Willie, the leader of the beloved Two Idiots comedy duo (he's Oliver Hardy to Zeus's Stan Laurel), used to run this household. Now, though, he knows NJ takes precedence and he's supposed to be careful around her. He will very occasionally sneak up behind her and sniff her head when it's playtime on the floor, but otherwise he steers clear. Two factors there: 1) his earliest experiences with her, when she was tiny and cried long and loud, Willie would make a beeline for the absolute furthest corner of the house; and 2) every time he so much as ducks his head in her direction he hears an ominously stern "Willllll-iiiiiieeeeeeeeeee" warning from me or The Wife. Translation: "Tread very lightly, my friend, upon pain of a stinging swat on the ass and an uncomfortable delay in getting your dinner."
All in all, his interest in NJ has diminished since we brought her home in August. Lately, though, her interest in him has spiked. She's fascinated by his luxurious coat of Labrador fur. She doesn't pull his fur or squeeze his hide, just a flat hand on his back, maybe a flex of the fingers. Maybe it bothers the dog, although he's such a needy "pet me now" pup that I doubt it. Mostly he just knows that she's trouble, Mister, and he'd better make tracks. Which is good. Willie's a little dumb, but he's not stupid.
I'm stupid, though. I was playing with NJ this morning -- it was Space Commander time, and she was soaring a good foot and a half above me and the bed -- when I dipped her down to check on the Space Dog, who was laying warily next to me. NJ flattened her hand on his back, petted him a couple of times, and Willie tensed up but didn't move otherwise. Then, she came down for another touch, startling Willie. The dog jerked his head back and up -- he's got very good reflexes for a 12-year-old, cancer-ridden Lab -- and his snout smacked NJ right on the forehead. There was a little bit of crying, and for a few moments she sported a red spot, but it wasn't a hard hit and soon enough she'd forgotten about it. (Willie is probably still thinking about it -- he's made himself relatively scarce ever since. Even when NJ spit up on her play mat, something that he's usually very eager to help clean up.)
The incident was all Dad Solo's fault -- I flew her too close to the tense dog -- and he continues to inadvertently beat on the brat. Since the dog incident, NJ has bumped her mouth on the hard plastic side of her bottle (arguably her fault, but I'll take the hit for that since I was holding the bottle), and my thumbnail scratched her leg when I was changing her pajamas. Both times, NJ started to cry and I had to blow some pretty impressive raspberries to get her to smile again. Apparently it's Break the Baby Day; no permanent damage yet, but the day's only half over. Perhaps I should just leave NJ on the floor with a pile of toys and Willie sitting a few feet away, keeping an eye on her. Because for today, at least, he's being a more capable parent than I am.
Yesterday I mentioned NJ's first successful rollover -- there were four or five, actually -- and how delighted The Wife was to see them. She says she missed the first one; she put NJ on her tummy, turned away to fiddle with her camera, and turned around to find the baby laying on her back. She quickly flipped NJ over and the kid obliged with another rollover. And another. By then, I was down the stairs to see what the fuss was about (it was kind of a grown-up version of a boy running to the tree on Christmas morning) and The Wife -- who'd been clapping, cheering and encouraging NJ -- turned to me and beamed. I got down on the quilt and was rewarded with a couple of rollovers, too, and there was no one in the county happier at 8 a.m. than The Wife and I.
Later on I was thinking about the moment, and how many more of those moments there are to come. The big ones, of course, the ones that put the butts in the seats -- crawling, standing, walking, speaking that first word -- and lots of comparatively smaller ones, too. Recently we've had NJ's first solid food feeding, NJ's first play date (a male caller, no less) and now, of course, she's rolling over like nobody's business. I thought that I was one lucky dad to be at home and with her most all the time, ready to capture that first mobile moment on video or her first time standing on her own with the camera.
But if my odds as a milestone witness are improved, The Wife's odds are reduced. And that puts something of an asterisk next to my good fortune. She's absolutely smitten with NJ -- she lives for NJ's smiles, and when NJ gets going on a good laugh bender, eventually the child's laughter is drowned out by The Wife's. I love seeing how happy my daughter makes my wife.
