I’m hip. I’m with it. Right?

Not long before my 40th birthday, I went to get a haircut, and when the time came to hold up a mirror and show me the back of my head, I told the 20-year-old girl cutting my hair that I really didn’t need to see my bald spot. She said, “Don’t worry, it’s still there.”

Sometime after my forced laughter stopped and the crying began, I realized that the reminders of my advancing years are coming at me faster than ever these days. And as the father of a two-year-old and a 3-month-old, I have resigned myself to the fact it is only going to get worse.

This past weekend, I had a twenty-minute conversation with my 13-year-old niece which covered the topics of One Direction, the One Direction movie and who the members of One Direction are dating. All of this was peppered with various “hash tags” and was frequently interrupted by her texting what I can only assume were eight separate people.

When my kids are her age, One Direction will seem like a quaint reminder of a simpler time in music when I didn’t immediately shut off the trash that my kids are listening to on the radio. Or whatever passes for a radio at that point.

When my brother and sister and I laughed at my Mom for finally figuring out what the “doobie” in Doobie Brothers” meant around 2003, she responded that she was busy raising kids back then and didn’t have time to know about that sort of thing. That now makes perfect sense.

I am already out of the loop, and I am barely two years in to being a parent. I don’t know what this Twerking thing is, but I know that by the time I do know, it will be eight “things” past being relevant to anyone under the age of 21. I don’t want to become one of those “things were simpler in my day” people, but all I know is that no one ever sent a picture of their butt to someone on an avocado green rotary dial phone.

You had to really want to be the hundredth caller and win REO Speedwagon tickets on one of these babies.

You had to really want to be the hundredth caller and win REO Speedwagon tickets on one of these babies.

I guess it can’t come as too big of a surprise that my coolness level is at an all-time low when the mini van I drove to work today is actually a step up from my previous model of car, for which the majority of owners were either Truant Officers or Retired Priests.

Now that I think about it, I have never really been cool. There was that one moment in 6th grade when a teenager at the pool said “Thanks dude” when I let him borrow my towel, but I’m not sure if that counts.

Until recently, I felt like I was pretty much the same as I was when I was 27, and the realization that I could now be cast as one of those brain-dead dad’s in a cereal commercial is a little disheartening. I am a father and a husband (sorry Jen, you can’t get rid of me now) so I am not looking for any attention, but finding out what the perception of a 40-year-old Dad is can be a real kick in the relaxed-fit khaki pants.

Girls in their twenties weren’t interested in me when I was in my twenties, but somewhere along the way, for that demographic, I transitioned from “young guy I’m not interested in” to “asexual being whom I am vaguely aware exists.” Like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Like the Dough Boy, my mid-section also appears to be filled with raw crescent roll dough.

Like the Dough Boy, my mid-section also appears to be filled with raw crescent roll dough.

Maybe these changes are inevitable, so perhaps I should just enjoy things now before my kids figure out that I’m lame.

Or maybe I can drag them down with me. My daughter could be the only girl graduating in 2030 who has a favorite Steely Dan song.

Steely who?

Steely who?

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Who’s that girl?

Growing up, there were a few things I knew a lot about: “Star Wars,” comic books and really bad haircuts. Consequently, there was one thing that I knew next to nothing about: girls.

So, just over a month ago, fate decided to give me a crash course on the subject of girls when my wife Jen and I welcomed our daughter Kate into the world.

I'm starting to suspect that Jen began buying baby headbands quite a while ago.

I’m starting to suspect that Jen began buying baby headbands quite a while ago.

As with our son Matthew, Jen and I decided to be surprised by the sex of the baby, even though Jen spent the length of the pregnancy obsessed with figuring out the mystery. She remains convinced that if we had an ultrasound machine at the house that she could not only determine the sex, but also diagnose the maladies of others. As she reminds me frequently, she is practically a doctor.

While everyone in our families was pulling for a little girl, the odds seemed to be stacked against it as my side of the family has, to this point, produced enough boys to field a hockey team. (I had to look that up, as I know nothing about sports in general and hockey in particular. Please refer to the first paragraph.) But somebody up there really wanted me to paint my old bedroom pink.

While the lead-up to Matthew’s arrival two years earlier was filled with preparations, list-making and general fears of being unprepared, we both took a somewhat more lackadaisical approach the second time around. Like me working on a grade school science project and spending two hours watching “Night Court” re-runs and 10 minutes spray painting some Styrofoam globes, I felt that I could get everything I needed done in the two weeks leading up to the due date.

