Thursday, June 30, 2011

Weekend visitor

This weekend will be a lot of fun. My wife's sister is coming out for a few days to spend with us, and this is the first family we've been able to see since we found out we will be having a child.

As I've said before, being away from family adds another challenge to this parenting deal, but it's nice to be able to see people from our family as the due date nears. We're probably going to be grounded for at least the first 9 months after the baby is born, but we will be seeing some family nonetheless. We'll probably see my mother-in-law sometime after the kid is born, and my parents are coming out for Christmas.

We'll probably be limited in getting her sister to see much of Bethlehem because it's getting to be that uncomfortable stage of pregnancy and I don't want my wife having to strain herself just so we can go out. This visit is mostly for the sisters to get some time together anyhow.

Also, tomorrow we will be exactly two months away. Get exciiiiiiiited!

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Post #15 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Assembling furniture is a life test

One thing I've learned in almost 5 years of being married is that putting together furniture is one of those things that are a good test of the relationship. If you can survive that without fighting, you can survive much of anything.

Early on my wife and I would argue when doing furniture installation. I have my ways of working and so does she, but I also get super businesslike and intense. That isn't, how shall we say it, good for getting along. And it was pretty much always my fault for nothing watching how I was reacting.

Painting is supposed to be the same way, but we've never had a problem with that really.

Anyhow, I've been trying to work on this one. I know I can get super focused and snippy. Weirdly, it was parenting classes that helped me see my wife's point of view. Tone and ways of responding can communicate lots of things we don't mean, and I don't want to pass that on to the baby.

So I've been working on chilling out. The good news is we've assembled a lot of stuff for the baby's room. Got through the painting, crib and changing table assembly and assembly of our newest item (the glider chair) without a problem.

I've been told the crib in particular is supposed to be the test of the relationship. So far, so good.

This all has been important to me because while my wife has the ability to separate tone from words when it's all said and done, and keep it in perspective in the big picture, raising a kid is going to be starting from scratch. I don't want to communicate things I don't mean to a child who is still learning the language of life. So in an interesting way, learning about parenting has made me more thoughtful about being a better husband too.

The results have been good the past month - we've really been enjoying this phase and just being together.
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Post #14 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Baby's crib notes #1

Hey kid. You're reading this now because you can, well, read. So every so often I'm going to post something so you can figure out your dad a little bit. I'll call them crib notes, which basically is your first lesson: dad likes puns.

So, a story. Your mom and I wanted to get a nice glider rocking chair for your nursery. You'll love it, mostly because you can feel secure and sleep. Also because mom and dad will be able to rock you effortlessly in our vain attempt to rest somewhat. So, yeah, when I say you'll love it I meant that your parents will love it.

Anywho, a while back we decided on the model we wanted and started looking around at pricing. Decided that BabiesRUs (which is like, literally, the Hotel California of baby shopping ... you won't get that now but pretty soon we'll introduce you to The Eagles, oh yes we will) had the best price.

So I go online to buy. Free shipping! Awesome! But oh wait, when BRU said free shipping they meant "up to $20 but we thought the bright red blinky text would fool you." Really shipping was $97 minus that $20 freebie. So an extra $70 just to get the thing. Rockin'.

Well I didn't like that, so I looked at store delivery options. Yes I could pick it up in the store if they had it. Our local store didn't have it. No store within 50 miles had it. So I started entering zip codes for major cities around here: Scranton, Philly, Newark (shudder), Trenton and found a store about 65 miles from here.

Did the math. 3 hours round trip, about $10 in gas. We'd save about $55 by picking it up in person

So did we go pick it up in person or pay the $55 to have it sent to our doorstep? Here's the lesson: dad loves a deal. It's probably how you'll go to college so get used to it. And he really loves to save a lot of bucks when he can put in a little more effort.

So yeah, I drove 130 miles to save $55.

But there's other good news. That $55 was paid forward because I picked some super cute outfits out while we were there. Like these:


They came on clearance, of course. Dad loves a deal. Don't forget that.

Yep. #dadrocks .... (we'll teach you about hashtags later).

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Post #13 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Monday, June 27, 2011

"What are you having?"

In the 20th week we had a choice. When we went in for the midway ultrasound (the one where they make sure everything's in the right place and such) they check the sex of the baby. You face a choice at that point: find out, or go without knowing until the baby is born. The technician doesn't write it in the chart or anything, they just indicate whether everything is in order in terms of the gender.

My wife and I decided to turn our heads, and it was something we agreed on without much conversation.

Everywhere we go, people ask what we're having. We always say it's a surprise, and a lot of the time people are a little stunned that people like us are still out there.

