Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A great day

As Julie said earlier tonight, today was one of those days you want to remember when on other days things are not going nearly so well. It was actually one of those days that makes me want to hope, against all reason, that the terrible twos are over - hell, that our jobs as parents are over. "Oh look Julie, that wasn't so bad, was it. It was tough at first, but we've managed to raise a beautiful, smart, well mannered little girl. The education system will take it from here, right? By the way, what kind of wine would go well with dinner tonight?".

O.k., it will be a little while before I can live that little Bourgeois fantasy, but Chloe was a dream today. From the moment she got up until she went to bed (with a few small exceptions), she was polite, sweet, considerate, and understanding. I don't get it. Just when you think your little monster will never be socialized, you get a taste of what it might be like to relate to her in the future, and the taste was golden. I got to spend a whole day with my daughter when she was feeling good, when she had it together. It's not easy being two, and she's often overwhelmed, overstimulated or overtired, and sometimes all at the same time. When she's having a great day, I get to see her at her best - when she's observant, curious, empathetic, and enthusiastic about life.

When Chloe's doing well, we do stuff together, as a team. Whether it's braving a flu vaccine (this afternoon), going pretend grocery shopping (every day, and yes, it's painful at 7 in the morning), or sharing a croissant at the bakery, when she's having a great day, I get invited into her world, to share in her pleasure. And I'm incredibly grateful.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's cool having a big sister

Suddenly Emily's very engaged with her sister. Who'd have thought? She's only three months old! But now every time she hears Chloe speak, she turns her head to try to see her. And when she does find her, she lights up in a big smile. Tonight Chloe was giving Emily some stickers, and with each one Emily would smile, giggle and coo. It was something else, especially since I have to work pretty hard to get a giggle out of Emily.

The way she looks at Chloe is completely different from how she looks at Julie and me. Julie described it best by saying that her look is one of complete amazement and envy. Chloe apparently has a wow factor that Mom and Dad definitely don't. It's as if she knows that Chloe will be the one teaching her the ropes and getting her into all sorts of mischief. I can't wait, really! If I have to put one more stuffed animal to bed for Chloe or change Elmo's diaper again, I think I'll pull my hair out.

A warning about 3D Christmas Movies

We took Chloe to see Santa vs. Snowman, a 3D IMAX Christmas movie, at the Museum of Civilization. She was scared to death and we had to take her out of the theatre. Who would have thought that it would be a cartoon movie about arctic warfare. Santa and his elves were shooting up a bunch of snowmen with lasers, cannons and bombs for the right to operate the toy distribution system. Someone should have warned us (i.e., the high-paid government employee selling the tickets). Chloe did look cute in the 3D glasses though!

Yes, Chloe is eating her popcorn out of a (clean) diaper. Hey, you work with what you've got.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Big Girl Bed

So Chloe had her big girl bed delivered last night. We've had her pumped about it for days now, and when it finally arrived, she couldn't even finish her dinner she was so excited. We were both excited too, and Julie couldn't wait to be able to cuddle up beside her and read stories in the new bed.

Unfortunately, Chloe was having none of that. She was a big girl now. She told Julie that she didn't want stories or songs or the little stuffed animal she usually takes to bed with her. "I just want my bed mommy. You go now. I go to sleep."

And that was that - no more need for stories, for songs, for good night kisses. Chloe was a big girl now, and didn't need us anymore... or so she thought. All seemed to be going well until about an hour later we heard a crash and scream. Julie walked into the room to see no one on the floor or the bed, just Chloe's hands clutching at the inside edge of the bed, beside the wall. Her head then slowly came up, screaming in terror. She looked like a hiker who'd slipped off the edge of a cliff.

It seems that Chloe had snuggled up against the wall, much as she used to do with the side of her crib, and that the bed had pushed right out from it. Chloe went crashing down in between.  She was shaken, but there was no other damage, thank heavens. We'd put Chloe's crib mattress down beside the bed in  case she fell off, but we hadn't thought of her falling between the bed and the wall! I immediately got some wheel locks from under our bed and put them on Chloe's bed. Chloe was scared but way too proud not to go back to sleep in her big bed.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

They make you want to be a better man

Yes, I stole that title from a cheesy line in a movie. But it's true, and I think it might be a nearly universal feeling among fathers. Mothers, at least the ones I know, seem to be caught up with wanting to be the best mothers they can be right now for their children. They are focused on the decisions they make in child rearing. And while men are also concerned about being good fathers in the here and now, our real hang up is about image.

We want to be perfect in our children's eyes - the funniest, the strongest, the smartest, the coolest, the most successful. In short, we want to be superheroes to our children. Why? Well, first of all, it's hard to convince adults that we're superheroes, but with kids we can pull it off. But mostly it's because we feel that we teach by example. By being strong ourselves, by striving for what we want, we teach our children to be and do the same.

Of course, many women also model many of these traits, especially when it comes to teaching their daughters to be strong and independent. But at the risk of going out on a limb, I would venture to say that, until relatively recently, its men who have been the most concerned about the image and character they reflect back to their children (albeit boys) - how they deal with others in the outside world, their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and failures. A man's worth, after all, has always been measured in the public sphere.

So I shouldn't be surprised to find that since having children, considerations such as where I am in life, what I've achieved, who I am as a person, my character, have all weighed heavily on my mind. When I bring these concerns up to Julie, she gives me a very puzzled look. "But you're a wonderful father," she says, "That's what matters." Maybe, but it's not good enough, even if it should be. I have to achieve something. I have to be able to look at myself in a mirror and say, I contributed something worthwhile to this world I live in, that I'm doing what I want to be doing, not just what pays the bills. Otherwise, how do I look my children in the eyes and tell them to strive to do what they love to do, to be who they are, to take all necessary risks, to compromise nothing when it comes to their potential.

