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Overnight Success
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This past week was encompassed with anticipation—excitement of spending a child-free evening with my wife, and a pinch of anxiety stirred in due to the growing restlessness of our teething daughter.  You see, my wife and I finally decided to schedule our daughter’s first overnight with my mother, her Mémère.  And although our daughter had been sleeping through the evenings, two new front-teeth had cropped up now causing her unrest.  This manifested itself as inconsolable evenings during bedtime, followed by several waking fits through the night.

The first step was keeping my parents in the loop on her behavioral patterns.  The second was ensuring their home was baby-proofed and that they had the necessary essentials (ex:  pack-and-play, baby-monitor, clothes, diapers, and food).  Once we reviewed with them our baby’s feeding schedule and nightly routines, the hardest part came next:  leaving our baby.  Luckily we were mentally prepared and simply kissed our distracted daughter as we said a happy good-bye and left.  The alternative, of course, would be breaking-down with sappy dramatics that would have caused our daughter to feel insecure.

The planned events for our date-night began with a finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  I’d be lying if I didn’t attribute some of our excitement for the evening towards us seeing the culmination of this franchise to its critically acclaimed ending.  We managed to catch some of the prequels replaying on ABC Family during the week leading up to its theatrical release.  And then we re-watched the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows Part 1 the evenings before our date.  With our daughter in safe hands, we were ready to enjoy the movie with each other’s company.

My favorite part of the film (and trust me, this isn’t a spoiler):  10-minutes of obnoxious and hostile dialogue from two self-absorbed women in attendance.  One was a juvenile who spouted colorful metaphors and then moved to another seat.  However unjustified, it was after being on the receiving end of hostile remarks for putting her feet upon a seat occupied by the parent of the other woman.  This other woman, being outwardly mature in appearance, then relentlessly pursued the juvenile physically and verbally; refusing to back down until she could convince the intimidated youth to resolve the conflict outside with a fight in the parking lot.  Luckily security intervened and escorted one group out (the juvenile and friend; voluntarily).  In my mind, it should have been the other woman and her parent.  I mean, seriously, who creates such a scene in a movie theatre over a ridiculous altercation like that.  I think we know who the real juvenile was that night.  And although I missed 10-minutes of dialogue, I was still unfazed in my enthusiasm; especially considering that I knew then it was going to be a free movie, as I would accept no less from the theatre’s management.

With the movie behind us, and twenty bucks back in our pocket, we continued our date to the next event—sushi.  The twenty went towards supplementing our dinner with drinks and desert.  We made it home late, enjoyed our quality alone time without children, and then crashed without the worry of awaking to a crying baby.  Instead, we woke to relaxing silence at 7 am, which is a marked improvement to the 5 or 6 am feeding times our daughter sometimes commands.  And although it was refreshing, it was also a little empty—missing our beautiful daughter’s wide grin and emphatic morning babbles.  We had a much-needed night alone, our batteries were recharged, and now we were ready to be back together as a family.  Our daughter’s overnight was a success!

Now this success isn’t measured purely on the ability for my wife and I to enjoy our time alone without children.   Or due to our realization that we miss our child and look forward to her coming home.  True success is measured in how well our daughter fared at my parents.  And it isn’t achieved without careful planning.  We checked-in a couple times between events, and were comfortable with our preparation and that of my parents.  We were relaxed because we knew she was safe, and we knew her success would be on how safe and comfortable she felt.  We were eager the next morning to hear how it went.  And to our relief, she was a perfect angel and went to bed with ease.  There was no late-night restlessness.  She slept through the night and woke happy with cheerful lallations.

