I’m aware that if my son goes to therapy at any point in his life, this story will come up. Well, not the story itself, but the fact that I am sharing this publicly. I can live with that.
Everyday when we pick Bean and Bug up from daycare, we have a routine. It starts in Bug’s classroom.
Quick hug – yay!
Gather art projects to take home
Grab bag of carrots from the mini-fridge
Bug goes potty
Go to Bean’s class and start from Step 1.
Step 4 is the most critical, because if something goes wrong, Daddy has to clean the car seat. And Daddy does not like cleaning the car seat.
Over the past, say, two months, as Bug has put the finishing touches on potty training, Step 4 becomes more contextual. When was the last time he went potty? Does he think he can wait until we get home?
So that brings us to today.
Here’s the transcript.
Bug: DADDY!!!! [See Step 1]
Me: Hi! How was your day?
Bug: Good! I have pictures! [Points to cubby; See Step 2]
Me: They are amazing! I’ll hold them. Go get your carrots!
Bug: [Goes to get carrots; See Step 3]
Me: OK, let’s go potty.
Bug: I don’t have to go potty…
Me: Can you try?
Bug: No…I don’t have to go potty!
Me: Can you please try?
Teacher: He just went potty 15 minutes ago.
Me: OK. Can you make it until we get home?
Me: Alright. Let’s go get Hava! [See Step 5]
[30 seconds later, we are down the hall in Hava’s classroom]
Beanie: Daddy!!! [See Step 1]
Bug: I have to go potty!
Me: Are you kidding me? OK, Beanie, hurry up – we have to go back to Bug’s room.
Bug: I HAVE TO GO POTTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: Let’s go! Everyone! Let’s go!
[5 seconds later, we are back in Bug’s classroom]
Bug: DADDY! I’M POOPING IN MY PANTS RIGHT NOW!
Me: [to myself] F—! S—! F—! S—!
Bug: I’M POOPING IN MY PANTS! IT’S COMING!!!
Me: Sit on the potty!
Bug: NO! I’M POOPING IN MY PANTS!
Me: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! GET ON THE POTTY NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bug: NO! I’M POOPING IN MY PANTS RIGHT NOW!
[I pull his pants down. There is no poop. I repeat. No. Poop.]
Moral of the story: Don’t believe three-year-olds who claim to be pooping their pants. Unless they are pooping their pants. Then you believe them.
Songs My Older Kids Now Know From Me Driving Them To School For A Month:
“Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms
“Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey
Songs I Now Know From Driving Them To School For a Month:
“Cake By The Ocean” by DNCE
That’s gotta mean something filthy, right?
Justin Bieber’s entire album
Seasons of House of Cards Watched: One
The Price is Right Conclusion: Drew Carey is better than I expected, but no Bob Barker
Daytime Talk Shows: Ugh…
Favorite Middle-of-the-Night TV Shows:
12-minute episodes for the win
Nothing But Trailers
60 minutes of movie previews…a 3am treat!
Trips to Home Depot: Three
New Sink Faucets Purchased: Three
New Sink Faucets Installed: Zero
Flowers Planted in Front Yard: 27
Solar Panels: Thinking About Them
All the time. Hours and hours each day. Perfection.
I got to stay home for full four weeks with my wife, my newborn, my two older babies, and my dog. What else could a guy ask for?
I’m sad to leave my wife home “alone.” It’s been great to spend so much time together – not just in the middle of the night for diaper changes. We’ve had sushi date nights (with Squish). We’ve gone to fun lunches (with Squish). We’ve even worked on a lot of these blog posts together (with Squish). It’s been phenomenal.
In addition to my wife and baby, I had so much fun with Beanie and Bug. Instead of rushing from home to school to home, we got to take our time and enjoy the journey. Sleep in a bit. Take the long road. Snag some muffins for breakfast. Skip school for family fun every now and then. Without the stress of being on time in the morning or going to bed at night, we had FUN together.
On the other hand, going back to work is exciting. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my team and clients. I’ve missed the daily action of my career and feel motivated to jump back in.
To sum it all up: Four weeks went by. My family size increased. I barely slept. And I’ve never been happier.
I looked back on Dec. 31, 1999, celebrating New Year’s with friends, really unsure if “oops, party’s over…out of time” was going to happen.
To be honest, I also debated the slotting of 80’s music superstar deaths: Prince. Michael Jackson. Whitney Houston. [Prince’s was the most shocking. Whitney’s was the saddest. Michael’s was the most tragic.]
Several radio stations started playing tributes to the Purple One all afternoon. Thankfully, I had to be in the car, so I got to flip around the channels and hear his greatest hits and heartfelt tributes from fans and DJs.
