Thursday, July 15, 2010

The End of the Line

I haven't posted in a long, long time. In the past few months, my little baby has grown from a tiny infant to a toddler who has boundless energy and changing needs. She is currently at 16 months, walks, talks, runs, and is constantly exploring whatever she seems to want to explore, whether we want her there or not.

In non-baby care time, I've had to choose between blog posting, writing, or performing house chores. In the end, blog posting got put way down the list, especially since, let's face it, this blog's been a dud. I've gotten virtually no feedback on it, and it didn't grow the way I had envisioned it. In fact, I've been thinking about just deleting the thing and forgetting it.

I've been unemployed for seventeen months now. Seems like a long time, but I knew someday I would have to find a job. I really hoped my unemployment would continue coming through July and into August--as it was supposed to--but Congress recently decided that all those lazy unemployed Americans needed to get off their widening butts and find themselves a job. (Isn't that what they said? I think it was, I could be exaggerating a little.) Unemployment extensions thus were ended, cutting off the meager income to millions of people just like me, many of whom are far worse off.

My last check was two weeks ago. Luckily I've been able to sell a few things in the house that will allow us to keep going for maybe three more weeks, then we dip into our savings until it's gone.

Obviously, I can't allow us to deplete our savings account, so I am actively searching for a job. Well, just as actively as I have been searching for the past seventeen months! I have resumes out right now for jobs I would be perfectly suited for, but the phone never rings. I just can't afford to be as picky as I used to regarding temporary versus full-time work, or how much I'd like to make. Or what part of town the job is located in. Or what kind of work it actually is.

I do know this, though. Whatever I earn has to include the new cost of day care for Little One.

I've really enjoyed the time I've been able to spend with her. It's uncommon for a parent to be able to stay home and raise the baby while the spouse works, in today's economy, anyway. It was never my first choice, but doing so allowed me to watch her grow up, get a lot of work done around the house, and do some serious writing. I'm really going to miss the experience. It's time for daycare.

I checked around. The most affordable and closest daycare that we both like is $145 a week, which isn't so bad compared to others I've heard about. We can afford $145 a week as long as my new job pays at least four dollars more per hour than I was making in unemployment. Not easy to find, right? Well, I'm working on it.

But what if I can't find something? What if I get a job at Krogers that pays minimum wage? That means she still goes into daycare, and our savings account will start going down every week, just not as fast. Before long, there will be no money left.

So, I'm looking. And looking and looking and looking.

And so are millions of others just like me, all vying for the same jobs.

Thanks, President Obama! Glad I voted for you, and not that other guy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What do you REALLY need when you have a baby?

It was November since I last posted. Real life kind of got in the way, plus I've been working on revising my novel for the trillionth time. Meanwhile our little Baby Snooks has aged to 10 months. She crawls everywhere now, stands up on her own, and is about ready to walk. She says mama and dada all the time and is just the cutest thing you ever saw.

I've been reflecting lately on what you need when you have a baby, things they don't tell you about in the birthing class.

The problem is this: spending money on things the baby is only going to use for a few months, then quickly outgrow. That's why I advocate buying used. Yard sales will become your best friends as your baby grows. Use them and love them. Also, most, if not all the things you can also buy used on Craigslist. Remember: there is nothing wrong with used, although some new mothers might try to convince you otherwise.

So, here's a list of stuff YOU NEED.

Changing table. Yeah, yeah, I've heard in the past that you don't really need one. Sure, you can spend the first fifteen or eighteen months bent over on the floor changing the baby's diaper. And your back will thank you for it. A changing table allows you to stand and change your baby's diaper. It makes it easier and faster than kneeling on the floor or side of the bed. They cost a lot new, but you can find good ones used on Craigslist or at a consignment store. Buy a sturdy one.

A good diaper pail. Sure, you can just toss the used diaper in the trash, but wow, do they get ripe after a while. We use a Diaper Genie, and it works just fine, but they have a better one that allows you to toss the diaper in, and it grabs it and does the rest, whatever that is. A minus to the Diaper Genie is that you have to use their bags. My opinion is that there shoud be a Diaper Genie that recycles used plastic grocery bags.

A "busy box" for the crib. These are nice because it gives the baby a chance to busy herself after she wakes up (or while she is preparing to go to sleep) without screaming her head off for some attention.

Music for the nursery. Babies seem to sleep better when there's soothing music playing. You can invest in a cheap CD player or a little music box that attaches inside the crib. Your call; they'll both do the same thing.

