I would categorize my wife and I as hermits. Sure we used to go on spontaneous trips (hello Iceland), go see the occasional show, and we were pretty big on food. But when it came to maximizing our weekends, we normally preferred the lazy route by donning our PJs and staying in.
But since our daughter coming into our lives, we’ve been shockingly meticulous in planning out our weekends. It reminds me of when we had our dog and frequently forced ourselves to plan excursions to pet festivals and dog parks.
The inner-hermit in me initially didn’t like it at first, but ever since going to the Toronto Islands last week, a switch just came on inside.
To us it’s just another visit to a place, but to her it’s a completely new experience. She’s basically a life-experience sponge right now, and if we don’t fill it up with a variety of things, I feel like it’s a wasted opportunity.
The moment I realized this was when we finally arrived and sat under a tree to feed her. And by looking at her, I was able to see the reflection of trees and clouds in her eyes as she was trying to process what she was seeing.
That made me realize that this was the first time I fed her in a park on a sunny day, and this was the first time she was able to look up at the clouds and the sky and process what she was seeing.
By how distracted she was, I could also tell that she was trying to take it all in.
That was kind of incredible for me, and her look is something that I will never forget or take for granted.
A while back, while cleaning, I found some faded photos of my parents in the 70s taking my brother to a park when he was a few months old. To me it was a shock to see my parents so young, and it immediately made me wonder what was going on in their mind back then.
So if Charlie ever wonders the same one day, this is what I was going on in my head:
Prior to having a kid, I knew that it would be up to us parents to teach and show her what life has to offer. But this kid, at just over six months just proved to me that I have just as much to learn as a parent too.
After eight hours, three bottles, two ferry rides, two miniature horses sightings, and one carousel ride later, she and both her mom and dad had a crazy day of firsts.
And this hermit of a father, is looking forward to the next adventure.
I know I might have just jinxed it, but lately things have been pretty great. I love being a dad, and we love being parents.
I mean, just look how happy I look here:
Prior to having a kid, we were warned that once you have a kid, your life changes. Your world will revolve around them and your every free moment will belong to them. I really do see this point, and I think this is the part that takes the most getting used to for new parents.
For my wife and I however, this is not something that we haven’t faced before even prior to being married. In fact, for us adjusting to a baby came pretty natural, and it could be because had a little more practice compared to other new parents.
Practice in the form of a dog.
Yes, I know how taboo (and annoying) it can be when dog owners who don’t have kids compare having a dog to having kids.
I mean essentially you pick up their poop, bathe them, feed them, teach them to roll over, pretty much the same right?
But before I get put on a stake by an angry mob for my outrageous statement, please hear me out. As well, please allow me to dedicate this post to my dog, Owen.
So let me start by going back a few years, where my pants were too baggy, and my hair was too long, and we were unknowingly put to the test for parenthood…
Sunday, November 9, 2008
We were playing fetch on a field with our dog Owen when suddenly he stumbles and somersaults while chasing after a tennis ball.
Dogs do not somersault. Their bodies just don’t bend that way. It’s almost as weird as us humans walking on all fours; it just doesn’t seem right.
I slowly walk towards him, thinking it was just another silly spill from our silly dog. I mean, this our three year old super puppy; who runs faster than the other dogs, jumps higher than an eight foot fence. He’ll just get back up and forget he even tumbled.
But something was wrong. He wasn’t getting up.
My mind went numb, and the slow walk towards him became a sprint. You know those moments when the volume in your head tunes out, and things go in slow motion? I was in one of those moments.
Our puppy looked up at me with two of his front legs holding himself up, and gave me this “What’s going on?” expression.
As I picked him up to rush him back to the house, I remember thinking, “Shit it’s a holiday, what do we do? Where do we take him?”
36 hours and two emergency veterinary clinics later, we learned that our dog had lost function from the hip down. It could be for just a few days, a month, or longer.
What. The. Hell.
Prior to our dog getting hurt, our stresses consisted of silly arguments and disputes that normal young couples fight over. Silly things like where should we go eat, what do you want to watch, etc.
