The Peacemaker

I’ve come to believe that being a parent is the most rewarding, fulfilling act a person can undertake. But moments like the one I’ll describe below reveal that parenting can also cut us to the core, exposing our failings and humbling us to a place we never expected.

A few weekends ago, my wife and I were taking the kids to an event. She and I sniped at each other all morning, bickering over one of those inconsequential things that somehow gets blown out of proportion into an argument that neither of us would back down from nor apologize for.

Our arguing continued in the car on the way to our event. Suddenly from the back of the car our toddler spoke up.

“Stop talking like that, Daddy,” he said. Stunned, I quickly shut up.

Our oldest is perceptive and also a peacemaker. Whenever I seem annoyed or upset about something he asks me, “Are you happy, Daddy?” Sure enough, those were the next words out of his mouth. Seconds later, trying to change the subject, he asked, “Do you see the beautiful water fountain outside?”

Wow. Put in my place by a 2-year-old. And rightly so. Maybe this kid is a future Dr. Phil.

I felt awful. I violated a cardinal rule — allowing my children to see me at my worst, arguing and taking a harsh tone with their mother, my wife. There was nothing I could do to take it back. The only things I could do were to apologize and promise myself to handle the situation better the next time it arises.

My wife and I don’t argue a lot. Is there quiet annoyance from time to time? Sure. Do our emotions boil over sometimes, leading to things being said in anger or frustration? Of course. But knock-down, drag out, blow-ups are extremely rare.

My wife and I know that our children won’t always see us at our best — we are human, we are fallible and, ultimately, it’s good for our kids to see us as regular people who struggle to be our best selves.

But I want to wear this daddy cape for as long as I can.

It’s crucial for toddler to see a happy Mommy and Daddy. At the tender age of 3, he already notices our relationship and how we treat each other. I think I overlooked that.

Toddler is responsible for lots of PDA’s however. Almost daily, he asks my wife and I to kiss followed by a request that we say we love each other. We graciously fulfill his wish then cover him with hugs and kisses. I love knowing that it reinforces the safety of his world when he sees us being tender with each other.

I’m curious how you handle a situation like this. Do you ever argue in front of your children? How do they react? What do you say to them to explain the situation?

R.I.P Nap

Morning nap, how we miss you. Since our second child was born last year there have been a few predictable things — he loves to dump food on the floor, he poops at least 3 times a day and he always takes a lengthy morning nap.

This week that changed.

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Baby H is fighting that morning nap like a UFC fighter on the verge of a knockout. He screams, he cries, he thrashes around in his bed. He doesn’t want to miss one moment with Mom, Dad and, occasionally, big brother.

In some ways the death of the morning nap is a blessing. With two kids, my wife and I have been protective of nap time like a momma bear is of her cubs. The number one rule of Nap Time is you don’t f*** with nap time. We’ve missed out on some play dates and outings to the park because we wanted to establish a good routine with H.

Mission accomplished. He sleeps extremely well (knock on wood) and is a well-behaved child. Now, we can transition H to his brother’s nap time, which will make all of our lives easier. But from this point, it’s a fast ride to toddler-hood. With one child already there — how did that happen so quickly??? — H is ready to turn the corner. In some ways, he already has.

He’s been walking since 9 months, is nearly running at 13 months and climbs on everything in sight. He’ll be headed off to preschool before we know it. And at the rate he’s growing and moving, he’ll be ready for tackle football by then.

I will miss the morning nap not just because it gave us a mini-break in our morning. It also reminded us that H was still our little guy who needed a little coddling and cuddling. Not anymore. He’s growing into a precocious, energetic, fun-loving little guy right in front of our eyes, albeit one who sleeps a little less than he used to.

Sleep vs. Values. Sleep Wins in a Landslide.

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Sleep is precious. Especially for a dad who works nights and shares a home with a toddler who consistently rises before 7 am.

Let me be honest. It sucks.

Our oldest son sleeps well. He gets at least 9 hours a night plus a two hour nap every day and for that we are grateful. But when he wakes up, he’s up. He wants his juice and he wants Mommy or Daddy — or both — of us to play with him. But I just can’t get on the clock before 7:30.

At that time in the morning, I look and feel like a character from The Walking Dead.

The other day when toddler barged in our room and happily announced that he was ready to start the day, my wife and I grunted, grumbled something nonsensical and tried to ignore it. Didn’t work. So my wife made an executive decision. She handed him the iPad and told him to return to his room.

For a brief — and I mean brief — moment I thought, “Wait. That might reinforce him to get up early so he can spend some quality time with the most awesome, fascinating toy in the house.” Then I thought, “Wait. That means I get to roll over and go back to sleep.”

