Is Parenting at 50 Easier?

A Twenty-Something me, with beard and mullet (I know) tailgating before a Grateful Dead show. Photo Randall Luttenburg
A Twenty-Something me, with beard and mullet (I know) tailgating before a Grateful Dead show. Photo Randall Luttenburg

Becoming a SAHD (Stay at Home Dad) at 50 concerned me a little—okay maybe more than a little.  I worried about, bathing, diaper changes, and being the responsible adult.  I was working without a net—it was just me and the baby—without an adult more adult than me nearby.

I’ve outgrown my initial concerns but still dread the day when someone asks, “How old is your grandson?”  Hopefully Cristian will do the right thing and kick them in the leg.  I’m counting on you son.

I spent Sunday’s Super Bowl Party comparing notes with Dads who’ve been there and done that.  We agreed first-moments are great, tantrums suck, and debated which was more annoying, the Teletubbies or Caillou.

Here’s what I learned:

Looking Silly is Okay – My friends may be wondering about this one.  Silliness and an off-beat sense of humor is kind of who I am. I have a hard time seeing a thirty-something me bopping around to kiddie songs during a My Gym class or even out of class. These days I’ve become a rhythmless-dancing machine—it’s easier when you embrace the silly.

Baby-Related Entertainment – My days are consumed binge watching Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid and Pepa Pig.  Going to show or museum used to be a comedy club or MOMA now it’s Sesame Street Live or the Children’s Museum of New York.  Cristian’s smiling face makes up for the crowds and loud crying children.

Cristian and I heading to the Chilldren's Museum of New York
Cristian and I heading to the Chilldren’s Museum of New York

Pacing and Energy – Twenty years ago I was younger, fitter, and had washboard abs.  Today, I’m older and grayer, okay mostly white without the hair color.  A keg replaced the six-pack. Caring for and chasing after a toddler requires endurance.  Finishing twelve marathons taught me how to pace myself. Occasionally I hit the wall, but push through until Esther comes home from work or I’ve worn the baby out.

I’m Older, Calmer, and More Secure with Myself – It’s not like I’m doing yoga, sipping green tea, or reading the Dalai Lama but twenty years mellowed me.  I no longer stress things I can’t control.  I’ve learned to enjoy the moment because they won’t last forever.  That’s not to say I haven’t fired a baby bottle or thrown an iPhone across the room during those special moments.

Payback’s a Bitch – I watched from the sidelines when my friends became parents in their 20s and 30s.  Knowing I could bolt when the tantrums started was a good option to have.  Those same friends are now empty nesters, offering advice and even babysitting here and there.  These days they’re the ones reaching for their coats when the tantrums kick in.

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A Look Back at 2015

I’m reluctant to call this post a best of, or highlights, because not everything is a happy memory—but they are memorable.   2015 will be remembered as bittersweet.  Esther and I experiencing the joys of parenthood was the highlight.  Four family funerals and burying our dog made me wonder if we somehow pissed off the Grim Reaper.

Life is never as good as it seems when things are going well or as bad as it seems when they are going bad.  This is what I remember from 2015:

©The Picture People
©The Picture People

Our First Full Year as Parents – Cristian was born in October 2014 so 2015 was our first full year as parents.  We watched our little bundle of joy grow from a (not so) tiny newborn to rambunctious toddler.  He was one of the few constants over the past year.  You have no idea how many people you touched with your big smile and bigger personality.  Esther and I are still amazed this adorable little boy is ours.

Dad with his first grandchild - Katie
Dad with his first grandchild – Katie

Dad’s Memorial My father passed away this year.  Five months later his loss still leaves me numb. Although he was 89 and spent much of the past few years in doctor’s offices and hospital rooms I thought, or maybe hoped, he had a few years left.

Dad loved a good story and his funeral gave me several.  At his wake I met a charming older gentleman named Serafin who’s touching stories I’ll never forget.  His funeral mass included a eulogy which left mourners alternating between laughter and tears and a driving rainstorm at the cemetery soaked those paying their final respects.

What I remember most is spending time with the family at Mom’s house afterwards.  Dad loved entertaining—his summer cookouts were legendary. What better way to honor his memory than swapping stories with good food, good people, and good wine, the way he used to.  I’m sure El Viejo was looking down with a smile on his face.

SnowI’m Mr. Mom – If you told me five years ago I would be Mr. Mom, I would have laughed at you, but here we are.  A freelance consulting gig allows me to work from home on a laptop while Cristian plays or watches Sesame Street and Peppa Pig. I’m usually the only dad at his My Gym classes and story time at the local library.  I’m lucky—I get to experience Cristian’s firsts instead of hearing about them from others.

