A Letter to My Unborn Baby

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Dear 3rd Child,

I wasn’t always sure I wanted you.

Oh, sorry about that. Where are my manners? Hi, I’m your dad. Nice to meet you. I’m the owner of that loud voice you’re probably already sick of. If you can even hear. Honestly, I’m not even sure you have ears yet because I hate those baby development calendars that tell me how big you are by comparing you to different fruits and vegetables. You know, this week you’re a peapod and next week you’ll be the size of an avocado. Maybe it’s because some of the vegetables they use are really strange, and because I don’t eat enough of them I don’t know what they look like and then all perspective is lost. I start to feel like if I can’t use vegetables to figure out your size then maybe you don’t exist. Maybe none of us really exist. And suddenly I’m in a full blown existential crisis all because I’m unfamiliar with rutabagas.

Sorry, sometimes I get off topic a bit. As I was saying, I wasn’t really sure I wanted you. I know that’s a horrible first impression I’m making, but it’s the truth.

You see, you’re our third child. The only problem is, I never planned on having more than two. It’s nothing personal, just that I’m a big believer in man-to-man defense. Or, in other words, one parent for each kid. It’s simple in theory, and it comforts me not to be outnumbered. But your arrival means your mom and I have to switch to zone. We’re going to be out-manned, forced to play a prevent defense. Insert additional football metaphors here.

It’s not like your mom tricked me or was deceitful. When we talked about how many kids we wanted she always said “two or three at the most.” I think I just ignored the latter part and assumed we were on the same page. And then we had trouble getting and staying pregnant, so in my mind, three was almost definitely not in the cards.

Last April your mom told me she was pregnant. Unfortunately (or from your purely selfish perspective since you wouldn’t exist, fortunately), it didn’t work out. But from that experience, I learned a few things. Mainly 1) how nervous I am about having a third child, and 2) how much that doesn’t matter because another child would be a wondrous, awesome thing.

We lost that baby before I could really wrap my mind around the whole thing. But here you are in the second trimester, and the reality is staring me full in the face. But, as usual, when one of my kids seems to be the problem, one of my  kids solves the problem and shows me how stupid I am.

Case in point…

I’m freaking out because we have no place to put you. We rent a cozy 3-bedroom duplex and currently, all bedrooms are occupied. To make matters worse, none of them are very big. So the question becomes where do we put you? And the answer is we have to put your two brothers in the same bedroom — the thought of which causes me great consternation.

When Sam was born Will lost his play room because it turned into Sam’s nursery. Now another sibling is on the way and Will is going to lose half his room to a 2-year-old tyrant. As an older brother who shared a room with a younger sibling for nearly a decade, I can commiserate. That experience can be suffocating and the age difference (5 years between them) makes it even tougher. I was dreading having to tell Will and the meltdown that would surely ensue.

But guess what? Will wasn’t angry. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When I told him he’d have to share a room with Sam his eyes lit up and his smile grew wide and bold.

“You mean I get to share a room with my brother??? YESSSSSS!!!!” he said, much to my surprised delight. “I bet Sam will even climb up into my bed and cuddle at night. I can’t wait.”

And suddenly I felt very silly. It reminded me of two years ago when I worried I couldn’t possibly love another human being as much as I loved Will. But I soon found out our hearts automatically expand when a new baby arrives, and in that vein we’ll find a way to make it work regarding everyone fitting under the same roof.

As for Will’s reaction, shame on me for not seeing that coming. Now don’t get me wrong, I know full well his tune will change after a few weeks or a month of his brother all up in his face all of the time. That’s inevitable. But let this be a lesson to you, baby boy or girl, of the kind of family into which you’re entering.

Your oldest brother Will has more kindness, empathy, and emotional intelligence than any 10 adults put together. He is patient, a great teacher, and so full of love he’s in danger of bursting. He’ll be your guide and best friend. Meanwhile your older brother Sam is a tornado. He attacks life with zeal and fears nothing, yet he hugs every other kid on the playground and has smiles for everyone. You’ll be closest in age to him (26 months apart) which means you’re going to battle him your entire life. Yet all the while you’ll want nothing more than to be just like him. He will push you in ways that are frustrating and obnoxious, but ultimately he’ll make you a better person and he’ll force you to work harder and keep improving.

And your mother? Well, she’s a saint. And a gorgeous saint at that. But as beautiful as she is on the outside, she’s even more spectacular on the inside. I don’t have to tell you that though. You literally know what I mean.

