Thursday, May 31, 2007


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Rearing in the City

My wife and I are planning on moving from our condominium,as we have run out of living space. There have been several discussions about where we want to move, but none of them have involved the suburbs.

We did discuss moving to the suburbs early in our marriage. My wife grew up in Peoria while I grew up on the North Shore. Her upbringing included greater diversity than mine. While her parents socialized primarily with other Jews, her schools were multi-racial and she was one of the only Jews. My schools were almost all white and, during seventh grade, every weekend had at least one Bar or Bat Mitzvah to attend. We would like our son to socialize with other Jews, but we want him to have a diverse upbringing. I'll get back to that shortly.

My friends and I have a saying we came up with when we'd all moved from our parents' suburban houses to Chicago. "You know what the best thing about living in the city is? Living in the city." I like being around people. I like that there is always something going on. I remember picking a friend up from his mother's house recently in a north suburb and, when I got off the highway, I noticed something. It was dark! I mean, few street lights, few cars, and even the houses seemed dark. It wasn't even 9:30pm! It was almost scarry. In Chicago, I love being able to get a four-star meal at 1:00am or a burrito at 3:00am. Even though I'm a parent and only go out on nights my men's league hockey teams plays, I still like the liveliness of urban life. The music, the different languages heard, the different smells (food or otherwise...) Not everything is the way I like it, but that's the way I like it.

Some people will say that there are the museums and all of that. And there are. But I'm realistic enough to know that they cost money and can be a pain to get to. There are lots of parks. That's something that we will certainly take advantage of, which brings me back to our next choice of home and neighborhood.

Single family houses in the city tend to be smaller, while a high percentage will option for townhouses (as our family will do,) apartments, or condos. Some say the schools are worse. Some say that it is more dangerous.

Yes, the houses are smaller. There is no question a family can get more house and land as one moves further from Chicago. The land we are likely to have is little more than our home would rest on. Maybe a little yard, if any at all. That's why they have parks nearby. Our reality is that, if we did move to the 'burbs, then we would move where I grew up. We do not want my wife to have a suburban commute. We don't want her to have that extra hour or two per day spent on the road or in a train. At least not for ten or more years. If we move to the suburb I grew up in, it would likely be around the time our son goes to junior high or high school. If we're looking for nature, we'll go to Upper Michigan.

With proper research, we found three schools that are about as good as any on the North Shore. Those are Bell, Burley, and Blaine. (Based on 2006 Illinois Report Cards. For more info, see: Based on our location needs, Burley or Bell will be the best options. There was something else that I found in that research: a significant percentage of the attending students are from "low income" households. (I do not know what criteria they use to determine "low income".) The data indicated that the low income students scored as well on the achievement tests as the other students. Again, those scores were almost as high as the best schools on the North Shore. That is what we want to give to our son. We want him to be able to learn in an environment where children from different backgrounds all expect achievement. It tells me that there are a lot of people working to help their kids have successful lives.

Finally, many believe that the suburbs are safer than the city. I would say that being mugged is the only crime one is more likely to experience in the city than in the suburbs. Otherwise, there is just as much access to drugs, adultery, and violent crimes in the suburbs. I would infer that most violent city crime occurs in impoverished neighborhoods. Columbine did not happen in a big city. Laurie Dann committed her crimes on the North Shore. Sadly, there is no place we can all agree is the perfectly safe place. What I believe living in the city does teach is the ability to read situations and people so that a person knows what situation they are in at all times.

Finally, many of our friends and siblings live here. We like it here and are comfortable. That's the most important thing - to be happy where you are. Who knows what the future holds for us. For now, we're just city-folk.

I wish I'd have known sooner

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I have put on music for my son. He didn't take to Miles Davis well. He likes when I put on Jack FM and dance with him. Today, I put on the Baby Einstein Mozart CD. I don't have him watch the videos as I'm trying to expose him to as little TV as possible. Since I put it on, he's been playing on his Baby Einstein play mat happily. Usually at this time of the morning, he's pretty demanding of attention. While I play with him as much as possible, I'm trying to clean the kitchen, do laundry, and plan our kitchen's remodeling. Maybe I can work this into our "routine."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

City Livin'

You know you're in the city when a backyard barbecue is on an 20'x15' brick patio surrounded by a 6'6" wood fence. Beyond the fence are your neighbors' townhouses and six-flats.

It's still better than living in the suburbs.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Just One of the Gals

Yesterday, my wife, son, and I were at a Memorial Day weekend barbecue. Most of the people were married couples with young children or expecting children. There were three boys, including our son, and one girl. My nephew is twenty months, the oldest, followed by a thirteen month old boy, a nine month old girl, and our son, four months.

The host couple has a townhouse with a fenced-in patio in the back. Out there they have a grill, a couple of side tables for serving, and a large dining table with chairs. They also have a large playmat, about 6x6, for their daughter and the other children. As soon as we got there, I took our son onto the playmat. Over time, the other children arrived and came to the mat with their mothers. Although I didn't say anything, I realized that I was the only father on the playmat.

