and I’ve never seen her happier than when she’s with you. Often, she’ll be your closest confidant and advisor. Sometimes, she’ll be the sharpest thorn in your side. I can speak only from experience. But always, she’ll love you more than anything else in the universe, and you’d better not forget to tell her you love her too on Mother’s Day.


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The Moments

April 29, 2010

Seven weeks in, and things are still completely surreal. Tonight, I found myself in the middle of one of those moments that I imagined myself having with her and remembering for the rest of my life. Like those stories you hear your parents or adults in your life tell you; you have no recollection of it happening, but they can retell it as if it happened the night before. As a person you have those moments anyway–moments that for reasons unknown, always stand out in your mind. I’ve had these moments as a father already, but the random, everyday moments that I know will stick with me forever come at unspecific intervals. Tonight I was the most certain that I was in the middle of one of those moments.

When I was asked prior to Blanche’s birth what I was most looking forward to, it was hard for me to imagine. How do you know? How did I know what things would feel the most powerful or rewarding, or through which activities we’d find the strongest connection? People want specifics, and are annoyed equally by the ‘Everything!’ and ‘I don’t know!’ answers. So when asked, I fell back on one of the things I am passionate about, and one of the few things that I have very specific childhood memories of: music.  

I would tell them I was excited to sing to Blanche, to dance with her, to play her the music most meaningful to me. To help her understand music, its history, its importance in culture. How euphoric a song can make you feel, how rhythm unlocks your body, how a melody makes you tingle. I learned these things when I was growing up, listening to Beethoven, Prince, the Beatles, Schubert, the Replacements. And though I don’t remember the moments, I hear an Elvis Costello song, or a Mozart overture, and know that I have known that piece since before I had memories.

Certainly Blanche won’t remember tonight, and maybe she won’t remember how she stared into my eyes as we danced in the kitchen, to Yeasayer, OK Go, the New Pornographers and the rest of the music of the moment. Perhaps she won’t hear The National on the radio fifteen years from now and think, ‘Where have I heard that song before?’

I’m not counting on tonight being a major moment in her life. But it was in mine. I felt a real connection tonight; something I could communicate to my daughter as important and fulfilling. A moment where nothing else in the world existed, only her tiny body in my arms, in my kitchen, swaying and singing along with the radio.

I know I’ll be singing to and dancing with her for many years. Years and years from now, when she’s grown up, and expecting her first child, maybe I’ll tell her about tonight’s singing and dancing. Perhaps tonight’s moment will remain forever as one of the clearest and most special of my time with her. Maybe I’ll play her some of the songs I sang to her, some of the bands we swayed to. Maybe one melody will trigger a hidden memory, like they did for me. It’s chilling to even imagine.

Baby Time II

April 27, 2010

I’m realizing that I’ve begun to lose my sense of time. I find myself asking ‘was it last night that Blanche was up puking?’ or mistakenly telling Kristie I’d already given her a bottle that night. I’ve determined that, while I’m only up for a half an hour during the night, the toll it takes on my body is much greater. It’s not the same as waking up a half hour earlier, or going to bed a half hour later. This is much different. And it’s exponential, so by Friday I’m a thousand times more tired than I was Monday.

What dad? Me? Making you tired?

It doesn’t help that work has been increasingly tiring, with a larger class and a very pregnant co-worker. Sometimes it does feel a bit overwhelming. Waking up tired, spending nine hours watching two dozen 3-year olds, surviving rush hour traffic and coming home to a worn out mom who hasn’t had time to wash bottles or find time for herself. I try to tackle the day-to-day chores promptly, but it’s hard not to feel like I’m neglecting my wife and child a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than to spend time with my budding family, but there are some things that simply need to get done every day. I have a hard time putting those things out of my mind. By eight o’clock, I’m exhausted, and depending on the seriousness of the night’s tasks, incredibly hungry.

So this led Kristie and I to debate which is more tiring: taking care of a baby all day or working a full, energy-sapping day? At this point, Kristie has been able to sleep in a few hours later than I, but she sleeps much worse than I do. I wake up for big cries and shrieks, but Blanche is right next to Kristie and Kristie is so tuned in to the baby’s every move. She wakes up frequently. So I get less sleep, but it’s of much higher quality. Let’s start the scorecard.

