Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Amari Christmas to All

When Carrie and I met, she was a huge Christmas fan and I was a bitter, cynical Grinch. She got excited in mid-November while I inversely pouted, grumped, and mumbled about stupid obligatory gift exchange, capitalistic, consumer bullshit, etc, etc. Initially, her enthusiasm for the holiday was so much stronger and so much sweeter than my contempt that Christmas became tolerable. When her father died, however, both of our extremes were tempered by her sadness, and in the following years Christmas kind of disappeared. We still made a tree from green poster board with pasted paper ornaments, but more often than not the day drifted by in subtle melancholy and indifference. 
This Christmas with Amari we had the opportunity to redefine the holiday. We're role models now, and we get to create new traditions and a new atmosphere - not only for her but for our family. For the first time in my life I bought Santa hats - for all three of us  - and I wore mine all day. We had a small tree with real decorations, a few presents for Amari scattered beneath it, and lights, lots and lots of lights all over the house. They've always been my favorite part of Christmas. We had coffee with Granny C, opened presents, took silly photos, and put Amari in a stocking for our best Anne Geddes imitation. In the evening we continued one of Carrie's family traditions by watching "Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas," and Carrie sang every song aloud to little Amari as she drifted in and out of sleep. It was perfect. 

And just like that - the holiday changed. A time of year that I dreaded and endured, closed my eyes and wished away, became a warm, nostalgic, family memory. 

Amari Christmas to all...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Let's Give Them Something to Talk About

A loving member of my family recently told me, "Isaac - you're a really good writer, but you write too much." She prefaced this by telling me about her historically short attention span, and I could relate. To be honest, if this blog weren't about me, I probably wouldn't read the whole thing either. Even while I'm writing I drift in and out. That's why James Patterson has become one of my favorite authors. While I used to have the time and patience for "A Hundred Years of Solitude," now I'm better suited to five short pages of riveting drama.

The feedback was a relief. I've been excited to hear people are enjoying my blog, but I've also felt a new pressure to perform, to come up with novel parenting adventures every week (when there probably aren't any left), and to tie a lesson-shaped bow around each experience. Although it was suggested I write this blog, I ultimately chose to do it because of a journal I found after my mom died. It was eleven small pages long, and towards the end my mom wrote briefly about us kids. She wrote it after after my parents break-up and just before she returned to India leaving us behind for the first time. She said she would be gone for six weeks, but didn't return for six months. I remember it feeling like a very long time. 

July 28, 1978 (written by Mary Oberne)

The children will survive, but not without scars of our battles. It's not fair to extend our pain to them. Your daughter loves you unconditionally. Can't you do the same for her? Or must her mother stay in line in order for you to love and be kind to her? Have you looked at Isaac's body - not his round little face, but his body? He is strong. He is built like a Mac Truck. He has the body of a physical person and must be encouraged to use it. And Jacob, little Jacob, he loves so much.

That was it - a paragraph - but it meant a lot to me. It healed an old wound just a little, just enough to close that chapter of my childhood. It was not the content but rather the consideration that mended my misconceptions of that time. Sometimes writing this blog feels like a conversation with a friend or a love letter to my wife, a literary smoke signal to other novice parents and an on-going gift for Amari. 

This is my latest observation in the world of parenting. Notice the brevity.

Babies, I'm learning, are like a projective truth serum, a Rorschach Test of sorts. I'm a counselor at the local grammar and middle schools while Carrie is a high school English teacher. Unfortunately, that means Amari will have to deal with at least one parent lurking around for most of her academic career. So much for our perfectly well-adjusted kid fantasy. As we brought Amari around to our respective jobs and to the homes of our friends and family, people began to expose themselves through seemingly innocuous comments. Fortunately, I own a Simultaneous World View Translator.

1. Grammar school staff: "Enjoy them now while you can."
Translation: The teenage years are just around the corner.

2. High School staff: "Don't worry - it gets easier."
Translation: The teenage years are just around the corner.

3. Middle School staff: "Oh...a baby...wow...that's um...how's um...is that the bell?"
Translation: I'm conflicted between job security and having to deal with another unpredictable preteen.

4. Anonymous, psychic, animal-communicating relative: "I think Amari would like it to be cooler in your house, and I'm also sensing that she really likes the outdoors."
Translation: It's really hot in here and I like outdoorsie stuff.

5. Stranger outside of Safeway: "Awww. I love infants."
Translation: I'm a creepy weirdo. Specifying a generalization changes the whole feel of the comment. "I love kids." No problem - who doesn't? "I love eight year olds." Creepy. Too specific. "I love infants." Very creepy. Who uses the word infants when describing their love of babies? 

That's it for today. Tomorrow - our first family Christmas. 

Happy holidays, everyone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sad Songs Say So Much

When Carrie and I began dating, her number one complaint - besides the fact that I chew gum and eat too loudly - was that our relationship wasn't providing enough drama to inspire her songwriting. A year later, we broke up, twice. She dated other men, I drank heavily, but eventually we gave those things up and got back together. A few original hits, a proposal, and a wedding later, and she's back to singing cover songs. Now I'm no rock star, but this is the longest I've gone without writing since Amari was born, and I think it's because things have gotten a lot easier.

Writing has always been a form of escape for me - a way to organize the chaos of my thoughts and feelings. It allows me to infuse my world view into my memories, like touching up old photographs or retelling childhood  stories - they look and sound better with time, and eventually they become indiscernible from the way they were. There's really no avoiding it. The average history book has 30,000 mistakes in it. Reality is ultimately perception, and if we write it down - guess what - it happened.

What about when my life doesn't feel chaotic? Does anyone really want to read about how I stared at my cute, serene, well-fed daughter for hours at a time? There is a story there - a bridge between regretting that we hadn't gone with our Lets Get a Third Cat Instead of Having a Kid idea, and the sweet, blissful moments of today. If you'd like to hear it, it goes a little something like this...

Once upon a time, there were two naive parents who lived in a small, coastal hamlet north of San Francisco. They had been together for nearly eight years when they decided they were finally ready to have a child, and they were convinced that the endurance of their relationship would make parenting as easy as taking geometry after years of algebra.

They were older than average first-time parents who were also convinced that their age, experience, and infallible planning would make for an easy pregnancy, a smooth birth, and intuitive parenting. They nailed the first one, but two plus days of labor and five excruciating weeks of parenting quickly erased the memory of nine relatively easy months. While they thought they were prepared, it turned out nothing could prepare them for this

which turned out to be the way their daughter was for several hours a day. When  she wasn't nursing, she was fussing, rooting, worrying, or crying. Meanwhile her parents were fussing, worrying, and crying, too. On occasion, they were treated to blissful moments of peace that kept them going.

Actual Footage

Unfortunately, these moments were increasingly rare and unnervingly brief. The parents began to think that when people said, "I slept like a baby," they meant restlessly and in a pool of their own feces. Even that kind of sleep began to sound appealing. "This was not what we signed up for," they thought, and they began to wonder if they were doing something wrong. They worried that their daughter might not be getting enough food and contemplated supplementing her diet with formula in the evenings. They fretted that the hard-core La Leche Leaguers might catch wind of their decision and send in reinforcements.

They did it anyway. At their appointment the next week, their midwife was concerned their baby had only put on two ounces in almost five weeks. The parents confessed that they'd been using formula for the past three nights, and waited to be scolded for lack of effort. Instead, their midwife lauded their intuitiveness, told them not all women lactate equally, and suggested they offer their daughter formula after nursing during the day, as well. "If she takes it, she's hungry," she said. They offered and their daughter was very hungry. During the next week, she put on fourteen ounces, and more importantly she was happy. She no longer looked worried, she rarely fussed, and the circles beneath her eyes disappeared as she slept more regularly and her face filled out. Suddenly the parents went from suffering through

to enjoying

Not only that, but they went from "It's your turn to hold her," to "Can I hold her now?" from "Shit she's waking up," to "Aww, she's waking up," and most importantly from "I can't believe we decided to do this," to "This is so unbelievable." And you know what - they lived happily ever after...for the past six days.

The End...and a new beginning. 

Just this evening Carrie was marveling at Amari, saying how amazing she is, how she just wants to stay at home and hold her. This was a far cry from two weeks ago when we were both making bitter, inappropriate jokes about how Sophie's choice wasn't all that hard. Who knew that something as simple as starvation could interfere with a perfectly good parent-child relationship?

