My 43 Month Old

Charlee’s irritated mom face

I’m totally kidding – I’m not really that guy! I just found it funny that I was about to type out a blog and realized it was the 17th which is technically Charlee’s 43 month birthday, so I thought to myself it’s about time I write a little ode to my sweet pea, my bubbaloo, my Charlee Bear.

When we were having Ever we weren’t really sure how Charlee would react. You definitely read about first born kids whose spotlight dims and they turn resentful and act out. But then again, you hear about those kids who instantly form a bond and grow up as the best of friends, but how much of this outcome depended on us?!

Well, I’ve got to say, so far things are leaning towards best buds – Charlee is the most phenomenal big sister. She’s caring, attentive, and for months has been the only one of us who can make Ever crack up laughing on a whim.

Of course, sisterhood is the most recent evolution of Charlee – there is so much more to her and I wanted to really take a second and capture some of that.

Some of you may know of my youtube channel. I think I was probably predating the whole instagram video thing and at the same time half-assing a proper vlog and true youtuber attempt. Nonetheless, I have a handful of videos that I took throughout the first year and change of having Charlee. The intent was to film a monthly 3-4 minute shtick and feature Charlee and her latest achievements. Every so often Becca and I will pop over to the channel to check out the videos, especially now to see how different Charlee and Ever are at the same stage in life.

The other day we rewatched this one – Charlee at 18 months: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBu7JLcCghc

It feels like it’s been forever, but I really remember those days and am still so blown away at how brilliant she is and was, especially at such a young age.

These days, my 3.5 year old daughter has begun reading and writing, two traits that we are so proud of her for. Her memory has always been beyond incredible, so her aptitude for memorizing the sound and shape of words and letters just seemed to make sense. She’s reading books to herself, her sister, her dolls, and of course, us. She’s always had a knack for memorizing logos of companies, and after a while 2 and 2 came together and she could read the words based on her memory of the symbols.

Leveraging her memorization skills, I’ve got her into cars. She can name all the car manufacturers from looking at their logos and I mean even some real random ones like Koenigsegg and Alfa Romeo. She knows all the Formula 1 teams and drivers (and many of their numbers) and we watch every qualifying and every race together. Becca’s got some old fabric swab books from college and Charlee has memorized the entire binder, cover to cover, off of a combination of the feel, texture, colour, look and spelling of the words representing the fabric – it’s incredible!

I don’t think she could smile any bigger!

Charlee is a clever and witty individual and she is constantly making us laugh. She gets subtle nuances and puns like an adult and even makes up a few of her own.

She can be very polite and has very good manners, ironically with strangers more so than us! When we’re with her, she’ll introduce herself to the cashier at the grocery store or to another kid at the park, with a “Hi, my name is Charlee – C H A R L E E, and I’m three and half years old!” She is articulate and talkative and has a very good range of vocabulary, especially for someone her age.

Charlee does tend to be somewhat apprehensive about starting new things and often likes to be in her comfort zone. This is true for many things including sleep, which she really depends on us for. We still need to hop in bed with her and fake sleep to make sure she goes down. And even then she’ll wake up several times throughout the night, so we usually just end up dividing and conquering with Becca staying in our room with Ever, and Charlee and I crashing together. Eventually it’ll have to change, but for now, it’s the path of least resistance.

Life’s a beach

I’ll tell you one thing I’ve grown to realize with a toddler – their general lack of self-awareness. There are a ton of books out there, many of which we’ve bought, that help kids identify the emotions and feelings they’re going through in hopes that they’ll connect the feeling, with an emotion, and subsequently with a fix for it. The two biggies in my view are hunger and sleep.

If your kid is hungry you’ve got a small window to identify it, address it, and keep the peace. If you miss it, sometimes you can’t go back and things will just spiral downward into complete and utter meltdown. Becca’s way more on top of this than I am, but if you keep an eye on the intervals between meals and snacks, you can keep them fuelled and prevent any catastrophes. Remember though, they’ll rarely tell you themselves.

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Same is true for sleep. A well rested child is a pleasure. When they start having sleep issues, you’ll feel it in multiples.

Lately Charlee’s had two of the worst meltdowns of her life – to the point where strangers look and judge – my favourite. In hindsight, we know we could have prevented these with food – both times. She had been exerting a lot of energy walking or running for a long distance and time, and we were debating on where to have lunch but by that point it was already too late.

We’ve read a ton of books on how to connect with your child emotionally during these moments and lead them out of the meltdown. All fine and dandy, but these two in particular were way passed the point and she needed to be removed from the situation pretty quickly.

With all said and done, I still love this stage of Charlee but really can’t wait for kindergarten later this year. I want to see her in a structured system where she can be taught by professionals and really start to excel even more. I can’t wait for her to learn new things from the school system and I just hope to hell this new government won’t completely shit the bed.

I often talk about looking forward to the day when I get to visit my kids at their work and take them out for lunch. When I look back at what 3.5 years has been, I can’t imagine what’s in store for another 20, and where that place of work might be. Charlee now talks about becoming a scientist or an engineer. I don’t doubt that she will achieve anything and everything she puts her mind to. And what a mind it is!

Hello, My Name Is Dad – remember me?

Ok so it’s been a while.

A long while.

A long, LONG while.

You look great – did you do something with your hair? New glasses? No?…

Look, I’m sorry – life really takes hold and it becomes super difficult to dedicate the time. Every year brings a new New Year’s resolution to write more (or write SOMETHING), and yet repeatedly I fail. Maybe that’s just cause I’m human…. yeah let’s go with that.

Truth be told, I’ve realized some interesting aspects to parenthood over the course of the last three and half years, but even more notably, I’ve realized how difficult it can be to share all of them! I’ve realized that laying out my life on social media is easy and even entertaining when things are good, but when it’s time to talk about the ‘other’ parts of parenting, I really don’t feel so inclined. Maybe the truth in that is relatable enough to you.

What I have enjoyed doing is continuing to share knowledgeable articles and insights into parenting from actual parenting experts through my Twitter feed. I’ve also been really digging posting to my instagram different dad related pics with clever captions (if I do say so myself).

And I will be the first to tell you that with all it’s challenges, fatherhood is the incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world… usually… 😉

With all that being said, here I am again, and the least I can do is bring you all up to speed.