In our defense, it was a whole lot easier to build cribs and read baby books when a two-year old wasn’t asking you a hundred times a day to open the garage door.

How many 10 minutes conversations about not having the ability to open other people's garage doors can you have in a week?  The answer may surprise you.

How many 10 minutes conversations about not having the ability to open other people’s garage doors can you have in a week? The answer may surprise you.

With no emergency bag packed for the hospital, and no newborn laundry or bottles washed, we arrived at the night before our final ultrasound. After a full night with Matthew, capped off by a particularly excellent reading of “My Nose, My Toes and Me,” Jen informed me that the only thing she wanted for dinner was White Castle. And as a loving husband, and a lover of terrible food, I was more than happy to oblige. What better way to end the evening than by patronizing a restaurant whose customers and employees all look like they are on their way home from a parole hearing?

The next morning, Jen and I went to the hospital for the ultrasound, both thinking that afterwards we would then be free to go about our day. Jen was having some cramping which, like any sane person, we both assumed was due to the White Castle. We were moved to another room to monitor the cramping and as more and more doctors and nurses came through, it became apparent that we would not be free to go about our day.

Jen’s plan to have a scheduled c-section, allowing her to have her hair and make-up done and to generally not smell like little square hamburgers, was quickly dashed as we were informed at 11 a.m. that she would be going in to have the baby at 12. If you are going to have a baby and you can’t quite remember all of the things you need to get ready around the house, a good way to jog your memory is to be told that the baby is coming in an hour.

In one of the few moments Jen and I had to ourselves before being wheeled upstairs, she confided in me that she was terrified because she was passing gas every time she had a contraction. I asked her how far apart the farts were coming, at which point Jen probably had some second thoughts about bringing me along.

With Matthew, Jen had labored for two nights before he was born, and we had even been evacuated from the room due to a tornado, but this was a tornado of a different kind. Amid the frenzy, we called our families and I called work to let them know that not only would I not be making it in that afternoon but that they would not see me again for two weeks.

Jen was wonderful, and hardly missed a beat as she was poked and prodded and even had the epidural knocked out of her back as they moved her onto the operating table. For those first few minutes, the Dad’s job is just to stay out of the way and to not look over the curtain. (Never look over the curtain.) It is almost like being in slow motion while everyone else is moving at double speed, but everything slows down when you first lay eyes on your beautiful baby.

A girl. A beautiful baby girl.

Visions of tea parties, frilly clothes and me punching boys in the face flashed before my eyes. I could almost hear the whispers of the women at Target who would say “Did her Dad even try to comb her hair before he brought her out?”

I’m not sure what to expect on this journey, but I am excited find out. Maybe I will finally figure out something about girls, or at least figure out that I’ll never figure them out.

But right now, all I know is that Kate is coming in to a family that loves her very much, and is lucky to have a big brother who thinks that “Baby Tate” is the bees knees….at least until she starts touching his stuff.

kate and dad

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What To Expect When She’s Expecting

Walk into any bookstore (if you can find one) and you will find row after row of books devoted to advice for women on their pregnancy. While these books offer tips for dad’s which generally boil down to “try not to be a jerk while your wife is pregnant,” there are very few practical guides for men, outside of Billy Cosby’s 1987 bestseller “Fatherhood.” Which, if memory serves, is mostly just a transcript of that “Cosby Show” episode where Denise makes Theo a really ugly shirt.

So, in the interest of helping expectant Dad’s navigate the minefield that pregnancy can sometimes be, please enjoy these tips, tricks and observations from a man who has went through one pregnancy and is in the midst of a second. This is solely based on my experiences, so your results may vary.

First of all, don’t be a jerk. Your wife will be going through a lot of physical changes, and you are going to see, feel and hear a lot of things. Things that you will want to make “funny” comments about. Don’t. For those nine months, you would be best served by sticking with Omerta, the Mafia’s Code of Silence. You didn’t see anything and you didn’t hear anything. “My wife is as beautiful today as the day we met” is what you will say under oath. And that’s all you will say.

The real challenge comes with the emotional changes she will be going through. During Jen’s first pregnancy, she would cry during insurance commercials, old episodes of “Friends,” and anything featuring dogs and the music of Sarah McLachlan.

This commercial should be outlawed under The Geneva Convention.

This commercial should be outlawed under The Geneva Convention.

During this pregnancy, things took an even stranger emotional turn when Jen passed gas like a long haul trucker, then asked me to leave the room, then started laughing, which led to crying, and then went back around to laughter. When she asked me to come back in the room she went into a half laugh/half cry which I can only imagine would be the reaction to finding out that a beloved clown had passed away.

