Five More Things I Learned Since Becoming a Parent

My last post was well received, thank you readers and Dad 2.0 Summit, but there was more to write. Sitting down with my notes, I crafted a new post from deleted bullet points – a blog post sequel. Am I being insightful, or shamelessly churning out another post using existing material?  You be the judge.

Your Quality Time Lasts About Two Hours A Night – Remember those quiet evenings when you curled up on the couch with Netflix. Those quiet nights when you caught up on movies you missed in the theatre or watched unviewed programs in your DVR was always quality couple time. Then we had a child. These days our viewing habits revolve around what keeps him entertained. Our couple time doesn’t start until Cristian goes to sleep.

To speed up the process, we use a tag-team approach. While I’m bathing him, my better half is taking out his pajamas and getting the next day’s clothes reedy. Our evening starts once he falls asleep.   That’s if he doesn’t wake up or sneak out his room 20 minutes later. Sometimes we’ll watch a movie, or I’ll write. More often than not, Esther comes downstairs and finds me asleep in my favorite chair with the remote in my hand.

Sometimes You Need A Night Out – Parenting is demanding. Keeping up with schoolwork, playdates, and eight or nine other things is both exhausting. Lazy parenting is the gateway to huge therapy bills in your future.

Parents need a break too. Hobbies and mental health breaks are the best way to avoid sitting in the car chugging exhaust fumes. My better half and I learned to spot when the other needs a break from the little guy. It could be an hour at Starbucks with a book and some coffee. The other parent entertains Cristian with a puzzle or watching Yo Gabba Gabba.

Back when Cristian preferred CNN to Peppa Pig

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same – Parents in the 70s had a creative method for grabbing an extra hour of sleep on Saturday mornings – Looney Tunes.  They introduced me to eccentric millionaires, smart-assed rabbits, and the defective nature of Acme products.  Forty years later Cristian and I spend Saturday mornings watching his favorite programs over breakfast.  Although he’s not getting exposed to opera, like I did with Kill the Wabbit, they aren’t bad.  More than once, I’ve waited to see how Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko outsmarted Night Ninja.

Beware of Overeager Grandparents Offering to Babysit – I’ve written about our challenges in finding a babysitter while adding to the GDP of a certain Central American country. My better half and I are not fortunate enough to have overeager grandparents stepping up at a moment’s notice. That may not be such a bad thing, have you ever wondered why they are so eager?

I’ve learned overeager grandparents have an ulterior motive – payback. Do you think your parents forgot all the times you skipped curfew dated dodgy types, and took inches off their hairline?  It’s all question of picking your poison, what’s more important, a much-needed a night out or your three-year-old asking for M&Ms before dinner time?

You Will Become Your Parents – Every expectant parent thinks they will be more laid back than their parents were.  That theory goes up in flames once the baby starts walking.  I’ve noticed I’ve adopted some of my dad’s signature moves from the vein popping in his forehead, to going room to room flipping off light switches.  Becoming a father has given me a greater appreciation of how much of a standup guy my dad was.

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Nine Things I Learned Since Becoming A Parent

With the Birthday Boy at his pre-school.

Recently, Cristian celebrated his fourth birthday. For about a week, Esther and I relived our first days as parents.  There is something nostalgic about birthdays.

We remembered Esther’s aunt brushing his hair into a baby Mohawk in the hospital, friends stopping by to visit, and his first days of preschool. After a few days, I sat down and put a list together of things I didn’t expect. I apologize in advance if it sounds like a greatest hits package.

Cleaning products are a parent’s best friend.

Pee, Poop & Puke — I came into parenthood with my eyes wide open. I knew there would be dirty diapers, and baby-related messes. I just had no idea that something so small could make such a huge mess.  Play dates and MyGym classes have given me a chance to swap stories with other parents.

We’ve spent time comparing notes.  We swapped stories on getting peed on and bleaching the bathtub after the baby dropped a deuce during bath time.  So far, no one has found a sure-fire way to get the puke smell out of toddler bedding. If you are considering starting a family, reread the last two sentences a few times until it sinks in. Remember, you’ve been warned.

Don’t dad-shame Bond.

I’m Not the Babysitter, I’m His Father – I was a Stay at Home Dad for two years, and the quickest way to piss me off was calling me the babysitter. Let me explain the difference — babysitters get paid — parents raise their children. Do I look like a teen-aged kid spending more time with their Snapchat feed than watching the baby?

These days, grandparents and older family members aren’t the only ones who can’t tell the difference. Journalists can be just as clueless. Piers Morgan recently mocked Daniel Craig for carrying his one-month old daughter in a baby carrier. Many outraged dads lashed out via Twitter making Mr. Morgan aware that Dads take an active role in parenting.

