If He Cries, He Cries

In the summer of 2003, I served as the counselor for my camp’s annual CIT trip. Typically, my camp (plus two others) took a pilgrimage to Israel. That year, we went to Maine—not quite the same thing. Instead of climbing Masada, we climbed ropes. Instead of floating in the Dead Sea, we floated down the Kennebec River … twice.

The campers? They felt cheated a little bit. Me? I LOVED it. Watch 100 kids in Maine or watch them in Israel? Hmmm. Potentially deal with moose or potentially deal with terrorists? Yeah, Maine was much less responsibility, which meant it was much more 21-year-old Ryan’s speed.

While I had a great time, I didn’t enjoy all aspects of the trip. In particular, one of the counselors from the other camps really got under my skin. I won’t name her here; that’s not the grown-up thing to do 12 years later … also, for the life of me, I can’t remember what her name was.

Anyway, on one particular day trip, that counselor and I ended up sharing a bus seat. Crammed between her and the window, claustrophobia and dread set in quickly. Then, even faster, she fell asleep. And slumped over against me. With a string of drool dripping from her mouth. Too nice to elbow her in the ribs, I tried a gentle nudge. And failed. With repeated efforts. Finally, I decided I was trapped and said to myself, “Well, this is it: my personal hell.”

Life in hell is often depicted as repetitive torture (for instance, Homer being forced to eat donut after donut on “The Simpsons”). If this were true, I thought that if I were to end up in hell, my punishment would be to sit in that exact spot on that bus—for eternity. (Hopefully, not naming that counselor’s name is what keeps me in Saint Peter’s good graces! Yes, I am Jewish. Why do you ask?)

For more than 10 years, that experience remained my personal hell. Then, my wife, Elmo, and I drove home after Christmas.

My in-laws live in Rochester, New York. It’s about six hours from our home in Boston. This was our fourth time making that drive in the past month (twice for Thanksgiving and, now, twice for Christmas). Needless to say, we didn’t make any of those in six hours. Our drive there for Christmas had been the worst yet, a 10-hour trek that included an hour and a half standstill. Elmo, miraculously, slept through that. The rest of the trip? He spent that screaming. Eventually, the journey spilled into his bedtime, so we at least drove the last couple hours in peace.

For the ride home, we weren’t nearly as lucky. We got a late start at 11:30 a.m. That meant we’d drive through the meat of the day. The main part of Elmo’s “awake time.” And “awake” he was. Unhappy too. After a brief nap to start the trip, he pretty much wailed the rest of ride every moment, bemoaning being strapped into his car seat.

Eventually, I moved to the back seat with him, trying to play with him, sing to him, or pretty much do anything to stop him from crying. For close to two hours, though, I mostly just stared at his tear-streaked face, beet red from his hyperventilating sobs. His eyes pleaded with me: “How can you sit there without helping me?” It was his personal hell. It became mine too.

Now, this was not Elmo’s only freakout during our vacation. It was merely the cherry on top of the shit sundae (at least when it came to him losing it; the trip and my in-laws were otherwise lovely!). During our week-plus there, Elmo did not make it through a single night’s sleep for longer than 2 hours before waking up, screaming for attention. One of those nights, I stayed in the room with him, hoping my presence would keep him calm. Hah!

Clearly, something had to be done to help our kid calm down on his own. The answer? We were finally ready to “sleep train” him.

“Sleep training” is a funny phrase. In my mind, it cues up a movie montage, likely set to a song by Survivor:

Scene 1: We see Elmo sitting up in his crib. I place my hands next to my head in the universal sign for “sleep.” He giggles, then looks at me quizzically.

Scene 2: We cut to Elmo, lying on his belly in his crib, kicking his legs, pushing up on his arms, and sobbing uncontrollably. I’m next to him, “coaching” him to sleep, i.e., doing nothing to help him.

Scene 3: We see my wife and I, staring at our monitor. Elmo is finally sleeping. We high-five. The noise wakes him up, and he wails once more. We hang our heads, and the audience laughs at our pain.

Of course, “sleep training” is nicer than the more descriptive term: “let your child cry until they’re so worked up they eventually can’t do anything but fall asleep (after crying some more, of course).” Yeah, “sleep training” is better marketing, for sure.

We hadn’t let Elmo “cry it out” yet for a number of reasons: “He’s just getting over a cold.” “He’s just catching a cold.” “He really needs a good night’s sleep tonight.” “I really need a good night’s sleep tonight.” However, after that trip, after that hell, it was time. No more excuses. (It also helped that it was new year’s week and we were both off work, so we really were out of excuses.)

I thought I would document our results here, running diary-style. Ultimately, though, things weren’t eventful enough for that. Not because it was a rousing success immediately—far from it! However, all of the entries would have seemed very similar:

11:30: Elmo begins crying. Wait the allotted 12 minutes

11:42: Enter Elmo’s room. Sing him a song, rub his back. Do anything but pick him up. Eventually, he calms down. Go to exit, while he’s still awake. He recommences freak-out.

11:46: Wait the allotted 15 minutes.

12:01: Wife’s turn. She enters Elmo’s room. Sings him a song …

That first night, we did this routine for close to two hours. It was tough, but if I’m being honest, not horrible. To that point, one of the hardest things about comforting him in the middle of the night was when you couldn’t actually comfort him. He’d wail while you held him, or worse, commence wailing the second you put him down. Surprisingly, the quasi-”no touching” rule made things easier. It didn’t feel “good,” but having a plan did.

