The misadventures of a first time father

Author Archives: thedorkydaddy

messA toddler goes running through the room, a kindergartner close behind, if not passing her from room to room. Calls to cut it out fall upon tiny, deaf ears. An infant now awake and needing to be held. Laundry piling, baths to be given, meals to be made and eaten. Work. The baby’s crying again. Bills. Holidays. Yard work. The kindergartner just got his toddler sister upset and she’s screaming. Transportation. School. Groceries. Now it’s the other way around and the kindergartner is crying.

Life…can be and has been a bit of a challenge as of late. At times, it’s downright overwhelming.

We’re adjusting to life from two to three, doing so on very little sleep, and just trying to keep the household functioning on even the most basic level. What used to be divide and conquer is now one handles the baby while the other manages the two eldest. Or, in some scenarios, all three if one is not available (I’m thinking of a recent nighttime appointment I had where Meg was left with all three kids on her own).

Why am I telling you this? What purpose does it serve?

It’s because I’m being honest with you. I’m letting you know that life, for all its joyous feelings, of all the warmth of a growing family we wouldn’t change or give up for the world, it, yes, can be a challenge or just plain overwhelming.

I say this honestly because it is easy to get down on oneself when we live amid what often seems like a perfect world, always outside of our own, whomever we are, when we glimpse the lives of others through the lens of social media. Most of what we see is not honesty. Maybe it’s partially true, but it’s cherry-picked. It’s a best-of reel, hand selected to present an image and persona of perfection. But it’s not. They’re just crafted to make you think they are.

walk on the pier

“Family decided on a spontaneous walk together across this pier. Crazy day but wouldn’t trade it for anything.” Wait. Who took this totally candid, not at all planned picture?

We hear a lot about it when it comes to teens, growing up in a digital world that many of us only walked into when we were in college or adults. But these days, between a plethora of social media networks, the same desire for acceptance, for validation, has crossed the age threshold into many adults who litter their online presence with only the moments of perfection. But life isn’t perfect, for anyone. It can be fun. It can be crazy. It can be full of love. But life is also full of flaws, of failures, of tripping up and learning. Life gets messy, but somehow so many feel it a taboo topic to talk about let alone show.

treehouse couple

“No better way to end the day than with a cup of our hand-mulled wine in the treehouse we found time to make in the backyard during naptime out of repurposed wood.”

Instead, people try to gloss over the imperfections of life that shape us for a shiny veneer that looks great from the outside.

So, please, remember that the next time you start doubting yourself, your own life, because of what you see on social media. You’re doing great. And if you don’t need to litter social media with curated images that reflect a life unlike the one you’re living, then you know what? You’re doing even better.

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Car Seats 04

where we were a month ago

Come and knock on our door…

Just don’t make it the car door. We’re maxed out on space.

Hard to believe that just over a month ago we were still parents of two, that we hadn’t met our wonderful, second daughter, nor knew that she was even going to be a girl (we like the surprise), and that at the time we were still lamenting over how we were going to make three children (and three carseats) work in our existing (and paid off) cars.

New cars (even new-used) weren’t an option as the money just wasn’t there for monthly payments. So we read, and read, and read. And we ordered, and purchased, and tried, and returned.

And we’ve hit upon something that, lo and behold, seems like it’s working.

Meg owns a 2009 Kia Sportage, while I have a 2011 Chevy Cruze – two very different vehicles, but the parameters we’re challenged to make work with.

We knew that with a newborn baby, we didn’t want to be picking the baby up and down to get into the car if we didn’t have to, so keeping the Graco click and connect ‘bucket seats’ were huge on the priority list if we could make it happen.

We even called in my dad, who we jokingly call the master of spacial relations, honed through years of enjoying Tetris on the home computer. And between all of us, here’s what we came up with:

2009 Kia Sportage

new car seats 03

three seats, one Sportage

The Graco bucket seat placed in the middle means a bit of a reach to get the baby in an out, but was necessary to get our son’s Graco Highback Turbooster seat on one side for the shoulder strap seat belt that it requires. On the other side is a Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat for our two year-old girl. The Diono proved to be skinny enough to help make configurations work but well-built and sturdy enough to feel secure.

