Thursday, August 15, 2013

Holy Crap, Am I Sick of Poo

If I never see another pile of someone else’s poo—never mind. Not gonna happen.  At least not for a few years. But it can’t get any more poo-themed than recent months have been for me.
Funny, but poo never seemed so prevalent before. Not when Jackson was a baby or toddler, not during Max’s first few years, not even when William first arrived. But poo has completely taken over. Uncle, I say. I don’t want to have to smell it, I don’t want to accidentally touch it, and I definitely don’t want to have to decide what to do with it.
Of course, there’s a good explanations for the notable rise in the flow of feces in my life: With William well into the food-eating stage, I have more loads to clean up than ever before. Three, to be exact, not counting my own. Yeah, one of them’s a dog—what, like that doesn’t count? And piling on to the, uh, pile, Sarah’s dog from her previous marriage (yes, there are such things as dogs from previous marriages) also makes periodic appearances, and brother, can that dog poo.
Oh, and then there are the neighborhood cats, which, since the day we moved in, have treated our yards as their own personal litter boxes. We went so far as to invest about $1,000 turning our weed-and-dirt side yard (cat heaven!) into a Tuscan themed vineyard, with a stepping-stone and pebble hardscape, only to have the cats poo in the pebbles. But I digress.
At the risk of ruining your lunch, I thought I’d provide a primer on crapping categories by recounting a few of the more colorful poo-poo incidents of recent months, most of which center around Max. (Sorry, buddy: When you read this one day, I’ll owe you.) If you’ve got kids, these scenarios probably sound familiar. If you haven’t had kids yet, well, consider yourself duly warned:
The Scream-n-Smear
This one’s a doozy. One afternoon, we were at the playground around the corner from our house, and I’d given Max his two-minute warning. As I put William in the stroller, Max began to freak out behind me. I turned, and he was just standing in the middle of the playground—which is crowded, mind you—screaming bloody murder. Which, as the parents of children in the midst of toilet training may recognize, is often a sign that a kid who’s been holding in No. 2 for days is about to let loose. And let loose, Max did. But pooing in his pants wasn’t embarrassing enough, not for my kid. No siree. Instead, as he starts to soil himself, Max decides to pull his pants and undies down and walk toward me, screaming, as poo dribbles down his legs, all over his pants and socks and anything else unfortunate enough to make contact with him. Needless to say, it was a long walk back home.
The Impromptu Outhouse
This incident was much less dramatic than the Scream-n-Smear but nonetheless far removed from a parent’s dream scenario. Max and I were at the amazing Adventure Playground in Berkeley (Google it—it’s a perfect counter to today’s overly hawkish parenting), and Max was having a grand old time playing in his favorite attraction, an old wooden boat carcass. At some point I realized that he’d been very quiet and I couldn’t see him anywhere. I yelled his name, and the top of his head peeked out from the dark of one of the boat’s windows, but he didn’t move any further. Worried, I asked him what he was doing, and he answered, very matter-of-factly, “I’m pooing.” Less than 15 minutes into our outing, and I have to run him to one of the smelliest restrooms in the Western Hemisphere, perform a poo-in-pants-ectomy, customarily tossing the underwear in the process, and head home to recuperate.
The Checkout Challenge
Every parent has experienced some version of the child pooing in line at the grocery store or Target or Costco or Disneyland or wherever. Our most memorable version, which I was not present for, came during one of Sarah’s visits to her favorite East Bay nursery. As they were standing in line, Max began screaming at the top of his lungs, distracting mommy and the store clerk from their appointed transaction. Sareah immediately ran to the nursery’s port-a-potty, and proceeded to hover Max over the “toilet” as he continued to scream loud enough for all of the other customers to hear. Ah, quality mother-son time.
Mayhem at the Memorial
