Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Advice for New Dads II

Again, this is completely unbidden advice:
  • A crying baby is a healthy baby; sick babies whimper.

A crying baby can be totally unnerving, but it's really nothing to worry about. That is, you need to worry about where your baby is at emotionally and security-wise. But if your baby can summon up the mojo to cry, the baby is fine physically.

The Co-op

Pursuant to the Monkey Mama's desire to eat a new, healthy diet, I shopped at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op today. The wierdest thing I bought was probably an oddly shaped butternut squash, or maybe medjool dates. Not that weird, really. I bought some other stuff in bulk, like nuts and dried fruits, because their nutrient density is so high. (Plus, they taste great in oatmeal with honey.)


He's at that stage where he creeps around to everything, and puts everything in his mouth.

How long does this go on? Eventually, he's going to learn that not everything in the world tastes good. (In particular, he is learning that a lot of things in our house taste like dog hair.)


I got my boy back today.

He's had a cold for so long -- like his mother and father -- I forgot what an absolute delight he can be: smiles everywhere, engaged in play, and full of laughter.

Yesterday at lunch, he was laughing so hard in his high chair that I thought there was going to be a medical emergency.

It's nice to see him again.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Walking back from Mall Thursday, I noticed some purple crocuses with yellow anthers, blooming away.

Later I noticed some yellow crocuses, blooming in my very own front yard.

First Words

I'm going to call it: the Boy's first word is officially "Mama."

In context, he actually said "Mamama mama mamama." And he was working on some tears, so I infer that he wanted his Momma. (He got his Monkey Daddy instead.)

He can also make a fairly good resemblance to the word "Kitty Cat."

Friday, February 24, 2006


Wednesday was a Mall Day. In other cities, that means something else. But here in Washington, D.C. it means the Boy and I took advantage of the fine weather to take in some museums.

It took us 30 minutes to metro downtown, a straight shot with no changing trains. (How do people in the suburbs even cope?) In the answer to a previous query, it appears as though the Boy sees reflections on glass, and not through the glass itself. Or at least he didn't put up too much of a fuss when I positioned him to see the tunnel lights accelerating away into the darkness of the metro tunnel.

I get off at the Archives/Navy Memorial stop on the green line, and make a bee line towards the Museum of the American Indian. But the wind is blustery and the Boy is fussing, so I veer off towards the fountain in front of the East Building of the National Gallery. This brings us closer to the exhibit on Dada that I also wanted to see. But its primary advantage is its cool fountain. The Boy loves water generally, but fountains especially.

The fountain sits among the glass pyramids of the I.M. Pei designed site. The glass pyramids are the roof of the underground tunnel connecting the East and West Wings of the National Gallery. They look like the ones outside the Louvre in Paris. The fountain jets are set flush with the ground and leap about 5' tall from a puddle where the water collects before washing down stone blocks in a sharply angled plane leading below ground. It is really cool to see from below, with the glass pyramids overhead and looking up at the white frothy water coursing down the blocks and onto a glass wall. The boy is delighted, not fussy at all anymore.

We duck into the Dada exhibit. I kind of wanted to avoid this situation: it is important to know what a pipe is before to trying to grapple with this.

Moreover, one of my early introductions to theater was through Bertholdt Brecht and the Theater der Verfremdung ("Theater of Alienation"), and it nearly ruined theater for me. Similarly, I took a wrong turn through the Chicago Art Institute once, and wound up walking "backwards" from the late abstract expressionists (think blank canvases and empty aluminum boxes) to the abstract painters, the impressionists, the naturalists, and so on back to pre-Renaissance perspectiveless Jesus canvases. By the time I had seen all the freedom, color, and deconstruction"ism" of the later works, it was impossible to appreciate anything sublime in the Old Masters. That's why I was leery of making Dadaism a formative art experience for the Boy. After all. I had already taken him to the Renwick, and if Gamefish isn't dangerously pomo, I don't know what is.

We went in anyway. Dada provided overstimulation for all the senses, so I was pretty ginger about exposing to some of the weirder sights and sounds. But he was a champ, and we moved briskly. As a treat, I took him to the tunnel between the Gallery wings and showed him the fountain from beneath. (He loved it.)