Sleep won. And I’m slightly ashamed.

One of our goals was to not allow either of our children to become dependent on technology, especially not in the weeks leading up to toddler’s 3rd birthday. We regulate how much television they watch and put limits on the iPad and iPhone usage, too. But there’s something about sleep that trumps all.

Besides at 6:30, my moral compass is still asleep, as well.

For now, toddler can enjoy his one-on-one, pre-breakfast iPad addiction while Mommy and Daddy can enjoy a few extra, deeply deserved and richly enjoyed moments of slumber. Seems like a fair trade even if it means completely compromising my values.

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Hungry & Other Tales of a Baby’s 1st Year

I had no idea my wife was giving birth to the Incredible Hulk.

ImageSince the age of 6 months, Baby H has turned into a seething, fire-breathing, pissed off subhuman every time it’s time to eat.

He doesn’t literally turn green. That would be insane. But his personality, his demeanor, his entire existence morphs into an angry, screaming, grunting, unstoppable force that would make Lord Voldemort crap his pants.

Bottom line — you wouldn’t like him when he’s hungry.

We feed him. Tons. The kid can eat a mountain of blueberries. (That makes for an interesting output, fyi.) And I’m not complaining. He eats almost anything we put in front of him. But the food needs to come fast and in mass quantities — like on Remulac. (Obscure SNL reference.)

Just as you wouldn’t want to try and spoon feed the Incredible Hulk, baby H is as resistant to being fed as a celebrity is to paparazzi. Baby H swats, kicks and fusses every time a spoon appears in his vicinity. We simply pile food on his tray, stand back and the child does his thing. It’s about as graceful as an NFL defensive lineman performing classical ballet but it’s captivating to watch.

To clean up, we need a hazmat crew. And kneepads. And a sponge the size of Rhode Island.

My wife and I were completely unprepared for the feeding frenzy. We were equally unprepared for Baby H to start walking at 9 months. He took one look at all the fun his older brother was having and thought, “Screw crawling.” It’s been exhilarating to witness and added a frightening layer of oh-my-God-he’s-gonna-fall-and-bust-his-ass vibe to every millisecond of each day.

But that’s what parents of little people do — stand by on death/injury watch 24/7.

Baby H has learned so much — turn and run when big brother is violently pushing a big dump truck his way, turn and run when big brother starts screaming maniacally in his face, turn and run when big brother frantically comes looking for his favorite toy that Baby H dared to pick up and play with. What can I say, the kid is smart. His flight instinct is intact.

But even though his brother enjoys a size and territorial advantage over him, the boys are buds. Watching them interact and show emotion and attention to one another is a tearjerker moment for my soft heart. My wife and I created a relationship that will persist and thrive long after she and I have left this Earth.

No matter what else we accomplish — Nobel Peace Prize, Pulitzer, Academy Award — that relationship is the greatest thing we will ever do. It’s our job to nurture it. 

It’s hard saying goodbye to Baby H’s first year. How much longer will this adorable baby lay in his crib after waking and talk to himself? How much longer will he run to our comforting arms when he’s scared or upset? How much longer will he linger with his head nuzzled in our necks? How much longer will he want to hold our arms while we sit in a chair and read him books?

He is the definition of joy.

But when he gets hungry, watch out. The pants rip, the t-shirt crumbles to nothingness and the torture begins. Get this kid some food, stat!

In Praise Of…

Lately we’ve been inundated with searing images of relentless violence, overwhelming grief and paralyzing fear.

While the images of the suffering from the Boston bombings and the Texas explosion can send us spiraling into a deep funk, I am preferring to focus on the small, simple moments that occur randomly each day and bring joy and peace into my life. They are moments provided by three most important people in my life — my wife and two young children. 

They are moments such as:
My oldest son saying, “I love you”
The joyous look on our baby’s face when we open his bedroom door in the morning
The spontaneous laughter that erupts around our dinner table
My wife grabbing my hand as we walk down the street
The sound of my sons playing nicely together
When toddler shares his toys with a new friend
A delicious meal prepared lovingly by my wife
Reading books to the boys
Listening to toddler making up a song
Watching baby bounce along to music, grinning at us
Enjoying the moment toddler learns and uses a new word
When the boys gang up and tackle me
Sending my wife a text that says, “I’m thinking of you”
Baby falling asleep on my shoulder
Capturing a photo of the boys smiling and playing and knowing they will laugh at this memory someday
Peeking in on the kids sleeping peacefully
And finally, when Mommy & I share a drink and conversation about all the rewarding and challenging moments of raising our children.

I’m sure there are many more moments that I’m forgetting.That’s the beautiful thing about children. They are constant joy-givers and given the state of our world, their happiness is contagious and reassuring.