The first night was the toughest. The next night, he cried for an hour after my wife first put him to bed. Then, he slept through until the morning. The night after that, it was a half-hour to start, then smooth sailing. The night after that, just fifteen minutes. Things haven’t been perfect; last night, he was up at 12:30 screaming for a half-hour, and as I write this, at 8:45 p.m. on a Monday , he’s started squawking. Still, they’ve improved. He’s improved. And that’s a big win.

Recently, my wife asked if, knowing what we know now, we’d sleep train hypothetical baby number two earlier. I honestly didn’t know. Ultimately, there’s likely no perfect time. It depends not only on when your child seems ready, but also when you feel ready. For me, it took time and experience to reach that point.

I had to go to hell and back.

The Common Cold

It was 10 p.m. on a Tuesday, and we were driving around town. For some people, that sounds like a regular night. For a new parent, it sounds like a loooong night.

When you have a baby, 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. essentially become one another. Now, at 10 p.m., you wonder why you’re still awake, but you’re pretty sure nothing good can come of it. At 3 a.m. you’re used to being awake, which is arguably the more depressing outcome in this body swap (the LiLo in this “Freaky Friday,” if you will).

On this particular night, the “nothing good” occurring was Elmo fighting off his third cold in the past four weeks. Googling ways to relieve his misery, I instead found a general article about babies and colds. It said the average baby catches between six and eight colds before they turn one. What? Six to eight?? Fuck you, Internet.

How many times in your life have you heard, “There’s no cure for the common cold”? Did it ever make you mad? Like, “we can put a man on the moon, but we can’t cure a cold?!” mad. I hate colds, but I can deal with them. When Elmo came along, though, I got to see just how terrible it is to suffer stuffiness when you can’t help yourself at all. Experience that six to eight times, and forget getting mad—you’ll get irate. Like, “we can put a U2 album in everyone’s iTunes library, but we can’t cure the common cold?!” irate.

As a result, you look for any reasonable solution to help. And then you try them … all of them. So, check out my running list of baby “remedies” for the common cold (at least the ones I can recall), as well as how successful each was:

Bulb syringe: Provided for free by the hospital when we took Elmo home. In theory, lets you suck mucus out of a baby’s nose. In practice, is worthless.

Nosefrida the Snotsnucker: A better version of the bulb syringe, even if it should have been named “Noseferatu” (“I want to suck your boogers!”). You place one end of this tubular device in the baby’s nose and the other in your mouth. Then,  you suck. Hard. This product’s box features line art of a smiling baby, because there’s no fucking way you’d ever see an actual baby smiling when this is in use. Elmo acts like I’m sucking his brain out through his nose, like a confused ancient Egyptian coroner. Also, using this makes me feel like I have the lung capacity of an 80-year-old chain-smoker. Depressing on all fronts … except it kind of, sort of, almost works!

Boogie Wipes Saline Spray: Use in conjunction with Nosefrida. It won’t necessarily get more boogers out, but the ones you get will be bubblier! The canister features a scented noozle or “schnozzle” (their term). It must smell pretty good, because every time I bring it to Elmo’s nose, he opens his mouth instead … even if I’m just moving it from one nostril to the other. Let’s all take a moment now to remember how stupid babies are.

Humidifier: We’ve run this in Elmo’s room every night of his life, so hard to tell if it helps or not. One thing I am certain of? You better disinfect this thing often. Who would have thought something that’s constantly damp would get gross? Yup—everyone.

Raise the mattress under baby’s head: Where’d all the towels go again? Oh, right. They’re soaking up the humidifier’s juices and propping up the baby’s head. Perfect.

Baby NyQuil: Oh, man, I wish this existed. It’d definitely be my favorite “Quil,” narrowly edging out “Peter” and that Geoffrey Rush movie. I do wonder if they’d call it “Baby NyQuil” or something more fun. I did some quick brainstorming and came up with “Tyke Quil,” which I like quite a bit as an extension to the “Quil” brand. My goodness, I’m tired.

Baby Vapor Rub: This Vicks product actually does exist, although the Internet seems to indicate its poison. Since I was short a pound of beeswax and the eight essential oils the homemade recipe called for, I rolled the dice on the store-bought version, dabbing it on Elmo’s feet before bed. I think this is my favorite remedy to date. Like with anything else, I have no idea if it works. However, thanks to its smell, there’s no way you won’t notice if you already put some on. Considering my now hazy ability to remember things, that’s a fantastic add-on feature.

Other options exist, including putting a plate of sliced onions next to the baby’s head. I haven’t tried that one yet. Luckily (?), it sounds like I’ll likely have a few more opportunities to do so—especially since Elmo has now moved on to cold number four.

If you have your own remedies, let me know! We can take back the night. Or at least take back 10 p.m., like a less ambitious Justin Timberlake. (We’ll see how much night-taking-back he’s doing when his kid arrives …)

Hello, my name is Ryan.

If you happen to go back and read the very first post on this blog, you’ll see that one of my goals in starting it was to have other dads write as well.  My experiences as a parent are obviously incredibly interesting but I always thought it would be fun to have more of a community.

I won’t do too much introducing here because, below, this particular dad is going to do that for himself.  I will say this: Spoiler alert, he has a 9-month-old son and its been years since this blog had any posts for kids that age so I thought it might be a nice contrast to the stage that my daughters are at.

