Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tie breaker

Last night was my company's Christmas party (one of the few companies in this economy to actually have a party), and I was the only one without a novelty holiday tie. It occurred to me that my sparse tie collection will probably drastically expand in the years to come, thanks to that festive occasion called Father's Day. I'll get a long, thin box, crudely wrapped, and will have to pretend that I don't know what it is, only to open it and be delightfully amazed at the tie shaped like a fish, or covered in leprechaun heads, or whatever.

Fortunately, the geniuses over at Think Geek have some pretty cool ties, such as the 8-Bit, Space Invaders, or, for big meetings and job interviews, the power tie.

The Wife will be stuck with the usual Mother's Day gift; breakfast in bed. If The Boy is in charge, she can expect to get burnt toast, soggy oatmeal, and spilled orange juice. On the bright side, I can buy her a titanium spork to make the meal more enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

pop goes the corn

It's interesting to note that babies don't think 0f items just as items, but as part of an event. To them, everything has a purpose or history. Adults are similar--- you may remember fondly the day you purchased your coffee table, but for kids it's an integral part of that coffee table's existence.

Popcorn for The Boy, for example, isn't just something good to eat. It's also something popped in the air popper, which is loud and is kept on a very high shelf and the popcorn is usually only eaten when Mama isn't around so she doesn't see how much we make or how quickly we scarf it down.

We'll spend a good five minutes every time we come up from the basement talking about the light switch, which The Boy is allowed to turn off, unlike the switch above it which only Daddy can touch and controls the furnace, which is downstairs and is hot and loud and doesn't contain water but air and blows it all over the house. I've taken to avoiding going down there when my child is around, preferring to let The Cat starve until I get a chance to sneak down on my own to avoid the long series of gestures and monosyllabic words just to scoop food into her damn bowl.

Pie are square

A few months ago, The Boy called anything sweet "cookah."

But then we read a gripping tale about a Monster of Cookies who, having run out of cookies, decides to bake more. Just when you think the story over, they throw you for a loop by revealing that the hero of the book bakes a pie as well!

For some reason, The Boy decided that this "pie" phenomenon was fascinating. I believe shortly after reading this book he had some pie, or maybe even a cake that resembled a pie, and decided that this was his new favorite word. So now everything sweet is called pie. Not a big deal, but he even calls cookies pie now. He refuses to utter the previous word, perhaps believing that he has grown beyond such childish treats. He's a man of the world now, and demands the finest of desserts. But it's still annoying when you hold up a cookie and hear him squeal, "PIE!"

Friday, December 12, 2008


I'm pretty sure I know how toddlers develop their language skills. At some point the parents give up trying to interpret each and every monosyllabic utterance and vague gesture and just shrug. The child, finally realizing that the cushy lifestyle is over, decides it's time to actually put two words together. I've gone from having a near telepathic link with my son to just looking at him blankly, and he's learned that if he wants to play with his Legos he'd better damn well learn how to say the word "Lego." (Not that he's learned to say it yet, but he's on his way.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don't drink the water

A few months ago The Wife had a test done and found a long list of foods that she's sensitive/allergic to. Combine that with constant monitoring of what The Boy puts in his stomach and it's forced me to pay more attention to what affects me.

Self diagnosis doesn't come easy to anyone, but I suspect I'm more obtuse than others. It took me almost three decades to finally deal with my frequent stomach cramps (turns out I'm lactose intolerant) and it wasn't until recently that I admitted to having hay fever and am now enjoying clear sinuses via a daily Claritin. My latest revelation is the fact that not everyone's throat feels funny after eating a banana. It turns out that I have oral allergy syndrome, which is common in people with hay fever. It basically means that I need to give up some of my favorite fruits, which is God's way of foiling my half-hearted attempts at eating anything healthy.

What gets me, though, is how strong the symptoms are now that I'm aware of them. I've eaten bananas all my life and it never bothered me. Now I can't look at a fruit smoothie without feeling my throat constrict. At this rate I'll end up eating lentil soup and oatmeal every day, terrified of accidentally brushing up against an apple in case it causes instant organ failure.

Let's talk vomit!

The Bubonic Plague just swept through my household (or maybe it was just a stomach virus) and we're finally all over it.

The hardest hit was The Boy, who would empty his stomach once or twice a day for about a week. It got to the point where we almost brought him to the doctor for some of that voodoo stuff you Earth people call "medicine," but he finally turned around and is back to being his normal evil self. I think the main reason it took him so long was because he refused to convalesce, preferring to run around and eat hamburgers right up to the point where he'd vomit into his shoes.

Feeling crappy is nature's way of telling you to relax for a while and let your body worry about invaders. But how do you explain to a two year old that he should rest and starve for a day? Hell, I was well into my thirties before I actually took that advice to heart. Fortunately, humans are durable enough to survive most stupidity when they're young, and for the extreme cases there are the Darwin Awards.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A person, place, or thing

The Boy, in a burst of logic, has come to the conclusion that his name must be "You." He'll point to himself and say "You, You" when he wants something. (Actually, it sounds more like "noo," not to be confused with "foo" for food, "Moo" for his grandmother, and "poo" for... poo.

It's interesting because it makes me wonder when he'll grasp the concept of pronouns. He's seen people refer to others as "you" from time to time, so when does his brain click and he thinks, "oh, that word doesn't just refer to me. I shall wet my diaper in celebration!"

Currently he's more inclined to use what words he has for a spectrum of related subjects. All men seem to be "dada" and all women seem to be "mama," for example. Most treats seem to be "cookah" and, thanks to the neighborhood kids goofing off one day, all children are now monkeys.

Pirate vs. Ninja... postponed

Well, we never did go trick-or-treating this year. It was a combination of laziness and missing the allocated hours.

Back in my day we went out in the pitch blackness and ran around town, heedless of cars or crazy people. Out in the country we also ran the risk of hungry bears, but that didn't stop my parents from dressing me up as a beehive and soaking me in honey every year. Heck, sometimes they didn't even wait for October, that's how much they loved Halloween.

Anyway, we dodged a bullet with the whole candy issue this time around. My boss just grabs handfuls from his kids' bags when they're not looking, confident that they won't notice, but that wouldn't work with The Boy. He's got a photographic memory when it comes to treats, and at any time knows exactly where every snack is in the house. Hopefully this talent will eventually cross over to more useful knowledge, like names and dates and Weird Al song lyrics, but until then we just have to do a better job at hiding the Oreos.

Friday, October 24, 2008

All Hallow's Eve

Halloween is a big issue for parents trying to keep their kids on a health diet. I don't want to deprive my child of the joys of trick-or-treating, even if he's still too young to grasp subtle nuances of when it's appropriate to toilet paper someone's house, but the last thing I want a two year old to have is a bag full of processed sugar.

I've heard other parents talk about doling it out slowly over weeks, or trading them somewhat better snacks for their candy bars, or even just giving it all away to charities, but none of those options sounded appealing. I gave it some thought and came upon the perfect solution.

One of the biggest debates of our generation is who is cooler, pirates or ninjas. Now obviously, ninjas are far superior but how to convince my heir that the life of a pirate is not for him? So, while we're trick-or-treating, I'm going to hire someone to dress as a pirate and leap out of the bushes every time a homeowner starts to hand The Boy a piece of candy. He'll yell, "Ar, I be takin' that booty!" Then he'll snatch the snack and dash off. I'll shake my head sadly, console my crying and hysterical toddler, and say "you wouldn't catch a ninja doing something like that." We'll go home where someone dressed as a ninja will appear out of a puff of smoke and give him a bag of raisins and rice cakes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ninja baby

One of the changes in The Boy's behavior, now that he's grasped the concept of good and bad, is how quiet he'll get when he's up to no good. You don't realize it at the time, but for a couple of years you become accustomed to the various stumbles, bumps, and babblings that emanate from your offspring.

But then they see a chair that would allow them to climb unto the kitchen table where Mom's purse is just lying around waiting for anybody to open and scatter the contents throughout the house and suddenly you hear all sounds stop. He is actually able to absorb sound waves nearby, like an audio event horizon, and that's when your instincts kick in and you go running to him faster than you ever did for the sounds of crashing or crying.

