Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus sing-a-long

I am not Christian, but I love songs about Jesus and his Old Testament friends.

Ezra seems to share my passion for the songs of Christ. His current favorite song is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. He discovered this Christmas hymn watching the Peanut’s Christmas special, and sings it constantly. He carries the melody beautifully, but has no idea what the lyrics are.

Ezra is not familiar with Christian mythology or its lexicon and many of the words in the song are no longer in common usage. When was the last time you used hark, herald or ye in a sentence? This lack of knowledge makes understanding the actual lyrics incredibly challenging. Ezra’s version of the song is full of garbled words, a "newborn king," and "pizza on earth." He also believes the last line in the song is “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” which must make the song’s storyline even more confusing.

I am not surprised Ezra enjoys Christian music. Amanda and I made this playlist when we moved into our church, and we had it in pretty heavy rotation when Ezra was in utero.

23 Weeks

Our week: T'was the night before . . .

Before bed, we put on one stocking and hang up its match so that Santa knows which stocking is ours.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

22 Weeks

Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has a great exhibit on the human body, You! The Experience. The exhibit explores areas such as "your mind," "your movement," and "your appetite." For obvious reasons, our family was mostly interested in "your beginning," the section devoted to pregnancy and fetal development. The display includes an interactive illustration of a pregnant woman's body in profile. You can adjust the weeks to see the growth of the fetus and where it pushes all of her internal organs. This is a great way of pointing out to the non-pregnant partner why you need to pee constantly! You can play with it on the exhibit's website.
There was also a display of 24 human fetuses at different stages of development, including one at the same gestation as our baby. We knew the baby should be 7 1/2" crown to rump, but seeing this specimen pointed out that - Wow, the baby is big!


“Chicago, Chicago that toddling town/ Chicago, Chicago I will show you around” 
Chicago, Fred Fisher

Like so many other animals, the approach of cold weather awakens within Amanda and me a need to travel. While everyone else prepares to migrate south, we usually get an itching to go north to Chicago. Wintertime in Chicago, with the lake effect weather, is a beautiful time to visit. Wait, I said that wrong. Wintertime in Chicago, with the lake effect weather, is a cheaper time to visit.

Ezra has only been to Chicago during the winter. He believes it is a city that is always cold, snowy, and probably located somewhere near the North Pole, but the weather is not why we love our trips to Chicago. I’m always excited to take Ezra to an actual city - there are so many things to do, so much to experience. Ezra mastered many things this trip: public transportation, walking city blocks, checkers. The one thing he could not quite get a handle on was the city’s name.

“What is it again?”


“Sweeswago. Sweeswago?”



Though he finally figured out the pronunciation, he decided he like “Sweeswago” better.

He also really liked being in the city, whatever it’s called. Here is Ezra’s list of his favorite parts of our trip:

1.    Staying in a hotel. “Our hotel was amazing!” (It was actually pretty standard.)

2.    Trains and buses. We took the Amtrak to Chicago and used public transportation to get around the city.  Ezra was always the first to spot the bus we were waiting for, “here comes the #6 bus,” and always knew which stop we needed when on the “L”. He also discovered the pastime of people watching while using public transportation. “Why does that guy keep yelling?”

3.    Escalators.

4.    Dinosaurs at the Field Museum, especially Sue. We spent two hours at the museum. All of that time was in the Evolving Planet/Dinosaur Hall exhibit. We would have stayed longer, but the museum was closing.

Two vertebrae from a Brachiosaurus and an Apatosaurus footprint

5.    Our hotel, again. “It was so beautiful. Our ‘fridge was in a little spot. It was amazing!”

6.    ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

7.    The ice sculptor at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

8.    Did Ezra mention he really likes escalators?

9.    And the hotel had a pool! Ezra found this very exciting even though he was reluctant to get in the pool. Mostly he played checkers poolside.

10.    The Museum of Science & Industry. Ezra’s favorites included: The Idea Factory; the stage show about digestion, “Poop Happens”; and milking a [model] cow.

11.    Trains and buses, again. We all agree we would be happy to only use public transportation, and not own a car.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

21 Weeks

When we were expecting our first child, the pregnancy was constantly in my thoughts. My free moments were filled reading parenting books, perusing lists of baby names, and selecting the perfect baby gear. Each week Amanda and I would look at our book on fetal development to see how the baby had changed over the last seven days and then faithfully update our families. The entire pregnancy was meticulously recorded and shared with photographs and writings.

