Tag Archives: parenting

Letter to My Unborn Baby: What If You’re a Girl?

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Dear Baby,

Welcome to the halfway point of your womb incarceration. I know you’re growing just fine because your mom’s stomach suddenly decided to pop, which is nice because now people can see she’s pregnant instead of wondering if she’s had a few too many ice cream sundaes.

It’s odd to write to you and not know whether you’re a boy or a girl. As I’ve mentioned before, you have two wonderful older brothers. When I was growing up, I had a brother too. That means not only do I not know what it’s like to raise a daughter, I don’t even know what it’s like having a sister.

Which is all a long way of saying I’m a little worried about how to raise a girl.

First off, everyone is hoping you’re a girl. I think it’s mostly because we already have two boys, and people just naturally seek balance — which I think is odd. And a little annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a daughter. I think. But I also think it would be unassailably cool to have three boys as well. But in the end, as long as you’re healthy that’s all I really care about.

And yet I can’t help but let my mind wander.

If you’re a girl, will I baby you? Will you be the quintessential daddy’s little girl, compounded by the fact you’re the youngest? If I buy you pink princess things am I ruining you for life by buying into society’s harmful gender norms? If I deny you pink princess things that you ask for am I then trampling your independence and personal tastes?

Am I contractually obligated to enroll you in ballet at birth? At what point should I take out my loan at the American Girl Doll Store? If I point you in the direction of sports is that a good thing that will make you more well-rounded, or does it represent me pushing my interests on you unfairly while turning you into a tomboy?

I’m against guns, but do I need to invest in a shotgun when you start dating? Do I need to frighten your suitors with not-so-thinly-veiled threats of bodily harm, while handing them an asinine list of rules? And at what age do I even start letting you date? What if your brothers start dating at 12 but I don’t want you to date that early because I anoint myself protector of your virginity?

Will you watch The Three Stooges with me and the boys on Sunday mornings? Can I bring you to Patriots games with your grandfather? Will you enjoy trips to Fenway Park?

Yes, I’ve wondered these things. And yes, I immediately felt like an idiot afterward. Because when push comes to shove, if you’re a girl, I won’t be raising a daughter — I’ll be raising a person. A person who I need to get to know. A person who will develop tastes for many things all on her own. A person to whom I plan to teach compassion, kindness, and strength of character just as I’m doing with your brothers.

It’s the same game plan I’ll follow if you’re a boy. Hell, it’s the only game plan I know. So while I used to joke about freaking out with a daughter, I’ve come to realize it’s not the case. I just want you to be strong and smart and brave and kind — sex organs be damned.

So continue incubating, little one, and we’ll see you in another 20 weeks on or around Sept. 5. But the Patriots raise a championship banner against the Steelers on Sept. 10, so please try not to be late. That’d be just like a woman.

Yours in loving sarcasm,
Dad

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7 Horrible Parenting Moments No One Warns You About

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Parenting — especially in the age of social media — requires spending ample amounts of time wading through a superfluous amount of bullshit.

I’m not sure why it happens, but parents routinely lie to one another without hesitation. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all been force fed fairy tales of how happy babies should make us 100% of the time, and we feel guilty saying “truthfully, some of this really sucks.” But the fact of the matter is, some of it does suck. And in the very beginning, I’d argue MOST of it sucks.

I know you love your kids. I love my kids too. Kids really are fantastic, and in the end it’s all worth it. But it’s not all fun and much of it is really, really hard. Denizens of Facebook and Pinterest already see all the good moments (since that’s all most parents put out there) where babies fart rainbows and spit up sunshine, so here are a few distinct moments of terror most parents face but seldom discuss.

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7. The Moment You Realize It’s All on You
When my oldest was born in 2008, I was over the moon. First kid, tons of excitement, the novelty of the childbirth experience — the adrenaline from all of that combined was enough to get me through the craziness of the first week. But then the nurses were gone. The family members lining up to hold the baby so you could take a nap were nowhere to be found. I distinctly remember holding Will during a crying fit late at night and not being able to calm him down, as an insane thought crept into my head — I’m in charge of his life. I know it seems like something that should already be clear, but it’s not. It doesn’t happen in the delivery room. It happens at 3 am when you’re sleep deprived and the reality that life as you know it has forever changed because every decision you make now affects another human being and it’s your job not to screw him up and parenthood is FOREVER! Eventually this is a positive turning point, but in the moment it’s a tsunami of fear and anxiety.

