Growing Up

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ImageYesterday, it hit me again. Julie had asked me for a picture of Mason from exactly a year ago. As I searched through the hundreds and hundreds of pictures we have, I was once again blindsided by the fact that our Son is growing up. He’s no longer a baby, and that’s just too hard to accept. I thought I had come to grips with it, but apparently I haven’t.

As I watched him transition from a newborn to an infant, and now from an infant to a toddler, I could also see his independence starting to show through. As much as he is still attached to our hips, he is doing a lot on his own. And he protests if you try to help.

I have a hard time letting go of the way things used to be. Because of how severe his reflux was (on top of colic and milk and soy allergies, which we were unaware of at the time), I used to sit almost upright in bed at night with him on my chest or his boppy pillow, because he couldn’t lay flat. It was the only way he could comfortably get a little bit of sleep, even if we didn’t. During the day he would have to nap on us as well because we never knew when he was going to projectile vomit (if projectile vomiting were an Olympic sport, he would have taken home the gold. At the very least, he could have been in the Guinness Book of World Records for volume and distance). And looking back, I guess getting a bath in formula wasn’t so bad, and those long nights weren’t so long after all.

It’s not hard (in terms of effort) for me to think back to last year and remember him as little as he was, and I hope that I will never forget those days, because, as hard as things were, they were some of the best days of my life. I know I have a lot to look forward to, but time is cruel and unfair. Fifteen months may not be a long time, but with the way things were when he was a baby, it felt like those days would never pass.

Now, sometimes I find myself wishing they hadn’t, because I’d give anything to go back and clean up one more projectile puke, to hold him on my chest for one more night, and let him nap on me for one more day.

Us Time

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Far too often we tend to forget about ourselves and our own relationships when we’re so focused on being parents. The most important of those relationships is the one for which you took vows. Most everyone who has a child will agree that it’s hard to find any time for yourselves, but that doesn’t take away from the importance of spending time together so you can be that couple again.

Being a Father is my greatest accomplishment, without a doubt. My Son is the best thing that ever happened to me. But, without my wife, he wouldn’t be here. Julie and I were together for seven years before she got pregnant. Over those seven years, we built the relationship that we have now. (How she could put up with me for seven HOURS, let alone years, still escapes me). Now, maintaining that relationship becomes the hard part.

Two years ago, our weekend conversation would have gone like this:

Julie: “I’m bored”

Me: “Me too. What do you want to do?”

Julie: “I don’t know. What do YOU want to do?”

Me: “I don’t know. Want to go see a movie?”

Julie: “And then what? I don’t want to just go see a movie and then come back home.”

Me: “We could go out to eat first.”

Julie: “You don’t go to eat for fun when you’re bored.”

Me: “I do.”

Julie: “Well, that’s you. Not everybody treats eating like it’s a competition.”

Me: “Smartass! I don’t hear any ideas from you!”

Julie: “Because there isn’t anything to do.”

Me: “So, what do you want to do then?”

Julie: “I don’t know.”

This back and forth banter would continue until we finally would settle on going to dinner, or a movie, or both. Or driving around. Or nothing at all. The point is, we took for granted all of the free time that we had.

Today, our conversation would go like this:

Me: “We have about 16 hours of free time, six of which are consumed by sleep, two of which are consumed by straightening up the house, and a half hour that is consumed by getting ready to go. We have exactly seven and a half hours of free time. What do you want to do?”

Julie: “Anything. I don’t care, as long as we get to spend time together.”

Me: “Ok, let’s go out to eat and then go play miniature golf. Then we can get some ice cream, too!”

Julie: “You and your food…”

Me: “What? I’m hungry!”

Julie: “What else is new?”

Me: “I have an idea! Let’s go sign divorce papers!”

Then I get the death stare…

But, it always seems as though when we go out together, somehow the conversation steers back to “I wonder what he’s doing right now…” Try as you might, you can never “forget” that you are a parent. Still, being able to step away and take a break is always a welcomed change of pace to our everyday life. Suddenly, something as simple as seeing a movie, going to dinner, or playing a round of miniature golf that at one point would have been boring in our book, feels like a week in the Bahamas (or, for us, a week in an igloo in the Arctic Circle because we both hate the heat!). Even sitting at home watching a movie with a bowl of popcorn, or driving around aimlessly, doesn’t seem so mundane anymore.

As hard as it is to step away, any time the opportunity arises for us to take a break, we try to make the most of it. As few and far between as they are, it allows us to feel like a couple again and continue to maintain our relationship, which is just as important for Mason as it is for us. Someone once stressed to me the importance of maintaining the bond you have outside of your children because the bond you have with your children will always be there. Eventually, children grow up and move on. But, afterwards, if you don’t have the same bond you had before your children, then what else is there?