I've compromised a lot - taken the easy path. We all do, and I'm not beating myself up about it. But still, how do I ask from my children what I haven't been willing to do myself? I'm not particularly fond of my job, but I do it anyway. I love reading, writing, thinking, but don't find much time for these passions. I used to love the piano, but haven't played one in years. And the callouses on the tips of my fingers from playing guitar, they're gone.

None of this should come as a surprise. As John Lennon said, "life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." But kids can help to refocus you. They can make you a better man. I have this blog, and through it I've taken the initiative to actually do something I've always wanted to do - write. I've also started querying magazines for article ideas I have. It may all come to very little, but I'm giving it a try, putting myself out there, at least a little.

And for mothers out there everywhere, when a father spends too much time at the office, or seems obsessed with relaunching his career or taking up an old hobby, do gently remind him that his family comes first. But also keep in mind that family just might be the driving force behind his seemingly foolish choices. Unless he's quite the exception to the rule, he needs to feel valued and successful out there to be a superhero at home.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Drink from a Glass When You Can Have Crystal?

Emily has always been an avid breastfeeder. When she was first pushed out, I pulled her up onto Julie's chest and she went immediately to the breast and latched on. She fed for two hours straight! The midwives had never seen anything like it. So needless to say, and unlike with Chloe, we really haven't had to work very hard on the breastfeeding thing with Emily. She likes breasts. She's into authenticity.

The problem is, she likes breastfeeding so much that she absolutely refuses to take pumped milk in a bottle. We tried about a month ago. Julie was out, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to get her used to the bottle. So when she woke up crying and hungry, I offered her some nice warm milk in a bottle. She took the nipple happily at first, and felt it between her gums (I guess she figured Dad could have breasts too - why not?). Then suddenly her demeanor changed. She looked at me as I'm sure Caesar looked at Brutus - stunned, betrayed, angry, scared, and then spat the nipple back at me. I knew what was coming next - the calm before the storm. She took a Poseidon sized breath while shaking her head in tyrannical anger and let loose with a torrent of screaming. I tried a few more times to put the bottle back in, but to no avail. She wasn't taking to any fake nipple  Fortunately Julie came in the door soon after and was able to feed her. No, bottle feeding is not for Emily, and as a result, the Breastaurant is open 24/7.

For quite a long time, this didn't pose much of a problem. Emily sleeps relatively well at night, and she was portable. She'd sleep almost anywhere, especially in a carrier. Unfortunately, she's not so portable anymore. For the last couple of weeks she's needed to take her naps at home, in her crib. And since her naps are only 45 minutes in length right now, followed by an hour of wake time, Julie doesn't have much time to get out either with or without Emily. Today, I went shopping with Julie so that she could run into stores while I kept driving with Emily to keep her sleeping. It worked pretty well, but Emily's environmental footprint will get pretty big if we keep that up.

It's been a bit frustrating, and I feel terrible because there's little I can do. Julie has a work event to go to next Friday, and she'll only be able to stop in for cocktails. I wish I could find a way to let her enjoy the whole evening.  But all we can do is tell ourselves that this won't last long. She'll soon be taking longer naps and won't need to feed as often. And before we know it, she'll be able to drink her milk from a sippy cup. Until then, I suppose we should feel lucky to have such problems.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Even a Grinch's Heart Can be Melted

The other day Julie told me about a visit Chloe made to the Santa at the mall. Apparently Chloe was too scared to sit on Santa's lap, and I immediately thought about that scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphy visits the mall Santa and gets kicked down the slide with Santa's big boot (you'll shoot your eye out kid). For those who haven't seen it, it's a classic.

Anyhow, while Chloe wasn't in the mood to sit on the big guy's lap, she was brave enough to tell Santa very quietly that she wants a new baby for Christmas (she means another doll). As she and Mom left the tinsel and cotton snow behind, Chloe turned to Mommy, quite concerned and a little sad and said, "Mommy, Santa didn't hear me ask for a new baby. My get a new baby for Christmas?"

Well, what can I say? It was the sweetest thing in the world knowing my little girl is being taken in by the magic, and it's melted this Grinch's heart  more than a little. We'll see how I feel when she starts asking for a cell phone.

But until then, I'll admit old Saint Nick has still got some charm.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Pox on Both your Houses - Dissecting the Mommy Wars

They don't have as high a profile as the Wars of the Roses or the Crusades, but the Mommy Wars are about as senseless, though admittedly less lethal.

And what are the Mommy Wars? In short, they are sometimes direct, but often passive aggressive battles and skirmishes between women over who has the right way to give birth, feed a baby and raise a child. And since they are fights primarily between mama bears, things can get ugly. However all women can feel free to take part - mothers, mothers of mothers, mothers-to-be. The only eligibility for enrollment is that you're female and that you have something nasty to say about another woman's chosen approach to parenting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Car seats expand with the times

There was an article in the Globe and Mail this morning about how Transport Canada is changing car seat and booster seat specifications in January to reflect the new reality of babies' and toddlers' needs. Seats will be reinforced to handle higher weights. Here's an excerpt:

The changes are driven partly by the trend of children getting bigger over the past two decades, Transport Canada said. Experts blame shifting lifestyles, including high-calorie food consumption, more time spent in front of the computer or television, and mothers switching earlier to feeding their babies formula rather than breast milk. 

