Friday, April 26, 2013

"Time flies!"

"Time flies," everybody says.  They sure as hell got that right.

I can't tell you how many times fellow parents with kids older than mine have advised me, "Enjoy this age -- it'll go by fast!" or say, "You'll blink and they'll be leaving for college!"

The first couple of dozen times, I smiled and nodded -- kind of believing it, but also kind of not, considering all the crying I've heard, diapers I've changed, and toddler negotiating I've done.  This toddler phase seems to last an eternity.

But last night, my wife and I were on a bus, after a rare event sans children, and we simultaneously spotted a very cute baby, looking our way from her guardian's lap a couple of seats up from us.

A woman in the seat directly in front of us was making loud, silly utterances, trying to engage with the child, so I'm guessing this kid was used to being a hit.

I made a comment to my wife about all those times people have told us how fast children grow up.  It sounded weird, since one of our kids is only 18-months-old, and the other is 4-years-old.  We remembered our experiences from back when they were the age this child was:  about 5 months.

It was a lot of work.  Not that it isn't a lot of work now, but at least they can transport themselves and communicate -- though the communication thing can be challenging at times.

We got a little nostalgic about all the time and energy that's gone into helping our kids understand and navigate their world.  I like to think we've given them a good start.

So there we were, both thinking how big our son -- only a year and a half into his life -- was getting.  The next second, we both started laughing at how ridiculous that seemed, but how true it actually was.

One minute, he was cooing, getting swaddled and requiring night feedings...  the next he was calling for Mommy and Daddy, drinking from a sippy cup and proving to us that he could be the angriest 2-foot-tall dude in a diaper and tyke-sized tennis sneakers that ever existed.

So does time seem to be flying by?  Yeah.  It feels like we reached this crazy, unpredictable toddler phase way too fast.  The good parts are great, but the tough stuff seems to last a very, very long time.  We try to focus on the good stuff.

Do you feel like your child is growing too fast?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Going Bananas

Getting a kid to eat a balanced meal can be a challenge.

Not always, but during those stretches that it's a problem, you worry.  Is my child getting enough nutrients?  Should we go organic?  (Or, I guess I mean:  Should we go more organic than milk and the occasional piece of fruit?)

Then there's the bigger picture...  Forget about what the they're eating.  Are they getting enough food into their stomachs to stay alive?

After much suffering for a few years, and some consultation with fellow parents, I've decided to just go with the flow.  I now operate under the assumption that any eating issue that either of my kids has is temporary, and will eventually resolve itself.

Take our 4-year-old daughter.  She has long runs of "loving" a certain food, then "hating" it.

For example, she has loved bananas for as long as I can remember.  They're obviously a great infant munchable, and she just kept chowing them as she grew.  We keep bananas stocked as one of our go-to foods, since they're also good for her little brother.

But about two weeks ago, she declared, "I don't like bananas."  "Since when?" I responded.  "Since forever.  I never liked bananas."  Really?  Okay.  No more bananas.  I wasn't about to engage her;  I've learned that's a good way to make your brain's synaptic connections do things they're not supposed to do, and slowly cease to function.

Then a couple of days ago, my daughter suddenly said she wanted a banana.  "You're sure?" I asked.  "Yes, I love bananas.  I've never even had a banana."  Well, yeah you have -- probably hundreds of them.

At any rate, we didn't have any at home for our son at the time, so of course my response was:  "Okay, we'll get some more, next time we go the store."

Cut to the following trip for groceries, my daughter in tow.  I pick up a bunch of bananas, with her approval.

Cut to the next meal opportunity.  I offer her a banana.  She rejects it.

End Scene.  Or I guess that'd be End Act at this point.

So it's back to square one on bananas.  I'm sure they'll eventually come back into her favor.

Just yesterday, she told me she loved pears.  So I'll be picking up a couple on my next food run.

But let's face it...  I'm pretty sure I'll be eating pears next week.

If your kid doesn't eat well, how are you handling it?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

He's Just Not That Into Me... Yet.

My kid hates me.  Well, not really.  But sometimes it sure feels that way.