This time, even though I am very excited to be having another child, days pass with me barely thinking about the pregnancy (a luxury of being the non-pregnant parent). I am so busy being a father, I am a terrible father-to-be. Amanda has reminded me many times that I have not taken a single photograph of her changing body. “I will after I [put Ezra to bed, wash the dishes, walk the dog . . .],” I promise, but I keep failing. Amanda has finally given up waiting for me. She has taken a “selfie.”

I am sorry, Amanda, and I’m really, really sorry, baby. If you are ever curious, you can read about your mother’s pregnancy in great detail here. Did I mention that is from your mom’s pregnancy with your older brother? If you want to know more about her pregnancy with you, you can look at this grainy photograph.

We are now halfway through the pregnancy, and I am beginning to worry about how little attention I have paid to it. Am I already, unintentionally, making our second baby, feel like second best? Our child’s place in birth order is new territory for everyone in our family. Amanda, Ezra and I are each the first-born child in our families. We will not necessarily relate to our new child’s feelings about being a younger sibling, but we will hopefully be empathetic. Having children allows you see the world through another person’s eyes unlike any other experience. Maybe through our youngest child, Amanda and I will gain new insight into our own brothers and sisters.

Amanda and my younger siblings’ photo albums attest that our second child will probably be photographed less than Ezra, but being the younger child also has many advantages. First, your parents are probably better at their jobs. Amanda and I spend a great deal of time figuring out how to parent Ezra through different developmental stages. Amanda’s mom once apologetically confessed to her that, “first children are really the practice child,” and she is kind of right. We now have some footing and experience to apply with our new child. Instead of fretting over choices and overcoming learning curves, we can now focus on getting to know our new baby.

The most important difference in being the younger sibling is that you are welcomed into a family with more people who love you. This includes a sibling who for better of worse will know you better and share more experiences with you than any other person in the world. He is waiting with many plans on what you will do together – did I mention first-born children are bossy?

Our week: Tree Trimming

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pregnancy cravings

In movies, a pregnant woman is often portrayed as a person no longer in control of her body. A fetus, this alien being, has hijacked her body and is now using it to fulfill all of its wishes and desires.  Through its mother’s mouth it screams, “I need pickles, NOW!!” That it is 2 am during a blizzard makes little difference, the father must follow her demands or receive the wrath of his possessed wife.

Weird food cravings and insatiable hunger are the favorite pregnancy symptom of screenwriters  especially when trying to make an audience laugh. I have always believed these food issues to be greatly exaggerated if not fictitious. Amanda did not have any cravings when pregnant with Ezra, and though slightly hungrier than normal, she didn’t eat any differently than before she was pregnant.

Amanda thinks this pregnancy will be the same, but I have my doubts. Dipping corn tortilla chips in ice cream and honey, something she has never done, is not “perfectly normal” and as ordinary as she is trying to convince me.

Maybe this will be more of a Hollywood pregnancy, but I do not really have much time to think about it right now. I need to make a midnight run to the market . . .

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fall drink: Sparkling apple cider sangria

When selecting our fall drink, Thanksgiving was on our mind. We meticulously plan our Thanksgiving food menu in advance, but drinks are always an afterthought. We always default to wine, beer and bourbon. I’m not complaining. Those are all enjoyable beverages, but I wanted to try something a little more festive this year.

Sparkling cider sangria was exactly what I had in mind. Adapting a typically summer drink with fall flavors, such as apple, seemed like a welcome way to transition to the cold months ahead, and the sparkling wine adds a nice celebratory feel, which is perfect for a holiday or special occasion.

A modified, non-alcoholic version of the drink is easy to make for guests not consuming alcohol -  the pregnant host, for example (sorry, Amanda). Just replace the wine with sparkling water, and omit the cognac.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

That song could be a lullaby

When Amanda was pregnant with Ezra our interests in music took a slight detour. We continued listening to the same types of music we always enjoyed, but heard songs from a new perspective. We would listen to a song, in most cases one we had heard dozens or even hundreds of times, and realize, “this song could be a lullaby,” a genre we previously did not need in our lives.