Battle for a Man

They lay there injured and sagging, alone and useless.
Like a wounded animal, they barely had the strength to cry for help.
Concerts. Game nights. Europe. Traveling.
Their value, their sustenance came from my using them and I hadn’t. They were neglected and rejected.
Golf. Movies. Friends. Yoga.
With each halting breath, they died a little more. Their bodies convulsing, their usefulness beginning to decay.
Tennis. Sleeping in. Dining out. Fantasy football.
Soon, they would be dead. Words that once rolled off the tongue had languished for months like golf clubs gathering dust in the garage or sweat-covered yoga mats stuck carelessly in the closet.
Bar-hopping. All-nighters. Beer. Immaturity.
Words that once were uttered on tennis courts and in bars now had no audience; they were the MIA’s of language.
They were the vanquished. They were forgotten.
They were the words of the childless man.
As the letters began to wither, suffocate and crumble into a decade of memories, new letters sprang proudly and boldly into focus.
Baby. No sleep. Smiling. Laughter. Giggles.
These words puffed out their chests and strolled into the arena where the others once stood. They claimed the ground and captured it for their forces.
Onesies. Bath time. Lullabies. Naps.
The fresh words burst forth like a dormant volcano. Like the lava cascading down a mountain, the words relentlessly took over every piece of bare earth. They owned the landscape. They owned everything. They owned control.
Hugs. Tiny feet. Toys. Crawling.
Ushering in an era of learning, choices, chaos, growth and joy, the letters combined to create a new man. A man with responsibilities he never considered, demands he could not foresee and a depth of love he did not know existed.
Cribs. Potty training. Diapers. Happiness.
Giving up my childless life — the life I led and cultivated for years — was difficult. It was a battle not for blood, but for identity.
Previously, I had the run of my days. If you couldn’t find me at the gym, check the driving range. If not the yoga studio, try the couch. Sports and movies and long phone calls and nights out were commonplace.
Suddenly and with warning, they stopped.
My childless words — my favorite, defining, non-stop, casual, masculine, selfish words — ceased to have the same meaning. They were quickly and totally usurped with words of selflessness and compromise; sacrifice and wonder.
I worried about the loss of self. What I learned was my new self was better, more abundant, more focused, more ready than I imagined to fulfill a role I’d been preparing for my entire life.
Family vacations. Little league. Christmas memories. Unbridled joy.
Those old words still exist. Every once in a while I breath life back into them for a second or two.
Soon, they’ll be spoken by little voices to a man craving the chance to teach them what he once knew and enjoyed.
Sports. Politics. Working out. Classic books. Rock-n-roll. Art. Love. Life.

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON DADSROUNDTABLE.COM)

Sleep Interrupted, Part Two

One thing I’ve realized about parenting is that the only thing you can predict is that children are unpredictable.

A few months ago I wrote a blog about how our sleep was interrupted by a baby who would often sleep through the night but then suddenly for a night or two would awaken at random hours and resist sleep.

I can happily report that he now — fingers crossed — is sleeping through the night consistently and, in fact, is a consistent napper as well.

My wife and are disciplined when it comes to sleeping the kids and employ the “cry it out” method. It’s worked for us and it appears we’ve sleep trained our 8-month-old.

So things are perfect in dreamland, eh?

Not so fast, dad.

Our toddler — 2 1/2 today, in fact — has decided to begin getting up at 6 am.

Why? We have no idea. It could be the time change. It could be that he’s craving some attention. It could be that my wife and I did something awful in our lives to deserve this!

Toddler has also always been a good napper and sleeper. But once he learned that he could get out of his bed, open his door and come outside his room, all bets were off.

He still naps and sleeps quietly through the night for 9-10 hours but his internal alarm starts buzzing at 6 in the morning and there does not appear to be a damn thing we can do about it.

Lately, though, just getting him to stay in his bed once we leave his room is like Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill. It’s futile.

Again, consistency is key. Once he emerges, we pounce and return him to bed. The first few times, we’re dispassionate. The next half dozen times he walks out, we begin to punish him — no tv, no iPad, no dessert.

These punishments are like rubber bullets fired on a guy high on bath salts.

Next, we go for the jugular. No toys or books in bed. This is when the tears commence.

Has it worked? Not completely.

Some nights we spend 45 minutes returning our toddler to his bed.

To him, it’s a game.

To us, it’s a time-waster and a mind-bender.

However, we know that once we allow him to leave his room and stay out, he’s won.

And that ain’t happening.

He knows a lot about us. But one thing he hasn’t realized yet is that his parents never, never, never give in.

Then again, it appears that neither does he.