I wonder, then, am I the at-home-dad, or am I the primary parent? Or am I the Mom?

Among the three mothers with children, only one was an at-home mother. One of the working mothers has a nanny for her son, while my sister takes my nephew to day care. Still, watching them during the party, they were the primary parents.

That is not to say that the fathers did not play with their children. In fact, everyone took turns with all of the children. Other fathers took turns on the playmat. It was, indeed, an ideal situation.

There is no doubt who the lead parent is, though. The lead parent is the one who knows best what their child's daily routine, habits, and abilities are. This is the person who knows what the child likes to eat, how much, what happens after eating. This parent knows what to expect when a diaper needs to be changed; knows what to expect when their child becomes fussy or downright angry; knows when to let their child take chances and when they need to be taken from danger.

That is not to say that the other parent is always wrong or is generally useless. The second parent's abilities correspond to how well the parents communicate about the goings-on of the child. He or she has been told that their child gets cranky around 2:00 and naps for about forty-five minutes, then wants to play with their blue stuffed animal for fifteen minutes on Aunt Judy's blanket. Or that when he has a diaper change, they have to make it play time, otherwise the child will become cranky. Or that he will get cranky and demand a bottle, but that you want to keep a schedule and so you must do another activity to distract them for another twenty minutes.

Still, I can't help feeling like one of the moms at these times. My wife, as hard as she tries, sometimes feels helpless during these times. For me, it is part of my day, like taking a shower, eating, or checking my email.

At restaurants, our son resides closest to me and I hold him when he needs attention while we are eating. I change him when we are out in public together. When we get in and out of the car, I get the stroller together and take him in and out of the car. I feed him his bottles.

And it hits me - this is my job. Where my wife goes to work, this is my work. I am good at it. Skills have been honed, routines have been made, patterns have been set. My son is accustomed to the way I do things. As human beings, we want to create labels, to categorize. I do the things that we know at-home-moms, or homemakers or housewives, have done in years past. There is no shame. We are fortunate that we are in a position to be able to have one of us at home to care for our son. If it involves doing laundry, making dinner, and changing diapers, then I think I'm man enough to take care of it. Please, though, don't call me Mr. Mom. I'm proud to be Dad. I'm easy to find - just look for the guy on the playmat hanging out with the moms.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sounding Off

A quickie...

I typically put my son in a swing for his naps. Today, I tried to experiment with his crib. He was awake when I put him in his crib. I wound his musical mobile and left the room. After the music stopped, he started making noise. I put on some Miles Davis and went in his room to give him is pacifier. He saw me and started crying. I picked him up and walked him around. Nothing doing. I had just changed his diaper. Finally, I turned off Miles and turned on the recording of last night's hockey game (game 6, Western Conference Finals, Ducks vs. Red Wings.) Although he hasn't fallen asleep, he's quietly rocking in his swing and watching the game. I guess jazz just isn't for everyone.

This corresponds to an experience my mother had while babysitting. During the NCAA men's basketball tournament, my mother came to babysit while my wife and I went out to dinner. Before grandma came, we had been watching the games. When we left, she turned off the TV (or changed the station, not sure which.) He started crying. She turned it back on and he stopped crying and started watching.

I don't like the idea of TV for infants, but I can't help that he genuinely enjoys watching sports. He likes hockey and basketball more than baseball. He did watch the NFC and AFC championship games in the hospital at two days old. Maybe I should get a recording of "sounds of the game" for his mobile.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Great Feats in Bodily Functions

One night, my in-laws were at our condo. Our son's diaper felt full, so I went to change him. Sure enough, he had done plenty of #1 and a bit of #2. I removed his diaper and began to clean him. For once, I had forgotten to get a diaper ready for replacement before I started changing him. Just as I bent over to get another diaper, I heard his butt explode. I moved faster, but not fast enough. Not only did he start pooping, but he projectile pooped. It went out his rear, on a green line over his crib railing, into the crib. I could only laugh. How proud I was to have such a gifted son.

Our friends were scheduled to have a baby in mid-April. We brought our son to their house two weeks before their due date for a visit. That time in pregnancy is like being on house arrest. Anyhow, cocktails and appetizers, the usual. Then, an odor came from our son. I asked where would be a good place to change him and they suggested I use their new changing table. I couldn't say no, as some of you know how your back and knees hurt from floor changing. Carrying him into the room, his back felt sweaty. I made nothing of it. Upon unbuttoning his outfit, I found it was not sweat; his movement had escaped the confines of his diaper up his back. It was on the outfit and on his back, and soon enough it was on their new changing table! We broke the nursery in in style.

He hasn't needed to be burped post-feeding for some time. Upon completion of a bottle, I sit him or stand him up and he'll let out a nice belch if needed. After feeding him the other day, he stood up on my lap. He was facing away from me when he let out a loud burp. Not just baby loud, but the kind of burp where at a crowded bar, the music screeches to a halt, the bus boy drops his dishes, and the whole room stares. I could tell something had come up with the noise, as there was a bit of tan sludge on my jeans. I turned him to face me and found out that he'd spit up considerably in that burp. Not only was it on my jeans, but also on his pajamas, and on his chin. I looked at the mess in that order, finally coming to rest my eyes on his face. His eyes were lit up and he was laughing, so proud of the mess he'd just made! I couldn't help but laugh. I looked for my phone to take a picture, but it wasn't around and the moment was gone.