For the complete article, go to:

This excerpt speaks for itself, but I will speak to this trend by saying that we as parents need to do better. And the government needs to be doing a better job of making our jobs easier through education and responsible regulation of the food and marketing industries before it finds itself designing new car seats.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How do you tell your children that you hate Santa?

Julie's either a saint or a glutton for punishment when she chooses to take me to a mall at Christmas time.

Things started out pretty well yesterday, and we were both pretty happy to be able to spend some time with just the littlest one (Chloe was with her aunt), and I was ecstatic that they hadn't started to play the Christmas music yet. But try as I might to remain upbeat, my mood turned sour as I stood in countless lines, returned items that were supposed to be on sale but weren't, and dealt with a gift card glitch at Sears that took 50 minutes to resolve. So by the time Mariah Carey and Brian Adams started in on the Christmas tunes, I was already on edge. Rather than ruin Julie's good time though, I slipped out for a few minutes to cool down. When the shopping was done, Julie said to me, "that was so successful. I can't believe how well we did." "Really," I said, "that's great."

This is hard to confess, and I've been in denial for many years now, but I'm finally ready to step forward and tell the world that I kinda sorta hate Christmas. Not all of it. I love the day - the food, the wine, the wonderful company of friends and family. I love the conversation, the games, the warmth. In fact, Christmas day is probably my favourite day of the year.

Unfortunately the Christmas season doesn't last for 1 or 2 or even 3 days. It marches on to the beat of that sickening Christmas music for 6 bloody weeks before the big day. A 6 week propaganda campaign - not support our troops, but support consumption. Get your fix. Buy, use, consume and throw away.  And get the kids hooked early. "Ho ho ho, want to be happy in life?  it's all about the toys kids."  And it works. Growing up, we go from kids who want toys to adults who need toys. We use clothes, gadgets, and food to distract us from whatever void we'd rather continue to ignore.

And whose fault is this? It's Santa's. And we all know it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Emily's favourite song

Ageless Lullaby
by: Dennis O'Toole (Emily's Great Uncle)

Toura loura loura
ke sera sera
I don't know just where you are
so I'll wish upon a star

Even now I'm all grown up and wise
and I have children of my own
I'll hug them and I'll hold them, kiss the tears from their eyes
though at times, I feel lost and alone

And somewhere over the rainbow
I see bluebirds soar high in the sky
and if dreams to come true, I'll sing again for you
when we meet, in that sweet by-and-by

Till then I'll sing, toura loura loura
and recall my mother's eyes
whatever will be will be, thank God the future's not ours to see
still there's strength in those old lullabies

And somewhere deep in my soul
rocks an ageless lullaby
its cradle, like baby, in my memory
singing toura, toura loura, toura lie

* My apologies to the author for any mistakes I may have made in the lyrics.

This song was originally written for my Uncle Dennis' mother (my grandmother) who used to sing Toura Loura (an Irish Lullaby) to him as a child. I've been singing it to Emily to calm her when she's fussy, and it works like no other song. She looks up at me as though transfixed for the entire song, and coos in reply. It's now become part of her bedtime routine. I think it's one of the best of Dennis' many wonderful songs, and I'm happy Emily agrees. With Dennis' permission, and if I'm technologically enough inclined, I'll try to upload the audio of the track at some point.

Friday, November 19, 2010

10 best things about being a Dad

10. Watching in guilty pleasure as your child insists on trying new things, like mustard powder
9. Rediscovering the things you forgot you liked
8. Reading bed time stories and using crazy voices
7. Living someone else's excitement and adventures
6. Making up stories and having them believed
5. Knowing you'll be looked after when you're old (hopefully)
4. Conspiring with your wife for some alone time
3. Having an excuse to buy treats
2. Getting real hugs - anyone with a kid knows what I mean
1. Having someone in the house that thinks you're hilarious

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where do your loyalties lie?

I think that it's worthwhile considering what you would do in an impossible situation. It speaks to who you are as a person. Too often we go through each day ignoring or even hiding from the realities of the lives that surround us. We protect our own - our own families, our own comfort, our own social spheres.

Most of us are fortunate enough to go through life without ever being confronted with a choice that tests the very thread of our moral fabric - a choice that, regardless of which way we choose, will forever alter the course of our lives. Yesterday, I heard a story about a man who had to make such a choice.

Friday, November 12, 2010

She's no dummy

When did I forget how to observe... how to pause and consider what's going on around me. Perhaps I haven't forgotten - just learned how to be selective, out of necessity. I do, for example, try to take the time every day to stop and consider moments with the kids that I know will be gone so quickly.

But Chloe, she's a different story. She sees everything and remembers everything, or so it seems.


I'm usually the one who gets up first in the morning so that Julie can catch up on her sleep. Chloe has this little clock made in Switzerland that we got her so that she can tell the time - or at least when it's time to get up. At precisely 6:10 am, a sleeping bunny on the clock wakes up and makes his way to school, sporting a cute little backpack.

The $80 purchase has been like manna from heaven, or the Alps anyway. Before the clock, Chloe used to wake up every morning at around 5:30. We didn't want to start our days before 6, so we'd have to listen to her scream and cry for half an hour or more. It was hell. And who could blame her, really, she had no way of knowing what time it was or when she could get up. It must have been frustrating.

