Thursday, September 15, 2016

10 Things I Love About Being a Dad

Just a few months ago I was mentally preparing myself for life after baby. I scared myself silly with worry. It would be no sleep, no free time, and no fun. I tortured myself with books and articles about worst case scenarios. Everyone says it's worth it. But I never heard specifics. Here are 10 things I love about being a Dad.

1. Witnessing Jenna's Joy

Yesterday I paused before heading out the door for work. I stood quietly, holding my coffee and laptop bag. I watched Jenna on the couch with Michael. She rattled a toy near his face. He broke out in a goofy grin. "Shake, shake, shake" giggled Jenna. Michael beamed. A bliss bomb exploded in my chest and traveled through my body. Watching Jenna's motherly instincts emerge has been like watching a long-dormant volcano erupt with fiery lava. She has undergone metamorphosis. From this day forward she shall be known as Mom.

2. Sense of Accomplishment

A few months ago I was afraid to hold a baby. Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon out with the baby. On my own. I dressed him, buckled him into into his carseat, drove him to my friend's apartment, and played boardgames while he napped, ate, and pooped. I prepared his bottle and used his changing pad. I gave Jenna some time off. I know this sounds like a picnic to the grizzled veteran parents but it was a milestone for me. The realization has begun to dawn on me. Hey, I can do this. Thanks Michael for that little confidence boost.

3. Feeding and Pooping

We all have our interests and hobbies. Some like to read, hike, or ski. Michael's pursuits are more basic and generally involve things entering and leaving his body. Often at the same time. When I feed him his bottle I get a front row seat to the human digestion system at work. The only noise louder than his greedy sucking is the byproduct escaping out the other end. I've learned to distinguish between a fart and a poop. The former is about what you'd expect. The latter sounds like someone hucking a water balloon at a brick wall. Or squishing a giant watermelon. If I ever meet someone at Pampers, I'd like to shake their hand. That thin layer of fabric has protected me from countless nuclear bombs.

4. Baby Smiles

Everyone knows about unicorns and rainbows. I'd like to add baby smiles to that list. After weeks of brow-furrowing, tongue-quivering crying, it has been incredibly refreshing to bask in his joyous smiles. It's like a bright sun breaking through the clouds and burning up the haze. His entire face lights up and his blue eyes sparkle with glee. I'd like to think it's due to my comic observations and situational humor. But after a big grin it's always worth double-checking the diaper.

5. Story Time

It's 7PM on a Monday evening. I wrap Michael in his light blue baby blanket and whisk him up the stairs. I turn on the white noise machine and sit in the oversized rocking chair. I hold Michael in one arm and Dr. Seuss in the other. Last night, we read about Bartholomew Cubbins and his 500 hats. At first, I was embarrassed about doing the voices. But now I go all in. Occasionally, he looks disinterested. If he had a watch, he might look down and check the time. But I've heard it's good for babies so I muster through. It's a welcome opportunity for us to bond.

6. Swaddled Bean

Here's a tip for all new parents: velcro swaddle. No more origami folding skills required. Just pull and stick. When wrapped up, Michael becomes docile and sleepy. His head protrudes comically like a human egg cup. He is a tiny blue kidney bean. His chubby chins spill over the soft fabric. He is the definition of "bundle of joy".

7. Late Night Feeding

After Jenna heads to bed, I hang out with Michael. We read, do some tummy time, and talk about girls. Then it's time for his bottle. I whip up an ounce of formula and mix it with a few ounces of milk. No sooner has the plastic nipple brushed his lips than his mouth opens wide and the chugging contest begins. He soon goes comatose. His eyelids droop. A tiny trickle of milk runs down his chin. He gets a far away stare. He is the picture of contentedness. If Michael can appreciate a small bottle of milk, surely we can all find joy in the little things as well.

8. Daily Developments

Michael has become a wiggly worm. No longer content to simply sit and stare, he now kicks his legs and flails his arms. He turns his head to look at the dogs. When I wake him up from a nap he gives a cavernous yawn, arches his back like a cat, and stretches his tiny arms above his head. He is like a cartoon character waking up from a long slumber. He acts more like a real person every day. Soon he will come out of his baby coma and begin communicating his needs and dislikes. I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

9. Diaper Changing

Maybe this is a new Dad thing and I'll grow to hate it. But right now, I enjoy the interaction. During the course of a diaper change Michael transitions from fussy, to confused, to skeptical, to happy. I have become quick and efficient with my diaper changes. Pop open the tabs, wipe, spritz of rash spray, pat dry, and done. There is an added sense of tension and danger knowing that he could explode like a geyser at any moment. So far I have only been on the receiving end once or twice. However, Jenna has been peed on, pooped on, and thrown up on, often at the same time. Sometimes, just as the new diaper goes on, Michael's face scrunches up, there is a hideous splat, and I have to do it all over again.

10. Family Bond

The day after Michael was born, my parents came to visit us at Maine Medical Center. They were no longer Mom and Dad. They were now Grandma and Grandpa. I have a picture of my Mom holding Michael. Her eyes radiate pure joy. Michael has strengthened our bonds and opened a new chapter in our relationship. They've been through everything I'm experiencing now. I see them in a new light. I have a newfound curiosity about their lives as parents.

Don't get me wrong. There are certainly challenges and stresses. My schedule is now dictated by this tiny human. The lack of sleep amplifies minor annoyances and creates tension in my relationships. But I'm trying to savor these first few months. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. OK… maybe twice. We'll see about that.