The tech told us that most people these days find out, and why not? Ultrasound technology is pretty cool and gives you a window on things that took forever until the waiting date. Some have been surprised that I didn't want to know given how much I love and use digital technology. My thinking all along was that while the tech is great, I didn't want to know unless there was reason to know.

For example, if the ultrasound had picked up something unusual it would help to have a name for the baby as we kept it in our prayers, and that required knowing the sex. Otherwise, a little bit of mystery and surprise is a rare thing. I consider not knowing the equivalent of unplugging from the Internet for a while.

Mostly I just want to be in the moment on the day of the birth, when everything is new and unexpected.

Our families, of course, wanted to know. One "no" wasn't enough, and I don't blame them. But we stuck to the decision.

I will say we have had a few unexpected side effects of not knowing. We had already planned for a gender-neutral color for the nursery when we went with white trim and weathered sandstone walls, the latter of which looks like this:

Behr 290E-1 Weathered Sandstone at MyPerfectColor

(by the way, embedding Behr paint colors on your blog; the Internet is rad)

The problem came a bit more when we started looking at clothes. So much of what we found was in pink or blue, and that's it. We've decided greens, yellows, and beiges were good for either gender, but that stuff was a lot harder to find and there is much less variety. We didn't anticipate that, and while we know now I don't think that would change our decision anyway.

In some ways it's helped us to do baby on a budget. The basic white onesies and socks are the cheapest thing out there because it's not fancier, I think. But we're both minimalist that way and think white is just fine.

The other thing that happened is that I refer to the baby as "it" rather than he/she. It sounds so impersonal to use that pronoun, but what are we supposed to do? I was laughing to myself when a Facebook friend was offended I was using "it" as if I was devaluing the baby's life or something. That was one of my first moments of swallowing the bile in the throat while being criticized for my parent choices, but it's good practice I suppose.

Would we do the surprise thing for the next one, if there is one? Not sure. For now I like not knowing.

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Post #12 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Relaxing in the yard

We're coming up on two years here in the Lehigh Valley, just in time to have finished painting our home before the baby comes. I blogged the other day that we just finished the nursery - it was the very last room in the house to be painted, and in that span we've done four bedrooms, two hallways, the kitchen, and the living room.

People joke on Twitter that I'm not a real person because I'm known online but rarely seen offline, and I sort of laugh because it's true. If it hasn't been related to things I'm doing on campus, I've been a bit of a recluse. I'm not antisocial, I've just been painting.

Seriously.

It's not that the home was in bad shape when we bought it, but we have done a lot of work to get it to where we wanted it. Some of the rooms were rougher than others, and along the way we've discovered some problems with things like electrical that required some extra work. So we've gotten the house up to our vision - just in time for a kid to come along and crayon the hell out of our walls.

But the house is finally in good shape and we've finally opened it up for social things. Tonight we had my friend Silagh and her family over. It was a new experience for us to see actual kids running around in the backyard. I found myself staring out as I was grilling up the food and seeing how much fun the kids were having in our big yard. The kid is going to love this space.

Silagh's son even spotted a raccoon in a tree in our backyard. I had no idea we had raccoons around; I've seen possums and what appears to be some sort of hedgehog type creature roaming around, but never a raccoon. It was past dusk and so I got a crappy shot with my iPhone camera (sorry, still rocking the 3Gs so I don't have a flash on my iPhone).

It kind of hit me, this feels like home as I remember it from growing up. Not that it wasn't before, but I grew up in homes that were loud places. One of three kids, one of 13 cousins ... home has always been a loud place with laughter, joking, and conversation that is busy and all over the place. Amy and I have been the only ones in the home since we got married five years ago.

Having other people here makes it feel more alive because it mimics the controlled chaos I remember from growing up. I find myself wondering whether we'll come to miss the quiet, or whether we would have felt like home was too subdued without a little one running around.

More than anything, home was always a place of sharing when I was growing up. Sharing our things with each other, and sharing our space and our food with other friends who would come over. One thing I've been pondering a lot is how to create environments that mirror our values for the child, and one value I'd like them to see in action is that the space is shared with friends and loved ones. The thing I want our child to learn is there is value in forming and maintaining meaningful relationships. That means more people over and more often, I hope. Maybe not the first six week when we are leading the zombie apocalypse, but I want it to be a regular occurrence.

Or maybe I'm just feeling like I can do this now that the house is fully painted.

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Post #11 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I'm a student again

My wife and I have been taking parenting classes through Lehigh Valley Health Network for a couple months now. They have a great set of offerings, and while we aren't doing all of them we have been able to supplement what we already know with information we can use. I definitely recommend them to a first-time parent.

