On talking to your child about their drawings

One of the things that I appreciate most about my parents, and particularly my mother, was that when I was working on something like art, something artistically, she would back out of the room and close the door. She didn’t sit there and say, “What are you doing now? Well, what is that? Is that a tree?” She didn’t do any of that. When I was done, she put it up on the refrigerator. She recognized that that was not necessarily another opportunity for parent-child interaction. That was what I was doing and I was fine. Let it ride.

–John Roderick, of The Long Winters, on Back to Work episode 31.

Published in: on September 1, 2011 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Milton Glaser on parenting

In my parents I had the perfect combination—a resistant father and an encouraging mother. My mother convinced me I could do anything. And my father said, “Prove it.” He didn’t think I could make a living. Resistance produces muscularity. And it was the perfect combination because I could use my mother’s belief to overcome my father’s resistance. My father was a kind of a metaphor for the world, because if you can’t overcome a father’s resistance you’re never going to be able to overcome the world’s resistance. It’s much better than having completely supportive parents or completely resistant parents.

(Via Austin Kleon.)

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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I hope I can talk to my son this way when he’s 13

Happy 13th, birthday, J. I ran full throttle as you toddled toward the street and I said no no no when you tried to play with knives. But now, instead of so actively protecting you, I have to allow you to erect a wall… between us, so you can thrash around alone (sometimes), and forge your way into becoming who you are. But I’m not worried one drop. You’re such a delightful boy, full of jokes and sparkle, and I know I’m going to love the man you become.

I didn’t even quote the best part, for fear of spoiling this excellent piece. Read more at Black Hockey Jesus

Via Daring Fireball.

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Smart Kid


We’re really not those parents. You know the type: constantly pushing their children to be smarter, faster better-smelling than the other kids.

That’s just not us.

And yet my son seems to be shaping up to be a bit of a brainiac. He’s going to be 2 in September, and he can count – with no help whatsoever – to around fifteen aloud. He can read up to 29. And he’s about 5 letters away from being able to recite the alphabet with no help.

I won’t go into the myriad reasons that these could be no evidence at all that’s he’s super smart. I’ll ask you to trust me. I’ll also ask you to trust me when I say we really haven’t tried so terribly hard to teach him. What I mean isn’t that we don’t try to teach him at all. What I mean is that the focus of our time together with him is just that: quality time. I tickle him and chase him around the house. We play hide-and-seek. We jump on the trampoline, and I pull him around in his red wagon. That’s mostly what we do.

His night-time routine, though, has involved reading a couple books since he was only a few months old. And of late about half the books he likes to read are those that focus on counting and the alphabet. But he chooses what we read, and has for some time.

I bumped into an old colleague at a coffee shop recently that was an instructional designer at the e-learning firm that employed us. I told him all about my son, in much the same language as above, and he responded (paraphrase):

Yup. It doesn’t take much. They really are little sponges at that age. All they really need is the investment of time. Undivided attention from mom and/or dad, and a little bit of mindful selection of entertainment. If you read books together, sing the alphabet together, play with blocks and such together, they’ll soak it all up. What separates most kids from gifted kids is probably more often than not life-factors that kept their parents from being able to do that, and probably far less often a real difference in talent.

Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Merlin Mann takes a stand

Is there a Merlin Mann fan club? If not, I’m obliged to start one.

This is … I’ll call it an essay for lack of more accurate descriptor. It’s an essay on what it means to be a husband and father and hard worker all at the same time.

Somehow Merlin also sneaked in some rugged individualism, as only he can do. Some “I Did It My Way.” And because Merlin Writes with heart three sizes too large, it’s also a touching tribute to both his parents, to his wife, and to his daughter.

It’s bold. It’s honest. It’s funny. It’s vintage Merlin Mann. You MUST read this. And you must buy any book he ever publishes henceforth.

Cranking, Merlin Mann.

Published in: on April 25, 2011 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

This is still too fresh, I think. Just a few tips.

