Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stay-at-home dads: what to do with your man-gifts...

So your loved ones were torn on what to give you for Christmas. Should they get you something particularly masculine but doomed to collect dust on the shelves or should they risk emasculating you by giving you something you might actually use on a day to day basis, like cookbooks, or days-of-the-week pajamas, or earplugs (props to those who gave me beer for Christmas.) Most people will avoid any chance of insulting us stay-at-home dads so many of us find ourselves with gifts we won’t be able to use until our children give us a moment’s peace. I’m here to help you find uses for your man-gifts.

Tool Belt – The best SAHD man-gift possible. This gem can be used for dads with babies (bottle, pacifier, wipes, diapers, burp cloth, rattle, air freshener, tongs) or older kids (crayons, boxes of raisins, first aid kit, change of underwear, baggie of legos, sunscreen, juice cup.)

Chainsaw – Since it is used outside, the chainsaw carries the added bonus in that your neighbors will think you actually get manly work done outside, when in fact you are probably carving your way through your kids’ most annoying toys. Baby’s First High Pitched Scream Bot? History. Speak and Spell and Whistle and Chirp and Beep and Flash and Cause Seizures? Slag.

Fishing Pole – An idea from the St. Louis Magic House: Attach a magnet to the end of your fishing line and place small metallic objects in your back yard for you and your child to cast to and “catch.”

DeWalt Heavy-Duty 12 Inch Double-Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw – Who are you kidding? You don’t even know what this is.

Golf Clubs – 3 words: Dog poop relocation.

Plasma Television – Unless you want your toddler to use his new hammer on it or your teenager (or you?) to risk losing her grip on her Wii-mote you better keep this in its box or just return it altogether.

Random gadgets – Kids are easily hypnotized by anything small, flashy, and beepy. Keep your new random gadget (I got an idog) handy for when one of them is acting up in a public place. Turn it on, show the child, and back slowly to where you want the child to go. He or she would follow the gadget off a cliff.

Home Depot Gift Card – This is a tough one because you will be tempted not to insult and emasculate yourself, and probably walk away with the Home Depot equivalent of racing stripes on a car, cool and manly but ultimately useless. Some useful purchases for us SAHDs range from sand for the kids’ sandbox to materials for a new toy chest.

Your ideas?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Well, she is two...

As we’ve watched Clara jump and spin her way through her third year Megan and I have found ourselves saying “well, she is two” quite often, though depending on the circumstances the phrase has several possible meanings. The most common usage is a reminder to ourselves that we should not expect her to behave older than she is. When she hoards her toys so Kate can’t play with them, or removes all of her clothes and diaper in her crib in the morning, or grabs breakable things and proceeds to accidentally break them, we try to teach her not to do those things, but to wish her more mindful and more mature is to wish her into a different kid, one who isn’t two years old – and I don’t want Clara any different.

Me: I wish Clara wouldn’t make so much noise when Kate’s sleeping.
Megan: Well, she is two…

Megan: Does Clara have to take that lamb everywhere she goes?
Me: Well, she is two…

Understanding the fact that she is two and will have two-year-old problems is easy – living with it can at times be near impossible. I can put up with occasional tantrums and broken knickknacks but Clara’s jealousy of my attention has led to aggression towards Kate, which manifests itself in hitting and pushing. I’m fine with letting a kid be a kid, but when Kate bears the brunt of Clara’s misplaced aggression, things have to change. We’ve been able to address the hitting and pushing separately, but Clara will have to outgrow the jealousy on her own. She even crawls on the floor and talks incomprehensively to get the attention we give Kate. “Clara,” I find myself saying, “You are two…”

It as at such times we find ourselves saying the phrase in the opposite way we usually do, saying in effect that Clara is old enough to do what we are expecting of her. Recently, I was skeptical that she was ready for potty training, at which Megan replied, “Well, she is two…,” meaning she is plenty old enough. Turns out Megan was right, and Clara has been coming along in her training.

Me: I’m thinking of signing up Clara for a ballet class.
Megan: You really think she’s old enough for that?
Me: Well, she is two…

But what’s lost in all this worrying about whether she is too old or too young for our expectations is what she is, at this moment in time, just right for. She is two. Her world gets bigger every day and she has the wide eyes to prove it. Her imagination is developing and she can tell us about things in her hands that aren’t really there, except in her mind. She wants to put on her boots to go walking in the snow, but not to throw snowballs or make snow angels – just to walk, to feel the snow crunch under her feet as she makes endless laps around Nana and Papa’s house. She wants to drive around at night and ooh and ah over the Christmas lights, “Wow! Look at that!” She wants to dance silly dances to any music. She wants to put on Mommy’s shoes and clip clop around the room. She wants to go to school. She wants to slide down slides and drive plastic cars. And who can blame her? She is two.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blankets and Chicken Soup

It's been a rough few weeks in the Bittle houshold. One of us caught a cold somewhere and it wasn't long until all four of us were struggling. There was coughing, runny noses, grumpiness, snuggles, crying, and lots of sleeping - and that was just Megan! Clara woke up a few times in the middle of the night crying; she couldn't breathe very well and was just tired of feeling crummy. But at least Clara knows how to blow her nose now. Kate just sits there looking miserable trying to breathe through the snot in her nose. The poor girls couldn't figure out why they felt so bad and I could only offer some light remedy with Children's Tylenol. More than once Megan or I fell asleep on the couch with one of the girls sleeping on top of us. Megan had to take a couple of days off work and I had a babysitter come over a few times just so I could go to sleep. It was a rare day that we all changed out of our pajamas - usually we just kept warm under blankets and ate our chicken soup.

Luckily we improved enough by Thanksgiving to enjoy the visits of Tracy and Kyle Bittle and Jim, Tracy, Davis, and Elena Piazza. I've put in some pictures. The first is from a visit to the pumpkin patch. The next two are from the Magic House.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tricks and Treats

It has been a busy week for the Bittle girls, who spent the weekend with Jenny and Todd while Megan and I took a kid break with friends in Las Vegas. When we planned the weekend, I figured the World Series might coincide, but as the Cardinals were probably in the midst of one of their losing streaks it never occured to me that St. Louis would be a bigger party that weekend than Las Vegas. Megan and I got to be a small part of the World Series, standing in the rain with friends waiting for the game to be called. Our tickets ended up being for the winning game two days later, which we celebrated in the ESPNzone in Las Vegas with dozens of new friends dressed in Cardinals jerseys, as I was. Go Cards!

Clara and Kate got to celebrate with the Cards on Sunday. Jenny and Todd took them to the victory parade.

Last night cowgirl Clara and little lamb Kate canvassed the neighborhood for yummy treats. My mom made Kate's lamb costume and even Clara was impressed by it ("so soft.") It was Clara's first Halloween trick-or-treating and she took full advantage of it. She tried to walk into the first few houses until she realized that the people at the door were trying to give her candy. She gently reached into the bowl for a piece, put it in her felt pumpkin, then reached for another, then another, then another - ignoring any of our attempts to cut her off. She even got some candy for Kate before we picked her up and carried her away from the magical bowl that was the neighbor's candy dish. When she saw groups of older kids she waved and said, "Hi kids!" We returned home after a few houses and Clara showed her loot to her Nana, jumping around in her excitement.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Open Story Thread

Since I started sharing stories of Toddler antics I've received several emails from people with some of the funniest toddler stories I've read. I'm starting this open thread for those readers who would like to share their best stories. I will try to bookmark it on the side so it's always there. Just add to it when something funny happens.

Congratulations to new parents Tom and Allison Burns and Jeff and Jen Wall: Colleen Nora Burns and Sierra Murphy Wall were born this past month. All our best to your families and we hope you all get some sleep. Megan and I wish we could be there to see the new ones in person. We all look forward to hearing of your adventures here. On the way are second babies from Dmitri and Cindy Williams and Ernie and Ense Kwan - let's hear some Mia and Lauren stories.

