Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holidays and Incremental Leaps

I'm so unbelievably grateful for a healthy, inquisitive, charming boy.

Some of the most purely happy minutes of my life are sitting with him on the couch, speaking pure gibberish.  He has this perfect, precise way of moving his fingers through his lips as he buzzes them.  It's a sound made for the first time within the last month, and I still can't get enough of it.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, with visits from the east.

Pops Spiegel got to know him well.

Pops and Grandma Joan spent a great afternoon.  Here Joan laughs at Herb, who's desperately trying to entertain Rubin, who's giggling towards me at the absurdity of it all.

Hannukah night #8 brought a slew of Hebrew blocks.
Rubin went south for the pre-Christmas weekend, to the wilds of southern Illinois and his loving mom-side grandparents.  Grandma Ruthie got lots of smiles.   

Missing a child for 4 days was a different kind of longing than I’d ever dealt with.  I NEED to see that dude every day, to see what incremental changes are taking place, what completely unprecedented skill he has added to his arsenal.

And yup, when he came back, he seemed to have leveled up.  The 5 teeth in his tiny mouth all seemed far more pronounced.  His attentiveness and response to those speaking to him is elevated.  4 days of minute advancement all seemed to hit me in the face at once.  Or, maybe I just tuned in really hard after being lulled from the constancy in the previous weeks.

For the three days following, I was off of work, and mommy got a well-deserved break.  Me and shorty were inseparable.

He makes “conversation” so much now.  Those are words he thinks he’s speaking, even if at best we’re getting the correct consonant for Mama, Dada, and maybe a stuffed Bear Bear.  The point is, he’s filling the void with blather like the rest of us, as far as he’s concerned.

There’s a beautiful intuitive theory behind fostering a child’s imagination and growth.  Dr. Sears tells us we are to acknowledge his efforts and achievements, and praise his speech.  Go that extra step with him, and help him think he’s gotten his message across.  He should feel good about speaking, and feel the joy of communicating, even if his skillset isn’t up to task just yet.

I love this.  You know what it is?  It’s improvisational comedy theory.  “Yes, And.”  In an improv scene, if you pretend we’re at a doctor’s office, I don’t say we’re not.  I talk about how sickly the receptionist is, or wonder why they have Penthouse in the waiting room.  I acknowledge what you’ve set up, and further the narrative.  Same with Rubin.  Keep his adventure going.

During one of those three inseparable days, in which we had a deep rapport established, I pointed to something in front of him on the floor and asked for it.  He reached over, grabbed it, and handed it to me.  He gave someone what they’d asked for; naturally, simply, unencumbered.  BUT FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER IN HIS LIFE.  

I can’t wait to see what he learns tomorrow.


We’d often talked in pre-child days about the cockiness of other parents, and the predictable, stereotypical arrogance some of them have about their kids.  The volume of unsolicited advice can be maddening.  “This is how you do it!”  We pledged to try not to be that kind of judgmental parent, the kind that thinks they know how to do everything the best possible way.  

But I’ve realized something.  The reason so many parents come off as if, and perhaps believe, they do it better than anyone else is that you kind of have to believe that.  You have to believe you’ve made the best of some harrowing, scary choices.  

Your sense of pride in the fact that you simply want to keep going, as you do something so difficult, is enormous.  You get an ego going…because you deserve to have one, and because you need it.  You need to find a way to feel proud and happy with what you’re doing.

So, judgmental parents I once judged, I get it now.  You’re probably not so bad.

Meanwhile, I can't stop grinning at the sight or thought of him.  I want to go wake him up.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I think our boy is courageous. 

Of course there are challenges, and failures, and growing relationships with the unknown, but there have already been so many instances when I can say I’ve flat out admired him.

In utero, there was an Amniocentesis.  I capitalize because the concept is large; is this human fetus healthy, and if not so, would we terminate its existence.  WHAT?

But it had to be done.  So there we are: my wife on the table, a smart, experienced, pregnant doctor determined to be great, a sweet foot-rubbing nurse whose husband is named Ruben, and a grizzled but delightful sono-tech perfectly suited to guide the way.

Oh, and there is our Rubin, impossibly small at 20 weeks, and about to have his world invaded with something epically foreign.  It’s a big needle, and on the screen as we watched, it stretched from top to nearly bottom.

On that screen is our son, lower left corner, clearly living, pulsating; is that twitching?  And as the needle suddenly inhabits his sensory radius he lunges for it.  And again, reaches for it aggressively, directly.  We do something between squeal and shriek.  “It’s fine” says Dr. McDonald.  It happens a lot, and even if it pricked him and cut his skin, she’s seen it before to no ill effect.

