Thursday, December 19, 2013

Eating Solid Food

This was a large step for all of us.  At the sixth month, we took Jonah to the doctor’s office and he gave the ok to give Jonah something other than formula.  For some strange reason, we were fired up about this.  It was like the doctor had told us we could now collect $25 with every diaper we changed or something.  Or that we were guaranteed free college for Jonah or that we could all immediately go out for a steak dinner.   We couldn’t control ourselves, mostly because we had no idea what was ahead.

We did know that feeding him more “solid” food translated into more work and more mess, but we didn’t care.  

We just knew it was more!

We were elated that we could now feed Jonah rice cereal at 6:30am.   And then we could switch to oatmeal.  And then to green beans to squash to sweet potatoes and then to carrots.  Yes, Carrots!  And then, the big time.  Yep, we knew that fruit was on the menu and that Jonah was our main customer.  WE COULD NOT WAIT.  We had lost our ever-lovin’ minds.  We had no clue!

The first morning that Jonah was going to dine on rice cereal, I was up about twenty minutes ahead, reading the directions on the rice cereal box like I was responsible for constructing an H-Bomb or something. 

I was focused. 
I was ready. 
I was clueless.

About the time I had the bottle and the rice cereal mixed and ready to go, I heard Jonah’s little grunt from the other room.  He was ready, too. 

I decided to leave his pajamas on because I thought that he’d be cold when I fed him.  I was thrilled because I put him in the high chair for the first time and affixed the detachable tray with expectation.

As I began feeding him his bottle, I wondered how he was going to eat the food as well.  I didn’t know whether I should give him the bottle first, then the cereal, the cereal first then the bottle or an alternation of the two.  I hadn’t been where a baby had his first bite of real food, so I was in the dark. 

I made it up as I went along.  Like most people, I thought God made airplanes so that mothers and fathers could do the “airplane” thing with the food.  I gave it a try.  I made the sound, moved the spoon full of rice cereal around in an airplane motion, and moved the spoon toward his mouth. 

He was excited, he was motivated, and he was moving when I tried to feed him.   The spoon got to his mouth just in time for Jonah to move his head.  My first attempt at feeding Jonah real food resulted in an ear full of rice cereal.  

Just because I just spackled Jonah’s ear shut did not mean I was disappointed.  Sure, I could have done it better, but this was our first time.  So I tried it again.  This time, my effort resulted in Jonah snorting a little rice cereal.  I tried it again.  In the hairline.  I tried it again.  Inside his pajamas.  I tried it again.  In his armpit.  I tried it again.  Between his toes. 

So, I tried another method.  I like to call it the bottle-and-stuff method of eating.  Here’s how it goes:  I start Jonah off on the bottle and then quickly take it out of his mouth with my left hand when he begins a good rhythm.  With my right hand, I would stuff a spoon full of rice cereal in his mouth. 

The stuffing is the most important part, requiring the correct force with the correct level of infiltration.  In other words, I needed to gauge how hard I was going to stick the spoon into his open trap while noting how far in the spoon would go.  If I didn’t put it in enough, Jonah wouldn’t eat it.  If I stuck the spoon too far into the mouth, he would gag.  Either way, my boy was going to eat about half of what I prepared. 

Which brings me to a few revelations:

#1:       The boy needs to eat naked from now on.  (If not fully naked, a diaper is the most he should wear).  That first time, I left his pajamas on, and he came out looking like a furry rice ball.  It got all over. 

#2:       Bath time comes after feeding.  Although he could get messy with the bottle, the real food caused minor explosions of food to fly all over.  He didn’t so much eat it as drool it.  Bathing Jonah after he eats is like showering after painting a room—you find paint on body parts that you never thought you’d have paint on.

#3:       This food isn’t really solid food.  I’d never really looked at baby food, but I noticed that no chewing is required.  That’s good, because home-boy only has gums at the moment and those don’t really help with barbecued chicken breast.

#4:       Just because it’s on his face does not mean that I can’t scrape it off and put it back in his mouth.  Same goes for food on his chest, arms and in his belly button.  Waste not, want not.  I had times where I was done with the baby food jar, but I still scraped four or five spoonfuls off of his torso.