Prince was iconic. But not really an artist we frequently played around the kids. Or so we thought.
After picking my daughter up from school and strapping her into her car seat, I turned the radio on so she could at least hear some of Prince’s songs. I wasn’t going to talk about death. The car ride home is nowhere near long enough to broach that topic and this was not the situation to discuss it.
“Kiss,” probably my second-favorite Prince song (behind “When Doves Cry”) began playing.
“I know that song!” my four-year-old screamed out. “It’s from the penguin movie!”
Of course she knew that song. I had completely forgotten that “Kiss” was featured in the opening medley in Happy Feet. We watched that movie at least a dozen times.
Check out the scene here:
My daughter being familiar with this song is another reminder that music is immortal.
Prince created such an amazing song that it made a little girl ridiculously happy to hear on the radio 30 years later.
The song is bigger than the artist, which is what makes the artist so special.
Hi, you may remember me. My wife and I brought our 3-week-old son with us to vote this morning. We met you there, after we cast our ballots, at the table where you pick up the “I Voted/Yo Vote!” sticker.
You saw the newborn sleeping in the red infant carrier and were blown away by “the youngest voter in the district.” You wished us best of luck in parenting him and hoped only the best for him and the world he would grow up in.
It was a lovely interaction. We started walking out the door.
“Oh, what’s his name?” you asked curiously.
Squish. [Squish is not his real name, remember]
“Oh No! Do you know what you have done to him? He will have a rough life with a name like that.”
In the moment, The Best Mom and I smiled politely, mumbled something to end the conversation, and left to go about our day.
But I think you deserve a more thoughtful response.
What the hell is wrong with you? In what world do you think it is appropriate to not only openly question the name parents gave their child, but then attempt to guilt the parents by predicting the challenges the kid will face? Neither of those is alright.
We know we gave our kids unique names. Before each of our children were born, we discussed their names for MONTHS. There is not a conversation you could have about their names that we didn’t have before the kids were born. They are unique for a reason. We have nothing against more common names, but went down a different path.
It’s our decision. There are precious few things people get to do that make a lasting impact beyond their life. Naming your children is one of them. And we did not take that responsibility lightly. We are certain the parents of Beyonce, Cher, Madonna, Kanye, Denzel, and even Suri, carefully considered the names of their children.
“Squish” is a Biblical name. We didn’t make this name up. And even if we did, it would still be OK.
Each child’s name has deep meaning to us. We named all of our children after beloved deceased relatives. Those relatives had specific characteristics that we wanted our children to embody. Every time we see our children, we are reminded about Harriet, Robert, and Bernard. Three unique, wonderful people that we named our children after.
If you judge, judge silently, like a normal person. I don’t care if you go home and call your friend and say, “Friend, you’ll never guess what crazy name these people I just met named their kid!” Sure, you may qualify as a horrible person for doing so, but at least you wouldn’t be poo-pooing us to our face. In the presence of our child.
Don’t worry about our kids. Our kids, and their awesome, meaningful names, will be just fine. We are raising them to be strong, confident people. They love their names. And as our children learn more about the relatives they were named after, they will love their names even more. And, hey, when they turn 18, they can petition the court to change their names to Sally or Bob. Or SallyBob. Whatever.
So what did we do to our kid?
We gave him a name with purpose. A name with meaning. A name that will stand out. A name that he will define to the world…the world he will hopefully make a better place.
You hear your kid’s door open at 3:45am and, no matter what is about to happen, you know it won’t be good. At all.
Beanie ran into our room, where we were thankfully up after a 3am feeding for Baby Squish. She choked on her words about needing to go to the potty, which could only mean one thing: mass amounts of vomit.
I jumped out of bed, shooed her into our bathroom, lifted the lid with my left hand and held her hair back with my right, and let a mess of meatballs and cherry popsicle empty into the toilet.
In that moment, I had a flashback to another night: the worst night of my parenting life.
Several months ago, The Best Mom went out of town for a bridal shower, leaving me home alone with Beanie and Bug.
We had a tremendous Saturday. We slept late and snuggled through a morning of their favorite cartoons. We ventured over to the local farmer’s market, where they nibbled yummy apples. The main event of the day was a friend’s birthday party at a gymnasium, where they had a tremendous time running and flipping.
After the party, we came home and I made them a light dinner of meatballs and broccoli, to balance the pizza and cake they had earlier. They both went to bed easily and I was able to watch a basketball or hockey game or something.
Around 11:30, I went outside to let the dog out.
Still standing on the lawn, waiting for the dog to finish, I heard a low rumble on the monitor.