My boy doesn’t cower in the corner.  He doesn’t freeze with concern.  He swings his arm for that enormous needle.  He looks like a bear swiping at salmon a foot below the surface.  He is dominant, and determined.

 His pure instinct has progressively been interpolated by me to read as “Hey! What are you!? Can I use you? What can you teach me? What are you doing here?”

Be that unafraid of strange interlopers my son.  You are strong, and sweet, and kind, and worthy of trust.  You will not be trifled with.

And he continues to be courageous.  We swim together every week.  Saturday mornings are ours.  There is adoration for my wonderful wife for making it happen, and now for staying away.  She is of course welcome, but knows the value in what it is.

We swim, him and me.  We swim along with 14 or 15 other parents and their young.  He is currently the littlest, undoubtedly among the cutest, and he is remarkably unafraid.  We sit on the edge, and sing Humpty Dumpty, then take off for the other end of the pool, and he kicks with delight most of the way.  We walk in a circle together, Rubin submerged to his shoulders as often as he can take it. 

He likes it.  He trusts me.  It is the highlight of my week.

I knew I’d love him, and knew I could and would be proud of him.  What I didn’t see coming is that admiration.  I think our son is cool.



Friday, May 11, 2012

Smiles and Material Possessions

I find myself incredibly grateful for the demeanor of our son.  He is a happy, almost unerringly calm little man.  He can often soothe himself to sleep if placed in the crib at bed time.  He will most days happily just hang out and coo to himself when he wakes up in the morning there.

The difficult times come, absolutely.  There can be a 60 minute crying, inconsolable jag that leaves us feeling helpless and irritable.  But man, are those times forgotten quickly as soon as he's back to his baseline level of awesome.

He's fascinating, ever-developing, snuggly, sweet, and curious.  What an incredibly healthy person to be around.  Several times in recent weeks he has served as a perspective renewer for me in times of stress.  The docs call it "cognitive restructuring."  How can I possibly worry about insignificant neuroses while hanging out with him?

Nature does not arm you with a smile. Not for the first 6-10 weeks anyway.  Evolution has decided that infants don't need to express joy in order to achieve their survival demands.

Rubin did not have happiness in his arsenal.  He had disdain, fear, discomfort, side-eyed doubt, anger, distress, and myriad other variations on trouble...but no joy.  He had contentment, and a hilarious food coma that seemed like drunkenness, but no charm.

I couldn't stop thinking about how we best elicit activity and involvement from those around us.  I've always been a pretty happy person, and have lived by the mantra that Fun Is King.  If you have fun, in any professional or social endeavor, people will work harder with you and the product will be better.  So that smile, that charm...elemental to my being.  I have often willed myself to smile, knowing that others would probably smile back and help me actually get to the happy place if need be.

I guess nature figures you're going to give that infant what he needs, in hopes of avoiding the aforementioned variations on trouble.  I mean, we love him and feel beholden after all.

But that smile, when it comes.  Wow.

He makes us work for it...mirroring our faces.  But they're coming easier and easier.

And now they've been joined by giggles.

They melt me.

 I live to make him giggle....just want to come home and make him as happy as his little body will allow.  Someday I'll want to make him laugh until he pees.

 Another recent development, an addition to the magic act of "THE GREAT RUBINO" is his ability to hold stuff.  It began with a simple little blue ring (far right), and that was a trick worth savoring.

He had something of his own!  Mine!  Then he wouldn't want it...would throw it away.  Then hold it again!  Thus began a lifelong relationship with material possessions. 

He has learned how to wear hats.

This one shows him either ready for big pimping on Miami Beach, or perhaps lunch at the Bada Bing.

He is a flirty little man sometimes.

Tonya says this is the onesie he wears to go out macking on the ladies. 

"Hey baby...I have some great Japanese import CD's back at my place."

"You know, I loved the Dap Kings more when they were backing up Amy Winehouse."

 A chilly morning in May meant we had a final chance to break out the Bear Suit for a family walk.

Note the pads on the know, for those walks across the forest floor.

On our walk, ten unfortunate citizens died of cuteness.  They will be missed.

He's the most interesting person we know.

Can't wait to hang out with him for another 40 or 50 years.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

9 weeks, and a story in pictures.

