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Lately I’ve been missing summer a lot.  I miss hiking and going for walks outside every day.  I miss taking the little guy to the playground and seeing his pure joy as he plays in the sand or swings on a swing.  I miss the long days and swimming in the pool to cool off.  I am not sick of the cold, snow or ice though.  I am sick of this lack of time outside.  It has been so cold lately that taking my son outside longer than a few minutes has just not been feasible.   Now that my son is walking well on his own I am itching to walk with him to all these places that he used to only be able get to by rolling in his stroller or riding on my back.

Despite the cold and dreary winter days I have not fallen into misery.  Instead I get moving!  I go out with little man every day regardless of how cold it is.  We are New Englanders and made of hearty stock capable of bearing the coldest temperatures for the ten to fifteen minutes it takes for us to be in the car and get it warmed.  Cowering at home because of cold weather or flurries only brings on cabin fever and a mushing of our minds.  It’s not always easy to overcome the inertia of sitting inside on a cold day so here are some things you do to make the process easier.

  1. Pack everything you need the night before: I wake up in the morning tired with a touch of warm and cozy thrown in.  The last thing I want to do is venture out in ten degree weather.  Anything that makes the process of leaving more difficult will make me more likely to say “F#@k this we’re staying in today.”  Plan out what you will need and pack it in the most useful way possible.  Here is a quick rundown of what I bring when I go to the YMCA to swim.  I put his swim diaper and bathing suit on before we leave.  He wears a shirt and pants instead of a onesie to make dressing and undressing him easier.  I pack two towels, one for when he gets out of the pool and one for drying him off and changing him after his shower.  I bring baby wash and a wash cloth so I can clean all the chlorine off.  I bring a lunch and his cup so we can eat in the lobby when we are done.  I have left out some items I always have in my bag but I think you get the gist.  Having all this together ahead of time will make heading into the cold easier.
  2. Find easy regular places to go: It’s foolish to think that you are going to undertake an epic journey complete with meals and naps every day during the winter.  If you can pull that off then you already have everything figured out and can probably stop reading this mere mortal’s tips.  For the rest of us it’s important to have simple and close places to go that don’t require the kind of production I outlined above.  A good guideline is that if you need more your diaper bag and a snack to go there then it’s probably not easy enough.  I like to go to one of the three local malls to walk and take advantage of their play areas.  Westfield Mall in Meriden CT and Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester CT both have play areas that are ideal if you get there early and beat the crowds.  Westfarms Mall in West Hartford CT has no play area but it is my favorite to walk in and you can get in as early as 7 if your little one is having one of those mornings.  Westfield Mall is my favorite overall because everything you need is close to the play area including family parking spaces, the nicest family restroom of the three, and a most excellent pretzel kiosk.  Library story times are excellent options as well and in a pinch I will walk around the local Wal-Mart, Target and Petco.  Petco is great because it’s like a little zoo where you don’t have to pay to see the animals.
  3. Don’t stress how you or your little one looks: Face it stay at home dads.  We do a lot and sometimes it’s a miracle that we have the energy to get out of bed in the morning.  Imagine if you woke up, couldn’t take a shower, all your kid’s matching outfits are dirty, and both you and your child have matching bead head.  Yeah this was yesterday for us.  Don’t stay in!  Slap on some clean clothes and deodorant because who is really going to get close enough to notice?  Grab whatever clothes will fit your kid and know that they aren’t what really makes them look cute and loved.  Put on your favorite old hat and don’t stress over your kid’s hair because their winter hat would have made them look like they had bed head anyways.  You aren’t a scrub because you didn’t have time to get you and your child looking perfect.  Your smiles and evident connection will override any negative perceptions.  Get out and don’t use appearances as a reason to become a recluse.
  4. Dress warm and light: That super heavy coat you got for your kid seems great right?  Wrong!  Check out Consumer Reports to learn why if you don’t know already.  Unfortunately that coat is pretty much useless when go to put your kid in the car.  You could put your little one in the coat, take them out of the coat, strap them in and then put over them like a blanket.  I choose to use a fleece jacket that is warm but compact and a fleece blanket to keep him warm.  When combined with mittens, fleece pants, wool socks and a warm winter hat this method is quite effective.  I don’t usually have the luxury of warming the car up first but if this is possible for you go for it.  Just remember that you probably won’t be able to do that when you are on your way home.
  5. Make plans with other people:  It’s very easy to stay in when you are the only person holding yourself accountable at the critical moment you decide if you are going out.  Setup playdates.  Arrange visits with family and friends.  Tell the mom of your kid’s new best friend at the library that you will be at the story time program next week.  It’s in you and your child’s best interest to do these things anyways but sometimes a simple thing like telling someone you will see them again can be the difference between braving the cold or catching cabin fever.

