In case you needed a bedtime story. Here is Trystan reading “Good Night Moon”
In case you needed a bedtime story. Here is Trystan reading “Good Night Moon”
Am I proud of my son? Heck yeah!
Last Sunday, Trystan didn’t want to take a nap so I made him a deal.
“If you want to stay awake, then you have to do what the grown ups do while you kids are napping.”
So he washed dishes with me and afterward picked up all his toys in the livingroom.
Watching two boys wash dishes may not sound too exciting, I just love hearing what Trystan has to say…
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One morning when Trystan was about a year old, Shelly and I woke up to him crying. I groggily walked into his room to check on him and see his onesie is wet. It wasn’t long before the smell made it’s way into my sleepy nostrils and I realized that he had an explosive movement in his sleep and soiled not only his onesie, but his bed as well.
“Shelly! I need help,” I yelled across the hall into our room, “I’ll change Trystan, can you change his bedding?”
I unbuttoned and began to peel Trystan’s soiled onesie off him and realized that his leg was wet. I took him to the bathroom since the mess was bigger than I expected. “It’s okay Trystan,” I said as he continued to cry. I carefully lifted him by his armpits so as not to soil my own clothes and put him down in the middle of the bathroom. I turned the shower on then unbuttoned his clothing to realize that this kid had been marinating in grit, grains, and special s#*t sauce as his back was covered in poop. I quickly jumped away from the already crying toddler. “WAIT!” I yelled. He cried even more, confused by my reaction. “Stay right there!” I said, holding him back by his head as his arms desperately reached out for me. “STAY!” At that moment, I saw his face. I saw the embarassment, the sadness, the plea for me to console him. “ARRGHHH!” I said, “just wait a second.” I quickly took my clothes off, held my little “tar baby” tightly and climbed into the shower.
* * *
I really love being a dad. Learning to love my children is also learning how to allow myself to be loved by God. As a Roman Catholic, one of my favorite things to do is also one of my least favorite things to do… confession. Weakness is weakness and I seem to be taking the same sins into the confessional every single time I go. I’ve had the same weaknesses for as long as I can remember, sometimes I handle them better, other times not so well. Sometimes I even think that God must be getting really tired of hearing the same thing over and over. He must be getting tired of having to change my “dirty diapers” over and over. Really? Did I feel like that about Trystan almost three years ago before he potty trained? Do I feel like that about Zoey now as she is beginning to potty train?
No. I love my kids. I don’t see dirty diapers (even the explosive ones) as a sign of my children hating me, or as a reason for me to turn my back on them. As a matter of fact, it makes me happy when Zoey tells me that she went poopoo. The more she matures and progresses in her potty training, she will start coming to me BEFORE she poops. And hopefully, I can get her to the toilet in time before her “weak” untrained body can’t hold it in any longer. Sometimes I find myself “marinating” in my sins, holding it all in within my warm onesie of pride and stubborness. It never fails that the moment I cry out to my Daddy in heaven, and let him know that I have soiled myself, he comes to embrace me and clean me up. I KNOW this. If I, an imperfect daddy can embrace my son despite his mess, then so will my perfect Daddy do even more for me. Every time I bring myself to surrender my sins, I walk out of our church on cloud nine, with a skip in my step, feeling completely loved, embraced and freshly showered.
Seeing Trystan now, fully potty trained, gives me hope that I too will mature past my spiritual weakness. He inspires me by his sheer will power. I remember asking him once to stop sucking his thumb (after creatively explaining the consequences) and the subsequent days, Shelly and I noticed him fighting the desire to suck his thumb. Now he has grown out of that as well.
I am still working on letting my Daddy know BEFORE I soil myself instead of hoarding it like a little kid. In many ways I look up to my children, I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph felt raising Jesus.
* * *
“Zoey,” she looks at me “did you poopoo?” I ask because I saw her with her thinking face a moment before.
“No.” She says shaking her head. Her face looks guilty and I can smell the fresh cookies in the oven.
Why? Why does she hide it from me? All she has to do is say yes and I will gladly change her diaper. Then after asking myself why, I just smile because I know that I do the same thing. Then I lift my heart to heaven and say, “I love you too Daddy.”
