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.

It’s A Tummy Time World, We Just Have To Live In It

As a new parent, I naturally want my child to be good at everything. This is a natural parental reaction for anybody who ultimately sees their children as their meal ticket to a gold-plated retirement. Of course there are people who take it too far – beauty pageant moms that doll up their four-year-olds, or Little League dads who get ejected from ballparks for chewing out the coaches, umps, or whoever’s in earshot. While I don’t think I’ll ever get that bad (I want my son to ultimately choose his own destiny, though I do hope he embraces whatever talents he’s been blessed with), I probably have a little bit of that in me. Although, give me a few years and I might be shouting at a referee too.

At every one of Noah’s check-ups, the pediatrician hands out these little sheets before we go home. They list the measurements that the nurse took, among other advice and stats, but there are also usually lists of “things your baby should be doing” by that point in time. A typical list might include such milestones as “your baby should be able to lift their head” or “your baby should be cooing and smiling and grasping for things” or even “your baby should already be writing their first computer program YOU HAVE FAILED AS A PARENT.” There’s something buried in the fine print about how not all babies will exhibit all of the behaviors at the same time, but that might as well be written in invisible ink.

These lists are insidious for several types of parents:

  • Those that are nervous they’re doing something wrong (check! and see above)
  • Those that are lazy and can never finish to-do lists
  • Those that are driven to see their child achieve (check! and again, see above)

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Wait, yes it is.

So I look at these lists and I instantly blame myself for any skill my son hasn’t already begun and mastered. And out of all the lists we’ve received so far, the dance moves that Noah hasn’t displayed yet can mostly be traced back to one thing: tummy time.

If you’re not well-versed in the latest child-raising lingo, tummy time is fairly self-explanatory: you’re supposed to put your baby on their stomach for several minutes each day so they can build up their core muscles and learn how to push up, look around, roll over, and eventually crawl. It’s become an important consideration ever since the early 90’s when pediatricians began insisting that babies sleep on their backs to avoid sudden infant death syndrome. (Side note: that is hands-down the scariest, and yet simplest, name for a medical condition ever coined.)

And, as the saying goes, since you have to crawl before you can walk, you might as well say that tummy time is now the most important thing ever for a baby’s development. At the very least, the little pediatrician sheets call for ever-increasing amounts of tummy time. Not giving a baby tummy time is to condemn them to a lifetime of having a noodle neck.

It’s a cutesy name, this “tummy time.” The only problem, and Noah is no exception, is that apparently most babies hate it. Over these first few months of life, our bundle of joy will usually tolerate only a minute or two of tummy goodness before unleashing wails of complete and utter terror and fury, instantly sending waves of guilt throughout the house. We’ve gone through all of the distraction techniques listed on the most popular baby websites. We usually try laying Noah on the couch so we can be eye level with him without too much contortion, but that only works for a little while. We’ve mixed it up with toys, brightly-colored objects, and getting him to look at any object within arm’s reach (be it a dog bone, an actual dog, fuzzballs from the carpet – the usual favorites). We’ve tried singing, talking in a soothing voice, and dancing. Nothing can delay the terror for long.

And so there are moments every day where Gina and I have to make a hard call. Do we completely upset our cooing and smiling baby for a few minutes of tummy torture, or do we just let him keep cooing and smiling? I’m a little ashamed to say that, most days, the cooing wins. Who wants to kick that hornets nest, even if every time we delay it I picture every pediatrician in our practice shaming me, scowling and foretelling “your son’s going to have a noodle neck… NOODLE NECK!!!”

One day, not long ago, Noah was due for some shots at the end of his checkup. The nurse had us strip him down to his diaper and, for some reason, lay him on his stomach. I remember grimacing and turning my head to Gina, bracing for the maelstrom that was about to occur. I was pretty sure we would be kicked straight out of the doctor’s office for having a too-loud baby.

But as the normal screaming threshold elapsed and there was nary a peep from our son, I dared to open my clenched eyes a bit. Noah was not only not screaming, he looked to be actually enjoying tummy time. We could not understand why, until we noticed that he was drooling (a lot) on the paper the nurses put down on the exam table before we arrived in the room. You know the stuff. It’s the same kind of paper that rattles like crazy whenever you’re trying to be quiet while awkwardly sitting down in your underwear in any doctor’s office, waiting to be examined.