I realize not every one has had a funereal poo crisis. You'll consider yourselves lucky as I describe the 30 minutes I endured at a recent memorial for the father of one of Sarah’s good friends. As the family began to tell stories about the deceased—always the most interesting part of any memorial, if you ask me—I realized we hadn’t seen Max in a bit. I headed off to look, and found him in a room in the house with several other children. Only he wasn’t playing with them, he was standing alone behind the couch, which can only mean thing. “Oh, no you don’t,” I said to him, determined not to let him stand there stinking up a house that was in mourning. I swooped him up and carried him over my shoulder out to our van, where he stood under a tree to finish relieving himself. Fortunately, being aware that he was overdue, we had him wearing a pull-up in case of such an emergency. But a pull-up can only do so much, and this one succumbed to an epic poo that squeezed out of the diaper and up his back. Sadly, I was unaware of this until I actually went to remove said diaper, at which time I managed to get poo all over the floor mats of the van, not to mention Max’s shirt, and part of one of the seats. It was quite a scene, one that required almost the entire large package of wipes we smartly keep in the car. (Thank goodness Mom thought to bring extra clothes.) Naturally, while I was gone, I missed all the of the immediate family’s tributes. Foiled by poo yet again.
The Squirter
Much less frustrating than Max’s public poo melodramas, but certainly the most eye-popping poo William has taken to date. The poo itself was straight-forward enough: As Sarah started changing a dirty diaper, she was unaware that William wasn’t finished. Suddenly, a squeeze, and a stream of poo a foot long came flying out of his rear end, landing in an extended line across the changing pad, onto the top of the dresser, and—what makes this whole incident noteworthy—stopping literally millimeters short of showering my brand new MacBook Pro. No pun intended, but I’d have shit in my pants had that poo rained down on my keyboard.
The Bedroom Bombing
A classic moment of rebellion. Max, whom I’ve no doubt made clear has been less than happy about William’s arrival and the resulting loss of attention, has seemingly been using his bowels to get back at us. One afternoon, he’d been napping in our room, which is always a risk. But he’d been sound asleep, and I’d been working happily in the next room. When I heard some movement, I walked in to find a shocking scene. First, there was the toilet paper that had been streamed all over the room, which looked like it had been the site of a ticker-tape parade. Then there were the various items from Sarah’s makeup bag strewn about the bed. (Luckily, THIS time he didn’t actually apply said makeup to the sheets. The previous time we weren’t so lucky.) As I was standing there, slack-jawed, and was just beginning to come up with the words to react, Max, who’s standing on the floor, points to a spot on the rug and says, proudly, “Look!” And, you guessed it, a steaming pile of feces was sitting there. A present to Mommy and Daddy. Oh, joy.
The Buzzer Beater
This is the latest entry, having just occurred a week or two ago. And I have to preface this story with a side story about how Max has taken to peeing in the morning in the corner of his room, all over his closet door. The pee collects in a puddle that trickles under the door, soaking anything it touches and, now, forming a stain on the hardwood floor. Grrr. Anyway, he’d done that this morning, resulting in much fireworks, as we’ve gone through this a dozen times now. Fast-forward to early afternoon. I’ve picked him up from pre-school and returned home to eat my lunch, give him a snack (he lunches at school), and put him down for a nap. So I let him know it’s nap time and head up to his room to put on a pull-up and tuck him in. As we get into his room, not more than 30 seconds before the pull-up would have been on him, he stops and announces, “I’m pooing,” and proceeds to unleash his bowel and his bladder in his pants. I tell him to stop and carry him to the bathroom, where he proceeds to continue pooing and peeing, the latter all over the bathroom floor. And yes, another pair of underwear found its way to the trash. (That makes at least 20 pairs over the months.) As if all of that wasn’t enough, later in the afternoon, when we came back from a pre-dinner park run, he went in his room and peed on his closet door again.
Needless to say, we’re open to suggestion.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seven Years Later, My Boy Stands Strong

