Seven Things I Learned in Three Years As A Parent

A few weeks ago, Cristian celebrated his third birthday—how did that happen.  I still remember clicking my infant son’s car seat into its base so gently you’d thought I was handling a carton of eggs.  Time passed and we’ve grown as parents.  We don’t have it all figured out, but we aren’t tiptoeing into his room to see if he’s breathing anymore.

Parenting is on the job training.  Here’s what 3 years taught me:

The Difference Between A Fake Cry And A Tantrum – It takes time to figure this one out, so let me educate you.  Like its cousin, the tantrum, the fake cry is another one of those joyous ways toddlers communicate.  If you can’t tell the difference, watch your child the next time he or she is freaking out at the cash register at Toys R Us or the supermarket checkout when you try taking away a toy or box of Fruit Loops. If your child is smiling, smirking, or checking if there’s an audience, it’s a fake cry.  When fake cries are addressed quickly your adorable toddler soon returns to normal.  Ignoring the fake cry runs the risk of the kind of full-fledged tantrum ensuring parents a trip to the drug store to stock up on condoms.

Don’t move just one more picture.

We’re Not Wrapping Him In Bubble Wrap – Esther and I approach playdates and playground days differently. We both want to wear him out but approach how we get there differently.  Cristian is a super energetic toddler who is totally fearless when it comes to climbing things.  He’s also clumsy, he gets that from me—sorry son.   Wiping out, falling on his face, or crashing into things again and again is business as usual.  He just smiles and heads off before falling again.  The difference is mom sees a trip to the emergency room, while I’ll laugh and take a few pictures before he gets up.

Converting from Crib to Toddler Bed is Game Changer – I miss the days when Cristian slept in a crib. It’s not me being sentimental—it’s purely practical—cribs form natural barriers.  Once upon a time putting Cristian to bed was as simple as putting him down with a stuffed animal and a bottle and he fell asleep within 20 minutes.

After his second birthday, he became adventurous, staking out his bedroom they way convicts plan prison breaks.  Then one morning, we woke to the sound of little feet running across his bedroom floor.  Before long he was climbing in and out of his crib like a ninja, forcing us to convert the crib to a toddler bed and changing his bedtime dynamic for the three of us.  More than once Esther or I have fallen asleep on the bedroom floor making sure he stays in his crib-less environment.

Cristian and his stuffed animals in his crib planning their next break.

Find Your Tupperware Party – Growing up in the early 70s Tupperware parties were all the rage among the neighborhood moms.  Becoming a parent some forty-years later, I have a fresh perspective on what they were about—a chance to socialize.  Sure a few plastic containers may have been purchased here and there but that was secondary to emptying a few bottles of semi-fancy wine they couldn’t pronounce with the other moms while the kids were at school.

DIY projects were the dad’s equivalent of the Tupperware Party.  Many of my friend’s dads spent countless hours planning and replanning projects around the house.  Translation, they hiding in the garage with a six pack and hidden stash of nuddie magazines.  A new kitchen counter was eventually installed but the time away from their whiny kids was priceless.

Esther isn’t a big drinker and I’m all thumbs with power tools so we’ve had to find our own alternatives.  On Sunday mornings, I’ll distract Cristian with breakfast and cartoons while Esther sneaks out for a morning run.  (See the section on fake cries and tantrums if you are wondering why she’s sneaks out for her run).  Later in the day, she’ll take charge giving me some quiet time to write or go to the gym.  It’s all about keeping one’s sanity.

Couple Time is Important –  We’ve come a long way since our first date night as parents.  Esther’s sister watched the baby giving us a Valentine-ish date a few months after Cristian was born.  It was just dinner and a movie, but we didn’t make it that far.  When the movie ended, we went straight to the drive-through window, instead of a local restaurant, calling for my sister-in-law and nephew’s order before heading home.

At first, we were over protective but finding reliable babysitters remains a challenge.  Lately we’ve gotten lucky, a friend or relative offering to watch our little guy giving us a chance to go out to dinner and not talk about preschool, daycare or developmental milestones.

Some Friends Will Disappear – Learning this one was a bit rough.  Everything starts out great when you’re new parents and the little one has the new baby smell but slowly things change.  Friends slowly disappear, not all of them, but patterns develop.  You hear things like, “we need to get together more often,” but they are never available when you try making plans.  They’re always “busy” or “things are always crazy at work.” Then you see the out and about in numerous Facebook posts.