A swing, rocker, bouncy seat, or other holding device. Why are these great? When the baby is very young, this is a nice, safe place to keep her while you're busy. You can't hold her all the time. And sometimes she doesn't want to be held. And you have stuff you've got to do. Let her enjoy a swing for a little while. She might even fall asleep in it. Hooray! But be forewarned: a little time is generally enough. She won't appreciate being stuck in it for an hour.

Food Grinder. You don't need an expensive electric one. A simple $6 hand grinder will work just fine for the single-feeding meals. Once your baby is eating solid foods starting at 6-9 months, you can start grinding small portions of your family dinner into something your baby will enjoy. Hey, that's one less jar of baby food you'll have to buy. We ground up Thanksgiving dinner for our baby, and she ate every bite. She also liked the spaghetti I fed her. The food possibilities you can give her are endless, but it might be best to stay away from the spicy stuff. She only needs bland right now.

Things that go without saying: baby monitor. YES! baby gate. YES! Port-a-crib. YES! Good stroller. YES! Baby Bjorn or some other carrying device: YES! TOYS. YES! Earplugs: SOMETIMES!

What about things you don't need?

Wipe warmer. I was on the fence about this when it was suggested we get one. I mean, it's a luxury, and the baby doesn't care one way or another. But we found one for $7 on Craigslist, and I have to admit, it's a nice thing to have, especially since the nursery sometimes cools down between furnace cycles.

Expensive clothes and shoes. I ask, why? What's the point of $30 baby shoes? Grudgingly, it's okay if it's a gift. But when you buy them for your own baby? If she is 9 months old, and you buy her a pricey 12 month outfit, she can only wear those dollar bills for maybe four months. Then it's off to the yard sale box. Again, why?

Baby Einstein DVDs. It's been proven that they don't do anything. They won't transform your baby into a musical prodigy any more than Barney will. The only thing they do do is distract your baby for a half-hour or so. And that distraction can be really nice. But then, practically anything on the Disney Channel will accomplish the same thing for free.

Sterilizer. We have one that goes in the microwave, and in the last ten months, it hasn't left its box. It has been said that the baby's bottles and things don't need to be sterilized. Simply washing them with soap and water is perfectly fine. Our baby's still alive and disease free, so I think we're doing something right.

Your baby can read! and other early learning tools. You can do this if you want, but before she turns one, why bother? I think the What to Expect the First Year book summed it up best: for the first year, let your baby be a baby. She can learn to read later. And I agree, and I'm the one who might adocate this sort of thing, being a reader and a writer. And I don't advocate it, not before turning one, anyway. See, when she's this young, she isn't aware of how things work in the world. She has no clue that anything beyond her own touch even exists. That's why we have to change her diaper so often. She has no idea what she's even putting in there, or that it's even happening. Until she starts understanding more of the world, just let her be a baby. She's only that way once.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sticking to a Schedule. It makes life easier

So yeah, I've let my stay-at-home-dad blog slide a little. Sometimes I have to make a choice: write the blog, write a book, practice piano, or chase my little baby girl around the living room. Time has passed since my last entry. Quite lot of time, apparently. She's 8 months old now. She's "talking." She's crawling. She keeps me quite busy during the day.

But those subjects are fodder for other blog entries.

If you're reading this, then you might still be interested in the early months of raising your little baby, say the first six months of life.

So today, I'd like to talk about maintaining a schedule.

One of the mistakes I made during the second/third month, this was after my wife returned to work, was that I wasn't putting little Baby Snooks (that's what we call her) on a nap schedule. I was just doing my daily thing while she just laid in her bassinette doing her daily thing. I fed her when I thought was necessary, let her catnap when she thought was necessary, and strangely, when her mother got home from work, she was cranky and fussy and generally somewhat unpleasant. This went on for two or three weeks or so.

Until my wife finally said, "How long did she nap today?"

And I said, with a duh expression on my face, "Nap?" (She nodded off a few times in her bassinette. Wasn't that good enough?)

It turned out that babies require actual naps. And I hadn't been enforcing it. These naps can be worked in around her feeding schedule.

When you get released from the hospital with your new baby, they give you a little chart that lists how much you need to feed her per day. This is adjusted accordingly as time passes. I was feeding her every four hours, since that was the longest she could go without getting hungry. At first, it was four ounces of breast milk every four hours. Later it was adjusted to six ounces, then even later, eight ounces.

