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7 Feb

I sit, looking at my baby, trying hard to stop counting the seconds between coughs. Eight, nine, ten, ele..cough. One, two, three…He coughs about once every ten or so seconds, and I am doing the math in my head. Six per minute. Three hundred sixty per hour. He’s been doing this for a couple of hours now, seven hundred coughs. He threw up twice yesterday, the combined mucus of a weeks-long cold that comes, goes, transmutes, returns. The coughing becomes gagging, becomes a kind of gooey non-food throw-up. Once on my lap, once down my shirt.

Meanwhile, the ingrown toenail from a week ago became infected enough to warrant a weekend urgent care visit. The urgent care doctor there told us the infection had passed, but a callus had formed at the corner of the toenail, which would likely require a podiatrist. We went home with a prescription for an antibiotic ointment, to prevent re-infection. The doctor there was sick herself, sneezing and wheezing. She didn’t wash her hands before handling baby’s foot. But baby is now banging the toe pretty regularly, and he starts crying any time it is remotely touched.

This doctor is unbelievable on a number of levels. Callus? What? Did they just pull a random woman off the street, dress her in a white coat, and collect our copay? We send off a photo to his pediatric orthopedist, the amazing Doctor David Scher. He responds via phone call Monday morning that the toe is still infected, to get a course of antibiotics, to not see a podiatrist (who will likely just exacerbate the problem by shaving the skin around the toe, which often causes another hangnail when it grows back), and to soak the baby’s foot in warm salt water a couple times a day. We make an appointment to follow up with him later in the week. The first doctor is looking like a malpractice suit in waiting. Good luck with that New York Methodist.

So fine, this has been the nail in the coffin that is our relationship with our current pediatrician. She’s fine, but her practice, Park Slope Pediatrics, has often left us feeling sad and a little angry. And if the benefit of an urgent care center nearby is offset by the fact that the urgent care center does more harm than good, well, then what’s the point? Our new doctor takes a 5 second look at the toe, declares it infected, and sends us home with a 10-day course of amoxicillin. She, like Dr. Scher, is puzzled by the suggestion of a podiatrist. We have an appointment with Dr. Scher later this week, so we’re still a little in who knows territory.

None of this post is meant to be about baby’s health. But his health has been spotty these past couple months.

Instead, it’s about a creeping sense of anxiety that I’ve been feeling since yesterday, but which has bloomed more fully in the past day or so.

I often find myself thinking I’m the wrong guy for this parenting gig. I am not saying I’ve made bad choices, that I don’t want to be married or have a baby (though I do sometimes think life would certainly be easier. Not better, at all. Easier.). I love the kid very very much, and I love my wife even more. But what I am saying is that I do not know whether I have the fortitude for parenthood. Honestly, I may not have the fortitude for adulthood. My interests seem juvenile even to myself, I don’t obsess over work. I just don’t know how to keep moving forward, not worrying about baby’s health, or family’s wealth, or my mental well-being.

Rationally, this makes little sense, I know. But I look around at the other parents, and they seem different from me. When I was a kid, my father used to enjoy reading historical fiction and James Bond novels, and playing tennis. He liked to collect fountain pens. I like playing video games and thinking about intractable social problems, like why American culture seems to hate women so much. I still read fantasy novels, and I can quote pretty reliably from any number of nerdy movies. In my spare time, I conspire to build and program robots, and I like to make pancakes. None of these things scream serious father to me.

Maybe this will all go away a bit as baby’s health picks up. It’s exhausting, maybe it’s just a lack of sleep. But when along the line are you supposed to stop feeling like you’re faking it and actually feel like you’re the adult others imagine you to be?


The uncertainty of parenting

10 Oct

One of the most difficult and ongoing challenges I feel as a father (and which I know baby mama feels as a mother) is the uncertainty over how to teach and manage baby. This is something of a modern problem and, I would suggest, something of a class-specific problem. Or at least a problem most closely associated with intensive parenting.

In another world, with stronger extended family ties, stronger religious beliefs and instruction, less deliberation over every single thing, you just, well, parent.

Not us. Baby, for instance, likes to put his feet up on the table while eating dinner. There are a wide range of responses to this behavior, from not caring, to punishment, to incentivizing behaviors, verbal scolding. Fwapping his little feet feet with a metal ruler, the way my 5th grade teacher used to do to our fingers when you would stop paying attention in class.

What we want is a rule-book, preferably an evidence-based set of best practices. This was, historically, um, the bible/Torah/Koran, etc. at least for many. Or tacit knowledge passed from generation to generation. Now, we have anecdata from friends, Facebook groups, and expert literatures. But the expert literature overstates its effectiveness while way too often way way understating culture, class, or individual differences (though these are actually very different problems. Baby books and parenting tiger mother French mother whatever mothers nevertheless hit them all).

So we just kind of do stuff, hope it’s reasonable, and move on. The scientist in me wishes we were at least learning inductively from our adventures, but sometimes I’m not even certain of that!

An for what it’s worth, we now pug him back from the table when he puts his feet up, and he complains: closer? Closer? Closer! Yep. Top shelf parenting for you.

Gendering baby

18 Sep

So, 21 months old, and our baby loves:

  • Cars, and trucks, and things that go. Seriously. This morning, he was all ‘motor..cycle? drive?’ Backhoe, drive? This is a kid who loves things on wheels.
  • His baby stroller. When wife purchased this, we were all, ‘aawww, yeah, baby’s going to love this.’ And then when BB opened it and realized what it was, he actually did a dance of joy. A dance. Of. Joy. Since then, stuff has gone into the stroller, Winnie the Pooh goes into the stroller, the stroller gets rolled around everywhere, when we go outside he wants to take along the stroller.
  • Mama’s shoes. Loves walking around in them.

