Book Review: Home Game

Earlier this year, I received a copy of Michael Lewis’s Home Game as a gift. This is definitely the kind of book that I probably would have bought for myself after reading the dust jacket. Here’s an excerpt:

“When he became a father, Michael Lewis found himself expected to feel things that he didn’t feel, and to do things that he couldn’t see the point of doing. At first this made him feel guilty, until he realized that all around him fathers were pretending to do one thing, to feel one way, when in fact they felt and did all sorts of things, then engaged in what amounted to an extended cover-up … The remarkable thing about this story isn’t that Lewis is so unusual. It’s that he is so typical. The only wonder is that his wife has allowed him to publish it.”

Lewis is the author of several sports- and finance-themed books that have been made into movies, which is as much a barometer of success for an author these days as anything (see The Blind Side, Moneyball, and most recently The Big Short). Home Game departs from his most famous subject matter to instead focus on his everyday experiences as a father to three children (his wife, I just learned, is Tabitha Soren, who was on MTV back when MTV mattered).

It’s clear through his anecdotes that no matter where a father falls on the income spectrum, no matter the amount of success, if he cares about and loves his family then chances are he’s going to have some version of the same fatherly experiences. Lewis retells his stories in a way in which, I suspect, any parent could recognize elements of their own lives. Most of them are laugh-out-loud funny, too. Some of the highlights for me: Secret pride as his daughter fends off bullies by warning them that she’s going to pee in the public swimming pool if they don’t leave her brother alone. Camping overnight with his daughter in a theme park in Oakland. The stress and anxiety of caring for his infant son diagnosed with RSV. It’s in this last example that Lewis spells out parenthood in as beautifully blunt a way as I’ve seen:

“If you want to feel the way you’re meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work. It’s only in caring for a thing that you become attached to it.”

I think this is, quite frankly, one of the only ways the human race endures. We build up the bonds to our children through caring for them in those tough early days. That, and because they’re cute. There are other areas in the book where Lewis’s bluntness and candor might not be for everyone, but it is frequently hilarious all the same. And since the source material for the book came from the journals Lewis kept after the birth of all three children, it all rings true, making this book a very real peek into the life of a modern family.

As for me, I enjoyed the book – and it was a quick read – but I don’t think I buy the extended cover-up notion wholesale. I do think it’s true that once a baby arrives, the reality of the experience quickly replaces any preconceived fantasies you may have had about having a child. And it’s definitely true that, at least in our case, it takes time to forge a deep bond that goes beyond the initial just-getting-by days. Lewis also has a point with the idea that many modern dads don’t really know what the job entails these days, and we all sort of have to figure it out for ourselves and make it work for our own families. (As a member of the father club, however, I also want to be careful to not destroy the illusion for any of the other dads out there that are playing the long con.)

One final thing that I took from the book is the idea of doing a journal to capture some of the more fleeting thoughts and memories that come from being a parent. I’ve been trying to share the big highlights about parenthood on this blog when I can, but of course I can’t (and don’t want to) share everything. For one, everything’s moving so fast that I can’t trust myself to remember it all. For two, not everything’s blog material – I don’t have aspirations of posting daily about the peanut butter & jelly sandwich my kid had for lunch. But I want to resolve to write more in 2016, and a journal is one way I just might be able to make it happen, so I’m going to personally give it a shot.

In closing, if you have a dry sense of humor and you find yourself becoming a parent in the coming year (either “again” or for the first time), or if you want to relive some of those early parenting days, then Home Game is definitely worth a read.

Hello From The Other Side

Well. That took a while. I’m back.

But I never really left; I’ve just been doing more offline than at any other time this year. The feelings carrying me through October, November, and most of December 2015 were just about equal to the blurriness and just-barely-staying-afloat that permeated the first few newborn-fueled weeks of the year. I know I’ve got you interested now, so let’s review the autumn months!

Shortly after my last post in early October, my blog was hacked. At least I was spared wild spam postings about sexual performance and making money online; instead, the hackers focused on leaving malicious files filled with virus-y goodness parked in various corners of my website, waiting to do who-knows-what. Luckily, my hosting service found out about it and contacted me. They happily offered to clean up the mess for me for hundreds of dollars, but I rose to the challenge and thanked my lucky stars for frequent backups and a basic know-how of webpage janitorial services.