Felipe the Goat and I after pounding down a few Patron shots.

It’s A Kid’s Birthday Party Not A Coronation – I’m not a big fan of birthdays, I don’t make a big deal about mine, in fact only a few friends know the actual date—I prefer it that way.  That said I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to Cristian’s birthday.

I believe a child’s birthday party should be simple and about the child.  Places like Chuck E. Cheese and Funtopia where they run, play and have a slice of bad pizza and a piece of birthday cake are all you need.  The guest list should be simple, parents, godparents, aunts and uncles actual aunts and uncles not the family friend claiming aunt or uncle rights and significant others, maybe a friend or two and their kids.  That’s all you need.  Isn’t it?  Silly me.

My better half believes it takes a village to raise a child.  I just didn’t think it meant inviting the entire village.  Guests arrive at this year’s party reminded me of clowns spilling out that little car at the circus.  It wasn’t just family, it was friends, their neighbors and their pet goat Felipe. “Just because the barista at Starbucks puts a perfect foam on your latte doesn’t mean you have to invite her to our son’s party.  One positive note was Felipe the Goat and I had a great time pounding Coronas down chased with chilled Patron shots.

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When Did I Become My Parents?

Like every parent I thought I’d be cooler and more laid back than my parents were, 33 months later, I’ve had to rethink that.  My parents weren’t always the strict, stressed couple I remember growing up.  I’ve seen old pictures — there was a time when they were young and energetic.  Raising two sons has a way of catching up with you.

Over the past months I’ve noticed changes, I’d like to say subtle changes, but I don’t do subtle — I started morphing into my parents.  If you are a parent you’ve either experienced this or are in denial.

I’ve put together this list to see if you’ve become your parents.

Me explaining the family tantrum policy to Cristian

The Bulging Vein in My Forehead – I first noticed this during Mommy and Me Class.  I thought being the only Daddy in Mommy and Me class would have set the vein a popping but bringing a cooler of beer tucked under the baby stroller took care of that for me.  However spending most of the classes prying open Cristian’s mouth making sure he wasn’t eating Play Doh, stopping him from gobbling up other kids’ snacks, and keeping us both from looking like an old drop cloth while he played with paint and shaving cream made me twitchy.

Daddy Doesn’t Do Tantrums – I was born in the mid 60s before parenting books, websites—or even the internet.  In those days common sense was an essential component to parenting.  My Dad comes to mind, he had no tolerance for tantrums so he used an old-school approach — he ignored them.  Tantrums are Toddler Performance Art, they work best in front of an engaged audience — the show ends quickly when there’s no audience entertaining them.

Heeding Dad’s wisdom, I adopted this policy on Day One.  Holding my crying one-hour old son, I whispered to him gently, “Cristian, I love you but you need to know something, Daddy doesn’t do tantrums.  I’m going to let this one slide because it’s your birthday and you don’t know the rules yet, but going forward I want you to remember this little talk.”  To date, he’s been slow picking up on this one.

Parents Say No, Grandparents Say Yes – You know karma’s bitten you in the ass the first time this happens.  When I was a kid visiting my grandparents meant I’d get away with things I never could at home.  I remember my grandmother saving a six-year old me from a butt whipping or two.  These days Mom is the one spoiling the little one.  I usually find her chuckling as she sees my expression as she’s giving Cristian a sugary snack right before his bedtime.

Tunneling in My Gym classs

You’ve Become Your Child’s Personal Driver – Mom never learned to drive, so in addition to being the sole breadwinner, Dad sometimes had to drive a group of us home from soccer practice, or drop me off at a hockey game in Williamsburg.  After working on job sites as a carpenter, he preferred to relax with a beer or two and the evening news, but off we would go.

These days I take Cristian to play dates, My Gym classes, or to the park to play and burn off excess energy.  It’s inconvenient at times, especially after a nutty week at work but I knew I’d this was part of becoming a Dad.

Of course it’s all a matter of perspective, one of my favorite memories  of my Dad was the two of us battling rush-hour traffic to get into Manhattan. Although he hated driving into Manhattan under most circumstances, he drove me and about 30 pounds of props in to a photo studio on 18th Street, because third-year photo majors rarely get access to a professor’s photo studio for a shoot. Hopefully when he grows up Cristian will have similar memories of me.

