Life Gets More Complicated

There’s a book called Far from the Tree. It’s about children who are very different from their parents, as in they have dwarfism, autism, etcetera. There’s a chapter in the book about deaf kids, and I learned from the book that there was a deaf activist who believes that deaf children who should be taken away from their parents and given to deaf couples to raise to ensure they’re be part of “deaf culture”.

I was reading this the day after RC had been diagnosed with hearing loss. It’s already hard to feel confident with a newborn, let alone with a child with disability. Then you read that some people think that your child would be better off with someone else, and it’s like a punch in the gut. I’d been really brave about it, but that was the one time I cried about it.  He was sleeping in my arms while I was reading, and I apologized to him. Looking bad, it seems stupid. What difference does it make what some activist thinks about my ability to parent a child with hearing loss? I haven’t bothered worrying about it since.

My son’s not totally deaf. He has mild to moderate hearing loss, and I know how that sounds. You hear the words “mild” and “moderate” and assume that it’s no big deal. But he has to wear hearing aids, and he will for the rest of his life. The aids correct his hearing to where it’s almost normal, but he sometimes has trouble in crowded places or when someone’s talking to him from another room.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that his hearing wasn’t up to snuff. He failed his newborn hearing test and failed it several times after that. They had told us at the hospital that he might have amniotic fluid in his ears and that might be what was causing it. And we clung to that belief right up until we went to an ENT doctor and he told us there was no amniotic fluid in his ears.

We still didn’t think anything was wrong. I would shut the door loudly to see if the baby reacted. I stood behind him and clapped my hands and had my wife watch to see if he blinked. I read books to him like everything was fine. We had an appointment coming up with an audiologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and we just assumed we’d been in and out in 20 minutes, and then we’d get on with our lives.

When the audiologist gave us the news, my wife started sobbing. For weeks she blamed herself for his hearing loss, thinking that she ate too many hot dogs which caused the microscopic damage to the hair in his ears. I tried to focus on all the information the audiologist gave us on how to help him. He was obviously never going to have completely normal hearing, but with hearing aids we could get pretty close.

I don’t have a dramatic video of my son getting his hearing aids for the first time. I always watch the ones on Youtube, and they’re very cute, but it wasn’t nearly that dramatic. It wasn’t like a whole new world being opened up for him; it was just making the sounds he heard a little clearer for him. The audiologist suggested a cap to keep him shearing aids on and to can keep him from trying to take them out. That’s why almost picture of my son from the first two years of his life make him look like he’s going to hop in the spirit of St. Louis and fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

We tried learning sign language, and he used it when he was a baby. Once he learned how to talk, he stopped showing an interest. If he decides he wants to learn, then I guess we’ll do our best to learn it, but for now, he’s just not interested. Sorry, Far from the Tree activists.

He’s always been pretty enthusiastic about wearing the hearing aids, and he doesn’t seem particularly bothered that he as to wear them while others don’t. Of course, this could all change in the future. I’m sure when he’s a moody teenager, he might give us some problems. But so far, so good. The hearing loss seemed like such an enormous obstacle at first, and now it’s just a tiny part of his life. I thought once we got a handle on the hearing loss, everything would be smooth sailing. However, shortly before our son’s third birthday, our lives went to hell.

Adventures in Parenting

Other than breastfeeding, things went reasonably well in those first few weeks. By his second day home, I was already taking our son for a walk around the block. However, since he was born in early November I was only able to do that for about three days before the polar vortex showed up and ruined everything.

What do you do with a baby in the cold weather? Definitely don’t put it in a microwave. That is a bad idea, no matter what it says on about cleansing your baby’s toxins. And your baby doesn’t want to help with your bank heist. The baby knows that you are your team have a bond that was forged in the Vietnam War, and it can’t just wander in and expect to be accepted by the other guys. You could make him fight a wolf, but that’s really an activity for older kids.

So, you should probably take the kid to mall. I know the mall sucks these days. They don’t have bookstores or music stores there anymore, and you can’t walk past the Aerie store without worrying about Chris Hansen. The store sells underwear for teenage girls, and they have giant pictures of teenage girls in their underwear right in the shop window. How is that even legal? And don’t get me start Spencer’s Gifts. I’m no prude, but when did it turn into Dildos-R -Us?

But the mall is warm, and you can stretch your legs, and you have to teach your baby about Chick-Fil-A or else he’s going to learn about it on the streets. The only downside to this was that we had to take the stroller. There are strollers than are small and can be carried in one hand, but those are for older kids. Newborn strollers are built like ED-209. We had a Honda Fit, and it was no fun trying to put that in the trunk. As soon as he was old enough, we got a jogging stroller, and that worked out a lot better.