After all that time in the carrier, I let him stretch out a bit and feed some from his bottle. At some point, I realized he was staring up at the huge Calder mobile hanging in the East Building. Art was happening -- an aesthetic moment -- and it was grand.

We left for the Museum of the American Indian. Outside it is a wonderful water feature that goes on forever. It made me nostalgic for all of the whitewater rivers I've paddled in the Southeast, and of many coastlines I have seen in the U.S. It prepared me for a sympathetic understanding of the People Who Were Here First. (Its front door is directly opposite the Capitol, where some pretty harsh anti-Indian legislation was born. Ouch.)

The exhibits were OK, but a little too tech-heavy with an emphasis on interactive displays and video monitors. Best of all was a bright, carpeted room with comfy couches where the Boy slept in my arms. (I might have even grabbed a wink or two.)

I wanted to walk to the Conservatory of the U.S. Botanical Gardens, but there was construction and they looked closed. I walked up Capitol Hill, found a metro and went home. The boy was none the worse for wear.

Big Night Out

Monday was the first night that we left the Boy with non-grandparent babysitters. We went out for dinner in Dupont Circle. And not just dinner: a long, leisurely meal. Of course we talked about the Boy, but eventually we found ourselves able to move onto other subjects. Bliss.

Our thanks to the babysitters: you know who you are.

Monday, February 20, 2006


It's amazing what a simple haircut can do for morale. After spending a week or so in poor health and wearing sweats every day, a little grooming does wonders for the self-esteem.

It reminds me of a passage from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, where the English officer is telling Billy Pilgrim that the best way to survive a German POW camp is to perform calisthenics and (at least attempt to) move one's bowels every day.

Being a stay-at-home dad is very rewarding, sometimes taxing, but always better than German POW camp.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


We didn't win $365 MM in the Powerball lottery this weekend.

With a 1:120 million chance of winning the jackpot, a pot that big approximates an actuarially fair bet, even factoring in taxes and the penalty for taking an up-front lump sum payment. (That is, even if you only get to keep 1/3rd of the $365 MM, your estimated reward per lottery ticket is the same as the price of the ticket.)

Of course, putting $1 on the lottery is more risky than keeping that $1 in your pocket, and even the record-breaking pot of $365 MM is not enough to compensate you for that risk.

But at least the Monkey Mama and I got to engage in a serious conversation about where we would spend the rest of the winter if we won. (Who would take care of the dog if we went to the Caribbean? Would we buy an RV and drive to Tahoe?)

Lots to Do

Everyone is sick in our household, and has been for two weeks.

I think I am getting over this virus a few days before everyone else, so I have been trying to take care of the Monkey, the Monkey Mama, the house, and myself. There is lots to do.

Yesterday I cleaned the house while Monkey Mama took care of the Monkey, and then I helped some friends store some stuff in our basement until their home remodelling project is done (or their baby is born -- even toss up).

Today, the Monkey Mama couldn't deal with caring for the Monkey, so I watched him while she slept on the couch. I still found time to put a coat of paint on the shoemold that will complete the hardwood flooring project, and to buy a trunkload of groceries.

But I found out the Monkey Mama dedicated her yoga session to me today. That felt good; I earned it.

Parisian Soul Food

Try this:

1) Brown a small chicken (3 or so pounds) in a pressure cooker. Drain the excess oil.
2) Deglaze with some wine, add some more oil, then add some carrots, celery, and onion. Put the chicken on the vegetables, and put some fresh herbs on top.
3) Pressure cook for 5 minutes per pound of chicken on the high setting.
4) Remove chicken for carving, then puree the vegetables/broth with a stick blender.
5) Put some potatoes, mushrooms, and shallots in the puree, and pressure cook for 6 minutes.

In about 3o minutes, you get a roasted/stewed chicken with chunky vegetables in a pureed vegetable sauce: a good winter meal.

I wonder how it would work with curry and lentils?


The Boy might be learning "bashful."

Earlier today, he looked away from me while Monkey Mama was holding him.

Later today, in the grocery store, he turned away from a friendly stranger while I was holding him. (Or maybe it was because the guy was buying liverwurst AND pastrami. Good God!)

The books said "bashful" would happen. I kind of wish he would never turn away from me, though. Ever.

Friday, February 17, 2006

From the Video Shelf

"The Interpreter" with Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Kathleen Kenner (Sydney Pollack, director).