As abrupt as he got injured, we were now talking about the cost of x-rays, MRIs, slings, wheelchairs, rehab, etc. To quote a popular phrase during that era: “Shit just got real.”
Our daily lives and schedules were now devoted to our dog: carefully walking him, doing physio/exercise, making sure he ate quality food, taking him to frequent vet visits, etc. In a sense, he really embodied a baby.
My then girlfriend (now wife) and I suddenly became more than just a couple. We now were now responsible for a dog with special needs. We were caregivers, but above all else, that was when we learned that we could count on one another to make things work no matter how tough things get. Dare I say, that was when I realized that one day, I know I can count on her to look out for me and our family.
Because he was injured, it not only brought us closer to each other, but also learn to split love and responsibility onto something else. And this is the practice that I was talking about.
I wrote this in a journal soon after the endeavour:
I am very fortunate not to be going through such an experience alone, as I am very grateful to have Jenn along the way. Every fear, every setback, every direction to go has been shared and experienced with Jenn, and I feel very lucky to have her through all of this. Even though she is Owen’s main owner, as he lives with her, I deeply feel that we’re in this together equally and wholeheartedly.
The past few days have allowed me to fully be confident of dark situations because I’m with Jenn. I’m so glad to be with her.
First off, I was a much better writer then compared to than I am now. Second, I think this was the turning point for me for a lot of things in life as it allowed me to understand what it means to share a responsibility, and share a life with someone. ☺️
Slowly he was able to recover and after two years he ended up recovering most of his movement, only requiring to wear one boot on one of his hind leg. And through countless Tony Stark-like boot prototypes (I think we had seven variations in total) he was a healthy happy dog who got to enjoy a full life as a dog.
We were lucky to have him for another seven health years, and it’s been almost two years since he left us. I sincerely think because of his injury, we were better prepared for our journey into parenthood, which eventually lead to this:
So there you have it, I hope you’re not angry with my sentinent about dogs and babies, but our dog certainly helped us become who we are as parents. If there is a doggy heaven and he somehow managed to learn to read, I want to say thank you pup, you taught us to become parents before we even knew it.
One final takeaway from this is that I now believe that every stage of life or situation prepares you for the next in some serendipitous way, I know the struggle of taking care of our disabled dog certainly helped us as new parents. At least that’s a better way to think about things when life gives you a ruff situation.
If you are reading this your life will change in a week. I know by now both you and your wife have been trying to conceive without success. I want to tell you both to not lose hope. By now both of you have learned that getting knocked up is not as easy as it seems like on TV and in movies, and both of you probably feel pretty down on yourselves.
In one week when your wife goes to the doctor to check up on pelvic pain, you’ll both realize that she did not pull or strain anything, and that it’s really her lady parts doing some Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for a new inhabitant.
Sorry to spoil the surprise a little but hear me out: Your life is about to change as things will never be the same, but the funny thing is, things will also feel so right.
Let me get some things out of the way. Your hometown Raptors will get swept in the playoffs, so don’t waste time there. I mean still cheer, but just know that it’s not the end of the world when the Wizards dismantle your team. The only significant thing about the playoffs is that you’ll find out she’s pregnant in at the doctor’s office while you stream the game with headphones on. The wife will come out, and give you a look that you’ll never forget.
Remember and savour that moment as I still do.
From the moment you find out, you’ll go through a lot of changes. Not nearly the same as your wife, but enough for you to realize that pregnancy is truly a shared experience.
For starters you will become the food police. Seriously, everything your wife puts in her mouth you’ll do a quick google search to see if it’s poisonous for her and the baby. My advice is to be reasonable but firm.
You’ll also learn that your wife will have crazy food swings, and get this: she’ll hate eating chicken. WTF right? How can she hatechicken? That’s your favourite animal!!! It’s just the hormones man. So stop reading and get an order of Popeyes in your system while you still can, cause the next nine months you can put a hold on eating poultry.
