Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic (Reya) Gold

A few hours ago the closing ceremony  in Vancouver, British Columbia wrapped up an historic Winter Olympics. The Americans took home more medals than any country at a single games, Apolo Ohno won his record sixth medal (then his seventh and eighth), and our hockey team nearly reproduced a miracle on ice against the Canadian juggernaut. I'm finding I enjoy The Games more and more as I get older - not just the competition and patriotism, but the inspiring emotional dedication to excellence by the athletes, the coaches, and the families. The media also does a bang-up job plugging human interest stories.

The past two Olympics have family memories attached to them, and I imagine as Amari gets older I will watch  The Games with her, sharing stories of Michael Phelps run for gold in 2008 or Michael Johnson's blazing speed in '96. At one point, I even imagined Amari as an Olympian and wondered how I would feel about that. I think in terms of time commitment and danger to her health I'd be happiest if she took to Olympic Curling. Maybe then I would have a shot at understanding both the rules and how it ever became accepted as an Olympic caliber sport. If I were Walter Ray Williams I'd feel cheated. That's a famous bowler joke for those of you scratching your head.

In honor of the Olympics, I present to you the gold medal winners in this weeks Local Infant-Toddler Olympics.

Gold Medalist in Best Cute Incoherent Rant (long program): Reya Gold

Last Friday I watched Reya for a couple of hours. Reya is a month shy of two and her vocabulary is multiplying daily. Unfortunately, I don't speak Reyanese fluently yet, so many of her new words are like a foreign language wrapped around words that only come in English. "Bonjour. Cava? Avez-vous un Starbuck's Mochaccino s'il vous plait?" At one point Reya begins talking to me, and for about three or four minutes she's speaking this Renglish language that only she, Nicole, and Noah understand. Mostly her, I think. It's cute and it's awesome and she is totally engaged in her story and what she is telling me. I decide it would be rude not to respond, so I seek out words I understand and say them back.

Reya: Ab-sha di blah boo and then Daddy sha do blee blah.
Isaac: Really? Daddy?
Reya (super excited): Yeah, Daddy! Bloo blee blah and in the car mine Granma shoop di do.
Isaac: No way! Granma?
Reya: No way! Granma! Bloop di bloo di blah
Isaac: Wow that's very interesting.
Reya: Yeah! That's inter blah blah.

And on and on. It was fantastic and I worked hard to keep a straight face. Then, out of the blue she jumps down from her chair walks to the alter in our bedroom, points to the bronze statue behind the burned incense and says in the crispest English I'd heard her speak, "Buddha?" It still makes me giggle.

Gold Medalist in Best Use of Song Lyrics while riding a tricycle: Liam

We spent this morning at the Golds. After brunch, we were all out on the porch taking in the novel, springtime sunshine. Susan and Williams boys were racing up and down on Radio Flyer trikes and Liam, who just turned three last week started singing as he drove back and forth. At first I didn't notice, but then I wondered why this song was suddenly stuck in my head. Then I listened more closely as Liam sang - in very good tune - "Life's on a highway, I'm gonna ride it all night long." The song is still stuck in my head.

Gold Medalist in Air Swimming and Tummy Time Inspiration: Hunter Calvert

Earlier in the week, Jim brought his six-month old by for a visit. As we placed our children on their tummies, the much stronger Hunter pushed into an upward dog that would make Baron Baptiste jealous. In response, Amari raised her head higher than she ever had and held Hunter's gaze. So excited by this enchanting encounter, Hunter tried desperately to crawl towards Amari. Unfortunately, he can't crawl yet and ended up with his arms and legs flailing in the air while his stomach held firmly to the floor. Had he been in the pool, his form would be perfect, perhaps giving Phelps a run for his money. Nonetheless, his efforts at this completely made-up event secured the first gold medal for the Calvert household.

Gold Medalist in Physical Motor Coordination Development While Simultaneously Impersonating Famous Actors: Amari B Fishman

As Amari got better this week, she also became increasingly fascinated with her hands. She will now lie on her back or her side for ages and reach out with one hand, then the other, and struggle to clasp them together before bringing them to her mouth. In the moments before her hands meet she looks like a cross between Adrian Monk and Michael J Fox, searching and shaking. Yes, I'm going straight to hell, but if you laughed I'll see you at the barbecue.