What do do in between? Naptime.

Here is the daily schedule I created, which solved all of my problems of naps and feedings:

6:00. She wakes up, mommy feeds her, then back to bed. She wakes again around 7:30 to 8. Stays active for morning.

10:00. Gets fed morning bottle.

10:30 or 11. Takes morning nap.

12:00 (or 1, depending on day). Wakes up.

2:00. Gets fed afternoon bottle.

3:00 (or whatever time she seems ready). Afternoon nap. Hopefully for two hours.

5:00 (or when she wakes up). Awake and active.

6:00. Mommy comes home to happy baby.

And that's what I've been doing for the past six months or so. Since that time, we've introduced jars of baby food which I've inserted into the schedule, and it all seems to work out fine.

These two sources talk more about creating schedules: The Baby Whisperer Book, and What to Expect the First Year.

Let's talk first about Baby Whisperer. The author of this is very opinionated on just about everything. For instance, she doesn't like pacifiers. Hate to say this, but babies love pacifiers, and I don't think you can persuade any parent from using them. But I digress. Although Baby Whisperer suggests a schedule, she feels it's too rigid and is more demanding on a parent's time than on baby's. Instead, she prescribes her incomprehensible "EASY" schedule, which I've re-read several times and still don't quite get. So, I stuck to my own aforementioned schedule, and all is well.

What to Expect the First Year maintains that babies want and need predictability in their lives, so it's best to do things every day at roughly the same time, which is what I've been trying to do. Needless to say, it works for me.

What this all boils down to is this: if you put your baby on a specific daily schedule as early as you can, that is, at two or three months, it makes life easier for both you and your baby. It's great to have a couple of hours to yourself during the day while your baby naps, and she'll feel better for it, too. Plus, when her mother takes her when she gets home from work, baby will be rested and happy.

Meanwhile, in the real world, as of early November, 2009, the national unemployment rate is at 10%. Given these numbers, and my continued inability to land a job (after being unemployed for over ten months), it looks like I could be a stay-at-home dad for a long, long time.

As long as Congress keeps the extended unemployment benefits going, I should be okay past December and into 2010. After then, either I sell a book, or I go to work at Wal Mart. Assuming they have any openings.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Colic problems? Or just crying? How to calm your baby with a SIMPLE method.

When I was Christmas shopping back in December, 2008 I bought my wife a book whose cover promised to help stop a baby's crying.

It was called The Happiest Baby on the Block.

She got the book for Christmas, but I was actually the first to read it. You see, our baby girl was due in March, and the last thing I wanted was to endure the long bouts of crying that I remembered following the birth of my sister over thirty years ago. (This same sister grew up to get a Ph.D. I still like to remind her that I used to change her diapers. Hi, Julie!)

Anyway, I started reading the book before March and learned that it was easily possible to stop a baby's crying. Lots of people like to recommend you just put the baby down in a crib and let her "cry it out." Sure, that works, like after three straight hours of crying, the baby finally passes out from sheer exhaustion. Meanwhile, you, the parent, have totally lost your mind and are drooling in the corner.

It's "colic," they all say.

Maybe, maybe not. According to pediatrician Dr. Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, in some other cultures babies never get colic. But they sure do in America. Why is that?

After many years of research, Dr. Karp formulated a five-point method of relaxing a baby and turning on its "calming reflex." All babies are born with a few basic reflexes, and the calming reflex is one that few parents truly understand.

Dr. Karp makes the whole thing simple with his "Cuddle Cure." I'm not going to reiterate the entire method or go into why the process works. Here's one article, among dozens online, that goes into the Cuddle Cure. I'll just cover the highlights regarding my own experience.

The five "S's" of the Cuddle Cure are:

1. Swaddle

2. Turn baby on her Side

3. Shushing

4. Swinging

5. Sucking

As I said above, the book goes into tremendous--and easy to read--detail about how to do the above with your baby. Here are the highlights:

1. Swaddle: wrap her tightly in a swaddling blanket, or a "Swaddler" available at all baby stores. Note: the Swaddler makes the Cuddle Cure much easier.

2. Hold her on her side facing away from you.

3. Shushing: Going "shhh" into her ear or playing a white noise device.

4. Swinging: Rock her back and forth, rigidly, the more she's screaming, the faster you rock her. OR, jiggle her body, especially her head, as if she were a bowl of Jell-O. Jiggling GENTLY.

