Put a Bib on It

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The Captain of Your Own Boat

BoatWe had a friend visit recently from Hawaii who is planning to sail around the world. We shared scouting and sailing stories for a while and as we sat he asked, “What it’s like being a dad?” Two things came to mind right away. First, I communicated that nothing else in my experience has been more rewarding, and being a parent has been such a blessing. Second, I shared the metaphor that being a dad was just like sailing and being the captain of your own boat. He nodded and knew exactly what I meant.

To be a good captain of a boat and to be able to sail around the world without many problems takes experience and practice. You prepare for the journey—not sure exactly how you will get there—but this is what you love and you know you can do it.

  • There are storms that you must face and long nights when you don’t get sleep. You need to budget all of your resources: sleep, money, time, and energy.
  • There are days that are easy when “the wind is strong” and you get a bunch of smiles and hugs. Some days have no wind and you’re stuck.
  • There are days when you feel like the work around the “boat” won’t ever be finished like the dishes or laundry.
  • You learn a lot about working together with the crew of a boat because they are your family. They might fight with you from time to time, but they are learning to really be independent and make their own decisions. Just like their captain has modeled and taught them.
  • The experiences will be so memorable that you could fill a hundred log books with memories.
  • Finally, the journey goes by so fast that you get to where you were going and he’s all grown up and ready to be captain of his own ship.

I don’t know what my parenting journey will bring as we move to the future, but I hope that I can be a good captain for my family. It was good to have a visitor come to our boat and remind me of what a blessing I have and the real responsibility that comes with being a dad. For now, I’m going to do my best to enjoy each day that I have with my crew.

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This Will Hurt Me More Than it Hurts You

dad and son2

My wife and I are blessed with our son. He generally sleeps well, eats well and is getting big and healthy. I enjoy his laughter and smiles as we play. We have begun to understand his “language”—and can usually figure out why he is fussy. He and I share conversations daily, and although I’m not sure we completely understand each other we both often have a smile on our face.

I feel like I am trying to model self-regulation and to learn how to be in control, but I’m not always the best model. Something that I don’t enjoy about fatherhood is watching my son get shots. I believe in the value and importance of getting vaccinated. I also remember that when I was about 7-years-old, I pushed away a nurse and ran from her because I wasn’t going to let her “hurt” me. So when it came time for my son to have his set of shots, I felt it was especially important to help him stay calm. This seemed easy since he had no idea what was going to happen. I soothingly told him that this will hurt a little and will be over quick. I told him that it will help him to stay healthy and that I love him very much.

The nurse instructed me to hold him down on the exam table. I looked down into his eyes and I felt like I had been prodded with a giant needle even though we hadn’t even started yet. I remember hearing the phrase, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” growing up as a child. The look in his eyes when I knew he felt pain did seem to hurt me more than him. He didn’t cry at first but I had visions of being age 7 again, and I wanted to grab him up and run. I could see the pain in his eyes and held him close. He cried a little and I held and hugged him.

This has been a difficult experience. Several times in his first 3 months, Morgan also had to get blood drawn (not just a few drops). This process of feeling pain as I looked into his eyes as I held my son has gotten easier (I still haven’t given in to the urge to grab him up and run, at least.). Even though he is an infant, I like to think that my effort to self-regulate has been a good model and this has been an early step to self-regulation for him. I look forward to the other situations that will connect us as he grows up.

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Be Prepared

Be Prepared

Welcome Archer Thomas, 4C for Children professional development specialist—and new dad—to our blog team!

“Be prepared,” that’s the motto of the Boy Scouts and something I learned that is extremely important in life. My wife and I had talked a lot about having children and we wanted to be prepared to be great parents for our child. I thought about how I might feel and react to when we had the little plus sign. That day came last year, and even though I thought I was prepared, I wasn’t. When my wife came out of the bathroom and tried to fool me her eyes told me that I was going to be a dad. I was so overwhelmed by the feeling that I couldn’t hold in emotion and cried my first tears of joy that I couldn’t hold back.

