I Thought My Son Was Never Going to Talk

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Seven months ago, I was petrified Sam was never going to talk.

We were at his 15-month check-up and the doctor asked how many words Sam had in his repertoire. She didn’t ask IF he could speak, mind you, but how many words he could say. I immediately looked down at the floor in shame, because Sam didn’t have any words. Not a one. Zero.

And despite her assurances that he was just a little bit behind, I was POSITIVE something was cataclysmically wrong with him.

Less than a week later, we had Early Intervention come in and evaluate him. I had heart palpitations with each test he wasn’t passing. Failure to turn the jack-in-box crank? He’ll never graduate high school. Couldn’t say “mama” or “dada?” There goes college. By the end of it all, I was in a full-blown panic as I envisioned Sam at 30, living in our basement and still unable to utter basic syllables.

When the EI folks finished, they said Sam was slightly speech-delayed, but not so much that he qualified for Early Intervention. But I only heard those two words: speech delayed. And I was crushed at having somehow failed my son.

Yes, I realize how crazy I was being. Now. But then, in that moment, it was very real and very overwhelming.

We have certain standards kids are supposed to meet at certain times, and they’re hard for me to ignore. I know I’m not alone. These concrete milestones our children are supposed to meet are set in a sea of fluidity, and don’t seem to take into account the individual nature of children. We know enough to tell ourselves “everyone goes at his/her own pace” and “they all get there eventually,” but if your child is on the slower side then those markers are always there, blinking in the background, taunting you mercilessly.

It’s problematic if you’re someone who did everything early and generally had things come easy to him. It’s even worse if your firstborn was the same way — walking, talking, and putting sentences together well ahead of the curve. In that instance, you love milestones. Because who doesn’t enjoy looking at an achievement in the rear view mirror?

So you start wondering what’s wrong with this one. Why isn’t this one early, or at least on time? Did I leave the TV on too long and damage his brain? I didn’t read to him enough, did I? Why can’t he be more like his brother??

And suddenly you realize what an utter and unreasonable asshole you’re being.

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Seven months later and 8 days shy of his second birthday, I look back at myself and shake my head. Especially as this plays out in the car on a daily basis.

“Hi dada!”
“Dada, wheels on bus!”
“Dada, you see choo-choo?”
“Dad, what’s that?”
“Thank you, dada.”

Words. So many words. So many new words every day. I come home from work and discover he’s added two or three more to his expanding vocabulary. They didn’t arrive on the generally accepted timetable, but they came nonetheless. They came when Sam was ready. They came exactly when they were supposed to.

I know I worry because I care. Because these kids are the most important thing in the world to me. I’m sure that’s true of most neurotic parents who unnecessarily sweat the small stuff. I’m also a firm believer that if you don’t feel like a complete fool at least a couple of times a month, you’re probably not a parent.

Kids are not identical assembly line automatons. They are not here to validate us by meeting arbitrary deadlines that serve as parental bragging rights on social media. I know this. Most parents know this. We just need to keep it at the forefront of our mind more often, and not fall victim to unnecessary worrying about things that almost always work themselves out.

Seven months ago I thought my son was never going to talk. Now? I’m worried he’ll never stop.

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11 Things Dads Should NEVER Say in the Delivery Room

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The delivery room is a strange, scary, and spectacular place. There are mystical wonders to behold, a multitude of wires attached to your loved one getting ready to deliver, and a cacophony of beeping coming from unfamiliar machines that leave you unable to decipher good from bad. It is where miracles happen, memories are made, and life is brought forth into the world.

Unless she kills you right there in the birthing suite because you’re one of the brainless jackasses who says something irreversibly stupid at the worst possible moment.

Having talked to L&D nurses, read humorous (yet cringe-inducing) accounts of ridiculous things said inside the delivery room, and having written about a semi-related topic in the past, I thought it best to get specific. In my ongoing quest to help fathers (not just fathers but anyone who plans on being in the delivery room) improve, I think this list is important simply to keep people alive.

Everyone processes emotions differently in stressful situations, and many people (myself included) resort to attempts at humor as a defense mechanism. However, your latest pun might not be well accepted as the mother of your child is attempting to pass something the size of a watermelon through a hole the size of a lemon.

I thought long and hard, consulted a few mothers in my life, and came up with this list. And I added animated GIFs so hopefully the women reading this will laugh instead of instantly try to murder their partners who undoubtedly said one or more things listed below.

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IBM Now Offers 6 Weeks Paid Paternity Leave. And I’m Taking Every Bit of It

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Convincing companies to offer paid paternity leave is challenging. But convincing male employees to actually take it and use all that’s available to them? Much tougher.

My third child is due in September. I just found out my employer, IBM, changed its policy and is now giving dads and domestic partners six weeks of paid parental leave. This is excellent news — both for me personally and dads as a whole. Yet when I announced the good news on social media, one of the first things someone said to me was “That’s cool. But you’re not gonna use all six weeks, right? No way I could get away with that.”

