Monday, December 27, 2010

One Parent's Battle With Changing Table Syndrome

Clearly, what I need to make this blog really hum is someone on this end, kicking my ass to write more posts. Amazing how quickly 3 months can fly by. And oh, what a 3 months it's been on the dad front.

On the one hand, there's been Max crawling and squawking and cruising around the furniture and generally leaving a path of destruction in his wake. His little personality has been taking shape right before our eyes--that is, assuming he hasn't rendered us temporarily blind from scratching or smacking or grabbing our eyeballs right out of their sockets. That's right folks--we've got a crabby little meanie on our hands--albeit an admittedly adorable crabby little meanie. His inner Beelzebub surfaces for a variety of reasons--laying him on the changing table (an apparent capital offense), stopping him from grabbing every electronic device within reach, laying him on the changing table, not getting food on his high chair tray fast enough, laying him on the changing table, picking him up when he wants to be left down and putting him down when he wants to be picked up...and did I mention he doesn't like laying on the changing table? Stop me if you've heard this one: parent places 1-year-old on changing table. Said 1-year-old twists and squirms and puts up a desperate struggle to a) achieve any position other than laying on his back, and b) ensure that the experience of changing his diaper is akin to wrestling a full-grown alligator.

On the other hand, there's been Jackson, trying oh so hard to carve a path toward independence at 13, but with so much work left to do. Oh, the drama of a 13-year-old. In some ways, his whole life is like Max's time on the changing table, relentlessly fighting every development that doesn't match his desires. Jackson, please take out the garbage and recycling. ("Oh, man, do I have to!?") Jackson, dinner's almost ready, please set the table. ("Not now--I'm watching a YouTube video, and there's only 7 minutes to go.") Jackson, please take the dog out for a walk. ("I hate you--you're ruining my life!") That's the thing I love about 13-year-olds: they possess such awe-inspiring perspective.

That said, he's been showing definite signs of maturity, and it's due in no small part to the continuing evolution of his relationship with Sarah. In fact, today she begin introducing him to a whole new world when the two did their first shift serving up food at a Berkeley homeless shelter, partly to satisfy a school community service project, and partly because Sarah wanted him to pick up some of that elusive perspective. I knew there was a reason I fell in love with that woman.

Meanwhile, through all this, I keep learning about me--about my tendency toward over-reaction (thanks, Mom!), about the price I've been paying for being weak in the area of disciplinary follow-through, and about my misguided tendency to want to be my budding teenager's friend. Cool, calm, relentless consistency. That's my new mantra. I may not successfully achieve it all the time, but at least it's my mantra.

Hopefully, I'll check back in less than 3 months to update you on my progress, or lack thereof. In the meantime, I'll wish you all a happy start to 2011...may our children not drive us totally insane before 2012 arrives.

Monday, October 4, 2010

One Small Crawl For Max, One Giant Arrow For Jackson

Some big life steps have been taking place in my house, and they couldn't be at once more different and yet alike. I speak, of course, of my schizophrenic wicks burning at both ends--13-year-old Jackson, ye of the smart-ass remarks, ridiculous taste for junk food and smelly torso, and Max, the 9-month-old package of poop, drool and cuteness.

As it has turned out, I have found myself in the past few days simultaneously helping to coax the first tentative crawls Max has made across a rug, while also coaching Jackson (or, more appropriately, having my coaching ignored by him) as he navigates the treacherous waters of his first girlfriend. That's right, my oldest boy is in puppy love, and let me tell ya, it's amazing to think that any of us were ever so incompetent around girls as a 13-year-old boy.

Case in point: A couple of days ago, I suggested he take a shower before seeing his "girlfriend" later in the day, to which he might as well have been suggesting I consider committing myself. I should probably note that at this point he had gone 2-3 days, a soccer practice and a soccer game since his last shower. He simply put on deodorant (maybe) and changed his clothes. Anyone whose nose has shared close quarters with a teenage boy will understand when I declare that a collective "ewwwwww" is in order.

Meanwhile, Max has been slowly discovering the joy of locomotion. This is a relief, because just as Jackson is reluctant to shower, Max has, for weeks, been hesitant to move forward. Instead, he would just keep rocking back and forth before pushing back up into sitting position. Only each time he did so, he would land a few inches back from where he started, meaning that he eventually found himself trying to sit on a dresser or a wall, or if he really miscalculated, he'd get himself trapped underneath his crib or the living room couch, with only his head poking out.

But all that changed today when he began making forward movements toward the toys we were tempting him with from across the rug. Naturally, he found great joy in his new discovery, and soon he was making consistent runs at the dog in an effort to give him a baby's idea of affection, or what the rest of us might characterize as horrifying abuse in the form of hair grabbing, eye scratching and right crosses.

Of course, this totally changes everything in our household. Baby-proofing efforts must begin in earnest, alertness must shift into high gear, and the days of leaving Max sitting innocently playing with a toy while I get a snack are over. It's now 100 percent hands-on care, all the time.

Similarly, Jackson's newfound puppy love changes everything. Suddenly his voice sounds less aggravated, something is now more important than his skateboard and Xbox, and this hopefully means an end to the over-the-top affection he sometimes seeks from me. Who knows, maybe he'll even stop calling me "daddy" and graduate to "dad" before Max does.

Now if only we could do something about the smart-alecky mouth, junk food Jones, and funky B.O.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Big Mouths Apparently Breed Big Mouths

It's official, and it probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me: I seem to beget babblers. First there was Jackson, who at 13 talks so fast he constantly trips over his thoughts trying to get them out of his mouth. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Max, the talking-est, babbling-est baby this side of an E-trade commercial.

It started off cute, as all things baby do. His little newborn cooing sounds, his first attempts at stringing consonants and vowels together, his joyous outbursts in response to our efforts to entertain him. But now it's all coming back to haunt us, as the little monster I like to call Screetchy McScreechster has increasingly been unleashing his torrent of brain-piercing noises on our unsuspecting ears.

Screetchy doesn't waste any time, beginning his chorus as soon as he's polished off his morning bottle, laying in our bed and letting loose with a series of wails and catcalls that doom any effort by mom and dad to go back to sleep. Sometimes he gets his amazingly dexterous tongue involved (oh the jealousy!), flipping and turning the little fleshy protrusion all over the place as he attempts to blurt out what sounds like a horribly mangled version of Ravel's Bolero.

Luckily for Sarah and me, his constant aural experimentation has been limited to the confines of our home, as he seems to become speechlessly mesmerized when out in in the big, wild world. That was, until two nights ago, when he decided to make a nearby sushi place his testing ground for sharing his screeches with the world.

There we were, innocently awaiting our food, unsuspecting of the shocking developments about to unfold. Screetchy had been properly fed and milked, leading us to believe that we'd have our usually peaceful meal, with him sitting beside us, endlessly entertained by all the people and objects and shapes to look at. That's when the edamame hit the table, and all hell broke loose. Screetchy took one look at those delectable little soybean pods and a noise that can only be described as having ascended from the bowels of baby hell erupted from his little body.

Not once, mind you. Not even twice. But 4, maybe 5 times. The first one stopped the whole restaurant dead in its tracks. The second one hospitalized an elderly couple. The third one sent diners running out into the street. By the fourth deafening howl, the restaurant had to shut down for a structural analysis of what was left of the building.

Exaggeration aside, we did our best to proceed with the meal. Well, actually, Sarah did her best. I ate as I always do, because hey, I'm a dad. That's what we do: we eat. I'm happy to handle just about anything, but when I'm eating, all bets are off. When at home, Sarah eats quick meals as she tends to Screetchy, sometimes sneaking a few bites as she feeds him. When I'm on baby duty and it's meal time, I stick him in his little spinny activity center and concentrate on my meal. Sorry, dude, scream all you want--I'm very busy devouring this sandwich, and I'll get to you when I'm done.