Sleep: EVEN

I spend my day changing diapers, herding children on the playground, wiping up spilled milk, repeatedly having my patience tested, getting talked back at, changing more diapers–this is getting me worked up. My days are draining.

Kristie’s day consists of breastfeeding, trying to find time to put the baby down and shower, trying to find time to eat meals, pumping breast milk, breastfeeding, changing diapers, rocking, swaddling and snuggling. I imagine it seems like a never-ending one-thing-after-another kind of day.

Day stress: EVEN

This could be an entire post, and I risk reaching complete exhaustion a day or two early if I really expounded. It’s not worth the risk.

Both our lives are tiring at this point. We’re always catching up. It’s something we’re getting used to and likely won’t change for a while. But, being a dad is still the best thing in the world, and I don’t mind using her as Diet Coke justification.

Awake Baby Pros and Cons

April 21, 2010

Blanche is now six weeks old, and is more awake than ever. It took her a few weeks before she really opened her eyes for any extended period of time at all. The next couple weeks we could count on her being awake during the evening, with peak hours between 7 and 9. Now, she scatters periods of awake activity throughout the day, and really likes to stay up at night. Even more, she now likes to be awake while eating in the middle of the night, as opposed to the first month, when she didn’t pause her snoozing for a bottle break.

She's Awake! Kristie is not.

Without question, having her awake more often is much more fun for me. But there are some drawbacks, which we’re still getting used to. Let’s break it all down.

Pro: She smiles! And you must admit, this girl, with her eyes open and that for-whatever-reason smile, is pretty adorable.

Con: She cries! And I must admit, this dad, with his quirky soothing ideas and that help-me tone of voice, is pretty lost.

Pro: We get to see how she reacts to different environments and baby items that, clogging our entire house, had gone virtually unused for the first month. For example: she LOVES the Baby Bjorn, tolerates tummy time on her bear blanket, and hasn’t yet bonded with the Bumbo chair.

Con: She spits out or slaps away her pacifier at random, and this is apparently the worst tragedy in the world. The problem is, she doesn’t understand that her flailing arms are the cause of this tragedy. I find myself re-plugging that thing all day.

Pros: Looking into her eyes, believing that in those brief moments where hers connect with yours that she actually is looking at you, and not just the space in front of her face. Watching her jump and twitch to scary noises. Seeing her get better every day at holding her head up or grasping with her hands. Forcing her to watch baseball. Bouncing, dancing and singing with her.

Cons: Just about nothing else! She did puke a bit last night, but I can’t necessarily blame that on being awake. I, in fact, was sleeping. It’s really not much of a contest; Awake Blanche is far superior to Asleep Blanche.

Five Week Reflections

April 13, 2010

So I’ve been at this fatherhood thing for about five weeks now, and am getting pretty used to the routines. I’m working on mastering cooking with one arm, and am gradually figuring out positions I can sit with her without my legs falling asleep, curled under me as I watch the newest biggest sporting event or reality show. Both Kristie and I have given up the bedroom rocking chair for mid-night feedings in favor of the bed…I have gotten pretty good at giving her a bottle in sleeping position. She doesn’t seem to mind sharing my pillow. Though I don’t see her during the day, and haven’t had many responsibilities (Kristie does NOT like giving her up), I’m confident in my bathing, feeding and swaddling skills at this point.

So what’s new with Blanche? She’s starting to wake up more and more; for the first month we got to see her eyes only for a couple hours in the evening. Now she spends much of her day gazing, and we imagine that her stares are into our eyes and not just fixated on a random, unfocused spot. The things she loves more than anything else are to wave her arms and suck on anything that approaches her mouth. Often times her waving limbs dislodge the pacifier that fulfilled the latter need. She’s been much more vocal in the last ten days, but rarely goes on for more than a couple minutes. Usually, the fixes are easy–a tight swaddle, a new position, something to suck on, a clean diaper. Typical baby comforts. If none of those work, mom takes her.