Noah was turning this paper into a feast. Or more accurately, he was drooling so much on the paper that the area around his mouth eventually turned into mush and we had to keep moving him around the exam table. It was clear that something about the crinkly noises the paper made, combined with the (no doubt) exotic taste, was keeping him happy despite being on his stomach. This went on for a good fifteen minutes, even while the nurse and doctor finished everything they needed to do.

Naturally, I began wondering if we could steal a roll of the exam table paper. Thinking better of it, I then wondered if we would be able to recreate the results. For one reason or another (parental amnesia), we didn’t even try at home for a long time, until this week. Faced with the reality that we needed to try tummy time again, a worn-out synapse in my brain finally fired up and reminded me of this miraculous doctor’s office cure.

I rushed to the kitchen, pulled out a sheet of wax paper, and ran back to slide the paper under our son. And, wouldn’t you know, it worked. Twelve minutes of uninterrupted tummy time and one soggy sheet of wax paper later, everyone was relaxing.

This is the stuff dreams are made of.
This is the stuff dreams are made of.

Is this the answer to life’s problems? No. Is it going to save Noah from having a noodle neck? Maybe. But thanks to this discovery, we no longer dread tummy time quite as much. We still need to get in a routine of doing it more often, but at least it appears we have enough of a distraction to make it work.

And you read it here first, but I’m thinking about buying up a bunch of wax paper, re-packaging it, and selling it as a baby product. “Crinkle Sheets” or something like that. There’s a market for it, I guarantee you.

In The Club

The other day, I went to pick up my dry cleaning as part of a Vin Diesel-approved fast and furious errand trip. We’ve found that when we do get a work release from Noah to run errands, knowing that we’re on borrowed time, we always try to maximize the productivity of the trip. We don’t want to waste precious energy – energy that we could use for sleep – by going out again because we forgot some crucial item. We were pretty good about writing lists before, but we’ve taken it to whole new levels now. Dry erase boards, note pads, Post-Its, discarded shreds of magazines, pictures of lists on our phones – if we have a moment’s thought that we need something, it had better get written down or it will be lost to the ether of time. And let’s not forget logistics – I’ve gone as far as to plan out the route with the fewest left turns so I don’t waste time idling. It’s time efficient and good for the environment, people. Productivity is up, up, up.

A pretty standard supply run.
A pretty standard supply run.

But that’s not my story here today. Back to the dry cleaning. I picked it up with no problem, my mind already on the next few stops and whether I could circle around behind the shopping center in the no-man’s-land of dumpsters and loading bays to shave a few minutes off my trip time. When I exited the cleaners, however, access to my car was blocked by an SUV with its doors open. Behind the rear passenger door, a mother around my age was trying valiantly – and failing – to get her infant daughter, who looked a little older than Noah, settled into her car seat.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed when she saw me standing there with an armful of dress shirts. “I’m still trying to figure this thing out.”

I thought back to the afternoon I spent crawling on top of our car seat bases, using my full weight and sacrificing my shins to install them properly. I also remembered the very recent anxiety I felt when first attempting to put Noah in the seat without fully realizing how to adjust the straps.

“No problem,” I replied, “I have a six-week-old at home, so I definitely understand.”

She offered up a smile and a “congratulations!” I smiled back, congratulated her as well, and waited patiently.

And that’s when it hit me: we’re part of the parent club now. Now, when I see wall-to-wall strollers at the zoo, I’ll understand the necessity to tow the contents of a small apartment with me. The next time a kid melts down in a restaurant next to us, we’ll have more empathy than annoyance. Soon, I’ll be able to have an active conversation with other adults about children’s music and the relative merits of the latest batch of cartoons. And when I run into new parents out in the real world, parents not much further along this journey than we are, my heart will go out to them. Gina and I have been inducted into a secret society, and when we pass other members on the street, they will acknowledge us with merely a silent, almost imperceptible nod. No words need be exchanged.

The lady finally got her daughter snapped, buckled, and braced into her car seat. After a pat on her child’s head, she shut the door. As she moved to walk around to her driver’s seat, the mother glanced back and said “good luck on sleeping!” I wished her well, dumped my dress shirts into my back seat, and climbed into my car.

For most anyone else, or among total strangers, that might have seemed a weird way to end a polite conversation. But for two members of the International Coalition of Parents of Infants, it was a universal farewell.