After this month’s Spotlight article on “How About Two?”, I decided to apply that question to the whole Spotlight series… for this month, anyway. So it is without further ado that I present “Spain Dad, a baby blog” for your consideration. The interviewee is Kelly, the dad who blogs and a guy who you’ll be reading more from right here in The Father Life in days not too far hence. In keeping with the question du jour, following the interview will be not one, but two samples posts from Kelly’s blog. After you’ve read this, surf on over to spaindad.blogspot.com for more and leave Kelly a comment. Now, on to the interview!
THE FATHER LIFE: How about some introductory/background info… Who are you?
SPAIN DAD: My name is Kelly. I’m originally from Iowa, but I live in Spain. I’ve been married to my best friend April for eight years. We have one daughter, Alleke, who is sixteen months old, and recently we started the process for an international adoption.
TFL: What’s your “real job”?
SD: I work for an international church called Oasis Madrid. My job is a great fit, actually, for being a parent and a writer. I work from home most days, which means I’m around the house, and when I’m at a church activity, April and Alleke are usually there too. Because I don’t have to commute to work in the mornings, I use that time to write.
TFL: How did you come to live in Spain?
SD: When April and I were dating in college, she told me she was going to Amsterdam for a semester on a study-abroad program. I couldn’t stand the thought of being without her, so I signed up to go along. Since we were going together, we decided to get married. Makes sense, right? Anyway, we had small work-study jobs while we were in Amsterdam, so with the little money we made, we lived as cheaply as we could during the week (i.e. eating Dutch potatoes for every meal) and traveled around Europe on the weekends. We saw parts of Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy. I remember Rome being my favorite city.
When we returned to college the following year, we found ourselves talking often about our experiences in Europe. Europe had made an impact on us. Maybe it was because we had our first taste of independence there. Maybe it was because we love diversity, and Europe seemed so mixed up compared to our homogeneous rural community in Iowa. Maybe it was because the cultures in Europe fit our personalities best. Or maybe God was whispering something in our ears. Regardless, we knew we wanted to go back.
TFL: How long have you been blogging? How did you get started in the blogosphere?
SD: I published my first book in kindergarten: a hand-drawn joke book that the librarian at school put on display for me. In eighth grade in 1994, I published my first online article. Since then, I’ve been writing in various forms on the web. Most recently at kellycrull.com, a blog about my first years in Spain, and later Spain Dad, a baby blog, which I started writing in 2006, as soon as I found out we were pregnant, even before we told our friends or family.
The idea for Spain Dad, a baby blog came from years of reading Heather Armstrong at dooce.com. She is hands down the best blogger I’ve read. For me, what sets Heather apart is the time she takes to tell a good story. She tells her stories as honestly as she knows how. I had read too many parenting books telling me how parenting was supposed to work. Now I was looking for someone who could tell me how it was really going to be. I was looking for a dad blog.
TFL: What piece of knowledge is absolutely essential for us to understand who you are?
SD: Sometimes readers ask why April and I have decided to raise Alleke in Madrid. In general, I think the best we can do as parents is to invite our kids into a life we believe is worth living. Of course “a life worth living” looks different from one person to the next, but for April and me, we fit well in Madrid. We live in an apartment tucked away in a small neighborhood in the center of the city, and that’s exactly the place we want to be. Our neighborhood is a village. We don’t own a car because we walk most places. We buy locally, and know many of the shop owners. We’re getting to know our neighbors, mostly at the playground down the street. Our lives are bilingual and multicultural, and even after five years, it’s still exciting to me that we live close to places like parks and museums and palaces.
TFL: Any final words of wisdom?
SD: Well, maybe this is obvious, but I just want to point out that fatherhood is changing. It’s an exciting time to be a dad because our societies are reinventing the concept of fatherhood, and for those of us who are fathers, we’re right in the middle of that process. For example, we’re choosing to be more involved in our kids’ lives. Many of us long to work from home. Some of us do, and some of us are stay-at-home dads. Yes, we’re changing more diapers, of course, but we’re also reading and writing dad blogs, and creating dialogue about what it means to be dad, not mom. For most of us this is all very new. It’s uncharted territory, and we have a lot of catching up to do. But, I believe we can do it, and it’s going to be fun, challenging and interesting along the way. Most importantly, I think our kids will thank us for it in the end.
A taste of the blog… times two:
I don’t remember exactly what April and I talked about last night in the glow of the nightlight.
I do remember somewhere towards the end, just before we fell asleep, turning over so I could see April, or at least her silhouette, and asking her what it would take to wake up in the morning and feel like a good dad.
We had talked for a while about being a mom and a dad and how we both loved our daughter, even more than we had expected, just like everyone had said, and that even though we were beginners and didn’t know much about parenting, we both felt capable and excited to learn with Alleke as she grew. I told April I loved watching her be a mom, and I was thankful we had a good marriage. I felt like we were on the same page most of the time.
That’s about the time I asked April the question, the one about wanting to wake up in the morning and feel like a good dad. Because even though we both felt like we had so many good things going for us, there were still some days that we felt like bad parents, like we were raising Alleke all wrong. In fact, the more we talked about it, the more we realized that we felt this way most of the time.