Let’s begin with Charlee. She is 3 years and 7 months old and she is phenomenal. Granted, just yesterday she had an absolute meltdown at the mall and needed to be taken out by Becca and I like a lunatic strapped into the stroller, but more-so than not, she is a pleasure – she’s brilliant, insightful, hilarious, clever, gorgeous, and loving.

She is reading, writing, singing songs, telling jokes, and enjoying the hell out of life.

One of her latest gigs is really her favourite, though – the role of big sister!

That’s right!

On October 2nd of last year we welcomed Ever Lillian into our lives. She’s such a wonderful little person and we are gaga over her. She has many of the same mannerisms as Charlee, but also is most definitely her own little person.

She is the happiest baby I’ve ever met and can instantly put a smile on anyone’s face. Pretty sure she says, Mama, Dada, and Ever already too, so she’s a genius just like her sister.

Suffice it to say, there is much to catch up on. I’m off work for the moment enjoying a little self imposed paternity leave, so it gives me a chance to rebaseline and rebalance some things. I aim to keep the ball rolling and the keep the posts coming, so stay tuned!! More excitement to follow!

And just like that… I have a two year old!

Not only is Charlee turning two this weekend, but it will also mark an entire year since I wrote a blog entry.

AN ENTIRE YEAR!

Well, there goes my commitment, eh?

Suffice it say, I have many excuses, but I’ll phrase them anecdotally to show just what kind of a year it’s been.

I said I’d do it tomorrow!!

I reread my posting of the 12 Months of Charlee: The 12 Things I’ve Learned in my First Year of Parenting, and I agree wholeheartedly with what I wrote! In fact, it was quite refreshing to read it cause it truly echoes my sentiments on the first year of having a child.

Year two, however, is flurry of events that make the first year look like a holiday cruise! I can look back on this year and relive so many different milestones that were painstakingly rewarding from start to finish.

Everything from teething to walking, talking and communicating, daycare and anxiety, potty training and sleep regression – it’s been quite a ride!

And I’ve loved it all.

Sure it wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns, but holy moly, to be a part of someone’s upbringing and watching a little human become such a personable, emotional, lovely, adorable, brilliant little angel has been exceptionally rewarding.

First and foremost, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – my daughter is a genius!

Do you watch the videos on my Instagram or YouTube channels? She was putting sentences together at 16 months – singing ABC’s, counting to 20, reciting the national anthem! She even knows all her colors including teal and other random ones (thanks Becca). On top of that, she learned how to sing classic 90’s tracks like ‘Killing me softly’ and we have that on film too!

Of course she has some flaws like all people do. She can be incredibly anxious around big groups of people (but she’s working on that and getting much better). She’s also the queen of selective hearing … to a fault. The most recent iteration was “Charlee don’t climb the dining room chairs… don’t climb the dining room chairs… DON”T CLIMB THE DINING ROOM CHAIRS!” followed by a swan dive and bloody nose incident (she’s ok).

But her faults make her human, and Becca and I continuously say to each other how wonderful she is and how lucky we are to have her in our lives. She is the best of both of us, with a twist of uniqueness that makes her so lovable, so phenomenal, so charismatic, so… Charlee!

So what exactly has been going on? Here’s a quick summary:

September to December

We had a super fun photoshoot at the end of September, done by Becca’s very talented friend Catherine – you can find her work through her website: https://www.catherinecachia.com/

We clean up nicely

Halloween was a repeat of last year…. there’s always next year!

I think she likes it

We saw Raffi live in concert in November (checked that off all of our bucket lists)… and dada got charitable, sporting the Movember stache

Christmakkuh was merry

Charlee sometimes hides her emotions, but she was very happy

January to April

We finally visited Ripley’s Aquarium and Charlee was enchanted by all the sealife

Charlee… scared shitless

Charlee had her first Valentine’s Day date (chaperoned of course) and caught up on her speed reading skills

It’s like a blur!

Guess what… we got into Montessori!! Charlee started in March and was the happiest 18 month old you’ve ever seen

In April, I can’t figure out exactly how it happened, but we suddenly had a toddler!

May to August

In May we celebrated Mum

She is NOT flipping off the camera

June walks in the park (I totally made this my screensaver)

In July I got sneak-peaks into her future (what a beauty!)

And the rest of the summer was full of fun and memories

As her birthday comes up this Sunday, Becca and I have so much to be grateful for. We’ve learned a lot from each other and from Charlee, about ourselves, our parenting, and our passion.

I’ll send Charlee a message directly, as I always do, but I want to thank her for being a part of our lives and showing us a whole new level of pride, admiration, and love.

Bring on the THREENAGER!!

 

12 Months of Charlee: The 12 Things I’ve Learned in my First Year of Parenting

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So, what better way to celebrate a year of Charlee then to reflect back on getting here and what I’ve learned.

It’s really interesting and almost comical sometimes when I look back on the older posts in my blog, where I have advice or recommendations that I’m providing. There was nothing wrong with those, but often they reveal a Dad who was sooooooo unaware of what was up next! Not unprepared per se, but most definitely unaware. And here I am, looking back on only the first year! I can’t even begin to think about year 2… daycare, talking, walking…. Oy vey!

What I can say is that this year has been something that I could have never expected. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with my journey so far. You keep reading and I’ll keep writing J

On that note, what a great segue into number 1 on my list… Enjoy!

  1. Read!

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It’s really just that simple.

Read.

There are tons of books and while I personally recommend the Dr. Karp series, look around… ask around… google some reviews. There are so many parenting books out there and they are there for a reason.

You will have questions!

You will want to know that you are not alone in this journey, nor has anything you are about to encounter never been encountered before!

I read one book that ironically advised not to read books. But rather, many of your parenting intuitions will come naturally. That’s fine and dandy, and I hope for whomever abides by that principal, they are right, but the number of approaches that we took which did not come naturally, were not spawned off of our natural intuitions, yet resulted in the right outcome is staggering (approaches to sleep is my #1 in that regard!)

It was interesting what happened in-between books as well.  We read plenty leading up to having Charlee, a little bit after having her, and then sort of assumed things were on cruise control. Little did we realize how quickly babies change and how difficult it is to stay on top of what happens next and how to handle it!

I’ve started reading again, and right now I’m on Dr. Karp’s, The Happiest Toddler on the Block. He himself says that you should start reading it ideally when your little one is 9 months of so, in order to be ramped up for the 1-3 year window.