Now, all that said, it’s important to note that it IS a tight fit between the booster and the infant bucket seat. I say this because, of course, the thing with a booster is that you’re using belt buckles like you would elsewhere in the car, not latch systems like you do with the Diono on the other side. And it DOES take some maneuvering to get the buckle into the latch. Having the bucket seat base next to the booster, though, does provide some maneuverability to finagle the belt into the latch as needed. Due to where the seatbelts all fall (on the same side of the car), it meant this was the only configuration where this would work – bucket in the middle, Diono behind the driver and booster behind the passenger. Otherwise, we could in no way get the booster’s belt buckle in to click. Regardless, it does mean that for the time being, we adults will have to buckle him in and out versus doing it himself, but it works for the situation we were faced with. And will change as the baby grows and moves into other seats herself.

 

2011 Chevy Cruze

new car seats 01

The amazing disappearing back seat!

Faced with an even smaller backseat than the Kia Sportage, my Chevy Cruze proved a bit more challenging. But I’m glad to say that we made it work and yes, kept the Graco click and connect bucket seat for the infant in the mix.

With the bucket seat in the middle, we used two Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seats on either side for our little guy and now the eldest of our two girls (still weird to say that). The Diono’s thin but sturdy frame meant it fit within the confines of the backseat. It just meant that we had to ditch using a booster in my car (you’d never get to the seat belt) and use the Diono on either side and their latch system.

So, there we have it. Three seats for three kids in both cars. Yes, there was the expense of buying three new car seats (the Dionos) and one Graco booster, but that cost far outweighed what would be new car payments for each of us every month. And while we’ve been primarily using my Chevy Cruze in our daily travels since the conversion, it has (knock on wood) gone rather well.

While every car is going to be different, I hope this proves useful, and maybe provides a few options to someone out there who may have been in a similar situation.


IMG_8714[1]Late nights. Weary-eyed mornings.

It very well could sound a lot like my twenties, but yet it is something we’re doing all over again, yet completely new.

That’s right. Our third child has arrived and it’s a girl…again! That makes us the proud parents of a five year old boy, a two year old girl and a newborn girl. And of course, the original trio – our three cats.

We’re about two weeks out since she arrived to the world and into our arms, and while there’s definitely a transitional period as we adjust to life with a newborn once more, our son adjusts to another little sister, and our now oldest daughter adjusts to no longer being the baby, all feels right.

Sure, it may be tiring, but it all feels…right, even thinking about the wake ups in the middle of the night to a baby’s cries, or dragging out of bed the next morning. I think, knowing this is just a part of new life and knowing it will change before I know it, I’ve just become a bit more adaptable (or maybe appreciative) of things that I think earlier on as a parent may have led to complaints or worry. Though now most of my middle of the night/early morning worry is focused on making sure the other two don’t wake up when the baby cries!

Otherwise, it now just seems like part of a process when a new life is adjusting to the world. And it’s a process that passes like so much else, and who really wants to rush the sands of the time?

Enjoy all of it, even the tiring stuff. Because before too long, we become too tired to ever experience such joy like this again.

Welcome to the world, my beautiful, wonderful girl!


AutumnThe crinkle of leaves, the windy nights.

You can go ahead and enjoy all the pumpkin spice whatever you like. I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin other than decoratively.

For me, other than the aesthetics of a neighborhood or roadways lines with multi-colored leaves, the thing I look forward to the most this time of year is Halloween specials. I’m not a horror movie guy, so Jason, Freddy, the rest of you will have to sit this one out. The old, original Universal crew of Dracula, Frankenstein and friends? Okay, those I’ll get behind. And maybe one day I’ll talk about the wonder that is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Or how I have to watch Arsenic & Old Lace with Cary Grant at least once a season.

But beyond those, there’s something I really, really dig this time of year on the same level of those classics, and that’s watching family-friendly Halloween specials with the kids. I love it. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every year. Sometimes it’s a weekend, nighttime treat with a big bowl of popcorn for all of us and some apple cider to sip on. Or, it’s just a spur of the moment afternoon viewing because it’s Autumn and why not?

Either way, Fall and Halloween specials with the kids are my bag, and I wanted to pass along some of my personal favorites to recommend for anyone looking for some non-scary, but intensely entertaining treats for the eyes of your little ones, or even just you.

