Friday, January 29, 2010

La-La Land

The past few nights have been amazing. While I read about globally useful things like vaccinations and the projected cost of college tuition in the year 2026, Carrie finds practical information such as how to preserve our sanity by getting Amari to sleep for longer stretches. While my information inspires needless anxiety over imaginary possibilities, Carrie's provide pragmatic solutions for current challenges. She has the intuitive survival skills of a mother and I have the impractical, useless skills of a father. If we were lost in the jungle, Carrie would find us food and water while I would be worrying about how much the rescue chopper was going to cost. The fact of the mater is - Amari might not even want to go to college, but we definitely want to sleep.

So what did Carrie learn? That codeine cough syrup will knock your baby out for as long as you like provided you pay no attention to the whole "recommended dose" thing. What do medical doctors know? They're just drug dealers in white coats. What Carrie actually learned was rather than immediately jumping to feed Amari every time she moves or grunts, we should first try to gently rock or bounce her back to sleep, train her to work through the mild discomfort she may be experiencing - be it gas, hunger, or general anxiety about Kobe Bryant's injured index finger. When it's my turn to lull her back to sleep I like to whisper things like, "It's okay, baby - Gasol just signed a contract extension and Andrew Bynum's only 22." She smiles, and although she still experiences residual melancholy about never getting to see the Showtime Lakers, she slips gently back to sleep.

I began writing this blog on Monday after a back-to-back-to-back nights of nearly seven solid hours of sleep. Carrie handled most of the night time rocking and bouncing, while I took the early feeding shift. As a result, we both felt relatively alive and well-rested. For me, it was like an altered state of consciousness, except rather than being disconnected, aloof, and nauseated, I felt present, motivated, and full of love. I was ready to spend all week writing blogs about what an awesome baby we have, her playoff football knowledge, and how she seems to be mouthing words already. I was bragging to friends and co-workers that my brilliant wife had discovered the secret to successful child-rearing and Amari was now practically sleeping through the night. I knew from previous experiences not to get attached, but three nights in a row felt like more than a fluke - it felt like a pattern. Now I wonder if Amari wasn't mouthing the words, "This is just a fluke."

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a streak. And like most streaks - even the UCLA Bruins 88 games in the mid-seventies - it came to an abrupt and painful end. I believe indigestion and too much day-time napping was our Fighting Irish, and Tuesday night not only put an end to my boasting but also began a brand new streak - akin to the infamous 2008 Detroit Lions. Today is Friday, and the enthusiasm of 21 weekend hours of rest is a distant memory. I still love my daughter and my wife, but I miss that feeling of presence and well-being. Currently, I'm not a napper - never have been, but I imagine that this may be a one of those Darwinian tipping points where the fittest parents are the ones who adapt to their baby's sleep pattern while the rest perish at the hands of fatigue, internalized frustration, or trichotillomannia (hair-pulling caused by anxiety). I can't really afford the hair loss or the internalized frustration, so I'm going to ride fatigue into genetic mutation.

Perhaps my wife will glean some brilliant, new information on napping techniques, but until then I'll just rock back and forth on the couch and whisper to myself, "It's okay, baby, Gasol just signed a contract extension and Andrew Bynum's only 22."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Belated Book Review

My lofty goal when I started this blog was to submit a useful, parenting book review every month for the first year of Amari's life. As the weeks go by, however, I'm learning that Carrie is actually the reader on our team - constantly gleaning useful information from various sources - while I am and will probably remain the uninformed writer. Nonetheless, I did actually "read" what I consider the most important parts of:

The Vaccine Book

Author: Dr. Robert W Sears

Initial Reaction: If I had judged this book by its cover, I probably would have said, "Eww. What a strange looking kid." What I found myself wanting to know and what was not included in the book was whether or not this poster child was vaccinated. If he had been, then I might have chosen to decline or concluded that we still haven't developed a weirdo vaccine. If not, then bring on the needles.He also happens to be the face of the Sears web site, so there goes any advertising prospects from the Sear's empire.

Decide for yourself:

I'm guessing the kid is their son, grandchild, or a fully grown man and current author of "The Anti-Vaccine Book." Am I a judgmental asshole? Yes, absolutely. Was it a New Year's resolution to work on this? No it wasn't, so it probably won't change anytime soon.