Enjoy.

Hello, my name is Ryan. I’m new to this blog and to being a parent. One of these is more daunting than the other.

I’ve known Matt since I was 11 years old. It was 1993 and my first year at camp. Matt was my bunk’s counselor in training, along with Ari Gutman. I’ve not spoken to Ari since that summer … actually, there’s a strong chance I didn’t speak to him during that summer either. The fact that I even remember the name “Ari Gutman” is a testament to what my memory was before fatherhood. Nowadays, I’m lucky to know what day of the week it is. (It’s Saturday, right? I hope so; if not, I’m late for work. Actually, screw it—I hope I am late for work.)

Of course, staying in touch with Matt was a different story. Over the years, we’ve had somewhat similar paths: we held the same traditions at camp, we were both CIT counselors, and we both attended Syracuse University (go, Orange!). Fortunately, I managed to avoid information studies as a major (go, journalism! Something with an actual future, right??).

As fate would have it, I unknowingly followed Matt again last week. This time it was onto an outbound train from Boston. He caught my eye. Then, we caught up. A brief chat led me to follow in his footsteps once more: here, onto the pages of this blog. And I couldn’t be more excited about that.

When Matt described this site to me, he spoke of it as a place to track his journey throughout fatherhood. He said it’d be something he wanted his daughters to read when they grew up. I immediately thought of a different purpose for this space: an outlet for my frustrations. Being a parent isalways hard. But being a first-time parent when you don’t know anything? That’s impossible. And in the nine months since my son was born, it’s gotten to me. A lot.

Around every corner lurks a new frustration. Today’s? I just got my son to go back to sleep. Now, it’s6:00 a.m., and I’m wide awake. So, instead of getting some needed sleep, I’m writing this. (No offense, Matt, but I’d take sleep over you any day.) Of course, many new parents have positive ways to overcome these grievances. For instance, exercise! I briefly considered purchasing a punching bag (not a joke), but instead, I usually eat candy to cope … lots and lots of candy. I crush candy. (Coincidentally, I also play a lot of “Candy Crush.” I don’t think either is good for my health.)

Now, before I vent further, let me make one thing clear: I love my son. I cannot describe the feeling I get when he smiles or laughs or blows out his diaper (FYI: the indescribable feeling for that last one is different from the first two). My wife’s father nicknamed him “Elmo” before he was born, and that’s what I’ll call him here. From the few parent blog posts I’ve read, it seems standard to not call your children by their actual names, and I can’t bring myself to use “MLO” or whatever the standard term is. So, “Elmo” it is. And, you know what? The nickname fits..

Like the Muppet, my son can be friendly, talkative, and annoying as fuck. (He also likes being tickled.) Elmo was born without complications, and for that, I will be eternally grateful. However, he had a fussy start to life, responding poorly when he ate, slept, and well, that’s pretty much all babies do. He’s battled colds, infections, a flat head, and more since he was born. Now, almost nine months in, things seem better. But perhaps that’s because I seem better.

I think the toughest part of being a new parent is not knowing how you’ll react. What if you can’t take it? At times, I think no one can. I know I couldn’t. In these instances, your best bet is to find a way to overcome those feelings. Now, I have one: this blog. I’m looking forward to sharing my stories here with each of you. Hopefully, you’ll find them enjoyable, funny, and relateable. And hopefully, they’ll get you to share yours too. After all, there’s one surefire way to overcome any issues you might face: talk about them.

(Well, that and jelly beans. Oh, man, I wish I had some now. Who cares if it’s like 7 a.m.? I’ve been up for hours …)

Rise of the Nerd

I’m a nerd.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts (or you know me), you already know this to be true.

For my professional life, I’m a Co-Founder and the CTO of a company called Dunwello (www.dunwello.com).  I have been writing software the better part of like a hundred years and working for startups for much of that.  I went to college to be an architect.  I was absolutely positive I wanted to be an architect.  100%.  My plan was to get to school, do some Arts & Sciences, and then transfer into the School of Architecture (Syracuse University).  That plan was detoured in my 1st semester when I found a new school:  The School of Information Studies (which has since been renamed to the iSchool).  I always describe this school, which was relatively new, as Computer Science without the pocket protector and Business without the suit.  I went for a tour one afternoon after hearing about the school from one of my sister’s friends.  It was probably half way through that tour that I decided to fill out the transfer paperwork and get started.  I never looked back and I never even looked at the Architecture School.  It turns out, in retrospect, that what I was drawn to with architecture is the same thing I’m drawn to with software and technology:  I love building things from the ground up.  I love seeing things come together; construction.  Math & science have always been fun for me and generally, logic puzzles and problem solving in general are right in my wheel house.

It should come as little to no surprise that my daughters have at least some of those same interests.  It is not fully clear, at this point, to what degree yet but if you know them, you know that they are both sneaky nerdy and intuitive.  Chloe and Julianna enjoy giving each other math problems, building with whatever, and asking lots of questions about how things work (as many do).

So last week, the four of us are having dinner, and I’m talking about how I had a lot of meetings that particular day (I am generally not a fan of lots of meetings).

Julianna asks, “Daddy, were any of the meetings for someone who wants to come work at Dunwello?”

As a matter of fact, yes, one of them was.

