on musical upbringings.

Many of the clearest memories from my childhood involve music. Sitting on the living room floor with my mom and brother, listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller on the turntable. Laughing with my mom at I’m Henry VIII, I Am by Herman’s Hermits. My parents playing the Beatles Abbey Road and Simon and Garfunkel The Concert in Central Park in the car while we drove down the Kancamagus Highway on family vacation. Listening to motown and classic rock in my dad’s Cutlass Ciera. Buying my first cassette tape, the Beach Boys Made in U.S.A., after watching Flight of the Navigator and falling in love with I Get Around.

These songs and records shaped my musical taste and imbued me with a sense of melody and song structure that would later influence my own songwriting. Songs like Octopus’s Garden, I Am A Rock, and Billie Jean inspired mental images that still appear when I listen to those songs today. They also provided points of connection between me and my parents. Even if I didn’t quite get the meaning of all the lyrics or grasp all the underlying messages, the beats and hooks were universal, and there were always pieces my parents could pull out and highlight for discussion.

I obviously want Rory to love music. Ultimately, he’ll decide for himself what he likes, dislikes, or ignores completely. But let’s be real: While I still have some influence over his choices, I’m going to introduce him to a lot of my favorites and hope they stick.

Way back in February, I gave my facebook friends this prompt: “Name songs that are not meant to be children’s songs, but that children would enjoy.” I also promised to pull from those suggestions to construct Rory’s first playlist and then feature it in an installment of Dad in Plaid. Here we are, a mere eight months later!

When I think about the songs that I really loved as a kid, there are a few common themes that emerge:

  • Imaginative lyrics that tell a story with lots of strong imagery.
  • Unique vocalizations and/or playful instrumentation.
  • Call backs, spelling, and other interactive elements that actively engage the listener.

Each of the following songs includes at least one or two of these elements. I’ve also made some sequencing choices to amuse me and Lauren; it’ll be a while before Rory can pick up on any of the jokes. However, I have been playing the playlist for Rory since February, and he perks up when certain songs come on. We also think he’s going to grow up to be a drummer, based on his obsession and amusement with rhythmical tapping. Could just be a baby thing, but we prefer to envision him following in our musical footsteps. 😉

Here’s the playlist:

Buddy Holly — Everyday
Creedence Clearwater Revival — Lookin’ Out My Back Door
The Marvelettes — Please Mr. Postman
Jackson 5 — ABC
Feist — 1234
They Might Be Giants — Birdhouse In Your Soul
Carole King — I Feel the Earth Move
Cat Stevens — If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out
Beach Boys — Surfin’ USA
The Dead Milkmen — Punk Rock Girl
Devo — Whip It
Taylor Swift — Shake It Off
Harry Belafonte — Jump in the Line
Beatles — Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
The Lovin’ Spoonful — Do You Believe In Magic?
Bjork — It’s Oh So Quiet
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole — Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What A Wonderful World
Kimya Dawson — Alphabutt
Pete Seeger — Little Boxes
Simon and Garfunkel — Me and Julio Down by the School Yard
Jonathan Richman — I’m a Little Dinosaur
Katy Perry — Roar
Aretha Franklin — Respect
Weezer — Island in the Sun
Bastille — Pompeii
Joni Mitchell — Big Yellow Taxi
John Prine — Fish and Whistle
The White Stripes — We’re Going to Be Friends
The Bird and the Bee — I’m Into Something Good
Mama Cass — Make Your Own Kind of Music
Jefferson Airplane — White Rabbit
Queen — You’re My Best Friend
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles — The Tears of a Clown
The Supremes — You Can’t Hurry Love
Mrs. Robinson — Simon & Garfunkel
The Dixie Cups — Iko Iko

why i haven’t written.

Welcome to Season Two of Dad in Plaid!

To the surprise of absolutely no one, I’m sure, I’ve been unable to update this blog since January 25. Instead, I’ve opted for frequent, brief updates on Facebook and occasional Instagram posts. In other words, I have been behaving like a normal person with an infant and cutting out any unnecessary distractions.

Rory is nine months old, and I feel like we’re finally settling in. He is a fairly predictable little guy, mostly abiding by a regular feeding schedule with few major complaints and sleeping through the night like a champ. His personality seems to expand exponentially every day. He is sweet, generous, goofy, and loving. He is also stubborn and a bit rebellious, and sometimes he clearly wants to be left alone. Sound familiar?

