Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Five O'Clock and I'm Starting to Sag

By the time The Wife walked through the door yesterday, I was exhausted. As I sit here this morning, I’m trying to figure out why, exactly. It was a fairly typical day … simple errands, playing with NJ, stealing minutes for household chores and the like while she played with one of her bazillion Christmas toys or napped in the basement. When I got home from dropping a lithograph off at the frame shop and exchanging a baby shirt, NJ was sawing logs in the car seat. I left her in it to snooze while I ate lunch, and this ended up being her afternoon nap. It was too early, and by 3 p.m. or so she was tired, cranky, and not going to sleep. Finally I gave her two ounces of formula and she dropped off in my lap, at 5 p.m. When The Wife got home I was delighted to hand NJ off to her, even if it meant eating leftovers for dinner because I didn’t feel like cooking and The Wife couldn’t cook unless I took NJ back. Which wasn’t going to happen. So I laid on the sofa for a solid hour watching TV and goofing around on my iPhone.

So: Why so beat? Nothing out of the ordinary going on, really. Did the cranky, tired baby make me cranky and tired? Osmosis? Is full-time infant parenting really this tiring? There was a tense moment late in the afternoon when I was holding NJ up to look out the window—a sure-fire calming trick, usually, but not when her socks slip on the sill and she bumps her forehead on the window. I watched the slow build-up to a full-throated cry and thought, “Brace yourself,” but she got over it very quickly and by the time we’d rocked out to “Vertigo” in the kitchen it was forgotten.

Part of it is that I’m thinking I have to be On all the time. Which I do, at least until some natural rhythms develop and take root. At various times of the day I looked at the clock and thought either “Holy cow, it’s already so late” or “Are those hands moving backward?” Like I said to a friend once under different circumstances: "Wow, that (looks at watch) certainly was an amount of time, wasn’t it?"

Another factor is taking stock at the end of the day. At my job I could drive home and think "OK, I edited three articles, built five Web pages and created a bunch of search keywords today. Nice job." The accomplishments now are a hell of a lot better -- NJ's smiles and laughs, a giant burp after a meal (her, not me), an angelic face as she naps -- but a little harder (or just weirder) to neatly catalog. I'm going to make more of an effort to notice these things, to see them in real time, to drink them in. They're the reason I'm here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Let's Do It Again

My parents were here last week, so Dad Solo wasn't so solo. In fact, I got to sleep in every day while my mother handled NJ after The Wife went to work, came and went as I pleased, and often handed off a cranky baby and just left the room for a while. And sometimes I practically had to wrestle NJ away from my mother; she's quite smitten with her granddaughter. My parents went home today after a nice Christmas holiday (NJ's new toys are strewn about the living room), so I take over again tomorrow. The two-day run a few days ago went so well, I'm sitting here Sunday night with a short, neat Talisker at my elbow thinking that things can only go downhill from here. I'm probably wrong about that: I was wrong a couple of weeks ago when I braced for disaster. But one thing I've learned from being a sports fan is that pessimists have more to savor when things go well. An ass-backwards way to live life, perhaps. It works for me, though.

Also, here's some video evidence of NJ laughing and smiling. You're probably thinking that a mere three days after I took to the Internet to declare her camera-shy, she indignantly set out to prove me wrong. Not necessarily so: The Wife got her to laughing up a little storm, and I surreptitiously leaned over the coffee table and captured the moment with my iPhone. A hidden camera trick that worked.

A happy NJ absolutely slays me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Daughter Is a British TV Janitor

On the (superior) Brit version of 'The Office,' about once every two episodes a janitor going about his business will move into view in the background. He'll stop whatever he's doing and stare into the camera with a severe case of Red Light-itis. The poor guy freezes, totally unable to move. The camera usually lingers on him a moment, then pans away or cuts to another scene.

NJ may have a future in cleaning suburban British office parks. She does the same thing.