I actually know a bit about caring for kids, although not much about the first year. When I lived in Los Angeles I babysat my oldest niece one day a week. Sometimes for a morning, sometimes longer depending on my work schedule. It was great to get some time with her and I also learned a lot about taking care of a child. I started when she was about 1 and did it until she was about 3, so I got a good amount of experience.

Being able to walk away (or in my case, spoil them and then walk away) is different than being a parent, obviously. But I feel like I understand the basics when it comes to feeding, changing, bathing, dressing, and so forth.

The gap in my knowledge has been that first year, which is where today's Baby Care class came in handy. The six-hour session gave us a good rundown of what to expect with such a young child and how to get through the early rough phase when the kid is just a sleeping-feeding machine. These are the kinds of learning times that quiet my nerves a bit, because I can connect the things I already knew with the particulars of doing it for a young infant.

For example, I practiced swaddling the baby in a blanket. By the time I was babysitting it was OK to have a blanket, but in the early going they sleep more like a burrito. I also learned about feeding and sleeping patterns and when to start emphasizing them.

And I learned about the cool stuff. I get to cut the baby's umbilical cord after it is born and get to hang around the the table taking pictures while they work on cleaning the baby and mom up. It means I get some special time with it immediately while they assess the baby and make sure everything is good. I just can't wait to meet our child and hold it. Only 9 weeks or so to go!

Are we ready? Doubt it. Information is helpful, but we need to figure out how to work that into reality, that funny thing where stuff goes not according to plan. But I feel more ready. That's enough for now.

If you're about to be a first-time parent, check out classes offered by your hospital of choice. We've gotten to tour the maternity ward, learn about child care, and connect with other parents.

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Post #10 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Friday, June 24, 2011

My new office

I used to have a big office. Now it's a nursery.

Before this goes the pity-party route, I should say that the office was always in disarray. When we moved in I put my desk, files, and work stuff there. Even had a TV with satellite reception. But as we started to paint the house, the ample closet space in the office was a great place to put stuff, and then more stuff, and then pretty soon it was hard to walk around there.

The baby was the perfect kick in the butt to finish that room. By the New Year, we'd painted and finished every other room in the house. Honestly, we probably wouldn't have pushed had we not needed the room. But we did, so this spring I started the process of tossing what we didn't need and getting my stuff moved.

To the basement? No, not yet (I have mancave plans for the future, mark my words). We had taken our large upstairs bedroom and turned it into my wife's office with a futon and practice area for her viola. What I did was carve out a little area in the dormer area. Witness:

Cozy, eh? Sometimes I'm shocked I fit it all in there, but I did slim down a lot of stuff. I finally got around to filing things correctly (for example, tax returns from 1998-2010 are not haphazardly thrown into the same folder anymore). I have become a Craigslist superstar, selling a bunch of unused tech items to raise money for things like cribs, strollers, and the like. Do you have any idea what a 1st-generation iPod touch goes for? It's sort of insane.

The upshot is my wife and I are sharing a big space for our work area. We'll see how this goes, but so far it's been fine. I'll gladly sacrifice too because the nursery is going to be awesome. Can't post those pics until it's done though.

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Post #9 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Family far, far away

One thing I haven't talked much about is the family situation for our baby. My wife and I both are far away from our immediate family, with parents and siblings all in California. We've been progressively moving eastward, first for grad school in Missouri and then here in Pennsylvania for my work at Lehigh.

It's weird to think that the kid won't see the grandparents or the aunts and uncles so much. Both of my siblings (they have four kids each) get somewhat regular time for the kids to visit with grandma and grandpa. For us it's going to be occasional at best, and then a whole lot of Skype.

Webcams are better than no contact at all, of course. Technology has given us the ability to do more than we can with a phone, and that 2-D form can be supplemented by visits. It's not ideal, but it's what we have. My mom used to worry that she was "the grandma who lived in the phone" with her oldest niece. I suppose it's time to have grandma in an iPad.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this situation, mostly the latter. The situation, I hope, will mean that my wife and I will have together and focus as a team on handling issues big and small; we can't just drop the baby off at grandma's or have instant help when there are issues. We'll have to figure it out, and that can bring us closer together. But I do worry about extended family being an abstract thing more than something they experience with physical presence and touch.

Given all that, I feel lucky. The people in my department have helped me think through the right questions of what we are going to need in the early going, and the result has been to work on ways to ease the pressure (after all, the baby is due in the first week of the fall semester). We are still building a support network of friends after two years, but I feel so glad to have already made some great friends who have been there for us. We do have people we know care about us and our well being. It's not the same as family, of course, but I feel like our good friends here feel like another layer of family (which hopefully will include the occasional kick in the pants when I need it).