You’re not entering a rich family so I can’t promise you a carefree life detached from financial struggles. You won’t have the finest things, occasionally you’ll have to go without, and some days we’ll barely scrape by. But there is one thing I can promise you with complete certainty. You’re being born into a family filled with love. Passionate, unyielding, copious amounts of love and loyalty that we’re never afraid to express. From your parents to your siblings to your grandparents and beyond, love will comfort you and cushion you far better than a life of riches and luxury ever could. So welcome, my little one. You’re the last piece of the puzzle and the world is waiting. Stay safe and grow strong and healthy.

One last thing you should know — it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl. As long as you’re a Patriots fan.

Love,
Dad

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The Pros & Cons of Complimenting Parents in Public

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photo credit: Eres hermos@ via photopin (license)

 

***I have partnered with Similac for this piece.

People need to have more support for moms and fewer empty compliments for dads.

If you’re familiar with my writing and my unyielding advocacy of involved fatherhood, that sentence probably left you blinking in disbelief. “Did the guy who will never shut up about the importance of dads just say people need to compliment mothers more while praising dads less?” Yes. That’s what I’m saying. And no, I’m not crazy and this isn’t an impostor. Just hear me out.

When I’m out alone with my boys at the playground or a store, I am bombarded with compliments from total strangers. I’ll admit, it felt really good at first. So many people were coming up to me and telling me what a good dad I was, I felt like Superman. I don’t care who you are, it’s nice to hear a compliment. And when they come in waves and involve your children and parenting skills, it’s that much sweeter.

And then one day I saw her.

I was at a playground with Will (Sam wasn’t born yet) and was the only dad there. As usual, I was basking in the glow of all the compliments from the moms telling me what a good dad I was for being out with my kid by myself. Then I saw two kids, maybe 5 and 3 respectively, bolt by me and chase each other around the base of the playground. I could tell they were brother and sister immediately because of the bickering, which was growing louder by the second.

I looked over at the park bench and saw a clearly exasperated mom craning her neck to see where her two bickering progeny had gone. She had her hands full at the time because she was trying desperately to get her baby to latch for a mid-morning snack. Meanwhile her two oldest reached a fever pitch across the playground over the toy they both wanted, and it culminated with the older brother pushing his sister. She fell to the ground unhurt but crying, with the brother shouting at her to stop crying because they’d both get in trouble.

The mom was red-faced and hissing the names of her two kids in an effort to get them to stop. Meanwhile the jostled baby was having trouble feeding, and he/she (I couldn’t tell and it doesn’t really matter) also began wailing. I remember the “I’m at the end of my rope” look of temporary helplessness on the look of the mom. I also recall the other moms raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyes, as if to silently say “Geez, get control of your kids lady.” I remember wanting to go over there and offer to help her, or at least tell her we’ve all been there and she’s doing a great job. But for some reason, I didn’t. And now I’ll always remember regretting that.

That day made me realize something important, which is all the compliments I received from strangers regarding my parenting were actually anything but.

I’m not doing anything special when I’m out with my kids. I’m literally just walking around, getting my errands done, and hoping they can play without killing themselves or each other — same as every other parent. The reason I’m complimented is solely because I’m a dad out with his kids alone, and therefore kind of a novelty. And that sucks. It sucks for dads AND moms.

While I’m 100% confident no one has any ill will when complimenting me, I have NEVER seen a mom in the same situation with her kids receive similar kind words. Why? Because parenting their kids is what moms are expected to do.

If we truly want to move toward being equal partners in parenting, that has to change.

Dads shouldn’t be singled out for praise simply for basic parenting 101. If we accept those compliments while mothers get no public support for the same tasks, we’re automatically erasing the level playing field. We’re saying raising kids is a mom job that dad helps out with every once in a while. We’re patting dads on the head for nothing more than completing the basic job requirements of parenting. That belittles fathers and ignores mothers — a dual disservice.

That’s why now, when I see any parent struggling to keep up with their brood, I take the time to stop and tell them we’ve all been there. There are good and bad days. But either way, they’re doing a helluva job.

It’s not much and it takes so little effort, but sometimes a kind word and some reassurance — even from a stranger — is enough of a lift to get through the day. Small actions often have gargantuan positive repercussions, so next time you’re out and you see someone struggling, throw her a compliment.

And while complimenting a dad with just cause is always worthwhile, please stop doing it just because we’re out with our kids. Despite your best intentions, it ultimately comes off as patronizing and does a disservice to dads and moms.

Let’s work to support all parents, because you never know when a random kind word will make all the difference.