And I realized how far we still have to go on this issue.

While 89% of men say employers should offer paid paternity leave, according to the Boston College Center for Work and Family, those men don’t always take it. In most cases that’s because only 12% of US companies offer paid paternity leave, and very few people these days can afford to take unpaid FMLA. But even when companies make fully paid paternity leave available to employees, many men are still hesitant. Unfortunately, they have good reasons.

Surveys have shown men who actively and publicly prioritize family over work are subject to pay decreases, demotions, mistreatment on the job, and even job loss. Risking that career success and the income that provides for your family is scary, especially for men who are the sole breadwinner (as I am). Add to that a culture that says men are only men if they work their fingers to the bone and taking time off for family matters is for women, and you have a potentially menacing situation.

But I don’t care and I’m willing to risk it. I hope dads at IBM (and elsewhere) feel the same, because it’s worth the risk. Why? In order for paid parental leave to become commonplace, men who have it available to them need to take it — all of it — and make an unequivocally bold statement that family comes first.

With more dads than ever seeking to be hands-on parents and simultaneously feeling the pangs that work/life conflicts bring, now is the time for action.

We need to take all of our available leave because studies show fathers who are heavily involved right from their child’s birth, are much more likely to stay involved as time passes. And children with involved fathers have been shown to perform better in school, avoid drugs and alcohol, get arrested less, and delay sexual activity.

Furthermore, paternity leave doesn’t just benefit men. In fact, its biggest beneficiaries might be women.

When men are doing more household and childcare duties at home, it frees up women to reenter the workforce and cut down on the so called “Second Shift” working mothers endure. In fact, a mother’s future earnings increase by 7% for every month of leave taken by the father. So while dads take a more egalitarian role at home, they are actually helping to strengthen the number of women in the workforce while simultaneously doing their part to bridge the gender wage gap.

Lastly, it’s not just people who benefit from paternity leave. Companies that offer paid leave to parents might struggle while the employees are gone, but happier workers stay at their jobs and the savings via employee retention far exceeds any short-term difficulties. This also enables companies to attract top-tier talent when positions do have to be filled, as many workers clamor to be part of an organization that invests in the happiness and well-being of its rank and file workers.

So now I have six weeks of paid leave I can take in September. Although my team and managers are very supportive, there’s always a chance I could face some unspoken penalty for taking my full leave. There’s a chance this impacts my bonus or my being promoted.

But you know what? It’s worth it.

Within minutes of finding out about the policy change, I emailed my managers and requested the full six weeks off. I might take it all at once after the baby is born, or I might stagger it. But either way, I’m using it.

I’m going to bond with my baby. I’m going to wake up with my wife for every feeding. I’m going to learn which cry means “I’m hungry” and which cry means “change my diaper.” I’m going to help my wife with our other two kids, including my oldest who could have his first day of 2nd grade while we’re in the delivery room. I’m going to be as involved as possible because dads are equal partners in parenting, not glorified babysitters.

I’m going to take my leave as publicly as possible. I’m going to write about it and chronicle it on these pages. I’m going to talk to my male coworkers whose partners are expecting, and urge them to take all six weeks too. As one of a select few who have the privilege of taking this time off, I feel that’s my duty. I view it as my responsibility to help make paternity leave normal instead of shameful. To be proud of being a family man instead of doing it on the sly or worried it might cost me my job.

More companies like IBM are being progressive in offering paid leave, and that’s great. Now it’s up to dads to step up to the plate and make our priorities known. So if you don’t have paid leave, advocate for it. And if you have it, take it. All of it.

You won’t regret it.

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For more on this important topic, these two recently released books are absolutely essential. And better yet, both authors are friends of mine. And damn good fathers to boot.

The Working Dad's Survival Guide by Scott Behson
The Working Dad’s Survival Guide by Scott Behson
All In, by Josh Levs
All In, by Josh Levs
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That Time When

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I do it all for the stories.

I love stories. I love collecting them and mentally filing them away so I can marinate in them whenever I want. I love telling stories, both via the written word and through old fashioned word of mouth. And I like retelling them years later, even to those who have already heard them and know them by heart.

Stories are my currency, my stock-in-trade, and they become our historical record long after we shuffle off this mortal coil. They are the thread that weaves together generations and the wind that gently carries whispers of the past. They are the closest any of us will come to immortality.

But before our stories can be told, they have to be lived.

It is amazing to me how the entire concept of vacation has changed since becoming a parent. If you’re like us, you have one family vacation per year. Assuming you take family vacations up until your kids are 18 — and factoring in most kids don’t remember much before the age of 5 — that leaves a measly 14 vacations. Fourteen chances to create lasting memories that give your children Kodak Moment level goosebumps. Just more than a baker’s dozen opportunities to make and collect your stories.