We sing to Ezra to help him fall asleep. This is a playlist of our bedtime songs:

Some of the songs, like Puff the Magic Dragon and Rainbow Connection, are common choices for a lullaby playlist. They are songs from our own childhoods, and Amanda and I probably filed both in our brains long ago as songs we would one day sing to our children. The rest of the playlist came from songs Amanda and I heard while she was pregnant or Ezra was an infant, and we recognized their potential to sedate.

As we look back at the playlist, we realize that the melodies of many of the songs may be calming, but the lyrics less so. The songs deal with intense subjects like social injustice, racism, unfit working conditions, drug use, poverty. These are not peaceful topics, and may explain why Ezra takes so long to fall asleep.

In our defense, the lyrics are pretty subtle. They seem more likely to soak into Ezra’s subconscious and encourage social awareness rather than encourage nightmares. Then again, maybe effective lullabies are meant to unnerve.

The most traditional song in the genre begins with a soon to be slumbering child peacefully rocking to sleep. He then crashes to earth “cradle and all.” Why is the baby sleeping in a tree anyways? This is the type of scenario that would keep me awake at night not put me to sleep.

Now that Amanda is pregnant again, we are thinking about new lullabies. We listen to music, and we search for the songs that might be the perfect addition to our new baby’s bedtime playlist.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What we’re reading: books about the body

Ezra’s first daycare was a parent run co-op. In addition to administrative duties, each family helped provide care to a dozen kids, ages 6 months to 4 years. I worked ten hours a week at the daycare for 2 ½ years, and spent many of those hours reading to the children in a group and one-on-one.

I always enjoyed watching a child fall in love with a favorite book. He or she would come across a specific book that captured his or her curiosity, and we would spend the next month or two reading that same title over and over.  Then, a new favorite book would suddenly replace the old. Each selection was a wonderful glimpse into the child’s developing personality and emerging interests.

My time at the co-op was also a great opportunity for me to learn what types of books attracted different types of kids. The one book that almost every child became fascinated with as they approached the age of four was the Usborne Flip Flap Body Book. Ezra was no longer at the co-op when he reached this age. So, I knew he would not have the opportunity to share the dog-eared copy I had read so many times to his friends, but I couldn’t forget how important this book was to the children at that age. So, I purchased a copy of the book at a used bookstore anticipating Ezra’s impending obsession with the human body.

Ezra was drawn to The Usborne Flip Flap Body Book right on schedule. The book is divided into three sections. The first introduces the parts of the digestion system. The second explains the five senses, and the last focuses on pregnancy and fetal development. Ezra, like his peers, only took a cursory interest in the section dealing with the senses, but he is enthralled with the first and last sections.

The Usborne book provided a wonderful introduction, and encouraged us to find books with even more information about digestion and reproduction. Our search led us to our library where we discovered The Quest to Digest by Mary Corcoran, a fun and fact filled book on preschoolers' favorite topic: how we make poop. You are lead through a tour of the digestive system with plenty of descriptive text explaining each part of the system; the role it plays in digestion; and how it functions.

Corcoran manages to present an amazing amount of information in The Quest to Digest. The book was a great review of the digestive system for me, yet never becomes overwhelming or dull to a young reader.

Ezra, as a big brother-to-be, is becoming more interested in how babies are made. The best book we found on reproduction is not only Ezra’s favorite new book, but mine as well. Where Willy Went by Nicholas Allan is “the big story of a little sperm!”

Where Willy Went is a fun book that focuses primarily on fertilization through a wonderful blend of nonfiction and fiction. All of the facts about fertilization are accurate. The book explains that sperm are created in men; that sperm need to find the egg in a woman; and that the first sperm that reaches the egg unites with the egg and starts cell division that will eventually develop into a baby. All these facts are explained through a storytelling device of Willy, the sperm, preparing for the big race.

What impressed me most about Allan’s book was the perfect mix of story and basic information about reproduction. Because the book primarily focuses on the narrative of Willy, many of the details about reproduction are playfully implied rather than explained in great detail. This allows the child to lead the discussion, and the specifics of the “facts of life” can be elaborated on or overlooked depending on the child’s own curiosity or development.