I know it’s a toughie to fit in to anyone’s schedule, but really, it will help out immensely to be as prepared as possible.

  1. Yard by yard is pretty hard, but inch by inch is a cinch

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I wrote a blog entry once called How Quickly We Forget – The Halo Effect and Dad’s with PTSD. The main point being that we often go through situations which seems incredibly catastrophic and painful yet, in time, we move on and get to reflect back on it.

I look back at Charlee’s year and even when she was enjoying womb service:

First there was the determination that she was breeched and all the chiropractic visits and moxibustion attempts and the scheduling of a C-section. Finally when she was born there was 4 days in the NICU, sleep regression, food sensitivities, more sleep regression, teething, my changing employers, more sleep regression, milk shortages, financial hiccups, more sleep regression, relationship strains, and did I mention sleep regression?!

But at a certain point, you get a chance to look back, be it through a blog or just personal memory, and go, holy shit that was rough, but we made it!

  1. It ain’t a competition

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So don’t get me wrong – I fully understand that everybody wants to know that their child is doing well. But similar to the earlier point, if your baby starts crawling at 6, 7, 8 or even 15 months, it’s great at the time, but when they are older these things will be so inconsequential! The fact that your baby is in the 85th percentile, or the 35th percentile – it’s all irrelevant as long as they’re healthy, it doesn’t matter!!

However, and I hope this point makes sense, you should never, ever, ever, feel that you need to suppress your urges to talk about your baby.

You should be proud.

You are raising a human being and every achievement of theirs, is a representation of your work and dedication. So good on you!

Granted there is a fine line between pride and gloating, and you know what, sometimes it will just be heard the way that it’s heard, but in my honest opinion, you don’t get these opportunities too often, unless you’re breeding like bunnies (and all the power to you if you are), so go on, be proud of yourself and of your little one!

  1. Your life will change… duh!

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In case for some ungodly reason you thought that this is just an addition to your life, I will firmly state that you are wrong!

A baby does not accompany you to the club. They WILL get carded and refused access.

A baby does not sleep in on weekends, nor do they pull all-nighters… well… not in the good sense…

Your relationship will not be the same and you need to come to terms with that.

However!

You’ve just created a miniature version of yourselves – how friggin cool is that?! Granted when they first arrive, they’re a tad wrinkly or ‘fresh’ as one woman in a shopping mall once referred to 2 week old Charlee. But in time, it’s amazing how you start to see elements of yourselves in him or her.

With Charlee, she has my laugh, many of my features, and somehow at the age of 1, my sense of humor. She also has Becca’s disposition, kindness, and for what it’s worth, toes!

  1. Routine is important, but don’t obsess

Many books we’ve read address the fact that babies thrive off of routine. They will act better, sleep better, and overall just function better. But this doesn’t mean that there is no flex to the rigidity. Other than the fact that there can be extenuating circumstances, you have to realize that your life is not obsessively routine so how can your child’s be?

My mum had my brother and me 11 months apart (he was adopted, not that that matters, but just to help with the math and not assume that my mum and dad were aiming to have two kids so close together). Her line to me when I asked how the heck she juggled two children under the age of 1 was simply, “have baby, will travel”.

Makes sense to me – sometimes your baby just has to come along for the ride.

I’m a pretty firm believer that balance is everything, so stick to a routine for sure, but don’t obsess over every little thing… for the baby’s sake… and your own!

  1. Figure out child care as early as possible

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Maybe I’m putting this in here because it’s kinda fresh in my mind, but the most ridiculous thing happened the other day to me, and apparently it’s much more common than you would expect.

I approached a daycare which is well situated and affordable, they start with kids at the age of 1, and with all of these factors there understandably is a queue of families who are pre-registered.

Now here’s where it gets interesting…

I was directed to their website to register and low and behold, there is a 2 year waiting list… “Approximately”… meaning that it could actually be OVER 2 years!

In our situation, it would have meant a very interesting first date conversation where we skipped the dinner and drinks and went straight to pre-registering our unborn…nay, uncreated baby!

In Ontario and Toronto specifically, child care is expensive and hard to come by. Granted, our province has just recently abolished waiting list fees, but while we were searching it could potentially have cost us hundreds if not thousands of dollars just to get Charlee’s name on some lists!

We’re still sorting through ideas, but at this point, Becca is home with Charlee until at least 18 months and we’re on a few waiting lists, but that clocks a’ tickin’ and finding out that there are waiting lists that are over 2 years long, gets the heart rate rising!

  1. Money talk

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So, aside from those costs you can forecast, there are just a ton of things that creep up on you and apparently are never ending! Different wages for different stages you could say… patent pending.

When we first looked into daycare, we factored that it would cost anywhere from around $800 to $2000 a month; $800 being on the cheaper side through something like an unlicensed home daycare, and top of the price range being a licensed city run daycare (yup… $108 a day!).

Our in between option was a Montessori, where it’s around $1500 per month, but low and behold, waiting lists and questionable reviews have made things a wee bit more complex.

Next there is the food factor. If you’re breastfeeding, that’s fantastic, and we are too, but there were some unexpected situations with food sensitivities, sick baby not being able to feed successfully, drop in milk supply… y’know… expecting the unexpected again.

Due to Becca’s work and upbringing, she is very conscious about food additives and the like so we are pretty diligent about the quality of food we give Charlee. And with that comes a price tag too.

Even when you factor and budget for all of those things, there is still STUFF.

We have been extremely lucky to have Charlee’s older cousin who provides a ton of hand-me-downs, and also so many generous friends and family. And I’m actually pretty proud to admit that I don’t think we’ve binged on anything unnecessary for Charlee, even though I do still have my eye on a $2000 kids’ ride on Porsche…

But food, toys, gifts, and even at times entertainment, adds up – be mindful and diligent and don’t forget to put money into an RESP if you’re in Canada! In 17 years, university is going to be pretty steep.

  1. You and your baby are going to get sick

For the record, no baby is happy with a nosefrida
For the record, no baby is happy with a NoseFrida…

I always think of that Nyquil commercial, with the dad trying to call in sick.

We all wish that were true.

What actually happens is that one of the parents gets sick and brings it home to treat the whole family to a bout of the flu.

Somehow you have to muster the strength to get through your own cold while also treating the baby with whatever lack of medicine you can use (though infant Tylenol, Advil, a NoseFrida and a bottle of Salinex do work wonders) and all the while holding down a job, keeping the house in order, and sticking to the routine as best as possible.