6. The First Time You Use Google for Medical Research
Everyone talks about how scary it is the first time your kid gets sick. That’s a no-brainer. But something that is under-discussed is how terrifying it can be if you plug your baby’s medical maladies into Google and spend the next few hours getting sucked down the hypochondriac’s rabbit hole until you’re nearly catatonic because you’re convinced your kid’s slight rash is actually lamellar ichthyosis, and he’s going to start shedding his skin like a snake at any moment unless you get to the ER, stat! If you think your kid is sick, don’t trust the yahoos answering questions on Yahoo! because you’ll make yourself crazy. Talk to your trusted friends or better yet, just call the pediatrician. They’re used to first-time parents being unsure and scared, and they’ll guide you through it.

5. The First Explosive Public Poop
June, 2008. Boston Beer Works right across the street from Fenway Park. Father’s Day. That was the first time Will had, what I now refer to as, a “World Ender.” It’s wasn’t so much that he pooped, it was that he summoned all the poop that was, is, and ever will be and released it upon the world using some sort of infant physics I’ll never understand, which allows that much shit to come out of a space so tiny. The diaper never stood a chance, and the poop went everywhere. Every. Damn. Where. As new parents, we were unprepared for the possibility our son could suddenly become a shit demon, so we didn’t bring a second outfit. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a crowded bar with a baby covered in shit, carseat carrier covered in shit, clothes covered in shit, and my hands covered in shit from picking him up. I honestly can’t describe the panic in my heart having never gone through that. I looked around frantically, not knowing where to go or what to do. Panic. Pure panic. If you find yourself in such a situation, let me give you the answer — throw everything away. Well, not the baby. Keep him. But the clothes? Toss ‘em. Don’t even give it a second thought. I don’t care that it’s the special outfit your Aunt Marjorie gave the baby. Fuck Aunt Marjorie right in her face if she doesn’t understand. It’s just not worth it. Trust me.

4. The Toxic Sippy Cup/Bottle
This is similar to the poop situation, but possibly more disgusting. You see, you’re going to go through tons of bottles and then sippy cups. Some of those will inevitably turn up missing. You’ll find it eventually, because your car or house will start to smell like a skunk died in a swamp filled with rotten Indian food. Now because you’re new parents and no doubt financially strapped, you might be thinking “Well, I’ll just suck it up and wash it because I don’t want to be wasteful.” Ignore that voice. That is the voice of inexperience that has never suffered through the unimaginably putrid ordeal of unleashing that hazardous material out into the world. Throw the cup away. Or bury it. Or better yet, find that little bastard Frodo and pay him to dispose of it in the fires of Mt. Doom. And never, ever talk of it again.

3. The First Time You Drop the Baby
Sometimes it’s a drop, but not always. You might be changing her on the bed or couch and she rolls off, and you SWEAR you only turned your head for a second when — THUD! You will feel fear the likes of which you never thought possible. This is a legitimately traumatic moment because not only is your baby hurt, she’s hurt because you weren’t being careful. I get it. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Obviously if there’s bleeding or your baby isn’t responsive, go get help immediately. But nine times out of 10, these falls are nothing. I don’t know why, but babies are like rubber. That doesn’t mean you should experiment on them or anything, but their elastic bodies are far less fragile than you think, and tougher than you can imagine. Trust me, you’re going to beat yourself up and make yourself suffer more than your baby has because of the fall.

2. The Moment You Worry Your Marriage is in Danger
There often comes a time, usually a few months after having a kid, when you will look at your partner and freak the hell out because you suddenly realize you have a roommate where a loving spouse used to be. For us, it was complicated even further by MJ’s postpartum depression, and I will NEVER forget the tidal wave of emotion as I realized this was not what I wanted in a marriage and I had no clue whether or not it would change. Parenting is an all-encompassing endeavor and it’s extraordinarily easy to focus all of our energy on the new baby while failing to attend to our partners. No one is saying you’re going to live the fancy free lifestyle you had before kids, but you do need to focus on each other after a baby — although that’s easier said than done. Give the kid to a grandparent or relative. Pay for a babysitter. But for the sake of your relationship, make some time for each other and reconnect as two people who love each other, not just two people taking care of a baby.

1. The Fleeting Moment You Realize You Genuinely Hate Your Kid
Because parents only want to talk about the good times, I had no idea it was possible to hate your kid. When that baby has kept you up for weeks on end and refuses to stop crying and is having trouble latching and never seems satisfied no matter what you do and you’re a zombie who can barely function anymore, there comes a moment when all of that anger and frustration culminates into a single moment of pure disgust — and you hate him. It doesn’t last long, but in the moment it’s real. And it’s scary as hell to have those thoughts about someone you love so much. That’s when you tap out and go get your partner. If you’re a single parent, leave the kid in the crib for a few minutes while you walk away and calm yourself down. The baby will be fine for a bit in the crib, but not if you let that feeling consume you. And also, realize it’s pretty normal. Show me a parent who says they never felt that way about their kid, and I’ll show you a liar. Just be sure not to act on those feelings, and if they don’t go away find a counselor or doctor and get the help you need.

