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...