Keep in mind that every sickness the baby gets through usually implies a strengthening of her immune system; so really, she’s just doing this to become that much bigger and stronger.

  1. Don’t forget about YOU

Healthy dad or attempted mugging?
Healthy dad or attempted mugging?

Remember that your health is just as important as the baby’s – after all, you’ve got to be in peak shape in order to take care of the little one.

I follow so many dads online who are proponents of keeping in great shape. I am all about wanting to do that too, and I have way too many excuses.

The least you can and should do is keep up to date with your own doctors’ visits, eat your vitamins, and take your meds.

That’s the easy part.

What people often forget is that you sometimes need a break from your family. Sounds kinda mean, but it’s really true. It doesn’t mean you love them any less, but from a purely psychological perspective, getting out for a pint with the boys, or especially taking the misses out on a date night is hugely important for you and your relationship with your family.

  1. Treasure your quiet time

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Date nights and drinks are few and far between, and I often find myself enjoying the most bizarre quiet times.

I follow a blogger online who wrote about how she even treasures the silence between buckling up her little one in the backseat of the car, closing the door, and walking to the driver side!

Another blogger seeks solace in his breaks to go to the bathroom…alone!

We’re lucky that Charlee is a lovely, calm, and gentle little angel, so in general the volume is fairly low, but she is active and mobile, and sometimes, yeah, it’s nice to get away, even if it’s just to sit on the can!

  1. More importantly, treasure your time with baby

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Sure it’s important to get away, but it’s even more important to be involved.

Charlee is fantastic and watching her learn and develop is breath taking. In one weekend around 9 months, she said momma, dada and started crawling… ONE WEEKEND!

I did a review on the book thirty million words, and the messaging there is one that, at least for me, appears fairly new. There is an overall recognition now that the first three years of a baby’s life are some of the most fundamental for growth and learning. A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three, producing 700 new neural connections every second. The fact that you can actually witness it firsthand and help develop it with the way you engage with them is surreal!

Treasure it!

  1. Love is the answer

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Yeah it’s a little hokey, but you know what, it’s true.

Maybe I need to define what love means to me…

To me, there are two key factors in in love:

  1. Love is unconditional to those who are deserving of it.
  2. You get back what you give.

If those fundamentals are met, everything else is just noise.

Sometimes it is not easy to love, because the noise is loud; so loud that you forget that the fundamentals are still there.

You can block the noise with strong communication. Without it, the noise keeps ringing in your ears.

I don’t mean to sound too profound here, but that metaphor works for me.

With some, I’ve found that the noise is so consistent that I need to reassess the fundamentals.

With some I’ve found that the fundamentals are not there.

When that occurs, I need to rid myself of the noise, because it’s not healthy noise. It’s not noise that’s going to subside.

With others, the noise comes and goes, but the fundamentals are strong and the basis of our relationship is valid and meaningful and important.

Charlee has introduced to me a whole new world of love and a whole new approach to priorities.

She has fundamentally changed Becca and me, including our love for each other. It’s not gone by any means, it’s just different.

We’ve learned a lot about each other through Charlee, and we’ve developed a new love for one another and a new love as parents – a new definition of who we are.

I was thinking once about how you rarely know for sure about how your mate is going to parent, let alone how you are. You chat when you’re dating about things like what kind of school you’d like your future kids to attend, and how you’ll celebrate Chanukah and Christmas together, but you rarely discuss how you’ll approach baby led weaning, or what technique you’ll use for sleep training.

When those events arise in parenting, you are no longer addressing them as individuals. You are a team of two parents, approaching something foreign to the two of you.

You’ve either read up on it together or separately; queried a parent together or separately; have heard experiences through a friend, together or separately; or just have a gut instinct on how to handle the situation, together or separately.

Regardless, you now have to handle it… together!


This next year is going to be eventful, to say the least! I’ve just started back at school, part time. I have a new job but my contract expires in February (hoping for an extension). Becca and I have been chatting about opening up a store, but also discussing whether Becca may want to go back to her old work, or maybe school. We’re sorting out day cares and interviewing different Montessoris. We may even invest in a rental property in the next few months.

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I do not know what the future holds but I look forward to continuing to share my wild journey through fatherhood with you and hope you’ll stick around for the ride!

Long time no…. type?

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Hello, my name is Dad.

Remember me?

Come now, it’s only been a month… and a week… or two…

I remember speaking with a fellow blogger during the earlier days of my site and she mentioned that she was so impressed with the fact that I could dedicate so much time to typing out blog entries while having a little one at home. At the time I thought, wow, I must be really lucky that Charlee is so chill!

In hindsight, I think her being impressed was just a tad premature to the non stop parenting rollercoaster ride that really starts to peak around 6-8 months.

Well, suffice it to say, these last few weeks and months have been the most trying, but also the most rewarding. For example, just this last weekend, Charlee did the following:

  • Clearly said “mama”
  • Started crawling
  • Cut two more teeth (yes, she’s up to FOUR now!)
  • And, I swear this is true, with Becca as my witness, specifically requested, through arm motions, for us to sing ‘skinamarinky dinky dink’ by Sharon, Lois and Bram.

I have video and photographic evidence (check out my youtube channel and follow my feeds to see more).

Anyway, let’s take it from the top, and sadly it begins on an unhappy note, with the passing of my uncle on May 26.

Two weeks prior I had tendered my resignation from work (more on that to follow) and was actually attending my going away party when my mother called from England where she had been vacationing with my aunt. Through some round about channels, she had heard the news and wanted to get in touch with me as soon as possible.

I spoke with my cousins and tried to come to terms with the news.

Though in recent years I had not been in close contact with my uncle or cousins, Becca and I had gotten together with them when Charlee was just a couple months old to introduce her to them then.

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Aside from being 86 and diabetic, Uncle Seymour, or ‘Shim’ as he was known by family and friends, was in great health and his passing came as a huge shock.

I think the blessing in disguise is how extreme family events such as this can bring out the best in people, and give family an opportunity to first grieve together, and then reconnect.

This passing was one that brought out both the good and the bad, and it was quite a stressful occasion for all of us for many reasons.

I will always be grateful for the relationship I remember with my uncle. He was a soft-spoken man, but his family legacy lives on with 4 children, their spouses, and their combined 14 grandchildren (I hope I didn’t miss anyone). I only wish that I can one day see my own family grow like that.

