One Month of Man-to-Man Defense Parenting

Man-to-Man Parenting

It’s hard to believe that my newborn son is already more than a month old, but this calls for some reflection on the new stage of life that we have entered—man-to-man parental defense.

With one month in the books, I’m proud to report that we have thus far largely flourished under these new conditions. I’m knocking on all the wood as I type that sentence, as you never know how a newborn—or a toddler, for that matter—might rapidly evolve in terms of mood swings and sleep habits, but for the past month, we have been OK.1

The first month of Charlie’s life was split into several phases: the hospital and the homecoming, Theresa’s parents staying with us for half a week, another week at home by ourselves, and then a week spent in southern Indiana with my in-laws. In some ways, these phases helped break up the monotony of the newborn way of life, especially since Charlie was a bit rough in the sleeping department early on—spending much more time awake than Maddie did when she was first born. 2

Charlie and MaddieI joked that the first few weeks of Charlie’s life all felt like one long day since he was born, and I’m only half kidding. I definitely had already repressed or forgotten much of the day-to-day experience of Maddie’s newborn life. I think it’s just something that you find the will to live through at the time, and even incremental changes make things seem so much easier. Even though we are still waking up with him a couple times each night, he’s gotten better at going back to sleep quickly, and so it seems like we are already in a completely different stage from where we were just a few weeks ago.

Even though we’ve moved into man-to-man territory with two kids, the second time around has been a lot less stressful. When Maddie was a newborn, everything was worrisome. Are we doing this right? Is she eating enough? Why is she crying? We need to make her stop crying!

With Charlie, we’ve been a lot more relaxed. The acts of childcare are done with a more confident purpose, even when Charlie’s cries go from zero to 60 over seemingly trivial annoyances like a wet diaper. We know it’s OK for him to cry. We know what to do to try to get him to stop. We—dare I say it!—know how to take care of a newborn.

The Big Sister

I didn’t touch on Maddie’s reaction to Charlie in recounting his birth story, so it’s worth noting here that she has thus far been an exemplary big sister. I know it’s still early, but so far she’s been better than my wildest dreams. She has kept the clinginess to a reasonable minimum, she has been nothing but gentle and accepting of her new kid brother, and her independence and communication abilities have helped add sanity and levity to offset our experience of Charlie’s constant newborn neediness.

Maddie first met her new sibling on the evening of his birth, when my parents and brothers brought her to the hospital for a visit. I still remember hearing the knock and Maddie yelling “Shar-Shee!” and “Baby!” from behind the hospital room door. I opened it, and she plowed into the room with a determination to find a baby not seen since the Three Wise Men.

Maddie meets CharlieShe stared at him with a mixture of shock and admiration—pointing and saying his name over and over again. She also moved her voice up one sweet register and began repeating “Hi, baby!” and “Hi, Char-ee!”3 as she continued to give him a once over. This refrain remains her standard greeting for him whenever she happens upon him throughout the day.

As the days progressed, her shock at his presence transformed into an adorable sense of confident ownership. She frequently asks to “Hold-en,” which means that she wants to hold him or sometimes she’ll just opt for the more direct “Take him.” She also declares that she wants to kiss him and then goes in for a gentle kiss on his head.

At one point she was leaning over the side of his rock ’n play—no doubt preparing to kiss him again—when his flailing newborn hands happened to touch her on the cheek. She thought this was hilarious and burst out laughing. Chasing that high, she would lean her face closer to his hands and chuckle some more whenever he touched her. A few days later, she attempted to recreate this hilarity, but Charlie wasn’t flailing enough, so she simply grabbed his hand, pulled it to her face, and let out a cackle. This has since become a frequent tradition.

When Charlie is crying, Maddie is usually OK with it, but will start to say in a semi-troubled voice, “Char-ee cry-ing…” If his crying escalates, she will continue saying it, but with increasing urgency, and almost start to sound like she’s about to cry herself. It’s kind of adorable.

When she wakes up in the morning, her first question is “Where’s Char-ee?”If we ever tell her that Charlie is asleep, she quickly corrects us—”No…awake.”

Maddie kissing CharlieShe has taken an even greater interest in her baby dolls than she did before he was born, as now she has a real-life model to imitate. The babies get buckled in Charlie’s car seat, take rides on his Mamaroo, sleep in his rock ’n play, endure frequent diaper changes, and get carried around the house while being burped or rocked to sleep.

There are baby dolls strewn all over our house in various stages of care. It’s so cool to see her loving maternal instincts kicking in as she follows Theresa’s example. It’s also a heartwarming pleasure to see how much she loves her little brother.

As I mentioned, it’s been a blessing to have one child who can communicate effectively with us. I was home alone with my two kids4 the other day, and Charlie woke up while Maddie was eating. She was able to remain independent enough to finish eating and entertain herself with her toys while I tried to get Charlie back to sleep. Eventually, I was able to do that, and then Maddie went down for her nap with relative ease. It’s almost as if she can sense when her cooperation is appreciated. There have been only two times in my memory when both of our kids were melting down at the same time, so I’d say that’s a pretty good record for the first month.

