Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The disgusting things we do as parents...

Being a parent means sacrifice...

So if you're thinking of becoming one... don't read what follows... or read it and be warned of the sacrifice required....

One of the main things we surrender is our hygienic standard... so sit back and relax, read in amazement how we try to survive.. oh, and don't mind those sticky things on the floor.. they're just crusted boogers..

1. Not showering for several days. There, I've said it.. There were days when the most I could hope for was a wipe down with a baby wipe.

2. Wearing dirty clothes. I've been peed on, pooped on, spit on, vomitted on.... Sometimes I don't have time to change. My tip: wear clothes with busy patterns... they sort of hide the stains...

3. Bathing with my kids. Once Little Man got a bit more independent, I evolved from n°1 to actually taking a shower or a bath... but with my kid... Now I know for some people I might have already crossed a line when I admit to sharing a bath or a shower with my toddler, but trust me... it becomes worse... I've sat in a bath tub with Little Man, while being fully aware that he just peed in the water. I was just too tired to bother with running a new bath. I'm just a bit scared when he starts farting...

4. Peeing in the sink. Due to the lay-out of our house and the presence of a dog, I don't like leaving our toddler and the baby unattended for even short periods of time. I have resorted several times to peeing in the kitchen sink. Oooh, don't worry, I did remove the dirty dishes first.

5. Going to the bathroom with the door open. During parenthood I evolved, I learned, I got more experienced and the kids got older. I don't pee in the sink anymore, but I use the bathroom with the door open...

6. Coffee and milk. It's morning time. J. and I fed the kids, cleaned them up, changed their diapers and we finally can sit down for 2 seconds with, albeit lukewarm, coffee. Then we realise we forgot to put milk in our coffee and we don't feel like getting up again. Don't worry, what's good for the baby should be good for the parents too, right? Some boob-juice in the cup of black gold doesn't taste that bad and at least we didn't have to get up.

7. Biting food in to smaller pieces. I'm at the grocery store and Little Man wants a grape. I'll bite a chewable piece off, before giving it to him. Then he'll chew it a little bit and decide that he doesn't really like it that much. Be prepared to catch that chewed piece of food in your hands.

8. Sleeping in a wet bed. A leaky diaper in our bed at 2am? I'm not changing the sheets at 2am! Change the diaper, throw a towel over the wet spot and get back to catching some Z's..

9. Sucking snot. I've written about this before. Beats wiping off snot with your sleeve.

10. Dirty couch. The amount of food remnants in all the nooks and crannies of the couch might surprise you. I know that they are there, I'm just too tired to care or to clean them up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

2 languages , double the swear words

We raise our kids in 2 languages.. or at least we try I guess.. If we end up with two kids who can only grunt out indistinguishable noises when they go to college, then we'll know we've failed..

My native language is Dutch and J.'s is English. While we were pregnant with Little Man, we did lots of research into raising a kid in 2 languages. Would it screw with his head? Would his language development be stunted? We had no idea....

J. and I speak English at home to each other. I've always worked in an English language environment as well, so English is sort of our 'family language'. Little Man will only be exposed to Dutch in large quantities when he starts going to school in September.

So apparently (according to the experts) it is imperative that we both continued speaking in our native tongues to Little Man. I read his bedtime stories in Dutch and J. reads them in English. Yes, 2 languages and you have to double your budget for books... "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and 'Rupsje NooitGenoeg".. every book in 2 languages... If you think you get fed up reading "Goodnight Moon".. try reading it in 2 languages...

Little Man started talking pretty early.. Just in English though. On a rare occasion he would say something in Dutch to me. I was getting worried. Did I speak enough Dutch to him? Would he be behind with his language development by the time he was going to school? He understood what I said to him, but he never conversed in the same way he did in English. Although J. was worried in the beginning that Little Man would not speak any English, I was now starting to get worried he would not speak any Dutch.

A few weeks ago I was comforted by a new development. Little Man started comparing his vocabulary. "mama says hippopotamus... papa says nijlpaard", "mama says tomato, papa says tomaat".. He started comparing more and more words... He was putting his vocabulary in the right boxes in his head... But still I was worried... And then.., a few days ago, I was assured that everything would be OK....

