Sunday, December 28, 2014

For Unto Us a Child Is Born

Baby, All I Want for Christmas Is You

Earlier in December we were on our way to my Mom's to celebrate an early Christmas gathering.  We drove by a church that had a Nativity scene set-up outside.  Here is the conversation that was struck up by Isla, our oldest daughter, when she realized that the baby in the manager was missing from the set.

Isla - "Where is Baby Jesus?"
Jess - "He hasn't come yet.  He will come on Christmas Day."
Brief silence while her four year old brain processed this.
Isla - "Maybe we should name our baby Jesus."

The sincerity of her suggestion obviously gave us a good chuckle at the time.  We hadn't decided on a name, or really even narrowed it down to a few front-runners, but we were pretty certain we would not be giving our child the same name as Jesus Christ Superstar himself.  Seems like a big namesake to live up to.  It wasn't until after that weekend that I actually stopped to think about Isla's comment.  What if she knows something we don't?  Could she be foreshadowing that her brother will be born on Christmas Day?  She doesn't even know what foreshadowing means.  If he is born on Christmas Day, are we kind of obligated to name him Jesus?  The plot line was thick with suspense.

Well, lo and behold what she "may have" predicted would come to pass (figured I should keep the lingo biblical as much as possible for this one).  At 3:00am on Christmas morn, in a lowly (sterile) stable (hospital delivery room), my wife gave birth to our first born son, Guthrie Rasmus Bruns.  He was wrapped in swaddling clothes (that part is actually true) and laid in a manager (a portable bassinet with some heating lights).  He weighed in at 8lbs, 9 oz, and was 17.5 inches long.  No angels, shepherds or cattle lowing.  Just the wonderful staff at the St. Cloud Hospital to oversee a pretty, thankfully, uneventful delivery.  Best present ever.      

We seem to have a knack for landing kid's birthdays on days that are already occupied with other festivities - our first shares a birthday with my wife, and now our youngest shares a birthday with the Son of Man.  When we found out our projected due date was January 1, we figured the odds of him being born on an already observed day were pretty high; between the Christmas and New Year Holidays, our wedding anniversary on January 2nd, and our second daughter's birthday on December 30th.  Poor Havi, along with now being the middle child, she'll be the only one with a birthday on a relatively regular day.  I'm sure that will be good shrink discussion material in her mid-40s.

All things considered, the timing of the birth seemed to work out well logistically.  We were hosting my wife's side of the family starting on Christmas Eve, so there were ample people around to watch after the girls as we dashed to the hospital - in a one horse open sleigh of course.  It was probably the commotion and emotion of having a dozen extra people in our house that set my wife into labor.  Interesting to note though, the actual day of Christ's birth is relatively unknown, and December 25th seemed to be picked somewhat arbitrarily.  The secular notion of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve wasn't conjectured until the mid 19th century.  One of the students I used to work with had a Christmas birthday, and while she said it was kind of a drag growing up, it was nice to always be able to spend your birthday with family.  I'm hopeful he'll have a similar mindset someday.

Now that we're home from the hospital, we're getting abruptly reacquainted to what life is like with a newborn - exhaustively amazing.  Newborns can be a relatively fickle group to entertain.  This was one of the most eye-opening things I learned after our first child was born.  Newborns sleep a lot, I figured, and I'll have all of this free time to be productive.  Wrong.  Newborns take a crapload of uninterrupted time being held (in insanely uncomfortable positions), snuggled, rocked, driven around in the car, etc.  The other night, I was playing a fun game with Gus (as we've taken to calling him when we're lazy) while we were trying to put him down for the night.  After wrapping him up like the mandated baby burrito and putting him in his cradle, I would shut off the lights and get into bed.  I'd then count the number of seconds I could lay there before he would start crying again and need to be picked up, only to subsequently fall fast asleep in my arms.  The highest I got was 300, which I actually thought wasn't too bad.    

Luckily our girls have been pretty enamored with him.  Isla is a mini-mom, always wanting to hold him, read books to him and sing her made up songs to him.  The fact that Havi has held him a couple of times and hasn't attempted to scratch his eyes out has been deemed a success.  We're also very fortunate to have Jess' mom, who is essentially on her way to canonization, staying with us for a few days to pamper us with gourmet meals and warm company.  Still, newborns are tiring.  Whether it is your first or your third.  With two other young children at home in need of your time, energy and resources, it creates a whole new dynamic - stay tuned for later post on that.  In the meantime, you'll have to forgive me if the updates don't come as frequently as previous ones.                

Hopefully your Holidays have been as Happy as ours.  Hopefully they've been a little more restful.

I will only sleep if you hold me or watch me.
Try to put me down and turn your back, and I'm crying.

Baby Brother Gus!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Oh, Listen To The Music

And the Grammy goes to....

Two Sundays ago our family had the opportunity to see the Grammy award-winning Okee Dokee Brothers live in concert at the Historic Paramount Theater.  Yeah, big time.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Okee Dokee Brothers, or "Hokee Dokees" as my kids like to call them, they are two childhood friends who started an Americana Folk music group geared toward families and young children.  And yes, they won a Grammy for Best Children's Album two years ago for their debut album, Can You Canoe?, and have been nominated again in for their most recent album, Through the Woods.