Being far away from family isn't ideal, but it's not like this situation is a shock. We knew this was a possibility when I signed on with Lehigh two years ago, and we made the decision anyway because being here in the Lehigh Valley offered us the best chance for building a life going forward. How we go about things now will take some trial and error, but we can figure out how we make it work from here.

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Post #8 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fun things about pregnancy

My wife just finished her 30th week today. Only 7 more weeks until the baby is considered full term, although we add another 3 to get the due date of September 1. But I look around the house and the things we're adding to the nursery almost every day and it is constantly hitting me: there's gonna be a baby in the crib in a few months.

Pregnancies generally last 40 weeks or so That's a small slice of time compared to the amount of time the kid will be alive. It really goes fast too. We found out we were having a baby right after New Year's, but time flies. I'm sure it will be easy to forget all of the great things about pregnancy that we don't experience when the kid is born, so I wanted to list a few things that are fun for this dad.

1. The kicking. It's so hard to describe how cool it is to place my hand on my wife's stomach and feel the baby kicking. A couple times I've leaned in to talk to the baby and felt kicks on my face. It's so cool.

2. Focus. So much of what I do around the house now has purpose. With the baby coming, it's given me a kick in the rear to get things done now to prepare for the baby's arrival. Some are projects that directly relate, but others are just about making the home nice for the kid for when they start to grow.

3. My wife. She gets more beautiful every day. I love the pregnancy glow and she is such a beautiful mother-to-be. I can see how excited she is too and how meaningful it is for her to have a connection to the baby growing inside her.

4. Expectation. Waiting is hard! I am trying to cherish the time, but I really want to meet our child too. But it's a fun kind of buildup. My wife jokes that I'm the one who's nesting (it's allegedly a sign that the baby is coming soon) because I've been all business trying to get the nursery done, doing research on needed baby stuff, and so forth.

5. Shopping. I really have enjoyed all the shopping. I like shopping for baby clothes. I found out I am awesome at helping pick out maternity clothes. I like doing the deep research on safety items. Here's the thing: I hate shopping, but for some reason I've enjoyed it when it comes to baby stuff. I want to make sure I'm doing a thorough job.

6. The ultrasound. My God it was amazing. When we did the confirmatory ultrasound the baby was about 10 weeks. The thing wasn't even baby shaped but it was active and darting around. You could tell it was alive. The 20-week ultrasound was more incredible. We saw arms, hands, feet, legs, bones. The tech measured the leg and said it was "really long" (runs in the family, naturally). When we saw the 3D images it was just incredible. It's hard to describe the emotion that came over me when I was looking at the images on screen, but it was hard not to get a little teary-eyed.

7. The day we found out. I remember the date and the message. It was the morning of January 7, and it was snowing. I got the text that ended with: "Oh, and I'm preggers(!)" I was at a doctor's appointment a few miles away while she was at one of her own. I remember driving to go pick her up and I walked inside to meet her at the curb. We hugged for a while. It was stunning, overwhelming, awesome. We didn't know if this was going to happen given that we were starting this thing a bit late. So we did what all happy romantic couples do when they find out news like this: we went to Denny's for breakfast. No lie. It was surreal but awesome.

8. Learning. I have enjoyed the learning process. Some of the iOS apps I blogged about yesterday offered daily information about how the baby was growing. Every week it would estimate size based on something discernable like a food item. Yes it's weird to see your baby described as a banana, but it was fun. The apps also tell you about the development changes, what is forming at the time, and so forth. I can't see it happening, but I've been following along.

9. Dreaming. It shouldn't shock you I'm a dreamer, but I do get caught up imagining doing fun things with the kid. Teaching them about how trees grow or letting them experience the first snowfall. The world was magic to me as a kid but I was a sponge of a learner. I imagine all kinds of things I want the kid to experience and learn about.

10. Surprises. We turned our heads at the ultrasound when they looked at the sex. We have no idea if it's a boy or a girl. It doesn't matter to me, but it's going to be a fun surprise. Son or daughter, I'm going to be a lucky dad. That's all that matters. Also, I'm enjoying how our peace about not knowing drives some people crazy. There are so few surprises in this world due to technology and we wanted to take some time to preserve what we can there.