So, let’s hope into this leaf pile of nostalgia and spooks, shall we?

Silly Symphonies – The Skeleton Dance

skeleton-dance

The Skeleton Dance, a Walt Disney short from 1929, in all its black and white glory, is simply that – a group of skeletons that come out of the cemetery when the sun goes down and dance the night away, with macabre music made on their very own bones.

Mickey Mouse in Lonesome Ghosts

lonesome ghosts 37

Lonesome Ghosts is a 1937 Disney short featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as ghost hunters tricked into an old house by a group of mischievous ghosts looking for some entertainment. This one, in full-color, is another Disney classic.

If you possibly get iffy at times about the use of firearms in old cartoons, as I tend to be a bit wary of, know Mickey does bring a shotgun with him into the home. Standard for cartoons of the day, it’s good to know upfront should you want to put it into both a historical and safety context for any young ones, as I’ve tried to while we enjoy. Or, if unlike me, you don’t care about that sort of thing, then enjoy all on its own.

 

Donald Duck in Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat 1952

Capping off the Disney trio is my favorite of the three – Trick or Treat from 1952, featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie enlisting the help of a witch named Hazel (voiced by the late, great voiceover legend June Foray) for some Halloween comeuppance against their Uncle Donald, who proves to be the worst uncle in the world with the tricks he plays on the boys.

The opening and closing song of “Trick or Treat” will get stuck in your head, but it’s so much fun to sing, you won’t mind.

Halloween is Grinch Night

halloween-is-grinch-night.jpg

I’m always intrigued by the fact that the Grinch was one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular characters, but only appeared in that one published tale when he stole Christmas. Other than that, he’s been relegated to screen appearances, perhaps fueled by the adage about small doses. With its typical Seussian rhymes, it focuses on a young Who from Whoville who confronts the Grinch on Halloween/Grinch Night in an effort to stall him from making it to Whoville and scaring the entire population.

There’s familiar canine companion Max, and a lot of bizarre, surreal elements during the scare-sequence that might seem like something out of a Dali painting brought to life, but in the end, this sing-song tale of facing your fears is a fun Halloween romp that was actually written by Dr. Seuss himself! Minus Karloff this time around, Hans Conried, a familiar face to TV audiences in the 50s/60s and prolific voice-over actor, brings his refined diction to the titular Grinch.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

great pumpkin

Come on, does this one really need much of a write-up? This one has been a classic for decades.

Though no matter how many years go by, you can’t help but ask why this group of kids are so incredibly mean to poor Charlie Brown (and in this case, Linus, too).

Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to arrive on Halloween night, while the rest of the Peanuts gang go trick-or-treating in ghost costumes, where ol’ Chuck gets nothing but rocks. While yes, moments in it serve as a great reminder to not be so mean to people (what is your problem all the time, Lucy?!) the classic animation and characters still make it a fun tradition each and every year.

Curious George Halloween Boo Fest

curious george boofest

I refer to this as a contemporary classic and it’s quickly become one of my staples of the fall season.

Seriously. I will watch this whether kids are in the room or not. And it’s not just because the Man in the Yellow Hat is my spirit animal.

Taking place primarily at the Man’s country house (my favorite setting for the PBS Kids Curious George TV series, which alternates between their city apartment and the man’s family home in the country), George is intrigued by the neighborhood tales of No-Noggin, the scarecrow whose head disappeared years and years ago and now comes back at Halloween to kick off people’s hats and take them as his own.

Great songs, great characters, and just enough spooky Halloween atmosphere without being scary, this has become such a favorite of mine that when it recently came off of Netflix, I had to go out and buy a copy on DVD so we could have it.

So there’s your homework this season. To enjoy some fun viewings with your little ones or on your own that still stand the test of time in my opinion and are the perfect on-screen companion to the month of October.

Enjoy!

Grown-Up Bonus Viewing: Send the kids to bed and delight in all the kitsch of 1970s pop culture with the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, where Mr. Center Square himself guffaws his way through a haunted castle with Margaret “Wicked Witch of the West” Hamilton at his side and cameos by everyone from Betty White, to Florence Henderson, to KISS and H.R. Puffenstuff’s Witchiepoo.

Paul-Lynde Halloween


Car Seats 02So, in under a month we welcome our third child to our family and warn them of the impending insanity that they’ll be forced to tolerate for the rest of their little lives.

