Hollie McNish Makes Poetry of Public Breastfeeding

I like breasts, I really do. Despite the (excuse the pun) titillation they provide, I value their original purpose for providing sustenance for babies. This is why, even though it takes me a moment to adjust, I have no problem with public breastfeeding. There should never be any shame in this, especially because there is no shame in a woman, who is physically able to do so, feeding the best food she can give to her child. Here’s one woman, poet Hollie McNish, who weighs in on the public breastfeeding debate with her reaction to those who would relegate a woman to bathroom stalls to nourish a baby.

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Big Babies

By Gregory Keer

This April, there are two things I’m not looking forward to – tax day and the day after that, my birthday. As I lurch toward another number closer to 50, I notice how much of my parenting life is behind me.

When did Ari (8) grow out of the pants we bought him three months ago? What is making Jacob (11) turn red every time that girl walks by? How is Benjamin (15, this month) old enough to practice driving a car?

Part of what makes this so hard is that, as I look in the rear-view mirror, I think I operated much better as a dad of babies than I do as a father of fast-developing dudes. I have to dig for details about their days that they don’t want to share with me. When they veer off the behavior track, I’m challenged to give them directions they often choose not to follow, necessitating consequences more complex than time outs. Then there’s the expense of raising growing boys, pushing me to work longer hours to pay for the field trips, sports gear, and expanding grocery list. With all this, life feels less like a feature-length movie and more like a YouTube short.

I was so present when the kids were in diapers, strollers, and cribs. I mean, nothing slows time down like the fact that babies simply cannot move fast or, as a good high chair or car seat can attest, move at all.

My wife and I spent countless hours merely staring at our sons when they were infants. We studied them like a just-assembled wonder toy. Look at those eyes that open and shut all by themselves! See how he examines his own pudgy hand? Behold his first poopie in the potty!

There was little we didn’t celebrate about our babies, from how one of them smeared yogurt all over his head to see how it felt to the way they crawled (one rocked to launch, one skooched like a locomotive, and one combat crawled).

And then there was the baby giggling. Benjamin had a deep belly laugh that would go on as long as we laughed with him. Jacob couldn’t get enough of the raspberries we blew on his tummy. And Ari screamed with glee when we plied his neck with kisses.

Since then, these toys have grown into bigger, louder machines bent on rolling boldly into the world. They won’t let us just stare at them.

My eldest, Benjamin, has become an expert in the last-minute phone-text plan and jets off to hang out with friends. He also runs cross-country, making him home late a lot. We seldom see the boy who once cried at the day-care window for us to take him with us to work.

So when I walk into his room to sit and gaze at him, he says things like, “Dad, it’s a little creepy to have you look at me for the past, like, three hours.”

Just recently, the rest of the family and I were driving home when we saw Benjamin riding his bike to meet us.

“Look, look, look,” I said. “He’s so cool on his ten-speed.”

“He’s not a baby,” Jacob groaned from the back seat.

“Yes, he is,” my wife replied. “You’re still our babies.”

“Do you guys talk about me that way behind my back?” he asked with alarm.

“Yep,” Wendy and I said in unison.

“Why do I have such weird parents?” he muttered.

Of course, these are the comments I made to my own parents as I grew from being their infant idol to self-conscious tween. That doesn’t make it any easier as I travel through the rapid movement of my parenting timeline.

While I miss those baby years – and all the satisfaction that came from doing such basic heroic acts as feeding, clothing, and comforting my children – there lies so much goodness ahead. My children will take on sports and SATs, form friendships and romances, apply to colleges and jobs, and, eventually (I hope), become parents themselves. They’ll succeed a lot and screw up a lot, but I’ll get to observe and guide, though probably not as much as I’d like. What matters is, as I age, those babies will always be the objects of my affection and sources of amazement.

As a seasoned father who can no longer outrun or outsmart his children, I have some advice for the newbie dads. Keep staring at the wonders that coo and spit up and even tantrum before you. They grow quickly, but the experience lingers forever.

