Tag Archives: baby

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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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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Smile for your Grandpa

The year was 1987,  and a tearful nation said goodbye to Clara “Where’s the Beef?” Peller, a young George Michael freaked out parents with his rampant heterosexuality, and the McMullin clan was marvelling at Disney’s vision of the future at Epcot Center.

It was there that Disney’s least memorable character, who appeared to be a burly homeless man who had shopped at Willy Wonka’s yard sale, posed for a picture being taken by my father and said, “Smile for your Grandpa.”  My family had a good laugh about it, but now that I have realized that my Dad was maybe a year or two older than me at the time, I am guessing that he found it less humorous than the rest of us.

White shorts and a Swatch? I had it going on.

If there is one thing that I have learned in the five and a half months in which I have been a father, it is that it would have been much easier to be a dad at 28 than it is at 38.  If I have learned a second thing, it is never where a nice shirt when you burp a baby.  I no longer own any shirts that don’t have a stain on the right shoulder which resembles the Galapagos Islands.

 Even as recently as a few years ago, when I was single and all three of my daily meals sometimes took the form of some variety of burrito, I pretty much felt mentally and physically the same as I had since my mid-twenties.  All of that came to screeching halt just in time to have a baby. Babies, as it turns out, require a lot of bending over.  Who knew?
 
The first cracks in the veneer started to show when my wife and I decided to put wood floors down in three rooms before moving into our house.   While the box promised “Installation over a weekend,” the good folks at Armstrong failed to take into account the work of my father and I.  Two people whose names have never been associated with the phrase “Old world craftsmanship.”  So a few months and several thousand squats to the ground later, I ended up straining my hamstrings.  Apparently that one time I stretched in high school gym class did not get me properly limbered up.
 
After a lifetime of rolling my eyes at professional athletes who were put on the disabled listed for an ailment which sounded like the consequence of not keeping Kosher,  straining my hamstrings resulted in the longest recovery of my life.  It probably didn’t help that I spent months telling Jen that I was fine as I fought back tears after standing up from the couch. 
 
Middle age caught up with me just in time for the most physically demanding job of my life.  (And I worked as a roofer for one day.  Long story.)  I risk waking Matthew every night when I walk him to bed among the creaks and pops that come from either my knees or the (practically) professionally installed floors in our house. It is about 50/50 at this point.
 
Lugging around a baby, and the gear they require on a daily basis, is like working with a narcoleptic personal trainer.  He yells at me to get me motivated and then falls asleep in a heap  And the physical demands are nothing compared to entertainment demands.  Every night, I am singing songs, making funny faces and doing some inspired mime work.  Now I know how Don Rickles must feel doing three shows a night in the big room at Caesar’s.
 
 

Either a picture of "Mr. Warmth" Don Rickles, or an artist's rendering of what I will look like at Matthew's high school graduation.

 
While all of these things remind me that I am not getting any younger, my beautiful wife is always there to comfort me. Whether it is by reminding me that I am practically 40, or by asking me where I was when I learned that Richie Valens and The Big Bopper had died.
 
But even if I do feel like I am falling apart and Jen’s gentle reassurance makes me think that I will be nothing but a cryogenically preserved head by the time Matthew gets married, I know that if I had started a family when I was 28 that it wouldn’t be this family.   And that makes all the difference.  So I guess I can deal with the creaks and the strains as long as……oh, God my back!
 

Forget vertical stripes and stove-pipe hats, the best way to take attention away from your double chins is by holding an adorable baby in front of you.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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All I Know Is That I Don’t Know Anything

When Matthew first came home with us, I couldn’t help but have the feeling that I was a fraud.  I had no idea how to be a parent and I was sure that I would be found out any day.  I thought about my parents and how they seemed to have it all figured out.  And then, I slowly began to realize that they probably started out just like me.  Doing the best that they could, and figuring things out as they went along.

I have found out that having a child teaches you to try to adapt and overcome.  Like the Marines, only with adorable little socks all over the house.   Luckily, Matthew has one very capable parent.  And while I know that Jen is figuring it all out too, I am definitely the one bringing down the curve.  I’m just hoping that Matthew gives me a “Pity D,” so that I don’t have to repeat this last semester.

The last two and a half months have been a crash course on being a Dad.  Since I have had virtually no hands-on baby experience in the last 38 years, I have been learning on the job.  Preparing bottles and changing diapers one-handed are not tasks that I had prepared for.  In the first few days, I was a clothes-pin-on-the-nose away from looking like I was in an 80’s baby movie montage. 

When it comes to great motivators for learning, you can’t beat the threat of being pooped or peed on.  Who knows, that may have helped me to learn my times tables in school.  I still can’t answer 7×8 without first slowly repeating the question and then giving a significant pause.

Aside from my lackluster math skills, one of the many traits which I hope to not pass on to Matthew is my ability to sweat more from my head than Bjorn Borg  by just doing laps around our coffee table until he falls asleep.  Adding a baby who is essentially an overnight bag filled with baked potatoes to my seemingly superhuman ability to generate heat produces enough BTU’s to defrost the windows of a Civic hatchback.