Some images are best kept in the memory banks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

the science of babies

There is a great deal of science that goes into making sure that my son is well, most of which is highly invasive. When he doesn't seem to be feeling 100%, I make sure that his temperature is normal. We also have regular visits to our local child health care professional, or, pediatrician.

When he isn't well, I have to treat my child as if he's gone aboard an alien spaceship or as if I were checking him into prison. That's right - take that thermometer, put a little petroleum jelly on the end (yes, I have some compassion) and stick it where the sun don't shine. I hold him down while holding it up there till the thermometer beeps. Doesn't that sound like fun? Fortunately, he has never been out of normal range. Although I hold him all the time, I believe it is still a good idea to check my instincts against a scientific tool.

Today was his four month visit to the doctor. The visit to the doctor begins normally, strikingly similar to an adult version. Additionally, there are immunization intervals babies follow. First, we wait in the waiting area until his name is called. In the examination room, we strip him down to his diaper. Next, we wait for the doctor. I told you, just like the adult version. Then she takes height, weight, and head size. The head size I don't understand. Then she looks in his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Finally, she uses the stethescope to hear his inner thoughts. (FYI, he is 15 lbs, 14oz. - 75%, 27.5 in. - 100% and 50% head size.)

All the while, he is smiling and cooing. He is a very happy baby. Then the doctor is finished with her dealings and we do some more waiting. We are waiting for the nurse. My wife and I know what is coming. My wife is trying not to have an anxiety attack. Our son wears the expression, "Aren't we done? What else is there?" And we wait. Finally the nurse comes with the tray. I put him on his back. He is becoming more skeptical of the goings-on. She feeds him the oral vaccine. He begins to wince. It must be some gross stuff. But he takes it down. Then come the shots. Four of them to the legs. I don't look, but hold his arms down. I know what's happening when the big cries come. He's sobbing and there's nothing I can do. The aliens have him strapped down.

Fortunately, this suffering was short-lived. The sequence of shots took about 30 seconds. Then I put his pacifier into his mouth and he held tight. I picked him up and he held tight. He slept most of the afternoon away. Hopefully he'll sleep it off tonight. After being poked and prodded, a good night's sleep is certainly in order.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Okay, So He's Not Perfect

It took a while. It's hard to admit. I have to face it. My son is not perfect.

We haven't been challenged with serious parenting trials. Sure, we had to care for his circumcised penis. We dealt with the typical late nights. On the other hand, he's been sleeping through the night since two months. He almost never cries, and when he does he is easily consoled.

For all of the things other parents have gone through, we've had an easy road. My son had not so much as a diaper rash, let alone illness. Almost no baby acne, no significant dry skin, and no reactions to different foods that my wife consumes. And he's damn handsome.

Then it happened. He caught a cold. The stuffed nose, loud breathing, restlessness. It was unacceptable. My son doesn't get sick. He's too cute to get sick. But it was true. My son was not the perfect child. He is human and capable of getting sick. The reality has sunk in.

Every parent has their own philosophy on raising his or her child. Today, we're going to stick with the health aspects of parenting.

There are some parents who make sure everything is as clean as possible. They not only wash their own hands before and after handling their child, but also use sanitizer. They keep everything clean that can come into contact with the child. Climate conditions are kept at a constant level. The child is never exposed to harsh elements. In their minds, eliminating possible exposure reduces chances for serious illness and disease.

Then there are the people who don't worry about their children's sanitary surroundings. In their minds, dirt is a part of life. Germs are a part of life. They change diapers at appropriate times, bathe their child, but are neither concerned going out on cold and rainy days, nor on hot and sunny days. Being around people with colds is little cause for concern. To these people, their children are going to be exposed to all kinds of things. Better to do it early to build up defenses to stay healthy later.

My wife and I combine the two methods, she leaning more towards the former, myself the latter. I have to admit, I don't wash my hands every time I pick up my son, nor every time I change his diaper. He does tummy time on a mat that has been washed once in the three months he's been using it. I don't necessarily cover him completely when its breezy nor when its sunny. My wife does things a bit more conservatively with him.

Still, after having done so for a couple of months, I felt like a pro. It turns out, there's no education like experience. Experience comes from overcoming hardship. And being a dummy.

There is a time to send your kid to the neighbor's house whose kids have chicken pox. There is a time to put on a hat and gloves. I probably missed that last time.

To say that he isn't perfect is wrong. He is my perfect child. For my wife and I, he is the most beautiful, the smartest, the funniest, and the most advanced baby we've ever seen. He'll get over this cold in record time. I'll just look out for the next time I think I'm doing something right. I just hope he's more perfect a kid than I am a parent.

A friend recently said to me, "He'll get the best and worst of the both of you," of course, referring to my wife and I. If that's true, then look out.