At this rate, I needed Jonah’s skin to be able to absorb the rice cereal like a Brazilian tree frog because his mouth was not cooperating.  Jonah was not interested in eating this stuff. 

It wasn’t the bottle or the boob, so he didn’t care about it. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bathing Together

My mother painted a picture that still hangs on their bathroom wall.  It reads, “Save water; bathe with a friend.”  While I can question the ethics of such a painting—bathing in multiples conveys a moral flexibility not often found in a Christian home—the message itself was practiced for a limited time in our the Towles household.

Our house changed significantly throughout our time growing up.  It started as a nursery, housing a baby for six or seven years, then as a playroom for about a decade, then as a dormitory for migratory teenagers, then a crash pad for college students.  Even now, my parents’ home converts itself into a hotel during holidays or family get-togethers. 

While we were in the playroom phase of the home, my parents got creative with how we were cleaned up, hosed off or deloused.  We were boys, so we transitioned back and forth between three stages: filthy, dripping from the bath, or on our way to being filthy again.  If you have only raised girls or you have grown up around girls, you may not understand the depth of filth I am talking about.  It’s the kind of dirty that often required a “prewash” hosedown in the backyard, sans and shirts, and then a dip in the tub.   This kind of dirtiness required flexibility usually reserved for a general in a war zone or a kindergarten teacher or an acrobat in circe du soleil.  My parents had to understand what would get us clean and keep us clean, at least while we were close enough for us to touch them.  (Being that filthy, many times we’d stick to them if we were not clean enough, mainly because dirt, juice residue and grape jelly form a very strong mastic.  This is dangerous stuff if you like being clean and physically separated from those who are not clean.)

In order to have time other than bathing, my parents devised a plan to reduce bath time without a reduction in cleanliness:  multiple bathers.  Yep, they threw us all in at once.  Great plan.

As my Dad tells it, this multiple bathers idea really took off around the time I could sit up in the bath with my older brother, Joe.  I could sit up in the bath and Joe was about the age where bathing was a play time, so Joe would play “lets-see-how-long-little-brother-can-hold-his-breath,” which explains my short-term memory problem. 

Actually, my parents were there supervising, but that didn’t mean that problems didn’t arise.  Picture the scene.  There, in the quiet of the evening, with the problems of the day behind the Towles family and the moment of rest and slumber ahead of them, they would gather in the bathroom for the night-time scrubdown and bed time.  Mom and Dad would strip us down and place us in the warm communal waters of brotherhood.   With toys and washcloths and soap, they commenced bathing, but they neglected to tell us filthy little boys that our purpose in the tub was to reverse our filthy state, to scrub us clean, to make us less malodorous.  We didn’t get it.

We thought bath time was fun time, where we splashed and threw toys, or we thought it was torture time where brother Joe played the aforementioned “underwater” game, or we thought it was potty time.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I would love to blame the brown submarines that often accompanied our communal tub time on my brother Joe, but I know that I was the creator of those floaties. 

At this stage of fatherhood, I reflect on the communal tub scene with a bit of confusion.  Before I became a father, I just thought it was a funny I-soiled-the-tub-I-shared-with-Joe story.  It was humorous, that satisfied grin stretched on my face as Joe tried to avoid my creation as it sped toward him in the ever-shrinking tub. 

As a parent, I am confused that they still tried it after the first time I added my own efforts to “tub time.”  Why would they keep on taking that risk?  Why did they put us in the tub together again, repeatedly? 

It just presented a potential for much more work than two boys being bathed separately.  It required a massive cleanup effort:  the tub, then Joe, then me, then my Mom or Dad, depending on who cleaned the tub.  

It didn’t seem like a good idea, but communal tubbing revealed a massive secret of parenthood:  when it’s your idea, you tend to hang onto it longer than if someone told you about it.  That’s the issue with parenting:  it makes you an expert, even though you’re clueless.  My parents didn’t know what the heck they were doing, but we kids depended on them to hose off the stale applejuice and peanut butter.

