Sunday, October 16, 2016

Break Me Down to Build Me Up

Much has changed over the past few weeks. Michael has transformed into a chubby Buddha. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man ain't got nothing on his rolls. But for each joy, there's been an equal challenge. Like Michael, we're also under going transformation. Here are some ways our lives have changed.

My Relationship with Jenna

Last weekend started off great until Jenna accused me of not helping enough with the baby. I huffed and puffed. I turned into a hotshot defense attorney with his client's life on the line. I objected, appealed, and motioned to dismiss. But after I extracted the dagger from my flesh, I realized she was right. While we had spent most of the day together, she had been the one doing the holding and feeding. She didn't ask for help and I didn't offer. The resentment smoldered until finally erupting into a Sunday morning skirmish.

We should have seen this coming.

Michael has cranked up the volume on our relationship flaws. As the husband, I feel I'm expected to intuitively know what to do and take action. But Jenna is a whirling dervish of productivity. I have approximately 1 nanosecond to determine something is wrong before it has been wiped, washed, or vacuumed. The answer to "can I help with anything?" is usually "no". But it's not "no, there's nothing to help with". It's "no, because you shouldn't have to ask". Helping me create a to-do list is another to-do on Jenna's list.

After our baby beef, I spent most of Sunday with Michael. I was a struggling stand-up comic, trying not to bomb, while Michael's lips quivered on the edge of disaster. He was a tough crowd. First, I came up with 2 animals for every letter of the alphabet (I had to cheat on "Q"). Next, I made passable animal noises for cow, pig, dog, and horse. My elephant material killed. But it was challenging to keep Michael stimulated all day. I saw the view from Jenna's seat.

We spent most of that rainy Sunday in different rooms of the house. After some calm reflection, we talked that night. We agreed that Jenna needs to delegate, communicate and not let her resentment incubate. Meanwhile, I need to plan ahead for baby duty so we both know when Jenna's on break. And routines I used to enjoy, like quiet cups of coffee on a Saturday morning, may need to be put on hold.

Flashing a silly grin, Jenna summed it up. "Last year we were popping bottles", said Jenna, "now we're washing bottles". The only bottles I've ever popped are water and ketchup, but I get her point. Our lives have changed. I need to accept that. I'm almost there.

Sleeping and Feeding

Michael's world revolves around 3 major planets: sleeping, eating, and pooping. If any are knocked out of orbit, the resulting shockwaves echo throughout the universe. Last Monday, there was a supernova.

It all started with a routine visit to the pediatrician. But after the doctor observed a feeding, it evolved into something more significant. We had a sneaking suspicion that something wasn't right.

During feedings, Michael would rear back, spit out the bottle, and wail in misery. He'd resist attempts at burping like a skateboarding teenager resisting arrest: kicking his legs, thrashing his arms, and arching his back. During all of this, he'd wheeze, grunt, snort, and strain.

Jenna did some research. Michael, she determined, checked all the boxes for acid reflux. He cried during feedings, cried on his back, hiccuped frequently, and had a cough. Relief and concern flooded my body in equal parts. We finally had an answer. We thought he had just been hungry. But he had probably been in pain.

Armed with her research, Jenna made her case, and our doctor agreed. Michael has now been prescribed peppermint-flavored Zantac, 1.5 ml twice per day, and we've started mixing baby cereal in his bottles. It turns his meals into an unappetizing gray goo but he doesn't seem to mind. After just a few days, feedings have already become more relaxed.

There's barely time for us to share a quick high five before the next challenge appears. Sometimes it feels like we're running a never ending relay race. We leaped one hurdle, but we can see many more ahead.

Quality Time

When Michael first came home he didn't do much. He had no hobbies, interests, or nuanced opinions on current events. Like a high school teenager, he spent most of his days in bed. That is starting to change. He makes eye contact. His mouth gapes in a goofy grin when I pretend to nibble his toes. He's emerging from his baby coma. But when I reach into my old bag of tricks, usually a pacifier or bounce on the yoga ball, I get Jenna's attention. "Couldn't you be doing something more educational?". Maybe. But how do you spend quality time with a 2-month old?

By taking a bath, of course!

I whisk Michael into the bathroom, turn on the faucet, and fill up his baby tub. Jenna hovers nervously over my shoulder. I tell her I don't need any help. She doesn't believe me. She tries to quiz me on next steps. "Oh yeah", she says, "then which soap should you use?". I tell her it's the shampoo and body wash combo soap in the blue bottle. She pounces. "Wrong! You washed his hair last night. You want the body wash in the pink bottle". Her eagle eye locks onto the faucet. It's either too hot or too cold. I promise her that I'll test the water. She smiles, gives me a reassuring hug, and tells me she knows she needs to let me have more control.

I delicately lower him into the warm water. His eyes open wide with surprise as his skin makes contact. He smiles, enjoying himself. Maybe a little too much. A fountain spurts from the tub. I thought I turned the faucet off. But that's no faucet, it's coming from Michael. I barely manage to dodge the streaming geyser.

Next, I lather up the washcloth, sponge his tiny body, and wash him clean with the shower head. I drain the tub and gather him up into a hooded, whale-print towel. His eyes sparkle with glee. My brain explodes with happy fireworks. Who knew giving my baby a bath could be such a thrilling experience.


Last fall I started a new job. It was a challenging transition. I was nervous. A friend recommended mindfulness meditation. I found a local class that met on Tuesday evenings. At the first session, I had to sit in a chair because the cross-legged position was too painful. But soon I was guiding class meditations, journaling, and devouring Buddhist teachings. It was a game changer for me.

One idea that resonated most was the concept of impermanence. Just as the seasons change, so do the dynamics and challenges in our lives. It has been a comforting thought during these first few months. I learned to think of life as a flowing river. It appears to be the same every day but the water is always changing. It's the same with Michael. I'm learning not to obsess over daily setbacks. I'm learning to enjoy the journey.

For every step backwards we take two steps forward. We may stumble but we try not to fall. I'm getting better at recognizing and controlling my emotions. It's amazing how much power we have over our lives. We can choose to be happy, confident, and positive.

Today's another day and I'm eager to spend it with Michael. I'll try to make it educational.