It's a wonderful system, and one I've used to my benefit from time to time. If you hear the absence of activity you can creep over to see what he's up to, and if it's harmless you know that he'll be focused on his sinister activity for a few minutes and you have time to sneak over to the kitchen to eat the last rice crispy treat.

Me, myself and I

Recently The Boy pointed to something and then pointed to himself, indicating that he wanted me to give it to him. I didn't think much of it at the time, but later it occurred to me that this was the first time he's actually referred to himself. Up to this moment he's just pointed at things and expected us to know that he wanted it. Now he tries to make it plain that it's for him, or he's talking about himself.

I think it's a significant milestone for a toddler, realizing that not everything revolves around him 100% of the time and there are events that have nothing to do with him. (At most only 90% of the world revolves around him.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What goes up...

It's been interesting to observe The Boy's coordination over the years. Interestingly enough, fine motor skills came pretty quickly, to the point where I'm sure he could start cracking safes if The Wife would let me get some lock picks. (Stupid choking hazards interfering with me being a criminal mastermind.)

What's tricky for him are the bigger muscles. Walking took a while, and now the challenge is throwing things. It took him a long time just to grasp the concept, since it involves letting go of something, but even after that hurdle there's no way to determine where something will go flying to when it leaves his hand. It's made for some interesting (and painful) games of catch.

His latest thing is throwing something up in the air. He's gotten quite good at it, hitting his own head with an 80% success rating. It's funny when it's small stuff, like crayons or Legos, but every now and then he'll throw something with some heft to it and then it's no longer amusing... at least for him.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An almost perfect moment

There are times when The Boy is a perfect angel. We'll get along great for hours, bonding over Lego blocks or playing on the bed. He's full of laughter and smiles and loves everything I say and do.

At some point he'll pause, come up to me, and stick out his arms. I'll reach down and pick him up and he'll wrap his little arms around my neck to give me an affectionate hug. I'll hug him back, squeezing him gently and feeling his little body next to mine. Then he'll lean in, as if to give me a kiss on the cheek, and softly whisper into my ear, "cookah."

There are times I rue the day that cookies were ever created.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The N-word

"No," that is.

For most kids it's the first word they say, and they're quick to wear it into the ground. My child, on the other hand, learned how to say "yeah" pretty quickly. It's pretty darn cute but not as nice as you might think. Instead of saying "no" to doing something he doesn't want to do, he instead says "yeah" just before enthusiastically throwing a plate of food on the floor or charging into traffic. It also doesn't help in communication, either, since a typical conversation will go like this:

The Boy: Owe!
Me: What's owe? Your tummy?
The Boy: Yeah
Me: Your head?
The Boy: Yeah
Me: Your butt?
The Boy: Yeah
Me: Your spleen?
The Boy: Yeah
Me: Liar!

It's a dog's life

A good way to annoy a parent is to listen to their amusing story about what their adorable child did yesterday and then reply, "Yeah, my dog does that too. It's pretty cute."

I thought once I joined the ranks of the spawning I too would become offended when someone compared my progeny to creatures that drool and roll around in dirt, but... there really is very little difference. In fact, probably the biggest difference is that dogs are much easier to train.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

gift of gab

When The Wife was pregnant she joined an online forum for mothers-to-be who were expecting around the same time. Two years later these women are still typing away a storm, despite the pressures of parenting as well as losing their original forum.

It occurred to me that men couldn't do that. Parenting is too loose and subjective. For men to communicate the little they do requires an understanding of the rules and how to follow/exploit them. All the topics men like to talk about, like sports, engine repair, or grilling a steak, can be reduced to a few simple rules and allow discussion of a subset of the universe. My own less-than-macho man hobbies, like computer and roleplaying games, are perfect examples of this. And these kinds of forums are filled with guys who will never shut up.

So to make a dad forum work, somebody needs to break down a baby into it's basic components (I mean metaphorically, you sick monkeys). A typical conversation could go something like this:

RoboDad: So, how's the new baby?

BroodFather: Eh, not bad. He's got a banana chassis and good cuteness rankings, but his colic rating is 3.7. My sleep quotient is pretty low.

RoboDad: Bummer, man. I hear dancing to the Bee Gees can lower the cry volume by 4.

BroodFather: ROFL

Saturday, September 20, 2008

To the moon, Alice!

With The Boy hitting the terrible twos it's pretty obvious where that phrase comes from. He's old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, and will choose the dark side every time.

As an enlightened hippie dad I'm doing my best to do that "gentle discipline" crap, but it's hard. It's especially hard when the little punk looks at me and grins just before he does something that he knows will bug the heck out of me.

But so far I've been good. I figure the more physical I get with him, even if it's just grabbing and restraining him, will make him feel bullied and powerless and make him act out more. So I usually:

a) Talk to him calmly and explain as best I can why he shouldn't do something. "Don't touch the stove. It's hot and you'll get an ow."

b) Suggest an alternative activity. "Can you play with your blocks instead?"

c) Let him participate in a chore. He loves helping out, even if he's not that effective. "Can you carry this leaf over to the trash?"

d) Blatantly lie. "I think Momma has cookies."

So far it's worked pretty well. I still yell at him from time to time, or pull him away and prepare for a tantrum, but those are rare.

Usually I stay calm and mentally calculate at what age we'll be evenly matched physically and I can legitimately beat on him in a fair fight. I'm a big guy but it looks like he's going to be burly as well, so I'm thinking when I'm 54 and he's 18 I'll make him put on boxing gloves and we'll go toe-to-toe. If he's freakishly large or I feel past my prime I may jump him a year or two early.

Regardless of when, all the while I'll be shouting things like, "Stay away from the stove!" and "Why did you eat so many pebbles?! Why?!"

Monday, September 8, 2008

Birthday Bash

Well, The Boy just turned two last week so we had an extravaganza. He's big into Sesame Street lately so we had a Cookie Monster theme for the party, which seemed a good idea until it was 9:00 at night and he was rolling around with an upset stomach shouting, "Cookah! Cookah!"

Speaking of Sesame Street, those guys can sure make some music. Simon doesn't watch a heck of a lot of TV, and probably doesn't really know the characters that well, but we put on their CD in the car and he's happy as a clam. I'd love to know why. Is it the simplicity? The clear vocals? I mean, a lot of my favorite music sounds like it was written by grade school kids as well (not that there's anything wrong with They Might Be Giants, but you gotta admit...) but for some reason he's only happy with those darn muppets.

I guess there's added value for him watching his parents rock out to "C is for Cookie" and "Rubber Ducky," but there's a limit to how entertained he can be by our goofiness.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pedal power

With the warm weather The Boy and I have been going on more bike rides, so I thought I should endorse the iBert safe-T-seat.

This is a child seat that actually attaches to the front of your bike, on the handlebars. It's a bit wacky, I know, but it's actually pretty cool. The child is right up there with you, he gets a better view, and it's actually easier to control because the extra weight is between your arms and not fishtailing behind you. Plus you get a lot of looks when you ride by.

It was a bit awkward at first trying to pedal, but I quickly learned to angle my knees outward a bit more and now I can bike along no problem. The only disadvantage is when The Boy and I wrestle for control of the brakes, but usually I win.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Secret shame

All men have a terrible secret, and it's eating at me inside so much I can't live with the lie anymore.

Most of us, myself included, can't grill a hamburger.

Oh, we make a big show of it. We'll get the coals going or light up the propane. We'll mix up some patties and throw them down on the grill. But then we start to flounder. Are the flames too high? Not high enough? When do I flip? Dang, I should have put the chicken on first to give it more time to cook! What about the buns? Do I toast them on the top rack or will it make them dry?

It's not funny. Really. There are some things men are expected to know, like sports and engine repair, that we don't actually get any training for. I don't like sports and the only thing I know about engines is that 80% of the time it's a problem with the regulator, whatever the heck that means, but you'd think I could master something as simple as heating ground beef. But when you only do it a few times a year, and it's a do-or-starve situation, there's no time to learn. So your friends and family end up eating burnt hockey pucks, which is fine because anything tastes good with ketchup, and you can't help but wonder how sincere they are with their praise.

