22 March 2013

What I Talk to My Sons About When We Talk About Love

Next week is a big week for the United States Supreme Court.  On Tuesday they will hear oral arguments regarding California's proposition 8, followed by oral arguments involving a challenge to DOMA.  I understand the Supreme Court should not be in the game of setting public policy.  But where public policy is Constitutionally invalid, they should not sit idly by and hide behind the political process.  I worry about the country my kids will inherit.

And this blog is about my kids.  My kids, like all kids, love to play dress-up.  And when they play dress-up, one of my sons likes to wear the most sparkly, fru-fru, taffeta-based, dress-up clothes available in a given box.  Recently, at a family gathering a relative (a relative I know to be an evolved, progressive person) made a comment about this preference along the lines of "so, he's already reaching for that rainbow?"  The relative then quickly backtracked and apologized, asking if they'd offended me by insinuating my son was gay.  I was horrified by the comment.  Not because of what the person might have been saying about my son, but because of the attitudes they apparently thought I possessed.  My boys are young--5, 3 and an infant.  Frankly, I think they are far too young to have formed a "sexual identity" or to have fully determined how they will integrate whatever gender roles to which they have been exposed.  I don't deny that people are born gay or straight, but I think all such major personality traits are part nature and part nurture, and I think we over-sexualize children when we try to figure out such things long before they will be dating.  That being said, Toddling Mom and I try not to pigeon-hole them.  And the models we provide, well, I have a lot more experience putting on makeup than my wife (she hates it, I feel no need to explain my own history with cosmetics here), we split domestic duties in a pretty modern fashion, and, the boys know that she has a law degree and went to work "just like Daddy" and switched careers to become a SAHM.  I like to watch sports and yell at them, while my wife thinks they are all too tame (she always complains when a quarterback slides, and don't get her started about the victory formation). Anyway, we try not to box them in (I did crush my three-year-old when I explained he won't ever "have a baby in his tummy" but I don't think he believed me when I said boys can't nurse babies).

My only hope for them is that one day, each of my boys will find love, that they will find someone to share their life with like I have found in my wife.  I hope they will be married, and I hope they will have a family.  I get the zero-population-growth argument, but c'mon? My kid's kids?  They're worth it.  All of this feels unlikely enough that limiting their options doesn't seem fair.  On The West Wing, one of my favorite shows, one of my favorite quotes is when the President says, about the governments role in the gay marriage debate, "We shouldn't be defining love, and we certainly shouldn't be ill-defining it."  I don't want my boys to grow up in a world where we institutionalize bigotry.  I love that the first President they are likely to remember is the first black President.  I hope they never remember a world where people weren't allowed to marry or raise children because they loved the wrong person.  I find it disconcerting that someone might read this and believe I am mistreating my children, but I hope that is changing.  I hope the world will become less polarized  as they grow up.  So to the conservative Justices, I say, follow your party's credo: lets shrink the role of the federal government, and reverse the trend of over-regulation.  Get out of my bedroom.

18 March 2013

Real Men Catch Babies

Before I married Sarah, I pictured myself as growing up to be something of a "sixties dad."  Y'know, when the kids were born, I would be sitting in the waiting room, drinking a martini and smoking a cigar waiting for the news.  Apparently I also pictured my children being born at the Signature Club in Chicago.  The point is, I was a conservative hospital dad in my head.  Nothing crunchy about me.  I used to say that I was against recycling because it made American products weaker.  (I was really just lazy).  Sarah helped to slowly transform me, but I never, ever, never NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS would have believed it if you told me I would deliver my third child.  But Campbell made his entrance on December 26, 2012 at 12:20 a.m. with no one in the room but me and my wife.

Lets me be clear--we didn't plan it that way.  Sarah has a midwife cousin, and always wanted a home birth.  I was totally disinterested.  And for our first two children, it just didn't make sense financially.  We had good insurance coverage, and the hospital births were practically free, while a home birth might have been covered but certainly would have involved a lot more acrimony to get the bills paid.  And then Coop was rushed directly to the NICU after his birth with meconium blocking his airways.  If anything reinforces an irrational belief that the hospital is the only safe place to have a baby, it's having your first born rushed out of the room with blue skin while no one gives you clear answers about his prognosis.  It is actually very reassuring to have the machine that goes "bing!" nearby when your fragile son is struggling for air and you are wading into the uncertainty of parenthood for the first time.  So I always thought that the home birth discussion ended in that delivery room where they saved my suffocating son.

