How wrong I was. About how I thought it would be to be a dad. When I imagined what being a father would look like before I really had a clue, before I had any experience: I figured life would be the same with a few minor restrictions and a little less sleep.
Ha! What naiveté!
It’s cliché, I know – bear with me. I had no idea.
My life bears little resemblance to the life I led two years ago when we started in earnest to conceive. I was performing stand-up at open mikes. I had a pretty good set of jokes about IVF – way off color, so I will spare you. I was auditioning for plays. Writing and directing a one-act. It was all about me. (Though I would tell you it was about the art- which is a fancy way of me saying it was, in fact, all about me.)
I expected fatherhood to be a big pain in the ass.
Yeah. I said it.
Selfish and self-centered to the extreme, I resented (before it even happened) the things I had to give up.
To be honest, I don’t really miss them.
Doing stand-up brought me little joy. It was more a collective suffering eased by the occasional laugh. Acting was more fun, but rehearsing at night and performing on shoestring budgets in dingy theatres gets to you after a while. One yearns for the bigger stage, the brighter lights and maybe some real costumes.
I am still writing, though not nearly as much as I would like. I feel like I am so busy but cannot get anything done. Parents? Relate?
I have an abundance of joy in my life today.
We are blessed to have a healthy baby girl who is so full of life and so curious and quick to laugh, that it’s hard to remember what it was that I expected. I thought changing diapers was going to be the big deal!
Matilda is speaking her first words. I would say it’s a miracle, but the truth is, even though it feels like one, it happens all the time. A baby learning to communicate is a commonplace thing. There are what 8 billion people on the planet and most of them learned to talk at some point.
But that doesn’t stunt the joy I feel as her father, witnessing it, participating in it. I had no idea that this new set of eyes with which I now see the world would be a part of it. It’s commonplace joy. Why didn’t I find it before she came along?
I have heard it said that happiness is dependent upon circumstance and therefore fleeting. Joy comes from God. It is inherent in the very structure of the universe, and when one aligns their life with God’s purpose for it – (to love, everything else is just props) – then joy is the inevitable result. I thought that acting on a prestigious stage would bring me joy, or getting my own HBO comedy special would do it. Part of me still expects that having my book published might do it.
No, giggles in a high chair, and a “Daddy!” when I walk into the room, even the calm after a midnight waking when raucous crying gives way to cooing and a hug as I wipe away her tears and lay her back into her crib with a kiss on the soft skin of her forehead: these are the moments of joy that give life meaning.
On a lighter note -she is also really photogenic, which I must admit – brings me joy as well. Well it makes me happy at least. One cannot erase the vanity of a lifetime in one year with a baby. I hope you enjoy the pictures.
I should have seen it coming. I had heard about this before – friends who were new parents complaining of illnesses brought home by their little darlings from pre-school, day-care or kindergarten. I knew that there was a tendency toward communicable dis-ease. But it only existed in the abstract.
I would pontificate about getting plenty of rest and taking vitamins. It’s always the freaking vitamins, right? “Oh, I never get sick…”
Famous last words. Since Matilda’s been in day-care, she is either getting a cold, suffering the depths of a cold, or getting over a cold. Three times in a row now she has had one good, healthy day before falling prey to the next infection.
Recently I overheard my wife claim that she has been sick more in the past seven months than in the previous seven years combined. It got me thinking. I haven’t been this sick since the alcoholic self-abuse I put my body through in my 20’s. Drinking, smoking, and staying out all night. I was constantly battling a virus or strep.
Then, like now, sleep was a rare commodity. Since my wife works long hours at a very stressful job, I do my best to be the one to get up when Matilda cries in the night. I have the Motorola Infrared night vision baby monitor on my bedside table. And when you have a sick baby… good luck sleeping. (And good luck keeping a mother asleep when her baby is coughing and crying in the next room.)
When you don’t sleep and you are around a tiny germ factory whose nose is constantly dripping so much that you don’t have a single sweater or jacket without the ubiquitous snot stains on the shoulder, you tend to contract the same illnesses.
I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Wait, where have I heard that before? A meeting. Sometime in the 1990’s in Florida, in a room full of folks who were trying to give up or who had given up the self-destructive lifestyle I had sworn off. Many had come to Florida to do rehab then joined support groups to stay on recovery. They had a new way of living with a sheet of suggestions on the wall and some handy slogans like, “Take it easy.” “First things first.” And “HALT- don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.” And “Don’t leave before the miracle happens.”
Yeah, I need some of that.
Apparently day-cares are an incubator for a nasty infection called RSV- respiratory syncytial virus. After a few weeks of a croupy cough, a couple of fevers,
six visits to the doctor, an almost ER visit, a duo of constantly running humidifiers, and regular applications of an atomizing mister with asthma medicine to soothe the cough, I heard poor Matilda hacking away in her bed at the butt-crack of dawn. Already that night, I had nebulized her, ibuprofen-ized her, rocked, bounced, walked and fed her. I had done all I could to help her. With the garbage trucks making a racket on the street outside our windows, I could do little but lie in my anger and plan our move to the drier and warmer climes of the Arizona desert. Yeah, I played that tape through. New York is killing us. We have to move!