Now that Amari is healthy and happy, I feel sane again. My feelings of helplessness and hopelessness feel validated, and the residue of those early weeks now serve to contrast the joy I feel today. Would I change the way it unfolded? In a heartbeat. But now that I'm here, I'm grateful for the experience and the tools I picked up along the way. I have no doubt that they will come in handy in the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amare B Fishman vs Amare Stoudemire

After my latest entry about naming our daughter Amari, I received a huge influx of e-mails from the Amare Stoudemire Fan Club boasting that their basketball hero is undoubtedly the greatest Amar(i)(e) ever born. And by "a huge influx" I mean two e-mails, and by "boasting" I mean "having nothing to do with." I got one e-mail about debt consolidation and another one from Netflix telling me that "Ugly Betty" is on its way. Nevertheless, I feel compelled by my paternal instincts to respond to these imaginary comparisons by providing a completely objective, unbiased breakdown in:

The Battle of the Amar(i)(e)s



Birth Sign

Stoudemire: November 16, 1982

Fishman: November 5, 2009

Advantage: None. They're Scorpios, which by reputation is a disadvantage for both of them. I don't want to alienate my Scorpio readers, but it has been my personal experience that Scorpios are the type of people who, when the center of the universe is eventually discovered, will be disappointed that it's not them. If you're a Scorpio and you're reading this, please feel free to comment and prove me wrong. If you're not and you agree, check out the cute t-shirts available for expectant parents that say, "I don't care if I have a boy or a girl as long as I don't have a Scorpio."


Stoudemire: Amare was conceived in Lake Wales, Florida by Carrie and Hazell Stoudemire. He grew up strong, fast, and athletic, learning to play both football and basketball very well. He was smart, but struggled academically and eventually went straight from high school into professional basketball - drafted ninth overall by the Phoenix Suns.

Fishman: Amari was conceived in a conversation by Carrie and I long before her birth. Neither one of us wanted kids or marriage when we met, but time, turbulence, and tragedy - the death of her father and my mother - changed the way we felt. We wanted our own family, and years later we were finally ready. Amari is also smart and strong and more impressively managed to go straight from the womb into our living room - drafted first all over by a breeze coming through the front door.

Advantage: Amari B Fishman. While the mothers' names are a wash, Isaac narrowly beats out Hazell because he spells it with two L's. Plus it's a girl's name. In additon, home birth trumps everything - especially skipping college to play a game for money.


Stoudemire: 6 feet 10 inches
Fishman: 6 pounds 10 ounces

Advantage: None. It's clearly a tie.

Injury Report

Stoudemire: Suffered a knee injury in 2005 and underwent microfracture surgery that caused him to miss nearly the entire 2006 season. Last year, he had to miss another eight weeks after getting poked in the eye.

Fishman: Suffered a (slightly) severed thumb in November '09 when her dad tried to clip her fingernails without sufficient lighting. She recovered and returned to scratching herself in the face the very next day, often coming dangerously close to her eyes.

Advantage: No brainer.

Raw Athletic Talent /all-important Vowel Ending category

Well, this live action photo taken only weeks after Amari's birth really says it all. Even though she's not much of a talker yet, she knows her spelling rules.

Winner and Undisputed Champion: Amari B Fishman

I hope this puts to rest the fiery (tepid at best) debate that has been raging on (inside my head) for ages (several days). I imagine there will be no more talk of our daughter, Amari B Fishman, being named after basketball legend, Amare Stoudemire. In fact, I suspect that this lopsided competition will actually inspire many to question whether he in fact was named after her by his time traveling father, Hazell (the way they spell it in the future), whom I expect to meet any day now.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nothing Rhymes with Carrot

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Or it would smell like that other thing it was named.

I understand what Shakespeare was trying to say, that names do not define our reality, that a rose would still have its olfactory appeal even if it were called a crapadenia or a poopanthemum. But would the poets muse and would we still feel compelled to stop and smell them when life begins to move too fast? What if the carrot had been discovered before the orange? Would their fates have changed? Did the naming committee say, "This is undoubtedly an orange," and then stumble upon a carrot and say, "Oh shit." Certainly the world existed long before language, and prior to verbal communication I imagine there was just an understanding between prehistoric people about the way things were. A nod, a smile, or a look of shear terror was probably enough. Then along came language, and while perception was once a straight line to reality, there was suddenly a detour - words, lots and lots of words. Like some Aboriginal tribes, people began to sing their world into existence, and although Shakespeare claims it changes nothing at all, I believe it changes everything.

This is never more evident than the way we sing our children into existence. What's in a name? Well, I would wager that at least twenty-five percent of our self-esteem, forty percent of our success in life, and about ninety percent of the premeditated trauma known as junior high school. Take it from a hippie child who was named by his parents' Tibetan guru, which wouldn't have been so bad if we'd stayed in the remote hill station of Darjeeling, but in America the name Kunsang Dorje did not win me a lot of popularity contests. Even in an alternative community like Bolinas with kids named Ivory and Shelter or Strawberry and Cream, I was the one they ridiculed. "Koon Hound - you dirty, Indian hippie," they would chant, and although I was too young and too devastated to quip about Shelter's giant ears or Cream's lactose intolerance, I was not too young to start looking for a new name, because by this one I did not smell as sweet.

When I was six years old I attended camp at The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas sangha in Ukiah. I remember three things from that summer. I remember waking up at six and dragging my sleeping bag into a dark room where we were told to meditate. Ridiculous! I remember a girl named Ariana who threatened to say, "I love Kunsang" in a game of telephone to which I responded with, "If you do, I'll kill you." And I remember an eight year-old boy named Isaac who was unequivocally the coolest, funniest, nicest kid I'd ever met. I decided then and there if I were to ever change my name, which I was already considering, it would be Isaac. Isaac means "laughter," and in my six year-old brain it meant "popularity" while Kunsang means "all good" or "weirdo loser." It was a no-brainer. Two years later I was back in India with my mom, and when I woke up on my eighth birthday I said, "Mom, I'm tired of being Kunsang. I'm going to be Isaac now." It's impossible to know how my life would have turned out, but I'm guessing it wouldn't have smelled this sweet.

Carrie's name, on the other hand, emerged from a less remarkable tale of her parents combining their names (Carol and Barry), so she was equally invested in finding a name for our daughter that was unique but not weird, easy to say but not bland and meaningless. Initially, she was convinced by a dream that we were going to have a boy - a boy named Julian. Long before she was pregnant, we had started short lists of names, names for boys and girls, and names that ultimately had to pass the Noah Litmus Test. In a previous life, before he became my friend, Noah was one of the kids who would have, without discrimination, teased every single kid in Bolinas and Darjeeling. When we came up with names, he would help me project it into the future to see how it would pan out during middle school. When we came up with Sebastian, Dorian, and Ezra, he quickly rattled off, "Sebastard," "Whore-ian" and "Gayzra." Not bad for a five second reaction time.

Fortunately, two things happened - we had a girl and we eventually ignored Noah's opinion, realizing there wasn't a name out there that would survive his residual adolescence. After the twenty week sonogram, we turned our attention exclusively to girls' names. In the past we'd contemplated Dahlia, Karuna, and Shanti, and more recently names like Naomi and Ari made the list, but Carrie and I weren't mutually sold on any of them. One morning Carrie said, "What do you think of the name Amari?" to which I responed, "You mean like the center for the Phoenix Suns? I think it's a great name - for a giant, black man." Slightly annoyed she said, "Nobody knows who that is," and although I knew that the entire state of Arizona and any committed fantasy basketball player would disagree with her, I also knew that she was six months pregnant and didn't need to hear about pesky, little things like facts. I told her I would think about it, hoping that the first few games of the upcoming basketball season would tell me if there were any lingering effects of Amare Stoudemire's knee surgery and if our daughter would forever live in the name shadow of this future Hall of Famer.

Carrie persisted, sharing the Hindi, African, and Hebrew roots, telling me that Amari could be shortened to Ari, Ama, or Mari, the last of which was similar to my mother's name, which felt like a thoughtful tribute to her passing. I was sold on the sentiment, and although my last resistance was an offered compromise of Amira, Carrie said, "That doesn't sound as open." I had no idea what she meant, which is a great way to win an argument with me, and I folded. The truth was I'd grown to love the name Amari. In Hindi it means "eternal" or "immortal;" in a Japanese dialect it means "truth;" and in African it is a unisex name that means "strong" or "builder." When I shared the name with my sister, she told me that she had once explored African names and was stunned by how specific the meanings could be. One name she found meant "my father's in prison." That's a conversation starter...or stopper. Later on we learned that Amari is also a resort in Thailand, a region in Greece, and an Italian restaurant in Massachusetts. This lady is going to be international.

So we had a name, and time would tell how it influenced her life. We began telling people, which we'd considered not doing after people's responses to Naomi and Ari. Almost everyone liked it saying things like, "Wow. That's beautiful," or "Nice. I like it," or "You mean like the basketball player?" That last one was Noah - and my friend Bodhi - but they, with their children named Reya Gold, Hero Freedom, and Poet knew that they best not throw stones in their glass houses.

And that, my friends, is how Amari came to be. She may not always smell great, but in those moments I imagine Shakespeare was right - that by any other name she would smell just as un-sweet.

Monday, December 7, 2009

When the Five S's Become the Giant Redundant F

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

I forgot to mention in my December 1st book review that The Five S's don't work in the face of the One Ginormous Insatiable H (hunger), so when Carrie's in the shower or trying to get a little extra sleep, I get to experience a whole new level of helplessness when the pumped milk and my bag of tricks both run dry.

