Saturday, October 30, 2010

Second Child Syndrome?

From the moment the FTM and I first found out that she was pregnant, we fawned over the FTS.

During her pregnancy, the FTM and I paid constant attention to the FTS. We read him books, sang him songs, explained the mysteries of life. We spent every waking moment, and I suspect most sleeping moments, thinking about the FTS. What will he be like? What will our life be like? I joined the FTM at virtually every OBGYN appointment. I read three parenting books. And I subscribed to multiple parenting email newsletters. I was like a doctoral candidate preparing for my oral exam on how to be a dad. And this was all before the little guy left the womb.

With the STS (Second Time Son), we’ve done none of this. We don’t read him books, don’t sing him songs. I’ve only been to two doctor appointments, and haven’t touched a parenting book in years. Most days I barely remember that the STS there. Only the look of tortured agony on the face of the FTM reminds me that there’s something brewing in that belly.

At this point, it’s water under the bridge. The kid will be here in less than 50 hours, so it’s time to focus on the future. What kind of parents will we be once he’s born?

In the last two and a half years, we have made the FTS the center of our universe. Not because we’re overprotective or because we feel obligated, but because we genuinely like the kid. He has a well-developed sense of humor, a finely honed sense of play, and he’s a really nice guy. If I were a toddler, I want the FTS to be my wing man. Strike that. I’d want to be his wing man.

What if we don’t like the STS? What if we’ve used up all of our parental love on the first one? The boy-to-be is, I fear, a victim of SCS – Second Child Syndrome.

The FTS had the advantage of being a first mover. He was the prodigal son. All that worry, all that relief, all those feelings of wonder and newness and love, were unique to him and him alone. Whatever I wind up feeling with the STS, I don’t see how it could possibly be the same. It would almost be an insult to the FTS, wouldn’t it?

The truth is, the STS has seemed more like a logistical problem to be solved than anything else. Have we cleaned the baby swing? Has the car seat been re-installed? Do we have a plan of attack for sleeping and eating?

Now, I know what you’re going to say. “Hey, FTF, lots of people have more than one kid. And they seem to love all of their children equally.”

Yeah, but what if it’s all one big conspiracy? Think about it. Who would actually admit that they loved their second kid less? I’m the youngest of three, and really, by the time I came along my parents were so worn down that they just gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I feel as loved as the next sibling, but what if it’s all a sort of ruse? It’s no coincidence that the power in a monarchy passes to the eldest male offspring. The King and Queen just aren’t as gaga over number two.

I guess I won't know how I feel until I meet the kid, but I tell you, I'm nervous as hell about it!

Of course, there is one thing that the STS will have that the FTS did not. The STS will have a big brother.

The FTS talks to, kisses, or pats his Mommy’s belly, and talks about his baby brother all the time. He goes out of his way to help the FTM because he knows she’s incapacitated in these final days of her pregnancy – he brings her water, brings her a pillow, he helps her up, all without being asked. It’s like he’s trying to prove to us, and to the new baby, what a good guy he really is.

Whatever shortcomings I might have with regard to the new baby the FTS is going to love the STS enough for both of us, and vice verse. That, I have to believe, will make up for everything. And then some.

Next up – We meet the STS.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

“I love you. You suck?”

As you embark on your career as a parent, there are some snippets of wisdom you’ll hear so often that they sound like clichés. Most of them are true:

  • Let sleeping babies lie. (You never know when you’ll get them to sleep again.)
  • Don’t buy too many toys; your kid can make a toy out of anything. (The FTS, if we don't stop him, is happy to play with garbage. It's true.)
  • Don’t let your two-year-old drive your car. (Okay, we haven’t actually done this, but even so, it’s good advice.)
But not every cliché is true:

Barney the purple dinosaur sucks.