I blame high school for not broadening our education. The boys in shop class and the girls in home ec should have swapped rooms for a day. The boys could learn how to cook a decent burger and the girls could learn how to jump start a dead car battery.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

School of Hard Knocks

One of the biggest differences between men and women is how they deal with a child in danger. If the toddler climbs up on a chair the woman's first instinct is to rush over and get him down. The man's first thoughts are, "Hm, the carpeting is pretty thick in this room. If he falls down he probably won't get seriously injured, so maybe I'll just let him learn the hard way. Oops, The Wife is coming. Better pretend I only just noticed the kid dangling from one leg and rush over to help him."

My current lesson in adversity is the baby swing at the local park. It's low enough for The Boy to push away, and half the time it swings back hard enough to smack him in the face. The Wife would probably drag him away but my attitude is that the swing is light enough so it won't break his nose and this way he learns how to duck as well as Newton's laws of motion. He'll thank me one day when he gets his doctorate in physics. Or becomes a prizefighter.

Time flies

Sheesh, I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), not much is happening with The Boy. He's a bit bigger, he's got "cooka" down pat, and we've taken to going to the local park after dinner each night. It means a later bedtime but that allows him and The Wife to sleep in a bit later in the morning. It's recommended by many people for us working dads.

And that's something I should bring up. After a year and a half of being a quasi house-dad I had to suck it up and get a real job. Unfortunately this means much less time with The Boy and that's a sad thing. One of my biggest regrets is losing out on his firsts, like the first time he masters a new word or the first time he learns how to hug.

But then it occurred to me that those things catch you by surprise anyway. Even when I was watching him all day I'd still be amazed when he did something for the first time, like walking or saying something. You still think, "Holy cow, just yesterday he was crawling around on all fours and now he's tap-dancing on the coffee table!"

So I still do regret the lost time, but we spend plenty of hours together during the week and there will be plenty of firsts that I'll get to see. And this way we can afford luxuries like food and rent.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Boot Camp

I recently discovered an organization called Boot Camp for New Dads. It's a three hour class that introduces men to the joys of fatherhood and how to take care of a baby in their own way. They have classes all around the country and sounds like it's well worth the twenty-five bucks.

I can't vouch for the organization personally, but the principle I endorse. I've complained before about the lack of support for dads, and we men are wired differently than women so trying to imitate the mom is just going to lead to frustration. The best part of the class, though, is just giving men confidence. Ninety percent of good parenting is following your instincts, so the best thing for a dad-to-be is watching other fathers in action and realizing that it ain't rocket science.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mama on the brain

It's one thing to refer to your wife as "Mama" when around the kid, but you know it's bad when you start using the word to refer to her in your own head. Or even worse, to other people.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ninja Dad

We've moved into a new place, one with actual storage space and a significant lack of cigarette stench. But the best thing about it is the absence of squeaking floors. In the old place, you couldn't even think about going upstairs without the boards squeaking like you were tap-dancing on mice.

In the new place, though, it's deathly silent. The first night there, sneaking upstairs without waking up The Boy or The Wife, was a snap. I ghosted though the rooms like a Ninja Dad, which is far fetched because we all know how hard it is for ninjas to procreate.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

The other day we were at a restaurant and Kristin left the table for a moment. When we saw her coming back I said, "here comes Mama" and Simon actually responded with "Mama."

Now, Simon's been saying "mama" and "dada" for over a year now, but they've really just been random noises that he's figured out how to produce. This was the first time he's actually said something on command, so I leaned forward and said, "now say Dada." He replied with "Dada."

Fearing it was just a fluke, I repeated the requests for Mama and Dada a few more times and he repeated them on cue. By the time Kristin sat back down at the table my face was three inches from Simon's and we were having a very involved discussion consisting of only two words.

I experimented with a few more words that I know he's familiar with but there's not much success yet. Kitty comes out as "tee" and doggy, lamp, and truck get the default response of "da." Other words, like "isosceles," get a blank look, almost as if he doesn't understand.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


There are moments in your life when you realize with horror that you are growing up. For me, the first time was when I was a teenager and had an actual adult conversation with my mother. Another time was when I was happy to get socks for Christmas.

We recently moved to a new place, and usually for me the computer is the last thing to pack and the first thing to reassemble. This time, however, the poor computer had to wait in line behind the kitchen so I could make Simon oatmeal and yams, the washer and dryer so I could wash dirty diapers, and his toys so he could have something to play with. It's three days later and I'm finally getting around to plugging the computer in, after a full day of work, cleaning, and unpacking.

To make matters worse, instead of playing some World of Warcraft I'm wasting time writing a fathering blog!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Viva Las Vegas!

Vegas is all about food, shows, and hocking your wife's earrings for one more shot at the blackjack table. (Double down, baby!) Unfortunately, unless you can waste a thousand bucks on cab fare you're going to be doing a lot of walking.

Spending a few days traveling made me appreciate baby carriers all the more. While the other parents were wrestling with their strollers to get in and out of doorways, deal with escalators, or maneuver through crowds, Simon and I would just walk around free as you please. For quick trips we'd use the sling, for longer walks we'd use the mei tai, and both of these easily fit into our suitcase so we didn't have to worry about a stroller getting lost or damaged. Not to mention the fact that Simon was nice and high and got to see plenty of action (he's a big fan of trucks and buses nowadays) whereas all those poor kids in strollers just looked bored. I'm betting there'd be big business in Las Vegas (or any tourist town) for parents fed up with wheeling their child around.

Plus you're less likely to hock a sling for one more shot at the blackjack table.

A good idea down the toilet

Recently the little woman and I had to travel to Las Vegas for a few days. If it was a shorter trip or we had easy access to a washing machine we'd bring the cloth diapers along, but instead we thought we'd give gDiapers a try since we're supposed to be diaper experts and have never used them.

Now the theory is good; Make a diaper that is more convenient than cloth but not as environmentally unfriendly as disposables. There's a cover holding in an absorbent pad that dissolves in water. You rip the pad in half, dump it in the toilet, swish it around a bit to break it up, then flush.

Unfortunately it's somewhat lacking in execution, especially when bowel movements are involved. The flushable pad can't keep in the mess, so the covers get pretty gross. The pads also don't dissolve very quickly so you're stuck stirring a toilet full of poop forever. In theory you can simply throw the pad in the trash but there's no good way to bundle up the pad so, again, you're in trouble if the pad is particularly messy. I was only mildly annoyed with the system while we were in our hotel room, but dealing with a diaper change in the airport restroom was a nightmare.

Halfway through our stay I ran out and bought some disposables. Not my proudest moment, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Peer Pressure

One thing I'm finding harder and harder is to not compare Simon to other kids his own age. It seems like little punks two months younger than he is are reciting ballads and dancing on Broadway while my kid is still stuffing things up his nose and sitting in his own feces. I have to remind myself that these kinds of deadlines are completely arbitrary, and learning something early in life doesn't necessarily mean you're better at it.

The biggest concern for me right now is language development. Most kids Simon's age have a few words down but Simon shows no interest. He can say "mama" and "dada" but I think it's mostly at random. What kills me, though, is that he obviously is really good at understanding what you're saying. You can say "laundry" and he'll run over to the laundry room, or "upstairs" and he'll go to the stairs, or "punching bag" and he'll go over to the cat, but he shows no interest in trying to vocalize those sounds himself.

I've noticed in him an indifference in mimicking other people, which is unusual for a baby. He rarely makes noises when I do, and the only hand sign I've been able to teach him effectively is the one for a snack called Veggie Booty. (It shows a pirate on the bag, so I taught him to cover one eye with his hand like an eye patch.)

Anyway, I know I shouldn't be concerned. He's developing fine, and any skill that he was a bit behind in he mastered in record time when he finally figured it out. Plus there are plenty of kids I've seen who aren't as advanced as him, so at least he can feel superior to those losers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Potty mouth

Speaking of food, the adventures of potty training are such a joy.