I'm talking about how a child (young ones -- we thankfully have a while before the teen attitude years) will favor one parent over the other, often for months on end. 

That's what's currently going on in our household.  When Mommy and Daddy are standing together in front of our 17-month-old son, Mommy gets the nod every time.

Don't get me wrong.  Our son is a loving, sweet kid who's very generous with hugs and smiles.  It's just that Mommy always gets them first.  Then maybe Daddy gets a little something.  It apparently depends on his mood.

But if he's upset, I'm chump change, like he's not quite even sure who I am.  To paraphrase a joke that my wife and I heard Jerry Seinfeld tell on his current standup tour, the kid will enter a room, see Daddy sitting on a couch, then say to him, "Can I help you with something?" -- like he was just visiting.  The truth hurts!

Believe you me, I've tried to win his attention.  Nothing works, not even Teddy Graham bribes.  He takes them with a smile, then goes back to Mommy.

Our son does toss me a bone at night.  That's when things change.  He prefers Daddy for bedtime.  Or maybe I should say, he doesn't cry at bedtime when he sees me.

We have a bedtime routine with books, but if I want to -- or if things are running late -- I can put him down in about five minutes flat.  So apparently our child picks me when he's ready not to see everyone for a while.

I take this as a point of pride, because basically, it's all I have right now.  I'm the "baby whisperer," or "toddler whisperer."

But of course I know the reality of the situation.  Even though there's a whole lot of yelling when Mommy puts him to bed, we know why.  When Mommy's with him, he doesn't want to go to sleep;  he wants to hang out.

Plus, the nighttime preference is a bit of a curse.  If he wakes up in the middle of the night, it has to be me who goes in to deal with him, for obvious reasons.  If my wife walked in there, he'd start setting up shop for playtime, asking for milk and some toys.

My wife and I consider this a kind of payback, for all those wee-hour feedings she had to handle for both our children when they were infants.  She definitely put in her time, so now it's my turn.

Full disclosure:  I've been the "chosen one" before.  The tables were turned when our daughter was about the same age our son is now.  She's 4 years old, but for nearly a year back then, she was indeed "Daddy's Girl."  It felt good -- real good -- although I had sympathy for my wife, who had to handle the rejection.

But that was then.  This is now.  I need that kid to bond with his Dad.  Then again, with two children constantly racing around the home, maybe I should enjoy the break.

Do you feel like you've bonded with your child?

Friday, April 12, 2013

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep: Do I Have a Choice?

They're three of the most dreaded words the parent of a young child can hear:  Cry it out.

Let me report this right off the bat:  My wife and I are adherents of the "cry it out" method, and we've practiced it on both our children.  So if you don't agree with Dr. Ferber or Dr. Weissbluth and would rather not hear about it, you can bail now.

But you shouldn't worry, I won't be advocating for "cry it out" as the sole solution here.  Every parent has a set of beliefs and a way of doing things.  What works for one child -- and that child's Mom and Dad -- is not guaranteed to work for another.

Furthermore, the truth of the matter is that neither "cry it out" nor any other magical sleep solution you may hear about will solve all sleep problems.  At least, not in my home.

We have actually tried multiple sleep training methods with both our kids.  They're trying to figure out how to sleep, just like we're trying to figure out how to best get them to sleep.  No matter how well one way works, it won't work all the time.

What CIO did do was set an expectation for our kids at an early age that they needed to learn to go to sleep on their own, even when they didn't want to.  It worked great for kid #1, but kid #2 has a mind of his own.

Kid #1 is our 4-year daughter, who adopted the CIO method in just one night --  about 15 minutes, to be exact.  We had expected the worst.  We were in a one bedroom apartment at the time (not recommended with a kid in the picture, let alone two) and on the night in question, we grabbed pillows and sheets, and set up camp on some couch cushions in the living room.  We assumed we'd be there all night.  Our daughter -- now the sole occupant of the master bedroom -- started wailing, and when we went in to make sure nothing serious was afoot, we found that she had chucked her blanket on the floor.  She was in the process of reaching for it through the slats in her crib.