Our boy smiles on the changing table. He has learned that it's a place on which he will be taken care of. Wetness, discomfort, and stink all go away at the hands of his gentle parents.

And the smiles...oh man, the smiles. They're like a gift after weeks of finding reward often in his simple functionality.

You know all that stuff people do all day? Rubin has to learn how to do all of it.

All of it. The volume of impending information staggers me. Walking. Talking. Doing his taxes. How to pay for the bus. How to set the DVR. Poaching an egg. You name it, Rubin has to learn how to do it. And we're the ones, well, the first ones, to teach him anything.

He's learning to eat without throwing up. A major step. And, he's got pooping down. Not controlling the when and the where so much, but the pooping itself he has mastered. Take this photo essay as proof.

Sleeping. All is well.

There is a troubling disturbance in the force.



Once again all is fine.

There's nothing to see here; please disperse.

The other day, while trying to exit the kitchen with Rubin in left arm, stroller (mobile crib) remote control, phone, bottle and glass of water somehow in other arms, I hurt him. I banged his head against the door of the refrigerator. Terrifying, and a guilt I'd never felt. Mommy came running at the sound of his obvious anguish. He had an immediate lump on his head, and there was redness. Abject terror.

As she nursed him back to health and calm with a warm washcloth, I called the pediatrician. With no excessive vomiting, fussiness, irritability, or crying, we soon realized he was fine. The doctor calmed us, and Rubin recovered nicely, quickly. We joked to ease the tension: Well, that rules out the Ivy League. Some day he'll be in a job interview and the person will say "Rubin, I want to make you our executive, but that dent in your head just won't let me."

But good ole "Denty" is ok. Daddy is the one who can't shake the feeling of putting him in harm's way. Lessons learned: 1) Move him lower into the elbow and out of the free space. 2) Watch the multitasking while on duty. 3) Mistakes are gonna happen, just be ready to recover and deal with them.

He loves his mommy, and she loves him.

I really like the cartoon motion blurriness around him as he is thrust upward.

And the fear in mommy's face as she wonders whether this was a good idea.

He's a good baby. He accepts his innumerable kisses like a champ.

He looks fabulous in overalls.

Daddy said humbly.

See, you can still go out to dinner! With only 4-5 hours of planning and maintenance.

We're lucky, happy, tired, sometimes frustrated, parents.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Grampa and the Slump-Buster

Our baby is enormous. It felt like he'd grown ten pounds in 2 days.

Then we weighed him and he's seemingly 11.6 pounds total, but the point is his relative massive girth, as compared to say, last week.

He gets this way because he eats CONSTANTLY. Sustenance is the best thing ever, and his endorphins kick in hardcore for a post-feeding pass-out. My own food issues somehow clarify just a wee bit more.
(Rubin in his handsome Green Apples sleep sack)

Tonya calls this "Rubin's World."

He spends some time mildly sneering at whatever discomfort is the current issue.

There are intermittent smiles (not gas we think), and myriad other moods/faces. But the sneering and sideways eye kill me. It's amazing how natural and ingrown our facial expressions are.

A work trip to New York meant an opportunity to see family too, so a wife and a 4-week old get on a plane. You know that jamoke whose infant won't stop screaming on the plane? I didn't want that to be me. So we strove to feed him on takeoff and landing to relieve the air pressure, and figured we'd ad lib the rest.

I hate when people brag about their kids, I really do...find it annoying, arrogant and unseemly.
That said, I have the most perfect baby in the history of babies. This is different than you and how you feel about your children. You see, my opinion is objective here; I feel I can be emotionally detached, and from a distance simply report on Rubin's brilliance and superiority.

He flew like a champ, quiet, calm, and mostly sleeping. Upon a routine landing, inherently abrupt and violent, there was an intensified version of the side-eye above for about 5 seconds. And then resignation and resumed calm. For us, all the baby travel accoutrements procured in recent weeks or months performed pretty well. His existence getting us through security and first to board was excellent; way to make a contribution to the group, kid.

Rubin's first sporting event, out of the womb anyway, was Blackhawks-Rangers at Madison Square Garden. That'll be a fun game to rattle off conversationally later in life...not even sure what my first was.

He's digging it. At least the air and sounds of it.

I request this feeling for the next 30 years please.

It was joy in him, but also pride that Tonya and I decided to do it, and made it work. Normal everyday functioning is challenging enough as it is. The audacity of the whole trip made my chest puff out.