When a baby starts eating solids he gets very constipated for a week or two. (All the more reason to start with high fiber fruits like pears.) This means he probably won't want to do bowel movements in his diaper so this is an excellent opportunity to try out some early potty training. If you can time it right you can drop the diaper and get him to a potty in time, and this'll encourage him to keep at it.

I tried that with Simon and had pretty good success. Instead of a small potty I put him on the toilet, thinking I could skip a step and make him act like a Big Boy. Unfortunately, when winter came the bathroom got pretty darn cold and he decided he'd had enough of sitting on a freezing piece of porcelain. So now we're back to stinky diapers, and every time I stick him on a shiny new plastic potty it remains woefully shiny.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Simon's Paradox

Here's a derivation of Zeno's Paradox:

If Simon is given a piece of toast, he will break it into two equal pieces and drop one piece. The remaining piece will then be broken into two pieces and the cycle will continue. Logic dictates that Simon will never run out of toast, since he always holds onto a piece of it.

Zeno used these paradoxes to show that motion is nothing more than an illusion, using logical steps to demonstrate the impossible. Simon's Paradox is easy to refute, since observation will show that not only will Simon eventually run out of toast, but that he will then hide most of the discarded pieces under the couch.

Friday, March 21, 2008

mesh feed me, seymour!

Speaking of starting on solids, I don't do too many product endorsements but one item I swear by is the Baby Safe Feeder. Simon couldn't quite grasp the whole "let spoon get in mouth" thing at first but he loved chewing on the feeder after I stuffed it with mashed-up fruit. The site is pretty ugly, and the guy is a little too emphatic about how your child is doomed if you don't use a feeder, but the product is great.

Food: The secret killer!

We got lax with the whole food allergy thing with Simon, so now we're clueless when he gets stuffy or has stomach issues. The whole food allergy thing can become a real pain in the butt, so if you're about to start your baby on solids it's best to do it right.

First, start with the least allergenic foods, like avocado (good for fats) and pears (good for fiber). Dr. Sears has a good list of most and least allergenic foods out there, which you can follow if you like. I'd also suggest giving your child the new food early in the day so if there is a serious reaction you can reach your pediatrician easily. Also, people recommend eating the food for four days to get a good idea of the reaction.

You can find all these suggestions online easily enough. What I strongly recommend, though, is putting thought into the order you introduce new foods. It's one thing when you're just starting out and giving him plain fruit or oatmeal, but once he's snacking on crackers and mooching off your plate in the restaurant there's no freaking way to be 100% sure why he's suddenly vomiting on your lap. Just looking at the ingredients in my wife's Triscuits reveals seven potential culprits, and that's not even including the enigmatic "spices" they have listed.

So do dairy early on, because Americans can't prepare anything without putting butter or cream in it. Start with butter, then milk, then some cheese. Another common ingredient is gluten, so carefully give that a try. Wheat is the next thing to test, plus eggs (do white and yolk separately). And don't even think of getting Chinese for dinner until you test for soy and MSG.

Again, there's no need to cram all this stuff down your child's throat right away. If you want to keep his meals simple for a while that's great, but if you're like me and give in to his demands to share your omelet and home fries you'd better know what you're getting into.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

He can't be old, he's my age!

One of the interesting things about online comics is a lot of them are done by people my own age. Not only do they have similar tastes, but they've also started spawning babies around the same time I did and that sometimes sneaks into their comics. The Penny Arcade guys both have kids and they often give anecdotes in their podcast. Plus Sluggy Freelance recently did a funny crossover spoof between a popular children's book and a popular sci-fi show. If I had more artistic ability I'd dump this blog and do a fatherhood/World of Warcraft/D&D comic instead.

Soylent green is Mattel!

One great regret is the fact that kids don't immediately get sick of a toy, they just play with it less and less until it's years later and your wife digs it out of a pile and gives it to a friend's new bundle of joy.

I'd rather it be a big ceremony. I want Simon to come up to me with, for example, his Animal Merry-Go-Round and inform me that he has outgrown it. I then accept the toy with a bow, take it out to the back yard, and smash it repeatedly with a sledgehammer while listening to its annoying "animals, animals, round and round we go!" turn into an electric scream before being silenced forever. I would probably add to the ceremony by shouting something like, "Shut up! Shut the hell up! I'm never going to hear your stupid number song ever again!"

Then, I respectfully dispose of the remains in the trash bin and carry it out to the curb.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A dark day for gamers

My grandfather was a rare but larger than life presence in my world. Tall, thin and tough as nails, he was the quintessential New Englander; getting up with the sun to milk the cows or go deer hunting before spending the day haying and cutting wood. He was gruff, vocal on many subjects, and chewed tobacco. He was a voracious reader, too, with a large library of history and reference books. Since I was a quiet, nerdy homebody who usually hated our visits to the farm, you can imagine we didn't have a lot in common. When he died the thing I regretted most was not getting to know him better when I had the chance.

Gary Gygax died today.

While not a blood relative, he reminds me of my grandfather because he co-created Dungeons and Dragons and is considered the father of the role-playing game. Mention his name to some people and they'll get a far-away look in their eyes, remembering all the times their half-elf warrior opened a door to find 20 orcs in a 10'x10' room. His presence is felt in every game out there, and I can't imagine how my favorite hobby would look today if it wasn't for him.

I do have to confess, though, that for me it's not as great a blow as it should be. Living out in the sticks I never really played D&D as a kid. My first real experience with gaming was Gamma World in college, then Call of Cthulhu. I didn't really play D&D until third edition, well after Mr. Gygax had lost the reigns. But he was a giant in the field, and I'll feel sorrow for his passing as well as regret for not knowing him better.

Friday, February 29, 2008

misery loves company

One of my best discoveries lately is DadLabs. It's a bunch of fathers who put together "informative" videos about being a dad. It's pretty low budget and the humor can sometimes fall flat, but on the whole it's a very enjoyable thing to watch. You can't find many parenting guides that call kids "evil little badger children" or hold interviews in bars.

My two complaints are: first, their main advertiser is BabyBjorn and I'm not a big fan of their baby carriers. Second, their website is poorly laid out. There doesn't seem to be an easy way to watch old episodes and sometimes you can get two movies on one page, both automatically playing. Shame! Fortunately a lot of their clips are also available on youtube and are much easier to navigate.

double whammy

Two big boosts for the anti-vaccination crowd lately.

The first is the news that the government has conceded a vaccine-autism case in the Court of Federal Claims. An 18 month old girl went in for her shots and quickly came down with diseases and setbacks that resulted in symptoms of autism. Turns out, though, it wasn't autism but a mitochondrial disorder that acts exactly like autism. It also seems to be around 10% to 20% of the 4,900 vaccine-autism cases currently in court. Now that precedence has been set, most of those will probably be winners and that's going to mean big bucks doled out in compensation. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has already paid out $1.5 billion to those who agreed not to sue the government for saving their children from the ravages of disease at the cost of... injury or death, I wonder if these new cases will be paid out of the $2.1 billion they've still got in their piggy bank.

In a way this might be good news, though. If it's possible, either now or in the future, to detect this
latent mitochondrial disorder before vaccinations then that could save a lot of families quite a bit of heartache.

The second interesting tidbit is an independent study showing a significantly higher percentage of autism in vaccinated kids. What amazes me most, though, is the fact that this is the first study relating to this question that's ever been done. How is this possible? I mean, when I first heard of the possibility that vaccinations can cause autism my first question was, "Can you back it up with numbers? What are the percentages?" And these people spent a mere $200,000 to get those numbers, using a phone survey very similar to the one used by their arch nemesis, the Centers for Disease Control itself.

This survey isn't perfect, though, and doesn't really point a finger at vaccinations specifically. Rather, it indicates families who vaccinate are more likely to have autistic children. There are plenty of other environment factors that could contribute. Does the child eat more preservatives? Does he watch more television? Does he live in a high pollution neighborhood? Was he bottle fed as an infant?