Her smiles range from big, beautiful, open-mouthed beamers to wry little grins that see her lips pressed together in a light-hearted, innocent smirk. (She's too young to have her father's sarcasm, right? Maybe not -- she also does a single, arched Belushi eyebrow.) Recently she started really laughing, particularly at a language I made up specifically for the purpose of provoking guffaws. But whenever the camera, camcorder or iPhone is pointed at her, she clams up and looks at the device like it's the weirdest, most fantabulous thing she's ever seen (maybe it is, I don't know). And smiley NJ turns into curious, serious NJ. So for every photo we get like this:

There are a dozen or more in the series that look like this:

The smile photo is usually toward the end of the series. There's eight or nine shots of serious NJ studying the camera, then one with the beginnings of a smile, then a smile, then two or three like this one where she's past smiling and on to wondering why her mom and dad are acting like fools two feet away from her. Because to get that smile shot we end up really turning on the baby talk and silly behavior. (That usually means at least one good smile shot will be blurry because Dad shook the camera as he bounced around like a meth-addled chimp.)

The smile photo sessions usually start with a parent playing with NJ and realizing that she's laughing/smiling like a fool and rushing off for a photography device of some sort to capture the moment for all eternity. But retrieving the camera costs valuable time, and involves motion and maybe baby displacement, and once we're back the Red Light-itis sets in. It's like capturing lightning in a bottle.

On 'The Office,' it's a recurring gag that started off as a lark: The actor is the father of Stephen Merchant, who created the series with Ricky Gervais, and they just thought it would be funny to get his dad a bit part. What started off as a goof ended up being something 'The Office' fans ended up looking for expectantly, sort of a visual catch-phrase.

Here at home, I hope NJ grows out of it. I feel like I gain an extra ten minutes on my overall life span every time she laughs or smiles at me, so I'd like to see more of them. And one day when she's a sullen teen who sneers at every word that comes out of her father's mouth, I can remember a simpler, more innocent time when I could make her smile with a stream of jibberish.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Trapped Under a Nap

NJ skimped on her morning nap, but made up for it with a lengthy snooze about an hour later. She slept sprawled across my lap for about ninety minutes. I was afraid to move and wake the princess, so both my butt and the arm under her head got sore as I sat and watched the SNL Christmas special (the Santa's Workshop 'Glengarry Glen Ross' sketch with Alec Baldwin = money) and part of a replay of the 2001 Holiday Bowl (Texas 47, Washington 43). Otherwise, she's been an adorable little monkey, laughing at my nonsense talk and charming a cashier with her wide-angle lens smile.

We also made my NFL weekend picks together this morning. She thought I should go with the Cowboys over New Orleans, which just proves that four-month-olds really don't know anything at all. Sheesh.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day One: That's a Wrap

I got up at 5.30 a.m. because of all the noise downstairs. The Wife was watching TV as she fed NJ (who woke up at 4.45), and my in-laws were gathering their things for their trip back to the East Coast today. And the dogs, the Two Idiots, were running around after anyone who moved, looking to get fed.

There was a touching goodbye scene in the living room as they all left for the airport, then it was me and NJ. She got a little contentious after about forty-five minutes, so I decided to see if morning naptime could be moved up a bit. I put her in the swing, put on "Rockabye Baby: Lullaby Renditions of the Rolling Stones," and when I held up my iPhone in the dark to see what was going on, she was sawing logs. Then I lamented having had two big cups of coffee already, because otherwise I could have napped right along with her. Note to self: Coffee after morning nap.

The rest of the day went by without a hitch. No fussing on an errand trip, only smiles for a nice old lady at Staples. NJ got a little cranky on the drive home, then suddenly shut up. When I got home I found out why--she was out cold (see below). She napped for another hour or so while I ate, then when she woke up she ate and we did some chores (I wore her, full frontal Baby Bjorn going on, and she was enthralled when I'd reach down to pick up a bag of recyclables or put clothes in the dryer) and goofing around.