What else have we been reading? Check-out more "What we're reading" posts:

Moo, Baa, La La La
Peek a Who
Manhood for Amateurs

Monday, October 21, 2013

We have an announcement

Amanda and I do not stand on mountaintops and make announcements about our lives. Our lack of Facebook updates can attest to this. We do not have personalities that seek a lot of attention and tend to be more private than is probably necessary.

So, we should begin with this announcement: We are having another baby.

We did not rush to tell our friends and family when Amanda was pregnant with our first child, Ezra. This time we have been even slower. We are very excited to be having another baby, but have been unconcerned about making the pregnancy public knowledge. I think there are several reasons we are dragging our feet.

This is our second child so the announcement is a little less life changing. With Ezra, we were becoming parents. Ezra was also the first child in both our families. Moms, dads, brothers and sisters were becoming grandmas, grandpas, uncles and aunts. Currently, my sister and sister-in-law are both pregnant; announcing another pregnancy is no longer “stop the presses” family news. This time, letting people know we are adding to our family seems less urgent giving us an opportunity to enjoy the news in private a little longer.

Another reason we are delaying the announcement is that Amanda had a miscarriage earlier this year. This has given us an even greater desire to keep the pregnancy quiet. We do not doubt that our friends and family will be excited about a new baby, but we also know their excitement will be waiting for us when we are ready.

Yet, the biggest difference with this pregnancy is that there is one person we are much more excited to tell than anyone else: Ezra. Compared to telling him, all other announcements seem trivial and unimportant. A new baby will impact Ezra’s life as much as ours. We are excited but also nervous to talk to him about becoming a brother. Will he be as thrilled as us, upset, worried, indifferent?


Ezra has always told us that having another child was, “a bad idea.”  So, we were surprised by how positive and happy he was to find out our family was growing. We will see if this enthusiasm continues after the baby actually gets here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcoming a new family member: the birth story

We are happy to welcome our nephew and Ezra's cousin, Lincoln, to our family!

My sister shared her birth story on her blog, Hollow Life.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Gruffalo birthday party: invitation

Each year I make the invitation for Ezra's birthday party. For his 4th birthday, Ezra requested a party based on his favorite book, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

I wanted Ezra to feel like a part of the book's universe. So, I drew an original illustration, based on the book's artwork by Axel Scheffler, which had Ezra celebrating his birthday with the characters in the story.
I had fun attempting to create a drawing in the style of another artist, and Ezra loved the invitation. 

Take a look at the invitations for Ezra's third, second and first birthday parties.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Gruffalo birthday party

To celebrate Ezra's fourth birthday we hosted a party for his friends and "invited" the characters from his favorite book, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

We found the perfect location for the party, a city park with a shelter in a forested area. We enlarged and printed the characters from the book with plans to place them among the trees and shrubs along the park's wooded path. The kids could then take a short hike in "the deep dark wood" to find their favorite Gruffalo characters. 

No matter how well a party is planned, weather will always remind you of how little control you have over an outdoor party. The day of the party was filled with rain. Luckily, it subsided for the two hours of the party, but the ground was too wet to move the gruffalo, fox,  mouse, owl and snake from the park shelter. Instead of inhabiting the woods, these wild creatures were forced to became table decorations.

Much of The Gruffalo's narrative focuses on describing a gruffalo. "He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws," the book explains. These descriptions lent themselves wonderfully to a game of "pin the feature on the gruffalo."

What the gruffalo looks like if all his features are "pinned" to the right spot.

For the guests to take home, we made gift bags with a different goodie for each of the book's characters including homemade fox masks.

Ezra tends to be shy in new environments so we we're slightly worried he would find the party, with its big guest list, overwhelming. We were happy to discover our concerns were unfounded. Ezra had a wonderful day, and has already begun to plan his fifth birthday party - which he wants to be "even bigger!"

Friday, September 27, 2013

Smoothie popsicles for our "selective" eater

Ezra loves food as long as he doesn’t have to eat it. He enjoys grocery shopping, helping us pick out and name fruits and vegetables as we work our way through the produce, he likes cooking with us, and loves pretending to prepare and serve meals and desserts in his play kitchen and “restaurant.”  Despite nurturing his interest in food, most foods he’s offered, selects and helps prepare go untouched.