Back to the remains of the restaurant, as you can imagine, Sarah's meal was a test from that point forward. She couldn't shovel the chopped up edamame or rice into his mouth fast enough. She'd try to eat, but as soon as 3.4 seconds would go by, Screetchy would start another round, forcing Sarah to drop her fork, and pick up the baby shovel. It was quite a sight for me as I lapped up my sunomono and sashimi.

The practical takeaway from our little scene was that we've apparently reached the stage when eating meals out is a high-risk undertaking that may not prove to be worth the money or effort. But the larger implication is Screetchy's volume level, which is growing by the day. It's a good think Sarah and I love the little noise machine so much, otherwise we'd have to keep a stock of gags handy.

This is just a guess, but Screetchy should make the terrible twos a blast.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Today's Handy Baby Tip: Line Jumping

Every day, Max learns amazing new things that take him one step further from the womb, and one step closer to becoming a fully realized person. Meanwhile, every day, I develop new aches and pains, forget where more of my possessions are, and find new things growing on my skin. It's the nature of things, and it favors Max by a landslide. 30 years from now, he'll be in his prime, and I'll be a smelly old man marching toward death. (Actually, Jackson would argue that I'm already smelly and old, but that's another discussion.)

Since you can't teach an old dog new tricks (not actually true, as the love of river rafting I formed in my 40s illustrates), we'll focus on the young dog.

At this stage, Max's new tricks are too many to list. He's eating more and more solid foods, and has become intensely curious of the foods the rest of us eat. He's sitting well enough to be left for minutes at a time, seated on a blanket and surrounded by toys, as Sarah and I take care of various household tasks. He's looking at us for approval after he does something like hit a drum, and has figured out that by looking at a mirror, he can watch people without actually looking at them. Oh, and he's screaming and grunting at us if he feels like we're not paying enough attention (like now).

Heck, he's even going on thrill rides. Two weeks ago, we made a pilgrimage down to L.A. to see family and go to Disneyland, finding out that he's even good during 6-hour car rides. Sarah and Max weren't going to join us at the park until I booked a room at the Disneyland hotel, assuring that swim breaks and naps would be accessible via the Monorail. (In fact, the day featured his first time ever in a pool.) While easy access to the hotel was critical, the day's real clincher was finding out that, with a baby and stroller, it's possible to avoid just about any waiting in lines.

By coupling Fastpass tickets (which allow you to skip the line during a pre-determined hour) with parent swap passes (which allow two people to enter through the exit after others in their party ride), we never stood in a line longer than 15 minutes. (My cousin Zack--if he's reading this, which is a long shot, since I've never known him to read anything other than the sports page--would protest my sharing this tale, but don't worry, Cuz', the real secret is safe with me.) We also lucked out in that the three rides Max took in (Small World, Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean) had minimal lines. Max, being the good natured thrill seeker that he is, loved them all. And his day was capped by the 9:30 fireworks show, which thrilled and captivated him before turning in for the night.

Then it was on to Santa Barbara, where we spent a couple of relaxing days swimming and strolling and shopping, with Max as happy as can be throughout.

I don't know what Sarah and I did in past lives to deserve a child that's so cooperative and, yes, easy to travel with, but it must have been something special. Of course, both of us are braced for the first time he gets sick, the terrible twos, or, shudder to even think, the horrifying pre-teen years, but for now, we're just enjoying the wonderful ride he's taking us on. And just like Disneyland, there are no lines to speak of.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wimbledon, It Wasn't

How fast a month goes by when one is fixated on the little life that's fast forming in front of his eyes. Max is turning into a bundle of unbridled energy, shaking and grabbing and bouncing and jumping in whatever ways a 6-month-old can. Each day becomes an increasingly relentless and fast-paced race from one parenting task to the next--diaper changes, clothes changes, bottle prep, bottle cleaning, playing on the floor, carrying him around, taking him for walks, diaper changes, squeezing in a few minutes of work or house stuff while he naps, making him little baby meals, reading him stories, more diaper changes, bathing him, putting him to sleep...and then, at last, collapsing in a useless heap next to my equally useless collapsed heap of a wife. No one said parenting was easy.

But enough about Max--I'll come back to him plenty. Lately, I've promised myself that I would stop limiting this blog to only Max-related stuff, as easy as that is. It's my blog, dammit, and it should be about me, right? This presumes that anyone reading this actually is interested in me--a huge presumption, admittedly, but I'll go with it.

This week's noteworthy tale came Wednesday when I played tennis for the first time a friend I'll call "Rob." Oh, wait, that's his real name, so no need for quotes, I guess. That is, unless you know Rob, in which case the quotes might in fact be a perfect commentary on his personality. Anyhoo, back to the tennis.

So Rob shows up here about noon Wednesday, and we head over to nearby Albany Terrace Park, a hidden neighborhood jewel with two slightly off-kilter tennis courts. We quickly claim a court, and after a brief warm-up, we begin the "match." (I use quotes again because it was more like a sad display, but humor us.) I quickly fall behind, and after losing the seventh game to fall behind 5-2, Rob comes to mid-court and declares a 6-1 victory. I point out his error and take my position to serve confident that he just jinxed his karma. Sure enough, I take the next three games to tie things up, and then take the tiebreaker to win the set, 7-6.

Rob is dejected. As we start the second set, the court next to us is taken over by two children and their nanny, a rather, uh, buxom eastern European girl who's wearing a very tight t-shirt, a very short skirt, and a tennis game in desperate need of help. Every shot that comes her way is hit straight into the ground, and after each one she laughs nervous little laughs.

Somehow, Rob, who's the biggest hound I know, doesn't notice her for the first game, but I know the canine-like reaction is coming. It comes when we switch sides for the second game and he's now on the same side of the net as she is. The first time he heads over toward her fence to pick up a ball--bingo!--the alarm comes on. The only way he'd have been more obvious was if his tongue had unrolled onto a giant erection. He begins casting glances toward our tennis neighbor every point, hoping to catch her looking at him. I can see the wheels turning--if we were any place else, he'd be trying to talk her into coming home.

Inexplicably, the distraction seems to energize him, and he goes up in the set 5-3 before, once again, I come back and force a tiebreaker. Alas, he recovers in time to prevail 7-6, forcing a third set.

It's important to note here that I hadn't played a third set of tennis in at least 20 years. In any case, as the set begins, the nanny and kids depart, and as they walk away, I hear Rob mumble "good riddance," which seems odd given that he seemed to play better in her presence.

The third set makes it clear this match has become a war of attrition. He wins the first game, then I win the next two, then he wins the two after that, and I take two more to make it 4-3, and it's my serve. Naturally, it's at this point that, for the first time in my life, I feel a twinge in my shoulder during a tennis serve, and it's clear that I'm done for the day. Rob discourages me from playing, declaring, "It's not worth it...we're just here to have fun." I agree and we call the match. Then, as we sit down, he declares himself the winner. What, I ask? He says that since I quit from injury, that's a forfeit.

This, of course, only fuels my desire to destroy him the next time we play, hopefully soon. I go home and pay the physical price for the next 24 hours, experiencing soreness in places I didn't even know existed.