But other things that happened that night left a nagging feeling that something was wrong.  It really was hard to get answers about Cooper's prognosis.  And before he was born we weren't being presented with options regarding my wife's care, we were barely being told what happened after doctors and nurses made decisions.  And the birth plan that my wife and I actually debated while she prepared it (really!) was read by, I'm pretty sure, no one but me and my wife.  We kept telling people about it and they looked at us agape as if to say "oh, honey... that's so cute!" Sarah was unable to see Cooper most of the time he was in the NICU.  I had to sleep on chairs if I wanted to stay with Sarah.  

Then when Dexter was born, it felt even more unnatural.  Like Sarah wasn't even part of the process.  It was surreal when the doctor asked to leave the room for an hour to perform someone's c-section when it was clear Sarah would deliver at any moment.  Dexter's was an uneventful birth, but was still a bad hospital experience.  At least with Dexter I has a chair that folded out into a bed.  Sort of an industrial futon.

After Dexter was born, I saw The Business of Being Born. And we moved to a new house within 10 minutes of a hospital, a house which was coincidentally nearer that midwife cousin.  And we changed health insurance to a private policy that made the difference between home birth and hospital birth negligible (that is expensive either way).  And we saw Sarah's cousin at a lot of family events in a row.  So, long story short, home birth was back in play and Sarah talked me into it.  

Her contractions started in earnest on Christmas Eve.  They stayed regular, but far apart for almost two whole days.  And then things accelerated, rapidly, Christmas night.  Sarah's complete birth story can be found here: My Husband (Unexpectedly) Delivered My Son.  The contractions went from 7 minutes apart to "he's here!" so fast that he beat the midwife to my house.  And me, Mr. I-don't-want-to-see-that caught my son as he came into this world in the middle of my bed where we all slept later that night.  It was amazing.  No sleeping in chairs.  No doctors walking toward my wife with syringes while we stopped them asking "what the hell is that?"  Just Sarah screaming into the cell phone connected to her cousin, the midwife, en route to the house while I begged her to tell me what to do and she talked us both down.

Sarah bought me a "catch present."  A sonic screwdriver Wii controller, and a t-shirt that reads "Real Men Catch Babies." 

27 April 2012

Memorializing Bed-Time Routines

We've been buying wall art.  Vinyl decals and transfers to supplement our massive collection of frames.  I like trees and nature themed transfers and other more abstract designs.  My wife is into quotes and words.  In a previous post, I detailed my bedtime routine with Cooper.  Now that we have moved into a smaller house and Dexter is out of his crib, the boys share a room and share bunk beds.  Cooper, the older of the boys, claimed the top bunk.  Our routine was instantly altered because I no longer lay with him while he falls asleep.  But the rest of the routine remains largely unchanged.

A main part of the routine that has been in place since Cooper was two years old is our recitation of the nice words.  The words, lifted from Sandra Boynton's Night Night Little Pookie  take about a minute to recite.  My wife suggested we purchase a custom vinyl decal with the words (a not insignificant investment).  Of course I bristled at the expense, but the words have been a significant part of our lives for some time.  Thinking about it, I realized we are closer to Cooper's fifth birthday than his fourth.  Dexter hasn't latched onto the nice words the way that Cooper did (in fact he has not self-weened as early as his brother did and his Dad is not a central feature of his bedtime routine which is basically story time and nursing).  It occurred to me we are on a countdown.  The nice words probably don't have much time left.  Cooper gets more independent every day, and I'm so proud of him.  But I don't want to let go.  But I don't think he'll want the words on his wall, and I'm not sure he'll want the words in his life much longer.

Hopefully I'm wrong.