I like music, a lot.  In my mind, what these guys do is fucking genius (yes, the expletive is necessary).  They are incredibly talented musicians and they've also found a perfect niche - people like me, with somewhat particular music tastes and enough disposable income (my wife's) that they want to expose their kids to music that even the parents will enjoy.  Yo Gabba Gabba is tolerable, these guys are legit.  As one of my friends mentioned, "I think I actually like them more than my kids do."  We also feel somewhat of a sentimental tie to the group as one of the "Brothers" went to the same college I did, and I graduated with his older sister and used to work with his wife.  Despite the fact that I've only met him a few times, I talk about him like we're best friends.

I'm very fortunate that my girls have both taken to music appreciation on some level.  The daycare they were at had an emphasis on music, and an incredible music teacher that they loved being around, so that really helped their exposure to the art form.  They love to dance, sing, and make up their own songs.  Isla went through a week-long "screamo" phase a few months ago which was both comical and somewhat frightening.  I wouldn't say I necessarily have a "proud papa moment" when she sings the chorus of "Timber", but it is somewhat endearing.  If they had ambivalence toward music, I would be heartbroken.  Some of you may know that I "play" sporadically in a cover "band".  So yeah, I like music, and I want my kids to like it too.

The genius of the Okee Dokee Brothers is that they combine simple, but beautiful and educational melodies, like learning how to spell Mississippi forwards and backwards, to make songs that parent and child can both enjoy on their own levels.  My girls like their music because they sing about trains, mosquitoes, and crazy boatmen.  I like their music because their instrumentation is complex, the harmonies tight, and the lyrics can be pretty deep if you really listen to them.  And I like the boatman too, he's just so crazy.  

Seeing them live was a a real treat (yes, I just said "real treat").  As talented musicians, I'm sure the first place they really want to be playing is a theater full of hyper-active kids with overly-concerned parents.  But they bring a genuine stage presence which engages the audience and encourages maximum crowd participation.  They talk about their instruments so the kids understand what is happening on stage, and they didn't seem to mind when an uncooperative youngster got on stage during their encore and had no interest in returning to his mortified mother.  It might not be their dream gig as musicians, but they seem to enjoy themselves and make sure that the audience enjoys it even more.  Seeing them live also gives you an excuse to dress the whole family up in flannel (if you need one) - it's standard issue show attire.

My girls loved the show, and as I was watching them enjoy it, singing along myself since I know pretty much all of the lyrics, I actually found myself getting a little choked up.  I'm sure many tears were shed at this particular Okee Dokee Brother's Concert for a variety of reasons.  But as I watched my girls dance and clap along to the music, it was emotional to think that they were enjoying something that I too enjoy so much.  Music can provide me with a whole host of emotions, but most often it brings me happiness.  To see that same happiness on the faces of my kids was one of those incredible parenting moments.

One of the first "kids" albums we picked up was a VeggieTales singalong CD.  It was, and still is annoying,   and has spent the better part of six months in our vehicle.  Isla pretty much has all of the songs down pat, and Havi is getting better as her ability to string sentences together increases.  I would listen to the Okee Dokee Brothers by myself if my kids were not around, but not VeggieTales.  As bad as this CD is though, when they start singing those songs, kind of off pitch, usually with the wrong words, I can't get enough of it.  I could listen to them sing "Bicycle Built for Two" from the backseat until I went deaf.

In that regard, I have to thank my parents for exposing me to music when I was young, or at least having musical tastes and playing them, even if my sister and I didn't understand it at the time.  There is a reason I hum a lot of Simon & Garfunkel and always tend to put on James Taylor on Sunday mornings.  Hopefully, in due time, my kids will appreciate more of the music that I enjoy, save maybe the Nine Inch Nails.  I've already started to see some glimmers of hope when Isla requests "songs she doesn't know" for her dance parties.  That means DJ DaddyO gets to control the playlist.  You better move, you better dance.  

In the meantime, I'll keep playing my random mix of eclectic music and we'll still listen to our fair share of Radio Disney and Raffi.  When we can't seem to agree on something, we'll go with the "Hokee Dokees".

We opted for pink instead of flannel.
We actually always opt for pink instead of well, anything.

My other recommendations for tolerable kid's music:

Rockabye Baby - Lullaby renditions of rock bands.  If you are into music, you gotta check this out.
Baby Einstein - Yes this is kind of cop out, but they have everything you're looking for in one fell swoop - lullaby music, sing-a-longs, Mozart and animal sounds.
Yo Gabba Gabba - The TV show is crazy, but I like how they enlist actual artists (if somewhat obscure ones) to sing/write the songs     
Putumayo - It's like Baby Einstein for the worldly, cloth-diaper crowd.
Radio Disney - Yes it's over the top, and probably a little to promiscuous, especially for little girls.  But at four, they don't understand what they are singing.  Tread lightly here, or you may get requests to buy tickets for a Miley Cyrus show, or whoever will fill her shoes in five years.

*Before you buy, I always recommend checking out your local library to give these a test spin before you want to invest any money on said products.




