Mornings with Jason

My weekday mornings have developed a pattern over the last month or so. Juliette has to get to work early, which means that I get to wake up with Jason, give him his breakfast, get him changed and ready for day care. It's not always the best time, since neither Jason nor I are morning people, but it's interesting to say the least. To give you an example, here's how this morning went:

5:04 AM: I wake up to the sound of Jason starting to cry, but, mercifully, he manages to fall back asleep on his own.  I notice that I had forgotten to set the alarm clock for Juliette, which I tell her, also telling her the time. She tells me to turn the 6:00 alarm on, which I do, then I close my eyes again.

5:20 AM: Jason wakes up again and starts yelling. I can tell that he's not fully awake yet because although he's loud, he's not fully screaming. I stumble into the kitchen to fill a sippy cup with water, then go collect him from his room. He hasn't dumped his blanket over the side of his crib this morning and is just standing there at the rail, half-awake and crying. He quiets down as soon as I pick him up, which is a little unusual since he's usually thirsty. We head into the living room and I sit on the couch, offering him the cup. He's more tired than usual, I can tell, because he only sips for a few seconds before flopping over onto my chest--often he will drink the entire cup in one go. I lay back and close my eyes, patting him on the back to try to get him to go back to sleep. We doze for a while, but he stirs a lot, sometimes whimpering, sometimes even standing up. He kicks me in the crotch several times. Once, he starts to climb off of me, moving to flop head-first off the couch, but I catch him and put him back on my chest. I don't know why he does this in the mornings--I can tell that he's bone tired, but he refuses to let himself fall completely asleep. I let him climb down a couple of times and he tries to stand up, but he can't hold his head up--he leans down and rests his head on the ottoman. I think his eyes are closed, but I can't tell since the lights are off and it's still pretty dark out. When I pick him up, he cries.

6:20 AM: I finally give up on trying to coax Jason back to sleep. He's a bit more alert at this point, and anyway he's upset about something, though I don't know what and I doubt he does, either. I stand up with him in my arms and head back to his room to change his diaper. It's heavy with pee, but nothing else, so it goes pretty quickly, then we go over to the back door where the dog is waiting to be let out. We follow the dog into the yard and watch to make sure he pees in the right part of the yard, then go back inside, where I start making breakfast.

6:27 AM: Jason is tugging on my legs and flopping around, whining and pointing at the whole wheat toast, which burns my fingers as I take it out of the toaster oven so I can butter it. I've made two slices, one for him and one for me.  I cut his slice into small pieces, then pick him up, put him in his high chair, put a bib on him, and start giving him bits of toast, two small pieces at a time. He takes the bits and starts eating pretty quickly this morning--some mornings he just looks at the toast for a while before putting any in his mouth. I get him some milk and then pull up a chair next to his high chair and eat my slice of toast while passing him more little squares of his slice as he finishes the ones he has. I do this because if I give him the entire pile at once, he will probably get distracted and start throwing them around or shoving them on the floor instead of eating them. The dog likes when this happens--I, less so.

6:56 AM: Jason is now playing with his food, reaching up and dropping it into the "big boy" cup that he now has in addition to his sippy cup. Juliette had come in to grab a bite before she left and had some milk in a plastic cup, which made Jason frantic to have a cup of his own. She gave him one with a tiny bit of water in the bottom--he tried to drink it but ended up spilling most of it on his bib. He is now pushing bits of plum and banana around his high chair tray, what he hasn't smeared on his face and in his hair, so I remove the tray and clean his face, hands, and hair with a washcloth. Once he's clean, I take him out of the chair and let him run around. I've given him the cup--which I've washed because it had fruit smeared all over the outside--and he is making noises into it, laughing at the way the cup makes his voice echo. I smile, then turn to empty out the dishwasher and clean up his high chair.

7:10 AM: I'm in the middle of changing a poopy diaper when my phone rings. I ignore it for the time being, since I don't want to touch the phone before I wash my hands and, besides, if it's important they'll call back. Jason has, as usual, tried to grab his butt while I was changing him. "Hands out!" I say firmly, but he's already done it by that point. I can't tell if he got his hands dirty or not, but after I'm done cleaning and changing him, I carry him into the kitchen and wash his hands, then mine.

