October 31, 2007

Sleep Training Week 2007, Day Uno

It took two hours with my arm draped numbly over the side of her crib while Annie alternated between screaming, smiling, and silence to get her to fall… ah forget it, in the time it took to write that she woke up. The point is that my daughter does not like to go to sleep. Her constant struggle against it has become the only issue in my life. I have no clue about the outside world anymore. A point that my mother-in-law made clear to me the other night when I hadn’t even heard of the outbreak of MRSA staph infections going on around the country, despite that fact that a cousin of ours was one of the afflicted. He turned out to be one of the lucky few, as I found out after watching my first newscast last night in months.

Because Annie’s sleep issues are mine I need to get a better grip on them. She does not seem as affected by them as I am though. I walked through today like a zombie. She giggled the day away in her, cute as a button, Halloween cow outfit. My eyes haven’t stopped burning since the time I woke up 13 hours ago. And it’s only 6 pm here. It seems that five cups of coffee and two shots of espresso are no match for four hours of sleep. Maybe they would be if those four hours came in succession, but not when they are broken up by an hour and half soothing Annie back to bed.

All of this comes during what I will call Sleep Training Week 2007. I have embarked on a mission. The objective is to get Annie to sleep for eight to ten hours every night…in a row. I am told by plenty of other parents that their children do it, so it is time for me to stop spoiling and start sleeping. The truth is, the reason I am so lenient about Annie’s wakefulness is that it is easier on my nerves to sooth her instead of letting her cry it out. I am doing myself the favor, not her. From what I am told, about of week of progressively longer crying intervals should cure the beast of her insomnia. Last night was the first, and the interval was five minutes. Small, I know, but it is a start. Tonight we up the ante to ten minutes, then 20, then 40…anything after that is like pondering the end of the universe, or how I got through four years of high school Spanish without learning more than ten words.

I will keep ya’ll posted on how we progress. By this time next week I should be sleeping like a, ahem, baby. This should have far reaching ramifications on the rest of my life. I may even get a chance to fold the laundry that has been piled on the couch for the better part of a week. Here’s to hope.

By the way, I have noticed that my posts often take a negative slant on childrearing. For those that know me, know that essentially I am fine. The bottom line is that I write what I know, and right now I know the pain and heartache of sleep deprivation. So hang in there with me and we should get through it in about 22 years when Annabelle Harper Poulas is part of Stanford’s class of 2029.

October 29, 2007

Long Weekend

We had a busy weekend here at the Poulas house. We had a visit from Grandma Liz, a trip to the Dia De Los Muertos festival, and lots and lots of crying. Most of our weekends, as I have said before, run pretty smoothly. My wife takes some of the load off while we do something fun on Saturday, and then we clean on Sunday morning. This weekend however, was doomed from the start. Annie had those two shots at the doctor's Friday morning and Grandma wasn’t due until much later that night.

All babies are creatures of routine, but I am convinced that Annie is especially susceptible to the consequences of stretching out some of her well timed habits. The easiest one to make a mess of is her nap schedule. She can stay awake for longer than an hour and a half, but you are asking for trouble when it is time to put her down. On Friday, with a long doctor’s appointment and then lunch, she went about five hours with just a few quick catnaps in the car.

I knew at the beginning of the day that a schedule like that would be trouble. But when you are raising a child you often cut corners in order to have some semblance of a life of your own. A man should be able to eat a sandwich when he wants to or watch PTI in the afternoon. Unless of course what that man really wants is a baby that sleeps like a baby should. What happens to Annie when her routine is thrown upside down is what amounts to the full body equivalent of lockjaw. As soon as you assume the nap position (baby in crook of arm, pacifier held in mouth with other hand, semi recline) she starts to cry and stretch herself out in a perfectly straight line. She continues to push and cry until I give up and put her in the sling, or she gives up and grudgingly falls asleep. This is my fault. I almost always put her in the sling to nap; a habit that started out of convenience has now become a necessity. Now, my wife and are stuck looking for a naptime routine that works as well as her bedtime routine.

As Friday progressed, Annie’s mood soured. By mid afternoon she was near inconsolable and when she finally fell asleep (in her sling) she slept for almost three hours. When she woke up at 6 p.m. there were still five hours before Grandma’s flight landed. This led to yet another cut corner. A corner that we should have never dreamed of cutting. We left out her bedtime routine, because we thought that if she went to the airport with us at 11:30 she would freak out from being woken up. This was all well and good until it was time to actually put her to sleep at midnight. She went down easy enough, but proceeded to wake up at 1:30, 3:30, 5:30 and 7 a.m. Brutal.

Saturday morning was calm enough and this dad got to partake in one of his favorite pastimes…morning coffee with Grandma Liz. I’ve never told her this, but I love sitting with her in the morning before everyone else is awake. When you are married to my wife that usually amounts to about an hour, so there is plenty of relaxing time to chat about everything from childrearing to careers. When everyone else awoke it was time to get the day started. We got a needed boost in the morning from by a two hour nap by Annie, and at noon we were off to The Day of The Dead.