Dear Jackson:

Seven years ago tonight, I feared for your future. I didn't know if I was up to raising a child without his mother's help, and I didn't know if you were up to the emotional challenges of growing up without her. It was a really scary moment, knowing that I’d be solely responsible for guiding you from the age of 8 all the way until manhood. It’s a huge job—too much for one person, it seemed to me at the time. Who would be my system of checks-and-balances? Who would rein me in when I was flying off the handle? Who would stop me from spoiling you? Who would make sure you occasionally ate something besides red meat?

And ya know what? In many ways, it was too much. We got too much of each other, and we argued like a husband and wife, often driving everyone around us nuts. Some of your childhood characteristics became like fingernails on a blackboard to me—probably because they reminded me of myself at a similar age. And I know that my tendency for over-reaction pushed you away more often than I’d like to remember. I can’t tell you how many times I sat on the couch feeling like such a jerk, and wanting so badly to take it all back. But just like I couldn’t bring your mom back, I knew I couldn’t undo my reactions. I hope you can forgive me.

Still, despite the MANY mistakes I've made along the way, I must have done something right, because you’ve grown into the vivacious, stubborn, life-embracing soul I'd always hoped you’d be. You've been strong since day one, and now you've gotten through the hardest stretch of your loss. They say life progresses in seven-year increments, so perhaps you can look upon this date as a rite of passage of sorts, a doorway to the land of emotional freedom—the first day of the next stage of your life without Mom. There shouldn’t have even had to be such a stage, but we play with the cards life deals us.

And you, my son, have played your cards pretty well so far. You remained upbeat more often than you had any right to be, and you stayed engaged—with school, friends, activities, family, and anything else that brought you joy. While many other teens—with far less emotional justification—spend their time sulking and staring at computer screens, you spend them skating, producing amazing videos for your own YouTube channel, golfing for your high school team, and (occasionally) playing with your little brothers. (Okay, sometimes you sulk and/or stare at your computer, too—no one’s perfect.)

What’s more, you never stood in the way of my journey. You embraced Taylor when I dated her, and you seemed to be genuinely happy for me when I subsequently met and fell in love with Sarah, despite all the indications that she would frequently take me away from you (probably a good thing!).

And speaking of Sarah, you never once made her feel uncomfortable, no small miracle given that she was following in the footsteps of a ghost. Your willingness to accept her as your stepmother is a big reason why she’s so willing to be tough on you; believe me, Sarah’s toughest when she cares deeply. Try to remember that when she’s riding you to do your chores.

I have no way of knowing what the next seven years will bring (although a college diploma would be nice), but if they bring us as many good things as the last seven have—hello, Sarah and Max and William, and cousins Emma and Lennox and Sage and Riley and Charlotte and Clara, and Albany and Cornell Avenue, and all the good times you've spent with Alex and Owen, and the countless other treasured aspects of our lives!—we will be two of the luckiest people in the universe.

All of this is why, as I sit here tonight, seven years after ushering you through your terrible loss, I have complete confidence that you're going to go out into the world and take care of business, and have a good time doing it. A dad can't ask anything more.

I know that almost nothing I’ve written here is something you haven’t heard before. But I wanted to get it all on “paper”, in one stream of consciousness exercise, so you would always know how I felt about our most tumultuous years.

I love you, Jackson. Your mom would be proud of you. I know I am.

Love, Dad

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's Official: I'm Now the Frontrunner for "Dad of the Year"

If I didn’t write about today, I couldn’t call myself a parenting blogger, because it's been a watershed moment in my long, illustrious 20-plus year parenting journey. Today marked the first time I was alone with two small children for an entire day. That's right, after more than nine months of maternity and medical leave, Sarah has returned to work, and it’s been just my boys and me for the last 15 hours. (Ah, there’s the sound of Sarah’s car returning now. At long last, William can nurse.)
Make no mistake—there was a lot of build-up to this day, on many levels. There was my own anticipation (or perhaps I should say terror?) of it, knowing that I’d suddenly be operating without a net (Sarah), and that I’d be at the mercy of two little sets of needs. There was Sarah’s mental and emotional preparation for being separated from her precious little William for the first time. And there was the coaching of Jackson and Max to get them ready for what will be expected of them.
But mostly, there was Sarah’s fear of leaving them alone with me. You see, I have a reputation for being slightly distracted. If you’ve ever gone to get a snack, decided on the way to finally replace the battery in that smoke detector, realized as you were looking for a battery that the drawer handle was loose, and then, while struggling to find a screwdriver in the garage, started reorganizing your tools because the screwdriver was in a stupid place, then you know what I’m talking about.
For some reason, Sarah had developed this crazy notion that I might not be able to focus on both of my little boys at the same time. That I might start playing with Max and forget that William was underneath that pillow. Or that I might get caught up taking pictures of William and forget that Max got out of preschool 45 minutes ago. Or that I might start talking with a neighbor out front and not notice Max pushing the stroller across the street with William in it.
Okay, so maybe she had something to worry about based on my track record. But to be fair, my track record—at least the track record she could refer to—was all established with her at home. In other words, it’s no track record. Because anyone who’s spent any time parenting alone will agree, it’s absolutely nothing like parenting knowing that your partner is in the next room. You can’t take the same liberties. You can’t resort to the old “I thought you were watching him.” And you certainly can’t leave the preschooler and 6-month-old alone in the kitchen and go tend to your weeding.
I tried to explain this to Sarah, telling her that when I know I’m the only show in town, I’ll step up the plate. She would just look at me, with her head cocked and one eyebrow raised, and give me one of those sardonic “uh-huh”s we’ve all heard.
But guess what? I was right! I know it’s only been one day, but I’d have to say, with all objectivity, that today I may have put on the all-time greatest example of stellar parenting. I texted about playdates, drove to and from said playdates, anwered work emails, made bottles, fed the baby, changed diapers, ran errands (including picking up Diaper Genie refills for the parents of Max’s playdate!), made more bottles, fed the baby again, got kids to nap, changed more diapers, answered more work emails, supervised backyard play, made more bottles AND changed more diapers, cooked dinner, bathed the preschooler, made one last bottle, read stories, got two tired boys to sleep, and then collapsed in a heap.
Now I know what you all are thinking now: Where can I get that job!? No, seriously, you’re probably wondering how long I can last before having a nervous breakdown. But just as I would say to Sarah, I’m here to tell you I have no such concerns. Truth be known, I actually had a really good time surviving the gauntlet, and I feel confident that I can usher these kids through literally hundreds of similar days alone over the next few years, with very few hospitalizations, while Sarah works hard to support this family.
Yessirree, I’m one progressive man. Now what the hell did I do with that screwdriver?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Solving the Nation's Problems, One Dad at a Time