7:13 AM: There's a message from Juliette on my phone, so I call her back. She needs me to look something up in our filing cabinet, so I have to put Jason into his crib a little earlier than I might have otherwise. I make her wait while I pull out some books and a couple of toys and put them and him in his crib. I open the books for him and show them to him for a couple of seconds, then I quickly exit the room, closing the door behind me. He stays distracted long enough for me to get the paper Juliette needs and read it to her, but it's just a matter of time before he starts screaming.

7:18 AM: I start shaving and Jason starts crying. This is my least favorite part of the morning, but it's kind of necessary, too. I can't just let Jason run around unsupervised--even with all the babyproofing, there are still lots of things he can break and lots of ways for him to hurt himself. I've considered getting up at 4:30 to shower before he wakes up but I can't bring myself to do that yet, and I sweat too much in my sleep for showering at night to be an option. So, I have to listen to him cry while I get ready every morning. Sometimes he falls asleep. I don't think he will today, though.

7:49 AM: I'm now shaved, showered, and dressed. My hair is done and I've even decided to put some cologne on, though I'm not really sure why. The bed is unmade, but by now Jason is fully screaming. I get my shoes out and put them in the living room, put my bag in the kitchen, and throw a load of laundry in, then go back and pick up Jason. He has thrown both blankets, both books, both toys, and all of the stuffed animals he sleeps with over the side of the bed and is very angry that he can't reach them. But he calms down quickly after I pick him up, and I hold him and rock him for a few minutes before picking out his clothes. I tickle him and make faces at him while taking off his pajamas, and he laughs.

7:58 AM: Jason's dressed now. We head into the living room where I put his socks and shoes on, then my own. He likes watching me put my socks on, and likes playing with my feet after I have them on. We let the dog out again and watch to make sure he poops in the right part of the yard. For what seems like the millionth time, I reflect on how I never thought that watching a dog defecate would become such an integral part of my mornings.

8:04 AM: The dog is now in the car and Jason is strapped into his car seat. He's actually pretty patient while I change the CDs--I'm not in the mood to make up songs or point out stuff on the side of the road this morning, so I try to pick some stuff I know he likes.

8:09 AM: I'm in the middle of singing along with the Magnetic Fields' "I Don't Believe in the Sun" when I notice that Jason has fallen asleep. I continue singing anyway.

8:16 AM: We arrive in the parking lot at Jason's day care. He's still sound asleep, so I settle in to wait for him to wake up on his own--I don't like waking him when I know he's tired. I finished my book yesterday, but fortunately I can still browse the web on my phone. The sun comes out from behind a cloud and it starts to get a little warm in the car--I wish I had thought to open the windows before I turned off the engine, but now I'm afraid the noise will wake Jason up, so I just deal with it and sweat a little.

8:47 AM: Jason wakes up just as I finish my notes for this post, reconstructing the events of the morning.  I take him inside, check him in, and take him to the toddler room. There are three other boys in there already, one of whom is the one that has the same birthday as Jason--I'll call him J. I like all the kids there and have made a point to smile and talk to them when they come over to me, but I've always had an extra warmth toward J. J is walking now, which I hadn't seen before, and I comment on it aloud, also marveling at how much smaller J is than Jason--which is something, because Jason has always been small. The teacher smiles and says that Jason looks like he's getting much taller lately, which I realize is true with some surprise. We talk a bit about toddler shoes, she asks if I've ever been to Japan. She tells me that her son is stationed in Japan and she's thinking about visiting him soon. Our conversation gets interrupted when J takes a book that Jason wanted and, of course, Jason starts crying. The teacher gives him a different book and he calms down pretty quickly. I kiss him goodbye and tell him to be good and have a good day.

8:56 AM: I get back in my car, noting happily that the dog has not drooled on my seats this morning. I scratch him behind the ears and then head to work.