Thursday, December 18, 2014

My SAHD Christmas List

Making a List, Checking It Twice

When people ask me what I want for Christmas, I usually mention something from Amy Grant's grown-up Christmas list; peace on earth, goodwill toward men, etc.  It's not that there aren't certain things I wouldn't mind getting for Christmas (I'm not that selfless), it's just that I kind of feel uncomfortable asking for them.  I also realized a number of years ago, that if you ask for something you really want, you might just get it.  One problem is that gift might not be exactly what you asked for.  Like one year I asked for a tent, and I got one, but it wasn't really one that I wanted.  I then had a tent that I would likely never use and still wanted a different tent (which is actually pretty selfish).  Sorry, Mom.  So I usually get the basics; socks, underwear, iTunes gift cards, popcorn tin.  Everyone is a winner.

This year, I thought I'd take a different approach, given my new adventure.  This is my SAHD (stay at home dad) Christmas List, based on what would compliment my daily operations:
  1. Food, lots of food.  In bulk.  We go to the grocery store about every two hours.  I'm scared to think of the number of cavities my kids have developed from the consumption of free bakery cookies and suckers at the check-out.
    Let me get more specific on what would work well:   
    • 2 Cows - one that will milk herself and deliver a half gallon of pasteurized, skimmed milk daily to our back door; another that will give birth to a calf and then walk herself to the meat market to be butchered and processed - the calf would then need to repeat the process the following year (circle of life)
    • A chicken that would lay 1/2 dozen eggs each week; more if we decided to do breakfast for supper or an egg bake on the weekend.
    • Year-round fruit-producing trees and plants; preferably apples, oranges, any/all berries but rasp, pineapples, pear (partridge optional).  We could even do the picking, it would be a fun family activity.  (I know what you're thinking, some of these things can't be grown in Minnesota, and especially not year round.  Damn it, we went to the moon, someone can figure it out.  Fruit is expensive!).
    • Weekly deliveries of individual yogurt cups.  The flavored kinds, please.  If they are from Greece, even better.
    • A baker to procure a loaf of fresh, sliced, whole grain bread between the hours of 2am-6am, three times a week.
    • An indefinite, bottomless cup of coffee.
  2. Diapers or paid tuition for a potty training boot camp (if such a thing exists).  The boot camp would be more environmentally conscious, but I'll let you choose.  It's a gift after all.
  3. Soap - dish, laundry and tear-free, combination hair/body wash - we prefer the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Brand, Donatello scented please.  See top photo below for reference.
  4. Piano lessons for Isla - as much as I told myself I would learn how to play the piano we bought off Craiglist, so I could teach her myself, let's get real.  If you can find a multi-lingual piano teacher, as my Spanish instruction is coming along about as well as my piano, that would be great.
  5. Annual membership to The Bounce Adventure - bounce houses are like country clubs for kids, hence the reason they sell absurdly priced memberships to them.  
  6. Knee pads - I spend a lot of time on the floor (engaging in play with my kids for those of you with heads in the gutter).  I'd be a much more effective horse/lion/dragon/cat with a little cushion.
  7. A retractable roof we can put over our backyard.  Synthetic grass could be useful too.  When we aren't using it, I'll rent it out to local youth sports teams and split the profit with you.
  8. A continually refilled gas card - for our bi-hourly trips to the grocery store and Bounce Adventure.
  9. A Yellow Mustang for Havi - See bottom photo.  You have a few years for this one.
  10. Weekly Wine/Liquor delivery - A toddler in a liquor store is like a bull in a china shop; best to keep them out as much as possible for moral and safety reasons. 
Just a few ideas in case you were planning to pick up any last minute gifts for me.  If they seem unreasonable,  peace on earth and goodwill toward men will also suffice.

"Cowabunga, dude"
If they still make Mustangs in 2028 and if yellow is still her favorite color, she'd like one of these.
No way, I'd be able to afford it.  Ever.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why I Nag My Kids

"If animals could talk to you the fishes and the birds, they'd say..."

I've recently realized that I've become a pretty big nag toward my kids.  But I think this okay, and I've found myself intentionally nagging them more.  I know what you're thinking.  Wait, you realize that you nag your kids, and you're making a point to do it more.  What is wrong with you?  Let me explain.

I ask my kids to say the magic words, "please" and "thank you" for those of you who aren't familiar with the lyrical subtitle above, approximately 53 times a day, each.  Okay, that might be low-balling a little bit, but it is a lot.  Why do I do this?  Because I want to teach them good manners.  I remember reading or hearing something in grade school about how you need to be told something 100 times before you remember it when you are young.  I have no idea if that point is scientifically proven, but it seems to make sense on some levels.

I am constantly reminding my kids to say please, thank you, your welcome, not talk in a whiney voice, etc.    You want more milk, what's the magic word?  I just changed your disgusting diaper, what do you say?  When I'm feeling especially naggy, I make them say it in English, Spanish and sign-language, just to drive home the point.  Is it overkill?  Maybe, but in the spectrum of having good manners, I believe in go big or go home.  I reprimanded our oldest about a year ago by telling her spitting was not "socially acceptable".  I'm sure the notion was lost on her at the time, but I did see a glimmer of hope a few months ago when she informed us that her younger sister was "not making good choices" by not staying it bed after being tucked in.