Following that near-fiasco, I think everybody got sick for a few weeks straight. It’s difficult to say, because most of my memories of that time are feverish and ill-formed. I could also have very easily learned how to float down the hallway during this same period, but I’m still waiting to verify that. I do have solid evidence, however, that a few big projects popped up at work during this time period, which consumed any extra time I had when I wasn’t coughing or in bed. During this time, we also had a bit of a health scare with my grandmother, so we also all took a special trip back to West Virginia for a whirlwind weekend.

In the ensuing weeks, the weather got weirder as well. I’d been training for a half marathon in October all through the summer, but the specter of Hurricane Joaquin forced the organizers to cancel the event a few days ahead of time, only to essentially dodge the DC area. Now, we’re in the middle of an El Niño-fueled swampy Christmas that feels imported from Miami.

October turned into November and we increasingly lowered our expectations on what to do with our free time. There was a whole spell of several weeks where Noah no longer slept through the night. Once we put him to bed, laying down on the couch for a couple of hours before he woke up again seemed to be the best option. Laundry started being done solely based on whether our underwear levels were dangerously low or not. Our DVR filled to dangerous levels with unwatched programs. Our budget and spending became dangerously erratic. In essence, we had regressed back to being parents of a one-month-old. We experimented with different methods of putting him to bed, settling on a variant of a “gradual retreat” that seemed to help him self-soothe enough to get him to go back to sleep when he did wake. This basically involved one of us sitting increasingly closer to the door as we watched him wail in the crib, interspersed with us consoling our little guy and calming him back down. Much to my surprise, after a few nights, he began falling asleep on his own. Our outlook improved slightly after that, and we would have celebrated as well had we not been so tired.

It was around this time that Thanksgiving was drawing close. Scheduled to go to West Virginia, we looked forward to a few days’ rest with extra help to watch Noah. It was even conceivable to think of the trip as a vacation, something we hadn’t had all year.

That was the case right up until I got into a car accident on I-295 the Thursday before we were to leave and totaled my old, trusty Altima. Before you get concerned, I walked away from it just fine, as did everyone else involved. It wasn’t even that much damage; it was just a little too much for the old bird to bear.  I was dealing with insurance and an obstinate towing company that refused to give up my car for a few more days, right up until I came down with a nasty stomach virus that laid me low for a few days more. That particular bug made its rounds through our whole family. Miraculously, we all improved enough to still go to West Virginia, just several days later than we had originally planned and on some of the worst traffic days of the year. Even a shortened version of the holiday worked wonders for our health, and spending time with family was worth it.

After Thanksgiving, our eyes turned toward Christmas as our next real extended break, but I could have sworn the world was doing everything it could to keep us from getting there. Gina’s workload kept going up. Our free car rental through my insurance couldn’t last forever, so we had to work in an entire afternoon to buy a new car (a 2016 Camry). At least that seems to have worked out in our favor so far, but it did take time away from planning Noah’s first birthday party (not to mention Gina’s portion of planning a baby shower the next weekend). The Toy Story-themed party went off without a hitch and was a lot of fun, and it was great to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in a while, but I don’t think either one of us sat down the entire time.

As we neared the finish line for the year, Noah threw us one more curveball by contracting another daycare plague, this time in the form of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. (No, this isn’t the same thing as Hoof and Mouth Disease in cattle. And while I feel like they could have come up with a more creative name for it, it’s unfortunately fairly common in the under-five crowd these days, so no need to call the CDC yet.) Shortly after that, I had another feverish couple of days, laid low with yet another weird virus. (Enough with the viruses already!) Luckily, both Noah and I have been given a clean bill of health this week so Gina and I could finally begin organizing our house and put up our Christmas tree. (I had been predicting we wouldn’t decorate it until Christmas Eve, but we beat that by a whole day!) Unfortunately, Noah also shared his virulent Christmas gift with his Nana, so now our holiday plans are under revision even as I write this.

All of this might read as a long list of complaints, but there were certainly highlights. Reconnecting with family and friends, making new friends, Noah’s constant developments and new facial expressions, and personal triumphs all brought some needed levity and joy. And don’t get me wrong, throughout all of this I also counted my blessings that we were at least keeping everyone clothed, fed, and housed, if not 100% healthy and happy every day. Sure, there were so many horrifying things happening in the world – Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino chief among them – that I fully admit to sitting down and tearing up several times when I contemplated the kind of world our son would be inheriting. The political grandstanding that now follows these events, and the idea that a gun-toting radical with any motive could strike anywhere at any time just depresses me even more. But I suppose this period of trials has, in a way, made our family stronger as we look more toward each other for support and finding small moments of happiness when we’re exhausted by it all. Luckily, Noah’s got an abundant supply of those, every time he smiles, and I have hope for his potential to do good. It’s this hope, plus faith and love that will see us through, I am confident of that.