Then all the questions began. What do we do now? Which doctor should we choose? What foods can’t you eat? How do we tell our parents? On and on we had so many questions. We are rather independent learners so we wanted to research much of this on our own. It didn’t take us long to discover that there are about as many opinions on child rearing as there are stars in the sky. It took some filtering, but what we soon discovered was that we really just needed to be calm, be patient, and be prepared to make our own decisions because ultimately we are going to be the people that are going to care, love and teach this new little person.

Asking questions of people such as doctors, nurses, and like-minded parents helped calibrate the needle on our compass so that we could follow this map of parenthood. My wife and I had to make the decisions on which direction to go so that we could get to that happy place of the healthy birth of our first child. We got turned around and had to rethink our direction a few times.

My wife is petite, and as her belly got larger her appetite grew and what she wanted to eat seemed to change every few minutes. She shared her worry about her weight and I did my best to support her. I was prepared for her belly, I’m a big guy and was a little happy to have someone else around that had a belly—even knowing that it was our child inside preparing to come out. As we progressed with making decisions we decided to learn the gender. The little screen at the office showed us the first pictures of our little boy. We both were happy to see him that first time and knew that we had so much to do to be prepared for him.

As we routinely visited the doctor and the expected date came closer and closer, we discovered some complications. We were scared and worried when the doctor said he would have to arrive early. Did we do something to cause this? Instead of a month left to prepare, we had two weeks. So many things were happening, but none as important as the health of a little boy that we hadn’t yet met. We were on the phone with the doctor’s office almost every day or so and after what seemed to be one hundred changes we met at the doctor’s office prepared. We were prepared for anything. The doctor said, “We need you at the hospital tonight and will deliver the next day.” I had my short list of things to get and had my ”Super Dad” shirt ready. We were off to the hospital and had our team of family and friends prepared for helping where needed.

The moment our son was born, I thought that I was prepared, but had to hand him to his mom. I didn’t want to let him go and can’t really describe how I felt. I wasn’t prepared for this love and blessing. It has been so overwhelming and wonderful.


At a Loss for Words

preschooler makes dinnerI never realized how many times I would literally be at a loss for what to do as a parent. So often, Ev does something and I don’t know what to do or even say. For example, the other morning I was sitting at the table working on the grocery list for the week. Ev approached me and asked if he could make “soup” next to me. I didn’t see anything wrong with that so I said, “Sure.”

He proceeded to get a bowl and spoon out of the cupboard in the kitchen. Then he asked if he could get his “ingredients” for which I again, obliged. He started with salad dressings from the fridge: balsamic vinaigrette and thousand island. He continually brought more ingredients out, occasionally asking me for help to take off a lid or squeeze a bottle. He included caramel syrup and honey, two raw eggs and mustard to name a few. He remembered out loud that “grown-ups like salad” and went outside to pick some leaves to add to the “dinner” as he was now calling it. All this time, I was amused and even impressed with Ev’s concoction, not to mention I was able to work on my grocery list and other chores while he was busy. I did assume I was going to have to try it, which I was willing to do (and bracing for).

When Ev was finished, he asked to put the “dinner” in a casserole dish and bake it in the oven. Again, I allowed for it and told him the oven would have to pre-heat and it would take a long time and we should probably just be done. That’s when I realized the activity had snowballed into a territory I wasn’t prepared for. When I mentioned being done, he immediately looked disappointed. He said it was dinner and he wanted us all to eat it. He asked if I could put it in the microwave so it would cook faster. I said yes, put it in for three minutes, took it out and set it on the stove to cool, all the while wondering how I was going help Ev find closure on this without hurting his feelings.

The “dinner” sat out on the stove all day. He worked very hard on it and I could tell he was proud of himself. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him it was uneatable. I did not know what to do. In the end, I did what any self respecting mom would do—and let his dad handle it. My husband explained to Ev at bedtime that we couldn’t eat the “dinner” and it would probably be disposed of by the morning. And Ev seemingly handled it fine.

There is just no way to be fully prepared when you are a parent. In fact, sometimes I feel more out of control than in control. And there is always something causing me to wonder what the best parenting move is to make. I feel pretty confident that my husband and I are both decent parents, but it would be nice if Ev didn’t “keep us on our toes” all the time.