In these type of situations, you will be expected to react accordingly to the situation. Do you offer reassurances, laugh with them or just offer a hug? I would like to be able to offer you a guide on how to respond accordingly, but the truth is that no matter what you do, you will have made the wrong choice.

The most important piece of advice that I can give to expectant Dad’s or new father’s is to always be doing something. Fold clothes, hang pictures, unload the dishwasher. It doesn’t matter. To be safe, just carry around a tape measure.

While the first pregnancy can be tough, the second can offer a whole new set of challenges as memories from the first time around are still fresh on your wife’s mind.

What I didn’t realize when I became a father was that I would never again be truly tired. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am very tired. But I can’t say that I am tired without receiving a reply from Jen that begins with the question “You think you’re tired?” Apparently, she has not slept more than two hours straight in the last 15 years. Like Leonardo DaVinci….or a meth addict.

Similarly, after your wife has had a baby, any physical pain you may feel pales in comparison to childbirth. I don’t care if you have stepped onto a bear trap, unless you want to hear the phrase “Now imagine if that bear trap came out of you,” it is best to keep it to yourself, hobble your bloody stump to the kitchen and take out the garbage.

And when you add a toddler to the pregnancy mix, as a Dad you better be ready to take it up a notch. Our son Matthew hasn’t quite figured out that he can’t do a running belly flop onto Jen’s stomach, so I need to take some of the heat off of her and bring his attention to me. Like a rodeo clown.

As a Dad you need to recognize that your pregnant wife needs some time to take it easy, and that means you to take over baths, play with blocks for hours at a time and read your toddler loads and loads of terrible books. I don’t think the author of “The Teletubbies in Who Stole the Tubby Custard?” was even trying. But I may just be bitter because Tubby Custard was my nickname at summer camp.

So basically, whether it is your wife’s first pregnancy or her sixth, the real key is just to be a good guy. Be nice, get involved, and save all of your snarky comments for a little-read blog.

I think that ultimately, my wife will be able to look at this and laugh. Or cry. I really can’t tell at this point.

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3 + 1 = Fun?

Nearly twenty months ago, Jen and I welcomed a new member into our family. And as the unimaginable joy of that day led to  many, many late nights of pacing while swaddling a screaming baby, I was left with one question:  Why the hell would anyone do this twice?

Little did I know that just around the time that Matthew turns 2 this May, I will be finding out the answer to my own question.  That’s right, Jen and I will be saying goodbye to what I am sure will seem like the relative peace and quiet of tag teaming the care of one child and hello to what I can only imagine will be a two-on-two Steel Cage Match.

It's a good thing Jen got pregnant before Halloween, because the tights I am wearing with this costume may have made it impossible for me to father more children.

It’s a good thing Jen got pregnant before Halloween, because the tights I am wearing with this costume may have made it impossible for me to father more children.

As a man, I have the benefit of forgetting from time to time that there is another baby on the way because, unlike Jen, I don’t have a constant reminder sitting on my bladder.  But when the memories of the first few months with Matthew come flooding back, and I add a toddler to that equation, things look a little daunting.

Matthew is, for the most part, an incredibly sweet and loving little boy but, at times, taking care of a toddler can be like being in a bad relationship from a Lifetime TV movie.  You will go from laughing and playing to being yelled at in the grocery store parking lot.   Singing and dancing to having the dinner you just prepared being slapped out of your hand.  But you don’t know the real him.  It’s my fault.  Sometimes I just don’t cut the blueberries fast enough.

The prospect of taking care of a toddler and a newborn at the same time is scary enough without the constant “You think you have it rough now” comments from people who already have two kids under the age of two.  With the first baby,  parents would rattle off a series of complaints but always follow it up with the statement “But it’s great and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”  But the advice we get from the parents of two don’t even try to soften the blow.  The only solace they can give is “at least you don’t have three,” as the parents of three or more kids seem to have entered some sort of lawless “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”-situation.

Mel Gibson has eight kids, and he seems like he turned out okay. Right?

Mel Gibson has eight kids, and he seems like he turned out okay. Right?