“I want to come work at Dunwello when I’m a grownup.”

Awesome, that would be great.  I ask her what kind of job she’d like to do.

“I want to be a software engineer like you.”

And then Chloe echoes that she would also like to be a software engineer at Dunwello.

[melt]

Of course, l’m sure most kids would say something like that so I’m not going to hold them to this but, it magnified some thoughts I had already been thinking:  I work in an industry, doing a job, where the large majority of professionals are men.  Software engineering is just not a field that a lot of women have adopted.

Why is that I continue to wonder?  Jokes mostly aside, it can’t be that my male brain is bigger right?  Is it that I’m just less sensitive?  What’s the story?  My girls seem to love all the same sorts of things that I loved when I was their age.  What’s to say that they couldn’t or wouldn’t go down the same path that I did?

Where’s the disconnect?

I’d like to think I will be fully supportive of whatever career path they end up taking short of a few exceptions (Drug Dealer, Prostitution, Blogger, etc).  My goal isn’t to make sure my daughters become software engineers but rather to help to provide an environment where they can feel like exploration of any profession (short of a few exceptions) is acceptable without social pressure that this activity is for boys and that one is for girls and so on.

With that, a friend recently introduced me to code.org.  It is a website (check it out – highly recommend) that has all sorts of free resources for various aged kids to learn about the fundamentals of computer science.  There are lesson plans for teachers and interactive puzzles/games for kids.  There are videos and links to resources and all sorts of nerdy things.

I also recently heard about CS EdWeek from the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s Ed Foundation (MassTLC – masstlcef.org).  CS EdWeek (http://masstlcef.org/cs-edweek/) is designed to be a week to inspire and promote computer science awareness within the education system.  I, of course, love it.

Last weekend, I asked the girls if they wanted to do some puzzles on the computer and learn some computer programming.  They were psyched.  Resounding “YES”es from both girls.  I went to code.org and sat them down in front of the browser.  Maybe they’d enjoy it; maybe not.

For a bit more than an hour, they sat, going through puzzles.  They switched who had control of the mouse between each puzzle.

Julianna and Chloe's first try using code.org

Julianna and Chloe’s first try using code.org

I sat with them the whole time but let them play and work things out together.  It was a ton of fun watching them work through the puzzles.  The above photo is from one of the earlier puzzles that has an Angry Bird theme.  Later, we did some Frozen themed puzzles.

I have a meeting soon with the principal of their elementary school about the school’s thoughts/plans on incorporating CS into the curriculum in some way.

Like I said before, I don’t need them to become software engineers.  What I need is for them to be inspired, both educationally and creatively, to stretch and challenge their minds and figure out what makes them happy.  I don’t need or want to produce an army of nerds but an army of open minded critical thinkers with the tools and confidence to pursue whatever truly interests them down the road…

…well, that wouldn’t be so awful right?

 

 

 

 

 

The Death Situation

“Daddy, what’s the situation with death?”

Not long ago, I wrote about my Great Aunt Charlotte passing away.  That event has inspired all sorts of interesting and reasonably difficult conversations over the last few months with Julianna.  For this post, and for the record, Chloe is not particularly interested in these matters yet which is fine by me.

To catch the new people up, Julianna is 6+, about to start the 1st grade, enjoying her first summer camp experience, mildly sensitive about emotional things, and pretty inquisitive.

To put the sensitivity into context, which I think is relevant for this conversation, here’s a quick story from yesterday afternoon:  We were on our way to the pool, listening to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the car.  We are just going through it for the first time.  I’m not sure if you are familiar with story, but if you aren’t, google it.  We listen to a lot of Broadway showtunes with the girls (deal with it).  They love it.  Anyway, the finale, “Any Dream Will Do” comes on.  We have pulled into the parking lot but the girls want to hear the rest of the song.  The lyrics talk about Jacob coming to Egypt to reunite with Joseph and his sons and yada yada yada.  Happy Ending City.  Chloe says, “Daddy, Julianna is crying.”  I turn to the back seat and sure enough, she’s quietly crying.  I ask why.  She tells me that she’s crying because she’s happy now that she knows, for sure, that Jacob gets to be back with his sons, and in particular Joseph.

“So this is a happy cry?”

“Yes but I don’t want to listen to this song for a while because I don’t want to cry every time.”

Ok, so this is what we’re dealing with.

Sidebar.

Aunt Charlotte was an art lover, both creating and consuming.  She didn’t have any dependents so when she passed away, we all visited her apartment and took a few pieces of her art to remember her.  In our house, we have Aunt Charlotte paintings in our bedroom and both of the girls’ bedrooms.  There was one painting that she had just recently started working on but hadn’t finished.  It was to be a painting based on a picture of Julianna with my sister’s daughter.  Unfortunately, she didn’t get very far into this painting.  My niece wasn’t really started yet but Julianna’s outline is there.  We recognize it very clearly from the picture it is based on.  To be honest, its perhaps a bit haunting but also quite beautiful.  When you look at it, if you knew Charlotte, you can almost feel her hand on it.  Its sort of comforting I think.  Its hanging in Julianna’s room.  She seems to really like it…other than occasionally when it gets her thinking about Charlotte…which leads to last night when she called me in after I thought she was already sleeping…

“Daddy, what’s the situation with death?”

Um…what do you mean?

“Like, what happens with death?  How does it work?  When does it happen?”