My aunt is a wonderful woman with a strong circle of family and friends. Becca, Charlee and I have already made an effort to see her more often and help keep her involved as Charlee grows while also restoring our family bond.


The other piece of news, yup, I tendered my resignation with my employer after five and half years, having found a new opportunity that would benefit me and my family.

As a father, I’m now much more scrupulous in my decision making, and this by far was one of the most difficult. It had been in the works for well over a year mind you, and in fact, almost came to fruition in March of last year, but I opted to hold off having just found out that Charlee was on her way!

To be honest, I thing everything played out quite well.

With my old employer, I had the benefit of getting top up on nearly 5 months of parental leave. I also had all the benefits coverage that helped us be comfortable in the NICU and not out of pocket too much. I had added vacation time to help with Becca while we tried to turn Charlee, and then finally came back to a job that was mostly enjoyable for the few months that I needed to work out the details of this next opportunity.

I’ve decided to take the plunge and incorporate my own business under which I am doing consulting work.

The pay is very good, but the job security is non existent as I attempt to work contract to contract.

I feel very confident with the decision though, and Becca has my back as always.

This job gives us the luxury of having Becca stay at home with Charlee straight through until she is 18 months, and then we’re exploring a multitude of opportunities including Montessori for Charlee, and potentially opening a business for Becca… more details to follow as that slowly unfolds!

Not sure what your take is on Montessoris, but I can tell you that daycare here is a fortune and if I’m going to be spending that kind of money, I want an education for Charlee that I would be keen on. Having toured a few Montessoris, our hearts are set on it, and we’re on one waiting list in particular which we hope pans out.

As it sits right now, we’ve got another 9 months to go, so fingers crossed!

It’s crazy that Charlee is 9 months old already. We like to say she has officially been out of the womb longer than she was in it!

She is certainly keeping us busy.

Becca has her down to a routine that is impeccable – she now naps twice a day and gets a full nights sleep of 10 hours. I would like to say that it’s consistent, but of course it’s not. She has, however, improved astronomically!

As I mentioned, she’s crawling now, which changes the whole dynamic of our living space! We have to baby-proof the house now, and to add to it, she’s outgrown her exersaucer, so we’ve just recently unfolded the pack n’ play so she can use that as a holding pen while Becca needs to run off for a second to answer the door, use the facilities, or prepare a meal.

Charlee and Becca have been actively doing a bunch of different things from story time at the library, to swimming, to yoga.

The other day they went to the Royal Ontario Museum and I got this pic in my email:

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I laughed my ass off!

All in all, it’s been a challenging yet rewarding few weeks.

From passing comes rekindled relationships.

From old jobs comes new challenges and opportunities.

And from a roly-poly baby, comes an explorative, engaging, adorable, astounding, developing little person.

I can’t wait to keep sharing my journey with my family, with you.

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Bonding with Charlee through Infant Massage

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The first time we met Carolynn, I was still on my parental leave, and Becca and I were taking Charlee to her first mummy group.

8 mums, 8 babies, and 1 dad (yours truly) sat around in a circle in the basement of one of the neighbourhoods oldest churches, and Carolynn got right into it.

She welcomed us all to the class, introduced what the next 12 weeks was going to look like, and then whipped out her ukulele and gave a playfully gentle disclaimer that while she had a masters degree, it did not imply any special musical talents.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a couple classes before heading back to work, and I know that Becca and Charlee had a blast. It’s often through these types of meet-ups that parents are able to meet other parents with similarly aged babies, and foster new friendships.

With us, we were able to connect with Carolynn as well, and had the pleasure of having her over the other day to teach me about infant massage, and the bonding experience it can have for fathers.

Carolynn wrote a fascinating white paper that is perfectly in line with the material that dad’s are so often seeking; new opportunities to bond with their infants.

During that delicate time before babies can vocalize their feelings, it is a constant struggle to connect with our kids the same way mum’s naturally can.

As Carolynn writes, “fathers may feel dissatisfied with their ability to form a close attachment with their infants in the early postpartum period, which, in turn, may increase their parent-related stress.”

Their study sought to align infant massage between a father and their child and the subsequent reduction in stress and increase in bonding.

I implore you to read the white paper on Carolynn’s site; it is a fascinating study and the outcomes offer a fundamental opportunity that no father should miss.

Carolynn’s research did not stop there. She in turn is a certified infant massage instructor, and offers both group and individual classes on baby massage.

As determined in her paper, there are numerous benefits to massage, both for the baby and the parent themselves! These benefits include:

Benefits for baby
• Promote longer and deeper sleeping patterns
• Relieve symptoms of “colic” or gassy periods
• Improve cardiac and respiratory output
• Help baby develop sense of self

Benefits for parents/caregivers
• Enhance and facilitate parent/child relationships
• Increase confidence and sensitivity as you learn to read and respond to your babies’ cues
• Provide special, focused time together
• Decrease stress

The first thing Carolynn did when she came over, after settling down and giving Party (our dog) some attention, was to pull out the ukulele and sing a few tunes for Charlee.

Right off the bat, Charlee was beside herself! The power of song is so evident, and it put a huge smile on Charlee’s face as she remembered the music from a few months back.

Becca had helped me out and set up a calm space upstairs to go through the tutorial, so we headed up and got settled.

Carolynn reiterated that she wasn’t there to massage Charlee, but rather to guide me through the process. She brought out a doll for demonstration purposes, and we sat across from each other as I got Charlee prepped.

One of the very first things Carolynn guided me on doing, was seeking permission from Charlee before massaging her. I thought it was such an odd premise, but when she explained that it’s one of the first opportunities to teach Charlee about boundaries, and consent, I was all for it.

Carolynn walked me through the stages of several massage techniques, starting from Charlee’s legs and moving up to her head. Every move was well thought out, methodical, and explained in detail. My favourite part, was that every massaging move was accompanied by a little song to sing through the motions.

Charlee was a gem and enjoyed the whole process immensely. I was taught how the direction of the massage can be a huge influence on relaxation versus stimulation, so it was important to not overdo it on such a tiny person.

The days following our session with Carolynn, I continue doing to the techniques she taught me, and Charlee is growing more and more comfortable with it. We’ll usually have ‘leg days’ for a few in a row, followed by arms and maybe face. Charlee has always been brought up with massage in her routine, but now having some technique to accompany it makes me more confident, and Charlee even more receptive.