I'll start the funny stories with a short but sweet one: Last week the Bittles were driving home after spending some time with Jenny and Todd. I had given Clara some apple juice to drink but she finished it before we got in the car. Halfway home, about 15 minutes later, Clara let out a little toddler burp. There was a pause, then Clara said delightedly, "Apples!"

I'll let Megan share how she let slip a word Clara shouldn't repeat, and how Clara used it quite correctly in a new sentence.

Tom, Colleen, and Allison Burns

Jeff, Sierra, and Jen Wall

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


While I'm not one to jump every time our local news flashes their latest scare "special report" (Can the socks you're wearing KILL YOU?!?,) I was intrigued by something I found on today about current research on Autism. The idea that there's something I'm doing (or not doing) that could hurt the girls scares me. But I also want to take everything with an ounce of salt - the recent reports that non-organic milk was harmful to young girls turned out to be a myth: Washington Post.

The Autism report finds a link between television viewing and autism rates in certain areas. The link is circumstantial at best but enough to warrant further research. Autism has been on the rise but scientists have been baffled as to why. In the last few years research studies have found possible causes for the increases in autism, including vaccines, genetics, and now television.

Take a look at the Slate story. Several of you are much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am so I'm interested in what you think. Parents also please let me know what you think. Slate Article

Also, some other findings:

Genetic Link: From MSNBC

Vaccines (myth): CDC

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Zombie Baby

It was a morning like all others: Clara sat on the couch, a cup of milk curled around the fingers of her right hand while she sucked on the middle fingers of her left hand. Big Bird filled the television screen as he searched a farm for any sign of Ernie. Suddenly Clara heard a sound from the hallway. Her eyes darted toward the door, the rest of her body remaining very still.

Not a foot off the ground, the tip of a bald head came into view. It was just as Clara feared. The bane of her existence approached slowly, ever so slowly. It was the slowness of inevitability. One hand forward...pause...opposite knee forward... pause... other hand forward. The zombie baby was on the move.

Clara dared not move for fear of attracting attention. As of yet the undead little one was unaware of Clara's presence. Perhaps the zombie would be distracted by the television, or the Dora van, or the Mr. Potato Head. Oh no, Clara thought, not the dolphin, not the fuzzy dolphin! It was near the doorway - the reanimated devil child had only to look left and she'd see it. No! She saw it!

The zombie reached for the dolphin and Clara couldn't help but jump at the thought of what that thing would do with it. But the enemy saw the movement, and now had Clara clearly in her sights. Zombie Kate's eyes widened, and she smiled that drooly smile of the damned. On she came.

"Noooooo!" Clara cried. "Kate! Nooooooo!" Maybe her dad would hear and come to save her. She could hear him in the kitchen. Why wasn't he protecting her?

Clara jumped up and ran to the end of the room, crying. Zombie Kate smiled and continued toward her. She's taunting me, Clara thought.

"What's the matter Clara?" Her father yelled from the kitchen.

"Kaaaaaaaaate! Kaaaaaaaaate!" Surely he would come.

"Oh sweetie, just share your toys with her." Share? Toys? This clueless man thinks I'm crying over a toy? I'm crying for my life!

She had nowhere to run. She had backed herself into a corner and Kate showed no signs of stopping. She kept smiling and drooling and grunting that zombie grunt. Realizing she had little choice, Clara ran at the little zombie and, keeping herself out of arms reach, ran around her into the hallway.

"Daddy!" She sobbed. He was in the kitchen putting dishes away. Why did he choose today to start doing that?

"What's the matter sweetie?" What's the matter? The matter is that your "sweetie" is going to be zombie food if you don't do something quick!

From the entrance to the living room came a grunt, a tip of a head, those dark, dark eyes, that smile, and so much drool. Nowhere was safe!

"Kaaaaaaaaate!" Clara cried.

"Oh sweetie," her father said in that condescending tone. "Kate just wants to play with you."

Oh what a clueless man. Yes, she wants to play with me, like a cat plays with a mouse, Clara thought. Clara was giving up hope with every inch the zombie baby crawled. Clara held tight to her father but he did nothing! The end was here. At least she saved her stuffed dolphin from certain doom.

At last Kate made it to her and Clara's life flashed before her eyes. Goodbye mommy and daddy. Goodbye dolphin. Goodbye giraffes at school. Goodbye trains. Goodbye Clarice. She closed her eyes tight.

Her father moved, picked up the zombie child, and deposited her in the high chair, pouring cheerios in front of her. The nightmare was over - Clara was saved! Hiding behind the cabinet, Clara peered around the corner at the zombie child. Kate reached for a cheerio, saw Clara there and smiled her drooly, crusty smile as if to say, "this isn't over."

(the last we saw of our dog)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2 Year-Old Tidbits

Welcome to a new column titled 2 Year-Old Tidbits (because “What the hell is my daughter doing?” didn’t feel positive enough.) In this recurring column, I’ll share some things that I have to share for my own mental health.

Daddy’s new toothbrush: A few weeks ago I visited the dentist and came away, of course, with a new toothbrush, which I put in the drink holder of our car. Later that day, Clara was making a fuss in the backseat so Megan handed the toothbrush back to give her something to play with. Now to Megan’s credit the toothbrush was still in its packaging, and honestly, what could she really do while strapped in her car seat? It worked like a charm; she was so busy making crinkly noises that she forgot whatever it was that made her upset. Megan and I actually had a conversation for a short while. But that short while became suspiciously long and I turned around to see that not only had Clara unwrapped the toothbrush, she was busy brushing the bottoms of her feet with it. She grinned at me and said, “Feet!” I looked at Megan and said, “You owe me a new toothbrush.”

Bookies and Milkies: Megan and I are not the type of parents who make words kid friendly. For instance, we don’t call a dog a doggy or . Obviously, there are words like puppy or baby or monkey or tummy/belly that come with the kid friendly “y” at the end. Some time last week Clara decided that everything ends with a “y.” She began to ask for Milky or Juicy, to call where we live our housy, and to refer to her stuffed animals as bearies. I just ignore the new trend and call everything by its rightful name, hoping she’ll catch on. The other day we visited my dad at the Warrenton Senior Center, which he now runs, and while trying to break Clara’s habit of ending everything with a “y” we sat her down to a snack of… a brownie. This is a losing battle I’m fighting.

Pray for Pagan Babies: During a play-date at Jenny and Todd’s house with their niece Kennedy, Clara showed just how much we’ve failed at teaching her table manners. Jenny made the toddler ambrosia that is macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs – Clara wasted no time digging in. Kennedy put her hands together and looked at Clara and said, “We pray.” With the fork halfway to her mouth, Clara looked at Kennedy with a confused look on her face. Todd’s mother Pat gently held Clara’s hands to her side so Kennedy could pray for the food and for each of her family members one by one. Pat, Todd, and Jenny had trouble keeping a straight face through Kennedy’s list of prayers because Clara, who now could not use her arms, leaned her face toward the bowl as if to bob for mac and cheese. Eventually Kennedy was ready to eat and Clara got back to the business of eating. Time for etiquette school I guess.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Baby's first ER visit

Last night Megan and I took Kate to her first - of few, we hope - visit to the emergency room. Let me say first that she is fine, don't worry. When changing Kate's diaper last night Megan found what looked like blood in her urine. Switching into protective mother mode, Megan called the after-hours nurse hotline, who, after asking a series of questions including what Kate had to eat that day, advised us to take her to the St. Louis Children's Hospital and to ask for a special section called CARES, where they would be waiting for us. In this case, the nurse's attentiveness actually scared Megan, who feared it meant we were dealing with something serious.