Separation Anxiety Can Be Rough – We found this out when Cristian was six weeks old. Driving Esther to work on her first day back from maternity leave, Cristian started crying before I stopped the car. I thought it was a one-time thing — silly me. He soon adapted to our feeble attempts at distracting him with Sesame Street as Mommy tried sneaking off to work, or even to the bathroom.

We thought it would pass, but it’s gotten worse — now he does it to me. Gone are the days when I could leave him in the gym’s nursery with a tablet and get in a quick workout. It’s effected how we plan date nights.  These days, the babysitter meets his school bus when he gets home from preschool, saving us all from a tantrum.

Kids Will Repeat Anything They Hear –  Remember how excited you were when your child said its first word? That joy fades quickly once your child starts repeating things, like a voice-activated recording device.  Esther now has to worry about what both men in her life might say.

A child’s vocabulary grows exponentially, once they start preschool, leaving parents wondering where they learned certain words.  I remember Cristian proudly sharing a new word with me. It had four letters and started with F. Worried, because I’d have to explain the origins of this new word to Mommy, I asked him to repeat it. I was relieved when he repeated the word, adding ribbit ribbit. Since then I’ve picked my words carefully around him.

A Sick Child Will Make You Feel Helpless – There is one thing consistent to all parents regardless of age, gender, or financial status — it sucks when your kid is sick. Cristian was fifteen months old, the first time he experienced a high fever. Crying, uncomfortable, and giving off a furnace-like heat, he looked to Mommy and Daddy to make everything better.  We grew increasingly frustrated when we couldn’t.  I’ve never felt more helpless in my entire life than I did on that night.

Friends Will Disappear From Your Life – Losing touch friends is a sad part of life.  How many friends have you kept in touch with since high school?  The number of friends we’ve lost touch with since becoming parents has been eye-opening. Things changed since the early days when friends stopped by to “see the baby,” These days we hear everything from, “It’s been tool long” to “We were giving you space.”

I understand that spending an afternoon at the zoo isn’t for everyone, Neither is spending an evening with a toddler bouncing off the walls like he’s in a pinball machine. We all have busy schedules, but I learned – some will make an effort, and others will make excuses. I never thought starting a family would make friends disappear like they were in the Witness Protection Program.

If Things Are Too Quiet, Be Very Afraid – Say goodbye to any semblance of quiet time, once your child reaches toddlerhood.  A child playing quietly in the other room is not your friend.  If you think you scored a chance to binge watch Game of Thrones, guess again. When things get too quiet, I immediately grab a broom and a box of hefty bags.

Spontaneity Is Replaced By Structure – Remember the days before parenthood, also known as the good old days.  Being spontaneous was easy, we could go to the movies or away for the weekend at a moment’s notice.  I miss those days.

With parenthood comes responsibility, or the ability to fake it for those who don’t know better.  Once your child starts daycare parents start establishing routines and schedules.  Vacation and time off from work revolves around school.  These days our evenings are about keeping Cristian on a schedule.  Although we mix things up, it’s some variation of playtime, dinnertime, bath time, bedtime.  Deviating from this will have dire consequences.

Despite the Challenges, Parenthood is Rewarding – Since becoming a Dad, I’ve congratulated new parents the same way, Congratulations, your life is about to change, but it will be worth it.  Being a Dad is the toughest job I ever had — and I’ve had many.  The hours suck, you don’t get weekends off, and the boss is extremely demanding.  Looking at Cristian playing happily with his tablet as I write this, fills me with awe.  I still can’t believe I helped create this awesome little being.

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A Letter To My Son On His Fourth Birthday

The Birthday Boy

Happy Birthday Cristian, today you are four years old. You looked so happy when we put you on the school bus this morning. Mommy and I have a surprise for you, we planned a birthday party for you later today. You’re going to love the yummy cupcakes Mommy’s friend Angie made for you – they are so good that Mommy and I will probably have one too.

We have special memories of your very first birthday four years ago. We didn’t get much sleep because the nurses spent the night trying to induce Mommy.  Daddy kept making Facebook posts to keep everyone up to date. We knew then that you inherited your parent’s stubborn streak, and Mommy’s habit of making everyone wait for her. You’ll understand more about that when you get older.

Don’t worry son, Daddy has it under control.

You were born at 1:20 pm on a sunny Thursday afternoon. We were anxious to meet you and curious to see who you looked like. I remember you were crying and Mommy asked me to try and soothe you by talking to you. Since we hadn’t agreed on your name yet, Daddy put on his best Darth Vader voice and said, “Son, I am your father.” The nurses all laughed, but don’t worry, Daddy knows how to talk to you now.