One beautifully annoying trait about children is that they magnify what you give them. When people ask me what it’s like having kids, I tell them truthfully that you get what you put in multiplied by a factor x. Where this multiplier is exponentially proportional to the number of children you have. In layman’s terms, if you put in 5 units of fun and you have 3 kids, you get 5x5x5 (5 to the 3rd power) units back. Yes, this is me geeking out and finally using my 20 years of engineering experience in one of my blogs.
I ponder this today because at the end of the past few days, I’ve found myself tired and cranky at the kids. My schedule has shifted towards the early morning as I go to bed with the kids at 9:00pm and wake up anywhere between 3:30 to 5:00am because my body has gotten its 6 hour sleep quota. I drop the kids off at daycare at about 8:45am, go to work and get off at about 6:30pm. By the time I pick the kids up from daycare, my emotions are exhausted and I get really sensitive. So I’ve been taking field data about kids in general, after all, I’m the one who changed his schedule, so the kids are the control variable.
Naturally, getting off of work so late in the day, the first priority in my mind is schedule. I map out how long it will take us to get home, make dinner, bathe the kids, read books and then put them to bed. One day it was more difficult for me to be patient with Trystan as I tried to get him in the car and he just wanted to goof around. He ran around the car as I chase him to get him in his carseat and buckled up. I get impatient and he gets frazzled, so I get frustrated and he gets upset, I get angry and he starts crying. One morning, he got sad because his paper airplane, which was visibly worn from mileage, wasn’t flying as well as he wanted it to. I took it as my chance to see what happens if I just use the him to help me unwind, instead of giving him the opportunity to wind me up.
After work, I took a crisp piece of paper and made a paper airplane that even Howard Hughes would marvel at. I drove to the daycare and picked him up before Zoey. He gave me a big hug and thank you as I gave him the new paper plane. We spent about 5 minutes on the grassy lawn in between his building and Zoey’s building just flying the plane. “Look Daddy! It flies even if you throw it backwards!” He was happy when we picked up Zoey. So he made Zoey happy. The car ride home was spent talking about his day, talking about the new paper airplane, singing kids songs and making animal noises, or fart noises with our mouths.
As a performer, I’ve learned the art of having an “emotional curtain” where there are things you keep backstage and things that you perform for your audience. In this case my audience is Zoey. I smell a very ripe odor coming from her general direction so I ask, “Zoey, did you poop?”
“Noooo.” She replies shaking her head.
“Do you need a diaper change?”
She points to between her legs and nods. So I grab the changing mat, wipes and diaper. Gauging by the flavor and potency of the atmosphere around Zoey, I knew it was going to be a stinky one. So I open the stage curtains as I peel back her diaper.
BACKSTAGE: Oh my gosh, I want to gag. My eyes sting.
ONSTAGE: “Zoey, are you joking with me? I thought you didn’t have a poopoo?”
I try to play it off by taking short breaths through my mouth.
Zoey: Happy Birthday To You!!!
Yes, she started singing the happy birthday song. I guess she interpreted my breathing as blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.
Oh yes, there are many times when I have to bring the curtains up and create a magical play for Trystan and Zoey, but it sure makes life more fun. Instead of bringing them into the backstage madness of missed lines, quick changes and conflict between cast members, I feed them the energy that I want to get back as I stand onstage with the spotlight on me.
Before Trystan, our first child was born, Shelly and I attended a baby nursing class that was focused on breastfeeding. The class taught us about different ways to hold the baby, the proper latch, nursing tips and most importantly to listen to your baby to anticipate its needs. That final lesson is something that I took to heart and have continued to apply ever since.
“A baby whose needs are met has no reason to cry.”
Trystan doesn’t cry for things that he wants. I attribute it to the exercise of trying to anticipate what he needs and giving it to him before he has a chance to cry for it. While he was an infant, when he rooted while he was sleeping, then Shelly would feed him as soon as he woke up. When he exhibited tiredness, then we swaddled him and rocked him to sleep. When he would squirm around, we checked the diaper. We tried to respond to his needs before he started crying so he didn’t know what it was like to cry for things.
Learning to listen to your baby is the foundation of listening to your child as they grow into adolescents, teens, young adults and adults. These four basic needs of rest, sustenance, comfort and cleanliness (health) are what all other needs come from. So if we know how to listen for them when our child is a baby, then we’ll better be able to listen to them when they’re older and have more complex emotions affecting their expression of these needs.