Luckily, Jenny was available to take Clara, and when we arrived at the emergency room, we were escorted to a separate section of the hospital. Megan asked what CARES stood for but the nurse hesitated when answering - it was then that I realized how frightened Megan was. "Do you not want to tell me?" she asked the nurse. The giant sign that said "Radiology" just added to our fear. But he wasn't hesitating out of respect for the gravity of the situation; he really didn't know what it stood for. Several people working in the CARES section didn't know either, but we were reassured when it turned out to be just a separate emergency room for children whose doctors called ahead - kind of a way to bypass the regular crowded emergency room. It's called the Center for After-hours Referral Emergency Services (although the best guess we got from a nurse there was Children's Ambulatory Referral Emergency Services). If anyone in St. Louis has to take a child to the emergency room for any reason, I suggest calling your doctor and getting into CARES - it probably saved us hours.

The doctor reassured us that there was no reason to worry, that they'd check her urine for sign for blood and then move on from there. Often, she said, discolored urine is unexplained, but if no blood is present there's no danger. Poor Kate weathered the visit like a champ, mostly smiling and making sweet noises at anyone who passed us - the doctor said they weren't used to a visiting child who was so happy. But two hours after her usual bedtime, Kate turned into a lunatic. When she wasn't desperately trying to get anywhere but where she was or wailing at the injustice of it all, she was belly laughing at nothing. At first I was playing peek-a-boo with her, which she found quite pleasing, but then she began laughing at nothing and didn't stop. Now I know I'm funny. Correction, I'm hilarious (to my children.) But I wasn't doing anything!

Finally the doctor returned with the good news that they didn't find any blood and we could take her home. Kate fell asleep in Megan's arms and as I got the car I saw a dad pull up with his high school age son, still fully dressed in his football uniform. His ankle was wrapped and he had to be helped out of his car. I couldn't help but flash back to when I paid a similar visit to an emergency room in Sacramento with a broken arm after a high school football game. It just highlighted the fact that while this night was a false alarm, one or both of the girls will probably be back to the emergency room at some time in their lives.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Montana Man Spa

Several years ago Megan's father Tony and I decided to learn how to fly fish, taking lessons from a local fly fishing outfitter. We honed our skills in the trout streams of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, often with Tony's colleague (and frequent poster on this blog) Ron Shane. Last week, the three of us traveled to the Mecca of American fishing, Montana. Clara and Kate stayed with Susan, and while I would say they were spoiled silly by their Nana, it would be more accurate to say that Tony, Ron, and I were spoiled silly by the people who took care of us in Montana.

Understand that I would have been happy with just a few days without Desitin and The Wonder Pets. What I got was a few days in the ultimate man's spa. After arriving in Missoula, we were taken to the Blue Damsel Lodge along Rock Creek, a world famous trout stream. The lodge was a beautiful log house crafted with an artist's eye for details large and small. Keith, our host, made sure everything we would need was available to us and Josh, the chef, crafted gourmet breakfasts and dinners that kept us glued to the giant oak dining room table the majority of the time we were in the lodge. Keith's voice was so similar to Sam Elliot's that I asked him to call me "The Dude" during my stay (from "The Big Lebowski.")

Our days were spent floating on some of the most scenic rivers in the country. We were shuttled into town each morning to meet up with our guides from the Grizzly Hackle fly outfitters, who then took us to one of the many rivers around Missoula. We spent three days total on the rivers. The first two days we spent on the Clark Fork River and the last on the Bitterroot. During that time, with the help of three different guides, my skill improved enough that I was finally getting some confidence. I worked primarily on my casting on the first day, often against terrible wind, and worked on presenting my fly in way that would attract some fish. I caught enough fish to keep me happy. On the second day I had no problem hooking fish, but I struggled bringing them all the way into the boat. I think I set a record for number of fish lost on the line and was getting a bit frustrated. On the third day I put it all together and although it was raining a very cold drizzle all day, I had my best day fishing yet.

Each night we were greeted by amazing smells from the kitchen, a variety of appetizers, and growlers of beer from the local breweries. Conversation was, of course, about the day's fishing and the ones that got away (which were, naturally, unnaturally large fish.) I had a few stories to tell after the last day of fishing: I had two trout on one line; I caught four nice sized rainbows on four successive casts; I had one trout shake itself off of one fly only to be hooked by the dropper fly; and I actually lassoed a fish - you'll have to ask me about it some time (the guide called me a true Montana cowboy.) After a couple of hours of eating and telling stories, those not pouring themselves into bed enjoyed cocktails and cigars on the porch with the giant St. Bernard Zoe.

This really is how beautiful the streams were, though I spent so much time watching for any sign of a trout that I didn't spend much time looking around me. Each day we saw bald eagles and a variety of wildlife, including a waterlogged mink who ran along the shore following us for a bit.

If you have any plans to visit Montana, I highly recommend the Blue Damsel Lodge and Grizzly Hackle outfitters:

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sing along with Dad

Many find the thought of a stay-at-home dad funny because they imagine a burly manly man doing all the traditionally feminine tasks a caregiver must do every day. In movies and television, you don’t often see men rocking a baby to sleep or comforting a crying toddler, and when they do their discomfort is the punchline. And let’s face it, the image of a man carrying a diaper an arm’s length in front of him while pinching his nose is funny. But there is one part of my job that I would not want video cameras to record for posterity: my singing.

Any caregiver knows that you can say, “stop that, sit still for a second, calm down, oh please stop, this will only take a second…” and it will accomplish very little. But if you start singing, the child will stop and stare, if not join in your singing. Singing is the only way I can get both of the girls changed or Kate to calm down long enough to close her eyes to fall asleep. The only problem is I’m a terrible singer. As of yet, the girls haven’t figured that out, though Kate sometimes grabs my lips and pulls on them, which I won’t take as criticism until she’s four or five.

I’m not sure if this is unique to me or if others have experienced this difficulty, but whenever it comes time to sing a song, I can’t think of a single one to sing. I have shelves of CDs and thousands of songs on my IPod, yet none come to mind – none appropriate that is. So what do I do? I make the song up.

Now there are some rules to making up your own song: The tune should match a familiar song, and every line has to be repeated at least once. The words should match what’s going on at the time. For instance, here’s a song I sang to Kate while changing her diaper (to the tune of Frere Jacques):

Kate is stinky

Kate is stinky

Yes she is

Yes she is

Daddy needs a gas mask

Because the smell is awful

But there’s none

But there’s none

I also have a special song for when Clara’s fussy called “A Temper Tantrum” set to the tune of La Cucaracha. I’d write the lyrics but they change every time based on what she’s doing. If the tantrum isn’t too serious, she’ll forget her problems and laugh at her ridiculous father. Really, what pride do I have left?

While writing this I thought of a song I used to sing to baby Clara when she cried. The Power of Two by The Indigo Girls:

So we’re OK

We’re fine

Baby I’m here to stop your crying

Chase all the ghosts from your head

I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed

Smarter than the tricks played on your heart

We’ll look at them together and we’ll take them apart

Adding up the total of a love that’s true

Multiply life by the power of two

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Picture Day!

Is there anything sweeter than dressing up two little girls in pretty dresses for their first portrait together? Soon we'd have a framed picture for everyone of a beaming Clara holding the cherubic Kate on her lap, or pulling Kate in a little wagon, or both of them lying on their tummies. We'd save a picture for each girl to put on their desks when they go away to college. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, I had to get Clara (and Kate - but she's easy) through taking a bath, brushing her teeth and hair, dressing her, feeding her some food, getting her in the car, driving to the studio, and sneaking past the toys in the waiting room - all while avoiding any reason to throw a temper tantrum. Somewhere along the line I failed.