Today I took Max to the “kindergym” at our local YMCA, as I have many times before. Long-timer readers of this blog may recall the Y’s kindergym as the setting for my brief series of “When Moms Attack” posts that chronicled issues I had there with a particularly annoying mother who found my style of play to be overly exuberant. But this is a post of a totally different flavor. (Although, I should share that a friend who happens to know said mother told me that her husband has filed for divorce and says she’s a total loon. Vindication!)

Rather than dwell on that unsavory confrontation, which led to my feeling like a child on timeout on subsequent kindergym visits, this time I’m happy to report on getting perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. I have to admit, I was on a roll with the boys today. As I played with Max and a particularly favored kindergym cohort of his, Kai, I was making good use of all the equipment and props to keep the boys laughing and running and coming back for more. Their favorite was when I picked up one of those nylon accordion tunnels kids like to crawl through, put it completely over me from head to toe, with the top end hanging in front of me, and walked around like a big tube monster trying to drop that open end over their heads. Much frivolity ensued.

All the while, there was this nicely dressed older woman with an SLR camera snapping shots throughout the room, and she had a special interest in documenting the interactions between me and the kids. (It turned out she was photographing the scene for a marketing push the Y is preparing to make.) I could tell she was enjoying the way I played (as were several of the moms standing by—shocking!), but I could not have been prepared for what she ended up saying to me. Amid a stream of gushing comments about my energy and willingness to invest the time with my kids, this nugget of praise just stopped me in my tracks:

“Oh, the troubles we could solve in this country if we put one of you in every home.”

Now, I surely don’t have to tell you that this is the kind of comment that can make a dad’s day. But it was especially welcome given that Sarah had just made an astute observation about what she perceives to be a hiccup in my parenting armor these days, namely that I seem to her to be emanating the aura of a man who feels “trapped” in the whole married-with-kids paradigm.

She’s right, to a degree. But it’s not as nefarious as she probably sometimes fears. In fact, I don’t know a father of little kids who doesn’t feel trapped on some level. Or a mom, for that matter. It’s the nature of the beast. Maybe Sarah just hasn’t gotten there yet—she’s only 3 years into this after all. I’ve been doing it for more than 20, including the years I spent step-parenting before Jackson was born.

There’s a huge difference between being a first-time parent (or even a second-time parent like Sarah who’s still pretty fresh to the whole parenting thing) and being a 20-year vet who’s been through the teen battles, the infant/toddler/preschool years, more teen battles, more infant-toddler/preschool years, and who STILL faces more toddler/preschool years and even more teen battles, and who will probably be 70 by the time all these kids are off on their own. (Good grief, after writing that sentence, I realize it’s a small miracle I haven’t been institutionalized.)