Yesterday I began writing a passionate entry all about Amari - the origins of her name, her astrological reading, other people's forecasts and projections, and so on. It was loving, light-hearted, and fun, and I was feeling both well-rested and inspired. Two consecutive nights had been relatively peaceful, and more importantly - predictable. "We have a system," I thought, "We've got this parenting thing wired," which in retrospect sounds as delusional as when I used to watch sad movies over and over again expecting them to end differently. The unfortunate truth is that Titanic sinks every time and so, I am learning, do the spirits of the over-confident parent.

After a lot of discussion this week, Carrie and I decided to buy some organic formula and mix an ounce or two with pumped milk just before bedtime. We did this for two reasons: to try to begin storing pumped milk for Carrie's return to work next month, and to see if Amari needed more than Carrie was producing. Our hope was that if she got enough nutrition she would be sated longer, and we might steal some extra sleep. Selfish? Perhaps, but it was a thoughtful, conscious decision. And by conscious decision I mean I Googled "famous formula fed babies that turned out to be geniuses," and I was immediately comforted by the results. And by immediately comforted by the results, I mean I quickly realized I was being ridiculous.

Carrie was reluctant to supplement with formula because it made her feel like a failure, like she wasn't producing enough milk to satisfy our daughter. I was reluctant because I wanted to be supportive, and because Carrie said that some people attribute obesity in America to the popularity of formula in previous generations. Initially, I somehow heard her say "formula leads to eating disorders," which then elicited some mild anxiety when Amari spit up after her first feeding. Guess I have to cancel her infant fashion magazines.

The results of the formula were great. Amari ate voraciously, but didn't slip into one of those zombie-like food comas I was worried about. Instead she looked satisfied. She stared at me wide-eyed and we got some good "face time" without her rooting for mom or a bottle. I'd read that babies can already mirror facial expressions after a few days, so I started to purse my lips, stick out my tongue, and smile. She mirrored the first two almost immediately, and the next day she smiled, too. I was ecstatic, in love, certain that we'd made the right decision. Eventually Amari finished the bottle and drifted off to sleep.

Interestingly, the formula also appeared to end two days of constipation which, after changing a dozen diapers daily, had me a little worried. Carrie assured me it was normal, that she'd read about a baby who was backed up for 22 days. Twenty-two days? I was freaking out after twenty-two hours. During another stretch of constipation, my brother's wife, Olga, gave Amari a gentle massage around the front and back of her knees, and she took four gigantic dumps in the next few hours. Olga also told me that when she was a colicky baby her father used to soothe her by placing a tortilla on her stomach. I was impressed and inspired, deciding then that I would find the time to research other cross-cultural home remedies.

Saturday night, as we prepared for our first family outing, Carrie and I made our own cultural discovery - not as unique as an ethnic cuisine stomach salve, but effective nonetheless. Since day one we've been experimenting with bathing, trying to find a relatively tear-free solution to cleanliness. We'd refined our technique from a very unsuccessful, far too exposed, little plastic tub to a much more pleasant holding Amari in the shower and then passing her into a warm towel. Nonetheless, the waterworks would start as soon as the cool air hit her skin and they continued until she was dressed and warm. This time we employed the sound and warmth of Carrie's hair dryer, which had already calmed a crying bout the night before. When Carrie opened the warm towel, I had the air blowing lightly on her skin. Silence. Carrie rubbed her with oil, put a diaper on, dressed her. Not a peep. She stared at the gun-shaped source of her bliss and rooted at the hot air as if to say, "Hook a sister up with a non-stop supply of that." And we have - the hair dryer now sits downstairs where we change most of her diapers.

All the way to birthday party I talked about cornering the pocket hairdryer market. I was practically manic, and Carrie was kind enough to humor me, probably just mentally adding it to my growing list of brilliant baby ideas along with the stomach-shaped co-sleeper and the manne-cuddle - a life-like mannequin that holds your baby while you take a break. By the end of the evening, I was ready to learn about mechanics and build my own prototype. It turns out they already exist, but they cost a pretty penny. The party went really well. Apparently Amari is going to be one of those Eddie Haskel types that all parents adore. She was quiet, alert, and entirely lovable. When we got home, Carrie went to sleep, and I curled up on the couch with Amari, an extension cord, and my trusty hair dryer.

Kidding. I should mention, however, that another white noise solution we've had success with during meltdowns in the car is turning the radio on to static and matching the volume of her tears. It calms me down, too.

Long story still pretty long - and I know all of this sounds fine so far - Sunday night was awful. I had made the mistake of getting attached to what was working, expecting it to continue indefinitely. I recalled someone telling me that expectations are premeditated resentments, but in the moment that didn't help. Amari had kept me up until half past one and I was grumpy. She had slept through most of my brother's visit - something she loves to do when we have company - so it shouldn't have surprised me that she didn't want to sleep when night came. It wouldn't have been so bad if I could have put her down for a few minutes, if she hadn't spit up all over me, if she didn't cry every time I pulled the bottle (which she wasn't even drinking from) away from her. As two o'clock approached, I grabbed Amari, woke Carrie up, and said, "Can you take her? I'm done." It was the strongest reaction I'd had so far and I felt immediately guilty - for about two minutes - and then I fell asleep. Today my mood continued, fueled by restless sleep and residual guilt. I felt disappointed by my inability to separate my reaction from the reality of the situation - that Amari has her own schedule and I need to adjust mine or suffer.

If I were more emotionally capable, I would have cried. I tend to internalize - I'm a work in progress - but I certainly felt close to tears when Carrie was showering and Amari was hungry. I refused to break my only-in-the-evening formula rule, so I tried the S's, a walk to mailbox, a song, an honest plea with Amari for patience, and a silent prayer, but none of those things had any nutritional value so they were only brief respites from the cries of my hungry baby. Once again I felt done, frustrated to the point of hopelessness. I briskly handed Amari off, but later apologized to both her and Carrie for being such a grump. Today's lesson is not to beat myself up too much when I feel like a failure, like I've missed the mark. I remembered another friend saying, "You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take," and although he was talking about basketball, in this moment it did help.

Forgiveness, I have learned, is the act of giving up on a better past. Today is coming to a peaceful end, and all I can change is how I react in the future. Amari is asleep already, which forecasts a restful night. Tomorrow - a passionate, loving, light-hearted entry all about her.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Things We Lost in the Fire

Tomorrow you will be one month old, Amari. You are teaching me something new every day - about myself, about parenting, and about the world.

Parenting feels very Zen, with experience being more important than knowledge, and flexibility more useful than structure. No amount of reading or listening to others could have prepared me as well as the last thirty days of hands-on fathering. The following are some observations I've made along the way which, much like the family photo albums I would rescue first from a house fire, may not mean a thing to anyone else.

1. The Secret Formula: Sorry - there isn't one. When I asked one of the teachers from my counseling program how I could tell what qualified as an intervention in therapy, he said, "If it works, it's intervention. If it doesn't it's information." The same has been true for parenting, and while I've discovered some very useful interventions that work with Amari, I've also collected a boatload of information along the way. Who knew that the theme song to "Greatest American Hero" would be so comforting in the face of intestinal distress? The sad truth is that what is an intervention today may just be a piece of information tomorrow.

Something I've noticed about myself is that when something does work, I then have a tendency to sell it as fact. The truth is, I've read one whole and a few half books on parenting and I've been lucky - their techniques have worked like a charm, sparing Carrie and I of countless hours of screaming and crying - mostly by us. Had I read a book on trephining in early infancy, I'd probably be preaching about that, too. That's ancient medical talk for drilling holes in the skull for those of you who didn't do a junior high report on neolithic cures for epilepsy.

2. Single Parenting Rock Stars: I am completely in awe of those who do this by themselves. I know it's rarely a choice, and they deserve all the praise and admiration in the world. In our most difficult moments, Carrie and I find comfort in each other, in our ability to do this as a team. We've had several conversations where we said, "I don't know how the hell single parents do this." The baby carriers alone feel like a freakin' IQ test, and it takes a village just to assemble some of them. I know for a fact that any sanity I have left is thanks to our ability to take turns and give each other a break.

In a wonderful article she wrote for an on-line mamazine (http://www.mamazine.com/Pages/columns_6.html), my friend Renee shared, "My first reaction when I see new moms is to take that baby gently from them so they can go lie down and take a nap. It's selfish because I crave a baby in my arms again, but it's also because I know how hard being a new mom can be. My greatest hope for any mother is that she has people to take care of her. We all deserve it." As a dad, that goes for us, too. If you have any friends who are new parents - especially single ones - take a moment to make them a meal, do their dishes, clean their house, do their taxes, or just let them breathe without thinking of someone else first.

3. Death and Birth: When my mom died three years ago I remember thinking, "Man, this is the most unique thing that happens to everyone." It was surreal. My mom was gone forever, and although the world had changed completely in my eyes, it just kept on spinning like it always had. People felt uncomfortable, they didn't really know what to say, so they offered apologies, condolences, and other social platitudes. I received cards and phone calls, and for a while I was the center of a nervous, uncomfortable attention. I'm not sure how else to describe it, but it passed, time passed, people forgot - but I was still left with the reality that my mom had died. Initially, not a day passed that I didn't miss her, but eventually those days did come, one at a time, then a few in a row, and eventually I began to heal, to live with the reality that this was my new life.