I've come to realize that parents of toddlers walk a tight line keeping the child happy without caving in and giving her everything she wants. Clara will pass something she wants and ask for it over and over. I try to distract her but then the asking gets louder and more insistent. Finally I just have to say no. There are three possible results:

1. Clara realized she can't have the thing and moves on to play with something she can have. While this has yet to occur in the Bittle household I've heard it's possible.

2. Clara makes groaning noises and covers her face with her hands before falling onto the ground yelling whatever it is she wants over and over.

3. Clara looks at me as if to say, "you'll be sorry," and her toddler sense of retribution begins to plan a tantrum at the most opportune time. This is what happened on picture day.

I'm not sure what set Clara off but here is a visual approximation of picture day:

She refused to sit still. She refused to hold Kate. She refused to do anything we asked to do. I actually found myself wondering if reverse psychology might work: "Clara DO NOT sit here and smile into the camera!" So what did we do when nothing worked? We took a whole bunch of pictures of Kate. Like this one:

Finally Megan asked the photographer what she usually does with unruly toddlers. She suggested we bribe Clara with ice cream. Seriously. So the question became did we want to throw our parenting philosophy out the window to get a good picture of Clara? I'm ashamed to say the answer was, "absolutely." With the prospect of getting ice cream, Clara jumped up, smiled for the camera a couple times, then held her arms out asking, "Where's ice cream?"

A word to the wise: if you are going to bribe your toddler with ice cream, make sure you actually have some ice cream. We did not. Here is a visual approximation of what happened next:

Good times.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Birthday Memories

Clara came into the world two years ago today. We celebrated her birthday this weekend with friends and family and as talk turned to the day of her birth I realized how much my feelings on the day have changed over time, and how much the day gets better and better over time. Two years ago, I would have used words like “surreal,” “scary,” and “freaky” to describe the experience. From Megan’s water breaking at the B.B. King concert to going home after the birth knowing everything had changed I couldn’t shake my nervousness. The fear that I felt that day – not only for Clara’s health but for Megan’s – morphed into an insecurity that I wasn’t up to the task of fatherhood or that I wouldn’t love my child. Everything was new to me and I had no idea how to feel about any of it. Emotion wise, it’s not exactly what I would call the greatest day of my life.

Now when I look back on Clara’s birth I can’t help but think of the girl she is now, and the memory of her birth grows better and better because it’s colored by who she would and will become. In essence, in my memory I project her current self onto that big-eyed fragile creature who sucked her two middle fingers almost immediately (which she still does when tired.) I want to hold her and protect her and tell her all the things she’s going to do and people she’s going to meet. I had no idea who she was when I first saw her. Now I know everything about her – what she likes, what makes her sad, where her tickle spots are. Memories tend to get better when the person you are remembering is laying in your lap, singing twinkle twinkle little star. And she’s only two years old -- I can only imagine what other parents have felt when their children grow up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Did Elmo take bribes?

Thanks to Cindy Williams for forwarding this article. For those who are unfamiliar with Joel Stein, he's a humor columnist for the LA Times who mixes a little bit of wit and social satire into his mostly sophomoric pieces. He also appears on VH1's "I Love the (fill in the decade)," or as he puts it, "I Love the Decade You Tell me to Love." While his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek he has drawn fire from people who think he's trying to make a real point. His suggestion here to split Sesame Street into two shows, one highbrow and one lowbrow, will undoubtedly ruffle the easily ruffled. But to put Oscar the Grouch in the highbrow camp? For marketing "the acceptability of negative emotion?" If I remember correctly, Jim Henson put Oscar in Sesame Street because of a snotty waiter that Henson found amusing. And there's nothing more highbrow than Cookie Monster obsessing over cookies. Now I agree that there's far too much Elmo on Sesame Street, and like Cindy I'm irked by his constant of the third person, but I'm not the target audience. So I asked Clara what she thought about it.

Me: Clara, what's your favorite Sesame Street character?
Clara: Kate is sleeping.
Me: Yes, Kate's sleeping. Do you like Elmo?
Clara: Scout poddies outside.
Scout is our dog.
Me: Yes, she does. Who is better? Cookie Monster or Oscar the Grouch?
Clara: Where Daddy's boobies?
Me: What!?! Daddy doesn't... uh... I... Did mommy teach you that word?

But look closely into what Stein says. Let me sum up: Sesame Street was better when it was mostly humans with some monsters in the background. Stein is a speciesist! The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Monsters is going to have something to say about this!

Joel Stein: Elmo is an Evildoer

The self-obsessed Sesame Street Muppet is destroying all that is holy on children's TV.

August 15, 2006

ELMO REFUSED to be interviewed for this column. I consider this to be a supreme act of cowardice. And it doesn't surprise me one bit. Elmo is an annoying tool.

Yes, I know that children love Elmo. But children are idiots. That's why we don't let them have jobs. Could you imagine an office full of children? They'd spend all day telling dumb jokes and talking about their poop. It would be like it was before women entered the workplace.
"Sesame Street" — which still has sharp, funny writing — is being destroyed by idiot cuteness. Not only is the patronizing, baby-talking Elmo usurping most of the hour, but "Sesame Street" — which debuted its 37th season Monday — added its first new female Muppet in 13 years: the sparkly haired, tutu-wearing, button-nosed, pink-skinned fairy goddaughter Abby Cadabby. Her shaky magic skills get her in situations she needs to get bailed out of, like the anti-"Bewitched."

Plus, she's got that creepy, throaty, little-girl Lindsay Lohan kind of voice, and a Paris Hilton-esque catchphrase: "That's so magic." When I watched "Sesame Street" in the '70s, the human cast and the Muppets were quirky adults who didn't talk down to me with baby voices. Now the human cast gets almost no airtime, and the show is dominated by Elmo, Baby Bear and, now, Abby Cadabby — preschoolers enamored by their own adorable stupidity.

The lesson they teach — in opposition to Oscar, Big Bird, Grover or Bert — is that bland neediness gets you stuff much more easily than character. We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths.

I am not the only one who hates Elmo. Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of MTV2's dark "Sesame Street" parody, "Wonder Showzen," think the evil red one is destroying the show.

"Elmo doesn't grow. People show him something and he laughs. He doesn't learn a lesson," says Lee. "It's the exact opposite of what old 'Sesame Street' used to do. Elmo has been learning the same lesson his whole life, which is that Elmo likes Elmo."

Chatman, who refers to Elmo as the Jar Jar Binks of "Sesame Street," worries that Elmo teaches kids to care only about themselves.

"Elmo is just a baby-voiced, self-obsessed character who is only concerned with Elmo," says Lee. "He just passively observes things: 'Elmo is looking at a sandwich. Elmo is eating a sandwich. Elmo is crapping out the sandwich and writing his name on the wall with it.' " The last celebrity to so obsessively refer to himself in the third person was Richard Nixon.

Whereas Count Von Count markets math and Oscar markets the acceptability of negative emotions, Elmo, brilliantly, just markets Elmo, leading him to be the show's cash cow, or whatever misshapen animal he's supposed to be.

I question not only Abby Cadabby but all of Elmo's associates. You may recall that Elmo testified before Congress about music education. But you may not remember who requested Elmo's appearance: Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for taking at least $2.4 million in bribes. I'm not implying that Elmo has taken dirty money, but these are the kind of people Elmo surrounds himself with.

I understand that "Sesame Street" has to compete in a Nickelodeon-Disney Channel-Wiggles-Pixar universe. In fact, the new episodes start with " 'Sesame Street' is brought to you by the following … " and then, instead of gently mocking consumerism by listing letters and numbers, they actually show real spots for McDonald's, Beaches resorts, Pampers and — the last of which apparently helps children spell only if they want to be rappers.

