A little neurosis, a lot of sanity

I found these notes while going through some things the other day. Written back in November they are just as relevant today – now about a year in to this detour (and there’s a whole different entry!).

13 November 2012:

I find that my days are filled with little reminders that I am not in control of many things. Despite schedules, Sweetie sleeps when she is ready. Despite standard mealtimes and seemingly delicious food, Sweetie eats when she is ready. After days filled with unwarranted crying, Houdini poop that escapes from diapers, games with three minute entertainment value and countless other moving targets I needed something to pin down. So much of care giving is organic and like life in general, things are constantly moving and changing. Just like trying to influence the “input variables” at my previous employment, I tried to find something that I believed I could control.

The answer came in the day-to-day chores around the house, in particular, the laundry. Well, not just “the laundry”, but specifically the towels; and not just any towels, but particularly the bath towels. I found that if I folded all of our bathroom towels in a particular way that they all took on the same size. When they were the same size then they all stacked in same-sized units. And those units stacked neatly on the shelves designated for the towels, even where they shared the shelf with the sheets. It doesn’t describe well, but here goes: in half lengthwise, then in half lengthwise again (making sure the decorative stitching shows), then folded in thirds from the outsides in.

I found that this folding method did not work when Sweetie was awake and “helping” me with the laundry. That usually goes “fold one, chase two, re-fold one, chase child, repeat”. So I started folding the towels during her nap times. And I found that it was just me quietly folding towels.

This became my thing, my little neurosis, and one aspect of my life that I can control. I demand a particular fold, I work on it until it’s correct and I deliver my little bundles to their shelves. I change the towels on the same day each week. And I hang the fresh towels a particular way on their bars. These activities are simple accomplishments, small victories (and sometimes the only ones in my day!). I also found that once I set up this routine I was able to process while I was folding, shelving and hanging. I solved small problems, worked out home projects and planned meals. Focusing on something so common helps to ground me and definitely gives me back a sense of control. And focusing on something so UN-important helps me maintain perspective. I am better able to sort out the battles I will fight. Without sounding too esoteric, I think of it as a type of meditation on my day. Yes – a meditation while folding bath towels.

I don’t think this is a unique experience. I bet that plenty of you also have a little neurosis that helps you find a lot of sanity. I definitely don’t think it is as strange as it first seemed, and I highly recommend looking for it. Now it is part of my routine, and an important part at that. I completely acknowledge that having your towels folding a particular way is neurotic, but it is also nice. And on the rough days it is good to have something solid to fall back on. Hopefully it’s also going to help me prepare for the future. Sweetie is just as human and just as fickle as the rest of us. She is bound to stray from the standard and do her own thing. I don’t know how much the towels will cool my temper when she breaks curfew and comes home at a late hour, but I like to think that they will help keep me centered on what is important.

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Baby’s East, Sleep & Poop Journal

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Baby’s Eat, Sleep & Poop Journal is an easy-to-use tool for all parents. Wife and I have recommended it to parents-to-be, and I especially recommend it to stay-at-home Dads. The straight-forward name of this activity log sums up its purpose – it helps you track your baby’s eating, sleeping and pooping. The pages are laid out in well-labeled columns, starting with date and time. You organize the other entries according to the time they occur. The meals are tracked by nursing duration or bottle amount; the sleeping by “sleep” time and “wake” time; the movements by type, wet or poop. The opposite page is conveniently blank for making notes.

We started using our log on our first recovery day in the hospital and we quickly learned its importance. We weren’t allowed to leave the hospital until Sweetie had accomplished the three feats that are tracked in “BESPJ” (wow, like they planned that). We continued the log once we returned home and kept it up until around seven months.

So we learned in the hospital that this daily tracking started immediately. Go figure, it continued at the first pediatrician visit (on so far through the whole first years’ appointments). The journal has proven useful for these visits because this information is important in the wellness checks. Having the information about her feedings, like ounces and frequency, allow us to specifically answer the doctor’s questions and focus proactively on Sweetie’s milestones. And knowing she was having regular bowel movements kept us aware of her overall good health (oh goody). It has been settling to track this stuff but also to speak with the doctor and know we have the information right there.

So, why is this so important for a Stay-At-Home Dad? According to Sister Younger-Older, a Mom’s heartstrings are thick. Because of this, the simple question, “How was your day?” translates to so much more. There are questions behind that question: 1.) Did you feed my daughter?; 2.) Did my daughter poop (and did you clean her)?; and 3.) Did you keep my daughter on her sleep schedule? At our house we go through the checklist when Wife gets home and is hanging up her coat. It is very nice to have the answers ready to go and to get Wife caught up. All joking aside, tracking this information helps us keep Sweetie healthy, on track and moving to the next milestone. And the information is there so either Wife or myself can pick up the routine. The journal itself is ¼ the size of a sheet of paper, so it fits in a diaper bag or a jacket pocket. You don’t feel like you are lugging around a book.

Baby’s Eat, Sleep & Poop Journal lays the foundation for monitoring your child’s well-being (which parents try to track forever, right?). We got our copy as a shower gift, but we bought a second one after filling that first one. There are plenty of tracking journals out there, so chose one. This one has an easy to follow layout, is a good size and has useful note pages. This one worked for our family. Check them out at www.eatsleeppoop.com