Charles in ChargeThe Kid Brother

So let’s talk about Charlie. We realized pretty early on that he was a very different baby from Maddie. He seemed to have a slight case of colic, which is really hard to watch, as he writhes in pain and cries excessively when you know he’d rather be sleeping5. On the upside, he also took a pacifier almost instantly and is actually comforted by it—which never worked on Maddie.

He does other normal baby things that Maddie never did as well. It was a magical day when I realized that he would rapidly drift off to sleep when swaddled with a pacifier and enveloped in an audio cocoon of white noise. It’s honestly a drug for this kid. As soon as the noise is turned on, his eyelids get heavy and his blinks get longer, until he can’t resist anymore and drifts off to dreamland. Unfortunately the stomach pains didn’t always let him stay there.

At the suggestion of my sister-in-law, we started using probiotic drops, which have made a world of difference. His daily routine now consists of eating, being awake and pleasant, then getting a little crabby and being rocked to sleep with a pacifier and white noise via smartphone in one of his parents’ arms before we put him in his bed for a three to four-hour nap during the day—and sometimes even longer overnight.6

Since we are exclusively breastfeeding right now and not using bottles much, it’s wonderful for me to be able to rock him to sleep effectively after Theresa is done nursing him. Maddie was never like this—she always nursed to sleep and then required a Mission: Impossible-style transfer to her bed—limiting my bedtime contributions to pretty much just changing her diapers. I love having this time with Charlie and letting him fall asleep in my arms. It’s a nice way for me to relax at the end of the day, too!

Dapper CharlesAnother new feature with Charlie is his male anatomy, and the difference between changing the diaper of a male vs. female baby. In nearly two years of diaper changes, Maddie has yet to pee on me. For the first month, Charlie was a sharpshooter from very early on. Even when I would cover his weapon with a wipe or cloth, he would still find a way to douse me—or to create a puddle on the changing table. I no longer need to visit the Bellagio Fountains in Vegas. I’ve seen enough.

Charlie is also a lot stronger and bigger than Maddie. While his head seemed smaller than hers when he was born7, his one-month doctor’s appointment confirmed that he is also in the 90th percentile for baby pates. He also grew 2.75 inches since his birth and just seems a lot bigger than he was when born. He’s already wearing six-month-old clothes! Maddie didn’t do this until she was six months old…and then stayed that size for a while after that. Charlie will probably be asking to borrow my Cubs shirts soon.

Chuck8 is also very strong. I noticed this instantly when he was born. One of my first mental images of Maddie as a newborn was when they placed her on Theresa’s chest and she just lay there with wide eyes—taking in the world and drooling. For Charlie, my first mental image is of a similarly wide-eyed baby, but he was taking in the world by already trying to lift his head up and look around. Even the first time I changed him, I realized how strong his arms and legs were. He fights viciously when I attempt to straighten his legs to fasten his diaper, and he engages in an arm wrestling match when I try to change him into a new shirt. Upper body strength and a good head of hair…I guess I donated both of these things to my son instead of keeping them for myself.9

The Joy of Parental Leave

As always, I can’t reiterate the blessing of my employer giving me 12 weeks of parental leave. I was able to stay home for the entire first month of Charlie’s life, and am easing back to work by going in two days per week for June, three days per week for July and four days per week for August.

Mini Cubs FansAside from allowing us to play man-to-man defense on two very young and needy children, it’s also allowed me to have a prolonged front row seat for these early day-to-day moments with Charlie that many fathers simply have to miss. My bonding with Maddie during this time has been just as important as my bonding with Charlie, and the fact that I have been around to take her to the park or the library or the grocery store has surely allowed her to better weather the transition from only child to big sister.

I’m finding it necessary to forgive myself more frequently for being unable to capture every moment and memory of my children’s lives. I’ve spilled a lot of ink on this post, and there’s still so much more I could write about Charlie’s ongoing efforts to learn how to be a human, Maddie’s ongoing efforts to learn how to deal with a human-in-training, and our ongoing efforts to evolve as parents of two awesome kids.

These are simply magical times.

  1. Please note that I have also been on complete parental leave for the month and just started going back to work last week, so Theresa is starting to single-handedly play zone defense two days each week.
  2. At least we had my in-law’s DVR to keep us occupied during late night rocking sessions for a week while we were in Newburgh! American Ninja Warrior reruns are quite therapeutic at 1 a.m.
  3. It’s interesting to note that as soon as she met him, his name transformed from “Shar-Shee” to “Char-ee”
  4. still a ridiculous-sounding sentence to my ears
  5. and we’d rather he be sleeping
  6. It’s taken me a few days to write this post, so I just want to note that this is not always the case. Charlie has started having some bad sleeping nights again…especially the nights when I’m going to work the next morning!
  7. but who’s wasn’t?
  8. as he’s known among my in-laws, since one of my nieces is already named Charlie
  9. I’m a hero.

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