She is now holding her head up with good regularity. It still wobbles a bit, but she seems to enjoy being able to look out and up, instead of being forced to look down at her slumped body. She’s still so tiny, though, so I thought it would be fun to see what she looked like in her Bumbo chair. She did great! But didn’t love it.

Her belly, in comparison to the rest of her, is HUGE. We knew this when she was still on the inside; her stomach measured much larger than the rest of her body. It’s especially evident when you change her. Her legs are tiny, and her belly seemingly explodes in all directions at the top of her diaper. It’s very strange when you imagine how a grown person might look with that body type, but probably shouldn’t shock me that much. Her organs have to go somewhere, and we must not forget that for the first year at my preschool, all the kids called me “Big Belly.”

So what have been the best things about being a dad? What have been the hardest? The most surprising? Very hard to say; hate to disappoint. I love the faces she makes. I love it when she grunts and moans, lets out a little toot, then sighs audibly. I love how she stiffens her limbs when you hold her out. I love seeing friends and family meet her for the first time. I love how cautiously everyone passes her around. I love the cuddle time I get with her on my pillow at the end of the night. I love the way she squints and scrunches her face when Atlas licks her.

The hardest things are less tangible. I sometimes feel like I should love and appreciate her more, and do feel guilty at times when I’m not jumping out of my chair to hold her. She is the most precious thing in our lives, and how dare I not want to spend every waking second with her in my arms! I’m trying to give myself a break. Truthfully, other than being beautiful and irreplaceable, she is not yet capable of giving me genuine love or appreciation. I can’t wait for that day, when I know she knows, needs and loves me. I know that day is drawing near: she undoubtedly knows our voices, our touch, and soon she’ll be able to communicate that to us. Or maybe it’s my inability to interpret what communication she’s already giving. Either way, it’s difficult–not because I’m frustrated at her–she’s a baby! Frustrating because of the anticipation of a stronger two-way love.

Happy One Month Birthday Blanche!

April 10, 2010

You deserve a high five!

 Cannot believe I have been a dad for an entire month. I’m guessing this is what I’ll be saying at every benchmark of fatherhood.

Baby Time, Happy Due Date, Easter

April 5, 2010

If it hadn’t hit me already, it did Saturday: I am no longer living on my time, I am living on Blanche’s time. Let’s say you want to go to the mall and scour the Old Navy shelves for some $5 polos. And let’s suppose you would go straight from the mall to your hometown and its Easter feasts. Pre-Blanche, we’d pack a light bag, grab Atlas and go. Things played out a little differently on Saturday.

Has Blanche eaten? Better feed her before we go. How’s her diaper? Pooped through the onesie. Have we packed everything we need? Don’t forget the stroller. It took us five tries before we successfully left the house, and we still managed to forget something. I’m already freaking out about the ten-day West Coast vacation we have scheduled in August. Babies simply can’t pack lightly.

They also, as I learned Saturday, take the Mall of America at a slightly different pace. This is one of my least favorite places to be period, and pushing a stroller through the crowds makes it no less frustrating. Have you ever waited for an elevator there? Bring a magazine. By the end of the afternoon, I was an expert at balancing our stroller on the escalators. No more waiting five minutes to get plowed over by over-zealous elevator fiends. Some people are cutthroat.

Meanwhile, Saturday was Blanche’s due date! I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to celebrate or not. Just a note.

Here are a couple shots from Blanche’s first Easter. (Last year we were told at every holiday and landmark that it would be “our last one before parenthood!” I hated that. This year I’m betting I’ll hear a ton of “Oh, your first _______ as a parent!” Equal amount of hatred.)

Cozying up to Uncle Erik

Dad's family

CYNICdaddy

March 24, 2010

I’m a pretty simple guy, one who doesn’t often dabble in frivolity. So you might understand how trips to Babies ‘R Us never leave my cravings to climb atop my soap box of practicality unsatisfied. Some of the items you can buy are nothing short of outrageous.