So now every morning, at around 6:10, I'm awakened to my daughter enthusiastically yelling, in her high-pitched voice, "Bunny awake. Bunny awake Daddy. The bunny's awake. It's time to get up." I get out of bed as quickly as possible and make my way to her room so she'll stop yelling and hopefully not wake Emily up. When I get there, it takes every ounce of energy to put on an enthusiastic face and tell her how happy I am that it's time to get up. We make our way to the kitchen and I try to wake myself up as I'm feeding her oatmeal and making myself coffee. Chloe likes a sippy cup full of milk, and oatmeal with milk and maple syrup on it.

One morning not long ago, we started this routine, as per usual, when I realized we were almost out of milk. I told Chloe that there would be a little bit for her oatmeal and a little bit for her sippy cup. I also quietly saved a little bit in the jug for my coffee. She said o.k., started eating breakfast and I went about making coffee. As I was about to pour myself a cup, she said to me, "more oatmeal, Daddy. Little bit of milk for my oatmeal, not for Daddy's coffee."

I was stunned. This, of course, was not the first time I'd kept a little bit of milk back for my coffee. The kid goes through milk like an SUV goes through gas. She decided that this time, she was getting the last of the milk.

Needless to say, I drank my coffee black.

Baby care in real time

I was just taking a few minutes to research how to get my blog traffic up. Being new to this digital world, I have no idea how to attract more people to my blog. I tried Googling my blog, and to my surprise I saw it come up right away! "Look Julie," I exclaimed, "my blog comes up right away on Google."

"That's nice, but could you get your mind off your blog for a minute and look at your daughter?" I looked over to see Julie holding Emily out from her like radioactive material. Her sleeper was covered in wet orange poo. Must be the antibiotics she's on for her ear infection. "Hurry up and help me out... and bring lots of wet cloths."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yes girls, your dad's on a learning curve

O.k. I have to admit it. Being home with two children is more difficult than I expected.

I had it all worked out in my head. I was going to be a new-age guy, a father who stays at home with his kids, knows the routines, shares the work, and maybe finds some time to blog on the side. I also hoped I'd be able to find the time to experiment with a dream of mine that I’ve been too busy (lazy?) to really act on before – write a story I could sell to a magazine. Sure,I'd be busy with the kids. I had no illusions about that. But surely with two of us home I would be able to find the time to work on a few individual aspirations.

And that’s the kicker. Somehow I thought that with both of us being off full time, at least for the first four or five months, the stay-at-home job would be kind of part-time. But it’s not, of course. If staying at home every day with a toddler and a newborn were only a one-person job, I wouldn’t be needed. I could have continued going into the office everyday (which, incidentally, is both less work and less rewarding than being at home).

Why am I trying to write for a magazine? Why am I writing this blog? Yes, it’s because I really want to. That’s part of it. But it’s also because I want to be able to tell anyone who asks that I’m doing something other than just looking after two children. And here I am frustrated that I've been so busy doing what I'm supposed to be doing to have the time to write. Yes, despite my best efforts, I can be one chauvinistic son-of-a-bitch. Never underestimate the importance of the male ego.

Is it possible to be male and not be chauvinistic? I'm not so sure. How many men would want to admit, for example, that the jobs they're doing every day at the office, with accompanying stature, salary (and inbox full of useless messages), might be less work than they would be doing were they to stay at home with their kids? It goes to show how much men really get the domestic side of family life or how much we want to, even when we think we do.

Until we can bring an alternative masculinity into clearer focus - one that doesn't rely on men having to justify their value based on their perceived importance in the public sphere, many stay-at-home dads are going to continue to feel as though they just stepped out of a cold swimming pool naked every time they're asked what they're doing Monday to Friday.

So here’s the long and short of it. Yes, my being home eases the burden on Julie, and that’s a major reason I stayed home in the first place. We both wanted to make sure that the lonely difficult road Julie was on with Chloe didn’t repeat itself. There were parts of Chloe’s infancy that Julie doesn’t remember. This time she'll remember. She’s having a wonderful experience with both of her little girls.

But while having both of us home lessens the burden, it doesn’t free up much time. That’s because two children are plenty of work for two parents. Often I’ll take Chloe while Julie takes Emily, or vice-verse. But both kids still need us most of the day. So we’re usually both busy looking after kids from 6 in the morning until 7 at night.

The difference with me being home is not the amount of time each of us spends looking after children, but our capacity to enjoy spending time with them.
Things are getting easier, and we’re starting to be able give each other time to pursue other interests. And that’s good, because I feel that this blog, this record of early parenthood, is important for me, for Julie, for the kids, and for whoever else takes an interest.

As for the magazine writing, well, I’d better make time in the evening if I want to do that, just like I would have had to were I still going in to the office.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Big Sister

Chloe wore her Big Sister shirt to daycare today. It's her favorite shirt, and she makes sure she reads it out to everyone she meets. But even when she's not wearing it, she makes sure everyone knows about her place in the family anyway. "I'm a big sister," she says. "Emily's my little sister."

Chloe's been finding it more difficult lately to lose so much of the time she's used to having with Mom. I think I've filled in relatively well, but though she likes being silly and goofy with Daddy, it's Mom's attention she's craving.

The last few days, Chloe's been telling me that Emily's my girl and that she's Mommy's girl. I'm not kidding, and I'd be lying if I didn't say it hurts a bit. But this is just her latest strategy for getting more time with Mom. When we go somewhere, she says, "Daddy, you put Emily in the car. Mommy puts me in the car." At night time it's, "Daddy, you take Emily so Mommy can get me ready for bed."

But what surprises me and makes me very proud is that Chloe is so good to Emily. She's smart. She knows darn well that Emily's needs are coming before hers right now, but she never seems to be angry with her. She's embraced Emily from the beginning. And as hard as it is for her to share her Mom with someone else, she's sincerely happy - no gleeful, to have a sister. All she wants to do is hold her, hug her, and kiss her. We have to watch that she doesn't smother Emily to death (or strangle her - she's fond of putting her hand around Emily's throat).