As far as festivals go, this was a pretty small one, and despite a nice effort by those involved, it was a bit of a sad sight. The children who participated all seemed to have a great time, but if I were involved in putting the event together, I would have been disappointed in the turnout. The pathetic amount of activity in downtown Shreveport only added to the desolate feel of the event. When we were walking up Texas street to the festival, it looked as if we were out at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday. Someday I will have to investigate what happened in Shreveport through the years to make it seem so lost.
Saturday afternoon was also calm and we went home to prepare for a rare date. My wife and I are not often alone, so we jumped at the chance to have Grandma baby-sit. We had a great meal (other than the inedible entrée my wife ordered which was professionally taken off the bill) at Bella Fresca that was only thrown off by the fact that we were about 30 years younger than everyone else in the room. These indicators that we have officially entered parenthood keep popping up for us. After two hours, two drinks, and too much food in our bellies we came home in jovial spirits, which were promptly dashed.

Annie was mid-wail when we opened the door and getting progressively louder. I have never seen her react that way at bedtime before. It took some major coaxing on my part to get her to sleep. I was very sorry that Grandma had to see her that way. I’m sure that this weekend was very difficult for her as well. Once Annie was asleep, she did her best to top her performance from the night before. She eventually accomplished her goal by teaming up with our dog Zoe and making sure that one of them cried/barked every half an hour or so. I’m not exaggerating. I literally found myself standing over Annie’s crib with tears in my eyes, praying that she would fall asleep. It was the hardest night since the first few, way back in early July.

When Grandma left early Sunday morning things returned to normal and we made sure that Annie took plenty of naps throughout the day. Her milestone of the weekend was a marathon session in her bouncer, something that she hadn’t enjoyed before. She is growing up so fast. Sunday night’s sleep was about a five on a scale of one to ten, but fives have been hard to come by lately, so I was content

October 26, 2007


This morning was Annie’s four month checkup with her pediatrician. Most parents dread the early visits, because they inevitably mean shots. There are somewhere north of 20 vaccinations that children need in the first few years, and I’m sure that they begin to associate a trip to the doctor’s with the Band-Aid on their thigh each time they leave. Adding to this, we have also chosen to limit the number of vaccinations that Annie gets at one time. Therefore Annie gets a shot, or two, every month, while other babies get multiple shots every other month. Our reasoning for this spread out schedule is the possible link with vaccinations and autism. While most vaccines no longer contain Thimerosal (only the flu vaccine does in the U.S.) we would still like to be better able to isolate any issue that arises after one of these visits.

The good news for us is that my little fighter only cries for a minute or two after receiving her shots. The process is definitely worse for her mother and me. This morning, the shock on her face at receiving a second jab of pain while still recovering from the first, made me well up a bit. Still, my pinky in her mouth and a few loud cries later, and she was good to go. Next month we get to do it all over again.

We also found out this morning that Annie’s thunder thighs are not just for show. She tipped the scales today at 13 lbs. 4 oz. This weight firmly places her in the 50th percentile for weight. If y'all remember, she took an entire month to eclipse her birth weight and was at one point below the 25th percentile. Now I’m worried that if she keeps eating at this pace she will gain too much. To think that we are going to start solids one day soon. She will look Andre the Giant (sorry, I just watched the Princess Bride) before you know it. Fortunatley, her height and head size were also up considerably since the last visit which points to a simple growth spurt. You go Annie.

October 25, 2007

Tummy Time

A strange thing happened today when I put Annie in her crib so I could stir something on the stove. She rolled over on her belly, as is her wont nowadays, and promptly fell soundly asleep. We are raising her in a time where sleeping on your stomach is a major no-no, so she has only slept on her back from day one. One of Annie’s Grandmas has been telling me to try this for months now, but when you are told that a simple action can kill your child you aren’t easily swayed. However, like most parents I am beginning to trust Annie more and more to not die by way of some freak incident, e.g., suffocation, choking, fever, cold, drowning in the tub, etc. Therefore I think I will give this tummy thing a whirl tonight. The only issue is that she throws up when on her belly if she has just eaten.

Since we are on the topic of my bringing about my daughter’s demise, I should tell you one of the reasons for her constant constipation. Last week we switched from Enfamil formula to the generic equivalent, and from Wal-Mart no less. Those of you that know me personally, I know what you are thinking. I wouldn’t buy anything for myself from Wal-Mart, ever. So why did we choose to do this for Annie. First, in the research that my wife and I did, all of the comparable formulas are in nutritional makeup, identical. They are also strictly regulated by the FDA. The difference, that poor Annie’s overtaxed derrière has shown us, is in the “filler.” Different companies, from name brand to generic, toy with the amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Clearly something in the new formula is binding up Annie’s insides. We are going to give this formula another few days and if her constipation continues, I think it will be time to switch back.