Here are just a couple of things that have helped me and Shelly listen and respond to Trystan and Zoey’s needs.
Getting your children on some sort of schedule really helps in anticipating tiredness, hunger and potty needs. A newborn’s feeding schedule is more frequent at about every hour or so. It is consistent, unlike bladder and bowel movements which you just watch for and change the baby when it happens.
Now that Trystan and Zoey are toddlers, they pretty much wake up between 7 and 8am, eat by 9am. They nap anytime between 11 and 2pm. Eat dinner about 7pm then bathe and sleep right afterward. So my daily schedule revolves around anticipating what they are going to need at specific times during the day. For example, I had a job interview yesterday at 3pm, so I put the kids down to nap at 11am and woke them up at 1pm to get ready to go to the sitter by 2pm. I could have skipped their nap risking leaving a couple of cranky kids with the person kind enough to help me out.
Another thing that helped was knowing their warning signs.
Warning Signs: Tired/Sleep
The different needs yield different warning signs. The most obvious for our kids are the signs of sleep. It starts with them zoning out and they start losing physical strength and coordination; Trystan even drifts when he runs (runs sideways when trying to turn). What comes next is giddy happiness followed by a meltdown. I know that the closer they get to meltdown the less capacity to reason they have. Therefore, I try to catch it early and start to mentally prepare them for sleep before the meltdown phase. If I can get them to bed before the giddy phase, I can usually reason with them to get to bed, then sing them to sleep without fuss or fight.
There is a thin line between the giddy phase and the meltdown phase… it is like the pressure relief valve on a turbocharger, it needs to blow off the excess pressure then you can feel the engine “relax”. So what I do with Trystan and Zoey is “over clock” their system so they hit the peak pressure sooner. In layman’s terms, I hold them in a hug providing resistance to wherever they are pushing against me and let them cry it out. After a while (shouldn’t be more than ten minutes) the cry becomes more breathy and less constricted and it usually comes with less of an effort when they push against me. I wait for them to set up for another push at which point I relax my whole body and let them push with no resistance. The most common response from both of them is that the screaming turns into whimpering, they relax and either curl up or sprawl out and then close their eyes and fall asleep within 2 minutes.
Warning Signs: Hunger
The first warning sign for hunger is usually schedule. You know the last time they ate, so you should know about when they are going to be hungry again. Some other signs are asking for snacks, or hunting for snacks. Some of us parents get frustrated that they keep asking for candy or cookies and don’t realize that we’ve been on the go and it’s already 2 o’clock and we still haven’t fed the them anything. The best remedy for this is good planning and scheduling, having on hand a small snack that would whet their appetite and keep them busy for a while if you’re running behind your carefully planned schedule.
Warning Signs: Comfort
Just like mommy and daddy, Trystan is a pretty emotional kid so there are times when he just needs to be comforted. Frustratingly, this usually comes after a confrontation with me and so I have to judge whether I should console him or let him “tough it out”. One of the things I watch out for is his “emotional win tank”. If he is on a slippery slope of getting in trouble and it has been the third time he’s been disciplined in a short span of time, then I know that I have to drop everything and just hug the kid. I just need to take him to his room and hold him and tell him how much I love him. Most of the time it is due to fatigue, so I consider if we had a late night the night before, or how long or how well he napped earlier in the day, or how close it is to bed time. After holding him and giving him words of comfort I ask him easy questions. Questions that have no wrong answer. Most of the time, the answer is “because I love you.”
Another time that Trystan needs comfort is because he is trying to do the right thing and the painful reality leaves him wanting. For example, Zoey takes something he is playing with and there is no way we can get it from her. In this case, he comes to me to “tell on Zoey” but it’s not only justice that he is seeking, it is affirmation. He knows not to snatch from her so he goes to us to either get the toy back, or to let him know that he is doing the right thing by not snatching. I think that affirmation in this circumstance is really important because it is forming his virtue of fortitude, his strength to stay true amidst adversity and injustice.
If you’re looking for something to do with your family this summer, here is an awesome event in the Los Angeles, CA area. Shakespeare Festival at Griffith Park. The admission is free through Goldstar, you just have to pay a $4.50 service fee for each ticket, but the seating is limited so reserve your spot now. It’s an amazing venue and performed by professional actors.