Thursday, September 1, 2011

One of Max's lessons is prioritization, and how easy it is to be distracted from top priority.

Max cries for a lot of reasons. He is hungry so he cries. He is cold so he cries. He is hot so he cries. He has a messy diaper, he is bored, he is overstimulated, he is tired, he has hiccups, he dropped something, he's meeting someone for the first time, he is meeting someone for the tenth time but forgot their name. There are many reasons for him to cry.

His top two reasons to cry are that he is hungry and that he is tired. We can anticipate both but there seem to be more signs that he's about to be tired, so we can avoid the tired crying most of the time. He'll rub his eyes, get quiet, or try to lie down, at which point we can move him to the crib and let him fall asleep. If he starts crying from tiredness, it becomes more difficult, but that's another story.

When he's getting hungry, he can turn from happy to crabby in the span of a minute. That's tough to manage. Once he's hungry it's our top priority to feed him. To give him a bottle, we first need to warm it up, put a nipple on the bottle, get a burping cloth, etc. At this point, top priority is getting the bottle ready. If Max is hungry, he's fussy and usually crying. There's only so much we can do to sooth him without feeding him.

On the other hand, we don't like Max to cry. Not that this is Max's fault, but it is very judgmental crying. It's very easy to get distracted from bottle preparation, for example by a desire to hold Max, to bounce Max, to tickle Max, to do anything to get him to stop crying. It's easy to forget top priority is getting that bottle ready.

Once the bottle is ready, Max goes to town. He's a great eater. He calms down and he once again becomes playful. We know this will happen. We've seen it before. And that's why food preparation is priority one.

At work I know my priorities. Deadlines, strategic objectives, and proposal work is all part of the work I need to do. When someone gets upset, sometimes that changes what I work on even though my priorities haven't really changed. Maybe with Max's lesson I'll reconsider shifting my effort just because someone is crying. After all, when the true priorities are complete, everyone will calm down and want to play.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The First

Elena and I went out to brunch with a couple of friends on Sunday. Our diner of choice is the Arlington (Restaurant And) Diner. This past Sunday, the Arlington Diner was closed for a well deserved holiday break. So, after agreeing to go there, negotiating time, bundling up Max, going over, and finding their "closed" notice, we altered our plans and went to the Broadway Diner.

The Broadway Diner is on Broadway in Arlington; the location defines the diner much as the Arlington Diner is defined by its location on Mass Ave in, you guessed it, Arlington. From the moment we walked in, we compared parking, lighting, hostess, waitress, frequency of water refills, style of side-potato, quality of eggs, and preference towards stuffed french toast. In fact I've done this at countless restaurants, and these days I compare brunch to the Arlington Diner.

It wasn't long ago that I compared brunch to Renee's Cafe in Somerville. Renee's isn't a diner, but I know them for brunch. They have creative omelettes and benedicts, are vegetarian friendly, often crowded, and they make delicious eggs, muffins, and pancakes. I never liked their potatoes, and rarely enjoyed their toast - these are examples of why it was such a good reference. As a restaurant compared to Renee's, you had a good chance of surpassing Renee's toast, and an ambitious chef had a fair shot at beating Renee's eggs.

This past Sunday, however, the comparison was between the Arlington Diner on Mass Ave and the Broadway Diner in Arlington. We went through the meal - everyone participated. Max slept at the end of the table, leaving his own subtle commentary on the ambiance (FYI Max loves sleeping in the Arlington Diner too).

It was as I watched Max that I considered whether Max was himself comparable. We talk about his eyes looking like mine, and his face looking like Elena's, and there is amusement regarding his long toes and lanky arms. If we had a second child, in many ways it would not be fair to compare him or her to Max. With Max we are learning as we go - with a second child we would have certain expectations from day one. With Max we don't know what to look for - with a second child Max's tricks would be immediately revealed, and Max's sibling would face a higher bar to meet our creative expectations.

We're not ready for Max to have a sibling, not yet. We don't know the challenges we'll have with ourselves, with Max, with our jobs, with anything - that's part of the challenge. When and if we cross that bridge, I'll be happy if we've learned what we can from Max. Then we can honestly make comparisons to Max - what's in common, what's new, what we love about our children and the many reasons we love them. We can't learn everything from Max, like I can't learn everything about potatoes and eggs from Renee's. I think that's great. Onward potatoes! Onward eggs! Onward Max!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


These days I am either at work or at home. Moments spent shopping are mere interludes between work and home. I enjoy the precious time I spend with my wife and my son, and I enjoy the challenges of work; that being said, it is at once easy and difficult to adjust to this new pattern of behavior.

