November 19, 2007

Cold Feet

Warning: Blathering Confessional Ahead

When I worked at AT&T in the late 1990’s I was a child; strolling through life unscarred and free. Growing up I was a fighter, who fought with rage and for no reason at all, to the detriment of my relationship with my brother. As a teenager I had been drop-kicked countless times in the stomach by a woman I loved, or thought to. Then, in college I witnessed the beginning of a debilitating illness that struck my mother low and watched coldly as it affected all six members of my family. But what none of these things ever did to me was change my happy-go-lucky course through life. It was impossible for them to have any considerable affect on me. I had yet to glance inward, yet to lose any sleep.

At work I was talented and well liked, but never driven. As with anything else that I had “accomplished” in life, work at AT&T came very easily. At the time I would have told you privately that this was because of how great I was. Looking back however, I would tell you simply that my expectations were low. Not so low that I was one of the people in our office that we would all tell pathetic stories about, but lower than they should have been for someone who thought so highly of himself. I strode though life like a man whom the world couldn’t touch and must have come off quite glib to many of the people I worked with. A conversation I once had with a coworker very unlike myself still shines brightly in my mind.

I remember it well for a couple of reasons. One, she was very driven and goal oriented. She worked hard for everything she had and knew, as a single mother of two, exactly what she needed to accomplish in order lead the life she wanted. Because of this she was always wrought with anxiety and tension over whether or not her objectives would be met, and as with most adults, the biggest of these objectives was financial stability. The second reason I remember this particular conversation so well is that it came a few short days before my life was flipped upside down.

We were standing by her cubicle, and because I was the person that people told their problems to, she told me of her worry about whether or not she could afford to educate her children as they deserved. Her face was wrought with turmoil and I listened intently (or so I thought at the time) as she explained her predicament. Despite my seemingly grave concern, I proceeded to blithely tell her how everything would be fine. Life always worked out for the best, so there was no need to fret about things that would take care of themselves. This was a concept instilled in me from a very early age. I have wrestled with it a lot over the last few years. Did thinking this way make it a reality? Or did repeating the old mantra after you fucked something up simply gloss over the facts of the situation?

When I finished my speech about her meaningless worries, she gave a knowing little laugh and told me that someday I would get it. For now I was too young to understand how hard life can be. I soon discovered that I was only too young by a couple of days when a project that I had been working on for a year or so began to bear the fruit of my labor.

Hello all: I just got cold feet about the rest of this story. Shall I continue? I would hear from someone who knows me and someone who doesn't please.

November 16, 2007


An Indian headdress turns out to be a cuter accessory than I would have ever known. My little brave got dressed up for Thanksgiving at Dad’s day out yesterday, and she was the belle of the ball in her feathers. Later in life she may wear them around her neck, or on her ears in her teenage Mr. T faze, but when else can she wear them around her head? I was very proud of her and could have sworn that she was casting fierce looks towards the little Pilgrims in her class. It looks like she will be quite a bit more subversive than her Dad. I tried to calm the nerves of the little settlers, but Annie wasn’t having it. So we left before she had to drop any knowledge about what really went down 400 years ago.

What yesterday’s festivities signified on a personal level is that it is almost time to participate in my least favorite of all activities. Like the aforementioned B.A Baracus, I am terrified of flying and need sedatives to accomplish the task. For me, the whole milk trick would never work, so I go with bourbon instead. It usually does the job, but next week we will be flying out on Wednesday night, the dreaded day before Thanksgiving. Two flights and seven hours later (God forbid there be direct flight to anywhere from Shreveport) we land in Newark. And as I always do the week before any flight, I ask myself if my life is well enough in order. In the past, this question was always met with a resounding internal NO. Now, for the first time in a long while, a little yes is starting to make some headway.

Annie has made this possible. Today, unlike much of the last ten years or so, I can say that I have something to be proud of. At first it started as pride in creating this beautiful little person, but as the months move along I’m realizing that I am becoming whole. When did I last feel this way? And why now? Sadly, the first question is more difficult to answer. Not in the sense that I don’t know the reason, but more in what it reveals. You see, I know the exact day this all started. For my own sake, we will forgo this story until next week. It is the core of my whole life and the explanation for this blog’s title. For this reason, I need to properly collect my thoughts.