I can see how much Chloe longs to have someone in the family closer to her own age. She can't wait until Emily's a little older. It's funny, but Julie and I see more clearly now than we did before Emily came along what an only child might be missing. And I'm not making a judgment here. Life is full of trade-offs, and for every benefit there are drawbacks. Still, I'm glad these two will have each other to love, support and keep each other company - in childhood and in life.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Emily's smile

The most beautiful, disarming, engaging smile. It goes so well with her soft, gentle, inquisitive eyes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Surviving the witching hours and ghosts of the past

This week, for a few nights, Emily didn't sleep very well. She was also quite fussy in the evening. In and of itself, this is not unusual or anxiety provoking. She's six weeks past her due date, which is typically a fussy period for all babies. It will probably pass quickly. But for Julie, this sleeplessness has brought back the ghosts of past experience.

As I've said, Chloe was an extremely colicky baby, and Julie and I were first time parents just trying our best to keep our heads above water. I was working at the time. Looking back on it, there was no reason I couldn't have taken the time then that I'm taking now. I wish I had, but we hadn't even thought of it.

As it turned out, I stayed home many days anyway, despite feeling pressure at work. As difficulty became crisis, I tried to help in my typically male - typically Sutton way. I just wanted to identify the problems and fix them. I reassured Julie that everything would be fine, that the colic would pass. I got frustrated when she would say that she saw no end in sight, that Chloe would never stop crying, would never sleep. I'd say, "but of course she will. All babies do. It's just a matter of time."

The more she tried to express how she was feeling, the more I'd try to apply logic to help counter what I saw as irrational and counterproductive thinking. I was desperate to bring back the Julie I knew, to convince her that there was nothing to worry about, that it would all pass. Julie was desperate for me to listen.

I'd like to think that I was helpful and supportive during our darkest moments in the land of colic (an appropriate name for a fog of sleeplessness and chaos that we lived and breathed for weeks on end)and to some extent I know that I was. I did know enough to eventually recognize the real problems we were facing and to do everything possible to deal with them. But I could have done better sooner. Looking back on it, I know now that I was scared, but that I couldn't allow myself to acknowledge it at the time.

This time is different. Emily is starting to sleep better again, and Julie's fears haven't gotten the best of her. There were some fearful moments, but they've passed. No, this is unfair - fears don't pass, they are conquered. I once again began to fall into my typical pattern of trying to rationalize away the fear. But I also listened, and reminded Julie that I would be there with her this time, even if the worst were to transpire. I think just being present, all day and all night, has made the biggest difference, and for this reason alone, I'm happy to be right here and not somewhere else.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh, isn't she cute? I just love the eyes... I'll call you next spring when you can leave the house again.

I can't take Emily anywhere without somebody stopping us to fawn over her. It was the same with Chloe. In fact the younger she was, the more comments we'd get. Our first child still generates oohs and aahs from time to time, but nothing like when she was a drooling, crying food processor that cried lots, slept little and spoke not at all.

But despite all the fawning, the truth is that most people (close family excepted) didn't really want much to do with a baby. They just wanted to ooh and aah, tell you what a perfect little angel you have, and then get on with their lives. And who can blame them. What else are they expected to do? Parents can interact with a baby (albeit in a limited way) because they know the child so well. They know that the Jean Chretien-like smile they see today wasn't there yesterday, and that their child has started having an easier time passing gas. To parents this is all thrilling, to everyone else... not so much. For all of their fawning, I think that most people would give the nutrition label on their box of cereal more of their focus than someone else's baby. And so they should - there's more information to be gleaned from the cereal box.

So why do we fawn over babies so much if we really don't find them that interesting? Well, for one thing, parents expect it. With each word of praise for their child, we're confirming their own virility and the quality of the genes they've passed on. They even thank us for it. "Oh thank you, you're too kind - Yes, George and I do make beautiful babies, don't we." And just think of how many ugly babies you've fawned over. You had no choice. You wouldn't want to offend the parents or their gene pool.

But, of course, there's more to our gushing than this. Babies represent us at our most basic and innocent, and as close to perfect as we get. They are the latest products of the evolutionary process - the newest models, so to speak. And who doesn't want to drool over the newest model? But let's face it, our interest in someone else's baby goes no deeper than our interest in Justin Bieber or Obama's dog. They're cute, and usually well groomed.

This explains the phenomenon of "A Baby Story." For the longest time I couldn't understand what anyone could possibly see in this show. But now I get it. It's cute, at least for some people. And I guess that's as good a reason to tune in as any. And no wonder I didn't get the show. I don't get "People" magazine or "Entertainment Tonight" either. I've never been that interested in celebrities, other people's babies, the latest Justin Bieber, or someone else's dog. Hell, I find it painful talking to people I don't know at a party, because it's usually not worth the investment. I'm probably in the minority, but I'm not alone.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Planning for an adventure

Over the last couple of years, Julie and I have wanted to take our family on an adventure of some sort - to get away from the everyday, to do something different. We've been fortunate enough to go on all sorts of vacations and see wonderful places, but we wanted to be able to go somewhere long enough to truly experience the people and the culture. Julie, in particular, has wanted to brush up on her French, so France seemed like a perfect fit. Besides, we both love France (o.k., I border on infatuated, but Julie likes it too).