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Post #7 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Unhappy kids

A recent NYT article about parenting caught my eye this past weekend. Based on a research study, it posits that we are seeing more children who report being unhappy despite having loving parents.
She theorizes that today’s parents are making themselves miserable trying to make their children happy. And, ironically, their children are less than content as a result.
The root of it, the article said, is that parents spend so much time trying to make everything perfect, no bumps in the road, that it leaves children unable to cope with hardship when they have to fend for themselves. They called the failure a type of "psychological immunity," a comparison to the way the body builds up immunity by weathering sickness.

It's an interesting take. I wonder whether parents are so focused on showing love that sometimes they mean they can't let the kid experience pain if it can be avoided. I can see the reasoning behind it, that if you can intervene before a child falls or fails then why should you not?

On the other hand, I wonder how many of the angst-ridden kids come from a helicopter style of parenting. I see this results of this parenting style in education, and I am not a fan. The effects of this (probably unseen by their parents) come in how their children react to college environments, often disempowered and unsure of their ability to think for themselves. I've often wondered whether so many of my students say they lack passion for what they want to do in life because they've never had room to explore things like that when decisions and experiences are so heavily mediated by their parents. I'm 100% convinced that helicopter parents mean well and see anything less as showing you don't care (and probably think they are not a helicopter parent), but can't help but think there needs to be a balance.

My teaching style is all about experiencing moments of success and failure. I've written before I learned more in failure than success in my professional journalism work, and in my classes I try to create room for both. In fact, I expect it will happen.

Classrooms are easier, though. They are controlled labs where I control the material, the pace, and the grading schema. I am almost certain parenting will mean the loss of control, and so how I incorporate this view of failure-is-good in everyday situations will be interesting.

I have long said that the best gift my parents gave me was my ability to be independent, to get to the point where I don't need them to guide me through every decision. I'd like to do the same for my child. I want them to know they're loved, but I also want them to learn that does mean you stop them from every little mistake in a way that takes away their own freedom to grow.

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Post #6 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pregnancy? There's an app for that

It should come as no shock that I've been looking at tech tools to help in all sorts of ways with the pregnancy and raising our kid. I mean, I have about every major Apple product under the sun so iPhone and iPad apps are a must.

Plus the kid already has a Twitter account. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Er, onesie.

So I went looking for things. I'm staying away from games and learning tools right now, although I'm sure that will come in time. I have this thing about having the kid appreciate books first before an iPad. The best gift I have that a lot of my students don't is that I remember when it was hard, really hard, to find information and knowledge. I want my child to realize that as a way of seeing how blessed we are.

I'm struck by what a huge ecosystem of apps there is for all kinds of different functions of parenting, from the prenatal stage to raising your kids. It wouldn't exist if there wasn't a market for it, and most of these things are, to use baseball lingo, toolsy. They're there to make the process more organized, or easier, or something.

So what apps have I been playing with? I wanted to list some of my favorites in case anyone on the Web is looking for something good. Bear in mind these are all for iOS only. I didn't research Android (or Windows Phone for the 5 people who use that).

Pregnancy/Labor

1. Hello Baby (iPad) - This is a gorgeous app, and it's free. It has artistic renderings of what the child looks like as it grows, so you see visual changes from week-to-week from a single cell into a baby. Each week comes with information about what is developing. It customizes based on your due date and even has places to enter in information from visits, such as the baby's estimated size and heartbeat.

2. Baby Bump (iPhone) - This app has a free and a pay version. Not as pretty as other apps, but lots of useful info. You enter in the due date and it gives you a countdown to birth, which each day offering more information about development, body changes, and tips for preparing before the birth. It also tells you size for that week in terms you understand (this week the baby is the size of a butternut squash). This app has other cool things like a kick counter and a place to do a journal for expectant moms.

3. Pregnancy Tracker From What To Expect (iPhone) - Another good pregnancy tracker. I like the information on this app. Lots of tips to help you learn and get adjusted. What I don't like is you have to create an account, thus giving your email away. I signed up with a disposable address, but still.

4. Pregnancy Food No-Nos (all formats) - I downloaded this app after we went to a restaurant and had a question about a type of cheese on the menu. Crawling the Web on the browser of my phone was a pain in the neck, so I went looking for an app that had all of this. The app also has information for what you can/can't do after the baby is born. The iPad and iPhone apps are different and both are good (and free!), but personally I like the phone version better because I usually need this information in portable and mobile forms.

4. Contraction Master (iPhone) - Haven't used this yet, obviously, but it came with high marks from my friend Bob Britten so it's set to go. I already know the 5-1-1 criteria for going to the hospital (contractions 5 minutes apart, 1 minute long, status that way for at least 1 hour) but having a tool on hand to handle all the timing is good. There are a few apps for contractions there so if you have another one to suggest I'm all ears. This one is only 99 cents.

