Small human beings learn by mimicking and so they learn patience by mimicking patience. Perhaps this means that a larger human being somewhere many thousands of generations back took a long and patient breath as the smaller human being in his or her arms squirmed. Perhaps the smaller human being saw this long and patient breath and internalized it and began to understand. Perhaps all of the patience in the world is a copy of one sigh.
Small human beings learn by mimicking and so they learn patience by mimicking patience. Perhaps this means that a larger human being somewhere many thousands of generations back took a long and patient breath as the smaller human being in his or her arms squirmed. Perhaps the smaller human being saw this long and patient breath and internalized it and began to understand. Perhaps all of the patience in the world is a copy of one sigh.

What I wonder about is why we love our children so asymmetrically, so entirely, knowing that the very best we can hope for is that they will feel about us as we feel about our own parents: that slightly aggrieved mixture of affection, pity, tolerance and forgiveness, with a final soupcon - if we live long enough - of sorrow for our falling away, stumbling and shattered, from the vigour that once was ours.

Great essay.

No

It’s hard to find a parenting article these days that doesn’t preach about the evils of saying “No” to your kids.

I’m going to throw it out there that maybe one of the causes of everything that’s wrong in the world today is that we don’t hear the word “No” enough. Life isn’t just about saying “Yes” to things that are right. It’s also about saying “No” to things that aren’t - things that are morally wrong, or could hurt us, or aren’t worthy of our time and attention.

By painting the word “No” as a thing from the devil we’re losing the vocabulary to deal with the distinction between what matters and what doesn’t. What’s right and what’s wrong. What’s edifying and what’s harmful.

Sometimes “No” is absolutely the appropriate thing to say. I’m fairly convinced that saying things like “No, don’t run into the road because a car could hit you” helps to teach our kids to say “No” to more metaphorical potential car crashes as they grow up.

This is one of my favorite photos of my daughters and I. It’s not a great angle, and it’s far from perfectly posed, but it’s us, for real.

On my left: my crazy, energetic, always-excited 3-year old. Strong-willed to the max, a true leader, and a heart bigger than all of us combined. I sometimes struggle to keep up with her, but every day I’m amazed at her intellect, sense of humor, and ability to speak truth to what we grownups believe are complicated situations.

And on my right: the 6-week old. The dream baby. The one who quietly fits in. Who turns whenever she hears her sister’s voice. The one who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world - as long as she’s held and loved and cared for.

These are my girls, and I love them to death.

This is one of my favorite photos of my daughters and I. It’s not a great angle, and it’s far from perfectly posed, but it’s us, for real.

On my left: my crazy, energetic, always-excited 3-year old. Strong-willed to the max, a true leader, and a heart bigger than all of us combined. I sometimes struggle to keep up with her, but every day I’m amazed at her intellect, sense of humor, and ability to speak truth to what we grownups believe are complicated situations.

And on my right: the 6-week old. The dream baby. The one who quietly fits in. Who turns whenever she hears her sister’s voice. The one who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world - as long as she’s held and loved and cared for.

These are my girls, and I love them to death.

Random thoughts from the NICU

At 9:15pm on Thursday October 4th our second daughter was born. She is a little bit early, so she is still in NICU as she recovers from a slightly underdeveloped lung. My wife and I are trying to give her as much skin-on-skin contact as possible, and since we also have a 3-year old at home, we’ve been a bit like ships in the night as we take turns being with each of our daughters.

The NICU experience has placed us in a very strange bubble. We want to do more for our daughter, but all we can do is hold her as much as possible as she sleeps. This results in lots of thinking time. So here, in no particular order, are some of my observations about this experience, mostly written on my iPhone with my daughter sleeping peacefully on my chest.

  • I expected the NICU to be a chaotic place full of crying babies and stressed out nurses running around like crazy people. What I found instead is a remarkably and strangely peaceful environment. And it’s all because of the nurses, who carry out their duties with the calm confidence that only comes from years of experience dealing with premature babies and anxious parents.
  • Speaking of NICU nurses… Whatever they are getting paid, it’s not enough. I’ve spent many hours in the unit just watching them, and I’ve never seen anyone panic. I am impressed, and grateful for their care and support — not just for our newborn, but for us as well. They are never impatient with my incessant questioning about every little detail of our baby’s progress.
  • The lack of paternity leave legislation in South Africa is a disgrace. In fact, there is no such thing as paternity leave. The closest you get is an entitlement to take three days (!!!) of paid “Family Responsibility Leave” when your baby is born. Nothing beyond that, and no help from the government. My employer is being extremely gracious about giving me the time I need to be with my family, but this is still a stress I don’t need right now. Especially since I know how it could be — our first daughter was born in California, where you get 12 weeks paternity leave, and most of your salary is covered jointly between the state and the federal governments. The fact that we don’t have something like that in South Africa sends a horrible message about a father’s responsibility and role in raising a family. And it manifests in things like “Moms & Tots” parking at malls, where dads aren’t even acknowledged. As you can probably tell, I am ridiculously frustrated about this, not just for my sake, but for all dads who have to stress about work when they should be given the time to be with their families for an extended bonding period.
  • We have not figured out how to deal with hardship on social networks. As I said in a discussion about it on Google+, I’m happy to post links, jokes, and sunset photos far and wide. But now that I need the community to support us, I’m a lot more hesitant. I traced the root cause of my reluctance to share more openly what’s going on in our lives to the fact that I don’t want to be a downer on people’s timelines. See, if the language of social networks is likes and hearts, doesn’t that guide us to only share the good and ignore the bad? Where is the room to say “Hey, I need help right now” when the nomenclature to respond to that doesn’t exist?
  • Related to that last point, I’ve lost my appetite for Twitter, Facebook, and the endless stream of news that keeps coming in. Like when you suddenly realise you’ve been eating avocado all these years but you don’t actually like it. The dichotomy of watching life scroll by on social media while a new human being is trying so hard to get hers started properly is just too much to deal with. I hope my appetite comes back. Because I like you.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of shaving and happy socks when you’re having a rough day.