Lastly for today, I leave you with some pictures of Annie at bathtime; her calmest time of day.

October 24, 2007

The ups and downs of parenthood

I don’t usually write at night anymore. Writing at night has always held a sad feeling for me and was reserved for college nights long ago, drinking and writing poetry until I fell asleep. I’m writing tonight because I am weighed down with similar feelings to those back then. It has been a long day with my one and only and I spent it watching her try and work her way through another bout of constipation; she was sweating and red faced the entire afternoon. It turns out that spending the day in the apartment alone and helping her through it leaves me feeling the same way I did over ten years ago. Then, it was over a woman who never loved me, now it is over putting all of my energy into a girl who actually needs me more than I could have ever imagined. The level of exhaustion that I feel is only outweighed by the reward I get every time she smiles up at me with those saucers full of bright blue water that are her eyes.

Tomorrow is another day. We have been giving Annie a teaspoon of prune juice with each bottle of formula on the advice of a friend. I am hoping that instead of the explosive result of our first experiment this time around will be a little more regulated.

I guess today can be summed up in one word. Weary.

October 23, 2007

Shreveport in Pictures

I drive around town a lot while running errands during the week, and because Annie is yet to start talking to me, I wind up paying more attention to the sights than anything else. Every now and then something catches my eye. From now on I will start documenting the things I enjoy and post them here. This first group of pictures details some of my favorite signage here in town. This collection demonstrates my love of grammar, immature jokes and a few of the little nuances of Shreveport. Enjoy.

Just think, you only need to figure out the area code and its 24/7 Heaven!

Immature? Probably, but is it a coincidence that the town's frisbee golf courses are located here?

Like squeezing cantaloupe at the market!

Draw your own conclusions on this one.

Where my wife preps for a tough Thursday at the office.

October 22, 2007

Brown Fountain

The Poulas family had a weekend chock full of constipation and sleep, two things that we haven’t had since the start of this new life. One of these was obviously a welcome change, the other a new challenge to cope with. Saturday started out great, with numero uno getting a chance to play a round of golf, and it couldn’t have come on a more beautiful day. We experienced what passes for autumn in Shreveport; a “crisp” 75° day drenched in sunshine, and humidity dipping below 90%. It was nice to take advantage of it.

While I was enjoying a day with the boys, Mom had a nice relaxing day; holed up with a screaming baby, a bottle of prune juice and some glycerin suppositories (just in case). Fortunately for all parties involved, the prune juice was as far as they had to take it. Two ounces goes a long way towards fixing what ails a 12 pound baby’s intestinal woes. Luckily, Annie doesn’t yet understand the unique circle of life that she started on Saturday morning. A century from now she will be sitting in a rocking chair in a house of her own, drinking the same brown elixir keeping it all regular.

Now, some time ago, I pledged honesty when I wrote the initial post of this blog. At the time, I didn’t have any intention of seeing the plan of writing on a daily basis through, but each successive day I have enjoyed it more and more. It deserves everything I’ve got to offer. So here goes.

I would venture to say in hindsight that two ounces of juice was about double the dose that was needed to get the job done. Typically, there would be a couple of ways to be sure of this. Brown or watery bowel movements over a twenty four hour period would have been one, but accidentally (the way of all great discoveries, as we already know) I stumbled across the only surefire way.

It all came about as we drew to a close a very difficult day as far Annie was concerned. Bath time was getting under way. The lights were low, Fionn Regan was quietly playing (again) in the background, and the formula and bath water were an equally warm and soothing temperature. In a short time, Annie would be in her mother’s arms in their favorite rocker, gently drifting off to sleep. And as I held my impossibly soft, unimaginably innocent daughter in the crook of my arm, I heard my wife loudly tearing a piece of fabric in the next room. As I turned to ask what project it was that she was working on, I instantly saw and felt my rookie mistake. What goes in must always come out.

Ten minutes later, when my clothes were soaking and the pruney spray was scrubbed from the sink, cabinet, counter, wall, rug, and floor, Annie was in her bath as if this were a run of the mill Saturday night, smiling up at me.

Annie wanted to make amends for my dousing, so she gave me the most appreciated re-gift ever, another long night’s sleep. As you will recall, two weeks ago she slept for ten hours straight one night. I mistakenly thought she was on the road to a well rounded sleep pattern, when she was in fact coming down with her first illness. The next night she was back to three hours at a time. But this weekend she may have turned a corner.