What works for me may not work for you but I hope you were able to take something useful out of this.  It’s easy to stay in when it gets cold outside but you aren’t doing your child or yourself any favors by staying in.  Being a recluse is a bad idea all year round.  Winter just makes it easier to justify.  How are you fighting cabin fever during these cold weeks?  Is it going well?  What do you struggle with?

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My boy recently turned 1 so I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on what I have learned during my last 11 months as a stay at home dad.

1. A little preparation goes a long way.

2. Lots of planning is for people who like to pretend they can predict what their baby will do.

3. Less time spent in the apartment is key if I want to stay sane (though some would argue the I never was).

4. My wife is the most amazing and supportive person I have ever met.

5. Sleep is for the weak.

6. The Boba 3G, Chico Liteway Stroller, and Diaper Dude diaper bag are essential every time I go out.

7. Taking care of a baby is simple but figuring out how to take care of myself is hard.

8. I am a diapering ninja.

9. Do not play children’s music by musicians who could never put out an album for adults.

10. My car is my castle.

11. Baby laughter is the best sound in the world.

12. I like babies.

13. I like to cook.

14. Dishes are an unrelenting stream of misery but when weighed against the best aspects of being a SAHD they don’t seems so bad.

15. Raising a child would be a lot easier if we had a bigger village to help.

16. I miss working with kids at the Y but not as much as I miss my son when I am away from him.

17. It is important to get away from time to time, even if its tough saying goodbye to my little man.

18. My friends are very important to my sanity.

19. Be careful what you wish for.

20. Blogging is harder than I thought it would be.

21. I see more of myself in my son every day.

22. Being a dad is tough/awesome/scary/humbling/tiring/life affirming and is the best job I’ve ever had!

Do you have something you would add to this list if you were writing it?

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So you want to be a schmuck at an indoor play place?  Who wouldn’t!  Just follow these simple guide and no one will doubt that you are a schmuck.

  1. Play with your phone A LOT:  Endlessly stare and tap at your phone like you are in the middle of using it to end world hunger.  Of course you are probably just “liking” newly discovered memes on Facebook but that is obviously more important than watching your kid play and keeping them (or everything in their path) safe.  This will clearly mark you as a schmuck.
  2. Let your school aged kid play tag:  You’ve never considered that this would be unsafe with infants crawling on the floor and toddlers toddling about?  Congratulations on your amazing lack of consideration.  Act surprised after your precious little 11-year-old runs over my kid and you can safely be called a schmuck.  Bonus points if you have a cup of coffee in your hand and look like you could care less.
  3. Leave your kid unattended:  Dropping a 5-year-old off at the play place while you shop in Forever 21 is clearly a fantastic idea and leaves no doubts about your status as a schmuck.  Your 11-year-old is very well equipped to properly supervise your little hellion and will happily sit and watch them for an hour while you try on everything in the store and gossip with your friend the clerk.  Of course if letting your children supervise themselves doesn’t work there are plenty of involved parents here to deal with your obnoxious stampeding children.  Passing off your responsibilities on strangers firmly places you in the schmuck column.
  4. Bring your sick kid:  Your kid woke up, threw up, sneezed, and coughed all at the same time?  Bring them to the play place and show off your epic schmuckness!  You are doing everyone child here a favor by teaching them about sharing.  Germs are great to share so you should definitely bring your little petri dish to a place where they can smear their bodily fluids onto as many communal surfaces as possible.  More schmuck points are yours if you look worse off than your kid and want to talk to other parents.
  5. Hover over your kid:  Why let your kid play and explore when you can follow them around doing everything for them?  That’s right helicopter parent, we all welcome you to this play place.  There’s another kid in your child’s way?  Move them!  Your kid is starting to climb something?  Pick them up and do it for them!  There’s a minor dispute over who’s next down the slide?  Insist it’s your kid and push them through!  All of these things will teach them excellent social and problem solving skills while developing their ability to be independent.  They will also make you very popular with the rest of us and make it clear that you are a schmuck.

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One of the simple joys of being a stay at home dad is lunch.  My son seems to be napping when I’m hungry which gives me time to indulge myself.  Sometimes this means an egg sandwich or creatively using the previous night’s leftovers for an unintended but delicious purpose.  My favorite lunches are random dishes that could only come from the mind of a tired stay at home dad who is driven by a combination of hunger and exhaustion.  Today was such a day in my little corner of Connecticut.  I found a way to combine three of my favorite things: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and fluff sandwiches and burritos.  That’s right folks today I had a peanut butter, jelly, and fluff burrito.  I also had a handful of cheese balls as a side dish because the only thing that comes close to the majesty of my tortilla based creation is the yummy crunch of cheesy balls.  My non-sequitur lunch was even better than I expected!  You may think my creation is a little gross but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  You might need to be tired and super hungry to fully appreciate the beauty of this gooey creation but I know you’ll love this burrito!

