The Kindness of Strangers

“I can’t. I already have it hooked up to the truck.”

This is one of the most bullshit phrases that Americans still use today. Which is exactly what I was thinking as I was now sprinting the stroller with my very sleepy and hungry baby in it back to my wife’s slightly inclined car.

Not only did I learn back in kindergarten that what goes up must also come down, but the eyeball test would indicate that there currently weren’t any other cars on the back of the tow truck and common sense would dictate that they went somewhere and the most likely scenario is that they were put back down. So yes, jerkwad who has now seen the panicked look of a father with his infant child seeing his only way home from Baltimore being towed away, you CAN put the car back down. You just WON’T put it back down.

If you wanted to see some picturesque coolness under pressure, you should have seen my daughter. Seeing the worry on my face, Mabel looked at me and said “It’s OK, daddy. Calm down. We have all my food here, we got here in time to find out where the car is going and the nice man who’s really just doing his job offered us a ride. And who knows? Maybe it’s company policy that they can’t put the car back down once they start the tow. Maybe it’s dangerous to the vehicles around it. Let’s just find our way there and get back home. It’s only money.”

I hate it when she uses reason.

I definitely did not keep my cool. My voice cracked and I verged on tears, and not just for leverage either. Legitimate end-of-Big-Fish-type of tears. I tried to figure out how the hell to get to the impound lot and couldn’t interpret my options at the time. The offer on the table was for me to sit up front in the cab with him while Britney Spears-ing my baby girl. This was not going to happen. Though there was a moment of desperation where I thought “what the hell could really happen.” My wife could shoot me in the face with a bazooka, that’s what could happen. I asked if we could ride in the car as it was being towed. Turns out we’re not allowed to do that. All these damn rules.

Fortunately, a very nice woman who saw this all happen and shared in my horror of the rottenness of the by-the-book integrity of this city employee offered a hand. She first tried to assist me with my argument, thinking that maybe a woman’s touch could appeal to his softer side or maybe just if we outnumbered him, democracy would set in or maybe she just wanted to comfort me, but it didn’t work on any level. She then offered me a ride, though Mabel’s car seat didn’t attach into her car seat holder thingy. HOWEVER, she had an older child who had a forward-facing car seat which could suffice for the seven-minute ride to the impound lot. So the tow man got me my GPS and let me put my stroller in the car and off he went.

This incredibly kind onlooker had to go buy cat food and then she would drive us to the impound lot, which I’ve been meaning to show Mabel anyway. Kelly, as I found out her name, has two children of her own and her husband went to law school at UB. She also shares a dislike for people who take other people’s cars off the street, so we bonded over that for a minute. Meanwhile, as tired and hungry as Mabel was, she must have sensed that she needed to summon her inner Fonz and just sit there and be cool, shooting daddy a cockeyed half-smile when he needed one. Or maybe she was too confused at what life was like riding forward for a change.

As we got to the impound lot, I tried to get Kelly’s email address to possibly repay her or at least send her a thank you card. She refused. I told her about this website, so hopefully she will read this story and it will make her feel better to know that she is now publicly appreciated. Even so, it was nice to see the scales of kindness dip way down to one side only to quickly even themselves out again. Thank you, Kelly, for the early holiday gift. I wish you the same should you ever have your car impounded from DC.

To be continued…

Mabel Giftmas Card Caption Contest!

Mabel's First Giftmas

Mabel’s First Giftmas


That’s right! This time you get to play along.

So this is a pretty adorable picture we’re thinking of using as a Giftmas Card, but we need a cool caption. Normally pretty good with these sort of things, I have not been able to come up with anything worthy of going with the actual picture. I blame my sick wife, now causing me to take care of two whiny babies in the house.

Nobody tell her I said that please.

Anyway, if you can think of anything catchy and short to put on here, please write it in the comments section. Winner gets their caption up on the site. Thanks for playing and enjoy your holiday, whichever it may be.