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Baby, I Choose You

How can you slow down with your babies when you have more than one child?I wanted to challenge myself to write only about Little Sister for a whole month, but it’s become inexplicably more difficult than it should be.

After all, I wrote about Miss E for more than a year before I knew we were having another baby, and I still think about some of the same things that plagued me during her infancy. Before Little Sister was born I knew it would be a challenge to see the small dynamic changes in a baby’s temperament with the distraction of an enormous toddler personality. And I knew that as my second, Little Sister would inevitably receive less attention than Miss E had at her age.

But these things aren’t really it, or at least, they aren’t the whole story.

People often say that having two children isn’t twice as hard as having one, but rather exponentially more difficult. The thing that has struck me the most is the absolute lack of downtime – with staggered naps, or no naps at all, lengthier bedtime routines, multiple childcare situations and what often feels like laundry enough to clothe a small army, there’s not a moment in the day to collect myself. Night feedings don’t even guarantee the break I’d gotten used to once Miss E began to sleep through the night, so I’m always on edge, always waiting to be wanted.

Strangely enough, the need to be constantly alert makes me feel even less present, which is perhaps why I feel so much less tuned in with Little Sister’s babyhood than I was with Miss E’s. I want to enjoy her, revel in all of her languorous moments reaching for toys on the floor or her merry wiggles in my lap, but it’s harder than ever to slow down, even though I know it’s the best thing for both of us.

Here are a few things I would like to remember about her, what I will endeavor to really appreciate as we enter the last few months of her infancy.

She rotates her hands and feet when she’s anxious or excited or just ready to go, go, go. I don’t know what it means but I am so interested in her need to just move. Despite the fact that she’s developing gross motor skills at around the same rate as her big sister did, Little Sister is a much more energetic baby. She needs an outlet. I can’t wait to see what it will be as she grows.

She’ll stop nursing, repeatedly, just to smile at me. It’s impossible not to smile back, even though it’s often when we’re in a rush, sneaking in that last feeding before I have to leave for work for the day.

She is incredibly strong-willed. Little Sister won’t take a bottle or a cup, and has gone as many as fourteen hours without milk as she’s caught on to the fact that I will eventually return. She also wants nothing to do with being spoon-fed, but give her an ear of roasted corn and she’ll go to town.

She loves her big sister. And I mean loves. Anytime I think about all of the things Little Sister doesn’t get that Miss E had in spades as a baby – baths where someone wasn’t chucking toys at her or biting her on the face, a nap schedule, my undivided attention, etc. – I make myself think of the look on Little Sister’s face anytime she and Miss E are happily playing. It’s truly special, and looking up to a sibling is something Miss E will never have.

She chews books, she unintentionally scoots under furniture to kick happily for minutes at a time, she is super ticklish. She is our baby. She doesn’t make me choose her over myself but I do because there’s even less room in my life now for being a mama one moment and all of the other things I want to be in the next. This is a far tougher and more meaningful distinction than it was when Miss E was a baby simply because of that fact. She deserves more but I do my best because she’s the best.


Look Ma, I’m a Real Parent

Becoming a real parent in the most unlikely places.In less than two months we’ll be celebrating my daughter’s second birthday. But just this past weekend, I had an experience that made me feel like a real parent, maybe for the very first time.

My husband and I took Miss E to a festival on a whim. We shared a giant lemonade and exceedingly overpriced gyros, trying in vain to interest her in the Greek dancers so we could watch one of my husband’s coworkers perform. He played one of the games where everyone’s a winner, and despite the fact that he actually won a larger prize (stuffed monstrosities, all), opted for a large rubber ball Miss E had her eye on.

No festival is complete, of course, without a safety-suspect carnival ride. There was only one at Miss E’s speed: a carousel with shiny cars and motorcycles blasting the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.” We paid three dollars for two tickets and buckled her into a teal and pink roadster.

At first she seemed dubious, hands on and off the wheel, looking up at the spinning awning and down again, unsure, as the other children secured rides of their own. When the carousel bucked to life, her little body flattened against the back of the seat, a mixture of shock and alarm plain on her face. Once, twice, three times around she just stared, not looking at us as we called her name. But by the fourth go-round she was radiant, beaming, her joy a light that rivaled the multicolored bulbs blinking on the car’s hood, the humid glare of the late afternoon sun.