You’ll also buy a lot of crap. I mean a lot. Some stuff you didn’t even know existed. But don’t fret, most of the junk you buy is actually useful, so just smile and nod when she asks you if it’s okay to buy whatever. When you are shopping just don’t forget to have fun along the way. I know you will…I mean check this out:
Yep, you’ll still pull crap like this…And even though I’m warning you not to be an idiot, I know you’ll make it a goal to definitely do it.
Oh one final thing about buying stuff: your baby will be a little bit bigger, so just ease off on the newborn stuff.
So far, things sound okay, right? Well, here’s where you need to pay a little closer attention as I’m warning you now, not everything is as light-hearted and peachy.
You yourself will grow up more. I know you may think that you already know everything there is to know and that you are already mature. But something inside you will change, and you will somehow become more appreciative of life. You will appreciate your wife more, and definitely appreciate mom and dad more than ever. This is because you will begin to think like a parent and understand what they went through.
What does “thinking like a parent” mean? Basically you’ll begin to worry about things. A lot of things. You’ll have some insecurities about your role as a husband and father. You’ll have many nights of waking up and googling answers. You will dig though forums and message boards to see whether what your wife is experience is common. Let me tell you this, the more you read into it, the worse it becomes. But you have a big role in all of this. The thing is you need to keep your wife sane and calm during those moments, so be the strong, calm, optimistic husband that you are.
Weeks 6, 8, 20, and 25 will be scary and both you and your wife will go through some heavy stuff. But just know that after each of these episodes, your bond with your wife will become even stronger, and both of you will be able to talk and laugh about these moments eventually. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ll quickly learn that pregnancy is f*cking scary.
You’ll also figure out that most people who share great news about pregnancy on social media are not trying to brag about their happiness, but rather they are simply celebrating all of the little triumphs after facing the scary moments.
Your perspective will change and you’ll never fear and doubt so much in your life, but that’s just the process of it all. Just protect your wife and yourself, and the rest will take care of itself.
You know how you think you’re so cool in taking street photos? Well that part of your life will draw to an end. Bummer right? Well not quite, you’ll quickly find a new photography outlet, and trust me: it’s wonderful. And if you’re not convinced, let me tell you this: you’ll have a last hurrah so to speak with taking pictures. In fact, you’ll ditch your pregnant wife to go to New York for something photography related, and it will be one of your best moments but also one of your tougher moments. You know what I said about appreciating your wife? You will reallyappreciate her after this, so never forget it even if she eventually does.
One thing I want to warn you about is to go to the movies while you still can. I can tell you that the last movie you’ll watch before becoming a dad will totally be worth it, and your wife will make it through the entire movie. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Han Solo. (Oops spoiler). Just relax and try to watch the movie without worrying that her water will break. It’ll still be a few days until it really happens.
Here’s a warning though, it might be a good idea to stock up on spicy Korean noodles around the time she’s due. Just saying.
At this point you are probably wondering about the finish line. Well, let me just tell you that your wife will have a smooth labour and delivery. However, both of you will be faced with some complications after the delivery. It’ll be scary, and both of you will be tested. Just know that you’ll both tough it through. Simply trust in your love for your wife, and trust in your strength as a husband. I know you hate asking for help, but you will need to swallow your pride and ask for help. So just face it now: your family and friends will pull through, huge.
I know what I told you sounds frightening, but I am not trying to scare you or warn you to change course.
As a matter of fact the journey you are about to embark on is totally worth it. As I type this now both your wife and baby are sound asleep and everything just feels right. There’s no better feeling than what I am feeling right now, and I’m damn excited for what you are about to face in the coming year.
Enjoy every moment you are about to experience, because in one year’s time you would want to remind yourself all the awesome you just went through.
You From One Year Later Today
P.S. For whatever reason you’ll deciding that “growing” a “beard” is a great idea. Well this photo might convince you otherwise:
Last month I wrote a guest post on Canadian Dad. I received a bunch of positive response from this post and I’m really glad I was able to highlight what’s it like to be on leave. Below is the original version of my post.
“So you’re going to be off for five month eh? You’ll have plenty of time to catch up on Netflix!”
“Five months? You’re going to be playing so much COD (Call of Duty)!”
“That’s a long time, won’t you get bored?”