She went to bed at her normal time and woke just after midnight as usual. I fed her and changed her, and went to sleep prepared for my 3 a.m. wakeup call. She didn’t disappoint, and I groggily rolled out of bed, turned off the monitor so my wife could sleep, and clumsily prepared a bottle. Coincidentally, I only had cold water for the formula, and in the time it took me to warm up Annie’s meal a miracle happened. She actually put herself back to sleep. My shit-eating grin reappeared and I put the bottle in the fridge and snuck back to bed. That glorious little baby repeated this at five, and soon enough I had been sleeping for eight straight hours. She followed the same pattern last night, and in just two short days I am whole again.

Here’s to some anticipated consistency.

October 19, 2007


It has been a busy week, so this will be a quick housekeeping post. There have been some new milestones that both Annie and the family have reached. The most important one would be that last night when I went in to feed her at 12 a.m. she was lying on her stomach crying. She has rolled over before, but never at night. I’m not sure what this means and it made me nervous. We follow all the rules and there is nothing in her crib that could be considered a suffocation hazard, but it was still disconcerting. I know, we all grew up sleeping on our stomachs, but risk of SIDS is drilled into your head from the moment your baby is born. It gets so that in the early months when they are asleep you think of nothing else.

Also, two days ago we had our first tornado warning. The locals tell me it was nothing, and that they just go around scaring people for no reason. It worked. The radar showed the storm with “tornado potential” about 30 miles south of us and not headed toward town, but the fact that nobody has a basement here made me research where we should go if one ever hit. Apparently, when you are watching the news and some town is shuffled all over the place, that business about going to the most interior room in the house is about all there is to it. Great.

Oh, and you will love this one. Last night when we were taking a walk, we saw our first armadillo. Despite what I just told you about in the last two paragraphs, this was the most exciting moment of the week. That rolly-polly little guy was amazing. For all of you Northerners, it looked like one part opossum, one part anteater, and one part rat. He was hanging out by a little pond and when he saw us made a run for the woods. He looked like he might roll into a ball like Sonic the Hedgehog, but he stayed on his feet and scurried past. We were only about 10% positive that it wasn’t going to attack us. I later learned that they eat only insects and foliage, but the way Zoe was trying to devour it made us prepare for the worst. I have also learned that Armadillo’s are expanding their habitat 10 times faster than any other mammal on record, and may reach New Jersey in some time. I’m not kidding Mom and Dad, watch out!

Lastly, I will leave you with a picture of how I spend my days with Annie…

October 17, 2007


Shreveport has exactly one radio station that is worth listening to. It’s sad, I know. It’s sad because, even if you are reading this from New York, we have exactly one more worthwhile radio station than you do. There is currently no viable outlet in which new or noteworthy music is aired. You don’t have to listen to “indie” rock to realize this. Whatever you are into that isn’t Top 40 swill, there is slightly higher than zero percent chance that you first heard it on the radio.

What is more likely, is that one person in your group of friends always has the word on cool new music. Yes, that statement clearly precludes me from this role amongst my friends, but you know who they are. This person invariably turns you on to artists that, after listening to, you wonder how it is that you hadn’t heard them before. For my wife and me this person is indisputably Adam Moore. His recommendations are responsible for much joy in our lives: Arcade Fire, Bishop Allen, The Decemberists, and Belle & Sebastian to name a few. Unfortunately, relying on only one person illustrates how futile the endeavor of musical discovery can be…what doesn’t Adam know?

I’m not familiar enough with the music industry to understand why this problem exists. I realize that it is a financial issue, but Indie movies have been big for years now; they are a badge of honor for A-list actors looking for credibility. And upstart writers get noticed every day, just look at the proliferation of blogs out there. The audience for blogging is large enough that a few have risen to become the de facto voice of digital print media. Reference the article “Everybody Sucks,” about the über blog Gawker, in this week’s issue of New York Magazine. Even Television has outlets for original, non-commercial content. How many of you are devoted to shows like The Shield, Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, or The Wire? All shows that couldn’t come anywhere near airing on the major networks. These artists/outlets are on the cutting edge of their respective media, and they influence everyone else, so where is this influence in radio?

If you are fortunate enough to have a radio station in your town that plays something other than Pink or Chris Daughtry, it is probably broadcast from a local college. And at last we arrive at the inspiration for this post. The only radio station that is ever on in my family’s two cars is KSCL 91.3. I have yet to drive somewhere in Shreveport (nothing is far away here by the way) and not hear something interesting. Sure, some of it is downright unlistenable, but that is the beauty of it. Someone out there is really into Japanese, all-girl, punk bands, and they actually have a place to discover them.

For my wife and I the undisputed king of KSCL is Schleuss. He airs from 6-8 on Tuesday nights, but you can here the addictive bumper that advertises his show all day long. The ad contains the first few lines of a sublime folk track playing underneath Schleuss selling his wares. If you listen to the station you will here it over and over again and the song hooks you every time; a brilliant choice, but who is the artist?

