They Grow Up Fast
That’s the short version, New Dad.
Last piece of advice: A long time ago, someone told me that if I ever have children to enjoy the time when they are young because they grow up fast. Sure, I thought, that’s the silliest thing I have heard, they grow up at the same speed that I grew up.
It was only when I had children, did I realize that it was so true: my children are growing up fast. Then it hit me too, that I grew up fast. The old adage was right.
So I pass it on, as that person did to me. Don’t worry about making mistakes, because you will make some ripe ones. Just enjoy the ride and spend time with that baby in your arms.
Spend as much as possible.
What No One Will Ever Tell You
Some parents will say that I am breaking the rules with this one. That the rites of parenthood mandate that you, New Dad, learn these on your own.
By now, you probably know what you are in for. There are many, let’s just call them “moments of learning” that are coming down the road for you.
Believe me, I would not want to spoil the surprise that these “moments of learning” will bring but let me lay out a few that maybe have become clouded in the stories that your families and friends have told you.
I often find that even the most historically accurate stories of parenting, even those of your own growing up, often leave out these parts.
So, New Dad, the following are some things that no one will tell you about. So listen up and when they happen, and they will happen, you can think “ohh, yep, I am glad I saw that one coming.”
- The poop on poop. There will be poop. A lot of it. And it will get on things that you may have never thought poop could get on. Just get used to it, and know how to clean and disinfect. Poop can be cleaned from clothing, walls, car seats and strollers. It’s a fact of life. Sadly, it will be constant and seem unending. And it will smell. Which is why my next piece of advice will sound odd: volunteer to be the one to clean and change those diapers. Even the worst poop in the worst place does not even compare to childbirth, so suck it up and always remember to check under your nails.
- The five-minute date. There will be moments of zen, when all the forces of the universe align and you and your wife can have a date night. But they might not happen as often as you like so I pass on this: learn to embrace the five-minute date. Stop laughing, I am not even talking about sex. Share a cup of coffee, plan for dinner, hold hands: small intimate things. Learn to enjoy each other five minutes at a time because there will always be five minutes and most of the times, five minutes is all you can get.
- Keep the crayons. This is actually funny, but I have amassed quite a collection of crayons: two gallon-sized zip-lock bags full. It seems that restaurants assume that a baby needs a baby menu and that usually comes with crayons. I just nod and before leaving, I keep the crayons. All of them at the table. Why not? They will be handy for projects down the road and coloring endless dinosaurs and ponies. Also, you will have a secret stash for those restaurants that don’t have them.
- The all-nighter. There will be days, and nights, that you will be up all night. All the books say to share the time, and to wake your partner for her turn, but I urge you not to try this too early post-pregnancy or too late at night. Just suck it up and learn to watch movies in a rocker or take the time to start reading those books that you actually did not read in high school. Maybe in a couple of months you both can take turns, but I don’t care what the books say, she did after all do all the birthing and even now might be doing all the nursing, so the least you can do is to stay up a little.
- Be flexible. Nothing ever seems to go according to plan, even when they are according to the plan. The greatest skill that you can master is flexibility. When something suddenly comes up, and that can be at any time with a child, even literally as well, go with the flow. Being flexible, even when you have spent nine months planning something, can bring peace to, what may seem, chaos. It does not mean change, or neglect or backing sown, just be open to other avenues. Take a second to breathe. Nothing will change the fact that your beautiful baby has just thrown-up all over your laptop, it’s your reaction and how you handle the next part that could set the tone for the moment, day or even your relationship with your child.
- The greatest thing. This one was the only one that was told to me but it does not seem to be as real as when you go through it yourself: having a child will be one of your greatest fear and joy. It was surreal to first meet my daughter and son and they continue to simply amaze me day after day. I can see both my wife’s and my likeness in each of them. My life would not be the same without them. I also never knew I could love another person as much as I love my wife. And now, I love two little people as much as I love her. It’s the greatest thing. I am sure that it will be for you too.
I did not see most of these coming. So there.
The Bat Belt
I love the fact that Batman always had the right gadget at the right time. No matter what the trouble was, he always seemed prepared.
It’s the same for you, New Dad. Over the course of my beginning years as a Dad, I have learned that there are some basic tools of the trade. These can differ as your child grows, but especially for infants through toddlers, these have been essential for me.
Call this your essential Bat belt.