I’ll talk about this in the abstract rather than in the specifics, since for me, most of what he’s doing is just ‘toddler stuff’ rather than ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ stuff. Still, what is amazing about gender is the fact that some of these preferences are going to be taken as natural expressions of his personality, while others will be taken as a ‘phase’ or about something other than his gender. We were in the park last weekend, for friend’s kid’s birthday party. I noticed baby walking a baby double-stroller (DOUBLE-STROLLER!!) with the (now 2-year-old) birthday boy. The boy’s grandmother, sitting next to me, jokingly looked over at them and said, ‘look at those two wussies.’ Funny right?

By the way, did you know that the song “William Wants a Doll”, from Free to Be You and Me, was based on a story that itself was made into a film?

A shocking inversion of the grandma from the song to reality, right?

Oh, and for what it’s worth (and to me, a lot) the ‘someday he is going to be a father, too’ formulation actually solves the problem only insofar as you define the problem as William needing to be a straight man. If William wants the doll simply because he likes being feminine, grandma’s advice to William’s father isn’t going to help.

On joining the ranks of the crazy

17 Sep

A series of texts from me to wife:
“Maybe a dozen to 15 people in front of me”
“Feels like being outside the room for the SATs”
“Knowing McSure-of-Herself near me tells me they accepted 0 new 2s last year, due to sibs priority”
“Nervous dad on other side asking, rather desperately, where else? where else?”
“2 dozen in line now”
“This is the most depressing concert ticket line ever”
“It goes to the end of the block now, maybe 40?”

At the end, the line stretched around the corner, and I would say topped out at about 60. For a “two’s” program that has something like 15 spots. This morning was the first day to drop off applications. And there I was, sitting in it. Office opened at 8am. I was there by 7.

The funny thing about this whole schtick is that we are not crazy. I’m mildly interested in a Montessori program, or possibly a Jewish tots program. Because, I think, school with an ideology are better than schools without one. But even saying ‘schools’ is a stretch for a 2-year-old (oh, he is not yet two, btw, this is fucking for next September). Our compromise is that I go drop off our application, while wife goes to high holiday services. My relative lack of piety is costing me my morning…

Meanwhile, I think the most likely outcome is that baby does daycare next year, no tot program at all, because we do not get into one or else we decide we don’t really want to shell out the jamillion dollars for it. The second most likely outcome is that we get “wait-listed” at one of the 2-3 program for which we are applying. The least likely outcome is that we have options for which program we can enroll baby.

In all of these scenarios, baby is going to be completely fine. Well-socialized. Well-taken-care-of. Even well-educated. And yet, here I am, 7am, in the most depressing concert ticket line ever.

Breaking through

17 May

We’ve been a bit concerned about a particular milestone of late, but I thought I would share a minute of happy video, just as an update…

When when when will baby do the walking?

1 Apr

Baby is 15 months and not yet walking. I say this with full expectation that one day he will indeed walk. And talk. Eat food. Do math. Don’t get me wrong, we will love him whether or not he does these things. And perhaps, given that we’re on schedule to give him deadly, autism-causing vaccinations, he won’t do some of these things. But he was born with club foot, he’s 15 months, and he is not yet walking.

It’s hard to avoid obsessing with at least some piece of the bell curves of development. To avoid it completely. Intellectually, this makes no sense whatsoever. It is a bell curve, standard deviations around a mean. 1.64 standard deviations encompass 90%. 1.96 SDs encompass 95%. 2.58 encompass 99%. If the average is 11 months, with a standard deviation of 2 months, one in a hundred babies will walk at 16 months. Easily, one in a thousand should be walking at a year and a half. Normal, normal, normal.

At the Tot Lot, a wildly unrepresentative (of Brooklyn, of America, sometimes even of Park Slope) clump of kids and caregivers, a mother tells me, unsolicited, that her daughter is small for her age. A father, when I ask how old his baby boy is, tells me: 14 months. He’s not walking though. But he’s cruising, and that’s what’s important, right? Right? Riiiiiiiggghhhhht?

I try to repeat what a close friend with slightly older kids once told me. That by the time they’re 8, they all walk and talk. Further, you forget about when and which kids walked or talked. What looms large while before you looks little when behind you (ok, that last part is me, not Cary).

I’m not sure what my point is here. I somehow imagine that Pioneer parents never thought much about such things, that they were too busy rendering tallow for candles, or chopping wood, or hunting wild boar. We theorize the hell out our babies, and wonder from where our worries come. Still, I’ll be happier when baby starts walking.

Birthday Boy

12 Dec

So we had a little birthday party for our BB this past Sunday. A few friends, some cake, and a happy baby. Well, mostly happy. He seemed at times to be more interested in doing his ‘normal things’ – opening/closing doors, playing with books, pulling at the printer – than playing with the other kids who were over. But still, the smashy-cake did its job. And mama was happy that baby’s first experience with cake was a Brooklyn Blackout cake.

As for me, I’m breathing something of a sigh of relief over the first year. I’ve been a little obsessed with death this year, thinking that our baby would actually succumb to one childhood dramatic form of mortality or another. The infant mortality rate in the US is pretty good (6.06 deaths per 1,000 in 2010, and even this is probably a bit lower for White, insured, educated, etc. parents). If you look at mortality tables (e.g., here’s a .pdf report from 2006), deaths per 100,000 drop from 6.71 from ages 0-1, to .44 from ages 1-2. So, really you are dodging something of a bullet if your baby makes it to one year old.

I don’t know how I ended up so much about death again. The point is that this dismal cloud is lifting for me, as we move on past year one. Plus, there’s so much more fun stuff to talk about than shitty bad stuff. I’m going to try to do a lot more of that in the coming days/weeks/months.