Why I Chose It: Aside from circumcision, vaccines are one of the earliest and most important decisions we make as parents. Having a girl and being completely opposed to unnecessary, premeditated trauma, this was really my first major choice. I've always liked being an informed decision-maker, or at the very least appear like one, and this book allowed me to do one of those things really well. If I'd been more thorough in my reading, I'm confident I could have accomplished both.

The Main Idea: Dr. Sears presents a detailed description of every vaccine on the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended schedule. In each chapter Dr. Sears begins by describing the disease being immunized against, how common and serious it is and whether it's treatable once contracted. He then goes on to describe how the vaccine is made, its side effects, the ingredients included by various manufacturers, and why any of the contents are considered controversial. Reasons to vaccinate are also included followed by common reasons parents choose not to get a particular vaccine. Dr. Sears then concludes each chapter with travel considerations for each disease, options to consider when choosing not to vaccinate, and finally what his recommendation is.

My Thoughts: As I mentioned, I read through this book quickly. It took me two evenings before bedtime to come up with a plan that I ultimately threw out the window when it came time to vaccinate. What I liked about the book was was that I could quickly learn about the various diseases, their prevalence, and their seriousness. I didn't care about the ingredients too much, because I didn't feel like I had much control over which company supplied my pediatrician with vaccines. I loved reading about why people chose not to vaccinate, but was still confused about why parents who did vaccinate would be upset with parents who did not when school rolls around. Shouldn't their kids be fine? Perhaps vaccines aren't one hundred percent effective.

Initially, I felt like Dr. Sears was just recommending every vaccine - either directly or by saying things like, "Fortunately, this disease is rare. Unfortunately, it's very serious and could kill your child." What would you do with that information? As I continued to read, however, I saw a more judicious side of the author. When it came to the flu vaccine, his exact words in his recommendation were, "So, have your kids get the flu shot if you don't want them to go through a tough week," implying that there really wasn't enough risk to the flu to merit inoculation. I also appreciated learning that chicken pox now has a cure if caught early enough.

Overall Recommendation: Front cover aside, I think this book is definitely worth reading. It's a terrific quick reference for anything you want to know about vaccinations and will be useful whether you do or don't intend to vaccinate. Carrie and I did have Amari vaccinated two weeks ago and have seen no negative consequences of doing so. She had a rough few hours after the visit, but bounced back better than ever the next day. If you're a new parent, check this book out. You can find this book for a couple of dollars at or call me and I'll send you my copy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

10 Things

In honor of her ten week birthday, I've compiled a David Letterman-esque Top Ten list - with less humor and no real value to the order - of the things I love about Amari. I can't put value judgments on my adoration for her, so I guess this is more of a List of Ten. Nonetheless, here is my ever-growing, often changing:

Ten Things I Love About Amari

10. Starting my days with her. This is a great example of why this list has no particular order. When she allows me six plus hours of sleep, this would undoubtedly be my number one love. Right now, however, with a little under five hours of sleep, it's arbitrarily number ten. Either way, even when I look at the clock and grumble, "What the bleep? Can't you see it's freakin' dark out?" my annoyance is one hundred percent soluble in the half-asleep smile she gives me when I pick her up. She often drifts back to sleep for a while once we're downstairs, but never for long.

9. The way she stares at me. Whether I'm feeding her, calming her down, or playing with her, her eyes are hypnotic. I often wish I'd known her years ago when winning staring contests was a much bigger deal. If either one of my siblings challenges me to a rematch today, I'll be ready.

8. Her infinite facial expressions. Carrie isn't thrilled with the idea of me posting photos of Amari on the Internet, which is why these posts are so wordy - a thousand for each picture I'm not allowed to post. In fact, the topic of posting photos has been one of our only parental disagreements so far. The good news is I got permission to use her face in the "Amari B Fishman vs Amare Stoudemire" entry. The bad news is I abused (or extrapolated) that permission in that same entry and subsequent entries, which basically re-fertilized our disagreement. The good news is I've found a way around permission and potential "exploitation." Please know that no babies were harmed in the making of these photos. Here are artistic recreations of the facial expressions I love so dearly:

7. When she gets the stretchies. Too cute. There must be a genetic code for both doing this and for how great it feels. I notice that she kind of stretches like I do - unabashed, indiscriminately, irregardless of location - but much more quietly.