The other thing that I've noticed is that by hyper-nagging my kids about their manners, picking up their toys, and playing nice with each other, is that it has kept my own actions in check in those areas.  If I want my kids to mind their p's & q's, I've got to do so as well.  If I want them to appreciate the overabundance of toys, clothes and other knickknacks that have been accumulated for them by picking said toys up and treating them with respect, I better do the same to mine - you know like my action figures and stuff.  If I want them to be grateful for the food that has been provided for them and not be wasteful, I best be getting the clean plate award every meal.  This one I'm pretty good at, and I usually provide some teamwork to make sure that they are also award recipients (daddy garbage disposal as we like to say).

I've become so confident with my nagging abilities, that I've also started to venture into the "nagging of other people's children" territory.  These waters can be murkier, but I figure if my kids were acting like jerks (which they do, I've seen it) around other people, especially parents with young kids, I'd hope that they'd feel inclined to give them a helpful reminder that it's not polite to bite, especially the hand that feeds you.  If you encounter me gently reminding your offspring use their manners, please don't take it as a dig at your parenting ability.  Honestly, as parents, I think we can always use help in educating our kids on politeness, and the voices it can be easiest for them to tune off are likely our own - parents of teenagers feel free to back me up on that.

In truth, I think we all (the royal we) could use some daily reminders to be thankful and polite to each other.  How many times have you wanted to tell a colleague or friend that you'd be much more willing to help them out if they just used the magic words and a nicer tone of voice?  How many times do you think someone else has wanted to say that to you?  When was the last time you actually said please to someone before making a request; placing an order at a restaurant, asking your spouse for the TV remote?

I heard a great speaker/author named VJ Smith at a conference back in 2008, and have heard him present a few additional times since then.  Typically at the start of his presentation, the throws handfuls of colored business cards into the crowd that say "Thank You" in a variety of languages.  He instructs the crowd to distribute them to people who don't say the "magic words" when they are needed.  Small, simple words that if inserted routinely into our daily lexicon can have such a huge impact on others around us.  Shameless plug, if you get a chance to check out any of VJ's books, I would strongly suggest it, especially The Richest Man in Town.

I've received a lot of "Thank You" cards over the years (because I'm so awesome at what I do, obviously).  About two years ago, I received the most memorable one from a student who had worked in our office for a while and was going on to bigger and better things.  In the note, she said one of the things she felt she learned from me was "what it really means to appreciate someone", commenting that she thought I said the "best and most sincere 'thank yous' of anyone" she knew.  A little ironic to be thanked for your thank yous, but I was totally humbled by this comment.  

That's why I nag my children, and maybe your's too, so that they can get a card like that someday.  Plus they are too young to understand the concept of nagging or remember how many times I have nagged them to do something, hence the reason I have to nag them.  Yes, that is circular reasoning, but it works here.

You're welcome.  

Sure, I'll let you get tattoos.
But only if you say please and ask in a non-whining voice.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

When to Expect the Unexpected

A former client that I used to work with had a great saying, "there's the plan, and then there's what happens."  It was a poignant comment given the project that we worked on together; planning a three day conference attended by more than 300 people from across the state of Minnesota who all had a variety of quirks and personal needs.  I found myself thinking of her comment this past week in relation to our Thanksgiving Holiday plans, and what actually happened.

My wife only had Thursday off, but our plan was to head to her parent's place to celebrate the holiday.  My goal was to have the van, yes the van, packed up and the girls ready to go by the time my wife would be home from work on Wednesday so we could hit the road.  The two hour trek would put us there just in time for dinner.  We'd celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a traditional feast, watch some football, and stick around for an early supper to cash in one more free meal before hitting the road.  We'd put the girls in their jammies before leaving and they'd likely fall asleep on the way home, providing for a seamless transition from car to bed.  I could spend some time on Friday putting our life back together and unpacking all of the extra items we always seem to return with after visiting the girl's grandparents.

Great plan right?  I thought so.  I had the snacks packed in the diaper bag and the suitcases by the backdoor ready to be loaded in the van, yes the van.  We were tracking perfectly until a crying toddler woke up from her nap and wanted nothing to do with anything that wasn't being held.  As a parent, it takes a little time to figure out the cues of when your kid is not feeling well, but after a while you develop this sixth sense that something is just "off" with them.  It's not always something that you can explain, or immediately recognize, but you start to notice that glaze in their eyes before they projectile vomit their last meal, which always seems to be chili or one of your favorite foods, which becomes no longer your favorite food.

Luckily it wasn't the projectile vomit this time, just a 102 temp.  We have a baby thermometer that gives you three options for body temperature analysis - armpit, oral or rectal.  To this day I have yet to use the rectal option, and can't foresee myself doing at anytime in the future, ever.  If you take rectal temps, you are an amazing person, and also a little crazy in my view.  Usually my weapon of choice is the armpit adapter, but Havi was not interested in that approach.  We agreed on taking an oral temp, which resulted in her giving me a 5 second window to put the thermometer in her mouth.  Seeing as she was not going to let me put it under her tongue or close her lips, I figured the 102 reading was probably indicative that she really had a fever.  Our normal readings tend to hover around the 95 degree range, which I recently learned is when initial signs of hypothermia set in.

So the audible was called and Havi and I spent Thanksgiving together in our pajamas while Jess and Isla went to my in-laws.  My wife was certainly bummed.  More so probably by the fact that she would now be the one behind the wheel of the four hour round-trip (she hates driving).  This was not our first foray in adjusting Holiday plans. We had to interrupt our regularly scheduled Christmas programming last year when all four of us were suffering from a variety of ailments in the days leading up to Christ's birth.  Luckily, or unluckily since it probably extended the length of the plague over our house, all four of us were able to hunker down together.  I thought maybe it would be the start of a new family tradition.