Having a child is another unique experience that happens to almost everyone. Don't get me wrong, it's way better - nobody has death showers with adorable gifts - but it's also surreal and comes with a feeling that the world has changed completely but nobody else has really notices. Not really. This time people feel more comfortable, the attention is more celebratory and the phone calls and cards are infinitely cuter. The world just keeps on spinning, only this time the Universe has left someone with us forever rather than taking someone away. Time is passing, and the reality settles in a little more each day. Initially, there were moments during the day that I would forget that I was a dad, then I'd look over at Amari, quickly remember, and be filled with a deep joy and fear. Now I rarely forget I'm a father, but I do notice moments where I have grumpy, childish thoughts like, "God dammit, I need a break. I just want some time to myself" as though I could wish this away for the length of a workout or a basketball game or a cup of coffee. These thoughts are honest and they pass quickly, which also feels like I'm healing and learning to live with this reality that is my new life.

I intended this to be a list of ten, but the reality I'm living with right now is that Amari needs a shower so we can go to a birthday party this evening. Any other observations I have have may actually be lost in the fire I call my short term memory.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

November Book Review

*************************************************************Book: "The Happiest Baby on the Block"

Author: Dr. Harvey Karp.

Why I Chose It: Sure, we live on a rural block with relatively few babies, but the title of this book still appeals to my inherent and cultural competitiveness. Any chance Amari becomes a superlative of any adjective is sure to find its way onto my bookshelf. I first heard about Dr. Karp during our birthing classes in October. One of the DVDs we were sent home with was a hands on "How To" version of his recommended techniques. I didn't get a chance to see it, but when Carrie related the premise, I was intrigued enough to buy the book. I found a copy for less than three dollars at Half.com, and I got my money's worth the first time Amari had a meltdown.

The main idea: Babies are born too soon. That's right, even the ones that are born late are born too early according to Dr. Karp's theory of the missing Fourth Trimester. I've always loved stuff about missing things or unaddressed phenomena, so this was right up my alley. "The Sixth Sense," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Remo Williams in the Eight Dimension" - all awesome, too. Although the book focuses on describing, explaining, and offering solutions for colicky babies, the techniques for triggering the "calming reflex" are useful for all newborns.

Synopsis: Dr. Karp begins by normalizing an infant's tears. He describes them as having a three word vocabulary - whimpering, crying, and shrieking - then offers some visual cues that can help us determine which means what. Personally, I've found that the visual cues along with diaper checking help a lot more than trying to guess what the noises mean. I also recall a research study finding that less than fifty percent of mothers could identify their child's needs based on the sound of their cries alone. That sounds a lot like flipping a coin to me.

Next, Dr. Karp introduces the dreaded "C" word - colic, "a CRYsis for the whole family." I always thought colic was something like infant plague or a canine disease that babies could get. Turns out it's pretty common, but there's still little understanding as to the exact cause. Dr. Karp offers a rundown of the top colic theories - tummy troubles, maternal anxiety, immature brains, and challenging temperaments - and then systematically demonstrates why none of them can be the sole cause. Karp compares colic theories to the story of the four blind wise men who are asked to describe the true nature of an elephant. As each man touches a different part of the animal, they offer different descriptions, but none of them completely captures the beast.

Putting all the pieces of the different theories together, Dr. Karp proposes a missing Fourth Trimester as the eclectic cause of colic. The missing Fourth trimester is a product of millions of years of evolution. Prior to us becoming bipeds, our prehistoric ancestors were knuckle walkers much like our primate relatives. In addition, we had smaller brains back then so babies did not have to be evicted early and could come to term in the womb. As time passed, however, and we began to walk on our feet, use tools, and learn new talents, our little brains began to grow. Evolutionary mutations had to occur to ensure that big brained babies could still exit the birth canal, and ultimately one of those biological adjustments was an early birth. While Dr. Karp did an excellent job of explaining the development of this missing trimester, I thought he did a less adequate job of justifying why it is the best explanation for colic. Nonetheless, it has been the techniques rather than the theory that have already helped me through many challenging moments with Amari.

So what does this missing Fourth Trimester mean? It means that when babies are born they are bombarded with too much stimulation - external and internal - lights, noises, gas pains, hunger, etc. Our job as parents becomes easing their transition for the first 3-4 months by offering them what Karp calls a "Womb with a view." Karp describe examples of other cultures where women hold their babies almost constantly for the first three months, offering them milk and comfort whenever they signal for it. He says that infants in these cultures almost never cry which, in the face of recent personal experience, sounds both unrealistic and awesome.

Dr. Karp then gets to the heart of the book - the reflexes our babies are born with and how we can activate their "calming reflex" to help them through their very naked feeling Fourth Trimester. The rest of the book offers a detailed description of what Dr. Karp has coined as "The Five S's" to calm a crying baby. They are as follows: Swadling, Side-Stomach, Shhh-ing, Swaying, and Sucking. The first two prepare the baby for the final three, which biologically activate the calming reflex. Included throughout the book are first-hand successes and frequently asked questions regarding these techniques, and Dr. Karp does an excellent job of integrating the stories and addressing the concerns, including how to ween your baby off the Five S's once the Fourth Trimester is over.

Practical Application: The Five S's are a lifesaver. Swaddling seems to be common knowledge, but there are excellent descriptions of how to wrap an infant to minimize movement and reduce over-stimulation. This begins the process. Although she sometimes resists initially, when I swaddle Amari correctly and turn her on her side, I effectively disengaged the Moro reflex, which is triggered when she's on her back and makes her feel like she is falling. Once I've done those two things, she is ready for the other S's. When Carrie watched the DVD, she learned that the volume of the blood rushing around the uterus is comparable to a vacuum cleaner (Karp demonstrates this), so when we Shhhh our babies, we don't need to be quiet ourselves. It may feel counter-intuitive to be loudly Shhh-ing, but Dr. Karp recommends that we lean in 2-4 inches from our baby's ear and match the volume of their cries until they stop. He cautions that although this may happen instantly, it may also take a minute or two for the baby's overstimulated nervous system to respond. More often than not, my Shhh-ing has been instantly gratified by Amari's whole body relaxing, her tears shutting off like a faucet, and some internal movement and pain relief. After that, swaying her back and forth, offering a pacifier or a finger for her to suck on, and she slips into a complete feeling of safety - a warm, cozy, womb with a view.

Overall reaction/recommendation: I highly recommend this book. It's an easy read with a personal touch. It offers simple, practical, easy-to-follow techniques that I've used every single day so far. The Five S's are easy to remember, easy to do, and highly effective. Sure, I've had friends look at me like I'm crazy when loudly Shhhh my crying daughter, sometimes they even make fun of me later, but I know from experience that ridicule is only the second stage that truth passes through - right after it is violently opposed and just before it is accepted as fact. If you feel as though you're running low on effective tools to calm your baby's crying or you want to know more about why babies are so sensitive in their vulnerable youth, grab a copy of this book. I know you won't regret it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

All You Need is Love?

Had The Beatles written this song after they'd become parents its title would have been a much less concise but far more accurate "All you need is love...and sleep...and food...and good communication...and a sense of humor." In the absence of attainable goals such as these, I have decided to channel some of my frustration into a monthly book review for new parents like us and for those who have yet to fall; those who still live with the illusion that their parenting experience will be different, restful, and sane. Carrie and I used to be in that boat, convinced that we would have infinite patience, energy, and intuition, but like the Titanic our optimism sank when it careened into an iceberg known as reality. Now, three and a half weeks in, we're just another set of cliche parents - tired, grumpy, and quickly learning that our hopes and dreams have very little bearing on our child's temperament.

The past few nights have been challenging - again. I would like to take a moment to normalize my feelings of exasperation; feelings that have given rise to thoughts like, "What the fuck were we thinking?" or "I can't remember why we decided to do this," or "Isn't infanticide legal in some countries?" If there are other new parents who are feeling insane from time to time, please accept that you probably are, that you're not alone, and that it will no doubt get worse before it gets better. I hope this helps. My saving grace, besides Amari's undeniable cuteness, is that Carrie shares my dark sense of humor, that we can say these things out loud knowing that they're just momentary expressions of frustration. If you suffer from occasional feelings of buyer's remorse or intense inadequacy, I urge you to share them, dilute them in the comfort of someone you love and trust. I don't really hate my Amari - ever - and I certainly don't want to kill her, but sometimes I do hate how crappy and incapable I feel in the face of her shrieks and tears, and in those moments my own death feels like a welcome option.