5. Sucking. Once she's calmed down enough, stick a pacifier in her mouth and hold it there--all while shushing and swinging.

Within five minutes, she will be calm relaxed, and falling asleep.

I guarantee it.

This method works.

I started using the Cuddle Cure within five days of her birth, and the first time I used it, it was almost frightening about how quickly she calmed down. Any time baby Alayna started crying for no apparent reason, that is, she was fed, had a clean diaper, not cold or uncomfortable, just crying, I would calm her using this method.

And it worked every single time.

Depending on the time of day or circumstance, she would generally fall asleep in three minutes, which was my average. More extreme cases took longer, that is, five to eight minutes. Other times, she would be relaxed enough to lie there and suck her pacifier with her eyes closed, but she wasn't sleeping, just totally relaxed.

And Mommy and Daddy were happy.

During the hectic first three months, the Cuddle Cure was a lifesaver. It kept my sanity intact and Alayna never got colic. She couldn't--I would never let her cry long enough for her to indicate that she had colic.

Granted, there were often uncontrollable problems that would hamper my using the Cuddle Cure. Most of all, gas. When a baby has gas pains, all the parent can do is offer her gas drops, rub her tummy, lift her legs, and hope it doesn't last. I would use the Cuddle Cure during these episodes, and she would be all relaxed until she suddenly buckled her legs and started yelling. In these cases, I would keep calming her until she relaxed again. Thankfully, the gas pains passed after two to three months.

I became the Jedi Master of the Cuddle Cure. When we were visiting family or friends, other people would see me do it and remark, "That's amazing! You should give seminars on how to do that!" I would explain that it was not my method, but it came from The Happiest Baby on the Block.

After three months, though, the baby transitions out of the stage where the Cuddle Cure works the best. Baby Alayna is four months old and weighs 13 pounds and is too big to be swaddled. In fact, in her last days of swaddling she would routinely fight her way out of the swaddler like Harry Houdini escaping from a straight jacket. Now she sleeps without the swaddler and seems just fine.

I still use the Cuddle Cure, but in a slightly modified way. When she's crying and upset, I will still do at least four of the five S's (no swaddle) and it still works. I think by now she's used to being calmed this way. So, when I turn her on her side, swing her, shush her, and put the pacifier in her mouth, she almost instinctively starts calming down because she knows what I'm trying to do.

The Cuddle Cure at work. "Thanks, Dr. Karp!"

I taught my wife to calm the baby this way, and she started using it and it works every time for her, too.

Next to the b
ook What to Expect the First Year, I can't recommend enough The Happiest Baby on the Block for any new parent, especially the Stay at Home Dad. What better way to keep from losing your mind than to be able to keep your baby from crying?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Teething is like a time bomb that has waited to go off inside your baby's mouth.

In our case, our baby started teething at four months.

It starts innocently enough. She started drooling and chewing on her fist all the time. Then she started yelling for no apparent reason and exhibiting signs of pain. She was extra crabby and sometimes wouldn't want to go to sleep.

That's when we knew it:

She was teething.

It's a horror story all parents like to tell, and every part of it is true. If your baby hasn't started teething yet, I'll give you the low down and get you ready for it.

Teething hurts, and you're there to help. Some pediatricians and books advise using Orajel on the gums, so we've tried that a few times. It seems to work. However, be warned: if you use too much, when she swallows it, it numbs her throat. Then she can't tell when she swallows, and her lungs fill with saliva. This happened to my daughter nearly a month ago. I used a dab of Orajel, and in a minute she started wheezing as if she were completely congested. I freaked out and came within seconds of calling the doctor. But I held her upright in my lap, and by waiting nervously, she was able to cough it all out.

So, be judicial if you decide to use it.

You can also use Infant Tylenol, if the pediatrician says it's okay. We've had to use it a few times and it seems to help ease her pain.

Teething rings are the temporary, non-drug solution. It seems to me, though, that our baby loses interest in the teething ring very quickly. She'll chew on it a little and fuss. She does like to bite down on other things, though, including her fingers, plastic car keys, and sometimes her clothing.

When all else fails, I can calm her down using the Cuddle Cure, which I'll discuss in the next post.

Her teeth are definitely showing. You can see and feel two hard little nubs poking through her lower gums, right in the front. Since teething is a painful experience, you, as a Responsible Stay at Home Dad, must do what you can to calm her down. Put other things aside for right now, take her in your arms and give her what she needs to calm down, whether it's Tylenol, a teething ring, or just parental love and attention.