There’s also a huge difference between a person who remained kid-free and got to sew her wild oats throughout her 20s and most of her 30s, and a guy who wishes he’d been so smart but who stupidly traded in his wild oats in his mid-20s.

But none of this takes away from the love I feel for my boys, or the joy they cause me every single day. (We’ll conveniently leave the pain and suffering out of this conversation.) It is possible for a person to simultaneously live in a world of regret and joyous embracing. Believe me, I try to forget what I unwittingly gave up in exchange for my first marriage—international travels, a budding (but nowhere near lucrative enough) music career, years of slovenly Sunday afternoon football watching, and the women (!)—but it’s a tough load to free myself from.

What I’d love Sarah to understand is what a breath of fresh air she has been to me. No, I never envisioned having a second kid in my 40s—never mind a THIRD—and some days I look around and think to myself, what the hell have I done!? But I also know that my regrets a) have absolutely nothing to do with Sarah, and b) are impossible for her to address.

I think one of Louis C.K.’s routines about being a dad sums it up best, and I’m paraphrasing: “Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything. They give my life meaning. They make me love myself more, and they make me love other people more. I can’t imagine my life without them, and yet I rue every decision I ever made that led to their existence.”

If that doesn’t sum up parenting, I don’t know what does. And if any parents were to react with horror to that, suggesting that they could never feel that way, I'd be convinced they were either totally full of shit, were placed here by aliens, or were wealthy enough to have someone else do the hard work of raising their kids. And I bet that no one ever suggested that putting them in every home would solve the nation’s woes.

Yep, it’s a good day to be me. Gotta enjoy those when they come.


Note from Dad: This is the 50th A Dad Again post--a milestone that's been a long time in coming. Thanks so much for reading. Please keep coming back, and get your friends and family to check it out, too. Maybe one day this blog will actually have a real audience!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Calling for Patience in Reacting to Newtown

It’s impossible to be a parent and not have a strong, emotional reaction to what happened last week in Newtown, Conn. The idea that a 20-year-old man—regardless of how sick he was—could walk into an elementary school and use assault weapons to execute 20 six- and seven-year-olds is a beast to get one’s mind around.

The really scary thing is this: kids getting shot is nothing new. Ask anyone who lives in the rough parts of Oakland, where a cadre of young children were innocent victims of drive-by shootings on the streets in late 2011—a six-year-old out for a shopping stroll with his family; a five-year-old whose only mistake was joining his father for a quick stop at the family’s taqueria when a hail of gunfire claimed him; and an 11-month-old (!), who was in his father’s arms at a rap video shoot in a liquor store parking lot when a bullet passed through his neck.

Or the families of the 180 American children 11-year-old or under that the Centers for Disease Control reported killed by gunshot during 2010. Or the 85 American preschoolers—85!—who died by gunshot during 2007, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. (To put that in perspective, during the same year only 57 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.)

In fact, David Hemenway, a Harvard professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told The New York Times earlier this year, "Children ages 5 to 14 in the United States are 13 times as likely to be killed with guns as children in other industrialized countries.”


No wonder my brother, Greg, posted this search for sanity on Facebook over he weekend: “...I have spent the entire day on the edge of constant tears. And I want to do something about it, but I just don't know what. The only thing I can do right now is to urge every one I know to think about what they can do. Let's start a conversation. This is the place to start. All I know is that something needs to be done. Does anyone have any suggestions? I know that I can write my congressman about my outrage, but will that be enough? I'm just at a loss right now and I need all of your help.”

I haven’t commented on the post because it’s such a personal topic that generates such emotional responses, and I know my posts can sometimes come off as the proverbial sharp stick poking the angry animal. And as much as I understand Greg’s reaction—and EVERYONE’s reactions—to the unspeakable evil that erupted at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my reaction has been quite different. Because I don’t think there’s a damned thing we can do. Who are we supposed to feel outrage at? Do we really expect a privileged club of (mostly) pontificating old men in suits to protect our children from random maniacs? Fat chance.

While that may sound cynical, my feelings are more reflective of what I believe is a need to accept the risks of living in this crazy free-for-all of a society that we’ve chosen to create. You cannot give millions upon millions of people the right to defend themselves and then think you can stop the one-in-a-million sicko from carrying out a fiendish plot. And if it wasn’t guns, it would have been a crossbow, or explosives, or a chemical weapon.