Your first few days were a blur of feedings, diaper changes, and watching you sleep through bloodshot eyes. It took us a few days to establish a routine, but every time you smiled at us, you made us forget how tired we were.

A few weeks later, Mommy’s maternity leave was over and she had to go back to work. We spent a lot of time together as you gave Daddy a crash course in Stay at Home Dad 101.  Although no one admits it, there were a few concerned family members. To be honest, Daddy was a little worried, too.

Getting Cristian ready for our morning training run.

We had fun together, we watched Sid the Science Kid, discovered the Sprout Channel, and Daddy introduced you to Sesame Street. I took you everywhere, you rode along on Daddy’s training runs, we went to MyGym classes, and you helped Daddy deliver documents when he worked as a medical biller.

We are constantly amazed at how much you are learning and we love seeing your personality develop. Mommy and Daddy took turns chasing you around the playground and the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk.  We love how much your face lights up when we take you to the zoo or the aquarium, and were both happy, yet a little sad when you started daycare. You have to understand that when we look at you, we still see the spunky, chubby-cheeked little guy, who peed on the pediatrician during his first doctor’s appointment.

I know you don’t remember your grandfather, but you made quite an impression on him. He waited so long for a grandson, and you will never know the joy you brought that old man. The smile on his face the first time he met you is my favorite memory of him. You are also too young to comprehend that although you drive grandma crazy from time to time, having you around helps her cope with your grandpa’s loss.

You don’t understand this yet, but you are a little different than the other kids and may have a few rough years ahead of you as you learn to adjust to things. Watching you adjust will be rough on Mommy and Daddy too, but remember we love you very much and will be there for you. We may not give you everything you want, but we will always have your back.

Happy Birthday, Little Man!

Daddy, can we go for ice cream?
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The Pursuit Of The Elusive Date Night

The last time it was easy to find someone to babysit.

As the father of a three-year old, the concept of a lazy weekend is distant memory.  Saturdays, are for chores and errands and Sundays are for family time. My Saturday include taking Cristian to My Gym class, getting the car serviced, before rushing home to wash several loads of laundry.

Cristian sat next to me playing with his tablet, while I waited for the car.  While I waited, I started up a conversation with a guy named Barry, sitting across from me. We chatted about cars, and baseball and summer plans.  The conversation shifted to children once Cristian got up from his chair and started exploring his surroundings.  Soon he was, turning laps around the waiting room, climbing on chairs, and charming everyone with his 1000-watt smile.

Barry told me his wife was pregnant with their first child.  After offering congratulations, I told him, “Your life is going to change.”

Smiling like someone with no clue of what’s waiting for him he replied, “Everyone is saying that.”

Chuckling and shaking my head, I said, “No seriously.  Everyone told us too.   We thought we understood, but we had no clue.  It’s something you won’t truly appreciate until you’ve been there.”

While we waited for our cars, I brought Barry up to speed on Baby 101.  “The first night is overwhelming — it gets better once you get a system in place.  After a few days, your friends are going to want to stop by and see the baby.  Some will whip out iPhones and post selfies on Instagram, others will offer to bring dinner, and a few will want to help.  Don’t be shy about the help, accept any that’s offered,” pointing at Cristian, “those offers disappear long before they reach his age.”

“As new parents you are gonna to want to experience every moment.  I get it, I was there once too.  The most important thing I’ve learned in my three-plus years is not to forget to make time for you and your wife, just the two of you.”

He sat silent for a moment, processing what I said and smiled.  “I haven’t heard that one.  It’s the best advice I’ve gotten so far.”

In the days before they were called “Date Nights”

Later that day, while I was folding laundry, I replayed my conversation with Barry.  Giving advice is easy, following your own advice not so much.  Esther’s my best friend, we enjoy doing things together, but being raising a hyperactive three-year old isn’t easy.

Over the past year, we’ve offered the other a parenting break when the toddler-induced stress level became too much.  One of us goes for a run, while the other goes to the bar to pound tequila shots.  Scheduling date nights is more challenging.

Babysitting Cristian isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ve mentioned our adventures in babysitting and contributing to the GDP of a specific third-world country.  When our regular babysitter isn’t available, we’ve reached out to family and friends and found our support system crumbling faster than America’s infrastructure.

It doesn’t help that Cristian is getting stronger, smarter and harder to distract.  We used to drop him off and sneak out while he played with a toy.  That doesn’t work anymore.

On our last date night, he sensed something was up when the babysitter was already there when he got home from daycare.  I thought I made a clean break, slipping out while he worked on a puzzle in his room. When we got home we learned he threw a major tantrum when he couldn’t find Daddy.