Ezra has never been an adventurous eater nor has he ever seemed too hungry – he certainly comes by both traits honestly – but he used to eat a wider variety of foods. If he could choose, his current diet would consist solely of O’s cereal, grilled cheese, pancakes and quesadillas in heavy rotation. I know this is a common phase for children his age, but it’s still concerning to Garry and I nonetheless. His diet as a toddler was a better reflection of the meals we prepare for ourselves: he ate beans, yogurt, hummus, salsa and eggs.

We do introduce fruits and vegetables via baked goods like muffins and quick breads, we have tried finely chopping broccoli into his quesadilla without success, and he will eat bananas and grapes. But for the most part, his diet lacks color with its accompanying nutrients and vitamins, and there isn’t a single vegetable in it, unless you generously include the occasional French fry with ketchup. The only time his diet isn’t a concern is when he turns down juice, Halloween candy and chocolate donut holes.

The one area we’ve truly had success in broadening his diet is with smoothie popsicles. He loves them. For a while, I crossed my fingers and held my breath everyday that he would continue eating them. But I needn’t have worried. Since we introduced them at about age two he has enjoyed them.

These are our three favorite go-to smoothies:

Red smoothie
2-3 bananas
½ - ¾ cup yogurt
1-2 cups mixed berries

Orange smoothie
1-2 mangos
2-3 bananas
¼ cup raspberries
½ - ¾ cup yogurt

Green smoothie
Apple juice
Kale juice

All amounts are approximations. If I remember, I'll typically add ground flax seeds.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Living beyond your walls

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is known as the hermit kingdom. Their government prevents its citizens from interacting or even observing foreign cultures in order to suppress knowledge of life outside the country’s border. Kim Jung-un is not someone any parent would look to as a role model, but since becoming a parent, I recognize that I can be as guilty as the North Korean leader of creating an isolationist environment.

Our domain is a household rather than a nation, but Amanda and I have built the walls of our own hermit, miniature kingdom. They are not literal walls, but we exert a great amount of control over the world Ezra, our sole citizen, knows. We do this both intentionally and unintentionally.

One of the responsibilities of parents is to determine what our young children are exposed to. We do this with rules and limits. These are both good and necessary. For example, Amanda and I are selective about the types and amount of media Ezra views so he rarely watches anything outside of PBS or Pixar.

More commonly, we, as parents, influence what our children are exposed to without much thought. Our children live with us; therefore our life choices, the types of food we prepare, the activities we engage in, the entertainment we enjoy, become our children’s worlds. No matter how strange others may find your cuisine or your interests, your child knows: This is how we eat. This is what we do. This is how we live.

Establishing a strong family, with a unique culture and identity, is an important component to parenting, but these little, private societies' strength is not dependent upon ignorance. I have become aware of my own tendency to shelter Ezra from knowledge beyond our walls.  

A recent evening reminded me of how much we limit our children’s worlds unintentionally. After returning from a day trip, Amanda, Ezra and I ate dinner at a local brewpub. As we were leaving, a three-piece band was finishing setting up their keyboard, drum and upright bass on the patio among the outdoor tables. They began to play their set, and Ezra’s feet began to drag as we started to walk to the car. His eyes and ears were completely drawn to the performers.

Though Amanda and I were tired from traveling and ready to be home, his interest in the music was so obvious we asked him if he wanted to stay and listen to a few songs. The band performed music from the Great American songbook; songs written by Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, Hoagy Carmichael; and made famous by performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland. Ezra loved the music, and instead of a few songs we stayed and danced for the duration of the performance.

I don’t dislike or even avoid this genre of music, but I also have not listened to it since Ezra was born. Without this happy accident we would have never known of Ezra’s love of the popular music of his great-grandparents generation.

This warm, lively summer’s evening filled with music and dance was a beautiful reminder of what a huge responsibility it is to guide another person’s life. Though a parent’s instinct is to protect their child, this does not mean isolating them from the world. There are many positive, interesting, and even challenging experiences to introduce to your child, and even more importantly, give them an opportunity to discover on their own.

The walls of our hermit kingdom were not built on purpose. They were subconsciously erected as a defense to help protect our child from the outside world. I constantly have to remind myself that we cannot protect him by limiting his exposure to the world, but must teach Ezra to be a part of it.

Now is a good time to add a few more windows and doors to the walls of our hermit kingdom.