But it would still be nice if the beginning of 2016 was just a teeny bit easier.

And even if it doesn’t turn out to be, just like our traditional folk hero Adele who brings us all together every time she releases an album, at least I can say that I’ve tried.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Rules

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about our parenting experiences. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting happening, it’s just that everything is going so fast. Just as we get used to a set of routines (for instance, the five-to-eight month-old version of the rules, which I have to say we had down pat) the game completely changes. I’ve been trying to joke that as long as everybody in our house is clothed, fed, and somewhat happy, then we are doing okay, but here lately we’ve been lucky to feel like we’re getting any two out of the three right.

Maybe we should only be parents of a constant rotation of five-to-eight-month olds.

BWAHAHAHA, sorry, I think I lost my mind there for a second.

Calvinball is probably easier to figure out, actually.

Anyway, one good example of the shifting sands of time is Noah’s eating habits. If we could just feed him the same amount of formula forever, we’d be golden. I’ve gotten really, really good at making bottles, and he’s always been really, really good at drinking them. But of course, for some reason we have to introduce solid foods and try to teach him to pick up small chunks of stuff that don’t taste as good as his milk, or convince him that drinking out of a sippy cup is much better than shotgunning a bottle of formula. In essence, he’ll always have to work harder for his food from here on out, and there’s every indication from every other parent in the world that soon, after he fully transitions to “real” food, he won’t want to eat at all. So then we’ll have to worry about him starving to death. Cool.

These transitional problems are, of course, not insurmountable. But to solve them requires a certain creativity and imagination. When you factor in that we still have a basic level of exhaustion in all things, you can imagine that creativity takes a hit. Our poor brains are preoccupied with survival. For instance, it took us weeks if not months to figure out a way to give Noah his last bottle of the day without it counting as “giving him a bottle to go to sleep,” which we learned from our doctors is one of the first cardinal sins of parenting, beginning somewhere around six months. (The solution was just to rearrange the order of his nighttime routine and do the bottle before the bath.)

Another dangerous game of roulette as he gets older, we’ve found, is the process of slowly introducing him to new foods. These days, you never know what a kid is going to be allergic to, so it’s best to introduce only one new food at a time just so you can do some reverse engineering if things go sour in the aftermath.

So far we’ve been lucky, until recently. After a relatively normal breakfast where we let Noah nibble on some fragments of scrambled eggs, we went about our day and ended up going shopping for some babyproofing supplies. No sooner had we left the store than Noah, quietly and without warning, emptied the contents of his stomach all over himself. And the car seat. We rushed home, cleaned him up, and tried to give him some more food to make up for the “lost” meal, so to speak.  Three words: more projectile vomiting.

After some feverish racing around to clean him up, a quick debate about whether we should go straight to the ER, and a call to the after-hours on-call pediatrician, we finally settled in to a night of gradual doses of PediaLyte and general sleeplessness. By the next day, our little guy was fine, but we don’t know what caused the episode. We are tentatively chalking it up to an egg allergy, since that was the only new food he’d eaten that day, but we’re just not sure.

How do people survive to grow up to be adults again? I was hoping Noah would avoid the food allergy arena altogether, but is each new generation of humanity carrying us swiftly towards our ultimate destiny of just being allergic to everything?

Since there’s no way to answer those questions, I guess we’re stuck with a game of throw-up Russian roulette. Just add another chapter to the ever-changing rulebook of parenthood – which is, of course, printed backwards. In invisible ink.

The Ides of July

Wow! It’s been a while, mainly because July has been an unusual month of firsts since I last posted. Join me for another wild and wooly trip into the parenting arena!

Noah started daycare, which has gone well. I’ve only forgotten his stuff when I’ve gone to pick him up once, and I’ve never forgotten him, so I count that as a win. Everyone seems to love him there, as random adults will shout “Hi, Noah!” when we arrive, while ignoring us. He’s the only boy in his room. I guess he’s kind of a big deal? As for us, we’ve settled into the new drop-off, pick-up, and getting-ready-for-school-every-night routine without incident.