6. Her dexterous little hands - kind, gentle, and recently more expressive. Aren't kids great?

5. The noises. New ones every day. After she eats in the morning, we hang out by the bay window and she looks intently as I say words, make noises, and ask questions. I feel as though she is studies my lips carefully to see what I'm doing. I recently read that it's important to leave pauses in my narratives and conversations with her to give her a chance to respond. I do this now, asking "What do you think?" or saying, "Amari's turn," and I've been thrilled when she fills the silence with her constantly growing personal coobabble dialect. Awesome.

4. Appliance Science: She has taught us the more important uses of hairdryers, vacuums, blenders, and radios. All of these are effective white noise machines that will calm a fussy baby and make commonly challenging events such as showers and diaper changes effortless. If a meltdown begins in the car, we quickly find a radio signal with no station and turn the volume up to match her cries. She's generally calm within seconds.

3. Foot wear: We both love the same ridiculous socks. Yup that's my foot and that's her flipper. Giant baby feet and future Michael Phelps competitor.

2. Lakers Fanaticism: She wasn't initially thrilled with the Ron Artest acquisition because she was a big believer that Trevor Ariza was the reason the Lakers managed to beat the Rockets on their way to the championship last summer. She couldn't really voice her opinion because she wasn't born yet, but she let her mom know with a couple of kicks and some heartburn. Now she has witnessed three Kobe buzzer beaters already this year. Nice start to her career as a fan.

1. Liftetime Giants Fan: That's right - she has been a fan for over seventy days now. Not once has her allegiance wavered. Sure - this could have been lumped with number two, but knowing this will be the year the Giants finally bring the World Series back to the Bay, I feel it merits not only its own spot but pole position. That's right, this is what I love most about Amari.

Go Giants!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In This Corner...

weighing in at a robust 9 pounds 12 ounces, 23.5 inches long - Amari Becker Fishman. Last week was Amari's two month check-up, which inspired a slew of emotions - excitement that she gaining weight and no longer looked sallow and worried, sadness that she was growing up right before my eyes, and jealousy that she was already more than one-third my height. Time to swallow the pride and break out the basketball.

Two month check-ups mean vaccinations, or at the very least a discussion about our options. I spent half my childhood in India, so I was inoculated against practically everything. I wore my smallpox vaccination scar like a badge of honor during my months in California and I remember getting booster shots every year when we'd return to India to live with my mom. I also remember getting Straw Hat Pizza and movie as a reward for the physical violation - most memorably Winnie the Pooh, The Littlest Horse Thieves, and Cheech and Chong: Still Smoking. I'm not convinced that last reward was for us. By the time we finished our pizza, our arms had begun to hurt and feel heavy, and when the movie was over we could barely lift our empty sodas to take to the trash. The next day the pain had faded to a dull ache, but the memory of movies and pizza lingers on today.

I do not take vaccinating lightly, but I'm also not a reactionary extremist. I've noticed that people's opinions range anywhere from totally on board with every recommended shot to vehemently opposed to vaccines with a splash of government conspiracy designed to inoculate people against liberalism. Other extreme views include the chiropractic belief that a healthy, subluxated spine makes our immune systems indestructible. I guess anyone who ever had the plague or tuberculosis had lousy posture - in which case, I'd be seriously doomed without vaccinations. I also know that if I were a chiropractor, I'd be spreading this belief as well. In fact, as a practicing marriage and family therapist, I would like to make it known that bi-weekly therapy visits at $80 a pop is an effective substitute for any recommended vaccinations. Totally true. Call me.

In all seriousness, I know there are a multitude of reasons people make their decisions regarding vaccinations. I did not go into the conversation last week blindly, but instead took the recommendation of our pediatrician and read through "The Vaccine Book" by Robert W. Sears. The Sears family, which appears to be a multi-generational pediatric empire, has written extensively about infants and children and are well-received in the medical community. They appear to be the Dr. Spock of our generation, so I bought the book and perused the details of the various vaccinations schedules. I will include a review of this book in my next blog.

When decision time arrived last Wednesday, I felt slightly informed at best. I shared my thoughts with our pediatrician, and asked for her input. Ultimately, as a novice book skimmer I deferred to her decades of experience, but I stuck to my guns when it came to Hepatitis B, feeling very confident that Amari would not be mixing blood with anyone in the near future. Hopefully never. She ended up receiving three schedules of vaccinations - the DTAP/HIB, polio, and the PCV.