We picked up the blanket, handed it to her, and left.  10 minutes later, she was out like a light.  That was it.  We revisited the CIO practice a few times after that, but after about the eight-month point, if our daughter woke up crying, then there was a real problem, like an illness.

It just so happens Kid #2 is quite an operator -- highly skilled at the art of getting us out of bed.  After our generally positive experience with our daughter, we figured we'd try "cry it out" with our son.  The initial run lasted a few more nights than his sister's did, but it worked.  Since then, however, we've had a lot of nights where the 17-month-old wakes up for no good reason -- at least, no good reason we can come up with.

Sometimes a runny nose will appear in a day or two, so then we know why he'd been up:  he was getting sick and felt like crap.

On other days, however, we've determined we're getting played:  The second he emerges from the bedroom, the tear machine turns off and he's all smiles, ready for some playtime.  It's like a happy/sad switch being flicked.  "Cry enough and they'll get me up so I can hang," he seems to be telling himself.

The reality is your kids are going to get you up -- often.  They'll toss stuff out of their cribs and eventually figure out a way to climb out of the thing on their own.  And just when you think you've licked one problem, or have survived another developmental milestone, something else kicks in.  Like night terrors.  Or teething.  Or talking.  Really.  These kids just don't seem to slow down.

Fortunately, my wife and I were always in agreement on the "cry it out" practice.  It's not easy hearing your child scream at the top of her or his lungs, but it helps if you truly think it'll get you a kid who sleeps better.  It's nice to be in sync with your partner.  That way, you can cling to each other when it sounds like all unholy hell has broken loose just two minutes after you've put your child to bed.

But having kids means, for a few years at least, you aren't going to sleep well.  So get some chamomile tea, take a bath, and hit the hay early.  It's going to be a long night.

How do you feel about the "cry it out" method?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Beginning of the End of Innocence?

It happened this past Easter Sunday.  Our first child set a new upper limit for testing parental boundaries, and in the process, threw her Daddy into a quandary.

Our 4-year-old daughter has certainly told her share of white lies:  "I only watched one 'Curious George.'"  "We did wash my hair last night."  Those are of no concern.  But kid deception had up until now not been on our radar screens.

Here's how it went down.  Mommy was out of the house somewhere with kid #2.  Daddy was taking a shower.  Things were quiet.  Too quiet.  I'd heard a door shut, which signals our daughter wants "to be alone" for a bit.  It usually indicates she's setting up a family in a new Lego home, or putting together an art show of princess drawings.  We're fortunate in that she's very independent and imaginative.  She'll latch on to a project of her own invention and be good for an hour or two, easy.

When I emerged from the bathroom, she had just exited her bedroom.  She was using both her arms to cradle her oversize Easter basket, while her right hand was balled up in a fist, concealing something.  When she saw me, she got deer-caught-in-headlight eyes.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Nothing," she said.  She quickly made her way to a garbage can and deposited the contents of her hand.

I figured the key to this little mystery was now inside that can, so I checked it out.  Bingo:  two candy wrappers -- both from chocolate items.

Now we're certainly not an anti-candy household.  In fact, if our children decide to apply the "lead by example" theory to the eating habits of Mom and Dad, they'll both be quite familiar with dentists' offices a little ways down the road.

Plus it was Easter Sunday, for crying out loud.  She had just found her basket hidden in a closet earlier that day, filled with plastic eggs, candy, and a new pair of pink ballet slippers.  We have a place where her candy intake from parties, Halloween, etc. goes, and her Easter haul hadn't yet made the trip.

So there it all was -- gummies, jellybeans and chocolate bunnies -- staring at her from that big basket, in a room with no brother, Mommy or Daddy present.  It doesn't matter if you're a kid or an adult -- feasting on Easter candy on Easter Day is what you're supposed to do.

I think what bothered me was that her inclination was to suppress the fact that she had just chowed some chocolate, instead of simply saying, "I just had some candy from my Easter basket, and it tasted good!"

But then I realized something.  On any other day, our daughter would ask for a treat and we'd okay it, typically waiting until after a meal to give it to her.  She doesn't have candy every day, but when she does, we have a limit for it, and she knows what it is.  My wife and I knew that rule was waived for Easter, but our daughter didn't.  That's likely why she chose to hide the snack.