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What to Expect During the Last Month of Your Pregnancy and More

So you’re expecting a baby?  I’ve taken the same phone call several times over the past months.  “Hey Frank, great news, Stephanie’s pregnant, we’re having a baby.”  I flashed back to when I was the excited dad-to be making the same call.   After wishing them well, and hanging up I thought, those poor bastards, have no clue what’s waiting for them. 

Whether you got here tracking your ovulation cycles on an iPhone, used the test tube and turkey baster method, or maybe something more traditional, like Netflix and chill, your life will change drastically in the next month or so.  If you’re somewhere between a little nervous and terrified I’ve written this guide so you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.

I love my son but parenthood is not all sunsets and rainbows.  Here are a few things to expect.

The Baby Shower – Whether it’s planned by a group of old women who’ve forgotten the day isn’t about them, or a group of hipsters sipping Cosmos while noticing how good the Filipino surrogate looks for eight months along, this is an important part of the parenting process.   Baby showers are the best way of filling your home with tons of free stuff, but it comes at a price, you will be sitting through hours of cheesy games like Baby Bingo, watching drunken women comparing C-Section scars, and navigating through enough estrogen to fill a swimming pool.  

Helpful Hint –Remarking how fat your wife has gotten should be avoided at all costs.

Baby Showers are a great way of filling your home with lots of free stuff.

You Have to Agree on a Name– I’ve mentioned this before but cannot stress the importance too many times.   Pick a wimpy name and you’ve pissed off the person caring for you when you’re old and feeble.  Let your wife make the decision without any input and the results can be disastrous.

Here are a few examples.   Name your daughter Brandy, Ginger or Destiny and she might be swinging from a pole and bitching about you to Dr. Phil when she’s 19.  Name your son Cody, Tucker, or Rene and risk a future of wedgies by the bigger kids in gym class.  Most important name your child Bryce, Colt, or Tripp and risk him being the douchy kid who becomes the douchy adult.

Helpful Hint-Pick a name you’ll be comfortable yelling about 5000 times before your child’s fifth birthday.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid – My cousin Leslie gave me the best piece of advice when my son was born.  She said, “Congratulations you just experienced the best moment of your life.  Your first night alone with the baby will the worst.”  We didn’t get much sleep during our first night at the hospital, but we had a charming Caribbean Baby Whisperer doing most of the heavy lifting.

Our first night at home reminded me of a Steven King novel.  We had no system in place, camped out in the living room because our bedroom was too cold for a newborn, and struggled with a cranky baby who hadn’t gotten the hang of breast feeding but still managed to keep loading up diaper after diaper.

Helpful Hint-Remove the diaper too quickly and you will be cleaning more than the baby’s butt.

Friends Will Want to See the Baby—After you’ve been home a few days your friends will want to come over to see the baby.  I thought I’d dread this but being locked up like a sequestered juror on a high-profile trial has a way of changing things.  Don’t be shy when your friends ask, “What can I bring.”  Think decadent, like lobster mac and cheese, or ravioli lasagna, it’s also helps you line up a pool of potential baby sitters.

Helpful Hint – Remember friends offering to bring dinner and baby sit only last a few weeks, so think big.

Buy Buy Baby is to Women what Home Depot is to Men— If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll notice I keep coming back to this, because it’s important.  You are going need all sorts of things for your child as they grow so you’ll be visiting places like Baby’s R Us, The Children’s Place and Buy Buy Baby a lot.  I’ve found if I spend too much time shopping there with my wife, I start craving chocolate and bitching about the outfit she’s wearing.

Helpful Hint- Bring snacks and a fully charged tablet and grab a seat with the other Dads where they sell baby furniture , this is going to take awhile.

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My Favorite Posts from I’m Not Grandpa’s Second Year*

Happy Anniversary!   Two years ago I launched I’m Not Grandpa—kinda sorta.  I posted the Introduction, on September 26th 2014 and a second post shortly afterward.  Esther and I were well into a high-risk pregnancy and my mind was elsewhere, so I took a break from blogging until after the baby was born.

Parenthood was overwhelming for this cranky old dad so it took me months to hit my stride as a parent and find my voice as a writer.  Looking back I may have been overthinking it.  The first few weeks of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and friends stopping by to see the baby provided material, I just needed to sort through it.

Two years ago today, my second first post went live.  A lot’s changed in two years.  Entertaining a toddler requires more attention than a newborn—the sleepless nights and writers block are about the same.