I began this entry yesterday after three sleepless nights in a row. Thanksgiving's gratitude felt like a distant memory. I started to believe that I might have to start using the "C" word, though I never imagined it possible that I would have a colicky baby. It sounds like something along the lines of the plague or consumption or some canine disease. Nonetheless, Amari's digestive pain and incessant crying persisted, so it merited consideration. In addition, she had also developed a mild case of the sniffles, so even when she did sleep she sounded like the long lost offspring of Darth Vadar. "Isaac...wheeze, sniffle. I'm your...wheeze, sniffle...daughter." It really creeped me out. As bedtime approached last night, we decided to try something new. When Carrie went upstairs, I took a full two ounces of pumped milk and fed it to Amari all at once. About half way through she started to drift off, but I managed to keep her awake until she finished the job. Sated and smiling, she crashed out - for four hours! After that, she woke up only twice more for additional feedings. By morning, Amari's sniffles and all of our moods were much better.

Tomorrow, I will submit my first review of a book by Dr. Harvey Karp called "The Happiest Baby on the Block." Amari may not be in the running at this point, but we're doing our best, and the book has helped me through many challenging moments.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

No Woman, No Cry

"Isn't that song about rape?" Carrie asked when I shared what I thought was a clever title for an entry about pumped breast milk. "I don't know. Would that be inappropriate?" I said flatly. I was going for the "No woman, no problem," interpretation, but uncertain of the song's origins, I decided to do some good, old-fashioned, on-line research - which means I looked for opinions on Wiki and Yahoo Answers, and then went with the first one I read twice. Legend has it (pun intended) that Bob Marley gave partial credit for "No Woman, No Cry," to a man named V. Ford - a friend and struggling song-writer - so his family would receive royalty checks. Apparently when Ford was terminally ill, his wife was at his bedside crying and Ford said "No woman, no cry" to her, which inspired Marley to write the song. Seems pretty clear. Another opinion is that Bob Marley had a strong premonition that he would die young, and wrote this song as a future comfort for his wife, Rita. A more recent interpretation has to do with exhausted mothers and jealous fathers feeding their children while trying to balance their lack-of-sleep schedules.

So what does this Bob Marley hit have to do with parenting? Nothing really - just trying to be thematic with the occasional song-titled entry. A couple of weeks ago I wrote "Superheroes and People without Breast Milk," (remember that song?) where I shared my feelings of inadequacy, my boob envy if you will, and the resulting compensatory skills I developed. As Amari continued to eat and grow, the boob gained in significance while my skills took on diminished importance. Except in the season six finale of "Macgyver," clean diapers never really saved anyone's life. Increasingly, I felt like Robin to Carrie's Batman, and there were some days when Amari ate so often that I actually felt about as useful as the lesser known Wonder Triplet - the one that couldn't even turn into an eagle or a bucket of water.

Amari has turned out to be a grazer, a snacker, sometimes preferring to just nap near a breast rather than take full advantage. I understand that comfort, but breast milk, much like our economy, is at the mercy of supply and demand. If Amari demands only a little, then only a little is produced. Sleep, however, appears to have an inverse relationship - as Carrie's demand for it increased, the supply started to fall. Nursing every hour for a half an hour will do that. Carrie needed a break, and we needed a solution.

We were told not to consider using pumped milk for at least thirty days because it might cause something called nipple confusion. This is not to be confused with nipple indifference, nipple intolerance or nipple insecurity, which are all terms I made up when I was trying to remember nipple confusion. Artificial nipples require different mouth, tongue, and swallowing action, so when bottles are presented to soon, infants sometimes have difficulty remembering when to use which skills and natural nursing becomes problematic and frustrating for everyone. Apparently thirty days is the magic number when the chances of nipple confusion drop dramatically. Unfortunately, we were only about half way there.

During the week, Carrie spoke with a friend who bottle fed right away because her infant was jaundiced, and then began nursing two weeks later. She continued to do both and never had any problem with nipple confusion. We were sold - one personal opinion is like two WikiAnswers. That afternoon, Carrie began to pump, and the next night I got my first shot at superhero. It couldn't have come at a better time. Amari had been feeding on and off all day, and it felt like every time I held her she started rooting, then fidgeting, then flat out crying. I started to take it personally, to feel like Amari knew that I was of no use to her. Sometimes a pacifier or my pinkie finger would work as an interim, but not for long. By seven o'clock that night, Carrie was done. I suggested she try to get a head start on sleep, that I would take the first shift armed with my trusty ounce and a half of milk. Pumping was very slow-going at first.

Initially, the transition was smooth. Amari and I lay on the couch for an hour before she began to stir at all. Then came the rooting, the stretching of her neck towards the closest solid object. I knew tears were only a moment away; my only saving grace was that her eyes were still half-closed. I had to act fast - a skill I'd already sharpened as a sidekick. I removed the bottle from the fridge and submerged it in a cup of hot water. Amari began to kick inside her swaddle, to pull out her Houdini moves as her arms wiggled towards freedom. She knew something was not right and she was about to protest loudly. I tested the milk. Too cold. Shit! Amari began to cry. I offered a finger. Rejected. I tried bouncing her a little. The tears increased. I sang a verse of "Rainbow Connection" with a Kermit the Frog voice. She stopped, looked at me like I was crazy, then started crying even louder. The milk was finally ready and I offered her the bottle. The tears paused for a moment when she felt it at her lips, but then escalated to new heights when she realized it wasn't a breast. "Damn you pre-nipple confusion," I thought - my first nemesis as a hero. I tried again, and Amari started shaking her head to bat the nipple away. I went to my tool kit, dug through the Five S's, and pulled out a loud, repetitive "Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh," about three inches from her ear - a technique I learned from the book "The Happiest Baby on the Block." Her body relaxed immediately, the tears turned off like a faucet, and I continued to "Shhhh" her as I offered the bottle again.

A few drops of milk fell on her tongue and she began to grab hold of the nipple. When she figured out what was going on, she latched on and began sucking, slurping down the only sustenance she knew even though it was coming from a new source. She was staring at me with wide eyes, almost fearful, as if to say, "Holy shit. I didn't know you could do this." I returned a knowing "I told you so" look, but what I was feeling was more like wonder mixed with relief mixed with the fear that her expectations of me had just skyrocketed. I felt like Robin getting a promotion, getting the best tool of all added to my Bat Belt. "Holy haberdashery of synthetic silicone nipples, Batman," I thought, "I'm a superhero and a sidekick." Amari gulped down every bit of the milk. Towards the end, her eyes began to glaze over, then flicker closed, and finally, as she sucked in the last drop, she released the nipple and fell asleep. I tip-toed us back over to the couch, turned on SportsCenter, and watched her sleep across my chest while I listened to highlights. She woke for another moment, briefly contorted her face, spit up all over my shirt, and went right back to sleep. Being a superhero is awesome.

A few minutes later, I heard sounds like a small toilet flushing and saw a sleepy smile cross Amari's lips. The Bat Signal had faded. This, my friends, was a job for Robin.

PS For those wondering if we experienced nipple confusion the next day, I would have to say "Maybe." It's hard to tell. She was fine throughout the day, but had a meltdown in the evening. She was rejecting Carrie's nipple, and we wondered if she was too tired to do the work of natural nursing. I now think we may have been looking for signs of confusion, but whatever the case may be, we decided to postpone bottled milk for a few nights to see what happened. Amari had a similar meltdown the next night, but in both instances what ultimately soothed her was some movement in her own underdeveloped intestines. We have since used pumped milk every couple of nights, and so far we haven't had any problems.

*Please note that my opinion above is equal to half of a WikiAnswer because I'm not the one breastfeeding.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Much like housecleaning, paperwork, and "To Do" lists, chronicling my parenting experiences has me feeling like I'm constantly playing catch up while simultaneously entertaining the illusion that one day I actually will. Today will not be that day. I am quickly learning that any plans I may write for my near future must first pass over the desk of my new editor in chief. She is a benevolent leader, albeit demanding and unpredictable, and she has taken the helm of our little enterprise with unabashed authority. Amari is now what happens while I'm making plans. Today, as she sleeps peacefully between feedings, I am writing this for her.

Dear Amari,

Happy Thanksgiving, little turkey, and Happy Three Week Birthday. For your dear, old dad, this day has evolved from a once detested holiday into one that, when stripped of its origins and traditional gluttony, has become a personal favorite. When I was a kid, holidays were a time of year when your grandparents tried - for the sake of us children - to harmoniously join their once concentric circles of friends and family. Drinking began mercifully early but ended painfully late, and things were always friendly right up to the point when they weren't. There was inevitably some sort of cooking disaster - like your grandfather trying to roast a turkey on a plastic tray - and invariably a dramatic finale that resulted in loud, drunken arguments and at least one person being removed from the next holiday's guest list. And those were the good years. When your grandmother was in India, as she often was, your grandfather would drag us to someone else's similarly disastrous and compulsory attempt at seasonal social courtesy. And sometimes it was your grandfather who was removed from future guest lists. Good times. Good times.

As I grew older, perhaps wiser, and definitely farther away from home, my holiday experience changed. I drew a circle of my own friends that fast became my family - your family. Thanksgiving became a day of gratitude, of joining with people I had found along this strange and mysterious way, and of appreciating what I have. During dinner we would take turns sharing something in our lives that we were thankful for, and by the end it felt as though our gratitude had multiplied. In this spirit, I would like to share with you a few things I am grateful for in my new experience as your dad:

1. Seven hours of sleep last night: without it, I probably wouldn't feel for anything. You actually slept for four solid hours, three of them stretched across my chest as I lay on the couch downstairs. I love that it's one of your favorite places to sleep, and I love that it has become an evening ritual. It's also really great that we love all the same late night sports shows.