I know these aren’t all pleasant and this stuff is often difficult to talk about. But it’s also pretty important to discuss, because too many parents (especially new parents) think they’re the only ones who feel this way. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

So, did I miss any? Leave some other suggestions in the comments.

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Dads Clean Up Nicely These Days

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OK, let’s get this out of the way first and foremost. Yes, the guy who went on record saying he prefers parents with slightly messy houses is writing a post about cleaning houses. And while I can already hear the “HYPOCRITE!” chants, that really isn’t the case. Despite being comfortable with a little mess and disorganization, there comes a tipping point at which the mess threatens to climb The Wall like a mass of Wildlings and enslave us all.

Or, in other words, cleaning up occasionally is necessary, as is making sure it’s never just one parent’s job to do so. That’s where Swiffer and its #SwifferDad campaign comes in.

Did you know, according to the Swiffer Cleaning Index, dads today are pitching in around the house more than twice as much as their own fathers did? And of the men surveyed, approximately half say they do the lion’s share of housework. Gone are the strict gender roles and the Mr. Mom mentality automatically assumed when men donned an apron or cleaned the floors. Modern masculinity is about being present and involved in all of the moments, not just the one where you slap a paycheck down on the table and send your wife grocery shopping.

To be perfectly frank with you all, MJ and I have a fairly traditional arrangement at home. I work full-time and have a half dozen or so freelancing gigs on the side, which amounts to nearly two full-time jobs. With my wife staying at home full-time, the vast majority of cooking and cleaning falls to her.

But that doesn’t mean working fathers like myself use that as an excuse.

I negotiated a flexible schedule at work so I could take my youngest to an Early Intervention play group once a week. I volunteer in my oldest son’s first-grade classroom every Friday. And at nights and on the weekend, I try to do a little cooking and cleaning. My wife works extraordinarily hard and now, 19 weeks pregnant, gets even more tired than usual. So if I can do the dishes, a load of laundry, or clean the floor, it makes her feel appreciated.

While I never cleaning interfere with the limited amount of time I have at home to be with the kids, it is important to get it done. So I get up early and do some chores while everyone is in bed before we start our day, which really frees us up to have worry-free fun.

Or, if my youngest decides he doesn’t want to sleep, I include him in the process. Because there really is no substitute for modeling involved fatherhood and giving him firsthand experience in the process.

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The Swiffer Wet Jet is easy for me to use, and my 20-month-old can’t stop pressing the spray button and then mopping. Which is great for me, since I flat out HATED our old mop and bucket. That was a whole damn process, whereas the Wet Jet consists of putting a Power Pad on, cleaning, and then simply removing the pad afterward and throwing it away. Easy, clean, done.

My kids know I work at work, and then I work at home. They know their mom and I are a team, and they have their own chores because now they’re part of the team as well. That’s imperative as gender roles shift, more moms return to the workforce, and dads make their home lives a priority.

*I was compensated by Swiffer for this post, but all opinions are my own.

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Of Purkle Cats & Fleeting Childhood Moments

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“I see PURKLE CAT looking at me, dada!”

I must’ve read Eric Carle’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? about 10,000 times when Will was little. We both knew it by heart, and Will loved to name all the animals even before I turned the page. But of all the blue horses, yellow ducks, and black sheep in the book, nothing could top the purkle cat for Will.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out, it’s a purple cat. But for some reason, Will couldn’t pronounce purple for the longest time, so he said “purkle” instead.

At first it was cute. Hell, who doesn’t love the weird toddler language all our kids seem to speak? As kids learn the first few keys to language, there’s something to be said for being able to understand them and serve as a translator for relatives who have absolutely no idea what their babble means. Whether it’s “pasketti” (spaghetti) or any of these cute kid mispronunciations, it’s a part of the journey to which nearly all of us can relate.

But Will was my first and I was more interested in the destination back then.

After the first few “purkle” cats, I was done with the cuteness. I wanted Will’s words to be said clearly and correctly, and I must’ve said “No buddy, PUR-PULL. Can you say PUR-PULL??” enough times to bring both of us to tears. And there were tears. The purkle cat became a battle in the war of bedtime story aggression — a bone of contention instead of a point of shared interest.

Eventually he got it right, and I remember celebrating. I actually ran out to tell MJ he finally said purple while declaring parental victory and silently awarding myself Literary Father of the Year. But I was confused (and more than a little pissed) at her reaction, which was one of dismay.

“Awwwww, that’s too bad,” she said. “I kind of liked purkle.”

I found Brown Bear again while looking for some books for Sam. I smiled a bit as I thumbed through it, and then I came to the purple cat. But instead of reliving (what I thought at the time was) a victorious moment of reading comprehension, I cringed. I realized I missed purkle cat, and recalled him with fond memories instead of frustration. So I took it to Will to rekindle a little nostalgia.