Two thumbs up! Best thriller I've seen maybe since the Bourne Identity was in theaters.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good Vibrations

On our walk to the cemetary today, I put the boy in the stroller. Usually I have him in the carrier, but I thought we would try something different...and he's getting heavier by the day, about 23.5 pounds these days.

I noticed he was chewing the frame of the stroller for a good part of the trip. My guess is that the rolling vibrations of the stroller were soothing to his gums, which are cutting their 5th and 6th teeth. I had never heard of anything like that before.

I wonder if it's addictive?


Nice warm day today, so the Boy and I took an afternoon walk to the nearby cemetary. Walking back , the dog caught a scent and strained urgently against the leash to sniff it. It was the exact same spot where she had peed just 20 minutes before.

I am trying to think of the human equivalent. Is it like staring into the mirror? I can think of even less flattering interpretations than vanity or narcissism.

Feel free to make suggestions in the comments section. (Click "Comments" below to leave a comment, or the timestamp to view comments.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Advice to New Fathers

Again, nobody asked my advice. But I received this piece of advice from my pediatrician and it was very helpful. I thought I would pass it along.
  • There are some things you can do that your wife/partner cannot.

Right after childbirth, she needs rest and support. You have strength, and can provide it. Maybe it's the calf strength necessary to bounce with the baby through the night. Maybe it's the back strength needed to clean the tub. Maybe she is spacey, but you can still remember things like when to eat (and how to cook). Even beyond childbirth, there will still be things you can do and your partner can't. Maybe they are trivial, maybe profound.

Women go through a lot during labor, and it is an amazingly empowering thing for them. (Sometimes it is not, and that's a shame.) They get lionized -- and get the lion's share of attention. Your respect and awe for your partner will go through the roof. But don't lose sight of self-respect and confidence in your own awesomeness.

It's important to remember that an empowered woman does not bring you down. (Quite the contrary.) Meanwhile, knowing that there are some things that only you can do helps you feel empowered yourself.

Advice to Expecting Fathers

It occurs to me that I have several friends who are expecting the birth of their first child. Nobody has asked for it, but -- like it or lump it -- here is some advice.
  • Find ways to get involved with the pregnancy.

Go along to the midwife/OB appointments. Help the mother keep track of whether she's gettting the right nutrition. Read and discuss the same books and web sites. Treat birthing class as an opportunity to learn and help out, not as an obligation. Take some tasks on yourself (researching strollers, setting up the nursery, etc.) Show kindness to the expecting mother.

Some of these examples are self-evident, but they speak to the larger point of being involved. If the pregnancy is easy, you'll have more standing and credibility when things get hard -- like practically every day of parenting. Or if the pregnancy is hard, you'll have more standing and credibility when times are easy and everyone can coast.

To gain influence on how your child is raised, you need to be involved -- the earlier, the better. The mother has a lot of this authority thrust upon her, almost by default. To gain the right to have a say, you have to earn it.

Plus, it's just plain nice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

Have a good one out there, everybody.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Expanding his Boundaries

One of the first posts I made as a stay-at-home dad mentioned the Boy's first snow. But today was snow.

I think we got 8 inches. (I heard New York got 27!) That's enough to totally change the way the world looks, especially with a clear sky and bright sun to turn up the albedo. For you or me, we shrug it off and say, "it snowed."

But not for the boy. While we were walking back from brunch at neighbor A.'s house, I stopped to let the Boy reach from the front carrier into a shrub heavy with wet snow. He pawed a collection of snow. (It must have felt cold.) Then he pawed a bigger clump, and squeezed it into a ball. (It must have felt wet and hard.) Then I bumped the bush with my shoulder and made a big avalanche right before his eyes. (!!!)

We made it home, but the Boy and I turned right around to head out. The Monkey Mama stayed home to nurse her cold, but our west coast visitor K. was game for a walk in the snow. (The dog loves the snow unconditionally.)

We ended up staying out almost another hour. We saw a really cool snowman sculpture -- the arts are thriving in Petworth! (Picture later, maybe.) We didn't get very far, and the cemetary was unexpectedly locked. We met up with neighbor A. and his escorts. It got a little colder. The Boy saw the dogs bounding through the snow after sticks. At some point, the Boy started howling so we called the Monkey Mama for a ride. We went for a little drive to see some pretty sights, and the Boy was content by the end.