I desperately don't want the show to go away, so I know they can't afford to run the "Elmo accidentally drank bleach and died" episode. Instead, they need to simply take Elmo and his buddies and give them their own hourlong show for the idiot spawn. Then put Luis, Gordon and the cool Muppets on their own half-hour "Classic Sesame" for the kids who will one day actually contribute to our society.

Whichever of the two shows you watched would serve as a convenient litmus test for the rest of your life. "Which 'Sesame Street' did you watch?" will be code on college applications, Internet dating and job applications. Blue and red states will be divided not by presidential choices, but by Grover and Elmo.

If we can't save all the kids, let's at least save the ones who can master speaking in first-person. The rest we'll use for reality TV stars.

(oh yeah, that's highbrow)

Monday, August 07, 2006

EA Announces the Stay-at-home-Dad expansion pack for The Sims!

The makers of the hugely popular video game The Sims are proud to announce their newest expansion pack: The Stay-at-Home SimDad.

The promo: You discovered the joy of sim life in The Sims. You met new simulated people in The Sims Online. You avoided real life classes in The Sims: University Expansion Pack. You partied hard from the safety of your living room in The Sims: Nightlife Expansion Pack. Somewhere along the way your character hooked up with a SimGirl (which might actually be girl) and you decided to settle down, get married, and have a SimChild. Are you tired with the choices of professions previous Sims games have offered? Have you longed to experience the glamorous life of the stay-at-home dad? Now is your Chance! Run out and buy The Sims: Stay-at-Home Dad Expansion Pack.

Some features:

* The social interaction bar has been removed. It won't take long to figure out why.

* While other sim games speed up while your sim is at work, your game speed actually slows down during the day.

* In order to more closely resemble the actual stay-at-home dad experience, there will be no pause command in your game.

* Your SimDad's "I have to pee" bar will be directly tied to your baby's "I need attention" bar.

* Baby and toddler play equipment will be available for purchase, but your child will still prefer the combination of your SimDad's toothbrush and the toilet.

* The music in your sim stereo has been replaced with Raffi, Kidz Bop, or the soundtrack to The Little Mermaid. And the music cannot be turned off.

* While your sim television is equipped with ESPN, your sim babies have been programmed to scream whenever anything but Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues, or Sesame Street is on TV.

* Experience exciting new minigames like "Eat your meal before it gets cold," or "Dodge the pee," or "Find the remote," or "Where did I leave my sanity?"

* To add to the challenge (and to add authenticity) chances of the phone or doorbell ringing, an emergency vehicle roaring by outside, or a sonic boom in the air above increase tenfold while trying to put the baby to sleep.

* Houses can be built with showers, but at this point they're really just decorations or places to put the baby when your SimDad needs to use the bathroom.

* If for some reason you choose to have a second child the game will ask "Are you sure?" a total of thirty seven times. Our lawyers will not let your SimDad have more than two children.

* Look out for the following characters soon to be available for download: Sim Disapproving Mother-in-Law, Sim Insulting Macho Neighbor Guy, Sim Child and Family Services Officer, and Sim Divorce Lawyer.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Watching a child grow is really watching her discover every little thing that makes up her world. Who knows when babies become aware of and comfortable with those faces that keep placing themselves in their lines of vision. Soon they'll smile wider when they see their mother or father or sibling. When they discover their hands, they are as fascinated with them as they are with a rattle or mobile, but I doubt early on they suspect that their hands are a part of them. Kate has recently discovered her feet, and enjoys relaxing with one or both feet in her mouth. When I hold her in front of the mirror, she gets a surprised look, as if to say, "Hey, another baby and her daddy are here!"

Clara has recently crossed into that kind of self-awareness that excites a little one, the kind that makes her stop every once in a while and point to herself and say, "Clara!" It's not just a matter of her learning her name; she is announcing her presence. Imagine spending two years amazed at the wonders of the world only to discover that not only are you an observer, you are actually a part of it! When we look at family pictures and name family members, Clara gets the biggest, almost sheepish, smile when she points to herself. She not only loves these people but she is included among them, a profound realization. Some people take a long long time to figure out just who they are. Watch Clara stand confidently while pointing at herself saying "Clara" and you're sure she knows who she is.

My favorite identity story came from Scott Fitzgibbon, whose absolutely beautiful 4-year old daughter Addison asked him why his friends called him "Fitz." He told her it was because his last name is Fitzgibbon. Her eyes got big and she excitedly pointed at herself and said, "My last name is Fitzgibbon!"


My brother Chris and I will be on the road for the next week as we check out some ballparks along the east coast. On the itinerary are the Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and NY Yankee stadiums. While I will miss the girls this will be a much needed week without diapers. See you when I get back.

By the way, it seems the blogger program has adopted a no Megan policy. Twice she has tried to post without anything happening. I swear I have nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Family as Shelter

First I want to thank those who expressed their concern and those who helped us during what could have been an unbearable weekend. The storms that surprised St. Louis on Wednesday night knocked out our power just as we were coming in from a swim with Jenny and Todd. Winds knocked over a small tree and my basketball hoop, but aside from tree limbs strewn across the yard we were lucky in that we had little damage. Todd and I heard a tree splintering nearby. It wasn't until the next morning that we saw the damage done all around our neighborhood -- the splintered tree we heard lay against the house across the street from us. As I had no available radio I had to call my dad on my cell phone to get reports of just what was going on. For the first day, so many reports were coming in to news stations it was hard to filter what was exaggerated. Some at the ballpark, which was hard hit, told of the sky rotating above them. There were reports of a tornado in nearby Jefferson Barracks, but I haven't read any confirmation of that. At one point, 1.2 million people in St. Louis were without power.

Susan's mother and Megan's grandmother Lucille Brazier passed away the day before the storm. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years. Megan said that she seemed happiest when Megan brought one of the babies, as Nana didn't need to worry about remembering anyone's name or where she was. She could just focus all her attention on the baby. It was Tom Burns who a decade ago fell for this classy lady when she came to visit Megan and ended up ironing all of Tom's sheets. Megan's brother Jim booked a flight to come into St. Louis for the Friday funeral. But as of Thursday morning, none of us had a place to stay.

Added to the blackout was the heat -- Thursday was to be the hottest day of the year. Thank you to Jen Enright for helping me with the girls on Thursday morning as Tony and I tried to figure out what we were going to do. Luckily, Tony found hotel rooms for us, and just as I was packing the girls for several days in a hotel, Tony and Susan's power came back on. In the first 12 hours after the storm, Ameren UE, our electric company, somehow cut the number of those without power in half.

And so, like a holiday weekend, Tony and Susan's house was packed with their kids and grandkids. And a time that could have been very tough for Susan was a time of family togetherness. Jen Enright watched the girls on Friday as we celebrated Nana's funeral mass in a church without power and drove to the cemetery through a storm that knocked power out to another 200 thousand. Jim's eulogy captured the mood of the weekend: upbeat, humorous, and with a touch of sadness that brings the importance of family back into focus.