The story reminds me that there's a revenge theme in the air. Just the day before, as I was innocently showering, Sarah came in to use the bathroom sink and dumped not one, but two glasses of cold water over me, after which I swore I'd get even while we're on vacation next week. I'm not sure what form that revenge will take, or whether I'll really even need it. After all, I gave her a son who, like most sons, is likely to one day treat her like an irritant that must be endured out of obligation. That will be revenge enough. Until then, I'll just let her enjoy our daily baby rituals, anticipating the day when her comeuppance arrives.

In the meantime, having heard the tale of my tennis match with Rob, Sarah says if we ever get a nanny, she's going to have to be fat and ugly.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Parenting Brings Out the Philosopher in Me

My mom often tells people (or so she tells me) that her greatest accomplishment in life has been me and my brother. Now, while I have to admit that Greg and I are two strapping, responsible, respectful, big-hearted men, I've always felt very clear--and mom, if you're reading this, don't take this the wrong way--that I needed more than children to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Believe me, Jackson was the absolute epicenter of my life for more than 10 years, until he had to make room for Sarah to share that epicenter. More recently, of course, he's had to skooch over even more for Max. But when I'm on my death bed (and please, whoever decides these things, make it a comfy one), merely having been a father won't give me the sense of fullness I'm hoping for.

I was thinking about this recently as I drove around doing errands with Max in tow. The way everyone responds to him, you'd think the stroller contained Michelangelo's David, and in a sense, I suppose it does. Every baby really is a work of art. Regardless, I started asking myself, what does a person have to do for his life to be considered a success? Does he have to be remembered and beloved beyond his family, friends and loved ones? Must he invent something that changes the world? Weed out evil wherever it exists in the world? Raise money to build schools in third-world communities? Take in homeless pets?

I asked Sarah what she thought, and her first instinct was to say that someone who achieves happiness is a success. But that's too easy--there are plenty of terrible people in the world who achieve happiness without any chance of being considered a success in the final analysis.

Is it as simple as treating others with kindness and respect, and being mindful of everything that's flowing around you? Spreading love to those you touch, and accepting the love of others in a deep and meaningful way?

Hopefully, you didn't continue reading this post in the hope that I was going provide an answer, because quite frankly, it's not possible. Success is an awfully big word, and with so many people doing so many things and living their lives in so many ways, there has to be more valid definitions of success than just about any word in the English language.

What I do know is this: If I were to die today, I'd consider myself a success in some regards, not so much in others. I think I've learned to be a good husband and father who's willing to acknowledge and try to address his flaws. I also have managed to build a life that allows me to rule my own schedule, and that in itself is worth more money than I could ever imagine making. But I've also demonstrated a penchant for having big ideas, and even starting to execute them--but never seeming to finish them.

So there you go, I've worked it out. If I want to ultimately consider myself a success--and really, in the end, whose approval do we need more than our own?--I need to become a better finisher. Yep, I'm gonna get right on that. Once I usher Jackson into adulthood, navigate Max through childhood, figure out how to be the best husband I can be to Sarah, and finish updating all the remaining elements on our house, that is. I certainly hope this success thing is all it's cracked up to be.

Now that I think about it, Jackson and Max have given me a big head-start. My mom has had it partly right all along.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Max, the Emerging Person: We Must Be Doing Something Right

Right before our eyes, a little personality is forming. Not that we didn't expect that--kind of hard to keep your child a completely unformed infant. But the speed at which it happens is surprising even for this experienced parent. Every day, Max seems to expand on his understanding--and ability to interact with--the world around him.

One day he starts really being amused by things, laughing and smiling at anything that causes him pleasure. Then he's suddenly reaching out to try to grab things, sometimes bouncing so excitedly he seems to want to get up and run after whatever he sees. At this pace, it won't be too long before he's taking dictation and making dinner. But I jump ahead. Currently, he's pretty focused on noticing things that escaped his senses earlier--people eating, light switches and fabric textures are all capturing his attention throughout the day. This is especially apparent on the changing table, where his contortions to grab at the light switch or to feel the wall or to grab the clothes we're preparing to put on him make the simple act of getting his diaper on seem more like making mid-flight repairs to a fighter jet.

He seems to enjoy pretty much all forms of play, within reason, and when we leave the house, he bewitches all who see him with his big blue eyes and bouyant smile. This causes us no end of entertainment. Mom singing and dancing to goofy 70s tunes? Check--big smile. Dad shifting and contorting his body in all manner of movements? No problem--he loves it. Big bro Jackson, making silly faces at him? Nirvana. Our neurotic dog, Q, standing in the corner, staring at a blank space on the wall? Hilarious in his eyes. And the TV? Forget it--he's mesmerized by even the most banal HGTV fodder.

But let's be fair--lots of babies are wonderful when the big people are making an effort to entertain them. But what separates Max from the pack is what he does when we're NOT making him the focus. This is one good-natured baby. Kitchen needs cleaning? Put him in the bumpo seat and watch him happily follow our movements around the kitchen. Take him out to restaurants? This is where he really shines, sitting happily in his car seat for 90 min, even 2 hours, while we enjoy a leisurely meal with family or friends. Yard work day? Not an issue--stick him in his activity center (we call it his "office") and he'll happily spin around, grabbing and pushing and chewing on the built-in toys, occupying himself for an hour or more.

And then there's the reaction to the group dynamic. This is where lots of babies have problems with anxiety as new faces enter the picture and over-stimulation lurks around every corner. This past weekend was a big test on this front--Sarah's and my parents were both in town, and we attended my niece's first b-day party, meaning lots of family members and friends were poking, prodding, holding, ogling and generally wanting a piece of Max. Naturally, he seemingly has no problem with this, being handed from one person to another, even being fed along the way, and never missing a beat. We know the stranger anxiety period is coming--it's as inevitable as death and taxes--so we're enjoying this malleable little person as much as we can before he turns into Chucky and makes handing him off a lot more difficult.

Truthfully, though, Sarah and I don't really fear the whole stranger anxiety thing--we fully expect Max to continue to be interested and energized by any and all stimulus for the foreseeable future. We've made a point of encouraging this flexibility by not shielding him from noise and chaos, and now both of us have the sense that this is going to be a ping-pong ball of a kid, bouncing enthusiastically from one source of entertainment to another, eager to interact and learn, regardless of what's going on around him. Then again, if we do find ourselves struggling with him some day down the line, we can always sequester him in our bedroom and put on the latest episode of "House Hunters."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Full-Time Daddy Days Are Like Shnitzengruben

What the hell are shnitzengruben, you may ask? For my cinematically challenged readers, they are the German sausages Lilly Von Schtupp (Madeleine Khan) serves to Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) in Blazing Saddles, prompting an exhausted Bart to declare upon his return to the jailhouse, "Them shnitzengrubens can really wipe you out."

So now, you're saying, it all makes sense. Now that your favorite blogger/two-time parent has had a couple of months to get accustomed to this solo daddy routine, he can safely report that it remains one of the most exhausting regimens one can subject himself to. From the earlier-than-usual rising, to the non-stop calls for entertainment, to the lugging the increasingly heavy car seat around, to the frenzied rushes for warmed-up formula bottles as an end-of-his-wits 5-month old screams in the next room, it is a routine that is not for the squeamish among us 44-year-olds. Never mind the fact that I actually try to work on these days, too.

Take yesterday. A seemingly innocuous day, the highlights of which were a visit my the housekeepers, a trip to the park for some swing time, and the nightly effort to get dinner rolling with a pent-up, babbling baby in tow. Sounds pretty manageable, yes? Well, let's not forget about the other things that weave their way into the day--the driving Jackson to/from soccer practice; the scramble to de-clutter the house so the housekeepers can actually clean; a furious string of emails to schedule an interview for a story I'm working on; the attempt to repair a broken leg on one of our dining room chairs; the calls for paperwork to be faxed (and re-faxed) to my real estate agent cousin, who's helping Sarah short-sell her underwater condo; and, of course, the increasingly impatient catcalls of a baby who no longer is content to stand in his circular activity center and fumble with all the colorful built-in toys surrounding him while Daddy handles the aforementioned tasks.