Watching Amari get well the past couple of days has been a joy. She looked so sad and confused by her sickness, uncomfortable with the congestion, the aches, and the fatigue. Her appetite is back and with it her radiant smile. It appears we may have another genetic anomaly to go with her hazel eyes - dimples. She also get's gold medals for Newfound Neck Strength, Novel Vocalizations, and all-important Cutathalon down at Big River this afternoon. The competition was thick, replete with previous year's champions, but thanks to the weather conditions, some beginner's luck, and the executive decision of the hometown judge, Amari took home the gold.

See you in Russia in 2014.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Being sick sucks.
Being sick during vacation - even suckier.
Being sick during vacation with family visiting and then watching my precious little three month-old daughter get sick - supersuckafragilisticexpialadocious.

The first thing to go when I'm under the weather is clearly my wicked-awesome vocabulary, followed shortly by my sense of well-being, my enthusiasm for everything, and eventually, when it lingers long enough, my optimism that I will ever recover which is replaced by the certainty that I will soon suffer a young(ish), miserable, phlegm-filled death. Fortunately, almost two weeks later, my joy for life is being returned to me, I'm convinced I'm going to live, to be happy again, to be passionate once more, and to be extremely mellow-dramatic forever.

I have very few memories of my mom being sick when I was a child and had somehow convinced myself that becoming a parent was an automatic inoculation against most diseases. I was not cavalier about this assumption, recognizing that my work in education is probably a close second to biological research labs when it comes to hazardous environs. I survived nine months of pregnancy and three months of Amari's life by keeping a Costco sized bottle of Vitamin C on my desk, hand sanitizer in holsters on my belt, and Echinacea scented scratch 'n sniff stickers for the kids who looked dangerous. There were seriously times when I wanted to put on an "outbreak" suit for my disease-infested third grade social learning groups. Why do kids with sniffles always want to hold my hand? They're like grown-ups with bad breath and their secrets. Ugh!

On a side note, when I work at the middle school where the new found joys of cologne become shower substitutes for adolescent boys, I've created an antibacterial agent that doubles as Axe body spray scent neutralizer. I think this could be huge. It also erases the imaginary sex appeal sold in commercials.  

On the plus side, having a child that has just hit the "golden age of babyhood" according to "What to Expect the First Year" makes being sick much more bearable. It's hard to remain depressed or existential while staring at the toothless perma-grin of a sparkly-eyed mini-me who thinks it's hilarious when I sneeze, cough, or groan in particular frequencies. Apparently this is called the golden age because babies become even cuter by day, sleepier by night, and they still can't move. A pretty awesome combination. As for Amari, the sleep pattern is still erratic, especially since she came down with our cold, but the rest of her is pretty golden alright.

Aside from the frequent wide-mouthed smiles and the smattering of surprise laughs, Amari's latest development is her ability to roll onto her side. She swings one leg over the other and ends up resting on her shoulder and hip before her hands clumsily find their way to her mouth. She lies there sucking them for ages and is perfectly content. Sometimes, when she gets frustrated that she can't roll any farther, I raise her arm and help her continue twisting onto her stomach. I love her new found independence - bouncy chairs, mobiles, and rockers that used to all be Cry Machines are now Babysitters. I guess the Fourth Trimester is coming to an end.

All of this makes watching Amari get sick much more tragic. She had a cold for the third and fourth weeks of her life, but she didn't have a personality to dilute back then and it didn't seem to bother her any more than the starvation she was experiencing. Now the sniffles, the cough, the fever, and the restlessness are a sharp contrast to the easy-going, even-tempered, relatively predictable daughter we'd grown used to. In addition, both of her tear ducts are clogged from all the crying which, if you haven't seen it, creates a green-yellow puss that oozes out from the inside corners of the eyes, then dries, hardens, and glues the eyes shut like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The cure for blocked tear ducts is applying gentle pressure on the ducts with a warm-watered facecloth. This sounds much more pleasant than Amari seems to think it is. The secret is to always have a nipple, a bottle, or a hug as a chaser.