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What’s your favorite random lunch?  Do you think it tops this plate of deliciousness?

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As I write this I am sitting in front of a fireplace without my wife and son at a summer camp after spending the entire day working outside.  I am tired, sore, mildly under the influence and content.  I believe that it is important to temporarily remove yourself from whatever your day-to-day situation is so you can evaluate and appreciate what you have.  Leaving CT and coming here to work all day with my hands surrounded by wonderful people has given me that opportunity.  So what has this evaluation of my situation revealed?  Exactly what this picture my wife took reveals.  I have an awesome son who I get to spend every day with.  I have a loving wife who supports my choice to be a stay at home dad.  I love my family and get to spend every day taking care of them. What more could a dedicated father ask for?

I have not talked much about it but before I was a stay at home dad most of my identity came from my work.  When I first became a SAHD I was unsure of myself.  I felt like I was in limbo and while I publicly trumpeted my new role I still had a hard time letting go of my old identity.  It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this change and I believe that the struggle to do so was what drove me to write this blog.  These last few weeks it has been difficult for me to write and I have not been able to understand until now.

My writer’s block came from being too happy to write.  I think that much of my motivation to write has come from irritation and general angst.  I have not had either in abundance for a while because I have fully embraced my role as a stay at home dad.  I have always enjoyed spending time with my son but these last few weeks have been extra special.  He is doing lots of new stuff and has developed quite the little personality.  While all this is true the biggest change has been in me not him.  I was doing quite well in my relatively new role as a stay at home dad for the first few months but lately I have gone from being in a good place to being in a great place.  I went from liking spending all day with my son to loving spending all day with him.  Simply put, I am happier.

So how have I overcome this writers block?  I took time to reflect on my life and I came away with a new appreciation for what I have and what I am doing.  I discovered that if I focus on what is best in my life I can motivate myself to write more consistently.  Here’s hoping it continues to work!

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I have been doing much of my writing these last few weeks late at night after my wife and son have gone to bed.  You would think that being a stay at home dad and getting up with the little guy would mean going to bed early but that has not been the case.  Instead my natural night owl tendencies have been strengthened because  late at night is the only time I can write in peace.  There is nothing that can derail my train of thought and I can focus on what I want to say.  He is much more consistent with his sleep at night than during the day so I don’t feel the “Holy crap he could wake up any moment so I have to get stuff done” pressure and I am much more relaxed and focused on my writing.  I have also rediscovered the joy of playing my favorite classic computer games like “Wing Commander” and “SimCity.”  I don’t get as much sleep but I can sometimes recover the lost sleep during the day.  On days like this I sleep during his morning nap which is varies these days so there are no guarantees that it will help much.  I then have less time to get my daily tasks done so I have to hustle to get all of the housework and dinner prep done during his afternoon nap which can be as short as 1.5 hours.  It’s not a perfect way to address my need for time to blog and unwind but it’s better than the alternatives.

One of the alternatives to staying up late is to blog during his naps.  I put a lot of time and thought into my posts so it is not uncommon for a single post to reflect 3 or more hours worth of writing, editing, link creation, picture selection and research.  Sometimes I have tons of time on my hands because O decides to take longer naps but lately he hasn’t been doing that.  Between dishes, cleaning and making dinner that usable nap time disappears pretty quick most days.  So I might be left with an hour or two to blog on any given day.  Doable, but it takes me much longer than that to produce a post of any length or depth.  I also have a hard time finishing a post from a partially written draft so I end up taking longer per post and producing lower quality content.  I could write quicker but I do not want to churn out a bunch of short crappy posts written quickly while I stress over how much else I have to do that day and worry when my son is going to wake up from his nap.  I did this the first couple of months after I started this blog and did not like it.

Another alternative would be to write after we eat family dinner each night.  This would address my need for uninterrupted writing time but it creates other problems. The evening is when my wife and I can talk and spend waking time together.  It’s also the only time during the work week when we can all hang out together as a family.  It would be easy to use my computer in the other room for hours on end and write but I would miss out on connecting with my wife and son everyday and that would not be worth it.

The final alternative would be to do all my blogging on the weekends.  There’s plenty of time on the weekends right?  I could write multiple posts and schedule them to drop throughout the week!  My wife could take O when I need to blog and we would still have time left as a family.  Wrong again!  Both of our families and many of our closest friends are roughly 3 hours away so we are often out and about visiting them.  Don’t forget big projects and events like road races, spring cleaning, volunteer commitments, etc.  These types of things generally take away 2 weekends a month once you consider the time commitment involved.  Still think the weekends are a good option?

And so we come back to late night blogging.  I sacrifice some sleep so that I can get posts written and play computer games to blow off steam and unwind.  Is it a perfect solution? Certainly not but I will take the occasional day making due with spaceyness and a short nap during the day over the alternatives.  Which would you choose?

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