Princess Genius needs a new laboratory

Adventure is out there...

The problem with having a young genius and future Ivy leaguer and Nobel Prize recipient on your hands is that, for now, your house is the laboratory.

Adventure is out there...

My youngest daughter, Princess Genius, who turned three-years-old last week, is as bright a child as you are likely to meet, and for a few more years, at least, our home will be the subject of many more tests, experiments, trial runs and undertakings of every kind.

Our family friend Paul uttered a surprisingly accurate prophesy about Princess Genius just after she turned a year old.

“She seems quietly curious about everything.”

“Quiet” and “curious.”

These two words, if said separately to describe your child, would be just fine. There is nothing wrong with “quiet.” The world needs quiet people as much as it needs loud folks.

Her sister, Princess Supergirl, is perhaps the loudest curious child you will ever meet. Her personal philosophy about getting needed information on a subject is to bludgeon the nearest adult into submission with a broadside of questions that makes me think that she has a future as a trial lawyer who specializes in the cross examination. (“Dad, you claim that we should not eat ice cream before bedtime, yet I distinctly heard you and Mom talk about eating a bowl of cookies and cream and watching a movie after Princess Genius and I go to bed. Is that the truth or isn’t it? Is that ice cream on your breath? I think the jury, made up of my stuffed animals, would like to hear about this!”)

Neither is “curious” a bad word. I was so curious about the world that my wonderful mother, who was no doubt tired of answering questions, simply handed me the “A” encyclopedia and sent me off to read the entire set. This has made me a killer Trivial Pursuit player, though my cannon of knowledge stops at the year 1970. (What ever happened to that President Richard Nixon guy?)

Quiet and content about life? Fine. Loud and curious? Also fine.

No, it’s the combination of quiet and curious that is such a deadly gumbo. Add in a pinch of self-motivation and a touch of sense of humor and you have the quietly orchestrated home experiments like the Caldwell household has been subject to recently.

It is a common thought when it comes to children that, if they are “playing quietly” somewhere, then everything is fine. For some reason I still battle this faulty logic when it comes to Princess Genius.

A few weeks ago, I was working diligently at my computer in our upstairs office while Princess Genius was entertaining herself with her dolls and other toys in her room.

Then I heard her dash to her sister’s room and back again several times, and then to the bathroom for just a second and then back into her room. She repeated this pattern in a quiet and no doubt determined way while I blissfully typed away.

Now, for a writer, any peaceful moment in a house with children is worth a bag of gold, and, since Princess Genius was being quiet and seemed to be occupied, I continued to work away. I should have known better, but sometimes you make that quiet wager with yourself that everything is fine and just as it should be.

And then a bit later, after an extended period of quiet, I heard the multiple flushes of the toilet and then listened to Princess Genius run into her room, slam her door and run into her closet. (Where she is known to hide when an experiment goes awry.)

As I sat at my keyboard, the clouds in my brain finally parted and I put the two actions together.

Multiple toilet flushes plus running and hiding in your closet equals something bad!

Indeed, it was bad.

From what I can deduce from the carnage at hand, she was attempting to flush the entire contents of the upstairs of our house in a bold experiment of “what goes down and what does not.” (The official results are that small toys and paper towels will go down while bigger objects like dad’s electric razor and a tube of toothpaste will simple twirl around and around the bowl in a hypnotic fashion.)

I have also learned (the hard way, naturally) that we should get her a drink when she requests one, lest she should attempt to tussle with a gallon of milk at 5 a.m. … (don’t ask).

So, happy birthday, Princess Genius; may you someday grow up to be the girl who finds a cure for cancer or a true green energy alternative.

In the meantime, would you like to go outside?

The Art of Distraction (Product Suggestions)

So, I’m well into the swing of baby daddy duty (AKA I’m Mr. Mom now). Thankfully, Will’s grandma (also known as my wonderful and gracious mother) has been helping me out with Will on the days Amy is back at the hospital as an operating room nurse.

Amy’s still breast feeding the little dude (well, he’s not even fourth months old yet), so my Mom and I give him a bottle at least twice during the day while Amy is at work. But usually, we have to be strategic in how we time the second bottle so that Amy can feed him as soon as she gets home from work. Will is three and a half months old now, so distracting him is getting a lot easier. It’s almost becoming an art form on how to effectively distract the little guy.