Fatherhood and blogging are two of my favorite things—I’m learning as I go.

Here are some of my favorite posts from the past year.

Seven Things to Know Before Having Kids – This is my most read post.  My public service describing the sacrifices parents make captured the attention of both parents and non-parents.  If you are thinking of starting a family check it out here.

Parenting Against Memories of the Past – Being a parent means you get second guessed—a lot. This post is the result of a lot of subtle, who am I kidding about subtle, second guessing from our family elders.  Parents learn as they go, grandparents and older relatives critique your new skillset.  Oh selective memory is a wonderful thing.  This post is the result of spending too much time with family, check it out here.

Five Signs You Need a Night Out – I wrote this while experiencing Cabin Fever.  Spending the winter in a sensory-deprivation chamber changing diapers, watching Sesame Street, Pepa Pig and CNN’s coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries had me screaming for a night out.  If you are parent who isn’t sure whether or not you need a night out, I posted this helpful guide.

Remembering Dad A Year Later – This change of pace post was written a year after my Dad passed away.  I miss my Dad—he was old-school man of honor who spent years paying forward the kindness of an old friend named Viña.  He was a man of simple pleasures, family, a backyard barbeque and a nice glass of wine.  He made parenting look easy and taught me as much by his actions as he did with his words.  Read about him here.

Am I the Only One with Sore Nipples – I write about my experiences in Mommy and Me Class.  I channeled my parents as we explored finger painting, confusing orange goldfish and orange play doh, and debating whether or not a bringing a cooler full of light beer with me was a bad idea.  Read about it here.

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What to Expect at a Weight Watcher’s Meeting

A few posts back, I shared my battle with maintaining a healthy weight.  Before stepping off the scale, my better half and I knew we had to do something.  We headed back to our old standby—Weight Watchers.

If you’ve never joined Weight Watchers you may have a few preconceived notions—I did before joining.  Let me clarify a few.  Weight Watchers meetings are not a group of hefty soccer moms holding a low-fat muffin in one hand and a Starbucks Venti cup in the other.  Members don’t sit around listening as the group leader shares the latest recipes for low-calorie baked goods.  Like Mommy and Me Class Weight Watchers meetings are not strictly women-only events, men go to Weight Watchers too.

If you are undecided here are a few things I noticed.

This could have been modeled after,me.

The Weigh-in – If you want the full Weight Watchers experience, start with the weigh-in.  It’s not as entertaining as The Biggest Loser but it has its moments.  Picture a long line of overweight people clutching little books and stripping down to as little as possible before climbing aboard the scale.  It’s not a pretty sight, or so I’ve been told—repeatedly by the wife.  If you’re hyper obsessive like we are, you wake up early on weigh-in mornings looking for ways to shave off an extra half pound.  We’ve taken Chico for two-mile walks, done full gym workouts, and run half-marathons before stepping on the scale.

The Plan Changes Weekly or So It Seems – If you’ve jumped on and off the program like an adrenaline junkie at the X Games, you notice the plan changes—a lot.  Staring over means another post-meeting walk of shame to your group leader so you can learn the latest buzz words and changes to the Points Plus plan.  The only thing changing more is the celebrity endorser—I’ve been through Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, and Oprah during my many memberships.

They Sell More Products than QVC – If you’ve taken three children to Disneyland you have an idea of the kind of money a brand-new gung-ho member can spend.  Offering a full catalog of branded products including starter kits, cookbooks, and prepackaged snacks, members can easily drop more dollars than pounds on the program.

It’s an AA Meeting for Fat People – Weight Watchers is a support group for those having an unhealthy relationship with food.  Although we don’t introduce ourselves, “Hi I’m Frank and I’m a fat person,” meetings offer support and encouragement during those rough weeks.  The group leader offers constructive suggestions and keeps the conversation from going off course.  I’ve seen meetings sidetracked for twenty or thirty minutes as members discussed Oreo binges and debated the point value for a bag of microwave popcorn.  One meeting went off the rails explaining the term food porn to a confused member.  To this day I’m pretty sure she thinks it means something else.

But Seriously – I keep going back because the program works.  I’ve learned portion control, healthy options, and not to get too down on myself after a bad week.  Since starting on January 2nd, I’ve lost 17 pounds—a good start but still a long way off from my final goal.  Sitting next to members who’ve lost over 70 pounds and have maintained it over ten years says maybe there’s hope for me too.

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