The Blackhawks had lost 9 games in a row going in, while the Rangers were the best team in hockey, coming off a 3-0 road shutout of the defending champion Bruins. But Rubin proved to be the slumpbuster, as the Hawks scored 4 goals in the first ten minutes. There was much talk of finding a way for us to go on the rest of the road trip.

East coast Spiegels, represent. Aunt Mary, and cousin Rogan check Rubin out.
Cousins Sam and Saran smile to camera well, don't they?

Rogan fought with Mary for holding time.

Grandma Joan kissed some noggin.

Sometimes you wait your whole life for a picture.

Grampa Herb meets his 7th grandchild.

Here's to decades more of these two checking each other out.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Week 3; Divide and Conquer.

On Monday, the first day back at work for me, the first day of my wife being alone with the needy shorty for a work day, I felt unbelievably guilty to leave. And I didn’t want to leave. My now deeply ingrained mission is to be with him and her…the family unit. I have roles to play you see, hands to utilize as needed.

But I had to leave the cave, go kill a wild boar, and drag it back home. I have to do that most days, in efforts to maintain high cave quality.

Upon returning after a mostly excellent, if mildly distracted, day at work, Tonya looks at me, smiles wanly, and hands me the baby. She washes her hands and face, and gets the hell out of the apartment. Smart girl. A long walk to a park near Chinatown (a hidden Chicago jewel) head-clearing alone time, a market errand that may or may not have had to happen just then. Tasks. Adult autonomy exercised. She returned happier, calmer, refreshed. And I in turn was able to feel useful, caring for him and allowing her to get back in touch with self.

I’m realizing how essential things like that are going to be. Divide and conquer. Give each other a break, ‘cause that dude is NEEDY. And growing fussier. We started keeping a log of eating times and amounts, sleeping times and amounts, and diaper changes. We’ve given up on logging the diaper changes…they’re just too plentiful. That man craps his pants better than anyone I’ve ever met, including my Uncle Sully. I mean, really skilled. And oh the varietals. Details spared.

Sleep in increments of 2 or 2.5 hours max is quite something, huh? We'll give each other a break and get 5 sometimes...and that feels other worldly. Friends tell me it gets better. Honest friends tell me it doesn't, and that you just..get used to it. It's amazing, our human ability to assimilate to absolutely anything. We're really well built organisms.

On Wednesday I had a Tributosaurus sound check, and then we did 2 gigs as Stevie Wonder.

This is C-Mo, not on stage.

This is Jon Paul, similarly not on stage.

Rubin knows people.

Need to get Danny over here, and then the whole core will have held shorty.

Tonya miraculously came to the first show, with the trusted first babysitter being Aunt Adrienne. It had to be family first, or it wouldn't have even happened at all. Pretty amazing that my wife came out sans child at 18 days old, but again..must feed the self, and the relationship. Grab that oxygen mask from the top of the plane for yourself before giving one to your child.

So, she came, looked gorgeous, hung out, then went home. Successful journey into the world.

I was gone for a total of 11 hours, got home at 3, and couldn't stop looking at this little man. He looked completely different than when I'd left earlier in the day. His head is rounder, fuller. His face is evolving, looking less Chinese and a bit more mature. I missed serious development. He was potty trained, and skilled at Algebra.

I mean my god, is that going to happen every time? Cue the damn Harry Chapin music if it's going to feel like that.

Still much to learn. Feel like we're kind of just winging it, keeping homeboy alive, giving him love, and trying to survive. But maybe that's the way these first three months feel no matter what. We've got the books and resources to guide us, and will dive in more as we sleep better.

Pretty content right now to stare into his face as much as possible.

The best times are when he's just been changed, just eaten, and doesn't feel sleepy just yet. Needs are met, so he might as well hang out and look around. (Video below) He makes a million faces, and they're all really big. A bit over the top truthfully, like Jim Carrey on In Living Color. Tone it down kid, learn some subtlety.

Due time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Enjoyable madness, a Bris-esque day, and a parent's message sent.

This is madness, taking care of an infant. He needs constant help of course; love, new unda-pants, food, comfort, more new unda-pants, and more food. But we're embracing and enjoying the madness. After all, we chose this, and knew it was coming. No mystery there. Maybe it's because our partnership is so strong, or our feeling of gratitude is so large, or because our make-ups fit this challenge right now, but even the hard stuff feels fun.

Here's the deal: there are now 2 times in my life that this sometimes conflicted man knew with certainty that he was in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right things. One was sitting shiva after my mother's death, a stretch of 8 days in which she was honored as deserved. And the second has been this 13 day run of parenthood. There's no place in the universe, with no social or professional opportunity, that merits my time and attention more. I find that extremely comforting.