A fully comprehensive survey could help point scientists in the right direction in determining the cause of autism, whatever it might be.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Memory is the first thing to go

We went to visit my brother and his family recently, and at one point he expressed his amazement at how much work it took to keep Simon out of trouble. I gave him a funny look and mentioned that with two kids of his own he went through the same thing more than once, but he just shrugged and said most of that time is just a blur to him now.

That does seem to be a survival mechanism in our species. If we truly remembered how big a pain kids can be then I doubt anybody would have more than one. Instead, after a couple of years our brains start telling us that babies are great and having another one would be really cool. My theory is that the body gets used to the stress and sleep deprivation. Once your child is old enough to be less maintenance and you finally get a full night's sleep the brain, which has been subsisting solely on endorphins up to this point, gets euphoric and starts equating babies with feeling good.

So there's a chance that in a year or two my wife will turn to me and say, "We should have another baby, now that Simon is so easy." Fortunately I've conditioned myself to react to this by bursting into tears, running out the door, and driving to Mexico.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Force is strong in this one

The other day Simon was rummaging around my nightstand and pulled out a flashlight. He held it up in both hands and made a very impressive imitation of a lightsaber, despite never having seen a Star Wars movie.

Now I'm not saying that he's destined to become a jedi, I'm just saying that if he does, then I hope it pays well. I'm actually somewhat against it, since it doesn't seem to be a good career for a family man and I expect lots of grandkids.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A shot in the arm

My wife recently showed me an anti-vaccination ad. It's pretty bold, with visuals making a strong link between vaccinations and autism even though they admit there's currently no evidence proving such a thing. My wife thought the ad was great, claiming that if pro-vaccination groups can use unproven emotional statements like, "outbreaks still occur each year because some babies are not immunized" then we can fight fire with fire.

To me, this is just adding fuel to the fire. We don't know what causes autism, and even though pumping toxins into an infant's bloodstream may be a pretty likely contributor we shouldn't go making false accusations. Instead, how about doing something crazy like demanding that vaccinations be put through the same kind of rigorous tests that any other medicine goes through? How about both sides agree on some case studies and put money into doing them right? Call me crazy, but I'd love to get a few more actual facts.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Do the locomotion

Whoever said that you need to learn how to crawl before you learn how to walk has never seen a baby. This is the actual progression:

1. Slacker Months - He isn't much for moving on his own, but that's okay because these suckers do all the work for him. He wants a toy? It's there! Milk? Bam, a boob is in his face! Sure, he misses out on some of the good stuff but there's time for that later.

2. Teleportation - You suspect that he can crawl, but if he sees you watching then it's easier for him to just cry until you pick him up. If there's something nearby that he knows you don't want him to have, though, you'll turn around to see that your inert child has magically gotten three feet closer to your antique knife collection. He will then look up at you and cry, pretending all he wants is a teething ring.

3. Crawling - Once you catch him in the act a few times he'll finally admit to crawling and then there's no stopping him. Time to put up the baby gates and apologize to the pets in advance for the years of abuse they are about to receive.

4. Cruising - This is the term for when a baby can stand with help but has to lunge from object to object in order to move, and it's really funny to watch. The several seconds of psyching up, followed by the look of horror when he's in mid-lunge, and finally the relief and joy when he gets to his destination in one piece is well worth recording.

5. Running - Technically, the way the moon orbits the Earth is by traveling forward at the same rate as it descends, so its speed ensures that it continually avoids crashing down. This is the same for babies once they let go of their props. Leaning forward with a frantic moving of the legs is the only way they can stay upright as well as moving forward.

6. Walking - It's not until they can master the run do babies get the whole 'walking' thing under control. For girls this happens fairly quickly, for boys it's around age 14.

Clothes make the baby

Baby clothing is the bane of my existence. Everything is either too big, too small, or too ugly.

It was easy for the first year or so when we didn't socialize, especially during the warm weather when he could just hang out in a onesie. We'd go visit other parents and their kid would be in a tuxedo but ours would have a barrel with suspenders. Unfortunately, now that he's out and about more often it's getting hard to stay on top of what fits and how it looks, and though I know nothing about fashion I am able to predict how much my wife will complain about whatever outfit I cobble together each day.

The exception to this rule is that one piece of clothing that always seems to fit, probably made from unstable molecules. You put it on him when he's four months and it fits fine, then a year later you put it on him again and realize that he's doubled in size but this thing still covers his Buddha belly.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Nighttime reading

The odds are good that you'll be up all night with a sick child at some point, so you'd better decide on some way to pass that time now. If you're like me, then you've got a video game or three that you wouldn't mind spending countless hours playing but even the most exciting of these will start to blur at around three in the morning.

So I suggest online comic strips. They're a favorite pastime of mine and are well worth getting into. Unfortunately, a lot of the better ones have been going on for years and contain a billion plot lines. So what better time to catch up on the archives than with eight sleepless hours?

Sluggy Freelance is my all time favorite. It's funny, got decent artwork, and the guy can spin a good yarn. The early strips are a bit rough but things get better pretty quickly. There are a lot of fantasy and sci-fi spoofs sprinkled in between stories of dimensional/time travel, demonic possession, video games, and heavy drinking. With ten years of daily updates it'll keep you amused for hours.

Schlock Mercenary is another good one and should appeal to the sci-fi fans. It's about a team of space mercenaries and has a gallows humor to it. Plus the writer likes to lecture on physics in his blog area.

Funny Farm is a boarding house full of eccentric characters. The humor is consistently funny and the artist is good at actually updating on a daily basis.

Player vs. Player is about a bunch of people who work for a gaming magazine. A fair amount of the content is about computer games but there's plenty of other stuff in there.

Girl Genius is originally a comic book by the brilliant Phil Foglio, and he's posting a page of it at a time online. The artwork is great, the jokes are funny, and it's steampunk!

Order of the Stick is an excellent D&D comic. It should be required reading for anyone who plays. A mere 500+ strips in the archive, but they are much bigger than the standard three or four panels so it should take a fair amount of time to go through them all.

Penny Arcade is mostly about two guys and video games. I'm really out of the loop with the gaming industry so some of the jokes escape me, but it's still a funny strip. (Not appropriate for the young'uns, though, what with the bad language.) This is the comic that got me through three nights of Simon's roseola so I'm forever in its debt. If you're still daunted by the thought of catching up on years of plot hooks then this one is ideal, since it contains very few hooks to plot.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roll for initiative

Simon's pretty fussy lately and a lot of Kristin's online mom friends are having the same complaints. It's always a crap shoot trying to determine what the culprit may be, unfortunately. Is he just gassy? Is it an ear infection? Is he allergic to gluten? My god, what if it was the yams?!

So to help myself out I created this handy table. These tables are pretty common in roleplaying games, determining what kind of wandering monster attacks you or what kind of treasure you find in the dragon's cave. I figured if it's good enough for gamers, it's good enough for me!

You need to roll a twenty-sided die (or D20, as we say in the 'biz') and add any relevant bonuses. Then you consult the handy chart.

+1 - Tugs his ear
+1 - Drools a lot
+1 - Has a fever up to 104
+2 - Has a fever of 105 or more
+2 - Has a rash
+5 - Rotates his head 360 degrees
+1 - Cries a lot
+5 - Speaks in an eerie voice, possibly in tongues
+2 - Spits up more frequently
+5 - Vomits pea soup at priests


2 - 5 : Most likely teething. Give him iced food and toys to chew on.
6 - 10 : Gas. Use gripe water and feed bland foods for a while.
10 - 14 : Food allergy. Cut back on his diet and introduce new foods gradually.
15 - 19 : Roseola. A benign childhood disease, should go away after about three days.
20 - 35 : Demonic possession. Call a young priest and an old priest.
36+ : Ear infection.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

table scraps

For dinner I usually make a meal out of whatever Simon won't eat. Last night it was three spoonfuls of oatmeal, the skin of a pear, and the remains of chicken and rice. It depressed me to think that my diet now consists of things my mother throws onto her compost pile.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Monsters, Inc.