Now, I’m not dumb. I get it. All you have to do is watch an episode or two of Barney to get it:

  • Barney’s voice characterization is annoying. It’s super-di-dupery annoying.
  • The children with whom Barney consorts are always singing badly written songs and dancing badly choreographed routines, and they’re doing so while wearing ear-to-ear vaudevillian grins and playing directly and awkwardly to an unseen audience.
  • The actors who play the children with whom Barney consorts can’t really dance, sing, or act.
  • The three kid dinosaur characters — B.J., Baby Bop, and Riff — don footwear and headgear and nothing else. If B.J. isn’t going to wear a shirt and pants, does he really need sneakers and a baseball cap?
  • One of the kid dinosaur characters is, in fact, named B.J. I can only guess that stands for Barney Junior (I shudder to think of the alternative), but there’s never been any indication that Barney is his or Baby Bop’s (B.J.’s sister) father. What exactly is the message here?
  • Barney is kind of phallic looking.
  • If Barney really is, as the intro song says, a “dinosaur of our imagination,” would he really be teaching the children (who seem to live in that park) educational and moral lessons? Wouldn’t a child imagine a dinosaur that would A) be 70, not seven feet tall, B) eat people and stuff, or C) fly and shoot lasers from its eyes (like Mothra)?

But those are the things that I see when I watch Barney & Friends. The FTS sees something entirely different:

  • A giant, purple, friendly dino-man who teaches him about colors, letters, and sharing.
  • A friend that is always happy.
  • And a friend that, as the song that closes each episode says, loves him.
The songs within each episode inspire the FTS to look at his mother and I and say, “I want to dance,” which is followed by the three of us doing silly dances around the living room. And the FTS is always a little better at relating to people after having spent time with Barney. Plus, there are no commercial breaks, no product placements, and no negativity.

It’s this last notion – no negativity – that is the biggest knock against Barney. Parents have complained for years that the show doesn’t help kids deal with negative emotions. Really? I can’t find 30 minutes a day to let my two-year-old forget about negative emotions? Have we become so fracking cynical that we feel a need to saddle our toddlers with our adult baggage every waking minute of the day? What exactly is wrong with being happy for a little while?

To the FTS, Barney is a good friend and a good teacher, and he makes the FTS feel good about himself and about the world.

So how do we reconcile the difference between what our children see and what we see when we watch Barney & Friends? How about this:

Barney isn’t made for adults. Get over it!

It’s a happy 30 minutes, aimed at toddlers and brought to us by the good folks at the Public Broadcasting System. It has a wonderful and long-lasting impact on our children, and I for one applaud the big galoot.

I leave you with this:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The FTM Finds Her Calling

“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” – Matthew, Chapter 28, verse 19

I’m what you might diplomatically refer to as irreligious (click here for the gory details), and I would characterize the FTM as nonreligious. God and spirituality are not important to my wife. She doesn’t think about religion, doesn’t worry about it, doesn’t really seem to need it. So naturally, when we decided to take the nuptial plunge, more than three years ago, we planned a secular ceremony.

We wanted to stage our own wedding -- write our vows, choose our own songs, create our own ritual. This was our event; it should be done our way. But we also wanted it to be personal.

(One of the songs we quoted in our vows. The other was Led Zeppelin's Thank You.)

Enter the Friend of the FTM (FotFTM).

The FotFTM – one of the FTM’s oldest and dearest friends -- had been ordained by an Internet ministry and offered to perform the ceremony for us. Even though she was technically a Christian minister, the FotFTM was happy to honor our request and exclude god from our wedding ceremony entirely. Brilliant! The FotFTM did a fantastic job, and our union was legally (as far as we know) consecrated in the great state of New Jersey, without any interference from a higher authority. (Some would say without any blessing from a higher authority, but to those people I simply say feh.)

When we recently learned that the FotFTM was getting married, it seemed only right that the FTM should offer to return the favor and officiate at the wedding. The offer was quickly and happily accepted.

So, last week, the FTM – my nonreligious wife – received a packet of materials ordaining her as a minister in the World Christianship Ministries. Here’s what she got:

  • A missive on official World Christianship Ministries letterhead telling her she was now a pastor and that she could perform weddings and baptisms.
  • A “license” of sorts – really a certificate of ordination -- to hang on her wall.
  • A “Clergy” sign to put in her car, presumably to bag a better parking space when ministering to those in need.

The FTM did not have to attend divinity school. She did not have to live in an abbey. She didn’t even have to prove she was really a Christian. What she had to do was pay $80.

Are you fracking kidding me?