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Fathers Are Caregivers Too
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For those of you who know me, or have spoken to me when my son was younger and would be sick, you may recall my frustrations from interactions with my son’s mother during those times. It had been a struggle for me to spend time with him and provide him care during his times of need (although that’s not so much the case now).  At first I thought it was perhaps from my own selfishness of wanting to be there for my son, or the confidence that I could care for him just as well as his mother, which drove that frustration.  I’m sure each parent has been there when his or her child may be sick.  You know your child is not feeling well, you can hear the pain in their voice, and you want to do whatever you can to make it better.  It’s more difficult when they’re very young, because they’re unable to communicate the source of the pain, so all you’re able to derive is the discomfort they are in.  I mean, sure, there are easy tells (such as a fever); but you’re not always lucky enough to have an easily identifiable symptom to help isolate a probable source of their pain.  As they get older, and they can speak well enough to communicate a tummy ache or headache, it’s still not always clear to what extent they have an issue. Is he going to vomit, or is he just constipated?  Did he bonk his head or is he having some sort of symptomatic migraine?

My son is almost four now.  And these days (sometimes to my amusement) I get more descriptive answers from him when he’s communicating pain:  My tummy is full, I ate too much.  My tummy hurts, I have to go poopies.  My noggin hurts, the dresser bonked it. But it was the earlier period (between two and three) where one could not rely on his communication skills to diagnose pain, which was a point of contention between his mother and I.  Whenever my days for custody would arrive and Iain was sick, the immediate stance of his mother was that since he was sick, I was more than welcome to come visit him that evening, but that he was staying home with her that night.  Not an option, not a possibility for discussion, just:  these are the terms.  Now I didn’t always question whether or not he was sick, but I definitely questioned her ability to determine if it was to an extent that he shouldn’t spend time with me at my home.  I mean, I’m his Father.  I’m just as capable of taking care of him too.  I can check his temperature, read him stories, and keep him hydrated.  And who’s to say that it isn’t some mild 24-hour bug, or something less severe (like constipation).  I’m capable of administering medicine, or feeding him roughage.  What’s worse was during that year it seemed as though he was always sick.  Whether it be from a lack of a normal shot schedule, his exposure to other kids during the church day-care on Sundays, or something his mother brought home from her internship at the hospital… every time I was scheduled to have Iain, I’d get a call at the 11th hour that he’s not coming over, but I can come see him if I like. Um, hello, we have a custody schedule. I’m not so insensitive or selfish that I would expect him to always be with me when he was sick.  One would have to be heartless to take a doubled over kid with a fever, who had vomited earlier, out of the comfort of his current home just to stay a night or two with his dad.

Sure, when he was an infant, and even in the early toddler stages, I conceded to his mother’s demands that he stays home when sick so that she could provide him the necessary care.  But as he got older, and I was more capable and confident, I found myself always upset and questioning this arrangement.  First off, who really wants to spend time in their former wife’s home, even if it is to see your sick son?  Factor in the constant scrutiny you feel you’re under, because they’re obviously watching everything you’re doing and judging you… or at least it seems that way.  And I had the added benefit that my former wife moved in with her parents.  So I felt the additional weight of two more sets of eyes watching me.  Then there is the inconvenience that I was obviously coming straight from work (yes I’m making this part about me), would typically have dinner with my son at my own home, but now I had to rush to someone else’s house.  There were many times that I would come in and everyone there would have just eaten, yet another missed opportunity with my son.  Plus it’s not like they offered me anything (perhaps that was expecting too much), but you can kind of see my point (I did finally get offered some left-overs once; maybe twice).  Then there was the obstacle of wanting to do things for my son, which I typically would do at my home when I had him, that his mother or grandparents felt obliged to address in their home (ex:  setting the bath schedule, changing diapers, putting on a T.V. show, etc.).  I mean, this was supposed to be my time, and essentially I was subjected to endure a form of torture because his mommy wanted to care for a sick child, who (might I add) many times appeared completely normal while I was there (I’m not going to go into the excuses I received of how he was feeling/acting earlier in the day which warranted her decision, because I’m sure they could probably be substantiated, but that’s not the point here).