(I have to disclose here that this fatalistic response contrasts with the devastation I felt after hearing of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre. Perhaps the newness of a movie theater getting shot up shocked me in a whole new way, whereas I’m apparently braced for school shootings, which have become sickeningly commonplace.)

What’s more, if there’s one way to make what transpired in Newtown even more repulsive, it’s to take advantage of this emotionally moment for the country for political gains, like we should just start flailing, pointlessly, at an enemy—psychosis—we can’t understand or control, and that will pop up violently at random, infrequent intervals for as long as our species survives.

I was pretty disgusted Sunday night when, after a much needed two-day national discussion, about 20 people gathered at a neighbors home to have a potluck and watch the Patriots-49ers game and try to have some frivolity, and a few minutes into the game, the evening was interrupted by a live broadcast of President Obama’s speech from the vigil at Newtown High School. And I felt even more disgusted that I was disgusted. It was a horrible event that justified the gravity, no doubt. And it was clear the President was really hurting. But somehow it felt political to have the whole thing forced down our throats as millions of us gathered in front of televisions to escape, not be reminded.

I couldn’t help but think it was a thinly veiled attempt to nudge our sympathies in order to gain support for an eventual agenda. And even if it’s a noble agenda, the timing of it is wrong-headed. Next thing you know, we’ll have locked-down schools, kids being frisked every morning, armed guards being placed at school entrances—oh, wait, we already have that at many schools. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be a time to act. But now is not that time, because action will require politics, and now is definitely not the time to be politicizing what is clearly a hot-button issue. Now is the time to mourn and process and reflect. Anyone of sound mind will tell you that when you’re mourning the loss of a close loved one, the last thing you should be doing is making any big decisions. The emotions that accompany grief just aren’t conducive to effective decision-making. Knee-jerk over-reactions occur. I know. I’m the reigning King of Knee-Jerk Over-Reactions. Knee-jerk reacting is exactly what we did in the wake of 9/11, when we let our emotions get the best of us and our leadership foisted upon us dangerous legislation that ate away at fundamental rights we’re still trying hard to regain.

I know it’s easy to intellectualize the events of last Friday in this fashion when I’m not one of the parents in Newtown who are enduring a hell no one should experience. I’m sure if I was one of them, or someone who knew one of them, I would be calling for blood. And yes, re-instituting the ban on assault weapons would seem to be a start. But perhaps more than that is needed, and by quickly passing that through, we might, at the least, make it less likely agreement will be reached on additional action. At worst, we could begin a path that leads to another attack on personal liberties for the sake of security.

Instead, let’s all just pause, think about the victims, maybe try to get to know a little about who they were, and pay tribute to them in our own little ways. Then, in time, we should engage in meaningful discussion about mental illness and the need to reach out more effectively to those who have it. And we should have healthy debates about our gun laws so that we can all further develop our thinking about them and how they should be altered. Then, when everyone’s calmed down a bit, we can start making some decisions. Good, sound decisions. The foundation of effective parenting, and, presumably, of effective governing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So THIS is What Parenting a Baby is Really Like

I tried so hard to hold my ground last year as Sarah and her mom worked me relentlessly on the topic of Sarah and me having a second child together. I kept saying I was due for a difficult baby (both Jackson and Max were incredibly easy babies and awesome sleepers), and that having two little ones would be exponentially more difficult. They told me I was worrying for nothing, that another child would probably be just as cooperative as Max, that it was critical we give him a playmate--preferably a girl.

Guess who turned out to be right? 

I realize it's early, and once things settle down I can draw new conclusions…but so far, the verdict is in, and William is definitely a "fussy" baby. Six weeks in, and he has yet to sleep more than 3 hours in a row, and even that's quite rare.  It's too early to declare him colicky--we're both holding out hope that his fussiness will subside over the next week or two. As it stands now, Sarah spends most nights up and down, up and down, generously allowing me to sleep because when morning comes, Max will be my responsibility. Then, most days, William fusses throughout the day, falling asleep for brief moments in our arms and then awakening again as soon as we try to put him down.