As you walk a screaming baby around the house you can’t help but think that there has to be  some kind of secret technique or phrase that will quiet them down.  All I know is that repeating the phrase “It’s all right buddy” like I have Tourette’s is not that magic phrase.    And then, just as quickly as the crying started, they pass out like you flipped a switch.

Being a baby must be a lot like being an alcoholic.  You pass out, and you wake up in a different room.  You pass out, and you wake up being held by a stranger.  You pass out, and you wake up wearing a sailor suit.

Permission to come aboard?

I guess that most parents never really figure things out and just learn to do what they have to do.  And right now that means learning to go to the bathroom, start the laundry and eat lunch over the sink all within the ten minutes that he is content to sit in his bouncy seat. 

I was thinking recently about a non-air conditioned road trip that my family once took to Florida.  My little sister had gotten a green balloon at a Burger King along the way and, as with most kids, it was immediately the most important thing in her world.  So when Greeny, as it was affectionately known, was sucked out the window into the humid Georgia air, she screamed like a banshee and pleaded with my Dad to stop the car.  In an effort to appease a 4-year-old, my parents thought on their feet and promised her that we would stop on the way back to find Greeny.  And they were as good as their word.  My Dad stopped at a random spot on the Georgia Highway and walked into the woods for ten minutes, only to come back crestfallen at his inability to find the balloon.  They did what they had to do to keep the peace and figured things out as they went along.

I know that what it means for me to be a parent today is going to be totally different from what it means a month from now, and even more different a year from now.  It will never stop evolving for the rest of my life.  So I need to enjoy every moment and trust that I will know how long to stand in the woods when the time comes.

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Awake is the new sleep

“You better get all of the sleep you can now before the baby comes.”

If there is one piece of advice that you will get over and over again before having a baby, it is that you need to get as much sleep as you can. Of course, this advice is ridiculous, since you can’t store up sleep like a squirrel hoarding nuts. It is like telling a drowning man that he should have breathed a lot more last week.

Little did we realize that the roughly three hours of sleep we had over our first two nights in the hospital, waiting for Jen to give birth, would be just the beginning of our sleepless journey. Our little bundle of joy would add a new wrinkle to sleep deprivation that would make me long for a solid three hours of sleep on the vinyl love seat that would be my bed for the next four nights in the hospital.

Matthew flaunting his ability to sleep.

Following the actual birth, there was a flurry of activity. Doctors, nurses, family and friends all passing each other in the revolving door to our room. But as the day drew on and our families headed home for the night, we were eventually left with just the three of us.  I can’t be sure, but I think Matthew may have suspected that we didn’t know what we were doing.

Experts will tell you that getting a baby to sleep is all about the 5 “S’s”, one of which I can now assure you is not Sitting. The first “S,” swaddling, is the practice of making a baby feel as confined as they were in the womb by wrapping them up like a burrito. If the ingredients of that burrito had wildly flailing arms. I found that my swaddling skills were roughly equal to my gift wrapping skills. Which is not a good thing. With swaddling, unfortunately, it is generally frowned upon to use scissors to cut off the foot-long section of blanket that I would have left over when I was done. Matthew has yet to face one of my swaddles from which he could not escape.

What the baby books and TV shows fail to teach you, is that a newborn eats every three hours from the time they started eating, not when they finished. So after they eat, and you try to get them back to sleep, you are left with about an hour to get things done or, hopefully, sleep. This doesn’t seem like as big of a deal at three in the afternoon, but at three in the morning it will fry your brain.   I think this is how the Navy Seals train, only with a diapered bag of flour to teach them about parental responsibility.

You know that you aren’t getting enough sleep when, not only do you watch a Discovery channel show about a toothless redneck assembling a Dream Team of fellow noodlers to catch giant European catfish with their bare hands, but you get upset when you doze off before seeing how things turned out.  At least I think all of that really happened.

After several days at the hospital, with little sleep and irregular showers, I stopped caring about what I looked like on my daily jaunts to the cafeteria. T-shirt complete with spit-up? Check. Hair that looked like I had combed it with a Filet ‘o Fish sandwich? Double check. I’m sure my fellow cafeteria patrons were just happy that the glassy-eyed man at the Nacho Bar was finally at the hospital, getting the help that he so desperately needed.

Can the little boy who sleeps all night and doesn't drive his parents nuts please raise his hand? Not so fast Matthew.

In those first few nights in the hospital, I was left with one burning question: Why would anyone ever have a second child? I can only assume that going for round 2 is like my annual trip to White Castle, when I finish my meal by declaring, “I will never eat here again.” Then about a year later, my memory foggy from the passage of time (and possibly beer), I look down at the empty boxes and think, “Oh yeah, that’s why I never eat here.” But it is too late, the damage has already been done.

After four nights with Matthew in the hospital, the training wheels finally came off.  We were free to go home to not get any sleep in our own bed.  Our whole time at the hospital seems like a blur now.  I guess the lack of sleep and free Graham crackers will do that to you.  But we had our beautiful baby boy, and about 10 tubes of A&D ointment that I took from his bassinet daily, so it was all worth it.

We were parents now, and the real adventure was about to begin.

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