I endured this hell because I love my son, and felt it was for his benefit.  But, if we’re going to be honest with one another, having Daddy come over to play with his son and then put him to sleep essentially was unnecessary and a selfish act on his mother’s part.  If he’s well enough to play with Daddy, then why can’t he travel 20-30 minutes to be with his Dad as he was supposed to be; who is capable of giving him a similar level of loving care; and where that child is still comfortable and at home; at his Father’s home.  It seems we’ve forgotten a simple fact:  a child of divorce parents has two homes… because when mommy isn’t around and our little one has a boo-boo, whom does he ask to kiss it:  Daddy.  And when he’s with his Father and he suddenly doesn’t feel good, who is going to take care of him:  Daddy.  It is the inevitable role that any single parent must play when they have sole custody of their child for some percentage of time.  Perhaps it isn’t engrained in all males, or an inherent trait.  But whether it need be learned or not, a parent must provide for their child.  Fathers are caregivers too!

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Forevermore
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Here it is!  Twenty-Eleven.  MMXI.  Fifteen days into the New Year.  Can it be that I’m finally about to post something again (rhetorical question)?  Typically we writers are told to stay away from asking the reader a bunch of questions.  So, maybe this means a change; a new direction; maybe a new writing style for me . . . are these more questions?  That one sure was.

So what has changed?  What is different?  Hmmm . . .  I’m married now.  I know, I skipped right by that.  I guess it’s to be expected.  My last two posts were on either side of the big day (one in February, the next in May); considerable time between the posts as my writing tapered off and my attentions turned to preparing a future with my new wife.  Although, you may have been able to derive all of this from a few of my tweets.

That future began on a Friday, February 26th.  A cool breeze flowed in from the lake as dusk approached.  Perfect weather:  crisp blue skies with a peppering of thin, faint clouds.  My bride and I stood amidst tall oak trees, hanging moss, and large fallen leaves that failed to resist the Florida cold.  My little boy—almost three—shivered next to me in a black tux and Chuck Taylors.  I exchanged a toy train with him to receive the entrusted ring box with vintage wedding band for my new bride.  It was just past four-thirty—the big hand swept slowly up—as we spoke our written vows with our parents as witnesses.  And at Azalea Park, in front of Greek columns atop a crescent-shaped wall, we said: “I do.”

Forevermore.

Forevermore

February 26, 2010

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Happy Mother’s Day
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The bedroom is dark. A faint blue hue blankets the room—its origin, the clock-radio that serves as an alarm during the work week. In the darkness, the soft blue extends and paints the silhouette of a once crib, now toddler bed. The glow rests as arches on each rail from the column of stacked spheres that make them up. Curved outlines of the rails glide down to a soft pillow that cradles the stirring head of my small boy. Previously a crescent of stillness curled on the edge of the mattress, he now sits up and calls out to me.

“Daaaaddy . . . Daaaaaaddy. Daddy, I wanna get up.”

Typically I would do what any sane father would do in the wee hours of the morning—play possum. On those occasions I would breathe silently and attempt to not move for fear that the slightest rustle might give way my true state; that I’m now awake. This is particularly important since we currently share the same room. If my silence was unconvincing and my son became persistent, then a glance at my nearby cell phone would confirm the early hour, and I’d call out to my son to go back to sleep. I too want to go back to sleep, and retrieve what little rest I can before the start of the morning. After all, I do have to keep after a boy who’s about to turn three.

But today is different. Today is Mother’s Day. And although this is my weekend and my time to spend with my son, he will be spending it with his mother. And she had requested to pick him up close to the time he generally wakes: six-thirty in the morning… I’ve given pause to allow that to sink in. Especially since I know that any parent whose child wakes early is going to fight for a little more sleep on their weekend; be it minutes or an hour. And let’s all be honest here, how many people are really and truly awake when their kids drag them out of bed. I’ll admit that I’m usually a shell of myself and walk as a zombie, seeking the TV for help, and hoping it distracts long enough for me to make coffee.

Granted, I get Father’s Day. But I would consider planning times that are more conducive for most people. Now in her defense, it did sound as though there was a need to amass with her family members early and depart to a hospital where her grandmother has been admitted during illness. And she was willing to pick him up instead of meeting somewhere half-way like we normally do. But still, six-thirty in the morning? I mean, they can’t be travelling more than ninety minutes, and I’m not even certain that visitation hours start that early. But who am I to question. It’s a holiday, and I don’t pry or care to know too much of his mother’s comings and goings. Only as far as my son’s well-being is concerned.

