Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Did I Just Cry Over a Dishwasher?

Dads can (and should) get sentimental over the early baby days.  This afternoon during my son's nap, I wept...by the dishwasher.  Here is why:

It was always my task to do the 2am feeding and lay-down.  For the first few months, I never thought the swaddles, rocking and humming would ever end...evidenced by the figure-eight path worn into the living room carpet.  I spent weeks experimenting with different methods, but one night I forgot about the bottles in the dishwasher...and knowing we needed them for the morning...turned it on.  Not giving a rip at that point...he was screaming anyway...and like a light switch, he was out!

I would use the sound of our dishwasher to comfort him back to sleep almost every night.  It was a terribly loud washer, almost unbearable during a meal or TV time.  So during the day I would "load and hold", until 3am...then turn on the beast.  The whooshing and whirring sound of the dishwasher would actually soothe my infant son every time.  

Now, years later, I actually miss those days. Alas, we have a new dishwasher...and a new baby that requires new tricks.  Advice for dads looking forward to infants...the most obnoxious item  in your house could be your saving grace...keep experimenting.  Advice for dads looking back...it is okay to reminisce and get teary-eyed ...just don't look back at pictures until you're ready.  (sob, sniff)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Long Live the Toy...and the Box

Ever find yourself rummaging through the toy-box to find one that your toddler will sit and play with for more than five minutes?   Do you have too many toys?  Are you buying new storage bins monthly to re-organize the play room?  Let me introduce you to my "life cycle" of toys.  This is how I extend the life/interest of toys in my household, therefore reducing the number of toys...and boredom.

I find a toy that would be interesting for both my child and me (since I'll be playing with it as well).  I might research in stores or at friends house.  Then I purchase it online, assuming the shipping and savings are close to the same as shelf price.  A few days pass and "knock, knock" a package arrives on the door step.  Sometimes I forget what I ordered, so this is fun for me too.  Many parents open the box, throw away the good stuff, fire up the toy and kid is bored in 10 minutes.  Not this guy...once the package is in the house...the games begin. :)

Play a game with your kids, "what is in the box?"  Make stories up, discuss the size of it relative to objects they know...have fun, imagine.  Is it a tiger? No...too small and to quiet.  Which is the top, bottom, side, back, etc. Look at names, addresses, find numbers, letters and fun stuff on the labels.   Ten minutes just passed...and you didn't even open the box yet.

Open the box and play with packaging.  My son loves to jump on the air-packs (yeah exercise), and bubble rap is great for dancing or driving cars on.  Packing peanuts become "snow" for dump-trucks and tractors.  Many of them are now organic corn based "puffs", so you can wet the sides and stick them together.  We made a packing-peanut-robot doll one day.  As I hand off the packaging, I try to distract them enough to set aside the toy/book for later.

Depending on the size of the box, I'll set aside for later, or let him play in it a while.  Again, make it a game, see how many cars will fit, how many dolls will fit, whatever they like to stash away...use the box.  Keep it around and later you can use the box to wrap up artwork for mommy when she comes home.  My son likes to make "garages" out of them. I just cut doors in the side and let him play awhile.  Brown boxes aren't lame, they are a canvas...decorate!  I like the foam alphabet stickers to personalize it.  Have them put together words like "in", "out", "top" etc.  Use stickers, crayons, anything you can glue...just have fun with it.  In my house boxes will sit around for a week, evolving through different stages of creativity.

By now, much time has passed, and you/they may have even forgot about what was inside. When you do get to the toy, let them look at it in the package for awhile.  Manufactures put a lot of work into the packaging, with suggested scenes, add ons and what-not. This is how they would have found it in the store...so just enjoy for a moment.  Talk to them about where it comes from, who made it and how the "kids in the picture" are playing with it.  Then get the child involved in opening it. (yes, this can be frustrating for both adult and child), many have twist ties, plastic locks or whatever. (this is where you say "use caution with knives, scissors" etc...but I'm not going to say that...you're the adult)

Finally the toy is free of packaging...and takes its' first breath.  Don't you dare put batteries in it yet! If you do, you're already half-way to the ominous toy box.  Especially with young toddlers.  Bright colors, buttons and switches are still entertaining w/o batteries  Many toys require some assembly.  Let them play with the "parts" first.  Show them how it goes together...even if you need tools.  Then let the play/learn-ing begin...with a nice quiet toy.

After a day or so, I'll see if interest has waned...if so, and I still think the toy has some life it in...time for batteries.  BAM!!...now this toy has a new life...and your kids will be super excited to see how it has changed.  In many cases, I find the "noise" to be either over-stimulating, or adding no value to the toy at all.  I can narrate better than the micro-chip, since I'm interactively playing with it and can understand what my child is trying to do.  In many cases, I'll pull the batteries out again...."sorry, batteries died". One day my son will realize how long batteries last and curse me for these antics.

Finally, you should "retire" the toy for a while.  Establish a rotation of re-introducing toys until they are truly ignored, or ineffective.  I found two weeks worked well for my toddler...and that worked with diminishing returns for a few cycles...until he simply grew out of them.

Once a year we'll purge our old toys.  A delicate topic for kids to understand, so we do most of it in private.  I will let him choose a few toys to donate or even trade/sell at our local kid-consignment shop.  We time that around Christmas, so we can also teach lessons of charity.  I tried having him "pass down" to other friends, but that backfired.  He saw the toy at their house later and wanted to take it back...so I'm not likely to do much more of that.