- The smarter phone. Welcome to organization in the palm of your hand. As a New Dad, there will be lots to remember: appointments, mini-anniversaries and of course “firsts.” With a modern cell phone, you can text, picture, video, memo and of course call everyone in the family at the instant anything incredible happens. Also, it will help you remember those appointments. As a stay-at-home Dad, I keep my wife in a steady feed of how are day is going.
- Journal (with pen). For those moments that can’t be recorded easily, have a notepad ready to document it yourself. It will also help you tell your wife what the pediatric nurse told you when you last called her. There will be a lot of things that you will wish you had a pen and paper for, so pick up a small notebook and one of those collapsible pens. It fits easily into a pocket and you will always have something to write on.
- A heavy-duty backpack. Speaking of backpacks, this is an item that you will probably use the most. My wife picked a diaper bag that we received at our baby shower. It was pretty pink with small green flowers. Now I enjoy pink and green flowers as much as the next guy, but I wanted my own diaper bag. The easiest choice was a backpack: portable, heavy duty and not so pink with green flowers-ish. (unless that’s what you want) My tip: choice an athletic maker and go over their choices. I have found that messenger-styled bags don’t have the room for everything that you need. The one I choose had a laptop sleeve built-in (think diaper/wipes holder), pockets for water bottles (think baby bottles) and multiple skinny soft pockets to protect sunglasses and electronics (think “great” now you can protect your sunglasses and electronics). Also, athletic makers seem to build backpacks that can hold a heavier load provide shoulder comfort with an athletic fit, keep your back cool and nothing that you don’t need. It also saves you the time of trying to stuff your wife’s diaper bag in the deepest hole of the stroller. Again, not that’s there’s anything wrong with pink and green flowers.
- Outdoor temperature gadget. This gadget will provide you an easy answer to “how cold is it outside, honey?” Yes, there are weather apps for your phone and laptop, but a clever gadget on the night stand or in the kitchen gives you a heads up before you step out with baby. I am surprised at how much I use it especially since I have those apps for my phone and laptop.
- An everything-proof watch. Next to the temperature, the other gadget you will rely on daily is your watch: time to next feeding, nap cycles, how long did lunch last, etc. Believe me when I say that you will get everything on that watch: water, pee, puke, poop, talc, cream, you name it. There will be no time to take it off, so make sure it’s at least water-proof. That should help you with everything else. A timer will come in useful as your child grows but the waterproof aspect is crucial. A side benefit: waterproof watches clean easier, too.
- Wagon. This is only for the cool factor. For my daughter’s first Christmas, when she was only four months old, I bought her a Radio-Flyer wagon. Sure, we couldn’t use it until she was sitting on her own, but by the time she was crawling, we were using that wagon as much as the stroller. I outfitted a temporary seatbelt for the wagon, but we have been taking it everywhere since. Take it where a stroller would go, it’s just a cool alternative.
These are my tools of the trade, and continue to be. Once our second child arrived, only the backpack got a little bigger, but my Bat belt is still ready for anything the day will bring.
Never Leave Home Without This
This small chapter will be made entirely of things that I have left home without. I hope this can save you embarrassment and hassle by remembering a few key components of life with a baby.
So, with a small chuckle to myself while I remember when I did, never leave home without these:
- The second outfit. And maybe for infants, a third outfit. Spills, blown diaper, throw-up or maybe all three in succession, a change of clothes can save the day. Someone has even suggested keeping a spare set for the parents in the car. But for baby, never leave home without more baby clothes.
- The next meal. Being out with baby can be fun: walk in the park, day at the zoo, a day shopping: whatever you are doing, the day will go fast. And soon you will be at the time for a next feeding. With toddlers this gets easier, but you can’t really substitute anything for a baby’s meal. Gas stations usually don’t carry formula or breast milk. So never leave home without the next ration of formula or breast milk. Just go ahead and make place for a drink cooler in the car.
- Wipes, wipes, wipes. Along with the cooler from above, just put a box of wipes in the car as well. You will use wipes for everything, from emergency baby baths to wiping down a diaper changing station. I once helped a dad with a big, let me repeat myself, BIG, diaper blow-out. He was standing there, with poop all over his child, holding one wipe in a bathroom without paper towels. I know you remembered the diapers, but never leave home without extra wipes.
- Spare bottle and parts. I was so excited to get out and take my baby to meet some friends that I packed everything, including a spare meal, all expertly packed with cold packs, but forgot the bottle. No way a baby can drink it any other way than a breast or bottle. With a crying baby, I had to pack her up and drive across the parking lot to buy a bottle. So, never leave home without a backup bottle.