Posted in Babies, Columns by Family Man, Perspective | Leave a comment

Night of the Shrinking Bed

By Gregory Keer

It was a cold, eerie night, eight years ago, an evening that still sends chills up and down my spine. My wife and I had endured a fifth straight evening of multiple wake-ups from our newborn. After two feedings, three walks around the house, and four false-alarm cries, Wendy and I trembled with exhaustion. This was compounded by the stress of having just moved to a new home, my starting a teaching gig, and our older sons kicking off a new school year.

Finally, sleep came and, when it did, I went down hard.

That was until I felt a “presence” hovering over me. Dog-tired, I kept snoring. Then I heard a faint wheezing. The wheezing turned to heavy breathing, which got louder and louder. High-pitched moaning pierced my eardrums and my eyes snapped open.

A dark shape stood next to me, holding what looked like an axe!

I screamed. “Ahhhhhh!!!!.”

My wife jumped up and shrieked, “Where’s the baby?”

The figure screamed back. “Dadddeee!!!”

Bolting upright, I recognized the shape as my son, Benjamin. The axe I imagined was his tattered blanket.

My son burst into tears and fell across me in the aftermath of what had been a twisted recreation of the movie scene in which Drew Barrymore sees E.T. for the first time. In this case, I was Drew Barrymore.

“What were you doing standing over me like that?” I said breathlessly.

“I – just – wanted – to – cuddle,” Benjamin blurted between sobs.

And there it was. The dramatic comeuppance for two parents who had long struggled with the issue of a family bed.

Before my wife and I had children, we swore we’d never let our kids sleep with us. We judged others who let their kids in the bed, thinking that kind of arrangement could only create intimacy problems for the couple and therapy sessions for the children.

Sometime later, we found ourselves changing our tune. It began when Benjamin, then almost three and new to a “big boy” bed without rails, started sneaking into our room in the middle of the night. Due to fatigue and the sheer joy of cuddling, we let him snuggle with us for a few hours each night. This went on for a couple of years until Jacob got old enough to leave the crib and want his own time in Mommy and Daddy’s bed.

So we started a campaign to keep the kids on their own mattresses. We told them that they could crawl in with us in the morning, when it was light outside. Jacob, always a deeper sleeper, was easier to keep to the new rule. But we had to experiment with all kinds of tricks to keep Benjamin in his room. Over time, we tried clocks, a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor, extra stuffed animals, a special pillow, and just plain begging with intermittent success.

Then, there was the previously mentioned night of all that wheezing and screaming.

After we all calmed down, I escorted Benjamin to his bed, reminding him of the house rules. A little later, he returned. I got crankier and he went away wailing again. This back-and-forth occurred every 10 minutes, as he tried to gain our sympathy and we used every tactic from yelling to listing all the playdates he was going to lose.

Then, my son Jacob joined the fray, shouting out like a lost child that his pull-up needed to be changed. Jacob fell back asleep but he was replaced by the dog that scratched at the door to go outside and the cat that upchucked a fur ball on the bed. All the while, my wife and I bickered about how to handle the whole mess.

I pleaded with our first-born. I even cried when he cried, asking for mercy on his exhausted father who had to wake up to teach cranky high-school sophomores in the morning.

Finally, with Benjamin as worn out as I was, I found clarity – kind of like a Bugs Bunny horror spoof in which the rabbit realizes the way to stop the monster is by complimenting him (“Gee, Doc, you got really big muscles.”) So, I appealed to Benjamin’s desire to feel like the big boy he was.

“You graduated from kindergarten and now you’re a first grader,” I explained. “It’s time to graduate to sleeping the whole night on your own. You can do this.” I then promised him a reward chart that would track how many nights he could stay in his bed.

Things got a lot better after that. For a while thereafter, Benjamin still crawled into bed with us at 6am or so, but he was proud of himself for becoming more “sleep independent.” Eventually, he stayed in his bed all night and my wife and I got our bed back…That is until kid number two started haunting us.

