My Kindgom for A…

There is one thing that is most difficult about being a stay-at-home dad.  It’s not giving up the $100k/year salary; not the isolation; not suppressing my career goals; not dealing with stereotypes; not spending endless hours crouched over a play blanket.

No, the single hardest thing is not having boobs.

When Ruby cries, chances are it is because she’s hungry.  But I can’t just lift my shirt and satisfy her; no, I need to prepare a bottle.  That takes two hands, at a minimum, because we don’t want to spill the precious fluid.  So, I need to put her down — which generally turns the crying into screams.

If the milk is cold, we’re looking at a 10-minute wait to warm it up.  And what if we’re out of the day’s allotment?  Defrosting freezer milk can take 30 minutes or more.

And even worse, what if Mom’s coming home in an hour?  Do we wait it out?  Pull some valuable freezer milk from the bank?  Every afternoon, I need to do some tricky baby’s mood/my mood/expected time of mom’s arrival calculus.

And because our freezer milk supply is somewhat limited, I’m loathe to use it.  This means I try to stretch out the feedings, and give smaller feedings at a time, in an attempt to make the milk last longer.  I’m sure you can guess, from the tone of this post, how well this is working.

Because I’m not personally equipped to satisfy the most basic of my baby’s needs, my time with Ruby is that much more difficult.  It’s really the only aspect of being a stay-at-home dad that makes me question the arrangement Kate and I have.

When does discipline start?

Kate and I have taken Ruby out to restaurants since she was a week or two old, and she’s generally been pretty happy just to hang out in her sling and watch the forks go by.  But this isn’t really true any more — if we have wanted to take her to a restaurant lately, we’ve had to be very aware of the timing and get her when she’s asleep, or at the very least happy.  If not, we’ll have a rushed, anxious meal.  In fact, we’ll probably have a rushed, anxious meal anyway.

Ruby and I had lunch with my buddy Chong a few days ago.  She was getting towards the end of her awake cycle and so started to get crabby, occasionally letting out yelps of discontent.  Chong and I passed her back and forth so that we could take turns eating our turkey sandwiches.  At one point while Chong was holding her, she let out a yelp.  And he chastised her!  He said, in a firm (and loud, but Chong doesn’t do quiet) voice: “Ruby, no!  That’s enough!”

That hurt.  It’s hard to say what bothered me about it — did I want to protect her?  Was it knowing the futility of the reprimand?  Whatever it was, it made me sad.  I don’t think Chong did anything wrong — he’s used to being firm with puppies and nephews, and truth be told, he probably did the right thing.

It’s probably time to start setting some boundaries.

This will be a gradual transition, I expect, but it’s still a major one.  Until now we’ve been floating along with Ruby, getting to know her, and responding to her every need.  But soon, I think, we’ll need to start teaching her about the needs of the people around her.  Kate and I will have to shoulder the sad burden of denying our child something she wants.  In addition to being Ruby’s primary caregivers, we’ll also be the primary withholders.  The former will vastly outweigh the latter, of course, but even those rare denials are going to hurt every time.

How do you teach consequences, empathy, or a sense of the future to a four-month-old?  She’s still trying to figure out how to get her entire fist into her mouth.  It’s probably too early to try these things.  So I ask my readers with parenting experience: when did you start setting boundaries, and what were they?  Honestly, I can’t even picture how that would work.

But one day… “It’s for her own good.”  Repeat ad nauseum.

Time to Convert Another One?

Kate and I did the server shuffle a few weeks ago.  Kate’s desktop computer became our mail/web server, and our web/mail server became a file server, and Kate got a new Mac Mini to use as her desktop computer.

We started setting up the file server yesterday — formatting the old computer and installing Windows XP on it.  After going through the setup process, I tried to install updates to make sure my computer didn’t turn into a spam zombie.  I was redirected to the Microsoft Genuine Software something-or-other, and then got this screen:


A few points about this:

  1. I am using a legally purchased and activated copy of Windows XP, within the terms of the EULA.
  2. With all the resources Microsoft has at its disposal, there is no excuse to present me with an “unknown error”.   Whatever my failure case is, Microsoft should have tested for it and presented me with a more meaningful message.  This is just laziness.
  3. What is my “local product support team”?  My IT department?  Sorry, but my house doesn’t have one.  The place of purchase?  This software was purchased more than 5 years ago from some long-forgotten small PC shop.  Do they mean Microsoft support?  Probably, but do they really expect me to start searching their website for the phone number?  Ever hear of hyperlinking?  And should I really be expected to wade through some phone queue just to make their software useable?