So it’s Mother’s Day and is five-thirty in the morning. I know, because I glanced at my phone before telling my son he can get up. And we’re up so I can spend time with him and play before he leaves in an hour. In three more days he’ll be gone for a little over a week. I’ll miss two of my days with him while he’s at a family reunion of his mother’s. And last night was an upsetting night for my little one because he went into time-out before we got him ready for bed. He threw an especially large fit for not wanting to clean up as it came time for his bath. We were all tired from the long day, and wore it on our face, and he then in his actions. Thus this morning was an opportunity to re-connect and bond again.

We played blocks, listened to counting songs, traced our numbers from one-to-ten. Afterwards we wrestled and found that his nails were long, so I carefully clipped them all back as he patiently watched and helped. Several times he hugged me, and told me he loved me. Then I received a text that his mom was fifteen minutes away. We changed his diaper (he wears pull-ups now and helps). And then I helped him dress. There was a short span where he was upset at having to take off his sleep shirt, but we quickly talked through it and he was happy again and excited at the prospect of wearing his green dinosaur shirt. His mom texted she was here. He gave kisses his own way—a bonk from his forehead, the rubbing of noses, pressing his right cheek against mine, the same on the other side with his other cheek, and then a firm hug. No more pecks on the lips from him, although he still wiped his mouth like we did. Then we walked down to meet his mom, so he can spend the day with her on Mother’s Day.

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To Spank or Not To Spank
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As of late, the topic of spanking a toddler as a disciplining measure has begun to weigh heavily on my mind. A common phrase we’ve all grown up around is, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” But what constitutes a rod in this modern age? Have we progressed so far as humans that we should be capable to discipline purely by intellect alone, using psychological methods such as time-out, reward/praise, selective ignoring, providing consequences, or withdrawing privileges? Is using Pavlov’s theory of association with a loud clap or slight sting of the hand on a child’s thigh antiquated for toddler discipline? What if all the psychological methods don’t seem to be enough for a resolute tantrum?

In my own practice, I’ve determined to keep my hand out of the discipline—literally. Not to say I won’t spank, but I want to save that as a last resort upon the failing of all other practices. Although I fear that the time is drawing near; especially with my son’s most recent unyielding bursts of dissatisfaction from being disciplined. He seemed to almost work his self into hysteria with practically-hyperventilated cries of, “I want to get up.” I was able to sooth him by continuing the time-out punishment in my bed where I laid quietly holding him until he was calm and responsive. Of course, his requests still continued, but then in a normal, soft speaking voice. I then reasoned with him that his need for discipline was due to his own behavior and that he had to stay a few calm minutes in time-out before he could get up. But was this the best course of action, or could a slight sting have facilitated a similar result?

I believe it’s true that a toddler needs rigid boundaries and consistent discipline. I’ve even discussed in previous posts how I can see in my own son’s development his need to communicate and express his self. They naturally need limited choices and routine schedules to give them a sense of independence and structure. Not to say they won’t test those boundaries. I think sometimes they crave a parent’s attention so much, that they’ll even look for it in discipline; if that’s what it takes. We all want to be recognized and feel important, or at least know that someone is willing to make some kind of fuss over us—even if it’s negative.

In time I may find a need to squelch inappropriate behavior with a spank. I’ve spoken to other parents who have successfully curved similar behavior with a slight sting to the thigh; of course, never in anger. It’s apparent that their toddler still loves them and there is no shying away from the parents hand—their disciplining tool. Since each child is their own person and does react differently to the various disciplining methods, I’d have to determine how my son responds and if it is the appropriate method to use in extreme conditions. I think we can all agree we don’t want to spoil our children.

Whichever method you choose to use, I think the important thing to remember is to never do it out of anger. Every kid can frustrate the most patient of parents. When disciplining, may have to give yourself and your child time. Maybe take five minutes to cool down. Tag in another parent or trusted friend to allow you time to get in the right frame of mind. They’re only trying to communicate and want attention to get their point across any way they know how. Use your praise to show them which ways are acceptable, and your discipline to show which are inappropriate.

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