The now of the transition is simple. Annabelle. But not for the reasons you might think. Yes, having a child changes you, and the responsibility of it cannot be taken lightly, but the notion of passing on my baggage to my daughter is the driving force of this project. Above all other aspects of her upbringing, this is the most important. So I will roll around with this story a bit and check back in on Monday.

November 14, 2007


Wednesday is Gymboree day. Between 1:30 and 2:15 I will perform countless acts that in my childhood would have been received with derision, and just maybe, punches from my older brother. And like Annie I don't care; I love every minute of it.

I grew up in an incredibly loving family in New Jersey, but in the frontier town of Highland Lakes, men don’t say they love you unless it’s to their mother. Even then, it should be said privately and with the proper amount of manliness. Like the frontier men before us, we always made sure that we played it cool, calm and collected. You never know when your openness and honest feelings could get you into a duel. My brother and I even had a game where, when hanging out, we would casually say, “I love U (loooong pause) 2.” Then we would crack up laughing at how close we came to actually expressing feelings, other than abject anger, toward each other.

So when my wife signed Annie and me up for Gymboree almost a year ago, I cringed. It seemed that a little of my old emotional Wyatt Earp was still buried deep inside. I had visions of blubbering moms trading cleaning tips and making the most of their one hour a week that involved interaction with other adults. Sure, the cleaning tips would be great, but on their website I saw that much of their classes are centered on singing. I have mentioned this before, and it bears repeating; I was once asked to stop singing “Happy Birthday” at a work party because of my especially monotonous delivery. Naturally, before Annie was born I never sang in front of other people. I didn’t even sing in front of my wife. Looking back, it was my own feelings of inadequacy and public embarrassment that accounted for this, but I really do have an awful singing voice.

Of course having a child makes you realize many things about yourself, and as my mother can attest, public embarrassment goes out the window. When we were younger, she would often sing or dance in public and it made my brother and I feel like we were on stage in our underwear. We never understood why she would humiliate herself like that. It’s funny how you sometimes miss life’s lessons if they aren’t part of the typical parental talking points. I only wish that her silliness had a greater effect on us. For most of my childhood I would blush at the drop of a hat, and only as I finished high school did I begin to try and change this. Since then, I have all but flushed away any public embarrassment that might be hidden inside me. Sometimes this leads to my mortifying those around me, but I have a strong pedigree in this area, I can’t simply ignore it. Thank you, mom.

The last frontier for me was public singing, and Annie is the main reason for my recent triumph. However, the other significant contribution came from Gymboree. When you're there, you have no choice but to embrace the campy camaraderie of the whole thing. Perhaps it starts as yet another form of wanting to fit and not embarrass yourself, but either way you sit their singing to your daughter in front of a group of people you hardly know. The next thing you know you’re belting out “Wake up toes” on line at the grocery store. So thank you to Gymboree too.

November 11, 2007


As most of you have read over the last few weeks, the engine that seems to make this blog run is my pain. I haven’t posted in four days for no other reason than the fact that all is well in Shreveport. That is until last night. We’ll get to that in a moment, but I want to get to another highlight of our new town. Yesterday we went to a park that has made itself a refuge for retired chimpanzees. is an organization that provides a natural habitat for chimps that were used for medical research, acting, or kept as pets that are now retired. During the year they hold a few public viewing days and yesterday we went to the last one of 2007.

I’m not much for causes, but this one seems pretty noble. The fact that they haven’t turned the project into a for profit zoo makes the undertaking alright with me. When you enter the park they only ask for donations, usually bags of fruit or nuts, and blankets for the winter. Overall, the setup (other than the parking) was great. Watching chimpanzees climbing in the trees of northwest Louisiana was a lot more fun than I expected. Annie was too young to get it, but my wife and I had a nice time. The only downfall was the other people.