She knows what's up with the bottle now, too. When I was eating a snack I drank a bottle of water and every time I'd raise it to my lips she'd grunt in a particular way. (Maybe that's Unintentional Parental Embellishing, but I swear it happened.) I finished and then held her bottle out in front of her, and she reached for it greedily with both hands. Once we sat down and got started with the feeding, I had to pry her chubby little fingers off it so I could get a decent grip.

Another feeding, a brief nap, and The Wife was coming through the door at 5.21 p.m. I was glad to see her, and she was delighted to see NJ. All in all, a very good day. I'd worried about random crying jags, NJ rejecting the bottle and missing The Wife, missing naps, etc. and nothing like that happened. The timetable was off a bit, but meals and sleep ended up OK and there was plenty of playtime. The worst event of the day was when she peed on the changing table and then, as I was cleaning that up, peed in the crib where I'd put her. I could have sworn she was finished.

All in all, a successful first effort. I guess there's nowhere to go but down now.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Storm Before the Storm

Not a good day.

NJ went in for her four-month doctor's appointment, which was great until it came time for the shots. One in each chubby little thigh. This upset her greatly, of course, and the rest of the day was pretty much one big crank-fest. No afternoon nap. This pushed bathtime and post-bathtime feeding up by more than an hour. NJ wasn't ready to go to bed an hour early, so when that time came she cried and screamed blue murder for forty minutes while me, The Wife and her parents tried to eat dinner two rooms away without freaking out. Finally, probably thanks to her crying fit exhaustion, NJ fell asleep. I checked on her and the look on her face wasn't the usual sleeping-angel stuff. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. We had a similar day on her two-month doctor's visit and the next day, it was as though her mind had been wiped clean.

Not a good day for The Wife, either. She goes back to work tomorrow (rehearsal for Dad Solo is over: It's showtime), and she's very bummed about leaving NJ. She'll take her parents to the airport in the morning, then drive to her office, and then she'll probably call me to see what's going on.

Not a good day for me, although I had the best of the three. I've been a little on edge. I'm a little nervous about my official debut tomorrow. NJ's crying jag this evening put all sorts of ugly notions in my head. Like, that's what it'll be like for nine straight hours tomorrow. Gulp.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Backstory, Part 2

(Part 1 is here)

We still wanted to have a child, so we turned to an adoption agency. We went through a battery of screenings, home visits and interviews, had friends and family vouch for us, and after almost eight months we were in the pool of prospective parents. Now we could get matched with a pregnant woman and get to know her and be ready, or we could get a call at 4 a.m. from a hospital saying someone had delivered and immediately put their baby up for adoption and did we want the child? It was exciting and terrifying. Most importantly, we were extremely OK with what was going on. I couldn't think of a more noble endeavor than giving care and love to a child who desperately needs it, who’s been dealt a tough hand before he or she is even drawing unassisted breath.

Then, The Wife went on a business trip to Portland, Oregon. She felt funny--a familiar funny--so she went to the drugstore and got a pregnancy test. When she called me, I was flopped on the couch watching television and wondering if a third glass of wine would be worth the extra fuzziness the next morning. I was stunned, to say the least. Now that we'd given up, moved on, accepted all that and were happy about it, we were pregnant again? Questions and doubts flooded my mind, but I pushed them aside for the rest of the evening. That third glass was the sweetest wine I've ever tasted.

We walked on eggshells for weeks, flat-out refusing to get our hopes too high. Or, in my case at least, refusing to publicly acknowledge that hopes were high. The miscarriage the year before was devastating, and the notion that we were headed toward more heartache like that was frightening. This felt different, though. Felt good. I felt like we were going to be OK, for no other reason than I just felt it. Maybe the storybook ending appealed to the writer in me. The cynic in me was exhausted, that's for sure. We embarked on what would end up being a perfect pregnancy (perfect in the everything-went-fine sense--The Wife surely didn't think two solid months of 24/7 morning sickness was 'perfect') that led to the birth of the beautiful NJ last August.