They tell you to narrate your day so your child can an acquire language. And that’s a great idea, but it also gets boring really fast. We got a whole bunch of books for the baby, but newborns have zero interest in reading books. So, I decided to read him something I would like, which was Terry Carr’s   Treasury of Great American Fantasy. It had a great list of authors, and I had only read some of the stories included, so I thought it would be a great way to bound with the baby. The first story in the anthology is the classic H.P Lovecraft story “The Rats in the Walls”, which features a cat whose name contains an ethnic slur. So, after promising myself I would never lie to my child, he was about a week old and I’m already telling him the cat’s name is Steve. The rest of the stories didn’t have problems like that, so it was a fun bonding experience for all involved.

Before long, my wife was accusing me hogging the baby because I carried him with me almost all the time. I liked holding him so much that I couldn’t put him down. Also, he didn’t take naps during the day, so I didn’t really have a choice. Before he was born, I was so nervous holding babies. One month after he was born, I baked a cake holding him the entire time. That’s right, I managed to bake an entire Betty Crocker cake while holding a baby. Suck it, moms in Africa who have to travel 10 miles every day to get fresh water. I’m totally dominating you in the parenting game. The transition to being a father was a lot easier than I was expecting. While there was certainly not a lot of sleep going on, those first months were some of the most blissfully happy times of my life.

The end of my wife’s maternity leave was coming to end, so we had to decide what to do about looking after the baby during the day. During her pregnancy, we had sot of toyed around with the idea of me being a stay at home dad. I was hesitant because I felt really uneasy about leaving my job,. But then the baby came along, and it was hard to imagine leaving him every day. We also got some news that made me being a stay home dad pretty much a necessity.

Breastfeeding: Threat or Menace?

Lisa had a bassinet from home. She slept in it when she was a baby, as did her brother, some other family members, and I believe some family friends as well. It was the town whore of bassinets. It was right next to our bed, so she could easily get to the baby. And that would have worked great, except our son, Robert, absolutely hated it.

The only thing that seemed to keep him calm was sleeping on one of our chests. We’d get him to sleep, put him in the bassinet, and then he’d wake up and start crying again. Before the baby was born, I had always derided the idea of co-sleeping as a bunch of hippie nonsense, but it was starting to sound like a good idea. Re-watching Lost and giving money to Nigerian princes also sounded like good ideas at this point as well. Eventually he wore himself out, and we were all able to get a little bit of sleep.

The Rock n’ Play worked a lot better. If you’re not familiar with it, a Rock n’ Play is like a little massage chair for babies. You may feel stupid buying a massage chair for a baby when people in Finland have their babies sleep in cardboard boxes in the snow, but they work. My son slept in it, so that was really all that mattered. The slutty bassinet became a place for Lisa to store her laptop. The moral of the story is that family heirlooms are dumb.

Both of us getting up every time the baby woke up wasn’t working either. All it did was make everyone tired all the time. We decided it would make more sense if we split duties. I would stay awake during the day while Lisa took naps, and then she would get up at night while I slept, as she was breastfeeding.

At least, she was trying to breastfeed. I know it’s supposed to be some sort of beautiful bonding experience between mother and baby, but I thought the whole thing was stupid and overrated. If you had a recipe that called for butter, you’d just go to the store and get some butter, right? You wouldn’t go out and buy a butter churn and spend four hours making butter and then also refer to butter from the store as rat poison. Well, that’s what it’s like with breastfeeding.

I didn’t even think my wife wanted to breastfeed. She used to work in a NICU and she was always adamant that there was no difference between formula and breastmilk and that it was no big deal if a mother didn’t want to breastfeed. No sooner does the baby arrive, and she started trying to breastfeed. She even went to a lactation consultant, which I guess is someone who shows you how to do something that is simultaneously easy and natural but also difficult and time consuming. I found it all very confusing, especially since the hospital just gave us a bunch of formula, but I wanted to be supportive of whatever she wanted to do.

I know, there’s a lot of pressure to breastfeed, but I have to assume most of that pressure is coming from other women.  Until I had a child, I never once worried what someone might be feeding their baby. Milk, formula, the blue liquid barbers keep combs in – it just didn’t matter to me. I had more important things to worry about, like watching John Carpenter’s The Thing for the 47th time. Maybe there’s a man out there who has angrily dissuaded his friends from talking about their fantasy football league because he wanted to discuss how has wife wanted to feed the baby, but I’m skeptical

My wife was never able to produce enough breastmilk. She really tried everything she could to increase her supply, but it was making her miserable. I was ready for her to stop after about three days into parenthood. Nevertheless, she persisted. Not that it did any good, because we still had to use formula from the day he was born. She tried breastfeeding exclusively for a day, which our son hated. I also remember getting angry at her because I wasn’t able to give the baby a bottle. To make matters worse, our son would sometimes just puke up the breastmilk, which in no way made my wife feel like she wanted to jump off a building.