24 April 2012

Full Contact Parenting

There are two stories in my family about my mother's klutziness.  One involves alcohol and breaking both her thumbs bowling.  This one might be apocryphal.  The other is definitely not, I witnessed the aftermath.  She dislocated her shoulder reading in bed.  We, as a family, often give each other a hard time.  As you can imagine, the tale of the reading injury has gotten a lot of mileage. I am not athletic.  I was an English major before Law School as was my wife.  My kids aren't old enough to make fun of me yet (much), but I think this past week I contributed to the family lore for the first time.

A little background:  To paraphrase Al Franken, I don't just believe in quality time with my family, I believe in bulk quality time.  And I am a hands-on Dad.  I have changed some of Dexter's nastiest diapers.  I take my two boys out on my own without the stereotypical Dad helplessness.  I change cloth diapers and carry around wet bags.  My wife often comments she has three kids rolling around on the floor wrestling.  I run around outside with my boys.  I am trying to teach them the rudimentary elements of sports.  Dexter likes to climb and, much to Sarah's chagrin, I encourage his climbing.  Cooper climbs too (but to a lesser extent--so far the four-year-old has not demonstrated the dexterity and balance of the two-year-old, but I still hope).  They also like to climb on me.

One of my daily jobs is story time.  I get the boys ready for bed, we brush our teeth, then we read stories.  I lay on my stomach on my bed with the boys and we read.  Cooper is slowly getting into the habit of trying to read the words himself, and we work together to slowly sound out the words on the simpler books.  A few weeks ago, Cooper climbed on my back and laid there during one of the stories.  Dexter was anxious to be next.  Over the following few nights, the boys predictably fought over who would lay where.  We developed a plan.  Each night, each boy picks out a story.  Sometimes I pick my own to read to them too.  During Cooper's story, he can lay on my back while I read.  Then Dexter lays on my back while I read his story.  We roll over and all lay on our back's during Daddy's story.

The other night Dexter was very excited about climbing on Daddy for Dexter's story.  Instead of laying down, though, he decided he wanted to sit on the back of my head.  Much to my surprise he plopped down with all his weight while my head was just inches from the side of the bed.  If I pitched forward with his weight (the natural impulse) I would have sent him flying off the side of the bed.  Instead I craned my neck back while I reached behind me and lifted him off my neck and dropped him on the bed beside me.  The pain was immediate and hasn't gone away.  That's right, I strained my back and neck reading to my children.  Take that mom!  I'd probably be mad about it but for the muscle relaxers and Norco.  Oooohh the codeine is kicking in righzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...........

12 September 2011


Dexter and I don't have a bedtime routine yet.  His bedtime routine remains nurse.  Play.  Nurse.  Nurse.  Say goodnight to daddy.  Play. Nurse all night long.  I am ill-equipped to help him with all but three of those steps.  Cooper and I have evolved an intricate routine.  It is very important that I not skip a step or deviate from the script.

1. Go pee.  This step takes anywhere from one minute to an hour depending on how resistant Cooper is to going to bed on a given night.

2. Say goodnight to Mommy and Dexter.  Pretty quick.  Pretty cute now that Dexter insists on a hug and says goodnight himself.

3. Go to bed and read two books.  One must be long (Dr. Seuss-ian in length).  One may be short (Sandra Boynton-esque).  20 minutes if Daddy is in a hurry.  Up to an hour if I stop to answer all of Coop's questions. 

4. Say "the nice words."  The nice words are the closing refrain from Sandra Boynton's Night Night Little Pookie.  It is very sweet and was an early addition to the routine.  Our version goes:
   There are gentle winds blowing,
   And stars all above you,
   Night night little Coopie (Cooper says little Daddy--I am required to giggle because he called me little daddy)
   I love you and love you,
   And love you and love you,
   And love you and love you.

5. I say "best friends."
    He says "best friends."
    I say "forever and ever."
   He says "forever and ever and ever and ever and ever."
   I say "I hope so."

6.  I rest with him for 5 to 20 minutes while he falls asleep.

It is long and involved  And the repercussions for deviating from the script are swift and can sometimes be great. Some nights I forget it is a blessing and feel it as a burden. 

But part of me hopes he will never grow out of it.  The part of me that knows that these sweet moments are fleeting and are already nearly over in the grand scheme of things.

But most of all I never want to forget. 