Fortunately, the time for communal bathing came to an end, mostly because Joe could remember that I had a penchant for using the tub as a toilet, and they realized that the time of usefulness for communal bathing had come to an end.  (Joe would pitch a fit when they’d dunk me in beside him.)  My parents’ recognition that their good idea (communal bathing) was not a permanently good idea showcases a great principle of parenting:  change is inevitable. 

They recognized that getting us both in the tub was going to get more difficult and that getting us out was going to get easier.  Joe knew that I was going to befoul the tub at some point, and there was a distinct possibility that I would learn that spoiling the bath time triggered an abrupt exit.  (It’s fun to get a quick, loud, excited reaction from Mom and Dad, so why not?)

So when the usefulness of the effort has run its course, it’s good to recognize the change and never to look back.  In other words, when there’s a turd in the tub, it’s time to get out.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Apple Juice and Gorilla Grunts

Drinking Apple Juice 
We attempted to give Jonah apple juice as a remedy for his constipation, but we had a slight bump in the road when it came to apple juice.  For some reason, Jonah wasn’t cool with the whole switch to the fruity beverage.  In fact, some would argue that my man didn’t like apple juice. 

To counteract his aversion, I tried different methods.

I tried feeding him apple juice before feeding him anything else in the morning.  His reaction, while strange, was nonetheless negative.  He was whimpering a little because he hadn’t eaten all night, but I didn’t think he was all that hungry.  When he began on the apple juice, expecting the regular formula, all was ok until he began tasting it, halfway to finishing the bottle.  All of a sudden, the contented look on his face changed to one of shock and downright outrage.  My man was angry.  Someone had taken his life source, nay, his very soul and replaced it with a sugary sweet version of his heavenly elixir.  In an instant, Jonah was mad and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.  

Yet, he calmly, clearly maintained his power position in the relationship by looking at me with the “what-in-thee-world-are-you-thinking-Dad” look on his face;
or was it the “am-I-in-the-correct-apartment?” look on his face;
or was it the “have you-lost-your-daggone-mind” look on his face. 

At any rate, he was nonplussed for having apple juice in the morning.

So I tried it about an hour after he ate, but he doesn’t want any of it.  Not a bit.  He sticks his tongue out and puts up a huge block for the bottle.  He’s recognized that this liquid is not the formula and apple juice is not his thing.  This time, however, he dispenses with the particulars of polite conversation and lets out a bellow that cracked the foundation of our apartment. 

Translation for this scream:  “NO, not this stuff again!  It tastes like.  I don’t know.  How can I form a simile without the requisite numbers of taste options!” 
Another translation:  “It looks like pee!  It looks like pee!” 
Another translation:  “I hate sweet things.  IhateumIhateumIhateum.” 

He Makes Strange Noises
Jonah’s major form of communication can be broken down into four neat categories:  smiling, laughing, screaming, and strange noises.  The first two forms of communication, smiling and laughing, charm everyone from Jonah’s parents to the complete stranger.  He’s a brilliant schmoozer who cannot resist “working the room.” 

The other two, however, are not so endearing.  At this point in his life, Jonah only screams on three occasions:  when he’s tired, when he’s extremely hungry, and when he feels like screaming.  When he feels like screaming, Jonah lets out a yell that rivals most every other form of yell, from the heavy metal brand of yelling to the more common “Rebel Yell.”  I sometimes feel like I am raising the future lead singer of Aerosmith.  (Yep, they’ll still be touring when Jonah gets old enough).  His yell sounds like someone has felt the Holy Ghost while simultaneously being shot.  (Just imagine a television evangelist getting a cap busted in him.  That’s what it sounds like).    He doesn’t have to be in a bad mood or in a good mood.  I truly believe Jonah screams just to break the monotony of his young life.

His noises, however, present a more entertaining side of Jonah.  He has developed quite a repertoire.  Here they are.

The Dolphin:  Here, he opens his mouth widely and makes an Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack noise like a dolphin makes.  From time to time, I feel for the dorsal fin, just in case he develops a leaking blow hole. 