Over time, you learn the tones in the your kids’ voices. This was a code red emergency tone, a sharp combination of fear…and fear.
The dog and I ran inside and up the stairs as fast as a blur.
We found Beanie standing in the middle of our hallway bathroom in the midst of 360-degrees of vomit. In every direction. On the floor. On the walls. On her. On the shower curtain. On the cabinets. Literally everywhere in the bathroom. Even behind closed doors. It was the most aggressive amount of throw-up I’d ever seen.
And my four-year-old daughter was standing at the epicenter, shivering with illness and fright.
How do you even begin to deal with this?
I devised a two-step plan, and I’m surprised I was able to get that far.
Step One: Remove Beanie. Step Two: Clean.
With my marching orders in front of me, I grabbed a pair of old sandals and tossed them in between me and her, so I could snag her out of the room.
I stripped her clothes off and put them in the laundry immediately. Then I cleaned her off with a wet towel and set her up on the floor of my bedroom and put a show on, so I could begin the real work.
Using a combination of every single cleaning product in my house, I set out to clear the chunkage and disinfect the bathroom. I Mr. Cleaned. I Swiffered. I mopped. I Lysoled. I spent nearly an hour in that bathroom.
And then the monitor rumbled again. It was nearly 1am.
It was my son.
I ran into his room. Still in his crib at the time, he had covered it with the same vile stinky vomit that I had just spent an hour cleaning in the bathroom.
Two sick kids.
I set Bug up next to Beanie in our bedroom so I could tend to his room.
As I was pulling the sheets off his bed, I heard ANOTHER rumble. This time coming from my room.
Beanie was running to the toilet, with Round 2.
I went to help her only to hear another rumble from the room.
Bug was on to Round 2 himself. With no toilet for him, I dragged him into the shower, to he could be sick, tears streaming down his face as he wailed in confusion.
Then I ran back to Beanie, who was throwing up again.
Then Bug threw up again.
I called my wife, disrupting the celebration, but I needed some emotional support.
“This is something I’ll laugh about one day, right?” I asked her.
Eventually, around 2am, I got them both out of the bathroom and onto a waterproof picnic blanket on the floor of the bedroom. I brought along a stash of small hand towels to catch anything else that may come up.
Once they were settled, I finished cleaning the hallway bathroom and processed two loads of laundry. Towels. Pajamas. Sheets. It was not a pretty sight.
With the laundry rolling and the kids calm, I turned on a movie, thinking the worst was over, hoping we could all get some sleep.
Good thing I brought those towels, because I used just about every one of them, as Bug was sick for hours, coughing up who-knows-what-he-had-left into them.
Finally. Finally. Finally, we all fell asleep on the floor around 4am.
By 7am, I had somehow moved myself to the bed and was woken up by two kids bouncing on me.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Let’s go to IHOP! We want pancakes**!”
The sun was up. Morning had dawned. I survived the worst night of my parenting life. So far.
With three kids now, I’m certain there will be worse nights ahead. But whatever comes, I know I’ll be just fine…as long as I take things one step at a time. And don’t forget the waterproof picnic blanket.
**No, I did not take them out to breakfast. They ate toast and plain pasta for the next 24 hours.
I clearly believe more time with your expanding family is better, but understand the realities dads face in the United States. Not all of us are afforded the opportunity to take as much time off as we would like. And I won’t even begin to discuss parental leave in the United States vs. the rest of the world today.
Whether you take a little bit of time or a lot of time, there is one constant truth: paternity leave is effing hard!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s happy and wonderful and incredible, too. But it’s hard.
Let me count the ways:
Sleep. As in, the thing you used to get, but don’t get any more. Even the BEST sleeping babies max out at 3-4 hour stretches of shut-eye.
Stains. You have them on all your clothing. And on your bed. You aren’t sure what caused the stain, who it came out of, or how long it’s been there.
Changing an explosive diaper at 4am…your idea of a good time? Not mine.
The crying. Soon, you will learn the difference between your baby’s cries. There are different types of crying for hunger and tired and those blow-out diapers.
Hosting. Everyone you know wants to visit the baby. This is a blessing! I’m in no way complaining about that. But I will say that preparing for a bris (Jewish circumcision ceremony) in our home eight days after having a baby, was akin to competing on American Ninja Warrior for a week straight. Remember, Momma Bear is devoted to the baby. Basically everything else is on you.