Check out more of The 12 Days of Giftmas over at

Teeth Happen

A friend of mine would brag about his daughter’s sleep habits. “Claire’s slept through since she was six weeks old,” Bob would say. This turned into “Claire started sleeping through the night when she was six weeks old, but I don’t know what the hell last night was all about.” And eventually it became “Claire slept through the night when she was six weeks old, but this month has been a hot mess.” Now he only talks about sleep in hushed tones with legitimate knocking wood nearby. Speaking with him was like speaking with Jacob Marley, I fear. Only this time, the grave that I see reads “R.I.P. Dustin’s six straight hours of sleep.”

About two weeks ago, I heard moaning coming from the magic swing that puts Mabel to sleep for 10 hours at a time. I looked over to find a set of eyeballs. This was a new development. An hour after the excited little girl was taken from the swing, she fell back asleep. For an hour and a half. Crap. It looks like the honeymoon is over. I could hear Jacob’s chains rattling as he flew out of the bedroom window.

Coincidentally, my sister called the following day and I told her about the night. “Oh. She’s probably started teething.” I looked down at Mabel, who was sitting in her high chair with all her toys and chewing on the tray. Either Mabel was trying to gum her way to freedom or my sister was onto something. This was good news. Teething implies that this is a phase. One that lasts several years, but still just a phase. Like finding out that what you thought was dog poo on somebody’s shoes before a five-hour car ride was really just gas. There was hope that I may sleep again.

So I did what anybody who didn’t read books would do, and I called people who read books. Bronwyn said that their son was only in pain for a couple days at a time. OK. I can get behind that. Keith and Meghan said their two boys never had problems teething. That’s not helpful in any way, but good for you. My sense of panic was tempered a bit.

How to handle this new hurdle? We have some chew toys, but Mabel can’t fit them in her mouth. We also didn’t want to just medicate her because we felt like that would make us bad parents. But we didn’t want to let our pretty little girl suffer because of our parental pride, which would make us worse parents. So we bought this awesome five-pronged teether which she seems to enjoy, but since the pacifier in the eye incident, not much progress has been made with her hand to mouth coordination. So in lieu of holding it her mouth for hours on end which seems unreasonable, we decided we could give her baby Tylenol on a very limited basis when we both agreed, making us about half bad parents. But Jenn and I were never on the same page at the same time. Whenever I had reached my breaking point and thought Mabel had had enough, Jenn wasn’t so sure. And vice versa. So the stars have aligned just once so far. And Mabel spit up the entire dose.

Thankfully, since our brief night of panic, Mabel hasn’t been that bad since. Surely nothing to complain to other parents about. She’s made due chewing on Mr. Giraffe and shoving her fingers violently down her throat. However, the motor in her magic swing just burnt out, so we’re hoping her exhaustion outweighs her pain before ours does.

Baby Book Club

My daughter is part of a book club now, which I assume I will also be soon since I think it’s what housewives do. Mabel’s book club is really just a half hour program at the library where we parents can bring our children so that somebody besides us will read to them for a change.

There’s not much I’m sure book club is really good for five-month old kids. It’s nice to have a reason to get out of the house so I don’t have to tell my wife she watched 10 hours of SportsCenter. Also, I read in a memoir by Neal Pollack of the plight of having his son pick out crappy books to read to him at night, so I figured I’d start brainwashing her with stuff I can tolerate early. So I’ve strictly been checking out Dr. Suess books. And I’ve read them so much, now I’m thinking like him now. As I took Mabel for a walk yesterday, I thought to myself for no reason at all “Out in the street, the Everywhere Street, where Everywhere boys kick balls with their feet…” This is apparently common among parents.

All book club is really good for is for parents to network and hopefully I could learn something from them, seeing as how Mabel is one of the youngest there and I still haven’t read any parenting books.

We read a book today, and though I don’t recall the title, it was a captivating tale about a brown bear who saw a red bird who saw a yellow duck and so on. The plot really fell apart when the white dog saw a blue horse who saw a purple cat. I mean, I know it’s fiction, but my belief can only be suspended so far. This is definitely not one I’ll be bringing back home.