Last week, Little Man walked in from the garden and said "Shit, Fuck, what the hell is that?" while holding a ladybug.... It's one of those moments you really feel proud as a parent. Especially when it was followed by a "Godverdomme"... Dutch for "goddamn".. yes, we had succeeded!! Our first-born was bilingual !!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

5 Best Songs About Fathers

I know that everyone has lists, but I couldn't resist making one myself. These are my favourite songs about being a father. Strangely enough, lots of songs about father - son conflict and not so much about the father-daughter relationship. Anyway, here they are. My 5 favourite songs (actually 6) ...

Father and Son - Cat Stevens

I've always been a fan of Cat Stevens (or Yusuf). This beautiful song featured on the 1970 album "Tea for the Tillerman". The song frames a conversation between a son and a father. The son thinks it's time to break away and find his own destiny, while the father doesn't seem to understand why. Although a lot of people thought that Cat Stevens was taking the side of the son (also taking into account the era the song was written in); while talking to Rolling Stone magazine he explained: "Some people think that I was taking the son’s side," its composer explained. "But how could I have sung the father’s side if I couldn’t have understood it, too? I was listening to that song recently and I heard one line and realized that that was my father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father speaking."

Daughter / Rufus is a Tit Man - Loudon Wainwright III

So I found this song about a father and a daughter. Having just become a father to a baby girl, I just had to include this beautiful ode to a daughter.

While I was doing research, I found this little gem of a song "Rufus is a tit man" by Loudon Wainwright III. I had to include it in this list as it's very funny (and true!!). It made J. laugh with tears in her eyes and for that reason alone it can go in this list.

Cat's in the Cradle - Harry Chapin

The next song is almost a warning for every dad out there. When you have a family, you try to work and and provide for them, but at one point you might realise that you didn't spend enough time with your kids and they have grown up. It's always a balance I'm trying to strike. How to have a comfortable life, but at the same time, spend enough time with J. and the kids....

A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash

I don't think I agree on the parenting style... But it's a great song... I wonder what Dr. Sears thinks of this?? hahaha...


Isn't She Lovely - Stevie Wonder

This songs sums it up how I felt when my daughter was born. 

OK, I know there are a lot of other songs out there that could make the cut. Do you have any suggestions or feel that I should have included other songs? Just let me know.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Pain of Parenthood

Just over 2.5 years ago I became a father for the first time.

My son L. was born after heavy labour and delivery. After 24 hours of labour they had to use the forceps to deliver L. Although grateful that they didn't have to perform a C-section, I am still wondering if it could have gone differently. But that story is for another time.

After L. was born, a pediatrician came to check up on him. It was at that moment that I was confronted with the worst feeling you can have as a parent: helplessness. She listened to his heart and detected a murmur. During the delivery with the forceps, they hurt his left arm and shoulder. When L. was sleeping, he was holding his arm close to his body instead of the usual 'up-in-the-air' position babies like to take. The pediatrician did some tests on his arm and said that he might never get full mobility. In the future he might even have trouble getting dressed, let alone play ball. J. and I were devastated. We started crying. I know that some parents receive a lot more devastating news than that, but at that moment our world collapsed. The dreams of a perfect baby were coming to an end. The doctor started listing possible treatments for his heart and arm. All of them involved surgery. I was scared.

About an hour later they came to fetch L. for an echocardiograph. It turned out he had a 2mm VSD, basically a small hole in the wall between the left and right ventricles of his heart. When we got back to our room, another doctor was waiting for us. He was the head of the pediatrics department and wanted to have a look at L. He did the same tests his colleague had done before him. He looked at us and asked why we looked so gloomy. I told him about his colleague and her list of treatments. He looked at us bewilderd. "We should keep an eye on this VSD, but it's really very small and it will probably heal by itself. I'll schedule you for some appointments," he said, "and with regards to his arm, I think some pain medication to start and he should be better in a few days." I asked about his mobility. "Give it 3 or 4 days and he'll be fine. No worries." The doctor also reminded us to enjoy the moment. J. and I looked at each other and felt relief and anger at the same time. What just happened? It turned out that the first doctor was a student (it was a university teaching hospital) and she had felt the need to impress us with her knowledge of complicated surgeries and procedures. By doing that, she had scared fresh new parents for no reason at all.