As new dads, we’re often searching for things that we can implement that will help us feel more involved in the child raising process, and give us that opportunity to bond with our little ones. I was grateful to have met Carolynn and been giving a lesson on infant massage, and I whole heartedly recommend it to all the dads out there.

Make sure to visit Carolynn’s websites, at either http://carolynndarrell.weebly.com or www.discoverytoys.com/PlayLadyCarolynn and contact her directly at carolynn.darrell@gmail.com.


A little about Carolynn, in her own words, from her website:

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Ancient wisdom, modern parenting is a tagline I created to describe my parenting and teaching philosophy.  There has been a recent surge of interest and research in parenting practices of long, long ago.  Swaddling, infant massage and breastfeeding are a few of these practices that are high on the modern parent’s radar.  My philosophy honours thousands of years of evolutionary wisdom, but also values the needs and realities of 21st century families. 

My interest in parenting really began as an interest in infant development.  I  studied child health at Brock University and graduated with an honours B.A. I became a certified Child life specialist through a post graduate program at McMaster University.  I practiced Child Life for many years at  both Sickkids and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab.  I really enjoyed helping children and teen’s navigate and gain mastery over their healthcare experience.  But my smallest clients and their parents troubled me.  I wasn’t sure how to truly help them until I became certified as an infant massage instructor. The benefits of this instruction went well beyond the baby, and perhaps helped the parents the most, by empowering them when they feel most vulnerable, especially when their baby wont stop crying or has colic.  A desire to help more parents in this effective and powerful way led me  again to further graduate education. I completed a Masters of Arts degree from Brock University where I was able to study some important questions about infant massage and parenting.  I have attached a PDF at the bottom of this page describing my most relevant work with parents and their babies.  My greatest experience of all however, has been the birth of my own beautiful children.  They teach me everyday that each child, family and parent is unique and they deserve to be treated that way.

Beer and Cookies to the Rescue!

I knew it would happen! I logged in today and realized that it’s been almost an entire month since I’ve blogged.

I had read somewhere that the best way to keep yourself honest was to assign a writing day. Let me just say, that aside from showing up to work every day, I can hardly commit to much more! Just as I think I’m getting better at my time management skills, Charlee throws us for a loop and we have to rethink EVERYTHING.

So suffice it to say, there have been a few things that have happened over the course of the last month, and so today I’m writing two… yes TWO blog posts!

Let’s start with the recap:

First and foremost, Charlee got sick… again! I’m pretty sure this time was my fault, or at least I was the conveyor of said illness. She took another 2 weeks to get through it, but she seemed to have done better this (her third) time. We did nose-frida the crap out of her, but she never got a fever thank god, so it was really just something viral.

The cold happened during the most inopportune time (not that it’s ever ‘opportune’!) and we missed what would have been Charlee’s first Passover seder. There will be more, and we truly tried, but she was having an absolute meltdown and we couldn’t make it out the door.

The sickness, this time, had another residual effect, and that was the old ‘too plugged up to be able to feed properly’ syndrome, but this time, it really took it’s toll.

Looking back and even dealing with the onset of her rebounding now, we’re probably dealing with a series of events happening simultaneously, which I will refer to as STIF – sick, teething, introduction of solids, and fussy.

Sickness

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Not being able to breath is making her uncomfortable while feeding – she can’t breath through her nose, and there’s the chance that she’s associating this discomfort with the breast rather than the boogers

 

Teething

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Nothing has “cut” the surface yet, but we know, nay, we are POSITIVE, that she is teething. There is no other excuse for the compulsive goobering, red cheeks, and all in all discomfort that Charlee is going through. Becca’s mum said that Becca didn’t get her teeth in until late, but they came in one fell swoop. Mine were fairly quick according to my mum. Charlee appears to be somewhere in the middle. For what it’s worth, we’ve been giving her this stuff called Camilia which really seems to help. It’s a natural formula that we can give Charlee before the real teething starts and we need to resort to Tylenol.

Introduction of Solids

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Trying to find a balance for solid food has been a struggle for us… and evidently for Charlee too. If you feed her solids too soon, she forgoes milk and doesn’t get enough nutrients, which then leads to crappy sleeps. Feed her too little, and you miss out on the opportunity to introduce these new foods to her and close the gap on any allergy issues. It’s a tough balance and many different debates.

Fussiness

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Remember that app I told you about? It’s called the Wonder Weeks and is based off of the book by the same name. Charlee has been living her life in direct correlation to what this chart forecasts. It’s kinda frightening.

Well, with our luck, we’re getting Charlee sick and teething, just on the cusp of one of her fussy stages. On the positive, this does mean that she is perfecting some new developmental milestone, but on the flip side, we get a fussy little munchkin who is quite the handful.

Through all the STIF, it’s been taking a toll on Becca and my patience, but more importantly, Charlee’s feeding habits based on the above have been totally thrown outta whack.

Her feeding being off schedule therefore throws her sleeping off schedule, which throws us off schedule and better yet (sarcasm), Becca’s having some issues with her production, and yes, I mean the milk kind.

Now, historically I’ve chatted about breastfeeding as one of those things that we dudes just can’t do, and maybe for some of us, that’s that. But lately I’ve gotten the sense of how impactful it is on our partners, and how in the end, we have to remember one of the large roles we play throughout all of this child rearing journey – supporter.

I’m a huge proponent of men playing a co-starring role in parenting, obviously. I’m super proud of the National At-Home Dad Network’s campaign to distinguish the fact that “Dad’s don’t babysit!” And I’m also hugely aware of the fact that there are many things women can do that we guys just can’t, and with that there is a level of importance and determination that come along with it that we dads need to recognize, admire, support, and encourage.

I know the breastfeeding debate goes back and forth – “breast is best” vs. formula feeding.

First and foremost, you’ll have to get a catchier slogan than simply ‘formula feeding’ in order to compete.

How bout “breast is best” vs. “fuck that, formula’s fine”

Not bad… let’s call it a work in progress.

Well, in my mind, I understood the debate and would support Becca regardless of her choice. I’m a huge fan of the health benefits behind breast feeding, and was very happy when Becca decided that this was the choice she was going to make.

The initial phases during our time at the NICU, and then subsequently being home and getting into a routine, were all huge learning experiences for us, and I’m proud of Becca for how she handled it all.