Yesterday, Mom went downstairs to call in an order for takeout dinner while we waited for Amy to arrive home on an especially snowy and icy evening. She left me alone with Will who was swinging in his handy dandy baby swing while I was working in my office. Suddenly, and expectantly, he began to lose it, whining and crying. It was time for him to eat again, but we knew Amy would be home any moment and would want to feed him… for both of their sakes. He was just about entirely inconsolable. I tried a rattle which totally distracted him (if not completely startled him!) as well as one of his new favorite toys, a Sing-A-Ma-Jig. Now, these Sing-A-Ma-Jigs are absolutely freaky looking and they make borderline irritating noises. But while most noise-making baby toys are REALLY redundant and monotonous, the Sing-A-Ma-Jigs puts the noise-making control into the palm of the parents’ hands. For example, there are three modes on this little guy — two are nonsensical noises while the third is “Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone” (the chorus and a verse). You squeeze a big button that is hidden under its fur on its tummy for it to sound out each word, and you can control how long they sing the word or how short. As it sings or makes sounds, the little creature’s mouth opens, revealing 2 teeth. It’s pretty fun to change the way it sings or presents sounds, but it’s truly a freaky little thing. (Note: He’s too young to play with it himself, but those little teeth in its mouth are pretty hard, and I can imagine that a child could hurt themselves if they close their finger in the Sing-A-Ma-Jig’s mouth)

This worked for awhile, until Will decided it just wasn’t going to cut it. I was about to totally give up and leave him to a crying fit until Amy got home in a few minutes, but as I turned away, I grabbed a song-playing Baby Einstein toy that blinks dance-party-like colors while playing classical tunes and stuck it right in his face. He immediately stopped crying and stared, entranced by the lights. SCORE! So I just kept the music playing and the lights blinking until Amy arrived home. When she walked in, she found me playing games on my iPod Touch while listening to Audio Adrenaline with earbuds in, as Will stared at this music box right in front of his face. Success.

Basically, I highly recommend both baby products. :)

[Now, today I got my new safety ear protection “earmuffs” (or as I like to call “Babymuffs”) in the mail. Since his SCREAMS literally cause my ears physical pain (which just irritates me), I’ve decided ear protection is the way to go to keep me from becoming entirely useless. I’ll let you know how that test goes… ;) ]

The Mr. Mom Chronicles Begin

Yes, it’s true. It’s been quite some time since I last reflected on what many believe to be “The Joys of Parenting.” Since I’ve last written, I’ve struggled with adopting the idea that the phrase “The Joys of Parenting” is either a big inside joke, or something that a poor sap under the influence of some kind of illegal substance had conjured up. “Joys?? Bah!!”

As our son Will turns 3 months on January 1st, I have been struggling with the notion that I make a terrible parent. Like Kryptonite brings the mighty Superman to his knees, the shrills and shrieks and demanding squeals of my wee little one break down my very being nearly every time he loses his nerve…. loses HIS nerve and disintegrates MINE!

I know my limits. I’m not too prideful to admit my faults. I know what I can and cannot do. I cannot bear the screams of an infant. I feel zero sympathy for that tensed up face with droplets of water just barely squeaking through those kung fu-gripped eyelids… or that toothless mouth agape in anguish… because, in the end, I know that it’s this little creature’s desperate attempt to alert anyone nearby that it has needs. Needs to be fed, needs to sleep, needs to poop, needs to pass gas, needs to spit up, needs to not be tossed out the front door by a father missing the adequate amount of patience.

Granted, I haven’t tossed William out the front door and into the cold. Well, not yet at least.

The truth is, my son’s most desperate cries cause physical pain in my ears. I don’t know if it’s because I attended one too many concerts throughout my teens and twenties without using earplugs, or that he just has a uniquely unappealing cry, but it literally hurts when this boy loses it. And like an injured animal, I get defensive and frustrated when I am inflicted pain upon by another person… which apparently includes my 3 month old squirt of a kid.

I know this is a problem. It’s to the point that when I need to tend to this noise box of a child, I have to keep sound-isolating earbuds on hand and loud music so I can drown out his screams and still care for him with compassion. I have a distinct memory of a time about a month or so ago when Amy left me alone with Will. I was next door to his nursery at my desk when he began to lose it. I plugged up my ears quickly, turned on some loud rock music and walked in to pick him up. As I cradled the little guy in my arms, I heard nothing coming from that red-faced image of anguish. And when those little tears started to leak from his scrunched face, I ACTUALLY felt bad for the little guy. It’s probably a pathetic story and proof I’m the worst father ever, but it was a tool that helped me get the parental job done without losing my cool. I know my boundaries and that I have to work with them to accomplish what needs to be done.

This week, some of my greatest fears were realized when Amy returned to her full-time job as a nurse in an operating room. We’d decided it’d be best for all three of us if she goes back only part time — three days a week instead of five — and so, this past Tuesday was the first day she was leaving little Will in my care.

Yikes!

Over the weekend, I’d sorta had my nerves crushed by a crying fit of his, so we knew I couldn’t survive a full day with him on my own. Mr. Mom needed help. So my own mom valiantly stepped up to accompany me through the beginning of this journey. Having done this twice before over thirty years ago with myself and my older brother, my mom has had plenty of experience with babies. Plus… she DID desperately what grandchildren, after all! :)

We still felt somewhat clueless as we tried to read Will’s cries and meet his needs while somehow also managing to get work done. It was a frantic first day, and one that ended quite ugly with a relentless crying fit from the Subject of our caretaking.

Today was a different story. We got an early start as Amy left for work once again, and managed to keep Will fed and mostly content until we strapped the kid into a car seat and dragged him off to lunch with “Grandpa” meeting us at a local hibachi grill (mmmm!). Will slept like a champ the entire time and when we returned home, he stayed sleeping somewhat soundly for almost a total of four hours. It was a “New Years” miracle no doubt!