10 September 2011


We've been trying to move for more than 3 years now.  The end is finally in sight.  I commute nearly 2 hours each way every day.  This has gone on since September 2009.  For a year and a half Before that my commute was a brisk hour and a half each way.  And for most of that time I worked two jobs.  Lawyer by day and teacher by night.

It has taken its toll. 

On me. On Sarah.  And most worrisomely, on Cooper and Dexter.

You don't notice with Dexter.  Not yet anyway.  He remains his mommy's son.  His demands of his father are easily met.  I watch his new feat.  I dole out hugs on demand.  I change diapers when mommy is for some reason not allowed. 

I cannot know what the full effect is on Cooper.  There was a period when he simply didn't understand that I lived at what he thought of as his mom's house with him and Dexter.  He would ask me if I was going to sleep over on a given night.  I tried to explain, but when I left before he woke up on Tuesday and did not return home each night until after he went to bed not to see him again until Thursday or Friday night at times, it was hard for him to comprehend.

My boys are funny.  And smart.  And sweet.  And Cooper is emotional.  Sometimes too emotional.  Almost, what you might describe as unstable.  He gets worked up and can't relax.  Moves beyond the point of no return.  You can see it coming from a mile away.  We try to remain calm.  We try to be constant.  But we are too at the end of our ropes.  Sometimes we snap.  Sometimes we yell.  And we know he doesn't really understand.

I am looking forward to moving.  I hope that when I sleep at night, I'll be able to be closer to the father I want to be.  I hope that with the free time I will gain, I will be a better dad, a better husband, and a better lawyer.  Most of all I hope I'll give Cooper whatever it is he needs to feel more secure.  More constant.  More stable. 

06 July 2011


Neither of my sons is baptized.  The reason we didn't do it when it was time made sense.  Their godfathers are set, we've asked each of my brother's-in-law.  Both of Sarah's brothers are in the military and we decided to hold off while each was deployed--first Justin in Iraq and then Adam in Afghanistan.  

Adam has been back from Afghanistan for more than a year.  Every three months or so, Sarah brings up baptism.  And we talk about it.  But for the past three years we've had plans to move.   Any day now.  I swear we're going to move.  And when we move, we'll find a church.  Of course, first, we have to choose a religion.  The easy part, right?

Lately, I've been feeling guilty that we don't attend church.  Cooper continues to absorb the world like a sponge, and I think its time for him to get some of that old-time religion.  So sometimes Cooper and I talk about God.  As with everything else, what sticks amazes me.

I started with Genesis.  Let there be light, separating heaven and earth,etc. etc.  Cooper especially liked the part about Adam's rib.  He gets that God made everything, put everything in motion.  It makes perfect sense to him.  Shortly after I put the idea in his head, it started to leak out.

One day, Cooper was playing with blocks and he built a "giant factory that makes things."  He told Sarah, "Look mommy, I made all of this.  I'm kind of like God." (is it blasphemous to capitalize here)?

Down the block from us, our street has a parkway with trees. I was driving home with Cooper in the car.  We had a colloquy about God.

Cooper: Daddy, did God make all those trees?
Me: Yep, God made the trees and the grass.
Cooper:  Did God make that car?
Me: Well, some people at the car factory made the car.  But God made everything, so God made all the metal that went into the car.  And he (until a better alternative is suggested I will be using the masculine form as gender neutral when speaking to Cooper--and yes, I consider God gender neutral.  Does God have chromosomes?) made the people who built the car, so in a way God made the car.
Cooper(God bless, 'im): But didn't their mommies make all the people?
Me: Wellllll... yes.  But remember, God made the first mommy and daddy, so he made all of us.
Cooper:  Boy Daddy, that God sure is a special guy, huh?
Me:  Yep, buddy, he sure is.  

A couple weeks later, Cooper was playing with the television remote trying to stream Land Before Time on Netflix.  He said to Sarah ":Mommy, I'm trying to find the dinosaur movie.  And why don't we get to meet God until we die?"  Neither of us knows where he got that one. 

So I think Cooper has gotten a good start.  Though, I'm not sure where to go from here.  I know one book that should hold his interest with all things religion.