I wouldn't go so far as to say her reticence hurt my feelings, but it did trigger some thoughts about how the nature of my relationship with my daughter could evolve.  What I'd like is a completely open forum:  Any problem you have, kid, Dad can handle, or at least give an opinion.

What also struck me was that it was a clear sign of what might be around the corner.  I flashed back to my own deceptions and lies when I was young.  They weren't excessive, but they were also not my finest moments.

Then I flashed forward, to what my daughter might keep from Mom and Dad:  a bad-for-her boyfriend, busting curfew, sneaking booze.  Suddenly, I was happy we lived on an upper floor in our building, so she couldn't use some of her dolls to make a fake kid under the covers, then slip out a window.

I ended up having a chat about honesty with her.  I told her that having Easter candy on Easter Day was totally fine.  I also told her that she could tell me anything.  She said, "Okay."  Then I offered her a few jellybeans.

Do you remember the first time your child deceived you?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sparkle Me Not

Mopping up after some poop shot up and out the back end of my 17-month old's diaper?  Bring it.

Working for two hours straight to settle down my 4-year-old from an epic tantrum over a pair of striped socks?  I got it.

Trying to clean that stale milk stink out of a sippy cup straw, for fear of letting some robust bug enter our boy's body?  Can do.

Handling doo-doo and tears can certainly be taxing, but it's par for the course.  So what could possibly be worse than all those tasks?  Easy:  cleaning up glitter.

The stuff drives me insane.  The fact that I have a 4-year-old daughter is part of the problem.  Her Princess Phase started early and is still going strong.  It's filled with sparkly figurines, iridescent party clothes and pink ballet shoes -- all adorned with glitter galore.  Add to that the glitter artwork made with glitter ink and glitter glue that comes home with her from school, and you have a whole lot of the shiny substance.

I've read that the use of glitter goes back to prehistoric times.  It was reportedly used to decorate caves, and early humans are said to have put it on cosmetically.  Oh, how I wish it hadn't made the leap to modernity.  Or at least had stayed with the age of Glitter Rock.  Ah, the days of my early youth!

Glitter history has it that an American machinist invented the present-day version in the 1930s or '40s by repurposing scrap metal.  Nowadays, it's everywhere.

Glitter pieces get drizzled onto the most remote areas of our home.  I can spot light dancing off a tiny particle of it from quite a distance.  Those are of course the bits that I don't find stuck to my skin or clothes, which can make for an interesting day at work.

I should've prefaced this with a pseudo-OCD admission.  I have issues when it comes to clean living, and I'm not referring to booze or drugs.  I need order in my life, and I need things to be clean.  Not spotless, mind you -- just very, very clean.

When I was single, I considered my domestic skills one of my most attractive selling points;  I can accomplish a whole lot of clean-up in just a few precious stolen minutes. 

But glitter has become my white whale.  I've tried to institute a glitter ban in our household.  I don't completely deny my child of her love for all princessly things, but if you've ever handled the stuff, you know that a little bit is all it takes to visit untold long-term horror on your home.  I recently found a small silver piece from a princess dress my daughter wore at least six months ago stuck to a t-shirt that I've worn and laundered easily a dozen times since.

The tenacity of glitter is unreal.  I always find it unbelievable that despite passing through the USPS's highly mechanized and physical system of automated machinery and hand delivery, some cards containing the shimmering menace still reach our mailbox with glitter on the outside of the envelopes.  How is that possible?

My wife of course thinks I'm insane for attempting to recover and chuck each and every minuscule piece of glitter that gets loose from the decorated items that breach my security.  Check that:  She thinks I'm insane, but she gives me a free pass.  That's what spouses who rock do.  I'm a lucky man, because it's not possible for me to rewire this part of my being.  Besides, she gets a pretty darn clean household.

While I'm sure there are at least a few folks out there who are in my camp, I understand that many people love glitter.  It looks fun to them, and makes them feel happy.  I get it, I really do.  But I need it to stay out of my home, or at least to stay stuck in the '70s.

So what's the worst clean-up job you've had as a parent?