When the music stopped and the cars ceased spinning, I circled around, unbuckling her and carrying her out the exit. She turned immediately in my arms, reaching over my shoulder to point, calling, “Car! Car!” Her tears started shortly after. Big, hiccupy, hysterical sobs. Being the worst mama ever, I tried not to laugh as I consoled her. Her daddy, being the best daddy ever, looked me right in the eye and said, “I can get her another ticket.”

The look on his face was almost as profound for me as the one I’d witnessed on hers as she’d motored around. My thrifty, sensible husband swiftly turned and made for the ticket booth, hurrying in hopes of securing an additional two tickets before the ride started up again. She cried the whole time and I patted her back while we waited, marveling at them both, at the uncanny situation I’d suddenly found myself in: parenthood.

This little moment, my husband’s expression, the memory of our daughter’s joy even as her cries sharpened, me holding her against a hip inflated with the weight of another baby, it took this one for me to see. You’d think I would’ve realized by now the things that you do for your child. And maybe I had, but sleepless nights nursing and spraying off soiled cloth diapers had nothing on this. I felt like a real parent. I could, for the first time, picture us as a family from the outside. I’d forgotten the carnivals of my childhood when my parents would give me a few dollars to fish a rubber duck from a baby pool or to slide down a perilous slide on a burlap sack. This is what parents do, when they can, when the cost is slight, when what seems silly at 30 is dead seriousness when you’re under three. Because of that look.

She rode the car again. The ride attendant even showed her how to honk the horn.

It was the best six dollars we’ve spent all year.



This Super Mom Needs a Super Dad

Parenting is hard work. How can we thank those who support us?I love my husband. We have been married for over three years and are raising two wonderful boys together. Sometimes, in moments of stress and anxiety, I say stuff to my husband like, “The floor needs vacuumed, the baby has a dirty diaper, the dogs need fed and apparently I am the only one who can do those things!” It’s not true, though. my husband is helpful – he just doesn’t always do what I think he should do, when I think he should do it.

With the new baby in the house I feel like these moments of weakness where I get angry with my husband occur more frequently than they have in the past. I don’t mean for it to happen and I always regret saying it, but it just seems like in the heat of the moment (or in the midst of a baby crying and living on four hours of sleep per night) terrible and hurtful words, accusations and statements fly out of my mouth.

Recently my husband had to go out of town for a week on business. I was left alone to care for two children, two dogs and two cats. Easy, right? Moms all across America do it every day. There are plenty of single women out there raising families without the support of another.  I was confident in my ability as a mother and wife that I would be able to handle it!

The first night was fine, great even. Homework was completed, family was fed, everyone was bathed and we even took the dogs on a walk! The rest of the week wasn’t quite so flawless. On Tuesday we all woke up late and were nearly late for school, too, and we didn’t get a chance to take the smelly trash to the curb for trash day. On Wednesday, the baby had peed through his diaper in the middle of the night resulting in a bath using wipes (with every intention to bathe him that evening), and one of the cats got sick on the carpet and of course , we had no carpet cleaner. On Thursday we had cereal for dinner and the baby had to sleep on a towel (I had forgotten that he had peed through his outfit the night before and soaked his sheets). Friday came and the only dishes I had washed all week were the breast pump parts that I use daily. The house had turned into one giant playroom. And the baby hadn’t had a bath since Monday. I felt like even the animals were looking at me like, “What’s going on around here?!”

That evening when my husband finally got home, I was ready for a long, hot bath and a glass of wine. I guess when he walked in the door he knew I had had a rough week because he immediately ordered us all a pizza and began putting our house back together. After getting the kids fed, bathed and to bed I got a little massage and got to take my much needed bath. I don’t take enough time during the week to show my husband how much I really do appreciate everything he does, in fact, sometimes I forget how helpful it is just to have another person there.  His time away taught me to really appreciate all the little things he does do to help. Being a super mom takes a super dad flying beside me!