At first, the plan was to go for 6 months, maybe a year, and possibly teach English and practice our French. But this plan now seems a bit ambitious, and possibly cruel to some very engaged grandparents.

So our hope for the past year has been to spend a few months of parental leave - once our second baby arrived, in the south of France. Knowing that we would be living on only one parental leave salary (mine), we started to save up for this trip quite some time ago (the old pleather couch in the living room and the pink family room downstairs tell the story of our frugality).

Well, the last week and a half have been insanely busy. Besides getting everything confirmed for the trip (we leave January 21 and come back April 21), I found myself with two job exams to write and one interview to sit.

But everything is done. We're booked in Nice - 4 people and a dog, in the heart of the French Riviera - pricier than we wanted, but everything's there. Julie will be able to go to activities, classes, etc. in the evening and between naps. I'll be able to take Chloe on fabulous day trips, and the family outings should be unforgettable. I've done some research, and museums are generally free, transit both in Nice and in the region is 1 Euro a trip, and we'll be surrounded by both Mediterranean and mountain towns. It's the perfect spot for a family that won't be too mobile. I may even take some cooking lessons, if we have any money left.

This is important to me... and I think to Julie too. It's also quite scary, and I'm not just talking about the plane trip!

It's funny, but what's scaring me most is what I presume others might think. Bad enough that a father's not at work, he's taking the family on a holiday for three months.

I have to admit it, it's sometimes hard not to be "working" everyday. Even though I know I work much harder here right now than I ever did managing imaginary crises at work, this is just not the type of work that men do. Every bone in my body hates that kind of stereotype, but still... I can't help but feel somewhat emasculated in my current role. If only I could say, I'm going to be teaching in France, or taking classes at the University. That would be more acceptable, I'm sure. It would demonstrate some sort of productivity? Heaven help a man who isn't being "productive."

No matter. This is part of the experience, part of the learning for me. I never would have thought of myself as being bound by such silly conventions and expectations, yet here I am struggling with them, constantly haunted by my Grandfather's words, "a man shouldn't take that kind of time off." And I know the words wouldn't haunt me so if I didn't respect his opinion so much.

So what grounds me? What brings me clarity? Every experience that I'm sharing with my children, and my wife. "Seize the day." That's what I'm doing, that's what I'm teaching, I hope.

I want to show Chloe and Emily that there is virtue in taking risks, exploring life, geography, culture - seeing everything and everyone from a new perspective, in this case a French one. And there is definitely virtue in striking a different course than others. My parents taught me that, and I thank them for it.

When faced with seemingly difficult choices, I usually find it helpful to project myself 10 or 20 years into the future, looking back on the choice. What would I have wished I had done. It's amazing how easy some decisions become when you do this. It helped me decide to take parental leave to be with my family, to go to France with two kids and a dog when we "should" be paying down the mortgage, and to write this blog.

A new couch will have to wait.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Standing in line at McDonald's, pained that poor planning after an afternoon of apple picking had led to us having to resort to McNuggets for Chloe's dinner, the lady in front of me drops her Coke on the floor. It wound up on my glasses, on my nose and on Emily's head (I was holding her against my chest, fast asleep). At first I was irritated, but decided I would be friendly about it... after all, it was an accident. The lady, however, didn't apologize, just gave me one of those "what are you going to do" smirks.

A minute later, I turn around, with Emily still asleep on my chest and see a grandmotherly lady smiling at me. I smile back, hoping she's infatuated with Emily and not me, and she says, "poor little girl." I smiled, thinking she was referring to the Coke incident and said, "oh, she's o.k., no problem." "Poor little girl," she says again, "with her neck all twisted to the side like that," she's going to have a sore neck." I looked down at Emily, and yes her neck was, as typical, off to one side. That's how she likes to sleep. I thanked her for her concern and turned back, gratefully, to the teenager behind the counter. All she had to say was how cute my baby was... refreshing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Roles and responsibilities

I get along pretty well by taking things one day at time. But then I'm not too hung up about being a good father at this stage. Let's face it, the bar's not set that high yet for fathers of young children. Some score points just for sticking around. Most get nods of approval for remembering to bring the kid's snack along to the park. I'm committed to being fully engaged right from the start, which I hope one day will be the norm, but it's not yet.

Traditionally, a man's responsibilities have started later. The father was responsible for preparing the speaking, thinking child (usually boy)to succeed and even thrive in the outside world - the public sphere. And men are still quite hung up about this burden of responsibility. But what men didn't realize or care to think about was that preparation for the outside world begins long before a child's first words. I remember Chloe's first days in daycare and the reassurance and self-confidence she needed to interact with a room full of children.

Whereas men have the luxury of exploring their new roles as fathers with a sense of awe and curiosity, a mother is burdened with the weight of generations of expectations right from the moment her child breathes its first breath. Mothers are "supposed" to know what they're doing. Its supposed to come "naturally." Their mothers and mother-in-laws did it - with more kids and with fathers who didn't get parental leave.

I think we need to remind mothers today that the times have changed in a lot of ways. Yes, "they" did it (and went through a lot of grief in the process, I'm sure, although memory is beautifully selective). But they also had more support. Families lived closer together. Raising young children was a responsibility shared by mothers, sisters, grandmothers. A mother of a new baby benefited from the wisdom and experience of the other mothers that surrounded her.

But what was isn't anymore, which is why men take parental leave, and why women need more of that kind of support at home. Society has adjusted to changing circumstances. And if it hadn't, it's my belief that our birthrate would have fallen off a cliff by now. As it stands, it's actually starting to improve.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sleepless in Aylmer

Sleep is coming less easily now. It's a cruel irony (and I mean that in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word) that the less one sleeps, the more difficult it eventually becomes to get to sleep. To those who suffer from true insomnia (i.e., not baby induced), my heart goes out to you.