- A kid needs a toy. Kids of all ages seem to make it in the car a lot easier when they have something to play with. And if you happen to forget a toy, you are left with whatever else you have lying around: straws, sugar packets, CDs or sunglasses. You see the point, never leave home without at least one small toy.
- Gum (and not for the kids). With a small baby, your caffeine intake has probably tripled, so this is for personal reasons. If you are living on coffee and you probably are, never leave home without some gum. People can handle some “disheveledness,” but probably don’t want to smell it, too. On that note, probably a good idea to keep some backup deodorant in the car as well. With all that coffee intake, you more than likely forgot to put on deodorant.
Again, it’s the fun of it all. Learn to be resourceful: the other end of a fork can be a spoon, wet paper towels can work like wipes and you can wash and dry a small outfit in a men’s restroom with a hand dryer.
The “never leave home” list will soon dwindle as they grow up and take on that responsibility themselves. So enjoy this time.
Recording the Moment
Pictures and videos and videos and pictures.
I am in awe of what I will be able to show my daughter and son one day that I was never able to see: scans of sonograph, pictures of them seconds after they were born, videos of the first moment they met their grandparents.
It’s important to capture as much as you can: you can always filter and edit later. Technology can help and hinder the task before you.
I have put together some simple reminders that will help you capture, protect and enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime moments.
- Bigger isn’t always better. The biggest camera or camcorder isn’t always worth the money. The idea is to be portable and take pictures and video that have decent reproduction value. Believe me, everyone will want a copy of the first mother/child picture. Make sure that your equipment can capture decent quality and that you can always keep it handy. Opt as well for good battery life or even a second battery.
- Point and click, click, click. Just capture. It is that simple. I bought our first real digital camera the night before our daughter was born and have taken thousands of pictures. Some aren’t that good but some are classics. Digital cameras and camcorders offer the ability for trial and error. Snap now and review later.
- Don’t forget about video. We were obsessed with pictures until we received a camcorder as a gift. I never thought video could be as iconic as a photograph, I was wrong. It is incredible to hear sounds of little voice or to capture a giggle as well as see it. Again, look for something with decent battery life and portability.
- Put yourself in the picture. This is equally important: it’s about your children and you. Make sure that as parents you make it into the picture. Learn the auto-timer sequence on your camera or get a stranger to snap a few. I believe that your children will enjoying see old pics of you as much as of them.
- Space, space, space. With all this picture-and video-taking, you will need space for storage, and I am talking about digital space. Computer hard drives sometimes aren’t enough with everything else that a computer is used for. Think additional desktop, flash or portable drive storage. The cost of space is coming down, so an additional hard drive will not be as expensive as you think.
- One word: Redundancy. Following all that space is my last piece of advice: back it up! I understand it may seem geeky to make a backup, but machines fail and when they do all your pictures and video will be gone. In fact, being a geek myself, I have a redundant backup system in place: backups of backups. My memories are priceless and I want to one day pass them to my children. In my lifetime, I am on my fifth computer and have never lost any data.
In the end, it’s always about having fun, and in this instance capturing the moment. Once you do, protect it, share it and relive it.
Kids grow up too quickly.
The Big (and small) Ticket Items
Before you bring your new little person back home, you are going to need a few things. You are going to need small things and you are going to need BIG things. Starting from your drive home from the hospital, you will have plenty on your list.
This is good time to interrupt to kindly remind you to install the baby seat in the car BEFORE going to the hospital. The reminder won’t be so small if you remember when getting the car for your first trip home.
Depending on what you need, whether it is big or small, the following suggestions should help you find what you need, save some money and protect your investment. Yes, I said investment. At least that is what it will feel like by the time you are done.
Remember to have fun, from the shopping to the assembly, this all part of the rites of parenting.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Think “car lot negotiation” you have an obligation to yourself to save as much money as you can. Ask for bundled deals (crib + bedding) or if the retailer could waive the shipping charge. Someone once told me that everything is negotiable. Ask away, you might be surprised at the answer.
- The best deal might not be where you think. Baby retail stores seem have everything but sometimes not at the lowest price. We were able to find a crib and reclining chair at a furniture store. The quality was better and the price was lower. Also with the chair, we chose a custom color and ordered the chair to recline, rock and swivel. A friend of ours found great bedding deals at a coat outlet store. I don’t want to discount the baby retail stores: they do have great bundle sales. Look around.
