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?