Because there was so much around her to make her happy - from Jenny and Todd on the night of the storm to Nana, Papa, and Uncle Jim through the weekend - Clara never suspected anything was wrong. After the storms and heat, the weekend weather settled into a calm coolness. We spent the majority of our time on the deck, forgetting that we were refugees. Our power came back on sometime Saturday night / Sunday morning, and by Sunday night we were all back into our own beds after what could have been a rough few days. Turns out it was just the opposite.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Competition

When I decided to start writing this blog I searched the blogosphere for other stay-at-home dad blogs, just to see what other people were doing. I was amazed at the variety of types of blogs, though some were a bit disturbing. One I did not find is done by a friend, Eric Cope. is a wonderful collection of heartfelt and humorous writings about Eric's family and thoughts. It is worth visiting if only for the amazing photography. The blogs I found on my earlier search were not as high quality. The disturbing ones I found fell into one of the following categories:

The Dad-As-Social-Statement Dad: As far as I can tell, this dad doesn't spend much time talking, or even thinking, about his children. His sole reason for becoming a stay-at-home dad is to announce to the world that he rejects a society that pigeonholes a man into a role of a breadwinner and a woman into a role of caregiver. As the caregiver, he says, he is doing more for society than the CEO of a major corporation, and should be paid as much in return. Somehow, he says all this without referring to any actual care or giving - I'm dubious this guy even has children. Now while I agree that the societal norms that make Stay-at-Home dads such a novelty are at best outdated, the important part of being a SAHD is the kids.

The Greener than Green Dad: This dad falls to the far left of the political spectrum. He seems to want to take control of his kid's upbringing to instill a true love of all things wheat germ. He warns against the evils of disposable diapers and corporations. He even boycotts not-for-profit organizations because they accepted donations from corporations he deemed immoral. No meat touches his kid's lips (anything can be made out of tofu,) at least until the kid is old enough to sneak out and get a McNugget fix.

The I'm-in-this-for-the-Chicks Dad: This one surprised me the most. This guy talked about his son's accomplishments and shortcomings in language so profane I wonder if he's trying to impress former fraternity brothers. He keeps a log of the hot moms he comes across and seems to think that pushing a stroller around is the best way to pick up women, married or not. I didn't read enough to see if he was married.

The My-Kids-Are-Cuter/Smarter/Stronger-Than-Yours Dad: This is where parenthood meets the competitive nature of manhood. Not only does this dad fill his blog with pictures of his kids (who would do that?) but talks about how his kids are smarter, more athletic, and cuter than the other kids in the park, pre-school, or play groups. His kids can count to 100 and pole vault a toddler-world-record 12 feet. And that modeling agency really missed out on an opportunity when they turned down this dad's kids. I hope the other kids' parents don't read this dad's blog. I couldn't help but think of Rick Moranis' character in Parenthood when I read this guy's blog.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

from the editor...

Some have expressed to me their reluctance to post their reactions or personal stories that my posts brought to mind because they didn't want to hijack my threads. Please feel free to post as often as you would like, and not just to my posts but to the comments as well. This is meant to be a dialogue, not a monologue. In fact, it's the closest to adult conversation I get during the week. Thanks to Michelle for her "Suck it!" story - I look forward to more of those.

Anyone notice that my homage to siblings in the Father's Day Post predated the current Time magazine feature by a month? They didn't even call me for a quote!

I've gotten emails that people have posted but the post didn't appear. This could be due to the fact that I have to OK each posting first. Otherwise, advertisers and people with amazing stock market tips would hijack the comments board. That, and I like to hit "delete" every time Tom Powers makes a post.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why we kiss babies

Anyone who has ever taken his or her baby out in public has experienced the common phenomenon of the baby-kisser. At any time or place one or both of my daughters are accosted by a stranger who finds it perfectly appropriate to place his or her lips all over them. Contrary to popular belief, the perpetrators are not just women, though the men who do it are usually older than fifty. And they don't limit their smacks to the top of the head, which is the most common, but sometimes place a big kiss right on the lips. Now I'm no clean freak who worries about the amount of bacteria that someone just transferred to my daughter (is the cracker she just picked up off the ground and ate any better?) but I can't help but be annoyed by these people. And what do I say to them? "Did you just kiss my daughter on the lips?" One good tactic I've heard: tell strangers that you are teaching your baby to blow kisses instead. When it was just Clara and I, I could run interference and if someone started leaning over and puckering I could stiff-arm their forehead and shake my head no. But with two of them now the baby-kissers can take advantage of the situation and sneak in some smackeroos. And Kate, unfortunately, is at that big-eyed, big-bellied, big-smile, roly-poly age that just screams kiss me!

Don't get me wrong, as far as I know Kate and Clara are the most kissed kids in history, what with their family, friends, Megan and me, and especially Jenny constantly kissing them. Don't talk to Jenny when she has one of them - she's busy. I'm great with all that. The kids should be kissed by their loved ones. There would be something wrong if they weren't.

All this kissing got me thinking, why do babies seem to have their own gravity, drawing us closer to them? Not everyone feels that tug but it's the ones who don't who are the exception, at least in my baby-centric world. It's a right of passage for a politician to kiss babies, as if that brings him down to earth and shows him to be like the rest of us, Vladimir Putin's belly-kissing incident notwithstanding. Pychologists have discussed several possible sources for the practice of kissing, from the caveman parent-to-child food transfer to the possibility that a kiss was a sign of trust since it brought people closest together. Between lovers, it's a guarantee of mutual attention.

Whatever the source, the draw to kiss a baby has to come from endorphins, and those who allow themselves to be ruled more by their passions than reason would arguably be more likely to be baby-kissers. When we kiss our loved ones we feel happy, both from the closeness we feel and from the signals the mouth sends to the brain. Scientists have shown that endorphin levels spike during a kiss, proving that kissing makes us happier. Happening upon a baby probably gives a small endorphin rush that just begs some people for even more; therefore, they must kiss the baby. It might also explain the draw to the baby's lips, since it is from the kisser's lips that he or she draws the happiness.

Or, this could all be BS, and people kiss babies because they're yummy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

California Dreaming

There comes a point in every California-native-now-living-in-the-Midwesterner (and there are at least 4 reading this) when we realize that our children will think of California not as home but as a slightly off-kilter happy world of sand and theme parks. Clara and I spent last week with my family in an Oceanside, CA condo where we spent our days playing on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and watching the surfers (all now part of Clara's vocabulary.) Mainly Clara spent her time being doted on by her grandma and her cousins Alexandra, Kyle, and Adam. Her wide-eyed reaction to everything familiar to me but new to her highlighted the fact that her childhood is going to be vastly different than mine. Clara and Kate will be St. Louis girls, like their mom. While I don't really know what that means, I'm starting to see that where I spent my holidays at the ocean or the American river, they will spend theirs on the Mississippi. In fact, we spent July 3rd and 4th as part of the Hagin family in the cottage community of Chautauqua on the Mississippi, where the girls were doted on by friends and strangers alike (when Jenny let them out of her arms.)

Where my brother Chris and I drove up to Tahoe to ski whenever we felt the urge, to Clara and Kate mountains will be as foreign as redwood trees. Where I grew numb to the threat of earthquakes, they will do the same with tornados. Most likely, the fruit and vegetables we ate came from close by in California - here, that can be said only for the beer. My brother bled Dodger blue, so of course I rooted for the Giants - Clara already cheers for the Redbirds. In California the weather was hot in the day and coolish at night. In St. Louis it's muggy no matter what time it is. "The City" meant San Francisco to me; perhaps it will mean Chicago to them.

The fireflies and the storms and the lush greenery of St. Louis were all new and exciting to me when we moved here -- Megan barely noticed them. Megan has, however, said that the palm trees of California drew her to Santa Clara University. To her, they were a symbol of the sun and surf of California, and she wanted to spend her college years amongst them. While I of course find nothing novel or inviting about palm trees, I am forever grateful that they brought me my wife.