All of which leads me to this familiar refrain: How do hard-working single parents do it? I'm talking about the ones who have few resources, work multiple jobs, rely on childcare they can't afford, and have no option but to put on a happy face for baby at the end of an exhausting, never-ending, blindingly stressful day. These people are the heroes of modern society, and quite often the ones that ass-backwards laws like Arizona's anti-immigrant stance target.

It's a thought that makes me very thankful to be a privileged, educated, middle-class white man who can work from home and handle the demands of parenthood with aplomb. Now excuse me while I get back to balancing Max on my head as I pay bills, plan dinner, keep my clients at bay, and try to squeeze in some quality time with the human breast-milk factory who shares my bedroom.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

4 Months Old, and Taking Control of His Life Already

You know that feeling you get as the parent of an infant, the one that tells you that your newborn knows something that you don't? Well, go with it, 'cause it's true. I have proof.

Last week (yes, this is evidence of my too-infrequent posting habits--I'll try to pick that up), Sarah's mom was in town, so I got excused from a trip to the pediatrician for Max's 4-month checkup, which includes two shots and an oral vaccine. Mind you, up until this point, all of the previous pediatric appointments--even those that ended with shots--had been joyful occasions (well, up to the insertion of the needle anyway), with Max showing off his numerous wonderful qualities (which obviously have nothing to do with me), and the doctor finding him endlessly entertaining. At one point, she told Sarah, of Max's seemingly excessive nighttime sleeping patterns, "Don't question it--just consider yourself lucky."

Something tells me her tune was a bit different after this latest appointment, in which Max launched into what has been described to me as an epic meltdown. Even though he left the house his usual happy self, he apparently started to crack right as Sarah and her mom walked into the doctor's office with him. He proceeded to cry, louder and louder, throughout every second of the exam, sending unsuspecting infants and their sleep-deprived parents running for cover. I picture it like a grotesque cartoon in which we zoom in on the baby's crying mouth, which is consuming all of its surroundings.

Things got even worse when the doctor decided to find out if a fever might be causing this outburst, and lo and behold, Max's temperature registered at over 100, enough to get any new mother headed down the worry path, and Sarah was no exception. What was especially disturbing about this fever was that there were no signs of it earlier in the morning AND Sarah had given Max a dose of baby Tylenol (since thrown away amid the recall!) in anticipation of the shots. (The previous round of shots was followed by 5 painful days of Max wallowing in discomfort.)

In any case, the upshot of the tantrum and accompanying fever was that the doctor decided to skip the shots and vaccine and have us come back. Which apparently was just what Max had in mind, because by the time he had settled back in at home, and mom and grandma had filled me in on the theatrics, he was back to his normal self. I mean fully back--no crying, no fever, no nothing. And here's the weird part--the fever never returned. It was as if the whole thing never happened.

There's only one conclusion a sane person can draw from this episode: Max did not want those shots. How he knew he was getting them, where he found the inspiration to hatch his diabolical plan, and what gave him the self-awareness to recover so quickly is totally mystifying--not just to me, but to Sarah, her mom, the doctor--everyone involved.

Which brings us back to my original point, about your baby knowing something you don't. That something is how to really best meet his needs. Because heaven knows, his needs do not include pulling his pant leg so a giant stranger can jam a needle into his thigh. I just hope it's not a foreshadowing of what will occur the first time we ask him to clean up his room. I have to admit, though, I'm thinking about using his strategy the next time I'm asked to spend my weekend doing yard work.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, We May Have a Giant On Our Hands

Nothing in my family history suggests that I was due to have a big kid. In the 150-plus years of Kontzer/Ledner family history, the tallest person I'm aware of is my brother, who stands a whopping 5-10, maybe 5-10 1/2. I, on the other hand, topped off at about 5-7 1/2. Sarah's family's not exactly huge either. A bit taller than mine, but only one or two relatives that eclipsed the six-foot mark.

So imagine my surprise as I've watched my little Max's height and weight track well above the middle of the curve at his pediatric appointments. Today, a woman at the dog park said, "what's he, 6, maybe 8 months?" When I answered, no, actually, he just hit 4 months, she was visibly shocked. "Wow, he's a big one."

This might have something to do with his seemingly endless and insatiable appetite. Max eats noticeably more than Jackson did as a baby, which should be no surprise to anyone who's privy to Jackson's current eating habits. (No breakfast, no lunch to speak of, a snack under duress before soccer's not a pretty picture.)

Come to think of it, Max's car seat has gotten pretty heavy to lug in a hurry. He's outgrown much of his 3-6 month clothes and is already wearing a lot of 6-12 month stuff. His head is the size of a small watermelon. His legs look like standing rib roasts. Trying to wipe away spit-up that's found its way into the folds of his neck is like trying to retrieve a pen that's fallen between the driver's seat and center console of your car.

But if all of that ends up with me having a son who can push around opponents in the key, see over people in a crowd, or get things down from the top shelf without a step-ladder, then it will have been worth the back strains and longer-then-expected feedings.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Day in the Life of Daddy and Baby

It's day one of week two of the Sarah-Goes-Back-To-Work Non-Experiment, and, from a fathering perspective, it's been wonderful. Don't tell Sarah, but Max is much less fussy and much more in the flow when she's gone. No surprise there--there are no boobies to latch onto, or be tempted to latch onto, or to communicate spiritually to him, calling "Max, over here, two ripe nipples with all the sweet mother's milk you need, and all ya gotta do is cry!"

Nope, it's just him and me, man to, uh, man, mano a mano, tête-à-tête. The showdown at the O.K. Changing Table. But seriously, it's been more like one of those buddy films, only instead of two cops chasing bad guys, it's a bald, middle-aged writer and a drooling, babbling infant prowling the streets of Albany, California. With each day that we spend together, we develop an ever-more comfortable rhythm to our day, which goes something like this:

8 am: Baby wakes up after his typical 10-11 hour sleep, and Mommy nurses while Daddy reads the paper in the "office"
9 am: Daddy has all the intention in the world of getting up and going for a run, but instead just stays in bed with Mommy and Baby.
10 am: Mommy leaves for work
10-11 am: Daddy makes ridiculous faces and even more ridiculous noises as he manipulates Baby's body in ways that clearly please him judging from the onslaught of smiles and spit-up.
11-11:30 am: Baby sits in his little spinny toy, or on his baby chair on the dining table, while Daddy checks email and gets a bit of work done.
11:30: Baby downs a bottle of sweet mother's nectar, then begins rubbing his face, and lays down in his crib and naps until about 1.
1-2 pm: A repeat of 10-11 am, only this time Daddy tries to get lunch eaten during this time because he was too stupid to make himself get that done while Baby was asleep.
2 pm: Baby downs another few ounces of milk, Daddy eats his now-cold leftovers, and then it's time for a walk.
2:30-3:30 pm: Daddy struggles through the neighborhood with a stroller and two crazy terriers (at least when Sarah's dog, who's usually in the custody of her ex-husband, is visiting, which he is now), a tangled mess of wheels and leashes and spit-up devastating all in its path.
3:30-4:30 pm: Baby, who has fallen asleep on way home, naps while dad catches up on some email and starts to think about that dreaded topic--dinner.
4:30-6 pm: This is the most chaotic time of the day, with soccer practices, grocery shopping, and other errands always seeming to pile up.
6 pm: Baby gets tired once again, goes down for another cat nap, sometimes after a bit more milk, sometimes not. Daddy starts assembling the elements of dinner, trying not to make any noise loud enough to wake up Baby.
7:15 pm: Baby, seemingly detecting that mommy's breasts, which are now on the way home, have entered within a 5 mile radius, begins to become hysterical.
7:40: Mommy pulls up, causing a huge sigh of relief in Daddy and a sudden burst of joy in Baby, and all is well with the world.
8:25: After nursing, and just as the rest of us are about to eat, Baby's bowel explodes up his back and down his legs, and Mommy and Daddy finally get to sit down to eat about 8:45, after de-poopifying their hands and arms.
9:30: One final nightcap on the breast, and Baby goes down for the night. Daddy foolishly stays up another 4 hours, only to pay the price with another wonderfully relentless next day.