Enter Conan O’Brien. His show often airs under the radar musical guests whose music I love, like Phantom Planet or And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead. On the October 15th episode, Fionn Regan performed “Hunters Map” from his album The End of History. The music was understated and composed, and contained the kind of subtlety that I enjoy…a quiet two beat rap of knuckles on a guitar, the artful use of brushes by the drummer.

I went to the computer to here more as soon as the performance was over, and lo and behold, there were those echoing words from Schleuss' radio spot…I apologize/seem to have arrived/on what items in my bag from your house. Like the inventor of Velcro, I was stunned by the accidental discovery, and downloaded the entire album immediately. It has been playing in the house ever since. The joy on my wife’s face hearing it as she came through the door last night was beautiful. I am lucky to have witnessed it. Thank you Schleuss.

October 15, 2007

Mostly better...Omar's Wisdom

We made it through Annie’s first illness mostly unscathed. Normally weekends are a time for my wife and me to split shifts so that I get a little rest. But due to Annie’s plugged up nose, she slept a lot less than usual. So instead of a relaxing weekend, all three of us were up both nights. The good news is that Annie hasn’t had a fever since very early Saturday morning. Most of her residual boogers (I need a term for this that I’m comfortable with. Mucus only reminds me of those horrible commercials with the green guy that takes up residence in people lungs. Snot sounds too street. And boogers makes me feel like a two year old) are gone, but this morning she is holding on to a bit of her cough.

The question at hand now, is whether or not to send her to Dad’s day out tomorrow. There’s a very strong chance that that is where she got sick in the first place, so I have no qualms about one of those little snot-nose (see?) baby’s getting their due. However, if Annie’s immune system is still on the fritz, I don’t want to further tax it. Of even greater importance is that I’m playing golf on Thursday, so I certainly can’t have her too sick for Dad’s day out then. I guess I just selfishly answered the question. Looks like me and the little one are spending some extra quality time this week.

A quick Wire update for all of you fans out there. As I stated earlier, season one was a tour de McNulty, easily making my top five TV shows of all time. However, in keeping with the show’s attention to detail, all of the cast of characters who did the people in power wrong and were cast off, have been slowly coming back together in season two. This has made for a much mellower first eight episodes and if we were watching it in real time (once a week) I think I would be pretty disappointed. We are fortunate enough though to have the advantage of knowing that not only does the show continue on for three more seasons, but that the next step up in amplitude this season is only one click of the remote away.

One minor complaint: The descriptions of each episode on the main menu and back of each box are way too detailed. My wife reads so quickly that she often spoils the episode for herself just seconds before we view it. I have taken to covering her eyes while I queue them up.

Two minor indulgences: First, we love the quotes at the beginning of each episode and have taken to pausing the credits to guess who will be making them. I have the only correct guess so far…Ziggy: Season Two, Episode Eight. Second, in the scene where Omar is on the stand helping to put away Bird, he is told by Maurice Levy (Avon’s leech of an attorney) that he is amoral for feeding off of the people who are themselves stealing the “lifeblood of our city.” Omar’s ensuing wisdom, “Just like you man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase,” and Levy’s genuine shock make up one of many understated exchanges that make me love this show.

October 12, 2007

A day of firsts

Keeping a low profile today. Annie is having a tough one. First fever, first snot clogged nose, first drawing of blood, first Tylenol, first x-ray. Not a fun day. She didn't sleep at all last night and we didn't know why until her uncontrollable screaming started because she was unable to breath through her nose. We pulled a good amount of mucus out with one of those turkey baster thingies. It was scarier than I would have guessed. We haven't seen her that helpless since week one. Then, a quick run over to the doctor's turned into a three hour ordeal...two hour wait, then blood, then the chest x-ray to make sure nothing was seriously wrong. They even had a teeny little lead bib for her. I'm sad.

October 11, 2007

Happy Daddy, Happy Baby, Happy Daddy

Annabelle gave me her first gift last night. She came out of left field with it, and I was so caught off guard that my heart almost stopped. She slept for 10 hours straight. We put her to bed at 8 O’clock and at 4:30 I woke up in a panic, assuming the worst. I ran into her room and placed my hand lightly over her chest to feel if she was breathing, and even though I wasn’t, she was. I tiptoed back to bed with a giant shit eating grin on my face and lay there for a few minutes before peaceably drifting back to sleep. At 6:00 she finally stirred and I came into her room to see her smiling face. This was a face that new what a gift she had bestowed on me. That baby loves me.

Yes, I know I should temper my excitement and refer back to my own post from September 27th. Don’t worry I won’t be fooled this time. I will take last night for exactly what it was…a gift. It was also however, a glimpse of the future. I think this is the reason she did it. I was losing hope and becoming pretty negative about our nighttime routine. So my little girl gave me new life last night, and I can forge ahead knowing one day in the future I will again sleep for more than three hours in a row. Who knows when that will be? Not even Annie. You can bet it won’t be tonight, but I can see it there on the horizon.

