What is a baby?

At any age, offspring will be referred to as kids (at least here in America).  My grandmother is 70-something years old and still refers to all of her 50-year-old children as her “kids.”  Now they have kids of their own and are grown, having fulfilled much of their own potential, but at one point they were all just that: kids.  Before that, even, each of them was a baby.  A mother “knows” her babies before they’re even born, but not in the way that it is required to “know” a person.  A baby is a fleeting thing, a phase in a long string of phases that make up the culmination of a person’s life.

People are forever saying “we’re having a baby,” but a more truthful statement would be, “we’re having a person!”  When we had our first child almost 9 years ago, my perception of it was that we were having a baby, and that it would be a baby forever.  I would never have said that directly, but there was a part of me that did not understand the endeavor I was undertaking.  It really sunk in and hit home hard about a year or so ago when my little toddlers became “kids” and started to inhabit a position more akin to a person in our family unit.  Those two little babies that my wife and I bore years ago are now in elementary school, reading, talking on the phone regularly and starting their own youtube channel.

Six weeks ago we had our third child.  The pregnancy was expected, but our desire to have another baby wasn’t.  I thought we had decided to stop with those two, but apparently life has other ideas for us.  When our biological clocks hit again, it surprised us both, but our little one has been perfect in every way so far, and we have been better parents as well.  Part of the reason, I believe, is this: our perspective is better.  We see that this new baby isn’t just a baby.  It’s a person in the baby-phase of life.

I look at her and I can imagine what she might be in just a few short years.  I can clearly understand how quickly she’ll grow and how important it is to cherish each moment because they’ll be gone so quickly and, despite the fact that some of them are tough to handle and test our patience, we’re going to miss every moment of it when it’s gone.  I know this now only because I’ve gone through it already with her two older siblings.

When you have all of your children “at once,” or in a span of a couple years, and then watch them grow together, it all kind of happens as one big phase.  Having a third child years later has made for an interesting experience that not all parents receive.  It’s a juggling act, but I’m a more accomplished clown now than I was when I first joined the circus.

All of that being said, I urge all of you that are new parents to be wary of seeing your baby as merely a baby and to prepare for the quickness with which he/she will become a child, a person, a friend.  It’s hard to fathom when you haven’t seen the long string of phases in a human’s life that I have (and I’m aware that I’m far from learning all that there is to learn), but if you don’t take the time to appreciate each moment, each development, each new “first” that comes in your child’s life, you may someday kick yourself with regret when you see that that child is an individual with a life of his/her own and you realize that you may have missed a lot of the experiences that were building that person because you were too busy seeing a baby and thinking it would be a baby forever.  It sounds cliche, but it’s true: it goes by way too fast.

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When can my baby get in the pool? (and other such questions for new parents)

If you’re like me you have a new baby and aren’t exactly sure when it’s ok to do certain things with him or her.  Can I take her in the pool at two months?  Is he ready for a dirt bike at his first birthday?  These are the serious kinds of questions that dads and moms need to know the answers to.  For your convenience, I’ve compiled a list of FAQs (with sources) to help you get through the first year of life.

When your baby is 8 years old it will be old enough to feed any other children you have spawned in the interim

When your baby is 8 years old it will be old enough to feed any other children you have spawned in the interim

The following list shows your baby’s age followed by the developments that will occur or activities that are “allowed” at that age, then finally the source of the information for those of you who like to cross-reference and check behind me.  (Which is a good idea, really, in case I’m just making this stuff up).

Disclaimer – I do not personally endorse any of this.  I am merely gathering together information from the internet for your convenience.  Please follow any of these guidelines at your own risk, after well-informing yourself using the sources cited.

One Month

Baby might start trying to hold his/her head up, but with little success.
You may notice a slight increase in alertness – these are from personal experience, my younger daughter turned one month old today and is a much more alert and active little buddy than she was when we brought her home a month ago.  (see photo above)

Six Weeks

Baby can probably swim in a swimming pool now – parenting.com ask Dr. Sears article (read for more detailed precautions, including tips on how to help get your baby used to water.)

Three Months

Baby should be holding his/her head up alone with little to no wobbling – webmd.com
Baby could be sleeping through the night by now – (this one can vary, big time) – babycenter.com
If baby’s eyes are still crossed frequently consult a pediatrician – it could be a sign of a condition that starts with an “S” and is difficult to spell.

Six Months

Baby may be ready for solid foods – kidshealth.org
Baby may be ready to drink water – babycenter.com
Baby no longer has the need to suck when not feeding, so take away that pacifier – did you know that after 6 months a pacifier increases the risk of ear infection?

Nine Months

Baby is probably an avid crawler at this point – webmd.com
Baby should understand the meaning of the word “no” by 9 months – it’s not too early to implement a concept of “discipline.” (see the bottom of this post for a link to some great information on disciplining your baby)

One Year

Baby’s vision becomes mostly clear – babycenter.com
Baby might already be walking – if not it should be soon!  (This one is also from personal experience.  My older daughter, pictured above, took her first steps at her first birthday party!)

Finally, canigivemybaby.com has an excellent piece on discipline (positive and negative) and how to teach your baby what to learn and what not to learn starting as early as a few months old.

Also, if you’re wondering when you can take your baby to a movie theater, the answer is probably never.  If you still call him or her a baby, then it’s too early to go to the movies in public.

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Projects with Kids

It’s the worst sometimes.  You get a great idea at work or in your car and you think, “I’m gonna go home and get the kids and tell them about this hilarious video we should make together and they’ll hear about it and instantly transform into Zack Galifianakis and Sarah Silverman and all I’ll have to do is tell them the basic idea, hit record and sit back and watch the magic happen.”

Instead you get a pair of goofs who are barely interested in the idea to begin with and before you know it you might as well be carrying a megaphone and berating them because that’s exactly what I ended up doing (without the megaphone) and where’s the hilarious atmosphere when the actors aren’t even in a good mood because their director keeps shouting at them to pay attention or stop playing with their fingers or whatever?

Man, recounting the tale makes me feel even worse.  I love those kids and I know how much potential they have, so it turns to anger really quickly when they seem to be “squandering it.”  Squandering it?  They’re 8 and 6 years old.  They have their whole teen and adult lives ahead of them to be accused of squandering things.  What is it that makes us want to push them to start doing their best and being responsible before they’re even old enough to know what a double-digit age feels like?

Our own failures.  That’s what.  Isn’t it ironic, that instead of giving them support for the things that we had trouble with ourselves we instead get angry at them?  “Why would you DO that?!” I ask my son regarding useless and thoughtless activities that I myself engaged in far too often not fifteen years ago.  It seems so obvious now, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not to them, in the same way that it wasn’t to us.  They still haven’t had a chance to be amazed by basic realizations like the existence of lip-syncing or how the unit circle works.  Why do I expect them to understand things that took me over twenty years to get?

Because of perspective;  mine is flawed now, in that it’s not as flawed as theirs, so I don’t see what they do (or they don’t see what I do,  yet).  The sad part is that by the time they do, I may be off to “bigger and better” 50-year-old realizations, like how important it is to eat plenty of fiber and make sure Wheel of Fortune was recorded.  “I was so oblivious when I was 30, like them,” I’ll chuckle to myself and smile self-righteously with a twinkle in my eye that would make Dick van Dyke jealous.

They call this a vicious cycle.

And that’s my thought for today.

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Laziness and William Shakespeare

I made a promise to write something every day for 30 days.  I think I made it 10 days before Memorial Day Weekend hit and I fell into a bit of a bender that led to 5 days of not writing anything.  Today seems like a good day to talk about laziness.

I’ll keep this short and sweet because I’m lazy and still recovering from the weekend.  The reason that procrastination and laziness need to be eliminated so swiftly and with such prejudice is because your life is not going to be a one-hit wonder.  You don’t just do one thing well and then sit back and reap the benefits forever.  Life is about maintenance and a quantity of work, as well as quality.

William Shakespeare is an excellent example of this.  The greatest playwright in the English Language, he is responsible for 37 plays and 154 sonnets that have been published and verified as his own work.  He was famous in his own time, and well-to-do because of it.  Now think of this: only about half of these works were even published during his time.  It wasn’t until 7 years after his death that his First Folio was published, and it contained about half of the work that we praise him for today.  He filled his life up with new works, new plays, new sonnets, enough to stay relevant in a time before advertising, TV or internet, and that was only about half of his actual works!  Shakespeare didn’t mess around.  The man stayed busy.  He was smart, but that isn’t what he’s remembered for.  He spilled those smarts out onto a page with a passion and fervor that showed and was evident to even the crudest of laymen.  He invented words, for heaven’s sake!  Words that we still use today (the list is fascinating).

Billy Shakes - the greatest playwright of the English Language

Billy Shakes – the greatest playwright of the English Language

He is the embodiment of the adage “you have to everywhere at once if you want to be in the right place at the right time.”  Don’t wait for your lightning strike to hit.  Spread yourself everywhere all the time so you’re ready to catch it.  Make your own lucky breaks, don’t wait for them.  In short:  don’t just be smart, do smart things.  If you realize the importance of this and live it, it’s far more likely your children will learn from your example.

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Take your mama out

It’s Friday.  I’m gonna take my new mama out, and by “new mama” I mean my wife.  The Banjo-B-Que festival is this weekend here in Augusta, GA and we are heading out for a night on the town.  Our newest addition to the family is just three weeks old and my wife is ready to show her the world (and to show her to the world) for the first time.

So this post won’t be a real big one, but I will use it to urge the rest of you that have become homebodies, as we have, to get out and stretch your legs once in awhile.  It gets very easy to want to just stay home when you have young kids; it’s just so much easier that way.  Don’t forget that you’ve gotta treat yourself every so often.  Remember what it means to be an adult human being, even if your world is completely flooded with plastic toys and lunchables.  Get a babysitter and have a nice dinner if you can.  If you’re on a budget, take $20 and go get some ice cream, or just go to the park or walk around the mall and window shop.

It’s Friday, y’all.

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5 things you shouldn’t say to your children as much as you do (with good alternative suggestions)

Our children dote on our every word, even when they seem to be ignoring what we’re saying or acting like they’re too cool to care.  I have always been a proponent of paying too much attention to every word; think about how many times a single sentence said by your mom or dad stuck with you.  You probably still carry some of these phrases around into adulthood, both positive and negative.  Here are 5 common phrases used by parents that might be doing more harm than you realize.

1 – I’m Proud of You.  While children do need to hear this at times, it will make them want to do well only to make you happy.  Children should learn to want to succeed for their own benefit, otherwise they’ll grow up and go out on their own and their chief motivator (you) won’t be around to keep them going in the right direction.  While you still want to let them know that they make you proud, you should pepper in a few alternates.  A good substitute could be “good for you!” or “doesn’t that make you feel good, to do such a good job?”

2 – You’re so smart.  A better substitution is “you worked really hard at that.”  Psychologist Carol Dweck undertook a study with children to determine the difference between praising kids for being smart rather than praising them for working hard:

The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

The students were then given a choice for their second test.  They could choose a difficult test that would teach them more or an easier test.  Those that were told they had worked hard were more likely to choose the more difficult test.  To go a step further they then gave all of the students a very difficult test for children two years older than them.  Obviously they all failed, but those who had been praised for working hard believed that they could have done better and were eager to learn how.  Those who had been told they were smart felt serious stress at this difficult test, certain that their intelligence hinged on whether they could pass it or not.  The label got in the way of the actual education process that should have been taking place.

3 – No.  There’s almost always a way to say “yes” to something else while you’re saying no to a child’s request.  Saying “no” to our children teaches them a general negative atmosphere, and it teaches that shutting down other people’s ideas is part of being an adult.  While you shouldn’t just agree with everything they say, try to give them an alternate to their idea rather than simply saying no and leaving it at that.  For instance, instead of saying “No, you can’t go outside because it’s too dark,” try this:  “Let’s play a board game in here instead, where we can see.”  Kids want to eat junk food?  Say “no” by making them apple slices or celery with peanut butter.  With a little ingenuity there’s always a positive alternative and it helps to nourish a positive approach to life as they grow into adults with children of their own.

4 – Hurry up.  Your children will only be children once.  There’s a cheesy country song my wife and I love to reference whenever we complain that the house is always littered with toys and the kitchen is always a mess.  The titular line is “you’re gonna miss this,” and we try to use it to remind ourselves that one day the children won’t be messing up our house, but that’s mostly because they won’t be around.  Yes, they’re small and easily distracted and they keep you from getting them to school or making it to the movies or the park at the scheduled time but they’re not doing it out of malice.  They are, in many ways, a more beautiful form of human than we are; they are simple in a divine way, more innocent and full of wonder at things that we have become jaded by in our “wiser” years.  Take a minute to smell the roses alongside them rather than hurrying them along.  Otherwise, you’re missing out on a lot of the wisdom that they have to share with you.

5 – Shut up and go to your room, I’m trying to watch Grey’s Anatomy.  There’s no good alternate for this one.  Don’t say this to your kids.  Ever.  Grey’s Anatomy is a horrible hour of fluff and nonsense and if you’re going to kick your kids out of the living room it should be for something with a little more substance than that.

OK, I’m just kidding, but really:  Spend time with your kids while you can.  If you have to watch TV, find programs that you can enjoy together.  If you have a TV these days more than likely you’ve got a DVR, too.  Save those shows and watch them when your kids are in bed.  Remember that they are getting a vast education from you, whether you’re actively teaching them things or not.

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The importance of apologizing to your kids.

I’ve had a hard time with my parents in the past, and still do to this day.  Who doesn’t?  If you answered “me” to that question then count yourself very lucky.  It’s really tough to raise a human without building up some resentment between the raiser and the raisee.

The important thing to take from problems like this is that you can make a difference in the next iteration.  How do you want to treat your kids?  What did your parents do right or wrong that you want to emulate or avoid?

For me one of the biggest issues was whether or not to apologize to your children.  I think my parents thought it was important to maintain decorum and a sense of authority over us.  They did this because they believed that this was important to maintain our relationship as it was.  They wanted to be parents rather than friends.  I don’t blame them.  They were trying to do what they believed was right.  I also think that they believed that if they admitted a fault it would make us weak; that they would be showing a chink in their armor and that we would exploit it somehow, and in turn we might learn to become lazy or to blame others when we should just tough it out.

I believe it actually set an impossible standard.  Because mom and dad were never wrong, it felt super-duper wrong when I made a mistake.  Rather than face up to it, I tended to handle my mistakes like a coward and hide from them rather than admit that I wasn’t as “perfect” as my parents.

In this article from psychologytoday.com, Kate Roberts Ph.D. recognizes that most parents don’t think it’s a great idea to apologize to their kids but they really should

It’s not part of our culture for adults to admit wrong doing to children, even when it’s obvious they are at fault. In reality, when a parent apologizes to a child, it further cements the parent-child relationship and provides the child with a sense of safety and well-being.

She goes on to list the many benefits of teaching your children that fessing up to mistakes actually makes you stronger rather than being an admission of weakness.  It’s a great article and I’m really glad I read it.  It has helped strengthen my belief that treating my kids with respect is going to pay off in the long run, for them as well as for me.

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