Another pre-dawn worry session I had her pulled from Day Care, Home-Schooled and practically living in a bubble. I liked Arizona better.
I was wracked with guilt. It’s my fault. I could keep her at home. At least until she gets stronger. (But the sick days she couldn’t go in had set me so far back in my writing I was losing my mind.)
Bad, selfish daddy.
Finally we took a trip to Florida to visit her Gaga (my mother) and her cousins. The warmth, humidity, and quiet proved to be just what Matilda needed to kick the RSV. I’m sure the copious amount of love she got from her grandma and cousins didn’t hurt. Her cough subsided and our happy little girl came back.
When you have a kid in day care or pre-school or any place a lot of kids interact, you’re going to get sick. Until they build up a strong immune system, they will bring home virus after virus and spread it to you through kisses and hugs. I was shocked by the intensity with which that notion broke through from the abstract to reality. And it gets old after a while, I mean, come on with the snot already! Enough!
There is no quitting parenthood. At least not a way that I could live with. Being a dad means that it is no longer about me. I suppose that is what recovery is about too. Matilda needed a few days in the sun, playing with her cousins and their dog, getting love from Gaga, and escaping from the soot and cold, dry air. So did her daddy. When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, head down to sunny South Florida for a little rehab. But don’t leave before the miracle happens.
Unbridled joy. That is the only way to describe my daughter as she listens to Aly Sunshine and Johnny Wheels Funkytown Playground. I bought the album as a way to transport some of the fun and excitement of their incomparable music class home. They strike such a balance of simple rhythms and energetic melodies that you can’t help but start moving. You and your children will love celebrating time together, dancing, moving and singing along.
Hey Everybody will pull you in and stay with you. I only need to sing one or two lines from this tune and my daughter starts to move to the rhythm. Brand New Day has the same effect – just start singing and your little one will respond with a full body smile. Jam Together gives you an opportunity to pull out your own instruments and play along. Animals uses a punk-rock set of power chords to cycle through a fun set of animal sounds. From the bluesy Jam Together to the Woody Guthrie-esque Keep Your Hands Clean, to the fun sing-along Be a Bee, Aly and Johnny incorporate learning and active participation with the music.
This album is such a relief from the typical kiddie cd’s. With its eclectic influences and New York cool, Funkytown Playground rocks on it’s own accord. But I must warn you… these hooks are so sharp, you will be singing the songs to yourself all week.
If you get a chance… book this duo for a party, event or class. You and your kids will love it.
It took much prodding. We tried mom as a lure, toys, food, even her beloved Wolfie. But it was technology that motivated her in the end.
This post is also published
on a great NYC Dads Group Blog:
(A Babble top 50 blog)
Matilda laughs in the center of the rug, bouncing on her butt. Her smile has a power to it, a radiation of joy that infects the entire room. She sees her mother walk through the front door and emits a sort of seal-bark of excitement. She gasps and tips herself toward the door and her waiting mother, cheered on by both of us to take that first step, or crawl or (what is the verb here?)
No dice. She pulls herself forward for a moment, threatening to tip into a crawl but then falls back onto her hiney and bounces again, giggling.
According to our pediatrician, white females are the slowest, on average, to crawl and pull themselves to standing. This sounded racist to me, but considering that the pediatrician is herself a white female and quite a good scientist, I let it slide. She loves to quote studies and statistics. She did say that they didn’t know why.
What is the proper balance to strike between super-aggro doucebag daddy screaming at the t-ball coach and laissez-faire bordering on neglect daddy? I mean I want to encourage her without pushing too hard. What’s a daddy to do?
Matilda is a happy girl. But a teacher at day-care (who so obviously loves her) says in her soft Chinese accent with a big praising smile on her face as she hands her to me at the end of the day, “She happy, but she lazy.”
In swim class, there is an exercise, called monkey arms, where the child learns to hold onto the side of the pool. Matilda has no interest in gripping the wall. Other parents pull their hands back as their little monkeys cling to the wall in a survival instinct while my sweet girl pushes away and has even been dunked up to her nose a few times. What’s a daddy to do?
When the pediatrician went through the checklist at her 9 month checkup, she wasn’t concerned. As long as she exhibits some form of locomotion at this point, she is fine. Rolling, scootching, baby push-ups and dancing while holding my hand all qualify her for a perfectly normal developmental state.
“Some kids are slower than others.”
She rolls, she bounces, she even has started to do baby push-ups. But she just won’t crawl. In fact she is much more interested in wheeling around the apartment in her DJ Baby Walker blaring “Dinah won’t you blow your horn” than she is in being on her belly at all.
I place toys she wants just out of reach, I move back myself and egg her on, cheering and clapping, “Come on. Come on.” But she fakes like she is ready to make the leap and then rolls over onto her back, as happy as she can be right where she is.
So what do I do?
I roll onto my back, as happy as I can be right where she is too.
