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Poli Poli Parenting: How to not be a Jackass
I managed to get all the way up Kilimanjaro (5 steps behind my wife) with a philosophy based on being present, focused on the step I was taking, not looking up or down, not dwelling on the what-ifs, not fighting the mountain, leaving my ego at basecamp, and just walking quietly with senses open to take it all in. On the mountain the Swahili word for it is poli poli which literally means slowly slowly but, if you think about it for long enough (and at a high enough elevation), you realize it also means all that other stuff I just said. I thought I’d learned something from the experience that might serve me well as a parent when we found out a short while later that Jennifer was pregnant.
Fast forward a couple years to two weeks ago and the Lil Lady was turning 4-months, sleeping through the night, gaining weight, smiling all the time in a way that just crushes you, riding all day in the car road-tripping through the mountains with her dad, flying on an airplane like a pro. That’s my little girl and I’m so happy and filled up with goodness that I can hardly stand it. And that’s when the it all came crashing down like Greek tragedy. I still remember the foolish words I spoke to Jennifer that night when I was feeling so good. “You know, I think all those years in the classroom set me up perfectly for this whole parenting thing.” And then I said something even stupider about how patient I’d become and how much that was helping me in raising our daughter. I’m shaking my head as I write this.
That very night Amelia hit the four-month sleep regression and kept us up all night, the next day I came down with some kind of bug (pretty sure it was the cholera or the bubonic plague) with a fever, nausea, aches, sore throat and a swollen glands. We obviously didn’t want the Lil Lady catching it, so that meant hands-off for me and put all the parenting on Jennifer. The next thing I know, I find myself pathetically wallowing around in bed all night while my wife (who had 12 hours of meetings the next day) is getting up with our daughter four times. And let’s face it, if you’re a stay-at-home dad who can’t go in the same room as your baby, you’re just an unemployed ass hole.
And so, the next day, still not having learned my lesson, I did the only thing a fool could do under the circumstances, I pretended to feel better, popped a couple Advil, and went to my soccer game to try to play. I nearly passed out in the heat which was embarrassing enough, but then, in my stupor I arrived late to a ball and got my foot rearranged by the defender leaving me not only sicker after the game, but also unable to walk. Jennifer just shook her head when I got home. Obviously, she had told me so.
Rather than turn this into a long drawn-out sob story though, I’ll just cut to the chase: virus hung on for another week (luckily Amelia never got it), foot wasn’t broken but my foot-modeling days are definitely over, 4-month sleep regression appears to apply to the entire 4th month, and I definitely learned my lesson.
What lesson? When its going well, be thankful and assume its because you’re lucky and not because you’re super awesome Flanneldad. Back to poli poli parenting for this old jackass, at least, until the next time my ego gets the better of me.
Flannel Dad and Lil Lady on a Road Trip
We tagged along with Mom this week to Colorado Springs where’s she’s got a conference. With a whole day, a rental Sonata and unlimited mileage, Lil Lady and I decided to make a day of it. I’ve been finding in the first two months of stay-at-home dadding that, where I used to set goals, set my sights on destinations and create (and sometimes finish) ambitious to-do lists, now with me and Amelia, I just pick a direction and see how far we get. Sometimes that means I mow a quarter of the yard, or we drive all the way to the lumber yard to get materials to build a canoe seat but then turnaround and come home without going in because Lil Lady is hungry and I forgot a bottle. So the goal is a direction and today, the direction is west to the big mountains.
In fact, here’s a little film by the Lil Lady to get you in the spirit of the adventure:
And so we hit Highway 24 going west at 9:30 a.m. packed to the gills with the big stroller, bottles, formula, diapers, wipes, burp rags, you name it. No plan, curious about a place called San Isabel National Forest but also interested in finding some dirt roads to drive on and hopeful that we can get high enough into the mountains to get the Lil Lady her first snowball. And in the backseat, the Lil Lady is out cold with the nook half out of her mouth, and periodically grunting in her dreams.
I get that Amelia’s only four months old and will never remember this day and I understand that I’m the one who actually benefits from this because it sure beats the alternative of being cooped up all day at a stuffy resort so I guess maybe I’m being selfish flannel dad, but whatever. If Amelia sees a picture someday of she and I with a bottle of formula in a field full of cows at the base of a mountain, I hope it’ll just be one more reminder of how much she loves her life.
And so we roll on, past Woodland Park, and Divide, and Florissant and Lake George. Strip malls and fast food joints, antique shops and rusted-out tourist traps and even a fence made out of old vintage bicycles. And then nothing much. Ranches and barbwire and cows and skeletons of deserted log cabins all with the mountains rising up on the horizon like clouds. We see some pronghorn and bison but we keep moving and the Lil Lady keeps sleeping.
Another hour maybe and we’re off the high plains and back in the trees and hills with some fun windy roads. I see a couple of dirt roads that look tempting, but keep going since the Lil Lady is still sleeping. Then I see the one–our dirt road–disappearing down the embankment and running alongside a little mountain brook. We take it on a whim and follow it 8 miles through open-range cattle lands to a fork, take another rockier, narrower road for another few miles weaving around cows and rocks here and there, turn off again and finally come up against a dip in the road that I can’t navigate with the Sonata. I stop the car, it’s noon, and the Lil Lady is awake and looking for lunch.
I throw a bottle together and we get out for a feeding and a walkabout. The cows don’t seem to mind. We walk up and check out a camp site nearby and stop and smell some sage. We come back to the car and get the Lil Lady into a dry diaper and she’s giggling and happy to be out of her car seat. We sit for awhile on the front seat together and listen to the cows moo. We walk around a little more to go look at some aspen trees that look burnt but are still living and while we’re walking the Lil Lady takes out Flannel Dad’s flannel with a little spit up down the collar. It’s all right though and we head back to the car just ahead of a sudden squall of cold rain that came out of nowhere. I get her in the car seat before she can get wet and we move on.
I don’t know if we’ll get a snowball and I think we might actually be in San Isabel right now, but I’ve already got everything I want out of this day, except a dry flannel.
To Amelia on the day we brought you home
All right kid, you’ve been in the world now a couple of days. You’ve probably figured out by now that your moms a super hero and maybe you wonder if your dad wears the same flannel everyday. Maybe you think you’ve got a four-legged hairy brother with terrible breath. Someday your mom will teach you how to be a superhero too because the world certainly needs more of them. And someday I’ll teach you how to paddle and we can take the canoe and go chasing after your mom in her kayak. And someday I’ll show you how to build things and we can make something together out of wood. Maybe someday we can sit out and watch a storm roll in and listen to the thunder together and you can learn how to be brave. Someday I’ll teach you how to take a fish off the hook. Someday your mom and I will take you all around the world so you can meet all the different kinds of people there are and learn that they’re pretty much all the same. For now though, I think I’ll just leave someday somewhere else so I can sit here and hold you while you sleep and smell the top of your fuzzy little head. Welcome home, Lil Lady.