Microsoft needs to realize that I have a choice as to which operating system I install.  Windows is already in the minority in our household (the score is Linux: 4, Windows: 2, MacOS: 1).  They can’t continue to rely on their position as the “default” operating system, and creating a frustrating user experience right from the start has only eroded that position even further.

This is all about user experience.  If Microsoft had provided clearer guidance, I would’t be so incensed.  But instead they’ve put up a blank wall and expected me to go find my own ladder to get over it.

Unity Provides Strength

I’ve been watching a lot of the World Cup this year.  I usually watch one or two matches every day while I’m feeding Ruby.  My favorite team so far is, believe it or not, Angola.

Since I don’t know anything about Angola, here’s some choice tidbits extracted out of wikipedia:

  • Angola, like many sub-Saharan nations, is subject to periodic outbreaks of infectious diseases.
  • The earliest inhabitants of the area were Khoisan hunter-gatherers. They were largely replaced by Bantu tribes during Bantu migrations.
  • Independence [from Portugal] was to be declared in November 1975. Almost immediately, a civil war broke out between MPLA, UNITA and FNLA, exacerbated by foreign intervention.
  • The 27-year long Angolan Civil War ravaged the country’s political and social institutions.
  • [Economic] growth is almost entirely driven by rising oil production.
  • Catholicism remains the dominant religion, although recently an increasing number of churches are claiming more followers, particularly evangelicals

Angola’s goalkeeper, Joao Ricardo, has been (imho) the MVP of the World Cup so far, and he hasn’t played with a professional team for nearly a year.

Angola is playing Iran right now (actually, the match is probably over, but I’ve got it paused on the Tivo).  If Angola wins and Mexico loses, and if the goal differential works out in Angola’s favor, then Angola would advance.  It’s a shame that doing so would knock out Mexico, since they’re my second-favorite team.

Also, I don’t see how it’s possible that Brazil could ever lose — and they aren’t even playing very well.  Yet.


Update: Angola ended in a draw with Iran and so they don’t advance — Mexico does instead.  Mexico even helped out and lost their game, but Angola’s defense let them down on a corner kick — and Ricardo was livid that no defenders were marking the posts on what would have been an easy ball to kick off the line.  See you in four years, Angola…if oil companies don’t destroy what’s left after your civil war, that is.

Diaper Service, 1 week later

The first two days of diaper service were horrible.  We suddenly had to pay attention to this whole other thing that could make Ruby upset.  Instead of food & boredeom, we now had food & boredom & wet diaper, and it took us a while to remember to check that last item.  The new diapers also made Ruby generally a lot fussier, which isn’t so much fun for us.  We went through 22 diapers in the first two days — almost twice as many as we usually use.  We ran out and had to go back to disposables until the next delivery.

Eventually, though, Ruby adjusted.  She’s mostly back to her usual cheery self, and that’s quite a relief.  She’s not showing any signs of a rash at this point (she had a little bit at the beginning).  Although she enjoys being on the changing table, she gets upset every time I snap a new diaper on — I’m not sure if it’s my technique or the construction.

Although it’s nice having diapers magically clean themselves twice per week, I’m not sure that the diaper service is worth the cost.  At $80/month, they’re more than disposables.  My brother-in-law calculated that their investment in fuzzi bunz paid itself off in less than 5 months (compared to disposables).  We’re going to give the ‘bunz a test drive in the next few weeks, and if they pass muster we’ll buy a dozen or so of them.

Besides, I think it’s good to get used to washing the baby’s diapers now, before she starts eating solid food and her poo gets extra nasty.


I’m not much of a social person.  I like to work alone, I’m not much good at parties, and small talk leaves me at a complete loss.

Now that I’ve got Ruby attached to my person most of the time that I’m out in public, I’m having to interact with strangers more often.  They want to come up and remark on how cute the baby is, ask how old, etc., etc.  Ruby is indeed extremely cute, and it’s understandable that they’ll be smitten by her cuteness.  But I’m not crazy about having to have the same empty interaction with strangers all the time.  I guess this is where my appreciation for small talk is failing me, but is there really any point to stopping me in the middle of the cereal aisle to ask me how old my baby is?

