Sunday, January 29, 2012

Respectful Communication (and a Johnny Cash diaper changing song)

I'm a major left-brained person. Language and words are my second love. Naturally, they flood my relationship with my baby daughter. I talk to her a lot, and she communicates with me as well. I tell her about my day (even asking her about hers), describe things that I am doing and seeing, I sing her songs, and dabble in nonverbal communication by mimicking her facial expressions. However, healthy communication is a two-way street and involves a lot of listening by daddy too.

Last night, I told my wife that I would take the 2 a.m. late night feeding for her so that she could get a longer block of sleep than usual (my normal late night shift is the 5 a.m. slot). And though the silence of the night was shattered by that identifiable newborn cry, I responded to my daughter by listening. From there, we enjoyed an hour long two-way conversation without the distractions of the day to interrupt us.

"Harper, I hear you crying. It sounds like you're hungry. Would you like me to pick you up out of your bassinet to bottle feed you?" I didn't expect a well thought out answer. I did want to let her know that Dad understands her feelings, however. I did my best to communicate that respectfully.

As we walked through the darkness of the house I stopped by the lightswitch to the kitchen. "Harper, I am about to turn on the light. I know that you are sensitive to the light, so be prepared for a little shock to your system." While she didn't say, "Gee, thanks, Dad." I do believe that babies, like toddlers, tweens, and adults appreciate transition time and not being caught by surprise.

With a warm bottle of breast milk in hand, we sat down in a dimmer living room. "Now, Harper, I'm going to rub the nipple of this bottle on your cheek. You need to root and find it in order to get the milk from inside. Let me know if it is too warm when you start drinking it." As she latched on and started to suck, I could see by the look on her face that the milk was just right for her.

As she drank at her own pace, I sang made-up songs to her, including my own rendition of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", which I titled "Stinky Diaper". I told her that I was tired, but still enjoying the time that we had to bond with one another, and I made frequent eye contact with her to let her know that I was there for her and in-tune with her.

We went through the same scenarios as I changed her dirty diaper before putting her back in her bassinet.
"Harper, I'm going to lay you down now so I can change your diaper."
"I know you don't like having your diaper changed, so I will do it as quickly as I can."
"You're doing such a good job at using your hands to calm yourself down."
"Yay! We're done. Would you like to go back to bed now?"

Through using respectful communication with my daughter I have not only been able to bond with her. I feel like I understand the language of her cries better. I respond more appropriately. She is calmer during transitions from place to place and activity to activity. But more important to me, I'm setting the groundwork for a lifelong relationship with her where communicating with Dad is safe and expected. I'm letting her know that I want to understand her feelings and desires. I'm letting her know that there are boundaries that she must stay within. And she is letting me know that she hears what I say and that it makes a positive difference to her. How invaluable will that be once she is a teenager?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Atticus Finch Taught Me About Raising My Daughter

To Kill A Mockingbird is my favorite novel. My wife and I love it so much, we named our daughter after Harper Lee, the author. There's nothing special about Harper Lee, the person that made us name our daughter after her. Rather, it was what she created that inspired the name. To Kill A Mockingbird is a classic coming-of-age tale framed in the theme of childhood innocence. While the narrator is a matured Scout, the protagonist of this novel is her father, Atticus Finch.

Atticus is a man of character and grit. A lawyer, he is a principled man of moral fortitude, humble virtue, and consistency. To anyone who has read the book, you understand when I say that Atticus Finch reminds you of the best that your own dad had to offer. A hero of mine, I want to be Atticus Finch for my daughter. And that means teaching her principles of right vs. wrong, instilling humility in her heart, and being consistently commited to her education and well-being.

Rules based on principle are a defining point when examining Atticus' character. As a new father, I sat my wife down at the dinner table and laid out a plan for establishing principle-based guidelines and rules for Harper's well-being as well. Rather than declare what I wanted for our daughter and coerce my wife into accepting my desires, we both wrote down our ultimate goal for Harper in life, and then we compared what eachother wrote. Surprisingly, we both almost wrote the same thing. In a nutshell, we want to help our daughter to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ; a self-aware, conscientious woman with high standards of morality, a heightened sense of love for her family, and a strong sense of self-worth and respect.

From there, we worked backwards. We listed guidelines and rules that we felt would aid in our efforts to guide our daughter to this "end point" that we envision for her. Surprisingly again, we agreed on the value of eachother's ideas and established a foundation for behavior for Harper, just like Atticus had for Scout and Gem, his two kids.