Esther and I Celebrated Our Fifth Wedding Anniversary – On Thanksgiving Day Esther and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  Although she is sometimes the subject of a joke or two from this cranky blogger, she is what I was thankful for (not just on Thanksgiving). She introduced me to bike tours, long-distance running, and salsa (the music not the condiment).  She is the Ying to my Yang and I’m lucky to have her in my life.

I’m now a Published Writer – I’ve been writing for ten years and blogging the last five.  This year my work was published in a website I enjoy reading, The Good Men Project.  So if I take anything away from 2015, I’m a writer, marathon runner and a badass dad.

Farewell Chico – Some will say “Why are you getting so emotional, it’s only a dog?” I understand not everyone is an animal lover and others consider dogs or cats just pets. Not us.  Chico had a tremendous vibe and the ability to coax a smile from most people even non-dog people. Who doesn’t like a nice dog? Yes we spoiled him—he was our practice child before Cristian was born.  My day is not the same without Chico’s morning walk.

Chico - Christmas Stocking

 

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Just Roll With It

Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.
Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.

Responding to and meeting challenges is a big part of life, because you are constantly thrown curveballs.  Since Labor Day Weekend Esther and I have faced our fair share, making us long for something simple, like a sleepless night with a cranky baby.

Over the past years my Mom cared for Dad—putting her life on pause and neglecting her own health.  56 years of marriage makes you do that sort of thing.  During Dad’s illness, Mom and I spoke about her health, and maintaining the house as I drove her to and from the hospital and nursing home.

Eighty-five years old and restricted to a walker, those tasks are considerably tougher than they were five-years ago.   The neighbors helped, sweeping sidewalks, shoveling snow, and bringing in trash cans.  While much appreciated it’s not the sort of thing one can expect done on a consistent basis.

After many conversations with Mom and Esther both separately and together, we decided it was best if Esther and I moved in with her to.  Moving in with your mother at 51 is never an easy proposition—moving with a wife, baby and 18-year old dog, is a reality show in the making.

After Dad passed away in July, we started the twofold process of packing our apartment and decluttering Mom’s house—no small task. I come from a family of pack rats—it’s in our DNA.  My old bedroom looked more like an oversized walk-in closet than Cristian’s new bedroom.

Clearing a home after someone passes away is never easy—especially if you are doing while keeping an 11-month old baby entertained.   Fifty years of memories needed to be dealt with, old clothes, old pictures, and just plain old junk.

Moving day was the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Our team of friends and family (those who didn’t go away for the long weekend) squeezed the contents of our two-bedroom apartment into an already cluttered house.  It was like recreating the set of Sanford and Son.

Cristian’s room was priority one.  One group unloaded the truck moving things into various rooms, the garage and the backyard.   A second group reassembled the crib and looked for boxes marked “Baby’s Room.”

Chico enjoying his new front yard
Chico enjoying his new front yard

The first day was the roughest.  Boxes and packing bins were piled high everywhere creating an obstacle course.  I worried about the boxes in the backyard, many were covered but some weren’t.  Fortunately it didn’t rain.

Sitting in the basement on a third of my disassembled couch with a slice of cold pizza and a beer watching Chico navigate his new environment, I got twitchy wondering if we could put things in order. Making things worse my godmother called with bad news, her 18-year old grandson was killed in a car accident.

As usual Cristian provided stress relief after a chaotic day.  Peeking in on him he looked up from his stuffed animals, giving me a Hi Daddy smile.  Watching the baby play in his new room with Mom, reminded me why were doing this.

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When Esther and I planned the move, we knew there would be adjustments.  I love Mom but she’s old-school and a little blunt—sometimes more than a little.  At times her concepts on parenting differed from ours.  We came to help, but never lost sight of the fact.  We were in her house, not ours.

A main priority was maintaining normalcy in Cristian’s life while we adapted to our new environment.  This meant, not missing his My Gym classes, exploring new parks for him to play in and devoting time to him before during and after the move.

Esther and Cristian playing in the park
Esther and Cristian playing in the park

The rest of the weekend was a blur of boxes, bins, and garbage bags.  The stack of boxes shrunk as things took shape.  More than 70 bags of clothes were donated to the Salvation Army and I filled an entire donation bin—one of those huge containers one sees in your local supermarket parking lot.

Over 100 bags of trash and stacks of discarded cardboard boxes, and recycled items, ensured I’d become fast friends with the garbage men.  Maintaining the relationship Dad forged with them over the years was important, because months of dumping, organizing and decluttering still remain.

The house has a finished basement with a separate kitchen and bathroom.  We set it up as our apartment, with a newly constructed play zone for the baby—The Cristian Zone

In the reassembled "Cristian Zone."
In the reassembled “Cristian Zone.”

Tuesday night Esther, Mom, Cristian and I drove out to Eastern Long Island for my cousin’s wake.   It’s sad when someone dies so young—you wonder what might have been.