On the other hand, I don’t want to infect Ruby with my anti-social tendencies.  I want her to be comfortable with strangers and I want her to experience diverse points of view.  And eventually, I’ll suppose I’ll want her to make friends with other kids in the neighborhood.  Actually, I’m not all that worried: Ruby’s been pretty strong-willed ever since she was born (as much as any three-month-old can be), and I suspect it’ll be her affecting my social style, not the other way around.

Related to this issue, two recent posts to the blogosphere gave me some food for thought:

The first post (from Dave R) is about a guy (and his unfortunate daughter) who refused to go into a playground because there was nothing but moms there.  I don’t have a ton of sympathy for him at this point, since he (as he admits) is chickening out with pretty weak excuses.  I mean, it’s not like you have to interact with the Mommies, do you?

Well, maybe you do.  From what I’ve read and heard from friends, isolation is a big problem for stay-at-home parents.  Getting out of the house to interact with people who are able to form actual sentences can help to break up a long drool-spattered day.  When Ruby’s old enough to play at the playground, I think I’ll enjoy relaxing with some familiar faces — even if it is just small talk.

That brings us to the second post (from Stay-at-home, work-at-home Dad).  This blogger talks about his overall experiences dealing with Moms at parks, and how they tend to be not-so-friendly towards the Dads.

I haven’t experienced this at a park (since Ruby’s too young for park play at the moment), but I’ve been to my share of parent support groups where I’ve been the only father among ten or twenty moms.  The vibe wasn’t exactly hostile towards me, but when a bunch of women get together their social sphere can be impenetrable.  Or is it incomprehensible?  Either way, I wasn’t comfortable being there.  It wasn’t the episiotomy comparisons or complaints of glass-shards-in-the-breast nipple pain.  It was just an implicit feeling of being an outsider.  Even their attempts at inclusion just turned me off more: invariably, once (and only once) per meeting, the leader would turn to me a and ask, “so, as a man/father/male partner, what is your feeling about this issue?”  Thanks for throwing me a bone.  She even once just asked me for “my thoughts about childbirth”.  Um, got a few hours?

In mixed-sex parent groups the vibe is much more welcoming, and I feel like the discussion itself is more constructive.  I don’t know if it’s the gender balance itself, or if it’s the people who are attracted to mixed-gender groups — probably some of both.

As an attempt to head off the isolation before it sets in, I’m going to hook up with a SAHD support group.  Seattle Dads has regular meetups/playdates/nights out, although they seem to be concentrated in the southern ‘burbs of Seattle.  I’m kind of waiting for Ruby to be older, so that she can play with the other kids, but that’s kind of a lame excuse: I’m the one who needs to get out to play with the other Dads.

Defend us from what?

I would like to officially state that my marriage to Kate is in no way threatened by the marriage of one person to another person of the same sex.

If your marriage is threatened by two men you’ll never meet saying “I do”, then you and your spouse should probably visit a marriage counsellor.

Review: Sony babyCall Rechargeable

The Sony babyCall Rechargeable is a baby monitor.  We bought it because it has a rechargeable battery-operated mode, meaning I can wander out in the garden while Ruby sleeps inside.  It has a voice-activation mode, several channels to choose from, and an alarm if the receiver gets out of range of the transmitter.  It also has a sound level meter which lights up when it hears some noise.

This thing sucks.  First of all, the AC adapter connection on the receiver was very finicky — if it wasn’t in just the right spot, the receiver would not work at all.  Even worse, though, was the quality of the sound.  The receiver picked up cell phone communications (just beeps, not words) and every now and then, would let out a loud pop.  At 3am in the morning, this is not a good thing.

The overall quality of the sound was terrible, with lots of static and noise.  The transmitter was extremely sensitive to noise, so we moved it outside of Ruby’s room so that we wouldn’t be awakened by every little kick and suck.

The light-up sound levels are a nice sales gimmick but not very useful.  Who is staring at their baby monitor all the time?  If they had some kind of delay so that the lights would stay on for a few seconds after the noise happened, then THAT would be useful.