Finding this out made me a little sad — and a little flattered too — he usually throws that kind of nuclear tantrum when he can’t find mommy, not me.

Weary parents on a rare Date Night at Citi Field.  Unlike the last picture, we look older and are exhausted.

Lately we’ve adopted the Marine credo of Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.  No we’re not distracting him by teaching him how to binge watch episodes of Teletubbies for a few moments peace — he does that already.  We’ve learned to make the most of opportunities

After our first parent-teacher night at Cristian’s preschool, we made the most of having the babysitter and checked out a local Asian-Fusion restaurant.  I don’t know what I enjoyed more, teriyaki chicken and a few innings of playoff baseball or that the Asian waitresses and bartenders we’re doing their hair and makeup like the women in this predominately Italian neighborhood, so they could blend in.

So if you are curious about parenthood and are feeling adventurous contact me and my better half and I will be happy to indulge your curiosity, while we enjoy dinner and a movie.  I’m not holding out hope though, Barry stopped returning my phone calls.

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Remembering The Man Who Made It Look Easy

Today is Father’s Day, I know this because for the past few weeks, my email accounts and social media feeds have been clogged with gift ideas for Dad, everything from Omaha Steaks, to tech toys, and an assortment of supplies from the Art of Shaving.  Thank you Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s my fourth Father’s Day as a dad, but my mind isn’t on the latest Cool Base baseball jersey or another pair of running shoes, it’s on my Dad.

Growing up my parents hosted a Father’s Day cookout in their backyard that was both simple and excessive – especially after joining Costco.  Year after year my Mom and Dad produced elaborated spreads of all sorts of mouth-watering grilled foods, sardines and shrimp, Italian sausages, pork chops, and steaks, paired with beer, or pitchers of homemade wine and sangria.

This family tradition wasn’t always elaborate — it grew over the years.  I remember the four of us sitting at a picnic table in the yard. Dad grilled our meal on a stone barbeque grill he built with my uncle.  As the family grew to include daughters-in law, grandchildren and others, so did the menu.  Besides the food, I remember another thing about Father’s Day, he never used the gifts we gave him.  He always put them into a draw or the back of the closet, never to be seen again.

Sadly, I never enjoyed this event as a father, we spent my First Father’s Day in a nursing home as Dad battled Pancreatic Cancer during his last days.

My Dad was a craftsman, one of a lost generation of finish carpenters.  He was brought in to add a special touch to the corner offices and corporate boardrooms for Wall Street investment houses and Fortune 500 companies, and sometimes the homes of their top executives. I remember him being sent to work to in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco for a week of two.  Although he hated being away, it was the best way he knew to provide for his wife and family.

As a kid, I remember he had already left for work before my brother Bob and I had gotten up for school.  After work, he was always working around the house, or planning the next home improvement.  When Mom asked if he could put a stove next to the playroom Bob and I had in the basement.  He built her a kitchen, so she could keep an eye on us as she prepared dinner.

Now that I’m a father one thought keeps coming back to me, he made it look easier than I do.  He worked full time, raised two sons, and maintained a house without breaking a sweat. Working full time and sharing the parenting duties of one three-year old and takes up most of my time and energy.  These days I barely get to sit at a keyboard and write.

A few months ago, Cristian and I were out walking through the neighborhood when we saw Mrs. D.  She’s known me since I was a little older than Cristian is now.  I grew up playing with her kids.  After catching up on her kids and grandkids, we talked about Dad.  I remember telling her, “I don’t know how he was able to do it, he made parenting look so easy. He raised two sons, I have my hands full with one.”

Shaking her head, she smiled and said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing more than you think.  You grew up in a different time and things are different now.”  She nodded at Cristian saying, “When you were his age, parents had defined roles and one paycheck supported a family.  Nowadays both parents have to work and need to share the parenting responsibilities.”

Mrs. D gave me a lot to think about.  I kept returning to the advice a friend gave me when my better half was pregnant.  He said, “Do what your parents did and fill in what’s missing.”  That’s a tall order.

Dad wasn’t a big speech guy—his actions spoke more clearly than his words did.  If he made a promise, he kept it.  He was an old-school father—he didn’t tolerate tantrums—he ignored them.  He seemed aloof when my brother Bob and I argued back and forth, but he wasn’t.  He was letting work things out on our own.

Another lesson he taught took me years to figure out. It drove us nuts when Dad ignored the polo shirts, cologne, and power tools.  He used to tell us, “Don’t waste your money on gifts, I don’t need anything.”  I thought he was being proud, but he wasn’t.  For him spending the day with his children and grandchildren was the gift he wanted most.

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