  1. Talk to other families. You’re going to be in close quarters with them. You need support, they need support. They need to feel like normal people from time to time – like they’re not in a NICU. And so do you. Besides that, perspective is always good. Hearing how hard it is for someone whose baby was born with her stomach outside her body makes you really grateful that your son is just having a hard time learning to eat.
  2. Take turns during the day. If you’re both down in your hospital room, or at home, and the baby is “alone” in the NICU (they’re never really alone), you will be full of guilt and worry. Split up, if you must, so that one of you can be home or in the room taking care of themselves (EAT! SLEEP!) or some business (paying bills, etc.), and the other can be with the baby. Go together when you can, though (perhaps a family meeting or two each night).
  3. EAT! DRINK WATER! SLEEP! My wife fainted a few days in from not doing this. I could have just as easily been the one to faint. Neither of us was taking care of ourselves. Gatorade and Cliff bars are your friends for emergencies, but please eat real food and drink water.
  4. Say no to visitors. Not all the time. You’ll need the interaction. But don’t hesitate to send out a “please let us take a day off to rest and be with the baby” email. Also, nursing staff are usually very helpful and willing to fend off visitors to your room.
  5. Take it one day at a time. Remember you won’t be there forever, even if it feels that way.
  6. Use hospital resources! We had a phenomenal staff, especially a couple nurses and a lactation consultant that helped immensely.

Thanks to my friend Jeff R. for giving me some of this advice.

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 3:35 am  Comments (1)  

The Birth

I really just don’t know what to say about the birth. It’s amazing. As you read this now you know, whether or not you’ve actually experienced one, what happens: a tiny human being shoots out of another, larger human being. Seeing it happen – with your wife and child is a wholly other experience.

It really is beautiful. In the birthing class we saw several videos of births. Like sev-er-al. One video showed like 10 births in 5 minutes, all Brazilian women in a standing squat just having babies and afterbirths rapid-fire. By the end of the class, I wondered if I would really find my son’s birth beautiful. I thought maybe in hindsight I could, but that at the moment of the birth I would be distracted by the blood and grey skin and swelling and shouting and such.

My wife had no anesthetic at all. She’s amazing. I don’t know how she did it. She has a degree in vocal performance, so she knows that trick that cheerleaders use to always brag about in which you can support your voice and yell – quite loudly – without going hoarse. Heh. Yep. Cheerleaders know nothing compared to opera singers. My wife yelled so loud during the worst of it that her parents heard her down a hall, around a corner, and down another hall. This is not for everyone, and she probably scared some poor women who had just started labor half to death, but it helped her to cope.

Needless to say, it was a little harrowing for me. She was clearly in a lot of pain, and I was struggling to show her only encouragement, confidence, smiling faces that said “You can do this.” I was worried about her. But for no good reason. She did great. The pushing contractions, perhaps the hardest part, but also the last part, right as the baby is actually emerging, were the scariest (and when she let out the cry-heard-round-the-l&d-ward). But between the second-last and last push, right before we met our son, a wonderful, mysterious, beautiful thing happened. My wife suddenly calmed, opened her eyes, slowed her breathing, smiled, cried, cracked a joke, and took a very zen moment to ready herself to meet her son. I think this is the moment she became a mom. She was somehow able, in that moment, push aside all the pain, fear, and pandemonium of the moment to ready herself to be there for her son. It was a selfless act. I will never forget it.

And then, there he was, covered in several gooey substances, resting on my wife’s chest. And he was beautiful. All smashed-face and bloody and all, and he was beautiful. And there was my wife, having not slept much in two days, having labored for 5 hours, having broken many sweats, and she was beautiful. An amazing moment.

Epilogue: I had my “becoming a father” moment a couple days later, when I finally got to hold my son for the first time (he was a preemie, and was in intensive care for 15 days). I realized then that I didn’t want to be for him the dad that I had always wanted (I grew up in a single-parent – mom – home). I didn’t want to be the dad that I had always wanted to be (one part Steven Keaton to two parts Heathcliff Huxtable). I wanted to be the dad that my son needed and wanted.

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 3:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Birthing classes

Take one. It’s that easy. I know I have said before that I don’t plan to give a lot of advice on this blog. For this I will make an exception.

Take a class.

I know. People have been having babies for millennia (at least). Why should we need lessons? For a number of reasons, most important of which is that this is going to be one of the hardest things your wife ever does, and she needs to be prepared. She’s going to be a patient in a hospital (most likely – though I think home births are really cool), which is stressful enough, and she’s going to have several people telling her what to do, giving her weird instructions that sometimes don’t make any sense to her because they’re exactly the opposite of what her body is forcing her to do, and all of this either a) while in the most incredible pain imaginable, or b) while drugged.

You both need to know what you’re signing up for.

Plus they’re fun. At least mine was. I went in a little worried about having to hold dolls to my breast and pretend to feed them and what have you, but the class was actually very informative, and provided lots of opportunities for my wife and I to bond, flirt and just be excited that we had a son on the way.