Once again, we have decided to not find out the sex of the baby before they are born.  Which still seems to elicit an almost visceral reaction from people who will almost certainly never see me or the baby ever again.  I have taken to letting people know that not only are we not going to find out the sex of the baby before they are born, but that I am never going to find out the sex of the baby.  Things could get messy, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

As Jen found out when we named Matthew, I have virtually no ideas for baby names, and it drives her crazy.  When it comes to baby names, I only know what I don’t like, and I am pretty much no help beyond that.  My main criteria is that you should be able to find the name on the rotating rack of personalized bicycle license plates at a Six Flags gift shop.  Jen put me on the spot to come up with some girl name options, which ended up with me glancing at the TV and rattling off character names from “Friends.”  I still say that Chandler is a beautiful name for a little girl.

We have a baby name book at the house that is thicker than most dictionaries and would be a great resource for anyone looking for alternate spellings to traditional Icelandic names.  I wouldn’t want my hypothetical daughter to be one of three Bjork’s in her class.  Sadly, any baby name book I would produce would be more like a pamphlet, and like my college papers it would play fast and loose with margins and type size.  Additionally, I would probably use the cheap trick of inserting meaningless photos to pad things out.

Tim Reid as WKRP's Venus Flytrap

Tim Reid as WKRP’s Venus Flytrap

But despite the fear of the unknown with how a second baby will affect our lives, Jen and I still consider ourselves very lucky.  We both have siblings whom we love very much and as much as they may have driven you nuts when you were a kid, it is always good to know that there is someone else out there who has your back and shares so many memories with you.

Besides, we have at least some idea of how to be parents now, so how bad could it be?

(I will most likely regret asking this question (semi-humorously) in a future blog)

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The McMueller’s: Year Three

Three years ago today, on a cool and somewhat drizzly evening, I watched nervously as the most beautiful woman I had ever seen walked down the aisle and said “Yes” when asked if she would share her life with me.

Three years ago this morning, I was at Sam’s Club purchasing 30 bags of apples, because I loved that same beautiful woman who wanted to decorate our wedding reception to look like a fall festival.

I’m not sure what I am whispering to Jen in this picture, but I’m sure it was hilarious.

Things have changed quite a bit over these past three years, but my desire to make my wife happy has not changed.  And as I have learned, the apples were just the tip of the iceberg.  But in an attempt to be a good husband, I have worked to keep my facetious comments about my large fruit purchase to under 10 a year.  However, it gives me some comfort to know that someone at a homeless shelter three days after our reception said, “Again with the apples?” (That’s number 7 for the year.)

What I couldn’t have known on my wedding day was that being a husband is only one of the many jobs I would be taking on over the next three years.  I am a landlord, a landscaper, a painter, an exterminator, a picture frame hanger, a plumber and so many other jobs that I can’t even list them all.  Now, granted, I am not particularly good at any of these jobs, but I sure try to be a good at being a husband and my newest job of being a father.

I already knew that I was unbelievably lucky to marry my best friend, but my luck definitely held out when I saw how great Jen is at being a Mom. 

How lucky am I? I not only have a beautiful family, but I also got through this day without having to buy any fruit. (Comment number 8 for the year)

We now live in the same house in which I lived in a single man.  And with Jen and Matthew in my life, what was once a mostly empty home is now filled with a lot of love …. and a lot of picture frames.

I think the success of our relationship is partly due to the fact that, in the past three years, there hasn’t been a single day in which I haven’t shared a laugh with Jen.  She has a great laugh.

My mother-in-law will say that there are two types of comedy:  slapstick and sarcasm.  And I definitely fall on the side with fewer seltzer bottles.  But as long as Jen and I can laugh with each other more than we laugh at each other, I think we will be okay.  But I’m not sure which side my laughter at her truly original Sammy Davis Jr. impression falls on that scale.

Jen knows me better than anyone else, and I think she can say the same about me.  After all of these years, I still learn new and wonderful things about her all of the time and I think I am starting to figure out the unique way she thinks.  I doubt that anyone else could have guessed what song she was talking about when she just kept repeating the mis-heard lyric “Shhhhh.  I’m the baby.”  (It was “Return to Innocence” by Enigma, by the way.)

I am very proud of Jen in everything she does.  In her work, as a friend, a sister and especially a mother, she is always striving to do the best.  And she is always there to encourage me in everything I do as well.

I love Jen even more than the day she walked down the aisle at our wedding, and the words I spoke to her as we knelt before the altar are as true today as they were then, “You still owe me $10 from when I picked up your prescription yesterday?”

Happy Anniversary Jen.  I love you more and more every day.

But, seriously, you still owe me ten dollars.

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Father’s Day 2: Electric Bugaloo

This time last year, I was on the verge of celebrating my first Father’s Day with a baby boy who was not yet  a month old.  I think that I have learned a lot in this last year, but all I really know is that I have no idea how much is still to come.