- Save the receipts. Save everything! File every slip of paper. Items are a lot easier to return and/or exchange with the receipt. Also receipts show proof of purchase if one of your items doesn’t make it through the warranty period. Again, it’s far easier to stand on your customer rights with a receipt in your hand.
- And save the original packaging. As important as the receipt, keep as much of the original packaging as you can. For the big boxes, cut out the UPC label or any serial number part of the box. Manufactures look upon you with much kinder eyes if you can return an item it its original packaging. Keep what you can.
- And save the directions. I know this is getting repetitive, but keep the directions. You will forget how to reset the monitor or change a setting on a specific toy in the next year. Finding the directions online and storing them digitally is also a good solution. This will come in handy when you have to dissemble when baby gets bigger or maybe reassemble for the next baby. It’s an easy step to save frustrations down the road.
- Register your purchase. Updates, recalls, future sales, oh my. I understand it can sometimes be a marketing ploy, but if there is a recall, you will get an email. Also, it’s another proof of purchase to help with any issues that will arise in the life of the product.
I know it seems repetitive, dare I say somewhat geeky to do all these things, especially the paperwork.
But the effort pales in comparison to having to buy new parts or an entire new item when the paperwork was all you needed. I have been able to receive replacement stroller wheels, wagon shades, toy parts and pieces, child furniture pieces and sometimes having the entire item replaced due to having the receipt, packaging and registration.
It is a little investment in time that could save you bundles down the road.
The First Day
Good job, new dad, you made it this far. With our babies it happened at both ends of the extreme:
- a call from our doctor during a lunch out asking us if we would like to have our baby..
- a return call from our doctor in the early morning asking us to be at the hospital as soon as possible.
One extreme: casually finish our lunch then a walk to the hospital to the other extreme: racing “fast and furious” style in the late of night to the hospital.
It doesn’t matter how you get there, the day is here. The first day of the rest of your life. It was also by far the scariest and most powerful day of my life. No amount of classes or literature or advice can really prepare you for this day. But I offer my humble tip to make sure that you succeed in day one and set the tone for everything to come.
- Cut the cord. If you have chance, and the doctor asks, cut. It’s a metaphor on many levels. Think about it later, and for now just concentrate, and cut.
- Change the first diaper. Interrupt the nurse and get your hands dirty. Your wife just went through hell to get this little baby out of her, it’s the very least you can do. The steps are simple and if you don’t remember, the nurse will guide you. Its your baby. Begin to marvel at how much will be coming out of this baby in its diapers.
- Don’s stare at the boobs. I know you will want to. Sure, everyone else in the room will be watching and prodding and handling her boobs, but be courteous and pretend they are something else, like elbows. This will certainly help when it seems like everyone is getting more boob (I mean elbow) action than you.
- Bonding time. Read the pamphlet about Kangaroo Care.Then take a turn with your baby on your chest. The sheer awesomeness of this moment will be seared in your mind forever. You will never forget it.
- You are the Sous chef. In every regard, be the second in charge and be proud in that role. When your wife can’t be with the baby, take a turn. If the baby has to leave for a procedure, and everyone in the room is settled, go with your baby. It hits you that you are a protector now. Its OK, then, be the protector.
- Make time to shower. You will need to do this. Everyone else will want you to do this. It may take a couple of days, but definitely, make time.
It’s a small list. Your time will be anxious, confusing and wonderful–all at the same time.
My last suggestion might get you into trouble for years but it is worth it. After your baby is born and you are settled, take a few moments (dare I say hours) and marvel at what has happened. Just you three. Take a deep breath. Marvel some more. Then call and get everyone in the waiting room. We did this both times and those moments of calm seemed to set the tone for our entire stay in the hospital.
Everyone says this: it all goes by so fast. I never believed it but it seems that you blink and they are walking and talking.
Soak this in.
In The Beginning
Four years and two kids into parenting, as well as full-time stay-at-home father, has taught me a thing or too. Somethings I have learned from honest mistakes, some I stumbled across and some I have been completely lucky in learning.
For the next couple posts, I will relate my experiences in an ode to the new dad. Of course, in six parts.
Pull what you need, leave the rest. Remember, these are the rants, I mean, experiences, of a stay-at-home father.
And in the words of Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro’s character in Brazil) “Listen, kid, we’re all in it together.”