It wasn't easy for The Wife to go back to work. She was afraid she would miss NJ like crazy, and she was right. That first day I snapped a photo with my phone and e-mailed it to her, and sent another the second day. The third day, I was really busy and didn't get around to it in the morning. A little bit before noon, though, I had an e-mail sent to two different accounts from The Wife, as well as voice messages on both the house's land line and my cell phone. "Is everything OK?" "Yes, all's well. Just doing some things around the house." "Well, I didn't get my picture." At that point I smiled and thought "Oh, every day? And early, too?" And I've e-mailed at least one photo of the kid to her every day since.
The Wife spends every possible moment she can with NJ -- they're together for hours in the morning, she takes her as soon as she gets home, and on the weekends my solo time with NJ dwindles to practically none. I hate the idea that The Wife thinks she's missing out, and I do what I can to make sure she doesn't. So the streak of Mom and Dad seeing all of NJ's milestones together ended yesterday. The Wife was there, but I missed the first rollover. And I'm almost glad I did. Instead I woke to the sounds of a delighted mother.
I was awakened at a quarter to eight this morning by the sound of cheering and clapping. Downstairs, The Wife was beaming and informed me that NJ had rolled over, completely, for the first time. Tummy to back. I got up, quickly dressed, and rushed down to see for myself. NJ obliged, and It. Was. Adorable.
I was awakened at a quarter to three this afternoon by the sound of stomping footsteps on the stairs. Frowning, The Wife informed me that NJ would not take her afternoon nap, she'd sat bawling in her swing for thirty minutes. I got up and rushed down to see why my question "So my nap had to end, too?" was so out of line.
At five months old, NJ has outgrown all of her 0-3 months clothes and a lot of her 3-6 months clothes. Her weight is average, but her length (we'll call it 'height' once she stands, or at least sits up on her own) is off the charts, almost: 99th percentile. So, after a hugely successful Round One of clothes buying, gifting and recycling -- we actually shipped off infant clothes that hadn't even been worn yet to a friend who recently had a baby -- the kid needs almost a completely new wardrobe. The Wife went online the other day to get some very nice Baby Gap offerings, but I have to say, at the risk of sounding all braggy, I think Dad Solo hit a home run with this little number from the good people who keep Bill Graham's legacy alive at Wolfgang's Vault:
Uh, yes, Dad Solo has the same image on a t-shirt that he bought years ago. How did you know? Why do you ask? You think he's trying to mold NJ to his specific tastes? Is that what the rock-music-turned-into-lullaby CDs are all about? And the Beatles onesie she's been sporting lately? Why, how very, very cynical of you. I only want what's best for the child.
And sure, to me that means Keith Richards guitar riffs; Charlie Watts' swinging beat; poetic perspectives on growing up from Townshend, Springsteen and Strummer; Elvis Costello's snarky determination to make geeky be cool; and that "take me seriously, please, but whatever you do, don't take me seriously" thing that Bono has perfected. Sure, she'll cast this stuff aside one day to listen to God knows whatever will be popular in thirteen years, but I'm determined to make sure she soaks up as many Lennon-McCartney lyrics and awkward Clash chord changes as she can during her early, formative years. And even if she doesn't appreciate it, hopefully it'll give her an ingrained sense of what's important to her father. I don't listen to it now, but one of my best, earliest memories is sitting in the den getting into "Yakety Sax" on the Boots Randolph LP my mother sometimes put on to accompany her housecleaning. I think we might have even danced a time or two.
You may be thinking "PROJECTION," and you're probably right, but another relevant fact is this: I'm a little sick of looking at her shirt and seeing an adorable teddy bear or a pair of cuddly moose or a turtle with a funny hat. Roll those tumbling dice, I say. And anyway, if you saw NJ's beaming smile as we dance to "Brown Sugar" and "Oliver's Army" in the kitchen, well ... you'd know. On some level, she absolutely digs it.
NJ hit the five-month mark on Friday, and she and I hit our (approximate) one-month mark as a daughter-homedaddy duo. The biggest thing I've noticed in the past month is the incredible ramping up of her personality. She's all smiles lately, and is very interested in whatever's going on. Mostly, though, she's 'talking' all the time. Up until recently she would jabber randomly and occasionally. Now she's jibbering constantly, and at us. Directly at us. She has things to say, orders to give, pleas to make, points to emphasize. It's fun watching her figure out how to use her mouth and vocalize; the tongue makes regular appearances now, and The Wife was delighted when NJ blew her first true raspberry a couple of days ago.