The 8th day of Rubin's life saw him the guest of honor at a ceremony in our home.

It was a Brit Shalom, mixed with a naming ceremony. There was a rabbi, some family, some close friends, some bagels and lox. I like that the lox was one platter away from the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwiches. Yours is a fused modern world, little man, get used to it. Just wait until your folks open the Irish-Jewish fusion pub they've long discussed, "McShuggenah's." (or "Guinneshevitz?") That's where we'd make the perfect Reuben, and probably blog about it a lot.

Cousin Finn finally gets to hold him and hang out.

Rabbi Jodi offered calming spiritual words, shared some lovely readings, quoted Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" in a manner that did not annoy me, and in general embodied a humanistic, hippie spirituality that fits us and him well.

During the ceremony, Uncle Jon sang the Hebrew version of the benediction often sung by our late mother, and 3 Spiegel siblings sang the English, "Lord Bless You and Keep You." Used mom's old pitch pipe to find our notes, and left the soprano absent, as it has been for 13 years.

The first song played post-ceremony was 'Highway 61 Revisited.' "God said to Abraham give me a son, Abe said God you must be puttin; me on..." And thus ends my relevant rock and roll Bris playlist, at 1. Suggestions welcome.

The purpose of having this ceremony, and the importance grew within me as the day approached, was large. I love being Jewish. I'm not the strictest, most kosher, most observant Jew, and I'm seriously dubious about the whole god thing, but I adore the customs and traditions. They make me cozy, like a warm overcoat handed down centuries but somehow left intact. Wars and genocides and dilution via marriage (guilty) can not and will not destroy the overcoat.

The rabbi asked us to write a message to young Rubin. So we did. I handled the importance of the day, and Tonya laid down some straight up wisdom. Both of those writings are below. My wife is a genius.


Rubin. My boy. Today is meant to be 2 things: 1) a symbolic, and emphatic connection to your namesake Regina, and her family. She bought the outfit you’re wearing for your Uncle Jon’s bris, and it was worn at the bris of both your Uncle Bob, and myself. She is kvelling right now at the sight of you. And 2) it’s meant to show the value and connection of Judaism to your parents and to you. This faith has been a great comfort to me, and with its room for discussion, room for ritualistic evolution, we hope it can be a comfort to you in your life.

FROM TONYA: Matt wanted me to write down my hopes and dreams for our son. Unfortunately, the short and long answer is: I want him to have everything in the entire world. That would make for a very short or a very long speech. Instead, here’s five things I want him to know, most of which Matt and I wish we’d learned much earlier in life.

1. Figure out who you are, and be that person. Nurture, embrace, and protect yourself, and love yourself fiercely. Be proud, even a little vain. Know that perfection is not required for happiness.
2. Happiness is not what they show on Pepsi commercials. Happiness comes from a deep feeling of self-worth and satisfaction. It is not euphoric, or loud, or involve acting crazy. That’s euphoria, and you’ll have that on occasion, too. But happiness isn’t an emotion so much as it’s a way of living. Do things with meaning to you, and those things will make you happy.
3. Don’t put off what needs to be done. Life is going to be full of boring chores, errands, emails, work, responsibilities, dog-walking, returning phone calls, and laundry. Complaining and putting things off only annoys those around you and makes stuff pile up. Everyone has stuff to do, just get it done and then you can watch TV.
4. The situation is what the situation is. Base your decisions off the circumstances at hand, not off what you wish they could be, or what they used to be, or some stylized notion of what you would like them to be. Be brutally honest with yourself about what’s going on around you, and usually your way will be clear.
5. Your family loves you very much. “Family” will cover all kinds of people in your life. It will start with your father and I and our families, moving on to include friends you make along the way, hopefully someday a life partner and their family, and maybe children of your own. We will all love you imperfectly. Sometimes even awkwardly. We will often fail to love you in the exact way you would want to be loved. We’ll make mistakes. Your father and I stand here on the eighth day of your life, already able to count so many things we wish we’d done differently. But we love you, we love you, we love you. We love every bit of you with all of our hearts and souls. No matter what you do, go out there knowing we will be here for you, loving you and supporting you, and, no matter what, we always will.

I neither have nor need words to augment or amplify that.

I guess these are among the benefits of parenting late. We've had time to get a little smarter.

I do wish she had told me about the Pepsi mention.

We could have made back catering costs via product placement.