For 15 years, I've wondered what other parents were doing wrong that was preventing their children--and them--from sleeping consistently.  For 15 years, I've been thankful that I wasn't being subjected to the kind of exhaustion so many parents lament. For 15 years, I've lived in la-la land. Welcome to reality, Tony. Sleepus interruptus has officially arrived in the form of William Oliver, and it's as hard as I'd feared and imagined. Harder, even.

Having a fussy baby and a pre-schooler at the same time has now moved high on my list of things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies. In fact, I think our approach to jurisprudence needs to be rethought. Never mind prison--I say that when people are convicted of horrible crimes, they should be punished by having to raise a fussy baby and a rebellious pre-schooler for as long as a judge decrees. Believe me, anyone forced to do such penance will be transformed. I know I am.

There is nothing quite so frustrating as spending hours of your life desperately trying to get a baby to sleep--walking, singing, coddling, swaddling, feeding, burning, bouncing, patting--and then, when it seems the little one is down for the count, you try to put him down, oh so gently, so as not to disturb him, only to watch in horror as within seconds he's squirming and whining, and that fantasy of a few quiet moments to lie down in peace goes up in flames.

Yes, these are the times that try men's souls. I'd say they're the times that try women's souls, too, but let's face it--moms are better equipped to deal with fussy babies. The physical and emotional ties that bind baby and mother together enable mom to deal with sleep deprivation and round-the-clock fussiness with more patience and understanding that I could ever muster. Me, I find myself going all Samuel L. Jackson on the little sucker, letting loose with regular choruses of "Please go the fuck to sleep!"

So there you have it--one 46-year-old dad's struggle to cope with a house where sleep is elusive, a pre-schooler demands round-the-clock entertainment and attention, and an exhausted wife walks the house like a zombie wondering what hit her.

I know it all sounds so good that you wish you could change places with me. Sorry, you'll just have to be satisfied being stuck in your peaceful, sleep-filled, movie-going, restaurant-eating existences. Suckers!

UPDATE (Added after realizing that I posted this in a hurry initially and probably should have saved to finish later):

All kidding aside, the past six weeks have given me some great gifts:

1) I've learned just how much inner strength Sarah has--and it's substantial. The woman is endlessly patient as she spends hour after hour nurturing William no matter how tired she is, or how exhausted her arms are, or how helpless she is to make him feel better.

2) I've also learned how many gassy vegetables there are, as Sarah has become disturbingly dependent on zucchini.

3) I've developed an even greater level of appreciation for the first months I spent with my other, non-gassy, non-fussy children.

4) I've gained new insight into my relationship with my brother by watching the impact William's arrival has had on Max, and the degree to which he's had to give up the spotlight. Greg--it was all a setup! (Not that my brother ever takes the time to actually read my blog.)

5) I've gotten yet another lesson in the power of parental love, as no matter how much William has kept me--and to a much greater extent, Sarah--from getting solid sleep, our hearts melt every time the little bugger manages to work up a smile for either of us.

6) Perhaps most important, William's arrival has injected me with a needed dose of self-reflection, and it may be just the jolt I've needed to put my life in the proper perspective. I believe he's helping me learn to accept the things I haven't been able to do that maybe I wanted to do by now, while appreciating the things that I (we) so often take for granted.

Seriously, though, buddy--that's enough with the gifts. This fussy baby stuff is hard work for an old guy. Let's get to the fun part, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Severing the Kontzer Bloodline--and My Youth

During a recent social gathering, a few of my guy friends were sitting in a circle comparing vasectomy tales when the one woman listening in, weary from all the talk of scrotums and masterbating into cups, chimed in: "All of my girlfriends in their 30s have no idea what they're in for."

Sister, you said a mouthful. Oh, yuck. Probably could have worded THAT better.

In any case, I tell you this story because, having successfully brought a third son into the world, I, too, subjected myself to the snipping of my vas deferens. It's a fatherhood rite of passage that's strikes me as being not unlike the proverbial succession of lemmings leaping off a cliff to their deaths. And it speaks volumes about what parenting brings into men's lives that after knocking up their wives a couple of times, they willingly run to their doctors' offices to get injections in their nut sacks and allow a relative stranger to sever a part of their reproductive system.

