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 Shop Teacher’s Guide to Childbirth

The Finished Product

You’re in the twilight hours of your pregnancy surviving the baby shower, Lamaze classes, and pregnancy hormones so intense they make a rectal exam from a longshoreman seem enviable.  Just one thing remains — having the baby.  If you thought the past forty weeks were rough —just wait.

Being raised in a blue-collar environment taught me not to complicate things that should be left simple.  I learned many important life lessons from my high school shop teachers.  I know you’re wondering how does something taught by a middle aged man with three fingers on one hand, who spent way too much time inhaling paint fumes apply to childbirth.  I learned not to overthink things or take six steps when you only need two.

This did nothing to prepare me for a drippy deuce.

Expectant parents rarely get an accurate picture of what to expect.  Reading parenting books, or loading a few new apps onto your iPhone, doesn’t prepare you for the real thing.  It’s like changing your practice doll’s diaper in childbirth classes, then handling a full-fledged blowout.

Ask a mother to describe her childbirth experience and the answer will vary depending on how doped up she was. As someone who’s been there,  I can tell you, any mother droning on using words like breathtaking or empowering — that’s the drugs talking — my guess is she was probably doped up on a combination of Vicodin, an Epidural, and some Flintstones vitamins.

If you are looking for a brutally honest description of childbirth, embrace the wisdom of the shop teacher.

Keep It Simple Stupid – During his first class each semester, Mr. Donnelley, my ninth-grade shop teacher, taught students the acronym K.I.S.S, Keep It Simple Stupid.  It’s direct and less cruel than ID10T universallused in the Information Technology field.

K.I.S.S should be used whenever an expectant mother’s Hippy Pre-Natal yoga instructor sells her on a water birth.  Let me guess, you’re planning a Gender Reveal Party too?  In twenty years, you’ll be wondering if it was worth the time and effort when their child embraces gender fluidity.  Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself but there’s a good chance your child won’t be the next Michael Phelps, so why risk infection or a severed umbilical cord. You can plan your child’s first birthday party at the aquarium.

Some of the non-scary medical equipment,

Childbirth is Not a Dignified Experience – Are you’re the queasy type whose stomach turns at the sight and smell of a bowl of raw octopus? Does the thought of the doctor, a classroom full of interns, and the janitor checking out your partner’s junk make you uneasy?  Wait until you get your first glimpse of the slime-covered, cone headed mess that’s waiting for you. Remember when your partner came home from Victoria’s Secrets with three shopping bags of lingerie and you demanded a fashion show?  After a few pre-natal check-ups, Victoria won’t have any secrets left.  If you got here using a test tube and turkey baster, keep repeating, “We really wanted this.”

Picking the Hospital – This should be a no brainer, but people keeping screwing it up.  Remember K.I.S.S.  Ignore suggestions from your hipster friends suggesting a hospital because they heard the bedding has a high thread count or it’s where Beyoncé had her children.

Babies arrive at the most inconvenient time.  Like at three in the morning, in the middle of rush hour, or during a raging snowstorm.  If you’re crossing a bridge and tunnel to get to the hospital, the Uber driver might be delivering your child.

Make Those Hormones Work For You — You’ve had a rough pregnancy, and are ten days past your due date.  Your unborn child has barred the doors and is giving the doctor the middle finger.  She’s tired and moody because the doctor keeps sending her home, saying, “Let’s give it a few more days shall we?”

There’s only one thing to do – piss her off.  It sounds cruel, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one.   If it’s your 42nd week, she’s gassy, and has the hemorrhoids of a long-haul trucker. Trust me you’re doing her a favor, so churn up those hormones and point her at the doctor.  If I had done this my son would have been born two weeks and fifty hormonal outbursts earlier.

Its Go Time – The delivery room is where the myths and expectations of childbirth are shattered.  It’s not the breathtaking experience you were led to believe, it’s gross, slimy and eye opening. My wife and I saw things so scary, we made a pact not to share what really happened with anyone – the way couples do after spending a wild weekend in Vegas.