Last night we had a lovely dinner with Brendan and Michele - and Michele got to meet Emily. For dessert we had dark chocolate and tea. Julie really hadn't had chocolate since Emily came along, and we had no idea what we would be in for last night. Emily was up all night burping and farting out the effects of caffeine and whatever else in chocolate turns a sweet innocent child into something that looks and sounds an awful lot like Gollum. I wound up getting very little sleep, and Julie got less. Poor Emily has been catching up on her sleep all day - which is the only grace we've been given.

I worry about Julie when she doesn't get enough sleep. She needs more than I do, and mothers have a unique burden that fathers, thankfully, are spared. A word to new fathers, if I may: As your partner gets tired and discouraged in those early months of motherhood, offer lots of reassurance that they're doing a darn good job. Frankly, I don't know how they can be up every hour all night and not lose their sanity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chloe is infatuated with Emily. Yesterday, the two girls and Mom were all sitting on the couch together, and Chloe was stroking Emily's hair (o.k. scalp) and giving her little kisses while she was feeding. Chloe always wants to be around her sister. She's excited, loving, and very protective of our new family member. Of course, she's also finding this change quite an adjustment, and I've never had so many hugs and kisses from her. She certainly notices that attentions that were all focused on her before are now being divided, and it's a testament to her sensitive, inclusive nature, that she does not appear to resent her sister. I keep waiting for Chloe to get mad at Emily or her parents, but she doesn't. She'd just like to be held at the same time as her sister, and reassured that she's still important too.

Julie said something to me yesterday that has stuck in my memory. She said, "you know, their relationship will outlast the relationship they have with their parents." I hadn't thought of this, and it gives me great comfort.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why have children?

Before Chloe was born (and, I admit, when she had colic) I often asked myself this question. Was I choosing to have children simply because it was the next stage in life, or looking for some sort of greater meaning to life, so far elusive? I certainly didn't think that there was any ethical need to continue to populate the planet. In fact, I was convinced, and still am, that having children or not having children is a question of purely personal preference, with no particular relevance to the advancement of the human race. No matter what I were to have decided, for example, there would have been lots of people quite willing to continue populating the world for all sorts of reasons, including out of some crazy sense of divine duty.

Now that I have children, I'm startled, exhilarated, and frightened by how the experience has changed me already. Having children has brought me in touch with some of my core human emotions. When I look at Chloe and her innocent curiosity, her endless love of discovery, and her incredible sensitivity and empathy - "ca va Maman?" - I want to share in it, feel young again myself. I want to do well by her, raise her to be a good citizen, a contributor to the advancement of all that is worth advancing. But more than anything, I want her to be happy and whole. And I would protect this potential at all cost.

I have become acutely aware of just how fragile our social fabric really is and how important it is to the success of my girls as they grow and reach for their dreams. I've come to realize that we have been living in a special time and place, where girls and women can become whoever they wish to be, where tolerance, rights, and acceptance have been core beliefs of our society.

We have come a long way, and of course we have much further to go, but we could also slide back. There have always been people and movements with authoritarian and totalitarian impulses who would like to turn back the clock on all that we have achieved. And there are many others who, out of blindness and ignorance, would willingly follow. Do I sound a touch paranoid? I recognize that, but if you look at the history of our species, we are very much in a unique age, when reason, individual freedom and human rights are held up as ideals. It's been a short window so far (to think, Status Indians in Canada were given the right to vote only in 1960, and married women have been tolerated in the workplace for less than 50 years).

We are now seeing a resurgence in religious muscle, both here and abroad, and for the most part religion spells danger, especially for girls and for women. Where reason has slowly broken down all arguments for the natural dominance of the few over the many, for men over women, the monotheisms provide doctrine to justify inequality and suppression. I hope the time never comes when I have to fight for what we now take for granted, but if that time comes, I'll be there, for my children and their children.

When I look at my girls, I see what matters - a quiet tentativeness, an energetic curiosity, a sensitivity to others. Children don't come with ideologies and revelations. The don't come confident in their own certainties. They come with a natural faith in their own parents, and a natural desire to interact with each other - completely oblivious to artificially imposed differences. Why have children? Because they humble you. They fill you with awe and wonder. You realize that you don't know everything, and in fact don't know much at all. Neither do they, so you learn together - what an antidote to the certainty with which most people speak everyday. Socrates was supposed to have said, during his trial for heresy, something to the effect that a man is educated once he understands how truly little he actually knows. My daughters have helped me already in my education.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the park

The picture I've just added (top right, in case you missed it) was taken this afternoon at a little park in Aylmer.  Chloe was thrilled to be able to play in the splash pad. She was afraid to go in at first, but when Daddy finally relented and went in fully clothed, she was all for it! My wallet is drying out surprisingly well.

So... the other story to which I alluded yesterday. Well, I should preface it by explaining just what a dire situation two first-time parents were in at the time. Chloe was about 2 months old and in the height of terrible colic. She was sleeping for no more that 20-40 minutes at one time, all day and all night. So, to put some perspective on this, if Julie and I got her to bed at 7:00 pm, she would normally be awake by 7:30. It would then take nearly an hour to get her back to sleep. I think you can put the rest of the night together. Oh, and I should add, when she was awake, she screamed non-stop the whole time, like something out of a Hitchcock movie. To calm the screaming, all we could do was stand, rock her back and forth, while jiggling her the whole time. We had tried everything, every book, every piece of advise. This is the best we had.