After the half hour was up and I had the realization there were still six and a half hours to kill before mommy gets home, I stayed after to socialize with some of the parents who had kids old enough to play with toys. Possibly unprompted, I started bragging about my daughters sleeping abilities because that’s what I have to brag about now. I may have thrown in how I play guitar for her in her swing to lull her to sleep. Subtly, but noticeably. Upon hearing this, one of the mothers (I’m the only guy) said “Wow. Your baby must be one lucky girl to have a father as talented and dedicated as you.” This was a lady who exists solely in my head. An actual lady asked “Why does she sleep in a swing? Does she have acid reflux?”

The actual lady has now assumed that I know a few things. 1) What acid reflux is and how to diagnose it and 2) that a swing would fix that. She obviously thinks I know what I’m doing. Not wanting to shatter that notion, however incorrect, I decided to lie. Well, not really. The answer to the question really is is “Because it works,” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. I just didn’t want her thinking I didn’t know what I was doing. She said something about her daughter’s sleeping habits that sounded innocuous enough and didn’t seem to be intentionally demeaning at all. I still figure it’s best to avoid her in the future should I say something else that prompts any tough questions about things I should probably know already.

So now instead of going there and trying to pick the brains of people who know more than I do, I’m pretending to know more than I do to look like I fit in and I’m going to intentionally avoid the person who seemed most willing to share her knowledge with me.

Parenting is hard.

Hand Eye Coordination

Mabel is finally getting a little bit of control over her hands. Now when she knocks the bottle out of my hand while I’m trying to feed her, odds are about 50% that it was intentional. She has taken to holding things very early, within hours after birth as noted photographically with a series of props (see the Mabel page), but she hasn’t really figured out how to harness that ability for any kind of productive use. Until now.

Last week, Mabel was in the car and getting grumpy on the way home from Rockville. I was able to fumble for her pacifier and shove it in the side of her mouth while driving. Unhappy with the current situation or possibly just testing out her newly discovered talent, she took the pacifier out of her mouth with her hand rather than spitting it into the dark void of the backseat. She’s grabbed the pacifier with her hand before, but that’s usually where the excitement ends.

While stopped at a red light, I watched in the rearview mirror, unsure of whether or not I was about to witness a marquee moment in my baby’s development. She stared at the passy, opened her mouth wide, and shoved it right into her eye.

It was the most hilarious thing I’ve seen her do yet. I had to pull over and call Mommy to tell her how proud I was that our baby is getting into slapstick comedy. She didn’t even cry about poking herself in the eye. She just grunted in disappointment and with her one good eye, stared at the passy trying to figure out what went wrong.

Look out, Buster Keaton. There’s a new act in town.

No Sick Days

I was not a good father today.

It stands to figure this will happen on occasion. There were plenty of days in the last 14 years when I haven’t been the best employee. I would even tell my boss the situation. “Sorry, boss. I’ll do great things tomorrow. But today, I’m exhausted and just punching a clock.” And if necessary, I’d use a sick day. Unfortunately, my new CEO is grumpy and unsympathetic to my excuses. And there are no sick days.

She’s also a big micromanager.

I was up very late last night because of non-baby related reasons, which happens on occasion to someone predisposed to insomnia who has homework to do and also eats way too much of the leftover Halloween candy. But for every minute the baby is sleeping and I’m not, there’s a minute out there that the baby will be awake and I’ll be tired. This was my Thursday.

I pleaded and begged her for her standard morning nap after dropping mommy off at the Metro, which she decided to forgo for whatever reason. So I put her in her Bumbo chair on the bed with Toy Story II in the background and tried to string together little 3-minute naps between groans of disapproval to make up for my sub-two hours of sleep. This wasn’t going well for either of us. I saw a glimmer of a nose rub and convinced myself it was her naptime. I put her in the swing and didn’t play for her or read to her and just hoped she’d figure it out. If only she’d nap now and let daddy nap, we could have such a wonderfully productive day together. But some CEOs just want business done their way and get upset when you try to suggest another method of operation.

I spent way too much time around that swing that she didn’t want to be in. I gave her a half-hearted concert, I sang a cappella with my eyes closed to a remarkably unimpressed audience and I tried to feed her while laying my head down on the foot of the swing. She wasn’t having any of it and I wasn’t getting sleep.

