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Friday, January 27, 2006

"Off the hook"? I assure all assembled that there is most assuredly a hook in this relationship, and that I am hanging on it by the waistband of my underpants. Which makes for an apt simile, since parenthood sometimes feels to me like a mild wedgie: binding, but all in all quite tolerable.

I may be getting a little more sleep lately, but my wife is no shrinking violet. If she felt she was getting the short end of the stick she would tell me; as it is, we have what we both think is an amenable arrangement. MIC's laundry list of Dadly Duties is right on, but it's a mere subset of what dads can and should do. Meals, from procurement to cleanup, are huge. Laundry is an even bigger deal for us, because we are lowly renters who have to pump quarters into a machine around the corner to keep up with Appalachian foothills of dirty clothes. Bathing OneBert has become a three-ring circus. And the last time I checked the Sleep-In Scenario, my wife gets to sleep in twice a week, while I sleep in ... never.

Co-parenting has leapt forward exponentially over the generations, and my mom still drops her jaw (and sends accusatory stares at my dad) whenever she sees me change a diaper. My wife and kids are my life, and I eagerly work three jobs to keep them warm, fed, secure, and happy. And it's worth every calorie of energy I expend, even though the only perks are a little extra rest and the big piece of chicken.

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We've always been big proponents of setting up a nighttime routine that doesn't involve sending Toddler in Chief into Slumberville with a nipple in his mouth, a bottle in his hands, or one of us lying down next to him until falls asleep. I have a friend who still must lie down with her nearly three-year-old in order for him to fall asleep at naptime or bedtime. No thanks.

But if that's the routine that you've established, and it's not working anymore, all the more reason to share the duties and subsequent exhaustion. TwoBert's nighttime rodeo seems like another reason to not have baby in bed with you. If your kid was in his own space, he could buck around his crib to his heart's content without forcing the parents to be alert spectators or constantly-moving, edge-of-the-bed barriers.

And regardless of what kind of job you have--whether it's checking copy and proofing numbers or just standing behind the counter making change or lattes--everyone deserves some sleep at night. Helping out with the baby-related overnight responsibilities is not something you do only "if it gets really bad." It's part of being a parent, and part of being a decent spouse.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sounds like MIC and FIC found the system that worked best for them. We are far more stupid. Getting both our kids to sleep is such a Herculean endeavor lately, and we are so possessive of our unfettered time, that we stay up way too late reading, working on freelance projects, watching movies, canoodling, etc. Not something we can possibly sustain.

Naturally, when it comes to night-time tending, co-sleeping definitely cuts down on the travel time. Until now, all TwoBert needed was a nighttime nipple and he'd fall asleep in no time. It's only now that he's so enamored with autonomous movement that he wakes up and bucks like a rodeo bull until all hours. My wife usually handles the brunt of this, although if it gets really bad I too will get up so we can tag-team the little bronco until he passes out. Also, she gets to nap with TwoBert while OneBert is at school, whereas I am still looking for the ideal situation for napping on the job.

The nature of said job is also a big issue. My last full-time gig, as a financial editor, required a gimlet eye for correcting grammar, cross-checking scads of numbers, and perusing for compliance issues for which I was ultimately responsible. It didn't involve volatile uranium isotopes or eyeball surgery, but I couldn't have done it without enough rest each night. My wife was great about letting me sleep when I really needed it, and on most days I made it through without 1) getting the company sued or 2) face-planting on my keyboard, both of which look bad on a performance review.

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Being woken up out of deep sleep several times a night for several months by a seemingly indecipherable baby is almost torture. And for the nursing mom, having that baby refuse a bottle, like Laid-Off Dad's TwoBert, is brutal--especially at night. As if the endless physical draining of nursing isn't exhausting enough, there's limited help that the spouse can provide during the especially daunting nighttime routine. But that does not mean that the dad is off the hook.

There is plenty of stuff Laid-Off Dad can do that doesn't involve flexing his ability to "sleep through the crying." So he can't actually feed the baby. But he can burp the baby, change the baby, and try to snuggle that baby back to sleep. If the baby isn't co-sleeping, go get the baby and bring baby to mom. If the baby won't sleep, take the crying baby to another room so that mom can get a tiny bit of much-deserved shut-eye. You can't assume that the baby will nap regularly enough to give mom a daytime break. Plus, if there is an older, nap-free sibling--forgetaboutit.

Sure the at-home parent doesn't have to get dressed in the morning and head out into rush hour, but we deserve some sleep too--and not just on the weekends.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

With a nearly three year old, the overnight duties are a breeze. Maybe once a week, Toddler in Chief wakes up because he is thirsty. One of us goes to his room, fills his cup, pulls up the covers. It takes all of 90 seconds. Then back to bed and sleep.

But a new baby--especially a first baby--is a totally different beast. Every middle-of-the-night event can last an hour or two. Feed the baby, burp the baby, change the spit-up soaked baby, diaper the baby (sometimes twice), soothe the baby, exit. It is no small feat. And in the beginning it happens a lot. The sleep deprivation is physically challenging; the difficulty of finding a groove is emotionally challenging; the frequency and non-existent endpoint is mentally challenging.

Sleep is important for both parents, regardless of their job description. The parent who works away from the house needs to be alert and coherent. The primary caretaker of that tiny creature must be alert and coherent. Our solution was this: TIC and I went to bed early. Father in Chief was in charge of the first night-time event. He fed TIC a bottle of expressed breastmilk, cleaned him up, settled him down. After that, I was in charge. But by then, I had a good six hours of solid sleep time. And FIC got a good chunk of sleep too--after he pulled his parental weight.

Having a baby is hard on both parents, and the mandatory exhaustion is an equal-opportunity burden.

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This is another topic with serendipitous timing, because my wife and I are struggling through the 8-month sleep regression of our second son, TwoBert, who wakes up with anguished yelps several times per night. He's just learned to crawl, and he seems to think that time asleep is time that could be spent training for the Olympic Baby-Luge next month in Turin.

My wife is usually up first, basically because 1) TwoBert never took to a bottle, so nursing is usually the only thing that can calm him down, and 2) I can sleep through the crying, and she can't. If it's a particularly gruesome spectacle, I'll wake up--either from the crying or a well-placed blow to the back--and take the boy for a quick walkaround to see if a change of surroundings will alter his mood. Most of the time, though, I get far more sleep than my wife does on weeknights. I get to make it up to her on days off and weekends, when I take the boys out for breakfast or supervise their wrestlemania while she sleeps in.

We divvied things up pretty well when I was laid off, but now that I'm back out there, I think the breadwinner needs to be at his/her best so that those paychecks keep on comin'. If our roles were reversed and I was the SAHD, I would bend over backwards to make sure my wife got all the sleep she could. It would be especially important to her, because if you're a mom in the workplace and you exhibit a baby-based drop in productivity, odds are employers will use it to their advantage.

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