Posted in Babies, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Halloween, Humor | 1 Comment

“Rockin’ Babies” Contest

Got a cute baby? Enter pix to win cool stuff! I’m helping to judge a contest to help get the word out about Rockin’ Babies, the fun and funny new board book written by Dr. Jenn Berman and Cynthia Weil, with illustrator Galia Bernstein. Dr. Jenn is one of my very favorite parenting writers and a marvelous psychologist and on-air expert. Her most recent book is Superbaby. She wrote Rockin’ Babies with her mom, who has co-composed, with her husband Barry Man, classic rock songs such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

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Sing To Your Baby on Father’s Day

As a parent and music lover, I have long been a fan of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, the Grammy award-winning duo behind such albums as Pillow Full of Wishes and the recent EP Banjo to Beatbox. While these highly lauded ladies have long been leaders in innovating new music to help parents and educators connect with kids, they’ve outdone themselves with their newest project, Sing to Your Baby. Based on audience requests and scientific backing that explains how vital it is for babies to bond with the voice of their parents, this is a combination picture book and CD ($19.95 from the Web site) which offers songs that any parent or child guardian can croon. In fact, Fink and Marxer recorded each song in two different keys to make it easier for parents to find the most comfortable way to sing. For the male versions of the songs, Michael Stein, a cantor and original cast member of Jesus Christ Superstar shows the way for dads, grandpa’s, and uncles to sing such sweet tunes as “Love Is What I Feel For You,” “Rockin’ My Baby,” and “Baby’s Got a Giggle.” This is empowering stuff for parents and a powerfully emotional tool to connect with your baby.

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight

By Gregory Keer

Dear Ari,

As you sleep in my arms, I’m amazed at how light you feel. I stare at your tiny body, so fragile that a gust of wind could hoist you into the air. I love this feeling of protecting you and dreaming of all I have in store for you.

You are my third son and I will use what I’ve learned so far to make your family experience worthy of your miraculous existence. I do have some phenomenal team members for this effort – your mommy, who cares for you like the sun nourishes the earth; your brother Benjamin, who already watches out for you like a gentle sentinel; and your brother Jacob, who refers to you as “my baby” and giggles with delight at your every sigh. That’s not to mention the doting grandparents who view you as a gift and the close friends who astonish us with their support.

I will nurture and teach you. But, as with your brothers, I intend to help you thrive in an often-difficult society. That’s why your mommy and I have named you Ari, which means “lion.” It’s our hope that you will grow strong and pounce on every opportunity to do well for yourself and others.

For now, I’m content just cradling you, basking in your warmth and listening to the little creature noises you make in place of the loud proclamations you will soon roar. Perhaps it’s because you are the last (though certainly not least) child your Mommy and I plan to have, I am intent on recording in my memory and on paper all the moments of your new life.

Of course, some of that recording got me in trouble during your mother’s labor. Minutes after Mommy woke me to announce, “I think my water broke,” I picked up my red composition book to write, “Finally, I get to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night – just like the movies.” You see, Benjamin (now 6) and Jacob (3) took their sweet time in leaving the womb. You were in such a hurry, you started the birth process almost two weeks before your due date.

Mommy laughed at my scribbling in the journal, but I couldn’t stop writing until Grandma showed up at 2:30am to babysit your brothers so we could leave. A split second after I parked at the medical center, Mommy speed-waddled toward the hospital, worried you might pop out before she got to a delivery room.

Things moved so fast that, by the time the nurse (at 3:50am) checked to see how you were progressing, you were halfway to coming out. Mommy got so excited that she declined the usual pain medication. Papa and Nana, looking tired but happy, came to provide moral support. I kept taking notes in the red journal if only to keep my nerves settled.

With a couple of hours to go before your introduction, Mommy and I talked over names. We had spent months imagining what you’d be like. Would you be a boy or a girl? Would you look like Mommy, Daddy, Benjamin, Jacob – the FedEx guy? Soon, we would find out and we wanted to have a name ready for you.

At 5:30am, Dr. Perlow declared that you were ready to emerge, so the nurse prepared special lights, tools, washing items, cold juice, a mirror – I noted everything, even though we’ll probably save this part for you until you’re older.

At 6am, Mommy started pushing. She worked hard, wanting to see you so badly. “This hurts,” she said in the biggest understatement of her life. I have little understanding of it, except for the nail marks in my hand.

She rested for a bit, calling for some oxygen, so I whipped out my journal to capture the moment in ink.

“You’re documenting everything?” Mommy asked, incredulously.

“You’d rather I take pictures?” I asked, smiling.

“Put down the [bleepin’] pen, Gregg!” she said.