But again, most importantly, your wife needs it. She needs to know that she’s supported. Finding, paying for, and faithfully attending a class for a few weeks of your life (ours was 8 weeks) will let your wife know that you realize the challenge she faces, and that you’re there to help, however you can. Even if you end up fainting or freezing up at the delivery, I think she’d still have it in the back of her mind, “He believes in me. What would he be saying if he could talk right now? What did we do in class?”

We paid $175, and gave up 2.5 hours a week for eight weeks. I’d do it again. I’d pay even more, if I had to. It was a great preparation for both of us. We had a conversation right after the birth in which my wife asked, “Did we even need that class? Did we do anything we talked about?” We agreed that, although we had not carried things out exactly as the class taught, we knew what to expect, and did use several of the tools we’d learned when we felt they’d be useful.

I think if we had not taken these classes I would have been totally lost the day of the birth. I would not have known how to be helpful to my wife, and I would have driven her (and myself) crazy trying to figure out how to help. If nothing else, the class got us to talk through scenarios, experiment with speech/positions/approaches that my wife found helpful, not annoying. If you can do that on your own, that’s fantastic. The rest of us should probably take a birthing class.

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 3:07 am  Comments (1)  

The Incompetent Cervix

An incompetent cervix is just what it sounds like: a cervix that doesn’t know how to do its job well. Its job, during pregnancy, is holding the baby in for 9.5 month, and then opening and allowing the baby to exit. The incompetent ones could really be called impatient ones. They like to dilate early – way early.

We found out my wife suffered from this condition pretty early on. I believe it was about 10 weeks in. Moderate bed-rest was prescribed, meaning that she was not supposed to do much other than rest in bed (no lifting, exercising, anything that got her heart rate up).

German women are strong. And stubborn. And have good work ethics. These things are not compatible with “bed rest,” not matter how “moderate.” This was extremely difficult for my wife, and the fact that it happened in the midst of our effort to finally finish unpacking and moving into our first home together made it even harder.

At the 20-week checkup, the Ob/Gyn let us know that the dilation was advancing very quickly, and sent us straight to a surgeon for a consult. He took a look, and sent us straight to a hospital, for a check-in. We drove over to the hospital, worrying over the scenario he shared in which a simple sneeze could be enough to eject the baby through a too-open cervix. After a day of observation, he put a cerclage in – something akin to metal fishing wire looped around the cervix like a draw-string. He mentioned that the dilation had advanced pretty quickly over the last 24 hours, and that he likely caught it just in time.

They don’t like to put in a cerclage without sufficient cause. They just don’t like to operate on pregnant women. It, among other things, introduces great risk of infection, as surgical instruments will be inside the body, and skin-barriers will be broken. So the story above is the normal course of action for someone suffering from incompetent cervix. Once you’ve been diagnosed (and it takes seeing it happen – not losing a baby, necessarily, but seeing the cervix dilate too far), they will preventively install a cerclage in subsequent pregnancies, at the 14-week mark, long before there’s a risk of the baby falling out.

We stayed in the hospital about a week. Oddly, we were kept in rooms in the labor and delivery floor, and even followed the delivery room, postpartum and mother-baby rooms. Recovery was rough. Strict bed-rest (absolutely no unnecessary movement, and no orgasms) for a couple months was even harder. My wife had really looked forward to being a fit mom, working out and eating well. It was very frustrating for her to not be allowed even to walk around the house unless she was headed to the bathroom. Thankfully, her parents are very nearby. We stayed with them for two or three weeks. That way, I could go to work, and someone could be there to get her food, water, etc. when she needed it.

The cerclage held quite well, until some time around 32 weeks. My wife started dilating. It was only a little, and nothing to be concerned about. Many women start dilating weeks before birth. At about 36 and a half weeks, though, my wife’s water broke, and when we arrived at the hospital we found she had also dilated a bit more. We had our son the next day.

That night, though, they had to remove the cerclage. At about 3 AM. They asked, “Are you planning to get an epidural?” My wife told them she was not. Then they jumped right into trying to find and snip the knot in the cerclage wire, without any form of anesthetic, and without really preparing her at all. She said the pain was excruciating, akin to that of a cervical biopsy. After one of her cries startled the on-call doc, causing her to jump, she re-evaluated, got some different instruments, and slowly walked my wife through the procedure, letting her know everything she was doing before she did it. This worked like a charm. We found out later they had never performed this procedure on a woman who had not been given an epidural. If you find yourself in this situation, remember two things: a weighted speculum and a slow, verbose walkthrough can make a world of difference for your wife.

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 2:53 am  Leave a Comment