*******************

ABB_SIM_BloggerBadge_250x151I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign (#SisterhoodUnite), which aims to unite all parents in a judgment-free zone. But as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy this fantastic video Similac developed that shows we’re all #ParentsFirst when it comes to raising our kids. You can visit Similac’s website or go to its Facebook page to learn more.

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Amazon Mom and Why Words Matter

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Chris Routly of www.daddydoctrines.com

“Choose your words carefully.”

That’s what my mother told me when I was trying to squirm out of a lie as a young boy. My father gave me that advice in college when I told him I wanted to become a writer. And my wife hisses the phrase at me in the heat of arguments when I’m dangerously close to crossing a line I can’t uncross. Point being in all of these examples, the things we say and the language we use often have a long-lasting impact and substantial significance.

Or, to put it bluntly, words matter.

Two years ago, my friend and fellow dad blogger Oren Miller took issue with Amazon’s discount diaper subscription service, called “Amazon Mom.” He wasn’t flying off the handle, loony tunes mad about it, but he was annoyed. Especially because in several other countries around the world, the program had a different and more inclusive name — Amazon Family.

“It’s not about a name and it’s not about me personally being offended and it’s not about stupid emails about yoga classes. It’s about a company that looks at the US, then looks at England, and then decides that over there, parent equals mom or dad, while here, well, we’re not ready for that yet.” — Oren Miller, 2013

Well, Amazon didn’t make the change. And unfortunately, my friend Oren had to end this fight to battle a more insidious foe in the form of stage IV lung cancer. Sadly, he died last weekend. But while Oren may have lost his battle with cancer, a bunch of his friends (myself included) decided the best way to honor his legacy is to finish his fight to get Amazon to change the name of their program.

And so the #AmazonFamilyUS hashtag was born. Since beginning 48 hours ago, it now has more than 6 million impressions. More than that, it’s been picked up by TODAY, CNN, MarketWatch, Adweek, Consumerist, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and many more, all talking about the emergence and importance of involved dads, and why some companies are still dragging their feet to be inclusive.

But with the good, comes the (expected) bad. Mainly the troglodytes who still think masculinity is how many beers you can drink in one sitting and how big your paycheck is.

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This guy.

This guy is still (unfortunately) the majority in this country, and that’s why words matter. That’s why making Amazon Family the norm instead of Amazon Mom matters. It’s why we rail against bumbling father stereotypes in TV sitcoms. It’s why we complain that fathers are either left out of, or worse, made fun of as inept buffoons by marketers promoting products parents rely on.

Some people — even some dads — say “none of this matters if you’re a good dad to your kids” and “this isn’t going to change anything,” but I don’t buy that. It will change things. And I have proof.

Did you watch this year’s Super Bowl? If so, you probably noticed commercial after commercial involving dads cast in a positive light. A lot of people were surprised and wondering why and how that happened. Well, as someone in the trenches on this issue, I can tell you it was years in the making. It involved a lot of discussions with brands who initially cast fathers as dolts. It involved laborious howling on social media about the negative effects of casting dads as idiots. And it involved showing companies that marketing to dads in a positive way benefits all parents, and the bottom line.

And that’s why we do this.

Because for better or worse, culture impacts society. Even policy. So when Phil Dunphy becomes the norm over Ray Romano, people begin to have different (and higher) expectations of fathers. When dads are seen in national spots as nurturing, diaper-changing pillars of the family, guys in general will gravitate in that direction. And when a retail giant like Amazon starts being inclusive by using terms like Family instead of Mom to market to parents, it sends a message of “we’re in this thing together.”

That’s why this change is so important. It’s for Oren. It’s for dads. Hell, it’s for moms. It’s for being equal partners in parenting and doing away with harmful gender norms.

It’s because words matter.

***Please sign the Change.org petition to get Jeff Bezos of Amazon to change Amazon Mom to Amazon Family. And if you’d like to join in the call on social media, please use the hashtag #AmazonFamilyUS.

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Why All Parents Should Volunteer in Their Child’s Classroom

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It’s Friday. And I love Fridays.

For the last couple of months I’ve been volunteering on Friday mornings at my son’s school. I was nervous at first because I’m not someone who volunteers for anything. I’ll happily lend support from the sidelines where I can blog and snark from the cozy, reclusive cheap seats, but actually volunteering? It always gave me the willies.

But after getting leveled with some hurtful but totally accurate criticism from my wife about being a naysayer who never throws his hat in the ring to actually make a difference, I decided it was time to put up or shut up.

Best. Decision. Ever.