While some items on our list are generic for the culture that we live in, others seem to be quite unique in contemporary society. However, they are based on principles that lead to our goal for our daughter. Here are three that we agreed on: 
  1. Our daughter will not be allowed to date until she is 16, and will not be allowed to have a boyfriend until she is in college.
    • This rule is based on our desire for Harper to develop a sense of who she is, what she wants from life, and where she wants to go without the distraction and heartbreak of serious relationships.We want her to focus on developing friendships rather than a sense of ownership over or by another person.
  2. Our daughter will be expected to come directly home after school, and she will be expected to outline her social plans to us before being allowed to leave home.
    • In a time where stay-at-home moms are becoming a novelty, children, especially tweeners and teenagers, are being "trusted" to take care of themselves and decide what is right, wrong, safe, and dangerous while their brain is still in the process of developing the capability to make these decisions. Our focus is on our family, not a percieved sense of trust. Our expectation is that our daughter will touch base with one of us before she goes out to socialize. This will ensure that she is engaged in approved activities with reputable people at a location that we are aware of and can contact her if we need to do so.
  3. Our daughter will not be allowed a personal television or computer in her bedroom.
    • While pornography is ubiquitous on the internet, the principle at work here is developing interpersonal communication skills and avoiding e-bullying. Girls are social creatures. That is biological. "Socializing" over Facebook chat, IM, and e-mail is not. Emoticons fail to develop the ability to read nonverbal cues in others. Actual face time with physical human beings doesn't.
While Atticus Finch didn't have to worry about Scout or Gem learning about love in the back of a car, wondering where each child was when they failed to come home at curfew, or try to reason with an 8-year old girl who was plugged-in to her social circle, he did have expectations relevant to his era. They were based on principles. If you don't believe me, consider the parental philosophy of To Kill A Mockingbird's antagonist, Bob Ewell. In essence, he killed his children by failing to lead by principle. My daughter is my mockingbird. And Atticus always said, "Remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bonding with My Baby through Infant Massage

I was sitting in the waiting room at the pediatrician's office today, perusing one of many parenting magazines targeted toward moms when I came across an article about the benefits of baby massage. My interest peaked as a result of seeing infant massage mentioned in a few "best practices for baby" books, and so I read to see what the hulabaloo was all about.

It turns out that there are quite a bit of perks to kneading your baby that I wasn't aware of. The one that caught my attention, increased sleeping time. Boo-yah! Much to the consternation of my moral wife, I stashed the magazine in my coat pocket for a walk-through guide to becoming a manly masseus once we returned home.

After feeding my daughter and changing her diaper I walked through the step-by-step (simplified) rub down routine.

First things first, rub some olive oil in the palm of your hands to warm before rubbing it on your baby. Check. Now, rub your baby gently from the forhead, over the scalp, and down her nape. She responded well, and I didn't mind the added benefit of her smelling like anyou  italian restaraunt either.

Next, using the pads of your fingers, rub outward from her neck to her shoulders. Now she was really starting to settle into it.

After that, use your fingers to massage up and down along the length of her back, avoiding rubbing directly on her spine.

Then, rub up and down along her baby triceps. She was curling up at this point, so I gently grasped her palm and stretched out her arm. She didn't seem to mind one bit.

Move down to the legs and rub her hamstrings and calf muscles with the same motion as you did with her arms.

Flip that flapjack over and massage her torso on biceps exactly as you did along her back and triceps.

By the time I was done (a whole 10 minutes or so), that premie baby looked like she was floating on a cloud. Still somewhat skeptical about the massage working on the first try, I decided to swaddle her and lay her down in her bassinet (a surefire cause for crying), and . . . she's laying there, content. As a matter of fact, she has been relaxing in that bassinet for the last 45 minutes without so much as a peep. In all seriousness, I keep checking up on her to make sure that she is still breathing.

Had I not tried baby massage myself, I would have continued to brush it off as a fad. Of course, it was only our first time. But in the words of Davy Jones, "I saw her face. Now I'm a believer."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New to Blogging . . . and Being a Dad.

The amount of poop in my house increased tenfold a few weeks ago as the result of bringing my first born child, Harper, home from the hospital. Born one month premature, Harper is a beautiful, baby girl who has filled our home and my heart with love. She has also inspired in me a desire to be an informed, involved, papa.

Growing up as an only child, I envied the boys who had younger sisters to protect and defend. It seemed like the life of a superhero to me, and I could tell that those baby sisters idolized their big brothers, regardless of any attitude that they copped.

As a 25-year old daddy, I get to lace up the proverbial spandex and cape for the first time in my life as I learn to raise my daughter. Nothing excites me more than watching her exist. I digest books, magazines, and blogs about parenting and being an involved father. The moment I arrive home from a hard day in the elementary classroom I ditch the shirt and tie and get into my play clothes, sweep my daughter into my arms and talk to her about her day. I've noticed that her eyes are more able to focus on my face each time we have this debriefing, and with each glance at me, my heart is more able to focus on her.

Those bonding moments are important and priceless, but they are interrupted by nap time quite often. During those "breaks" I like to learn more about parenting, child development, and supporting my wife in our efforts to raise our daughter. In an attempt to make this relationship with parenting information reciprocal I decided to start Poop Culture, my blog about my adventures as a new dad. Here, I'll share my ideas, findings, suggestions, and thoughts about raising my daughter. Hopefully, you might find nuggets of gold that might help your personal adventure in understanding and raising your children too . . . even if those nuggets have a little poop on them.