Consequently, today my Wife and I broke out our “CSI The Game” and pored over last night’s bedtime routine for answers. We went through everything from amount of formula ingested—170 cc’s, to EBT—estimated bed time, to approximate household temperature—75° Fahrenheit. Everything checked out the same as all previous nights except for one thing. Our household was operating under a new level of ease and contentedness, and Annie quite clearly felt it. There was a weight lifted off of our shoulders. Jimmy McNulty survived season one of The Wire, thus ending our five day, thirteen hour binge of one of the most detailed, poignant shows ever made.

This show is Homicide: Life on the Street on steroids. Finally, something positive has come out of a great show getting cancelled. The Wire is so good that over the last five days there wasn’t a night that my wife and I didn’t go to bed discussing the next day’s strategy for taking down Avon, and rehashing everything we did wrong that night to have allowed his crew to stay free another day. I’ve been working on speaking with McNulty’s affect the all week and I’ll save you the time, it’s impossible, a lost cause. Where is that guy from?

By the way, I realize that I’m terribly late to this bandwagon, but better late than never, no? No matter, I’m high on a show that for once cuts no corners and pulls no punches. All that needs to happen for me to die a satisfied television viewer is for Aaron Sorkin to make a new show based on Sports Night, for David Milch to finish Deadwood, and lastly for The Hills to never air again…sorry Honey.

Editor’s Note: Dominic West, who plays Jimmy McNulty, is from Yorkshire, England. Huh.

October 10, 2007

A night out

Annie had her first babysitter last night. One of my wife’s co-workers came over after they finished up for the day so that we could go play tennis. We even fed her tacos for dinner. The only thing missing was handing her a $10 bill at the end of the night and driving her home to her parents house. Other than Annie’s grandparents or Dad’s day out, she has only ever been alone with me or my wife, so this was a new feeling. Fortunately for us, the woman who came over was supremely confident and shuffled us on our way, like the overly concerned parents we were. It was reminiscent of a scene from my childhood. I’m getting old.

Annie did great and the two of them were smiling when we came back an hour and a half later. I’m becoming very comfortable leaving her with other people. I hear parents all the time telling me how difficult it is to separate from their children. I’m apparently not wired this way. I get a little lonely when I drop Annie off at Dad’s day out, but I’m never worried. I hope that this pays off later in life and she grows up to be an independent young woman…who’s still Daddy’s little girl.

The other perk to last night was the Querbes Park tennis courts. They illustrate another wonderful thing about living here in Shreveport. The cost of living adjustment shows itself in the little things. You are hard pressed in the New York metro area to find open tennis courts, let alone lighted ones for $4.50 per hour. Back home, the free public courts are always packed and if you want to play at a fee court, it will cost you around $20 per hour. Every time we stumble across something like this it makes us smile. Our own little secret that anyone living in a larger city wouldn’t understand. I can even see us hearing about it before we moved here and provincially assuming that the courts weren’t playable and the lights were dim. Top it all off with a knowledgeable and friendly (as usual) pro and we hit the jackpot.

Now, if I can just get my game in shape to play, I can start to take advantage of my free time. This dad has added a new chin to match one of his daughter’s.

October 8, 2007

Lessons learned

Google this. Baby help. What did you get?

My search turned up 304,000,000 results. That should be a solid starting point for whatever I need help with concerning Annabelle. Out of over 300 million hits, there has to be one that will help me get some shut eye tonight. First I’ll hire a research staff and when they compile the data I should be in good shape. I think that maybe I’ll narrow this down a bit.

Now Google this. Help baby sleep. What did you get this time?

Hmm…20,500,000 results. I may need a new plan. If someone out there is going to give me advice on getting Annie to sleep through the night, I will need to really hone this search to her specific issue.

Got it! Google, help baby sleep more than three hours, and see what you get.

Much better…2,390,000 results. I’ll stop now. You can see my predicament in finding a solution to Annie’s sleep problems.

Maybe a smarter route is checking Barnes & Noble to see if there are any books that can help me. Hey, great news. There are 125 titles that involve “help baby sleep.” I’ve got them all in my cart and I’m ready to pull the trigger. My total is only $1240.81. Even better news, if I become a member I save 10% on the 117 items in stock, and my total is a manageable $1140.81. That baby is going to sleep all night on Wednesday; because this Dad will be armed with best advice money can buy.

Alright, I’m going to make my point now. There is no help out there for you. Your baby, like my baby, will sleep through the night whenever she decides to. I have purchased some of the more famous sleep remedy titles from the very list that Barnes & Noble just gave me. My wife, the fastest reader I know, has not finished any of them. By the time you get through more than a few chapters, you realize that each anecdote contradicts another. The “cures” that work for one family do nothing for the next. These books rank right up there with any other self-help title you can buy, from “coping with anxiety” to “fixing your slice.”