Living vicariously -- and remember, the first five letters of vicariously spell vicar -- through my clearly better half, I am feeling drunk with power. This newly acquired and government sanctioned authority is crying out to be abused. A few ideas:

1. Baptize random people. Walk down the street with a small vial of holy water – and now that she’s a minister, I presume the FTM can get holy water right from our tap – and pour a little on the head of each passerby while muttering something in Latin. I recommend “animus ipse meus stultus.” (According to Google, that’s Latin for “Your soul is mine, fool.”)
2. Excommunicate random people. While it’s true that the paperwork from the World Christianship Ministries makes no mention of any authority to excommunicate anyone, I figure there has to be a way.
3. Put the clergy sign in the window of her car, put a blinking red light on top, and pull people over. I’m not sure anyone would really pull over for a Toyota 4Runner, even if it did have a blinking light and clergy sign, but I’m certain it would be fun to try.

Of course, when the FTM hears me suggest these and other fun ways to abuse the power of the cloth, she just rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue in disgust.

“FTF,” she tells me, “I’m doing this for FotFTM. It means a lot to her and a lot to me. If playing childish pranks is that important to you, get your own goddam credentials.”

And she has me there. Being irreligious, I could never bring myself, even as a joke, to become a minister. It’s not in my DNA. So I guess I’ll have to just be proud of the FTM’s good deed and go on taking cheap shots at religion in this here blog. You have to admit, it’s a super easy target.

Next up, an actual blog post on parenting.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Why of It All

“Daddy, stay here.”

While the FTM deals with her ordeal – also known as her pregnancy – I’ve taken the lead role in the care and feeding of the FTS.

I drive him to “school” (daycare) every morning. The shouts of “move your car, grandpa,” as I’m trying to maneuver my way through the perpetual traffic jam in the facility’s cramped parking lot are a bright start to my day. I know I’m older, but Grandpa? Really? Some of the other parents look like college students, or, in one case, high school seniors. It makes me wonder if their children weren’t the result of too much beer on prom night. (Truth is, they're all very nice and no one actually calls me "grandpa." I just feel really old.)

On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, I have the pleasure of bathing the FTS. (Yes, he gets three baths a week, with many a “warm wet” washcloth in between. Not enough for you? Call social services.) The bath is like the shower scene in Silkwood. You’d think I was trying to get the FTS to confess the names of the other toddlers in his terrorist cell.

I also tuck the FTS into his newly acquired big-boy bed each night. The one and only time the FTM tried -- at 7 months pregnant and right after the FTS graduated from his crib -- she could barely get back up. So for now, this duty is mine and mine alone.

The FTS and I have developed what is now a well-defined routine. We read two or three books – Tractor Mac, Little Dump Truck, and the very timeless Very Hungry Caterpillar, are the tomes du jour – turn out the light, lie down, and talk.

The conversation is usually a combination of deciding what we’ll dream about (friends, family, and Lightning McQueen), telling stories (often spur of the moment inventions), and/or singing songs (Wheels on the Bus, Happy Birthday, and Seven Spanish Angels). Then we close our eyes and try to sleep.

When I hear the FTS’s breathing fall into a slow and even tempo, I know he’s ready. I start to back off the bed. That’s when he says it:

“Daddy, stay here.”

It’s a few minutes on either side of 8:30 p.m. when the FTS utters this magic phrase. It’s the end of a very long day:

The FTS and I left the house before 8 a.m. to go to daycare and work respectively. I spent all day in the service of independent bookselling, not arriving home until after 7 p.m. And from the moment I walked in the door until the moment I’m making my move to back off the bed, I’ve been a full-time dad, with little room or patience for distractions.

It’s also the beginning of a very long night. On my list of things to do:

  • Eat dinner
  • Wash laundry
  • Answer work email
  • Write
  • Watch television
  • Other

It'll be midnight before I even think about sleep.

“Daddy, stay here,” he says again.

I can’t, I think to myself. I really have to go. I’m hungry. I have no clean underwear for tomorrow. I have 548 emails in my inbox. I have an editor willing to read my manuscript if I can finish it. I really want to watch the new DVD of Chuck Season Two that Netflix has today delivered.

(Spoiler alert: If, like me, you're only on season two, you might not want to watch this.)

“Daddy, stay here.”

I look at the FTS, his face just visible in the ochre glow of the nightlight that provides warmth and security from across the room. His eyes, inexplicably blue, are a few inches from my own. They are windows thrown wide, allowing me -- and only me – a view into the very deepest part of his being. I’m struck with a feeling of privilege that I should be allowed such a personal glimpse into the soul of another. What I see is undiluted love.