And while the occasion is certainly one for celebrating, it’s left our family with a particular dilemma – how to fit three young children in either of our cars.

My wife owns a 2009 Kia Sportage, and I, a 2011 Chevy Cruz. Both have gotten us by just fine, on our own and through parenthood with our first two. We use the one we call the ‘bucket loader’ (a Graco Click Connect) for our daughter, only putting her in and out versus lugging that bucket in and out with her soon to be two-year old self. Our son, now five is in an Evenflo (the exact model of which I can’t remember as I write this) in one car and a Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 in the other.

It’s all been well and good and served us very well through these past several years. But baby makes three and I’m not quite sure how we’re going to pull this off.

Car Seats 04This past weekend I disconnected and pulled each car seat out of both of our cars. I also assembled the Graco Turboboost booster seat we bought for our son, and spent the afternoon trying every conceivable combination of the various car seats, and found no way to fit three of them in either of our backseat.

We’ve visited many a website about the issue, we’ve solicited questions online from the general interwebs populace. And so far, we’re not having luck.

Yes, Helen. I’m very glad that you love the three booster seats you use for all three of your kids. But we’re talking about a newborn, a toddler, and a kindergartner, so that response, while bringing about much joy from me to you, does not help the question I posed.

And it’s wonderful, Karen, that your family loves the new SUV/Van/Car that you bought when you were having your third. I hope it serves you well. However, it doesn’t quite answer our question as to how in the world to make things work for our situation and the vehicles we have.

[All names have been changed to protect the innocent, of course.]

Car Seats 03Now my reactions may sound a bit snarky, and I say them in half-jest, but it’s because, truly, we’re in a pickle. We can’t use three booster seats across, as only one child is in the realm of possibly being eligible for a booster and that’s our oldest. And even using a booster in one slot does not allow for two other car seats in the space provided – at least not with the car seats we currently have.

And it’s easy to say “just get a new car,” and I wish we could. But we just can’t afford one right now. While we consider ourselves very fortunate for what we have, we don’t have enough money currently to go car shopping. Both our cars are paid off, which is one of the things that made it a lot easier for us to afford moving into a new home this past year. However, my undergraduate student loans, these 12+ years later, are still a shackle that I wear that holds back the entire family. I am currently paying double the amount on each of my student loans every month, and it equals out to roughly the same as our mortgage. Even at that overpaying rate, there is still 14-16 more months left before they are paid off completely and that money is freed up. To slow down and lessen those payments means prolonging that debt (and increasing it due to interest) and taking on even more debt with monthly car payments. So that part, really is not feasible.

As I say, we’re very grateful for what we have in our lives. That said, we try very hard to budget each dollar we have, because it all has to go someplace every month. We don’t use credit cards. We don’t do much extracurricular unless it’s something affordable or free. So we don’t tend to go willy-nilly with money. It’s just all allocated somewhere.

Car Seats 05So the best theory we can come up with for the time being is the short-term, one time pain of shelling out money to buy some new car seats that will work in combination with the booster to fit all three kids in our cars versus the long-term commitment of money to monthly car payments.

But what seats to use? That has been the biggest and toughest challenge.

We’ve been at this for far longer than now, but now it feels like the clock is ticking faster as we move more and more toward our new arrival. Any seat suggestions are appreciated if anyone’s been in a similar boat with similar-sized cars.

Because right now the only thing I’m driving is the crazy train.


crayons-coloring-schoolAn open letter to our son…

Tomorrow, you start kindergarten.

The mornings of pure play have passed, and the lessons of preschool now behind us, you set forth on an amazing and new adventure.

I’ll never forget that time driving in the car, back from vacation, when mommy was pregnant with your sister, that you sang twinkle, twinkle little star in the backseat. It wasn’t surprising. We sang it a lot back then. But when we heard you say “how I wonder what you are” instead of the “how me wonder what you are” that we had heard those first two and a half years of your life, mommy and I looked at each other, realizing that change is inevitable. You were growing as you’re destined to do. At some point mama became mommy and dada became daddy. Letters became sounds and words.