Disclaimer: I am about to reveal some of these products that I deem utterly unneccessary. I am doing this from a very harmless perspective, and am sure some of you enjoy or see the benefit of these items. Maybe you can’t live without one of them. I am not saying these things aren’t crucial to your ability to raise your child. I’m simply taking a point of view and amplifying it to a place where we can all laugh at ourselves a bit. Please, do not be offended if I bash your go-to luxury item.

(But, maybe you should reassess your need for gadgets. I’m just sayin’.)

Product #1: The Gro Egg Digital Room Thermometer

This thermometer, retailing for $24.99, changes colors to let you know if your baby’s room is too cold, too hot or within the correct temperature range of 61-67 degrees. Nothing egregious here, but I just think I’d rather spend my 25 bucks on something that doesn’t remind me of the homeland security rainbow. I can read a two-digit number; I don’t need changing colors to save me the two seconds it would take to get close enough to read them.

Product #2: Wupzey High Chair Food Catcher

See here’s the thing. You’re gonna end up cleaning up the food either way, whether it’s on the floor, wall, ceiling, your face, your dog, your flower arrangement, or inside this giant funnel. To me, it would be worth it to pay $15 to avoid the additional steps of attaching and removing this food catcher every time your child eats. And wouldn’t it smell like a raccoon after a few days? But fear not! This amazing investment comes in any of the nine colors you know you were considering.

Product #3: The Wipes Warmer, several brands

There’s practically an entire aisle dedicated to this product. Clearly, it’s popular. Many of you reading this probably have one. I, for one, don’t want to mislead my child into believing that everything that’s going to come into contact with her tush will be soothing and warm. No. She can handle the cold. Imagine her shock when she first uses toilet paper. Or rides a bike in the rain.

 Product #4: Double Stroller Netting

For when you’re pushing your stroller thru the Amazon, naturally. So I’ve already been enlightened by a friend who actually registered for this fly net. It would come in handy if you were camping, which they plan to do with their twins. But last time I checked, there aren’t a lot of paved trails at your local KOA. I bet most of the baby transportation will be via sling, Bjorn or other carrier. I’m sure I’m wrong. Just taking a side. Plus, that thing is ugly.

Product #5: The First Years Babypro Sterilizer 

Likely the least offensive product on this list, the Babypro Sterilizer “kills household bacteria on bottles, pacifiers and small toys.” Kinda like soap and water does. I know, we’re all worried about germs and bacteria and babies are susceptible to all illness, but really? This reeks of some company asking themselves “what product can we put in a flashy box, charge a boatload for, paste some fancy words on, and fool people into believing they can’t live without?” I think soap needs to up their advertising.

Product #6: Sozo Wee Block Absorbing Sponge-Lil’ Squirt

More humorous than anything else, the Wee Block’s description makes your baby boy sound like quite the sniper: “A baby boy loves to take direct aim at you when being changed.” Aim?!? I speak from endless experience here: three-year-old boys don’t aim. Infants certainly aren’t. But yes, babies do love to pee when that diaper comes off. Block it with a rag or something. No need for a jock strap just yet.

Product #7: Leachco Prop ‘R Shopper

If you spent $60 on this, you need to find a charity. You baby needs to sit in a padded seat because the shopping cart is too rough, or too dirty, or too whatever? Where do you put your baby while you take five minutes to snap it into place? On the floor? Because that’s much more sanitary and comfortable. Or how about this–leave your kid in the car seat! It’s not that difficult, people, and your 60 bones could be spent much more wisely.

Product #8: Summer Infant Complete Coverage Video Monitor Set

Now we’ve reached it: the swankiest of the swanky. The $300 video monitor, complete with 7-inch LCD color flat screen and 1.8″ portable video screen. It crosses my mind that there may be circumstances in which a video monitor would come in handy, like if your child has shown he can scale his crib, but the amount of surveillance required to make this worth its cost is insane. Sure, the camera may catch your Houdini attempting a jailbreak, but you have to be there watching for it to matter. Do you really want to sit in your kitchen, watching a color video (of a dark room) of your child sleeping? Waiting for him to make his move? That sounds like a sad evening to me.