Our main goal was to get by the 6 week window, where studies had shown that it was the most valuable, physiologically, for the baby.

Of course, the act of breastfeeding continues to be a bonding experience for Becca and Charlee; one that Becca was aiming to hold onto until Charlee reached at least a year.

Now back to present day STIF Charlee, and we have been forced to supplement her meals with bottle feeding formula, as her routine while being STIF has been near impossible to keep up with, and we’d rather “waste” formula when Charlee is snacking, then liquid gold aka breast milk.

Unfortunately, this has caused Charlee to not only completely toss her sleep schedule out the window, but it has also cause Becca’s supply to drop as Charlee is on a milk strike.

Pop quiz Dad… what do you do!?

Well, first I can tell you what not to do…

Do not assume that 8 months was a good run, and that getting food into Charlee is all that’s important. Of course, it is the most important thing, but understanding the impact a drop in breastmilk production can have is something else altogether.

When your partner has their heart set on something, and that something is important to them, you should make it important to you.

Once we talked and I had a better sense of just how impactful the drop in flow was, I did what I always do solve a problem.

I picked up a six pack

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Come on now – when was the last time beer actually was the answer!?

Along with that, I bought Becca some lactation cookies by a company called Stork and Dove and some tea which also promotes lactation.

The most important thing though, was chatting about it; getting an understanding of the importance and trying to destress from the situation.

Fortunately, we’re also surrounded by a good support network. Within walking distance, we have a very good (and free!) breastfeeding clinic at the Michael Garron Hospital, so Becca swung by for a consultation.

Just as important, was her mummy’s group, where she could compare notes with other mums who had gone through, or were going through the same thing. There is an odd sense of reassurance knowing that other people have some of the shitty experiences you go through with your kids, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel… I guess that’s the premise of my blog sometimes too.

Well, at the end of the day, I guess two things happened.

First is that Becca is much more at ease about what’s happening with her production, and she’s doing what she can to increase it (which is so far working quite well) while at the same time she’s comfortable with the fact that through the breast milk she is providing and in addition the solids and formula, Charlee is getting the nutrients she needs.

The other thing that happened over the course of the last month was mother’s day – Becca’s first.

Last year we celebrated cause Charlee was the little bun in the oven, and I got Becca a ring.

This year I went for the spa retreat gift certificate, cause no one deserves a break more than my wonderful lady does.

Now if only I can convince her to leave the breast pump at home.

HMNID’s best and…er… ‘least best’ things about parenthood 

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I think I’m almost there.

I haven’t quite had the moment yet, but I feel like it’s on the horizon.

Referring to my daughter is so much more casual now; the words actually sound right.

I still push, but even with the help of Jimmy Fallon’s book, it hasn’t materialized yet.

Nearly seven months in and still almost every day brings something new. The sheer amount of these experiences is staggering for such a short period of time, and watching Charlee mature and develop into a little person is unfathomable.

I still genuinely think that the clincher is going to be when my little bubbaloo actually says it.

“Dada!”

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

But I will tell you this. So far, I’m having so much fun!

Sure, there are some days that the word “fun” would not describe in a million years, and with that I offer you the “Hello, my name is dad, best, and least best things about parenting“.

Like any conveyance of news, let’s start with the bad.

You will never sleep the same again

I wake up and all I smell are dirty diapers!
I wake up and all I smell are dirty diapers!

Let’s think about that sentence for a second. I’m not saying that you will never sleep again – that’s on you, my friend. But the idea of waking up at noon on a Sunday at this point would be tied to a gross demonstration of child negligence.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories on both ends of the spectrum with regards to kids’ sleep habits, and I for one will be the first to admit that whatever I think we have right now, is just point in time and could change again. But for the most part, my understanding is that Charlee is somewhere in the middle of good and bad sleepers, leaning more toward good sleepers, considering the ever increasing 7+ hour stretches.

Regardless, when baby’s up… baby’s up!

Sure they sleep up to 15 hours a day at this age… but not 15 hours straight! And not at reasonable hours! And not without naps which may or may not prove to be successful!

My full time job is at the office. I’m up when Charlee stirs, but Becca spoils me by dealing with her overnight wakings. Otherwise, I’m up sometime between 6 and 7, out the door by 7:30 and home ideally by 5:30 the latest. Then Charlee, Becca and I have  a nice sit down dinner together, and I begin her bath routine. She’s fed, bathed and in bed by 7:30 the latest, and then Becca and I get a couple hours to catch up about our days, our plans, our house chores and whatever else before we both tap out realizing how exhausted we are.

We’re usually in bed by 9:30, anticipating waking up at least once overnight.

Becca’s day’s are exhausting. Her full time job is parenting a 6 month old! This means trying to keep her in a routine that ensures she eats enough while trying new foods, sleeps properly, gets the right amount of stimulation and socialization, all while keeping the house in order in terms of laundry, cleaning, dishes, dinners, etc.

Every day we try and keep a routine because we’ve been advised that consistency is key. At the same time we’ve heard the saying ‘have baby, will travel’, eluding to some parents perspective of  trying to keep schedules loose so that you can have more flex in their day.

I’m pretty convinced that regimented scheduling is a first time parent move and later if/when we have baby number 2, it’ll be for the most part out the window, while we try and manage two very distinct children and their relative scheduling needs.

So yeah, you’ll never sleep the same again, but if you’re lucky, you may still get some sleep – a lot of it comes back to you and your approach.

You’ll often feel at a loss

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Life is full of firsts.

Many of these firsts are fairly short. They happen, you learn, and you move on with your life.

With a newborn, there are many firsts. MANY MANY MANY firsts.

And they come at you one after the other, after the other, like clowns emerging from the most ridiculous clown car you could ever imagine.

Holding a newborn. Changing a diaper. Interpreting cries. Feeding. Prepping bottles. Figuring out sleep routines. And so on, and so on.

What about the conversations you have… some of which turn into arguments! After all, it’s a first for both of you potentially!

The worst thing? For the most part, there is no one single correct answer to any of it!

I’m a very finite guy. I like for there to be a common solution to a common problem.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, there is just no single right answer to solve everything. There are way to many variables at play with parenting, that even the greatest of google searches will never find the one right answer.

I have often felt totally lost. It can be frustrating and put a huge strain on you and your relationship while you try and navigate your way through sleep regressions and 2 AM wailings.