Listen To Your Child’s Laughter

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Amidst all of the negativity around the world, in the news, and around every corner you turn, it’s incredibly hard to envision a happy, socially-healthy future for our children. Racism is still prominent. Religion is still a divide. Even political party affiliation has become a source of hatred and judgement – and I know good and bad people from both sides of that coin. Today, social status seems to hinge on your income and material assets more than the person you are and what kind of contribution you make to society. It’s disheartening, and I fear for our Son’s future. Some would say I focus on all of this stuff too much, but it’s hard not to when its impact is evident all around you. But, over the last 15 months that I’ve been a parent, I discovered that there is a way to get away from it all, if only for a moment – listen to your child’s laughter.

Here is an example. I’m just getting over a cold. It’s that time of year. And, of course, I passed it on to my Son, who has had it now since Saturday. Thinking back to the week that I was sick, I was tired, achy, whiny, and just downright miserable. My wife would agree that I wasn’t the first person you’d want to be around (or the last…or at all..). I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest whiners when it comes to being sick – I absolutely hate it! My Son, however, seems to take it all in stride. He still claps, dances, shows affection, smiles, and laughs. And I don’t just mean a baby giggle, I’m talking full belly laughs. Yesterday, for no apparent reason, at least that I could decipher, he came running in from the kitchen and over to me while having a full belly laugh. He turned his head and looked back in the kitchen and pointed, as if to show me something, but nothing was there. Again, at least not that I could decipher.

At that point, as I was trying to figure out why he was laughing, I realized that it didn’t even matter. You shouldn’t have to have a reason to laugh. And I realized that, for that fleeting moment that he was laughing, that is all I was focused on. For as terrible as he’s been feeling, whatever caught his eye made him laugh, and therefore forget about the fact that he’s sick and unhappy because of it. It has been said many times that children are our greatest teachers, and I believe that and take this as a lesson. No matter how bad things may seem or be, it’s up to you to make the best of it and find that silver lining. It could always be worse (ingenious thought, I know, but it was really hammered home this time). And yes, I realize that a 15 month old is less of a baby than I am when sick! I know it’s comparing apples to oranges, because at 15 months you’re unaware of what’s happening around you. You have no concept of past or future, and only live in the present, but that’s the point I’m trying to make.

It’s not the first time that his out-of-nowhere laughter has made me forget everything else, but it’s the first time that I realized I shouldn’t be trying to find an explanation for it. Much as they do, just live for that moment, because even with all the bad out there, these moments allow you to get away from it all. As adults, we can no longer live care-free. But, if we choose to live vicariously through our children (the right way), we can often be reminded of what it feels like to be care-free again. It is our job as parents to make our children happy, so listen to your child’s laughter. They’re returning the favor.

As Parents, We Are Still Human Beings

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Call it an epiphany. It’s that moment when, as a parent, you finally realize that you can only do so much. Mistakes will be made, tears will be shed, and questions will be asked of ourselves. It’s something you won’t find in any parenting book, nor will you grasp its full meaning until it happens to you. It’s the realization that, as parents, we are still human beings.

Consider this – you need a license to drive. You need a license to hunt. You need a license to fish. You need a license to carry a concealed weapon (okay, I digress, you SHOULD need a license for that), but the point I’m trying to make is this: the hardest, most important task that can be assigned to a human being – parenting – doesn’t require a license. Why? Because it’s not something that can be taught by any book, any teacher, or any other parent. It can only be taught by your own child and your own instincts. And with that, comes the constant pressure that you place on your shoulders to do everything short of (and sometimes willingly including) going to the ends of the Earth for their satisfaction.

Enter the human aspect of parenting. It seems as though your routine turns you into a robot. Wake up, make breakfast, play, put down for a nap, make lunch, play, try to run errands and get things done around the house, make dinner, bath time, bed time, repeat. It’s hard to find the time to take a step back and breathe. Eventually, the stress of the routine and everything in between begins to wear on you. For starters, your frustrations show through much quicker, you and your other half (I use “other,” because using “better” is subjective…;))may argue more, and, ultimately, you will begin to question whether or not you’re cut out for this job (as if questioning from the peanut gallery isn’t enough). You’ll start to question everything you do, everything you’ve done, and everything you hope to do – in some sort of feeble attempt to justify the fact that you’re feeling like you don’t belong in the parenting world. It’s natural, and it’s a cycle that every parent will go through.

As parents, there’s something inside us that will always critique everything we do. It will always push us to do better, to make better decisions, to allow ourselves to self-evaluate, adapt, and adjust. It is called love. It’s the root of the pressures we place on ourselves as parents. It’s the motivation that pushes us through the tough times. It’s the never-ending desire to do better and to go above and beyond for the happiness of your children. But, when frustrations begin to mount, and you begin to feel completely overwhelmed, we must always remind ourselves of this – love is also the root of the realization that, as parents, we are still human beings.