Ok, so here we are.  I don’t claim to be an expert on children.  I’m certainly not a doctor or a licensed anything (other than a licensed driver).  She’s brought these types of questions up before, recently, with both my wife and I and I don’t think we’ve exactly figured out how to comfortably answer.

So last night I just decided to go with it.  F*ck it.  We’ll do it live.

The following were the bits and pieces of what we talked about, in no particular order.

Well, Julianna, can you tell me 2 things your heart does?

“It moves air around my body.”  Right.  It is also how we “love”.  So if we agree on those 2 things, let’s talk about them.  First, the stuff we can explain-ish.

I found my pulse under my neck and put her fingers there.  I asked her if she could feel the the “bump bump, bump bump.”  She smiled a bit and told me she could.  Well, that’s my heart, actually working.  Its pushing the blood all over my body.  Bringing the air all over the place to make sure I’m good to go.  I helped her find her own pulse.  Another smile.  There it is.  Her heart is working.

Now that we “know” how being alive works, let’s discuss what happens when the heart stops working.  While we don’t have to worry about this for a long time (more about this in a bit), there comes a point, a very long time from now, when the heart stops being able to push the air around your body and that’s when the death situation happens.

“So what happened with Aunt Charlotte?  Her eyes opened and then like, they closed really quickly?  How does that feel?”

That’s not exactly how it works.  I explained that it wasn’t painful.  That if you could imagine, and again, not something to worry about for a long time, the most peaceful sleep.  She closed her eyes for a great sleep and that was it.

“Ok, so can we go and see her?”

Well, we can’t see her body.

This brought us into the next phase of the conversation…funerals and cemeteries.

[Spoiler alert for those worried:  she slept great last night – I didn’t ruin her – I don’t think]

We talked about a funeral and how people get sad because they won’t be able to see or touch or hug or laugh or have a conversation with the person, but that we spend a lot of time, almost like a party, telling great stories and remembering the great times.

We talked about what a cemetery was and how for some people, their bodies were put in this place and that we could always go and visit if we needed a real “place” to see but that anytime we wanted, Charlotte’s spirit would be in Julianna’s heart.  That she could always think about Charlotte or look at the paintings she now has hanging in her room and smile knowing that some part of Charlotte was with her always.

I told her that it wasn’t as important that someone died as it was to enjoy the time that you are alive with that person.

“Well, when are you going to die?”

Nobody really knows that.  Like I’ve said before, I’m pretty lucky to have a lot of healthy people in my family so I used the following:

Julianna, I’m your daddy and you know how old I am right?

Right.

And who is my daddy?

Papa.

Is he still alive?

Yes.

And how old is he?

Old.

And who is his daddy?

Great Grandpa Abe.

And is he still alive?

Yes.

And how old is he?

Very old.

Right.  You shouldn’t worry about any of those things.  We didn’t discuss that not every story plays out that way.  I think the goal was to give her some of answers for her questions and make her feel like there was less mystery, while not focusing on the scary parts.

“Well, the next time someone dies, I want us to have a party at our house to remember them.”

K.

She went to sleep shortly after that without fuss.  I’m sure the conversations will continue over time.  I consider myself to be a pretty logic & science-based thinker.  I like to know how things work and why things are the way they are.  I think a lot of kids, Julianna included, are like that.  There are certainly topics and certain details that are better discussed when they are older but I’ve been trying to put myself in her shoes on this one.  I can relate the general fear of the unknown.  If there’s an explanation to be had, or at least part of an explanation, why would not share it in as appropriately a way as possible.

At least until she asked this:

“Like, how do your bones get out of your skin after you die?”

Pass?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Day

Of the rest of her life.

My wife and I just dropped Julianna off at the bus stop for her first day of camp. If you know me well, you might imagine what a tremendously huge deal that was for me.

I’ve been absent from the blog for a while for all the usual reasons. To catch you up, in a real-quick sort of way, when we last spoke, we were about to embark on our first family vacation to Disney. That trip was the first time on an airplane for both Julianna and Chloe. It was their first time in Disney. The four of us went along with my sister, her husband, and their two kids as well as my parents. I debated writing about the trip in longer form but I feel like that’s pretty cliche. Too long, don’t read (TL;DR): Watching your kids meet the characters they have idolized for years was by far the highlight for me. It wasn’t about going on rides or seeing shows…it was seeing Julianna give the REAL Minnie Mouse an all-consuming hug after sleeping with a Minnie Mouse doll essentially since the day she was born. It was seeing Chloe, who was initially very nervous around the characters, stair in awe as Sophia The First took the time to draw a picture of herself in Chloe’s autograph book right next to a picture Chloe had drawn of herself which lead to Chloe wanting to meet every character. Awesome. The whole thing.

And then, the day after we got home, we went to pick up the puppy. Her name is Rose. She’s a mini chocolate labradoodle who doesn’t shed and isn’t going to be huge. She’s also not chocolate at all…more like a cloudy grey with a few dark patches. This development, in case you wondering, was not on a whim. We had arranged with the breeder months earlier to hold on to Rose for a few extra weeks so we could go to Disney and not leave a puppy alone for a week. Chloe, as expected, can literally not get enough of her. Her biggest complaint is that her lap isn’t big enough yet for Rose to really curl up in it. Julianna, well, that’s a different story…she has dog issues. She seemed very excited about Rose prior to her arrival but its been slightly less than that level of excitement ever since. She has enjoyed Rose from a distance and only recently started physically getting close.