These also works with grown-ups.

Get better soon, Amari.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Books for the Post-Modern Mama

Having been sick for nearly a week now, I am eternally grateful for the following guest blog. In lieu of my own book review this month (yes, I'm cheating), I present the eclectic views of my strong-willed, Geminian, English-teaching, no-crap-taking wife, Carrie. Enjoy. I always do.


I have so many opinions about what I've been reading, I might as well share them with anonymous strangers and make myself feel important.

On Pregnancy:

What to Expect When You're Expecting should be called Why You'll be Hiding in a Corner for Nine Months. If you want to have an anxious, nervous baby, read this book. A short overview of what each month is usually like is followed by a series of questions you may have--if you're a paranoid freak. Sure, some of those questions had come to mind, but the majority have never occurred to me--until I read them in this book. I did not bother finishing this terrifying volume. My questions could all be answered in much less alarming ways.

The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy could also be titled The Girlfriend's Guide to Epidurals. The author seems to be almost vehemently opposed to natural childbirth. She writes something to effect that anyone who chooses to have a natural home birth is an idiot--why would you do that when there are such lavish facilities and fancy drugs available nowadays? Oh, I don't know--because childbirth is a life-changing experience that you might want to enjoy in the privacy and comfort of your own home? I took offense and didn't finish this book, either.

Spiritual Midwifery: I hope you like saggy boobs and hairy vaginas. I embrace the sacred feminine, but from a somewhat sterile distance. Yes, I watched Amari emerge from my own lady parts, but I try to avoid the view from the stands when it comes to other ladies' down-theres. On the plus side, if a bunch of hippies can do it in vans and yurts, you can do it at home or in a hospital or wherever. 

The Pregnancy Book from the Sears' Library is juuuust right. They're not too hippy-dippy, nor too clinical. They champion the natural way but are understanding that it's not everybody's bag and there's no guilt attached to any decisions you may be thinking about. Informative, thorough, exhaustive even. This was the only book I read cover-to-cover, leading me to

Parenting Books:

The Sears Library's The Baby Book is awesome. Be warned, however, that they embrace (ha ha) the attachment method--wearing your baby--and this might lead to feelings of guilt should you ever (gasp) leave your baby in a bouncy seat or something while you fold clothes or eat. On the other hand, where other books are cautious if not outright opposed to sharing a bed, the Sears family is all about it. Since it's such an easy way to go for the first month, it's nice to get support in that decision. They have eight kids and bed-shared one for over a year. Did they ever get to have sex again? I don't know. They probably had their fill. I can't imagine what happens to a lady's cha-cha after that many births. Yikes!

What to Expect the First Year far surpasses the same authors' pregnancy book in usefulness and format. Why would pregnancy be so much more terrifying than the first year of parenting? Probably because you can't see what's going on in there. Here the focus is on useful advice and answers to sensible questions, with few cautions about the myriad of diseases your baby may be contracting that could lead to death or disfigurement. Good! I don't want to know! Plus, it's easy to skip the scary stuff. Let's face it--if you want to know, you'll find out! The caveat with this book is that it is much more traditionally-oriented (not so into the sleep-sharing), so you may feel anxious about keeping your baby in bed with you if this is your primary resource. Of this and the above, I recommend the above. This book is helpful, however, to read month-by-month just so you can look forward to, say, the first laugh.

As for magazines, skip it. I enjoyed "Fit Pregnancy" because it organized lots of helpful info into little bites and supported working out (how modern), but the "Parenting" and "Parents" magazines our friends have been passing on to us SUCK! I find maybe one actually useful article in each issue and the rest is just advertising and thinly-veiled advertising. Plus, the craft and food ideas they publish--hello? Do they not know that some people work AND parent? Let's see... do I want to spend the twenty minutes I have while Amari's content in her crib decorating cupcakes or doing laundry? Well, I can buy cupcakes with my PAYCHECK, but the laundry fairy stopped coming to our house a long time ago.