The moment was traumatic, but Amari's recovery was exceptional. She was cooing and babbling throughout her weigh-in, clearly in a good mood about her new height and weight. She still looked sweet, naive, and innocent when Carla, armed with three syringes, held her legs down. When the first needle went about halfway through her leg, her eyes widened, her brow furrowed, and her smile disappeared. It took another second for her brain to send the message that she was feeling a sharp, PKU-like pain. Then two more needles followed, two more messages, and Amari was screaming. We managed to clothe her in record time and Carrie nursed her into silence within 30 seconds. Impressive.

Later that night Amari appeared to be slightly achy, a little warm, and very tired. We gave her a single drop of liquid Tylenol, a few slices of Round Table Pizza, and then gathered around the TV to watch Cheech and Chong's Next to Last Movie: Prescription to Smoke. It's important to start these traditions early.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's the Return Policy on This Thing

A mother's perspective.

"I'd really like you to do another guest appearance on the blog," Isaac mentioned one day. A simple request in the days of B.C. (Before Child), the New Parent Era means that I'm only working on this now, how many weeks after I was asked? It's been over a month, and I'm only now figuring out how to use a sling or carrier to free up both hands--before now, our teeny baby just disappeared into the depths of any carrier anyway. Before this very moment, I found myself with two free hands for precious few hours a day. Subtract from those the things I'd REALLY like to do--like shower or go to the bathroom--and there's little time left for anything else.

It's a good thing, too, because had I written this last month, it would have been a pretty dark story. Only a few weeks ago, I was feeling inadequate about my ability to feed this voracious beast, and very doubtful about my ability to weather the stress of a baby who cried whenever she was awake. I subscribe to a few email lists the likes of "your baby's development," and most of them said that by three to four weeks, she should be smiling, cooing, and spending more time in the "alert awake" mode.

Say what? Isaac and I were both petrified of her waking hours, always fearing that she'd burst into tears at any given moment. I'm sure every parent has experienced at least one moment when s/he is tiptoeing around her own home, a prisoner of the lightly napping creature in the bassinet, crib, or soundproofed dungeon... oops! Did I say that? I meant nursery. Yeah, nursery.

It was amidst those sleepless nights and anxious days that I tearfully looked at Isaac and asked "what have we done? What were we thinking???" I don't think babies come with satisfaction-guaranteed-or-your-money-back deals... unless there's a contract hiding in my uterus. Nevertheless, when we took her in for her one-month tune-up, our midwife gave us "permission" to do a little formula experiment to see if Amari was getting enough food. Long story short, no she was not! Immediately after her post-nursing formula binge, Amari was wide-eyed and smiling. "Where did this baby come from?" we wondered. I was one-third appalled that I had been starving her and two-thirds relieved that she seemed to be a "normal," happy baby, given that she wasn't famished! In the space of a single day, I went from a hesitant, ambivalent, and regretful new parent to a doting, overjoyed, elated, grateful new mom. the

What other thoughts from the female perspective? The usual experiences, I imagine. When people visit and hold Amari, I have to consciously force myself not to hover. I want to snatch her away the moment she whines. I miss her when Isaac takes her on little excursions. And this from a person who only a few weeks ago, was contemplating whether I could trade this girl in for a happier model (forgive me, future Amari). I had so much sympathy for any parent of a colicky child, and I hope "formula guilt" will never keep anyone from giving their child enough food to shut him up for a couple of hours.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mr. Jones and Me

Sometimes when I go to sleep at night I half expect to wake up the next day to find that Amari is all grown up - crawling, walking, talking, or god forbid dating. I know from my own experience that perception will one day play tricks on me, that when I'm beaming with pride as she accepts her high school diploma it will feel like only yesterday that she was flipping herself over with the fiercest determination.

Today time plays no tricks - it was in fact yesterday that Amari pushed herself up onto her forearms and twisted her way from belly to back in what probably felt like the longest thirty seconds of her life. I was stunned. I guess that's how milestones work - they just sneak up on you. Two days earlier I'd noticed her neck was much stronger as she pushed her way into a yogic upward facing dog and held her head there while she took in her surroundings. I held my hands close to her face, but they were obsolete scaffolding in that moment. I may have been projecting, but I'm pretty sure she looked proud of herself.