And so it goes with kids, and life in general.  You prepare yourself for one thing, and then the power goes out and you have to scrounge for the flashlights.  I used to work in the event planning field, and on a daily basis we would have to improvise our operation because of something that came up that we couldn't have foreseen - like the power going out.  This happens all the time if you work with or interact with people, which I'm assuming 99.99% of you do.  People are people, and they're going to do whatever they want to do.  Kids are little people; little people with a very undeveloped prefrontal cortext (the part of the brain that  manages complex cognitive behavior; aka forethought; aka thinking before you throw yourself on the floor of a grocery store to kick and scream at the top of your lungs because your sister is sitting in what you believe is your designated seat of the plastic car on the front of the grocery cart.)

Don't get me wrong, this doesn't negate the importance of proper planning or being prepared, whether at work or in life.  I don't adhere to the philosophy of keeping the bank account as close to zero as possible because you just never know if Publisher's Clearing House might show up at your front door.  But you have to learn how to be able to play the cards dealt your way.  Or, to utilize another metaphor from Jon Kabat-Zinn - "you can't stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf."  Mahalo.

There is also a certain level of hilarity that comes with embracing whatever life throws at you.  I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad while I was in college, and one of my traveling mates said something pretty memorable early in our trip, after we managed to board the wrong train.  10 years later it still resonates frequently with me.  She pointed out that "if everything went as planned, there would be no good stories to tell."  Remember that day when everything went as planned, when your spouse/kids/coworkers did everything you asked of them - you actually didn't even need to ask, they just intuitively knew what they needed to do keep your perfect day in tact?  Of course you don't, because that never happens.  But even if it did, it wouldn't be memorable.  Where is the suspense in that?

Toward the end of my semester abroad, I actually made a list of the all the "Not Sweet" things that happened to me during the semester.  Here is a small sampling:
-Lost countless numbers of times
-Multiple wrong trains/buses
-Lost three weeks worth of traveling photos from five different countries
-Pick-pocketed - wouldn't have been a study abroad experience without that happening
-Debit card expiring mid-semester
-Got crapped on (literally) by a bird

Of course these were all frustrating and aggravating experiences at the time, but now when I look back at that list I can hardly contain my laughter.  These are the stories I tell, because they are the most memorable.  In the past four years, my kids have provided me with countless additional stories with the hilarity amplified to a new level.  I'll leave you with one that happened to me today as I was finishing this post.

Somehow I managed to get two nappers this afternoon, something that doesn't happen very often.  It took some serious effort though - putting our two year old in our bed while her older sister screamed herself to sleep in the room and bed that they share.  This was done after allowing them two attempts to "rest" in the fort they had constructed in the living room.  They thought sleeping on a wood floor would be comfortable (prefontal cortex hard at work).  When that didn't seem to work out, and the fort collapsed, I made the executive decision to relocate them to better napping quarters.  I sat at the top of the stairs for a few minutes after Isla's blood curdling screams stopped just to make sure they were both sleeping soundly.  When I concluded that they were, I made a mad-dash downstairs to try to accomplish everything I felt I needed to get done.  This blog post included.

30 minutes in, Havi starts crying.  I make my way to the bottom of the stairs and the crying stops - strange how that can happen sometimes.  I wait motionless, because we live in a house that creaks, for a few minutes to make sure she's fallen back to sleep before sprinting back to the computer to resume typing.  15 more minutes pass, and she's crying again.  Back to the bottom of the stairs, and this time Isla is up.  She wanders over to her sister without noticing me at the bottom of the stairs, and the crying stops.  Thinking I might have bought some more time, I try to escape undetected, but Isla comes out of our room and spots me.  Busted.

She looks at me, and I can tell she is still exhausted.  She slides down the stairs on her rear and when she gets a few steps from the bottom, jumps into my arms.  She's still tired so she puts her head down on my shoulder.  Our moments like this seem to be getting fewer as she gets older, so I'm totally cashing in on this perfect daddy-daughter Hallmark scene.  We're swaying to the Mason Jennings' song playing in my head that always makes me think of her whenever I hear it.  I'm positioning my mental camera to take a picture that will forever capture this wonderful memory.  And then she farts.

Expect the unexpected.      

The Fort

The resters in their fort




Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sometimes You Just Have To Jump

"Now's a good time to introduce the band; 'bout as good a time as any..."

When is the right time to make a life-changing decision?  Some of them are made in a chronological fashion and tend to follow a natural progression - decide if/where to go to college, decide whether or not to take a job, decide to get married, have kids, etc.  When is the right time to leave a job that you really enjoy doing where you have great colleagues and an incredibly supportive work environment?  Good question.   

There were a number factors at play in my personal decision to leave my job.  It was actually a decision that we (my wife may disagree with the use of that pronoun) made before we found out we were expecting baby number three.  For a while I had wanted to find a way to spend more time with our kids.  On workdays, I would often drop them off at daycare at 7:30am and pick them up at 5/5:30pm in the afternoon.  I know this is pretty much commonplace for two income households, and some people see their kids even less during the workday.  But to me, nearly 50 hours a week seemed like a long time for our kids to be at daycare.