Obligation makes it easy. I am committed to my family and I understand the responsibility entailed. When my wife needs assistance, I do my best to help. When my son cries, I do my best to alleviate the complaint. These are clear roles I can play. Easy.

Memory makes it difficult. Mere months ago I would spend time shopping, would go out with friends, go to the movies, go to restaurants without a diaper in sight. This is no longer the case. Amazon Mom has become a crutch with their free two-day shipping. I haven't gone out to the movies since my son was born. My wife and I have been out exactly once without our son - we went about six blocks away and had dinner while my parents-in-law babysat - we were gone maybe 90 minutes.

For Father's Day we went to the S&S Restaurant with my parents, my parents-in-law, and my grandparents. This was an expedition for us. We packed a bottle, diapers, wet and dry wipes, car seat, and Father's Day Cards for the dads in the group. We remembered to bring our son as well. He was well behaved during lunch (easy) and cried during the rest of the day (difficult).

Sometimes it seems like the joys and frustrations balance out evenly; for every smile there is a frown, for every burp of relief there is a cry - but there is no parental accounting. There is no way to add up good and bad, to quantify dirty diaper deficits or the sleep traded for feeding. Joy should not be offset; it can exist in memory without context as a snapshot of happiness.

As I was finishing my day at work, one of the cleaning women with whom I am friendly came in my office. "How is your son?" she asked. I've seen her looking at the pictures on my wall on occasion - that's why I have them up. I shared with her a picture I took just yesterday. "He is so beautiful!" she exclaimed. We talked briefly; her emotion lifted me up and I appreciated our conversation. As we exchanged words my pride created another memory, another recollection of joy. That, at least, was easy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

8 weeks

8 weeks ago, at this time, I was in the shower, getting ready to go to work. Elena would be getting up shortly to take her shower, by which time I would be dressed and preparing my breakfast. All normal for a Friday morning.

It was about 7:20, when I was about to step out the door, when Elena cautiously alerted me, "Seth, something's happening." The nurse at the doctor's office was calm and clear. Had Elena's water broken? The answer was no, at first, until with a gush, the balloon popped. The nurse greeted this news placidly and routinely and recommended we go to the hospital. It's all so clear to a nurse - her clarity gave us a spike of energy and nervousness.

Athletes know how difficult it is to keep their energy level up for an entire game. Still, much of their performance depends on maintaining energy and attitude. When energy is low, more injuries occur and it is more difficult to rally. When energy is high, athletes see more opportunities, feel more in control, and work better in teams.

Elena gave birth fifteen and a half hours after her phone call to the doctor's office. They were a tough 15 and a half hours. There was waiting, driving and waiting, parking and waiting, sitting and waiting, walking and waiting, lying down and waiting. There were brief moments of action - getting an IV, getting an epidural, getting poked and prodded, and pushing. I tried to entertain Elena; Elena tried to laugh at my jokes (no comment on which is more difficult). At two points we napped - difficult but worthwhile. I think we did well: we stuck together; we enjoyed what we could; we performed our tasks individually where necessary; and we collaborated to help each other when we could.

In the end, Elena gave birth, Max was healthy, and each new day's memories supplant the trials of Max's birth day. Keeping control of our energy is just as important with an infant as it was 8 weeks ago with a baby on the way. Holding a happy baby - particularly Max with his big cheeks and giant smile - is a rally in itself.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lessons learned

It's Saturday morning, which means a long week is over. Yesterday I worked a full day, got stuck in traffic on the way home, and walked in to find Elena holding a troubled and crying Max. "He's been fussing since 3:00," she said after I kissed her, "and I'm going to need relief soon." Just the sort of thing that I wanted to hear, walking in the door tired myself. So I took a deep breath, washed my hands, drank a glass of water, fluffed the pillows on the couch, and sat down next to Elena. As I took Max in my arms, I realized the great difference between holding my screaming son at home and designing circuits at work. At work, I know my time on any given project will eventually end, and if it doesn't end I haven't done my job. At home, I hope that my time with Max will never end. I will see him more and less over the years, but if Project Max continues it is only due to success.

Last night marked Max's 7 week birthday. He's grown fat and started sleeping and eating more; his eyes track people and sounds; he smiles at us; we're taking him outdoors more and more often; I'm feeding him one bottle a day; Elena and I have gotten better at changing him, bouncing him, and determining when he's hot and cold and needs to be changed. There's a lot to learn still, and the goalposts will keep moving. And just now he's started to yelp from the crib. Time to go. More to come.