She used a breast pump for a while, which I believe is a device to make women feel less guilty about going back to work by making their boobs feel like they’re being eaten by Johnny 5. She put herself through hell for several months trying to make it work. She finally decided she’d had enough shortly after her maternity leave was over. All three of us were a lot happier once she stopped, and we switched exclusively to formula.

If you are spewing milk everywhere, and you want to feed your baby with it, go for it. But if you’re really struggling with breastfeeding, just give the kid Enfamil and be done with it. The baby stuff goes by so fast, and you’re going to miss it if you’re too busy worrying about clogged milk ducts. Also, you can also cut cocaine with powdered formula, so it can really come in handy if you’re parent who also deals drugs.

Little Scorpy and the Sex Criminals

I don’t think either one of us actually believed Lisa was going to have a baby. Lisa was supposed to eat lots of green vegetables, but she just ate a lot of ramen and hot dogs instead. She hadn’t graduated yet, and she didn’t have a job lined up.  Even if she was going to have a baby, we’d have to raise it in a box on the street because that’s where we’d all be living. And it would be an incredibly tight fight what with the baby and my entire record collection. So the timing was just awful. Also, this just seemed like a cruel joke the universe was playing on us. We had just convinced ourselves that parenthood was not for us. Why give us the chance to prove it?

We went in for the first ultrasound, and they told us that yes, Lisa was pregnant. The nurse pointed to something on the screen she assured us was a baby. After looking at it for a while, we decided it looked like a scorpion. We started calling it “Little Scorpy”, and I guess we were a little excited at this point. I still spent much of my time looking at articles about unicornuate uteruses and assuming that disaster would strike at any moment. My grandmother always said that nothing good ever lasts, which I’ve taken to heart. She also sad that thin girls get fat, and fat girls get fatter. My grandmother was a real font of wisdom.

The second ultrasound was a lot more impressive. It had stopped looking like something like a back-up dancer for Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band and started looking like a little person. It flipped around and threw some punches against the ultrasound machine, and I completely and utterly bonded with it. I think I could have watched it for hours. I was still scared as hell, but for the first time I was excited.

I think this is the point at which people change their Facebook profile to a blurry ultrasound picture, and do things like have gender reveal parties, which I don’t really understand the point of. Unless the point is to eat cake, in which case I completely understand the point of gender reveal parties. We told our families, but we decided to not tell anyone else just yet. If we could have made it nine months without telling anyone, we probably would have. We wanted to just have the pregnancy over and done with.

Lisa wanted to be surprised about the gender of the baby. I had wanted to find out, but I didn’t feel strongly enough that I wanted to argue about it. After a few months, I was pretty convinced that we were having a girl. I was really excited about this. I’d heard boys were difficult. I was never a sports fans, so I wouldn’t have to worry about disappointing a kid when I wasn’t any good at playing catch. I learned about American Girl dolls, and I looked forward to teaching my daughter about American history, albeit with an emphasis on important battles of World War 2. I figured I’d get her a few issues of Wonder Woman, and everything would be all set.

I started reading parenting books, and while I learned a lot, it gave me a whole host of things to worry about.  I worried that if I had a daughter, then she would be raped. I worried that if I had a son, he would be a rapist. I was worried our child would be a delinquent and end up going to prison. I was worried it would have Lou Gehrig’s Disease. (It seemed plausible at the time).  I considered approaching women with well-behaved kids and offering to trade them for the kid forming in my wife’s uterus, just so I could be assured that I wouldn’t have to deal with behavioral issues.

We started telling our friends that Lisa was pregnant.  We starting telling everyone. We used to lie in bed at night, and I would read science fiction stories to the baby. I admit it’s a bit unorthodox to read “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” to your child in utero, but Lisa always said that the baby would move around a lot while I was reading, so I thought it was a nice bonding experience. Also, it’s never too early to expose your child to the work of Harlan Ellison.

Everything was going about as well as could be expected until the night Lisa came home practically in tears because she hadn’t felt the baby move all day.

“I’m sure everything’s fine,” I said, pretty sure that nothing would be fine ever again.

I watched her roll around on the bed and jump up and down in an attempt to get the baby to move. I tried to think of something, anything to say to make it better. I couldn’t think of anything.