I wondered if it was possible to raise a child to not know what monsters were. Could someone grow up without believing there was something under the bed or hidden in the closet? Well, the other day I noticed that it took very little effort to convince Simon he was being chased. And I have to admit that, despite my plan to refrain from playing the boogie man, it was impossible to keep myself from growling and shambling after him.

Young predators often use play to practice their hunting skills. Those adorable lion cubs may look so precious as they roll around on the ground, but that just leads to harder stuff, like chasing down gazelles and mauling hikers. Humans, unfortunately, don't fall into the "predator" category. Before we mastered things like clubs, spears, and automatic weapons we were pretty much useless in a fight, so we have millions of years of evolution telling us to get the heck out of the way of anything with teeth as large as our forearms. It's only natural that our young instinctively run from us as we growl and chase after them.

As an intellectual exercise, imagine if lions evolved to the point where they established a movie industry. There would be no horror films. Even though there are bigger animals around, lions have been the meanest things in their neck of the woods for a long time, so they'd have no concept of monsters. There would be no Godzilla, or alien invaders, or an evil clown terrorizing a small Maine town. And their kids wouldn't be afraid of the dark. Tell one of them that there's something under their bed and they'd be crawling under there in a shot with a meat tenderizer.

So I guess I'll let Simon learn about monsters, but I'll also teach him how to exploit their weaknesses. The ones under the bed, for instance, are powerless against blankets. A flashlight beam will scare off the ones in the closet, and I'm already working on rules for playing Zombie Attack. No tool-using son of mine is going to be monster chow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What's in a name?

Okay, new dads, time for a preemptive strike. I'm talking about what the baby's toys are named. You may not care right now, but months later you're going to get sick of calling his stuffed rabbit "Mr. Poopsie Woopsie." And I dare you to use that name in a crowded restaurant in front of your friends and that smirking waitress.

The rules are simple. First, it would be nice if the name had something to do with the toy in question, like "Ursa Major" for a teddy bear or "Ringworld" for a chew ring. Make sure it's catchy enough for your wife to use but be sure it's not too over the top or she'll put her foot down.

Here are a few I made up as we acquired them:

Squeaking duck - Mallard, the foul-mouthed duck
Double-loop chew ring - The Infinity Loop
Stuffed turtle - Great A'Tuin
Complicated toy with connecting dowels and beads - The Toy From the Eighth Dimension (You have to say it like the narrator from a 1950s sci-fi movie.)
Plastic chew ring with large bumps on it - The Nodule Ring (This is when Kristin revoked my naming privileges.)

I suppose if you're into sports or racing or other boring stuff you could use athlete's names. When Simon is old enough to get into teddy bears and action figures I'll probably give them names of scientists and have them fight:

Einstein: "Ach, zere cannot be quantum fluctuations because God does not play dice vit ze universe."
Heisenberg: "You fool, Einstein! I'm going to uze mein wavefunction punch to zmack your quantum head!"
Einstein: "My Macro Universe Gun vill give you a taste of Newton's laws of motion!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

The 'V' word

There's a growing concern out there about vaccinations causing more harm than good. Unfortunately this seems to be a topic that ranks up there with religion and politics when it comes to conversations that you shouldn't have, because there are many impassioned people on both sides who focus more on feelings than facts.

A lot of this is based on fear. Mainstream parents don't want to hear that these magical elixirs may cause some serious damage, nor do they like the thought of their doctors lying to them about it. On the other side of the fence, a growing number concerned parents feel trapped in a system that essentially forces them to inject toxins into their children. The medical profession doesn't help matters by refusing to perform any kind of serious studies on the matter. Vaccinations are remarkably easy to get passed through, and the long-term effects are unfortunately not known.

I really wanted to write up a comprehensive, well-researched posting about this but discovered that Alan Phillips had beaten me to it. I'll do some summing up, not just of him but also a few other sources I've read.

The basic premise of mainstream America is, "Vaccinations keep my child from getting a serious illness."

Well, that's not really true. What happens is that a weakened or dead strain of a virus is injected into your child's bloodstream, where his immune system learns to combat it. Nice in theory, but somewhat lacking in execution.

First, there's no guarantee that it works, with up to a 50% failure rate. Second, there's actually a chance that the vaccination will give your child the disease in question. Third, your immune system eventually forgets how to defend against the weakened strain so you are vulnerable again in six to ten years, and many diseases (like mumps and measles) are much more serious when you get them later in life. Fourth, there's no real evidence that they prevent epidemics. Countries with no vaccination policies have shown similar drops in illnesses, due largely to improvements in sanitation and nutrition. Polio was already on the decline before the vaccine was introduced, and in fact it made a big comeback in the years immediately following the vaccinations.

Okay, so even if they don't do much why not get them? There are some serious reasons.

First is all the stuff that's injected into your child's bloodstream along with that weakened virus. There can be animal and human tissue (including fetal cells) as well as preservatives such as mercury, formaldehyde, and/or aluminum. There has been no serious study about what this can do to a developing brain, especially one that gets subjected to these toxins a dozen times or more over the course of a couple years. (Or even longer, if more states follow New Jersey's lead and make annual flu shots mandatory.)

The second reason was mentioned earlier. Your child only gets a temporary immunity from the vaccine (assuming it works at all or doesn't actually give your child the disease in question). This means they (and we) are vulnerable to exposure later in life and some of these diseases are much more dangerous to adults than children. People like to blame unvaccinated kids for causing epidemics but the odds are good they got it from a vaccinated friend, and passed it along to older kids who have outgrown their immunity. There's a reason people have pox parties.

The third reason is the fact that the pharmaceutical companies often stick more than one virus in a shot, even as many as three, in the belief that your child is scrappy enough to handle it. There has been some question as to whether or not this is a good thing, naturally.

Finally, there is the question of how serious is the threat of these diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a weekly pdf download that shows how many cases have been reported. Last year, for example, saw 31 cases of measles in a population of 300 million.

So there you have it. At best vaccinations are a short-term solution to an immediate problem, like if you're traveling to Africa or there is an actual epidemic, but other than that they're just crippling the population's long-term resistance to diseases and potentially causing neurological damage to infants and children.

What's up, Doc?

I've expressed my concerns about the qualifications and honesty of the medical profession, but that's not to say all doctors are bad. We have an excellent pediatrician for baby Simon, for example, but finding him was slow and painful.

It all started in the spring of ought-seven, when Simon didn't seem to be gaining much weight. We took him to a local pediatrician who was recommended to us and, after waiting 45 minutes past our appointment time, we finally got to see her. She poked and prodded Simon for a while and didn't seem concerned, then consulted her Nestlé growth chart and determined he was dying. (Nestlé makes baby formula, as you probably know, and so is naturally an unbiased judge of how much a baby should eat.)

Now, Simon was small but seemed perfectly healthy. He was active, social, and had a chubby face. He had none of the indications of malnutrition or being underfed, like lethargy or loose skin, and the doctor showed no concern whatsoever until she looked at the chart. She started talking about supplementing with rice milk, which has no nutritional value, and said she wanted to see him again in a few days to make sure he had gained. She blew off our (true) statement that breastfed babies tend to weigh less than formula fed ones, and obviously had no thoughts on alternatives to rice cereal or formula, which are essentially junk food for infants.

We walked out of the office and I glanced at my wife, expecting to see her in tears. She was eerily quiet on the walk to the car, and I finally asked her how she was doing. She just smiled and said she had tuned the doctor out completely after a while.

Obviously we wanted a second opinion. Kristin brought Simon to a lactation expert she knew and, once again, the woman thought Simon was fine until she actually put him on the scale and consulted a chart. Her concerns carried more weight, since it came from someone who strongly advocated breastfeeding, but it still annoyed us that she ignored all the physical indications of a healthy baby as soon as she looked on a chart.