So not only did the Boy experience snow at a much more advanced stage of development (8 months old, not 6 months) but he got a chance at prolonged exposure to the cold and staying outside his comfort zone for a long while.

Later, he took a long nap. I wonder what he dreamed?


We got a respectable dumping last night. It started at about 7pm last night, and was still snowing at 6am when I brought the Boy downstairs so that the Monkey Mama could sleep. Call it 8 inches on the ground.

Our neighborhood always looks its best in the snow. All the row houses were built approximately 1900-1925, back when they new how to create architectural ornamentation. The snow settles on these little moldings, cornices, and shadow lines, and really sets them off. That goes double for the churches. Also, the traffic circles, triangular parks, and other open spaces really stand out. Plus, the snow covers up all the trash in the streets.

Brunch at our neighbors, as soon as the Boy is up from his nap. Then maybe a romp with the dog through the cemetary. I'll bring the video camera.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Well, That Was Exciting

Since Wednesday or so, I have been "on call": a neighbor in one of the playgroups I go to with the Monkey was pregnant again, and needed someone to take care of her two daughters while she was at the birthing center. Today was the blessed event.

It worked out pretty well. She called and gave me a heads up around 10:30am or so, and her husband called back around noon, so I took the Monkey with me and walked over.

It was a little hectic, what with three kids and just little ol' me. I was suspicious when the older sister said it was time for ice cream, but I complied. She was also a little less than accurate about her younger sister's need for a nap. (The younger one was actually hungry, so I improvised a grilled cheese sandwich.) I held down the fort for a few hours, and eventually the Monkey Mama came over to help out, and shortly thereafter our neighbor's mother arrived on the train from New Jersey. With their grandmother there to take care of the girls, our little family walked home in the snow.

It's a girl.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

From the Bookshelf

I just finished Flashman's Lady by George MacDonald Fraser. Sadly, although I have been reading it forever (a couple of pages a night is all I can usually manage), I give it a thumbs down.

The conceit of the Flashman books is that a highly decorated war hero in the Victorian British army is actually a bully and a coward (not to mention a horny misogynist and a racist). Also, Sir Harry Flashman always seems to turn up at pivotal scenes from the Victorian Era: Kabul when the British were expelled from Afghanistan in the 1840s, India during the first Sikh War, Nanking during the Taiping Rebellion, Crimea at the Charge of the Light Brigade (yelling "Turn back, you idiots!"), etc., with some excursions to the United States thrown in: Custer's last stand and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, for example.

Maybe I am bored with the character: all the racism and misogyny can be quite much. Or maybe it was the choice of minor historical elements in this story.

Anyway, those British sure were funny emperors. I highly recommend David Fromkin's A Peace to End all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East to see how their emperor skills served them poorly during and after World War I. Come to think of it, they served the Middle East pretty poorly too. And everybody else, for that matter.

Truly a parable for our age.

Rough Day at the Office

Being a stay-at-home dad means there's no calling in sick.

It instantly removes most of the fun of being home. At least I can relate (exactly) to what the Monkey is going through.

Monday, February 06, 2006


The Boy is sick today. Poor little Monkey.

After a week of travelling, fatigue may have taken its toll. Or maybe he just caught a bad bug. All I know is that I hate to see him in such discomfort. Between loud bouts of crying, he sometimes can only muster a faint whimper.

It breaks my heart.

When he gets up from his nap -- one hour now, and counting -- I'll take him for a walk outside in the bright (albeit cold) sunshine. And maybe get him to drink some water, to replenish the copious fluids he's losing through his nose. But the Boy and I are laying low today.


We threw a baby shower/Superbowl party for some friends last night. It might be the first time that a baby pool (sex, date of birth) was combined with a Superbowl pool (winner, score). There were lots of family, kids, friends, and other interesting folks. Our reward for getting the house cleaned up -- almost a reward in itself -- was to enjoy this great party for a great couple. Very cool.

All things considered, the Monkey Mama and I got too much credit for the party's success. Two other women (and their partners) organized all the food, drink, decorations, and even the second TV.

Hopefully G. and N. can have another baby in time for next year's Superbowl!