Archive for March, 2009

Feeling stressed?

March 29, 2009

stressedIn the last post, I closed with the idea that as parents we have to take care of ourselves if we’re going to take care of our families.

Here’s where it gets personal.

Fathering is stressful and it’s different for everybody. Everyone has a different threshold for stress and different ways of dealing with it.

One thing holds true for just about everyone, however. Exercise helps.

Henry David Thoreau said it best: “Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either is the work of the other.”

I’m no health nut, but I make it a point to get in a few solid workouts a week. Nothing crazy. Just enough to keep the edge off.

The thing that I, and most people, struggle with in terms of exercise is finding the time. There’s always something I need to do, or would rather do.

It took me a long time to realize that if I make it a point to find an exercise I enjoy, I’ll be more likely to find the time. It’s pretty basic – it’s easy to do the things we like.

Personally I run, swim, bike and, thanks to my mother for the birthday gift, I started strength training with (O.K., you’re gonna laugh) … the Iron Gym.

The commercial is silly, no doubt and I swear to you, until now I’ve never owned a single as-seen-on-TV piece of exercise gear in my life – but for $30, this thing is really great. It hangs there, in the doorframe in the hallway and taunts me. “Come on, don’t be a sissy … let’s see you crank out 8 pull ups right now.”

I’m addicted. It’s too easy. It’s right there. I don’t have to go to the gym. I don’t even have to change into workout clothes. I couldn’t do 3 pull-ups when I got it a month ago. But like I said … the taunting. Now, I’m up to 3 sets of 8 every other night. That’s nearly 100 pull-ups in a week. I’m stronger, look better, feel better and am far less stressed.

As a man, I don’t think it’s possible to have it hanging up there in the doorframe and not eventually start cranking em’ out every few days. In fact, I rounded the corner to catch my wife hanging from it a few days ago. She claims she was just hanging from it to stretch her back … hmmm. “Oh really Dear, then how do you explain those suddenly bulging back muscles?”

But maybe pull-ups just aren’t your thing. That’s OK. But what is? Figure that out, and you’re on your way. But, because we’re busy parneting, there are some limits – as I learned.

Truth be told, my favorite thing to do is hike. Growing up, I spent more time in the woods then anywhere else. Fast forward to a few months after our first son was born when I took a “little” hike to blow off some steam that had built somewhere between, oh I dunno, weeks of listening to an ear splitting cry all night long and being my wife’s verbal punching bag.

So I escaped into the nearby woods. Two and half hours later, I returned. I could hear the baby still wailing as I walked through the door. I looked at the clock and then at my wife, who, in the “short” time I was gone, had managed to fill her fists with tuffs of her own hair.

It was pretty clear that 3 hour hikes a few times a week might not work out. At least not for a few years anyway.

But was does work is making it a habit, which I have, to take the stairs instead of an elevator every day. Maybe you work in building that has a lot of floors. (Mine has 8 for perspective) If you can’t walk all of them, take the elevator, but only to a couple of floors below yours, and them walk the rest of the two or three flights up.

Instead of driving around to find a parking spot closest to the entrance at the grocery store or the mall, I purposely look for a spot farthest away, and then I walk the distance. Add it, plus the stairs, up over a month, and we’re talking about some big numbers that make a big difference in one’s well being.

Without having time to go to the gym – nor do I don’t have a job that affords me a physical workout (unless you consider the desk rodeo exercise) – finding ways to incorporate exercise into my daily routine has paid off big in curbing stress.

But the best thing of all is that my kids see me doing it. It’s not like dad disappears out of sight for a few hours to go to the gym. When I say on a Sunday, “I’m going for a quick run,” they hear it, and see me suiting up and stretching. When they see me doing pull-ups or push-ups just before dinner, they want to do them to. So we do. Our oldest will always drop and crank out 10 push-ups with me if I ask him to. I’ll hang our one-year-old from the pull-up bar, with my hands still on his hips, and he just beams from ear to ear. I don’t know what it is. He just really likes hanging up there trying to get his chubby little double chin up over that bar.

Kids pick up far more from what we show them than what we tell them. And I hope the message I’m sending to mine is that good health is just a normal, integrated part of everyday life.

My four-year-old has already started asking about running with me this spring. It won’t be long before he starts taunting, “Come on dad don’t be a sissy … let’s go one more mile.”

What about you? Have you discovered what do you love to do, and turned it into exercise? Help us share it with others in the comments please! 

Best and thanks,

L.P.

Bundles of joy and months of stress

March 23, 2009

pinneo1This week I was thinking back to when our first son was born. He was not your average cooing baby. He was super colicky. He wouldn’t sleep. He had a surplus of energy. He was demanding and fussy– and those were on the good days.

That was more than four years ago and, although still spirited, he has grown into a bona-fide and pleasant 4-year-old champion that my wife and I are extremely proud of – but she and I clearly remember the wailing, the sleepless night, the fear of wondering if we’re doing something (or everything) wrong … and we remember the stress. There was a lot of stress.

And then we had our second son, who although healthy now, was diagnosed with infant reflux and put on medication and a special diet at age three months. That was awful in every sense of the word.

I don’t know which one was more stressful – but I’m so glad they’re both healthy and alive.

I started thinking back to those days this week because of something horrible I read in the Boston Globe. It was a report that shaken baby syndrome had doubled in the past few months here in Massachusetts. To be clear, the syndrome happens when an adult shakes an infant so violently that its brain is severely injured, usually permanently and sometimes fatally. In many cases, it’s been discovered that the adult was driven to shake the baby because it was crying uncontrollably.

Experts linked the recent rise in Massachusetts to economic stress, the Globe reported.