Really, what it all adds up to is this: Stay-at-home Daddy is the best job in the world. And the boss is simply the best; he can't even dress himself or form a sentence. Who doesn't want a boss like that?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Life's First Wonderful Gift

Anyone who's raised a child knows that after those first weeks of infancy, a magical thing happens: Your child discovers the gift of joy.

There is nothing quite so spirit-filling as seeing your baby's glowing face smile at your expanding attempts to entertain him or her. And let me tell ya, my spirit's been getting its fill these past couple of weeks as Max responds with growing enthusiasm to our raspberries, kisses, and increasingly aggressive manipulations of his little body. We've moved on to the stage of arm-waving, torso-tickling, and up-and-down bouncing.

All of which is making mornings quite the happy little scene in our bedroom. After Max nurses, Sarah and I spend what seems like an eternity lying in bed, propping max on our bellies and watching him laugh and smile and yelp with glee as we run through a combination of tried-and-true happiness inducers and new attempts to push his joy to new levels. Like this week, I introduced turning him upside down and gently flipping him. He's not sure he likes it, but he hasn't complained, so I have no intention of pulling back.

One thing that's making me highly focused on fully enjoying this ritual each day is the fact that when Sarah asks me if I remember this or that from Jackson's first months, my answer is almost always no. The memories are fleeting, having been overtaken by years of school and soccer and neighborhood play and trauma and life changes and pre-adolescence. I do, however, still have total recall of lines from 70s movies, so I'm not sure why my child's development is a fading memory. The subtleties of the human brain aren't exactly my area of expertise.

What I do know is that my surviving memories of Jackson as a baby are a lot more uniformly positive than the memories I'll have of him as a pre-teen. Living with a pre-teen is like having a roommate--one who doesn't pay for anything, leaves lots of messes, and likes to insult me as many times as possible each day.

Eventually, the same will probably be true of Max, so for the time being, I'll just keep soaking up his joyful embracing of the world and try not to think about the snotty little roommate he'll eventually turn into. There will be plenty of time for that nonsense.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

With Sarah just 9 days from returning to work as an operating room nurse at UCSF Medical Center, I find myself facing my second go-round as a sometimes solo stay-at-home, self-employed dad. Starting April 5, I'll have 3 days a week holding down the fort myself, and in a way, I'm kinda looking forward to it.

Not that I want Sarah back at work--although the re-appearance of her income will be very welcome. But let's face it, dads are second class citizens at this stage so long as moms are around. When mom's not in the room, though, it's a different story. Suddenly, dad's antics are the focus of baby's attention. In other words, with no udders to distract Max, I figure he and I will bond as never before.

Sarah, conversely, is most definitely not looking forward to her return to the O.R. She and Max have been pretty much inseparable these first 3 months, and it will be no easy task for her to suddenly be away from him for 10-hour stretches (including commute times). I anticipate getting multiple calls each shift those first several weeks, as mom worries whether her baby is safe with dad.

A reasonable worry, as it turns out, as I've had two little accidents that have inflicted pain upon Max. The first was at a birthday party for a set of two-year-old twins, when I managed to scrape the top of Max's head against the door frame while walking out of the kitchen. After a stunned two seconds, Max let out a blood-curdling scream that made me the story of the party. Sarah was NOT a happy camper, but in my own defense, it really was just a mild scrape.

Then, a day or two ago while I was re-dressing Max after a diaper change, I somehow managed to close a snap on his shirt and catch a small piece of skin on his back, causing him to let loose with an even MORE blood-curdling scream. I did my best to soothe him, but let's face it--the damage was done. Now I'll know what's going on 20 years from now when he breaks into a sob whenever he hears me snap my pants.

So, as Sarah's return to work--and subsequent panic over letting the baby out of her sight--approaches, my strategy is to acknowledge that yes, I'm like most dads. There will be accidents--a scrape here, a cut there, a bruise every now and then--but I'll keep the damage to small stuff. I've been parenting and step-parenting for 18 years now, and no one's ever been seriously hurt or emotionally scarred on my watch. I'm sure that's gotta qualify me for some kind of fatherhood lifetime achievement award, no?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For Good or Bad, I've Only Got One Heart

Soon after Max was born, Sarah and I posted photos to our Facebook pages, and when we got to the part where you write captions, Sarah wrote something so beautiful it stunned me: "My heart that beats outside my body." With those seven words, Sarah punched me with a reality I can't begin to understand.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I can understand the extreme tie we have with our children that causes us to feel their pain, revel in their happiness, and innately know what buttons to push. (That is, until they're about 9 or 10--after that, best of luck.) What I'll never be able to comprehend is the physical and emotional cabling that exists between mother and baby.

I didn't notice this as much the first time, mostly because I was so ga-ga myself and Jackson was his mom's third child. But watching Sarah discover motherhood has been truly fascinating, as has witnessing the bond between mother and baby form. The two of them hinge on everything the other does. When Sarah walks through the room, Max's attention is immediately averted, and it almost seems like he casts a fetching look upon her bosoms. As soon as hunger strikes, anyone who doesn't possess one of those bosoms becomes immediately irrelevant.

Likewise, Sarah's every thought revolves around Max. When she walks in the door, whereas her greeting used to be, seriously, "Hello, my love," now it's "How's my baby?" And she ain't talking about me. In the middle of the night, Sarah can sleep right through my coming in to the bedroom from a late-night work stint, showering in our adjacent bathroom, brushing my teeth, opening and closing drawers, climbing into bed, forcefully fluffing my pillows and, ultimately, cuddling up to her. But a half-hour later, if Max lets out so much as a whimper from the next room, Sarah's boobs start oozing a puddle in the bed and she asks me to go get him.

And I haven't even gotten to my efforts at lovemaking being met not just by the prerequisite post-birth sexual malaise, but also by a torrent of breast milk squirting all over me. But I digress.

The point is--what was the point? Oh, yes, that thing about Max being Sarah's heart beating outside her body. It's a description only a mother could grasp, and is probably at the root of about 93% of later marital conflict.

"You always babied him."
"At least I HAVE a relationship with him."
"Well, he and I would be closer if you hadn't always been smothering him."
"I just wanted to make sure he didn't turn out to be an asshole like you."

I digress any case, that oneness--the beating heart and all--will evolve into a constant state of fretting and worrying that will dwarf anything that I, as a dad, will ever feel. So today I consider myself both lucky and unlucky. Lucky in that I don't have to endure the emotional roller coaster of motherhood, and unlucky in that I don't get to.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Remembering What I'd Otherwise Forget

Okay, enough with the damned "wow, can my baby sleep!" posts. Time for a new tidbit in Max's development, that being the relaxing of his hands. What started as unintentionally restless attempts to scratch his face (some of which resulted in big red marks slashed across his cheeks), Max has begun to grab at things and--equally important--find his mouth. This means that a) he's about to get a whole lot more entertaining, and b) he's close to taking a key step toward soothing himself.