Before going on my parental leave, that was the typical response I received when I told family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers that I was taking close to half a year off for the birth of our daughter.
I began to think that being a dad for the first time was going to be a sweet vacation. I mean, I won’t have to be with the baby all the time, right?
I can binge watch a little, work on that photography project that I wanted to do for years, or play videogames like I did when I was a teenager.
This is going to be an awesome, awesome vacation!
Then on Christmas night- as cliché as it can be – our 7lbs 14oz bundle of joy arrived.
And in an instant, all of those silly thoughts disappeared.
I’m sure many of you parents can agree: the first month is a write-off. Your mind, body, and soul belongs to your new little blob. You can also agree that, though the first month is difficult for dad, it is 100 times more difficult for the new mom.
For my wife and I, we made use of the fact that I was going to be off for five months by ensuring that I would be as involved as possible.
We made sure that I was earning every single moment of this vacation.
The truth is, though my job and Employment Insurance (Go Canada!) allowed me to take more time than most others, we are still taking a hit financially to make it work. Not all families have this option, and I can understand the raised eyebrows when people learn how much time I’m taking off.
Of course, there are those who go a little further and undermine the decision that I’ve made, as they are perhaps even little jealous of my situation. Through their eyes, they see me as some lucky dude who has the luxury of taking five months off as a vacation.
They don’t understand that when you’re off on parental leave, it’s not a vacation and that you also become more involved and accountable for your growing family unit. They don’t see the side where you are immediately available to take your wife and baby to the Emergency Room; or where you are able to call an ambulance in the middle of the night without having to tell your boss you won’t be in; or where you don’t have to ask a co-worker to cover for you after speaking to a tele-health nurse about your daughter’s fever.
They don’t see those things, and I suppose it may be my fault for only showing the good side. To them they only see the fruits of the work I put in – you know, those silly photos, status updates that I post on social media. The thing is this was not me bragging about my situation, this was just me relishing the hard earned vacation I was having.
I love (and am loving) every minute of it. If we have another kid and if it were financially feasible, I will no doubt choose to take the same or more time off.
You see, there’s also an added benefit to being there from the get-go: I am damn confident in my dad abilities.
She needs a changing after front and back poop… in the dark? Boom. Done. She’s wearing button-on shirt today, with jeans and socks? Boom. Done. She won’t burp? Burp. Done. Mom needs to go out all day to help a friend? Done, and I’ll have dinner ready by six.
There’s no better feeling than to feel confident and competent as a father and husband. I sincerely feel that had I taken only a few weeks off, I don’t think I would feel the way that I feel right now.
Every day I am rewarded with something new from my daughter. Whether it was her first smile, first laugh, or most recently her first babbling conversation: I’m here to witness it.
And there’s no better thing in the world, and it was simply the best decision I ever made.
Now with two months left to go on my parental leave, it truly does feel like a vacation. Instead of binge-watching Netflix, I binge-watch my daughter figuring out the world. Instead of playing videogames at night, I play how do we get her to sleep through the night.
I truly do not want it to end, as it really has become an awesome, awesome vacation.
When I check out mommy/daddy blogs/Instagram accounts, and see photos of their cute babies and toddlers, most of them are pretty good. I do say most of them, some of them are kind of lacklustre and don’t do their kid’s justice. I mean it shouldn’t really matter if they’re not professionally done, but I always think in my head, “well I think they could do a little better.”
I am by no means an expert (a photo snob – yes), but I feel that I have been quite successful in capturing some of my daughters moments and expressions.
The purpose of this post is to share some of the techniques and knowledge that I use when I take pictures, and hopefully this can help improve the quality of the photos that you take of your kids.
So if you ever asked “How do I take better photo’s of my baby?” I hope this post can offer you some guidance and put you on the right track. It is safe to assume that most people reading this already have a phone with photo taking capabilities so that is why my tips focus on taking good pictures with just a cellphone, not a fancy DSLR or expensive Mirrorless camera. I mean, having children is expensive enough, I’m not going to advise you to spend more money on some stupid camera when you have everything you need already.