Not every morning goes exactly like this. Sometimes he wakes up earlier, sometimes later--though that's rare these days. Sometimes he's in a better mood, sometimes worse. Sometimes he eats more, sometimes he only wants to play with his food. He doesn't always fall asleep in the car. On the other hand, there's nothing unusual about this morning, either. All in all, it's been a pretty good morning. I do wish he would sleep a little later, but I don't get much time with him in the evenings these days because of work, so this is the time I have with him and I try to make the most of it. And even though he doesn't always cooperate and sometimes makes things really difficult, I make a point of telling him every day how much I love him. "It's a big beautiful world out there, Jason," I tell him when he's cranky. "It's a big beautiful world and it's a great day for you and I to be in it. I love you, buddy."

Raffi or No Raffi, That Is the Question

The other day, a friend of mine commented on Facebook that he hoped his baby daughter liked Raffi's music enough to compensate for his own feelings about it. It's something I could have said myself--in fact, I very well may have.

Music has always been an important part of my life. Indeed, when I think back over my life, so much of it is connected to the music I was listening to at the time. I can barely think of my childhood without thinking about how my brother and I used to rock out in the back seat of our mom's car as she played the New Wave mix tape her friend had given her. Middle school makes me think of the Glen Miller my 6th-grade science teacher played when he was teaching me how to ballroom dance. High school, it's listening to U2's Joshua Tree on the bus ride back from the Desert Trip. I bonded with my grandfather through big band music before he died, indie rock was a big part of what brought my brother and I together after I moved out, and jazz was something I connected with my stepdad over. And, of course, Juliette and I met when we were in a musical together.

I've always wanted my children to be exposed to lots of kinds of music, and especially good music. It's something that Juliette and I have argued about from time to time, what's appropriate for children of different ages to listen to. I do believe that some music isn't right for kids, and that it's the parent's job to figure out what's OK and what's not. But there's so much good music out there that I feel it's stifling to limit your kids to classical and children's music. When I was five years old, I was listening to children's music and bubblegum pop, true, but I was also hearing rock, reggae, New Wave, and even Chilean folk music, and I think I'm the better for it.

I used to think that with so much to choose from, you'd be doing your kid a disservice to play them sugary kid's music. Having had firsthand experience with my own child now, though, I've had to rethink things a bit. Oh, I do still play a variety of music for Jason, but the reality is that he likes children's music. It's simple for a good reason: that's what one-year-olds can follow. Mind you, I still think that a lot of children's music is done by hacks who couldn't cut it singing for adults--and, for some reason, that stuff seems to account for about three-quarters of what's on the cable kid's music channel--but there's good stuff, too. Moreover, the simple tunes that Jason can follow not only get more smiles out of him and hold his attention better, but they really seem to be doing a lot to help his mental development along.

The music snob in me used to fret now and again that my kids might end up not having good taste in music. I'd hear what was playing on the Top 40 radio stations and groan in anticipation of having to listen to the 2020 equivalent of Daughtry or post-Fergie Black-Eyed Peas. And every time, Juliette would tell me to just relax and that I had to let them listen to what they wanted to, that shoving my music down their throats would just end up making them resentful. They'd figure it out on their own, and if they didn't, it wouldn't be the end of the world. And, the thing is, she's right. Because, if I'm being honest, I have to admit that when I was ten, I thought Michael Bolton's Soul Provider was pretty awesome. Looking back, I can remember the pained look my mom would get when I'd ask to pop that tape into her car stereo, but she let me and I seem to have come out OK, so I guess when the time comes, I'll be able to do the same.

(By the way, Mom, I never said thanks for that. So, thanks.)

In the Battle Between Me and the Kitchen Sink

I won.

You know, in case you were interested.

The Joys of Home Ownership

There's a little dent in my forehead just about the size of the corner of a 5/8" wrench. And, as it happens, I have a 5/8" wrench in my toolkit.  This would probably be a more interesting story if the two were unrelated, but unfortunately you get to read a relatively mundane story of frustration.

Let me back up a bit. This morning I was going about my usual morning business--feeding Jason, emptying the dishwasher, and so on. I had just given his high chair tray a quick rinse and when I went to shut off the faucet, the handle came off in my hand. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just pop over to Home Depot on my lunch break and pick up a new fixture." After all, how hard could it be? A couple of turns of a wrench, take the old one off, throw the new one on, and voila.