For me, it’s all about “That Time When.”

I think back to family vacations when I was young and there was that time when we went to my aunt’s beach house on Cape Cod but ended up playing a billion games of Ping Pong in the basement because none of us liked the beach. Or that time we went to Six Flags and I instantly overcame my fear of rollercoasters because a 13-year-old girl in a bikini asked me to ride with her. And who can forget that time when we went to Amish Country and ended up fighting with a buggy driver after I called him a hypocrite for being against the consumption of tobacco for moral reasons, yet having no issue profiting off the smoking industry.

But now I’m a dad. A working dad. A working dad who knows my countdown from 14 has begun, and desperately wants to create some “That Time When” moments for his own family.

With some help from HomeAway, I was able to do just that. Instead of staying at a hotel, we used HomeAway to find an absolutely perfect, pet-friendly lakefront cabin in Vermont. We had a kitchen to cook our meals instead of paying for room service, a beautiful pond for swimming and fishing instead of a hotel pool, and we saved money by not having to board our dog. All that for roughly $150 a night. Cheaper than a hotel and better than a hotel.

Now, here are our moments.

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The Importance of Grandparents

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“If you guys moved a few hours away you could afford a really nice house.”

I’ve been told this by many of my friends, and it’s 100% true. As MJ and I prepare to buy a house in the next 18-24 months, we cringe at the soaring real estate prices of greater Boston. And that cringe turns into a full-fledged scowl when we look at the much more affordable housing prices should we decide to move to another part of the country.

For what we’ll eventually pay to buy a 3BR, 2BA, 1,800-square foot house in southeastern Massachusetts, we could get a house elsewhere that’s 5BR, 3BA, and 3,500 square feet. Hell, even if we moved to the Berkshires (western Massachusetts, 3 hours away) we’d be getting WAY more bang for our buck. And as someone who doesn’t want to be house poor, it’s pretty damn tempting at times.

But we won’t do that. Why? Because grandparents.

Will and Sam (and Baby #3) currently have all three sets of grandparents within a 20-minute ride. Specifically, my parents live 2.5 miles away and MJ’s mom now lives just 6 miles away. We see Grandpa, Grandma, Nana, Papa, and Grammy Donna (and Grandpa B, before he died) all the time, and all of them want the kids as often as possible.

Hell, right this moment Will is in New Hampshire on his yearly trip to StoryLand with my parents. They’ve taken him for four days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since he was 3 years old, and next year Sam will join in the fun.

Which is why we won’t pick up and move. You can’t put a price tag on having family around, and you can’t underestimate the value of having kids spend a ton of time with their grandparents.

I spent nearly every weekend with my Grandma “Goo-Goo.” We watched movies, played Nintendo (she was a Zelda fanatic), hated on the LA Lakers, and ate ice cream sundaes the size of small mountains. And my Grandma “Ga-Ga” (my parents are sadistic for creating these nicknames) taught us how to play piano and sing. She lived on the town’s reservoir and we spent much of our time outside catching frogs and throwing rocks into the water.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were great. But grandparents? They’re the ones who spoil you unconditionally. Who take you on special outings. Who do the stuff they were told not to do but they’re going to do it anyway because that’s what grandparents do. Grandparents are completely special, and every kid should know that love.

I want that for my kids. It’s vital they spend time with all of their grandparents, especially since we’re lucky enough to have them so involved.

And yes, I know EXACTLY how lucky we are to have them. Some grandparents died either before kids were born or when they were very little, and others are separated by great distances. Also, I’ve heard horror stories of absentee grandparents who have only seen their grandkids a handful of times and make absolutely no effort.  Whichever camp you fall in, that’s truly unfortunate and MJ and I know we’re privileged to have so many grandparents here for us.

So when we have something come up, we make one or two phone calls and boom — a grandparent appears out of the ether to take the kids. Or if we really want a date night, someone is always all too willing to take the kids off our hands.

Papa and Grammy Donna play video games with the boys and Papa puts Will to work so he stays grounded and learns how to do more chores. Nana will sit and cuddle with Sam for hours on end, play with them at the beach, and then take Will to the fireworks show at night. And my parents practically pry the kids out of our hands to take them on overnights and spoil the ever loving crap out of them in every way possible. It’s to the point our kids cry when they come home to us because they don’t want to leave their grandparents.

Sure, we’re going to pay through the nose for a smaller house that needs repairs. But we can’t put a price on having family nearby, nor can we ever again take advantage of the opportunity to let the kids bond with their grandparents as they grow up. This is a one-shot deal and we can never get this time back, so we’re taking full advantage of it.

Grandparents aren’t around forever, but the memories they create are timeless. I’m just so thankful our kids will have them. Thanks, guys. You mean the world to us.

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