The Fog Horn:  This one comes on when he is a little drowsy.  His face gets a bluesy look to it, with his eyes slit and his mouth puckered, and he makes a haunting OooooOOOOoooo, just like a fog horn.  I try to imagine Jonah getting a job on the North Carolina coast somewhere, acting as a human safety measure for all boats entering the waters near Outer Banks.  He could be a life saver!

 The Silver Backed Gorilla:  Sometimes, when Jonah gets particularly excited over a toy or something on the floor—think Extended Reaching Position—he attempts to convince the item to come to him by creating a deep-throated sound that “punches” the air.  OOO.  OOO.  OOO.  It sounds a lot like a gorilla.  I wonder if he picked up something while he visited the zoo in Louisville…

The Haunting Moan:  The last one is a mixture of one of the other three noises, combined with exhaustion.  Jonah makes this noise because he attempts the Dolphin, the Fog Horn, or the Silver Backed Gorilla while he goes to sleep.   I can’t really transliterate the sound he makes, but it is one of the funniest noises ever made.  Just imagine a very small boy trying to imitate the noise of a very large gorilla, but in slow motion.   I usually stand by his crib and wait for this noise.  About a quarter of the time, I am rewarded with the Haunting Moan.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sitting up and Tasting the World

The Four-Pound Nugget Toss (with loud, barbaric grunt)
Jonah has ventured into territory I have never encountered:  Constipation.  I really didn’t know how to handle this, so I came up with a couple ideas.  I told Sunday that we could begin feeding him prunes.  Since Jonah hasn’t even had rice cereal yet, Sunday didn’t think prunes were a good idea.  My next idea was more of a “tactile approach.”  We could pick up Jonah and squeeze his gut. 

I was thinking toothpaste tube.
Sunday was thinking no. 

While we discussed ways of getting more poop out of Jonah, he worked on it himself.  We could tell he was working on a particularly gnarly nugget when a vein popped out on his forehead and a grunt came from his little chest like he was forcing a chunk of concrete through his small body.  It was sad.  And a little funny. 

I don’t know why, but Jonah’s constipation became a contest where Jonah didn’t know he could win or lose, but we kept score.  With every diaper change, we would ask, “Nugget?”  Exhilaration came with every “No nugget” response and every small dark smelly chunk in his diaper brought dejection.  I never thought I’d get excited over someone else’s bowel movement, but Jonah changed all that. 

As a remedy for his “nugget” problem, we put dark Karo syrup—a.k.a. molasses—in his bottle.  When that quit working, we gave him apple juice.  When that quits working, we’ll just have to knock the poop out of him.  (Just kidding).

The Extended Reaching Position
In this event, balance is required most, because Jonah attempts to reach toward things he shouldn’t touch.  Old magazines, books from the library, dirty underwear and used diapers are all things Jonah has reached for.   He also reaches for earrings, bras, toes, bugs, and little balls of dust.   Jonah finds his own toes and hands interesting things to reach for, but his hands are harder to grab.

The Reach and Taste
Like the Clean-and-Jerk in Olympic competition, the Reach and Taste of Jonah’s Olympics combines two very difficult moves into one fluid motion.  I don’t know why the extended reaching position transitions nicely into the “I think I’ll put it into my mouth now” thought.  In fact, I believe Jonah has put into his mouth the following items:  his feet, his hands, pens (2), a sock, the toe of my boot, his pacifier, his blanket, snoopy (stuffed animal), the corner of my Bible, a lemon, his bottle, chest hair (eeewwww….), and anything else he seems to want to taste. 

Jonah now views the world through his taste buds, and this stage, according to the world-famous child psychologist Dr. Piaget, lasts the rest of his life. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How to Make Your Child Succeed

My Dad has a great theory for raising children that I hear few people say or even fewer practice:  kids should be kids.  My parents had little patience with those who believed that a child could “fall behind” other children if he wasn’t working on his third language by the first grade.  For Dad, children weren’t repository for the hopes of the overblown egos of their parents.   Surrounded by parents who coached and cajoled their children into a hyper-scheduled (and hyper-wearied) lifestyle, Dad let us be kids.

