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.