So there you go--all you need to know for your reference library. Of course, you don't need to buy any books--you can find out anything you need to know from friends or the internet (the only friend some people have). However, in the post-apocalyptic future in which we don't have phone or internet and are forced to fend for ourselves in an increasingly cruel and dangerous society, you might like to have a couple paperbacks to reference, if not to barter for food and drinking water.

Happy reading!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Man at Work

Ahh, the joys the Internet.

I was trying to follow-up my not-so-clever title with some lyrics by the 1980's Australian rock band, maybe an explanation of why "women glow and men plunder." Instead, I stumble upon a site that claims Vegemite, a popular Australian bread spread, was deemed illegal in the United States because it contains folate, which we only allow in breads and cereals. Now those of you who have tried Vegemite are either thinking, "Awesome, that stuff should illegal," or "That's a crime in itself. Free Vegemite." Those of you who haven't tried it are probably thinking, "Who gives a shit? Don't stay-at-home dads have anything better to do?" The answers are: it's an urban legend, Vegemite is awesome, and yes we do have better things to do.

Here are some of the highlights from my first week of stay-at-home dad-ing/child care sharing:

1. Monday: Since it was my first full day with Amari, I tried to keep parts of Carrie's routine while infusing my own original flare. This was made easier when she took the laptop with the soundtrack to "Flashdance" with her. This meant DJ Jazzy Dad could spin his own 80's dance party which started out with Men at Work and Depeche Mode (the dance part), then wound down with Paul Young (calisthenics and stretching). When Amari was almost as exhausted as I was we transitioned to guitar. I played and she stared, smiled, and babbled occasionally during the choruses. We have a lot of work to do on the harmonies, but I'm optimistic that when she actually has control of her arms, she will play a wicked lead ax.

2. Tuesday: When I picked Amari up at Nicoles, everyone still looked happy and sane. I was worried about how her daughter, Reya, would feel about her mom's attention being so divided. Apparently it went really well except when Nicole spread one of Reya's blankets out for Amari to lie on. Reya took one look at the blanket, walked over, and said, "Mine" before performing her best tablecloth trick imitation. As she jerked on the blanket, an unsuspecting and unaffected Amari rolled like log onto the carpet. Funny stuff.

3. Wednesday: As I left our house in the morning, Granny C was beginning her childcare shift by placing Amari into a car seat which she then placed into a wheelbarrow and rolled up and down the driveway as the dogs followed closely at her heels. When I arrived home, not only was Amari clean and changed, but Granny C had typed up a log of everything they'd done since I left. It was very sweet and thoughtful.

4. Thursday: Although Amari didn't sleep much on Wednesday night, she evidently made up for lost time with Susan. I was glad it was easy, yet hoped it wasn't too boring. When Susan handed Amari back to me, her three-year-old son, Liam, said, "Look mommy, she's in her daddy's arms again," as though it were the best place she could possibly be. I love that kid. So precocious and sensitive.

5. Friday: Walking on the coast with new friend and fellow stay-at-home dad, Jim. Although Jim has been telling me about a Mom's Club that rules the coastal walkway, we encountered zero moms on our walk, which made it even easier to talk about how we would totally beat them in a Dad's Club vs. Mom's Club intramural strollathon. Bottle-feeding pit stops are much quicker than breastfeeding. On the way to meet Jim, Amari was a little noisy in the car, so I said, "Are you mad? You know what makes me feel better when I'm upset? Listening to Alanis Morrisette." I'm clearly trying to break the gender stereotypes as well as the gender social rolls.

6. Saturday: Amari and I took off for the day to give mom some time to catch up on prep work for school. We left early and headed to what people in the boonies call "The City." That's right - Ukiah. Scary. That's barely a town. For me it's just a meeting point. The ride was smooth (she's a really good traveler) save for a few tears in Willits. "Everyone hates Willits," my friend Sil consoled Amari when we arrived for breakfast. He's right, and we took Hwy 128 back home just to avoid it. Breakfast with Sil and Sarah was wonderful - like an old conversation continued with an adorable new participant who takes up almost all of our attention. On the way home we stopped to watch some basketball, but after a couple of games the florescent lights, squeaky shoes, echoing voices, and horrible rap music began to wear on both Amari and I  and we headed home to call.