If you want to foreshadow your childbirth experience, start with the Mucus Plug.  When this slimy mess keeping the baby in place pops, it’s Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Let’s get this party started.”  What follows are several hours of farting, pooping, and vomiting – kind of like a college frat house on Cinco de Mayo.

Children are rarely born in the O.R., meaning the room the hospital assigns you, is your delivery room.  The transformation from hospital room to delivery room, is terrifying. Scary looking medical tools and devices appear for mystery compartments.  Your tastefully decorated room becomes a fully-equipped bondage chamber any domanatrix would be proud of.  I’m pretty sure I saw a ball gag among the medical equipment.

As you watch your better half sliced with the medical equivalent of gardening sheers in ways I won’t describe, be prepared to be a little disappointed. The child you’ve been anxiously awaiting is compressed, cone shaped, and covered in slime, and your room will need a thorough scouring with industrial strength cleaning products.  Most guys experience a Post-Natal PTS.  After watching their partners pass something the size of a watermelon through something the size of a hard-boiled egg.  This is part of nature’s plan, it gives new mothers the time they need to heal as their men won’t go near them for a few weeks.

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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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Finding A Babysitter — The Search Continues

The past three years of parenthood has brought its share of challenges.  One of our bigger challenges is finding a reliable babysitter.

As first-time parents, we were involved in every little thing. I remember both of us watching him nap and changing those first diapers together.  Like most newbies, we wanted to be the perfect parents, forgetting you don’t achieve perfection, you strive for it.  Little things like that kept us from going out much those first months.

Esther’s aunt Titi Luisa, the original baby whisperer, instinctively called and offered to watch the baby.  The calls always came at the right time, giving us a chance to run a few errands or maybe go to Starbucks for a blissful hour in a baby-free environment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the perception of perfection — especially when you grew up watching Brady Bunch reruns.  I watch the Brady Bunch now and see Mike and Carol Brady knocking back a few cocktails and leaving the stressful stuff to Alice, the maid.

Looks like the babysitter loaded him up on Benadryl.

Titi Luisa wasn’t the only person who offered to watch Cristian during early days but as new parents we were a bit overprotective.  Maybe our expectations are a bit unrealistic.  Our ideal babysitter had the compassion of Mother Theresa and the strength and the resiliency of a Navy Seal.  We had a vetting process more stringent than the White House.  Of course, their vetting process has slipped a bit over the past year.

Watching a three-month old baby is easy, just give him a bottle and wait for him to take a nap.  It’s amazing how fast those initial babysitting offers dried up once Cristian started walking.  Of course posts like this don’t help.

Babysitting a hyperactive three-year old without using Benadryl isn’t for the faint of heart.  Your neighbor’s 13-year old daughter checking her Instagram page on her iPhone isn’t getting it done.  Try that with Cristian and the house will look like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria within 15 minutes.

We found an excellent babysitter who flew through our vetting process easily, a pleasant 30-something Central American woman.  She came highly recommended by family members, and was bilingual. She was incredibly energetic, taking Cristian to the park, playing with him at home, and bringing an iPad to keep him entertained.

Esther with the boys

Our Latina Mary Poppins was very pricey — the GDP of a third-world country pricey.  She was building her dream home in her country, babysitting Cristian allowed her to send home money to finance the construction.  She stepped up when my dad was sick, babysitting Cristian at a moment’s notice, sometimes staying with him until late into the night.  Rumor has it her waterfront villa has a wing in it named after him, paid for from with babysitting earnings.

We’re currently vetting her replacement, because we didn’t want to put up a kidney as collateral as she priced tennis courts and an Olympic-sized pool.  Over the past months we’ve swapped babysitting chores with my in-laws — giving each other a breather by watching each other’s kids.  The results have been great.   The boys play together, the adults get a night out, and I keep my vital organs.

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