Here are some things that Rory can do at nine months:

  • Wave hello at our cats and express genuine disappointment and frustration when they don’t wave back.
  • Come so close to speaking actual words that he inspires debate over whether or not he’s spoken actual words.
  • Stand upright with increasingly minimal assistance.
  • Headbutt me and his mother as a sign of enthusiastic affection.
  • Dive off the couch when we’re not holding onto him properly.
  • Maintain a good or bad mood for an entire day, regardless of any immediate stimuli or changes in environment.
  • Laugh at me when I’m struggling to put him to sleep.
  • Crawl backwards, but not forwards, leading to frequent sisyphean struggles when he wants to get to a specific location. He is SO CLOSE to crawling though! Just in the past couple days, he’s been getting himself into crawling position, then lunging forward on his tummy, getting back up and lunging again. It’s an effective, albeit slow, means of getting across a room.

His major super power? Absorbing all our free time. And that’s why I haven’t written.

It took months for me to settle back into work and feel capable of operating without mental or emotional distraction during the day. The first day back was the hardest, by far. Hearing him cry from across the house and being unable to respond immediately was borderline torture. We talk about how mothers are especially in tune with emotions, while fathers are a little more distant and preoccupied with general safety and security. Nah. What really determines emotional connection to a child is how much time you spend with them. After two and a half months of 24/7 interaction with my baby, I felt about as tapped into his emotions and needs as humanly possible without actually entering his brain. Months later, I still feel that deep connection and it continues to be very difficult to pull myself away from him. I am grateful that I work from home and have the flexibility to build a schedule that allows for a few hours of quality time with Rory each day.

In this season of Dad in Plaid, I’ll be diving deeper into some thought-provoking subjects related to societal expectations for parents and how our plans might abide by or differ from the norm. I’ll also be talking about some lighter topics, providing some helpful top ten lists, and finally sharing the first music playlist that I created for Rory, based on recommendations from Facebook friends.

Have an idea for a topic you’d like me to cover? Feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments!

our first week with rory.

Rory was born on December 15 at 6:41am. Labor began on the 14th; Lauren and I spent the first few hours walking up and down our street, pausing during her contractions and keeping track of their length and the space between them. It seemed like go time from the get go — contractions were a minute long, five minutes apart, and strong enough to take her breath away. After receiving some input from our friend Amber, we scrambled to finish packing our bags and then we headed to the hospital.

It was a bit of a journey from the parking lot to the delivery room. We had to check in at triage, and then Lauren got set up in a room for an initial assessment while I sat in a waiting room, listening to a couple teenagers talking about how they wished babies skipped from birth to one year old because “that’s when they get loveable.” Ten minutes later I was able to join Lauren, and we spent the next hour or so waiting for things to progress enough to be admitted into a delivery room. I immediately figured out which graph on the screen was charting her contractions. Oddly enough, the scale goes from 0 to 100, but many of hers were in the neighborhood of 130.

There was a chance we’d be sent home to ride out early labor until Lauren was truly ready for the delivery room. We weren’t super keen on the prospect of reliving the admission process again, so we were relieved when the doctor announced that we were clear for the second floor. Shortly thereafter, Lauren received her epidural and we settled in for an unexpectedly peaceful night.

Delivery itself happened in a flash. I can’t speak for Lauren and, out of respect for her privacy, I am not going to describe it in detail. What I will say is that Rory came out blue, was deemed “slow to start” and carried to a back room for a couple quick breathing exercises. Within a couple minutes he was ready to rock, and the nurses placed him on Lauren’s chest and there he was: the most beautiful little human being we’d ever seen.

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Rory and me (approx. 36 hours old).

We spent the next two days in the hospital, basically learning how to keep Rory alive in the early going. He kept failing his blood sugar test, and we found ourselves in a seemingly endless loop of trying again. Lauren endured lectures from nurses who spoke as if she was personally sabotaging his test results. However, when he finally passed the test and it was clear we wouldn’t have to supplement with formula, the entire staff seemed to share in our joy and relief. Nurses are awesome people, and they were instrumental in building our confidence over the first couple days of Rory’s life.

It took about 36 hours for Rory to find his voice. We were worried that he might be so low-key that he wouldn’t be capable of waking us if he needed to be fed. Eventually that all kicked in, though he remains very soft-spoken and only cries when absolutely necessary — a trait he may have picked up from yours truly. By the time we were cleared for discharge, we felt we were ready to be home and perfectly capable of reading Rory’s cues.

My first week as Rory’s father has been the best week of my life. I’ve never loved anyone quite like I love Rory. He is infinitely loveable. I’ve heard so many stories about parents, especially fathers, who cannot form a connection with newborns because they aren’t the person on whom the child relies for sustenance and survival, and supposedly there’s no way to form a bond with a person that can’t communicate complexly. Personally I have no idea what these people are talking about. Rory is sweet and cuddly, and he makes the most ridiculous faces. He only cries when he’s being changed or if we miss his initial hunger cues. He somehow manages to be endearing even when he’s melting down. His arms and legs pump in a way that makes him look like he’s marching, and I like to imagine he’s chanting “We want milk! We want milk!” in some kind of baby self-advocacy protest. I feel bad laughing at a person who is crying so desperately, but I can’t help it. He is just that cute.