In an act of desperation we decided to visit someone two hours away, who was recommended by someone in the Holistic Moms Network. This guy did the usual poking and prodding of our child, then put him on the scale and said he was fine. He assured us that if Simon was ill then it would be obvious from physical signs, and said that he was just a slow grower. Then, and this was the point when I wanted to hug him, he started rattling off recent case studies of breastfed babies and giving us facts and figures. He had been the only one we'd seen up to this point who seemed to know more than the bare minimum to do their job. He also wasn't as devoted to the "cover your ass" brand of medicine and actually gave us his personal opinions on several medical matters.

We still go to this doctor for wellness visits despite our attempts to find someone closer. I guess the moral of the story is if you don't like your doctor for any reason then keep on looking. Don't be afraid to read up on issues that concern you and ask questions during the physicals. Demand more than cookie-cutter medicine for your child.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Holistic quandary

Recently I mentioned to a friend that Simon got burned on his hand so we brought him to the emergency room. My friend seemed surprised that I'd agree to that, being holistic and all. I'm not sure what his image of my life is like, but apparently it involves sitting in a mud hut and applying leeches to suck out the demons.

To be honest I'm not even sure holism is the best way to describe my philosophy. In my opinion health boils down to one fact; the human body is a complex organism that as been designed by billions of years of evolution to be treated a certain way. This means getting plenty of exercise (hunting and gathering), eating the right foods (vegetables, grains, and whatever you can hunt down with a stick), and getting plenty of rest (sleep when it's dark).

I have a great deal of respect for modern medicine, which strives to understand the body and treat problems when they arise. I don't, unfortunately, have much respect for modern doctors. Most of them learn the bare minimum in order to get their degree, then slack off on keeping up to date with the latest medical knowledge and make deals with multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies. They don't care much for preventative treatments and just jump right into pumping you with drugs. The majority of people don't think twice about this, thinking that any medicine is good medicine, but we don't really know the long-term implications of most of this stuff.

A good analogy, at least for me, would be a programmer dealing with a million line computer program. If you just start tweaking code willy-nilly in order to fix a bug then you're in trouble. If I tried that, instead of putting effort into determining the root cause of the problem and making the minimal amount of change necessary, I wouldn't last long in my job.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Stroller? I don't even know her!

The best investments we made for little Simon were baby carriers. These are slings or packs that hold the baby so you can walk around with him and not kill your arms and back. Simon spent the first year in one and I think it's really helped. The constant contact has helped him become secure in his surroundings and he's very social because he's been up at face level so people talk to him more. My wife and I love carriers so much, in fact, that we opened a store to sell them. You can get them online but it's so much better to see them in person and try them on.

The most basic kind of carrier is a pouch sling. It's quick to slide on and off, and lets newborns get up close and personal. It can also be used to discretely nurse. Another kind of sling is the ring sling, which allows you more freedom in adjusting. If you want to get something online or for a gift then this is a good one to go with, since the pouch sling is a lot more strict with sizing.

The pack carriers, which let you hold the baby on your chest or back, come in two types. The first is a mei tai (pronounced may tie) and is a square of fabric with four straps that you tie around yourself. These are great for carrying the baby for longer periods, since it distributes the weight over both shoulders and the waist. I also like using them during winter, since you can bundle yourself and your baby up in the same coat so you always know how warm he is. The other kind of pack carrier is the soft structured carrier, which replaces the straps with buckles. This allows it to be put on a bit quicker, but makes it a pain to adjust if you share the carrier with someone else.

The Baby Bjorn (pronounced baby byorn) is a popular brand but I don't care for them. They don't have the waist strap, so all the weight is on your shoulders and that can get painful after a while, especially when the kid gets a bit bigger.

There's no ultimate carrier that does everything. I use a ring sling for around the house and quick shopping trips. I use a mei tai for hikes, walks around town, and dancing the baby to sleep. In fact, the mei tai more than paid for itself the other night when Simon got a fever and was fussy for hours. I put him in, and got him to sleep, then quietly sat down at the computer and spent a while online. Without the carrier I would have either had to hold him for hours or continually put him down and pick him up every time he woke up.

Speaking of sleeping...

One of the hardest things for a father is getting the baby to sleep. Moms have a biological advantage going for them (boobs, of course) but men have to get creative. We each develop our own tricks, whether it's dancing around, patting the baby on the back, or making a dark pact with Satan. One advantage we have over the weaker sex are lower voices. If you're lucky enough to get down to the baritone range then you can put that baby on your chest or shoulder and do some crooning. And I'm not talking normal lullabies, either. I mean any song that's slow and methodical, like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Green Day or "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton. (Actually, there's a pretty cool lullaby album out there of Green Day songs.)

My practice is to hold the baby and dance around while playing my own version of a lullaby album:

The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) - They Might Be Giants
Circles - Soul Coughing
Wait for Me - Stephen Jay
Bouncing Around the Room - Phish
Spiraling Shape - They Might Be Giants
My Man - They Might Be Giants
Certain People I Could Name - They Might Be Giants
Particle Man - They Might Be Giants
Another First Kiss - They Might Be Giants
Famous Blue Raincoat - Jonathan Coulton
You Are Alive - Stephen Jay
Sell Sell Sell - Barenaked Ladies
Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep At the Wheel - Barenaked Ladies

My wife Kristin isn't a fan of this practice, but when she agrees to stop lactating I'll agree to give up my method.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Co-sleeping: Man's best friend

Probably the most controversial topic we encountered was when we told people we were going to co-sleep, i.e. have the baby sleep in the same bed as us. Everyone thought that the baby would either; be crushed by his 300 pound dad, keep us up all night, or become an insecure mother-dependent transvestite.

First of all, unless you make a habit of passing out on your bed after a night of binge-drinking there's no way you'll roll onto your baby. Your brain knows darn well that he's there, and if you even get close to him alarms will go off in your head. It means a few nights of fearful slumber while you adjust to this alien critter sleeping right next to you, but you eventually get used to it.

Second, if you're not a fan of the "cry it out" method of child neglect-- er, child rearing, then having the infant right next to you is great when he starts fussing in the middle of the night. If mama is breastfeeding then that's even better, since she can reach over and stick him on a boob without even waking up and dad can sleep through the whole thing. I shudder to think of how many nights I would have had to get up to comfort the rug rat if he was in his own crib.

Third, co-sleeping doesn't make kids clingy. Some fear that they'll still be bunking with you when they hit puberty but they will reach an age when they're sick of daddy's snoring and mom's night terrors and demand their own room. If you want them to leave before they're ready then by all means wean them out of it, but better to give them some months or years of family closeness than deprive them of it from day one.

This last argument is also heard quite a bit with breastfeeding, which baffles me. I agree that a five year old demanding a boob is creepy, but there's a middle ground between that and using formula from the start.

Support my butt... no, wait

I mentioned in my last post about being supportive with your wife. Well, get used to hearing that statement a lot if you're an expecting father. 99.9% of the books and articles out there think that the man's job after planting his seed is to wait on his woman until the child is born, and then wait on the woman until the child has gone off to college. And kill spiders, of course.

This really bugged me when I tried to read up on what to expect as a future dad. The books would go on about the what the mother should do during pregnancy and the birth, and then casually mention that the man should make himself useful, like feed his wife ice chips and sing inspirational hymns.

A good book I eventually found was The Expectant Father, which was written from a man's point of view and had a lot of interesting things in it. By the end I was confident I could deliver the baby myself if we got snowed in by a blizzard. (An unlikely scenario, since our due date was in August.)

All about the boobs

If you and your wife are waffling about the whole breastfeeding thing, there are many reasons to do it, including fighting off diseases, improving intelligence, preventing obesity, and overall better health. Not to mention breast milk is specifically designed by nature to be all your baby needs. It also burns about 500 calories a day for the mom, so it's a great way to lose some weight.

Unfortunately it can also be remarkably difficult to master, which baffles me considering how easy it seems for other mammals. There a quite a few medical reasons for a woman not to breastfeed, and if your wife is unfortunate enough to fall under one of these categories then by all means be supportive and find alternative feeding solutions. But if it's just a matter of being disturbed by the thought then do some research and consult some specialists, either online or local lactation consultants. If your "expert" gives you advice that sounds odd then definitely get a second opinion.