The habitat is open from 9 to 12 on Saturday, so the crowds and parking were a little crazy. When we finally found a place to park, yours truly started the day off with a bang by standing on one of our many ridiculously large anthills that we have down here. Of course I didn’t realize what was happening until the 20th bite or so, and I had to do some quick swatting to make sure my assailants didn’t make it past my ankles. My skin still itches this morning. The only other scenario that hindered the enjoyment of the day was the large number of poorly behaved ten-year-old boys in attendance. There was no shortage of kids rooting for the man who dispenses the food by throwing it into the forest to hit the chimps in the head. Call me crazy, but I would have thought that parents would realize that an apple in the skull from 150 feet might hurt. One particular family that stood next to us stood idly by as their boys threw garbage over the fence. Strangely, when it comes to Shreveport, littering doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. There are some people down here who throw garbage out of their car windows like Ron Burgundy. After watching this family for about fifteen minutes, one question became all too obvious. Which primates were better behaved yesterday?

Okay, on to last night. Annie went to bed at 7:30 with a bit more crying than the rest of last week, but she fell soundly asleep by 8:00. My wife and I went to bed at 10:30 and then Annie woke up at 1:00. She has done this a few times over the last 7 days and then went back to sleep after a few minutes. However, last night she was crying very hard for about a half an hour. At this point my wife and I had a hearty parenting discussion that ended in my getting out of bed and making a bottle. Through my bleary eyes I could see the slippery slope I was walking on. Naturally, I am up at 6 A.M. writing, because once the lion gets a taste she wants more. In one seemingly innocuous day we went from no wakeups over the course of twelve hours to two wakeups in ten. Great. Now what?

Only tonight will tell if I have unraveled all of my hard work from last week. Will I have to start sleep training all over again? Was Annie’s poor sleep due simply to the fact that she spit up more than usual yesterday? Or that she when she sleeps for twelve hours she takes in three less bottles per day? And finally, was I lying about not being a pushover anymore?

November 7, 2007

Where is Lex Luthor?

I hate to harp on one subject for too long, but I have earned a little more discussion about the incredible sleeping baby. Right now, at 7:38 on Wednesday morning, Annie is still sound asleep. She is approaching the twelve hour mark again, and last night she barely made a peep. I would go in and wake her up, but my wife did that yesterday and Annie actually appeared to be angry with her. Instead, I’m going to ride it out and see how long she lasts. However, since I am still haunted by the thought that she isn’t alive in there, I will be checking on her periodically.

I am currently wrestling with some strange feelings about all of the sleeping that’s going on around here. I slept more last night than the previous two, but I was still up multiple times. Like Annie for most of the last four months I can’t seem to get over the 2 A.M. hump. I don’t know why I even check the clock anymore when I wake up. And it’s not even that I roll over all sleepy-eyed and sneak a peak. I am wide awake. It takes some time for me to settle back down each time it happens.

The second issue has taken me a few days to realize. Since Annie started sleeping I have felt a little bit lost during the day. Between errands, cleaning the house, and making dinner, I typically have plenty to do on top of raising Annie, but this week all of those tasks seem a little ponderous. Then yesterday, while she was sleeping beatifically on my lap it dawned on me. I have lost my arch rival. Without a nemesis to deal with, my life as a stay-at-home-dad seems mundane. I was pouring all of my energy into this one thing, and now that it is over I have to switch directions. I should be transferring all of that energy into raising a wonderful daughter, but that part comes easily to me.

When my wife reads this she will tell me that it is time to step up my game educationally. Much of what Annie and I do so far has more to do with me than her. We work on all of the things that a baby should: Rolling over, sitting up, reading, listening to music, dexterity, etc., but all of this is fit into the schedule of my day. If my wife were staying home she would have Annie on a very strict regimen of learning that was specifically geared around all of the developmental milestones a baby goes through. I hope that I am not a lazy complacent parent. I am very comfortable in my role as primary caregiver, but educator is one area that my wife would be much more suited for. When it came to school I was an underachiever and that is the last thing that I want Annie to be. It is time to rethink what I stand for.

November 5, 2007

Sleep Training Week 2007 Recap

At five o’clock this morning I buried my head in my pillow, forcing sleep for the last time. I had been asleep for seven hours already, far longer than all but a few of the previous 130 days. STW ’07, barring a major setback, could now be declared an unequivocal success. However, for most of last night I tossed and turned thinking of bigger things; I was thinking of how safe Annie’s crib really was and if she was alive in there, whether or not this sleep experiment had taken something from me, and if I was doomed to the same fate as my father-in-law, who wakes up every day around this time, even when on vacation. I may now have some insight into where he picked up the habit. It was time to get up. It was time to look back over the last four months, and then analyze the last week to see what brought me, a legendarily sound sleeper, to this relatively insomniatic state.