That was the first time I was confronted with the pain of parenthood. The sinking, helpless feeling you get when seeing your child hurt. I realised that Iwould do anything to take away his pain. If I could sign a paper that would allow me to feel all the pain L. would feel in his entire life instead of him; I would sign in a heartbeat.

After 3 days L.'s arm had healed up completely and after 4 months the cardiologist gave him the all clear on the VSD.

My second major confrontation with 'the pain of parenthood' happened this week. J. and I are of the belief that we should allow our children to explore as much as possible. We give them the freedom to discover their surroundings. So when we visit the Zoo, for example, we let L. run around (we don't lose sight of him) and let him pick which animals he wants to see. So this is what we did last Sunday morning. The Antwerp Zoo is only 5 minutes away and we have a membership, so whenever we can, we like to go and see the animals during all the different seasons. We consider the Zoo to be our own garden.

After a nice visit we were heading to the exit.

J. wanted to quickly visit the giftstore; but L. wanted to see the flamingos one more time. We split up and I followed L. to the flamingos. He was running towards them, when he suddenly tripped and fell. He fell with his head on a bench. Blood everywhere. I know that headwounds bleed profusely, and in my career I've seen some terrible wounds, but when your 2.5 year old kid is bleeding, nothing can prepare you for it. I scooped him up and put pressure on the wound with my fingers while running to the first aid station. A visit to the ER was necessary and the good doctors glued his head back together.

When my child is hurt, it hurts me just the same. It is gutwrenching and nausiating. This goes, not only for the big events, but also for the small daily events that hurt my kid. I want to protect him at all cost. Somebody who looks at my kid in a funny way? ... I want to hurt that person and do mean things to them. Another kid in the playground who pushes my child... I want to punch that kid in the face.

But this is part of the catch 22 of parenthood. As a good parent you want your child to discover the world. You want your child to explore and to be amazed by new things. This is part of the learning process for every child, everywhere in the world. As a parent and a dad, you need to allow it. The catch? Every time your child goes into unknown territory, the chance of getting hurt increases. Not only in a physical way, but also emotional. When your child is sad because of a failed adventure with a new toy, you feel sad. You don't want your child to feel that way.

Parenthood is finding a balance. Nobody can tell you where the boundaries of exploration exist for you and your child. You'll figure this out for yourself every day again, and again, and again. Every stage in growing up requires more exploration, more independence and probably more hurt in the process. As parents, we know that getting hurt is part of the learning process and we know that kids need to do it; but it doesn't mean you have to like it.

Is parenthood and being a dad easy? Sometimes it is. Most of the time it is hard and difficult. It can be frustrating, it can be tiring, it can be emotional, it can be all of these things thrown together in a debilitating cocktail of feelings.  I might say something controversial here, but I believe that any parent who says parenthood is easy is not a good parent. Parenthood should be difficult. If your choices as a parent sometimes don't keep you up at night or sometimes don't make you doubt yourself, you are not giving it your all. Parenthood and fatherhood shouldn't be easy.

Fatherhood is the most amazing experience, it grows you as a human being. It warms your heart.

You know what fatherhood does to you? It makes you a man.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mother's Day

So in a few days it's Mother's Day. Well... For me it's Mother's Day part 1.. You see, I live in a city which always had a way of going against the flow; a bit stubborn you might say. Others in Belgium might call us arrogant. You might compare it to the view Americans have about New Yorkers. So anyway, on May 12 it's Mother's Day in the majority of the world, the US and Belgium, ... except in Antwerp. People in this city have celebrated Mother's day, for a hundred years now, on August 15.

The average dad might start shivering in fear and dread..."Another date to remember!! Oh No!!" It is, .. it is .. but come on. If you're reading this blog I might presume that you are somewhat capable of handling computers, tablets, smartphones or whatever you use to read my scribblings. I'm pretty sure that little gadget you're using has a calendar in it... No excuses anymore to forget a day like Mother's Day, your anniversary, your wife's birthday or your mother-in-law's birthday.

