Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Becoming a Father

Parenting seemed so easy when I was childless. I could tell you without a doubt what all parents were doing wrong and what they needed to do to fix the problem. Too much TV, too many video games, not enough time outside, not enough discipline! I even toyed with the idea of writing a book. I would call it, The Childless Man's Guide to Parenting: a comprehensive approach to making your children more pleasant to the people around them.

It wasn't that I didn't like children, it was just that I had no idea how to deal with them; I didn't grow up with a lot of little kids around, so I assumed that they should act just like adults, only smaller! As time passed and we became more set in our ways, I became less and less tolerant of other people's kids, to the point of considering not having children of my own. I mean, we were happy, Leslie and me and our animals. We could go anywhere, and do anything we wanted at a moments notice. But as the years passed , our trips and toys just didn't have the same satisfaction that they once had; something was missing. Suddenly the thought of a life without children seemed cold and unappealing. But still, uncertainty and doubt plagued my thoughts. Would I be a good father? Do I have the patience for a child? Am I getting too old? Lacking a father figure most of my life reinforced my paranoia: how was I to be a good father when I didn't have a role model? A few more years would pass before we made the decision to adopt, a decision that brought with it a whole new level of anxiety. Now not only do we have to deal with ordinary parenting issues, but add to that bonding and cultural considerations, plus a trip around the world to a foreign land. I was excited, and a nervous wreck at the same time, but finally I was going to find out if I had what it takes.

I'm not sure I can explain adequately what happened the moment I first saw my boy. In the minutes leading up to this encounter, my mind was a torrent of anxiety and raw emotion. This was the culmination of 18 months of restless waiting. I felt like I already knew Manu from pictures and updates, but suddenly I realized that I had no idea what this little boy was going to be like, or if he would even like me. This is the point at which, in my previous life, I would have ran away and hid from this intense, emotional conflict. As they lead us into the room where Manu was sitting, playing on the ground, I was about to explode. Then it happened. As I looked at my little boy and he looked up at me, it was as if 20 years of pent up angst and apprehension suddenly let go, and it was all I could do to keep from crying on the spot. Suddenly I knew everything was going to be OK. When one of the Aunties said to Manu that Mama and Papa were here, I thought, "Yeah, Papa, that's me," and I slipped into that role immediately and without a second thought of the baggage I had brought with me. I was now a believer of love at first sight.

Manu has been home for five months now, and what an adventure it has been. Every day I learn something new about him and myself. I know I'm doing my job when he comes to me to show me his new discovery, or when he's trying to figure something out, or when he brings me a book and wants to sit in my lap. I've earned his trust, and to me that's what being a father is all about. We stay home a lot more than we used to, and we buy fewer things for ourselves, but we don't miss them. His smile means more to me than anything else I could be doing. I'm also enjoying playing with toys again without seeming strange! I now realize that my book would have been a colossal flop, except as a comedy piece. I think now, patience is the only advice I could give a new parent, you'll need lots of it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away...

A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, there lived a man and a woman in a clean and quiet house, in complete control of their time and money. But that was before...The Manu! He came innocently enough, playful and content with just being held. But slowly he amassed an army of evil henchmen; The Little People, The Weebles, the toy piano, the bubble mower; and he set forth to enact his diabolical plan: a slow and steady reduction of mommy and daddy from all-powerful, into quivering, nervous little house servants at his beck and call. Now, only the cat stands in the way of total conquest! Stay tuned as once again Manu exerts his mind control with a repeated push of the button on any of his vast array of musical torture devices, or as he sets a trap with many small, round objects, expertly placed at daddy's feet, or as he slowly drives mommy insane by pulling out everything that she had just put away. Resistance is futile. Learn from our yourselves!

As you might have guessed, Manu is as active as ever. Having recently learned how the buttons on his toys work, enamored by this discovery, he wants to show mommy and daddy how they work too, all of the time! Another favorite is the bubble-mower that he received from uncle Ed and aunt Patty. He is all smiles and giggles as he pushes and pulls it along. It makes a loud engine sound you know :-0 We have avoided actually using the bubbles yet, for fear of losing our lives as the bubbles would create a nice slick film on the flooring. As soon as it dries up a bit outside we'll show him that.

Manu is now mastering a few words. Mama and Dada are being used in the correct context, as well as bye-bye, uh-oh, nana (banana), done and down. He is almost completely through with baby food, preferring to eat whatever we are having. Peas, carrots and corn are everyday staples, and pasta, pork and spinach are favorites too. He is walking, climbing and opening anything he can. Every time we think we have the house completely baby-proofed, he reminds us of our shortcomings. He is enjoying daycare more and more. Playing with friends and art are his favorite activities. They really seems to love him there too, as everyone, workers and older kids alike, know him by name and call to him as we leave in the afternoons.

On Saturday we took Manu to Churchill Downs for his first day at the races. We stood at the paddock and watched the pretty horses trot by. Manu was awed by these beautiful creatures, and he seemed even smaller than he is compared to the thoroughbreds. A good luck charm he isn't though, as we went zero for five in the races on which we wagered. Still, it was a fun day in Kentucky.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ordinary life

I know it's been a couple of weeks since our last post, but truthfully I have been at a loss as for what to say. As the weeks pass by we become more familiar with Manu and he with us. As we settle down into the post-adoption mundanity of daily life, as the excitement of our journey becomes a fond, but distant memory, there are seemingly less moments of revelry worthy of public comment. Today Manu spit out his peas, or he's got a runny nose, or he's being fussy, or he tried to eat a rock; things "regular" parents go through on a daily basis. Like when he falls down and only being held by mama will soothe his tears, or the wonder in his eyes as he discovers a new taste or sensation, or his slightly-shrill cries of joy as he chases the cat around the house, or his soft, clingy cuddle in the morning. This is the everyday humdrum of our lives; something known to every parent out there. But arriving at this point is all that we have ever hoped for, and has made us the happiest people on earth.

The last few weeks have been exciting ones for Manu. For Memorial day we packed up and went to Cincinnati for the annual Taste of Cincinnati: a street fair that showcases Cincinnati's local restaurants and food vendors. We stayed in Covington and walked across the bridge into downtown Cincinnati where we tried all kinds of yummy treats. Manu was particularly fond of the sweet-potato gnocci. We spent the evening eating and listening to several of the many live music performances, capped off by the one and only Bucky Covington ;). On Monday we visited Newport Aquarium where Manu discovered the wonders of sea life. At first he was a little unsure of what was going on, but by the end he was enamored by the brightly colored fishies and the frolicky penguins. We all had a great time.

This past weekend was our annual adoption picnic. Julie, the director of our local agency, hosts a wonderful picnic in Danville for her adoptive families. There was food, pony rides, a petting zoo, playground equipment and many beautiful children from all over the world. We got to meet many wonderful families who share many of our experiences. Especially nice was meeting other families who have adoptied from India. Manu even got to meet an old friend from Ashraya who was there at the same time he was; that was very special. It's hard to describe the the feeling of being in such diverse company. These little representatives from all over the world could teach us adults a thing or two about getting along and playing nice.

Manu petting his first Llama

Manu with Uncle B looking cool.

All of the families camped out under their flags.