As a second-time father, these occurrences are a reminder of how much I've forgotten from Jackson's infancy. I have no memory of watching his hands relax, of seeing him suck his thumb for the first time, or even what his first words were. A big reason for this is the single most frustrating moment I've had as a father, namely the loss of his baby book.

Anyone who's had kids knows that the baby book is the domain of the first-time parent. That means that when Jackson was born, I quickly assumed about 95% of the responsibility for his baby book, and I relished that job. I stuffed everything in that book--from his first nail and hair clippings to when he started saying "dada" to who was at his first birthday party. There were receipts and photos and a family tree and lists of gifts, not to mention the lengthy lists of early favorites--such as foods, books, music and TV shows. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

Thankfully, Sarah, being the first-time parent in our household, is in charge of this task for Max, and Sarah does NOT lose stuff. At least not important stuff. To be fair, I didn't really lose Jackson's baby book as much as it lost itself. I moved my office from one room of my San Jose house to another, and poof, the book was gone. No idea how or where, but suffice it to say, I turned that house upside-down about 19 times trying to find the danged thing to no avail.

Anyway, my point is, my baby is growing up fast (don't they all?) and with Sarah in charge, I can feel fairly confident that come 20 years from now, I'll be able to read all about it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Parenting Thing Isn't So Hard

Eight weeks into my parenting sequel, I can safely declare that the whole "like riding a bike" thing applies. My anxiety level is about one-hundredth what it was when Jackson was a baby. I don't worry as much about injury. I don't fret about whether I'm doing everything right. The whole fear of being tied down for the rest of my life is non-existent.

Of course, this is as much a function of my partner being a first time parent to my seasoned veteran as it has anything to do with my being 12 years older. It isn't often in life that we get to revisit major experiences from a more mature perspective, and I'm savoring the opportunity. It's enlightening to watch Sarah experience the uncertain and worrisome state of first-time parenting, and to actually get to occasionally be the voice of reason, a role I'm not renowned for playing. Not that I've had to express that voice much; Sarah's doing a bang up job that demonstrates a levelheadedness far beyond that of most first-time parents I've seen.

But before I get carried away patting both of us on the back, much of the credit should go to Max himself. He has made these first weeks a smooth ride with a combination of joyful energy, fast-developing sleep patterns, and an innate ability to comfort himself. Last night, he slept eight hours. The night before, it was 10 1/2, and the night before that, nine. Those are not typos--those are actual sleep totals for a seven-week-old. It's enough to make us the envy of the newborn circuit.

Getting back to Sarah, one of the most remarkable things I'm witnessing is her transformation from mere woman into mother. On the first go-round, my partner was a third-time parent, so there was very little change. But Sarah is evolving before my eyes into a completely different person. I'm not talking the obvious stuff like new daily rituals and rawer emotions. I'm talking about the maternal instincts released by the time capsule that activates at the core of a woman-turned-mom, the combination of nurturing and nesting and tenderness and protectiveness that rapidly build like a storm sweeping across the Midwestern plains.

What's sad is that so many men find these changes to be so threatening. It's often the time when couples struggle to maintain their connection, when resentments start to germinate and frustration constantly simmers under the surface. I feel the opposite as I watch Sarah the Mom emerge. Sure, there's sadness regarding the all-too-brief honeymoon period I got to enjoy with her, but my overarching sense is that of feeling touched that I get to share this crazy experience with her, and excited by the prospect of watching her one day rediscover the self nature has forced her to suppress in the name of the biological imperative.

I guess what I'm saying is that the amazing woman I fell in love with just over two short years ago is becoming an even more amazing woman right before my eyes. Couple that with a seemingly ideal baby who has effectively eliminated the typical stress levels associated with having an infant, and what you get is more good fortune than one man deserves.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Max Kontzer is Stealing My Heart

So here's the thing about Max after a month: He's an unusually wonderful baby. And so was Jackson. That makes me 2-for-2 in the "unusually wonderful baby" department. For that, I am very thankful.

Last night, Max slept 7 straight hours--from 9:30 pm to 4:30 am--then fed, went back to sleep, woke up again at about 8, fed again, and went back to sleep again for another hour before waking up for his busy time of the day. The thing about having an infant is, even when it all goes just as planned, it's still draining. Every day is a relentless string of feedings and diaper changes and comforting attempts and long moments of fixation and sporadic sleep.

This kind of schedule puts me into an almost dream-like state. My days often feel like an elastic affair, centered around the comings and goings of people visiting the baby, meals passing in a blur, with more than enough baby responsibilities to keep two reasonably intelligent adults quite occupied.

Naturally, Sarah's taking the brunt of things. It's such an unfair reality that women have to endure all of the most physically and emotionally demanding acts in creating and caring for a baby--namely, birth and nursing. It's pretty amazing the way a new mother is immediately tuned into the needs of the baby at all times, whether awake or asleep, whether the baby's making his needs known or not. It burns inside the mother's gut just as her own instincts do--the baby's not even a separate being in some ways. He's an extension of the mother. As a matter of fact, when you get right down to it, from conception until the baby's, oh, a year old or so, the father is pretty much unnecessary.

Good thing I don't care. I'm gonna touch and kiss and care for little Max as much as possible, whether he needs me or not. Because at this point, let's face it: I need him.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Diapers and pooping and pee, oh my!

Four weeks into this second parenting go-round, and it's amazing to me how different it is. Most notably, I'm so much more tired than the first time around, but I'm also much more accepting of that exhaustion. Maybe it's because, whereas I was the first-time parent with Jackson and his mom nursed him but watched me take care of the rest, this time I'm the one watching from the experienced parent seat as Sarah dives into the infant-parenting rituals with zest.

Actually, I've really been struck these past weeks by just how much more natural women are at this. Sarah has WAY more of an instinctive feel for what's going on with Max than I do--we men are so clueless about so many things. For instance, today, I came home from running an errand, was greeted by Sarah at the front door, and somehow didn't notice that Max was propped on a pillow--and nearly sat on him! This is something that Sarah would NEVER do--in fact, if she leaves for a few minutes, her first words when she walks in the door are, "Where's my baby!?" (Conversely, my first words are usually, "Can we have sex yet?")

Still, before I make us second-time dads sound like total boobs, there are some things that come back quickly. Like changing diapers. It never ceases to amaze me how afraid of this simple activity many men are. They look upon the diaper-changing table as if it were a sewage treatment plant. This is true even of experienced fathers--I can't tell you how many men I know who judge their success as parents by how low a percentage of diaper changes they're able to get away with handling. What they're missing is that diaper changing is an easy way to bond with baby, relieve mom and earn lots of a brownie points without having to devote a lot of time. It's certainly a lot easier than nursing (which is obviously out of our hands) or doing the laundry (Sarah's handled every load so far--not that I want her to, she's just on top of it like noboby's business).

Not to mention that you really get a feel for how your baby is changing. Like today, I changed two diapers that were absolutely PACKED with poop and pee, and they were quite different from Max's previous, uh, output. The poo is changing colors, and the pee is coming out in larger quantities, reflections of his increasing appetite and the maturation of his digestive system.

If that's not enough, there's also the entertainment aspect. Take the second of those big diapers today--as I was changing it, I had to pick up Max and hold him naked for a moment to help Sarah (who had managed to lock herself in the bathroom--don't ask), and in those brief seconds, Max proceeded to unleash a pee of biblical proportions all over me. To think--I'd never have had that experience if I hadn't been on diaper duty! (Okay, I admit this probably isn't going to convince many men that they're missing out. Their loss.)