7. Sunday: We went a Super Bowl party, which was kind of like calling Ukiah a city. A lot of non-sports-fans canceled at the last minute so there were just five of us plus infants. I picked the Colts, but Amari took the Saints and the points which makes her 1-0 in our lifelong battle in sports prognostication. I didn't actually have a horse in the race, which led me to wager on things like first Kim Kardashian siting, second Eli Manning fist pump, and best commercial after each quarter. I ended up losing two dollars when The Who left out the theme song to CSI Miami. Senile motherfuckers.

Don't worry - the weeks won't all be this detailed. I just wanted to make sure I capture some of the memorable pieces, because I'm probably going to end up as senile as a 1960's rock band. Ironically, Vegemite has been found to help alleviate these symptoms of aging.

I know from recent experience that once I get used to a new routine the days, weeks, and months begin to blur together. After seven days of doing a little bit of both, the one thing I know for sure is that a full day of parenting is both more demanding and more rewarding than my day job. I'm lucky I get to do both.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Okay - Here's the Situation

My parents went away on a week's vacation
and they left the keys to the brand new Porche
Would they mind?
Mmmm, well, of course not.

Oh wait - that's the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This is mine:

The Situation

I'm SAHD - a Stay-At-Home Dad! Finally...and sort of. That's what this blog was intended for - to carry the message of broken social gender norms - and yet I'm sure people were starting to wonder if I actually knew what stay-at-home meant. When Carrie and I found out she was pregnant, we decided she would return to work after her maternity leave and I would become the primary caregiver. Along with the benefits that come with her job, we agreed that I was emotionally better suited for the New Parent Cabin Fever we'd been reading about. In the ensuing months, two things happened: we realized that being a full-time house-husband was not financially viable and my supervisor encouraged me to continue working part-time to secure my position.

As a result, we have a modified situation: I'm now a working stay-at-home dad while Amari is living the "It takes a village" motto. What I did was ask a couple of our close friends if they would be interested in some childcare exchange. With the help of Granny C and two excellent moms, I will be able to work about five hours a day on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays. Mondays, Fridays, and weekends I will be with Amari and either of the other parents' children when they need it.

The Players

Nicole: Tuesdays. Super mom to Reya and wife to my dear friend, Noah. Reya is almost two going on thirteen. She is extremely verbal and a lot of fun. Nicole is the one person Carrie invited to Amari's birth and she was nothing short of exceptional. When I ran out of encouragement and praise for Carrie about fifty hours into labor, Nicole acted as my voice for the last ten. She said all the right things, and I'm pretty sure Carrie appreciated her most of all. I admire Nicole's balance as a loving but firm parent, and if she has half the influence on Amari that she's had on my buddy, Noah, then I will have a very thoughtful and sensitive daughter.

Granny C: Wednesdays. My psychic, animal-communicating mother-in-law. She has developed a wonderful connection with Amari and has been thoughtful and generous with both her time and her resources. She lives twenty feet away, offers us breaks all the time, and Amari gets very excited by her goofy facial expressions and the slow cadence of her voice. Although she offers us strong parenting suggestions from time-to-time, we've been trained by everyone else in our lives to say, "Okay. Good idea," and then keep doing what we're doing.

Susan: Thursdays. Although Susan is a new friend we've made since returning to the coast, she feels like family. Comfortable. Relaxed. I really enjoy spending time with her and her family - Luke and their two boys, Aiden and Lliam. Susan appears to be a natural mom, and although she's told me otherwise, it seems as though she always knows what to do when it comes to her children. I'm already sad that she and her family will be moving away this summer.

Isaac: The rest of the week. Isaac is what experts call an Ultra Mega Super Dad. His magic powers include one-handed bottle feeding, speed diaper changing, animated facial expressions, lip syncing, and full-contact karaoke. I don't really know what that last one means either.

