Batteries Not Included

As I sit here with my 11-month-old son watching him inspect my iPhone and figure out how his favorite song (The Incomparable Mr. Flannery, by Clutch) is emanating from this mysterious black box, a small pit forms in my stomach. I begin to question myself: “Should he be exposed to my phone screen?” “Will the bright colors and sounds desensitize him from the simpler things in life?” “Shouldn’t I be sheltering him from all this technology?” “Am I using my phone as a substitute for real interaction?” It took me quite awhile to really understand where these thoughts came from and even longer to figure out how to answer them.

My wife and I grew up in a period of technology explosion. Stuck firmly on the corner of Generation X and Generation Y, at the intersection of latchkey kids and 90s grunge/alternative, I feel like we occupy a unique place in technological history. Our childhoods are filled with memories of playing with friends outside AND digital experimentation. Big Wheels, Slip ’n Slide, Skip-It, “Ghosts in the Graveyard”, and “Cowboys and Indians” right alongside MTV, AOL Instant Messenger, Napster, Myspace, and Facebook. So of course our experiences have cultivated a subconscious and visceral gut-check to ensure we do not use TVs, iPads, the Internet, and DVD players as de-facto babysitters for our children.

But is sheltering our children from technology at such a young age the right answer? I’m starting to think it isn’t. There’s a HUGE difference between using it as a babysitting crutch and teaching them about it, watching them learn and discover it. You see, our children will be growing up in another unprecedented era. A world where this technology is not only ubiquitous, but also taken for granted. A world with new technological breakthroughs that I can’t even begin to fathom. And my job as a parent, above all, is to prepare them for this world. Sheltering them from this technology is doing a giant disservice.

I love watching my son figure things out, discover the ins and outs of how things function, cause and effect. That if he pushes the big round button he can “speak” to Siri, who will speak back. That if he touches the screen on one of my color drawing apps he can literally create something new, something from his own mind. I can see his brain working overdrive during phone calls as he tries to figure out how mommy, daddy, or grandma got their voice into this tiny black box. He’s even starting to understand video chat, which will become incredibly important as our family and friends are spread all over the place: Peoria, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington state, and even Sweden.

It goes without saying that my other job as a parent is to set reasonable limits for how and when to use said technology. My childhood experiences (as well as my wife’s) have ingrained in us that there is no substitute for good, solid playtime with other kids, especially outdoors. It remains a core and primary value. But our children will live in an entirely different world than the one we grew up in. Recognizing that and understanding how to merge the two worlds is the new challenge. This merge smacks me in the face yet again as I hit the “Post” button on this blog, written on my laptop from my couch with iTunes playing in the background, staring out my front window at the multi-colored leaves of our giant oak tree in mid-Fall. Wow.

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11 Months – Amplification

My Beautiful Boy,

Eleven months. I’m really not sure how this much time has passed, but I can definitely say it’s been a lot of fun. This past month has been especially fun as you’ve blessed us with the gift of your extra happy personality. You’re charming, smiling, fearless, happy-go-lucky self is just incredible to watch. I live vicariously through you as you explore your world with reckless abandon. Even then, your gift is still wanting to share your discoveries with us. I will never get tired of hearing you talk, realizing there is no limit to the words and thoughts you can say. I will never tire of seeing your eyes light up when you recognize me from a distance, along with the mile-wide smile that comes with it. I will definitely never get tired of your curiosity and excitement for new foods, especially unique flavors like Indian food, salmon, and avocado.

We’ve spent a lot of time together this past month, and I can’t get over the fact that no matter how much I love you one day my heart has room for even more love the next. What I love even more is knowing how many exciting things are still to come. I’m ready; let’s turn it up past 11.

I love you.

4 Days in the Hot Seat

So this past weekend my wife went on a 4-day vacation getaway with some friends from high school. Without our son. This marks the first time in his entire existence that he has been away from mommy overnight. So who gets to take care of baby? Me. Taking care of him. For FOUR. WHOLE. DAYS. A daunting task no doubt, so naturally I headed straight up to Grandma’s house for some support. So how did things go? Well here’s 10 things I learned on my adventure:

1) This was not the same as being a single parent. I got tons of help from my mother and I knew that after four days my wife would be back. That’s a huge difference from knowing that you are the sole provider and responsible party for a child day in and day out. As I’ve said before, it really does take two. Mad props again to all the single parents out there.

2) It takes a TON of energy to care for a child. “Duh” statement, right? It’s definitely a full-time job, and I knew that going in. But having to plan, prepare, be on point, and supervise nearly every second of the day? Downright exhausting. My wife deserves an award.

3) Despite the energy expenditure, it was actually fun. Even before I had kids I could see myself as a stay-at-home dad. This weekend confirmed that I’d actually like it.

4) My son and I grew closer. A lot closer. I’m the one he needed to depend on for feeding, changing, transport, and getting to sleep. When things got rough he clung even tighter to me. Regardless of whoever else we were visiting, I was his entire world. That’s immensely humbling.

5) He really did miss his mommy. His closeness to me was also a necessity. Mommy wasn’t there to nurse him to sleep, comfort him when he’s upset, or play with him. I had to figure out how to live up to the task.

6) He made it really easy for me. Went down for naps with no fuss. Took a bottle, even with formula in it. Slept for unprecedented stretches at a time (7 hours!!!). Slept in every morning. Travelled like a champ. Smiled, and smiled, and smiled. It’s like he knew it was my rookie debut so he took it easy on me instead of putting me through the wringer.

7) I never thought I’d rejoice over my son pooping. My son has been breast-fed 99.9% of his existence. This weekend we used a combination of pumped breast milk and formula to get us through (YOU try pumping enough milk for 4 entire days while also feeding a baby. It ain’t easy.). So naturally the formula messed with his little digestive system and he didn’t poop until Day 3. Worried? You bet I was. And thus when the poop cometh forward, there was much rejoicing! Now that said…..

8) Formula diapers are friggin’ nasty. In retrospect I’m sooooooo glad my wife was able to breastfeed because nearly a week later I’m still trying to get that awful diaper smell out of my nose. I now see the value in Diaper Genies. Do they make Diaper Incinerators?

9) The time bomb never went off. I kept waiting for the meltdown. The nuclear “You-all-suck-and-mommy-needs-to-come-home-now-because-she’s-the-only-one-I-want” tirade. Considering these were the first four days ever that he was away from mommy, it would have been completely justified. Yet it never happened, which makes my son all the more awesome.

10) We were both excited and relieved when mommy came home. As fun as the adventure was, there’s no place like home, and there’s truly nothing better than being together as a family.