The work itself isn’t glamorous, as it mostly consists of making photocopies. And by mostly, I mean all I do is make photocopies. And after my first time, I almost never came back. Between learning the copier, correcting and preventing paper jams, figuring out the toner, getting paper cuts, and getting interrupted by teachers who need to make emergency copies on the spot, it’s a bit overwhelming at first.

I guess the rational part of my mind knew all those copies had to be made by someone, and that someone is usually the teacher. But as a parent, all the worksheets just magically appear in Will’s backpack. It’s kind of like sausage in that regard — I don’t really think about how it’s made. I’m just glad it’s there.

Well let me tell you something folks, I’ve now seen how the sausage is made and how much time it takes to produce. And frankly, I’m not sure how teachers have the time to, you know, actually TEACH with all the damn copies they have to make. Needless to say, I’m happy to take some of the copying and stapling duties off the plates of teachers if it means they can spend more time instructing students.

And speaking of the classroom, that’s by far my favorite part.

I get a sneak peek into Will’s classroom during the day. On Valentine’s Day, I even got to chaperone a little party they had. I get to put faces with all the stories Will brings home about his classmates. I get to see the classroom Will describes in vivid detail. But most importantly, I get to be his hero during this unbelievably brief time that hero status can be achieved just by showing up to school to make a few copies.

When he sees me walk in his face lights up and he’s proud that I’m there. All the other kids rush over and greet me by my new name — “Will’s Dad.” I’m not Aaron or Mr. Gouveia or even Mr. G. Just Will’s Dad, which might sound like a loss of identity, but is actually anything but.

Will leans his head against me and whispers “I’m glad you’re here.” The other kids recognize me and wave. Some of them show me their new Patriots shirts, others have bracelets they’ve made, and I’m always besieged by play date requests for them to play with Will. I know almost all of their names now, and I’m a tiny part of their routine. And it’s glorious.

When I’m done making my copies, they’re usually at gym or music so the classroom is empty. I drop the gargantuan pile of copies on the teacher’s desk and then I grab a sticky note. Every week I write a message to my son and leave it on his desk as a surprise when he gets back. I tell him I love him and I sign it the same way.

“Love,
Will’s Dad”

If you can find the time, volunteer at your child’s school. It helps the teacher, your kids will love it, and you’ll find joy in a completely unexpected place. And if you need help with the copier, just holler.

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What To Do the First Time Your Baby Gets Sick

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The first time your baby gets really sick is freaking terrifying.

I know that’s not going to win me any literary awards or cement my status as a wordsmith, but it’s the damn truth. Will was about five months old the first time he came down with a fever. Which turned into a cough. Which turned into wheezing. Which all combined to scare the absolute crap out of me and his mother, and forever redefine our concept of fear.

Every parent knows what I mean. Even first-time parents, which I was at the time, know something is wrong before any thermometer shows a reading. The baby just isn’t right, and we can see it and sense it.

Then you feel the forehead and it seems way too hot. With shaky hands, you take the thermometer and read it — 103.7 degrees.

Oh crap!

Words can’t really describe that initial fear. For me, it was just abject terror. Will was running a very high fever, coughing, and had started to wheeze. He was still so little and watching him struggle just shattered me. I knew it was my job to protect him, but I suddenly had a slight panic attack when realizing I had no idea what to do.

Honestly. No clue. That’s tough for me to admit, but it’s true. I didn’t know what medicine I could give him, what I couldn’t give him, whether to call the pediatrician, do I take him to the ER? This was the person I held most precious in the entire world and it was devastating to realize I had no idea how to take care of him.

With the help of hindsight and years of experience, I now know it wasn’t the life or death debacle it felt like at the time. And while it would be easy to forget that fear and tell new parents to just relax, it’s never that easy.

I wish I had had something like the New Baby Essentials Kit from Little Remedies, which won’t be enough to treat the really serious problems that require a doctor, but at the very least give you options for a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, and fever. To have it all in one place would’ve given me some peace of mind and solved some of the early mysteries of what I could and couldn’t give to my son. Now this kit is the main component of gifts we give to new parents.

So moms and dads, it’s OK to be freaked out. It’s normal to be scared out of your mind when your tiny baby gets sick for the first time. But there’s plenty of help out there in the form of medicine, other parents, and of course, Google (use in small and smart doses). In my experience, fevers aren’t really a concern until they’re 101 degrees, Little Remedies has the most natural and effective medicine that helps my kids, and if you think it’s more serious don’t hesitate to call the pediatrician.

Hang in there and rest assured, you’re not alone.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated by Little Remedies for this post. However, I used their products way before they ever approached me and I stand by their effectiveness and endorse them 100%. Check out their website and Facebook page.

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