We're also getting solid food into the mix, and NJ is digging that, too. I was a little nervous about it because we had a tiny bit of trouble getting her to eat from a bottle. She loved her milk-and-rice-cereal concoction, though -- leaning forward toward the spoon, opening wide, and eating more of it than she didn't eat. And there was your standard-issue adorable baby-food-on-the-chin mess, of course. I was thrilled to be able to break out the ridiculously cool Rolling Stones bib, too. A friend commented that it's probably the same one Mick and Keith are using these days.
Tonight The Wife and I are going out to dinner. We've done it once before, when my parents were in town, when we sat down to eat at 5 (two margaritas each AND dessert!) and were home by 6:30. Tonight will be an early-bird special, too. We're dropping her off with a couple who has a son who's two weeks older than NJ, and will be returning the babysitting favor this coming weekend. The Wife has been nervous about leaving NJ with others, parents or friends or whoever, but our first outing went off without a hitch and that put her at ease, so hopefully there won't be any hiccups tonight.
Today I took NJ in to my old office to meet my team. It's in Bellevue, across Lake Washington -- the farthest she's ever been from the cozy lair that is our home. She was an adorable little rattle-wielding chatterbox on the drive over, and the first half of our visit on the eighth floor was great. Folks who only knew her from photos on the Internet and my constant bragging were delighted to see her, and some immediately asked to hold her. (My team leader, who met me in the lobby, snatched her up the second she saw her.) NJ did her usual thing, soaking it all in -- wide-eyed, smiling occasionally and cooing once in a while.
Did things take a turn? Why, yes ... yes, they did.
The first indication that the mood was changing came when my team leader said "Oops" and held NJ away from her blouse a bit to reveal a couple of small spit-up spots. (She has two kids, so she knows.) NJ was passed around some and started to get cranky. Maybe all the attention put her in I-vant-to-be-alone mode. The clock on the wall said it was time for her to eat, then nap, and when I pulled a bottle of formula out of my bag, her eyes lit up and she reached for it. We repaired to my manager's office and NJ ate for a while, but after finishing up she still wasn't in a better mood. A couple more people stopped by, and NJ yakked a big stream of white goo onto the woman who was brave enough to hold her, straight down the good sport's shirt. ("It's OK, I have buttons," she said, pointing to the sweater she would button up later to hide the stain.) I ended up walking NJ out to the elevators as she cried some more and others stole quick glimpses of the Flickr Princess.
Once you're out of the parking garage and on the street, it's a five-minute drive to the highway that leads back to Seattle. Before we reached the on-ramp, this was the scene in the back seat:
(Yeah, that dog mirror is pretty obnoxious. I try to take it down whenever NJ isn't in the car, but it's all the way in the back seat, and I don't always remember ...)
Overall, NJ's personal appearance was a success. She was adorable and I was able to use some of my best baby stories and stay-at-home dad stuff on a new audience. The visit was late in her meal-nap time frame, so crankiness was easily explained. I'm happiest that she readily smiles at new people. One person we met said that's a sign that she's seeing lots of smiles and happy time at home. I certainly hope that's the case.
NJ is closing in on hour No. 3 of a stupendous afternoon nap. I crashed on the floor next to her swing and just roused myself awake. The day is almost over and I am groggy, part of my beard is damp from sleep drool, I have a headache and a back ache, and -- as the dog-turd-in-my-mouth taste confirms -- I just realized that I never brushed my teeth this morning.
A couple of days ago I was driving down the street and saw a guy on the sidewalk wearing a baby on his chest and pushing two more in a stroller. "I should get a photo of him for the blog, proof that there are stay-at-home dads aplenty around here," I thought. It was twenty minutes later that I thought that, unfortunately; I smacked my head in classic Homer Simpson "D'oh!" fashion and went about my business (pills for the dog, exchanging a Christmas gift).