To get any sleep at all, we had to work in shifts, with one of us often sleeping in the basement for half of the night so the screaming wasn't too loud. In the morning, I had to go to work, and Julie kept on having to deal with the screaming. I truly believe that as exhausted and demoralized as I was, Julie had it worse. At least I could get away from the screaming.

So here I was on a Saturday afternoon standing in the park rocking a screaming baby back and forth to try to settle her, when along came this woman with a look of incredible pity on her face - as though she had stumbled upon a lost puppy dog. At this point I'll have to translate approximately, because she was speaking French. She reached over to us, holding her hands out above us in a Mother Teresa style prayer/embrace, and said, "Oh, rub her tummy. That will make her feel better." I didn't answer. I have to admit that at that point I was afraid I would say something uncharitable, so I turned away from her and hoped she'd go away. But anyone rude enough to approach us in the first place wouldn't, would she? Nope, of course not. She actually reached over to Chloe, inside the carrier I had her in, and started rubbing her tummy! Again, I said nothing, but simply stepped aside and glared at her. But she still didn't stop. She actually asked me to hand her my child so that she could rub her tummy and stop the crying - a complete stranger!  The arrogance and presumption was beyond comprehension - beyond anything I could have imagined, and I realized right there just what Julie had been dealing with in terms of other mothers and their advice. It seems that when it comes to parenting, there are no boundaries, no rules. Decorum that applies in any other situation just doesn't here. I breathed deeply, realizing that if I didn't get out of the situation, things might get pretty ugly.  A word to the wise: You never know just who you're approaching in the middle of the park - even if he is holding a sweet child - and if the baby's screaming but isn't being tortured, I would advise staying far away.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Be wary of mothers who travel in groups

Well, Uncle Kevin came to visit last night and left again later this morning. He was travelling through the area and wanted to stop in briefly to meet Emily.

We decided we would take Chloe to the park in order to give Julie some time to nap. When we got to the swings (Chloe's favourite), there was a mother pushing her daughter, and several other mothers with children of their own sitting in the grass nearby. Now, I find that there are a couple of reactions I sometimes get from mothers and mothers groups when I'm out doing activities with Chloe. Either they're overly sweet and empathetic because they think I'm the equivalent of a latte-sipping metrosexual on a backwoods camping trip, or they're downright hostile because somehow I'm trampling on their sacred territory. 

Well, this time it felt like the latter. Kevin and I were having fun pushing Chloe back and forth on the swing, him at the front and me at the back. Chloe was having a blast laughing and going nice and high, and I could tell that this was somewhat disconcerting for at least some of the mothers (boy would you look at that father, not taking his job seriously enough). At any rate, Kevin went to get some change for the bus, and I was happily pushing Chloe when out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the children heading right for the swing. I didn't know whether to try to stop her or the swing and before I could do either, she'd been clocked right in the forehead with the full force of Chloe and the swing. It turns out that she was alright, but pretty upset. Mom came right away then and took her daughter with quite a scowl on her face (the mother, I mean). I felt absolutely awful and apologized for not being able to stop the swing in time (I said, "I'm so sorry, I didn't see her in time"). She mumbled something to the effect that "it's o.k.," but it wasn't very sincere, and she certainly didn't apologize for not keeping track of her kid (who appeared to be about three years old).

Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't help but think that had I been another mother,we both would have been apologizing profusely.  But in this case, it was just me apologizing, while she and the other mothers were quiet and noticeably annoyed. The mother of that child should have apologized, because Chloe sure felt awful, and I had to spend several minute assuring her that it wasn't her fault that the other little girl had been hurt. Maybe a mother would have seen the girl sooner, I don't know. But I can say one thing - if I had let my little girl run right in front of a swing and she'd gotten hit - I would have been blaming myself, and apologizing for the upset I'd caused everyone. Tomorrow I'll provide an example of the sweet and presumptuous.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For my daughters

I need to write more often. This blog is meant to serve both as a record of my daughters' experiences (or at least a record of what and how I saw) - a year in the life, so to speak, and as a space to explore my own thoughts on parenting, parental leave, and what it means to be a father. Therefore, I apologize in advance to anyone who finds that it seems more than a little self-absorbed. But I do hope that as this page evolves, parts of it will be of interest not only to family and friends, who take a natural interest in our family, but for other parents... especially men, who are suddenly thrown into the exciting but frightening role of caregiver, role model, husband (all over again), and superhero.

Chloe is loving having a little sister. It's an adjusment, but she's adjusting so well.  It helps that she's been excited about meeting her little sister now for months. Every morning, the first thing she says when i get her out of bed is, "Where's Emily?" or, "Emily Sleeping?" She gives her gentle and not so gentle kisses, and often tries to hug her in the same manner as she hugs Oliver (our Portuguese Water Dog) - which is to say, far to hard. But she is also aware and wary of Emily's new role in the family. Julie has missed having her around, and Chloe has become my biggest fan. I am flattered despite my knowledge that the source of this new interest is her insecurity in Mommy's more restricted availability. Yesterday, Chloe said to me, "You're my daddy." I said, "of course I am sweetheard, but I'm Emily's daddy too." "No," she said, "you're my daddy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcoming Emily Frances Marion Sutton

Emily arrived at 12:02 this afternoon after less than 6 hours of labour. She weighs 6 lbs 9 oz, and is about 20 inches in length. A very healthy, very pink girl. Everyone, including Mom, is doing fine. Chloe is very excited. So am I. Can't wait to share more tomorrow.