Now, back to the day at hand.

My wife and I just dropped Julianna off at the bus stop for her first day of camp and if you know me well, you can imagine what a giant deal that is for me. This camp is a day camp, very similar to the day camp I started going to when I was around her age. I got on the bus back then, just like she just did, and off we went. I attended day camp for a few summers prior to moving on to overnight camp. Camp in general is probably the single most transformative experience of my life prior to having a family of my own. I have been involved in the camping world in one form or another for the better part of the last 32 years. I started as a camper at day camp, then became a camper at overnight camp. I moved on to be a counselor in training at that same overnight camp, followed by a counselor for a bunch of years and then an administrator and then finally the camp director. I met my wife at this camp and while I’m not the director now, I am just as connected and continue to visit regularly and be involved in alumni event planning. I am one of those annoying camp people you probably know (or you might be). Deal with us.

So today, when Julianna walked on the bus (naturally with another little girl who happens to be the daughter of a man who was my counselor multiple times at overnight camp), I had, as my wife would call it, “a moment.” I had prepared myself for a similar type of departure to the one we got with Kindergarten. She waited on the sidewalk, with her backpack on and as instructed, her bathing suit on under her sporty camp outfit, with the other kids, for the bus. The bus pulled up with that familiar air release door opening noise. Inside, the counselor in charge of the bus, a young woman who I knew, naturally from my overnight camp, when she was a little girl. Comfort. I feel tense…but in a different way than with Kindergarten. With Kindergarten, I had a miserable transition and miserable drop-offs all the time. With camp, I was never homesick. I never had a hard time going for some reason.

I so badly want “camp” to be the greatest experience of her life. I also know, from years of talking to other parents about it, that my camp experience can not be hers. What I enjoyed and what I connected with are my things. She will have her own experiences and so I cautiously stepped back slightly, waving and telling her I loved her and to have a great day and I couldn’t wait to hear all about it.

Camp. Its a pretty silly thing when you really think about it. Organized recess for however many hours a day. Swim in a lake maybe. Play softball or volleyball…it really doesn’t matter. Meet new people. Do some jewelry making. I can’t really explain it. You’ll hear camp people say something like, “if you didn’t go you don’t know.” Its not intended to be a high-nose or confrontational thing. Its just difficult to explain the connection people have.

Leading up to this day, I had to check myself and make sure that I remembered that this was her beginning, not my to-be-continued.

So she got on the bus, tear free, happily…

And that is how her story starts.

IMG_2171

How To Live

My Great Aunt Charlotte died today.

Great as defined by the family tree.  Great as defined by humanity.

When is the right time to explain death to your kids?  I thought about it for a long time over the last 6-8 months.  I’m pretty lucky to have lots of older people in and around my family in relative good health.  In other words, I have been very fortunate to have come this far in my own life with limited death around me.

I think the first indication that we were getting close to having the conversation was when Julianna asked a while ago what happened to mosquitoes or bees when they got “squashed”.  It was the first time that either of them showed any sign of understanding that there’s another “state” beyond what they can see.  It wasn’t long after when the dots started to connect.  If bugs’ lives can end, can people stop living too?

When I was a kid, my parents, sister and I would go to my Grandmother and Grandfather’s house every Sunday afternoon.  The house was a 2-family house.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in the main unit and [Great] Aunt Charlotte lived in the other.  Over the years, these visits usually involved greetings, some play time, a meal with some combination of my Grandparents’ kids, my 1st cousins, Aunt Charlotte, and various guests, more playing, dialing up Prodigy, watching the Red Sox, playing outside, losing a ball over the neighbor’s fence and never getting it because of a mysterious scary dog…and one other thing: I am pretty sure that about 100% of the visits involved some sort of craft or project over in Aunt Charlotte’s house.  Every time.  She always had something prepared for the kids.  She was always ready for us.  She never had kids of her own and I suspect that my father, his two brothers, and his sister would agree with me, my sister, and my 5 first cousins that Charlotte always treated us like we were all her kids.

The girls (Julianna more than Chloe) will occasionally ask about death.  “Daddy, when are you going to be dead?”  I think they are starting to understand some of the implications and my wife and I have spent a lot of time reinforcing that even if we aren’t physically able to see, hug, or play with that person anymore, it doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be alive in our hearts; in our minds.  I genuinely believe that it makes sense to them.  I also believe that its an understandably confusing concept. 

Not too long ago, during a conversation with Julianna that revolved around her trying to figure out how many birthdays someone can have she said, “Daddy, what happens when Great Grandpa Abe (Aunt Charlotte’s older brother) turns 100?”  I know exactly what’s she asking.  She’s learning about numbers and is trying to wrap her mind around life and setting expectations.  My answer was something like, “Well, each year on your birthday your age goes up by 1.”  My wife and I both typically then redirect into something that focuses more on life then on death. 

Chloe often just listens but doesn’t have much to say on the matter.  She is perhaps too young to understand the impact so she just lets it soak in.  Recently we planned a trip to New York to visit my wife’s Grandmother.  Julianna asked my wife, “Mommy, does Great Grandma Minnie live with Great Grandpa Joey?”  “No.”  “Why not?”  “Great Grandpa Joey isn’t living anymore.”  “So he’s dead?”  “Yes but he was a wonderful man and he lives in my heart.”  Unfortunately, neither my kids nor I ever had the chance to meet him but Julianna followed up with one of her more touching responses as her eyes welled up: “But I miss him.”