We speculated about why we felt like bad parents, which wasn’t so hard to do at a quarter past eleven when we were exhausted from another long day and felt incapable of most things, including the present conversation, but April came up with something profound, as she usually does. She said, “I mostly feel like a bad mom when I feel like I’m supposed to want to be with Alleke every minute of every day, and…I don’t.”
That was it.
We loved Alleke. We even loved being with her most of the time. We just didn’t want to be with her all the time.
I still woke up this morning feeling like I was supposed to want to be with Alleke all the time, but I felt a little less bad about being her dad.
I think what did it was I stopped to realize that I don’t like being around anybody all the time, not even April. What helped even more was realizing that even though Alleke is great, she is a lot of work. She wears us out, and sometimes we just need a break. Everybody does.
So, at around four o’clock this afternoon I handed Alleke off to her aunt Heidi (who took her even though she was crying), and I took my laptop downstairs so I could have some time for myself and write these words.
The Manly Art of Breastfeeding
April’s had this book called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding lying on the coffee table for the last week or so. I haven’t touched it.
Not because I think the topic of breastfeeding is off limits for dads or that it’s repulsive or that there’s nothing I can contribute to the conversation since I don’t have the right equipment.
The truth is I’m sick of it. April and I have thought so much about breastfeeding in the last two weeks. I’m ready to spend my time thinking about anything else–even that leaky shower head in the guest bathroom that’s been haunting me for ages. (I was hoping it would just go away.)
Still, I feel compelled to write something about breastfeeding for dads. Not because I’m a qualified parent. You all saw me give Alleke a bath. Instead, I’m writing about breastfeeding for dads because I want to do you a favor. I want to give you a heads up. So listen closely.
There will come a time when your wife will be lying there (in my case April was in her hospital bed) with as much ambition as a rug and as much emotional and intellectual stability as a Chihuahua, and in that very special place, she will come to a point of such desperation that she will actually ask you (yes, you!), someone entirely unqualified, to please say something or do something to make this little creature eat, and believe me, even if it’s not brilliant, you’ll want to have something to say for yourself. Mostly because you’re not interested in finding out the consequences if you don’t, but also because this is your wife and this is your baby, and if there’s any time that you’ve ever been needed in your life, it’s right now.
I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding for months. I wondered what the big deal was. Why did we spend three childbirth classes on breastfeeding? Why did every baby book have at least one chapter dedicated just to breastfeeding? And what’s with La Leche League, an entire organization just for breastfeeding moms. It all just seemed so over the top.
That is, until that night at the hospital.
Alleke had been squirming in our arms for hours, from seven pm until two o’clock in the morning, and we were lost for ideas. Our brains were ringing, set off balance by the contrast between our quiet hospital room and the screams of our little girl, which sounded a lot like shattering windows.
We had a hungry baby, and we did not know what to do with her.
At that moment you realize that learning to breastfeed is like that reoccurring dream where you find yourself simply falling from the sky towards earth. You slice through the air like a bullet, the trees and roads and cars on the ground coming too quickly into focus. You realize then that you’re actually holding on to what looks like a parachute–at least you think it’s a parachute. It’s not on your back, it’s in your hands, and you’ve never parachuted in your life (never even had the desire), but you better do something because the seconds are spinning away.
What makes breastfeeding difficult is it happens all at once. The moment your child is born, he or she begins losing weight. You have somewhere between three to five days to teach mom and baby how to connect that breast to that little mouth.
Instinct gets you a long ways, but beyond that, you’re on your own. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve seen anyone learn something so complicated so quickly as watching my wife and daughter learn to breast feed together. It’s like renting a stick shift for your family vacation without having ever driven one before and just deciding you’ll figure it out along the way–while you’re speeding down the Interstate and winding through the mountains in a national park somewhere.
If I had had the money, I would have given every cent of it to our midwife Carmen to have just stayed there, sitting on the end of April’s hospital bed, coaching us and stroking Alleke’s head with her quieting midwife touch, till we had figured out how to do it right. I would have even run home and baked chocolate chip cookies for Carmen. That’s how much I wanted her to stay with us when she stopped in our room during her hospital rounds.
To be fair, our midwife Carmen, the pediatricians, the nurses, even our landlady Encarna and our friend Heather and my mother-in-law have all spent time with April and Alleke giving them encouragement and sharing motherly wisdom. All of them deserve chocolate chip cookies, and all of them were necessary along the way.
So what about dad then? Well, for starters, just be there. Quit your job if you have to. Your wife just needs you to sit there on the couch and look helpless.
It helps to believe in miracles too. Your wife will tell you it’s impossible for her to breastfeed this baby, and she’ll hand you the baby, and she may even pout or cry or scream, but when the time is right, hand her the baby again. Tell her she’s capable and that you love her.
Don’t think too much in advance. Don’t beat yourself up by thinking about having this little baby with you tomorrow and the next day and the next day. That’s emotional suicide. Just think about now. About what your wife needs now and how to get her to believe she can feed this baby.
And if you can find it in yourself to do these things, my friend, you’ve mastered the manly art of breastfeeding.
Ben Martin is the CEO of THE FATHER LIFE. He lives with his wife and five children in the Rochester, NY, area.