After the baby is born

1. Baby Sign ASL (all formats) - Before the baby learns to talk, you help it learn about language via sign language. This app teaches you basic sign language so you can say a word such as "thank you" while signing it, helping babies make the connection between words and meaning. My nieces did sign language and it helps them be expressive before they can talk. I think the app is a bit pricey considering what you get, but it's been a good learning tool.

2. Diaper Bag checklist (all formats) - Another good app for making sure you remember everything. I'm sure after a while I'll be a pro at it, but I am a checklist guy. Free app, so I don't feel like I have to use it all the time to get my money's worth.

3. Baby Sleep Schedule (all formats) - At $4 it remains to be seen if it's worth it, but it comes with good recommendations. You can input as much or little information as you like, but its real purpose is to help you set up a sleep schedule for the baby and mind it for you so you aren't having to pay attention to one more thing. It strikes me that many of these baby apps are made to do that, to take one thing off the list of things you have to do.

Any moms or dads out there? Which ones do you recommend?

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Post #5 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

I like to do things before I'm supposed to. Our family opened presents on Christmas Eve. I open my birthday cards before my birthday. And this year we celebrated on Mother's Day and Father's day even though our first baby isn't due to be born for another 10 weeks.

Yes, I like to read the final chapters of a novel first as well.

Anyhow, we did Father's Day today. My wife took me to Billy's, a Bethlehem diner I've been wanting to try for a while, this morning and it's steak on the grill for dinner tonight. I like the idea of ritual a lot and think it's important to get in the mode early and often. Of course I like to shower my wife with pampered treatment whenever I can as well. It isn't just about me.

But on to what I've been mulling: this notion of being a "good dad."

People tell me I'm going to be a good dad. I really, really hope that's true. My assumption is that it's based on interactions with me or watching me with my students, and it's flattering to hear people say it.

But honestly I'm not down with it quite yet. I'm big on actions. Being a good dad, just like being a good person, isn't a thing. It's not a state that you get and then own forever. It's a series of choices. You have to choose it every day, especially when it's hard.

I have no template for this, of course, and might be talking out of my ass. The only thing I have to base this on is marriage. Amy and I will celebrate five years pretty soon here, and one thing I've learned so far is that you have to work at it. All the love and warm feelings are great, but they alone won't sustain you when it gets hard. Within the first year of us getting married we went through some tough, tough things. The kinds of things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (if I had one). We didn't survive on feelings or stuff you hear about in pop songs. We survived by saying, damn it, we said we're in it through thick and thin. It forces you to make choices. And it makes the good times all that much sweeter.

I'm lucky, of course, to have a partner who's walking that with me. When the baby's born there's going to be a lot of good and some things that make it tough. I assume there will be lots of stress, crying, and not-sure-what-to-do moments. I'm positive I will be sleep deprived (thank you, everyone, for reminding me of that .... I mean, you sleep less when you have a baby? I had NO idea!). But you're in it for the long haul. You can't exactly put it back in the womb.

Choices. I am facing an unknown, and sometimes I'm overjoyed and sometimes I'm slightly freaked out by what I don't know. I already love this little Jeremy-Amy spawn to death and I haven't even seen its beautiful face. I hope someday it will think that I am a great dad. It might be the most important compliment in the universe other than my wife saying I'm a great husband. But I realize those choices start now, and I have to make them every day.

I've never been a dad. I'm sure this post sounds snotty to people who are old hands at this. But I am not new at living, and the choices thing is one thing I think I've figured out about life. You don't just choose something once. You have to choose that thing constantly, and it's when life gets hard that it becomes a test of what you really want.

There likely will be far more good, far more beauty, than bad. But I think being aware that everything is a choice helps you weather the tough stuff. Anyhow, that's the approach I'm taking to being a dad. I hope it's at least worthy of a start.

Happy Father's Day, everyone. I hope we measure up to the label.

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Post #4 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Saturday, June 18, 2011

House becomes a home

We purchased our house a couple of years ago, basically moving in the week before I started my work at Lehigh. It has taken us a LONG time to get this thing to where we want it. The house was in pretty great shape when we moved in, but we basically have repainted the place and the nursery was the final room in the house.

We just finished that last task a couple weeks ago, so we're taking time to get the nursery shaped up before the baby arrives in about 10 weeks.

When we bought the place, we felt like we were overbuying a bit. The house has four bedrooms and two full bathrooms, which is quite a bit of space for two working people. The other thing that was attractive was the huge, and I mean huge, side yard that slopes down to the corner. We didn't use it as much in the first year, but I always envisioned it as the place for a kid to run around. I mean, the gentle slope alone makes it perfect for a slip-and-slide.