Not that we were unhappy with the childcare we had.  The center our kids were at was awesome - the staff were intelligent and engaging, our kids learned a ton, and it was really close to our house.  I just wanted to find some middle ground.  Given the good environment and the things our kids were being exposed to through their childcare, I was hesitant to take them completely out of that setting.  I often thought, if they stayed home with me all day, they'd be bored out of their minds.

It also wasn't the case that I was unhappy with my employment situation.  I had a good job working with some incredible people at an amazing institution. Together, my wife and I made enough for us to pay for a good daycare and still put some money away.  But, I knew there was a shelf life to my job.  I couldn't do it forever and I had no interest in moving up in the department.  I was also starting to realize that the things I needed to do to be successful in my job were starting to directly conflict with the things I wanted to do to feel successful as a parent.  Internally, I never felt like I was putting in enough time at either place, work or home.  Oddly, I was feeling a greater sense of accomplishment doing seemingly mundane household tasks - laundry, cleaning, etc, than I was fulfilling my obligations at work.  Something had to give.

At a weekly meeting with my boss in March, I told her that I was going to be done.  No contingency plan, no other job lined up - sometimes you just have to jump.  Well, actually, I told her that I would stay on until the end of August.  Summer is the busiest time of year for our department, and it would allow some time for them to find a replacement and me to figure out what my next move might be.  It would also be five years in August that I had been at my job and I'd be leaving on my own terms, good terms, which seemed like an appropriate time to move on.  So, I didn't necessarily run to the cliff and jump, as much as I did camp out at the edge and wait for favorable weather before jumping.

"Ah, might as well jump"
Irregardless, my decision came as a surprise to a lot of people.  Especially when I told them that I had no idea what I was going to be doing after I left.  A lot of people asked if I was going to stay home with the girls.  Early on, my response was that I didn't know and if I didn't find anything, that would always be an option.  Secretly, I think I kind of hoped that would turn out to be the case.  When we found out toward the end of April that we'd be welcoming a third little one to the family in early January, it seemed considerably more definite that this would be the case.  Of course we had to wait until mid-June to reveal the news of our expansion.

My wife and I had always kind of joked that someday I'd probably become a stay at home dad.  I think she often mentioned it in jest to gauge my reaction and see if I would really be open to it.  With two under five and one more on the way, it became pretty apparent that if we were ever going to try it with one of us staying at home, now was going to be the time.  Financially and logistically, it was always going to be me.  My wife makes at least three times what I made and had a considerably better schedule.  Emasculating?  Honestly no, but I'll elaborate more on that in a follow-up post.

So we (or I) made a decision.  Was it a good one or a bad one?  I guess we'll see - so far good, but it's still early.  Good or bad, it was the right time to make that decision.  If it turns out to be a bad decision, then we'll figure things out from there.  My Mom always told me, "you get to choose"; referring to the direction in which your life goes.  Luckily, I was born and raised in an environment where that is the case.  I've had support along the way and continue to receive incredible support as I figure out parenthood, and just life in general.  I know that when I jump, there is a solid chance I'm going to fall, but I've got family and friends that will help me get back up.

That's what I'm most thankful for in my life.  The people that surround me, because they are amazing.

You may have seen this already, but I think it is worth sharing again - a snip-it from Jim Carey's Commencement Address at Maharishi University (watch from 10:18 to 12:18 at least).  My buddy Frank shared this video and succinctly put it; pretty profound for someone who rose to prominence talking out of his ass (literally).  You can fail at anything.  Might as well take a chance on something you love.  Are you doing something that is worthy of your time?  You get to make that choice.

Three incredible ladies who are always worthy of my time.
Luckily they think I'm worthy of their time too.

Stolen Quotes:
Subtitle courtesy of Bob Dylan between-song banter at a concert at the Xcel Center; retold to me by a good friend who attended the show.  He said it was one of the most random things he'd ever heard.  Classic Dylan.

First photo caption courtesy of Van Halen's "Jump" (obviously).


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Doin' Work

This weekend I received a Daddy Doin' Work wristband from Doyin Richards, author of the blog and recently released book, Daddy Doin' Work.  I finished Doyin's (pronounced Doe-ween) book last week, and sent him a quick comment thanking him for the his thoughts and giving some of my own personal takeaways after reading it.  To my pleasant surprise, he emailed me a very personal response the very next day thanking me for my comments (and reading the book) and inquiring how he could send me a DDW wristband - he even followed up to make sure I received it.  Pretty awesome, I thought, for a nationally recognized author.
If you get a chance to read the book or check out the blog, I would highly recommend it.  It's a great read for fathers, mothers and anyone else who may be concerned about the state of a father or mother.  If the book/blog sounds familiar, Doyin was featured on numerous news shows after a photo he posted on his blog of himself doing his oldest daughter's hair while he had his youngest daughter in a baby ergo/baby bjorn.  The photo went viral for all of the right (praise and admiration) and wrong reasons (racist and sexist comments).

I've read quite a number of books about parenting in the lead up to becoming a parent and now that I am a parent (and not just the "What to Expect" series).  Here are a few additional ones I'd recommend:

Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary - this one is laugh out loud funny.  It will likely also make you cry.  If you read one "self humor" book about being a new parent in the 21st century, read this.