He refined his childrearing theory further with the backyard pitching, catching, throwing, fielding, kicking, punting, dribbling form of fatherhood.  We didn’t get all the fancy toys that required batteries or an electrical engineer to operate.   We weren’t allowed to play with anything that made us better in school or made us smarter.  For us, learning did not necessarily link to fun.  We were kids, so we thought fun and learning could, in fact, be mutually exclusive.  And our parents raised us this way.

I shall now list the toys we had when we were kids:

baseball (2)
glove, (1 per child)
football (1)
soccer ball (1)
mud (just add water to dirt)
boxing gloves (1 pair, to be used among the three of us)
basketball (usually flat)
bicycles (1 per child)

At times, the sports equipment could get a little expensive, but my parents figured that they were getting the dirt, sticks, rocks and trees for free, so the least they could do was to fill in the gaps for the rest of that stuff.  Dad wanted us to be able to know how to play, and he wanted us to be able to play well.  Not so that we could become professional athletes, or even for us to be able to play in college.  None of us were remotely that good.  No, Dad wanted us to play well because playing, well, is FUN!  Just fun.  That’s it. 

Play was neither a step for another level, nor was it a method of teaching a transcendent lesson about existence.  We didn’t think that football “built character” or baseball was a “teambuilding exercise.”  It didn’t occur to us that we could learn something about humanity at the same time we were getting dirty or sweaty or both.  We played because we were kids and we wanted to play, not because our moral fiber was strengthened through dedication to sport.

It was fun.  In fact, the funnest parts were when Dad himself, in full teacher/coach mode, almost got his head taken off by a line drive, or an errant throw, or a misguided punt.  He taught us how to play, but he had fun, too.  Even when the fun was dangerous.

Dad can tell you the times when he came closest to death as a father.  Mostly, these near-death moments came when one of us would suddenly catch on to a game that we’d been trying for a week or so.  For example, Dad taught us all to throw, catch and hit a baseball.  We all had similar training to hit a baseball:  bend at the knee, swing level, keep your eye on the ball. 

My older brother and I were decent hitters, especially before curve balls and large, hairy high school pitching.  We got the basics of hitting down pretty well.  But we weren’t naturally good.  My younger brother, however, showed that, while he could bend at the knee, swing level, and keep his eye on the ball, he also had an extra step to his hitting that my older brother and I didn’t have:  quick wrists.

In baseball terminology, having quick wrists means that the batter can wait a split second or two longer than one who does not have “quick wrists.”  Waiting longer allows the batter to determine what kind of pitch is thrown as well as whether the pitch is “hittable” or not. 

Since Luke had “quick wrists,” Dad often thought that the pitches he had thrown were not going to be hit by Luke.  And then, WHACK! Luke would swing around on a pitch from Dad and send the ball screaming back at him, throat level.  

In fact, Dad incorporated protectionary measures in his pitching wind-up, especially when he pitched to Luke.  He would kick up his leg, step toward the plate, fling his arm toward the hitter and release the ball.  As Dad released, his glove hand would fly up toward his head, covering his face, while his throwing hand would come down, covering his private area.  (Yes, there were many times where we would slowly creep away from the backyard, leaving Dad in a balled-up heap on the ground, weeping softly.) 

Although we had hours and hours and hours of playtime, kicking and throwing and hitting, none of those skills help me with fatherhood.  No, the greatest skill Dad ever taught any of us is the skill of doing nothing productive.   For a self-professed workaholic, Dad believed that a kid should have plenty of time to do nothing, sitting around, scratching his belly, belching, picking his nose, and giggling.   (Maybe not all at the same time, but you get the point.)

For children to be able to do this, parents needed to have control, too.  Our lives as children were not scheduled to the hilt with French lessons, tuba practice, four athletic teams, late-night tutoring or any other activity that Mom and Dad thought would help us “succeed.”  



Friday, November 8, 2013

Puking is Funny

While Jonah’s cuteness has been well established by the rabbinic standard of two or more witnesses, he has developed a couple bad habits that I would like to discuss:  dribbling and shooting.