I’ve been introducing Rory to music via the Rockabye Baby! series of lullaby versions of rock songs. So far Rory is really into Where Is My Mind? by the Pixies and Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. He also seems to enjoy it when we read stories to him. We’ve been sticking to Goodnight Moon and A is for Activist. At this point I think it’s just the rhythmic intonations of familiar voices that he’s enjoying; we could read him random Wikipedia articles and he’d probably be into it.

Our cats seem mostly okay with this strange, mostly immobile kitten who appeared out of nowhere and is now taking up most of our attention. Sam seems a little bummed out that Lauren’s lap is often occupied by Rory, but he doesn’t seem to be taking it personally. Frodo usually positions himself across the room from Rory so he can observe him from a distance, though he has crept up and sniffed Rory’s face a few times. Cats have limited means for expressing their stress; one of them is increased hyperactivity and destructiveness. There’s been a tiny uptick in that type of behavior, but for all we know it could be the unusually warm weather that’s causing it.

Life with a newborn is surprisingly relaxed and focused. I already suck at sleeping, so the new schedule isn’t that much of a departure from the norm. Lauren is a heavy sleeper and prefers a solid eight to nine hours per night, but she’s rolling with Rory impressively well so far. There is a certain unmatched joy in holding and soothing a newborn baby in the wee hours of morning. The downsides are all minor inconveniences; the upside is a new person who we get to hang out with every day and night.

Newborns provide daily milestones — yesterday was Rory’s first walk in the stroller, and he slept through the whole thing while Lauren and I cherished the moment. Each day I test Rory to see what he’ll respond to and what he’s not quite ready to see or hear. His level of alertness is growing by leaps and bounds, along with his ability to express happiness and annoyance and all-out rejection. He clearly prefers Lauren’s company when he’s awake, but he often conks out immediately when it’s my turn to sooth him.

Our families and close friends have been incredibly supportive, and of course we’ve also received an outpouring of enthusiasm from the fandom communities in which we make a living. Though we’ve proudly refused various offers of help around the house and so forth, it’s been comforting and encouraging to have so many people pulling for us and our little guy. Our sense of gratitude is off the charts. Our sanity is well intact largely due to the generosity of others.

Rory is healthy, happy, and loved by many. He’s a lucky guy and so are we.

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The many faces of Rory (one week old).

other people’s babies.

For the first 24 years of my life, my interest in babies was precisely zero. When a parent asked if I’d like to hold their baby, I would politely decline and then back away from the baby as if I’d encountered a snake in the woods. Something about babies made me deeply uncomfortable. They were little blobs of barely-human, unable to communicate in anything but gurgles, poops, and caterwauls. Why not just get an actual cat?

It wasn’t until my 25th year that I experienced my first paternal urge. It welled up inside of me out of nowhere and it terrified me. How could I possibly want to father a child, given the reality that all children begin as babies? Let alone the fact that babies become toddlers — ceaselessly energetic snotmonsters intent on destroying everything their parents hold dear. The baby phase itself was all the birth control I needed. So where did this urge even come from?

It only got worse with time. By my late 20s I found myself oohing and awwing at babies and small children in the same way I’d always reacted to seeing an adorable animal. There was genuine love in my heart for these creatures. Most bizarrely, I began to feel a longing to provide food, shelter, and emotional support to one or two of them, should the opportunity to procreate ever arise. What was becoming of me?

I’ve lost it completely in my 30s. Not only do I accept babyhood as a stage of humanity and find babies altogether endearing, I also can’t control my amusement with their stuff. Baby toys. Baby clothes. Blankets and crib skirts. Area rugs and nursery wall art. I can’t get enough of it.

The clinching moment occurred in May, when Lauren and I were in a toy shop in Portland, Maine, just a few weeks after we learned we were pregnant. I went into this store assuming I’d be unmoved by any of its contents. I was proven wrong on two counts: 1) They had an excellent selection of tabletop games; 2) THIS:
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The Skip Hop Activity Elephant. It stopped me dead in my tracks. It was displayed eye-level next to other activity animals — monkey, owl, puppy, lion — but I only had eyes for the elephant. I imagined our child playing with this silly thing, crinkling its crinkly feet and squeezing its squeaky ear. It was the first time I’d clearly envisioned our child doing anything, and it brought me to tears. The activity elephant had brought me to tears.

There’s no turning back now. When I see other people’s babies, I am filled with anticipation and excitement for what’s to come. Dozens of people have told us, “Enjoy these last couple months of peace and quiet. Your life will never be quiet again.” It doesn’t faze me. This baby is going to make a lot of noise and a lot of poop. Our house won’t be clean again until 2033. We won’t stop worrying about the child until we’re dead. To all this I say: bring it on.

When I see other people’s babies, I know that I’m ready.