The baby started moving again. Lisa cried. I felt like I’d aged about 20 years in five minutes, but at least everything was OK. I’m not sure I would have ever truly recovered if it hadn’t been.

The baby shower came and went. The baby’s room was painted, and the crib was set up. I had read all the parenting books I could stand at that point, and there was pretty much nothing else to do but wait. Lisa was 38 weeks pregnant at this point. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I watched Frozen, as I knew little girls are into that movie, and I wanted to make sure I was prepared to deal with that nonsense.

A couple days later, Lisa went in for an exam, and they told her the baby needed to come out. I don’t remember all the details, but we had to get the baby out before her uterus collapsed in on itself and turned into a wormhole and shot the baby into another dimension. Or something like that. I’m not a doctor. All I really remember was that I was reading this article in the waiting room, which is not the best article to read when you’re about to become a parent. Time was up. In a couple days, the doctors would induce labor and we’d be parents.

We walked into the hospital at 7 o’clock on a Thursday morning reading to stat this whole parenting thing. I didn’t know how long it was going to take, but I assumed that once that hooked my wife to whatever contraption they were going to use to induce labor, things would happen pretty quickly. I’d seen the movie Inseminoid, so I wasn’t completely clueless about how this whole childbirth thing worked.

They hooked Lisa up to a Pitocin drip, and we waited. And we waited some more. And then we spent even more time waiting. Fortunately, there was a TV in the room, so Lisa could watch reruns of How I Met Your Mother while I read the first collection of the comic book Sex Criminals. (Pro Tip: never leave the house for the birth of your child without a copy of Sex Criminals)

By the time evening rolled around, nothing whatsoever had happened. They took Lisa off the Pitocin so she could eat something besides crushed ice. I don’t think either one of us thoughts this experience would be boring, but it was pretty boring. The nurse said it was highly likely that something would start happening overnight, so we went to sleep, ready to leap into childbirth at a moment’s notice.

By the next morning, there was still nothing going on. I thought about just calling off this whole baby thing and going to see a movie, but apparently the doctors have a way of breaking a pregnant lady’s water, so that’s what they decided to do. Then she started having contractions. After a few hours of contractions, Lisa got the epidural, and everything slowed down again.  She didn’t really get it in gear until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, when she was finally ready to start pushing.

I know some people say childbirth is beautiful, but those people are morons. Childbirth is horrible. Lisa told me afterwards that she’s been through things more painful than childbirth, but it all looked pretty awful to me. She pushed for three hours, and I felt like I wanted to vomit the whole time. I tried to take my mind off of things by trying to remember the names of all the companions on Doctor Who in order as well as all the names of as many aliens from Star Wars as I could remember. If someone had handed me a copy of the second volume of Sex Criminals, I would have read it.

There’s really nothing worse than seeing your wife in pain and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I started thinking both Lisa and the baby were going to die. I just wanted to the whole thing to be over and for us to all to go home, but it just seemed to be endless and everything was awful…

And then my son was born, and my whole life changed forever.

Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

When my wife Lisa gave birth to our son Robert, I immediately began thinking of ways to monetize our little miracle. It’s so important to start building awareness of your child’s brand as soon as he’s born. And what better way to do that than with blogging?

What’s that? You say no one’s blogging anymore? You’re probably right. I am jumping on the dad-blogging bandwagon right as it’s shuddered to a halt, the wheels have fallen off, and it’s caught on fire. It seems like most people are documenting their parenting moments on Instagram and Pinterest. However, I think that often leads to awful things like this. Also, I’m not very good at taking pictures. Blogging it is.

In all honesty, I’m not even sure how much mileage I can get out of writing about parenting. Babies, while cute, don’t really do a whole lot.  I’d love to tell you about my son’s fascinating insights about world events, but when I talk about things like Greece’s potential exit from the Eurozone with him, he doesn’t exactly hold up his end of the conversation. Don’t even get me started on his inability to look at an issue of The Economist without trying to chew on it.  I’ll try to write as much as I can about being a dad, and when I don’t really have anything to say on that subject, I’ll write about things like which of the sequels to Halloween is the best. (Answer: it’s Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.)

I have no real expectations for this project. I used to blog some time ago, but I abandoned it for Twitter. I hope to stick with it longer this time around. I’m sure there aren’t many people who really need to read another parenting blog, so the audience for this will probably be pretty small. However, becoming a father has been a pretty big deal for me, so I thought it would be nice to write down my thoughts. Hopefully they will be interesting to someone other than me.

I wore an Iron Maiden shirt to the birth of my child. It's the classiest shirt i own.
Me holding my son on the night he was born. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just whispered “Welcome to planet Earth. My name is Chris, but you can call me dad, ” in his ear.