I decided to throw her in the car and go get some soda. On the way back from CVS, she was falling asleep. I remembered “every minute the baby is sleeping…” So I tried to keep her awake. I hit the brakes a little harder than I needed to and actually ran over a pothole on purpose. It was not my proudest moment as a father.

When we got home, my baby, the wonderful and forgiving and amazing baby she is, sensed my troubles and decided to nap on the bed next to me as I slurred the words to She’s Always a Woman. She let me sleep for almost two hours. It was just what I needed. And when I woke up, she was right next to me looking right at me as if to say “There. Now let’s do something else please.”

I’m certainly not winning any employee of the week award, but it’s good to know I have such a forgiving CEO. Hopefully the CFO understands when she gets home tonight.

Go the F@$# to Sleep

Last week, I made a post on facebook that said “I have now become one of those parents who brags about their child’s sleeping habits. Sorry.” What I should have said was “No, Karma. I don’t need to sleep these next three nights.”

To clarify, Mabel is a master at sleeping. Once asleep, she usually stays asleep for at least 10 hours unless we’re stupid enough to wake her up. The key phrase here of course being “Once asleep.” To the uninitiated, this is the equivalent of saying “Once I’ve trained the cat to pee in the toilet, I can usually teach them to flush it.”

Babies are a lot like people. Tiny, stupid people. They get cranky when they’re tired, hungry or otherwise uncomfortable. Where adults separate themselves from babies is their ability to diagnose their ailment and find the cure. Before you call CPS, I know babies can’t feed themselves. They sadly need our help. But going to sleep is something – possibly the only thing – that babies are born with the ability to do. They just haven’t yet figured out that sleep is the antidote to tired.

Jennifer and I are starting to learn how to diagnose Mabel’s sleepiness. The eye and nose-rubbing is an obvious hint. But it can still take up to a couple hours to get her to figure out what to do about it. I find myself playing guitar and singing to serenade her to sleep, but my set is only really about 20 minutes before I start repeating the same five songs. Thankfully, my biggest fan doesn’t really mind how many times I play Say Goodbye to Hollywood in a row. Everything I do is her favorite song. Which is great for my ego, but horrible for my callouses and my sleeping schedule. After repeating everything twice, I’ll read a Dr. Suess book to her. I’ll sing a capella. I’ll start to read her some David Sedaris because how the hell will she know the difference? I’ll cry and plead with her and try to reason with a four-month old to no avail.

But I’m now starting to figure out that Mabel has a bedtime in mind, regardless of how tired she is. And if it’s not that time yet, she’s just not going to sleep. This past Friday night, I thought we were able to get her to sleep earlier than normal at 10pm. Apparently that was only her nap and she was up 45 minutes later. Turns out she decided 1am was her bedtime that night.

Also, we haven’t been able to get her out of the swing yet. I’ve gotten mixed messages about that. The doctor and books say that she should be able to sleep without the swing or needing to feed by now. Actual parents of actual children have said the hell with the doctor and stupid books. If she’s sleeping for ten straight hours, count your blessings and don’t change anything. And certainly don’t complain about it to actual parents. If she sleeps better in the swing, put her in the swing. If she needs to nurse, let her nurse. If she sleeps better on your face, buy a snorkel mask and trade shifts with your wife.

All in all, I know how lucky I am to have a child who sleeps through the night, however long it takes and however it happens. So I’m not complaining. In fact, her 1am bedtime and 10 hours straight of sleep is pretty much on par with her father’s biorhythms anyway. Maybe they’re bad habits we’re allowing her to get into, but they’re genetic bad habits so we really had no chance anyway.

Remote Control

I can’t remember if I picked it up backwards and was turning it around or if I just didn’t have a good grip on it, but I dropped the TV remote. I’ve dropped remotes before plenty of times and have never written a blog post or even tweeted about it. Especially when it lands on a bed. But this time, my three-month-old daughter’s head happened to be lying delicately, trustingly, on that very bed.