You can see where this is going already, can't you?

First off, I ended up having to go to three different stores to find a faucet I liked, which took almost two hours. And even then, I couldn't find anything exactly right so I ended up buying three with the intention of returning two of them. At that point I was annoyed, but relieved that it was mostly over. Which it wasn't, but I didn't know that at the time.

See, the boxes that the fixtures came each had a list of the required tools--a short list, all of which I owned. (It would have to be a short list for that to be true, but that's another story.) For some reason, though, I wasn't bargaining on it being quite so cramped under the sink. Nor was I expecting the retaining nut to be rusted tight. I struggled with different wrenches and drivers and levers for almost an hour, pulling with my fingertips, scraping my knuckles, and, of course, cursing. I cursed at great length and with a great number of obscenities. I was like the dad from A Christmas Story--and when that occurred to me I very nearly called that nut a "mundane noodle," just to complete the effect.

I kept at it for a good ten minutes after I dropped the wrench on my face before I gave up. When I came out, Juliette gasped "You're bleeding!" Sure enough, when I went into the bathroom to look in the mirror, there was a line of blood running across my forehead. It was a pretty small wound, though, once I got it cleaned up. Just a little dent now.  I still can't believe I dropped a wrench on my face, though. It was like I was in a cartoon or something.

Tomorrow I'm headed back to the Home Depot to see if I can find a metal driver to get that nut loose. (The driver included in the box was plastic and no match for that rust.) Maybe I'll manage to drop a hammer on my face in the afternoon.

Worrying About Your Kids Is Sanity

Yesterday saw another first: Jason's first band-aid. The day had been pretty hot, but our back yard cools down a lot in the afternoon so we were out there playing. I had figured that he didn't need shoes since we'd be playing on the grass, but somehow he managed to break the big toenail on his right foot, which I only noticed because of the blood. Honestly, I think I was more upset about it than he was--he barely noticed until I had him in the sink to wash out the wound. I had to get Juliette to help me put the band-aid on, since by the time I got his foot cleaned and dried he was squirming like crazy to get out of my arms and running around again. And, of course, it only took him a few minutes to pick the band-aid off once I let him go. At least he waited long enough for the bleeding to stop.

I admit, I freaked out a little bit when I saw the blood on his toe. It was silly, since it was such a little wound and, as I said, he wasn't bothered by it at all. Still, the thought of my little guy bleeding just horrified me, and I grabbed him and got him cleaned up as fast as I could.

You can imagine that if I reacted so strongly to what was essentially a stubbed toe, how heavily the prospect of surgery must be weighing on my mind.

But let me back up and explain a bit, because it's not nearly as dire as it sounds. Jason has had a lot of ear infections in the past 9 months. It always goes about the same--he gets a cold with a runny nose, then he gets a fever and starts fussing a lot, then we take him to the doctor, he gets some antibiotics, and a few days later he's feeling fine again. His ears clear up completely in a couple of weeks, which then gives us a few weeks until it starts all over again.

The problem is that chronic ear infections can actually cause real damage to the ear. There can be scarring or even hearing loss, not to mention all the pain and discomfort while his ears are clogged. So, if your child gets more than three ear infections in six months, or more than four in a year, you start getting the talk about tubes. (Jason has had about 8 since December.) It is, from all I've heard and have been able to find out, a pretty easy procedure. The doctor makes a small hole in the eardrums and then puts a little plastic tube into the hole to keep it from closing back up. The idea is to allow fluid behind the ear drum a way to drain so that it doesn't clog up and breed bacteria. The procedure done under general anesthesia, but using a mask instead of intravenous delivery, and the whole thing only takes about fifteen minutes. Eight to fourteen months later, the tube generally works its way out on its own and the eardrum then finishes healing. Of course, there are some risks associated with any surgery, but they are pretty minor and, as the ear-nose-throat specialist we saw put it, "it's less dangerous than being in a car for the same amount of time."