The hunger vanishes. Laundry and email can wait. I’ll write later. I’ll catch up with Chuck another night. I put my head down, put my arm around my son, and close my eyes. I’m not going anywhere.

“Daddy stay here?”

“Yes, ok.”


Next up: My wife the High Priestess.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Proto Junk

The FTM will be the first to admit that she and pregnancy are a bit like high fever and a virus. You can’t deal with one without having to endure the other. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it. And really, who would?

There is (as of this week) a five-pound, human male infant in my wife’s body doing things you wouldn’t want him doing on your couch. For example, the day we found out his gender, the ultrasound nurse said, “Look at that, he’s playing with himself.”

“What?” we said in unison.

“Look,” she said, moving the cursor of her mouse over the blob of ultrasound weather radar that was supposed to be my still-forming son. “His little his hand is moving up and down on his penis.” (I admire health care professionals. They can say “penis” without giggling. I’m giggling just typing this.)

“What?” we said again.

“There, on the screen! He’s a little porn star in the making,” she chuckled.

The FTM, horrified, leaned forward from her perch in the stirrup chair, and I got up and walked to the screen. The nurse was right. The freaking nurse was right. The STS (Second Time Son) had his proto hand firmly around his proto junk, and was going to town. While this may have been valuable as a sort of unofficial paternity test, it wasn’t something I really wanted to see.

On the other hand, it did make me fall to my knees and thank the universe for my Y chromosome.

Even women who are blessed with non-masturbating fetuses still have writhing, burping, gill-breathing, tiny little human beings making nests inside their bellies. It’s like something from a Jack Finney novel. I can’t even imagine.

So when the FTM tells me that she’s uncomfortable, that she can’t sleep, that it hurts to walk, or that she’s just freaked out, I take her at her word. And when I’m exhausted from trying to juggle work, writing, and friends, along with having to bathe the FTS, tuck him in, or take him shopping, I stop for a moment and think of the day of the ultrasound and thank my lucky stars.

And then I thank the FTM, again, for doing all the really heavy lifting.

Next up, The Best Moment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back in the Saddle

What’s that sound? Is that the tap-tap-tap of a keyboard?

What’s that eerie light? Is it the soft beige glow of a blog resurrected?

Just what the hell is going on around here?

If you guessed that the First Time Father is back, you’re right! Give yourself a cigar. (If you don’t smoke, give yourself a chocolate cigar.)

So what force of nature was potent enough to drag the FTF away from his tumbler of cognac, convince him to turn off yet another Two and a Half Men rerun, and prompt him to revisit the blogosphere? The answer is that the FTF needs money, and this blog is a freakin’ gold mine. Either that or he’s about to become a Second Time Father.

That’s right, in less than four weeks time, the FTF is slated to magically transform into the STF.

Allow me to anticipate your next question:

“What the hell were you thinking?”

I have no idea.

After slogging through two years of infancy and toddlerhood, the FTM (First Time Mother) and I are finally at a place where the FTS (First Time Son) is sleeping until 8 a.m. each morning, going to bed at 8 p.m. each night, and is a pleasure every minute in between. He talks, he walks, he makes us laugh. He can clean up his own toys, sleeps in a big boy bed, and watches movies (Cars, Toy Story) that we can enjoy too. Life is good. Damn good.

And yet, with full knowledge of our actions, we’ve elected to blow it all to hell. In less than a month we’re going to introduce a wailing, puking, pooping, sleep-deprivation machine into our happy home. In other words, a baby.

Allow me to now anticipate your next question:

“Uh, dude, what the hell were you thinking?”

We were thinking of the FTS. Truth is, both the FTM and I have siblings, and those relationships are among the most important in our lives. We simply wanted the FTS to have that same experience.

Of course now that I’ve gone back and read all of the earlier posts on this blog -- about health scares, burping, sleeping, and more -- I can’t deny at least a tiny bit of buyer’s remorse. But it’s too late. The die is cast.

The STS (Second Time Son) is scheduled to arrive via planned C-section on Monday, November 1, which also just happens to be the FTM’s birthday. We’re preparing our home and preparing our son for the special day, and now that it’s almost here, I find myself needing to collect my thoughts. Hence the return to this blog.

I set out with the same agenda I had the first time: To provide other parents – and more importantly, would-be parents – with a glimpse into the life of a First and now Second Time Father. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.

I’m back, baby, I’m back.

Next up, a few words about the miracle of pregnancy.