Some highlights from our trip:
- Due to a recommendation from Clara's friend Mia Williams, we visited Legoland, a highly interactive theme park where Clara met Lego Dora and I got a Lego Darth Vader T-Shirt.
- Our first day at the beach was overcast and a bit breezy. Although she was cold and shivering, Clara was determined to stay in the water. She locked her jaw like a little Popeye and kept going back in. Any attempts to take her back to the towels was met with a 2-year-old's version of "No thank you."
- While Chris, Alex, Kyle, Adam, and I were in San Diego heading to a Padres game, a man pulled up next to us at a stop light blasting the less-than-gentle melodies of his favorite hardcore rap singer. It happened that the song "Why Can't We be Friends?" came on our radio. I reached over and cranked our volume to eleven. I gave the guy a little head nod, but for some reason he didn't acknowledge me. For a virtual approximation of the exchange, click the first one then come back to this page and click the second one (warning: may not work on your machine):
Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee

Why Can't we be Friends?

Friday, June 23, 2006

How many SAHDs does it take to change a lightbulb?

OK, Kate's asleep and Clara's watching Sesame Street. Time to make a pot of coffee... Hey, that lightbulb has been out for a month. Maybe I'll actually accomplish something today.

Clara (22 Months): What's that?
Me: It's a step stool.
Clara: What's that?
Me: A step stool.
Clara: What's that?
Me: It's a step stool, sweety. Can you say step stool?
Clara: What's that?
Me: ...
Clara: What's that?
Me: It's Elmo.
Clara: Melmo! Melmo! (walking away wagging her head) Melmo! Melmo! Melmo!

So, looks like I'll need a 60 watt bulb. I like that new Gnarls Barkley album. Man I hope the Cards get Pujols back soon. Now, where are those lightbulbs...

Me: Clara, what are you doing? Clara?
Clara: (Laughter)
Me: Oh, Clara. The tissue stays in the box. We do not pull tissue out of the box. I guess there's no more to pull out.
Clara: NOOO!
Me: Shhhhhh don't wake the baby. Look, there's no more to pull out.
Me: Shhhhh
Kate (4 months): WAAAAAAAAH!
Me: Dammit!
Clara: Dammit dammit dammit dammit

Great, she won't say step stool but she'll say dammit. Megan will love this.

Me: Here Clara how about you do some coloring while I get Kate?
Clara: Color!
Me: Here's a purple crayon.
Clara: (holding up the crayon) Pink!
Me: It's purple sweety.
Clara: Pink!
Me: Alright, whatever you say. I'm going to get your sister.

Man I need some coffee. Was I doing something?

Me: Oh, it's OK little one. There you go. You're happy now aren't you? Yes you are. Yes you are.

I'm an idiot. Pork chops sound good.

Me: How're you doing Clara?
Clara: Mmmrrph
Me: What's in your mouth? Wait, where's the other half of that crayon? Clara, why is your mouth purple?
Clara: Mmmrrph

How many times a day do I dig things out of her mouth? I didn't sign up for this. I thought I'd be watching Sportscenter all day. Is 10 AM too early for a beer?

Me: Here, Clara, play with these blocks while I get Kate situated.

Now what was I doing? Oh, that's right, making coffee...

Clara: Step stool!
Me: Oh yeah.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Influence - A Father's Day meditation

Upon hearing that I would be a father I experienced what most fathers go through - utter fear. The prospect of being responsible for a little life is intimidating to anyone, but when I made the decision to stay home, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't up to the task of shaping who Clara would become. I've come to realize that who she would become was already hardwired in there. I'm just here to make sure she gets on the right path, or rather that she doesn't choose the wrong path. It has to be a path she chooses, or she will reject it. Now I know that I will be the person who influences her the most, at least until she realizes that we're not the same gender - then Mommy will be the most influential. Any father, stay-at-home or otherwise, will have a profound impact on many aspects of his daughters development, not the least of which is how she interacts with men and how she chooses her future husband.

Whether I notice her watching or not, Clara sees everything I do, and wants to do it herself. She wants her own phone, her own steering wheel, and when I'm typing on the computer she sits on my lap and types on an imaginary keyboard in front of her. She tries to walk around the house in my shoes. Much of what you would call misbehavior is really just attempts to gain my attention, and I still haven't figured out how to stop the behavior without reinforcing it. Her easy-going attitude and her tendency to just observe when she's in a new setting clearly come from me, but it's hard to tell if that's inate or from watching me. Sometimes she'll do something that's clearly Megan influenced, like noticing a drawer is open and absolutely having to go close it, or lining up things up in a perfect, symmetrical line.

So I've come to terms with how much I influence my children, and take much pride in it. But I realized something the other day that was a tiny blow to my pride: I won't be the biggest influence on Kate, the baby. Sure, when she sees me she lights up with those big, beautiful eyes and that grin that says, "hey, it's that guy! I love that guy!" But you should see the way she looks at Clara. It's pure fascination. I can tell already that Clara will be the one who guides Kate to the right path. I might not even be in the top two of most influential people in Kate's life. Sure, my day to day interaction with Kate and how I affect Clara will pass down to Kate, but it won't be my shoes Kate will try to fill.

Of course this made me think of how much my brother influenced me and how little recognition older siblings get for their influence. I have many aspects of my mother and my father in my character, but it was my older brother Chris that I spent the most time with and learned the most from. Maybe there should be a Siblings Day to celebrate just how much we influence each other.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Struck by Lightning

No really, we were struck by lightning. The title's not a metaphor. (warning: this post has nothing to do with being a stay-at-home dad)

Saturday Megan and I were supposed to have an evening to ourselves, to reacquaint ourselves with the inside of a restaurant. But Clara developed a low fever so we cancelled our plans and settled in for another night of TiVo'd television or whatever Netflix sent us that week. The news had been reporting a series of storms heading our way, but if you live in the midwest you learn not to fret over approaching storms - or you'd be fretting most of your life.

I've always loved thunder storms with their dark and violent skies, whipping wind, and brilliant flashes. We didn't get too many in California and I spent the first few years here at the window when a storm came through. Power outages and hail damage are frequent here. Megan has a been-there-done-that attitude when it comes to storms. When we first moved here I watched a storm from our bedroom window, growing more and more uneasy at its violence. "I think this is a bad one, Meg." I think she said something like, "Welcome to Missouri." Turns out it was a bad one, and a funnel cloud did some damage not too far from us.

So we put the girls down for the night just before the storm rolled in. Again, I watched the flashes from the window for a while. Around 9pm the lightning strikes were getting closer and the thunder louder and louder. I made sure the flashlight was nearby and sat in front of my computer. Megan was in another part of the house when it struck. It wasn't deafening - it wasn't even loud. It had the crackle of an approaching bolt of lightning, but instead of a boom, we only heard a loud snap. (Our neighbors said they heard the boom, and it was deafening to them.) Lights and electronics went out, and then 2/3 of them came back on immediately. Sniffing the air, I caught a hint of ozone. I told Megan that I thought the house was hit.

We ran upstairs to check on the girls, both of us scared to death that if I was right, the house could be on fire somewhere. There was no sign of fire in the girls' rooms but in a corner of the attic I smelled the ozone again. Megan called 911 while I checked the outside of the house. Just out our front door I almost tripped over a brick on the ground, and noticed more bricks strewn about. A large urn flowerpot was on its side, several bricks around its base. I looked around confused - our house is made of wood, not brick. Shining the flashlight around the house I discovered the source: the side of our chimney had been blown away.

I have to admit, the shock of having our house hit by lightning, the destruction it caused, and its proximity to the girls' rooms had me pretty shaken up. In my mind, a small fire on the roof was just a second away from engulfing the house. Back upstairs, I opened the door to the guest room, the room closest to the strike - it reeked of ozone. We scooped up the girls and headed for the car. Luckily Clara didn't pick up on my fear and all the way to the car told me a story in a language only she knows, as if comforting me. She laughed as I held a jacket over our heads - we had our own little shelter from the storm still raging around us.