But man is it ever worth it – let’s chat about the good!

Ben + Becca = Charlee

Don't worry - she's only working part time
Don’t worry – she’s only working part time

I’m a huge fan of Becca.

I’m a pretty big fan of myself. God that sounds arrogant, but c’mon, if you don’t love yourself, you’ve gotta work through that.

So put a splash of Becca with a dash of Ben together and you get, what in my eyes, is the most perfect creation this planet has ever seen – Charlee!

The crazy thing is that aside from how visually perfect Charlee is in my eyes, it’s only recently that I’ve gotten to actually know her.

Let me explain.

From birth to 3 months, Charlee was a gorgeous, little, wrinkly, bald, leaky, sometimes stinky, giggly, cooing ball of wonder. I was gobsmacked with what I was encountering on the daily and it was changing Becca and I throughout the journey.

At 4 months, just as we were getting in a groove, Charlee reverted back to being fussy and sleepless, and frustration was creeping in.

Two to three very long weeks later things changed. Dramatically.

Suddenly, there was something that transpired. Charlee was connecting. She knew us. She cared for us. She wanted to be close to us and be with us.

She reciprocates morning hugs.

She looks forward to bath time.

She sings songs with us.

She loves books.

She has a sense of humour; A great one in fact!

My heart aches when I’m not with Charlee and I know the same is true for her because the look on her face when I get home just melts me every time.

You often read that you will never feel love like the love you have for your child. It sounds so cliche, but it couldn’t be truer.

I’ve been told that the magic age is 5. Apparently from then till about 9 or 10 is the sweet spot, when your child idolizes you and you can do no wrong.

So far, 5 months was what has done it for me – this kid is my world and I can’t get enough of her.


Tomorrow I get to take Charlee for her first swimming lesson. While it will be my first time taking my daughter swimming, it will be Charlee’s first time in a bathing suit, in a pool, at the community centre, with new people, etc etc.

For all of the firsts we encounter, she is having her firsts in multiples!

I’m forever grateful and privileged to be able to be there for many of Charlee’s firsts and I can’t wait for more to come.

“Dada!”

My 6 Month Epiphany

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We were over at a friends house, painting Easter eggs this weekend, when Becca asked our friend, a mother of 2, for advice on a feeding question about Charlee. Her response both amused me and made me think.

“I’m no expert, I’ve only done it twice.”

While she wasn’t trying to be coy, she did bring up an interesting perspective. Just because she’d done it twice before, successfully, still didn’t mean that she felt she was in any position to give advice.

And with that, I offer you my 6 month epiphany…

Don’t take anyone’s advice.

Huh??
Huh??

“What!?”, you say.

“But isn’t this blog, in fact, producing advice to help guide the new dad through their journey?”

Well, ironically yes and no. And by that I mean, that right now if you were to ask my advice on how to parent, it would be to not take anyone’s advice!

Allow me to explain.

After speaking with new mums and dads over the course of the last 6 months of Charlee and for years previous, everyone has their own story. From how they found out they were expecting to how the pregnancy elapsed, let alone how unique their birth story was.

Each of their little snowflakes is different in their own right and though you may find the ability to categorize them with terms like ‘spirited’ or ‘easy’ it’s impossible to assume that even the most identical of twins can be raised exactly the same way.

I think that we as parents, especially new parents, have put ourselves in the situation where we have created a forum of information so vast that the overwhelming sense of parenthood is only further exacerbated by the overwhelming world wide web of information.

The fact of the matter is that this information is just that; info!

It is not solutions. It is potential solutions. It is examples of what has worked for some.

For every person it’s worked for, there are another thousand for whom it failed. And those thousand have a hundred different ‘solutions’ that have worked for them. And so on and so forth.

So what does one do? What should be the best source of knowledge?

Some people just have a tendency of going with the masses. Whatever is the best selling book on the subject.

Many people are simply swayed by the trends. This, however, can have detrimental effects like the whole anti-vaccination movement that many have followed care of celebrities voicing their ‘opinions’ based on personal experience and incorrect medical backing.

Others rely on their own parents approach, as it worked for them just fine, so why not carry that methodology forward. For the record, some even approach this on the contrary, where they ensure that they’ll do nothing like what their parents did (or did not do) for them!

I’ve read some perspectives that it may just end up coming naturally to you; instinctive if you will.

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Personally, I’ll give you my approach… but remember, it’s not advice!

My current job involves working with the healthcare sector, centralizing patient information and broadening access; helping to establish and maintain an electronic health record for the millions of people in our province.

By going through this endeavour, we’ve been able to amass an incredible amount of data, and with big data, comes big responsibility and big opportunity to delve deeper and run analytics.

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“Bro, there are drawings in the sky”          “Dude, you’re tripping out”

One of the many perks of big data, is that with more data comes more confident decision making, which can then lead to greater efficiency and reduced risk.

It’s a pretty cool premise, that I find helps steer me in the right direction with my approach to parenting and quite frankly, to life!

I like to do a thorough review of a topic – anything from investment banking to sleep training a 4 month old – there is a ton of data out there to review.

The caveat being, that in order to make decisions with this method, it takes time. There are few knee jerk reactions when you are scavenging books, articles, doctors suggestions, friends references, parents’ thoughts, and mummy group input.

But at the same time, knowing more scenarios, understanding more opinions, seeing the ‘why’ behind peoples recommendations is crucial in forming an opinion of your own and choosing to go down that path.

What I’ve grown to find is that with all the information in the world, it will only form an approach for you that still may not be correct, because your baby is one of a kind, or as the book On the Night You Were Born beautifully puts it:

For never before in story or rhyme
(not even once upon a time)
Has the world ever known a you, my friend,
And it never will, not ever again…

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Eventually it will be a combination of lessons learned, your gut instinct, and the repetitive trial and error that gets you to familiarize yourself with who this little person is that you made.

And this, believe it or not, is half the fun of parenting; Realizing that your little 1 in 7 billion is as new to your life as you are to hers, and learning everything about her is the greatest, most rewarding unknown there is.

VLOG – Charlee is 6 months old!

Our little munchkin is getting bigger… seriously bigger… like nearly 19 pounds of happy baby goodness!

Charlee is 6 months old and we couldn’t be prouder – eating solids, sitting up right, new bigger diapers…. oh the things we celebrate 😉

Enjoy the VLOG – short and sweet today, but much more to follow!