I would like to say that I remember every moment of my first Father’s Day, but at this point, all I can say with some certainty is that I probably had slept about 3 hours the night before and that I hadn’t had time to shower.  My Father’s Day gift was to leave the house and go to the movies for a couple of hours.  I didn’t get to go.  Instead, I got to go to the grocery store for about twenty minutes in flip-flops and a t-shirt which most likely had spit up on the shoulder.  If you have ever had a newborn, that twenty minutes out of the house was still pretty sweet.

The Dad abides.

Now, almost a year later, here are some of the things I have learned:

  • If you have time to think to yourself  “I will only have the diaper off for second, what could happen?,” he has time to pee all over you, him, the wall and the fresh diaper you are holding in your hand.
  • Try not to think about how much money you have spent on full bottles of formula which were not drunk or diapers which were soiled 10 seconds after you put them on.  It’s like dropping your Slurpee after taking two steps outside of 7-11.  It is best to just let it go.
  • When you take your baby out for the first time on your own and the car ride seems to soothe him, don’t get cocky and stop at a drive thru for a soda.  Hauling a toddler is like the movie “Speed,” if you slow down below 35 miles per hour he will explode.

Going through our pictures, it is hard to believe that our one-year-old is the same little guy whom we paced around the kitchen with for hours at a time just praying that he would fall asleep.  He lost the baby peach fuzz sideburns which connected to his eyebrows and now looks like a little man who can frequently be found moving every kitchen chair in the house to the living room.  He’s very big into feng shui apparently.

Matthew vs. 1st Birthday Cake? Matthew won in a decision.

The most exciting part of watching Matthew get bigger, is seeing the ways in which he communicates develop.  Although, like most parents, Jen and I were convinced months ago that any burp or grunt was actually a complicated three syllable word.  “Did you hear that?  I think he just said satellite!”

And I could watch for hours as he sits on the front window sill and “reads” his books.  Looking me straight in the eye and dropping mini ravioli on the floor to express his displeasure with dinner?  That I could do without.  But the book thing is very cute.

No matter how many times it happens, having your child call you Dad just melts your heart.  Unless they continue to chant it at three in the morning on a Wednesday.  Then it is half heart-melting and half frustrating.  Maybe 70/30.

Our lives have changed quite a bit in the last year, but all in all I would rather spend my nights watching Matthew take first steps which look like the ramp up to a drunken stage dive than anything I would be out doing when I was still single.

Jen and I weren’t exactly spending our Friday nights attending gallery openings and regattas before Matthew came along, but most Friday’s we can now be found struggling to stay up until 10 to watch the end of  “48 Hours Mystery.”  Which has taught me that if you have a numbers of options for the detective’s question, “Would anyone want to see you dead?,” and you aren’t Batman, then some of the suspicion should probably be focused on you.

As a Dad, I know that I am barely out of the permit driver phase .  And I know that I still have a lot to learn.  But the one piece of unsolicited advice which I would give to a new dad is to learn to be unselfish.  It is no longer all about you.

I have had a wonderful example of what to do from my own Dad, and I think the biggest compliment I could ever receive is if someday Matthew can say the same about me.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Your Baby Is 466 Months Old

Congratulations, your baby is 466 weeks old.

You may notice that your baby is growing more hair.  In his nose, on his back and that one weird hair that keeps growing out of his earlobe.  He may also start getting those weird Andy Rooney-esque, old man eyebrows.  However, you have probably stopped noticing hair growing on his head.

Is this where I am headed?

Your baby should now be sleeping through the night, although his baby sometimes has other ideas.

Your baby should now be speaking in fully formed sentences, but sometimes it has been a really long day at work and he feels like just sitting on the couch in silence and watching re-runs of “Seinfeld.”

Your baby is now able to dress himself, but will still seemingly wear the same blue or black shirt and khaki pants over and over again.  Except on the weekends, when it appears that he has never passed up a sale on cargo shorts.

Your baby has now reached the point in his life where he utters the phrase “I need to run to the hardware store” roughly five times a week, even though nothing around the house ever gets fixed.

Your baby can now get around on his own in a car which should be driven by a 900 month old, and wouldn’t look out-of-place in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel at 3:30 in the afternoon.

If you see anyone under the age of 60 driving this car, you can be confident that someone else has recently been admitted to a nursing home.

Your baby thought he was going to post at least one story a week about his baby, but hasn’t done a very good job of it.  He will try to do better.

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