Me, I'd actually never really considered whether I'd ever get fixed until a few months ago, when Sarah broached the topic. And although I'm pretty confident there's not a man in the known universe who can even mention the word vasectomy without cringing slightly in his mid-section from phantom sympathy pains, I had to admit that the arguments for it made perfect sense. I mean, Sarah had just endured two grueling pregnancies in less than 4 years, so asking her to voluntarily subject herself to the much-more-invasive tube-tying procedure wasn't really an option. Spending the remaining pre- and peri-menopausal years of Sarah's life dealing with, arguing about, and cursing birth control devices and methods sounded like a pain in the ass, and would quite likely result in another baby anyway. And the reward for agreeing to get snipped -- a lifetime of carefree, unprotected sex -- was well worth the sacrifice. Of course, that's easy to say in retrospect.

As of my writing this, it's been 13 days since the procedure, and I'm almost completely healed. And while the procedure itself was a relative breeze, the first week of recovery surprised me in its consistent level of discomfort. Imagine, if you will, feeling like an especially sensitive part of your skin was being pinched constantly by a pliers, and you start to get the feeling. Add the particular location, and you have a recipe for a very awkward week.

It's also way too early to make a final determination of the procedure's efficacy. In fact, it'll be four months--four months!--before a semen analysis can confirm that I am, in fact, sperm-free. Good thing that as a new father, those four months don't figure to be the busiest of my life on that front.

Anyway, I digress...back to that discussion a few months ago with Sarah. I don't remember precisely where/when it happened or exactly what was said (Sarah probably does--how do they DO that!?), but I remember that she made a compelling case, and I agreed it sounded like a good idea. Although somehow it took me weeks to make an appointment with my primary to get a referral, and then weeks more to make the fateful consultation appointment.

In the last 24 hours before the procedure, I started to really get nervous. The mental image of that injection was almost too much to bare, and I was haunted by all the pained looks I got from men when I informed them of my plans. Then again, these were men who had not, in fact, had vasectomies yet. You can tell the ones who roll their eyes at all the panic wasted in anticipation of what is really a pretty humdrum affair.

Well, I should correct myself--the actual procedure is humdrum. But much of what happens around it is not. Like sitting, sans pants, on the procedure table while two young nurses bustle around the room in preparation, getting instruments displayed on a tray, placing surgical towels around my privates until only the scrotum is visible. And then they place the light in position, and voila, showtime at the Ball Sack Theater! Seriously, I was literally lying there, with my nuts on a brightly lit stage, as these two women made small talk with each other and me. Awkward! And then the lead nurse's departing words? "Hang tight." Very funny, lady.

So there I hung, tightly, for at least 10 very humbling minutes. For some reason, I found myself wondering what the hell I'd do if there were suddenly a huge earthquake. Apparently, having one's balls on display makes one feel vulnerable. Almost immediately upon his entrance, the doctor was giving me the much feared injection, which, to be honest, was almost undetectable. I've had pees that burned far worse than anything I felt then, or, for that matter, throughout the rest of the procedure. As he proceeded to make two small incisions, and then snipped, cauterized and clamped my vas deferens, the doctor talked non-stop politics with me, finding lots of effective distraction in the topic of the first Obama-Romney debate, which occurred just a couple of days earlier. (The thought of Romney running things was far more painful than anything the doctor was doing to me.)

When he'd finished, the doctor slipped on his gloves, and walked out of the room with the nurses close behind, instructing me to put my clothes on--slowly--and then wait for him to come back with some post-surgery instructions, which centered around icing, meds, tight underwear, and a complete lack of physical activity.

Suffice it to say, I've never felt more focused on my nether-region than I did for the days that followed, and that even includes when I was 19 and hadn't gotten laid in more than a year. But I'm happy to report that after a week, the surgical wound started feeling a lot better, and the benefits of the surgery started to appear on my mental horizon. It'll only be a matter of time before Sarah wonders what she's gotten herself into.

Speaking of women not knowing what they're getting themselves into, that brings us back to the social gathering the other night--notable because I was actually one of the guys sharing my vasectomy story. And when our female friend pointed out the age-specific nature of our topic, it hit me--forget turning 40, NOW I'd officially arrived in middle age. And that, more than anything, may be the most important legacy of the vasectomy. It is the official declaration that your youth is over. That your usefulness to the continuation of the species has expired. That your days as the generation in charge are numbered.

Amazing how symbolic a little snip can be.