Any parent will tell you that the first few nights with a new baby are, by leaps and bounds, the most difficult you will have. For Annie this held true as well, except for a couple of memorable nights that I chronicled in this space. After those first nights, a baby tends to settle down a bit, especially once they clear their bowels for the first time. Like us, Annie seemed to be totally exhausted and slept for a few stretches of six hours here and there. It was only as she matured and was feeding on a regular schedule that she began waking up like clockwork. This begs a question: if we had been “strict” parents form the beginning, and didn’t feed Annie at night, would she have been sleeping regularly the whole time?

I wrote on Saturday that we had dinner with some new friends the night before. One of the couples has two children, the youngest about the same age as Annie. When we were comparing parenting notes, the only glaring difference was that their child was sleeping 12 hours a night, and had been for most of his young life. They attributed this fact to something called “parent directed feeding.” After some research, parent directed feeding purports to be a marriage of two extremes: strict clock feeding, where you only feed your baby after a preset time limit, usually three or four hours, and cue feeding in which the baby is fed every time she cries.

My wife and I fed Annie on cue up until she began taking a bottle, but even then she ate every three hours, a relatively short cycle. What that boils down to is that she has eaten in three hour intervals (or sometimes shorter) for her entire life. Why wouldn’t she apply this schedule to nighttime as well? Especially when you consider that she naps throughout the day. For her, a twenty-four hour clock must mean very little. So I have known for a while that much of Annie’s sleep issues can be traced back to our decisions over the last four months. Now the question that needs to be asked is whether or not I would change the way we did things if I could. Of course, because we want more children, I will essentially get that chance.

Here is the very easy answer. Yes. And, well, No. My wife and I, from the outset, were firm believers in breast feeding. The benefits for Annie were too great to ignore, and the benefits for Mom (a deep connection with child, weight loss, birth control) weren’t bad either. Unfortunately, it turned out that my wife had a lesser amount of milk than Annie needed. It took many weeks of difficult, often painful feedings to figure this out. Every day was a struggle to give Annie the nourishment she needed, resulting in feedings every time she cried. These feedings sometimes came as often as every hour during the day. We spent more time at the lactation consultant’s than I thought possible. The women there were wonderful and I consider them friends, but we all should have seen the signs that solely breastfeeding was not going to work for Annie a lot sooner. The pictures from that first month are now a little scary to me. Of course, babies are incredibly adaptive and resilient, and Annie being no different, eventually packed on the pounds once we supplemented with formula. But what if we made the decision (as the lactation consultants intimated) to continue exclusively breastfeeding? At some point someone would have had to step in and mandate a change. I like to think that it would have been me, but our pediatrician or Grandma Liz are the more likely candidates.

What I would change next time is that should my wife’s milk come in at the same level, the baby will need some supplemental nourishment from the outset. However, what I would not change is that we would still react to the baby’s needs based on our own value system. I have already written here my feelings about baby help books. They are a dime a dozen. As a parent, you need to trust your instincts when it comes to raising a child. For most of the last four months I did that. If we followed a particular parenting “method” from a book, how would we have developed our own, now very keen, senses with regard to Annie? The only time that I did not follow my instincts was when I did not attempt to force the issue of supplemental formula feeding in the beginning. However, I have learned a lot about who I am since this undertaking began, and when it comes to my wife I am a bit of a pushover. For our next child, if I am in the same parenting role, this will not be the case.

I think that after about a thousand words, we should get to the results of STW ’07. At the time of this very sentence it is 7:16 A.M., and Annie has been asleep since 7:30 P.M. last night. She has not been fed that entire time, and only once did she wake up and cry. That was at about eleven o’clock, and only lasted about five minutes. This week, as I stated at the outset, is a total success. For the first time since June I am well rested. For those of you that know me, that is one of the craziest concepts imaginable. In the weeks before Annie was born we took a holistic parenting class. At one point we were asked to tell the group what our “birth tiger” (don’t ask) looked like. We went around the room and the answers ranged from autism and developmental issues, to caesarean section and other birth complications. Of course, yours truly was the last person to speak, and as the holistic spotlight shown bright on my face, I told the group that I was most afraid of losing sleep. Woops. I was like a leper at a dinner party. I could feel my wife subtly shift away from me.