An impossibly soft teddy bear sits perched over NJ's crib. It was in The Wife's hotel room in Portland, overpriced and superfluous but Right There on the bed. Kids probably scream and cry until their parents agree to buy these stuffed animals, as the hotel manager rubs his hands together deviously downstairs in the lobby. The Wife slept with the bear after finding out she was pregnant, and brought it home for the child. The bear doesn't have a name. NJ will name him (her?) one day when she learns the story of How She Came to Be.

That, in brief, is our story. To me it's the most important story in the world. I know I run the risk of boring people to death with tales of how Damn Special my child is, but I can't help it because I know--I lived--the backstory. I know that everyone has a backstory. And it's amazing to me that even though each one is different, it's just as important and dear to those storytellers as mine is to me, as ours is to us. A bazillion histories, all the same but all wonderfully unique. That's just about the most beautiful thing I can imagine.

Well, except for this:

Backstory, Part 1

The Wife and I tried for years to get pregnant. At first there was no urgency. We had sort of taken it for granted that we'd have a kid or two, because ... well, everyone did, right? One day we realized that it wasn't happening. Maybe it's a little dumb to stumble upon a cold, hard fact like that out of the blue, but we 1) honestly didn't think there would be any problems getting pregnant, and 2) were petrified at the thought that there might be problems getting pregnant. So acknowledging that was a big, big deal. The clock was running out. We decided to enter the world of fertility treatment.

Fertility treatment was cold and sterile, but it seemed to work. After two treatments through her OB/GYN, we scored a goal. Nancy called me one day when I was away for a writing weekend at a friend's cabin in central Washington. She felt odd and took a pregnancy test, and it came up positive. I sat in my car on the side of the road in lovely downtown Twisp, where I'd driven to get cell phone reception, and marveled at our luck. Was it really that easy? (Answer below.) I went home the next day and we hugged and cried and smiled goofily at each other for an entire evening. A list of names was begun, plans to renovate the basement and convert our office/bedroom into a nursery were plotted. The Wife's first doctor's visit did not go well, though: The fetus's heartbeat was very slow. We scheduled another appointment one week later, and by then the heartbeat had slowed further. It was a sickening trend: The fetus was not going to survive. Almost two months after we got the news, we lost it.

We continued with the fertility treatments, even kicked it up a notch and went to a fertility clinic. We did not care for that experience at all--they were salesmen--but felt it was our only option. The Wife felt we were being sold a bill of goods. When we went in we were told that the chances of our conceiving were slim, so slim that they wouldn't waste everyone's time with in-vitro, but "Hey, come back next week and we'll get you pregnant then." One day, after several months of this, The Wife decided she'd had enough of that. We'd waited too long. We'd been careless. That was that, for her. I’d been edging in that direction, too, but she zipped past me. The issue consumed us; even though it looked like the right thing to do, it was hard to let go. One day at work I had what felt like heart trouble and left, but it turned out to be nothing, except a likely panic attack. Once I figured things out a little better, on my own, I caught up to The Wife. That was that, for me too.

(Tomorrow, Part 2.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Beginning Is Nigh

The circumstances that find me a stay-at-home Dad (you won’t catch me calling myself a SAHD because sad is the last thing I am—more on this later) are simple. My employment situation is very flexible, and my wife’s isn’t. Long before NJ was born, in August 2009, we’d decided to do it this way. I would stay home for the first year of her precious life, and by the time she turns 1 we’ll have a good daycare situation lined up. Once I’ve been at home with her for a while and get the ins, outs and nuances figured out I’ll scrape up some freelance work.

Or, at least, once I’m close to getting the ins, outs and nuances figured out. That happens, right? Parents learn as time goes on and more and more different events occur? Seems like it ought to be that way. That's how I improved playing different sports: time, practice, repetition. Doing it over and over until I got it right.

D-Day is Thursday. The Wife goes returns to work, reluctantly. She has been off for a very long time, thanks to maternity leave and lots and lots of vacation time. It's been easy to take care of NJ for a while and then hand her off, for feeding or play time or whatever. That's going to be over pretty soon, though. In just a few days.

This is the child that, hopefully, I won’t be screwing up. Isn't she adorable? Wish her luck.

And me. Wish me luck, too.