Fatherhood Will Not Break Me

March 21, 2010

 

Calm down, the body of this post is not nearly as desperate as the headline reads. You see, I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Once, when I worked at the post office in the student union in college, I got a free coffee from the Starbucks next door on free coffee day. Until I was 24 or so, that was the only cup of coffee I’d ever had.

 

The reasons for my resistance are many. Throughout my school days, I was known as the kid who smelled like coffee. I had the parents who made it every morning, and we’re not talking Folgers. This stuff was heavily-scented and dug into the fibers of my clothes. It was inevitable, and despite my treatment plans–scented sprays in my locker, changing clothes right as I left the house–there was no cure. I left for college absolutely hating the smell of coffee or any of its spinoff drinks. And at that point in my life, I didn’t need the energy boost.

Then came college, where I embraced many other vices, but coffee never entered as an option. Keep in mind, these were the days when energy drinks were just starting to take hold, and I fought to keep my addictions to a minimum. Plus, I rarely scheduled a class earlier than 10 a.m., so I was usually well-rested and needed no morning caffeine. And what poor college kid would choose coffee over beer? Not this one.

So we were home free! I would never be a coffee drinker, I thought. I don’t have any urge to drink it; don’t like the taste, don’t want to spend the money, and don’t need another addiction. Three strikes. I made it a couple years working with 20 3- and 4-year olds every day with this mantra intact.

Nils after coffee

Gradually, though, coffee began to creep its way into my life. At first, it was a once-every-few-months treat, when I really needed a kick in the butt. A vanilla latte or whatever the person making the coffee run got me usually sent me spiraling out of control. As a rare energy-boost, this could work, I told myself. Each Christmas, I got more and more coffee gift cards from generous parents, so that relatively small amount of money got me through the year. But as any addiction works, coffee began to pull me in, though it walks a very thin line. I don’t like full-on coffee flavor, but a flavor shot–or whatever the lingo is–usually makes it too sweet for my tastes. But, the energy boost is undeniable, so the drinks never went unfinished. In the year leading up to Blanche being born, I probably had 15-20 coffee drinks of some type.

Then I had a baby. Blanche slept well in the hospital, but the routines there were so wacky, the sleeping arrangements so unfriendly and the coffee so available that I couldn’t help myself. We were there four nights and I probably had three cups of coffee. (I don’t remember nor do I really know the difference between coffee drinks so I just refer to all of them as coffee for simplicity.)

Since we’ve been home, though, several factors have pushed coffee to the forefront of my morning routine. First, both Kristie’s and my parents have been steady presences at our house, and all four are avid coffee drinkers. Each morning when I awoke, a huge pot stared right at me, and somebody was planning an imminent trip to the nearby coffee shop (A great one, Anodyne). At this point in my coffee-drinking life, I won’t turn down a cup if there is one available. Second, I have a baby now, a baby that needs to be fed and changed randomly during the night. I’m really trying to be available for Kristie for these things, and have been taking the 2 a.m. bottle shift so Kristie can get a handful of consecutive hours of sleep. It’s worked out great, but my body isn’t used to being forced to stay awake for a half hour in the middle of the night.

For all you breast-feeding advocates, these bottles are previously-pumped bottles of breast milk, not formula. For you formula junkies, I don’t choose sides. Just trying to keep everyone happy. This apparently is a deal-breaking issue for some.

So…

This morning, night three of our nighttime feeding and changing routine, I woke up and wanted coffee. For just about the first time in my life. Coffee, it seems, has me in its grasp. But I promise you, Blanche, you will not break my resolve. I will not be a coffee fiend. I guess I’ll just have to be ok with having a 7 a.m. Diet Coke.

Newborn Photo Shoot

March 20, 2010

Yesterday morning Blanche had her first photo shoot, and yes, she did some topless shots as well as some full nudes. They were tasteful. We had them done by a photographer who shot our wedding in 2007 and has since done friends’ weddings and babies. A chance run-in at Hot Mama reconnected her with us. Blanche was wonderful; slept when she was supposed to be sleeping, gave a few smiles, always seemed relaxed, and didn’t mind being molded into whatever position was needed. She did pee on me twice. There is a small preview of the gallery up at the photographer’s website. Check them out!