I never could imagine parenting as a kid. It sounded like the Game of Life or “playing house” to me as a child. You just have kids because you’re supposed to. I never imagined just what kind of challenges and extreme life changes all this could bring, so each day is a surprise and a new experience. Each smile Will gives us is a step in the direction of accepting this new adventure… even if every crying game is a step or half a step back!

So here begins the Mr. Mom Chronicles… I’m in for an interesting experience indeed!

…and so is Will

Honesty is the BEST Policy?

Among my many faults is the tendency to wear my heart of my sleeve… of every piece of clothing I own.

On the eve of Easter, we visited Amy’s family as part of the traditional sharing of the holidays between our respective families. This also happened to be the first time BOTH sides of my wife’s family were going to be together in quite some time… and most of them, save for her parents, brother, cousin (who has been moral support throughout the pregnancy process), and grandmother – had not heard the news of the impending parenthood. And as if it were something right out of a book or awkward indie romantic comedy, the process of sharing the news was not without its drama.

Right after Amy’s mother gave the blessing for dinner, it seemed like the Heaven sent moment to make the announcement. However, as I’m sure is the case with most couples, there’s always a friend or family member who is known for pushing and pushing – with reckless abandon and relentless persuasion – for you and your spouse to leave their mark on this world through the magic of reproducing, and it was at the very “perfect” moment when we were going to make this announcement that this very person entered the room for the first time that evening (in other words, they had just arrived). I felt like I was watching a movie for a moment, and had just stepped out of my skin to watch at a distance. We quickly abandoned all intent to share the news at that moment to attempt to let the awkward moment pass, and decided to opt for a later time.

And it was as it was drawing closer and closer to “that later time” that I realized this just wasn’t going to go smoothly. To make a long story short, I’d realized moments earlier that my phone had stopped receiving data due to a low battery earlier in the day (which had since been remedied). So at a quiet moment after dinner, I was able to get it to receive data again and began receiving texts and emails in a rush all at once that informed me that my pride and joy, Jesusfreakhideout.com, had been hacked. It was a mix of people writing in genuinely concerned trying to inform us, and people who thought it was some kind of joke or were genuinely confused as to what on Earth was going on with the site. I tensed up and felt a sudden urge to flee to the car, turn the key, and race home in a way that might make an Andretti proud. However, I instead kept it internalized, which, we all know, isn’t the healthiest of decisions… however, it’s the more considerate in this situation. As I began replying to the emails (so I wouldn’t have a ton to respond to later), it apparently had become “that time” to make the announcement. I’m sure I was a bit red-faced as my wife made the announcement that we were expecting our first little one, and I awkwardly grinned and then returned to the crisis that seemed more… critical at the moment. Naturally, this is a terrible situation to be in… the joy of pending parenthood VS the defacement of your original 13-year-old virtual “baby.” I wasn’t thinking too clearly.

Which brings me to my initial statement. After the announcement, Amy dashed out of the house to retrieve some ultrasound photos from our car, leaving her husband to a room full of family members who were overjoyed and filled with excitement… and wondering why the daddy-to-be would rather be “playing” with his cell phone. Now, I do dislike being the focal point, especially in a situation like this one. And one of the family present made note of my understandably odd display of antisocial behavior, told me to stop messing with my mobile device and asked me what my thoughts were – “positive or negative”… in front of a room full of relatives. I had the floor. This is where I clammed up a bit.

In defense, I stated there was a work crisis – which was quickly dismissed – and then I addressed the question… admitting my feelings were negative. Here’s a wallflower who’s been backed into a corner and tossed to the proverbial well-meaning wolves. I quickly attempted to explain myself by honestly saying that Amy’s DAILY struggle with morning (and afternoon and evening) sickness had been really tough on both of us, as she’s spent most of her days lately in bed or asleep on the couch to escape the nausea, and then shared my concerns that working from home will turn me into Michael Keaton… errr… “Mr. Mom,” to be more exact… and of course my other concerns of just being unsure about parenthood altogether. I was grateful to find the room’s tone change. Instead of snapping my head off at the neck, they shifted into consoling mode… something I wasn’t expecting and something I immediately appreciated. Some offered the common reassurance that Amy will feel better soon, and that as soon as the munchkin arrives, I’ll discover a completely new love experience I’ve never felt before. A father of two young children (one is 4, the other is 1 and a half) admitted honestly that he was unsure of parenthood in the beginning too, but couldn’t imagine life without his little ones now. Somehow the room changed into an intervention of sorts! I offered my honest response that I look forward to telling everyone they were right and the conversation migrated elsewhere.

Thankfully, on Easter morning, Amy felt better than she had in weeks and we ending up having a wonderful day (Hallelujah!). But for the most part, I was actually glad that I’d blurted out the truth… I hate pretending things are a certain way when they’re not… and with everyone knowing my concerns and fears, it was comforting to receive a room full of encouragement. I guess honesty still is the best policy?