Like many people with higher ages, she certainly had her share of health problems but she was probably the most vibrant, full-of-life person I’ve known, literally right up until the end.  I almost never witnessed her doing anything other than smiling, for my entire life.  I mean, who is that happy for that much time? 

Aunt Charlotte recently became seriously ill.  About one and half weeks ago she was taken to the hospital.  Just a few days ago my sister and I went to go visit her in the hospital.  We knew things weren’t good and that she was in an incredible amount of pain and discomfort.  My wife asked the girls to paint pictures so I could bring them to her because painting was one of Charlotte’s biggest passions.  The girls got right to work.  My sister’s kids did the same.

My sister and I got to the hospital and Charlotte was asleep but clearly not comfortable.  Two of my cousins were also there.  The four of us stood there for a while letting her sleep.  We all thought that waking her up so she knew we were there was a good idea.  A nurse helped wake her up.  She slowly made eye contact with each of us.  We told her that the kids’ had made pictures for her.  I went and got the pictures and held them up so she could get a good look.  In perfect Aunt Charlotte form, she gave us that ear-to-ear, full-of-life, you just won a million dollars smile.  For that moment, it was literally perfect.  She almost immediately fell back asleep. 

When we sat down with the girls tonight, my wife and I decided that we’d just tell the girls the truth.  They listened as we told them that Great Aunt Charlotte had died.  They listened as we told them that she absolutely loved the pictures they had painted.  We told them that even though we wouldn’t be seeing her at family gatherings anymore, we’d still have her in our hearts and in our minds and memories.  She’d always be with us as long as we shared stories and laughed about all the great times we were lucky enough to spend with her.  Following my wife’s lead, they both pantomimed locking thoughts away.

Chloe asked, “Daddy, how did she die?  Did her heart stop?”

Girls, its far less important how she died.

What’s most important is to always remember how she lived.

Aunt Charlotte Feasting

The Great Aunt Charlotte – Always enjoying life

Unfrozen

Today Chloe Turns 5.

I feel like I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: what a year.  I’ve said it many times on this blog and I’ll continue to do so:  My kids are completely different and incredibly similar.

Julianna enjoys being the center of attention.  She is happy on stage, performing in front of people.  She is generally friendly with new people who come to visit us.  She likes going out and trying new things, mostly.

Chloe, on the other hand, dislikes attention, doesn’t like performing (when someone is looking), and she needs time to warm up to all people, even the ones she knows well.  She does not like trying new things…

…until recently.

When the movie Frozen hit theaters, something changed with Chloe.  All of a sudden, she is a little less apprehensive about performing (she sings Frozen songs almost constantly).  She’s a little less apprehensive about talking to new people.  She’s a little more vocal about communicating what she wants.  She’s a little more interested in being the boss (not always easy when you have a sister who is less than 13 months older than you).

She’s a little more “present” at all times and a lot more independent.

It could be that in regards to many of her inhibitions, she decided that she should just Let It Go.  It could be that she’s just maturing a bit and has started to feel more comfortable with herself.  Its possible that she just wants to share in some of the extraverted fun Julianna enjoys.  Whatever the case may be, we’ve welcomed this “New Chloe”.  Don’t get me wrong; there was nothing wrong with “Old Chloe” but this new version is even more delightful and fun to be around.  She’s genuinely entertaining.  She’s turned into the funny one.

She’s also sneaky smart.  Julianna is more obvious about whatever her intelligence is but Chloe leads you to believe she cares a bit less about education-related things…and then she drops some sort of ridiculous bomb on you…

Just recently she started this move (at first with my wife), which is a quote-ish from Frozen spoken by the character Hans to the character Anna:

“Mommy, come here.”

[wife bends down – Chloe puts 1 hand on face of wife]

“If only someone actually loved you.”

And then she starts laughing, in a genuine “I crack myself up” sort of way.  She doesn’t really get what she’s saying but she gets it enough to know how funny it is coming from her to one of her parents.

Speaking of the “I crack myself up” sort of way, this is further proof that she’s my daughter.  You can ask my wife how often I say something and then look for a High-5.  Its sort of like the time when Chloe randomly asked me, earlier in the year, if she could karate chop me in the forehead.  When I said I didn’t think it was a good idea and that hitting was not allowed or nice and we certainly didn’t want to hurt Daddy, she responded by smiling, staring at me for a moment, smiling wider, and saying, “Ok, but just a small karate chop?”

She’s just fun.

I’m sure that in the families where there are multiple children and any are as close in age as Julianna and Chloe, its not uncommon to be concerned that the “trailer” will always be the trailer.  I feared that she would always do and have everything second.  I feared that she would always live in some sort of shadow of her older sister.  Her lack of interest in being in the spotlight only made these fears stronger.

This year was great for a number of reasons but maybe the best thing, selfishly, is that she has shown me that those fears are no longer warranted.  She’s who she is.  Chloe, in many ways, is Elsa to Julianna’s Anna.

Chloe has come out of her shell in many ways this year, or in Frozen terms, has taken off her gloves and let her hair down.  She’s loud and proud.