All Joy No Fun by Jennifer Senior - this one is a little more social-sciency, but since I'm into that sort of thing, I really enjoyed it.  Has some pretty thought provoking observations.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl by Brian Klems - if you have girls, especially more than one (which I do), this one is a great read.

One Year Off by David Cohen - I like to travel and I want to travel with my kids.  This book was inspiring and will probably need to be reread a half dozen more times to ensure that I actually follow through with my ambitious family travel goals.

How to fit a Car Seat on a Camel - edited by Sarah Franklin - a collection of laugh-out loud stories about traveling with children.  I read this when we were expecting, as I was convinced that having kids would not slow down our desire to travel (both of our children have yet to be on a plane or venture further than Wisconsin or Missouri.....).  If I reread it now, I'm sure the stories would become exponentially more humorous.

If you have any good parenting reads, feel free to leave a comment below.

This will be a good reminder of what I need to do each day.


Friday, November 21, 2014

11/19/2010 - The Day S*** Got Real

Ready Or Not, Here I Come

On Wednesday, we celebrated a huge day in our household. Four years ago on November 19th, my wife, Jess, celebrated her 27th birthday by giving birth to our first child, Isla (think island without the 'nd'). This obviously means that on Wednesday we were celebrating Isla's 4th birthday, and my wife's, well, I'll let you do the math.

What a great birthday present, right? Share a birthday with your first baby, and a girl at that! Jess has certainly warmed up to it and been incredibly selfless at making the day about our daughter. But spending her birthday in labor for 12+ hours was probably not at the top of her to do list on that day. Irregardless of the day and the fact that she was two weeks early, we were completely overjoyed to have a healthy baby when it was all said and done, along with a pretty smooth and uneventful delivery.

My wife and I discovered we were expecting our first child somewhat unexpectedly. In hindsight, this was probably the best possible way we (definitely me) could have welcomed a child into this world. When my wife told me she was pregnant, my first response, literally, was, “how?” We hadn't actively been trying to conceive, which is something I've always found a little odd for people to say. To me, the notion of "trying to conceive a child" conjectures up images of people having sex in the most fertilization-friendly positions at the optimal times designated to increase the chance of a spermatozoa penetrating an egg patiently waiting inside the uterus. Sounds kind of like a science experiment, and I'm certain it has never resulted in a female orgasm.

It’s not that I was ever anti-kids, it’s just that I never really considered myself “pro-kids”. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise in my early 20s, I always figured I’d have kids eventually, like most people do. I just never really felt that calling to have kids, like some people do. If I had kids, great. If not, also great. In that regard I was somewhat indifferent. Jess and I had just gotten settled into our careers, so to find out that our lives were going to be drastically changing in less than nine months, prevented us from having that intense conversation about when we thought we should start a family. Now we just had to be ready. It also proved that you can't believe everything Toby Keith sings about.

I was still relatively suspect of my wife’s findings about being pregnant. I am not a science person, and stayed as far away from anatomy in college as possible. Despite her education on the various indicators that proved she was with child, I wanted some additional confirmation from a trained medical professional, not just a pharmacist. Needless to say I was a little surprise to find out that her first doctor appointment didn't occur until eight weeks into her forty week pregnancy. That seems like a long time to suspect that you are creating a human being inside your own body - especially if you see a lot of pro-life billboards pointing out the various milestones the fetus hits in the first trimester.

Luckily, we had an incredible support system around us, food, shelter and steady paychecks, so we felt like nine months would be ample time to get our lives baby-proofed (if that is ever even possible). We should have seen in coming when wife's water broke two weeks before her due date. Isla apparently knew better than we did when she wanted to enter our lives and when she thought we'd be ready to be her parents. She seemed to have more confidence in us than we did in ourselves at that point - at least me for sure.

Following the delivery, after we moved from the delivery room to the postpartum room, the three of us were enjoying some quiet alone time. We actually waited until after Isla was born to contact our friends and family with the news, which was a great way to keep visitors at bay for a little while. A luxury we didn't necessarily have with number two, and definitely won't have with number three.

It was a Friday evening, and as I was holding a sleeping newborn in the rock chair while my wife slept, I had a phone call from Tago, a good friend of mine. He mentioned that he was out at one of our favorite establishments with a few people enjoying some adult beverages and good conversation, and wondered if I was interested in meeting him out. Below was our conversation that transpired (or how I recall it). It was a noisy place, so he was having some trouble hearing my responses.

Me: "I'd love to, but I'm holding my newborn baby girl right now."
Tago: "Alright. Sounds good. Maybe we'll catch you sometime this weekend."
Me: "No, Tago. I don't think you heard me. We're at the hospital, Jess just gave birth today!"
Tago: "Yeah, sure. I'll give you a call or something. Maybe racquetball on Sunday."
Me: "Dude. Listen to me. We just had our baby. I'm a dad."
Tago: "Wait. What? Congrats mate! Holy shit, you're a dad!"

Indeed. It would still be six or seven months before my daughter would call me "dada" or make noises that sounded like she was referring to me by my new title, but from that day forward I would be known as a dad. Her dad. A few year's later, her sister Havi's dad. In a few months, her baby brother's dad. I might have had trouble seeing myself as a dad four years and nine months ago when I first found out I was going to become one. But now that I am one, I'm going to do everything I can to be the best damn Dad possible.