2. Carrie: without her, you would not be possible. She has been incredibly patient with you, with herself, and with me. Not a day goes by that I don't catch myself looking at her with a new and deepening admiration. There is a depth to mothering that I can only appreciate as a witness. I hope you're as patient with us as your mother has been with you.

3. You, Amari: for without you this blog would be dull, non-existent, or all about my growing resentment/unshakable faith as an aging San Francisco Giants fan. The Giants are the new Red Sox, but you, my dear, are the new everything.

4. Granny C:
she has provided us with a home, a sense of family, and a large (sometimes much too large) community of animals for you to play with. Although I tease her somewhere between often and all the time, I love and appreciate her just as much.

5. Friends, Family, and Community:
for supporting me through the most challenging and now the most joyous of times. I have no doubt that I have the best village of all to help raise you.

So there you have it, chief. I'm back at the computer because you are sleeping on a pillow shaped like my belly, which is most pillows. Today was another good day - your tears are less frightening now that we know they generally mean one of five things, and although the volume and pitch of your screams indicate otherwise, none of them are life-threatening. The other day Granny C asked me, "Is Amari being fussy again?" to which I defensively responded, "No! She's communicating." How can a three week old be fussy? If you could talk, I know you would. And when you start, I have a feeling you won't stop, and you'll be just as quick to ask for what you need.

So goodnight, Amari. Thank you for being here this year, and thank you for choosing us to be your parents. I now look forward to every day with a new enthusiasm and a revived curiosity. Who knows - maybe next Thanksgiving you'll actually be old enough to fuss just a little. See you when you open your eyes.

Lots and lots of love,
Assistant to the Editor (and to your mom)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Amari B Goes Public

Although there is no lack of inspiration in being a brand new parent, free time has become a scarce and valuable commodity - kind of like sleep. Amari is proving to be a true "fourth trimester" baby, which is to say she doesn't much like being anywhere except pressed up next to our bodies. It's as though she has an extra-sensory radar that tells her when we're more than five feet away. Sure, we can put her down and her periods of independence will sometimes last as long as fifteen minutes, but when the high from her last hit of breast milk begins to wear off, she makes her "Ummm, hello, I'm a new born infant that's used to the constant comforts of a uterus" noises which tell us it's time to start wrapping up the dishes and other "leisure activities" and get back to work. Putting her down is as effective as setting a timer. She'll stare off into space for a few minutes, find something interesting to gaze at, suck her pacifier rapidly, stare harder, begin to believe that whatever she's staring at produces milk, spit out the pacifier, start stretching her neck and rooting towards the object, then the "timer" goes off, the noises begin, and we'd better be done.

Exhausting as parenting is, Amari brings a wonderful novelty to formerly mundane, unconscious activities. A few days ago I was standing in the kitchen preparing apples for the dehydrator. I was staring out across the yard watching a feral cat sleep peacefully in the corner of one of our raised beds. I used to spend moments like this reflecting on the past - where was I this time last year, five years ago, or as a child? Even when the memories weren't good, the nostalgia was intoxicating. This time, however, instead of reminiscing about past fruit dehydrating experiences or where I was in November of '81, I was thinking about Amari. This time next year, she might be walking or balancing by my knee; when she's two she'll be saying, "Me Appow" as she reaches her hand for some fruit, by eight we'll be happily dehydrating apples together, and when she's thirteen she'll probably say, "I fucking hate apples, I hate you, and you can't make me do anything." Mmmmm, intoxicating future nostalgia.

Later that afternoon we took Amari on her first outing - a trip to the grocery store and the beach. We learned two things quickly: 1) Amari's a terrific traveler and, 2)the rim damage from last winter's pothole that amplifies the intensity and volume of our car's acceleration turns out to be an excellent pacifier. It's the best, loudest, most constant "Shhhhh" ever. By the time we got onto Highway 1, Amari was fast asleep, while Carrie and I had another tool in our slowly growing belt.

Taking Amari into public was fun. I was proud and practically glowing, while Carrie was protective and...well, protective. I imagine if she could have, she would have made people use sanitizer just to look at our daughter. Nobody pushed our boundaries - we mostly just got smiles and goofy comments like "Ooooh, a baby," or "New baby," or "Do you know which isle the dog food is in?" Stupid dog people. One person had the audacity to say, "Wow. You look tired," to which I wanted to say, "Thanks, and you look depressed and overwhelmed by the insurmountable feeling that life has no meaning," but instead I offered a sarcastic, "That's so nice of you to say." The next day at the high school and the elementary school, Carrie and I were both more relaxed about showing Amari off. Everyone was very warm, receptive, and loving, and nobody tried to touch her. We received gifts, compliments, stories, and countless promises that we would one day sleep again.

The best part of introducing Amari to the world is that people feel compelled to comment on who she looks like. A day after Amari was born, when I can honestly say that she looked like a very small, dark-haired, cone-headed, toothless old man, we e-mailed pictures to friends and family and posted a few on Facebook. The comments came flooding in, and it started to feel like a popularity contest. Who does she look like? I, of course, was rooting for "She's as beautiful as her mom," because who wants a little girl that looks like me? After few days, Carrie and I found that more often than not a person's comment or comparison could be predicted according to the following hierarchy:

1) Which parent the person has known the longest
2) Which parent the person feels closer to
3) Gender stereotypes - girls get the mom vote, boys get the dad vote
4) Non-partisan - the split vote, mom gets eyes and lips, dad gets more ambiguous features
5) Accurate - the few honest people who are willing to say she looks like a stereotypical baby or miniature elderly or Pod People from "The Dark Crystal."

My favorite comment came when Amari was four days old. I should mention that the morning after her birth, Carrie said, "It's too bad she got your lips," which is her kind and loving way of saying, "Too bad she's lip-less." Three days later one of Carrie's oldest and dearest friends (see numbers 1 and 2 above) wrote to say, "She really looks like Isaac, but those lips are definitely Carrie's." Hmmmm. Whoever Amari ends up looking like, she's absolutely beautiful today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sleepless in Fort Bragg or Babies Suck

Today is Amari's two week birthday. May she find all the joy her heart desires - preferably in the form of sleep and silence.

People say kids help you feel young again. I'm learning now that they age you dramatically first, so it really just balances out. The past few nights have been very challenging. Carrie and I are slowly finding our way, while our illusions that an easy pregnancy portends an easy infancy are quickly being shattered. We both genuinely believed that Carrie's mild morning sickness, even temperament, and minimal physical aches during pregnancy meant that Amari was far too busy learning to walk, talk, and sleep through the night to cause her Mom any unnecessary discomfort. Volcanoes, I have found, are also easy, even beautiful when they're dormant and I've often imagined that if one were to explode, I could easily outrun its slow-moving lava. Ahhh yes, the naivete of first volcanoes.

In a physical vacuum, holding, hugging, swaying, singing, changing, and feeding (Carrie might disagree with this one), are relatively easy tasks, even blissfully enjoyable. Add serious sleep deprivation and all the rest of our worldly responsibilities that we suddenly have to do one-handed or in shifts, and the very basic begins to feel incredibly demanding. It's both a blessing and a wonderful design of evolution that Amari is so damn cute. Crying, sucking, and poohing? Not big selling points. Cuteness? Priceless. Just for fun I Googled "ugly babies" the other day, which definitely reinforced my gratitude and my belief in Darwinism. Check it out - tell me you wouldn't get more frustrated with a Cabbage Patch Kid or Junior Potato Head. Seriously.

So I guess parenting isn't all fun, games, and obscure references. Well, it may still be the latter (see end of this paragraph). Fifteen days ago, when Amari was still resting quietly inside of Carrie, eating, drinking, and sleeping to her hearts content, I was absolutely certain she would emerge as a very mature infant thanks to all the pre-natal communication we'd inflicted upon her in the form of '80's and 90's synth-pop. At the very least she would be able to moonwalk or take herself too seriously.

Early on (I know - way back in the first week) we had a couple of good nights - even Carrie slept for 2-3 hours at a time. Then the tide known as Amari shifted and she was suddenly up every hour to "graze" on her exhausted mother. This lasted for a couple of nights and began to wear on Carrie's nerves. I remembered how she'd been afraid during her first night of labor that her contractions might keep her from sleeping. Now I'll bet she reminisces about contraction-filled sleep. Although I'm happy and proud of the bonding I've been able to do without breasts, these moments when Carrie is fragile, vulnerable, or just plain done leave me feeling helpless. She has always been there for me in similar moments and I really want to be able to return the favor.