Carrie: Weekend warrior, bread winner, and PM shifts. I love watching the way Carrie is with Amari. She teaches me to be even more uninhibited than I already am. Thanks to her our living room has become a twenty-four hour 1980's dance party. Carrie recently remarked that leaving Amari to return to work is harder than losing her dad. "Amari's alive and I'm missing it," were her exact words. I was sad for her and knew from my own experience last month exactly how she felt. I recently read that in Sweden a new parent can take a two-year paid leave from their job and be assured their position when they return. Moms and dads can also split the time so they both get the opportunity to bond. That sounds so much more civilized than six weeks of disability. Go socialism.

The Week

I had this fantasy that as a stay-at-home dad I would have limitless time and inspiration to write, to capture the insignificant details of parenting and share them with the world. The only part that has become a reality is the insignificant details part. There are lots of them. Unfortunately, they will have to wait until this dad gets some more sleep. I can't be the Fresh Prince of my neighborhood without at least six solid hours. The skinny on my first week as a part-time SAHD is that it went much more smoothly than my unnecessary fretting and anxiety would have predicted. I feared that Nicole, Susan, Granny C, or all three of them would have a terrible experience and recant their offer of help. As far as I know, that did not happen. As a fellow control freak once jested, "I guess you should keep worrying because it worked."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tears for Fears

I spent most of last weekend in a perpetual state of anxiety. It was awesome. If you've never tried this AND you're in a loving , committed relationship that's going much too smoothly for your liking, I highly recommend mixing this with several awkward attempts at expressing your feelings and a few ill-timed constructive criticisms of your spouse. If done correctly - and by correctly I mean the way I did it - I suspect by Monday you will be alone and miserable or owe many ingratiating apologies. Fortunately, I have a very forgiving wife who had her own feelings to deal with and told me she didn't really have the time or energy to take mine on. Amen to healthy marriages.

Three months ago I started this blog in anticipation of being a primary stay-at-home parent. I was excited, nervous, and afraid, and when Amari arrived those feelings only deepened. Each day I felt more confident and capable as a parent, but the fear continued to swell - as though the higher I climbed the farther I would inevitably fall. How would I eventually disappoint this perfect little being? I had already left her behind when I returned to work - some of the saddest and proudest days of my life. I missed Amari desperately and took every opportunity to talk about her and show off pictures. I lasted a week and ended up extending my paternity leave for another month.

Today Carrie returned to full-time work, and as the changing of guards approached we were both very sad. Carrie is much more mature than I am so when she's sad, she's just sad. It's very healthy. I, on the other hand, generally express my sorrow with adolescent irritability and condescension. It's what we in the counseling field call a growth edge, while others call it a serious character defect. Now that the moment has arrived, Carrie loves being a mom more than she ever imagined, which makes returning to work almost unbearable. Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Selfishness - I was too worried about the impact this would have on our finances to honor her feelings. Don't let anyone convince you that therapists make great husbands.

By Sunday my feelings had worked themselves up into a nice unhealthy lather. Rather than appreciating what I was once excited, thrilled, and afraid of, I was freaking out about things outside my control. After a long talk, a longer walk by the ocean, and a game-winning shot by Kobe Bryant to seal the victory over the Boston Celtics, I was starting to feel much better. Then I was once again reminded that all my fears of the unknown are completely soluble in the reality of the present moment.

On Sunday afternoon Amari began doing something she'd never done before, something so wonderful and endearing that it acted as an amnesiac to everything that preceded it. She started sticking her tongue between her lips and making raspberry noises. Yup. That's it. Simple to some, but she was so enchanted by her new ability that she kept doing it over and over again. We started mirroring it back to her and she lit up, kicked her legs, and laughed. It was communication and it was all hers. She sprayed again, and again, and again until an adorable, foamy mess had formed on her lips. I wiped it away and the game started over, and with each round came a little laugh. So freakin' cute that I forgot all about my worries.

Later on, as Amari lay stretched across my arms, chest, and legs, soundly sleeping through her twitches, smiles, and giggles, I imagined she must be dreaming of a few hours ago. I hoped she was, and I hoped that when I finally went to bed that I would be, too.