So where is my shit eating grin? I don’t feel elated this morning. There are a few reasons for this. First, my baby is growing up. Every week she learns something new, and this week seems to be spiraling out of control with accomplishments. Sleeping is the largest hurdle, but she has also started to try sitting up, she rolls over at will, and she even picked up an empty bottle and managed to get the nipple in her mouth. Now, faced with the prospect of her imminent dating and driving, I feel a little sad. The second, I will call the Steve factor, after my father-in-law. I alluded to it earlier, but the strangest aspect of Annie sleeping all night is that I am not. In the process of accidentally training Annie to get up every three hours, I did the same to myself. I guess I need someone to put me back to sleep each time I wake up. I think I’ll talk to my wife. Maybe she’ll keep a warm glass of milk on the bedside table that I can sip from throughout the night. That should take care of the wakeups, but I don’t suspect I will ever sleep for nine hours a night again. The last reason for my malaise is buried a little deeper. Getting up at night, though excruciating, was our thing. Although she needs me in so many other ways, at night she always seemed so helpless. Selfishly, I enjoyed the prospect of protecting her. I suppose this feeling will never go away, and I will simply replace it with another fatherly way of looking out for her. Her first boyfriend is in serious trouble.

November 3, 2007

Sleep Training Week '07, Part Four

It’s Saturday, and since my wife and I don’t get much time together, and since she just got home from work, I will keep this one short. Last night was day four of STW ’07 and it was another successful night. Annie didn’t sleep as long as she did the night before, but we started out much better. The Babysitter!? put her down at 6:30 (very early so we could meet friends for dinner) and we went out for a few hours. It was pretty obvious that I was nervous about leaving Annie, but not for the reasons you might think. This was the first test of my parenting skills. If Annie spent the whole time crying uncontrollably and the babysitter never wanted to come back, what would that say about the job I was doing?

So I left with a heart that fluttered as if I were about to sit for the SAT’s. Dinner was great, with the usual unfailingly polite company. Everyone here is so nice that coming back to the Northeast next year is going to be quite an adjustment. After a few drinks and a quick dinner, we headed over to a local Starbucks to see a friend of a friend play guitar. We took our leave at around 9:15 and hurried home…well I hurried; it was my reputation on the line. You see, the babysitter also works for a friend of ours, who owns the local baby store we love, who is close friends with some of the people we were out with, who brought with them one of the women who works at a favorite lunch spot of ours. Our entire circle of friends here in town were somehow linked to this night.

At 9:30 I crept through the front door and found the babysitter sitting quietly on the couch with a book. Phew. Turns out Annie never even stirred while we were away. It looks like she may actually come back for more in a couple of weeks.

Annie then slept until 11:00 and we let her cry for the requisite 30 minutes. She eventually fell asleep and when she woke up again at midnight we fed her. As with the night before, when she woke up at 2:00 I transferred to the couch to wait it out. And as with the night before I shortly fell asleep. Annie did too, and I wound up on the couch for two hours this time. At 5:30 Annie woke up and because she had been sleeping for almost 12 hours I decided to feed her without a fight. My kindness was rewarded and we all slept until 8:45. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.

Recap: Four nights of sleep training and Annie is already developing better habits. If she wasn’t always drenched in urine (sorry) I think she would be ready to sleep all the way through. The next frontier is putting her down at a predetermined time while she is still awake so that we can develop a more rigid routine.

November 2, 2007

Sleep Training Week '07, Part Three

Last night, Thursday, was day three of STW ’07, and as the previous two nights began, Annie only slept for an hour before her first stirring. She went back down easily enough, but proceeded to wake up an hour later at 9:30. We were not off to a good start. The second wake up was due to a beast of a burp that erupted from deep inside her belly, and once it was out seemed to calm her down considerably. I was hopeful that on this night we would get a good first session out of her before the second bottle.

My wife went to bed around ten and I decided to stay up reading until the time finally arrived. Most likely this would be around eleven, so another hour awake was looking much more enticing than the old startle-Dad-from-a-dead-sleep routine. Besides, I was enjoying my book, and a few quiet moments alone would be a rare treat. At around 10:45 I started to drowse a bit, so the plan switched to TV watching with the lights out. Yeah right. She had me right in her sights. True to her record, as soon as my eyes bobbed shut she let out a little wail, and the game began. Remember, the plan called for 20 minutes of untended crying, and the goal was a night of untended sleeping.