The tide shifted again, and for two nights in a row Amari began the evening curled up on my chest as I watched basketball and Carrie got a head start on sleep. I was convinced that what we needed to buy was a co-sleeper that breathes, is shaped like a 38 year-old belly, and whispers play-by-play commentary all night. Apparently she loves that. I've also contemplated decorating our bedroom to look like our car, the beach, or the grocery store - all places where she absolutely loves sleeping. Grrrrrr. That night on the couch, Amari received her first lecture. I held her in front of me and said, "Listen, sweetie. Your mom is more than just a milk factory. She's a human being and she needs her sleep. Trust me - you'll thank me later." That was it. When I took Amari upstairs she slept for seven more hours with only a single interruption. Carrie's smile and optimistic glow had returned the next morning. "Did you give her a talking to?" she joked. I smiled and gave Amari a knowing wink. Amari looked right past me and drooled lactose.

Two nights later, Amari was back to her interval training. "She sucks," we both said. We meant it, and it was also true - practically once an hour day and night. Some of the best advice I've been given thus far was from a fellow newbie with a nine month old daughter who told me, "Whatever happens, good or bad, don't get attached." Nonetheless, this was not the least bit comforting in my return to helplessness and Carrie's return to sleep deprivation.

So Happy Freakin' Birthday, Amari. Now go to sleep for chrissakes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Big Lie-Bowski

Now that the trauma has begun to fade, I am issuing this entry as a warning to any and all expectant parents. I'm guessing that friends and family never thought to caution me about the dreaded PKU test because they continue to block it out, imagining that it was merely a nightmare or some sort of gory, sleep-deprivation-induced hallucination. Maybe it's one of those secret parenting initiations that you have to go through without preconception just to prove to those who have fallen before you that your skin is thick enough to deal with this parenting thing. To that I say: Enough is enough! Let the secret be told - PKU is a euphemism for Baby Torture. It's a necessary evil, but have no illusions - it is evil.

Last Thursday afternoon, we took Amari to the hospital - our first official family outing. What a lousy first field trip. Maybe there are some people love hospitals, who associate them with successful surgeries or the blissful after-glow of pneumonia, but I have never been a fan, never thought to myself, "Man, this sterile, white corridor and rooms full of sick or dying sure brings back fond memories." Come to think of it, I did really enjoy the game room at UCSF when my dad was sick with a staff infection. This time, however, there would be no games, unless you fancy and quick round of Bleed the Baby.

Our midwife mentioned the PKU in passing at the end of our Wednesday visit, handed us a referral, and suggested that we do it at our convenience - no big deal - but as soon as possible. The afternoon of the test, a colleague told me that the PKU is very important, that it tests for an amino acid deficiency that can ultimately lead to mental retardation. She's a kind, compassionate friend, not the sorority or Skulls type, so I don't think she was in on the initiation, and I can only imagine she omitted the details of the test to spare me the added anxiety. Her overall tone was "This important, but also no big deal." So, until we arrived at the hospital, the biggest deal I anticipated was taking Amari in and out of the car seat. Guess what? No big deal.

By the end of the weekend, I was brave enough to Google PKU, because the acronym and even the word itself - phenylketonuria - sounds innocuous. During the test, however, I was convinced that PKU was a Latin acronym that meant Infant Blood Letting or Phucking Krazy Unbelievable. I felt misled, even betrayed by the nomenclature. Call it what it is for Pete's sake. If you're going to puncture my baby's foot and juice it until her blood fills five circles the size of her palm, give some kind of indication in the title. Call it the BBJ - Baby Blood Juicer or even the PTT - Parental Trauma Test, anything that would give us a sense of what was about to happen.

When the nurse pricked Amari's foot she began to cry as quickly as the blood began to pour out of her foot. I watched for a while, hoping that she only had to fill one quarter-sized circle on the test sheet. When she moved on to the second circle and Amari's blood was already beginning to clot, I thought, "You've go to be kidding." At one point I said "I need to use the bathroom," hoping it was somewhere on the other side of the hospital, hoping that by the time I returned this would all be over. "Sure. It's just around the corner," smiled the homely, sadist lab tech as if to say, "You can still hear your daughter's screams from in there."

When I got back, Carrie asked me to take Amari's leg that she was holding in place. The wailing had reached new heights, a pitch we hadn't experienced yet. I felt conflicted about putting my face near her to soothe her crying, worried that she would think I had something to do with all of this. I wanted to whisper, "This is all her fault," and turn Amari's face toward the lab tech, but Amari was too consumed with screaming and blinded by tears to see anything. I thought in that moment that I would craft a mask resembling one of my least favorite relatives for future occasions such as this.

Her blood clotted and the nurse had to puncture Amari again. On the plus side, I guess she's not a hemophiliac, but it was too soon to see that silver lining. I was annoyed; I was certain the lab tech was incompetent, leaving patches of cotton swab on the bloody foot, telling us to wipe it off later when we give her a bath. I brought a swab-free, un-punctured baby in here and she wants me to clean up her mess? The second time the blood came faster and so did the tears. I imagined Amari as a young child or a teenager suffering from an injury or an emotional loss. I knew this was the first of many heartaches for me, helplessly watching her in the hospital were just part of the parenting territory. I'm pretty sure that, with time, it will get easier...and then harder...then easier again, and so on.

Carrie and I felt fragile when we got back to the car, each expressing it in our own unique ways - she with tears and humor, and I with humor and indignation. Amari, on the other hand, snuggled tightly in her car seat beside me, had already traded in the PKU for some R.E.M. To us, she might have said, "Mom, Dad - no big deal."

Unsolicited Parenting Advice: Now that I'm licensed by birth to pass along my opinions, the only suggestion for those who have not experienced the PKU is to ask if you can either feed or just hold your baby during the test. Our lab tech did not give us that option, and we were too rookie to ask.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Thursday was Amari's one week birthday, which also happened to be my first day back at work. She'd only been alive for one hundred sixty-eight hours, I'd been with her for nearly all of them, and it felt both unjust and abrupt that I had to leave her for almost half a day. I'd be missing the next 5.3 percent of her life, I thought to myself. Math, which has been historically soothing in times of crisis, was failing me.

I woke up earlier than usual that morning and held Amari for a long time before I left, running my hand over her dark, wispy hair, imagining mine would probably have the same thickness in about thirty years - maybe sooner. I'd watched her closely over the past seven days, the subtle changes in her facial expressions, the mercifully drastic changes to the shape of her head, the countless changes in diapers, and I wished I could put her on pause until I got home. "Don't go changin'," I whispered in her ear, which she probably interpreted as, "Beard Man is handing you to Boob Lady now." I passed her to Carrie with a wistful smile and walked out the door. As I headed down the driveway, I felt like a little kid going to my first day of school again - excited, worried, proud, and pining for the days of five minutes ago.

I remembered mornings like this from my childhood in Bolinas, a few days from the last rain, mist rising from the frosted grass as the sun rose slowly through the trees. Instead of pine then, it smelled like Eucalyptus, and instead of heading straight to school, I would stop at every puddle to search for polliwogs; gathering them into glass jars with holes in the lids so I could take them home and watch them grow into frogs. It was futile. They would morph slowly, grow small legs, absorb their tails, and I would actually see these things happening. I paid close attention, knowing they would transform completely any minute. Then I would wake up one morning or come home from school some afternoon, and they were suddenly frogs. I'd missed it. This is how I imagine parenting feels sometimes.

When I left work last week, I was an expectant father, in some ways still that child in Bolinas. I was nonchalant even flippant at times about the whole alleged "most incredible experience of my life" that was just around the corner. I knew intellectually that having a child would be transformational, but I did not expect it to deepen my emotional well so quickly. I arrived back at work proud, probably glowing, triumphantly carrying around a manila folder with Amari pictures from days three through six. I may as well have had them laminated, printed on a t-shirt, or tattooed on my forehead. I think I may have even shown them to a few people I'd never even spoken to before.

In fact, on my first outing earlier in the week I saw a student from the middle school at the grocery store and said, "Hey, look what I made," flashing my Amari cell phone wallpaper. Her mom gave me a who's-the-weirdo-talking-to-my-daughter look and asked, "Is she yours?" I then returned a what-kind-of-dumb-question-is-that look, wanting to say, "No, I just collect infant photos on my cell phone." Weirdo. I decided then that I would be more discerning about whom I boasted to. I quickly forgot I'd made that decision by the time I got to work on Thursday. People were great, loving, even kind enough to say that I didn't look very tired. I received cards and gifts and compliments and congratulations. I felt like it was my one week birthday.

I also received a backlog of news on students who had been struggling. Issues of school violence, suicide, and sexual abuse had me pining for the simplicity of the "Feed me, hold me, change me" problems I'd left at home. Frogs have much larger problems, but I'm convinced that many of them can still be addressed with tadpole solutions. As the Beatles wrote, "All we need is love," and food, and shelter, and some half decent parents.

When I saw Amari again that afternoon, she was still my little polliwog. She had on a new outfit, her eyes were more alert, and her hair was spiked in a fauxhawk, but other than that she appeared unchanged. I smiled at her, and I'm convinced she smiled back. Although some say that babies can't smile, that it's just gas, I prefer to believe they can because "What a beautiful smile" sounds much nicer than "What a beautiful expression of gastro-intestinal discomfort." That's an un-poetic mouthful. After a traumatic and mandatory trip to the hospital for Amari's first blood test - a topic for a future, less nostalgic blog - we returned to our glass jar with the holes on top to watch our baby morph.