The next morning, Esther went to work while Cristian and I took another trip out east for the funeral.  Leaving the church for the cemetery, my phone rang.  A neighbor named Valerie had more bad news—this time about Mom.

Mom’s had issues with varicose veins for years.   I planned on asking for a referral to a specialist during her next round of doctor’s appointments—we never got the chance. Valerie and my cousin Annie were visiting when Mom’s vein popped, spewing blood, a lot of it.  She also fell out of the chair she was sitting in, crashing to the floor.

Valerie called an ambulance and escorted Mom and the paramedics to the hospital.  I called Esther, and asked if she could meet them at the Emergency Room.  Turning the car around I hurried home.

Thanking Annie for her for help and wrapping Mom’s leg as I took her home. I then dropped Cristian off with the babysitter before heading to the hospital.  Esther updated me on Mom’s condition-which tests were run which still remained.  When I finally saw Mom, she was literally white as a sheet.  She lost about a pint of blood and the doctors debated whether or not to transfuse her.

Bob joined us in the ER—the three of us listened as doctors updated us on her condition.  After spending most of the day in the ER, Mom was admitted to the hospital and placed under observation.

The next two weeks were spent visiting Mom in the hospital and consulting with doctors amazed at the lack of common sense.  During my first visit I was sent home for her walker.  Isn’t a walker something a hospital provides?  I guess not.

Although Mom looked better, she still didn’t look right.  Hospitals seem in a rush to discharge patients before they get sick—I thought treating sick people was a hospital’s function—silly me.

Two weeks later, Mom was sent to a rehab facility to regain strength and balance.  Cristian and I visited every morning—it was therapeutic for Mom and her roommate.  Mom’s room was a popular destination during our visits, nurses, aides and physical therapists stopped by to play with the baby.

During a visit Esther’s phone rang.   Her facial expression told me, it was bad news. Her aunt called from Puerto Rico informing her of an uncles passing.   He was only a few years older than me.  This was our families fourth in the past year—that’s too many.  I wondered if the Grim Reaper has the family on speed dial.

FullSizeRender (81)After a month in the hospital and rehab facility Mom was sent home, we were happy.  When she was away, Esther and I felt like children left alone while their parents were on vacation.  Fortunately for all involved, I didn’t do the Risky Business Dance.

Since Mom returned home I’ve worked with social workers, visiting nurses, and home aides and we’ve had appointments with specialists, managing her care.  When it gets overwhelming, I look at Cristian. His big smile and bigger personality tells me, take a breath and just roll with it.

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Happy Birthday Cristian

1st Father SonI can’t believe it’s been a year already.  A year ago I spent the night in a hospital room keeping friends and family updated via Facebook posts as nurses induced Esther—it didn’t work.  It turn out, Cristian like his parents is stubborn.  How stubborn we didn’t know at the time.

At 1:26 pm Esther gave birth to a 9 pound 3 ounce   21.5 inch boy, whatshisname.  We hadn’t agreed on his name yet.  Asking me to calm our crying and unnamed son, by speaking to him, I put on my best Darth Vader voice and said, “Son I am your father.”

The first few weeks were a blur or feedings, diaper changes and friends stopping by to see the baby.  Sequestered in our apartment like jurors on a trial while we took turns watching Jeopardy, napping and playing with our new son, the memory still makes me smile.

father-son-chill

I dove headfirst into my stay-at-home dad crash course.  I was introduced to the Sprout Channel, Peppa Pig and Sid the Science Kid and scrambled like a contestant on a gameshow folding laundry, sterilizing baby bottles and grabbing a quick shower while Cristian napped.

In March we enrolled Cristian in My Gym, a children’s fitness center giving him a chance to meet other babies socializing him through structured activities and giving me a chance to compare parenting notes with other parents.

The many faces of Cristian
The many faces of Cristian

Esther and I were amazed as out son grew from a fragile newborn to a chubby cheeked toddler.  His smiling face every morning made us forget the, sacrifice, sleep deprivation and occasional blowout.

As Spring arrived my time was split between caring for my son and managing my father’s healthcare first in a hospital and then in a nursing home.   My blogging suffered as my world was turned upside down, but Esther and I insisted on keeping as much normalcy in Cristian’s routine as possible.  My Gym classes and trips to the park were sandwiched between hospital visits.

Family Selfie
Family Selfie

Cristian will never know the joy he brought his grandfather during his last days or how much his cheery demeanor helps grandma cope with Dad’s loss.  His days consist of playing, crawling and general mischief. His electric smile and big personality changed Mommy and Daddy’s lives in ways we couldn’t comprehend a year ago as we anxiously monitored his vitals as nurses induced his Mommy.

Happy Birthday Cristian!

Cristian and Me

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