“Yes, honey,” I responded with the words you will one day learn are vital to any romantic relationship.

It was good that I put down the pen because, a few minutes later, Mommy pushed like a linebacker and out your head popped! At the doctor’s OK, I moved in to help deliver the rest of you into the great outdoors.

“It’s a boy!” I shouted as I held you aloft.

I then was able to cut your umbilical cord and put you in your mother’s arms. She still had enough energy to radiate her love while she curled you to her face.

And here we are tonight. As I hold you close, you sleep so peacefully. I press my ear to your chest and hear your strength. I am listening to the first beats of a lion’s heart.

Welcome to the world, Ari.



Posted in Babies, Columns by Family Man, Newborns | Leave a comment

Oy, Baby!

By Gregory Keer

It’s 11:30pm, a minute after I’ve mercifully fallen asleep, and my wife says, “It’s your turn.” I go to visit my gently crying baby, put a pacifier in his mouth, watch him quiet, and sneak out of the room before he needs anything more involved.

It’s after 1am and my wife — who has taken the last three baby calls — smacks my backside with a force I thought only reserved for children at 19th-century boarding schools, “It’s your turn!” I hear Jacob wailing and scramble awkwardly from the bed before my wife draws blood. Going to him, I try the pacifier and he spits it out like warm beer. I rub his head’s soft spot, but that makes him cry harder. I pick him up and pat him as he screams and pulls my chest hair with the force of a gorilla. He wants to be walked…around the house…for half an hour…in the middle of the night. He finally collapses asleep. I gingerly lay him in the crib and run like hell to my room, stepping in cat throw-up along the way, and bark at my wife, “And you think you want a third!”

It’s just before 6am and I blearily see my wife is not getting up, despite Jacob’s escalating moaning. “It’s my turn,” I say. I go to the crib and find him grumbling, snot running from his nose. “Why won’t you let me sleep, you little monster?” I croak.

Then, those big brown eyes flutter open and he — grins. I sigh, tension releasing. “Good morning, Jacob,” I say as if I am one of the Seven Dwarves and Snow White has finally awakened.

Having a second baby is nothing and everything I imagined. It is indeed more than twice the work and three times the frustration. You see, I thought I had already graduated from Baby College. But like those nightmares we all have of repeating high school because we were late for a test, I am reliving the curriculum.

I am returning to the sleepless nights, the poops that penetrate steel barriers, the inconsistent bottle feedings. I am Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Now add something Mr. Murray didn’t have to deal with — a preschooler. Everything’s more complicated when you’re trying to care for a baby while the bigger kid still needs proper attention.

But all that being said, this experience is more like Snow White than Groundhog Day. Jacob’s smile is as big and constant as his mom’s. He’s delightfully ticklish, especially after a bath, and he is patient as a saint around his rambunctious brother.

And while I feel guilty (I just can’t get through a column without a guilt confession) that I give Jacob less attention than I did Benjamin when he was an infant, I try to focus on the positives and let him trigger my lost skills as the caregiver of a baby.

Sometimes, those triggers take a little longer to fire. Like the fact that it took me two months to realize that you need to change a diaper more than once or twice a day. Why do they make Huggies so darn absorbent if they can’t make the long haul? I still haven’t got the sense to wear a cloth over my shirt after Jacob eats. I regularly show up for work with “milk badges.” And I will never figure out why my child needs to shriek like a cast member from Halloween while we’re driving. All those books say driving is supposed to calm a baby.

Then there’s the return of some of my favorite baby pastimes. As with my first-born, I like to sing the theme from Bonanza and watch Jacob kick and splash like a maniac. I love how he studies the backs of his hands as he discovers that these amazing tools belong to him. I even adore the way he forcefully pulls the remaining hair from my head as he perches on my neck, drunk with the power of sitting “on top of the world.”

But one of my most precious times with him is on the too infrequent mornings I take him into the playroom before anyone else wakes up. There, I clear a space from the superhero and Hot Wheel minefield my eldest creates the day before, and place my little one on a fresh blanket. He coos at me and soon rolls onto his tummy. He looks up, waiting for a reaction. I applaud. He giggles proudly…But not nearly as proudly as his daddy.

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