Megan and the girls pulled out just as the fireman army pulled up. Three large engines, several small trucks, and two ambulances showed up, and for a second I felt like the boy who cried wolf. My house wasn't even on fire. But the systematic way they used their equipment and manpower showed our fears were well founded. I stood by the fire chief while the captain inside gave the all-clear on a series of areas of the house, including the attic, the ductwork, and the electrical system. With each all-clear the chief released a couple of trucks until it was just one engine left while the firefighters checked the walls with thermal scanners. (They let me use the scanner - a cheap thrill.)

One of the firefighters remembered that our house had been hit a couple of years before, and made me feel real comfortable by insinuating that the house could be hit again that night. Oh and I should stay in the house that night in case anything happened. Thanks buddy.

The damage so far: a chimney that needs to be rebuilt, possible damage to the roof of our sun room, several electronics are blown, and we can't receive phone calls at the moment.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lil' Siblings of the World Unite!

Found this morning written in crayon and diaper-tabbed to the side of Kate's crib:

"Too long have we the younger siblings sat idly by in a vibrating bouncy seat while the firstborn of the world monopolize the time and attention of our parents. The time has come for some real change, or the consequences will be swift and smelly. We will not be satisfied with bottle, bath, and bed time as the only time we get some vestige of a snuggle. Primary in our demands is a 20 hour snuggle week, and that doesn't include any of the 3 Bs! That should leave plenty of time for that whiny malcontent you refer to as "sweetheart." We also request a restraining order of at least five feet while we take our bottle. I, for one, am tired of being smacked in the head repeatedly while Clara mispronounces the word "gentle." Also, playtime should be playtime for both of us - no more propping me up on the couch with pillows. Pillows!?! C'mon, hold me, dammit!

In case you didn't know, that play-mat with the lovely hanging animal thingies is not a certified child-care provider. (Come to think of it, neither are you.) If you leave me on that mat for longer than ten minutes I will roll over onto my tummy and scream until you roll me back. Then I'll smile at you because I've won! Leave me again and we start the whole process over. Also, when you go grocery shopping your current habit is to take Clara in, then the groceries, then me. Is that where I am in the pecking order? After the groceries? At least bring me in first and put me in that swing... that wonderful, wonderful swing...that makes me.... so..... sleepy....

No! This is no time for sleep. This is time for action. If my demands are not met then you will be receiving packages of unexpected color in my diaper. It'll start as yellow but then it will turn green, moving on to blue-green! Let this situation deteriorate and the color will follow. We may even reach bright blue again. (What did you feed me that day?)

Understand that I am no one to be trifled with. I demand action and I demand snuggles. A new day is dawning!

And could I have some of that ice cream?"

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cultivating my Garden

Some great writers, Douglas Adams included, have tackled the question of the meaning of life, though for the most part they warn against wasting one's life seeking it. Thomas Carlyle's solution in Sartor Resartus is work: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called today; for the night cometh, wherein no man can work." Voltaire comes up with a similar solution in Candide: "We must cultivate our garden." Now I'm not sure I buy into the fact that I am what I do, but the philosophy of seeking happiness in the work you do does simplify things. Where it gets distorted is with societal views of what constitutes women's work and man's work. Women are traditionally the nurterers and men are traditionally the bread-winners, a carry-over from the oh-so-enlightened age known as the Paleolithic.

Growing up, I didn't know any boys who wanted to be a stay-at-home dad when they grew up. In fact, few girls I knew wanted to stay at home with their children. But boys are inundated with images and stories of what it means to be a man, from Iron John, Fire in the Belly, and Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus to our current crop of commercials of beer-chugging slobs eating 2/3 pound jalepeno burgers. Has anyone ever seen a commercial of a stay-at-home dad? When I was a kid I wanted to be a superhero or a jedi, and it was only after my disappointment in finding these were not realistic that I refocused my energies into literature. Which brings me to my biggest challenge as a stay-at-home dad. It's not that some might consider me less of a man for staying home - I've never felt that way and could care less if anyone else does.

My biggest challenge (and I'm sure this is the same for stay-at-home moms) is I didn't go to college to become a stay-at-home dad. I did it to study literature, to perhaps write my own some day. And I even fooled myself into thinking I'd get some writing done while raising my children. But like Mr. Holland discovered, raising kids is all work, no opus. I tried to set aside little bits of time here and there to write, but inspiration doesn't make hourly appointments and there's no chance to sit and let the narrative take over when I know one of the kids will soon be waking from her nap. While making sure my girls make it through the day is an admirable accomplishment for someone like me, I still haven't come to terms with the fact that I haven't accomplished what I set out to do way back in college.

This would be an easy problem to solve if I didn't love spending every day with Clara and Kate. I want to be the one they spend their days with. This is both an opportunity for our family and a privelege for me. It's not a manly decision - it's a human one.

Like most households, our roles don't always fall into traditional gender stereotypes. Most nights I make dinner - sometimes a bit too ornate - but I have an aversion to doing dishes. I don't usually give Clara her bath because I don't deal well with human feces. I do the shopping and Megan keeps the checkbook (she took accounting classes because she found them fun.) I do most outside work and Megan keeps up with the ever growing mountain of laundry.

I keep thinking back to a quote that I will attribute to Joe Vollert. Even if he didn't say it, it's definitely something he would have said. "Being a man is doing what is best for your family, whatever that is." If that's true, then sitting around a tiny table having a tea party with my daughters and their bears might be the manliest thing I'll ever do.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I've resisted the urge to create a blog for some time now, as the whole idea seemed like scanning and distributing pages of a private journal. But, after almost two years now of being a stay-at-home dad, I've become so starved for an intellectual and creative outlet that I decided to give it a try. My blog is titled STL Homeboy for no better reason than I really dislike the SAHD acronym for us macho domestic types - I'm not sad and I don't want my acronym to make me appear sad. STL Homeboy works because I live in St. Louis and my work is at home raising my daughters. Plus, the name gives me that much needed street-cred with this generation I'm raising. (Really, I should be STL Geekboy.) My runner-up blog name was "I juggle babies," but I'd be afraid of the kind of readers that would attract. I have two daughters: Clara turns two this August and Kate is four months. I'll post a couple of pictures, but I don't intend this blog to be a daily catalog of what Clara said that day or how many times Kate rolled over. Rather, the blog will be more about me, what challenges I face and their rewards, things I think are cool and want to share, and what random thoughts pass through my brain as I'm trying to ignore the fact that we're watching the Sesame Street where Big Bird gets shrunk for at least the hundredth time.

Newsweek reported that there are 147,000 stay-at-home dads caring for 268,000 kids under 15. Stay-at-home-dads are nothing new, and if my wife and I were still living in the California Bay Area I don't think I'd be a novelty, but in St. Louis I'm still amazed at the reaction I get when people find out this is my job. It's equal parts impressed and apologetic: "Really? Wow, that's wonderful" but with a look that says "you poor, poor man." Men over fifty who have realized the time they missed with their own kids are the most interested, as if they could relive the early years of their own children vicariously through me. And then there are the men my age, who somehow equate what I do with a vacation from work: "Oh man, I wish I could do that. I would golf every day!" The most common comment (twice today) is directed at the girls: "Is today your day with daddy?" Since the question isn't directed at me, I don't answer. I'll have to teach Clara to answer with "you're dumb." On a shopping trip last month Kate was crying and Clara was being especially demanding and obstinate, and the look on my face must have advertized that I wished I was anywhere in the world but there. A woman working behind the fish counter said to me, "Kind of makes you wonder how mom does it every day, doesn't it?" I just kept walking, and while the look on my face remained, it was now on account of a different person.

So welcome to my blog. I'll try to update it often so keep checking back. If you feel like it, you can make comments about the posts. Thanks for reading.

By the way, Clara and I were featured in St. Louis Commerce Magazine back when she was 3 months old: