Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some Days Remind You Why You Bred

Rushing to get to the Lake Street stop on the Red Line today, get through the gate and carry the stroller down the stairs only to see a northbound train pulling away.


The Chicago Transit Authority has had some major service cuts that went in to effect last month, so I know this is going to be a long wait. Off-peak hours were the worst hit, of course, and as a stay-at-home parent that's when I'm out and about. We had our kid's music class, the Wiggleworms, at the Old town School of Folk music today.

It's times like this I really, really, really, REALLY miss living in New York. I waited ten minutes for the next train, and when I transferred to the Brown Line after we emerged from the subway to the El I waited even longer than that. Seriously, a major city with a population of three million people, waiting that long for a metro in the middle of the day is (I really want to say inhumane but I know that's whiny and dramatic) really ridiculous.

After we got on the Brown Line train, which was crowded as hell, a couple gave up their seats in the handicapped area for my daughter and me. This was a first since I've been living here. For those of you not from Chicago, the wheelchair area is the only real spot in the tiny train cars they have here (another major reason to miss New York) whee you can have a stroller without blocking, well, everything. So it was really nice of them. And it was a young couple listening to an iPod together, so completely against stereotype.

Besides that one nice thing, I'm really frustrated and stressed. I'm worried we'll be late and the train is more crowded than it should be.

But since those nice people gave up their seat for me I can take my daughter out of her stroller and have her on my lap, in the seat next to me or standing on the seat looking out the window. Her choice, of course.

She stands and looks out the window. Every time another train goes by she points at it and squeals with delight. I don't know how to write it down other than she says, "Daaaeeeeeeeeeee" in a really high pitch. But that doesn't really do it justice.

Now, of course, this makes me happy on one level because I'm a big train geek. But I harbor no illusions that the fascination of a kid less than a year-and-a-half old will mature in to a shared hobby with Dad.

But we were having such a great time. I was laughing and other people around us were smiling, people she was saying "hi" to between trains. I was, as well as some of the other people on the train, seeing the world through her beautiful and wonderful eyes.

There are certainly times when I am really frazzled and need a damn break, which I took a few weeks ago when I escaped down to my old college town (thanks Honey!) to hang out with one of my oldest friends and basically stay drunk an entire weekend.

But most days I get this kind of reminder of just how lucky I am to get to hang out with my kid every day.

And I think it makes me just a little bit less of the ass hole that I'm pretty sure I am.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sling This

There was a really annoying article in the New York Times last week. One of those articles that you can't fathom why it made it in to the New York Times. One of the real writers (as compared to me, a pretend one) over at the Dad Wagon blog touched on how annoying this was, too.

Basically, the NYT thought it a good way to use their time to write an article about the "new trend" of using baby carriers instead of strollers. There are a few quotes of hippy-dippy parents bashing strollers, calling them "isolation pods" and trumping up stats about "babywearing" making your kid "smarter, calmer, more attentive, less colicky and more likely to develop healthy sleep habits than their counterparts in strollers."


No study is cited in that claim of course, because it is one of those claims that only has activist-based pseudo-science behind it, similar to the thoroughly debunked claim about breastfeeding leading to higher IQs.

Look, I get the hating stroller thing, I really do. I hate mine. I want to lose this thing so damn bad and can't wait for us to not have to use it anymore. When I was childless I wanted to kick the damn mothers and nannies in my neighborhood taking up the whole sidewalk, walking side-by-side and not giving any room for other people, totally willing to use their kid to run you off the sidewalk. I think I do a really good job not being that parent.

And really, it is a big pain in the ass to take everywhere. Now that the weather is getting warmer I'm excited about really trying out my new (well, used - found on Craigslist) backpack carrier as much as I can. I'm hoping it works out so we can leave the stroller at home when we go to Europe this summer.

But there was one question I thought needed to be asked of all these babywearing parents. A lot of these mothers live in places like Queens, Brooklyn and the Upper East Side (the store highlighted in the article is on Park Ave.). I noticed from my time living in New York that middle class and upper-middle class people from these neighborhoods, even though it is New York City, tend to also have cars that they use to do things like grocery shopping and buying their expensive piece-of-shit pressboard furniture at IKEA.

So what I wanted to hear from these parents is how much time their kids spend strapped to a car seat. I really want to know, because how is a stroller worse than that? I argue that a stroller is better than a car seat any day.

The thing is, we don't do the car thing. That's something I'm very proud of, and I haven't owned a car since 1992. So wearing my daughter to go grocery shopping is not really an option because I wouldn't be able to get our food home without having her in the stroller.

And I think I get to spend a lot of quality time with her because of this. Ever since she was really small I have always taken her out of her carrier (yes, for the first few months I used a front carrier) or stroller after we've gotten on the subway or bus. She spends her time on an outing looking out the window, waving at people, playing with me or maybe reading a book with me. She is usually in my lap, sitting in the seat next to me or standing on the seat pointing at stuff out the window. And boy does she make friends on the train or bus. She loves to interact with people.

What does a kid in a car seat do? How much quality time is a parent spending with their kid when there are not even sitting beside each other?