I read of one 6-month-old baby who was brought to Boston Children’s Hospital with multiple fractures and bruises. My eyes welled up as I read the doctor’s remark about the “really sweet baby, who was so easily comforted and just snuggles right into your neck.”

Asked myself, “Who could do such a thing –and why?”

And then I remembered the stress.

The kind a man feels when he’s deprived of sleep, and feeling weak, empty and beaten by a small wailing babe no bigger than a loaf of bread.

When his life is no longer his own.

The kind that makes you want to rip your hair out.

Mentally poisonous stress – the kind of stress that distorts reality all out of proportion. A stress that, if not checked, could drive anyone to want to shake a baby.

But let be there be no mistake about this … no matter how bad it is for a man, it is far worse for his wife.

And although most babies do make it without their moms shaking them or hurting them … the stress is real and dangerous.

I think of it like holding a glass of water straight out in front of you. Easy work, no sweat. But as time goes on, and the longer she holds the glass, the heavier it seems. After a few minutes it’s noticeable. After a few hours it starts to burn. A day into it she’s going to be miserable and trembling. After holding it like that for a few days, she’s going need to get some help.

And as I reflected this week on the past four years, I realized what my role as a father and husband has become, and what it should have been then, but wasn’t for lack of experience.

I was focused on my career that would provide for my family. I was focused on money and the future.

Which is fine to a degree. But I was working overtime with my brain – and undertime with my heart.

I once read, a long time ago, that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother with everything he’s got. I naively and simply thought it sounded noble. But as father of two boys – it makes perfect sense to me now and is the foundation of my philosophy as a husband and a father.

I’ve come to see my role, as I hope every young father’s does in way or another, as the person in the family who kills stress, and keeps the home free of it. I want to take as much of my wife’s stress away, so she can be in a better place from day to day for herself, the kids and me.

Sure, us men get stressed and tired too, but no need to bring that through the door. Like knights, we wield a might sword when we’re out there in the wild (office), but we sheath it at home where it’s warm and the day’s catch of meat is cooking over the fire. No need for a sword there. No need to fight. I look forward to coming home and surrounding myself with the people who matter most and who give me joy and energy.

I leave work at work. It makes it easier to walk through the front door and say to my wife (though not in these words), “I know your day was more stressful than mine, what can I do for you.”

And then I take the glass of water and I hold it for while.

In all honesty, a lot of the time that means picking up after myself, not arguing over little things that I feel I need to stand my ground on – and just remembering, as best a caveman can, to be helpful by not making things worse.

And it means keeping my own stress in check.

In the next post, I’d like to explore various ways of coping with personal stress.

It’s like just before take off on an airplane an the attendant says if oxygen masks drop from the overhead, you should put yours on first before trying to assist someone else.

That makes sense. We gotta take care of ourselves if we’re going to take care of families.

We’ll talk about that soon. Feel free to chime in with your comments. How do you deal with stress? Do you have any stories of overcoming it?

“Dad, what’s global warming?”

March 16, 2009

ecoIt’s March in New England. Hard to believe the planet’s getting hotter. (I know – and I actually do believe it … I’m just saying …)

Usually by this time of year we’ve had enough of the snow, grey and seemingly lifeless landscape. It’s this time of year that as a family we seek out new and interesting places that offer escape from the doldrums of winter. 

Some families go to the Bahamas. Others go to Florida.

But we have a four-year old and a one-year old who just last week started sleeping through the night (most of the night that is.)

So we go local, and not over night – at least for the next few years.

Last year, we visited Tower Hill Botanical Gardens just outside of Boston. Which, although it boasts its best in summer, has a wonderful indoor garden as well. It’s a well-spent afternoon.

This week, my wife and I one night, huddled together in front of the glow of the computer, discovered the EcoTarium.

Their homepage says it best:

[ … The EcoTarium is a unique indoor-outdoor museum in Worcester, MA. Set in an urban oasis, the EcoTarium offers a chance to walk through the treetops, take a thrilling multimedia journey through the galaxy at a digital planetarium, meet wildlife, stroll nature trails, ride a narrow-gauge railroad, and get hands-on with family-friendly exhibits …]

We went.

It’s a nice family alternative to the Museum of Science ,which once you’ve been a few times, kind of loses its magic.

Still, science and nature has a special place in our family. Our oldest has proclaimed more times than we can count, “I’m going to be an animal rescuer when I grow up.” We feel, even though he’s four, it’s important to nurture our children’s individual dreams early on. Too often when we’re young, we’re talked out of (by others and by ourselves) what we feel in our hearts is most important. In today’s environmental climate, I feel really proud to have a little guy who is so devoted to helping the planet – and I’m devoted to helping him do it.

The hour -and-a-half drive to the EcoTarium, and being repeatedly asked, “When are we going be there?”, was well worth it.

eco3Plenty of parking and fair price; we’re big fans of both. A few highlights are the energetic staff of educators, of course the live polar bear, various animals and plant life and the overall “science enrichment” ambiance of the place.

A word of caution: If you do go in the winter, pack a lunch. They had a cafe, which looked nice, but was closed during the off season. We were left shopping from four vending machines that offered nothing resembling a balanced lunch.

But a postponed lunch light snack was plenty to finish the tour. The place is big, with many indoor displays and some outdoors, but is not huge, as in, “How are we ever going to see everything in one day?!”, huge. So it makes for a good day trip for young science-hungry minds.

eco2

And after all, isn’t that what’s really important today? Educating our young future leaders about the world we live in, how it works and how to best take care of it and all the little curious creatures (including us) that call it home – all while enjoying time together as a family.

For anyone who agrees, and for anyone like us who can’t wait until the concert of life that spring ushers in, the EcoTarium is a great place to spend the day.