The Great Ring of Wetness:          Dribbling
We have now transitioned from having a relatively neat child to having a child who explodes something from his noggin from time to time.  Some people call it drool or spit (my personal favorite is slobber), but I have noticed that, whatever it is called, it creates a large ring of wetness, beginning at his shoulder blades, rising over his massive deltoid muscles, extending down the front of his chest, making his nipples and belly button constantly wet.  My boy can’t keep dry at either end, God bless him.

We have resorted to having a 24-hour bib on him, changing it once every fifteen minutes or so.  It’s wild.  For a person who only ingests 25-30 ounces of liquid per day, he certainly drools a lot.  His dirty clothes hamper is so heavy with drool on some days that I have hired large Scandinavian men named Magnus to come and help me carry it into the laundry room.  He simply can’t stop.  He’s a little droolery store.  I catch him down at the drool hall with his no-count, drool-hall friends.  

This new wetness has also created a dilemma:  which end do we dry out first?   It’s tough trying to decide which part of his anatomy we should wipe:  the one that we have to look at, or the one that he is most concerned with.  Most days, it’s a toss up.  The other question is usually more pressing:  with what shall I dry him?  Here is a short list of the items I have used to dry off Jonah’s face:

burp rag
extra outfit in the diaper bag
my shirt (I was wearing it at the time.)
Sunday’s shirt (She was wearing it at the time.)
paper towel
pillow from couch
stuffed animal
dog down the street
front door mat (says, “WELCOME”)

I am certain that he’ll dry up one of these days, but I hope it’s before we sign him up for junior high. 

What Kind of Puke?:          He shoots
Now this is the part of the job I was expecting for quite some time:  puking.  For some reason, the drooling and the puking have come in the same month.  I don’t know if this is some conspiracy between the washer/dryer companies and the laundry detergent manufacturers, but we’ve been cleaning some clothes like you wouldn’t believe.

Anyway, with the puking come different kinds of puke, which I will describe for you now.

#1  Open mouth, let the formula drain. 
This produces by far the largest volume of vomit per episode.  This is where Jonah looks you straight in the eye, opens his mouth as wide as he possibly can, and allows the formula to escape his body, through his mouth.   This method of vomiting can be particularly dangerous for the person who foolishly thinks that, with every opening of Jonah’s mouth, he invites a quick snuggle or even a kiss.  Many a woman at church hath been bathed in the putrid waters of used soy formula with this mistake. 

#2  The phantom vomit.
This vomit is unusual, especially for the parent who prides himself on watching every move his child makes.  For some reason, Jonah will be playing, clean as a whistle and look up with vomit caked all over his face.  Additionally, this vomit seems to have been applied to his face with a trowel.  It’s got a thick consistency.  It’s like dry grits, without the butter. 

#3  The payback vomit.
I believe this special brand of vomit allows Jonah to become a type of “Angel of Justice” for the Lord.  This vomit occurs when a sinner holds Jonah for more than a minute or two.  Jonah senses the dark side of whomever is holding him and then he launches his own, personal brand of righteousness.  Using vomit, the sinner receives Jonah’s baptism of holiness.  This is a more public vomit, usually requiring us to apologize for our son.  But we know the real reason Jonah pukes on people:  he loves the sinner, unconditionally.   

#4  The shotgun vomit.
This is the fun vomit, the knockout punch.  It’s the vomit that keeps the crowds coming, time after time.  It can be preceded by a belch or a cough, but the best “shotgun vomits” are the ones that sneak up on you.  It looks like someone had pumped up Jonah—like a BB gun—to his highest pressure and then BOOM! his head snaps back with the force of the vomit.  This is the kind, where, afterward, Jonah tries to keep both his eyes in the same orbit while maintaining a sense of balance.  (it also seems to be the kind where he enjoys the most intense post-vomit bliss)

His vomiting and drooling have required us to become more alert to his surroundings, making sure he doesn’t drool or puke on anything expensive.  (Since we don’t own anything expensive, we’re usually worried about other people’s stuff).  We’re also having fun with it, too.  In our house, puking is funny.