I'd love to tell you more about Max's bodily fluids, but it's nearly 1 am, and I'm violating that sacred advice to new parents: Always sleep when the baby's sleeping. And he's been asleep for more than 3 hours at the moment, which means a feeding can't be far off.

In the meantime, enjoy this absolutely beautiful shot of Max that I took a week or so ago.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Max: Filling our hearts even when he's wearing us out

This afternoon, as I drove by the day laborers outside of Home Depot while nibbling on M&Ms in my Lexus, I thought about how lucky I am. Lucky to have an amazing wife who's also my best friend; lucky to have a newborn baby that's healthy and filling our home with love and joy; lucky to have a 12-year-old son who cares about others, does well in school, and finds happiness from the little things; lucky to have a career that allows me to work when I want, how I want, and (to a certain degree) on whatever I want; and, not to be sneezed at, lucky not to be standing outside Home Depot hoping some self-satisfied jerk popping M&Ms in his Lexus would throw me a freakin' bone.

Which brings me back to the topic at hand, my amazing little Maxwell, and how he makes me feel so lucky even when he's testing my mettle. To explain...

After filling us with the hope of an 8-hour sleep two nights ago, the little bugger has shown us the other side of babyhood, waking up every 3 hours last night, fussing pretty much all day today, and then putting us to the test tonight with a persistent cry-fest that went on for a good 2 hours straight. I'm happy to report that I was able to convince mom to stick to our guns and let the tyke cry it out. He'd been fed regularly all day. He'd had his diaper changed at every juncture. He'd had his temperature taken. He'd farted and burped all the possible gas out of his system. And he'd been comforted throughout. But now it was time to draw an early line in the sand.

As he cried, Sarah and I agreed he had no un-met needs at the moment, other than to reinforce his growing sense that a good cry would get mom or dad, or both, to drop everything and cater to his whims. Enough was enough. We needed to establish that a) we would not let his crying deter us from our parenting objectives, and b) he could cry himself to sleep if left to do so. And lo and behold, that's exactly what happened.

When he finally started running out of steam, his cries growing weaker and weaker until they were barely a whimper, we felt a sense of satisfaction. Eventually, his cries completely gave way to the little coos and baby utterings that make a parent's heart melt. It was like music even to our worn-out ears.

Chalk the whole episode up as mom's and dad's first victory in the battle for the upper hand. How long that survives is anyone's guess, but at least we've drawn first blood. And we're feeling might lucky about it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Series of Fortunate (and Not-So-Fortunate) Events

So here's the down side of having an infant: A trip to Babies-R-Us and Taco Bell qualifies as a veritable party. And that's just what we did today. We bundled up little Max, squeezed him into the infant car seat, and headed off. He cooperated beautifully, sleeping the entire time as we popped him in and out of the car, wandered aisles filled with baby items, stuffed our faces with tacos and burritos, and capped things off with a stop at Starbucks.

Of course, his cooperation may have been aided by a landmark development last night, when Max slept--drumroll please--for 8 consecutive hours. Yes, at just 3 weeks old. And I didn't even have to slip him a mickey to make it happen. Truth be known, I did have to spend a good hour-and-a-half ushering him through an extremely fussy mood before he finally conked out at just about midnight. When I opened my eyes upon waking up and saw that the clock said 7:56, I could hardly believe it. In fact, I was compelled to rush into Max's room to make sure he was still breathing.

Not long after this, and moments after he'd finished his morning boob session, Max was propped on our bed as Sarah and I shared a loving embrace. We both looked at him as we hugged, and he flashed us his biggest smile to date, clearly enjoying seeing the love between his parents (or, as he probably refers to us, the Milk Factory and Diaper Guy). Seeing that smile to start the day was like being awash in rays of South Pacific sunshine.

Of course, with any baby, such mesmerizing moments are often interspersed with the stuff they always leave out of the "Have a Baby!" brochures. Our most recent of these came yesterday afternoon, when Sarah decided to give Max a bath. As mom carried him into the kitchen, his little serpent came to life, raining a shower of pee all over Sarah and the breakfast table. Pee with your coffee, anyone? Then, when we finally got him into the little baby bathtub, he proceeded to let loose with a torrent of poop, resulting in what looked like the beginning of pesto soup, only without the basil, Parmesan or pine nuts.

Oops, that reminds me--dinner time!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Get By With a Little Help From My Mother-In-Law

In order to cast my new mother-in-law in the proper light, I can't help but compare her with her predecessor. And on this matter, there is no reason to beat around the bush: My first mother-in-law was not exactly an awe-inspiring example of a human being. She may one day stumble upon this post and be aghast at my outing her in this fashion, but that's tough titties. The bitter truth is that she was (and may very well still be) an ugly person with ugly motivations, so really, my new mother-in-law had nowhere to go but up. (Insert mother-in-law joke of your choice here.)

So far, so good--Mother-in-Law No. 2 (Ramona, for the curious among you) is passing with flying colors. And the reason I bring this up is to underscore just how freeing a good mother-in-law can be. Don't get me wrong--I've only known Ramona for 2 years, so there's plenty of time for one (or both) of us to screw things up. But I already feel closer and more connected to her than I ever did to my previous MiL. Then again, I could say the same thing about me and Dick Cheney.

Seriously--Ramona and I can talk, for hours, about just about anything. We don't always agree, but we always come to some sort of understanding. She's a fun-loving person who's willing to explore any topic, no matter how inappropriate, and even though she clearly is becoming aware of my shortcomings (e.g., my blabbermouth), she's able to see that the good way outweighs the bad, and that her daughter has found a man who will love her and treat her with the respect and tenderness she deserves.

Meanwhile, I'm able to see past her shortcomings (and let's face it--people get to a certain age and they wear their shortcomings on their sleeves) and appreciate that my MiL is a happy and willing grandparent who, despite already having had the opportunity to dote on 4 other grandchildren, is ready to pour her energy into helping us in any way she can (and, of course, get more access to her grandson in the process).

Case in point: We just returned form a quick weekend sojourn to Modesto, to visit Ramona and give her some quality time with little Max on her turf. During our stay, I barely had to do any of the usual dirty work, because Ramona was right there, helping Sarah with anything that required an extra set of hands. (Well, except the middle-of-the-night feedings--no point letting things get that Freudian.) Then, this morning, before we left, she offered to watch the baby and feed him while Sarah and I went out to breakfast together, unencumbered.

Not that any MiL in the world wouldn't want to have alone time with her little baby grandson. Well, actually, I take that back--my previous MiL most certainly was not interested in such trivialities. In fact, she barely forged a connection with the one grandchild I gave her, Jackson, and today she has zero presence in our lives (for reasons not worth going into here, but suffice it to say it would raise the hair on your neck). In other words, I do not take such grandparently assistance as Ramona offers for granted, and never will. But as a soon-to-be-44-year-old second time father, I'll be damned if I won't gladly accept any opportunity to be excused from the relentlessness of baby duty.

Which is why, when she suggested Sarah bring the baby and stay with her for a few days for more bonding, I didn't hesitate to support the idea. In the past, I might have balked at such a suggestion, threatened by paranoid thoughts of my MiL trying to muscle in on my territory. Thankfully, I've traded in my youthful stupidity for a more seasoned state of acceptance. Gimme those three days of down time for golf and sports on TV and quality time with Jackson (hard to come by these days), not to mention a few nights of sprawling in our bed all by myself, and when Sarah and Max return, my super-dad batteries will have been recharged.

Mom, if you read this, don't be threatened. We love you, too.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hey, those are MY boobs!