Yesterday, we were by the bay window/diaper changing station when I placed her face down for her daily recommended dose of tummy time. On previous occasions, she would fuss and grunt and try in vain to push herself forward with her legs. This time, however, without complaint or hesitation, she tucked her left forearm close to her chest and pushed mightily as she arched her back. I thought nothing of it until she turned her head away from me and used its weight to leverage her body over her left shoulder. Her head, which I'm often convinced is responsible for at least eight of her nine pounds, and the laws of physics were exactly what she needed. Once it was in motion gravity did the rest. Her head dropped limply to the towel beneath her, and she very naturally twisted her lower body to follow. That was it - just like that she was lying on her back.

I couldn't believe it, and Amari looked pretty startled, too. I was convinced the cushion must have a downward slope, so I immediately turned her back onto her belly, adjusted the pillow, and let her try again. Her second flip was more effortless and less surprising, but still without witnesses. My dad had been visiting all week, so I called him in for an encore. Amari did it again, but she was clearly getting a little annoyed that she kept ending up back on her stomach after all her effort. After the fourth time, I let her rest a while before requesting one last performance for the video camera. She did not disappoint, and my only regret is that I didn't record the one where I pretended to be a sports caster at the Infant X Games describing Amari's off-season workout routine as she prepared for this sacred event.

After such an exhausting morning, the only thing left for an inherently competitive father to do was to Google a milestones chart to find out how my daughter matches up developmentally with the Baby Joneses. I don't like to brag (two months early), but it looks like a certainty that Amari will be the left-handed Michael Jordan of North Coast Daycare League. I intend to buy her a basketball today.

Tomorrow - who knows? Maybe a high school graduation.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Every Given Sunday

I like New Year's Day. I always have. It marks the end of a cycle and offers the hope of new beginnings. It gives us a harbor from which to embark upon re-commitments - to diet, to exercise, to our relationships, or in my wife's case, to being less critical of me. In her defense, I can make this very challenging, and just knowing it's her resolution will compel me to redouble my efforts.

Do we really need an arbitrary day to commence to improve our lives? Absolutely not. It could be any day. But haven't most of us indulged in a little trickery when it comes to time? Who hasn't thought, "Now that I'm 25, 30, 40, ... I really need to start/stop/improve/pay attention to something that has been present/missing/rusty/taken for granted." It's human nature to landmark potential changes in our lives. "Today," we often say, "is the first day of the rest of my life." And apparently so is tomorrow.

Personally, I used to vow to stop drinking, smoking, eating, dating, lying every other Sunday for years - not because I'm religious, but because weekends were rarely a time of resolve. Sunday's commitments were often postponed until Monday, then the next month, then an upcoming holiday, my birthday, other peoples' birthdays, and so on. Eventually, it would be New Year's again and I would alternate annually between resolving not to not make any resolutions and embracing my extreme nature with the certainty that I would be a monk and a triathlete by year's end.

Today we begin both a new year and a new decade. I am thirty-eight years old, I am not monastic in the least, and I am barely a uni-athlete. What I am is a first time father, and that has changed everything. In the months leading up to Amari's birth I found myself doing things with a new intention - to ensure that I don't die any time soon, that I stick around to be her dad for as long as possible. I began to eat better, workout harder, go to bed earlier. I'm not always successful, but rather than giving up and waiting for an arbitrary do-over date, I recommit myself immediately. I'm a man of inertia - like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. The drawback is that when I'm "rotten" I often give up entirely - until the following week, month, year, landmark birthday.

Now I embrace my extreme nature without visions of Thai monasteries or an indifferent life of gluttony, and I temper it by making vague and flexible goals. For example, I resolve to lose a pound for every one Amari gains. That way, if I balk on my commitment I can always dilute her formula and slow her down, too. Now that I know how to quiet a starving baby, this will be no problem. In all seriousness, and in the spirit of balance and ambiguity, I offer my intentions for 2010:

1. To do the best I can as a father and a husband.

2. To treat work with the same passion and commitment as family.

3. To see old friends and to make new ones as often as possible.

4. To laugh and play and do something for others every day.

5. To have less: sugar, meat, dairy, television, judgment, and unfinished projects.

6. To have more: exercise, ritual, conscious communication, and outdoor activity.

7. To improve: my garden, my counseling skills, my ability to focus.

8. To continue: reading, learning, and writing.

9. To begin: regular play dates with Noah and Reya.

10. To end: this entry.

Happy New Year, Amari.