Teething doesn't last forever, and it doesn't happen all day long. She has her bouts on some days; other days she's just fine. I'll keep periodic updates on this blog to follow her as her teeth come in.

How to Keep Your Sanity with an infant in the house

Remember the days before the baby came? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

Unwittingly, since then you've become a househusband.

1950s television presented the world with the traditional housewife, keeping house while the husband worked. Now, that's you. Your wife brings home the bacon while you keep the house. Seems kind of demoralizing at times. We men were raised with the ideals that the Man Works to Support His Family and the woman is the wife and mother of her children.

Not any longer.

It is up to us to raise our kids while our wives work, at least as long as we can afford to do so. My unemployment won't last forever, and God willing someday I'll find a new job. When the time comes, I must find some sort of child care for the baby. I won't like it, baby won't like it, but it's the reality.

Until then, though, I'm the primary caregiver to a fussy little baby that can only communicate through noise.

Which brings me to my original point. How do we men keep our sanity while caring for our little baby?

The main thing I keep in mind is not to forget who I am and what I like to do. I have hobbies that I've enjoyed doing for the past twelve or so years. Yes, the baby requires feeding diapering, interaction, and love. And I give her all those things, and--this will sound crazy--I enjoy doing those things. Well, the diaper changes get monotonous. If I could toilet-train her now, I certainly would, but she can't even sit up yet.

Thankfully, the baby takes naps twice a day. During these periods I am free to do my own thing. However, as househusband I must perform the traditional house chores: laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc. But I have hobbies: writing and working on my old car are at the top of my list. Currently I'm between books and have taken a break from writing at this time, which is why I started this blog.

The point I'm trying to make is that though you are a new father taking care of a baby, you can't lose sight of who you are. Keep doing what you enjoy when you can: you absolutely have to take a break from the endless child care sometimes. Caring for an infant is a 24 hour a day responsibility, but when your wife comes home, she's going to want to spend time with the baby herself, and that's one of the times you can relax with a beer and be by yourself for a little while. Sure, you will do the family thing, but try to relax once in a while and be yourself, whether it's during one of baby's naps or when she's happily swinging in her infant swing.

Keep up with your hobbies. Or read. Or write. Or fix things. Play your guitar or piano. It's easy to let all these things slide while caring for your infant, but in order to keep your sanity, you must remember to be yourself, too.

One of my next posts will focus on how to calm your fussy, noisy baby.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Stay at Home Dad

Welcome to the new blog, The Stay at Home Dad. If you're reading this, you might be among the legions of fathers who, for one reason or another, raise their kids while their wives work.

I started this blog for two main reasons:

a. I lost my job.

b. I raise my baby daughter while my wife works.

We had been married eleven years when we finally decided it was time to have a baby. We were both working good, full time jobs, had bills paid, owned our house, and had even saved money. I had a good job, I had been there for two and half years. It had good pay and good potential for longevity. So, she got pregnant and soon after, the economy went nuts and I lost my job.

Our baby daughter was born March 4, 2009. After my wife's maternity leave ended, she went back to work and I became a Stay at Home Dad.

It's a true reversal of roles so different than when I was growing up. When I was a kid, my father worked full time while my mother raised us. Ideally it might be that way today. But for various reasons, the fathers are either quitting or losing their jobs and stay home to raise the kids. Our numbers are growing.

I am one of those dads.

Our baby is four months and I am continuing to learn from my experiences of raising her. The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences with other new dads, and invite others to share what they've learned as well. That way, we can all learn from each other and make it somewhat easier to raise our babies through their first years.

I know that I am not an expert, but I have learned a few things that might save other fathers from getting headaches as they struggle to understand what their little noise machines want during their first few months of life. Other similar blogs might feature fathers with multiple children and how they deal with them. This blog focuses on the new baby, at least until our second one comes along. (And by that time, I had better either have my novel published or be working full time.)

Please check back often as I continue to add entries.

And if you're wondering about the blog's address, it refers to my efforts of trying to get my baby daugher to say "daddy." So far, all I hear from her are small shrieks. But I still try.

Upcoming topics:

Why Static is your friend.

The Happiest Baby on the Block. Buy it. Use it.

The Schedule. How it works, why it's important.

How to keep your sanity in between feedings and diaper changes.

How to potentially get more sex from your spouse.

Who has the cheapest (but good quality) diapers? I've got the lowdown on at least two brands.