Today's topic is the state of my wife's breasts. That is to say, they're gorgeous. Always have been, but hey, we're in the nursing stage here--and I know all the dads out there are nodding their heads, remembering their wives' tits blossoming during pregnancy, and then nearly exploding during nursing. And, naturally, it's the one time we really can't touch--they're always sore or tender or whatever, and any self-respecting boob man is left to wonder, is this kid gonna leave anything for me?

Most women have heard the horror stories of boobs going flat and lifeless after breast-feeding ended, and Sarah's certainly aware that there's no way hers are going to remain their current size. Not that size is important, it's not...but it's hard to watch the beating they're taking and not fret.

Really, though, the dad's view of breast-feeding is a joyous one. Here are the two most central people in your life at the moment, establishing a bond that is at once poetic and mundane and gorgeous and sweet and shared by creatures the world over. I can't imagine watching anything that would fill my heart more fully. Even if my boob-loving habits may take a hit.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Life Giveth, and Life Taketh Away

Nothing makes one ponder life like death. Not exactly a topic I expect to get to in the fourth entry of a blog about my parenting experience. But sometimes these decisions are taken out of our hands. Today, my cat for most of the past 17-plus years, Frances, died. And I signed the death order.

Sometime last night, I saw Frances moving very awkwardly and went to check on her. She seemed totally unaware of my approach and offered very little resistance as I picked her up and held her. When I placed her back down, she could barely stand without wobbling, even bumping into the garage doorway at one point. It did not look good to me. Frances has been an outdoor cat for many years and slept reasonably happily in the garage, but last night I let her sleep in my office chair, knowing she probably wouldn't move. I checked on her every time Max woke us up (odd, discovering a handy use for middle-of-the-night feedings this way) and her situation was pretty much the same all night.

The vet couldn't get us in until 5 pm today, so Frances pretty much spent the day sitting and vegetating in out-of-the-way, hidden locations in the yard. She was stiff and creaky in her limited movements, and generally just sat still. When we got to the vet, the news was not surprising: Her kidneys had totally shut down, a common cat ailment, and she was down to 5 pounds. The choices were simple: Buy her some very limited about of time, take her home and wait for her to die (no more than a few days), or put her down right there. We chose the latter option. And so there I stood, with my stepdaughter Alex, who'd driven up from San Jose to be there with her longtime cat, watching the life disappear from Frances' eyes as the toxin took effect.

Goodbye, Frances...and sorry. Max started the circle of life, and you had to finish it. Have fun on the other side.

The Wild, Wacky Parenting Ride

Today we had Max's first pediatric appointment, and all went well. So well, in fact, that a watershed moment occurred during the appointment when Max flashed his first real smile, at me, while the doctor was watching. What a ham. My blood, of course.

To be fair, he'd smiled previously, but only when he was either sleeping, or seemingly accidentally. But this was different; this was a smile of recognition and acknowledgment. And it felt good. Real good.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to my point, which is how easily the brain softens the memory of exhaustion that comes with a having a baby, especially when so much time has elapsed since the first. So when the first smile comes, or when your baby lets loose with those heart-melting little newborn coos, or when those little arms and legs start flailing stiffly while on the changing table, it all feel so wonderfully familiar. But when the fits of inconsolable unhappiness hit at 11 or 12 at night (or 2 or 3 in the morning), you find yourself wondering, why didn't I recall this stuff? I mean, I recalled it, but the memory didn't feel this draining.

It's the difference between fathering a newborn at 31 and then at 43. I'm quickly seeing that this is going to be quite the endurance test, and I can only hope I'm up to the task. When I'm facing toddler revolts and food resistance and backtalk at 47 and 49 and 54, who knows how I'll respond? With laughter, I hope. After all, I'm a much more fully realized adult at this juncture, so I should be able to handle the demands of a child with much more aplomb than I have the first time around.

I know I'm handling my second wife with much more aplomb than my first. I feel much less frustrated and lost this time, and I feel much less pressure to do as much as possible, possibly because Sarah is a first-time parent, which makes her pretty eager to play house. She can't seem to pull herself away from the round-the-clock cycle of feedings, dressings, laundry, etc.

Conversely, my first son was my first wife's third child, so she had been there, done that, and thus was fine with my taking the lead, so I really had no choice but to step to the plate in a huge way. This time I'm more on the periphery, a satellite revolving around Sarah and Max, ready to act when needed--with a diaper change, a back rub, a needed errand, or a meal. It allows me to be a small step further back, taking it all in, seeing the forest for the trees.

All that said, at this point, I hope Sarah's current thinking (that she really doesn't want to be pregnant again) holds--I don't know if I'm up for going through the gauntlet of pregnancy/birth/newborn again. I'll lose the Sarah I fell in love with forever. She'll be Mom first and Sarah second. Actually, she's already begun that transformation, but if I'm only up against one little voice, I still have a fighting chance.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Visitors, visitors, and more visitors--most of them welcome

What an onslaught this weekend! That whole thing about limiting the number of visitors when you have a newborn? Out the window. Here's what our weekend looked like:

Saturday, 9:00 am: In groggy state, get wake-up call from out of town friend I hadn't seen in 20 years who was coming for a visit--and would be at the nearby BART station in less than 5 minutes!

9:30 am: Arrive back at house with friend, her husband, and bag of bagels. After several minutes of admiring Max, we regale Sarah with tales of yore from our '89 Europe tour until 11:30, when time comes for run to airport.

noon: Drop off friend and her husband at airport, say goodbye (hopefully not for 20 years).

12:30 pm: Arrive back at home just as my father-in-law, grandfather-in-law, and stepbrother-in-law pull up to house for a visit with Max.

2:30 pm: Collection of various in-laws departs, and Sarah and I take Max for a walk around the neighborhood.

3:00 pm: Sarah and I somehow are bamboozled into letting a Kirby vacuum salesman into our house and proceed to be subjected to 2-hour-plus sales presentation. Salesman is very nice guy and Kirby vacuum is impressive, but he doesn't seem to get message that hey, we have a newborn, and we're not about to drop two grand on a vacuum cleaner, no matter how much disgusting crap it pulls out of our rugs and furniture!

5:30 pm: Kirby salesman finally leaves, but not before Sarah's best friend and her husband arrive from Tahoe for their first visit with Max.

7:30 pm: Friends depart, and Sarah and I collapse in a heap on the bed, hoping for a good night's sleep after our 10-hour marathon.

Midnight: Max is in his third hour of being pretty cranky, and sleep is looking better all the time.

Sunday, 2:30 am-3:30: Middle-of-night feeding, with groggy Sarah nursing and groggy me changing diaper.

5:30 am: Early morning feeding. Sarah lets me sleep for reasons that are still unclear to me, and she handles everything. I wake up at 6:15, having miraculously slept through the whole thing.

11:45 am: Sarah and I get into tiff because I really want to go down to basement to watch football despite the fact that she has family members arriving shortly. Not surprisingly, I quickly lose this argument.

Noon: My mother-in-law, stepfather-in-law and sister-in-law arrive for visit with Max. Stepfather-in-law nearly breaks neck walking up stairs to house, and then proceeds to spend 84% of the visit talking about how he wants to leave by 2 pm to beat the holiday weekend traffic. To which mother-in-law says, eloquently, "shut up."

2:30 pm: Max's clear call to nurse gives my stepfather-in-law the escape hatch he needs, and this second group of in-laws departs. No one falls going down the stairs.

Soon to come: Intensive visits from my out-of-town family members. But first things first--tomorrow morning is Max's first pediatrician appointment. Here's hoping there's some decent sleep on the horizon tonight...