At ten o'clock I was on our back porch trying to lull Amari to sleep. The frost I'd watch dissolve that morning was reforming at the foot of the steps and a much colder mist was hovering nearby. Amari was swaddled tightly in a soft, cotton blanket, hat pulled down over her ears, eyes still wide open. I swayed her back and forth, dancing to the best of my ability, combining the "Five S's" I'd read about to activate her calming reflex. Swadle, sway, suck, side, shhhhhh. Swadle, sway, suck, side, shhhh. As it turns out, the forgotten sixth "S" is Singing - preferably popular '80's songs. For the next half hour, I hummed and sang Bobby McPheron's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Sadly, I only know the first verse, but I sang it over and over and over again. Happily, Amari doesn't know that there are more verses or how to speak English, so she payed more attention to the vibrations coming from my chest as they resonated through her. Eventually, her eyes grew heavy and so did mine, and eventually we both went inside to get some sleep.

"Tomorrow," I said to myself, "Depeche Mode."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Superheroes and People without Breast Milk

That's me and about forty-nine percent of the planet, maybe less now because of all the popular and ubiquitous medications. It’s a little known fact that men have mammary glands, too, and they appear to be the target every new drug's side effects. Nipple shrinking, nipple sensitivity, engorgement, third nipples, you name it. If you want to feel better, don’t expect your man boobs to follow suit. Thanks to the pharmaceutical empire, we men may actually breastfeed our children in the future, while conveniently curing them of infant depression, anxiety, and erectile dysfunction. Warning: breastfeeding may cause dizziness, nipple bleeding, and chronic jealousy from Milk's Original Manufacturers (MOM's).

When we woke up from our first solid sleep in three days, Amari was swaddled up beside us, dreaming peacefully beneath a much too large hat. Carrie confided, “I feel abused and ill-equipped.” I listened quietly, I shared my own worries and doubts, and we both knew that time would be the only remedy for our fears. We turned our attention to Amari, marveling at her tiny little head, her fragile fingers, her thick, black hair, and her eyes struggling to focus on her giant, gawking, ill-equipped parents. Just six hours ago she’d been inside of Carrie where she’d floated peacefully for nine months, and now she was resting peacefully between us. It was amazing. In fact, it was so amazing that everything that used to be “amazing” had to find a new, less meaningful adjective. Looking into Amari’s eyes as they blinked our world into and out of existence, there was suddenly no room in my heart for fear.

The first few days were an education. Though I'm sure we’ll eventually heed people's advice to sleep when Amari's sleeping, it's tricky resetting biological clocks that have been set to "childless" for decades, and for the firs four days I suffered from major baby-lag. Monday, Carrie's milk came in which instantaneously changed the playing field. Where my sweatshirt or finger once sufficed momentarily in lieu of her high-nutrient, pre-milk colostrum, my soothing wardrobe and I have now taken a back seat to the all powerful boob. If Carrie were a superhero I would barely be a sidekick. While she would have a cool name like or The Provider or The Pacifier, I would be dubbed Nappy Boy or The Housecleaner or Only-Catches-Criminals-When-They’re-Sleeping-or-Nutritionally-Sated Man. In my defense, I can leap dirty diapers in a single bound and I’m faster than a speeding…well, I’m not really fast.

I imagine this is why some fathers end up feeling neglected, even jealous of the mother-child relationship in their first year of parenthood. The first two nights Carrie and I acted as co-workers sharing the graveyard shift, changing posts every few hours to provide each other with a brief respite and some sanity. Now that Amari is Coo Coo for Carrie-Puffs, I can actually sleep for solid blocks of time. Unfair? Maybe, but I think Carrie's feels pretty powerful right now, maybe even a little bit equipped.

Although Signmund Freud completely glossed over the phenomenon in his writings, there have been fleeting moments when I've suffered from Boob Envy. I see the way Amari looks up lovingly at Carrie, the eye contact coupled with hormones creating an irreproducible bond. What makes sustenance so great, I thought? I asked Carrie if we could paste photos of me on her upper breasts every other feeding. I started by asking for tattoos, then worked my way down. It's an old sales technique. She didn't bite, so I had to take matters into my own hands. One useful technique I've discovered - delusion. I pretend I'm driving Amari to the Boob Mall, my treat. Tit J Max, Eddie Boober, the sky's the limit - nothing's too good for my little girl. The next time Amari began fussing, "rooting" for milk as they say, I lifted her in front of my face, looked deep into her occasionally crossing eyes and said, "Are you hungry Amari? Look at me. I can help you." Then I passed her to Carrie, being very careful not to let them make eye contact.

Tomorrow will be my first day back at work, and Amari's one week birthday. I will miss the luxury of lying in bed as she takes her waking slow, reflexively punching and kicking the air, contorting her face in all sorts of curious poses, ambiguously smiling or passing gas, every little development in her life. She's changing so fast that it breaks my heart to think I'll miss any of it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Guest Appearance by LeBron James

That's right, my wife is the LeBron James of the birth experience and we're all just witnesses. That's a Nike ad campaign if anyone's muttering to themselves, "That's a weird and obscure reference." Though we may have some overlap in our descriptions, Carrie sheds a vivid and insightful light on the experience. Enjoy.

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale...

A tale of a fateful trip,
That started on a Monday night
and ended early Thursday morning with much swearing, crying, and icky bodily fluids.

Labor started (maybe not officially but definitely in my book) Monday night with regular contractions, then stopped Tuesday during the day, then started again Tuesday night and continued regularly Wednesday and into Thursday morning. Isaac took time off starting on Tuesday, so I've had lots of support from the beginning. The first stage of labor was pretty mellow. We watched TV, went for a walk, and listened to music. The midwife came to stay in the late afternoon/early evening. The harder labor didn't start until 7 or 8. I was trying to watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but I had to keep checking out to manage the contractions. It got worse and worse, but still seemed manageable, right up until right before the pushing phase, when it became pretty unbearable.

Now, I had read that the pushing phase can be a "relief" to the laboring woman. To that I say "bullsh*t"! First of all, I didn't know what I was supposed to be pushing on. Second of all, the midwife, Carla, told me to hold my breath and push. How am I supposed to hold my breath if I'm vocalizing through the pain? Have you ever tried to NOT make a noise when you've stubbed your toe? Plus, I was so tired that I almost kept falling asleep in between those final contractions. I hadn't slept through the night since Sunday and here it was Thursday morning. After maybe half an hour or so into the pushing, I began to think that I was going to end up at the hospital. I thought, there's no way I can do this. I also thought, how can anyone do this more than once??? Why would you knowingly put yourself through this kind of agony? Would I have had a natural childbirth if I knew what it would be like ahead of time? I don't know. I would want to try--that's the mindset I had going into this anyway--and by the time I regretted my decision, the baby was almost born! My midwife Carla really came through at that moment when I felt like "I AM DONE!" I really felt that if she thought I couldn't do it, she'd send me to the hospital anyway--so I might as well just carry on until I have a baby or end up at the hospital!

Finally Amari started to crown--what a euphemism! Finally, she started to rip through my lady parts into the outside world. Carla put up a mirror so I could see--but all I could see was what looked like a hairy finger! "That's not a head," I thought. That's like a cat or something! Carla kept saying "almost there" and all that, but I wanted her to be more specific. Exactly how many more pushes do I have to do? Amari's damn head kept popping back in again--it was SO frustrating!!!!! So another misconception that I had heard was that this part feels like taking a big dump. Well, unless you're pooping a giant turd out of your vagina, it didn't feel like any dump I ever took. Turds are nicely colon shaped, and babies have evil round heads, and even though these heads attempt to conform to a nice cone shape, they still look and feel like giant beach balls forcing through teeny rubber inner tubes. Looking in the mirror, I was both appalled and enthralled. I could NOT look away.

At this point, I was in "kill me now" pain. I was crying and whining and not being very stoic at all. Each emergence was like a new level of torture. I was shocked by the amount it HURT! "Oh my GOD!" I whine/moaned. "God can't help you now!" Carla replied. "You're going to have to push her out yourself!" I disagreed. I was convinced Carla could just reach in there--"Take her out of me!" I commanded. Fortunately, that was very close to the end. Amidst tears and cries of pain, her head popped out. Carla placed Isaac's hands so he could deliver the rest of her and then the rest came splooging out. Then I was stupefied! Everyone was saying "shhhh"--so as not to disturb Amari--I was sobbing. Don't shush me! They placed her on my belly and I said "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I felt very bad for her having been through that journey.

Carla was working on getting the placenta out and it came out shortly after Amari. I had seen pictures of them in our birthing class so I asked "is it gross?" The ladies said "oh, no!" but Isaac said "yes!" I appreciated his honesty.

So that's the birth story! Now it's like you were all there--but without the visual images that you will never erase from your consciousness. Amari's cute as can be and we're figuring out this whole baby thing one day at a time. Often one hour at a time.