Other Kids. Keeping our two older kids on somewhat of a normal schedule (eating, sleeping, daycare, bathing) when you haven’t slept, are covered in stains, etc., is a massive challenge. And if they have a school presentation or project? Heaven help you…
Hunter and Gatherer. You, Big Poppa (and other non-birthing parent), are the one responsible for just about everything outside of the newborn. With our daughter, I spent most of my paternity leave running between the grocery store, Home Depot, and Target. Thankfully, advances in online shopping and delivery have reduced SOME of the back-and-forth, but not all of it. Keep in mind that Momma Bear and Baby Bear just went through perhaps the most physically traumatic natural event of all time. You have to take care of them.
House Work. One of the benefits of being home all day for a period of time is the ability to cross house projects off your master to-do list. This is a perfect time to do these things, as it will definitely make Momma Bear happier when you go back to work, but there is definitely guilt. Every moment you spend away from the baby is not fun. Even if you are doing things to benefit your family.
Paternity leave is not a vacation. It’s work. A LOT of work. It should be work. You had a damn baby!
And you are the right man to handle the challenges. Just make sure you get enough baby snuggles.
People fester in anger and shy away from authentic connections. It almost feels like human nature.
But as parents, we get to set the tone for how our kids interact with the world.
We ask them probing questions to understand what happened to them at school, how they are feeling, and what they are dreaming about. In order for us to guide them, nurture them, care for them, we need to have real talk with our kids.
“How was your day?” just doesn’t cut it. You have to ask them specific questions to get specific answers.
“What was the funniest thing that happened today?” “Who was your silliest friend today?” “If you could be anything when you grow up, what would it be?”
These engaging questions get kids, even young ones, to think analytically about their experiences, tell stories, and then build their future. These are conversation starters that are vital to understanding your kids.
Perhaps the biggest things that go unsaid are related to love.
The Best Mom and I decided that our kids would always know that we love them unconditionally. And, in our family, it would be frequently and explicitly stated.
Every single day, we ask them the same question, and they respond in turn:
“How much do Mommy and Daddy love you?”
“All the love!”
As vast an amount as they can imagine, we love them that much.
When we are proud of them, we love them all the love. When we are angry or frustrated with them, we love them all the love. At their highest high and lowest low, we love them all the love.
Everyday, we hug them, kiss them, LOVE THE SHIT OUT OF THEM. And take nothing for granted. We may THINK they know and understand how much we care for them, but we don’t really know.
Our goal is to create an environment of love and support in our family. A safe zone where they can grow and explore, knowing we will always have their back.
There will never be a day that goes by where our kids have any doubt how we feel about them. And they are part of it, just by answering one simple question.
Whether your baby is nursed or bottle-fed, your new addition will need to eat in the middle of the night. Likely more than once.
For breastfed babies, like ours, Dad’s role is a little more defined than babies taking formula.
But no matter how your baby gets his or her sustenance, it’s important to be prepared for what happens when the inevitable 1am, 3am, 5am feedings come.
The following is your Dad Survival Kit on how to handle these feedings:
Just Change the Diaper. I’m calling on Dads to do at least one thing for every middle of the night feeding: change the effing diaper. It’s not fun, but did you push a 6-10 pound human out of your body? No. So let Mamma Bear rest an extra minute while you wipe your child’s rear. Related: For those early weeks, have a makeshift changing table in your bedroom. The baby is likely your third roommate during that time, so putting a table in the corner with a table lamp will make life so much easier.
Load the DVR. When baby is up, at least one parent, and likely both, will be up, too. And you will want something entertaining to watch in the middle of the night. Don’t get too aggressive, though. You may think this is the time to binge-watch Law & Order: SVU reruns. And you would be totally wrong. Remember, this is 3am we’re talking about,man. I recommend short, funny shows that can keep you entertained without requiring too much (read: any) brain power. Our favorites right now include @Midnight, Robot Chicken, and Caribbean Life.
Snack Up. This is where it gets tricky. You are awake in the middle of the night, which means STAYING awake in the middle of the night. Much like an anesthesiologist that tries to give you the minimum amount of medication required for the entire period of performance, you need something to keep you going, without making it difficult to go back to sleep. We keep boxes of cereal on our nightstands to help fuel us for as long as needed. CAUTION: mindless munching makes it hard to get quality sleep afterwards, so limit your intake.
Keep It Short. Become a Navy SEAL of parenting. Wake up, do your job as efficiently as possible, go back to sleep. You are lucky if you can get three straight hours of sleep, so don’t waste a single second of potential sleep by doing anything other than sleep.
Communicate Expectations. There is no one right way to divide your parenting. But there are right ways for you and your partner – and they all center around effective communication. Talk through how you want to handle the middle of the night feedings BEFORE it’s 3am and you resent each other for not reading minds. Just talk it through.