This place has been home for us, but with a baby coming I feel like it feels even more so. I'm seeing our home through new eyes:
  • Big back yard for a kid to play in during the summer. It's about a third of a football field, and full fenced, so they have a safe space to run around.
  • Trees in the front and back, both a maple and an English walnut. Trees are such great ways for kids to learn about the world because they are part of natural environmental processes.
  • Our secret passage. Yes, we have one in our house.
  • Great view of the fireworks from our back porch. Kids still love fireworks, right?
  • Bay window that looks out onto the street. I love watching the snow fall from this perch, and I can envision our little one peering out over the ledge watching the flakes falling down.
  • Short walk to some fun stuff. The Cup is just around the corner, as is Vegan Treats (for now). We're a few blocks from Martelluci's Pizza.
  • Our patio setup. We have a table and chairs and a grill. I grew up in a small house with a tiny backyard and we never got a chance to just sit and watch the sun go down while the grill was wafting great smells our way. Or the kid can just run around while we cook.
We've enjoyed a lot of things about the house (yes, even the secret passageway). It will be great to share this with the kid too.

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Post #3 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Too much information

I'm a researcher. It's what I do. My days as a journalist helped me fall in love with the art of overpreparing with facts and details before working on stories, and grad school only reinforced the mode of always learning before doing. This is my mode, how I operate. Even in my teaching, I'm constantly playing with new tools and toys that I hope to demonstrate and integrate into the classroom.

I noted in a previous post that this side of me has come out when looking at baby products. When it comes to things related to safety and such, I'm all about research and reading up. This is a world I don't know much about, and I want to learn.

But it hasn't bled into reading about being a dad. There are a million self-help books out there on how to be a dad, be a good dad, how to be a hip dad, etc. I thumbed through a couple of them, but I'm bored.

The popular ones I read seem to follow a particular formula: 1) Tell cute/harrowing/unexpected-lesson type story. 2) Generalize it as a parenting principle. 3) Rinse, recycle, repeat.

Thing is, I know a few things about stats. This is a bell curve:


What we know is this. Most people tend to clump in the middle; much as we like to think we're unique and totally different than everyone, the truth is that in a given situation most people are the same, in the middle of that curve. Give me a room of 100 men and I can pretty much predict the that most men of the men would check in between 5'8" and 6'0".

Problem is I am 6'4". On most bell curves, I'm average. On some, I'm not. Height is one of them. Education is another. I may like the same condiments on my hot dog as most people, but in some things I'm different.

We're all this way. Which brings me to why I dislike these dad books. They take stories, which admittedly are a bit cute or funny, and too often try to make the point that YOUR BABY WILL BE LIKE THIS. Which I call B.S. on, because I know about bell curves. My baby might conform to the norms on some things, but be different on others.

Is this nitpicky? I do know that we tend to idealize when we learn, which means that isn't there a possibility I would be disappointed if my baby didn't turn out to be what I expect? If something is deemed "normal" by a hack dad writer who has a flair for turning his experiences into a faux universal one, then it's hard to fight the sense that your kid isn't normal when they don't conform.

In other words, I feel like I'm only setting myself up to be disappointed or question my parenting ability if it doesn't turn out like everyone else's kid, or at least my ideal sense of what everyone else's kid is based on some random anecdote from a guy writing about being a dad.

I want the basics. What I should feed the kid, and when. How often to let it sleep. I figure the kid needs food, shelter, sleep, safety, and a lot of love. I'll research the first three to death, but the fourth is up to me.

While I'm on the subject, here's a book I'll be checking out: "Go The F**K To Sleep" by Adam Mansbach. It's gotten great reviews as a hilarious children's book for adults, but the deal was REALLY sealed when I discovered you could get an audio version featuring Samuel L. Jackson. Who wouldn't do this? On order from Amazon now.

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Post #2 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A city for young people

I've spent the last couple days in New York City for 140conf, a gathering of Twitterheads. I love NYC and it has me remembering what I loved most about big-city living from my Los Angeles days.

I love the feeling in the air that comes with a big city. The smells from local restaurants and eateries leak onto the sidewalk. People of different shapes, sizes, and colors walk the street. There's music in the air, from actual music to the sounds of car horns on the street and loud conversations on random street corners.

Being here also has reminded me how much I've changed in just 7 years since leaving Los Angeles. When I'm walking around I'm noticing lots of things. Not a lot of kids, not a lot of families. Stores and restaurants everywhere with "NO STROLLERS" signs on the outside. NYC, for all its greatness, is not kid-friendly. I've long thought that big cities like New York were made for young people just because of pace, but it's more than that now.

