The Times, They Are A-Changin’

I was having a conversation with Eitan the other day when I realized it.

I don’t even remember what we were talking about. It could have been about something that happened at school or one of his new favorite television show characters or our upcoming move to a new apartment.1 It could have been about his train tracks or his stuffed animals or about him singing one of his two new favorite songs, Etz Chayim (The Tree of Life) and The Beatles’ “Love Me Do.”

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter what we were talking about.

The point is that we were talking. We were having a real, actual conversation. I made a statement and Eitan responded and then I spoke again. Apparently we had left the days of interrogations behind and I had somehow missed it. Suddenly, I was sitting with a real person with real thoughts and ideas. Eitan wasn’t quoting Nietzche or commenting on the current state of American politics but he was thinking about situations, forming opinions and listening to my comments. Somewhere along the line I turned my back for a moment and Eitan became a real person.

I’ve been anticipating this day with both excitement and dread since before Eitan was born. I would think that every parent looks forward to the day when they can have the kind of conversation with their child that doesn’t involve asking a thousand questions in order to find out two small pieces of information. On the other hand, Eitan being able to form opinions means being able to decide that he doesn’t want to do something and explaining why, which means I’m quickly approaching the day when “Because I said so!” will no longer hold any weight.2

More importantly, though, is the fact that Eitan has a terrific grasp on the events unfolding around him. He can make associations – “Your name is Alex? There’s an Alex in the office at my school!” – and comparisons – “These cookies aren’t as big as the cookies at the bakery by Rara’s house.” He knows his role in contributing at home and he is constantly looking for ways to help out.3 He gets excited about assisting and is genuinely angry when there are no opportunities for him to pitch in. Annoying as it can be, at times, it’s a nice quality for him to have.

Trudy and I are looking forward to capitalizing on that quality when the new baby arrives.

Yes, Trudy is pregnant. She’s due in May, which means that by the time my birthday comes, we’ll be eyeballs deep in diapers, onesies and laundry once again. It’s also the biggest reason why we had to make sure we moved into an apartment with more space. Our one-bedroom place was spacious enough for the two of us and we made do with Eitan in our bedroom for three and a half years, believe it or not. But we had reached our limits, both in terms of ways that we could keep the space relatively organized and in terms of physical locations for Eitan’s toys. The new place has lots of space in the living room, a separate dining area and Eitan has his own room.4

It’s kind of hard to tell who’s more excited between Eitan, Trudy and me. Trudy and I are obviously thrilled to be having another baby, although I wonder if Trudy is looking forward more to being a mom again or just not having someone tap dancing on her bladder all day and night. I’m just excited to be a dad again, in general, though I feel a bit less jittery this time around. I’m hoping caring for an infant is sort of like riding a bike in that it’s not something you ever really forget once you learn how to do it. I’m sure there will be bumps here and there (including various sights, smells and stains), but I feel like it has to be a little easier the second time.

All that being said, Eitan is probably more excited than either of us. He keeps talking about how he’s going to help feed, change and bathe the baby and how he’s going to share his toys. We’ll see how long that lasts, obviously, especially once he realizes that the baby is encroaching on his territory, but Trudy and I are both pretty confident that he’ll get acclimated to the new arrival fairly smoothly. We’ve been talking with him about how things will be changing and what he can expect once the baby is here. He’s also handled all the other transitions in his life like a pro, from starting preschool to flying literally across the world to Singapore to moving into a new home, so we’re expecting more of the same from him.

It’s been a bit difficult really grasping the idea that we have a new baby coming, but most of that has to do with us being so busy that we haven’t had much time to really think about it. Now that we’re settled into the new place, though, it’s becoming a bit more real. At this point, we’re all just getting ready for the next part of the adventure.


“I’ve Been Promoted to Big Brother!”

1. We actually moved into our new place last week, but we hadn’t moved yet when this conversation happened.

2. On the other hand, “Because I said so” is a crutch phrase that parents rely on too often as it is. Toddlers may not have quite the same reasoning skills as adolescents but they can still sniff out poor justifications for doing things. If you can’t come up with a better reason than citing your position of authority, it may be worth questioning whether the argument is worth having in the first place.