And avoid the advice of your crazy aunt who claims that the only way to breastfeed is dangling upside down while yodeling.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Diaper time!

Sure, you'll drive your wife to the hospital and provide moral support during the birth, but the most daunting act of your new fatherhood will be changing a diaper. Especially since the odds are good that you'll have many female relatives watching you like hawks as you do it for the first time.

Practice at least once at home, just to ensure you don't do anything stupid. Also remember that your new bundle of joy is not made of glass. You can grab him by the legs and hoist his butt up without breaking anything. Always keep wipes handy and make sure he's completely clean and dry before putting on a new diaper. If the baby's butt starts to get red use some ointment on it, but don't go overboard with it every diaper change.

Something to decide beforehand is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. I will admit that disposables are slightly more convenient, but doing a load of laundry every two or three days isn't that big a deal if you've got a washer and dryer at home. The benefits of cloth diapers, on the other hand, are many. In the long run they're cheaper, since on average you'll go through up to 8,000 diapers before potty training. Disposables are also made of plastic and chemicals that go into landfills, so that's a mountain of 8,000 diapers you can avoid adding to your local dump where they'll be around for a few hundred years. It's fewer chemicals on your baby's nether regions and actually help your child potty train faster.

Diapers are pretty fancy nowadays, too, and the best ones are just as easy to put on as disposables. Personally, we went "old school" with the old-fashioned big rectangles of cloth for the first year to save money, then switched to fancier ones when Simon got bigger and decided to squirm through diaper changes.

Words of wisdom

Okay, enough with the boring personal stuff. This blog is supposed to be about being a dad.

The first rule before the child is born is "pack a bag." You are doomed if you think you can run around the house at the last minute and cram everything you need into a suitcase. You'll forget toiletries, socks, books, cell phone, mysterious feminine products and, most important, a camera. Make a detailed list at least a month before the due date and pack it all up. Even if you plan on a home birth there is always the slim chance that you'll need to make a hospital trip and by that time you'll have been up for over 24 hours and can't think straight. If the wife accuses you of negative thinking then pack a bag in secret, or at least make a list and keep it ready.

August 30, 2007 - What's in a name?

Time for a hospital rant!

I have much more respect for nurses than doctors. For a fraction of the pay they get all the dirty jobs, and spend much more time with the patients. Unfortunately, they're still part of the great American health care system that cares more about pharmacies and malpractice suits than about the individual needs of patients, so it's no surprise that we earned a bit of a reputation at the hospital during our three day stay.

Thankfully in NH it's not mandatory to get the eye drops and vitamin K shot, we just had to sign a form. They were also good about letting us keep Simon in the room instead of alone in the nursery, even though it meant being woken up every couple hours so they could poke him. I was also able to sleep in the room, thanks to a foldout chair. They were also cool with our midwife, Jeanne, going through the medical records and providing us with opinions.

Of the several doctors who visited none stayed more than a couple of minutes and only one of them actually approved of our hippy choices, but she made sure to only mention that when others were out of earshot.

Actually, probably the greatest source of amusement for them was the fact that it took us three days to come up with a name. For some reason we were convinced we were going to have a girl so we were caught unawares. Probably the main reason we expected a girl was because we couldn't agree on a boy's name so put it off too long.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

August 30, 2007 12:58am - The miracle of birth (ick)

The operation went off without a hitch. Kristin got to experience some wondrous drugs and I got to watch a pink wrinkled thing emerge from a gaping wound in her stomach. (Sorry, there's just nothing pleasant about it.) Funny enough, we hadn't known the sex of the baby and it didn't even occur to me to look closely enough to see until Kristin's hazy voice said, "What's the sex? What's the sex?" I got to cut the umbilical cord (which added to the unpleasantness) and our bundle of joy was weighed and measured before being carted off to have his DNA recorded in the secret CIA database and an alien mind control chip implanted in his head (that's standard medical procedure nowadays, I presume).

Soon enough we were all together again in a room, each wondering what the future held.

August 29, 2007 10pm - Defeat has been conceded

After five hours of pushing we had to give up and go to the hospital. Jeanne said that Kristin's cervix was getting in the way of the baby's head and he couldn't move down, despite all the various positions and exercises we tried. The doctor immediately said we had to do a cesarean section, which struck me as another instance of shoving someone through the medical profit machine but it turned out to be for the best. The umbilical cord was getting in the way so there was no way the baby was getting out on his own.

Cesarean sections are unpleasant things, even discounting the ickiness. First, there are the medical risks involved; dangers in the operating room, months of recovery time, complications with future pregnancies. Second, it's an unnatural way for the baby to come into this world. The act of childbirth is programmed into the development of both mother and child. Who knows what medical issues are caused by taking a shortcut past the birth canal.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad it's around and that it's fairly safe, but in my opinion it really should be a last resort option.

August 29, 2007 10am - Invasion of the midwives

Around ten in the morning Jeanne arrived with her two assistants and we got ready for a home birth. This is another thing that I wasn't too sure that I wanted, mostly because it meant keeping the house clean enough for company for an extended period of time. I also had fears of something going wrong and the closest hospital being half an hour away but the chances of that happening in real life (as opposed to television) are pretty slim. And if something does go wrong, the chances of it being serious enough to warrant immediate medical attention are even slimmer.

And so our house got filled with an inflatable tub, a giant exercise ball, and all matter of weird birthing paraphernalia. I think we ended up using most of them, unfortunately, in the course of the day.

And what a day is was. Kristin's contractions got stronger and stronger. Jeanne probably thought I was being heartless because I didn't help my wife during these moments, but I knew better. When Kristin's got an unpleasant task ahead of her she likes to focus on it and shut out the world. So whenever a contraction hit Jeanne would say things like "buck up" and "you can do it" and I'd do my best to keep Kristin away from anything that could be used as a weapon.

August 29, 2007 7 am - So how was your night?

I made my way downstairs to find Kristin pacing around and refrained from telling her how refreshed I felt. Instead, we give a call to Jeanne, our midwife, and let her know what's up.

Now is probably a good time to talk about midwives. Personally, I think they rock. At first I was skeptical about employing someone who isn't a "real" doctor but after a couple of visits I was convinced. First off, they do have to go to school and get certified. In Jeanne's case she's been certified nationally by NARM (North American Registry of Midwives) as a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM), and locally by the New Hampshire Midwifery Council as a New Hampshire Certified Midwife (NHCM). She also has trained as an Emergency Medical Technician, Professional Doula, and worked as Breastfeeding Counselor for NH Health and Human Services. Whenever we talked she was always on the ball and could rattle off medical terms and cases off the top of her head. That's harder than it seems, since Kristin spent way too much time looking up worst-case medical scenarios online before each visit and could often put "real" doctors on the spot.

The second advantage of midwives is how much time they spend with you. Our visits would often go over an hour and would be pretty casual. During that time I could tell that Jeanne gave us her full attention and gave us frank, honest answers. I have yet to have a medical checkup that wasn't ten minutes answering a questionnaire by a nurse and then two minutes with a doctor who glanced at my form and prescribed a pill.

The third advantage of a midwife is how they treat pregnancy. I never gave it much thought before, but childbirth has been reduced to a "condition" and treated just the same as an injury or illness. It's the most natural thing in the world, so why are you strapped to a table and pumped full of drugs? (I'll save my rant on C-sections for another post.)

August 28, 2007 11pm - B Day has arrived

Kristin's water broke, so the big day finally came. For the moment the contractions were too far apart to worry about, so she climbed out of bed and tried to stay comfortable for the night. I could have spent the time marveling at the thought of becoming a father, but instead I wisely decided to go back to bed and get the last good night's sleep I'll ever have.

Yet another blog

Well, I'm finally getting around to making a blog. I've been wanting to make one for a while now, detailing my adventures in fatherhood, but waited for sixteen months after procreating before finding the time to impart my wisdom to all of you foolish enough to continue reading.

I'm going to do something that is probably faux pas in blogging circles and backtrack a bit. My first posts will be reminiscing about the fun-filled twenty-six hours of labor that culminated in my darling baby boy Simon.