Not so long ago, Matilda was capable of little more than sleeping, nursing and pooping. She was so sweet, so docile. She looked like a perfect little doll. I would joke with me wife, as we gazed lovingly upon our little girl, “She’s so sweet now. But someday she will develop opinions and have ideas of her own.”
That is the understatement of the year.
Because our daughter not only indicates wants, usually with a wail or the Vulcan Death Grip; but she also indicates what she doesn’t want. Often with a scrape of her baby claws that makes Freddy Krueger look like a massage therapist.
Don’t get me wrong, she is still super cute and loads of fun, but she can be a serious pain in the ass if she isn’t getting whatever it is that she wants. Or if you don’t immediately remove whatever it is she has decided she doesn’t want- usually my face while bottle feeding her. She has a reverse Heisman move that could really hurt your feelings if you took it personally, which of course I don’t. (–That’s a lie). And sometimes, she gets her way, then changes her mind immediately.
What really gets me though is that she will often cry when her mom hands her to me. Not a little whimper, a cry like I’m attempting murder. When I hand her back to mommy, she stops immediately and gives me a wicked grin, ”Ha ha ha, I have you all in the palm of my hand!” (see That Mommy Magic). Maybe our girl has a strong personality. Maybe she’s a bit willful. Which makes sense, since both mommy and daddy are (especially mom- see Potty Training at Penn). Maybe I’m reading the progress chart wrong. But they really should give you more warning than that.
I should know better. I’ve heard other understatements already:
“They can get a little cranky when they’re teething”
“Get used to not sleeping”
“You’re going to want the diaper genie”
Leave a comment with a phrase you think is “the understatement of the year” for parenting:
I am grateful for so much right now, but deeply sad too. Our home escaped unscathed as did my family. We lost power when Manhattan went half dark. After one night spent in eerie quiet, we packed up and left as soon as the Lincoln Tunnel was open. I have been through enough of these to know that if the power doesn’t come back on right away – it could be a while. I had no romantic notions of being stuck in a third floor apartment with a baby and no electric, elevator, water, heat or phone service. Our underground garage escaped the flooding though it was only a block from the high water mark, and I had asked the attendants to leave our car accessible in case we decided to flee.
I left Florida for this?
The most stressful moments were driving through Manhattan with no stoplights. I had precious cargo. Once through the tunnel, we were diverted from the Turnpike, turned away at the 1-9. Google maps was spotty at best and I cursed the decision to throw out my old printed atlas. Technology fail. We managed to get west of the Passaic River and Newark Bay by following route 3 to the Parkway. Then I-78 was clear through to Pennsylvania. I felt like Snake Plissken escaping New York. We had to get out before the roads filled.
We were fortunate. We have a car, we have a place to go. My desire to stay behind and pitch in was trumped by my instinct to get my wife and baby to a safer place with heat and water and electric. I am so grateful for my brother and sister-in-law for taking us in. It was eerie traveling on empty roads with a blackout that stretched deep into Pennsylvania. There was no stopping for food or fuel. Everything was closed. It felt like a victory when we arrived in safe harbor.
My wife has family on the shore. As the video and photo evidence of the catastrophic destruction began to leak out, we were concerned for their physical safety. One stubborn uncle had said he was planning on remaining behind on Seaside Park’s thin barrier island. We feared the surge may have washed him away. Imagine our relief when we finally heard from his daughter that he decided to seek shelter at her home inland. The family was safe.
But their lives have been turned upside down. Reports of the devastation are accompanied by estimates of 6 months to a year before they will be allowed back into their home. Their home, their businesses, their livelihoods have all been destroyed. Every summer, we gather in Seaside Park to vacation as a family. One big happy clan laughing, playing in the surf and feasting together. I’ve even posted about it. Matilda’s first vacation was on the Jersey Shore. Life’s a Beach
Millions of people have wonderful memories of the shore. Despite the gross exploitation of classless alcoholics on the TV show by the same name, most folks associate the Jersey Shore with happy times with family. Warm sun, cool water and sand between barefoot toes.
It may be hard for most folks to feel sorry for people who may have lost a second home. I get that. But, many residents of these hard hit shore towns live there year round. Grew up there. Ran businesses like the gift shops and ice cream parlors. Or worked as police or volunteer first responders, teachers, lifeguards, commercial fishermen. Owned the homes we rent when we vacation there. Much of it has been washed away. Along the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, and on Long Island people are hurting. Lives have been shattered, loved ones lost, businesses wiped away. Help if you can.
A special thanks to all the First Responders, doctors, nurses, rescue personnel, Red Cross volunteers and good neighbors who worked so hard to keep basic services running and to keep folks safe. Also a thanks to all the utility workers who put in so many hours to get things back up and running. As well as all the garage attendants, doormen, security personnel who went the extra mile to get into work. Please support small businesses who lost work during the storm.
Inspired by Will Arnett’s character on Up All Night and his obsession with filming his daughter. I made a silly little I-movie of our afternoon while New York battened down for Hurricane Sandy. Ironically, my wife shot the video. (And yes. I know I’m off key.)