3. If you consider yourself a patient person, the ultimate test is allowing a toddler to help you with household chores. See just how patient you are when your child is folding laundry or using five scrubbing brushes to clean the toilet.

4.That won’t last too long, since the plan is for the new baby to eventually join Eitan in his room, but he’ll be on his own for a little while.

No Better Feeling

I got to hold a baby the other day.

I don’t just mean a young child. Eitan is three and a half and still gets referred to as “the baby” sometimes. That’s not what I mean. I mean a baby, barely a week and a half old on the day when I met him. He was a floppy mush of skin and hair with the tiniest little mouth that seemed to open twice as wide when he needed to yawn. His father brought him into the room, holding the baby in his forearm in a perfect football grip, and gently laid him into my arms.

I laughed and said, “Jesus, I forgot how small they are when they’re born.”

Eitan the toddler was a giant compared to this little being, probably twice as tall and three times the weight. My arms usually start to ache after carrying Eitan for five or ten minutes so holding the baby was a snap, but I found myself feeling nervous. The baby might have been small, at least compared with Eitan, but I could feel the overwhelming weight of the responsibilities that all parents feel when their children are born. Eitan can control his movements; he can run and jump and put his hands out to break his fall if he trips. This tiny little human, though, was completely helpless. I don’t mind admitting that I was somewhat relieved that he woke up a bit and started crying because it meant that I could return him to his father.

His father is young, but looked like he’d been playing the role for years. He was confident as he picked up his son from my arms, leaned back and put the baby on his chest. The baby, surely sensing his father’s warmth and hearing his heartbeat, fell back to sleep almost immediately. My God, this kid is a natural, I thought. The slightest bit of jealousy I felt at the ease with which he had been able to calm his son was drowned out immediately by my pride at having played a role, however minor, in helping a child step up and become a man when he needed to.

The baby’s father and I had spoken before about the different feelings that parents experience, whether they are new to parenting or seasoned veterans. He told me that he loves his son and that he wants to give him the best life possible, but that he does not know how. He said that he does not feel like he has the resources or the knowledge to be a good father. “What can I offer him?” he asked. I explained to him that every parent thinks about the quality of life that they can provide for their children and that the truth is that most of it doesn’t matter. I told him that he could learn to change diapers and to feed the baby a bottle and to do all of the other little things that go into caring for a baby. The key was that he needed to love his son, no matter what, and that the rest would work itself out.

I pointed at the baby on his chest, now snoozing contentedly. “He knows that you love him,” I said. “You’re here with him, talking to him, spending time with him. He can feel your love coming through whenever he’s with you.” The baby’s father gave a noncommittal shrug. “You picked him up and he fell back to sleep immediately. He can feel every bit of positive energy you’re sending his way. You can do this. It’s going to be hard a lot of the time and there are going to be times when you’re going to want to throw your son out the window, if not jump out yourself. But the greatest thing about being a dad is that it helps you see strength that you never knew you had. You just have to be open to it.”

He seemed satisfied with my short soliloquy, though still somewhat unconvinced. I couldn’t blame him, of course. Becoming a parent is a hard adjustment for everyone, no matter the age, gender or ethnicity. I had just turned 29 when Eitan was born. I had a steady job, a wife, a place to live and a master’s degree and still, I struggled as much as anyone. I made mistakes and I got frustrated and angry and dejected.

But then things changed. 

I started learning from my mistakes. I started figuring out techniques and shortcuts, like soaking every bottle of milk in the sink at the same time rather than washing each one individually and standing out of the line of fire when changing Eitan’s diaper. I stopped beating myself up every time things went wrong and I started believing that I could do everything that Eitan needed from me. My confidence grew and I kept getting better. I adapted to Eitan and he adapted to me.

The other thing I told the baby’s father – the thing I would say to any new parent – was that parenting is a process. It’s a matter of constantly shifting tactics to figure out what works and adjusting when things don’t go according to plan. It’s getting used to the idea that just when you think you’ve figured things out, your kid grows or stands up or starts eating real food or does something else new that throws you off and makes you learn all over again.

He said to me, “That sounds really annoying.”

“It is,” I said with a laugh. Then I added, “But even so, moments like these, with your son sleeping on your chest? There’s no better feeling in the world.”

He glanced down at his son, sleeping softly. And he smiled.