This method has extended the "life" of our toys out for weeks...when most kids are finished in ten minutes.  It saddens me to see kids with piles of toys that they have no interest in.  In the back of my mind (little voice) I wonder if this isn't contributing to attention deficits in today's children.  So please, be resourceful and it will open imagination, reduce your clutter and keep you more engaged in your child's life.

TL;DR 1 play with box, 2 play with packaging, 3 play toy w/o batteries, 4 put in batteries play again, 5 hide for a week, 6 reintroduce toy, 7 donate


Monday, March 19, 2012

Good Reason to Throw a Party

When thinking of names for your child, always keep the holidays in mind.   We chose Jameson for our boy's middle name.  "Son of James" is the true meaning, but with a middle name of a famous Irish whiskey, you have to celebrate one of my favorite holidays...St. Patrick's Day!!!  This little guy knows how to party already...watch out college...here comes Tyler. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

First Day Hazing

Working moms are always looking for groups or events to get there husbands/children into.  On more than one occasion, new dads say, "yeah, my wife signed me up...she said we should get out and meet people."  Skeptical at first, as was I, these dads are impressed at how much fun we have.  We dads talk about interesting things (cars, movies, beer, sports, news, funny kid stories).  Some words of advise...don't let you wife put her profile pic on the group site when she signs you up...you will be hazed for that one!

Follow Up : Night Terrors

This happened again when he was about nine months old.  No obvious factors (sick or lack of sleep), but I recognized the crying.  I was alone this time while my wife was away on business travel (so every night is "my turn").  I watched him via the monitor and saw that he was "playing" with his crib mounted Fisher Price Aquarium (a new favorite nighttime toy).   He was like a zombie, hitting the toy (lights and music) then crawling around the crib, lay down for a minute, then pop back up and hit the aquarium again.  This went on for 15-20 min and I decided to intervene.  This toy was overstimulating him during this "stuck REM cycle" and perpetuating the night terrors. 

Once in the room, I had to pull the toy off (not easy as it was strapped and tied on), so this was really going to mess him up.  I picked him up and held him close while I rocked in the chair, humming some tunes from The Doors.  (see, dads are cool)  After about 20 min he was sleeping and I gently put him back down.  Of course it wasn't quite that easy, it took one more round of rocking to make sure he was down for the night.  This toy was not responsible for the terrors, but he was on zombie-autopilot when they kicked in...so the toy had to be put away. 

No issues since....kow

Night Terrors...Worse Than A Nightmare

One of the hardest moments as a new parent was the night I couldn't console my son.  It happened one random night but my wife took care of him while I slept....the following night it happened again...and it was "my turn".

He was only six months old at the time and traditionally a great sleeper.  It was around midnight (only 20 min after I laid my own head down, of course) and he woke up with a weird cry.  The crying was different than pain, hunger or fright...it was a cyclical cry/whine/whimper.   It only took a few minutes for me to realize something was up...and this was not normal. 

He was not alert or aware, but awake.  Was he sleep-crying?  I became really concerned when he wouldn't respond to my voice, clapping my hands, or any soothing actions.  He didn't really "see" me when we looked at each other.  I walked around with him, sat in a different room, even went outside...but nothing calmed him down.   I grabbed bunny (a favorite toy that was in the laundry for the last few days), which helped a bit, but after an hour, he just "came out of it" and fell asleep...exhausted.  I put him back in his crib and rubbed his belly for a few minutes while he fell asleep like nothing happened.

I immediately did an internet search, which will generally scare you even more, but found that many kids get these night-terrors.  A combination of illness and lack of sleep can trigger this interruption in REM sleep.  Additionally, over stimulation after it occurs, only makes it worse.  He seriously was never "awake", just stuck between a few sleep stages.   I never felt so helpless in my life.

Afterwords, as I shut my eyes, all I could hear is his cyclical/hysterical screaming and crying in my head.  Wow...that was not in the "new parent brochure".

There are differing philosophies on this, some pick up, some let lie.  The first and second nights we had no idea what it was, therefore we picked him up.  We decided if it happens again, we'll just monitor him (since our presence didn't seem to help)...luckily it didn't come to that.   Looking back, he did have a fever for a few days, was changing from 3 to 2 naps a day and picking him up and turning on lights were all contributions to these episodes.

He's fine now.

Pay Attention To Moms...and Follow Along

I always observe moms with kids for new ideas.  They have been doing this a lot longer and are a great resource for us.

If you see a bunch of moms heading into a place with kids...good chance there is a "story time" or kiddie event behind the door.  I just had such an experience myself this week over at Bruegger's Bagels in Apex.   Were were grocery shopping, then walking around the shops and fountain outside.  I just had the sense something was happening based on the number of moms/kids going in the side door.  Turns out there is a weekly story time and sing along at 10am on Thursdays.  The lady running the event was great!  She had stuffed animals to share during the songs, toys to play with and stickers for the kids. She was very animated and my little guy had a great time.  I was the only dad there (you'll have to get used to that), but it was fun...and no purchase necessary.

Even when I visit friends, I look around the house for evidence of activities with mom...so I can put the "dad spin" on it with my own kid.  One occasion I had the "night off" to hang with a buddy while his wife was on vacation with his kids.  I spend the first 15 min walking around his house checking out all the kid stuff.  It was full of arts and craft ideas, pictures from magazines taped to the wall, empty produce boxes on a bookshelf.  Easy stuff...and it was cheap, cool and effective.  Then we started drinking and playing Gears Of War...so I got my man card back.