I know all of that. I've taken the time and done my homework, read up and talked to the doctors. I've gotten plenty of advice about the whole thing and have done a lot of thinking about it. I've even seen other children close to Jason's age who have had tubes put in and seen how fine they are. I know that I won't be hurting my son to give the green light to this procedure. It won't even be that big a hassle afterwards, since these days they don't even make you do things like put earplugs in for baths. Despite all that, despite the fact that my rational mind is quite calm about the whole thing, the thought of my son having a mask put over his face by a stranger and being put under and having surgical instruments stuck into his ears, it makes me start to hyperventilate a little. He's so young that he won't be able to understand what's going on or why. I can't help but think that he'll be scared. Thinking about that makes me want to cry.

Even worse is the fact that there isn't really a right answer. Because for right now, the doctor isn't even all that concerned about any damage being done--there's no sign of scarring in his ears and the fact that the fluid clears out between infections means there's less risk. I asked the ear-nose-throat specialist pointblank if there is any danger to not doing it, and he answered "No." So it's just a question of how much pain is it worth it to spare him by doing this procedure. Obviously, if he wouldn't get any more infections, we wouldn't want to do it. And both Juliette and I agreed that if he were going to be getting them every few weeks, it would be worth it. But, of course, there's no real way to know what's going to happen, or what might have happened had we decided the other way.

For now, we've decided to wait and see. We're expecting a call from the ear-nose-throat office this week to schedule the surgery, which would happen in six or eight weeks. If, in that time, he continues to do well, we can cancel or postpone it. We're hoping that's what will happen. If he can make it through the next six weeks without an ear infection, we can push it off another six weeks. And if he gets through that as well, it'll be the longest he's gone without a problem since December, which would likely be a sign that he's outgrown it. Still, we're headed into cold season now, and, as I said, he hasn't lasted six weeks since it all started. All we can do is wait and hope. Which, as Tom Petty once (sort of) said, is the hardest part.

John Adams

By David McCullough

Like most Americans, I've known that John Adams was our second President since I was in grade school. And, as I'd imagine is also true of most Americans, that was more or less the extent of my knowledge of the man. The first glimpse I got into Adams as more than just that one fact came in 2003, when I read Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage. Ambrose, who clearly idolized Thomas Jefferson, didn't hold Adams in the same high regard. Indeed, I came away from that book thinking of Adams as an ambitious man, bent on consolidating power to himself, possibly even wishing to become an American emperor. A man who, fortunately, was defeated in his second election by Jefferson, before he could do any more damage.

The second impression I got of Adams--and of Jefferson, for that matter--came three years later when I read Joseph Ellis' biography of George Washington. Quite unlike the tyrant that Ambrose portrayed, Ellis described Adams as a man of integrity, while Jefferson, no longer quite the noble farmer-scholar, came off as a schemer, practically a villain. To Ellis, Adams was a patriot and a loyal Vice President, though not as effective a President as he might have hoped.

I started seeing copies of this book around the same time, but despite being interested to learn more about Adams as well as being attracted to a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, my reading list had gotten quite long by then and I put it off. It wasn't until HBO started airing its miniseries adaptation that I finally resolved to read it. It took me over two months to finish, but I now wish that I hadn't waited--this was an excellent read.

McCullough has a real gift for taking facts and sources and weaving them into a compelling narrative. It helps, of course, that Adams' life was so amazing. Here was a man who was involved in nearly every part of the American Revolution, indeed, nearly all of the important events of his era. But it's not merely the great events that make this book so wonderful to read. Because just as important are Adams' friendships, his relationship with his family, and, most of all, his marriage--indeed, the latter is one of the great love stories in American history.

This is the brilliance of McCullough's book, that it presents such a colossal figure in our nation's history in such human terms. By the time I was halfway through this book, I felt I knew Adams, certainly in a more personal way than any other man I've read about. In fact, by the end of the book I felt an attachment to him that rivaled anything I've felt from reading a novel--I lingered over his death scene for a long time, having a very real feeling of loss.

Simply put, John Adams, is the best biography I've ever read. It's balanced, nuanced, and just a pleasure to consume. Adams, himself, had his flaws, to be sure, but reading about a man of such integrity and passion and intellect, such warmth, wit, and good humor, I can't help but wish I'd been able to meet him, myself.

Started: 6/23/2009 | Finished: 9/2/2009

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