At around the 15 minute mark Annie fell back to sleep…for about 45 seconds. In retrospect she was most likely catching her breath, because the last four minutes and change of the 20 allotted were really loud. I did, however, reach my goal, and when I picked her up out of bed she was one red-faced, angry baby. Of course, once she got what she wanted, she settled right down and was sleeping by 11:30. It was time for Dad to turn in for the night and wait out the next round. All in all, the first round was a success if you consider the 45 second reprieve three quarters of the way through.

Ding, Round Two. At 2:22 Annie awoke. I didn’t want to keep my wife up while I waited out the rules, so I transferred to the living room couch and waited. At approximately 2:33 I fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up until 3:34. The house was quiet. Once I got past the guilt of ignoring my screaming baby, I broke out my shit eating grin again and waltzed off to bed. On the way, I did some quick math. The longest she could have cried is an hour and twelve minutes. This didn’t seem likely. I doubt she cried the entire time I was asleep and just happened to stop when I woke up. I’m going with the theory that before the twenty minutes were up she fell back to sleep, thus allowing me the same privilege. My theory has the built in bonus of assuaging my conscience.

Not surprisingly, she stirred a few more times during the night, but each time I approached her room (once making a bottle) she fell asleep again. I am a well trained Dad however, and slept poorly while I waited for her nonexistent, pending meltdown. Finally at 6:45 she was up for good and we started our day somewhat well rested, and with a positive outlook.

For all of you keeping score, that was one feeding over a twelve hour span. Ridiculous. Here’s to more of the same tonight; Another date night for the adults and another babysitter for the little one. I’ll check back in tomorrow with a report on the date, the sleep, and the babysitter.

November 1, 2007

Sleep Training Week 2007, Day Two

Wednesday night was day two of Sleep Training Week 2007. All in all it was a success, but for reasons that I think had little to do with the plan. As I posted yesterday I was in shambles and definitely at the end of my parenting rope. However, one of the ideals that my father instilled in me was that I never ask for help (is that actually an ideal?), not even from someone who I love very dearly. The good news is that she knows when I need help and doesn’t make me ask. So last night my wife took the first shift, which is the one I dread most. It always comes shortly after I have fallen asleep and my nerves get a little jolt from it every night. You see, Annie has a knack for knowing precisely when my head hits the pillow, and BAM! She’s awake.

Knowing that my wife is taking shift number one has a way of easing my nerves. When I go to sleep with the guarantee that I won’t be waking up within the next ten minutes I am relaxed enough to sleep deeply. Even if Annie was on her usual three hour schedule I would get at least four hours of rest if my wife took the 11 pm shift and I went to bed at 10 O’clock. And wouldn’t you know it; this is exactly the way it played out.

Like clockwork she stirred at 2:10, and following the rules I let her cry for ten minutes. I lay there for exactly eight minutes listening to her on the monitor. On the screaming scale of one to ten, ten being hoarse and bewildered with tears making pools in her ears, I would say that she was only about a five. This seemed like encouraging news for the latter stages of Sleep Week ‘07. After eight minutes passed, I went into the kitchen figuring it would take me two minutes to prepare her bottle. In reality it took me three minutes and by the time I had Annie in my arms she had been crying for more than 11 minutes. I know, sad.

After four ounces of her six ounce bottle, I changed her diaper turned pee bucket so that when she was all riled up I would still have two ounces in the tank to get her back down. This worked like a charm and by 2:45 I was back in bed. Annie obliged my industrious planning by sleeping until 6:30, which is about 45 minutes before we get up every day. My wife and I audibled and decided to reward the little peanut for a respectively solid night’s sleep by getting up early and singing some of her favorite morning songs.

To recap, unlike most nights lately where she wakes up at 10:30, 1:30, 4:30, and then with us at 7:30, Annie was only up at 11:00 and 2:30. Not bad, eh? I’m not stupid enough to think that we had anything to do with this though. This isn’t my first rodeo, but I will take a fortuitously timed night here and again.

Tonight we move to 20 minutes of crying. Good thing both of our beds have waterproof covers, the tears will be flowing.