“Hey pal, do you remember this book?” I said with a smile. “Specifically, do you remember this guy?”

Will looked quizzically at the page with his former feline friend, and gave me a disinterested shrug.

“Oh c’mon. I read this to you every night for 18 months. And you used to get so excited when I flipped to this page and you’d shout ‘PURKLE CAT!’ over and over.”

And then he looked at me and dropped the hammer.

“Purkle?” Will said with a disdainful look. “Why would I say purkle? That’s wrong. It’s a purple cat. Purkle sounds silly.”

He’s right, purkle was silly. But it was also kind of wonderful. I’ve said before I don’t lament my kids growing up, and that’s still true. However, I do regret the times I’ve pushed that progress unnecessarily, and failed to enjoy what’s right in front of my face. I regret prematurely sending the purkle cat into the litterbox of forgotten childhood whimsy.

Sam’s words come slower and later than his older brother’s. I’d be lying if I said that hasn’t been a source of concern and consternation. But you know what? The words will come. Some will come easily and accurately, and others will result in hilarious mispronunciation.

When the latter happens, I’ll greet Sam’s purkle cats with the wisdom of hindsight and the appreciation only experience brings. After all, he has his whole life to be right and only moments, it seems, to be young.

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Why I Prefer Parents With Messy Houses

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How many times have you gone over to someone’s house for a play date and before you’re even through the door you get “Please excuse the mess in here. It’s been a DISASTER but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to clean it?” 

As a father of two precocious boys, I nod knowingly and walk in to find — nothing! Not only is there no mess, the place is freaking immaculate. Floors you could eat off, carpet freshly vacuumed, no crumbs on the couch, and not a speck of dust to be found. The throw rugs are all perfectly aligned, there’s no dirty laundry draped on the banister or hanging from light fixtures, and — wait a second, did they — yup, someone has put all the DVDs in alphabetical order.  The family has three kids and a 90-pound Labrador, and yet this house would pass inspection from even the strictest drill sergeant our fine Armed Forces could produce.

It’s like a museum, and I’m immediately uncomfortable because I’m wondering if anyone has ever sat on that white, pristine couch. And since there are no scuff marks or fingerprints on the walls, I start questioning if this is one of those rooms that no one is allowed in unless company is over. Then I wonder why anyone would have a room no one can go in! But mostly I’m afraid I, along with my rambunctious clan, will ruin anything we come in contact with.

Truth be told, I prefer a little mess because it puts me at ease.

I’m not talking about hoarders or people living in their own filth, I just mean I tend to gravitate toward parents with domiciles that — you know — actually look like a family lives there. And it doesn’t mean I automatically dislike or distrust the Mr. and Mrs. Cleans of the world, it’s just…I don’t get it.

The big things I realized when I became a parent included 1) how much STUFF babies come with, and 2) how messy life gets. Even with one kid, the mess factor is incredible. Little kids pull stuff out of cabinets and off tables. They spill drinks you forgot to pick up, and smear food everywhere but their mouths. Even older kids come with problems like leaving their clothes everywhere and littering the floor with an ungodly amount of toys.

So when families have more than one kid, the mess increases exponentially. Throw in a cat or a dog, and fuhgeddaboutit.

Honestly, even a stay-at-home parent would have trouble keeping up with cleanliness on the immaculate scale. That level of squeaky clean can only be maintained by constant vigilance and an unimaginable force of will. It would have to entail either not letting your kids and dogs outside, or wiping them down each and every time they come into the house. It means you’re following them around with a Dustbuster (did I just date myself??) and tailing them to put everything back into place once they’ve blown through like a hurricane. I just can’t see any scenario in which the highest levels of cleanliness can be consistently maintained without sacrificing time to actually parent and enjoy what’s happening.

Which is why I prefer a messy parent.

Messy parents understand spills happen and a few stains are the price of doing business. They don’t follow their kids around with the vacuum, they chase them because they’re playing tag or pretending to be a superhero. They know muddy footprints in the kitchen are just evidence of fun times had out in the yard — at least they hope it’s just mud. And they’re OK with some pet hair on the couch because that’s where they cuddle with the dog after the kids go to bed.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my hang-ups. When Sam flings his food around it gets to me, because I have a weird thing about dirty hands. And I cringe a little when MJ paints with the boys in the kitchen, but then I get over it because I see how much fun they’re having. And I can only speak for myself, but the fun is fleeting so we’re going to enjoy it. Even if that means putting off some chores and letting the mess win for a while, it’s worth it.

I’m a proud messy parent, because I believe a home is meant to be lived in and enjoyed. After all, life is messy. And messy can be a whole lot of fun.

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