So how do I do it? Do we celebrate it 2 times a year? Does J. get a present 2 times a year for the same effort... Hell no... You see, having an international family is sometimes difficult, but it can also hand you the solutions on a platter and it makes you look like the best husband in the world (and the best son in the world).

Since J. is American, we stick to the 2nd Sunday in May for her. That day is her day, completely, unconditionally. She doesn't have to share it with my mother, who of course requires attention as well on Mother's Day. On August 15, my mother gets the full Mother's Day treatment and she doesn't have to share it with J. That's how you sell a thing like this. "Hunny, I've been thinking. Doing this Mother's Day 2 times a year takes away from the importance of it. I think we should seperate it in having a full day for you and a full day for my mother. This way I can focus completely on you." . "My god, that is so thoughtful of you.".


So in a few days I will give J. all the attention she rightfully deserves and it will be her Mother's Day.

And for the future dads out there: you totally need to buy a present for your pregnant wife...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Day Drinking without Regrets

So Wednesday was a holiday in Belgium, the sun was out and after a few rough weeks dealing with a newborn and a 2.5 year old toddler, my wife and I were definately ready for some day-drinking. The trials of parenthood just seem less intimidating with a fair amount of alcohol in your blood.

Decent planning is the keyword here. Day-drinking can provide you with some great fun, but if you don't plan it correctly, your kids will make you regret it the day after. So here are the rules of day-drinking while being a parent:

  1. Never, ever drink in such a way you will end up with a hangover. The whole reason for day-drinking is to relieve some of the stress of parenthood. Having a hangover the next day and having your kid scream at you for breakfast, I can assure you, doesn't relieve the stress.
  2. Breastfeeding moms: There are a lot of stories out there with regards to alcohol and breastfeeding. The bottom line is that, although the alcohol is diluted a bit, it does go straight into the breastmilk; but when the alcohol levels in your blood drop, so does the levels in the breastmilk. Good planning is key here. First feed the kiddo and then have a drink. Then wait at least 2 hours (for each drink you had) before a next feeding... I know.. some of you might gasp at all this.. "OMG, she breastfeeds and drinks!"... Hold your horses.. This is a personal choice. If you don't feel like doing it, then don't.. I, for sure, like to see my wife relax and have a beer or glass of wine and enjoy herself. After 9 months of carrying a child, she deserves to have a drink.
  3. Choose your medicine wisely. As a parent, you can't do this every day; so make it worth the effort. Boxwine is usually a favourite when we go to a park or playground that doesn't have a bar attached (we're in Belgium. A playground without a bar is like a church running out of holy water). Otherwise we rely on the offerings of the bar. Not being restricted by rule n°2, I usually have a selection of beers and I never mix my beers, wine and spirits, because then I run the risk of violating rule n°1.
  4. Make sure your kids are entertained while you are sucking the last drop out of your box-a-wine. "Just invite some other parents with kids." you might say... Wrong!! Inviting other parenst with kids is the key, but you have to meet on neutral ground: a playground or a park. This way you avoid having to interrupt your drinking, to seperate kids that are fighting over the same toy...  In Belgium you can take your own booze to a playground. It's a bit more problematic in the US, where alcohol might be forbidden in the park. I haven't figured out a solution to that one. Being Belgian I was surprised when we went to a children's playground in Phoenix and alcohol was forbidden AND there was no bar nearby!! Sacrilege... (I welcome any suggestions..)
  5. Make sure you have snacks for you and the kids. Having some food in your stomach will make it easier to stick to rule n°1 and rule n°4.
  6. You want to feel comfortable. This means finding a place where people don't give you stares when your wife pops out her boobs to feed the little one. If people are giving her stares when she does that, don't even think about letting her have a sip of her favourite medicine. They will probably crucify you on the spot. Finding the right place might take a while, but once you've found it, stick to it.
  7. If you have followed rule N°4 and invited other parents, try and steer the conversation away from parenting. Once in a while it's nice to chat about something else than little Johnnie's scatalogical adventures. 
  8. Just enjoy yourself. Don't feel guilty about it. Having a day like this keeps you sane and makes you a better parent to your kids.