I saw it flipping around like a helicopter blade as it spun out of my reach. Sure enough, the remote hit her square in the head. Her fussiness turned to abject screaming. That piercing kind where her voice goes hoarse after half an hour. That walk that was going to put her to sleep was postponed for anything I could think of to try to calm her down. I tried the five S’s as I power walked around the house, pacing back and forth from room to room. I tried to feed her, I did a puppet show for her, I even hit myself in the head with the remote while laughing to show her it was fun. Nothing worked. I have never said sorry so many times in 30 minutes. This is the first time I’ve actually seen tears reach beyond her eyeballs.

I am a horrible father. This is my sixth day on the job and I just hit my child in the head with the TV remote. Any other job and I’d still be in a review period and fired on the spot without repercussion. In fact, I toyed briefly with the idea of not telling my wife. But I feel like she would know anyway. Not because of motherly intuition, but because I was still crying when we picked her up from work. I spent an hour on babycenter searching things like “hit baby in head with remote” + “brain damage” + “can guilt last forever” + “therapists in DC area.”

Yes, I likely overreacted. As Derek told me, I will do a lot worse to her as time goes on. He always knows what to say. But this situation put me on even higher alert for everything I do. Rounding corners with Mabel in my arms, securing the pillow fortress around her when I go to make her bottle and holy crap, the stairs! I hate the stairs. I have two cats that could be lurking unsuspectingly on any stair in the house at any given point in time. I panic and have been panicking about these things for months. Now I just have to add to the list my remote control (pun very intended and not apologized for). There is a certain guilt that any harm done to her due to neglect will obviously bring, whether I could have stopped it or not. Bee stings, bike accidents, etc. I’d just prefer to limit the kind of guilt after having actually performed the act of harming her to this incident and maybe one other. I’ll let you know when that one happens.

The Last Day of Vacation

It’s the last Friday of my wife’s three-month maternity leave and we’re driving home from our week in Ocean City, making it the last day of vacation both literally and literally. On Monday, my wife will return to work in D.C. and I will start my new job as full-time dad for our three month old daughter, a concept my new neighbors don’t seem to be grasping.

“Oh, so you’ll be working from home?” No, I’m going to stay at home and raise my daughter. “Oh… so you’re going to work at night now?”

Upon returning home, Jenn (wife) realized that she didn’t have enough work clothes for her ever-changing body size. “I need to go buy myself some work clothes. Do you want to come?” Having already served my penance in the matter of shopping for maternity and baby wear, I thought my time would be better served at home. Besides, Mabel (daughter) had a whole week of NFL Live to catch up on.

The exact second that Jenn left the driveway is about when Mabel started crying. Maybe it was because she gets irritated in long car rides and was just getting around to complaining about it. Maybe it was because she couldn’t smell mommy anymore. Maybe she was sick of listening to Trey Wingo bastardize the word “literally” on national television. Either way, this lasted longer than normal. And none of the normal fixes were working. I tried feeding her. Not interested. I checked her diaper. Nothing out of the ordinary. I tried burping her until it just became gratuitous beating. Nothing. So I resorted to old faithful, walking her in the stroller. That seemed to distract her enough. For about three blocks.

Of note is that my wife left her cell phone at home, negating the possibility of any Hail Mary phone call I may or may not have been considering.

I got Mabel back home and tried putting her down. Still crying. I tried sitting her up. Even louder. I tried laying her on her side. The other side. The swing. The only thing that seemed to be working was holding her in my arms and walking around. This was going to get tiring.

Eventually Mabel calmed down. To keep her calm, we went for another walk. This time for longer and she slept through most of it. Finally. A calm and happy (or at least not currently crying) baby.

We got home and I put her down so I could answer an email. She started grunting. I continued to type. The grunting grew louder. She wanted daddy’s attention. So I bounced her on my knee and sang to her and I booped her nose seven or eight times while my email sat mid-sentence, with the blinking cursor mocking me. Every time a car passed by, I looked out the window in hopes that it was Jenn. I checked the clock. She had been gone an hour and 45 minutes.

Oh my God. How am I going to do this for ten hours by myself every day? Maybe we hadn’t thought this through all the way. Oh well. Wish me luck.