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.