And my kid is a lot safer being in a stroller than in a car. Except for the occasional cab ride or short trip from the train station to Grandma's house, she is almost never in a car seat. I'd guess that she has spent less than a total of six hours in cars in her almost one-year-and-five-months being alive.

When I'm out with my daughter we are constantly interacting with each other and I'm always paying her a lot of attention. I see a lot of parents carrying their kids in a sling or wrap and they are talking on their cell phone or texting. I never get on my cell when I'm out with my daughter. I don't care how tightly wrapped you are to your kid, if you're jabbing to your friends you ain't bonding with baby.

I get why parents do some of the stuff we do. I've gone out of my way to keep the amount of plastic crap we have around to a minimum. We have a lot of natural wood toys; blocks, little toy cars, a baby pram, one of those push-mower looking things. We even have real Lincoln Logs, not those shitty plastic ones that came out in later years. We just spent a hell of a lot of money to order her a riding toy made of natural wood and using soy-based paints so we wouldn't have to have one made of plastic that also doubles as a cross-promotion for some movie or TV show.

So I get trying to do the best thing possible for your kid. Hell, I cook all the time now. And I really don't like to cook. But I know I need to make her as nutritious as meals as I can and also set a good example.

But to say I'm not bonding with my child as well as I could because she's in a stroller? Nonsense.

Why is it these people seem to think that this is the only time you can bond with your child, when you are out running errands or going to a play date? What the hell are you doing with your kid when you're not in transit? Plopping them down in front of the TV?

Fact is, if you are spending time with your kid there is a lot of bonding and contact time available. It doesn't always have to be about bonding when you are going from point A to point B.

All these claims about the benefits of 24/7 contact with your child are being pushed, without real good evidence, by the loony tune practitioners of "attachment parenting" - one of my favorite kinds of parents to hate, right up there with fundamentalist home schoolers.

And as for those claims, I'll say this: We didn't use a carrier for very long, we didn't do co-sleeping and my very accomplished physician/researcher wife with the hectic schedule did not do any direct breast feeding (GASP! The Horror!).

The result? Our daughter has had two colds, never once was she colicky, is a very calm kid who never screams or has tantrums, is incredibly observant (surprises me all the time how much so), very attentive, sleeps through the night, transitioned to going to sleep on her own with no problem and I think (and I am of course biased) is an amazingly smart kid.

And bonding? Well, match me up against any other parent, attachment or otherwise, to measure our level of bonding and I'll take that challenge anytime, anywhere, from anybody. I'd never claim to be the perfect parent whose always made the right decision, but the connection and love between my daughter and me I have no doubts about. I cannot even fathom it being any stronger. It's clear to me that she knows I'm there for her, will give her what she needs and will protect her. It's so obvious she knows that.

And I'll bet my kid will turn out a lot better in the head than the ones who are still breast feeding when they're six or seven, as some of those crazy attachment types think is a good idea. I'm very proud of myself so far and I've exceeded what I thought I was capable of as a parent about a million-fold, especially considering I went from being a guy who didn't want to have kids to a stay-at-home dad in a relatively short time. I figured by almost a year-and-a-half any kid of mine would already be in therapy.

Now I know one kid is not a scientific study, and I'm making no claims that this is any kind of proof my parenting style is the best. But everything that they say is better if you do it their way has gone perfect in my kid. Every. Single. One.

Those parents like to trump up the supposed benefits of that type of parenting, including the carriers and co-sleeping, but they are mostly crap with no basis in real scholarship. Studies about these things are poorly constructed and incredibly far from conclusive at best. At their worst they're nothing but junk science at the same level as the claims of autism being cause by vaccines.

And really, a lot of this stuff is just a silly middle-class WASP interpretation of how "tribal" cultures raise children.

The goal of these parents seems to be to make other parents feel bad or guilty about what they're doing. And I guess in the sick and demented mind of an attachment parent that makes them feel like better, superior parents.

They can kiss my stroller-pushing ass.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Two Fathers On A Bus

I thought about a story from living in New York that I thought I'd share.

I was on the bus one day with my daughter in the front baby-carrier, she must have been about three months old or less at this point, I know my wife was back at work but we didn't yet have the stroller that we got when she was about three-and-a-half months old. I was just getting the hang of this stay-at-home dad (part time at this point) thing.

I was sitting near the back of the bus in the sideways facing seats and had taken the baby out of the carrier to sit on my lap because she liked being able to look at people. A guy got on the bus and made his way back to the open seat across from us. He was a really tall guy - at least 6'6" or 6'7" - probably in his mid-60s with a salt and pepper beard wearing all red. Really, everything he had on was red. His pants, shoes, shirt and socks were all red. He also had on a long red overcoat that went all the way down to below his knees. To top off the whole look he had a beautiful dark wood, hand-carved cane. Really a classic "only in New York" kind of character.

He sat directly across form my daughter and me and she started smiling at him like crazy. He smiled back and waved at her and was really cool to her. We started chatting and he asked me how old she was and I told him, "About three months."

He then said, "I've got two sons myself."
"How old are they?" I asked.
He answered, "Well, my oldest is 46."

Pause for a beat or two, then I said:

"Well, that's a fun age."

He tilted his back and just started laughing and laughing.

I miss New York.