When I started this blog, I told myself that I wanted to cover the first 5 years of the girls’ lives.  At the time, that felt like a good goal.  With this post, in my mind, the goal has been reached.  I suppose I’m finished…

But then how would you know how Chloe’s Kindergarten transition went?

 

 

Phase 2

Today Julianna turned 6.

I’m not positive but I think I need to start thinking about her as a big girl now.  This morning when she woke up, my wife and I went in to give her obnoxious birthday attention that feels “this” close to warranting eye-rolls.  I sort of picked her up and held her like a newborn, explaining that it was the way I held her 6 years ago.  She is of course, much larger than that first day.  I think that she gets that even though she isn’t a baby anymore, she’ll still always be my baby.

This year, like the previous ones, has been filled with great moments and transitions.  It seems like both yesterday and forever ago that I was writing about Julianna’s transition to kindergarten.  Feeling completely helpless as the guidance counselor brought her into school for the first time, while she cried to please not leave her brought back a lot of bad memories of my own at that same time of life.  The good news is that she recovered a lot, and I mean a lot, quicker than I did.  My mother would tell you it took me between months and the entire year before I went into school without a fight.  Julianna was fully recovered and ready for action on day 2.  DAY FRIGGIN 2.  I didn’t have a day of homesickness or “transition trouble” after kindgerten so I’m hopeful she will have a similar future.

Kindergarten epilogue:  I still drive her to school every day.  She buckles her own seat belt when we get in the car.  We still wait in the line.  When its our turn to drop off, it goes like you hear in the movies:  she literally has no time to say goodbye.  Inevitably she sees a friend walking in from one of the busses and she can’t wait to go catch up.  Occasionally I’ll get a wave but for the most part, she’s very busy doing other things…like socializing with kids I don’t know.  Once she gets out, its usually seconds before I need to move so I only get a quick glimpse of her “social skills” but its oddly fascinating.  That first time you see a 4th grade girl walk up to your kindergarten daughter on her way into school and you read her lips as she says, “Hey Noa, how was your weekend?” its sort of awesome and sort of heart-breaking…

It feels like she’s starting to not “need” me quite as much.  I know that’s not really true of course but seeing her interact with friends and not need me there to facilitate is something that I think you strive for as a parent.  I love that she has made friends, without my help.  I love that she can handle herself without me.  Those things feel very reassuring.  They are also mild shots to my ego.  I’m sure almost all parents go through the same sort of withdrawal and that its a normal thing but I also think that no matter how often someone tells you to “enjoy every moment because they aren’t going to be babies forever” you don’t really grasp it…

…until your cell phone rings one afternoon and its your wife’s # and when you answer, a lispy little girl voice excitedly says, “Daddy, my tooth was really loose at recess so I pulled it out.”

Yeah, Julianna also lost her first tooth.

That tooth loss I suppose is symbolic of this new transition…out with the baby stuff…in with the whatever is next stuff…

…like how to read.  So much for my wife and I spelling out things we don’t want the girls to understand.  Tonight at bedtime, we let the girls have a rare, school-night sleepover.  They love having sleepovers with each other and we often let them do it on the weekends but because today is Julianna’s birthday, we are having a special treat.  Normally, bedtime is one of my wife or I reading a book to each kid.  Tonight, Julianna insisted that she read the book and while its certainly a slower process, for the most part, she can actually do it.

Recently, while she was reading a book to me, she had apparently recently learned what a question mark was and went into a 5 minute long lecture on how they worked and how she was supposed to make her voice go “up like this”.  There are always moments when we can see “education” but this was one of the first display of a specific proper educational moment and another reminder that she’s growing up.

And then there’s Chloe.  Their relationship has just gotten stronger.  They are even better friends than they were last year at this time.  Many mornings, one of them wakes the other one up and we hear them playing with dolls or reading books to each other.  Its another thing where we’ve been told, “they won’t be this close forever.”  No complaints.  They are this close and continue to get closer.

They share with each other (most of the time), think about each other (most of the time), are learning how to compromise (some of the time), help each other and clearly love each other.  It is just super cool to watch them be together.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit and that’s because I typically don’t like to overthink these posts but rather just sort of type what I’m thinking.  This year has felt like year 1 of phase 2 and last year I felt like I had finally gotten comfortable with what parenting was all about…now I suppose we continue to learn and enjoy, again.

I’m sure there will be answers.

I’m sure there will be questions.

I’m sure it will be another great year where my first baby continues to give me wonderful things to be proud of.

Happy Birthday Julianna.

Love,

Daddy

 

Tooth

Julianna lost her first tooth today.  We’re all pretty excited.  It has been many years since I lost my baby teeth so I didn’t remember this part, or maybe things have changed, but apparently the Tooth Fairy writes personalized letters now…who knew?

[Full disclosure: She sent a handwritten note and I transcribed]

To my dearest Julianna,

Losing a tooth can be so much fun,

And losing your first is the very best one.

As your teeth fall out, I can come and collect them,

I will take care of each and every one like a precious gem.

I’m ever so quiet and come very late,

I’ll be careful to not wake you because sleep is so great,

Of course brushing your teeth is more important than ever,

But you already knew that because you seem to be so clever.

As your baby teeth fall out and your big teeth obey gravity,

Keep brushing and flossing so you don’t get a cavity.

Take care of your sister Chloe who I know you love dearly.

Congratulations and I’m very proud of you…

Love,

The Tooth Fairy