In the end, the pops and overall noise level drove us to replace this.  We’re now using a Radio Shack 3-unit intercom system.  The sound quality is an order of magnitude better, and the intercoms are useful as actual intercoms in our house.

Review: Bob Revolution 2006

As a “Welcome-to-the-world” gift, my parents bought Ruby (and Kate and I) a Bob Revolution 2006 jogging stroller.  In “Mesa Orange”, thank you very much.

I use this stroller almost exclusively for jogging.  I run about 5 miles with it, several times per week.  I run on city sidewalks, a paved jogging path, and gravel paths.  The city sidewalks are quite an obstacle course: we go up and down curbs, over buckled concrete, and around lamp posts.  I run at a moderate pace, doing between eight- and nine-minute miles depending on how I’m feeling.

We picked the Bob Revolution 2006 for the following reasons:

  • it folded small enough to fit under our porch and into the trunk of our ’96 Acura Integra (without taking off any wheels)
  • the folding mechanism was really easy to use
  • the option of making the front wheel revolving meant the stroller was that much more useful.
  • Bob has a reputation for building high-quality products.

My biggest concern about this model was the small front wheel: only 12″ diameter, as opposed to 16″ or 20″ for most “real” jogging strollers.  The two back wheels on this model are 16″.  I’m happy to say that I haven’t felt that the smaller front wheel has been a problem at all, although I’ve never run with a larger-wheeled stroller so I don’t know what I might (or might not) be missing.  But to help reassure people like me who might have doubts about this thing:  I’m a real runner, and I’m happy running with the smaller front wheel.

Although Bob recommends waiting until your child is six months old before jogging with them, I’ve been jogging with Ruby in this stroller since she was about 7 weeks old — probably about 10 pounds in weight.  We removed the stiff padded back board so that the seat hung back further and cradled her so she wouldn’t fall to the side.  She loves riding in this stroller and usually falls asleep as soon as we start running.  Ruby is, of course, an exceptionally gifted child and your mileage may vary.

The ability to adjust the tracking on the front wheel is nice, although I never get it quite right (and Kate tends to adjust differently than I do).

With the wheel in “swivel” mode, the stroller is highly maneuverable.  Kate and I generally carry our baby whenever we’re out in public, so I don’t have much experience using the stroller in swivel mode, but it seems work pretty well to me.

Overall, I give this stroller a big thumbs-up.

Landfill vs Clean Water

Today our first deployment of cotton diapers arrived.  We’ve signed up with a diaper service that will drop off fresh diapers twice each week and take away the soiled ones, never to be seen again.  Or so I like to think.

I’ve actually been fairly happy with disposal diapers, but being the conscientious earth lovers that we are, we went with what is purportedly the more environmentally-friendly choice.  Frankly, I’m not sure if all the hot water and bleach that is needed to get the cotton diapers white every week is less than the landfill costs of a disposable diaper.

Here is one perspective.  Her point about the relative amount of water used (about 6% of household usage, by her estimates) is a good one.  Dirty disposables currently make up about 30% of our trash by volume, and more than 50% by weight.  Living in a region that, in general, has a decent water supply and fairly eco-friendly power (hydroelectricity), I think it’s safe to aim towards washing cotton diapers as the better choice for the environment.

The cotton diapers are certainly more esthetically pleasing, and I’m happy to be rid of the cartoon branding on the disposables we use.  The biggest downside, though, is that the cotton diapers soak through really quickly — meaning Ruby needs to be changed more often.  The disposables would absorb a ton of liquid without ever feeling wet.  I’ll be doing more frequent diaper duty, it seems.  Also, because the cotton diapers soak all the way through, one needs to use a waterproof cover to keep the baby’s clothes dry.

We’re not sure if we’re going to use the cotton diapers overnight.  Kate and I are extremely lucky that Ruby has been sleeping through the night consistently since she was about six weeks old.  I’d hate to mess that up with a diaper that irritates her when it gets wet.  We’ll probably try one for a few nights and see what happens.

Finally, on to costs. The diaper service costs about $75 month, and that includes everything we need except wipes, which would cost another $5.  Disposables are actually much cheaper — around $50/month, I’d estimate.  But if you add in the extra $12/month we pay for a bigger garbage can (to handle the disposables), the costs come out close enough to make me satisfied with our choice.  For now.