I forgot about it completely until the next day, when I saw another man lugging another baby around outside the supermarket. Then I thought again about the guy the day before with three kids, looked around for more child-wielding fathers, and again went about my business. Driving home I passed Green Lake and saw a group of women and children walking across a field toward the playground. No men. I say that now, a day later, thinking back. There may have been a man or two in that gaggle, I don't know. Didn't notice.
This week's observations and non-observations lead me to believe that -- in one of the more progressive areas of one of America's most progressive cities, at least -- fathers caring for children is not something that's on a lot of people's radar. Certainly not mine, at least. I'm fairly observant -- I spent a large part of my professional life observing things for a living -- and apparently this doesn't blip my radar. Or anyone else's radar, either; the next person who has an adverse or overly enthusiastic reaction to my toting NJ around with no mom in sight will be the first. So far, squiring the little tyke around town, I've been nothing but a transportation device for the new Princess of Seattle.
Of course, it's not like this everywhere. Last night I was talking to a friend who called from his Red State home. At one point, he suggested in passing that I talk about a particular issue "with some of the other mommies." I smiled at that and prepared to react with mock indignation, but the conversation moved on and eventually it was too far in the rear view mirror to mention. There were other things to worry about, in particular the disastrous football game we were both watching.
Anyway, I'd bet good money that I'm the only parent of either sex in this fair country of ours who bottle-fed their baby while watching "A Fistful of Dollars" this week. "For a Few Dollars More" is on the DVR for next week, and I'll dig out my "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" DVD the week after that. In fact, today I adopted The Man With No Name's determined stoicism when NJ decided she was hungry and I hadn't finished my own lunch. She threw quite a little tantrum, but it wasn't her time yet and after a week of lunching on her schedule, I wanted to sit for a minute and enjoy my leftover Indian food. Every town has a boss, kid.
This is a BMW* household. NJ can't make. She hasn't made for days, can't make now, and desperately wants to make. It's ruined the day's routine and prompted lots of straining, unseemly grunting and frequent, short, red-faced crying jags (hers, not mine). After her morning nap we got a bottle and started feeding, as per usual, but she just held the nipple in her mouth for comfort and didn't eat anything for thirty minutes. I put the bottle away for a while, then got it out an hour later and upped the temperature of the milk in hopes that the heat would get things moving. She was famished and gulped it all down pretty quickly, but all it did was knock her out and start her afternoon nap earlier, though.
On the brighter side, NJ's constant assuming of the position has caused one positive side effect: Her first rollovers. Due to her hiking her legs up and rocking, she's rolled over onto her side a couple of times, laid there for a while, then rolled onto her back again. I guess that's a silver lining, right?
(Note to grown-up NJ, or -- worse -- tween NJ, reading this in the future: I'm sorry for discussing this most personal of issues for you on the Internet.)
I love NJ's naps. She's been asleep for almost 90 minutes now and I've paid a stack of bills, categorized some photographs, added an app to my iPhone, cleaned out my inbox, answered a couple of e-mails, read a couple of sports blogs (your favorite blogger just won a 161-person NFL pool! Huzzah and hooray!), started writing this item, and poured my third cup of coffee. The key to keeping NJ sleeping is 1) the warm basement, 2) the rocking swing (which we will have to wean her off of soon, I'm afraid), and 3) keeping the lullaby music going. I can hear it from the office, and when 'Radio Ga Ga' is about halfway through I go in and start the "Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Queen" CD over again. (I've always been lukewarm on Queen, but this is probably our favorite of the rock lullaby CDs we have. The irritating, overrated "Bohemian Rhapsody" was positively MADE for the xylophone-and-glockenspiel bedtime treatment.)
Last night I didn't have high hopes for NJ's sleepy time today. She absolutely refused to nap Saturday and Sunday, and that makes for a cranky, squeaky, eye-rubbing kid at the end of the day. And the morning nap is, to me, a mystery. Why would she be ready to sleep if she has only been up for three hours? I put her in the swing, darkened the basement and turned on the CD thinking that we'd make it through all the songs, she'd be wide awake at the end of it, and I'd carry her back upstairs, defeated. But after about ten seconds of fuss, her head listed to one side and she was Out. Cold.
Ah, NJ just started crying. She slept for 100 minutes total, and now she's hungry. The best part of her nap is when she wakes up: She cries, I show up in her line of vision, and the crying turns to a stretch and a sleepy smile.