Birthday Buddies 2010
Birthday Buddies 2014


Saturday, November 15, 2014

How My Search For Happiness Led Me Home

Asking The Big Question

I've always been a person who has internally asked myself the question, "am I living it right?"  This is something I have struggled with since my teen years, and a question I've asked more and more when it came to making significant life decisions - getting married, pursuing a certain job, purchasing a house, having kids, etc.

Often times it seems as though complete attainment of happiness is well, unattainable.  In effort to keep our sanity, we have to adjust our mentality to be happy with our circumstances.  Or to paraphrase a quote from the famous children's book Charlotte's Web, "that'll do."  As I've gotten older, and had to make more significant life decisions, I've found that at times you can spend to much time thinking about the decision itself, causing paralysis of choice because you are afraid of making the wrong choice.  Most times, you just need to make a choice and roll with it, embracing whatever outcome might follow and make the best of what situation unfolds.

People look for happiness in a number of places, and a number of people look for happiness in very far off places, searching for a certain something that will make them feel complete.  Eric Weiner wrote a book entitled The Geography of Bliss, where a self-proclaimed grump (himself) embarks on a tour of the happiest and unhappiest countries, as measured by the world happiness database.  Weiner (yes, pronounced whiner) hopes that by visiting these countries, he can find the recipe for happiness, and unhappiness, to help him in his own pursuit of the seemingly allusive goal of happiness.

I'm happy in a lot of places, and I've found happiness in a number of places - foreign countries, exotic locales, amazing adventures. From the outside, I've always been seen as a "happy guy" and on the inside my feelings more often than not replicate my exterior emotions.  Despite this, I've still struggled internally with that big question.  The issue with this question though, is that it focuses too much on the unknown, something we have no control over.  Sure, I could maybe be in a place - physical or emotional - where I might be happier had I made different life choices.  However, I could obviously also be in a place where I might be considerably less happier than I am right now.

For me, it helped to rephrase the question to, "am I living it right, right now?"  Given the current circumstances laid out before me, is what I am doing at the moment providing me with the highest level of attainable happiness.  When I rephrased the question, it helped me to better understand where I wanted to be spending the bulk of my time and energy, and that was how I came to make one of the biggest and best decision of my life so far.  Two weeks ago, I left my job to stay at home and support our ever growing family - two young girls under four with a baby boy on the way in a few months.  Ultimately, my current search for happiness led me home.

My decision to make this life change unfolded over the past six months, and I'll divulge more of the details and shed some light on my own personal decision in subsequent posts.  I've started this blog not in hopes to receive accolades for what I'm doing, because it's not rocket-science, I'm just doing what I think is best for our family.  But seriously, I've obviously started it because ""Dad Blogs" are all the rage these days (or so my wife tells me).

Actually, I'm hoping that this medium will selfishly serve as an outlet for my personal reflections, and undoubtedly help me hang on to some of my sanity.  I also hope it provides an opportunity for conversations about what does modern parenthood look like, how do we find happiness if the daily interactions with our families, and are we, as a society, support an environment that values family.  It's a conversation I want to have, because it centers on questions that I've asked myself as a young parent and things that I read in parenting "self help" and "self humor" books.

The Utilitarian in me wants us all to be happy, as happy as we can be.  But I also want our happiness to bolster the collective happiness of our society, environment, country, state, city, neighborhood and family.  I think it can be relatively easy for us to list of things that we think make us happy - food, beer, sex, sleep, etc.  When I asked myself what made me happy, the answers were pretty straightforward.  But when I actually thought about how those answers made me happy, why they were the answers in the first place, and how I was going to use those answers to ensure I was on my personal path to happiness, things got considerably murkier.  They aren't easy questions to answer, but ones I think we definitely need to be asking.

So, I hope you enjoy it.  I'd love feedback and comments that are constructive and add to the conversation, or help me improve on my literary skills.  For those of you who may not know me as well as others, you should know that as a second language I am fluent in sarcasm.  If you are wondering if some of my comments are made in jest, you're probably correct.  I'll try to clarify when I think it might be needed.  Also, I'll attempt to keep the colorful language to a minimum, but I am personally a fan of occasional, appropriately-utilized profanity.

What's in a name?

Some of you may be wondering how this literary masterpiece (sarcasm) received the name it did.  Or maybe you don't really care.  Well, I'm going to explain it anyway, sort of.  During my later years of college, I somehow received the nickname of "the King."  If you are one of those people that know how that came about, good for you.  If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you, and you are welcome to formulate your own idea of how that might have transpired - I love a cleverly fabricated story that doesn't hurt anyone other than myself.  There is also the old adage of a man being the ruler of his house, or the "king of his castle".  While I don't really adhere to this philosophy, it seems to fit my current arrangement in a somewhat different fashion.  So, I'm going to roll with it.  

The "greenest" component comes from the notion that the "grass is always greener on the other side."  I've often had that mentality myself throughout my search for happiness, and it has often been that mentality that has kept me from realizing what really makes me happy.  I truly believe that I'm standing on the greenest possible grass I can right now.  Sure, there might be greener grass on the other side of the fence, but that grass was probably just fertilized with chemicals which aren't safe for young children or pets to walk on.