Noah got his first two teeth! This was quite a surprise when we first noticed. They’re the bottom two front teeth, and while very nice and very cute teeth, they also mean he’s growing up too fast, so they’re frightening.  Anyway, we trick him into showing us his teeth by letting him chew on one of his bottle lids, which leaves a nice clear plastic window to the bottom of his mouth. That’s pure Gina parenting ingenuity right there.

Noah got his first cold from daycare! This was less exciting and happened nearly the same day we discovered his teeth, so for a while we thought it was just a “teething fever.” It turns out, through medical research on the Internet, that there really is no such thing as a teething fever (even though many parents swear it’s a real thing). Whatever the truth is, we definitely confirmed with the pediatrician that this was a full-fledged, sneezy, snotty, coughing summer cold. (See, he’s already catching cooties from all the girls at school!)

We got our first shared illness brought home from daycare! This was even less exciting. In fact, it downright sucked, because we’re still fighting our way out of it almost 10 days later. Gina and her Mom were hit the hardest, as they juggled days taking care of the little guy while he was banned from daycare, and so were exposed the most. Gina still has the signs of a viral infection. I somehow dodged the virus bullet but managed to wear myself down enough to get a massive allergy attack in the middle of July. Supposedly there’s a lot of mold floating around these parts? Anyway, our house has been nothing but coughs and sniffles for a week.

But the final first, though dampened a little bit by our various illnesses, was Noah taking his first trip to West Virginia and meeting a good grouping of my family. He traveled like a champion, only getting cranky in the last half hour or so of the nine-hour drive. Noah finally meeting my brother was a big deal. Letting Mom hold him again was a lot of fun, especially since she’s been going through an illness of her own recently. Seeing Dad fawn over his grandson again while carrying Noah up and down the hillside was worth the long drive. Watching my aunts, uncles, and cousins interact with him was surely worth the incessant coughing, though I sincerely hope we all feel better for the second visit.

So really, it’s been all I could do just to keep up with all the changes around here, not to mention getting on the mend and actually writing about them. The ups and downs make me wonder what August has lying in wait for us. The hottest month in Northern Virginia has certainly been a time of change for me several times over – will this one live up to the hype?

The Diaper Games

In the early months of parenthood, I likened the diapering process to some sort of lasso and rodeo ordeal. That, my friends, was a much simpler time. I didn’t know that the difficulty curve for diapering was actually somewhere between level 8-3 in Super Mario Bros. and playing through Contra without the unlimited lives cheat code.

The main reason for this difficulty is that in recent weeks, Noah has picked up some extra mobility tricks. He can roll over pretty much at will and pull himself toward anything he can grab. He rolls himself into a ball when he sleeps. He can do the baby equivalent of push-ups all day long. For his size, I’d say he has roughly the same upper body strength as a Russian boxing bear. All of this is great and normal for his development, and it’s usually a lot of fun to watch.

However, when you add those tricks to the changing table, it makes for a doggone circus.

These days, as soon as his butt hits the changing pad, Noah must think to himself, “at last.” He instantly begins reaching for whatever he can find, which in this case includes various lotion bottles, the Noah’s Ark wall hanging that he’s always loved so much, a container of wipes, or maybe even his poop-filled diaper. All of these items, except the wall hanging, have gone crashing to the floor either as a direct result of his reaching or a panicky grab by a parent trying to keep their newly-agile baby from also crashing to the floor.

And so I’ve resorted many times to holding down my son with one arm while negotiating the flaps of the diaper using one free hand, along with whichever fingers aren’t occupied with preventing certain injury and head trauma to my blissfully unaware baby boy. Usually, this results in one of us getting poop all over himself.

I haven’t even touched on how enjoyable it is to attempt putting pajamas on Noah while he’s turning, reaching, and flopping around. For your sake, just imagine that it’s pretty close to docking an unmaneuverable spaceship to an airlock that’s spinning violently.

I know there’s no way around this and that it’s only going to get worse. And I know this is just another prime moment for you veteran parents reading this to smile knowingly and laugh at our misadventures (you’re welcome). But seriously, at this rate we might as well hang a trapeze above the changing pad and just let Noah go to town.

I doubt that would really work, but I know that he would love every second of it.