Here are some reviews on the web site for the three most popular titles, all of which I own:

“This book saved my life and my sanity! My daughter was 6 weeks old when I read this and the first time it worked, she was asleep in literally 10 seconds.”

A little hyperbolic, no?

“What a fantastic book this is! I have read 2 other baby sleep books but this is the one.”

Weak. And no doubt written by the author’s mom.

“The title says it all. Since 6 months old, my daughter has slept 13 hours a night straight.”

C’mon, that’s not even healthy.

Despite what the reviews say, there is one lesson that I have learned from each and every book…you have to find your own solutions. Annie and I have developed our own rhythm, one that we both trust. And I’m sure it is completely different than every other family’s. The only choice is to be diligent about your routine and let your baby fall into whatever pattern works for her. I can live with her sleeping three hours in a stretch, so that’s what we do.

One of the issues with this is that you will go through many options (read purchase many items) that will not work. My family has two slings, two carriers, one bouncer, one swing, seventeen pacifiers, two well worn pinky fingers, three types of formula, two strollers (though at one point it was five), two breasts, four lotions, two bath soaps, four baby cd’s (though Feist works best), a crib, a co-sleeper, a glider, a queen sized bed and last but not least, some frayed nerves.

Do you know what all of the above has gotten us? Precisely three hours of sleep at a time, a thinner wallet, and a lot of lightly used items around the house. I will confess that sometimes she will sleep for four, or even five hours in a stretch. But, nine times out of ten it is three hours…timed almost to the minute.

So hang in there and do what I do. Take a 3 p.m. nap with your baby in your arms. You’ll get the two hours back you lost last night and your baby will get some much needed time snuggled up to the only crib with a heartbeat money can buy. Or not…http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20070085695.html

October 5, 2007

Under Siege

I should take a moment and discuss one of the more terrifying adjustments that my family has had to make during our first weeks in Louisiana. My wife would say that more than anything else, I have been affected by the local intruders, or would be intruders if I were not so diligent in keeping them at bay. At every turn they taunt me and come at me like high school bullies. Every morning when I walk our dog they start with little flybys and jabs. By lunchtime when Annie and I leave for the park they have us surrounded (see proof to right,) and my day of self defense begins.

Invariably I spend my days swatting, feinting, dodging and shouting. If you followed me with a camera I would look like a ne’er-do-well boxer who devised some hair brained training regimen. I justify my bizarre looking evasions by telling myself that I am merely protecting Annie. She comes in handy that way. I now do things in public I would have never dreamed of. The other day, I was singing to her in line at Kroger’s. This from someone who was once asked to stop singing happy birthday at a work party due to my own particular monotone delivery.

My insectile assailants followed us here on our drive through the southern states of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, growing larger and bolder by the state. They left powdery kamikaze remains all over the windshield of my car in their attempts to deter us. Once here, they rallied the locals to try and infiltrate the confines of our apartment. The extra large bottle of raid that we sprayed liberally to create a moat around the outside of the place however, proved too deep to navigate. Eventually, they settled on a well trained brigade of ants taking up residence inside my car. Don’t ask me how they made it inside, maybe their phalanx organized into a large hand and stole the key. I actually had to have an exterminator come and fog my car. Initial insect mission accomplished…depletion of the human’s checking account.

The next week they brought out the big guns via some unprecedented inter-species collaboration. A message had to be sent, and the family dog Zoe was the target. She was outside for a walk with her mom when she spotted an innocent little frog, perched below a willow tree. The frog lightly hopped onto the mossy green surface of our pond (read drainage ditch) behind the house. Zoe, the overzealous canine she is, wanted to get a closer look at her would be play friend, and made her move. Another dog might have stepped gingerly on the unfamiliar surface of the pond, but not Zoe. Nothing less than 110% works for her. The trap was cunningly completed by her excitement. Only a quick leash hand on the part of my wife saved her from a slimy demise. The frog hopped away, defeated, undoubtedly to a tongue-lashing from his slippery boss, and Zoe came home looking like the swamp thing.

Since the canine attack, the bug mob has taken to stealthy, direct attacks on the leader of this pack. A few mornings ago I had a larval dragonfly deftly hanging form the back of my head. He no doubt planned on growing up in my unkempt stay-at-home-dad hairdo, but my wife thwarted his little joyride with a well timed swat. Then, on that very same evening while pumping gas, they stepped up the ante. I figured I had inhaled the fumes while filling up at the local Citgo, because pump number six started to waver in my peripheral vision. After some self analysis, I took a closer look at the pump, realizing that it was literally alive. Alive and crawling with the blackest crickets you will ever see. My next glance took me down to my vulnerable Birkenstocked feet. I was surrounded. As embarrassing as my hopping, triple jump around the back of the car was, it undoubtedly saved my life.