This period of time is not easy at all. It will test your willpower. It will push your relationship to new levels.
But they also do one thing that makes up for it: They snuggle.
Baby Snuggles: Magic.
When a baby curls up, head on your shoulders, bottom on your forearm, hands tucked under their body, there is nothing better for a parent.
Those moments override the stress and sleepiness of a baby’s first few days, replacing them with a rush of love and energy to get you through.
Over Squish’s first week of life, he has done the following things:
Prevented us from sleeping more than 2.5 hours in a row.
Peed on us. Multiple times. He has “after seeing a movie in a theater” amounts of urine.
Filled a diaper with nasty, watery poop. And then 30 seconds after we cleaned the mess, did it all over again.
Spit-up on us. A lot.
While laying flat on his back next to me, spit-up in the air and directly INTO MY MOUTH. MY MOUTH! [I was too amazed – and kinda proud – to be grossed out.]
None of this was anything close to pleasant.
But those snuggles, man…
Shortly after peeing on me twice within one diaper change today [I said he had insane amounts of space in his bladder], we laid down and he slept on me for an hour. I dozed off for just a few minutes, but those were freakishly restorative. And without a doubt, enough to power me through the rest of the day.
[Note: Something like 99.9% of the awesomeness and 100% of the ideas in this post came directly from The Best Mom, my wife.]
Introducing Beanie (almost 5) and Bug (almost 3) to Baby Squish was a long-term project.
It had to be: a baby coming into our family would completely change the entire dynamic. Their roles were established and once the baby was born, would never be the same again.
We had to prepare them over several months and utilize multiple tactics to make sure they excitedly showered Squish with love, and knew how to act around him.
Constant References: We first told the kids about the impending arrival roughly four months in advance. There was no real reason to loop them in earlier, since they didn’t know what was happening. But after they knew that a baby was coming? We spoke about ALL THE TIME. In the car to and from school. At dinner. Before bed. Running errands. A day didn’t go by that we didn’t mention the baby.
Engage Their Brains: We knew that just talking about the baby would definitely familiarize them with the baby’s arrival, but wouldn’t be enough. Later in the pregnancy, we started asking them questions about the baby. Would it be a boy or a girl (since we didn’t know!)? What were they most excited about? What did they want to teach the baby? We found that asking these questions allowed us to build their excitement every day.
Give Them Something New: Their world was about to change in ways they had no control over. We needed to counteract that, so they both had a sense of newness in their lives beyond the baby. Best solution? Upgrade their bedrooms!
First, we moved our daughter out of a toddler bed and into a twin bed! This was the most exciting change in her daily life since…moving into the toddler bed. Since she loves rainbows and unicorns, we decorated her entire room in them (plus a Star Wars poster she was beyond excited about!). Now, every day, she went to sleep and woke up in her happy place.
Second, we transitioned our son out of the nursery and crib into his “big boy room” and into our daughter’s old toddler bed. Her told us he wanted his new room to be a firetruck. So we went to work, strategically spray-painting the white toddler bed into the best firetruck bed ever. (separate post on that coming one of these days)
Separately, they also got new “big brother/big sister t-shirts to wear when the baby arrived. We kept these as visible to the kids as possible over the final week of the pregnancy, so they could see them and get excited to wear them.
Involve Them In Prep: Another great way to get kids excited about a new baby is to have them actively involved in getting ready. Giving them small jobs, like taking a box from one room to another, or helping check and replace batteries on swings and toys are things they can do that are meaningful contributions. Plus, it provides a fun parent-kid activity away from the TV.
Gifts From The Baby: Let’s be honest here, little kids prefer to get instead of give. We bought the kids gift bag from “the baby” that included play sets, pajamas, and other fun things. As soon as the baby was born, my parents dropped these bags at the hospital, so when they brought the kids a few hours later, there were magically presents from the baby to Beanie and Bug! We also said that Amzi catered the room with hospital graham crackers. Don’t judge – it got the job done. Both kids gave the baby kisses and thanked him for the presents…and the snack.
Snuggles All The Time: The best way to build that new sense of family belonging and responsibility is to be together. Sure, we aren’t trusting our kids to babysit, or even hold the baby unsupervised. But finding those key moments where we can all snuggle in bed, or Beanie can hold the baby while sitting on a couch next to Mommy, or Bug can sneak in a quick kiss…those go a long way. That is where the magic is. We started this the day #3 came home from the hospital.
Our new world is just getting started. We know there are mega-challenges ahead, most of which we can’t even imagine right now. But making sure our foundation — our happiness and togetherness as a family — is set, will help us stay strong in the weeks ahead.