We are confident that our daughter will be home with us within the next few days. But we are part of thousands of families who have to deal with this kind of situation every day — a birth experience that is so completely out of your frame of reference that your mind and body have trouble catching up to reality.

The sun is shining outside and I know things are going to be ok for us. But I’ve also seen unspeakable tragedy during my time at NICU, and I’m writing this to ask that you support those around you when you suspect that they might be struggling. Because chances are that they’re not going to post about it on Facebook.

Caterpillar

I feel the wet, gloomy Tuesday all around me as I get my daughter out of the car at her preschool. She’s excited. There are puddles everywhere, and she wants to jump in all of them. We make a game out of it as I hold her hand and make sure she doesn’t skip a single one. The delight on her face — her ability to experience a simple joy so completely — is infectious. She spots her best friend as we walk up the steps. “Sebastian! Sebastian!” she shouts at him while pointing at me, “This is my DADDY!” I smile a tired smile as my mind drifts to the night before.

It was another rough one. My daughter woke up at 2am and immediately started talking to herself. She has an inner ear infection and it’s messing with her sleep — but her mood is immune to the bug. So as she sees me shuffling into her room she yells, “Daddy! I’m a CATERPILLAR!” Even half asleep I know immediately where this is coming from. She and my wife were looking at two caterpillars in our garden earlier that day. They named the caterpillars George, and… Oh no. I can’t remember the name of the other one. That’s annoying. I should be able to remember the name of the other caterpillar.

The other piece of the puzzle is that I’ve been making up lots of stories for her lately. She wants me to tell her chair stories, table stories, band-aid stories, tree stories, bed stories, and bath stories. Each time I somehow manage to squeeze out a barely plausible plot around these inanimate objects. In a moment of inspiration I even came up with a band-aid song — it’s a song band-aids sing when you attach them to little boys and girls. “I’m healing, I’m healing, I love healing you. I’m healing, I’m healing, I love healing you.” Not my best work, but she loves it. This original storytelling has sparked her own imagination into full flame (“Once upon a time, the froggy JUMPED into the water, and then Mickey came and SAVED him. THE END!”).

So I put all these pieces together in a split second. It’s amazing what our brains can do even when they’re not supposed to be functioning. She’s telling herself a caterpillar story because she now loves making up stories, and George and the other caterpillar (damn, what’s his name?) make for good protagonists.

Still, it’s 2am. So I try to shut the whole thing down. I know I shouldn’t. I know I should encourage her imagination. But it really is 2am. So I say, “No, honey, you’re not a caterpillar. You’re a little girl, and you need to sleep because it’s the middle of the night.” She tries to reason with me, but I don’t budge. She stays quiet for a few seconds, and then decides that as much as she likes having me in the room, the current situation isn’t optimal for her immediate needs. “Daddy,” she says firmly, “you have to go back to your OWN bed.”

I don’t know what to say to her. This amazing daughter of mine, who loves books and stories and adventures. Who fills her nighttime boredom by making up stories about caterpillars. Who, at the age of 3, has the ability to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and come up with a solution to get what she wants (which in this particular case involves me leaving the room so she can carry on pretending to be a caterpillar). I kissed her on her forehead and left the room.

So now it’s the morning after, and she proudly announces to her friend that I’m her daddy. She wants the world to know that she belongs to me, and I to her. Like all parents I know it won’t be long until she doesn’t want to identify with me any more, so I try to cherish the moment. But I’m exhausted, so I store the memory, hoping that I’ll be able to recall and reflect on it properly later. You know, when things settle down a bit.

Things didn’t settle down, of course. I suspect things won’t settle down for years to come. Parenting sometimes feels like running on a treadmill — if you don’t look at the signs around you, it feels like you’re moving fast but getting nowhere. So you begin to rely on those signs to convince you that time is, in fact, moving along.

I hear it’s supposed to be Spring now. And in a few days George (I’ve given up trying to remember the other caterpillar’s name) will turn into a butterfly and we’ll get to explain that little miracle of nature to my daughter. I’ll continue to be exhausted — especially because our second daughter is only weeks away — but I’m also determined to keep showing up. Even if it’s 2am. Right now my daughter wants me in her life, and I need to be there for her, because the time will come when she needs to find her own way. And then it will be too late to wish that I listened more carefully when she told me the names of her caterpillars.

Butterfly

geardrops
We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like, how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.