As of this post, I have not yet devised a plan to combat my enemies. I have been sticking and moving for six weeks now and I fear it is hopeless. Unless I begin moonlighting with Orkin, the family and I are destined to an indoor life. We will emerge from our time in Shreveport pale and squinting. I’m just not sure how anyone living here copes with our flying and crawling friends. My neighbor stomps as many as he can, but there aren’t enough feet, it’s messy, and I’m not much for killing things, especially in front of Annie. So, this is my first appeal to the masses. How do ya’ll live in harmony with the bugs of the south?

One last note. I ran into their leader while walking with Annie some time back. He was a quiet brooding fella’, who carried with him the weighty command of a true leader. He was a dark black/green beetle with hooks, or claws. He was about three inches long and walked with a limp. He just stared out of the corner of his eye while I walked past, knowing full well that a standoff this early in the game would be foolish. Someday though, he’ll how his hand and it will be me or him. I can’t live in fear forever.

October 4, 2007

Feeling Good

A funny thing happened yesterday when five people I didn’t know read “Unfinished Dad.” In my own head I became a writer. I have always enjoyed the things that I write, that is until I reread them a few times. When they first hit the page or the keyboard they sound brilliant, and after careful scrutiny they become contrived and dull. Then, yesterday someone linked to this blog for reasons that I don’t technically or aesthetically understand. Now in my own head I am a writer, and as such I told some actual live people about this little project of mine. Even now, as I type this, I am in plain sight of my wife. I’m not even writing on the sly as I’ve done in the past.

So there you go. Hopefully this becomes a compounding situation where I am forced to write every day. This will satisfy me and my legions of fans as well. Thanks America.

October 3, 2007

Letter to my new town

The following is a letter I am sending to the local newspaper here in Shreveport today. I will let you know if it is ever published.

My wife and I moved to Shreveport six weeks ago from the Northeast, where we both grew up. We relocated to the city because of a job opportunity for my wife; which consequently resulted in a new job opportunity for me…taking the year off to raise our now 12 week old daughter. Needless to say we have experienced many new things over the last few months, and thanks to all of the welcoming people we have met, the transition has been very smooth.

In the weeks since our move we have learned numerous wonderful facts about Shreveport. First, simply because my taste buds are still tingling, is that the strawberry pie at Strawn’s will leave you speechless, second, that a bayou is colloquially “a river that doesn’t move”, and most importantly that there truly is nothing quite as comforting as some good old southern conversation.

When my daughter and I go out, we are hard pressed to go a few minutes without someone inquiring about the baby carrier we use, or how old she is. This inevitably starts a chain reaction in which a new park is suggested, or a baby friendly place to get a bite to eat is discussed. Not surprisingly, a few of these conversations have resulted in a Six Degrees of Shreveport scenario, in which the wonderful man whom my wife and I were interested in buying a car from was related to the talented man who framed a photograph for my wife’s birthday. Or the lovely woman who owns a hip baby boutique knows the owner of an equally hip restaurant that we later dined at.

We have had so many of these coincidences when out that I no longer think they are coincidences, but simply the way people are supposed to interact. These experiences all added up to surprise when attending the open house of the church at which our daughter would receive two day a week care. We were told by her sole caregiver, a woman that grew up in Shreveport, that as Northerners we did not “understand black people in the South.” She continued to tell us that here it is “still like slave times, and a black person would just as soon shoot you as say hi to you.”

She was of course right, we did not know anything about the black people of the south, save for the friend of friend who at the last minute helped us when our moving truck broke down in Memphis, or the neighbor who, when I was desperate for something that felt like home gave me directions to the nearest Starbucks, and finally the porter at the hotel in New Orleans, who by the end of the week referred to himself as Annie’s Uncle Donnie while he strolled her around the lobby.

I have been asking myself over the last two weeks whether or not I should write this letter on top of taking my daughter out of this particular day care program. We had already decided after a couple of days that under no circumstances would we ever allow a person who held these views to take part in raising her. Looking back, I am ashamed that it took us that long to decide. What we based our decision on was her development of course, but mainly because we do not want to support an institution that furthers such ideals.

The intent of this letter started out as a way to effect change, but I realize this is most likely too far reaching. Instead I will consider this letter an invitation to a community to consider where it stands in relation to race. My guess is that the woman who gave the above advice was blindly quoting something her parents instilled in her fifty or sixty years ago. It is most likely too late for her to change, but the rest of us can take a moment and reflect on the state of race in our own back yard.

Some of the people who read this will most likely think that as a Northerner I truly don’t understand and that I should accept things for what they are. But how many times in life can we observe hideous behavior and do or say nothing without becoming a part of the problem ourselves. It would be much easier for me to not write this letter and not call the director of the program in question, but at that point I am simply part of an archaic machine. A machine that inexplicably continues on while we all turn our heads and pretend that it does not.