I've changed, and I've grown up. I look at a city's livability in terms of whether I can help raise a family there. Thinking about being a dad has rewired me a lot. I think about safe places more than I used to. I think of convenience and opportunities. And I see tradeoffs that come with big cities that I never saw during my L.A. days.

New York and cities like it will be great for our kid because they will get to see a lot of different things and meet different types of people. But it's going to be a place to visit now. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I'm just becoming practical.

It makes me thankful we live in the Lehigh Valley. It has a good mix of small and big, of opportunity close by and opportunities within a couple hours drive. I like the notion of having a neighborhood and walkable streets, of having a lawn for a kid to run around.

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Post #1 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Car seats, strollers, and hours of reearch

My wife and I took a getaway to Cape May, NJ a couple weeks ago. We were sitting on the promenade behind the beach one evening and I decided to have a little fun with her.

There were a lot of families there and you couldn't go 10 seconds without seeing a stroller around there (didn't hurt that we happened to be sitting in front of a family arcade, which was terrifying in itself). Anyhow, I decided to start naming the brands and, if I could, models of strollers and travel systems as they rolled by.

"Graco Snugfit" .... "Safety 1st" .... "Chicco Cortina Travel System" .... and so forth. I shocked myself a little because it was hard to stump me. I've been doing so much research on car seats, strollers, and travel systems that my brain is bursting. I haven't felt this brain-full since I was studying for my comprehensive examinations in PhD school.

I learned a lot in the process. Car seats are not just car seats. They can snap into strollers and be a whole travel system. The infant seat probably won't last a year (this is a Littau baby, and during the ultrasound the tech measured the leg and confirmed what we already know - this kid is going to be tall). We'd have to get a regular car seat later, which means the carseat-in-stroller is a temporary nice feature. And so on.

We ended up going with the Chicco Keyfit 30 (Adventure color) car seat and decided against the travel system. I liked the Chicco's safety features and ease of use. Everything that requires a button has a nice solid click that lets me know it's locked. I like the memory foam padding near the head. And it got great safety and usability ratings from Consumer Reports, which has become my best friend in the research process. Chicco has two versions of the Keyfit, but we got the 30 because it has a higher height/weight limit which means we don't need to get the toddler car seat for a while longer.

We debated the merits of the stroller a ton. The baby is due in September and so we figure we have a good 6 weeks of neighborhood walk time max. Realistically, we didn't see ourselves doing much walking in the early going before it gets super cold. At the same time, most of these travel systems had really bulky strollers and so we didn't see that working well when we needed to put other things in the trunk with it.

Still, we did want to have a stroller option for going out and about such as the mall at Christmas time. So we decided to take a wait-see approach. We will get the Snap N Go LX stroller that allows you to mount the car seat and secure it to the frame. It's super light and compact, and it seems like a good utility stroller. Big plus: It's about a third of the cost of a regular stroller, meaning we don't have to shell out a lot of money early while waiting to see what we need. Our thinking is to wait it out until the baby can fit into a more compact umbrella stroller, which will save us some money.

To get to this point took a lot of research. For dads out there, Consumer Reports is a great start. We subscribed for $26 a year, but be warned that web access costs extra if you want to have the latest stuff, and I think you'll want that because they have a great section devoted to baby products. I tried to read the comments on CR and on Amazon a lot to get a sense of how people rated the product as well as how they actually used it.

This is generally how we've researched, although I tended to take Consumer Reports with more weight when it came to items where safety was paramount such as strollers, cribs, and car seats. When we did our registry, we had a more nuanced approach. Consumer Reports has a great Best Baby Products book that offers a range of advice. Some products there are actual ratings and recommendations, whereas others (such as the section on bassinets) it's more advice on what to look for and avoid. We used that book along with the excellent Baby Bargains book my wife got. The latter book had a list of critical items and noted their best buy; we tended to defer to that list because the CR book didn't always recommend something.

It helps that my wife and I are both research-crazy thanks to our journalism background. We might overthink everything, but we come prepared.

A final source of great advice has been my social media friends. Allison (@aleden) and Katy @katypearce), two colleagues of mine in journalism/communication education, were super helpful with advice on products and sites to find good reviews and bargains. My friend Silagh, who works at Lehigh, gave us some great advice that helped us decide against getting a bassinet.

This has been a new learning mode for me; my network is well constructed for professional and local life purposes, but I have realized how few parents I have in my social media sphere. The more I get, the more helpful it is.