You may not realize it as it happens, and there may be times when it feels as though you’re in school “forever,” but a day will come when you look back and smile at what are the most fun-filled, exploratory, and intriguing adventures of your life. Full days. Lunches in the cafeteria. Days on the playground. New friends, and new lessons to be had. It all awaits you as you step off the curb and into this brand new world tomorrow.

You know your ABCs. You can count past 100. You love to sing, to dance, to draw, to create, to fathom worlds of wonder that amaze me more each day, and teach me more about animals and space exploration than I ever learned back in school.

I hope you’ll always enjoy The Beatles and The Monkees as much as you do today, without fear of what’s not current, of what many around you may like or dislike – that the things you love, though they may change over time, are still rooted and attached to the giant heart that beats beneath your chest.

drawing heartPlease remember that not everyone has to like you, agree with you, and that’s okay. Don’t let optimism, the hope, and the bright light that pours out of you ever be dimmed by those who wish to tear others down. Fill the buckets of those around you, but never at the expense of someone else’s, or your own. Just be you. You’re great at it.

As I walk back to my car, I will smile, I will wave, but inside I’ll be juggling the anxiety of knowing we are “letting you go,” off to the next chapter of your life with the hope and confidence (and touch of anxiety, because it comes naturally) that we have given you what you need up to this point to stand tall, to stay strong, to never stop learning, to be kind, and to just be your unique self, no matter what or who you may encounter along the way.

Know that you are loved. That no matter where your path takes you, you will be loved, with all our hearts. Above all else, at this start of your journey and hereon in, please, if there’s one thing to remember, it’s to always be true to yourself. That is the greatest gift you can give to this world, and to yourself.

Just be you.

Love,

Daddy and Mommy


library-shelvesRepository of knowledge. Information Center. Bibliotecha. Whatever you call it, libraries are the bomb.

Do kids still say the bomb?

I absolutely love libraries and these days I’ve rekindled that romance after a shifting mindset with an emphasis on simplicity and purging. This summer, Meg and I made it a goal to sort through the numerous boxes in our basement and closets that have sat there since we moved, and some well before that sat dormant in the basement of our previous house. And while the amount of ‘stuff’ varied, one thing that we certainly had a lot of, was books. Books we’ve read, many books we hadn’t, books we’re likely to never, ever read that just looked nice on a bookshelf. But of those books we had read, they were rarely, if ever going to be read again.

First LIbrary Card Rev1And so this growing fire of simplification was inspiration to start using the public library system more for things that were only going to get one use. The best part of all – we brought the kids with us.

On our son’s fifth birthday, Meg took him to our local library where he excitedly signed up for his first library card and walked away with an armful of books to sift through at home (yes, even though mommy told him to limit it to three). The next week or so were filled with great new stories at bedtime and any random time. And the best part – when we were all done, we brought them back.

No finding shelf space or storage space, no added clutter around the house.

And the selection! So much to choose from, right at your fingertips! Whether some Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the kids, or a non-fiction or novel for mom and dad (or graphic novel, even!), we get to enjoy the pleasure of reading, enjoying, then returning and it’s wonderful.

Yes, at times it can be a bit of a struggle to pull the kids away from the fun of toys in the play area, or the cool games on computers or tablets set up for public use. But it’s just part of what the library has to offer folks and I can’t encourage patronizing your local library enough.

library booksLibraries are books, they are knowledge, they are information for the masses versus only those who can afford it. It is access to technology to complete homework, to apply for a job, or conduct important research. They’re more than stacks. They’re a community center.

I know. I know. This post reads as if I only just discovered the library.

On the contrary. I worked in a public library for a bit of time when I was in college and my wife is a school librarian. And we’ve both been visiting our local libraries since we were little, but I think in this modern, internet-commerce world, it becomes easy to hop online and drop a few bucks (or a lot of bucks) for a book we have a sudden urge to read, but might never read again.

Are we done with bookstores and online ordering? Gosh, no. But we’re just becoming pickier about what we want to have eating up space, about what we’re buying that we don’t need to. And visiting our local libraries has certainly helped.

Yes. I’m excited to talk about my love of the library because let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a place where anyone can go, find information on almost anything, or entertaining reading on almost anything, catch up on the newspaper, use resources we may not be able to afford on our own, and all for free, provided we return it or use it in certain parameters.

To me, that’s simply amazing.



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